To Europe via Iceland

As a German expat living in the United States, I am always looking for the most convenient and most economical way to visit my home country. About once a year, I make the trip across the Atlantic to visit family and to immerse myself into the local language and culture for a couple of weeks in order to stay ahead of the latest developments.

In previous years, I had happily taken advantage of the direct connection from Denver to Frankfurt offered by Lufthansa. There certainly is no easier or more comfortable way to travel to Europe than an overnight, non-stop flight. Alas, it’s an expensive option. So this year, I decided to try a different route.

Icelandair, a relatively new addition to the Denver airport which took to the Colorado skies in May 2012, offers one-stop flights to more than 20 European airports. Flights to Frankfurt depart Denver in the early evening and go straight to Kevlavik, Iceland, a manageable 7.5-h flight into the night. There, the layover is only 50 minutes, which, due to the small size of Kevlavik International Airport, is plenty of time despite the fact that you have to change gates and go through a passport check before boarding your connection to Germany. The flight from Iceland to Frankfurt takes another 3.5 hours, making the whole trip about 12 hours including layover time. Not much worse than the 10 hours Lufthansa takes for its direct flight, and at about half the price upon advance booking, a good deal indeed.

One of the greatest advantages of flying with Icelandair, however, is the fact that every passenger is allowed to check 2 suitcases of 50 lbs each on transatlantic flights. Most airlines these days allow only one suitcase per person, and being just a few pounds over the weight allowance can be very costly. To me, this far outweighs the minor inconvenience of having to pay for your dinner on the plane (Icelandair passengers get to choose from a small selection of fruit, salad, oatmeal, baguette and other light fare, priced between 1 and 15 Euros; non-alcoholic beverages are free). Children, however, receive a free, hot meal that includes a drink, main course and dessert. They also get free headphones, while adults have to pay for headphones if they didn’t bring their own.

The entertainment program on Icelandair flights can easily pass the time from departure until landing. Each seat has its own, touch-screen TV offering a good selection of movies ranging from new releases to older favorites, as well as TV shows, documentaries, children’s programming, information channels and radio stations. Language lovers may appreciate the rare exposure to Icelandic entertainment options. If you’d rather watch something on your tablet or smart phone, you can plug it into the provided USB port to keep it charged. As far as seating comfort in economy class goes, Icelandair isn’t the worst offender, with a fairly standard 32″ leg room (40″ in business class) and foot rests on every seat. The seats recline pretty far, which is nice if you are the person reclining, but not so nice for the person behind you.

The staff on Icelandair is friendly and helpful. Flights are rather small for transatlantic routes with 3×3 seating, which means boarding and deplaning is a relatively fast process. Overall, I was very happy with Icelandair and am certain that I will fly with them again in the future. I already signed up for their “Saga” frequent flyer program. Only next time, I might make a longer stop in Iceland and explore the island for a few days before continuing my trip to Europe.

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CTA Conference Takeaway – Part 2

During her session on time management for freelancers at the 2013 Annual Conference of the Colorado Translators Association in Boulder, Corinne McKay pointed out that one of her secrets is to stop being a “150%er” about everything. “Pick something to be mediocre at,” she said, adding that for her, having a perfect house is no longer a priority.

Having a type A personality, I don’t like to be mediocre at anything. I work out at the gym every morning for 1.5 to 2 hours. I make home-cooked-from-scratch meals for me and the kids almost every day. I pick up the kids’ toys several times throughout the day because I don’t like clutter, even though I realize that I’m doing Sisyphus work. I always keep the sink empty and the kitchen counters clean. My afternoons are dominated by taking care of my girls while keeping them away from the TV or computer, whether it’s driving them to swim lessons, helping them with craft projects or supervising play dates. When the kids are in bed, I go through the house making sure everything is in its proper place, because I simply cannot stand being greeted by a messy house in the morning. Until now, I’ve been fitting my work around all my other commitments, which means that quite often, I found myself working until 10 or 11 p.m. to catch up.

Listening to Corinne’s presentation made me realize that by trying to do everything perfectly, I was actually shortchanging my translation business. Constant interruptions and irregular work hours did nothing for my productivity. I needed more structure in my work day.

Since I work from home and clutter drives me insane, cutting down on the cleaning wasn’t an option. I just couldn’t work in an area where I feel the need to wash a dirty cup or pick up a stray doll every time I turn my head away from my monitor. The easiest way to arrive at a more structured work day was to cut down on my gym time. My youngest is in preschool three mornings a week and the oldest is in full-day Kindergarten, which gives me three mornings a week of uninterrupted work time. Add to that an hour or two while the little one naps on most days and maybe another hour for marketing and social media efforts in the evenings, and I’ll easily have enough hours to devote to growing my part-time business.

So I decided (not without a sigh) that hitting the gym four mornings a week – and fitting in shorter afternoon workouts on other days as time permits – will still be enough for a healthy lifestyle. Yes, my mommy tummy may not shrink as quickly as I would like, but that is going to be my area of mediocrity. I may not be the skinniest mom on the block, but hopefully, I will have a good balance between work, family and exercise.

CTA Conference Takeaway – Part 1

This past weekend, I attended the 3rd Annual Conference of the Colorado Translators Association. As usual, I ended up leaving with a head full of ideas on how to improve my translation business, my productivity, and my work/life balance. In the past, that’s usually where it ended. But in the spirit of making 2013 a year of professional reinvention, I decided to actually implement some of my new-found knowledge. Here’s my progress report:

1. Decluttering my inbox

I have a Gmail account where my personal email, business email and “subscription email” (the address I use to subscribe to blogs, social networks, etc.) converge. On any given day, I receive countless emails from prospective and current clients, discussion lists, news alerts, my kids’ schools, friends and family… The email app on my iPhone is constantly going “Bing!” to remind me that yet another message calls for my attention. After listening to a presentation by Corinne McKay about time management skills for freelancers on the weekend, I decided to follow her advice and declutter my inbox by creating filters. I can’t believe I never took advantage of the filters option in Gmail before this week! I now have filters in place for messages from mailing lists, LinkedIn and other social media channels, and various other sources. These messages now bypass my inbox and go directly to their respective folders (or, in some cases, the trash bin). The result: My inbox is almost empty, and my phone doesn’t constantly bother me with new message alerts anymore.

2. Starting a structured note-taking system

During the CTA Conference, I attended a session on note-taking for translators by Riccardo Schiaffino. He recommended a program called CintaNotes for taking notes directly on the computer rather than on post-its – or the only slightly more high-tech version, “Sticky Notes,” which has been cluttering my laptop screen until now. With CintaNotes, I can turn any text on my computer screen into a searchable note simply by highlighting it and pressing Control + F12. That’s even less work than scribbling a note on a piece of paper! There are more advanced features that come with the program, of course, which I will have to explore in the future. But for now, I’m happy to clear my desk of all the random pieces of paper I’ve had lying around.

There you have it, two goals down, a bunch more to go. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.