Tag: Grad School

Absence Makes the C. Grow Nostalgic

“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.”
~Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic’s Notebook, 1966

Things I really miss about my husband (all of the time, but particularly this week):

1.  How buddy buddy we are in public and how sickeningly cute he is in private.  One of my best memories of him is from the first year of our marriage.  It was the middle of the night and he woke up for some reason and got out of bed which woke me as well.  But thinking I was still asleep, he leaned over and kissed me on the nose.  Just because.

2.  We had a really great household system: I do laundry he does dishes.  I hate dishes, loathe them with an intensity usually reserved for cockroaches and split pea soup.  With him gone, I am reduced to doing my own dishes, which is a hateful nightly event.

3.  How easy it was to talk to my best friend about my day and hear about his.  We schedule Skype dates and email and chat regularly throughout the day, but it’s not as satisfying as our conversations during car ride home after work..

4.  Cuddling.  We are shameless cuddlers.  We cuddle on the couch, going to sleep, watching movies, talking, you name it.  The most satisfying feeling in the world is his arms around me, and not having it for months at at time makes me excessively grouchy.

5.  Believe it or not, listening to or watching sports with him, it’s ridiculously funny to hear my normally calm, reserved guy randomly exploding with, “C’mon!”  “He was in!”  “Travel?  TRAVEL?!”

6.  His quiet steadiness.  Sometimes I feel like the family tornado, constantly doing something, running, planning, doing until I burn out and collapse on the sofa.  Which is usually when he steps in with a grin and  calmly handles whatever it was that seemed so overwhelming a mere five minutes ago.  No doubt this trait will feature more heavily when we finally decide to spawn.

7.  Doing things with him.  We are really good about indulging one another’s interests and likes.  I bought him tickets to his favorite team for his birthday one year, even though I couldn’t care less about basketball.  He returned the favor by taking me to the opera.  I had Korean food for the first time with him, he went to England for the first time with me.  We’re far more adventurous together than apart.

8.  How helpful he is.  Since he’s been gone it seems like the flat has decided to show it’s age and start to go to pieces.  Cupboards have needed to be fixed, furnaces have needed tweaking, faucets refuse to shut off, oven handles have come undone…the list goes on.  Margot’s charming gentleman caller (Wrench) has been an absolute wunderkind and helped out whenever he visits, but keeping up with a house is a full time job.  Largely doing it by myself is rotten.

9.  Dates.  I have no problem going to movies or restaurants by myself, my alone time is valuable and relaxing to me, but there’s no question that dinner with him is ten times better than dinner without him.

10.  His scent.  His cologne, which I love, is not very powerful, but it lingers.  It still haunts his side of the closet, which packs a powerful punch of nostalgia whenever I open it.  I miss smelling it every day.

No doubt about it, minions, separation sucks.  On the plus side, he’s coming to stay for a few weeks sometime in March or April.  On the plusser side, less than six months and we’re done with school and on to the next adventure!

The J. Files II

– J. gets to know the neighborhood and indulges his unending perplexity of all non-American sports. 

“Yesterday I wandered around my neighborhood for a while to get an idea of where things are.  Finsbury Park looks pretty nice; I’ll have to walk around there and see if what I can find.  From the road I saw the remnants of a baseball diamond.  Somehow I think they sully it with cricket.”

The J. Files

– J. reports from the London homebase on learning the language (more importantly on the switching of Z’s for S’s and the including of U’s in words previously without).  Fate and I combined will turn this man into a Brit yet!

“My first two classes are the two that everyone has to take:  Corporate Finance and Financial Reporting.  The two classes for my specialization are International Finance and Accounting in the Global Economy.  The two that I have to wait and see if I get in are Leadership in Organisations Theory and Practice, and Financial Risk Analysis.  The former is an organisational behaviour (look at me spell!) type of class on what makes good leaders and the latter is a class analysing (again!) risk using statistics and math (never gonna add an “s” to that).”

Travel is Imminent, Repeat, Travel is Imminent!

You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.”
– Ayn Rand

Or, in my case, blog.

Floors: swept and mopped
Bathroom: reorganized and purged
Oven: oh dear…
Packing: commenced
Produce: nearly all eaten
Living Room: a disaster zone
Bedroom: not much better
Kitchen: let’s not talk about it
Dry Cleaning Pile: large
Bags of Clothes To Be Donated: three (so far)
Moping/Sulking: over with
Excitement Levels: rising
Stress Levels: ditto
Things Left To Do: legion

Ducklings, we went to work this weekend.  And, ducklings, we are tired.

J. has his final check out at work today, we have more things to eat so our fridge isn’t a possessed cesspool of rot and evil when I get back, and we can’t find a garment bag that we were sure was in a suitcase.  I’ve started deep cleaning everything so I have fewer things to worry about while I’m gone and things are more pleasant to come home to.  The living room is carpeted with piles of clothes and paraphernalia in and out of suitcases.  Also!  We cleaned the oven just for kicks and discovered [quit reading here, Mum] that the interior is blue instead of black.  Let’s not dwell on that.   Onward!

To the Closet!

“Women usually love what they buy, yet hate two-thirds of what is in their closets.”
~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic’s Notebook

Some of you may still be a bit battered by our last exercise, but grudging health commitments have taught me that the only cure for soreness is the hair of the dog and so back into the fray!  This time we’re tackling your wardrobe, what are the chances we’ll find Narnia?

Moving is always an excellent excuse to go through your closet because there is generally quite a bit of stuff in it that you don’t wear, doesn’t fit, no longer reflects your style or taste, has started to wear out, or that you are ready to let go of.  There is no better excuse for an honest examination (or in the case of some, an archeological expedition) of one’s closet than the knowledge that if you are keeping something you will have to find room for it in two suitcases.  And if you aren’t taking it, that you will have to find a place to store it while you are out of the country or gird your loins and get rid of it.

Now I’m not one of those ogresses that demand you chuck everything dear to you (am I, ducklings?), I know that in every closet their lurks some treasures that it simply wouldn’t be feasible to transport but you can’t get rid of.  All I’m saying is that you should be honest about what constitutes real treasure.  A couple of contrasting examples:

Freshman year some friends of mine had t-shirts made for our group.  I’ve carefully preserved that shirt for the memories but haven’t worn it once in nearly 6 years.  When I pulled it out of my closet, I grinned a bit remembering some of the scrapes we got into, thought of friends I haven’t seen in a while, and generally reminisced about the four years I spent at university.  And then I put it in the donate pile.  Hanging onto a shirt that only takes up room in storage when I already don’t wear it doesn’t make a lot of sense.  And of course I realized that I don’t necessarily need a shirt to remember people and good times anymore.

Alternatively, in my closet also resides my wedding dress.  It too represents memories but the difference between it and a t-shirt (besides price) is not lost on me.  If  I have a daughter she may want to wear it for her own wedding, or perhaps my sister would like to borrow it for her nuptials – giving my parents a sigh of relief and Snickers more coin to drop on the party itself.  Or perhaps someday I’ll donate it to another good cause.  But until then, I’m much less willing to part with it rather than an old, never worn t-shirt.

I WISH. Mine is nothing so organized.

And in between these two extremes is most of what I own.  I have pretty dresses and skirts that I spent good money on, are in excellent shape, and that I quite like, that won’t be necessary to me overseas.  I have tops that I haven’t worn for a long time and won’t miss.  I have any number of shoes, including a few pairs from Italy and Paris that I love but won’t stand up to cobbled streets or inclimate weather.

And so, armed with a ruthless will and clear vision of what I intend to hold precious, I fling open the doors and survey everything I own and start asking the practical and philosophical questions about individual items:

  1. Does it follow the Cardinal Rule of dressing abroad?
  2. Is it in good shape?  Are hems fraying, seams ripping, or is it generally falling apart?  Is the answer is yes, donate or chuck it.
  3. If it isn’t in good shape, can you get it back into working order?  If all that’s wrong with a perfectly good jacket or cardigan is a missing button, it’s beyond foolish to chuck it for a easily repairable flaw.
  4. Have I worn this item in the last six months?  If not, you can probably get rid of it without qualm.
  5. Do I still like it?  In every closet there resides at least one lapse in sartorial judgment, and if you don’t like it now, you won’t like it later.
  6. Does it still fit properly?  There’s no reason to hang on to something that doesn’t.
  7. Will I wear it (which is an entirely different question than “Have I worn it?”  I wear lots of things here in the States during summer that might not be so practical for a Fall/Winter school year in Europe)?
  8. If I leave it behind, will I wear it when I get back or will it be too dated, out of style, or no longer practical for my situation in life?
  9. Do I have multiple items that serve the same functions?  If so, which one would be more practical to take and would give me the most and best wear?

Any clothing that doesn’t pass muster gets tossed into bin liners to be donated, offered to friends, given to Snickers, or is set aside to be stored.  What’s does is what’s coming with you.  The next step is make sure you have the necessary items to make it through a calendar year abroad, and we’ll start exploring that in future posts.

So, sound off!  What categories of things does an enterprising globe hopper need for a jaunt abroad?

Getting Into the Habit

“The hard must become habit.  The habit must become easy.  The easy must become beautiful.”
~ Doug Henning

Today’s lecture is on habits, particularly those for physical health.  Habits are hard work, making as well as breaking.  And if you want to have some good ones while abroad, frankly you’ve got to get cracking on them long before you ever step foot in an airport.

I am not one of those people who naturally likes working out (those endorphins I’m promised?  Lies.  Never have they once materialized!) and so it’s something I do largely because I know I should, not because I particularly enjoy it.  But it’s a habit now and I work hard at keeping it one.  First of all, it is much easier to maintain your health, weight, workout schedule, and strength if you’ve already got it stabilized long before you move.  Secondly, living abroad can be more physically demanding: no cars, all walking, lots of carrying, etc.  It’s much better to already be in shape when you arrive than to spend a miserable few weeks huffing and puffing up and down stairs because you have to buy groceries more frequently (thanks to those tiny ice boxes).

The summer I did a study abroad there was an absurdly large number of girls who packed  work out gear, clothes, and shoes that never once saw the light of day.  I couldn’t have cared less about whether or not they went running, but as a traveler, I shook my head over the wasted space in their luggage and the silliness of their assumption that even though they weren’t in the habit of working our regularly at home, they would magically acquire it in a foreign country.  Learn from their fail.

No, Really. It’s Going.

“Nowadays, they have more trouble packing hair dryers than baseball equipment.”
– Bob Feller

Come on in darlings, and sit down.  Tea?  Hot chocolate?  Huge amounts of doughnuts?  Alright, it’s time to face the hard truth.  When prepping for a continental move or extended travel, you’re going to have to leave most of your personal things behind and it’s time to start making some cuts.

No, no, come back.  *pats couch beside her*  This isn’t as harrowing experience as you seem to think, although it might be a bit surreal at times, but Aunty C. is here.  There is no need to clutch your pearls, I promise.

Here’s the thing: you probably have a lot more stuff than you think you do.  When you live day in and day out with furniture, books, clothes, appliances, computers, serving wear, towels, blankets, and everything else, you tend to stop thinking about it in terms of individual things and more as just the basic equipment that makes a household go.  Which is of course exactly what it is, but when push comes to shove, you’d be surprised how little you can actually live on.  You will be equally surprised how much stuff that leaves you to get rid of, store, or donate.  Let’s start with the biggies:

True. Very True.

Depending on who you are the volume of and attachment towards them may vary.  At Chez Small Dog books are sacrosanct, and we have lots of them.  Also, we don’t buy books casually, all the books in our library have been thoughtful, deliberate purchases as we refuse to clutter up precious bookcase space with untried tomes – that’s what libraries are for.  The practical downside of this, though, is that none of our books are negotiable.  Store.

Linen Closet
We have multiple sets of towels, sheets, and blankets.  We may or may not take some of these things depending on what housing we get (Dear University, still waiting…) but if so it will be one set of sheets and one blanket and we will pick up anything else that we need there.  Ditto for towels.  We have a gorgeous quilt made by the sparkling Marie and her mother for our wedding and a pretty afghan my grandmother made for us that will go in storage.  The cheap blankets we use for napping on the couch, cuddling during movies, or as throws will go to anyone who wants them, or the donate bin.

I realize that we’ve moved on from that medieval notion of CDs but you may have some lying around.  If they are dear to you, transfer them to your digital library and store the disks.  If not, find someone who would like them and get them out of your way.  J. and I buy movies like we buy books: deliberately. However our tastes in films is a bit more snobbish, we buy them very rarely and generally ones that will stand the test of time.  Decide if you want to take any of your films with you and if so in what format – digital library, their individuals cases (which I don’t recommend at all), or a large multi-disk holder (which I do).  Again, remember that wherever you go you will have things like libraries, film festivals, student discounts to movieplexes, and in a pinch Netflix to amuse you.  Although if you’re going to a place with a thriving theatre and social scene (read: London) Aunty C. would be ashamed of your for staying inside and watching a film you’ve seen a dozen times on your laptop.  Take a few movies for sick days, by all means, minions, but if that’s the extent of your entertainment while living abroad, I wash my hands of you.

Let's pare this lot down a bit, eh?

Most women and some men have a mix of good and cheap jewelry, and it’s time to separate the sheep from the goats.  I have only a couple of long, chunky necklaces: I seldom wear them and they aren’t precious – they’ll be shipped off to my sister (Snickers benefits greatly from this move, let me tell you), while I have some very nice pieces that I will take with me.  If you have truly precious sparklers, family heirlooms, or anything at all you’re not comfortable traveling with, secure it!  Store it properly with Good People or in a safe deposit box, I really don’t recommend taking that sort of thing with you unless the move is permanent (and in your carry on bag, if not on your person!).  I have a large, beautiful rosewood jewelry case that was a birthday gift from my parents – it’s being stored and I’m taking to London instead a small box J. got me in Korea.  There’s enough room for my wedding rings, a few pairs of my favorite stud earrings, and a couple of pretty, shorter necklaces.  Less is more when it comes to baubles, kittens.  Also, be aware of the care and cost attached to your pretties: silver tarnishes, diamonds can pop out of their settings, and pearls require frequent wear to keep their lustre.  Take only what you know will wear and can care for.  Get rid of the cheap stuff (you can always buy more costume jewelry) and properly account for the good stuff.

Make common sense decisions.  That desktop computer isn’t fitting in your luggage, make arrangements to store it, or sell it (after having it professionally wiped of all personal information!).  If you’re a smart cookie, which you are of course, you could trade it in for credit on a laptop that is move friendly or store credit for something else you may want.  Do you have old phones that you have long since forgotten in your many upgrades?  Give them to younger siblings (hi again, Snickers), friends, or recycle them properly – you can find drop boxes at most tech stores or their customer service people can help you.  What about old mp3 players?  If they are in good shape, sell or give them to someone you really like.  Organize your music and entertainment libraries far in advance of your move.  Make decisions about your bigger items (we’re going to sell our large TV to get some extra money out of it, but we’re keeping J.’s beloved Playstation).  You’re going to have to store anything you keep, be sure that it’s something can withstand long storage periods, that won’t be obsolete by the time you get back (like certain televisions), and that – if leaving it with friends or family – that it will be properly taken care of.

There, chapter one of your primer is complete, and was it really so bad?  If it was, sorry, we at Small Dog are all about tough love.  Have some more chocolate.  Next step, your closet.

Everything Must Go. Seriously.

“Sometimes you’ve got to let everything go, purge yourself.”
– Tina Turner

Today we are going to cover the slash-and-burn, take no prisoners, everything must go mentality that comes with going to university in a foreign country.  It’s not unlike dying, kittens, as “you can’t take it with you.”  Which means you’re going to have to pawn, sell, trade, donate, lend, dump, or burn all of that “it” and it’s good to have a plan.

I’ve written before of the Great Purge that preceded each of our family jaunts here, and that’s a good starting point, but the crucial difference for me is that this time there isn’t a poly-government organization, private company, or even a well meaning stranger paying for us to up sticks.  This is all on us, and it’s going to be a meticulous, if bare bones operation.

Pictured: the exact opposite of what you want to achieve.

When prepping for a cross continental hop, the clued up traveler (that’s you, ducklings) sits down with their roommate, travel buddy, or significant other months in advance and has a conversation.  This conversation covers the Big Items about which major decisions will have to be made.  Cars, if they are to be kept, must be stored and insurance must still be paid on them in some cases, therefore arrangements must be made.  Furniture must either be sold, given to friends, or set on fire in the backyard for toasting marshmallows during your farewell bash.  Electronics and appliances are the same (not for burning obviously, you minions are awfully immature).  Decisions about what to do with the majority of the things that make up your household need to be made weeks, if not months in advance, not just before you head to the airport.

Example, we’ve decided to store the car at my parents’ house.  If we end up staying in the UK longer than anticipated, we can always sell it for extra funds and if we come back to the US, we have a car ready and waiting for us.  The furniture on the other hand?  That’s going.  It’s either purchased from Craigslist or Ikea so we’re not particularly attached to it and it’s still in good enough shape to be of use to another pair of starving newlyweds.

What do you mean we're not taking the immersion blender?!

After those are out of the way, you get to the funny items.  My parents bought us a lovely bright red Kitchen Aid as a wedding present that will be sold only over my dead body.  J. says ditto on (of all things) a very nice waffle iron.  We have a truly glorious set of pots and pans that we are prepared to go Gollum over if anyone suggests getting rid of them (the precious…).  We’re keeping the playstation, but not the large TV.  The dual DVD and VCR (because I have one or two treasured tapes from childhood, and I’m not ashamed to admit it) stays but almost all of the kitchen appliances go.

The point?  Be ruthless and be honest.  Know what is worth keeping and what you can sell without pang that will give you a little extra money to work/play with.  Most of our household items are newlywed quality stuff bought on a newlywed budget – ergo they’re decent, but selling or even giving some of it away doesn’t hurt us, personally or financially.  We won’t have to find storage for it, manage it, or worry about it.  Less really is more.

Personal items, now, that’s where it can get traumatizing.  I’ll give you a bit of time to recover, my fragile little darlings, before cracking that particular whip over your head.  Next time…

Home is Where…Actually, I’ve No Idea

“‘Oh Brancepeth,’ said the girl, her voice trembling, ‘why haven’t you any money? If only you had the merest pittance – enough for a flat in Mayfair and a little weekend place in the country somewhere and a couple of good cars and a villa in the South of France and a bit of trout fishing on some decent river, I would risk all for love.'”
– P.G. Wodehouse

Dear University,

Hi!  You may remember us, we’re the couple that applied for housing nearly two months ago.

You’re holding up paperwork by not making any decisions and I’m getting a bit annoyed.  My left eyebrow has risen twice, when you have moved back announcement dates on two separate occasions.  I understand that you don’t realize how dreadful a thing the raised left eyebrow of C. Small Dog is, but let me just say it hasn’t happened twice since a nosy woman in the parish asked when J. and I are going to get around to reproducing.  My response has gone down in parish legend and she slunk off, never to be seen or heard from since.

Where's this? Brixton?! Ah, drat...we'll take it...

I’ve lived in London, dear Housing People, and am actually very good at getting around it.  I honestly don’t have any preference if it’s in Camden or Westminster – I’ve haunted both extensively – I just would like somewhere to live, please.  If the former, I will wander the market every weekend.  If the later, I will practically live at my favorite cheese shop in Covent Garden and drag J. to shows in the West End (thank you, student discounts) at every opportunity.  We will be busy with school and blissfully thrilled to be there.

But at this point, I would be blissfully thrilled to have a cardboard box to sleep in, as long as it has an address I can put on our visa applications.  I’m not from the UK anymore, my family no longer lives in Cambridgeshire and we can’t crash with them while we wait for any flat at all between Battersea and Islington to make itself available.

Please make decisions and offers in the near future.  My metaphoric nails have been gnawed to the wrist.

Yours with – Diminishing – Love,

Style Theory and the Modern International

“‘Style’ is an expression of individualism mixed with charisma. Fashion is something that comes after style.”
– John Fairchild

Some will tell you that a move is the perfect time to try on a new persona, change your attitude, adopt a new style, etc.  And they are right, theoretically.  As someone who has meandered across four continents, moving once every couple of years, with ample opportunities to try on very different demeanors and looks, I can vouch you can change your style.  But I can also vouch that it can be expensive, tiring, and a lot of times futile, as lots of us inevitably go back to our old ways.  Here is the true secret to changing/staying true to your style: it has next to nothing to do with how you look.

That’s right, dumplings.  As cliche as it is, your style is all about you, not what you wear.

I sense you nodding along sagely, but wondering at the back of you minds, “Why bring this up, and what does this have to do with moving to Merrie Olde Englande?”  The answer is because I can’t count the number of friends, acquaintances, and fellow travelers I’ve known who think that a big trip or continental move is just one excuse to try on a new persona.  More specifically, that it’s an excuse to buy lots of stuff.  It’s not.

Back, you snarling shopaholics!

Whoa!  Down, minions!  Yes, there will be shopping, I promise, but all in due course, alright?  But the truth is, if you are traveling/moving and you want to do it in a savvy manner, there’s a lot to do before you whip out your credit cards with a maniacal look in your eyes.  Trust me.

So, why discuss style when we’re talking about living out of two suitcases for a year?  Because you will eventually have to shop and the first stop is your own closet.  The best place to start when figuring out what you will need in those suitcases it to sort out what you already have.  Clothes aren’t just a frivolity, they are important and especially so when traveling.  You are going to have to balance cost, care, wear, personal taste, needs, and functionality.  It’s as delicate an act as chemistry equations, and it all starts with your own personal style.

Leave the gun, take the cannoli.

Which is why I reiterate, style is about you and what you’ve already got.  When you are packing for a trip/move, or even if you just want to mix things up in your closet for a change, be honest with and about yourself.  Stock up on and pack what you know you like and will wear, and allow yourself only one or two flirtations with something new and exciting.  If you’re not a femme fatale, all those cocktail dresses might languish in your closet and you will shake your fist at the sky for having failed to pack jeans.  If you long to be a dapper Brit but are hopelessly, helplessly a true blue American lad, that straw boater hat and striped blazer will become a source of shame instead of pride.  It doesn’t matter what you pack, if the looks aren’t to your taste, aren’t comfortable, and don’t make you feel good (which you should on a trip or move to a fabulous new place!), you’re going to have spent a lot of money on a new personality that you will never wear, just like those new duds.

“To thine own self be true,” and all that.  I am a pretty conservative dresser.  Not a lot of sequins (except at New Year), not a lot of skin, and not a lot of bling.  My closet is full of skinny twill pants, solid color knit shirts, stud earrings, and low heeled riding boots.  I have a no bangles, no floppy hats, no bohemian dresses, and very little that is “of the moment,” sartorially speaking.  So, when I’m putting together my two suitcases to get me through a year, I’m going to be taking my tried and true looks that suit me and make me feel comfortable and classy.

Because, and this is key, darlings, style is in your head, not what’s on your carcass.  No one has ever – in spite of my boring and conservative wardrobe – accused me of being a boring or conservative person!

Lest you think this post was needlessly sappy, let me just say that I’m being especially supportive and nice because the next step might be painful.  Excruciating.  Weeping, gnashing of teeth, and sackcloth horrid.  Because once you’ve mastered Style Theory, and the Cardinal Rule of Packing, we’re purging your closet.  And.  I.  Am.  Ruthless.