Saturday, October 20, 2007

Help! Part Two

In the previous post I talked about my quandary over what courses to take next semester and that the whole point of the issue is to get ready to do study abroad next year. But the truth of the matter is that now I am also in a quandary over whether I really want to do study abroad next year or not. Well, that's not quite true. I want to do study abroad next year. But I also really want to stay in Pittsburgh next year. I want to do crew and get an apartment with my friends and just chill here in the states for awhile.

I know that if I go, when I go, I won't regret it and will settle into life in Japan and make friends there and learn lots of Japanese. For my ultimate goal of becoming an interpreter, it would be the best thing. But at the same time I will miss things here. I'm afraid that friendships will move and develop and when I come back there won't be a place for me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


I made the appointment to meet with my adviser and register for classes early in November, which is screaming up on us. I'm having a really tough time figuring out my schedule for next semester, and we talked for a long time during my pre-registration advising
appointment, and then I made a separate appointment and met with the Japanese major adviser.

My essential quandry is this: I'm seriously considering (trying my hardest) to do a study abroad program next year in Japan. It's a special one that was a major factor in my coming to Pitt at all: you go and enroll for a year as a regular Japanese student, taking all your courses in Japanese and staying in an apartment (as opposed to a homestay). So this next semester will be essential in preparing for that. Should I continue my course of this semester and take fourth year Japanese, which focuses on reading and hardly any speaking, while also taking third year Japanese, which is entirely review for me but involves lots of speaking practice? If I do that, I won't be able to take the class on Japanese language acquisition that my current fourth year professor, Nishi, is teaching because of time conflicts. She is a visiting professor for this year: the course is a one-time only offering, and I like her very much and would love to have two classes with her. Also, if I take third year Japanese I would not be able to take Classical Japanese (which is offered every spring semester) but I would be able to take Arabic with my very good friend who I take Arabic with now.

So if I don't take third year Japanese and take the language acquisition course, I could take
Classical Japanese. I would then have to take a different section of Arabic, probably the same one as someone on the floor who I don't feel very comfortable with, which would be incredibly awkward and not enjoyable at all.

Another thing to take into consideration is that I really don't enjoy my third year class at all. Since it's review, it's not really interesting or difficult, but the method of instruction drives me up a wall. Everything is structured around memorizing conversations that are set out in the book, with nearly no original speaking involved at all. Where I previously would study with my teacher and sit down and have a half hour conversation, I am now reduced to sitting staring into space for ten or fifteen minutes until it's time for my turn to engage in this little exchange:

Teacher: Try pushing this button.
Me: What happens when I push the button?

Return to staring into space. I have more to say about this method of teaching, but that's for a different post. The point is that I don't like it but I wonder if it's good for my speaking anyway, and whether I'm leaning towards not taking the continuation of the course next semester because I feel that the schedule without it would be better for my Japanese or because I dislike it so much.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Happy Tuesday

The sun was setting behind the clouds, lighting the sky in soft muted colors of blues and pinks as a misty rain fell intermittenly. Occasionally a dark line of geese would pass us, flying faster than we could ever move the boat, and out of the corner of my eye I can see that among the green of the trees lining the river, a tint of gold has begun to appear.

I shake my head a little and a bead of sweat goes by my eye, but no time to wipe it away. "Seat number six, faster with the hands and arms! You are late!" comes the coach's call, and I concentrate, working with everything, mind and body. The treasured, hoped for words come like audible gold: "Good job, seat number six."

And for that one moment, the world is perfect.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Highs, Lows

High: leaving the Islamic Civilization classroom knowing that all that studying I did? It paid off.

Low: no matter how much I searched my room, with other people helping, I couldn't find my ATM card

High: sitting on the top bunk in a friend's room, eating ice cream and watching this week's episode of NCIS

Low: 12:30 in the morning when there is still hours of homework left to do and that feeling as if the weight is going to crush me

High: checking my email, one last time, at three thirty when I finish the homework and discover emails from my old Japanese teacher and old Japanese host mother waiting for me.

All in the same 24 hours...

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Procrastination Nation

I have a midterm on Thursday in my Islamic Civilization class. So instead of studying like mad*, I'm procrastinating by reading articles on line and then writing about them here (this particular article comes to my attention courtesy of Phil), who is a wonderful procrastination resource.

I had my pre-registration advising meeting today (hang on, I will connect these paragraphs), which was good but a little frustrating for reasons at the moment irrelevant. However, the point is that next semester I have to take a course entitled Seminar in Composition, wherein, if you can't tell from the title, we get to learn how to write a paper, and have to write one every week.

Going back to Phil and this article, which you should go read (especially if you're procrastinating or a programmer. Or a procrastinating programmer). Now, I am not a programmer, and the inner workings of most things computer related are to me a mystery I am content to leave alone. But this really jumped out at me. The writer here is talking about writing specs, which as far as I can tell from this article is something like a roadmap/plan about what you're going to code in your programming project, and why you should write one. He then goes on to say,

So why don't people write specs? It's not to save time, because it doesn't, and I think most coders recognize this ... I think it's because so many people don't like to write. Staring at a blank screen is horribly frustrating. Personally, I overcame my fear of writing by taking a class in college that required a 3-5 page essay once a week. Writing is a muscle. The more you write, the more you'll be able to write.

Which brings me back around to Seminar in Composition. And here, people, from the mouth of a programmer, of all types of people, is the reason why we have to take this class. Turns out it has all sorts of usefulness and real life applications, argh argh argh.

I really wanted to complain about it, too.

* I am studying for this test! I have a six page study guide that is mostly memorized already to prove it! I'm just taking a break. So nobody get mad at me. I will PWN this test with awesome strength.

Monday, October 1, 2007

And there Was General Rejoicing Throughtout The Land

When you open the mailbox, and there is a package for you, there is a pink card that says "There is a package waiting for you. Present this card to collect your package." Happiest thing to get ever, except that usually for me it's just a newsletter or something from church that's too big to fit in the little mailbox. So I wasn't actually that excited to get my little pink slip.

And then the lady in the mail room handed me a big package! And I was all, wait, what could it be?! And there was a shoebox inside! And inside the shoebox was not shoes but (drumroll please)


I was so excited! My grandmother sent me food! And, okay, my grandmother is, honestly speaking, not a good cook but everyone else without my particularness about baked goods has been eating the loaf of something bread without too many complaints. The group of people I hang out with most spends alot of time in the little "kitchenette" and bring in all the cookies and brownies and things that their parents send them to share. And I've been starting to feel guilty about always eating other people's food and not having anything to share. But My Grandmother sent me a shoebox with food! And I fed people with an interesting blueberry nut bread loaf thing and popcorn~!

My grandmother sent me a package :-D :-D :-D with food inside :-D :-D :-D

My grandmother loves me.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

I still can't dance

But I can pretend I can! Because we went swing dancing last night!

We arrived at 730 for the 8:00 lesson, and stood around in the foyer of the dance floor doing one of my favorite things in the world: being loud and nuisance-y if there had been anyone around to be a nuisance to. But there was only one of two older gentlemen and the musicians and we didn't bother them too much. There were arguments about binary, however, until eight when the lesson started. We learned the basic step and three turns, the Charleston and the Cha-Cha Slide by nine o clock and then the band started and chaos ensued.

Even if I was really bad (and I was), it was great fun. And then, because I'm sick with a head cold, I went home to bed.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I should be doing homework right now.

This could alternatively be titled, Marie Gets Smacked Down By Her Islamic Civilization Teacher.

This semester I'm taking a course called Intro to Islamic Civilization, which so far has been history of the Islamic religion, and today in class we covered things like how Islamic law developed. This is an 80 person lecture class, but the teacher still encourages participation--in fact, it's around 15% of our grade. So there is a good bit of question and answer going on.

Question: Do non-Muslims come under Muslim courts?
Answer: For most civil things they have their own community courts

Question: What happens when a Muslim and a non-Muslim have problems--say, a non-Muslim murders a Muslim.
Answer: That would come under the Sharia (Muslim courts). Anything involving Muslims comes under Sharia.

So I sit there and ponder that little exchange (btw, those weren't my questions). Much brou-ha-ha is made in our textbook about the Islamic ideals of equality and justice. So I raise my hand and ask:

"What about the other way around? If a Muslim were to hurt a non-Muslim...?"
"That would be Sharia. Everything with Muslims is Sharia."
"I meant, what chance would the non-Muslim have of being heard...?"


"How are Muslims treated in Europe? What chance would a Muslim have outside Muslim lands? Don't ask that. Don't ask charged questions." And then she changed the subject while I sat there feeling a little stunned. I'd like to say that I looked studious and unflustered, but in truth I probably either had bright red ears or an open mouth. Possibly both. I've never had a teacher tell me not to ask charged questions. Irrelevant questions, maybe, but I've never been told to avoid questions that made the teacher feel uncomfortable.

I have a personality such that my initial reaction to this situation is to be embarrassed and feel bad about myself. I went to the TA's office hours after lecture (because I am lost on this week's material), and the first thing he told me was to keep asking those kinds of questions.

If I hadn't gone to office hours, if he had reinforced what the teacher had said, I'm not sure I would have said anything in that class ever again. Now, after a day of thinking about it, I'm--not mad, exactly, but something close to it. Of all places, university should be a place where you're free to ask questions...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Row Row Row Your Boat

Row, Row, Row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily merrily merrily merrily
Life is but a ...cucumber

(cucumber, fyi, because that's what my father used to sing to us and because of all the things life is, a dream is not one of them. Crazy, yes. Busy, yes. Fun, yes. A dream, no.)

Today marks the start of the second week of rowing on the water. Last week, I didn't know what I was doing, what all the words mean, or how the heck this group of uncoordinated strangers is going to turn into a crew team. I think I can see the beginning of it, now. I still only vaguely know what's going on (by the end of Saturday practice, though, I wasn't doing too badly: at least vastly improved over the beginning of Saturday practice). Our first race (regatta) is in three weeks.

We're learning together: rowing vocabulary, like "port" and "starboard" and "wain off" (stop NOW) "let it run" (stop) and "stroke" and "catch"; and how rowing on the water is from the rowing machine.

Also, the last weekend in October the team will be heading to Philadelphia to race on the Schukyll. :-)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

>insert pithy title here<

It seemed appropriate that it was pouring bucketfuls of rain this morning when I got up. With the blinds closed, it was as dark in our room at nine o clock as it was in the middle of the night--a little bit darker, perhaps, since the bright floodlight located just outside our window was turned off.*

But I didn't even realize the date until yesterday when I got a homework assignment with the due date, 9/11, written on the top. I've been so busy with school and crew and social things that I've lost track of the days, and today is like any other Tuesday except for the date at the top of my notes for Islamic Civilization class. And I wonder to myself whether or not that's right, whether or not I should mark the day somehow.

I really don't know.

*this floodlight is bright enough that I don't actually need my bedside lamp to read before I go to bed.

Monday, September 10, 2007

I Have A Question!

When you stood up in your micro mini skirt, four inch heels, and tight tube top, was it wrong of me to laugh on the inside when you said you wanted to learn Arabic because you wanted to convert to Islam?

Friday, September 7, 2007


Well, this little blog thing started as a way of keeping in touch with people while I was abroad and then died a little when I was back home. Since I'm away at school now, I think I'll revive it to it's original purpose.

So today marks the end of the second week of school. Which is a scary thought. What, two weeks?! Really?! Crazy! I feel like I've spent each day scrambling after an extra hour to get everything done. I like school. I like my classes. But the truly staggering.

Of course, this is all my own fault because of course I cannot do the sane thing and take a light course load first semester. No. I have to take not just third year Japanese, BUT ALSO fourth year Japanese. And Arabic (first year). And Intro to Islamic Civilization. And a couple of classes that aren't as intense. But that wasn't enough for me, either, so I'm joining the crew team. Two hour practices everyday except Sunday? Pish, I didn't need any free time anyway. Or the use of my leg muscles or hands.

If I speak honestly, though, my lack of free time has a little to do with the enormous amount of homework and a lot to do with my habits of waiting to do it until the last minute. These first couple weeks, I've been feeling out what I need to do and how. I think next week will be much better, now that I know the rhythm of the classes and what needs to be done when. (It also helps that I now have the syllabus for every class, something I didn't have until Wednesday. When I finally got the syllabus for the last class on Wednesday, there was a "Wait...this is week two...there's a test in two days!!!" moment.) I will let you know how my time management skills step up to the plate.

So tomorrow is the first practice on the water for crew team, and I am very excited. Up until now we've been learning the motions of rowing on the rowing machine (hereafter referred to as an "erg" upon which you "erg" or perform "erging" (ergging?)). Which, frankly, is boring. Crew is perfect for me since I cannot run at all on my leg, and rowing is completely non-impact. But it also means that while the rest of the novice team splits their time between erging and running, I just get to erg. Alot. Lots and lots of erging, which is where the comment about hands comes in: I'm developing calluses, which is great, except that it's going through the blister stage at the moment, where the skin peels off and leaves painful little pink baby calluses behind. But hopefully once I actually get in a boat and fully understand the point of all this erging, it'll be much more bearable.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

I Didn't Laugh Because I Didn't Want To Encourage Him

him: "So, when are we going to hang out?"
me: "I don't really think we're going to..."
"Why not?!"
"Well, for one thing, I cannot think of anything we would possibly do."
"We could fly kites!"
"Well, kite-flying is fun,"

"...on I-95"
*pretends to not have heard*

And on the reason I post rather infrequently:

MONDAY, schedule:

4:30 AM: wake up
5:00 AM: Leave for work
5:15-8:45 AM: work in the bakery at Perkins
8:45-10:00 AM: commute downtown
10:00 AM-5:00 PM: Work desk job
6:00 PM: Arrive home.
6:15 ish PM: Go out with friend for dinner...

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

There Was Supposed To Be A Picture

I was intending to publish a picture of the kick-ass peach tart I made, but couldn't get a decent picture. In person it looks good, but apparently fruit tarts are not photogenic. At least for someone of my skill level. But let me tell you people, it was perfection...warm, perfectly textured, the perfectly ripe peach flavor balancing nicely with the cookie-like crust and cinnamon/allspice/ginger spices. Add some ice cream, and I don't want much more out of life.

In truth, I've been a little stressed lately, and I find working it out in cooking helps relieve that (also, my family appreciates it). I made this strawberry shortcake (except with four layers) from Smitten Kitchen on Sunday, and my peach tart today, along with some really nice roasted potatoes and green beans to go with the barbecue chicken my dad made for dinner. I love the moment when a person bites down on something I've made and the realization that they are experiencing something very good just crosses the face in an expression of bliss. I love that. I love feeding people. Kind of like Sunshine, except without the angsty vampires.

When I took the job at Perkins, I was hoping to satisfy that love in a constructive, profitable manner.

It's been a little frustrating. When I inquired about the job, the nice lady at the front desk assured me that they made stuff from scratch. Apparently she has a very loose definition of "scratch"...for muffins, I portion pre-made, frozen batter into muffin tins. For pies, I decoratively apply whipped cream and various toppings to premade, frozen pies. For cookies, I put premade, frozen, shaped cookie dough onto cookie sheets. For brownies...are you sensing a theme here?

I could make the exact same things from scratch in not much more time and it would be ten thousand times better. My father half-jokes that I could finance my college
education on my baked goods. This job makes me want to try, in the sort of "This is how it should be done!" kind of despair.

PS To everyone who wants to know how my mother is doing (she had surgery for acute appendicitis), she is doing okay. Stomach muscles don't recover from being cut very quickly, and since you use them for everything, it's pretty painful. But she'll be fine in a few weeks. Maybe more like a month and a half. We really appreciate all the prayers and thoughts.

PPS I didn't post pictures of my leg post-scraping because there was nothing to post. No bruising, not even redness the next day. I definitely felt gypped. What the use of undergoing torture in the name of physical therapy if you don't have anything to show for it the next day?! Geez.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Purple Plastic Implements of Doom

Woke up this morning
After another one of those crazy dreams
Oh nothing is going right this morning
The whole world is wrong it seems
Oh i guess its the chain that bind me
I cant shake it loose these chains and things
Got to work this morning
Seems like everything is lost
I got a cold hearted wrong doing woman
And a slave driving ball
I cant loose these chains that bind me
Cant shake them loose these chains and things
Just cant loose these chains and things

Which pretty much sums the first portion of my day up.

The second portion? "The purple plastic impliments of doom". Pictures will follow tomorrow, where with any luck my leg will be a nice dramatic shade of purple. To match the things that made them that way.

Perhaps I should back up and explain. I tried to find an article to link to but couldn't; it's called "scraping" and, well, it's exactly what it sounds like. They take what is long caulking blade. Except florescent purple. Then they drag--scrape--this along the injured area. The idea is to, in essence, reinjure it so it can heal properly and quicker. In my case, scar tissue is also worked out. This hurts.

At the moment my leg is pretty red, and the long-term bruising I've had since I orginally injured the leg two years ago is more pronounced than usual.

I kind of want a really dramatic purple and black and blue reward for my troubles. Like a trophy, only alot better at inducing sympathy. Because I'm a sympathy junkie...but I can give it up ANYTIME I WANT TO. Seriously.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

In case anyone is interested: there's a strong possibility that I'll get to take the Tolkien and Lewis class I wanted after all! I emailed the professor and expressed how much I wanted to take the class. She emailed me back saying "show up to class, someone usually drops out, and if not...maybe we could work something out."

This is extremely exciting for two reasons. One because, c'mon, it's a legitimate reason to study Tolkien and Lewis (Not just read. You don't understand. I'm the the person who owns a comparative study of the two authors already, the kind that's in dry scholarly language, and enjoyed reading that. I'm that person, the one who's taken notes on Lewis' essay The Weight of Glory to be sure I was properly understanding it. I revel in my geekiness) Also, this validates my life philosophy, which is that you have to try. Just ask! I'd tell my friends when we wanted to have a sleepover. "Maybe it is too late and the parents will say no. But maybe they'll be in a good mood. What do you have to lose? Just ask!"

So, I reason, maybe I'm too late to take the class, but if I ask, politely...maybe the teacher'll be inclined to let a student who really wants to study in--because I can say for myself, it's far more of a joy to teach someone who wants to learn. She might say, "I'm sorry, closed is closed," but she might not. It turned out to be that she didn't. I had to ask to find out, and I'm glad I did.

The principal of "Just Ask" is lacking in the general way of things. Sometimes people think to themselves, "There's no way, I'd never win/get accepted/become friends with him; so I might as well save my energy and not try." The biblical axiom of, "You do not have because you do not ask" bears out: they don't have everything they could from life because they don't ask anything from life. Maybe they did ask once: tried a business, a relationship, a school, and got rejected. The thing with asking is, sometimes--oftentimes-- the answer is "no". Sometimes people can't shrug it off and try again: sometimes they become bitter about it, and believe that because that's what happened once, that's the way it's always going to be, so they stop asking for things. But they still want something. But since they're not asking, reaching, or trying for it, they don't receive it; but they become convinced that that is further proof that they wouldn't have gotten it anyway. In a sort of savage way, they feel vindicated. The cycle continues downward from there.

I'm not being judgemental. I'm not touchy-feely "oh, if you believe in yourself you can do anything" types. At all. That is a myth that makes me aggressively sick to my stomach. But I do think that when you're negative on yourself, you make self-fulfilling prophecies.

I also think that there are two reasons for not asking. One is that some people, odd as is it may seem, really derive a sort of bitter enjoyment of feeling downtrodden and unlucky. They like to feel sorry for themselves. It's a seductive pleasure I've sometimes struggled with. I honestly think it's a tool of the Enemy. It makes us focused on ourselves and our petty issues instead of God. It makes us angry towards other people: towards the people who didn't give us what we wanted, towards people who did get what they wanted. And if you think that self absorption and anger can't be twisted into soul-destroying levels, I have some swampland in Florida I'd like to sell you.

The second reason people don't ask is a little more logical. They are content to be part of the masses, because that's safe. It's scary and uncomfortable and even painful to be something more, something better.

Some people don't ask because they're afraid they'd get what the asked for.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Last of the Italy pictures

Except actually they're Germany, not Italy. We stopped in Dragonsburg (um, I'm actually pretty sure I'm getting this wrong but that's what I heard it as). It was around 6:45 in the morning and COLD. I mean really really COLD. Like you know the earring I have in my cartiledge? It was so cold that sucker froze, and let me tell you, that hurts. Seriously.

Anyway, (of course) we had stopped to see a cathedral, but it was Gothic instead of gilded. I found it much more impressive, especially with the spires towering up to disappear into the early morning mist. (If I may brag a little, these are two of my favorite of the pictures I've taken.)

Inside it was that kind of half-light that simply does not work in pictures, but in some small areas I was able to use flash to get the image. Here's a well in the cathedral. I guess for sieges? Honestly, I have no idea why, but I think it's really cool.
And here is a small pulpit on one of the pillars of the main sanctuary.
At that's really all folks for the Italy Trip pictures.

Saturday, June 2, 2007


I have been anticipating (and putting off) the necessity of buying an SD card reader, believing the cord that connects my computer to my camera to be having a wild time without me somewhere in Europe. Unfortunately for the cord, but fortunately for me, what really happened is that it got cold feet and hid in my father's music paraphenalia box instead. Therefore I am pleased to once again have the capability of showing everyone snapshots of my life. bwahaha.

One thing I think is important, and that I don't do enough, is to notice the little things. Little beauties and kindnesses etc. etc. etc. I don't want to tarnish my reputation as a slightly (cough) cynical, definitely non-mushy type, because I don't tend to think in daisies and roses. But I do love to take moments to pause and watch the sparrows that sometimes come to rest on the bushes outside the computer room (ex-schoolroom) window, or examine the butterflies that come to those bushes with the flowers by the door (botany is not my strong subject, okay?!).

One of the little quirks of my house that I really love is that at certain times and conditions, the sunlight coming from the main bathroom upstairs sometimes filters through that window in just such a way as to create a little rainbow on the door of the linen closet.
I love coming up the stairs and being surprised by the unexpected splash of color.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

In Which I Learn Not to Volunteer

We have new youth pastors coming to the old church. This is great and wonderful, and I thought I would be helpful and help prepare for their arrival. Especially when I peeked into their office and saw that it was a complete wreck. I was at church for the afternoon anyway, until my mother was done work and could drive me home, so I decided to spend my time there doing my part and beginning to clear out the spaces. It's just wrong to come into that kind of mess at your new job. That was on Tuesday.

We just finished the first day of painting today, Thursday.

Somehow, three hours of moving computer parts has morphed into a four (or, gulp, five) day project mainly spearheaded by myself.

That'll teach me to volunteer.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Conflicting feelings

I'm excited about school in the fall and for my new job as a temp worker (sort of. Temp work=well-paid dullness), there are things here that sometimes shadow that.

I don't like posting about things that involve people other than myself who I know (i.e. my friends). So I haven't written about things like one of my best friends moving to Minnesota in a few weeks, or how another (former?) best friend's been shutting me out. I appreciate the friends I have, but sometimes my joy in them is dimmed by how I'm losing, in two different ways, relationships that I cherish.

I wish I could write something telling and eloquent, something that would somehow make sense of it. But there is nothing to make sense of; everything passes and changes; it is what it is. It's a bitter pill to swallow and I have no words to express it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Great news and the reclamation of my soul

We got back from the two day registration/orientation session at University of Pittsburgh last night. Let me just say that I am extremely excited! Here are the classes I'm taking:

1. Intro to Islamic Civilization
2. Arabic 1
3. Observational Astronomy
4. Into to Economics
5. Japanese 3

I was disappointed that a course on Tolkien and Lewis was closed--but you can't have everything. I'll also be advocating my way into Japanese 4 if it's at all possible. That was the only part of the session that wasn't great--meeting with the head of the Japanese Department. He's a very nice, sweet, and stubborn old gentleman. He agreed to let me take third year Japanese; however, he didn't test me at all to see where my actual level is. I tried to show my ability as best I could; but when I gave him my textbook, saying that I should be done it by the time the fall term begins, he wouldn't even look at the table of contents--even though he said that he didn't know the textbook at all. He also refused to look at an essay I had brought to show him or speak to me at length in Japanese, although he refused in a very genteel way. Actually rather Japanese, now that I think about it.

I went down to the bookstore and flipped through the third year textbook and was dismayed to see that it's all grammar and so on that I learned last year! Since I'm still determined to proceed in Japanese, I'll probably need to be on this professor's good graces, so I decided not to push my luck aggravating him. But that doesn't mean I won't go to the teacher before classes start and beg her to test me and see if it's at all possible I could move up. My mother keeps telling me to be my own advocate--something I admit that I sometimes have problems with--and this is important enough to me that I'll be listening to her.

The second great thing that happened was that I found out today that I was accepted into Honors Housing! I am really excited: not only will I be surrounded by a group of students with a lower likelihood of being drunk party-ers, the actual building that houses the Honors Community is nicer than the one that most freshman get :). Also, it's a smaller environment, which is great for me. Pitt is a huge university, which can be pretty intimidating.

The third great thing is that I decided not to become a knife salesman. It was one of those things where I needed a job, but then after thinking about it for twenty four sort of sinking feeling filled hours, I decided I didn't need one that badly. The thought of giving a sales pitch makes my stomach knot. But getting the job did give me the confidence I needed to start calling around again. I have a job interview today and two tomorrow, so I think I'm pretty much assured of getting gainful employment. It probably won't pay as much as the Cutco thing, but I won't be miserable doing it. But more on that later.

Oh, and one last good thing? Pirates of the Caribbean, tonight! I highly doubt it'll be as good as the first one--the second definitely wasn't--but it does promise to be amusing. Perhaps even highly amusing. I'll let y'all know.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Having Officially Received Employment

10:30 AM: receive letter containing "SUMMER EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY!!"
10:45 AM: schedule interview
5:00 PM: enter interview
7:30 PM: leave with job

Let me just say Praise God because I needed work, and was getting really discouraged with the lack of progress in that respect. Twelve hours ago this wasn't even on my radar; I was dreading having to submit to a dreary retail check-out existence.

So I'll be...selling knives?! Yes, I have received that time honored college job as a Cutco salesman. Although less boring than asking if you wanted fries with that, it's also definitely more terrifying. As in, extremely. As in, you have to start with people you know, and that's the scariest bit. Give a sales pitch? Me?

I've definitely got to see this.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Open Mouth, Insert Foot...

...Or leg, as the case may be. I informed the internet of my grand exercise plan a few days too soon. The following day I set off on my little one-mile loop; around half way through, I was doing well and pleased with myself until realized to my dismay that my leg was hurting. Not just hurting: burning. And not both legs, but just below the knee on the right leg (which is the area of the leg where I tore the lining of the muscle two years ago and was in physical therapy for for three months last years). By the time I made it home I was limping more than I had since last October (the last time it was really bothering me). That was a week ago. Although after resting it all night it was usable the next day, we made an appointment with the sports medicine doctor anyway.

Verdict: come back in two weeks after you've had an MRI. And no running in the meantime.

I'm kind of feeling guilty now because between this that and the other thing I'll have been to various doctors, eye doctors, dentists, and associated assorted medical personnel seven times by the time the month is over. That's a lot of co-pays, hours in waiting rooms, and gas...

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Five Months Remembrance

Two little girls play crazy Barbie games in a room with a white painted floor with multicolored splashes. Suddenly a knock on the door comes.
"Who is it?" they call.
"Special Delivery!" comes the answer, and suppressing giggles the girls rush to hold the door closed. It rattles and the voice calls again, "Special Delivery! Open up!"
They wait in breathless silence and then finally open the door to peer out into the hallway.
"SHARK ATTACK!" and the girls are chased back into the room in a pile of shrieks and giggles.

Ten years later and five months ago that safe world crumbled. It seems like yesterday and yet an eternity ago that my friend's dad went to his eternal home. In brief flashes, the bright and cheery weather seems almost mocking that he won't be able to go out bike riding in it. Every time I panic that I've lost my house key there is a background of sadness that he won't be there across the street to lend me their spare. And as my friend and I start getting ready now to leave home, it's hard that he isn't here to be proud of her.

I didn't know what to say then and I don't know what to say now. Life goes on, but it's not the same.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Media Coverage

It's taken me this long to have something to say about the Virginia Tech shootings, mainly because I like to think about things until I have a conclusion to the point I'm worrying over before I share with people. In this case, I don't have a conclusion, but in these situations,
is there one?

I still don't have anything to say on the shooting itself. It was on every newscast and on the front page of every paper for days and days afterwards. And I thought what I think every time something like this happens and the news cameras swoop in like vultures to capture every tearful tribute to the victims. I've always struggled with this. "Leave them alone!" I want to scream at the news people; "Why can't you let them mourn their dead in peace?" Maybe it's just my personality, being private and reserved, and knowing that if something (God forbid) had happened to my family or friends, I would not want it clobbered all over the media for everyone and their mother's morbid entertainment of the evening. I hate it that the networks capitalize on people's pain for their own already bloated bank accounts in the name of "news".

And the constant loop of the shooter's delusions? Absolutely disgusting. He killed people to get attention--and boy he got it all right. He got everything he wanted, his paranoid grudges aired out for the whole world to see over and over and over. And this doesn't fall into the catagory of "letting the terrorists win" because...?

But on the other hand, something like this shouldn't be just ignored. The victims deserve to be noticed and remembered. It does matter. The people matter. And how are they supposed to balance the vulture with the rightful attention? I don't know. Everyone blames the media, but the media wouldn't do it if people didn't buy into it. The public is just as much to blame: and not just some amorphous blob, but the individual people in it. The millions of individual people that will turn on their TVs and buy the newspaper only when it's splashed with gory excitement.

Perhaps what burns me is the selective nature of their attention. Mass shootings at universities happen with alarming frequency in the Middle East and Iraq (here is a full article on that) that create barely a blip on the media radar besides a droning list of numbers. Given the dangers of reporting in a war zone, I'm not going to condemn the media on that point. But I'd like to point out that even if they can't get the kind of footage that they played over and over again from Virginia, I'm sure they'd be able to get something. Those victims deserve to be noticed and humanized as well.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Dirty Little Secret

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear.
Mark Twain

I'm not a particularly courageous person--although I don't think I've ever been in a situation that truly required me to be. But I like to think that I'm practicing to be one.

People are afraid of different things. Some people are scared of snakes. I can deal with all manners of creepy crawlies until they come in the eight legged arachnid variety and then I have to crawl in a corner and yell for rescue. (the only exception to this is when there is absolutely no rescue to be had, i.e., I'm home alone, and then I deal with it, kill the stupid creature, and have to go have a lie-down for a while). But most of my other fears, prominently that of making a fool out of myself, or simply starting a conversation, are the kinds I struggle with everyday. Some days I win. Some days I'm unable to pry myself out of the woodwork.

So I have a confession to make in the name of taking a step in the direction of strangling my confounded fear of making myself look like an utter idiot. The fact that I'm trying to make a habit of running three to four times a week isn't really that monumental. But it's also a fact that I'm afraid of people finding out and snickering to themselves. I'm afraid of people looking at me trying to be better than I am and thinking I'm...well, I'm not exactly sure what. But I know that I was, am, for some obscure reason, hugely embarrassed and a little ashamed of this endeavor. And that's ridiculous. Trying to get into some sort of shape is nothing to be ashamed of, so I'm trying to kill my fear of being found out by publishing it for the whole internet to see. Not that the whole internet will see. But they could if they wanted.

And now you can get all your snickering out in the privacy of your own computers, where I don't have to see.

Because of course I'm not really the running type; I'm overweight and out of shape, and when I run I get breathless disgustingly fast and my face turns bright red as I huff and puff along at my stolid speed. The thing is, I want to change that. I got tired of listening to my internal fusspot. In my mind, the only people who have a right to complain continuously about something are the ones who are going to make steps to fix it***. So I've gotten together with a friend for accountability and am starting to make steps to fix it.

I'm a little surprised at how much I don't hate it. I thought I would loathe every single painful breathless step, but I don't. I don't love it, but I can stand it. I won't run around the track, even though it's right at the bottom of the street and a handy way of know exactly how far you've run, because that would make me feel more foolish than my fragile ego can bear, in addition to the fact that it is hopelessly boring. I run to the elementary school and back, which is useful because one way is around half a mile and I have a convenient half way point to stop and stretch my leg (legs actually, for balance, but it's only the damaged one that cares one way or the other), and there are pretty flowers and so on to admire. And a stoplight for an excuse to catch my breath a little.

So now you know my dirty little secret. I'd be ever so grateful if you didn't ridicule me for it, and I'll post periodic updates on how it's going. My long term goal is to be able to run five miles. My short term goal is to be able to run a mile without stopping to walk. Even if I've only been at this for a week or two, I can feel myself improving a little bit, which is encouraging.

*** Please note, before you burst out laughing at my hypocrisy, that I added the qualifier "continuously". Sometimes (hopefully not most of the time) I like to complain, and so does everyone else, and sometimes people just need to let off steam. It's when you complain about the same thing over and over and over for months at a stretch--like I've been doing to myself over this--that I get aggravated. So it's a problem. We understood that last January. Are you going to do anything about it??

Monday, April 23, 2007


in case anyone noticed in the last post, I *ahem* had to enter in <\endmaniacallaughter> . People familiar with HTML know that when you want to end of something, it should be: < /, not <\ .

I did it right at first actually disappeared into the HTML coding as a command.

I wonder if there are subliminal message possibilities in this.

Feminism takes a blow.

So, I have about three posts sitting in the "Draft" section of the blog, and decided to give up and just ramble a little when the last one discussed the process of exploding pigeons and the theological musings on the Devil and the Virginia Tech shootings in the same paragraph. I'm just kidding (maybe).

The truth is that nothing really happened in my life this past week, and I don't have anything deep or profound to share with you about the tragedy in Virginia that hasn't been hashed out in ten thousand other places. I studied, job hunted, hung out with friends, and enjoyed the weather, all very good and all, but in reality nothing fascinating or funny enough to justify using internet space on it. Not that that has ever stopped anyone from sharing the mundanity of life over the internet, but I digress.

Yesterday, though, I did have an interesting experience in two parts.

Part A: The setting? Our house. The players? My mother, myself, and some family friends/neighbors who dropped by.

The Background: I have a dress that I intended to wear at Christmas but didn't finish in time. Then I intended to wear it at Easter, ditto. (truthfully, it just needs to be hemmed; it's the jacket that goes along with it that is giving me problems.) So Neighbor Lady admires the dress, it's got pretty colors on it, and knowing my mother's prowess with the sewing machine, asks if she made it. To which my mother replied that I did. And, being motherly and not beyond a little bragging, also informed the Neighbor Lady of my fondness for cooking and baking. I'm not sure if she mentioned that I was decent at housekeeping, because, um, that might have been a little white lie if she did. (I *can* clean...when I see the mess...I think I have selective blindness in this area. Dust? What dust? And places I've cleaned just can't *stay* cleaned (mostly my fault) which feels like it puts the whole thing on the level of futile. But again I digress)

The EVENT: Anyway, this prompted further admiration from the Neighbor Lady, which included a comment that I would, "make a lovely wife for someone someday".

. . .

. . . um, what?

me outside: polite blank face

me inside: excuse me? Excuse me? Did I blink? Were we suddenly transported back to the fifties? Did you really just say that? Do you seriously think that whether or not I enjoy making messes in the kitchen has anything to do with being an emotional stable person to live in the same house with? Would I be unfit for the state of matrimony if I were to order out food every night? Am I fit for the state of matrimony if I was a wreck, as long as I can cook and clean? What does my interest in whether bread will rise better if you use this fermentation method vs. that have to do with anything? And who gave you the right comment on it??

Part B: The setting? Borders The players? Me and The Improvisational Cook

The Background: The thing is for me, I'm finding cooking to be fascinating not just as a way of expressing affection and controlling what I get to eat (Mom's--or in this household, Dad's--maxim of "If you don't like it, you make dinner next time" comes home), but for the simple applied chemistry of it. Why does this plus that equal unfortunately big explosions?! Why does certain things, like juice appearing in the pan, happen when you add heat to certain things like bacon? Would this happen with anything bacon-related? I feel tied to following a recipe because I don't understand the science that it's based on. So I'm excited because in the spirit of The Bread Baker's Apprentice, which goes on for pages in a completely excited, breathless tone about enzymes, sugars, and yeastie beasties, I now have a cookbook that isn't just a collection of's a collection of explanations followed by instructions. So for instance, from the bread book, I know that some breads have sugar in it as a food for the yeast. And although I haven't gotten around to doing this sort of thing yet, if I felt like it, I wouldn't be scared to substitute something interesting like a raspberry syrup for honey or molasses or maybe even plain sugar...because I know that syrups have lots of sugar in them that will serve the purpose as well. And I know how to calculate the percentages to figure out how much to add, as well. bwahaahaha RECIPE POWER! I will now have RECIPE POWER over things like SEASONINGS and MEAT COOKING METHODS and so and such forth. BWAHAHAHAHA


Ouch, that revealed a little inadvertently the fact that I'm a closet kitchen tyrant. Although I haven't yet grown so bold in my power as to serve the family something I know they won't like but I do (as in, any vegetable more exotic than potatoes, peas, and broccoli) (just kidding, I was just thinking of eggplant, which is unpopular here).

The EVENT: I got really excited over this one. I was a happy bunny all the way home from the bookstore. I bought a cookbook! I *bought* a cookbook! It was cookbook intoxication.

The Conclusions: So I had a pretty distinct double standard of behavior yesterday, and I wonder if most every modern American woman doesn't do things along these lines. At four o clock it's "Don't even praise me on anything that smacks of 'housewife'...I'm modern and free from the bondage of the kitchen apron!" and by six o clock it's "Oh look a new COOKBOOK! I'm so excited! I can't wait to make dinner tomorrow! Oh, and by the way, isn't that an adorable baby over there?! *cooing noises*" I don't have an answer to this, except that I know that I will continue to do this. I think it's basically a rebellion against being dictated to, however gently, about how domestic or career oriented I should or should not be. Then I turn around and embrace either option to the full extent of what I feel like. And that, my friends, is the American dream.


So, for anyone who cared about my problems with the Easter Bunny, in the end Greek Easter got postponed a week. So my angst over the bunnies (see below) was moot ANYWAY because bread doesn't keep a whole week, and I had to make them all over. By this time I was so sick of fighting with the recipe that I went ahead and messed with it and it came out beautifully. I will restrain myself from pontificating on the subject of what I did and why with difficulty because I know I can be a Bread Bore and I've pontificated enough today. Let's just say I was extremely pleased with myself.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Rain on My Parade, I Dare You

About four or five people have mentioned today about the "terrible" weather and how much they "hate" rain. I end up making vaguely agreeable comments, because the truth is, I like this kind of weather. I like it even when I can't curl up under warm covers with warm food and a movie*, although I LOVE that. I like waking up and listening to the sound the rain makes on the tin door set into the drive that leads into the basement, and how it makes harmony with the rain on the roof. I like falling asleep to that sound, one of the most soothing lullabies around. I like stepping out of the car like a movie star with an know, that move where you stick the umbrella out first and open it and then get out under it...and then being all smug and walking to my destination, like HA I have an umbrella! It is raining and I am (mostly) dry! How cool is that! Even in sneakers and ratty jeans, it puts a little swing in my step (in my mind, in the rain, it's heels and a flared skirt). I like the sound the rain makes on the umbrella. I even, secretly, although I wouldn't admit it out loud (because I like complaining), like it when I have to go places by myself in it, when that means arriving at my destination completely soaked with a squeaky bike. I like how washing dishes is more fun in the rain when it means plunging chilly fingers into warm water and watching raindrops chase each other across the window. I like how the light in my room becomes all dim and blue tinged. I like the rain.

**One of the few times I'll voluntarily watch a chick flick is rainy spring and autumn afternoons...although I won't bend enough to watch anything made before, oh, 1965. But I will take a little classic Audrey or Katharine Hepburn

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Road to Hell

Today was a day of good intentions, which is to say, my walk down the path to hell is probably well started. I intended to get up at a reasonable hour, study for a bit, and clean the kitchen (in a state of dismal disarray from two straight days of non-stop cooking) before heading down to have lunch with a friend at Temple.

But, after getting up a good hour after my alarm clock went off and eating breakfast, I had the brilliant idea to check my email. Ye-es. An hour later, I realized that I still hadn't taken a shower and therefore there was no way any studying was getting done this morning and if I were to accomplish anything chore-wise I'd better get myself in gear right NOW. And I still didn't have time to do as proper a job as I had intended.

Although it wasn't entirely my fault, I was also later than intended to go to le best friend's to admire pre-prom prettiness. Random aside: Which was extremely pretty! Her dress was an absolutely gorgeous bronze, a perfect color for, and I love this, bought a year or two ago new at a thrift store for thirty two dollars! Aaah...this would be one area where I totally fit the girl stereotype...I love pretty dresses and hairdos and makeup! Maybe perhaps not for me to wear anymore than, say, a few times a year, but I can appreciate a good dress anytime.

But going back to the point of this post, which is to list my failures of the day (because everyone is interested in my failures), I also intended to come home, make up for the studying I shirked in the morning (seriously, my Japanese teacher gave me a list of characters to memorize for Tuesday that is frightening in it's volume) and go to bed early, because I am tired. It is now close to one o clock in the morning, and no studying has been accomplished. Although I did read a comic in Japanese as a sop to's studying, right? It's language acquistion through immersion! Sanely speaking, it is good for my Japanese, but does nothing for my homework, which is the issue at hand. But we won't go any further with that because sanity is bo-o-o-oring

I also intended to eat something healthy for dinner. Ahem. In a mocking nod to this, I did have yogurt, but the main dish of my meal was a bagel with cream cheese and a large hunk of Easter Chocolate.

Just as worrying as all this is my complete and utter lack of remorse. I had a good time today. Tomorrow I'll try again with the whole good intentions thing. I'll let you know how that goes.

Hm. Yeah. I wasn't brave enough to go through with messing with the recipe come round two, and it was one of those days where the dough simply refused to rise. And then I burned half of my bunnies. Again. Without sufficient reserves of mahelpi or energy for a round three. Luckily, there were enough left that I'm only short two, and a have a small loaf that the unluckies will partake from. My mother has kindly volunteered for this position, and I will have the other as the hapless cook. Siiigh.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

I burned the bunnies!

Although Orthodox Easter and regular Easter fell on the same Sunday this year, we are celebrating Greek Easter this Sunday, and I have agreed to make the traditional bread buns shaped as bunnies. I intended to make them today, but things did not quite turn out as I would have hoped.

One of the things that makes Greek Easter Bread distinctive is an essential spice called mahlepi, or mahleb. It's just not Greek Easter Bread without mahlepi, but the only place around here that carries it is The Armenian Delight in Broomall. This store is great but open at very inconvenient hours, as in not past five o clock. When one's only reliable means of transportation doesn't get home until after five, this presents a problem (major thanks to Debbie Watson who went out today on our behalf and bought me some! You have my undying gratitude and (Lord willing) a small loaf of your own). Last night my father and I, in an ultimately futile but eternally hopeful journey, spent about two fruitless hours searching three different grocery stores for it. Not even the Head Nut carries it (although I did replenish my stores of rye flour, so that particular trip wasn't entirely wasted).

Because I had invited my tutoring student to come over today and help me make the bunnies, I went ahead and made some even without mahlepi. However, I was repaid for my flagrant disrespect of tradition and the Gods of Greek Easter Bread...when some five hours after beginning the baking process we pulled the blackened corpses of the innocent, and now sacrificial, bunnies from the oven. Their blistered raisin eyes shall haunt my dreams tonight...

To top it all off, the recipe I use is an old one from my grandmother, and it's not perfect. That is, the bread is always wonderfully flavored, but it uses the traditional proofing method for the yeast, and I have to say that about half the time, the bread will mysteriously refuse to rise. I am pretty confident about my ability to tweak the recipe into a more reliable method of fermentation. I really want to do so, but am extremely nervous about messing with tradition. Especially considering what happened when I dared flaunt it today. I'm still not sure how I'm going to tackle the issue, but I'll have to decide by tomorrow morning.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Matt Damon looking serious and confused.

WHO: myself and le best friend
WHAT: The Good Shepard (movie)
WHEN: Friday night
WHERE: le best friend's house
WHY: we were bored.


me: "Oooh, look, it's Matt Damon looking serious and confused!"
Le best friend: "Don't tell me he's going to where those glasses for the entire movie."
me: "What are they doing? Are they speaking in code? Why are they speaking in code?"
lbf: "he IS going to wear those glasses for the entire movie."

*scene switches to an amateur drama at Yale in the thirties*

me: "Is that Matt Damon? Is that Matt Damon? Is that Matt Damon looking serious and confused in a DRESS?"
lbf: "These glasses are just as hideous."

*scene switches to initiation into "secret" Yale society*

me and lbf: *stares* "What?"
me: "It must be a gay Yale thing."

me: "If I have to watch Matt Damon look serious and confused, I want to watch him blow things up. Do you have the Bourne Supremacy?"

So we switched movies. The Bourne movies and their ilk are my secret weakness: mindless, blow-'em-up entertainment, best enjoyed with The Gastrointestinal Disaster (white pizza with sausage, mushroom, and pepperoni: hear your arteries panic!), followed by popcorn and M&M's. I know that girls are supposed to relax with chick flicks and guys with large explosives, but...with the exception of Little Women, almost all chick flicks irritate the bejeezus out of me. Jane Austen? No thank you. Large government conspiricies? Weeelll...*shifty look* Let's keep this between you and me, okay?

Thursday, April 5, 2007


Continual sneezing. Coughing. Ears about to explode from sinus pressure. A cloud of menthol-y scent follows wherever I go.

But I'm still not sick enough to lie pale and pathetic and be waited on hand and foot. *growl* The whole POINT of being sick, people, is to be waited on hand and foot!

Monday, April 2, 2007


I got The Rejection Letters this week from both of the more selective private colleges that I applied for. Let's be honest: one I didn't care too much about, the other I was pretty disappointed. It's Pittsburgh for me, though, and that's not a shabby second best.

But, dear Lord, the letters themselves! Some of the most illuminating literature on the nature of modern educational philosophy I've read.

"I am very sorry to inform you that it is not possible to offer you admission to the Class of 2011. I wish I were writing to report a different decision, but the competition was so rigorous this year that there were many outstanding young men and women to whom we could not offer places in the class."

It goes on like this for another three paragraphs. The language and phrasing was as soft and comforting as a rejection letter can be. It's as if they were scared to hurt my poor little feelings or crush my budding ambitions or fragile self esteem. This illustrates a larger trend in education, where out of a sort of misconceived "consideration" for the students, everything is softened and couched in positive terms. Now, unrelenting harshness doesn't do anything for children, obviously, but I wonder if the opposite isn't just as damaging. School is the place to learn, but not just about history or math. We as students need to learn how to deal with the difficult situations--such as failure or bullying--that will come up in post-school life, in the (hopefully) safe environment of school. If we are never given the opportunity to cope with rejection and the possibly negative consequences of our actions while we have the support of teachers and parents, how are we supposed to deal with it when we are out on our own?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Good Idea That Should Come to the States No. 149

Flower Shops.

No, I know we have flower shops. But they're the pick-out-some-pre-made-bouquet kind of flower shops. They're not flower shops like the Czech flower shops.

The way it works is that you go in and pick from a long wall of indivual flowers any combination of number, kind, color, height and size that you think works, and hand the bunch over to the lady behind the counter. She then adds greens, etc, and arranges it into a pretty bouquet for you. And then you take it home and *ahem* hopefully don't make a fool out of yourself on the bus by admiring your hand-picked color combinations the entire ride with a silly grin on your face.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Daughter of my Mother(s)

Mothers are very influential creatures. Oftentimes the things that they teach us become so ingrained that we don't even realize that we learn them--anything from the way we treat other people, to the order in which we wash our dishes. Silverware then cups? Wash the cups first? I bet whichever way you do it, your mother did it the same way.

I was thinking about this when I was putting the leftovers from dinner away today, and I wrapped the rice into indivual servings of saran wrap. Next time someone wants rice, they can just take a packet and microwave it as is for a minute or two. It will steam itself inside the plastic wrap--very convenient. I picked that up from my host mother in Japan...but the way I used the leftovers from the bread I made yesterday to make breadcrumbs for the meatloaf was from Zuzana's mother in Prague...although the recipe itself came direct from my mother.

I take many things home from my travels: presents for friends and baby cousins, pictures, and memories. However, the things that are most worthwhile have been the things that I've learned from the many excellent women who have welcomed me into their homes for a time. They didn't replace my mom, of course, but in a way they became a mother to me for a little while. Especially when I was in Japan; in some sense, there I was a child again, and was taught all over again the rules of society: how to greet people, table manners, phone manners...all of the things that mothers teach us. Just in the way that I do things or say things sometimes and then think "Dear Lord, That Was My Mother!", very occasionally I'll do something or say something and then think, "Dear Lord, That Was My (Japanese) Mother!" Aside from the occasional tone of voice or turn of phrase that I picked up, qualities that my parents have taught me since I was little, like generosity, service, and common courtesy, have been driven home by role models in different cultures.

I don't often think about this, but when I do I am deeply grateful to my mom for letting me come under the influence of other families. I know many people think my parents a bit...crazy, shall we let me go live abroad from the age of sixteen. I dare you to say that I have learned anything that they didn't teach me in the first place, lessons only made more impressive by their affirmation from outside sources.

Unless, of course, we're talking about my habit of doodling chinese characters all over any piece of paper that comes under my pencil...

Friday, March 16, 2007


My ability to get completely and hopelessly lost in any and all circumstances, particularly in countries where I speak maybe three words of the language, is pretty astounding.

Today I woke up and decided that the last thing I wanted to do was go into the center of Prague for the fourth day in a row. So I puttered around the house, beginning the beginning of packing, until around one o clock, and then decided that the weather was too glorious to waste inside, and on top of that I wanted ice cream. So I went out, I thought, for a longish walk: maybe an hour or two.

I walked around till I found the convenience store next to a little pond, and sat there for a while enjoying my ice cream cone, and then I wandered along the path running beside it until I found myself in a wooded area. "This is exciting!" I thought, continueing to follow the path, knowing full well that home was maybe a half hour's clear walk behind me. The temperature is a perfect cool spring day, there was a beautiful green smell on the breeze, and a little creek ran beside the path.

Two hours later, I realized I was completely and totally lost in a maze of pleasantly paved footpaths with no discernable way out. I knew, I knew, that there had to be an exit somewhere: after all, my main companions on the path were either older retired-looking folks or mothers with strollers, and surely these aren't the people to wander around for hours and hours and hours. I just couldn't find it. Sneakily, I followed a mother until we came to a place that brought joy to my heart: civilization!

Only, I realized, it was civilization completely unknown to me and apparently pretty far from the civilization that keeps me sheltered at night; I live in a district called Kunratice, and the street signs here said that I was in Chodov. I managed to find a bus stop (oh, bless all-purpose public trans passes that don't expire until tomorrow!), which I took to the nearest metro station. Which was two stops further along the line from my metro stop.

And people, from that metro stop I have to take a bus for about fifteen minutes to get within a ten minute walk of my house...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Old Town: The Jewish Quarter

I decided not to be a cheapskate and paid to go on a guided walking tour of the Jewish Quarter in Old Town. It was good, not merely because it was pretty interesting to actually hear about what it is you're looking at, but also because going with a group is more fun. There was a Canadian college student and his dad, a British couple, and a younger lady and her friend's mother, here to visit her friend. The lady (she was in her lower thirties, I would guess,) had spent ten years in Philly; she went to Penn for her undergraduate, Drexel for her graduate, worked there afterwards deal. It was really great to have someone to talk to about home and what we were seeing and made the whole thing alot more enjoyable than if I had wandered around alone.

Although I have to say I was pretty surprised about how much my fellow members of the group didn't know about Jewish history. They were shocked to learn that Jews had been discriminated against for centuries, restricted to certain parts of the city and routinely massacred whenever a plague/famine/disaster/boredom came along and people needed some handy scapegoats. "But surely," protested the British couple, "All of Europe wasn't like that! Certainly that never happened in Britian!"

Although I'm not entirely sure about Britian...actually, sir...welcome to the nastier side of Church History.

I remember something I read in C.S. Lewis that was very apropo, and it ran something like this: "A majority of people will never listen to the gospel until the Church has publicly renounced much of it's history...why should they? We have shouted the name of Christ and enacted the worship of Moloch"

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Remembered and Revisited

On Thanksgiving break of my freshman year in high school, the choir took a trip here to Prague, and I came as well. It's been interesting sightseeing these past few days and revisiting places that I remember from our previous trip. I've spent the last two days wandering around Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, and the surrounding Old Town area, and finding odd corners of "Oh! This is the puppet shop that Dad and I went into and the lady was so friendly!"

One of the things I really remember is going into St. Vitus Cathedral and seeing the chapel where St. Wenceslas is buried, a small room that I remember being completely encrusted with velvet and gems.

Now, one of the things that the lovely people up at Prague Castle want is (naturally) your money. I'm not worried about money, persay, but after paying a considerable sum for a ticket to see everything in the castle complex, I was not happy about being strongarmed into buying another, seperate and similiarly expensive ticket to see the cathedral. I'm cheap. And I didn't buy the ticket. Aside from the money, also, part of me wants to keep the--admittedly, somewhat vague-- memory of impressed awe at all the dead people and wealth. I've seen a considerable number of baroque monstrosities on this trip, and I think I'd like to keep my memory of the first cathedral I ever went to as the most impressive.

What I Learned

When I went to Japan, I did not like tomatoes. Not my thing. Then my host mother, who would get up early every morning to make my host sister and I breakfast, would thoughtfully provide huge chunks of tomato to go with my salad and eggs. (Yes, Japanese people eat raw cabbage for breakfast. Actually, they'll eat raw cabbage with everything at every meal. Betcha didn't know that, didja?) Not wanting to offend anyone who actually makes me breakfast, because I know a good deal when I see one, I would force myself to eat them. By the end of four months of daily tomatoes, I actually didn't hate them anymore. Another food to take off the "No, Thank You," list.

One of the most enduring foods on that list has been yogurt. The curdled taste of it repulsed me. And then I came here, where they have all types of yogurt that comes with so much fruit stuff that you don't get but a smidge of that curdled aftertaste. So I started eating that, and then gradually got used to it. I realized that last week I was eating the stuff that I swore I would never eat twice or even three times a day.

Go figure.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

WWMT (What Would Mary Think)

As I wandered around the Czech National Gallery today I realized that I have never seen a peice of art depicting the infant Jesus clothed.

I wonder what Mary would think of that reflection on her parenting skills. Well, Mary, amazingly enough for a child with nothing but the occasional scarf protecting him from the elements, at least He's clean.

Monday, March 12, 2007

"The most bee-yew-tee-ful city!"

This is my last week here in the city of Prague, and since I finished volunteering last Thursday I am making it my job to make sure I really see Prague. I started today with Prague Castle, and the surrounding area, including Saint Charles bridge. My leg's been bothering me some lately, so I took it pretty easy and simply wandered around at my own (slow) pace, stopping to rest frequently and sit and enjoy the absolutely gorgeous weather. I am a terrible tourist and often forgot to take pictures. (they, along with the Vienna pictures, will have to wait until a little later to see the light of internet day: I'm pretty sure I left the cable that connects the camera to the computer back home in the States, and to post pictures I have to borrow the SD card reader thing from Jason, the exchange student from Hong Kong who's living with Zuzana's family this year, and he's been missing for a few days. I think he went somewhere with his school.)

People keep telling me that Prague is a beautiful city, and I've never quite believed them. Here's what I've discovered: historical Prague is indeed beautiful, but the places where the average Czech citizen actually lives, works, and goes to school? Not so nice. If I must be brutally honest, and (cough cough) I'm notoriously not adverse to that, then I would say that the Prague that isn't populated by tourists or people trying to get tourist's money is rather ugly (in a communist sort of way), and extremely dirty. And, and this is hard to describe, it feels tired.

Now, I've been to only a few of the European cities: Prague, Florence, Rome, Vienna, and I could be completely wrong. Three of them (the exception was Florence), all gave me this vibe. But has anyone else who's lived or traveled here in the Old World felt this way? That Europe has worn itself out with too many wars, too many clashing cultures, and now lies buries under a grime of industrialization and a depression of post-post modern philosophy?

And maybe Europe is just getting the short shrift in my mind when compared to Japan's old cities, particularly Kyoto. Like the places I've been here, the area where I was in Osaka drew huge numbers of people with history and monuments. But unlike here, there was no distinct line between tourist trap and where people's lives took place; and the traditional culture that the historical places exemplified was integrated (however subtly) into the everyday as well.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Just Shake Your Head and Laugh

Dear Diary,
Tomorrow is Tuesday and should be a really fun day. I am going have a fun afternoon with Zuzana, hanging out before I go to Bible Study in the evening. Yay!

6:30 AM: Turn off alarm
6:45 AM: turn off alarm
7:00 AM: Wake up. Panic. Realize that there is a fifteen minute wait for the bathroom.
7:45 AM: Run for bus. Bus is freakishly early and doesn't wait.
8:30 AM: realize that I've forgotten my cell phone, which is necessary for later activities.
9:00 AM: Attempt to do simple labelling task in library. Realize that the records for the books are all screwed up and will have to be altered manually one by one.
10:00 AM: Computer crashes
10:45: Computer crashes
11:30 AM: Finish my "ten minutes of labelling".
11:50 AM: leave work to go home and get cell phone
12:00: Watch the bus go by my bus stop without stopping
12:30 PM: Make it home, grab phone, leave to go back to work.
12:40 PM: Realize I missed the bus by two minutes and the next bus is in 12 minutes
12: 56 PM: watch the bus I was supposed to switch to pull away from the stop as I get off the first bus.
1:00 PM: Time I was supposed to be back at school
1:10 PM: Watch the next bus drive by the bus stop without stopping as the bus driver glares and shrugs at me as if it's MY fault. Begin walking to next bus stop.
1:24 PM: Decide that the bus 163 will take me to the same stop as the 113
1:26 PM: Realize my mistake
1:30 PM: Get off the 163, give up on buses, commence walking to work.
1:50 PM: Arrive at work.
2:15 PM: Accidently turn off copier machine in the middle of a job.
3:50 PM: Leave work (twenty minutes late) to hang out with Zuzana downtown.
4:15 PM: Learn that Zuzana has invited her friend Mischa to come along as well
4:45 PM: Listen to Zuzana and Mischa talk in Czech for the next hour and a half.
5:00 PM: Go to second hand shop, find nothing in my size, am forced to tell Skinny Miss Mischa and the Z my dress size.
5:30 PM: Go to another second hand shop. Find nothing.
6:00 PM: Buy ridiculously overpriced burrito for dinner.
6:15 PM: Discover that burrito is inedibly disgusting.
6:20 PM: Attempt to buy water to wash out taste. The machine gives me Coke instead. (I hate coke)
9:45 PM: Board metro to go home
10:10 PM: Get off at bus depot. Next bus to go home is at 10:30. Realize that I really really need to go to the bathroom.
11:00 PM: Arrive at home. The door is deadbolted and I only have the key for the regular lock. Knock on the window until Z's dad lets me in.

To provide a balance, I will attempt to find three things that went right yesterday:
1. We ate ice cream around 5:00. Ice cream is always good.
2. I made it to Bible Study safely. Bible study was good
3. Had an intellectual conversation on a higher level than "How do you spell 'carpet'?" at said Bible Study. Yay!
Also, in a general disclaimer, Mischa is really a very nice girl. Even if she is skinny.

Some days, all you can do is shake your head, laugh, and go to bed with the hope that tomorrow will sort itself out better.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Cop out

Okay, today was something of a cop-out on my part. I had intended to go to the library with Zuzana and then head out on my own to Prague Castle while she went home to get some homework done. Instead, as we left the library and I felt the cold breeze and the new books in my bag and, more than that, the fact that I was really tired and the cold was making my leg hurt(oh curse that fateful day in Japan when I wasn't watching where I was going!), I abandoned my original plans and went straight home. Where I had a lovely afternoon alternatively napping, reading The Jungle Books and the Silmarillion, and stretching the peronus longus muscle in my right leg.

And I don't regret it.


Just a note: I have messed around with the settings so that everyone, not just people with Google accounts, can comment. I would love to hear your thoughts if you care to share them!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Am I Lucky, or is it God?

I begin to wonder at my most extraordinary luck (or is it God?). Well, in the words of Denzel Washington "Luck is when an opportunity comes along, and you're prepared for it." For next weekend I shall be setting forth for the far distant city of Vienna with my dear friend Zuzana. However did I end up in this eventuality? I shall tell you!

Zuzana's parents have plans to attend a formal ball in Vienna on Saturday night. Therefore, they will be heading up to Vienna on Friday, and we shall be tagging along for the ride. The best part being that we will then separate from said parental units, and spend the entire weekend at a different (much much cheaper) hotel, doing our own siteseeing thing, and then meeting up again to go home on Sunday. *gringrin*

I will take pictures and (hopefully) post them sooner than the Italy ones. (innocent look) :)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Italy News, Part 4: Rome (day 3)

Our last day in Rome, we spent the morning climbing to the top of St. Peter's cathedral. I discovered what I knew already: while heights themselves do not bother me, climbing up and down stairs, especially spiral stairs, to get to the heights, is really awful. Especially climbing down. Coming down was the worst. However...being up that high is glorious.

The first part of the climb was inside the church. We were up high enough to be this close to the musiacs on the ceiling.

There was mass going on in the cathedral below. Picture was taken through the fencing up to keep you from falling to your death and on full zoom. We could smell the incense even from up that high, and hear the chanting. Okay, I will say I have deep issues with Catholism, and the--well, I'll call it the "mythology" of Christianity that they pushed on us the whole trip, but I will say that in the service the awe of holy--I like the word "numen", even if it is archaic--was strong. And that's not a bad thing.View from one of the little windows on the final ascent.
Views from the top!!That line of people you see curving all the way along the square is to get inside the cathedral.
My faithful interpreter, Annetka. It was through her that I get most of my information.After the (nervewracking: I am not afraid to admit I had to stop at the break place until I stopped shaking) descent, we went to Vatican Square to see the Pope's weekly address. There were many, many people, and a festive air.There we have it people: the Pope!

but I have to admit I was more entranced by this small specimen of humanity, who was having a grand old time being up high, clapping enthusiasticly when everyone else was clapping, and pulling her mom's hair.

After seeing the Pope, it was back to the monestary to pack and load the bus. On the way out we stopped by the Catacombs--no pictures allowed, sorry--which was pretty cool. The tombs were so small! Just enough space for a body, deeper at the top and narrower for the legs. They looked too small. It was dark and damp and narrow and a tad smelly...

...actually reminding me of the bus ride home, which commenced immediately afterward.

Italy News, Part 3: Rome, (day 2)

The morning of the next day was spent in the Vatican's museum. Now, everyone, you know that they don't like you to take pictures in museums. However, I sneaked a few for your edification and enjoyment.

Outside the museum in Vatican square: St. Peter's Cathedral

They were just taking down the Christmas tree (Feb. 2, people!)
The columns of Vatican Square.
Inside the museum, there was a gallery of map tapestries. Very cool.
There were many, many statues. Some with stragetically placed, gravity defying fig leaves...And some without.I know where the Vatican keeps its dead bodies now.And if you thought Japanese was hard to learn...They were really intense about the no-pictures in the Sistine Chapel. But who can resist sneaking a shot when the guard's back was turned?

After the museum, we went to a place where someone had a vision of the Virgin Mary a couple years ago. They built a chapel, complete with a plastic statue of the Lady. I mean the plastic kind that you see outside around Christmas time, but it didn't light up. I did not take pictures of that for you. We also had the wonderful opportunity to buy some of the sand of the sacred place where it happened.

From there we went to one of the oldest churches in Rome. It was very dark and quiet, and in a lovely garden. It was in the very basic main structure of cathedrals: one long hall with two lower buttresses, and a nave at the end. There were no elaborate frescoes or tiled walls; it was built of brick with a few stained windows at the front end. I liked it better than the Baroque wonders.

Light through the windows. (My doubtful skills of a photographer failed in the church and I couldn't get a picture that was more than a dark mass)
From the church we went to another church in the same monestary complex (which is where it was), walking along a lovely tree-lined avenue.

There we observed the place where one of the saints (I forget which one) was beheaded, and his head bounced four times. Where the head touched the ground, fountains sprung up. In the present day, they have mysteriously dried up but are memorialized here where the squares are, in the floor of this church. Because saints are obliging people, even when dead, the head bounced in a handy geometric pattern that looks nice on a cathedral floor.I forget the name of the next cathedral we went to: after a while they all blur together.

The inside of the church.There are pictures of every pope there ever was lining the walls above the columns. The bright spot you see on the right in the picture above is where the present pope is (they have a light shining on it)

Every cathedral had a shop inside as well as outside, but this one was more inventive than this, offering holy chocolate.....and booze.That was the end of the day, but one last shot from the bus window: you know I want one.