Leah On Foot

Wanderlust

Category: Student Life

The World at Your Doorstep

I was standing in my doorway in Melbourne, with a cup of coffee in one hand, and signing for a registered letter with the other. The letter was from the Oslo county governor. A letter… from halfway across the world… sent express to my door. I remember that moment so clearly, the one in which the world was so undoubtedly at my doorstep.

Now, a little over a year later, so much has changed in my life (and rightfully so). One thing, however, has certainly stayed the same: Since January, I have thought of Australia almost every day. It has been eleven months since I came back to Norway to see if I wanted Norway, and if Norway wanted me. My love has followed, along with a fitting job and a cozy apartment. [Insert joyous, monotonous rhythm here.] It quickly became evident that I wasn’t quite done with Norway after all! A recent visit from Melbourne friends Jenni (and earlier in the year, Anna) have been energizing. We reminise about the good times, crazy library days, and sunny days spent in the park.

Talk quickly transitions to plans ahead, as we have moved our doortsteps elsewhere. We wonder when we will wander back to this land that has given us so much inspriation. Five years? 10? How about 20, like my father? It is ironically comforting, therefore, to know that Melbourne will never again be as I left it.

For instance, I know very well the Cedar Rapids, Iowa of 1987-2006. The Cedar Rapids after that…I know little of. Buildings have been torn down, my parents’ street has been re-paved, and my high school classmates now have families and houses.

Similarly, Norway before 2006 is like one big history lesson to me. I had to immerse myself in significant cultural shows and events (read: The Julekalenderen, Flåklypa, mm…) just in order to understand a joke. And every time the value of the Norwegian krone drops or gains, I compare it to when I first moved here.

Melbourne, likewise, will remain a snapshot of what it looked like and the events that occured in 2014. For fun, I’ve listed just list some things that come to mind: protests, local fashion, only owning [needing] one sweater, shark culls, Korean hot pot, Tony Abbott’s circus, (related: ignoring Aboriginal rights), 96 tram, comedy shows, sunny parks, and lest we forget the market guy who always yells “BANANA! 4 DOLLAH 4 DOLLAH! 4 DOLLAH BANANA!” To feel the heartbeat of a culture, what drives its people, what unites them and divides them…that is how I love to travel, and have always loved to travel. The first thing I do in a new place is check out the nearest grocery store or peaceful protest. That’s where I can get a sense of how much of the world is at their doorstep, and sometimes, how much they are on the doorsteps of the world.

Fast forward to 2015, which is almost over. On the cusp of 2016, Melbourne is at the doorstep of the world, and her metropolis is expanding at a phenomenal rate. It’s a very exciting time: the creatives keep creating, Turnbull has calmed the nation down, and David Jones even has a website now.  The next time I visit, I am in for a shock; I can only hope the internet conenction is better 20 years from now, too.

The travels continue, and are never enough to sratch that itch. My time in Melbourne was just short of magical, and I can peacefully live elsewhere, knowing that it will never be as I left it. And that’s ok! It is therefore essential that we keep in mind that the world is truly at our doorstep, whether it is off to a new experience in the here-and-now, or off to the past, where our memories inspire and comfort us. I know that through dreaming, I continue to bring this far-off land to my doorstep, this one where winter is summer, rooftop bars are plenty, and tiny bears are grey and hang out in trees.

CBD as seen from Northcote at dusk

CBD as seen from Northcote at dusk

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And then, just like that, my time in Australia was over.

One year ago today, I left Oslo with 29.8 kilos of my life in “Big Blue,” my massive, loyal [and expensive] suitcase. My heart beat so hard that my cheeks thumped with the aftershocks. I had put a lot at stake in investing financially and otherwise into an education in Australia–what if I had made the wrong decision? Alas, I had always wanted to live in Australia. My lonely bachelor’s degree in sociology was getting me nowhere that I wanted to be. I had, however, always loved writing, bringing people together, and hearing their stories. The light-bulb moment arrived, and it was time to act on it! I had no responsibilities, nothing to tie me down–I did not even own a mattress. Now was the time to go!

So I set off with tears in my eyes saying good bye to the friends and the lifestyle I loved dearly in Oslo. It would still be a long time before I could make it home to the U.S., but it was a sacrifice I had to make if I was going to pursue that looming goal, just two semesters in the making. 

 January 29th was a warm, steamy summer’s day. I arrived at my AirBnb room whose A/C was struggling to keep up with the summer’s pressure. As I hauled my carry-on bags up the stairs in that house, I felt it all (as Feist might say). I felt alone, brave, scared, stupid, adventurous, and EXCITED, all at once.

Eventually settling in a studio flat downtown, I quickly felt myself come alive again, thawing rapidly from so many winters up North. My skin screamed in the strong Australian sun and protested by turning red immediately. I relished trips out the country and to other states in order to let my soul breathe–sometimes, Melbourne was just too full of concrete for this country girl. I pretended my farmer’s market WAS a farm, lugging home $5 boxes of fresh zucchinis, apples, and farm fresh eggs. I lamented daily about hipsters, Tony Abbott, and Woolies. I had gone native, Melbourne-style. I tried to soak in as much as possible, but that only made time fly quicker. Suddenly, I was all out of time.

By January 2015, my skin was sun-kissed and my feet were cracking from walking barefoot so much. I had a degree in my hands, with proud, strong grades despite every curve ball the year threw at me. I was broke, and it was time to find a “real” job. My student visa was running out, and my ticket was return to Oslo.

I write the title with skepticism. Inspired by Forrest Gump, I feel like all of sudden, the day came where I just dropped my shoulders and thought “Well, I made it this far. Might as well turn around and keep going.” A return is inevitable but its capacity and duration remain a project for the gods to deal with. 2014 is hands-down the year I cried the most, learned the most, laughed the most, felt the most. I love both cities and people in them. That’s all I can really say about The Future.

Your support, your letters, your likes and emails and Skype….  it has meant so incredibly much to me. You have been on this journey with me the whole way. You walked with me through a eucalyptus forest. I had you mind when I listened to the koala’s growl in the night. When I drank Little Creatures beer I thought “Yeah, you’d like this.” Thank you, thank you! I’m so happy you joined me.

MelbourneBackground

Post-graduating

It’s been two long semesters

$20,000 in tuition

290 coffees

1,000 hours + in the library

four textbook check-outs

Seven group members

Four A+’s

One C

One degree in Communications from Victoria University.

To me spring always marks a much bigger fresh start than a new year. Rains and spring storms send allergy-sufferers into an anti-histamine daze, and everything is an excuse for eating ice cream. My course is finishing up and my new career path is completely uncharted. It’s terrifying. My mom has been encouraging, saying “Just get a job.” Yeah, working on it!! It’s just daunting. I try to figure out my chances, given contacts, references, experience, expertise, language background, and training…huff. It’s a tough call. What to prioritise, what to drop, what to prepare for. It’s all there. I’ll prepare for the worst though, like a good optimist! ;P I still have two months left here and it is certain to fly by. I am most proud of getting myself back into remission during a time of tremendous change and stress. I have my last doctor’s and pathology appointments ever with the St. V clinics in November, and all three of my closest friends are determined to go with me. I’m feelin’ the tremendous love.

Grad school has been so incredibly painful and given me second-guesses all along the way. I have seen my attitude improve, and my skills are sharpened like a No. 2 pencil. I am getting to know my creativity better, as if it is a colleague of mine rather than this weird random magic wonder that showed up every now and then. I am a different person than I was before I started, and certainly I will be six months from now, too. I took a chance to put a poem of mine out into the public sphere and it feels great, even if no one can read norsk around these parts. I don’t care; I did it anyway. #mymantra. Now why are you reading this instead of employing me?? Go on, then!

One poem

23 essays

Two academic blogs (here and here)

Eight Powerpoint presentations

3 boxes of Kleenexes

Eight osteopath appointments

One wild adventure

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Some Queensland forest. 6/2014

Tuesdays

Tuesdays have come to be my favourite day of the week here. A journey that has been a year in the making.

A year ago this month, I was applying to schools all over Australia, putting my faith into Sydney and Melbourne. I had finally decided to dedicate myself to my creativity and skills, to pay attention to what everyone else had always told me to pursue: writing.

…and I was scared out of my mind.

I didn’t want to tell anyone because I was fearful of what they would say. I didn’t want to tell my family most of all, because I knew that would be the nail on the coffin of the “Leah has officially gone crazy” campaign. Australia, of all places! Maybe they were right, but I wasn’t about to admit it!! I kept my fears and my dreams to myself, locked in a nice little box with a purple bow, while I anxiously awaited an acceptance letter. Continuing my travels around Europe, October first brought Lyon, visiting an old housemate. Then in Copenhagen, I fell in love with the Danish autumn. I had plenty to think about and not enough time to articulate it.

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Lyon, France.

I remember the moment that I knew that I had made the right decision to go into PR and Communications, knew that it was time to take the purple ribbon off of the box. It was in fact the reception of this article. I wrote about a subject matter that tends to ruffle feathers. The “I’m not like that!” or the “Go back to where you came from!” crowds could have had a hay day with me if I had written even just slightly off course.

Since I was a child, my family has always encouraged me, but especially in two things: to write, and to help those who have less than myself. Why donate blood? You’re saving up to seven lives. Why buy Christmas presents for strangers? Because we’re so lucky as to have many. Why flip pancakes on Easter Sunday? So that we can raise enough money to go to summer camp and learn about love and nature. This has always been my impulse, my instinct, so when I asked a local charity here if I could please intern with them, I was so thankful that they said “yes.”

That charity was OzChild, a local, Victoria-based foster care provider. A group assignment in Semester One led me to them. We had to pick a local NPO and create a mock PR plan for them. Our enthusiastic and overachieving group realized the need for a real media kit and created some key messages and objectives surrounding an actual event. We aimed to create positive media attention and wanted to ensure that this could benefit OzChild beyond our theory-heavy research. Long story short, I started on a Tuesday.

Every Tuesday, I have had the opportunity to have responsibility for projects and learn in such a passionate environment. The work I do there every Tuesday is miniscule to the work they do every day of the week. I have helped lead the largest fundraising campaign to-date with them, a project that nobody but my manager and myself believed in, and we’re not even done with the campaign yet! (We are raising a whopping $96,000 for the organisation, if you feel so inspired to give from afar).

Ozchild has provided me with the chance to grow in my skills and experience with a fantastic and incredibly talented group of communications practitioners. My university has fostered immense feedback and support, and come November, a poem of mine will be published, thanks to OpenAccess, how cool is that? No matter where my degree takes me when I am done, I will always be thankful for the opportunity that this organisation and leap of faith has given me, to be able to pursue my two greatest loves: words, and helping others.

That’s why we don’t give Leah the map

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It’s spring in Australia. Adventure is blooming! Photo: Becca.

“Now that’s a city that captures you!” Becca exclaimed as our plane descended on Sydney’s skyline. Our faces quickly planted smack against the window, our eyes were wide with excitement. The skyline had us entranced: buildings went right up to the waters edge, greenery decorated the pockets, and ferries crossed this way and that.

I knew this was going to be a good weekend.

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All it took was a stop at the botanical gardens, and we were in love. Photo: Becca.

Becca had come to visit me for two weeks from Scotland but I suggested we go somewhere else rather than limit ourselves to Melbourne. Of course, it had to be Sydney. Becca is a chemist by brain and I had already decided weeks ago that she would be responsible for navigation in Sydney. She didn’t seem to mind, not even when I would play “Backseat Driver” and challenge her anyway. “Are you sure, Becca? Are you sure it’s North? Cause I think it’s Direction Blue, near the pointy thingy.” She would be right of course, and exclaimed at one point (in Melb) “This is why we don’t give Leah the map.” I agree. I wholeheartedly agree.

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We saw lots of these weird birds. Less aggressive than pigeons but wanting our meat pies nonetheless.

She put up with me anyway, even when I had low blood sugar levels and little sleep (She’s a keeper!). We wound our way through the city, going from harbour to quay to pier and back again. The Opera House was stunning; did you know it is tiled? We picked restaurants by the size of their seafood platters and wine bars by the length of their happy hours. The seafood was out of this world. We went to five beaches in all, including lovely Manly Beach (our fave) and the [in]famous Bondi. We walked several kilometers a day in 20-22C and sun. We went to many markets, our favourite being the Manly markets. Not the touristy ones, but the one that just happens to be once a month at the local public school. We bought heaps of stuff there for next to nothing. One of those friendly, down-to-Earth places (and prices) that there are less and less of these days. Every stall had a friendly face and it took us ages just to get through the whole place.

On the last day we finally took advantage of the free CBD shuttle bus. Why had we not thought of this before? Ah, because it requires extra navigation and negotiation! THAT’s why! 😉 Is the stop symbol to the left of the Hilton hotel or to the right? We agreed; the bus driver did not. Is it stopping where the other ones go? No? Shall we run or wait? Ah fck it; let’s just walk!!

We stayed at a great hotel downtown and were therefore able to hop around and come & go as we pleased. The public transport didn’t seem as sophisticated as in Melbourne, but for a weekend in the downtown area, we did alright. I absolutely am going back to Sydney; it’s just a question of when…

That Melbourne Wind

Oh, so that’s what they mean by Melbourne wind!

Today was windy. In fact, it’s 2am, and through my widow I hear buildings protesting and a hollow wind through the branches.

In Iowa, it was typically windy. It wasn’t a prime landscape to bike, to wear dresses, to cross country ski….etc. My moms car door twice needed repairs because she left it open and a gust came. And that was just the one car. However, it still didn’t occur to me that silence could really envelope a place until (Eastern) Norway.

Whenever it is windy in Oslo, it is practically in the news, and for legit reasons. It IS annoying, not because (we’re) simply not used to it, but because it disrupts life so much more. We DO walk and bike everywhere, wear flowy skirts, and cross country ski! I am reliant on umbrellas most days and if it is windy, I can’t use one.

Faced with packing a suitcase for Melbourne, two things were made clear to me: it rains a lot, and is windy.

I am not convinced that Melbourne is rainy. In fact, any Melburnian will tell you that New South Wales and Queensland have a higher average daily rainfall percentage (or something) than Melbs. I’m not quite convinced that it is all that windy in Melbourne, either. This is the second or third night I can recall where the winds here were so….well, Iowan.

Two things stick out at this point: that Melb gets these bad raps for the simple reason that they actually have such natural occurrences. I suppose ‘everyone else’ living here are all from places where wind and rain rarely occur. Of course, I’m sure some snowbirds like myself laugh. Just to keep the balance. 😉

Winter WAS long and hard and as equally depressing, actually. It’s just because society has that same mindset of: “it’s cold, it’s miserable, get me home to a cuppa tea.” So since spring is hopping along, we are all much more open to life and smiling. Laughter comes easier and Melb is suddenly alive again.

One question I cannot answer is one I got just the other day.

A customer I had was from Brasil. He was a lovely guy although felt cold at 18C. I laughed and told him winter was weird here because, given my background, I expect snow and all we got was some rain. After a slight pause, he looked at me with pure sincerity and curiosity and wonderment in his voice and eyes, and said “why would you miss the snow?”

I am still speechless at his sincerity in the question. He truly could not understand the crunch of the boots, the silence of it falling gently on the street, or the way it lights up a dark night. He does not know the way snow can change a landscape overnight, or bring such joy to a Labrador or child. In that same sense, we cannot separate ourselves from the environments in which we know intuitively. We can grow to know others, but I for one still cannot embrace the desert like I can the winds. When it rains, I still hope for a thunderstorm. And when it is windy in Melbourne, I pull my hair back, and leave the umbrella at home.

With a ticket in-hand…

Remember how in 2013 I made it to 13 new places? I find myself daydreaming, wondering if I can do it again…

I’ve already five “new” places this year anyway: Melbourne, Queesntown, Adelaide, Sunshine Coast, and Tasmania. Sydney is coming up and who knows what ideas I’ll think up come November. Although, I don’t think there is enough land in this corner of the world to achieve much more before year’s end.

I get a lot of comments about my travel tendencies. Me, staying put in one place for a year!? When I signed my lease for one year upon arrival, I wondered how I could make sure I stayed there the whole year without moving. So what is it about this nomadic life that is so attractive to me? For me it is not so much about transient life or settling somewhere, really. I run from nothing. It is about learning, and the passionate desire to keep doing so in my own way. Travelling, meeting new people, hearing their stories…it’s how I learn.

I came to Australia because I needed to.

The need to feel the stories that my dad had told me as a child was a strong one, and I wanted to meld my own stories from them. I also felt pulled and knew at the core why: what my definition of “Home” is. There are so many answers to choose from. I needed to figure out how much is in my heart, and how much is my surroundings and community, and how much is my mama’s Sunday roast.

What I have learned so far is that travel transforms my definition of Home into an internal place. With each plane I board, I fly a little higher, and Home sits a little deeper. Sure, travel enhances our senses, constantly throwing stimuli at our memory. Our comfort zones are pushed and our humility embraced. We are nervous and excited and lost and confused. The less we plan, the more vulnerable we are to our surroundings.

When we travel, we oddly become more in-tune with Home, and the concept is magnetizing. An old friend of mine from Texas recently spent a mere six weeks in Oslo, researching and exploring. She has been speaking Norwegian since her youth and is truly passionate for Everything Norway. So when she got a painful homesickness while in Norway, she was able to acknowledge this and respect it. She didn’t blame Norway for not fitting her idea of it; Not many people can do that. Everything about her experience was simply too different: expensive, snow-capped, and, well, Norwegian.  When she landed back home in Texas, she kissed the ground.

I don’t have six more tickets in-hand to mark a substantial quantity of new places in 2014. This year it is about quality. I have gotten to know a new culture, with its faults and surprises and hidden bits of joy. I have settled for one year in a new place where I knew just two people when I landed. I itch constantly to have that ticket in-hand, to be on the next plane out, but my state of mind when I hold that ticket has changed, and it is freeing!

So, when I call my brother and he answers with “What country are you in now?”, I do smirk a little at the reputation. In my defense, it just happens that way. I will always be traveling. Sick or healthy, poor or…ok I’ve always been poor. I crave the stimuli, the sand, the weird food, and the weirder birds. My colitis gets in the way sometimes, but then I enjoy the peace just that extra bit more. It was a bit edgy being stopped in Dubai for having cortisone on me. I was questioned thoroughly, and eventually sent through with a stern warning. I have paid the price for some countries and pushing myself too far. But I learned, I guess, even though I might do it again, hehe.

Life is not a ticket to the airport. It’s what you learn via that ticket. I always carry home in my heart, and since Jenn gave me an Iowan necklace with a heart attached, I carry it around my neck often, opening myself to learn and love wholeheartedly. Happy travels!!

“Leah, what are Aussie men like?”

Aussie men.

You’re all dying to know aren’t you? What are they like? You keep asking, but I don’t think six months justifies any presumptions I’ve made. But there are some things that I’ve been asked repeatedly. We’ve all heard these things and the verdict is still out on if the myths hold true. I’ll try my best to be diplomatic.

“They are fit.” Yeah, it seems most people in general value being active anyway, no matter their weight.

“They have a good sense of humour.” Definitely.

“They are obsessed with sport.” Definitely.

“They are loyal.” Sure? As much as any random white male population. They seem ‘American’ though in the sense that Couplehood is the crowned child of society.

“They are hot.” Sure? As much as any random white male population.

“They are short.” Let’s just say when I see a taller bloke, I notice.

“They all surf.” I’m sure Ayers Rock is a huge RipCurl hub. 😉

“They like to wear flip flops.” Affirmative.

“They like beer. A lot” We all like our beer.

I know you’re disappointed in me. You wanted the scoop, the scandalous statement, the one where I declare them pigs or gods. They are neither. They’re ‘stralian!
Now come see for yourself! The Aussie mates I have anyway are incredibly funny, loyal, and thoughtful. They are smart guys with a soft heart.

Hobart

I sit here, my secret hiding place on campus. Quiet, undisturbed, I look out over the city and try to put theory behind my latest campaign idea. What stategic and ethical considerations should be—ya know what, ACG5098? It’s Friday, leave me alone.

Because as I become giddy over planning a fun-filled trip with Becca to Sydney come September, I think back on my trips this year and the strange stories and places. I wanted to travel on my own and was never lonely. Thing about travelling alone is, you can always surround yourself with people in bars or tour groups if you want, or stay quiet.  Hobart called to the introvert in me, and I mostly stayed quiet.

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Mt. Wellington from my window with fresh snow on the peaks.

Hobart has approximately 100,000 residents on either side of the water. It is the largest city on/in Tasmania. Such a unique, quirky place as well. When I asked my host if I should be careful about certain area of town, she smirked. One of those smirks where it was obvious that I had asked a silly question. “No, certainly not a problem for you. Just be careful at night; there are minimal street lamps.” In this and similar ways, Hobart felt like a trip back in time. The famous state cinema added to this effect, and I don’t know if I used my debit card at any cafe. Even the bartenders seemed from an old black&white movie, greeting me with that white shirt & suspenders, glass and towel in-hand asking, “How can I help yuh, Miss?”

The most life to be had was on Saturday morning at the Salamanca Market. That was so much fun! Lots of local crafts, products, and pride. I really enjoyed looking at everything except all of the stuff made from “Tasmanian forest.” I’m sure it’s all ethically sustained and whatnot, yadda yadda, but still…it wasn’t sitting right with me. The Australian and state government could care less about the untouched forest. Even the logging companies have asked, “Really? Are you sure you want to do this?”

So when I came up to a wildlife protection organisation’s booth, I had to stop for some booklets and to have a chat with the lovely ladies advocating for protection. I learned a lot from that side of the story, and walked away with an entire library on material about proposed logging and the wildlife it will affect. Logging in any forest is just so sad, but in a place like Tasmania!! Oh, my heart aches. You could tell the residents still mourn the extinction of the Tasmanian tiger due to hunting culls in the 1930’s, and I can’t imagine what will happen to the Tasmanian devils if they tear down the precise forest where they thrive the best.

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Rainbow over beautiful Tassie

But alas, my time in Hobart was not dedicated to spending some alone time or protesting on behalf of the devils. One day I dedicated the entire day to art. If you look at my life in the past, say, five odd years, I have maybe once or twice made a conscious decision to go to an art gallery. But MONA, or the Museum or Old and New Art, is truly a spectacle to be invested in. This genius weird dude with shitloads of money opened it three or four years ago, and it was mind blowing, I tell you! Mind blowing!

So, in this place, you are likely to find 200 casts of various “styles” of vaginas next to a mummified Egyptian next to a floating scrap metal thing from imaginations beyond our Normal Human understanding. This place was insane! I loved it. One exhibit was of a “digestive system,” the whole room smelling of rotten raw chicken. Another was a mirrored toilet (no comment on that one). My favourites were probably 1) a 1936 German documentary on the Olympics, groundbreaking technology for the time, and what a time for it. 2) The Death Gallery.

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Don’t worry; he looked both ways before crossing.

Hobart was cute, inviting, and oh-so Tassie.

OK ACG5098, see you again on Monday.

Joe’s Kiosk

Adelaide: It’s the city where everybody somehow knows everybody. Or at least their in-laws.

The family friend I was staying with planned for me to go out for drinks on my last night with her younger colleagues, and it solidified everything I had learned since arriving there: three degrees of separation defines the city. Everybody knows everybody.

Case one: Ten minutes after I landed, we were at Joe’s Kiosk, where we ran into a Big Name Ex-Politician and a rice farmer from NSW. I couldn’t decide who was more interesting to talk to! Joe himself hugged me and gave me a chocolate. Everywhere we went, she knew someone, or her colleagues knew someone. Little did I know I had already been sucked into this world…

Which leads me to case two: Just a few weeks prior, I was at the pub to watch some footy when I met my newest footy-banter buddy. A bloke from Adelaide who comes to Melbourne a few times a year with his mates purely for the purpose of watching footy. That’s my kind of people.

Case three: Two weeks prior, I was at the four-gate Maroochydore airport when I found the only Norwegian there. She was a bright, bubbly girl from the eastern bits of Norway. We traded Facebook names and vowed to see each other when she came to Melbourne come spring.

So when I was in Adelaide, I planned to have breakfast on my last day there with my new footy friend. We had good conversation and amazing food at a very popular cafe. Around noon I got a text from my Norwegian friend. “Are you in Adelaide?! Let’s have coffee!”

*Worlds colliding!*

It was so glorious, so random, and I was so happy. What a coincidence. A month before my trip, neither of these meetings would have even happened. But they did, thanks to Adelaide.

It reminded me of Iowa: everybody knows everybody and their business. Trying to keep a private life is a joke, but it also means that networking takes care of itself. Absolutely everyone I met was incredibly welcoming and nice, and I must admit, there wasn’t a single bad-looking guy in the whole city.

So the next time you go to Joe’s Kiosk, beware: you may never know who you’re going to run into!

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The view from Joe’s Kiosk on a stormy winter day