One of my favorite things about WordPress is its community of kind, supportive people. And one of those lovely people is Jessica, whose blog I fell in love with instantly because of this post. She is a superb, deeply perceptive writer and a marvelous photographer. I promise that if you take one virtual stroll with her — maybe in inappropriate shoes? — you’ll fall in love, too.
So what an honor it was to read her latest post and see that she’d nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award (merci infiniment, chère Jessica !). I sometimes turn down these awards because they can have a “chain letter” element — and I don’t want my blog friends to feel pressured or obligated to continue the thread. But in Jessica’s honor I will gladly accept.
Ready? First, let’s start with the rules:
SUNSHINE BLOGGER AWARD RULES
• Thank the blogger who nominated you.
• Answer the 11 questions asked.
• Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions.
• List the rules and include the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post.
And now, the goods:
What inspired you to start blogging?
My friends Pam, Laurie, and Derek. I loved how freely and unselfconsciously they wrote about their lives and thought “maybe I should try that too.” Which is weird, because I am an intensely private person.
Sadly, none of their blogs is active anymore but I do owe them all a debt of gratitude.
What do you hope to accomplish with your blog/writing?
I have so far failed miserably in my aspirations to attract one billion subscribers, eradicate flatworms, or start a cult. But I have stayed true to my stated mission of sharing my love of the absurd (fluorescent marmosets!) and the beauty I find all around me.
In hindsight, though, my blog’s greatest accomplishment has been introducing me to incredible people all over the world, many of who have become cherished, real-life friends.
Have you ever experienced culture shock?
Oh my, yes. The worst was when my family moved to Minnesota. In spite of my efforts to look like the cool girls, I became an outcast and a target for bullies — and my classmates branded me a liar because of the fantastical stories I told about Peru.
It wasn’t all bad, though: Being on the outskirts made me a keen observer and taught me a lot both about my fellow humans and myself. I also learned that even if you do fit in, conformity exacts its own price.
Since then I’ve made a point of deliberately exposing myself to culture shock from time to time. Yes, it can be intimidating and even scary. But it can also be liberating and reassuring to be reminded that people are fundamentally the same the world over.
Describe the most memorable meal you’ve ever had OR the worst date. Or both.
Most memorable meal? I’m fortunate that a dozen contenders flicker across my mental movie screen. So instead I’ll tell you about the worst date. (Scroll to the very bottom of this post if you’re really interested.)
What is something you wish you were better at?
Small talk. I can never find a happy medium between “I like potatoes,” and “When you think about it, even the universe will die someday.”
What cities/countries have you lived in, and do you have a favorite?
I live in Minnesota now but grew up in England, Mexico and Peru — and they’re all dear to me for different reasons. But Paris is my favorite city (although I technically haven’t lived there). It has an intoxicating blend of history, culture, beauty and grittiness I find irresistible.
Where do you find inspiration?
In nature. Whether I have writer’s block or the blues or feel “stuck” as a photographer, a walk through the woods or prairie always makes it better. Pausing to hear the birds or study the bark of an ancient tree reminds me that I’m part of something much bigger, much more powerful, and much more beautiful than my little human brain can even imagine.
What is your travel philosophy?
When my sisters and I were little my parents bought us all matching red backpacks, and the rule was that you could bring whatever you wanted on vacation as long as it fit inside. This taught me to make tough choices and travel light.
But the philosophy that has served me best as an adult is that, “At some point the trip you plan will become the trip you’re on.” You’ll lose your wallet. You’ll get stranded in Rome. Or fall down a flight of stairs. You won’t always have a choice in how your trip unfolds, but you will always have a choice in how you respond when the unexpected occurs. (Those last four words are for my friend TO’S.)
What is something you think is completely overrated?
Paris Hilton! That was the first thing that popped into my head. But also microbrews, Frapuccinos, avocado toast, manbuns … pretty much anything that’s wildly popular.
What’s your drink?
Kombucha. It’s a bit of a problem, actually. I may be addicted.
Describe a piece of art (in any medium) that changed the way you saw the world.
Pablo Picasso’s painting, Guernica. I saw a photo of it in Delta Airlines’ Sky magazine (“Experience Spain,” read the inexplicable tourism ad). I stared at those faces for a long time: women, horses, bulls, children … all screaming in terror. Men lying motionless on the ground. It was one of the most powerful and stark depictions of human suffering and inhumanity I’d ever seen — all of it expressed in just a few spare, almost-abstract shapes. It not only taught me about a tragic episode of history but also gave me an appreciation for Picasso, whose work I had never really understood before.
And if you’re still interested in my reading about my worst date, don’t forget to scroll to the very bottom of the post.
Now, here are my 11 questions for some of my other favorite bloggers, in no particular order. Please don’t feel compelled to respond — but know that I appreciate you and all you bring to this community.
Alys at Gardening Nirvana
Hanna at Hanna’s Walk
Marcus at Streets of Nuremberg
V.J. at One Woman’s Quest
Patti at Learn More Every Day
Kate at Ankhor You
Suzanne and Pierre at Paris Expat 2012
Anthony at Today’s Perfect Moment
Corey at French Frye in Paris
Beth at I Didn’t Have my Glasses On
ME Lewis at France Says
What inspired you to start blogging?
What are you most proud of?
If you won the lottery, on what would you splurge?
Where is the last place you traveled to? Would you like to go back?
What is your favorite book? Why?
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self?
What is the silliest thing you ever saw or heard at work?
What is your favorite childhood memory?
Have you ever gotten hopelessly lost? What happened?
If you could have dinner with any famous person, whom would you choose?
What hopes and dreams do you have for your next 10 years?
My worst date
It was my husband’s and my fifth anniversary — or maybe our sixth? — and to mark the occasion we decided to go camping.
We got up early on the appointed day and loaded up the dog and the tent and the sleeping bags and the freeze-dried food and the camp stove (can you tell I married a former Boy Scout?) and the drinking water and the miniature chess game and a travel-sized bottle of schnapps and drove 200 miles north to Split Rock Lighthouse.
We hiked maybe a mile into the woods, located our campsite, and pitched our tent. But we hadn’t even sprung the last pole when the insects found us. And by “insects” I mean literal clouds of mosquitoes and blackflies, all of them craving our precious blood. We instructed the dog to pee and beat a hasty retreat into the tent.
Have you ever tried to sleep with a mosquito in the room? Imagine three dozen inside a tiny, stuffy tent. We swatted at the darkness … until a flash temporarily blinded us. Lightning!
Soon the wind started buffeting our tent. Then came the heavy raindrops. And then, the creaking of tree branch rubbing against tree branch. “Widow-maker!” exclaimed my Boy Scout. It sounded like a huge branch — and it was right above us. We had to get away. Fast.
It was pouring now, and the thunder was deafening. We took turns comforting our terrified dog as we shoved random gear into our packs. Then we slogged a mile through the mud and whipping branches and piled our poor soaked dog and belongings into the car.
“Thank God we got out of there,” said my Boy Scout. It was almost midnight and the visibility was terrible, but at least we were out of the weather and on our way back home.
“Rrrrr,” said our car. “Rrrr, rrrrr …” The strange sound was sporadic, but the loss of power that accompanied it made our hearts race. We decided to aim for Sandstone and pull into the parking lot of Banning State Park.
“OOOOH! A MOTEL!!” It was right across the highway from the state park, and the Vacancy light was on. A red-and-blue neon miracle!
I felt terrible for the woman we got out of bed at 2 a.m. to check us in. “Do you have any dog-friendly rooms?” I asked. “Is the animal clean?” she shot back, eyeing the two soaking-wet, mud-splattered, twig-covered humans who stood before her. “Oh yes!” I replied with unnatural enthusiasm.
We let Arrow in through the back door of the motel, trying to wipe the mud from his feet and belly as he pulled us down the hall. Confident that he was finally clean enough to enter the room, we threw open the door and removed his leash.
Arrow was so overjoyed to be indoors that he slammed his butt onto the carpet and scooted the entire length of the room as Esteban and I looked on, horrified at the brown skid mark the dog was leaving in his wake. (That’s how the phrase “I believe you’ve met our dog, Scooter?” became one of Esteban’s and my most enduring pet jokes.)
But we haven’t done much camping since then, for some reason. Maybe it’s time we gave it another try? We have another anniversary coming up, after all …