A late summer toast to old friends, new books, and… Ragnarök?

The Tricksters Lover

I’ve been friends with the hilarious, curious, adventurous, and all-around lovable Samantha MacLeod* since I think third grade. We grew up together, playing anthropomorphized tigers on the playground right up until adolescence, getting into some real questionable music in junior high, and eventually self-publishing a book of our high school poetry before parting ways at college-time.

In the years since then, we’ve both seen the world as WWOOFers (she in Italy and me in Belgium), held a few real questionable jobs (she was a barista at the University of Chicago Divinity School coffee shop, Grounds of Being; I threw my body and soul into many “healthy patient clinical trials” in Boston), and have now settled into pretty awesome lives in our respective climes: she’s a Maine-based mom of two with a kickass chemist husband; I’m a good-times Brooklyn girl who gets to work in my pajamas by day and plan my wedding with the world’s handsomest bass-playing vegan bicyclist at night.

I’m so tickled and happy that Samantha and I have stayed friends all these years. (The fact that I can’t find any e-photos of us together should be no comment on the quality of said friendship! I attribute that mostly to digital cameras’ nonexistence for the first 20-ish years of our knowing each other. To make up for this awful dearth, I am happy to present instead this adorable photo of Samantha’s daughter carrying their cat Maxwell Finnegan up the stairs in the summer of 2013.)

Toddler carrying cat

Girl with cat

Now, a new chapter (pun annoyingly intended) has begun in Samantha’s life, and I want to shout it from the rooftops: she’s a serious published author with a juicy new paranormal romance heating up the shelves!! You can find The Trickster’s Lover right here.

Classic Samantha, the book combines a grad student’s wavering commitment to a career in Norse mythology with a scandalous visitation from Loki, “the enigmatic and irresistibly sexy Norse trickster god.” Mayhem (and many steamy love scenes) ensue as protagonist Caroline wrestles with her choices, her sanity, and Ragnarök—the mythical apocalyptic battle that will ultimately submerge the world in water.

On the grounds that she is a fantastic human being and because capping your summer reading list with an unusual and super-hot book like this sounds like good advice, I hereby urge y’all to order a copy today! And check out Samatha’s blog. It’s also really hot, in the way that funny, clever, and endearing things are really hot.

*Not her real name! Who knows when this romance author might want to run for President?

I got some kind of award!

It’s called the Liebster Award, and the entirely-too-kind Pooja Gudka at lifesfinewhine nominated me. Thanks a ton, Pooja!

Liebster Award 2016

The certified seal of approval

For the uninitiated (which included me until this happened), here’s a little primer courtesy of Jen There Done That:

What is the Liebster Award?

“Liebster” is a German word meaning beloved or dearest. In the blogging world, the Liebster Award is online recognition given by bloggers to other new bloggers for enjoying or valuing their work. It is meant to highlight and credit favorite new up and coming blogs within our writing community.

Once nominated, a blogger is asked to answer 11 questions provided by the nominating blogger. They are then expected to nominate 11 other favorite new bloggers and come up with a list of 11 new questions for those nominees. This keeps the love going!

If I’m about one thing, it’s keeping the love going, so let’s do this!

Here are Pooja’s 11 questions for me, with my answers:

1. What is your greatest achievement in life?
Buying a studio apartment in New York City as a single 20-something lady. I hope this accomplishment will be usurped by the eventual production of my Magnum Opus.

2. What is your favourite movie?
The Big Lebowski.

3. Who is your biggest role model?
So many! Lately I’ve been super into Elizabeth Streb (whom I had the great good fortune to interview in 2008).

4. Where do you want to travel to most?
For perspective-upending culture shock, I’m intrigued with visiting more of Africa and the Middle East. For soul-breathing hikes and eye-expanding vistas, I’m drawn to the Bavarian Alps and Scandinavian coastlines. Oh, and a friend recently introduced me to these crazy mountains in China that positively beg a visit!

5. Who is your favourite musician and why?
Another stumper! I’ve been super into Beck lately, particularly the track “Beercan.” Also Bowie’s “Fame.” Because they’re so deeply good.

6. If you could change one thing about the world what would it be?
Hmm… Could we try… No more greed? Just for a day or two to start. Take ‘er for a test drive.

7. What is your favourite T.V show?
Since I haven’t watched much TV since the ’90s, I have to say The Simpsons. Though that answer might not be different even if I’d kept watching.

8. Who inspired you to start writing?
I don’t think it was a person as much as the desire to commune with my experience of the world in a (sort of) tangible way.

9. What is your favourite time of day to write?
Those reflective bookend times: morning and night. And any time the itch strikes in between.

10. What is your biggest goal in life?
To feel like I’ve met my potential creatively and altruistically.

11. What is your favourite quote?
I hate to pick just one! But here’s a beaut, I believe from A. S. Byatt: “The writer wrote alone, and the reader read alone, and they were alone together.”

Here is a non-inclusive montage of some of the people and things referenced above:

Now, here are my 11 nominees!

Samantha MacLeod
Sarah Van Buren / Mototripping
Mirka Knaster / exploring the heART of it…
LJ Gormley / My Latin Notebook
Jem Arrowsmith Designs
Nicholas Peart / The Slider
Neil Scheinin / Yeah, Another Blogger
Wandering Wives
Masala Vegan
M.Funk : Photography
Amy Deneson

And my 11 questions for them:

  1. What’s the coolest award you’ve ever gotten? (You can say the Liebster Award if you want.)
  2. When did you last ride a public bus?
  3. Have you ever slipped when getting out of the shower and felt older than you actually are?
  4. Which of your childhood friends are you saddest to have lost touch with, and what you do think they’re doing now?
  5. Honestly: Do you really consider it the three-second rule? Have you ever extended it to more seconds? If so, how many?
  6. Why do you think all those houseplants have died under your care?
  7. Please describe the time you sung most humiliatingly in public.
  8. Best popcorn topping. Go.
  9. Would you rather dream of a spider infestation or a snake infestation? Why?
  10. What is your least favorite color? Explain.
  11. Should 7-Eleven have discontinued their Sour Patch Watermelon Slurpee flavor? Why or why not?

Lastly, I am obliged (and happy) to provide the rules of the award in this very post:

What are the rules for the Liebster Award?

Once you accept a nomination, you are expected to complete the following steps:
– Thank and link to the blogger who nominated you
– Create a post on your blog, displaying the Liebster Award logo
– Answer the 11 questions assigned by the blogger who nominated you
– Provide rules/instructions for accepting the award
– Nominate 11 new favorite bloggers for the Liebster Award
– Come up with a list of 11 new questions for your nominees
– Notify the nominees
– Post your Liebster Award blog post link in the comments of your nominator’s Liebster Award Post

That should cover it. Thanks again, y’all! I am proud to be among ye.

Russia! For those with and without their marbles

Guys on a bench in Moscow

If the heat waves and presidential election tomfoolery have spared you any of your marbles this summer, you probably won’t want to trudge through my 857 photos of Russia, the country I was recently fortunate enough to hang out in for two weeks. Then again, if you find yourself sweating, anxious, and entirely sans marbles, it might be pleasant and calming for you to see some objectively beautiful architecture, funny signage, and delectable Russian meals featuring beets, beets, and more beets. If that’s the case, then by all means have at it!

But assuming you are retaining at least a couple of those precious mental stones and would rather spend your time elsewhere, I’ll do you the sanity-solid of offering a brief summary of this epic excursion in words and pictures below:

Left: Our friend Oleg’s favorite cathedral in Moscow. (What was its name??)
Right: Arthur reads in a barn in the “historic rural locality” of Kholmogory.

Left: A cow parade in Kholmogory. (Not pictured: The sample Dixie cups of fresh milk).
Right: Arkhangelsk’s last living angel?

Left: Warning: This club uses Face Control. It doesn’t sound like we should go there.
Right: Man, this is a long story. Let’s just say we were “strongly encouraged” to write and perform a skit about the birth of our country for a group of Russian villagers on the 4th of July… while wearing Putin party t-shirts. God bless the USA.

Putin dog statue at the Hermitage

Putin dog

And finally, rub this one for good luck: A little sculpture of a dog at the Hermitage that bore some immediately-apparent resemblance to you-know-who.

Readers! As you can see, my Russia was chock full of bright colors, international whimsy, and universal good times. Have you spent time in Mother Russia? Tell me about your trip.

Notable signs of Atlantic City—not including Don Rickles and Regis Philbin

I thought the story here would be: “Group of friends goes on anthropological voyage to Atlantic City. Boardwalk Motel 8 and show featuring Don Rickles and Regis Philbin live at the Borgata feature prominently. Antics and possibly regret ensue.”

But, while all of those things did happen, I found that the textual signage enveloping us at every turn was the real star of this June outing. With all due respect to Messrs. Rickles and Philbin (however much that is), here are some of my favorites:

Readers! Hit me up with your best Notable Signs of summer.

Colorado photo tour -slash time warp

America the Beautiful Park in Colorado Springs

Arthur and I just spent four days and change in the big square state of Colorado (from which I originally hail), and boy was it a hatful—for reasons beside our inaugural start-to-finish screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show! (Tim Curry: respect.)

Yes, multiple factors led to the head-spinning:

  • Going back to where you’re from, when you don’t go regularly, is all but guaranteed to be a trip. “Is that what XYZ really looks like? Where did XYZ go? I can’t believe I used to do XYZ here!!”
  • Colorado is different from New York in many ways: more sky, more dry, more guns; you hear fewer different languages spoken on the street—and fewer people are walking down the street to begin with, and the streets are steeply crowned to deal with the occasional flash flooding. That’s just a few, of many more, off the dome.
  • Taking a break from your usual routine and surroundings is a shake-up—even if you’re just spending the night on a friend’s couch. There’s nothing quite like shoehorning yourself into a different place temporarily to shift your perspective and put it in… perspective.

I could easily go on, and I don’t want to image myself out of blog-writing business!, but pictures are probably the most apt expression tool in this case. Ladies and germs, prepare to feast your eyes on… Colorado, Spring 2016!

Readers! Care to show and/or tell me about a trip ‘home’ you’ve taken?

The Montauk Century: 108 miles, two wheels, no chamois cream

We did it!

Montauk Century 2016

Sunrise in Babylon

We got up at 2:30 am, smeared peanut butter on bagels outside the Barclay’s Center, boarded a minivan to Babylon, Long Island, and proceeded to ride our bikes 108 miles to the end of the line. It was Saturday, May 21: the Montauk Century 2016.

Known to some nipple balm endorsers who shall remain nameless as “an old man’s ride,” this hundred-ish mile pedal-fest to the tip of Long Island has been happening in some form since 1964 (and I’ll have everyone know we only overheard one conversation that referenced “taking fiber”). Seeing as how I got just about all the physical exertion I can imagine wanting in one day from this experience, I say you can take your longer, hillier, spicier, juvenile delinquent-age rides and go ride them yourself, hot shot.

As for Jonathan, Andy, Arthur, and I, we soaked in the sights as we made our way eastward, sights that included:

  • Mansions
  • Potato fields
  • Mother goose and fuzzy baby geese!
  • Signs offering free mulch and mulch at a price
  • Guys in full spandex with beer guts passing us
  • Mansion-dwellers getting their new Lamborghini (or something) delivered off a semi truck whose hubcaps were decked out with six-inch chrome spikes
  • One or more of us belting out Twisted Sister lyrics to keep the energy up

To be honest, much of it is already a blur. The hypnotic effect of spinning mile after mile, enveloped by the twelve-foot-high, super-coiffed hedges of Amagansett, Water Mill, and Southampton turned much of the day into one great green undulation. Even at the 50-mile rest stop, we were getting pretty dopey!

Montauk Century 50 mile rest stop

We’re not even halfway there yet?! Should I laugh or cry…

But when we pedaled through to the finish line—which on this posh ride meant beer, massages, ice cream, and a mobile shower unit—the stiff knees and sore bum readily gave way to excellent new feelings of accomplishment, relief, and the various chemical buzzings that result when you put things like beer and ice cream into your body. Ahh!

Would I do another one? Sure. Would I use the free sample of chamois cream next time? Maybe.

That fresh “new client” smell

I’ve long been a fan of homesharing upstarts Airbnb. Since 2010, I’ve been renting my place out to fabulous people—packs of Mormon girls from Florida, film students from Korea, and gap year couples from Australia—whenever I go out of town for a spell. And for almost as long, I’ve booked my own one-of-a-kind getaways from Iceland to Budapest to upstate New York using the site. Win-win!

AirBnB host Oliver Aguilar at his home in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago, IL. May 9, 2016. Photographer: Christopher Dilts / AirBnB

This is Oliver. More about him in a moment. (Photo credit: Christopher Dilts for Airbnb)

As a lifelong hippie, I immediately appreciated the business’s founding premises of extending hospitality to those we don’t yet know, and a waste not/want not approach to space and resources. And as a lifelong Frugal Fannie, I also immediately appreciated the extra income I got from renting.

So you have to imagine I was pretty stoked to start writing for Airbnb recently. They’re growing like crazy, and wanted an extra hand to help publicize the many events they throw and shout their hosts’ stories from the rooftops.

Writing my first few pieces for the site was super fun and brought me back to a basic truth about what I do: attending events, talking with people, and then summarizing the experience in words is one of my very favorite kinds of writing. It’s one of my very favorite things to do, period!

In the past couple of years, my freelance work has taken many directions: narrative writing like this, copywriting for websites, editing papers and reports… I’ve liked it all, but my work with Airbnb has helped illuminate for me that I want to prioritize this kind of people-and-place-based work most of all. It’s entertaining, it’s educational, it’s tactile. And it’s often the easiest type of work I do; the writing and editing usually flows the smoothest. That probably says something in itself.

So thanks, Airbnb, for this breath of fresh editorial air. And thanks to all my fellow hosts—like Oliver, Hans, and Seamus—for being so darn friendly, and so very photogenic!

The Friday Sky: Lerici, Italy

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From the hotel parking lot

Overlooking Il Golfo dei Poeti, the Gulf of Poets, so called because so many poor poets were thrown in here as punishment for being nerds.

JK! I haven’t looked it up yet, but hopefully that is not the actual origin of the name.

Ciao!