30 November 2011

I have:

Two weeks and a day until I'm home for the holidays (and get to see my family and friends)
One week until my first (two) final(s)
One week and two days left of work
Two more church services in which to sing this semester
One more handbell concert
Four things that I want to do on Thursday...all at the same time
Four examinations (only one cumulative, thank goodness!) and a take-home essay test coming up
Written a 9 page (maximum limit:  8 pages...oops!) paper on Venezuela and the U.S.
Flipped back and forth between frantic and freaked out and completely mellow and relaxed
Still not decided about which finals I'm worried
Quite a few people for whom I still need to figure out/acquire gifts for the holidays
Two museums and a botanical garden to visit before I go home
Melted snowflakes on my jacket
Not yet figured out how I feel about said snowflakes
Approximately 200 sheets of paper in my backpack
A wocket in my pocket

...okay, that last one's a lie. But I wish it were true.

Things are getting crazy because they're winding down (and the winding down is a bit too fast for those affected, hence the crazies) and it's exciting to see how little I have left to do and yet how much. It's a fairly short amount of time but it's jam-packed with exams and activities (both of my choosing and not so much).
And I'm mostly loving it. Probably because I do know that I'll get a break soon.

What stands between you and your winter holiday of choice (even if it's just a day or two off from work)? How was your Thanksgiving? To what are you most looking forward this winter?

23 November 2011

Thanksgiving and Thankfulness

I spent the first semester of my freshman year of university in Scotland.
It's a long flight there and back.
And they don't celebrate Thanksgiving.

So there I was, my first year away from home to start with, in a foreign country on top of that, facing the prospect of my first ever Thanksgiving without my family and friends and without any notice from the rest of society. I would have classes the day of Thanksgiving, I would have them the day after, and no one (except the other American students) would understand why this made a difference.

I had tons to be thankful for: family, friends, good health, and this huge opportunity for me to be experiencing life in a new place.
But for a holiday about giving thanks, that didn't seem to be enough.
The two components of Thanksgiving for me were always the food and being surrounded by my family and friends, the people who loved me unconditionally. In Scotland, I was facing thousands of miles of distance between myself and my family group and you just can't buy most of my family's traditional foods there (without paying a huge price to import it).
Pumpkin is only available at the gourmet stores, where they imported Libby's brand pumpkin just for the American exchange students who were studying at the University. Cranberry sauce is the traditional meaning, a fairly liquid-y affair rather than a deliciously gelatinous blob that retains the shape of the can from which it comes. Turkey (not that I eat it anyway) isn't stocked in the butcher shops until closer to Christmas. Little things that I'd taken for granted (like so much in my life) were no longer there.
There were no turkey decorations, no pumpkin-flavoured baked goods and drinks, no politically incorrect pictures of awkward pilgrims and native Americans.
And, once I remembered the occasion that started Thanksgiving, it made sense. And I didn't really expect a Thanksgiving.

I lived with another American exchange student and three Europeans (all of whom I absolutely adored). The other American girl and I decided we couldn't make it through without some type of Thanksgiving, so we planned one.
I was also lucky enough to find a bible study group; there were many Americans and a Canadian in that group and, just because we loved food, fun, and trying new things, we decided to have a Thanksgiving feast too.

And you know what?
They were both fantastic.
I may have been eating vegetarian haggis instead of fake turkey...but it was Thanksgiving.
Those around me may have been strangers as of three months before but we had found tremendous affection for each other...and it was still Thanksgiving.
I may have been missing some of my family's traditional dishes and learning about some of the Thanksgiving foods from across the nation...but it was still Thanksgiving.
It wasn't the Thanksgiving I was used to and as I always pictured it...but it was definitely still Thanksgiving.

And I learned a lot from that. Thanksgiving doesn't need to be the same thing every year to be wonderful; you don't need to have a Norman Rockwell occasion to have fun and feel happiness. It was very different and often funny* but it was incredible. I got to teach people about hand turkeys and my family's traditions, I got to learn about new foods (that I now want to make for Thanksgiving this year) that are traditional to others, and I realised that I still had those love and food components that really made Thanksgiving what it was.
Most of all, I learned to be thankful in a whole different way. Thankfulness for new friends, for sillness, for love and support, for learning new things, for new experiences, for opportunities. Thankfulness for all that continues to be dropped in my lap.

This year it appears (as of now) that I'll have not one but three Thanksgivings, including one with the same people and foods I was raised with. I'm excited to have that again and I know that I will love it...but I think I will miss that strange and wonderful experience that I had in Scotland, learning new things, teaching new things, and creating something completely different. It was so different but still amazing.
I'm still learning that. Different doesn't have to be awful; it may be frightening at first but that doesn't mean it won't be beautiful, too.

Do you celebrate Thanksgiving? If so, what traditions abound at your Thanksgiving? If not, what do you think you would like most about Thanksgiving?

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate it and happy Thursday/almost winter holidays to everyone. I am thankful for you.

*At my bible study group, the Scottish and English students (one boy in particular) were wary of pumpkin pie; they always thought of pumpkin as a savoury food and couldn't understand it as a dessert. They all promised to try it but looks of dread abounded until they got their first taste. All but one ended up loving it. (Related, one of the girls in my flat, who is from Norway ended up becoming completely enamoured of it.)

20 November 2011


Are not something I understand right now.

Any suggestions?

16 November 2011

Confusion Abounds

My part-time, on-campus job requires me to go to a lot of different classrooms in many different buildings. Since it's a huge city campus, there are a ton of buildings and, since a lot of buildings (or floors/areas of buildings) are specialized to different subjects, I've never been in many of them before. This means I do a lot of looking at maps of campus. I've gotten pretty good at knowing where rooms will be but it can be challenging sometimes.

Take yesterday, for example.
I was told to go to the science building and go to room 12, which would be a classroom for more than 100 students. Fine, I knew where the building was and, even though I'd never been in it, I figured it would be easy enough to find the room.
I walked up the hill to the building and went in. All of the rooms were in the 100s and so I figured that I'd go down a floor to find the double digit rooms. The buildings here are laid out like that:  100s on the first floor, 200s on the second, etc. Sometimes we have a "ground" floor with single and/or double digit rooms but sometimes we don't (a mix of the European and American systems).
I went down the stairs and got to the ground floor and found a room called G-12. This was surprising to me because normally the room number I'm given will indicate any prefixes like that. I peeked in through the window and saw--a (VERY) small lab. It could barely accommodate ten people, let alone close to two hundred.

A little worried at this point, I went up to the library:
Me:  I'm going to ask what is probably a very stupid question.
Student librarians: [look at each other] Okay, that's what we're here for
Me: Where is room 12?!
Student Librarians: [giggle] They *just* renumbered them. In the middle of the semester. They're one of the auditoriums over there

I walk over and, lo and behold, see a workman prying off the little plaque that says "Room 12" and putting one with "Room 152" in its place.
I guess I'm glad I got there early!

Anyway, that's kind of how life's going. Terribly confusing, a bit stressful, but also hilarious.

I don't even know if this makes any sense; it's just how my life is going right now.
How's your life? Any stress or confusing that is hilarious when you sit back and look at it?
Do you think a school should change classroom numbers in the middle of the semester without telling the students?
(I'm not going to lie, I'm looking for validation of my feelings in that last one.)

13 November 2011

A Note of Apology

Hello, all!
I just want to apologise for the lack of content this weekend and for the forthcoming lack of content. It is term paper season and most of the writing I'm doing is for the papers that must be handed in soon (and when I'm not writing them, I am generally studying >.<).

As an apology (and because it's adorable), here are some sleepy puppies and a duckling taken from Iruthk's youtube page:

I hope that helps make up for the lack of posts!

11 November 2011

The Gay Penguins

Penguins tend to mate for life but a pair of male penguins who had become partners were recently separated by a zoo in an attempt to get them to breed (admirable in concept, I suppose). After public outcry, they are now back together.

As a penguin lover and a believer that we are how we are because we are supposed to be that way, I am thrilled. I know I would be devastated if I was separated from my boyfriend and the penguins wouldn't even be able to understand why they were being separated and for how long.

So it's a happy day here. Yay penguins!

08 November 2011

Tuesday Treat: Six-Layer Bar Cookies

I can't promise that this will be a weekly thing (as I said in my last post, it's midterm, term paper, and oh, so much more time at school) BUT I've decided that I do want to post recipes sometimes, at the least.

These are very easy to personalize and I do suggest you do so. I used butterscotch chips, you can use white chocolate chips. I used almonds, you can use pecans, walnuts, cashews, whatever. If you want to chuck something else on these that you think would be delicious, go for it (I think craisins might be nice)! They don't have to be six layers, they can be 7, 12, or really however many can fit in your pan. I do, however, suggest putting something melty evenly throughout (chocolate chips, for example) to hold it together. I also chose to put the almonds on top so they'd brown a little and look pretty and taste extra yummy!

They cut pretty nicely but they are very messy! If you have any questions, ask away!

6-Layer Bar Cookies
(Adapted from an Eagle Brand recipe)

1 and 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted (that's one stick)
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 and 1/2 cups sweetened, flaked coconut
1 bag butterscotch-flavored chips
1 cup chopped or slivered almonds
Similar amounts of anything else you'd like (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (or 325 if you're using glass)
2. Combine graham cracker crumbs and butter and press into the bottom of a 13 by 9 pan (I lined mine with foil so they'd be easier to take out)
3. Pour condensed milk evenly over the crumbs and butter
4. Pour chocolate chips evenly over mixture in pan. Repeat with coconut, butterscotch chips, and almonds (and whatever other ingredients you're using).
5. Press down gently (I just buttered my hands and pressed down that way but you can use a fork if you'd like).
6. Bake 25 minutes. If you did put nuts on top and they're not browned, you can keep them in or stick them under a broiler for a few minutes (watch closely!) until they are.
7. Enjoy! I like them with a big glass of milk!
8. Store leftovers in an airtight container.

07 November 2011

The Foreigner

There are apparently people in Russia reading this!  Hello! Hi! How are you? How did you encounter me? I'm so glad to have you!
I wish I could say something in Russian (okay, I can say about two things but I have NO idea how to write them).  I can also pretty much guarantee that you are better at English than I will ever be at a second (or third, fourth, etc.) language. I'm incredibly jealous.

And a German as well! Hallo, wie geht's?
And hello to anyone from other countries that aren't showing up on my stats!
I wish that the American public school system would get on board with teaching languages at a developmentally worthwhile time and in a functional way. Starting a language in late middle school or early high school is not going to help us much. Very, very few people can pick up and become fluent in a second language starting that late (and they have to be very gifted, very motivated, or both). So many studies have proven that the earlier you start, the better the results and with a growing Spanish-speaking population, this could be vital in their future employment. I also wish that I could (rather than just wishing uselessly) do something to change this.

I understand that, especially with today's economic issues, this will probably never happen (or at least not in my lifetime). It therefore makes it so, so important to me to become at least proficient in another language. I know small amounts of American Sign Language (not British, though, because it confuses me) and German (I used to know a lot more but I lost a ton of it, ironically, during my final year of high school in my AP class). I can generally have basic conversations and get my point across but that's about it (and I feel extremely self-conscious while doing so).

I am hoping to learn Spanish some time in the near future and to keep up what ASL I recall. Both would be extremely useful to me (I hope to be a social worker in an area with a huge Hispanic population) and I do plan on taking Spanish courses. I'd also like to learn some French and Italian and Norwegian and Portuguese and Polish and so much more (all of which I hear spoken on a regular basis, at least to some extent). (Unless I get the money for Rosetta stone, though, I am not currently very positive about these actually happening.) As a child I had always hoped that I would be fluent in tons of languages but it's starting to look doubtful. And if I do end up having children somewhere down the line, I want to speak to them (or have my husband speak to them) in a different language so that they can learn it along with English and they can have that gift.

Until then, I'm muddling along with my one (and sort of two bits) fluency.
Does anyone have any recommendations (other than immersion and Rosetta stone; I'd love both but neither are that financially feasible right now) for learning foreign languages? What about ways to encourage our school systems to start teaching languages in elementary schools? Do you speak any other languages fluently (or close to fluently)? If so, what are they and do you find them useful?

04 November 2011

Pho- versus Faux-

...tographer, that is.

I've been hearing a lot about this debate lately and it's been driving me a little bit crazy (or at least it's making me crazier than usual).

I consider myself a photographer BUT in a strictly hobbiest way. I'm a photographer because I take photographs (but, not being a professional, I'm probably firmly in "fauxtographer" realm to most people). I won't pretend to know much about the DSLR that I sometimes use (I'm working on getting to know it; it's normally not on the auto setting, I know how to white balance, the rule of thirds, aperture and shutter priority, etc. but I still have far to go) and I'm not going to prate on about how unique my shots are (or how much better than they are than those "philistine" studio photographers or some such nonsense).

That being said, I don't like the dichotomy and elitism that's happening, even if it is just from a few whiny people. I've seen plenty of shots from "professional" photographers (those who make their income solely from taking pictures) that make me want to cringe and take away their camera but I have also seen beautiful photos from hobbyists and people that some would consider fauxtographers.

On a bit of a side rant, don't knock the point and shoot. Not everyone aspires to be the next Teenie Harris and not everyone has the time, money, muscles, or motivation to carry around an SLR or DSLR everywhere they go. I always try to have my point and shoot with me because I will NOT carry the big camera most places and I don't want to miss an opportunity to capture something.
(As a note, I know some people who think this is blasphemous:  better to leave it uncaptured than to take a point and shoot picture, which I think is a horrible mentality! I don't want to sell the picture to a gallery, I just want to be able to look back on an occasion and smile and remember.)

In the digital age, anyone can take pictures and enjoy it and being a photographer in some sense of the word. It's become much more accessible (I most likely wouldn't be taking pictures if I had to use film all the time) and available to everyone. Just because they're taking pictures and having fun doesn't mean they're trying to horn in on your field. Try to relax and just be pleased that something you love is bringing joy to others.