From Central Park to Brooklyn: Final NYC Explorations. June/July weekend 2023.

Tracy,

Browse archives for August 9, 2023
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And now, per tradition, my final trip update is being typed up a month after I’ve returned home. And I’m now humming Fiddler on the Roof to myself, which happens almost every time I say the word Tradition! And it’s even a little related this time, as we had dinner at the delightful (and delightfully named) Lazer Wolf Restaurant. But let’s go in order, shall we?

Sunday morning sees us getting up early and getting dressed up, as we’re off to mass. It’s important to Laurena to go to weekly mass. She was very sweet and emphatic that this was not being required of me; just something she needed to do either Sat night or Sun morning. But I was kind of looking forward to it, too. First time just doing a regular Sunday mass (not a holiday, wedding, or funeral) in a few years. I did a bit of internet board sleuthing earlier, trying to find who gave a really great homily or had a fantastic choir or beautiful church. But majority of people just said to go to St Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s gorgeous, used to lots of drop-ins for every service, and it’s big! So we took the bus and went to the Cathedral. It was lovely. And the giant floral sways surrounding the carved doors were gorgeous (I’d seen them in autumnal colors last October. Fun to see the lovely spring pinks this time).

The 9am service was very nice. The main pews each had memorial plaques on them (donate x dollars to the church, and you get your name on a plaque). And while this is the seat of the Archbishop in NYC, it’s also named after an Irish saint. And over 90% of the names on the pews were VERY Irish, which entertained me. I was a bit surprised when the Junior Priest (those 12 years of Catholic schooling are failing me here, as I’m pretty sure that’s not his official title) started singing the responsorials in LATIN!! Now, growing up Catholic in Seattle, we’d often heard “the farther from Rome…” to mean that the west coast of the US had a much more lax attitude than east coast masses. But still using Latin in 2023?!? At a church service also attended by lots of tourists and non Catholics? Color me very surprised. So I appreciated when the Head Priest (Again, totally 100% accurate title) gave the homily and mentioned his surprise at the Latin as well. He gave a brief explanation of the Catholic calendar and how each mass has a set theme and responses etc. And he was pleasantly surprised to hear that today’s involved a Latin response. I was just glad to learn that’s not the standard. But it was fun to listen to. This big ole Gothic style building was full of gorgeous windows and arches and flourishes.

Now it’s 10am on a Sunday, we’re Hungry, and Rena wants a bagel. Which means we are standing in a long and kind of chaotic line, as the options for mid-town bagel shop with a decent rating is just this one place. It was tasty and we were fine waiting, but boy do I have some operational notes for the ownership. (Which I did not volunteer. My experiences in other places has always seemed chaotic at first glance, but then it actually works great. This time, that first glance impression of chaos was maintained throughout. Only having one cashier, and having that “waiting to pay” line weaving backwards and throughout the “waiting for your ordered bagel to be prepared and handed to you” line, led to lots of confusion). Still, yummy stuff.

We wandered up to the Plaza to check out the sites and think fondly of Eloise. We’d briefly considered doing the VERY EXPENSIVE afternoon tea service. But on 4th of July weekend, it’s an even more expensive and non-traditional selection of foods (fancy BBQ sliders, etc) that just didn’t have the vibes we were seeking. Super pretty, though.

Then it was a lovely but hot and MUGGY wander through Central Park. AT least the air quality was only moderately bad today. And we found a booth selling slushies. Woohoo.

Partway through the park and Laurena says she’d maybe like to see The Met Museum. We’re wilting in the heat. Sure thing, although afternoon on a Sunday might be busy. That turned out to be the understatement of the year for this most famous of museums! The line went ALL THE WAY down the multi-block long museum entrance and around the corner. She decided she didn’t want to see it that badly. Ha. We walked a few more blocks and checked out the Guggenheim instead. Fun to finally make it inside the building to explore their rounded ramp gallery spaces. I quite enjoyed the exuberant Sarah Sze installations and collages.

But most of the ramp space was dedicated to an artist called Gego. And these simple looking wire grids and squares and sculptures were just Not For Me. And that’s okay. I’m sure there is history or knowledge or context that made this art important or popular or whatever. But to me it felt bland and uninspiring. Like Laurena in the Noguchi Museum, I was the one sort of non-plussed by the offerings. Ah well. The building space was still neat. Some of the permanent exhibit was fun. And we really appreciated the climate control and seltzer water in the café. Priorities!

We came across and Episcopal Church performing “Jazz Vespers” and that was fun for about 5 minutes, then we snuck back out again.

The decision is made to spend a little time reading and relaxing back in our climate controlled hotel room before dinner. Genius! And our timing was perfect, as it started POURING down rain 5 minutes after we got into our room.

Later, it’s off to Brooklyn for our 8pm dinner reservations at Laserwolf! So delicious. Still dreaming about the harissa chicken wings. And this giant platter of different rotating things to try.

The lamb skewers were good, and the tuna was a surprise star. Fresh baked pita. Lovely view (even if the rains meant there wasn’t much of a sunset). Totally cute spot. Then it was a lovely late night wander through Williamsburg and back to our hotel.

Final morning, and we’re off to The Strand bookstore for a shopping spree! A pal had given me a gift certificate as a Thank You gift (as she knew about my impending trip). What a fun excuse to spend an hour in a bookstore! Looking online for a quick lunch option nearby, and forgot that I’ve been warned over the years that the Southeast Asian food scene in NYC isn’t great. So when we saw a well reviewed thai spot, that seemed perfect. And it was just mediocre. Perfectly serviceable and food was made fresh and fast. But very underwhelming. The space was super cute, though, with gorgeous painted murals on the brick walls.

(I think I’d been lulled into a false sense of “Their SE Asian food is good” because of my beloved past experiences at Khe-yo (for trendy Laotian) and at the wonderful Malaysian street food place Kopitiam). But that’s okay.

Then a brisk-ish 1.5 mile walk back to the hotel to grab our luggage and head to the airport. Continued the tradition of crying at movies on airplanes, by watching “Women Talking.” And then I spent a good hour staring metaphorical daggers towards the woman violently open-mouth uncovered coughing two rows ahead. For over an hour. Sheesh. You don’t have access to a mask to put on when you’re actively coughing? Rude. I don’t expect gen pop to mask up anymore (dramatic sigh) but didn’t we learn to be more conscientious when we’re actively sick?!?!? Even if it’s not covid, I still don’t want your cold! Nor do I want to bring your germs back to my housemate who is a caregiver for family in cancer treatment. Rude!

During the flight, Laurena brings up a map of New York City, and we discuss the geography and places we visited, etc. I’m amused that she’s doing this a post mortem, rather than before or even during the trip. Turns out, we are different people with different ways of doing things. After looking at the map for a bit, she says, “NOW I finally understand Billy Joel’s ‘Uptown Girl’ song” and I about die laughing. God I love my friend! Landing in Seatac, we are greeted by an aggressive amount of T-Mobile Pink. They’ve got all the “Welcome to the All Star Game” signage and wraps up, decorating the luggage carousels. So that was kind of fun surprise. And it’s good to be home, with air blessedly free of smoke, and getting to see my dog again.

About a Lizard Boy. NYC weekend part 2: June/July 2023.

Tracy,

Browse archives for July 3, 2023
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Fri morning, off to a food and history tour with Manhattan Walking Tours. https://manhattanwalkingtour.com/ Beginning with a tour of the Highline, and then food tour of Greenwich Village. Our guide Claire was a total delight. Hilarious and full of wonderful anecdotes, and lots of bouncing energy. “Did you know there’s a supply chain issue with Adderall right now? There is!” *Points at self* Ha!

Air quality is not great all day, bouncing between “unhealthy for sensitive groups” to just plain “unhealthy for everyone.” But it’s so hot and muggy, it’s extra brutal to be wearing our N95’s outside. The hazy smoke from the Canadian wildfires definitely is blocking the views that are allegedly normally available. “if you look down that street, you can see…well, you could normally see…” :/

Walking through the meatpacking district and we’re shown a building where Beyonce used to live. Woman asks, “is that where Solange beat up Jay-Z in elevator?” Yes. Then we all gossiped about the Lemonade album forever. Ha.

We stopped at a lovely French bakery (Aux Merveilleux du Fred. Which just entertains me, because I find it hard to say “Fred” with a French accent). But Fred really knows his stuff. The Merveilleux are these chilled little puffs of deliciousness. Maybe cream and merengue? I’m not sure of ingredients, but definitely order the coffee flavor one. Soooo good.

At Myers of Keswick, we had a tasty English pasty! And our choice of strange English soda. (“Nobody tell me what Burdock is. I love it and don’t want to know any more.”) I got a black currant drink, which I always enjoy.

Plus this tiny English grocer and deli has a deli cat named Gracie, and has customized bunting (of the cat’s face wearing a birthday hat) decorating the window. “This is more decorations then they put up for the coronation.” Ha.

Bleeker Street Pizza. This elderly man (Greg) is original owner’s brother. He comes out to talk about their family recipe, etc. Then, in a move that is totally On Brand for New York, he demands we each hand over our phones, and starts to take pictures of us holding our slices. Starts to chastise the couple next to us ‘Hold up your pizza higher!” “Be sure to mention my name in your review!”

Next door is the delicious Taco Mahal, where we have delicious Indian Tacos (as in India, not Native American), so it’s fresh roti, filled with delicious Indian food!! Soooo many flavors and sooo good. More wonderful stories all along our route, from Stonewall to John Wilkes Booth to Taylor Swift to Bob Dylan, and everything in between. Learned lots of fun new historical tidbits. Claire keeps checking in that it’s okay she’s running behind schedule. “Y’all are so fun and I’m enjoying telling you All the Things!” Happily, none of us had firm afternoon plans, so we got to keep laughing and learning.

Final stop at Rocco’s is for cannoli. Apparently one of the few spots that still makes their shells in house. I’ve always been underwhelmed by cannoli in general, and this was no exception, so can’t fairly judge. Ha. Claire encounters the other tour guide from her company working that morning (small company, only 7 or 8 employees total) and ropes him into telling us “the proposal story.” He shares about what happened once on one of Claire’s tours. Nearing the end of the tour, a woman announces that they’ve eaten So Much Food that she just cancelled her and her boyfriend’s dinner reservations, because they’ll be way too full. Then she goes to restroom. The bf turns pale. He was planning to propose at that restaurant!!! They’d made reservations 3 months in advance. He calls restaurant in a panic, but their table has been given away. They can be put on wait-list but no guarantee. He’s freaking out, but says he has the ring with him, and could Claire find them a special spot in Central Park where he could propose on tour? So she scrambles and changes their intended Park tour path, finds a lovely place. He proposes, she says yes, everyone cheers. Thus ends the proposal story this tour guide tells us. Then Claire says to us, “Here’s the thing. NONE of that happened.” *We gasp* “What happened was a couple was on their honeymoon. Big Food Network watchers. Made reservations at some restaurant 2 months ago and ended up canceling because they were too full. The end.” Ha. The male guide is laughing. He doesn’t know how, but his brain mixed up this story, turned it into something way more dramatic, and he genuinely thought the proposal thing was true. And he told that story to his groups for three years until one day Claire overheard. Ha! Memory is a fickle beast.

It’s a small group tour (8 people max). Mostly adults but two girls (age 10 and 13). The 13 yr old was mostly unimpressed by everything (which is on brand) until we passed a building and learned a Taylor Swift connection. Then she got excited and made her dad take lots of photos of her, while she posed all cute and was excited. Glad she got that moment!

Back to hotel to get ready for seeing “Lizard Boy” the musical written and starring Seattle’s own Justin Huertas. We start to take a selfie as Laurena tells me air quality is now deeply unhealthy for everyone. And the selfie managed to catch my “unimpressed by that news” face!!

We meet up with Joseph and Michelle again, which is always lovely. Theatre Friends!!

The show Lizard Boy is great!! Saw it ten years ago when it was first performed in Seattle. And through social media have seen updates over the years. Fun to see and hear the changes in person. Hope their month of performing off Broadway was super successful for them!

And what a fun excuse for Laurena and I to take a trip to NYC! Because we’d been on food tour until 3pm, too full for an early dinner before the show. But now at 10pm, we are looking for the nearest spot. Which is how we ended up eating some thoroughly mediocre middle eastern food. The man running the shop was super friendly. But a decided lack of hot sauce or spices. Which, come on! Still, it was edible and open and on our route, so that was just fine. We’d also been spoiled with some truly excellent food that afternoon.

Saturday morning, and Rena’s down to go to the delicious Kopitiam (Malaysian place Alison found last time I was in town). So we explore Chinatown a bit, and eat all the different things (savory and sweet and spicy and mild. Luxuriating in different textures and flavors. Yum!), along with some strong and delicious hand pulled coffee! Then make our way out to Astoria Queens. The plan is to wander, see a museum, and eat lots of different great food for dinner. Little Egypt neighborhood, and lots of great Greek places. Honestly, so many options!

First we explore the Museum of Moving Images, on Michelle’s advice. Didn’t quite know what to expect, but it was great. Lots of historical items and film equipment through the ages. Starting in 1700’s with magic lanterns and through today. And had lots of different interactive sections, letting you try your hand at different jobs related to film making. I’m enjoying myself at the Make Your Own Stop Motion Station. (I should be able to upload a short video in a few days, so check back). A very excited teenager sees it, sits down at a booth and says to his friends “okay, I guess I’ll see you all in about 12 hours!!” There’s an Additional Dialogue Recording booth where we got to practice dubbing over different movies. Rena was power tripping on her director/producer role while I was doing my best Eliza Doolittle. Got to add our own Foley sound effects to a clip from Jurassic Park. Chose a new score for some films. Just fun! Then there was a big Jim Henson exhibit (I wanted to take a selfie with Big Bird, but there were always too many kids in the way. Ha). Labyrinth and Dark Crystal puppets. Some cool special effects exhibits.

Now it’s mid-afternoon and so hot and muggy outside. Hey, there’s a Tiki Bar called Highwater with good reviews. And so we spent a fantastic time, relaxing in the fake tropics and having delightful conversations with the bartender and staff. Really great adult cocktails. And then ended with a delicious (and strong!) boozy slushie version of a passionfruit aperol spritz).

Talked dating apps and knowing yourself and claiming your life in your 40’s. Bartender mentions she’s 45 and Rena is having a freak out (as bartender looks amazing). Throughout the rest of the trip, at different moments, Laurena will, out of nowhere, exclaim “Forty Five!!!!” Ha. Genetics (and moisturizer).

Rena says she’s feeling that buzz “in her hips.” I give her a quizzical look. “The alcohol gives me loose hips” and she demonstrates by wiggling down the sidewalk!! Not exactly how I experience it, but delightful to watch.

Because air quality is still bad, we look for another indoor activity. And see the Noguchi Museum is nearby. And this is how we learned that Laurena is not a fan of these Japanese stone sculptures, although I am.

The hard part is the strict No Touching rules. I mean, I get it. But these often giant sized stones are just Begging to be touched, especially where there are interesting smoothed sections or fun ridges. So that’s sad. There are info cards in each room, and I create a game where we quiz each other, trying to guess the year each piece was made. There’s lots, spanning four decades, so you can sometimes get close to the year/see a progression or theme emerging. There’s a lovely garden/outdoor sculpture section too. Afterwards, Rena says, “thanks for making a super boring museum Way Fun.” Ha. Her main complaints are #1: it’s harder for her to see the effort and work that went into creating some of the pieces, as many are boulders with minimal obvious “sculpting.” And #2. No touching. Which feels like a waste when they so obviously want to be touched. I agree with #2. But then I learn another way in which we are different people: whereas I want to rub my palms along the marble and stone, feeling the different textures, she is instead drawn to the shapes. When she sees a carved or smoothed bit, she sees which body part seems the same size, and wants to insert her knee or shoulder or thigh or head into the similarly shaped hole. Ha!

For the record, I didn’t think it was a boring museum, but since it’s just one artist, if you aren’t into his stuff, it ain’t gonna be for you. Now we’re off to wander along the river. Parks are full of families having cookouts. It’s a great vibe.

We wander the Socrates Sculpture Park, which is a very different vibe/types of sculptures. Some amateur-ish looking statues of athletes. And big wonky pieces. And small colorful pieces. It’s a big mix.

I met an amazing English Bulldog named Daphne. Wearing a hot pink spiked collar. Just covered in tons of gold spikes. I asked if I could say hi. Owner (wearing black leather jacket with spikes and fringe) says absolutely, but know that Daphne is often unsure and takes awhile to warm up. I let her sniff me, and she wiggled down low/submissively, but crawled right up to my legs. Then stood up for good pets/scratches. Then settled in, sitting on my foot and leaning her whole body weight against my knee and thigh, which also meant pressing her many many spikes into my knee and thigh. Ouch! But worth it. And while i did discover that I had a few broken skin pricks, I didn’t bleed. Ha. If I end up getting tetanus or something, worth it!

We wander some more and are thinking of heading back to the Little Egypt area for foods, but a restroom is needed and Laurena would rather not use porta potty at the park. We come across the Arcadia kitchen and bar. And Rena likes the look of the menu, so that ends up being dinner (and a nice clean restroom). And it was great. The zucchini fritters (with mozzarella) are lovely.

And the burger is huge and tasty, too. So we did not do the self guided World Food Tour we’d initially thought to do (sharing one dish at a few different places). But a lovely and tasty respite.Then it’s more leisurely walking back towards Manhattan, checking out the neighborhood and vibes.

Until we finally decide we’ve done enough walking (and a Google search says our plan of walking across Queensboro Bridge isn’t actually that nice, because you’re too close to the cars). So we get a ride back to the hotel. Shower off all the muggy sweat and hazardous air, and go to sleep.

“Here Lies Love” in New York City: June 2023.

Tracy,

Browse archives for July 1, 2023
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Off for an extended weekend in NYC with my good pal Laurena. She’s never been before, and as a teacher, end of June worked best for her. Even better, local Seattle actor and composer Justin Huertas is making his Off Broadway debut with “Lizard Boy,” the indie rock musical he wrote. So plans were made! At Seatac, I say to the woman at the lounge bar: I’ll take a tonic with lime please. Her (in an almost affronted tone): Oh, come on! Me: Fine. Let’s add some gin, too. Her: Now we’re talking! Bwahahahaha. This trip is already off to a fun start.

Rena, showing off her sparkly nails: “I wore my most “Tracy Nail Polish” for this trip.” She’s not wrong.

Severe thunderstorms had delayed/cancelled several east coast and NY flights the last few days, so I was a bit nervous about our flight. And we did end up flying through some extended lightning flashes (when I get home, I think I can upload the Snapchat video I took, so I’ll add it to this blog in a few days). Because it was just lots of flashes without turbulence, it wasn’t too scary. Still, with the stormy weather, our arrival was a bit delayed. Which meant we were stuck on the tarmac for almost an hour waiting for a gate to become available at JFK.

So it’s after midnight when we finally are waiting for our bags and then join the line and extra chaotic taxi queue. There’s only one employee and he is grumpy and disaffected. Eventually we’re at the front and he tells us to walk to position #1. As we start to walk that way, the next taxi driver stops by us (we’re only at position 3), gets out and aggressively takes our luggage to start loading it. The queue employee is pissed at the driver, because him not pulling to the front blocks all the taxis behind him. Both men are yelling at each other and slinging insults. “I’ve been taxi driver for 40 years!” “And yet you still don’t know how the airport queue works. That’s embarrassing for you. I wouldn’t be telling people that.” It is awkward!! For most of our ride, our incensed (and very Greek) driver is sharing all sorts of factoids and stories, and weird brags about some of the important people he knows. It’s wild!

Also, when he’d pulled up initially, I’d initially thought maybe there was some crumpled damage to the taxi hood, but as we got closer, it was a splotchy paint effect. Sort of like camo paint but in two slightly different shades of taxi yellow. Weird but okay. Then partway through our ride, he starts telling us how he has an upcoming taxi inspection so he’d gotten the taxi paint sprayed but it didn’t look good and he’d already spent $300. In my head, I’m agreeing that it does not look good. And I’m saying he should definitely talk to the folks who did the spray job to see about getting it re-done. Thinking he went to some cheap Maaco spot. At the hotel finally, he removes our bag from the trunk and then calls me over. He pulls out a can of spray paint, and shows me the nozzle. Says this is supposed to be Expensive good paint and it’s $20 per can, but it hasn’t looked good when he sprayed it on the car. OMG!!! My man used spray paint cans to try to paint his hood/front end. That would explain why it looks like those crappy home-made spray paint camouflage paint jobs. Just, woah!

The doorman/bellhop is one of the most attractive men we’ve ever seen. Infectious smile, twinkling eyes, and a glorious afro. It’s 1:30am and we’re just happy to have arrived. And then he was a wonderful addition. Super friendly, and helped point us to a tasty late night pizza option. Rena “I don’t care if it’s just for tips or whatever, but he can keep calling me love and smiling at me all day long!”

We picked more non-traditional Pizza slices. “Um, I’ll take a slice with the pasta on it” (turns out it was Baked zita pizza). And the veggie pizza was covered in chopped broccoli and spinach. Unexpected vegetables as toppings. Also, when we got back to our room, I found a bonus pizza slice in my box. While the man helping Laurena was much chattier and got her whole life story, apparently my taciturn employee thought I was looking extra hungry. Ha.

Set the alarm for 11am (as we didn’t get showered/to sleep until after 2:30am). So it’s close to noon when we hit the lobby and we meet the day crew. “Dang, does this hotel exclusively employ beautiful black men? Not mad about it. But it’s like they’re all cast from a modeling agency.”

Look at this gorgeous pina coloda croissant square. Sort of impossible to eat, but tasty!

We wander to the Morgan Library and Museum. It is very cool. Some truly impressive architecture. It’s grandiose and ridiculous. What a giant marble structure to JP Morgan’s wealth and ego. But cool that it’s a museum now. Fun to see the gorgeous three story library room.

And some really interesting art exhibits too. And a lovely relaxing tea stop at the cafe. Plus, I am always a sucker for a museum gift shop.

That night, we go to Mom’s Diner and meet up friends Joseph and Michelle. “It’s a glorious rainbow cartoon of a diner” and they’re not wrong. Michelle’s favorite item is the Pancake Burrito. Amazing!! Why have people only been putting the pigs in the blanket? Why not put All the breakfast foods wrapped up in a pancake!!!

(Although I’m firmly in the “nobody feels good after eating pancakes” camp, so that didn’t seem the right choice for me before being in the dance pit for our show that evening). But they had a fun mocktail menu too, and my drink came with a small inflatable flamingo! We are making good choices!!!

Then it’s off to see “Here Lies Love.” So excited. Saw this show during some of its pre-broadway run, in Seattle in 2017. And it was Even Better now. Just Bloody Fantastic! Rena and I had the dance floor tickets, where you stand and dance for the 90 minute show, and the actors are on moving platforms around you.

It’s wild and a bit chaotic but mostly amazing. And managed very well (crew in hot pink jumpsuits with glowing airport traffic cones direct us as a group when we need to walk/dance to a new location because a piece of the stage platform is rotating. (Joseph and Michelle were in the mezzanine seats, but the stage design is really clever. And there are video screens throughout. And actors in the ensemble often show up in the Mezz seats too, so everyone can feel part of the action. It really was so much fun. Giant disco balls. Great songs. Fantastic acting.

Even without Conrad Ricamora (we had an understudy that night). I saw him do the role in Seattle and he was fantastic. And after seeing him in the Mr Darcy role on Netflix’s adorable “Fire Island” movie, I’d been looking forward to it. But really, it’s the tiniest of sad faces. It was a wonderful show.

Walking the 2 miles back to our hotel, so fun to see all the rainbow lighting still throughout the city, celebrating the end of pride month. Feels so exuberant.

And we got 22,000 steps in (not bad considering our day didn’t start until noon!!)

Belated Post: Overnight in Bellingham: July 2021

Tracy,

Browse archives for June 14, 2023
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Continuing my slow updates/posting the skipped blog posts from 2021 and 2022. Here we are, last week of June, and my dear cousin Rozine calls to ask if I’m free on July 3rd. Then she asks if I still perform weddings (I was the officiant for Rozine and Eric several years ago). Yes, I reply, with a little more trepidation. Turns out her stepson is getting married on the 3rd and their officiant fell through, with only a week’s notice. Eeek!! But yes, I can help out. And actually, the tight timeline proved to be less stressful in some ways. I often worry about making sure the couple LOVE the script and so can go through several drafts. Or as more often happens, I send a rough draft and never get any feedback (because, ya know, planning a wedding is intense and all-consuming and folks just don’t have time). But in this case, we didn’t have two months of back and forth emails and drafts and revisions. I had one really lovely and helpful zoom with Nick and Lindsey. We agreed that they’d need to reply to my draft script ASAP if it was on the wrong track or there was anything they disliked or needed added. Wrote up a nice script and sent it off and got a positive response fairly quickly. Yay. It was great, as the tight timeline had me sending some focused questions and they responded promptly. Bit stressful as I’d just met both of them via Zoom a few days before. I know most couples probably don’t know their officiant very well. But I’ve been friends or family to most of the 14 couples I’ve married. So it’s been a really different vibe for the three couples where I didn’t really know them (they’ve all been friends of friends, or family of family). As one of the bonuses of having a friend perform the ceremony is getting to have something tailored to who YOU are as a couple, ya know? Happily at this point (been doing this since 2014) I’ve got a good list of prompts and questions to help gain insight and great anecdotes from the couple. And it worked really well.

The wedding was going to be up in the Mount Vernon area of Washington. And then my cousin Courtney invited me to a BARN PARTY (and Birthday celebration) for July 4th, up in Bellingham. With timing, it made sense to look into just continuing north after the wedding, grabbing a hotel room, and then heading to Barn Party late morning. And Hotel Bellwether had a decent deal offered (as they were sold out for July 4th…their property overlooks the water and fireworks, but had availability for just Saturday July 3rd).

And so, a lovely wedding and celebration happened for Nick and Lindsey. Truly special. And the inevitable laugh so hard my belly hurts whenever I get to hang out with Rozine. Please enjoy this delightful candid shot of us emphatically telling each other something. Ha!

And now, the award for cutest wedding guest goes to:

Then up to Bellingham. Check out this view!

Reading on the balcony through sunset and twilight was just wonderful. So relaxing. Although I got the bummer update from Courtney that she was feeling poorly. Her kid had been sick a few days ago, and now Courtney was feeling sick and one of the other kids on the farm had a bad cold. She’d let me know in the morning whether Barn Party had to be canceled.

In the morning, the expected but understandable cancellation text went out. No Barn Party. No playing with llamas and horses. No kick the can. No music around a campfire. Deep sigh. But yeah, nobody wants to host an event when they’re feeling sick. Also, remember this was July 2021. So while most people were vaccinated by now, and most of the party would’ve been outdoors, we were all still being SUPER CONSCIENTIOUS about germs and cancelling things when we were sick. As we should. 🙂

So I went off to explore Bellingham a bit before the drive home. Truly gorgeous whether for walking along the waterfront.

There was then a series of unfortunate events in my quest for an epic brunch and/or bakery takeaway before heading home. Some things were closed or under renovations. Others didn’t offer their normal savory sandwiches because of the holiday “only cookies.” So I ended up getting grocery store deli wrap sandwich to go with my cookie ice cream sandwich, because I needed more than just sugar to send me on my drive back home.

Still, made the most out of it that I could. Weather and setting was gorgeous. Much celebration of love and commitment and laughter at the wedding. And because I spent a night in a hotel, this totally counts as a “trip” for purposes of this blog. Ha.

JoCo Nerd Cruise: The Final Chapter. March 2023

Tracy,

Apparently, the Universe was granting wishes from my junior high dream journal, because I somehow spent a day walking puppies along a Caribbean beach and then chatting with Wil Wheaton for 30 minutes. Is this real life?!?

Firstly, Boat was super late leaving San Juan, because one of the official Holland America tours was stuck on other side of the island. It was a kayaking in the bioluminescence outing (Reagan had initially wanted to do it, until she saw it was a 5 hour tour and that was too much social interaction for her. Good thing she didn’t book it). Supposed to return at 9pm. There was only one working road to get from their location back to port, and a truck hauling a boat CAUGHT ON FIRE and was blocking the road. For hours! From the onboard forums (and later talking to people on this tour), I can confirm that the large bus had a toilet on board at least. During the waiting, the cruise line is trying to brainstorm other options. There was a discussion of this big walk/hike up a mountainside for a little under a mile, where they could then be loaded onto a different bus and driven back. But understandably, not everyone was up to the mobility challenge so that wouldn’t work. When it became apparent that they wouldn’t be back until after 1am (when the onboard food shuts down), the lovely nerd passengers started crowd-sourcing snacks and food. There’s pizza and apples available in room #. And this other room has granola bars. Etc. And I learned a few hundred people stayed up (were still up) and cheering from the ship when our weary travelers finally returned. I was in my bed at this point. But woke up to the 2am horn announcing us leaving port. And then this boat was HAULING ASS because we were 3 hours late in our departure. Which made things extra “Boat-y.” Totally thought the rocking and rolling ship was going to roll me right out of my tiny twin bed, but happily that didn’t happen, and I managed to fall back asleep. Also, lucky that this was an official tour, otherwise there would’ve been two buses worth of people forced to try to find their own way to our next port of call to rejoin the ship. Eek!

We were late arriving British Virgin Islands, but not too badly. Fun getting to watch us sail into Tortola, as all the different islands we passed were so green and gorgeous.

Then it’s time to try to connect with the dog rescue people. Some lovely nerds had organized a volunteer opportunity ahead of time, with local animal rescue PAW BVI. Where a group of us would meet them to walk and socialize dogs along the beach for a few hours. Reagan had been unsure whether she’d feel safe enough to do this (“what if the dogs have rabies? Or are super aggressive?” Reagan, it’s an animal rescue. They’ll have had medical care, and they won’t be giving volunteers any problem dogs). The drive to Cane Garden Bay was stunning, as Tortola Island is gorgeous and the views from the hilltop of all the waters in their glorious jewel tones…just lovely. Reagan was scared riding in the open sided passenger van/truck. And so just shut her eyes and tightly gripped the seatback in front of her. Others in our group tried encouraging her to open her eyes to see the view, but she was not interested.

Once at the Bay, we found the meeting place and waited. It was so pretty. That’s when we learned they were bringing 9 PUPPIES for the 11 of us to walk and socialize. She started handing out dogs, and I was given Moe. The best dog ever. He was such a sweet cuddler. Bestest boy ever. And while my dog at home would have LOVED a puppy friend, probably, canine/feline relations are already still strained, and adding a puppy wouldn’t help. *wistful sigh* Reagan was given the tiniest puppy, in a halter with skull and crossbones. “We call him Piranha because he bites feet.” Match made in heaven.

And then everyone just got to wander the beach with their dogs. Of course tons of people (tourists and locals) came up to meet the puppies. Note to PAW BVI for next time…with some advanced coordination, JoCo folks could each have a QR code, so tourists could be encouraged to make a donation while playing with/taking photos with the dogs! The rescue was smart enough to have brought Merch along, but only to sell to us afterwards. Let’s bring it down to the beach, and get some tourists buying water bottles and leashes, eh?

Moe loved cuddles, eating garbage, and licking faces, and he was all outta garbage! Cutest pup ever. At one point it was raining and we were cuddling, and he very intelligently snuggled and curled up further under my neck, so my wide brim sun hat would offer him rain protection, too. Some of the other puppies wisely huddled between human legs for rain shelter. So dang sweet.

Later in the afternoon, as I’m walking back towards Reagan and a few of the others, I notice she’s chatting with Wil Wheaton. After a few minutes, Reagan leaves, but a few of us continue the conversation. (He was a guest on the cruise, so it wasn’t like 100% random for him to be there). He’d done the dog rescue volunteer thing a few years previously, and was jealous and happy for puppy time. As nice and down to earth as you’d expect. (I’d made the decision at the beginning of the cruise to not ask famous people for selfies and instead just have a real interaction, if and when it happened. But it was interesting just watching what being a Public Persona is like when interacting with your fans in the world. As people who clearly follow him closely online are asking detailed questions about his dog’s medical treatment (I think it was for cancer) and other things like that. Just, that’s such a strange thing. Those parasocial relationships are strong, and he was very sweet and very used to it, and just ran with it. And occasionally would elaborate or explain to me (as it was clear I didn’t know what was being referenced/asked about). It was just really nice. And we had PUPPIES during all of it.

Later that evening, I remarked upon how lovely the day had been, and Wil Wheaton too. Reagan looked puzzled. “Wil Wheaton wasn’t there.” “Reagan, you were talking to him for like 5 minutes before I came over.” “They guy in the black shirt? But he didn’t look famous.” “Yeah, that’s kind of his whole deal.” She was still doubtful so I did a Google Image Search to show her. She said Huh, and guessed she was doing that thing where she doesn’t really make eye contact with strangers. *laughs*

That afternoon, we got changed for the Formal Headwear Party. This is the event for which I’d created my giant flowered hat. I felt a little sheepish and shy in it, but it was fun, too.

Was glad that Reagan had agreed to attend this event with me. Mostly we were separate on the boat, only meeting up for our assigned dinner and then she’d sit next to me for the first half of the main show each night. But other than that 2 hours, we’re just sleeping next to each other and then off doing our own things all day. I’d expected one of the reasons Reagan had asked me to come along would be to act as a Small Talk Wingman for her, ya know? But she mostly chose to do her own things each day. (I know one of those things involved playing Poker at the casino, where she proudly related going “all in” on a pair. A pair of either 8’s or 10’s (I can’t remember now) and she’s adamant that that was a very good hand. Ha!)  

At the Formal Headwear Party, I enjoyed the dress up and getting to see everyone’s fun outfits and hats (Several nerds even set up tiara lending libraries throughout the cruise!), it wasn’t so much an organized event, in a space that fostered easy interactions with strangers. It was more a “go wander around the outside deck in your outfits” event. And I’m not so much a “parade yourself” person. Reagan did encourage me to take a few laps with her, and we had a few nice and shorter chats with folks. But mostly sort of stood to the side and observed. One sister of darkness and one of light.

There was also a fake moustache component to the event, for those who wanted. Several of the staff wore some of the fake moustaches, even as uni-brows, which was very fun.

Later, there was a Showtunes Karaoke sing-along event, with a live band. It was amazing. A shadow event, put together by attendees, whereas a group were bringing their instruments to be the band. People had to sign up weeks in advance, so the band could learn the songs/get the sheet music, etc. I’d been expecting this to draw the talented kids looking to relive their glory days as stars of their college and high school musicals. But nope. Instead, the majority of the singers had lots of enthusiasm, but not so much talent. And it was so supportive and hilarious and everyone in the audience is singing along and it’s such a lovely safe space. I was in awe at their confidence. This wasn’t a spur of the moment thing. Almost a month in advance, they had to sign up and pick a song. Just, wow! Also fun to hear some deeper cut musicals (two songs from “Heathers” and someone even sang the theme song from that Ewan McGregor “Down With Love” movie).

That evening’s concert featured Puddles Pity Party, which is such a strange but entertaining show. He’s doing his own thing, and you either like it or you don’t. But I enjoyed it. (Reagan didn’t stay for the show, so didn’t get her impression). Some of the folks around me are REALLY REALLY losing it over this show. I found it fun but not to the levels of some. Although the guy behind me does NOT get it, and is super baffled. Ha. To each their own.

The next day’s costume theme is “Retro Day” so feel free to interpret as you will. I just wore a nice dress but decided it was a good opportunity to get a second use out of the giant hat. The Boat was being very Boat-y again, and having this large heavy headwear on a rocking ship did lend a new challenge to your friend with a balance disorder. Ha! That afternoon, Reagan had agreed to meet up with me for tea (basically she had agreed to be my Boat buddy for two events: those involving my Big Hat, the formal headwear party the day before and the fancy afternoon tea with Schmanners podcast this day. So those are the shared Boat activities we did, other than dinner and sleeping next to each other). It was fun as a few other people dressed up for afternoon tea, but most folks were just in their regular clothes or their interpretation of Retro Day (there were some pirates next to us). I’d kind of thought there’d be more of an Event happening. But it was just the nice staff serving tiny pastries and sandwiches with some tea. I’d been hoping for some Travis McElroy interactions, but he wasn’t there (I know he’d missed a previous event due to illness). His wife/co-host Teresa did walk by all the tables to say hi. I’d been planning to break my “don’t ask for selfies” rule to ask for one with Travis, but it was not meant to be. Ah well. Yay for tiny pastries, I guess. Spent a relaxing time poolside finishing up my bookclub book “The Swimmers” by Julie Otsuka. I hadn’t read the back of the book, so was unprepared when the final third was an adult daughter dealing with her mom’s dementia and eventual death. And that’s how I became the weird crying lady next to the pool. Really beautiful book, though, just hit on my personal experiences more than I’d anticipated. I sort of expected that someone (staff? Another guest?) might feel the need to ask me if I was okay, and I was prepared to say it was because of this stupid book! (Not stupid book. Just hit home). But nobody did. Which was just fine. Occurs to me that someone quietly crying on a cruise ship is probably not entirely uncommon. It ended up being a nice way to feel some emotions with a gorgeous view and some fresh air. Stupid emotions! (not stupid).

It’s now our final full day, and we’ll spend the morning in the Bahamas, at Half Moon Cay (a private island owned by a few cruise lines). The ship was a little behind schedule, darn it. Reagan had signed up for a Jet Ski tour event (not my scene) so all the early morning tour people had to go line up first, to make sure they had time for their tours. I went in the regular people line, and met some nice folk on the smaller boat that ferries us between Ship and Beach. The water and sand were gorgeous, of course. I’d been told (correctly) that there’s not really any shade on the island, so we’d rented the little sun shade things from Holland America. Worth it! Picked a spot, claiming two chairs and a shade clamshell. Gorgeous view for some relaxing.

Reagan found me, per our plan, after her jet ski tour. Previously she had not been interested in doing any swimming, which is fine. I just asked that she would keep an eye on me while I went to swim in the Sea. Then asked if she just want to try wading out there and see if she liked it. She came along, and had so much fun! (Enough fun that she asked if we could do it again, after lunch!). Water was gorgeous. Waves gentle. I swam out to the rope border (Reagan was somehow convinced that that rope was a shark deterrent, or at least a shark demarcation, and while the other side might be dangerous, our side was safe. Ha. I mean, our side WAS safe from shark attacks, but not because of the rope. Because of the local fauna distribution. No fish in this part of the Cay (I’d researched the areas where you could go snorkeling, but it involved watching out for Fire Coral!! Also, Reagan wouldn’t go, and I wasn’t sure if I could find a snorkel buddy on the boat, so decided to skip it). Anyways, a very lost Needlefish showed up. I first thought it was someone’s cooling bandana or something floating in the water, until it swam past me, then jumped out of the water towards my sister. Which resulted in one of Reagan’s famous screams! So good! It was just a lovely time spent playing in the ocean, hiding from the sun (me), and relaxing.

Then back to the ship to shower and change. I heard several moans of pain while Reagan was showering and I figured her sunburn was hurting. But then she hollered through the bathroom door, asking me to Google what to do if one gets shower gel in their eyes. I tell her I’m pretty sure you just have to flush the eye, but I’ll check. And yep. I read to her that flushing her eye means holding eyelid open under the streaming water for several minutes. And that unfortunately it can keep hurting for awhile. Bummer. Then I take my shower. But when I’m done and dressed, she’s grumpy and still freaking out about the shower gel she got in her eye. Declares she needs alone time so won’t be seeing me anymore today. Ah well.

The final mainstage concert was great fun. Robyn, our Red Team leader did a whole tour of the balcony and mainstage audience. Then went on stage to encourage our team in some further shenanigans. I learned it’s tradition that all the performers sing songs from musicians who passed that year, which sounds maybe more sad than it was. It was celebratory and silly and great fun, and in the end the stage was so crowded with everyone singing along. A really nice note, and the folks seated around me were friendly and we all joined in with the singing.

It’s an early morning the final day, as we’ll be disembarking. Reagan decides to forego getting breakfast on the ship (even though she picked the latest “get off the boat” time for us of 9:30am, and we’ll need to customs and get a ride to our hotel and all that busy work first). We actually could’ve picked an earlier time, because she ended up being packed up and ready to leave sooner. So we just had to wait in our room. Ah well. The way that these giant cruise ships turn over the entire ship in one day is phenomenally fascinating. Truly impressive.

We get to the hotel to store our luggage (because it’s way too early for check in). Reagan’s found a place she wants for breakfast and we order a Lyft. Oldschool diner vibes with some outdoor tables. As part of her campaign to eat more vegetables, Reagan orders the side of spinach along with her meal “Oh honey, it’s from frozen,” but she tells the waitress she wants it anyway. *shrug* Then Reagan can’t find her phone. After going through purse and all her pockets, realizes she must have left it in the Lyft car. So that’s a stressful 30 minutes, using the internal messaging system to alert him, and then having me call and just let her phone ring a lot, in the hopes the driver will hear and answer (because Lyft’s “I left something in the car” messages won’t go through while the driver is taking rides, so the wait could be long). Happily the nice man does eventually answer and he drives over to deliver the phone. Reagan gives him a good tip for his troubles. Then we’re off to walk in the mid-day Florida sunshine to a CVS a mile away. I learn this is why Reagan chose this restaurant, because it was near-ish a drugstore that she needed. While she went inside to buy some more at home covid tests (hadn’t packed enough), I start googling for things to do or visit in the area (as we still have several hours before check in). Find a cool park, that has lots of great walking trails (to see iguanas!) and a butterfly garden and an offleash dog area watering hole. We head over and watch the doggos having the time of their life. It’s great.

After a bit, I ask if she wants to go on one of the walking trails, but she says not right now. I ask again 20 minutes later and no, she just wants to go back to the hotel lobby because her backpack is too heavy. So sadly I only got to spy one iguana from far away. But hotel calls to say our room is ready early (yay) so we head back to get our luggage and get settled. Then she’s off to do her computer things for a bit. Back in the hotel room to strategize for dinner, and I present her with a few outdoor dining places I found, including this Pirate Restaurant that looks kind of insane, but had a nice view and available reservations. Reagan: “Am I gonna be disappointed because I want there to be some pirate themed décor, and there won’t be any?” Me: “Um, they call their Mai Tai an “Arr-tai,” which is unfortunate because it doesn’t work as a pun at all. But yeah, they are ALL IN on the Pirate theme. There will definitely be decorations. And oh boy, were there ever.

And it was a lovely river/canal view. Fun watching all the varieites of boats floating by. One even docked at the restaurant to pick up takeout. And if anyone’s looking for a franchise opportunity, apparently you can buy into a floating Tiki bar on a motored raft.

We spent the next day apart. I didn’t find any more lizards, but did get a chance to eat more plantains! That afternoon, we took the shuttle to the airport for what would turn into an unending string of complications and frustrations. Also, FLL had 8 (eight!!) signs leading up to security screening warning travelers that it was illegal to bring guns into the airport. Hey Florida, your Florida is showing. Alaska Air is seeking 50 (fifty!!) volunteers to spend an extra day in Florida in exchange for $350 because of some delayed/canceled flights from earlier. That credit amount felt low for a cross country flight when you needed 50 people (considering flights are $500+ these days) but they managed to find enough folks. The inbound flight was over an hour late. A few people initiate conversation with my because of my multi-colored Merrill shoes. After a few minutes of chatting, we realize we were all on JoCo. One group was flying home to Colorado, and the other to Portland, but via Seattle. Two of the women had been on the stuck Puerto Rico bus tour, so I was able to get all kinds of good gossip about how that went down. Then we get to board finally. After a little bit, I see the captain come over, talk with flight crew, and go to use the announcement phone (not a good sign). He explains that one of the flight crew has fallen ill with food poisoning, after we started boarding, and isn’t in a position to travel. But, the AMAZING news is we had an employee deadheading on the flight who has volunteered to work it. It would take approx. 45 min to file all the appropriate paperwork, but we should be good to go. And please excuse Madison for being out of uniform.” And that’s how I got a safety briefing from someone looking comfortable in jeans. Then we’re off to the tarmac. And we’re waiting for awhile. LONG line of planes. Then the plane starts turning around. Oh no! Overhead announcement is it’s expected to be another 90 minutes before we can take off (due to some storms in central florida) and we don’t have enough fuel to wait that long and still make our flight. So it’s back to the gate to refuel, and they’re trying to find a new flight path and we’ll hopefully be taking off within the hour or two. Unfortunately, we’re eventually given the announcement that our flight crew has timed out, so we won’t be leaving Florida tonight. BUT they’ll be sending this same plane, passengers, and crew sometime tomorrow. Please get off the plane to get hotel arrangements and updates on when tomorrow’s flight will be. Ugh, but glad for the hotel, at least.

Waiting for luggage. Told it’ll be 45 minutes. Hotel says 1 hour for the shuttle. Airport is chaotic (as very few flights have taken off since 4:30pm, we’ve been there since 2pm and it’s now after 9.) The different hotel shuttle waiting areas are full of tired and cranky humanity.

But we eventually get our ride. The shuttle is shared between 5 properties, and ours is last. We finally get there, and I’m commiserating with the front desk woman about how crazy things have undoubtedly been for her, and how happy we are to finally be here. She’s nice, and then types a bit and says, “Oh no. I don’t have a room for you.” Wait, what? But we have this reservation confirmation here. She agrees, but there are no rooms available. None at their sister properties either. Reagan asks if we can stay in the lobby while waiting for our dinner to be delivered (We’d ordered some Cuban sandwiches to be delivered at 10pm there). So there we are, like some sad orphans, surrounded by all our luggage and sadly eating our sandwiches, while Reagan’s on hold with Alaska trying to figure out what else to do. Eventually we’re given the okay to just book our own hotel and Alaska will reimburse. Eventually Reagan finds us a place, a ways away from the airport (Because those had all filled up over the last 7 hours of canceled flights). It’s after midnight before we get checked in. And we’ll be getting up at 5am for our flight. Still, glad to have a shower and a bed!

The next day’s flight is relatively uneventful (yay) except that everyone was given new seat assignments. Even though it’s the exact same plane, passengers, and crew. Apparently when the Alaska Air system cancels a flight, all of those seat assignments are lost. And nobody thought to do a screenshot or take a photo or something. We were stuck in the bulkhead now, which is less pleasant, but not the end of the world. Some people were separated from their partners and families. And others were removed from premium economy to back of the plane. What a seemingly avoidable and unnecessary hassle. With new flight time, we’re landing mid-day, so no longer have a ride from the airport (Because Kevin would still be at work) so it’s one final line for the Taxi queue and then finally home. Sheesh.

JoCo Nerd Cruise: Part the Second. March 2023

Tracy,

It’s morning, and we’ve arrived at our first port of call: old town San Juan in Puerto Rico. The colors are stunning: the water, the buildings, and the plants all feel extra vibrant in this sunshine. We wander a little and then return to wait for the Holland America tour up the Fort (Reagan’s choice, as an official tour was the only way she felt safe to leave the boat). Our tour guide is a stern older woman and she is frazzled. Asks everyone to line up in twos. She’s doing a count. Some people are lined up singly (because the cruise has lots of non-couple travelers, and also lots of introverts who didn’t feel comfortable asking a stranger if they could pair up in line). But this totally throws her into a tizzy, and she gets a bit shout-y and makes us all do it again. This time, the more extroverted amongst us help the shy folks to pair off for the head count. (We later learned that a tour guide called in sick, so at the last minute, this woman was dealing with over 30 people, when normally they are capped at 15 per guide). Anyway, we’re ready to head off into town. We learn some history. See some lovely buildings. Then up the hill to Castillo San Cristobal.

We are reassured several times that it’s impossible to get lost. The port is at the top of the hill, the cruise ship at the bottom. “If you are lost, you can just roll down hill back to your ship.” Ha! The views from the Fort are lovely.

We learn some interesting history. Our guide is flummoxed again when handing out pamphlets. “How did I run out? It’s one per family.” Again, we inform her that the majority of us are traveling solo and not in pairs. She goes to get more fliers. Afterwards, she encourages us to climb to the top, “but I will wait down here. Up there is just a photo opp.” But it is very lovely.

And I work on my travel photo karmic balance, by offering to take photos of anyone who’d like a non-selfie. *smile* Then it’s more touring, learning about some historic buildings under that punishing mid-day sun. All sunscreen, all the time!

We spy a few lizards along the way, some iguanas, and a smaller green guy I’m pretty sure was an anoles. Wander a small cute arts market. Find a patio for HOT outdoor lunch, where an adorable little bird did it’s best to convince us that it was Starving To Death! We did not fall for it. Adorable though.

After lunch, Reagan returned to the ship (as she didn’t feel comfortable exploring Old Town without a guide. And she had an evening activity (meal and a dance) booked for later). And I went to wander. Later Reagan messaged that she wasn’t feeling well and so skipping her scheduled meal and cultural experience, which is a bummer. At least I was able to direct her to the over the counter meds I’d packed, so she could feel a little better while resting in the room.

The brightly colored buildings are just too cool.

Eventually found a cute sidewalk café. Ordered an iced latte, as the folks in front got two and they looked great. The barista’s face fell, as he said forlornly, “Oh Miss. I have a problem. I have used up the rest of my ice on those drinks.” Not a problem, and I order the Bombon (espresso with condensed milk). He came over later to make sure I was liking my drink. When I confirmed it was delicious, he gave me a high five and a free cookie. And it was an idyllic spot to write some postcards.

Then off to the food walking tour. https://sanjuanfoodtours.com/old-san-juan-food-tour/ I was VERY excited about this well-reviewed tour, and it totally lived up to expectations. While at the meeting spot, before tour begins, it becomes apparent that 11 of the 12 people on our tour are all JoCo folks (I did that!! After Reagan confirmed she didn’t want to do this, but was fine if I still did, I shared on the socials, and it sold out pretty quickly. Ha). We’re chatting about food, and one guy says, “I don’t like coffee or plantains” and I just barely contain my outraged gasp! I did not say, but thought loudly, Sir, not only are those two of my favorite foods, do you realized you’re doing a FOOD tour in Puerto Rico?!?!?

The one Non-JoCo tour member is Julie, from the DC area. She’s understandably never heard of Jonathan Coulton, and I watched her becoming more and more bemused during the “tell us about yourself” introductions, as each person keeps mentioning they’re all a part of this thing. She was a total trooper and along for the adventure. Turns out she works for Scholastic Books, and so the rest of us nerds were super impressed (as those book fairs played such an important role in so many of our childhoods. She’d just needed a holiday, booked a short trip to PR by herself, and added this tour as an introduction to the city. (She’d literally just landed, dropped her luggage, and rushed over). We got along great. Everyone was super nice, and there was much laughter and tasty foods.

Our guide Pablo is a delight. He’s super young (just turned 18) but had a great presence, full of funny anecdotes and interesting facts. Knew how to keep everyone engaged and corralled and safe and well fed! Also did remarkable work on verifying and accommodating everyone’s food allergies. “Now I know the name Pablo right now doesn’t have the best reputation. Maybe you are thinking of, well, you know. It is my goal that by the end of this tour, you will think of ME when you hear the name.” Coffee roasters. Fancy toasted ham and cheese with some guava sauce. Lovely passionfruit paleta. “Did you really even go to San Juan if you didn’t eat a Paleta from Senor Paleta?!?”

Empanadadillas. Ceviche (and they served a cute diced caprese salad to the vegetarians, which I thought was a clever substitute). I’m sure I’m forgetting things. We walked through many gorgeous areas, and tried many tasty things.

We were in charge of pounding our own plantains and assembling our own Mofongo.

And the Mojitos were strong! Ended the night at a gelato place. “There is nothing especially Puerto Rican about gelato. It’s just, ya know, good.” But affogato style, with PR espresso shot poured over top. Old Town at night is gorgeous. Many of the buildings have colored lights.

The night is super clear. Lights reflecting on the water. Just lovely all around.

There is a “Concert from a Hat” on the ship, wherein Jim Boggia and Miles Zuniga will have to try to play and sing the songs audience members put into a hat. It’s lovely, on the outside concert stage, dangling my toes in the water. Everyone’s in great spirits, chatting and enjoying the sometimes struggle on stage. Also, they admit when they’d suggested this as an idea, they’d expected to be in a smaller room with maybe 80 people, not several hundred folks, singing under the moonlight. They’re a little intimidated, and keep reminding the audience that they are older, so please only suggest older songs. Ha. A man I’m chatting with asks if I’d like to learn my Lord of the Rings Horoscope. Um, yes please! Turns out Libra is Frodo. I’ll take it.

While the performers may occasional grouse, everyone is supportive, even in their ribbing, and the audience sings along. If they pull out a suggestion that they don’t really know, they let the audience decide whether they have to attempt it or not. As we’ve seen them struggle through some songs they DID know, everyone chooses kindness and lets them pass. Paul Saborin jumps onstage to join in for “Hotel California.”

I don’t know if this was the genesis for what became a running “Hotel California by The Eagles (technically just Eagles)” throughout the remaining mainstage concerts or not, but I’d like to think it was. They recruit an audience member to assist with lyrics to Alanis’ “You Outta Know,” who then needs to recruit another audience member when she got lost in the final verses. The woman next to me is knitting with her toes in the pool too, hails from Oklahama, and is also having a delightful time. The guys behind me join us in raucously singing along, too. I turn around to see that DJ Riz (from Seattle’s KEXP) is one of the guys behind me. Cannot confirm whether he was one of the singers, or not. After the concert ends, we’re chatting a bit. Suddenly a group of people start Howling. It very much startles Riz. I explain there is a “howl at the moon” event scheduled for each evening, so that must be what’s happening. “I’m scared. Will you protect me?” I point out there’s safety in numbers, and we’ll look out for each other. He laughs and introduces me to his husband Rob. I confess I’m a Seattle kid, and that those KEXP parasocal bonds are strong. How in our household, we talk about all the DJs like they’re our pals. He smiles and says they are. Awwww. He says that he has a terrible memory for people, so asks me to come up and reintroduce myself when I see him again. Which does happen once more on the cruise, and he remains a delight.

In the elevators, there’s an ongoing post-it note fight over who gets to take Video Dave to Prom.

During the Open Mike Eagle concert, he sang a song about “will you go to Prom with me?” Afterwards, Open Mike says this is first time they’ve performed this song when there is an ACTUAL Prom happening in a few days, so it’s probably not a literal question. To which Video Dave says, “Oh yes it is!!” Following Video Dave on instagram during and after the cruise was extra fun, because it was clear he had SO MUCH FUN. And his buddies in comments were clear that he’d been NOT looking forward to performing a cruise. And he admitted how wrong he’d been. One of us. one of us. one of us.

Do you wanna go on a Nerd Cruise? JoCo Cruise: Part one. March 2023

Tracy,

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So, autumn 2022, my sister asked me if I’d be willing to be her “backup” for the upcoming JoCo nerd cruise in March. She’d always wanted to go, and had booked a cabin. But her boyfriend Kevin has reservations about the Covid protocols (or lack thereof, as it says they’d basically be following Holland America rules, which are THERE ARE NO RULES). And if he’s still nervous about it in a few months, would I be willing to go with her instead? I’m hesitant about lack of Covid safety as well, but agree. Although I asked if she’d be isolating when returning home, as she and Kevin live together and share a bed. Nope. I suggest then that it doesn’t really matter whether Kevin goes or not, he’ll be sharing the same Covid risk as Reagan will return to breath on him. So maybe he should just go with her? But I can be her backup.

In December, it’s confirmed that Kevin doesn’t want to go, so Reagan and I book a flight to Florida (ugh. Florida). I lost the “what time flight we take” decision. Reagan wanted the 8:30am departure (even though that means arriving airport 3 hours early for checked luggage these days. Even domestic flights. Ugh again). Which means getting up soooo early. I join the Discord and FB groups for cruise attendees. While going on a cruise has never really appealed to me (it’s not the way I like to travel), I am excited to hang out with 2,000 friendly nerds for a week. And everyone is lovely. Super enthusiastic and welcoming. Sharing information about “in jokes” and activities that have become part of the cruise lore. I share info with Reagan, so she can sign up for the gift exchanges and other activities, if interested. There are also costumed cosplay themed days on the ship. All of it is optional, of course. But I do enjoy a chance to wear costumes. This causes some personal worries about packing. It’s harder to wrap my brain around packing for what feels like three different events: costumes for themed days, outfits for wearing on the mostly air conditioned Boat, and outfits for wandering the Carribean port cities. It works out, but I do end up checking a large backpack in addition to my checked suitcase (with a full pirate costume for “Captain Day” and this ridiculous it-got-larger-than-I-intended hat for the “Fancy headwear” party, as well as Afternoon Tea and Retro day). First time I’ve traveled with two checked bags before. Not sure how people who did ALL of the costumed days managed to pack everything!

6 weeks before the Cruise, and the official Holland America activities will be available for booking soon. We have a zoom to discuss what appeals. I share the information I’ve researched (including an amazing nerd-created volunteer opportunity with dog rescue on British Virgin Islands. PAW BVI. We’ll be walking several of their rescue dogs along the beach, giving them exercise and socialization). I also share the mediocre reviews of the Puerto Rico official tours, but some fun sounding tours offered independently. Reagan starts shaking her head and repeating “Not Safe!” I ask for clarification (is she worried about food safety, or being kidnapped?). She doesn’t feel that it is safe to walk anywhere in a port city. The only safe way to go anywhere is to join an official tour, and have that tour guide bring her directly back to boat afterwards. (“You’re not comfortable getting lunch or wandering the art market? Because the tour ends at an art market for shopping.” Nope. Not interested. She feels the locals are resentful of cruise crowds and there’s a threat to walking around. I ask if she could trust that I’ve traveled a bunch, and that I’m not asking us to just hop in a random unmarked taxi. That this walking historical food tour has literally over 2,500 reviews on TripAdvisor. “You have different risk tolerance than I do.” Which, I mean, is demonstrably true based upon this conversation. But was a real surprise to hear. All I could picture was all of my previous travel companions learning that I am the Risk Taker in a couple! Because my inner Safety Monitor is STRONG! But Reagan’s is even stronger, clearly.) Still, she says she’s okay if I want to explore and do things without her. So we book one of the official walking tours through the cruise ship for the morning, and then she’ll head back to the ship for lunch, and I’ll explore San Juan, and do the food tour that evening. I share the food tour info on the social pages for Cruise attendees. And it’s quickly booked up by other nerds. (In fact, they end up filling up several of the afternoon time slots. Ha). And Reagan’s keeping herself a maybe for the dog walking event, so we’ll see how she’s feeling when we get to Tortola.

So I’ve already prepared my expectations for not spending a lot of time with Reagan on the actual Boat. Because of her strong introvert needs, she needs a lot of down time/alone time (in the past, she’s generally only good for about 3 days of shared vacation time before needing a break). So by doing separate things most of the day, and just meeting for dinner and main show seemed like it’d work well for her needs. This whole cruise seems great for that. Full schedules of possible activities, with lots of “quiet room” areas for those who need them, as well as the ability to hide in our room or balcony for her. And I can be doing all these events and meeting new people. I had been thinking, however, that we’d get to wander a port stop together, going souvenir shopping and sharing a meal. Most of our family vacations were spent along Washington and Oregon Coast, so it felt like a fun tropical twist on the activities of our family trips. Bit of a bummer to learn she doesn’t feel safe doing such a thing. Ah well. Also, we’ve “book-ended” our trip with an extra day in Fort Lauderdale on each side of the cruise, in case of flight delays, so we’ll have that first day in Fort Lauderdale to wander the beach, look at souvenirs and share a meal.

Then suddenly it’s March and we’re taking our “butt crack of dawn” trip to the airport. So early!! On the ride, Reagan tells me that she’s made plans to meet up with her Ex Dan (who moved to Florida 2 years ago) tomorrow for dinner, so I’m on my own tomorrow evening. Well, darn. Learning this, I did reach out to a pal I met years ago in Borneo. Brian is an actor and currently in a production in Boca Raton (internet tells me it’s only 30 min away) and maybe I can hang out with Brian tomorrow evening, then. Turns out it’s too last minute to make it work, unfortunately. He tried but couldn’t change his rehearsal schedule with such short notice. Still, fun chatting virtually with him and knowing we were nearby. On our flight across the country, the flight attendant makes an announcement over the intercom to tell us we’re flying over Tulsa, Oklahoma. All of us are bemused. Like, cool? Then she went on to say she grew up there, “and if you look out the window, you can see how flat it is!!” Ha! Only the most important of updates. Hope the people who were sleeping appreciated it extra. *smile*

Also, FYI for anyone flying Alaska Airlines. Total new Game Changer in the drinks game. They have these silly citrus flavored powder packs for drinks (in lieu of an actual lime wedge). But when I ordered my seltzer with lime, attendant asked if I wanted to try it with Grapefruit. I didn’t even know that grapefruit was an option. It was tasty and felt more special, somehow, than just lime or lemon. Fancy!

As we land and are headed to our gate, they announce: “It’s going to be close to 90* today. Sounds good, doesn’t it? (My brain: no, it sounds too hot!) We’re going to ask those of you seated at the window to please close the shades to make it just a little more pleasant in here for the next lovely guests we’ll be having. But those passengers probably won’t be as good as you all, though.” Ha. These flight attendants were a hoot! Then it’s waiting for our luggage. I ask Reagan if she has any ideas of things she wanted to do tomorrow during the day, before her dinner with Dan. That’s when she tells me that she won’t be hanging out with me tomorrow, because this is a “working trip” for her. She’s going to be doing programming on the app she’s building. So that is both a surprise and a bummer. But not a lot I can do about it now. (If she doesn’t feel safe doing things in the Ports, and already needs lots of alone time on the Boat, and now needs to spend all of her spare time working on her app, I’m left wondering why she asked me to come along). She tells me she can hang out with me tonight, though. I point out we won’t even get to the hotel until 8:30pm or later, so it’ll just be checking in and dinner. Not exactly interested in the 11pm Spring Break crowd. Ah well.

As our taxi driver pulls into our hotel, “Oh, I remember this place now. A customer broke my finger here.” Oh my God!! “Yeah, she shut the door on my finger.” Yikes. So we got to watch this very nice lady have a traumatic memory. It did result in a larger tip. Just, yikes! (Made me EXTRA careful about all car doors I closed on the trip). Anyway, at check-in, I successfully charmed the front desk employee into giving us coupons for a free breakfast in the morning. Woohoo! By which I mean, I was just a basic level of human decency. Like, DO BETTER, everyone else. This poor woman was the only employee that evening and working her butt off. I just recognized and comiserated. And voila, unexpected free breakfast (in addition to the free drinks coupons we already got for my hotel member status). So that’s exciting!!

Kimpton Shorebreak has embraced this kitschy Blue Flamingo aesthetic. We check into our room and start looking at dinner options. Apparently we’re off the fancier and trendier portion of FLL strip. Most nearby restaurants are expensive!! And also booked (it’s Friday night) or don’t offer outdoor dining. Rather than walk the mile towards cheaper outdoor dining or waiting over an hour for the places that don’t take reservations, we grab a table at the hotel restaurant. Which has outdoor tables next to the pool, and a live musician. It’s nice.

We enjoy our free wine (yay) and a decent Italian meal. Then it’s time for bed (especially considering we started our day at 4am!!).

Next morning, Reagan says she can delay working on her app until 1pm, so we can hang out in the morning. We enjoy the FREE breakfast at hotel. Yay. Then I realize I forgot to sew a chin strap onto my pirate hat (and with potential winds on the cruise ship deck, need to secure my hat!). So we wander along the beach and shops, in search of a drug store. Come across an adorable little arts market. Very cute. If anyone’s in FLL ever, check out local independent baker Michael Oliver at Oli’s Bakeshop. His rum cake was delicious! And he gave free samples of his new experiment Guiness Cake…also tasty. And he was so nice. And check HorrorBLVD on etsy for fun horror movie gear. She’d just started up her business. Then more sunshine walking (very little shade. I was glad of my large floppy hat).

Found CVS. Where I ended up buying a pair of shoelaces to use one as a chin strap. I’d already packed my travel sewing kit, so ready for emergency crafting!

It’s getting close to noon, so time to walk back so Reagan can do her programming work. As we approach the hotel, I point to a window and say, “That’s our room.” Reagan stops walking for a moment, shakes her head, and says, “You’re a wizard, Harry.” Bwahahahaha. This girl has zero cognitive map skills. She was honestly flabbergasted at how I could possibly know such a thing. *laughs* Later that afternoon, Reagan reached out by text to say her crudite eyes were bigger than her crudite stomach (she ordered a second crudite plate at the swanky rooftop bar but couldn’t finish it), so I was invited to the rest of it. And that’s how I ended up emergency crafting at the rooftop pool deck in the afternoon. Ha. Then Reagan’s off to 6:30pm dinner reservations with Dan (asking me not to eat at hotel restaurant so she can have alone time with her friend). I explain that’s not a problem, as I’m planning to explore.

Wandering along the water, lovely sunset. So many little lizards!! Wearing my anthropologist hat, there is much interesting Spring Break people watching. Yikes, but entertaining. Multiple emergency vehicle responses (and it’s not even 9pm), and drunken dudes stumbling. I get delicious takeout from a Cuban restaurant. All the tostones! Wandering some more and alarms start going off to announce the drawbridge is about to open. And I see a jeep run through and around the guard rails. Yikes! Driven by an older white guy in a tropical shirt and flip flops, with one foot on the dash board. Peek Florida, baby!

Back to the hotel room. At 9:30pm Reagan texts to say that Dan’s train was late and then he had to check into his hotel, so they’re still at dinner. I wish them a good night. At 11pm, I text to let her know I’ll probably be asleep when she gets back. We make our timing plans to meet in the morning so we can head to Port. That’s a wrap on Fort Lauderdale for me.

So, the exciting thing (to me and about 2/3 of the attendees, per the online discourse) about the nerd cruise is that, a few weeks before sailing, they announced that they were going to require masking for indoor spaces. Phew. Huge relief for more vulnerable folks, and good covid safety in general. Some people were bummed, but still willing. Nice to have a boat full of nerds, who are science and community minded. We basically had to sign a Kindness Pledge to attend. (Be respectful of other people, of staff, of people’s pronouns, look out for each other, don’t be a dick). At the port, so many colorful hairstyles, and different nerd shirts. Everone is enthusiastic and friendly. It’s lovely. Made the mundane and tedious check-in process much more entertaining. Finally on the boat and we get to check out the view from our tiny balcony!

There’s a basically mandatory “how things work” show on the main stage. During soundcheck, someone on stage says, “Let’s just kill the house for one sec, okay?” And about 30 people in the audience all dramatically scream in pain or terror or holler “I don’t want to die!” Ah, theatre nerds. I’m among my people. During the actual show, Paul (of Paul and Storm) basically tells everyone to pace themselves, and points out you literally CANNOT do all the fun things.

This is a stacked festival/nerd convention schedule, plus there’s an official “shadow cruise” of events run by attendees on a wide variety of topics (Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Guide Dogs. Secret Life of a Cruise Ship Employee. How Book Covers Are Designed. Crafting Workshops. Improv Workshops. Concerts and Karaoke. 24-hour board games. Arcade game section).

Then it’s time for the “Sail Away” party (Reagan chooses to stays in the room). It’s the only time the ship offers free drinks (although I’m pretty sure the bloody mary was just tomato juice. Perhaps the glass was waved in front of a bottle of vodka, but there sure wasn’t much in there). And DJ Riz Rollins (from Seattle’s KEXP) is the JoCo DJ. So that’s wonderful getting to see him, and hear him picking songs. Parasocial relationships are strong and all the KEXP folk feel like family, so learning Riz would be on the cruise was delightful. When “Come Sail Away” plays, everyone sings along. It’s silly and wonderful.

Our name tags have an “ask me about” section to help foster conversation with strangers. And everyone is given “Yes” and “No” buttons, to indicate whether someone wants to “do friendship” right now, or not. The cruise is super friendly to the introverted and neurodivergent folks. I was also “treated” to a lecture on IPA beers from a white guy in his 60’s. He was super enthusiastic and excited (also his first time on the cruise). His daughter goes every year, but he’s recently retired and so he and his wife could now join. Honestly, it was just fine. I could occassionally get a word in. (and y’all know that’s impressive, when even I can’t get a word in). But he was so excited, and so supportive of the cruise and everyone on board, it was lovely to see. Proudly pointing out his adult trans daughter and all her friends. His “ask me about” was cars, but I suggested he add “beer” to it, which he did. *smile*

After a few more “sing along” sailing songs, it’s time to head to the dining room and meet Reagan for dinner. Promenading along deck at sunset. Then it’s the opening night show. Best comment taken out of context goes to Aimee Mann, “There’s no way I’m NOT getting into those panties by the end of the Cruise.” Ha. Paul and Storm have a song about being the opening band and how nobody tosses panties on stage. So of course their fans bring underwears to toss on stage. And Paul grabbed the pair away that Aimee had been inspecting. It’s just a bunch of silliness. Plus Marc Evan Jackson cast himself as official villian, and would wander onstage to offer his brand of dry criticisms. After the show, Reagan walks up to a nearby bar. Orders a glass of milk, pulls her mask down briefly and chugs the whole thing. Then heads off to bed. Ha! The JoCo folks have made a variety of funny custom elevator rugs for the Boat. And there are nerd decorations everywhere. Some provided by the official team, others from attendees. Including these inflatable animals everywhere. I decide to try to get a selfie with as many as I can. At karaoke of Nirvana’s “All Apologies,” the “everyone is gay” line gets the biggest applause ever. It’s a very free to be yourself cruise, safe and celebratory space for people in all their delightful varieties and truths. Lovely.

The next day is “Captain Day.” Guests encouraged to dress as the Captain of their choosing. I dressed as a pirate.

Captains I saw: Picard. Kirk. Caveman. Kangaroo. Crunch. Planet. Davenport (from The Adventure Zone podcast). Marvel. Stubing. Aquatic Life with Steve Zizou. Mighty Ducks Conway. Stede Bonnet (both solo and in couples costume with Blackbeard). Two different people in Nemo (the fish) costumes with captain hats. Captain Obvious from the commercials. Leela from Futurama. Malcolm Reynolds. Some Star Wars Captains (I don’t know enough to know which full armor outfit is which). Also a couple wearing a stack of ten baseball hats “Cap #10.” Well done!

At the Schmanners podcast panel “Recently at work someone said ‘cow-tipping is a rich man’s sport’ and it ground a meeting to a halt. When queried further, she elaborated, ‘you’d have to be pretty rich to know where a cow is.’” WHAT?!? It’s a month later and I’m still thinking about this.

Walking the hallways is basically like Nerd Trick-or-Treating. In addition to the gift exchange sign ups (see this amazing knit alien on a headband someone made for me),

there are all kinds of giveaways posted on different people’s doors. There’s a “Pharm-a-Sea” where people are offering a variety of over the counter medicines. The onboard ship forums are full of a barter and gifting economy. “I have stain remover.” “Safety pins and ginger candies available at my room.” Small felted frogs. Custom flavored salts. Charm bracelets. Knit toys. Book and art exchanges. Just wonderful.

Chatting with a staff member, he says to me, “This is the Most Fun this ship has ever been!” I concur. And explain all the guests basically have to make a kindness agreement to come along. He sincerely touched his chest over his heart and says, “it makes ALL the difference. The costumes are pretty great, too.” As the cruise goes on, several wonderful interactions with staff. A young non-binary person working the theatre door, has gotten to add the JoCo They/Them stickers to their name tag (as it’s not a thing Holland America offers). They were so excited, having met so many kind people, gained lots of new resources, and a huge list of Etsy sellers based upon different cool outfits and accessories everyone is wearing. “It’s a good thing I get paid tomorrow!” A bartender tells me this is his third JoCo and it’s one of his favorites. A couple I meet walking the deck have been attending since almost the beginning. And they said some staff ended up booking to be passengers on future cruises because they’re such a celebration of fun and silliness.

Speaking of, that afternoon is the Fancy Pants Parade. The Jonathan Coulton song can be played here. Basically, anyone wearing Fancy Pants is encouraged to join. And they play this short silly song on repeat, while folks parade and dance around the pool. It’s so silly. And everyone is smiling.

ALSO, several guests are big into Mermaid Cosplay. So there are always several full-on mermaids at the pool (or the beach) which is magical, too.

Reagan booked us dinner in the fancy steakhouse. And ordered this “hanging candied bacon” appetizer that bemused me.

At the time of booking the cruise, Reagan had to pick Gold or Red Team. She arbitrarily picked Red Team and it was totally the right choice. That first night we learned that things get hyper-partisan (in fun competition) between the two teams. Everyone starts chanting “Red Team” and we quickly join in. The Rainbow Girls band relay how Paul warned/described the two teams to the performers. “Gold Team are all very sweet and timid but trying to be supportive. Total Hufflepuff energy. And well, Read Team. *meaningful pause* We picked the wrong color, because they’re totally all Slitherins. Agents of chaos.” Bwahahaha. Gold Team sees the concert at 5pm and has dinner after. Red Team has dinner at 5pm (which is admittedly early) but means it’s a 7pm concert, which leads to a more party atmosphere. The first night they draw a random name to be team leader. Our leader is a red haired white woman named Robyn. It’s her first JoCo and she’s here on her honeymoon. On Halloween costume themed day, their pre-packed costumes were Jessica Rabbit and Roger Rabbit. Amazing choice in general, but especially as it now meant Red Team Leader is wearing a long red sequin dress! Too fun. She totally took to the assignment, and would wander the crowd, hyping people up before the show. Even walked onto stage a few times to get the crowd riled up. Judging from actual performer reactions of surprise, I’m guessing Gold Team Leader was not performing on stage. Ha!

During Josh Gondelman’s comedy set (on Captain Day), he reacts to the energy of Red Team vs earlier Gold Team. “Y’all are like, Fuck Cosplay, We’re Pirates for Real!” Later, Gondelman says anytime we see him pause and stand still on the stage, it’s not because he’s forgotten the next joke. It’s that he’s trying to decide if the swaying is because of the three drinks he had, or because Boat is rocking. Basically the whole audience started chanting “Both! Both! Both!” right away. At a speed of collective agreement that impressed and disturbed him, with our mighty groupthink!

Belated Post: Bavarian Vaccination Vacation: May 2021

Tracy,

Browse archives for February 26, 2023
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Leavenworth

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And so I’m slowly continuing to post the 2021 & 2022 trips that I never wrote about. For this edition, cast your mind back to spring 2021. You remember, it was during Season Three of Covid. Vaccine rollouts were happening, slowly, across the country. There was hope in the air. Vaccines were shown to be remarkably safe and very effective at preventing serious disease and hospitalization. (We’d yet to learn that the much celebrated unexpected bonus of these vaccines conferring great protection against infection overall, and not just against progression to serious disease, that that protection would wane. Thereby requiring continued safety precautions). My dear pal Jesse was taking his wife to Leavenworth Washington for her birthday celebration. Deborah was understandably excited, even more so because it’d be their first time staying somewhere else in many many months.

So back in Season One of Covid (early April 2020), Deborah created a weekly Zoom Trivia group. It turned out to be such an emotional and mental life-saver for us. Everyone knew only a few of the others in the group, which led to a fun “getting to know you” dynamic, as we’d meet each Friday to play games we created and commiserate with each other. Scattered across the country and in very different situations, strong bonds were formed. With that context, Jesse invited those of us in Seattle to join on this trip. AS A SURPRISE! I had some hesitation, because if I’d been planning a getaway weekend with my husband and suddenly 3 other people were in the house too, I would hate that surprise. But I trusted Jess to know his wife. And I was right in that trust, because Deborah was so thrilled. And we were all excited to be hanging out, recently vaccinated, together! It was amazing. And the adorable fake bavarian town of Leavenworth had opened up so much outdoor dining options, it allowed us to safely enjoy the town! And allowed people to bring their dogs!

Rhein Haus with fire!

AND we really lucked out in the weather on our second day. Woke to find Jesse’d baked us some delicious muffins. And Gorgeous sunshine, allowing for lovely morning explorations.

Intrepid Explorers (best part? They weren’t even posing!)

Lovely patio meal at South. A Leavenworth favorite, offering great Sangria and Margaritas, too. But the fools had reserved some tables for Covid-19. Don’t give it reservations! It’ll never leave.

Just a wonderful day wandering through town. Obligatory wine tasting at Kestrel.

Then back to our lovely house to get changed for our fancy dinner reservations. We took lots of Prom Style fancy pics before dinner.

Dinner at Mana was very special. They offered some lovely individual green houses outdoors for their tasting menu. Platings were gorgeous. Food tasty and well considered. A delicious non-alcoholic beverage pairing option, too.

And then, because we are who we are, THIS is what happens when Deb left her phone at the table while she went to use the facilities.

We are Adults!

Sunday was WINDY!!! Breakfast tacos and kolache at Javelin, and then we did an escape room, but found much of the outdoor tables too unpleasant. So back to the house for game playing. “Agents of Smersh” proved a delight.

That evening, weather was chillier but winds had died down. Some lovely wine tasting, and we were treated wonderfully at Icicle Ridge. One of the owners told us about his jazz band “Smooth Tannins” and that the musical notes on the Razzmatazz label were from a song he’d written. Ha! They had the fanciest outdoor lounge set up and it was very nice. Then off to Yodelin for dinner. Which has THE BEST VIEW for a meal ever. Gorgeous. And serves wonderful food. GIANT mixing bowls full of flavor-packed different soups and noodles and a killer burger, too.

A last bit of Bavarian shenanigans, and then time to head home. It was a really really wonderful weekend. We ate delicious food and had some great drinks. But the best best best part was just getting to be together, in person. After weekly Zooms throughout those first 14 months of Covid, we’d really bonded in the trenches, as it were. (And also, a few months into our weekly zooms, we realized that all 8 of us were child-free, and had a moment of silence for our pals trying to keep kids healthy safe and sane during those months. Because our parent friends didn’t have time for the existential dread and crisises we were living through. It was very very hard, and we see you! Well done. And to my Zoom pals, thank you!

Favorite books read in 2022

Tracy,

Browse archives for January 17, 2023
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Favorite Books of the Year

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Of the 80+ books I read this year, here are my favorite 20.

FIREKEEPER’S DAUGHER by Angeline Boulley

Wonderful. Devoured this in two days. Daunis’ narrative voice is so refreshing and real and hyper-intelligent and observant and clever. I loved this journey, even though this span of her life has some real grief and hardships. Felt very real and immersive (with a deft and light touch. It’s not huge bulky descriptive paragraphs. Life and community insights are revealed so naturally). And there’s a compelling mystery/thriller wrapped around everything that kept the pages turning. Loved learning about herself and her community in Sault Ste Marie and the Sugar Island Ojibwe reservation. Seeing her lifelong complicated navigation between these two cultural identities. Themes of identity and truth and wearing a mask and secrets and hiding. All handled deftly and interestingly. Strong teenage emotions while dealing with very real high stakes issues (set in early 2000’s as meth is causing awful harms in both communities). Also, the cover is flippin’ gorgeous. But it’s the journey that’ll stay with me for quite awhile.
From the NPR review, “But Firekeeper’s Daughter is so, so much more than a thriller or a mystery. The author’s love for and connection to her culture is so deeply engraved into the very heart of this book and it beats in rhythm with each new plot development. As a non-Indigenous reader, every depiction and explanation of Ojibwe philosophy and traditions felt like a gift, and every depiction of injustice felt like a call to action. Some books take you where they’re going with such confidence and grace that you find yourself at the end, breathless and hard-pressed to believe that it’s over.”

PIRANESI by Susanna Clarke

This is a beautiful and heart-aching book. There is such a tenderness to Piranesi and the way in which he sees, documents, and tends to his world. Not only his care for the dead, but his world-view and self-view of his connection to the House and all it provides. The story is revealed as he journals and carefully logs each day, with loving descriptions of the different statues and flooded basements and tides of this strange house. As the reader, you’re quickly hip to the fact that all may not be as it seems. But honestly, the unravelling and revealing of the mysteries (while satisfying and sad and lovely) felt less The Point. Or at least, not the Only point (maybe not even the most important?). These descriptions of solitude and finding meaning (imbuing meaning) into everyday tasks, as well as large events outside of ones control. There’s melancholy and grief (and some of the insight and history from our world is pretty intense). But this is also an examination of living with intentionality and care. I’m trying to write obliquely to avoid spoilers (although this haunting little novel wouldn’t be spoiled by knowing the ending and discovered facts ahead of time. In fact, several pals from Book Club read this twice. After learning some of the facts, they re-read to see how that flavored and changed the experience). It was also interesting in our book club discussion to see the different interpretations each of us had, of what the facts and reveals meant. Some were “all in” on a world that included magic, some felt this was all clinically explicable, and others felt it was some mash-up of richly imagined interiority, psychosis, breaks from reality, and also some bits of magic/supernatural actions. The ending chapters I found the most touching: again, the care and respect Piranesi is shown, the way he is still given agency in making his own choices, and then the choices and internal justifications he chooses…I have rarely seen such an approach and I was touched by the gentleness of it. (In a story/plot that is often the total opposite, jarring and violent and awful).

THE TOWN OF BABYLON by Alejandro Varela

Purchased this on the recommendation from my local bookseller “It’s only March but this may just be the best book I’ll read in 2022! A beautiful novel about coming home, confronting the past and embracing the future. This book put me in ALL MY FEELS and I haven’t been the same since.” This is a fantastic novel. A man returns to his unnamed suburban town to help his mother care for his ailing father, which has him in town for his 20th high school reunion. He decides to attend, with mixed and complicated results. This story is such a beautiful in-depth discussion and breakdown of American suburban life, and those who seek opportunity and escape to the Big City, and those who stay behind. Shows humanity in all kinds of different flavors and ways of being. The complicated issues of race and gender and class and sexual orientation and religion. The hope and struggle of parents, and the role of parochial schools in this system. It’s an examination on the meaning and NEED for community. On what happens when one doesn’t fit into the community around them. On the struggles to fit in, to remain true to oneself, to seek community where one can find it. Told in very funny and wryly observed present paragraphs and some powerful and illuminating flashbacks. Different narrators sharing the complicated backstories we all have. Everyone is fully fleshed out and human and nothing is easy nor perfect. But it is all devastatingly but also banal-ly real and average and immediate. The pin-point accuracy with which Varela puts the American suburb under a microscope is powerful and skewering. The character of Andres would be my contemporary, so reading about the American suburban catholic school experiences of someone in school in the 80’s and 90’s was really powerful as I felt so connected to many of these experiences, although obviously a lot of Andres’ journey was vastly different than mine. Totally deserving of all the awards. This is a gorgeous and powerful and affecting novel, that’s also funny and very easy to read and heartbreaking and touching and beautiful and is often describing just regular everyday things, but with such a precise vision that it reveals so many layers and deep meanings. The lens of Andres as a Professor of Public Health adds a fascinating new view onto the different peoples of his previous community. This is a very very good book. Took me a month to write this review, because so much of this novel has been percolating and rolling around my brain, I wasn’t yet ready to try to distill my responses into words.

I’M TELLING THE TRUTH, BUT I’M LYING by Bassey Ikpi

This is a stunning collection. Ikpi is startlingly vulnerable and raw in this beautiful and sometimes heart-rending exploration of her life and her mental struggles. It is powerful and gorgeous and so so sad at times and hopeful and powerless and your heart aches watching her struggle with the cycles of her bipolar brain. There is joy. There is hardship. There is the full spectrum of life experiences. She is a powerful writer. It’s not always easy to read, but the writing always flows powerfully and easily. It’s just that there’s sure been a lot of unpleasant and sometimes awful to depict. But honestly, reading about many of the highs and celebrations is sometimes just as hard, when she’s so honest about her manic-phase experiences. Really powerful. Really great. And blessedly, really short. Because SO MANY EMOTIONS AND RAW TRUTHS are crammed into this small, beautifully crafted work. The title, an honest declaration about the murky nature of human memory, right at the start. This is a “cards on the table” type of book. Truly. I also really loved the acknowledgments section, as she dedicated a small paragraph to each person, which felt lovely and hopeful. The cover design is gorgeous and effective, too.

LITTLE WEIRDS by Jenny Slate

This was unexpected and wonderful, as well as wonderfully strange. Thanks for the pal who recommended listening to Slate on the audio book, as her unique voice and personality added even more flavor. A dreamy little collection of thoughts and essays and journals and personal introspection and amusing lists. It feels poetic and float-y…very dream-like. It is frank and powerful and quietly resilient. I expected the funny and the sweet bits (as a fan of her for many years). I didn’t expect the beautiful sentences and thoughts. Lots of introspective stuff about past hurts and finding oneself and finding the daily strength to be true to our soft inner animal selves, especially difficult in a world full of sharp edges and dangers. How to be resilient and, after finding ourselves, how to nourish ourselves with the love and care we deserve. Some wry observations about being alive, especially as a woman in the current state of things in the States. Ways to work through grief. Her lifelong ache for love and partnership, and coming to grips with a world where finding that love is proving elusive. Learning to be okay, More than okay, with her current state of being. All mixed in a riot of images and words that are at turns exuberant and flowery and then featuring laser-precision. Loved hearing the awe in her voice at some new realizations. When a landscaper mentions, “The only thing is that dogs love to smell the blossoms and they are actually very sticky, so your dog will have flowers on his face, and I don’t know if you’d like that.” Slate gets to declare “I would like that” and then revel in her acceptance and assertion and self-realization that she is the type of person who would love it if her dog’s face was sometimes covered in flowers, and that as an adult living her own life, she has the power to make those declarations and decisions. Playful turns of phrase and surprisingly delightful descriptions: wonderful hearing her narrate the observed joy of a baby holding a large bag of potato chips (a bag almost as big as it’s whole body), and the baby’s parent providing a bottle for deep satisfying gulps of water followed by a lip-smacking “Ahhhh” sound of satisfaction. More of it “hit home” than I’d expected. It’s full of whimsy and sweetness but somehow didn’t become twee or “too much” for me: but your mileage will vary. I can understand that this isn’t the dreamy thoughtful journey for everyone. But sure worked for me. Loved her declaration that she’s done trying to sour her sweetness in an effort to appeal to diners at a restaurant that is probably bad anyway. Highly recommend. “As the image of myself becomes sharper in my brain and more precious, I feel less afraid that someone else will erase me by denying me love.”

WHAT BIG TEETH by Rose Szabo

This was deliciously creepy. Not what I was expecting. Or rather, the bones of this novel are exactly what I was expecting: a gothic YA coming-of-age story. But the flesh and skin and fats laid upon those bones elevated this into something so much more unique and wonderful. Szabo’s power of descriptive language is wonderful. Somehow, with just a few key details, they paint truly unsettling and oft horrifying pictures, in this elegant Victorian manse that is full of secrets. But, unlike many gothic novels, the menace and secrets under the surface are also joined by lots of unexpected above-the-surface Not Secrets and Not Mysteries. Having so many things monstrous be revealed so clearly and so early was a delightful surprise to the reader. And made the search for deeper answers and understanding even more satisfying. Szabo has a strong sense of the history and tropes of these different monsters and magics stories, but spins the narrative and characters into beings entirely their own. None of the family is particularly good (They’re terrible at communicating with each other. They make rash decisions. They lack impulse control. They rarely look out for each other or demonstrate any empathy) and even our narrator often isn’t making the most moral of choices. And yet I found myself caring deeply for them. This is also the story of GENERATIONAL TRAUMA, and it’s powerful to see the way that the horrors of the past have been passed down, and still hold the family tight. The glimpses into Grandpa’s silent village are chilling, as are the flashes of Grandma’s earlier life. The way the narrative unfolds is such a delight. The use of the journal, which Eleanor is trying to translate, and where entries have been written in the margins, out of chronological order and squeezed in where there was room. This novel is just full of powerful metaphors. This was also an interesting twist on an unreliable narrator, because it’s not that she’s intentionally relaying incorrect facts, but rather that she is often so wrong in her assumptions and observations. I sometimes found her pacing and choices super frustrating (so passive when I wanted her to take action or ask questions, and then impulsive when I wanted her to stop and think!!) but it kept me turning the page. I had just expected this to be a fun little book to read, and it was that. But it also carries so many deep emotions and big thoughts and ideas, and really impressive visceral descriptions that burned themselves into my mind’s eye. Identity, immigration, grief and loss, power dynamics, complicated marriage dynamics, love and jealousy and loss and revenge and fear. It’s been swirling around in my brain for days. Really really excellent stuff. Yes, it is a perfectly fun Young Adult coming-of-age gothic novel. But it carries a lot more heft and depth and delightfully creepy elements than I’d expected, in this deceptively light packaging. Bravo.

ROMANTIC OUTLAWS: THE EXTRAORDINARY LIVES OF MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT AND HER DAUGHTER MARY SHELLEY by Charlotte Gordon

Really fascinating. Very well researched. I was surprised at just how many primary source documents there are, detailing the lives and rich interior thoughts of these two women, as well as the people around them. So many journals and letters back and forth. And so many different motives for contemporaries to cast these characters into very different roles and traits. Also, I wasn’t quite prepared for just how tragic and powerless so much of their lives were. The role and power of societal pressures, how little agency women had, the constant pregnancies and dying infants and toddlers. Like, I knew about it, but I hadn’t spent so much time closely examining it. Really engaging double biography, and the framework of switching between their two lives, chapter by chapter, was effective and helped draw some fascinating compare/contrast opportunities. Also wild to learn just how recently some of these sources have been brought to the public’s eye. To quote my sister, who also read this, “Man, f*ck Godwin.” As often happens with me and reading biographies, I started to lose steam/interest in the final third. But the very final chapters here re-engaged my interest, going through all the impressions throughout the centuries since they lived and how many of those need to be re-examined.

THE SPACE BETWEEN WORLDS by Micaiah Johnson

Fantastic and engaging. The story did not go where I expected, but I was totally along for this ride, and the places this plot takes us were way more interesting and offered more depth than I’d been expecting. Starts with a world where multi-dimensional travel exists, with a refreshing narrative voice and perspective (Cara isn’t from a powerful class. She’s a small vital cog in this giant corporate business using this multi-verse tech, but she’s always aware of how precarious her position is. And her outsider perspective on this “Shining City” leads to intriguing observations. Things start off moving rather quickly and don’t let up, trying to navigate through murky politics and complex interpersonal relationships (the very real foundations of this world, and probably of all worlds, eh?). Glimpses into this world’s histories and individual backstories are revealed organically and sometimes haphazardly, in ways that feel authentic to this narrative voice and satisfying to the reading experience. I’m trying to write this without any spoilers or details. The pages keep turning, the plot advances apace, emotions are complicated, motives are hazy, it’s just good stuff. Surprised to see such mixed reviews, because this felt like a slam-dunk 5 star book to me. Some of the negative reviews are people who clearly just wanted straight multi-verse “science” and “rules,” seemingly without the messy human elements. But it was that human-ness and mess and emotions that gripped me, for sure, and made this book a stand out! All the underlying ideas of identity, and implications of seeing 300+ different versions of yourself and people you know across the 300+ different versions of Earth that we’ve explored. Fascinating stuff. Big Ideas. Wrapped up in some intense plot with high stakes and real peril and no easy choices. This isn’t clear White Hats/Black Hats territory. And a lot of the revealed truths feel inevitable and True and disappointing but also maybe with glimpses of hope. I mean, reading this didn’t feel deeply depressing or Dark. But some of the subject matter and content is rough (extreme poverty and a clear societal divide between those living within the shining walled city and those living in the Warlord controlled wastelands…well, that’ll lead to some bleak realities). So there are dark realities here. But I found it super engaging and satisfying story-telling with characters who have made an impression and spent weeks rolling around in my brain.

SPEAR by Nicola Griffith

Who doesn’t love well-crafted and well-researched Arthurian lore? I LOVED Griffith’s previous book “Hild,” which was full of gloriously gorgeous descriptions and sentences. Spear is much shorter, and sharper; more finely honed into a different type of novel entirely. (Although Griffith clearly is a scholar and a lover of these same centuries). Its words are carefully chosen and it demands the reader pay attention, to fully immerse into this story, that is often being revealed in surprising ways. Like the gorgeous cover art and images throughout, Griffith’s words paint with sinuous brush strokes, curving and lush and sometimes revealing the story only by the negative space those brushstrokes reveal. The story is fun, with some good adventure and some real hilarity (oft displayed in wry little observations), as well as some high stakes and struggles. But this is not for casual reading, with music on, only half paying attention while also seeing what’s happening around you. If you tried to read this while distracted, you’d miss the gloriously complicated tapestry it’s so deftly weaving. It’s not HARD to read; it’s neither dense nor dry. But it can be so sparing in its words, or it might drop a hugely important detail in just one little sentence, that you should be focused on what you’re reading in order to get the full picture. I ended up reading the author’s end notes and historical sources information Before reading this book, which was a fun way to approach things (gave me some greater insight into the spear fight that I wouldn’t have picked up on just reading it). I’d initially flipped to the backpages hoping for a glossary and a pronunciation guide, what with all the old Welsh and old English or whatever other language sources are being used. Sadly, none to be found. Name choices were made with such care (and a few are defined in those end notes, at least). But I think this really could’ve benefited by more easily letting readers (who maybe aren’t experts in all of this) glean some further meaning and histories behind those choices. I would recommend reading the end-notes first, however, to help provide some structure and insight into some of the choices and naming conventions. This novel is a fascinating new take on some of these legends, and crafted some powerful images in my mind.

HARROW THE NINTH by Tamsyn Muir

I love this series so god damned much! Waited a few weeks to write this review, because every time I started, it was just a rambling list of things I love about it. I’m accepting that that’s the only way I know how to talk about this book, so let the gushing of appreciation commence: I’d delayed reading this sequel for many months, because I’d loved Gideon’s narrative voice in book 1 so strongly, I wasn’t ready to let a different narrative voice in this world into my heart, and I wanted to give Harrow a fair chance. I’m so glad I read a rather exhaustive chapter by chapter recap, or I’d have been a bit lost and missed so much of the joy of this book (by not remembering all the details of the 1st). Muir does NOT hold her readers’ hands. What Muir does, instead, is write some of the cleverest, most imaginative stories I’ve ever read. This future space necromantic universe is wild, and wildly entertaining. It is a dark and visceral setting, but supremely human and relatable, and told with such a light touch. Not only are the world-building and settings imaginative and fascinating, but the characters are so fully formed and realized and multi-dimensional and relatable, you find yourself caring for most, if not, all of them. And still being compelled by those you don’t care for. Plus, it’s all told with such a deft and light and fast-paced touch at times, especially in the dialogue that just races across the page, in often hilarious back-and-forth ways. You have to pay attention while reading this, but that’s never a chore, nor is it something you need to remind yourself. You WANT to pay attention while reading this…it isn’t just paragraphs of exposition (although those are great, too) but so much sly and clever and wildly imaginative stuff is happening. When we meet characters who have lived for literally thousands and thousands of years, their initial interactions might be surprising to the reader. But they make total sense. At least, it did to me. That’s probably how most people might be after millenia of life and shared existence with the same group of people. But I adored that the author doesn’t ever feel the need to explain that (there isn’t the paragraph where our narrator explains an insight). It’s all just there on the page, in their actions and dialogue, and it’s up to you to suss it out and draw conclusions. And you do, and it’s often darkly hilarious. Plus, this one is such an interesting foil to Gideon. Gideon was our amazing athletic swordswoman, who didn’t care about the necromantic science, and whose only solution was sarcasm and punching the monster in front of her (a solution that worked more often than not). She reminded me of Vasquez from Aliens!! Harrow is the brilliant necromancer, and so her book is much more layers of skin and bones and muscles and fats. And Harrow’s supreme skill at it, her intense paranoia, her love of bonecraft, it’s such a new lens into this world. It’s fascinating. And THEN it’s even more interesting and complicated, because Harrow has some huge memory gaps and hallucinations and can’t trust her own senses. An unreliable narrator who doesn’t trust herself. Plus much of it is written in the second person, which works better than it should. And while we’d seen how dour and rough life in the Ninth realm (planet? Empire? Castle?) was, and how hard Gideon’s childhood was, we hadn’t really examined what Harrow’s life was like. And it’s equally (maybe even more) heartbreaking. The weight of being one of only two remaining in an entire generation of children, that survivor’s guilt and epic loneliness. Plus the weight of being sole heir to the kingdom, the immense pressures and expectations. It was lovely to get to see others being so frequently gobsmacked at Harrow’s abilities (Because she spends her life feeling Never Enough). In a whole Universe of necromancers, the Ninth is the most stark and dour of all, and these two young women may have been formed and hardened and bruised in that darkness, but never broken. And again, I want to stress, that these books are FUN TO READ! Even though the subject matter and trappings can be DARK! It’s not “Battered Woman of the Month” Book Club type stories. The setting and worlds are grim, but the dialogue and descriptions and adventures are great fun (even though there’s a high body count). I don’t know the magical alchemy that allows this story to be such a great time, because describing the plot makes it sound plodding and depressing as hell. And it’s not. The emotionality of the characters (oft suppressed in Harrow and others) is so truly realized. (Plus, we get flashbacks to the first novel, so get to spend more time with that whole insane Scooby Gang. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed them all until they started showing up again. Maybe I need to re-read Gideon the Ninth. I’ll probably wait until I’m ready to read the third book, and then reread both of these first, as this is a series where fresh knowledge of the previous books pays huge dividends). There’s great mysteries to solve, and bad guys to fight, and Harrow’s confused memories to sort through. It’s a total brain trip, that keeps pages turning and keeps raising the stakes. The character of Mercy is such an understandable grump, I loved her so much! Long story long, I’m just saying this book was bloody fantastic (pun intended), and took the story to places I did NOT predict. And I can’t wait to see where things go next.  

THE KAIJU PRESERVATION SOCIETY by John Scalzi

This is pure popcor. It’s a delightful confection that may be lacking in nourishment and sustenance, but it’s a wonderful treat that will put a smile on your face. It’s good fun, with quippy dialogue, a splashy premise, big ole monsters, great adventure, lots of pop culture references. It’s a feel good easy summer read. Delightful. In the author’s note at the back, Scalzi talks about his troubles in trying to write a different novel during the pandemic days and dark times. The hard but necessary choice to scrap that book, and then the joy he found in crafting this. It’s light, it’s fun, it’s the Kaiju Preservation Society!

LONGBOURN by Jo Baker

Detailed historical fiction is often total catnip to me. That being said, I wasn’t initially excited to read this, but it was a bookclub choice so I forged ahead. And I’m so glad I did. I found the writing and descriptions to be so visceral and visual and evocative. Really sets you WITHIN the scene, even though most of these scenes are not something you’d want in “scratch n sniff” technology: the realities of life during Regency England (specifically during the events of “Pride and Prejudice”) and especially the daily hardships and tasks and struggles of the servants of the household. But it’s so much more than that. This powerful time machine doesn’t just explore the life of servitude and running a manor house, we explore the small village and trips to London and grand houses. And the scenes following soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars were jaw-droppingly powerful; stark and evocative prose that was some of the best I’ve read with that setting. It felt like an almost entirely different book, which totally worked, with a different narrator and with the way it all was woven into our story. But even when not having a starving freezing army sludge across the continent, the stakes and the truths of small everyday tasks are presented with such care and importance. Plus, the “gimmick” of the novel (behind the scenes at Pride and Prejudice) works wonderfully, too. Wickham is even more wicked (not surprising). Mrs Bennett gets more layers. Mr Bennett gets some necessary and well-earned critiques, as do the whole family. The characters we meet and follow in this novel are wonderfully realized. Often just a small aside or short sentence can provide intense insight into who someone is. The realities of life in service in Regency England are rough and constantly demanding. But it’s wonderful watching these people each finding their own ways to carve out some joy and peace and meaning, small moments of rest and beauty, amid the constant work and constant worry (the staff’s livelihoods are also greatly in peril with the impending change of ownership of Lonbourn). Very stressful at times. Very hard and sad at times. But also super lovely and offering some definite hope against all the odds there at the end. Quite enjoyed it. Baker’s descriptive powers are impressive, and with so so so many details of tasks and daily life, it still never felt impenetrable or a slog. It just felt so Lived In and Fully Realized, transporting the reader fully to this life.

BEFORE MARS by Emma Newman

I’d somehow forgotten just HOW GOOD Newman is at propulsive writing, at crafting a narrative in such a way, unveiling new facts and new mysteries that just keep you turning the page. I don’t like to read a series all at once. I prefer to read a few books in between. But then I kind of forgot about this book, and other holds came in from the library, and life happened, and suddenly it’s been months since I read the second book. I am so glad I finally picked this one up. I remembered that I liked the other two books, but had forgotten how much I liked them (for the record, I liked the first and adored the second). Each book has been its own creation, following a different cast of characters set in the same larger Universe(s). Although I felt the tethers to the other two books more strongly in this one: connections to the people following the Pathfinder across the galaxy in book 1 and connections to the Future Earthbound people in book 2. Especially as these events on the Mars station are happening concurrently with the murder investigation on Earth in book 2. What I’m trying to say is, this was a fantastic book, in a fantastic series. Featuring fascinating and flawed and complex people, following varied and flawed and complex reasonings, in a disparate and flawed world. Propulsive is really the word for how this story unfolded, even though the story is sometimes small and slow in scale (dealing with confusion and trying to determine what is reality and what is delusion). Does being confined to a 5-person Mars Station count as making this a Locked Room Mystery? It was great to read, either way. Newman continues to explore really interesting and unique characters. I appreciate so much both the author’s fearlessness in crafting complex individuals (in exploring their histories with mental struggles) and her unconcern with keeping everyone “likeable.” They just continue to feel very Real and True. Good stuff.

THE MARROW THIEVES by Cherie Dimaline

This deserves all the awards it has received. Unique take on dystopian YA stories. In addition to climate disasters affecting our continent, most people have lost the ability to dream, but not the First Peoples. This leads to a world where the Canadian government is hunting and kidnapping Indigenous peoples to harvest their bone marrow in an effort to find a way to resume dreaming. Classic “on the run” storyline, which always keeps the pages turning. But interspersed by the different personal stories of this found family. Powerful and emotional. While their current world is apocalyptic, the real lived histories of indigenous peoples in North America also carries dystopic and genocidal wrongs, and the layers and reflections add up. The importance of sharing and keeping their stories and identities alive, while also struggling for basic survival, it’s a powerful read. Hadn’t realized this is the first in a series. But it can be read as a stand alone. Still, the ending definitely lets you know there’s more story to be told and more struggle to be fought. Glad my bookstore recommended this.

FUGITIVE TELEMETRY by Martha Wells

More Murderbot is always a great thing! This series continues to be such a friggin’ joy. This time Murderbot has to help investigate a murder, requiring way more interaction with a dubious security team than they’d prefer (their preference would be zero interactions). As ever, the pages turn quickly, the snark is highly satisfying, surprises and conclusions are revealed with the perfect tone. You get to share in their irritation and their skills and their continued internal journey on deciding their identity and purpose.

A MARVELLOUS LIGHT by Freya Marske

Oh, this was just lovely. Fantastic world-building. While the “19th century England, But With Magic” genre feels like it’s everywhere right now (and I do tend to enjoy them), I found this one fresh and refreshing and top of its class. The world-building is great. The rules of magic and its usage were super interesting. And very effective having Robin as our entry point into this world: a curious chap in an extreme fish-out-of-water scenario, who finds himself facing immediate peril, without any understanding as to Why. Plus, the opposites-attract, slow-burn attraction between the two leads is really lovely to watch. It was very sweet watching them slowly falling for each other, and then quite quickly leading into a steamy scene. Issues of class and wealth and race and all the other restrictions of this time period abound, plus the “some of us secretly do magic” thing, too. The mystery and investigation plot is really interesting. Things are not resolved too easily. And I found the complications (of secrecy and family politics and keeping up appearances, etc) to be believable (rather than just frustrating road blocks inserted solely for plot purposes, because “plot hindrance goes here.”). The writing is really stunning at times, too. The prose is lovely and powerful. And it’s full of dry wit and heated glances, and real peril. In what could have been just a flowery confection of a book, it’s not only better written than that, but it’s got Real Stakes and some fascinating dangers, too. I really appreciated that these characters felt fully fleshed out, with real dimension.

LONG WAY DOWN by Jason Reynolds

Oh, I thought I knew what I’d be getting with this story, but I was so wrong. I hadn’t expected it to be written in verse, playing with language and sentence structure. Big emotions and hard truths presented in such powerful ways. And it reads fast, and the text is endlessly taking us down down down each page, mirroring the fateful elevator ride of the tale. Very good. Very short to read, but it’ll linger in your brain for days and days.

THE FIVE: THE UNTOLD LIVES OF THE WOMEN KILLED BY JACK THE RIPPER by Hallie Rubenhold

Surprised by how much I liked this book. Meticulously researched, and presented with an almost overwhelming amount of details. Yet the writing is evocative and engaging. It truly transports the reader. And we learn so much about the lives of these five women, and about their surrounding conditions. About the homeless encampments in Trafalgar Square. The truly deplorable workhouse conditions and requirements, leaving many preferring to sleep rough in the streets. While this is an era oft depicted in various media, I appreciated this look into poverty, the working poor, lower middle classes, and the truly precariousness of everyone’s lives. I was surprised to learn the early lives of these women. Their hopes and dreams. Their loves and heartaches. Their success and their hardship. The role that bad luck, trauma, high infant mortality, complicated family relationships, lack of a safety net, and drink played. Was also surprised to learn the current thinking that Jack the Ripper’s victims were killed while sleeping outdoors, rather than sought out as sex workers. Also that only one of these women was actually a sex worker. Not that that should devalue her life or make her deserving of murder, of course. But this book examines the extreme sensationalism and inaccuracy of the reporting of the day. I really appreciated that this book is not about describing brutal murders. It truly is painting a 360* view of these women as women. Their lives and the world around them. It doesn’t go into the violence because this book is trying to re-center them and their stories. It’s not about this murderer. It’s about these women. Each story carries its own heartbreaks and sadness, as would need to be when telling the personal histories that lead to someone sleeping rough on the street. But there’s such humanity here, as well as so much interesting details about this time period. I learned so much, which lends such a richer understanding to other books and movies set during this time.

A STUDY IN SCARLET WOMEN by Sherry Thomas

I’m 4 books into this gender-swap Sherlock Holmes series, and it’s really bloody fantastic. Charlotte Holmes is complicated and fascinating. She’s on the autism spectrum, as are some of her sisters. She struggles and chafes under the extreme restrictions of her day. And finds herself embroiled in a huge scandal, which leads to her becoming a consulting detective (albeit one who has to use subterfuge to hide her identity and gender). These are also well written mystery novels. They’ve a good propulsive energy and rarely feel like they are dragging much. The author’s descriptions are wonderful and engaging. These are better than they need to be, as I feel the premise alone would find readers. The second book introduces Mrs Hudson’s niece, a young medical student and helpful addition to our team. The women all feel real and capable, and I enjoy reading about the ways they circumvent the strictures of society. (Although the constant worries/jokes about maximum tolerable chins is getting a bit tedious and harder to overlook). And then in the 4th book, they’re planning a HEIST!! Be still my beating heart. Our Scooby Gang of characters are off to France for an art heist, with mysterious past loves, and more intense costumes and disguises. As Kirkus said, this book is “For fans of etiquette-flouting heroines who desire truth while being true to their desires—gastronomic, romantic, and cerebral.”

A COURT OF MIST AND FURY by Sarah J. Maas

I’m also 4 books into this series. And I Would not have bothered to read the second in the series, if I hadn’t gone into the series being warned the first is mediocre and irritating at times, but that they get Way Better. So I do need to qualify that I still had low expectations when I started book 2. But I devoured it in two days. Having not read any synopsis of any of the books, I was totally surprised (pleasantly) by where this story went. The 1st book is a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast (with all the slightly worrisome imbalanced power dynamic and Stockholm Syndrome elements). I never was that enamored of the Hero Tamlin, but whatever, Feyre saves the day (through the power of Love and EXTREME grit and determination). And a heavy physical toll. Then there’s a trite and predictable magic to lead to “Happily Ever After.” And so, starting book two was a real TONAL SHIFT. Things are NOT so happily in this Ever After. There is extreme trauma and PTSD (from, ya know, all the torture and bad stuff from book 1). But also, the many issues with their relationship from book 1 are explored and on full display now that the Big Baddie has been neutralized. Without that all-consuming focus, the cracks and imbalances and abusive controlling behavior begin to show. I really DID NOT expect this book to tackle all of this. It’s a real 180* turn and watching Feyre learn to examine her feelings and interpersonal relationships was really fascinating. And then, re-enter stage left Rhys, our brooding goth night Fae. I just really enjoyed that this turned the entire world and characters from the first book on its head. (Honestly, it’s like the 1st book is just a trope-heavy prequel. Necessary to set the scene for the interesting more complex journeys to come). We meet a fantastic new group of characters at the Night Court. Our Scooby Gang is Loveable and Quirk-heavy. I mean, it’s not that this book doesn’t still have it’s share of tropes, but I found the characters and world and plot much more engaging and interesting. Also, the first book was such an irritating read, because so much of the plot conflict came about from Feyre being intransigent for no good reason. Eye roll. Here, characters are more true to their internal logic (and while there were still one or two times this happened, at least it only lasted for a day or two). I just loved that this ended up telling a completely different story from what was promised in the first book. We spend more time with Feyre’s sisters in the human realm, and they get some more character development, too. This series turns out to be engaging adventures in a Dark Faerie Fantasy world, with battles and kingdom politics and delightfully messy interpersonal relationships. Also, it’s really satisfying having watched Feyre blossom into such a capable and powerful and cunning character. One of the things that’s so appealing about her later relationships is that others are both consistent and insistent that she claim and use personal agency throughout. It takes her awhile to fully learn that she is both always able to and actually required to make her own choices. Un-learning those previous abusive controlling patterns, and learning that her ideas and voice and desires and choices are valid and sought after and respected. Watching her learn to spread her metaphorical wings is very satisfying. Lots of this might still be trope-heavy, but there’s tons of good adventures and plot that keep the pages turning. The stakes are high and only getting higher. We’ve got a few characters with some interesting shades of grey. And my cousin who convinced me to finally read this series says there’s some Super Spicy bits in book 5. I’m not there yet, but FYI. *Laughs*

——–Honorary Mentions——–

CRYING IN H MART by Michelle Zauner

Memoir isn’t always my favorite genre (unless it’s travel memoirs or stories from Naturalists), but this was my book club’s selection. Enjoyed learning Michelle Zauner is in Japanese Breakfast, as I’ve been jamming to her latest album all spring. This was a very intriguing and open story of her mother’s cancer diagnosis and death when Zauner was only 25. The roles of Korean food and culture mixed with Zauner’s experiences in Eugene and the East Coast, her complicated relationships with her mom and her dad and her extended family, learning to be an adult, a struggling musician, trying to find herself and her own identity, and then getting this phone call… it can be pretty raw. It was touching and powerful at times, but didn’t make me cry (I’d expected it would) but I don’t know how much of that lack of crying was because my sub-conscious was building a barrier/protective distance from the story? In a non-scientific small sample size of our bookclub, a few folks cried and a few didn’t. But we all appreciated reading the story, and we all now definitely want to go out for more Korean food. The role of cooking and showing affection through food is powerful in this narrative.

QUEER DUCKS (AND OTHER ANIMALS): THE NATURAL WORLD OF ANIMAL SEXUALITY by Eliot Shrefer

Easy to read, entertaining, and interesting. What more can you ask for in a pop science animal behavior book? Full of lots of great little stories and facts, and interjected with humorous animal skits and wry observations. Very approachable. The interviews with different researchers were great, too.

THE LIBRARY OF THE DEAD by T. L. Huchu

Spunky and streetwise Ropa is a wonderful narrator with a unique voice and a strong flavor to her observations. The world-building in this not-too-future Edinburgh is fantastic. The small glimpses we see through Ropa’s every day interactions have huge consequences (some previous climate catastrophe and wars have altered our world and our cities. There is an authoritarian government in place (characters must always greet each other with some formalized “god save the king” call and response, and are often seen looking over their shoulders, etc). The sense of powerlessness against the system is ever present. The descriptions of a changed and partially flooded Edinburgh are powerful. The extreme economic inequality and the way this new world functions is all too believable. It’s powerful having this very bright ghost-talking 14 year old as our guide, watching her be the primary bread winner (for her aging grandmother and younger sister, who Ropa is determined won’t have to drop out of school like Ropa did). Her Zimbabwean heritage shines through, as does her Scottishness. The slang and the observations are so Lived In and real, and give such a strong sense of character and place. The plot itself is interesting, with some real spooky haunts and terrible monsters. As well as a somewhat endearing underworld group of thieves. It’s an easy read, and the main plot beats aren’t ground breaking (bad guys using children for evil magical power), but I enjoyed the way Huchu set up magic and rules in this world. Ropa’s use of musical instruments to communicate with the dead. The snobbish upper-class magic class and their very scientific theory=based approach to magic. There are some creepy images, and some peril situations where you have to remember that Ropa is still 14, so you forgive her her poor choices. The atmosphere and setting are so thick and Lived In, that I’ve found myself still thinking about this world last several days (whereas plot alone wouldn’t have done that. But the dressings and flavorings around the plot are really wonderful).

OATHS OF LEGACY by Emily Skrutskie

A very satisfying sequel. It was totally unexpected (to me) to switch perspective/narrator in this second book. Gave it a new flavor and made it feel super fresh, providing a broader understanding of this galaxy, by now having a different character’s knowledge and life experiences flavoring all they observe. The first was told from Ettian’s perspective, and this book is all Gal. Which was fascinating, as he’s held hostage for much of it. So there’s lots of scheming and lots of unknowns about what the other characters are going through. I found it really effective to see inside his head, as he’s had all this training and grooming and skills for Empire Leadership since birth. And seeing all that regimented hardness and guile and impulsiveness laid out was interesting, and it made for very intriguing observations and criticisms of Ettian’s completely different approaches and choices. Also fun to see the slow self-examination and questioning going on. And I absolutely loved Wen’s character arc in this. In the first book, she was a fun premise but felt more like quirky plot device than fully rounded character. Here she really had some great emotional moments. This trilogy has been silly and cinematic fun so far, and can’t wait for the third. Pages turn quickly and the author is great at describing intense battle scenes (big and small, planetary and in space). It all still feels like reading a movie. It’s not Important Literature, but it is very fun genre adventures.

GRAVE RESERVATIONS by Cherie Priest

This one is just light fun. Very different in tone and subject matter to other Cherie Priest books I’ve read. Well written page turner, all plot and snappy dialogue. Pages turn, jokes are quipped, mystery is solved. The end. It’s not the type of thing you’ll treasure and re-read, but it’s an enjoyable way to pass the time. Seattle travel agent with minor psychic abilities connects with a local cop, and they join forces to help solve a crime. The body count was higher than I expected. The band of quirky side characters were on brand, and not quite as fleshed out as I would’ve hoped. I mean, there isn’t generally a lot of character development in these things, but I’d hoped for SOME. Instead you mostly get to know what a person looks like, what they are wearing, and where they rank on the Sass-o-meter. Ah well. Always fun reading about my city. Perfectly pleasant little escape. Definitely can see the potential for this series to continue.

THE FUTURE OF ANOTHER TIMELINE by Annalee Newitz

Hoo boy, this novel hits differently since the Dobbs decision. The struggle and rage and fear and importance of Doing The Work and Finding Community…all of those are still true, just more so. Much of the “speculative fiction” premise has become actual reality. I only knew this involved Time Travel and was recommended by a friend. So it was a bit unexpected the twists and turns. I generally prefer reading books without knowing too much about what’s going to happen. But dang, this proved more violent than I was expecting. And harsher, with more real world horrors, than I’ve generally been seeking in my escapist reading. It’s fantastic and unique world building. The Time Travel mechanics are unlike anything I’ve ever read before, with these few geologic structures found around the globe that allow for time travel. And with people moving up and down the timeline, constantly editing and changing things. And the way that travelers sometimes return to a world with memories of a timeline that has been erased. Chilling and fascinating. And the actual logistics of global travel in all different times of history. The rock formation takes you in time, not space. So you’ll be landing in the past in the Middle East or Canada or wherever and then need to take era appropriate travel to get to your preferred destination. So the time spent traveling across the globe is a necessary impediment. The Daughters of Harriet vs the Comstock followers, both illicitly making edits in the past for their own societal aims. It’s wild. And the chapters switching between the traveler and the early 90’s Riot Grrrl teenage life in the Valley…very effective structure. Our characters are on a messy fumbling journey in this messy fumbling life we all live. There’s more violence than one would hope for (ain’t that always the way?), and I don’t always agree with choices made or their internal morality. But it’s fascinating. Lots of big ideas and great discussions. Really enjoyed some of the glimpses into the bigger scholarly debates around time travel and it’s rules within this world. The struggle never ends, but finding and working within community bring about satisfying ends.

LEXICON by Max Barry

Been awhile since I’ve read a Max Barry book, and this one delivered same as all the others. Gripping action keeps the pages turning, with smart fast-paced dialogue and fun plot twists and turns. It’s just a fun adventure, although the plot of this one has a pretty high body count. But his books aren’t really about deep emotional connections, so it didn’t carry a heavy emotional weight for me. And it’s not about a rich deep interiority. It’s about thriller adventures. In this world, there is a secret organization who has learned how to use certain nonsense words to compel and control other people. As one can imagine, this power is not used for good. There’s missing memories and being on the run from danger and the mysteries are revealed at a satisfying pace that keeps you reading until the book is done. These always feel clever rather than Smart, but in a still satisfying way. Enjoyable way to pass the time and I do stay up too late trying to find out what happens next. But unlikely to be the type of thing I’d want to re-read. There maybe isn’t a huge amount of depth, although Barry tries to explore (or at least mention) some Big Capital Letter Ideas, but that’s not really the point or super effective. Like most adventure or mystery stories, it’s more surface-level plot, and that’s perfectly fine.

Gibraltar Monkeys, Cambridge daytrip, Queen Funeral flight delays. Sept 2022

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Gibraltar, final day in London and Cambridge. Sept 2022

Hey, here I am writing my final trip update sooner than one month after returning home. This is maybe a record? It sure seems that, if I don’t type up my blatherings about my final days on the plane home, then it takes awhile for me to face it. But here I am, getting it done now. Woohoo!

Hello Gibraltar. Visually dramatic flight landing (apparently they shut down the road by the airport when planes land…if there’s an incident, they might overshoot onto the highway!). Deplane on the tarmac, turn around, and yup. There’s THE ROCK! Just big and impressive right behind our plane. Thinking of World War II movies and James Bond (Shout out to The Living Daylights!). Lining up for the two people working passport control. Erin exclaims, “Yay! We get a stamp.” The immigration officer laments that, “sadly, it’s not as pretty as it used to be.” Ha! Still exciting, as the UK no longer stamps US passports. Waiting at baggage claim (there’s just the one carousel for the whole airport) and MORE GOLF CLUB BAGS than I have ever seen in my life keep coming down the ramp. There must be some great courses just across the way in Spain, because I stopped counting after 20 (twenty!) bags circled around. Unexpected.

Mediterranean sunshine. Friendly taxi driver. Cute hotel. We drop our bags and head up to the rooftop pool! After a swim, Erin let’s me know she found one lounge chair in a small patch of shade (hooray for me). Nice relaxing and reading time. Then it’s time for dinner.

We’re off to wander through town. It’s very walkable. Lots of shops and outdoor dining. Ever business we pass has a sign in their window about Queen Elizabeth’s death. (It’s a British Territory. They take both pounds and euros, but you get a better exchange rate with pounds). From small handwritten signs to professionally printed posters. It’s strange.

Many announcing they’ll be closed on Mon for the funeral. Find a waterfront spot with some gf options. AND there are three people dining with their dogs nearby, so I’m spoiled with critters to watch. 🙂

Lazy morning, then walking through town. Some cool churches. Make our way to the cable car that takes you to the top of the rock (The signs all brag “412 meters in 6 minutes”). It’s only 2 more Euro to get the return ticket. That had always been my plan, but Erin’s saying we should walk, hike, climb down. From what I’d seen online, most says it’s 3-4 hours down and can be hot and tough. So I’m skeptical. But excited to go see MONKEYS! The Barbary Apes (actually, macaque monkeys, not apes) live wild atop the rock. And can be quite a menace to the tourists who aren’t following the rules. Lots of signs at the cable car stop offering advice for safety. Don’t bring food. (If you do, definitely don’t try to eat it anywhere near the monkeys). Signs imploring you to keep your distance. Signs explaining monkey behaviors and how to notice signs of stress and fear. The cable car operator gives a final notice at the top, “Those of you wearing backpacks, put them on your front! Otherwise the monkeys might jump on your back to try to go through your bag. Don’t open your bags around the monkeys. They associate those sounds with food.” We disembark (deplane is a word. Is there a similar term for cable cars?). Turn the corner, and there’s this gorgeous monkey just posing for the new batch of tourists. Preening under the flag (at half-mast for the Queen) with a gorgeous view behind. Everyone stops for photos (including several people getting way too close to take selfies. Sheesh).

There are some staircases and skinnier walkways, and it’s fascinating (and a tiny bit unnerving) to watch the monkeys utilize these chokepoints for maximum mayhem. Convinced they enjoy the screaming and laughter. Saw one monkey jump onto a guy’s backpack (which he was still wearing on his back).

It’s a bit intense, but mostly very cool. And Erin and I do our best to stay respectful primate visitors. But definitely throughout our explorations of the paths, we’ll see a monkey just chilling, and then tourists get too close and it starts clearly saying “You’re making me uncomfortable” and then someone gets even closer for a selfie and the monkey screeches or lashes out. We didn’t see anyone get bit, thank goodness (later I saw a woman in a bathroom cleaning up a bloody knee, but hoping it’s just from falling down and not a monkey attack). But we definitely came across a few more chokepoints in the trail (especiall once the mini-van tours come by. Three or four mini-vans block the path (which only has a foot of clearance on each side) and disgorge 7 tourists each. There isn’t a way for us to walk past, plus the monkeys are all surrounding the vans and packs potentially full of food. So Erin and I hang back, watching the madness but deciding we’ll just wait until things empty out a bit. At one point (near a new elevator that takes people to one of the newer fancy glass walkways/stairs built in a few spots), there’s a man feeding the monkeys. He’s clearly staff and clearly on good terms with them (as he’s asking for high fives in exchange for treats). It’s not an ideal situation (as tourists and guides over the years feeding the monkeys has led to this state where they associate any pack with food). But it’s also clearly the path of least resistance to help keep the elevator doors clear/usable, as he’ll lure away the monkeys with food when someone wants the elevator. Huh. (We decided to skip those stairs/glass walkway based upon the human screeches from monkey interactions above us).

After walking for a bit, we hadn’t seen any non-human primates for awhile, so I think it’s safe to open my purse to re-apply sunscreen (Mediterranean mid-day sunshine). No sooner have I made that un-zip noise than two macaques pop up over the wall beside me. Eek! Never mind. I’ll risk the sunburn. And I don’t bother re-zipping my bag. Ha!

Eventually we make it to St Michael’s Cave and get to go explore. It’s impressive, but everything is lit up in these intense pinks and bright colors. While cool, not what I expect in a cave.

Turns out it’s a 7 minute cycle of light show. And happily some of the lights are just regular, so we got some of that traditional cave stalactite action. And they’ve done a cool job with the light to highlight and reveal shapes within the cave formations.

As we exit we see a monkey eating an ice cream bar. D’oh. But we felt more confident walking past, as this guy had a snack already. The Rock has some very cool bunkers and older structures from 200+ years of military uses. Some of our walking paths are intensely steeply raked. Most are paved (yay) but they are way steeper than I prefer. We make our way to the Ape Den. Which is decidely absent of apes. But Erin climbed up some of the structures and said it smelled like a zoo! So they definitely do spend time here, just not under the mid-day sun. As we keep walking along the pathways, we have a decision point. We’ve already climbed an hour or so down the paths. Do we climb back up for an hour to ride the cable car back down. Or do we keep climbing down? I agree to the hike (for those less dramatic about steep hills, they might call it a walk) and we keep heading down, passing warning signs about snakes, reapplying sunscreen, drinking my water.

Explore the Devil’s Gap Battery structures from 1902. Now we leave the paved paths to more loose gravel and old crumbling stairways. Lots of them. My face is not pleased. But I trudge and sweat along the way. Exciting when we start hitting parts of town, as some of these hillside stairways and alleys are in better shape (some even had a handrail!!).

Back to the hotel for more rooftop pool time. Erin enjoying the sunshine, myself hiding in shadows or under the water in the pool. So, our usual sunshine dynamic. It works for us!

We eventually get changed and head out to explore the Botanical Gardens. They’re nice. Lots of native plants and things that will grow well in these warm climes. And there’s an ampitheatre doing a soundcheck for a concert that evening. So we get to hear Kerria performing and talking with her sound techs. (Hadn’t heard of her before, but Shazam was able to identify, and then Erin got a glimpse of the stage video screen to confirm). I bet it’s a fun stop on a music tour.

A lot of Gibraltar is reclaimed land. Which is how we’re walking along “Wellington Front” and other 1850’s walls but see lots of high rise building between these walls and the water. Because back then, that wall was the city limits, but they’ve dumped enough material to “reclaim” more land from the sea. Hmmmm. There are also So Many Cannons all over town. So many. Like, they didn’t know what to do with all of them. They’re just plunked all over, with a plaque. Including 4 captured from Russia during the Crimea War and then gifted to Gibraltar. Others extolling a significant advance in cannon technology. Or some other historical Cannon battle.

Dinner included a starter of Iberico Ham (when Spain is Right There, how can you not?). I had braised pork cheeks for dinner (Carrillada), which continued my celebration of Spanish pig. Melt in your mouth delicious.

That evening, back at the hotel, we’re getting news alerts about flight delays and cancelations because of the Queen’s funeral. Eek! Our flight might be affected (we leave during the funeral and there’s talk of lots of cancelations to keep the skies silent). There’s nothing we can do about it, except keep checking with Virgin Atlantic to see if we’ll be canceled. Ugh. Texting pals about the potential issues and they respond with the proper level of snark. It is my love language.

Final morning, while getting breakfast, a group of school kids parade through town as part of “Clean Up the World” environmental event, which is cool. Our flight back to London isn’t until 5pm, so we take a taxi to the southern tip of the country, to the Europa lighthouse.

We get a lovely view of Morroco and Tangiers across the waters. AND there’s little kid sports teams practicing at the playfield nearby. Initially thinking it’s football (the kind played with feet, not the american sport). But even better, it’s little kid Rugby. And I mean Little kids. Like 8 and under. This is extra delightful, because Erin is a big follower of Rugby. (I personally always think it looks like “Calvin Ball” meaning there are absolutely no rules and just make-em-ups happening on the field. I quite enjoy watching a game. But now imagine 6 year olds are trying to play it: pure chaos. It’s such a joy). Plus, as an enjoyer of unique warning signs, I enjoyed that the “Warning: Cricket balls might come this way” sign was still out, even though there was no cricket being played at the moment.

I also quite enjoyed watching a family with their off leash black lab wandering around the lighthouse, and then freaking out and screaming trying to stop their dog from peeing on the war memorial. “Ruby! Ruby stop! No. Ah ah ah!” (Pro tip: keep your dog on a leash)

The Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque at Europa Point was cool to see. And Nun’s Well in the area is thought to be over 700 years old, and a way to artifically supply drinking water to this arid area. We start our 6km jaunt back to town. Weather is lovely (I mean, hotter than I’d like, but not unbearable). Following Google Maps to a pathway climbing down to a beach access point. However, when we reach said path, we find Google is a liar. Unless they truly intended us to jump over the highway wall, walk across some building rooftops and then jump off the cliff. Seems unlikely. But we can spy the waterfall from our location, at least. We keep walking towards the other beach area. As we’re getting closer, I worry that Google is again lying to us. Erin very smartly switches to satellite view, and sure enough, the suggested “path” requires the power of flight to complete. But we’re able to find an alternate pathway, following some other roads and swooping back towards the water. This is how I got to go wading in the Stait of Gibraltar. Cold but lovely. Always nice to add a new body of water to list of places where I’ve dipped my toes!!

Even better, there’s a small snack building, so I got to get a pack of “prawn cocktail” potato chips, which always feels like the thing one must do when in the UK (or a UK territory, at least). Back in town and we grab a nice lunch with tables by the Marina. Lovely. Then off to the airport. Where they have an outdoor terrace overlooking the runway. Lovely place to wait for boarding call, and fun to watch a plane take off from the runway, with that dramatic Rock in the background.

Back at Heathrow for our airport hotel. And the trend of attractive front desk guys continues. Not mad about it. *smile* We’ve got one full day (Sunday 18th) before our flight home. Original plan had been to explore Windsor. Erin’s bf John is from Dublin and swears the world’s best Fudge shop is in Windsor. I’m not a fudge enthusiast, but I was down with exploring the town and the castle. However, because of the Queen’s death, basically the whole town is closed. But Erin learns this fudge place has 4 locations, and one of them is in Cambridge. I’ve never been before, so we decide that’s where we’ll explore. The next morning, we take the 1 hr train from Heathrow to London. Erin decides we should go join the crowds at Buckingham Palace to at least glimpse the Mourning Madness and see the difference from when we’d wandered past before her death. It is INTENSE!

Very impressed at the country’s installation of massive infrastructure, from fencing to signage to tons and tons of employees and volunteers and porta potties and medical and media tents. We head over to Green Park where people can leave their flowers and drawings and cards. My inner anthropologist is loving it. While I’m not a fan of the monarchy, nor am I personally upset that a 96 yr old trillionare passed away, I am touched observing other people having big emotions about it. And the handmade arts and crafts are very sweet.

After about 15 minutes, Erin is done with the crowds, which is okay. We have only made it to the outer edges of the flower/offering piles, but we’ve gotten the general idea already. She is also fine splitting up if I wanted to see more, but I’d rather stay together in this madness. As we start walking the other way, following the giant light up signs and safety vest wearing security and portable toilets and fencing and crowds, I remark that “it’s like Coachella.” “Absolutely not,” Erin responds. Everyone is wearing way too many clothes.” Ha! I didn’t mean the flavor of the crowds. I meant the infrastructure and crowds being steered through fenced corrals. *laughs*

Now we’re in the line to Buckingham Palace, and it’s intense. Much squishier than the flowers line. And these tall solid temporary fences block side views. We slowly trudge along. And once we get there, it’s such a dissapointment. We are let out still far from the palace and told to continue marching away from the Palace and one long block later, we could cross the road and then turn to march back to get a better view. Meh. We decide we don’t care (as decides most of the crowd). And we’re funneled past more fencing and more security and more employees (I was tempted to ask them their pay rate, but didn’t). We encounter some fancy foreign dignitaries, but not sure who. But motorcade police are clearing intersections, people in important suits with ear pieces and binders, black SUVs with tinted windows go by. So, that was probably somebody important for the funeral tomorrow.

Then it’s trying to find a cup of coffee and a toilet. Which we eventually do. Hooray! And now off to the train station to take the 1 hr ride to Cambridge. And there’s an adorable pitbull on our train, so I’m quite pleased. Less excited by the ominous grey clouds in the sky. It specifically said No Rain, so neither of us packed a jacket. And while the grey skies are around for much of our Cambridge rambles, happily it never rained. Fun being in a college town and seeing the typical college town things (excellent cheap international food places, bubble tea, etc. But in much more historic buildings than I’m used to. It’s a lovely town. Full of very impressive old buildings everywhere you look. I’m most excited to see the King’s College Chapel, but 1st stop is fudge shop as it closes 5:30pm (it’s getting close to 3pm after we finish lunch). Fudge obtained. Then we wander the cute farmer’s art market. And head to King’s College…but wait, it says “Closed.”

Darn. Maybe it’s closed on Sundays? Enter the gift shop across the street. As Erin makes a purchase, we’re asked if we visited the chapel today. “No, but can we?” “Not anymore. It closes at 3:45pm.” Darn. If only we’d known or thought to research. Totally didn’t expect it to close before 5pm. But since we’d be making 4 hour roundtrip train rides for this fudge, that truly was the more important task. Ah well. Didn’t want to see inside anyways. (Except I totally DID want to. Sad)

More wandering through town. A lady has a small dog riding on her shoulders! She’s in a queue for Jack’s Gelato. Which was fancy and delicious. (I quite enjoyed both the Japanese Whiskey gelato and the passionfruit sorbet). More wandering, and enjoying over 800 years of architectural styles. Seriously, the history here is impressive. And the sunshine has finally arrived, which has us considering doing one of the punting tours.

There are series of small canals going past all the different college buildings. And these punt boats give tours. There are so many companies competing for tourist business. We’re walking towards a specific business when an ambitious young man engages us in conversation. “Are you ladies students?” “Nope” “Would you like to be? I can give you 15 pounds off the price.” Ha! And that’s how we found ourselves floating by at golden hour.

Friggin lovely. Swans swimming past us. Sunlight glinting off the buildings as we’re professionally poled under bridges. Safety warning at beginning of the boat trip. “Keep your hands inside at all times. There are some companies that let people rent boats to pole and steer themselves. While this is fun, it does mean that we may be bumped into along our route and you want to protect your fingers.” He wasn’t kidding. Several times a panicked amateur would have trouble steering and ram (slowly) into our boat. Ha!

Stopped at Xing Fu Tang for a bubble tea, and then walked back to the train station, for the 1 hr ride to London, and then the 1 hr ride to our Heathrow hotel. Where we had to do our final packing. Boo! But honestly, it was a really lovely trip. We got to see and do so much and it wasn’t hyper-scheduled, so didn’t feel too exhausting. The next day at Heathrow airport was a trip. I knew most of England was closed for mourning/funeral but hadn’t realized that meant the airport itself, too. So much for buying some last minute overpriced airport souvenirs. The entire DUTY FREE was closed, too. Which was wild, because it’s not designed to ever close. They force you/funnel you through the endless displays of perfume and booze and designer sunglasses and giant Toblerone. So the airport has erected temporary construction fencing to block off all the duty free items. Most restaurants and stores and most everything is closed. We manage to buy a few snacks from one small store. Then we did get to enjoy Virgin Atlantic’s lounge, which also included some funky non-traditional seating options.

Waiting at the gate for boarding, and the beginning of the funeral and procession is on TV. It’s a truly strange and somber and strange vibe.

And we overhear the flight crew and gate agents Sweating the timing. Everyone needs to be boarded, bags placed overhead, and buckled into their seats Before the official two minutes of silence. And our plane was 10-15 min late arriving. So they’ve got an even tighter timeframe. But these folks rallied. They were intense in their energy, but got this entire giant plane boarded in record time (we overheard). And then the captain made his announcement and we all sat in our seats in silence for two minutes. It was strange and awkward. Then we got the news that, because of all the funeral stuff and two minute silence delays at air traffic control, our departure will be about an hour late. Ugh. But at least we’re on the plane and our plane is still taking off today (several of the afternoon flights were entirely canceled). As we take off, we flew over Windsor Castle and we could see throngs of people lining the road, waiting for the procession that would be happening later.

A pleasant enough flight, and then home, finally! Erin has global entry, so while she offered to keep me company in the longer general public line, I waved her off. Go, be free! *laughs* But seriously, I should probably look into that for myself at some point. Great trip!