So I roasted a pigeon

Yup.

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Just to be clear- I bought it! Didn’t swipe it off a fountain or anything, don’t worry.

It was not a winner. The recipe I followed undercooked the few meaty parts of it while leaving it with an overcooked-feeling texture. Poor bird: few appreciate it alive, and fewer on a dinner plate.


Just in time for my concluding trip to Ireland and Spain, I wrote an article for an online women’s magazine called She’s Poised about how to balance staying present while documenting a moment. This is a problem that my friends and I are often confronted with when travelling- how many pictures should I take, and how much time should I reserve for purely being in the moment?

What makes this website exceptional is the refreshing way its contributors deliver sophisticated yet relatable information about various topics from dressing for work to finding New York’s best egg cream to celebrating historically monumental women like my homegirl J Child (the video in this post is actually hilarious.) The icing on the cake is the warmth exuded by the articles’ titles: “How We ___” feels like a mother or aunt teaching you as compared to the condescending tone of “How to ___” that’s common elsewhere.

Here’s the link!

Thanks again to Lauren for reaching out and taking me through the process of brainstorming, editing, and finally publishing the post! While it’s pretty common these days for bloggers to make guest appearances on other blogs, it was a personal first and I feel honored.

The website is written by women, for women, which mirrors my beloved RookieMag’s by girls, for girls philosophy. I’d like to think that She’s Poised, BUST magazine, and some other materials will be my media-related stepping stones as I gradually age out of adolescence and wistfully leave behind websites and reading material that thrilled my teenage self a few years ago. I will always love and cheer for Tavi, but RookieMag is pretty much in my past now. Yes, it is sad. And just one of the things that has changed about me since I first embarrassed myself in that British Sainsbury’s and started growing into a different version of myself.

(But seriously, read Tavi’s Editor’s Letter about Forever. While she wrote it while on the cusp of adulthood, another transitional rite of passage, she says much about what I (wish I) could (so eloquently) write about this period of my life coming to an end, appreciating it, mourning it, archiving it, etc.)

Photocapture from Tavi’s genius post “How to Bitchface: Channel your inner Martha Stewart with this crafty DIY.”

My Vassar flatmate left yesterday 😦 Eleven days left…

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Be true to your eyes, or they’ll be false to you!

The title is a takeoff on a golden saying of my grandma: Be true to your teeth, or they’ll be false to you!

Memorizing the natural history of mammals, going to 1940s-themed clubs, and exploring London in scavenger-hunt fashion has been what’s up lately. I’ll explain.

I’m no wikipedia, but I do feel like a walking tome of mammalian evolution knowledge. My 3 essay, 3 hour exam for Mammals and Evolution, a 3rd year module, accounted for 75% of my final grade. Crazy, right?! In the US, a 40% final exam feels like a lot, but the UK system takes finals pressure to a new level. I think I did pretty well. One more exam for Geographies of Nature (50% of my grade) and then I’m DONE with junior year! I’m beyond ready to give my eyes a rest from hours and hours of staring at the computer, reading lengthy papers and revising powerpoints. I actually bought eyedrops yesterday.

dedicated to my TravelMate TM8471.


I recently visited Greenwich, the famous home of the Prime Meridian, as well as a bounty of cream-colored edifices strewn amongst emerald green lawns that reminded me of Saratoga’s Hall of Springs. It was very pretty and preppy and clean. I wasn’t bowled over but it made for a nice day trip. Anyway, while I was walking there, I saw this amusingly named restaurant and took a picture:

How nice to know I have friends stationed all over the city!

As I was about to continue on my journey down Salmon Lane, a nearby construction worker amiably hollered and asked what I was photographing. I replied that my focus was on the restaurant sign. He had thought I liked his yellow car.  And then he asked me to take a picture of himself, and how could I refuse? I really like how proud he looks. That smile can’t lie.

Just a minute before, upon seeing me look at a map, another person helped me figure out my directions. The people here are special.


On Wednesday, I went out with Erica, Beth, and her sister to a new 1940s-themed club called Cahoots in Soho. It was SO COOL! The menus looked like newspapers, the music was on point (albeit a bit loud), the servers were dressed in their best wartime threads, and the decorations were fascinating! My pictures turned out poor but my memories are vibrant (read more about that in my upcoming guest post for an online women’s magazine!) But I did get some good pics of the 1940s hairstyle I managed to finagle out of my unruly red locks. I’m too proud to not post a few:

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The doorman also kindly obliged to a photo:

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And finally, the scavenger hunt story:

Equipped with my handwritten directions taking us from Yelp’s favorite fish and chips shop to an art gallery to a photo developing store, Erica and I embarked on a long and winding day trip around West London. What made this day so different from many others was the level of interaction with locals. As the English are known for being particularly reserved, we Americans have felt this difference acutely. So when we went into three shops and each of the workers happily jumped into conversation with us, we were shocked! Phrase of the day: “Where are we?!

At the World’s End clothing shop, we were educated on a tidbit of Sex Pistols history and given a tip of where to find hidden troves of American foodstuffs right by the Saatchi Gallery. At this innovative gallery which contained art paired with poetry, the sales assistant pointed us in the direction of a hidden cemetery she had only just discovered after forty years of living around the corner. We chatted with another artist for a good fifteen minutes about this Russian magnate who spent half a billion dollars on art only to sequester it away as an investment. Again, this is one of the best things I’ve learned abroad: being social doesn’t always have to revolve around a friend group or romantic relationship. One can have many conversations with strangers that oftentimes end up being surprisingly thoughtful and engrossing. And you might end up learning something very unexpected!

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Three weeks until America. No sleep til Brooklyn!

Spending time instead of money

When I arrived at my flat on that memorable January morning, I was taken aback by the fridge/freezer setup. In the kitchen stood a lumbering freezer and stowed safely away in each of our rooms squatted petite, cubic mini fridges. In retrospect, the amount of freezer:fridge room wasn’t that different than at home, but the location and size did make an impact. I wondered how I would shelter the cornucopia of veggies I bought each week in the small space. How would I optimize the comparatively vast freezer space?

For better or worse, I’ve adapted to a lifestyle with few shelf-stable products and mostly perishables. It makes me feel good but gosh does it take extra time. I’m happy to spend time instead of calories, but luckily cooking is a release for me, or else it’d feel like a chore.

So, a major difference in London living is that people here don’t usually go food shopping on one day. They go a couple days a week, just purchasing the items they need to get by for a few meals. This happens because (1) many don’t have cars to fill with grocery bags and (2) veggies perish rather quickly so it’s best to buy what you can use soon (maybe more reasons too.) At first I did the US thing of spending a pretty penny on one day and waiting a week for more food, but gradually eased into the other method. It’s nicer.

If you’d like to read more about this stark difference between the US and Europe, here’s a brief article from the LA Times. It’s amazing because it’s such a logical idea yet so many of us Americans don’t really realize it.

Ok, now for how to spend about $20/week on food that’s not pasta or lentils! This is one of my best tips for studying abroad or just anywhere you have access to this secret.

Ready?

Here it goes!

Highly discounted trials from grocery delivery companies.

I’ve signed up for three different programs from companies who offer steep discounts for first-time customers. And each delivered to my door! The trick is to make a note of when to cancel so as not to be charged an extra week or whatever when all you want is that first, extremely satisfyingly cheap offer week. And when you’re finished, go back and edit your phone number out of your account so customer service won’t call you 3x/day (looking at you, Abel & Cole.) A brief explanation of each:

1. Abel & Cole

This was an awesome deal, but not for the faint of cooking heart. It was a steep learning curve but I grew so much from it. Basically, I was part of a slightly corporate CSA for a month and received a whopping box of veggies that lasted me seven days. It cost about $12/week and let me start my London experience very healthily. However, being showered with so many perishables was a challenge- I usually cooked it all up in 1,2, or 3 days into different meals and froze most of it, reheating after long days of work. Sometimes it was a struggle to prevent things from rotting. And cooking all this up on one day for 4 hours might not be ideal for everyone. But you can space it out. And if you know anyone who belongs to a CSA, they’ll light up when telling you all the benefits of fresh, organic veggies that support local farmers. When I have a real place to live, a CSA is on my list.

2. Bonativo

I found this deal on LivingSocial. Bonativo is a high-end food delivery service and I picked exactly which items I wanted. I paid something like 18 pounds for 45 pounds’ worth of products (in dollars, about $30 for $78). It felt like a little pampering because I bought some fancy almonds, Cumberland sausages, a veg box, and oh-so-luxe salmon (among other things)! Def recommend this company, even for just one delivery. Oh, that’s the catch- you have to spend a certain amount to get free delivery (vs 7 pounds or something.) But overall, a good good deal.

3. HelloFresh

This company’s clientele includes people who are busy, lacking in cooking skills or confidence, or just want a few recipes’ ingredients directly delivered to them. It was my least favorite of the 3 programs because the dishes weren’t as packed with taste and nutrition as I like. While I followed the first recipe to a T, by the third I just used the ingredients for a different (made up on the spot) recipe altogether. However, for someone wishing to learn more about cooking, this structured service is helpful. And since you’re theoretically using 100% of your products, there’s minimal waste. Each recipe supposedly takes around 30 minutes (a bit of an underestimate, I found.) This cost for six meals was 15 pounds versus the typical 39 pounds ($23 vs $59).

And lastly, my true-blue (inexpensive) pantry staples: BEANZ and homemade bread!

Again, these are definitely a time investment but if you are waiting for your laundry or just doing work in the kitchen, boiling beans for 90 minutes or waiting for your bread to rise and bake aren’t so laborious. Beans are super nutritious (although don’t eat a whole can of them in one day, like I once did…) And with the bread, I made sure it was packed with flax, bee pollen, whole wheat flour, seeds, or something else to help counterbalance the cons of the carbs.

I’m sure you can tell I could talk about food all day but actually I’m off to make some bread! One last word of advice- check out those coupon sites like Groupon and LivingSocial, as well as the impressive Amazon Local. All of these sites contain some money-saving gems for services or products that are all over the map.

Happy bargaining!

Smidgen Stories

On Tuesday I won the BBC ticket lottery and saw a live recording of a BBC Channel 4 radio show! In addition to seeing the mostly invisible aspect of radio broadcasting, I saw some fantastic views of the rooms featured in the BBC news including the main desk where the anchors sit and the background loaded with workers collecting information about UK and world current events. Couldn’t take pictures of those areas, but luckily this experience didn’t end without a few greatly appreciated Doctor Who decorations.

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Yesterday, I got another haircut as a hair model for an academy. I’m telling ya, this is a great gig if you want to save money in exchange for a few hours of your time. My first experience took three hours for a high-fashion hairstyle that was priced around $100 but, for a hair model, was free. This experience was $25, took 2 hours, and will land me a spot on the academy’s website! I am such a fan of well-timed haircuts. It’s such a permissible way to feel pampered and like a million bucks!

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Foodie adventure time: BAO! Upon hearing heaps of great reviews coupled with a resilient craving for pork buns, I braved the queue and received this fella:

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the classic pork bun

I’m sad to admit it but it didn’t live up to my expectations. However, it was still lovely to nosh on and a great reminder that “top 10” lists aren’t sacredly true for everyone’s taste. That applies to destinations, music, food, and whatever else you can rate.


Next comes some snapshots of the gorgeous Green Park followed by pictures inside the imaginarium that is Fortnum and Mason.


Here is a glimpse into the London area of Brixton. The market there is teeming with life and spirit, as are the people who are currently fighting to prevent their market’s heart from being ripped out by the man. Really sad stuff. There’s a petition to sign if you like it when towns have souls.

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Finally, I’d like to end with some pictures of QM’s somewhat oddly-located cemetery. It’s smack in the middle of campus and it’s there because they didn’t want to disturb ages-old graves, which is a great call on their part even if it does make the campus a touch strange. But anyway, this cemetery is a wonderful way to include death in daily life, so to speak, in contrast to how we usually hide it away until we must deal with it when something dies. From a philosophical biologist’s perspective, it’s also wonderful to see a symbolic coexistence of life and death in the form of graves and flowers. It reminds me of a poem we used to read on Rosh Hashana about how life is intimately entwined with death. I don’t remember it exactly, but it depicts how a tree lives on eternally after it dies. Some of it returns to soil, ready to nurture new seeds. Its fallen trunk acts as a shelter for rabbits, and so on. The cemetery can also be construed as a way to refocus on the greater themes of life after stressing over finals for weeks.

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Happy Spring and Finals season!

After seeing an IMAX about space and nearly crying during its trailer because space is so beautiful (that’s another story), let me just remind you all that you are made of stardust and your last inhale probably contained an atom that also passed through the lungs of Cleopatra and that we are the universe attempting to understand itself.

Happy Thursday! 🙂

 

 

Discovering the US from the UK

They say a memorable aspect of living abroad is realizing how your own country compares to the rest of the world. And they’re right. Studying in London has given me an incredible vantage point from which to judge and analyze America. Confronting the assumptions I held in the US is especially interesting. For example, when comparing post-college plans with a new friend here (originally from Lebanon, moved to the UAE, now lives in London), I mentioned how I’d like to take a year off before grad school. His facial expression divulged a little incredulity, some amusement, a pinch of envy, and a whole lotta enthusiasm: He said something like “You Americans and your gap years!”

He went on to explain that here (meaning in UK and his culture), people go to uni for one area of study and then get a job afterwards. But Americans have liberal arts colleges that enable us to learn oenology in addition to our majors, we have colleges who worship their sports teams (at QM you have to pay to join a sports team- they’re not funded by the school), and we have a little something called Spring Break that fills many a Brit’s imagination with ideas of every American student stampeding to Florida to do the thing that probably 10% of us actually do.

I think that a lot of factors cause Americans to hang out in an adolescent state of mind much longer than the British. But to veer back to my point, travel educates you about new places and where you’re from. It’s all about reflection. And that’s why reading Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley”, an impeccably chosen recommendation from Mary and Hug, is unmeasurably enriching my London experience.

I’m worried about this moving into high-school-English-teacher territory so I’m keeping most of the book’s meaning inside the book and not splayed out like a massacre of literature for all to see (was that passive aggressive?)

Anyways, the book follows Steinbeck, who is on the cusp of entering a new era that seduces some into excusing themselves into old men. He rejects this call of the man-child (see what I did there?) and instead turns his eyes to the American roads on a journey through the states. He does it to reacquaint himself with his homeland after living abroad for a few years, but moreso to discover the a country whose distinctive people, ways of life, mannerisms, and landscapes create the vivid, undescribable mosaic of American culture. He embarks just as the 1960s are beginning. I’m only about halfway through, but whispers of that era don’t seem to enter into the book much.

As the title suggests, Steinbeck brings along his canine pal Charley. The way that he describes his companion is heartwrenchingly dear, especially when he dually anthropomorphizes and condescends him. Charley acts as a liaison for introducing Steinbeck to characters he meets at roadside stops. And much more.

The reason why I’m talking about this book is because it’s given me so many new angles to compare experiences across time and space. It’s a reverse culture shock teaser. I can relate and reflect on Steinbeck (1) rediscovering America, and (2) when he’s undergoing momentous change in his life, and (3) at a revolutionary time in history.

I love knowing that he’s driving by default on what are modern “back roads” but in his time were the typical routes. There’s a section where he writes of the horrors of the highway. I feel for him. There’s another poignant moment where he realizes that “when we get these thruways across the whole country, as we will and must, it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing”. It’s so sad because he was right: that time is now. This prediction was true in more than just the literal interpretation: we’re often so focused on getting from A to B that we bypass beauty. You can fill in your own heard-them-all-before examples here but before I finish, one last interpretation. Picture-taking.

We see artsy graffiti: click. Busker playing a spunky song in a tube station: record it. Where’s the joy in leaving something beautiful where it came from and having your memory of it be enough? Why must we nervously take and photograph things we know we won’t bother to look at let alone appreciate much after the fact at the cost of breaking the beauty of an unscripted moment? I’m all for documenting memories but can’t your own knowledge that you saw a pretty thing be enough? To this end, I’m stating why I’m leaving some of the most amazing pieces of London in London.

I guess this is leading into facebook/ insecurity/ fomo etc. territory. I guess I’ll digress.

But ok to finish, if you appreciate lyrical writing, vivid imagery, and having your heart busted out from really sad but beautiful depictions of change and a romanticized America, try out “Travels with Charley”. This book has made a real impact on me and my entire study abroad experience. Bam.

Steinbeck and Charley ❤


In other news, I recently went to London’s BOARD GAME CAFE! Went on a Wednesday afternoon/evening, and by 7 pm, the place was packed! Enjoyed a Hackney cider and some jenga all while feeling the hipsterness coming at me from all angles. We finished with some very Anglocentric Trivial Pursuit that left both the American and the Portuguese at a disadvantage. All in all, very fun. Worth a visit if you still can’t shake your love of board games (honestly why would you ever dream of such blasphemy?!)

from Draughts’ website

And finally, on the academic studying circuit, for all your synapsid, Cambrian Explosion, and zygapophyses-related queries, you know who to call!

The Power of Loneliness + PAUL SIMON

I’ve been in at least 2 situations where bouncers don’t bother to check my age while my companions get stopped- each of them older than me! Sorta cool.

Also, although I love being so distanced from America through boycotting a conventional smartphone texting service and its apps (snapchat, etc.) and facebook, I admit that that distance has left me feeling lonely more often than I like. Even 3 months in, it’s still sort of strange to rely on email, skype, this blog, and pretty much the post in order to contact friends and fam. However, I still think it’s worth it to stick it out until I return to the states. I’m not sure when I’ll get the chance to majorly de-tech myself (OMG that was an AWESOME PUN. ((detach ~ de-tech)) ) in the future without many formidable consequences. But then I think, but this is just like how it used to be… weird.

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pulling the plug

Loneliness isn’t the same as being alone. As an introvert, I thrive on alone time and rarely feel lonely during those periods. However, although I do have an abundance of independent Sophie time at college, much more than during high school, that amount pales in comparison to the amount at Queen Mary. It’s probably because of a multitude of factors: less in-class instruction time, fewer extracurriculars, fewer friends (it’s worked out well- there’s more to it than just a number, though), etc. And don’t get me wrong- it’s not like I didn’t have enough activities or ideas to fill it. But the fact is that, at least for me, studying abroad exposed me to possibly the most unstructured free time I’ve ever faced (maybe barring childhood summers.)

Predictably, it’s been both favorable and disappointing at times. I’ve relearned how to motivate myself to start essays 3 weeks before they’re due (an eon in college time) but have also confronted new (and accordingly, scary) levels of self-reliance. Going into this experience, I think I understood this partially, but by being in a wildly new place and situation, it’s going to be pretty important to like yourself. You’ll be your only companion, navigator, (mental) conversation partner, and much more during many, many minutes. The specificity of that “many, many” is of course dependent on the type of person you are, but nonetheless, it will probably still be atypically high.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a stable group of pals since I was little. At school, camps, and other programs I’d prioritize forming bonds with the other kids. But here, although I’ve met some great people, I’ve sought the social interaction I crave in a pretty different way. Or maybe it just feels that way. Here, I supplement my social quota by chatting with strangers also waiting for a haircut or for the concert to start, per se. Relatedly, I feel human connection when

Thousands of strangers squeezed into one arena are suspended in the same energy-charged ether emanating from not just the world-class performers on stage but each other… Hands reach to encircle their lover’s waists, eyes close to minimize distraction from the music, and an undeniable feeling of togetherness unites the pulsing crowd. Even though I’ve come to this concert by myself, there’s no chance of feeling alone.

So yeah, Paul Simon and Sting… you might think of them as peanut butter and pickles, musically. But after being physically tired out by the hit-after-hit, nearly three hour long extravaganza, I have no choice to report that this fusion was incredibly successful. Of course, Sting had a chance to do his rock’n’roll thing and Paul Simon unleashed some particularly mellow tunes on his own time, but when they did collaborate, it was harmonious (PSIMON PUN). I lost track, but I think they played something like three separate encores, each bowling over the audience more than the last- “Cecilia”, “Every Breath You Take”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”… A total of 36 whopping songs.

Favorite parts:

-When Paul Simon first came on stage, which unexpectedly left me with a face slick with tears. I think it was because I was so happy to see such an influential musician who provided me with stories and harmonies that kept me feeling grounded and comforted during intense times of growing up.

-“You Can Call Me Al” sent the entire audience into a dancing, clapping frenzy. Paul definitely proved his power as a performer.

-“Every Breath You Take”. It was magical. Sting has the voice of a young rockstar, still- the timelessness of his performance was spellbinding.

Mini-piphany

I finally understand why travel is so crucial for self-discovery! In a way that’s concise and easily put into words!

We are defined by our actions. Having just spoken with my bff and giving advice that I know I’m just as likely to forget as I am to heed (a personal weakness), I know very well that actions speak much louder than words.

Travel is all about acting and reacting. How do you cope with no wifi and a delayed train? Do you sit and grumble for a minute, ten minutes, or until the train finally arrives? Then, what do those choices tell you about yourself? That you like to thoroughly evaluate your situation and let yourself experience those negative emotions, or that you’d rather try to brush them off?

By meeting other people from intensely different backgrounds, what happens when they tell you about how they’re a humanist and believe we should all get bioinic arms immediately? Do you find yourself armed with tens of arguments about why humans are doomed and we’re really no better than animals, and that bionic arms undermine our human condition and are extremely dangerous? Once more, what do these reactions tell you about who you are?

In sum, I realize travel is really all about setting yourself up with lots of situations- strange, challenging, exciting, painful situations- and by finding ways through them, you discover personal characteristics. It’s impossible to simply peer inside yourself and spelunk for a personality trait; you must find something that will provide you with an opportunity to act, then reflect on your performance.

Travel is great for finding the weirdest of the weird as well as the stunning sights that push you to your boundaries and elicit out-of-the-ordinary responses. It truly provides opportunities to figure out how to persevere amidst never-before-experienced situations.

Go studying abroad!