Sunday, 20 October 2013

100 words minimum on what I did last summer

What. A. Whirlwind.

And I'm not talking about tornadoes for once.

After the meltdown I call my Viva, I think I earned a few months of something completely different. I am fortunate enough to have an advisor who doesn't mind me taking all my vacation, conference, and summer school time away at off I went to channel my inner jet setter.

First stop: Bristol. I've mentioned the Bristol summer school on my blog already, but my first trip away for the summer included plenty of time walking around, watching some wildlife, looking at beautiful scenery, and seeing Gromit (from Wallace and Gromit) dressed up all around town.

Second stop: Manchester Airport to pick up Mom and Dad! People ask me all the time what it's like to live so far away from friends and family. In a word, it's awful. The beauty is that my parents now have the perfect excuse to holiday in Europe! We had ourselves a blast roaming around Manchester, Liverpool, Chester, North Wales, and Stratford-Upon-Avon...which brings us to....

Third stop: Amsterdam. My sweet parents dictated that, although I'm legally an adult, I was not allowed to visit Amsterdam without them. Good thing they got their cute behinds over here quickly...I wasn't going to wait forever! We got to tour the canals, see Ann Frank's house, eat pannenkoeken, see the red-light district, and witness the outdoor urinals. Most of all, we got some quality time with my amazing parents. That, my friends, is priceless!

Fourth stop: Scotland. When my parents left town again, I had exactly 36 hours to sob like a child before heading up north to the Isle of Arran for an atmospheric measurements summer school. The views were astounding. The wildlife was beautiful...we saw sea otters, seals, golden eagles, jellyfish, red squirrels, red deer, and the elusive haggis. I did learn a lot too: sleep deprivation causes some serious cases of the giggles, all food can be yellow if you cook it just right, whisky (Scotch) is absolutely delicious, and it's dangerously hard to distinguish seals from rocks sometimes (or all the time for some of us...). Upon returning, I'm very glad I went, but I don't need another 2 weeks without sleep, ever. I guess I should never have kids right??

Fifth stop: After a quick week home, Richard and I celebrated the year we both turn 25 by going to Tuscany. If you've seen any of the pictures I posted on Facebook, you know the theme of our week-long trip was eating. Oh Italian food...I will never look at you the same way again. So divine...and magically I lost one and a half pounds on the trip. How is that possible?? A full week's relaxation and enjoyment was the perfect close to the summer and start of the autumn.

In my short interludes in Manchester, I enjoyed spending a full hour a week on horseback, improving my seat and jumping higher than ever (90 cm, which translates to 3 feet. There WERE expletives yelled, but I survived to jump another fence) with the most fabulous riding instructor. Seriously, Hayley, getting me from scared of jumping to 90cm fences in a few're a miracle worker!

So what's on tap for the new term? Well I suppose I should do some research, perhaps some TAing, definitely more horse riding, and of course the hilarity that comes from an American living in England.

Watch this space...

Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Lost Student

I love lists.

I love making lists. I love ticking things off my lists. I love putting small things ("Check Bank Balance") as well as big things ("Write Paper") on my list. I love putting things on lists that I've already done just so I can tick them off. You get the picture.

Recently, I had two big tasks nagging me on my To Do list: First Year Report and First Year Viva.

In essence, every year of the English PhD culminates in an approximately 75-100 page report and a defense of that report...including the usual ragging you get from your professors at a thesis defense. As Richard can attest to, I spent 4 cranky, stress-filled weeks straight with no weekends preparing both the report and the viva. How did they end up?

Both. Were. Horrible. We'll cut to the chase...I don't know what I should know at this point, my advisors made that point painfully clear and continued on to bash the two papers I'm working towards publishing, and I ended up sobbing in the bathroom.

This was one of the only times ticking tasks off my To Do list was unfulfilling.

Now I realize that life in the PhD world is not rainbows and ponies (okay...maybe there are ponies in my fairy tale) and that your advisors are put into your life for the cold, harsh reality that is the scientific world, but man this experience broke my confidence. I reacted so strongly (either to my horrible writing or the criticism, or both) that I woke up with the stomach flu the day after my viva. The day after that, I was sent off to summer school in Bristol for a week.

I am not going to lie. My mind was elsewhere in an anxious, self-doubting place. I was seriously questioning my ability to complete a PhD. After our lectures were done each day, I wandered through Bath and Bristol wondering if I could just see the beautiful sights without having to endure the agony of academia. I felt completely lost.

In fact, I'm still not completely sure I'm capable of completing this PhD. I do know a few things about myself though.

  1. I work my hardest and do my best when people don't think I can succeed. Seriously. If you ever want me to do something, just say, "Hey Kelsey, I bet you can't......"
  2. Very few women graduate with PhDs, especially in the sciences. I accept that challenge.
  3. As much as I moan and groan about how tedious and annoying science is, I get immense joy having conversations comparing American, British, and Spanish severe weather...and that passion is what got me here in the first place. So I guess I can't hate the weather that much can I?

So what's the verdict? Well I've already made my next list...
  • Read. Get up to date on the knowledge and blow my advisors out of the water.
  • Work more effectively, play more effectively. That will make me better prepared to work every day and better prepared for my papers, reports, and vivas. And it will make me less cranky when I'm with my friends, family, and boyfriend.
  • Take criticism to mind, not to heart. Note what needs to change and move on.
  • Write a blog post about what I've learned from my viva.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Letting Go

When I turned 12, my dad convinced my mom to get me a horse because girls who are into horses are too busy to be into boys. I proved that I have plenty of time for both.

While I was in love with Toby and his incredibly bouncy trot from Day 1, he was definitely not so in love with me. He would buck every time I put my leg on him, was terrified of barrels (ruining my rodeo dreams in the first week I had him), refused to cross any ditch or stream or bridge, ran for the hills every time I came into the field to catch him, refused to get in the trailer, bolted away from trot poles, and spooked at his own shadow almost constantly.

With time, my riding became much better (well, it had to otherwise I would have been killed by this maniac!). My trainer began calling me sticky butt because somehow I would magically sit Toby's shenanigans. Eventually, Toby began to trust my judgement and was less of a pill, but he has always maintained a bit of unpredictability. Of course, we had good days and bad, but he began to love our rides and time together. Or maybe he tolerated our rides only because there were carrots and apples waiting for him at the barn.

Either way, we became partners and fell in love. I would say Toby was my first true love with all the ups and downs that brings.

I was lucky enough to keep Toby through my undergraduate and master's schooling through a series of leases by some wonderful women, including my horsie mother, Martha. That meant I could come home on vacation and ride Toby as if I was never away.

But last week, the time finally came for Toby to find a new family to torture/love. I've grown too tall for Toby and my leasees have moved on to bigger and better things. It's not fair to Toby to hang around for the once or twice a year I come back to visit him (oh...and I guess I visit my family as well). Thanks to a Craigslist miracle, Toby's found a new family with 5 kids and 2 other horses to love on him day in and day out.

From what I've heard, Toby hopped straight on the trailer, calmly hopped off, and has been following his new pasture-mates around. He lets the kids hop on and pet all over him. I'm still convinced they picked up the wrong horse.

While I'm still heartbroken and tear up thinking about letting Toby go, I'm so happy for my sweet boy. I hope his new family (and the 5-year-old girl who has claimed herself as Toby's new owner) learns as much as I did on Toby and that Toby has a wonderful, long retirement. Here's to you, Toblerone!

(Here's Toby at his new home)

Sunday, 30 June 2013

10 Reasons you should LOVE Puffins

Richard and I got the chance to go to Bempton Cliffs, a sea bird sanctuary, a couple weeks ago. This is a trip I have looked forward to since before I moved to England. Why you may ask? Every year from May to July, puffins take to the cliffs to breed before heading back out to sea. We got to see the puffins fishing during our cruise on Saturday and got to see them flying in and out of their burrows from atop the cliffs on Sunday. Puffins are definitely one of the coolest birds and in true BuzzFeed fashion, I will try to convince you to think so too!

1. Puffins are expressive little clown birds of the sea, penguin at the bottom and parrot at the top. Just look at their faces and little orange feet. What's not to love?

2. When they aren't breeding at the cliffs during the summer, puffins live at sea and rest by floating atop the water when they're not fishing.

3. Baby puffins are called pufflings.

4. Puffins rock at swimming and can dive down to 200 feet to nab some fish, using their wings to swim like penguins do.

5. Unlike penguins, puffins are great in the air too, flying up to 55 mph!

6. Pufflings live their first 3-5 years of life at sea before they start breeding on shore.

7. Puffins mate for life.

8. Puffins can hold a dozen fish in their beaks at one time.

9. They're quite loud and talkative during breeding time, but when they go back to sea, they're silent for months.

10. Puffins believe in joint parenting and working households. The male puffin builds the nest for his mate. The female lays one egg a year and she and the male take turns sitting on the egg while the other goes fishing.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Under the Northwest England Sun

There are some events in life that are too rare to miss. Studying abroad. Solar eclipses. The Colorado Rockies making it to the World Series. Last weekend, it was the coincidence of Richard being off work, the weekend, and sunny weather in Northwest England.

So, naturally, on Saturday we took the train to Kendal in the Lake District to go for a wander. Keeping with tradition, Richard and I got lost trying to find the beginning of our hike. We decided to hike up the hill to see Kendal Castle, a 12th Century Castle that was once home to the family of Queen Catherine Parr, the sixth wife of King Henry VIII. So we had a casual picnic lunch in a castle. Just another day in England...

After lunch, we found a walking path along a river outside Kendal. We found blankets of wildflowers and beautiful scenery. I'd say the pictures speak for themselves!

Sunday was a gorgeous day as well and I competed in an unaffiliated show where I take lessons. I was lucky enough to ride Rose, the sweetest mare I've met. Unfortunately for her, I wasn't quite used to her tiny stature, short stride, and tendency to squeeze one extra stride in before every jump. We only knocked down one pole in the competition. For a horse I had never ridden until the day of the competition, I'd say we did really well.

Quite the fun weekend, and a sunny start to a rare sunny week in Manchester.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Life in the fast lane

Saturday was a new experience for me. I drove on the left side of the road for the first time...legally.

Emily, a fellow American horse lover, agreed to go to the western part of the Lake District to gallop horses on the beach (Thanks, Groupon!). Unfortunately for me, I didn't do enough transportation research before buying the Groupon and booking our date. While there is a train station in the tiny village of Silecroft, the train times are sporadic, require many changes, and the latest time we could leave the village to get back to Manchester would be during our ride.


So we had to get a rental car. No big deal as it was cheaper to rent a car than take the train anyway. After figuring out which side of the car I should get into, we hit the road. The first leg of the journey was on the motorway. As long as I remembered to pass on the right, everything went smoothly. And then we reached the country roads. Now, in the US, country roads are glorious, easy, winding roads that make for good conversations and decompression after a long day. In England, they can cause heart attacks. The country roads are as wide as two cars, if the side view mirrors are touching each other and the ancient stone walls on either side of the road. And they're full of complete maniacs.

You can imagine my surprise as an Audi came careening around a blind corner at 70 mph in my lane! Needless to say, Emily and I were a bit on edge, uttering obscenities, and praying to any god that would listen that we would survive this experience. And by "this experience" I am referring to the car ride, not the horses. The horse riding would be easy-peasy compared to the driving stress!

Once we made it to the stables, we had a glorious ride down the beach, hooting and hollering our horses on as we galloped along the waves. We had ear to ear smiles the whole time. The rain even let up for the two hours on horseback!

At the end of the day, we made it home safely. I only drifted to the right side of the road once in the travels, but not to worry, both humans and car made it back to Manchester intact. It may have been a stressful journey, but it was definitely worth my moustached horse ride on the beach and the beautiful scenery of the Lake District.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

On the topic of food

Whenever I come back to the States for a visit, the first thing people ask is, "How on Earth are you coping with that horrible British food?!" Alright they might say it more politely, but the sentiment is the same.

What I want to reply with is, "How on Earth are you coping with your heavily transported monoculture and high-fructose corn syrup?!?" However, I also try to be a bit more polite and explain how I really feel about British food.

First off, British food is tasty, not bland at all. I have yet to have a bad meal. Even better, I have yet to have an only average meal! The bangers and mash seem like a boring meal, but you would be surprised how many varieties of sausages you can get just from the corner shop. And we're talking legitimately delicious sausage. Caramalized onion. Bramley apple. Fresh herb. With fresh mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables? It makes for an excellent meal.

Steak and ale pie is delicious for a hearty winter meal, akin to a big beefy stew on a cold winter's night in the States. Fish and chips are an excellent treat, with much more flavor and umph than any fried chicken I've had.

And the best part? All the food in the shops and restaurants says where it came from. All the meat I've found is British. Most of the produce is too. In such a small country, that means what I'm eating is truly fresh, with pigs, cows, and chickens eating what nature intended them to eat. That means that the food is even tastier and more nutritious when I'm digesting it (cough, cough, corn is actually bad for the animals and bad for you when you're eating those animals).

And going to the market is an even better experience. All the selection I could ever want, all hand crafted.

And yes, I know you've all heard of the horse meat scandal. But might I point out:
1. When you go to Walmart and pick out ground meat that's a $0.05 a pound, you also cannot expect it's the finest beef, or beef at all.
2. Horse slaughter is legal in the United States, you may want to have your own meat checked as the US regulations are much looser when it comes to food.
3. Pink slime.

So how on Earth am I coping with British food? In short, I'm in heaven.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Missing You

Looking back on my previous posts, I've noticed a theme of pure love for everything British. And while this big move across the pond is the best decision I've ever made, I have made quite a few sacrifices to make my new life work. 

My grandmother passed away unexpectedly two weeks ago. If I didn't already have my plane ticket back to the States for my best friend's wedding, there would be no way for me to make it back in time for the memorial service. I'm thoroughly enjoying constantly experiencing new things and meeting new people, but I have a terrible fear of missing everything going on back home. 

Lucky for me, I have a good few plane trips back (mostly for weddings!!) so I won't have to miss absolutely everything. So all this goes to say...I miss everyone back home in the US and love the opportunity to catch up while I'm back Stateside :-)

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Country Adventures

I have effectively disappeared the past couple months. I guess it was important because I had to complete my literature review to fulfil some unfortunate degree requirements, a full two months after my advisor-imposed deadline (it was 77 pages long...that doesn't get completed overnight!). After that mind-numbing experience, I earned myself a holiday.

All I asked was for a day trip to the countryside to go for a walk. Richard suggested Buxton, in the Peak District. After a quick Google search, we found a few trails around town and only £10 train tickets. Sold. While on the train, we noticed that the last three or four stops had signs for hiking trails. Buxton, however, did not. We wandered around town a while before realizing we couldn't find any trails, besides city sidewalks. We did see a sign for a park and thought, well, why not? We never did find the park, but we did end up following signs for a campsite out of town. Logically, there had to be a hiking trail there right?

What we found confused's called a public bridleway. There was a gate blocking our entrance to the trail, but it was public right? So off we went up a hill and under a railroad track. Six gates later, after enduring mounting anxiety that we were trespassing, we found what looked like a gate to a driveway where carnival people live. While guns are illegal in England, we did not want to try our luck, so we turned around, back down the hill, cursing our lack of research, promising we would indeed PLAN our next adventure.

When the disappointment truly set in, we came across a woman walking her two dogs. We asked if the trail we gave up on indeed continued. She said that it did, through the sketchy gate, eventually winding its way back into Buxton. The "trail" (if you can call it that) meandered through many farm fields containing sheep, cows, farmers, and one apparently containing a bull (so the sign said at our exit). At every fence or stone wall, there were ladders or stone steps indicating we were still going the right way. Something in me was a little leery about walking on private farmer land, but Richard assured me this was normal and completely legitimate. These are not the kind of hikes I grew up on in Colorado, but I tend to trust anyone in a British accent so we kept on hiking. Turns out he was right, the moment I started believing we were completely lost, we would see another sign pointing a vague direction, which we followed. If there's anything I trust more than a British accent, it's definitely signage.

We didn't only roam through fields. We found a wooded path at one point, even though the sign told us a pathless field was the correct direction, not the path. We came across 2 villages, which were really just a collection of a few houses and farms. We crossed a motorway and railroad track. We found a 4-wheel drive trail that farmers presumably use to check on their sheep. We were pointed down an extremely steep slope that I didn't believe could really be a trail.

Finally, after four and a half hours of hiking, we came up a hill and saw Buxton again. What a relief that my parents wouldn't have to hear that I perished because I didn't google a good hiking trail. After a wander around a beautiful town and a few pints (in a pub that allowed dogs!), we boarded the train back to Manchester. That was plenty of adventure for me, and definitely a hike I'll do again...perhaps a bit more confidently next time!

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Rugby, where concussions are the least of your concerns

To prepare for the Super Bowl, Richard and I watched the England versus Scotland rugby match this evening. I've heard rugby and "American football" are similar....but now I'm not so sure.

Here's my basic understanding of rugby:

  • Each team goes in for a big group hug and plays cat and mouse with the ball.
  • Once someone grabs the ball, it's complete chaos and everyone runs around with no real purpose.
  • You cannot throw the ball forward, only backward. This seems counterproductive.
  • If you get bored, you can casually kick the ball down the field.
  • Once you get the ball in the special end zone thing, you have to touch it to the ground...running around and dancing in the end zone doesn't count.
  • Making it into the end zone gains 5 points, making a field goal gains 2. Haven't figured out if they have something like a safety yet.
  • There's a field position called "Number 8" and I'm still trying to decide what they do.
  • There are no pads or protection, no stopping of the clock, and no whining.
So I guess I didn't really learn much, but it was exciting. The one thing that was missing was all the good ads. 

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Let it Snow

I've been back in Manchester for less than a week and today is the first day it hasn't snowed. This unfortunately means it's the first day since I've been back that hasn't felt like Christmas.

I had a wonderful time at home visiting with friends and family. To be completely cliché it truly is the most wonderful time of the year, especially this year as I've had (count 'em!) 10 Christmases. Totally beats anything Hollywood could produce.

Of course there was the Manchester Equestrian Club Christmas party before I left and the Boulder barn party when I came back, both horse functions top the list for most alcohol consumed at a Christmas party in 2012. Yee haw!

Then, thanks to my brother and his girlfriend packing up and spending Christmas in Mexico, we had an  early immediate family Christmas with them, one with my dad's side of the family, and one with my mom's. Christmas Eve was spent in the mountains with oyster stew at Dad's parents, Christmas morning with Mom and Dad, Christmas night with Mom's family again (why not eh?). Once I flew back I had Christmas with Richard and another with the sisters in law. Oh my the food that was consumed this holiday season...

Not to brag or anything, but my Christmas totally trumped your Christmas.

And, if you're a by-the-numbers kind of person, snow was falling from the sky for 1/2 of them and there was snow on the ground for 9/10.  And speaking of snow, I've had a first-hand view of what's called the urban heat island.

(Since my grandfather is convinced I don't do any schoolwork, I'll take this opportunity to explain the urban heat island in an attempt to prove I have learned something at some point in my career as a student)

On a hot day, if you're out on the grass, it feels cooler than if you're standing in the street. You can amplify that by walking into a city with all that heat-absorbing concrete around you. There you go...the urban heat island.

It's been snowing here since I arrived and places in the UK have thigh-deep snow...not completely normal if you're not from around here. I heard my friends at The Paddocks have a foot and a half and are snowed in. At my house, we've only ever gotten a dusting, unfortunately, whereas a mile out of the city there are at least a couple inches of snow. Manchester's urban heat island and a bit of protection from the Penine Mountains around us meant that we didn't have a lot to show for that white stuff coming from the sky. Bummer for me, but I suppose it makes my walk into work a bit less treacherous.

Since the snow is done (for a couple days at least!) I suppose I should take this time to accept that all my Christmases have passed this year and it's time to move on to other maybe all that school work my grandpa doesn't think I do...