Worth 1000 Words #9: Snowtober 2011

Some of you, particularly those of you who reside in the northeastern United States, might remember the freak snowstorm of October 2011, which resulted in near state-wide power outages and general icy desolation in some areas.

383486_2063359704083_2085259487_nIt was Halloween weekend. My parents were visiting for a few days, and would be taking my grandmother (with whom I lived for a year and a half during college) back to PA with them for the winter. Saturday, afternoon, my father dropped me off at my second job, and all proceeded as normal… until the first fateful flakes began to fall. Within an hour or so, it was a full-on snow assault. I made it almost all the way through my shift, worriedly peeking out of the windows as white began to conquer the parking lot, until my dad appeared to pick me up and I bolted out the door.

The journey home was probably the most tense, stressful car ride of my life, but thankfully, my father is a skilled driver and we made it safely home. Had I been by myself, I never would have made it; the highway was a wasteland, the snow plummeted in droves, and cars were careening all over the place as folks tried to make it to their destination, dodging downed tree limbs and power lines.

Once back at home, the power had already gone out, so we dined on cold chicken by candlelight, dug out the spare blankets to stave off the bitter cold, lit a fire in the fireplace and played UNO to fight boredom, and mourned as our electronics slowly died. As the snow continued to fall, I fell asleep (beneath several layers) to the ominous snap-and-thud sound of breaking tree branches in the forest behind the house, praying that none would fall on the roof and crush me during the night.

The next day, New England was buried in snow/ice hell. Power was lost in a huge portion of the region (including almost all of Connecticut, if I remember correctly – I lived about ten minutes from the border) and because the weather was so wonky (it was warm right before the storm, then warm again immediately after) there was extensive damage that reached far beyond just NE. After I called out of work for the day, my parents and my grandmother left me to endure Snowtober alone, since I hadn’t heard anything about classes being cancelled for the following day or any time after. TO THIS DAY I STILL CANNOT FATHOM WHY THEY DID NOT IMMEDIATELY CANCEL CLASSES DUE TO THE DEVASTATION but regardless, I sat and waited it out. It was cold, boring, and I had no means of contact with the outside world. I did manage to get my homework done, though; we were covering Emerson and Thoreau in my American Literature class, and, in a true display of irony, our assignment was to read “Nature.” I didn’t laugh, nor did I develop a deep appreciation for transcendentalism as I paged through my literature textbook by candlelight, munching on a stale bagel.

I am proud of my alma mater, but I was NOT pleased to be going to class the following morning when over half of campus still had no power, despite the fact that the snow had already nearly melted. I am grateful, however, that the Writing Center where I worked still had power… I was able to charge all of my electronics in preparation for the long, dark night ahead. While I was there, doing homework and getting warm, the school released a statement announcing that classes were cancelled for the rest of the week, and students were advised to return home if possible.

This was AFTER they had us go to Monday classes, mind you; so classes were cancelled until the following Monday. I only went to one class on Monday, too, since night classes were cancelled and one of my professors wasn’t able to make it to campus regardless. It was very difficult to tamp the lid down on my rage, since I’d missed a free ride home with my parents the day before, and I couldn’t go for the less-expensive Amtrak option due to the massive power outage. Luckily, my dad loaned me money for a last minute plane ticket (which is quite a price-gouge for a day-before splurge) so I wouldn’t need to drive 6 hours solo through two snowpocalypse-plagued states in order to make my way home.

Driving home from campus that night (after the Writing Center closed) was a total nightmare, since power was still out and none of the traffic lights were operational. It was like driving through the zombie apocalypse sans zombies – though I was pleasantly surprised to see that my across-the-street neighbors, who were lovely people, had left some chopped wood for my fireplace on the front stoop. Things were looking up… until the next morning, I awoke to the shrill, shrieking tones of my burglar alarm blaring throughout the house. There were no intruders, I think it had something to do with the power outage. The alarm company also wouldn’t shut it off, because the house and account are not in my name, so I had to leap through several hoops to get them to have mercy on me (and my neighbors).

Less than five hours later, I’d been ferried to the airport by my godmother, and was nestled safely at home in PA with functional power. While at home, I did manage to snag 36 extra hours of work and by Thursday, I heard that power had been restored to my area of New England – which meant there had been 5 straight days of no power. I returned home on Sunday evening and life resumed as normal, as all traces of the Snowpocalypse began to fade away, and autumn picked up once more. It’s difficult to imagine how much difficulty and suffering a one-night snowfall can bring, but I hope to never experience another storm of the same magnitude ever again.

The Woodpecker

I have always had a complicated relationship with birds.

I actually think birds are pretty awesome; I mean, they come in so many shapes and sizes! Penguins are the bomb, owls are rad, falcons are fierce, and hummingbirds are adorable. I especially LOVE pigeons; whenever I travel to different cities, I make sure to take several pictures of the local pigeons. I think I have 100+ photos of pigeons from England/France alone. The bird population could maybe take it easy on my car, though; I get a bit tired of seeing white splotches and streaks all over the exterior of my beloved Nissan, especially after I have literally just gone through the car wash.

However, there is one bird that I consider to be my eternal nemesis. A bird that will never, ever earn my admiration. My feud with this particular avian menace began in the spring of my final year of college. It was a cool morning, just shy of 6AM, and I was sleeping soundly, likely dreaming of finals and finally earning my degree after 3 arduous years…

…and then I was awoken by the sound of a jackhammer on my roof.

At least, that’s what it sounded like. A relentless drilling, so loud it echoed throughout the entire second floor of my house, preventing me from slumber. The source of this noise was not immediately apparent, and after about twenty minutes or so, it stopped. Sadly, I was now too awake to fall back to sleep, so I just roused myself out of bed and watched Spongebob reruns for 2 hours until I had to go to class.

However, the sound returned the following morning, and the morning after that. Same general time frame. Same obnoxious, head-ache inducing frequency. After the third day, I managed to puzzle out what was causing the sound, and it was not, in fact, a tiny man with a jackhammer terrorizing my roof.

It was a woodpecker.

Now, I have absolutely no evidence of this, because I never actually saw the woodpecker, except for the flutter of wings as it retreated to the refuge of the forest behind my house. It was drilling in a part of my roof that I couldn’t see properly without a ladder or rocket boots, though it sounded like it was slamming its beak directly into my brain.

But I don’t know what else it could have been if not a woodpecker, so I’m assuming my Sherlockian deduction was correct. I also didn’t know how to make it stop. After doing a bit of googling and research on woodpeckers, I settled on a method for dealing with this problem: doing literally nothing while hoping it would just go away. Sadly, this method did not work, as the woodpecker continued its assault on my roof for many mornings to come.

This rage-inducing situation – of being awoken every morning by the presence of a woodpecker – began to take a toll on my mental state, shortening my temper and limiting my patience in other areas of my life. I vented about my woodpecker dilemma to friends and coworkers at my university’s writing center, which they found very humorous. Admittedly, if I hadn’t been the one suffering, I probably would have thought it was hilarious, too.

But I was not laughing. The sleep-deprived days and groggy mornings continued to accumulate, until, one morning, I finally snapped.

While this was going on, I tried not to structure my schedule around the inevitable woodpecker wake-up call every morning, as it wasn’t always feasible to go to bed early. On this particular morning, I’d been up late the previous night working on a draft for a project since I didn’t have an early class to wake up for. A certain avian demon did not get this memo and promptly began its morning routine of hammering its beak into my roof, this time at half past 6 in the morning.

This time, I retaliated. Or, rather… I tried to. I didn’t so much breathe fire as I blew a lot of a smoke.

Determined to make the feathery fiend stop, I stormed downstairs, stomped into the kitchen, threw open the back door, and flew down the steps into my backyard, trying to get a glimpse of the creature. With little restraint, I unleashed my fury.

“SHUT UP!!!!! JUST SHUT UP!!!! I AM TRYING TO SLEEP!!! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP IT!!!”

Alas, this verbal assault happened to occur when two of my neighbors were outside with their dog. Dressed in my Batman PJ pants and a “Yankees Suck” T-shirt, I met their inquisitive/bewildered gaze across the fence, then offered them a sheepish smile. Even the dog looked a little spooked by my behavior. To explain, I pointed to the area of my roof where the woodpecker had decided to wreak its ungodly havoc, and informed them, “It’s a woodpecker.”

They just nodded, offered uncertain smiles, looked at me like I had sprouted an extra limb from my head, then went back into their house. I never interacted much with these neighbors; in fact, that might have been the only time I ever actually spoke to them in my 3 years of living there. If so, I can only imagine what their ultimate impression of me was. “Crazy Woodpecker Girl,” no doubt.

So, with my tirade completed, I slipped back into my house, brewed my morning coffee and poured my morning cereal, and calmed down. The woodpecker had ceased its torment, and I went about my day. I think yelling at the bird was cathartic, in a way; I felt much calmer after the confrontation. Perhaps all I needed was to scream a little and let out my frustration. Not always the healthiest method for approaching a problem, but in this case, it seemed to help.

And the next morning? I was effectively woodpecker free after two weeks of agony and I never heard from it again. I know the timing of my freedom was probably coincidental, and the woodpecker was not frightened off by me shrieking at it – but still, I like to think it was. And this experience (plus some hindsight) showed me a few things; sometimes, endurance and adaptation are the keys to weathering a tough situation. Or sometimes you just need to yell a bit. Either way, the storm will pass, even if the downpour seems too heavy and the lightning just won’t cease. Just have patience, and learn to evolve in order to properly deal with the cards you are dealt.

 

Worth 1000 Words #8: Coffee

A cup of coffee can either save or ruin an entire day. I guess that also applies to tea or other similar beverages, but I dislike most tea that is not of the iced variety, so this post will strictly deal with coffee.

IMG_20170515_145133_308For several folks all over the world, coffee is what sets the morning in motion. Or it provides a much-needed stimulant in the afternoon. Or it can be the fuel to a productive evening if you don’t have to wake up early the following day. Basically, coffee is a versatile tool that can be utilized whenever someone needs a caffeine-based boost. On many dreary days, it is only the tantalizing scent of coffee that is capable of dragging me out of bed in the morning, and during certain evenings, I look forward to indulging in a cup of “night coffee” as I settle in for an editing session or to read a few chapters of a book.

My personal relationship with coffee has not always been a healthy one; back in my late high-school / early college years, I was averaging about five to seven cups a day. Not good, and quite detrimental to my general state of being. My sleep schedule was terrible, my diet was awful, the caffeine headaches were brutal, I developed the appearance of a zombie raccoon, and I was basically using coffee as a crutch to hobble through each day and night. After receiving doctor’s orders to decrease my caffeine intake, I have managed to scale it back to two or three cups, depending on my work load or the kind of day I’m having, and on (very) rare occasions I even settle for one. I still resemble a zombie raccoon on most days, but I’m starting to think that’s just my natural appearance.

But I am also one of those folks who is not satisfied with just any kind of coffee. No, no… I am a snob. I’m definitely not as bad as some, so I guess you could say I’m a low-tier snob, but over the years, my tastes have evolved so that I can only tolerate certain strains of coffee, with dark roast being the most prominent. I am partial to French roast (the Starbucks kind is probably the best I’ve had, but Victor Allen’s is decent, and so is the Newman’s Own) but I will accept Sumatra, Italian, or any other kind of dark roast. I used to be able to drink any kind of coffee, but now, all variants of light roast taste like a single coffee bean floating in water to me – I call it devil’s swill. I honestly can’t fathom how people even drink light roast; I can tolerate medium roast if there are no other options, but really, the bolder the better.

However, despite my love of all things dark roast, I do have a fondness for sugary, frilly coffee drinks; frapuccinos, machiattos, lattes, blended drinks, etc. Sure, they’re often overpriced and provide about three days’ worth of sugar in a single sip, but they taste delicious! And sometimes, a frou-frou basic-white-girl whipped-cream-topped sweet treat is just what is required to propel someone through a rough patch. I’m off chocolate for the year (which has been a struggle, let me tell you), but if I weren’t, I’d be indulging in a S’mores Frappuccino right about now. Not that it will redeem me any, but I am STRONGLY anti-Pumpkin spiced anything and cannot stand the taste of gingerbread, so in the fall/winter, I am somewhat less of a basic bitch. I also haven’t tried the new Unicorn thing, but I suspect there isn’t any actual coffee in it, so I think I’ll avoid that sugar rush.

I prefer not to take coffee black; I’m not even sure how people do it. If I’m fixing myself a cup at home, I use a splash of creamer – basic vanilla or something simple. Right now, I’m using one called “sweet cream,” but it’s not overly-sweet. Y’all can get out of here with your hazelnut, though, or any of those fancy-pants flavors. If I’m out at a restaurant or something, I go for standard cream and sugar. Not too much; just enough to stave off bitterness.

I also have a mug preference, if I’m at home and am free to select whichever vessel I desire for my caffeinated beverages. My cupboard includes two Star Wars mugs (one is BB8, the other is Rogue One based) an Avengers mug, two Batman mugs, a mug with the logo of my alma mater on it, a Game of Thrones stein (House Baratheon… purchased before season 5 episode 9), and a bunch of plain white mugs for plain days. Sometimes, all it takes is a cup of java in a BB8 mug to lift my mood. Why would I use a plain old mug when I can drink out of a mug with superheroes on it?

Now, coffee is a simple thing, I know; probably not something I should spend 1000 words droning on about. But simple pleasures have power. Besides, you can tell a lot about someone from the way they take their coffee. I like to think I’m as bold as French roast (I’m not) with just a splash of sweetness (I’m not that, either), but a coffee preference can be an integral part of a person’s psyche; something that someone else can identify with. I even try really hard not to judge people who drink light roast, though it’s a daily struggle. Seriously, how does anyone consume that… that… devil’s swill?!?

My coffee order has evolved over the years, and I have changed with it – maybe someday, I’ll be taking my coffee black to match my bright sunshine-y disposition! For now, however, I’ll happily stick to my French roast… I actually just ordered a pack of 200 Victor Allen’s K-cups and I’m curious to see how long it will take me to plow through it.

So, the question is… how do you take your coffee?

B.A.P. Concert in Washington D.C.!

Let it be known, before I launch into this post, that I am not a K-pop aficionado. I do harbor a long-running deep love for J-Pop/J-Rock (Do As Infinity, L’arc-en-Ciel, Ayaka, Ayumi Hamasaki, Every Little Thing, Utada, FLOW, etc) and an appreciation for C-Pop and Mandopop (Jolin Tsai, Jam Hsiao, S.H.E., Mayday, Leehom Wang, etc), and while I enjoy K-Pop, my dedication level hovers somewhere above “knowing what Gangnam Style is” and below “creating K-Pop only blogs/twitters and knowing all the former and present members of Super Junior.” One might say I am a casual.

So a couple of months ago, I got a text from my best friend, which read: “Would you….. possibly hypothetically go with me to see a kpop group in dc?” I thought about it, and ultimately settled on, “Why not?” I may not be a mega-fan, but I figured it would be an interesting experience, regardless.

And it definitely was an experience. Now, bear in mind, the following observations are from someone who is not super-involved in the K-pop fandom, so please forgive any ignorance on my part. No offense is meant by anything said in the following blog post.

I might be a novice, but I am aware of the far-reaching scope of K-pop  – it’s basically a global phenomenon with a massive, dedicated fanbase. I know a handful of bands/artists, but I was more or less clueless about B.A.P. going into the concert. My friend actually made me a Google doc about the band/members to study beforehand, but needless to say, I didn’t retain much. However, no amount of research could have prepared me for what I was going to face at the Warner Theater in D.C on April 9th, 2017.

17862549_10210247446681689_2903302992777542961_nDuring the ride down to D.C, my friend (who is a K-pop expert) briefed me on what to expect, so I felt more or less equipped to handle things. However, more details trickled through over the course of the day, as she would casually mention, “Oh, by the way, there will be whistles,” and “Oh, just so you know, it’s going to start with a D.J.” and “There’s like, sort of a dress code…but don’t worry about it” – I half expected her to tell me the boys would land onstage after descending from the ceiling on trapezes. Outside the theater, we were given posters to wave during a particular number… and since I didn’t know any of the songs, my friend assured me she would alert me in advance. Once we entered the venue and got to our seats (in the balcony), she also mentioned, “It’s good we’re not in the orchestra seats, because it gets crazy down there,” and a girl sitting near us assured me, “Oh, it’ll get crazy up here too.”

And they were not wrong. All thoughts of being prepared were whisked away from me as the buzz began to build. Whistles were going off and fans were screaming well before the opening – and once the D.J. (A performer named D.Shoo, who was awesome!) actually began, the hype was ramped up to about a 1000%. Now, the Warner Theater is the sort of venue built for ballets and – so that sort of atmosphere, colliding with the passionate fervor of K-Pop fans and the colorful, flashing lights and screens, was a bit jarring at first. Folks were jumping up and down, whistles were blaring, everyone was standing and cheering, girls (and maybe some guys) were loudly proclaiming their love for certain members of the group, and the main act hadn’t even begun yet.

17796405_10210247446841693_3183343088456269860_nNaturally, when the group members – Yongguk, Daehyun, Jongup, Himchan, Youngjae, and Zelo (I only had to google, like, 2 of those – I’m getting better!) – actually emerged onstage and launched into their first number, the crowd totally lost it. I looked down into the orchestra and it was a literal sea of flailing arms, hands waving those little bunny monster wand things (Matokis, I think?) and screaming. A fan up in the balcony had some sort of light-up sign, as well. At some points, it got so loud that I feared I would lose my hearing for the following day, and my friend and I both had to work at 5AM the next morning, so that would have been less than ideal. Luckily, the ear-ringing ceased on the car ride home.

Even though I went into the experience mostly unprepared and unaware of what was about to ensue, I was completely blown away. From the moment the concert began, the crowd never lost their intensity- we were on our feet the entire time, and B.A.P. did a fantastic job keeping the energy level at it’s peak the entire night, even during “slower” numbers. It took me a little while to adjust to the ardent nature of the crowd, but I settled into a zone and found myself having an excellent time. It barely even felt like 2 hours, and even though my friend and I had been walking around D.C. most of the day beforehand, the exhaustion didn’t hit me until the car-ride home. Also, I can say, with 90% certainty, that I was the only person in the audience who didn’t know any of the words. The fans knew exactly when to join in with the next lyrics and didn’t even need any sort of cue – it was seriously awe-inspiring.

17523631_10210247447161701_8871979680167774961_nMy favorite performances from the event were “Wake Me Up,” “Feel So Good,” “B.A.B.Y,” and “Spy” – at least, I’m pretty sure those are the titles. I had to google it. But I enjoyed all of it, and at no point or during any song did I think anything like, “Meh, this one’s just okay.” I also enjoyed the “Baby’s Lounge” segment, where the band members were charismatic and entertaining and got a window to interact with the crowd. I was surprised that they didn’t take more of a break between numbers – there were really only a couple of times where they stopped for a “costume change,” and they performed most of the songs back to back, which has to be exhausting. Regardless, they never lost their momentum and it kept the crowd enthused. I was jamming out to pretty much all of the songs – I’m not the type to really “let loose” and go crazy with the dancing and arm waving, but I did my share of “stand a sway” and moving to the rhythm. I let out a few “Wooo!”s of my own. The members each have their unique talents and voices, and they combine and complement one another in a way that makes a spectacular sound – plus their dancing/choreography is superb and was executed to perfection. “Feels So Good” and “B.A.B.Y,” were on repeat in my head for a couple days after – they are SO catchy. Not a single number or performance fell flat – as someone who knew pretty much nothing going in, I came away from it with a big grin on my face.

17884498_10210247447401707_6298726364486903065_nNow that the concert is over and I have had time to process, I can declare that, while I liked all of them, Himchan is my favorite… or I guess he would be my “bias?” I’m still not entirely clear on the terminology. Like, there’s something about “sons”? Or was it “children”? My friend tried to explain it to me but I was more or less like a well-meaning, yet clueless mom at her kid’s anime convention. The people around us in line and the girls sitting behind us were chattering on about their “biases” and all sorts of things and my friend could follow every word, but I was lost.

Despite my lack of knowledge, I also came away from the event with a new admiration for the dedication and persistence of the K-pop fandom. I can understand why some people think being that level of “fan” is obsessive/unhealthy, and it is a little overwhelming/off-putting at first to an “outsider” who is unfamiliar with the lingo and the customs, but honestly, as long as someone doesn’t let a passion or an avid interest affect their life in a negative manner, or allow it to completely consume their existence, or use it as a means to cause harm to someone else, then I don’t see the issue. Everybody’s got something they love – I’d be the same way at a Lord of the Rings event or something, and once I got used to the atmosphere, I no longer felt out of place. Even though I’m not at that level when it comes to K-Pop (and I likely never will be, though I do intend to broaden my range) I  can’t wait to add B.A.P.’s discography to my mp3 player so I can jam out while I’m at the gym. My interest in K-Pop might not be as off-the-charts as it is for some, but it certainly has been reignited. I wasn’t even upset that we didn’t get home until after midnight and I had to get up at 4 to go to work – the fatigue I felt the following day was worth it.

If my friend hadn’t invited and brought me along with her, I likely never would have attended a K-Pop concert of my own volition – so I’m grateful she included me. I consider the experience a valuable one, and can say, without a doubt, that it “feels so good” to have had the chance to witness B.A.P. perform live, and I might even venture out to more K-Pop shows in the future.

Sammy

When I was in fourth grade, there was nothing I wanted more than a pet hamster.

I’d had pets before. We owned a dog at that time; a lively Welsh Corgi named Lady Margaret Waddle-Bottom (Maggie for short) and my sister and I had previously owned a slew of fish, thanks to a summer reading program at our local library that offered “Free Fish” coupons as a prize for reading a certain amount of books. As an avid reader from a young age, I earned several of those coupons, and so, a local pet store granted us with several fish. Sadly, our dear friends Spot, Spike, Angel, Goldie, Rocky, etc, etc, did not grace us with their companionship for very long.

As such, my parents grew (understandably) weary of bringing new pets into the house, so my initial pleas for a pet hamster were shot down. However, I was determined to prove to them that I could be responsible – if only I could have a little furry friend to call my own. I took out hamster and pet care books from the school library and read them multiple times, cover to cover, to prove to my parents that I was dedicated to owning a rodent. I put in extra effort with chores and helping around the house, and I promised to contribute what little money I had to pet care expenses. I think I even gave a presentation about hamsters in school. Thinking back, I’m not sure what my fascination with hamsters was. I was a big fan of the Hamtaro show that aired on Cartoon Network in that era, and I think that fed into my love for them, but I was borderline obsessed with hamsters. The first “series” I ever wrote was about the adventures of a superhero hamster named Hammer Hamster and his sidekick, a gerbil named Fuzz. Unfortunately, this was before the era of typed writing assignments, so no drafts remain of those stories, but I may revive the stories someday. I was also really into bats at the time, so it might have just been a strange admiration for rodents.

Eventually, my persistent requests for a pet hamster paid off – and on one fine Saturday morning, my mom took me to a local pet store to pick one out. I settled on an adorable, chubby-cheeked brown-furred creature, which I happily dubbed Sophie.

We re-purposed the old fish tank to serve as a hamster habitat, filled it with fluffy bedding, set up a wheel so she could stay active, and ensured she had a full water source and lots of food. For those first few days, I loved watching her toddle around her cage, run around in her exercise wheel, and I even picked her up (in a cup, because I was scared she would bite me) and stroked her on the head to try and establish a rapport. For a while, everything was okay… but really, no amount of research could have prepared me for owning a beast like Sophie.

Sophie was the hamster from hell.

It’s probably my fault for not getting her acclimated to being held by humans early enough, but after a couple of weeks, she became utterly vicious. Every time I tried to pick her up and transport her to a smaller carrier so I could clean her cage, she snapped at me, and even gave me a couple of nasty bites. She, being primarily nocturnal, would run in her wheel at all hours of the night, and the squeaking would keep me awake, so we had to relocate her to the family room. After the old aquarium cracked, we got her a new cage; but it was much more difficult to clean, and thus, the rodent “odor” was much worse than it had previously been. The books did not prepare me near well enough for the odor.

The turning point was when I’d had Sophie for several months, and I decided to take her to visit my fifth grade class. In a bizarre turn of fate, the receptionist at my elementary school was out that day, and a substitute had stepped in – a substitute who happened to work at a local pet store. She looked into Sophie’s cage and said, “Oh, how sweet! What’s his name?”

My subsequent thought was, “….His?”

I don’t remember the exact wording of the ensuing conversation, but basically, my mom and I found out that Sophie was, in fact, not a female. Trust me – we were all fooled, so it wasn’t easy to tell. From that point on, Sophie was renamed Sammy. I wondered for months afterward if Sophie’s ever-growing resentment of me was due to my almost year-long confusion over his/her gender… and I suppose I’ll never know. But his hostility never waned.

The newly-named Sammy eventually took up residence in the top “compartment” of his new cage, where he proceeded to hoard food, eat obscene amounts of seeds, smell terrible, and sleep all day in a collection of his own urine and feces. He eventually stopped running in his wheel, and, as such, put on a significant amount of weight. He didn’t want to play, or interact, or do anything but eat and sleep. Any efforts to be affectionate toward him were met with open hatred. Owning a hamster was nothing like I expected it to be; there were basically no fun times to be had, no bonding experiences with my furry “pal.” It was a lot of responsibility, and, as the charm of owning a pet wore off, I gradually slacked off my duties. He was always fed/watered and his cage was clean, but I put in the bare minimum of effort. Sammy lived for over 4 years, when the average life span of a hamster is about 2-3 years. I was half convinced that Sammy was immortal for a little while, because even though he stopped exercising and led a completely sedentary existence, he survived well into old hamster age. He was practically ancient, by the end. Maybe he struck a bargain with the hamster devil, I’m not sure…. or maybe he was the hamster devil.

Then, one day, my mom informed me that she had glanced into his cage and saw that he wasn’t moving. Sammy had passed on to the next life. I felt a stab of sadness; the bittersweet close of a chapter. And I knew, in that moment, that my chances of ever owning another rodent again were slim to none, because I am not equipped for it. I could never handle another Sammy.

I lament that I never developed a true bond with Sammy – that we more or less just existed in the same space, bearing no affection for one another. Regardless, I will never forget Sophie/Sammy, my gender confused, grouchy, obese pet hamster – and from our time together, I learned many valuable lessons; mostly about expectations versus reality. The actual experience of owning my own pet was not the rosy, cheerful time that I anticipated after reading all those pet-care books and watching a cartoon about little hamsters and their big adventures. Now, before taking on similar responsibilities, I carefully weigh my options and research exactly what will be expected. I don’ t consider, “Oh, it’ll be fun!
to be an adequate reason to take on a pet or something similar.

As I kid, I didn’t know what pet ownership would be like. Now, as an adult, I have a cat – and it’s enough. My cat spurns most gestures of affection, just like me, so she fits totally fine within the household and she doesn’t require a demanding level of care. In fact, some days I don’t even see her except when she comes around to whine for food. Thanks to Sammy and our tempestuous time together, I know my limitations; the level of dedication I can achieve as a pet owner – and I hope Sammy is somewhere on the hamster wheel of the afterlife, enjoying a nice, leisurely spin before a nap and a sunflower seed feast.

Worth 1000 Words #7: Studying

Allow me to spin a cautionary tale about the importance of studying, and the evils of procrastination and putting off work.

Throughout my academic career, from kindergarten to college, I was a decent student – in the sense that I got good grades and I generally behaved myself. On report cards, I never got below a B; of the few B’s I earned, they were always in my poorest subjects, a.k.a, math or science. Or political science. Government class killed me, man.

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My studying pose, known as “the cricket.”

But while I earned good grades, I was absolutely horrendous at studying and managing deadlines, and, thanks to those poor habits, I can attribute it to luck that I was able to pull off the academic performances I did. It wasn’t until my final year of college that I actually developed a normal/healthy routine with homework and school projects, but prior to that point, it wasn’t uncommon for me to put off an assignment until the day/night before and end up spiraling into a pit of self-loathing and intense regret as I brewed my fifth cup of coffee at 3:21 in the morning on a Tuesday before an 8AM class. I pulled about 5 or so all-nighters in high school, which isn’t all that bad, and I definitely did less in college; but during each of them, there always came a point where I would run a hand through my snarled hair and say, “I am never doing this again,” and yet, I’d end up inevitably doing it again regardless. I think the worst one was 10th grade – I spent a whole night doing the majority of a project that I’d had at least a month to do, drank 2 Full Throttle energy drinks to stay awake, and put “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” from the Mulan soundtrack on repeat for 4 straight hours as motivation. The experience did not make a man out of me. Even way back  in elementary school, I used to wait until the morning my reading logs were due to have my mom sign them, and ended up forgetting to do so on numerous occasions. It takes like, five seconds to have someone sign something, and I was too lazy at 8/10 years old to even do that.

Studying was the largest hurdle in my academic life… mostly because I was a prolific procrastinator, but also because I found it difficult to focus, as I have the attention span of an acorn and I am way too easily distracted. But I won’t deny that I could have applied myself much better, and worked harder to focus – it’s not like I was sucked into a Youtube vortex of fainting goat videos against my will, I chose to put off my work and bore the consequences because of that decision, and allowed myself to fall into that mindset multiple times. During my last year of college, I turned a page. I made sure my homework was done (or almost done) by dinner time, went to bed at 10 PM every night, woke up at 6AM to go jogging 5 days a week, always left to go to class with enough time to grab my usual latte at the campus center (the lady at the counter only had to see me coming and she’d start preparing it for me), I spent my weekends doing homework in my little kitchen nook, and, with what free time I had remaining, I either hung out with friends or worked on writing for personal reasons. I’d cut back my work schedule that year, and during my final semester I dropped my second job in order to focus on schoolwork. This was a massive help because I felt like I had more free time to do fun stuff, which sliced my procrastination level down. It’s a shame that it took me sixteen or so years to get into the appropriate mindset regarding school, because I could have saved myself a lot of suffering, and my caffeine dependence probably wouldn’t be quite as bad as it is now. I am down to 2-3 cups a day as opposed to the 6-7 I used to consume, so that’s progress, at least!

Once I began to apply myself, and worked out a schedule that afforded me a more or less well-balanced life between school/work obligations and personal matters, I noticed an improvement in my academic performance and a noticeable decrease in my typically-astronomical stress levels. I finished my assignments early. I wasn’t scrambling to finish homework the morning it was due. I actually wrote multiple drafts instead of just turning in my first endeavor at everything, and, as a result of all the changes I made, I even improved my diet and sleep schedule, which led to an overall boost in my mood. I wasn’t late to appointments. And it all felt so rewarding, to finally feel like I wasn’t drowning in papers and books in a vicious cycle of my own making.

Looking back, I actually cringe thinking about how I might have improved on some of my work and my assignments had I changed my habits earlier. Those ‘A’s could have become ‘A+’s. Those ‘B’s and ‘B-‘s might not have even happened, and my student ranking might have been higher in high school, which would have awarded me better scholarships. Luck was certainly on my side throughout my academic life, as I still managed to graduate college with honors… but, other than those final months where I turned it around, that success was at the cost of my health, both mental and physical, because it took me so long to reform my studying methods. Just because you are someone who can pull off decent/adequate, or even stellar work, at the last minute, doesn’t mean that you should. And as someone who used to ascribe to that way of thinking, and assumed I could put in just enough effort without really pushing myself to be even better, I definitely recommend that you do not.

Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience: From Westeros to Boston

Contains spoilers for major moments of HBO’s Game of Thrones s1-6 and the Live Concert Experience. 

Last August, the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience was announced, and, as a diehard fan of both the books and the show, I eagerly scanned the list of dates/venues to see if it was coming to my area. Unfortunately, the closest was Philadelphia on 2/26/17, which is about 2 hours away. I’m unfamiliar with Philly and the date was questionable for my schedule, so I didn’t think I would be able to attend… until I saw the location of the 3/6/17 show, and a lightbulb sparked above my head.

Since I’ve got family/friends in NE and I’m much more familiar with the area, I snagged tickets for the Boston show. Also, because my parents decided to start watching Game of Thrones with me and have spent the past ten or so months getting all caught up,  we made a mini family-vacation out of it and split the expense.

I bought the tickets way back when it was first announced, so by the time March finally rolled around, my excitement levels were at a potential Cleganebowl level. We got to the TD Garden about an hour ahead of time, and  the atmosphere inside the stadium was definitely meant to ramp up the hype-meter. Outside, they had some of the costumes from the show on display, which was a treat to see. There were smoke machines; not terribly intrusive, which set the scene with a light mist. I had gotten tickets for the “middle-ish” area of the stadium, so we had a great view of the screens and the stage… I’d initially gotten seats for one of the ends, but after some research, I called and swapped my seats, and the new ones were significantly better. For a Monday night, the turnout was decent; it wasn’t sold out, but the middle areas were packed, even up in the nosebleeds, and it seemed to me as though the empty seats were all on the ends, where the view of the concert was restricted. But as for the set up, there was a main stage connected to a smaller stage, which the soloists frequently moved to, as well as two smaller satellite stages, so, even if you couldn’t see the main screens from your seat, there was something to look at the entire time. There was an onscreen clock counting down the final minutes before the concert began, and from the moment the lights went down and the orchestra began the “Main Theme” as the Iron Throne materialized through a plume of smoke, I was as excited as Sansa was when she found out she was going to marry Joffrey…. you know, before he had her dad’s head cut off.

After a pleasant introduction by Ramin Djawadi, the creator of the music and themes all GoT fans have grown to love, the next track was an amalgamation of sorts of the character/house themes, as the sigils/banners unfurled from the rafters and the characters appeared in clips on the screen. I may not be a Lannister fan, but I got chills when their theme began; it might be my favorite motif from the series, and listening to it live was equal parts chilling and thrilling. Hearing the audience cheer for their favorite characters/houses and boo for their least favorites (Joff and Ramsay, in particular) was a surreal experience.

A major highlight of the concert was the soloists that composer Ramin Djawadi brought on tour with him; Christine Wu on violin, Cameron Stone on cello, singer Stevvi Alexander, and Pedro Eustache on winds, as well as a couple of others whose names I couldn’t manage to track down on the internet. Christine Wu played a wonderful solo as a “Weirwood Tree” descended and bloomed around her onstage, complete with red leaves raining from the sky, Cameron Stone rocked out on the cello during the Greyjoy number (on a water-soaked platform, no less) and Pedro Eustache played a 14-foot “wildling horn” in the midst of a snow squall during the White Walkers bit. Shockingly, no one went running for the doors when “The Rains of Castamere” (sung by soloist Stevvi Alexander) started, nor when they launched into the Red Wedding (“The Lannisters Send Their Regards”) afterwards. One truly understands what it means to be a fan whilst watching such misery play out onscreen with hundreds of other fans, though they did edit the sequences from the show to show less stabbing (of the back/neck/chest variety) than the full episode. The performance of the soloists/choir also gave those with a poorer vantage point something to watch, including a semi-reenactment of Cersei’s walk of atonement (no actual nudity, obv) and “warring” cello and violin during the sequences from “Battle of the Bastards.” The choir even donned Harpy masks for the relevant number. As someone who could see the screens perfectly well, it was nice to switch my view between stage and screen, and thus experience the entire concert without fearing that I missed anything big.

All in all, it’s hard to peg my favorite moment from the night – I enjoyed every note and each performance. The setlist featured a lot of the big musical and thematic moments of the series, such as the dramatic dragon-hatching ending of season 1, Jon and Ygritte’s doomed romance, and Sam seeing the library in Oldtown for the first time. One of my favorite episodes is season 2’s  penultimate “Blackwater,” so hearing the music live whilst watching the sequences play out onscreen was a treat for my inner fangirl. I also loved soloist Stevvi Alexander’s haunting and beautiful rendition of “The Rains of Castamere,” and her vocals, combined with the talents of a local choir, brought new life and fire to “Mhysa” and various other tracks, such as “The High Sparrow,” “Sons of the Harpy,” and “The Winds of Winter.” Ramin Djawadi also played the dulcimer during the Arya-centric “Needle,” and it gave the song a new, vibrant sound. The “Battle of the Bastards” segment was stellar, and the performance of the orchestra complemented the action-packed scenes of one of the greatest episodes of the series. Hearing the music in person, often with instruments added and the occasional new vocal or twist, also gave me a new appreciation for songs that previously had never stood out to me, such as the Greyjoy themes and Melisandre’s/Stannis’s.

The concert also included special effects aside from the images and scenes on the screens, which enhanced the overall experience and made for a visual feast for most of the concert. My favorite track from the season 6 soundtrack is actually “Reign,” so when the clip of Dany and the Masters played, with our favorite Dragon Queen saying “My reign has just begun,” I was thrilled; but add actual fire into the mix? We were several feet away and could feel the heat when the flames shot into the air. Gosh, it was like Drogon was actually present! Well, not really, but it was an awesome addition to the concert nonetheless. The second major instance was “The Light of the Seven,” the piano-centric track that leads up to Cersei’s act of ultimate vengeance in the final episode of season 6. Djawadi took the piano for this one, on the smaller stage, and as the song reached its peak, he was engulfed by green light and smoke. Thankfully it was all for show, and Djawadi did not suffer the same fate as poor Margaery, Loras, Kevan, and the others in the sept.

As all ride-or-die GoT fans know, the show would not be what it is without the gut-wrenching (and occasionally vindicating) stream of character deaths. After the orchestra finished the  last number, the hype-tastic song used to close out season 6 known as “The Winds of Winter,” Ramin and his band members played “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” while a montage of deceased characters played on the screens. A brilliant way to both close the show and offer a bit of a recap of our heartbreak, misery, and, in some cases, victorious moments over the last six seasons.

One complaint? Not NEARLY enough of the suave and mysterious Jaqen H’ghar/Faceless Man. (I jest, I jest – but he is my fave.)

The Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience was exactly that; an experience, and one I definitely recommend to anyone who is a fan of the show and the music. It’s approximately 2.5 hours of music and action – what’s not to like? I cannot imagine the amount of preparation and precision that went into making this concert, and I left the stadium with an ear-to-ear smile – a testament to what Djawadi has done with this score, and what GoT means to fans of the series. Ramin Djawadi and all those who have brought this concert to life have done an excellent job creating this experience and bringing the music to fans in a new, dynamic way, and I am so thankful I got to see it.

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