Monday, November 7, 2016

Allie Goes to Japan, Part 1!

Osaka was really the main destination for my trip to Japan. It was just added bonus (/convenience) that I got to go to Kyoto and Tokyo as well.

After a verrrryyyy long day (two days?) of travel, I touched down in Osaka in the early evening and met up with my boss, who had already been in Japan (Tokyo) for a few days. We checked into the hotel, and because it was already kind of late in the evening and neither of us were familiar with Osaka, we decided to get sushi at the hotel's restaurant. My first taste of real, non-American sushi! (Not my last, either.)

I already ate at least one before I remembered to take a picture.

Did you know that in Japan, they put the wasabi on the sushi before you get it? When Matt and I go out for sushi, I generally avoid the wasabi and ginger (it just ain't my thang), but there was no avoiding that sinus-clearing spice here! Thankfully they used a reasonable hand with the stuff, and the sushi was really good. I realize that I've never lived in a place super near an ocean, but the sushi was just so much ... gentler, I guess is the word, on the palate than it is in the U.S. It's fresher, and doesn't taste fishy, and is just really nice and light to eat. The plate I got had I think nine different types of fish, and my favorites were the salmon and the scallop!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Classy Traveling

When Matt and I went on our honeymoon cruise, he booked us a room with a balcony over the ocean. We didn't realize it when we planned the trip, but having the upgraded room entitled us to another perk: we got to board the boat earlier than the people with interior rooms, and that meant way less waiting in line. Our passports got checked, our luggage loaded up to dispatch to our room, and we were literally walking onto the ship in like, less than 20 minutes. It was amazing.

And I remember Matt looking at me with a little smile and going, "We're never going to be able to go on a cruise without a balcony room again are we?" And I laughed, "NOPE!"

Suffice it to say, we haven't gone on another cruise since then, nor are we generally upgrade-type people. (Okay, I'll say it. We're cheap!)

But when my boss said that I was going to Japan for a meeting (I work for an American subsidiary of a Japanese company), and he suggested upgrading to business class for the 12-hour flight, I wasn't going to say no. A seat that reclines all the way back, and a footrest that motorizes itself up to be level with the seat? Okay!

And look at all that legroom!

I'm used to flying in the back of the plane, getting no leg room and tiny packets of bland pretzels and being able to get comfy not at all, so it was weird, getting warm towels, and real fabric napkins for meal times, and glass cups, and a little kit of toiletries that you might need for the flight (and it included socks?!). It was kind of fun, but also felt pretty over the top.

It was also funny/sad when they put this delicious-looking plate of sushi in front of me, and then the flight attendant was like, "Oh wait! We've got a special meal for you" — pre-flight I had requested a vegetarian meal, because pescatarian wasn't listed as an option for plane food — and they took the sushi away and gave me a big plate of ... lentils. Even the guy next to me was like, "I would have tried to keep the sushi!" I'm thankful that airlines are willing to accommodate dietary preferences but I wouldn't have minded if they'd forgotten about me just this once! :)

Not including travel to get to the other side of the world and back — I left suuuuuuper early on a Wednesday and didn't arrive until Thursday night! — I was in Japan for only about three and a half days, but I did manage to do some sight seeing while I was there, so I'll be hopefully sharing some of that next time!

What's the best travel perk you've experienced?

Monday, October 31, 2016

San Diego

Note: I originally wrote this post in April. This trip happened in January, and I just found the post mostly completed in my drafts folder. So I'm hitting "publish" as is, and maybe sometime before next January I'll get around to writing its sister post about my trip to Los Angeles that same week?)

I wanted to talk about California before too much time has passed and I decide it's not worth going back to share. (A lot of things have ended up like that lately, but I was listening to an episode of the Robcast with the woman who founded Momastery, and she was talking about how she made a point to have certain times for writing, where she typed the things she needed to say and hit "publish" when time was up, and I realized that kind of focus is kind of what I need right now, so I'm making a better effort to write regularly and actually send it out into the world.) (October Edit: HAAAAAAA.)

So, I was lucky enough to get to go to California for a work tradeshow! On the day before the first enormous snowstorm hit Virginia in January, I flew to San Diego with two of my co-workers. We had switched flights to avoid being trapped in the bad weather, so we had an extra couple days to hang around and see the area.

There was amazing Mexican food! There were Bees! We were on a boat! There were margaritas the size of my face, and my Japanese coworker bought a sombrero after drinking one!

I don't like tequila, so I got a face-sized sangria instead.

But for real, I got to see and do a few things I'd never tried before. Like, after breakfast one of the days, we stumbled upon this farmer's market in the streets of San Diego, where my co-worker convinced me to try uni (sea urchin), which — believe me — is disgusting and you don't want to eat it. It was all slimy and salty and horrible. (And I LIKE sushi and don't have an issue with textures and all, but it was just. so. bad. Coworker disagreed.)

We also got to visit the San Diego Zoo. My sister-in-law used to live in the San Diego area, and she said it was one of the best zoos in the world, and it did not disappoint! We got to see pandas and elephants and lots of giant turtles, and it was fun.

One of the days, both my coworkers decided they wanted to go to Tijuana, to which I was like, no thanks, I've been to Mexico. So they took off, and instead I headed up the parkway to have brunch with a bee friend, Allison/Mrs. Parasol! We went to a place called Snooze, and I had uhMAZING breakfast tacos. (BREAKFAST TACOS HOW I MISS YOU. Virginia sux.)

That's all she wrote, folks.

Have you been to San Diego? How do you make time to write?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Hypochondriac's Guide to Books: Station Eleven

This is a review of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which was my book club's selection in December. We pick our books in a pretty simple way: at a meeting, a few people will nominate books they'd like to read, and then we vote on the three or four books suggested. I never once voted for this book, and it came up again and again, month after month. Finally, it was selected, and I had to stop pouting about it and read the dang thing.

Symptoms: This was pitched to me as a story about how 99 percent of the world's population gets killed off by the flu. NO THANKS.

Examination: Well sure, there's the flu. There isn't actually much description of the flu. I mean, people are tired, and sick, and they die, but the flu is not the point of the story, and so it isn't played up for dramatic effect or anything. It's so matter-of-fact.

The point of this book is what happens after so much of the population has been killed. The phone lines go down. People try to escape the cities they're in (to go where?) and they run out of gas and abandon their vehicles on the highway. People are stranded with no way to get in touch with loved ones that are not immediately close at hand. TV stations eventually go dead.

The story begins with an actor who has a heart attack on stage while performing King Lear, the night the flu pandemic begins. (No, the heart attack is not described graphically, and other than the fact that it happened; it is an impetus to move the plot forward, and not an event unto itself.) A child actress witnesses the actor's collapse and a man from the audience's attempt to revive him, and suddenly there are so many things happening, different characters affected by this one event, followed by another event that changes everything, and how they get on with their lives now that nothing will ever be the same.

The medical stuff that stuck out to me: There is a group of people that, post-pandemic, find themselves living in an airport after all the flights have been grounded. There is a woman who has some kind of mental health condition (depression? it's been a while since I read it, and this wasn't that important), and asks all the people in the airport if they have the prescription she needs. (It's unsafe to leave the airport, and looters have already done their work in a lot of the towns.) She is unable to find it, and eventually leaves the airport, because she is unable to cope without her medication, choosing instead to see if it's possible to find help out "there." There is also a man who talks about his family, one of whom was an insulin-dependent diabetic, and it is implied that the same thing must have happened — eventually they would have run out of insulin, and would have been out of luck.

Diagnosis: Turns out, this isn't even really about the flu, so stop being a pansy. This caused me to pause and consider the end of the world for a long time after I had finished reading, and I didn't waste a second thought on the flu that caused it. What struck me most about this book was how thought-out it was; regardless of what causes the end of the world (whether disease, or nuclear holocaust, or something else), I could absolutely picture this being how people would react, and what the outcome would look like.

Prognosis: You'll be fine. I loved this book and gave it five stars. (Sorry book club friends!) The post-apocalyptic aspect has really stuck with me, and not a lot of books continue to follow me around once I'm done with them. It was very good.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Closest Thing to Skydiving

I love having adventures, making a point to do new and cool things. My mom is always telling me that I have such an exciting life, and that hers is boring. I tell her it's all about saying yes to things, but she gets nervous and doesn't always like trying new things unless someone is doing it with her.

So two years ago, for Christmas, I bought her a gift card to iFly. It's one of those indoor skydiving places, where you're basically just hanging out in a giant wind tunnel, floating over a huge fan. We had driven past the place several times over the years, and she always mentioned that it sounded like so much fun (and to be honest, it's the closest thing to real skydiving that either of us would ever do), but I knew that she wouldn't go out of her way to do it on her own.

Well, a whole year passed, another Christmas come and gone, and we still hadn't put that gift card to use, so we figured we had to make a plan or it wouldn't happen. Matt and I were in Texas over Memorial Day weekend, and mom and I booked a session to go iFlying in advance, so we'd finally get her that adventure!

So that Monday, the two of us (plus Matt and my dad for support) drove out to Plano, signed our lives away and got scheduled for a class! There's a 10 minute or so training class you do before they suit you up and get you into the tunnel, since it's super loud in there and they have to make sure you understand the four hand signals that they will use to give you directions. (The signals are: bend your legs, straighten your legs, chin up, and relax. Spoiler alert: Mom and I are bad at relaxing.)

We got our gear (suits, earplugs and helmets), and filed into the tunnel. There was a booth where someone was controlling the tunnel, filming the sessions and controlling the clock so the instructor would know when it was time to switch us out, and a narrow seating area where all us flyers sat waiting for our turn. We each got two flights, one to get our bearings and figure out how our bodies should be held, and then another where we got to try cool moves, like floating way up high in the tunnel!

Mom in flight!

It was kind of nerve-wracking at first! When you get into the tunnel, you're hit with this massive wall of air coming up from below, and the instructor is telling you to keep your chin up, and I'm like, "but I can't breathe with all this air rushing up my nose!" There was a moment of panic when I was like, crap I've gotta figure out how to not die while I'm in here! But thankfully that passed within a few seconds, breathing was totally possible, but Mom later told me that I looked super freaked out for the first little bit!


After we'd all gotten our turns, the instructor got to show off some moves also, like shooting up high really fast, doing loops around the tunnel and flipping around!

Our instructor, Dominic, was really awesome, and very helpful. We got certificates at the end where they noted all the moves we accomplished (things like "flew in a stable body position," "turned 360 degrees left and right," and "flew in the tunnel with minimal assistance"), so that's pretty cool. :) He also told us that we were the stiffest people he'd ever worked with, so ...

It was an awesome experience, and Mom said she had so much fun, and I'm so glad we got to do it together!