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Tag: I know all the best people (page 1 of 2)

When the apocalypse comes, I know where I want to run

I just got back from an idyllic weekend up north with friends and I still can’t handle reading the interweb, or even thinking much about what the hell is going on. So instead I will tell you what I learned far, far away from WiFi and mobile reception.*

  • The Spanish can turn a phrase like none other.
  • The Shim Sham can (and should) be done to nearly anything with a beat, but most importantly, Gwen Stefani’s ‘Rich Girl’.
  • The cure for a hangover is the top of a hill and a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer. The jury is out on whether or not hail also helps.
  • Every body of water in Scotland is warmer than Lake Baikal is in December, and this is how I convince myself I absolutely must get in when given the chance.
  • Midges are some kind of award-winning level of awful. (But they’re still better than Nigel Farage.)
  • Economies of scale are for real. I still can’t believe how little we paid for the amount of food and booze we consumed. I guess this highlights one of the only downsides of living alone. More big, communal dinners, please!
  • Watching beer freeze instantly upon opening is better than watching probably 95% of what’s on television these days.
  • 3.30am is a fine time for a walk. I recommend you bring a bottle of port, too.
  • Three words: Slow. Motion. Video.
  • This country. Let me tell you. In any light or weather, at every time of day. Scotland is beautiful.

*Note that this is not nearly an exhaustive list.

I wish we didn’t have to leave our paradise as soon as we did.

HOWEVER. I think my next project will be creating some regular forms of escape for the wider population. If everyone had weekends like we just had – even once a year – the world would be a nicer place.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go back to not reading the interweb for a while.

I suggest you do the same.

Flawless Plans

Just a short one today, because I feel compelled to point out my friend’s fantastic blog, Flawless Plans, that everyone should be reading.

For someone who writes a travel blog, I don’t really read a lot of travel blogs. I tend to hate them. I find single entries really useful for planning things but I don’t like a lot of the writing I find enough to add travel blogs to my regular interweb reading roster.

Then my friend Mali, who I went to college with, started tracking her family’s drive across the US and eventual flight to New Zealand to live and work for a year. And I am so in love with it. I have been reminded again how talented the people I went to school with are, especially in the writing department, and that makes me really happy.

It’s hard work keeping a regular post schedule going. To do it while traveling is even harder. And to do it with two small children to take care of, and do it WELL, is incredible and commendable, and has been producing on-point and often deeply hilarious results.

I have been able to relate to a lot of what Mali is writing even from a completely divergent life path. This may be partially because she is my friend, but I think it’s mostly because she is (and always has been) blisteringly honest and willing to deal out some pretty personal, internal stuff in a beautifully-written way.

I won’t ramble on more about it. Just do yourself a favour and go read Flawless Plans. It is genuinely fantastic.

A love letter to Lindy Hop

It’s Frankie Manning’s birthday today, and also World Lindy Hop Day. And since dancing has done so much for me in such a relatively short period of time, I’m going to gush for a minute.

Perhaps a lot of these positive personal changes are a result of age and experience, but I’m pretty sure Lindy found me at the exact right moment, so there’s something to be said for the perfect storm.

Sometime in the summer of 2013 when I was finally coming out of a pretty dark place, Duncan showed me a Movits! video that had some of the Harlem Hot Shots in it (SO MUCH CHARLESTON). I immediately fell in love with a random Swedish hip-hop swing band in a way I’d not fallen in love with a band since I was a teenager, and the ‘oh-swing-dancing-is-a-THING-and-wow-it’s-kind-of-awesome’ wheels started turning.

It took 9 months (and my friend Kate mentioning she’d been thinking about trying swing dancing while we were eating ice cream) for me to go to my first lesson. And another 6 months to the tipping point, when I was considering giving up, but the perfect combination of circumstances and people landed me in ESDS, and something clicked.

I met, and continue to meet, some of the best humans I have ever known. I have incredible friends – family, really – that have come from dancing. I discovered a worldwide community where I’ve been welcomed with encouragement and enthusiasm. I now know such a huge variety of instensely intelligent, introspective, strong, and talented-in-all-kinds-of-fields people that I may have never known if we weren’t all doing this crazy dance together. How lucky is that? On its own.

But there is so much more. For one thing, body image. Lindy is for everyone. You don’t have to be some model perfect looking human being to be a good dancer, you just need some rhythm and an ability to have some fun. People of all shapes and sizes and ages do this dance and they all look awesome because they are freakin’ enjoying themselves. It’s a nice big ‘fuck you’ to the imagery we’re constantly bombarded with about what’s good-looking and happy.

And personally, after dancing for a while and realizing my body could do all this stuff I never thought I’d manage even a year before, my self-image got a lot more positive. Of course I have days where I’m like, oh my god, I hate all my clothes and I feel like garbage, but for the most part, I feel pretty damn good. I am the same size I’ve always been, I’m just stronger, healthier, and happier about it.

After my first full weekend event (ELX 2015), I felt so badass, I went out and bought the first bikini I have ever owned. (I did need a new bathing suit, it wasn’t just a random decision.) I was 31. I never, ever thought I’d feel comfortable enough to wear a bikini in my life. Then I christened that sucker in Lake Baikal.

So the confidence boost in general is pretty transformative. I mean, in addition, if you had told me a few years ago that I’d regularly be going up to strangers asking them to dance, I’d have looked at you like you were an alien from a strange and distant universe. I am so not that person. It’s still pretty hard to be fair, but I do it all the time. I’m constantly amazed at this. (And at the fact that I can do Suzie-Qs, which is like some kind of disconnected foot magic.)

I also know that mustering up the chutzpah to do the whole quitting my job and finally going on this massive trip I’d thought about for so long thing had a lot to do with the nerve, direction, and general belief in myself that was not previously present in such high doses.

(Also also, I bought a bike, which I’d never have done if I hadn’t started dancing, but that’s a whole other life-massively-improved-by-self-reliant-transport story.)

All of this from just going out and dancing 2-3 times a week. It has been better than any gym or therapy or medicine you could ever offer. I am still the same person and I have as many shit days as anyone, but I bounce back faster, and my good days are even better. And I’m only ever a day or two away from being able to swing out and forget any stupid thing that’s bothering me, even if only for 3 minutes at a time.

So. I am relatively certain, in a way that I am not often about many other things, that, barring injury or illness, I will be doing this for the rest of my life.

Frankie said that if the whole world danced the Lindy Hop, there would be no wars. Obviously that’s some wishful, utopian thinking. But a big part of Lindy is connection, and if you can connect to another person long enough to enjoy a swingout, a circle, and some quality lindyface, you can think a little further than your own wants and beliefs. That’s a damn good start.

Still home

I’m back to posting! And I don’t even know where to start. Out of practice and all.

Yesterday I moved out of my flat for good. A place I’ve lived nearly all my independent adult life, and certainly longer than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. It was a shared home and then it was my own home for nearly equal time periods. Both pretty spectacular in their own rights.

It was hard to leave but it was also easy because it was time.

I’ve gone through just about every emotion over this, and now I have landed on ‘relieved and recovering’. It would be one thing to do just the moving out, you see, but doing it while leaving my job and planning a logistical circus of a trip by myself (VISAS, YOU GUYS, HOLY GEEEEEZ) is kind of fucking ridiculous. It’s precisely the ‘you are doing too much’ thing that I (and others) constantly tell myself to stop. It’s what I yell at the television telling people off on Grand Designs for doing ALL THE TIME – you know, let’s build a house and plan our wedding and also have our first baby at the same time and really WHO NEEDS A PROJECT MANAGER or an architect for that matter LET’S DO IT ALL OURSELVES! Best idea ever.

(I am not having a child during all of this upheaval, but I AM watching a 4-month old puppy, which might as well be the same. He’s damn cute though. That’s my excuse.)

I couldn't say no to this guy.

I couldn’t say no to this guy.

Anyway, now I’m sitting in Kristina and Yann’s flat, my (lovely!) home for the next month, and I have one big thing out of the way. I have a LOT of other things to do (Do you realise how many places you need to change your bloody address?! efffffffff.) but this Being Out is already making a massive difference. It feels DONE.

Last week, I suppose due to ALL OF THE THINGS, there was one day I was hit by crippling anxiety of the degree I’ve not experienced for 4 or 5 years. It was INCREDIBLY rough. But then there were friends talking sense, some very good beer, and dancing. And it lifted.

And then it was my last night in the flat. I finished the last manic bits of packing. I ate The. Most. Amazing. Pizza. downstairs at Origano with Katie. I drank two whiskys out of a coffee mug and danced like a maniac to Billy Joel and Taylor Swift/NIN and MGMT and Hot 8 Brass Band among my boxed belongings til 1am. Then I went to sleep.

When I woke up, I had a cup of tea and my fucking rockstar friends arrived to help me carry my life down the stairs and distribute it to three separate locations across the city in about two hours flat. Then I had a coffee and ham and cheese on coconut bread (Casa Amiga! swoon), listened to some sweet piano playing while gulping more tea, and did 3 hardcore hours of learning a Lindy routine (because running up and down 3 flights of stairs multiple times with heavy boxes is not adequate exercise for one day). Then we ate dinner in the pub and I walked all the way across town home to Kristina and Yann’s, because I was going to take the bus but it was such a nice night that I couldn’t possibly, hour-long walk be damned.

Let me tell you: All of that? Is the way to move.

I’ll miss my flat, but it had it’s day. Today I took a walk around Arthur’s Seat because it was ANOTHER beautiful day (seriously, Edinburgh, KILLING IT), and thought, well, I may not have my kitchen, but I’m still home. And I get to come back to the best city and the best people in the whole world. And it’s all fine. Hooray for that.

And now that I’m back to writing, you’ll soon hear all about that logistical circus. I leave the country in less than a month. There’s plenty to say between now and then.

A (freezing cold) river ain’t too much to love

So hey! I’ve not packed it in, I’m still here. September started with a Cold That Would Not Die and some pretty bad family news – a combination that left me completely physically and emotionally cleaned out. I shut down for a few days and then threw every shred of what I had left into planning and prepping for a group trip to the Cairngorms thinking if I could just get to that, I’d maybe feel human again.

And you know, crazily enough, it worked. For a month that started off as horrendously as it did, it’s done a pretty big flip. Starting with, at long last, the Foo Fighters gig of Grohl Scream-Along Therapy on the same day I put my notice in at work, I got a lot out of me that had probably been building up for a long, long time. Then there was a double shot of absolutely amazing weekends.

I do feel like I may be a broken record here but I was just picked up and fixed in every way by the incredible people I know. From just listening to me dump my brain, to sitting in pubs or living rooms with beer or tea or one very, very well-timed hot toddy, to jumping around at rock shows, to dumping each other in freezing cold rivers, to dancing our faces off til the wee small hours, and everything in between. It has been the best month. And that is not something I would have expected to say two weeks ago.

Sometime in mid-August, when everyone was itching to get another trip planned following our jaunt to Glen Coe, I threw a weekend (second in September) and a place (Aviemore) out on Facebook to see who’d bite. Then Dimitris suggested we should maybe go whitewater rafting and that quickly became The Plan.

My main goal was to get us sole use of a hostel for at least one of the two nights so we could have a little party after whatever outdoor madness we got up to for the day. I did not have high hopes as we were only a few weeks out and there are not billions of hostels in the area we were going. However, by some stupid luck or grace of the universe, I managed to snag the Strathspey Mountain Hostel in Newtonmore for us all on the Saturday night. We were split into another place down the road on the Friday but it didn’t much matter because all we did was roll into town, have a DELICIOUS pub dinner, and go to sleep in prep for early starts and cold water the next day. But I felt like the grand fucking wizard of all organisational kingdoms for getting the place for just us. (That was sorted before the bad beginning of the month, so maybe the stars were lining up to make up for things. Who knows. I’m just happy it worked out that way.)

Saturday morning, ten of us got carted up north to somewhere on the river Spey where we all changed glamourously into wetsuits at the side of the road and goofed off with the air pump and the rafts while the guides dropped the van off at the end of the route. The river wasn’t too crazy because strangely enough, it hadn’t rained in a while, but we made up for it with extra spinning, drenching each other via paddle splash fights, and straight up tipping each other into the water. Then they had us trampolining off the upturned rafts into a deep bit of river. We were often accompanied by the smell of lovely, autumn-y smoke wafting along from the wee fishing huts along the banks, and we even saw salmon jumping out of the river. No joke. It was amazing. At the end of the run, we carried everything up the hill, changed into dry clothes, threw things around, and ate our picnic lunch on what used to be a railway platform.

That all would have been good enough to make a weekend, but that was only the start of it. We snoozed and chatted on the way back down to Newtonmore in the van and plotted our evening. There was a tea and cake run when we got back, and a few of us played Cluedo while the rest went shopping for food and booze. Gav took charge of making us an epic pot of mac and cheese and the giant playing cards came out again until the dancing started. Dee’s birthday was coming up so we surprised her with cake and a jam circle, and then we just kept dancing til about 2.30 in the morning. Thanks to my Spotify account, a good WiFi connection, and Gav’s speakers brought up for the occasion, we were the bangin’-est party in Newtonmore. I had been slightly worried about possibly getting in trouble with the owners, but it turned out that Graeme actually knew them (SCOTLAND IS DELIGHTFULLY SMALL), and in the morning, they insisted we come back and do it again, and next time invite them to watch the dancing. How much better can it get?

Well, I’ll tell you: plenty. Because after we cleaned up the party and moved all the furniture back and said goodbye to the fantastic Helen and Laurie, we went for a hangover-curing walk around Loch an Eilein in the sunshine and watched the boys climb a tree and then swim 100 freezing metres out to claim the castle for their own. Then we had some ice cream and drove to Feshiebridge where the majority of us caught the freezing wild swimming bug and did some ice cold sliding down chutes in the river. And to cap it off, before we started the long drive back down to Edinburgh we got the NICEST fish and chips overlooking Loch Insh and skipped some stones in the water while trying to spot Ospreys.

There was not one single part of the weekend that was less than freaking great. It didn’t even matter that there was traffic on the drive back. We sang along with Graceland in the car and that alone can heal a broken anything. I felt so good about life at this point I could barely believe my luck.

And one of the million wonderful things about this trip is that after all the texts and calls and emails and prodding to get everyone accommodated and transported and paid for and advance-medical-and-sizing-information-for-the-rafting-ed, every part of the actual weekend fell into place so nicely because everyone was so up for it and helpful and generally awesome. We had no reception from about an hour away from Newtonmore but we all ended up in the same pub at roughly the same time for dinner, and they kept the kitchen open for us despite our lateness. Everyone pitched in with the shopping and the cooking breakfast and dinner and making lunch. Everyone shared stuff and cleaned up and helped decide what to do. We all danced and sang and took care of each other and no one was ever in a foul mood because how on earth could they be when surrounded by the loveliest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know?

I know I’m spouting a lot of sunshine and rainbows here, but it’s all true and it’s all very well appreciated.

And in terms of cost, because I’m all about spelling that out around here, it was so INCREDIBLY cheap. We will do this again and again and again as long as people are willing.

The total per person was about £156, give or take a few quid.

We all had slightly different transportation and some people didn’t go rafting, but here’s a rough breakdown per person for the weekend:

  • £31 – 2 nights accommodation including one where we had sole use of the hostel.
  • £55 – 1 day whitewater rafting on the Spey including all equipment and transport to and from Newtonmore
  • £18 – share of rental car and petrol for the weekend
  • £17 – share per person for 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 1 dinner, lots of cake and tea, and a TON of booze split across us all (this is a ridiculous bargain for a weekend away)
  • £35 – (roughly) 2 pub dinners plus a few pints on the first night

I feel like these costs are so insignificant in comparison to how brilliant a time we had that it may as well have been free. I can’t wait to do this again.

And I know I keep saying this, but as if that weren’t enough, this past weekend was Edinburgh Lindy Exchange, which was equally awesome in all kinds of other ways. I’ll save it for the next post though because I’ve gone on enough here as it is.

But I do want to say that the past two weeks have been some of the best I’ve had, and it’s not only my Lindy friends I have to thank for it. Kristina and Yann are basically my family and scraped me up off the metaphorical ground with the aforementioned hot toddy AND A PUPPY (my new best friend Magni). I had a brilliant-as-always lunch with my ex-Galleries Pie and Pint crew. And even a few of the people I work with (I do like some of them) have provided welcome relief from the daily drudgery, including a noise-making minion toy of sheer joy.

So, thanks Universe, for all this awesome right when I needed it. And thanks friends, for being ten million times better and more than I could ever ask for.

Couchsurfing is the answer

Last weekend I had a MA-HOO-SIVE party, the likes of which I will be lucky to top anytime soon. I had a flat full of Lindy Hoppers, 20 pizzas (TWENTY!), booze, good music and a floor that, it turns out, is plenty big enough for a dance party into the wee hours.

My new toy, takin' over the hallway.

All the plans.

I won’t ramble on about it, but it also meant that a whole load of people saw my Ridiculously Giant Post-It Calendar Of Planning, so I suddenly had lots of good new tips about various parts of my trip where people had been before. Perhaps most importantly: the info on Vietnam is all lies (up to 15 days for UK passport holders visa-free) and I DEFINITELY need to sort out a visa before I head off.

It’s so good to know who’s been where though, and now I can pick even more people’s brains about specific countries.

But maybe the best thing to come out of everyone seeing it is that the other night in the pub, my friend George said he hadn’t realised I was definitely going so soon until he saw that on my wall. So I was asking him for advice, first on what to do in China, but then just in general because he’s been all sorts of places. And that’s when he convinced me to reconsider the whole couchsurfing thing.

I’ve never really talked to anyone who’s done couchsurfing at length before, but George has both used it while traveling and at home. He’s currently hosting people, and actually brought the girl staying on his couch for the weekend to that party I had, which: what an intro to the city! But that’s also awesome. He had nothing but good things to say about his experiences with it.

I guess before I wrote it off without much thought (ERROR) because I let THE FEAR bred by safety concerns of being a solo lady traveller in someone whom I’ve never met’s home cancel out any sensible consideration. But once I properly checked out the couchsurfing website, my mind was easily changed. I spent all last night looking up hosts in some of the cities I’ll be in, and it’s clear from the honest and glowing references that most people have an amazing time with their hosts and surfers, and it’s really quite easy to find verified, well-reviewed hosts who have things in common with you.

I wholeheartedly believe that most people are good and friendly and trustworthy and just want to help you have a great time in their city. But it helps when you can see evidence, you know?

I also filtered some of my city searches by searching ‘Lindy Hop’ and found tons of dancers. I didn’t expect it would be so easy, but it’s exactly what I wanted to happen! I’ve been excited about dancing everywhere, but the logistics of that when you’re on your own are a little intimidating. The actual events themselves weren’t so much what worried me, it was the going to and from places, most likely at night, and looking after my stuff, and just all the little things I take for granted at home. If I stay with someone who knows the local scene, a lot of that anxiety fades away.

Staying with locals also means I’ll get to see their favourite bits of their own city, which isn’t the kind of thing you’ll usually end up seeing when you’re just looking things up online or speaking to people in hostels. When I went to Helsinki last year and stayed with Carolina and Johanna, I did one or two touristy things, but most of the time we were just wandering around or hanging out with their friends hanging out in the places they like to hang out. And it was great! That’s what I’d like to do everywhere. And that’s kind of how George sold it to me. He said it would be the most memorable part of my trip, and I believe it.

The other side of this is that I’m going to try to host some people here before I leave. Partially for references, but also because I love MY city, and I love showing off all my favourite things in it. I think this will be especially nice during the festival, because the place is overrun with tourists and the city kind of becomes this whole other animal. If you’re working the festival or staying in a hostel, you probably don’t see much more than Edinburgh’s festival face. I know that’s how I saw it in the beginning. And there’s nothing horrible about that, but how nice would it have been to see the local side during the most non-local part of the year? So hopefully I can show that to a few people. I shall report back!


PS I’ve done a wee overhaul. New theme! (Still by Anders Noren because I love his stuff.) After a year, it was definitely time for a change. Still doing some tweaks on it (need to get tags showing outside of a tab among other tiny bits), but I’m liking it so far. Hope you do too!

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!

Using stuff up

The massive Getting Rid Of Things task has started in earnest, as I’ve found a new home for the bread maker I never use. It’s a pretty amazing piece of kit, but it takes up basically all the working counter space I have (not an exaggeration), therefore I can rarely be bothered to clear the space for its overnight use.

Other large and rarely-used things will follow it out the door in the near future. But while I am all about paring down my belongings to the essentials, I am NOT about getting rid of my stuff that makes my flat a home. The whole de-cluttering fad is just a ridiculous way to make people feel guilty they are actually human beings who like things, be they super interesting conversation stimuli or just dumb shit they like for no reason. HELL if I’m getting rid of the neon dinosaur erasers that converse (and gather dust) atop my full-length mirror. They will follow me to every new place. No one should feel like they have to toss the things they enjoy having sitting around. Homes are made for living in; it should look like you live in yours. So I’m happy to pay storage fees on dinosaurs and nice books and miniature shopping carts.

What's the chat up there, guys?

What’s the chat up there today, guys?

That being said, the massive stash of fabric filling nearly 3 boxes in my closet was not making my home look ‘lived-in’, it was just sitting there doing nothing. Because ‘oh man, I will TOTALLY make something with this’ is a promise that rarely comes to fruition, particularly when you have about a billion project ideas floating around your brain at any one time. Then when I do open the box of things part of projects never to be, it mostly just makes me feel like I’m not doing enough. Ugh.

So when my friend Kristina said a few weeks ago that she was trying to use up her own massive fabric stash, she decided we should try to make quilts out of what we had. Neither of us had ever made a quilt. We were mostly just in awe of the super stylish one our friend Alex made for Kristina and Yann’s wedding gift. Inspiration! So we reserved this weekend for a hardcore quiltathon, during which we would bumble through it while drinking tea, eating snacks, and allowing Yann to more or less wait on us hand and foot. (Thanks, Yann!)

I think when you can make a task like ‘get rid of all my extra stuff’ into an event where you get to make stuff and listen to records and chat and have breakfast, lunch, dinner, AND AMAZING CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES made for you all weekend, it’s generally a win. I’m pretty sure I’d like to get rid of MORE stuff that way.

The other thing that’s nice about it though is not just getting rid of said stuff but consolidating it into something kind of new AND creating an inexpensive weekend-o-activity out of it at the same time (because obviously I’m also trying to save money).

I had considered keeping the quilt when I finish, but I think now I’ll give it as a gift or something. So I’m still getting rid of stuff! But in a much more designer way.

PROGRESS! This is about half sewn, half just laid out. Slightly wonky all around.

PROGRESS! This is about half sewn, half just laid out. Slightly wonky all around.

After about 14 hours of work, neither of us finished our quilts, but after one more day next weekend we should be close if not there. We did get loads done though. And it forced me, indirectly, to root through my sewing toolbox and weed out the unneeded stuff in there as well, so the consolidation is spreading slowly outward. (I had to keep that phrase even after I realised how backwards it is, because it’s probably a good indication of my brain function after staring at fabric and doing various angle and seam allowance calculations all weekend.)

Anyway, the moral of the story is, as Mary Poppins once so pleasingly put it, in every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. (And also cookies if you’re lucky.)


PS: You should absolutely check out Kristina’s blog on art, fashion and tech, because she’s an amazing sewer and she’s also doing some rad machine knitting right now. AND Yann’s website, because in addition to cookies, he does all sorts of cool stuff with sound and games.

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.

Paris/London 2015

NOTHING BESIDE REMAINS. (Ok except some wine, but that was short-lived.) #canard

So my quick trip to Paris and London was pretty full-on. I crammed a lot into less than a week, but it was good fun. I don’t have any pictures of the London portion, but this whole trip grew out of the need to go down there so I could get a bridesmaid’s dress from David’s Bridal in Stratford. And that went just about as you’d expect spending two hours in a large American chain bridal store on a Saturday would go. Eeesh. I did pick out a nice dress though, and I didn’t even have to carry it home because it needed ordering, so that was pretty successful.

I then headed straight for the chaotic centre of London to check out the Revival Retro boutique, which was the complete opposite experience. Absolutely lovely and everything on the sale rack was in my size (NEVER HAPPENS). I straight CLEANED UP in terms of vintage style early birthday presents to myself, including this dress, which I love love love.

New clothes!

If only I were so lucky every time I had to get new clothes.

Anyway, after that, I grabbed some gelato at Gelupo to bring back to my fantastic hosts’ place for dessert. I stayed with David who I went to college with, his husband Jason and their housemate Krysta. They made me dinner and cocktails and had great chat and wine (Jason is a wine seller, check out his shop if you’re in London!) and were pretty much impeccable in every way.

Sunday, I met my friend Chloe and we had an epic Sunday roast in a pub then a walk along the river in the sun before wiling a away the afternoon before my flight out of London City in The Understudy, which is a great new bar at the National Theatre looking out on the river. Excellent beer AND coffee.


My full Flickr set for Paris.


I couldn’t remember if I’d factored in the cost of the bridesmaid’s dress when I set the budget for this trip, but I’m going to guess that I did because the dress was £110 and all my other spending was about £120 short of my full budget, which was £600. I did not count the money I spent on clothes in London in budget spend because it was just kind of normal shopping I needed to do (ALL of my clothes are falling apart at the same time, ergh.)

Trip total: £475.49

At 6 days, 5 nights, that’s an average of £79.25 per day. Higher than my average for Finland, which was slightly surprising, but I did pay for accommodation for part of this trip, and I didn’t do that in Finland.

I'm loving the updates to Trail Wallet by the way!

I’m loving the updates to Trail Wallet by the way!


 £187.90 on food and drink. I TOLD YOU this trip was all about eating. This was my biggest expense, and I’m perfectly happy with that.

£113.95 on transport. This is mostly local public transport, as I only spent £35 on the flights since I got them with BA miles/Avios.

£9.76 on entertainment. A ticket to the Louvre and a donation at Notre Dame. I did so much walking and wandering on this trip that most of my entertainment was free. The Louvre is kind of expensive, but I’d say it’s justified.

£125.00 on accommodation. My first Airbnb, which was fantastic! I’ll definitely be using it much more now.

£3.70 on stuff for me. This was some travel bits and pieces at Muji in London.

£35.18 on gifts. For my hosts and for a few treats to bring in to work.


Paris: Less money or less hurry?

In which I realise there IS such a thing as too much research

Paris plans

Paris, part one (and being a wimp)

Paris, part two (I am so very full)

In the headphones

Nina Simone

On the Kindle

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald