Monday, December 16, 2013

Slow Pony Home

First of all, thanks to everyone who has replied to my last post! I'm not picking winners until this Wednesday, so if you'd like a chance of getting a free print, comment with your email here :)

On my end, I'm finally, finally back home in the US, after what ended up being a marathon's marathon of holiday travel. After a long but uneventful trip home from Bosnia and one night 'home' in bed in Oxford, I turned right around the next morning, back to the airport to come home to Massachusetts via Reykjavik. I got to Gatwick nice and early and settled in to the waiting area for my flight.

And I waited. And waited. And waited. And before I knew it I'd been at the airport for eight hours, my connecting flight in Iceland had already left with me still in the UK, and I was being faced with the prospect of spending an unplanned 24 hour layover in Reykjavik. Whoops.

After a few brief moments of arrrrgghhhhhhh-ing over not being able to get home, I actually started to get pretty excited: I've always wanted to go to Iceland and was now going to be faced with essentially a free one-day vacation thanks to Icelandair, who were paying for my hotel and all my meals (Note: Icelandair's customer service is great!!).

And gosh, it was amazing:

It did feel pretty gross to pack up and head back to the airport for the third day in a row (and third distinct country!), and by the end of my 6-hour flight I was definitely on the edge of snapping (to the people seated next to me, I apologize: I swear I'm a much nicer person than I appeared tonight). But it all felt worth it when I finally got through customs and got to see my mom on the other end. I'm very excited to spend the holidays back on the farm!!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

FIVE HUNDRED - Comment for Some Swag!

Well, I'm safely back from Bosnia! It was an amazing trip and I can't wait to give a fuller recap in a few days when I get my head back on straight. In the meantime, though...

HAPPY 500th POST!!

Wahoo!! If you told me back in May 2008 when, on the end of my year off between high school and college as a tired South Carolina-based working student, I'd still be writing this blog today as a horseless expat grad student, you would have literally blown my mind. This blog has been through some amazing ups and downs and covered my entire college career, IHSA, IDA, polo, traveling abroad, working in the horse show world, eventing from Beginner Novice to Intermediate, and dressage from Training Level Test 1 to Prix St Georges. There's been injury, heartache, triumph, and (every so often) even a little taste of victory. I have no idea what the next 500 posts will bring, but I'm so thankful that so many people have joined me on this crazy journey so far. 

To celebrate, I'm doing my very first giveaway! I'll be giving away five prints of my photographic work--just in time for the holidays! I haven't chosen which prints specifically yet I'll be making, but will allow you to choose from either a 'horsey' photo or an 'artsy' one. 



In order to win,  just leave a comment with your email at the bottom of this post. I will draw the five winners on this coming Wednesday, 18 December 2013. I'm excited!

So thanks again, for shared victory and shared defeats, for support and encouragement, for over a quarter million page views, and for your unending love and generosity. I'm a lucky, lucky lady.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon

Greetings from Sarajevo!

This will be a short post, word-wise, as I'm still mid-trip and haven't even begun to collect my thoughts about this amazing place yet, but I thought I'd check to share some pictures from my celebratory 'first term of grad school complete!' trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina that I'm currently in the middle of.

I've gotten a lot of funny looks from people when I told them where I was headed and I do admit that, yes, going alone to Bosnia in December is perhaps not the most touristy thing I've ever done. But it's a place I've wanted to visit for a long time for a lot of complicated, interrelated reasons, and I'm feeling so thrilled, blessed, and glad to finally be here at last. So far it's proving to be as amazing as I'd hoped, and I'm really looking forward to the week ahead. I'm here until Saturday so will have lots more pictures to share by week's end!

I'm also Instagramming my trip, so if you'd like to follow along in real time as the week progresses (as I probably won't check in again until I get home), follow me!


But in the meantime, here's a little bit of what I've been up to:

(Sebilj, one of the most iconic places in Sarajevo and the first image I ever saw of the city when I was 14 years old - it was absolutely amazing to get to see it in person today for the first time)

 (NEARLY as amazing: the collection of make out/motorcycle-themed artwork in my hotel.)

(Another example. There are literally dozens.)

 (Cheap, giant beer! 2.10KM is just under £1, or around $1.40)

 (I definitely snickered in the grocery store when I saw this, proving what a mature and classy lady I am)

 (One thing that's not as great about Sarajevo is the pollution - the visibility this morning was probably no more than a mile or so because of all the wood smoke that people use to heat their homes in winter)

 (Another view of the Sebilj, with the pigeons a little calmer - they would mosey around the square in a big pack and then dramatically swarm around anyone they sensed had any food on them, which definitely resulted in more than a few shrieking girls while I was standing watching!)

 (Signs of the war are still everywhere, 20 years later - here's a building studded with bullet holes)

 (Tea sets and fake bullet pens - two of the most common touristy items to buy in the old market of Sarajevo)

 (BUREK - pretty much the only vegetarian food in Bosnia is bread and cheese, served in various shapes. Fortunately I have absolutely no problem with this policy, as I love bread, cheese, AND shapes. It's a win-win-win.)

 (One of the more informal monuments to the war: red 'blood splatters' on the streets that marked especially dangerous intersections and crossing points during the war. Definitely a sobering reminder that, only 20 years ago, this was a very dangerous place.)

(Tito, some terrifying modern portraiture, a few Thomas Kincaid-esque landscapes, and a neon-colored woodcut: Bosnia, I like you.)

More soon, and check out my next post for details of my Christmas 500th Post Giveaway!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Last Longer Cycle of 2013

All right, this is post #498 - continue to stay tuned in the coming week about my 500th post GIVEAWAY!!

Last weekend I had a break from the madness that has been end of term work, athletic, and social shenanigans, and decided to use my free afternoon to go for one last longer cycle before the year comes to an end.

I haven't cycling quite as much as I'd first imagined I would when I came to Oxford, mostly because rowing has ended up consuming my soul all my free time. I'm not really upset about this, as I've grown to really love the rowing community at Pembroke and am getting really excited about the season ahead (and I have a rowing post coming up with much more articulate thoughts on my first season in a decade in a boat, I promise!).

I'm also thankful for rowing because it's given a structure to my athletic schedule that I think I would have struggled to maintain otherwise. I am so good about always going out and riding, no matter what, but have always found that discipline hard to transfer over to other sports: if it's cold and wet and miserable, for example, it's pretty easy for me to talk myself out of going for a bike ride when I almost certainly would have manned up and gotten on at least one horse. So it's good to be on a team where your teammates depend on you so much (if the full boat doesn't show, you're screwed!) that it's almost impossible to flake out, even on the crappiest of fall English days.

But there is something truly lovely about getting out on one's own as well, and just feeling the hum of the road under the tires and the whip of the wind on your face. My last ride was a grey and nippy day, and one where I was thankful for my yellow-tinted 'cheer up any day!' cycling glasses:

(Seriously they are like strapping a sunny day to your face and are amazing)

I only went around 20 miles, and had a little bit of a hard time getting into a rhythm due to a mysterious noise problem that I've been experiencing for about a month now, and that I've already taken my bike in to the repair shop once to try to fix with no success. Hmph. But I still managed to cruise through my favorite birch-filled wood near Oxford and have an all around lovely day.

For the brave, here's an EXTREMELY SHAKY video from my last few miles coming home. I just recently got ballsy enough to try taking video whilst riding (to try to capture said mysterious noise, in fact, for evidential purposes), so I'm obviously still pretty terrible at it, so watch with caution:

In my first few months with Marcel, we've gone over 350 miles together and already seen some very beautiful things. I can't wait for next spring when we can start doing some longer circuits again!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Pembroke MCR Elections: Dolla Dolla Bills, Y'All

ALSO BEFORE I START: I just realized I'm very close to my 500th post, and to celebrate over 5 years of craziness on this blog, I've decided to do my very first GIVEAWAY!! Stay posted for details over the next few posts leading up to the big 5-0-0 :)


Probably the thing I've enjoyed more about Oxford than anything else so far has been the community of the Pembroke MCR (the 'Middle Common Room' - the fancy Oxford word for both the graduate community as a whole and the physical hang out room/bar that we have in college).

 (Pembroke MCR members at our termly banquet a few weeks ago - so classy!)

Different college MCRs have different reputations based on their size and snootiness (there is one super posh college who may or may not be our neighbors to the east, *coughChristChurchcough*, who apparently have silver snuff boxes stamped with their MCR's very own crest in their oak-paneled common room, which is just... ridiculous on so many levels as to be barely conceivable). I think Pembroke's is perfect: we are a good enough size to have a lot of people turn up at various events, but not so big that you don't feel like you know everyone at least by face. We host a LOT of weekly events and are very active as MCRs go. So far, easily my closest friends and most active social activities have come through the Pembroke MCR community.

(Me and some Pembroke friends, looking sharp at banquet!)

So, when the MCR committee's annual elections came around this fall, I was surprised but tickled to be asked to run for a position by our outgoing president. Our current treasurer was going to be stepping down after over 2 years on the job, and as the president pitched it to me, 'it's a job with a lot of work and not a lot of perks'... so with that sexy sell, I was obviously in, haha.

We had a brief, pretty informal election cycle (everyone was running unopposed, so the competitive fire was pretty low), where I received some flak about not spelling 'checks' as 'cheques' on my campaign poster, but was forgiven thanks to my "amazing" photoshop skills:

(Yeah, those are money bags I grafted onto my hands. Such skills, I can't even.)

I've now had the official changeover (though I'm still waiting for my official MCR chequebook (see what I did there; I'm learning!)) and while it is indeed a lot of work ahead--and a lot of writing out reimbursement cheques for like £8 each--I'm really excited to get more involved with my new Oxford family at Pembroke. Bring on the cash monies!

 (Everyone's posters; clearly me and that one other girl missed the memo on which panel we should cluster onto)

Monday, December 2, 2013

Christmas at Oxford

Now fair warning, dear reader, if you are an American like myself the following post may come as a blow to the very soul. For this is a post about the Christmas Fair at Oxford… an event that occurred THREE WEEKS BEFORE THANKSGIVING. 


Now, I know, I know, since Thanksgiving isn't a holiday in the UK, why should they care whether their christmas festival is before or after that (in my mind, at least) sacred cut-off between autumn and 'the holidays?' But really, isn't having a Christmas market in the FIRST WEEK OF NOVEMBER a little excessive??! The ridiculousness of that scheduling just made me all the more thankful for Thanksgiving in the US, which (attempts) to keep the holiday madness at least contained into a one-month block of bacchanalean consumerism, as opposed to the two-month onslaught in the UK that begins before Halloween.

(Oxford Christmas lights went up 1 Nov - but at least they're pretty!) 

But I digress.

A few weeks ago, my friends and I took an evening to explore the Oxford Christmas Market, a street fair that shuts down all of St Giles' for one weekend in November. We'd all had somewhat mediocre weekends up until that point--a wash of work, stress, and nights out gone slightly awry--but the fair worked pretty much instantly to turn the mood around.

I've been to a few Christmas markets before, and there's something just intangibly wonderful about them: the crisp air mediated by a piping cup of mulled wine, the festively decorated stalls selling baubles, and the carny-like food (which, I can't lie, I adore).

 (Bubbles and mulled cider! I think I was more excited about this than my friends were, haha)

 (Swings, my favorite carnival ride by far)

 (There were also some live performances, including this guy who performed French spoken word in a tweet jacket while being backed up by an old dude playing a bass clarinet. All right then.)


The Oxford market is certainly not the biggest or the most extravagant I've ever seen, but dang it was cute. We rode the swings, stuffed our faces with churros and samosas, and drank cup after cup of mulled cider as we wandered up and down the midway. It was a great break from the stress of the work week, and (and I say this through gritted teeth, given my deeply ingrained hatred of pre-T-day Christmas shenanigans) a great way to get into the Christmas spirit.

But now that it's actually December, bring it on! I've been blasting Christmas music and am off to buy presents and an ugly Christmas sweater (jumper?) as we speak. It's the best time of the year.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Giving Thanks

It's already December which means that I'm running late (again), but given the year I've had I really can't not write about Thanksgiving, as this year there was quite a lot of thanks to give.

Thanksgiving is, hands down, my favorite holiday of all. Growing up in my family it was always a smaller dinner than maybe some people's, just my immediate family and maybe our next door neighbors down the road. Since my mom, our head chef and organizer, is from the midwest, our versions of all the classics always have a '1960s midwest, maybe came from a Betty Crocker contest recipe' vibe to them: the fattiest mashed potatoes, green bean casserole made with canned cream of mushroom soup with funyans on top, Ocean Spray cranberry sauce straight from the can, peanut butter pie, and jell-o salad. We calculated one year that literally everything we make could come from a can or a box if necessary. Just like the pilgrims intended, obviously, and totally delicious.

(The typical Erickson spread, minus the turkey obviously as I'm a vegetarian)

At Stanford I had my first taste of Thanksgiving away from home, when I stayed on campus and ended up having Thanksgiving dinner with one of my best friends in our pajamas alone in our house's 50-person cafeteria, then followed it up with the most epic Storage Wars marathon of all time. It was a totally different but still totally amazing experience, and one of my favorite college memories.

This year was obviously a bit different. One of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is that, since the menu and the traditions never really change, you can really use it as a moment to sit back and reflect on the changes that have occurred in your life in the last year. This time, the changes in my life between last year and this were so incredibly epic and large that I can barely wrap my head around them. They are all changes that I'm really, really happy to be riding the wave of, but they still make my head spin when I try to stand back and think about them for a second.

On Thanksgiving day 2012, I was actually on the road, driving to New Orleans on what was to be my last major American road trip for a long, long time in order to celebrate with one of my best childhood friends as she got married. I was living at home, had only just started my job at Color Services, was riding like crazy and wondering what the future would bring. Oxford was not even on the edge of my radar. At all. In fact, I'd all but given up on grad school for the year, as I'd had a really lackluster fall trying to get applications together, and was in the process of buckling down for another year out in the field before trying again in fall 2013.

 (Thanksgiving in the south: frosty cotton fields, blue skies, and the smell of smoke. One of my most beloved sights)

 (The beautiful New Orleans wedding I went to last year - my friend who got married is also VERY pregnant now: another reminder of how much can change in a year!)

I ate my official 2012 Thanksgiving dinner in a Waffle House in Tennessee, and gosh it was good. But it would also be a lie to say that last fall, and last Thanksgiving by extension, wasn't a tensely uncertain and not very fun time in my life. There was a lot of wondering, worrying, and trying to find a path to go forward on.


A year later, I sat down to a formal jacket and tie three course Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the Master of Pembroke College. I can't even. It's like the lives of two very different people have been incongruously mashed together into my body, and a very visceral reminder that this is, indeed, one of the biggest changes I've yet experienced in my life. It's a bizarre, fascinating, and incredibly liberating feeling.

 (Just a slight change from the Waff...)

(Not gonna lie, though: this food was fancy and all, but my inner redneck craved those Waffle House hashbrowns juuuuust a little bit...)

There are a lot of things I really miss that I had to leave for this new adventure--my country, my family, my friends, my beloved job at Color Services, and of course my horses--but at moments like this I know I have no regrets for the decision I made to come here. This is such a crazy, beautiful, sometimes difficult, but always thrilling adventure. I'm so thankful that the universe has let me go along for the ride.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Coming to Jesus

...College, that is. 

Over the last few weeks a few people from my college, Pembroke, participated in an exchange with Jesus College - I really liked the last exchange I went on at Green Templeton College that I wrote about here, as these events are a great chance to see the inside (and sample the cuisine) of some colleges that I probably would never get the chance to go to otherwise. Jesus especially felt this way, as I don't know anyone at the college so the chances of me getting in for a regular meal seem pretty slim.

After hosting (in my humble opinion) a cracking home leg the first week and getting primed on all the 'Coming to Jesus' type jokes we could think of (seriously, how can you go to a college with a name like that? So ripe for irreverence), we set off to Turl st.

The hall was beautiful, tiny, and imposing: paneled in dark wood and filled with portraits of British royalty (and most notably, Queen Elizabeth I, who was the college's founder). We stood for an unusually long (even by Oxford's standards) Latin grace, and then sat down for our elegant, formal meal...

...of chili and rice, served family-style. Wait what? I'm all for good old fashioned comfort cuisine, but I can't get over how out of place it felt to be passed a lovely china serving tray filled to the brim with yellow spanish rice and then topping it off with a glop of sour cream scooped from a delicate white porcelain bowl with the judgmental eyes of Queen Elizabeth I staring down at me. It was a truly surreal experience.

(The Faerie Queen herself, daring me to complain about her college's bizarre meal choice)

But, the conversation was still lovely, ranging from learning about the research topics of the Jesus contingent of the exchange (tracing the literary heritage of witchcraft in France and some incredibly complicated sounding particle physics were the two topics that stood out most to me) to getting into a genuinely thought-provoking discussion on the nature of nationalism in the US versus Europe that was sparked off by my unabashedly patriotic American flag iPhone cover.

Of all the things about Oxford, these types of witty, often hilarious, but truly stimulating conversations have been by far my favorite. I often feel completely left behind, but it's so inspiring to be surrounded by people who are so clever and so passionate.

So the dinner was a success... even if I'd skip the chili the next time around.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Playing Catch Up: Ma Comes to Visit

So looking back at the thing's I've been remiss on posting about over the last three weeks, and one of the biggies that stands out is that my wonderful mother came out to visit for a week around Veterans' Day. She actually came out to the UK on business, but made a detour up to Oxford for a weekend so I got to feel like I had her all to myself :)

We had a great time sightseeing 'the Erickson way,' which is very, very low on actual sightseeing and very, very high on eating! Seriously, I spent like 4 hours each night agonizing about researching where we were going to eat the next day (upshot? I now of an extensive list of short listers that we didn't end up going to this time around but that I want to try out in the future - if my waistband and wallet will let me!).

I did drag her out to watch me row one afternoon, which she was a very good sport about despite the fact that it was 40 degrees and raining. Which means that I now have a few pictures of me actually in a boat! We didn't do much terribly exciting, but it was really fun to show Ma my new athletic time sink.

 (Lookin... chilly. I'm in the hat.)

 (Clearly looking really organized and on task...)

Other than that, it truly was a tour de food, as we hit up a lovely Italian restaurant in Jericho on Saturday night, experienced the majesty/insanity that is Sunday Roast in Britain on Sunday afternoon, and then followed that up with Pembroke formal hall at the high table on Sunday night. I was so full by the end of the weekend that I thought my stomach might actually burst out of my stomach. Truly one of my favorite feelings.

 (Checking out some risotto at Branca, the Italian restaurant we went to in Jericho - highly recommended!)

 (Taking a walk along the Isis en route to Sunday Roast)

 (Somewhat overwhelmed by the portions going on - I feel like Sunday Roast is one of those things that, if it were an American tradition, it would be one of the many things used by foreigners to mock us and our crappy eating habits - how do the Brits get away with it??! It's literally an orgy of food. A delicious, delicious orgy. We went to The Punter which, while being a little out of the way, had a great relaxed vibe (complete with dogs wandering around!), and the food was plentiful and delicious.)

 (Looking very scholarly at High Table for formal hall! If only the food could have lived up to the setting...)

Then on Monday I had the extra treat of accompanying my mom into London to a super swanky black tie dinner to be there as she was awarded a very big deal award for her line of work. My mother has always been so supportive of me, and especially of my riding, over the years, for which I'm so, so thankful. So it was really exciting to get to be there to support her in that moment. Plus, it was fun to dress up! Not like I get any opportunities to do that Oxford... (actual real life admission: I AM becoming a black tie-addict; gahh it's just so fun and everyone ends up looking so good!! Why don't more functions in America follow this dress code??!)

(There was also, obviously, a lot of gratuitous eating)

(We clean up pretty good, right?!)

(The gala - so fancy!!)

(Super pumped for my actually decent set course vegetarian meal - one of the first good ones I've had in Britain so far)

It was a bit of a reality check to get back to work on Tuesday morning after a weekend of such non-studious activities, but thoroughly worth it - though perhaps my professors may not have agreed!
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