[personal profile] unforth
Well, it’s been ages since I’ve updated the LJ account, but now seems like as good a time as any.

Usually, I try to reconstruct these posts covering two months by going to the oldest bits and working forwards. Today, that seems pretty pointless, as I’m on the way back from a trip right now, and I figure I might as well start at the present and figure things out from there. The super short version is that I can’t believe that I had a trip this short where I did this much and yet still am leaving more relaxed than I arrived.

Last Tuesday – well, really Wednesday morning – I set off for Bali! The trip was to celebrate [livejournal.com profile] bakanekotoo’s wedding, and a number of her other friends were on the trip, some I knew somewhat, some I’d only met in passing, and others that I didn’t know at all. I met up with the first batch of these folks at the airport, as we were on the same flight, and though we didn’t sit together on the plane we spent the available bits and pieces of the following 26 hours of the flight and layover in Hong Kong hanging out and chatting, until we finally arrived in Bali at 4 pm on Thursday afternoon. The early stages of the trip involved few things of note – I was at the airport very early and I got a lot of spinning done; I was super excited to get a matcha cream frappacino at the Starbucks in Hong Kong, and it was about as good as I remembered from my last time in Asia; and I started to get to know the new folks, which was fun.

Bali is rather indescribable in general terms. It’s a really beautiful country that looks very old-fashioned in many respects, but underneath that there’s a lot of modernity – shops that look straight out of the 19th century selling electronics or advertising PS3s or that are internet cafes; places without doors or windows that sport wide screen TVs, and women in traditional garb balancing immense baskets of fresh fruit on their heads. It’s also very tourist oriented, so when you walk down the street, the people who work for the tourist-aimed stores all pester you to come look at their goods, and don’t take no for an answer. I guess it’s to be expected from a place where 65% of the net income for the whole country is from the tourist industry.

Indeed, my first experience of Bali was of the kind of thing I’d been warned about when I read my guide book – we get off at the airport, arrange for a taxi, and have to fend off porters who offer to help with our bags – for a nominal tip, of course. One of our number wasn’t expecting this “service,” and she got stuck giving the tip. Things like this were surprisingly common – the next day, one of them got me too, a woman at a temple who showed me how to make a little basket demanded a tip. Boo. Still, once you’re wary to it, it wasn’t a big deal, and most of the people were really nice, especially among the population of taxi drivers – an essential service for those who want to see the island more than a little.
That first Thursday night, there wasn’t much to it. We checked in at the Sanur Beach Hotel, which was a lovely resort with breakfast included and an extensive beach front. We investigated the grounds, determined the warmth of the water, and then went to dinner – there was me, four of W’s friends (C, Y, Ch, B), and two of Ch’s friends who tagged along because they saw an opportunity to visit Bali (now to be referred to as G and J). We quickly became intimately acquainted with how relatively inexpensive things were here, but we were also all very tired, so after dinner we went right to bed.
The perk of not getting much sleep in the flight (I managed three whole hours, which for me is a veritable miracle) was that I woke up Friday morning bright and fresh. I went for a jog (and promptly got a blister, and had felt nauseous because I wasn’t used to the heat and humidity) (OH! And there were mangroves! I saw a mangrove swamp! I was really excited about that…) and then when the others came down to breakfast (I was one of the earliest risers the entire trip, shocking, I know) we figured out the plan. The others wanted to go to Kuta, which is the “hip” beach (as opposed to Sanur, which is often called “Snore”) but there’s not much else to do, so I decided to go and do my own thing, hiring a cab and going to Ubud, which is a city in the central southern part of the island (our resort was on the east south coast of the island). I had planned to just wander around a shop, but instead my taxi driver recommended various shops and I did that instead. It wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind, but it was fun – all of the places that he took me were ludicrously over priced – by Bali standards – but it was lovely to see the crafts and I got to see them being made at a lot of the places. We went to a silver store, a wood carver, a batik place, and I think someplace else that I’m not quite thinking of. From there, we went to the Neka Art Museum, which was the main place that I wanted to go in the first place. It was a very nice – and mostly empty – museum. For the first half hour I didn’t see another person there except for the person I bought my ticket from. It was a really nice museum, though, with a good overview of the history of Balinese art and examples from the different periods. It was fascinating to see how it transitioned from traditional Hindu styles in to modern and even abstract work. I liked the work from the middle parts the best, though.

We all met back up at the hotel with the intention of going as a group to visit Tanah Lot, which is one of the prominent local temples. You can’t actually go inside, but you can look at it. We had intended to see the temple at sunset, which is a standard thing to do, but it was quite overcast so we missed out on that option. However, it was still neat, and it was mobbed with people. There were some kids there doing interviews, and they interviewed both me and Ch for their school project, which was slightly odd.

By this time, I had touched base with Ch about the crazy plan for Saturday. See, I had heard that one of the things to do in Bali was to do a hike up a volcano, and from that moment I wanted to do it. What I didn’t know until I read my guidebook was that this hike is traditionally done overnight, such that you arrive at the peak of Mt. Agung at sunrise, and then after that you hike back down. It turns out Ch and his friends J and G wanted to do this hike was well, and so together we all met up right around midnight. So I slept for about an hour on the trip back to our hotel (after dinner) from Tanah Lot, and then I managed another two hours sleep, and then…we were off. It was a two hour drive to Besakih, which is a temple on at the 5000 meter point of the 10,000 meter high volcano. However, we had no sooner gotten our water from the guide, affixed our head lamps and applied bug spray, and we were at the foot of the very first suitcase, when a priest stopped us and explained that it was a festival day, and that we shouldn’t climb the mountain – didn’t our guides warn us? We all explained a look that made it clear that while that was all well and nice, we were already there (afterwards, we all agreed that had we known in advance, we’d have respected their believes, but having already gotten there and already paid for our dang hike, we weren’t going to back down now!). When the priest saw our undeterred expressions, he warned us that the gods would not look kindly on our intruding on their domain during a holy time. So, having been warned that divine retribution awaited us for daring to climb Mt. Agung, we set out.

How can I sum up this hike? First, even though we knew we were setting out to climb a mountain, I’d say none of us actually had any idea what we were in for. It was four hours of up. There was no down at all (well, there was one point where we took a single step down, but that was it). One of the boys was struggling with his cardio, but eventually pride and chivalry gave way and I got to help out and carry a backpack. The air was thin, but I couldn’t really tell – but I definitely got out of breath faster than I would have normally. When we started, the stairs seemed tough. When we got past the stairs, the first section of the climb – through a jungle scarcely seen in the dark – seemed tough. When we got about that in to the heights where the trees thinned, we thought THAT was hard. And when we got above the tree line, that’s when things got really crazy – we were free climbing up a 45 degree angle without scarcely knowing where we were going and what lay ahead. J had an altimeter, and we got periodic updates on just how much higher we had to get – the goal was 10,000 meters! And every time we’d find out we’d only gone 500 m more, we’d all groan and wonder how it could possibly take so long and be so damn hard. And it was only getting harder! The downside of none of us really knowing what we were in for was that it turned out one of our number was afraid of heights, and would have been fine on a normal hike, but once we got to the free climbing part, he started to have issues, and finally when things looked like they were going to be more like a 70 degree free climb, we held a conference and decided that for the sake of our phobic member, we would stop where we were, only 200 m short of the top. I don’t regret it. Even as it was it ended up being the hardest physical experience I’ve ever had (it beat the 29 mile walk hands down – that’s a story for later this post…). So we stopped there, at about 5:45 in the morning, and shared some breakfast that our guides had carried for us – including some tea and coffee – and waited for the sun to rise.

The sky on the way up was amazing. We could see the stars and the milky way, and the lights of the whole island south of us spread out, all the way to the ocean. I thought that what little we could see on the hike up in some way prepared us for what we’d see when the sun came up, but we didn’t have a clue! As the sun rose, we could finally see the lava flows and rock heaves of the peak that previously had just been black silhouettes, and it was absolutely amazing. The sunrise was gorgeous and the colors were so clear, and the sunlight spread lovely tones of green over the entire island and we could finally see the contours of the hills and valleys of the land below. We could also finally see the crazy, crazy climb we had just made…and were all a bit surprised. The phobic member of our group, and myself, had been worried about the walk down, but once I could see it, instead of finding it more intimidating, I actually found it less so, and we made the hike down in relatively good order. That said, after finding the walk up difficult but manageable, I found the walk down hard, especially because I fell pretty early on (earning the distinction of being the only one of our number to bleed on the trip) – I tore up my palm just a little, but worse than that, I twisted my right knee. I fell a bunch more times before all was said and done, certainly more than a half dozen, and ended up with a string of rather impressive bruises on my right thigh (they’re now purple) that I have no idea where they even came from.

BUT. It was all worth it. The views were unbelievable. The kinds of things that the photographs I took can only begin to serve as reminders. We could see all the south of the island. When we looked west, we could just make out the peaks of the mountains on Java Meanwhile, there was this strange line, and I thought “huh, that’s the oddest looking cloud that I ever saw!” But I didn’t say anything. A few moments later, Ch said, “hey look, it’s the shadow of the mountain!!” That, of course, was my odd cloud, and it was totally awesome. Really, it was all totally awesome. I wish I could have taken a full panoramic view of the world all around me when I was up there, but it’ll just have to live in my memory. Below the tree line again, we got to see all the interesting plants all around, and finally to walk back through the jungle, and down past the temple, and finally down those stairs which were probably the single easiest part of the entire trip (little did we know that when we started!!) and past the people slowly gathering for the festival, and finally to our car. By then it was about 9 am – seven hours of hiking in all.

It was funny, because I’d say I stood the hike up best of all of us, just judging by how we were all doing by the time we stopped. But on the hike back? I did by far the worst. It was an interesting demonstration of the difference that mostly training for cardio (which is what I do) as opposed to mostly training with weights (Ch and G) can make – they found the walk down pretty easy because they were stronger than I was. Meanwhile, J was in the best shape and overall beat the pants off all three of us in terms of managing. :) I’m so glad that we did this, though – even though one of the results was that on Sunday and Monday I could literally barely walk (well, that’s not quite accurate – I could stand, and I could sit, and I could lie down, and I could walk, but if I had to use my quads, my legs would nearly give out. The biggest problem was stairs, I had to cling to banisters in order to do them, I looked like a total fricken cripple, it was almost comical. God forbid I tried to use the bathroom….).

We got back to the hotel at around 11 or noon, and promptly went to lunch and then to get massages. It was really pleasant, we were all pretty hungry, and we spent a lot of time congratulating ourselves. There is definitely a bonding experience that comes from hiking up and down a mountain with folks. When we got back to the hotel, we discovered that that evening there was going to be a performance of traditional Balinese dance along with a buffet dinner, so we made reservations for that, and were joined by A, S, L, and Ch2, who all arrived that day. The dinner was mediocre, though we had a lot of fun as a group tasting and attempting to identify the various Indonesian desserts that were served. All the while there was this absolutely terrible singer. Finally, at 8:15 we got to hear some Gamelan drumming (something I really wanted to hear!) and at 8:30 the dancing started. By that point, I was so tired that every time I blinked it was all I could do to open my eyes again, and finally I said I was going to leave, only to find that there was only one more dance, so I stuck it out, and finalllllly went to sleept at 9:30.

…and was up bright and early the next day for breakfast! A group of us – 10 in all – headed out to Ubud on Sunday. J and G broke off and went their own way – that was the last we saw them for the rest of the trip – and the other 7 all decided to go with me to the Ubud Botanical Garden, which was one of the places I most wanted to go. It was pretty nice, but it turned out not to really be the place to be in sandals. I discovered, to my chagrin, that some of the ants there sting! (And of course, I could barely manage anything stair like, and the whole garden was down a major stair case…) I got about a dozen ant stings and was briefly pretty freaked that I’d have a reaction, but in the end it was all good, and the garden was rather lovely, very tropical, with a labyrinth in it and some strange sculptures, an entire area dedicated to pitcher plants, and an orchid room. We then hoofed it back in to town – along with some nice views of rice fields – and went our separate ways to do some shopping. I managed to get done most of my Christmas shopping while we were there (though I got overcharged for virtually everything by Bali standards, even when I haggled – my highlight was the first item I bought, a quilt which I was told would be 600,000 rupiah (about 80 dollars). I responded 300,000, which she accepted immediately. Never a good sign. Sure enough, a few days later a friend got the same quilt at a different place for 250,000. I lose. Oh well). Still, there was a lot of interesting stuff and I think I got folks things that they’d like. We met back up at 5 for the cab, and headed back to the hotel.

The girls then broke up off to get manicures before the first ceremony which was to be on Wednesday morning. I got another massage, which was rather odd – I’d never really been groped quite like that during a massage – but nice. Some of us hadn’t eaten dinner at that point, so me, S, C and V – who had just arrived – all went to a place called Flapjaks, and got crepes, pancakes, and lots of delicious gelato. We shared a Sundae called “the Big Man” which was super yummy.

Monday was the Balinese ceremony. I had thought it was a wedding, but it turned out that it was actually a farewell ceremony – W said goodbye to her ancestors and got their permission to marry a non-Hindu. It was a nice ceremony though not that accessible to the outsider, and it was an awesome opportunity to see lots of people wearing lovely textiles (heavily attended by her Balinese family and their friends) and the food was really, really good. We expected it to last all day, but we were done by about 1 pm, so we headed back to the hotel and I finally got some time to lounge at the hotel. V, S and I wandered the beach at low tide and went shell hunting, only to discover that most of the shells still had inhabitants in the form of little crabs. We also poked suspicious things with our shoes, and found an enormous and bizarre looking dead sea star, a smaller, black, still living sea star, and dead anemone, and various other interesting odds and ends. And a few shells! Dinner was even more Balinese food – ate a lot of that while we were, and finally to bed.

The next day, the wedding wasn’t going to be until evening, so me, Ch, B, S, A and V made plans to go to Denpasar, which is the capitol. The idea was to see the Bali Museum, which is a museum of culture and history of the country, and then go check out these two big open air markets. These are pretty much the only two things to do in Denpasar. The museum was nice, but not terribly large. We had to deal with yet another of the “helpful” people who wanted money in exchange – though in this case he offered a service that A, S and V decided that they wanted, in the form of a tour around the museum. The rest of us wandered and took lots of photographs. My book had said it was really worth a visit, but while it was interesting I’d not say it was a must-not-miss. Indeed, in terms of destination, I found Ubud much more interesting than Denpasar. Anyway, next we headed over to the markets. This offered a prime example of why I read my guidebook before I go to foreign destinations. In this instance, this came in the form of a useful warning that there were people – mostly women – who hang around the entrance to the markets and offer to show you to a booth with an item that you are looking for, and once you get there they demand a fee for their service. Thus, I was prepared when Ch and I split off and went wandering, and one of these women accosted us. What was considerably more surprising was the way that she followed us for a good half an hour, tailing behind us and checking every few minutes if we wanted anything else. We largely ignored her, though. There were two markets across the street from each other. The first was the bigger and in some ways the more interesting, in that it had a more local flavor – but was not as good for shopping. The bottom floor was completely packed with food of all sorts from fruits and vegetables to raw meat to fish to spices. For obvious reasons, almost none of this was of any use to us, but I did buy some flesh, real, honest to god vanilla. I’m thinking I’ll use it to attempt to make my very own ice cream. Or maybe crème brulee. Something like that. The rest of the market was filled largely with garbage (ie costume jewelry) or things that locals would want (like regular, ordinary clothing). The market across the “street” (it was actually across a stream) was much better for the kind of things that we wanted, and had much more reasonable prices than the markets in Ubud, with a very similar selection of things. That said, Ubud was more fun to shop in (despite all the people pestering you to go in to their shops).

The wedding was that evening, and was quite nice. It was odd in many ways that aren’t worth really going in to (like, for example, that Indonesians are apparently compulsively ridiculously late, and thus though they were told 6 – 6:30, and the wedding was supposed to start at 7:00, most of the guests didn’t arrive until after 7:30 and the wedding didn’t start til nearly 8). Still, there was a lot of awesome, genuine sentiment, everyone in the wedding party looked great, the food was delicious, and it was nice to have an excuse to get dressed up and hang out. I just wish there had been some dancing. One of the more interesting things was that the King of Denpasar was there! But really, what mattered was that W looked gorgeous in her dress, and both the bride and groom seemed very happy.

Wednesday, the day after the wedding, was my last full day in Bali, and so I wanted to get through two last sights on my list, both near Ubud, while some of the others wanted to go to a sight they really wanted to visit – the Monkey Forest – which is also near Ubud. It ended up being a tough case of herding cats, but I think everyone ended up happy. I had no interest in the monkeys (having already seen wild monkeys during the hike down the volcano) and so while they went in there I did some last shopping. Then we met back up and went to the Bali Bird and Reptile Park, which was made of awesome. We all (me, Ch, A, S and V) chipped in to buy a chicken for 100,000 rupiah (about 12 dollars) which we promptly tossed in to the komodo dragon tank. It took 52 seconds start to finish for the lizard to swallow the chicken. Yeah, I guess we’re a bit blood thirsty, but it was actually awesome. We also got to hold an iguana, and pose with a bunch of birds at the bird park. On top of that, it was just a really lovely place, lots of gorgeous plants, and amazing animals in decent habitats. I was most excited to see the Balinese Starling, which is the only indigenous bird species on the island and is very endangered. It was also funny to see animals like cotton snakes in zoos. I mean, hey, half the world away our ridiculously common beasties…are unusual. Which is a funny reminder, really. The only downside was that I didn’t get to my last desired destination – I wanted to go to the Bali Orchid Garden – but in short, life goes on, and I figure it’s an excuse to come back, right?!

And I definitely want to come back. If not for all of the souvenir shopping, this trip would have been positively inexpensive by most standards – a trip to a highly exotic, lovely destination for a week, where the airfare was $1300, the hotel room was $600 and included breakfast, pool, beach front, fitness center, internet, etc. (but I shared it, so it cost half that) and, if one was frugal, you could easily eat for less than $30 a day. Heck, a one hour massage could be gotten for 60,000 rupiah – or about 8 dollars US. We found an excellent restaurant feet from the hotel that you could get a full meal and a drink for 20,000 rupiah (less than $3). All of which is to say, this is a trip that could be done for a week for right around $2000 if one was really prepared to skimp. It’d be hard to do a week in Europe on that little!

Anyway, the last night we gathered as many folks as we could and went to dinner. Ch2 and L had already had to leave, unfortunately, and me and V, and the bride and groom and their families were all leaving on the 19th also, but we didn’t quite manage everyone for dinner – it was me, V, M, B, C, S, A, and…Ch, yeah I think that’s everyone. :) It was a tasty meal, one of my first of American food the whole trip. We talked (me, Y, and S) about getting a massage afterwards, while some of the others decided to get thoroughly smashed, but just as we were leaving W and Al came down, and S and I walked with them to Flapjak so they could get dinner and we could get gelato, and we promptly lost all track of time, sang terrible karaoke, and generally had a very pleasant evening.

I woke up bright and early on the 19th, even earlier than most of the trip, and decided not to attempt to do anything. Instead, I hung out at breakfast for ages with various folks, and then wandered around the hotel to take some pictures (I’d already packed the day before, it took three tries to get everything in to my luggage, in a way that I felt confident about, and I had to check a bag, but I did it, dammit). Finally, I found B and A in the lobby, and we just hung out and chatted before going to the cheap place with V for an early lunch of yummy Balinese food, which presumably I won’t get to have again for a good long time. The food was a little odd – especially the frustrating and pervasive tendency to leave the bones in – but all in all I liked it. I actually think todays meal was my favorite, just Nasi Goreng (stir fried rice, in this case with chicken). The mie goring (fried noodles) were also yummy. And then…that was that. V and I were on the same flight, so we headed to the airport together, and now I’m sitting on the plane, typing this up (well, actually I typed a bunch of it on the first flight, and then dozed a bit on the second flight before thoroughly waking up now that my brain believes that it’s 8:45 in the morning (but it’s actually 8:45 in the evening, EST – oy vey).

So….that was the trip. I’m sure I could say loads more, and I of course took many photographs, but it’s really hard to know what to say. I’d say the nicest aspect of the trip was the extent to which I came feeling worried about traveling with friends, and folks that I barely had an acquaintance with or hadn’t met at all, but in the end – despite some moments of frustration – it actually was really, really nice. The hanging out was the best part, and made it worth the frustration of trying to herd the cats from time to time. The parts lying around the pool was also nice. The main downside was also a blessing in disguise. I forgot to bring my two-to-three prong adapter for my computer, which meant I was limited the entire trip to the length of one battery charge (but there are outlets on the plane, which is awesome). This meant that I couldn’t really get any work done, and only a little leisure. Woe is me. :)

The flights haven’t been that bad. I’ve managed to get a little sleep on both, the food has been decent, and the movie selection awesome. I’ve gotten to see some new movies and some old movies and still have some that I would happily consider watching or rewatching (I’m watching Shawshank Redemption right now). The downside is that the flight from Hong Kong to NYC, which has a stop in Vancouver, is 19 goddamn hours. And that’s after 4+ hours on the first flight and a 4 hour layover in HK. So yeah, only downside of the trip is getting here. :) And…I think that’s all I have to say for now. I’ll write some more in-depth posts about specific things over on the other blog.

The weekend before I left for the trip was Maryland Sheep and Wool, down in Howard County MD, and J and I headed down to stay with [livejournal.com profile] sapphohestia. I plan to write a lot about this – for obvious reasons – in the other blog, so I’ll restrict myself here to saying that we went, and it was a nice trip. Lots of hang out time on the car ride, we shared the driving, and Jonie and the kitties managed not to eviscerate each other. The festival itself was pretty awesome. Lots of fiber, lots of wool, lots and lots of people, some other beautiful things. My big hunt was for a spindle, and I tried a lot of different ones before finally settling on the one that I wanted. It was all working out excellently, and I had my shiny new spindle ready to go on the trip to Bali with me, but I hadn’t yet returned J’s spindle, and then while I was packing, my new one rolled off the table and promptly broke. It’ll all be good – I wrote to the crafter the day it broke and she said she would fix it for me for free, which is exciting – I’ll ship it off as soon as I can. I got some gorgeous fiber, too, and I borrowed J’s extra spinning wheel. The night before I left for the trip, I had stuff to do and planned to go to bed early, but instead I spent pretty much the whole evening spinning. It was only my second time using the wheel but it went shockingly well, especially in comparison to the first time.

The festival itself was a lot of fun. I managed to dodge a lot of tempting purchases and stay with in my budget, and eat some delicious goat cheese stuff. Oh, and we went to see Thor! More in the other blog. With photos! :)

The first weekend of May was M and E’s wedding, in Louisville, KY. (well, the wedding was actually in Bowling Green). I flew out on Friday night, and I crashed at their place, and in the end it was a really, really nice experience all the way around. One of the brides’ maids was unable to attend, and I ended up helping out with a lot of stuff that this individual might have done, like preparing bouquettes with M and A (serving as her “man of honor”) while watching Jesus Christ Superstar at midnight on the 30th of April. The first night was spent in hanging out and getting to know the pet rats. The second day was the “bachelorette party” which was really afternoon tea with the ladies ([livejournal.com profile] ravenlion, A, another friend of M’s, and her mother, grandmother, sister, and niece.) It was really, really nice. The food was oddly delicious even though pretty much all of it was too sweet. There was this chocolate fudge thing that was to die for, and mint chocolate bark that I wouldn’t normally be much of a fan off but was awesome. And there were these delicious cupcake things that I loved and kept having more off. The savory wasn’t as hot, I wasn’t a big fan of the sandwiches, and the scones were different but they were yummy – with this awesome lemon curd.

A, K and L (the friend of M’s) and I were having a lot of fun hanging out, so we next went with M to get pedicures. She then went out to dinner with her family, while the rest of us went for Ethiopian. I’d never had it before but had wanted it for ages, and I’m glad I got to go with a group, because that way we all got to order different stuff and sample each others and it was delicious and fun. Finally, though, we had to all part ways, and A, M and I got to work on the afore mentioned flower arrangements.

The next morning, the wedding was out in Bowling Green, and A and I drove out together. We got there early and helped with various set up stuff, and then it was time for the wedding. It was a really lovely wedding. I’d say it’s the nicest wedding I’ve ever been to. Loaded with real, genuine, heart-felt sentiment, family love, friendship, and obviously the adoration of the couple getting married. I’m really glad that I was able to go, and was making mental notes of the nicest aspects for my own future potential (hey, you never know, I might meet someone some day ;) ). Then there was a small reception (The real reception was on Monday, and I was not able to go, I had to leave very early in the morning on Mon to get to work stuff) and lots of wedding preparation and some yummy food and then hiking in the hills and gully on the property. It was pretty awesome, though there was poison ivy everywhere, and hiking in my boots and dress might not have been my first choice in other circumstances.

April was a strange mixture of work and finding time to enjoy spring, when it wasn’t raining. We haven’t been having very good weather, but any day I found that was really tolerable I tried to get out and take photographs. The highlight of these efforts were several trips to the New York Botanical Gardens (a couple of which were for work) and a walk I took the Tuesday before the wedding. I decided arbitrarily to take the entire day off, so that I could go and see the cherry blossoms blooming at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Then, I examined a map, and I decided to try to walk there – a trip just over 19 miles. I didn’t think I’d make it without stopping, and I carefully made sure that my root followed likely trains so that I could abort any time that I wanted to. But I did make it, and still felt okay, so after I wandered through the gardens I decided I try to push through and get my hands on the coveted prize: walking a marathon. Of course, I had to estimate, and I wanted to be really, really sure, so I walked all the back from Brooklyn to Columbus circle. When I got home and checked, I discovered that I had walked 29 miles. I also got some nice pictures, along the route and at the garden. :)

There weren’t many other highlights. I mean, it’s not that I didn’t do fun things, and didn’t do non-fun things, but just that it wasn’t that eventful. But of course, did forget somethings, haha…

First, there’s baseball! [livejournal.com profile] ultimabaka and I decided to go big on baseball tickets this year, getting a pack that included opening day, a subway series game, and 16 other games to boot. We’ve already been to a few of the games. The Mets haven’t been playing all that well, but it’s been fun anyway. Dad came to opening day, and to another of the games besides (which was so cold that we ended up leaving early, even though Lincecum was pitching). I’ve been enjoying the games, but I’m looking forward to reaching the time of year when the weather is actually nice and I don’t need to remember a blanket and wish I had a warm hat to go to a game.

Dad’s birthday! My dad’s 70th birthday was on April 18th, and we had a party on the 17th at a restaurant of his choice. Ben came in to town, and so did my uncle Chuck and aunt Fae. The restaurant dad picked was awesome (Paula’s treat) and in a fascinating location – a nature preserve in Jersey. They lay out food near the windows, and deer and birds come and eat, and it’s so close that it’s pretty awesome, but the real highlight was the bear! I’d never seen a bear outside of the zoo before, though he was kind of far away, and I got a picture. Oh, and the food was good. ;) But mostly, it was nice to be able to celebrate dad’s birthday with family. The next night, Chuck and Fae and me and mom went out to dinner. Mom and the uncle hadn’t seen each other in a long time (possibly since the divorce, in 1986?) and Fae and mom had never met (Fae is my uncle’s second wife, he’s a widower). I think we were probably all slightly nervous going in to the meal, but it was really, really nice and I was so glad that we did it.

This proved the second time in the space of a month that I saw my uncle and aunt, after not having seen them since spring, 2007. I had a work conference in San Francisco, and I stayed an extra day afterwards so that I could see [livejournal.com profile] swantower, [livejournal.com profile] kitsunealyc, and [livejournal.com profile] kniedzw, as well as Chuck and Fae. I had hoped to see my other uncle and my cousin and his kids, but it was not to be (extra disappointing, because I now won’t be seeing them in July, either, cause I really can’t justify going to San Fran three times in one year, and I’ll be going back in October – I’ll just have to see them then). Anyway, the conference was pretty uneventful. I demonstrated once again just how unsuited I am to dealing with complex political situations and reaffirmed my expressed plan of moving on to a second career. The only really interesting thing was that on the second day, there was a guy who cracked a joke about Katamari Damacy at one of the meetings. I took a peak and instantly noticed that he was pretty cute. I pondered it for the next 24 hours, and finally worked up the nerve to just go ahead and introduce myself to this person. I think I botched it (came on too strong) but I also know that I would never have forgiven myself if I hadn’t figured out how to go up to a guy I thought was cute and potentially interesting, and say, hey, I think you’re interesting, if you think I’m interesting, maybe we could get lunch! As it turned out, he wasn’t even actually that interesting, so it was all good in the end. Ah, taking chances.

Hanging out with B and K and A was much more fun. A was introducing her new character in B’s table top, and at the same time B was running a session with two very important NPCs that had been a long time in coming, and I got the awesome joy of getting to roleplay as Edward Ruffin, one of the firebreathers whose behavior helped lead to the Civil War. I think my favorite moment was the look that B’s NPC gave me when I deigned to call A’s mulatto “ma’am.” It was a lot of fun, both to hang out, meet some new gamers (the other players) and to do a little roleplaying again. And their friend made a delicious dinner, too! The next morning was my last day in SF, and I met up with Chuck and Fae, and we got breakfast, which was also very nice. There were a lot of highlights to the trip. I ate ludicrous amounts of sourdough and Ghirardelli ice cream, and spent some time with clients, coworkers, friends and family – a lot for only 5 days!

Days later, me, mom and Ben headed down to Texas to celebrate my grandfather’s 93rd birthday with the family. It was a poorly timed and stressful trip for me, but I’m still glad that we went. My grandfather isn’t getting any younger, and it’s definitely starting to wear on him. I hadn’t gotten to spend much time with my uncle in a long time, so that was nice as well, and my brother and I got some excellent bonding time in there as well (just in time to watch the Mets lose opening day :) ). The most interesting bit was the birthday itself – I’ll never forget the mental image of my grandfather sitting in his wheel chair attempting to wallop a Sponge Bob piñata (yes, there are pictures).

Other than that, it’s mostly been working and trying to find time for not work. I’ve been neither up nor down, just busy and kind of stressed. This trip was good for me, I think, because it forced me to ignore the stressful bits. I know that work is waiting for me virtually the moment I get home (my flight lands at 7 am, and after I get home and drop off my luggage I can look forward to a day either spent driving to PA to pick up Jonie dog, or writing a presentation that I have to give next week. It’s dawning on me…I’m really a grown up now. It’s not like being in college, when you can screw around for a few days after a trip, or even a few years ago, when I usually had plenty of days to put things off. I ended up writing one grant and helping with a second even though I vowed I wouldn’t do so, but on the plus side I earned actual extra money by doing so (or at least, I will have once I actually get paid). I have lots to do, and more to do over the next few months, and while on the one hand, that’s okay, on the other hand, I think I’d rather have a job that I was more passionate about. The short list right now is up to six potential jobs, three or four of which require additional education. These are (in no particular order): 1. Crafting; 2. Writing; 3. Teaching elementary school; 4. Geology; (oh, the lights just went on, that probably means they’re going to feed us again!); 5. Park ranger; and 6. PhD in US History. The last one is the new one. It dawned on me that I already spend virtually all of my reading time studying the Civil War, and I’m starting to really want to do things like staff development about it, too, to help share how much I love it with others. My only objection to an academic life has always been the teaching. If the concept of teaching history no longer bothers me, I can’t think of any reason why I shouldn’t consider earning my PhD in something that I otherwise am so interested in. I even have a couple of ideas what I might write a dissertation on (two things I’ve thought about writing non-fiction about). I’d say that some combination of crafting, writing, and US History is the current leading candidates, but that doesn’t mean any of the others are out of the running, and I’ve still got some time to think about it.

Crafting has remained prominent. I’ve been participating in a group on Ravelry called Nerd Wars, and through that I’ve made a lot of new online friends, which has been really nice and kind of unexpected. I’ve written a bit about this on the other blog, so I won’t say much more here, but it’s been a really nice source of inspiration. The problem of late has been that I’ve gotten pretty much all of the balls in the air (crafting, writing, practicing the drums, studying Japanese, traveling, photography, you name it…) that I haven’t been getting much time for any of it. I guess that was to be expected. But it’s meant that even though I’ve MADE new designs, I haven’t been getting them released. That’s one of my big projects for my evenings in June – work during the day of course, but then try to get the pipeline moving again, I think I’m up to five unreleased designs that I’d like to publish. Meantime, I’ve also gotten moderator privileges in both Nerd Wars and in the awesome Free Pattern Testers group that I’ve been a member of.

I stalled for a long time on the writing, and then I started a bit again, but something wasn’t really feeling right about it, and right before I left it really started to dawn on me what the core of the problem was. I wanted to write a novel which really felt like it was a “band of brothers” but I was writing a diary – just one voice. I had interspersed a few letters written by the others, but it wasn’t quite right. I finally worked out what I wanted to do instead, and I’m much happier with the new concept for a narrative framework, but of course it requires that I re-write from scratch. Hahahaha. Well, it’s all good. I had planned to start on this trip, but now I think I won’t have the energy (I mean, I didn’t do it at all on the trip out, and now I’ve already written 8,000 words of this LJ post, which makes it increasingly unlikely I’ll try to write anything). I certainly won’t finish by the arbitrary deadline that [livejournal.com profile] swantower suggested for me (the anniversary of the battle) but I don’t care how long it takes if I’m happier with how the novel is going.

What else? I don’t even know. I’ve got all the balls in the air, and it’s been a ton of work, but I feel like I’m finally in a groove. I’ve been a little worried that it’ll be hard to get back in to the swing of things when I get back form the trip, but I think it’ll be okay. And I have high hopes of getting a lot done in June…but I’ve been saying that all winter and spring, and while I certainly have gotten a metric ton done, I’ve also been behind pretty much the whole time. Oy vey.

It’s another busy summer for me. The last weekend of June is Origins, as usual. Then, in mid-July I’ll be heading down to Virginia (staying with [livejournal.com profile] sapphohestia again) so that I can visit the Bull Run battle field on the 150th Anniversary of the battle, which will be (I believe) on the 21st of July. That weekend there will be all kinds of events, including a large re-enactment at an off-site location that I’m debating paying to attend (but leaning towards doing so). The first couple weeks of August are looking to be chaotic; I have a major deadline on the 15th (I’m hoping to be done with the project in question by the end of July), I’ll be at Gencon the first weekend, and then the next day I have a work conference for most of the week, and then it’s right back to Indianapolis to visit [livejournal.com profile] moonartemis76 and her man. I don’t have anything firmly planned for September yet, but I’ll be taking a couple week trip of some kind; I’m hoping to have the trip in question be two to three weeks in Japan helping to re-build areas devastated effected by the tsunami and earthquake. If I’m not able to do that, mom and I were talking about going on a cruise to the Mediterranean islands (she’ll tag along to Japan if I end up going there, though she’ll go be a tourist in Tokyo and/or Kyoro). October features New York Comiccon (sadly the same weekend as Con on the Cob, which I’ll thus be missing) and then, the last weekend, World Fantasy Convention, which is in San Diego (hence the long ago previously mentioned second trip to San Francisco). I don’t know what awaits me in November, and that sounds just a bit like heaven right now, though it can be assumed I’ll be going to Texas in December (and ideally, I’d find some way to get down there over the summer, too – my grandfather isn’t getting younger, and any time we see him might be the last, so I want to see him as much as possible). On the plus side, my life after December is a blank slate. At least so far.

In a totally unrelated note, another thing to come relates to this journal. I’ve been thinking about it the last few days, and I’m probably going to go ahead with a plan to completely modify the way I’m handling this. I ostensibly have used this as a personal journal, but I’ve always kept it purely descriptive to protect the innocent. That’s getting increasingly superfluous as I’ve got less and less personal stuff that I think is of any interest to anyone but me, and I write about more and more of the interesting stuff in my other blog. What I don’t talk about, and what I don’t get to talk about with my friends, is some of the inner stuff that I’ve been struggling. So what I’m thinking about doing is taking my LJ friends list, culling it down to the people I actually care about and know well and who are still active on LJ (a very short list), switch to friends-lock, and use this more as a place where I can vent, share, and just work out some of the things floating around in my head. If anyone has made it this far in to this immensely long post, do you have any thoughts? :)
Well, I think 14 typed single spaced pages is plenty for one post, even one covering a few months, so that’s that. :) Later, folks.

Date: 2011-05-24 11:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] unforth.livejournal.com
It's funny, I didn't even think in this direction - I think my current philosophy is that if I can figure out what I want to do, I can sort out the rest afterwards, but of course you're absolutely right. Two of my potential career options would involve earning a PhD (history and geology). I wouldnt even start til uv finished paying off my current student loan burden (about 2 years) but even so it would be hard for me to afford tuition if I'm not also doing my curren job. Sounds like it's time for me to get frugal - if I save up I could probably cover a decent percentage of the expense out of pocket. As to the job market...nothin much I can do about that. Sigh - more to think about! :)

Date: 2011-05-24 11:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ombriel.livejournal.com
Two things--
Yeah, I would strongly recommend anyone go in to grad school educated about what you can expect from the experience. Do not attempt to sort it out after you've started.

The other thing is, the debt from grad school doesn't come from the degree itself. You don't pay for that out of pocket--they pay your tuition in exchange for the indensured servanthood they call teaching, for which they also pay you a "stipend" of $10-15k. The debt comes from having to take out loans to cover the rest of your expenses, because one cannot live on $10k a year. That or get a third job (the first being school and the second teaching), which slows degree progress, which contributes to debt.

Another way to think of it is in lost earning potential: for every year you are in grad school, that is a year's of potential income you have lost, and money towards retirement you don't make. I've been in grad school ten years. If I had gotten a job that made a modest $40k/year, that's $400k I have not earned, and a significant amount towards retirement I now have to make up. Can you afford not to make money for the years it will take to get the PhD? What if you were to get a PhD but didn't get an academic job? What kind of work would you do that would help you make up for lost time? I would strongly recommend not ignoring these questions. I am facing them now myself, and I wish I'd had a clearer sense that these questions even existed before I started!

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