Life Update: Back and Forth

I had a really thoughtful post all planned out in my head for today about song lyrics that struck me the other day in the car.  But then I barely slept last night and I need to go to bed early because I’m flying out to North Carolina tomorrow to start unpacking our new house.  So instead you get a brief update about the logistics of the remaining month until the wedding:

>First, I fly out to meet the Engineer and his brother at our new house (yay!) in North Carolina.  I’ll be there for the Engineer’s first few days of classes, then…

<I fly back to the Pacific Northwest to finish up wedding details for 2 weeks.

<He flies back to the Pacific Northwest so we can get married.

<We go to Hawaii.

>We fly all the way back to North Carolina and finally stay put for a while.

Oh, and here’s a question I was mulling over with the Commodore: can I put Wedding Coordinator and Moving Director on my resume now?

 

Gallivanting Between Grad Schools

The Engineer and I are trying our hand at the travel side of adulting: namely, booking our own flights and transportation to all the grad schools he plans to visit before making the final decision about where he (and I) will live for the next five-ish years.  So for most of the month of March, we’ve been traipsing around the country.  For the week before spring break, we visited two schools in five days:

Purdue

At my boss’s urging, I scheduled a visit to the Purdue Writing Lab, from whence came the amazing resource that is the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) that we use for virtually every tutorial involving MLA, APA, or Chicago style citations.  Needless to say, I nerded out a bit.  Although I plan to find a job off-campus after this year, it was interesting to see how another writing lab operates.

The student union building is basically a castle.  There are stone arches and stained glass windows and double staircases and a hall where people nap on couches that look like they belong in a museum.

Also, we found the not-at-all-sketchily-labeled “Tunnel to Phys. Bldg.” on a door that looked like it should lead to a bomb shelter.  Sure enough, despite some pipes sticking out of the ceiling and a few random sets of stairs that led straight into walls, we found ourselves in the physics basement!

Though I spent most of the days in the hotel or at the Panera next door, the Engineer brought me along to the final dinner with a few professors from the physics department.  One of the profs asked each of us at the table about our area of study.  “Astrophysics.”  “Nuclear.”  “Creative writing…”  He was a tad confused.

The Ohio State University

The day after the Purdue visit ended, we rented a car and road tripped to Ohio (which was weird, since we’re used to much longer trips just to cross our single state, and also when did we get old enough to rent a car unsupervised?).  I was looking forward to this visit even more than the Purdue OWL tour, because I got to hang out with Bird!  The Engineer was whisked away on physics department activities, so I met up with my beloved sister for the evening.  She bought me chocolate covered coffee beans and we talked for hours, as we tend to do.

On our second day, after a slow start thanks to our travel-related exhaustion, Bird and I got breakfast while the Engineer saw the physics research building.  When we went back to her dorm, Bird was shivering and yawning, so I sent her to take a nap while I got some work done at her desk (leading 2 of her roommates to greet me with Bird’s name when they came in the door…for some reason people think we look alike).  Turns out she had a fever, so the Engineer and I told her to go straight to sleep and just got dinner ourselves.

The Engineer and I explored while Bird was in class the next day (she had slept for 16 hours and her fever was gone, so that was good), and then he flew home.  Bird wanted me to go with her to Bible study and a praise and worship thing at church that night, so I stayed an extra night.  It was great to meet everyone at her Newman Center – one of her friends actually ended up giving me a ride to the airport at 4:30 a.m. the next morning, having extended the offer after 5 minutes of conversation!  Sleeping on a dorm room floor for about 4 hours isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world, but it was well worth it to spend time with my sister.


The next week was spring break, so I actually saw Bird a few days later after a brief return to our own college town.  The Engineer had gone to North Carolina right after Ohio to tour another school without me, so his spring break was a bit abbreviated.  Our vacation was lovely (more on that in another post), but at the end of the week we flew straight out for another round of visits:

Santa Barbara

We’ve agreed that the next time we go to Santa Barbara, we’ll just fly straight in to their airport rather than taking the cheaper-but-much-longer-and-more-headache-inducing route that involves LAX and a 2-hour shuttle ride.  California was pretty, but I was under the weather during our one full day there, so I didn’t get to do much exploring.  On most of these visits, the Engineer and I have sort of tag-teamed it: he goes on the academic, scheduled tours, and I try to get out and get a feel for the surrounding area, since I hope to live and work off-campus for the majority of the time he’s in grad school.  Then we compare notes on our general impressions.  Santa Barbara was fine, I guess, but I am not a warm-weather person.  (As Bird once put it, “We are of strong Norwegian stock.  We were built for 6-month winters and icy fjords.”)  Since the visit was only one day, it was most whirlwind of our visits.

And then we had another 2-hour shuttle ride to get back to LAX.

Boulder

After one full day at home (well, my home, the Engineer’s being 3 hours away), my dad dropped us off at the airport yet again for our final trip: University of Colorado, Boulder.  I got a tour guide of my own on this trip, too, since the Commodore lives in Colorado!  She was kind enough to shuttle us around, bringing us from the airport to our hotel and meeting up with me while the Engineer was busy even though she lives an hour away.

The Commodore and I being bookworms, we spent our first two days wandering around the downtown area of Pearl Street and perusing multiple bookstores.  I limited myself to only two books this time, despite the Commodore being a blatant enabler when it comes to spending money on literary pursuits.  (To be fair, I was equally encouraging of her desire to get yet another book about Tolkien.  But it was one she hadn’t read before!)  We also just hung out in our hotel room and talked, which I’ve missed doing with her since she moved.

Our departure from Boulder was weirdly scheduled, thanks to the Engineer realizing that he had to be back at school on Monday for an unavoidable commitment after we had already booked separate tickets.  My flight was Saturday night, so the Commodore came to pick me up and took me to see her new apartment, where I finally got to meet her guinea pig, before taking me to the airport.  The Engineer stayed in Boulder one more night before I picked him up Sunday morning and we both drove back to school.

The visits were definitely beneficial and will help us make our final decision, but for now both the Engineer and I are just excited to stop hopping time zones and stay in the same place for more than 3 nights in a row!

NerdCon Stories Part 3: Saturday

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I figured if there was anywhere to wear my Augustus Waters t-shirt, this was it.

Saturday morning began bright and early with a John Green Yoga Adventure hosted by YogaQuest MN.  This was basically like MadLibs with yoga poses: one of the instructors read a narrative in which the protagonists of Green’s novels found themselves outside their stories and tried to find where they belonged, while the other instructor led us through poses associated with each character name, certain nouns, and some verbs.  Whenever Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars was mentioned, for instance, we did Warrior II, because she is a strong female lead.

After yoga I ran back to the hotel for breakfast in the Executive Lounge (leftover perks from having to stay on the pullout couch in the Executive Suite!) before heading off to “Centering Women in Fiction: Removing Your Unconscious Bias.”  A panel of amazing women creators talked about internalized and learned biases that even we women have against ourselves, and how we can combat those by supporting (and even demanding) those stories when they do appear.  The girl power in the room was fantastic.  I also ran into Shayna from the feminist publishing panel the day before, so we sat together and chatted a bit.

When that panel let out, I went back to the expo hall because I wanted to try out the Depict-O-Mat.  Essentially, it’s some people in a box who interview you for a few minutes and then produce an impromptu puppet show starring you.  In mine, I was Queen of the Dragons.  Plus I got to keep the puppet!

After some lunch, it was time for our kaffeeklatsch with Saladin Ahmed.  Twelve attendees got to sit down with a featured guest at kaffeeklatsches (so called because there were coffee and tea available) for an hour and chat about creativity, process, and whatever else we wanted.  Though I didn’t actually talk, it was just nice to hang out and hear others’ thoughts on representation, writing, publishing, and reading recommendations.

From there, I dashed straight to the auditorium to get a good seat for the afternoon variety show.  This is also where I found Shayna again and she joked that I must be stalking her.

2016-10-15-16-55-45The variety show included a Q&A lightning round with a squid, a conversation between Nalo Hopkinson and Daniel Jose Older, a lip sync battle, and a talk by John Green.  All I’ll say about that talk is that 1. he made me cry again and 2. you should go read it.

After the variety show I went down to something called Story Circle, where we all literally sat in a circle and talked about nerdom.  I got to say some things about Arabian Nights and how cool it was to be at NerdCon: Stories in the first place, so that was definitely fun.

My last panel at NerdCon was “Breaking into Publishing,” which is pretty self explanatory.  I got some good notes, some good quotes (my favorite was “How did I break into publishing?  With a black ski mask at night.”), and some good motivation to actually finish my manuscript so I can start querying! (I also saw Shayna.  Again.  Really can’t blame her for thinking I was stalking her.)

And thus, knowing I had a shuttle coming at 5 am the next day, my NerdCon: Stories experience was over.

NerdCon Stories Part 2: Friday

After hanging up with Dad, I walked a few blocks to the light rail and rode it back to the airport to pick up my phone.  Fortunately I had a few hours before the first panel I really wanted to attend, so I wasn’t missing any of the convention as a result of my predicament.

Riding the light rail without my phone was surprisingly serene.  Public transportation in new cities always reminds me of taking the T on my visits to Boston and riding the Tube around London, and without any games to play or people to text, I was left to look out the window at the city around me.

Of course, once I got my phone back, I immediately began documenting the experience via Snapchat, Twitter, and texting.

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The wall of a parking lot right outside my hotel.  I wonder what melody it is.

Back at the hotel, I took one of Minneapolis’s many downtown skyways to the convention center, a convenience that made running back to my hotel room between panels much easier.  Unfortunately, I was too late to attend the Mental Health in YA Literature panel, but I was overjoyed to see that it was filled to capacity because so many people wanted to discuss that topic!  After checking in and getting my preordered t-shirt, I wandered around the expo hall a little and bought some typical convention center fare for lunch.  The tables were huge, so huge that you were almost forced to sit with strangers because it was too ridiculous to have a table for 10 all to yourself.  Thanks to this, I soon discovered one of the perks of NerdCon – social interactions aren’t as awkward because everyone is around the same level of nerdiness.  For instance, a random guy asked to sit at my table, struck up a conversation, and ended up showing me his short story.

2016-10-14-11-18-24After lunch I wound up in a panel on self-promotion, which was entertaining if not particularly enlightening.  All of the panelists claimed not to be good at self-promotion, which seemed like poor planning, but since I wasn’t terribly invested in the topic I just enjoyed the banter between the featured guests.

Then came A Brief Exploration of Feminist Publishing, in which I met several wonderful ladies who are also striving to both find women in writing and create their own content.  We talked about the point at which we first realized the divide between male and female authors, who our favorite women writers are, and the history of feminist publishing.  I loved my little group and our whole discussion was fantastic.

The Writers Panel with Ben Blacker was up next.  I made more new friends as we filled up a ballroom and waited for the interview to begin.  The interviewee?  John Green.2016-10-14-16-24-04

I will admit to quietly flailing in my seat and taking far too many pictures as John came out and introduced himself.  But as their conversation began, I found myself simply needing to listen.  I was so grateful that John was so generous in sharing his writing experiences of the past and present, and that he was willing to delve into mental health and personal balance as well.  One part in particular hit me in a visceral way, because he used a similar word choice to what I tell myself when I talk about my depression.  The interview closed with questions from the audience, which John answered thoughtfully.  (I will update this post with a link to the podcast when it is released.)

My first day at NerdCon: Stories closed with an invitation to dinner with one of my favorite bloggers from SnarkSquad!  Mari and I had connected over Twitter when I realized we would both be at the convention, and she was nice enough to include me in a dinner with a few other internet friends.  After dinner, I went back to my room, watched the end of the second Harry Potter movie on TV, and went to bed (a real bed, having switched rooms earlier in the day!).


Read about my travels to NerdCon: Stories here!  And read about my adventures on the second day of the convention here!

NerdCon Stories Part 1: Getting There is Half the Battle

This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending NerdCon: Stories in Minneapolis.  I’ll post about the various instances of awesomeness in later posts, but first: the adventure of getting there.

I raced home from work on Thursday to frantically finish packing and dash to the airport, only to receive a notification from my handy dandy airline app informing me that my flight had been delayed. On the plus side, I had time between flights, so I wouldn’t miss my connection. And now I had time to eat some lunch without getting too stressed. Still, I’ve never been good at sitting around and waiting for things to happen or planes to take off. I don’t always like the journeying part of travel.

So I got to the airport in the pouring rain with about an hour to spare, taking the steadily increasing delay into account. And I waited. I made it through our tiny little convenience-store-sized security system. And I waited some more.

When they began boarding, I realized that I had yet to be assigned a seat according to the app (I was flying standby thanks to my dad’s Pilot Privileges). So there was some slight panic as I approached the gate agent and asked, “Is there room for me?” That’s always the danger when you’re non-revving – will someone else, someone who can pay, dash up at the last minute and get you kicked off? Will you find yourself stranded?

I did not. I was quickly assigned a seat in a half-empty plane and made it to Seattle with no issues. My dad and his wife met me there for a brief dinner and hugs before I was the last person let onto my flight to Minneapolis. We landed around midnight local time, but my body clock thought it was only 10:00, so I felt okay. I made my way through the airport to the shuttle kiosk, and I reached for my phone to look up my confirmation code.

It wasn’t there.

I pawed through my bag, upending it in front of the kiosk, sitting cross-legged on the floor and swearing for a good five minutes. It wasn’t there. How could I have been so stupid as to lose my phone in an airport?  Well, if I was lucky, I had left it somewhere outside of security.

I was not lucky.

If I was lucky, someone would find it and turn it in. And someone did, but not until I had called the airport assistance line and left a message describing the phone and telling them to call my dad if anyone found it, and by the time the nice people directed me to the employee who had collected my phone, she had already locked it up nice and safe and inaccessible until regular business hours the next morning. I would have to come back, she said, or they could ship it to me.

Now, I had been without a working phone whilst traveling before, in Nottingham, and I vaguely recalled this initial feeling of immediately wanting to call and text anyone and everyone who might ever want to communicate with me for any reason. The very fact that I couldn’t get through to Mom or Dad or the Engineer made me want nothing more than to hear their voices.

So I fretted all the way to the hotel, resolving to take the light rail to the airport first thing in the morning and retrieve my communicatory abilities.

At the hotel, I met a bow-tied, bespectacled concierge who very nicely informed me that the hotel was sold out, so they were putting me up in the Executive Suite for the night.

“It’s usually used for meetings,” he said, showing me a brochure picture, “but it also has a queen-sized pullout couch!”

I could have cried. It was nearly 1 in the morning by this point, the hour that even my time-zone-differentiated body wanted nothing more than a comfortable place to sleep. Of course, it wasn’t the concierge’s fault, and he gave me Executive Level Privileges and free coffee vouchers for the entirety of my stay, assuring me as he did so that I would of course be allowed to move rooms the next day. Still, upon my arrival at the 23rd floor (really the 22nd since they skip 13, but we’ll ignore that), I was dismayed, not impressed, by the size of the room. There was indeed a faux marble conference table with high-backed chairs around it, a kitchen, a fancy bathroom, a little foyer, and a huge TV. But all I could focus on was the sad little lumpy pillow in the middle of the pullout couch. At least I didn’t have to set it up myself, I supposed. Even so, the room had too many corners, too many things in it to make me feel secure.

Thinking of security, I went to call my parents and the Engineer on the landline to assure them that I had reached the hotel and was not kidnapped or otherwise incapacitated on my way. But none of the long-distance calls would go through. It might have been for the best, since that would have been more expensive than I could afford, but it just made me more upset (we were now approaching 2 in the morning). So I decided to email them all.

Except the WiFi wouldn’t work.

At this point, I’m sure someone of sounder mind than I would have called or marched downstairs and demanded that these things be fixed. All I wanted to do, though, was go to sleep.

And sleep (fitfully) I did, until the phone rang with what I assumed to be my wakeup call.  Instead, it was my loving, long-suffering father, who had gotten a call from the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport at 5 am his time, letting him know that my phone had been turned in.


Read about my first day of the convention in NerdCon: Stories Part 2!

Adventures on the Peninsula

Since she was leaving for college in a few weeks (though Mom, Dad, and I were largely still in denial about it), I decided to take Bird with me to visit the Engineer’s family on the peninsula.  She’d never seen it before, and she wanted to meet his dog, so we went up for a few days.

Salt Creek

The first evening, we went down to Salt Creek, one of my favorite places in the world.  As we walked along the beach where the river ran down to the ocean, we noticed an…odor.  The Engineer commented that it smelled like low tide, then added, “Oh.  Or it’s that.”

That was a dead sea lion.  It had been washed up long enough that its ribs and vertebrae were starting to show and the fur was beginning to slough off its skin (I’d forgotten that sea lions had fur, actually).  As we edged around it, Bird, future veterinarian that she is, said, “Aw, it’s cute!”  The Engineer and I did not exactly agree, but at least Bird’s curiosity didn’t let the dead animal ruin the evening.

We walked along (now suspicious of every pile of kelp lest it contain another dead animal), climbed some rocks, and watched the sun set over the water.

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Bird got a cute silhouette shot of the Engineer and me

Hurricane Ridge

After some car troubles, we made it up to Olympic National Park.  The road up to Hurricane Ridge involves a lot of winding turns and a few tunnels hugging the side of the mountain.  At the visitor center, we saw a few marmots in a meadow and an utterly complacent deer sauntering through the parking lot.  Not wanting to stay too long since we had borrowed the Engineer’s mom’s car, we headed up one of the short trails, a 1.5 mile loop that promised “spectacular views.”

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On our way up the trail

As we climbed, we saw a doe grazing on the hillside below us – then noticed her two adorable fawns!  Farther on, a brown shape scurried across the trail, eliciting a yelp of, “Marmot!” from Bird.

“That’s a grouse,” the Engineer said.  I noticed movement at the foot of a nearby bush.  The grouse had a chick with her, a fluffy, energetic chick that seemed to ignore all of its mother’s cackles that probably meant, “Get over here this second or I swear I will feed you to those humans myself.”  Kids, right?

At the top of the trail…well, the view did not disappoint.

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Marymere Falls

Since we seem to make this hike nearly every time I visit the Engineer’s family, we had to visit Marymere Falls before we left.  The trail winds through the forest to find the creek, where you can wade straight into the water from a wide gravel shore.

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20160803_140030Bird pointed to a natural, miniature harbor and said, “That’s where Ratty ties up his boat, and he and Mole can get up to their house through that tunnel in the bank, there.”  We discussed the logistics of hiding the canoe from humans, and where Badger’s house might be (further up in the woods, we decided), baffling the Engineer, who had never read The Wind in the Willows.  (Though he’s quite used to me pointing to little holes in tree trunks and insisting that fairies and elves must live there, so we probably didn’t sound too absurd.)

 

After crossing two bridges over the creek and its tributary, the trail turns steep.  We led Bird up to the higher vantage point first, then followed the loop down to where you can look up at the full height of the falls.  The Engineer and I slipped past the railing and climbed down to the pool at the base of the waterfall.

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Once we’d made it back down the trail, we decided to go for ice cream at Granny’s Cafe, where we met a 12-toed cat!

 

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He looks like he has mittens on!

So there you have it, dear readers: proof that Bird and I do, occasionally, go outside and enjoy ourselves.

Elephant & Castle: How Fond I Am of Trains in Other Cities

When I was in London, I bought myself a day pass for the Underground and rode it all over the city. Underneath the confusing, not remotely grid-like streets, skimming along through the compact tunnels, I felt like I had unlocked a secret warren of passages. I was proud of myself when I stood in a jam-packed car without falling over, my grip resting only lightly on one of the poles, or my arm looped casually around it. Time didn’t seem to matter down there; I would get to my destination whenever I got there, and if I went a stop too far, why, I’d simply turn around and find my stop again. I fancied myself one of Those People, the well-traveled ones who snatch up a map of the local public transportation upon arrival and use the privilege for all it’s worth.

I felt the same way nearly four years ago when my father took me to Boston to look at a college. After a kind stranger showed us how to purchase the correct day passes and positioned us directly in front of where the doors to the car would be, I picked up the workings of the T like that. My dad helped me navigate, of course (he wasn’t about to let a Teenage Girl Wander the City Alone) but I began figuring out the geography of the city and how the T could bring us closest to where we needed to be. I could picture myself there, heading into the city for the day from campus, studying on my way back, my highlighter barely shaking with the motion of the tram.

When I went back to Boston with my mother, I was the one showing her how to use the T. She knew how to read public transportation maps, of course, but I remembered a good deal of the system from my first trip. She didn’t always trust me on which line we should take, but I knew. I was confident.

Confidence was a big deal for me then. It still is. It baffles me that the girl who only rides certain bus routes in this small university town for fear of ending up lost could step onto trams and trains in strange cities and feel perfectly at ease.

I don’t know why I love train travel. Maybe it’s just nice to feel so in control, to look at those multicolored webs and know exactly where I’m going. College is a lovely time of life, but I’m not always certain as to where I’ll end up. When I heard the robotic voice say, “Tower Green,” on the other hand, I knew I’d found my stop.