Introspective Wednesday: My friends!

While I love collecting quotes from inspirational figures, books, etc., I sometimes forget that the best inspiration can also come from those close to home – friends, family – who can be equally inspirational, in my opinion!

Some of my favorites:

“Be like a duck… calm and collected on the surface, paddling like hell underneath.” My supervisor… I just love this! 

“Keep calm. Be brave.” The lovely Laura Maas, who explores this topic here.

“All will be well. I don’t know how, but it will.” My mother, who to be fair stole this from Shakespeare in Love.

“You suck. Just gotta balance things out.” One of my favorite people on the planet, aka my former boss Katie, whose method of professional development was to insult me. She loves me, though. 

The truth was, in the bottom of my heart, I wanted to do it [play Katniss]. I wanted to play this character. I was scared of the aftermath, but you can’t say no to things because you are scared. You just have to go for it.” –Okay, so Jennifer Lawrence isn’t exactly my friend, but Momma was the one who sent this quote to me! 

“Bravery is being the only one who knows you’re afraid.” My mother again; she actually saw this one in her Page-A-Day Cat Calendar the day before I left for London, and scanned it over to me as it was so applicable! 


Taking the First Step

As you probably know, I’ve always been the gal with the plan and the carefully constructed timeline. Clearly college follows high school, so senior year is application year. After college? Grad school, naturally! Another application year. After grad school? Hello, job!


We all know what happened next, since I’m currently living it. And when I took the job, I had a tentative thought that grew into an avalanche: since I’ll be unemployed in winter – high season for the next region on my list, Southeast Asia – what a perfect time to travel!

Yes, I decided. This is happening. I bought the books, I started the plans, I mapped out the route. I told my parents, my close friends, and then the ENTIRE WORLD. This is guaranteed to happen.

Except… for that pesky first step. You know. Buying the plane ticket. 

For some reason, this has been the hardest thing for me to accomplish, because it makes it real. After I’ve dropped all that dough on a plane ticket, no backing out (or more accurately, chickening out).

And so I kept putting it off. My reluctance to buy that darn ticket was at first justifiable (at least to me): Clearly, I couldn’t buy it BEFORE I started my job, in case I had some random thing to do after the program ends December 9. Then once I started my job, I wanted to dive into it and just figure out my current transition before working on the next step.

But I’ve just celebrated my one-month anniversary (AWW), and my excuses are running pretty thin. In the past few days, I realized that I WANTED to start looking at my next steps. I spend every second of my day thinking of other people, keeping intricate details and to-do lists in mind for work, and I want to think about ME! Preferably me relaxing on a beach in Thailand.

So I took the first mini step: I decided that I would buy the tickets on Tuesday, September 18. (Why that date? No idea. I think it’s because I heard once that plane tickets are cheapest on Tuesdays and decided It Must Be True). Then, I told my parents that this was happening. The thing that pushed me over the line and got my feet (and my credit card) moving? An email from my dad that started, “As you make your reservations tomorrow…” Not if. This was going to happen.

And happen it did. Friends? It’s official. Flying into Bangkok on January 23. Flying out on April 16.

The in-between stuff? All in good time.

ALSO: I’ve been shockingly lax with my cat photos, so here’s one of bathtime. RRRR

And Then I Joined a London Orchestra

I have no memory of how it started.

Somehow, in 5th grade I started to play the violin.

I know. You’re jealous of my awesome dress.

Thus started what is (so far, at least) a lifelong love affair. I played all throughout middle school and high school, and joined the University Symphony Orchestra my freshman year at GW, completely accidentally. I hadn’t even been planning to bring my violin to college, but my mother persuaded me to do so, and in that first week when I was extremely homesick I decided that joining an orchestra would be a good distraction from my misery.

Unfortunately, due to increasing academic and professional responsibilities, I wasn’t able to continue with the GWUSO. I continued to practice on my own, but a little half-heartedly; it’s frankly just more fun for me to play in a group.

Then I get to do things like this! 

And so I decided once I became a grown-up I would join a community orchestra, wherever I was living, with fellow amateur musicians with day jobs who just like playing. I even researched orchestras in Boston, assuming that was where I would end up.

But you know how the story goes… I moved to London instead. And then decided to travel for a bit afterwards. And so I figured I would have to shelve my community orchestra plans for a year.

Life has a funny way of changing your plans, doesn’t it? Just two days after arrival in London, I was enjoying the sun with some of our UK co-workers when one asked the other how “the orchestra preparation” was going. My ears perked up and I immediately butted in: “Wait, are you in an orchestra?!”

Imagine my delight when I discovered that YES, my new co-worker is the CONDUCTOR of a community orchestra that recruits students, professionals, and neighbors to join! Joining was as easy as me saying, “So can I join? And where can I rent a violin?” Seriously, this dude didn’t even want to know how long I have been playing, my skill level, anything. The fact that I can pull the bow across the strings in a semi-straight fashion is good enough.

Unfortunately my Ole Faithful violin is still Stateside. Don’t tell him I’ve hired out another violin to fill the void.

It may sound cheesy, but I’ve learned since then to always be open to new opportunities. In the middle of the craziness that is moving to a new city, starting a new job, and building a support system, having the opportunity to slip back into something that is so me is invaluable. The first time I held my rented violin (the hiring of which was itself a fiasco) I was just so happy, playing those scales. With a violin in hand, Kristen in London is the same as Kristen in Chesapeake.

The concert is tonight. I’m excited! (Also, I am REALLY out of violin-playing shape. Ouch!)

Birthdays Spent Abroad

To understand this story, you have to realize how much I freaking love birthdays. Birthday cake is literally my favorite food on the planet (regular cake is #2). I say it’s because I just love the taste of melted wax, but really I think I love the happiness that surrounds birthday cake. One of my best friends, many years ago, got TWO birthday cakes for her own birthday party – one for me and one for the other guests – just because I tended to eat more than my fair share.

So it was through some strange twist of fate that I have spent three of my past four birthdays abroad. In all of these situations, I was with people who mostly barely knew me. So for all of these years, I was steeling myself for a less-than-hooplaish hoopla.

Boy, was I wrong. 

Birthday Number One: The big one. The big 2-1. 

My first legal drink… I want to say Long Island? Go big or go home.

You know, turning 21 in London isn’t as exciting as it seems. You can already drink legally. I was just starting out a study abroad program, so I didn’t have a ton of friends (except for the aforementioned best friend who fortuitously was in London as well).

Despite my assuming it wouldn’t be too big of a shindig, it actually turned out… pretty awesome. And I quote from my terrible study abroad blog three and a half years ago:

yesterday was my FABULOUS 21st birthday. A bit of a damper since it was in London and 21 doesn’t mean toooo much… but that doesn’t mean I didn’t FORCE everyone to make a big deal out of it! (including the bartenders and the cute old Brits sitting at the counter). Some incredible folks graciously took me out and bought me a series of drinks to help me celebrate, which was especially nice because most of them I only met a few days ago. But I did have a RIPROARING time, and I didn’t make a fool out of myself. Basically the perfect 21st birthday. And I shall end the public stories there…

And I shall AGAIN end the public stories there. Although to be honest, it wasn’t really too crazy of a night. Mostly it was nice to kick off my stay in London with such a grand evening.

Birthday Number Two: 23! 

First picture of me taken as a 23 year old. Note the sophisticated wardrobe choice.

After spending my 22nd birthday back in the States, enjoying drinks with Titanic-shaped ice cubes (I have no memory as to why) and karaoke, I randomly ended up in the most random of places for my 22nd: on a short-term abroad program to Turkey!

I ensured everyone would be ready to properly celebrate by reminding them over… and over… and over about its date. (They think I’m endearing, don’t worry). The day of my birthday, I was really bummed – we had had kind of an “eh” day, and it was about to be capped off by an overnight train ride from Konya back to Istanbul, so we couldn’t even do a nice dinner or go out anywhere.

As we started to move from the train station to the train, the faculty director (my good pal Kevin, not to be confused with my father, although I do call Faculty Director Kevin Papa Kev, to make it extra confusing) started to fumble with his papers and asked me to help. He and I fell behind the pack as we gathered up his belonging, waited a prolonged amount of time for him to track down his ticket, and finally boarded the train.

As we got on, I was struck by how …. weird it was. I knew my friends had gotten on before me, but couldn’t see or hear them anywhere. Papa Kev and I started to trudge down to our compartments, when suddenly the compartment door next to me slid open and I heard the best thing ever: “HAPPY BIRTHDAAAAY!!!” and a group of 12 people who love me start to sing LOUDLY and to the anger of the Turks next to us. They had even found a little cake and candles!

We spent the night as all surprise birthday parties should be spent – cramming all 13 of us in a train compartment, eating cake, and drinking Turkish beer.

Birthday Number 3: 24! 

Papa Kev decided one birthday spent with me wasn’t enough, because he asked me to be the TA for his program in Turkey the NEXT year. And so, 24 was spent in just about the same spot as 23, only much differently. Since I was a (cough cough) grown up, I couldn’t expect my students to be super into my birthday celebrations. Plus the day of my birthday they were leaving to spend a few nights in a homestay, leaving PK and I to a few days of quiet in hotel rooms.

We went out to a nice dinner, and I figured that was it. But really… why do I doubt people? I return to my room and spot the most beautiful thing: a birthday cake with my name on it! (Literally… including last name, just so the other Kristens in the room didn’t get confused.)

And yes, the above cake/wine shot does seem very romantic. PK is fairly convinced the concierge (who helped him arrange it) thinks that Kevin and I are involved, which is awkward for everyone, not least of all Kevin’s wife. But no matter.

And for my next birthday? The big 2-5, the Quarter of a Century? I’ll be where I belong – Virginia. I’m deliberately planning not to leave for Southeast Asia until after, so I can spend time with family and friends.

But who knows what will happen? 🙂


I’d like to take a second of your time to talk about a very serious (and recognized) medical condition: FOMO.

Yes, FOMO.

Short for “Fear of Missing Out,” FOMO is the cause of many people delaying departures or changing plans – just to make sure that they don’t miss out on something fun/life-changing/mildly entertaining that could possibly happen in their absence.

I was first introduced to FOMO via the various and sundry members of Mount Vernon Campus Life at GW, and truly saw it in effect my last year there. Probably every single day, I would be relaxing in one co-worker’s office just shootin’ the breeze, when another co-worker would literally gallop back in to the office after a trip to the bathroom, shout “FOMOOOO!!!” and sit down breathless in a chair, eager to be caught up on whatever BS the other two had been discussing.

When I was offered my current position abroad, I knew that FOMO would be a major problem. Literally, it was one of my “cons.” Just “FOMO.”

One of the other major cons? That I would miss the wedding of my dear friend Katie.

FOMO to the max.

The whole week before her wedding, I vacillated between really excited for her and absolutely miserable that I would miss going to her wedding (AND! my first Jewish wedding! Did I mention Katie’s wedding is all about me?). It kicked into overdrive the day of; as all of our mutual friends started to post pictures of the preparations and then of the ceremony/reception, I almost flew back to DC just for the hell of it. I enjoy wedding dance floors and the Hora as much as the next guy!

Alas and alack, apparently things happen without me. I’m living vicariously through the pictures and will shortly demand a play-by-play recap from the parties involved.

And even though I still have FOMO, I think I had a subconscious connection to the wedding that entire day. I was in the grocery store, absentmindedly staring at a random shelf and daydreaming when I snapped to attention and realized what shelf I was focused on: the kosher/menorah candle shelf. Yes, that exists. So even though I missed out, a part of me was still participating.

Some of the ladies who made FOMO such a major part of my life (and, you know, the bride. The main star of the day since apparently it’s not all about me).

The Value of GETTING OUT!

After working every single day for about a month straight, I knew I needed to take some time and do something for me, preferably in a “safe zone” where I didn’t have to worry about running into any of those pesky students. And so, I decided to tick something off of my “London Bucket List” – visiting Kew Gardens!

I went there having done so little research, it was almost comical. I knew it was a really pretty Royal Botanical Park area, but thaaaat was about it. I picked a beautiful September day, figured out the directions, and prepared to let myself be wowed .

And was I wowed…! I can honestly say this is probably one of my favorite things I have ever seen in London. As soon as I got there, I almost immediately plopped on the grass next to a lake, some gorgeous flowerbeds, and a P&P style house, just soaking up the rays:

Eventually, and reluctantly, I thought, ‘Huh. I should probably actually look at the map and figure out where there is to do here.’
GULP. Yeaaaah…. this is gonna take a while. Apparently there are 300 acres of Kew Garden goodness, which means almost nothing to me but from the red square in the middle right side to the red square on the lower left corner is about a mile – so pretty much miles and miles of park! Time to get a move on.
I started a leisurely stroll around the Garden, taking in some expected sites, like a Tropical Greenhouse, waterfalls, and a Sound of Music-esque covered walkway…
And some unexpected sites, like a delightful aquarium with the funniest looking fish I’ve ever seen – this guy is about six inches tall and honestly the width of a piece of paper!
I also found the benefit of not doing research was that I could be pleasantly surprised; I spent five minutes walking around outside of a mystery greenhouse, taking pictures of the foliage around, and had my socks knocked off when I walked in and found a giant lily pond!
Just about when I was starting to get a little tired, I was able to tuck in to that quintessential British tradition: a cream tea.
This also gave me the opportunity to sort out what I still needed to do, as I had been here an hour and covered a lot of ground… or so I thought.
Turns out I had JUST done that teeny corner of the map and still had approximately 3/4 of the park to cover. Oh my giddy god.
Of course, by that time the mid-afternoon sun and park frolicking was starting to hit me: just in time for a reading break! And just in time to find one of the most secluded and peaceful spots I have ever encountered:
Well, secluded except for my little buddy who came up to join me. Anyone have any idea what kind of bird that is? My only hope was that it wouldn’t be a dangerous one!
I wasn’t the only one with an interesting bird visitor by my next reading spot:
After about two hours of wandering around, I reluctantly realized I should probably head to the other half of the park and take that in before closing time. Little did I know just how wonderfully… quiet such a popular attraction could be! There was literally no one on this lane that I wandered down – it got to the point where I actually got a little nervous I had somehow wandered out of the park/would be lost there forever!
I finally got to round out my visit with my first time (to my knowledge) seeing an American Redwood Tree (as they are called here)!
And I concluded by taking a birds-eye view at the top of the trees:
Happy Kristen.
So, even though the entrance was fairly astronomical (£16), would I recommend it? Yes, yes, yes! Particularly as so many other things in London are free. This was just such a wonderful experience, especially on a beautifully warm September day. I would even suggest planning the whole day there, taking a picnic lunch and a book, and spreading out your exploration with plenty of relaxation and food time.

The Need for Routine and the Breaking Point

It’s a well-documented fact that I have a bit of a problem with transitions. So I entered into my new position, in a new country, with a bit of trepidation. I hoped that I would have matured enough (HA!) to be able to transition with grace, but I was prepared for the inevitable to occur.

And occur it did… 

It started in the airport in NORFOLK, as lame as that is. I wanted to play a joke on my mother by doing  the whole Superbad thing where Evan speed-walks away from Becca and says “Byeee” awkwardly. So when we get to Security I said, “Okay well byeee” and started to walk away to hear her saying, “WAIT I DON’T GET A HUG?!” I laughed and laughed and then instantly started to cry because it was just too real! Poor Margaret. There I am through my tears trying to say, “I’M REALLY OKAY. DON’T LET THE TEARS BOTHER YOU.”

After I finally got to London (6 hours later than I thought), I had to jump so instantly in to my job that I didn’t even have time to reflect on my new situation. And then the students arrived and naturally I had to appear completely pulled together and grown-up. Although I did have a student assume I was an undergraduate as well. Nope, buddy. I have a MASTER’S degree, okay?! Not to brag or anything.

It wasn’t until last week that everything hit the fan, in a spectacular fashion. In retrospect, I was tired. Every single day since arrival had been filled with work, whether in the office, from home, or for a program with the students. The night before, I had been half an hour late to meet a friend for dinner because of a work thing. Then that day I had a particularly stressful day at work, building myself up to the breaking point. The straw that broke the camel’s back came a little bit later, when I thought the stars would not align to allow me to do something I had planned to do on my personal time.

And then… the breaking point.

I graciously took this opportunity to just melt down over every aspect of my life. I feel like I almost had a very methodical approach to my meltdown – you know what I mean? I recognized rationally that things would work out, that I had XYZ to help me, that even if something didn’t go precisely as I planned, it would still be fine. But I deliberately decided to ignore the rational part of my brain and just embrace the irrationality.

The worst part came when I watched the finale of Pretty Little Liars and sobbed over the beautiful love between two of the characters. I know. I know. Worst of all, the one character ended up betraying the other at the end of the episode! (Spoilers).

I indulged in my meltdown until the end of the night, which I capped off with a planned Skype date with a newish friend, who kindly allowed me to just rant away despite not really knowing me that well. Bless her.

And the next morning? I literally leapt out of bed, excited for the day. It may have been rainy and cold, but it was new.

And since then, the things that had worried me have worked out nicely. Everything else will be sorted eventually. And for now, I have a molten lava cake from the grocery store waiting for me. All will be well.

My dad sent me this photo a while ago
and entitled it “Cats working.”
I would LOVE that job, please!

Snapshots: London Under Blue Skies

Yes, I know: it rains a lot in London.

But when it’s nice outside, you’ve got it made, because London is absolutely gorgeous!

At the beginning of my stay in August, it was positively steaming outside, with temperatures in the 80s and very few cloudy days. According to the forecast, it’s meant to soon dip into the 60s and start its infamous spitting of rain, but in the meantime I’m just enjoying the Vitamin D.

The iconic shot of London, made a little more exciting with the Olympic Rings! 

Daytrip out to Greenwich. No fewer than three people told me, “Hey, Kristen. There’s a Nandos over there.” (just out of the shot). Thanks, guys! To be fair, EVERY SINGLE TIME I speak with a student about a particular site in London I inevitably follow it up with “…and there’s a great Nandos close by.” No shame.

Lovely morning in Kensington Gardens 

The street where my students are staying – too posh to believe, eh?

Celebrating London 2012

Londonians (Londoners?) like to brag that 2012 is their best year yet. But really… it’s kind of true. Their Royal Family is as popular as ever, with Good Queen Bess punching in another year on the clock. They successfully hosted the Olympics and Paraolympics. One Direction is set to release another album soon. Really, it’s a good year to be alive in London.

Luckily for ME, I got to experience some of the London Thrill with thousands of my closest friends in the past few weeks at the Notting Hill Carnival and the Piccadilly Circus Circus (which is probably my favorite name ever).

The Notting Hill Carnival is infamous for its HUGE crowds, and the occasional stabbing, in the world’s BIGGEST Carnaval after Rio. What started as a celebration of the neighborhood’s Afro-Caribbean community has become giNORmous.

I enjoyed it with a few friends, and I am proud to say that there was only one point where I thought, “Yup. This is where I die. This spot.” But I figured a gal who can make it through a New Year’s Eve in  Times Square can get through anything.

I was too distracted by my impeding death, and more importantly by eating delicious food with my friends, to take many pictures. But here’s just a taste of the huge crowds:

And the coolest guy on the planet, who made Jello Shots in portable plastic pouches and threw them out the window of his flat to the revelers on the street!

Right before I started to fear for my life – one of the bits of the giant parade that I caught.

The weekend following, I thanked my lucky stars that I subscribe to the Londonist blog because I found out about the Piccadilly Circus Circus! Not a typo – they closed down the streets in the neighborhood to host various acts of circus fun.

When I first got there, I thought it was going to be another failed attempt like my Peter Pan tour; nothing seemed to be happening! Luckily I just got there during the short break, because after a few minutes I was able to slowly wander down the street and enjoy scenes of acrobatic amazement.

First up: super hunky dude.

 Next, one of the coolest chicks I have ever seen. Just chilling in her street clothes (and super awesome shoes. I gotta ask girlfriend where she got them.), climbing up a pole and swinging off it like it’s no big thang.

I shot a video so you could see how cool she is:

This next girl was about five years old, in my approximation. My question is, how does one get into doing this? Do you start with gymnastics and decide you want something more? DO you run away with the circus?

Next group: Yes, they may be just doing a plain ol’ cheerleader’s pyramid, but according to my intense research they are basically a modern-day Moroccan Von Trapp family, so you gotta give them props for that.

One final thing that is making London proud this 2012 – Larry, the 10 Downing Street resident cat (the Prime Minister’s own mouser) has FINALLY caught a mouse! It’s been in all the papers here, as I gather there has been a lot of smack talk that this cat was a little soft prior to his kill. Downing Street issued a statement and everything. My absolute favorite article had this picture of Larry with the caption reading something like, “Larry striding down the stairs after his first confirmed kill.” I LOVE IT. Thank you, London.

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