Sunday, 31 August 2008

Dusting Off The Dance Shoes

I've always loved to dance. My grandma used to tell me stories about when I was little, before I could even walk, pulling myself up in front of the TV and 'dancing' to the Muppet Show theme music. As a child I did all the normal little girl things: ballet, tap, jazz . . . etc, and continued doing that sort of dance on and off through high school.

Then I hit university. And just in time for the Swing Revival! I took ballroom classes, and loved them, but my heart belonged to the Lindy Hop! It's the child of the Charleston and Swing Music, originating in the Savoy Ballroom, in Harlem, NYC in 1929. By the 1940's it was hugely popular, and the American Service Men brought it over to Europe during the Second World War. It's this style Swing Dance that I do.

Only, I haven't been doing it! When I was at BYU it was easy. They have a swing club where I learned and danced multiple times/week by my last year. When I lived in London, I still danced at least once/week. And in Sheffield, it was a little less frequent, but still every couple weeks. Since moving to Colchester, though, I've been hard pressed to do much of anything. There's no club out here, so I have to travel, which is expensive. It also means I get home late, and most of the good dance nights are week nights! So I don't go very often. In fact, I got a new pair of dance shoes for Christmas (I was bruising my toe nails in the old pair!) and by the last week in August, I hadn't used them once!

No more!!!! I refuse to live like this. I went dancing on Friday. It was fabulous. Really great venue. Small group, but very friendly. I was dancing the whole night. So much, in fact, that half way through my 6th back-to-back dance I had to beg to stop. I couldn't breathe. And I'm going again next Friday. I'm also going to start attending the Cambridge dances on Monday nights. It's about the same distance, but I can drive there, so I'm in no danger of missing my last train home and don't have to stress.

So, the upshot: My life 'don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing!' See you on the dance floor!

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Single Photo LO Help!

Ok, this is a post for my Scrapbooking friends:

I have these two random and unconnected photos. I'm working on a 12x12 album. I'm terrible at doing single photo layouts. So, does anyone have any ideas for what to do?

The first: The Cathedral at St. David's in Wales

The second: A beck, or shallow, wide spot in a river, very like a ford. My surname is Beck.
Suggestions? Resource? Slaps upside the head? Anything welcome at this point!

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Falling In Love

I love to read. Actually, that's not quite true. I love to read. That might not even be sufficiently strong to express my delight in the written word. One of my friends (Hi Miss M!) requested that I share some of my favourite books on my blog. So . . . this one's for you, doll!

I enjoy all sorts of different genres. This particular series is what started me down the path of adventure. In fact, in view of my above description of my affection for books, it may surprise you to know that in my early years, I loathed reading. Turns out, I'm dyslexic. And one of the symptoms of my particular dyslexia (because there are loads of different types) is difficulty reading out loud. Now, think back. When you were learning to read, did you get to do it silently? NO! You had to do it out loud. It was miserably difficult for me. It wasn't that I couldn't read (because I could. Just fine, thank you) it's that something got lost between my eyes reading the words and my tongue repeating them back. (This is still the case, by the way. I really dislike reading out loud. It's occasionally reduced me to tears, though not for about 10 years, now.) However, my parents stuck with it. One of their tactics was Dad reading to me in the evenings. The theory was, I'd get hooked on the story and want to continue on my own. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately given the absurd number of books I've read in my life, not to mention the number of times I've reread many of them) the ploy worked. I was captivated. And thus started my love affair with books. This is the series that lit the flame: The Pridain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander. It consists of 5 books:

The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, The High King
(In that order)
It follows a young man named Taran in his coming of age quest. I loved it. Besides, he's got a red-headed princess for a side kick who's got more fight than anyone Hollywood's ever devised. What's not to like! It vaguely follows Welsh legend (with a name like Lloyd, Welsh should not surprise anyone) same as the Lord of the Rings series. Disney did an animated version of the Black Cauldron. Don't bother finding it. It was rubbish. Which is really tragic, given how fabulous the book was! They're light reads, rather along the same reading level as the Chronicles of Narnia. But just as worthy of a read. I hope I've brought a little bit of joy into your lives.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

I; Scrapbooker

Ok, so I've admitted now that I scrapbook. I know many of you already knew that before my last post, but I'm trying to get over my embarrassment. So, in that view, here are some things I like about the fact that I scrapbook:

1) It makes my pictures easier to read. I said that gem more than 10 years ago, back when I started scrapbooking. As illogical as it sounds, the feeling behind it is true. Rather than tossing all my photos in a box for some future generation to try and make some sort of sense out of.

2) It preserves my memories. I can't remember half the things that I've done in my life, and I'm not that old. But when I look at a photo, it all comes rushing back!

3) My fingers itch if I don't do something. I like to take photographs and I like working with my hands. So it seems like a good fit. I've got to do something with them. And the creativity gets all pent up inside my head. Scrapbooking lets it out.

4) I just plain like it. This is probably the most important one. I just like working on scrapbooks.

So, those are some of my reasons. I scrapbook. And I'm trying to be proud of it. I'm certainly enjoying my new association of scrapbooking friends over on the online community. They're some of the nicest people I've ever chatted with.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Online Communities

I did something really crazy this week. I joined an online community of scrapbookers. *blush* I don't know why I'm so embarrassed about my scrapbooking, but I am. So joining a community really makes me . . . well, blush! I really don't know why the scrapbooking makes me so self concious. I know I do good work. And I enjoy it. But it's true! I hate admitting to people that I scrapbook.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Mugging for the Camera

When I started my first MA back in 2004 (!), Dad sent me a joke:

Q: How is an academic like a squid?

A: When threatened, they both hide behind a cloud of ink.

So, when my former housemate, Claire, graduated with her MA, I gave her a nice pen (to create the cloud of ink) and a University Mug (to put the hot drink in to keep her company on those late nights spent working on the cloud of ink).

Then, disaster.

My parents were here in England for Christmas (No! That wasn't the disaster bit!) My washing machine was leaking just a bit. So Dad and I set about sorting it out. We had to pull out the machine from under the kitchen counter. Only, I'd forgotten that the counter top was actually resting on the machine. It was broken, and only looked like it was attached to the wall. So when we pulled the machine out, down came the counter top. And Claire's mug was on top! Several other things were on there as well, but fortunately only Claire's mug and one other (random, not special) mug broke. Of course, I felt terrible about having broken Claire's mug. She was very kind and said not to worry about it, but I did. The only time they sold those particular mugs was during Graduation. So I couldn't just nip up to Uni and replace it.

So, July comes around again. Graduation. Only this year, I'm participating in the ceremony. I wanted to get a new mug for Claire, and get one for Jenny (who'd been on my MA course, so was also graduating). Unfortunately, I was so rushed off my feet that day, I didn't get a chance to get any mug! So, what to do? What to do?

Inspiration. There's a ceramic painting shop on the High Street in Colchester. So I took Mom down there and we painted 2 mugs. She did the watercolour bit and I did the lettering. It's the backs of our heads (Claire, Jenny and mine) with morter boards flying up into the air. Then, along the other side it says 'University of Essex Linguistics'. And along the handel it has the owner's name. Mom had finished the artistic stuff, and I was working on the lettering for the 2nd mug when I decided they were turning out so well that I needed one for me. So Mom painted another, and I did the lettering on a 3rd. I had to send them off to be fired, of course, and it took 2 weeks to get them back. Then it was another 2 or so weeks till I could get both Jenny and Claire in the same room at the same time. I was absolutely desperate to give them their mugs! Finally, we managed to have lunch together last Thursday. They loved the mugs (of course!) So, here's the photos of what they look like:

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

My Achilles Ankle

For those of you who've known me since BYU, you're probably already aware of my ankle troubles. If you haven't known me quite so long, you may not. I've had some real ankle problems in the past. I managed to severely sprain my left and right ankles in the same week! (Just in time to be the Maid of Honour at my Best Friend's wedding. Timing, eh?) I've also badly sprained my right ankle two other times. Well . . . I tried to do it again tonight. The Youth Activity tonight (it was combined Young Men/Young Women) was Orienteering. The 2nd Councilor in YM went out to the University grounds and set up a course. So we went out and split into small groups and had a go at finding all the pegs, with their accompanying phrase (to prove you'd found it). It was so much fun. But, it was timed, of course, so we were running. It was just dusk, starting to get pretty dark, and I'm running with my 2 youth on my team. We're going across a flat, open bit (not the long tall grass, or the foresty bits) when, all the sudden, I stepped in a hole, went over on my ankle, spun around and landed on my bum, facing the way I'd just come. The map went flying off to one side, but fortunately I wasn't carrying anything else. Anyway, I sat there for a moment, and my youth came back to where I'd landed and were very sweet, making sure I was ok. The ankle smarted a bit, but I could tell (from previous experience) that it wasn't bad. Sore, yes. But not a bad sprain. However, I knew that was the end of my running for the evening. By the time I got home, it had swollen just a bit, and was still tender. So I took some painkillers/anti-inflamitories, and I'm icing it and have it propped up. It shouldn't be too bad in a couple days, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if I really feel it tomorrow.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Really High Speed Olympics

Wow. How about that 100m Men's, eh? Impressive display of fleet feet. Only one thing marred it for me: that Usain Bolt quit racing 10 meters before the finish line. He kept running, but he wasn't racing any more. This is the Olympics. Doesn't matter if you're 2 meters in front! Impressive as it is that he could stop racing, just doesn't do it for me. That's one of the reasons Michael Phelps (go UofM, by the way!) is so much fun to watch. He actually races it. Save the showmen ship for exhibitions. At the Olympics, do your best!

High Speed Olympics

When it was first announced that the 2008 Olympic Games were to be held in Beijing, I was not overly thrilled. It had nothing to do with it being China, or anything like that. It was simply that I was not looking forward to the time difference! I like to watch the events live. However, I've been reasonably pleased with the way the BBC has handled it. They have live coverage which is pretty comprehensive of all the major events (though, if you're keen to watch some of the more obscure events, like Greco-Roman Wrestling, you're kind of stuffed) that I record, then watch the next day. If you're actually up and functional at the live times, and have a digital system of some sort (which I do), you can access some extra channels and watch an uninterrupted event of some sort. The problem is, most of us are not up at 3.00 in the morning! And those extra channels can't be recorded, nor can they be accessed later. That's the only thing I'd change. However, I've been thurouly enjoying watching the Olympics on Fast Forward! My system lets me speed through at 2, 6, 12 or 30 times normal speed. So when the commentators are waffling on about absolutely nothing between events, I go x30. But during the events, it's fantastic, because I can watch it straight out, or -- if I'm running short of time, or just can't stand the tention like on that 7th Michael Phelps race! -- I can race forward to the last few seconds of the event, then watch the end on normal speed. It's fantastic! I regularly get through these 300-odd minute recordings in an hour (sometimes more, depending on how many events they're showing that I'm keen to see anything other than the results for. Sorry, never going to be a boxing fan. Probably not equestrian, either.) In other words, I've changed my mind. The time difference hasn't bothered me much at all! It's brilliant. So, here's to breaking all Olympic Speed Records with a simple push of a button!

Friday, 15 August 2008

Feeling Fit and Fabulous

You may (or may not) remember that back in March I joined a gym, and was going to start getting more exercise back in my life. Well, then I went off to Morocco, and then there was this and there was that other excuse . . . and I finally said enough. I'm going to get in there. So I did something really wild and crazy. I bought time with a personal trainer. It's been brilliant! Seriously, if you're struggling to get the habit, if you can afford it, even for a few weeks, or even once/month, do it. I've learned so much about doing exercises better. I've also actually progressed with my weights training. That's such a first for me! I'm now doing more than I was when I started, and feeling it less! It's wonderful. I still feel pretty exhausted by the routine, so it's not that I need to do more, but my muscles don't just ache for 3 days after. I need to get in gear and push myself more on my cardio routine. I only do weights with my PTer. Cardio is on my own. I've been doing it, but only half hearted. I need to throw myself into it like I have with the weights. But I'm feeling so much better!

Saturday, 9 August 2008

The MAin Event

Originally, way back in February, Mom's Birthday -- when I gave her my frequent flier miles to come over and visit -- we'd discussed when she could come, and the end result was, due to her teaching Kindergarten, she'd have to come in the summer. So I suggested she come for my MA Graduation. Now, you have to understand some things. Graduations have never meant much to me. I like the photos (this is me after all!) and having friends and family around, but the actual ceremony doesn't mean anything to me. Probably because I'm still working towards something higher, so it's not final. Added to that, it's my second Master's degree! It's really a bit of a 'Been There. Done That. Got The Hat.' I didn't go to my High School Graduation (I was in Greece with Grandma). I didn't go to my BA Graduation (I was in Hawai'i visiting Grandma, Grandpa with Lois). I did go to my Sheffield MA because I was not sure at that point if I'd go on for my PhD, and because my MA group only had 5 people in it, and they were all going to be there, so if I didn't attend, I'd be the only one, and it makes a difference, missing one. There is a similar rational for my attending this second MA graduation. We had quite a small group of MA Sociolinguistics students. And of those, I was particularly close with 3. Of those 3, only one has stayed here at Essex to do a PhD. One has gone off to London and forsaken Academia all together. One had a year out, but is off to York (where he'd done his undergrad) for a PhD. So it was going to be quite a reunion. Plus another friend coming back from Japan for the ceremony. It was definately going to be a reunion. In addition, the only other 2 PhD students Rebecca (my advisor) has were graduating. So I really wanted to be there to support them. (It's a bit lonely in the Data Sessions with just me!) Ok, long story short (Too late! -- Anyone know that quote?) I decided to Walk. When Grandma found out about it, she said she'd come out, too. She's never been able to come out for any of our (mine or Lois') graduations before (though only I've actually Walked before!) so she was quite excited about that, too. So that was another reason to participate in the Ceremony.

So, on the 16th I turned up at the University around 9.00 to meet up with Jenny and get our robes. We bumped into our returning friends Nicholas and Sarah, and we all went to get our photos taken. Following the portraits, we of course had to rearrange the robes, and re-pin them. Unlike the US robes, these are open fronted. That means that they slide all over the place. In addition to that, there's that big hood which constantly pulls back and flops all over. So safety pins are a must. Eventually I managed to meet up with Grandma and Mom. We all went over to the 'Tin Can' or 'Baked Bean Tin' or whatever you want to call it. It's this big, round, silver building. When they first finished it, someone took a photo of it and photoshoped a 'Tesco Value' label on it. (Tescos is a major grocery store. Their Value range is the cheapest you can get.) It said, 'Tesco Value: Stuents in Brine' So funny! Anyway, we headed in there for the ceremony. It was more or less what you'd expect. A lot of sitting and clapping and wishing it were over. Eventually it was. Yeay! We were asked to process out in formation, and just as we were coming down the stairs . . . tragedy struck. I caught my heel and went cartwheeling down the stairs, head first. My robes flying, my hat flew off. I bounced off my friend Nicholas, who was just in front of me, and my friend Sarah tried to catch me (she was just behind me) but I was just too far gone. But between the two of them, they managed to keep me from having any serious injury. Someone collected my mortor board and passed it over, I climbed to my feet, straightened my robes, and finished the procession out. Now, everyone was terribly impressed that I didn't burst into tears out of embaressment, or something, but honestly, I wasn't embaressed! It hurt (in fact, a month later you can still see the bruise on my left shin) and was not exactly fun, but it was an accedent. Nothing to be embaressed about.

Anyway, when we made it out onto Square 5 I finally got the chanse to inspect the wounds. I'd scraped all the skin off my left knee, done a fair job on my left shin and right foot, and just scraped my right knee and palm of my right hand. Nothing too bad, but definately could use a plaster. Jenny (Miss 'Don't Worry, I've Got Everything!') had a marvelous one which got me patched up and no longer bleeding.

After reuniting with our respective family units, we made our way up to the marque that the department had set up for our use. We were given lovely finger foods and drinks (a total blessing because it was quite warm!) and the students who'd earned awards were introduced. Then we had to go out and take at least a million photos (as if we hadn't been doing so all along). The best photos were, of course, the ones where we got to throw the hats. Now, over here PhD's don't have mortor boards. They have squishy round hats called Bonnets. They make excellent frizbees! Hee hee hee . . . 2 more years and it's my turn :D

Eventually we made our way out of the tent and home. I had some of my friends (I'd invited a bunch more, but not all could make it) for a barbeque. It was good fun, and the weather held! Which, at that point in July, was quite an accomplishment.

Now, whilst I've always been a bit reluctant to walk, I love photographs. So I've always gotten the robes for some pictures. At BYU I got this fabulous photo of me sitting on the Cougar (our mascot). When I graduated from Sheffield, Lois and I drove to Tintern Abby (a ruins) for some quintisentially British photos. So this time I decided to go to Dedham. It's a charming town, with a gorgeous church. And it was in the Church I took the photos. So, that's where those other photos came from. They were not taken on the same day as the graduation ceremony.

Friday, 8 August 2008

I Win!

Sort of.

Actually, I figured out that I could still post photos if I used a slideshow built on another site. So that's what I've done. I've now posted photos of The Wall and the AirKix Indoor SkyDiving. Enjoy!

Get Your Kicks . . . In A Wind Tunnel!

The Monday before Grandma arrived, I took Mom off to Milton Keynes. I had been taunting her for weeks about what we were going to be doing. It had been ultra secret. :) Finally, the Saturday before we went, she started guessing absolutely every far out and insane thing she could come up with, and eventually did come up with our activity. I took her to AirKixs in Milton Keynes to go Indoor SkyDiving! It totally ROCKED!

I bought us 2 sessions of 2 minutes each of air time. We had an initial training session, where they taught us the 'C' Position, which is the optimal body position for freefall. You arch your back, keep your legs somewhat bent and V-ed out, and your arms in front of you, elbows bent. Now, that position sounds easy. But with air rushing at you so fast it literally overcomes gravity . . . it's tough to keep. Most of those 2 minutes (at our very untrained level) you spend working out how exactly you need to hold your body. Every once in a while, though, it clicks, and you suddenly have all sorts of control of your space. It's amazing! I got to go up above head level, then hover right above the floor, and I learned to spin 365' left and then right. Mom got good at going up and down, but I'm not sure if she turned or not. It was amazing when it worked right. When it didn't, it was just palin hard work. 2 minutes doesn't sound like much, but let me tell you, by the end of it you were glad to get out of the stream. But I'd totally do it again. In a heart beat!

Wednesday, 6 August 2008


My Mom arrived on the 6th of July. I'd been to the Rugby match the day before, so Jenny and I had stayed over at her aunt and uncle's house. That meant I didn't have to leave at a quarter past early to collect Mom. Yeay! Got her and we all traipsed back to Essex. Mom and I both really needed a nap, so we had a brief sleep. Well . . . I had a brief kip. Mom slept for a couple hours. She was good and jetlagged. When she got up we started planning our two projects.

The first project is what my Dad termed The Great Wall of China in Colchester. My office has been in desperate need of a spruce-up since I moved in. I painted the walls white originally, and haven't done anything with them since. So Mom and I discussed what we'd do with it. We decided on an Oriental Theme. Something of a cross between China and Japan. The design is a Chinese/Japanese woman who stands slightly to the left of the centre of the wall. To the right of the centre, and up a bit, is a Dragon. We decided the mythology behind it is that the woman is Mother Nature, and she's bringing in Spring. The Dragon is bringing the warmth of spring with his firy breath. There's a band of flowers flowing between Mother Nature and the Dragon, which, when breathed on, change into butterflies. There are different Oriental Medalian designs in each courner, and the colours fade from a dark teal in the upper right, to a dark red/pink in the lower left. It's a marvelous murial. Took us a whole week of solid work. Well . . . when I say 'us' I really mean 'Mom'. But it looks fabulous!

The second project was a scrapbook of the Morocco photos for my Grandma's Birthday. In fact, this took us the full time Grandma was here to complete. I finished the last page at 3.00 in the morning the day she was due to leave my house! But we got all the photos aranged on the pages for the actual birth day (25 July). We worked very hard at it till Grandma arrived (15th) and then after that we worked every evening on it, and any day we weren't doing anything else. It was exhausting, but we made it in the nick of time. We were up till 3 or so on the morning of the 25th to get it all done, then back at work on it by 10.00. The only things that weren't done when we wrapped it up were the titles/words on the second half of the book. Actually, the words usually take more time to do than arranging the photos does! It turned out to be totally worth it, though! Not only did the book turn out lovely, Grandma was absolutely wild about it. When we gave it to her, she sat and looked at it for over an hour! And the first thing she wanted to do when she got back that afternoon? Look at it some more. That usually means we done good :) I took it home that night and continued to work on the words. As I said before, it took me right up to the very last night to finish. Looked pretty spectacular when it was done, though!

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Grrrrrr . . .

Ok, it looks like I'm going to have to do serious things to my computer -- like reinstalling the Operating System -- to get things sorted out with my computer. So for the moment, if you want to see photos, you'll have to check out my Facebook account. You have no idea how annoyed I am!

Anyway, I'll try to get some real blogs together soon. Even if they are photoless. Which is just such a shame, because I've done some really fun things! And have some truly spectacular photos to show for it. *sigh* Never mind. Such is life.


Well, I dropped off the last of my house guests today. It was fun having my Grandma and Mom in town, but it's also nice to be on my own again. It's like I said to my Mom earlier: it's nice to take a break, but it's nicer to have something to take a break from. My Dad always says he needs a holiday from his vacations. I agree! I'm going to try to get the computer sorted so I can get back to my regular blogs!