Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Since I'm too busy to actually blog right now...

Did I mention we were Orange Jews for Halloween?

YEAH! (I'll come back, blogworld, I promise. Just give me a week.)

Monday, December 5, 2011

La vie Sénémadisonienne!

That was quite a word to put together. I wanted to write a little bit about something that I've experienced, but not fully recognized for what it was yet. The Senegalese culture in Madison is awesome! When I came back from Senegal, I spent a little bit of time embracing America, macaroni and cheese, pizza, streaming videos on the internet, clinging to everything that wasn't my slightly traumatizing experience...and then I spent a lot of time seeking out Senegalese culture. I missed it, which surprised me after everything I went through. It was impossible to find in Chicago, which also surprised me. A city with such a diverse population, I couldn't believe how void of Senegalese food and experiences my hometown was. I gave up eventually, and assumed that moving here, I would meet a lot of hippies (yay!) and a lot of cheese lovers. Well, I found both, but I was surprised again! I found a HUGE pocket of Senegal in my own backyard!

It started out of the blue. I was walking to meet up with my tutor one of my first weeks in town and I got lost. Standing looking confused at a stoplight in the rain, a guy came up to me and told me I looked lost. Well, I was, and I explained to him where I was trying to go. Noticing he had an accent, I blatantly and rudely pointed it out by asking him where he was from. "Senegal" he said "You probably don't know it, it's in Africa". BOY was he in for a treat. I met up with my tutor blabbering on about Senegal (and I'm sure he was excited to realize he had a whole semester of this ahead of him....). The guy I met, Beniba, told me that Madison actually has a pretty big Senegalese population. I still haven't quite figured out why, maybe it's the laid back atmosphere or the fact that we're close to French-speaking Canada, but it's definitely true. So that was weird experience number one.

I'm kind of the "Senegirl" in my program. Senegalese things happen and I'm supposed to know about them, supposed to be excited because SENEGAL. That's not necessarily always the case, but I certainly have been happy to get back into this culture without sleeping under a mosquito net. My program director sponsored a visit to the local high school by a rapper, Webster, who dubs himself "sene-queb", meaning he's of both Senegalese and Quebecois origin. I went to the concert, but had to miss the meals with Webster due to homework. Needless to say, when he shouted in Wolof to the high school French department, I was the only person in the audience who laughed and clapped her hands. Yeah...there goes that girl again....Webster was cool, I liked his rapping, and he seemed like a pretty chill guy, though like I said I didn't get to talk to him one-on-one.

Tonight....tonight I had bissap juice and listened to djembes being played and drank attaya with Senegalese guys. There was a fundraiser sponsored by Slow Food Madison partnered to benefit the Kabillo Community Center in Dakar. While I have to say, they didn't say much about the organizations, I ate some delicious food for $5, and ended up sitting at a table with some really awesome people, Senegalese and American, all francophones. This also ended up being an impromptu "networking event". Throughout the program we have to go to 10 of such events, basically any experience where we can meet people in the professional world, be it a conference, a party, or going out to coffee with somebody. I'm a big fan of the informal type. I had a lot of fun, and now my belly is full of la cuisine sénégalaise, and I've been invited to hang out and have attaya with my new Senegalese friends! A very successful night. The Madison-Senegal link has been an unexpected benefit to living here, and I hope to stay involved in the community for a long time!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain?

That should be snow! Not icky rain!

Well folks, December is finally upon us and it appears that these so-called "Wisconsin winters" started off menacingly and have pittered off into a gross, light drizzle all the time. Don't you worry, faithful Wisconsinite readers, I know it only gets worse from here, but this is just inconvenient. (Also yes, Mom. I did turn on my heat.) I look back fondly on my "first snows" in Chicago. One of my favorite memories from undergrad is walking outside from a party one night with some friends and seeing a light dusting of pretty snow on the sidewalk. Yeah, that was NOT the first snow I experienced here. I will always remember looking outside at my first snow of my Northerner life and thinking "huh. I have no clue what to wear for this." Turns out, the proper response was "an umbrella". I got to class looking as though I had just stepped out of the shower. Strangely enough, everyone else in the class (even the girl from Hawaii) got the "snow=rain" memo, making me quite the sight! But it wouldn't be me if I didn't make these types of scenes, now would it?

As you can probably surmise from my lack of blogging over the past...months...I've started my "grand projet" and my "final project" for two different classes. They're both really interesting to me, and I'm trying to forget that these subjects= 60+ pages of work for the end of the semester and enjoy my research! I'm particularly interested in my grand projet, where I'm researching the situation of people with special needs in developing countries. After meeting with the internship adviser in early October (...wow it has been a long time since I blogged, hasn't it?) we've decided that's probably somewhere along the lines of what I'll be doing in my internship. She's currently researching French organizations which aid people with special needs. Seeing as I eventually think I'll work for a non-profit, I'll be glad for the experience. Plus, France, duh. It has all been very interesting.

Tacky? Maybe. 
Thanksgiving was nice. Sean was in for the whole week, so he catered to my procrastinator tendencies and we decorated the apartment for Hanukkah while I wrote my 15-pages of paper... yes, you can do both! I
did miss my post-Thanksgiving dinner walk on the beach with my family, and Grandma Ina's after-dinner
liqueur, but it was nice to be around Sean's family and feel so welcome in my new home! Plus, the food was good, and that's all that really counts, right? ;-) Highlights of Thanksgiving break (which by the way, was Thursday and Friday for me) also include dragging Sean and his brother to go see the new Twilight movie, and Sean finally starting to get better!

This week I've mostly just been writing my paper and spending an exorbitant amount of time in grammar class. (Double seance! Yeah...that's just what we want at the end of the semester..and extra hour of grammar class...) Also I've spent a lot of time glaring at the wall which conjoins my apartment to the one next door. More on The Loud Wisconsin Talker at a later date...I'm definitely ready for the semester to be done, but also clinging to it in the hopes that I can have more time to write my projects! Plus, I do want to get back to Chicago sometime over break, I miss my family and the city. Wow, if I could write this fast when I worked on my papers I would be done in no time. Yeah....gonna happen...Anyway, I should get back to the grind. Woohoo, finishing up my last fall semester of class ever! (I mean that, no more school after I get my masters degree. NO MORE)


Sunday, October 23, 2011

My apologies, I know you've been waiting with bated breath...

Turns out grad school is busy. (No surprises there) We've been writing papers, researching (so so much....two 30-pagers due at the end of the semester), creating surveys, I had a presentation in front of my grammar class, and of course the reading never stops. It's a busy life, but I enjoy what I'm accomplishing and I really already feel slightly more prepared for the real world than I did stepping into this program. The program newsletter is up and running for Fall 2011, if you care to check it out. I'm only mentioned a couple of times (and only once directly), and a lot of it is in French, but there are some interesting English blurbs as well.

 UW Madison football lost their first home game last night. I know this because I live two blocks from the stadium and heard plenty of inappropriate statements being hurled at rival fans. Sore losers I guess. I can understand a little how they feel, as somebody who is fairly dedicated to a certain sports team (RIP Ozzie Sox), but I think there's a difference between college football fans and (real) baseball fans. All I know is that living near Camp Randall was definitely nice for a little while, its close proximity to campus makes things easy for me and I enjoy my walks around the neighborhood, but this will probably be my only (almost a full) year in this apartment. Shoneypants is coming into town next weekend and we're going to look at a couple of places less in the campus area. It's crazy, but a lot of the nicer buildings are already leasing for Fall 2012! I like the idea of this move for many reasons, but one of my favorite reasons is that I will ideally not be around for the actually moving of the stuff! I'll leave for my internship with cat and belongings in one place, and return to have it moved somewhere else. Yaaaaaaaay not doing things.(Less yay to my control-freak nature that will have me moving everything around the apartment the minute I move in.)

This week has been relatively slow, the week before I battled the massive plague given to me by my dear father. (Don't worry, it was actually a good week to have it..not a ton of work..sort of.) I have never seen so many tissues stacked up in one place before, and my apartment is still recovering from the mess of not cleaning for several days. (Also don't worry here, it's mostly clean now) I had some lovely help from my Madison Gang in getting me what I needed, and managed to only miss one class for the whole week, so that was good. Unfortunately, this week both my tutor and my grammar teacher needed to take a day off due to some horrible cold that they both denied having picked up from me. I'm really liking school. It's busy, but it's so much what I want to learn. I've also recently opened my world to the breadth of non-profit organizations based in Madison, and I'm not so scared about finding a job when I graduate anymore. I'm applying for a couple of local internships for next semester, just so I can really have more experience in the field, and then I hopefully will be working somewhere awesome this summer! I have an organization in mind, but I don't want to spill the beans just yet as it's relatively up in the air. I met with the program director on Friday and he really thinks it would be a great place for me to intern, and it's seems hopeful that they would take on an international intern, but in this process they keep reminding us to "be flexible" about things, because there are all sorts of little details that need to get worked out. I'm fine with that, I would really like this internship, but I know that I'll find something else and it least they FINALLY understand what I'm going for. I also picked my classes for next semester, and I'll register November 14th! (Which happens to be a very special day for a very special person)

That's all really..my paper topics are interesting to me, but they're also proving slightly difficult to research. I'm having trouble with something that I feel is sort of a "first year grad student problem", where I come up with original ideas, but then don't know how to prove them without looking at research that's already out there. Since we don't qualify for assistanships and such, there is research I would like to conduct in the field, but don't obviously have the means to do so. For instance, in my concentration area course I'm writing about how tourism and globalization promote language extinction, and my teacher thinks it would be a good idea for me to do a case study on a particular language, but I really have NO idea how I'm supposed to follow a single endangered language without trekking through a forest in South America to interview people in a language I don't even understand, and on the other hand I can't see myself just collecting my own case study by reading other studies conducted by other people. It's hard to explain, but I think I feel more pressure with this paper because we're submitting them to journals at the end of the semester, so I really would like for it to be published. 

My other paper is on humanitarian aid to people who are handicapped in West Africa and in particular whether or not developed countries (specifically their former colonizers) are responsible for providing this aid. It's super interesting, but there isn't a ton of information out there either. These projects are definitely stretching my brain!

I guess that should be it, because this is getting long and people probably won't want to read much more. I was going to put up pictures, but my phone appears to have vanished somewhere under the five blankets I have on my bed, so those may not come until later today.

Stay warm everyone!

Monday, October 10, 2011

How to get the most use out of a tutoring session

One of the parts of my graduate program which made me both terrified and excited at the same time was the tutoring component. I speak French relatively well, and in an average college-level classroom I am far above the rest in terms of my abilities. When I'm talking on the phone or sitting next to a native (Parisian) French-speaker I'm not so great. This wasn't always the case, when I spent my summers around Frenchies I would sometimes get asked what part of France I was from. (The accent was never perfect, so I was always assumed to be from some region with a slightly different accent..but not much.) I often was asked if my parents were French, or if I lived in France as a child. Definitely not. Add to this the fact that I before the program started I hadn't actively been speaking French for months, and you've got an interesting combination of a frustrated person who used to  be able to express herself. This being the case, I was not too keen on the idea of throwing myself into the mix where I would be wrong a lot (heck, when am I ever ok with being wrong?) and where I would have to ask for help because I wasn't the best one in the room.

 I was also scared of embarrassing myself as, I really don't have a lot of experience with French people. There were usually three or four people from France at camp, and then a couple of people from French-speaking Africa. Somehow I always ended up with the French-speaking Americans and Africans. I think I was still afraid of being wrong, of saying the wrong thing, of having to actually work to express myself. I was lazy and I used the vocabulary to express myself with people who understood me, and who could figure out what I was saying if I said something that was very much an anglicism. The West Africans spoke slower, it's a dialect that I can understand very well and I used it to my advantage to form close relationships with those people. The French....terrified me. They were The Fast Speakers, the skinny beautiful people who I felt like I could never relate to. Why would they want to be friends with this loud, large, American girl? So I avoided interaction at all costs. There were a few who slipped through my boundaries and I got to know them fairly well, but we never really stayed in touch after camp. With study abroad, I fully avoided France saying "I've already been there", when it was really a trip to Paris for 3 days with a group of other Americans...not really the France experience.

The point is, speaking to French people scared me. Then I figured it out. Here's what I've learned:

Don't be too quiet to learn
So for the first couple of weeks of tutoring I was quiet. I didn't ask questions, I didn't tell my tutor what I wanted to learn, I gave minimal answers to things that he asked me. "Je ne sais pas" and a shrug of the shoulders was relatively common. I didn't want to sound stupid, so I didn't say anything at all. This made our sessions feel painfully long and I'm sure neither of us were that excited about the weekly meetups.

Find a common interest
We didn't have anything to talk about except me, because he's getting paid to dig, to ask me questions, to figure out what will get me interested in writing and speaking with him. I feel SO awkward having an entire conversation revolving around me. Especially when I'm supposed to be the one doing all the talking. One day, about 2 weeks into tutoring he asked me, "What was your concentration area in undergrad? What did you specifically study about political science?" and I shrugged and said international relations, because that was my minor, but then it hit me. "I did take five courses in constitutional law!" I blurted out. Law, the perfect compromise between a business student and a student in international development. We started talking specifically about the differences between French and American law, hypothetical ethical questions, and discussed articles we found to compare the two. I learned so much vocabulary this way, and it's stuff I'll probably use because it relates to something I like to talk about. This was really the turning point in our relationship, somehow this pushed away my shyness and we started to understand each other a little more, in  the weird language that is constitutional law.

See things from the other side
The biggest thing blocking me from a great tutoring session was my innate fear in being wrong. My dad always makes fun of me for this, because it's so true. I'm afraid to make the wrong decision, whether it be what school I want to go to, or if I want chicken or tofu in my pasta. I was terrified of making a mistake and sounding stupid. Then one day my tutor sent me and e-mail with the subject "Help!!!!". He was trying to write something to a professor and needed help expressing his ideas. Since French-English translation is a no -brainer for me, I quickly threw something together and sent it back to him. Since then I've felt less scared about being wrong, because he showed me that he's on the other side of things sometimes too. I also realized that for me explaining things to him about English helps me understand concepts in French. He seemed more human after that, instead of just The French Tutor, he had a name and a life outside of our tutoring. This facilitated conversation so much easier. We started talking about weird cultural things in America and in France. He thought it was a hilarious that a guy could each chips and a sandwich in class at 11 AM, while I explained the difficulties with understand what our grammar teacher wanted from us.

Think about your tutoring before the session actually starts
As previously mentioned, I'm a bad procrastinator. I can't be bothered to start something until 12 hours before it's due. It's horrible, but that's the way I am and I'm trying to break the habit. Once I started actually thinking about tutoring before it happened, I came up with things I actually needed help with. It really made tutoring feel less like a waste of time, because he explained grammatical concepts to me that I wasn't understanding from class, and we were able to talk about stuff I was confused about in my other classes. Even if it wasn't necessarily language-related, discussing it with him in French helped my mind switch into "French mode", and I learned new vocabulary related to the field I'm studying. If you really put some time into deciding how to best learn, it can create an exponentially better experience for you and your tutor.

Now I find this component of the program so much more helpful! I feel as though I'm actually learning something, and I've also made a new friend in Madison. While I still want to go to France so that I can fully grasp the culture that I've missed out on, this has been a nice little "intro-course" to making friends a la francaise. I want to live the French experience for a few months, and now I've got at least a couple of friends that I can meet up with when I'm there!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The real work has begun!

So much has happened since I last wrote an entry. This is, in fact, why it has been so long since I last wrote an entry. Such things include, having one week to prepare a 30-minute group presentation, getting slightly sick, taking Leopold to the vet, networking events, homework, setting off the smoke alarm in my apartment for legit smoke in my kitchen, and lots of time out with people. The first thing I'd like to say is that things are getting awfully pretty around these parts. The weather has slightly warmed up, and every day as I walk to class I find myself with my dinky phone camera, snapping pictures of pretty trees and such. Note to self: buy a real camera before going abroad. It's going to be cold again soon, I'm sure, but for this week I am very happy with the weather. I've been spending a lot of time studying on campus, and...as embarrassing as it is to admit, as a graduate student I finally understand how awesome the library really is.

When I was in undergrad, I set foot in the library a total of about...5 times. Yep, less than once a semester. This wasn't even to check out books! Usually it was because somebody wanted to meet there, or our teacher told us that we had to have at least 4 sources from books. So...I would take my laptop, skim a couple of books, find a citation, and be done with it. Don't get me wrong, I'm a total bookworm. I have to stop myself from buying books for my Kindle for PC program because it's something that would distract me from my studies. My whole family is this way and I love that about us. The library just wasn't the place for me. Too many people waiting to shush each other...Then I found the business library. It all happened by chance, I had to meet with my tutor on Monday morning, and then we both happened to have class in the business building, so I walked over there with him. It didn't make too much sense for me to go home and come back between my classes, and I had some reading to get done. So...he showed me the library. I sat there and because there was no cat to play with, no other books to read, no kitchen in which to cook things...I got work done.

You have to understand, I am the Queen of Procrastination. Sure, I'll plan what I'm going to do as soon as I get an assignment, but actually doing it? The night before, if not the morning of, is usually my style. Turns out forcing myself to study is the way to get things done! Who would have guessed? So...that's reason number two that I haven't blogged lately. I've been too busy actually getting things done.

After a beautiful day of sun, I walked outside to see sailboats on a stormy lake
The presentation was really the biggest thing though. We had one week to put together a professional presentation about Doctors Without Borders that we were going to present to real live native French speakers. Our teacher called in some of his connections, so strangers that we hadn't met before, to come in and hear what we had to say. I'm really glad we did this project, as stressful as it was at times, it's so different presenting for people who are interested in your presentation than presenting to people who are sitting nervously waiting for their own presentations to begin. Plus, a week is a pretty decent chunk of time to pull together a presentation in most fields. I know my dad does proposals in one or two nights. Overall, it went really well. One of the audience members typed up comments on our individual sections that we presented, and he said that I had a really great style of speaking. It's definitely nice to know that all of those years on the speech team translated over to French. I was worried that my style would get lost in my struggle to say everything correctly. This makes me feel way more ready for my individual 15-minute presentation in a few weeks! Plus, I enjoyed working together with my classmates to compile everything, I really feel like I got to know some of them way better than I had before, and now I can say I definitely have pretty good buddies in the program.

Other things that I enjoyed in the past week or so: the Farmer's Market on Saturday! It was so nice to take some time to walk around downtown, I haven't done much of that since I moved here. Everything for me has really been on the West side, VERY East side, or on Campus. It was cool to just walk around the Capitol and enjoy Madison. I really like this city and I could see myself living here for awhile. (Which is good..since I'm going to be living here for awhile...) In other news, the Poldmeister (that's Leopold, for those of you who don't make ridiculous nicknames for my cat) has to get a tooth pulled. Don't worry everyone, as far as we know, Weird Tooth is safe for right now. (I know you were all very concerned.) It's actually the tooth right above WT that's giving him the trouble, so I took him to his new vet and she said it's probably got to go. He did well, except for when the vet's cat hissed at him (He didn't hiss back. Yay! I can get a dog in the next 15 years!)  and he doesn't seem too traumatized by the situation. Special thanks to Riss, who wrangled him into his carrier, took out my trash, and picked me up from school so that we could make it to the vet in time!

I set off my smoke alarm the other day. Remember that apple pie I baked, about one blog entry ago? Yeah, turns out some of that gooey deliciousness had dripped down to the bottom of the oven, unbeknownst to me as I wasn't the one who put the pie in. (*cough* Sean *cough*) I was pre-heating (PRE-HEATING!) the oven one day last week, went into the living room to do some reading, and heard the smoke detector go off. That's a pretty standard occurrence around these parts. I'd be lying if I said this was the first time it had gone off when pre-heating the oven to anything 400+. So I ran into the kitchen to turn it off and saw...actual smoke. Yep. That leftover pie dripping was now a big, black, charred mess on the bottom of the oven. So I opened the windows, turned off the oven, etc...even though it was still freezing outside and the next morning I scraped the oven floor with a butter knife trying to get everything off of there....I still haven't used it. Mostly because I haven't been home for meals in awhile or they've been stovetop things, but also because I'm not excited for Smoke Fest 2011 part II.

Forgot to mention that last night I went to a forum on the United Nations Millennium Goals. There were two speakers who interested me, one discussed their initiative toward eradicating world hunger, and the other talked about how gender equality can aid in achieving all of these goals. Both presentations were very good, though they each only had about 20 minutes to talk, and you could tell there was a lot more to say about everything. Afterward, I went and introduced myself to the woman who spoke about gender equality. She also specializes in human trafficking (something that I like to research), and she often takes her students to Tanzania to study. She said I could contact her in the future if I was interested in doing research with her..so that's cool. Though Tanzania isn't really in my concentration region, she said she does study West Africa a bit too.

So, that's what's been up around here! I'm looking forward to returning to the land of Not Cheese, Just Smelly Dog Farts this weekend. It will be nice to relax after such a busy week!

Monday, September 26, 2011


Anyone in the market for some apples? Need apples? I've got apples! This weekend Sean (my wonderful employed boyfriend) came into town for a very very very short visit. When we first started dating, we spent a lot of time chilling at home watching TV, before realizing that it was the most BORING waste of the limited amount of time you get together in a long-distance relationship. Since then, we've been better about brainstorming fun activities before we see each other so that the entire visit isn't "What do you want to do?" "I dunno, what do you want to do?".

This weekend was packed to the brim with fun, but the main event was apple picking on Saturday. We went to this place called Eplegaarden in Fitchburg. No, that's not a typo, it's an apple/other plants orchard that plays off of the Scandinavian American culture found around these parts, particularly Norwegian. Given my strange fondness for everything Norwegian (an ethnicity that I do not have any familial tie to whatsoever), I thought it would be a great place to spend the morning. (For the record, Sean thought all of the "Norwegian" written on the signs was waaaay too cheesy, and that's coming from a man who likes his cheese.) We planned on heading out to get to the orchard right when it opened around 9 AM, but a sudden craving for pancakes threw us off course for a couple of hours. We arrived around 10:30 and headed over to the information booth, excited to start picking apples. Seeing as we aren't super savvy when it comes to apples, we found it helpful that they give you a sheet with the name of each apple, a description, and a list of whether it can be used for "baking, eating, sauce" or all of them. We knew we wanted to make apple pie and also give apples to our friends to snack on, so we went with Cortland, Red Cort, and Spartan apples. They let you walk around and taste test, so don't exclusively go by what the sheet says. The type we originally thought we'd enjoy turned out to be not to our liking.
They sell 10 pound bags for $10 and 20 pound bags for $19. Let me tell you...20 pounds of apples doesn't seem like a lot when you're looking at the bag, but I gave apples to at least 5 people AND made a pie and I still have about 10 for myself. We also got a basket for raspberries for us and one for his brother and sister-in-law. Eplegaarden gives a list on their website of dates when certain apples are in season, as well as the other produce available for picking at that time. We missed the pumpkins by 2 days! We may go back when he comes to visit at the end of October. (What would I do without some pumpkins from a farm like Sonny Acres every year?) Anyway, we were pleased enough with the option to pick apples and raspberries.
The picking itself was fun! There were about 15 different rows of apple trees that you could walk down, and some that were roped off for later in the season. The only problem I had was that many of the apples were pretty high up in the trees, and they don't let you climb the trees at all or jiggle the branches too much. (An understandable set of rules) I felt bad for all of the little kids, because I wasn't sure they had enough apples to reach, but none of them seemed too upset about it. We had fun taste-testing the apples and trying the find the best ones for us (ie: Boyfriend-guy) to pick from the trees. It really does seem like a great outing for all sorts of groups. We saw other couples, families, and groups of friends. I think there was even a day care of some sort there. The raspberry picking wasn't quite as fun as the apples, because you're really just standing in front of the same couple of bushes for five minutes or so, picking all of the good ones. After a couple of minutes though, I got competitive and tried to find all of the really good berries before Sean could fill up his basket. They got kind of smushy on the bottom, so if you pick raspberries, expect that your hands will get stained! Overall it was a great way to spend a sunny fall morning. We made pie that afternoon and I'm still trying to figure out what to do with the rest of the apples! Trop de pommes!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A year passed...winter changed into spring. Spring changed into summer.

Summer changed back into winter, and then winter gave spring and summer a miss and went straight on into autumn.

If you don't understand what I'm quoting, you're probably anyone else besides my dad.

Dear crockpot, you are so good to me during these hard times.
I am absolutely baffled by the weather in Wisconsin. I really never imagined it could be so different from Chicago. If I can drive here in 2 and  a half hours from the city, how can it REALLY be so different? Well...it is. Evidenced by the fact that two days ago I wore a sweater and was, uh, sweating and yesterday I wore long sleeves and pants and was freezing. In Chicago, especially downtown, the cold is caused by the wind. Here it's not so much the wind, it's just actually cold. I have compiled a short list of things that I've encountered in Madison this September that have surprised me.

1. Ugg boots and shorts. (Note: No tights, topped with a sweatshirt.)
2. People waiting at a bus stop, one in flip flops, one in a parka and knit cap.
3. Contemplating turning my heat on in September.
4. Gloves. In September. (Am I making my point clear enough?)

IT IS SO COLD HERE! When I first started the program, I went along with the other Northerners, re-assuring our colleagues from the south that they would get used to winter. We told them that it's really only a few weeks of brutal cold and then it feels fine. I gave them advice on what to wear. WHAT AM I GOING TO WEAR? (Seriously Northface? You're going to charge me that much to stay warm? I still dream about this.)Today is apparently going to be a high of 58 F. We've already had lows past the freezing point. If anyone feels like sending a nice little care package up to Madison, WI, please send gloves so that I may type my term papers without my fingers freezing and breaking off.

Anyway, long, cold rant aside, things are going well. I'm contemplating switching my concentration area from international development to business/marketing. It just feels a lot more versatile to me. I can still work for an NGO with this sort of experience, but if my plans change and I want to work for a corporation (and trust me, my plans have started to change even in the past four weeks), I'll have some business experience and seem more useful to a company. There are a lot of people in the program with a concentration in international development who seem on the same sort of wavelength with what they want to do, and I guess I've been realizing that's not really what interests me.

City Cat finds creative way to stay warm while hiding from neighbors.
I met one of my neighbors yesterday. Apparently Leopold has THREE neighbor cats that he didn't even know about! She's a med student and another girl is a vets student, so I guess if Leopold needs an emergency Weird Tooth Extraction I know where to turn. The girl was nice, she came by to see if she could use my parking space, since I don't have a car and she's had to find street parking all the time. (Which is IMPOSSIBLE on Badger Football days) Wishing her luck because that parking space is RIDICULOUS to navigate, I said sure, as long as the Boyfriend Guy isn't in town. SPEAKING OF WHICH....

THE BOYFRIEND GUY IS IN TOWN THIS WEEKEND! Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay. It's not even a 48 hour visit, but it's a visit nonetheless. We're going to go apple picking and grocery shopping and have a few meals with friends. Hopefully I'll remember to report back on the apple picking.

Ok, I'm going to stop writing now because the whole reason I woke up early was to finish the insane amount of homework given to grad students.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Obviously, classes have started!

I'm busy busy busy now, hardly a moment to do my laundry, let alone write a blog entry! Ok, I know there are people out there who do a lot more than I do and still have time to blog. Things are finally shaping into a schedule around here, although I have yet to figure out when I'm going to do minor things such as homework and cleaning. There are still boxes here and there, but for the most part I've figured out how things should be set up. Thanks to some lovely donations from my awesome basically sister, I now have a desk and a lamp in my living room! (Believe it or not, my living room has a ceiling fan, but NO light fixture. It gets really dark in here.) After several angry calls to AT&T, my internet service finally seems to be up and running, with a $5.50 credit to my account no less. Yes, Leopold and I seem to actually be settled into our little 1-bedroom.

As for the homesickness, well...I don't really have time to be homesick anymore. Yesterday was my first day working at a French bakery, and boy was THAT crazy. (We'll see how  long I last there) The difference between grad school and undergrad has become apparent in the amount of homework that we seem to accumulate every class period, and also there's that whole "trying to be social" thing that's being thrown into the mix. I'm coming to learn that graduate school, working, and socializing aren't really a great combination. I don't know how some people do it! Although I will say that even in undergrad I wasn't well known for going out and partying on "Thirsty Thursday" or showing up to class drunk. I'd like to think I know where to focus my priorities and have a difficult time getting distracted from them.

Funny, we don't look related...
Yes, that's me...busy busy bee. Since starting classes, something that my Dad has been trying to tell me for the past few years has really smacked me in the face: I am becoming my mother. Why has this suddenly become so apparent? I make lists now. Let me explain, ever since I was a little kid, I would wake up during summer vacation, or on days when my mom had to go into work before she could talk to us (not very often, by the way) and there it would be on the kitchen counter- The List.
We each had one with our name on it and a set of instructions of things we had to get done during the day. When all three kids were in the house, I always kind of liked it because, as the youngest, my list was clearly shorter and easier than those of my siblings. When they went to college, it made me mad because I was the only one getting a list of chores to do. Through the years my mom has become more efficient in her list-making. When she goes out of town for several days, the lists are typed up with some money for pizza on the bottom. After adopting the strategy of saying "oh, we didn't see those lists you put on the kitchen counter", she began taping them to the refrigerator door, a strategy which I find to be GENIUS in our household. Nobody gets through the day without opening the fridge in our house.

The point is, now I make those lists. I write them on notecards and tape them to my desk, so that any time I sit down to go on the computer, there they are. Staring me in the face. Reminding me of all the other things I should be doing. (They're staring at me right now, reminding me that my parents will be here in a little over an hour)

...So after writing about how my lists were staring at me I needed to get up and finish them! Then I was distracted by the arrival of my parents and you know how it goes...I have once again rambled for far too long and now I should stop, for fear of writing an extremely long post with no pictures that no one reads. Today was a good day! Mommy and Daddy came up to see me and they brought with them groceries, and cookies, and Panera. If only they could have stayed to do my laundry, my day would have been complete. haha

Next entry will be an update on all of my classes and my work, I promise!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later.

Feeling a little homesick today. I'm not really sure what I'm missing exactly, the city, my family, having someone to see every morning and every night....I guess it's a little bit of everything. It's hard for me to justify my love for working internationally when I feel homesick. It makes me wonder if I'm really cut out to work somewhere so far away, and if that's really what I want to do. I love languages, I love learning about other cultures, and I love being able to help solve problems in any way that I can. I just wish I was able to take my whole family with me.
I miss the certainty I had before I graduated, the fact that I had a job and that I knew how to go wherever I needed to go. I miss my family. I miss walking to the park with the kids I babysat for.
 I miss my DOG. I miss looking out my window at the sailboats on Lake Michigan and eating the lunch special with my boyfriend at our favorite sushi place. I miss talking about the constitution with my dad on Sunday afternoons, watching crappy tv with my mom, and laughing with my brother about everything.  I know I was supposed to come here, and overall I'm really happy with the decision that I made, but being in a new place is hard.

I know this is normal, I've been keeping relatively busy but sometimes you just remember what you're missing. Moving is hard, whether it's across the globe or just a 3 hour drive away. I have people here who are just as close as family, but I'm missing the ones I left behind. Last night was fun, I got to spend it with one of my best friends that I've known ever since I was born. I love being able to see her on a daily basis and Madison really is a great place to live. I'm happy here about 98% of the time, the other 2% consist of worrying about finding work/getting work done and missing people. 

I guess it doesn't help that the boyfriend-guy has been back at school now for a few weeks. I knew things would get harder once he left, but after three years I'm also fairly used to this whole long-distance thing. I guess this is the first time I've had to make such a huge life transition since we've been together. The title of this blog is "Forever Wandering", and I do have this love of travel and wandering to new places, but do I want to be wandering around forever? It's something I'm going to have to think about anyway.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Getting to knooooww youuu, getting to know all about youuuuu....

I don't know if anyone else had quite the obsession that I did with "The King and I" as a small child. For as politically incorrect as that film is, I feel like my elementary school education was weirdly based around it.

He was really an integral part of the unpacking process.
Anyway, this week has obviously been one of new experiences. Léopold has adapted nicely to his surroundings. He enjoys the spaciousness of our apartment, and especially the abundance of windows. To show that he is pleased with this move, and in honor of my course of study he has added an accent aigu to his name. I've also met a lot of new people! They're not strangers, really, just my weird francophile clones that I've never met before. To be a PFMPer...it seems to be a breed of it's own. It takes a certain type of person to pursue a master's degree in French Studies, and it takes another person of a completely different breed to do what we want to do. We're not really studying French, or French literature...we're  learning how to conduct business in French. While we all want to go different places and work specifically in different areas, the fact that we were drawn to such a unique program automatically means we have a lot in common. That being said, we seem to all be getting along well. While I'm ever so grateful of my little built-in community of support here in Madison, it's nice to know that the people I will be studying with for the next year are also fun to be around. We also all have weird things in common. Lots of us are affiliated with Lac du Bois in some way, we have several students from the South, and lots of us are in long-distance relationships.

Liking French itself is something a little strange in these parts, although I have been surprised by the amount of French culture and activity in Madison. I figured I would more often be in touch with my German roots than any sort of French here in Wisconsin. (Ok, so the interior of the Memorial Union is decorated as a beer hall. No surprises there.) There are, in fact several French restaurants and festivals that celebrate la France et la Francophonie. (de la France à la Francophonie...c'est bon le fun, c'est garantie..) I've personally been experiencing a lot of French culture simply by being in the program, but have been so busy that I haven't yet been able to experience these pieces of French in Madison.

I have been able to experience full-on native French culture in the form of our tutors! The program requires that we meet two hours per week one-on-one with a tutor to practice our French. We met them for lunch on the Union Terrace this Wednesday and they were all so nice. As usual, I was super shy at first, but now that I've gotten to know my tutor a lot more I'm excited to work with him and get to know the other tutors better. I know this is going to sound weird, considering my background speaking French, but I always feel so strange throwing my French out there with native speakers. It happened every year at Lac du Bois, and when I first arrived in Senegal. Last night we had a wine and cheese reception at the director's house and I felt much better about my speaking abilities than I had the first couple of days and I'm beginning to feel more comfortable with the program overall. I think this will be a very valuable year and a half for me.

This weekend consists of barbecues, barbecues, and more barbecues! More later, A+ tlm!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bring it arounnnnnnnnnnnnnd towwwwwwwwwwwwwwn

(Yes, that was a Spongebob Squarepants quote. I like to cite the wise old sages in order to get my point across)

Today we're discussing something that has been plaguing this former Chicagoan: How to get around Madison without a car. My old stomping grounds had a grocery store every three blocks or so. My old neighborhood had an EL station a ten minute walk in either direction. My old neighborhood was mapped out like a grid, every street intersected cross-streets at some point, if Google maps told you to turn at a certain intersection, you walked straight until you found the other street. This was the life I led for four  years. I could get from the very edge of the South Loop to Millennium Park in fifteen minutes flat. I could reach the House of Blues in 20 minutes. I could reach Target in three. Yes, the old neighborhood was a good neighborhood.

Now I'm the new kid on the block. It's not so easy being new, especially when you've heard explanations such as "Oh yeah, Madison's real easy to figure out. It's like a funny-shaped bicycle wheel, where the Capitol is the center and the streets are all weirdly curved spokes". Yeah....helpful. Yesterday Google Maps told me to walk straight down the street I live on, turn right, walk for five minutes, turn left, turn left, and turn right again. Yes...it told me to go back to my street two blocks later. This fifteen-minute detour caused me to bust into my first meeting for my program, sweaty and out of breath in a room of pristine girls who probably learned all of their makeup and fashion skills from studying/living in France for the past year. (/rant) That's me! I love to make a good first impression. (We'll follow this up with the joke I made about a Senegalese parable today and yep...I'm definitely the international development girl. The "Afrique de l'Ouest" kid.)

The point is, I'm trying to figure out my way around Madison. I don't have a car, I do have a bike. What I've found:

Look at those sweet bikers not getting hit by the bus next to them!

  • Biking is SO MUCH SAFER and easier in Madison. I'm not afraid that every single bus on the road is going to hit me. I never biked in Chicago, everyone I knew who biked had been hit by a car. At least once. Mostly twice. Madison has these wonderful WIDE bike lanes that aren't expressly made for buses to hog as extra stopping space. People actually NOTICE bikers instead of merging into them. I road my bike down the busiest street in my area and wasn't even a bit nervous! Ask me again how I feel when it's -15 degrees and icy. I may have changed my mind by then.
  • Illinois is flat. Wisconsin is not. There are hills. What took me 5 minutes walking in Chicago now takes me 10. "Oh? It's only .7 miles away? Pshh...piece of cake" "...What? Those .7 miles are known as 'Bascom Hill'?" Yeah, it's happened. Luckily for me, biking toward campus is relatively downhill, so I don't get too sweaty until I'm on my way home. 
  • Grocery stores are far away and usually expensive for one reason or another. This may just be the neighborhood I happen to live in, but the closest stores to me are a Whole Foods or a Co-Op. I'm all for healthy eating, I think it's great when people can choose to buy organic and locally grown. I'm also a poor graduate student. The sad part is, this actually doesn't kill me as much because Wisconsin doesn't tax on food, and I hail from the land of 11% sales tax on all purchases. Really, my grocery bill at Whole Foods is about the same here as it was in a Jewel Osco in Chicago. This store is about 1.1 miles away from me, so I'm pretty much doing the long haul with very limited grocery purchases a couple of times a week. Have considered biking, thought about it rationally, have stopped considering biking,
It really is a great city to live in. Of course, I'm saying this in August, when my apartment stays at a toasty 81 degrees and my flip flops are still acceptable footwear. I'm sure I'll adapt and learn to love this place even though it's going to be EVEN COLDER THAN CHICAGO WINTERS OH MY WORD WHAT HAVE I DONE....ahem. No, seriously though, Madison is a cool place to be. Everyone is really friendly when you get lost and need to ask for directions. People care about health and the environment. I actually haven't even seen that many smokers (of cigarettes...) out and about these parts. Madisonians care about their surroundings, and they want you to care about it too. I think I'm going to like it here, once I don't have to stare at Google Maps for an hour every time I want to go somewhere.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

And we're off!

Guess who took a break from saving lives to visit her baby sister! 
Orientation started yesterday. Needless to say, I am fairly overwhelmed at the moment. I remember this experience from undergraduate, being fed countless pieces of information at once and trying to soak it all in. It's a different sort of overwhelmed, they aren't telling me how financial aid works or what to do if you have a problem with your roommate, but they're still telling me things that I should know. Everyone in the group is nice so far, it's such a small program that I'm really confident we'll all get to know each other fairly well. I'm looking forward to the coming weeks, especially once classes start.
I've never had any problems with language before, especially French. Even if  it had been awhile since I'd really had a good conversation in French, the minute I was with people at my level I bounced right back. It's taking me longer...I'm searching for words that I know are there, but far away. It's hard because I'm not used to other people being better. I think I'm the youngest in the program, that's something I definitely am used to. It's hard for me to start new things, I get frustrated that I need to ask for directions, that I don't know the easiest way to do things, that I don't even know where I'm going to buy my groceries all the time...Of course I'm not exactly alone, I have my family friends (who are really more family than anything) and the Boyfriend's family. I've even found little connections to my far away home in Minnesota. I'll adjust, definitely. I can see how this program will be great for me, but I can also see the things which will bug me. It seems as though most people took some sort of a "break" from school before starting the program. While most of this was getting full time employment, I'm worried that I'll feel the burnout of too much school before they do.

Yesterday I had my meeting with the director du program, I told him that I want to finish in 1.5 years by doing my internship over the summer, and he was very confident that it could be done. I have to keep remembering that I'm not really here for "school" so to speak. Sure, I'm taking classes and acquiring knowledge, but it's more of a training on how to conduct business in French. The internship is just another thing to put on my resume, another way that I can learn to interact in a professional manner globally. I'm excited for that. The director also advised that I register for the foreign service test this coming spring, particularly since I'm planning on being done with the program by December of 2012 (assuming the world still exists).

Oh la la...que la vie change rapidement! More blogging about my experiences in Madison now that I have internet! I have plenty of topics to discuss regarding my new life, but do not want to make one gigantic blog post.

PS: Update on living simply. Yesterday my mom and sister drove up from Chicago/Boston in my sister's case, for a short visit. They took me grocery shopping and we accidentally bought this:


Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Boyfriend Voice

In the car with a few friends on an impromptu grocery trip, one of my friends was relaying a story to us about an awful manicure experience. "And then I thought I should write a horrible review, but *boyfriend said "no, honey, that's too harsh." At which point, her boyfriend chimes in from the back seat "Hey! You made me sound like a frat boy!" And it was true, my friend had used a typical "boyfriend voice" that I'm afraid we're all guilty of using when telling stories about our loved ones. This was a new experience for me, I've heard and even used The Voice before; however it was the first time the imatatee was within earshot. It got me wondering....why do we make our boyfriends sound so dumb? I know for a fact that if my guy and I were engaged in a battle of intelligence, he would for sure come out on top. The guy's a genius, which is all I ask for because he can fix my computer. He is by no means dumb, and yet I apply The Voice, making him sound as though he's got a wad of chewing gum in the space where his genius brain should be. Is this simply because in most of these stories I'm supposed to sound "right" and he's "wrong"? Furthermore, do guys have a girlfriend voice? Do I sound as ditzy in his stories as he does in mine, and is it an accurate interpretation? I must further investigate this strange phenomenon. Clearly being an Official Grad Student has given me the mind of a scientist...is there a grad student Voice?

Ps: I have successfully moved, but due to a crazy internet company story (which I may blog when I don't have to type on my Blackberry keyboard), I am without internet until HOPEFULLY monday night at the latest. Never fear, my one reader! (Yes, that's you boyfriend guy)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Chicken you won't want to Mish...kebab...

Once again I've cooked something and eaten it before taking a picture. There should be leftovers in the fridge, maybe I'll get a picture tomorrow and post it. Chicken shishkebabs. SO. GOOD. Even the resident chef of the house told me that I did an excellent job. Capital, simply capital. So here we go:

This served 3 adults, plus probably a lunch or two left over. (Note: As previously stated, I just kind of eyeball it when it comes to spices, feel free to add/subtract as you see fit)

3 larger boneless chicken breasts
3 red peppers
1 large onion
1 pint grape tomatoes
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp dried mint leaves
3 larger cloves garlic
salt and pepper
1/8 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil (traditional family marinade formula- 2 parts oil, one part vinegar)

We used 4 skewers and then wrapped the leftovers in a foil packet and set that on the grill.

1. Cut chicken, red peppers, and onions into decent bite-sized pieces. The best way to do the onion is to cut it in half, then cut each half again and peel off the layers. Throw into large bowl, along with washed grape tomatoes.
2. Chop garlic and add to bowl.
3. Add oil, vinegar, salt, pepper mint, and oregano. Toss contents of bowl until all pieces are well-coated.
4. After mixing well, spear pieces onto shishkebabs. I liked to alternate pepper, tomato, onion, chicken, but it's really all about preference.
5. Place remaining vegetables and chicken in foil packet.
6. Start the grill at a very high heat so that the outside of the kebabs gets well-done. Use tongs to rotate the kebabs every once in awhile, watching carefully so that they don't get overcooked.
7. After a few minutes move them to a cooler part of the grill (less directly over the heat) until the chicken appears fully cooked.
It's really THAT EASY.

We ate this coupled with a rice cooked in chicken base. This "yellow rice" is a favorite from when I was a kid. Genius idea! The leftover will be going tomorrow would go well in a pita with some sort of a tzatziki (although it does pose the milk+meat issue for some, note to self: find dairy-free tzatziki recipe.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Running vs Walking: The Great Debate

My parents and I had an interesting discussion this morning. About a year and a half ago they "bought each other" a treadmill as a way to encourage a healthier lifestyle. If you've ever seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Nia Vardalos describes her family as "loud, breeding, Greek eaters". That pretty much sums up my family. My dad has experience in the restaurant business, he's a great cook and we all enjoy sampling his food (in large portions). As it turns out, my brother is the only person in the family who appears to be immune to the vast amount of calories we've been consuming. Long story short, we're fat and we're all trying to do something about it.

With friends at the Making Strides Walk  in October 2010
Back to the discussion of this morning, my mom had just finished her workout and I was about to begin mine, when the three of us began to compare our workout routines. When I first started running, I decided that the best way to do things was to warm-up for about 5-7 minutes, run for as long as I could without stopping (about 5 minutes), walk for about 5 more minutes, then run at gradually decreasing intervals (5 mins straight, 2 minutes straight, a minute straight...etc). I don't know where I came up with this strategy, it just sort of happened. I was able to put in a pretty good workout this way, but I wanted a little more structure to figure out exactly how much running I was doing vs how much walking. Now warm-up for 5 minutes, and then alternate running 1.5 minutes, walking 1 minute for about 25-30 minutes. My mom says she walks the entire time, and somehow she seems to be getting in a greater workout than I am, adding that her doctor said that her 30 min walk in the morning should be coupled with a 30 min walk at night. At this point, my dad chimed in that his doctor admitted he would have preferred my dad to walk briskly rather than run.

So...the question, do you prefer walking or running? Which is "better for you" when you're a beginner? There are people who say that you can burn the same amount of calories running the same amount of time as you would walking it, but I'm not quite sure that's true. Any insight? I think it makes more sense that a doctor would recommend for my parents to run because....well, they're kind of getting old and the risk of developing arthritis and other joint damage is certainly increased for them. At my age, I think that the damage of carrying extra weight on my body could be comparable to the stress of running. For now I'm going to stick with my running, because I like the way it feels to run and I want to build up my endurance.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Why does Blogger always think I speak Finnish?

My feet in Senegal

Alas, one day I'll learn. At least I can muster my way through when it randomly gives me a Norwegian page or two! Not much to blog about. I'm heading up to Madison again for a few days and then on Sunday I'll be seeing Beauty and the Beast with my mom and some dear friends! It's pretty exciting because I used to drag her to see it in theaters when I was three years old, and as a graduation gift she's taking me to see it on stage.

Since I've been dog-sitting a puppy girl who enjoys waking up at 5:30 AM, I was watching Arthur today in a sleepy stupor. (Don't judge.) Any nostalgic love I have for the show aside, I was really impressed with one of the episodes. (Yes, I watched the full 30 minutes.) The episode was entitled "In My Africa", and it centered around the Brain's cousin Cheikh who is from Dakar. Of course, as soon as the little cartoon version of Dakar came across the screen I was hooked. While Cheikh shares a bit of his Senegalese culture with his new friend D.W., the main point is that many people, like Arthur's sister, mistake Africa for a country. They assume that every part of this "country" is filled with lions and hippos and giraffes (Oh my!). When I was in Senegal, the most interesting animal I saw was a pelican that was about 4'5". The main characters of the episode wrote a song to teach children about some special aspects of all 54 countries in Africa. A noteable highlight was the random shouting of "DJIBOUTI!"

I applaud you, Arthur creators. You have finally addressed something which I feel like a majority of American children need to learn. They also do a great episode on Asperger's syndrome and give a nod to Judaism without a "chanukah special", I'm totally going to make my kids watch Arthur when they exist. And I'm going to continue watching it now. No regrets.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Spicy Sweet Potato Fries (I wish I had a picture...but I ate them all..)

I was hankering for these delicious sweet potato hashbrowns I had at a delicious Chicago restaurant...aptly named Hash Browns. Not really eating out anymore, due to various restrictions, I decided to whip up a batch of sweet potato fries for the first time. Since I learned to cook from my dad, I took his approach to making something you've never made before: take an educated guess at how it's made and see what happens.

Turns out it was delicious. I like a little (a lot) of spice to my recipes, so if you aren't a fan of spicy foods, leave out the cayenne pepper. But really, the cayenne pepper is the whole reason I love this recipe.

Spicy Sweet Potato Fries
(serves 2-3)
2-3 medium sized sweet potatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 450 F.
2. Cut the sweet potatoes into wedges or thicker strips. I left the skin on, which gave it a nice flavor and casing, but I supposed you could peel it as well if you aren't into that texture. In my experience, the wedges will be a variety of sizes. That's perfectly fine, they'll cook just fine.
3. Pour wedges, olive oil, paprika, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and sal into a ziplock bag. Shake it up until the wedges are thoroughly coated.
5. Spread wedges into a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 450 for 30 minutes, turning the fries halfway through.

I served them with lemon chicken and a side salad, but they'll go great with just about anything. Be sure to save this recipe for leftover sweet potatoes after Thanksgiving!

Speaking of food, in case anyone was concerned, our garden is going amazingly! I'm going to be getting creative at the end of this summer because I'll have to use up:

Jalepenos and tomatoes!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

мальчик читает!

This is my old Greek workbook:
All that messy little kid Greek scribble? I used to know what that means. Not that it was anything brilliant, I'm sure it was something that I thought was hilarious like "I'm going to the bar to drink five beers" or "Kostos ate six goats"...something like that. The point is, I've forgotten all of it. Granted, as you read further on you get to pages with "I don't know what's going on" written in French in the margins, maybe that's where my Greek lessons started to falter. I quit Greek class. I hated it. It was on Thursday nights after my piano lesson and I was tired and cold and I sat next to this Albanian woman who thought I was adorable and looooved talking to me about Albania. Finally, after faking sick several Thursdays in a row, I think I convinced my parents that I was NOT interested in returning to Greek school. Now...I wish I hadn't.

I'm good at languages. It's my thing, I get them. I speak French and German, and I took a little Italian in undergrad. Language learning has played a big part in my career path. I want to work in international relations, and eventually the United States Foreign Service so I can use what I've learned to help people. Had someone told me that enduring that cold, cheese-smelling classroom for a few more months would significantly impact my career later in life, I'm sure I would have stayed. I had no idea at the time. Nobody knew what I wanted to be. In a college interview when asked if I was interested in taking any particular foreign language, I said "Yes, Swedish, Norwegian, and Russian..maybe Swahili if possible". My dad, trying to ease the shock-factor, explained to the interviewer in words that I think still fit me quite well. "My daughter sees foreign languages as a buffet, she can take as much as she wants from each platter." It's true.

I'm worried though. I feel like as I get older that serving spoon is getting heavier and heavier and now there's a giant sneeze-guard in the way, making it harder for me to grasp the dishes.What if this talent is only useful for a couple of years more? What if once I turn 25 my gift for foreign languages disappears? So, I'm learning Russian. And it's hard! I figure I might as well do something productive while I'm waiting for my graduate school life to start, so I'm picking up another one. So far I can only say things like "He is eating an apple" (он ест яблоко!), but it's a start. The grammar is very confusing to me, it's unlike anything I've previously learned. I'm sure my studies in Russian will provide a few more blog posts. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Getting Fresh Air...and Getting Lost!

Ahhh...back when the path was well-defined.
In an attempt to cure boredom, the boyfriend-guy and I decided to go for a hike on Saturday! We went to Morton arboretum in the suburbs, which has a total of about 9 miles of trail. In the morning we bought some key trail mix ingredients (ie: peanuts, M&Ms, and Craisins), mixed it all together, and headed out on our way. We drove by a couple of garage sales before getting to the park, all of which were pretty disappointing. We're both moving into new places this year, so we have lots of things we need for our apartments, but most of the stuff at these sales was for little kids. (Items which we DO NOT NEED.) We got to the park around 11:30, ate some of our trail mix and watched families run around, then we took the nice little path around the children's part of the park before trekking out on our own.

We got lost.

Of the 9 miles of trail in the arboretum, I'd say we hiked about 11 of them. This being due to the fact that I, completely useless at reading maps, handed it to the boyfriend-guy, who apparently is also completely useless at reading maps. To his credit, eventually he did get us to a place where he could look at the map and say "See? We're right at this part!", but it took a lot of back tracking to get there. Part of the problem is simply because the parks have a not-so-great signage system. There are signs pointing in the right direction, but it would be helpful if there wasn't both a "visitor center" AND a "visitor station". We parked at the visitor center. After about an hour our mosquito repellent was wearing off (but it was heavy so I didn't want to carry it in my backpack) so we decided to walk back to the car and get some more before heading out again on a different trail. Well, as luck would have it, we ended up walking to the visitor station. Which is...of course...the other side of the park. So we back-tracked there, and a few other times, before finally getting back to the visitor center. We bought some sno-cones and collapsed on a bench. Boyfriend-guy's neck seems to have taken the majority of mosquito attacks, which is lucky for me. Not so much for him. I'm still scratching my legs, back, face, and arms, but I think the outing was a success. We met working at a summer camp, so as much as both of us squeal at the sight of bugs, we're pretty excited when we get to be outside for prolonged periods of time. (Except there was this one part with a really gross marshy pile of mud swarming with bugs that we had to cross twice due to back-tracking. That part was not so nice.)

The arboretum itself is a nice setup. It's kind of expensive, $11/adult to get in, with free parking. I just made it $5/person in my head and $12/parking and it made me feel a little better, but it was still pretty pricey. I mean, we brought our own food (minus the sno-cones), and all we were doing was walking around outside. We pretty much found ways to entertain ourselves. On Wednesdays they have discounted admission, so if you want an afternoon of fun or something then it's only about $7/adult I think. Overall, it was a great outing!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Lapse in Blogging...because I haven't done anything.

I'm at this weird point in my life right now where I'm waiting for things to happen. I can't move into my new place until August, and so looking for jobs where I am now isn't going so well. Likewise, attempting to find work in a new city when you can't start for a few months and you don't know your class schedule is proving to be a lot harder than I thought it might be. I fill my days with random things...running, walking the dog, helping with dinner...a lot of Netflix, but I graduated COLLEGE! I should be doing something incredible right now! I know in a few months things are going to start happening so fast and I won't be able to find any time to spare. I should be enjoying the summer vacation I'm getting now, but I'm finding it hard to relax.

 I'm  bored. I need to go somewhere new, especially now that I have a place for the fall. I spend my spare time (of which there is quite a bit) planning out what my new apartment will be like. I've re-read countless books from my childhood, including All-of-a-Kind Family, Witch Week, and a couple of Harry Potters. I've been switching my brain to different languages the past few weeks, so that whenever I come across a weird vocab word that I don't know, I can look it up online. I'm really torn with what language I need to be practicing right now. Obviously, my graduate program is in French...but that's sort of like riding a bike to me. I'm not going to forget French, it's like forgetting English for me. German, I think, is where my interests should lie this summer. After completing the courses in undergrad, I feel like I'm supposed to have a firm grasp on the language...but I find myself slipping up a lot, having to look up words I already knew. Italian...well...Italian is just going to have to wait a little longer. I need to get my German up to speed with my French first.

I'm not really sure why I'm awake, but I realized I hadn't blogged in a few days and felt like I should keep up to speed. They say it takes doing something 3 days in a row to make a habit of it, but I'm not so sure that's true. I've tried that strategy with a few things...exercise...blogging...eating the same thing every day...Not sure how effective that strategy has been, as I've only run three times this week.

Boyfriend-Guy is coming into town this weekend, so I should have something interesting to write about. I think we're going to go to some museums and the park and try out a couple of restaurants but really...these suburbs are tough on somebody who has lived in the city for the past 4 years! More later, I should pretend that I'm going to go to sleep now, even though that's not happening...(I think it's the iced double shot espresso I knocked back on my way home from the grocery store...)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Living simply....could I actually do it?

Well folks, it's official. I won't be living on the streets of Madison next year. (Not as though that were ever really an option, I have plenty of people in Madison willing to house me) I found my apartment! It's adorable and classic in that typical Madison style and I'm anxiously counting down the days until I can move in. While I'm a sucker for hardwood floors, bright classic white windows, and charming old world hex tile I've come to realize my adorable kitchen lacks a certain something. It has plenty of cabinet space, a cute little breakfast nook area, a refrigerator, and a GAS stove (something I dearly missed in my last apartment)...but no microwave. It also lacks a dishwasher, but I hardly ever used the dishwasher in my last apartment and usually prefer to wash things by hand. By no means is a microwave necessary. Most people who have occupied this planet did not/do not own a microwave. When I was in Senegal my family cooked all of their meals over a little kerosene cooker and they tasted fantastic. I've been spoiled. (Not that I didn't already know that) Even my first year of college I rented a MicroFridge combo.

Upon further reflection of this Microwave quandary, the idea formed that perhaps lacking this appliance could in fact enhance my culinary endeavors. I've always enjoyed cooking, it's something my dad said all of us kids needed to learn before we moved out of his house. When I moved out on my own for the first time I assumed I would be doing a lot of it, and I did. I cooked meals for myself several times a week, but I ran into a roadblock. The Microwave Dinner. It was the perfect solution for a working, full-time undergraduate student. I would come home starving, pop something in the microwave, and be eating in minutes. Practical...definitely. Healthy? Not so much. I would buy "healthy" (ie: low-cal) frozen dinners and assume that eating them was making a smart choice for my body. Not so, naive former self, not so. This article from MSNBC explains some of the downsides of frozen meals. Highlights include the lack of fruits and vegetables, high amounts of sodium, and the inability for one to cook a healthy meal for themselves. Plus....have you seen the meat in that stuff? Gross. Not that eliminating a microwave would eliminate frozen foods altogether for me, but it would definitely cut out the convenience factor and probably cause my to choose something else.

After recognizing these benefits, I start to like the idea of living without a microwave. Immediately all of the uses for a microwave run through my mind. Heating up leftovers...making tea....my beloved kettle corn. None of these things really proves to be a problem for me in terms of limiting myself to no microwave. I usually like leftovers cold anyway, I own a tea kettle, and ways to make popcorn without using a microwave certainly exist. (That being said, I would probably positively cut down on my popcorn consumption if making it took more than pressing a button). Yes, I certainly believe that living without a microwave will be an improvement for me. So I've decided that, come move-in day, I'll try living without a microwave for a full year. This doesn't necessarily mean eliminating processed foods from my diet, but it's a step in the right direction. We've become slaves to our microwaves, and I'd be doing my dad a disservice if I threw away all of the cooking skills he taught me for a couple of Lean Cuisines.

(PS: I'm certainly not the first to do this, one quick google search for "living without a microwave" brings up sites like Learning to Live Without a Microwave)

edit: Forgot to say I also spent some time gardening with my parents today. On the agenda: Tomatoes, Sage, Rosemary, Basil, Cilantro, Chives, and JALAPENOS! I didn't even realize jalapenos could grow in Chicago, but we'll see how they fare. I may have to buy my own potted plant to stick in the window of my new place on move-in day. I'm sure Madison has community garden plots that I can dabble in as well.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I did it!

As soon as I can, I will be moving up to Madison to start my graduate program! Family and friends said they knew all along that I would get in, but I tend to tell myself the absolute worst is going to happen so that I'm less sad if it does, and relieved if it doesn't. Today I start (well, continue really, but it always feels like I'm just starting it) the arduous process of getting my apartment ready for a move. Things I will do in the next few weeks that I have never done before:
1) Clean an oven
2) Magic Eraser the scuff marks off of my walls
3) Move a cat who has adapted to his home
4) Discreetly pack up said cat's belongings without them being taken out and strewn across the apartment again. (My cat can open drawers, can yours?)
5) Cancel my electric and cable and internet (oh my!)

This is stuff added to the list of weird things I've already had to do, such as scrub really really really hard to somehow clean those stovetop drip pans that everyone things they've been cleaning regularly, but really hasn't. Or cleaning out a washing machine. Now that I'm done with school until the end of August, I can actually get this stuff done! A special thanks to Leopold, who woke me up an hour earlier than necessary to get a head start on cleaning; although he doesn't seem to keen on the idea of moving: