December 28, 2012


What an insane roller coaster this year has been.

A year ago I was finishing my first semester at University. I was in a state of perpetual pretzel hoping that I might be able to spend a year living in London, but had no idea if it would actually happen. I was completely clueless about how insanely difficult it would be to get here even if I could... not that it would have stopped me for a second. I hadn't started on anti-anxiety meds yet. I hadn't experienced doing homework in a pub under Tower Bridge or accidentally wandering past the BBC building or knowing that my corner shop sells bread for 15p cheaper than Sainsburys.

Now I rarely have to look at the Tube map to figure out where I'm going. I know where all the good walking-distance pubs are. I have a GP and a National Insurance Number. I've seen several mysterious filming situations and also the Lord Mayor ceremony while randomly wandering the city. I found the best pub EVER, sang karaoke, had my American-ness drunkenly saluted, danced, and wandered London at 3am looking for the night bus to get me home. There's been money difficulty and culture shock and struggles to keep up with my schoolwork. There's also been new friends and new experiences and a lot of stopping and living in the moment with wonder.

I have no idea what 2013 will bring, but I have no doubt it will be exciting and terrifying and amazing and depressing and just plain awesome. Hope yours is the same.

December 23, 2012

Christmastime in London: a picspam

First things first: I finished that damn paper. This morning at about 6am. I immediately celebrated by watching Oz and Hugh Drink to Christmas!, which was far more hilarious than it had any right to be and also kind of got me in the mood for Christmas stuff. Since I wanted to keep myself awake for my weekly Skype call with Mom, I randomly decided to splurge on a travel card and head into London to check out some Christmas-themed sights.

I started at the German Christmas Market on Southbank. Actually I started at London Bridge tube station and chose to walk about two miles along the Thames to the German Christmas Market on Southbank because I didn't think it would be that far. It was a nice morning though, and a nice walk, so I can't really complain. Plus when I finally arrived, I made a beeline for the first "Glühwein" sign I saw. Really must make some of that on Christmas this year. Overall the market was a little bit disappointing... not a lot in the way of German-themed shopping stalls. They didn't even have those giant heart-shaped cookies you wear around your neck, you know the ones... No? Alright, hold on, we'll get to that later.

Since I was just on the other side of the river from Big Ben (and the entrance to the nearest tube station), I decided to meander across Westminster Bridge. It was just a bit sunny, and I suddenly realized I was witnessing a rare phenomenon: the Westminster Bridge Dicks!

Yes, I am twelve. Also HEE! Look at all the dicks!

Close up dicks. This will never not be funny.

That might have been the highlight of my day, I'm not gonnna lie.

Next stop was Hyde Park, where they set up something known as Winter Wonderland each year. I wasn't quite sure what to expect until I walked up to the entrance and saw this guy:

Oh boy...

Basically the place was a seething mass of hyperactive children, on-the-edge-of-their-rope parents, and couples holding hands and schmooping at each other. I did my best to ignore the crowds and just take in the insanity around me. The cup of mulled mead (a brand called Viking's Blood, RAR!) really helped.

One thing I found a bit odd was how German the Winter Wonderland was. It turned out to be about 85% more German than the German Christmas Market I'd just left. In fact, they had dozens of those cookie necklace things I was talking about:

 It's a thing in Germany. Don't ask.

Another thing that was rather insane was the whole carnival set-up. It was basically like an enormous traveling circus except everything was Christmas themed. And German. They had "Santa's Mirror Maze" and a "Christmas Coaster" and the "Barrel of Laughs" in which you pretended you were Christmas Cider being spun in a cask. Frankly I have no idea what's even going on here:

 Except that it's mostly in German.

Oh, and this was also randomly happening:

 It was the "Reindeer Flight Ride." I'm not joking.

I pretty much gave up any expectation when I came upon this:

 Nothing says Merry Christmas! like a haunted house.

 That's actually a Zombie!Santa climbing the tower.
"See you on Christmas, kids! Braaaaaaaaiiiiinsssssss..."

By the time I wound my way through to the end, I was frankly kind of relieved. I'm still not exactly sure what happened inside the gates of Winter Wonderland, but I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to talk about it or remember too much.

I next wandered down to Harrod's Department Store for their supposedly legendary Christmas window displays. I didn't get a chance to take any pictures because the street was rather busy and I didn't want to be one of those douchey types who stops traffic to snap a picture of everything. Also the windows weren't so much Christmas themed as Disney-princess themed, which isn't really my cup of tea, so I just kept wandering until I got back to the tube and headed towards Covent Garden.

This was definitely the most pleasant and Christmas-y part of the trip. It was crowded as well, but there was a bit more breathing room and the Christmas decor was a bit less... er... terrifying, shall we say? Although I did stumble upon this gem: a Christmas tree made of Jack Daniels barrels.

Traditional British decor.

Actually the one thing all the Christmas markets had in common (including Winter Wonderland... ESPECIALLY Winter Wonderland) was that there was plenty of booze to be had. Not just beer and wine either, but hard liquor in shot and bomb form. You have to hand it to the Brits (and possibly Europeans in general), they never lack in the calming restorative nectar department. Bless them.

I meant to also go to Trafalgar Square, but somehow got it mixed up in my head with Tottenham Court Road, and basically when I realized I didn't know which tube station to go to, I decided I was tired enough to head home. So I did.

Here's a bonus picture, actually taken about a month ago when the famous Oxford Street Christmas lights first went up:


(In case you can't make out the picture, it's one elf diving into a jar of Marmite while another barfs into his hat. The caption beneath says "You either love it or hate it." For the record, I'm the barfing elf. Eurgh, Marmite.)

Random observation of the day: The Little Italy bagel sandwich from Bagel Factory is one of the most delicious things on the planet. I got to have one today. Which means no matter how annoyed I got by people bumping into me or how sore my feet became by the time I went home, today was an amazing day. It's the little things that do it sometimes.

December 19, 2012

Life on the couch revisited

I haven't updated for a few days because I haven't actually been doing anything except sitting on the couch coughing my way through a mild cold and trying to get myself to work on all my overdue papers. Not terribly exciting, I'm afraid.

I did succeed in finishing two of them, which leaves one still overdue and another not due until early January. Unfortunately it's the overdue one that's holding me up. I'm flailing about it for reasons I can't quite pin down, but I think they have to do with wanting the paper to be amazing because it's for my favorite class. I'm intimidated, I suppose. Some part of my brain is telling me I'm not good enough to write this paper. It's lying, I know, but that doesn't stop me from listening.

Fortunately it's for Professor Awesome's class and he's being, well, awesome about it. I at least have a very general outline now, so maybe I can just start writing and worry about the quality once I've gotten past all that horrible white space.

Besides that I'm just waiting for (my one and only) payday so I have an excuse to leave the house for groceries. Depending on the size of the paycheck, I may check out the German Christmas Market (which I'm told is somewhere on Southbank), splurge on a cup of Glühwein, and maybe see The Hobbit. If, that is, I get that last overdue paper done. I'll consider it a reward.

Observation of the day: Even when it feels cold enough to snow here, it doesn't. Or at least it hasn't, yet. Today was all rainy though, which I still love.

December 15, 2012

So... that happened

It's been a rather intense weekend. And there's still more to go...

Thursday night I ended up meeting mostly the same crew from Monday night, Professor Awesome included. This time I managed to go the whole night without disremembering, falling, or otherwise injuring myself. I did spend money that I really shouldn't have, but besides that it was fun. I kind of wish I'd gotten to know my classmates a little sooner.

Unfortunately this led to another day of sleeping and being useless on Friday. I managed to be well rested and ready for work this morning though, so again, yay me!

This is where things get a bit schizophrenic. My shift started pretty well, actually. I got my assigned rooms (a reduced number since I was basically starting back at square one after re-training) and actually got them all done two hours before my shift was due to end. I was quite proud of myself. I offered to help out with anything outstanding since I was scheduled to be there a while longer, and was assigned another room.

That's when it all fell apart.

Basically, everything that could go wrong with the room did. I could not get the fucking duvet cover on properly, so it took me ages to do the bed. That was the first time my supervisor popped in and told me I needed to go faster. Then the vacuum (sorry, Hoover) barely worked. Then my back tried to give out on me while I was cleaning the tub, so that took longer than usual as well. By this point my supervisor had been in two more times, making sure to say "you need to go faster" at least once or twice per visit. Finally one of the spray bottles of cleaner fell apart in my hand and spilled all over the carpet.

I still managed to hold it together, in spite of my supervisor lurking and making sure I knew I had to move faster.

Finally all I had to do was put away the trolley (the stuff with all the linens and whatnot that maids drag around the halls to avoid running back and forth to the linen closets) and vacuum the hallway. Unfortunately the porters hadn't bothered to empty the thing of dirty linen the entire day so it wouldn't fit in the closet until I called to get someone to clean it out already. Meanwhile I ran back to my section to finish the vacuuming while the porter emptied the trolley, which was where I was confronted yet again by the supervisor, telling me I need to go faster.

If anyone heard a CRACK around 5:30pm GMT (that's 11:30am back home), that was my sanity giving way.

A meltdown ensued involving lots of crying and several other supervisors trying to convince me not to quit. To be honest I have no idea why they even cared if I stayed or not... the only feedback I've ever gotten from this any of them is that I'm not fast enough. Even the assistant head of housekeeping got involved and basically tried to prop me up by saying that he knows it's a stressful job, but that's good because it prepares you and makes you stronger.

Uhm. Ok.

What I wish I'd said at the time is: "Seriously? If that were true, I'd be the motherfucking Hulk by now. Stress =/= strength, stress = more and more anxiety until I end up in an institution screaming HULK SMASH at the motherfucking orderlies."

Instead I told him I'd think about it and get back to him. Not that I plan to do either. I'm so very gone from that place.

So, I'm unemployed again. Now I just have to figure out What To Do Next. Fortunately I have a list started, so I'm on the way. Number One is to concentrate on getting my end of term papers done. Once they're in the bag, I'll intensify the job hunt and make a very careful budget for the next month or so.

Also at the top of my list: pretending that I do not have a sore throat or a mouth full of cold sores. (HULK SMASH!)

December 12, 2012

(Sort of) Movie review: Magic Mike

(Things get a wee bit ranty up in here, but I tried to keep it somewhat light after venting off all The Rage in my first draft. Enjoy!)

After a day of stuffing film theory in my head, I got a text from the roomie: "Was thinking Magic Mike, tomato soup, tuna melts."

My response: "OOMG YES PLS." (sic.)

Much amazing food was had and I even managed to get a bit more studying in during the snore-inducing "plot" scenes. I also became kind of curious about the movie, so popped onto IMDb to check it out, which was when I stumbled onto a thread honking about the "double standard" of the movie.

Seriously you guys. I could not stop laughing.

Basically the arguments against the film and the primarily female audience's reactions were made by men crossing their arms and HRMPHing something about how if someone made a movie about female strippers and they made such a big deal about seeing it, women would have an absolute snit.

First of all, at least three movies about female strippers spring immediately to mind. Showgirls, Striptease, and Dancing at the Blue Iguana. Those are just off the top of my head. Already these poor men are losing the battle.

Second, cry me a river. For real. If there isn't a single man out there decrying this film as the direct result of a bruised ego, I'll eat my laptop. They can wave their double standards! flag all they want, but if they conquered their discomfort long enough to watch the film they'd see how misogynist it is. Women are portrayed as either pathetically screaming and waving money around or ready to leap into bed with the object of their lust without a single thought. The male strippers in the movie love their jobs, because they spend their working hours having their egos stroked and their off hours having their dicks stroked, both by slathering fangirls. The one "normal" woman in the film is so shrewish in her rejection of the lifestyle that she swiftly becomes intolerable.

Does this detract from my enjoyment of the film? Hell no. Especially with the DVD release, which allowed me to skip right past all that pesky plot and just watch the dance scenes. I did see it in the theater as well and although I did not witness any of the screaming exuberance that seems to irk so many of these harping men, my friend and I joked throughout about throwing quarters at the screen and get to the damn dance sequences already. And also Matthew McConaughey because he is fucking hilarious in this movie. Alright alright alright indeed.

Most guys I know probably do not feel this way. I'm sure most of them are perfectly fine with the women in their lives, be they wives, girlfriends, sisters, or friends, appreciating the, er, aesthetics of the movie. They may be a little threatened by our attraction to the film's stars, but most of them understand that we women feel the same way when our significant others' eyes start to fall out of their heads during trailers with Angelina Jolie in them. And if we women celebrate the existence of Magic Mike a little more vocally than men are "allowed" to cheer on the lovely Ms. Jolie's topless scenes, it's because women have spent so much time in the passive, "looked at" role and men in the active, "looking" role. If you don't believe me, I have reams of film studies essays to back me up. When this position is ever-so-rarely reversed, we get a little excited.

We shouldn't have to apologize for that. Or for this:

You're welcome, my male-enamored friends.

I should be writing my paper, but...

I didn't post the past few days because I was engaged in/recovering from the quintessential student experience of closing down the pub with my fellow students and also Professor Awesome. Because he's, you know. Awesome.

Speaking of quintessential experiences, I also had one later that night as I wandered drunkenly around central London attempting to find where my Night Bus picks up. It took a long time and a very helpful mystery man named Adam to get me there. Along the way I had a disagreement with the pavement. I lost.

Pavement 1, Melanie 0

But before all the fun got started, I successfully sold two textbooks and netted nearly £18, which means I got to buy litter for the cats and food for all of us last night. Because I'm not gonna lie, the litterbox situation had reached Defcon One and all of us were suffering.

I also attended a Christmas party for the Film Studies department. One of the many things I love about attending University in England is that there is free wine at every event. I mean, every event. There were also nibbles, and I had my first mince pie (which, in spite of the name, contain no meat).

Random observation of the day: American college students love buying rounds. Just because they can. Bless them. Or possibly curse them.

December 9, 2012

What a difference a competent manager makes...

I think I figured out a way to conquer the snooze button problem... adding my cell phone in as an alternate alarm so I have to hit snooze twice as often, which wakes me up more effectively. Worked like a charm this morning!

Today was an interesting day at work. Which is saying a lot because let's face it, being a maid at a major Mystery Hotel Chain is not that interesting.

Thanks to my skive day yesterday, I was oblivious to the staff meeting that started at 9am this morning. I showed up at 10am and had missed most of the meeting already, but I did get there in time for the Housekeeping manager to basically chew the entire maid staff a collective new asshole. Then I got called up to her office for a one-on-one meeting, which made me pretty nervous after my lateness, my skive day, and the fact that I know I'm well behind the curve as far as work performance.

It turns out she just wanted to straighten out all the lack of training I got as a result of being the only part-time new hire. She had been away my first two weeks so hadn't been able to check in until now, only to find that nobody bothered to actually train me properly. Rather than sending me off on my own again, she paired me up with an extremely skilled and very nice gentleman maid (about 85% of the maids are dudes, which is sort of hilarious) who taught me some actual useful tricks that required very little short-cutting to get the rooms clean. Frankly, they should have sent me out with this guy much sooner because I finally learned the real trick to putting a duvet cover on in under 30 second, without breaking your arms - or even a sweat - in the process.

I'm still going to keep looking for another job, because this one is really just too physically intense for me at this point, and also it pays terribly (just a hair above minimum wage and about 25% under London living wage). But at least I feel less stressed about this job in the meantime.

Random observation of the day: I always feel kind of bad when people tell me their English is "not so good." I've yet to meet someone who told me that whose English skills are not perfectly acceptable. Not to mention the fact that I certainly don't speak a second language, like, at all, so as far as I'm concerned they're a hell of a lot better at languages than I am. I wish they'd stop being so hard on themselves... I admire the hell out of them.

December 8, 2012

A little bit of skivving never hurt anyone

Sometimes you just need a skive day, ya know? Especially after the day I had yesterday.

Without going into too much detail, I ended up calling an ambulance for someone last night around 3am. Long story short, the person in question is totally fine and the story isn't actually that interesting. But it did result in a night of insomnia which further resulted in an unexpected day off from work.

Things could be worse, really.

While researching for one of my final papers, I got distracted by the source material and ended up having an accidental Hellraiser marathon. It's been deliciously nostalgic… I adored these flicks and this mythology when I was a teenager. Hellbound: Hellraiser II was the second horror movie I ever saw (the first was Poltergeist 2), when I was maybe twelve years old. Hellraiser: Bloodline (the fourth movie) came out around the time I graduated high school, when my infatuation with Fangoria was at its peak and I was consuming horror movies like they were going out of style (which, for the record, they weren't). Bloodline (aka Pinhead! In! Space!) is the only one I've seen in the theater… after that one they were just churned out straight to video and are now up to… oh, nine? Ten? At any rate, the first four movies were pretty important to my development as a horror connoisseur (doesn't that sound fancier than fangirl?), so it's been a load of fun revisiting them.

Sadly it means I'm not getting much work done. Just for the record, I have a 3000 word essay due on Wednesday, another 3000 word essay due on Friday, a 1750 word essay due on Saturday, and a 2500 word essay with is thankfully not due until January. Plus one final exam on Monday. No pressure!

Random observation of the day: Say what you will about the NHS (National Healthcare System) here in the UK, but I can't tell you how much of a relief it is to be able to summon an ambulance knowing it's not going to put anyone in debt. This is what we're missing out on in the US and it sucks.

December 7, 2012

How to waste a lot of time, but still get shit done

Seriously needing to do something about this snooze button situation. May have to move the clock across the room. UGH, I HATE DOING THAT.

Today was mostly focused on getting to the BFI (British Film Institute, for those of you who didn't take notes yesterday, shameful) library so that I could scan all those pages of research. Remember how I was supposed to bring along my USB drive this time so I wasn't wasting my time looking up all that stuff? Yeah, I didn't either until about twenty minutes into my studies. After much headdesking, I made the hour-long commute back home, grabbed the USB drive, then made the hour-long commute back to BFI.

Finally I could get down to business! It was a full-on musical montage of poring through dusty books and cataloged magazines and harried librarians digging through basements stack for missing back-issues of Fangoria and jotting of careful notes. Finally I had my material all picked out and ready for scanning. This was when I found it that they charge for scanning. Something nobody had bothered to let me know about before this.

Keep in mind, I'm absolutely broke. Like, £.17 in my bank account and £.34 in my pocket broke. The cost for scanning? £.20 per page.

Needless to say, I could only clutch my head as the librarian announced that the library would be closing in half an hour. All this work, all this ridiculous commuting back and forth, for nothing.

Then I glanced at my phone. My phone with the camera setting. My camera, which was kind of like a scanner.


So it's not a perfect solution, and I'll be squinting a lot while I read my materials, but 165 photos later I have what I need, now transferred from my phone to my laptop. Take that, British Film Institute.

Random observation of the day: Some people just do not get the whole stand-on-the-right, walk-on-the-left escalator rule. Mostly those people are tourists with suitcases and oblivious stares. If you come to London, for the love of all that is holy and unholy, do not stand on the left when riding an escalator. You will incite the silent, tutting rage of countless London commuters stuck behind you, unable to do anything because they are too polite to ask you to move.

December 6, 2012

My life is schoolwork

Oh, snooze button. We're really becoming codependent, aren't we? This has got to stop.

After my last sessions of Contemporary Hollywood Cinema (yay!) and British Horror (boo!), I started some research for my various final papers. This involved, just so you know, a trip past the Tower of London and across Tower Bridge. I made a point to eyeroll a little at all the camera-wielding tourists because I'm a LONDONER now and, you know, NDB YOU GAIZ SHEESH. Then I couldn't help but wonder how many times you walk past/over such an icon of London before you stop having to ogle at it.

I'm guessing a while.

After vising Unicorn Theatre for my London/Culture/Performance paper, I moseyed over to the British Film Institute library to do some research for my CHC paper on Paranormal Activity and my BH paper on Hellraiser. Which was when I discovered that they have back issues of Fangoria starting in 1988 and had a combined nerdgasm/nostalgiagasm. Also discovered in order to bring home any relevant articles I'll have to scan them rather than print them, so will be heading back tomorrow with my trusty stolen borrowed USB drive.

Got home to find a package had been left for me with one of the neighbors. The gentleman who lives next door kindly handed over what turned out to be my cigarette order, sent to me from US Customs after they determined that London is actually in the UK rather than the US. Got that, United KINGDOM =/= United STATES. Let's remember that for next time, shall we? Still, it was rather nice of US Customs to send me my cigarettes.

Also got the excellent news that the hold on my account that happened after the whole health insurance debacle* was successfully appealed so I can register for Spring and therefore get my financial aid. Massive relief there. Money is still difficult but at least I won't be forced to cut my time abroad short! A lot of the American associates I take classes with are getting ready to go home after finals, with lots of "I don't want to leave yet!" going on. Every time I hear that I'm so very glad that I was determined to stay a whole year rather than just a semester. No matter how tough some things have been, I love being right where I am.

*If you have no idea what I mean about the health insurance debacle, leave a comment and I'll do a proper post about it.

Random observation of the day: I ended up taking a different train than I usually do to school today, and I'm almost positive the guy sitting across the row from me was Colin Farrell. It wasn't a great angle and also I didn't want to stare creepily, so I'm not 100% sure, but I'm going to call it my first celebrity sighting anyway.

December 5, 2012

A day in the life

It's nearly the end of the my first semester in London. I don't know where the time went, but the quick run-down of my life since I last posted (I don't know when that even was and I'm too lazy to go look) is this: I'm clawing my way through my classes; I'm broke beyond belief (£.17 in my bank account right now, no lie); and I started a job with a hotel which will not be named as a housekeeper, which may actually kill me.

Don't worry, things aren't as dire as they sound. I'm also still enjoying school and the fact that I'm in London, I'm feeling a lot of love for my friends, my Mom is amazing, and Christmas/my 35th birthday are just around the corner.

So! On with business. I'm normally off Wednesdays, but since Professor Awesome was offering a review session for British Horror I dragged myself out of bed at what was supposed to be 8am but turned into 9am after I poked the snooze button a little too much. I did get really lucky with transportation, catching a bus and both trains within a few minutes of arriving at each place.

I've been listening to the latest (2009) 30 Seconds to Mars album rather obsessively on the commute for the past few days, partly because my phone is stupid and partly because the album is EPIC and lots of fun to listen to while traveling. Seriously, try cranking "Kings & Queens" while in a moving vehicle of any kind and tell me you don't have the urge to climb on top of whatever it is and throw your arms out and pretend you're flying. Always helpful for gearing up to sit in a classroom for several hours talking film theory... Luckily Professor Awesome kept it interesting as always, in spite of his noticeable head cold. The good news about British Horror is that I've finally settled on a topic for my paper; the bad news is I only have a week to make an excellent 3000 word essay out of it. Also the class is almost over, which makes me sadface. #FirstWorldProblems

I attempted to sell some textbooks to get money for cat litter. Found out I can't do that until Monday, and only two of the three will be taken by my school bookstore. However, I later determined that I can sell the third book - along with one of the Film Studies books I impulsively brought to London with me - on the internets. w00t! With luck, the total sale will net me around £40. That's a lot of cat litter! And boy is it needed... the damn box is about 80% pee, 10% poo, 10% litter. YIKES.

Now if my cigarettes would just show up... they appear to have been shipped to the US for some reason, but the online store isn't answering me when I tell them I'm in the UK now (as I have been for the last two perfectly successful orders). I am making a trollface right now. Thank goodness for the random pack of cigs I found on the steps into the Tube station near my job and the idiot who dropped a nearly full box. However, the supply is almost out and then I'm in full-on nicotine withdrawal until I have money/get the smokes I ordered. Look out, London.

Random observation of the day: a British girl in my Horror class who I always thought was a bit detached and arrogant turned out to be an amazingly funny and cool person when I finally got a chance to talk to her today. I love when a person I've judged totally breaks down my first impressions and makes me remember why those judgments I make are bullshit, just like the judgments I think people make about me are bullshit.

October 21, 2012

Just a little bit of culture shock

I'm nearly two months into my London Adventure and I've yet to update. See, it turns out there's so much cool stuff I want to talk about that I started to get overwhelmed by it. Every time I think of updating this blog I basically just freeze up with all the things I want to tell you.

The solution to this problem is that I'm just going to do a quickie update now, and then try to post small, frequent updates from now on. Although I've not experienced much culture shock, there's still little things I see everyday that make living here really fascinating and amazing. So I'll talk about the little things.

My one big moment of culture shock was actually related to school supplies. Somehow I just never imagined that school supplies would be different here, but they are. It all came to a head over folders. You know, these things:

The things that cost 50 cents and hold all your loose papers for class and generally are just a total staple of school shopping? They don't exist here.

I went into a bit of a panic. How am I supposed to organize handouts? Where am I supposed to put things? WHAT THE HELL DO STUDENTS DO HERE??? I was getting seriously overwrought over fucking folders.

Don't worry, it all came out alright. After what seemed like a ridiculous amount of internet research, I found these:

They're called "document wallets" and they basically saved my sanity. Since then it's been pretty smooth sailing in the school supplies department.

September 8, 2012

The Journey

I woke up at 6:30am on leaving day (Sunday) so that I could make sure all of my stuff was piled into one place before going to pick up the rental car. My lovely friend Lisa brought me to the airport to pick up the car from Alamo, which took no time since we were there at 8:00am on a Sunday morning (on Labor Day weekend). I headed back to the apartment to pick up my things & get the cats loaded. This took a bit longer than I anticipated because the cats were rather freaked out from the new roommate moving in the previous day. With help from Roomie, we managed to round them up and carry them out to the car. One of the travel crates went into the backseat with the door open, the other was taken apart and stuck in the trunk. One last hug from the Roomie and I set off to pick up Mom from my aunt's house.

(Aside... a few days previous Mom called and explained how she'd been so anxious about me driving to Denver on my own (because I've never driven across the country by myself, especially during the five years I lived in DC and drove back & forth to Minnesota twice a year /sarcasm), so she'd decided to get a one-way ticket from Denver to Minneapolis so she could drive down with me. I was sort of indifferent to the idea but thought she'd feel better about it so agreed immediately. By the time we separated at Denver airport, I was so ridiculously grateful that she was there. Moms are far more awesome than we give them credit for sometimes.)

Anyway, after a brief pause at the aunt's to transfer the last of my not-coming-with stuff (mostly bedding) to Mom's car, we set off. I had to pull over after half a block when I realized I'd left the directions in my carry-on, which was in the trunk. And then we were off!

Our route took us south into Iowa, across the whole of Nebraska, then into Colorado. Naturally we were driving the plains by day and didn't hit the Rockies until well after dark. The car's gas mileage was epic, nearing 40 miles/gallon. We only had to fill up three times, the final time right before dropping off. Not bad for a 14-hour drive. The first half of the drive was pretty uneventful except for the boys yowling offendedly for an hour or two. They spent the rest of the ride occasionally popping into the front seat to visit but otherwise quite calm. They even used the little disposable litter box I'd installed behind the driver's seat. In the last hour or so of the drive, they decided it was time for some lap cuddles. Luckily I was driving on a wide highway with cruise control, so they weren't too distracting. Fizzgig spent most of the hour on my lap as Mom fretted and tried to encourage him onto her lap instead. It was pretty much adorable.

At one point we passed through what appeared to be some sort of fog, but for some reason it smelled horrible. Like something had died, been eaten, then shit out, then eaten by something else and shit out again before whatever ate it died in the pile of shit. Seriously, it was horrible. The smell dissipated once we'd passed through the fog, but it still took ten minutes for it to fade entirely. We still have no idea what caused either the fog or the stench.

We spent the night at a hotel in Denver. I dropped Mom, the boys, and our luggage off and then drove out to the airport to return the car. Unfortunately there was a definite cat pee smell when I cleared everything out, so I stopped at a gas station near the airport where I vacuumed the car and hosed it down with Fabreeze, then drove around for a bit with the windows open. The Fabreeze bottle got left behind by the vacuum since I thought it would be a bit suspicious if I walked into the return office carrying it. I got a cab from the airport since the blasted hotel shuttle stopped running a few minutes after we checked in, stopping along the way for McDonald's provisions.

The next morning we loaded up the boys and got on the shuttle. The loud, rackety ride was far more traumatic for the cats than the 14-hour rental car trip was, which put me In A Mood. I did notice that the distant mountains (which I was seeing for the first time) looked more like a matte painting than reality, which would have been fascinating if I hadn't been in a state of growing anxiety over the cats. We brought them into the airport and took a half hour or so in a quiet spot to try to calm them down. Then we went to check in the luggage, where we found out that the cats had to be taken to a separate shipping facility south of the airport. My frustration growing, we went to find a cab who could hopefully find the way there and not traumatize my cats any further. I had a slight breakdown as we got in the cab, but between my mom and the ridiculously sweet driver, they had me laughing and somewhat less stressed by the time we arrived at the shipping place. The cats were whisked away rather abruptly, but I managed to hold it together. One of the gentlemen who worked there was ridiculously kind and gave us a ride back to the terminal in his personal truck. That was when I started to feel better about the boys, knowing they were in good hands.

Mom & I then had about two hours to hang out waiting for our flights. We found a surprisingly nice smoking lounge and spent our time there, chatting and laughing. We both managed to keep it together when it was time to say goodbye. We'd lingered in the smoking lounge long enough that I only had to wait about ten minutes to board my flight.

This is where the story gets really boring, because I was sitting on a flight for about seven hours. I watched The Hunger Games (finally), 500 Days of Summer, and other random stuff. I was sitting in an aisle seat because all the window seats were taken. I thought it might be a nice change, but it wasn't. Mostly I just got bumped into a lot. We landed in Iceland around 6:10am and I was already exhausted.

Then something kind of awesome happened. Because the gate we landed at happened to only be two down from the gate I would be taking off from, I wandered over to watch them offload luggage on the off chance I might be able to see the boys. And I did! I have to be honest, there was some mucus happening as I watched them load the crates onto a cart. I followed them as they were driven the short distance to the other gate and watched as they were loaded on the plane. It was a huge relief even though I couldn't actually see them inside the carriers, since one of my biggest fears about taking Iceland Air was that they would somehow neglect to be loaded onto the second plane with me. I was still smiling when we were ushered onto the flight an hour or so later.

The second flight was as uneventful as the first, but this time I had a window seat in the emergency exit row, so was considerably more comfortable. I also got a fantastic view as we descended over London; the Eye, the Shard, the Gherkin, Big Ben & Parliament, Tower Bridge & the Tower of London... I could make them all out in miniature below as we circled around to the airport. My forehead was all but glued to the window.

The happy didn't end there though... once we were landed and engaged in the impatient shuffle-wait that is part of disembarking any plane, I looked out the window in time to see the luggage conveyor pulling up. I kept watching, thinking there was no way I'd still be on the plane in time to see them taken off, surely they'd be the last ones off like in Iceland... then down the belt came two familiar crates. I was literally hands-plastered-to-window as I looked, because I could actually see them this time, see their heads moving anxiously to follow the sounds around them. See, the biggest fear I had in bringing them over was of course that they wouldn't survive the flight. That there may be just too much stress and things could go terribly wrong. But I could see, before I even got off the plane, that they were alive and well (if very, very pissed off). As I write this now, one is snoozing away next to me while the other munches cat food out of their new bowl.

Next there was the business of customs and border patrol, which was entirely painless. I chatted with the officer about school as he stamped my Visa and sent me on my way. Both of my bags showed up on the carousel and I whisked them through the "Nothing To Declare" queue because I definitely did not have a carton & a half of cigarettes nestled away in one of them. I got a cab to the Animal Reception Centre, which (as it says on the tin) was where I'd be collecting the boys. Procedure/paperwork went flawlessly but took nearly four hours (which I'd been prepared for). While there I chatted with some fellow Americans who had been on the same flights with me from Denver. Once I finally had the boys, we took a cab to our new home in the south of London. The ride took about an hour and was mostly on the small and rather terrifying streets of the city rather than on any highway. I was pretty well knackered by then (hello, British slang!) and just sat back to enjoy the scenery.

We arrived at the house, where I was greeted by my lovely friend/Sis Suzanne, right about 6pm London time. Subtracting six hours for the time difference, this made our trip just about fifty hours.

Next: settling into life in London.

September 1, 2012


Here it is, folks. The countdown timer on my laptop is currently at 10 hours, 51 minutes until departure at 9:00am tomorrow.

In my last post I talked about goodbyes. I've said most of them at this point and the odd thing is that I've been generally pretty unemotional about them. Not that they don't suck, it's just... I think I'm a bit numb right now. Even though I'm leaving tomorrow, even though I wasn't at Fest today, even though my entire life now consists of three bags and two cat kennels, it doesn't feel real somehow. It feels like I'll be seeing everyone next week or next month. It feels like I'll be sitting on this couch again next month. That I'll be going back to work on Monday. That nothing's changed. To be honest, I don't know when it'll truly hit me; maybe not until I wake up in my London bed for the first time with my cats piled on top of me.

Meanwhile, it's been a hell of a week.

This was the final week of preparation, most of it involving hoop-jumping for the cats' travel and packing/purging/moving of stuff. Not to mention some final socializing. What has amazed me the most about it all is probably the fact that I actually got everything done on time. Today I did little more than stay out of the way as roomie's new roomie moved in. It was kind of nice considering how exhausted I am from everything this week, both physically and emotionally.

Mom's decided to accompany me on the drive to Denver, which rocks for both of us. Meanwhile I'm just here on the couch with nervous kitties all around me, ready to pass out for the night.

I may post from Denver tomorrow night if a)anything interesting happens on the way and b)I'm not totally bushed from the drive. If not, next post will likely involve a lot of incoherent squeeing from London. Wish me luck!

August 23, 2012

The goodbyes begin...

There are moments when the time before I leave seems to move at a glacial pace; at other times I feel like I'm sprinting keep up with it.

Life As Usual has begun to wrap up. I finished at one of my jobs last Friday, and today is the final day at my other job. I had the usual amazing time at the Renaissance Festival over the weekend, now this weekend will be my last. I have a feeling this Sunday is going to be a bit tearful.

The upcoming week will consist mostly of finishing up the packing/purging/storing process, along with some last-minute appointments for Operation Brit-Kittehs and a bit more of seeing people. The Friday before I go will involve a 21st Anniversary celebration of me and the BFF's friendship, followed by hanging out with my mom on Saturday. I can't really imagine a better way to spend my last few days here.

I don't feel stressed about the move, but there's some physical symptoms cropping up anyway. Fatigue, stomach issues, even an epic herpes outbreak (relax, it's just a cold sore. A giant motherfucking cold sore that covers most of my lower lip aaauugghhh). I seriously believe if not for the Citalopram, I would be a hot mess right now. I mean... even more than I am.

Meanwhile, my closet and dresser are currently empty because I did (another) practice pack, this time using my two new duffel suitcases. I made a huge dent in my Pile 'o' Crap as well, which is an awesome relief. All that's left to do is fully conquer the Pile, pack up the non-bedroom stuff (movies, books, and dishes), and haul it all over to Mom's. If all goes as planned, it'll be done by next week Friday.

The next post will likely be titled ZOMG I'M LEAVING TOMORROW AAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!! See you then!

July 30, 2012

Operation Brit Kittehs is a go!

Operation Brit Kittehs has finally (FINALLY) gotten settled.

As I mentioned in my last post, the plan has officially become a drive to Denver the day before my flight, which has now moved to September 3rd. After several phone calls and extended emails, all I could manage to wrestle out of Iceland Air was a free change of itinerary. I tried for a hotel voucher, maybe some discount with the rental car, but it was a no-go. Either a full refund and I'm on my own finding a ticket at least $1000 more expensive, or they could do that one-time flight change. By the time we got to that point, I was so worn down I was just happy not to have to pay any more for the change. The moral of this story is, airlines suck - but at least Iceland Air sucks a little less than others.

Meanwhile, the cat kennels have been ordered (along with various accoutrements from an awesome website called, who are experts in helping prepare kennels and pets for travel). The boys will be traveling separately rather than smooshed into one larger kennel, not only because it's a bit cheaper but because they'll be more comfortable that way. Not to mention it'll be less of a hassle trying to fit them in the rental car. They've done long drives before (moving from DC to Maine, then from Maine to Minnesota) so the one-day drive to Denver shouldn't bother them too horribly. Plus we get a night in a hotel for them to chill before we go on to the airport. Not that they're going to enjoy it, but it'll also help that I'll be with them most of the way.

Which pretty much leaves my to-do list with pack/purge, cancel cell phone, and get the boys their final check-up before the flight. It's a bit weird to see all those tick marks on my list and know that from this point on it's mostly just basic moving stuff and saying goodbye to everyone. I'll be paying my last rent check in the US today. I mean, weird. Even though it got pushed out a week, it's still really damn close. And it's really actually happening.

I've been watching the Olympics quite a bit, not so much for the sports (although I do like gymnastics and diving) but for the London love. Olympic Village is only about a mile from my school, Queen Mary University. In fact, I believe the dorms are even being used by some of the Olympics people. Plus I just adore every shot of the city; at one point I simply stared and breathed "I'll be living there soon." For all the difficulty I've had making this happen (most of it related to Operation Brit Kittehs), it's so very worth it. I can't wait.

July 19, 2012

Some good news, some headdesk-worthy news

We'll start with the news that had me slamming my head against my desk today. It's all about Operation Brit-Kittehs.

When I cancelled my Delta flight and booked through Iceland Air, I made sure beforehand to call IA, as well as British Customs and the animal control people at Heathrow, just to make sure this would be fine. I was assured numerous times, after explaining my trepidation following the Delta incident, that Iceland Air would transport my boys in the cargo hold per the rules of British Customs. So I made my reservation and began shopping for an appropriately-sized kennel for the cats.

Today I called IA to officially book the boys on the flight. The woman I talked to said it was done, that I was to bring them to the baggage counter the day of the flight and pay the extra cost then. All was right with the world.

Then I got a phone call.

Turns out I had to do the actual booking through the cargo department, so I was given another number to call. Needless to say, I could feel something wasn't right. I called the cargo department, and after a protracted and hideously frustrating conversation, was told that the only (ONLY) city in the U.S. that they don't ship cargo from? You guessed it. Minneapolis. And the nearest city they do ship cargo from? Denver. The one in fucking COLORADO.

This is where the headdesking began.

Grinding my teeth, I called the reservation line back and got another woman on the line, who was absolutely flabbergasted by this news. So much so that she took my number down and promised to call me back tomorrow once she'd sorted this all out. I do kind of love her right now. However, I don't hold any delusions at this point that I'm going to be able to bring my cats with me from Minneapolis to London.

So now we're on to plan... I don't know, R, maybe?

After spending most of my afternoon researching online, I decided my best bet is going to be switching my IA flight from Minneapolis to Denver. Then, because no flights, trains, or buses going that route are willing to let me bring two cats on their vehicles, I will rent a car and fucking drive to fucking Denver with my fucking cats. Because yes, it is that important to me to bring them. And it will still be far cheaper than having a company ship them for me.

The only sticky part of this plan is how much I can wring out of IA. I fully expect a free change of my flight. I'm hoping for perhaps a hotel voucher in Denver since the fourteen-hour drive means I'll need to spend the night at the airport rather than driving all night to make a 5:00pm-ish flight. What I'm going to try extra hard for is to get them to foot the bill for the rental car. I'm guessing that will be a no, but I'm sure as hell going to try.

Also, maybe a bump up to first class. I mean, c'mon people!

Fear not, there's still good news. It starts with a UPS "we missed you!" note on my door Monday evening. I thought it was a package related to something else, so sort of forgot about it until the "um, hallo? Y U NO HOME?" notice I found on Tuesday. I decided to just work my way to the UPS store via eleventeen buses to pick it up myself, since they apparently only deliver during work hours and insisted on getting my signature.

Eleventeen buses and a mile or so walk to the UPS place later, I was surprised to be handed a shipping envelope rather than a package.

It can't be my visa, I thought. They said they'd email me when it was approved or denied. Plus I'm supposed to arrange payment for a courier to deliver it to me.

I poked at the envelope enough to determine the contents were decidedly passport-sized. I immediately ripped it open, pulled out what was indeed my passport (still not lost in San Diego or Louisville, thank goodness), and began to thumb through the pages.

There it was. One page thirteen. (Because OF COURSE page thirteen.) My Tier 4 student visa, pasted to the page, valid from August 17, 2012 to August 17, 2013.

Operation Gief Citizenship is officially a success.

This was the last hurdle in getting me to the UK for a year. I got accepted to Queen Mary, got my financials sorted, kept my grades up, did all the paperwork (ALL the paperwork), and now I'm 100% official.

I think we'll leave it on that extremely happy note. Hopefully there will be another satisfied update on Operation Brit-Kittehs soon.

July 18, 2012

The to-do list is slowly shrinking...

Ever wondered what it takes to move countries for a year and bring your cats along?


Operation Purge and Pack made some impressive headway over the last week or so. I have successfully culled my wardrobe down to only what I'm bringing with me (with the exception of a few items which I'm hanging onto for sentimental value). Half of my dresser is empty, ditto closet. No more piles of clothes laying around waiting to be sorted. I threw away a few bags of stuff that was too old or beat up for donation. The rest went to Goodwill.

I made some headway with storing books as well. I loaded up ten of these with most of my bookshelves:

As we use up more litter I'll finish up the books. The first ten are already living in Mom's garage. The empty shelves make me feel trés accomplished. Not to mention my brilliant re-purposing of litter buckets. Mum was also kind enough to buy me half a dozen plastic bins to store my movies and any other miscellany that I have room for. I have a box of those big black trash bags for storing pillows/blankets/etc in. I'm even working on a list of my furniture to determine what's going where. I am all over this shit.

Operation Brit-Kittehs is also cranking along nicely. I'm making final preparations with both the airline and the customs agent who is going to make sure everything runs smoothly once we arrive at Heathrow. The customs agent is going to cost me around $700, which is a vast improvement over the $4000 I was quoted for the whole package. I still have to buy a kennel, but I've got it narrowed down to a few choices. My main point of frustration is that the size I want to get is 1/2" too wide by the airline's standards. The next smaller size just doesn't look comfortably large enough for my two big boys, so I'm going to talk to the airline and see if I can squeak by with that extra half-inch before I actually buy the thing. Unfortunately the industry standard sizes are all pretty much the same (er... obviously), so I might be stuck with something a bit less comfortable if the airline gets sticky about it. If it has to happen, I'll just make the space as comfy as possible for them. Hell, maybe they'll even feel better in a smaller, cozier space.

Operation Gief Citizenship hasn't changed yet. I'm checking my email obsessively in hopes of getting some news soon, but there's still nearly two weeks before I have to start worrying. Which doesn't stop me from worrying, of course.

Cool, now I can check off "update blog" from my to-do list.

July 12, 2012

Operation Update Blog is a go!

Operation Study Abroad update will commence in T-minus three... two... one... BLEEP!

In spite of the universe throwing roadblocks all over my plans, things are coming along nicely. BRING IT, UNIVERSE. I CAN TAKE IT. Just let me knock on this wood right here and cross all appendages and also go hunting for a four-leaf clover...

One of the big things that happened since last we spoke is that I sent off my visa application. My passport is currently hanging out at the British embassy in New York, where it will hopefully return to me soon with a nifty little card or sticker or something indicating I'm a temporary citizen of the United Kingdom. So far the only news I have is that they received it and thus I can stop fretting that the USPS dropped it somewhere in Salt Lake City or Miami, never to be seen again. My only real worry for the application is all those fields I had to mark "unknown" in the "Father's Information" section; it held me up once before, I can only hope it doesn't delay things this time.

The saga of Operation Brit-Kittehs continues. I contacted some transport companies, and after one quote back at $4000 (FOUR! THOUSAND! DOLLARS!), I decided to just go back to plan A. I cancelled my Delta flight (got about half my money back, which I count as a win after all the runaround I got) and booked with Iceland Air instead - after calling everyone ever associated with either Iceland Air and/or British Customs to make sure they were really going to allow my cats on the plane and then back off it. As of right now I just need to choose a kennel for the boys and attempt to weigh them so I can get that info to the airline, then book with a company right at Heathrow that does Customs clearance for pets; not for free of course, but presumably for considerably less than FOUR! THOUSAND! DOLLARS!.

Much less exciting is the beginning of Operation Purge or Pack. (Yes, every aspect of this will now have an "Operation Official Name" tag. The visa application will henceforth be referred to as Operation Gief Citizenship. I make my own fun.) The roomie was kind enough to loan me a ginormous suitcase for the duration of my stay, so I decided to practice pack. Yes, I know. It's insane. I'm comfortable with that.

I've got about four trash bags full of clothes to donate, and I haven't even gone through my dresser yet. Once the clothes are done, step two will be tackling the general crap that I keep in piles because it's my stuff and I don't know what else to do with it. Some will be boxed up, most will go in the trash.

That's about it for Operation Study Abroad news. I know I'm not updating that often, but that should change as I get closer to my takeoff date... which is less than seven weeks away now. Stay tuned for more updates!

June 14, 2012

The Perils of Operation Study Abroad

Every time I think I've gotten things taken care of and under control, another wrench comes flying in.

Things that have gone wrong, and how I've managed to work them out:

I was told I couldn't/shouldn't bring my cats.

When I told my Study Abroad counselor that I planned to bring my cats with me, he just stared at me blankly before informing me that no other student he knows of has ever brought pets along. I smiled and assured him that I'd be the first then.

I learned the intensely complicated procedure for bringing my cats.
Microchipping, vaccinating, examining, getting paperwork signed by not only vets but government officials (the Food and Drug Administration of all things), not to mention finding an approved route and airline and dealing with the cargo situation and proper kenneling and the $200-400 fee. All of which has been going swimmingly: microchips and vaccinations done, arranged the rest with the vet and planned to shop for kennel, found an airline that was supposed to be pet friendly... more on that later.

I was told it would be difficult to find a place to live (see above re: cats).
This was actually a major concern, since I wasn't sure what I could afford for rent, how to find someone who wouldn't mind the cats, etc. Then one day my lovely friend who already lives in London came along and offered her guest room for reasonable rent. Solved! That's one I'm so very grateful I didn't have to work out on my own.

When I had my financial aid meeting, I found out I'd be getting about 1/3 of the money I thought I would.
This was one of the worst moments. I came really close to actually passing out from shock in the financial aid counselor's office. After I recovered and started pulling my brain back together, I knew I'd have to find someone to help me cosign a loan so I would have enough money. I started calling family members and eventually landed one who agreed. Sorted! Or so I thought...

Because I later found out that said family member could only sign for half the amount I need.
While anything is good, realistically the loan needs to be the full amount. Even with the visa which gives me the ability to work while I'm there, I'd probably be scrounging for food within two months. So I dialed up my courage and asked a friend if they would cosign for the full loan. Wonderfully, they said yes. Sorted again!

I got a call yesterday informing me that the airline I booked my ticket with (KLM, but really Delta) has abruptly changed their pet policy so that no pets can be transported in the cargo hold.
Because I have two cats and they both weigh around 17 pounds, they can't be in the cabin with me. Which means they won't be traveling with me on that airline. This is so intensely frustrating because I was quite happy with my non-stop flight (for the kitties' sanity as well as my own) and that's the only non-stop from here to London. The flight was also extraordinarily cheap because I got it through this student travel website, so the additional $200 to cargo them was tolerable. Now I'm faced with a few possibilities: Delta may be dicks and refuse to refund me for the flight, which means I'll have to potentially pay an extra $2000 to have them shipped by a company that specializes in pet transport. The other possibility is that Delta won't be dicks and will refund my money, meaning I'll have to get another flight altogether, this one including a stop somewhere that will make it more stressful for all of us. Not to mention the flight will probably cost double what I paid for the Delta flight because I'm not sure if I can trust the student travel website to get me a on a flight which allows pets. I'm seething about this because it was all sorted, but thanks go some arbitrary policy change on the part of the airline, it will most likely end up costing me a hell of a lot more than it was going to.

Alright, let's try to shake it off for now. Shake it off. I said shake it off, dammit.

Some of the things that have gone right:

I got into school, got really good grades, and got accepted to the program.

Study Abroad isn't why I decided to go to school. But it's a massive bonus. And my grades are all mine, something for me to be proud of.

The visa process has turned out to be infinitely less complicated than I first thought.
This is partly because I read too much into it and assumed the worst. The money part of the process, which I was sweating over for months, turned out to be not only far easier than I thought, but even somewhat unnecessary. All I need is a letter from my home school saying I'm being offered X amount of money and I only need it "just in case" since it doesn't actually have to be turned in with my application. As of now I have the two main things I need, which is a special number from my host school and the aforementioned letter from my home school. The application itself has to wait another week before it can be filled out due to this 90-day thing. But all in all, pretty easy (if not cheap, at around $450).

I've managed to jump over every hurdle thrown in front of me so far.
As horribly frustrating as all of those things in the first list are, there's always been a way to get past/around/through it by doing the work or swallowing my pride or putting my head down and plowing through. I think I have to thank the meds for some of that... I know damn well that I would have spun right into a fatalistic depressive episode during a few of those hurdles without it.

After all the things I've dealt with already, the visa application is what has me trembling in my boots... what if something goes wrong? I'll feel a lot better once I've got the thing in my hand. I'll feel even better once I've got this latest wrinkle with the cats smoothed out. But I won't be able to relax 100% until me and the boys arrive at our new home in south London. When that happens, I'm pretty sure I'll just hug my new bedroom floor for a few hours. Hopefully with my cats trampling anxiously over me every few minutes.

Ah, what a lovely thought to end this report. Over and out!

May 29, 2012

Let the countdown begin...

Oh hello! (I said that in a British accent, just so you know. Practice!) Today marks 90 days until I leave for London.

I know I haven't posted much lately, but to be honest there's not a lot to talk about yet. I'm in a bit of a holding pattern right now, working two jobs and trying to spend as little money as possible so I can keep my savings account as close to its current balance as possible until I leave. The next step is to apply for my student visa, which can't be done until three weeks from now. That will probably be slightly exciting, so expect a post on that in the near future.

The thing I haven't touched yet is the packing/storage task. Which I could start anytime I want. Except that I don't want to, of course, because UGH, who wants to deal with that? I'm going to force myself to start writing small tasks related to that on my To-Do List sooner rather than later though. Because in spite of the OMG SO MUCH WORK factor, it's going to be one of the most tangible things I can do until I actually leave, which should send me into a lovely spiral of excitement.

Please do leave any advice/thoughts/suggestions for storing/packing your life away for a year in the comments. Although I've obsessed on this subject extensively for months, I'm a fan of advice.


April 26, 2012

Adventures in paperwork

I've been rather steamrollered by end-of-semester preparation madness, so apologies for taking ages to update.

It's been a crazy few weeks since I got my confirmation letter. The amount of paperwork one must do to study abroad for a year is staggering. I've filled out and signed and consulted and been advised. I'm still not done, but I'm getting there. On top of that I've been trying to keep up with all the homework involved in the approaching finals (week after next OMGWHUT). Thanks to my Very Special OCD To-Do Lists I've managed to pretty much keep on top of things.

Along with all the preparation, I got some awesome news and some terrifying news. The awesome news is that my dear friend who lives in south London offered me her spare bedroom for extremely reasonable rent. Which means not only do I have a place to live, it's cat-friendly and it's with someone I've known and loved for the better part of two decades.

I also bought my plane ticket, which was only $731 for a one-way non-stop flight thanks to a lovely student travel website. This is excellent news not only because I prefer non-stop flights (hell, who doesn't?) but for my poor cats who are going to be in Quite A State during the trip, much less so now that they won't have to take off and land twice with a plane switch in the middle. I unfortunately can't sedate them for the ride (totally not good for them), but I may do so for myself considering I'll be stressing out through the whole flight worrying about them. Hope they have cheap booze on the flight...

Now for the less pleasant news: I found out rather too late that the amount of financial aid I thought I would be getting is in fact going to be about 1/3 of that amount. I think I actually almost passed out in the poor financial aid counselor's office when I heard that. Like, I got really cold and numb for about five minutes and couldn't do anything but sort of mutter in her general direction. By the end of the meeting I'd rallied and decided I was determined to make this work. I ended up calling half my family to beg for a cosigner on a loan, and eventually got a very welcome yes. Also, just today I found out that my wonderful and lovely financial aid counselor had managed to tweak some of my current information to get me an increase in money.

The fortunate thing about the timing of this financial meeting (after I'd confirmed with the Study Abroad office and Queen Mary, micro-chipped and vaccinated my poor cats, told everyone I've ever met, secured a living situation, and bought my plane ticket) was that it didn't allow me to just think "oh well, it was a nice daydream while it lasted." Instead I dug in my heels and starting finding a way to make it work. With some help, I did. I'm a bit proud of myself, to be honest. Things really are changing for me, not only in terms of where I'm going to be and what I'll be doing, but my ability to handle adversity in a positive way instead of just sinking into depression.

I've gotten most of the paperwork done at this point. Now come the more tangible steps, like getting my student visa and consolidating/organizing/packing my belongings to be stored or brought along. I'll be doing the latter with the help of the brilliant Unfuck Your Habitat, who have already achieved the amazing goal of motivating me to make my bed everyday. (No, really. EVERY. DAY. If my mom reads this, she's going to have a stroke.)

Stay tuned for exciting cleaning and packing anecdotes!

April 3, 2012

An American GeekChick in London

I overslept this morning.

This isn't unusual. It also has almost nothing to do with this post. While hurrying around trying to get showered and dressed and groomed, I took a minute to check my email because I'd been informed prior to the weekend that I would be getting my response from Queen Mary in that format and had been poking my inbox obsessively for the past few days. As I started checking off the usual political newsletters and social change petition requests for deletion, my eyes bounced to this email's subject line:


Caps and all.

I calmly deleted the other emails and then hovered over that enticingly shouty subject line. My heart was pounding. I closed my eyes for a moment and took a deep breath before lowering one shaking finger to click.

"I am delighted to be able to tell you that your application to study at Queen Mary, University of London, has been successful and I am pleased to make you an offer of a place."

I let out a breath I'd been holding for sixteen months. A breath I'd been holding since I decided to apply for the U of M with the intention of taking advantage of their Study Abroad program. Then I promptly got on every social networking site known to man and started screaming it all over the internets:

It's real. It's happening. I'm going to London.

March 28, 2012


Two posts in one day? What is this madness?

The last one was a bit depressing (even though it kind of wasn't) and something rather awesome happened to me today, so I thought I'd share that as well.

As I was heading across campus on my way to class, I encountered a guy holding a large sign that said FREE HUGS. Just standing there with his sign, catching everyone's eyes as they walked past without knowing quite what to do with this admittedly odd sentiment.

Dude, there's no way I'm passing up a deal like that. He caught my eye as I made a course change and ended up right in his arms. I think my voice was just a little thick as I thanked him and headed on my way. The thing is, this little gesture plastered a smile on my face for the better part of an hour. That's all it took. Just a FREE HUG.

The moral of this story: sometimes people? Are fucking amazing.

Just a little slip...

For the past two months, I've been seeing a chemical health counselor in an attempt to alleviate my tendency to sail well past enjoyable levels of drinking and straight into glassy-eyed, slow motion, blackout drunk. Of course most of us have experienced this at some point in our lives; for me, it happens every time I get near alcohol.

There are a number of reasons I binge drink; one of the big ones is social anxiety. I'm intimidated by parties and clubs and all the people that are probably better than me, until I've had ALL the booze. With the help of my chemical health counselor, I've been working on calming down the binge side of binge drinking so that I can enjoy myself without getting trashed. It's a wet program of sorts... the idea is not to quit drinking altogether, but to slow it down and drink at a reasonable level. It's been going remarkably well.

Until Monday.

I thought it might be a good idea to try pushing myself a bit with the social side of things, since I'd experience a couple of social events without blitzing. There's a local gay bar that has a goth/industrial night on Mondays; goth/industrial is the kind of clubbing I grew up on, the kind of music I love dancing to, the kind of people I like to be around - and there is the additional comfort of being in a gay bar. I thought if there was one place I would feel the most relaxed without needing to binge, it would be there.

It turned out I wasn't ready.

One cider became two, which was fine as a start. With the third I gave myself permission to have one shot of cheap vodka (my go-to for getting drunk quick) since I was out and doing this and should be proud and besides it's the first time, I can give myself a break. That was the tipping point of course... once I get the drunk rolling, it's nearly impossible to stop. Shortly after the second cider/shot combination, I found myself kneeling on the floor of the bathroom stall.

As I knelt there with my head hanging over the bowl, I wondered how abasing myself in front of a toilet in a public bathroom with deep beats reverberating through the walls and laughter drifting through the door could possibly be the end result of something so full of hope and desperate need and determination. How it always seems to end this way (or some similar way), every time; how instead of making me loose and fun and witty and desirable the booze only makes me dizzy and confused and sick and pathetic.

I got myself home safe on public transportation and dove into the White Cheddar Cheez-Its which are my guaranteed hangover cure. I didn't slip into a well of self loathing, I didn't cut, I didn't cry. I did wake up with a monster headache, but managed to come through it physically and emotionally unscarred.

It's not the end of the world, I know. It was just... too much, too soon. I think I'll get there eventually, to that place where I don't have to dangle the sparkling bottles in front of my eyes to distract myself from the loneliness and worthlessness that still lives inside me. I hope that someday I'll be able to get out on the floor without the taste of ashes in my mouth; to close my eyes and dance without caring if anyone is watching.

March 21, 2012

Changes are (probably) a-comin'...

So it looks like it's time to take this blog in a new direction, seeing as it hasn't stuck to any other directions thus far. Say hello to My Big Study Abroad Adventure!

Er. Hopefully something less lame as a title.

Anyway, one of the first things I looked into once I started Uni was the Study Abroad program. As it turns out, the U (as We In The Know call it) WANTS people to study in another country. (I'm assuming in my usual cynical fashion that it's because they still get federal money by having a student on record without having to spend the actual money to have the student physically on campus, times as many students as they can boot across the border/ocean.) Needless to say, I've been haunting the SA office since September in the hopes that they'll agree to send me off to London for a year.

Ten miles of paperwork, countless hours of research, and two very nerve wracking requests for letters of reference to my professors later, I now have everything I need to send my application out to Queen Mary University. Tomorrow will be the trip to the post office.

Ooh! I just thought of a new title for my blog: An American GeekChick in London. What do you think? Wait, don't tell me... if it's lame, I'll just proudly wave my lame flag. The new focus of the blog will be chronicling the events of my Study Abroad experience, in addition to the usual geek thoughts and life stuff.

So, with the application about to be sent off, please send any and all spare luck my way. Otherwise this new blog incarnation will be very very short lived.

January 7, 2012

Whippersnapper Rage

I'm happy to report that I survived my first semester. I even managed to pull off a respectable GPA. All while in a near-constant state of Whippersnapper Rage.

I'll share my top three moments of the ole WR:

1. My very first class was in one of those 500-person auditorium-style rooms where the professor has to wear a microphone because he legitimately cannot be heard from the nosebleeds without it. I ended up in the aforementioned section because I didn't know any better yet, and was amused initially by how many laptops swung open before the class even started. About a half hour into the lecture I began to be distracted by numerous Facebook homepages shining out of the screens in front of me. People were updating their status, flipping through pictures, even chatting. At one point the professor talked about the five most annoying habits of other students, which included cell phones ringing, noisily leaving the lecture hall five minutes before class ends, and PLAYING AROUND ON FACEBOOK DURING LECTURE. One girl in particular continued to obliviously scroll through photos and status updates as the prof was reading this bullet point on the slide. This was the moment I realized that I was legitimately dealing with a separate, completely incomprehensible generation.

2. One morning I was sitting in the same classroom, waiting for lecture to start. Two girls sitting next to me were having a conversation, as well as another pair in front of me and a pair behind me. In the ten minutes or so before class started, I heard the word "like" approximately 600 times. I really should have started a tally. Also, why is it that teenage females sound constantly exhausted/stoned? Like the very act of speaking takes every ounce of energy they have. And every clause ends with an upturn? as though they are asking a question? All I can guess is that the life of a modern teenager/early-twentysomething is both incredibly difficult and very confusing.

3. During my Film Studies class, Fridays were spent screening the movie we would then discuss the following week. This class was held in a room which resembles a small movie theater. For some reason, near the end of the semester as we watched Three Kings, one of the students thought it was perfectly appropriate to bring in a giant bag of potato chips and, in the middle of the dramatic interrogation scene, crackle the bag open and begin stuffing his maw with handfuls of Doritos. I would like to add that this snorfling Neanderthal had apparently never learned to chew with his mouth closed. For about twenty minutes of the movie all I could hear was CRACKLE CRACKLE CHOMP CHEW SNORF CHEW CHEW. It took every ounce of self-control not to get up, walk over to the little dicksmack, tear those chips out of his hands, and beat him with the bag while screaming THIS. IS. NOT. YOUR. DORM ROOM. YOU FUCKING DOUCHENOZZLE.

Next semester I'm considering riding a Rascal Scooter to school, just so I can run them over with it when the nonsense starts.