Thanksgiving Day And A Weekend Away

As I sit on a less than luxurious easyjet flight back to Edinburgh, having barely made it to the gate in time, I can't help but feel satisfied about how the past few days have gone. Sure, they've been hectic and busy, but taking a break from student life has been just what I've needed. That is, since the most important (and quite frankly dreadful) three weeks of the term are on the horizon. 

In short, the past four days have consisted of a ball at the Balmoral, an evening in London, and a few days in the English countryside. 

So, to keep with my standard way of updating everyone on my life happenings, I will proceed to write a weekend recap post that is overflowing with photos. Except this time- spoiler alert- there will be numerous (and by that I mean far too many) pictures of a dog!  

If you've been loyally reading along since last at least November, you'll know that this is my second year in a row spending Thanksgiving away from my family, and quite strangely, celebrating the holiday at a black tie ball. This year, however, I totally upped my game and went with a group of 10 people to the event. And get this- three of us were American! It's safe to say we're slowly but surely working our way out of our minority status. 

While it's not the traditional American way of marking our nation's favorite holiday, I had a blast stuffing my face with turkey (and more importantly, cranberry sauce), complaining about the hotel's criminally high bar prices, and dancing the night away to some cheesy pop tunes in a sparkly gown. I hate to admit it, but this years Thanksgiving ball totally beat my senior prom (but maybe it was the red wine that did it). 

The next afternoon my boyfriend Ben and I hopped on a plane to his hometown of St. Albans- a quaint town just North of London. Wasting no time for lengthy introductions, I quickly met his parents and sister, dropped my bags and we headed into the city together for dinner. As ever, Ben's appreciation for the finer things in life had him bringing me to the East India Gentleman's Club in St. James' Square for a dinner that required some dressing up. I can't complain though since I love any reason to pull out a fancy (and generally highly under-worn) dress. 

I'm definitely guilty of pulling out my phone every once in a while when I'm out to dinner. The East India Club, however, states in its rules (in the form of some very obvious signage) that you can't under any circumstance use your phone in the public rooms. Of course I obliged- but that means no pictures, unfortunately! In all honesty, I enjoyed the old fashioned atmosphere, because it made me appreciate the delicious (and un-photographed) roast dinner even more. 

After a long lie-in on Sunday I was given the grand tour of St. Albans. It was one of those towns that looked exactly like you'd think England should look- old, architecturally beautiful, and of course grey from every angle. 

St. Albans boys school (Ben's alma mater) makes my high school look like a 1970s design nightmare (which it really is). It was founded long before the United States was discovered (in 948), and shares its grounds with the most stunning abbey I've ever set foot in. 

The town is also known for being home to one of the oldest pubs in Britain, "Ye Olde Fighting Cocks." 

After some scrumptious cakes at a cafe called "The Bakehouse" (Oreo banana bread is a genius combination), we headed back for a chill family dinner and intense girls vs. boy game of scrabble. 

Our last day consisted of a bit of driving about to visit Ben's grandparents, as well as a gloriously long walk in some dreary weather with my new best friend Bess the dog. 

My outfit was on point as I was borrowing a men's Barbour since I forgot my own field jacket back in Edinburgh.

The mud was thick, and the wind was strong but we eventually made our way over to a local pub which luckily lets in adorable dogs like Bess (though she was only allowed water...).

And so my exciting, albeit a bit frenzied, weekend is slowly but surely coming to a close as this half-empty flight touches down on Scottish soil. Unfortunately, it's back to the harsh reality of university tomorrow as I attempt to finish an essay and a take-home exam within a week and a half. 

I'm sure these last three weeks in Edinburgh won't be nearly as wonderful as the time I had in St. Albans- but at least I'll have the photos and the memories.    


Becoming a "Real Person"

When I was about 17 years old, I remember my oldest brother's friend from college saying to me "The last time I saw you, you were only 14- you're practically a real person now!"

As well-intentioned as his remark was, it's safe to say that I was the slightest bit offended by his comment. At 17, how could I "practically" be a "real person"? I was an autonomous being with thoughts and feelings of my own- I was a real person!

Looking back, though, I understand where he was coming from. At just 14 years old, and starting my freshman year of high school, I was self conscious of what I said, what I wore, and what people thought of me. Most of my everyday decisions were based off of what I was supposed to do. Whether those obligations were assigned by my parents or by my peers, I definitely wasn't the one calling the shots. For me, high school was never-ending series of "have-tos": I had to race every Wednesday and Saturday, I had to take more AP classes than the girl sitting next to me, and I had to apply Early Decision to the most prestigious school on my list.

I ticked off the have-tos, one by one, making sure I was measuring up to my classmates and meeting my parents' expectations. That final checkbox, though, was the most important of all: go to college. And not just any college, but the kind of school that everyone knows is hard to be accepted into. In the end, I didn't do what most kids from my high school were expected to do, and decided to run off to a country I had never even visited before. All of that planning, traveling, and, not to mention, those pro/con charts, didn't matter all that much. That was truly the first time I made my own decision, taking that first step into becoming a "real person."

Every time I think about how my life used to be- whether five years ago or last year- I'm amazed by how much it's changed, and how much more of a "real person" I've become. And so, as I sit here in deep reflection for no particular reason, I feel obliged to outline how I'm feeling about different aspects of my life- because, let's be honest, this blog is essentially just my own personal diary.

School // As much as I think it's important to have a well-rounded education in which you know the basics of all major subjects, I think that having requirements in all of those subjects at the college level is a bit silly- especially if they aren't relevant to your major. Studying just three subjects of my choice has really allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of not just those fields, but of the world around me. For once in my life I've actually found what I'm studying in class to be incredibly relevant to my daily life.

Running // Running used to be a chore. As much as I've always loved the social aspects of being a runner, it wasn't until university that I really started to appreciate the fun of running. Because there's less pressure on me to perform well, I've found that I've not only been enjoying racing more, but I've been improving in significant ways. Even if I'm not necessarily getting faster from race to race, I might be finding hills to be easier, or I might be having a better finish. While running in and of itself is healthy, I think over the past year I've developed  a healthier relationship with running and racing.

Free time // I never had time for new hobbies that were purely "for fun." Now, I've had the chance to not only write my blog once a week, but I've also picked up a few new pass times along the way. This year, I strayed from my comfort zone and tried out reeling- a type of Scottish dancing that involves a lot of spinning. Not only did this new club push me outside my comfort zone physically (I'm not the most graceful twirler), but it also challenged me socially. I'm usually one to be super outgoing and don't tend to have trouble assimilating to a new group of people, but showing up to reeling practice once a week quite frankly scared me. I quickly learned that I had to allow myself to be uncomfortable- and to be a newbie- in order to gain any confidence with reeling. All in all, though, I'm glad that I've had the opportunity to try something new in my free time- which is something I haven't been able to do in a while.

Okay, so the real question is, do I consider myself a "real person" now? Not exactly. But I do feel that I've "come into my own", as they say, now more than ever. I feel like I make more of my own decisions, and doing more of what I want to do in addition to what I decide I have to do. I'm not completely independent, though- my parents are still helping me along the way (thanks mom and dad!). Still, I think I'm much more of a "real person" today than I was at fourteen or seventeen. And I'll probably be saying the same thing about my nineteen year old self in a few years.  


A Few Thoughts on Paris, Social Media, and Selective Grief

As a sociology student who is particularly interested in the roles and effects of news media and social media on society, I've found the debates and discussions following the attacks in Paris to be significant, provocative, and- at times- unnecessary. The arguments that I explore here are based purely from personal experience and my own opinion. I'd hesitate to claim that any of these thoughts are fully formed or that my opinions are unlikely to change. This is but a mere reflection on a singular event that feeds into a much wider discussion on how we react to tragedies. I hope that if you're reading this, you will share your own thoughts with me- whether you agree or disagree with what I've written here.    

I find it fascinating that at the click of a button we can feel as though we've contributed something meaningful in the midst of a horrific tragedy. On the one hand, these small gestures help us to feel connected to something greater as we digitally link arms with one another, standing in solidarity and respect as a united world.

But perhaps it makes us feel a little bit better about ourselves, and pardons us from saying or doing anything more than adding a filter to a "temporary" picture. The fact that Facebook so describes these images as "temporary" is a painful reminder that those of us who weren't directly affected by this event will be able to easily move on from it.

But for the victims, families, and people of Paris, these wounds are anything but temporary. I know this as a Bostonian and as a runner. As much as my city celebrates “Boston Strong” on the weekend of the Boston Marathon, fear and grief resurface on the anniversary of our own bout of terror.

I chose not to change my profile picture not as a political or social statement, but because I can't bear the thought of switching it back to "normal" once a few weeks have passed and my moral obligation has been fulfilled. And while I understand that not everyone feels similarly about the tricolor, I feel that the inevitable physical representation that I've "moved on" would be difficult to personally come to terms with.

What I've found most upsetting about the social media outpouring of support is not the support itself, but the hypocrisy of those who claim to stand with Paris, yet spew hateful language on media outlets. While I can't say that I've known anyone personally who has acted as such, it isn't uncommon to see someone in the comments section sporting a tricolor profile picture yet bashing Muslims and refugees.

With any act of terrorism unfortunately comes backlash and blame. It saddens me to know that at a time when so many innocent lives are lost, so many more innocent people become the targets of hate. From continued instances of racial profiling to recent announcements by multiple state Governors refusing to accept refugees, terrorism affects more than only the victims of the crime.  

As a result of the massacre in Paris, there has also been a significant amount of debate surrounding selective grief- namely, why we profoundly show support for Paris, yet we don't acknowledge the arguably more common acts of terror in other countries.

There is  no doubt that the media is highly biased towards Western societies. The concern with Paris is perhaps- quite sadly- a reflection of our mindset that these types of mass killings aren't supposed to happen in places like this. France, the United States, and the United Kingdom among other countries are viewed to be places where people take refuge from the woes of the world. Unfortunately, we see attacks on people's freedom in places like Syria, Beirut, and Gaza to be normal. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't say anything about it.

However, posts on social media that address this issue often do so in ways which I find quite troubling. While it is shocking that April’s massacre in Kenya that left nearly 150 University students dead didn't receive the same media coverage as the Paris attacks, arguing that we should focus on Kenya rather than Paris is reductive of the events occurring this past week. A genuine concern for non-Western societies should be prevalent at the appropriate time- and not at the detriment of the victims of Paris.

But consideration of places like Kenya and Beirut do bring up an important question, one that TIME poses in a recent article: Do some terror attacks mean more than others? Unfortunately, I'd have to say the answer is yes, because "meaning" is not objective- it is both constructed and assigned by dominant forces. The media, of course, plays a large role in this process- one driven by money, politics, and popularity. And so it is incredibly difficult for us as consumers of media to control what we see, hear, and read. 

I don't know if there is a solution to this predicament. But what I do know is that the events that occurred over the past few days, whether in Paris or Beirut, are unimaginably inhuman. And no matter where you stand regarding unrest in the Middle East, or what your religion is, know that hate is what has brought about these attacks on innocent people. And the spread of further hatred is not going to get us anywhere.       

Nothing can fully heal the agony of the more than one hundred lives lost. Not a profile picture, not a blog post, and perhaps not even time. But the best we can do to ease the pain of events like these- whether through writing, reflection, or support- is better than not doing anything at all.


The Best Views in Edinburgh

With multiple deadlines in the next coming weeks, a full social calendar for the holiday season, and exams just on the horizon, I find it difficult to take the time to simply relax for a moment and appreciate the little things in my life.

One thing that I'm so grateful for, and that I tend to forget on the dreariest of days, is how beautiful Edinburgh actually is. I'll take some photos now and then on my way to class or as I'm doing some window shopping on Princes Street, but I'm always worried that I'll look like a tourist. Yet, I'll look through my phone a few weeks later and regret not taking a shot of that stunning sunset or that fantastic facade.

I know people always say to "live in the moment" and preach that we're far too focused on our phones, but taking a snap or two of something truly remarkable doesn't hurt- as long as you're not fiddling with the composition of the shot straight after (save that for a lazy Sunday morning).

As I said- the city of Edinburgh is way too aesthetically pleasing not to share through photography. So, here are some of my favorite snapshots from this semester:  

While there's always the quintessential (and heavily photographed) view of the city centre against the rolling countryside from Calton Hill, I find that this shot of some historic flats and the seaside is far more unexpected.

Princes street simply never disappoints. Every angle presents a new perspective and a different breathtaking view. I love how the stately buildings peek through the leaves in this photo.

Edinburgh Castle is always a solid focal point for photos, and I often aim to make it the center of attention in my shots. But I think its pretty cool how from this point of view, the statue dwarfs the castle- despite how massive the building is in real life.

I actually walked up to Edinburgh Castle a few weekends ago for the first time! It's bad luck to enter the castle before you graduate (as in, you won't graduate if you step foot inside), so I stuck to the outer grounds. Seeing the castle at night, lit up against a pitch black sky, was something truly magical.

As touristy as this photo and this street are, I'm kind of in love with the muted colors and intense shadows of this shot. The Royal Mile is very commercial, if I'm honest. But I have to admit that the architecture is still pretty magnificent- as are the cobblestone streets. 

What I like most about this photo, though, is how it really captures the "feeling" of Edinburgh- a little bit quirky, and very much gray, but still buzzing with energy.


5 Things I Miss About Fall in New England

I know some people roll their eyes when they hear that fall is my favorite season. The overexposure of pumpkin spice lattes, predictable Halloween costumes, and scarves the size of duvets can become a bit mundane after a week or so. But there are so many incredible aspects of this transitional period that make it worth loving. As a native New Englander, however, I sometimes find autumn in the UK to be a bit... underwhelming. My high expectations stem from New England's tendency to absolutely kill it during the fall. And so, I'm left longing for everything that makes autumn in America's prettiest region so gosh darn wonderful:

The fantastic foliage
While I think Edinburgh has really been upping its game foliage-wise this fall (shout out to the meadows for looking beautiful as ever), there's nothing quite like the brilliant colors of autumn leaves in New England. Not only are the reds, oranges, and yellows incredibly stunning, but there are so many trees that you end up ankle deep in leaves, swishing and crunching your way along the sidewalk. I definitely don't miss raking the leaves in the backyard, though- my dad is pretty obsessive about making sure the barrels are 100% full before the job is considered done.

Good effort from the foot of Arthur's Seat.

Massachusetts simply doesn't disappoint.
Apple picking
There was one weekend this past month where my entire instagram feed was filled images of open fields, cider donuts, and baby goats. It's safe to say that this made me feel a little bit homesick- apple picking at Tougas Farms on Columbus Day weekend was always a tradition in my family (until we all "grew up" and went off to college). And after a long afternoon of reaching up high for the best fruit, we'd all head back to my grandparent's house for a nice dinner and a freshly baked apple pie. I'm not entirely sure if apple picking is a common activity here in the UK, but I've heard from a few people that you're more likely to find farms that do "pick your own" down in England.

Sunday night football
A sports expert I am not. But having grown up with three older brothers, you can be sure I can at least follow an American Football game. What I miss most about Sunday night football isn't exactly the game itself. It's more the family togetherness that I miss, and the outstanding game-night dinners my mom would put together. I'm notorious for leaving the family room mid-game once the food is all gone. Oops.

Such a sporty gal.

This is one of the biggest reasons why November is a tough month for me. While there's always other ways to celebrate one of America's most important holidays, not having my family around, and not doing the usual family traditions, makes that one Thursday not feel quite right. My favorite thing about Thanksgiving? Getting up (relatively) early to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade with my brothers. That, and the fact that the holiday marks the "official" start of the Christmas season.

Fab Thanksgiving food.

Chilly Weather
Am I crazy for missing the bitter cold that seems to set in at the turn of the month in New England? Probably. And while it does become a bit chillier here in Edinburgh come November, its never enough for me to justify completely bundling up in my coziest sweaters and fuzziest socks. Plus, the greatest part is that the chilly weather is always a telling sign of the first snow of the season! And who doesn't love that?

Today's look- barelegged!

Early fall in New England- multiple layers!

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