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).