Friday, July 8, 2016

Revenge of the Hufflepuffs

So, Aberystwyth was voted the #1 safest town in all of Britain!!!

This fact makes my behaviour in this story make a little more sense.

So today we found out that, keeping with my tradition of horrible July's, our flat has been sold, and we have our notice. As both my flatmate & I were freaking out about moving in the midst of thesizing/disserting, I decided to go for a nice run (after, of course, Oreos and a quick Smallville marathon). It was about 9ish at this point, but again--safe--and also, still really light out. After wandering around a bit, I decided to go down a nice, paved, fairly well-used thoroughfare, when I more or less accidentally started climbing the semi-forested hill up to a local monument. A quarter of the way up, I saw what looked like a skunk scuddling off the path, but remembering that there aren't supposed to be skunks in the UK, and after a quick prayer of "Please Lord, don't let me get sprayed by a skunk. Or get poison oak. Other than that, I'm good", I moved on.

After reaching the top (the view might actually be better in the dusk because then you can see all the town lights), I decided to go down the other way because it had a wider path, and a wider berth from the probably-badger (side note: everything I know about badgers I have learned from Harry Potter/Pottermore, but I do know that they're black and white, live in the UK, are brave, loyal, and absolutely savage). About halfway down I turned from the open path into the forest section, at which point I remembered that: a) that part's completely overhung with foliage, leading to b) the ground is rather wet and slippery there, not to mention, c) the right side of the path drops off sharply, and finally d) it's on the East side of the hill. But, as I was already so far down, and since, by the time I hiked back up it would be dark on that side too, I plunged ahead (also because I'm not always terribly bright. Let's not forget that either).

Allow me to paint a proverbial picture: before long, I'm more or less shuffling down the path to keep from sliding on the mud, and only stepping on gravel, because that's the only part of the walkway that I can see clearly. Being either in that atmosphere, or just being my mother's child, I start singing. For reasons I'm not entirely sure of, I sing Gershwin. In the midst of a chorus of "Someone to Watch Over Me", I hear someone coming up the path, and am a little embarrassed, because I'm singin' Gershwin while baby-stepping. But, for maybe the first time in my life, I'm also a little relieved to have someone interrupt my forest-walking, and even better, I realize that it's probably a nice couple, because they have a dog with them! Until I realize that there's no people, and that that is NOT a dog.

It's a badger.

It was two badgers actually. And both of them were charging straight for me. The path dropped off to my right, and there's no way I could've outrun them, even if there weren't a morass all around me. Briefly assessing my options, I figured that if they were attacking as a pack, "shock and awe" probably wasn't going to cut it. I had a flash of how bloody my legs were going to be, and that this was definitely going to end in the hospital (I also had the good sense to judge myself for my previous prayer, and the limitations thereof). So I decided all I could do was kick the first one in the head really hard, and deal with the second one later.

Sadly for the climax of this story, but happily for my legs, they pulled up short about three feet from me, at which point the one in front utilised the pause to attack the one behind it. Still, I'm going to find comfort in knowing that, when facing real fear, I'm gonna fight. Besides, there's something immensely satisfying at being able to say "I was charged by two wild badgers tonight". Because if nothing else, it means that my life will never get less weird.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Major Life Changes

So, now may be a good time to make this announcement:

I am starting a second Master's degree at Aberystwyth University in September. Does that seem like a sudden decision to you? Yeah, well, me too. I applied on a whim about 3 weeks ago. I just checked my email--it was July 18th that they received my application.

Things have been stagnate for a while for me and it seemed like nothing I tried worked out. So, when my live in landlady threw yet another fit and told me I had to leave by August, I jumped on the catalyst and applied to AU. Life had really become unbearable anyway, living with a (genuinely) psychotic, racist, old bigot anyway, so I decided to change things up significantly. I considered going back to the US, but I didn't want to let one bad (albeit Umbridge-level bad) landlady drive me out of the UK. I don't even know how I found this Master's, which is History and Heritage, but it builds perfectly on my first degree and will help to give me real experience managing a Heritage site. I never thought I'd get in this close to the deadline, and figured that even if I did, I'd never be able to get things ready in time. And yet, somehow, everything just combined to make this happen. All the  references and documents just seemed to appear and were processed immediately. I applied for a student loan and was approved two days later. I went to look for housing in Aber and found my dream flat after viewing only two flats. Referencing for the lease was supposed to take a few days, it was done within an hour. I needed documents from the school--it took a half an hour. I feel that it is very obvious that this is what I'm supposed to be doing, and since I'm a religious-type person, I would go so far as to say that I feel the hand of Deity in my life.

The really fun bit is, since I was desperate to leave Harrow (which I will never be able to think about without shuddering) just as my brother and his wife and my nieces and nephew were coming to visit me, they decided to stick around for a month with me. We're living in Nottinghamshire, in a gorgeous historic property with awesome neighbours just 20 minutes away from the Sherwood Forest Trust. We went to the Robin Hood Festival yesterday. In a word? Awesome. In 4 words? It was really awesome.

So, life had a major dip, but is looking pretty amazing now. Cymru am byth!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

In Which I Am Brutally Attacked By a Mammoth Moth

I have been being stalked by a moth. It's shown up night after night when I am in the kitchen or brushing my teeth. A huge moth. One of those you-can-see-every-hair-on-its-massive-body type moths.

So last night I was taking a bath. Brand new razor, shaving my legs. Being a brand new razor, I guess I miscalculated either the sharpness or bulk of the razor (it's one of those Venus-wishes-it-were-an-electric-razor kinds) and I ended up cutting my foot. Rather badly. The term 'bloodbath' got new meaning. Anyway, the moth that had been stalking me, in what I can only assume was the supreme act of moth-ly devotion, took a swan dive towards my head, presumably to rescue me from the razor. I dodged right to avoid being face-planted and breathed a shaken sigh of release as the moth flew down to the left of the bath. Just as I was starting to relax, I happened to notice that it hadn't missed the bath. It was in fact there, in the bath water, swimming towards me. I immediately tried to jump out of the bath to avoid its sodden body sticking to me, an act that was complicated by two things: one) the fact that we have no handles on the side of the wall and two) the fact that up to that point I had been trying to keep my bleeding foot out of the stinging water. When I managed to get out and ascertain that the moth was not on my person, I pulled the drain and looked at the moth. It was still swimming, and despite its attempt to grope me, I couldn't just leave it to drown there, so I attempted to fish it out of the slowly draining pool with the round end of my razor. The moth, apparently having seen what the razor had done to me and fearing it, swam for its little life away from the S.S. Moth Rescue and continued to do so for the 3 minutes that I tried valiantly to rescue it. Perhaps it will tell you something about the size, lung capacity and general boss-ness of this moth when I tell you that at the end of this time, it was still swimming around, perfectly alive. Finally, extremely creeped out, wet and cold, I grabbed a lid from the shelf o' product, scooped it up and flung it out the window.

I can only hope that its wet wings and harrowing escape free me from its further attentions.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

'Suspect Am Culinary Genius'

If you've ever seen Bridget Jones' Diary, you know that that ambitious statement ends in blue soup, orange marmalade and omelets. And she didn't even make the omelets. Or the marmalade.

As I'm currently looking for gainful employment, I have decided to become the housewife of my flatmate. This involves a lot of cooking, which, as she is an actual culinary genius, tends to be a little intimidating. I made dinner for the first time without any help a few weeks ago and it turned out great! Since then I have had many more successes (with slight amounts of failure) until today. Today was my cooking Waterloo. I got a cookbook that is supposed to incorporate a lot of veggies in seemingly innocuous form. I am starting to learn something that hadn't previously occurred to me (in a cooking context): if it sounds like it couldn't possibly work out, it's not going to. If someone told you that you could add puréed cauliflower to a mixture and still get cheese sauce at the end, you should really think twice. I kept thinking that it must be my lack of knowledge on the subject. It's not. So today, I did my super prepared grocery shopping--with a menu in mind and buying from the clearance sections--and settled in for a day of dips: namely, cheese and spinach/artichoke. I have made the spinach and artichoke before, but I neglected to realize when I found that pound of sour cream for .86 p that it was fat free and that that would make a difference. It turned into great globs of melted cheese with chunks of artichoke and spinach in a cream-ish brine. Sadly, it was the cheese sauce that pulled ahead (dramatically speaking). The cookbook says to boil cauliflower in chicken stock, purée it, put back on heat, add cheese, and purée again. Whatever the end result of this madness was supposed to be, the actual result was a cheesy cauliflower soup. I will never forget the way my dear flatmate sat there with a spoon, eating my 'soup' and said only 'It's got a great flavour profile--the flavours really work together,' instead of saying 'It has the world's mankiest, grainy texture and btw, you promised me cheese sauce for the tortilla chips'. Somehow, watching her gamely going on to finish the entire bowl (which I poured from a blender like it was a smoothie), and saying that if you added a little bit of rocket it was great, made me realize that this was one of the funniest moments of my life to date. It was even funnier than waking up this morning and realizing that a large part of my dream had taken place in the tavern from The Great Mouse Detective, complete with a human-sized mouse in a cabaret outfit singing jazz.

All I can say is, God bless those who eat it anyway.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"The hospitality in this country is as warm as the weather."

So, customs was interesting. Because I used airline points to get out here the first time, and single flights are twice as expensive as roundtrip ones, I am in a cycle of buying roundtrip tickets from the UK to the US instead of the other way around. So when I arrived yesterday, they detained me (and gave me the third degree) for not having a return ticket. They ended up having to call my friend and grill her about my plans to even let me in the country. And made me pull up my bank account online to prove that I had the funds for a return ticket. I'm starting to get un-scared enough to be a little indignant, but for now, this is how I feel:

Friday, December 13, 2013

How to Give Advice and Not Be a Jerk.

A lot of my friends have been having trouble lately with (usually unintentionally) rude people, being judgmental, controlling or superior as regards issues in their friend's lives. So here's a handy guide for giving people advice about their life problems:

"I am so sorry that you are having [problem]. Your feelings on it are totally understandable and valid. Would you like to discuss it?"

If no, DROP IT. Change the topic immediately.

If yes, actively listen. After speaker has finished: "If you would like to hear it, I have some advice on [problem]."

If no, conclude with "What can I do to make your life better?" and offer hugs/cake.

If yes, proceed: "I have experienced/heard about/looked up [solution] that in my experience has/is said to work well. I completely understand that this may not work for you, after all, I have no way of knowing how this is effecting you individually, and there is no such thing as a 'one size fits all' solution to [problem], nor am I an expert on [problem] or on your life. I hope that you are feeling the love and support of those around you, and I would like to know what I can do to make your life better." Then offer them hugs/cake.

Later, when following up: "How did my advice pan out? How can I support you further?" or "I see that have not taken my advice. Good for you. Going your own way can be very difficult, but takes a very strong person."

Offer hugs/cake.

Now, friends, I am truly sorry that there are so many people that struggle with how to address these situations. I also realize that this advice may not work for you. But in my experience, I have had excellent results with this method, as it tends to make people feel acknowledged and loved. I understand if you chose not to take it. I just want to make your lives better. Would you like a hug and/or cake?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

My Fight with Microsoft

I am in an epic battle with Microsoft.

Long story short: my computer stopped running, and when I upgraded Windows (which, please, don't get me started) it logged me out of the Microsoft account it forced me to create while setting up my computer. Because of this, my Microsoft Office Suite stopped working. When I tried to reinstall, it refused because it had been previously installed under my account. But when I tried to log into my account, I found that I had forgotten the password. And since I was pretty pissed off about them requiring all of my information and making me link several of my accounts (like Skype) to that account, I gave them a bunch of fake information. As I've struggled to regain access to my account (using all the information I can think of that I could have possibly given them) I was finally transferred to "Microsoft Account Agents" which turned out to be "Microsoft Escalation Agents" which is key word for "Soothe Yelling Customers While Doing Absolute Squat". The first one just sent me a link to a forum for an issue completely unrelated to mine. After about 7 communiques, I sent this: 


Okay, it's very obvious that there's nobody who's actually read ALL of the communications, just people jumping to conclusions about what I need.

Please tell me if there's any way to use the copy of Microsoft Office, which I own and paid for, on my own computer, without logging into the idiotic Microsoft Account that I was forced to sign up for and was supposed to make my life "so much easier".

PLEASE DO NOT, like so many of your colleagues parrot the "why don't you fill out the form that you've already told us is impossible because you do not possess enough information to make it work, despite the fact that every agent along the way has said that Escalation agents can fix things other people can't". Please actually address the issue at hand. 


Their reply was less than helpful.

Since then, I have written, but not yet sent, the following, as I know that it would be the end of even an attempt of helpfulness on their side. And yet, I'm still considering it:

"Hello again,

Thank you for coming to the question I asked at the end of your previous message. Had Microsoft not been so keen to collect all our information and passwords (doing your bit for the NSA), maybe it would have considered not requiring us to link accounts so that you had a nice snapshot into all facets of our lives. It certainly is convenient for me to have all my personal information in one place so it can be viewed more easily. 

It is a bit astonishing to me that, having agents specifically set aside to work with user accounts, the only way for aforementioned users to get any help is through an automated system. Especially considering that, no matter how many times I fill out said form, it informs me that I do not have enough information to complete my request and it would like some more. And yet, no matter how many times I yet again follow the helpful instructions left by the website and your colleagues, I simply do not have additional information to fill out. In fact, I avoided the account like the plague in an effort to put some distance between private life and digital spying. I suppose it was stupid of me, but as you can probably guess by my alternate emails (I believe they were something to the effect of "don'") I did not take the application form very seriously, as I have yet to discover what need an email provider or corporation can have for all of the information necessary to steal my identity. However, I do suppose it also helps quite a bit for your bottom line, as it appears that I will have to re-buy Microsoft Office Suite due to a forgotten password. I'll admit, that's the type of thing you think you only have to do once per computer. Apparently now, I'll have to pick up a new set any time I log out.

I do admire your dedication to make sure that only the confirmed owner of the account gets access. Of course, your refusing to confirm an account makes this difficult. It is certainly a tricky business when the automated (and apparently only) confirmation system is not functional. If only there were someone who could help.

All the best, Me.

P.S. Thanks for the tip about copying and pasting. It's almost like I'm past of the stage of 'computer beginner'. In the 1980's.

P.P.S. It occurs to me that we are having difficulties because you are trained to soothe with shouty people but not to do actual work. Any chance I could speak with someone in User Accounts, who perhaps actually works with computers?"

And brief PS to all my readers: DON'T YOU DARE tell me that I should have bought a Mac. Nobody likes someone who gloats after the fact!

PPS (and yes, Mom, this is meant for you) if I do send this letter, it will mildly edited.