Tuesday, August 15, 2017

How To Pack For a Camping Trip

So you want to go camping? Summer isn’t over yet and there is still plenty of time left to enjoy the hot, muggy Southern Virginia weather. For many, camping is the ideal way to spend time outside without shelling out big bucks on a lavish vacation. If you’re going to pitch a tent for the weekend, here are some tricks and tips to help you make the most of your adventure.
  1. First, make sure to spend a small fortune at the grocery store on food and drinks so you can really enjoy your weekend living like a caveman.
  2. And if you’re over 21, don’t forget the adult beverages. As the great Ron Swanson once said, camping without beer is just sitting in the woods.
  3. And don’t leave out the marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate for those s’mores you’ll be too lazy to actually make.
  4. Overall, it’s important to purchase items that can be stored in a cooler.  Items like bread and lunch meat taste even better after melted ice leaks into their containers.
  5. When you get home from the store, it’s time to dig out all the camping gear from your horribly unorganized garage.
  6. You’ll definitely need a tarp or two, especially when those predictable summer thunderstorms roll through and catch you completely off guard.
  7. Make sure your pack plenty of twinkle lights.  You’ll want to be able to navigate to your tent after dusk, and this also ensures your campsite is visible from outer space.
  8. Don’t forget your kindling to make fire starting a breeze.  All that useless dryer lint you’ve been hoarding in the laundry room finally has a purpose!
  9. Bug spray is also important, o-zone layer be damned.
  10. Comfort is key when you’re sleeping in the wild, so pack the biggest air mattress money can buy.  Don’t worry about fitting anything else in your tent.  But remember, a four person tent is really only big enough for two American sized people.
  11. You’re also going to want a portable bluetooth speaker so you can play music that is just loud enough to disturb your neighbors and ruin the peace and tranquility of the great outdoors for everyone.
  12. By this point you’ve probably packed so much stuff that you need to take two cars.  This is the most practical and efficient decision.  If you don’t look like a migrant fleeing oppression, you’re doing it wrong.
  13. Make sure you know ahead of time how to activate the hotspot on your phone so you can have Wi-Fi access. Otherwise you might miss out on Donald Trump’s latest tweets.
  14. When you get home, unpack everything to dry it out and leave it spread out in your garage indefinitely. 

Following these simple steps will help ensure your weekend in the woods is a huge success. Have fun!

Friday, August 04, 2017

Visiting Virginia: Paradise Found in a Shipyard's Shadow

It is difficult to define the word “paradise” because it means something unique to everyone. To me, paradise is an isolated cabin in the Colorado wilderness. To you, it might be a white sandy beach beside turquoise waters in the Caribbean.

But paradise also can be found at a wooded site on Victory Blvd. between Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) and St. Juliens Creek Annex, where 40 acres of restored forest and once-spoiled wetlands form Paradise Creek Nature Park, a lush sanctuary on the edge of Portsmouth’s urban sprawl.

I drive past the park every day during my commute to work but never quite realized exactly what was hiding across the street from the historic Cradock neighborhood. Dense vegetation obscures the entrance; and when I visited one Sunday morning in August, I nearly missed the turn.

I parked my car in the gravel parking lot and the first thing I noticed was a statue of two steel workers made using metal from ships disassembled at a nearby scrap yard. The sculpture represents the delicate balance between industry and nature on the Elizabeth River, a theme that resonates throughout the park.

After a quick glance at the map, I decided to begin my adventure at the main entrance. There are two miles of well-marked gravel paths, all of which are named after various flora and fauna. You can walk or bike your way through the park, and dogs are welcome as long as they are leashed.

I kept my eyes peeled for wildlife and followed Otter Trail beneath overcast skies around the park’s perimeter past the handicap-accessible kayak launch and Wetland Learning Lab, two of the many features designed to encourage community recreation and education.

The Elizabeth River Project (ERP) has been working since 2001 to restore Paradise Creek, a small tributary on the southern branch of the Elizabeth River. The river has served as one of the greatest industrial harbors for four centuries, and hastened by human development, became one of the most polluted.

While there is no escaping the area’s commercial roots, and even though neighboring boat repair shops, energy plants, and heavy machinery are visible from virtually every angle, the park is a gleaming example of just how resilient the environment can be.

During spring, summer and fall, the park offers self-guided wildflower walks, and the wetlands provide ample opportunity for songbird and waterfowl sightings. Acres of invasive species were cut down, and there are now more than 10,000 native trees, shrubs and flowers throughout the revitalized forest. The ERP also facilitates park programs like clear-bottom kayak tours, ranger walks, and a Great Migration Bird Walk.

The network of marshy waterways, which used to be covered with mud dredged from the river, is now a wildlife refuge offering a picturesque backdrop for educational programs and public leisure.
If you’d like to explore from the water but don’t own your own kayak, NNSY’s Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) at Scott Center Annex offers equipment rentals for both military and civilian employees.

Much of the north shore of Paradise Creek served as a Norfolk Naval Shipyard landfill from World War II until 1983. The shipyard, working in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, celebrated the Navy's completion of restoration activities Aug. 23, culminating 36 years of investigation and remediation.

Otter Trail ended at the park’s Wetland Footbridge, where I enjoyed a scenic view of Paradise Creek with Norfolk Naval Shipyard and the South Norfolk Jordan Bridge on the horizon. I continued on Fox Trail, which loops around the north end of the park. Connector trails provide easy access to bench-lined Wildflower, Songbird, Blue Heron, and Osprey Trails, which zig and zag through swaying trees, tangled vines, and thick undergrowth, making it easy to forget our bustling shipyard is just across the river.

My morning at the park was peaceful and offered a reprieve, however brief, from the asphalt suburbs that cover most of Hampton Roads. So whether you are seeking a lunchtime respite or an educational weekend activity for the family, I encourage you to check out Paradise Creek Nature Park.

You can find a map and more information about Paradise Creek Nature Park at www.ParadiseCreekPark.org.

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in Norfolk Naval Shipyard's monthly magazine, Service to the Fleet.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

The 5 Best: Pens for Everyday Writing

I've always been a bit of a handwriting freak. R/PeanshipPorn is one of my favorite subreddits.

I think it began when I was young. I remember my mom teaching me the "right" way to hold a pen between my thumb and forefinger. She said holding it that way would give me those most control over the shape of the letters to ensure my writing was neat and legible. For the most part, she was right, and I still hold my pen that way (unless I'm in a hurry and resort to scribbled note taking).

Anyway, because of my obsession with handwriting and penmanship, I've also developed a somewhat unusual but not totally extraordinary love of pens and it's totally normal no reason to judge me KEEP WALKING.

Nothing is worse than finding yourself without a pen and being forced to use whatever your friends or coworkers have lying around. It's like eating with a stranger's fork.

But in college, I borrowed stole a pen from a classmate and it ended up being the first pen I've ever used until the ink ran out - that's how much I loved it. For a while, it was the only type of pen I would buy because I felt so emotionally attached to it. I did eventually start branching out, and have found five pens to be the most reliable and comfortably suited to my handwriting style.

I have listed them here for you, in no particular order.

1: Pilot G2 Limited (Fine Gel Rollerball)

I love the weight of this pen! The barrel and grip fit really nicely between my fingers. It's a little bit thicker than what I usually write with, but the ink flows smoothly and it's really nice and bold. If you're feeling fancy, you can buy a Mont Blanc refill from Staples, sand down the plastic end a tiny bit, and it will fit nicely into the Pilot for a deeply discounted fine-writing experience.
Buy it here.

2: Uni-Ball Signo 207 (Ultra Micro Gel Pen)

This is another pen that's really comfortable to hold. It's a micro tip, so that makes it easy to write small and detailed when necessary.
Buy it here.

3: Pilot Precise V5 RT (Rollerball)

This pen leaves nice, juicy ink when I use it, which is honestly infrequent because it's not as comfortable to hold, but if I'm feeling frisky, I'll reach for this one.
Buy it here.

4: Pentel RSVP (Fine Ballpoint)

This is my all-time favorite pen. I keep about five of them in my purse at all times. The ink isn't as dark and bold as the others, but it's so easy to write with and feels great in my hand.
Buy it here.

5: Sharpie Pen (Fine Marker/Pen Hybrid)

This is my second favorite pen and my go-to pen for keeping track of to-do lists and appointments in my planner. My planner paper is thick enough to prevent bleed through, which happens on thinner paper when I use this pen.
Buy it here.

BONUS: Adrienne's Favorite

Adrienne, my friend and classmate at Syracuse, has some of the most beautiful handwriting I've ever seen. When I decided to write this list, I knew I had to show you a sample. Adrienne says, "I fell in love with the Pilot Réxgrip 0.5mm pen when I lived in Japan and mass ordered a supply of them."

What do you think? Do you use any of these pens? What are your favorites?
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