Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 Year in Review

1. What did you do in 2009 that you'd never done before?
I did a lot in 2009 that I'd never done before. Every year there are so many new experiences. Obviously the biggest is that I got engaged in 2009. I've certainly never done that before! I also took an official university-reimbursed business trip, traveled to Russia, brought my boyfriend home for Christmas with my family, and became a PhD candidate. All of those were pretty big firsts.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions and will you make more for next year?
Every year I read this question and I'm like, "Wait, what were my resolutions again?" Looking back on last year's resolutions, I was pretty successful. I said I wanted to cook more, and I actually did! I now cook dinner--a real dinner, from a recipe--two or three nights a week. With leftovers, eating out or having Penn grill once or twice a week, and the fact that sometimes we genuinely prefer to have crackers and cheese for dinner, that's enough for us. The best part is I actually feel like I've become a fairly capable cook and I'm starting to really enjoy it. If I come home stressed, it feels good to go into the kitchen and cook something. Who knew?!
The second part of my resolution was to pass my comprehensive exams and write my prospectus. I give myself a "B" on that resolution. I passed comps and advanced to candidacy, and I've started writing my prospectus but I haven't finished it.
My resolution for 2010 is very simple: focus on what is important. There are so many things I want to do in 2010. I want to make significant progress on my dissertation. I want to move somewhere that makes me as happy as my current home does but has more space. I want to teach my own course. I want to plan a beautiful, fun wedding. I'm not going to lie, it's a little overwhelming. So my goal for this year is to constantly remind myself to put things in perspective. At the end of 2010, all that really matters is that Penn and I are together and supporting each other.
It's funny how the engagement caused this major shift in my mental state. I've always known how much I love and value Penn, but the engagement has brought us to this next level and made me realize that for the rest of my life he has to come first: before my career, before my family back home, before my friends, before absolutely everything other than maybe our future children (and even then I think maybe my marriage still needs to hold the most privileged position). I think that's the only way a marriage will work for life. I have to always put him first, and he has to always put me first (Don't worry, I didn't suddenly turn into one of those "everything for my man" women! I'm only comfortable with this because I know he is equally committed to putting me first in his life). Anyway, my point in making this resolution is to remind myself that my relationship and my future marriage is what matters from here on out. Everything else is just details that either support or detract from our relationship. I think it's going to be important to remember that, especially as we go through major changes together.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Oh yeah. 2009 was definitely a year of babies. Cas (my friend from high school), my college roommate and my cousin who lives nearby were the people closest to me who had babies. I actually sent them gifts and talked to them about the experience and went to their baby showers/baby naming ceremonies. Although about ten people I now keep in touch with mostly via Facebook had babies this year, too. Seriously, at least TEN.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
I'm not sure how to answer this question. As you know from reading this, my college roommate's son died in October of SIDS. He was 2 months old. So while he wasn't close to me (I never even got to meet him) his death had a huge effect on someone who is close to me. I've mentioned before that I feel weird writing about it here because it's not my loss and I hate when people take someone else's tragedy and make it all about them. But I do have to say that going to stay with my friend just after her baby died was very hard and heartbreaking. Not to mention it brought all this other information about her life to the surface and I completely wasn't prepared to deal with any of it. I'm still scared for her whenever she crosses my mind (often), and I still feel hopelessly inadequate to help her deal with the loss of her son on top of all the other challenges she's facing in her life, but I'm trying to be hopeful. I talked to her yesterday and it sounds like things are better at the moment, although I'm anticipating a lot of ups and downs still to go. If anyone deserves a clean slate and a new start in the new year, it's her. I hope she gets it.

5. What countries did you visit?
Russia, the United Kingdom (England and Scotland), the Netherlands, Canada and, for about five hours, Germany. It was a really great year for travel! And that's not even including all the domestic travel I did this year: Maine, Florida, my home state a couple of times, Washington...

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
Honestly, nothing. Nothing important, anyway. I mean, I'd like a new watch and a printer and some little material things, but I have all the big things I want. I have an almost-husband, enough money to be satisfied, a more-or-less stable job, a roof over my head, cuddly pets, a family that loves me. Once again, can I just ask for a repeat of this year?

7. What date from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory and why?
That's so easy. November 21, 2009, the day Penn asked me to marry him and I said yes. I can't imagine ever forgetting that afternoon. Although I had a ton of other great memories this year, I have to admit that, as cheesy as it sounds, everything else pales in comparison.

8. What was your biggest achievement(s) of the year?
Definitely passing my comprehensive exams. Those things were a beast, but I conquered them. Now I just need to get back to working diligently so I can finish up this degree. Now that I'm a candidate the end is frustratingly, tantalizingly in sight. I feel like I've gotten past all of the major hurdles, so now it's time to just get writing on my book!

9. What was your biggest failure?
Not continuing the momentum I had at the beginning of the semester. I worked so diligently on my exams and felt really enthusiastic about my dissertation topic. Then I got distracted by my Europe travel and that momentum completely fizzled away. I have done some small necessary projects since late October, and I've done a lot of work on various things tangentially related to my degree, but very little progress has been made on my actual dissertation. I'm hoping that I will be able to kickstart myself by taking a winter term class that will force me to go back to work.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Not really. My dermatologist removed a freaky looking mole in the summer, but it ended up being non-cancerous, just freaky looking (hooray!). I haven't even really been sick this year, just very minor colds here and there, nothing that sent me to bed or made me miss work. Lucky.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
I think the best thing I spent my money on was my trip to Russia. I almost didn't take the class because the trip cost $800 that I definitely didn't have at the time, but my dad lent me the money and I paid him back over the course of a few months and it was definitely worth it. Going to Russia is something I probably never would have gotten around to doing had I not taken the class, and it was a great experience. I'm hard pressed to think of anything else major I bought this year, actually. Most of the other things/experiences I really loved this year were things I was given (my ring, of course, my opera trip to Seattle with my grandparents, my recent trip to Europe which was paid for by the school, my bike...)

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
I was very proud of my brother when he graduated from college in May. That was a great trip, too, flying down to see him graduate and then going fishing in Florida.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
I have a cousin who is making some extremely idiotic life choices (choices that landed him in jail for the last three months, for example). He lives far away and I don't have to hear about him often so it's not like his problems are a huge presence in my life. But every time I do hear about him I just want to find him, smack him on the head, and ask him why he's screwing up his life so badly.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Rent, as usual.

15. What did you get really, really excited about?
All of my vacations, although of course the most exciting thing was getting engaged and then telling the story to everyone who would listen (this survey is going to be a bit of a broken record again this year; sorry!)

16. What song will always remind you of 2009?
Say Hey (I Love You) by Michael Franti & Spearhead. Penn introduced me to Spearhead in the spring and I listened to the CD he made for me nonstop for a few weeks in May and pretty often after that. Just recently I started hearing this song in stores and restaurants, and while I'm excited that Spearhead is finally getting deserved attention, I'm also a little bummed because it was more fun when I felt like this was a song just for me and Penn.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
A. Happier or sadder?
I'm feeling pretty much exactly the same at the end of 2009 as I was at the end of 2008, which is to say I'm extremely happy and content with the way my life is going. I just keep trying to stay in the moment and be grateful for all that I have going for me right now.
B. Thinner or fatter?
I'd say I'm still more or less the same as I was at this time last year, although I'm embarking on a mission to tone up a little bit more before I shop for my wedding dress in a few months (which of course means I'll have to then maintain my weight for nine months or so, but, whatever, details, details...)[Incidentally, it still feels very strange to refer to "my wedding dress"!]
C. Richer or poorer?
I'm doing so much better financially this year than I was at this time last year. As predicted, sharing rent with someone definitely helps! While two can't live quite as cheaply as one, I've managed to save much more money this year than I did last year. Also, we're down to just one car now which has saved money on transportation costs. And I got another (small) raise when I passed my candidacy exams and I'm an SAT tutor and I baby-sit for my friend's son on the side now, so all in all I'm in a much more comfortable place in terms of money than I was last year.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
I wish I'd done more dissertation research so I wasn't feeling so behind the curve now.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
I am pretty sure I have said this before, but I wish I'd spent less time stressing out about THE FUTURE. So far everything has always managed to work out okay in the end, and in the rare instances in my life when things temporarily weren't okay, it's not like worrying about it ahead of time would have made things better anyway! And I don't want to give the impression that I'm a total ball-of-stress basketcase all the time, because I'm definitely not. I'm not exactly mellow, but I don't think you'd call me high strung and I don't think I'm in danger of causing myself a heart attack or anything. It's just that in slow moments I tend to think too much about all the unknowns in my life, and I wish I had done less of that because planning is good but worrying is pointless.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Penn and I spent our first Christmas together. He came to my hometown with me. It was great! We spent 10 days stuffing ourselves with delicious food and drinks (some of which my parents made, some of which came from all of my favorite restaurants he had to try). We went up to my family's vacation house and went skiing (I really, really missed being up there so it was great to go back, if only for a night). On Christmas Eve we had fondue and on Christmas Day we ate cinnamon rolls and walked the dogs on the golf course and had a turkey dinner and I conducted the "How Many Times Will Grandpa Cuss Today?" bet. And I got some very nice presents and was really happy with the things I gave to other people.
Actually, it dawned on me this year that my family's Christmas traditions have gradually become very secular. We used to do church-y stuff like the Christmas pageant and the Christmas cantata, but even when I was a little kid we never went to church on Christmas Eve or Day, and now that I'm an adult and my parents have stopped going to church regularly, there's pretty much nothing at all religious about my Christmas except some of the carols that I like. I still think we have the main point of Christmas right: surrounding yourself with people you love and spending time together. However, I'm going to have to start developing my own Christmas traditions pretty soon (because as much as I'd love to go home every Christmas I don't think that's in the cards), so I'm thinking maybe I should add at least one religious event in the future.

21. How will you be spending New Years?
We're going into the city to have dinner with Nicole and her fiance (did I mention that Nicole got engaged three weeks before I did? It's very fun having an engagement buddy), and then we're all going to a house party. The party is hosted by a couple who are friends of Nicole's boyfriend, and I don't really know them well because we've only met once. I hope it's fun and not awkward. I did get a new dress for Christmas that I'm planning to wear even though there's currently two inches of snow on the ground and it's supposed to sleet tonight. Also, tomorrow I'm making currywurst. Did you know it's a tradition to eat pork and sauerkraut for good luck on New Year's Day? Apparently it's a Yankee thing. Anyway, Penn enjoys the tradition and I have to admit it trumps black-eyed peas.

22. Did you fall in love in 2009?
Not newly, but I love Penn more all the time.

23. How many one-night stands?
None. And may the answer to this question always be none from now on!

24. What was your favorite TV program(s)?
30 Rock, definitely. I've also been watching a lot of TV shows on Netflix. Penn and I spent the first half of the year working our way through The Sopranos, and now we're onto Big Love (which I think is great, even though I have to refer to it as "Tank Smash" to get Penn to watch it with me because he thinks the name is gay). I also watched a ton of Friday Night Lights back when I was working on comps, and I surprised myself by really enjoying it.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate at this time last year?
Honestly, I'm pretty sure I don't hate anyone. I don't hate anyone that I know, anyway. I'm better at hating abstract ideas of people, like the guy that say "Git 'er done!" and drives a giant truck and shoots things and hates "the gays" and "the liberals" and only drinks domestic beer and pretends to be all conservative and religious when really he's a racist with some kind of sick sexual fetish. I mean, I'm pretty sure I'd hate that guy if I knew him personally, but I don't.

26. What was the best book that you've read?
One of my big accomplishments this year was that I started reading novels again (mostly because I finished coursework and finally have time to read novels again). Because I'm just now getting back to reading novels, my favorite books this year were all things that the rest of the world read years ago. My top-rated books this year were What is the What by Dave Eggers, Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Spearhead and Otis Taylor. I need to listen to more music; the only things I know about now are the things Penn tells me about. I'm definitely more of a talk radio person.

28. What did you want that you also ended up getting?
I wanted to finish my comps and advance to candidacy, and I did! I also wanted to get engaged to Penn, although that was definitely more of a surprise than something I planned and executed.

29. What did you want that you did not end up getting?
It would have been nice to have a finished prospectus, but that's okay. It will be finished in 2010!

30. What was your favorite film of this year?
Uh...did The Hangover come out this year? I'm pretty sure that was my favorite movie of this year. Honestly, I haven't watched very many movies in the past year. I saw that one, the Dan Brown/Tom Hanks one (what the heck was that one called?), Zombieland, the one where Johnny Depp played John Dillinger, and I think that's about it. The cost of going to the movies isn't usually justifiable for me. I'd rather spend that money on a meal at a restaurant and I'd rather snuggle on the couch and watch TV shows and old movies that I've rented from Netflix, so that's what I do.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 27 this year and once again my birthday fell at a strange, busy time right as Penn and I were preparing to leave for Europe. Still, Penn made sure I had a good birthday. He took me to my first professional hockey game the week before, which was something I'd been wanting to do for a long time. On my actual birthday Penn and I both played hooky from work and went biking in City A and went to a museum and then to a book signing. (Actually, at the museum that day Penn got a mysterious phone call that turned out to be the jeweler telling him my engagement ring was ready to be picked up! Not that I knew that at the time, of course.) And then for my birthday dinner we went to this amazingly delicious Venezuelan restaurant. It was a great birthday.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Nothing. I'm really, really happy right now and I can't think of anything else I need at this moment. There are things I want in the future, but nothing else that would have made this particular year any better. Sounds sappy and cheesy, but it's honestly the truth.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
I own fifteen pairs of jeans. That's how I'd describe it.

34. What kept you sane?
Curling up beside Penn every night and making to-do lists and spreadsheets every day. I also write in my journal, spend a good ten minutes every day laughing at my dog, and have friends and family I trust enough to call when I need them. That's my formula, and it's working quite well.

35. What celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I've become a big fan of the Colbert Report this year, although I wouldn't say I exactly "fancy" him.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
I think I've been on vacation too much lately. I feel like I've completely turned off that portion of my brain. I honestly can't think of a single issue I cared about this year, although that can't possibly be true...Healthcare, I suppose.

37. Who did you miss?
I've been missing my parents and siblings a lot this year. Turns out I miss them more the older I get, not less. I'm not missing them enough to move home, though. I'm pretty sure that could never happen! I'll just have to figure out ways to get them to come out here more. Wedding planning is a good start.

38. Who was the best new person you met?
I really need to get out more and make more of an effort to broaden my current social circle, I guess, because off the top of my head I can't think of anyone new I met this year! I mean, I met some people, but I didn't really get to know them. For instance, there are new people at school, but I don't really know them because I'm not in classes anymore. I am getting to know some of my local friends much better, though, and that has been a nice element of this year.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009.
Okay, this is going to sound ridiculous, but it seriously is a lesson I learned this year that I would like to remember: stick to the path and don't try to take shortcuts. And I don't mean that in some profound, deep way (although I suppose I still believe it in that sense, too), I mean it very literally. Penn and I had several instances this year on our bikes or in the truck where we thought we'd take a shortcut or, say, try to go back roads to avoid toll roads. Every single time we tried a shortcut or detour, it ended up being way more complicated and difficult than it would have been if we'd just stuck to the beaten path. So, seriously, stick to the path. Trying to take shortcuts will only mess you up in the long run. On a related note, we have learned that he is the driver and I'm the navigator. Reversing the jobs leads to us getting lost or making slow time or just both generally being annoyed. I'm glad we have figured this out. I imagine it's going to save us years and years of arguing.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
"Seems like everywhere I go,
The more I see, the less I know
But I know one thing
That I love you."-Spearhead

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Merry Little Christmas

I had a great Christmas with my family, made even better by the fact that Penn was here with us so we could spend our first Christmas together.

We started a new family tradition: everyone put a dollar in a pool and placed bets on how many times Grandpa would say "whore" or some variation of "f*#k" while he was over here for Christmas dinner. So I spent the whole afternoon and evening with a notepad surreptitiously tallying every time Gramps said one or the other (and marking double points for the one time he referred to someone as an effin' whore and got both in one sentence!). The results were thrown off slightly by the fact that we spent the first hour he was here watching Curb Your Enthusiasum so he lost quite a bit of cussing time. Still, by the end of the night I'd tallied up 33 variations of the f-word and 10 "whores," which meant Dad won the bet with his guess of 45. Our plan is to not tell Grandpa about this game so we can continue to play at family gatherings from now on, because I'm pretty sure 45 will be nowhere near his record.

I'm thinking this game could be a big hit at the wedding rehearsal dinner. We'll make a big pool of all the guests and get a cousin to tally Grandpa's cursing as well as other family habits, like how many time's Penn's mother raises her eyebrows in shock/judgment (perhaps this will directly correlate to how many times Grandpa calls someone a whore), how many times my Dad says "sittin' there" when telling a story, etc. Start thinking of traits to add to the list of things to bet on, I think this is a brilliant iea.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Me: We need to take that Dutch clock to get fixed so we can hang it up.

Penn: Yeah, we do.

Me: What do you call the people that do that? Clock masters?

Penn: Uh, no. Definitely not.

Me: Then what are they called?

Penn: Clock fix-it people...or...not. Probably not that.

(Clock repair. Turns out if you google it, the shops are just called "Clock and Watch Repair." Lame.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bizarre Reactions

My Favorite Reactions to Our Engagement Announcement (i.e. Things You Probably Shouldn't Say to People Making a Similar Announcement, Although They are Very Funny to Me)*

"Is she pregnant?" I'm going to go ahead and assume (hope) that this one was a joke and not serious. While I should probably have been insulted, I just think it's hilarious. And, in defense of this question, I'd guess that half the time when people get engaged it IS because they have a bun in the oven, so this reaction is probably pretty reasonable, actually.

"Oh, wow, I never thought you'd be the first to get married!" Um...thanks?

"Meh. Good job. You know I'm not good in these situations."

"Engaged? To the same girl you were with last time I visited you?" This from a person that visited us six months ago. Apparently he thought there was a possibility that Penn and I split up, I moved out, and he had a whirlwind new relationship that led to the quickest engagement ever.

"That's great! How exciting! What am I going to wear?" This one was from my sister. She has her priorities in order. Ha. In all fairness, I'll probably do the exact same thing to her when the tables are turned.

"That's wonderful! Tell Penn I want to do the bachelor party at Cheerleaders."

90% of people have had lovely, very positive reactions to our news. But it's the reactions like this that make life interesting, don't you think? And all of the above reactions were from people who are genuinely happy for us, too. Sometimes things just come out wrong!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Calm Before the Storm

I feel like this month is the calm before the storm. There's really not much I can do this month. I am working on my dissertation prospectus, but since I don't have a full committee yet (long story) I won't defend it until the spring semester. That means there's really no rush to finish my prospectus until February. I'm working with some friends on a big project for the summer, a project that will allow us all to potentially make a little bit of money and get some great resume-building experience, but we haven't received the official go-ahead on that project yet, either. So, again, there are only limited steps I can take on that project for now. My parents and I are planning to talk about the wedding budget when Penn and I are home for Christmas, but since I don't have a budget yet that also limits what I can do wedding-wise. No point making a decision on a location only to find out I can't actually afford it.
As a result, this month has mostly been about making plans for a future that is going to get really crazy. When Penn and I come back after Christmas my plan is for us to spend the month of January looking at and booking a wedding location and firmly setting a date. I'm also planning to take a winter term class. When I finished coursework last spring I told myself I never wanted to take another class again, but this is a class on writing a publishable article and if I take it I'm pretty much guaranteed a publication. I just can't pass up that opportunity. The class is only three weeks long and only meets for a few hours Monday through Thursday, so I think I can handle it. After that I plan to really buckle down on the prospectus work and get that defended by March. Then it's research, research, and more research. Hopefully I'll be ready to start working on chapters by July. Meanwhile, I'll be working on that summer project with my friends and prepping to teach the summer school course I'm teaching in July and August. And somewhere in between all of that work I'll be planning the wedding.
On top of all of that, Penn and I keep going back and forth on the issue of buying a house, but we've once again picked up our research on that and we've started thinking that it really does make sense to buy if we can. We have the money to make a good down payment, and the great tax break for new homebuyers has been extended so we could still qualify for it as long as we close on a place by June. The main reason we'd been putting off buying is that Penn didn't feel like we could afford a big enough, nice enough place and we kept thinking that maybe in four or five years when I'm finished with school and Penn has completed his current promotion cycle we'll attempt to move somewhere with more affordable real estate (which would be pretty much anywhere other than New York City or California). But we both really like everything about living here other than the fact that a freakin' townhouse can sell for $500,000. Oh, and the traffic sometimes blows but I've pretty much come to terms with that. Everything else is great, and we're not eager to leave here. So why plan for a future that involves moving when we might be equally happy just staying here? Also, I think both of us were bummed that we can't afford our dream house here, but we weren't really considering the fact that there are very few twenty-somethings who CAN afford their dream house. We had a long talk the other day and came to terms with the idea that we were both hoping to be able to afford homes like the ones our parents live in now but conveniently forgetting the fact that our parents haven't always lived in their houses, either. It was only later in our lives that our parents moved into the houses they now live in. So we reconfigured our expectations, and that helped us a lot. The other thing is that we kept thinking, "We could buy, but what if something happens and we have to move?" Well, what if we do? People sell houses every day.So now we're thinking maybe we shouldn't waste the next five years paying rent when we could make an investment in a home and hope that prices will go up while we're in it. Barring some complete financial collapse and a coup that overthrows the entire federal government (always possible, I guess), Penn's job will stay stable and allow us to afford to stay in a house, and housing prices will hopefully only go up. I think buying a house is always a huge risk. There's always the chance that we could buy and then realize we hate the neighborhood, or not be able to sell when we want to and end up stuck somewhere we don't want to be. But I think we're weighing that risk well, and we did already take that home buying class over the summer so we have a better idea than many homebuyers about what we're getting ourselves into. I don't know what's going to happen. We may talk to the bank and find out that we don't qualify for a big enough loan to let us buy something we'd be happy with after all, in which case we'll put off buying for another year until I finish school and get a real job. But at any rate, right now we're thinking of house hunting this spring and maybe attempting to get out of our lease, which would definitely be another big project.
So, by my count that is three really major projects all at once: wedding planning, house hunting, and dissertation writing. Any sane person would probably want to do those things separately, but here we are, crazily thinking we're somehow going to do all three in the next 18 months or so, while also continuing to keep up with regular life. I know we can do it without losing our minds, but right now I feel like I'm standing on a shore watching big waves roll in and getting ready to hold my breath and dive in head-first. I know it's going to feel good and be wonderful and worth any stress we have to go through. Basically, the next two years are going to be a total whirlwind, but if everything goes well I'll emerge on the other side of the chaos with a husband and a doctorate and a house. It's going to be a major identity shift on so many levels, but I feel ready for it.
It's just going to take lots and lots of focusing on what is really important and ignoring everything else. And maybe taking up some relaxing yoga classes or something.

Friday, December 4, 2009

I'll Talk About Other Things Eventually

Apparently my relationship has reached the status of urban legend.
My aunt was here on business this week (the same aunt that was visiting the night I met Penn) so the other night Penn and I went out to dinner with my aunt and Rae and her husband. We were joking that we should return to the bar where Penn and I met and re-enact the evening, but Rae pointed out that we'd have to track down the strange hippie guy my aunt had been hanging out with that night to really complete the picture, and that seemed like way too much effort. Ha. Instead, we went out to a nice restaurant for dinner, where I had the most amazing macaroni and cheese ever because it was made with brie and had bacon AND lobster chunks in it. So fattening, so delicious.
Anyway, at the beginning of our meal Penn and I mostly fielded a bunch of questions about our engagement and our plans, and during that conversation Rae said, "You two are legendary to my girlfriends." I asked what she meant and she said, "None of them believe it's actually possible to meet your husband here. First I told them that my cousin had met a guy in a bar who seemed legitimate, and they were like 'Seriously?' And then I told them that you guys had moved in together and they couldn't believe it, and now I told them that you're engaged and they're like, 'How?! How did she do it?!'" We laughed about that, but it is sort of true. Statistically, it seems that your odds are probably pretty low of meeting a guy in a bar. Or, rather, it's easy to meet a guy in a bar to hook up with, but pretty much impossible to turn a bar meeting into a marriage. I don't know anyone other than myself who has done it (will do it), I've just heard of friends-of-friends who have done it (hence the whole "urban legend" quality to it).* When I announced my engagement to my friends at school, the first thing one of them said was, "Wow, turns out you CAN meet a good guy in a bar!"
In a way I feel good that Penn and I are this small beacon of hope to single ladies in City B hitting the bars on Friday night hoping to meet someone good. It really is hard to date in City B. I met nobody but greaseballs until I met Penn, so I do sympathize with how frustrating it is, and I like the idea of proving to everyone that there really are diamonds in the rough. But then I also feel like maybe people shouldn't tell our story without all the caveats. For example, the wonderful guy I met at a bar in City B? He wasn't actually from City B! Also, we may have met in a bar, but we didn't have what I think of as a typical bar meeting. Neither of us was drunk at the time (Penn may have been buzzed, but I had only had a couple of drinks so I was definitely sober), and we didn't dance or make out or stagger home together at the end of the night. We just had a nice conversation and exchanged numbers. So I feel like I should add, "Yes, you can meet your future spouse in a bar, but it probably helps if you're not engaging in the usual bar debauchery."

So, to complete the urban legend I have to plan the wedding so that my almost-husband** can become my actual husband. Here's what I have already discovered about wedding planning: you can do everything in your power not to become insane about it, but because so many other women are insane about it, you don't really have much choice. After spending over a week discussing various dates and vetoing almost all of them for various reasons (too soon, too far away, we have to move that month, I can't get away from school at that time, blah, blah, blah) we have finally narrowed it down to four potential dates, two in January*** and two in March. January and March of 2011. That seems like ages from now. It IS ages from now; more than a year. And yet when I went on (yup, I succumbed to peer pressure after 65 million people insisted that was the thing to do) and tentatively typed January 2011 in as a wedding date it put me in a group with other brides planning for the same date and about half of them have already booked venues! What the WHAT?! I figured a year was plenty of lead time, but already I'm feeling pressure to get a space booked before all the good ones are taken. Not that I know what I mean by "good ones" since I have no idea what sort of space I'd even like yet. But basically I've realized that although I'm going to try to stay laid back about all of this, I'm going to have to get on the ball if I want to have any actual choices. Otherwise it will be a matter of planning our entire wedding based on what is available and who is leftover. And I know it will be fun and nice no matter what, but I would like some choices.
So, yeah, wedding planning. I'll try really hard not to make this the all-wedding-planning-all-the-time blog, and I'll try really hard not to buy into all the hype and nonsense, but I would just like to point out now that other women are crazy when wedding planning, and after just a week of clicking around on the internet I can already sort of see how they get that way. Luckily, I've been told by others who went before me that the first few months are really frantic as you book the spaces and vendors and buy the dress but then after that things slow down for quite a while until right before the wedding. I hope that's true!

*I do know of a couple of people who were introduced to their spouses at bars, but it was a meeting arranged by their mutual friend(s). I don't know of anyone other than Penn and me who met a total stranger in a bar and turned it into a marriage. Do you?
**Penn thinks the word "fiancee" is ridiculous so he has begun referring to me as his almost-wife. So now he's my almost-husband. We're disgustingly ridiculous sometimes.
***January is definitely my preference since I have fun envisioning a winter wedding. I'm meeting with mixed reactions, though. About half of the people I've told have cheered about how fun it will be to have something to do in winter and how beautiful a winter wedding could be, and the other half has looked at me like I'm crazy for wanting to get married when a blizzard could potentially derail everything. I'm sort of hoping that this winter we get "the big one" and end up with several feet of snow, because that is very unlikely to happen two years in a row...right?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


I'm back from my trip to Europe and I have big news:
I'm engaged!!!!! I'm getting married!!!!!!
I don't think I could possibly put enough exclamation marks to properly convey my level of excitement and joy about this turn of events. Truthfully, this is probably not big news to most of you who read this since I know you are either my Facebook friend or I told you in person, but it's the biggest thing that has happened to me, well, ever, so I need to write about it here. The proposal happened almost two weeks ago, on Saturday November 21st. Penn had arrived in London the morning before, and we'd spent the day exploring together. I showed him the path I'd been walking along the Thames to work every day and all of the sites I would pass, and we walked across the Millennium Bridge to St. Paul's Cathedral and then climbed to the top together and took dozens of pictures as the sun was setting. We went to a show at the Globe and then went to an outdoor (heated, thank goodness) pub at a market decorated beautifully for Christmas. We went to all of these lovely places, and the whole time I was wondering, "Does he have a ring? Is he going to ask me now?"
Because here's the thing: I was pretty sure he was planning a proposal. Back at the end of October, just after my trip to visit my roommate, I was doing laundry and I found two of my rings in the dryer when I was done. I was really baffled by the fact that my rings were in the laundry, especially because one of them was a birthstone ring that I haven't worn in ages because it has a chip in the stone. I puzzled over it for a bit and then forgot all about it until three days later when it suddenly hit me as I was riding the bus to campus: my rings ended up in the wash because they'd been in Penn's pocket! He must have been out getting a ring sized for me while I was out of town! (Incidentally, yes, I'm slow for not realizing that right away.) So from that point on I was wondering what he was planning. My birthday was coming up, as was our trip to Europe, as was our trip to my hometown for Christmas. All perfectly good times to propose. My birthday came and went with no proposal, so I started thinking maybe he'd do it in Europe. I thought it would be perfectly "us" because we both love traveling and going on adventures and doing new things together. Basically, I psyched myself up so much imagining how nice a proposal in Europe would be that I knew in my heart that I was going to be slightly disappointed in my trip if I didn't come home engaged. And I knew that was stupid because, hello, I was on a pretty-much-all-expenses-paid trip to Europe, I had done lots of valuable research, I was going to get to travel with my boyfriend for a whole week...basically, it would have been a fabulous trip no matter what. But the whole week and a half that I was in London by myself I would wonder at least once a day if Penn would be popping the question when he arrived. I was really, really, REALLY hoping he would.
But then we spent that first day and night in London and...nothing. Well, not nothing. We had a great time catching up after being apart for ten days and exploring London, but there was no proposal. When we went to bed that night I thought, "Well, that's that. Maybe he doesn't have a ring after all. He's definitely not planning to propose on this trip." The thing you need to know about Penn is that he can be extremely impatient. Once he decides he wants to do something, he usually wants to do it immediately. I figured if he did have a ring the wait the whole ten days we were apart in Europe would have been driving him crazy, and the ring would be burning a hole in his pocket by the time he finally got to London. So when he didn't propose at one of the many places he could have proposed in London, I figured while a proposal was going to happen eventually, it wasn't going to happen on this trip.

On Saturday morning Penn and I picked up our rented car at Stansted Airport and got on the road to Edinburgh. In retrospect, there are many things that should have clued me in to the fact that Penn was planning to propose in Scotland, and one of them was the fact that he'd been adamant about renting a car instead of taking a train or going up on one of the bus tours. He'd sold the idea to me by saying that renting our own car would be less expensive and would be a fun adventure, but the truth was he wanted to be able to propose in a scenic spot, and he didn't know how he'd manage that on a train and he really didn't want to propose to me and then have to get back onto a tour bus with a bunch of strangers. So we rented a car and had our first experience with "wrong" side of the road driving. It was fun, actually, once we got the GPS working. For the record, if you're ever planning to try this yourselves, it helps to have two people in the car, one to drive on the wrong side of the car and the other to sit in the passenger seat and helpfully shriek things like, "Stay to the left! The left!" Oh, and almost all of the cars are stick-shift and you'll have to shift left-handed. It helps to have another person for that, too, because some of the time Penn would have me do the shifting just because I could do it right-handed and it was easier.
Anyway, the drive up was going really well once we got the hang of things. It took about six hours to get to Scotland, and we talked the whole time. We spent a lot of time making fun of British radio because a) apparently British citizens are really into bad pop/dance music for some reason and b) the weather report comes on every fifteen minutes and you know what? It's always still raining! As we started approaching Scotland, Penn began speeding. I told him to relax and slow down, but he insisted that he wanted to get to Scotland before it got dark so we could see the countryside. I didn't understand what the big deal was; we were planning to be in Scotland for two days and to spend one of those days driving up into the highlands, so I figured we had plenty of time to see the scenery. Little did I know that the speeding was Penn's impatience finally coming out. Apparently he had decided a couple of months ago that Scotland was where he wanted to propose. He knew he wanted to do it in Europe and he thought it would be cool to do it somewhere neither of us had ever been, so he was determined to do it somewhere in Scotland. He didn't know where in Scotland, though (since, like I said, neither of us had ever been there) so his plan was to just carry the ring with him until he found the perfect spot. But he was fairly determined to find that perfect spot on Saturday because once we got to Scotland he just couldn't wait to propose anymore.
So he was speeding along and I was completely clueless and the sun was going down and since it was already cloudy and rainy it was rapidly getting dark. The instant we crossed the border into Scotland--I mean, within the very first mile--the landscape changed entirely and instead of basically flat land with some slightly rolling hills there were towering hills to our left and the ocean to our right. Not far over the border we saw a sign that said "East Lothian Coastal Highway." Penn suggested that we take it, and I said sure, and I started trying to set the GPS up to direct us toward a gas station since we were almost out of gas. About that time it finally stopped raining, and I looked to our right and saw that we were right beside this beautiful view. I'd try to describe it, but, here, how about a picture?

The picture doesn't even begin to do it justice, but the view was amazing. I remember thinking how interesting the lighting was, with the combination of the water and the storm clouds and the setting sun. It was the most perfect deep blue. There was a stairwell leading down the side of the cliffs to the beach, so I asked Penn if we could park the car and walk down to the ocean. He said sure, so we parked on the side of the road and walked down the steps and hiked out onto some of the rocks that jutted out into the water. In retrospect, I think it's a really cool fact that Penn and I collaborated on the site of our engagement. He was the one that suggested the coastal highway, I was the one that picked the spot, although of course I had no idea that that's what I was doing at the time.
We were standing out on rocks jutting out into the water and I was staring out at the ocean and listening to the waves when all of a sudden Penn pulled me to him and started kissing me. That wasn't unusual, really. We're not big on public displays of affection, but Penn has made a habit of pulling me in for a kiss whenever we suddenly find ourselves somewhere secluded. We were the only people around and it was really beautiful so I figured he was just caught up in the moment, as was I. But then when he stepped back from me he unzipped his top coat pocket and said, "There's something I've been meaning to ask you..." and before he even finished uttering the sentence I knew what he was about to do. I said, "You didn't!" as he pulled the black box from his pocket and knelt down on one knee. To be honest, I can't remember if he was saying anything as he knelt down. My mind was buzzing with a million thoughts at once, most of them some version of "This is really it!" although some of them completely mundane. For instance, I distinctly remember fleetingly thinking that it must have hurt him to kneel on the jagged, wet rock. But he did, and he had opened the box and he held it up to me and I could see the diamond nestled in the black velvet and he said "So...." and then he paused for a long moment, and I wasn't sure if he was really going to ask the question or if "So?" WAS the question, and I was just so excited that I completely jumped the gun and said, "Yes, yes, yes!" And only then did he say, "Will you marry me?" So I continued to say "Yes, of course," a dozen more times. He told me later that he was purposely taking a pause before saying, "Will you marry me?" because he knew it was going to be one of the most important things, if not the most important thing, he ever said in his whole life. I feel a teeny bit bad for stepping on his big moment, but it felt perfect just as it was.
After that everything is a bit of a blur. I remember kissing again, and I remember him insisting that I put the ring on right then to see if it fit, even though I was petrified to take it out of the box because I was afraid I was going to fumble it into the North Sea. He also gave me something he had written for me on the train the day before, and that's when I really started to cry. I was already tearing up a bit, but I had to start wiping tears away at that point. I said, "I thought I wasn't going to cry when you did this!" and he laughed and said, "I knew you would." [Nope, not going to share what he wrote for me. Sorry to be a tease! I have several things he has written for and/or about me now and I have never shared them with anyone and don't think I ever will. I love them and love having them just for me.]
It started getting really dark after that, so we made our way back up the steps to our car. I was bubbling over with questions about who already knew and when he had gotten the ring and how long he'd been planning to propose and, oh yeah, where on earth were we, anyway? We drove around the little town closest to the beach until we found enough signs to figure out where we were: Dunbar. Dunbar, Scotland. Which, I found out through research several days later, is where James Earl of Bothwell had a castle that he took his lover Mary Queen of Scots to on the night that he "kidnapped" her and ravished her all night so he would then be forced to marry her. Supposedly they both really wanted to be married, but the rest of the nobility wouldn't approve the match so they staged a kidnap and rape so that he could have her as his wife. It's not the most chaste and proper story, I'll give you that, but I read this one book about Mary Queen of Scots so many times in high school that the cover fell off of it, and I was always so enchanted by the rogue Bothwell and I loved the scene when he kidnapped his queen. I couldn't believe that Penn coincidentally proposed at the ruins of the castle! You can see them in the background of the picture. (I'm ignoring the fact that their's ended up being a very ill-fated love and that they never really got to spend much time together before he was killed and she was imprisoned. Instead, I'm focusing on the romantic fact that Bothwell was her one true love and I like to assume that the nights she spent at Dunbar with him were some of her best.) I never in a million years would have imagined that I'd get engaged in Scotland, of all places, but my life has taken so many interesting and ultimately happy twists and turns in the past couple of years that this was just the icing on the cake (or, actually, I guess it's just the beginning, isn't it?).
Anyway, we finally found that gas station we needed, and I stood outside the car as he filled it up staring at my ring under the fluorescent gas station lights. It sparkles. It literally makes rainbows! Once we got settled into our hotel in Edinburgh we went out for a nice dinner and a bottle of wine (oh, and also a brief bit of a Scottish rugby match watched on TV in a pub) and then we both called our families to tell them the news. Everyone seems really happy for us, and we're both thrilled.
I can't believe I get to plan a wedding for real. I met Penn in March and knew by June that I wanted to marry him. I'm not sure if he was convinced about me quite that early on, but he did say to me when we moved in together last October that he wanted to marry me eventually and wasn't asking me to move in with him just out of convenience. In the past few months I occasionally started doing things like looking at wedding dresses and venues online, but I was too superstitious to make lists or save favorites or start profiles on planning websites or anything like that. But now I can!
More than being excited about planning a wedding, though, I'm incredibly excited about planning our entire life together. To talk about what kind of home we'd like to have in the future and to think about when we'd like to start trying to have our first baby and to know that, short of horrendous bad luck (knock on wood) these things will actually happen?

It's the best feeling I've ever had in my life.

Incidentally, the ring fit perfectly:

Saturday, November 14, 2009


I'm having an awesome trip so far! Let's see, what have I been up to since I last updated...
Well, to start with, the actual work I was sent here to do is going well. I don't write much about my job/schoolwork here and I'm not going to start doing that now, but those of you who know what I do for a living can probably guess where I've been working this week if I tell you, not-all-that-vaguely, "reconstructed building on the South Bank." Everyone there is so friendly. I always have someone to guide me from appointment to appointment, and every time I sit down for more than three seconds someone asks me if I want a cup of tea. I do realize that they're likely trying to impress me as much, if not more so, than I'm trying to impress them--if we go ahead with setting up this study abroad program it means money for them, of course--but I can't get over how accommodating everyone has been. I've also gotten a lot of people to talk to me about my dissertation research, and while I still feel all awkward and stutter-y and fumble-y when I'm conducting interviews, I feel like I'm not making a terrible impression. So that's all good. It's also just fun to do work there every day and see what goes on behind the scenes.
Anyway, I've also had a lot of free sightseeing time, which is wonderful. I went to the Tate Modern yesterday. I have to admit that I'm not fully capable of appreciating modern art. I think some of it is just ridiculous. I justify it to myself by saying, "Sure, I could paint four messy boxes on a piece of canvas and call it "art", but she's an artist and I'm not because she thought to do that and I didn't." I'm sure there is a much more sophisticated way of thinking about it and looking at it, but I have very little art history/appreciation training so I just judge by my own emotional reactions. So I don't like Dali because his images scare me (I know that's sort of the point, but blah), but I like Matisse because his colors please me, and sometimes I like Warhol (what's not to like about a room wallpapered in pink cows?), for example. Apparently the Tate Modern changes all of its exhibits almost completely every couple of years, which is exciting because it means I could go back and see different things next time. This time, my favorite rooms were a room covered from floor to ceiling in Soviet propaganda posters and a room that was a huge sculpture (or maybe I should call it a mobile?) of steamrolled silver pieces suspended from the ceiling and hanging in groups just inches off the floor. Oh, and the coolest thing of all was a room devoted to a table and chairs on a huge scale. I walked in and my eyes were at the level of the chairs' seats. It made me smile. I suppose that's how my Meatball must feel every day, laps at eye level.
Yesterday I also moved into the apartment I'll be staying in for the rest of the time I'm here. This apartment is, to use one of Penn's favorite expressions, "bangin'!" I was expecting it to be a tiny London flat, or maybe like the place I stayed last time I was in London for an extended period of time--perfectly acceptable, but full of cheap rental furniture and all scuffed up from years of use by people who don't take care of it like it's home. This place, though, is awesome. It's in a very modern-looking complex that was apparently only built a couple of years ago. It has a bedroom separate from the kitchen/living room area. I was expecting a dorm kitchen (mini fridge and microwave), but it's a fully-equipped kitchen: full-sized fridge, oven, stove, microwave, tea kettle (of course), dishwasher(!), even a tiny washing machine tucked under the sink! The bathroom is huge by European standards, too, and actually has a full bathtub/shower and not one of those tiny little closets you usually get over here. (Incidentally, I wonder if one of the reasons Americans in general are so much more into shaving their bodies than Europeans are is simply because Europeans don't have room to shave. Every time I try to shave in one of those closet showers I have to become a contortionist). So, anyway, apartment=amazing and relatively inexpensive! If you're coming this way sometime in the near future let me know and I'll give you the name of this place because I can't imagine staying anywhere better for the money.
The location rocks, too. I'm a short walk from the London Bridge tube station, and I can walk to where I'm working and on the way I pass all sorts of interesting things: the Southwark Cathedral, the ruins of Winchester Palace, a replica of Francis Drake's ship floating on the Thames...the history here constantly blows my mind. I get this feeling back home sometimes when I'm just going about my normal business and I happen to walk by a building I used to read about in my US history or government books, this "I can't believe this is my life and I'm really here!" feeling. But I don't know if it's just that the visible history is so many hundreds of years older here, or if it's just because I'm admittedly an Anglophile who has read way too much English historical fiction, but my breath is taken away by my surroundings much more often here.
Today, for example, I had one of those days that happens sometimes on good vacations when you're just going to do something generically touristy but instead you stumble upon something much more interesting. I was planning to go to the British Museum this morning, but when I looked up info on how to get there the transit website had all of these warnings about stations being closed because of the Lord Mayor's Show. So I thought, what is this Lord Mayor's Show? And I googled it and figured it out. Turns out it is a parade celebrating the newly-elected mayor of the City of London, a parade that has been happening annually for 784 years. It sounded interesting, so I went. It was definitely a cool experience. First I watched the parade, an hour of marching bands and horse-drawn carriages and floats from groups like "The Worshipful Order of Butchers" (the old-time guilds still exist to an extent, I guess!). Then it started pouring rain so I hopped on the tube and went to Covent Garden to grab lunch and look around. And then I headed back to the City, where I'd read that tour guides were giving free tours of the square-mile once-walled City of London. I got lucky because I came out of the underground station just in time to see the Lord Mayor arriving back at Mansion House. Since I had come out of a station that had apparently been blocked off until right before I arrived there, I avoided most of the crowds and had a good view of the mayor and the aldermen and the "livery company masters" (I just googled that; I had no idea who they were) doing celebratory toasts and posing for pictures before going inside. They were wearing red robes with fur collars. Fancy. It was cool to watch a ceremony that has gone on for hundreds of years. In fact, here is Samuel Pepys' account of the day in 1663 (yes, someone is typing up Pepys' diary like it's a blog. Some people are even nerdier than me). Anyway, the tour was two hours of nerdy historical fun. We went from Mansion House to the Bank of England (that bank scene used to terrify me in Mary Poppins) to Guildhall, to Postman Park (Closer, anyone?), to the ruins of Christ Church Greyfriars (destroyed in the Blitz during WWII, and Isabella of France, the she-wolf, widow of Edward II is buried there; I learned today that she was buried with her husband's heart!), to Temple Bar and St. Paul's and then down to the Thames and Blackfriars Bridge. There were other stops along the way, but those were the highlights. The guide was really good. I think I'm going to try to do another walking tour somewhere else in the city tomorrow. I can see things by myself, sure, but sometimes it's fun to go with a guide and a group.
Oh, and on my walk home tonight I stopped eat at a Wagamama. I love me some Wagamama.
I wish I could figure out a way to live here for a while. There's just so much exploring to do, and so little time! Anyway, five more days exploring London on my own and then Penn gets here. Hooray!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

London Calling

I'm in a hotel room in London. This feels very surreal. Much like when I went to Russia earlier this year, day-to-day life kept me so busy leading up to this trip that I didn't have much time to mentally prepare. In fact, it didn't really hit me that I was going to be in the UK by myself for nine whole days until yesterday afternoon as I was packing. I've flown and taken long car trips by myself dozens of times before, but I've always been meeting up with friends or family at the end of the journey. Prior to a quick conference trip I went on a couple of weeks ago, I'd never stayed in a hotel room by myself. I think I'm actually going to enjoy being alone until Penn gets here, since I like making my own schedule and not having to wait around for other people. Still, it's a little unnerving to realize that if something goes wrong I'm going to have to figure out how to solve the problem myself without the help of a cell phone (to be honest, that's what made the nerves kick in more than anything else. I HATE being separated from the ability to easily look something up on Google or GPS my location for directions...I really wish it didn't cost a fortune to use my phone here).
So far so good, though. My flight here was uneventful. It took about three hours less to get to London than it took me to get to Seattle a couple of months ago. I note this just because on today's (yesterday's?) trip I was given dinner and breakfast on a six hour flight, but when I spent nine hours flying to Seattle I got absolutely no food other than peanuts. Domestic flights don't get meals anymore, I guess. But come on, airlines! Acknowledge that flying from the east coast to the west coast is more of a hassle than flying to Europe (especially with layovers). Anyway, when I got to London I cleared customs and caught the express train to Paddington and then got on the underground to Waterloo Station, and my nerves dissipated and everything about living in London came back to me. It's not like I'm completely clueless about this city, after all. I spent a large part of summer 2004 living here doing a study abroad program. I was able to do a lot of exploring that summer, and now that I'm starting to get my bearings back I'm feeling confident in my abilities to enjoy my solo week here. I'm going to see some shows, go to some museums, eat some Wagamama...I do have to do the pesky research work the department is paying me to do while I'm here, but I'll get that done, too.
My hotel for the first two nights I'm here is right across the street from Waterloo Station. And I mean RIGHT across the street. A train bridge runs right along the side of this building. There are complimentary earplugs sitting on my bedside table for later, although so far I haven't really noticed any noise other than typical city sounds so I think it will be okay. Of course, even though the hotel is right across the street from the station I came out the wrong exit and had to walk all the way around the city block in the rain to find the hotel. And then I was temporarily confused because I couldn't figure out where to get my room key. Turns out you had to check in at the bar on the ground floor of the hotel. There was a little sign over the cash register that said "Reception," which was the only clue I had that the space was something more than just a pub. That makes it sound like the place should be shady, but it's not at all. It's a tiny hotel room, because it's Europe, but it's comfortable and it has hot water and I finally figured out how to turn the radiators on (for a while I was just assuming I couldn't control my heat and I was wondering if the room was going to stay so dang cold all night).
Once I got settled I went out for a walk. This hotel is within very brief walking distance of the Old Vic, The Young Vic, and the Royal National Theatre, so I went to drool over show posters for a while. After I post this I'm off to google student rush tickets to see what I can get for while I'm in town. I walked down to the Thames and across one of the pedestrian bridges and took a few pictures of St. Paul's in the distance under an extremely gloomy sky. Then I stopped in a cafe and had a pizza and a Magners before walking back to my hotel. Tonight's plan is to make myself an itinerary for the rest of the time I'm here. I didn't do much planning before I left, but I'm realizing that I only have a certain amount of free hours every day and I don't want to waste them trying to decide what to do. I need a plan, even though the plan may change. I definitely want to go to the Tate and back to the British Museum because I love it there, and if I went to the National Gallery last time I was here I have no memory of it so I'd like to go there (I remember the portrait gallery, but not the rest of it). Other than that, I don't know what I'm going to do. I want to branch out from the usual tourist things, though, or at least hit tourist places I've never been before. I'll update on my adventures, I'm sure.
Also, let me state for the record that England is very enthusiastic about Christmas. On the TV show I have on in the background right now the hosts are discussing which artists' album will likely be #1 at Christmas (just like Love, Actually! Who knew the race to have the #1 Christmas hit was real?), all of the restaurants have "Christmas Menus" so that you can book your Christmas parties (we sort of do the company-Christmas-party-at-a-local-restaurant in the states, I guess, but it's not like there are special Christmas menus), and when I was walking earlier I saw a balcony decorated with Christmas lights. And trust me, they were definitely up specifically for Christmas because there was a blow up penguin wearing a Santa hat. Then again, there is no Thanksgiving here, so I can't really hold them to my No Celebrating Christmas Before Thanksgiving standards.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

28 Things to Do Before I Turn 28

(Two other posts under this one. I'm on a roll today!)

Here is my list for this year, since it was so much fun to try this last year:
First, repeats from last year or things I didn't finish:
1. Write a book review and submit it to an academic journal.
2. Find a dentist here and make an appointment to get my teeth cleaned. For real this time!
3. Get caught up with my personal journal project and print and bind the past three years (I'm beginning to think this will always be a work in progress. Every time I get caught up I stop writing for a few days and get behind again. I'm closer to being caught up than I was last year, but I still have dates where I just made a list and now need to go back and fill in details. Maybe instead of catching up my goal should be to get to a mental place where I'm comfortable just listing things some days and not writing an actual entry).
4. Buy a printer (I can't complete #3 until I do this, actually).
5. Go here.
6. Attend at least six live productions, not including concerts (classical music counts, though; I feel bad making this highbrow/lowbrow divide here but the fact is we attend concerts almost monthly but spend much less time going to plays/operas/the symphony).
7. Cross at least one more country off my list.
8. Cross at least one more state off my list (only 17 more to go!).
Now, new things to do:
9. Print the best of the pictures I've taken during the last couple of years and organize them into photo albums (anyone else paranoid about the internet just disappearing one day and taking all your pictures with it?).
10. "The unwillingness to give a hearing to contradictory viewpoints, or to imagine that one might learn anything from an ideological or cultural opponent, represents a departure from the best side of American popular and elite intellectual traditions."-Susan Jacoby. In the spirit of this quote, I'm going to attempt to read--with an open mind--a book I'm inclined to disagree with. And I'm going to try to find at least one piece of the book that I can agree with.
11. Go on a 20+ mile-long bike ride.
12. Finish a Seasonal Reading Challenge on GoodReads.
13. Visit Monticello.
14. Check out this place. (Isn't that cool? The only problem is that we may have to pretend we're planning an event in order to get a tour...of course, I suppose we could wait until we actually are planning an event...;-)).
15. Take advantage of City A's Restaurant Week to try a well-reviewed restaurant I normally wouldn't be able to afford.
16. Go to one of the local historical jazz clubs.
17. Read the Dark Tower series (I joked to Penn that he had to read the Harry Potter series or we couldn't stay together, so he retaliated by insisting I read the Dark Tower series. He's about to finish Harry Potter, so I figure I should humor him and attempt to fulfill his request).
18. Take the Meatball to a local basset hound event (I haven't been to one of these in over a year, and it's always so hilarious to see dozens of basset hounds together).
19. Eat here, here, and here (FYI, that second link plays The Chicken Dance, so you may not want to click on it if your volume is turned up).
20. Watch a Supreme Court hearing.
21. Buy new ski clothes so I can quit wearing the ski pants I've been wearing since the '90s, then ski at least seven times this winter.
22. Take a trip to Pittsburgh and visit Penn's college campus.
23. Go here.
24. Buy a new comforter for the bed.
25. Go to the local fish market.
26. Take a trip to Philadelphia to research a bar for my dad (seriously, he has requested we go to Philly and check out a bar for him since he is thinking of modeling something on it).
27. Take a trip to Vegas with Penn.
28. Make the list of 30 Things to Do Before I'm 30.*

*For the record, I'm well aware that 29 comes after 28. However, as I get older I think it makes more sense to make these lists every few years as opposed to every single year. I mean, can you imagine 62 Things to Do Before I Turn 62?

27 Things to Do Before I Turn 27: Recap

I made this list last year, and I've decided to do it again this year. It was fun to set challenges for myself, and on weekends when Penn and I were trying to think of things to do I'd sometimes look at my list and go, "Oh, I've been wanting to do such-and-such." Instant plans! It kept us from falling into that, "What do you want to do?" "I don't know, what do you want to do?" rut.
Before I post my new list, I wanted to recap all of the things I managed to do from last year's list. So here are the tasks I completed:
1. Get another stamp on my passport. That one was kind of a gimme, since I already knew when I made my list last year that I'd be going to Russia. Still, I did it!
2. Cross at least one more state off my list (only 18 more to go!). I managed that when I went to Seattle, since I'd never been to Washington before.
3. Bake a cake that doesn't come from a box. I made Penn's birthday cake. It was really good, actually. I may even try it again this year.
4. Host a get-together of some sort at my place (although I'm not allowed to call it a "dinner party" since Penn thinks dinner parties are for old people). I hosted people twice this year. We had a small labor day cookout on our balcony, and I had a football party a few weeks ago to celebrate our HUGE new TV and the fact that the Meatball can now deliver beer with his Budweiser tailgate companion vest. The football party had more than a dozen people crammed into my small apartment, but it was really fun.
6. Attend an event celebrating Edgar Allen Poe's 200th birthday. Penn and I went to a reenactment of his funeral last month, and we went to the art museum to see an exhibit on illustrations and paintings based on his work.
7. Eat here, here, and here. Done, done, and done. All three restaurants were delicious. We've actually been back to the burger place twice because it was so good, and I am still thinking about the meal I had at the Cuban restaurant, so even though we're always on a mission to try new things I think we'll be making a repeat visit there soon, too.
8. Teach the Meatball to retrieve beer from the fridge. Okay, so we kind of cheated on this one because he can only deliver beer when he wears his beer caddy vest. Still, I can load him up with beer and he comes when he's called, so I say mission accomplished (plus we realized that it would probably be a very bad idea to teach the hound to open the refrigerator).
1o. Really master standard driving so I feel equally comfortable driving my car or Penn's. Well, this one happened out of necessity when my car died and had to be sold a couple of months ago. I can honestly say that I'm now as comfortable driving Penn's truck as I was driving my own car. I even took it on a road trip to a conference by myself a couple of weeks ago. The only thing I can't do is parallel park it or get it into tight parking spaces, but I was never that great at doing those things in my own car anyway.
11. Attend at least five live productions, not counting contemporary music concerts (it is shameful how rarely I make time to take advantage of all the opportunities to see theatre/opera/dance on campus and in the nearby cities). This was a really fun goal to complete. I saw The Country Wife in City B, Winter's Tale, The Illusion, and the opera Eugene Onegin (all on campus), Beethoven's Concerto No. 4 and Bruckner's Third Symphony (at the symphony hall down the street; Penn surprised me with that outing for our anniversary), Dr. Faustus (a friend's company performed this one on campus), Psycho (we watched the movie while the local symphony orchestra played the soundtrack; it was so fun), and Henry IV Part 1 (at the recreation of Shakespeare's Blackfriars Theatre). Non-locally, I also saw Wagner's Ring Cycle in Seattle (definitely my best theatre experience this year) and Koppelia by the Bolshoi Ballet, Don Quixote by the ballet company at the Mariinsky Theatre, and the opera Prince Igor, all in Russia (and also an amazing experience).
13. Take a beach vacation somewhere that is not New Jersey. Penn and I went to Florida with my family. That was great!
14. Visit a boardwalk on the Delaware or Jersey shore when it's actually summertime. I managed this a few times this summer, actually. That's how my salt water taffy addiction started!
15. Take Penn to my home state. Done! He still hasn't visited my hometown, but he will for Christmas this year.
17. Try at least three types of cuisine that I have never/rarely tried. Russian (the Russian obsession with potato salad was bizarre, but I loved pelminis and am bummed that there's not really any place to get them here), Honduran (there are Honduran taco trucks that park in the lot of the thrift store near our apartment; Honduran food is very similar to Mexican food, which means I love it), and Lebanese (which turned out to be pretty much like Greek food)
18. Read at least two books that made me think, "Oh, that's a classic, I should probably read that," as I was entering Penn's books into our GoodReads library. I read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which maybe isn't a "classic", per se, but it's something I felt like everyone in the world but me had read so I had to try it. It was a very fun book, although sci-fi isn't usually my thing. I also finally read 1984 since I had somehow managed to get through a 20 year education without ever having been assigned it.
19. Take a group dance or exercise class. I took a free belly dancing class on campus one weekend.
23. Go here. Well, it decided to pour rain on us the day we went, but it was still a fun day.
24. Go here. This is probably my favorite local discovery. So few tourists visit it, and I think it's one of the best places I've been in the city. I plan to take all guests here from now on.
25. Visit some churches in our neighborhood and try to find one we'd like to attend on a regular basis. Penn and I sort of tried this for awhile at the beginning of the year, but then we lost our momentum. I think there are two issues at work here: it's hard to force ourselves to get up early on Sunday mornings, and we have no idea what type of church I would like to belong to. I was raised Lutheran so we tried that, and we tried a Methodist church. I'm increasingly beginning to believe that the Unitarian church is most compatible with my belief system, but Penn doesn't believe that Unitarianism is a "real" religion (he wasn't raised Baptist but nowadays his immediate family is fundamentalist Baptist, which I think has influenced his views. And yes...that's good for them but is NOT going to work for me and he doesn't want that for us and our family either). Although I do have to admit that Unitarianism seems so liberal and believe-what-you-want that part of me wonders if I should pick a church that would challenge my current belief system. I mean, I don't need a church to be a Unitarian. I can just keep doing what I'm already doing at home! But I'm too rational and logical and I know too much about how histories are written to buy into many of the teachings of the Christian church as God-given fact, and it seems disingenuous to go somewhere every Sunday and go through the motions when I don't truly believe half of what the church teaches and probably never will...To be honest, though, the main reason I'd like a church is for the sense of community. It's sort of forced community, I realize, but it would be nice to have a support network in place for emergencies or celebrations, and I like the idea of having a church community where I can help others. And I think I could find a liberal Protestant church where I could accept enough of the teachings to feel comfortable and not hypocritical being there, and where I could be allowed to question the things I don't believe without being ignored or told something that boils down to, "That's just how it is because God says so." Well, that aside got out of hand! Anyway, suffice it to say that this is sort of on the back burner for now, but since I'd like to be married in a church I imagine we'll have to pick the search back up eventually (see what I mean about believing half of it? I believe in God so I believe it's important to go through the marriage ritual in a church, or at least with a church officiant, so that we will be bound civilly and also in God's eyes).
26. Go to a hockey game. Got this one in right under the wire, but I did it!
27. Make the list of 28 Things to Do Before I Turn 28. Done!

Not bad! I managed to do a lot this year! Especially since I didn't make this list until well after my birthday last year. Some of the things I didn't accomplish I moved to this year's list (which I'll post next) and a couple of them I decided weren't so important after all, so I'm okay that I skipped them. It was a good year.

They Say It's Your Birthday

I celebrated my birthday a couple of days ago. It was a really good day. First of all, I woke myself up laughing! Seriously. I had the most ridiculous dream. I dreamed that it was morning and that the night before Penn had been out drinking with his friends and had come home buzzed. I was lying on the floor complaining to Penn about a friend who was annoying me (sometimes my dreams are incredibly mundane, and pretty much indistinguishable from real life) when Penn came out of the closet and stood over me wearing nothing but a multi-colored beach towel around his waist and an orange and blue owl mask on his face. All I could see through the mask were his puzzled eyes and his mouth, which said, "What in the world possessed me to buy an owl mask?!" And the owl mask was so damn funny that I started laughing. I laughed so hard in the dream that I started laughing in real life, and I woke up to Penn saying, "*A*? *A*? Are you okay? Are you crying?" And then he realized I wasn't crying, I was belly laughing. It was ridiculous. Three days later I'm still laughing every time I think about that owl mask! I even drew a sketch of it, so that Penn could understand why it was so hilarious (unfortunately, the humor of the owl mask really doesn't translate. You sort of had to be there in my head, I guess).
I had intended to just go to campus like normal and do some assistantship work and have a meeting with my friends about a project we're planning, but Penn surprised me by taking the day off from work. Apparently he worked overtime all last week while I was out of town just so he could spend my birthday with me. Isn't that nice?
Since he had taken the day off just for me, I called my friends and rescheduled my meeting so I could have the day off, too. Penn brought me breakfast in bed. Then I opened my birthday gifts from him. We were laughing because the the presents he gave me--all things I had mentioned wanting over the past couple of months--could easily also have been birthday gifts for an eight-year-old: Beautiful Katamari for the XBox, salt water taffy, and a stuffed Domo. (Darn 7-11 and their advertising for 99 cent coffee in a Domo cup. I don't like coffee, but after weeks of seeing Domo on the side of my bus every day I decided I needed a Domo. He's just so cute!) Oh, and I should mention that earlier this week Penn had already given me another birthday present: a hockey jersey, personalized with my favorite number and the imaginary player name "Hotstuff", which I wore that night when he took me to my first pro hockey game (that was really fun, by the way. I'm starting to like watching hockey on TV, but of all the sporting events I've ever watched it was the one that was most notably better live. I think it was something about the sound of the skates and sticks on the ice, and you just can't hear that as well on TV. Plus it's way easier to follow the puck in real life. On TV I always lose it and can only really follow on instant replays). So to everyone who wanted to make sure that Penn was spoiling me on my birthday, rest assured that he definitely did!
Anyway, after I opened all of my awesome presents (My parents and grandparents both sent me some spending money for Europe, and grandma sent me a scarf and hat that she had knit for me, and my parents bought me a photograph of my dog; a professional photographer took it when we were at a party a couple of years ago and she's now selling prints to benefit dog rescue. I think it's pretty cool that my basset is for sale as a print!) Penn and I went out for the day. We took our bikes into the city on the subway and biked to the history museum. Penn had never been there before. I had, but the last time I was there it was the height of tourist season and I'd had to skip half of the exhibits because the rooms were just too crowded. This time I got to see everything I wanted to see. I love museums. It's so soothing, just strolling around looking at interesting things.
After the museum we went to campus, and as we were getting off the subway and locking up our bikes at the rack so we could catch the campus shuttle, we saw a rainbow. I haven't seen a rainbow in a long time. I'm hoping it's a good omen for the coming year!
We were on campus to see Dave Eggers and Valentino Achak Deng, who were giving a talk on What is the What. Penn had read the book last year and was really impressed and affected by it, and I've been meaning to read it ever since but hadn't gotten around to it yet. When Penn found out that Eggers and Deng were going to be talking on campus, I started the book. I didn't manage to finish it before the talk, but I'm almost done with it now. It's well-written, and a very moving story about people and places that are so easily ignored. It's hard to read at times because the subject matter is so disturbing, but it's also hard to put down. It was really interesting to listen to the author and the subject of the book talk about the project and what they are doing now to help the people of Deng's village. Penn and I got really lucky, too. First of all, we almost didn't get into the talk because they had booked the lecture in a room that was too small for the crowd that showed up. Penn and I were almost to the door when they announced that the room was filled and no one else was going to be allowed in. We had stood in line for half an hour to get in, so I was about to get really upset when suddenly a bunch of students came filing out of the room and said, "We were just here to get extra credit. We figure some of you actually want to see the lecture, so we're going to leave." I thought that was really nice that they acknowledged that there were many people in line who were going to be legitimately disappointed at missing the event. People aren't usually that thoughtful! So we ended up getting in and even managed to find seats together. And then, since our seats were at the very front of the lecture hall, as soon as the talk was over Penn was the first person to sprint up to the stage with our copy of the book. So we got to shake their hands and got our book signed by both of them. I have very few signed books because I'm usually too awkward to ask, so I'm glad Penn was with me to ask for the autograph. What a cool birthday present!
We were going to go out to dinner, but we didn't get home from the book talk until after 8:00, so we decided to save dinner for another night later this week. I didn't need to go out to dinner, anyway. It was a perfect day just as it was. Although I have to admit that I think my birthday is a perfect illustration of what a nerd I am. "Hey, it's your birthday. What do you want to do to celebrate?" "Oh, I want to go to a museum and a book lecture! That's my ideal day!" However, we did go over to a friend's house for birthday drinks last night, so rest assured that I'm a semi-normal twentysomething.
It was a happy day, and, what with the rainbow and waking up laughing, an auspicious start to another year of life.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Home Again

I'm home from visiting my former roommate. The trip was hard, as I expected it would be. It was just hard to see her hurting so much, and I still can't wrap my mind around the fact that she had a baby and now she doesn't. I also found out that there is a lot of negative stuff going on in her life that I wasn't aware of (that no one was aware of, actually, even friends that live in the same city as her and see her relatively often). I'm not going to write about it here because, again, it's not my story to tell. That, and I have already written quite a lot about this situation in my personal journal and I just don't have the energy to rehash it here. I'm sorry. The short story is that she has a lot of problems to solve and an uphill journey ahead of her, a journey she was facing even before the death of her son. I'm hopeful for her, though. I hope that this is rock bottom for her and things can only get better from here.
I learned a couple of lessons from all of this. The first is that I need to reach out to her more. I think we all learned that, actually: me, her, other friends that were visiting. None of us are great at keeping in touch on the phone, and we realized that life is too short to neglect friendships you care about. It's hard to find time to talk to one another outside of quick messages on Facebook, but I feel inspired to at least try to make time in my life to make at least a couple of real phone calls to friends every week.
The other lesson that was reiterated to me is that, as a whole, people are good. On the morning the baby died, my friend and her husband were completely alone. Both of their families live out of town, and my friend called a couple of local friends but it was a Tuesday morning so everyone was at work and no one could come over right away. One of the police officers who responded to the 911 call asked if they had anyone he could call to be with them, and they said no. So the policeman called his own pastor. The pastor showed up immediately and stayed with my friend and her husband that entire day. He also recruited members of his church to bring food as my friend's family members and friends slowly started to arrive to grieve. Since then the pastor has called every couple of days to see how they are doing and see if they need any help. The cynical part of me thinks, "Well, that's one way to recruit church members." But mostly I don't want to be cynical about this. I think this pastor and the members of his church are genuinely good people. It made me realize what Penn and I are missing by not having a church family. There are many, many things that I don't like about religion, but I do miss feeling that sense of community that I saw in this congregation reaching out to my friend. In addition to the church community, my friend's neighbors reached out in an amazing way. That first morning my friend was in shock, so she was prescribed valium and all sorts of anti-anxiety medication and sleep meds and who knows what else, just to help her be zoned out enough to somehow get through the initial days of shock and grief. The pastor who had come over to help went to pick up the prescriptions at the drug store. When he came back he said that the woman filling the prescriptions was my friend's next door neighbor. She had seen the address on the prescription and, remembering the ambulance outside her house that morning, she put two and two together and realized something bad had happened to her neighbor. She asked the pastor what had happened and he told her that they had lost their baby. So she got online that night and posted a message on the neighborhood message board asking if anyone wanted to help by delivering food. It has been almost two weeks now, and every night a different neighbor shows up with a meal. When I left they still had food scheduled to be delivered for at least another week. I don't know if that's a testament to the neighborhood or the power of the internet (I think the internet, really, since without the internet I doubt that many neighbors would have known to pitch in), but either way it shows how good most people are.
The other bright side to the whole awful situation is that I got to spend three days with my friend. And although she was sad, she was also herself, and we spent a lot of time reminiscing about our life before boyfriends and husbands and children and careers. It was good for both of us. I just hope that next time I see her it's for a happier occasion, and I hope that she can pull through all of this and end up a stronger person. Hoping and praying is all I can really do at this point.