Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Settling into Los Angeles

Our lives here are slowly getting settled. I (Stina) initially planned to try and find a job, any job, as soon as we had an address here. Then we heard about background acting. We joined Central Casting, a casting company that posts available work for extras on a hotline. If you hear a job that you think you match, you call the number provided until you get through. The casting director pulls up your profile and says yay or neigh based on whether you match the look they need.

There are several good things about this kind of work:
  • There is downtime, so it is possible to do other things (ie, edit my book)
  • Overtime pay, and frequent overtime (so we've heard, anyway...I've only gotten a little overtime)
  • Free food (usually)
  • It's super-duper easy
  • Rubbing elbows with stars (or sometimes accidentally knocking one's elbow into a star's face--ask Brendan)

But there's a downside, too. It's not regular work, and it's hard to get the work. When I hear something I think I match, I start calling on it immediately and inevitably get a busy signal. I keep on calling, just hoping to get through. Sometimes I do after half an hour and get booked, sometimes I do after an hour and don't get booked, and sometimes I give up after more than an hour. For Brendan calling the men's line, even the hotline is often busy.

We've been hearing a lot about call-in or calling services (they're called both depending on whom you ask). Call-in services are companies that book you for background work, thus saving you the trouble of calling the hotline and trying to book yourself. They cost anywhere from $60-$75 per month. We think we'll try to go with a call-in service for the month of January, just to see if we're able to get booked regularly.

But it's scary, not having a regular income, so I think I'll also try to find a regular job once we return after the holidays. We've got savings to keep us afloat for a few months, but after that . . . well, we don't want to arrive at a desperate situation.

I've been trying to think of jobs I wouldn't hate but that would also be somewhat easy to get. Working at a grocery store, maybe, so I can easily access what would otherwise be thrown out, and so we could get discounts on some of the more expensive fake-meat products I like. Something having to do with animals. Or maybe something that will allow us free access to something fun, like a museum or the zoo or a theatre.

But enough about that. We've been making some lovely friends here. We've kept in contact with the couchsurfers we stayed with when we first arrived, Ross and Dane, and we met another couchsurfer from Seattle, Sydney. We joined a role-playing group and really like the storyteller and other players. We've been getting to know Randy, another UW drama major, and making films with him. I met another writer, Craig Pitchford, randomly in the library, and we're going to start a writing group in January. Los Angeles is filled with kind people, but I guess that's to be expected. We meet kind people everywhere we go.

I guess that's the lesson I can take away from this post. Even with all the stress of money woes, the people we come into contact with brighten our days and offer solid game-playing and/or creative companionship. I will find a job, but more importantly, I will keep these friends beyond whatever job temporarily keeps us afloat.

Ross is in green in the middle (he was a tree, or maybe broccoli),
Dane is wearing the rainbow wig on the left

Sydney and Randy, at a late late dinner or early early breakfast after midnight Harry Potter

Sydney and me with James Dean

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Two White Wines

Brendan (that's me) has started a new production company with his friend, Randy Vinneau. Where'd they get that name? First hint: There are two of them (us). Can you figure the rest of it out? Let us know in the comments.

Their (our) second film (still in post-production) has what Stina described as, "a Leslie Nielsen sense of humor" (that's a paraphrase of a quote). Mr. Nielsen passed the day after we finished shooting. I hope he would enjoy them.

We give you:
Two White Wines' youtube channel

Go there and subscribe to get notifications whenever we post a new film.

And our first film:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Our First Full Day in L.A.

Today was AWESOME! Aside from running into a wall about 10 minutes ago, today was ideal. We woke up this morning feeling fine. I had something special on my mind.

That's how it's been going all day. I've had a song in my heart, and a smile on my lips. We set out from our couchsurfers' place and walked to the Ralph's to buy our bus passes for November ($84 each). Then we took the bus to Wilshire center. We missed our stop by one, but the day was beautiful and the walk was pleasant.

Our first apartment was on the north end of Koreatown (hereafter referred to as K-town). It was close to some shops; a grocery store in particular encouraged us. The apartment was the same deal as so many others - run by Statewide Enterprises, $695/month, a $2.96/month admin fee, utilities included, no refrigerator. What's that? Where are we, Germany? No fridge? Indeed, place after place (with a few exceptions, like Germany - thanks, Sven!) had no fridge. No big, though, we can use our Amazon wedding gift cards to get a fridge. The place was (in hindsight) largish, it had a space for a breakfast table, and had a "first two weeks free" special. Also, like every place that follows, it had laundry on the premises: $1.25 wash, $1.00 dry.

Just around the corner, Stina had contacted someone about another place, not Statewide this time. We stood outside the building and called. Then someone let us in. Then we stood outside the manager's apartment and called and knocked. No answer, so we moved on. It will turn out, I am sure, that that apartment had a magic sink that grants wishes.

Proceeding on to the southern part of K-town, we saw another studio. This one had a nice outside entrance and bigger kitchen, but overall it was smaller and had carpet instead of hardwood. It just didn't make us AS happy, so we left quickly.

Heading East now, we checked out a pad WITH a fridge. The kitchen was significantly bigger, and this one was $670 instead of $695, PLUS the laundry was $0.75 and $0.50, so over 24 months, we'd save $700. It was smaller, though.

By this point, we were about an hour ahead of schedule, so we sat and discussed the places we had seen. The 3rd place we saw and the first place were the 2 contenders for the top spot. After figuring out the money and envisioning our lives in each, we walked to lunch. Our next appointment was the immediate neighbor of our last, but we're speedier than we expected and were 1.5 hours early. I mean, we'd been early for the last couple, but there was someone on site; this lady said she could come later. So we walked to lunch and decided that the first place was better than the third, though we were still kinda up in the air and hoping something would jump out at us so we wouldn't have to make that awfully close decision.

We ate at a market/taqueria/pupuseria. I had 2 tacos, and a pupusa. All were delicious. So delicious, they musta had to violate a health code to do it, 'cause I noticed after the meal that, while every other place we had passed had a grade of A posted in their windows from the health department, this place had a C. A delicious C.

We walked back to the apartment. No lady. We called some other numbers we had for Statewide people ('cause her voicemail was full...). Sergio picked up and sent someone over from his office, which was, we later learned, half a block away. Saw the apartment. It was okay. It had a nice big closet that we almost thought we could sleep in. And I noticed a wide windowsill that I'm sure we could grow plants on. Ultimately, it was smaller though, with none of the perks of place number 3, so we proceeded on to apartment number 5.

We walked through MacArthur Park. We started telling ourselves to get used to the idea that this apartment was going to be smaller and worse than all the others, because the area is so nice, if it's the same price, it must be crappier, right? WRONG! Perfect! It even has a second room that we'll use as a studio, and a breakfast nook. No fridge, or really ideal place to put a fridge, but the VIEW! And a fridge can go anywhere, and we don't need a large fridge.

So we called Sergio. He summoned us to his office. We spent an hour relaxing with him, filling out paperwork and chatting. He was super nice, and he gave us a ride back to our couchsurfers' place. He likes the observatory, and came to L.A. when I was 1 year old. He only has a sister or two still in Mexico. Almost all the rest of his family did what he did, and moved to the U.S. - L.A. and Chicago. We know more about him than that, but you'll learn more if we get the apartment and he becomes our property manager. We're crossing our fingers that happens. We have great credit scores, but no income... so...

In all, we walked 5 miles today, and my missing appendix is tired. Oh yeah. And the place where we're staying has a pond. I slipped, almost fell in, didn't fall in, but "oh no! a wall!" I'm fine.

In other news, our CS hosts are awesome. One of them owns a car, but only uses it once a month. They bike everywhere. They're at the end of a 30-day dumpster challenge. They've eaten only dumpstered food for the past 29 days.

We saw couches and mattresses on the roadside. Not as many as in Magdeburg, but plenty. We think we'll use our Zipcar gift from Nikki to wander about the city picking up useful trash to furnish our new apartment.

I can't wait to chop veggies in my own apartment!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hitchhiking talk

Well, sign us up for the talk show circuit. We spoke at our first public event last week in a workshop titled "Hitchhiking, couchsurfing, and scavenging" (And I would subtitle it - living efficiently in a wasteful civilization) for the Candlelight Collective.
A few minutes after the meeting, I was browsing the bookshelves and came across an anarchist cookbook (not THE anarchist cookbook, apparently there are several). It had a section on hitchhiking. The author said almost word for word what we said. So... go us! Hitchhikers agree: hitchhiking is awesome and very possible.
We spoke on how to prepare for a hitching trip, evaluate the rides you'll get, and get dropped off in a good space. We addressed safety, because everyone's always concerned (though not this group as much as most individuals are... or perhaps we made our case before they could get concerned).
We spoke briefly about scavenging and couchsurfing, but those weren't the focus of our talk, as our audience was already more familiar with those issues than hitchhiking.
The group left the meeting very enthusiastic, and, I think more well prepared than if they hadn't attended the talk, for what that's worth.

Hitchhiking, for us, is about getting from point A to B, adventure, and building a global community.

  • Know your route. Use a map (or online mapping service like Google maps) and know the names of cities between you and your destination.
  • Make a schedule. Leisurely travel can take you 300 miles and offers time enough for unforeseen adventures, and 12 hour days can get you 600+ miles if you get long semi-truck rides and don't accept off-route adventures.
  • Pack as lightly as possible, but be ready for inclement weather. If you go on any major trips, you'll probably spend nights on the road and get stuck in rain or snow. Don't forget food and water! Bonus: A big backpack makes you appear more trustworthy to some rides.
Picking your spot:
  • For long distances using a thumb or sign, find an interstate onramp close to a gas station.
  • Try approaching people at the gas station. Even if everyone says no and you move on to the onramp, sometimes the impression that you gave them there will take a little time to marinate and they'll pick you up at the onramp.
  • People are friendly and helpful. Use your own judgment, but you can ask for advice from the truck stop employees or patrons.
  • Find a spot with high visibility of cars approaching you for a long distance (500+ meters/yards) and room for them to pull over.
  • Stay on the legal side of no hitchhiking signs.
  • Rides will leave you in bad places. Do your best to avoid it, but if it happens, you may need to trudge to a better spot. Smile anyways. Always thank your ride. You are a hitchhiking ambassador.
  • Who knows?
  • No, seriously, sometimes signs are good, sometimes they seem like hindrances. Rides read them and think "I'm not going THERE" and don't stop. Sometimes they don't stop anyways. Who knows what the rides who don't stop are thinking. It's all a guessing game.
  • We heard making a sign with many place names helps. Drivers see one name and block out the rest and stop because they are going to that one place. Or so we heard from another Hhiker.
Getting someone to stop:
  • Smile.
  • Look like someone you think people you want to get a ride from would stop for. For us, that means (relatively) frequent showers, clean (ish) jeans, and plain t-shirts or sweatshirts. For others that might mean a suit and tie, military garb, or Anarchy patchwork. I think our garb is relatively innocuous and gets us a wide range of rides.
  • It's POSSIBLE that traveling in pairs leads to more consistent rides, but who has done a study on this? Not many research dollars funneled towards hitchhiking studies.
  • If you have a weapon (or weapon-like utensil like a knife) displayed, people may not feel comfortable stopping for you.
  • Smile. Or not. Who knows if it really works? But it makes you feel good. Make eye contact with drivers passing you, too.
  • Keep your cool. If you get frustrated, pray to the hitchhiking gods. Getting angry at passing cars will only hurt your chances of getting a ride, and might draw the attention of the cops.
Deciding whether to take the ride:
  • Look for signs of drugs or alcohol, and don't get in the car if you see or smell them. Just say "no thanks". Walk away if you have to (grab your bag as you go).
  • Check for seatbelts. There HAVE been studies done on the importance of seatbelts. Wear one.
  • Ask where they're going. If you don't know it, take a sec to check a map, or ask if there's another onramp near a truck stop along your route (usually the interstate) before they turn off it.
  • Trust your instincts. They might be wrong, but if you're nervous about hitchhiking anyways, always remind yourself that you have the power to turn down a ride. If your partner feels uncomfortable, listen to them. You're there for each other, so let your partner's feelings sway you.
Once you have the ride:
  • Tolerance. You'll have a lot more fun if you give up your responsibility while in the car to promote your point of view. You don't have to agree, just observe. This is one of the best places to get to know a whole 'nother world that you might otherwise never encounter.
  • Listen. It's conversation 101, but it bears repeating - to be a good conversationalist, ask a person questions about themselves and then just let them go.
  • If you get uncomfortable, ask them to stop and let you out. Keep your eyes open, and your wits about you. I have no advice for people in a bank during a robbery, but whatever that is, do that. Stay calm, probably. If you don't avoid going into banks because there might be a robbery, don't avoid hitchhiking because you might meet a crazy, but be as prepared.
  • If someone offers you something, it's up to you. We often accept a can of soda or a candy bar (sometimes a meal or a place to sleep, too) if they're offering, but turn down money or inedible gifts, because we don't want to seem like we're panhandling. Food and accommodations seem like hospitality, other stuff seems like charity, which we don't need and should go to someone more deserving. Maybe you! =)
  • Be POLITE! Always thank your ride. Even if it was the worst ride ever, thank them profusely. A stranger is trying to do you a kindness; thank them. Be nice.
And finally,
  • Be flexible. It's an adventure! Balance your journey between getting to your destination in your predetermined fashion, and finding a new route because person A IS going West, but first they're going to a hot springs. That's where the awesome is.
Hitchhike today for a better world tomorrow!

couchsurfing.org - group: hitchhikers

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Final Day-Seattle to West Bend

I left you all sitting on the edge of your seats--"Surprise thunderstorm?" you asked. "Did they make it out alive?" you further questioned, then reminded yourself, with relief, that they must have, because they are writing this.

It was just a gentle rainfall when it woke us up. We started to pull out the tarp to throw over the tent, then checked the watch and saw it was 6:15am, only fifteen minutes until we planned to wake up, anyway, so we just decided to pack up. We hurried as much as we could, but the rain just kept falling harder and harder and the lightning and thunder came closer and closer together. We had nearly everything put together when it really started to dump and we made a run for it. The parking lot was already covered in a light layer of water, so what the rain didn't wet, the splashes did.

We got as far as the pumps and stopped to catch our breath and put our stuff together the rest of the way. Then we went inside and I changed into my only other dry leg coverings, my shorts. Last time we took a big hitchhiking trip, my second pair of pants were nondescript black sweat-type pants. They were comfortable to sleep in, but also fine for day wear. It was good having them for times like this, when my jeans got drenched. However, on this trip my second pair of pants were just pajama bottoms, not something I feel comfortable hitchhiking in. Lesson learned for the next big trip.

We ate breakfast at the truck-stop diner (have I ever told you all how much I love diners?), then headed out to start asking truckers for rides. None of the truckers filling up could give us rides, and we started to head out to the freeway entrance. We noted a Jefferson line bus filling up, and decided not to ask the driver. As we walked past him, though, he said "Where ya headed?" and when we said east, Milwaukee, he said he was going to Minneapolis. That sounded like it was in the right direction, so we accepted the ride. But as we drove off with him, he told us he would get to Minneapolis at 4pm because he was making stops along the way to pick up and drop off paying passengers. Also, we looked at a map and realized Minneapolis wasn't right on the I-90 route, so ultimately it seemed like it would cost us time. We told the driver our concerns and asked if he could let us out. He said it was no problem and pointed which direction we needed to go to get back to the freeway entrance.

We were really kicking ourselves at this point. We should have taken the minute to figure that stuff out while we were still at the truck stop, in a good position to get a different ride. As it was, we had to walk all the way back to the truck stop, costing us about 45 minutes. We chalked it up to our exercise for the day, though, and picked a couple pretty flowers along the way.

When we got back we asked around again, then headed out to the freeway entrance. By this time it was nearly 10am. We got a ride just a few minutes later from a kindly older gentleman. He dropped us off at 10:52am near Worthington, MN. At 11:11am (chicken feet!), John picked us up. John is a heavy equipment operator who has been working on windmills for the past six years. He travels all around MN for his work and was on his way home for the weekend. He'd gotten off early that day because the thunderstorms prevented work on the windmills. Speaking of thunderstorms, the one that woke us up in the morning was moving east, but thankfully the frequency with which we got rides kept us ahead of it the rest of the day.

John dropped us off at 12:20pm near Blue Earth, MN. We walked over to a nearby gas station to use the restroom. Earlier, just before the kindly older gentleman picked us up, we noticed a couple of recreational trailers pass us by. Then, just before John picked us up, we saw the very same two trailers get back on the freeway. Now, as we were headed to the gas station, we saw them a third time! They were also using the restrooms, and they noted that we were keeping right up with them. We tried to use the conversation opportunity to show them we are good people and that they should give us a ride east, but they declined. Too bad, because they were going all the way to Chicago.

No matter. At 12:42pm we got a ride with Abdi Gani. He was a nice guy, but inclined to try and convert us to Islam. It was interesting how similar his attempts were to Christian conversion attempts. He asked us to look at the sky, the heavens, look at our own miraculous bodies--how can we not believe in a creator when we see such evidence? It's a weak argument, and when we continued to tell him that that doesn't make us believe in God, he gave us the names of some great Muslim debaters we should check out on Youtube.

Abdi Gani dropped us off at 1:10pm by the turnoff for Albert Lea, and at 1:15pm we got a short ride from Brad. Brad wasn't going far, just to the junction of 35, where he would head south to visit his mother. He wondered if he should have dropped us off at one exit he had already passed, because then he was at his exit and it wasn't really an off and on-again spot. It was really two highways meeting each other, and the spot where we ended up standing to get our next ride was kind of scary. It was a lane to get from 35 to 90, but cars were going fast and it wasn't really an exit, so it was probably illegal for us to stand there. Thankfully, we got a ride pretty quickly.

At 1:35pm Ginny and her college-age daughter, Mandy, picked us up. They were going all the way to Wisconsin and could drop us off near Tomah. They were headed to a wedding and we joked that it was really our wedding they were coming for. Ginny did say that we reminded her of her niece and soon-to-be nephew in-law who were getting married. We talked with Ginny and Mandy about politics and agreed that capitalism is not working. Ginny told us how she writes a lot of letter to her local representatives about how important it is to focus on environmental problems and that they always kind of blow off her concerns. She thinks they're worried about losing their monetary support from big businesses, but this infuriates her because (I'm paraphrasing) the economy is meaningless in the face of a dying planet.

They dropped us off at 3:51pm along I-94 and we crossed over from the west entrance to the east one. A few people stopped who were going to get onto I-90 west, but then Curtis stopped at 4:28pm and was headed towards Madison. Curtis was a super-nice and interesting guy. He's from Alaska, but lives in Madison now with his wife and six kids because he and his wife are both getting graduate degrees there. He is studying Psychology to become a counselor and wants to open his own counseling office someday. I felt really inspired by him. He was, by his own admission, not a great student. He wanted to quit high school and get right to working, and had only recently finished his undergrad degree. But he had the guts to apply to graduate school and he got in and now he's doing it, while raising six kids. I think that's amazing.

He dropped us off at 5:30pm where 94 meets 33, and at this point we got off the freeway so we could follow a more direct route to Brendan's parents' place. Our hope was to get all the way to their door. At 5:40pm we got a ride with a ranger from Devil Lake who took us to Portage. He dropped us off at 5:50pm and we got a ride immediately with Crystal, Dotty, and Princess Sasha Fuzzybutt (the latter is a dog). Crystal and Dotty are Wiccans who were preparing for the 13th Annual Pagan Pride Days in Madison. They were really nice and Dotty offered us each a bottle of Mountain Dew Code Red as a wedding present.

Crystal and Dotty dropped us off at 6:20pm by the intersection for 73, and at 6:30pm we had a ride with Christina and her four adorable children, who were on their way back from a day at Wisconsin Dells. She dropped us off at 6:37pm in Fox Lake, and at 6:52pm we got a ride from a teenage boy named Donovan, who took us to a Kwik Trip gas station in Beaver Dam. By this time it was starting to get dark, and we were pretty tired, so we called Brendan's parents and asked them to pick us up there (about a 45 mile drive from their house). We bought a bag of sale donuts and sat down to eat and wait and they picked us up there at about 8:30pm. Turns out there are a couple of Kwik Trips in Beaver Dam, so it took them a little longer to get to us, but it gave them a chance to buy their own bag of sale donuts.

4 days, 3 nights, 17 rides (counting my sister and Brendan's parents, and not counting the bus driver), 1973 miles. This trip, like all our others, has reminded me how wonderful and generous people are. I think everyone should hitchhike, just to be reminded of that, or perhaps to experience it for the first time.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Day 3 - Seattle to West Bend

Our completely out in the open stealth camping at a campsite worked out problem-free. Brendan even got to take a shower because the men's restroom was unlocked. I used the restroom, but couldn't bring myself to strip and shower in case someone walked in. I settled for washing the top of my head in the sink.

We got up the next morning at 5:32am, much to my dismay and protests. Once I stood up, though, I felt a little more awake and ready to deal with the early-morning world. Plus, we wanted to get out of there before anyone woke up. We succeeded. We used the restrooms in the truck stop, then asked around to see if we could get a nice long ride with a trucker again. No go, so we made our way out to the I-90 east entrance and were standing there by 6:35am.

At 6:41am we got a ride with a nice guy named Dusty. He wasn't going far, but he could take us to the truck stop on the other side of Billings. Dusty was our age and was very interested in traveling. He got the bug when he was 18 years old and won a trip to Australia from a Powerade bottle. Now he is married and has a 17 month old son, so he thinks it will be more difficult. We told him about couchsurfing and about our friends who braved the seas to live in Germany with their two-year old daughter (okay, so they flew across the ocean). He seemed pretty interested, so I hope he follows through on traveling more.

It was about 7am when he dropped us off at the truck stop. We went into a McDonald's there so I could get a cup of coffee and while I was paying for it, Brendan was being offered a pair of nice hiking boots from a trucker. The tape on Brendan's shoes attracts a lot of attention. Brendan assured the trucker that he was happy with the shoes he had, and that he had more shoes at home.

There's a shoe under all that tape

We asked several truckers for a ride, but they were either going the wrong direction, or said they couldn't take us because of company policy. So, again, we made our way out to the I-90 east entrance and were standing there by 7:27am. The spot we were at seemed to be well-frequented by hitchhikers, and here's how we know:

It says "Husband + pregnant wife" in the corner

We borrowed this sign for a short while, then decided it was repetitious since we were standing at an I-90 east entrance

Can you spot "www.andjuggling.com"?

At 8am, a big rig stopped for us. Success! Our ride was with Roy and Jeff and Asia. Roy and Jeff were the truckers, Asia was the adorable rottweiler puppy. Roy and Jeff were hauling vehicles and were going all the way to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, before heading south. That's 717 miles! And they were willing to share their already crowded cab for that entire distance. This made an amazing third day for us. We enjoyed our ride with them. They were both nice guys and the only trouble was my voice got tired from talking over the noise of the truck. Jeff and his family are interested in moving to Seattle one day, so we told him to keep in touch so we can introduce him and his family to all our friends there.

Our long-distance Thursday ride

They dropped us off at a Love's truck stop around 10pm that night. Jeff told us there was a big field just on the other side of where a bunch of trucks were parked, so we headed over there after a halfhearted effort to get a nighttime ride. The field was great. There was lots of tall grass at the edge of it, plus all the big rigs parked up next to the edge of it, so we felt well-secluded. It was even pretty peaceful sounding with cicadas all around us, once we got used to the squealing and screeching pig noises coming from a nearby trailer. That is, it was great until the surprise thunderstorm the next morning, but that's another day and another blog post, my friends. Do come back.

P.S. I almost forgot to show you these pictures from the Love's. We considered asking for rides here because someone probably would have offered us one...but we didn't want to disturb.

He's got all the big rigs, in his hands

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Day 2 - Seattle to West Bend

So it's 4AM and we're back at the free way entrance. Middle of the night, a couple cars every 15 minutes. There are 2 eastbound i-90 freeway entrances. One for people coming from the truck stop, one for people coming from other parts of Spokane. We chose a spot on the median between the two. Around 4:30, a cop pulls up and tells us to move to the sidewalk. So we did.
Around 5:15AM the clouds caught the first edge of sunlight, and by 5:45AM it was light enough to read by.
At 6:35AM we caught a ride with Frank about 30 miles to Post Falls, ID. He let us off at a rest stop where we freshened up and then started in earnest around 7:33AM. We asked a few truckers and moved on to the rest stop exit.
At 10:18 we got a ride from Steve. He's trucking with his Silkie Terrier, Shadow, to Billing, MT, a good 500 miles away.

Steve had some crazy stories to share. He's been a thousand different places and worked a dozen different jobs. Everything from Vietnam Sniper to Cowboy to Animal Rescue, Firefighter, Horse Trainer, etc, etc...

He let us out just before Billings, and we spent the night at the campgrounds near the truck stop. A sheriff stopped to talk to us, and suggested that we sneak into the campgrounds and leave before anybody else woke up.... silly law enforcers. So we did.

And that was day 2.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wedding Note, and Our Latest Hitchhiking Trip, Part I

See the kittens, hiding on my lap?

We are in Wisconsin now, at Brendan's parents' farm (there are kittens here!), and the day is drawing near. Soon this place will be decked out in who-knows-what (ribbon? pumpkins? fall leaves? your smiling faces?) and we will be gettin' hitched. And as we are preparing for the day, we've been talking more about what we want it to be like. So there's this thing we just decided, that you should know. Instead of simply having toasts at our reception and putting just a few people on-the-spot, we'd like to turn the traditional toasting time into an open mic session. If you want to toast, great, but you could also sing a song, play an instrument, read a poem, read something else, perform a comedy routine, whatever you like! It will be your chance to offer us a little gift of yourself, expressed however you like. It won't be mandatory, but please consider sharing something.

Now, to tell the story, or rather, many stories, of our latest hitchhiking journey. As many of you know, we were most recently in Everett and Seattle, catching up with family and friends there. But we needed to get back to Wisconsin to prepare for the wedding. In the past, we've taken the bus or the train to get to Wisconsin (we've never flown there, though, which I find kind of funny), but this time we wanted to save money, and we wanted to flex our hitchhiking muscles. So we thumbed it.

Our first ride of the day on Tuesday, September 7, was from my sister Amelie. She had the day off and offered to get us started, and we accepted. She took us to Vantage, WA, we ate lunch together, then she dropped us off at the I-90 east on ramp. It was pretty dead, so were worried we would get stuck there, but within just a few minutes a woman who was just coming off the freeway asked where we were headed. We said east and she said she could take us as far as Moses Lake. We said that would be great, then she asked if we could chip in some gas money. That kind of put us off. We hesitated, but then said yeah, we had just a couple bucks. We were worried about the spot, remember. She said okay, she was going to fill up and then be back to pick us up. As soon as she left we talked about how it made us uncomfortable that she'd asked us for money and that we'd agreed to pay her. It's not hitchhiking if money is involved, it's ridesharing. But still, it was only two bucks, and it would get us out of the bad spot. But it must not have been such a bad spot, because before she even came back, we had another ride, and this one was going all the way to Spokane.

Russ was a nice guy who told us all about his travels in Europe and in the US. He went on a trip east once and started out by bus in Montana. When he left it was 30 degrees, and when he arrived somewhere in North Dakota, it was 30 below, and this was where he started hitchhiking. He said he could see ice in the air, and at one point he slipped and fell back into a covey of quails. He thought he just kept on falling, then realized it was just that all the birds were flying up around him. He didn't say how long it took him to get a ride, but it must have been pretty quick because, well, he obviously didn't freeze to death. He dropped us off at a Flying J, where we were greeted by this:

Aww, thanks for the welcome!

We decided to ask the employees, anyway. Just because they have a sign like that doesn't mean the people on duty care much about it, right? So we approached the two guys behind the counter and said, "Excuse me, but we saw the sign about hitchhiking outside, and were wondering, is that very strictly enforced?" We try to be polite. And they politely said yes, we would have to step foot off the gas station grounds before we stuck out our thumbs. Well, it was dark by this time anyway, so we asked them if they knew of any place around where we might be able to set up our tent for the night. One of them said he thought there was kind of a field near some warehouses further up the road, so we headed that way.

We didn't find anything much, though, at least nothing that was free of big chain-link fences, so we kept walking. We came to a little residential area, and turned down a street with some homes. At one house that had a nice big front yard with plenty of room for our little bitty tent, we saw the home-dweller walking from his backyard to his driveway. We said to each other, "It doesn't hurt to ask" and approached him. We greeted him and he responded "Hello, WHAT?" as in, what do you want? So we asked if we could set up our tent in his yard. He responded "No frickin' way," but upon noting that we did not seem drug-crazed, he recommended we set up tent in the nearby schoolyard. If the police came, he reasoned, we had nothing to hide.

We followed his advice, even though this was a much more open spot than we normally feel comfortable with when we're trying to stealth-camp. It seemed to be the best we could find, though, so we just tried to find the most hidden spot possible, and we set our alarm for 5:30am so we could get out of there before anyone showed up for school the next day. But who needs an alarm when there's a built-in wake-up call right there in the field? Around 2:45am I woke up and thought I heard falling water, but then convinced myself it was wind. Wind that seemed to come and go in a regular pattern, but hey, how awake are you at 2:45am? I went back to sleep. About 3:15am, the "wind" had started up right by our tent, and was actually sprinklers. They rotated, at least, so we had some dry moments to get out of the tent and pull it to a dry spot. But that was it for sleep for the night, so we packed everything up and headed back to the freeway. That is the end of Installment I, folks. Installment II comes tomorrow.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wedding Housing, Cont'd, and Update

Hello friends and family and comers-by! We have a lot of catching up to do. At the moment, Brendan and I are staying with my parents in Everett, WA, just north of Seattle. We moved out of our apartment in Germany, gave away most of what we had acquired over a year of living there, then flew back to the United States; more specifically, to Boston. We stayed there three nights with Couchsurfers and saw the famous Boston sites (you know, Harvard, almost everything along the Freedom Trail, etc.).

We then traveled by bus to Wisconsin and stayed with Brendan's parents for several days. Our good friends Anja and Tini, from Germany, just happened to be taking an American tour around the same time that we needed to get from Wisconsin to Washington, and they kindly picked us up on their way. We journeyed with them to Yellowstone National Park and camped for a few days on the way. It was awesome.

And ever since they dropped us off in the greater Seattle area, catching up is exactly what we've been doing. Between visiting with my parents and siblings, in-laws, nieces, nephews, friends, former colleagues, and wedding party members, it has been a whirlwind of two weeks. And in the midst of it, we are still doing wedding-planning. My sister will be refitting my grandmother's wedding dress to my measurements, AND she will be making a special reception dress for me, AND a vest for Brendan. We are still getting estimates for porta-potties, and receiving RSVPs, and planning the reception menu. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you say. Get to the point, Stina--where am I going to stay?

There are several options available to you. In order of price, here we go:

Free: Camping at Brendan's parents' farm, which is also the site of the wedding. Bonuses: it's free and it's on site, so you likely wouldn't need to rent a car. Downside is it might get pretty chilly at night, so you'd need to be prepared for that. Also, one shower for however many people decide to camp and are staying in the house, so bathroom time might be limited. And you can consider this a bonus or a downside--we'd want your help with wedding prep work.

Also free: Couchsurfing. I just searched West Bend and the surrounding 20 miles, and it yielded 16 Couchsurfers (not including Brendan's parents). Bonuses: Couchsurfing rocks! It's free and mind-opening and you can make friends with your hosts. Downside? You'd likely need a car to get to and from the wedding.

$30-$60 per night: Wellspring Retreat and Conference Center, which is also a B&B and hostel. This place looks awesome! You can stay in a dorm room with other people (read: other wedding guests! Coordinate travel plans!) for $30, or have a private room for $50-$60. Plus, let me quote Peg, Brendan's mom: "And it is only 7 minutes away travel time so we would be willing to pick your friends up there and take them back if they don't have a car." That sounds like an offer you can't refuse.

$50 and up: Hotels in the surrounding area. My parents are staying at the Bonne Bell Motel, which is cute and on the closer to $50 a night side, but last I heard they were fully booked for the weekend of our wedding. Might be worth checking to see if they've had any cancellations, though. I googled hotels near 53021 and came up with a lot of options. Upside: private room, don't have to share a shower, yada yada. Downside: it's the most expensive option and you'd need a car to get to and from the wedding.

We are so excited to see you at our wedding. If you have any questions, just call us or email us and we'll help out in whatever way we can. Leave a comment here with your email address if you want to request our phone number. See you soon!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Friday, June 4, 2010

To Frankfurt and Valencia

This is not one of the promised blog posts to come.

Our plan had been to leave Magdeburg on Wednesday, May 26th to hitchhike to Frankfurt. We stayed Tuesday night so that Stina could go to choir practice. She's awesome at singing, by the way. ;)
But Wednesday rolled around and Stina wasn't feeling well. So we hopped on the ol' interwebs to find out what our options were. We decided we could take a Sachsen-Anhalt/Thuringen ticket (28€ for up to 5 people) to Gerstungen and then a Hessen ticket (31€ for up to 5 people) to the Hahn airport about 120 km from Frankfurt (Ryanair's hub). In theory, we'd then use mifahrgelegenheit.de to find 3 other travelers, and we'd wind up paying 12€ per person. Not bad, considering that the bus from Frankfurt to Hahn is 12€ per person alone. We'd spend the night in either the airport or the forest outside the airport. We weren't positive this would work. We couldn't be sure we'd find anyone to share the price of the tickets, but that was the least of our worries. The real problem was that, while there's information on the Hessenticket online, it doesn't show up when we use the train route planner. Also, the bus to the airport (which is the only way to get there) seemed like it might be another one of Ryanair's schemes to make money (I'm not saying it is, just that I couldn't tell if it was part of the national transportation network or a more private company that wouldn't recognize the Hessenticket).

Anyways, the whole point is moot. We found someone else's Mitfahrgelegenheit. It cost more than the ideal circumstance of our travel, but less than the probable outcome. So we left Thursday morning with this fellow, and arrived early Thursday afternoon in Frankfurt. It was still several hours until Angelika got off work (our CS host), so we ate some carrot-lentil mush, and found a park to read in. We met up with Angelika no problem. Made some dinner, went out for tea, and slept. The next morning we took this kinda expensive bus to Hahn, hung around for our flight (during which time I saw more Americans than I've seen in the past 9 months, including one reading a Magic novel), and flew to Valencia.

Here the airport is in the city. So we simply took the subway (1€ for a rechargeable card, 1,90€ per person for an AB ticket) to Christiane's flat. Since getting here, we have:
grown to hate my flip-flops
spent a total of about 10 hours on the beach so far
eaten many plates of tapas
gotten ice cream at regular intervals
gotten lost and seen a rat *this big*
visited a museum celebrating the 32nd America's Cup (which I now know is a sailing race)
stabbed my ring finger with an orange tree branch
seen the purplest flowers and agéd tiled buildings
learned "una carafa clara, por favor"
relaxed with Buffy and Smallville
buried me in the sand
and hung out on a balcony looking over the rooftops of the city.

Stina has managed most days to write her 2000 words. We've started doing sit-ups on the beach. And we never get out of bed before 11AM.

Tomorrow we start hitchhiking to Faro, Portugal. Press your thumbs for us!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Hello, May

I promised my sister-in-law a blog post by Friday.

I almost kept it. If you are up very, very late on Friday night in Washington state, you might read this before you consider it Saturday, even though it technically is Saturday.

Sorry, Naomi. Better late than not at all, though, right?

Also, sorry April. Even when we are lax in the blogging department, we usually manage one a month. So what happened during April that kept us away from our blog?

At the end of March, just after back-to-back visits from my sister, Amelie, and Brendan's dad, Wes, we hosted some couchsurfers for two nights. When they left, we just breathed. It was delightful and busy and socially and mentally engaging and just . . . like home, having Amelie and Wes come to visit. I wished Amelie could have stayed just a little bit longer, because the weather got warm the day, the very day, she left. Ergh.

Here's a post to come: Visit with Amelie, and pictures.

Another: Visit with Wes, and pictures.

And then we took a trip. We hitchhiked to Kampen, the Netherlands and visited our friend Anna, whom Brendan met at university. We stayed with her four nights, then hitchhiked Düsseldorf, to visit our couchsurfing friends Anja and Tini. We stayed with them two nights, then took a Schöneswochenende ticket back to Magdeburg. That's another post to come, in which we detail some of the happy happenings and dumb decisions that come along with hitchhiking.

We got home and breathed some more.

I've dedicated myself to writing. For long years I've considered myself a writer, but I haven't produced much. Well, that's just silly. So now I'm writing every day. I'm currently following Stephen King's advice in On Writing and meeting a word count every day. I started with 1000 words, what he recommends for the beginning writer, upped it two weeks later to 1500 words, and starting tomorrow won't stop writing until I've hit 2000. That's what Stephen King says is his target limit for each day. So, wow! I'll be writing as much as Stephen King!

Brendan discovered a new love while we were in Kampen: animating. Here are the videos he made in two days of working in Anna's studio:

We're working on getting the materials and space he needs to continue animating here in Magdeburg.

Thanks for reading, family and friends, and thanks for the bugs to write more. It lets us know you are reading. Promised posts soon to come. Promise.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Solo Stina

My desire to see my sister as soon as possible when she arrived at Tegel airport in Berlin did not outweigh my budget concerns about spending 25 euros each way to get there and back. It did, however, outweigh any apprehension I felt about hitchhiking alone. I knew the apprehension was illogical, anyway, based on all the conversations we've had with solo female hitchhikers, yet it was still there. The best way to get over it was just to do it, hitchhike alone, and yesterday I had a really good reason to try. I figured if I could get to Tegel for free, it wouldn't be so bad to spend 25 euros on the return trip since it meant I got to spend that much more time with Amelie.

I set out from home around 7:45am and took the #5 tram to Opernhaus, then the #9 tram to a stop at the north end of town, Krähenstieg. I was trying to get to an Aral gas station where Brendan and I had once tried to hitchhike to Hannover. We gave up that time after waiting for two hours and being offered several rides to Berlin but none to Hannover. I figured this was the perfect spot to hitch at yesterday since Berlin was exactly where I was trying to go.

The only trouble was finding the gas station. I took a wrong turn and wasted about 20 minutes wandering up and down the wrong street before I found the right one. By 8:45am, though, I'd made it to my spot, sporting a thumb on one hand and this nifty sign in the other:

As soon as I was standing there in that familiar position any remaining anxiety disappeared. Cars passed me by and the people in them looked just as friendly and safe as they do when I'm hitchhiking with Brendan. Ten minutes later I had a ride with an on-the-younger-side-of-middle-aged man. He said he needed to make one short stop on the way, but after that he was going into Berlin.

We talked only in German and I was really proud of myself for what I was able to communicate to him and what I understood. He told me he had a twenty year old son and that he would like to travel to the US with him, but he wanted to improve his English first. I offered to speak English with him so he could practice, but he said "Überlegen und fahren geht nicht," which means "Thinking and driving don't mix."

I asked him at one point which city in Germany he thought was the most beautiful and had a little embarrassing moment where I didn't understand his response.
"Essen?" I asked.
"Nein, __________." (I still didn't understand.)
"Oh, Dresden!"
Then we talked a little about Dresden.

He dropped me off at an U-Bahn station in Berlin around 10:30am. I didn't know to get from there to the airport, so I approached a young man and asked him, in German, what to do. He gave me clear instructions, I got a ticket, and hopped on the next subway.

The subway ride was long. So long, I worried I might miss Amelie's 11:10am arrival. I had to switch from the subway to a bus and by that time it was already 11:10am, so when I got to airport it was 11:25am. Thankfully her flight was a little late and had just landed at 11:19am. I asked at Information where I could find her, and got to the spot where everyone was waiting just five minutes before she came through the doors.

Together we navigated the bus to the train station and the train back to Magdeburg and now have an exciting week of visiting and sightseeing ahead of us.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Teaching German Kids

I should have been keeping a blog of these experiences all along, but it just occurred to me now.

Today I heard something I've never heard before in English or in German. I've heard "So-and-so pushed me" or "So-and-so cut in line", and even what I thought was "So-and-so stepped on me", which I just learned actually means "So-and-so kicked me", but today was the first day that I heard "So-and-so bit me on the butt".

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Promised "How We Afford It" blog

It's true, we're cutting it closer than we wanted. We'd hoped that by working our jobs all through our time in Europe, we'd return home with more than $20,000 of cushion, and a little more to have some fun with. We didn't really think that through. We thought we could travel and work, but it just doesn't work. Work schedules don't necessarily adapt to fit one's preferred time table, and even if they did, there just aren't enough hours in the day to do all that we want to do, and especially not with commuting, work, and all the in-between time that working requires. So we decided, with all respect and appreciation to our jobs for the opportunities and the money, we needed to quit. Stina went over this last blog, but now I'll walk you through our decision that we could, in fact, afford it.

One of the reasons we no longer find it worthwhile to work is that we just aren't earning what we were. The dollar has grown stronger in the past few months. Nearly 30% of my wages are taken out for the German equivalent of Social Security, unemploment insurance, and other things that don't quite translate. Stina discovered that she can't take many days off if she wants to make the 2€/hour bonus that her employer offers if she works at least 120 units per month.
All of this means that, on average, we've been putting 2500€ (*1.35 = $3375) into our bank account for the past 3 months before expenses, rather than the expected 3200€ (*1.5 = $4800) per month. No matter what we make, our expenses remain rather constant, and as bare bones as possible. Each month we pay about $300 for student loans. We pay 375€ for rent, water, heat, electricity, internet, and other utilities. We pay 68.50€ for our tram passes. We pay 52€ for Stina's health insurance. We pay about 200€ for food (totally a guess). And we spend maybe 100€ on luxuries each month, like going out to eat, buying games, etc. (also a guess, but pretty accurate, I'd say). All together, that's about 1000€ a month.

So, now you know. When we finish our work, we will have about $15000 worth of currency in the bank, and will live on that for the next several months. We'll reduce our food costs by dumpster diving more. We considered giving up our apartment, but having a place to come back to is necessary to our happiness. And we'll probably stop buying tram passes. We won't really increase any costs, since we'll be hitchhiking and couchsurfing. We're a little worried about the cost of airplane tickets, so if anyone sees a mode of transportation from Europe to America for less than $500 per person, let us know. At $1000 per month while here, $1000 for plane tickets home, and $1000 while we visit family in Seattle and Wisconsin, I expect that after our wedding, we will have $5000 (that's a wedding budget of $3000) left. That's a bit scary, but we're good at living cheaply, and so while we make our new homes in L.A., I expect that we'll easily find our feet before we run out of money.

Wish us luck!
Brendan and Stina

Below, find our projected budget until our wedding. Numbers rounded for safety. No sharp corners!

Brendan Verity: $5000
Stina Verity: $1000
BECU Accts $2000
Total in American Accts: $8000
Deutsche Bank Konto: 6000 €
Brendan Earn March: 300 €
Stina Earn March: 300 €
Total Euros: 6600 € Converted to Dollars: $8910
Total of all currencies: $16910
Itemized costs (in Euros)
Rent (Warm) 1200€
Internet 160€ (hopefully)
Student Loans 1800€
Electricity 175€
Food 1000€
Travel 1950€ (Includes ticket home)
Wedding Budget 2220€
Totals by month (in $)
March: 797
April: 1122
May: 1122
June: 918
July: 918
August: 1768
September: 1088
October: 408
November: 3427
Total Expenses: $11567
Money after wedding: $5342

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Getting back to the spirit of this trip

"We are a couple of newly free wanderers...." This is the start of our little bio on this here blog, but I feel like we lost our freedom when we decided to get jobs in order to live here in Germany. Maybe we lost it way back when I gave up on busking. So what if I'm not very good at juggling and our routine doesn't make us any money? At least Brendan and I were doing something fun together all day. Okay, well, to be more honest, I didn't always find the busking fun. But it was a big part of the spirit of this trip, and I want to get back to that. I don't know if that means trying to reincorporate busking, but I want to take the time to figure it out.

Brendan and I gave notice at our jobs and March 10th is our official last day, though I will continue teaching one class through the end of March. We are going to get back to the spirit of this trip.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not sorry we did this. We've met so many amazing people here, and many of them through our jobs. But I'm also not sorry to say goodbye my job here. It doesn't mean we'll be saying goodbye to all the people we've met, it just means we can spend even more time with them and be the happier for it.

I feel like a fog is lifting around me. Oh, there is so much more I could say but will wait to say, having already nearly lost my job once for words posted on this blog.

As I bid my job farewell, I thank it for the people I've met, both teachers and students, and for my improved knowledge of English grammar. I also thank it for showing me this is not what I want to be doing in my life and that it is more important for me to pursue my dreams than to make a buck.

Next post: a money one where we show you how we are affording to quit our jobs.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A family of five

On Thursday, Stina and I bought the Quer-Durchs-Land ticket (39€ for 2 people), and took a 6 hour, 3 train trip to Frankfurt (am Main) to meet our friends Lena, Adam, and their 1 1/2 year old daughter Ilya. We had hoped to get their early enough to meet them at the airport, but there were no reasonable options for that, so we got there at 6 PM, and found them moments later across the street at their hotel. After a quiet evening including some Chinese food, hugs, and this (see the video halfway down), we all bedded down for a few solid hours of sleep.
The next day started pretty early. We went out to see the city as soon as it was light enough to see what was there to be seen. We walked along the Main for a bit, and then saw some ruins from the 1st century C.E. From there, we wandered to the main square, Römerberg, and found some breakfast. Walking around after breakfast, we happened upon a street market, and about halfway through it, were accosted by a man asking "Thema der Woche?" into his ZDF mic. I told him the theme of the week was Americans in France, er Frankfurt, because WE were Americans in Frankfurt. He wondered if I cared at all about German's deficit, and I told him America also has one that I'm worried about, and that the solution is to spend less, not more, because, and here's my quotable quote for the day "Consumerism breeds consumerism". Later we decided that what I meant was that, since any economic problem is only really a problem if people are not getting the things they need to live the happy lives they deserve, the solution to the problem is to make more goods available to them. Aside from increasing production, that can also be accomplished by not consuming the goods yourself. then they'll be available for other people to consume. This is contrary to what capitalism teaches, which is, if you consume more, everything will be okay. I generally find that when something is counterintuitive, it is, in fact, wrong.
But that was just a brief moment of our day.
We asked a security guard for directions to the Apfelwein. He directed us across the Main, where we enjoyed the company and giant glasses of Apfelwein. From there, we went to the park near the river, and we demonstrated the powers of the fulcrum and lever and pendulum.
Back at the hotel, everybody crashed, conveniently in phases. First I passed out, then Lena went, then Adam. Then I woke up and Stina passed out. Then Adam and Lena woke up. Then Ilya and Lena went out. Then I went for a walk to get some Döner Kebap and Falafels for us. When I got back, Stina woke up and we scarfed them down, read a little (I'm reading about the moon landing, and hoping I can someday be in a position to travel to the stars, or maybe write a show that compiles faux news articles about life aboard the generational starship), then went for a walk. Having Lena and Adam here really reminded us how much we want to travel, so we're figuring out budget stuff and where we want to go. I theorized that in order to enjoy our travels and live in the moment (as we haven't been as much), we both need to know that at the end of the moment we have a place to belong, and that nothing stressful is waiting for us at that end. So, we need a home base. We have a home base. Awesome!
We came back to the hotel, and went to sleep. Then Lena woke up, ate, and then we ALL slept.

Next morning, we dilly dallied until we wandered over to the train station for the ride back to Magdeburg (Schönes Wochenende Ticket-37€ for 5 people). This time, though, we had a mobile entertainment unit: Ilya. Now we're having a lazy Sunday as our first day as a family of 5.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Wintertime in Magdeburg

There is snow on the ground and like good bears, Brendan and I have been hibernating. We get a daily dose of sunshine and snow enjoyment, then return indoors to our cozy cave. All our plans for traveling during this winter break fell by the wayside, and I blame the cold. I want to hitchhike and spend lots of time walking around the unfamiliar cities we visit, but when it is wintertime the biting wind pushes me home to the warmth of the great indoors. So here I sit, wrapped in a blanket, like a cozy little ladybug .

In the background you can see the lovely tree that Brendan brought home for us in the background, and our smoking man in the forefront. The little smoking man was a gift from our friend Frank when he came to visit for Thanksgiving. He smokes a little cone of incense (the smoking man, not Frank). The lovely candle was a gift from one of the classes I teach.

We have so many expansions of Carcassonne now that it's not easy to play them all at once. We have been honing our skills so that when our Seattle friends join us here we will be able to compete. They are the ones who introduced us to the game, after all. In the background you can see the beautiful guitar Brendan gave me for my birthday and our pet tiger.

You'll see graffiti like that all around Magdeburg. On January 16th there will be some sort of an anti-Nazi demonstration, with different events taking place all over the city. Brendan and I will attend.

That's the little Christmas tree I made before I knew Brendan would be bringing one home. We still kept the presents under this tree, though we put the decorations on the other one.

This is the playground near our house and I took this picture primarily to show our Seattle friends where their little one can play. The ping-pong table is barely visible in the background, though recently it was impossible to play on. Not because of the snow, which we expected and brought along a brush to sweep away with, but because of the fireworks residue from New Year's Eve.

This is the building behind ours. I thought the icicles looked cool.

This is a snow-covered bicycle.

And this is our pride and joy. This snowman was with us for a sadly short while. First, he was defiled by a dog. That I could handle. But then he was toppled and we found him in pieces. His nose is still missing.

Happy 2010, everyone! This is our wedding year and I am getting excited! 10/10/10 is marching ever closer, perhaps to the tune of Pachelbel's Canon. Nah. How cliche would that be?