Monday, December 28, 2009


I intended to be streamlined. One suitcase. FAIL. I forgot that I left half of Macy's in my closet at home. Good lord I have a lot of clothes. Many of which I don't wear. But it's hard to give a lot of it away. Because there's always that "well, I really like it" or "someday, once I have a job again." In reality, I just need to get rid of it. It's doing no one any good sitting in my closet here. I think the trouble is that I feel like I spent all this time amassing it, and to just give it away makes me feel like I'm just going to have to start all over again. Pain. In. The. Ass.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

Though they're spread through several continents at this point, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone. I miss and love you all.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Kansas City, Here I Am

Yes, it's been too long since my last post. Spare me. I've been busy with school. And friends. And playing Farmville on Facebook (thank god that addiction is over). But here I am, back in Kansas City, town of my birth.

Officially, I'm not done with the semester. While classes have ended, I still have two papers and two exams to complete prior to starting up again. I haven't even begun to think about completing those papers yet. Oh well, after Christmas.

Really, the last month and a half has been like the other months, full of work, writing, reading, and--yes--partying*. A few of the Americans (along with a couple of Brits and a Canadian) hosted a wonderful thanksgiving meal. Turkey and all. My responsibility was the cranberry sauce. Unfortunately, the supermarkets I went to were out of whole cranberries, so I had to buy the jarred stuff (no cans here, my friends!). I may have overbought a bit. With more-or-less a liter and a half of the stuff. Lets just say there's been a lot of straw-cranberry yogurt for the last few weeks. Being the night before a presentation, naturally I stayed up far too late, and was completely knackered by the time the presentation rolled around. Our group,instead of a traditional powerpoint decided to do it in talk-show format, with yours truly in the role of Oprah. It went off like a charm. Lots of fun.

Other than birthdays for friends, a few late nights, and a great Christmas meal, it's been lots of paper writing and reading. Though I've learned a lot this semester, theory-wise, I'm really to dive into more practical application next semester. Lets just hope the professors pull through.

So on the 14th, after a long night at one of my mates' house, I left for the states on a plane where the in-flight entertainment was malfunctioning. And boy, did the family next to me let the stewardess know about it. They got free Bloody Marys, I got a headache. Even trade, I suppose as I don't really like tomato juice. But, I was back in KC for a day and a half, then I left to see my friends in Chicago for a few. They held a rousing Christmas Cocktail party, replete myself taking off my trousers in the middle of the party (all in good fun, not drunken). So back to KC on the 20th for my parents' Channukah party, helping to paint the family room with my dad, and then Christmas Eve dinner tomorrow (yes, we celebrate both). On the 29th I'll head off to Vermont to spend New Years with friends and then down to NYC on the 1st to a wedding. Then to DC, then back to NYC to fly out. It's going to be fast and furious, but fun. But, I'm still looking forward to come back to Leeds and my friends there (though not to the mountain of work).

Hopefully in the next few days I'll get around to getting hoodies for my course (I'm slow on these things...sorry), and setting up my I've decided to take a new approach to blogging, and begin blogging again about whatever I feel like. Because, frankly, there isn't enough specifically about Leeds to excite me. So, I'll probably switch back to my other blog ( in the coming weeks. Or, you can go to the website once it's up and running.

Until then...MERRY CHRISTMAS, etc.

*I really hate that gerund. It's so non descriptive, since rarely am I actually going to a specific party. But, I often find myself doing the things that one does at a party when I go out (booze, dancing, saying inappropriate things, retracting inappropriate phrases, etc.) so I suppose it will have to suffice here for the sake of succinctness.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Night Plights

This week (6, if you're counting) began the start of my "reading week." Trust me, it's in quotes for a reason. The idea is that you can catch up on all the reading you've been slacking on over the past few weeks, and work on the hundreds of papers and group projects that will be due in the subsequent ones. Clearly they didn't consult me when coming up with this brilliant idea.

After long nights last Friday and Saturday, Sunday promised to be a day of reflection (ha!) and reading. Not so much. Turns out my body likes this thing called "sleep" and focusing on anything longer than a blog post turned out to be a complete hassle. I did, however, manage to write about 4 paragraphs for a group project, though. That roughly works out to 1 paragraph for every 4 hours I was awake. I'm a rock star.

Between the responsibilities of group projects, plus my unenviable ability to distract myself with shiny things, reading week has turned more into research week. I mean, I guess I cursorly read a few dozen articles, but did any of it stick? Guess.

Aside from the group meetings, the big project this week was writing a 2,500 word essay on the extent to which "the business case" can promote sustainable business practice. Let me tell you: the ideas I had...and then realized were dumb. Sure I can tell you why a business case is good. I can tell you how it should be used, but that question "to what extent" has tripped me up for most of my academic career. Give me a "how?" and I'm solid. "why?" even better. But "to what extent" causes me to inevitably throw up my hands and say "it just does, OKAY!?!?" Not an effective argument in a paper, apparently. So here I sit on Friday night, paper started, but without any direction. Yep, I've got sources. Yep, I've got points, but I cant seem to make them all go together. Unfortunately, my penchant for extended metaphor keeps getting in the way, and I end up with a bunch of really good points but no academic support. This kind of writing, it appears, is not my forte (pronounced FORT...get it right).

Speaking of my inability to write, I got back my first essay. And I did, well, alright. Mediocre really. I figured it wasn't going to be stellar (1500 words on "What is sustainable development?" Really?) but I assumed that the feedback would be good and give me areas to improve upon. I was wrong. Much of the commentary was contradictory and the parts that could have been good advice were so vague I really don't have any takeaways other than I need to define things better (note to professor: so do you). I'm actually not as upset with the grade as I am with the fact that I have no idea what to do with the comments. Hopefully talking them through will give me more insight, but I doubt it. When I talked to him today he seemed just as confused by them as I was. Good signs.

On the upside, I'm going climbing this weekend, so it should be a nice getaway from my seemingly endless ability to dwell on arbitrary judgments.

Also of note, though semi-unrelated, I've been thinking a lot about what I want to do when I graduate. For a while I was thinking of maybe exploring a PhD. Then maybe a consultant (again). I think what I really want to do is talk a lot (shocking) and think, plus play around on the internet a lot. So I'm thinking now that the way forward may be something in publishing field. I'm not a stellar writer, and I have no portfolio to speak of so this task may be a bit more difficult than I want it to be, but right now, I'm thinking that maybe something in the vein of an online magazine/blog/site about sustainability could be a good career move. We shall see though. All I know is I have to do something more creative than making PowerPoints and work-plans all day. Thirty more years of that, and I'll end up a depressed, philandering alcoholic whose sole respite is the occasional phone call from a long-lost friend. Anyway, happy weekend!

Friday, October 30, 2009

All Hallows' Eve-Eve

On this Mischief Night (Devil's Night for your Michiganders), I find it necessary to reflect on Halloweens of yore, and my weird traditions/memories.

Over here, Halloween is primarily a childrens' holiday, sure some people dress up, but since fancy dress (costumes) are a common occurrence on any night of the week (I kid you not), I suppose it doesn't hold the same special place in the hearts of the English, though apparently it's a bigger holiday in Scotland and Ireland. MASSIVE fail England. Massive fail. Clearly, Halloween is one of the best nights of the year.

Despite the fact that in America, for women, it has largely become a chance to experiment with various careers (Slutty Nurse, Slutty Librarian, Slutty Sanitation Worker, etc.), it does remain one of the few times when you can express your creativity in a real and meaningful way. I love the unexpected costumes that people come up with. Case in point, my sister went as a towel rack (two towels attached to a bra). Yet others have gone as "The Fall of Man" by Magritte. Absolutely brilliant.

I tend to have wonderful May. Sadly, despite my efforts to remember these, I inevitably fail. I was considering going as Max from "Where the Wild Things Are." Unfortunately, my onezee didn't come in time (oh, don't worry, it's still on the way). Plus I was facebook-threatened if I went as that. So I didn't. Instead I'm going as Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. For those of you who haven't seen the incredible movie that is American Psycho, behold (I can't embed):

I'm excited. I even printed the business cards:

I suppose it reflects something in me that I'm a little OCD about the details. OK, so the font isn't Cillian Rail, but I did manage to get something similar. Also, I found the Four! album cover and have my CD printed and ready to go. So it's not the most creative, but it works given my limited resources.

Last year, I was a banana split, the year before, a hipster, other years I've been sports themes, usually due to a lack of forethought. But, I always get really excited about Halloween. By far, my best costume ever was a man in the shower, done when I was in elementary school (Briarwood Bulldogs!!!). My mom, dad, and I built a shower curtain around me that I could wear, with a shower head and cascades of glittering blue foil in the place of water. It was quite the costume. I may just repurpose it again if I get the chance.

Halloween in elementary school was always something special. The day would start out with the music teacher coming on over the school's PA system and playing a recording of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Then, the day's announcements would be read in a commensurately scary tone. After that it was onto the classroom Halloween party, provided by the PTA mothers. Pumpkin cookies (natch), apple cider with dry ice, and likely a game of bobbing for apples or some such activity would take place. When we had library on said day, we knew we were in for a treat. Though we had some pretty sweet (for the time) technology, like Laserdiscs, the scarier movies were always played on that little tape/filmstrip combo. Essentially it was a film projector where you would play a tape of someone reading the story, and at the "ding" you would advance the frame. It was AMAZING. Trust me. Anyway, it was usually something like something about a haunted house or, my favorite, Saint-Saen's Danse Macabre, with oil paintings to accompany the music. A must-see for any 10 year-old. The younger grades would have a costume parade, full of pride in their various costumes of dragons, witches, ghosts, TV sets, and M&Ms. It was always one of the best days of the year.

At some point Halloween became less about the day and more about the night, with the obligatory parties, jungle juice, and flip cup tournaments. Though it's changed in the way it's celebrated, I still get giddy on the day before, hunting around for that perfect accessory. The one that makes the whole costume. I can't wait to see the creativity on display tonight.

Even though it's the night before, since the party is tonight, Happy Halloween. Shortly, I'm off to an old gothic house to celebrate with my coursemates and friends here. To my DC/Chicago/NYC/KC people, wish I could be there with you all. I'll be sure to raise a glass tonight. On to show these Brits how it's done!


Monday, October 26, 2009


Well, I finally managed to get a few pictures of my flat and of the campus. It's not much but I'll try and get more in the next few weeks. To take you on a tour from campus back to my flat, I present...

Our student services center

One of the older buildings on campus, which forms the Clothworker's Court

The park I walk across (Hyde Park)

The street where I live

View of flat from the outside.

My kitchen

My Room (some things never change)

Classes are beginning to get a bit more interesting. Although Research Methods continues to be a snoozer, we do have a few essays in the next few weeks, so I suppose I need to start getting prepped for that. Unfortunately, I tend to write best under pressure, so I fear what the days before the essays are due will bring. On the upside, my shipment of wine from the Naked Wines should be coming soon. 6 bottles of (hopefully) decent wine at £6 each. Sounded like a deal to me. And a coping mechanism for the coming weeks.

Next week is reading week meaning no classes and a chance to catch up on all the readings we haven't been doing. In reality I'm sure I'll spend a few days reading/writing, but I'm hoping to take a day trip somewhere. Maybe to York or Durham if the weather holds.

The weather has turned fully into fall. It's started to get a bit grey and rainy, but the leaves are changing, so it presents nice contrast, at least. Plus, it's a good excuse to eat heavier foods (storing my fat for winter).

Speaking of fat, while I've been running on a (semi) regular basis, I have yet to actually go to the school gym. This is primarily because it's terrible. Seriously, it looks like the weight room in our high school. I'm glad they're building a new one, but for now, it's still daunting to have to go, sign in, and work out on one of the 20 treadmills they have--shared between 30,000 students. Maybe I'll go tomorrow. Then again, maybe I'll just eat. I'm much better at it.

Friday I finally made it to the theater downtown to go and see The Fantastic Mr. Fox with a friend. It was comforting to know that the overcharging of concessions has made it to England. 1 student ticket, a small popcorn--which could have fed a small village--and a "small" coke (same story) set me back £12. That's about $20 for those of you counting. I think I'll skip the food next time.

I didn't mention it in my previous post, but the place where I saw The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is one of the only gas-lit movie theaters left in the UK. It's pretty cool. A balcony, non-stadium seating, a lack of cupholders, and the soft flicker of gas-light (seriously) during the film give the whole experience a very pre-WW1 feel. I think I'll be attending there more often.

In other news, my upstairs neighbor continues to blast his subwoofer right above my head. As I'm writing this. Ugh. Sadly, I don't think reasoning with him is going to do much. So I'll just use my tried and true technique of banging on the ceiling. Fortunately, he has really good taste in music. Unfortunately, I don't want to listen to the bassline of the new(ish) Animal Collective CD five times in a row.

I did just find out that William Fitzsimmons is coming to Manchester on November 13th so I may try and go see that if I can recruit anyone to go.

Also, I have my debit card! Finally. But I got locked out with my PIN number, so I can only buy things online until my replacement PIN comes.

The subwoofer is getting to me now. Time to go punch some holes in my ceiling. You think I could just leave headphones at his doorstep? Also of note. He sounds like a bleating sheep when singing. Just sayin'.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On Food

To be honest, the food here has not taken much getting used to. There are certainly more meat pies and their variations (pasties, etc.), but aside from a few things, I'm able to get most of what I need/want. I can't say much about the restaurant scene, as I've only been to two or three thus far, but the curries are AMAZING and generally, the quality of prepackaged foods are years ahead of what we have in the U.S. Also, food is far less expensive.

I'm not going to get into a rant about food politics, though I certainly could, but needless to say, it is far more likely that someone of limited means could buy a healthy meal here than in the U.S. What's interesting is that looking at people and the kinds of food they have in their carts, even though healthier options are cheaper, people still load up on the processed carbs in the form of sausage rolls, bakewell tarts, and mince pies. This is making me somewhat reconsider my stance on food politics in America. Although I wish that the fruits and veg were cheaper at my local Whole Foods or Safeway in the States, there is a very large cultural barrier that may never be broken down when it comes to getting people to eat healthy. Simply put, tradition often rules out over logic. I truly think the only way that food policies could get people to eat healthier would be to tax the hell out of the foods with higher calorie/fat ratios, to discourage people from eating them. This is not something that will likely happen anytime soon, though. Nor should it. In spite of what the hall monitor in me wants.

What is nice though is that I don't have to worry about high fructose corn syrup when I go to the store, since it's banned here. So many food companies have complained that they would have to reformulate all their brands and food prices will go up, etc. Given what I've seen, this doesn't seem to be the case, since most of those foods are produced globally. Honestly there's not THAT much difference in taste between an Oreo here and one in the States, I don't think most people would be able to tell the difference unless they were looking for it.

I know I said no food politics. I lied.

Anyway, I'm a big fan of the Indian food over here. It outranks the U.S. stuff by a mile. But given Britain's colonial dealings with India, I suppose it should. The pizza here is by-and-large pretty weak. I have yet to find a proper stonebaked pizza with the charred crust. I'm still feeling around for a decent sushi place. Unfortunately the "New York Maki Rolls" (whatever THAT is) at the sushi place on campus are pretty crap, though the fish itself isn't too bad. I haven't tried it here yet, but from what I hear, Mexican is pretty much a lost cause. And barbeque? Ha. I was pleasantly surprised by a nice Italian place only a few (30) minutes walk from me. I'll probably be spending more money than I should there.

Burgers, despite their ubiquity here, are generally pretty average. I'm not sure what the British definition of burger is, but in the states, it's generally meat, salt, pepper, and maybe a bit of garlic salt/onion powder. Apparently it's common to put in things like breadcrumbs, egg, and onion. To me, this is a meatball, but to each their own, I suppose. I did make a proper burger tonight, with Shake Shack sauce (nb: the sauce recipe is amazing, I highly recommend you try it), which was exciting. It was probably 90% of what I was expecting, though the meat was a bit different, and I can't find a Kosher dill here to save my life.

Also, I miss delis. I'm really considering opening up a (sustainable) kosher deli with decent pastrami here. Max's doesn't look to promising from what I can tell online. I have yet to head to Myers to see if I can procure some pastrami, but I'll probably head over there soon and bring back a proper deli sandwich for my coursemates. Hopefully they'll have kichel, my all time favourite jewish food (aside from mandel bread).

Either way, I'm slowly readjusting to my D.C. routine of cooking decent food. But it's hard with limited pots, pans, and cookware. I make do, though. At least I can find most of the same food.

So far, so good on the food front. I'm going to keep my eye out for decent mexican and sushi. I'm sure there's a proper pizza place SOMEWHERE. I continue to add to my list of British foods I don't (and probably will never) understand, like Salad Creme and various fermented yeast products. But, the pasties are amazing, the water is potable, and the veg is fresh.

Monday, October 19, 2009

One Month, One Post

It's been almost one month since my last post, but upon reading Paige's blog(ue), i am determined to write at least something to my slowly dwindling followers. Over the past month, I have certainly had the intention to write several times, yet friends, reading, or the overwhelming sense of there being too much to say has delayed me to this point. No more. Now, since we last left our hero...

Overall the move-in was rather painless. Aside from the unpleasant surprise of not having any plates/cups/cookware, things went rather smoothly. All I have to say is thank god for Wilkinson. It's more or less a midget Target, though without the good design. Luckily, glasses, cups, and plates can all be had for less than £1 per piece, so despite overspending on bedding, some comfort could be drawn from the 4 for £1 drinkware.

The first night, there was a "Pub Etiquette" social through the international office. Some lesson. More or less they said "don't push to the front of the bar, and order ale or lager." Gee, thanks for the tips. But despite the remedial lesson in alcohol consumption, I did manage to meet some new faces. Naturally, any time I heard an American accent, my ears perked and I introduced myself. Mind you, it's not as if I only talked to the Americans, but there's some commonality there, and many of them were grad students, so it was nice to find people my age, since many of the students at the pub were deceptively young. I ended up chatting with a few people, and we decided to head off to another bar--DryDock--which is, I kid you not, a ship on the side of the road. Too many pints later, I headed home with new friends in my phone and a sore liver.

International orientation continued throughout the week, with various seminars and meetups; some of which I attended, many of which I didn't. I think the week is primarily geared for people not from english-speaking countries, so much of the time was spent comisserating with my new friends. By the end of the week, I was registered, had done a tour of the city, and had a cadre of new friends, which inevitably led to many nights out at the pub/clubs. Typical freshman stuff. But all of it fun.

My flatmates had more or less all moved in (save for one) by the end of the first week, so we had the obligatory flatmate bonding over movies, food, and pints. All in all, I really enjoy my flatmates. All of us are quite different, but we all add perspective to the mix. Our final flatmate moved in the day before school began on the 28th. So five of us total, four of which are postgrads, three of which are from England, two of which are international, and one of which is a woman. Quite the diverse flat. We're like the UN, but with better style.

Classes started on the 28th (I think), after a day-long orientation to our program, a short group activity, and a trip out to Hebdon Bridge to see an old mill which was converted into a sustainable tourist attraction. It was nice to get back out into the countryside for a short hike, and getting to know my coursemates better was certainly beneficial, though, remembering names was not exactly the easiest thing. Thank God for facebook.

There are maybe 80 of us on the programme overall, but we're all in various sections, each varying in size. My section, Business Environment and Corporate Social Responsibility, has 12 people in it, many of us international. It's quite nice, too, that many people have worked for a bit, so I'm not the oldest person in my class (though I'm certainly in the running for that title).

Classes, thus far, have been rather uneventful. Most of us in the overall programe have about 60% of our classes together, so it's been nice to form a community. Since many, if not all of us, have the same Introduction to Sustainablility class, it was good to have others to commiserate with during our first essay: "What is Sustainable Development?." Now please, answer that in 1000 to 1500 words, using academic references. Ugh, what a disaster. Either way, I'm really enjoying the time with my coursemates. We all went out for a night after the essay was turned in (evidence of which has been appearing on Facebook). It's been nice to have a community within my course whom I can hang out with, as well as those outside of my course.

Other things I've done: went to see "Caucasian Chalk Circle" with a friend of a friend (who's now simply a friend), did several nights out, went to a proper Italian dinner, meet up with a friend from high school, saw a documentary at school, and, oh yes, rock climbed.

That's right. I'm a climber now. I have the shoes to prove it. And the chalk bag. So far I've only been on a few trips with the Mountaineering club, but it's been great fun. I like a lot of the people in the club, and though I'm quite terrible at the actual climbing, they're all very helpful to a novice such as myself. I'm sure pictures will follow at some point. Just this past weekend, we went to Northumberland for a weekend trip to climb a few crags. Though I fell off more often that I'd like to, I'm slowly getting a hang of the technique, and soon, I should be able to lead...something. We'll see.

Obviously, that's not the most comprehensive overview of all that's happened, but it'll have to do for now. More on life here later. Not much later hopefully.

Oh, and I saw The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus tonight with a few friends. Interesting movie, though more for the art direction than the actual acting. Still, I liked it. But I have weird taste in movies, so take that for what it's worth.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Moving In

So, after the zoo, gardens, drinking, and kittens (not in that order), I finally made my way to Leeds on Tuesday. Thankfully the ride back was much easier. Tons of space on the train for myself and my bags, and no delays. Delightful, really. I made it into the train station, dropped off my bags at the left luggage, and walked up to my leasing office to get my keys to the flat.

When I arrived, after a little confusion, I had keys in hand. Since I didn't have my bank card yet, because they forgot to copy my passport visa, I had to go to the bank and get a bankers draft. Fortunately, Danny, the chap who helped me the first time was there to scan in my visa and helped me get a bankers draft for no charge. Shockingly, the teller had a really good sense of humour, which made the whole experience--dare I say it?--enjoyable. With bankers draft in hand, I went back, paid my deposit, and gave them checks for the entire year. I guess they just cash it on the first of the month. Which actually seems to be a far more efficient way to do it. There was a weird thing with getting the keys. Something about them being unsure which keys were the right ones, so one of the guys from the office drove me to the flat to make sure I could get in and out. Nice man, and it was good to actually know where I was going. My first impression of the flat was that it was nice and clean, a bit like a small dorm. We have built-ins, so it kind of reminded me of the dorms at American. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, just a bit different from what I was expecting.

On the way back down to collect my luggage, I was hoping to stop in the Primark to get some cheap sheets. Unfortunately, while I saw the bags, I couldn't find the store. And, stupidly, didn't think to ask anyone. So, I went to British Home Store (BHS) to go get some sheets £125 later, I was ready to make my bed. So I overpaid. Egh, it was bound to happen. I grabbed a cab and took my bags and sheets, pillows, etc., back to the flat. My flatmate, Chris moved in, but didn't end up staying the night due to some mix up with the office. All in all, after my delicious (yeah) sandwich from the Sainsbury's up the road, I did a little exploring of the neighborhood. There's a mosque right near me, as long as a few grocery stores. The pubs mostly seem to be on the side streets, but there's a great park right next to my flat, and I'm only 10 minutes away from the uni! Score.

There's more to update, replete with descriptions of the flatmates, new friends, and all the fun that is international orientation. But that'll have to come later. Until then, cheerio!

March of the Tourists

Ah yes, the zoo. Well, one day (I forget which one now), I decided to go explore the Edinburgh Zoo. It's a nice little city zoo, and I'm sure had I been there on a day it was sunny it would have been lovely. Unfortunately, not many of the animals were out that day, and it was overcast, so the effect of animals behind bars was a little bit depressing. The zoo has the largest penguin enclosure in the world. And the penguins didn't really seem to mind the weather, so they were out in full force.

And what would a visit to the zoo be without the zebras and sea lions?

I really got a kick out of this sign, since, I'm pretty sure you would never see a publicly funded zoo acknowledging the human-monkey evolutionary link. Or maybe you would, but either way, I like the sexy stares the monkeys are giving each other.

So many updates, so little internet...

So, I clearly haven't kept up on the blogging recently. It's not for lack of want, but more for lack of internet in my flat. Unfortunately, no one has their internet unlocked in our flat, so naturally, I have to haul to uni to get online. So here I am, and here you are. Lucky you. Annnnway...

First order of business. Chrissy and Jamie got a kitten named Quincy (not Dave or Ichabod as were also discussed). Evidence of said kitten is below. It is quite cute and cuddly, despite my general aversion to these sorts of things (kittens aren't terribly rational creatures; I'm more of a dog man).

So aside from getting the kitten, we ended up going to the Royal Botanical Gardens, as well. It's an absolutely gorgeous place, full of flowers (natch) and other fun green things. I particularly enjoyed the glass houses (greenhouses). Not only was it very cool to be able to go through 10 different exhibits, but the smells were incredible. Some had this incredible, heady, flowery aroma, while others mad a very earthy, green scent that reminded me of walking through the perfume area in Macys. I highly recommend the visit should you go to Edinburgh. I'm going to post all the pics on Flickr eventually, but for now, here are a couple to satisfy your yen.

Well, this post is getting quite long, so I'll save the zoo for another post...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Pentlands

Yesterday (Friday), we went to the Pentland Hills, right outside of Edinburgh. After a bit of a bus ride, and a short walk on the road, we entered the park and hiked in and around the reservoir and along some really beautiful countryside. I’m easily impressed by large fields of golden wheat contrasted against a brilliant sky; so naturally, I took about 500 pictures of the same thing.

We took lunch in a little garden area next to a ranger station. It was a gorgeous day out, so the weather was perfect for dining al fresco.

After lunch, walked a bit more, making our way to Black Hill (named for obvious reasons), eventually making our way through muddy roads and over to the bus stop.

After a rousing debate over the state of health care in the U.S., we encountered a very, um, happy gentleman who proceeded to tell us about his house for sale and how much he hated Cleveland, Ohio (we had to agree). Soon the bus came, and we were on our way back into town.Once back in town at the University, we met up with a couple of Chrissy's mates at the pub, had some nice coversation, and played a game of darts. I started out strong, with a bullseye on my first round, but sadly, it was all downhill from there. Highlight--or lowlight--of the pub was trying Bacon Fries and Prawn Fries. Kind of disgusting, but eh, that's what you get for pre-packaged pub food. Back to the flat for some late night kebab and pizza, and then we settled down for an episode or two of Stargate SG-1, which is one of those terrible, but great shows. A show where 95% of the aliens speak English? Great. And terrible.

I'm getting ready to move into my own flat on Tuesday. Hopefully all will go swimmingly.

Going to Edinburgh

On Friday, September 4, I set off for Edinburgh to visit Chrissy and her fiancé, Jamie. I traveled to Edinburgh last year to visit them, and met up with my sister while there, so I had done a lot of the touristy things (Camera Obscura, Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, etc.). They just moved into a new flat in Portobello, right near the Firth of Forth (the sea, more or less). This explains the lack of internet, and consequently, the lack of posts for the last week or so. The train trip was a short hop to York, then a change for the train to Edinburgh. Much of the track that I was supposed to be riding on had been flooded the prior day, so I was naturally a bit worried about significant delays, but it had all been taken care of before I had to board my train, thankfully. The train to York was only about an hour, but it had been delayed by about 30 minutes (which meant there was no way I would make my connection), and we were constrained to the first three cars of the train. While this wouldn’t have been a huge deal had I had an overnight bag, with two large suitcases, it meant I basically had to stand for most of the trip. Not a huge deal, though, just a little annoying. After finding a new train from York to Edinburgh I was on my way, only about 20 minutes behind schedule. Luckily, there was room for my luggage, and seats on this train, so I was able to dive into my book The Botany of Desire (sounds sexy, but it’s just pop-science).

The trip was relatively uneventful, save for some slow going over a bit of high water, and I arrived in the station to find Chrissy and Jamie waiting for me. We took a cab back to their flat and promptly set about catching up, drinking wine, and eating a home-cooked meal. They have a guest room/office in their new flat, so I was able to crash in my own room. Bonus. Oh, I should mention that after I set my things down, we went to go look at a new kitten they are getting. While the kitten was supposed to be picked up on the 25th, it’s mother died, so we’re getting the cat today! Bring on the Zyrtec!

During the day, on Saturday, we went to look for new furniture for their apartment and did a bit of shopping. Sunday, we went to the IKEA to do some major furniture shopping. God, I love IKEA. I never fail to get excited and overwhelmed, no matter how often I go there. That night, we went and watched fireworks from a room at the University. The fireworks capped off the Edinburgh International Festival, which unfortunately, I just missed, but the fireworks were set to music, which was pretty cool. Afterwards, we went to a pub and met up with some of her friends from the linguistics program, whereupon I had the game of cricket explained to me. None of it still makes sense, but at least I have an introduction.

Chrissy and I went into the city center on Monday to go to the bank and deposit my wad of cash, do some milling about, and have a bit of a late lunch. We finally got to some Internet when we went over to the university, which was like being hooked up to an IV drip. Much of the time we’ve just been hanging out, which has been a really nice vacation. Since I now have a bank account, and everything seems to be going along with my housing (we’ll see on Tuesday), I’m much more relaxed now than I was before I left.

Money, Money, Money

And I’m back. Catch up time, I suppose. The day before I left Leeds, I secured a phone and went in to Barclays to set up a bank account. Unfortunately, because I’m an international student, I had to make an appointment, and also get a “bank letter” from the school, which turned out to just be a visa letter I already had. So I went in last Friday for my appointment and with very little difficulty was able to set up a bank account. The only downside is that I have to fund it with £1000. I was planning on setting it up with my money from the loans, once they were distributed, but due to timing, the money ended up coming out of my U.S. account…in £300 chunks. I assumed this wouldn’t be a big problem, I figured I’d just take it out of the ATM, no problem. Wachovia, apparently thought differently. Before I left, I had set my card to “international,” it seems this didn’t apply to ATMs. So after my mom called Wachovia, and then they called me, we got it all sorted out with the fraud department. £1000 later, I was set to go. Everything got deposited in the Barclay’s account and, although I’m still waiting on my debit card (which would make things easier), I do have checks, so at least I can pay my rent. While waiting for my appointment, I did have a chance to check out more of the campus. I finally found my school, which was exciting. Though, since it appears to still be under renovation, I wasn’t able to actually go in and check things out. From the outside, it looks pretty normal, though. The campus is rather interesting. There is a real mix of early 20th century brick buildings and some newer, more modernist architecture. A few of the buildings remind me of the Lloyds of London building, but they’re all significantly bigger than those on AU’s campus. Luckily, the campus is relatively compact, so it should be pretty easy to navigate once I get a feel for everything.

Monday, September 7, 2009

In Edinburgh

Well, I'm currently in Edinburgh, visiting Chrissy; however, due to lack of the internet at the flat right now (moving, etc.) I'll have to write about my adventures thus far a bit later.

Keep refreshing every 5 seconds

Good news, though, I was able to get a bank account. Of course there's bad/mediocre news, so I'll just have to keep you guessing until I fully form my thoughts. Which may take a while. Either way, Scotland is great, and I think I'm addicted to 99 cent cookie packages and Maynard's Winegums. Also, please note that Dr. Pepper is made with actual sugar here, which I had forgotten about. It's like a Dublin Dr. Pepper in England. Except Dublin is in Ireland and Texas, and now I'm just confused. 'Till later...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hipsters...You Knew It Was Coming

On a side note (this whole blog is kind of a side note, no?) I found the hipsters. Clearly this will not be shocking to any of you who know me, but still, it is exciting for me. Even better, they seem to congregate near the University of Leeds. And Subway. I can't figure that one out, other than there are some lost kids from Williamsburg that hopped on to the wrong flight and were hungry for a sandwich.

While I figured it would be potentially difficult to spot them, given, the generally tighter and more eclectic fashion sense of the UK, I must have hipster-dar. Seriously, I spotted one the minute I went on to campus. It's like hunting for big game, except with flannel. And Beards. And peg-leg jeans.

I shall attempt to find photos of them in their natural habitat soon enough.

(...starts playing Animal Collective

Other things I enjoy

The most notification I ever had in DC that it was midnight was when I ran to the metro, only to find the last train had left and the station was closed. Cut to Leeds: church bells at midnight.

Things I Appreciate

Signs in the UK tend to be more courteous to their readers. Witness the sign on the leisure/fitness center: "Would all guests please show their picture identification to the attendant." Much nicer than "All guests MUST show ID before entering the premises." It's the little things, really.


After the anticipation, e-mails, flights, trains, and blog posts, I'm finally settled (kinda) in Leeds. The flight from Detroit to Amsterdam was largely uneventful, aside from having my seat switched on me. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to sleep (note to self: bring Ambien next time) but I did catch up on "The Proposal" and "Star Trek." By the point we landed, I was ready to go to sleep, but the airplane gods had other plans. Those plans included 5 hours in the Amsterdam airport. The flight wasn't delayed, but Northwest had changed my flight so many times that what was supposed to be a 2 hour layover became 5. So I ended up mucking about for a while until my short flight to Manchester, whereupon takeoff, I promptly passed out. I think it was when we were on the tarmac, waiting to board the plane that I had my "oh shit" moment and realized that yes, I was actually going to be living in the UK for 1+ years. Weird.

After a train ride of a little over 1 hour, I finally arrived in Leeds. When I got in the taxi, the driver mumbled something, but I couldn't quite understand him. When we arrived at the hotel I finally understood. It seems my hotel is all of 2 blocks away from the train station. Perhaps I should have thought about this ahead of time and just walked. Oh well, it saved me from having to drag my bags all around.

I checked in, set my bags down, took a shower, and promptly poured myself a cup of tea (gotta get in the spirit). After a short nap, I took to task #1: getting a mobile phone. I decided to go the pay-as-you-go route, since it seemed the easiest. Well, at least the concept seemed easy. While there aren't appreciably more major carriers in the UK than in the U.S., they all have varying "top-up" specials going. I honestly had no idea which to choose. I went into all the major shops, but at only one (O2) did someone offer to help me. Ugh, I'm not sure if this is a british thing or not (I'm assuming its more of a mobile phone store thing), but if I'm standing there, offer to help me! The phone selection was, to borrow a line from 10 Things I Hate About You, "whelming." Lots of poor choices, and I was still unsure about the company. Did I want 300 free texts, or free mobile internet? Free in-network calls or 100 free minutes? While I was glad to have all the bonus offers, it all gets a bit confusing. I decided to hold off and do a little more research.

On the way I home I decided to stop into a pub for a pint in the hope of a little human interaction. I'm not sure what I was thinking, since I was feeling a bit out of sorts anyway, but going to a pub by yourself in an unfamiliar city is not so much fun, especially when everyone's with their friends (mates) already. Ergo, no talkie. I drank my pint as fast as I could, stopped at the noodle shop for some thai (naturally) and headed home to eat my take away. All in all, I felt pretty unaccomplished, very American, and totally unfamiliar. I resolved to go to the gym, which I think was a good idea since I knew it was the one thing I could definitively accomplish.

Anyonemileonthebike, I had a great nights sleep and resolved to get my phone. After a bit of research this morning, I got my crappy phone. I decided on Virgin Mobile since I'm a history buff and I can only assume it was the same mobile the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I, used. That, and I get free mobile internet. I went into Phones4U to get my phone. Tried to pay for it on the old Amex, since there was a discount, but apparently, despite having the appearance of a smart chip in the card, I actually don't. Out came the cash and away went the discount. Oh well, 34 pounds (I need to find that symbol on my computer) later, I was the proud owner of the same quality phone I had six years ago. Eh, all it has to do is text, and make a few calls. And help me Google when I get lost.

I did end up exploring a bit, however, and walked up to the university, trying to get a bank account and look around the campus. Unfortunately, you have to have an appointment with the bank to open a new account. Seems a little odd, but hopefully, after my appointment tomorrow, I'll have a new Barclay's account. I did have to get a bank letter, though, from the university, which, like everything, was a process, not a difficult one, mind you, but it just meant more lines. Letter in hand, I explored the local scenery. The campus is just one big maze of steps, limestone, and brick. I'm sure in time I'll get used to it, but for right then, it was confusing as hell. I did manage to find Woodhouse Moor (big park) and a cemetery (score!) along with the student union. I still have no idea where my school building is. I mean, I saw it on the map and everything, but I couldn't find it for my life. On the way back, I had time to think and reflect on my whole day and a half here, so here are my first impressions:

  • No one wears sunglasses. I find this odd, because a) at times there is sun, hence the need for protection and b) the sun through the clouds gets awfully bright
  • British people LOVE to queue up. Jesus, everywhere I went there was a queue. I'm sure that at some point I'll encounter a queue for a queue and I'll just go insane.
  • Leeds supposedly has a financial district. The only evidence I have found thus far are a large number of people in suits.
  • Leeds has great shopping arcades. I mean, really, its the way it should be: pedestrian only, large indoor and outdoor streets lined with shops.
  • It seems there are a lot of clubs and it's the primary way to go out. This may be a problem as I dance like a robot-monkey on redbull.
  • Good food can be found for cheap. Full meals for 3 pounds. Glorious.
  • Marks & Spencer's Food Hall. Enough said.
  • Not having to tip on a pint is awesome.
  • It rains. A lot. But it's really schizophrenic. It'll rain for 5 minutes, then stop for 10. I suppose that's why people just ignore it.
Well it's off to get a bank account (hopefully) tomorrow, check out of my hotel, then I'm on my way to Edinburgh to see Chrissy. I can't wait.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Orbitz FAIL

Hey Orbitz, next time, when I select a seat on a plane, how about you actually let me have it? Just an FYI, 18-F isn't an aisle's a small valley in the middle of two mountains of flesh. K? Thanks.

My Life In Two Bags

After all the prepping, packing, waiting, calling, and Facebooking, I'm finally off to Leeds in a few hours. First stop: Detroit. Then it's off to Amsterdam, a 3 hour layover and a short commuter flight to Manchester. From there I'll hop on a bus or train to Leeds and settle into my hotel for a couple of days.

I hope they don't have a heatwave--I only have one pair of shorts.

Last night, after watching a couple of episodes of Mad Men with my parents, my mom and I set about packing up my life for the next year. Naturally, very little was packed (or unpacked from the boxes I shipped home, for that matter) prior to her help. But after laying out clothes, considering what I really needed, we managed to get it all down to two bags. My life in two bags. Weird.

So now it's off for a long day of travel, some bad airline food, and crappy romantic comedies from the in-flight entertainment.

I'm really looking forward to that hotel room.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Travels with Sallie

Do you ever have that feeling where you just don't stop? I feel like I'm in the eye of the hurricane right now, waiting for the next storm to pick up. It was a whirlwind couple of months prior to leaving DC, with some late-night packing (courtesy of my sister), a few too-long nights with friends, and a few crazy days at work.

After leaving DC on the 7th, I went to Chicago to visit a few friends. The original plan was Chicago for a week, then back home to Kansas City for a couple of weeks before getting on my plane across the ocean (pond, whatever). Unfortunately, as is often the case, an interloper appeared--Sallie Mae. Oh, I know she seems sweet and harmless, but she can be a demon of inefficiency when she wants to be.

Although the application/approval process for my loans was relatively easy, online and such, I didn't realize until it was too late that I needed a hard copy of my loan approval letter to accompany my visa. This shouldn't have been too difficult as I had a PDF. Our international office informed me that I would actually need a letter straight from Sallie Mae...on letterhead. With little time left (early July), I figured I could get the letter quickly, postmark my visa application, and get it back in time. This did not happen. After being tossed around to several people, I got someone on the line who said they would send the letter. Great, right? Wrong. When I got the letter a few days later, it was on letterhead, but was the statement of my current loans. Ugh. So another round, and a new person. She apologized and said they'd send a new letter. After one hadn't appeared for a few days, I called--concerned/pissed--knowing that time was running out. Turns out they denied my request for a letter. I'm not quite sure how they can deny a letter for a loan you already have, but they did. By this point, time is really tight. Had I had the letter originally, I would have been fine, but by now, it was looking like I would have to push back my flight. After leaving messages and getting tossed around again (round 3!), I finally got a message from a very nice woman in the middle of a trip to the newport folk festival with my sister. In between driving in the rain to Newport, and with some transcription help from sis, I got a hold of her. She said she could overnight the letter (huzzah!) but I would need a UPS account (ugh). All I can say is thank god for online applications that work on Good job guys. So I have the letter sent to my parents because due to the timing, I was out of my apartment. Letter arrives, parents overnight. Case closed? No. It doesn't have the account number on it, which, I may or may not need (the guidance on these things is kind of specific, but not). So round 4, nice lady (who is now programmed into my phone as "Sallie Mae") overnights me another letter. With account number. Finally, the golden compass/chalice/horcrux/whatever.

By this point I had given up all hope of getting a visa quickly. LUCKILY I'm apparently not the only one with documentation problems, among many others. Turns out you can stand in line and get your visa the same day! And in Chicago, where I would be! But, my "home office" was NYC; hence, plane ticket to NYC. And then back to Chicago, and back to KC. This is how Sallie Mae became an interloper on my vacation. For those of you who are still with me, allow a visual (kind of):

DC...(Crap, no letter!)...(Round 1--wrong letter)...(Round 2--denied letter)...Move out of Apartment...Newport Folk Festival...(Round 3--letter! No account number)...DC...Chicago...(Round 4--letter!)...NYC...Chicago...Kansas City.

And so now I'm back in Kansas City for a couple of weeks, hanging out with my parents and staying up late like I used to. Finally catching up on life and working on getting my housing situation squared away (more later). So after watching a movie with the 'rents tonight, I'm left with a stack of 6 month old magazines I've been meaning to get to, 12 boxes of clothes, books, and junk, 1 passport, 1 plane ticket to go, and 1 visa.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Whole Mess of Songs

For those who were unable to come on Friday or didn't get a copy, below is the track list from the "A Whole Mess of Songs" mix.

You can access the iMix from iTunes here. I'll try to find free copies and update the post with links later.

  1. Major Tom / Shiny Toy Guns
  2. You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go / Madeleine Peyroux
  3. Tables And Chairs / Andrew Bird
  4. Stay Humble / Tyler James
  5. O Valencia! / The Decemberists
  6. A Death Waltz / Jay Brannan
  7. After Afterall / William Fitzsimmons
  8. Brown Eyes / Andy Davis
  9. Saro / Sam Amidon
  10. The Avalanche / Sufjan Stevens
  11. February / Barnaby Bright
  12. Sing, Theresa Says / Greg Laswell
  13. Hard Luck Tom / The Silver Seas
  14. 1901 / Phoenix
  15. Bay Springs Road / Charlie Mars
  16. Brother Sport / Animal Collective
  17. Snowblind / +/- {Plus/Minus}
  18. Gobbledigook / Sigur Rós
  19. The Opposite of Hallelujah / Jens Lekman
  20. Fake Empire / The National