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Who else that reads my journal is going? We're staying in the Scandic Marski, checking in on Wednesday. We're actually arriving in Helsinki at 10pm on Tuesday night, but decided to just stay at the Airport Hilton the first night to remove the necessity for embarking on a third transportation leg into a strange city after a very very long day. 

I am in my usual state of pre-travel nervous frantic, exacerbated by the fact that I just opened an ominous envelope from the IRS that believes I screwed up my taxes for 2015 and owe them thousands and thousands of dollars and wants an answer IN THE NEXT THREE WEEKS. Fer Chrissakes. That will just have to wait until we get back. OK, putting all those pieces of paper back in the envelope.

Other than that, I think we're pretty much prepared. I'm sort of half-packed. I've printed out all my confirmations and reservations (of which there are a lot; the trip is sort of complicated, involving 4 different airlines, 2 trains, and 3 hotels). But I'm thinking of all sorts of things I realize that I don't know. Do I need Euros and Kroner, and how much? Am I supposed to get that from a bank before I leave? If not, where? Can I buy a SIM in the Amsterdam airport that will get me data in Finland, Denmark, and Germany? OMG, what about European adapters for my phone charger??? I completely forgot about that. 
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 Iceland Air is having a flash sale through Friday of this week for many European destinations. Departures include MSP. Destinations do not include Helsinki, but do include several Scandinavian cities. For instance:  MSP-Copenhagen is $599. 

   
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Leaving on our first road trip of the year TOMORROW (driving to Oregon!). The van is all cleaned out, the oil changed, the magic van seats reconfigured, and I'm well on the way to being packed. But I am inconsolable because I can't find my National Parks Passport Book! Last year I traversed South Dakota (twice!) and got stamps for everything from the Badlands to Devil's Tower. This time we're going through North Dakota for a change, and I won't be able to get my book stamped for the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  Waaahhh!  

What really makes me a poster child for First World Problems is the astonishing number of places that passport might have been, but wasn't. Is it in this box labeled Travel? This bag of Laura Ingalls Wilder souvenir booklets? This file drawer full of maps? This pile with the Roadside America books? This other pile on the little table by the stairs? One of the pockets of my bike luggage?  Maybe it's with that favorite scarf I haven't seen since Minicon. I did unpack after we came home from Minicon, didn't I?
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 After much dithering around, i finally booked our room for the Helsinki Worldcon. Following a tip from [personal profile] barondave I chose the Scandic Marski. So there are at least two of us from MSP in that hotel now. Anyone want to join us and make it a local room block? 

They have a very nice hotel page on the Worldcon website that lists all the hotels with prices and status of the room block. Be sure to click on the link from this page to get the special booking code. However, if this takes you to a lovely hotel website all in Finnish... just copy the code that was filled in for you and take it here.

The rooms are not cheap, but bear in mind that the price includes taxes and breakfast. It sounds really nice. Free wifi, gym, and of course a sauna or two. Also loaner bicycles and Nordic walking sticks. 
dreamshark: (sharon tire)
Which do you prefer, and why?  Any tips on using it to get to the airport? Since there seems to be no way to schedule rides in advance, how do you know there will be one available when it is time to leave? Is one of the services more reliable than the other? Is it just stupid to use one of these services for a time-sensitive ride?

We find ourselves without a ride to the airport today, so I thought I would try out one of these trendy new ride-sharing services and take advantage of those "first ride free" promos I keep seeing. Well, the promos were a bust, and have left me feeling a little queasy about the whole thing.

[livejournal.com profile] carbonel, thanks for your referral code, but i couldn't use it. Apparently I had signed up for Uber sometime in the past. Even though I have never taken that "first ride" I am no longer eligible for First Ride Free. I kept seeing promos for Lyft promising "$50 ride credit," but they turned out to be an almost worthless bait and switch. You don't find out until you have entered the code that it is actually $5 off, not $50. And then it's too late to use the probably better $15 code from Citi, because once you have given them your phone number you locked in, even if you have never ordered a ride or even activated your membership.
dreamshark: (sharon tire)
Part III of February trip to Portland. Part1 and Part2 are here.
Full set of trip pictures here.

Little Lena SO wants to play outside, but it's too dreary and wet for more than a few quick trips out of doors with an adult trying to head off her headlong gallops through mud puddles. So she makes the most of each opportunity with full-on sprints around the entire yard with Grandma or Grandpa trying to keep up with her. Sometimes she finds wonderful things hidden under the bushes like rusty bottle caps or this dirty, cracked old whiffle ball.
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  When the weather is a little nicer we venture out of the yard. That's even better because she can make friends!
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The kids had moved into their new house since our last visit, but hadn't had a chance to set up the guest room yet. So our plan was to pick out some furniture we liked, buy it for them, and assemble it. With one thing and another, this project took up pretty much the whole week. So the night before we left we were finally able to unpack and sleep on the fully assembled guest bed, complete with memory foam and a new fleece blanket. Lena helped, of course.
 
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Dresser and sofa bed assembled at last, with 4" of memory foam folded up on the storage shelf above. It's a very cool futon bed design, easy as pie to unfold, but the mattress is too hard for us.
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dreamshark: (sharon tire)
Weather aside, this was a much more satisfying trip to Portland than the last one (which featured a sick, cranky baby). Richard and I were actually called into action as emergency babysitters. Since we live across the country from the grandbaby, this happens rarely enough to be a delight. Basically, Daddy (who takes care of Lena during Amber's work day) was going to be out of town for a week. This is where being retired comes in handy. And it turns out to be really cheap to fly to Portland in February (go figure. Who wouldn't love 45 degrees and constant rain?).

The full set of pictures is here (mostly Lena, but not entirely). And here's a sample of particularly adorable Lena pics. She was 15 months old, btw. Running around and "helping" with everything, but mostly not speaking yet. Wow, it's hard to pick just a handful  of pictures to capture a baby's current stage of development. Let's go with these 4 for Inside Lena. Outdoors Lena needs her own entry.
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Although she got a late start on solid food, Lena is finally eating a good variety of food. I think she enjoys the social aspect more than the actual food (she will NOT tolerate being left alone in her high chair for even a minute or two). Here she is practicing her new Baby Sign for "more," tickled pink that Grandpa understands and applauds it.

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Lena perched on her favorite baby seat (the bottom stair in the finished basement) with two of her favorite toys, a plastic spoon and saucepan. Curiously, she loves pretending to cook and eat with the spoon, although she refuses to feed herself actual food with a spoon.

In the middle one, you see her in training as a service baby following the command "Take Grandpa his grabber." She also does "Take Grandpa his cane." Except when she decides that the item in question is too much fun to give up immediately and runs off with it.

Maybe it's not the best Lena picture ever, but something about that curious little face at the open door just melts my heart. She's ever alert to the possibility that she might be missing something going on in the next room. That's the "guest room" that we were about to start working on. 
dreamshark: (sharon tire)
We're just back from a visit to Portland. As expected, the weather was rainy and cold, but there were still flowers blooming everywhere, including this beautiful thing that appears to be a rose tree. The trunk looks like a tree trunk and no rose thorns were in evidence, but they sure looked like roses to me. Is this for real? I know Portland fancies itself a "City of Roses" but still...

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So Amber and Olin found this cute little house just over the border into Milwaukie, an improbably named suburb south of Portland. It's got new floors, a huge yard, and more storage space than they ever imagined they could have. It's only 6 miles to Amber's school - accessible by a lovely off-road bike path.

10FrontYard 21LivingRoom24Kitchen
 Best of all, closing was schedule for Nov 30 - right in the middle of our Thanksgiving trip! How great is that? Of course it didn't quite work out that way. By Nov 30 the sellers weren't even close to finishing all the stuff they had promised to fix and had barely started moving out. Closing  got pushed to Dec 3, but the realtor arranged the "final inspection" for Tues, Dec 1, so we could see the inside of the house before we had to fly home. We were really excited to see it and glad we did, but the state of affairs 2 days before closing was pretty disheartening.
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Yet somehow by Dec 4 (Friday) they had it all done. The papers got signed and the keys were handed over. Here they are in their new house on Friday evening.
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Of course Lena started feeling better shortly after the grandparents left the scene, and was just as delighted as her parents. Today they rented a truck and moved all the stuff from the storage locker into the house. Amber reports that Lena had a wonderful time tearing around in the empty house. 
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It wasn't the best Thanksgiving trip we've ever had. We did get to see Amber and Olin's new house, despite closing being (predictably) postponed several times. And the weather wasn't all that bad, given that it's Portland in November. Cold but mostly not raining.

But the biggest disappointment was that Baby Lena was sick throughout our entire trip. And (like dead puppies) sick babies aren't much fun. About a month ago she started day-care, very part-time to hold her place and get her used to the idea. She liked it fine, loved it in fact. But within 3 days of her first visit she started an endless rounds of colds, finally culminating in her First Ear Infection. Nothing life-threatening, just low-grade fever, whining and clinginess, and finally a spell of terrifying screaming resulting in her First Trip to Urgent Care. The antibiotic helped almost immediately except that it gave her diarrhea and horrible horrible diaper rash. So... not her usual cheerful and outgoing self. The saddest thing was that she developed sudden (completely uncharacteristic) stranger anxiety, and insisted on being held by Mommy or Daddy pretty much all the time. She reluctantly accepted me after a day or so, but cried every time she saw Richard and his bushy beard. Heart-breaking, really. All he wanted to do was cuddle her and sing to her, but she was having none of it. The best he could do was push her in her stroller and sing to her from behind.

Sulky Lena, and Lena tricked into letting Grandpa push her stroller.
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She did perk up now and then, especially when the baby Tylenol kicked in or when she got a special treat, like being allowed to walk out the door on her own two feet. Or even better - get to take a long look inside the refrigerator.
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Part1 is here.
Larger set of pictures on Google Photo

It was 97 degrees when we got to Portland - not what I expected from Oregon. They've been having a spell of hot weather up and down the west coast, and even Oregon is having what they think of as a  drought. (Remember, I was with people from California who are unimpressed by 2 measly months without rain. But the grass
was kinda brown and crunchy.) Thank goodness the new apartment had A/C. The apartment is smaller than their old one, but much more attractive. And they LOVE the neighborhood, right next to Cathedral Park in St. Johns, North Portland.

You can see the magnificent St. Johns bridge from their parking lot (first picture below) and out the window. Amber has already started running across the bridge to Forest Park across the river. There's a sekrit stair leading from the quiet, shady parking lot up the hill to one of those adorable little neighborhood main streets with coffee shops and vegan restaurants and cinema pubs that Portland is famouse for. There is even a supermarket within walking distance.


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Being a major bridge fan, I just can't resist inserting 3 more pictures of the St. John Bridge. The one on the left is shot from Forest Park, across the Willamette from St Johns. The other two are taken from the lower end of Cathedral Park (2 blocks from the apartment) with and without Greenpeace demonstrators hanging underneath.
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Larger set of pictures here
Part 2 of Trip Report

We flew out to San Jose, and spent 4 days helping them pack. [livejournal.com profile] vgqn and [livejournal.com profile] magscanner were gracious enough to let us stay in their lovely home, even though they had other plans and left town the day after we arrived. Our plan was to hang around and play with the baby until it was time to help drive the truck, periodically stopping the proceedings to take everybody out to dinner. That plan worked pretty well for Grandpa Richard, but I ended up doing a lot more lifting and hauling than I anticipated due to a shortage of helpful friends on moving day. Olin's Mom did even more work, so I shouldn't complain too much.

The 650 mile drive to Oregon went smoothly except for some serious traffic in the last 100 miles that added a couple of hours to the drive. We made a brief stop in the unlovely town of Red Bluff, California, to visit friends and overnighted in a Holiday Inn Express in Medford, Oregon. Lena did really well: 2 long days on the road and only an hour or two of fussiness. She had lots of adventures along the way to feed her love of novelty. Grass!  Riding in a shopping cart at Target! Eating out over and over again!  A hotel room to explore, with that familiar cute baby in the mirror!

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The trip to Chicago happened because I got these credit cards that gave me free Hilton nights, and one thing led to another. That mini-vacation was such a success that I think it's time for another, albeit more modest one. I have a free night to use up at a Marriott Category 4 hotel. Turns out that Cat 4 doesn't go very far in Minnesota (even Duluth has no Marriotts below Cat 5!). Oh, but what of our gentle neighbor to the south? All sorts of possibilities.

We like to take overnight bike trips, sleeping in a nice hotel or B&B rather than on the ground by the bikes. I'm kind of tired of Lanesboro and realized that if we're willing to drive to Lanesboro it's only a stone's throw further to Iowa. So I'm thinking of a trip to Des Moines, stopping along the way at Big Island State Park in Minnesota and the High Trestle Bridge Trail in Iowa. It appears to be only 3-4 hours to Des Moines, so even with a biking stop along the way we should have time for a little touristing and a nice meal.

I have my eye on The Residence Inn Des Moines, which looks quite pleasant. Any ideas for spending a day or so in Des Moines?

The hotel says, "The NEW Residence Inn by Marriott, the only all- suite, extended stay hotel in downtown Des Moines sits on the scenic river, close to Principal Park, Court Avenue Entertainment District, Science Center of Iowa and the Iowa Events Center "

So in the absence of a better idea, I'm thinking Science Center of Iowa sounds promising. Some place air-conditioned would probably be a good idea, considering the climate in Iowa. Any ideas from Iowa folks?
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Strangely enough, I have lived in Minneapolis for more than 40 years and have NEVER touristed to Chicago! Well, okay, Thorin reminds me about that 5th grade chess tournament, during which he says we visited the aquarium. I do dimly remember sitting around in a hotel function room for many hours watching boys play chess, but I don't even remember the aquarium, so that doesn't count. I guess it counts for Thorin, but not for me.

Anyway, I had some free hotel nights to use up at ANY HILTON IN THE WORLD. Some people would have booked a flight to Paris, but I decided Chicago was adventurous enough. And then it occurred to me that we could take the train (which I can pay for with travel points on another credit card) and the whole trip is practically free.

So... tomorrow we are getting up early and taking the train to Chicago! I bought us a couple of 3-day Go-Chicago passes that allow us to gallop from one attraction to another until we are completely worn out. I have a tentative plan. If the train gets there on time, we should be able to make it from our hotel to the Art Institute, which happens to be open late Thursday night. If the train gets in late, which I gather has been known to happen, we'll just have a leisurely evening and take a trip up the Sears Tower on Sunday before we catch the train home. Day 3 was on sale, so one attraction breaks even.

The itinerary on the 2 full days in the middle is somewhat weather-dependent. If it's nice, more with the boat tours and bike rentals and zoos. If it's rainy or unbearably hot - more museum time. I had no idea Chicago was such a disneyland! 
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I used to keep my online pictures on LJ, but the "improvements" to their already difficult photo gallery drove me away from that. I tried PhotoBucket, but it was very slow and had the tools for managing albums scattered all over their interface. Then I found Picasa, and it seemed perfect! I downloaded the desktop version of Picasa for managing pics on my computer and love it for that. And hey, look! You can create albums on your computer and upload them to an online photo sharing site with one click. Awesome.

I didn't realize that Google had already bought PicasaWeb at that point and was slowly starting to "migrate" it to Google+.  I do have a Google+ account, but have never warmed up to it. I liked the idea of circles, but simply cannot master the constantly changing user interface. This didn't matter because I don't know very many people who use Google+ anyway, so I just forgot about it.

Then I tried to upload some new Picasa albums to PicasaWeb and they all ended up on Google+ instead. When I go to PicasaWeb I can see the Google+ albums, but the privacy settings are different and seem to collide with each other. Both sites use the term "public" but it seems to mean different things. I prefer to make most of my online albums public so I can post links to them elsewhere. But I think that when I make them "public" on Google+ they immediately inflict themselves on everybody in all my circles, whether they are interested in my family holiday pictures or not. I'm not quite sure there - I really can't figure out what the Google+ privacy settings mean. And I still don't know if a Google+ "public" album is visible to people who are not Google+ members.

And I don't know what happens when I try to link to such an album from someplace external, like... here. Thus this entry. Here's a link to pictures from last year's Thanksgiving trip to San Jose. That ones goes to Google Plus.

For comparison, here is a link to the same album through Picasaweb.

If anyone wants to let me know how these links work for them, that would be nice. If you can view the album through both links, which one do you like better?  
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Since I gave up on the LJ gallery feature, I've been posting trip reports elsewhere. But there's no reason not to publish a quick summary and a few links on LJ.

Last month, Richard and I made our 5th trip to our personal island paradise, St. John. It is the smallest and loveliest of the US Virgin Islands. (and it is St. John, not "St. John's") What made this trip extra special was that [livejournal.com profile] ambertatge and her husband were able to join us. We loved sharing our favorite place with them.

Amber on the deck of Skyflower Villa

Full set of pictures here:
All the Underwater pictures.
Detailed trip report on VIOL forum, with day by day adventures
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
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Two or three years ago I started trying to identify the bizarre regional accent in a podcast drama and spent about 4 hours clicking my way through online articles about the fascinating West Country dialect. Did you know that's the accent people are mimicking when they "talk like a pirate, arrrr?" That's because Robert Newton, the actor who played Long John Silver in a variety of film and TV shows in the 1950's, hailed from Dorset. And that's only one of the many fascinating tidbits I learned that night. Let's just say it is a linguistically interesting part of England.

Fast forward to Christmas, 2012, when Amber asked for some "historical fiction in Nook format."  She never said it had to be NEW historical fiction, so I started downloading *.epub versions of Sir Walter Scott, Conan Doyle, and eventually Richard Doddridge Blackmore. Both Richard and I recall reading Lorna Doone when we were kids and retaining the vague idea that it was set in Scotland somewhere. Well, it's not.  It's set in Exmoor. It's based on the lurid local history of the outlaw Doone clan, but what we mostly remembered was the black cliffs and waterfalls of Doone Glen and the exquisite spookiness of the soggy, foggy moors. And where is Exmoor?  Just a short 50 miles or so from Dartmoor, the setting for The Hound of the Baskervilles. Remember the craggy tors towering above the treacherous Grimpen Mire, where all those innocent wild ponies sank screaming to their deaths? Doesn't that sound like a fine place for a vacation?

So now I'm planning (just in case a trip abroad suddenly seems possible) a literary tour of the West Country of England. What other writers and artists have been inspired by the West Country?  Thomas Hardy comes to mind. And Agatha Christie. Terry Pratchett? 

Here's a picture of some adorable Exmoor Ponies, just waiting to be sucked down into the mire.
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dreamshark: (conch)
Well, it looks like LJ has completely dismantled their old scrapbook system, and I can't make head nor tail out of it. So if you want to see pictures of our trip to St. John in September, I put a smallish selection up on Photobucket.

I also posted excruciatingly detailed trip reports on Trip Advisor, in 4 parts:
USVI Trip Report, Part1
USVI Trip Report, Part2
USVI Trip Report, Part3
USVI Trip Report, Part4
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Doctor did not find Richard's arm nearly as disturbing as I did, but did agree it was bad enough to merit a course of oral antibiotics. He didn't seem at all worried about taking the arm to the Caribbean or tell him to stay out of the water (which would pretty much defeat the point of going).  So that's a relief.

On the other hand, I seem to be coming down with a cold, which is a bummer. On the other hand, if I'm going to get a cold at this time of year, the tropics seems like the place to do it.  When I get colds in the fall they tend to turn into winter asthma. Maybe a little bit of tropical heat and sunshine will be just the thing.

In other news, American Airlines has cancelled 300 flights this week.  The pilots union denies "job action," insisting that it is just coincidence so that so many of their pilots aren't feeling well. So... we'll see how that goes.  Checking the details of my trip insurance...
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