Category Archives: Uncategorized

January wonderland

The sleighs bells are no longer glistening, but everything else held up. The lane held glistening snow, such a beautiful sight, and even if it was only down the sidewalk and back, it was a winter wonderland outside.

It’s been a while since Bloomington has had this much snow. Right now, it stands at 5° F (or -15° C) outside, and it’s not scheduled to warm up until around Friday or so. That’s why I wanted to get photos of the snowfall outside of my apartment while I still had a chance. And this wasn’t just a “come as you please and go” snow. This snowfall stuck to the ground. I was starting to think it had forgotten about us in this neck of the world.

True, I didn’t venture past my apartment sidewalk, and didn’t even go to my mailbox. And if you’re reading this from overseas, it’s currently a few minutes before 11 p.m. EST as you’re reading this. I’ve got about an hour left before I head off to bed, and I have plans tomorrow. But I needed it to relax. I think it was good for me. And I feel like I got spoiled with actually having a camera with a phone on it (though I still think flip phones are easier to use). So, I used the hand-me-down Canon I got from my parents. It’s easier to grip with gloves on. And I’m old-fashioned. Cameras need to be allowed to function the way they’re supposed to, if that makes sense.

The only ones I got on my phone were selfies from back inside. Here’s one from inside, with a little hometown pride going on.

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Not the best photo, I know, but it’s hard to get a selfie in the apartment.

Anyway, these are the other ones done of nature in the near vicinity of said apartment. I know I’m the exception, but give me this colder weather any day.

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Not your typical atypical

We’re around the halfway point of the first month of the year, and the challenge I left a few days ago has worked amazingly well. I was hoping to at least match the number of countries I got during 2017, which was ten. In just over half a month, those numbers have already exceeded the goals. In just over sixteen days, we’ve had thirteen countries visit this site, including four newcomers so far: Ghana, India, Italy, and Russia. Thirteen countries, and the year isn’t even a month old!

If anybody is interested in taking part in my challenge, here is the post that connects to it: https://ericparisvangucht.wordpress.com/2018/01/13/my-2018-challenge/

Perhaps I’ve also gotten smarter at writing this blog, figuring out how to tag, and doing my best to promote myself elsewhere. Even attaching photos can be a major advantage. To everybody who’s visited, please keep doing so, and let’s see where this journey takes us this year.

That’s where this post ties in. If you had to describe an autistic person in a nutshell, how would you describe them? Socially awkward? Math-oriented? Machine friendly? Many of these labels are true, and do apply to many. But within the bounds of my condition, I think I’m definitely a nonconformist. Many of the autistics I know prefer math, science, anime, comic books, and other logic-related topics. But I never really identified with any of those things, with perhaps the exception of Tintin comics. Even then, they’re geographically themed, and involve humans trying to defeat other humans. Even if there is mysticism and fantasy involved, it’s oftentimes secondary in those stories.

So, I’m not your typical “atypical,” if you want to use that word for me. I prefer to write and talk about sports, and play them whenever I can. For those that are reading this blog from outside the United States, I have ten World Cup profiles for international football, and those that are in the know may appreciate my World Series and baseball-themed blogs. Additionally, I was high-functioning enough to really get good at acting, which if you think about it, makes perfect sense: the rigidity of the script, the punctuality we’re often known for, the ease in memorizing line. Speaking of punctuality, my first job in 2007 was for the Indiana University Office of Orientation, and I won an award for “Most Punctual” at our end of summer banquet that year. Perhaps it’s applying the old theatre saying: “If you’re fifteen minutes early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late.” 

And lastly, yes, the travel side is part of it. While most that are not on the spectrum would love to do more traveling, and there are some on the spectrum (myself included) who do as well, I’d argue that the majority don’t like it that much. The loud noises, the fear of heights, the narrow spaces, the fear of being away from what we know, and a whole variety of other reasons are part of it. It doesn’t help that the places themselves aren’t able to accommodate at all, or at the very least it’s taking a very, very long time. Unfortunately, patience isn’t a strong suit for many of us.

There is a culture to autism. But it’s a lot broader than you think it is. No two cases are the same.

Let me ask again: how do you describe an autistic? Well, if you keep reading these posts, the answer may surprise you.

Author’s Edit: Make that fourteen countries! I just got my first view from Japan! ありがと to that viewer. It does mean a lot, everybody.

Related image
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Hearing beauty

“Unhappiness, where’s when I was young and we didn’t give a damn?
‘Cause we were raised to see life as fun and take it if we can.”

“Ode to My Family,” The Cranberries

I mentioned it on Facebook already, and I apologize to many of you if you’re finding this out this way, but Cranberries lead singer Dolores O’Riordan died suddenly today at the age of 46. Rock music has a way of taking the best way too soon. She may not have been as famous as somebody like David Bowie, or George Michael, but to me, this one really hits close to home. In a way, she was a specific part of my childhood.

Born in 1971 in Limerick, she was my first real introduction to 1990s rock and roll. Early in my childhood, I had heard certain artists, like Bob Marley, Van Morrison, and The Beatles’ Abbey Road during road trips in the car. As amazing as they were, they were all before my time. I knew what music was, and who they were, but I didn’t really feel like I knew them. The Cranberries were the first band, period, in any genre, I actually felt a generational connection with. For most of my childhood and up to my junior year in high school, they were likely my favorite band, or near the top. I pick that time because junior year was when I discovered Automatic for the People (R.E.M.) and never looked back. Still, I was always fond of The Cranberries. Their first two albums – Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? (1993) and No Need to Argue (1995) – were considered their best, while their last four weren’t as strong. But you could have fooled me. Their third album, To the Faithful Departed, got a pretty tepid reception and apparently was ranked as one of the worst albums in rock on a survey. If they think so, fine. But I can’t see it. In fact, for its darker concept, lyrics, and the fact that I was ten and was able to decipher it all better, To the Faithful Departed is actually my favorite of every Cranberries album.

“Always be near me, guardian angel.
Always be near me, there’s no fear.” 

And that voice. Dolores O’Riordan had one of those voices that you never forgot. I said on the first post, but I’ll say it again: to hear it was to hear beauty. She could write about anything, and had the chilling voice to boot: love, The Troubles in both sides of Ireland, her strong link to Catholicism, and how fiercely devoted she was about the welfare of children. She was a mother herself, and I’m sure she loved her children fiercely.

Her cause of death remains undisclosed. I’m not sure I want to know. It feels like it would be knowing too much to do so. Hopefully, it was as peaceful as possible, and apparently it was unexpected because she was recording in the last few days. I wish I knew what to make of it.

The reason it’s so close to home is also because it’s one of the strongest bonds I have with my own mom. For all of the problems she had in her later life, my mom was my music teacher, at least in terms of bands. Those first two albums mentioned above were a staple for the two of us (and my dad, when he would drive me) in the car on the way to nearby Unionville. For six years, I played youth league basketball there, and it became something of a tradition to listen to it on the car for practice and games, particularly in the early years. I never met Dolores O’Riordan, but I can see the motherly parallels. Some of her songs would have passed for lullabies. Her death is like losing one of my mom’s best parts all over again. It doesn’t hurt as bad as actually losing her, but it’s like a part of her legacy is gone, too, or at least will never be the same again.

While The Cranberries may have faded from many people’s memories, while they may never make the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (they’d get my vote), while they may not be as legendary as The Rolling Stones or The Beatles or The Who, they were, to a degree, a way for my generation, the early millennials, to air our grievances. To me, they’ll always be legends.

I have to conclude with the title of their opening track on their opening album, the one that started it all, “I Still Do.”

“I’m not ready for this, 
Though I thought I would be. 
I can’t see the future, 
Though I thought I could see. 
I don’t want to leave you, 
Even though I have to. 
I don’t want to love you, 
Oh, I still do.” 

Rock on, Dolores. Ar imithe ach gan dearmad.

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Photo courtesy of http://www.irishtimes.ie. 

Theatre family

I can’t stay too long because I have to wake up early each of the next two days. And ordinarily, I wouldn’t be writing about a meeting. But theatre is special for us.

The group I do most of my work with now, Monroe County Civic Theatre, or MCCT for short, had its yearly meeting today. Yearly dues-paying members, of which I am one, are allowed to vote for the board, and there were five new members added onto the nine-person board. We did a recap of our 2017 shows, then looked ahead at our 2018 shows.

Here’s what’s on our schedule for this year.

When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder? by Mark Medoff
The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Frozen by Bryony Lavery
King Lear by William Shakespeare
Winter Symposium by MCCT members

We also had three proposals under consideration, but I wasn’t present for those. It’s still early in the year, but it looks like a strong lineup this year. As an all-volunteer organization, MCCT has been trying to expand their profile, and finally looks to be doing so. Fingers crossed.

It’s like a second family to me. Here, I belong. Here, I am given a chance to grow. Even if I may be a little handcuffed by scheduling this year, I will do my best. This is the beauty of theatre. We help each other, we pick each other up in rough times. The work is the catharsis many of us need.

Here’s to 2018, MCCT. Hope I can take this journey with you soon.

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Photo courtesy of http://www.openclipart.org. 

My 2018 challenge

I have a challenge for the readers of this blog out there.

You’ll allow me a little bit of immodesty from time to time. In 2017, I got 1,172 views on this blog, from ten different countries. So far in 2018, thanks in part to a subscriber about autistic blog sites, 2018 has almost 500 views just in this first half of the month, with eight separate countries chiming in so far (by number of views): United States, Belgium, France, Italy, Canada, Australia, Russia, and Taiwan.

Here’s my challenge: with your help, do you think this blog can get 2,500 views in a year? Yes, I’m a shameless promoter in this, but at least I’m open about it. Let’s also see if we can get more countries this year, too. I have several friends overseas, and if they’re reading this, hopefully they can help spread it as well. Writing is my strength, and this is me trying to put myself out there, even if I’m overdoing it. There are worse things you can overdo.

If anybody is willing to take this journey with me, to meet this challenge, you have my gratitude and thank yous in advance. I apologize if it’s asking too much, but hopefully not.

If you’re in, keep on reading.

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Photo courtesy of http://www.thebalance.com. 

Origin story

This blog first started in April 2014, largely on a challenge from a former work colleague. Perhaps the argument was that having a blog would be more polished than writing mere Facebook notes over and over again. And he was right. So, in a way, I owe him this post.

I didn’t really know where it would go when I wrote. I guess I just followed the mantra “write what you know.” I figured if I could get views from some other places, I would be content.

January isn’t even halfway over yet, and already I’ve had views from eight separate countries. Two debuted for the first time – Italy and Russia. Grazie and Спасибо for doing so. Even if you’re stopping by, I hope you’ll continue to do so.

I’m now one-fourth of the way through the World Cup profiles. Keep an eye out for Group C (France, Australia, Peru, and Denmark) in the near future. It may be a cheap way to do it, but I’ve never seen it that way. I’ve always felt lucky that I get to travel whenever I can. And I’m always grateful to get new views. It’s nice to know that people are interested in reading these words, as jumbled and cluttered as they may be. Let me cook something up for you here.

In all seriousness, though, I know I’ve said it numerous times, but thank you to everybody who reads my posts. I know they can be tedious, and perhaps a little repetitive, but I think I’m starting to expand my profile. If you can do this favor for me, I’d be forever grateful.

This is the blog’s “origin story.” Hope it rises to meet its destiny.

A global childhood

It’s no secret that I’ve been promoting this blog as a global one. This began during my childhood years, when I would go over to my neighbor Joel’s house and watch Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? But I think one of the biggest influences was my old school, University Elementary.

Because it’s a college town, Bloomington already had a multicultural background to begin with. University School, or UES as we knew it for short, was one of the best examples of it. I met my best friend Andi in second grade, and our class that we met in was pretty revolutionary: we had a combined second-third grade class, known as “multi-age.” There were some question marks, but I remember fond memories of those halcyon days. I never would have been able to meet Andi without that class. That same year, we all took Spanish class one day a week. This continued for the remainder of my elementary school career. I wish I had taken it more seriously back in the day, although from what I do remember, I was pretty excited to participate whenever I could.

Funnily enough, I only did half of my kindergarten year at UES. Second semester, we spent it in Antwerp, from January-August. And it was the first year of the new building; the old location is presently the gym for the IU women’s volleyball team, and up until the 1970s was actually a high school, before Bloomington High School North (my high school) ended up taking its place. UES didn’t really have a mascot, but unofficially, we were the Owls, referring back to the old University High School days.

Back in the day, it was common for the fifth grade classes to go to a nearby woods called, appropriately enough, Bradford Woods. We only had nine guys in our bunk (Andi and another good friend of mine named Dave among them), but looking back, I think about how special it was: Andi hails from Albania, I’m half-Belgian, and we had one from Ghana, one from Kuwait, and three from Brazil. We didn’t all go to high school together, as about half of our bunk moved away before then and/or transferred schools, sometimes both. That was the tragic part of it: because many of my classmates were the children of parents who were studying at IU, you could never tell how long your friends were going to stay.

Unfortunately, I lost contact with some that I was hoping to keep it with. With a couple, I was able to re-establish contact, so that was lovely. You don’t get to choose your classmates, but I always wanted to reach out to them as best I could. Such is life.

Being Belgian, of course I got to do a report on it in sixth grade. Having visited all the exhibits in previous grades, and being the huge geography nerd that I am (most people from elementary school know me for that and my baseball fanaticism – and yes, I’ve kept both of them), I had been looking forward to that day for many years. To the best of my knowledge, it went well, and there were no major hitches. And sixth grade year (raise your hand if you had Mrs. Williams during ’99-’00) was probably the strongest individual class I was part of. We did our country units, and also did units on Vietnam and the ’60s, and on other major wars of the 20th century as well. It’s been over fifteen years since we graduated, but man, what a year that was.

Most recently, I ran an after-school French club for a semester, teaching French to the ALPS kids in grades 4-6 in fall semester 2011. I had just graduated college, but coming back to the building, it was just like I remembered it.

If you were at UES during that time, this post is for you. We were luckily enough to have so much of the world, and yet have so much of it yet to explore. Those bonds were some of the strongest through the middle and high school days. These ties that bind are very special. Thank you for allowing us to share them.

On the MCCSC website, instead of a picture of the school, it shows a drawn picture of a globe with children holding hands around it. We used this same design on a T-shirt for our grade’s musical revue each year. I guess it’s still popular. And the motto around it says, “Naturally global.” Couldn’t have put it better myself. And thank you, University School, for giving me those experiences.

Basic French, Lesson 2: The “Big Four” and pronouns

Today’s French lesson focuses on the “Big Four,” as I like to call them, or the four most common verbs that you’re likely to find in the French language.

These are the “Big Four:”
avoir – to have
être – to be
faire – to do/make/play
aller – to go

And these are the six pronouns that go with them:
Je/J’ – I
Tu – you (sing.)
Il/Elle – he/she/it
Nous – we
Vous – you (formal/plural)
Ils/Elles – they

Technically, a seventh pronoun, On, also exists, and is conjugated the same way as Il/Elle in third person singular. However, it’s a more informal way of saying “We,” as in the royal we, so to speak.

Two notes: Il and Ils are pronounced the name way (like “eel” in English), so the “s” in the plural form is not pronounced unless the next word begins with a vowel (avoir has one of those in it). Second, while Elles is used, it refers to a “they” that are exclusively female.

We’ll start with être first.

1. être – to be
Je suis                                   Nous sommes
Tu es                                     Vous êtes
Il/Elle est                              Ils/Elles sont

In the plural form, many words (nouns and adjective) add an “s” to it to make it plural.

Examples: 
1. Je suis riche.         I am rich.
2. Vous êtes riches. You’re (plural) rich.
3. Nous sommes riches.   We’re rich.

Most of the time, être is used to say “I am” or “it is.”

2. avoir – to have 
J’ai                                       Nous avons
Tu as                                   Vous avez
Il/Elle a                               Ils/Elles ont

“Je” and “ai” combine here to form “J’ai.” Think of it like “cannot” combining to make “can’t.”

In a few cases, “avoir” is the verb to indicate having something in place of être.

J’ai peur. I am afraid (literally, “I have fear.”)
J’ai chaud/froid. I am hot/cold.
J’ai faim/soif.     I am hungry/thirsty.

Also, notice how “ont” and “sont” are similar. When you say “Ils ont,” pronounce the s closer to a z, and keep it the same for “Ils sont.”

Most verbs in past tense will use “avoir” as their stem. There are a few exceptions.

3. faire – to do/make/play (in certain cases) 
Je fais                                 Nous faisons
Tu fais                                Vous faites
Il/Elle fait                          Ils/Elles font

All three conjugations in the singular form are the same thing; think of the name “Faye” in English, and it’s almost identical. “Faites” rhymes with the word “bet” in English.

Je fais mes devoirs.              I do my homework.

NOTE: When referring to the weather, faire is used to mean “is.”

Le temps fait chaud.             The temperature is hot.

4. aller – to go 
Je vais                                   Nous allons
Tu vas                                   Vous allez
Il/Elle va                               Ils/Elles vont

“Vas” and “va” share the same pronunciation. “Aller” is often used in future tense, in a more casual form of saying that you will do something in the future.

Allons au parc!                                    Let’s go to the park!
Elle va payer pour la viande.           She will pay for the meat.

Notice the difference for “font” (faire) and “vont” (aller). No pronunciation changes are needed, but don’t get them mixed up, either.

Hopefully, you’ve learned some basics with this Second Lesson. Bonne chance! (Good luck!)

Image result for Map of France
Photo courtesy of http://www.about-france.com. 

MLB games and ballparks: 2018 edition

I’m sorry, I can’t help myself with these things. Here’s another set of questions related to Major League Baseball, the games and the ballparks.

I don’t count spring training games as official, so while I have one of those, I won’t list that on here. If you choose to fill out this survey, please post the dates if you remember them.

1. How many Major League Baseball games (regular or postseason) have you seen? 
Twelve

2. What was the first one, with approximate dates?
June 16, 1993 (my sixth birthday) – Cincinnati Reds vs. San Francisco Giants at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. The Giants won in extra innings, 6-5.

3. What was the most recent game you’ve seen? 
September 23, 2017 in Cincinnati – Boston Red Sox 5, Cincinnati Reds 0

4. What is your favorite team? 
Boston Red Sox

5. Which team have you seen the most? 
Cincinnati Reds – 6 times (5 at home, 1 away)

6. Who has attended the most games with you? (“Self” is a fine answer)
My dad has attended 10 of the 12 I’ve been to

7. What game featured the most people in your group? 
Houston Astros vs. San Francisco Giants (Astros 11, Giants 4) at the Astrodome in July 1995, and I can remember about ten people there – my mom, dad, me, sister, brother, and my aunt, uncle, and three cousins

8. What is the longest gap in between games? 
Just under seven years, from August 2009-July 2016

9. What is the shortest gap?
One day, seeing the Boston Red Sox play on consecutive days (July 20-21, 2016)

10. Have you gotten a promotional item? 
A free Astros hat at the Astrodome, and a Tucker Barnhart bobblehead this past September

11. What stadium have you not seen yet that you want to? 
Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles

12. When is your next scheduled game? 
Unsure, but hopefully this year; shopping around for potential games this year as we speak

13. Has any team you’ve seen won the World Series in the same year?
No, but several did make the playoffs; unfortunately, all of them were eliminated in the first round, and have a combined win-loss total of 3-15.

14. What was the first team that made the playoffs in the same year that you saw them, and what was the result of that series? 
2001 Houston Astros; lost three games to none (as the top seed) against Atlanta

15. What was the most recent playoff team, and that result? 
2017 Boston Red Sox; lost 3-1 to the Astros (who won the World Series), so at least I’ve seen them win a playoff game.

16. Which team(s) that you have seen have the best overall record? 
As of this writing, it’s a tie. Both the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox have a perfect 3-0 record, although the Red Sox have a better run differential among the two.

17. Which team(s) have you seen the most without winning? 
Minnesota Twins (0-2 as of this writing); the Reds have the most losses, but they’ve also won once

18. Favorite MLB moment 
Seeing David Ortiz hit a home run in his final season in 2016 at Fenway Park

19. Weirdest or funniest moment on the diamond 
The one I can think of is Adam Dunn getting ejected in the first inning for arguing balls and strikes; it’s the only game where the Reds have won (September 2006)

20. Funniest or weirdest statistic
This one’s truly funny: In the six Cincinnati Reds games I’ve seen, the first game was the only one where they hit a home run. They’re fifteen years overdue for another one, and we’ll see if I can get to another one this year.

The great travel questionnaire: 2018 edition

So, I think I have an idea I’d like to try. On Facebook about a year or so ago, I posted a travel questionnaire. But the best part of travel is that you get to update these things. Here are the questions to the best of my knowledge. Maybe I should do this once a year. If anybody is interested in replying, you are more than welcome to. If any category is not a match, we may list “N/A.”

For the time being, I’ll do 20 questions.

1. What is your place of birth? 
Bloomington, Indiana, United States

2. Including your home country, how many countries have you visited in the world? (List as well.)
Six – in chronological order, United States, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, France, England

3. Most recent overseas trip 
August 2010 – Belgium to Calais (France) to England (Devon-Wiltshire-Oxford-London-Windsor) and back

4. Next planned trip 
If everything holds up, a trip in May to the west coast of the U.S., California-Arizona-Nevada. More specifically, San Francisco, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Las Vegas.

5. As of this writing (January 2018), there are 59 national parks in the U.S. How many national parks have you visited?
Two

6. What was the most recent one? 
Mammoth Cave in Kentucky

7. If applicable, what famous attraction left you the most disappointed or underwhelmed? 
Technically, I have two: Stonehenge and The Louvre

8. Conversely, what attraction met your expectations and more? 
Probably Boston’s historic Freedom Trail

9. What country would you like to visit next? 
Canada

10. If you could go to said country, what city would you visit first? 
Either Toronto, Vancouver, or Halifax

11. Longest flight you’ve ever taken 
Chicago to Paris, about 8 hours, 25 min

12. Shortest flight you’ve ever taken 
Indianapolis  to Cincinnati, 20 minutes each way

13. Aside from your own, what airport do you like the most? 
I like the one in St. Petersburg (Florida)

14. What airport did you dislike the most?
For size and price, Cincinnati; for crowds, JFK

15. Most recent airport you visited as a traveler 
Logan Airport in Boston

16. Do you have any good luck charms when you travel? 
A baseball cap and a backpack

17. Are you able to sleep on flights? 
It depends; some flights are better than others

18. U.S. state you’d like to see next 
California, and it should happen this year

19. Most embarrassing travel story 
When I was 11, I took a trip with my dad, brother, sister, and several relatives from Belgium to Washington, D.C.; on the way home, we stopped somewhere in Virginia, and the kids played on a replica Army tank. But because we had left the windows open (this was in June), numerous fruit flies came in through the windows. It took a long while to get them out.

20. Would you like to travel more? 
Hell, yes! I’d imagine most of us would.