Of Blossoms & Boats: Van Gogh at the Hermitage.

Refreshed from our wine-and-cheese induced sleep, Abby and i awoke in Amsterdam ready to brave the cold and wanting to explore. After a delicious breakfast at the hotel (have i mentioned the cappuccino machine?) we took a gander about the southern canal/De Pijp neighborhood, drinking in the quaint little bridges and houses stacked against each other.

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Some ten minutes away was our destination: The Hermitage Museum. Since the Van Gogh Museum is presently undergoing renovations, the bulk of their collection is temporarily housed here. I’d been waiting to see this exhibit really since my 12th-grade AP Art History class, when i’d first really studied Vincent.

It was sublime. Is there really any other word for visiting with Van Gogh’s work?

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Unfortunately, photography was strictly forbidden, so i have no photos to share of the actual exhibit. In some ways, i find restrictions like this liberating because it means i’m truly present with the art instead of constantly fiddling with the shutter speed on my Olympus.

Some of my favorite things we saw, though, were not the most famous members of the collection (like Wheat Field with Crows, though that was transcendent). There was a whole section devoted to Van Gogh’s study of Japanese prints, and his painted recreations of some of the prints in his own collection. To see how these pieces really shaped Van Gogh’s perspective as an artist in his formative years was really cool – especially the harsh angles and vibrant colors.

But lest we forget, the more famous works were also amazing to see. I hadn’t known that Almond Blossoms was painted for Vincent’s newborn nephew. Somehow, this idea that the blossoms were meant to celebrate new life made this work all the more endearing.

And the greens! Oh, the greens! I’ve always been enchanted by Bedroom at Arles­ and its quirky, incandescent spirit (my Art History teacher said once he always felt like the chairs were about to start dancing around the room). But it is even more lively in person – the dark patches outlining the bed and making up the floor are such rich tones of emerald that they illuminate the whole work. I was utterly intoxicated by the greens – the fishing boats at Saint-Marie series had me entranced.

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Bedroom in Arles, 1888.

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Almond Blossoms, 1890.

Fishing Boats at Sea, 1888. (I bought this one on a postcard!)

Fishing Boats at Sea, 1888. (I bought this one on a postcard!)

Some two hours later, we exited the gift shop (postcards in hand, of course) and made our way to Kerkestraat for the (aforewrittenabout) bike tour! Our afternoon was thus consumed by exquisite art and wheeling about town – what more could you want from a long weekend in Amsterdam, really?

That was really the bulk of our first day; the cold was too potent to spend too much time out with the sun going down. We returned to our new favorite bar/café, Onder de Ooivaar, for yet another round of wine and cheese. The next day promised a tour of the Anne Frank House, eating our way through the Albert Cuyp Market, and GIANT YELLOW wooden shoes!

current jam: ‘tout doucement’ feist.

best thing: ravioli.

of note: photos of van gogh’s paintings from here. 

Today.

Though this day has been earmarked on my calendar since October, its arrival feels tremendously sudden. Like no amount of fretting or anticipating or eagerly-anxiously dancing around unpacked suitcases could have adequately prepared me for this. The maps are tucked in their pockets, my phone is charged, and the laundry’s on its last load.

Come 6 PM tonight, i will be United Kingdom bound.

I’ve been instagram-ing* my last few days in Chapel Hill. Looking over these fragments – photos doctored up in fun filters that capture only the smallest of moments – i feel an encompassing sense of minutia. Like, the Big Adventure about to happen is going to comprise of the same sorts of pictures: books on a dashboard, drinks with loved ones and new friends, feet walking on the ground. Ordinary and simple, made profound by the newness such simplicity inspires in me. All things made new.

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Being home has become its own kind of adventure in the profundity of simplicity. Simple cups of tea, simple smiles, simple time together.

The first few days in Edinburgh are going to be anything but simple. Acquiring keys, learning the map, navigating new cultural expectations. Small things i daily take for granted here. But i’m up for the challenge, and praying i stay enthused and open and encouraged.

See ya’ll on the other side.

current jam: ‘where the boat leaves from’ zac brown band

best thing: elmo’s & the padre & the man.

*if you’d like to join in the fun, my username is lizziemcmizzie! (assuredly, there will be lots of scottish-themed uploads!)

A Study in South Carolina.

Having two parents from the other Carolina meant, for much of my childhood, once a summer we would pack up the family minivan and hit a southbound I-95 for vacation. Sometimes these vacations included visiting family in the various crannies of the state, but often they occupied time along a mostly-deserted shore in a middle-of-nowhere ocean-side town with only each other, Tuesday night bingo, the ocean, and the Piggly-Wiggly for entertainment.

Though occasional summers were interspersed with more exotic locales (the August day i turned sixteen, for instance, was spent on a plane flying back from Hawai’i) few places trump the bizarre and beautiful juxtapositions i came to know in South Carolina. Between the creeping, archaic oaks dripping with spanish moss and the old plantation houses plastered on every other billboard running the length of the interstate, my childhood days swimming in the humidity and the seas of Carolina have grown into days of my early adulthood. Though i no longer frequent the carousel in the downtown Columbia mall or ask for a kid’s menu when we dine in historic Charleston, it seems in many ways South Carolina has remained unchanged while the rest of my world has transformed.

My most recent escapade to the Palmetto state for this summer’s family escape wrought forth a small handful of photographs that, in alignment with the old cliché, i like to think speak a thousandfold words for themselves.

(nothing lets you know more brashly that you’ve crossed the state line than the looming sombrero in the sky)

(an all-purpose gas station selling wares for every need)

(what a …lovely… juxtaposition)

there really are few things as stunning as a south carolina sunset.

(…or south carolina beaches, really)

(but mostly, nothing is as stunning as sharing in such experiences with the people whom you love)

current jam: ‘knee deep’ zac brown band.

best thing: lunch at elmo’s with my darlings & antibiotics.

Thoughts from the Journey: Homeward Bound.

My Dad flew up Thursday afternoon to assist me in moving out and, consequential of my sleep-deprived, exam-taking state, do part of the fifteen hour drive home. I turned in my final exam and, within no less than thirty seconds, my phone started buzzing with the news that he was at my dorm ready to start moving me out.

We wasted no time. Nothing less than a tornado of sweeping-up and placing-in-boxes and balling-up-in-bags cleared through my half of the room. No matter where i am or where i am going, the first items to be packed and unpacked, always, are my posters. It doesn’t feel like my space without color splashed on the walls in the form of treasured photographs or Van Gogh prints; it feels too somber to begin departure without un-doing the creation of my own space. When the walls are stripped, the room belongs to someone else again.

The room now relocated to the back of my car (code name: The Firebolt), we embarked Friday afternoon. Details only reveal the sweet sorrow of parting, and leaving sounds too callous. Embarking, it seems, is the most appropriate. A journey, a voyage, a temporary coming-and-going. My life, these years at university, seems to be an ebb and flow in the most non-figurative of senses.

Enough waxing lyrical; finals seem to have drained me of sensible writing. The journey commenced, the departure encroached, and Massachusetts was bid adieu. Through Connecticut we flew, and into endless hills and thunderstorms of Pennsylvania we held fast. We took our dinner in Scranton at the advice of my favorite Marauder and MI-6 agent, whereupon i ate breaded ravioli (delicious), Dad ate a french sandwich au jus (no beef for me!), and we shared a brownie (or warred over, depending on whose perspective). Fans of the office might appreciate the restaurant in question:

(it wouldn’t be a larry-lizzie journey without the signature dad-drinking-coffee-for-fortitude shot!)

There were hotels to select, and radio stations to recollect, and free wi-fi to prey upon for the father (and more ice-cream eating for me):

(of note: this computer is his, not mine. they are twins, naturally, but i think it sweet every time i see it!)

…before the time came to take up the wheel once more.

And then, lo and behold, we came upon a town that, were it found on Caprica, i think might be the laughingstock of the entire Battlestart Gallactica. The sign is mildly obscured by poor lighting and droplets of rain, but it reads “Frackville.” I laughed and longed for summer time ample enough to watch science fiction shows.

Night drew close. Gas was consumed by the vehicle, sleep taken by we who, for the day, had occupied it.

We awoke at what in college might be considered the crack of dawn (save for the crew team, perhaps) and traversed more roads through Pennsylvania and Maryland. It was whilst in West Virginia, however, that we drove past a landmark notable for its importance in American Civil War history and for me, most recently, in a paper i wrote for a class on the conscious of women in the lives of Frederick Douglass. Though John Brown was not to be seen, I delighted in recognizing Harpers Ferry (which is, apparently, meant to be spelled sans-apostrophe) and took it as a validation that education can manifest itself usefully in the world outside college.

Through West Virginia we drove until we reached her mother, Virginia, guided so fruitfully by one of the two identical road atlases kept stocked in The Firebolt.

(Also of note: Amherst, blurry at the bottom of the above photograph, bears the same name as a neighboring town to Mount Holyoke. There is also a South Boston in Virginia, which made me feel as though we had never really left Massachusetts to begin with).

(every good road trip requires its own unique 6-CDs-long mix!)

While my father drove, i burned CDs filled with old loves and tunes of Carolina. The Avett Brothers, Ben Folds, and Old Crow Medicine Show were featured prominently in the latter category, whilst Billy Joel and Elton John occupied the former.

Whilst in the Shenandoah Valley, we pulled over for a scenic stretching break wherein more classic Larry-and-lizzie photo-taking awkwardly occurred until, thank goodness, a couple from Missouri offered to take our picture in exchange for us taking theirs. Strangers on the road and in snapshots. The mountains were painted like the colors of the Van Gogh works that had so recently collaged my walls. I took solace in this.

thanks, friends of the road.

I took the driver’s seat, and my father took over the camera. There were lunches to eat, and my first solid jolt of sweet tea since March. Alongside Jerry Falwell’s memorial we ate southern chain food and, though i was acutely aware this was not yet home and in no way did i blend in, there were hints of Carolina growing closer. The air was getting thicker, the dogwood scent more potent.

Before long, there were signs indicating what tastes had taunted and scents alluded to. Chapel Hill was nigh, and summer was really here. Mango Jerry played juxtaposed to Keltic Electric; we sang an out-of-key harmony.

And now here i sit, somewhat at a loss. I knew the semester was wrapping up too fast – it always does, after all – but this happens more than i care to admit. I grow more and more restless, ready to tear down the posters and roll them into their boxes bound for home before i give pause to remember that home is a complicated word. Simon and Garfunkel plays on repeat, the rain taps at the window, and the cats are here. This is home. The room behind is no longer mine, and yet come fall there will be empty walls ready for the stringing up of new photos and old memories. A time in between, the season of weeding, blooming where i am planted. Come what may.

Saying Goodbye.

Things expats like: comparing the amount of stamps in your passport to everyone else.

It is terribly true; i take great pride in every whacked-on circle or rectangle of ink splattered across the pages of my passport. Sure, they’re aesthetically pleasing to the eye in the mismatch of overlapping geometric shapes and all, but the comparison of who-has-the-better-Ugandan-Visa question runs a little deeper than simple visual pleasure. It’s rollicking in the memories of voyages well-taken, swapping tales of motorcycle rides through East African cities or night-time wanders through the North East corner of London. Opening your passport is opening an invitation to adventure; the blank pages entice and beckon in the exhilaration of the unknown while remnants of a journey past remind you why the dust never really settles.

I’ve had my current passport since i was fourteen, having acquired it for my first sojourn to Uganda in 2007. In fact, it arrived literally at the last possible minute for our departure – despite having been sent for in February of that year, my ticket to international travel and proof-of-citizenship arrived no later than the morning of our flight to Uganda.

As in, mid-July. Our passports took five months to process, when we’d been told it would take no longer than six weeks.

My mother and i had packed our bags in a tense, forcibly optimistic atmosphere the night before, hoping and praying that we would be able to go on the trip we’d been needing for, well, our whole lives. When she’d called me from the post office (she drove over prior to the mail folk leaving on their morning rounds because we couldn’t afford to wait around for the mail person to deliver) i, quite literally, dropped the phone and fell onto the couch. I don’t deny i’ve got a bit of a penchant for the dramatic, but it was the kind of turning point in my life that – even without the suspense of the vacant passports – called for the utmost of performance from my adolescent self.

And to compound the ease and emotion-free departure, my Great-Grandmother passed away that same morning. So maybe the crying out and collapsing was more to do with the extreme conflux of emotions running rampant in the household than just my first international embarkment. The morning i first left the country, the morning i woke up to the first Proper Adventure of my life, a light went out.

Needless to say, opening up my passport opens my memory to considerably more than the stamping of a visa.

This morning, though, i bid a bit of a farewell to my first passport. It expires this July, and as there is an incredibly-slim-but-incredibly-awesome chance that i might be leaving the country for a bit this summer (i don’t quite want to say any more just yet, in case it jinxes things) i needed to renew my documentation. And while i know i get it back – hole-punched to prevent double identities and whatever – a part of me was sad to bid farewell to its creased pages and outdated logo. This passport carried me across my first international border, it was with me all the time in South Sudan, it allowed me entry into England, and served as a holding place of a marker for each journey in self-discovery. Call me over-attached to the material, but my passport means far more to me than a terrible picture and birthdate information.

But, then again, a new passport comes with new promises. Tantalizingly blank pages beckoning to be stamped, inked, and otherwise blotted with the marks of a thousand boundaries to be crossed. A new, equally as appalling, photograph to forever remind me of this snowy slushy, hair-in-an-untamed-afro day. Perhaps a sturdier cover for the more, shall we say, aggressive-purse-packing voyager.

Most of all, though, a new passport brings with it the possibility of new adventure – and few things in life are more exhilarating than such dreams.

current jam: “smooth criminal” naya riviera & grant gustin

best thing in my life right now: the impending weekend. and its promised fifty, snow-melting, degree weather.

The Little Green Pig (And Other Adventures There and Back Again)

I can now officially cross #5 off of my list of fifteen things to be accomplished in six months (now totaling to six completed tasks): i went home to see my brother, Thom’s, directorial debut with The Pillowman. In fact, i’d be so bold to say i managed to knock out a double-whammy; i managed to also be home for my other brother, Mike’s, fifteenth birthday. While i may not be in the big sister hall of fame, i’m very pleased to have been there for both of these boys’ milestones!

Last Wednesday, i left Mount Holyoke’s frigid campus behind me for the single terminal of my second most frequented air portal, Bradley International Airport. Packed with a suitcase exploding at the seams (i did that college thing where i don’t do laundry for three weeks and instead bring it all home to do it for free) and armed with a fat stack of reading to accomplish on the plane, i managed to make it home to an ice cold glass of sweet tea and a comfortable, albeit environmentally worrying, seventy degrees.

It was a whirlwind of a glorified forty-eight hours; between 9 pm Wednesday night (touchdown) and 9 am Saturday morning (take-off) i managed to see Thom’s play twice, worship snuggle with my cats, lunch with one grandmother, visit my other grandmother, view in awe the masterpiece that is Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with father and grandmother (review of said film coming soon), eat a fat whopping burrito with a friend, interrupt a band rehearsal to see another friend, wash three loads of clothes, play with my cats, cuddle up next to my dog, spend an afternoon with my mom, pack, unpack, pack again, and mew at my cats like we speak the same language. If that’s not an end-to-end 60 hours of well-used time at home, i’m not sure what is.

Amidst all of this, i fully intended to photograph every minute and, subsequently, present to ya’ll a blog-o-pictures for your visual feasting. However, as i was something of a tornado-generating machine in my to-the-moment time home, i only managed to take the following:

picasso and buddy the beagle.

eli in the sink!

Maybe all that nonsense about plays and Benedict Cumberbatch movies was a ruse to cover up the fact that i only ventured home for the sake of my perfect cats and sweet old dog.

But while such a plan to see nothing but my animal friends would be NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF BECAUSE ALL SOCIALLY-ADJUSTED LADIES OF SOME NORMALITY LIKE THEIR CATS AND DOG AS MUCH AS ME, it was not the primary reason for my sojourn to Chapel Hill.

I was home in my other home for my brothers. And while my visits with them were shamefully brief, i couldn’t be more proud of them. Mike, who is halfway through his first year of high school, has grown up so much into a considerate, thoughtful, sweet, and wrestling-conference-champion darling of a brother. Thom could not have been more in his element as the director of such a sinister, warped, delicious spectacular of a work that is Martin McDonagh’s play. It’s always a weird thing, coming home to find a window into the rest of my family’s life. We live in separate time streams in a multitude of ways – and yet, some things never really change. Being proud of my siblings is something that has never abided.

And i did manage to acquire a picture on the set of The Pillowman with Thom after the curtain. He’s holding (fake) severed toes in front of the cross from “The Little Jesus” (a story within the show). The play, which centers around a barely-published author of horrific short stories (most of which involving the grisly murder of small children) named Katurian, is a warped and wretched portrait of modern life. It explores interpersonal familial relationships in a way akin to John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, but with the added layer of gruesome imagery and lack of mucking out stalls (well, in the literal sense). It’s a show about the loss of innocence, but also about the glimmer of beauty that can be found – if sought- amidst tragedy. It may be a stomach-clenching, eye-shutting nightmare to behold, but Thom and the cast and crew did such a marvelous job at conveying the work in an entrancing, if not hauntingly mesmerizing, capacity. My cringe in the photo below seems to encapsulate how i felt for the entirety of the tale; not from lack of relishing in the talent of the show, but more as a product of the stellar acting and theatrical story-telling.

Thanks for being awesome, boys.

Even with the severed toes.

current jam: “lovecraft in brooklyn” the mountain goats

best thing in my life right now: ian mckellan reading instructions on how to change a tyre. 

Obligatory Year End Wrap Up Title (a Thoughts in my head Reflection).

We pause now in our regularly scheduled programming to bring you an obligatory wrap-up of the year two-thousand-and-eleven. Well, perhaps not obligatory, but certainly well-warranted and most definitely time-sensative.

2011 was, well, probably the craziest year of my life. As i consider all that has changed in the past year – and nearly everything in my life has changed – i find myself at a tension. The year was one of the most incredible, inspiring, beautiful, and brilliant years i’ve yet had; i finally lived (albeit briefly) in Uganda; with the resilient and wonderful people of South Sudan i witnessed the birth of the world’s newest nation; i, at long last, made it to Platform 9 and 3/4; i declared my double-major after much anguish and discernment; i deepened some of the most important friendships of my life, dyed my hair, survived my first 300 level seminar, fell in love with my cats, saw the final Harry Potter film installment,  embarked upon 6 road trips, saw two Harry and the Potters concerts, started a blog (oh, hello, you (you look lovely, by the way)), and took more risks and plunges than i ever thought possible.

And yet, for personal reasons, this was also a year of profound pruning. Living abroad was not so easy as i’d dreamt, adulthood is not as glamorous as i once thought it might be. The year was a year of dualities; beauty that stole the breath from my body, pain that made me heave with the effort to intake oxygen. Yin and yang, perfection and price.

What it all seems to boil down to, though, is my right leg. Yes, you read that right. You might recall, dear one, that on my first day in the city of Kampala, after my first tousle and whir on a boda-boda, i … scraped … my leg after dismounting from the bike on the wrong side. And by scraped, i mean burned the skin clean off. Well, to be totally honest, it was hardly a clean wound. To spare you the gruesome details, i shall merely say it was no pleasant sight and an even more brutal endurance to be had (God, i’m a good whiner). For my foolishness i still bear a pretty impressive scar about the size of my palm; my mom says it looks like a butt-heart (thanks, Ma) and she’s putting it mildly. As far as scars go, it is no lightening bolt.

But i love my scar.

I love everything about it; the discoloration, the fact that it’s just this amorphous blob of gross-looking skin, the fact that it is fully visible in warm weather. Most of all, though, i love that the scar on my leg reminds me that faith takes risk. And sometimes, such risks hurt. Badly. They might take time to heal, and the healing may involve a limp and tight-lipped grimaces and some not-so-fun antibiotics. But in the end, you can choose to purchase your fancy scar-removing creams or surgeries, or you can choose to embrace the imperfection. The reminder of a lesson, an adventure, a lifelong journey.

2011 was a year of choosing the latter, and learning to deal with such ramifications. For all that was good, and all that was not, i am deeply moved and deeply grateful. Such pruning gives space for the vine to grow with branches wider and roots deeper.

Faith takes risk, after all.

current jam: ‘ever after’ from into the woods

best thing in my life right now: stephen sondheim, haircuts, and tamora pierce.

(our regularly scheduled programming should resume, apocalypse pending, on the morrow lads and lasses)

in the air again.

The uniformity of American airports can be such a comfort.

I’ve said it once, and i shall say it more: airports are easily some of my favorite places in this world. There’s something terribly exciting about a place of transit, a realm meant for those embarking on a journey. Sure, its plagued with suited up professionals dreading the next conference room, and true, often my times in airports are meant as transit only to the simplest, most mundane of places.

But still. I know i was born to travel when i am at such ease in a place like this.

Despite not having been in the Bradley airport for some time (March, i think?) navigating its (albeit it only one) terminal is reeking of one of the best parts of the trip home: the anticipation. As i awoke at 6 am this morning, grumbling how i’d hardly slept five hours (thank you, Merlin schoolwork) and fumbling around the dark trying to pack the toothbrush and find the glasses, it occurred to me that, while i may detest waking at such hours, i also kind of love it. Waking when most of the world (or at least, the campus) is still to bed to take a trip is kind of a magical time. The in-between place, the time of preparing for the journey and praying all goes well and holding out for a window seat – it’s something i’m getting better and better at. Living with your home spread across the world forces you to do this, i suppose.

This trip isn’t terribly exotic, or going to be rank with whirlwind adventures, or abrim in reality shattering epiphanies (well, i suppose one  should never say never). Should all go well, it shall be full of steaming cups of tea, my cats, sleep, reading, terrible television, my cats, hibernation, writing, and my cats. A retreat from the whir, time to be a zombie and not leave my bed for anything in the world but another cup of tea or to clean out the litter box. Did i mention the cats?

But the “mundane” can be so welcome. Most welcome in a semester like this, wherein i’ve done nothing but write papers and wrangle with endless readings and want nothing more than sleep. The mundane can be even more worthy of my travel-anticipation than the thrilling, in some capacities.

Most of all, though, waiting for me on the other side of this trip are my cats, a time-transcending cowboy, and the simple marvel of home.

Happy travels, friends.

current jam: ‘you’re the voice’ john farnham

best thing in my life right now: tweed jackets and scottish accents.

words written for nanowrimo: 27,828

Thoughts from the Journey: London Edition

Once more, i am writing to you, dearest reader, from the comfort of my own desk in my own room, at my beloved Mount Holyoke College. It’s a strange feeling – being back – because there’s this sense of normalcy and regularity to my rushing to class, downing continuous cups of coffee, and making endless color-coded homework charts for the oncoming weekend. In some ways, i feel like i’ve woken up from a blissful dream to Reality, without a moment passing at all.

And while, to be fair, my time in London was incredibly brief, it was concurrently immeasurably special. England has existed in my mind for so long, shaped by my consumption of Potter novels and films, the writings of the brilliant Jane Austen, the pouring over my favorite Shakespearean plays. My thoughts and dreams of what London would be were undeniably influenced by Doctor Who, by my guidebook’s quips, and by what i longed for the experience to hold. To be on the streets i’d dreamed of while reading about Harry and Ron and Hermione, envisioned while singing along to My Fair Lady, was literally the summation of so many dreams – a treasure compounded by the fact that i could share the journey with my fantastic father.

Someone commented on my post about Day 4 spent in the city that places like London and New York exist in our minds long before we ever encounter them in person. I think this is indisputable; i also contend that my imagination will continue to paint my memories and thoughts of such places. London is tangible to me now, surely, for i can remember the hotness and cramped sensation of riding in the Tube – sensations i had not anticipated. Yet the wonder, the idyllic glow i’ve cast over the winding streets and platforms, shall persist whether consciously or not. My London will never be the same as any other’s interpretation, but my London has changed for me in the span of seven days.

It is this kind of living in the dream that is so often the best part of traveling. I didn’t stay long enough to be infuriated by the delay in traffic, or fret over the never-ending threat of rain. The time was brief enough that every moment was satiated with the exhiliration of uncovering a new place, and thereby discovering more about my own tastes and talents and shortcomings. The journey, wherever it may be, is always the greatest adventure in the scope of wandering around the world.

And, yes, I’m suffering a bit from post-travel tribulation (did i mention my weekend is now divided up according to green time for paper-writing and blue time for research?). But i know the UK has more for me to wander through, and that for everything there is a time and place. For now, my time and place is at this gorgeous university with my brilliant friends and a wicked amount of work to be doing.

current jam: ‘poison’ nicole scherzinger

best thing in my life right now: my new TARDIS mug! my friends in my life again!