29 November 2010

Alanis, This one's for you

So, if you are faithful readers of this blog (or have just familiarized yourself with the archives) you will know that I spent some time writing about 'irony' as inspired (and completely obliterated as a term of any meaning, whatsoever) by Alanis Morsette. I will not re-type all of those thoughts here. I will just summarize it briefly as:

What is irony? No, Alanis, that isn't ironic. It's just really bad luck. Is anything in my life ironic?

And uncertainty has hung over each of those questions. But today, by the end of this post, I think that I might be able to say....'maybe'. A more certain degree of uncertainty than I have allowed myself previously.

I am just going to power through this post with a series of thoughts/anecdotes. Some might appear ironic, and not be. Some might be ironic, but not appear to be. And some are not ironic--I just think they are funny.

  1. Today, I saw an adult dressed as Paddington Bear. Bright blue trench coat, red hat. He/she was also wearing a yellow reflective vest, so he/she could have been Paddington Bear goes to work. (And it is even more fitting that he/she is unisex--I don't know if Paddington Bear is a boy or a girl. Also, this fits into that third category.)
  2. The British take great pride in their 'gentlemen sports'. When I played cricket last year they always told us not to talk trash because it was a gentleman (or lady in my case) sport (insert profuse apologies for forgetting to include me, here). Then they would ask when the tea would be served. I don't think this is ironic, but it was certainly a paradox to be sitting in the Liverpool section when Liverpool got beat by Tottenham on Sunday. I know that creativity is part of what it means to be a gentleman (or at least a Renaissance man). And I guess singing in choirs is something that gentlemen do. So I guess there is something gentlemanly about how 'creatively' some of the words that I heard were being used, in one of the largest 'choirs' I have been around. Who knew that four letters could communicate so much? (I think this is just a paradox.)
  3. Today, I got my textbook in the mail for the Spanish class that I will be taking next week. (That's right. I am going to learn the whole language in a week.) I can't find any English in the thing. I am not sure if that is because the whole thing is in Spanish (there is definitely a lot more Spanish than any book I have ever seen before) or because it is a German Spanish book. (Yeah, I'll let you think on that one for a while. And I think this might be ironic. But Alanis has muddled my brain so much that I can't be sure.)

23 November 2010

What are you doing with your life?

I know that some of you are wondering. In my time back in the states this summer, I had several people infer that it was unclear what I actually did with all of my time in Oxford. And...I had a hard time explaining it. That is partly because:

1. I am not always sure.
2. The answer to that question changes from day to day, week to week, term to term.

But, I can give you a pretty clear picture of what I have been doing for the last two months that might help to illuminate that question.

  • I have been managing spreadsheets. Yes, I know this isn't the glamorous life that you were picturing, but it is true. Sometimes I think I am getting a second degree in Excel and GoogleDocs. I spend at least some time every day managing attendance lists for various events that I am helping to coordinate in Oxford, but a spreadsheet has become the central component of my academic work this year as well (more on that in my second bullet-point). I think the best way to summarize this--and good news--is that I am learning how to behave like an organized person without actually being more organized. I have a fundamental personal paradox which is a tension between organization and clutter. On one hand, I recognize that I need to function in a largely organized and systematic way, but I lack the discipline to be as coherent in applying that organization to my life. I am cluttered, my room is perpetually disordered (note that I did not say messy) and I used to lose a lot of things until I developed coping mechanisms (called bags, purses, and big pockets with zippers). Spreadsheets are like a coping mechanism for my brain.
  • I have been developing the fine art of being a pest. I know that for those of you who know me well or who have been around me when I am pursuing something that I am really committed to, this doesn't seem like a new skill. But, I suppose the difference is the degree of systematic pestering. I am talking about a professional level.
Here's what I mean:

My main job this term is essentially to interview 24-30 people in the United States. Due to the restrictions on my research (aka, the 'I can't tell you or I would have to kill you code' that I signed), I am not going to say anything more than that. But these folks are in two different time zones in the United States and none of them really want to talk to me. Sure, some will, but no one is excited when they hear from me. So, I have discovered the science/art of how to get people to do something that they don't really want to do.

This is one of those lose/lose situations, unfortunately. You see, if I am bad at my job, then I don't get the interviews that I need, I can't finish my thesis, and I fail (ok, that's dramatic). If I am good at my job (and I am afraid I have to say, that sometimes I am good at this job), then that means that I am successfully bothering people into submission. I don't know if this is a life-skill or a resume builder that I really want to have.

But this process has taught me, that few people respond to your first e-mail. But lots of people respond to your second one if you send it five days later. And even more people respond if you e-mail them a third time and put some parts in bold font.

So that is what I do everyday. I look at my excel spreadsheet and color-code contacts based on how many e-mails they have received from me, how long it has been since I last heard from them, etc. And then I systematically 'persist' (that is the nicer term for bugging/nagging/relentlessly contacting).

So, yeah, there are times when I do normal and respectable things like read books and write papers. But lately, amidst the dreaming spires....my work hasn't been all that glamorous.

What's up in England...

Not much. Same old, same old. (Which on one hand, is a good excuse for not blogging--nothing to report, and on the other, a terrible excuse--what have I been doing with my life?! More on that later.)

But as I sit in Starbucks having just finished a venti (that's right--the big guy) Peppermint Mocha, I have some news. Christmas music is playing here. And a Christmas tree was erected a few weeks ago on Broad Street (one of the two main thoroughfares--if you can call a street that isn't open for through traffic a thoroughfare). And these two facts (among others--like the fact that 4500 miles from Delhi--not to be confused with 45,000 miles from Dehli, as I would call it--started its Christmas menu on November 15th) has led me to a conclusion.

That my mother would love it here? (Yes, that's true. No, it's not the conclusion that I have come to.)

The conclusion that I have come to--the epiphany that I have had, if you will (After all, epiphanies are a dime a dozen when you drink a venti-anything at Starbucks. But again, more on that later.)--is that without Thanksgiving, England doesn't know when to start celebrating Christmas. (It's ok to gasp with astonishment at the implications of that realization. I understand.)

It's true though. Take it from me. I come from a household where I think there is the equivalent of a New Year's countdown leading up to the dawn of Thanksgiving day (at least in the head of my mother). No, she doesn't love turkey that much. (After all, what is there to love about turkey? In preparation for a Thanksgiving feast for 100 that I am helping to plan today, we concluded that the turkey doesn't even have to be well cooked. In fact, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce are all concessions that the turkey will be dry. And even if it's not--no one can tell, because it is covered in so much stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce.) So, if it isn't the turkey, what is it? Well, my friend. Thanksgiving is the day when it becomes 'acceptable' to listen to Christmas music.

On that third Thursday of the month of November, my mom's step is lighter, her smile is brighter (as if that's possible), and life is just grand because Manheim Steamroller can return. Sandi Patty can grace us with gracious festive music (Ok, that's a joke. My mom doesn't listen to Sandi Patty. Anymore.) Josh Groban is officially the man. (Like there's a time when he's NOT the man?!).

Our family has semi-sporadic Thanksgiving traditions. Sometimes we are home, sometimes we are at one or the other grandmother's/grandparent's houses. But whether we are cooking cornish hens, or riding in the Camry (shout-out dad for being committed to joining the 200,000 mile club), there is one constant--the music of sleigh-bells and chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

And the other constant is probably my bad attitude about it. I really don't dislike Christmas music that much (in fact, I would listen to Mariah Carey sing Christmas music all year round...and do.), but it has almost become part of the Thanksgiving tradition for me to get as far away from the 'away in a manger' music as possible.

So, Christmas is already in full-swing in Oxford. And if I am going to faithfully play my roll, I have to eye-roll and tell you it is a travesty. England needs to throw some tea in the English Channel, declare independence from itself, and come up with a holiday of thanks and over-eating so that they can have a starting point for the Christmas festivities.

There, I have done my duty. I have played my part.

But, if I am to be honest with you, Christmas is here in Oxford and I am loving it. My mother's enthusiasm for the season is pursuing me across the ocean. I will thank of my family (both formal and informal) throughout the season and be thankful. I am thankful to have 24 years of happy Thanksgiving and Christmas memories (with four Thanksgivings with basketball family and one with my Rhodes family).

Thanksgiving will come and go this year and I will probably hardly even recognize it (because I will spend it at a black tie awards dinner). So, do me a favor. If you are reading this on the other side of the Atlantic, next time you see my parents, give them an extra hug for me--and roll your eyes in front of my mom when you hear Christmas music fire up on Thursday. Even if you love it, pretend like you don't.

03 November 2010

Day Trip 1: Bristol

They say a picture's worth a thousand words, right?







Then, let's just call this my longest blog ever.


01 November 2010

A Few Moments When I Wish I Were in Buckle-Country (Part II)

**Spoiler alert--you should read (Part I) first
**Caveat--yes, I did just create these posts back to back; but I thought the story was too long to be one post.
**Disclaimer--ok, maybe it's not really that good of a story.

So, I go into Tesco Metro (because apparently all of the grocery stores cloned themselves six times over the summer and there is some serious food-provider competition going on around Oxford. I fear that the grocery store to person ratio is going to rival the library to person ratio soon), the largest of the two local stores that are located directly next to each other. If you care the advantages of the Tesco Metro is that it sells everything. The disadvantage is that everyone is there....and standing in line. I hate the lines and for this reason, don't love Tesco Metro, but I thought it was my best chance to score some coffee filters.

So, I go downstairs and head to the coffee section. I don't know about you, but if I were playing the 'If I were a coffee filter where would I be?' game, I would answer 'With the coffee!' every-single time. Because of my confidence in where the coffee filters should be, when they weren't there, I immediately decided to get some help. So, I asked one of the stockers where I could find the coffee filters (thinking I had overlooked them in the coffee aisle, etc). His response was, "If we had them, they would be over in aisle 13 with the home appliances." This certainly isn't where I would put them, but it seemed reasonable enough. So, I went to aisle 13. I couldn't find them. But lucky for me, there was another worker in aisle 13. After looking on my own for about 3.5 seconds (because persistence is one of my greatest virtues) I asked him where I could find the coffee filters. He responded "If we have them, they would be over in aisle 7--with the coffee." I was about to tell him they weren't there, but he took the service one step further and walked over to the aisle and confirmed that they were not.

I have to admit that I found the "If we had them" claim to be baffling and incredibly unhelpful. It completely eliminates my ability to be certain whether I have looked in the right place, or whether I should be looking at all. But I thought that maybe the store just hadn't been open very long so some of the employees were still familiarizing themselves with the inventory. And, this is a smaller grocery store, so maybe I shouldn't expect them to carry coffee filters.

So, I walked out a couple of miles to the biggest grocery store. If they didn't have coffee filters than I had discovered the scam of the coffee machine (this was before I discovered the permanent filter, mind you). After looking in the coffee aisle--to no avail--I just found a stocker and asked him where I would find the coffee filters. When he started his sentence off with "If we had them..." I should have just walked out of the store.

For those of you who are wondering what the answer to the question "Where would I find coffee filters?" is, the answer is "In the specialty store in the covered market." But that isn't really a very good punchline to the story. But at least you know what to expect if you ever need help finding something at the grocery store--it's like the song that never ends.

A Few Moments When I Wish I Were in Buckle-Country (Part I)

In case you haven't heard of it, "The Buckle Game" is this game that kids (ahem, for me that should say 'college students') play where your sole aim is to walk into The Buckle, walk to the back wall, touch it, and walk out, without anyone greeting you. In all honesty, if you do it without five people greeting you, it's kind of like a moral victory.

The whole thing pokes fun of the aggressiveness of salesmanship at the retailer (they sell on commission after all). Kids (college students) love it. The Buckle hates it (and I think deep down inside, loves it). Urban legend holds that when new Buckle-ers are getting trained, they are told about The Buckle Game and instructed to do their part to carry on Buckle's great name as a place of eager service. (I am not sure if anyone has told them that the people playing the Buckle Game are not complimenting them, but that is another blog post....AND, urban legends are not meant to be made to 'face the facts' so to speak. That would be an unthinkable double standard.)

Contrast that experience with the fresh waves of customer (dis)service that have been washing over me since my arrival to the prim-and-proper land.

I bought a drip coffee-maker this year because it was just too much work to use my french press every time I wanted a cup of brew last year. I mean, the thing only made a little over a cup, and it was pretty obnoxious to try to rinse out the grounds--especially since there are no garbage disposals here, so it was this very complicated straining and trashing process that almost felt like making coffee by hand (if there were such a thing. Don't question the analogy--go with it.) So, anyway, I decided to buy a drip coffee-maker. I had some beans from the United States (that I had basically had to stick in the holster of my belt loop because I was so over-packed) and I was ready to go. I bought a coffee maker for 7 GBP (which works out to about $10 and translates into DIRT CHEAP). This is the first time that the old 'you get what you pay for' adage hasn't come around to bite me in the bee-hind (Don't ask me about the 5 GBP duvet cover. Yes, it sounded too good to be true. Yes, it was. Yes, it was more like 5 gigantic kleenexes sewn together. No, it has not been keeping me warm. No, I did not learn my lesson. I thought I said not to ask about the duvet cover?!). Buying a 7 GBP coffee-maker is to my stinginess what my one good golf drive is to my golf-game. I may be completely delusional, but that one success causes me to forget about what happens 95% of the time and believe that the best is yet to come.

But the challenge for me came in finding coffee-filters to put in the coffee machine. Sure, I later discovered that the coffee machine came with a built-in personal filter. But before I knew that, I wondered why it was so hard to find coffee filters (if you could easily buy a coffee maker)? After I knew that, I still didn't care, because it was this very system of having to clean something out every time I made coffee that had inspired me to buy the coffee maker in the first place (and the permanent filter left little coffee granules in the bottom of the pot).

This is the story of trying to find coffee filters at the grocery store. If you didn't know better, you would think this wasn't going to be a very good story. But you know better....

To be continued.


31 October 2010

Life is beautiful....

I thought that there was going to be a beautiful sunset on this day, so I headed out to the old monastery to try to catch it. I thought that I had captured the day's best light (and had rolled around in the nettles enough for one day) so I headed back home. Just when I got back, the sky exploded in red.

In that moment, I could only imagine the limitless possibilities for breath-taking beauty, and while I recognize that I will only observe, describe, and capture a tiny portion of it, I was reminded to always be watching.

29 October 2010

Food: Highs and Lows

Tuesday was a great day.

It was the day that JIF returned to my life. For those of you who have not been without JIF or who do not love it as much as I do, let me just tell you that while grainy chunks of peanuts in oil may satisfy your hankering for some peanut-flavor, it does not quiet the inner pangs for that comfort food (chosen by all choosey mom's...or mums).

My life has been improved, but the lives of my roommates and friends, people from all nations--Australia, Turkey, Austria, South Africa, New Zealand, England, Texas--have been changed.

But for every exhilarating culinary experience (yes, peanut butter is my pinnacle--it is still the simple things), there are some....less exhilarating meals.

1. Eel. I have to admit that if I hadn't known what it was, I would have just thought it was a white fish. I was pleasantly surprised with its flaky texture. I was deterred by the rank fish smell. I don't know if it was marinated in anything, but all you got was 'fish'.

Here's the good news. I had this at a formal hall (multiple courses) which has two inherent benefits. First, my main course wasn't eel, so it's not like I went hungry. And secondly, it was a risk-free-eel-trial. I had already paid for the food and it wasn't like I had a choice between eel and something delicious. I had a choice between trying eel and not trying eel. That's a choice I can make.

2. Pâté (yes, I had to copy that off another page because I couldn't get the appropriate accents here).

According to Wikipedia (the true source of all knowledge), this delicacy is 'a mixture of ground meat and fat minced into a spreadable paste'. I don't know about you, but I don't really dream about eating my meats as a 'spreadable paste'.

Unfortunately, this particular treat is a popular favorite at Jesus College formal hall. MMM. This last time, the presentation was particularly disturbing.

First course came out and looked charming enough. There was a little espresso cup of 'something', with a few crunchy pieces of bread and some sort of tomato chutney/relish. Fine. I would even go so far as to say that I thought it was cute.

But then you look a little bit closer to your cup and realize that it looks like a solid. You know the custard shops that advertise custard so think that you can tip it upside down quickly and the thickness of the shake (combined with physics) will prevent it from falling out? Well, this takes that to the extreme. You could turn this cup over and leave it upside down for infinity, and it would never fall out.

Now, I have to admit that I couldn't figure out exactly what the solid-waxlike substance was on the top of (what we later determined to be pate). But I can tell you that I am pretty confident what foodgroup a 'solid-waxlike' substance would have to be. And no, it is not a fruit.

So, I broke through the cholesterol-in-a-cup covering to find pate underneath. I tried it (because its formal after all). I am not even sure I tasted it, but conceptually, I just don't approve.

Choosey mums do not choose pate.



21 October 2010

Don't Question my Fanhood


That's right world. Eat your heart out. I am wearing the helmet of the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.

Here's the back story. I had said that if the Chiefs were undefeated at 4-0 when I left the United States, that I was going to buy a jersey. I was confident that if they reached the 4-0 mark in our division which is less-strong (ok, weak), that they would coast to a play-off appearance. I wanted to be ready to root them on from afar.

But then I was confronted with a dilemma. The Chiefs got a bye-week in week four leaving them undefeated but a win short of the 4-0 mark. In other news, I was already compulsively over-packed and was having a hard time justifying even one more piece of clothing. Sure, clothing is super-light, but it was the cumulative weight of 100 effectively weightless pieces of attire that had pushed two large bags north of the 50 pound mark.

So, I had settled that I would just wear the Chiefs t-shirt that I already had with pride. I didn't need a Chiefs jersey, and I was bailed out of my bold statement by a technicality. But then, I went with Luke to a discount Chiefs apparel store. As tempted as I was to buy a Brody Croyle jersey, I decided that I could hold off. But then I came across this bad boy. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up--I could protect my brain and represent my pride. And let's face it, I can wear this helmet everyday. While I could wear a Chiefs jersey every day, that might actually be weirder than the helmet. It's hard to believe, but I think it's true.

So the Chiefs have arrived in Oxford. I hope they start making me proud.

And now, for a few caveats:

1. As far as I am concerned, the Chiefs are 3-0. Boom. I have heard whispers of trouble, but I refuse to be swayed. Call me delusional. You should.

2. Yes, this is my posture at every stop light. I got passed by 'Lance Armstrong' the other day and have decided that I need to step up my game.

3. No, no one knows who the Kansas City Chiefs are here (other than the Americans and a few well-informed Canadians and Australians.

4. No, I would not have worn this helmet last year. At this time last year I was still under the allusion that I could (and should) try to blend in here. I have given up that pipe dream.

You (all those who read the blog last year as well as those concerned about my personal safety) will be glad to know that I have purchased a new bike--Chiefs red of course.

10 October 2010

The More Things (Don't) Change, The More They Stay the Same

In three short months, I have managed to forget a few things about English life. Or perhaps more accurately, things that had ceased to surprise me, that had become routine, now seem as unusual to me as they did at first. In some instances, experience these things again has been a reminder that has caused me to chuckle or appreciate with new freshness life in Oxford, in others, old frustrations have returned in waves, and in some, the surprises have been downright dangerous.

Here are a few of the things that I had temporarily forgotten:

1. Cars Drive on the left side of the road.

Yes, this was one of the 'dangerous'. I was walking a family of Canadians to Jamie's Italian (they were only walking in the wrong direction about 1.5 miles from the restaurant). As I was showing them some good old fashioned midwestern hospitality, and motioning to the route that they could have taken to the restaurant, the mother gasped as I was almost hit by a car. Lesson learned. (This might have had more to do with the fact that I just wasn't paying attention, but I do need to get readjusted to the flow of traffic.)

2. It is still ok for women to wear white (yes!) even after labor day. (I told you mom).

Also, surprisingly enough (or not), it is still ok for men to wear pink pants, red skinny jeans, and other fashion statements that I would find questionable. Just to clarify, I am not surprised that they can be worn at this time of year, but rather that they can ever be worn. But if I am being completely honest, I am not surprised at all--I just forgot what it was like.

3. Pedestrians still refuse to use sidewalks. Shocker.

This is one of those unfortunate surprises that is not surprising at all. It has always been difficult to navigate amongst people off for an afternoon stroll, window shoppers, and tourists--especially on the weekend--but let's just say that when your bike has two gears (which you cannot choose between), and tends to catch when you have bursts of pedalling, this pedestrians-in-the-street phenomenon takes on a new dimension of irritating.

At one point yesterday as my bike popped, caught, and swerved, I thought of an arrangement that I think could work for everyone. Hey, pedestrians--I'll make you a deal. If you refuse to walk in the street, I will NEVER ride my bike on the sidewallk. No, this wouldn't involve any changes as a cyclist, but it seems to be a fair arrangement and one that would make all of our lives safer, easier, and less angry (ok, maybe that would just be my life).

To be continued...(so much material to work from)

06 October 2010

Shaking off the Blogwebs

It is hard to get started after such a long time off.

I have heard some people say that they think in tweets--apparently all of their thoughts are 150 words, or 500 characters, or whatever constraints are placed on tweeters. Obviously I don't tweet. But while we are on the topic, let's just say that if tweets are defined by characters and people actually think in tweets that is incredibly impressive. And everyone who is spending mental energy on that should apply that mental energy to something else--like alleviating poverty.

But even though I have never tweeted, I think I can kind of understand the concept of thinking in tweets. By the end of the year, I kind of thought in blogs. Seriously, I would be in some bizarre situation or experience (like the time a fellow bus-rider started an impassioned speech about how Rosa Parks was the only reason why we could even be on the bus, and how women are (apparently? This was news to me...) the only ones who are supposed to ride buses. Apparently the men are supposed to walk. It was a very informative bus-ride--but I always learned a lot on buses.) and start collecting the details needed to make it blog-worthy (Though let's be fair, there are times when nothing is required to make a given experience blog-worthy). (Insert what I said about how we spend our mental energies here.) "What does it mean to think in blogs?", you may be wondering.

Well, thanks for asking.

First, it should be said that there are a few 'types' of blogs. You have news, politics, or other commentary blogs which feature the author's opinions on a given topic--personal experience is not required. Then on the other end of the spectrum, you have what I will call "Dear Diary" blogs that are incredibly personal and replace facts and opinions with feelings. Obviously, there is a full spectrum of blogs between these two and I fall, as is often the case, somewhere in the middle. I suppose you could say that this blog is a 'commentary of personal experience' blog--I cut out feelings, am less than concerned with facts, and you are left with my opinions as revealed by random life-experiences. I suppose that is kind of like politics, or at least the political attacks (ahem, ads) that are being lobbed between candidates in the run-up to the election.

So with that context in mind, it should be said that my kind of blog requires a few things--some of which are positive and others may be....less than positive.

First, it requires an eye for the exceptional. Eeyore would not be a particularly good blogger. Ho-hum life does not make for interesting blogs. And here, I am not talking about an actual difference between the life of Eeyore and Pooh, let's say (Ok, who decided to name a cartoon character Pooh...?). The difference is not in available material, but in our perception. I am convinced that exceptional moments occur to each of us, but we do not always cultivate an awareness for them. I would say this attention to detail has certainly been a positive result of blogging.

Second, it seems that blogging almost always (unless you are talking about the extreme version of the 'personal experience' kind) requires a bit of a dry, ironic, sense of humor. A snarkiness, if you will. (I know that some people would call this 'sarcastic', but I am convinced that we have about as clear a definition for sarcasm as for 'irony'--and that's not real clear. But while we are on the topic of irony--see a previous post for the start of this monologue--I think I have actually found a good example. Customer service in the UK is awesomely bad. By American standards it is just bad, but I find myself enjoying the freedom to walk into a retail store without anyone asking me if they can help me. The only time it is a problem is when I need someone to help me and no one can be found. But, suffice to say that the customer service is poor. And if you read the blog last year you know about my disdain for the banking system. But, if you call the bank, it is the most incredible customer-friendly experience--especially if you compare it to the woman who tells me (about 30 times) that the insurance company really values my business but just doesn't have anyone to talk to me right now. That customer service dichotomy is ironic. Boom.) Anyway, before that rabbit trail, we were talking about a dry, ironic, sense of humor, which is required (seemingly) in the blogosphere. This might be a negative result of blogging. I am not sure that my cynicism needs to be fed.

And now I would write that blogging takes perseverance and commitment and blah, blah, blah, but I am tired. (My stamina has run down over the summer). So I am just going to stop (which might be another requirement--"Thou shalt know when you are rambling about a boring topic (aka, when you are trying too hard)."

Hopefully I do better next time.

25 August 2010

And then I got beat by a three year old...

I think it's time to write about something completely, 100% positive, for a change.

That's right. No discussion of public transportation, or the foul smell that often accompanies that experience. No mention of long waits, inefficiency, or any of those things. Just a great moment from today.

I went for a run a little before dusk tonight. The timing of my exercise is all part of a masterful strategy to keep myself running. You see, I don't live in the best neighborhood, and have made an agreement that I won't be out gallivanting by myself at night (I have to say that this is something I typically try to avoid no matter where I live, but I digress). I have promised to take a taxi when I come back after the buses have stopped running and get all of my running in during the daylight hours. There have been some interesting 'new experiences' as a result of my new location (like the time two police cars drove in front of me down the trail I was running on to chase what we will call 'unidentified males who must be assumed to be alleged delinquents' into the forest--which I proceeded to continue to run around), but in addition to all of the adventure, the one thing that I really love is that I feel like I live in a neighborhood. There are tons of parks and they are almost always full with organized and semi-organized games, parents playing with their kids and families just hanging out. I really like that.

But in addition to that, the people are really friendly, and I have enjoyed my interactions with them. And tonight just adds to that experience.

So, as I mentioned, I was out for a mid-evening run (because if I run far enough that I have just enough time to get home before it is too dark, then I am forced to keep running), and had just turned at the half-way point. I was passing a popular bus stop and was relaxed by the number of people who were around (strength in numbers you know). I was checking out my surroundings--as any street-smart person would do, of course--and was puzzled by a sign that advertised that 'We Sell Mattresses'--which appeared to be in front of a random souvenir/things-that-no-one-needs-but-someone-will-pay-for shop, and I wasn't even really paying attention to this couple with their small daughter who were talking in front of the sign. As I looked forward after gawking into the junk store, I saw that the little girl had run away from her parents, and could hear them calling to her over the music streaming through my headphones.

It only took me about 2 seconds before I thought, "Is she trying to race me?" Well, I was about 20 minutes in to the run at this point and pretty set on my pace, so I didn't think about speeding up. And then about 10 ft later, it was confirmed. I had just gotten beat in a foot-race by a three year old.

She ran down the wide open platform area where the bus kiosk was located, and then when the side walk narrowed, she kind of awkwardly lunged across in what must have been the natural reflex to break the tape. Then she looked over her shoulder and just grinned up at me.

It was awesome.

I kept hoping that that little girl would have the same qualities she just demonstrated--fearlessness in front of foes with more advantages, determination, and competitiveness--when she is learning to read in 1st grade, learning to multiply in 5th grade, writing a five paragraph essay as a freshman, and applying to a selective college at the beginning of her senior year. If she is like the typical kid in the school district where she lives, then there are probably plenty of things in her life that are similar to racing a bigger, taller, older runner. But hopefully, she will win those races too.

And I ran the rest of the way home with a cheesy grin and lifted spirits. And I might have even run a little faster.

24 August 2010

Isn't it ironic...Don't you think? No, Alanis, it probably isn't

Inspired by a friend who recently referenced Ms. Morisette's best-known (to me) song, let's talk about irony real quick. (No, in case you were wondering, I don't think rain on your wedding day is ironic, neither is meeting the man of your dreams and then his beautiful wife. This is just called 'bad luck'. Google it Alanis. And thanks for ruining the collective understanding of the literary term. Forever.)

Every time I go to buy a planner/agenda/schedule (something that I didn't even use until I went to Oxford), it seems like the year is divided by whatever system you are not on. I mean, if you are in school, you always manage to find a really great one that is based on the yearly calendar (starts in January and ends in January), and its great that you get it half-price because nine months have already passed, but when you go to write down anything past December 31st, it really is no help.

Then, if you are really into New Year's Resolutions--say, it seems like when you go to pick up your new planner on January 2nd, the only ones around are based on the school year. Although, that actually turns out pretty well--you know your resolution isn't going to last past May anyway.

Is this ironic? No, it's probably more of the Alanis Morisette variety, but my definition is distorted as well. But I'll tell you what is ironic--that I am blogging about paper planners, which I am sure are replaced by many people with blackberries, iPads, and Google Calendars.

Isn't it ironic....

That trains are the most expensive when the majority of people ride them? I mean, don't business principles teach us that increased demand drives down prices? And now, YOU (DC Metro) are price gouging me during rush hour?! (You know it had been TOO long since I talked about this).

Ok, you're right. This isn't really that 'ironic'. And everything I just said was untrue--when you have a decreased supply (in this case space on a STINKY public transportation vehicle) as a result of increased demand, you can charge more...even if said space is really stinky. (Yes, I was checking my armpits all the way home today to make sure it wasn't me. By the end, I couldn't be sure. Me and the stink were one.)

I am racking my brain, but have just come to a realization. My life is not ironic. I take this as a challenge.

I'll be back.

16 August 2010

All I have done since my last post is eat...

Yes, I am back in one of those 'posting-funks'. Apologies for the irregularity of these messages. I have been hosting a few visitors--a friend from high school and my brother--and have been enjoying the opportunity to explore the city a bit more. But, the drawback is that any 'update the blog time' which I might have otherwise had has been spent watching tourists allow their children to swing from bar to bar in the metro, elbowing past tourists who stand right inside the metro door because they MUST hang onto that bar for dear life--thus blocking all of the remaining aisle standing space from the rest of us, and walking all over town while observing the overly large fannie packs (think a backpack of the groin region) and eavesdropping on entertaining conversations ("Yep. We should stop at the CVS on the way home and pick up some Cokes." Living it up in the big city.)

But when I haven't been doing those things, I have been having some fantastic culinary adventures. Just to tickle your tastebuds from afar and give you a few items to put on your food-to-do list (or your 'bucklet list' if you will--and if you are a certain relative of mine).

1. Good Stuff. Yes, that's the name of the restaurant. It's owned and operated by Spike, the former Top Chef contestant (yes, that is my favorite show). It is basically a classic burger and fries joint, but oh-so-much-better. If you have ever watched Top Chef and wondered "Would I like that?" The answer (in this case at least) is YES. I had been flipping through a Rachael Ray magazine about a year ago when I came across a Roasted Marshmallow Shake. Unfortunately, I never got around to trying it, and also, unfortunately, I didn't realize that the "Good Stuff Cookbook" from which it came was an actual place. Well, Saturday, I finally had the 'real thing'. And let's just say that it is probably good that I didn't try to make it myself, because it wouldn't have been as amazing. The fries were fresh cut and sprinkled with herbs with four different kinds of mayo sauces to dip in (yes, it was heaven.), and I am still thinking about the burger. (In other news, I am still trying to lose the weight that I most definitely gained in that hour. But, I would do it again. Every day. For the rest of my life.)

2. Unnamed-Ethiopian-Restaurant-on-U-Street

If you ever really want to find it, just go to Ben's Chili Bowl (apparently Barak Obama's favorite joint--at least that is what the 700 tourists lined up outside have been told). Once you get sick of the line at Ben's, just look across the street for the nearly empty restaurant that might have even lost power for the night (yes, that is a true story). Head on over, and enjoy being seated right by the front window. It is like being the mannequins at a department store. As you eat with your hands, you can be the selling point for others to come in and dig in to Ethiopian for the first time as well. As far as food goes, no utencils are required--that is what the "nerf-football" (as my brother has dubbed it) brown tortilla-like (but not really like) substance is for. Just wad that up and break into some egg yolk, meat of your choice, fresh veggies, and 'cottage cheese' (not like any cottage cheese I have ever had, but good all the same).

3. Jaleo--owned and operated by a judge on Top Chef--aka, he could have judged Spike (from Good Stuff)--enough said.

Pretty yummy Spanish tapas located right around the corner from the International Spy Museum. So after you work up an appetite after pretending to be Jack Bauer in Operation Spy--a terrific little simulation for young and old alike--you can get some bueno food. (Take that Spanglish). It is perfect for those who want to watch their intake. They will charge you entree prices for bite-sized dishes. It's like 100 calorie packs at a restaurant--buy yourself some self-control. The only difference is that instead of what appear to be freeze-dried oreo cookies that you get in your handy snack packs, you can get some legit flavors. My favorite was the greenbeans served well-seasoned with mango and ham. I'm serious. It was real good.

04 August 2010

Randoms: For those moments when there just aren't words...

Yesterday, a co-passenger on the blessed DC Public bus that I was riding on hawked a lugie. Twice. Just to demonstrate how hard of a hawker he truly was, I was sitting in the front of the bus and he (I assume it was a he; it sounded like a he-hawker) was in the back. In other news, I had my headphones in and the volume up--all the way. I almost gagged when I heard it. I don't even want to think about what happend post-hawk (ergo propter hoc--that's for you Advanced Comp students everywhere). Let's just say I was thankful to be out of 'spit-shot' even if I wasn't out of earshot.

While we are talking about buses, it took me 8 hours to get home from Chicago (I flew. I know some of you were thinking that I might have driven--or run--in that time. Yeah, either option would have had to be really fast, but 8 hours?!). Just to put this all in context, it took my parents 9 hours to drive the rest of the way to Independence. I will no longer list 'convenient' under the list of things that public transportation is. Cheap? yes. Eventful? always. Smelly? Usually. Fast? I suppose all things are relative. Reliable? You don't want to see me when I get angry. Let's change the subject.

In other news, the 86 and 82 do not take the same route as the 81 and 83. Sure, it may seem like a good idea to get on them and 'see where they go' because they are sitting at the bus kiosk and you are impatient and don't want to wait. But don't do it. All you are going to get is:
  1. Lost
  2. Sweaty
  3. And a long walk home

Just to throw in a little British reference for you, you may remember that I was quite frustrated initially--and throughout the year--with the inefficiences of the banking system. Tomorrow, I have to try to figure out how to transfer money to an RBS account (from a random bank that I have to figure out how to get to via the bus) in order to pay a bill that is due on Friday. Sound like a recipe for adventure/disaster? I think so.

If you have any ideas about meals that can be prepared with a mini-fridge, a microwave, and a sharp knife, please send them my way. I can already tell that I am going to get tired of cereal, sandwiches, and salads (and Lean Pockets--I don't know what I was thinking) real quickly. Maybe I'll get tired of eating too? Or not.


01 August 2010

Fun....Priceless?

Hey, Mastercard. I don't buy this fun-(or-whatever-you-want-to-fill-in-the-blank-with-here)-is-priceless bit.

I can tell you exactly how much fun costs--at least in the world of my mother.

A pack of 12 legal pads costs $5.79 (according to Office Depot). A pack of twelve COLORED legal pads will run you $20.99. The colored legal pads are 'fun'. So, in this case, fun costs $15.20, or $2.53 per pad.

If you are in the market for sports bras (I have a friend, ok!), that colored undergarment will run you about seven bucks more than a dull grey one. Don't try to argue that no one will ever see it. That overlooks how much fun you will have every time you see it in your drawer or put it on in the morning. Fun costs $7.

Here are a few other things that are 'fun'.

  • Bright colored tshirts (ok, some of you may be picking up a trend here...)
  • A purple cell phone (nevermind whether it has the features you want)
  • Eating at new restaurants
None of these are to be confused with items that are on the 'Bucket List'. Those things are like a euphoric level of fun. But that is a-whole-nother can of worms. And the subject of a future blog post I am sure.

**Permission was secured before poking fun of my mom's 'fun'.

Fashion and National security

As if the conspiracy and hypocrisy of the skinny jean were not strong enough already, I have anecdotal proof that other industries are in cahoots with the 'skinny movement'.

A few weeks before I left Oxford, I found these great new pants. Let's just say that MC Hammer would love them and that I could probably still fit in these pants if I gained 50 pounds. They are fashionable sweat pants (well, I suppose the 'fashionability' of these pants is up for debate). Due to the fact that I love sweatpants but have finally been shamed into not wearing them in public (at least not ALL the time), these updated/European-style Hammer pants were a glorious discovery. I love them. And I wear them. A lot.

They are especially great for travelling. You can avoid that, 'I am a complete slob in my workout clothes' look that I achieved faithfully for years, while still maintaining the needed comfort for international and domestic flights alike. So, every time I have flown for the last 2 months, I have worn these pants. And almost every time I have flown, I have been patted down.

Coincidence? I think not.

You see, the first time, I got the full-body pat. I thought that I was just being randomly checked, or that I had somehow attracted suspicion. But then it happened three more times. And on those subsequent times, they only patted me down from the waist down. And then on the last time, after patting down the girl in front of me (who was wearing gaucho pants), the woman said 'I am going to have to check you too'. It only took me about 5 seconds to figure out what me and the girl in front of me had in common--we were not wearing skinny jeans.

So now, in addition by a fashion industry that pedals increasing snug-fitting clothing, airport security has decided that loose-fitting clothing also poses a potential national security risk. Now that sounds like a conspiracy if I have ever heard one. Next thing you know, you are going to hear about the 'skinny special interests' who have been lobbying for tighter airline regulation and soon will seek to outlaw any clothing that does not appear to have been spray-painted on. I know you think it is crazy, but just wait.

The clothes will get tighter, MC Hammer and his fashion legacy will be forgotten, and those of us who cling (only metaphorically of course) to our comfortable clothing that allows us to breathe normally will only stand out more and more. The day is coming my friend.

31 July 2010

Let me Give you the Skinny

I have just returned from a week of vacation. My ivory (bordering on clear) skin is rosy, and I am holding my breath that my red fades to some version of tan instead of bubbling and peeling. But I’ll take what I can get. The best part of vacation (ok, not the best part, but a good part) is making sure everyone who didn’t get to go on a sweet vacation knows that you did. And it will be a good reminder for me as my bum is going numb from sitting for 8 hours a day entering information into an excel spreadsheet (can you hear the anticipation mixed with excitement in my voice?).

As we (or I, in this case) speak, my parents and I are driving down the interstate in Indiana. We just left Michigan City, Indiana, a city of great tradition and history. You see, my family and I have been vacationing on the beach of Lake Michigan since I was three years old. And over the course of two-decades, you manage to develop a few traditions. Some include Jack in the Box in St. Louis (yes, I thought that Jack in the Box was THE greatest when I was growing up), completing math worksheets for prizes on the ride on the way up, and there was even a period where we jazzed up the Chrysler mini-van and removed the middle seat and installed a TV, VCR, and Sega Genesis. Sweet.

But the Chrysler mini-van rests in pieces in junkers across America, I have wised up regarding the truth about Jack in the Box, and my math days are long behind me. But one tradition has remained strong—the Michigan City outlet mall. Two and half hours (including stops at several blueberry and vegetable farms) from our final destination, we start every Saturday morning off with some back-to-school shopping.

This year, I decided to work on applying some new self-discipline to my purchasing habits—what I am calling “if you don’t need it, don’t buy it”. Yes, I know. This is a novel concept. But it took lots of inner-dialogue to arrive at the conclusion that while, “No, I don’t have that shirt in that exact style in that exact color, but you already have two v-neck tshirts so even though those are $1 off, you probably don’t need to buy 14 more so that you can wear them for two weeks straight without ever doing laundry.” A valuable lesson to be sure.

But there was one thing that I never even considered buying.

The “Super Skinny Jean”.

Let’s just be frank about skinny jeans of all varieties—particularly the ‘super skinny’ design. You see, when I saw the physics-defying pants on the hanger, the irony and contradiction of the label hit me right between the eyes. Because, I thought, surely they don’t make those in sizes larger than 6. I mean, after all, those of us full-sized, normal, healthy, and fit women who wear larger than size 6 are many things, but we are NOT super-skinny (and there is no reason to feel badly about that fact). But let’s not pretend that super-skinny jeans will miraculously make us look super-skinny. They will likely just look like we bought our clothing 8 sizes too small, and further more the only thing that will be super about them is that they will be super-uncomfortable.

And furthermore Gap (that’s right, I am talking to you), ‘super-skinny’ jeans for the 0-6s are a bit redundant. I have never seen a pair of 0s that makes ANYONE look super-fat, let alone full-figured. So let’s rethink the strategy a little bit.

Check back soon. More to come...

18 July 2010

Sorry to leave you hanging...

I know, I know. Leaving Lebron-talk up for over a week was probably not the wisest time to take a blogging-hiatus. After all, every where I turn, I am hearing how much people are tired of hearing about hearing about Lebron James (Usually after I ask, "So, what do you think about Lebrong James?" What do we learn from this, class? First, clearly I am not tired of talking about it. Second, I don't pick up on socially cues particularly quickly. Note to self.)

It's not that there haven't been plenty of things to write about. In fact, there have almost been too many things. There we go again, learning more things about me: When confronted with good options, rather than offending the non-selected but deserving choices, I snub all of them. This applies to everything except food. In that case, I make an exception and just pick all of them. You know what I'm talking about. When confronted with a plate of spinach, grapes, raw eggs, and other good-for-you choices, I just down them all. Right.

Anyway, how do you choose between writing about the time that there was a fist-fight two feet away from you on the bus, the time (five minutes after the fight on the bus) when someone started making a speech about Rosa Parks (after this sweet old lady had shouted "Peace BE STILL"), the time you waited for the bus for over an hour only to have it drive by without picking you up and causing you to not be able to sit in the seat in the movie theater that you had already paid a disgraceful ammount of money for, or.....there are others, but they don't involve buses and I am realizing that public transportation might provide my best material. Anyway, you get the point. Lot's of crazy, funny, frustrating, in a word, blog-worthy incidents. Too many to choose from.

And after listing all of those, I think I have realized that I am about to describe the least interesting of them all. Oh well, I am committed at this point.

So back in Oxford, I was talking to this girl who had lived in the UK for over 5 years (she was from the US) and considered herself British (essentially. It was a long and un-interesting conversation). She described in great detail how she just fit-in better in England and that the people just made more sense to her. Needless to say, I askd her about this. After all, the English make LITTLE sense to me, so this just didn't seem logical. And I am not sure that I fit in particularly well with all parts of the American ideology and even I felt like this was a ridiculous statement. Furthermore, who SAYS that?!

She then launched into this big tirade about how her mom has an American flag bumper sticker on her car and how Americans fly flags all the time and feel this need to assert their American-ness. I think she even talked about the resurgence in flag-flying and patriotism after September 11th, and how she just couldn't understand this mentality. (Let's pause here to note that flag-flying seems like a pretty silly metric to use to determine if you are ideologically similar to a given nation.) I think I argued with her. (Yes, I know. Most of you who are reading this are not surprised by this revelation. But you should know that in the UK I mastered a new technique: Say "Hmmm, ok. Interesting. Yes. Tell me more about that", all the while thinking "Wrong." or "You have no idea what you are talking about." or "I have no idea what you are talking about." or "You are a lunatic.". But here, I argued. I must have been feeling particularly patriotic on this day. If I had been better prepared, I would have pulled an American flag out of my pocket. Unfortunately, I had none.

Well, seeing as how I moved to the nation's capitol a few days after the fourth of July, I found myself reflecting on this experience a few days after arriving. You see, I was walking up this huge hill (I think I had gone for a run, but the huge disadvantage of living on the top of a hill--which I do--is that you always have to finish your run uphill. Sure, you start your run downhill, but at that point, you are not tired. And furthermore, these are "slow down so you don't fall down" hills, so you really don't get the advantage. I think this stinks. So I walk up the hill at the end.). Anyway...I was walking up this huge hill, and I notied that every doorway had a flag flying next to it. And then I noticed that every yard had four or five flags (baby ones) lining the sidewalk. It looked like a flag pinata had been broken over the neighborhood. They were everywhere. I laughed to myself when I thought about the ex-pat from Oxford who would be puzzled by these peoples' over-patriotism. I thought of something that she said about Americans' (apparent) need to assert their Americanis "as if they or other people are going to forget". This seemed especially funny to me as the Capitol building, the mall, and all the monuments are a short bus-ride away.

And then I thought, I wonder if other people come here and feel the need to assert their allegiance to their country. Seriously. I thought that. And because I am intuitive like that, I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, "Who cares? That's not funny." You are right.

But then, I got to the top of the hill. And just as I crested the hill--I kid you not--I saw a couple my parents age and what appeared to be an adult son. And they were German. I know this because the son had a shirt with a German flag and hat on it and was carrying a German flag. Oh, and the mother had glittering Germany necklaces, black, red, and gold all over, and more flags. And I knew they were German because somebody wasn't wearing deodorant. Oh wait, that is just how I knew they were European. (Ok, actually, that stereotype is not true. And it should be said that Germans are my favorite people on the planet. Seriously, its true. Them and Turks. And Greeks.)

I found out later that Germany had played in the World Cup that day, so it wasn't entirely random. But still. Crazy.

09 July 2010

A Royal Pain

I am about to break a cardinal rule of writing. But at least I know I am doing it, I guess.

Know your audience.

Well, I do know my audience, and I know that for the most part, my audience is probably almost universally uninterested in what I am about to say. For many, they could have cared less about this topic 6 months ago and are still unmoved and uninterested by it now. For most of the rest, any interested has been killed by the 24-hour news-cycle that has covered this topic for the last week (and the news-lite that has alluded to it for months and years). And for the remaining outliers, they are probably too bitter (like me) to admit that they care dearly about this issue.

That's right. It is time to talk about Lebron James.

Yesterday was a big day for Lebron, Miami, and apparently the sports world. Well, today is a big day for me. I think today is the day that I graduate into the true blogging world. It's time to move beyond things that I actually know stuff about, namely, my life and experiences (a limited set, to be sure), and start recording all my opinions. After all, isn't blogging all "publishing" lots of information that is outside of your expertise? Isn't it about random-joe's all over the world, contributing their two-cents (or less) on every topic under the sun? Well, in that vein, here's mine.

If you had asked me 24 hours ago, I would have told you that I was a huge Lebron James fan. In fact if you had asked me who my favorite NBA team was, I probably would have said Lebron. (And that is not a joke. Every time someone has asked me that question, I have responded in uniform fashion: "I don't really have a team. I like watching players or match-ups. I am a BIG Lebron fan.") And then I probably would have blushed and gushed about how talented he is, how relatively humble he is, how well-spoken and squeaky-clean he is, and how much I respect him as a player as a result. (I know--for those of you who know what has gone on in the last 24 hours--I feel duped.)

Looking back (with all the hindsight that 24 hours can provide), I am a little bit embarrassed at my level of star-struck-ness (This is the other part of my official introduction to the blogosphere: the rules of the English language no longer apply to me. That's right. I, like Lebron James, have arrived like that.). Just to further contextualize my adoration, my love for LBJ has recently caused me to be frustrated with and disapproving of Obama. Unlike normal people (or Sarah Palin. I hope she isn't reading this blog; I know she can access it from her window in Alaska. Or Russia. God Bless the World Wide Web.), who are frustrated with Obama for health care, or education policy, or his apparent inability to motivate scientists to figure out how to use pieces of tire rubber and old golf balls to plug a massive whole in the Gulf of Mexico (I am still not exactly sure what he is supposed to be doing on this one, but apparently what he is doing is not it.), I currently distrust the guy because of his repeated self-comparison to Lebron.

That's right, he (apparently) made the following statements:

"I'm Lebron baby. I can play at this level. I've got some game." (This was long before he was voted President, by the way. Kind of like all of Lebron's shenanigans were well before he won a championship, as his detractors love to point out.)

"At some point people have to stop asserting that because I haven't been in the league long enough, I can't play. It's sort of like Magic Johnson or Lebron James who keep on scoring and their team wins. But people say they can't lead because they're too young."

I am guessing that Obama may distance himself from these statements over the next few days and may not be using the analogy anymore (Based on my limited readership, it seems like blogging is also about bold predictions and shallow speculation. Boom). At least not for a while. (But if Lebron wins a championship in Miami, there might be a resurgence of its use.) Especially since Lebron chose Miami in spite of Obama's personal request that he go to Chicago. (In politics, that might be justification for a trade embargo. That would be funny if Lebron didn't almost make enough money to be a small country.) Although the more pressing political concern right now is probably how to get an income tax going in Florida. After all, the taxes that Lebron would pay could fund a pretty nice baby stimulus plan for that state. (Yes, that's right. No income taxes in Florida. So for those of you who are lauding his selfless move to accept less money, you too have been duped.)

But here, I am chasing a rabbit (oh, how severe has been my entrance into the blogosphere.). The real point is that I had it REAL bad for Lebron. And so now, I must publicly declare that I can no longer call myself a Lebron fan. I don't hate the guy, but I can't adore him the way I once did. I mean, I will still wear my favorite basketball shorts that are branded with his initials, but if we were friends on Facebook, I would have to unfriend him.

There are certainly substantive issues that underpin this decision and that could be discussed like greed, loyalty, humility, not-talking-about-yourself-in-the-third-person, and others, but that isn't what blogs are for.

Hopefully you just got two cents richer. (The only option is that I owe you for reading that. And DC is expensive, and I can't afford that.) Thanks for listening.


07 July 2010

The Wounds Tell the Tale

Scars have always been reminders of incidents and evidences of my general personality and approach to life. I think they mostly say that I took unnecessary risks as a child, was physically active, was often involved in rough-housing, and might not have listened to directions.

The faint line on my right wrist is a reminder of the time I seared my skin on the oven rack removing a pizza, an almost invisible line on (what used to be; I might not be as physically active these days as I would like...the only muscles that are getting a frequent workout are in my butt) my tricep was created by a necklace in an aggressive hug that went wrong, I might have a bracket (from a set of braces) mark on my right-hand index-finger knuckle that might be from a bracket that was in my brother's mouth, and my knees are just a collection of "I was going to fast; yes, I tried to run through that wall; and floor burns add up" carnage.

That doesn't even address the crescent moon on my shin from walking directly into a trailer hitch when I wasn't paying attention to where I was going, and countless others...

And as much as these scars serve as a virtual life-story, my feet are telling the tale of the last couple of weeks. Apparently, I have been walking around in socks on streets of cotton candy in Oxford because I am finding that my feet are unconditioned for ANY kind of footwear (which means I get new blisters every day). I am probably carrying about 6-8 blisters per foot right now. Yes, that IS impressive. And no, there are not many un-blistered spots left at this point.

It all started in London a few weeks ago. Brown sling-back heals. My toes crammed into the front. I ended up walking bare-foot in Westminster because my feet felt like they were bleeding. Correction. Closer examination confirmed that my feet were bleeding. Even more impressive, my toes made one another bleed from being pressed so closely together.

So, I switched to purple peep-toes (yes, guys, you might have to google some of these terms...) for the next formal(ish) event. They targeted a new area. I left the night with new cuts on my neighboring toes. Peep-toes may be cute in theory, but apparently you need to ease into wearing them.

I bought a new pair of flats in KC to attempt to address these issues. They were a bit stiff. Welcome, heel blisters.

In my infinite wisdom, I decided to wear 3 inch heels for my first day of work. (You may recall that I had a nice, long, walk to work on that first day). These produced a new set of heel cuts, a slice on the top of my foot from the strap, and a re-aggravation of the toe blisters.

So, I finally learned my lesson. On day 2, I wore soft flats. My feet still hurt from all the sensitive areas that had already been created, but no NEW blisters formed. After a pathetic but blister free attempt at a run in the (relatively) mountainous and desert-like conditions that were at least successful in their blister-free-ness, I threw on some flip-flops to let my tootsies breathe and heal. After about a mile of walking, I realized that in Oxford, I never wore flip flops because I had slip on sandals instead. You know what that means? That's right. Large, skin peeling blisters between my toes. And running for four blocks in an (unsuccessful) attempt to catch my bus certainly didn't help.

The good news is that in about a week, my feet will be conditioned for all of this, and in 3 months I will finally be used to it. And then....I will put on my socks and return to the land of cotton candy streets.

06 July 2010

Fast-forward 10 days...

I know that I should really finish the story about Tue-Wednesday. I mean, it IS a really good story. But let's just summarize to say that I was glad that my flight in Chicago was delayed (because it looked like I wasn't going to make it due to long, slow customs lines (oh yeah, and forgetting my third bag in the baggage claim area)) but then I WASN'T glad that it got further delayed for 4 more hours--including several sitting on the runway (I mean, how do you NOT know that there are two seats broken? And how do you NOT have a better/more efficient system for picking the unlucky winner to get off the plane? I would have picked the screaming baby and his mom (I mean, he was the only one who REALLY didn't want to be on the plane...), but that is probably heartless and the words of a weary, sleep-deprived traveller.) But all is well that ends well, and I would say that a meal of Chipotle and crab rangoons and going to bed at 9 pm is a pretty good ending.

And then the next 10(ish) days were a lovely blur--a whistle-stop tour of family and friends. I was surprised at how much I felt like I had never left. And I have to say that it was an incredibly reassuring feeling. After a year of feeling very far away, it was so comforting to find that the people I love are just as lovely (or loveable...or whatever.).

And now, I am in a new city, with a new job. Unfortunately, due to the fact that I am getting paid to sit around and read and write now, there will be some (of the more entertaining parts of my life) that will not be eligible for blogging (big tear). BUT...the good news is that I am still just as incompetent and ridiculous as ever, so I will keep things interesting without workplace commentary.

My only mode of transportation is the city bus, which is actually surprisingly convenient; it picks me up from 200 yards from my house and drops me off the same distance from work. Well...or it is supposed to. Today, I got antsy and got off 7 blocks before I was supposed to. So, by the time I got to work in the mid-90s mid-morning weather I was sweaty and blistered (my feet are not in heel-condition...yet.) Clearly, this midwestern girl still has quite a few things to learn about public transportation. So far I have been surprised that...

1. The buses are pleasantly air-conditioned. I don't know why I thought that they would be green-houses on wheels, but I was sure that they were going to be a sweaty mosh-pit of an experience. (Not like the overall effect was different after my walk...)

2. The bus drivers are EXTREMELY helpful and smart about getting around the city. I haven't taken advantage of this yet (clearly, by my described issues), but they even wake up sleeping passengers when it is there turn to get off (No, they aren't the friendliest alarm-clock, but they are efficient.) And I didn't expect them to be UN-helpful, but...well, I have been in England for crying out loud. That kind of stuff just doesn't happen. God Bless America.

3. People (well, one person) believe that if you are talking on your cell phone and just cover your mouth with your hand, that makes it less loud/distracting. (If you are wondering, it doesn't. It just makes you look ridiculous.) And I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, Lindsay, that woman just doesn't want you to read her lips (which I CAN do, so this is a good thought on your part. Well done.) HOWEVER, the woman is speaking Chinese (?! for the whole 40 minutes home!), and I can't read lips right to left, so she has nothing to worry about. (Ok, that was a joke...and a bad one. Sorry.)

22 June 2010

Tue-Wednesday: The Longest Day of My Life

Yes, Tue-Wednesday is two days put together. But more than that, it is two days plus 6 hours (Do the math (get warmed up for the rest of this post): that is 54 hours. Boom.) But more than that, it is two days (plus 6 hours) filled with little sleep, at least a few major gaffes (so far at least), and lots of flying (aka, sitting in a stuffy, cramped space, with sweat drying on your forehead as the a little stream of circulated air blows on you). I am not even sure if I am halfway through Tue-Wednesday (this is where the math part breaks down for me), but let me tell you that it has been an eventful day. Let me fill you in on what has happened so far:

  • 7:15 wake-up, don the sub-fusc, and meet the great Aisha for pre-exam prep (good luck today, by the way, Miss Red-Carnation)
  • 9:28 Eat a piece of paper (see below).
  • 9:30 Flip over the exam paper and panic. These questions don't look familiar.
  • 9:33 Tricky Martin, these are the questions I was looking for but just slyly worded. And Robert, I don't even know what you are asking on your questions...
  • 12:30 Done. Boom.
  • 12:33 Friends waiting with silly string and a gift. How nice. It's three fish heads. I am so thankful. Mostly because the fish heads were in the box and not on my head (a common alternative)
  • (The rest of the day is full of running errands, packing, seeing friends, and saying many goodbyes--but mostly see-you-laters, the best kind).
  • 1:35 (am)--start walking to the bus station.
This is where I will pick things back up. So, as I am walking to the bus station, I realize that my bags are really heavy. As in, I know I haven't been lifting as much as I might have been, say two years ago, but I am not that weak and these feel much heavier than the bags that I brought over to England (which were also over weight). Insert ominous sign here. Fortunately, 10 minutes of walking backwards with two huge bags in the middle of the night later, a taxi picked me up about 200 yards from the bus stop. There was a day when I would have refused to pay for this service. But I can't be sure I would have made it to the bus without his help, and 2 in the morning is not the time to be a hero. Both the taxi driver and the bus driver comment that my bags are extraordinarily heavy. I comment that they should be careful to not throw out their backs. This is the point at which I start to worry.

Well, despite the fact that the bus trip is advertised as a 90 minute journey, I arrive at 3 am for my 7:55 flight (Beth Whorton is so proud.). At first I kick myself for not taking the 4 am bus--which would have seemed much more reasonable and would have still gotten me to the airport a full 3 hours before departure. So, what is a girl to do in a deserted airport with no chairs at 3 in the morning? I'll tell you. She is going to weigh her bags that seem worryingly heavy. After reading the sign that describes the 23 kg limit (at which point you pay $50) and a 32 kg upper limit (at which point your bag does not go back to the United States of America with you no matter how much you need all 20 Shakespearian dramas that you had to bring home). The lighter of the two bags goes on the scale and weighs in at 26.6 kg (for those of you who aren't that good with metric, that is 58.82 pounds--I think that is about the weight of a fifth grader). At this point, I know the black bag is heavier. I quickly calculate that I have a margin of less than 6 kg between the first bag and the 32 kg no-fly limit. So that means that my second bag can be about 11.5 kg heavier and with a little weight distribution (just 12.5 pounds or so...no big deal) both bags can be fly-able.

When I picked up the black bag and nearly had a slip-disk, I should have realized that hoping for this favorable outcome was just wishful thinking. When I put it on the scale and saw that it was over 52 kg I knew I was in BIG trouble. (Yes, that means that I was over 20 lbs over the weight-limit on the second bag). So now, it is about 3:45 and I am sweating and have my belongings strewn all around the airport. Let's talk about how glad I am that I decided to get to the airport ridiculously early.

Recognizing that there was no way that I could squeeze 20 lbs worth of stuff into the 10 lb cushion that I have in my other bag (unless it has some sort of black-hole feature of which I am unaware), I pay to get online and find out what the options are for "freight-luggage" or "buying a second seat for your bag that is so fat that it would better be described as a small person than a piece of luggage" (honestly, that option might be cheaper). After finding out that the 32 kg limit really is a hard and fast rule, I realized that my best option is to fork out $250 and to check a third bag (which I don't have). So I ask a janitor for a card board box, which is the point where the blessings just start to roll. After providing a cardboard box, he gives me a suitcase that was abandoned at the airport. After throwing away several items including some old t-shirts and the shoes I was wearing (the other alternative was to put on all the clothes I could get my hands on, but I was far to sweaty for all of that). By 4:30, I had two 32 kg bags, a 13 kg hand-bag, and a backpack and personal item full of books. To finish up the happy ending, the woman at the desk showed great compassion on me and just charged me for the third bag (which means she didn't charge me for the second bag, or the overweight fees for either of the first two, which means I got a 50% discount on being an unbelievable over-packer and having a real consumption problem when it comes to buying books).

What a day. And to think that it is only half-way over! What a perfect way to end an adventurous year. If anything crazy happens, you may hear from me in Chicago as well. Oh, and the fact that sleep was not mentioned in the days recap is not a coincident. It just hasn't happened.

Exams: Day Two

So, if my high-fiving behaviour was strange yesterday, I certainly have it topped with my antics today.

In order to avoid the last-minute stress of trying to track down my candidate number, I wrote it on a little post-it note (the kind that are shaped like little arrows and that you stick in your books). After all, I could have memorized it, but that would have taken up brain space that would have been useful to remember how to spell Heidenheimer or Hocschild. Clearly, that was space I needed. (And clearly, I am going to be able to remember how to spell those names for life.) So, I marched into my exam confident and prepared with pens, Bod card (id) and candidate number. I stuck my candidate number on my name card and started filling out my test forms with the necessary information.

Then the invigilator (the man who was charged with watching us like a hawk) started reading the instructions, including the part about how you are not allowed to bring anything other than your Bod card and writing utensils. And that's when I started to get nervous. I didn't want the jovial and jolly-looking invigilator to think that I was cheating. And while my post-it did just have my candidate number on it, I didn't want to arouse any suspicion. So, my first idea was to stick my post-it on the back of my Bod card. But then I decided that that looked sneaky. So then, I thought that I would wad it up and stick it in my skirt. And I did. But then I thought, what if I get up to leave the exam and that little piece of paper falls out? Now, that will look suspicious. So, I did the only thing that made sense.

I ate it.

(Ok, so maybe I could have raised my hand and turned it in, but I wasn't sure how that was going to go.) After all, it was only a really small piece of paper (and it only had a little bit of black ink on it). And while it may be a little crazy that I chose to resolve my dilemma in that way, it seemed better than having all kinds of anxiety that I was going to get accosted mid-way through the exam for the fluorescent scrap of paper on my desk. And after all, halfway through the exam I was wondering if I really needed to keep writing out "Esping-Andersen" in its entirety or if I could shorten it to Andersen or Esping, or better yet, "EA" as he came to be known in all of my notes. I decided to air on the side of safety (aka, my "eat it" decision) and write it out.

21 June 2010

Exams: Day One


While studying for exams has not been the most enjoyable or relaxing part of my life these last few months, I have to say that after experiencing my first day of exams, I am GLAD to be in a program that requires me to take exams. Yes, part of why I am glad is because revising for exams has provided an incredible opportunity to learn and to consolidate what I know. But, more importantly (in terms of this blog), exams is just a pretty unbelievably absurd experience.

For starters, you have to wear your sub fusc (white shirt, black skirt/pants, black tights, black shoes, ribbon tie, and gown); your carnation is optional, though highly recommended: day one is white, two (if you have three exams) is pink, and the last day is red (it serves as a sign to the world that you are finished and you don't care who knows it). If you are anything like me, you try to not arrive to early because you know that you are going to be held like cattle (ironic given the black and white motif) in a tent outside the exam schools until your room is announced. Also, if you are anything like me, you will realize ten steps from the door that you didn't bring the required piece of paper that has your candidate number. You will have a few flustered moments where you wonder if you are going to be allowed to take your exam (after all, students have been sent home for not having black tights on with their pants) so after asking "What should I do?!" (breathlessly), you will run to the window in the front and exclaim, "I don't know my candidate number?!" The woman behind the desk with gently (because she is not sure if you are one of "the ones" who is on the brink of a panic attack) tell you that it will be ok and that you will just have to fill out a slip of paper in room.

You are so relieved that after you find the hall with hundreds of desks filled with test-takers, you will high-five all of the people from your course (who are all sitting alphabetically in your row--and in case you are wondering, this is NOT standard behavior). Once everyone gets settled into their desks, the instructor explains the rules; mostly that you aren't allowed to move without permission. If you need more paper, raise your hand; if you need a drink, make a cupping motion; and if you need to use the toilet, gesture wildly at the door. (But make sure you decide to go BEFORE the last 30 minutes, at which point you will be locked in...I don't know why.)

Then you are told to begin. Three hours, three questions, and one 37-minute warning later, time is up. You are shushed out of the building, and after a euphoric few hours, you realize you get to do it all again tomorrow. And tomorrow's test will likely be harder. But the good news is that you will get to see your supervisor in a gown and plush-velvet hood. The bad news is that you still can't take a camera in with you to capture the moment.

18 June 2010

I can't believe I (almost) made it a whole year without...


This post is inspired by a few things that happened to me in the last 48 hours that it seems miraculous that they didn't happen multiple times and/or sooner.

First, I finally made my way into the Bodleian Library, the central library at Oxford. Specifically, I have finally been inside the Radcliffe Camera--maybe the most iconic building in Oxford. It has been a good boost to my system to endure the pain of exam revisions in such a beautiful and stunning environment. But, on the other hand, how did I not end up in the Bod before yesterday?! (After all, Harry Potter was filmed there....) Simple. I had all of my books requested to the Social Science Library. I just couldn't mentally become ok with the idea of trekking around Oxford trying to track down my books. It was already a huge adjustment to think that I would actually have to go to the library and that I wouldn't own all of the books I needed for class. I didn't want to put too much on my plate.

And then today, my "worst nightmare" (taken with a huge grain of salt), finally happened. Someone locked my bike to their bike. It's like the worst kind of getting parked in....except you could fix this situation with a chain-saw in a way that you wouldn't be able to address being parked in. It was bound to happen. I am just glad that I made it this long.

In the spirit of these two events, here are a few things that didn't happen this year.

I can't believe I made it through a whole year in Oxford without...

1. Picking up a British accent. Actually, I can believe it. And...PTL for that.
2. Having bangers and mash. (Or being forced to eat really terrible food generally. I was prepared for the worst...)
3. Calling a Lord, Duke, or Earl by the wrong title. (I was probably protected by my limited social circle on that one...)
4. Meeting my soul-mate. There were many people who had high-expectations for me in this department. So if you are reading this and were wondering, now you know.
5. Losing my passport. (I guess there are still five days...)
6. Playing "real tennis", or tennis on the grass courts in the parks. I guess there's always next year.
7. Crying in a meeting with my supervisor. Now that is an accomplishment. It was close, but I pulled through.

15 June 2010

Port Meadow

Greetings from Pret, my favorite British coffee shop, where I am enjoying my usual--Skinny Caramel Cappucino.

This morning I finally convinced myself to get up and go for a run. This has been a REAL challenge for me, well, forever. But when I played at Drake and had the fear of God in me about not making my mile time or coming in out of shape, I was compelled to do things that I would never have done otherwise--including getting up VERY early in the morning, including running, including getting up early to run. Strangely, now that no one checks in on me, my motivation level (slash, my ability to compel myself to do either of those things) has plummeted drastically. So the way things usually go is that I EITHER can't get myself out of bed in time to run in the morning OR if I do get up that early, it is so painful that I can't imagine adding another layer of agony. So I don't.

But today, will power met the limited resource formerly known as time, and I went for a run. I ended up down in Port Meadow, and was tickled to death to find all kinds of animals grazing. I had heard horror stories about being chased, bullied, and generally intimidated by mean cows in Port Meadow, but I decided to keep my eyes to the ground (looking for that cow-effect that is even worse than bullying) and run right through the herd. I should have been counting, but let's just say that I saw lots of cows, some pretty cool white horses (with foals--including a "dalmation" foal), some "cow horses" (white with big black spots...duh), and I think I even saw a donkey. Clearly, my midwestern-ness could use some work. I was running through a different field with a friend the other day and he asked if it was corn growing. I didn't know. Iowa would be so ashamed of me.

Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful.

I'll finish with this random factoid: I have seen that a few teachers from my past are or have been grading AP exams in various semi-exotic (or not) locations. The professor of my Comparative Education course told us how much they get paid, when marking our exams (one week from yesterday!), per "script" (three, one-hour essays): 1.50 GBP. No wonder we don't get any comments on our paper.


12 June 2010

World Cup Soccer

What was it like to be in England when we "upset" them by securing a tie (cough, moral victory)? Let me tell you in a few words:

1. Hot. Packed room of people standing to watch the game.

2. Probably hard to see if you were standing behind me. Yeah, I wore wedge heels. No, people aren't particular gigantic here.

3. Obnoxious. That described the Americans' behavior. I heard yells of, "Give us FREEDOM" multiple times. I am surprised we didn't just have a "tea party" right there on the spot.

4. Self-Denial. I think this just describes the British psyche in general. They are still struggling with their "recent" loss of emperial power. I just don't know how they are going to handle the latest blow. Apparently, they weren't playing well because "the US is such a bad team". Yeah. That's a terrible excuse if I've ever heard one. Tell that to Slovenia. England may just struggle in the World Cup BECAUSE they are so much better than everyone. Huh.

5. I can't wait to see the paper tomorrow. The British media is like sharks in the water. I wouldn't want to be their goalie....ouch.