Firsts

I alluded to it in my previous posts, and it’s true. These past few weeks I have done many a new thing. A lot of them were small, mundane things. Some, a little bigger. I’ll just go ahead and make a list of the ones that made an impact, shall I?

Sea Lions! Picture by me, from our trip to find whales.

- Checks. Before coming to the United States I’d never so much as touched a check before.  I received (and cashed) my first one a few months ago, but now I’ve even progressed to writing them (albeit with a fair bit of anxiety). It did take Beloved a good fifteen minutes of exasperated explaining that – yes, yes, emphatically yes – it is totally safe to send checks in the mail. I still think it’s weird and uncanny, but with 10 dollars in wire fees (those things are free where I’m from) I guess I better get used to carrying my check book.

- Writing under my own name on the internet. Funny that that’s such a big deal to me, somehow. I mean, I’ve made my print debut a few years ago (which a lot of people find a much bigger deal, I think). But to me, these recent little articles with my own, actual  name on them have a much bigger (possible) audience. Perhaps all the ‘media literacy’  training has worked a little too well, to have me be so awed and impressed by  a few bytes on some anonymous webserver.

- Self-branding. Not the one with hot irons. but the one with business cards and a domain name and a portfolio. Under my real name. With links to the aforementioned blog posts. It’s an interesting change from always worrying about remaining anonymous, to suddenly worry about being ‘known’. To really present myself as a professional. Someone you hire to come and consult on your language matters. And I know, I know. At some point someone will find the nickname – real name connection and then my personal musings will be tied into my professional persona. It is likely inevitable, but then again, maybe it won’t be a bad thing. In line with the branding thing, I may have to have some portraits taken. People have been requesting pictures of me to put next to things and I don’t have any. Eek! This whole ‘self employed’ thing is going pretty well.

- Ocean. I talked about it in my previous post, and somehow it was just such a powerful thing to go and see the Pacific. I’ve always lived relatively close to sea and I’ve been in the North Sea, the Mediterranean and the very edge of the Atlantic, but the Pacific is just a wholly different critter. I need to go and hang out with her more – she’s good for the soul.

- Whales. I went and saw whales! I went on a boat onto the Pacific Ocean and I saw grey whales and even a hump back, as well as a whole pod of dolphins with their babies (for real, I saw baby dolphins and I still have a hard time believing that I did). Also: sea otters, sea lions and sea elephants. In a single 24 hour period I think I saw more wild life than I’d seen in the 30 years before. I brought a camera, but was too enchanted to really take pictures. It was such a wondrous thing. Also: it was great to be out of suburbia, even if only for 24 hours. The best part about this country is its nature, I swear.

- American Christmas. And wow, it’s quite the event. Beloved and I kicked off the holiday season with an invitation to go to the opening night of A Christmas Carol in a fancy theatre with plush purple (!) chairs. Our host then took us to the opening night after party which had an open bar full of Scotch (and Scotch is my Favourite Booze).  On Christmas Day, my in-laws (whom we visited) let me watch The Christmas Story as part of my introduction to Proper American Christmas.  I also got around to eating a Real American Turkey Dinner With Stuffing and All the Trimmings  (y’all, how could I have gone without stuffing for so long, It is the food of the gods). Last, but not least, people sure do know how to string up lights around these parts. Can I just say that lit up palm trees are a special shade of ridiculous, though?

- Halloween. Okay, I admit, its an oldie :) All other items on this list date from the last few weeks and October is long since past. But for realsies – I carved a pumpkin! Carving pumpkins is fun! I had no idea! And we decorated the front door (a little) and bought candy (waaaayyyy too much) and gave it to (surprisingly few) kids. We also invited over our very first New Friends and played Cards Against Humanity with them.

- Pendleton blanket. Not something I _did_, so much as something we were given. But ever since first sleeping under a Pendleton blanket I determined that this was an item I really, really hoped to have for our new home. It was my one big New Country  & New Home Wish. And so when the in-laws asked for a suggestion for a big present to give to us, we told them about the blanket. And so they picked one and now we own one and it is a glorious thing. In keeping with the rest of our *ahem*  “Interior Design Philosophy”, we asked for a bright and multicoloured one. The one our in-laws picked for us features a Native American motif. They didn’t know, but the same motif  is currently spray painted on many of the streets in our town as well, in what I think is a reminder by the present Native community that – hey, you know – , it’s their land we live on. I’ve not been able to find a definitive source on the intent behind the medicine wheels on the sidewalks, but that’s what it reminds me of whenever I see one. A little heads-up: Hey! History present under asphalt!

Receiving that blanket and seeing the symbol lead me deep down the rabbit hole of pondering cultural appropriation of designs and Pendleton’s relationship with Native communities and the tradition of blankets as significant gifts to mark special occasions, and… Well. I think it’s fair to say that the blanket and its design teach me another valuable lesson about being a newcomer in America: this place has a history fraught with tension and horrible events and you – newbe – are out of your depth and likely to mess up. Proceed with caution. Probably not at all in line with the original significance, but perhaps also not the worst message to take away from the entire matter.  I look forward to many more decades spent with its warm and comforting presence as a symbol of the founding of a new household.

This is what I’ve been up to. More than six months in and things here still manage to blow my mind at least once a week. It’s a special country, for sure :)

Huh.. It’s not even that long ago.

Here I was thinking I hadn’t blogged in aaaaaages. And I was sort of dreading the always-awkward: ” Uhhh, so.. sorry.. here I am again.”  that usually follows any absence from a person’s own front page. It’s not that bad, though, which is why I’ll happily skip any apologies and go into summarizing the last six weeks.

I’ve been ‘turtling’ a lot. By which I mean that I’ve kept to my own brain, in my own house, venturing mostly into work and videogames. This has been very easy ever since discovering Dwarf Fortress. I’m having loads of fun. There was this one fortress of mine  that had all its inhabitants killed by crocodiles in the first 30 seconds of the game, which was a bit unusual, but otherwise, my games have all ended due to my own (lack of) good ideas, which is as it should be.

In any case. We’re down one holiday season, two plays, two colds each for Beloved and me, and our American Semiversary (by which I mean that yesterday marked the day we’d been here for six months). In these last blog-less six weeks there were many ‘firsts’ and I figure that some of them will make for good blog posts, so hey, hopefully you’ll read more from me in the near future.

Yesterday, to mark the American Semiversary, we decided to walk the length (and width, but that’s considerably less impressive) of the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. In order to start off our day well, we metro-ed all the way to the Pacific Ocean so that I could pay my respects. The waves were glorious, the beach wide and the shells humongous. Upon my arrival at the waterline, the sea sent out the most adorable, tiny ‘rogue wave’ (it came a good 15 ft further inland than the twenty or so I counted before), drenching me until halfway up my shins. We got off on a good foot, the Pacific and I. I feel like she let me off lightly for waiting half a year to go and see her :)

Then, into the park, where we meandered between the dog park, the bison paddock and all the different gardens and museums. I learned of the existence of Frisbee Golf.We skipped out for a burrito, then meandered some more, seeing the Aids Memorial Grove and a group of people jamming in the Californian January sunshine (Polar Vortex? Eh?) and ended up getting lost while looking for the metro ‘home’ after we exited the park.  Oops.  In the end we pushed east ’til Market Street and headed southeast until we came to a Bart stop. My best guess is that we covered close to twelve miles. It was a good day.

Some endlessness

Man, I’m tired of writing. This blog has been suffering for it, as you can probably tell (or not, because you probably have way more interesting things to do). I write to get paid, I write for volunteer efforts (I’ve signed up for a few and they’re panning out quite nicely) and I write ‘home’ to all the wonderful people left behind. So many letters on so many screens…

I’m also tired of introducing myself. I think that’s one thing I’m taking away from this whole move: living in a place where you do not know _a single person_ (other than Beloved, without whom I think I would have crawled under the bed and starved from sheer anxiety,) is exhausting. If social work-outs would lead to muscle growth, I’d be the hulk by now. So many new people in so many new places…

Still, I’m pleased to report that efforts made are paying off. I’ve met the first (of what I hope will be more) wonderful people. The kind that you just sort of naturally ‘fit’  with. It is a luxury to have those people (that’s lesson #2 of The Big Move, I think: Value the good folks) and I treasure them.

As to other opportunities to meet and to cooperate and to act and to make things happen: I wonder how much of it is the side effect of living in a high turnover place. People come and go here all the time and so holes fall into existing networks and this creates a space to move in and move with. Maybe. Or maybe things are working out because they are, with no discernable reason. Lucky me!

I keep thinking that maybe by now I’ve been ‘here’ long enough to develop a more or less qualified opinion of ‘the better and worse’  of this place, but perhaps rule #1 of The Big Move should be ‘ It’s (not better, it’s not worse, its) different.’ Which it is. One of the most ‘different’ things is that I really need to stop showing up precisely on time, That’s just ‘not done’  around here: I’ve not been to a single event that started as announced. I’ll give it my best try, but I am terrible at being late, so I don’t know if I’ll succeed.

 

Living in earthquake country

Or: how I satisfy my inner doomsday prepper

Well, there ‘s been an earthquake here. It happened in the middle of the night. We both slept through it, though and I only heard about it when I met up with some people the next day. Oh well :)

Still, even though you can sleep through many of them, people here really do stress the importance of being prepared for an earthquake. The Great California Shake Out is a good example. And when we moved into our apartment we were given a packet of informational leaflets including a Red Cross pamphlet about being prepared. All this is music to my ears.

You see, back when I lived alone people who accidentally glimpsed my stashed supplies liked to joke about how I could easily survive a decent nuclear winter in my apartment. I’m a hamster when it comes to usable things such as dry goods, canned food and toilet paper. Beloved thinks I take it way too far (he’s likely right – I think that I used to store over four times the recommended amounts of supplies), but even he agreed that moving to California probably warranted some dedicated preparation.  And so, I embarked on Project Bug-Out Bag, aimed  at keeping two people safe and comfortable outdoors for 72 hours.

Here are most of our accumulated supplies:

Picture by me.

4 gallons of water

tablets for water purification

a sterno stove

candles

a first aid kit

asthma medication (that’s the little purple box with Russian / Greek / something (?) script)

dust masks

trash bags (for waterproofing and because we have no tarp)

ziploc bags (for keeping small things safe from water)

some small tiewraps (no single pre-built kit names these, but I figure they’re useful)

some twine

some stronger rope

a box cutter

solar powered flashlights with a back-up battery and a head lamp with a normal battery

a small radio with batteries

Not pictured, but still included: lighters, sleeping bags, sterno for the stove, smaller water bottles for accessibility

Still needed: food, multitool / an actual knife, a pot for cooking food (depending on food choice), clothes, copies of passports, some cash.

 

Picture by me. This is the BOB (Bug-Out Bag)

At this moment most of the supplies from the first picture are packed up in the bag in picture two. The thing is uncomfortably heavy, but considering that it is a very standard size back pack, I was quite pleased with how much fit in. I could not pack all of the water (there are two gallons in there, though) and I packed enough candles for 120 hours of burn time (60 if you burn two at the same time), keeping the other ones tucked away elsewhere.

I plan on finding another bag (secondhand, ideally, I’m cheap like that) for dividing the weight and increasing carrying capacity. That’s when I can look out for some freeze dried meals / granola bars or other lightweight food choices as well. I’m thinking of using some of the rope to just tie the sleeping bags to the backpacks as well.

Once the rest of the kit is also securely packed, I can just stash the bags out of sight, knowing that if the Big One hits, we have a decent chance of not succumbing to exposure or thirst before help comes in. That idea really helps me sleep through the ‘little ones’  at night :)

Time is fun when you are having flies

Ahh… With Beloved off to a long day at school and the networking meeting I planned to attend moved to a far-away location I don’t feel like going to, I’ve decided to spend some of my time writing a new blog post. It’s been too long.

Where did I leave you guys again?

Oh, right.. Work. Things are well, in that regard. Very, very well. I’m on the cusp of securing an assignment big enough that I will be able to start paying the rent and have enough left over for some health insurance. It likely won’t last forever, but I’ve been offered a little over five months duration, so it’s a very good start. It should also provide me with taxable income, which provides me with something to deduct tax from, which provides me with a reason to maybe spend some money on office furniture. this means that soon-ish I will no longer have to work while sitting on my bed.

Kermit the Frog is copyrighted by The Muppets Studio LLC (but original credit goes to Jim Henson, of course)

Last weekend we jetted off to the Pacific Northwest to attend a cousin’s wedding. It was quite the event. I don’t know about you folks, but I had never been to an actual black tie event before and I seem to be one of the few people  who does not enjoy playing ‘fancy dress’  every now and then. Still, despite my trepidations of the wardrobial persuasion (I wore pants, y’all, and lip gloss) it was a highly festive occasion. The bride looked lovely, the groom seems like a cool dude, the toasts were moving and it was lovely to talk to all of Beloved’s relatives. Also: whisky sours! And rain, which made me think of home.

The weather here in the Bay Area is.. funny. It’s October, but projected temperatures for this week are expected to hit the mid-twenties (in Celsius – I’m not fluent in Fahrenheit, sorry). It’s also been dry as dust, with one notable exemption on a Saturday morning. Thats when the local stadium flooded. I wonder if I’ll ever get tired of all the sunshine.

So far I’ve not felt any earthquakes. I hope it stays that way for a while because all our books came in and the bookshelves have not yet been secured to the walls. But: books! At last! Finally! A reunion of the paperbacked companions. Most of last week has been spent alphabetizing fiction and categorizing the non-fiction. We seem to have a strong overrepresentation of the letter H (Haldeman, Harrison, Heinlein, Herbert, Hobb) and of books pertaining to language. I’ve got about a box and a half of non-fiction left to sort, but everything else is in its place.

 

With the shipment of books also arrived our silverware (so now we eat like grown-ups again), the good kitchen knives (ah! slicing and dicing and chopping and throwing it all in a pan) and the single sketchbook I allowed myself to keep. So yesterday I went out and bought a mechanical pencil and an eraser. I look forward to spending some of my leisure away from the internet, because that has been hard, lately.

New project: Make plans for the holidays. We’ve been invited to go east for Christmas and it would be lovely if I got the tickets sorted before I take on the big work project.

Talk to you again soon, dear blog-pals. But first, let me scour your blogs for updates :)

Guest Post by Beloved: The Tech of Talking to Loved Ones (II)

 
Here is the second half of  Beloved's guest post on how to videocall your loved ones without 
compromising your privacy. This is the practical part. If you would like to read some of the 
considerations behind his choice of software, visit part 1. 

Getting Down to Business
I did all my talking in the previous half of this post, now let's set something up.  There are 
two steps to setting yourself up for private phone calls.  The first is getting a free SIP account 
and the second is installing Jitsi and logging in.

Getting a Free SIP Account
SIP users have addresses that look like email addresses.  Your SIP account is independent 
of the software you use to talk SIP, in much the same way your phone is independent from 
your phone number.  I like the free service offered by iptel.org so we'll be using that one.
1)  Visit www.iptel.org with your favorite web browser.
2)  Click on the "Subscribe!" button in the top right of the page.
3)  Fill in your relevant information and be sure to lie for the 'first name', 'last name, and 
'phone' fields.  They don't need to know your name or your phone number - it's none of 
their business!  You'll need to tell the truth for the rest of the fields including email.  
Pick a username, password, and click 'I accept' on their nonsense terms of service like you 
actually read it and care.  Don't use a password you use anywhere else since they're going 
to mail it to you in unencrypted text for some stupid reason. Just write it down next to your 
computer if you don't want to remember it.(a)
4)  When you're done click 'Register'.
5)  Check your email for a message from iptel.org.  Click on the link to activate your account 
and you're done.

Installing and Setting up Jitsi
1)  Visit www.jitsi.org with your favorite web browser.
2)  Click on "Download Jitsi".
3)  Pick the right Jitsi download for your operating system from the stable category.
4)  Download and install the thing.  For more help see the additional resources near 
the end of this post.
5)  Start Jitsi.  Windows users may get a warning from a firewall program at this time.  
If you do, please allow Jitsi access to the network.
6) After starting for the first time you should see a screen for adding accounts.  Add your 
SIP user information into the SIP section of the add account screen.  If the username you 
chose on iptel.org was "bob" you would enter "bob@iptel.org" as your username in Jitsi.  
Your password is the same password you wrote down from iptel.org.(b)
7) Click "Sign In".

Communications software is pretty boring if you have no one to talk to.  So you'll want to 
add a contact after adding an account.
1)  Find someone you want to talk with.  Preferably this person will also want to talk with 
you, however this is not required.
2)  Show said person this blogpost for proper SIP/ZRTP/Jitsi indoctrination and ask them 
for their account name.
3)  Under "File" click on "Add contact…"
4)  In the "ID or Number Field" enter their contact information.  If they registered at iptel.org 
with "jane" you would input "jane@iptel.org".
5) Click on "Add".
6)  They're now in your friends list and when you click on them you can choose to 
communicate with them via text, voice SIP call or video SIP call.  When they're online and 
available for a call the circle next to their name will turn green.
7)  Click on their name and then click on the icon below their name to make a secure 
video call.  If you see a green lock icon the call is secure.
8)  After a secure call connects, you might see some text and numbers below the video 
window.  If, for some reason, you and the person you're calling do not see the same text 
and numbers below your screens then there is a high chance someone is messing 
with your call.  Speak the text and numbers to the person you're calling and have them 
verify that they see the same numbers.
8) If you have no friends, or if your friends are slow and you really want to see this thing 
work, you can add the test user "music@iptel.org".  Calling this user causes plays music 
back to you.  You can't call this user securely so don't worry if you don't get the green lock 
icon.

Additional resources:
Installing Jitsi on Windows(guide)
https://jitsi.org/Documentation/InstallAndSetupOnWindows

Installing Jitsi on Windows(Video)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhmOg0G-Frw

Placing a ZRTP call with Jitsi(Video)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udBBDHT-_UA

ZRTP and SRTP FAQ
https://jitsi.org/Documentation/ZrtpFAQ

(a) I am not advocating that you always write down passwords next to your computer for 
every service you use online, just this one.  Proper operational password security is 
outside the scope of this post.

(b) If for some reason you don't get prompted to create an account the first time you start 
Jitsi, you can add your account by clicking on the "Add new account…" option under the 
"File" dropdown.  "File -->  Add new account…

The Smitten Entrepreneur

Picture by pumpkincat210 under a Creative Commons License.

By which I mean to say: I am now self-employed. Sole proprietor of my business. Embracing the American spirit of small business ownership and all that. Pioneering. Frontier mentality. *cough* Sorry :P

Sure, it doesn’t fully solve the immediate lack of forty hours of revenue generating activities per week, but it makes me flexible, allowing me to jump on Craigslist gigs, work with my old employer and do it all within the letter of the law. Also: tax deductions. Useful in case I end up making money. Which I already did, a little, with the freelance work I talked about in earlier posts, but I needed a way to justify those funds to Uncle Sam’s tax folks. So here we are…

I built myself a website, had business cards printed and obtained a ‘home occupation permit’ (to allow me working from home) and a business license. Uhuh! I’m the real deal. Even snagged a signature from a big, burly fireman to certify that there are smoke detectors and a fire extinguisher. I’ve been networking with folks and am hoping to reel in some more assignments soon.

But Smitten Immigrant, what is it you actually do? 

Right.. I should probably mention that. The job title I invented for myself is ‘language professional’. Which means I offer services as an editor, proofreader, translator (between my native language and English) and (copy) writer. Stuff like doing linguistic quality assurance for software translations, translating user interface text, but also more traditional red pen circling of errant commas, missing capitals and ambiguous phrasing.  Possibly telling you to tone down the enthusiastic superlative language of your marketing pitch because in the ‘Old Country’  your exuberance just gives cause for cynicism.

Hey, hey can we see? Show us!

Err.. no. Well. Not on here. I have considered connecting this blog to my website, since it is a large collection of my personal language wrangling that people may like to see, but I have decided against it. This is my personal blog, where I do not want to proofread what I write. I don’t want to think about the commercial viability of my posts, nor wonder about whether things may be too personal for possible clients to read.

I’m not under the illusion that a dedicated sleuther would be unable to find both my website and this blog and connect the dots. It’s not a matter of deep importance that the two never be connected. But I don’t want to make this little corner of the web a marketing instrument, which is what would almost inevitably happen if I added it to my portfolio. I’m not interested in the ‘brand’  Smitten Immigrant. I don’t plan to become a marketing guru or even a professional blogger on a personal title (although I am not averse to writing blog posts for payment).

The big thing that looking at a wide variety of language jobs has taught me, is that I want to write your text for you, or my text for me, but not the other way around. I don’t know if that makes sense to people whose field of work is not closely related to the realms of marketing and or social media, but it makes sense to me. I’m a language professional, not an internet personality. I love my work because a good writer (and even more so a good editor and most so a good translator) is invisible. It’s not me you should want, it’s the words I stick together.

Imagine you would ask me to write something. A job application for instance, which needs a good mix of personal showcasing and high quality writing. As your hired wordsmith, I need to write you. Because they need to hire you (not me). And so I need to ‘be’ you, adding nothing but the linguistic quality that makes those HR people sigh with relief because that letter is such an effortless read.

Are you averse to accepting work form people who have found this blog?

Not at all. If you see me play with words  (which is really what I do here, at The Smitten Immigrant) and you like it, superfluous commas and all, then feel free to hit me up and ask me for my professional details. I’ll happily share. I just don’t want to encourage the process the other way around.



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