Tuesday, 14 December 2010

For Jenn

A few weeks ago Susannah and I babysat for these two adorable children. It was so much fun to play with them and made me even more excited to meet my nephew, Hendrix!

I'm reading Leandros his book, Is Your Mama a Llama? But he seems more interested in the camera at the moment ;)

This is Leandros' incredibly sweet older sister Ella. She's 7. And she speaks French.

And she really likes to be tickled!

Monday, 1 November 2010

dude, lay off the hate-orade

So I got an email today from Kathleen Skerrett (a Grinnell College administrator) reporting an incident of vandalism that happened over the weekend. Apparently on Sunday morning a student's room was entered and vandalized, and this incident was "motivated by homophobic bias."

Now, I don't know the details of this situation, and I'm very physical removed from it, but it still strikes a very emotional chord in my heart. Last semester, a number of similarly hateful incidents happened on campus, ranging from vandalism of queer students' personal property to death threats scratched on doors. Many members of the Grinnell community spent the entirety of last semester feeling scared and unsafe in the environment we call home. This isn't just a matter of people expressing their own opinions, it's also about safety. When "bias-motivated incidents" like this keep happening, the logical next step is real physical violence. How sad and disgusting is that.

Seriously, what is going on back home? With all the bustle of Grinnell life -- you know, like going to class, doing your homework, maybe doing sports or theatre or music or something, and trying to retain some semblance of a social life -- who has time for all this hate? Does it matter that much to you how other human beings care for and interact with the people they're close to?

To those in pain:

Wednesday, 27 October 2010


Sooooooo, the class setup on our program is really cool. We still have 4 classes total, but only 3 during Phase I and ONLY ONE CLASS during Phase II. I've been really excited about that, because I think it will be really cool to go indepth into only one class for the the second half of the semester.

What's not so cool, however, is the fact that we have finals week RIGHT NOW. Let me draw you an outline:

-Final paper due (Theatre)

-Final exam (Art History)

-Final paper presentation (Ellen)
-Final exam (Theatre)

-Final exam (Ellen)
-Final project due (Art History)

-Final paper due (Ellen)

It's not quite as bad as a Grinnell finals week, but it's still pretty stressful. I'm powering through, though. It's about 9am here and I'm about to eat breakfast and look over my notes one last time before heading to school to do my Ellen presentation. And I'm all ready for my exam this afternoon!

On Friday at approximately 5:01pm, this is what I'm gonna look like:

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Everyday Life

I've now been here for almost two months, so I'm quite in the swing of things these days. Here's a little update about my daily habits.

I'm sure you've heard me talk about the tube. It's an underground railroad system that runs throughout the entire city, and it's the cheapest way to get around (besides walking, that is).

This is Deb and Chase on the tube. You can see in the background that it's very much like the CTA in Chicago or the subway in New York.

After about the first couple weeks here I started walking to class everyday (it's only about a 40 minute walk), but I still take the tube a lot to plays and museums and such that are a bit farther away.

Anyway, Mondays and Wednesdays my classes start at 10:45am, and Tuesdays and Thursdays I don't have class until 2pm. I never have class on Fridays (though we usually leave early Friday mornings for our weekend field trips). So I have a lot of time to chill out, go for runs in the park, go study at a museum, etc during the day.

On Mondays and Wednesdays I have a 45 minute lunch break in-between classes. I usually take the sandwich I've packed to a nearby park and eat outside. These are just some of the bird friends I hang out with while I eat. There are birds everywhere here! And, as you can see, they're not shy either. I love it!

We go to about two plays a week. And I'd say one professor or another has us over to their place about once a week.

This is a group of us at Mark Montgomery's flat for pizza.

I love this picture of Gretchem! I actually was just taking a picture of Sam, but then I got Gretchem in the background and I think it's just such a beautiful candid shot of her.

Since we're not always being given tasty food by our professors, I'm cooking for myself more than ever before. This is really exciting to me -- I feel like an actual adult ;)

This is our lovely refrigerator. We have a freezer that's just as big underneath the fridge. When I go grocery shopping, I actually have to freeze a lot of the food. It seems like food goes bad faster here. Or maybe I'm just more aware of how quickly food spoils since I'm only cooking for one.

I do much more real cooking than any of my flatmates. But I still do just heat up a lot of food. One of the staples of my diet here is tortellini. You can buy it really cheap, and it will be good for at least two meals. There are a lot of other good options as far as frozen pastas go, and I've noticed that the British are much more straightforward about the nutritional value of their food. The nutrition labels are really accessible.

Occasionally we have a "family" dinner in our flat. Last family dinner we made meatloaf. And one of the first weeks here we had a Mexican themed dinner.

Isn't my guacamole pretty?

I've also baked cookies a few times for my flatmates. They really enjoy that, and I like the homey smell it gives the flat. 

I have to say, I make really good cookies. We haven't been able to find any chocolate chips here, so these are M&M cookies. And it's a good thing I've had a lot of experience baking with my Mom, because recipes here are sooooo hard to decipher. All the measurement are different, and we don't even have any measuring tools in our kitchen. When I cook/bake I just guess on everything, and it's always turned out well!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

So Sublime: In the Land of Savage Granduer

After we left Liverpool on Saturday, we headed to a small town called Ambleside in the Lake District and spent the night in a cute little hostel there. On Sunday we took a bus a little farther and toured Dove Cottage, where William Wordsworth lived and wrote his best poetry.

Then we met with our Blue Badge guide Val, and went on a 4 hour hike through the "sublime" landscape described in Wordsworth's and other romantic poets' poetry (which we've been reading in class).


And then we saw Wordsworth's grave.


This past weekend has been what I like to affectionately refer to as "Ellen-Palooza weekend." I won't lie, I was a little stressed out about going on this field trip. Our bus was leaving at 7:30am Friday morning and we didn't get back until 11pm Sunday night, so she was literally hijacking our entire weekend. But she still assigned several hours worth of homework for the weekend! She justified it by saying that we had a 6 hour bus ride where we could do work, but I can't read in a moving vehicle. I got sick on the ride anyway even without trying to concentrate on a book!

Anyway, it turned out to be really great.

Right outside of Liverpool is the Quary Bank Mill, the first cotton mill that was built. We've been looking at Marx in class and talking about his discussion of division and specialization of labor, so we went on a pretty extensive tour through the mill to get a feel for the original "factory" process.

First we went to the counting room. Those little tin cups were what the workers got their wages in, and they passed to them through that little sliding door on the wall.

The mill owner's office.

A beautiful view of the outdoor life!

This is how the cotton arrives at the mill.

They pull it off and put it in these bins.

This is the first step in turning the cotton into fabric. Basically, you're getting the fibers of the cotton to all (or mostly all) line up in the same direction. So you put a clump of it on one of these brushes, and you brush it back and forth between the brushes until it behaves.

Then you roll it together and put it on the wheel to be spun into thread. Twisting the roll as you spin helps the fibers latch onto each other. The tighter you twist, the thinner (and stronger) the thread.

Now the thread is ready to be put on the weaving machine and woven into fabric.

This was the process for families who produced cotton fabric at home to sell and make a living.

Then the process moved to the mill setting.

This is a giant machine that does the "brushing job" much more efficiently.

Now they can spin several threads at once.


All in all, a much faster process.

However, working in the cotton mill was a very dangerous job. The average life expectancy of the workers was 25 (though it was 31 at this particular mill because the owner was very conscious of working conditions).

When they started work, the workers had to take their shoes off so they wouldn't spark the wood floor with their metal soled shoes. This meant that it was common for people to cut up their feet and slice their toes off if they dropped equipment.

There would also be just a few workers manning several large machines, and so the bustle of it all occasionally resulted in serious accidents. We were told about a boy who got his skull crushed in-between a machine he was trying to fix. Not good.

There also was just the strain of a long (usually 12 hour) work day. And the workers would soon lose a lot of their hearing capacity because of the loud machines.

The biggest danger to working in a mill, though, was the fiber inhalation that caused many of the workers to get lung and mouth cancer. It was best to work with cotton above a certain humidity, so the windows were closed tightly and the fibers just stayed in the air to be absorbed into the workers' lungs. This is the main reason for the low life expectancy.

These are some of the inner-workings of the power center for the mill.

Giant water wheel!

After the mill, we went into the actual city of Liverpool.

We went to the Cavern Club on Matthew St. which is where the Beatles were first discovered.

We made some Irish friends.

And then we went to a "boogie" club that played 70s, 80s, and 90s music.

Let me tell you, I boogied up and down that dance floor ;)

The next day we went to the International Slavery Museum and listened to a pretty fantastic lecturer talk about the history of slave trade in Liverpool. Then we got some free time and I went to the Tate Museum of Modern Art in Liverpool! I actually liked the exhibits in this one even more than I like the ones in the Tate in London.

Monday, 4 October 2010

"In Bruges"

Last weekend I went to Belgium (Brussels, Bruges, and Ghent) with my Renaissance Art class. We saw a lot of pretty things :)

First we went to Brussels -- this is the Brussels town hall.

Having a nice town hall is the Belgian city's way of showing off how cool it is.

Other buildings/sculpture in the main square.

While we were eating lunch, a bunch of people marched through the street and stopped right by us to play music. A really cute older couple started dancing in the middle of the band!

We were wondering what the cause was for the celebration. Then we realized it was Oktoberfest, hence the German flags.

This really cool dude was making art in the middle of the street with mostly just spray paint and cardboard.


Then it was back on the train and off to Bruges!

Bruges is an itty bitty fairytale town that has been completely left behind by the industrial revolution. It was a very prominent trade city in its time but now it's just nice and quaint, with a ton of architectural and otherwise art-related treasures.

The city has a lot of canals. I'm just showing off my photography skills in the rain ;)

This is the dining room in the hostel where we stayed. It was such a relaxing environment!

Bruges town hall.

Right next to the town hall is the Church of the Holy Blood.

This silver case contained the relic of the holy blood, which was basically a test tube with red liquid in it that was thought to be the blood of Jesus Christ.

Even though I don't agree that the red liquid they keep is actually the blood of Christ, I still found the space to be extremely inspiring. This is a church that is still actively in use for worship, and we saw many people coming to venerate the holy blood. Seeing these people who are so devout in their personal beliefs is an amazing experience.

We went to the Church of Our Lady and saw what I was most excited to see...

...Michelangelo's "Madonna and Child" (The Bruges Madonna)! Look at the way the Christ child's left hand is all sprawled out -- Michelangelo was definitely observing how real babies play with their little fingers!

After Bruges, we made a quick day trip to Ghent to see Jan and Hubert van Eyck's "Ghent Altarpiece." My camera died before we got there (though I'm sure I wouldn't have been allowed to photograph the painting anyway), so I have no pictures in Ghent. But the altarpiece is amazing and definitely worth googling.

I thought I'd show you a picture of my art history professor, Paula, who I absolutely adore.

The only shot I have of her is in profile, but I think you can still make out how adorable she is. I've actually been really missing my Mom recently, so it was nice to have both her and Mama Donna around this weekend. They're such motherly figures!