Hello 2014!

Admittedly, I was not great about maintaining this blog in 2013. But with a new year comes (many) new resolutions, and one of mine is to continue blog.

According to science you are more likely to follow through on your resolutions if you tell people about them, so in that spirit I am posting, for all the world to see, my 2014 Resolutions:

1. Blog More. At least once a week. Ta da! I’m already all set on this one for the week of 1/12.

2. Read 52 books.  Last fall I found  myself in a Netflix vortex (not as cold as a polar vortex but equally difficult to escape!) which I blame largely on The West Wing. 2014 is going to be a year of reading. In fact, I’ve already read 4 books: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, a modern adaptation of The Jungle Book; I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron, a memoir clearly marketed to the over-60 set but which I nevertheless found simultaneously funny/horrifying; Highland Fling by Nancy Mitford, a comedy of manors set in a Scottish manor; and Commencement by J. Courteney Sullivan, a novel about 4 Smith college grads in their twenties. 4 down, 48 to go!

3. Travel somewhere I’ve never been before. This should be easy, as I’m currently deciding between Portugal, Morocco, and Switzerland for my February half term. Any suggestions??

4. Try 1 new recipe a week. I enjoy cooking a whole lot more than I expected to after four years of dining hall dependancy, but I do find myself in the occasional rut of quesadillas and quinoa stir fries. I’m looking for recipes that are fairly quick, fairly simple (I’m no Ina – yet!), and vegetarian – or even better, vegan! Suggestions much appreciated 🙂

5. Floss more. Boring, but in my few short months in this so-called real world I’ve discovered that much of adulthood consists of boring tasks (oh hey, washing the dishes). gingSo I’m aiming for 3x a week to start. Sigh.

So there they are, my resolutions for the coming year. I have a feeling it’s going to be a good one. Roll on, 2014!

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Aaaaand I’m Back!

The past few weeks have been crazy around here. First, I was off for two weeks for half term (more on that later), then my friend Lauren came to visit, and finally, my hard drive decided that last week would be a good time to go kaput, meaning that I was out of a computer for most of last week. But after £100 and a lengthy visit to the Apple Store, I once again have a fully functioning Macbook and can now resume my regularly scheduled blogging.

Here’s what’s been going on in London lately:

The Sunday Times just named SPGS the top independent school in the UK! As you can imagine, the teaching staff (and the girls’ parents!) were pretty pleased.

I tried neeps and tatties for the first time. That’s a Scottish “delicacy” (if the Scots have delicacies?)  consisting of turnips – “turneeps” – and potatoes – “potatties.” Try saying it with a Scottish accent. And just when I thought I had got a handle on all the weird food around here (ever had a toad in the hole, anyone?).

Christmas is out in full force! I guess because the Brits don’t have Thanksgiving to break up the time between Halloween and Christmas, they just go full steam ahead with the holiday spirit. My local grocery store had a Christmas tree up by November 3rd! And Harrods – oh, Harrods! – is all decked out with holiday lights and seasonal window dressings.

I’ve begun teaching in earnest. My favorite years to teach are the 6th graders and the 12th graders – I know, totally opposite ends of the spectrum. The 6th graders are new to the school and still so eager to learn and to please! And the 12th graders are so cool and mature; I occasionally have to remind myself that they’re five years younger than me! I was definitely nervous teaching my first few classes (or “giving my first few lessons” as they would say here), and in all honestly I do still get a bit nervous each time, but it gets easier and easier with each lesson. One thing I didn’t anticipate about teaching was how much learning I would have to do: because I’m teaching all kinds of historical periods, most of which are outside of the 250 year window I studied in college, I’m constantly having to teach myself the story before I can teach the kiddos. This does make each lesson pretty labor intensive, but on the plus side I now know more about William the Conqueror and medieval castle design than I even knew was possible!

I’m constantly learning new things about London the longer I live here. Apparently I had been majorly missing out by not knowing about Time Out London, a weekly magazine that tells you all the top events in the city going on each week! I’m now making it my mission to scope out TO before making my weekend plans. Did you know Big Ben is actually a misnomer?

Last week I missed my third American holiday – Veterans’ Day. (The list of missed holidays – currently at Labor Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans’ Day – will be getting even longer in a couple of weeks!). At home, Veterans’ Day always seemed like just another day off. There were half-hearted remembrances, but for the most part people seemed to treat it like a 3-day weekend. Paradoxically, the UK does not get the day off work/school, but it’s actually a much bigger deal here. In honor of Remembrance Day (sometimes called Armistice Day), everyone wears poppies buttoned to their lapels as an outward sign of remembrance and unity, and there was a nationwide moment of silence to honor the occasion. And, the Royal Family was on hand to help mark the occasion. I’m so mad I missed it!!!

Finally, a little closer to home: these instagram photos are making me nostalgic for my undergrad years.

Since I’m still in the process of updating my hard drive, I won’t have any photos for a while. But I hope to have some for you guys soon!

PS – my computer has had the red squiggly “spelling incorrect!” lines underneath favorite and honor. The whole time I’ve been writing this post, I’ve been scratching my head trying to figure out HOW they were spelled wrong. Was it the words, or was I finally losing my mind? And then it just occurred to me: they’re missing the British “u!” My computer must have switched to UK spelling when I wasn’t paying attention.

 

And wherever you go, always take an umbrella.

That’s the tagline from the recent New York Times piece “Lessons from London.” And it couldn’t be better advice! Since I moved to London almost two months ago, I can’t think of a time when I didn’t have my mini umbrella with me (thanks, Mo!).

If you’re interested in what other Americans think of London, check out the article. A lot of it rang true for me! (Especially about how the layout of the city is so confusing – and you thought Boston was bad.)

P.S. I’m writing this from Paris! It’s half term at SPGS, which is our two week “fall break.” I’ll be here til Thursday and then it’s off to Ireland! Stay tuned for pictures.

Hampton Court Palace

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The court of King Henry VIII! Probably the most famous of all the English kings, thanks to his propensity for cutting off his wives’ heads. Yep, wives – he had six of them!

Hampton Court was originally built by Cardinal Wolsey, Henry’s closest advisor, using funds he had mooched off the church (he wasn’t exactly known for his piety, that Wolsey). But when Henry caught wind of how fancy and opulent Hampton Court was shaping up to be, he made Wolsey to give it to him and had the entire court relocate there.

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The King himself.

I went to Hampton Court Palace with my friend Priya a few weekends ago. We (somewhat embarrassingly) bought an annual membership to the Royal Palaces…I know, I know, I’m such a nerd – but it actually made financial sense! A joint annual membership cost us £33 each and gets us into Kensington Palace, Kew Gardens, the Tower of London, and  Banquet House, in addition to Hampton Court – and we can go back as many times as we want! For a whole year. Keeping in mind that it would have cost us something like £18 to get into Hampton Court once, I think it was a good decision.

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Me and Priya.

Even though buying the annual Palaces membership does kind of out us as huge history nerds, we did draw the line at wearing 16th century garb around Hampton Court. Admittedly, we tried on the green velvet frocks (overcoats? vests?) provided by the Palace and took a photo, but even we felt it would be très uncool to actually wear them. But lo and behold, it seemed most other visitors didn’t have the same qualms and fully embraced the velveteen fashions of the Tudor period. Everyone from grown men to small children wandered happily around the Palace like hobbits, and Priya and I began to feel out of place in our 21st century clothes.

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Ok, so this is an actor employed by the Palace so her outfit is quite a bit more elaborate than what they give us visitors to wear, but still, you get the picture. Jeans = uncool at Hampton Court.

We spent the day exploring the banqueting hall, the royal bedrooms (there was actually an exhibit called “Secrets of the Royal Bedroom” on while we were there; not as scandalous as you would think), the kitchens, and the gardens. The Palace is huge!

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The gardens are particularly impressive. They reminded me a lot of Versailles!

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Apparently, they’re always in need of gardeners. No wonder!

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Hampton Court is also home to the world’s largest grape vine. It’s called “The Great Vine” and is over two hundred years old. No joke. (This isn’t it; I don’t have a photo of it but this trellis thing kind of looks like a vine? Use your imagination.)

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Back in Henry’s day, the Court would have been the very center of government and many noble families would have been invited to stay as a sign of the King’s favor. All those nobles meant an army of servants were required to run the place. As a result, the Court consumed quite a lot!

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That’s a lot of meat.

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And A LOT of calories! I know being fat used to be a symbol of wealth, but that 5,000 calories a day does seem a teeny bit excessive.

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Seems like they knew how to have a good time though.

Looking forward to taking advantage of my membership card again soon! In the meantime, here’s a bonus pic of a Hapsburg ancestor of Henry VIII, with the infamous “Hapsburg Jaw:”

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Look at the size of that thing! (Due to too much inbreeding.)

I love when things I learned in AP European History actually come in handy! Any arcane European history knowledge, I’m your girl.

Happy Columbus Day! To everyone with the day off tomorrow, I am extremely jealous. Go apple picking for me!

St. Paul’s Girls’ School

My job this year is Colet Fellow at St. Paul’s Girls’ School (more on what a Colet Fellow is in a bit). SPGS is an all-girls independent (read: private) school here in Hammersmith. It’s also one of the best schools in the country. On average, SPGS sends around 40 girls out of a class of 110 to Oxbridge (that’s English speak for Oxford or Cambridge).

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The English education system is very different from the US system, and SPGS is pretty different from most other English schools. Public schools here are called “state schools,” while “public schools” refer to posh boarding schools like Eton. SPGS is a day school, so it’s called an independent school.

Confused yet?

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Outside of SPGS. 

In the UK, they say “year,” not grade. So you would say, “I’m in year 9” instead of saying “I’m in eighth grade.” On top of that, most private schools (or “public schools” here) have their own naming system for grades. Here’s how it works at SPGS:

Middle Upper Fourth (“MIV”) = Year 7 = Grade 6

Upper Fourth (UIV) = Year 8 = Grade 7

Lower Fifth (LV) = Year 9 = Grade 8

Fifth (V) = Year 10 = Grade 9 (“Freshman Year”)

Sixth (VI) = Year 11 = Grade 10 (“Sophomore Year”)

Seventh(VII) = Year 12 = Grade 11 (“Junior Year”)

Eighth (VIII) = Year 13 = Grade 12 (“Senior Year”)

Gold star if that makes sense to you. I’ve been here for a month and I’m still getting the hang of it!

As a Colet Fellow, my main responsibilities are to help the girls in the Eighth apply to university in America, and to teach! This year, there are 23 girls applying to the US, which is the most the school has ever had. Working with the girls to create their school lists, edit personal statements, and give SAT tips has been fun and a great way to get to know them very well in a short amount of time.

I haven’t technically started teaching yet; so far I’ve primarily been observing lessons and helping lead activities within lessons. Which is fine by me because things are so different here! It’s nice to ease into everything. Pretty soon (this week!) I will start teaching lessons. I’ve been assigned Medieval History with the MIV, Renaissance history with the UIV, American history from slavery to the civil rights movement with the LV, Anglo-Irish history with the VIII, and American politics with the VIII. I’m also a form tutor for the V (in American: I’m a ninth grade homeroom teacher).

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Flowers and the annual “Review” in the school lobby.

One of the biggest differences between school in the US and the UK is that classes don’t meet every day here. Sometimes they’ll only meet twice a week! This means the girls have room in their schedules to take more subjects. The girls in the MIV through the Fifth take eleven subjects! The most I ever took in high school was six. But I do think we went into more depth in the classes I took.

After the Fifth, the girls whittle down to only three or four subjects, which they take until their A-Levels. A-Levels are the national leaving exam taken by all students in Year 13; universities base their offers of admission on the results on the A-Levels so people take them pretty seriously around here.

The food at school is amazing. No joke.  And it’s everywhere! Biscuits in the staff room, pastries at break time…lunch is pretty much the highlight of the day.

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The biscuit tin. If I don’t fit into my bridesmaids dress in December, you’ll know why.

The more minor duty of being a Colet Fellow is helping out with extracurricular activities. My roommate rowed at Harvard so she’s been roped into helping coach the SPGS team, Saturday morning practices and all. (I dodged a bullet there!) I’m helping with the school journalism team, which I’m perfectly happy with.

And that, in a nutshell, is my life at SPGS!

xx

Happy October!

I’ve officially been living in London for over one month now. Can you believe it? It still doesn’t seem real to me.

Things have kicked up quite a few notches at school over the past few weeks (more on where I work, Saint Paul’s Girls’ School, to come!) and we are now very much in the swing of things. But I’ve been taking the opportunity to get out and explore my new city on the weekends.

Here’s what I’ve been up to lately:

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The Brook Green fair was held a few weeks ago in the park right across the road from my flat! Although it drizzled the whole way through, that didn’t stop residents of the neighborhood from enjoying the food stands, bouncy castle, and spinning teacups! (I think people here have realized that if they wait for it to stop raining, they’ll never do anything outside. So they just go with the flow, rain or shine!)

 

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I love how London roads and markings are so different. The zebra stripes (think Abbey Road), driving on the other side of the road, the ever so polite signage…and especially the “look left” or “look right” markings at street crossings. Always helpful for the American in me that consistently looks in the opposite direction of the oncoming traffic.

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Last weekend I wandered around the Parliament Square/Covent Garden area with my cousin Michelle. I actually hadn’t been to see Parliament or Big Ben since being here, which felt so strange! Michelle and her boyfriend Greg have been so amazingly nice to me since I’ve been here – having family here has been great!

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An attempt at being artsy: the underbelly of the London Eye.

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A little Parisian treat: Covent Garden has a Laduree, probably the most famous macaron shop in the world. I had never had one before so Michelle and I stopped in!

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The macarons were, as predicted, delish. I got a salty caramel one and Michelle had the pistachio. No trip to Paris necessary!

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A vintage double decker bus spotted near the Houses of Parliament.

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Home of the Prime Minister. Always reminds me of that scene from “Love Actually.”

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Big Ben!

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The most exciting news of the past couple weeks is that my Irish passport finally arrived!! It had quite a long journey to get here, going from Dublin to Boston back to Dublin and then London – but now that it’s here it means I can stay! For as long as I want. And more crucially, I can get paid. I am an illegal worker no longer! Take that, UK Home Office!

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A stretch of Hammersmith runs along the river Thames and is populated with lots of quaint English pubs. I spent last Friday evening having dinner and drinks with my friend Eliza at a pub there, and we witnessed this amazing sunset. So pretty!

After all the adventures of September, I’m excited to see where the next month of life in London takes me!

xx

 

Camden Town

Camden is the epitome of cool. It was an old haunt of Amy Winehouse, and one of the original homes of London’s alternative/grunge scene. Though it’s become more mainstream in recent years, Camden is still the place to go for a funky day out.

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3-D storefronts. The giant shoes stuck out off the front of the buildings, as did this enormous snake.

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And then there was this cheery little store. I did not stop in.

I ventured to Camden two weekends ago with my friend Eliza, who’s a lacrosse coach at Saint Paul’s.

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Americans at the market.

The Camden markets, which consist of Camden Lock and other random market stalls, are a labyrinth of ramshackle shops selling everything from incense sticks to leather boots, with a healthy amount of British kitsch goods thrown in (think: “God Save the Queen” iPhone cases and double decker bus salt shakers). I went to pick up a few items to decorate the flat. While I didn’t find a jewelry organizer, I did get some pretty snazzy wall art – pics to come whenI finally hang it up!

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Oh and did I mention? It rained while we were there.

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An artist at work in his stall.

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Camden Lock used to a giant horse stable; those same stables are now used as market stalls. Huge statues of horses can be seen dotted throughout the market, as a nod to its former past.

There is one permanent store within Camden Lock. And it’s bizarre. Blaring music, employees in go-go shorts, neon lights and dancers on platforms: Eliza and I weren’t sure if it was a store or a nightclub.

But it was a store, and if you’re going to a futuristic rave anytime soon, this is definitely the place to get your party outfit!

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Who’s ready to rave?

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Girl of the 21st Century?

And the FOOD. Did I mention the food?!?! Venezuelan meat, Thai noodles, Polish sausages, Afro-Caribbean spicy rice dishes, classic English fish and chips…you name it, Camden had it.

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I would go back to Camden for the food alone.

Personally, I settled for a falafel. Anyone who’s ever been to Falafel Corner in Harvard Square with me will know how much I love falafel, but I was IN love with the falafel I had in Camden. Out of this world.

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YUM.

I hope I’ve made you all hungry for falafel now. I know I am. Lucky for me, I have to go to Camden tomorrow for my National Health Insurance number (oh, the joys of navigating health care systems in different countries). You can bet I will be stopping by the market for one of these babies.

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I may or may not have listened to Amy Winehouse while I wrote this post….I bet she was a lady who would have appreciated a good falafel!