Wednesday, August 3, 2016

There Are No Unhappy Endings...

...Because nothing ever ends.

Hi, folks. It's been a long, long time. I'm so sorry I went dark on you—it's a lame cliché, but basically life got in the way. Since I last wrote here (way back in summer 2014!), I:

  • Completed my masters in Modern British and European History, with a dissertation on the role of UNESCO in West German educational reform in the 1950s. It was a steep learning experience and my dissertation left a bit to be desired, but I survived it hungry and ready for more.
  • Started a PhD at Oxford in History: after my less-than-perfect masters, I took some time to reassess my academic interests and decided to drastically change topics to something that suited me better. Now I'm studying the reception of the Second Vatican Council in the Ugandan Catholic Church in the 1960s and 70s. It's a crazy niche topic, but I've loved every second of it so far!
  • Rowed for my university at lightweight and openweight level, culminating in racing in the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race in the women's reserve crew this year in front of 250,000 spectators on the Thames in London. My crew unfortunately lost, but it was an experience I'm incredibly thankful to have taken part in and that I'll cherish forever. 
  • Fell in love with single sculling, ending this season with a win at Henley Women's Regatta with my father there to watch. I haven't had my dad at a competition with me in a long time and it was such a special day; it reminded me of the good old days of going to horse shows together. I know that it will go down as one of my happiest sporting memories of my entire life. 

It's been a crazy three years in the UK, often testing, but even more often rewarding and exciting. I still miss home, and horses, and people and things that I left behind, and I still sometimes feel like a horrible outsider here. But I also have wonderful friends and wouldn't trade the experiences I've been fortunate enough to have for anything. 

In the next year, I've got a lot of exciting things planned. It's my fieldwork research year for my PhD, which means lots of travel! I'm planning trips to Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Kenya, and Uganda. I'm also travelling to Iran with my mother and Chile and Argentina with my entire family on holiday. If all goes well, I should visit five continents!

If you'd like to follow along with my adventures, I've started a newsletter that will go out once monthly. I've decided on this new format over the blog, as I like the immediacy of email and I think it will be easier to communicate directly. I've loved this blog so much, and have been so thankful for everyone who has read and commented, but I think this will be my last post. 

If you want to be part of the newsletter, click here to add your email: 

I hope to see you on the other side. In the meantime: so long, and thanks for all the fish. 



Friday, August 1, 2014

How Stella Got Her Groove Back

(Just a heads up that this post contains a few mildly NSFW-ish photos of me in a sports bra and lycra shorts.)

So if you read the recap posts of the end of my first year of grad school (here, here, and here), it's pretty clear that in many ways I had a pretty surreal and awesome spring. I got to do a lot of cool stuff, hang out with some crazy people, and get a peak in on a life that was completely unlike anything I'd ever experienced before. 

However, it was also really, really tough. I limped home in early July depressed, injured, and a bit mentally fried. To top everything off, I got dumped approximately 72 hours before I was due to come home for the summer.

So that didn't feel great.

I admit that I did spend around a week in as close to a rom-com, 'crying-while-watching-soppy-movies-and-eating-ice-cream' esqe phase as I've ever gotten--which for me is more along the lines of lying inert and drained in bed all day, watching repeats of British panel comedy shows that I've watched a thousand times before. I wanted to jump up and start enjoying home on the farm right away, but I just couldn't.

(Though fortunately, some things about home just blast you with loveliness so intense that you can't deny it, even when you're feeling awful)

But eventually, I started grooving again. I started going to doctor's appointment after doctor's appointment to get my back and shoulder feeling better. I got glasses, and suddenly could read street signs again while driving--an epiphany!

 (New four eyes!)

I tentatively started going for long walks with my dog, that merged into jogs, that merged into stationary recumbent cycling, that merged into regular stationary cycling and weights. 

(A montage of 'walking with Eloise')

Soon, I'd lost the 10 pounds I'd gained in my post-injury June convalescence and was looking damn fine again, if I do say so myself:

(158 lbs - 151 lbs)

All of a sudden, I went from sort of dreading the start of the school year, with all of the stress and having to see my ex again and blah blah blah, to actually getting really excited again. My back actually feels good! My body actually feels good! I can see! I can think again!


In a lot of ways I've had a pretty boring summer so far, but gosh has it been necessary. I finally feel like I have my old confidence back and am ready for another year in Oxford-land. I have no idea still if I'll be able to row again this fall, but at this point I'm feeling like I'll definitely be well enough to do something, which is fine by me at this point. Bring it on!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Trip to Horse Show Land!!

This past weekend was a very exciting one for me, because... I GOT TO GO TO A HORSE SHOW!!

Namely, I went up to GMHA Dressage Days for the weekend to volunteer as a scribe. It was my first time being at a show since last September, and ooh lawdy it felt good to be back.

The weather was absolutely unreal perfect, I got teamed up with the same great judge on both days, and had a blast scribing for 2nd level all the way up through Grand Prix over the two days. I have scribed for eventing dressage but never the pure stuff, and it was really informative to see what mistakes make different scores happen.

(Sunday in the FEI ring - this horse was sooooooo fancy!)

Most interestingly, the judge I scribed for was one that I had last year at PSG, and one who I got one of my lower scores of the season from. I had sort of grumbled about it at the time, but after spending two days with her I knew beyond a doubt that my low score had come from inaccuracies in my test (which she was brutal on, especially correct angles in shoulder-ins and half passes and getting things like flying change counts totally, flawlessly correct) and not from any bias from her. It's not even that I'd thought that at the time, but it is always easy to make excuses for a bad performance... until you're literally sitting there watching a test similar to yours getting scored low and seeing with your own eyes why it's not up to scratch. It was humbling, but also inspiring to watch the direct correlation between test accuracy and good scores. It works, people!

I have no idea when I'll actually be able to use all the education I got out of this weekend, as I have no idea when realistically I'll get to show again, but oh well; it was still tons of fun. It was also really fun to be up at GMHA again, which is far and away one of my favorite spots on this good green earth, equestrian or otherwise. I've showed at GMHA for nearly 20 years now and they've given me so much happiness, so it felt good to spend a few days giving something back to them. Plus, they really know how to make a volunteer feel loved: showering us with free food and goodies throughout the weekend. Thanks, GMHA!

(Morning light in the dust bowl)

I also got to spend some time taking some long walks through the green mountains, and enjoying the gorgeous Vermont scenery. There really is no place like it, and I felt so lucky to get to spend such a perfect few days there. I'd love to come back with a horse someday, but in the meantime this was just fine by me.

 (Early morning Queechee Gorge)

(Beautiful Vermont)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Springtime Rewind Pt 3: Henley Royal Regatta

I have just one last spring rewind, because summer is now well and truly under way and I actually have some new events to write about, but this last recollection was just too good to pass up.

Remember how in my last post, I talked about getting the right to wear a Pembroke blazer, and thus getting an admission ticket into the weirdly cultish world of Oxbridge rowing? Well, I got to put that to good use just a week or so after term ended, when a couple of friends from boat club and I pulled out our blazers for a weekend at Henley Royal Regatta.

Henley is the crown jewel of the summer rowing calendar in Britain, half elite-level competition and half elite-level social ritual. The dress code is incredibly stringent, with jackets and ties for men and below-the-knee skirts or dresses for women, with boating blazers being the most coveted accessory of all.

 (Wearing my Pembroke blazer with pride - I also had my high school's bowtie folded in as a pocket square for a little additional institutional pride)


 (Familiarizing ourselves with the plan for the day's racing)

There is an unspoken hierarchy of boating blazers, with the blue blazers of the Oxford and Cambridge university teams ranking near the top, Oxbridge college blazers comfortably in the middle, smaller club blazers near the bottom, and international blazers from the Netherlands and the US appearing as exotic sideshow oddities. An Oxford grad student had just published a coffee table book of boating blazers a few weeks before Henley, so my friends and I--newly versed on the many cuts and colors of Britain's blazer tradition--had a lot of fun identifying who came from where as we walked up and down the riverbank.

(With my friend Richard, who wears the striped blazer of the Oxford University Lightweights)

(With a Nepthys-blazer-clad Sam)

(Pembroke ladies with an Isis man)

I have to say I didn't pay much attention to the racing, spending a lot more time observing my fellow spectators in full peacocking splendor and drinking pint after pint of Pimms. It was so quintessentially upper class British, and pretty much lives up to all the stereotypes I thought about England before I moved here. I found all the elitism pretty old by the end of the weekend, but definitely enjoyed my little window into high society while I could.

 (With Charly, one of my best friends from Pembroke)

 (Showing some Stanford pride)

 (Much exhausted lounging)

Plus, at £200 a pop, boating blazers are hardly cheap, so it felt good to give mine a few more outings to try to make the price seem a bit more reasonable!!

 (Watching the rowing)

(In Photog mode)

 (Watching two Pembroke students in one of their last outings before representing Great Britain at the world championships!!)

 (The fancay Henley lawn chairs)

 (All dressed up for Henley!)

(Blazers, ready to roll)

After Henley, I spent one more night in the UK before flying home to the States for a few weeks, where I've now been enjoying a relaxing vacation before another crazy year in the surreal world that is Oxford. It's been mostly quiet, but I have had a few adventures worth sharing. More soon!

 (Henley, yaaaaaaas)

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