Donner, party of two

Last week my mom and I took a mini-vacation to Shenandoah National Park to enjoy the fall colors and spend some time hiking. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and I thought I would share a few nuggets of knowledge with anyone planning a fall adventure into the woods.

Photo by Kelsey Kusterer.

Photo by Kelsey Kusterer.

1. Prep for your possible demise: One thing we found out quickly was that black bears do exist! We quizzed the park ranger at the front gate on the likelihood we might meet a bear during our excursion and found out about this cute greeting bears sometimes do. When a mother bear feels her cubs are threatened, she often says a friendly hello to unsuspecting hikers with something called a “bluff charge.” Momma bear will run within 10 feet of said hiker. So, if you don’t die of a myocardial infarction, park officials suggest lifting your pack over your head and trying to look big. Yelling at the bear is also encouraged. My mom and I practiced our own variation which involved lifting our walking sticks to our chests and yelling “Yo Bear!” Luckily, the only bear we saw was from the car.

2. Choose reading materials wisely: So I packed a few books I thought would be helpful. One was titled something like The Ultimate Hiking Guide for Ballsey Babes which was actually helpful as it suggested what to eat and how to breath correctly (yeah breathing right actually makes a difference) while you’re hiking. A book I brought that was excellent, but I wouldn’t recommend reading while in the woods is The Last Season by Eric Blehm. It’s about a backcountry ranger that goes missing in the Sierra Nevada. Though quite informative, I must admit it freaked me out a bit to be reading it while in a national park.

3. BYOT: Bring Your Own Technology! This tip is motivated by the following conversation:

Mom: You’re bringing your cell, right? So I don’t need to bring mine?

Me: What if I get mauled by a bear? How are you going to call someone for help?

Mom: Good point. I’ll pack mine.

4. Frequent the rest stops: We found out that the rest stop at the Virginia border not only has free maps, brochures on wineries and automated hand soap dispensers, but they also have free peanuts! I suppose free peanuts are lame on airplanes, but it’s nice to get a freebie when all you were hoping for was a clean toilet.

5. Talk to the locals: So while I was busy swearing at the GPS unit while looking for a barbeque restaurant that apparently doesn’t exist, my mom had the bright idea to ask a local where’s the best place to get lunch in Charlottesville. He directed us to a local place where they make giant $2.85 burgers with the works. It made for a great lunch coming out of the park and if you’re one of those “I only eat local” hipsters, I recommend talking to the natives when you’re at a loss for food or directions.

So go have some fun in the outdoors this fall and I hope for your sake you don’t meet any mama bears.


October 19, 2009 at 8:39 pm Leave a comment

Ducking the Starbucks Gauntlet

In an ideal world, my Sunday afternoon would have proceeded something like this:

Mother: Does anyone care to embark on a short excursion to Starbucks to sample the  free instant coffee?

Kelsey: Lovely idea, Mother!

Father: Yes, quite! Shall I start the car?

Mother: Good show! I’ll go fetch your riding gloves and then we shall be off!

The threesome selects one out of 12 Starbucks locations within a 10 mile radius of their home and heads off for their adventure. After a short drive in their Ford Deluxe two-door Coupe along scenic tree-lined country roads, the Kusterer family arrives at Starbucks and is warmly greeted by four daper-looking baristas in crisp, green aprons. The Kusterer’s sit outside and sip pipping hot (and free!) coffee beneath the shade of a Bradford Pear tree and give a collective sigh of contentment.

OK, so in an ideal world my family would share quaint British colloquialisms and Starbucks baristas would be contented workers. The following is what really happened.

Mom: Wanna get a free coffee at Starbucks?

Dad: Sure.

Kelsey: OK.

Dad: Should I drive?

Mom: No, I’m driving my car.

The Kusterers head down a busy highway, and pull into the nearest Starbucks. They approach the counter, excited to take the Starbucks challenge!

Dad: We’d like to take the challenge!

Disgruntled Barista (DB): The what?

Dad: The Starbucks challenge…to taste a free sample of the new instant coffee.

DB: Oh. That was more for the morning. We had a big rush then. We’ve run out of coffee. But it’ll take me a few minutes to prepare it.

Kusterers: uhhh, ok.

We sat down and began to ponder the conundrum presented by the DB. First we wondered–how could they run out of coffee? There’s an entire display of instant coffee by the counter. And second–how come instant coffee comes with a lot of preparation time? Isn’t it, well, instant? Can’t you just give us hot water and a coffee packet? Anyone? Bueller?

10-15 minutes later…

Dad: What happened to our coffee?

DB: If you haven’t noticed, we’ve had a long line of customers.

Dad: So, are you saying that I’m not an important customer?

Long story short, after several minutes of deliberating and a cocked eyebrow from my dad, we got our free coffees. Which actually tasted pretty good, but unfortunately had the bitter aftertaste of a run-in with the “well-oiled” java machine that is Starbucks.

October 5, 2009 at 2:39 am Leave a comment

Don’t feed the animals

A couple weekends a month I work at a museum in one of their special exhibits. I enjoy meeting all kinds of people, but I realized there are a few things that get on my nerves about working with the public. So let’s have a moment of silence for….

1. Kids on leashes: Seriously? I’ve never understood the child on a leash deal. Is your child really that awful that you have to keep them on a cord? And the best part is, a lot of these leashes are attached to a cute little backpack the kid wears. As if that makes it any better. I saw two teathered children in one weekend, both with little stuffed monkey backpacks (it actually looks more like a harness) that had a leash attached to it.

When I was a kid and my brother or I misbehaved we just got the look of death from our dad and that was enough to keep us in line. I miss the good ol’ days…

2. PDA: Ok, so PDA is about as tacky as spitting your gum on the sidewalk in the best of circumstances.  Honestly, do you have to do it in a museum? Gross.

3. Captain Obvious: Remember how your teacher in 5th grade always said, “There are no dumb questions?” Well maybe he/she was right, but there are some irritating questions.

So here’s a fun recap of some of the best questions I get asked on a regular basis while working in the butterfly room. “Will the butterflies land on me?” [Yes, especially if you ask annoying questions]. “Do tarantulas bite?” [Duh]. “Is a sloth like a monkey?” [Not at all]. And the best question ever: “What do you call the line between the meadow and the trees? I’ve been trying to find the answer for weeks, but no one seems to know.” [*sigh*] Butterfly

4. The directionally challenged: So sometimes people ask me for directions to places downtown, which is understandable since I wear a name tag and it’s my job to be informative. The problem is, I don’t live downtown so sometimes I feel  just about as directionally clueless as the out-of-towners. So please, ask the front desk. They have maps.

5. Little kids: I’m done gripping because I really do love my job. It’s often the little kids who remind me not to get frustrated. Just last weekend I was having a bad hair day (thanks to N.C.’s relentless humidity) and this little boy said, “I like your hair!” So thanks little kids for reminding me to lighten up and have a little patience.

September 22, 2009 at 10:21 pm 1 comment

I appreciate you, Darren Aronofsky

I admit I’ve never sat through all of Requiem for a Dream.

After all, the one time I did try to watch it, I was viewing it on Hulu at around 11pm by myself. About half an hour in I remembered someones advice not to watch it alone and fearing I would end up teary-eyed and confused, I decided to watch it another time. However, whenever I mention the movie to someone to ask their opinion they usually shudder and say something like, “Whew, that movie was depressing.”

Although Darren Aronofsky has a reputation for making somewhat disturbing, artsy films, I did really enjoy The Fountain, and have sat through that film several times. I first saw it in the theatre after dragging two friends along with me who really wanted to see some other movie with Matt Damon.  Aside from thoroughly enjoying Clint Mansell’s repetitive soundtrack (I’m not being facetious, I really like it, but it is repetitive), I thought the film was an intriguing look into the idea of everlasting love. It probably helps that I’m a girl and we dig that kind of thing. Oh, and bathtub scenes featuring a shirtless Hugh Jackman doesn’t hurt either. DF-01223

But seriously, although they are often harder to watch and take awhile to digest, I think the trippy, thought-provoking films are some of the better ones Hollywood has to offer. Don’t get me wrong, I like to see buildings implode and Handsome Rob in yet another car-chasing-gang-evading action film. But I prefer the kinds of movies that remind us that things don’t always work out neatly, the bad guy doesn’t always get his comeuppance, and sometimes love doesn’t conquer all. Take The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, for example, or Wendy and Lucy.

Everyone likes a Cinderella story, but it’s refreshing when the beautiful people on the camera seem to have lives just as confusing and difficult as ours. So thanks, Darren, for making us depressed. Sometimes we need it.

Photo courtesy of © Warner Bros. No other uses are permitted without the prior written consent of owner. Use of the material in violation of the foregoing may result in civil and/or criminal penalties.

August 31, 2009 at 8:28 pm 1 comment

Who’s your man crush?

It’s no secret I adore Outside Magazine. One letter to the editor referenced Outside‘s growing trend of putting good-looking accomplished guys on the cover, and asked “Hey, why all the man crushes?” Thank you concerned reader for giving me fodder for the following list of my top 5 suggestions for man crushes. Technically I can’t have a man crush since I’m a girl, but I thought I’d make a few suggestions for guys lying awake at night wondering, “Now if I had the chance to do this life over would I want to be John Mayer or Kelly Slater?” (The answer is Slater, fyi).

Drum roll for the Man Crushes!

1. Ed Viesturs: He climbed Everest. More than once. Sometimes without oxygen. Enough said.

2. John Krasinski: He’s approachable, cute, quick-witted…er wait, I guess that’s just the character he plays on “The Office,” but it seems like Krasinski has a lot of those qualities himself.

3. Steven Seagal: GOTCHA!!

4. Bear Grylls: “But, Kelsey, sometimes he cops out on his excursions and books hotel rooms and…” Yeah, yeah, yeah. Are you tough enough to eat raw fish guts, make your own rafts AND have the ability to still look hot while you’re covered in swamp goo? Didn’t think so.

5. Jon Krakauer: Just about my favorite author ever. Not only is Krakauer one of the few great investigative journalists left, but he also does his own stunts! Like climbing Everest, for example. Ok, I know I already put someone on here who climbed Everest (he wrote Into Thin Air about the ’96 Everest disaster), but that’s quite a feat in my book. No pun intended.

So I hope you guys out there found someone you can look up to. Remember it’s not all about good looks (although most of these guys are doing alright for themselves in that category).

August 21, 2009 at 3:28 am Leave a comment

She’s just not that into you…or is she?

The goal of the movie “He’s just not that into you” was probably to get girls to empathize with each other about the confusing dating scene. For me, it just reinforced that guy’s are generally pretty easy to read. If a guy’s not calling, not paying attention to what you’re saying (disclaimer: this does not apply to times when he’s watching football or if he’s your husband)–it’s unlikely that he came down with an incurable disease–he’s just not that interested!

So all this got me to thinking-what are a woman’s signs that she’s not interested in a guy? Now I’m no dating guru, but here’s my two cents about signs that “she’s just not that into you.”

1. Subtlety: Girls are subtle…usually. Why? We don’t like to offend anyone. That’s why we gossip-it’s more subtle and we convinced ourselves that it’s less offensive than punching someone. A girl will give some subtle signs she doesn’t like you. She’ll avoid you when in large groups. She’ll find excuses to get away from you like “Sounds like the tea kettle’s ready! I better go check it.” And she might suddenly sign off Facebook/G-chat/AIM so she doesn’t have to talk to you.

2. Schedule: If she doesn’t rearrange her schedule for you…it’s either because she’s mad busy or she’s not into you. Girls will jump through flaming hoops to set a date with a guy they’re really interested in.  So if she consistently claims she has to get a manicure/shampoo her cockatiel/de-seed a container of cherry tomatoes…she probably doesn’t like you.

3. Smile: Remember how Tyra always says “Smile with your eyes”? Well for those of us who take notes during “America’s Next Top Model,” the eyes can be a powerful flirtation tool. A girl says a lot with body language and if it looks like she’s leaning a little too close and getting all glittery-eyed, she’s not hoping you’ll pass the Visene, she actually likes you. So take a hint and ask her out.

4. Laugh: As painful as it is, if I’m interested in someone I’ll laugh at his jokes even if he’s got Eyore’s sense of humor. And I know it’s not just me–many a girl has sacrificed her good sense of humor  to make sure her guy doesn’t end the night with a deflated ego. So if you just made the worst pun of the century and she didn’t crack a smile…she’s just not that into you.

5. Facebook: Not that I’m paying attention or anything, but it seems like all my guy friends have at least one Facebook Flirt. You know her-the girl that either consistently posts encouraging words or mini-essays like “OMG I’m so glad we got to catch up, I haven’t seen you in like an hour and I missed you and do you remember that inside joke you just said? Ooooh insert object of affection here, you’re so witty! jk lolol” I’m not saying a girl’s going to dominate your Facebook wall to show you she likes you, but if she doesn’t ever post, then it’s time to move on.

“Good grief,” you’re thinking, “girls are so subtle and confusing and dangit! I thought she had something in her eye, if only I’d known she was flirting with me…” Well don’t get your boxers in a wad, girls are confusing. We send mixed signals. Sometimes we’re way too subtle. Why? Basically because we over-analyze every little eye twitch and word you say so we erroneously assume that men do the same. But they don’t, and if we’re all going to be honest with ourselves-how much can you really learn from a Hollywood movie about dating? Not much if you ask me, I was actually a little depressed after watching “He’s just not that into you.” Mainly because I realized I probably have at least a solid 5 to 15 more years of whining with my girl friends about dating and my inability to accept the obvious signals guys send.

August 12, 2009 at 3:14 am 3 comments

Change, hope, Julie Andrews

When asked about how my weekend was, for once I can say something classy like, “Oh, just dandy, I enjoyed a lovely evening at the theatre with my brother, his dear wife and her charming family.”

My brother managed to finagle tickets to “The Sound of Music” last weekend, and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. But, we did have a few qualms with the show. One member in our party (who hoped I wouldn’t blog about any of her comments, but I couldn’t help myself) asked me, “Do you know what’s really bothering me? Her hair. Maria isn’t supposed to be a brunette!”

The hills are alive!

Funny she mentioned that because Maria’s hair color was one of the first things I noticed too. Well, that and how much her wig resembled the shape of a bike helmet. As if I wasn’t inclined to compare her performance to Julie Andrews’ already, her hair color made the contrast even greater.

Why is it so hard for us to cope with change, even on so simple a matter as hair color? Even though we all drank the Obama Kool-Aid while he was campaigning it seems now that he’s actually trying to enact change, no one can get behind it. We said we wanted change, but do we really? Or did we just want a more charismatic leader with a larger vocabulary? At the time he seemed to promise that 2009 would be bigger, better, richer and more politically correct than the past four years. So far it’s been none of those things. I have to chuckle at how Bush might actually be the new media darling as newspapers start to recognize that he did a few things right.

So how do you solve a problem like Maria? I don’t have too many answers, but maybe it wouldn’t hurt if we all reflected a little more on what kind of change we want versus just making change in general. Maybe 2009 won’t be shinier than 2008, and I may just have to post-pone my plans for making my first million for a few more years. Not to sound cliche, but having less does make me appreciate more the support system of friends and family I do have. And maybe I have to be a little more creative about my career path. I guess for now I can handle a brunette Maria. It wouldn’t hurt her to try layering her hair a little differently, though.

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August 6, 2009 at 3:05 pm Leave a comment

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