Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Coming attractions

I am currently sitting in my living room in Monument, Colorado.  It's so great to be home.  When I regain my strength and normal brain function capacity, I'll tell you all about the end of the term and my week-long trek across Italy.

Until then, enjoy these albums:

Here for the Christmas bop
And here for Italy

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

From the archives...

Today I really miss Jewell.  It's Hanging of the Green in Chapel, which means Christmastime at Jewell has officially begun.

I used to be a part of a collaborative blog that has since fizzled, but click here to read the post I wrote after my first Christmas experience at Jewell two years ago.

Tonight, in honor of Hanging of the Green, I tried to go to a carol service in the Sheldonian Theater.  I had to go straight from tutorial, and entered the building by myself.  I scanned the sea of faces for anyone familiar, but to no avail.  I made my way to a seat, awkwardly perched in between two large groups of friends, and willed myself to be invisible.  The band started playing, the smiles grew brighter, and the excitement tangibly filled the room.

But I grabbed my backpack and left.  The thought of singing joyful carols amidst strangers, without the ones I love, didn't seem right.  Didn't seem a promising way of beginning the Christmas holidays.

When I entered the library, I saw that someone had brought four packages of goodies and had left them on the middle shelf, with an encouraging note that was signed, "Christmas love, xx."  No name, no need for attention, just a simple gift intended to make the Oxford work load a little more festive, a little more hopeful.  And that, I think, is the perfect way to begin.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Magic Formula

I had trouble concentrating all day.  I sat in the English Faculty Library for most of it, taking notes on esoteric postcolonial theory and willing my eyes to stay open just a few minutes more.

I took an hour-long nap this afternoon, which is short for me.  With dinner, I drank a Diet Coke, and I bought one an hour or so later in the JCR bar.

The combination has been something fierce.

It is ten 'til five in the morning.  I have yet to go to bed.  I am alert, high-functioning, and feeling more productive than I have in several weeks.  Why waste the energy?

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Where has the term gone?  I’m inexplicably heading into 8th week… and then I’m off to Italy for a week, and then I’m home for Christmas!  Didn’t I just get here?  I’m definitely looking forward to a break, but I’m so glad I get to come back to this place afterwards.

This past week was an absolute whirlwind, mostly revolving around the RAG ball on Thursday night.  I spent my days reading Hamlet and King Lear furiously, trying to get my work done ahead of time so it wouldn’t be hanging over my head during the ball.  I also spent too much time looking for a new dress, and decided in the end to wear the one I brought with me.  So in the end, I only paid £11.50 to get my dress cleaned and to buy new tights, a headband, and a bracelet.  Much better decision.

Thursday itself was a great day, even through all the stress of essay-writing.  Since our rowing outing got canceled, we had a little team breakfast in the JCR, comprised only of CRUMPETS.  Crumpets are a British phenomenon, whose closest American comparison would be an English muffin.  Rosie and Fran were kind enough to buy them and toast them and teach us how to drench them in butter and smear them with jam… glorious.  Perfect start to the day.
Thursday night the Americans gathered for Thanksgiving dinner at the Spencer House, where the Columbus State kids live.  FOOD. EVERYWHERE.  I haven’t eaten that much since… well, probably last Thanksgiving.  Everything was so delicious—even the corn casserole Megan and I concocted.  We had a Paula Deen recipe, but creamed corn and cornbread mix don’t exist in the UK, so we had to improvise.  We used all regular corn and something called Rock Cake mix and some interesting kind of cheese and an oven that has its temperatures listed in Celsius.  In spite of all this, Liz, the corn casserole aficionado, gave us an A+.
After stuffing myself, I had to get myself into my dress, put on some makeup, and Julia and I went down to the Town Hall for the RAG ball.  RAG stands for Raise and Give—they’re an Oxford organization that raises and distributes money to different charities, and the ball was one of their big fundraisers.  There were a TON of Regent’s kids there, and everybody looked gorgeous—girls in pretty dresses, boys in tuxedos.
As we walked up the giant staircase, a female a capella group called In the Pink serenaded us, and as we entered the Hall, we were greeted with a free glass of champagne.  There were jugglers, musicians, ballroom dancers, and free food as far as the eye could see—Krispy Kremes, cookies, G&D’s ice cream, waiters circulating trays of sausages and quiche.  Sadly, I was SO FULL that I couldn’t eat ANY of it!  I was so disappointed, but I really felt like curling in the fetal position in the corner as it was.
A University jazz group played, and they were fantastic—definitely the highlight of the night.  Two other bands played later in the night—the first was okay, the second I only stayed for a couple of songs, but they were good.
Here's the album for the night.

Friday morning came way too early, and I still had an essay to finish for my tutorial at noon.  I have yet to write a paper I’m satisfied with, and this week was no exception.  My tutor is absolutely fantastic, though, and we spent our hour working through a close reading of Hamlet, so I could get more of an idea of the approach I should be taking in my papers.  Hopefully this week will be better.
Friday afternoon we had a tank session with our delightful rowing coach, and get this—it was almost enjoyable.  It was surprisingly helpful, and we even got a compliment!  After rowing for a bit, he said, “Easy there.  Hm.  That was actually pretty good.”  Then the world ended.  I finally feel like I’m getting the hang of it, and the season is over.  Figures.
Last night the Regent’s Park gospel choir, of which I am a member, sang at Formal Hall and it was SO MUCH FUN.  We sang two African spirituals from the balcony, and then after the starter we sang “Down to the River to Pray” and “Salve Regina” from Sister Act.
Once I got my food, I had to scarf it down, because we had Cuppers!  It’s a theater festival featuring thirty-minute performances from all the colleges.  It’s been going on since Tuesday, and ours was the last to perform.  It went so well, and we had a packed house of Regent’s supporters.  It was fantastic.
Saturday was so low-key.  Slept til noon and felt like a new woman, then went to the Ashmolean Museum with Megan and Annie, and after two hours we hadn’t even seen half of it.  I’m excited to go back eventually.  Italy planning followed the museum, and we have almost all of the details nailed down!  I can’t believe this is my life.  I’ll be in ROME in a WEEK!
Today I cleaned, and as I left my house for our football game, I got a text saying it was canceled due to a waterlogged pitch.  We rescheduled for a kickabout in the parks, and we ended up playing four-on-four in the mud and rain.  It was awesome.  My trainers are absolutely disgusting, and I spent my fair share of time sliding to the ground.  Oh, vocabulary lesson time!  Forget sweatpants—they’re called tracky-bums.  The spelling is questionable.  But work that into your next conversation.
After we played, we went to the Turf Tavern for lunch, since they agreed to sponsor us!  They’re donating a bunch of money to help fund warm-up suits and the like.  And they hinted that if we hold enough socials there, they’ll start giving us details.
By the time I got home, I was in the throes of hypothermia.  I was soaking wet and freezing cold, and only a hot shower saved my life.  I went to college for tea time, intending to do work, and instead watched Love Actually, which was fabulous, and ate pizza and sat around.
I’ve done ZERO work this weekend… and I have two essays still ahead.  Oh dear.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Think you don't know Shakespeare?

Thanks to Wikipedia, I just learned that The Lion King is basically Hamlet with some hyenas, meerkats, and wart hogs thrown in.

But if I remember correctly, Nala doesn't die... Simba doesn't die... Timon and Pumba don't die...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The continued adventures...

Rather than attempt to give you a chronological breakdown of the past two weeks, I’m just going to give it to you by categories.  Per usual, it's long-winded, so the fun begins after the jump.

Last Monday was just the crème de la crème of my rowing experiences.  It rained on us all the way down to the boat house, and the river was pretty angry-looking.  It was also the first time the group of us novices were to brave the river on our own—no experienced rower to tell us what to do.  As we stood at the door to the boathouse, in the pitch black morning, watching other crews struggle to get their boats in the water, we felt paralyzed.  Someone else’s coach approached us and asked if we had a spare light.  We said we didn’t, and then asked if the flag had been changed.  If there had been a blue flag over the river, we wouldn’t be allowed to go out with a novice cox.  This coach, though, told us they don’t usually change the flag until 8am.  “I don’t know,” he said.  “It doesn’t look like novice conditions to me.  Be careful.”
We got the boat out and got it into the water.  It was still pouring.  The amount of money I paid for my Marmot shell was completely and utterly worth it—even if that morning had been the only time I would ever wear it.
We climbed in the boat and grabbed onto the raft; Beth, our cox, strapped on her mic and got in her seat.  At this point, the heavens unleash the downpour becomes torrential.  We are instinctively huddled over in our seats, fighting to keep our hands from slipping off the raft.  “Okay,” Beth says.  “If anyone’s uncomfortable with this, speak now.”  No one said anything.  “Right then,” she said.  “Push off.”  As soon as we let go, the boat started shooting away, faster than we’d ever felt it before.  “Hold it!” Beth yelled.  “I can’t do this.  I do not feel comfortable coxing in this weather.  Let’s bring it in.”  We pulled on the raft to bring ourselves forward, and that’s when our darling coach decided to chime in from the opposite bank.
“What are you doing?” he yelled.
“Bringing it in!” Beth yelled back.  “I don’t feel comfortable going out in this weather!”
“I don’t see any other crews having trouble!” he said, as the river raged around us.  “This is nothing!”  He really is a charming fellow.
Beth took a deep breath. “Fine,” she said.  “Let’s push off.”
We did, and fought with all of our might to stay in some semblance of rhythm until we could get to the turnaround point.  After we spun, we pulled next to the bank so our enchanting coach could inspire us with his supremely motivational oration.
“What the hell was the hold-up this morning?” he asked.
One girl raised her hand and apologized for being late.  And Beth said, “We didn’t know if the flags had changed.  We didn’t know if we were allowed out.”
“You all are a bunch of pansies,” coach replied.  “This is lovely weather.  I don’t know what you were thinking.”
“Well, this is our first outing as all novices,” Beth said.
“So?” he replied.  I’ll spare you the rest of his rant, but a lot of it was about us not wasting time in the morning.  Note the irony of his long-winded speech in this context.
As we kept rowing, the rain eventually stopped, and we eventually started sweating.
We had to come into the dock before ours, and we ran sock-footed in the sloshy grass to fetch our shoes.  When we rocked the boat up out of the water and over our heads, all the rain that had been accumulating inside flowed right down the back of my neck.
By now, the sky was beginning to clear.  And we were absolutely giddy.  While it was the worst morning we had ever experienced, we experienced it together.  It was exhilarating.  We laughed all the way down the path, and as we crossed the bridge we were rewarded with this:

Even the uplifting words of our coach (“You’re going to get laughed at at the Regatta when everybody sees you can’t row.”) couldn’t destroy the warm joy that had mysteriously planted itself underneath our drenched clothing.  A few of us stopped at Starbucks on the way back up, and somehow it turned out to be a perfect start to the day.
Since then, we’ve had two outings get canceled due to weather and a race.  And whether or not we’re competing in the Christ Church regatta this week is still questionable.  Stay tuned.

Shakespeare is still kicking my butt.  I really enjoy reading the plays, but I can never quite get a grasp on anything intelligent to write.  This past week I had Richard III, which I really liked, and Richard II, which was the most boring thing I’ve ever read in my life.  I would have preferred sandpaper to my eyeballs.
Postcolonial was fantastic this week.  I read Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and I would recommend it to everyone—specifically if you like African literature.  Adichie is a Nigerian woman, and Purple Hibiscus is an incredible first novel.  I felt like some secret had been unlocked, like I somehow held a critic’s key that allowed me to open up the text and take out everything I found.  I was up late writing my essay, but only because I had so much to say.  I cut myself off at 2700 words so I could go to bed.  But during our discussion, I got to bring up other things I had intended on writing, and she seemed to offer encouragement.  Specifically, she said, “I like that imagery,” but that’s the most affirmation I’ve received from her.  This book, though, makes me want to work on a paper for Colloquium Day senior year or do a senior research project.  I don’t know what it is about postcolonial literature that I love so much, but I’m going to be considering a Master’s in it.

The Weather
It rains. So much.  I expected it, that being the England stereotype and all, but it’s ridiculous.  Thankfully, though, I’m not having the adverse emotional reaction I had been anticipating.  Days of sunshine are few and far between, and I actually feel unsettled when they happen—like I should be out lying in the sun instead of staring at it through the window.  I’ve also given up on trying to battle the weather.  I can never be prepared.  For starters, I somehow made it to the UK without an umbrella.  My Marmot has a hood, which is helpful, but I don’t always wear it.  Usually I’m wearing my Eddie Bauer fleece, which is water repellant, and my head and feet just get soaking wet.  That’s just the way it’s going to be.

You may remember from my last post that I joined the football (ahem, soccer) team.  I was looking for a team sport that was about having fun, with a little competition thrown in.  We had a game today, in the rain, and even though we lost 7-0 we played so well and had so much fun.  I miss my cleats; it’s always muddy and I feel like I’m running in slo-mo just because I can’t keep my footing in trainers.  And I played midfield today, which is a lifetime first in any sport, so I had lots of muddy running and sliding.  The girls on the team are so encouraging for each other, and it’s fun to witness the types of things Brits yell from the sidelines.  I yelled “Good D!” today and got some funny looks.  Anyways, it’s brilliant fun.

The Internet
Please recall that I arrived on September 29th.  Also please recall that Internet was supposed to get installed this past summer, while no one was living in the flat.  After weeks of being the squeaky wheels, we finally got some grease—the men were scheduled to come install the line this past Tuesday.  They told IT Bob they’d be by between 8 and 1.  I woke up at 7:30, sat in my living room until 12:45, and they did not show.
That evening, Megan stopped me and said she had spoken with the other woman now in charge of our situation, and apparently the men did show at 2:30.  They called IT Bob, he arrived, and they informed him that they wouldn’t be able to install the line that day after all.  They didn’t realize how big of a job it was supposed to be—apparently, they were going to have to blast up pavement, which would require permits from the city council, which would require a land survey… basically, we’re not getting Internet until next term.
I was livid.
Thankfully, I have awesome parents who have been itching to get involved, and I finally opened the gate for my dad to send a strongly worded letter.  That seemed to have some kind of an effect, for our neighbor is graciously allowing us his password for the wireless as a temporary solution.  It’s not fair that they still have a bill to pay and we’re having to piggyback on them.
But, I am on the Internet while sitting on my own couch… a phenomenon I never thought possible.
And I am able to look back and say that being forced to go to college for Internet made me more present, which meant I made friends quickly instead of sitting in my bed on Skype all the time.

Other Fun Stuff
-I did a psychiatric study that paid ten pounds an hour, plus travel expenses—meaning I finally rode an Oxford bus!  The researcher was a woman named Louisa, and she was really sweet.  I had three sessions—the first was just a basic mental health screening.  The second was a three-hour MEG scan.  I put on pajamas, sat in a comfy chair in a dark room, and had my head up a huge white scanner.  I had a clicker button in my right hand, and I had to do different exercises on the screen in front of me.  It was hard, and I was exhausted, and I had so much trouble staying awake.  During the break time, Louisa made me a cup of tea and I vented to her about rowing.  So after the final section of the scan, she sat down on the floor and gave me pointers!  So helpful, and it didn’t involve the stupid squatting our dumb coach does all the time.  Anyways, the third session of the study was an MRI, and I had trouble staying awake during that as well.  All in all, fun experience, and I’m getting money soon!

-This was the week of birthday extravaganzas.  Tuesday was Stacy’s birthday; Wednesday was Oli’s, David’s, and Charles’s; Thursday was Megan’s; Friday was Corey’s; Saturday was Fran’s and Perry’s.  NUTS.  Wednesday night Oli had a group go to the Gourmet Burger Kitchen for dinner, and then we went to the King’s Arms afterwards.  GBK was unbelievable.  One of the best burgers I’ve ever had in my life.  The King’s Arms was cool too; we just sat around and talked.  On Saturday, we went to a place called Brown’s for brunch for Fran’s and Perry’s birthday.  I missed my chance to experience a traditional English breakfast… I have no idea what I was thinking.  My bacon sandwich was delicious, though.

-I’m doing a one-act play for the Cuppers competition this Friday.  Only first-years and visiting students can be in it, and our one-act is written and directed by one of our own, Marchella!  She’s a sweet girl, and the show is awesome.  Well-written, funny, apt, etc.

-Last Friday we had a toga party in the JCR after Formal Hall, and the Cambridge kids were here for the weekend!  Claire and Ally came to the party, which was fantastic, and then they spent the night.  So great.  Saturday night the Stanley Road kids hosted a bonfire, which turned out to be a gigantic fire on the grill, but it was a blast.  We educated everyone in s'mores, but we had to compromise with pink marshmallows and chocolate Digestives.  Graham crackers don't exist here.  Still, they were delicious.

-I’ve been volunteering at St Aldates Church on Wednesday mornings to play with babies while their mums are in Bible study.  They are adorable.  One little boy told me he was going to play with blocks, and I asked him if he was going to build a house.  “No!” he said.  “I’m going to build a cottage!”
Last week, I played with a little girl named Magdalene all morning.  She was so precious, and really bright for her age.  During snack time, I noticed that someone smelled a little interesting, but I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from.  Just then, Magdalene shot out of her chair and went running across the room.  I chased her, and picked her up and hugged her, carrying her back to her chair.  When I set her down, the special smell was even stronger.  That’s when I saw the brown streak on my shirt.  Instinctively, I smelled the spot, and tried not to retch on the spot.  I knelt down and felt Magdalene’s bum.  Sure enough, her poo had squished through her nappy, through her tights, through her skirt… onto my favorite yellow and white striped shirt. I didn’t have time to go home, so I tried to wash my shirt in the sink with apple and pomegranate hand soap. What a brilliant way to start the day.

-Tonight was another fantastic cultural experience.  At Regent’s Park, there are three third-years named Sam Evans, Dan Evans, and Sarah Evans.  They’re not related, but they’re best friends and they live together.  Tonight they invited Adrienne and me to come to dinner, and we watched the third and fourth episodes of the BBC 1988 miniseries version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  It was hilarious.  Let’s just say that the new versions definitely spoil us.  After that we ate spaghetti and a chocolate tart and had great conversation.  Lovely evening all around.

-Last week Megan, Corey, and I ventured to the top of St. Mary the Virgin’s tower, which provides a breathtaking 360-degree view of Oxford.  Who knew the city was surrounded by hills?  We paid our three pounds, hiked the million stairs to the top… and my camera died.  I got one shot, and that was that.  Story of my life.

-I bought new shoes.  My favorite yellow Nikes were falling apart and I was turning into a cripple.  I got purple/lime green/pink Onitsuka Tigers.  Sweeeet.

-I’m (hopefully) going to a ball on Thursday night!  It’s the RAG ball, and the ticket sales all go to charity.  I just have to find a dress that fits and that I can afford.  Which leads me to the Debenham’s story.  It’s a department store, and they had a massive sale on yesterday.  I tried on nine dresses… and NONE fit!  The sizes are different here, and I’m pretty sure British girls must not have butts.  I tried on a 16 and it was huge, so I tried on a 14 and it was sooo tight across my bum.  Every single dress was that way, and I’m pretty sure I’m not really that out of proportion.  Not sure what I’m going to do… I don’t even know where to look!

I’m sure I forgot loads… my brain is just jam-packed these days.  I also take requests.
As always, here's the photo album link.

Monday, November 16, 2009


The next two weeks are going to be incredibly busy, but I'm going to write more as soon as I can.

Things you can look forward to:

1) Rowing update
2) A psychiatric study
3) Baby poop

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


As I roamed the second quad of Balliol College last night, looking for footie girls and pizza, I caught a snippet of conversation that made me weak in the knees.  Two handsome young blokes were walking toward me, one looking pensive and the other quizzical.

"Yeah," the first one said. "But do you even like her?"
"Enormously," the other replied.  "Enormously."

Sunday, November 8, 2009


The week got off to a sleepy start, and it was an arduous fight to keep my head above water the whole week long.

Monday morning my alarm went off at 5:30, only four hours after I’d crawled into bed after Skyping in college.  I got up and put my sweats on over my long underwear, and Megan and I were out the door by 5:45.  We walked the forty-five minutes to the boathouse, getting there just as the sun was starting to peep over the horizon and illuminate the scattered clouds.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Tale of Three Gingers

Most of the Englanders I’ve met have been friendly, welcoming, and willing to repeat themselves until I understand the message they’re trying to get across.

But Englanders have a very serious prejudice.  The target is a group of people who, in America, make up only 2% of the population, but tend to be regarded as particularly beautiful.

Gingers.  Red-heads.

Part I 
A couple weeks ago, Annie and I met for a chat and basic trip-planning in Starbucks on Cornmarket.  Her friend Emma, a Scot who attends Univ, joined us later on, and we began the run-of-the-mill girl conversation about boys.
“Really,” I said, “the only reason I’m in England is to find Ron Weasley and convince him to marry me.”
“Ron Weasley?” she said.  “Are you joking?”
“No!” I said.  “Why would I be joking?”
“He’s… a ginger!” she replied, with a disdainful curl of her lip.
Annie and I burst out laughing.  “So what?” we asked.
“He’s a ginger!  Everybody knows gingers are just less attractive people,” she said, a note of genuine dismay in her voice.
“What!” we shrieked.  “No they’re not!”
Emma stared at us.
Annie caught her breath and shared, “Penelope told me there’s an old wives’ tale that if you put milk in after you pour your tea, you’ll have ginger children.”
“Why would that even matter?” I asked, still laughing.
Emma recovered and said, “Well, NO ONE wants ginger children!”
Annie and I stated that we would both adore little red-headed babies, and Emma went even deeper into her state of shock.
“You’re being completely serious, aren’t you?” she asked.
“Yes!” we said in unison.
“You honestly believe gingers are just as attractive as everybody else,” she clarified.
“Yes.  Definitely.”
“I can’t believe that,” she said, shaking her head.  “I guess I’ve never thought about it before.  Maybe it is weird that we don’t like them.”
We nodded.

Part II
My roommate, Megan, has red hair.  I think this fact escapes most of our American cohorts, most likely because we don’t have a stigma against gingers.
But last week we were discussing the Ginger Prejudice Phenomenon amongst ourselves, and one guy brought up a South Park episode that mocks gingers.  “Everybody knows gingers have no souls!” he proclaimed.  Megan sat quietly, taking it like a champ in the corner, while the rest of the group went scarily near the Ginger Prejudice path.

Part III
There is a lovely boy at Regent’s Park named Chris Little.  Ironically enough, he’s about 6’4”.  He also has red hair.  As we walked home from church on Sunday night, I wedged myself between him and Julia and said, “Chris, I’ve been having all of these terrible conversations about gingers.  Have you just spent the majority of your life just getting bullied?”
“Well,” he began, “It’s pretty bad as a kid, you know, like on the playground.  A lot of people just really take the mick out of you.”
“But why?” I asked.  “Why does everybody hate gingers?!”
Julia chimed in, “I don’t really know.  I would assume it’s because a lot of Irish people have red hair, and there’s a pretty big prejudice against the Irish.  And the Celts.  Everybody hates the Celts.”
“One time,” Chris said, “one time I was out walking with my friend, and we were by a roundabout, and this guy was driving around and around the circle, and he just kept pointing and laughing.  I just assumed it was because I’m a ginger.”

There you have it, folks.  Next time you encounter a ginger, regardless of his or her nationality, be sure to be extra polite and encouraging.  They’ve had it rough.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


We lost a member of our community last night.  I don't know any of the details, but please be praying for Antonia's family and friends, as well as the rest of the Regent's Park family.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

House of Pain.

First of all, check out the FANTASTIC new layout!  Many, many thanks to Holly Smith for doing this for me.  Check out her design blog—her banner is on the right hand side of the page.

Second of all, I’ve finally put up pictures on Facebook.  Even if you’re not on the Facebook bandwagon, you can see them here.

Now for the blogging.  It’s another long one, and not the happiest thing ever, so it’s all under the jump.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

If America Conquered England...

England is really great and all, but there are three daily conveniences America has that could greatly benefit the English people and all their visitors.

1) Water fountains.  This is a land of dehydrated people.  It occurred to me as I was feeling down and homesick the other day that I had had almost no water the whole entire day.  At home, I carry my CamelBak with me like it’s another appendage; I can easily down four in a day.  Here, I can carry it with me, but once it’s empty, it’s empty.  There is no place to fill it up, save for a bathroom sink, but that kind of freaks me out.  And at dinner, we each have a glass that can hold approximately two mouthfuls of water, and then we have a pitcher of water for about every four people. Usually our communal pitcher is empty before we’ve even started the main dish.  I propose we do away with the tiny glasses and each get our own personal pitcher.  But back to the main point—if America conquered Great Britain, installing water fountains could be seen as humanitarian intervention.

2) Reliable toilets.  I should not have a panic attack every time I try to flush a toilet.  In America, unless you’ve really made a mess of things, flushing a toilet is pretty much guaranteed.  Here, if you look at a toilet the wrong way you’re likely to get a small spurt of water into the bowl… and nothing else.  Wiggling the handle, pushing it slowly, slamming it down—once you’ve offended the toilet nothing will yield a satisfactory flush.  In the bathroom on the second floor at Regent’s Park, I have injured myself twice trying to force the flusher down with all my might.  I should also mention that I recently used one of those toilets with the wooden box and chain overhead.  In lamenting the undependable toilets to my mother, she tried to encourage me by saying, “At least they’re not squatty-potties like when I was in India.”  I maintain that I would actually prefer a squatty-potty, because at least they’re entirely incapable of boasting the illusion of a reliable flush.

3) Doors that open the way they should/the way you think they will.  A vertical bar handle means “pull,” and a flat panel on a door means “push.”  Unless you’re here, which means you’re always presented with a vertical bar handle, and no matter which way you try to open the door, you are always going to be wrong the first time.  Always.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Freshers' Week

Well, my two-week vacation in England is over.  I had to go to school today for the first time since last MAY—almost exactly five months ago.  My first tutorial is this Friday, and I can’t say I’ve done any work on my paper.  Let me provide a rundown of the past week, working backwards, and maybe you’ll understand why.

Monday, October 5, 2009

There are no strangers...

            The best advice I was given before coming to England: “Talk to everybody.  You never know where you’ll end up as a result.”

            Today I went to church by myself.  St. Aldates is enormous, old, and right across from Christ Church College.  Here’s the fun, small-world connection of the trip thus far:  Jaci, who gave me the aforementioned advice, studied abroad at Oxford five or six years ago.  She attended St. Aldates Church while she was here.  She now works as an editor at David C. Cook. I interned at David C. Cook this summer, which published an author named Simon Ponsonby.  Simon is on staff at St. Aldates Church.  Are you following me?  Since Cook has a sector in England called Kingsway, a few of the American staff members have been to England and met up with Simon, who apparently gives the best Oxford tour in town.  They gave me his contact information, we sent a few e-mails, and at 10:26 this morning I found myself following an elderly lady and her granddaughters into St. Aldates.  While preserved on the outside, the inside has been restructured to suit a more modern service.  Instead of a long, narrow sanctuary, the room has been turned ninety degrees for wider congregational seating.  As I scanned the sanctuary looking for a place to sit, I noticed some students were sitting towards the back.  Three girls sat next to each other, and since there was an empty seat on the aisle, I asked if I could sit down.
            Service began right away, so I introduced myself to the girl next to me as the band members made their way to the stage.  Her name was Geli (hard ‘g’, short for Angelica), and she’s a Theology fresher at Worcester College, next to the Ashmolean Museum.
            The service itself was fantastic.  I was familiar with all the music, and the energy was really high.  Although it is a Church of England, the only thing I would consider liturgical was a community prayer before communion.  But even then, the language of the Lord’s Prayer was modernized.  I also noticed that the people in the room were widely varied—all ages, races, sizes.
            At the greeting time, I met the two other girls with Geli—Sarah and Rosie.  They’re also Theology freshers at Worcester.  After the service, one of the ushers, a tall, cute old man in a green sweater, came and introduced himself to me.  His name was Alfred.  He asked me if I was new, where I was from, what college I was attending, etc.  I believed him when he said he dearly hoped my year was blessed, and that I would learn a lot about my God while I was here.  He also heartily recommended (complete with a thump on the arm) that I go punting soon, while the weather is nice.  It’s people like that that add warmth to a church.  Tri-Lakes Chapel attendees—I urge you to give it a try next week.
            I also found Simon and introduced myself, to which he responded, “Melody Rowell!  You’re a legend!”
            Upon leaving the sanctuary, the British girls and I went upstairs for a newcomers’ reception-type-thing.  An enthusiastic young guy gave us a brief rundown of all St. Aldates has to offer—a huge college group on Thursday nights (complete with food), pastorates (like Base Camps), evening services, etc.  Geli then said she had to go meet her dad for lunch, and Rosie and Sarah asked if I’d like to go to lunch with them.
            First, we had to find an ATM (or hole-in-the-wall, as they’re called here) because I was down to 80p.  Naturally, my debit card was at home; I had taken it out on Friday in case I lost my bag in the club or something.  I had food already bought at home, so I wasn’t too worried.  I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to go eat with them, though.  But as we walked up the street, Rosie said she needed to run into Boots (a chain store really similar to Beauty Brands plus all the department store makeup counters).  In there, Sarah explained the advantages of a Boots reward card (4p for every pound you spend!) and asked a couple of salesgirls if they had any I could sign up for.  We then wandered to the back of the store, which randomly had a cooler of food.  Another new lesson—Boots has a really cheap meal deal!  You can get a sandwich, chips (or crisps, whatever) and a drink for four quid.  While we were standing there, I saw a sandwich that was called “cheese and pickle,” which I had heard of but had yet to experience.  I asked them what “pickle” was, since it isn’t actually a cucumber that’s been soaked in brine.  They tried explaining it to me, but couldn’t, so Sarah said, “Do you just want to come ‘round to our place for lunch?”
            So first we stopped at Sainsbury’s to buy pickle, Marmite, and some other groceries, and then we went to their college.  It was really beautiful and really old, but the dorm area is new-ish and quite nice.  The kitchen was also spacious and had a table, so we laid our groceries out and sat down.  Three of their other classmates came in—Olivia, Joe, and another Sarah.  Rosie introduced me and explained that I was about to try pickle and Marmite (not together. Never together.), and Joe held up his jar of organic peanut butter and asked if that was more in my comfort zone.  He then explained that while they have it, not many people eat it, and they don’t have it in any of their sweets.  I’m so glad I brought that big bag of Reese’s cups with me.
            I made my sandwich: white bread with a thin layer of butter, pickle (which I still can’t describe to you—it’s a spread, though), cheese, and a couple slices of cucumber.  It was GOOD.  I liked pickle.
            Then I tried Marmite.  Again, no one could explain it to me, and the jar only said “100% Yeast Extract,” which is in no way appealing.  Rosie and Sarah told me to smear only the tiniest bit on the bread, or I’d gag.  Have you ever tried to put a little droplet of soy sauce on your rice or chicken, only to have the lid pop off and drench your food?  The salty blast that is Marmite is comparable to that.  I’ve tried it once; I don’t think I’ll ever need to again.
            We sat around and talked for a long while, trying to explain our respective educational systems to each other, among other things.  We did have an intense discussion on their perception of the differences between biscuits and cookies.  Coming here, I was told all cookies are referred to as biscuits, so when someone used the word “cookie,” the surprise must have been evident on my face.  Joe looked at me with compassion and said, “Cookies are a subset of biscuits.”  I asked them what the difference was, and then tried to explain what a biscuit in America is.  They had never heard of such a thing.
            “So, it comes in a packet?”
            “No, not really.  You make it.  When you’re making it up it’s similar to bread; it has a lot of flour.”
            “Oh, so it’s like a small loaf of bread?”
            “No, not really.  It’s thicker.”
            “Is it crunchy?”
            “No… it’s soft and sometimes flaky.”
            Befuddled, they just stared at me and I finally said I’d make some and invite them over. (Dad—can you e-mail me your Angel Biscuits recipe?  And maybe a good recipe for sausage gravy?  Thanks.)
            After a couple of hours, they needed to study (or, “do some revision”) for a Greek placement test later in the evening.  I told them my last name and they all said they’d friend me on Facebook.  So, British friends!

-Bike-riding never ceases to fascinate me.  I’ve seen people ride without using their hands before, and while that’s impressive and all, not until now have I seen a man ride his bike and eat his supper at the same time.  In a bowl.  With chopsticks.

-I am going to trademark the Oxford diet.  It consists of walking miles and miles every day and always being hungry.  Yesterday, as I was walking home, I thought to myself, “Oh, I didn’t have to walk much today.  That was nice.”  Then I realized that I still probably logged about four or five miles.

-The second best advice I got before coming was from Katie Adams, who is a legend in her own right.  I bought PG Tips tea and Hob Nob cookies (or biscuits or whatever) my first day here and have been consuming them like it’s my job.

-I feel like I’m getting cheated when I pay for something with a bill and get a handful of change in return.  In America I only view change as useful when it’s in quarters, and then only to buy a Diet Coke out of a machine.  Here, one coin can be equivalent to USD$3.19.  So getting a handful of two-pound coins really should make me a lot happier.  Long live the Queen!

-Earlier I mentioned that I refuse to adapt to the British use of the word “toilet,” where we would normally say “bathroom” or “restroom.”  I understand that it makes more sense, because when I ask for the bathroom or restroom I am neither bathing or resting.  But I feel safe within the euphemisms of these words, because asking for the “toilet” just broadcasts to the world what it is that I need to do.

-The (presumably) homeless people here are so polite.  They ask, “Might you spare some change?”  And when you say you can’t, they say, “That’s all right, then.  Have a lovely evening, and God bless you.”  And I swear, the British accent makes everyone sound loads smarter than they probably are.

The Oxford Nightlife, part two

            On Saturday night, we hung around Joe and Maura’s house, listening to songs from Glee, watching Bones, and generally just taking advantage of their free Internet and enjoyable company.
            The walk back to our house, though, warranted a Nightlife blog solely for the things we overheard.  I won’t tell you which wee hour of the morning it was.  But rest assured; Oxford is a safe city, with plenty of streetlights, police officers, and sober people also walking home the same time we are.  Plus, we live in a really nice part of town on a main road.

1) Girl in a short, low-cut, sleeveless dress, running barefoot while holding the hand of the boy behind her.  He is dressed appropriately for the weather, but he is carrying her shoes and purse.  They are both repeating themselves, not listening to the other.
            Boy: You shouldn’t talk to me like that.  You shouldn’t talk to me like that.
            Girl: Please come to my bed with me!  Please come to my bed with me!

2) A man is swiftly coming towards us, sometimes on the sidewalk, sometimes in the street.  No way would he ever pass a walk-a-straight-line test unless the cop were as equally as wasted.  “Hey,” he says when we get close.  “I need help.”  He looks utterly bewildered, so we stop.  He’s dressed nicely, and has a gold wedding band.  “Whar’s the tren stashun?” he slurs.
            “Oh, man, I don’t know,” I say truthfully.
            “The tren stashun?” he says again, unable to stand in one place.
            “We just moved here,” I explained slowly, briefly wondering if faking an accent would make it easier for him to understand me in his condition.  “I don’t know where it is.”
            “Okay,” he said, still looking at us like we can help him.  He’s off the curb into the bike lane at this point.
            “I’m really sorry,” I say, and I really am.  I desperately want to help him.  As we start to walk away I say, “Hey buddy, stay on the sidewalk, okay?  I don’t want you getting hurt.”
            He waves his hand and unsteadily steps back onto the sidewalk.
            Where others have made me laugh, this man broke my heart.  Why does he need a train to get home at this hour?  Where could he possibly have been drinking in the north part of town?  What is his wife thinking right now?  Looking back, I probably should have flagged down a cab for him.  I only hoped he would stumble into the police officers that were patrolling a few blocks down.

3) A group of six or seven men, all forty to fifty-somethings, arms around each other, ambling down the sidewalk—straight towards us.  Singing a good, old-fashioned drinking song at the top of their lungs.  The one receiving the most support and singing the loudest looks straight at me and reaches out his arm.  For a split second I don’t know if he is going to punch me, grab my face, or what, but then he says, “Whoooooa!” and goes back to ambling and singing.

4) Two men standing on a corner.  As we pass, one says, “Hello, ladies, we need help practicing our English.  We are from Spain!”  I say, “Uh, it’s --- o’clock in the morning.”  He stands there with his arms out, in complete disbelief that we could be so cold.  To ease his pain I yell, “Lo siento!” over my shoulder.

The Oxford Nightlife, part one

            I picked this optimistic title for a reason—the Oxford nightlife is so bizarre that I hope many more stories will come out of it.
            I’ll be honest—I know pretty much nothing about any other city’s nightlife; maybe all cities ooze weirdos and creepers past the witching hour.  But my first foray into the Oxford club scene couldn’t have been more fitting for my consistently over-the-top life.
            It started well enough: Megan, Corey, another RPC visiting student named David, and I all met up with the OOSC kids at Maura and Joe’s house.  We all ventured together to our destination for the night: an underground club off Cornmarket called The Purple Turtle.
            The Purple Turtle is more or less a series of underground tunnels and caverns that form a U-shaped club.  There’s a bar immediately on your right as you stoop to enter, the bathrooms (I refuse to use the British term ‘toilet’) are just after that, and then you have to turn left to follow the path.  Three semi-circle couches accompany a small table, and we saw more than one group try to cram all kinds of shapes and numbers of people into the small areas.  Stooping to pass under another tunnel/cavern entrance, there are two bars on your right and an immediate left turn.  Standing here, there are couches and small tables on your right and a bar and stools on your left.  If you continue walking forward, you’ll eventually hit the teeny-tiny dance floor.  We parked ourselves at the last set of couches next to the wall that separated the dance floor cavern from the rest.
            The music (almost entirely imported from America, thank you very much) was so loud that it was nearly impossible to hear each other, even when shouting directly into the other person’s ear.  The lights were dim, and the dance floor featured a blacklight.  The air was stuffy and mixed with the smells of damp earth, alcohol, body odor, and stale cigarette smoke.  Basically—everything I’d ever imagined a club to be.
            After returning from a dance break, I discovered Annie wasn’t sitting at our couches any more.  Corey said he’d seen her talking to some British guys at a counter, so I went off to find her in case she needed a rescue.  But as I turned the corner, she was walking straight towards me with the three Brits in tow: one who looked like Mario Lopez; one with crunchy, yet greasy, bleach blonde hair and a hook nose; and one who was cute, tall, and wearing a shirt that said OSAKA on it.
            “Oh!” Annie said as we practically ran into each other.  “This is my friend Melody!”
            They all took turns shaking my hand, and Crunchy Blonde planted a long sloppy kiss on my cheek, precariously close to my ear.
            “Uh…” I said.  Are you supposed to say “thank you”?
            They came over to our couches, and I got sandwiched in between Mario Lopez, who was completely infatuated with Annie at this point, and Crunchy Blonde.  OSAKA was on the other side of him.  Just my luck, CB was verrrry intoxicated and eager to talk.  But as I said before, the music was so loud I could barely understand my American friends, much less a drunk Brit with a thick accent and no discernible train of thought.  Here are the snippets I managed to grasp:
            “…hate Oxford… travelin’ the world… lived here 22 years… been to eight countries in the past year… money’s no object… went to Cambridge myself, spent a year studyin’ there before I was like, ‘What am I doin’?’… etc.”  That may sound like a decent amount of information to pick up, but for 15ish minutes of rambling, that was pocket change.  He also asked me questions, but I’d just shrug and say I didn’t know, since I really had no idea what he was asking.  But then, I did understand his most important question:
            “So, what are you doin’ later, then?”
            “Oh, I don’t really know,” I said.  “I think Annie’s in charge.”
            “Well,” he said.  “I was thinkin’ you would invite us back to your room for a bit.”
            “Uh… um… uh… no,” I said.  “No. I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Ever ever ever ever, I added silently.
            “Why not?”
            Crap, I needed a reason to turn Crunchy Blonde down?!  “We, uh, we live really far away,” I said.
            “You don’t live at the Uni?” he asked.  For a slobbering drunk, he was a little too coherent for my liking.
            “No, I mean, we do,” I said.  “Well, not really.  We live about 20 minutes north of there.  It’s a long walk.  A really, really, really long walk.”
            “Ah,” was all he replied.
            Obviously that killed his desire for “conversation,” and fortunately Annie was having a similar experience on the other side of Mario Lopez.  She stood up, grabbed my hand, and said we had to go to the bathroom.
            Once in the bathroom, we both began vigorously washing our hands and screaming.  As we caught our breath and marveled over the creepsters we had managed to reel in, who should stumble into the girls’ bathroom but CRUNCHY BLONDE.
            He looked at us, then pointed to a stall and said, “D’you mind if I use this?”
            “YOU’RE IN THE WRONG BATHROOM!” we yelled.
            “What?” he said, looking genuinely astounded.  “No I’m not!”
            “YES YOU ARE!” we shrieked.  “GET OUT!”
            He stumbled out without another word of protest, and Annie and I bolted from the bathroom to go hide ourselves on the dance floor.  It worked for a long time.  Maura came and joined us at one point, and she and I managed to attract multiple stares at our… creative dance moves.  The shower, the airplane, the shopping cart… you name it.  I even saw a couple of the less polite gentlefolk pointing at us.
            Back on the couches, Annie and I looked up to see Mario Lopez and OSAKA motioning for us to join them on the dance floor—Crunchy Blonde was nowhere in sight.  Having just reseated ourselves, we waved our hands to signal we weren’t interested.  But these fellas just wouldn’t be turned down.  Finally Annie got up and grabbed my hand once more, and I frantically motioned to Joe to follow us in case we needed rescue.  Mario Lopez was now leading the way, dragging Annie behind him, and I was following them, OSAKA a good three yards behind me.  When we got to the dance floor, I turned around to look for OSAKA, but he was still standing by the couches.  I cocked my head like, “Well?” and he looked at me, turned around, and walked away.
            Completely relieved, Joe and I returned to our couches yet again.  When the song ended, Annie was back by my side, saying I had abandoned her in her moment of need, etc.  We hadn’t been sitting for more than seven or eight minutes when the three amigos were back, once again beckoning for us to come dance.  We rolled our eyes and waved our hands again, but they were insistent.  We moseyed over there, heading for the dance floor, but they stopped us.
            “Let’s dance here,” they said.
            “In the hallway?” Annie asked.
            But they didn’t actually want to dance.  They wanted to stand there gripping their glasses of beer while Annie and I bobbed our heads in time to the techno beats.  It lasted for about thirty seconds, until Crunchy Blonde tried holding my hand, and then we were back in the bathroom, reading the graffiti in the stalls and waiting for the three amigos to get the hint.
            We managed to avoid them for the short while we remained at the Purple Turtle, mostly by getting our whole group of friends on the dance floor and making it apparent that we didn’t need anyone else up in our business.
            But as we left, Mario Lopez managed to stop Annie, give her a lingering hug, and ask for her phone number.  She gave him a fake one.
            As we emerged from the stairway back onto Cornmarket street, we all inhaled the fresh air and considered it a good night.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Longest post ever.

This will hopefully be the only blog of this length... congratulations if you read it in its entirety!  I'll post a jump so it doesn't swallow the whole page-- click to read more.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sixteen hours to takeoff.

Since my last post, I’ve been significantly more light-hearted.  Where I had been trying to keep myself busy, I’ve finally allowed myself some relaxation and a break from the never-ending to-do list.  And my less than ideal summer job finally ended at the end of August, so my mornings have been spent in the glorious office of David C. Cook, and my afternoons have hosted naps in the hammock, reading Shakespeare, watching season four of Bones with Meagan, Skyping with faraway friends, and more naps in the hammock.
            I’ve also kept a steady stream of mini-adventures at hand, mainly to break up the big countdown into a lot of little ones.  I made a trip to Greeley to see Jessi and to Jewell to say goodbye to everyone, and Sarah came to Colorado over Labor Day, so we had fun exploring my home.
            This weekend was about as American as you can get.  Mom took off work Friday, so we spent the day shopping for last-minute things I needed.  One last trip to Chick-fil-a for lunch.  When I got home, I decided to go to Chipotle with Meagan and her friends to get one last burrito in.  Here’s a fun fact about me: If I could only eat one food item every meal for the rest of my life, it’d be a burrito.  After Chipotle, I revisited the hallowed grounds of Lewis-Palmer High School to watch the home football game—the first one I’ve been to since my senior year.  They’re a fast team and were really fun to watch.  It was definitely an age-check, though.  The freshmen I mentored as a senior are all now seniors themselves.  And my sister referred to my orange Rowdy Ranger shirt as vintage.  It’s from 2006.
            The American glory continued on Saturday when I got to go to my first Air Force football game.  The weather was perfect, the boys were on their game and beat the crap out of San Diego State, and there were uniformed cadets as far as the eye could see.  After the game I spent too much time in Wal-mart getting pictures printed and picking up ingredients for Dad’s birthday cake.  I then made said cake, declared myself a domestic goddess, and watched Mrs. Doubtfire with the family.  The laughs were perfectly timed—the stress of all the packing ahead of me had finally sunk in and I could feel my blood pressure rising.
            Today was a great morning at church, where people only wished me luck as opposed to asking me why I was still hanging around, and I spent the afternoon packing.  It’s done.  Two fifty-pound suitcases packed with everything I’ll need for the next year.  I had to exclude the 2.5 pound jar of peanut butter I bought.  Tonight we’re off for a family dinner at Front Range Barbecue in Old Colorado City to celebrate Dad’s birthday and my jet-setting.
            I can’t believe I leave TOMORROW.  Part of me is relieved; it’s about time I get there.  The other part of me is still in complete disbelief that it’s actually here.  There’s no more time to plan or make arrangements—I have to get there and figure everything out on my own.  I’m wondering if I’ll sleep tonight, what kinds of panicky dreams I’ll have, and how soon the morning will come.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Current location: Dad’s office, Tri-Lakes Chapel, Monument, Colorado.
Current book: Much Ado About Nothing
Current countdown: 35 days, 12 hours until take-off

I’ve had this blog set up for months, but I keep waiting for something significant to happen to warrant the first entry.  I considered writing about getting my acceptance letter from Regent’s Park College, which luckily came on my last day at Jewell.  Buying my plane ticket seemed momentous enough, and even getting my fingerprints scanned in a small office in a strip mall on Colfax showed promise in serving as The Official Beginning of My British Life.  But none of these events motivated me the way I had thought they would.  I thought surely, with each small step completed, I’d feel closer to actually arriving at my flat in Oxford.

Instead, I feel just as far away as I did in March of my senior year of high school, when I officially decided to join the Oxbridge Honors Program at William Jewell College.  I guess it makes this blog more fitting—I am still waiting, just the same as I have been for the past three(ish) years.
I will say this, though: There is an indirectly proportional relationship between the amount of days left and my level of anxiety.  I am increasingly unsettled here.  It’s been a lonely summer, and I’m desperate to get back to normalcy—i.e. lots of homework and lots of friends.

I don’t feel like I have any right to be down right now, but I really am.  I mean, I’m getting ready to embark on the coolest year of possibly my whole life, and I’m sad.  I’ve been trying to prepare myself for the homesickness, both for my family and Jewell.  I have tried telling myself over and over to have grace with myself, that by acknowledging that yes, it will be hard and that yes, I am going to miss the Jewell community—somehow just acknowledging it will make it easier.  If I’m prepared and on my guard, maybe I can accept a certain amount of homesickness and move on. But already, its weight has begun to settle on my heart.  Last Thursday several of my friends started moving in, and I was getting texts the whole day about how great it was to be back on the Hill and how fantastic it was to see everyone again.  I just hate that I can’t be a part of that this year.  Hate that my reunion is delayed.

I’m going to be honest with you and tell you my biggest fear right now.  It’s not that my visa won’t come in time.  It’s not that I have to get from Heathrow to my home in Oxford all by myself with two giant suitcases and a backpack.  It has nothing to do with England.  My biggest fear is centered on Jewell’s campus from now until September 28th.  In the summertime, everyone misses everyone, and it’s completely natural to work to keep in touch with each other.  Here’s the fear: I’m afraid everyone will return to Jewell, be surrounded by friends again, and I’ll be out of the loop for the next 35 days.

Consider this blog to be my half of the loop.  I’m looking forward to writing about all my adventures, because I know I’ll have plenty.  It seems I have a penchant for attracting dramatic situations.  In this blog, I am going to tell you the truth, and I will refrain from disclaimers as much as I can.  I do apologize for getting off to a depressing start.  It’s a fitting introduction; the journey leading to this point has been fraught with worry as well as excitement.

To try to end on a happier note, here are three things I’m very much looking forward to:
  1. My tutorials—Shakespeare and Post-colonial lit.
  2. My first visit to commune with the spirits of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien at the Eagle and Child.
  3. Ron Weasley.

By the way, the URL of this blog is taken from this poem by Emily Dickinson.