Thursday, September 30, 2010

Back to School

The new home of the ICS--isn't it gorgeous? It's part of the original old Yorkshire College buildings, and it's just been renovated (the dept moved in 3 weeks ago). Those tall windows above the entrance are Prof Taylor's office, and the Postgrad research room is just across the hall.

There's still quite a bit of construction work going on, but it's getting there!

The new pedestrianized area in front of the Student Union.

It's really nice to be back at ICS :) Last night I had my first research seminar and it was great to see everybody again (and meet some new people, too). Today's been my first day of actually working, and I've gotten a lot done. I'm going to try to stick to a 9-5 schedule for most days (although I did take an hour long coffee/lunch break...). We'll see how we get on, but so far, it's going really well!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Back in Leeds

It's so great to be back!
My flights were alright...I didn't sleep well like I usually do, though, so I was exhausted yesterday. Kept falling asleep any time I sat down on the couch, so we went for a walk around Headingley. It really does just feel like home :) I picked up some stuff I needed at Wilko's and Superdrug. The shops were really busy, but I love seeing all the new students running around, setting up their new places & stocking their fridges. They look about 12...So cute!

This morning I sorted out my registration & bank info, and had a nice walk around campus. I checked out my department's new home on campus--it's in a beautiful old brick building that's just been refurbished--very modern inside, and it still smells like fresh paint :) Still haven't heard about any sort of orientation--maybe on Oct 1st?

After my look around campus, I did some window-shopping in the city centre and had lunch at my favorite Caffe Nero. I love people watching down there. The buskers and charity collectors were still at it on Briggate, and I saw a woman with short black hair & red lipstick who reminded me so much of Nessa! I love this city...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

On Death...

The most profound thing I’ve ever read about death was written by my Great-Grandma in 1986. I’ll just post the letter in full here.

Jan 17th [1986]
Dear Mason & Lenore,
I have waited so long to write, you will have to excuse me. We are very well and having winter here. I am not going to write much. My eyes are a little better. I got new glasses two weeks ago today. I have to sit right under the light to see at all. The Dr. is still treating my eyes.
Hope all of you are well. I have been having a lot to do—several trips to the lawyer, the bank, the funeral home and long-distance calls to make. I was named Billy’s beneficiary so I had insurance papers. The new truck was mine—we have sent 2 people after it. They would either sell it or we could get it. That’s been awful hard on me. I wonder why so much has happened to my children. Guess I will have to live with it. Write me and both take care. The rest are well.
Love, Mom

That simple statement “Guess I will have to live with it” really gets me. She’s 85 years old, and 4 of her 7 children have passed away (3 in very tragic circumstances, in the past few years). She admits it’s been hard on her, but she still has this incredible acceptance about it all. It’s simple and full of wisdom—just take life as it comes and ‘live with it’. In my opinion, that’s why she lived to be 102…

On worrying...

One lovely bit of wisdom I've gained from the letters: worrying is pointless, because everything always works out. Usually not in ways you expected it to, but it really does always work out somehow. I don't want to sound too optimistic, but I've seen it play out over & over.
--People worry about their kids changing schools when they move, but their kids always find new friends & do just fine.
--They're unemployed and they worry about finding a job, but then something comes along--they get a job that's even better than the one they lost, or make a career change and do something new & exciting, or go back to school and train for a better job.
--They worry about things that never happen (i.e. my grandpa's habit of sleeping in his clothes, ready to go in case of emergency...)

So don't worry!

Friday, September 17, 2010

On Letter Writing...

Do write
--Your thoughts on current events (war, politics, pop culture, etc.)
--Your thoughts on major family events (holidays, graduations, weddings, births, deaths, etc.)
--Cute anecdotes about your kids

Don’t write
--Graphic details about surgeries, injuries or bodily functions (eww.)
--Laundry lists of daily activities
--Gossip, especially about people who your descendants won't remember

On Relationships...

(obviously not my grandparents, but it's a soldier & nurse in post-WWII America just like them...and they knew each other about as well as my grandparents did...)

My grandparents’ courtship is documented. They met, exchanged letters for a little under a year, and only saw each other in person again on their wedding day. Sounds romantic--love at first sight and all, right? Well, it would’ve been romantic if they’d had a happy marriage. My reading of these letters is marred by the fact that I know how the story ends. I know he drank and had a horrible temper, and they bickered and argued endlessly, and nearly split up on more than one occasion.

Why did this happen? Why didn’t this romantic courtship lead to a “happily ever after”? Because they didn’t know each other. I found some real shockers in these letters, the most ridiculous of which was in March 1950 (a month after the engagement ring came in the mail), when it occurred to my grandpa that he didn’t know how old his fiancĂ©e was. It went something like “I guess I was too busy being in love with you to ask. How old are you, anyway?” Very sweet, but very, very stupid. So, the moral of that story: don’t bind yourself for life to somebody you don’t know.

A second moral, which may be a bit controversial, is to cut your losses. If you “almost” get divorced, then there is something deeply wrong with your marriage. And if your split “almost” happens again, then you clearly haven’t resolved whatever these problems are. It might not be something you can resolve. Or maybe you don’t even care enough to try to solve it. If so, then please just cut your losses. Making it to your 50th Anniversary isn’t worth putting up with 50 years of crap.

A third point, which may need to be an entry all of its own, is that you should shop around. My grandma seems to have been caught up in “The Bridal Wave”. She was 28, still living at home. Next door, her sister, just a couple of years older, had been married and already had 3 kids by the time Lenore got engaged. I only have Mason’s side of the letters, but he comments on her mentions of various friends’ weddings. Everybody she knew was getting married, and Lenore wasn’t even dating anybody. She was quickly becoming “an old maid”, “spinster aunt”, etc. So when this soldier showed some interest, she snagged him. (For his part, it seems Mason had more dating experience…but at 26, he was still a bit old to be unmarried. More than once, he mentions the better "quality of life" that married soldiers have, and seems to really envy them.) Given her limited experience with men, it’s understandable that she wouldn’t know the red flags to watch for—his rush to use the L-word, his jealous & possessive tendencies, the fact he doesn’t know how old she is, etc. So, the moral of this—don’t rush, and watch out for red flags.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

On Dieting...

On Dieting…

Several members of my family were life-long dieters, and their letters really show it. They discuss the number of calories in every type of food, crazy new fad diets (that are now 40 years old and long since disproved), their eternal battle with the scale, details of their exercise regimens, etc. I’ve read it all, and been deeply saddened.

Just as a side note, I’m guilty of this obsession, too. My first diary, begun at the tender age of 8, has entries about food and exercise plans, and expresses my hatred for my chubby cheeks and tummy. Looking back now, I think it’s so sad—I was just a kid! I should’ve been writing about school and friends, and playing outside rather than doing sit-ups secretly in my bedroom.

What have I learned from these letters and photos?
1) Diets don’t work.
If you restrict calories too much, your body goes into starvation mode. Your metabolism slows, because your body is tricked into thinking that food is scarce, and it must store any incoming calories as fat. When you “cheat” (or just go back to normal, healthy eating habits), your body stores this food as fat. So you go up a size and cry and start over again on another crash diet. (Ok, I didn’t learn this from letters—I already knew the science behind it. I just saw the cycle documented in the letters, over and over again)
2) There’s more to life than size.
While I’m all for being a healthy weight, I think it’s even more important to have a healthy attitude towards weight. Obsessing about weight has never made anybody happy (look at Karen Carpenter, Kate Moss, Carnie Wilson, etc.). Enjoying life and love and food has made a lot of people happy (i.e. anybody in Italy, Paula Deen, my Great-Grandma Trout, etc.).
3) Some guys like their women "plump"...
like my grandpa. When his wife was worried about dieting and losing baby weight, he told her she should eat whatever she wants--"Don't worry, I like you plump, the way you were when I met you." That glimpse into my grandpa's taste in women grossed me out, but I also thought it was nice that he didn't pressure her.
4)...while some guys are just jerks.
When a certain family member who shall remain nameless was dating her future husband, she wrote to her family, "he's been teasing me about being fat, so I'm going on a diet." I wanted to reach back in time and wring her neck. If a guy teases you about being fat, dump him. He's bad news.

Perfect segue into the next big topic...

Summer Summary

As you may know, I’ve spent this summer sorting and reading several large bins full of letters. We’re talking literally hundreds of letters, written to & from various members of my family (mostly my grandparents). The earliest come from the 1930’s, and the most recent from about 2006. There are also hundreds of photos in these bins, and newspaper clippings, long-expired coupons, cards for every occasion imaginable, and the occasional old utility bill or tax return.

It’s been a long, exhausting process, but I’ve gained a few gems of wisdom from it. As the summer draws to a close, I want to share a summary of this wisdom, so that all my hours of boring work may not have been in vain…

I'll post these topics separately over the next week or so (only 8 more days until I go back to Leeds!)

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Mal & I fuel up pre-concert at Pagliacci

Seattle Center, transformed for Bumbershoot and packed with people. The mainstage access tickets actually sold out for Saturday!

The fountain, full of kids

Vendors--lots of hippie clothes, handmade jewelry and art

Another stage, with the fountain and Queen Anne Hill in the background

Pacific Science Center arches, with food vendors all along the sidewalk

Memorial stadium, the Bumbershoot Mainstage

Me at the mainstage

Mal at the mainstage

The Decemberists--they really put on a great show!

Me and the Space Needle

Starbucks break! I love that "From Here For Here" sign, like the Public Market cute!
Mal and I weren't that into Neko Case, the band playing in between the Decemberists and Bob Dylan, so we had coffee and strawberry shortcake and gave our feet a rest for awhile. We were going to be standing for awhile yet...

Bob playing "Rainy Day Women # 12 and 35"

I know my pictures look pretty good, but they're edited. This is what the concert really looked like for us. See that little man in the distance, about the size of that man's ear? Yeah, that's Dylan.

On the piano, where we could see him a bit better

They turned the lights blue for "Tangled up in Blue"...

One of the last songs of the evening, "Ballad of a Thin Man"--I love that one!

I tried to take a shot of the Space Needle from the roof of the parking garage, and none of them turned out...but I thought this came out pretty cool anyway :)

Dylan started the show off with "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" (aka, "everybody must get stoned"), and I'd rather he left that one inspired a lot of people to light up, and the smell of pot didn't go away for the rest of the evening--yech! Next, he played my favorite song of his, "Don't think twice, it's alright." It doesn't sound like the original, but it's still great. There's a youtube video from a concert abt a year ago that shows what it sounds like nowdays
Then he played a couple more old ones, a newer one--Rollin' and Tumblin' from his 2006 album, which is fun & bluesy. He really didn't do much new stuff...just 2 from 2006 and one from last year's album. He did a great job of "Desolation Row", which I thought he'd never do live--it's 11 minutes long! And of course, he ended the night with "Like a Rolling Stone," and the audience loved it. He still looks and sounds the same as he did when I first saw him in 2001--if anything, he seems to have more energy and enthusiasm now, which is great to see!
Mal & I had an amazing time, and I'm so glad we got to do this before I go back :)