Hello 40!

Hi, I turn 40 today! I’m actually pretty excited about it. Sometimes, this surprises people and they ask me why. For me, it boils down to a few things: 1). You can either let yourself feel bummed out about aging, or you can choose to embrace it.  2).  Every single one of us ages. It’s the most universal human experience I can think of. Natasha Lyonne, Kate Hudson, and Rosario Dawson all turn 40 the same month as me, so I feel like I’m in pretty damn good company, and 3). Getting older is far better than the alternative. Over the past year, I’ve had several loved ones go through various health issues, and it has only driven home how very lucky we are to get the amount of days we have on this planet. Life may seem mundane and downright tedious at times, but it’s also so, so very fragile. I have a lot more I want to accomplish during however many more trips around the sun I’ve got coming, so Imma carpe the f outta this diem.

There’s a David Bowie quote that I love, “Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.” I’ve actually been spending the past year thinking about how I want to celebrate this milestone birthday. I decided early on that I want to be on some sort of epic trip while I cross over into my next decade. My favorite type of travel blends outdoor adventure with city culture, long stretches of road trip driving into the horizon and also immersing myself into the landscape, sleeping under open skies. So at this very moment, Kurt and I are taking a long road trip along Route 66 into the American southwest, a place neither of us have explored much at all before. Travel blogs to come soon!

And this is my brand, but honestly, look at the many gifts the pop culture is giving us this month. Game of Thrones is back for its final season. We got a new Star Wars episode IX trailer AND a Veronica Mars teaser in the same day. Beyoncé blessed us with a Netflix concert doc. Fosse/Verdon is recreating musical numbers I grew up obsessed with. And Avengers: Endgame released just before my birthday. This life is an embarrassment of riches. When this post publishes as scheduled, I will have probably spent about 4 straight hours crying over the steering wheel still getting over Endgame. What a time to be alive! I can’t wait to see what happens next, whether it’s an encounter with the World’s Largest Rocking Chair AND the World’s Second Largest Rocking Chair in the same day, or seeing who ends up on the Iron Throne in the next few weeks.

I’m just very, very thankful to be here and be lucky enough to see it all.

 

Iceland Diaries: Nerding Out on the Game of Thrones Tour

Saturday, Feb. 18

We had only booked one tour bus day trip excursion for the duration of our Iceland trip, and because we are who we are, it was a Game of Thrones shooting location tour. Almost all of the regulars from our yearly GoT Marathon were on the Iceland trip, so it made perfect sense. We took a quick shuttle ride to the bus terminal, where we boarded a giant touring bus. Having no idea of what to expect, we were surprised by the amount of people who had signed up; the bus was nearly filled to capacity with people of all nationalities, ranging in ages from twenty-somethings to an unexpected amount of elderly Thrones fans. “Winter is coming” t-shirts were spotted throughout the crowd.

Our tour guide reminded me of an Icelandic Simon Pegg. He kicked off the tour by introducing his two young sons, who were tagging along for the day. All three family members wore Star Wars t-shirts. The bus ventured out of the city and rumbled along gravel country roads until we arrived at… the exact same horse farm I had visited the day before, ha. One of the stablehands had a black Iceland horse waiting for us in the paddock, which we could pet and take photos with. The horse had been featured in an episode, so we were meeting our first GoT celeb. We learned that the scenes at Castle Black are filmed in Ireland, but scenes North of the Wall are in Iceland. Keep an eye on the horses while watching the show; Irish horses are taller than Icelandic horses, so if Jon Snow’s horse seems to experience shrinkage issues, it’s because they switched up shooting locations.

Kurt in front of Þórufoss

The next stop and first shooting location was a waterfall called Þórufoss. As our guide explained, it was the site for a scene from season 4 wherein one of Daenerys’s dragons attacks a herd of goats while a horrified farmer looks on. Since we forked over 92 for a narrated tour, we got to learn fun facts like the name of the goat that Drogon set aflame, which is Casanova. Casanova is not only famous for being featured on Game of Thrones; he is also a local celebrity because he fell deathly ill and was saved by wearing custom woollen sweaters. Thanks to Icelandic handmade goods, Casanova can continue to go and have a thriving acting career. After our tour guide told this story, I turned to my friends and said “This is EXACTLY what I signed up for.”

Þingvellir

Þingvellir National Park is part of the Golden Circle and a popular tourist stop for the excellent reason that it is majestically, stunningly beautiful. It’s also the location for the path to the Eyrie and the Bloody Gate. IRL, the canyon between opposing walls of mossy rocks is the spot where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates separate. There’s also random waterfalls because Iceland. We spent a lot of time in this gorgeous spot, taking photos and enjoying a rare February moment of bright sunshine.

screenshot of the Bloody Gate

actual location minus the CGI

After boarding the bus again, we traveled a winding road through the park and saw other spots where some wildling camp scenes were filmed. The trails had been closed off to preserve the natural landscape, so we had to view it from the road. The next stop was an hour’s drive away, but first we had a lunch break at a small diner attached to a convenience store, where I had one of the best burgers of my life (no joke) (also, I might have just been really, really hungry).

those bloody Thenns

The final stop of the tour was a settlement-era Viking lodge in Þjórsárdalur Valley. In the show, the location doubled as a village ravaged by Thenns. You will recall this as the scene in which Ollie’s parents are killed by the tribe of cannibals. I love a tour where the guide says “This is the location of the human sacrifice.” He carried along laminated stills from the show at each stop, and I took a photo of one in front of the location to compare. He also was excited to tell us that his good friend appeared as an extra on the show, and brought along a screenshot of his buddy in full costume alongside Tormund Giantsbane.

After the tour wrapped up, we had an hour-long bus ride back to the city. My only wish was for more behind-the-scenes tidbits and juicy gossip, though I did appreciate the tour guide’s local observations, such as when he ripped on the town of Selfoss for being “famous for dairy production and their love of cheesy techno.” He also waxed rhapsodic about the romance between the actors who play Jon Snow and Ygritte, offering up their relationship as consolation for the breakup of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes (the couple famously split up right after Katie visited Tom on the Icelandic set of his movie Oblivion).

That evening back in Reykjavík, we had our last dinner together as a group at Sægreifinn, which I had heard about from the Iceland episode of a now-canceled travel show that our group used to love called Three Sheets. The lobster soup lived up to our expectations.The night ended with a few rounds of beer at Bryggjan Brugghús, Iceland’s first microbrewery, then it was back to the Airbnb for one final night (insert all the crying face emoji).

 

Thoughts on November 10

This is pretty much a brain dump, so bear with me.

It’s been a rollercoaster of a week. On Monday evening, I went to an early voting polling place near my house on the northwest side of Chicago. After the moment I touched the screen to pick Hillary’s name, I paused and let myself savor the small but historic moment. Tears gathered in my eyes.

It would be the first of many, many times I’ve cried this week, and the only time that the tears were happy.

Yesterday, we woke up to confirmation that many peoples’ worst nightmare came true. I cried for multitudes of reasons, among them being that the horrific racism and xenophobia we’ve witnessed over the course of the campaign season had won. I cried because it was a perfect example of why so few women report their sexual assaults: they get called liars while the men who perpetrate these crimes get away with it (or get elected president). I know that people had their reasons for voting who they voted for, but I cried because they were willing to overlook the fact that minorities, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, Muslim Americans, and all other marginalized groups would suffer because of how they marked their ballot. Everything felt broken on multiple levels.

I don’t want to write any further about the election itself because it’s all been said by people much more eloquent than me. But I do want to share what I did to get through the ugliness of yesterday and how I managed to find some catharsis and even joy. I connected with my people through texts, Facebook, Twitter, and secret discussion groups where we all felt like we could be safe to share our feelings without someone chiming in to pick an ugly fight while our feelings were so raw. You can rail on the concept of social media all you want, but yesterday, it was my salvation.

And through social media, we made a plan to go out and sing karaoke together. I arrived at the bar first, and as my friends walked in, we all began to cry again, but we were able to give each other much-needed hugs. Then we all began to sing. Lyrics took on whole new meanings under the circumstance of events, and we laughed-cried, shouted the words together, and danced.

“We are strong, no one can tell us we’re wrong, searching our hearts for so long, love is a battlefield”

“Soul, I hear you calling, oh baby please give a little respect to me”

“Oh I’m just a girl, all pretty and petite, so don’t let me have any rights. Oh, I’ve had it up to here”

It was emotional and loud and cathartic and exactly what we all needed. Shit may have just gotten very, very real, but I will always be able to turn to music to help me cope. When you’re several beers into the night and running the mic on a divey karaoke place with people you love, playing air guitar and drunk-wailing “Don’t Stop Believing,” you can remember that there is joy to be found in this world.

I see others using pop culture to cope: gifs of Harry Potter’s friends raising their wands in solidarity, or the people of District 12 raising their hands saluting the Mockingjay, or photos of Mal from Firefly with the caption “May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one.” I see people turning to literature and poetry: “Do not go gentle into that good night.” “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” Art is our place of solace, or our battle cry, or a voice for the voice we need when we’ve lost our own. Art is important. Even Pat Benatar.

 

Marathon Woman

I’m a marathoner, and I’m talking not about the kind related to blisters and Gatorade, but the ones that involve forcing yourself to sit through ALL of the Leprechaun movies (I did this in 1998 with a few other brave souls, fueled on Buffalo Joe’s wings and Hooch. Remember Hooch? We had to go to both Blockbusters in town to procure all 5 Leprechaun movies. Remember Blockbuster?). There is nothing like snuggling up on the couch with a bowl of popcorn or bottle of the best wine 7-11 has to offer and burning through a season of Breaking Bad. When it comes to working my way through the boxed set of a really, really good TV show, my stamina knows no bounds.

I am lucky that I have friends just as lazy focused as I am. Every year in the month or so leading up to the season premiere of Game of Thrones, we marathon-watch the most recent season in a single day. It is a truly glorious 10 hours of vegging out, eating junk food, drinking beer, and reveling in fantasy drama. By the end of the day, you’re tired, bloated, nutritionally deprived, and desensitized to boobs and horse beheadings, but satiated. In grand tradition, as started with the Leprechaun marathon day of yore, all snacks for the day are purposely terrible crap, usually a deviation of a classic snack coated in a flavored powder to denote a theme: “Springtime” Oreos with yellow filling, “Food Truck” Pringles meant to taste like tacos or cheeseburgers, “Chicken & Waffle” Lays chips that tasted like a mix of Waffle Crisp cereal and the flavor packets from Ramen Noodles.

When we marathoned all six The Fast & The Furious movies (who’s excited for April 3rd??), the ridiculousness of the films grew in increments over the course of the day, so that by the end, it didn’t seem completely implausible that Vin Diesel could drive a car through the nose of an exploding plane and survive. When Dom, Letty, and the rest of the gang gather together for a meal, you feel like you’ve become part of the family too. Yes, Dom, I AM home!

So when marathon training season starts, go ahead and lace up your trainers and hit the pavement, but don’t look at me. I’m be over here, fluffing the pillows on the couch and brushing off the remains of Fiesta Cheezits from the front of my sweatshirt. These Step Up DVDs aren’t gonna watch themselves.