June 22, 2014

Cuenca, Ecuador: Two Years and Counting

Hummingbird exhibit at
Plaza de Otorongo
Last month, we signed the third lease on our apartment in Cuenca, Ecuador. Landmark! (Hey, for us, two years is longevity. Those who know us well realize that for the sake of their address books, our information should be written in pencil.)

So far, so good. Cuenca is a lovely small city and has attracted and kept a large amount of North American expats. Every week there seems to be a new restaurant, new people arriving, and local festivals. Of course, right now we are in the middle of World Cup frenzy as Ecuador is still hanging in there. On match days, you can see people all over town with tri-color face painting and wearing the bright yellow Ecuador T-shirts. Couple this with the annual week-long Corpus Christi celebrations, and it is one busy town. Many fireworks to commemorate both.

Beautiful globos
Photo by
Connie Pombo
We have been fortunate to make new friends of all ages and from all over the world, we have adapted to some of the challenges inherent in moving to a completely different culture, and have even improved our Spanish. The Spanish is rocky, but at least we can get by on the usual day-to-day things.

But the best part for us is that K. W. and I get to do work that pleases us, rather than work insisted upon by others. Also, our schedule is in our control. For example, if we want to have lunch with friends, we just schedule our work for later in the day — or even for the next day. Time is now our bitch. And it's wonderful.

Yes. We miss our friends. But we have lived in so many places that wherever we live, we will be missing somebody. We are lucky that current technology certainly has made this easier than when we lived in England in the mid-80s and were totally dependent on snail mail and phone calls that needed to be tightly scheduled. The Internet, MagicJack, FaceTime, and Skype are our new best friends.

K. W. misses his favorite
snack. If you come to visit,
please bring some.
What else do we miss? A lot of stupid stuff like Sunmaid Raisins, Skippy Natural Peanut Butter, Trader Joe's Beef Jerky, antihistamines, Pepcid — stuff like that. And a couple of big things. We are culture vultures and very much miss the high level of classical performing arts we experienced in San Francisco, Portland, Los Angeles, the U.K., and even Las Vegas (stop the obligatory snickering —they have some good stuff there — it isn't all The Strip). Small price to pay for all the benefits of living here.

And regular, relatively safe and efficient mail delivery. If you think the U.S. Post Office is bad, just wait until you don't really have one at all. Seriously inconvenient. But, again, we manage.

On the other hand, the cost of living has allowed us to plan for trips that fill the cultural needs and to see friends. In addition, I have the time to pursue a new hobby — making the most of airline miles and hotel points. So far, this has paid for a lot of stuff, including major hotel upgrades and a free ticket to Europe. While I did win a major hotel prize this year, luck can only take you so far.

For those who follow this part of our lives, K. W has reissued his novels Dr. Adder and Dark Seeker as ebooks at Amazon. He is also running a special deal over on his website — sign up for his mailing list and you get a free book (your pick from several). 

I still am working on my first book (nonfiction), copy editing for my freelance clients, and doing some admin work for a local real estate company. Also, I'm the family travel planner so have been busy booking our fall trip, including lining up some house sitting opportunities. Europe, Ireland, and England here we come!


May 18, 2014

Cuenca, Ecuador & Beyond: Fall 2013


Okay. This is late. So sue me!

It's been a great year for us. We are enjoying our time in Ecuador and are adjusting pretty well to life here. While we miss seeing our friends in the U.S. as often as we would like, we have had a fun time meeting new people and exploring an entirely different culture. And, living a large part of the year in an affordable country does allow us to have a travel budget — something that we were missing out on the last few years we were in the States. 

Of course, we are both still working — K. W. at the writing and me at copy editing, writing, and a part-time admin gig for a local real estate agency. What makes our life different here is that now we are in complete control of our own schedules and are comfortable knowing that we have more money coming in than we have going out. In addition, we don't have the anxiety about health insurance and medical care that is so pervasive in the U.S. 
Dream Caused by the Flight of a
Bumblebee around a Pomegranate
a Second Before Awakening
by Salvador Dalí (1944)

So what have we been doing? 


Our main event at the end of the year was the Big Trip. In mid-October, we spent some time in Madrid, then flew on to the U.K. As we had to fly in and out of Madrid to get to London, we split our Madrid time into two sections. During the first, we hung out with our friends Fred and Allison and had a blast. (We hadn't been together since their trip to Cuenca at the beginning of the year.) We checked out the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum where, in addition to the regular collection, the museum was featuring an exhibit on the Surrealists. What struck us most about this exhibit were the textures and the use of light. 


Chocolateria San Gines
Madrid, Spain
And, fun of fun, Allison introduced me to El Corte Inglés, only one of the best department stores ever! We had so much fun! On top of the usual department store stuff, there was a food hall, a gourmet shop, and a full-on grocery store in the lower level, along with a Starbucks and a cash machine. Since our hotel room had a refrigerator, this made things so easy.

The second visit on the way back, K. W. and I drank a lot of chocolate, ate churros, went to a flamenco night (awesome!), and just "hung out," Spanish style.


K. W., Jim Blaylock &
Joseph Remesar
Soho, London (2013)
After seeing Allison and Fred during Madrid Phase I, we headed off to London where K. W. was part of a signing at the Forbidden Planet bookstore. His book Fiendish Schemes, the sequel to his Steampunk novel Infernal Devices, had just been published, the World Fantasy Con was happening the following week in Brighton, and friends and fellow writers James P. Blaylock and Timothy Powers were also in town. The three of them signed lots of books for a lot of people. Afterward, the group from the store and the writers headed out for a fun late afternoon at a local pub. We were able to meet Internet friend and fellow writer Joseph Remesar, who recently published a Spanish language Steampunk novel.


Christmas Decorations
Covent Garden (2013
)
Sunday Roast Lunch
at The Charles Holden
Colliers Wood, London
During our week in London, we went to a concert at the South Bank (Marin Alsop and the Sao Paolo orchestra), met up with a lot of friends we hadn't seen in too many years, did a bit of shopping, had a magnificent Sunday lunch at the The Charles Holden in South Wimbledon (across from the Colliers Wood tube station), and just enjoyed being in one of the world's greatest cities. 

I wish we could have seen more performances, but time just didn't permit it. Next visit, attending ballet, opera, theater, and other events will dictate the schedule. I especially missed seeing dancer Madison Keesler during her first season with English National Ballet. Why did we miss ENB? Well, the company tours a lot through the UK, and everywhere we were  well, they weren't. Our next trip, we definitely will correct this omission.


Shelly Rae Clift & me
Brighton, UK (2013)
The following week was spent in Brighton at the World Fantasy Con. Pretty much the usual con event; and pretty much Brighton in the late fall — heavy rain, 50 mph winds, you get the picture. But it was fun seeing friends from Portland, San Francisco, and other parts of the sci fi/fantasy world. The day we left, the rain stopped, and we had a lovely train ride to Bath Spa.

(l/r) Sandy, K. W., me, and Pete
Bath, UK (2013)
What is wonderful about Bath is that the changes made over the years seem to have been handled with great care. Bath still looks like Bath, thank heavens! The best part of being in Bath, though, was reconnecting with friends. My friend Sandy and I just started chatting as if only a week had passed, not a gazillion years. Same with K. W. and Pete. Their daughters Clair and Sarah-Jane have grown into wonderful women who are raising their own families. 

We also spent time with the Escotts. Les and Rita, along with baby Rebecca, were our first guests when we moved to our Portland house in 1988. This visit, we met the adult Rebecca and her younger twin sisters, too. Again, the conversation was lively, and it seemed as if no time had passed at all. 

And Harold and Audrey Swindells invited us for tea, where we had a lovely afternoon. Their artist daughter Josie was working in her studio (located in the back garden) and popped in to say hello, too. Hopefully, we will be able to meet up with the rest of the family on our next visit.


That's pretty much it for now. Our plans have us heading to Europe and the UK this fall. Yay!



May 9, 2014

Reflections: Blogging from A to Z

Well, that was fun — and surprisingly less difficult than I anticipated. Didn’t run out of ideas, and only had a couple of late postings. Considering my life-long membership in the Procrastinators Union, I actually surprised myself. 

Were all the posts pearls with golden grammar? Heck no. But I did it.

What did I get out of this? Satisfaction that I could actually finish what I started — always a plus. It was fun to discover the range of bloggers participating — fiction, fashion, travel — cool stuff. A special thanks to writer/blogger Donna B. McNichol for encouraging me to give this a shot. And also a big thanks to all of you who stopped by to read and comment.

But the most unexpected fall-out for me is that the A to Z Challenge goosed my brain. I finally came up with a book idea that excites me, while at the same time strikes me as doable. The outline was done in thirty minutes; I anticipate having the book finished by the end of the summer, at the latest. And, of course, I will post plugs for the book on my blog and on various forms of social media. I have no shame.

I do have one major suggestion for the organizers: Due to the large number of participants, it would have been useful to have the blogs grouped by category. Additionally, would it be against the spirit of the Challenge to mandate that missing five (or other number) postings in a row would lead to that blog being dropped from the listings? 

Doing this certainly made for an interesting month. Thank you to all the organizers and facilitators who made the A to Z Challenge happen.


May 1, 2014

Z Is for Zither

"Zither: a musical instrument that has strings stretched across a shallow wooden box and that is played with your fingers or a pick." — Merriam-Webster
Alpine zither


For my last post in the A to Z Challenge, I have chosen to write about the instrument that features in one of my favorite movies: The Third Man. Set in post-WWII Vienna, this classic film noir was filmed in black and white to capture the bleak landscape and devastation left behind after the war. 

The Film
Directed by Carol Reed and starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Trevor Howard, and Valli, the award-winning film is considered by many to be one of the greatest of all time. Awards include the 1949 Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix, the 1949 British Academy Award for Best Film, and the 1950 Oscar for Best Black and White Cinematography. The British Film Institute in 1999 selected The Third Man as the best British film of the twentieth century.


The Viennese Riesenrad
Photo by Chris Dixon

In describing The Third Man, noted film critic Gene Siskel remarked that it was an "exemplary piece of moviemaking, highlighting the ruins of WWII and juxtaposing it with the characters' own damaged histories." 





The Score
Composed for the zither by Anton Karas, who also played the solo instrument, The Third Man score often is described as a stellar example of the film composer's art.      
Original U.S.
movie poster

According to a November 1949 Time magazine article: "The picture demanded music appropriate to post-World War II Vienna, but director Reed had made up his mind to avoid schmalzy, heavily orchestrated waltzes. In Vienna one night Reed listened to a wine-garden zitherist named Anton Karas, [and] was fascinated by the jangling melancholy of his music."

And Roger Ebert wrote, "Has there ever been a film where the music more perfectly suited the action than in Carol Reed's The Third Man?"

If you haven't seen the film, I heartily recommend that you rent it from your preferred vendor. And here is the original trailer with the iconic zither theme: 


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A lot of people have wonderful structured themes for this challenge. Me, I'm going with Random Girl. Hey, my life doesn't have a theme, so why should my blog?

And make sure you check out Blogging from A to Z . There are over 2,000 participants in this years's challenge. Whatever your particular enthusiasm, you are sure to find something to pique your interest.

For more information, follow the A to Z Facebook page or go to @AprilA2Z on Twitter and give them a Follow.


April 30, 2014

Y Is for Yapingachos

Originating in Ambato Province, Llapingachos (aka Yapingachos) are an Ecuadorian dish of potato patties stuffed with cheese and are a fun way to use leftover mashed potatoes. (Or you can start from scratch as the recipe here shows.)

Served with a fried egg and slices of avocado, they make a high-protein vegetarian meal. The potato cakes also may be used as a side dish for a simple roast chicken or broiled fish or even as a first course with a small cucumber salad. We like them best served with a zesty peanut sauce (salsa de mani) — recipe below.

Yapingachos (Ecuadorian Stuffed Potato Patties)
Makes 12

Yapingachos
Photo courtesy of Marinita y Su Cosina










Ingredients
5 large potatoes, 3 lbs, peeled, and cut into chunks 
2 tbsp vegetable oil
½ cup finely chopped white onion
2 tsp ground achiote (or mild paprika — this is for color)
1 cup grated cheese (Traditionally queso fresco or quesillo, but mozzarella can work. Cheddar may be okay, but will change the flavor.)
Salt to taste
Peanut sauce (optional)

Instructions
1. Boil the potatoes until soft.
2. Heat the oil over medium heat, add the onions and achiote, cook until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes.
3. Mash the potatoes, mix in the onion mixture, and salt to taste.
4. Cover the potato dough and let it sit at room temperature for about an hour.
(The above can be done up to a day or two in advance. In fact, if you serve mashed potatoes with dinner one night, make extra. The onion/paprika mix can be added just before Inst. 5.)

5. Using the potato mixture, make 1.5 inch balls (12). 
6. Make a hole in the middle of each, then fill with the cheese, pulling the dough up to hide the cheese.
7. Shape the potato balls into thick patties. Let these rest in the refrigerator for about 30 to 60 minutes.
8. Prepare a hot griddle or frying pan. Cook the patties until browned on each side. Be careful when turning them because they are delicate. In fact, it is best to cook them until browned completely and crispy on one side, then turn them only once. 
9. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. Your choice. 


Peanut Sauce (Aji de Mani) 

Aji de Mani
Photo courtesy of recetaecuatoriana.com











Ingredients
1 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic,minced
1/2 tomato, peeled, seeded & chopped 
0 to 2 zesty peppers, seeded and cut into strips (depends on how spicy you want the sauce)
3/4 cup evaporated milk (not the sweet kind)
1 cup roasted peanuts
1 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp olive oil

Preparation
1. Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. 
2. Add onion, garlic, tomato and pepper. Sauté about 8 to 10 minutes until they are golden brown. Remove from heat; cool for 5 minutes.
3. Transfer to a blender or food processor. Add the evaporated milk and peanuts. Puree until smooth. 
4. Season with salt; stir in olive oil.

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A lot of people have wonderful structured themes for this challenge. Me, I'm going with Random Girl. Hey, my life doesn't have a theme, so why should my blog?

And make sure you check out Blogging from A to Z . There are over 2,000 participants in this years's challenge. Whatever your particular enthusiasm, you are sure to find something to pique your interest.

For more information, follow the A to Z Facebook page or go to @AprilA2Z on Twitter and give them a Follow.

April 29, 2014

X Is for X Marks the Spot


Last year, we had some pretty wonderful adventures. So in today's post, X will mark the spots we enjoyed. These are pretty much in date order:

Statue
Parque La Carolina, Quito
1. Quito — While the city seems less easy to live in than Cuenca, Quito has a lot to offer. A World Heritage site, there are many historic buildings, some of which are being spectacularly reconstructed. 

If you go, I recommend the hop-on-hop-off city tour. It covers a ton of area (Quito is a long and narrow city, so best to get a general overview). We stayed at the Community Hostel in the area adjacent to the old Produce Market and about three blocks from the Old Town. Not the most beautiful neighborhood, but super convenient. And the hostel is one of the best we have ever chosen. These days, it is across the street from a new brew pub, Bandido Brewing, owned by a bunch of guys who met at Willamette University in Oregon. So the beer should be pretty good.

Temple of the Sun, Ingapirca, Ecuador
Photo by Delphine Ménard
2. Ingapirca — This location contains the largest known Inca ruins in Ecuador. So if piles of ancient rocks and mystical locations are your thing, this pretty much fills the bill. Even higher altitude than Cuenca, those with any breathing difficulties should take note and maybe pack along their inhaler.

3. Piscataway, New Jersey, for the Steampunk World’s Fair — One of the best conventions we ever have attended. Large welcoming community, terrific entertainment, creative vendors, and amazing costumes. If you are intrigued by this thing called Steampunk, SWF would be a good introduction. 

As a bonus, my friend Judy, who lives about an hour away, met us there, and we had a great lunch and a fun few hours to catch up. K. W. and I had never been to that part of New Jersey, which is near Rutgers University; it is a beautiful part of the state.

4. Madrid — One of the most enjoyable aspects of travel is discovering that some place, which only had been of marginal interest, was truly marvelous.


Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid
Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra
That was Madrid for us. The sheer beauty of the architecture, the music, the museums, the dancing, the food, the shopping, the people — it was all pretty mind-blowing. Of course, what made it even more special, was that we met up with our friends Allison and Fred. It was so much fun to share the wonders of this special city with them. Plus, they introduced us to a well-located and fairly priced hotel. Always good to have that one favorite hotel in a big city.

Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre
Photo by Aurelien Guichard
5. London — London is, well, simply London. Theater, ballet, opera, symphony, art, and friends. K. W. had a book signing at Forbidden Planet with fellow writers Tim Powers and Jim Blaylock, which went well. And we met a ton of new folks, including Joseph Remesar, one of the first to write a Spanish-language Steampunk novel. 

We spent time with friends at pubs and at the Southbank CenterPlus, we had a big surprise. Our friends Jared and Dorian's honeymoon trip fleetingly coincided with our stay. We only were able to get together for a little bit, but it was wonderful to be even a small part of their celebration. As always, we left London way before we were ready. Especially since we totally missed seeing Le Corsaire by the English National Ballet, which was high on our To-Do list. But that's traveling for you. Can't do everything. 

Pulteney Bridge, Bath
Photo by Michael Maggs
6. Bath —We lived in Bath for two year in the mid-1980s. This was our first time back, and we had a marvelous time visiting friends and seeing how much, and in many ways, how little the city has changed. All the children we knew are now quite grown up with children of their own. We had a lovely time getting to know them as adults. Our plans are definitely to spend much more time in Bath in the near future. 



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A lot of people have wonderful structured themes for this challenge. Me, I'm going with Random Girl. Hey, my life doesn't have a theme, so why should my blog?

And make sure you check out Blogging from A to Z . There are over 2,000 participants in this years's challenge. Whatever your particular enthusiasm, you are sure to find something to pique your interest.

For more information, follow the A to Z Facebook page or go to @AprilA2Z on Twitter and give them a Follow.

April 26, 2014

W Is for Wi-Fi


Wi-Fi is the name of a popular wireless networking technology that uses radio waves to provide wireless high-speed Internet and network connections. — webopedia

Pretty cool. And readily and cheaply available at your home, your local coffee house, the library, and Internet cafes worldwide. So, why in the name of the Wi-Fi Alliance are hotels and airports the last to get with the program?

First — Free Wi-Fi should be mandatory in all airports. Airports bleed enough money from the concessions and various taxes and fees charged that they should be able to cover the cost of installing truly accessible Wi-Fi function for their clientele.

This might not have been as critical in the past, but in these days of mobile phones, the few remaining airport public pay phones are inconveniently located and/or broken. Which means that if you land in a foreign country, you have no way to contact friends or business associates (who may be meeting you). Because even if your phone is unlocked, there is no convenient way to replace the chip immediately after landing.


Hyatt Regency, Hong Kong
Be prepared to open a vein for Wi-Fi access at
this and many other hotel chains.
If passengers had access to free Wi-Fi, not so big a problem. At least you can email or FaceTime or text your fan base without too much trouble. (And I don't mean the pseudo-Wi-Fi often experienced in some airports. You know the kind. You log on, no problem. But you try and do anything like check email or research something on the Web, and you are blocked.)

As airports are an integral part of the transportation infrastructure, states and municipalities should mandate easy access in these facilities. You may disagree in principle (blah, blah, blah, Big Brother, blah, blah), but tell me how it works for you the next time you miss meeting your pickup ride and have no way to contact them. End of story.


Best Western, Worldwide
Wi-Fi is always free at this budget chain.
And hotels. The higher the price tag on the hotel, the more likely they are to charge for in-room Wi-Fi access. And the prices are steep — like $20–$30 a day steep. Plus, they limit the number of devices guests can connect. Granted, if you have premier status, you get free Wi-Fi, but if you aren't, you are toast. Oddly, many hostels and budget chains offer free Wi-Fi (probably because they figure they would lose market share as their price-sensitive customers demand it). It isn't always brilliant, but it usually works well enough. But the chains like Hilton, Starwood, Hyatt, and above truly bleed you dry on this one.


Community Hostel, Quito
Wi-Fi here is awesome — and free!
It's not as if this were a mystery to the big hotel chain boards of directors. According to a recent survey by Thistle Hotels Group, the lack of free in-room Wi-Fi remains one of the biggest complaints among hotel guests. Not breaking news, as this has remained constant in most travel surveys for the last several years.

This public relations problem is not going to go away. In fact, as people add more and more electronic devices to their travel necessities, it only will get worse. Additionally, Generation X and the Millennials believe good Internet connections are their divine right. Hotels need to get with the program or risk losing market share as these are the travelers already in or entering into their peak earning years.

End of rant.

April 25, 2014

V Is for Violet

Violet spectrum
One of the oldest colors employed by man, the bluish purple color known as violet was used as early as in the prehistoric cave paintings in France. The Egyptians used mulberry juice to create violet paint, and the Gauls are reported to have used violet color made from crushed bilberry. 


April Love by Arthur Hughes
Courtesy of the Tate, London
via the Google Art Project


While the color has a rich history, and it is all wonderful that man has used this color to create art and to dye fabric, I prefer the abundance of violet found in fields and flower gardens. 













So today’s post is just a bunch of pretty flower pictures. Why? Because I like them.


Iris
Photo by Eveline Lippet

Crocus



My favorite in my backyard garden was always the Iris. We had some terrific ones in Portland. They looked super elegant, but smelled like grape jelly.










We always planted Crocus, because when these popped up, spring wasn't far behind.





Columbine



We also had Columbine in our Portland backyard garden. Some were "volunteers," others we planted.







Wild Sage


And many gorgeous violet flowers are found growing wild.

Like this gorgeous Wild Sage, a summer favorite.





Tri-color Viola
Photo by Jörg Hempel











And Violas. (Sometimes you have to get up close to see these.)










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A lot of people have wonderful structured themes for this challenge. Me, I'm going with Random Girl. Hey, my life doesn't have a theme, so why should my blog?

And make sure you check out Blogging from A to Z . There are over 2,000 participants in this years's challenge. Whatever your particular enthusiasm, you are sure to find something to pique your interest.

For more information, follow the A to Z Facebook page or go to @AprilA2Z on Twitter and give them a Follow.

April 24, 2014

U Is for Underwear

One of the problems with changing countries is the unavailability of things you consider to be line items in your budget “back home,” wherever that was.

Specific food items figure largely on this list. Ask any Brit in the US about Cadbury chocolate. They will go far afield to search for the actual imported Cadbury bars and Creme Eggs instead of the ones produced Stateside. Why? Because they actually do taste different. 

Argentinians miss their mom’s chimichurri, Peruvians go on about the wonderful peppers they use in their various sauces, Spaniards reminisce about jamón, and the French miss their wonderful cheeses. And so on. While we all manage with local products, we search out and save the stuff we miss for special treats and on holidays. 

But it isn’t just food products. Aluminum foil is different, so are the Zip-lock type bags. Vegetable peelers, can openers, all the little stuff. And if you thought Tupperware was expensive in the States, try buying it abroad. Ouch! 

In South America the expats “mule” in the food stuff, plus their favorite brands of towels (although we can find good ones here) and, especially, bed linen. 

I have a question: If most of the bed linen for the international market is made in India, WHY are the sheets in other countries so scratchy? They cost the same as the Target house brand, they are made in the same country, but they are so harsh and nasty. Anyone who comes to visit seriously has to make room for a set for their friends.

Additionally, if you are tall, broad, or in any way larger than the local population, buying shoes and clothing in Asia or Latin America can be a challenge, to say the least. While you can find tailors to duplicate your outerwear (they just use your worn-out wardrobe as patterns), underwear is a completely different story.

Photo by Dimitris Petridis
So strategies are put in place. If you have a friend going back to the US or one coming down for a visit, they become your mule (conversely, you eventually will be theirs). I have bought bras, underpants for me and my husband, socks, men’s shirts, and shoes and had them shipped to a US address convenient for the mule. I have brought in condiments and Marks & Spencer bras and men’s underwear for a Brit couple, good tea for another friend, instant pudding mixes for an Ecuadorian who used to live in the US, and Target sheets and Body Shop lotion for someone else. 

The rule seems to be: If you are going abroad, you allot ten percent of your luggage for muling; then check your circle of friends and help them out. 

Because we all know that uncomfortable underwear, makes for a REALLY BAD DAY!

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A lot of people have wonderful structured themes for this challenge. Me, I'm going with Random Girl. Hey, my life doesn't have a theme, so why should my blog?

And make sure you check out Blogging from A to Z . There are over 2,000 participants in this years's challenge. Whatever your particular enthusiasm, you are sure to find something to pique your interest.

For more information, follow the A to Z Facebook page or go to @AprilA2Z on Twitter and give them a Follow.


April 23, 2014

T Is for Travel

Back in the early 1970s, I worked for a company that sent me around the U.S. as a trouble shooter. I would be like the Lone Ranger — hit town, clean up the office files and accounting, and drift off into the sunset. That was my first taste of real travel. The best part was that I spent a week or two (minimum) in each of the offices, giving me an opportunity to check out the community. It also showed me that the "If it's Tuesday, it must be Belgium" style of travel wasn't going to work for me.

Time passed, and I did the usual Southern California road trips to the Northern California Wine Country, San Diego, Mammoth, and Las Vegas. But I couldn't afford the time or money needed to travel farther. Then came Freddie Laker and his affordable plane fares. At the same time, my ex and I parted ways, sold our house, and I had some cash. I spent three months traveling through England and Scotland (two months of which was spent in London), getting as far north as the Orkney Islands.


Canal boating in England
In London, I worked at Harrod's (for only two weeks — it interfered with taking ballet classes and going to the theater). It was a good experience, though, as I discovered that work patterns were far different outside the U.S. Let's just say, people in the U.S. are totally insane. They approach all jobs with a Type A attitude and forget to enjoy life. But I digress.

Then I started dating my husband, K. W. Looking back, I didn't get married; I hooked up with a co-conspirator. He also loves to travel — and not those fast arranged tours. Together we have spent time in France, Spain, Mallorca, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, the Italian Alps, and have lived in a number of wonderful U.S. cities and in Bath, England, and now in Ecuador. We have a two-month trip planned for the fall: Barcelona, Vienna, Prague, Dresden, and Nantes. Then over to the U.K. to visit friends and see a lot of ballet, opera, theater, and symphony. Italy, Romania, Holland, Colombia, Uruguay, Chile, Russia, and Taiwan are on the bucket list. So many places, so little time.


Vienna Staatsoper
I don't take a lot of pictures or buy a ton of souvenirs. But I've seen Tosca in three countries and an entire fall season of the Royal Ballet in London. I rode the Hogwart's Express before there was Harry Potter and seen the seriously flawed Capeman on Broadway. I've cooked dinner in a hostel in the Orkneys and on a canal boat along one of the many Avon Rivers. And I've watched a NASCAR race from the speedway media center and seen Air Force Green Flag exercises from the meridian between two runways (ear plugs mandatory). Fun stuff.


Sunset in Cuenca, Ecuador
It isn't all wonderful, though. I am old enough to remember when flying Coach was actually comfortable. In fact, today's Business Class is pretty much what Coach used to be. Unfortunately, this means that as I have grown wider, the airline seats have grown narrower and the space between the rows (known as the pitch) reduces annually. While I love actually being in new places, I seriously hate the getting there part. At least in Europe, the trains are an option.

So, is it worth the money, hassle, and time? You bet.


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A lot of people have wonderful structured themes for this challenge. Me, I'm going with Random Girl. Hey, my life doesn't have a theme, so why should my blog?

And make sure you check out Blogging from A to Z . There are over 2,000 participants in this years's challenge. Whatever your particular enthusiasm, you are sure to find something to pique your interest.

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S Is for Steampunk

Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy literature in which Victorian aesthetics combine with futuristic technology to create a world full of brass, mechanical gears, goggles, clocks, and steam-powered machinery.


It all began with the books
Though there exist Victorian fantasy novels written by the greats — H. G. Wells and Jules Verne — the actual term Steampunk is relatively recent. Coined by writer K. W. Jeter (full disclosure  he is my husband) in a light-hearted 1987 comment to Locus magazine, the letter read:

Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for [Timothy] Powers, [James P.] Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like ‘steam-punks’, perhaps.

Media
Whether you realize it or not, if you watch television or go to the movies, you have seen Steampunk's influence in themes, set design, and costumes. Television shows like Sanctuary and Warehouse 13, and the wildly popular Dr. Who, lean heavily on the Victorian “look.” Also, films like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the Disney animated film Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and Scorsese’s Hugo are Victorian in design and period.

Poster from the
Scorsese film
Hugo
Historically, science fiction and fantasy fandom has created communities within the various areas of interest. And these communities love conferences, conventions, and faires of various sorts. Like most other genre conventions, the various Steampunk events are a combination of panels, music, art, crafts, demonstrations (including fencing and period-relevant martial arts), and Victorian-themed teas and absinthe tastings. And tons of performance groups. Whether fans of cabaret, solo songstresses, military bands, wandering cellists, burlesque troupes, or old-school punk, attendees certainly don’t lack for choice.

Deck the bods
For many, though, the costumes are the main attraction. 

After attending two of the most prominent Steampunk conventions — Steamcon in Seattle, held each fall, and the Steampunk World’s Fair, held in New Jersey in late spring — all I can say about the costuming is, “Wow!” Either wearer-made or handmade by other enthusiastic craftspeople, the variety is astounding. Seeing the beautiful hats, scientific instrument and faux weapon accessories, and fantastic jewelry and leatherwork — totally worth the price of admission.

Professor Verdigris Wetware takes tea.
(Notice the clock detailing on the hat.)
The women all look lovely, whether in beautiful gowns, various forms of exterior corsetry, or lady explorer garb. But this is one time that the gents stand out, especially the big guys. Some costumes (Star Trek, for one example) only look good on the extremely fit. Victorian garb, however, makes all men look elegant and distinguished.  

What’s also fun about the Steampunk culture is that it is open to everyone. The ethnically diverse attendees are young, old, children, parents, grandparents — all are welcome, and all are having a blast!

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A lot of people have wonderful structured themes for this challenge. Me, I'm going with Random Girl. Hey, my life doesn't have a theme, so why should my blog?

And make sure you check out Blogging from A to Z . There are over 2,000 participants in this years's challenge. Whatever your particular enthusiasm, you are sure to find something to pique your interest.

For more information, follow the A to Z Facebook page or go to @AprilA2Z on Twitter and give them a Follow.