2013 in Review

I’ve seen several posts on Facebook about how terrible 2013 was for many people. I’m very sorry for everyone who had a rough year… but mine has been great! 2012 was more difficult for me, and I guess the first half of 2013 was a bit trying as well, but oeverall, the good definitely outweighs the bad.

January

On New Year’s Day, I turned 32. At that time I was undergoing fertility testing after 2+ years of trying to get pregnant with no luck. This was not very enjoyable. Fertility testing is painful, both physically and emotionally.

A good thing that happened in January was that we got the band together! I’d been wanting to try to form this group since Fest of 2012, and in January it finally came together, and I’m very happy it did!

February

In February we had our first practices with the band, and Rob and I took a trip to Mexico.

Being romanced by a pirate in Mexico

Being romanced by a pirate in Mexico

March

In March, Rob had a surgery that was designed to improve our fertility. I was pretty optimistic about the success of the surgery, but it was also difficult because it definitely was not guaranteed to help, and both of our doctors were already implying that IVF might be our best hope, which made it difficult to maintain my optimism. I was so proud of Rob though– he underwent the surgery very willingly and without any complaint.

In March my BFF also revealed to me that she was pregnant. Although I was of course really happy for her, I couldn’t help feeling simultaneously sad for myself– a most unpleasant state of affairs.

April

In April, we adopted our second dog, Gilly. I’m happy to report that things are still going great with him! Trip was jealous at first of his new little brother, and he still gets jealous over toys and cuddle time with us, but every day they are becoming more and more like a pack. They haven’t quite reached the point where they will cuddle together, but Trip will now tolerate Gilly being right next to him on the couch. He also gives Gilly kisses on the nose, which is pretty sweet. We’re still working with Gilly on his mouthing and jumping, but overall he’s a pretty well-behaved pup, and he is only 2, so he’s still a young thing.
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A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words

A coworker put out a call on our office intranet recently asking about people’s favorite souvenirs from abroad. This was my contribution to that question… I liked it, so I thought I’d cross post it here. (By the way, I love that in French, “souvenirs” means “memories.”)

 

When I was little, my parents did a lot of traveling due to my dad’s job with Northwest Airlines. They brought many cool souvenirs back for me– I remember a wooden cow from Denmark (I think) and a big stuffed panda bear from South Korea (no, not China, strangely). The souvenir I remember the most, though, was a book from Japan, written in Japanese, in the traditional style (back to front and bottom to top). My mom used to “read” it to us by looking at the pictures and making up a story to go with it. It was something about a man who drops a rice cake into a hole in the ground inhabited by some sort of gnomes. To this day, I have no idea  what the story was really about, but I still remember it very clearly.

As an adult, a friend of mine who works in the children’s publishing industry got me interested in collecting children’s books, often gifting me with picture books for birthday or Christmas. Integrating the hobby with my love of travel, I began buying children’s books as souvenirs when I visit other countries (and anywhere, really). This began way before I had any children on the way, and I did worry for awhile that I’d never have anyone to read them to… but I still bought them, because if nothing else, I enjoy them myself. I love going to a bookstore and looking through the fun, colorful books, trying to pick out something with an inkling of the country’s culture. When I’m in a country where English isn’t the majority language, I typically look for books in the local language.

My collection has grown to be rather significant over the years, so it’s impossible to pick just one favorite. Instead, I narrowed it down to four:

1. A book of Russian fairy tales… in Russian. I love the intricate illustrations and the way the Cyrillic script looks. Even with some knowledge of Russian, I can barely read any of it, but that doesn’t really matter.

2. Les chose cassées d’Octavio (Octavio‘s Broken Things). A story about a boy who can fix anything with glue, nails, wire, etc, but who has to learn how to mend the sad heart of the girl next door.

3. Grandma Joins the All Blacks. From New Zealand, obviously.

4. An Strae Beagán (A Bit Lost). I thought it was originally written in Irish, but I recently saw it at a bookstore here and learned that it was apparently written in English by an Irish author and translated into Irish… kind of a bummer, but still a cool book. It’s about a little owl who gets lost and can’t find his mother, so a friendly fox takes him around to all the different forest animals and asks, “Is this your mommy?” Each time, the owl replies in the negative, and describes an aspect of his mother not met by the current animal. “That’s not my mommy; my mommy has big eyes!” So the fox takes him to see a frog. It goes on like this until the owlet does indeed find his mother. And then they all eat cookies. Happy endings for all.

My collection to date includes books in French, Spanish, Russian, Irish, Danish, Japanese, Hmong, Catalan, and of course English (hailing from France, Red Balloon Bookstore, Moscow, Ireland, Copenhagen, Midway Books on Snelling and University, Hmongtown Market in St Paul, Barcelona, and Australia/New Zealand/the US, respectively). Looking for books has taught me some things, as well– for example, I wasn’t able to find a book in Swahili in Tanzania, or in Spanish on Cozumel. I didn’t look that hard in Tanzania– perhaps in Arusha City I’d have found something– but my spouse and I spent a lot of time wandering around Cozumel’s main (only) town, San Miguel, looking for a bookstore. It didn’t exist. All of the librerías we learned about from the phone book or natives were actually paper supply stores. We did visit an actual bookstore in a larger town, but the only books in Spanish were obviously translated from English, and completely devoid of Mexican culture. (Which, admittedly, does say something about the world in and of itself….)

The average children’s picture book contains about 500-1000 words. They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, and while I love to take pictures while abroad, I think it’s worthwhile to bring words home, too.

Hardtack Jack’s Debut Performance; or, Mudpocalypse

This weekend, my band, Hardtack Jack, had our debut performance and gig at the Iowa Renaissance Festival in the Amana Colonies. It was simultaneously a great time and probably the worst fest experience I’ve ever had. Allow me to explain.

The bad part was mainly the weather. It was really, really bad. Saturday it rained pretty much all day, not all that heavily, but enough to basically restrict us to our covered stage area and the trailer. It was also chilly, and the combination of the two seemed to keep patrons away (and I can’t blame them).

Our first few sets were a little rocky—I screwed up notes several times, partly due to nerves and partly due to cold fingers. I also sang one of my shanties in the wrong key. 😛 For that reason it was probably good that our audiences were pretty small, especially on Saturday morning. But by the end of the day, we were getting in to the groove a bit more, and we were asked to do a song at the closing gate show. We did “Whale of a Tale,” which everyone seemed to enjoy, and then we all sang “Health to the Company” and it was very nice.

That evening we went to dinner in the Amana Colonies, at a place called the Colony Inn that had delicious German food and fruit wine. I should have brought some of the wine back, but I kind of forgot about it in all the chaos that ensued over the rest of the weekend…

Sunday it rained most of the day again. We had a bit of a break when we were able to play a few songs outside of our stage. We acquired a fan who listened to us for quite awhile and requested a few songs and sang along. He actually stood uncomfortably close to us, but he was a nice enough guy. At about 4:30 the torrential rain hit—it rained so hard that we couldn’t even really do our last show, because the rain on the roof was so loud we couldn’t even hear each other. This went on until around 6, and flooding ensued. Everyone’s cars were near to flooding, getting stuck in the parking area, and my bandmates S & J’s trailer that we were using as our home base got seriously stuck.

For dinner, S & J planned to stay in, but they were kind enough to let me drive the Suburban so I could accompany C & JP back to the hotel they were staying at and eat at the Ox Yoke, which was nearby. There we encountered a woman who had been at a couple of our shows on Sunday. She had requested “something by Gaelic Storm” right when we were already about to play a Gaelic Storm song, “Lover’s Wreck.” Strange coincidence! Anyway, we had an interesting conversation with her and she told us she took some pictures of us, and she exchanged cards with C so hopefully we can get copies of some of them.

Forum Conference in Chicago

Last week I attended the Forum for Education Abroad‘s conference in Chicago. It was good but INTENSE! It was a short conference (Wednesday night through Friday afternoon) so all the usual receptions, meetings, etc were condensed.

I don’t think most people love conferences, and in general I don’t think they are introverts’ favorite things. They’re definitely not my favorite things. But this conference was interesting– I was reading the blog I wrote when I attended the CIEE conference in Philadelphia, and a lot of things were very different this time around.

Some logistical things were different. First of all, since it was in Chicago, several of us roadtripped down there in a minivan. That definitely added to the “E”-time, but it was fine. We were a pretty quiet bunch in the van, actually. Not that I didn’t want to talk to them, but it was nice not to feel like I had to keep up with a conversation for 8 hours. The last time I roadtripped to a conference (in Fargo, ND, a couple of years ago), it was a pretty much an 8-hour conversation, which was fine but tiring.

I also had a roommate this time around. I enjoyed having my own room in Philly, but it was fun having a roomie, too. The few times I’ve roomed with coworkers at conferences or whatnot have been nice, because it does kind of allow me to get to know people on a more individual basis, and I’m more comfortable and apt to open up on those terms. So even though I’ve known the person I roomed with this time around for several years, and have always liked her, I enjoyed the chance to have some more in-depth, one-on-one conversation time.

Aside from those kind of logistical differences, this conference was different simply because I’ve been in the field longer, in a position that allows/necessitates more collaboration with people in other organizations in the field.  I am starting to feel like I know people in the field– I ran into the director of the international office of our partner university in Ireland and got to chatting with her for awhile. I met several people that I’ve worked with over email or phone, but had never met in person. I even lamented the fact that I didn’t run into someone– a colleague from Australia who I knew was going to be at the conference. (I saw her from afar once, but didn’t get a chance to say hello.) And randomly, I ran into a friend from high school! I knew she was in the field, but I didn’t know she was going to be at this conference, so that was really fun!

The conference, content-wise, was fine. A lot of the time at conferences, I feel like a lot of the topics are kind of common sense, but I suppose that comes from having the good fortune to work in an office where we have been able to be on the cutting edge of the field and implement a lot of innovations that are kind of just catching on elsewhere.

The conference was so busy that unfortunately I didn’t get out of the hotel hardly at all, and didn’t really get to enjoy Chicago. I did have a little outing to the Billy Goat Tavern with colleagues from my office, but beyond that I was pretty much in the hotel. I’d have liked to get down to the lake, but oh well. Another time!

Theft!

I was supposed to go to Ohio for work yesterday, and return today. Well, that didn’t happen.

 

At 3:00, my spouse came to pick me up from work so we could have some dinner together and then he could take me to the airport. When I got to the airport and into the security line, however, I realized that I didn’t have my wallet. No wallet = no ID = not getting on a plane. I realized i must have left the wallet at work, so I called my husband, who turned around and came back to the airport, and then drove me back to work. I had gotten to the airport early enough in the first place that I could have (just!) made my flight after going back to work to get it… except that when I got to work, it was not there.

 

I knew I had it at work that day because I’d bought lunch, and I was pretty sure I’d left it on my desk, but I dug through my bags again to make sure I hadn’t just overlooked it. I hadn’t. So there was nothing to do but go back home. I felt bad that I’d not be making it to Ohio, especially because it was my mistake in forgetting the wallet/leaving it on my desk that allowed it to get stolen, but there wasn’t much I could do. I could have gone home and gotten my passport and a backup credit card, but by the time I did that I’d have missed my flight, and I was already on the last flight into Columbus.

 

When I got home I looked up my bank and credit card accounts online and confirmed that yes, the wallet had definitely been stolen. The perpetrators had, in MAXIMUM 3 hours, racked up over $1000 in fraudulent purchases between my check card and the 2 credits cards I had in my wallet. They even tried to use my medical flexible spending card at Redbox and Target! Luckily, that card can only be used for eligible medical/prescription expenses, so they didn’t get away with that one. My bank and credit card company were able to close my accounts and mark the fraudulent charges– and hopefully stop them from being approved as they were still pending– so I don’t think I’ll have to pay any of the bills, but still, what a hassle! Not to mention I have to get a new driver’s license, insurance cards and library card.

 

Today I reported the crime to campus police. It’s doubtful they’ll catch the people, but they did ask me to find out from my bank what stores the thieves had visited, and especially with the FSA card being denied, I’m thinking the cashier might remember that. I was able to get a credit from the airline for my flight. I’m still waiting to hear back from the hotel in Columbus, but at least I should only have to ask for $250 max (hotel plus flight change fee) reimbursement from work, for a business trip that didn’t happen. 😛

Mexico

We just got back from a vacation in Mexico. Neither of us had ever been there, and it was definitely different than anywhere else I’d ever traveled. I’d never been to a place that caters SO MUCH to American tourist. We stayed on Cozumel, and we couldn’t even find an ATM that would dispense pesos there– we could only get US dollars. Usually my travel advice is just to get money out of the ATM in local currency instead of bringing cash and paying exchange fees, but in this case that wasn’t the wisest idea– it was expensive to get money out of the ATM, and everyplace took US dollars anyway. Also sunscreen was super expensive! We didn’t bring any because we didn’t check luggage, but we considered buying it at the airport in Dallas inside security (where we had a layover), but thought it would be more expensive there than in Mexico. Boy were we wrong– it was like $15 for a normal-sized bottle– and in 5 days we nearly went through 2 bottles. So those are my two pieces of advise for anyone (Americans, anyway) traveling to any of the tourist meccas in Mexico– just bring a bunch of cash and plan to use US dollars, and bring sunscreen!

Aside from those two small inconveniences, the trip was great. We have a lot going on right now between my husband’s work issues and corresponding emotional distress, trying unsuccessfully to have a baby, etc, and both of us needed this vacation like we’d never needed one before. I feel amazingly rejuvenated.

Our first afternoon down there, Tuesday, it was a bit rainy, so instead of going to the beach or pool or anything, we went into the town, San Miguel, on Cozumel. Our hotel was about 10 minutes’ drive outside of town, and we did end up renting a car (we got a roped into a time share presentation, but it did get us a good deal on the car– $50 + 90 minutes of our time for the week). I liked the town a lot. My husband thought it seemed a bit unsafe, because outside of the tourist area it looks a little bit run down. But I reminded him that we weren’t in the US, and when we went on our excursion to Chichen Itza the next day, our tour guide, Mitch (who my spouse had a bit of a man crush on, haha), reiterated that. He told us the island is very safe, even though we might feel like it’s unsafe because places that look how parts of the island look would be considered slums in the US. Sad but true. Anyway, it reassured my spouse, which was good.

One of the first things we saw was these dogs standing on the roof in San Miguel and barking. It was awesome.

Ireland

Friday, Nov 2:

Arrived in Dublin early, around 7:30am. Called the bank. Got some cash and breakfast. Got the bus to Belfast at 9:20. Texted G on the bus. Arrived in Belfast around 11:45 (a bit late) and G was there waiting. We went for a coffee right away at Costas, sat at a low table near the wall in round leather(ish) chairs. Chatted easily for a good while, then went to the Travelodge to drop off my luggage. Wandered around a bit, then met his family (dad, mom, and sister) for the bus tour of Belfast. Made the mistake of sitting on the open top, and holy crap it was cold! The bus tour took us past the place where Titanic was built, into Shankill and Falls Roads to see the murals, past Queen’s U. After the bus tour we were all freezing so we went into a pub, called Whites I think, that supposedly dates from 1630.  We had dinner there and then went to the Crown pub, very old Victorian pub that has a bunch of tiny rooms. Later that night another pub, McHugh’s, which is situated in the oldest building in Belfast, coincidentally right across the street from where G’s brother  lives. G was staying there, while his brother was away in Prague. After his family headed home, G walked me back to the Travelodge and then walked back to the apartment.

Saturday, Nov 3:

G met me at the hotel in the morning and we went to Costas again, sat at the same table for coffee and breakfast. Then we met the rest of the family and headed out to tour the North Coast. Saw the ruin of Dunluce castle, Bushmills distillery  (tour, whiskey taste, and lunch) and then the Giant’s Causeway. His family took care of all my tickets and food. I felt bad but they wouldn’t let me pay for anything. And after awhile, trying to insist just seemed awkward, so I didn’t. That evening we went for coffee at a tiny place along the seaside where supposedly they had filmed parts of Game of Thrones, drove around the area a bit, through Ballymoney where they live, through Portrush where G works, and then to Coleraine for dinner. Then the family drove G and me back to Belfast (about an hour drive). We had a nightcap at McHugh’s and then G escorted me in a taxi back to Travelodge. I had a hell of a time sleeping Saturday night because the bar across the street was very noisy, and also I think jet lag got me a bit, so I decided to check to see if I could get Roswell on Netflix over there. And I could! So I watched an ep of that and finally slept, probably around 2.


Dunluce Castle


Bushmills Distillery! Interesting tour and whiskey sample at the end!


Giant’s Causeway

G at Giant’s Causeway