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Watching Irma Come

When I read the news of a big disaster, I am always sad for those who are affected. Yet sometimes the scale and distance make the event seem impersonal. I know that there are people in Texas who lost everything in Harvey, but I don’t feel a personal grief because I’ve never been to those places and I don’t have any friends who currently live there. This is why the news seeks out individual stories and photos because those personalize the disaster for people like me who don’t have a prior connection to the disaster area.

Irma is different. I’m crying a bit about Irma before the images and stories even happen. Some of the reasons feel small and silly compared to the size of the coming disaster. (And compared to the disaster already created.) But even if they’re insignificant portions of the reasons to grieve, they are pieces of what I feel as I check in on the news to see whether Irma’s track has changed, where she’s going to hit land, how strong she will be.

Twenty four years ago I landed in Sarasota Florida for my honeymoon. Howard grew up there and his siblings still lived in the family home. (They’ve since moved to Utah.) Howard drove me around the neighborhoods where he used to live and the beach at Siesta Key where he spent so many of his summers. We stayed at his grandmother’s condo. As Howard showed me places, he talked about the threat of a hurricane as a fact of life. Some of the houses were built up on stilts in preparation for that event. I remember him telling me that a hurricane was inevitable at some point and that when it came all the buildings on the keys would be scoured away. People knew this. Builders knew this. They built on the keys anyway because the hurricane could be a hundred years away and in the meantime people wanted to enjoy the beauty of the gulf coast. And I can’t say they were wrong to do so. It was beautiful. I’m glad I got to go there. I hope many people got to see it. What the builders and home buyers can’t accurately say is “we didn’t know this would happen.” Because they knew. Everyone in Florida knew, hurricanes always come eventually.

Irma’s current track shows the eye of the storm rolling right over Sarasota or passing just to the west of it. Irma will likely be a Cat 3 hurricane when that happens.

I remember visiting at the house of one of Howard’s friends. It was a beautiful middle class home that would have fit right into the neighborhoods where I grew up, but the back yard did not end in a fence. It ended in a sea wall. I could walk straight out the back door, across 100 feet of lawn, and then jump off that wall into the ocean only about four feet below. It wasn’t open ocean, but a canal-like area with other neighbors across with way who also had a sea wall. And a dock. These houses all had a dock with a small or medium boat. Ten minutes of slow boating would take any one of these people out to open ocean spaces. It was beautiful for an adult, frighteningly fenceless for parenting a toddler. The house was six feet above the high tide line.

The expected storm surge with Irma will be 10-15 feet. That entire house will be underwater and probably scraped away entirely. These people we know will lose everything they didn’t take with them. I hope they evacuated. They had thirty years of living in this idyllic place, but this was always a possibility. I hope they prepared for it.

My brother evacuated from Tampa. He left on Friday morning when the storm track showed Irma rolling over Miami. We were glad that he was going even though at the time it looked like Tampa would probably be fine. Now Tampa will be hit hard and we’re glad he is elsewhere.

Last September, not quite a year ago, I went on a cruise in the Caribbean. We made port at Nassau, the Bahamas, St. Thomas, and St. Martin. All of these islands felt the force of Irma in the past few days. The places I visited and found beautiful are destroyed. It will be years before they are beautiful again.

For all of my life, the name Irma was just my Grandma’s name. It was a name I’d never heard anywhere else. I knew she didn’t like it much. It hadn’t been a fashionable name since before she was born. The name wasn’t passed on to any of her grandchildren or great grandchildren (though her middle name was). I felt a little sad for the name Irma, so unwanted. So I wrote notes for a picture book featuring a little girl named Irma whose name was old-fashioned and who liked old fashioned things. In the book she would doubt herself but learn about individuality. I hoped that the book might give the name Irma some charm. I knew most people would never have heard the name before. Now everyone has heard the name and has a very specific association for it. My little fictional Irma will probably never get her story.

All of this is in my head muddled up together with images of the storm track and of post-hurricane disaster scenes. And yet I don’t have as much cause to grieve as Howard whose childhood locations are about to be scoured away by wind and water. Nor as much cause as the people who currently live there and may lose everything they have. My grief is small, a piece of my experience of today. There is nothing I can do to alleviate the coming damage. So I check in with the storm track, and then I step away and try to appreciate the day and home that I have. I want to enjoy my sunshine, flowers, family. Because some day disaster may strike here instead of elsewhere, and when it does, I’d like to have stored up years of happy living first.

Also, I should review my emergency preparedness supplies. That is also a good use of the day. Because when disaster strikes Utah, it will likely be in the form of an earthquake and we won’t get to see it coming for us. I’m not sure which is better, watching it come slowly and having to make choices about what to lose or having it hit fast and just having to try to salvage. No matter where we live, there is a disaster which could happen and which preparedness could make more survivable.

Stay as safe as you can Florida. Please.

Two Weeks Gone

The second week of school is complete and we’re beginning to see the patterns which are settling into place. It will take several more weeks before the patterns are fully set, but I like the shape of things so far.

High school girl has been stepping up and managing all her things despite (or perhaps because of) a last minute decision to discontinue one of her medicines. She loves most of her classes and hates none of them, which is a very nice change from last year.

Junior High boy isn’t stepping up, but he’s willingly admitting when he doesn’t engage with class. This gives me the chance to communicate with teachers and build structures that require/encourage him to participate instead of hide in a book all day. The home school portions of his schedule are also under way. He’s going to be work all year long, but that is the story of 14 years old. At least this year we’re working with a smart kid who doesn’t want to do “boring” and “pointless” school work. That is much preferable to massive anxiety disorder that reduces boy to minimal functioning and depression.

College girl is discovering that her semester is lining up in exceedingly convenient ways, so that she will be able to be done on campus by December. Also her life is made much better by the fact that one of her roommates is an apartment-complex-approved cat who functions as an emotional support animal to one of the human roommates. Fortunately the cat is quite happy to spread the emotional support to humans beyond his owner.

Post-high-school-non-college boy is living at home and intends to begin applying for jobs since he isn’t ready for college at this point in his life. In the interim, he’s been working for me as a shipping assistant and working on some projects of his own. He’s begun to take charge of things in his own life and has been adulting around the house more. He’s on his own path for launching into independent adulthood and we’re going to give him the space to grow up more for a couple of years.

Howard is home from his month-long travels and has immediately found an exciting new project about which we can’t currently disclose any details. He’s no less busy than he was in the first half of this year, but is far more relaxed and happy with the things he is doing.

I’m spending the month of September shipping packages and finishing off the last details of the Planet Mercenary Kickstarters. I’m also setting up for the products and releases that we’ll need to handle between now and the end of the year. I’m putting more attention and effort into tracking the kids’ educational stuff. I’m finally able to be the back-up to their teachers and provide necessary structure so that the kids can’t get away with not doing their work. By beginning to mid October my schedule is going to open up. I’m going to have spaces like I haven’t had for a year or more. I’m not sure yet what will flow into those spaces.

It all feels …nice. Normal. Not chaotic. Without a foreboding sense that everything is imminently falling apart. All my people seem to have stabilized, which is a really nice change from the past four years. I haven’t had everyone stable simultaneously since late 2012. It feels like that state is going to continue for a while, but whether it does or not, I still get to have this space where things are calm, so I’m going to make sure I take time to pause and notice that things are good.


This post is me finishing up stories from my trip to Europe even though I’ve been back for weeks now.

When I was pre-planning my excursions months in advance, Tallinn was the place where I didn’t expect to go ashore. I hadn’t heard much about it except that it was small and there wasn’t all that much to do. So I didn’t schedule an excursion. It turned out to be the most magical of my trips off the ship. It was this building that lured me into walking ashore.

I could see the spire from the ship and it looked like a walkable distance. So my friend Kenna and I decided to go see if we could find it. The first part of the journey wasn’t particularly scenic. It was just a ship dock and some normal looking streets with street lights. Then we turned a corner to see this:

It even had a slot for a portcullis to be raised and lowered. Beyond it were narrow cobblestone streets and an area that we learned was called Old Town. We wandered along looking through archways into courtyards. I took a picture of the cobblestones, because apparently I can’t be near cobblestone paths without photographing them.

All along the church spire was high above us so we wended our way toward it. The doors to the church were open, and a sign said we were welcome to enter, so we did.

The thing I loved most about this church was that it is clearly still in regular use. Electric lighting and speakers had been installed so that people could see and hear clearly even in the back. I could feel the reverence and the peace of the place. People came here to commune with God, and that spiritual effort lingers in the places where it happens.

Throughout the church was beautiful carved wood. I took many pictures of it, but this door stood out. I don’t know what it says, but the words are obviously meaningful to the people who took so much effort to put them there.

We left the church and wandered onward through the streets. Very soon we found this, which was when we realized that the whole town had once been a fortified place protected inside walls.

I looked up at the wall towering above me and wondered about the people who built it so long ago. I pictured them patrolling those wooden walkways to keep their people safe. Then I wondered how living in the literal shadow of the past would shape a society and the individuals who lived in it. These people went to services each Sunday inside a building that is older than my entire country. That has to shape their perspectives about time and permanence. To me this wall was a rarity, something amazing and magical. For them, it was a thing that had always been there. Even after it’s usefulness as a fortification ended, the walls became parts of homes, or entire apartments. Houses were built right up against it.

And some of the windows in the wall that I could see were obviously the windows of private residences. We passed through the arch of the wall and found ourselves in a garden space. There were several art/garden installations as part of a festival. I was particularly taken with this one that featured a dismantled car.

It was somewhat comforting how many of the flowers I recognized. I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me. Most American gardens are heavily influenced by European gardening traditions. But it was still nice to see these petunia columns

Wandering further gave us a good view of the exterior of the wall.

Then Kenna noticed this sign and suggested we go see the ceramics.

It was one of the best decisions of the day, and if you ever get the chance to visit the Tootoad Ceramics Gallery in Tallinn, you should do so.

I was expecting a tourist shop, some place where people sold little ceramic things to visitors. Instead we walked into a functioning artist’s workspace.

The woman there told us that she was one of a collective of five artists who worked in the space and combined forces to pay the rent and support each other’s work. Their space was inside one of the wall turrets. Then she told us that for one Euro we could climb all the way up the turret to the very top where they had an art installation. Kenna and I happily handed over one Euro each and climbed up the metal spiral staircase to the second floor.

This floor was another work space with large table and kiln. I loved the combination of ancient stone walls, ceramics in progress, and modern touches like the computer in the corner. Another wrought iron spiral stair took us to the third floor.

This is where they set out ceramics to dry and where they photographed work for sale and exhibition.

To this point one of the woman had accompanied us and explained how the studio worked, but then she took us through a door to some stone steps and turned us loose to explore the rest on our own.

The fourth floor was some sort of an exhibit space or performance space.

It was set up with chairs in a row along one side of the room, and exhibition lighting that reminded me of medieval chandeliers like I’ve seen in movies.

Our next path upward was a steep wooden staircase in the corner.

At the top of the stairs we stepped through a stone door way to see these steep stone steps.

The passageway for them was narrow and dark. The steps were tall, about one and a half times taller than usual for stairs. And the whole stairway curved along the shape of the outer wall. I couldn’t walk up them without thinking about ancient archers climbing to their stations.

The fifth floor only contained a bulletin board explaining the art installation and a wooden bed suspended from ropes.

We were puzzled, not at all sure what meaning was intended by the hanging bed. But the space was fascinating with it’s windows and thick stone walls. Our next path upward was more like a wooden ladder than like stairs.

Kenna climbed up first and then shrieked because she’d been startled by a pigeon. I followed. I’m not sure I can adequately convey how different and disorienting the space was. We’d been surrounded by stone with clean wooden floors. Suddenly I was surrounded by wood frame of the turret cap and the floor seemed to be dirt. We could see out the slats and gaps in the wood and shingles. Sounds of the street outside were suddenly present in a way they hadn’t been elsewhere in the turret. And then hanging in the middle of the space was this giant construction of wire and canvas.

It swung freely, like a pendulum suspended from the rafters above.

The sounds and the motion of the pendulum combined with sea legs to make the whole room feel uncertain. Both Kenna and I felt far more grounded when we sat down instead of standing. Yet being disoriented somehow seemed like the point. Maybe it isn’t what the artists meant, but it was profoundly effective to us. We simply sat there for a while, feeling the things that the space offered to us.

Then we descended one level, where the hanging bed seemed to make more sense. It was there for us to lay on and sway after experiencing the disorienting installation above.

Laying on the bed was profoundly peaceful. We stayed there in silence for quite some time. Then we both spent some time writing, Kenna on her phone and me in my journal. Then we descended back through the spaces and stairways, stopping to look at things as we went. A View from one of the windows:

Some of the ceramic art on display was fascinating. I found this one compelling because of the way it stared at me.

And these ones seemed in motion even while they were made of rigid ceramic.

With our feet back on the ground, we bid farewell to the ceramics studio.

Our next goal was to find some food. The ceramicists had given us directions and we followed them to this open air market.

The whole area around it was modern with cars, buses, and asphalt streets. I realized that we’d entered the regular part of town instead of the preserved Old Town. This market was simply a place where people did their weekly grocery shopping. I loved that most of the stands sold cut flowers. Americans don’t value or spend money on cut flowers except as gifts for special occasions.

But even in this modern place there were touches that were particularly Estonian.

Kenna and I found a stand that sold take away Indian food. We both came away with rice and curry in little containers. We walked back to the park to find a bench. Our original plan had been to climb up to an overlook spot that we’d been told about, but one glance told us that there were more stairs than we felt like climbing. There was a bench with lawn instead, so we sat down. This fellow was already near by when we wandered over.

As soon as we were seated, he wandered closer. And closer. He started making the same sorts of body motions that my cat makes when she’s considering jumping into my lap.

Him jumping into our lap seemed like a very real possibility. He tracked each fork full as it went from container to mouth, standing only a foot or two away.

Kenna gave in before I did, but we both fed him some before we left.

He was thorough about cleaning up every grain of rice that we dropped.

Food eaten, we wandered back toward the ship. We stopped in a little souvenir shop where Kenna and I each purchased something. We also paused long enough to admire this pipe, which apparently has its very own hashtag.

It was a beautiful day. I heard from others who went to a restaurant where they had a full medieval feast. Others found a house rumored to be haunted. All of the stories cemented Tallinn as a place I would like to visit again. I would like to wander and see more details. I loved the feel of Old Town. I would love to stay in one of the historic hotels, and eat Estonian food. The day had been wonderful, peaceful, fun, and amazing.


The school year started barely twenty four hours after I returned from GenCon, so there wasn’t much time for me to re-calibrate my brain in between. Fortunately some portion of my brain just remembered how everything needed to go, so we got up on time and got kids out the door on schedule. They’ve now been in school two days, which means they’ve had the first iteration of all of their classes. I’m pleased to report that my high school junior is excited by most of her classes instead of feeling oppressed by them. This is a huge improvement over last year. My 9th grader isn’t actively excited by classes, but he’s not dreading school either. I’ll take that. The college girl departs for school on Friday. Come Monday I need to help the post-high-school non-college kid apply for jobs. Also I need to sign up the 9th grader for some independent study classes. The best part is the complete lack of foreboding. I feel like this year is going to go well instead of being terrified that it won’t.

GenCon was good. I struggled with anxiety and brain noise a lot more than usual. It made some things harder than they needed to be. Planet Mercenary was well received and had a solid start at making its way out into the world. We had some important business conversations which may lead to fun projects. I got to spend time with my booth crew, who is like family. One of my favorite events every year is the crew dinner that we have on Sunday evening after all the work is complete. Then we can just enjoy being together. Maybe it was because of the 50th anniversary, but this dinner was full of reminiscing and stories of GenCons past. It was fun to hear about things I hadn’t been present for, and to relive things that I had. I also got to hang out with writer friends, which is also a joy.

The post GenCon accounting is mostly complete. There are a few more things I must do before I can put away the GenCon folders until sometime in January. I’ve also begun wrapping my brain around the piles of shipping which need to be done. I ordered more shipping supplies so that come Monday I can begin plowing through work. I also began reaching out to potential bonus story artists, which is a task I really should have done before I left for Europe, but which fell through the cracks. The Adventure PDF, the GC secrets PDF, and the half sheet inserts for the handbrains are also on my To Do list. I’m hoping to wrap up all of these things by the end of September so that I’m available for new projects after that.

Tomorrow I post Kickstarter updates and help my college girl pack up her life for what is (hopefully) her final semester of college.

History and Revision

Here is the thing about history, society and individuals are always choosing what to pass down to our children and what not to pass along. Every time someone creates a history textbook they have to choose what goes in and what has to be left out because there isn’t space for everything, so the book from which children learn is a small subset of history. Every time a teacher uses that textbook they have to choose where to focus their teaching time, because there aren’t enough hours to teach everything that is in the book, so the portion of history that enters common knowledge for a generation is further reduced. Any time a historical movie gets made details are pruned away or rearranged for narrative purposes. Sometimes that makes people upset, so they make another movie where different details are pruned and rearranged. It gets even more complicated when we’re interpreting history, when we’re explaining what a battle or event means. Events, places, dates, names are fairly fixed, but the meanings we assign to those fixed historical points are always in flux. There is no One True Version for history.

I’ve been thinking about that this week as I’ve seen news of protests and counter protests surrounding confederate monuments. The meaning of these symbols to individual persons depends on which interpretation of history that person chooses to accept. Cities have begun to remove these monuments because the majority has come to believe the interpretation that symbols of the confederacy are harmful. All of it: the decision to remove them, the protests about it, the counter-protests, the videos of people using trucks to topple statues without city consent, these are all a vigorous argument that our society is having about who we want to be and which versions of history get to thrive while other versions get relegated to pockets where they are specifically discussed as ugly instead of glorious.

Also this week, I watched a movie I haven’t seen in a decade. It is a Western comedy film called Hallelujah Trail that my mother loved and we recorded it off TV to VHS and then I re-watched it dozens of times to the point where every line was familiar. It was delightfully ridiculous with mass covered wagon chases and gun fights where no one died because there was a sand storm and no one could see anyone else. It used all the props of a western, but the spirit was screwball comedy. It had come to mind lately and I wanted to see it again. I considered tracking down a copy (It was only on DVD once and has been out of print for a very long time) and watching it with my kids. But I knew it was a western from the era when Native Americans were treated as villains or as caricatures. I knew it would have things in it that are offensive. Instead I found it on YouTube and watched it by myself.

The opening bars of music made me so nostalgically happy. I still remembered every line of dialogue. The fun mix of western and comedy genres was still there. However there was also a veritable bingo-card of offensive stereotypes. Some of them were half-conscious: Native American Indians deliberately played as drunks for comedy purposes; some of them were unconscious products of the time the movie was made: strong-minded, independent woman’s plot resolution is to get married and give up being a suffragette and temperance marcher. And the whole movie centers around a shipment of whiskey with a wagoneer wanting to deliver cargo, a militia wanting to make sure it gets to them safely, US Cavalry trying to keep order, temperance marchers wanting to destroy it, and the Indians wanting to steal it. The whole movie is about being drunk, wanting to be drunk, or trying to prevent drunkenness but then getting drunk because of “emotional distress.” All of which (in hindsight) seems like a strange choice as a beloved movie for a family of Mormons.

As I watched I had a sort of cognitive dissonance as part of my brain loved each scene for its deep, personal nostalgia and another part of my brain viewed with a modern eye analyzing all the ways this movie gives offense to a swathe of people. I finished the film and knew two things: I still love this movie and I can’t in good conscience share it with anyone else or teach them to love it. I will quietly not show it to my children and they will have no grief that it fades into unwatched obscurity.

This is the choice all adults must sometimes make. Sometimes a movie, or statue, or ideology, or way of living, no longer fits the shifts of society. Sometimes we have to let the past go in order to have a better future. This can be hard when we love these past things. In my case, with this movie, it is only a mild wistfulness that my kids will never love a thing that I loved. The decision becomes heart wrenching if the thing that must be allowed to pass is a core part of your identity. I see that the rage and violence surrounding confederate monuments comes from a place of grief and fear, but the decision to relocate them is the one that helps us build a society where we’re trying to redress the wrongs of the past and a society where everyone is treated equally regardless of ethnicity or skin color.

Traveling Again

It feels like such a short hop, only four hours in a plane, so much shorter than the trip I just took with multiple hops and full days of travel. Hop, and I’m in Indianapolis. It is familiar here. I’ve been this place before. This exact Hotel. I will soon see people that I get to see only once per year. The prior trip was a venture into new places, foreign lands. This trip is more like a family reunion.

I’ve arrived late in the evening, though back home it is less late, so I am awake. Howard met me here, but he came from far to the east. He is sleeping now, still working to re-set his internal clock to the day/night rhythms of this place. He has two more days in which to adapt before the show begins in earnest. I’m glad to see him. He is even more glad to see me. We’ve only been apart for a week, but he’s been away from home for over three.

One of my worries in advance of his month-long travel was that breaking his patterns for so long would break him somehow. I forgot that brains are significantly location dependent. I remembered it again when I got home and discovered that all the shipping thoughts which I’d set down for weeks were apparently stored in the driver’s seat of my car. They were right there waiting for me when I climbed in for a quick errand. Howard will be able to slip back in to his home thoughts and work again. Yet when he returns he’ll have new thoughts and experiences, just as I did. Travel caused me to see familiar things in new ways. I would have liked time to explore that experience, but the turn around to this trip was filled with urgent tasks.

Now I am here. GenCon begins on Thursday.

Seeing Growth

It is Sunday morning and my house is quiet. This is because when I went to bed last night, at midnight, all four of my children were sitting together in front of the TV, talking and laughing uproarously. They were watching a replay of sorts that is built into the new Zelda game (Breath of the Wild), however the game wasn’t the point. They were happy to be together, to make each other laugh, and to have a shared experience. They were so happy that I kind of wanted to stay and just listen, but it was a sibling thing and mom being in the room changed the shape of it. So I listened from upstairs where I couldn’t hear the specific words, just the bursts of laughing.

I have to pause and acknowledge this moment. We have reached a space where I can leave my children to take care of themselves and their siblings without worrying someone will have a massive meltdown. I don’t fear that the issues of one will ignite the issues of another into a big emotional fight. They are all relaxed and happy after this summer where school backed off and they all spent time working together. Then they spent time with just siblings in the house, learning how to take responsibility for themselves and the house. At this moment there are no open wounds either emotionally or physically. Nothing hurts, not even the scars.

In two weeks time school will begin and bring with it a flood of responsibilities and stresses. That flood may knock us off balance, some of my kids may go back to fighting to keep their heads above water, but I don’t think they’ll struggle as much as they did last year and the year before (and the year before that, and the year before that. It’s been four years now with them all struggling.) We are all measurably better than we were last year. We’re stronger, we have more tools to build rafts so we don’t have to swim all the time. For the first time in years I look forward to the beginning of school with interest instead of fear. Because, for the first time in a long time, I believe that they have strength in themselves to handle whatever comes without breaking.

This is a better place. I need to pause and note it before things get hard again.


I’d had a sea day to recover from the tour in Copenhagen, but I discovered that I still wanted a quieter day than a tour was likely to provide. (It turns out that my choice was wise. Reports from the tour I would have been on were that the tour guide was …not good.) Howard opted to meet an online, Stockholm-resident, friend for lunch. I thought I might stay on the ship. But when Mary expressed an interest in walking to a restaurant that was once a royal estate, I went along.

One of the things I had been observing throughout my trip is a difference in European and American culture. European culture expects individuals to be responsible for themselves, read signs, and follow instructions. American culture assumes that individuals need to be herded and directed then walled off from anything that might hurt them or they shouldn’t touch. Intellectually I prefer the European mode in this, but it did lead to moments of confusion or embarrassment when I went to places or touched things that I ought not because I’m culturally programmed to expect large instructions and barriers instead of small discreet signs.

As we exited the ship, Mary pointed out how different it was to disembark in Europe than the Caribbean. In the Caribbean all the ports are filled with people wanting to sell stuff to tourists. The economy there is dependent on such influxes. The port at Stockholm was empty.

At the end of the terminal was a small sign (discreet of course) that essentially said “follow the blue line to the center of town.” There was in fact a blue line painted on the ground. The meaning was clear and stated aloud by Mary: “Welcome to Stockholm, we’re glad you’re here, but we’ve got other things to do. Have some paint.”

We veered away from the painted line fairly early in our walk, as we were following directions on Mary’s phone instead. We entered a large open park.

The park was obviously in use by locals who were walking their dogs, sun bathing, or generally enjoying the lovely day. This tower was the tallest structure around. We tried to guess what it might be for, but never did figure it out.

Along side our path there were some well behaved horses who were only contained by some ribbons.

American horses I know would have had their heads outside that “fence” to graze on the longer grass by the path. Then they would have discovered that ribbons were no barrier at all and would have been off into the fields. But the horses were pretty and we wondered aloud if perhaps they were some specific Swedish breed.

Our path led us through a small forested area, which was lovely.

One thing we noticed was the quiet. We’re used to noisier cities and places, more machine sounds, louder voices.

We passed by this gate sitting in the middle of a field with no fence attached. It put me in mind of the magical gates that sometimes show up in stories about fae. This impression was increased by the overgrown path leading up to it. We decided not to walk closer on that path because as Mary said “I know how that story goes.”

We found our destination and had a lovely lunch.

The staff spoke excellent English so we had no trouble placing our orders. The waiter even helped us to call a cab to get back to the ship. It was a lovely day. And I may need to find a local source for this rose lemonade.

Pictures Added

Note: I’ve added pictures to the posts that were lacking them while I was on the ship of little internet. The Fjords at Dawn post in particular was rewritten and expanded.

Now I just need to write up Stockholm, Tallinn, and St. Petersburg (which might even get multiple posts because of the nature of the tour I took.)

Traveling Home

Hamburg airport wins the prize for Most Convoluted Check-in Process. Our group had to go to stand in line at four different counters in order to successfully acquire boarding passes and hand off luggage. A detailed account is below for people who like details.

I’d expected my trip home to be solitary and introspective. Instead I traveled with friends from the hotel to the airport and on the first flight. Then I made a new friend on the transatlantic flight. I’d expected to spend that flight writing or watching a bazillion movies. Instead I ended up seated next to a fellow geek and we talked most of the trip home. Then we hung out together through customs and had dinner before parting for our separate flights. It was unique in my traveling experiences to collect a friend I’m likely to keep beyond the length of that trip.

By the time I reached the Salt Lake airport I wasn’t capable of doing more than shambling toward baggage claim and my shuttle pick up. The shuttle bus driver was a truly kind and thoughtful person. He was also non-stop chatty, but fortunately there were other passengers who were able to give him answers. Because my brain was so tired he might as well have been speaking Russian, or German, or Finnish, or any of the other foreign languages that my brain learned to filter out during my trip.

Then I was home where I swapped stories with my kids before collapsing into bed.

Details of Hamburg Airport:

Counter 1: I started at a self check-in kiosk. There were four of them, but only one was functioning. This meant we had to stand in line waiting for a group of fifteen young men to check into their flight and print their boarding passes. Then I took my bags to drop them off. My travelling companions were both re-directed to the full service kiosk which was around a corner and several hundred feet away. The luggage drop off was also an automated kiosk with an attendant nearby. The first bag went relatively smoothly, though the attendant had to call out instructions when she thought I wasn’t doing things properly. The second bag was the large case for the writing excuses recording gear. The attendant brusquely told me I had to take it to the full service kiosk. So I walked to join my friends in a new line.

Counter 2: We were in line with a dozen other people and there was no one at any of the desks. The front of the line was two young women with three small children, two car seats, and several very large bags. They informed us that they’d been in line when the people at the counter had abruptly closed up shop and left them standing there un-checked-in with small children to attempt to entertain. An inquiry to the self-checking bag attendant netted the information that the posts would be opened two hours before the flight. They opened at least fifteen minutes later than that. However when they did show, they immediately observed that one of my traveling companions was riding a scooter and in need of disability services. Our group was whisked to the front of the line, much to the frustration of others who felt like they shouldn’t have been shunted aside. Fortunately their frustration was aimed at the attendant, not at us. Also fortunately the other attendant immediately took the two women and their children to help them. When It was my turn at the counter she put a tag on the box of gear and informed me I had to take it to oversize luggage drop off and then, because it was a second bag, I had to go to an additional counter to pay the fee for the extra bag.

Counter 3: The line for oversize baggage was about six people deep. My travel friend was also lugging a case of gear, so we decided to divide and conquer. She went to go pay for the bags while I stood in line to get them onto the plane. Naturally the machinery ground to a complete halt just as I reached the front of the line. The workers spoke to each other in rapid German and their body language seemed to indicate that we were all waiting on some sort of a mechanical failure or pause. But then they took the bags without trouble, so that was good.

Counter 4: Paying for bags was still happening when I reached that counter. For some reason it took two attendants eight minutes of scowling at the screen, conversing in German, and typing to manage to charge our credit card and then hand us receipts. We made a brief stop back at counter 2, where the attendant there double checked the work of the counter 4 attendants.

The party split up with half in the hands of disability services who whisked them through back ways to the airplane. The rest of us went through regular security. When we arrived at our gate, there were zero chairs. This was not that all the chairs were taken, it was that they did not exist. Wide open space, not a chair to be seen. Fortunately the airplane had saved us some seats and the Amsterdam airport was a much more pleasant experience.