Travelogue: Scotland 2017

It’s been a long summer.

I originally saved this draft in mid-August, about a week and a half after I returned from Scotland, but it has sat empty since then because Life has been happening and I just haven’t had the time to really write up a proper recap. My instagram was probably a pretty good overall peek, though! All the same, I’m including a gallery of some of my favorites with a highlight from each day of the trip below, to the best of my memory a month later. Better late than never!

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Day 1, we arrived in Edinburgh six or seven hours later than intended after a very long delay on our JFK layover that meant we pretty much hit the ground running. We had an opening dinner that night and got to hit some of the shopping highlights, but most of day 1 was jetlag and trying not to fall asleep before 8pm. I mostly succeeded.

In the middle of Edinburgh Castle

Day 2 began with a city tour and then a visit to Edinburgh Castle, and it was really neat to get to explore it again after having last been there 11 years prior. The weather was also nice and the crowds weren’t awful, and because the bus had deposited us at the top of the giant hill that makes up the Royal Mile, we were able to explore along its length on the way back down to our hotel, including stops at St Giles Cathedral and other historic spots along the way. We ended the evening eating in a cozy pub on Rose Street near our hotel, hiding from the rain.

St Andrews Cathedral ruins

Day 3 was a bright and early bus trip north to St Andrews to tour the town, visit the ruined Cathedral, and, of course, walk along the Old Course. I enjoyed getting my feet wet in the North Sea and walking barefoot on the beach (which is actually one of the only times I’ve gotten to do so this summer… weird!). I also made friends with a hawk named Bracken whose job it was to keep the seagulls off of the golf course. We ate in a fabulous fish and chips shop for lunch as well. That night we got to attend an event at the National Gallery to view their exhibit on Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Beyond Caravaggio) and for a traditional Scottish dinner with ceilidh (“kay-lee”) dancing.

Holyroodhouse Palace in brief sunshine

Day 4 had a free day, so we decided to stick around Edinburgh and head down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse for most of the day. I hadn’t gotten to see Holyroodhouse on my previous visit, as Jared and I happened to be there during the week of the Queen’s annual residence, so it was neat to explore it for the first time. The Palace is home to a huge collection of art, furniture, and other artifacts belonging to the Royal Family, and the tour book for purchase was worth every penny: we knew something about every room we visited, and were able to find notable specific pieces. The Palace grew off of the old Holyrood Abbey, which is now in ruins but much of which dates from 13th century and earlier.

Setting sail on Loch Lomond

Day 5 we took another bus trip out into the Scottish countryside, this time to Stirling Castle and Loch Lomond. We began in Stirling, where the castle has been largely restored to look as it might have at the height of its occupation, but which means there are many modern-produced fixtures and the like. It was interesting to see how brightly colored everything must have been when it was new (hundreds of years ago). From there we continued to Loch Lomond and took a short boat trip out into the water. We also ate lunch at a little shop with a garden and very good soup, which was very welcome on a cold, wet day.

Royal Yacht Britannia

Day 6 was our last full day in Scotland, and we headed to the other side of town to tour the Royal Yacht Britannia. It’s been retired for quite a while now, but has many of the state rooms, as well as the dishes, serving pieces, art, and other artifacts houses aboard open for public display. We enjoyed a peek into 1980s and 1990s history, along with tea on board with a view of the harbor. We rounded out the night with a closing dinner, including bagpipes, and a lot of good food.

Last Castle view as we packed to head home

So that’s a (very) brief overview of the trip, but I wanted to write it all out while it was still relatively fresh in my mind. There will be more coming soon, I’m sure, as I’m gearing up for the book release and also getting closer to moving (less than 3 months away now, eek!).

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Okay.

We have “Hard Copy Orders” in hand. This means that J is officially set to transfer to….. San Diego! Ta-da!

But this also means that now it’s time to start all of the hoop-jumping that’s involved in actually, y’know, setting it up. This isn’t like doing a civilian move (which I just negotiated last March, as we had to move within Chicago on kind of short notice). We’ve got to have forms, copies of things, signatures, dates set months in advance…. and all on the beast that is move.mil (the DoD’s website for PCSing).

I’ve been at this long enough now that I remember when you used to have to schedule a “counseling” appointment, and actually go into an office on base and have some random clerk person fill out the paperwork for you while you tried to keep your head from spinning. Then they “upgraded” it so that you STILL had to go into an appointment in an office on base but you had to log into one of the DoD’s ancient PCs and use a digital form (that was kind of like using DOS in middle school was) to submit, and then still sign it with a “counselor” who was there to answer any questions. That stage of this “upgrade” my questions mostly were “WHY are we sitting here doing this at a junky old computer??” and “WHY can’t the counselor sit here with me when we need help with every other question??” and other gems.

Now the process is fully online, including the paperwork. You can download, sign, scan, and re-upload your forms all in one go. But the process to getting those forms? It’s still a pain. I spent probably 3 hours trying to get the website to work properly because, as a DoD site, it doesn’t run as well on new browsers. And you’ve got to allow it to generate pop-ups, and even once you do THAT, it only actually pops up about half of the time. It doesn’t tell you when it’s timed out until you suddenly can’t save anything anymore, and sometimes it times out while you’re actively submitting things. (I literally uploaded two forms, and when I went to click “Submit” it told me it had timed out. But when I logged back in, there were the forms! I DON’T KNOW EITHER.)

Thank goodness for good friends who help me keep my sanity:

PCS no cats or plants

(I’m in pink, click to make bigger.)

SO. If you’re here looking for tips to set up your PCS, here’s what I’ve got:

  • Move.mil isn’t terribly user-friendly, so once you’ve found your ETA SSO Portal and the actual DPS page, bookmark them both. You’ll have to log into the ETA SSO Portal first regardless, but having the DPS page bookmarked will save you the twenty minutes I always spend hunting down the right link.
  • The system will actually save where you left off, after you’re a certain amount along in the process. I’m not sure exactly how much that is, but I’ve been able to go back and work on setting up the household goods (HHG) shipment in pieces.
  • Military spouse/dependent? Be SURE to add yourself as an authorized agent for both pick up and delivery. It doesn’t hurt to hold a Special Power of Attorney covering HHG shipments specifically.
  • Add the new orders to the system (and upload them as a PDF to the website!!) BEFORE you start adding your HHG shipment.
  • You can sign and upload the documents you need directly to the site– DO NOT CLICK SUBMIT until you’ve done so!
  • WHEN YOU CHOOSE DATES, be aware that it’s asking for your “Preferred Pick Up Date” which means the LAST day that you will have movers. Anticipate them being scheduled for 1-2 days before this. (So if you want to start moving on Monday, list that Wednesday as your Pick Up Date. If you list Monday, they’ll come the prior Thursday, and so on.)
  • If you get an errorjust close out your DPS page and go back to the ETA SSO Portal. Click CTRL + F5 to give the page a clean refresh, and then go back to the DPS page. This resolved just about every error I encountered.

I was reminded of all of this last week as I fought the very clunky system. Got any other tips? Leave them in comments below. (I could probably use them. Heh.)

A few weeks ago I got to attend San Diego Comic-Con for the first time as press. It was a vastly different experience than going as an attendee. I’m hesitant to say that one is better than the other, because it was just… different. There are trade-offs. But this is just meant as a recap of the event.

 

I arrived in San Diego on Wednesday, met up with my friend (and co-blogger) Meghan, grabbed some lunch, and headed downtown to the convention center for Preview Night. As press, we got to be inside the exhibit hall when they opened it up to the masses, which was an event unto itself, but I particularly enjoyed those few minutes to get our bearings and plan out how we’d cover that part of the convention. We stayed for a while, chatted with some exhibitors (and took photos of things for later), and headed out to a networking event.

I spent a good bit of the convention live streaming over at Geek Girl Pen Pals as I walked the exhibit hall floor and generally tried to provide an “experience” of the event for those who couldn’t make it. We are, after all, international, and California is a long flight, and convention badges are HARD to come by, so the goal was to make the event as accessible as possible for the community. (Random photo of the Batmobile is the actual, drive-able vehicle from the movie!)

Thursday afternoon, I headed to the Hyatt and checked in for our first big event– the Her Universe Fashion Show. You can read my full coverage here, but it was so much fun going to the fashion show. I had a clear view of the stage (in fact, seated right behind the judges, I had to work on keeping a neutral face in case one of them was on camera), the production quality was excellent, and the designers themselves put forth some amazing pieces. I can’t wait to see what new styles come out of the show, as the three winners get to collaborate on a spring line (Disney princess themed, no less!) for Hot Topic. (Winning styles pictured above in my blurry phone snap.)

Friday I covered the Let’s Get Fashionably Nerdy panel which included some of my favorite geeky clothing designers (not to mention Jordan Ellis whose Jordandene NYC tops I wear at least twice a week) talking about the shift from the “nerdy t-shirt” to actually fashionable attire that can subtly (or not) express the fandoms people love. Friday night is a bit of a blur but I feel like we had good food that night. Honestly, it starts to blur together. (WAIT!) Friday night was the Geek Girl Pen Pals meet-up! We went to a sushi place in the Gaslamp district and it was so fun! (See? Blurring together!)

Saturday morning Meghan and I got up pretty early because we covered some of the off-site events. San Diego Comic-Con is somewhat famous for these events, which are usually some type of immersive environment produced by a particular brand, production company (Netflix has one, for instance), or for a specific show. We started at the Game of Thrones experience, which was fairly neat. I have a lot of photos from it that I’ll post in a separate page about it, as the experience itself was pretty much one giant photo op. People waited in line for hours to get into this thing, and I have to say… it was cool, but not nine-hours-in-line cool. (I don’t think much is, to be honest.)

Next we visited the Netflix experience, and this is where the “cost” of being press starts to come in. I got to go through the Stranger Things themed part of the Netflix experience, but as I had to be at a press conference at 3:15, I couldn’t take the time to do the rest of the exhibit. I got an awesome photo– but I didn’t get to see everything. I don’t mind. It’s just the reality. (We get into these events at scheduled times but can’t always participate in the full experience.)

Saturday afternoon I attended the press conference for the upcoming series, Star Trek: Discovery, and I have to say that it sounds like it’s going to be a great show. Here is my bad photo of the full cast. I borrowed photos from another blogger and the official press docs for my full coverage. But it was fun, and I’m looking forward to watching when it premiers next month.

After the press conference, I met back up with Meghan for our appointment to go through the Bladerunner 2049 experience, and I have to say that it was the best of just about any off-site experience I’ve ever done. (Sorry, HBO, the Game of Thrones one wasn’t this good.) Even though as media we didn’t get to do the whole virtual reality portion of the immersion, we still got to walk into a huge hangar that was converted into a street corner from the Bladerunner world. In-character actors inhabiting the whole space, “rain” falling, mist and puddles, a noodle bar (not to mention noodles and whiskey tastings for those old enough), and no rush to hurry through. It was SO well done.

After all of that I was pretty worn out, and I had to get up at 4am on Sunday to catch a flight to North Carolina for the next leg of a whirlwind two weeks. But I learned a lot and I covered a lot and I can’t wait to do it again next year when maybe I can just go home at night in between (or maybe figure out a way to get a hotel room downtown.)

Because this is the big thing I’ll say about going to San Diego Comic-Con as press– YES there are perks (like appointment times for off-site experiences), and we had a lot of fun, but we were there to work. I spent a lot of time moving as fast as I could through a throng of 200,000 people trying to make it to appointments on time. I bought new inserts for my shoes. I drank pedialyte like it was my job. I loved it. But it wasn’t the same as being an attendee.

Here’s an example: I didn’t have time to stand in line when I wanted to. This may sound weird, but bear with me. There’s a reason they call SDCC “Line Con”– eeeeeeverything has a line. But you’ve got to make a time commitment to get into certain things. If you, say, wanted to get into the DuckTales panel (and didn’t realize in advance that David Tennant, the new voice of Scrooge McDuck, was going to be there because you were at Comic-Con to cover, say Geek Fashion), you wouldn’t be able to get in line far enough ahead of time to make it into the panel room. As I keep saying, THIS IS OKAY. I did many amazing things. Being press comes with, y’know, appointments to keep. It’s all balance.

Summary: I can’t wait to do it again next year.

An old stretch of Route 66 in Dwight, IL

I like roadside attractions. You know this by now. (See: Cabazon Dinosaurs for previous stop.) And in the US at least there is no place for roadside stops quite like Route 66.

Route 66 has become, in and of itself, a bit of a roadside attraction in its own right. Begun in 1926 and decommissioned in 1985, it nevertheless remains in the cultural consciousness of the US. It was the road that could take you from Chicago to Los Angeles, the Main Street of America, the Mother Road, and it embodies the automotive spirit of America like nothing else. Countless communities along it prospered as long as the traffic came. And did that traffic come! Especially after WWII, the whole stretch of Route 66 became one of the most popular road trips in the country, and the little towns and mom and pop shops along it became iconic stops. But the traffic got to be too much, and the Interstates were born.

You can still find most of Route 66 if you know where to look. It’s been recognized by Congress and the World Monuments Fund as a significant cultural site, and there is an organization committed to preserving what remains. The National Park Service even has a published itinerary with links to popular roadside stops and essays and maps. And there’s something really enticing about it, after all. Two lane roads and tiny diners and places ranging from the comfortable to the just plain bizarre.

I’ve been to the beginning, in downtown Chicago. I’d like to go to the end some day, in Santa Monica. In the meantime, I’m exploring the section that’s within a day’s drive of where I currently reside.

The Lily-pad Room in Onandaga Cave State Park‘s Cathedral Caverns.

For the July 4th weekend, we followed I-55 (which runs parallel to the old Route 66) down to central Missouri and the northern stretches of the Ozarks to meet friends who live in Kansas City. It was a lovely trip, but on the way down and again on the way back, we made a point of stopping on Route 66 as often as we could. Even our final destination, at Onandaga Cave State Park, is part of the cave system that includes one of the oldest stops along the famed highway, Meramec Caverns.

Jesse James Wax Museum outside of Meramec Caverns

Outside of the Meramec Caverns visitor center is a Jesse James Wax Museum that combines my love of roadside attractions with my love of interesting conspiracy theories: the museum posits that the famous outlaw Jesse James faked his own death and lived to be 103, dying in the 1950s. It was bizarre and entertaining and worth the price of admission (if you like that sort of thing, which I do).

The Mill on Route 66 in Lincoln, IL

On the drive home, we stopped at a site called The Mill which has just re-opened after about a decade of fundraising and refurbishment. If you look at some of the old photos, this place was brought back from near collapse by a dedicated team. I like that it sits right at the intersection of the train tracks and the old highway.

We’ve made a few other stops along Route 66 over the last couple of years, but these are the most recent. Have you driven any of Route 66? Do you have a favorite roadside stop that I should add to my list?

Last Friday, my publisher (50/50 Press) hosted an online cover reveal party and I got to be part of it, releasing the cover of Threadwalkers out into the wild for the first time. WOOT!

I really love the cover, and it fits very well with the story, though of course you won’t get to find out exactly how until it comes out this fall… but trust me when I say it’s pretty much perfect.

As part of the event, I took questions from social media, and will leave them here, in case you wondered any of the same things.

Did you get to design it?
I did not get to design this cover, but the publisher was very generous in taking my preferences into account. (I specifically requested no headless female torsos, which has been a bizarre trend in YA covers for years now.) I was sent some mock-ups to look through and my favorite was the one that eventually developed into the final cover. It was the publisher’s favorite, too, so that worked out well.

What was the hardest part of this whole process?
Honestly, every stage has been hard in its own way. Plotting time travel stuff? Hard. Editing and getting good feedback from beta readers? Hard. Querying agents/publishers? HARD. But it’s also hard in a satisfying way, like how I imagine people who enjoy working out feel after a really good workout. I am not one of those people, but I can imagine it’s similar.

What was the most exciting part?
Finding people who were excited about the story, too. It’s easy to write for yourself, but finding someone else who likes it, and who wants to make it into a real, physical Thing? That’s something else entirely.

When can I pre-order it?
Not just yet…. but I should know soonish (meaning, by end of the summer). It’s currently set for a mid-autumn release, so I imagine it’ll turn up online a little before then. I’ll keep you posted. Promise.

Is it going to be available in my country?
This one’s important to me because I know so many folks around the world, and I can tell you that YES it will be available internationally. I get to have some input on that, which I really appreciate. Will be it everywhere? No…. but it’ll be on Amazon in a lot of places, which is fantastic. Again, I’ll keep you posted.

So there you go. If you’ve got any other questions, just ask and I’ll do my best to answer.

Do you want to know my favorite thing about the cover? It’s got my name on it.

Early on Sunday morning we were first in line for the Willis (née Sears) Tower Skydeck. The doors opened at 8:00am and by 8:15 we were on the 103rd floor with a couple of other sailors and our families and Jared signed up for 4 more years* in the Navy.

I don’t do well with heights, but Jared wanted something specific to Chicago (and this duty station and that we couldn’t do anywhere else) so the Skydeck was it.

Re-enlistments are a lot like tiny military weddings, except that the military member is re-committing to their branch of service. You’ve got to have three elements: the sailor (in our case), an officer to perform it, and another sailor (also in our case) as witness. They’ll sign the papers, too, and make it all official (once the Navy’s had enough admin time to get it done).

One of the things many non-enlisted/non-military folks might not realize is that the location of the ceremony is wherever the service member chooses. Within reason, anyway. And that means there have been some pretty wild places chosen. We know people who’ve had their ceremonies in the nose cones of submarines while underway, from the yardarms of their ships, on the deck of the USS Constitution, and in their own front yards. It’s just one of those little quirks that makes Navy life interesting. (Last time he re-enlisted was on the USS Missouri in Hawaii, standing under the big guns.)

That also means that, like little weddings, they can get a little pricey if you’re thinking in terms of a big event. I can tell you, though, that there are a lot of ways to make interesting or unique re-enlistment ceremonies happen. The USS Missouri, for instance, didn’t charge us at all, and was able to schedule a morning time slot for us on the day of Jared’s choice (his birthday, five years ago). Many military sites (and even some National Park sites) will work with you on this and they love supporting military members and their families. In the case of the Skydeck, if it hadn’t been a holiday weekend, we could have booked a private deck time for a pretty reasonable rate, but being that they had early hours for Memorial Day weekend, we just made sure we were there first thing.

You can also make it more like a fun picnic event, inviting the whole division to a cookout somewhere for a party to celebrate. I find that a bring-your-own thing to grill works out well because it leaves the most expensive items up to the guests, plus everyone gets to eat what they want.

All of this isn’t to say you can’t have just a simple, quick-and-done thing one day at work, either. Jared’s first was like that, with him extending an extra couple of years on his first enlistment. The ship’s galley (if you’re at sea, and even sometimes on shore duty, if you’ve got galley access) is good about making cake, though. Re-enlistments call for cake!

Anyway, Jared wanted something that was a just-Chicago thing, and it worked out that his mom and my parents were able to come, and the weather held so we could actually see and generally it was fantastic.

Obviously I’m really proud of him for reaching this point in his career, where this enlistment will take him all the way to twenty years and the possibility of full retirement (we shall see what happens in the next couple of years, though… might stay in longer), but can I just take a moment to also be really proud of myself for actually going out there on that platform with him?

As I said, I don’t do heights. This smile is a LIE (or a deep cry for help right before I scurried back to the psychological safety of the not-see-through floor). Anyway, me going out for a photo? That’s love, right there. (And a smidge of my recent efforts to face fears, and to just put myself out there and try things even when I’m scared. Deep, y’all. Deep. Except also really tall. Deep and tall? Deeptall? I’ll stop now.)

Anyway, that is done now. We survived. We had a lovely brunch and then went home and had a lovely nap (while Jared did one of his ridiculous workouts).

I guess we’ll do four more years of this Navy thing then. Here we come, 2021!

*Symbolically. Paperwork is a separate thing. Really, the best metaphor for this whole thing is a like a mini-wedding. Ceremony, paperwork, cake.