Getting where?

Menu Close

Category: Everything else (page 2 of 3)

Summer’s gonna rock, you guys

This beauty is on its way to me.

Right as I got home from the US and declared it’s now The Six Months Of Saving A Lot For The Trip, I just spent a whole load of money this weekend. And NOT on travel.

I bought a bike (and related accoutrements) and I registered for a few swing dance events.

I feel this is all justified.

A lot of what I thought about on my lazy train rides to and from North Carolina was what I wanted the summer (and all the time preceding my whole rip-it-up-and-start-again thing) to look like. My priorities surfaced pretty quickly: friends, dancing, Scotland. All of these overlap quite nicely.

I tend to say yes to way too much extra work and crap I really don’t need to. Between that and seemingly endless life admin bullshit, I’ve been feeling really overloaded when all I really want to do is make time for the stuff that makes me feel like life is awesome. So really I just want to say yes to doing more with my friends around Edinburgh and the rest of the country. And I want to do as much dancing as possible. And hopefully feel like I’m getting better at it.

You may remember that I was thinking of going to Sweden for a week of Herräng dance camp this summer. I decided in the end that I’d have to push that plan to another year in order to save more for the Trans-Siberian. As luck would have it though, Rob and Diane Van Haaren, who have taught at Herräng for most of the last 20 or so years, are doing a workshop in Edinburgh in July, so I can get a taste of swing dance summer camp without leaving home (and for an incredible price). Then just before I run away in November, Edinburgh Winter Swing Weekend happens, which also includes super amazing teachers (Jo Hoffberg, Kevin St. Laurent, Jenny Thomas and Scott Cupit) and a whoooole lotta dancing. It’ll make for an excellent leaving party.

I’m incredibly excited about all of that. And I’ll also be doing Edinburgh Lindy Exchange in September as well as all my usual weekly stuff and various social dances here and there. All of this covers every single one of those priorities – in addition to helping keep me relatively sane. It’s good money to spend, and it’s not actually all that much in the end.

As for the bike, I had already decided to buy it before I went away, because I thought if I didn’t budget for it before the trip, I’d never afford it right away when I got back. I am not exaggerating when I say just about everyone I know has a bike, and I’ve been considering it for a pretty long time. I got a pretty entry-level one in terms of price and fanciness, but good enough that it should last a fairly long time. (And I can’t waaaaait for it to arrive. 7-10 days, gah!)

So now I can zip back and forth between home and dance stuff and friends’ places and the beach and anywhere else I feel like going. And I can go for longer rides on the weekends or take it on the train and explore other places relatively cheaply. I walk everywhere in this city, which I love to do, but it does take up a lot of time, so this will allow me to claim some of that time back without losing the exercise. Then I can spend more time with people or reading books or sleeping, which I need to do a bit more of as well.

These things are all making the summer look pretty awesome. Plus there are hiking trips to the highlands, Balkan music club nights, Foo Fighters at Murrayfield (finally!), lazy Sunday morning breakfasts in cafes, local beer festivals, and all manner of other things planned. And my parents will be visiting in September, when we’ll probably go to Arran or somewhere equally cool.

And I think I’ve managed to fit it all in the budget while still saving enough for 3 months away. Seriously. HOORAY!

Wild

I went back and forth on whether I should watch Wild on a plane at all. I was tired and kind of broody and very much looking forward to home. I pretty much knew it was going to make me emotional, and I didn’t know if I was prepared to be emotional in a very full A380.

But I really wanted to see it, so I charged on. I nearly passed out when she ripped her toenail off in the first scene, and I’m pretty sure I got a little verklempt about 5 minutes later and teetered there for the rest of the film.

It’s been at least 2 years since I read the book. My sister gave it to me after she’d read it with a glowing recommendation, but I already knew about it after having stumbled across Cheryl Strayed’s formerly anonymous advice column Dear Sugar in a period of pretty severe personal angst and depression.

So I already wanted to read it. I wanted to love it despite always feeling slightly ill-at-ease with Strayed’s advice writing style. It’s bare and clear and at sometimes beautiful. It’s also at times almost TOO eloquent, perfectly-formed, and inspirational for my style – which I might label eternal optimism perpetually tinged with realistic-yet-humourous bile – but it’s often very good advice nonetheless.

Her writing style persisted in Wild, and while I did enjoy it and was immensely appreciative of the story she was telling, I still felt a little off about it. I’ve been trying to figure out why this is for a long time, and I think part of it has something to do with the fact that she had so many tangible, terrible things to run away from or deal with and I just… don’t. My parents are still together and my family has all sorts of normal problems and drama, but nothing on the horrendous end of the scale. I was not abused or neglected by anyone. The hardest drug I’ve done is pot, which I don’t even like, and I feel a bit naughty when I have my one cigarette a year. I’m sure I could go into other horrible things I have not experienced, but suffice to say I’m lucky and privileged and relatively well-adjusted. And I am  very much aware of this.

This doesn’t make my problems less problematic by any means – everyone’s got valid issues in the context of their life. It also doesn’t make me less likely to want to get away from things. Because clearly I’ve gone right the hell away from where I came from, and I know for me it was an excellent decision, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to tell you why. And I know I want to leave everything behind again, just for a few months, but I’m not running from anything. I’m probably looking for something. As was Cheryl Strayed. As are most people who read and think too much.

The other part of my unease may lie somewhere in Strayed’s ability to make everything sound so well-considered. Almost as though it was all just waiting to be a lesson. This sounds a lot harsher than I mean it to be, because she’s a really good writer and deserves that acclaim. But occasionally I just feel like everything there has the polish of hindsight, and I need things a little rougher around the edges when it comes to reflection.

Anyway, I always feel like I should have liked the book more than I did. I certainly love the intent behind it and I don’t need a matching motivation to understand a shared outcome. But I think I liked the movie more than the book because the story was filtered through screenwriting and cinematography and music that I never felt were too… whatever it is that rubs me the wrong way about the writing sometimes. Of course the darker elements of her story are still there, but the focus is much more on the trip, both for its own struggles and as a vehicle for working shit out. And it’s so nicely done.

There’s a lot there that you don’t see on film enough, like some of the challenges of being a woman on a solo trip of any kind – particularly in the way that most people are NOT a threat, but you sometimes have to interact with them as though they are to protect yourself (which I realise men have to do too, just in very different ways, and not as often). The various states of being alone are captured in such honest and intimate ways; Sometimes you’re scared shitless and you just have to ride it out. Sometimes you figure stuff out on your own and it doesn’t matter that no one’s around to congratulate you – hell, in some cases, it’s better. Sometimes you feel completely ridiculous. Sometimes you ARE completely ridiculous.

It may be this film’s fault that I got no sleep on the flight because it set my brain into overdrive thinking about travel and home and what I want to do and why stuff is the way it is. But I will forgive it. It’s pretty great, as is Reese Witherspoon. And her massive backpack (another in-built lesson to us all, perhaps).

And if that weren’t enough, it ends with this absolutely brilliant First Aid Kit cover of Walk Unafraid, which is one of those film closing music choices that is so spot-on you almost feel things have gone the other way and the movie was written to lead into the song.

 

PS I also have to point out that Art Alexakis pops up for all of 3 minutes in this movie, which mostly no one else will care about but was HIGHLY unexpected and incredibly amusing to a former completely devoted Everclear fan. I nearly audibly said ‘NO WAY!’ and threw my airline dinner bread roll at the screen.

PPS If you liked Wild, here’s my review of Tracks, which I truly, truly love, writing and all. The film is good. The book is stellar.

Russia, immigration and politics

Sometimes when I mention how much I want to do the Trans-Siberian, I get a good bit of side-eye, which can at least half the time be interpreted as, ‘Ehhh, Russia? Really?‘ And I know. Russia is a big ol’ political and moral quagmire, at least from a Western point of view. I don’t claim to be up on all the issues or anything, but Putin is doing what the hell he wants, which is usually not agreeable, and the general consensus is that most Russians love him anyway.

On the recommendation of about 5 different people, I recently had a watch of the first two episodes of Reggie Yates’ Extreme Russia, which are on extreme nationalism and discrimination against the LGBT community. In both there are some pretty damning and disturbing views on immigrants and gay people which are in most cases backed up by the state, if not actively then by an obvious lack of action to support the victims.

But these are extremists, and extremists exist everywhere. It’s just they’re so much easier to see in Russia because it’s not against the law to act on your own horribleness there. Horrible people exist around the world – it’s just a matter of how much power they’re given. And I’m sure leaving them to it without even trying to get to know the people the extremists are shouting over is giving them more power.

I can’t get behind not going to a place because the views of the leader or the state are ones I do not agree with. (If I could I’d’ve had a hard time being home during the George W Bush years!) And if I judged all Russians on the fact that the Western media tells me What They Are and What They Believe, I’d be just as bad. I can absolutely see why there’s an attitude that ‘We are not going to be what the West decides we should be’. It’s just too bad that it often takes the shape of so much blatant hate and fear.

Reggie Yates did a fair bit of digging into where people’s radical views came from – particularly admirable because he was often being directly offended while he tried to do it. He was trying pretty hard to understand these people, and the state they feel they’re protecting by maintaining these views, despite vehemently disagreeing with them.

But he also talked to plenty of people who were NOT full of hate.

I’m not naive enough to believe everyone shares my modern peace-loving, tree-hugging views on the life and the world, but I do believe that, in general,  people with a variety of competing views are not actively bothered to make a fuss about it on a daily basis. No one can be an activist 24/7, and most people are, quite frankly, not that engaged. (You can see evidence of that EVERY DAY. I know I do.) People just want to get on with life. You’ve got to do your day job and eat your breakfast and get the fucking duvet cover on. No one, or at least, very few of us, care to be at war all the time, regardless of whether we agree with the dude next to us about gay people.

So unless there’s an actual war going on, none of this is going to keep me from going to Russia.

Interestingly enough, after the first episode of Extreme Russia, I was poking around iPlayer for something else to watch and ended up settling on a thing about the Glasgow Girls. It was a pretty crazy contrast, to go from how horrible it is that these extremist Russians treat immigrants like scum to our own country’s treatment of asylum seekers. (For anyone reading this who doesn’t know, the Glasgow Girls are a group of school girls who campaigned for the release of their friend who was taken in a dawn raid while awaiting a decision on asylum in the UK. They got the backing of the community AND cross-party support in parliament.) To watch something on Russia and say that could never be us when, in some cases, it has been and IS us, particularly in matters of immigration, is just a whole load of hypocrisy.

My first vote in the UK is swiftly approaching and it should come as no surprise that immigration policy has a very significant bearing on where my support is going. There’s a lot of very thinly-veiled racism in some party policies and quite a lot of people’s views on who should and should not get to stay here. Frankie Boyle wrote a brilliant piece in the Guardian about this, which is absolutely worth a read.

I AM actually an immigrant. It seems somehow easier for people to forget this because I’m a white girl from America. But this doesn’t exclude me from immigration law and it doesn’t exclude me from feeling offended when you go on about how we shouldn’t let THOSE people in here to take our jobs and our public money. Just because I don’t have an eastern European accent or a different colour skin doesn’t make me more valuable or legit than immigrants who do.

Anyway, I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent here but my point, I think, is that there are people in the UK (and the US) with beliefs just as disturbing as what we see on TV coming out of Russia. So it stands to reason that there are also plenty of normal, friendly, decent human beings who do not make the news, who DO make the country. I’m pretty sure if I keep my common sense switched on and I don’t go ambling into a protest or a war zone, I’ll have a lovely time and meet some fantastic people. Who can maybe then explain to me why everyone loves Putin so much (if they actually do).

Make something – you’ll feel better

Dinner to the rescue. In addition to white sauce, there are artichokes in this as well. Artichokes are one of the best things on the planet. (The wine doesn't hurt either.)

Dinner to the rescue. There are artichokes in this as well. Artichokes are one of the best things on the planet. (The wine doesn’t hurt either.)

I was in a completely rubbish mood today. The kind where you’re so bluerghhhhhh you can’t even make a very simple decision about what to do next.

On top of the other myriad causes of said mood, I was feeling a bit crap about bowing out of my original plans to go walking up some hills tomorrow. The weather is meant to be unpleasant and near freezing, and I don’t really have the right gear for those conditions. Plus my walking shoes (not even boots) don’t fit properly. And after what my feet felt like wearing them on a flat, 6 hour walk last year, I knew nearly 8 hours of walking in cold, wet conditions on mountains was probably not going to make for the most pleasant way to spend a Sunday. So I’m annoyed that I’m not more prepared in the kit department, because I’m missing out on hanging out with some cool people AND it would be good for me to experience some challenging weather conditions right now. It’s not like winter in Siberia is gonna be a picnic.

(This is how I look at a lot of things now: what is the thing in this situation that’s going to make this trip I’m taking better? It’s not so much that everything is about the trip, because it’s not. But MAKING things about the trip is a good way to keep me from that whole wimping out thing I was doing before. It’s also a good way to remind me why I’m saving money and being healthier and all that.)

Anyway, I’m happy to sit in a bad mood for a bit and let it do its thing, but after a while you need to get yourself out. And I was at the point where the only things I knew were A: I needed to get AWAY from screens and technology of ALL KINDS, and B: I needed to make something. Because every time I feel like utter shit and nothing else is working to get me out of it, the answer is: make something – you’ll feel better. This can refer to anything, but usually it means food. And even when I’m in such a strop with myself that I don’t even believe THAT’S going to work, I know that I have to just trust the proof of past experience and get to it. Because it always works. I wouldn’t be writing this post if it didn’t.

This time I made a fancy-ass pasta bake because I felt the need to pull out the big guns: Béchamel sauce.

Let me explain.

There is NO WAY to make a roux, and subsequently, a Béchamel, without feeling like a fucking wizard.

The day I nailed Béchamel without looking at a recipe was one of those times I truly understood how art and science can be the same thing. Perfecting the alchemy of the roux leads you to big, bad, brilliant things. It is impossible to feel bad about yourself, for AT LEAST 5 full minutes, once you are standing over a pot of Béchamel made by your own fair hand. Because watching it change and come together is fascinating. Because it is one of the ways a person who doesn’t do religion can explain how you can see something like god in science. Because the possibilities presented by a basic white sauce are endless. It makes everything better. And it is so simple you can barely believe it. Butter. Flour. Milk. Heat. Magic.

Most of us feel weird about proclaiming things we’re good at. I’m no different. Outside of being disgustingly over-organised, food is pretty much the only thing I am perfectly happy to say I am awesome at. To the point where it often carries me through the moments I don’t believe I’m good at anything at all.

This is the mightiest of universally useful and transferable skills. This, along with a few other food-based basics, is the band-aid for life’s troubles that lives in my brain. This, along with sauteing onions in fat, roasting a chicken to perfection, making a cake, and emulsifying the fuck out of a homemade salad dressing is something that I can bring on the road and use anywhere when I feel a bit shit.

Béchamel will not solve the world’s problems. It won’t even solve my own (that would be slightly ridiculous) – it often reminds me how to start though.

Travel links! I have them.

This week I got my British passport (yaaaay!), celebrated by buying a new travel towel to replace my tired 12-year-old one, and started constructing a giant trip planning calendar (pictures soon). I also did not think too hard about what I should post next. But I’ve been hoarding a few travel-related things on the interweb, so here they are.

Nomad List

A beautifully designed amalgamation of data on the best places to live and work remotely. Initial grid view shows vital stats like current temperature, cost of living, air quality, and wifi speed. Completely searchable and filterable, and easily the start of a few interweb wormholes. Also has a social element if you’re into that. The info is partially crowdsourced, and I found the stuff on Edinburgh to be reasonably accurate, so that gives me at least some level of trust in it.

Maptia

This is another one that snags you with design, although I’ve had varying levels of praise for the actual written content. The photos tend to be amazing across the board, so if you’re looking for great, well-presented travel photography, you’ll love it. But the first thing I found when looking for something on Siberia was an article on Lake Baikal I found… lacking. Which is too bad, because I had high hopes. I’m looking forward to poking around the site more though.

Stowaway Cosmetics

I do not wear makeup. (Seriously, I have one expensive tube of lip shine that I use when I feel like I want to be slightly fancier than slathering Vaseline on my lips but that’s about it.) However, if I DID wear makeup, I would be all about trying this Stowaway stuff out. It all comes in travel-friendly sizes only. And that would appeal to me whether or not I was actually traveling because the point is you actually get through the stuff instead of collecting many half-used things of makeup. Also paraben, phthalate, and cruelty-free!

Cards Against Originality

Not STRICTLY a travel thing, but stick with me on this. Some evil genius took advantage of Cards Against Humanity’s Creative Commons status to make a web app version you can play on your phone or computer with whoever you send a link to. I don’t know about you, but I think an ongoing game of cards that makes you snort-laugh unexpectedly with your friends from back home or across the world would be a great, small way to help combat homesickness or bouts of loneliness on the road.

 

Hard stuff: The Truth, Charleston, and Doing It Anyway

My brain (and limbs) have been absolutely all over the place this weekend, so what follows will sort of be too. Bear with me. It pretty much ties together.

I had my citizenship party on Friday night, during which something like 30-40 people from every corner of my life were in the same room in a bar. I barely spoke to anyone for longer than 5 minutes at a stretch because: big parties. But it was great to have SO many different people there drinking and mixing and celebrating (and eating a lot of brownies).

At some point near the start of the night, I had a brief conversation about The Impending Big Trip during which the phrase ‘this trip gets shorter every time I talk to you’ was used. As well as ‘That’s how they get you!’ when discussing work and money and possible promotions and all that rubbish.

Before I had time to think about it properly, I was whisked into another completely different conversation. But by the end of the night it had rolled around enough in my head that I went to sleep thinking THAT’S ME TOLD.

It’s like the frog in the cold pot of water slowly coming to the boil. Or something like that. I’ve been getting dragged, bit by bit, into the security of money. Without even realising it. And yeah, that kind of security is important to some people and that’s cool. But I have no one to support but me, and work drives me nuts at the best of times. The day job was never the plan. The plan was to save the money and throw that security to the wind. I’ve been shying away from that. I have been slowly CHICKENING OUT.

This is my keychain. Seriously. I SHOULD LOOK AT IT MORE OFTEN.

This is my keychain. Seriously. I SHOULD LOOK AT IT MORE OFTEN.

Saturday night I went to a social dance and was then convinced to come to the second half of a weekend of workshops with Ksenia Parkhatskaya on solo Charleston, Jazz and Blues. I had never intended to go because I figured I’d be flattened from the effects of my party-time drinkin’. But I had mostly recovered by Saturday night, and Ksenia’s performance at the dance as well as my friends’ raving about that day’s classes was enough to convince me I shouldn’t pass up the opportunity.

So I spent Sunday learning some pretty advanced 20s Charleston all morning. It was FUCKING HARD. I think I sweat enough to fill Loch Ness. I was confused and lost most of the time. It was fast and impressive and frustrating and utterly, utterly brilliant. And the Jazz and Blues workshops in the afternoon were equally mind-bending, if not quite as sweaty.

My confusion was nothing to do with the teaching – Ksenia was a fantastic teacher. I’d like to know where she gets the endless reserves of energy from because after having danced like mad all weekend, she still looked fresh as a daisy. She was fun and lovely and SO good.

The frustration lies in the fact that the moves are difficult, and despite having been doing the whole swing dance thing for a while now, I am still not super great on rhythm. It’s a difficult thing to learn. I’m way better than I was a year ago, but you just have to do these things over and over and over to get any better at them.

If you want to be a writer you have to write, if you want to be a dancer you have to dance. And you have to do it badly for a long time before you do it remotely well. Like that Ira Glass quote. Be a fucking soldier about it and be tough. And that is a hard thing to do. Especially when you’re tired and you feel your feet are gonna fall right the hell off. (Because TWISTING. My god. And I don’t even want to think about how I’m gonna feel tomorrow morning. If I can walk at all it’ll be a miracle.)

I went through these waves of discouragement and motivation all day in my head during these classes. I’d lose the beat or the steps and get completely frustrated. I’d pick it back up but only a little bit and lose it again. I’d get completely down on myself about it and want to give up. But not REALLY. Just in that way your brain feels like it canNOT cope with another variation on something you haven’t even got the basics of down yet anyway. And then it would get faster. And then I’d just try to go with it the best I could and push through the fact that I was not going to nail it. And that is totally ok.

My downstairs neighbours are going to start to truly hate me because I will be practising this shit all over my flat (once I can move my ankles again anyway). And I will be kind of crap at it. And I will NEVER be as good as Ksenia, but that is not a problem. I will get better than I am. And I’ll be better as a human for all the working at it.

All of this Doing Hard Stuff along with the realisation that I was getting too comfortable with the security of money over the things I actually want to do kicked me back into high gear on the travel prep. I need to get out of this flat. I need to store most of my earthly possessions (after getting rid of a bunch of them). I need to get out and explore. It’s going to be frustrating and hard but it will be SO MUCH BETTER than sitting around in the safe, boring world of a job with a pension and benefits and a flat and all that. And I have other kinds of security. I have the power of not one, but two countries behind me. Two embassies to call in a travel crisis!

But more importantly, I have the kind of security no money or nationality can buy: There were nearly 40 people out celebrating with me on Friday, and those were just the ones who live in this country and could make it. I know the most AMAZING people, here and around the world. That is no exaggeration. Even my newest friends are just so fucking awesome I can barely contain myself about it. They are all Just. Great. And all of these friends I have are incredibly lovely and smart and helpful and supportive, and I have no doubt I could count on so many of them in a crisis. I HAVE counted on so many of them in a crisis. I am so unbelievably lucky I could explode. I cannot overstate that.

In a world of things to worry about (and I do worry a lot), it does me some good to be reminded every once in a while that I needn’t be so concerned because I’ve got the really important stuff covered. I must be doing something more than brownies right.

So here I am, sucking it up and remembering the frustration is better than the cash. Here I am in the bit of the class where I stumble through all the scary, hard stuff where I know I look like a total wreck but I HAVE to keep going. Here I am getting quotes for self-storage and negotiating how moving out of my flat will work at the end of the year. (Yes, I have done all of these things in the past 48 hours.) Here I am finding the money. Feeling the terror and doing it anyway.

I might well need a foot massage in the morning though. Eesh.

How much I’ve spent on becoming a British citizen

It’s a lot of money, people.

Cha-ching!

I have gone back through all the records I have and wracked my brain to think of all associated costs. I have not been able to find the specific figures for everything, so I’ve made best guesses in some cases. I’m sure if I wanted to, I could find the proper facts, but I’ve already spent about an hour researching what I COULD find, so I think that’s plenty.

All in, I have spent approximately £15,000 on visas and all associated costs in the past 9 years. The true total is probably much higher than this because I’ve probably forgotten some bits and pieces that should be included.

The biggest chunk of that is actually the cost of my Masters degree. International fees for an MSc in Design and Digital Media at the University of Edinburgh were around £10,000 in 2007/2008. Some might say that’s not a directly related cost to citizenship, but it actually is because it got me a post-study work visa and I wouldn’t still be here without it.

Post-study work was one of the 5 visas I’ve had over the past 9 years. Visa fees alone (not including the citizenship application, as it’s not technically a visa) make up for about  £2,300 of the total.

Other costs included in that £15,000 include any travel I had to do in order to get visas, including one set of return flights to the US, legal fees for advice, checking service and biometrics appointments, Life in the UK test fees and materials, passports, pictures, and all the other little things that go along with this volume of paperwork.

And MAN is there a lot of paperwork. I still have copies of most of it.

I should also note that the route I took to citizenship literally does not exist anymore. Some of the visas I’ve held have changed or disappeared altogether. For the ones that do still exist, many of the rules around things like timings and income requirements have changed drastically, often right after I obtained them under the previous rules. I got in under quite a few wires. And I have had a lot of luck and a lot of help.

It has not been an easy or cheap endeavour, and the costs above are only the monetary ones. There is a lot of stress and emotion involved in all of this, even for the most straightforward of cases. It’s actually really hard to represent what that portion of the experience is like to people who haven’t been through the system. But people who have been, REALLY know.

There is a camaraderie among those of us who have gotten to know the head-spinning ins and outs of the UKBA/UK Visas and Immigration processes and ever-changing rules and regulations. And I am more sympathetic than ever towards anyone going through any kind of immigration process anywhere in the world. No one does this lightly. You have to really, really want it. It’s not for chancers or freeloaders by any stretch of the imagination. You need to be completely on top of it. It’s a difficult road and it sometimes feels like you will never have to stop proving yourself. It’s an exhausting and occasionally Kafkaesque way to live.

As of this Tuesday, that’s over for me. While not without it’s faults, I still believe the process was absolutely worth it. But now I can spend my money on exercising my new British passport (when it arrives)!

(And if you know someone going through any stage of this kind of process, for Pete’s sake, give them a hug or a drink or a ‘Hang the fuck in there’. It’ll be well-appreciated.)

APPROVED!

So, they’re letting me be a British citizen! My approval letter came yesterday. (SUPER FAST.)

All I’ve got to do now is schedule the ceremony and apply for a passport. My mind is kind of blown. More than enough excitement for one weekend.

So I leave you with: Britain, Britain, Britain…

2014: a pretty freakin’ great year

LOADS of awesome stuff happened this year. I turned 30. Woohoo! I ate mopani worms and saw rhinos in Africa. I tried Finnish whisky and ate MANY types of fishes. I went to my first music festival. I learned to swing dance. I started this blog!

I met so many lovely people and got to hang out with lots of the fantastic ones I already know. I went to London, Fife, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Dundee, Manchester, Selkirk, Helsinki, New York, Philly and Delaware. I ate a lot of ridiculously good food. I made a lot of cake. I planned a lot of plans. I paid off my credit card. I walked a lot. I even started to actually enjoy my job, which is largely a testament to the rockin’ people I work with.

Overall, what I’m saying is: I’m pretty lucky. I can’t complain.

I can only hope 2015 will be at least as amazing, if not more so.

So without further ado, here are some highlights in pictures. See you next year!

Road Rules: Semester at Sea

It seems MTV might have actually influenced my life in some significant, non-musical way. I’ve been thinking about this lately, and I’ve been struggling to come up with something to write all day long. Now, about 8 hours before my self-imposed Monday deadline, it clicked that THIS is the thing. And once I decided to write about it, I ended up finding it all online and took a happy trip back in time to my high school mindset, and to when reality TV was a bit less polished and pervasive. (See, Kate, having a standing writing assignment almost always turns out to be a good thing.)

Remember Road Rules? I was never big on the Real World, and I was never even that big on Road Rules in general, but the Semester at Sea season stuck with me. I never knew you could do something like that in college! Study abroad, sure, but what was this madness about going around the world? It might have been the first time I even realised that was a feasible thing you could do, and that people did do, in college or not, on a boat or however. And I was plenty old and wise enough to know by then that if MTV was glamourising people doing it, and paying for it, it was sure as hell possible to do on your own, for less money, and involving much less drama.

That was really, REALLY exciting.

(The other reason the show maybe stuck with me is because I had a total high school crush on Pawel, the photographer. But I promise that’s not the only thing I remember about the show. *ahem*)

Anyway. I watched that season religiously. It aired in 1999 when I was in 10th grade, right when I was seriously starting to look into colleges so I remember I was all over looking into how to get on that boat myself. And I know I looked at it again when I was considering study abroad programmes IN college, but it was too expensive and didn’t quite match up with life at the time. Regardless of that though, it got me thinking about the possibility of long-term travel years before Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman infiltrated my brain with a need for the Siberian beyond.

Aside from being completely fascinated by all the College Stuff going on (and the shaving your head when you cross the equator thing), one of the challenges that I always, ALWAYS think about when I think about traveling is the one in Vietnam where they had to spend LOADS of money in one day (12 million Vietnamese Dong, which was $866 at the time), and if they managed to spend it all, the same amount would be donated to charity. But the catch was they couldn’t buy any THINGS. They had to spend it all on services and experiences. So they had a super fancy meal, got their hair done, got massages, hired locals to be their guides for the day, that kind of thing. The point was to put money into the local economy, support businesses, and get the money to the people. And I remember thinking what an awesome challenge it was. And I STILL think it’s awesome. They had a really hard time spending all the money, but they did do it.

The internet is truly a wonderful beast, because here’s the episode, so you can watch it for yourself.

Maybe this is in my head right now because it’s Christmas time and I’m trying to get all my gift stuff done and in general, I really hate buying random shit for people that doesn’t mean anything. I feel disgusting if I get something for someone just for the sake of them having a gift. Because what’s the point? Where’s the love in it? And I’d much rather get someone an experience, but that’s expensive and tricky and it’s so hard to pin anyone down these days that it’s easier in the end to get them something they can use or read or whatever.

At the same time, I’m trying to save all this money, and I feel like I should probably just not bother myself thinking about it for the entire month of December because I might just explode if I worry about how much is currently flying out of my accounts in the name of the holidays. All I can do is make sure that the shit it’s flying on is stuff that will truly be appreciated, rather than just useless tat with a ribbon on it.

All this to say, isn’t it so much better when you spend your money on something that provides a lasting memory rather than a thing that you can lose or break? Like, I’m just as bad as the next person when it comes to Cool Stuff. I bought a freakin’ dinosaur tail phone stand today for no reason other than it’s a dinosaur tail and I’m a sucker for dinosaurs. I am The Actual Worst.

And having ITEMS to remind you of a place you loved is no bad thing, but in general, the reason you want those items is because you want to remember the place they came from or what you were doing when you found them. I remember that particular episode all the time 15 YEARS LATER and I wasn’t even the one HAVING the experiences. It was just a brilliant idea.

Imagine that. MTV producers doing something that was memorable for reasons other than sex or manufactured dramatics. I guess the good old days really are gone.

ALSO. You guys: College. ON A BOAT. I’m not sure I could have handled how ABSOLUTELY bonkers that would be.

(Also also. I just now did some Googling and Pawel is still a photographer. Of cars mostly, which he is clearly quite gleeful about. This warms my heart right down to the cockles, and has made my night.)