Milestones and Miles

approvedOn September 23rd we walked into the US Embassy in Vancouver. We were intimidated. You can’t bring your cellphone or any electronics — not even the remote key fob for your car. Armored guards screen you and escort you up to the floor dedicated to visa processing. “Use the bathroom down here, there’s no public facilities up there,” the guy in the kevlar vest warned.

I envisioned the actual interview process to be akin to a 50s police interrogation — they’d whisk Lyndsay away to some bleak room with a large steel desk and harsh light streaming through the half-shuttered blinds. A severe man in a suit and tie would unwind the string on a huge manila folder, take a long draw on a fresh cigarette and say “So… tell me how you know…. Tom Lommel.”

The truth of the matter is, it’s like going to the DMV.

There’s a little row of windows. There’s the LED counter on the wall that says NOW SERVING and which, of course, is never used or updated.

There’s some bland industrial carpeting and a small horseshoe of uncomfortable chairs.

We both walked up to the window for the interview (a surprise since I didn’t think I was allowed to participate at all) and after 10 minutes of fairly mundane questions, it was over. “Ok, well, your visa is approved. Go back to the other window and they’ll have some more paperwork for you,” the main behind the glass said matter-of-factly.

And that was it. We walked out the door, retrieved our phones, and had mac & cheese for lunch.

It was weirdly affirming and anti-climactic. You put so much time and effort into making sure your application is as close to airtight as you can get it. Tax returns, photos, countless screenshots of Facebook postings and chat logs. Because even though you know nothing SHOULD go wrong, something could. Someone you have never met gets to sit down and in ten minutes, fifteen minutes — less than an hour, less time than you spent on the plane to get there — they decide if you can get married.

“Ok, well, your visa is approved,” he said flatly.

Ok, well, great, I thought.

I don’t think it really started to sink in until we got on the street and congratulations starting pouring in online via Facebook and Twitter.

IT’S HAPPENING!

In fact, it’s happening very, very soon: one week from today we pile the last of Lyndsay’s stuff into a shipping cube, load the dog and an iPod full of Rush into the car,  and start driving to L.A.

That’s its own type of intimidating. Traffic, weather, finding a dog-friendly hotel. 1700 miles of road to navigate.

We hope to keep you updated with tweets and vines along the way. If you are due a beer consultation from Lyndsay, that will be forthcoming after the trip.

But in the meantime, thank you for your generosity and support.

With any luck, our next update will be “Ok, well, we made it.”

Advertisements

Winding Down, Winding Up

dungeonsanddragons_cosplay The end is in sight, and so is the beginning.

This time next week Lyndsay and I will be in Vancouver for the final steps in the K-1 visa process. She has a physical exam, we pick up the medical report, and then it’s time for the big shuffle of paperwork and the visa interview.

Me? I’m actually just there for support. They don’t allow me into the interview, and there’s no real appeals process. We have one shot at this: they talk briefly with Lyndsay, give us the thumbs-up or thumbs-down right then and there and that’s it.

So, in ten days we will know whether our fiancee visa is approved. I’m confident that we have a very solid application, but it’s still nerve-wracking.

One thing that has helped tremendously has been your support. It has really made a difference for us, both financially, and for peace of mind. And it’s actually been fun. (We’re going to be listening to A LOT of Rush during that road trip.)

We had an aggressive goal, but with your generosity, we made it and so now it’s time to wind down. On Tuesday we’ll be shutting down the gofundme campaign. If, in the meantime, you’d still like to contribute, we’ll use that money for little extras like a tune-up for Lyndsay’s car, or AAA road service — and there’s still time to get in on the Accordion/Banjo/Ultra-Rush challenge if you want to tweak our playlist even further.

This next step is a big one. Thank you for your encouragement and support. STAY TUNED!

Games for Date Night

Tom here! Last week Lyndsay talked about the various apps we use to stay in touch across a continent. Since we’re both gamers, I figured it was worth going into a little more detail about which games we like and which ones did not really work for us.

We play over three major platforms: Steam for the PC, console gaming on the PS3, and for hand-held portable entertainment, the iPod Touch. If you’re possibly getting into a long-distance relationship the great news is you have a WIDE variety of options available to you on date night.

Steam/PC Games

I banished games from my PC a while ago, so I wasn’t too familiar with Steam. But it’s a straightforward way to install and play games on your PC and I particularly like the fact that I can buy Lyndsay a game that’s on sale and just send her the certificate for it and BOOM it’s done. It’s a simple, easy, low-cost gift. An added bonus: There’s no waiting for shipping or customs to clear.

So. The GAMES:

T2R-onSteam Ticket to Ride

We’ve both played the tabletop version and loved it. The Steam version is a faithful translation, stable, and you’re easily able to set up a private game (basically a mandatory requirement — no one wants randos crashing your date night). They have a TON of expansions available, so if you get tired of the basic game you can venture off into more sophisticated supplements.

We pair this with a Google Hangout in a separate window for online video chat and it’s a great date night game. You have time to talk and catch up while you’re drawing your cards and planning your routes. Then there’s the hustle of claiming your track, and then next thing you know, the game’s over. It’s relaxing, fun, and it doesn’t require a ton of strategic thinking.

Small_World

Small World

Lyndsay has played the tabletop version of this a lot. I have not. And frankly… that’s probably why we don’t play this more.

The Steam version is pretty and stable, although I find the interface a little finnicky, and sometimes you can’t tell who is inviting whom to which game. (“Did you start a game? Wait, I’m in your game. No, no I started a different game. Hang on.”)

The real issue I find in Small World is that it’s not particularly balanced. Basically you have a selection of different races you use to march around the map, conquering territories. These races have different special abilities and that’s where the problem comes in: a veteran player has a big advantage over a newbie. If you know which races are really good and which ones are bland or underpowered, you have a decisive advantage.

Also, I don’t think Small World is particularly well-suited to two players. In Ticket to Ride, the two of you are PROBABLY working on two different routes and even if you’re not, there are multiple ways to get your cities connected and score points. In Small World, it’s head-to-head combat and you (mostly) win by crushing the other player’s army. And once you start losing, it’s a slow free-fall of failure.

In Ticket to Ride, you generally win by building up a bigger, better set of routes than your opponent. In Small World, you win by stomping through your opponent’s territory and continuing to harass them, even when they’ve been mathematically eliminated.

Not a great basis for a date night.

magickaMagicka

This looks like a super fun game and it has a ton of expansions and great ratings on Steam and we got it for $5 and we spent an hour trying to get the multiplayer to work but it never did and so we gave up.

This game sucks.

Gaming on the PS3

borderlands-2-wallpaperBorderlands 2

I’ve played a lot of first person shooters. Lyndsay has not. In fact, she kind of hates twitch gaming. And, given some of the absolutely atrocious things that get said in the lobbies of Call of Duty in between matches, I can’t say I blame her.

However, unlike Call of Duty, Borderlands 2 is co-op, it’s mission-based, and as you level up you get AWESOME POWERS. I liked the game’s sense of humor, I think Lyndsay found it a bit juvenile at times.

It’s also fairly low-stakes gaming. She played a Commando and with the turret deployed, you literally have a third gun on the battlefield. (And, even better, a gun that AIMS ITSELF.) I chose to play a Siren with a focus on healing so we didn’t die so often.

And even if you do die, it’s not like World of Warcraft where you have to run around like a screeching idiot hoping to retrieve your corpse. You re-spawn, lose some cash, and jump back into the fray. It’s not particularly punishing.

I liked the fact that we could log in, play for 90 minutes, talk over voice chat, and call it a night. There’s not a lot of replayability there, but if you get the Game of the Year edition, there’s a ton of content to explore.

Next up on our PS3 list: Little Big Planet. Yeah, welcome to 2009. We are hip and cutting-edge.

iPod Gaming

We don’t do a ton of iPod gaming because at this point, neither of us owns a tablet and let’s be honest: tabletop board games don’t translate well on a tiny screen. That’s why I initially struggled with…

lordsofwaterdeepLords of Waterdeep

Although the tabletop version was much-lauded in my circle of nerds, I hadn’t played Lords of Waterdeep before, so I was confused when I first played it on the iPod Touch. There was a lot of scrolling around and I didn’t get the idea that you could just plain ignore the quests that were given to you with no repercussions. I tried to do them all, failed, and didn’t score the maximum amount of points I could have.

Then I played it on the tabletop and everything made a lot more sense. (I’m not saying you couldn’t learn it on an iPod, but it’s a lot trickier when the person teaching you is in another country.)

I love playing this game two player. You get to make several different moves per round, increasing the resources you can claim and that means you can really crank out the quests. Like Ticket To Ride, you build up/complete quests to win, it’s not a game of direct elimination like Small World, so losing doesn’t feel so personal.

And, of course, being total geeks, we both love the Dungeons & Dragons theme. But that’s not a necessary requirement to enjoy the game. If you like Euro-style games like Puerto Rico or Settlers of Catan, you will find this fast, fun, and friendly. If you have not tried Euro-style resource collection games, then this is a nice introduction to that type of board game. Beats the f**k out of Monopoly, I’ll tell you that much.

The iOS version is probably the best port of any game on this list, with subtle animations and sound effects that really enhance the experience. (I find the sounds on Ticket To Ride kind of obnoxious.) Now that I’m familiar with the gameplay and strategy, I have no problem barreling through this game on the iPod.

Also, if either Lyndsay or I is on a trip out of town, this is super easy to throw in the carry-on and we can fire up a game. Travelling can be stressful, so it’s nice to have that option on hand.

Analog Gaming

One other thing we do is start a Google Hangout and play some regular tabletop games. Specifically, we play:

md-diceMartian Dice

Chances are, you’ve heard of Zombie Dice. It’s a fun game, but I find the depth of strategy a little lacking. (Have you accrued two shotgun blasts? QUIT ROLLING AND SCORE YOUR POINTS.)

Martian Dice takes that same Press-Your-Luck design and adds just enough complexity to give each round a bit of meaningful strategy. It’s a great beer-and-pretzels game that plays fast while still offering some intriguing choice.

We each own a set, so we fire up a Google Hangout and roll away. It’s an easy way to game and visit at the same time and there’s something rewarding about getting to pick up the physical dice and give them a shake.

 It’s Not Just Being Together, It’s Gaming Together

Being in a long distance relationship takes a lot of energy. Maintaining contact (via Google Chat or video hangout or whatever) is important. But it’s not just a matter of shared contact, it’s important to have shared experiences. Gaming is the main way we can do something that’s active, fun, and engaging without having to be in the same room. Ultimately our goal is to be in the same room, but until that happens these are just a few of the ways we’ve solved the problem of having a date night 1,600 miles apart. If you’ve got a girlfriend, boyfriend, or just a regular friend a long way away, the good news is: technology is on your side.

Got a recommendation for a great co-op or tabletop game we should add to our arsenal? Drop it in the comments.

We Made It!

2014-05-18 09.02.15

The first of many awkward family portraits

We’ve made our initial funding goal! Thank you so much!

Tom and I can’t wait to start a life together in LA and with your help, we will be able to. All of your support has been so wonderful. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.

Soon, we won’t have to fall asleep by our phones just to keep in touch. I can’t wait, and I’m so grateful for all of your generosity, retweets and happy messages.

You can still get in on Erik’s ACCORDION, BANJO AND RUSH DONOR CHALLENGE!

If you were meaning to back and didn’t get in under the goal, we still need your help! At $4500, Tom can come to Vancouver for my visa interview. Above that, you’ll be helping me buy my lease out from my awesome roommate, because I’ll be leaving with 2 months left on it (if our visa is cleared when I expect it will be). We also need to get my car tuned up before driving it across the continent, so there’s that too.

We’ll be leaving the campaign open for awhile, so if you would still like to help but are budgeting for later it should be open when you’re ready!

We’ve had a lot of US friends have their banks pitch a fit about the GoFundMe because I’m based in Canada, so I want to remind you that PayPal doesn’t give a damn that I live in the great white north, and there are paypal pledge links here.

New Donor Challenge: Accordion, Banjo and Somehow Even More Rush

Banjo-BMIWe are so close to our goal. Thank you, everyone for your creative song contributions and generosity! We have wonderful friends. As we reach our goal, I want to let you guys know that everything over our goal still helps with our move and visa. At $4500, Tom will be able to fly to Vancouver to be with me at my visa interview!

Tom’s friend Erik has thrown down a new challenge, ending the wildly successful, much acclaimed Juice’s Rush Challenge (but don’t get too sad… a rush challenge is not yet dead). The Rush Challenge resulted in 15 Rush tunes on our playlist!

Erik has a soft spot for banjo, and he is enforcing his soft spot for banjo upon our Radio Operators like so:

In order to give Lyndsay a properly horrible welcome to this side of the Pond, I will donate an additional $3 for every Radio Operator that picks a song featuring either the banjo or accordion – $6 if it has both. Truly clever Radio operators will, of course, opt for the MEGA TRIPLE POWER-UP by picking such songs from the Rush catalog.

(Hey, Erik… If we’re talking Rush, you could have the decency to type ‘catalogue’)

Erik will contrbute, based on your selection:

Song has banjo: $3

Song has accordion: $3

Song has both: $6

Song has both and is also a Rush song: MEGA POWER UP!! $8

Thanks, Erik. I think.

Logistical note! I don’t listen to the songs as you pledge them, so let me know if you are entering this challenge and which instruments are included!

Ready to get the banjo music going? Pledge as a Radio Operator! See the current playlist here and see all of our reward levels here. If you are having trouble with GoFundMe, there are PayPal links on that page for you! All of the paypal donations are added to the final tally on gofundme.

Staying in Touch Across a Continent

2014-05-18 20.26

Get used to having your phone on you.

Hey, Lyndsay here! So Tom and I have been managing a relationship from Calgary to LA. And it’s hard, but not as hard as it could be. There are a lot of things you can do to make distance work. We haven’t been at this for long, and I am hoping some people in longer-running relationships will hop in in the comments!

The first thing to remember about distance is the little parts of body language and tone that you can use to communicate in person aren’t there. Clear communication – be willing to be frank, and be willing to share things about yourself. You have to do it with more bravery than it can take in person.

Here’s a lot of the stuff that we use to stay in touch with each other and hang out all the time when we can’t be there in person.

Being in touch is very easy with smartphones and social media!

Text

If you’re international, there are great apps that let you get around international texting charges. Voxer lets you text and send short voice messages. Gchat lets you chat, share images and video chat on hangouts. For international couples, gchat keeps archives – a big help if you need to file proof of relationship later!

I use text and IM to stay in touch with Tom throughout the day. Sharing news stories, talking about what’s on my mind and just hanging out. The apps let me avoid international texting charges.

Social Media

Tom and I already had a lot of overlap on our social media accounts, Twitter especially, but sharing our relationship on Facebook and Twitter is a great way to get to know each other’s friends and interact in a way that’s not just one-on-one.

I like being able to use twitter to introduce my friends and Tom to each other. It’s something that I have a lot of fun with, and it can help your relationship feel more integrated with the rest of your social life. Without this, our relationship sort of feels like it’s not a part of my other friendships, and it’s important to me that they’re at least a little bit entwined.

Photos

Snapchat is a great way to stay in touch with photos while avoiding filling up your storage with a ton of boring photos of each other’s faces. You can also text chat, add text to images and jazz up your photos with the drawing tool.

I like snapchat because Tom sends me photos of cars he sees around in LA – I really like cars, and sometimes I’ll get 4 or 5 shots of a Tesla, SLK or something more unusual. It’s a little thing that lets me know he’s thinking of me. I mostly brag to him about my meals and give him important Luigi updates. There’s also a lot to be said for being able to see each other’s faces throughout the day. It’s very comforting when you miss each other!

Video

Hangouts and Skype are the most popular choice here. You can share links and leave them running for awhile to just spend quiet downtime together.

We get together on weekends over Hangouts. Sometimes we’re just spending time together, other times we’re helping each other out. I get to help Tom plan his D&D games sometimes (if you’re in Tom’s game: everything bad that happens to you was totally not my idea, that was all Tom, I promise). We planned a lot of the fundraising campaign over Hangouts as well!

I really like the quiet, not doing anything hangouts that we have. It’s nice to share my downtime with him there.

Games!

Tom and I share a love of games, so we play a lot together. There are board and multiplayer games on Steam, and lots more to play on iOS. We like to play board games together on a hangouts. We also play Martian Dice together on Hangouts with 2 sets!

One of the more fun things we did recently was play through Borderlands 2 on co-op on PS3. I’d never played it, but Tom loves Borderlands 2 so he got to share it with me. I’m excited to do the same thing with the Left 4 Dead games – they’re my jam, and he’s never really played them.

We also play tabletop games over Hangout with friends, which is another one of those integrating your LDR into your social circle things.

The point of all these tools is how you use them!

It’s important to have rituals. Have a block of time each day, each week, etc. where you do something together. Being able to know the next time you’ll have each other’s full attention is a huge deal. Whether it is a hangout or a co-op game, make sure you have time scheduled to make each other a priority.

Online Shopping

I like to find little things with low shipping cost to have sent to Tom as a surprise. We both really like stationery, so I’ve sent him some pens before. It’s nice to be able to give him something tangible so easily. Steam purchases are another nice surprise, especially a co-op or multiplayer game you can enjoy together!

Being there

This is the trickiest part. Long distance relationships aren’t cheap. It takes travel – and international travel is especially expensive. But knowing the next time you’ll be able to be together has a big impact on your well being.

Plan your visits while you’re apart. It’s nice to be spontaneous, but we like to have 2 or 3 things we plan to do before a visit starts. Sharing your days with each other with the apps I talked about before is a good way to figure out what you should do together when you’re there in person!

Believe in it.

Above all, you have to believe in your relationship. You have to work hard on it to be successful, but if you’re pulling together you can make it work!

Moving to be together isn’t always an option. I’m looking forward to hearing how friends who have been in long distance relationships have managed. What are your tips and tricks? Tell us in the comments!

New Reward: A Night at the Yembassy!

kanye-west-jpgHey, it’s Lyndsay! Thank you all so much for your support. It has been wonderful to hear from each other’s family and friends through this project!

On Friday, I added a new reward level called Night at the Yembassy ( Paypal | GoFundMe ). This is a level taking advantage of my friend Elizabeth Sampat‘s love for Kanye West. She is a major fan of his music and his work, and she loves to share his music with people.

If you pledge $30 to the campaign and select this reward level, you will be sent a survey to fill out that asks about your level of prios Kanye knowledge, your musical tastes and some other preferences. In return you will get a spotify (or, if you are in Canada / International, grooveshark) playlist of five songs.

Along with the playlist, you’ll get a short explanation from Elizabeth about why she chose the songs on your playlist. If you’re already a fan of Kanye and want to go deeper, or you aren’t into Kanye at all, this is a near chance to be personally introduced to his music by a major Kanye geek.

Check out all of the reward levels here. You have the option to back through GoFundMe or with PayPal, should you have a preference.