Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

This year has been a good one for our little family.  We're now fully ensconced in Mike's second year (of three) at university and our second year (of many) abroad.  We're ending 2011 in good health and in Rome.  So, yes, final judgement on 2011 was that it was a good year.

Travel: We started 2011 in Paris and are ending it in Rome.  We were also able to visit England, Spain, Sweden, and Germany, in addition to continued explorations of Scotland.  As far as travel, we did really well this year.  We'll be starting 2012 in Rome with no solid plans for additional travel beyond our June trip to Baltimore for a friend's wedding.  We hope to get to the Iberian Peninsula in April and check off our first eastern European city some time in 2012 but, since Mike's final year will be a doozy (he'll have a dissertation due in January 2013 plus his Degree Show in May 2013, which will technically be his first gallery show, or at least simulate it), beginning mid-2012, our focus becomes entirely about Mike's graduation in May 2013 and travel becomes a distant second priority.

Funds: We're still living tight but we're better off than we were last year at this time.  Hopefully the trend continues and next year at this time will be better than today.

Flat: Our new place in Dundee is TONS better than our horrible student flat at Tay Mills from last year.  That place was miserable and didn't contribute to a positive initial experience.  Now, with a better flat, we're able to get comfortable and feel more at home.  We'll probably be keeping our current flat for the duration of our stay in Dundee, allowing us some continuity in an otherwise temporary existence.

We're looking forward to what 2012 has to offer us.  We hope to continue to enjoy good health and good times and we wish the same for you.  Auguri a tutti!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Let The Holidays Commence

Mike & I haven't had a traditional Christmas for quite some time.  Our last Christmas tree was the 'Real Tree Debacle of 2000' when, among other events, our Yorkie almost died from ingesting pine needles and a jogger may have required medical care after tripping over our illegally dumped tree in the neighbouring city park after several frustrating attempts to dispose of it legally had failed.  We tried to keep the spirit alive for a few years after that disaster; exchanging gifts, preparing a big dinner, etc., but it was awkward with just the two of us.  While one of us would unwrap a present the other would watch and take pictures, and then we'd switch.  Awkward.

There comes a point when reason trumps tradition and we decided to take back Christmas.  In 2009 we started a new tradition, spending Christmas on holiday.  We stopped exchanging presents because we're adults and buy what we want when we want.  It didn't make sense to not buy something so the other person could buy it, wrap it, then watch you unwrap it, knowing the whole time you knew what it was.  It still makes no sense.  Christmas is for kids.

On Monday we remove to our Roman flat for the holidays.  We'll be staying near the Colosseum, with a view of it from our rooftop deck.  While most people are enjoying Christmas with family and friends, we'll be sucking down Limoncellos surrounded by strangers and not understanding anything anyone around us is saying.  That, friends, is what we call a Merry Christmas.

We wish you all the same.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

November

Not much to report for the month of November.  Stateside, our Seattle house should close early next week.  We had to short sell, which wasn't ideal but, with our reduced circumstances, necessary.  Although we'll miss our first house, we're actually thrilled to be rid of it.  We're still going through a period of shedding adult responsibilities and living simply with the goal of no monthly payments and no financial responsibilities.  Of course, we still have council tax, rent, mobiles, and internet, and probably always will, but nothing we can't just walk away from.  We have a bit more Stateside debt to shed before we're where we want to be but soon we'll begin to resemble the financially carefree souls we were in our youth (but, hopefully, a bit wiser).

On this side of the pond, November proved to be relatively quiet.  We didn't do anything for bonfire night (Guy Fawkes Night, 5 Nov) nor the Christmas lighting celebration in the city centre this past Friday.  We did, however, venture out for the NEoN Digital Arts Festival where we enjoyed a PechaKucha night and I got to volunteer as a photographer at the debating event.  We also headed out to explore Blair Atholl and Glen Tilt for our November ramble.

As we were reminded recently, last week was Thanksgiving back in the States.  We haven't started celebrating American holidays over here yet and, consequently, it almost completely went unnoticed.  Celebrating American holidays abroad is perhaps something people do when they have children or a larger ex-pat community or perhaps if they're longing for 'home' but, since we're none of the above, we haven't yet felt the need to export any of those celebrations or traditions.  Besides, Thanksgiving is kind of a bullshit holiday.

Forgetting the bullshit origin stories about the harvest or pilgrims and indians and just looking at what Thanksgiving has become, I get that it provides a chance to give thanks and blah blah blah but doesn't the existence of a day to give thanks allow for the option to not give thanks the rest of the year?  Shouldn't one always be giving thanks?  Like the signs I see on public transportation labelling a few seats as priority for the disabled or pregnant; shouldn't all seats be priority seats?  Shouldn't everyone be empowered to offer their seat to anyone who might need it?  The existence of those signs seemingly absolves those sitting elsewhere of the moral obligation to offer their seat when necessary.  I reject the idea that being nice requires a sign or a holiday.  Just be nice.

If you did celebrate Thanksgiving, however, we hope you had a happy one.  And, if you didn't, we hope you enjoyed your Thursday.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

October

Whitelees Windfarm
October has seemingly flown by.  We started it off with a trip to Glasgow and ended it with the same.  We're spending a lot of time in Glasgow.  Desi has been finding herself there on business for a day every other week or so and this past week she got to stay for the whole week, staying in a fancy, modern hotel on the company dime just like old times (ish).

As part of her new hire induction programme she spent the latter part of this past week visiting existing economic development projects, including Whitelees Windfarm and Loch Lomond Shores, and some tourist sites, like Dean Castle and Country Park.  Mike joined her in Glasgow on Thursday night, spending Friday on his own visiting galleries and museums until Desi was able to join him.

Loch Lomond
In between trips to Glasgow, we spent October exploring other areas of Scotland still new to us; we rambled the Knock of Crieff and explored the Pitlochry area.  We've gotten a bit carried away with our rambles though and will be cutting them back to just once a month, as we did last year, but both towns were a lot of fun and very pretty and we're looking forward to our next ramble, in mid-November.

Black Spout, outside Pitlochry
Dundee is currently host to both a Literary Festival and Science Festival and next week we have a Digital Arts Festival to look forward to.  In fact, including the Oktoberfest celebrations from earlier this month, we've been kept very busy this month with all these festivals and we're having a great time.  We're going out with friends, participating in cultural events, seeing the country, and enjoying ourselves immensely.  October has been a great month!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Back On A Budget

During the heady days of summer - with the heat (ish), sun (ish), and double income (ish) - we quickly fell back into our old groove of doing what we wanted when we wanted.  But, now that we're back in Dundee and Mike's a full-time student again, our depleting savings account is reminding us that we're a single income family again and we've got to stick to a super tight budget.  Happily, I love budgets!  Seriously, I think they're fun.  I get the Excel spreadsheet out, start making lists, we have in-depth financial conversations; really, it's fun!

The Venice trip is off.  Not really only due to finances but because no one in Mike's class was going even though it was supposed to be a class trip.  Apparently, the school was super lazy about the prep work and waited until mid-September to even mention it.  They haven't said anything else about logistics, lodging, etc. and the trip is supposed to take place mid-October.  Therefore, we're out.  We'll eventually get to Venice, we have no doubt, so there is no mourning the cancellation of this trip.  It would've been fun to do it with his class but, whatever; it'll be fun when we eventually get there, with or without his class.

We're still on for another big Christmas slash New Year's holiday during Mike's winter break.  We've already reserved our flat, just down the street from - and with a view of - the Colosseum in Rome.  We're now just waiting to purchase our plane tickets, which will probably happen in October.

We won't have a spring break this year due to Mike's workload, which was planned so we're not heartbroken.  Plus, no spring break makes it easier for us to head to Baltimore in June for a friend's wedding, which we couldn't be more excited for.  Otherwise, we're staying in Dundee this summer.  Mike will pick up some studio time and hopefully get some more experience for his CV while I try to keep my awesome job with the Scottish government.

Our financial priorities are still the same as they have been: Mike's education and travel, and by sticking to our super tight budget we can accomplish both.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dundee, Maybe You're Not A Dick

outside Edinburgh from the train
We returned to Dundee on a lovely Friday afternoon in early September.  We had left a sad, angry, depressed town just 4 months earlier and had expected to find it as such upon our return.  Instead, we found ourselves returning to a happy, shiny, friendly place with (mostly) happy, friendly locals and shiny new buildings (or buildings mid-shine).  Apparently, the new Victoria & Albert museum is the cause of all this positive activity (though ground doesn't break until 2012, opening in late 2014).  But, regardless of the cause, we've returned to a whole new city and we're loving it!

view from our bedroom
Our flat is TONS better than Tay Mills, our student housing from last year.  It's better than our London flat, too.  It's large and comfortable, provides instant access to the outdoors (Tay Mills was a huge apartment block, taking at least 10 minutes to get from our flat to the outdoors), and is in a much better location.

The best part of our move (for me, at least) is that I've now got an amazing job working for the economic development arm of the Scottish government.  All my friends from my London gig helped open some Dundee doors for me, getting me interviews that I have thus far been unable to get on my own, and I'm extremely grateful to them.  I love my new job!

Since our return, we've completely changed our original opinion of Dundee.  It's still no Edinburgh or Glasgow but it's not too shabby either and, now that we've got a super comfy couch, we're inviting all our friends to come check it out for yourselves.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Summer's Over

It's hard to believe that our four months in London is now coming to an end, but May does feel like ages ago.  On Friday we board the 10am train up to Dundee from King's Cross, first class thank you very much.  We have our flat sorted and I've already had an interview for a proper Dundee job (I should hear something by Thursday, fingers crossed).  All things considered, our second year in Dundee is shaping up to be an improvement upon our first, which is nice.

Our summer in London has been a real treat and it has turned out much better than either of us could've hoped.  Mike has solid experience for his CV and some great contacts for the coming years and I have a bit of my confidence back, so the swagger has returned.  London itself is a great city and we're looking forward to returning though we're not sure when that might be.  It's too early to start planning for next summer but, depending on my employment situation, we may decide to stay in either Edinburgh or Glasgow or check out a new English city (we're hearing good things about Manchester).  We're still really keen on making the most of our time over here, so it makes sense to spend next summer exploring a new city.

Some of the more memorable moments from this summer include seeing The Queen and other members of The Royal Family at Trooping the Colour (no matter how briefly), outdoor screenings in Trafalgar Square and Canary Wharf, park hopping and picnicking in all the lovely parks, and all the amazing markets.  The alcohol laws here offer true freedom (think Las Vegas) and nothing was more fun than sitting in Hyde Park on a sunny day with our picnic and pints soaking up the sun and people watching.

If we were to offer any advice to tourists, come to London in May.  May offered us the nicest weather of the summer (which we're told is typical) and wasn't crowded at all.  If you can't make it in May, September is the next best option (again, we're told) for both weather and crowds.  We recommend doing a few walking tours (we enjoyed the Jack the Ripper Tour) and visiting a few markets (CamdenSpitalfields, and Portobello of course) in addition to whatever other events you may have planned.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

One Year Later

on the train to Dundee, 12 Aug 2010
Later this week we’ll be celebrating the one year anniversary of our arrival in the United Kingdom, having arrived in Dundee, Scotland on 12 Aug 2010. It was one year ago this week when we were living with our friends on Queen Anne, overwhelmed with excitement, ready to embark on this new adventure. It was one year ago this week when we were also experiencing degrees of sadness about making such a drastic life change, leaving everything familiar behind. One year later and, though our excitement has dulled a bit, as has the sadness, we’re moving forward with every confidence that we made the right decision.

Mike has adapted to being a student with greater ease than either of us had expected and is looking forward to his future career as an artist or, at the very least, in the art field.  Duncan of Jordanstone was the perfect programme for him, allowing him the freedom to be creative and to pursue his specific interests (right now, subconscious drawing) and is fully supportive of his artistic growth.  Mike is really looking forward to returning to his studies next month and we're both really looking forward to his first university field trip in October, when his class will travel to Venice for a week to attend La Biennale (and I get to join him).

After a rough start, I’m now doing much better but I'm still struggling a bit with this transition; there are both good days and bad but the bad days are occurring less often nowadays.  I’m optimistic about returning to Dundee, too.  We’ve almost secured a flat (just waiting for confirmation) and, based on pictures and location, it’s sure to be better than what we had there before.  Additionally, my job prospects have improved after my summer in London temping with the Scottish government.  I’ve made some great connections down here with people who know Dundee and who’ve already proved exceptionally helpful by making introductions and pursuing leads on my behalf.

Within a year, in addition to parts of England and Scotland, we’ve seen Paris and parts of Mallorca and have been to Sweden.  Plus, to celebrate one year in the UK, we’re off to Baden Baden, Germany this weekend for our second, and final, mini-break of the summer. 

London, summer 2011
We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished this year and there is no doubt in our minds that we made the right decision, both for immediate adventure as well as long-term foundation building.  Looking back, although a year in Puerto Rico would’ve been amazing, we’re glad Mike was accepted at Duncan of Jordanstone.  Looking ahead, our future is much brighter than it used to be.  

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Staycation

Mike & I both had this past week off from work and we had a great time just hanging out.  We bookended the week with Saturday day trips to Oxford and Brighton but stayed in London during the week.

We haven't had a chance to visit many museums so we stopped in at the British Museum to see the Rosetta Stone which was surrounded by a whole lot of camera wielding tourists, pushing into the crowd to get their picture and then pushing their way out.  We just stood back and watched the people because getting too close to the Stone would've proved catastrophic.  Our experience at Jim Morrison's grave site in Paris taught us that a tourist will cause bodily harm for their picture (I was hit in the face with a long-lensed camera by a tourist with no care or remorse).  It's sad, really.  All those tourists would rather get a mediocre picture to look at later than to experience the history live and in person.  Don't they know, both options are achievable?

We stopped at the Victoria & Albert museum in Kensington, too but we didn't find anything there that held our attention.  We're more art museum fans than anything else and even those make me really tired.  Minutes after stepping into both the V&A and the British Museum I was yawning, so we left rather quickly.

We enjoyed fantastic weather throughout most of the week, only having rain on Thursday.  The week was gorgeous otherwise, allowing us to spend much of it park hopping, one of our favourite London past times.  Ever since first arriving in London, we've enjoyed the novelty of picnics (including beer & cider) in the park.  Our favourite area is The Serpentine at Hyde Park and if you can't find us on a sunny day it's because we're catching a nap near this area.

We wandered away from Hyde Park long enough to find London's Japanese garden, located in Holland Park in Kensington.  Kyoto Garden is a very small but pretty area and only took us a few minutes to explore.  We expected London's Japanese gardens to be a larger affair, at least larger than Seattle's Kubota Garden, and we were shocked by how small the area actually was.  Perhaps London does not have a large Japanese population and the size is proportionate to said population?  If that's the case, though, I can't help but wonder why.

We walked along Regent Canal, from Maida Vale to Regent's Park.  This area is called Little Venice and it was picturesque and pleasant.  There were houseboats, kayaks, and canal cruises; actually, this and The Serpentine may be the only place in the UK where water is used for pleasure rather than just commerce.  This canal reminded me a bit of Seattle.


The weather was so nice this past week that we were even able to enjoy an evening stroll along the south bank without jackets.  A perfect summer evening.

Our week's staycation has been great.  We've done a ton, exploring a lot of the city in more depth than weekends and evenings alone allow.  Surprisingly, we had thought our favourite areas of the city were Shoreditch and Camden but we wound up spending most of our time in the Kensington and Chelsea area.  We dared to venture into the Primark on Oxford Street (something we're sure only tourists are crazy enough to do), explore the Marylebone area a bit further (do the tourists queueing outside Sherlock Holmes's house, in the pouring rain, know that he's fictional and didn't really live there?), and even experienced a couple different shopping centres (Brent Cross and Canada Water) where I may have discovered my replacement for REI (Decathlon).  

This first week of our last month in London has been idyllic and if the rest of August resembles it at all we'll have been very lucky this summer indeed.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Where's The Heat?

I had expected heat this summer.  I know, I know, London is not known for being hot but, in the years prior to moving here, I swear I remember reading articles about London's heat. Heat related articles usually include the number of heat related deaths (sample headlines include: '18-year-old among dead as heat wave continues', 'Mercury tops 50C, 22 die as US swelters under heatwave') and over the years I've begun using these morbid statistics as a barometer for a good summer, at least weather-wise.  I promise, London has had heat related deaths before, and I'm not crazy for expecting heat, but this year there hasn't been one heat related death that I'm aware of.  Come on!

May was beautiful and really set my expectations for the summer.  Unfortunately, since late May we've been stuck in rain and cold reminiscent of a Seattle spring.  This is unacceptable.  I demand heat and sun!  I have just over a month left before we move back north and if I don't get enough heat to last me another 9 months in Scotland I may start cutting myself.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

I Was (Pooh) Framed

I’m not sure if this is the proper forum but, after some thought, I figured this was a cautionary tale and, though very awkward for me, should be shared with others.  Please note, I am very fragile with this subject; I have delicate sensibilities and would prefer never to speak of bodily functions.  Promptly upon posting, I will purge this event from my memory and continue as though it never happened.

My office building has poor plumbing.  There are two stalls in the ladies room; the one on the right being far superior than the one on the left thus, the stall on the right is the favourite.  Unfortunately, the stall on the right is not always available.  This is the situation I found myself in early last week.

As I approach the stall on the left I see paper remaining in the bowl.  Though not a subscriber to the ‘if it’s yellow let it mellow’ mantra, but having lived in a society where it is popular (Seattle), I’m not a stranger to using a toilet with paper remaining in the bowl (though I do throw up a bit in my mouth and am not completely comfortable with the idea; delicate sensibilities).  Upon flushing the toilet though, I immediately notice that the paper was not alone in the bowl.  To my horror, I had just used a ‘still in use’ toilet and I had just been pooh framed.

Of course, due to the inadequate plumbing, my flush doesn’t clear the bowl and now I’m a prisoner in a stall with someone else’s feces.  As my body begins to convulse with uncontrollable dry heaves, I become increasingly angry at my predicament.  I'm at work folks, not camping, not at a service station on the freeway, not in a mall.  One expects a bit of civility while at work.  Clearly, the nefarious cow that left me to clean up her disgusting mess is unaware of this distinction as well as under the misapprehension that she is either 1) a child or 2) The Queen.  

The lesson here is simple, if you're going to drop the kids off at the pool while at work you damn well better stay to make sure they're taken care of.  If you don't have the time then don't do the crime and definitely don't hide your shame, disguising your evil as an eco-friendly gesture.

For those wondering how the story ends, I spend very little time in public restrooms and even less when I know I'm not alone.  A 'still in use' toilet qualifies as 'not alone' so I quickly left the vicinity.  I was angry, disgusted, and traumatized when I left but I was kind enough not to stage the toilet like my predecessor.  The next user will have used the stall knowing its current state or, if someone like me, would not have used it at all.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Happy Anniversary!

For our 14th anniversary, and our 1st in Europe, we are planning a European extravaganza.  We’re starting the two week celebration tomorrow with Zoo Lates at the London Zoo.  A zoo with no kids and themed bars strewn throughout the park?  Who else thinks that's the best idea ever?

We haven't made solid plans for Saturday yet.  We had planned to spend it in Brighton but Mike’s contract was extended (yay!), requiring him to work that day.  Consequently, we won’t be rambling in June.  Hopefully we can fit a couple day trips in during July to make up for the omission.

On Sunday we’ll experience our first 'Sunday roast dinner' (something super popular over here) at a restaurant in Covent Garden and then we'll end the weekend with a rooftop screening of Weird Science in Shoreditch.

Our week is pretty open at this point, again with no solid plans.  But, come next weekend, we're going on our first proper mini-break since arriving in the UK.  Next Saturday we fly to Sweden. We’ll be spending the weekend in Göteborg, known as Sweden’s 2nd city.  Göteborg was unknown to us only a few weeks ago but, since buying our tickets (when chasing cheap fares, one first buys the tickets and then researches the destination), we’re learning a lot about the city and really looking forward to our first Nordic experience.

North bank of the Thames, near Cannon Bridge
These 14 years have seemingly flown by but, when we look back at where we were and who we were 14 years ago, it feels like it's been ages.  We're different people now and very aware of how lucky we are that we've grown together rather than apart.  We're having an amazing time over here and we're incredibly lucky that we get to share this experience with each other.  Cheers to being married to your best friend and to having someone to share your life with.  Skål!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Trooping the Colour

I had a wonderful time at Trooping the Colour this afternoon.  I love pomp and circumstance and royalty and the Queen's birthday parade didn't disappoint.

I wasn't fully prepared for the event, however; I was just out for an early afternoon stroll, having just dropped Mike off at work.  I had thought I'd missed most of the pageantry, but when I found a gathering crowd I stopped to catch what I could and wound up catching the procession to Buckingham Palace.

It was fun to see the Royal Family in person, never mind how briefly, and, after the very short parade, to walk through the streets of London and really soak up my surroundings.  I'm truly enjoying living in London and, despite most Londoners being maddeningly passive aggressive and bizarrely refusing to standardize pedestrian traffic flow, it's days like this which remind me of that fact.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Let The Games Begin

On Monday, Mike got his dream job.  He was hired to work the Egon Schiele exhibition at a gallery in Mayfair.  After visiting the hosting gallery this past Friday, the exhibition's first day, he emailed them with his thoughts (Schiele is one of his favourite artists) and to inquire about any possible employment opportunities.  The next thing he knows he's got an interview and now a job.  His first day is tomorrow and he couldn't be happier.

With Mike's new job, we're just now feeling settled and getting ready to take advantage of all the big city amenities.  We're already enjoying all the different markets, especially Portobello and Old Spitalfields, and exploring the different neighbourhoods, Shoreditch and the East End are early favourites, but we're looking forward to our first day-trip this weekend and to all the summer events (outdoor films, Zoo Lates, festivals, etc.) still to come.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

An Open Letter To Perfume Wearers

Perfume should be like lingerie or a secret tattoo, only noticed by those becoming intimate with you.  Never should someone walk into a room and be able to smell you nor know you're approaching by odour alone.

Perfume is not a room spray and your endeavour should not be to change the scent of your surroundings.  Similarly, perfume is not a deodorant and does not hide body odour nor cigarette smoke, no matter how much you apply.  If you smell that bad you should bathe and if you're concerned about smelling like a smoker you should quit.

Please stop polluting the air with your chosen odour and learn how to apply your bottled scent correctly; moderation is the key.

P.S. This information also applies to cologne wearers.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Greetings From London


We've now been in London for a week and we're loving every minute of it.  I do not deny that Mike will encounter quite a fight from me when he tries to get me back to Dundee in September.  So far, London loves me and the feeling is most definitely mutual.
I had an interview with a temp agency last Wednesday and received a call from them with an assignment the next day, paying me double the salary I was making in Dundee.  This is how it's supposed to work, folks.  I started work today and I felt like Bridget Jones, for no other reason than because that film had many office-based scenes.  I enjoyed the first day at my first job in London, my first proper job in the UK.  It's only a one week temp gig, so I'm not yet fully celebrating, but thus far my experience has exceeded my expectations.

Our neighbourhood in Willesden Green/Cricklewood is super cute.  We have bus stops right outside our door and a couple tube stations to choose from within 15 minutes walking distance.  Cricklewood Broadway is just around the corner, offering us all the amenities of a large city without much effort at all.  Our flat is a small studio in the attic of a three story townhome, our kitchen is in a closet, and our bathroom is tight, but it's a flat in London in our price range and we're very happy with it.   
Jubilee Gardens
London itself is lovely, reminding me of Washington DC with elements of New York City.  We've spent this last week walking everywhere.  Our feet and legs are swollen and tired but we're having a great time exploring our new city and are looking forward to our London summer.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Looking Back And Moving On

Today is our last day in Dundee until September.  We embark tomorrow morning on another adventure, this time to London.  To prepare for this new adventure we're reviewing these last 8.5 months, hoping to remind ourselves of what went well and what could've gone better.  This exercise, along with other lessons, will hopefully help to make this move easier than the last.

Dundee is a picturesque town.  It's situated right on the Tay, the city centre is super cute, and the weather has been better than expected, especially this last week.  But, even with all these positives, we may have set our original expectations a bit too high prior to our arrival in August 2010.  We expected a larger city, a live music scene, a college town vibrant with youth and idealism.  We were disappointed.

To avoid this type of mistake in the future we're trying to keep expectations for future adventures low.  We're hoping for the best but expecting the worst, the latter of which we neglected when relocating last year.  We were so convinced that our new home would be amazing that we didn't even consider what would happen if it wasn't.  The reality was nearly devastating but, happily, we've nearly overcome it.  Now, although we're smarter about both mental preparation as well as recovery, avoiding that type of surprise in the future is our goal.

The number one priority upon our arrival in London is finding employment.  The second priority continues to be travel.  Looking back, we're very happy with our travel experiences since arriving in the UK.  We haven't travelled as much as originally planned but we have done the big trips we had hoped for (winter break and spring break).  This summer we hope to continue to take advantage of proximity, especially since London has more airports and easier access to the continent than Dundee making weekend trips possible.  We're especially looking forward to our summer rambles and exploring the areas surrounding London.

One thing that has gone better than expected is Mike's education.  Mike is getting a great education here (Duncan of Jordanstone is one of the best art schools in the UK) and he's loving every minute of it.  Plus, because he was a 2nd year direct entrant, he'll be graduating a year earlier than expected.  Yes, this is one area of the past 9 months that has gone exceedingly well.

Overall, we're pretty happy with the direction we've taken.  It's a complete and drastic change from our previous existence and we're still living abroad amateurs but every day we're learning something new and we believe these lessons have been worth the sacrifices.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Birthday Month Surprise

Mike & I have just returned from an amazing 19 days in Mallorca, Spain.  You might remember that back in February, just after purchasing the non-refundable tickets, we had to cancel this trip.  But, because Mike was feeling very good about where he was with this semester's project, a week before our original departure date we decided to use our tickets.

Before we officially decided to go we needed to find a hotel room within budget (which was non-existent since we hadn't planned on going).  I went directly to Booking.com and found an amazing deal, Bellevue Club in Port d'Alcudia for only €405 for all 18 nights.  Although this was a resort, which we're not big fans of, we would be staying self-catering and, ultimately, the low price, along with the studio having a kitchenette, made this an amazing deal which we were unable to decline.

We'd be arriving pretty late in Mallorca, after the public buses stopped running, so I visited Tripadvisor's travel forum to get some advice about airport transfers.  Based on forum comments, I purchased two single tickets with Resort Taxis for less than £18 (we'd be using the public bus for our return trip, which wasn't much cheaper at €14).

With the transfers, hotel, and airfare handled we rationalized that even if we ran out of money we would have a roof over our heads and a return trip home.  On a beach vacation one can spend every day on the beach for free.  Sure, we'd have to eat but we are pros at eating on the cheap (rice and sardines anyone?).  Yup, with only a week's notice we had put together an amazing three week budget holiday which would have both of us celebrating our birthdays in Spain (4 April and 21 April).  We were pretty proud of ourselves.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Travel Writer?

A few weeks ago I decided to take my first steps toward writing professionally.  I was exploring one of my favourite travel sites, Bootsnall, when I saw their link to 'write for us'.  I read through the information and instructions and decided to submit a pitch.  I really didn't expect to hear back from them, their site basically says that if you don't hear back within 3 weeks you probably won't, but I wound up hearing back within only a couple days.  To my amazement, rather than just an outright decline they were giving me an opportunity to expand on my pitch by submitting a partial draft.

It took me almost two weeks to write my partial draft but I submitted it today and have just heard back.  Although it was a rejection, the feedback was positive; they said the writing was good but it wasn't a fit for a 'feature' though they would be 'happy' to publish it as a guest post, including a short bio along with a link to my blog.

For my first foray into professional writing, I think it's a pretty good start.  I plan to finish the piece and submit it as a guest post.  I've got a few other ideas that I may pitch to them as well and will shop around for other sites also looking for travel articles.  I'm pretty excited about this new direction for myself and really looking forward to exploring it further.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spring Ramble

Dundee in the distance
We decided to stay close to home for our March ramble.  We've been wanting to walk across the Tay Road Bridge since August, which is just down from Dundee's city centre area.  Today we made the journey.

The bridge is 1.4 miles long and has a dedicated pedestrian/bike path down its centre.  On the south side of the Tay is a cute little car park with a 'kiosk' where we purchased supplies for an impromptu picnic on the green before heading back towards Dundee.

Newport on Tay
Our walk only took about 3 hours and was super low effort.  We had been concerned about possible wind and cold in the middle of the Tay but the weather wound up being lovely throughout our walk.  There was really no traffic noise or debris from the passing cars, either.  The pedestrian path, besides being a bit narrow, is actually very well suited for a leisurely stroll.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Instant Music

Yesterday, after exhaustive contemplation and careful consideration, we finally made a purchase, adding to our small yet slowly expanding list of possessions. Hopefully, by early next week we should have in our hands a brand new set of £15 Logitech speakers, purchased at www.amazon.co.uk. Seriously, it took us several hours over a few weeks to decide whether or not to spend £15 on speakers, this is how traumatized we are by the whole purging process.

Currently, Mike’s computer acts as both our stereo - our entire music collection is digitized and saved on Mike’s hard drive - and television - all movies and television shows are watched on his large 17” laptop monitor. Connecting speakers to the machine will add a bit more comfort and enjoyment to our lives.

In addition to connecting them to our laptop, we’ll be able to plug our iPods directly into the speakers providing us with instant access to our music.  Previously, it could take up to 10 minutes or so for Mike's computer to boot up and iTunes to open before enjoying any music at all.  This instant access to music is perhaps the most exciting feature of all.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

In Like A Lion

Wild flowers
We experienced some lovely spring weather this past week, with warm and sunny days and wild flowers beginning to bloom.  Hoping this meant winter was finally behind us we were looking forward to this weekend for our March ramble, our first spring ramble in Scotland.  Unfortunately, the weather turned on Friday and we've had snow mixed with rain ever since.

Although the temperatures have stayed above freezing, so there is no accumulation on the ground, we are nonetheless deterred from rambling this weekend.  After the lovely weather we experienced on our February ramble, we have no interest in returning to January ramble temperatures two months later.  There should be some progression.

A lovely spring-like morning
Thus, rather than a traditional ramble yesterday, we found ourselves wandering about the city centre.  Mike wanted to try paella so we headed out into the elements for some ingredients.  What we thought was going to be a quick trip turned into a lovely afternoon of window shopping and city rambling.

Desi, as yet unimpressed by the High Street stores, actually found a couple clothing stores she might like to return to, New Look and a cute boutique in the Wellgate unfortunately called Zion: A Star Is Born.  We also stopped into Currys for a quick look at future electronics purchases, we need a new external hard drive and are still looking for a better way to digitally store and play our music, and wound up having a great conversation about new technology with a salesman there.  Upon returning home, Mike made an amazing paella dinner, which we will definitely be adding into our rotation.

Although spring's not quite here, if this week's spring weather teaser was any indication, we expect it will be our favourite season in Scotland and we look forward to the opportunity to ramble in its loveliness.  Until then, Mike's paella and window shopping appears to be a pleasant diversion.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Train Trip

In just over seven weeks Mike's first academic year will be complete and we'll be off on a new adventure.
Today we purchased our train tickets for travel from Dundee to London Kings Cross.  The trip will take just over 6 hours, leaving Dundee in the morning and arriving in London mid-afternoon.  We'll be travelling almost the entire length of the island during daylight hours, getting to see everything along the way.  We're really looking forward to this trip.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Games

I hate games.  I'm super competitive and I wind up getting really upset, even when I'm winning.  I don't enjoy playing and usually the unfortunate souls playing with me wind up not enjoying the experience either, although sometimes the sadists find enjoyment in how irrationally upset I become.

Lately, however, I've been in a game playing mood.  Mike introduced me to Bubble Buster a few weeks ago, which started it all, and now I'm also playing WordUp and Minesweeper.  I've been keeping it relatively safe, mostly playing solo on my HTC Wildfire while Mike plays separately on his, but last night we wound up playing a two person version of WordUp and, surprisingly, not only did we have a great time but I didn't lose my cool or anything.  This morning, perhaps chancing my new found calm, we started playing Scrabble online.

The last time I played Scrabble was with my friend Jason this past summer.  Unbeknown to me at the time, Jason possesses super Scrabble powers and was well over 200 points really early in the game whilst I sat in the low two digits.  I think he wound up using all his tiles and getting over 100 points on one word when I decided to concede.  Surprisingly, although Jason was annihilating me, I actually enjoyed playing with him.  He taught me how Scrabble should be played and it was a lot of fun, even though I was losing by 250+ points.

I exposed Mike to some of what I learned from watching Jason's mad skills in action and now we're in the midst of an all day Scrabble tournament, feeling like pros.  Not only are we having a great time but my dreaded game hating alter ego has not yet emerged which makes me wonder if I've shaken the beast after all these years.  Perhaps this means I'm ready to start playing games with others without threatening bodily harm?  One step at a time.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Newburgh to Abernethy

We found our February ramble, Newburgh to Abernethy, online at http://walking.visitscotland.com/.  We started this morning around 10:30 am with a bus ride from Dundee to Newburgh, via Perth.  We arrived in Newburgh before noon and were home by 4:00 pm.  Although this was a short, scenic walk with no real elevation gain, we thought the day worked out perfectly and we're happy we ventured out.

Because our walk started near the town entrance, we didn't get to see much of Newburgh's city centre.  But, we did have a fun little exchange with a publican and some locals upon disembarking the bus.

We asked the publican, sweeping the pavement outside his pub, where the path to Abernethy could be found.  He pulled two locals into the conversation and they all agreed that the path along the water 'only goes so far' so we were instructed to take the path up the hill instead.

Although we were pretty sure the walk we found online said something about walking along the river, we decided to take the locals' advice and headed up the hill.

This higher path greeted us with wonderful views of the surrounding area and introduced us to our first proper 'right of way' experience which included passing through several gates marked 'private property' and being constantly afraid we were doing something wrong.  The occasional signs confirming our right to be there helped ease our fears and, upon exiting the trail, we were met by a couple of locals inquiring about the state of the 'right of way', reassuring us even further.  We advised the locals that it was a bit wet and muddy and they said, 'that's no good.'  We assured them though that we still had fun and that we considered it an adventure, which they seemed to think was pretty funny.

Lunch in Abernethy
Upon our arrival in Abernethy, and with an hour to kill before our bus back to Perth arrived, we wandered through the cute little town and found an adorable little inn where we decided to grab a pint and something to eat.  Coincidentally, our 'right of way' friends were dining at the same inn and we had a chance to talk with them a bit more.  They told us walking in Scotland requires the right gear and, upon seeing Desi's heelless Earth shoes, advised her that some wellies and a nice wool hat would be better.  Good advice indeed.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Making The Most Of Our Time Abroad

I recently read this article about making the most of one's time abroad and I wanted to share it here since it mirrors my experience thus far on this adventure and also provides me with ideas to combat my latest bout of homesickness.

Much like the author of the article, Mike & I plan on living in many different countries over the next two decades and I'll need to get better at this transition period if I'm to make the most of my time abroad.  Hopefully the tips in this article will help me towards that endeavour.

Meet Your Neighbours - Something we'll definitely need to become better at is putting ourselves out there. We're solitary people whom enjoy each other's company and the company of close friends but we don't enjoy the process of making new close friends.  We're so solitary we can't even bring ourselves to meet our current neighbours.  Beyond awkward corridor greetings we don't really know anything about them and we probably won't make the effort prior to our move in May.  I'm resolving, though, to make an effort first thing upon our return to Dundee in September.  I may even make an effort when we move to London in May.  Maybe.

Establish A Routine, But Don't Get Stuck In A Rut - Our current routine could be described as a rut; work/school, home, laptops, bed.  It's hard to develop a routine when skint but pints at the pub are cheap and we really have no excuse for not going out at least once a week.  We'll definitely look into this.

Walk, Walk, Walk - We walk a lot.

Break Bad Habits, And Make New Ones - We broke the television habit.  I don't think we've picked up any new bad habits yet.  This will also require looking into.  A lot of people smoke here but I don't think that's an option for us.  Perhaps we need to jump on this curry bandwagon.

When In Rome... - I doubt we'll be heading to the clubs or casinos any time soon, and definitely not staying out until dawn if we ever do, but maybe heading out to a football match soon would be a good idea.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mikey Is My Star

I'm not sure when my parents bought a colour TV for mine and my sister's bedroom, to replace the black & white one we'd had since I was in kindergarten, but I was the only kid I knew that had one.  Years later I was still using it and when Mike & I started dating I got a hold of a label maker and put 'Mikey is my star' on the top of it.

When Mikey & I moved to Seattle from Salt Lake we brought that TV with us.  I can't remember if we ever used it in Seattle, having received an upgrade from Mike's parents as our wedding gift, but I remember finding it in the basement of our Seattle home this past summer.  It was a joy to see it again but we couldn't keep it.  Sadly, that TV from my childhood was part of the Purge of 2010.

Since we've been living without one for the past nine months my dependence on TV has diminished significantly.  But, sometimes I do miss it terribly and when that happens I remember that small colour TV from my childhood and feel sad.

If you ever find a TV labelled 'Mikey is my star', probably in a thrift store or charity shop in the states, please let me know.  I probably won't buy it back but I would like to see it again.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

London, Here We Come

We received confirmation this morning that our London flat has been successfully booked.  It took a lot of searching but we finally found something within our budget.  The flat comes with WiFi, is fully furnished and situated near Willesden Green tube station.  It's a mezzanine double studio and the only bills outside of rent are electricity, via top-up (same set-up we have now), and TV license (optional).

We still need to purchase our train tickets to London and we haven't yet made arrangements for accommodations upon our return to Dundee in September but we have time to sort those details out.  The biggest stress, and the deal breaker, was the London accommodations piece and we're absolutely thrilled to have that detail sorted.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Good News Sandwich

Good news: Mike confirmed with his tutor yesterday that his programme's semester ends a month earlier than planned, at the end of April rather than the end of May.  This means that we're able to relocate to London a month earlier than scheduled and stay for four months instead of three.  Desi is beginning enquiries now regarding employment and accommodations.  Mike has already started enquiring about internships.  We're really looking forward to being London residents for the summer.

Bad news: Because Mike is losing four weeks of this semester and because his education is our highest priority, even above travel, we've cancelled our trip to Mallorca in April.  Mike can't afford to lose seven weeks of this semester and he'll have to work through spring break to finish his project in time.  Moreover, we can't afford both three weeks in Mallorca and a relocation to London to occur within the same month.  We're pretty broken up about this but it's the right thing to do.

If you haven't had a chance to see what Mike's been up to, head on over to his blog, which has been highlighted twice this semester alone by DJCAD via their Twitter account.

Good news: Desi got the call yesterday offering her the job she was hoping for.  She's absolutely thrilled!  She starts work Monday.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Unemployment Ponderings

In 2007, I took a one month sabbatical between jobs.  I celebrated that sabbatical as though it was a well-deserved break; dining out with friends, drinking all day long, mid-day movies.  My current state of unemployment, however, does not feel like a well-deserved break.  On the contrary, it has me seriously re-thinking my short-term plans.

Dundee has a dearth of employment opportunities and my original plan, to rely on temp agencies for employment between holidays, is not working out.  Temp agencies are just not performing the same role here as they did in Seattle which means I'm going to have to figure something else out if this adventure is going to succeed.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Braan Walk

waterfall on the River Braan
Yesterday we ventured north-west into Perthshire for our first ramble of the new year.  We selected the Braan Walk for this occasion due to its close proximity to Dundee and also because it was one of the few walks we've found in our Scotland walking book with a recommended time of year as January/February for the waterfalls and snowdrops.

Bridge to Dunkeld from Birnam
over the River Tay
Our ramble started from Dunkeld & Birnam train station, which is actually only about 40 minutes away from Dundee but, due to our layover at Perth train station, wound up taking us closer to two hours one way.  Regardless, we arrived in Birnam before noon, walked into the tiny town for a coffee, and then set off on our ramble.

We began by walking along the River Tay and then branching off along the River Braan into the Hermitage.  The scenery we encountered was beautiful, reminding us quite a bit of the Pacific Northwest.

The Hermitage
The weather was chilly, probably warming to only about 1 or 2 degrees Celsius, but did not prove to be too much of a problem.  On the other hand, the snow and ice, and especially the ice, did prove challenging, adding a bit of excitement and comedy to an otherwise serene adventure.  Next time though we'll remember to bring extra pairs of socks and wear more weather appropriate shoes.  Scotland is a year round rambling destination only if the correct kit has been selected.

River Braan
The ramble was about 6 miles long with barely any elevation gain.  We started our walk around noon and ended around 4PM.  We saw several small and lovely waterfalls along the river but, besides seeing evidence of deer and/or rabbits, we had no wildlife sightings beyond a red squirrel.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Self Improvement

Our continuing quest towards self improvement has us hoping to become fluent in Spanish this year.  Desi has attempted this several times over the past years, via non-credit university classes and at the community college, but none of these efforts have proved successful, so we're approaching this new attempt from a different angle.

la cocina
We initially wanted to buy Rosetta Stone but since we can't afford the ridiculous price we researched their methods instead.  Apparently, they go the 'approach it like a child' route, so we're going to give that a try.

We bought a vocabulary book for beginners, 'First Thousand Words In Spanish,' and are placing post-its around the flat.  We'll try to learn a few words each month to increase our vocabulary.

el cuarto de baño
This method, as expected, will cause us to speak like toddlers ('I walk door, I eat sink, I watch bed') for a while but it'll give us a good foundation and we can improve our grammar as we pick up more words.  At least, that's the hope.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Magic Toilet

I experienced my first magic toilet in 2004.  We had just renovated the bathroom in our Seattle house and our new toilet was sparkling, especially when compared to the old, gross toilet.  Amazingly, the toilet stayed sparkling for at least a year before I began noticing a slight ring around the waterline.  It would only appear occasionally and never stay around for long so I wasn't terribly concerned by it.

One day, however, I did mention to Mike, probably about two years after the renovation, that I thought our toilet's self-cleaning mechanism might need a new piece soon.  Perhaps there was a rubber something that was worn or perhaps a pad that might require replacement every few years?  Mike just stared at me in silence.  I don't remember exactly what happened next, probably because it was traumatizing, but it had something to do with Mike laying down a hard truth.

According to Mike, he had been cleaning the toilet this whole time.  That one time I saw him actively cleaning the toilet?  That was him actually cleaning the toilet.  I had thought he was just helping the self-cleaning mechanism along because it needed a piece.  Instead, Mike was the piece.  Mike was the magic toilet.  I was devastated.

With this bit of hard truth my reality suddenly shifted.  Not only did I no longer have a magic toilet but now I had a husband cleaning the toilet this whole time without any gratitude or assistance on my part whatsoever.  I suddenly realized that I was a horrible person and, perhaps, somewhat mentally retarded.  My world crumbled.

To protect myself from spiralling into a mass of self-pity I decided not to believe Mike.  I may have even told him I didn't believe him or perhaps I just kept this to myself but, regardless, years later and I still half believe that we had a magic toilet.  Moreover, I'm pretty sure we have one here in Dundee, too.

I Wish I Was That Cool

The other day I saw this tweet from @jimicrayon: 'To the man who got on the bus dressed as a wizard who had removed the chip from his oyster card and put it in a magic wand. I salute you.'

Two reasons why I love this statement and can't stop thinking about it:

1) the usage of 'I salute you' as a compliment.  I must use this more.  I laughed so hard I couldn't speak.

2) some dude dressed as a wizard touches his wand to the Oyster Card machine and is magically allowed access.  This would've been incredible to see in real life.  Who is that cool?  Who not only thinks of this amazing idea but also executes it with such style?

I wish I was that cool.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Spring Break 2011

Although we just returned from an extraordinary trip to Paris we are already looking forward to our next trip abroad.  Today we finalized our flight to Mallorca in April.  We'll be staying on this Spanish island for 18 nights, in the north east coastal village of Puerto Pollensa.  We're pretty excited!

Paris For Less Than €40 A Day (per person)

One of the reasons we wanted to move to Scotland was its proximity to the European continent.  We believed that if we lived in Europe we would be able to see more of Europe and in less time than had we stayed in the U.S. where vacation time and funds are limited.  However, the reality is that Desi is earning much less than what she had been earning in Seattle and during our planning we had not taken that possibility into account.  Diminished funds coupled with more vacation time required some creativity but we resolved early on that travel was a priority so we have adjusted all other aspects of our life to make sure we don't waste this opportunity of proximity.
We were able to do everything we wanted to do on our first big holiday as European residents which we find especially satisfying because we did it all under such tight financial constraints.  Our final budget came to €38.24 for expenses per day and €36.67 per night for accommodations creating an overall budget of €37.45 per person for the 25 day holiday.  We're quite pleased with ourselves.

Our final budget breakdown is outlined below.  Upon review we could've spent a bit less on food but Desi does enjoy the eating and the drinking.  We'll try to manage that part of the budget a bit better in the future.

€880 spent on accommodations. We rented a 19 sq meter studio in the 17e for 24 nights for €880.  We were conveniently located on a corner next to a Metro stop so we were able to 
maneuver throughout Paris quite easily.  However, if we were to do it again we would look for something in the 1e-6e arrondissements because we found ourselves there most often and we could've saved some money on the Metro, not to mention our poor feet, had we been located in that area.
view from our flat
€678 spent on dining out and groceries.  We spent €439 on dining out, a lot of which can be traced back to our many €3 vins chauds enjoyed at the Christmas markets.  We started spending €1-2 on bottles of wine and making the vins chauds at home, which helped the budget a bit after the first week.  We spent €239 on groceries (including wine).  Our dining out expenses also include the many trips to the boulangeries and patisseries.  Our most expensive meal was €50 at Brasserie Lipp where we enjoyed the choucroute.  For the most part though we stuck to cafes and salons de thé.
proper vins chauds at Le Petit Pont
€131 spent on entertainment.  Museum admission costs for both of us were as follows: €16 at Musee d'Orsay, €24 at Centre Pompidou, and €20 at the Louvre. Versailles was only €18 because Mike was free due to his status as an art school student.  We went to three free museums: Palais de Tokyo, Petit Palais, and Victor Hugo's House.  The Menagerie at the Jardin des Plantes cost €17, the catacombs cost €16 and the Bateaux Mouches was €20.
€114 spent on transportation.  We spent €30 on our cab ride into Paris from Charles de Gaulle airport.  We had budgeted €18 for the train but because we arrived too late due to weather we wound up missing the last train into Paris.  Luckily, we shared our cab with another couple saving €30 off the €60 fare.  We purchased 6 carnets of 10 Metro tickets, costing €12 per carnet or €1.20 per ticket.  It cost €12 for two return tickets to Versailles.  We also managed to get a free train ride back to the airport at the end of our journey, so we saved €18 there.

€33 spent on miscellaneous items. We spent €5 on mittens from a street vendor when Desi's gloves developed a hole, €12 on postcards and postage, and €16 at the laundromat because the clothes washer in our flat was broken which was an unexpected expense.


Our next holiday is in April and we hope to spend it on a beach.  Our budget will be even further diminished but we will make it work.  We always make it work and have a great time doing it.
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