Monthly Archives: October 2013

Oslo

I turned 31 this weekend, and to celebrate, Al planned a surprise weekend getaway for us to Oslo. He didn’t tell me where we were going until the night before, but, as I mentioned, he gave me cryptic little clues along the way.

Oslo

Oslo

On Friday night, we took the train to Stanstead Airport and flew to Oslo. When we got off the plane, it was rainy and cold and so dark we couldn’t see anything out the windows of the shuttle bus to the city center. But the next morning, when we emerged into the Oslo daylight, we saw this:

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Leaves, glorious leaves!

 

As you may know, I’m a sucker for fall colors. And Oslo seriously kicks butt when it comes to fall colors, you guys.

To wit:

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Apart from goggling at the beautiful leaves, Al and I packed a lot of stuff into our brief weekend in Oslo. On Saturday morning, we walked around the city and took in the major sights. As it turns out, there aren’t a ton of “major sights” in Oslo because it’s quite a small (but very pretty) city. First, we checked out the Opera House, which was designed to look like a glacier floating in the harbor. It’s a pretty stunning sight from afar, and it’s even cooler to be able to walk on top of it and get a view of the city and the harbor.

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In the afternoon, we headed to the excellent Norwegian Museum of Cultural History. Part of it is a traditional museum, indoors, with exhibits behind glass (including an exhibit about Norway’s long knitting tradition!). But another part of it is an open-air museum full of traditional Norwegian buildings (farmhouses, storehouses, lofts, churches) with restored interiors that you can peek into. Many of the buildings (such as the Stave Church, which was originally from circa 1200) were refurbished and brought to the park by King Oscar II in the 1880s.

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My favorite exhibit was an apartment building that you could walk through that showed various apartments of both fictional and real families from the late 19th century to the late 20th century. Since Al and I saw Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House here in London for Al’s birthday a few weeks ago, we were interested to see the recreation of the Helmers’ (fictional) apartment (it was cool!). After that, we also paid a visit to the Viking Ship Museum, which, I’m sorry, was overrated (and kind of a rip-off). Save your krones and just go see the cool open-air cultural museum.

For my birthday dinner, we ate at the wonderful Smalhans, which specializes in fresh food and organic wines. We had an eight-course dinner and it was SO delicious. After dinner, being the big nerds we are, we set out to find the apartment of Harry Hole, one of our favorite (fictional) alcoholic Norwegian detectives. After some searching, we found it!

Outside Harry Hole's house

Outside Harry Hole’s house

 

We also found Harry’s local bar/restaurant, Schroeder’s. We were going to go in, but it actually seemed to be full of locals (like, REAL locals) and we got intimidated. But we saw the outside, so. Mission accomplished.

On Sunday, we spent part of the day wandering through the sculpture garden at Vigeland Park, which includes more than 200 sculptures designed by Gustav Vigeland. Some of the sculptures were nice. Some of them were weird. And others were, frankly, disturbing. See for yourself.

Parenting: what not to do.

Parenting: what not to do.

Arm wrestling?

Arm wrestling?

A Scorpio and a scorpion

A Scorpio and a scorpion

After gawping at the weird sculptures, we went and grabbed some lunch at a cozy cafe, where I chowed down on elk tartare (first time for everything) and Al had a tiny bowl of French onion soup that cost more than our monthly rent in South Africa (well, almost). But it was worth it! It was such a great birthday weekend! I’m so glad I got to see Oslo, even if only for a weekend. Thank you, Al, for a great trip. Now let’s get planning that weekend trip to Finland…

 

 

 

 

On not giving up

I’m well aware that the pace of my blogging has really fallen off since South Africa. I’d like to say that this is because my life here in London is so much fuller, but that’s not entirely true. It’s definitely partly true — I am no longer effectively housebound, like I was in Joburg! — but I also spend a fair amount of my day doing things like participating in a one-woman Sons of Anarchy marathon (hey, it’s paid work, lay off me!), knitting, cooking, and reading, so it’s not like I have that many pressing errands to do in my day-to-day life. The truth is, I can be a bit lazy when it comes to blogging.

Another thing that has kept me from blogging is that I’ve been in the Slump to End All Slumps, writing-wise. I’m in limbo with a lot of my projects right now, waiting for people to get back to me (which can fairly be translated to: “waiting to be rejected”). It’s kind of demoralizing. I wrote here about how, as a writer, I experience ebbs and flows, but really, for the last year, it’s been mostly flows. Then I hit this major ebb a few weeks ago, and it sort of threw me for a loop. Weeks dragged by in which I had to force myself to write even a few hundred words each day, and I hated every single one of those words. There were even a couple of nights where I let myself cry, rather self-indulgently, and told Al that maybe I should just give up this whole writing thing and go back to being a lawyer. Al talked me off the ledge, but really, I was never on the ledge. I was peering at the ledge from afar, but I wasn’t actually going to go up close to it. Really, I just felt like complaining. I know in my heart that even when writing sucks and I feel like everything I produce is crap and everyone hates me, it’s still better than being an attorney. But it’s worth acknowledging that it’s not all sunshine and unicorns, either. Writing is hard. Rejections are really hard. Who knew?

Sometimes, even caffeine isn't enough.

Sometimes, even caffeine isn’t enough.

The thing is, though, I’m not going to give up. If all the writers of the world gave up because they hit a month-long snag in which things didn’t go their way, we’d have no books. Plus, maybe this monster ebb is a good thing, in the great scheme of things. The interesting thing about this period in my life is that it’s genuinely challenging me. It’s been a while since I’ve had to struggle to make things happen for myself: I graduated high school, went to college, graduated college, secured a job, worked for a year, went to law school, secured another job, and worked for three years. And then I quit that job, walked away from all the support structures that I had built around myself during my brief career as a lawyer, and embarked on something that required me to build all necessary ladders and bridges for myself. This is what entrepreneurs and writers and artists have to do, but it ain’t easy, and it can be discouraging. But if there’s one thing I learned growing up, it’s that you don’t give up on things just because they are hard (thanks, Ma and Dad for forcing me to do all those sports I was terrible at!). So, I’m keeping on keeping on. Just thought I’d let you guys know.

Also, I am happy to report that I think I am finally breaking out of my über-slump. The other day, I felt a tiny spark of inspiration and rode that wave for three hours, finally finishing a draft of a short story I had been dawdling over and feeling lukewarm about for weeks. Since then, I’ve felt my mojo coming back, bit by bit, and that’s a huge relief. And, in other news, I’m also feeling excited about the fact that Al is taking me to Oslo this weekend for my birthday. He kept it a surprise until last night (although he gave me really cryptic clues along the way, many of which had to do with Detective Harry Hole), and now that I know where we’re going, I am beyond excited. I will report back next week on our Nordic adventure.

Enjoy your Friday and weekend, and keep on trucking.

 

One year later

It’s been a whole year since I wrote my first post on this blog, in which I fretted about moving to South Africa while recovering from a bout of typhoid fever and an über-traumatic last week at the law firm. In the intervening year, as with most years, a lot has happened. We’ve moved from the US to South Africa to the UK. We’ve traveled to a bunch of new countries. I’ve launched a fledgling writing career. We’ve made new friends. I’ve discovered sewing and rediscovered knitting. Overall, my life is a lot better than it used to be, and I wake up most days looking forward to the day to come.

But when I stop and think about it, it actually doesn’t feel like a whole year has passed. Perhaps this is because all of the big life changes over the past year — quitting my job, moving abroad, starting a new career — happened in rapid succession, and I’ve just spent the rest of the year adjusting to a new routine. The year marker also feels a bit arbitrary, because we’re still in the midst of our big International Adventure, and it doesn’t seem appropriate to do any real retrospective thinking until I’m back in the US and can look at my time abroad with some remove.

A year in, though, here are a few things I can say that I have learned so far:

  1. I like routine. And I like feeling like I have a home. I wrote about this here and my feelings on the matter have only become more acute, because Al and I have had to pick up and move within London several times since then. We’ve been in our current apartment for less than a week and we’re moving again tomorrow. It’s a giant pain. When you move so frequently, and with such short notice, it’s not even worth unpacking your suitcases. I hate that. As much as I love seeing different parts of London, I long for a settled place in the city, somewhere I can use the drawers and closets and get into a comfortable routine. I guess there’s nothing like living like a (reasonably well-to-do) vagabond for an extended period of time that makes one appreciate the comforts of home. Also, it teaches you flexibility. And flexibility is good, right?
  2. South Africa was a mix of good and bad, and that’s okay. Just the other night, I was telling Al that there are certain things I miss about South Africa. The weather, for one. The intense, clear blue of the sky. The vivid sunsets. That wintry wood-smoke smell. Our big, roomy apartment with the little balcony and barbecue. Our car, as unreliable and beat-up as it was. The cost of living. The steak. The wine. But, I realized, it’s possible for me to miss all of that and still never want to live in Joburg again. It’s also possible to say that I disliked Joburg as a city but liked our life there. Life is tricky like that.
  3. Rejections are tough. Enough said.
  4. Having a support network is important. Duh.
  5. I miss the US, but I’m not desperate to go back. I think maybe in the spring, or even after New Year’s, I’ll feel really ready to go back to the States. But right now, I’m content to stay in London a bit longer; I really like it here. (It would just help if we could nail down the housing situation.)
  6. I wouldn’t want to do this with anyone but Al. The thing that no one tells you about having an international adventure is that it’s full of annoyances. Living abroad, it turns out, requires juggling an immense amount of logistics. And logistics are a pain in the ass. It helps to have a partner who you like when you’re trying to figure out how to not go bat-poop insane when you have to move for the fourth time in a month, or when your power goes out, or when you get not one but two flat tires in a foreign country, or what have you. Living abroad, even in a cushy, convenient place like London, is always a challenge. If you and your partner come out  of it still liking each other and wanting to travel together, so much the better. Being here with Al has reinforced what I already knew about him: he’s patient, adventurous, and flexible. He also listens to me when I whine about having to pack up my knitting stuff. He gets it. Getting it is important.  IMG_4334
  7. Being abroad makes me more aware of my Americanness. There are two sides to this coin, of course. Occasionally, I’ll see something that will make me feel smug and superior because I know my country has its s**t figured out on that issue. Walking on one side of the sidewalk, for instance. America has that DOWN. England? Not so much. Another example: Chinese food. England, please take notes on this. And don’t even get me started on Mexican food. But then, there are other things that make me realize how a**-backwards certain things are in my beloved country. There are the obvious examples (healthcare! education! Miley Cyrus!) but there are also subtle things. Like, in London, MOST movie theaters that I’ve been to serve booze. In DC, I can only think of one movie theater off the top of my head (The E Street Cinema) that does that. What gives, America? Also, London’s public transportation system is great, the post office is quick and efficient (which, as an American, is mind-blowing), and they have double-decker buses. Makes me think America needs to get on the ball, and fast. But then I’ll watch an episode of Hens Behaving Badly or see a drunk girl peeing in the street at ten o’clock at night and I’ll go right back to feeling smug and superior. So, it’s a mixed bag.
  8. I am officially too old to stay in hostels with shared bathrooms. There, I said it.

I’ve probably learned other things along the way but those are the big ones. So, I’m just going to continue enjoying my time abroad and figuring things out. Maybe I’ll check back in a year from now and tell you what else I’ve learned.

The London Knitting and Stitching Show

Any knitter will tell you that there’s just something about yarn that’s — how do I put this without sounding weird? — alluring. A ball of yarn, after all, is more than just a ball of yarn: it represents infinite possibilities. “What could I make with this?” a knitter thinks, as she strokes a ball of downy, grey angora, or a skein of chunky tweed wool. Half the fun of knitting, in my opinion, is standing in the knitting store and imagining the possibilities. This is how one ends up with a knitting bag overflowing with yarn and needles and three different projects going at any given time. (Hypothetically, of course). So, imagine, if you will, how it felt for me to stumble upon this:

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In case it’s not immediately clear, those are GIANT PILES OF YARN. Giant piles of discounted yarn! I had to stop myself from diving in. Where is this knitting Elysium, you may be asking? Why, at the London Knitting and Stitching Show, of course, which took place over this past weekend. It was so incredible, I had to go twice.

On Friday, I went to the show with one of my newfound friends from sewing class and we had a blast. There’s something really fun about walking around a convention center filled with yarn, fabric, needles, thread, beads, and other crafting supplies with another person who also finds those things exciting and beautiful. Together, we wandered around the cavernous Alexandra Palace and admired the many stands full of lovely textiles, yarns, and supplies. We also took two workshops: a cross-stitch sampler class, and a paper cutting class. Turns out, cross-stitch is pretty easy (but not that interesting, in my oh-so-humble opinion), and paper cutting is HARD, especially for someone like me with dangerously poor knife skills. But there’s something so invigorating about learning a new skill, especially one that involves using your hands to create something pretty.

My first day at the show, I tried to be restrained and not buy very much. Hence, I only purchased one new Rowan pattern book (the fabulous Nordic Tweed one) and the yarn for the awesome Nordic mittens in the book, plus a package of discounted yarn from one of the giant piles. I had to pass up a lot of other cool knitting stuff I wanted to buy, including a kit to make Latvian mittens, which, in case you’re not familiar, are awesome:

Image courtesy of folkcostume.blogspot.com

Latvian mittens (image courtesy of folkcostume.blogspot.com)

But I figured the Latvian mitten pattern was a bit above my pay grade (I still need to learn how to do intarsia), so I passed them up. Sigh.

As the weekend went on, I found myself thinking a lot about the show and a few of the items I had passed up, so on Sunday, I took a shuttle bus full of old ladies back to Alexandra Palace and did some more shopping. This time, I stocked up on beautiful tweed from Magee of Donegal (I’m planning on making a quilt), discounted books and Liberty print items, and a pack of deeply discounted Rowan Cashsoft yarn. I left feeling satisfied and super energized about my various knitting projects. Right now, for instance, I’m working on an afghan with a cool “lovers’ knot” pattern. I really look forward to working on it at the end of each day. What can I say? I’m a knitting nerd.

All those cables are a pain to make, but they look so cool!

All those cables are a pain to make, but they look so cool!

Sewing has taken a back burner for the time being, since our living situation continues to be up in the air and I haven’t felt like making the trip to buy fabric and then to the sewing shop to use their machines. So I’ve returned to my first love, knitting, which I can do right from the comfort of my own couch — or hotel room, or plane seat (assuming they let me take the needles through security). Al and I might be picking up and going on an impromptu vacation tomorrow, and you can bet I’ll be bringing my knitting bag along. I also happen to be in one of those dreaded down periods in my writing, so it helps to have fun projects to distract myself with. You know what they say: When all else fails, knit an afghan.*

* No one says that. But let’s make it a thing.

Traveling v. settling in

For almost a year now, Al and I have been lucky enough to live abroad: first in South Africa and now in the United Kingdom. When we signed up to do this international stint, we wanted an adventure: namely, the opportunity to live in and travel to new places. And we’ve certainly gotten that. When we were in Joburg, we got to travel all around Southern Africa, and now that we’re here in London, we’ve gotten to go to Scotland (twice!), Denmark, and Corsica, and hopefully we’ll get to do a bit more traveling before we leave. It’s pretty awesome. Al and I look at each other sometimes and reflect on how lucky we are to be able to do this.

BUT. (You knew there was a “but” coming, right?)

The truth is that the price of being mobile (or, to put it differently, being hobos) for a year and a half is that there is a crap ton (i.e., a lot) of uncertainty about where we’re going next, and when. The way we’ve chosen to do this within Al’s company has meant that we must go where Al gets staffed, with little notice ahead of time. So, although we’ve been in the UK for three months now, we don’t know how much longer we’ll be here, or even where we’ll go next if we don’t stay here. There’s always a cloud of uncertainty hanging over our heads in the short term, which means that we have to be really flexible. And being flexible is hard.

Have international driver's license; will travel.

Have international driver’s license; will travel.

The other day, for example, we had to move out of our corporate apartment and check into a hotel for one night and then move back into the corporate apartment. In preparing to do this, we realized how much stuff we had accumulated (and I will take credit for a lot of it: my sewing and knitting habit adds up to a lot of crafty detritus) and how annoying it is to have to haul all of it around London. We resolved to do a purge of our stuff when we get back to DC, and in the meantime, to put a lot of it in storage so that we can move more easily on short notice, if we need to. This is the sensible solution; it’s always better to have less stuff.

BUT.

The stuff I’ve accumulated — sewing books, knitting needles, yarn, cloth, thread, scissors, the handmade products of my labors, and so on — represents, to me, a life in one place. And, despite my love of travel, I really like living life in one place. Don’t get me wrong, traveling is great! But I enjoy having a home to come back to afterwards. And home, to me, means a place where I have bags of yarn and needles, books on shelves, tea and edibles well-stocked, and clothes put away in closets and drawers. When you’re living out of suitcases for extended periods of time, it just doesn’t feel like home. I’ve realized that the main tradeoff to being wild and crazy guys/gals who travel around the world on a moment’s notice is that you must leave behind the stuff that makes a place feel lived-in. Al and I have always differed a bit on this front: he relishes the thrill of traveling to new places. I do, too, but I’ve always preferred settling into a place. I like traveling somewhere and then putting down roots, getting to know the place, pretending to be a local. This is what I did when I moved to Brazil, for example. And to be honest, I’ve really started to settle into London, which means, if we have to leave, it’ll be hard.

I’ve been trying to adjust my attitude about uncertainty. I remind myself how lucky we are to be doing this and how exciting it will be to see new things. If the trade-off for traveling to marvelous new places and having adventures is that I have to put away the cozy trappings of home and shake up my comfortable routine, so be it. That’s what we’ve chosen to do. But it’s nice to know that when this adventure is over, we’ll be staying in one place for a while.

Until then, I’m going to take my knitting bag with me.

Happy birthday to Al

Tomorrow is Alastair’s birthday. As I mentioned in this post, he is twenty-two days my senior, which allows me to say, with a straight face, that I am married to an “older, foreign gentleman.” It makes being married to a Canadian who is a couple weeks older than me sound positively intriguing, doesn’t it?

I have many birthday festivities planned for Al this year, several of which I cannot reveal at this time, in the interest of maintaining the crucial element of birthday surprise. But I can reveal that these plans will include (but will not be limited to) the following: chocolate, sparkling wine, regular wine, food(s) of various sorts, handmade item(s) by yours truly, and more chocolate. Al, deny it as he may, is a big chocolate fan. There is historical proof of this:

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Implied message from baby Al: this entire cake is MINE.

In the interest of getting birthday-ready, and since I am at a good pausing point with all of my various writing projects, I am thinking about taking the day off to make and bake things. So, off I go!

Happy (almost) birthday, Al! I love you!

October

October is one of my favorite months, and not only because it’s the month of my birth. Actually, I used to think that my birthday subsumed the entire month of October. I have a really specific memory from when I was four or five years old of waking up on October 1, running downstairs, and announcing to my mom that it was MY BIRTHDAY. She gently disabused me of that notion and eventually I figured out how calendars work. But I still kinda think of October as “my” month.

No, but really, I like October for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with the fact that I have, for the last thirty years, stuffed myself silly with cake on the 27th of the month. For one thing, my husband was also born in October. He is exactly three weeks and one day older than me, which, in his book, automatically makes him far more worldly and experienced than I. “My eyes were already starting to focus when you were born!” he likes to reminds me. So, we’re both October babies, although my husband is a Libra and I’m a Scorpio, technically, although I am the most atypical Scorpio in the world, except for the possessiveness part, I guess? I’m really more of an uptight Virgo at heart, but what are you gonna do? The planets are aligned how the planets are aligned and thus, I must be, by definition, “jealous, obsessive, suspicious, manipulative, and unyielding.” Flattering!

Another thing I’ve always loved about October is that it’s the first month of the year that’s fully FALL. September, if we’re being real, is mostly summer. Sure, in September you go back to school and maybe a leaf or two turns orange, but only the last week of the month is officially fall. In October, though, there’s no pussyfooting around: fall is HERE. Leaves turn colors, the wind gets all blustery, it’s acceptable to wear cable-knit sweaters and boots, it’s time to start thinking about your Halloween costume that probably won’t happen, and, as if by magic, pumpkin-flavored stuff appears everywhere. Pumpkin spice lattes are to fall what crocuses are to spring: when they start popping up, you know the seasons have really changed.

Image courtesy of http://dankimredmango.tumblr.com

Image courtesy of http://dankimredmango.tumblr.com

The thing is, fall isn’t even my favorite season. Someone with my circulation can’t really afford to get behind a season that includes November, I’m sorry. I’m much more of a spring fan, personally. But fall has a lot to offer, and October itself is the best month of fall. Here’s why:

  • I have a real excuse to knit now. My compulsive knitting looks weird in the summer, but no one blinks an eye come October.
  • My birthday + my husband’s birthday –> plenty of excuses to overindulge. Like we needed them.
  • Pumpkin stuff.
  • Halloween. Even though by the time Halloween rolls around this year, I’ll be 31 and probably in a country where people don’t care about Halloween, I’ll still celebrate it in my heart.
  • It’s acceptable to watch It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown any day this month.
  • Best birthstone ever: opal. (And tourmaline, I guess). Suck it, November (topaz? Pshaw)!
  • Speaking of birth things, did you know that every month has a “birth flower,” as well? Actually, each month is assigned not one, but two flowers, since there is a British system and an American system. I smell a sinister, worldwide flower conspiracy afoot. Anyway, October’s flower is the Misty Blue Limonium under the British system, and the Calendula/Marigold under the US system. I had never heard of either the Misty Blue Limonium (which sounds like a kind of fancy floor tiling) or the Calendula (which sounds like an unsightly growth you’d get removed at the dermatologist’s), so I googled both. The Misty Blue Limonium is okay, and it’s actually purple. The Calendula, if nothing else, is fall-like.
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So dewy!

  • It’s National Pizza Month. In America. In case I needed to specify where else one would celebrate National Pizza Month.
  • It’s also Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Adopt a Shelter Dog Month.
  • And Apple Jack month, whatever that is.

Okay, that’s enough reasons. If I haven’t convinced you that October is awesome yet, you’re unconvinceable. And so, on that note, I bid you all a Happy October (Merry October?) and hope that if you’re in a place with sweaters, leaves, pumpkins, and animals in adorable Halloween costumes, you take some time to appreciate it today and every day this month.