ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Adventures Archive

Saturday

1

December 2018

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COMMENTS

Forced Career Examination

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“So, London it is?”

“London it is.”

Austin and I were sitting in the guest room of our Seattle home at 5:30 AM, debating between job offers he’d received from companies in Copenhagen and London. We had to let London know by end of business that day; with the time difference, that meant by 8 AM we had to have a decision, and we’d only just received the offer from Copenhagen 30 minutes prior.

We were tired, but we were talking about moving to a new city together! It was a fun conversation.

Much more fun than the one that led to it, which started with a phone call from my husband on a Tuesday six months earlier.

“So, I got laid off. They’re calling us into a conference room so I’ll know more in a bit.”

We knew it was a possibility, but hearing the words was jarring. I had a good job, and we’d been careful when we bought our house 18 months prior to make sure we could afford it on one person’s salary, at least for a bit. So we weren’t in financial trouble, but still. Getting laid off isn’t usually on one’s bucket list.

For a couple of weeks, Austin spent some time just thinking about what he wanted to do. He probably wanted to stay in his field of video game programming, but was open to other opportunities. He began applying to companies in our area, but soon asked if I had any issues with him looking at jobs in other countries.

When we first started dating, Austin told me about his desire to live abroad at some point. I get the appeal; it’s fun to live somewhere new (especially when that somewhere has functional public transportation). I also wasn’t happy in my job. I adored my boss and my colleagues, and I was good at what I was doing. But I hated the added stress that came from being in the field of emergency management.

Some people thrive on that call in the middle of the night; I was finding my heart rate rising every time I heard multiple emergency vehicles speed by (which was often, since we lived off of a busy arterial). And that wasn’t irrational stress — for the past seven years one of my areas of responsibility was mass fatality response. When there is a mass shooting daily, it’s just a matter of time before it happens in one’s own town.

And yet even with that stress, I had spent a dozen years of my life becoming good at my job. Really, really good at it. I made a tiny bit of a name for myself in a very specialized component of the work, and leaving that felt weird. I would possibly be giving up my career with no fall-back, no plan, no safety net. For a few months at least, I would be a grown woman with no children and no job, being supported by her husband. I didn’t get married until I was almost in my mid-30s; I’ve been independent most of my adult life. So now, being reliant on a partner for money? I didn’t like the feeling.

Accepting that we’d be moving and I’d be leaving my job also became a stark reminder of how much of one’s identity is tied up in work. I haven’t ever defined myself by my work (I’d say I worked in emergency management, not that I was an emergency manager), but I still could say I was doing something. Once we moved, my answer would be ‘helping us get set up in a new country,’ which was true, but that only works for so long.

After three months in London, my old boss said she had some work for me. We’d talked about that possibility when I moved; she made it a reality. Thanks to her and my new boss, I was able to work 20-30 hours each week, remotely, doing the planning work I enjoyed, but without the stress of response. It was nice, but I still looked for work. I quickly learned that continuing in my field would be nearly impossible, because I didn’t have experience working in the parameters set by UK parliament. Which was frustrating at times, but also forced me to look at options. I was right – I had no fall-back. I would have to switch fields.

I started applying for jobs in March; I received an offer in early November. All told, I applied for 27 jobs. In 19 cases, I received an email telling me I hadn’t moved on to the interview stage. I heard nothing from seven organizations. Two requested more information, one requested an in-person interview. Lucky for me, I got that job. Which I start on Monday.

I’ve been wanting to leave emergency management for awhile, and now it seems like a real possibility. My new job is fairly entry-level, in higher education. I’ve wanted to work in higher ed for a long time; when I was in graduate school the first time I contemplated focusing heavily on higher education administration but the courses weren’t available when I needed them. But now is my second chance, and it probably wouldn’t have happened, or at least not this way, if Austin hadn’t been laid off last year.

It’s funny how things work out.

Thursday

29

November 2018

1

COMMENTS

48 Hours in Berlin

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One reason Austin and I were so excited to move to a new country was the opportunity to travel. So far we’ve been to France, Portugal, and Iceland this year (and he’s been to Malta with work). So when our friends said they were going to be in Berlin and did we want to meet up, we found some absurdly cheap flights and a great hotel deal and booked a weekend away.

I first visited Berlin the summer after high school, when my choir went on tour. I didn’t remember much when I returned 12 years later with my sister. She and I had a wonderful time exploring the city and even hopping over to Potsdam for a day trip. Since then it’s been a city I remember fondly. Now, eight years later, it’s just as lovely as I recalled.

It was also so cold. So very, very cold. Not sure if autumn is a thing in Berlin but, if so, it ended well before we arrived. A quick bus to our hotel (which was literally next door to the Tacheles, which sadly is being torn down) and we were off. We hoped some Christmas markets would be open, but they were still in set-up mode. We ended up getting dinner at a tourist-y beer hall that still had delicious food. (The service was borderline hilarious though – took like 20 minutes to order, and another 15 to find someone who would let us pay our bill when we were finished). I even drank beer, as I tend to do when I’m in Germany.

To get a respite from the cold, we wandered into the Ritter Sport factory store and holy crap. I love chocolate, but have never really picked up any of their bars. We decided to get a few samplers and became pretty obsessed with the one with Speculoos cookie bits in it. So good. And of course we found a book store with a HUGE English language section and bought books, because even on vacation we’re the same people as we are at home.

Near our hotel was a delightful cocktail bar, with high ceilings, low lighting, and (probably intentionally) distressed decor. I had an elderflower gin and tonic, which is quickly becoming my favorite cocktail. We returned with our friends the next night.

The next day was apparently Totensonntag, which is a day of mourning before all the Christmas festivities commence. Probably explains the cheap hotel room — very little was open. Austin and I decided to spend about three hours wandering Tiergarten, in the bitter cold. Our friends arrived but needed a nap, so we relaxed and warmed up at our hotel until we met up for another delicious German dinner. As a vegetarian I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find things to eat, but each of my meals was delicious.

Monday was our last day, and we finally got to see Christmas markets! We ate so much – pretzels with cheese, these bread toast thingies with toppings, gluehwein, egg nog, cocoa, waffles with nutella. I know a lot of places in the US have Christmas markets, but those to me end up feeling like Farmers Markets hopped up on sugar. German Christmas markets are just something else entirely, and need to be seen in person.

It was such a short trip that we didn’t end up doing much else, so I know we’ll want to return. And probably when it’s a bit warmer.

Wednesday

14

November 2018

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COMMENTS

“As Bad As a Root Canal” Isn’t That Bad … If You Have Insurance or Money

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My first memory of dental work was when I was five or six. I even recall my dentist’s name, although I’m not going to share it here. My teeth were starting to come in, and he could tell my bite would need some correction, so he pulled five baby teeth in an effort to get things moving. The numbing agent started wear off by the end of the fourth extraction, and he didn’t offer to top me up, so I had one tooth pulled with essentially no pain killers.

You can see why I wasn’t such a fan of dental work after that.

Unfortunately, I had five years of orthodontics ahead of me. Braces, neck gear, rubber bands, and finally retainers. On the plus side, I was free from all but the retainer before I hit junior high, so while I looked awkward in middle school, it wasn’t because I had a mouth full of metal (just some bad haircuts and poor fashion choices).

I’ve also always liked sweets, so I knew I had to take care of my teeth. I flossed — and still do floss — every single night. I brushed twice a day. And yet the cavities came. And then the crowns. And the root canals. We tried prescription toothpaste. I got sealants on my teeth. And yet for many years, I feared each visit to the dentist (which I dutifully scheduled every six months) because of the newest filling I would need.

When I moved back to Seattle, I found a new dentist. He fixed some crappy fillings I’d gotten in New York, and did his best to keep fillings from turning into crowns. It didn’t always work, but he tried. In fact, the only reason my most recent root canal happened yesterday and not a year ago is because my Seattle dentist worked hard to make some adjustments.

Every molar in my mouth has some sort of restoration. When I visited my new dentist in the UK and got some x-rays, I was reminded of how lucky I’ve been to have access to dental care my whole life.

And when I was referred for a root canal last week, I was reminded of how screwed up it is that dental care isn’t covered for adults in the US. Even when people over 21 or under 65 qualify for public health benefits, dental care isn’t covered. And I’ve seen first-hand what that means.

For the past five years, Seattle has hosted a public health clinic in the fall. Individuals can, at no cost, receive medical, dental, and vision care. People line up at midnight to be let into a holding area, where numbers are then distributed. Because dental and vision coverage are hard to get in the US without private coverage, individuals are limited to medical + dental or medical + vision for each visit. The floor of Key Arena is converted to a giant dental office, filled with chairs.

Photo by KUOW

I was able to work at two of the clinics, one time as a runner, and one time managing the waiting area for the dental floor. People who had been up all night waited hours longer to be seen by a dentist, then sent over for x-rays and referred to come back the next day for a cleaning, flippers (removable partial dentures), fillings, or extractions. People who have had infections, even abscesses, for who knows how long, grateful that someone is taking their dental health seriously.

It was heartening to see all the volunteer dentists and hygienists, but it was infuriating that it was necessary at all.

I’ve had root canals in New York, Seattle, and London. I can vividly recall the walk into the New York endodontist’s office; there was scaffolding up around the building. My union dental insurance covered the full cost, I believe. The second one, in London, was performed at the dental office associated with LSE, and I don’t believe I had to pay anything for it. And I had great dental insurance in Seattle, so if I had anything to pay then, it was maybe 10%. In each of those three cases, I either had dental insurance (US) or didn’t have income and so qualified for my costs to be covered (UK).

As I sat in the dentist’s chair last week, she talked through my options. I could pay a whole lot of money to go to a private endodontist who has excellent new equipment, a private endodontist with good equipment, or I could pay £60 and go to an NHS specialist. The wait would probably be awhile, and the equipment might not be as good. I chose one of the private options, but the fact that, if I didn’t have money, I could still have secured the care I needed, is a reminder of how the UK is light years ahead of the US in so many ways.

People in the US like to make fun of British teeth. The reality is, they aren’t obsessed with the appearance of teeth; they just want to make sure their residents get to keep their teeth. In the US, people get care if they have insurance, but if they don’t? Oh well. Never mind the concerns about impacts of things like gum disease on overall health. I find it absurd that dental and vision care aren’t automatically included in all health care in the US. Those are vital parts of our overall health.

Monday afternoon I arrived at the posh dental office. After a consultation, I signed some forms and they got down to work. Even in the 15 years between my first and most recent root canal, the technology has improved. I had almost no pain during the procedure, and some of the techniques she used kept my jaw from aching and kept over spill from the various drilling and equipment out of the rest of my mouth. Near the very end, the numbing agent did start to wear off, but even then it didn’t really hurt. After about 75 minutes she wrapped things up, I popped some ibuprofen, and headed home. I haven’t needed any painkillers since.

I know I’m lucky that I had the money to get the procedure done quickly. But even if I hadn’t, I still would have been able to get care thanks to the NHS dental system.

I’m sure that there are plenty of people in the UK who have had horrible NHS dental experiences, but at least they had access to some care. It’s literally the least a country can offer its residents.

Thursday

25

October 2018

2

COMMENTS

Twenty Years

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My time in high school was absolutely fine. It wasn’t traumatic in any specific or unique way; I did well academically, I had some good friends, I had extracurricular activities (choir, mostly) that I loved. By senior year, I even had a boyfriend who I would continue to date throughout most of college. I wasn’t popular, but I wasn’t unpopular, either. I just existed, mostly happily. Sure, there were the typical issues that come up within friend groups — some bickering, some un-returned crushes — but overall, I was happy enough.

I share this because I think my 20-year high school reunion experience is completely colored by my high school experience. Someone who hated high school, or someone who loved every minute and still considers it the best four years of their lives will likely have a different take.

My ten-year high school reunion was fine. I went with a couple of girlfriends, but I don’t remember seeing that many people who I wasn’t already in touch with. I do recall that one person brought a newborn, and that someone (I cannot for the life of me remember who) offered me a swig from a flask in the ladies room (which I took, obviously). But no one ended the night in an incinerator.

Last year, a Facebook group popped up to get people thinking about our 20-year high school reunion, and people posted updates on their lives. This was before we moved to London, so I mentioned we were living in Seattle with our cats, and also that I invented post-it notes. A couple people commented, getting the joke. Others were married or weren’t, had kids or didn’t, lived in the area or didn’t, had successful jobs or were taking care of their home. Nothing totally out of the ordinary. One person is moderately famous, and they posted in the group and seem to still be very nice, so that’s kind of cool.

Once Austin and I decided to move to London, I realized the reunion was at the perfect time for us to coordinate a visit. See our family, go to the reunion, pop up to Seattle and visit friends.

As the reunion approached, I checked the list of attendees and realized I didn’t recognize most of the names. My graduating class had over 400 people in it, and maybe two of the people who had RSVPd by then were people I would have considered friends while we were in high school. I recognized a few names, but some were just … brand new to me. The girlfriends I’d gone to the ten-year reunion with weren’t coming this time, and I started to wonder exactly why I was doing this.

(I’m still not entirely sure.)

The evening arrived, and I was nervous in a way I haven’t really been before. Austin gave me a little pep talk as we walked to the venue, which I didn’t realize I needed. Was I worried about what people would think of me? I don’t think so. I was actually more just anxious that there was no reason for me to be there.

With Facebook, it’s pretty easy to stay in touch with the people you want to stay in touch with. Even though I deleted my account for the summer, in the month that I’d been back I’d found a lot of the people who I’d be interested in meeting up with solo (as is my rule for Facebook friendship). It seems to me that part of the fun of reunions in the past was seeing people one had lost touch with but wanted to connect with. These days, it’s hard to stay disconnected even if one wants to.

But I was wrong. So, so wrong. I had a weirdly fun time. Part of the fun was indeed connecting with people who I’d lost touch with but still enjoyed catching up with (more on that later), but part of it was the utter bizarreness of being in a room with a lot of people that I recognized but just genuinely don’t need to be around. I don’t have good or bad feelings towards them (I mean, I hope they’re happy and kind people, but they aren’t ever on my mind.) We shared four years of our lives, sort of, and then went off into the world, and it all felt both the same and totally different.

It didn’t actually matter whether I interacted with any of the people who hadn’t been my friends. Once I’d chatted with four or five people (including my choir teacher, which was a delightful surprise) I could leave the restaurant at any time. It almost felt like a sociological or anthropological study.

There were some odd components. We were all wearing name tags with our senior photos on them, so people would walk by, look at the tag, and determine whether they wanted to stop and say hi. Also, the drinks were super strong, and there was not a lot of food, so folks got tipsy REAL quick.

So, the women: they all looked and seemed lovely. My mother has a theory that women who aren’t feeling like they look their best won’t show up, and maybe that’s the case, but every single lady at the reunion looked happy and healthy. It was great to see. I have no idea how any of them are in their personal lives (my guess is that many of them hold political beliefs that I would not be okay with, given where many of them live), but in the two+ hours we were around each other, they all seemed fine.

But some of the men: oh buddies.

The entire evening was surreal. I just kept looking around, thinking about how odd it is that 20 years have passed and most of these people seem … exactly the same. And maybe I do too. Some extra pounds, a bunch of tattoos, a couple of piercings, a fucking awesome husband, but I think the essential ‘me’ is the same.

Which leads me to the best part of the night: seeing some old friends. There are a few people who I’ve lost touch with but who were close friends during high school. We hung out near the F wing of school, and were a bit Freaks and Geeks ish. The guys were in a band (as was I, for a hot minute — I played guitar and the only song we played was Free Fallin’). There was a lot of talk of Star Wars. By the time I was a junior, I spent more of my time with friends from choir, but I have great memories of hanging out with the F wing folks.

And that night, I got to catch up with some of those folks, and it was fantastic. Guys who were kind, sweet, and funny teenagers grew into kind, sweet, and funny adults. They all have kids, and many have partners, but they haven’t grown into adult assholes. My memories of them are not false – I did have good friends there, and they were good people. I’ve found a few of them on Facebook again, and look forward to seeing pictures and reading updates about their lives.

I’m happy I went, for sure. It was a trip, and worth it for the conversations I had. Not sure if I’ll go to my 30th (unless Jen and Kelly promise to go with me again), but who knows. Maybe.

Saturday

8

September 2018

1

COMMENTS

Back on the Pitch

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I currently have a large purplish-yellow bruise on the inside of my right knee, and a smaller one on my right. I’m also a little bit sunburned, thanks to having spent Sunday playing in my first league match in nearly two years. I’m sore, and I love it.

I started playing soccer when I was about six years old. Six-year-olds can’t really do that much on the field; there’s a lot of running around in bunches, and screwing up throw-ins. When I was a pre-teen, I started playing in goal, and never left. I played for 12 years growing up, and only stopped once I got to college. I then played off and on until I returned to Seattle seven years ago.

Thanks to a little serendipity, I ended up at a Sounders match with friends of a guy I’d just started dating (who is now my husband), and his team was looking for another player. I joined the team and played with them for almost five years. We only met on Sundays for matches; there were no practices. Sometimes folks went out for drinks after, and sometimes people brought their little kids to the games. It was a generally relaxed environment, and we were a solidly middling team.

Occasionally someone would join who took the whole thing more seriously than the rest of us, and would get frustrated that we didn’t practice. Those folks were often the ones to lose it with the refs. They were also folks who didn’t really last long. (We were sponsored by a tap house. Like, come on. Read the room.)

When our league unexpectedly shut down, we joined a different one. Our original league required a 50/50 split of men and women on the pitch, understanding that sometimes it’d be six men and five women, and sometimes it’d be the reverse. Unfortunately, there weren’t as many women who wanted to play co-ed soccer in Seattle, so most of the time it was the former, which meant six men and four women running around on the field, with me in goal.

When we switched to the new league, the rule was that it had to be five men and five women on the field, and the keeper could be a man or woman. Since we regularly had trouble finding more than five women available to play, I wasn’t able to be in goal anymore. Because of that, I left the team.

The only position I play is goalie, and while I’m not great at it, I love it. It’s a fun challenge, trying to keep the ball out of the net. I’m the only one on the field who can use her hands. I get to watch the game unfold ahead of me while also playing it. I have to learn how the back line (the defenders) play, so I can know when to expect that they’ll send the ball back to me, or clear it out.

(Also, I don’t have to run as much – I do enough of that on my own. My next half marathon is on October 7!)

When we moved to London I thought hey, maybe I’ve got a chance to start back up again. I did some research and found a club that practices just a couple miles away. They were open to new members, so I went to training.

That’s right, training! They actually practice every week. And then there are matches for an entire, proper season — September to May. It was a little awkward at first. People are nice, but they’re a club and many have been playing together for years. One can’t just drop in and immediately feel at home. I followed the drills, and was able to get a little time in goal that day. I came back the next week, and found there was another new goalie who had joined just before me, and she and I have quickly become buddies, commiserating when we have to do fitness drills or when we don’t get a lot of time practicing in the goal.

We played a scrimmage a couple of weeks ago, and just this weekend I played in my first real match, on the Reserves team. It feels so different from my time in Seattle. We had changing rooms, and proper warm-ups. It was a fairly hot day, and we played on turf, so we were all a bit sluggish. Our captain — who also plays in goal — was delightfully supportive. She warmed me up in goal, offered tips, and during the match, yelled to me (not at me) when I’d forget something or couldn’t recall the way this team does things (they have actual set plays! It’s amazing!).

There’s no guarantee I’ll get to play in any given week. The club has three teams – a rec team on Saturdays (starting this weekend), and then a First team and a Reserves team that play on Sundays. There are three keepers that I know of, and I’m probably the weakest, so I imagine if I do get to play, it’ll usually be on Saturdays.

It feels so good to be playing again. Yes, I’m older, and yes, each week I’m going to be sore the next day. I’m going to screw up on occasion. But I’m also going to get better. It’s so great to have someone (in this case, our manager and captain) offering direction about how improve. I love that I have the chance to keep getting better, and keep pushing myself.

Wednesday

15

August 2018

1

COMMENTS

In My Life

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I’m 17, and, I think I want to be a record producer. Oddly, though, I’m not really into music. At least, not the way one would think if one were seriously considering a career in the music industry. I mean, I love No Doubt, and own the obligatory Smashing Pumpkin CDs (ah, Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness). But its my love of The Beatles that puts this idea in my head.

I’m in elementary school. My parents only listen to KFRC, which plays music from the 50s and 60s. They also have some tapes (Ricky Nelson’s greatest hits, the Dirty Dancing soundtrack), and a handful of records, including Rubber Soul. All ‘oldies,’ all the time.

I’m in middle school, and we are visiting Lake Tahoe. My family goes to one of those Beatles impersonation acts (Rain, maybe?) and something clicks. This music is amazing. I want to hear every song, own every album, see every movie. But I don’t have money to buy Beatles tapes. Instead I wait for the songs to come on the radio and then record them onto my own tapes.

No streaming, no Spotify. No CDs.

Just blank tapes.

I sit on my bed with a tape in my portable stereo, tuned to 99.7, and wait for Beatles songs to come on. Wednesdays are the best for this — that is when Beatles songs are guaranteed to be played at least a couple of times per hour. I record about 30 tapes this way.

I listen to my parents’ Beatles records, cover my walls with Beatles posters. I watch A Hard Day’s Night and HELP! over and over. “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” is my favorite song at the time.

I’m in eighth grad. John Lennon is my favorite. I read biographies about him, buy his solo albums. When I move to NYC for graduate school, one of the first places I go on my own is Strawberry Fields.

I’m 35, and my husband and I buy a town home. As a surprise, my husband gets a fancy record player and the entire Beatles collection for the house.

I’m 38, and I live in London. My sister and her partner Gavin (musician and Beatles fan) are in town, so we go to Abbey Road studios. We can’t go in, but we can see the famous crosswalk and take a picture of the front of the studio from behind the fence. My sister writes our names on the wall, which will be painted over in the next year. At the gift shop I notice an advertisement for a lecture inside the studio in August. After going back-and-forth over the price, I click purchase. I’m going to Abbey Road Studios.

I listen to The Beatles on my tube ride over, but it doesn’t really hit me until I walk through the gate.

Through it.

This is Abbey Road Studios. Where all the music I associate with growing up — even 20 years after its release — is made.

Staff exchange my ticket for a lanyard and direct me to the building. I walk up the stairs and my stomach drops I cannot stop grinning.We aren’t allowed to take pictures in the corridors, just in the studios themselves. And I can understand why — there are some amazing photographs on display, of everyone from The Beatles to Amy Winehouse. Posters from movies whose scores were recorded here, like Lord of the Rings.

The lecture is held in Studio 2, the one most associated with the Beatles.It is so big inside. I don’t know quite what I expected (I mean, I’ve seen pictures), but it isn’t this. It almost feels dated — like they figure out the best sound in the 60s and 70s and decide not to screw with it. It makes sense, but I picture something slick and high-tech; this feels more like my junior high school gym.

They have a bunch of cool equipment and original instruments out for us to look at, and even let us into the control room.

The lecture follows the studio history from 1931 to today, with a chunk of time spent on The Beatles. We listen to a clip of “Twist and Shout” in the room where it was recorded nearly 60 years ago. Tears form in my eyes.

Musicians have recently recorded just the string arrangement George Martin composed for “Yesterday,” and the lecturers play it for us. It is gorgeous and moving. A couple of tears leak out.

But the moment I immediately know I’ll remember forever comes when they ask for four volunteers and direct them to each play a chord on a couple of the pianos in the room. On the count of four, they play the chords and hold them as long as they can.

It is the final chord from “A Day in the Life,” played on the original instruments.

I don’t know if rooms or places absorb the energy of the people around them — that seems a bit woo woo for me. But at the same time, it is impossible to deny the feelings I have while in that room, knowing what took place there. All the joy that has been created. The art. Songs that millions of people listen to over and over again. Songs that are the background of our days.

I’m 14. I’m sitting on my bed, replaying The Beatles’ 20 Greatest Hits, staring at my John Lennon poster. Someday, I’ll be in the room where it all happened. And it will be better than I can imagine.

Friday

10

August 2018

0

COMMENTS

Iceland is Out of this World

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I’ve technically been to Iceland a handful of times, thanks to the low fares of IcelandAir, but I’ve never left the airport. The ground outside looked a bit like I imagine the moon would look if it had a few hundred folks living on it. Many friends have visited, and all have raved about it. This summer I finally got to bust out of the Reykjavik airport thanks to the suggestion that my sister, her partner, Austin and I all go together after they visited us in London.

Getting There
There are a few airlines that fly to Reykjavik, but let’s be real. If you’re going, you’re going on Iceland Air. And that’s just fine. It’s a budget airline, but not horrifying like Ryanair. Both our flights we just fine.

Accommodation
We decided to stay outside of Reykjavik, in the town of Hveragerði. The thinking was we didn’t want to be in the big city, but we did want to be along the Golden Circle (more on that later). My sister found a cute little guest house — we got the code for the front door and our rooms via email, and just let ourselves in. The rooms had fine bathrooms, very comfortable beds, a desk and small fridge. We were a two minute walk from the restaurants in town, as well as near some nature trails.

Food and Drink
Iceland is expensive — there’s just no way around it. That said, we were generally able to eat good food without spending all the money. We did eat every meal out, but that’s a bit of stretch. Each of the three mornings we were there, we went to the local bakery and got some Icelandic yogurt (skry – SO GOOD) and a pastry, and then would buy a sandwich to eat later for lunch. Then for dinner, we’d get something local.

Our first night we ate at a restaurant that uses the geothermal energy in the area to cook the food, and one of us ate horse goulash.

Our second night we were in Reykjavik, and thanks to my sister’s research we stumbled upon the Iclandic Street Food restaurant, which happened to be celebrating their one-year anniversary. There were balloons, and cake (so much free cake). They only have three items on the menu, but we each found something we wanted, and ate our food in the bar next door (same owner), as we were entertained by a live saxophonist playing along with 80s hits.

It was amazing.

On our last night, we got pizza in town at a very popular restaurant. That was the only time where the prices REALLY seemed a bit much, mostly because of the cost of the drinks. My gin and tonic was about $17 USD. Yikes. But the food was super good.

Adventures
We rented a car, which I strongly recommend. If you’re going to go in the high season (which is basically July – August), you can’t just wing it — you need to book ahead. And if you want to do any off-roading, you’ll need to specify that with the car you rent. Our car was a basic sedan, which could have been an issue when we ended up on a road that was definitely a road, but also not entirely paved.

The landscape of Iceland is like nothing I’ve ever seen, and yet every part of it seems familiar and bizarre at the same time. Like, there were parts that reminded people of Arizona, or Ireland, but at the same time were unique.

On our way to town from the airport, we made a stop at the Blue Lagoon. I mean, have you ever seen anything like this?

Me neither.

On our first full day we went to two major sites along the Golden Circle: Geyser and Gullfoss.

Geyser is a geothermal park with an active geyser. It’s pretty amazing.

Gullfuss is a giant waterfall more like Niagara Falls than, say Yosemite Falls. Think big, not tall. Also, think breathtaking.

On our way from Gullfoss to Reykjavik, we passed some Icelandic horsies that we could feed and pet. They were adorable.

Reykjavik was fine — I’d like to go back — but the highlight there was definitely the dinner.

On our second full day, we went to Þingvellir, a national park. Gorgeous and odd. It’s situated on the seven-kilometer split where the North Atlantic and Eurasian continental plates are pulling apart. We mostly just stopped to look at some of the natural beauty, although we did see the Law Rock. So, so cool.

On our last day, we drove to a couple tiny towns to get a sense of the country, then made our way back to the airport.

Three nights was obviously not enough. We lucked out and had fantastic weather, but we barely scratched the surface. I’d love to return and do the entire ring road of the island, taking a couple of weeks to really explore it better. But as a first visit? It was pretty great.

 

Thursday

9

August 2018

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Paris in the Summer

Written by , Posted in Adventures

Another cool thing about living in London is that friends will plan a trip to Europe and we can find a way to meet up with them. That was the case with Paris this summer, when our friends from Seattle visited Paris as part of a trip to France.

Getting there
Train travel is so romantic in my mind. Austin and I once took an overnight train from Paris to Munich, and it was both uncomfortable and amazing. Thanks to the chunnel, we can get from London to Paris in under three hours, and it’s amazing. We start out traveling through neighborhoods of London, which eventually dissolve into the English countryside. Then there’s the darkness of the tunnel (where I try to forget where we actually are), followed by the French countryside, and then finally the buildings of Paris. Gare du Nord is a fine station, and on this trip was on one of the metro lines that got us directly to our hotel.

Accommodation
We wanted to be near our friends, so we picket Hotel Victoria Chatelet (http://www.hotel-victoria-chatelet.com/en/). It was absolutely fine for what we needed — centrally located, with a fan (which was much appreciated during the hot summer), a comfy bed, and breakfast (though we didn’t partake). I don’t know that I’d recommend it, but I wouldn’t tell people to avoid it, either.

Food and Drink
I mean, it’s Paris. Breakfast every day was a pastry, lunch was a sandwich, and dinner was something French and delicious.

Adventures
Our friends recommended we get a museum pass, since it would keep all of us from waiting in lines. I’m so glad they did, because it was delightful to just show up at one of the dozens of included locations, pass through security, and head in. Especially given how hot it has been in Europe, not standing in long lines was priceless. For the most part, we joined our friends on their adventures, but we also explored the city a bit on our own.

We started out visiting the Louvre. We avoided the most crowed parts, but still managed to see Napoleon’s apartments (he also knew how to throw a dinner party) and the French crown jewels.

We spent a morning at the Rodin museum with our friends – the sculptures there are beyond fascinating.

We also explored the Jardin du Luxembourg.

I finally got to explore the Paris sewers — kind of a must-see for any fan of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. It smelled down there.

I’d never been to the Pompideu Center, as modern art hasn’t really been my thing, but I’m glad we went. It was funky and interesting and also a million degrees inside the escalator tubes.

We went to Shakespeare & Co. to buy books.

Saw the Orangerie and the Musee D’Orsay.

Wandered around the Latin quarter, visited the Conciergerie and Sainte Chapelle.

As always, I cannot wait to go back.

Wednesday

8

August 2018

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Lisbon is Amazing (Ryanair is Not)

Written by , Posted in Adventures

Part of the appeal of moving from Seattle to London is the ability to travel all over Europe fairly easily. Our first attempt to actually do this was thwarted by a snowstorm in March (we promise we’ll get to you some day, Belgium), so we decided that our five-year wedding anniversary would be the moment. We picked Lisbon as the spot, as it was a country that neither of us had been to before, and booked five nights away.

Arriving
Lisbon has something I appreciate whenever I travel: an easy way to use public transportation to get to and from the airport. Upon exiting baggage claim at the Lisbon airport, you’re literally facing the entrance to the subway. Tickets were easy enough to procure, and the one transfer we needed was simple to follow (the train lines are color-coded). It was then just a short walk to our hotel.

After we were settled, we decided to walk around, and realized that we were in town on a religious holiday. Corpus Christi is a Catholic holiday, and in Lisbon they close of streets for a processional, and they also pump the mass audio out into the streets. We were beyond confused at first because we didn’t realize what was happening — we were just hearing choir music all around. A little Googling helped us determine we hadn’t wandered onto a movie set.

 

Sleeping

Because this was an anniversary trip, we went a bit overboard in hotel selection, picking Hotel Corpo Santo which is currently #2 in Lisbon. It was amazing. It’s a new hotel, and not overdone or absurdly fancy — it’s just a lovely place to be, in an excellent location. The staff were delightful, our room was comfy, the shower had lighting and music displays that you could choose to accompany your time in there), and the windows blocked out all the noise. We were only a couple of floors above the main street, and we could hear nothing. Glorious.

Eating
It might be a questionable choice, but the first place we got food in Lisbon was at a Mexican restaurant called Mez Cais, which was just across from our hotel. I enjoy eating local food, but I also think it’s kind of fun to try food from other countries while traveling, to see if it similar to what I expect of such cuisine in my own neighborhood. This was delightful — the margaritas were excellent.

In fact, throughout our time in Lisbon, we had some very good meals, and some fine ones. On the day we visited the castle (more below), we were hot and exhausted and ended up at an Italian restaurant. Their A/C made it one of the best meals I’d had in awhile.

(Side note: has anyone figured out how to do lunch when traveling? I’m always exhausted from site-seeing, cranky from waiting too long, and overwhelmed by options.)

We sampled from the Confeitaria Nacional, which had some tasty (and some odd) baked goods.

We went to the beer museum where I got green wine and accidentally ordered cod cakes.

But honestly, our best meal was probably our last night, which was at the hotel! I know, hotel restaurants aren’t usually the stuff of memories (well, good memories), but this was great. The food was delightful, the waitstaff were so so nice, and the suggested wine pairings were spot on.

 

Drinking
On our third night in Lisbon, there was a friendly football match that we wanted to catch. We initially were in a place called the American Bar. We left at the half because folks were smoking inside. And I’m so glad we did, because next door was Crafty Corner Beer. They serve local beers, have one giant bottle of cider if beer isn’t your thing, and a small bites menu that comes from next door. It’s a relaxed environment that we returned to each night because we could grab a drink, settle into a chair or stool, and just read or relax.

We also got drinks at one of the outdoor cafes along the Tagus. It was beyond relaxing to sit at a shaded table on a sunny day, just sipping something cold and reading a good book.

Exploring
June is when the Festivities of Lisbon take place, so there were little pop up markets in many of the city parks. The one across from our hotel featured some traditional Portuguese singing one night – everyone in the area was singing along and having a blast. It was delightful.

There is a ton to do and see in Lisbon — here is a sampling of what we did.

We visited the old palace, which is now open to the public as a museum. They did not fuck around with their dinner parties.

We enjoyed walking around that neighborhood because it wasn’t as tourist-focused as some others, at least not on the walk from the palace to the river. It felt more like just a normal place where people live.

Also, there were peacocks.

So. Many. Peacocks.

By chance an M. C. Escher exhibition was in town, and we stumbled upon it as we were exploring the Alges area.

We also looked at the monastery from the outside, but the line to get in was a bit long.

Instead, we went down to the river and spent a little bit of time puzzling over this giant monument. The focus on exploration as a very Portuguese thing is understandable, but there wasn’t a lot of acknowledgment of the whole colonizer thing…

We walked up to the Castelo de Sao Jorge, which gives you an amazing view of the city.

We walked back down, and saw some shops (include bookshops!)

We strolled through back streets and visited church ruins.

We also visited the museum celebrating the works of Jose Saramago, who wrote my favorite book – Blindness. (That’s his Nobel Prize!)

Overall
Lisbon was a lovely place to visit, and I think the five nights we spent there were enough to get a small taste of the full city. We’d like to come back, but this time rent a car and travel out to some of the nearby cities and parks to see more of Portugal beyond the city limits.

Air Travel
Only read this if you have a strong stomach…

We made the rookie mistake of booking Ryanair for our travel. It was the cheapest, and had some good travel times. But we failed to factor in the fact that you have to FLY RYANAIR. Which is really never what anyone wants.

Our flight to Lisbon was slightly delayed, but that was fine. It was the return that was awful. It was pretty toasty in the airport (we were in the ‘budget’ terminal, which includes some chairs, some gates, and a McDonalds), and once we were scanned through to board the plane, there were no screens, so we had no idea what was going on. At one point we were close to our departure time and still smushed into this little unventilated part of the airport. So I called Ryanair.

Me: “Hi, we’re boarding for the flight to Heathrow but we have no idea what is going on. We’re through the gate but not to the plane and there’s no information. Is our flight delayed?”

Them: “You should talk to the gate agent.”

Me: “I would, but you see, we can’t get to them, because we’re already through the gate.”

Them: “Oh, well I see that there are some thunderstorms in the area, so maybe you’re delayed by like an hour?”

Me: “Maybe? Or is that actually what is happening?”

Them: “I don’t know, I’m just saying the weather might cause a delay.”

Me: “Okay … I’m calling though for actual information, not guesses. Can I speak to your supervisor please?”

Them: “Ha ha. No.” Click

Yup, Ryanair hung up on me. I was flabbergasted. But then we were released to board the plane. When Austin went to put his seatbelt on, we discovered … vomit. Vomit on the seatbelt. Vomit on the seat back that had been sort of wiped off. Little bits on the floor. You see, Ryanair is so fucking cheap that they don’t even have seat back pockets, which means they don’t have barf bags, so if someone lets loose, it’s going everywhere.

We told a flight attendant who came back with some cleaning supplies but then said “nope” and told us to “find other seats.” Um, what? Austin was able to find one, I was not, so I sat next to vomit for the two hour flight.

I complained to Ryanair. They basically told me to go fuck myself. So yeah, I don’t care if they are paying me, I’m never boarding one of their planes again.

Saturday

14

July 2018

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“Bring the Noise”

Written by , Posted in Adventures, Politics

Since moving to London in January I’ve felt a bit disconnected from the US political nightmare that is President* Trump. I do listen to podcasts of the three MSNBC evening shows (Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell) daily to at least stay informed, but especially since I’ve left Facebook and Twitter, it hasn’t been as in my face as it was during the first year of his presidency*. Plus, I’m living in a country that has its own absurd nightmare unfolding (*cough* BREXIT *cough*), so sometimes its too much to process all of it and I end up watching reruns of Game of Thrones just to experience some lighter fare.

It’s also been a bit challenging to get acclimated to our new community. I want to support folks fighting against oppression, but I also just got here six months ago and so am not entirely sure of all the different issues, nor do I know who the trustworthy players are. I’m working at learning, but it’s definitely taking time.

That said, a few months ago (while still a member of Facebook), I started following the Women’s March London. When it was announced that President* Trump would be visiting the UK sometime in July, they scheduled a “Bring the Noise” protest. Once the date was finalized, I responded to a call for volunteers and ultimately agreed to serve as a march steward.

At a little after 10 on 13 July, we gathered near the BBC headquarters near Oxford Circus and received instructions, along with some gorgeous high-visibility vests and wristbands identifying us as part of this march. That ultimately proved handy as many, many individuals had high-visibility vests and shirts on that day. Myself and a handful of other women volunteered to serve at the back of the march, basically ensuring the group stayed together and allowing for the street sweeper (as well as an ambulance and a police vehicle) to follow behind.

In anticipation of crowds not being sure where to go, we were dispatched to tube station exits nearby. We did a lot of shouting at folks with placards to direct them to our meeting point. However, there was a second march scheduled for around 2 PM the same day (and following a similar route), so we did get some confused folks.

In fact, the sole negative interaction I had came from someone who was looking for the steward meeting point for that parade. He asked where the stewards were meeting, and I asked “for which march?” I think that must have deeply offended him, as his next statement was “the main one.” I sort of tilted my head at him because I was genuinely confused. Again, I’m no longer really on any social media, so while I knew there was another march, I had no real idea who was involved (other than the Socialist party, as they had signs already out at 9 AM), and I certainly didn’t know if that one was meant to be the larger, or if the Women’s March was. “Which is the main one?” He got quite huffy and said “No disrespect, but you know what I mean.” Unfortunately for both of us, I really didn’t, so I said so, to which he responded “I’m just trying to do a good thing. God!” And then stormed off.

People can be so odd.

The start of the march itself was lovely. There were opera singers who sang a couple of songs and then led the crowd in “We Are Family” before the march stepped off. The back of the march finally crossed the start line about 20 minutes later, and ultimately spent about 90 minutes marching through central London to Parliament Square. It was loud. It was fun (at times). It was depressing to think about how this was so necessary. There were some fantastic signs, some great costumes and make-up, and a lot of people with children. It was inspiring, and also at times frustrating.

Because of the other march, some folks saw us marching and thought they’d missed it, so they jumped in with us. Which, the more the merrier! But we always made sure to let them know what this march was, and where the other was starting just in case it wasn’t where they wanted to be.

It was also a warm (though not oppressively hot) day, and some folks were a bit slow, so we’d have to encourage them to speed it up a little because there were rather large cars following quite close behind us and they were encouraging us to keep the gaps as small as possible. There were community liaison officers from the police department there as well, and they were nice and helpful, but I’ve got some feelings about policing in general, so I wasn’t entirely sure how to interact with the men. It is a bit of a different dynamic here as they don’t carry guns so there isn’t the immediate fear that a wrong word will lead to a POC getting shot, but still.

Once we passed Trafalgar Square it got a bit harder to contain folks as the streets there are wide and the road was closed the entire way. By the time we reached Parliament Square (and the Trump Baby Balloon – which you can sort of see in this blurred shot), I was completely drained.

I didn’t stay for the rally, but walked across the bridge to catch a bus home and finally eat something other than grapes (my planning was poor – though I did have plenty of water!).

I feel that what I did was necessary and helped make the march experience a better one for people, but I’m not sure it’s something I’d have the energy to do on a regular basis. At the same time, I know these protests are important, and while there are folks taking the lead to organize them, they also need volunteers to do some of the grunt. I think a good ratio might be 1:3 or 1:4 — for every three or four similar events I go to, I need to volunteer to help with one. If we all did that, we certainly would have plenty of folks helping out.

In the end, these protests were meant to show President* Trump that he is not welcome in the UK, and that people here do not support him. I doubt he got that message. He’s not very intelligent, and he’s willfully ignorant on many topics. I can’t imagine his aids allowing him to see coverage of the protests, and I doubt Fox News framed them as anything other than gatherings of wounded snowflake liberals.

That’s not okay, but it’s reality these days, so instead I think we should focus on the fact that we all took some time on a Friday to show each other and the rest of the world that we do not support President* Trump — not his policies, not his racism, not his misogyny.

And that’s something.

Some coverage of the event:

Women lead day of angry London protests against Donald Trump

Thousands of women storm London in #BringTheNoise march against Donald Trump

*Always an asterisk, because he didn’t actually win the popular vote, and at least some of the votes he did earn were likely influence by a foreign government