Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Brain Store

Last time Kristin and I were in Chicago, we happened upon a wonderful little store called Marbles: The Brain Store. It's a small store near downtown that has many of the quirky, logic puzzle games that are either good for one or multiple people. We looked around the first time, but we wanted to go back to check it out a bit more and possibly buy some things. So today, our plan was to go to a coffee shop nearby called Cosi (which is essentially Panera Bread on steroid - really, this place is BETTER than Panera) so that I could read Darwin and Kristin could apply for jobs using their wifi. We would then go to the Brain Store as a reward for being productive.

Today was supposed to be ugly weather-wise. Thunderstorms all day, which I love if I'm not outside in them, but we were planning to go downtown, so thunderstorms were not exactly a good thing. When we woke up, though, the sky was perfectly clear, blue with no clouds, sunny as sunny could be. So we decided to go down to Cosi anyway. We had a fairly productive morning - I read Darwin while Kristin applied for jobs, then we went to the Brain Store as planned.

So the Brain Store. As I said, it has all the fun, brain challenging games you could ever want. Kristin and I were in a sort of Heaven. They have two-player manual tetris, where you flip over cards of the various pieces and have to fit them in as best you can using tetris rules, there's a game where you have blocks in a grid with different shapes on each side and you have to create the drawing on the card before the other player, and another game where you are given certain parameters of the grid and you must fill in the square using those parameters. We also played a game called Quoridor, in which you are basically trying to get your piece to the other side while also building walls so that the other player can't get across. Kristin and I were a bit cut-throat, and ended up boxing each other in, though we suspect we broke the rules somehow. They also had the classic brain games like Rush Hour, Brick By Brick, and Tangrams. We were going to buy something, but nothing really jumped out at us and the games were fairly expensive, so we decided to think about it and probably come back.

When we left the store at 2:00, we found the thunderstorm. The clouds were as ominous as could be. We made our way to the train station as quickly as possible and got there before it started to rain, but when we got off at our stop, it was pouring. We had no umbrellas or rain coats, and we had laptops in our bags, so we waited it out a bit at the station along with everyone else. We even debated taking a bus down the street so we could avoid the downpour. After a few minutes, though, it started to lighten up and we just started walking, remarking to ourselves that lucky for us, our apartment is perfectly equipped for such rainy days given our priority of TV, Wii, and tea. As we passed Whole Foods, though, we decided we didn't have quite enough tea, since I had only brought Earl Grey from home, so we went in and browsed the tea aisle for about fifteen minutes and came home with four more tea varieties, including chocolate mint truffle, Moroccan mint, a normal green tea, and chai. We got home before it poured again, made tea, and settled down with some DVDs before making dinner. So all in all, it was a productive day, and we were happy we had our priorities straight in getting a TV, tea, and the Wii set up.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Lincoln Park Zoo

So Kristin and I moved into our new apartment on Wednesday and have been running around trying to set things up the past few days. But now things have slowed down a bit, so I can actually write this. We have very few furnishings, an air mattress (Kristin didn't want one), a TV, the Wii, some dishes, pots and pans, etc. We currently lack chairs or a table simply because those are big and hard to get through a subway. We're thinking of getting them online so we can have them delivered to our door. But we've got about half the apartment squared away, and the rest should happen soon. I'll post pictures once we actually finish.

Over the past few days, we've also been setting up electricity, internet, cable, and bank accounts while also fixing some issues with credit cards. It's been busy, but not so busy to keep us from having fun. On Wednesday, we met up and realized that both our fathers, being fathers, had given us some money for unexpected expenses. Half of it was used for a taxi to the apartment because it was the easiest thing to do, but we used the other half to go out to dinner at a cool Asian restaurant on Broadway called Pingpong. They had amazing sushi and potstickers, and the entrees were delicious. If you're ever in Chicago, I highly recommend this place.

Yesterday, we decided to explore a little and went to the Lincoln Park Zoo, which is a completely FREE zoo located in the middle of Lincoln Park. The cool thing about Lincoln Park is that it makes you forget that you're in a city. The Zoo is even better at doing so. At first, all the animals were asleep, and we got pretty cute pictures of sleepy animals, but it wasn't terribly exciting. It was also a rather hot day, so many of them were also inside away from visitors, but who could blame them? After a while, though, things picked up, and we enjoyed watching the otters flip around in the fake river and the meerkats wrestling in the sand. The food was good too, though the cafeteria was insanely crowded. All in all, the Zoo was a success, and it was even better for being free.

Then today, we were out doing errands and needed lunch, so we happened upon a very cute little coffee, tea and sandwich place, also on Broadway. I forget the name, but it was Turkish and had the best atmosphere and food that we've had in a while. Another place definitely worth noticing!

Not much else going on, but I'll leave you with some photos from the zoo and our two favorite quotes from small children looking at animals.

Favorite Quote : Little girl looking at her mother: "Mom, you may think that these are cute, but really they're even cuter to me."

Favorite Quote: Little girl to her father: "They don't want to chase the butterflies?"

Monday, August 8, 2011

Packed, and Indonesia Stories Part 1

So I've gone through all my stuff, I've given a lot of it away, thrown a lot out, recycled what I could, and at the end of it all, I have some stuff in boxes in my fathers garage and the rest has been packed into four boxes and a suitcase that will make their way to Chicago. It's kind of freaky, but there it is.

On the downside, my bed is now a mess, as is the room I'm currently occupying, so tomorrow will be spent cleaning.

Part of what I wanted to do here, though, is to post the first chapter of the memoir I'm writing from Indonesia. Sadly, I think most of those pictures have been lost because my computer died in the Philippines and, while I thought I had them backed up, I didn't. But here's one photo that did survive, along with the first chapter from my Indonesian semester in 2008:

About two and a half years ago, I lived in a white cement house down the half-paved street from the soccer field in a small suburb just north of Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Most people thought I was crazy. They were right.
That fall I was studying abroad with the Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies (ACICIS). I was attending Gadjah Mada University and living with a host family in Kentungan, just north of the road that marks the boundary of Yogyakarta. I biked about four kilometers downhill into school every morning, and four kilometers uphill every afternoon in the worst driving situations I have ever seen. I had a building nearly collapse on me and have watched entire trees careening down the street at about 40 miles per hour. I ate things most people wouldn’t and lived to tell the tale. Actually, it wasn’t all that daring, but people still thought I was crazy.

Despite my supposed mental state, going to Indonesia was one of the best things I’ve done in my life. It’s cliché, but it’s true. But that’s not the point of this book. I’m not going to tell you how Indonesia changed my life. There are plenty of stories like that out there somewhere, and my story would make a sorry addition to that collection. Instead, I want to show you Indonesia as I have come to know her. She isn’t always pretty, and she’s rarely the garden of Eden, as many have said. I’m writing this to show you the country, not the paradise. Two years ago I lived in Indonesia, and I am proud to call it my home. So here’s my attempt to give you a glimpse of Yogyakarta, Indonesia in the fall of 2008.

I got into Bali at about 10:30 at night on Tuesday, August 19th, 2008. I had just traveled for about 30 hours, and I was still another flight away from my final destination. I was tired, sore, and grimy. I had just been in a plane for twelve hours and was wearing the same clothes that I left my house in thirty hours before. I’m not huge on looks, but when you’ve worn the same clothes for thirty hours and you haven’t stood up for the past twelve, it doesn’t feel very nice.

But I was here. Indonesia at last. I maneuvered my backpack from under my seat, hoisted my carry-on luggage out of the bin, and followed the train of people making their way off the plane. The humidity hit me like a brick as I exited the aircraft. It wasn’t oppressive humidity, though, more like when you sit outside on a warm summer night and a sudden cool breeze blows by, chilling you so that you’re both hot and cold at the same time. I pulled on a light jacket I had brought with me and made my way to customs. There was no line, since Indonesians didn’t have to go through customs. Or maybe I was just slow. Either way, there were only three people in line, and there were three customs agents on duty. I went up to the middle one, who was a young man in his twenties wearing a blue uniform and looking much more alert than I was.

“Hello, Miss, may I please see your passport?” he asked in perfect English. I handed him my documents and he marked them in that secret code that customs agents use. He then asked to see the inside of my bags. They passed the test and he asked me what I was doing in Indonesia. There was still no one in line.

“I’m studying at Gadjah Mada University,” I said. It wasn’t the most eloquent of speeches, but I was very groggy.

“Oh, UGM! You know, you should think about studying Javanese if you’re going to be there. That’s the language everyone really speaks on Java.”

“Really? I’m not even that great at Indonesian, I don’t know that I would be any good at Javanese,” I replied, still groggy.

“No, I’m sure you’d do fine! Anyway, think about it, you might like it!” And with that he handed back my passport, gave me a smile, and waved me through. I was too tired to do anything but obey the gesture.

I then made my way to the hotel counter to get a room for the night, since my flight to Yogyakarta wasn’t until early the next morning. As I was handing over some bills to pay for the room, I heard an American couple making their way through customs. They were young, possibly in their twenties. The man was somewhat short and rather thin, with disheveled light brown hair. The woman was of average height and fairly muscular, with bleach blond hair tied up in a ponytail that looked a little like she was trying to turn it into dreads. They both carried travel packs.

“… traveling around Indonesia for a few weeks. Can you tell us how to say ‘thank you’ in Indonesian?” I heard the man ask. I was surprised. Asking how to say something like ‘thank you’ meant that they didn’t have a phrasebook. It seemed like they were planning to backpack through Indonesia for a few weeks, why wouldn’t they bring a phrasebook?

“Thank you is terima kasih,” the agent replied with a smile. She seemed to be wondering the same thing I was, but I may have been imagining it. The couple then asked her where the best place to get a travel guide would be and she gave them the name of a local bookstore. So they didn’t have a phrasebook or a travel guide and they were planning to backpack through the country. I had felt unprepared going to Indonesia, but at least I had brought those few essentials.

I gave up trying to understand the situation and went outside to claim a taxi. I needed a bed, and I needed it quickly.

“Taxi, Miss?” a man asked, motioning to me from the taxi counter. I approached him and was paired with a taxi driver, who took my luggage and led me to his cab. To be honest, everything was going much easier than I thought it would.

I gave the taxi driver the address for the hotel and he started the engine. I tried to see Bali through the darkness, but it was now 11:00 at night and seeing anything in the dark was impossible. After about fifteen minutes, the driver pulled up to the end of a dark alleyway and got out of the taxi. I thought he was checking directions or something, since there was no sign of a hotel, so I stayed in the cab. The driver went around back, opened the trunk, and began removing my luggage. I then realized we must have arrived at our destination, though I wasn’t so sure that our destination was exactly where I had wanted to go.

“The hotel is down there,” he said as I got out of the cab, pointing to a solitary light about halfway down the alley. I could see five men gathered in the glow of the light, some of whom were clearly intoxicated.

Wait a minute, I was supposed to go where? Before I could process what he had said and long before I could ask any questions, the driver got into his taxi and drove off.

I was terrified.

Here I was, a single, young, American woman traveling alone in Bali late at night and I had just been instructed to walk down a dark alleyway with several intoxicated men at the end of it. I looked around to see if I might be able to find someone else, perhaps another taxi that could take me to the correct destination. The street was completely deserted.

So what could I do? My options were to stay where I was with very little hope of seeing anyone pass by or to walk down that dark alleyway towards the five men under the street light. How had I gotten into this situation, again?

It took everything I had to ignore my flight instincts and walk down that alley. Given the alternatives, I didn’t have much choice. I grabbed my suitcase and started walking towards the only humans in sight. What else could I do? They had already seen me, and if I stayed on the street, I wouldn’t find anyone to help me anyway. My only chance lay in those five men. I didn’t like my odds.

As I approached, I noticed that all of the men were smoking, and three of them held bottles of some alcohol or another. One appeared to be in his early fifties, with graying hair and a slowness about his movements that led me to believe he had joint pain. Another looked to be in his late thirties, and the rest were in their twenties. All of them, aside from the older man, had black hair and wore t-shirts, shorts, and sandals.

As I got closer, the man in his thirties looked at me and said, “Hello, Miss.”

The younger men started jeering a bit, then the older man scolded them sharply and they fell silent. He then turned to me.

“What are you looking for, Miss?” he asked.

“Uh, the AA Hotel… my taxi driver said it was down here…” I managed in broken Indonesian. I showed him the brochure that I had gotten at the airport when I reserved the room.

“Ah, yes, you are in the right place,” he said. “The hotel is right here.” He pointed to the source of the light and, sure enough, it was the AA Hotel. The front wall of the building had been cut away, and I could see the reception counter just inside.

Just then, one of the younger men asked to take my bags, and proceeded to lead me into the hotel where I could check in.

“You check in here, I will bring your bags up,” he said, and then disappeared down the hall. I checked in, paid for the room, and got my key.

“If you would follow me, Miss,” the young man said, having returned from delivering my bags. He led me up a flight of stairs and down a hallway to a little room off the main hall.

“Here you go. Breakfast is served between 6 and 11, and the airport shuttle leaves every half hour. If you need anything, dial 0 on the phone for the front desk.” And with that he turned around and made his way back downstairs. I unlocked the door and collapsed onto the bed in utter disbelief. I don’t think that my experience would have gone so well, had I been in the States.

I don’t remember much of the rest of that night. I know I tried to call my parents, but my phone didn’t work. I also know that I managed to find pajamas and crawl into bed, but I don’t really remember it. Mostly, I remember waking up to the alarm on my watch at about 5 am. My flight was at 8:00. Since the shuttle left on the half-hour, I needed to be on the 6:30 shuttle if I wanted to get to the airport on time. I took a shower, put on fresh clothes, packed my bags, and went downstairs. It felt wonderful.

They had just begun serving breakfast when I got to the lobby. I handed in my room key and sat down. A man in his forties was sitting next to me, already eating his breakfast. He was somewhat heavy-set, but not really overweight, and he wore glasses. He had short black hair and brown eyes, and was sipping a cup of coffee as if it were liquid gold. He smiled at me and turned back to his coffee.

Breakfast came on a silver tea tray and consisted of two pieces of toast, a cup of tea (which I prefer to coffee), some “citrus jam,” and a small pat of butter. It was easily the best food I had seen in at least two days.

“Where are you from?” the man next to me asked. He had finished his coffee and seemed to be feeling more alert than before.

“The US,” I said, spreading some of the citrus jam on my toast. “I’m going to Yogyakarta to study at Gajah Mada University.”

“Ah, UGM,” he said, still smiling. “That’s the best university in the country. What are you going to study there?”

“Indonesian,” I replied. I hadn’t known Gadjah Mada was the best in the country.

“But your Indonesian is already very good!” he said in astonishment.

“No, not really.” I appreciated the compliment, but my Indonesian was really mediocre at the absolute best. I was just lucky he was asking questions I could answer. We continued chatting as I ate my breakfast.

“Are you catching a flight to Yogya this morning?” he asked after a while.

“Yes,” I said, “at 8 o’clock.”

“You know,” he said, smiling again, “I am also catching a flight at 8 o’clock. I’m going to Jakarta for business. I have a rental car and could give you a ride to the airport if you want.”

I wasn’t too keen on getting in the car with a man I met not ten minutes before. A few red flags went off as lessons from elementary school entered my brain.

“Oh, you don’t have to,” I said, trying to be polite. “I can just take the hotel shuttle; I don’t want to inconvenience you.”

“Actually, Miss,” the receptionist said from the counter, “the shuttle has a flat tire and will be late. We just got a call from the driver. You should go with this man if you want to get there in time for your flight.”

Once again, I was in a position that I didn’t really want to be in. But the receptionist was right; if I wanted to make my flight, I had to go with the man who had the car.

“Ok,” I said, hoping that I wouldn’t regret my decision.

“Great,” the man said. “They’re just bringing the car around now; we can leave in a few minutes.”

Sure enough, a bright orange SUV came out from the back of the hotel and parked right where the five men had been loitering the night before. We got up and my newest acquaintance led the way to the car. He opened the front door for me, then put my suitcase in the back and climbed in the driver’s seat. We were off.

“This is a rental,” the businessman exclaimed after a few moments of silence. “A rental! Can you imagine? This must be a brand new car, a year old at most, and it’s a rental!”

It was a fairly nice car, I had to agree, and since I didn’t really want to give the wrong impression to the man who controlled my fate that morning, I smiled and nodded that yes, it was astonishing.

“And such a good color!” he continued. The car was an orangey-red color, a bit like a not quite ripe tomato. It wasn’t exactly my favorite color in the world, especially for a car, but again, not wanting to be disrespectful, I mumbled something in agreement.

The businessman was completely satisfied with my answers, it seemed, for he continued to exclaim about his steal of a rental car all the way to the airport.

“I’m going to drop you off first,” he said as we turned in the gate. “I want you to be able to get to your flight, and dropping the car off might take some time.”

I could do nothing but agree, since the man was already giving me a ride to the airport. We pulled into departures and climbed out. He took my bags out and handed them to me, then said goodbye and drove off to deliver the car. I went into the airport, astonished that everything had gone smoothly for a second time in twelve hours. I checked in and went to my gate to wait for the flight. About ten minutes after sitting down, the businessman rounded a bend in the hallway and came towards me.

“Everything go ok?” he asked, still smiling.

“Yes, thank you,” I replied. “Everything was really easy. I think my flight leaves in about half an hour.”

“Good!” he said. An announcement crackled over the loudspeaker. “Oh, that’s my flight,” said the man. “It’s boarding; I had better go.”

“Oh, ok. Thank you again for the ride,” I said.

“No worries,” he replied. “Once I realized you were alone, I kept thinking about how I would feel if my daughter were travelling to the other side of the world by herself. I would want someone to help her, and so now I am helping you. It’s part of being human!”

Another announcement crackled over the loudspeaker. “I really must be going. Welcome to Indonesia, and safe journey.” He smiled at me, shook my hand, and wished me the best of luck, whether we met up again or not. And with that, he turned around and walked off to find his gate.

That was the first thing I learned about Indonesia, that there was more to it than meets the eye.

It was then that I realized I had forgotten to ask the man’s name.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The End of Summer and the Beginning of a New Life

So I know it's been a while. I think I have trouble talking about experiences like working abroad while I'm over there working. That is, if i don't have easy access to internet and a computer, then I probably won't write any of it down. so I apologize for the lack of info about where I've been the past few months, and I will warn you that I may never post those stories, simply because they're done, and many of you have heard them already.

GYV was wonderful, with wonderful people, wonderful participants, and wonderful food. Everything was great, and I loved it all. I'm not going to go into too much detail here, out of respect for others' privacy, but the summer was definitely a good one.

At the moment, though, I'm sitting in Rhode Island thinking about how I'm going to get my stuff out to Chicago when I move out there on Wednesday. I'm flying out and will ship whatever I can't fit, but that's not my main issue. My main issue is that I have so much stuff that I don't need, and I need to figure out what to do with it all.

Which leads me to something I've been thinking about since the Philippines. While there, we lived in a small, two-bedroom house with minimal furniture and possessions. They had enough, but not a lot. And yet, everyone was happy. Not that they were happy all the time or that they didn't have troubles of their own, there was plenty of that. But they were content with the stuff that they had, and so were we. So when I came back here and realized exactly how much stuff I have - and I don't have much my American standards - I wondered why I had so much stuff that I didn't need in the first place. The same held true in GYV, living with minimal things and being awed at the amount of stuff I have now that I'm home. And then I was in Chicago wondering how in the world I was going to move all my stuff and realizing that I couldn't and I was sad at the idea. I was upset mostly because I have spent a lot of money on my stuff and much of it is household goods that I hoped to use for years, not just a few months. And this morning I watched the story of stuff ( and agreeing with everything that was said and being inspired to minimize my possessions. And then I was kicking myself, because I had been fine with using minimal possessions before I got home, and now I'm suddenly upset at the idea of minimizing my possessions.

One of the things I'm realizing now, though, is that everything is impermanent, everything changes. In five years time I could move to Timbuktu and have to re-minimize my stuff to move out there. In a year, my apartment could catch fire and everything I own could go up in flames, forcing me to start again (though I desperately hope that doesn't happen). I could be in an accident tomorrow that destroys the use of my legs. Or I might die sooner than I thought. You can never predict the future. So if I bought a nice table last October with the intention of using it for years, I couldn't know that my method for getting it to Chicago would fail. Heck, I didn't even know where I was going at that point. I can't predict the future.

And so one thing I've been thinking is to live a minimalist life. I tend to attach sentimental value to things, and since I moved every week as a kid, I associated certain possessions with home rather than a place. I didn't want to throw away old things in case I somehow lost that memory. Yet, when I travel, I am notoriously bad and bringing back souvenirs because I feel that photos and stories are enough. Mostly, I just don't have room in my suitcase. I have never taken that philosophy into my everyday life, though, and I should. So starting now, I'm going to go through all my stuff, decide what I really need, and get rid of the rest. Donate it to people who could really use it. Find some way to get rid of it that doesn't involve just throwing it away, because if I have to get rid of it, I'd rather find a way to do it with the most possible gain.

Which begs the question of all of you: How much stuff do you have that you don't need or use? Are there people who do need those things? Could you survive on what you need alone, with a few personal possessions like photo albums or a favorite knickknack? I'm going to try, and I hope you try as well. It doesn't have to be drastic, but maybe take a chance to take stock of what you have, and whether you really need all that stuff. Then watch the story of stuff. That's my challenge to you today.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

And the Undergraduate Degree is Done!

Well, technically it's been done since Wednesday; but now I'm completely done with all things school until August! So all I have left to do at SLU is pack up my things and walk across that stage.

It's weird how time works like that. I remember coming up here for a visit and thinking "Maybe if I'm good enough, I can come here." I remember my dad and I driving home from that visit (I was driving) and my dad turned to me and said, "Well?" I was in a daze thinking about SLU and how cool it would be to come here, so I believe my response was something along the lines of "Huh?" "Well, do you think this might be a good school?" he asked. I think I paused, then glanced quickly at him, smiled, and said "yea... yea, definitely."

I also remember getting the acceptance letter, receiving SLU-related gifts from many relatives at Christmas, and moving in on that first day in August. I remember thinking many times over the past four years that senior year couldn't come quickly enough, and I also remember wishing that time would slow down, just for a moment.

And now, four years later, I can honestly say that I don't regret anything here at SLU. Sure, there were good times and bad; there were days I wanted to leave this school in the middle of nowhere and go somewhere that had a few more people. But after four years, I don't regret any of it, the good or the bad.

Just as a few examples, over the past four years, I have:
- played hide-and-seek with a two-year-old Indonesian girl using an old piece of velcro from my backpack
- traipsed around in a snowstorm while drawing pictures with an umbrella in freshly fallen hail
- Been to Narnia every time it snows
- found the best place on earth for french onion soup and a grilled cheese sandwich
- written a dictionary of a dying language in the Pacific Islands
- butchered a lamb (already dead) with my own hand-made obsidian tools
- lived off the grid
- eaten haggis
- seen deer eating grass on the golf course just as the sun rose
- sat on the quad and gazed at the stars
- written the best thesis my department has ever seen
- built a chicken coop in the middle of a downpour
- sent chocolate to my professor through an origami owl named Hedwig that I taped to her door in 2009

I have also:
- crashed my bicycle into a telephone pole
- failed an exam for which I spent hours studying
- been stuck on the side of the road, waiting for assistance more times than I would like to count
- been stopped by border patrol and questioned as to why I had so much stuff in my car (the semester was over... it wasn't illegal!)
- baked some very, very poor bread
- spent hours working on a map, a dataset, or an essay only to have the whole thing disappear in all five locations to which it was saved.
- killed several computers completely unintentionally (I still don't know why they bit the dust)

And I don't regret any of it. You know, a lot of my life I have concentrated on the things that didn't work out so well, the things I wish I could change about life or the things I wish hadn't happened at all. But, looking at these four years, I'm glad that I failed that exam, and I'm glad I failed in my baking of bread. I'm glad that my data disappeared (though I would appreciate it if it kept that to a minimum), because throughout it all, I've learned something. I've learned why I failed that exam and went on to be one of the best in that class. My professor doesn't even remember me failing that exam and still looks at me in disbelief when I tell him. I have learned why my bread failed, though I still haven't made perfect bread. But I will. And that's the beauty of it. I wouldn't have written a darn good thesis if I hadn't had my datasets crash on me once in a while. that was part of the experience, and made me realize exactly how much I cared about my research. It's like crashing your bike. You look like an idiot, and you feel like an idiot, but you have two choices: you can sit there and feel like an idiot or you can laugh at yourself, examine the grass stains on your jeans, fix the chain on the bike and continue riding. And while you may have liked to get to your destination without skinning your knee, you realize that it made the journey more interesting.

Let's face it, if life were only full of good things, then how would we learn? Isn't that the whole point of education? It's one big game of trial and error until you get it right, but often you get it right because of something you learned not to do, something that didn't work.

So in the end, it has been a very interesting four years. There have been ups and downs, and many times it's felt like more downs than ups. But none of it was a mistake, and all of it is worth remembering.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Honors Thesis is DONE!!!!!

Hello All,

I thought I would just write mostly because I haven't written in a while, but also because I turned in my thesis last week and just defended it this afternoon. After working on it for forever and a day, I have been granted Honors by the anthropology department!


Sorry, thought I'd get that out of my system. So the thesis, the monster of a thesis is done. It was 97 pages in the end, 57 cited sources, hundreds of consulted sources, 7 tables, 23 figures, 5 maps, and a LOT of time and energy, but it's done.

And I must say, even I am impressed with myself. Now that I've done this, I'm pretty ok with the idea of getting my PhD. Granted, a dissertation is nothing like an undergraduate thesis, but it certainly seems doable now. Most thesis are 3-4 times this size, but I think if I really wanted, I could have turned this into a dissertation. It would have taken longer, but I think I could have done it.

So now I'm sitting here with my thesis done, the conference is over, and I really have about three assignments standing between me and the end of the semester. I must say, after writing a 100-page thesis, I'm not worried about those other assignments. This calls for a celebration. I'm not sure what kind of celebration, but it calls for a celebration. Maybe I'll take myself out to dinner, i don't know. Either way, the thesis is done, and I am incredibly proud of myself.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Grad School and Southeast Asia

I've finally decided on a grad school! This fall I will be a graduate anthropology student at the University of Illinois at Chicago!

You know, I must say that this is all a HUGE relief, knowing where I'm going to be for the next however many years of my life. Far better than not knowing, I can assure you. And now I'm just really excited for summer digs and fall classes and life away from Canton and St. Lawrence. Not that SLU is bad or anything, but I feel like I've already graduated in my head and I just want to move on with my academic career.

So I'm going to UIC. Now I just need to figure out the logistics of living in Chicago and finding a place to stay and sorting all that out. That's going to be interesting being that I won't be here much of the summer...

Speaking of Southeast Asia, I think I'm going to have about a week between the end of the dig in the Philippines and the beginning of the dig in Cambodia. At first, I thought I would just fly to Cambodia and stay in Siem Reap for a week, but I just bought the first ever Lonely Planet Guide "Southeast Asia on a Shoestring" (mostly because the bookstore didn't have a guide for the Philippines and I needed one for both the Philippines and Cambodia and because Southeast Asia on a budget was probably a good thing to have). They recently updated the guide to apply to the 21st century and I just spent several hours figuring out that I could travel from the Philippines to Laos, then take buses and trains through Sukothai and Ayuthaya in Thailand, and then cross the border into Cambodia and get to Siem Reap before the Cambodia dig starts. So I could actually hit about four countries this summer and see some really amazing sites before returning to the US in August. No guarantees, I only thought of it this morning, but I can definitely afford it and people backpack through these areas quite a bit. They're all pretty common places for tourists to go, so I don't think there would be much of an issue... It's certainly an interesting thought, and I'm going to keep thinking about it...

Sunday, March 13, 2011


It's Spring Break! And I must say this is probably the happiest I have ever been for Spring Break. This semester has been rather intense (perfectly doable, but intense) and I'm very happy to finally have a break.

The other fun and exciting thing about this break (other than its existence) is that I'm going to be visiting the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Wisconsin at Madison! I'm going to be meeting with a bunch of students, professors, and researchers at both universities to try to see what the programs are like and trying to see if I can finally make a decision as to where to go in the fall.

So I'm sitting in the airport in Syracuse waiting for my flight to Chicago! I don't have much other news than that, but hey, this is pretty cool in my opinion. I'll be in Chicago from today until Thursday with a day trip to Madison on Tuesday! I'm sure I'll have more to talk about over the next few days... til then, then! :)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Abraham Lincoln and Trash Collectors...

I know it's been a while since I last posted, but there hasn't been a whole lot going on. Well, actually, maybe there has now that I think about it; I just haven't had time to write it all down until now.

First things first, an update on academic stuff. I've been elected into Phi Beta Kappa, which I think is really, really great! I also received a fellowship from both UIC and UW-Madison and my potential advisor from UIC wants to bring me to the Philippines this summer for free! (Well, not for free, I'd be doing archaeology the whole time, which is backbreaking work, but I love it so it's no big deal!) So I think I'll be able to go to both the Philippines AND Cambodia this summer and end up with a heck of a lot of experience by the time I get back (Not to mention some really great stories and photos)! I'm visiting both universities next week during Spring Break, and once that's done I'll make my decision and let you all know where I'm going to end up next year.

So that was the academic update, and now here's the bit about Abraham Lincoln. See, I've been trying to talk about interesting letters and things from the Historical Association, but lately I've just been going through town records and muster rolls, which are interesting, but not interesting enough to write about on here. But last night, the SLCHA did a reading of Lincoln's first inaugural address, and I must say that was certainly interesting enough to write about. First, I was surprised as the amount of things Lincoln said in there that we don't necessarily attribute to him. For example, he said that he was not in favor of eliminating slavery, as that would be unconstitutional. He says "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." We always think about Lincoln being anti-slavery, but this statement is very non-anti-slavery. It's not pro-slavery, to be sure, but it isn't staunchly anti-slavery either.

What struck me most about his address was the constant feeling of trying to keep the Union together. The largest theme of the speech wasn't slavery or states rights, it was maintaining the unity of the nation. And I think that is completely understandable for what was going on in the country at the time. Seven states had already seceded from the union before Lincoln gave his address on March 4, 1861. Lincoln's biggest problem wasn't freeing the slaves, it was keeping the country in one piece. He probably felt that slavery was morally wrong, but he had larger things to worry about in that first inaugural address, namely war.

Another thing that struck me was his use of logic to argue in favor of the union. He says that it is illogical to think that the union would fail so long as every party of the union continued to play its role. "It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express provisions of our National Constitution, and the Union will endure forever, it being impossible to destroy it except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself...If the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a contract may violate it—break it, so to speak—but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?...It follows from these views that no State upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union; that resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void, and that acts of violence within any State or States against the authority of the United States are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances." He has a lot more in there, and you should all read it, but that is one of the most sound arguments I have seen for continuing the union of the United States.

It also struck me that Lincoln's words still resonate so much today. I could go into detail here, but that could be a thesis in and of itself, so I'll refrain. I do highly recommend that you all read this speech, even if you've read it already, because I believe it to be one of the best speeches I have ever heard. Here's a link to it, so you don't even have to search for it: I'll leave you to ponder the rest...

I realize that the title of this post might be a bit odd, Abraham Lincoln and trash collectors, but I want to leave Lincoln here for now and continue on to explain the trash collectors portion. You see, when I was cleaning out my car this morning, a group of children (two girls, about six and seven, and a boy, about eight) were walking down the street. The boy and the elder girl were carrying bags with them, and they were chatting about something that I don't quite remember. I had just finished cleaning out my car when they got to the end of my driveway and the elder girl said "wait, stop, there's a car." My car wasn't even on yet, so I told them they could go ahead; they smiled, and crossed the driveway. As I got into my car wondering what they were doing with their bags, the youngest girls said "I found a piece!" She bent down, picked up a piece of plastic wrap that was lying on the sidewalk, and put it into the other girl's bag. As I pulled out of the driveway and headed down the street, I saw them picking up pieces of candy that had fallen on the sidewalk outside the frat house next door.

I must say that I found this to be absolutely adorable, yet also quite pathetic. Not the kids, the kids were just adorable and they're my personal heroes for at least this weekend, but the fact that children are picking up the trash that adults throw on the side of the road is, in a word, pathetic. Pathetic on our part, because yes, I am now a part of the cohort of adults in this world, however young an adult I might be. You know, it's a bit disheartening to think of it that way: that the children of this world are often seen as doing amazing things and reminding adults when to behave and as a kid, you're quite proud of yourself for being among the world's children who do all these great things. But then you grow up and become an adult, and while I certainly don't throw trash on the side of the road, I'm a bit ashamed to now belong to the segment of society that does. And lets face it, needing children to remind us about good behavior is pathetic.

But talking about how pathetic it is without actually doing anything gets us nowhere, so I propose a challenge. I realize that half of you probably won't do this, but you can't say I didn't try. I challenge everyone who reads this to try to find some way to make this world better for the children in it. Go to a local elementary school and clean the trash off of their playground. Donate used books to the local library. Say please and thank you to people you encounter, and smile when someone says hello. Be honest. Take any of these ideas, however many you want, and maintain them for the month of March. Because children shouldn't have to be our role models, we should be theirs. So go and be the person you were when you were a child.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Soldier's Letter

It's Friday again, and so I find myself typing up the contents of the Civil War collection at the historical association. I came across one of my absolute favorite files in the collection and wanted to share it with you all (whoever you may be). This is the file of Robert B. Nicol, who enlisted in March 1862 at New York, Company I. He was appointed corporal (date not given) and later wounded and discharged for disability in July of 1864. Well, the wound isn't terribly happy, but he didn't die from it; he lived to the age of 82!

The main reason that this is my absolute favorite file is that Robert enjoyed composing songs, and in this file, we happen to have a copy of a letter that we wrote to his uncle composed entirely in verse! Can you believe it? Neither can I, but it's pretty fantastic.

So rather than be going on and on about how much I love this letter, I'd rather just type it up for you so that you can get the full experience of Robert B. Nicol:

"Dear Uncle,

As writing materials often are scarce,
I purpose to write you a letter in verse;
To condense my ideas, save paper and time,
Is my object for writing this letter in rhyme.
Of course you will know it is one of my pranks!
It will take but a minute to fill in the blanks.
[Note that this letter is typed, and some blanks left for his uncle to fill in. I've italicized the blanks.]

I received your kind letter just one year ago,
Which found me a member of "Uncle Sam's Show;"
And for two years or better, expect to remain,
Unless, like full many, I chance to be slain;
Should this be my fate, the last boon I crave
Is to mark on my tombstone, "A Patriot's Grave!"

In the hist'ry of wars, as we carefully scan,
Since the first was waged by man against man,
In all the fierce conflicts no records remain
Which can be compared to the present campaign.
The war has been general! on both land and sea,
And many have fallen for "Liberty's Tree!"
It would fill many volumes to pass in review
What our various armies this year have gone through.
Though my space is not large, yet 'twill not be amiss
To give a slight sketch on a small sheet like this.

The Potomac's great army has nobly withstood
The wiles of the traitors, and written in blood
The route it has taken o'er mountain and plain,
Through forests and rivers, in hot sun and rain;
And now like a giant, aware of his power,
Aims a death-blow at Secessions "left bower!"

In the siege of Atlanta, and Charleston, too,
What subjects for History's pages we view!
Generations to come will exult in the name
Which their fore-fathers carved in the records of fame.

At the Gulf, on the flank of Secession's domain,
From the shores of "Red River" our brave comrades slain
Are calling for vengeance; Ah! traitors shall feel
A full share of this in the siege of Mobile.
The reb who surrender'd the stronghold, Fort Gaines,
We aver, was possessed for less valor than brains!

Our heroes at sea have had plenty to do:
The ports to blockade, and pirates subdue;
Let the famed Tallahassee beware of the day
When our "Yankee Tars" meet her in battle array!
I am sure they have not forgotten so soon
The victory we gained on the 19th of June.

Thus we see every part of our army so grand,
In the "War for the Union," on sea and on land,
Are working in concert, our cause to maintain,
To crush the rebellion, and end the campaign.

I have the honor to be your affectionate nephew,
Signed, Robert B. Nicol"

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Allen Letters

So classes have started off pretty well and everything is going relatively according to plan. Actually, to be honest, I didn't have much of a plan to begin with, so I'm quite content with the world at the moment. I'm also currently baking rolls, which are making my apartment smell divine, so that has probably added to my contentment.

But I've also decided that this semester I am going to take at least 24 hours off each week. So from Friday night to Saturday afternoon, I make sure to plan absolutely nothing class-related so I can do whatever I feel like doing. Today is the first attempt, and I must say I am quite happy with it. I mean really, who can complain with watching a great movie, sleeping in, getting food, baking rolls, and just doing nothing for a span of 24 hours?

So yea, hopefully this 24 hour span of not doing anything will help me stay less stressed this semester. After all, I've been accepted to all the grad schools I applied to (yay!) and I was told yesterday that the draft of my thesis was better than some of the final versions that the department had printed. That's pretty cool. And on top of that, I'm going to be going to Angkor Wat this summer. I mean really, why should I stress out about my last semester with all these good things happening?

The rest of February (all four days so far) has been rather snowy. We now have over two feet on the ground, I would say, and we get more snow showers every other day. Wednesday was the worst, though; I think we got about 10 inches overnight and another 3-6 over the course of the day. But the funny thing about this is that this is the first real Canton winter that we've had since my freshman year. The past two have been unseasonably warm and all the underclassmen keep talking about how Canton winters aren't that bad. Then they hit this year, with the -42 degree days followed by 15 inch snowfalls and now they're beginning to rethink the whole not-so-bad thing. I, for one, am a bit happy that winter up here has returned to normal, because I personally like the snow (so long as no buildings collapse).

I also just spent about 3.5 hours at the historic society yesterday. I'm reorganizing their Civil War collection for the 150th anniversary celebrations that will be held this year through 2015. The collection hadn't really been organized in years and the last person to organize it did it in a very odd manner, so it was in need to fixing. Anyway, I'm in the process of writing a finding aid, which is a document that will help people locate the documents we have in the archives. In writing it, I'm giving some background on each soldier that's given in the adjutant general reports: where and when they enlisted, if they were wounded, if they were discharged or killed or mustered out with their company and when, stuff like that. It's kind of bittersweet, because half the time I end up reading a letter from a soldier to his wife or his father or his uncle or something and he always talks about seeing his loved ones again, but then I check his information and realize he was killed in action or died of typhoid or some other unfortunate circumstance. The worst was a high ranking officer (I forget how high) from the 16th NY Infantry Regiment who wrote to his wife telling her that he couldn't wait to see her again. A month later, the officer was shot in the head. He lived, but he lost both of his eyes and was discharged shortly after. So even though he lived, he never actually saw his wife again.

So one thing I was thinking of doing was telling you all a little about these documents, because after reading them for months, I feel a little attached to the soldiers and it makes the war so much more... real than it was before.

Yesterday, I didn't intend to spend 3.5 hours at the historic society. I got there at 4 and planned to get through typing up the info for one box (which was the 106th NY Infantry box) and maybe start on the next one (the 142nd NY Infantry box). But I finished the 106th by 5:30 and looked at the 142nd box and realized there were only about ten documents. I could finish the box before 6:30 and be done with two boxes instead of just one. It seemed like a good plan.

Each box has some general documents in the front pertaining to the entire regiment, such as reunion photos, muster rolls, and other such documents. Those are easy enough to type up, especially since there's no soldier-specific information to include. The first folder I got to said "Allen Letters", and I figured they were letters to a soldier whose last name was Allen. I looked at the letters to try to figure out his first name and realized that the folder contained 86 letters all written to and Stewart Allen by various people and vice versa. Generally, we file letters under the person who wrote them, but if a soldier receives letters from someone, then we generally file it with the soldier. Basically, we try to keep things filed with soldiers as opposed to people not serving in the war because the boxes are organized by regiment.

The problem here was that Stewart Allen never served in the war. He stayed home to watch the farm while his father, cousin, and various friends served in various regiments. What's interesting is that Stewart was connected to six different soldiers in three different regiments. His father (Robert Allen) and cousin (William Allen) served in the 142nd, his friends Francis Dana, Theodore F.H. Dana, and William Wright served in the 106th, and his friend George Elderkin served in the 60th, all of which were among the most prominent regiments in the state. All of them enlisted in the summer of 1862.

Most of the letters to and from Stewart tell of farming practices, prices for wheat or potatoes, and the loneliness of the war. I get the feeling from Stewart's letters that he wants to go join the soldiers and can't for one reason or another. I also get the feeling from most of the others' letters that they don't really want to be fighting anymore. All except Francis Dana, who has a few letters complaining that he hasn't seen action for weeks.

Of the six soldiers connected to Stewart, only one made it out of the war with no injuries. Stewart's father, Robert, enlisted in 1862 and was mustered out with his company in 1865. William Wright enlisted in 1862 and deserted in November of that year. George Elderkin was discharged for disability in 1863. Theodore F.H. Dana deserted at the end of his furlough in 1864. Francis Dana was wounded in July of 1864 and was mustered out from the hospital in 1865, though not with his company. Stewart's cousin, William, was killed in action on January 15th, 1865 at Fort Fisher, North Carolina. We only have one letter dating to after his death, and it's from Robert, who served in the same company and shared tents with his nephew. The letter speaks of sorrow, loneliness, and a strong desire to come home.

When you read about these things in textbooks and such, it's played off as a deadly war that happened a long time ago. But 150 years isn't that long ago. In reality, it's about four or five generations away. And it wasn't just a bloody war, it was a war that took lives. Sometimes I feel that we don't pay enough attention to that in the classroom or the media or whatever. We don't remember the actual people who fought and the sacrifices they made. William died only six months before his unit was mustered out. He served for two and a half years. He was so close to seeing the war come to an end, and he didn't. Two of the soldiers deserted, either for fear or the harsh conditions or the plain fact that they didn't want to fight anymore. Two of the soldiers were injured and probably suffered complications from it the rest of their lives.

Why don't they tell us that in the history books? There's something about reading their letters, reading their concerns about weather and wheat sales and taking over a mill to grind flour for the company that makes them far more personal than anything else I've come across. Even just standing at a memorial of cemetery for the deceased doesn't do it quite like this because you still don't know much about the people themselves. With this, you read their daily concerns, smile at the things they write (for much of it is quite funny), and then you realize that they were killed a month after writing that letter. I think it's something we've taken out of history lessens for fear of scaring students, but I think it's worth it a bit. Perhaps if we had a stronger connection to the wars in our past, we wouldn't be so quick to create them in our present. And if we had a stronger connection to the wars in our present, then we would hopefully think long and hard before starting them in the future.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

SAA's, grad school, and class!

So today I did a lot of note-taking, and so it wasn't a terribly interesting day until the afternoon, but this afternoon I met with Dr. A to plan the SAA trip! Actually, it started out with us planning the database we're going to use and then talking about beads for a while (there are these beads that we have no idea how they were manufactured, and we've never come across any description anywhere about them). That got us talking about the SAAs, and we've now purchased plane tickets for California! Oh, the SAAs is the Annual Meeting for the Society of American Archaeology. Dr. A and I are presenting a paper about her data from India, and we have to get it all sorted out before we can write the paper. The fact that I'm even going it amazing, but the development that happened today is that we bought tickets!

On the class side of things, I've decided to drop the class I was talking about and do the SAA stuff as an independent study. It's just going to be way too difficult to do that much work and it's much easier to just get credit for the SAA stuff than to do a whole other class. The nice thing about that is that it means I don't have three classes in a row anymore, so hopefully tomorrow will be a lot less insane than yesterday.

And as for grad school, I was accepted by the University of Washington! I still haven't heard from Wisconsin, which I find odd, but January isn't over yet. But I got accepted! So everything is very happy!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Classes, archaeology, and other stuff...

So today was the second day of classes, which was really my first day of classes since all of my classes are on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I started the morning by realizing that the weather had gotten about 30 degrees warmer (it was 10 out this morning and I loved it!) and subsequently walked to campus. Since I live off-campus, security forces me to park in the two farthest lots from anything except athletics and the arts building. As a result, I end up freezing most mornings or evenings when walking to or from my car. Seriously, when I got home on Sunday night my hands were turning purplish blue. So I thought about it for a while (after security refused to let me park closer) and realized that one reason I freeze is because it takes so long to walk to my car, clear it off, warm it up, and drive home (or clear if off, warm it up, drive to campus and then walk to my building). I also realized that in the time it takes me to clear off my car, etc., I could simply walk to campus. I would be more active and therefore warmer on my walk in and could stop places like the library on the way in to pick up books. And it would count as actual exercise, since I live a good 15-20 minute walk away (and it's uphill). Granted, it's not a full work-out, but it's better than nothing, right?

So anyway, I walked up to campus this morning because it was so warm (10 degrees, it was wonderful). My first class was at 10:10, Views of Human Nature, which is the senior capstone course. I think I'm the only senior who was actually looking forward to it, but I guess that just means that I've definitely found the right field. It was a good opening class, Dr. P described the course, then gave us a few life lessons that we didn't know we needed, but were valuable nonetheless. Basically what not to do when being interviewed for a job. All in all, it was a good class and I'm still looking forward to it.

I then went to meet with Dr. P and ended up meeting with Dr. A, then we had a joint meeting with Dr. P and the three of us went to lunch. I'm sure that sounds really confusing, but it's how it goes in this department. We spent lunch discussing the advantages of the Kindle, and then I dashed off to my second class, Religion and Visual Culture. It was pretty good, but I was fading by the end (not sure why, but it lasted all afternoon). I then went to the third class of the day, Buddhist Art and Ritual, and listened to stories of my professor getting disqualified from learning to meditate in a Thai monastery because she was too interested in the paintings on the wall.

And then I went back to Piskor and felt like taking a nap. Actually, I had felt like taking a nap since about 1:45, and it was about 3:45 then. I have no idea why I was so tired, but I walked home anyway because it seemed a good idea.

The only guess I have regarding the exhaustion is that three classes in one day with no real break in between is too much. I'm sure other people can do it, and do it easily, but for me, I don't think three classes in a row works. And on top of all that I still have my thesis and I have to work on the dictionary for Dr. P and Dr. A and I are writing a paper that we haven't really even started compiling the data for yet. Well, we have the data, but it's in notebooks and formatted differently depending on the year, so we have to input it all into a database. I am also still working at the historical association on their Civil War collection, so it's just a lot of work to do.

So I think what I might do is try to see if I can take an independent study with Dr. A that would essentially be us doing the work for the paper that we're presenting at a conference in April. Since I'm going to be doing that work anyway (as is she), we're not adding anything to our workload, just giving me academic credit for it. That would allow me to drop one of my classes in my marathon and would give me a reasonable workload for the semester instead of the insane monstrosity that I met today.

What's really cool, though, is that I got a preliminary program for the conference we're going to and my name is actually listed in the program as a presenter for this conference. I know that sounds really geeky, and in ten years I won't be all that excited about it, but really, this is pretty cool.

Also, I have just been offered the chance to go work at Angkor Wat this summer! It would be during the month of July, for about 4-6 weeks, depending on when I can commit, and quite frankly I'm going to try to commit for the whole time.

That's about it... I got the actual acceptance letter from Hawaii today, but still haven't heard from Wisconsin or Washington... and after that not much has been going on.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Grad school, end of break, and other things...

I have been accepted to grad school!!!! Anyone who actually reads this would know that already, but I wanted to put it here anyway. I was accepted into the graduate program at the University of Hawaii, which is currently my second choice school. I also heard from the University of Illinois at Chicago and was accepted by the department there. Illinois also offered me a very nice funding package and so now I don't know where to go. I'm basically waiting for other results and will decide once I've gotten all the information from all the universities.

Classes start Monday, which will be nice since it means that people will be back in Canton. I actually don't have class on Monday, but it'll still feel like the semester has started, which will be good. I'm looking forward to actually being able to celebrate my grad school acceptance with my professors and ask them for advice and such.

I'm also looking into field schools for next summer, or any fieldwork opportunity for that matter, and have possibly found one in Virginia that's good quality and relatively cheap. I also found one in Poland that's roughly the same, but a little more expensive. I'm also thinking of going back to Scotland to do stuff with SERF, but I haven't seen anything for them yet. I'm also trying to see if I can find anything cheap in Southeast Asia, but I don't think that will happen.

Not a whole lot else going on, though I'm thinking of getting my draft of the books I was writing about Indonesia out again and working on that some more. It might be cool to have another book out there, and hopefully better written than the others. You know, I don't do the books for money or anything, or so that I can go brag to people about having written a book. You probably aren't thinking that, but just in case you are, I want to explain myself. I like the idea of having books of my travels that are printed so that my stories are recorded. And I like recording my stories so that one day I can pass them on to my children and possible grandchildren. I remember going to my grandmother's house and taking out these huge photo album scrapbooks that she had compiled of her travels around the world, and I remember looking through them both on my own and with her. I also remember sitting on her lap and listening to stories of cormorants fishing on the Yangtze or having a picnic in the middle of the desert. I loved listening to her stories, and while I'm awful at maintaining scrapbooks, I'm pretty good about writing things down. I also have a tendency to forget my camera or I fail to take pictures or something, so writing is the best way to convey the images. So the reason I write those books is to have something I can pass on, like my grandmother's scrapbooks.

Part of me wonders if I should make those sorts of books for shorter trips I've taken, like the field school I did in Scotland or the trips I've taken to Morocco or France or Spain. Actually, to be honest, those went so fast that I don't know I could write a book about them. But then again, maybe if I sat down and tried it, I'd find the memories come a lot easier. We'll see about that, but first I'm going to see to the Indonesia book, because I really do want some version of that printed...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

It's 2011!

Ok, so I know that I haven't been posting since August and that I was going to keep everyone updated on my travels in Scotland, but the internet was limited and poor in Scotland and so updating the blog wasn't really an option. Well, I suppose it was, but I chose to spend time with friends instead of write this blog because I only had three weeks with them and that seemed more important. Anyway, I'll upload a photo or two when I have time and can give the journal entries from when I was there. You'll still get the whole story, don't worry!

Anyway, last semester went well, though it was very busy, so I still had no time to update this thing. I was taking four classes, one of which was my honors thesis, applying to grad schools, volunteering at the historical society, and working for the department. The yarn store has sort of gone out of existence, so I no longer work there, but I have plenty to do with everything else, so I don't really mind. We got grades yesterday for this past semester and I managed to get straight 4.0's again, which I'm quite pleased with.

Christmas went well with very good visits to family and friends, and the New Year was quiet, but very pleasant. I'm now in Canton again and am going to work on the dictionary for the next few weeks before the semester starts so that I can have it in a pretty good place by the time I get back. I've also been purchasing books for next semester and plan to read through some of them before classes start. I'm taking Views of Human Nature, the senior capstone anthro course that everyone dreads because it's the highest level course and taught by Dr. P. I'm actually looking forward to it, though, because while I'm well aware that she'll kick my butt if she thinks it necessary, I enjoyed her linguistics class and look forward to having a similar experience with this one. I'm also taking Buddhist Art and Ritual, an art history course, which I think will be interesting and potentially useful in the future. That one may also kick my butt, though. I'm also finishing up my senior honors and taking Religion and Visual Culture, a religious studies course that also seems interesting and potentially useful in the future. All in all, I'm pretty satisfied with the courses.

So that's really all that's going on, not a whole lot, really. I may write updates now and again over the next few weeks, particularly if I hear from grad schools, but life is pretty slow, so I expect very little to happen.