The dangers of showing your family your Tumblr...

For the first time in two weeks, I am HOME! Mom wanted to know how things have been in the new apartment, and I figured a good summary of it would be to show her my tumblr. Toni and I have a whole tag dedicated to our, uh, antics. My sister interrupted when she saw some of my recent crocheting pics: specifically, the mini Avengers plushies I've been crafting

Prepare for the logic of an adorable little girl: if you count Loki, there are as many main characters in Avengers as the are in our family (7). This means, of course, that I should make Avengers for my family as Christmas presents, because everyone can have a different Avenger! 

From there, the conversation was diverted from my experience as a second-year teacher, headed toward a discussion of which brother was which hero (Iron Man and Captain America were obvious; Hawkeye, not so much). Most memorable was the look on Mom's face. Instead of the incredulous "what are you two up to now?", she just smiled and said "I get Loki." My sister insisted that we watch the movie again so she can choose this hero.

I thought I'd post this not because I love my family because of Avengers fans (well, not ONLY because I love them) but because I'm interested in the way we, as consumers of media, respond to characters. Clearly someone loves the Avengers enough to design free patterns for crocheted plushies. These characters may be fictional, but they have a significant staying power.Here's the question for this week: which Avenger do you relate to most, if any? Is this a healthy comparison to be making?

Oxford, Thanksgiving, and finding my roots

I couldn't wait to go to Oxford. I wasn't just impatient; I was jumping-up-and-down, mapping-out-everything-I-wanted-to-see impatient. Many of my favorite writers and thinkers have come from this great university. I wanted to visit their haunts, see where they lived and taught, and literally walk in their footsteps, even if it was just for a day.

Despite my excitement, the things I had planned aren't what will stick with me. Yes, I ate a delicious stew at the Eagle and Child pub, where Tolkien and Lewis once met with the other Inklings. Yes, I wandered Addison's Walk, searching for deer under the fading trees. The most poignant event, however, was Evensong at Christ Church cathedral.

I've been to chapels and cathedrals before, even during services, but this was the first time I'd actually sat in on one. The BYU Study Abroad group had front-row seats saved, and we huddled in the pews together. Unfamiliar books sat on stands in front of us: a book of psalms, a collection of anthems, a navy-bound hymnal. A member of the choir passed around single sheets of the opening song. I didn't recognize the title, but then, I didn't get a copy either--there weren't enough to go around.

When the time came to sing, I had to look off a sheet that three other girls already shared. The text clumped together on one side of the page, the font too small and indistinct for me to make out. Instead, I read the accompaniment as well as I could, and I sang the alto line for five of the six verses. I don't think I sang it particularly well, of course. That's not what matters. I brought my own religious experience into the mix and embraced the strange hymn in a way that aligned with my faith.

At the time, I wondered why my church doesn't have anything like Evensong. Gathering together just to sing a hymn of praise and have a spiritual thought shouldn't be all that hard. (I feel like FHE and Ward Prayer try to approach this, but they tend to overreach and become boring.)

As Evensong went on, however, I understood. It didn't only involve the hymn, a prayer, and a thought. It involved four or five more long songs, mostly Psalms put to music: The congregation only rarely was invited to take part, and even when we were, I didn't know the songs and couldn't figure out which book to use. We also sat through two long lessons, one of which was about the patron saint of the day. I nestled in my pew, standing when everyone else stood, and felt like an outsider caught up in an archaic tradition. On one hand, I understand the value of Evensong in that archaic tradition. For a population of illiterates, the music and the sermons would be spiritual staples for teaching the gospel. But on Oxford campus near a chapel of learning, it felt wrong, like an overzealous and drawn-out FHE lesson.

Today, that leaves me pondering. Almost four hundred years ago, some of my ancestors left England on the Mayflower. I don't know if they had ever been to Oxford, let alone Christ Church (though with my family's historic propensity toward higher education, it wouldn't surprise me). Still, I suppose they had been to Evensong services before. Maybe they even held their own once they landed in America. I don't know. But I do know that they came seeking religious freedom. Without them, I wouldn't be a member of the Church because it might not exist. My ancestors came and created a place where religions could grow and develop. I can hold my own nightly Evensong with the hymns I know by heart and my beautiful, marked-up copy of the Book of Mormon--all because they left, they explored, and they survived.

Today, I'm thankful for my family: blood relation or not, past, present, or future.

Back from Paris

I'm home in London and I feel like I owe you all an update. So, here I go!

Last week's visit to Paris was amazing. I wasn't sure how I felt about it, especially with how sick I had been the week before. We were supposed to plan in advance what attractions and pieces of art we wanted to see. Being sick and apathetic, I planned my visit to the Louvre, but that was it. I didn't want to push myself too hard. I also knew that, if I wanted to see one thing in Paris, the Louvre was it, so that would be my priority.

We left the London Centre at 5:45 a.m. to catch the train to Paris. Not fun. I tried to sleep on the train in. It should have been easy, since I wasn't feeling well. Nope. I read Fellowship of the Ring all the way there. (On every other week-long trip I've had here, I've ended up kicking myself for not bringing it. I preempted that this time!) After checking into hotel at 10 a.m. local time, I looked for a group. See, in Paris, we had to travel in groups of at least three. As much as that cramps my style, I obeyed--being sick alone in an unfamiliar city where I don't speak the language just sounds stupid.

Luckily, I found a group that was headed to the Louvre. We walked over (about a 40-minute walk), then spent about three hours inside. It definitely wasn't enough to see the whole museum, but it was enough to let me see everything I'd wanted to see. I even had some time to sit and sketch.

Well, that got knocked out on the first day :) It's a good thing, too, because I relapsed the next day and spent half the day in bed in the hotel (but only after I'd gone to the Rodin Sculpture Garden and the Musee d'Orsay). My wonderful roommate, Arianna, let me borrow a wall adapter (I didn't have one for France), so I hung out with my computer.

Being sick in my hotel wasn't fun at the time, but I think it was invaluable to my experience in France. Forcing girls to travel in groups is an invitation to drama. In this case, it was about people getting included or not and arguing over what attractions to see. I didn't have much trouble with the latter because I'd seen everything I wanted to on the first day, but getting included was hard for me. I'm shy and quiet and tend to feel like a tag-along. (I suppose I could have it worse--I could be a loud and obnoxious tag-along.) I also like being alone. While I appreciated the groups who let me join them, I loved having alone time in my room before my roommate got home. I needed that time to be free of social pretense, where I could just do what I wanted and not feel like I had to behave myself in front of anyone.

I did have a wonderful week. I went to amazing museums like the Museum of Invention, a giant steampunk building with rooms full of artifacts showing the history of energy, industry, and science. I rode a rowboat down the pond in Versailles. I ate a crepe with lemon and sugar in the Tuileries. I got chased out of the Pompidou at closing time. (Okay, so that one wasn't much fun.)

But most importantly, this week really made me appreciate my friends and family back home. As much as I enjoyed Paris, it would have been much better had I been able to experience it with the people I love. I wish my friends would've geeked out with me at the Museum of Invention--my group was embarrassed to be seen with me. I wish I could've talked history with my brother in the Hall of Mirrors. And as incredible as the museums were, they would have been infinitely so had I been able to share the experience with my mom.

Everyone, I love you and I miss you! I'm looking forward to the adventures we'll have when I come home.

Plotting, plotting, plotting

"No bad thing ever happens to a writer." My English 218 teacher told me this bit of advice that I've never forgotten. Supposedly, this means that a writer can make the most out of any experience. Whether a disaster sets the tone for a novel or allows the writer to grow, either as an artist or as an individual, bad things can become good things. It's a mentality that shouldn't be limited to writers, and it's something I find myself pondering when times are hard.

Today, I'm not here to talk about writing. I want to talk about knitting. (Well, and about having a good attitude. But mostly about knitting.)

So far on my Study Abroad, the biggest disaster (except maybe being sick for Halloween and in Paris) is that I'm allergic to my handknit socks. I don't know if I'm reacting to the socks or the detergent or something else here, but the bottom line is, I can't wear them. It's not a huge deal, I guess--I wasn't any good at knitting socks the times I tried, and I hadn't tried too many times. It's just a bummer because I have so much sock yarn in my stash.

It's time to keep bad things from happening to a knitter.
A few months ago, Yas and Karity and I were talking about blankets. Colorwork blankets, to be specific, knitted out of sock yarn. I wasn't sure I wanted to commit that much sock yarn to a blanket. But, now that I'm having sock problems, it's blanket time!

Here's hoping my attitude stays positive as I figure out how on Earth to use all those colors together.

Meanwhile, who's ready for NaNoWriMo? I'm not!! I mean. Uh. Positive attitude. Let's do this thing! :)

(P.S.: Blogger formatting, I hate you.)

Belated Update

I owe Katie an apology. I told her I would blog every week while I’m here. Clearly I’ve failed—I’ve been here for two months and only posted twice. I guess it’s time for an update!

Life in London has been fun and crazy and exciting and stressful all at once. Two weeks after everyone arrived here, we set off for our tour of the northern UK: Scotland and the Lake District, for the most part. Highlights included hiking King Arthur’s Seat above Edinburgh and visiting the Romanticism exhibit at the Wordsworth home and museum. The latter was mostly about Wordsworth, obviously, but it did have a few displays about Percy Shelley, one of which included the book that was found on him after his death. So cool!

As much as I loved the northern tour, it really threw me off in terms of teaching. I’m teaching a section of English 218 (creative writing) here but didn’t realize until I got here that I was actually teaching it instead of assisting. Getting things organized and figured out took much longer than it probably should have! I had trouble getting my feet under me properly. That was fine for me—I seem to function best when I’m flying by the seat of my pants—but my poor students and co-teacher probably would appreciate better organization. As it is, I’m not sure I would’ve been able to teach at all if not for my theory class and my writing center training.

As soon as I got in the groove of teaching, we left for our tour of the southwestern UK. John and I had planned to hold writing classes on the trip, but that didn’t happen. Everyone spent the trip either sleeping or hiking, it feels like. We did a five-mile trek along the coast of the Irish Sea, which involved switchbacks, dramatic ups and downs, and incredibly seaside scenery. My favorite hostel was at Tintagel, and it reminded me of Shell Cottage (from HP7) at first glance. It was so tiny, I didn’t know how we would fit our group (half the SA folks) inside. Well, clearly it was a TARDIS hostel, because we managed! It was bigger on the inside. Highlights from this trip included visiting Merlin’s Cave beneath Tintagel Castle and, of course, going to Stonehenge!

The rest of the time, I’ve been wandering London. I realize that doesn’t sound particularly exciting but it has been. I’ve seen a Shakespeare play at the Globe, been to a Degas exhibit at the Royal Academy of Art, lost myself in Soho, and visited all the yarn- or bookshops my internal radar could find. I always keep a book in my purse and an idea in my head. It’s strange, being out alone in a big city, but it’s also liberating. (And why I haven’t been posting.)

So, why am I posting today? To be honest, this post is brought to you by the fact that I’m sick in bed. For the last few days I’ve been queasy and fatigued. Going to class for even an hour makes me dizzy. I spent yesterday alternating between sleeping, trying (and failing) to read Sense and Sensibility (not good for tired minds), and watching “Bleach” reruns. (Special thanks to Yas for introducing me to I feel completely pathetic sitting around watching “Bleach” all day, especially since each episode takes as long to load as it does to play, but it’s better than sitting around feeling pathetic and not doing anything. I’m doing better today: I’m watching “Reborn!” instead.) Today, I’m trying to force myself to be productive. Thus, this post.

I’m sincerely hoping to be better by tonight. It’s our Halloween party and I have an awesome costume planned. Look for a pic or two on facebook! Most of my photos won’t go up until I get home, since the internet here is so abysmal. Love you all and hope you’re doing well!