When Traveling, Remember the Moscow Rule

While traveling in Paris many years ago, my American friends introduced me to the Moscow Rule. Not to be confused with the Moscow Rules, this rule has to do with shopping and souvenirs and is fairly simple. If you see something, buy it, because you may never see it again.

My friends told me that this rule originates from people standing in line in Moscow. If you lived in Moscow under Communist rule and saw people standing in line, you joined them, because whatever they were waiting for you most likely needed or would need and you may not have the opportunity to buy it another time.

Although I try to remember this rule when I travel, the times I forget are the times I regret. Like the time I didn’t buy the metal toy truck in Cape Town because I knew we’d see several more during our trip (we didn’t).


Or when I didn’t buy a drum and then had to resort to the airport gift shop. Or when I passed up a pretty necklace at a price I saw quadrupled in future stores.


Sometimes it’s easy to remember, like buying Lindt chocolates in Zurich, wool scarves with the family clan in Edinburgh, or maple syrup in Vermont. I find it more difficult to remember when I see something different. Is it something I truly want? Is the price a good one? Will I see it again?

Maple Syrup

To prevent those post traveling blues, remember the Moscow Rule: if you see something unique, something you’re unlikely to find online or anywhere else, snatch it up, because you may never see it again. Most likely, you won’t regret the purchase, and the memories it holds will bring smiles for a lifetime.


Punkin Chunkin 2013

Where did the pumpkin go? I wondered, when I could no longer see the pumpkin just launched by a human powered machine.

The Launch

I removed my camera from in front of my face and searched the sky, suddenly aware that everyone around me was scurrying. Sent soaring over 100 feet in the sky, the pumpkin was now flying back down to earth, its trajectory not in front but behind the machine where many spectators, including myself, were watching.

All ages, from little kids to grown men and women, launch pumpkins on a cornfield at the World Championship Punkin Chunkin in Bridgeville, Delaware, each year on the first weekend in November.


People from all over the U.S. and even Australia spend months building what they think will be the perfect machine to launch a pumpkin: a catapult, trebuchet, sling shot, centrifugal, or air cannon with names like Whirled Peace, Chunk-n-ology, Pumpkin Slayer, and Cinderella’s Revenge.

IMG_2697 IMG_2701 IMG_2741

IMG_2755 IMG_2758Thousands of spectators come to watch the pumpkin chucking and the people who chuck them.

The Crowd

Pumpkin LadyDogWith no idea where to go, I started to move then heard a loud splat! The pumpkin had landed. Right next to me.

The Pumpkin

From then on I was known as the person who almost got killed by a pumpkin.

Be sure to check out my photos from last year’s event in these posts: Chuckin Pumpkins at Punkin Chunkin, Checking Out the Big Guns, Hanging Out at Punkin Chunkin.

The WCPCA (World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association) “raises money for scholarships, as well as organizations that benefit youth and the local community.” The event will be televised on the Science Channel on Thanksgiving at 8 p.m.

Trip taken November 2013.

On the Road: Looking for a Burger

You’re in unfamiliar territory. You’re driving (or flying) for miles, and you need a burger. Or at least someone in the backseat does. Besides the obvious and familiar chains, where do you find a good and quick burger when you’re far from home? Here are a few places we’ve found while driving up and down the West and East Coasts.

The West Coast, South West, and Texas

In-N-Out Burger: The menu at In-N-Out is simple and old fashioned: just burgers (made with 100% beef), fries (fried in vegetable oil), shakes (made with real ice cream), and beverages. If someone in the family doesn’t eat meat, they can order a grilled cheese. If you’re gluten-free, be sure to order the “Protein Burger,” a burger wrapped in a lettuce leaf instead of a bun. Messy but yummy.


All Over (Almost)

Five Guys Burgers and Fries: We first discovered this burger place on a trip to Florida only to learn there was a location close to home. With another simple menu, Five Guys Burgers and Fries specializes in burgers and hot dogs with your choice of a plethora of toppings. And the fries are good and plentiful. But don’t come here if you’re allergic to peanuts. Five guys uses peanut oil and offers peanuts to customers as they wait for their burger. If you’re gluten free, just get a burger without the bun. The burger is gluten free, even if the bun isn’t. Five Guys is located in 47 states. If you live in Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, or South Dakota, you’ll just have to travel.

Five Guys

New England

A small New England burger chain, Wild Willy’s has only six locations in Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire. While its burgers are made with certified Angus, all natural beef or even bison, Wild Willy’s offers more than specialty burgers. There you can get a grilled chicken or steak sandwich, or salad with fries or onion rings and a shake. If you’re gluten free, make sure to ask for a gluten-free bun, and check to see if the fries or onion rings are fried in a dedicated deep fryer. Last time we checked, both were gluten free at the Worcester, Mass. location.

Washington, D.C.

While traveling in DC in April, we discovered another simple and fast burger joint, just off the highway, Burger 7. Burger 7 offers a healthy alternative to those who crave a burger but are trying to eat healthy at the same time. The menu includes grass fed hot dogs and hormone free beef, turkey burgers and veggie burgers, whole wheat buns and lettuce leaf wraps, potato fries and sweet potato fries both cooked in olive oil, plus shakes made with organic milk. Burger 7 has three locations in the DC area, but we ate at the one in Tyson’s Corner.


Where else can you get a burger? Do some sleuthing on the internet if you’re visiting a particular place or check out these links for favorite burger joints in Los Angeles,  Boston, the Midwest, in South Carolina, and across the U.S.

Who serves your favorite burger?

Trip taken 2012 and 2013.

In-N-Out photo used under Creative Commons from whatleydude.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries photo used under Creative Commons from kennejima.

Hanging Out at Punkin Chunkin

When we weren’t watching the machines, we were watching the people, on ATVs and golf carts, on couches on top of pickup trucks, wearing orange and black, some with real pumpkins on top of their heads.

We caught glimpses of Kari, Tory, and Grant from MythBusters interviewing people for the Science show on Punkin Chunkin.

We perused the many booths along the Midway, bought mittens and apple cider, tasted hot sauce and BBQ sauce, and ate pulled pork and crabcakes, funnel cakes and apple pie.

We left the Punkin Chunkin after sunset, tired and cold but ready to return next year to Bridgeport, Delaware, for another 3 days of competition, people watching, and fun.

Trip taken November 2012.

Checking Out the Big Guns

When we weren’t getting ready to launch a pumpkin at Punkin Chunkin, our team was visiting with other teams in the 15 divisions, checking out their machines (catapults, trebuchets, air cannons), watching their launches, and making notes for next year. The competitors were friendly and open, everyone eager to show off their machines and to add a word of insight or advice.

We watched the various methods of human power used on some of the machines (hand crank, bicycle, rowing machine, even climbing a hamster type wheel).

We checked out Pumpkin Slayer and watched the machine shoot its pumpkin 1283 feet in the Adult Human Powered Division (decent but less than the world record it set in 2009 with a chunk of 1984 feet) and watched the Smokin Lamas set a new world record with their first chunk (1586 feet) in the Adult Centrifugal Human Powered Division.

We marveled at Inertia II, a centrifugal machine. After learning how its machine works, we watched as Inertia II threw its last pumpkin 2,688 feet, just 49 feet shy of the adult centrifugal world record set in 2006.

We held our ears and scanned the sky as the air cannons sent their pumpkins flying thousands of feet. With names like Spit Fire, Chunk-n-ology, Old Glory, and even the Hormone Blasters, the air cannons were sleek and colorful.

Young Glory III won the Adult Air division with its launch of 3,887 feet while Hormone Blasters won the Adult Female Air division with its launch of 3,500 feet.

Air cannon photos by Sandy Taft.

Trip taken November 2012.

Chuckin Pumpkins at Punkin Chunkin

They were big and small, wood and metal, human and gas powered, but they were all designed to do the same thing: chuck or “chunk” pumpkins across a cornfield. Trebuchets, catapults, centrifugal machines, air cannons and their teams all gathered last weekend in Bridgeville, Delaware, for the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin. And we were there.

After watching Punkin Chunkin on TV last Thanksgiving, my daughter and her friend decided they wanted to enter their own machine. A little less than a year later, they were in Bridgeville with their brothers and their own wooden catapult, named the Socket Monkey, ready to compete in the human powered youth competition.

The Punkin Chunkin competition usually lasts 3 days but due to recovery from Hurricane Sandy, each team’s three launches were squeezed into just 2 days. On Friday, the teams set up their machines, weighed their pumpkins (4 pounds was the minimum allowed), and erected their own backstop to prevent those accidental backwards flying pumpkins from launching into the crowd.

On Saturday, the competition began with the youngest competitors: children 10 and under operated their own catapults and trebuchets before the Socket Monkey launched its first pumpkin into the wind at about 8:30 a.m.

As the pumpkin hurled into the sky and splattered on the ground in the distance, volunteers on ATVs sped off with a GPS to measure the distance of the first chunk: 166 feet.

Somehow the organizers managed to squeeze in two launches for each of the 115 teams on Sunday, the last few chunks occurring at sunset. The Socket Monkey’s second pumpkin landed at 126 feet and its third at 172 feet, all respectable distances for our novice team but far less than its two competitors. Eleven-year veteran team Sister Slingers launched its pumpkin 681 feet.

But fifth time entrant Team Athena’s pumpkin went the winning distance of 983 feet, a world record for the youth human powered division.

The Socket Monkey team was happy. All chunks were forward, none were disqualified, there was no machine breakage, and the pumpkin never “pied” (splattered in the air). With a few tweaks, who knows how far the Socket Monkey will be able to hurl a pumpkin next year?

According to its website, the WCPCA (World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association) “raises money for scholarships, as well as organizations that benefit youth and the local community.” The event will be televised on the Science Channel on Thanksgiving at 8 p.m.

Check out my next post for photos of some of the other bigger machines at the Punkin Chunkin.

Trip taken November 2012.