31 December 2010

I don't believe in making New Year's Resolutions. By resolving to do a list of things for the rest of the year, without knowing of what the future actually holds, I tend to think that you are setting yourself up for failure. Or perhaps this is simply because I failed every time I made resolutions when I was younger. So this year I've decided to make a list of goals of things that I will (either out of willpower or necessity) or hope to accomplish in 2011.

1. Finish my master's degree in International Relations
2. Successfully write a killer dissertation ('killer' in the sense that it is a stellar piece of academic work as opposed to 'killer' in that writing it almost kills me)
3. Get a job
4. Compete at the British Universities & Colleges Sport's 2011 Cross Country Championship in Birmingham (Feb 2011)
5. Complete my first marathon in Stratford-upon-Avon in May 2011...in under 4 1/2 hours (ideally under 4 but I want to set an achievable goal)
6. Compete in my first duathalon (or) triathalon.
7. Run the Marine Corps Marathon in October 2011 (provided that I don't die doing the Shakespeare Marathon)

8. Get back into horseback riding
9. Travel to Norway, Spain, Italy, and Tunisia (or Israel. Or Egypt)
10. Be a better daughter, girlfriend, and friend
11. Successfully make an excellent, healthy dinner for my boyfriend (that is more sophisticated than 'Cheesy Egg-Bacon pasta'
12. Visit Canterbury
13. Return to Glastonbury
14. Keep up with my healthy eating lifestyle -- and eat less meat

Is fheàrr fheuchainn na bhith san dùil -- Scots-Gaelic for 'It is better to try than to hope'

25 December 2010

Home at last!

I'm home! Ok, so I've actually been home for a week, but that is beside the point.

For those who have happened to watch the news at any point this past week, you may have been aware of the massive delays and snowfall that the UK received. Luckily, I managed to get out the day before all of this took place. Still, London tried hard to keep me there. Even though I boarded my plane on-time, we sat on the runway for 5 hours waiting for the plane to be de-iced. (Heathrow only had 4 de-icing trucks so it is of no surprise to me that the disasters of the following week took place). There is nothing more disheartening then sitting on a plane for 2 hours only to have the captain tell you on the intercom 'Well, we are 8th in the queue and it is taking between 40-50 minutes to de-ice each plane. Could be a while, folks.' Also unhelpful was the man sitting next to me who kept muttering, 'I hope this doesn't turn into the EasyJet 10-hour episode'. Of course, it was only 5 hours, not 10, so it wasn't too bad.

I had been scheduled to arrive at BWI at 5:30PM EST time...I didn't emerge from customs/baggage claim until near 10PM. We actually landed around 8:45, but it took AGES to get our luggage, go through immigration, and then, for me, go through a 'random agricultural check'. By the time I came out into the 'arrivals' area, I really just felt like crying. An 8 hour flight had turned into a 13 hour epic journey. Still, I am lucky that I even got home. There were people in my program scheduled to leave on Friday and Saturday whose flights were canceled 2 or 3 times, and who will only just be getting home today. What a nightmare!

The best part of my journey, other than actually landing in the US (which, at hour 3 of our delay, seemed a very remote future), was emerging from the customs area to see my Mum and Dad holding a 'Welcome Home Rebecca' sign, and my boyfriend standing there with his father. I experienced a brief moment of confusion in which I didn't know whether to go to my parents or boyfriend, but decided that my parents would understand and made a beeline for Drew. It was wonderful being reunited after 3 long months apart! By the time we arrived home, it was near 11 (4AM GMT) and I was essentially dead on my feet. Never was a bed so appreciated!

There was no chance for a lie-in on Saturday though, as Drew and I were signed up to run in the Celtic Solstice 5 mile race at Druid Hill Park in Baltimore. With an 8:30AM start time, this meant that I had to be up by 6AM and out the door by 7. Since I was a bit wary about driving to Baltimore after not having driven a car in 3 months, my Dad agreed to drive us. It was bitterly cold on Saturday and I have no idea how he managed to sit there and not freeze while we were running, but I am glad that he came. The atmosphere at the race was excellent. There were around 3000 runners, most of whom were dressed in kilts or holiday-themed costumes. The race start was announced by a parade of bagpipers and a woman walking a pair of magnificent Irish wolfhounds. It was wonderful. As for the race itself...the actual running of it was rather unpleasant for me. I was exhausted from having traveled the day before, my stomach was terribly unsettled from the plane food, and my feet were numb the entire time due to the cold. That said, I felt fine after running, and managed to finish the 5 miles in 39:08 -- good enough to earn me 2nd place in my age division! Best of all was getting to race with my boyfriend! The last time we raced together was the May 2010 Patapsco Trail Race a '10k race that is actually closer to 7 or 8 miles' and that involved fording a river (seriously, it went up to my waist), running (er...walking in my case) steep hills, and crossing train tracks. This was much less...intense.

So far my break has been relaxing. I've been spending time with the family, mostly baking dozens of cookies that smell delicious and require immense willpower on my part not to consume. Words cannot express how wonderful it is to be home, sleeping in my own bed (and quiet room), enjoying the perks of central heating, and being able to drive Old Blue (my car) around. Tomorrow is Christmas Day -- I'll be spending it with my boyfriend and his family. This is a HUGE step for me as I have never spent Christmas away from my family.

A better post later this week. But in the meantime...

14 December 2010

I started this post yesterday about a salad that had gone horribly wrong. In fact, for perhaps the first time in my life, I had to push the salad away as it was completely inedible. What's worse is that I made it myself (albeit using a salad base from M&S and the limited ingredients I had here in my flat). Salad fail.

I'm currently very, very ill with the pla...a 'cold'. It started on Saturday as a mild tickling in the back of my throat and culminated last night in a full out fever, complete with dizziness and strange dreams. It was unpleasant and I still feel quite disoriented, especially since it has been ages since I've actually had a fever. Usually that is the 'illness indicator' of last resort for my body. As a result, I've essentially been a hermit today, venturing out of my room to the kitchen and to the laundry room on the other side of my apartment complex. My constant companions have been a mug of hot chocolate (my Swiss Miss 25-calorie Hot Chocolate in fact!!!!), water bottle, and a roll of toilet paper that is steadily dwindling as the day progresses. I am racing in the Celtic Solstice 5 miler in Druid Hill on Saturday and need to be well (enough) to race.I conked out for several hours this afternoon, rousing myself only to make dinner (couscous with beans and corn along with a cheese (2 slices cheese between 2 pieces bread, not melted) sandwich), although 'make' consisted largely of throwing things together because I felt too unwell to actually attempt cooking.

In other news, the past ten minutes have been productive. I finished my Christmas cards, to be posted tomorrow, and have finished my Christmas shopping for family (thank you Amazon.com). Brilliant.

Monument to soldiers from Southwark lost in the war covered in snow (as for which one, I surmise one of the WWs)

Reindeer petting at Covent Garden market

Covent Garden market holiday decorations

Western approach to St. Paul's Cathedral

Holiday decorations outside St. Paul's

And the tree!

St. Paul's with its holiday decorations in the daylight

My room: view from the doorway (I was literally as far back as possible in the hallway to take this picture, that's how small it is). There is a closet hidden behind the yellow door.

Left side of the room. Desk, closet (once again hidden), and guest chair. Above the desk is a set of cupboards for dry food goods.

Right side of the room (I was standing on the guest chair with the zoom as far back as it will go and still couldn't fit it in because it was too close).

Right side of room: Bathroom. Sink is at the far left, curtain separates toilet and shower (the knob of which is just visible at far right) from the sink. Yes, I have to shower with my toilet. Usually the lid is down during these events, however.

By the Numbers:
Days left until Home: 3 (basically 2 at this point)
Christmas shopping remaining: None, other than buying gift wrap when I get home
Number of tissues used: 1 entire roll of toilet paper (you use what you've got, ok?)
Academic commitments between me and home: 1 IPME seminar 4-530 on Thursday

12 December 2010

I am a Christmas card writing machine!!!!!

Look for a new post later tonight (unless, of course, my fingers fall off in the meantime).

09 December 2010

V is for Victory

Today was a good day.

Ok...it wasn't. The past five minutes have been good though. And since everyone says that it is how you end your day that really matters, and since I am planning on jumping in my bed within the next 5 minutes, I suppose that this makes it a good day. (For the record: not 'everyone' says this. In fact, now that I think about it, I've never actually heard anyone say this. But it sounds good in theory, so let's run with it.)

Why was today good?

1. I finished my second of three presentations for International Politics of the Middle East. It was a risky move choosing Kuwait as a case study for militarization in the ME, especially since it was mentioned only twice (and very briefly at that) in the 200 pages of readings that we had. But it turned out to be the right choice.

2. I was selected to represent the University of London (of which King's College is part) at the British Universities & Colleges Sport's 2011 XC Championships in Birmingham, England on February 5, 2011. This holds tremendous meaning for me -- look for my motivational post coming soon!

3. I finished my 'Theories of IR' essay on interpretive theories. It was a hellish experience because many of the ideas are so difficult (for me at least) to grasp, but it is done now. Victory is mine! Even better, I will have time to go for a run tomorrow morning and not feel guilty about having stepped away from my computer. Brilliant!

Why the Rocky picture? Well, I was looking for a picture of someone conquering interpretive IR theories. In my mind, this would have been represented as someone standing on top of a mixture of very confusing words/nonsense with a sword and a smug look. Unfortunately, what is in my mind did not have a corresponding picture in reality, and so I decided to use a picture of Rocky, since this is the only other thing my essay-addled mind currently associates with 'victory'.

Well, that and 'victory gardens'. But that would have been even less appropriate.

By the Numbers: (Who do I think I am? NPR?)
Days until I hop the Pond: 8
Days until Christmas: 16
Items separating me from the holidays: 1 Theories lecture, 1 Theories seminar, 1 OSINT lecture, 1 IPME seminar, 1 dissertation topic proposal 

07 December 2010

Several things:
1. I hate IR theory.
2. I hate sub-zero (in Celsius) temperatures.
3. I am dying from work, my classmates are dying from work, and my boyfriend is dying from work. 2nd week of December = no fun at all!

This interruption in essay-writing (which has been ongoing since 7am) is brought to you by: TriggerPoint GRID foam roller. (http://www.amazon.com/TriggerPoint-GRID-Revolutionary-Roller-Black/dp/B002KE6TMC/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1291758408&sr=8-4).
I am seriously buying one of these bad boys when I have any disposable income at all. I have generally been skeptical of so-called sports therapeutic tools in the past, but have heard excellent things, both in person and online, about this roller. I suspect that my many injuries are due to the fact that I am unable to sufficiently relax after my workouts/runs and so my muscles are constantly tight. Add to this the fact that I really don't like people touching me (i.e. no one can give me a back or neck massage, and leg massages are only just tolerable) and I believe that this may be the ticket to some sort of recovery. With my marathon coming up in May (eek!), I need all the help I can get! (FYI: This was in no way, shape, or form an appeal for someone to buy me one of these. This is not as serious as peanut butter --- my desire is not so strong that I would be so selfish as to ask for it.

(By the way, the two jars of Jiffy peanut butter, safely delivered to me by my father, have both been demolished as of yesterday. I ate it on bananas, on rice cakes, on bread, in my oatmeal....heck, I'll even admit that I had a spoonful by itself in order to savour the smooth peanut taste. Am I ashamed? NO! I've cut so many things that I enjoy eating out of my everyday diet that I refuse to feel bad about eating 2 jars of peanut butter over the course of a few weeks. (They were smaller jars...))

By the Numbers:
Days until I am State-side: 10
Days until Christmas: 17
Obstacles still in my way (other than the temporal period of 10 days): 3635 miles, 1 IPME presentation on war and militarization in the ME, 1 Theories paper on interpretive theories (3000 words), 2 IPME lectures/seminars, 1 Theories lecture/seminar, 1 OSINT lecture (on satellite imagery -- so (legitimately) excited!)
Hours spent writing essay today: 12 (take a half hour here or there for strategic FB breaks)
Appeals to the essay-writing gods/saints (St. Jude in particular) for assistance: Roughly 3000
Number of cups of tea consumed: Far more than I care to admit.

06 December 2010

11 Days!

Photo by Grace Healy

The above photo was taken about 2 minutes before the race at Hackey Marshes. I told you it was cold!!! I am in the back row 6th from the left with my hood on -- at that point I still thought that I had a good chance of being able to keep the hood on throughout the race. How naive I was!

Kooky things that have occurred during my runs this term:
1. While playing NikeGrid, I had one man in a relatively quiet neighborhood in the Canary Wharf area start cheering as I emerged out of the phone box. As I ran past him, he yelled, 'Go Olympics! London 2012! London 2012'.
2. Every so often I will encounter a few individuals (at different times, mind you) who, upon seeing me running towards them, also feel the need to start running. Despite the fact that they are almost always dressed inappropriately for such activity (ex. heavy backpack, boots, jeans, etc.). I'm still not quite sure what about me elicits such a response.
3. I've witnessed on two separate occasions a rather enterprising couple who have set up a makeshift stall on Millennium Bridge and advertised 'Fresh Thames-caught fish sandwiches'. They had a fishing pole over the side the bridge, an electric frying pan, assorted sandwich paraphernalia, and were cooking the fish that they caught from the Thames. What is even more ridiculous is that people were actually buying these sandwiches! Now, for those who are unaware, the Thames is incredibly polluted - possibly right up there with the good old Chesapeake. I routinely see debris, tires, and, on one occasion what could possibly have been a dead body, floating down the river. Most of the chemicals that are likely to be in the Thames are the type that can't be neutralized by cooking either. (I learned all about this in Environmental Marine Biology last year). So I shudder to think about what those people were actually eating when they bought one of the 'killer' sandwiches.
4. Being chased by a Jack Russell terrier down Long Lane and Tabard Street while its owner laughed.
5. Being engaged in conversation by homeless men (never women). Today's was priceless:

Homeless man living in the tent city under Waterloo Bridge (perched on the ledge where the tents actually are): "Oi, where ya from? You look like you're from Canada." (How he deduced from my running style/clothing/general appearance that I am not from the UK is uncertain). "Is that why you run so fast? You have to run away from moose? Slow down, there's nought moose in London."

Me (slowing slightly): "Er...no. I'm from the US actually." (Usually do not volunteer this information, but since he was wrapped in a sleeping bag, I figured that it was unlikely he would be able to unwrap himself, jump 10feet down from the tent ledge, and then chase after me without me being able to get away. Plus it is a busy street).

Homeless man: "Right..." (Pause of about five seconds, during which time I prepare to head off again). "You'll be fast because you'll have been running from the Republicans then. I've heard they all carry guns and are led by Sarah Palin."

I was incredulous, of course. Even a homeless man living under a bridge was more aware of US politics (however mistaken he might have been) than most Americans. Amazing. I wish I could say that I went on to correct him, but, frankly, I was amused by the thought of an army of angry gun-toting Republicans led by former (failed) governor Sarah Palin chasing runners. Besides, he then started on to a tangent about how this is a sign of the apocalypse and that 'you can't outrun the apocalypse, lass' so I decided it was time to go. ((As you might guess from this post, I am not too fond of Sarah Palin, her politics, or her recent turn towards reality television. As for Republicans: not all of them have guns. In fact, most do not. And there are a large number of Democrats who do have guns. But as I have pointed out in previous posts, certain stereotypes and images cross into foreign media, which is why the US has to be more careful of the image that it promotes)). 

In other news, I am struggling with my essay for Theories. It will get done, of course, but undoubtedly with an immense physical and emotional cost to myself. Still...this is the last thing (besides my IPME presentation on Thursday) that is separating me from the winter holidays. Friday will be a day of freedom and celebration for me!

Days until I cross the Pond: 11
Days until Christmas: 19
Weather situation outside: Cold, looking like the end of the world ("a bit gloomy" as the BBC described it is an understatement).

05 December 2010

Black Death ("Hollaback Girl" by Gwen Stefani)

This is literally the most amazing thing I have ever seen. It has made this day, which has otherwise been horrible due to: a) my having writer's block, and b) having to work on an essay about interpretive IR theories all day, significantly better.

03 December 2010

Frozen Hackney Marshes

Days until I come home: 14
Days until Christmas: 22
Items separating me from the hols: 1 IPME presentation, 2 IPME lectures/seminars, 1 OSINT seminar, 1 theories paper (3000 words), 1 theories lecture/seminar
Current Temperature: Outside: -4 °C; Inside my room: -3°C and breezy

Yesterday Drew & I celebrated our 11 month anniversary :) And in 14 days (basically 13 since it is so late here) we will be reunited after 90 long days apart. (Critics like to say that our relationship is so successful because we have spent most of those 11 months in different countries. Whatever, you naysayers!)

So...the past few days have been absolute torture for me. My tolerance for the cold seems to have dropped to nil and so each time I step outside is an adventure.

As I mentioned in my last post, it snowed on Monday night/Tuesday morning. The snowfall was fairly heavy throughout Tuesday and then died away during the evening, which meant that Wednesday's cross country race at Hackney Marshes went on as planned. I will admit that even as I was walking through the outskirts of East London towards the course start I was secretly hoping that we would arrive and they would announce that they had canceled it. I wasn't feeling too hot and being in the cold for a prolonged period of time was not my idea of ideal race conditions. Still, my faint hopes of a cancellation were dashed when we met one of the race officials on the Tube,  who talked about how he routinely would run in the snow, including 20-mile runs 'just for fun'. Alright. So basically he was calling us complainers a bunch of pansies. I'll accept that.

We had been told in advance that there were no bathrooms or changing facilities at the race start, and so I was a bit heartened when we found the equivalent of a glorified bus shelter in the midst of the construction site that marked the start. (Most of Hackney Marshes is under development in preparation for the Olympics and so part of the course was through an area that is under construction. This wasn't so much a problem save for the fact that the tractor and truck tracks had frozen thus making for very uneven terrain.) Of course, nature decided that this was the perfect opportunity to call, and so I experienced the incredibly unpleasant experience of 'attending to business' in frigid temperatures. Once again, I am not going to be climbing Mt. Everest anytime soon. Me = wuss.

The race itself wasn't too bad. It was so cold that I ran in a hoodie and gloves, which never happens since I usually get annoyed by too many layers. Still, I probably would have been unable to remove my hoodie prior to the race even if I had wanted to. By that time I had lost almost all dexterity in my fingers and, as I am a bit ashamed to admit, had to get someone else to unbutton my coat for me (might have ended up running in that too otherwise). I haven't run in weather this cold in a long time and so I ended up having a bit of an asthma attack (a huge surprise since I haven't had one in a long time), but it cleared right up within a few minutes of finishing. It's amazing how much the body can tolerate. I remember when asthma attacks would be an hour-long ordeal that resulted in my having to stop everything and lay down. Or, worse, required a trip to the ER (always an adventure in whether or not I would just stop breathing entirely whilst waiting the 6 hours or so in the waiting room) to get a nebulizer treatment.

I ended up finishing 21st out of 55 women, 7th out of 30 in the ULU Championships, and in the top 10 women (somehow?) based on points earned in the last 4 races. After the race was over, we headed to the Eton Athletic Club for hot chocolate, tea, sandwiches, cakes, and the awarding of the medals for the ULU medals. I am pleased to say that KCL cleaned up. Our men's team earned 1st, while our 1st and 2nd women's teams earned 1st and 2nd. So now I have a bit of bling sitting on my desk with which to commemorate my final XC season. :)

It snowed heavily on Wednesday night, which made for an interesting trip to the gym on Thursday morning. As I've mentioned before, my gym is a little under 2 miles away. Walking there along sidewalks that were more similar to ice rinks than suitable walking paths was a bit treacherous even though I had on my mountain climbing boots. I can't even begin to fathom how the woman I saw picking her way through the ice in -4-inch stilettos fared. Why this seemed like a reasonable fashion choice to her that morning is beyond me, but more power to her if she was able to survive the day.

It is interesting to note the disparity between Central London ('the City') and the areas south of the Thames (where I live). While it still seems like a blizzard hit down here and walking down Great Dover Street is an exercise in how skillfully I can maintain my balance whilst skating round on ice, the city center is almost entirely devoid of ice or snow. Remarkable. Still, on the plus side I get to go ice skating for free on my way home (rather, as my way home) while some people pay upwards of 13 or 14 GBP to skate at Somerset House or the National History Museum. They should move to Southwark.

This weekend will be spent working on my Theories of IR essay. I didn't chose the topic, don't like the topic, and don't like theories in general. This is going to be a great weekend. (Sarcasm).

30 November 2010

"Baby it's cold outside"

 This is what I saw from my window when I woke up this morning: SNOW! Yes, at long last, London has received some of the massive snowstorm that hit Edinburgh and the north-east earlier in the middle of last week. I will admit that even after the weeks of blizzard conditions last year, I am still fond of snow. Especially when I have nothing to do and can sit inside and admire the falling flakes from the warmth of my own home. This was the case today: the only time I needed to leave my flat was to get Diet Coke (clearly a life necessity) and to go to the gym. The whole reason that I went to the gym was so that I didn't risk spraining an ankle or breaking my neck by running outside. This would be a prime example of me being sensible, using my head, and taking the proper course of action. Unfortunately, such a scenario of sensibility didn't contend for my luck. Coming out of the gym, I managed to slip on perhaps the only patch of ice in all of London (since, for the most part, the snow has not been sticking on streets or pavements) thus causing me to engage in a fantastic bit of windmilling and land heavily on my back. Never fear! I am OK. Injury was prevented by the fact that I was wearing a backpack with my running shoes and gym clothes in it, which helped to cushion my fall. And so here is yet another example of how running has saved my life :).

My major gripe with the snowfall today was that: a) it distracted me from writing my OSINT essay since I kept admiring the falling snow's beauty, and b) it is going to create some serious hardships in tomorrow's final XC race at Hackney Marshes. I am really not looking forward tomorrow. Snow on the course means frozen feet. Either way, I am going to be ridiculously cold. There may be five minutes or so when I am running that I might actually feel a bit warm, but I imagine that for the most part it is going to be quite miserable. BBC Weather has this as the forecast: -2°C for the maximum temperature --'A cold and cloudy start with further snow flurries during the morning, although they will tend to ease away for a time. Feeling very cold with a biting northeasterly wind.' The emphasis, of course, is my own, since the tone of this statement is one that doesn't seem to grasp the sheer enormity of the implications of this forecast. Very cold with a biting wind? These are not ideal conditions for me. Not at all. (You try running in shorts and a tank top when it is 23°F outside and see how you feel!) 

Countdown until I come home: 17 days
Countdown until Christmas: 25 days
Progress on OSINT paper: 500/1500 words (but the hardest parts - those that were not clearly sketched out on my outline, are done!)
Number of layers currently wearing: 5 plus mukluks 
Number of times I've listened to Dean Martin's 'Baby it's cold outside' and wished that Drew was with me: roughly 15,000

29 November 2010

Leslie Nielsen died. I am so so upset. This is right up there with the deaths of Red Buttons and John Ingham. At least Wikipedia Deaths told me the day after it happened and I didn't find out, say, three months later.

Today is such a sad day.

28 November 2010

On some days I dress up as an officer in the Royal Navy just for fun.

THIS is the best invention ever created, hands down. It is from the 1970s and is not only an alarm clock but...wait for it...a tea maker as well! It wakes you up AND brews you a nice cuppa. There is absolutely nothing more than one can ask for in life. Brilliant. Amazing.
Countdown: 19 days until I come home; 27 days until Christmas
Items separating me from the holidays: 2 Theories classes/seminars, 1 Theories paper (3000 words), 3 Middle East classes/seminars, 1 Middle East presentation, 2 OSINT classes, 1 OSINT paper (1500 words), 1 XC race
Current Temperature: 32°F/0°C (Feels like (according to the Weather Channel: 32°F); Feels like (according to me): FROZEN HELL)

It's cold outside. Really, really cold. In fact, it is so cold that the water bottle that I frequently keep on the window sill next to my bed actually formed ice in it during the night. I typically like ice in my beverages, but only when this ice is formed inside a freezer and not, say, the area around my bedside. Call me crazy...

Of course, it is not nearly as cold here in London as it is elsewhere in the UK. Scotland is really being hammered with snow and sleet; Edinburgh airport has completely shut down as a result. I remember the one time it snowed when I was in Edinburgh. It was the day that I had to walk 3 miles outside of town to the Lothian & Borders police headquarters so that I could be fingerprinted for my DoS internship. It had snowed enough the night before to make the sidewalks icy, but not enough to cancel classes at the University. And so, after making my appointment at the HQ at 10am, I had to hightail it across town to George Square for my 11:10am seminar on James VI/I. I arrived completely soaked (due to falling snow and having slipped on the ice a few times) and quite miserable. My feet were numb for hours afterward. I believe that is probably one of the first moments that I realized I would never be adding 'conquered Mount Everest' to my list of life achievements. (Climbing Ben Nevis this summer reconfirmed that realization.)

It is not snowing in London, at least not right now. The weather websites offer conflicting information as to what the rest of the week holds. Weather.co.uk says that it will snow on Tuesday night/Wednesday - I definitely do not want this as my last XC race of 2010 is on Wednesday at Hackney Marshes! BBC Weather says that it will just be devilishly cold. Although neither scenario is particularly appealing to me, I believe that I will ignore Weather.co.uk as a source and continue reading BBC Weather for the rest of the week.

In light of it being absolutely miserable outside, I spent most of today in my room engaged in an epic battle with first the monstrous pile of laundry and then my OSINT essay. I was successful in regards to the first (after all, it is not that difficult to launder clothing), but rather less so in terms of the second. See, I have a nasty habit of engaging in productive procrastination. 'But Rebecca,' you might say, 'these two terms are contradictory.' Precisely. I procrastinate by being productive. Case in point: I have a 1500-word paper due on Friday on the topic 'OSINT is not a substitute for traditional intelligence disciplines. Discuss.' This is quite a simple topic as the answer is 'no, it is not'. Open source information is an integral component in the production of all-source intelligence...but it can never completely replace information obtained by clandestine and technical intelligence collection methods. There is always going to be some piece of information that cannot be found via open sources, and thus must be collected covertly. And thus open sources in relation to traditional intelligence disciplines are like a camera lens and focus. The lens (OSINT) captures the overall image, but it is the focus (traditional INTs) that provides the detail. (I came up with that all on my own. Unfortunately, I don't think I will be able to use that analogy now in my paper since turnitin.com will say that I've plagiarized it. Ah well...)

Anyways...did I finish the paper today? No. Because despite having a detailed outline and knowing precisely what and where I will write things...I engaged in 'productive procrastination' by actively looking up more articles on open sources. After all, what if there is a critical piece of the argument that I am missing? What if reading one more article will provide me with a hitherto unknown (to me at least) argument for the benefits of open sources in all-source intelligence production? The likelihood of this happening is low, of course, but it is relatively easy to convince myself otherwise. And so I spent most of the afternoon going through the unread articles on my reading list and examining them for further evidence to support my argument. I gained a few good quotes, but nothing that will dramatically impact the content of my paper. The result of this is that I will now have to make a dreaded trip to the library on Chancery Lane and lock myself in the postgraduate tower until the essay is finished. 1500 words is nothing to write, of course. I can pound that out in three or four hours. Motivating myself to do it, on the other hand, is quite a challenging task indeed. It will get done though! I will finish the essay tomorrow and then, in the words of Jay-Z, "I'm on to the next one."

In other news: I had a race at Wimbledon Common on the 17th and Dad came to visit me on the 20th (until the 26th).

First, the race. It was freezing that day. It was so cold, in fact, that I ran wearing leggings, gloves, and two shirts (my KCL running tank top and a Nike base layer long sleeve), which is quite unusual for me as I tend to find too many layers constricting. As it so happened, the gloves did not survive the race and are now lost somewhere in Wimbledon woods. The course was incredibly muddy and people were falling down right, left, and sideways. On one downhill, a girl skidded into me, which caused me to drop one of my gloves (I had taken them off since my hands had gotten too warm). One glove is of no use, so I had to drop the other one later on. It doesn't matter too much since they were only 2GBP and losing them gives me an excuse to visit H&M. :) Despite the mud and the hills, the race was a success for me. I came in 12th place with a time of 20:29. Not too shabby. This week's race is at Hackney Marshes and is flat (blah). It is also the London Colleges League championships, so I am hoping that some hitherto undisplayed speed will somehow manifest in my person, thus allowing me to perform well. We shall see.

Dad came to visit three days later. We had a grand time, although I don't think he fully appreciated how much walking I do on a daily basis until he actually came to visit me. (Hope your feet have recovered, Dad!) We did a lot during the week: we saw the South Bank Christmas Market, St. Paul's Cathedral, the Cabinet War Rooms & Churchill Museum, the British Museum, the Museum of London, and even visited the City of Westminster archives, which forced me to get reacquainted with using a microfilm machine, but allowed me to buy a book called 'Graveyard London' that talks about plague burials in the city. (Only morbid me, right? Hey! I haven't completely given up the option of being a plague historian, you know. It can't hurt to keep reading up on the topic just in case.) The piece de resistance was my big surprise for my father on Wednesday. I had dropped him a few clues (and by a few I really mean one since I forgot about the others) to build his anticipation, and then told him what was occurring while we were at lunch on Wednesday afternoon. So what was it? What was my big surprise that, as earlier stated, would win me 'best daughter' award?
Dad at the Jersey Boys

 I took my Dad to see 'Jersey Boys' on London's West End for his 60th birthday present. We enjoyed a 3-course meal at Med Kitchen in Cambridge Circus prior to the showing, and then headed to the Prince Edward Theatre for the main event. 'Jersey Boys' is a Tony award-winning musical about the formation and success of the famed 60s group 'The Four Seasons'. I had seen them perform at the Regent Street Christmas Light turn-on and then revelation struck: I would take Dad to see the show. He loves musicals. He loves the 60s. It was an immediate win in my mind (further confirmed the next day when I casually inquired if he had heard of the Four Seasons and, upon finding out that he had, awkwardly said 'ok, that doesn't mean anything. That statement is of no importance at all') and apparently was a big hit with him as well. It is not often in my life that I can honestly say I am pleased with a decision I have made. This is one of those rare times.

Notable events this week:
Mon, 11/29: Library all day. Absolutely must happen. MUST!
Wed, 12/1: XC race at Hackney Marshes

Thrilling, no?

25 November 2010

Turkey Day...Hooray! (Or: Look Ma! This title is related to the post!)

So, my Dad's been in town for the past week for the express purpose of visiting me (and touring around London...but that's not important), which has meant that I have not had time to post. We've been everywhere and I will provide further detail on our activities in the next post (since I currently do not have an hour or so to spend writing up the extensive list). He leaves tomorrow afternoon, but I will at least get a chance to see him off before he heads to the airport (provided that it does not blizzard during the night which, considering the current temperature outside, is a distinct possibility...or at least it feels that way).

For those who seem to have misplaced the date (Hey! It can happen to anyone!), today is Thanksgiving. Turkey Day. The day when Americans do what they do best by cooking large amounts of food and celebrating the fact that they have the means to share this food with family and friends. Or at least that is what it seems to most non-Americans (or those like me who don't really see the point of Thanksgiving -- after all, shouldn't you be thankful every single day?) Of course, Thanksgiving is about a lot more than that...or it is supposed to be. It is supposed to be a day for reflecting upon what we have, for appreciating our friends and family, and remembering those whom we have lost throughout the year. Or if you are celebrating Thanksgiving 'Pilgrim-style', you should be thankful for having escaped religious persecution in Europe (if you are a Puritan), for not having died from small pox brought to the New World (if you are Native American), and for not having lost your mind due to syphilis (either party). Of course, this thanks will be relatively short-lived since the majority of the attendees of the so-called first Thanksgiving feast (if it even really took place) would have died due to starvation and exposure to cold during the harsh winter that followed. Not a particularly cheery holiday, the original Thanksgiving.

As I mentioned above, I do not really like Thanksgiving. I am of the belief that you should be thankful for you have every single day...especially since life has a nasty habit of taking away these things with no advanced warning. Still, I will follow convention and express my thanks for the following things: (NOTE: These are in NO PARTICULAR ORDER so I do not want to receive emails saying 'why was X placed above Y?')

1. My Dad and Mum: Not only do they support me in everything that I do (or almost everything - they are decidedly un-supportive of my desire to travel to the Middle East), but they cross oceans to visit me in foreign lands and Skype with me. They put up with my rants, my insecurities, and help me out when times get tough.
2. My Brother: John & I get along roughly 75% of the time. He is incredibly stubborn, something that I can freely say since I am 99.5% sure that he doesn't read this blog. Still, I love him.
3. Pets: I was going to lump my brother in with Izzy, Cinnamon, Tatiana, and Scooby, but felt charitable so gave them their own category. I miss my kitties and the crazy cockapoo. :(
4. Relatives: I am thankful for my paternal and maternal extended family. I wish them (especially my Granddad & Nana, Granny Becky, and Grandma) better health and a good rest of the year.
5. Boyfriend: I am so incredibly thankful for my wonderful, amazing boyfriend. How many guys would be willing to stay in a relationship with a woman when she has been located 3,000 miles away for most of their relationship? Thank you Drew for your support, kindness, concern, love...thank you for being you. Being with him has made me a better person and brought a new light to my life.
6. Radiator: I am thankful for my radiator in my room (but am more thankful for the space heater at home). Without its 5 minutes of heat per hour I would probably freeze to death. Or I would just end up spending most of my free time in the shower with the hot water on in a vain attempt to get warm.
7. Aubergine (eggplant), sweet potatoes, mushrooms, avocado, peanut butter, oatmeal: Without these foods, I would probably starve. My digestive system is extremely sensitive and tends to react negatively to most things that I eat. It is always particularly interesting when it decides that foods previously on the 'ok' list should suddenly be 'off limits', a change that always results in considerable distress for myself. So far these six items have remained 'ok' for me to eat and have therefore made up the bulk of my diet.
8. Good health: After years and years of being almost constantly ill, I am finally at a period of good health. For the first time in a long time, I wake up each morning and do not have to endure pain of some sort during the day. It is a strange but welcome feeling and I am thankful every day that this continues.
9. International postal system: Props to the international mailing system which finally coughed up my package from my parents. Sent in the beginning of October, it appeared yesterday, albeit covered both inside and out in a fine powder. I immediately dismissed the notion of anthrax (after all, who is going to send me a powder package? And besides, after the terrorist package plot last month, it is bound to have gone through the mill in terms of testing.), but have spent the past 24 hours puzzled as to what this fine dust could be. Further inspection revealed it to be a substance known as Swiss Miss. As per my pleas on this blog, my parents sent me two boxes of Swiss Miss low-calorie hot chocolate mix. Unfortunately, the boxes were crushed in transit and two of the packets were torn, resulting in the hot chocolate mix being expelled into the box and coating everything in a fine layer of powder. I'm not fussed though. Hot chocolate > anthrax/other mysterious dusts in my opinion.
10. Everything else: I am thankful for my life. People tend to take life as a given until they are forced to confront death. I am quite aware of the fact that my life can end at any moment. While this would be rather inconvenient (presumably more to others than to myself) if this were to happen sooner rather than later...I am thankful for the life that I have had a chance to live up until now. The good, the bad, the in-between...at least I had the chance to live it. And for that I am thankful.

 Turkeys can come in many forms
Sovereign (aka: not edible)

19 November 2010

My Dad arrives in London tomorrow morning for the express purpose of visiting me. He will stay for a little under a week and we have quite the agenda ahead of us! He doesn't know it yet (and since he has presumably left for the airport by now, won't until he gets here) but he is in for quite the tour of the city. Oh yes. The highlight of his trip will be on Wednesday when I've got a surprise in store and will definitely be winning the 'Daughter of the Year' award. Not that there is much competition considering that, as far as I am aware, I am the only daughter that he has since John is presumably still male. As for what this surprise entails...well...you will just have to wait until Thursday to find out what happened.

I should be taking this opportunity to start tackling the mess that I currently call my room. I really do not know how such a small space can fall into such a state. It always starts off the week in pristine condition, but is terrible by Friday. As far as I can tell, the transformation takes place on Thursday when I arrive home quite late in the evening and am exhausted from work/class. I tend to just drop my books where ever is most convenient (i.e. the floor) and change into my pajamas as quickly as possible. Since Dad will presumably want to come visit my humble abode at some point in his visit, I suppose I should at least pretend that I am somewhat civilized and try to tidy it. Yeah...not really feeling fussed about it at the moment. Perhaps tomorrow after my run/before I greet him at the hotel.

Note 1: It has been observed by one of the only regular readers of this blog (i.e. my Mum) that the titles of my posts often make no sense when compared to the actual content. I am aware of this. Oftentimes, the title of my posts are lyrics from songs that are currently have a particular meaning to me and have nothing to do with the subject matter discussed in my posts. As such, they can pretty much be ignored. However, if you have free time on your hands and wish to ponder the relation between title and post (as I am sure that some sort of subconscious reason for the association can be construed)...feel free! 

Note 2: My radiator seems to have gone on strike. Hitherto this point, the 'on' light would stay lit for an hour, and the radiator itself would emit heat for perhaps 20 minutes of that hour. But for the last few days, it seems to have decided that this was simply much to work to be getting on with, and so stays 'on' for 2 hours, but emits heat for 5 minutes. How do I know this? Well, I sat next to the radiator for an hour the other day whilst reading and am certain that I felt warmth coming out of it for only 5-10 minutes. What this means for me is that I currently have on every single long-sleeved shirt I own, a hat, my mukluks, and fingerless gloves. I am still cold. Ridiculous.

Note 3: 28 days until I come home! I am so excited! I was once told that you can never truly appreciate home until you've left it. I did not understand what the speaker meant at that time, but I sure do now. After having been on the move since I was 20 (in that I have not really spent more than two months at one time in Scaggsville), I am ready for some consistency. I miss my bed. I miss my parents, brother, grandparents. I miss my boyfriend. I miss my cats (and, I will grudgingly allow, the dog). I miss central heating. When I return to the USA for good (or for the foreseeable future) in May/June, it will come as a bit of relief since I will not be packing up my belongings to head off to another destination.(Gotta pay off that massive student loan first! Gah...)

Note 4: I hope it snows when I am home. Why? 1) I have no place to be that would require trekking through the snow. 2) We (supposedly) have central heating at home. Failing that, there is always my trusty space heater and blankets. 3) Snow shoveling is excellent cross-training.

Upcoming Events:
11/24: Achievement of 'Best Daughter' status
11/27-28: London Running Show (I am such a dork)
12/1: XC race at Hackney Marshes
12/3: OSINT paper due
12/10: Theories paper due
12/17: HOME

Next post: Turkey Day (or: Remembering the day that white Puritan settlers and American Indians celebrated the fact that they had not died of smallpox during the summer, but before they died of starvation/cold in the winter)

14 November 2010

I will never again complain about having to go to Harris Teeter or Bloom when I am at home. Today's 3 mile walk in the freezing rain to the Big Tesco was absolutely miserable. It was made worse by the fact that I didn't have an umbrella with me since I was coming back from the gym (and had apparently lost my damn mind since one simply does not travel in London without an umbrella), my bag broke on the way home, and there were massive crowds at Tesco. By the time I returned home at 2:30, the sky outside was already darkening and I felt a sense of increased apprehension set in regarding tomorrow's paper presentation in Oxford (to be addressed in another post on Tuesday). Overall, today has not been pleasant.

Upcoming events:
Mon, Nov. 15: Oxford
Wed, Nov. 17: XC race at Wimbledon
Thur, Nov. 18: Presentation for IPME
Sat, Nov. 19: My Dad arrives!!!

13 November 2010

"You're freaking out my energy"

One of these days I will actually post when I say I will. One day. Soon. Perhaps. (Clearly my language indicates that I am an extremely decisive person.)

I will freely admit that I am not a city girl. Whilst St. Mary's was a bit too small for my tastes, London and DC are rather too large. I dislike crowds since I am very easily annoyed by people who walk slow/on the wrong side of the sidewalk, and so have decided that big city living is simply not for me. That said, there are some days when living in a major city does have its perks. Take today, for instance.

It started off much like any other day in that I woke up, ate breakfast, and ran to the gym. This in itself is one of the perks of the city: there are gyms everywhere. Back home in Laurel - not so much. (But Laurel has TurboJam, which London does not...so I feel that it balances out nicely.) I specifically joined the KCLSU gym off Stanford Street because: a) it's cheap, and b) it is 2 miles from my flat. This makes it far enough that I can feel justified in not going when it is raining or cold (on these days I usually go for a run on the Thames Path...go figure), but close enough that I can run or walk there within a reasonable amount of time. After the gym and a shower, it was time to head to Oxford Street to run a few errands.

For those who are not aware, Oxford Street is THE shopping mecca (besides Westfield's mega-mall outside of the city) for London. All of the major high street names have shops on the Street or one of the small streets off it. It boasts no less than 3 H&M stores as far as I can tell (and since I have never successfully made it down the entirety of Oxford Street, there could be several more) and the world's largest Primark. This in itself is enough to guarantee that the street will always be crowded. And crowded it is. I consider Oxford Street my own personal version of hell. Not only do you have massive amounts of people crammed on the sidewalks, but they often are laden down with enormous shopping bags, baby prams, or suitcases. Add to this the slow walkers, the window shoppers, and the awe-stricken tourists, and you end up with a virtual gridlock situation. It can take five minutes to move the distance that I could walk, unimpeded, in a minute. As a result of my upbringing, I am a naturally fast walker. So having my ambulatory progress impeded by the movements (or lack thereof) of others frustrates me immensely. I can usually last no more than 20 minutes in these crowds before I lose patience with humanity entirely and stalk off down a side street to regain my composure. As I result, I only go to Oxford Street when I absolutely have to and even then I try hard to avoid the weekends. Unfortunately, today's errands required me to visit a store only found on Oxford Street. But that is not the point of this story.

The start of the parade: army marching band

Hamley's Toy Store display

Worshipful Society of Basketweavers

The Redcoats are coming!!!

The new Lord Mayor of London, Michael Bear

Swingin' Carnaby Street (off Oxford Street). No Christmas is complete without OuterSpace!Santa


On my walk across the city to Oxford Street, I happened to come across the Lord Mayor's Show (when the new Lord Mayor is sworn in). I had seen advertisements for it plastered on telephone boxes, but had not actually realized that it was being held today. So it came as a bit of a surprise when I began to notice a decided lack of traffic in the city centre and eventually came upon the actual parade itself. It was very good and got me into a better mood than I had started the day in. (See a selection of photos of the parade below). I believed that it helped fortify me against the unpleasantness of Oxford Street, which was still a miserable experience. But this was negated by the fact that I got to see the Lord Mayor's Fireworks show along the Thames at Victoria/Temple as I was walking back home.

10 November 2010

The Lighting of the Regent's Street Christmas Lights

The Christmas season has officially begun! In the UK, at least. While retailers across the pond may have begun to display this season's 'must have' gifts and the latest model of faux Christmas trees, they won't make the full commitment to Christmas until the night of Turkey Day. The UK does not celebrate Thanksgiving and, as a result, start the Christmas season approximately two weeks earlier. Last night, I took a break from my latest stressor to attend the Regent's Street Christmas Light Turn-On. Regent Street was one of the first places in the world to 'light up' for Christmas. This year's theme was centered around the latest Chronicles of Narnia film.

More to come. I'm tired.

Key lesson of today: Today is Wednesday, not Tuesday. I have been so stressed out that I lost track of what day it was and spent much of the morning convinced that it was Tuesday. It was not until I actually looked at my calender and realized that it was Wednesday (and therefore XC practice day), that I became fully aware of my folly.

Off to bed and will write more about Regent's Street tomorrow!

08 November 2010

I do not like the cold.

Anyone who has passed a winter with me knows this. In fact, when the weather outside moves beyond requiring a light jacket, I am more often than not to be found inside clutching our portable space heater for dear life.  Last year at St. Mary's during the epic blizzard, it was not unknown for me to leave our suite wearing 6 or 7 layers of clothing. (Come to think of it, it was not unknown for me wear 6 or 7 layers whilst inside the suite - darn that air conditioning!) There was a period of several days in late January when I would only venture out to go to the campus store or to the gym, and ate nothing but Campbell's Soup and Wheat Thins because the trip to the Campus Center would have spelled a death sentence for me.

So why did I decide to go to grad school in England, a country that is not exactly known for its warm and temperate climate? As my father is fond of saying, 'Beats the hell out of me.'

Thursday and Friday morning were actually quite pleasant in terms of temperature. Normal people were wearing t-shirts or shorts. I was only slightly chilly, which is a drastic improvement from usual. But the rain started on Friday evening and by Sunday it had dropped fifteen degrees. Today was simply unbearable. I left to do laundry and almost gave up entirely about halfway on the journey to the laundry room...which is about a minute's walk. It is not so much the cold that bothers me, but the damp. It was 'raining' in the manner that only seems to occur in England. It is a form of precipitation that is enough to be considered as such, but is not quite rain. It is as if the rain simply can't be bothered to come down properly and so settles for a half-mist, half-spritz that is annoying more than anything else. It will not really get you wet (unless you lay out in it, which I see no rational reason for doing), but instead seems to settle into your bones and permeate your soul. This makes the accompanying cold and wind seem so much worse.

Such was the situation today that, laundry finally conquered, I debated whether or not it was worth it to go outside to buy groceries. (Readers: I was almost willing to give up my Diet Coke for the day due to the weather. This is serious!!!!)

In the end, I did go out, mainly because I would have felt incredibly guilty for not having left my room save to do laundry.  And because I really needed that Diet Coke after reading about atrocities committed in the Sudan.

I must say that I am looking forward to returning home to where I can hug the space heater, wear my mukluks without being laughed at, and bask in the wonders of central heating. (Oh and the warm, warm love of family/friends/pets/boyfriend, of course.)

That said, I do hope it snows. 

06 November 2010

"I miss missing you sometimes"

So I broke my foot the other day while making tea. Confused? So am I. Here I was living under the impression that tea drinking was an activity that carried only moderate risk. Sure, you could drink it while it was too hot and burn your taste buds, or spill it on yourself and burn some other parts. You could put your milk in before your tea and be socially ostracized. Or you could choke on an unfortunate teabag left in the bottom of the cup. Or consume too many tannins. For the most part, however, the risks are minimal and do not involve the lower extremities of the body. Of course, these risks are all assumed to happen to a normal person, not one who seems to attract danger and mishap such as myself.

I think I'll leave the details as to what exactly happened vague on purpose. Believe me, the truth is always much more mundane than what people work up in their imaginations. So let your imaginations go wild. Tea + ? = broken foot.

I initially thought that the toes were broken, which didn't really concern me as I've broken toes on numerous occasions through my equestrian and karate activities. But some prompting from my mother caused me to seek out the GP, who took an X-ray and revealed that yes, I have broken my third toe on my left foot, but have also broken the intermediate cuneiform (props to me for not having to look that up when he said it was broken). Unfortunately, there is nothing to be done for it save some splinting and resting of the foot. Sure doctor. I'll rest it. I'll try my best anyway. I make no promises.

In other news, I've decided my dissertation topic. Possibly only of interest to myself, the exact topic is too extensive to detail in this post. Sadly, I have had to, at long last, move away from the topic of 'plague'. I tried to find some way to work it in to IR (an examination of the international implications of global epidemics beginning with plague and continuing to contemporary malaria, HIV/AIDs perhaps?) but eventually realized that this is a new period of my life and so I must separate myself from plague. While I imagine that I will always go a bit fluttery when I hear the names 'Cohn' and 'Herlihy', I realize that this is part of being an adult - giving up things you love. (Although my fondness for plague is not quite so strong as to be described as love...). Still, at least I know that if this whole 'international relations' thing fails to work out, I can always return to history and become a plague historian. That would suit me just fine.

My dissertation topic is extremely topical and deals with aspects of current maritime counter-terrorism policies and international law as applied to Somalia/Horn of Africa region. I figured that since I've already published an article about the consequences of Somalia's status as a collapsed state (although I really do need to update it with a more in-depth look at whether such evaluations actually serve to perpetuate this condition), it would not be too much of a stretch to move into its current activities on the sea. (For those who do not read the BBC, the Somali pirates were awarded something like $12.3 million in ransom for two ships today. This is the highest amount paid to the pirates to date -- and isn't exactly going to be helpful in convincing the Somalis that piracy is not a lucrative endeavor.)

04 November 2010

Yesterday was my second cross country race of the season, this time at Richmond Park in West London. A longer post will come soon.

17th out of 73 women. 2.7 miles. 17:43. 6:33min/mile pace.

Last race I ran 2.5 miles at 17:54...but there were hills. So I need to work on my speed for the next race which is at Wimbledon Common on the 17th.

02 November 2010

"The World Won't Get By Me, I feel like I'm onto something, But we keep moving, we're not through yet"

Look out world! Rebecca has taken to her soap box again!
In case you have gone through the entire day without noticing, it is Tuesday, November 2:: Election Day. (Or it would have been if my internet had not failed and I had been able to post this, as intended, on Tuesday.) Yes, at long last the midterm elections are upon us. Unfortunately, I will not be fulfilling my civic duty and participating in this election as I have failed to receive my absentee ballot despite repeated attempts to have one sent to me. Perhaps somewhere out there are six absentee ballots addressed to me, doomed to be left forever blank. Maybe someone is collecting them for when I achieve some measure of fame. Or possibly they are lost in the black abyss of the international postal system. For those of you have not yet had the opportunity to get to the polls: GO! This election is very important, a fact that can be clearly seen even here in Europe 

Currently, Al-Jazeera English has a huge banner displayed across the top of its website emblazoned with the message 'Battle Lines: US Votes' as if this were a day of war. I wish I could say that they are being a bit dramatic but, unfortunately, they are relatively spot on. The Democrats and Republicans (and those crazy Tea Party-ers) are in conflict over, well, everything. Personally, I've grown rather tired of both mainstream parties acting like petulant children. They refuse to negotiate for fear of compromising their 'values' (whatever those are these days) or making concessions to the other side, whom they regard as 'the enemy'. Thousands of dollars are spent by both sides in their efforts to denounce the other. Mass media adds to the problem by playing up the hype. Newspapers, news channels, popular TV shows - whatever their particular slant, they all have a hand in criticizing the other side. In the meantime, the US is tearing itself apart. The American public has taken to displaying its anger and frustrations in a very overt way. Neighbors of opposing political views rip down each other’s campaign signs. Thousands of private citizens turn out for demonstrations bearing signs that are often derogatory, offensive, or racist in nature. And this is a phenomenon not only limited to the Tea Party or Republicans – Democrats do it too. 

What is particularly disturbing to me is how far we will go in our desire to seek out scapegoats, to take a group or idea that we do not understand and blame it for our misery. We blame the Republicans, the Democrats, the Tea Party…but we do not stop there. No, we go further: we blame the Mexicans, the illegal immigrants, homosexuals, Muslims, foreigners in general. These groups are the Irish and Jews of the 21st century. They are groups that have recently assumed a sizable minority in the US or have otherwise been ‘thrust into the limelight’ due to current events (eg 9/11 and the increased resentment towards the Muslim community). Hitherto this time, Americans had generally been able to ignore them and had therefore made little attempt to understand them. But now that times are hard, lack of understanding has changed from suspicion into outright resentment/hatred. Outcries against the building of mosques and heightened anti-immigrant measures are the most prominent examples to come to mind. These groups are not to blame for the current state of the US. We like to think that issues such as immigration, health care, and gay marriage are separate from the economy, but I don’t think that they are. They are issues that are important, yes, but have become more important, radicalized even, when taken in context with the state of our economy. We worry about our economic futures, but because current restoration attempts have been relatively unsuccessful and there is no glaringly obvious ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ to inspire hope, we do not like to admit this. So instead we focus our frustrations on other issues – ones that shouldn’t inspire such violent and hostile reactions, but currently are – and search for the associated scapegoats on whom to place our blame. 

(Beware, America. The rest of the world is watching. They have noticed the racist undertones that have crept into mainstream political rhetoric. I have had acquaintances tell me that they are afraid to go to the US because they have seen how Muslims are treated on TV or have read articles about the incredibly irrational behavior of supposedly ‘everyday’ Americans at the large political rallies. (That said, I’ve encountered few individuals who actually disapproved of the idea of the ‘Rally to Restore Sanity/Inspire Fear’. On the other hand, an unexpectedly large number of people have expressed extreme disease at the Tea Party phenomenon.) Just as we can make fun of the failure of the Greek economy or laugh at the French strikes, so too can other countries find severe faults in the US. And believe me, they do.)

Yes, America is in trouble. After several years, our economy is still repressed, the health care debate has confused everyone, and the job market, to be quite frank, sucks. Are the Republicans solely responsible for this? No. Have the Democrats failed entirely because they have not been able to fix it during the 2 years they’ve held power? No. Americans, as a collective body, are responsible. There is no ‘magic cure’ for any of these problems. There is no manual given to the President and Congress that provides step-by-step instructions on how to fix an economy. There were many factors that went into the destruction of our economy and there will be no easy solution to restoring it. And there is simply no sense to be had in crying, ‘Well, it would be fixed if the Republicans had won the Presidency’ or ‘Had the Democrats won in 2004…’ because reality is not counterfactual. The ‘what ifs’ in life are interesting to ponder, but are merely that: ‘what ifs’ – possibilities that never occurred and never will. We cannot go back in time (yet). We have to concentrate on what actually happened and use the facts as a starting point from which to start digging ourselves out of this hole. 

Not everyone will be satisfied all of the time. I’m upset that all of this nonsense is even occurring but, regardless of this, it will still continue. Just because I have taken the time to write out my thoughts regarding the extremity of the current political situation does not mean that the entire nation is going to stop their debates and say, ‘Right, enough is enough. Rebecca has grown tired of this and so we must stop and make her happy.’ (I wish this were the case though. Wouldn’t it be neat if I could say ‘Look, world. I’m unhappy with the current situation in Israel & Palestine. Do sort yourself out so that I don’t have to think about it anymore.’ World peace would be achieved so easily! But I digress…) I accept this fact easily enough, especially since it is not that difficult of a concept to grasp, but others seem to have a hard time believing this. ‘Why isn’t the economy fixed? Where are our jobs? Why isn’t there health care? Why do we have to have national health care?’ The list of complaints is absolutely endless. Americans have the right to freedom of speech, and they are definitely not shy in exercising it. But the effort that our politicians use in debating each other is time and energy that could be better spent elsewhere. Just think: if politicians were actually able to stop accusing each other, set aside their political agendas, and sit down to think about what is good for America…we might actually have a few more solutions than we currently do. But as it stands, our political leaders seem to be more concerned about winning favor within their parties and wooing voters so as to secure their chances at re-election. ‘Think about what is good for the US and cooperate with the other side? Preposterous!’

In other news, my parents apparently sent me a package. Unfortunately, this package, much like my absentee ballot, is floating around the abyss of the international postal system. Perhaps there is an entity similar to that which lives in my university’s washer and, without fail, eats one of my socks at every wash. Except this one eats mail. Hmmm…an interesting thought. The package has been MIA now for several weeks and I’ve all but given up hope of ever actually seeing it. This is a bit sad since I do love receiving mail. Oh well. At least my Jiffy peanut butter was not contained in said package.
The past few days have been interesting, to say the least. I went to Oxford for work-related purposes on Monday, but was able to fill my afternoon off with a mixture of good cider, good company, and good conversation. The overall result was an extremely pleasant experience. Maybe if I am lucky, it will happen again in another year and a half. We shall see. Decidedly less pleasant was the journey home. The bus got stuck in the London rush-hour traffic. I had heard that it was horrible but, living in the city centre and utilizing self-ambulatory forms of transportation, had never actually witnessed it. ‘It couldn’t possibly be worse than DC traffic,’ I naively thought to myself. Oh no. It was much, much worse. The trip from Ox usually takes 1 ½ hours. Today it took 4. Unpleasant!

London has been emulating the French lately. In the past month, both the Tube (London Underground) and Fire Department have gone on strike on several occasions. Since I walk everywhere save for when I have to get to Regent's Park for XC practice, the Tube strike does not particularly bother me. The only foreseeable downside is that there will be more people walking to work and, inevitably, more slow-walkers for me to have to navigate around. Somewhat more worrisome is the Fire Department going on strike. It may be just me and my history with devastating fire, but I find it a bit troubling to think of what might happen in the event of a fire in my building on strike day. Will the Fire Dept. simply refuse to come? I am all for making the public aware of the fact that the services they take for granted are not, in fact, given. (After all, one can't truly appreciate what one has until one has lost it - a lesson that I have learned several times over.) But I feel that there has to be alternative ways for the Fire Dept. to express its frustrations other than simply not turning up during a fire. Sure, this would be rather effective in forcing people to realize the value of the firefighters. The downside is that this realization would potentially result in the considerable loss of lives and property. Luckily for me, the latest Fire Dept. strike was scheduled for yesterday whilst I was in Oxford. (And no, my building did not burn down in my absence.) The Tube strike is scheduled from 7pm tonight to 6am Thursday morning. It will be interesting to see how this effects people since the other strikes have been relatively minor (less than a full day in length).

Other news: 
1. I've been seriously loving the beats of Magnetic Man (especially their mix with John Legend "Getting Nowhere"), Tinie Tempah, and Katy B. Sometimes I listen to their music to get me pumped for note-taking or in the mornings when I don't particularly feel like doing anything. 
2. My insomnia persists, although I've found that if I push myself to the absolute limits of exhaustion then I sleep like a baby. Unfortunately, this isn't enough incentive for me to wake each morning at 6:30am and begin to try to go to sleep at 2:30am. 
3. My second XC race of the season is tomorrow at Richmond Park.  \
4. The Harry Potter movie is coming out soon! I just wish that I had someone to go see it with me. :( 

Sidenote: November 7th is the War Studies Halloween Party (yes, we are a bit slow in observing holidays). Do I go as a Bond Girl (to satisfy my new-found desire to be a spy) or a member of the Tea Party? Bond Girl would be a fun costume to pull together (especially since I can wear my fake-leather tights), but the Tea Party one would fulfill the party theme of 'scary'. Decisions, decisions. ((Also known as: How many people do I care to offend that night?))

31 October 2010

Despite the fact that the past two days have been filled with a combination of running (7 miles yesterday and 5 miles today - in the pouring rain), and studying IR theories and Open Source intelligence, there have been a few excellent moments to qualify these as 'decidedly good days'.

First and foremost has to do with the above picture. See those beautiful flowers? Those are currently sitting on my desk. And no, I did not buy them for myself. In order to celebrate the one year anniversary of our meeting at Hallowgreens (October 31st) and our 10 month anniversary as a couple (on Tuesday), my wonderful/amazing/superb/fantastic/thoughtful/caring/charming/*insert other superlatives here* boyfriend surprised me and had them delivered to my flat in London. (For those who haven't caught on, my boyfriend still lives in the US, meaning that this entire operation was no easy matter). I was so surprised and touched!!! I'm not a flower person normally (as in, I don't actively go out and buy flowers/wish to spend lengthy periods of time in gardens), but I LOVE it when I receive them. And these flowers both look fantastic and smell wonderful. I am so lucky to have him in my life, and can honestly say that the past 365 days since I met him have been extraordinary.

The second event to qualify this weekend as 'decidedly good' falls much lower down the totem pole in terms of importance, but is still an exciting discovery. What is this? Savory oatmeal. I had always considered oatmeal to be a breakfast dish, but this is not so! Tonight, dinner was oatmeal with asparagus, zucchini, garlic, and cheese. Absolutely delicious, although I am so stuffed that I may never need to eat again.

Yup...exciting times in the life of Rebecca.

30 October 2010


Just another video to brighten your day. You really need to watch this. I rarely go for animal videos, but this one takes the cake. Your initial reaction will be to feel sorry for the cat due to apparent animal cruelty (i.e. bag on head), but continue watching!!!
A better post is coming later on tonight, but in the meantime...why doesn't this happen when I go to Heathrow/BWI???

26 October 2010

I have a problem.

Yes, I'll admit it: I like to read cooking blogs. I look at the wonderful recipes these bloggers make on a consistent basis and dream of being able to make similar things. I suppose I could attempt to do so here in the UK...but to be honest, it would cost too much to buy the staple ingredients that you only end up using 2 tbsps of, or to buy all the necessary equipment. And so I read these blogs and plan on making some of these recipes when I come home for Christmas break. I've already discovered three Christmas cookie recipes that I want to try, but am going to refrain from mentioning what they are because I want to make them as a treat for my family/boyfriend.

I suppose that is the real motivation behind my recent desire to 'learn how to cook right proper' : my boyfriend. One day I want to be able to cook Drew a real meal - something more than the cheesy bacon & eggs pasta I made him or the haggis. I want to prepare something that says 'yes, I am a modern woman who can travel the world, go to grad school, and have a career...AND I know how cook (which remains one of the chief ways to win over a man -- although I waited until well, well after Drew & I had started dating before I attempted to feed him anything. I'm not stupid. Food poisoning does not bring people together. (Disclaimer: He did not get food poisoning!)) Because, like it or not, one day far, far, far in the future, I may have to feed other people besides myself. And whilst I can survive off tomato, hummus, and avocado sandwiches, I am not entirely sure that others can.

And so I recently attempted a recipe that was something new for me: Lentil soup. I found a recipe on the internet, realized that I didn't like half the stuff in it, and so decided to improvise.

Rebecca's Lentil and Vegetable Soup/Stew Hybrid

1 onion (with a bit cut off from dinner the night before), thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
2 1/2 carrots (the other half was consumed during the chopping process due to the chef's hunger), sliced
1 large parsnip, cut into cubes
1 medium sweet potato, cut into cubes
1 cup diced tomatoes (the kind that you get from the supermarket in cans (or, due to the UK's new recycling initiative, boxes)
4 cups water (for broth)
1 cup water (for later)
2 cups red lentils (A nice replacement for the 'Country Soup Mix' from the grocery store, which you found out needed to be soaked overnight immediately before you attempted to add it to the soup.)
black pepper
1 chicken bouillon
1 vegetable bouillon

1. In a large pot, heat 4 cups water to boiling. Add chicken and vegetable bouillons and reduce heat. Stir until dissolved.
2. In large skillet, stir-fry onion, carrots, garlic, parsnip and sweet potato until onions are lightly browned and everything else is slightly tender. (I like my carrots to still be a bit crunchy when in the soup, but if this isn't to your taste, cook the vegetables until they are the desired tenderness. Remember: they will cook further when the soup is boiling.)
3. Add onion, carrots, garlic, parsnip and sweet potato into the pot with the broth. Stir.
4. Add diced tomatoes and 1 cup water. Add 2 cups lentils. Stir. Add black pepper, paprika, and thyme to taste. (I lile relatively bland food, but if you prefer lots of spice, go crazy with the seasonings.)
5. HEat, covered, until boiling.
6. Stir.
7. Reduce to simmer for 10 minutes or until lentils are tender.
8. Eat. (But wait a fair bit or else you will end up with a marked lack of taste buds, like me.)
9. Best served with crusty bread.

It's been over 24 hours since I consumed my first bowl (just had my second a few minutes ago) and I haven't died, so I suppose it turned out well.