Leaving Orlando in the Midst of Crisis

Departure date: Thursday, June 16, 2016

It’s weird to leave Orlando right now. I feel torn, but also somewhat relieved. It has been surreal.

An Orange County official said that we have been preparing for this our whole life. No. No, we haven’t; I hope we haven’t been.

If you could be prepared and still 49 murdered, that is not very prepared. Prepared?

Senator Rubio said it was Orlando’s “turn”. I have hope that that is not the mentality of other American cities and townships. Just waiting for their “turn” in tragedy. If it was Orlando’s turn, then it means this is the reality we have accepted. Mass shootings as an acceptable norm. Accepted? Expected? And sadly, I was shocked that I was suprised. Of course this could happen in Orlando. This could happen anywhere.

Orlandoans gather on the lawn of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Orlando a few nights after the Pulse shooting. Even as we were leaving Orlando, we were already seeing how everyone was rallying together, holding onto love, and rejecting fear.

Last week a Now This video of Orlando’s Fleet farming went viral. Such praise for the city and it’s young, ingenious citizens. I was and am so proud of my friends.

Then Friday evening, a rising musical star from the Voice was murdered at a place I know and have been. The Plaza Live. My friends went to a pop-up church there for a few years. It’s parking lot hosted the Corridor Project a few years back. I know it and now the world knows it in a very tainted way. Murder.

Sunday morning I hopped out of the shower and Nathan told me 20 people were dead and 53 injured at a gay night club in Orlando. Which one? Which one? Which one? Over and over again. Panic setting in. My friends go to gay clubs all of the time. Pulse. Revolution. Parliament House. Pulse. It was Pulse. I was having trouble getting breath. Breathe. Breathe. They don’t seem to go to Pulse. It was Latin Night. Most of my friends are not Latinos. Some are. Check in. Check in. Check in. Why aren’t they all checking in?

But they all did. Over the next 12 hours. All of them did. All of my derby girls and guys. All of our friends in the arts and acting community. My friends are safe. But we are not okay. We are safe. But not okay.

A former derbymate is a bartender at Pulse. Her friends are dead. A former derbymate’s brother was part of the SWAT team and his helmet was the one that was shot. It saved his life. Some of our friends first met at Pulse. It is right down the street from the hospital that I went to for treatment. I’ve driven by Pulse hundreds of times. I’ve never been in. It’s not my scene, but it is a mile from our first house. It is 3 miles from our current house.

It is surreal. But of course it is very real.

Many gather on the lawn of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Orlando for a vigil a few nights after the Pulse shooting.

And so we’re going to be gone during much of the mourning and aftermath. We’re bring love from Orlando on the road, but it is a strange thing not to be there. It is a hard way to start a trip. But here we are.

We’re excited to meet people all of the states and the world. We’re excited to see things from a different perspective. We’re looking forward to adventures, good food, travel days (good and bad), beautiful views, and people.

This is our first major trip since 2013 when we were in Paris for nearly a month. The past few summers we’ve had other adventures to attend to like chemo and recovering from surgery. So yeah, we’re excited to get out and do something we’ve never done before. I’ve never been to any of the places on our list: Rockford (lllinois), Madison, San Francisco, Busan (South Korea), Seoul, Kathmandu (Nepal), Doha (Qatar) for a 2 hour layover, London, Oslo, Trondheim (Norway), Helsinki, Jyväskylä (Finland), and Iceland.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer addresses a crowd gathered at the Downtown Orlando Info Center a few days after the Pulse shooting. A group of local businesses produced memorial t-shirts and screen prints as a fundraiser for the OneOrlando fund.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer addresses a crowd gathered at the Downtown Orlando Info Center a few days after the Pulse shooting. A group of local businesses produced memorial t-shirts and screen prints as a fundraiser for the OneOrlando fund. Nate was involved in the creation of the Orlando neighborhoods map behind the mayor.



Next summer, 2016, we’re embarking upon an adventure around the world. Yes, we are circumnavigating the Northern Hemisphere. We plan to stop in:

  1. San Francisco to see family and friends
  2. Busan, South Korea to see Nathan’s sister Annie and her husband, Dan, and their kids, whom we haven’t seen since they moved there near the end of 2012
  3. Finland, where the Bridges Math Art conference is this summer
  4. Iceland, on our way back home aboard Iceland Air, where you can stopover no charge for up to a week. From Iceland, we’ll fly back home to Orlando and will have traveled over 17,700 miles through the air and spent nearly 2 months away from home.

We will be doing a few projects on the road/plane and invite you to follow along via our blog (this one)!

Here’s where we’d love to hear from you: our itinerary isn’t fully set yet. Where have you been along our travel route (very loosely speaking) that you’d suggest visiting? Or do you have a connection that could host us or show off their city/village/mountain? Some additional places we’ve thought of going to include: Nepal to work on a Habitat for Humanity project, and Russia to travel the Trans Siberian Railway for a bit. We’ve spent a lot of time in mainland Europe, but none in Scandinavia and very little in Asia.

The Bridges Math Art Conference 2013

[Ed: we are writing this post about a month after getting back home to the US! Our final week of summer travels was spent at a conference from July 26-31, 2013.]

Getting There

IMG_3730We woke up with plenty of time to spare, wanting to make sure that we didn’t even come close to missing another train after our previous stressful experience going from Paris to Antwerp. We bid adieu to Jona and walked over to the train station, bought tickets to Amsterdam Schipol, located our platform, and with some time to spare now, got some coffee and bought some souvenirs.

We took the train to Amsterdam, and there we bought tickets for the next part of our journey, to Enschede, a small University town in the eastern part of Holland near the German border. We ran into Bob Bosch and Henry Segerman, two of our good friends from the conference, who had just flown in to Amsterdam. We all got on the train for the two hour ride to Enschede. Near our final destination we had to transfer from the train to a bus due to station construction. We headed over to the location of the conference’s art exhibition to do some setup.

What is Bridges?

IMG_1944Bridges is an international conference that celebrates the connections between mathematics, art, architecture, music, education, and culture. We found out about the conference in 2008 when Nathan was looking for various juried exhibitions for his work. It was in the Netherlands that year as well, and we had such a fantastic time that we’ve been back every summer since then. The conference has been in Banff (Canada), Pecs (Hungary), Coimbra (Portugal), Towson (near Baltimore, Maryland), and two cities in the Netherlands (Leeuwarden and Enschede) in the years that we have attended.

IMG_1960Like many conferences, Bridges has a proceedings where refereed academic papers are published, but it also has a wide variety of experiences and activities beyond that: fascinating lectures, inspirational workshops, an art exhibition, a short movie festival, an informal and formal music night, an excursion day, and more.

We have found that the 300 or so people that attend the conference are not only some of the smartest people we have ever met, they are also some of the most down to earth, fun, interesting and approachable people. Bridges is a place where you might meet a Nobel laureate or winner of the MacArthur Genius award, in a context where you can hang out, chat, have a beer, and explore a city together. We have made a lot of good friends over the years at Bridges and we really look forward to seeing them every summer. There’s always a ton of stuff packed into the week; we’ll include some snippets and anecdotes from our time there this year.

A Bridges tradition: the creation and display of a giant collaborative structure made out of ZometoolIMG_3738

A Long Walk

IMG_3727This year, the events of the conference were in the historic core of the city, but some of the housing was on a university campus about 4 miles away, including the hotel where we stayed. The city is large enough to have busses, but small enough that the busses don’t run after midnight and have less frequent runs on the weekends. After setting up Nathan’s artwork, we took the bus to our hotel, checked in, and pretty quickly headed back to the city to hang out with friends and get some dinner. Dinner was followed by drinks and we found ourselves out past midnight, faced with a decision: get a cab or walk back to the hotel.

Now you may be thinking, why would you even consider walking 4 miles at midnight? A fair question. We had been told that it was a 20 or 30 minute walk, and we were used to walking around Paris all day, so it seemed silly to waste money on a cab. Oh, hindsight. Although we were walking at a good clip, it took us almost an hour to get back. Note to self: don’t listen to other people’s estimates of walking time (we were reminded of the Versailles man who said it would be a quick walk to Marie Antoinette’s chateau… it wasn’t). Needless to say, for the rest of the week we stuck with cabs or the bus.

Neils and Friends

One of our traditions at Bridges is to befriend young people and musicians and find a place to hang out in the evenings and jam. This year we had some trouble with that, until we happened upon a bar called Cafe Het Bolwerk. We were hanging out and enjoying ourselves when all of a sudden, this young, very stylish Dutch man walked up to maybe the shyest person in our party and asked her to come in and play piano. One of the guys in our group had put our new Dutch friend up to this, and we all ended up going inside, moving things around, sitting down at the piano, and busting out our guitar and ukulele. Feeling a little bad that we took over the bar but really happy to have a new friend in Neils, after much thought and wandering we had finally found a place to call home for the next few evenings. Shout out to our crew of musicians, music appreciators, and beer appreciators: Vi, Mike, Patrick, Tiffany, Andrea, Nick, Conan, Curtis, Amina, Katie, Dallas, Dugan, Luke, and Henry… and whomever else we’re missing.





Towards the end of the conference we found out that attendees had been invited to check out Saxion University’s “Fablab Enschede” (http://www.fablabenschede.nl) and use it for free during the conference. A group of us made our way up to the lab and marveled at the 3d printers, laser cutter, and various other equipment and products filling the room. There were some staff members on hand that gave us an overview of the laser cutter. Nathan had been playing with a little application on his computer that would take a video stream and turn it into a black and white pattern approximating the image using something called a Truchet tile (more specifically, he had implemented Bob Bosch’s flexible Truchet tiles in Processing). Amy took a nap, and Nathan made some edits to the program so that it could output an image that would be conducive to laser cutting. We took a group photo and added some text to the image, and cut a few copies out of colored paper. The laser cutter is such a cool device. Lots of Bridges attendees use it for their mathematical art and constructions, and it was a blast to learn how to use it ourselves. The staff member even stayed a bit late to allow us to get enough copies of our photo for everyone in the group, plus one as a gift for Bob.

Laser cut paper in progress
A ghost image of the laser cut color paper, that looks cool in and of itself!
A ghost image of the laser cut color paper, that looks cool in and of itself!

Bank Party

Luke and Dugan were couchsurfing during the conference, staying with some folks who lived in an old bank in a situation similar to Jona’s, where the owners of the building allowed people to live there cheaply to avoid paying fees. One night Luke had invited us back to his place to hang out on their roof, but all the stores were closed so we wouldn’t have anything to eat or drink, so we just ended up going back to the Het Bolwerk. We got a huge group together and took over the bar again and decided that the next day we’d be prepared to go to Luke’s by purchasing snacks and beverages earlier on in the day.

We met up with Luke the following day. He said that the people in the building were already having a crazy party, that all of us were invited, and that there was going to be lots of beer, a DJ, and lots of fun young people. There was some mention of bank vaults and other intrigue, but immediately the idea of having a party in an abandoned bank sounded pretty incredible.

The annual Bridges play was that evening, and the plan was to meet up with Neils and whomever he brought with him outside of the Grote Kerk, and then Luke would walk with us the 5 minutes that it would take to get out to the abandoned bank. That’s when the floodgates opened up and it began to pour an incredible drenching rain. Our dreams of a rooftop party seemed to be dashed. However, Luke assured us that all would be ok since the party wouldn’t actually happen on the roof but inside the bank. Eventually the rains let up and a giant troop of at least 20 conference participants made their way toward the bank. There was a guy waiting at the door and it looked every part an abandoned building: the bank parephernalia was still there, the revolving door… classic Europe – DJ music blaring in the background, dimly lit rooms, a train of bicycles cordoned off in an area where you should not venture – it was a strange environment.

It was very loud, foggy from smoke machines and cigarettes; we knew no one there, and most of us didn’t try to get to know anyone there. We had a bit of wine and beer with us already, which was good, because it seemed like the party would run out of supplies soon. A few of our group ventured down into the bank vault. Very little of the building had electricity because the bank was tryin to conserve resource,s so the people who went downstairs did so at their own peril, and it quite possibly could have turned into some type of horror movie. From the crew that ventured downstairs and reported back, it was pitch black and dangerous. Somebody said, “the perfect place to commit a murder.” We hung out in the lobby of the bank, away from the DJ, and reflected upon the end of the conference and the adventures of our excursion day.

Excursion Day

IMG_1979Bridges always has an optional excursion day – one or more guided tours through the areas surrounding the conference site. This year we went on an excursion to a rural area outside of Enschede that has been doing some interesting collaborations between artists, businesses, and residents. We listened to a few lectures, viewed some interesting outdoor sculpture, and met a nice cat. Then we went to an exhibition that was supposed to have artwork from Escher… it did, but they were blown up reproductions that pale in comparison to the real thing (which we have seen before). Luckily, the gallery was mostly dedicated to the sculptures of Koos Verhoeff, which are quite impressive.

IMG_3763After the official end of the excursion, Amy headed back to town to find our iPad, which we had lost… we stressed a whole bunch of people out, including ourselves; called the conference organizers, and they called people for help, got the church unlocked to allow Amy to look for it… all to no avail. Immediately our brains went back to the night before to the bank, and though we thought we had secured our belongings, we couldn’t be entirely sure. When we got back to the hotel that night, we were packing our things, and lo and behold: the iPad was on the floor, matching the color of the carpet! Boy, we felt foolish! But that paled in comparison to actually losing our iPad, and we were thankful. So many people helped us and felt so bad for us. We kind of felt like jerks but were OK in the end because we hadn’t lost it. Amy felt the brunt of this because she was the one who spent 3 hours that afternoon attempting to find our not-lost iPad.

IMG_3766Meanwhile, Nathan went with a group of people to the studio of Rinus Roelofs, a Dutch artist and one of the local organizers of this year’s conference. Rinus is a prolific artist/mathematician/architect/researcher/inventor, and it was a massive privilege to get to see his studio in person. Every shelf was filled with interesting things, and many tables had laser cut paper or wood components that assembled into more interesting things. The group spent quite awhile there, picking Rinus’ brain and discussing the finer points of some mathematical conjectures he had brought to the conference this year. He is truly a renaissance man and we highly recommend looking at some more of his work online.


The End!

We are already looking forward to next summer, when Bridges will be in Asia for the first time. Specifically, it will be in Seoul, South Korea, which is conveniently close to where Nathan’s sister and her family live. Bridges is always a great experience and we can’t wait to get back together with the eclectic family that comes to inspire and be inspired each summer! So, now all we have to do is save some money…



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We Don’t Like Terrine But We Do Like Lichtenstein

IMG_1505As our time in Paris neared an end, we continued knocking things off our list that we hadn’t gotten to yet. Many people had recommended going to a traditional (if not touristy) French restaurant called Chartier. We decided to go for lunch, when prices are more reasonable and lines are shorter. It’s a large restaurant that kind of looks like the interior of a train station, with rows of tables along what look like the luggage racks of a train. We were sat down next to another couple that was finishing up and soon left, and soon after another couple was sat down next to us (they fill all the seats). The couple was from England and we had fun hearing about each others’ vacations.

Paper menus are printed daily and of course are only in French. We looked to the recommended menu for suggestions and decided to try the entree (starter/appetizer): terrine. We didn’t know what that was… it’s a cold slab of ground up mystery meat. Amy was not a fan. Nathan enjoyed it. For our mains, we tried a white fish dish and roasted chicken with fries. Both were good (not great).

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IMG_1517After lunch, we walked to the Pompidou for a second visit to see the Roy Lichtenstein retrospective exhibition (it hadn’t been included on the museum pass). We had to pay full price again unfortunately, but it was well worth it. We both enjoy Lichtenstein’s work and this show was extensive and well put together. One strange thing was that if you got too close to a painting a little alarm would go off. Although there were lines on the floor, it was all too easy for a stray elbow or pointing camera to go over the edge, so the alarms were going off a lot. We wouldn’t want to work there.

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There was another large solo show in this part of the Pompidou by an artist named Simon Hantaï, who is known for twisting and folding large canvases, painting them, and unfolding them – think sophisticated tie dye. Some of them were pretty cool.

IMG_1576Near the entrance to the museum there was a small interactive exhibit primarily targeted towards kids, with clay and magnets and various other art objects to play with. A clever installation of bicycle reflectors instructed the viewer to photograph it with the flash on to reveal the true nature of the installation (your flash lights up all the reflectors).

We wanted to make sure we maximized our visit, so we walked through some group exhibitions from young contemporary artists that sounded interesting. But in reality, they were strange, disturbing, and sloppy, so we breezed through them quickly.

IMG_1577Outside the entrance a huge fiberglass ice cream cone appears to have been dropped and left melting on the open courtyard. Looking at the clock and our plans for the rest of the evening, we decided that we once again couldn’t make it to Parc des Buttes Chaumont, and went directly to the river cruise, which left right across from the Eiffel tower. We picked up Vietnamese sandwiches on the way and a bottle of wine. We were herded like cattle onto the river boat, where cheesy music started playing. The best part of the cruise was being able to sit. There’s one pretty cool view of Notre Dame, but you’re too low to see the buildings when you’re on the Seine, so all you can see is trees. We did see a bunch of people dancing right along the river, which was pretty cool. And you get a good sense of how many people hang out and picnic/drink/chat along the river during the summer (tons of people). But we wouldn’t recommend a river cruise in Paris. Amsterdam, worth it; Paris, definitely not.

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Poster advertising a wax museum... creepy!
Poster advertising a wax museum… creepy!
Amy loves dogs :)
Amy loves random dogs 🙂


From the Depths to the Heights of Paris


IMG_1365The catacombs opened at 10 am, so we figured that getting there at 9:30 would’ve been sufficient. We were wrong. At least the line wrapped only half way around the little roundabout where the entrance was located, instead of all the way around like it did yesterday. Despite it being so early, it was really hot and we tried to rotate so that we’d get evenly cooked by the sun.

IMG_1372Two hours later, we were finally descending into the depths of Paris. It was dark and cold and wet, but marvelous. You walk through all of these tunnels and then after 15 minutes you enter into the Domain of the Dead filled with the bones of more than 6 million Parisians. It would have been a very strange job to dig up graveyards, transport them underneath Paris, arrange them into walls and mosaic-esque designs, sometimes 80 feet deep!

IMG_1375The long bones formed the basic structure, with the ends of femurs lined up in rows and columns. Skulls missing lower jawbones are placed to form patterns in the walls. There are other mysterious things, like deep water wells glowing eerily, and small scale models of buildings, carved out of stone and hidden in random niches along the walkway.

After we reemerged into the land of the living, we headed back to the apartment to chill out and do some blogging and rest our feet before our planned climb of the 669 steps to the 2nd level of the Eiffel Tower.

We picked up picnic stuff and headed off at about 5 to go to Parc de Buttes Chaumont, which we had been meaning to go to when we stayed at Austin and Sheila’s because it was a 15-20 minute walk. It turns out that leaving at rush hour was a terrible idea. The metros were really crowded and incredibly hot. Our metro also broke down, numerous times, leaving everyone (or at least us) to wonder if we’d all get stuck in between two stations.

So we hopped off once it reached the next station and decided once again to skip Parc de Buttes Chaumont. It turns out that pretty much anywhere you get off the metro in Paris, you’ll have an awesome spot for a picnic. We ended up near Canal Saint-Martin, which we had also been meaning to visit. We spread our blanket and got to work on our bread, cheese, meat, fruit, chocolate, and beer. Later we walked along the canal a bit and over one of the pedestrian bridges to get some pictures.


Amy excited by her new sunglasses, since she had been going without for a few days after her old ones broke


IMG_1420It was finally time to visit the Eiffel Tower and make our way up to the 2nd level. The heat was breaking a bit as the sun neared the horizon. We waited in the shorter “stairs only” line, and chatted with a group of guys from the US who were on a whirlwind tour of Europe. They had little champagne bottles to celebrate once they got to the top. Most of them were able to get through the security checkpoint, but one guy didn’t. Instead of trashing his bottle, he decided to drink it immediately, before climbing up the stairs. We laughed and hoped that he would make it without too much dizzyness.

The climb was on. Step by step, we spiraled up from the bottom to the first floor: 328 steps. The view was stunning and we were glad to have started the climb when we did in the early evening, as the light was really beautiful with the sun slowly setting. We continued the climb to the second level: 669 steps total. The sun continued to set and we walked around along the crowded fenceline, enjoying the magical view.

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When we first arrived in Paris, Amy was set on going all the way to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but Nathan thought that the 2nd level would be sufficient. However, when the moment came, we had a role reversal and Nathan wanted to go to the top, and Amy didn’t care. As a side note, Amy was already a little nervous at being so high up (~400 feet at this point) and the thought of going in a small elevator shaft encased in glass up to nearly 1000 feet was pretty scary.

After some deliberating, Amy deferred to Nathan and we bought an inexpensive ticket up the elevator to the 3rd level. As the elevator ascended, Amy’s grip on Nathan’s hand tightened. But once we reached the top, everything was so beautiful. The sun set and lights started to come on around the city. The rosy scene turned violet as we reached the top at 281 meters above street level.

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A young Ukranian couple asked us to take a photo of them; we did so and asked them to return the favor. They took the first photo without flash and it was too dark. We turned on the flash and the guy took the second photo. He looked down at the camera to see if it was good, and a look of concern crossed his face. “What is that?” he said in a thick accent. We looked at the camera and started laughing. The bag Nathan was wearing has retroreflective material on it (to make it visible at night) and the flash had illuminated the bag into a glowing mass. Unfortunately the bag was positioned around his midsection; hence the concern from the guy (you can see for yourself what he saw here). A quick rotation of the bag and a final photo and we were all happy.

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Satisfied with our time on the tower, we went down to relax on the green space to the southeast of the tower, where tons of people hang out and (of course) picnic, drink and talk. It’s nice to have a tasty beverage when you’re sitting out on the grass at night in Paris. We didn’t have anything on us due to the restrictions of what could be brought up the Eiffel Tower. Not to worry… there are throngs of young men, mostly from south Asia, hawking beverages, muttering “1 euro, 1 euro” or “water 1 euro”, or “cold beer, cigarette”. Some have wine or champagne with them as well.

IMG_1497A guy approached us, and Amy asked him how much for a beer. He said “5 euro” and she said “no thank you”. He said “how much?” and she said “2 euro”. He came back with “3 for 10”. But what we really wanted was some wine. Amy asked him “how much for the bottle of red?” and he said “25 euro”. She said “oh, no thanks.” He said “4 beer and wine, 20 euro”. Amy painstakingly counted out her coins, and countered “I only have 10 euro for the wine” and he went for it. The barter queen strikes again! (There might have been another 20 euro hidden somewhere).

As night comes on, the Tower lights up with various colors. Right now, it’s red, green, blue and yellow in an arrangement that mimics the South African flag, in honor of Nelson Mandela. Throughout our time there have been numerous events throughout the city honoring Mr. Mandela. Also, on the hour starting at 10pm, there’s a sparkling light show for about 5 minutes that everyone stops to Oooo and Ahhh at. Although it’s touristy, it’s also magical, or at least was for us!