13 FEET of rain a year.

Forgive agent L inc’s lack of posts, lately. We have managed to wash our smart phone in the Permanent Press Cycle, on Hot/Cold mode, and are therefore unable to post photos and photos rather than words are going to be our mainstay, we have discovered. Our days here are largely monotonous, if full and rewarding and tiring and the best AND worst of times. We ride in a catamaran 100 miles every day, informing, feeding, occasionally exhorting and cajoling, praising, pampering, and often telling reprehensible jokes to the 100-odd people who are our responsibility, life and limb, every day. We also sometimes see whales breach and bears lumbering across impossibly remote cirques and mountaintops. 

The weather here is dreadful. 

I am not coping well. 

We currently have our own personal waterfall in the backyard and my room is so chilly and my thin ghost-of-a-fleece blanket is so inadequate that even mummified in four layers of clothes, (and yes, Agent L has finally succumbed and for the first time in her life owns sweatpants) that I have woken up on more than one occasion sleep-crawling my way under the mattress pad. 

And my first real big girl apartment was an unheated attic with minimal insulation, so that should tell you something about how the damp and chill just crawl into your bones here and make themselves comfy. 

I am reminded of when I lived, briefly, in Panama with a certain Irishman who wasn’t coping well with the heat at all. I know heat: don’t move much. Don’t go in and out of air conditioned environments. Embrace the slick of salt and sweat on your skin and give in to the doziness, to the eccentric thoughts that come when you’ve nothing to do but stare at the ceiling fan going round. 

I need a cold and damp equivalent of me in Panama to guide me through this endless rain, through mornings where I think piteously to myself that I have always been cold and will always be cold. 

I am freaking cold. 

All the time. 

And it’s a damp cold such as I have never known. 

In a week or so I’ll have a new phone, and new photographs of truly beautiful things. 

Bear with me until then, and if you have any warming ideas, let me have them. I’ve already embraced sweatpants and given up on the idea that I’ll ever wear this cute madras mini I brought with me for nights on the town. The sandal wedges were likewise ill advised. More blankets are clearly in order. Any other suggestions? Joy- you live in Poland: surely you know something? 

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Shoe-String Budget Eating in Alaska

I met a rare breed today. Most folks I come into contact with are off a cruise ship and are only in Ketchikan for perhaps ten hours, four and of half of which will be spent exploring fjords and peeping whales with your favorite (I hope) rabble rouser and suspected terrorist, Agent L. (The second trial, by the way, will be over by May 25 and then we’ll all find out if I can ever stroll by the banks of the Bosporus or drink beer on Çaliş beach with dear friends again, but that’s another post about another life.) It’s a shame they spend so little time here cause for such a little place (8000 souls in the town proper) there’s a lot going on- hiking in snow covered mountains, kayaking, snorkeling, looking at the the world’s largest collection of totem poles, ziplining, fishing, and an unexpectedly big and diverse art scene. These guys found themselves an apartment rental and tooled around for a couple weeks, exploring the hiking trails and bars.

“We’ve mostly been barbequeing everything we eat to save money,” said the lady. “Everything is so expensive.”

PRO-TIP: groceries in Alaska are about 25% higher priced than in the continental US. Everything has to be barged or flown in.

“Oh my God I know. First time I went into Safeway I was in shock.”

“First time I went into Safeway I almost cried!” the woman said.

“You know, I pass a Chinese restaurant every day on my way to work, and their flipping egg rolls are eight bucks. Eight bucks!”

We all shook our heads in mute wonder.

The three of us, me and AC and SA, mostly washed up here broke for one reason or another, and we’ve been pooling resources to feed ourselves until payday. One of the perks of my particular job is I get to take home whatever clam chowder or chili is left over at the end of the day. It is widely acknowledged that I am the most creative cook in the house, and that I have a genius for taking shitty food and creating something better than the sum of its generic brand parts. That clam chowder, for instance, is much better reduced a bit, with lashings of hot sauce and pepper, perhaps with some canned corn or frozen veggies in it, poured over garlic bread, or reduced further and made the base for a sort of poor man’s clam alfredo sauce. Chili needs only cheese, more heat, and sour cream to transform it.

But one cannot live on chowder and chili alone.

Here are the universally liked cheap meals I’ve come up with in the past three weeks.

Start with: Generic boxed macaroni and cheese. So sad by itself!

Cook the noddles until al dente and drain.

In the pot melt a smidge under a tablespoon of butter and pour the noodles back in.

Add, in no particular order, the packet of analine-orange cheese powder, a splash of milk, and two or three tablespoons of garlic yogurt, and a few tablespoons af canned diced tomatoes. (To make garlic yogurt, add a clove of minced or pressed garlic to every cup and a half of yogurt, or to taste, and a pinch of salt.) Stir to combine.

Now add a can of chicken.

You read that right, and yeah, I know. I had the same reaction to canned chicken for years. But you know what? it’s cheap protein, and actually pretty good!

Now add two of those packets of parmesan that come with delivery pizza, and lashings of pepper. If someone recently ordered chinese and didn’t eat their fried noodle treats, sprinkle on top with another parmesan thing and bake.

If you’re a fancy rich person who has vegetables I bet they’d be good in this too.

Start with: Chicken Ramen noodles. (Oh so sad.)

Cook the noodles in less than a cup and a half of water, and add the spice packet to it first. Or just use half a chicken bouillon cube.

Stir in a beaten egg to up the protein and make it more like egg drop soup, and add a ton of lemon juice.

Also stir in half a can of chicken , some canned corn, and hell, maybe even some beans if you have them.

Same with the veggies.

What’s your favorite trick to fancy up shitty packaged food?

 

 

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The Problem With The Turkish Government In A Nutshell

We’re doing better than Victorian England, safety-wise, guys!
-Erdoğan (rough translation)

Ottomans and Zionists

Turkey is reeling over a tragic loss of human life following an explosion and fire at a coal mine in Soma, with the death toll up to 238 as of this writing and at least 120 miners still trapped. The government has declared three days of public mourning, and Turks are wearing coal mining outfits and spelunking helmets in the streets in solidarity with the families of those who perished. So what does the government have to do with any of this? As has so often been the case under the AKP and Prime Minister Erdoğan, the damage comes in the government’s response to events outside of its control and makes a bad situation that much worse.

Workplace disasters happen all the time, and this is particularly so when it comes to mining, which is an extremely dangerous profession that takes places under volatile conditions. This past Monday, two coal…

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Settling in in Alaska

My mother and I are really very different, and, as I learned over a long hard winter of living together, different in ways that drive the other a little nuts sometimes. I have no problem leaving my pyjamas on the floor, I’ve never really understood the point of making my bed when I’m just going to crawl back into it later and wreck it in my thrashy sleep, and I generally have no idea of where my cell phone or keys are, but goddamn it, my spices are always alphabetized. How can you live in a house where the spices aren’t alphabetized? How do you even know what you have? It boggles the mind. No wonder the woman has four bottles of chili flakes.

Likewise, I could sense her agitation as my leaving date loomed as I was doing nothing to prepare. She was online everyday reading about Ketchikan, checking the weather reports, looking at maps of it and trying to figure out where the company I work for is and maybe where I live. Everytime she tried to tell me some new fact about my soon-to-be temporary new home I put my hands over my ears and went “LALALALALALA!” She’d wait til I was done and then say “Okay one more, and then I’ll stop. Did you know Ketchikan…” “LALALALALALALA!”

Mom’s a planner.

I prefer to not have preconceived notions. I was going somewhere, and I would be employed and have adventures and that was enough.

When I arrived I knew precisely two things about Ketchikan: it rains a lot and there’s a lot of salmon.

I was picked up at the airport bang smack ontime by the housing coordinator, and we took a ferry to Ketchikan, where she gave me a very brief tour of downtown where I saw lots of quaint old businesses like video rental stores- for real!- and then took me to my new home, where I was rather non-plussed to find I’d be living in a house with seven other women. Now, I swore to myself when I had my place in Istanbul that I’d never have another roommate, and I felt I had made concessions in just sharing a corporate apartment with another lady, and now there were seven other ladies to contend with? Hmmm.

It has worked out better than could possibly be expected, though. The house has two levels that are more or less self-sufficient, two full kitchens, three full bathrooms and a powder room, and a glorious backyard.

The back yard on a drizzly day.

The back yard on a drizzly day.

We each have a cell-like but functional room with a small bed, a desk, a chest of drawers, and a mini-fridge.

We range in age from 23 to 68. Our peripatetic natures tie us together, and we get along well, but the three thirty-five year olds, me and ST and AC, have banded together and are often to be seen as a unit, smoking cigarettes in the backyard, or pooling resources to make dinner, or cackling over rot-gut (and rot-brain) whiskey. We also have among us a former zoo vet-tech who worked with big cats, a lady who sails tall ships normally, a lady who survived Bob Jones university, a forensic scientist, and a girl who until yesterday had never been on a plane and had never traveled further west than Alabama.

So here we are.

I am the only one in the house who can cook. I do not mind at all.

My time has been filled with training- long, long hours of it, followed by hours spent gossiping and story-telling in the back yard. (I hope you don’t mind if I don’t tell you who I’m working for or even what I’m doing, specifically. Protecting the innocent people who hired me and all that.) Sometimes, though, I go for walks.

I’m about to go to bed, because I have to report for work at 6:45 tomorrow. Here are some pictures, though, from the last 13 days of my life:

Where we sail.

Where we sail.

After the rain comes the gross.

After the rain comes the gross.

#mosslife. (Ketchikan gets 13 FEET of rain a year.)

#mosslife. (Ketchikan gets 13 FEET of rain a year.)

Taxidermy store in the shopping center. As you do.

Taxidermy store in the shopping center. As you do.

Totem pole with matching house.

Totem pole with matching house.

Ketchikan houses the largest collection of totem poles.

Ketchikan houses the largest collection of totem poles.

Ketchikan also sells this product in its stores. Presumably on purpose.

Ketchikan also sells this product in its stores. Presumably on purpose.

,

A face in a tree.

A face in a tree.

This is a volcano nub that's really famous. Not one person, that I've heard, has mentioned what it rather resembles.

This is a volcano nub that’s really famous. Not one person, that I’ve heard, has mentioned what it rather resembles.

A view from work.

A view from work.

Fire safety training. No pressure, just put that out.

Fire safety training. No pressure, just put that out.

We take first responder training VERY seriously.

We take first responder training VERY seriously.

My work photos are better than your vacation photos. Jelly?

My work photos are better than your vacation photos. Jelly?

 

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A Security Warning from the U.S. Embassy

US Embassy Warning: Stay safe out there kids. Jail and deportation is about as fun as it sounds!

Adventures in Ankara

A Message from the

Embassy of the United States of America

Ankara, Turkey

 April 30, 2014

 Security Message for U.S. Citizens

 May Day (Labor Day) Demonstrations on Thursday, May 1, 2014

 The U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens of planned May Day events and the potential for violence on May 1.  Specifics on these gatherings are detailed below.

May Day (Labor Day) Demonstrations on Thursday, May 1, 2014

Istanbul:

Following the lifting of the decades-long ban on May Day protests in 2010 and the designation of May 1 as a national holiday, May Day events were peaceful for several years.  In 2013, however, police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters who attempted to march to Taksim Square.

For this year’s May Day celebration, the Istanbul Governor’s Office has approved the Yenikapı (Europe side) and Maltepe (Asia side) areas as the official protest/demonstration locations.  The U.S. Consulate…

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Arrival: Alaska

So technically this blog is for all things Living Abroad Related, but I’m officially out of the lower 48, so I figure that pretty much counts as abroad.

I still haven’t met Chris from Chris in the Morning, or sweet Ed, or Shelly, and Ruth does not appear to work in the local Safeway. (Northern Exposure jokes are flying fast and thick around here.) But I have met an awful lot of very nice folks in my few days. All the girls in my apartment building are working for the same company I’m working for in one way or another, and they are just the best. I’ve done a little exploring, but about thirty six hours ago I coughed- I COUGHED- and my back went out again. So instead of taking pictures and exploring the town I’ve mostly been lying on my back, reading or watching teevee, with dear sweet L’s heating pad cranked to high in the small of my back, looking wistfully at the trees that loom outside my windows.

I’ve had a few adventures already, like when a mink stole one of my work shoes. (Speculation runs high about whether the critter will return it at the end of the season.) I haven’t seen a bear yet, (lying on the floor all day limits my opportunities) but just about everyone else has. The bear population’s so dense there’s thought to be about one per square mile in these parts.

I have been awed by the silence. Even in the middle of the day it’s so unbelievably quiet in the back yard.

This lacks narrative structure, but I wanted to check in, and leave you all with a few pictures so you can see a little of what I got myself into.

From the airplane, flying in.

From the airplane, flying in.

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My house is the little-er green one, sort of behind the pole.

This is where my street ends.

This is where my street ends.

The back yard on a drizzly day.

The back yard on a drizzly day.

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Packing for Moving: the Definitive Guide

When I originally moved to Istanbul, being a homebody and never having had experience living abroad, I reasonably assumed I’d be home sooner or later, and I left a storage facility full of bare bones furniture and sundries I couldn’t take with me. Packing into three suitcases under those circumstances, (and under the circumstances of flying Lufthansa, with their then marvelously forgiving baggage policy) wasn’t a biggie. In three suitcases I packed clothes for four seasons, a week and a half’s worth of work appropriate attire, a party dress, comfy clothes, a few jackets and tons of sweaters, shoes, books, notebooks, pens, and I was off.

What I assumed would be around six months turned into well over three years. I acquired things. Not a lot- I’ve never been a big shopper. A pair of shoes here, a party dress there, etc.

This move I’ve had the challenge of actually, and for real, reducing everything I own into three suitcases.

Books are easy and a no brainer cause a Kindle is a peripatetic girl’s best friend. Clothes though, are difficult. I’ve never been a collector of anything. I have a poor sense of object permanence and when things disappear I’m never really nonplussed or lost without them. The pearls my grandfather gave me before he died disappeared when my car was robbed. I carry the fact that he gave them to me in my heart and that’s enough.

Clothes, though, I have a thing about. Ask me about any first date I’ve ever had and I can tell you what I was wearing. Tim Clifton 1995? Denim overall shorts and a striped green tee shirt. Matt Dimaggio, 1996? Black babydoll dress with ruffles at the bottom. In 1997 I saw Chris’s band play for the first time at Carver. I wore black jeans a white tee shirt, and a necklace and earrings lent to me by a neighbor’s college aged daughter. She was in college. She knew what was up. Andy Cook 2005? Brown skirt with green buttons and a brown wrap shirt over a green tank. We kissed in the rain on top of a warehouse building. Last night was my going away party and I guarantee you I’ll remember what I was wearing when I’m 50.

Letting go of scraps of fabric that hold, for me, anyway, tremendous and, the argument could be made, misplaced sentimental value, while trying to make my wardrobe movable, has been a challenge over the past two days. There have been other considerations in packing, as well: I am not traveling, so travel sizes won’t do. I can’t throw out a mostly full bottle of shampoo just because it’s unwieldy, only to buy another on the other end. I just can’t. Same with body lotion, hair product, etc.

So how did I get three seasons’ worth of clothes into one bag, the rest into two other bags to stay behind for a bit, planning for an uncertain future and uncertain wardrobe needs and not cry too much?

(It strikes me, if it hasn’t struck you, that this was doubly hard because on top of letting go of THINGS I was letting go of home as I knew it for many decades, and preparing to hoist anchor and set sail into an unknown, leaving much that I love behind me.)

Here was my process, and I hope it can help you, whether you’re cleaning out your closet or preparing to move abroad:

1. Throw out anything you haven’t worn in the past year. At this point my pile was pathetically small, so I had to be stern with myself.

2. Seriously. THROW OUT ANYTHING YOU HAVEN’T WORN IN THE PAST YEAR. Buh-bye, black leather kacket that was the best Christmas present I ever got in 1996, that I’ve been holding onto but not wearing because to me it represents the best of Christmas, but let’s be honest. It’s too boxy for today and I lost the belt. Now the pile is a little bigger. (Note, made an exception for the dress I keep for going to summer weddings. I haven’t been to a lot of weddings in the past few years, since most of my friends have gotten married already. But second wedding season is bound to be around the corner and this baby can go to all of them.)

3. Since this isn’t good enough, let’s start hacking into the “Things I only Wear when Everything Else is Dirty” category. Oh holy shit. Just got rid of a third. NO! NO! DO NOT JUSTIFY KEEPING THAT BECAUSE IT’S A CLASSIC THAT GOES WITH EVERYTHING. Let go. Breathe.

I still, at this point, had far too many clothes so I let it sit for a day. And Rohini helped me with the next step.

4. Know your style. Toss the rest. Every blog or article you’ll read about a functional wardrobe will tell you about the magic and glory of mix-and-match separates. I generally don’t do separates. I like to put on a dress, find the appropriate shoes, and be on my way. It’s far easier, for me. “So maybe throw out the separates?” Rohini gently suggested. Eureka! So all but three skirts- two winter and one summer- went into the goodwill bin. Whatever equivalent you have, do it. Only take what is YOU. Oh lord, the pile was positively HUGE, and the skirt that I wore on my first date with Andy is GONE.

5. Vacuum bags. A few notes on them- I got mine from Bed Bath and Beyond, two boxes of six bags each. One box was for travelers, with three each of carry on and suitcase sizes, and one had medium to large home storage sizes. The travelers line doesn’t have the vacuum port. You put your clothes in, seal the bag, and roll it up while it’s patented whatever allows air to escape the opposite end. It does not work as well as the regular kind that you vacuum the air out of, but it does reduce bulk. Both kinds solve a space problem and create a space problem: there are tons of nooks and crannies. Packing then becomes a crazy spatial relations problem or a jigsaw puzzle. Okay, so if I wedge a wedge with a sock stuffed into it here, do I have room for a scarf there? Hours can go by. Put a good movie on tv and have at.

6. Throw out all the make-up you don’t use. I don’t care if it’s the perfect taupe. You never use it. In fact, you only ever really use black eyeliner and thiseyeshadow pallet. EVERYTHING ELSE IS GOING. I am immune to your tears.

And that’s basically it. I got 5 dresses, a skirt, four shirts, two bags worth of home/sleep wear, a bathrobe, five pairs of trousers (for the job) 6 sweaters, four sheets, four pillow cases, a manicure kit, three pairs of shoes, extras of various grooming/feminine things, all of my toiletries, two notebooks, six pens and a slim volume of poetry that has now been everywhere I’ve been in one suitcase and one carry on.

I have an additional suitcase of summer clothes plus various old notebooks and pictures, and a suitcase of winter clothes and impractical shoes that are far lighter, and being stored in a friend’s basement til October. These will have to be picked over and consolidated again if my November plans come to fruition. (No spoilers on this blog.) I don’t currently have the energy, though.

Bets are on as to how far over the weight limit I’ll go.

 

 

 

 

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How to Pack for Traveling vs. How to Pack for Moving.

I got a ton of great responses from my last post for how to pack for traveling, and there are tons of lovely websites offering tips on how to pack for travel- even extended travel.

1. Layers.

2. Coordinating separates that can be reused.

3. Pick a color scheme.

4. Buy stuff wherever you go. It might not be what you normally wear but it’ll be conducive to the climate and culture.

5. Buy a disposable wardrobe from goodwill, and discard pieces as you go, to make room for souvenirs and other things picked up along the way.

There are many more.

You can google for yourself “what to pack for traveling” and “what to wear while traveling and come up with lists and pinterest boards to guide you.

What if you’re just moving somewhere, though, even for just half a year, and you don’t want to buy shit cause you already have shit, and you just need to figure out how to streamline your worldly possessions so that you can, say, move from Alaska to Slovenia seamlessly?

Here are some things travelers don’t have to worry about:

1. An elegant professional wardrobe. Clothes for interviews, clothes for classrooms. Clothes that will get you promotions and valuable positions. You cannot do this in leggings, no matter how competent you are.

2. Date clothes. Even if you’re in a partnership, you should feel and look pretty every now and again, at least. (Though Agent L prefers to do so nearly every day.)  Sensible capris with many pockets are never going to make you feel pretty. Again, this is the difference between running around the world and sprinting to one location and sitting there for a long time. The mover is packing for longevity, the traveler for flight.

3. House clothes. You need a certain amount of your wardrobe available for when you come home from work and want to clean, or relax on the porch. You need clothes to run quick errands in, when otherwise you wouldn’t leave the house and would spend the day in pyjamas. You need clothes to clean the house in. Travelers don’t have to worry about bleach stains; movers do. You need clothes to cook in and get grease stains are. These, of course, must be discreet from your work clothes.

4. Casual bar wear. You need clothes between work clothes and homme clothes, that you can just run out to the bar in, with all you local and ex-pat friends.

5. You have to pack for a whole year. If you’re moving to the tropics, much of this doesn’t apply, as most kids who move to the tropics seem to be the backpacker types who are used to grubby teeshirts and picking up clothes and letting go of clothes as opportunity comes and goes.  I’m not writing a guide for you.

I’m writing a guide for anyone like me, who has amassed a wardrobe over the years that encompasses every event from running to the store for a forgotten ingredient to going to a wedding, and needs to figure out how to winnow it down to three suitcases, so that, when she needs to move across continents can do so without incurring ridiculous baggage fees, or buying whole new wardrobes when she arrives.

In short, the next post will be dedicated to the lady who wants to pack sensibly, not buy new stuff before or very soon after, and maintain her own sense of style rather than adopting one from the traveling blogs.

 

 

 

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Packing

It’s agent l’s birthday today, and we’ve spent the day doing laundry and packing, cause it’s getting to be that time.

Anyone who has ever gone on holiday with me knows I am a terrible packer. I tend to blindly throw everything in a bag at the last minute and wind up with too much and too little of everything. I’m unbelievably unmethodical so things get lost in the bottom of the suitcase, I assume I’ve left them at home, only to find them when I unpack. It’s a nightmare.

I’m trying to be better this time, because I’m not just packing for my summer adventure, I’m packing up everything. Absolutely everything must go into three suitcases, two to be stored at a friend’s house, one to take with me. Between clothes I left behind in Baltimore when I went to Turkey, the two suitcases I managed to leave Turkey with, and the winter clothes that were left behind in Turkey that finally came back to me- on April 2- this is four or five suitcases to be whittled down to three. A fair amount of stuff I need to take with me is also taking up room- I’ll need trousers, (everyone who knows me knows this rather horrifies me) for everyday wear where I’m headed. I need to pack linens and towels. Certain essentials like pyjamas and housewear and socks. Shoes and sandals. Toiletries. Notebooks and journals.

Most of the essentials. This is disaster.

Most of the essentials. This is disaster.

But here’s the rub. Here’s what separates the true traveler from people like me. People always assume I’m a good traveler cause I lived in Turkey for four years. I am not. I am a homebody. And homebodies have stuff. I got rid of all my books and the last of my furnishings last year, between Turkey and Panama, and that wasn’t too bad.

But now I’m facing a terrible dilemma.

This morning I counted 49 dresses, not counting ones that have worn themselves out and are only good for the house or the garden. The oldest dates back to when I was 18 and the newest I bought as a payday treat last August. (Always wash your stuff in cold, ladies!) I whittled them down to 45. I determined that I can leave (for a rural destination where I’ll be wearing trousers and slickers almost every day) with no fewer than 10.

How can I leave my beautiful soldiers behind?!?!?!

How can I leave my beautiful soldiers behind?!?!?!

I am running out of space, and it’s making me very sad.

Any people who are competent packers have any advice? Or alternately anyone who has overcome a hoarding disorder who can explain to me in terms I’ll understand why maybe I don’t need to put 7 knee length black dresses into storage?

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Celebrity Madness

I wrote one of my favorite authors and he wrote back. This is what happened. 

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