Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dollars and (Common) Sense

Remember the movie Office Space and Michael Bolton's grand plan to steal the rounding error from every transaction the company made? For each transaction, the amount stolen was a fraction of a penny, but aggregated over thousands or millions of transactions, those fractions added up to a whole lot of dough. Then there's the decimal place debacle and the devious plan falls to pieces.

Dealing with exchange rates on multiple currencies on a round-the-world trip is a bit of the same mess as Michael, the diabolical but mathematically impaired software engineer. Every time you change currency, little bits of your carefully crafted budget are shaved off. Some of that goes directly to the bank or money changer doing the exchange. Some of it is legitimate rounding error, which goes right back to the bank on top of their service fee or commission. And some of it, like when the U.S. Dollar was tanking worldwide this time last year, is just bad luck.

In America it's easy to dismiss all of the Chicken Littles on Wall St, screaming that the Mighty Dollar is falling. But when you've based your whole trip budget on a fixed amount of cold, hard American cash, how the dollar is faring against the pound, yen, or baht becomes much more important. So I wanted to see just what the impact of last year's currency market crisis was on our trip.

When we were researching the trip, we used almost exclusively Lonely Planet guides. They're ubiquitous, everyone uses them, and, generally speaking, they're reliable. So even though we understood that the copyright date was only a couple of years old, we assumed that the exchange rate information was good. Not once did we think to double-check the exchange rate on a site like So we planned our trip around a $50 USD per day budget.

What should have been common sense is that exchange rates fluctuate, particularly in developing nations like the ones we were going to be travelling in. While we were on the trip, I had the distinct feeling that our money wasn't going as far as I thought it should. It could be that I'm a bad haggler, and that after one bad experience in a shitty hostel, we were going for top-of-the-line budget accommodations, but look at the data. Our money wasn't going very far at all in most of Southeast Asia (where we were before Feb 2, 2008), especially Thailand. Then we went to Sri Lanka, where the LKR was running much stronger against the dollar than it had in years. Finally, in India, Nepal, and Hong Kong, we were right on budget.

So our money wasn't going that far, but just how far was it getting us. In Thailand, on average, we were short $2.76 from our daily budget (valued on Sep. 19, 2007), which equates to about one small meal for the two of us, not including alcohol. What's worse is if you look at our value of our Lonely Planet-based budget in Nepal, a difference of $7.48, or two midday meals at the Hut including beer.

According strictly to the data, the total loss due currency fluctuations was $100.33, or just under 2% of our total budget. However, consider that that's 2 whole days worth of food, lodging and activities lost due to "market forces".

So what's the bottom line? First, before setting your budget in stone, use some common sense and double-check the current exchange rates. Second, it might not be a bad idea to add a couple of days of cushion to your overall budget. In the end, exchange rates are annoying but a fact of life. As long as you use some common sense (ahead of time), you'll be able to ride out any nastiness the market can throw at you.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Out There on the Dunes

I was going through some more pics from the trip and came across this shot from our night on the dunes outside of Jaisalmer. The reason for being out in the middle of the Great Thar Desert in the middle of the night is that we went on an overnight camel safari. The big oaf in the center of the picture was my trusty steed for the trek. My travel tip: riding a camel is fun for about 10 minutes, after that they are just giant, smelly beasts that are constantly ramming a 2x4 into your ass, so go for the sunset camel ride and forego the hours of pointless torture on your backside.

jaisalmer nights

I shot this in RAW, but when I processed it, the whole photo was pitch black. But I cranked the exposure up as high as it would go to see if anything showed up. And what you see is what I got. Not bad for a 30-second exposure using a sand dune as a tripod.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

First Glance: Chi-Town

Chicago is AWESOME! More on that later, but for now, a few pics :)



navy pier

Sunday, October 12, 2008

When Geeks Go on Vacation

About a month ago I was in Oakland on business, but instead of coming directly home after the job was done, I stayed on through the weekend to see the sights. But what sights do you see if you're a geek like me? Alcatraz? The Golden Gate Bridge? Napa Valley? Nope. You hop in your paid-for rental and hit Silicon Valley for a tour of the biggest tech companies in the world. Check it!


1 infinite loop



Saturday, September 27, 2008

Green with Envy

I have spent three out of the last seven weeks working out of Oakland, CA, on a project that involved the U.S. Coast Guard. Unlike my colleagues on the project, who all have significant prior military experience in very nasty situations but refer to downtown Oakland as the "Green Zone", I preferred to stay in downtown Oakland, smack in the middle of Chinatown. And when they would stroll in each morning talking about the steak they ate at Outback Steakhouse the previous night, I would tell them about the delicious hole-in-the-wall a 2-minute walk from my room, serving up tasty Cambodian food (unidentifiable fish in a banana leaf, just like Phnom Penh), or the Japanese place a stone's throw away that served a giant spicy tuna salad less than $5. And I could see it written on their faces: they had food envy. But they refused to venture into Oakland after dark, and they missed out. Their loss, not mine, because I'm still fondly remembering the 8-beer sampler from the brewpub (the Columbus IPA is good, but the Blue Whale Ale is tastier) less than a quarter-mile from my hotel's front door.

bigger than life micros

yummy amok

Don't worry, it's still me, so I also took pictures of the Coast Guard ships that I spent a couple of weeks working with :)


sherman's tail

Saturday, September 13, 2008

It Really Is a Small World After All

It's never a good feeling to look through the "newspaper" see an article like this about someplace you've visited. I'm not saying that we dodged a bullet or anything like that, but I do feel like these explosions hit a little closer to home since Lizzi and I walked through Connaught Place one night in early March.
Two other bombs found near a movie theater and near a park in the Connaught Place area were defused, he said.
On that night Lizzi and I even tried to go see a movie at that theater, but they don't allow cameras. And we weren't going to trust them to "keep an eye" on our digital SLR for a couple of hours. My heart goes out to the survivors and the families of the victims. Like I said, I'm just feeling that the world is a little bit smaller now.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Sunnier Side of the Bar Exam

It dawned on me the other day that it's been one month since the bar exam. I was in the shower when I realized it, and I smiled to myself because it occurred to me that I didn't have to rush through the annoying task of cleaning myself in order to get back to a Contracts Outline. I could shower all day if I wanted to! (I didn't.)

I think that I might have mostly recovered from the exam. This is impressive, given that the last time around, it took me, oh, a YEAR to fully get over it. A year and some counseling. When I say that the bar exam is the single most confidence-shattering experience of my life, I'm not underestimating its power by even a little bit. But I feel almost back to my whole self again. I haven't woken up in a cold sweat since July, haven't had any nightmares about Commercial Paper, and have successfully brain-dumped all of that useless information about Mortgages. In fact, since the test ended, I haven't given that much thought to it. When my mind wanders ahead to the first week in November, I usually think first about the election, second about the fact that I'll turn 30 a week later, and last that I'll also finally get my exam results. Except that if I'm being really honest about it, I think about my exam results before I think about my birthday.

Of course, if I'm being REALLY honest, there's a nagging part of me that's 100% certain that I didn't pass, that the multiple choice questions kicked my ass so hard that no amount of solid essay answers could make up for it. But then I remember that Steph promised she'd go back to the Bahamas with me if I failed, and I think that I could do it again, if I had to.

I know you're all clamoring to run to your comments buttons to tell me that I passed, that you have confidence in me, that I didn't just jinx myself by admitting that I've brain-dumped everything related to Mortgages. But therein lies the power of the bar exam. Even though I know that you all believe that I passed, I can't even bring myself to write about that little spark of hope I'm holding on to, just in case it jinxes me even more. My Barbri books are still taking up half of our living room, just in case I need to open them again to study for the February exam.

So maybe I haven't recovered, per se. As I live and breathe, I am STILL that crazy. So keep your good karma flowing until November. And if I passed, I promise you'll be among the first to know. If I failed, well, then, be sure to remind me again what a Mortgage is all about.

Friday, August 29, 2008

These United States of America

A week ago in Somerville, Massachusetts, some one thousand, nine hundred and seventy-three miles away from Denver, Colorado, I stood on my chair in a bar and watched the next President of the United States deliver one of the most stirring speeches of my young life. Surrounded by other Obama fans, all turned towards the big-screen TVs, Obama spoke to us in high-def, and oh my, was it ever.

For the first time in what felt like a long time, Obama laid out his plans for the future of our great nation. Nothing he said last week was new. In fact, most of it I'd learned from reading his book and from various other sources. But in that speech he put his ideals into one, cohesive message, and delivered it with such passion that I have a hard time imaging that I know someone who wasn't moved by what he said. I cried twice.

For a long, long time, I have struggled with my own personal brand of patriotism. Before I met Matt, I wouldn't have said that I was particularly patriotic. Much to my father's dismay, I drew anarchy symbols all over my notebooks in high school and professed a strong desire to move to another, better country. I went to Israel after my first year of college and came back spouting rhetoric about the ineffectiveness of our constitution. And I took just enough political philosophy classes in college to make myself dangerous. But all of that changed for me over the course of a very short period of time.

Just after I graduated from college, Matt and I took a road trip across the United States. Too poor to spend any significant time in Europe, Elissa suggested that we maximize our summer together and drive around the US. Matt was thrilled. I was disappointed. When I thought about our summer together, I imagined us taking pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower. But a few weeks passed on the open road and I learned that there is nothing quite like finding a love of your country while eating at an A&W's in Holbrook, Arizona, because it will take at least three days to order the part necessary to fix your truck. In the course of those 5 weeks that we drove around America, I came to appreciate the meaning behind "America the Beautiful." We saw the piddliest fireworks display I have ever seen in my life in a teeny tiny town called Lillian, in Alabama. And as bottle rocket after bottle rocket was launched into the air by teenagers, I welled up at Sousa's familiar tunes.

A little over two years later, the same music would make me cry, only this time, it wasn't on July 4th. It was on September 12th, as I watched the first of many video montages and stared in horror as I saw the twin towers fall over and over again. While most of my friends felt some amount of irritation at the swelling of patriotism that overtook the nation, I felt privately grateful. I was glad for the comfort of strangers, united as we were in making sure that our troops would be safe in the inevitable war. I saw so many of Matt's friends board a plane bound for the desert, their excited and eager faces making my stomach churn and hurt with worry and fear. Yes, I felt grateful for the patriotism then, learning, as I was, what it meant to be the partner of an officer in the United States Air Force.

It was just a few months later when I sat in a classroom in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and learned about the Constitution. I surprised my classmates and myself by staunchly defending our governing document, the Justices who promise to uphold it, and the tenuous grasp we have on liberty. I carried a well-worn copy of the Constitution in my backpack everyday for three years. In my first year of law school, I memorized it, turning the words over and over on my tongue, listening to how they sounded in my mouth. To this day, I read the Constitution when I feel particularly lost in the world of law. And to this day, it makes me calmer to know that we created such a living document over 200 years ago.

It was just a few years later that I stood before a former Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and I took an oath the Commonwealth, promising to pursue and seek justice, and to help those who need it most. In the three years since I took that oath, I have struggled to personally define its meaning. I have found that I take it more seriously than most, that I believe a promise to be a promise, more than mere words. I believe that when you agree to help those who are least advantaged, you put your heart into that work, and that it sometimes feels a lot like patriotism, this work of upholding the Constitution.

I met more non-US citizens last year than ever before in my life. And the most consistent thing they expressed to me was just how lucky I am to have been born in the United States. "A lucky accident," they said, as they struggled to find employers who would sponsor their green cards, help them to stay in this country. "Yes," I said, finally understanding, "a lucky accident."

Last week when I was listening to Barack Obama speak to the nation, I found myself thinking, "this, this is what it means to be patriotic." Here is man who understands this country. Here is someone who respects and loves this nation and sees just how amazing an opportunity we have just by the lucky accident of living here.

How democratic are we, then? How much can we change by the power of our vote? Well, everything, of course. We can change everything. Our most powerful living documents allow us to continue to create and mold this amazing nation in which we live. It is up to us, to the lucky citizens of this country, to make it better, to form a more perfect union, to establish justice, to secure the blessings of liberty. In short, if you don't already plan to do so, VOTE on November 4, 2008. And if you want to see real changes in the way that this country is run, Vote for Change, Vote for Hope, vote for Barack Obama.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Does he Like Me, Like Me, or Does he Just Like Me?

As you're probably all aware, I heart Barack Obama. I heart him so much that way back when I was still visiting other countries, I signed up to receive emails from the campaign. So for the past couple of months, I've been getting emails asking me to contribute $5 by midnight, or watch an inspirational video, or re-consider my feelings for Hilary Clinton. I've done my part dutifully and with excitement for the future that I feel like I'm a part of. Really! So it shouldn't surprise you that when I got an email telling me that I could get a text message from Barack Obama, I was all in. I mean, me! A text message! From Barack Obama himself! The email said that I'd be among the first to know who Barack picked as his vice president. So I signed up. See, I'm the kind of girl who WANTS to be the first to know.

On Friday night, it became clear that the news was imminent. Barack had picked his VP! And I was going to be among the first to know! So I waited, cell phone at the ready, for my text message. I had a cocktail with my cell phone in my pocket so that I'd feel it if I got the text. No need; no text. I ate dinner with my cell phone next to my fork. No text. I was starting to get worried. I mean, maybe Barack doesn't care for me the way that I care for him. I drove with my cell phone in my hand. Nothing. Where WAS he? What was he doing? Why was he ignoring me? I brushed my teeth and hopefully checked my phone, just in case I'd missed his text while I was washing my face. Still nothing. And then I started to blame myself. Maybe I didn't give my $5 quickly enough. Maybe he doubted my dedication to his cause. Maybe, oh no, maybe he didn't really believe me when I said that I DO think he's change I can believe in. So, heart-broken and forlorn, with nary a text message in sight, I went to sleep.

But at 3:14am, my phone buzzed. Quietly at first, and then louder, because that's how I have the setting on my cell phone. And when I checked the message, rubbing sleep out of my eyes to read it, there it was: "Barack has chosen Senator Joe Biden to be our VP nominee." I smiled at my phone, content in the knowledge that Barack still knows how much I appreciate all that he's already done for this country, and all that he has yet to do. And then I went to sleep, thinking about what a great team JObama is going to be.*

* "JObama" is a registered trademark of Matt's brain, because he is the genius that came up with that name.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Inevitable Big Mac Attack

There's something about spending a significant amount of time away from home that makes you CRAVE foods from home that you don't normally eat. One night Lizzi and I spent an entire evening fantasizing about what fast food hamburger we would eat first when we got home: McDonald's? Burger King? Wendy's? In the end, it didn't really matter. We just wanted something familiar. So when we stopped in Bangkok, we satisfied our cravings with cheeseburgers, chicken McNuggets, and sodas that seemed as big as oil barrels.

But when we reached New Delhi, it was different. We weren't necessarily craving food from home, but there was something about New Delhi that screamed foreign, even alien, to me. Even before we'd left for the trip, we'd heard that McDonald's in India were something to be seen, so when we came across one on our walk back to our hostel, we couldn't resist. McDonald's in India is like Chuck-E-Cheese here in the U.S. It's pure spectacle! Everything is bright and shiny; families are there for their big dining-out night. It's chaos, but in a good way.

So we dove right in, ruining the dinner we'd planned with a McVeggie Burger and a McAloo Tiki Burger. Yeah, it's a little different, but I now can't help passing a McDonald's in Boston without wondering if they've got a McCurry Happy Meal.

date night in delhi

why don't we have this here

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Where Did She Go?

Hey everybody, it's me, Matt. You don't hear from me much anymore, but I'm still around. However, today I'm hear to say that Lizzi finished the bar on Thursday and immediately found her way to another bar for some simple celebration. Ironically, the name of that bar is the 21st Amendment. Incredibly appropriate for a Constitutional law geek like Lizzi.

More importantly, after the bar, Lizzi needed some well-deserved downtime. So she and Steph packed up some sundresses, swimsuits, and sunblock and jetted off to the Bahamas early yesterday morning for a much-deserved beach vacation. She'll be back soon, I promise.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I'm Very Excited to Be Here

Picture it: 2,000 lawyers in one giant room, waiting to take a big test.

C'mon people... I'll wait while you make all the jokes you can. (Points for the funniest one!)

But seriously, can you even picture it? Let me answer that for you. No, you can't picture it. Why? Because that's 2,000 people who wear black when no one's dead; 2,000 people who neurotically answer "it depends" to the simple question of "have you decided what you'd like to order?"; 2,000 people who routinely keep highlighters in their purse/briefcase/manbag; and 2,000 people who are so completely superstitious that they feel a wee bit nervous when they pretend they're too cool to be superstitious. But I'd bet my legal education on the fact that every single person there was wearing a lucky shirt and pretending it was a "this old thing?" kind of shirt. Yeah, I spent my entire day with THOSE people.

To be fair, no one was wearing black. Oh wait! Except that one guy whose t-shirt bore the words in the title of this post. His t-shirt was black. But it made me giggle. And even though he was on his way to the bathroom mid-test and laughing out loud earned me a stern look from one of the Thomas Jefferson/George Bush spawns, it was totally worth it.

But we were all there, just about the whitest crowd you've ever seen, anxiously waiting outside of the test center at 8:29, because they told us to be there by 8:30, no later! We were instructed to bring earplugs, erasers, pencils, pens, and lunch, but no highlighters, cell phones, or a beverage other than water in a clear plastic bottle. So that meant that we were also a group of 2,000 (mostly white) people with about 10,000 pencils; 5,000 erasers; 40,000 earplugs; 4,000 pens; 2,500 sandwiches; and nary a highlighter, cell phone, or diet coke to be seen. It's a trippy experience to hang out with 1,999 other people, all carrying a clear plastic bag full of proof that "I like coloring within the lines." Truly, we're who you want when you're life goes ass-up.

The worst part is over (for me, anyway), and tomorrow is the part I affectionately refer to as "write for your life." I've got 10 essay questions to answer on topics I know precious little about, which, if you calculate it out, is EXACTLY 36 minutes per essay (no more, no less!). So my hand is going to hurt like a bitch tomorrow night, but, if I do it right, so is my liver.

Those of you who were rooting for me today, sending me your smart vibes, I can't promise that I used them to their full power (those questions are HARD!) but I can tell you that I felt all of your love and energy, and that I just can't do this without you.

Monday, July 28, 2008

It Might Not Make Me Stronger, But it Probably Won't Kill Me Either

It occurred to me last night that there are those of you out there who have no idea what this test even looks like. So for those of you not familiar with the particulars of the bar exam, I'd like to be the one to explain it to you.

The exam itself is two days long and each day is 8 hours, which includes 6 hours of actual testing, one hour for lunch, and a half hour of instructions for both the morning and afternoon test sessions. The first day consists of 200 multiple choice questions and the second day is 10 essays. The multiple choice questions test you on "the big six," or the six major subjects with which the National Conference of Bar Examiners has determined every lawyer must be at least a bit familiar: constitutional law, criminal law, evidence, torts, contracts, and property. I don't know who is actually in the National Conference of Bar Examiners, but I imagine them to all bear a striking resemblance to Thomas Jefferson, with a little bit of George Bush, Sr. around the eyes, maybe. The essay subjects are state-specific, and test you on various areas of the law in the state in which you're sitting. In Massachusetts, that includes agency, civil procedure, commercial paper, consumer protection, corporations, domestic relations, federal jurisdiction and procedure, leases, mortgages, partnership, professional responsibility, secured transactions, trusts, and wills. You are also expected to be able to write essays about the big six, for a total of 20 essay subjects tested.

I'm not entirely sure what the multiple choice questions are intended to prove, since they don't actually seem to test your ability to understand the big six. In fact, the multiple choice questions test you about law that doesn't actually exist anywhere, in any state. If that doesn't make sense to you, that's cool, because it doesn't make sense to me either. Some people really rock the multiple choice questions and stake their entire ability to pass on those questions. I am not one of those people, and I never have been. Multiple choice questions get me wrapped around the axle, tripped up, confused, always doubting myself between a few answers that sound basically the same to me, with neither one of them adequately capturing what I believe the real answer to be. The essays are where I shine, not because I'm so familiar with things like corporations or commercial paper (seriously, WHAT is commercial paper?!), but because I have a fairly strong ability to make up stuff that sounds really convincing. The essays are graded by hand (yes, by HAND!), by people who probably look more like John Quincy Adams than Thomas Jefferson, and they basically do a quick-read through your essay, looking for buzz words. I've always wondered what they'd do with a sentence that inherently made no sense, but had all the right buzz words in it: "Daffy Duck is the TESTATOR, and since his WILL evidences some UNDUE INFLUENCE by Kanye West, it's likely that the document will be set aside and his estate will pass to his wife, Angelina Jolie, by the INTESTACY STATUTES." I'd totally get like 10 points for that answer, even if the question had nothing to do with Daffy or Kanye. Hey, as long as John Quincy is happy, I'm happy.

Look, I know what you're thinking. I mean, when I go to a doctor, I'm always hoping that they don't actually know the answer to my medical mystery, but that they have a strong ability to make up something that sounds really convincing. Except, wait, no I don't! I mean, when you're paying someone $350 an hour, you kind of want them to know how to solve your problem, right? Of COURSE you do. Luckily, there's a sizable percentage of lawyers who charge $350 (or more) an hour and DO actually know how to solve your problem. And there are those other lawyers who charge nothing at all to help us protect that which the Constitution was designed to protect. Big shout out for the lawyers who aren't guessing!

But, see, that's the THING about this test. That's the thing that makes me curl my hands into fists and stomp my feet at 11pm when my coffee shop has closed for the night and I'm strung-out from reading my contracts outline for the 400th time.

Just after I'd finished my first year of law school I was at a friend's wedding, chatting with her father. He'd recently graduated from law school himself and he gave me the best piece of advice I've heard about the whole thing: "Lizzi," he said, "there are three very different aspects of learning the law. There's law school, there's the bar exam, and there's the actual practice of law. The only thing that all three have in common is that they have absolutely nothing to do with each other." At the time I thought he was crazy. I looked at him, stunned, and shook my head. I was mute with surprise, there was nothing on the tip of my tongue. I mean, I'd just finished my first year of law school and I felt like a rockstar. All those facts! All that information! Surely I'd learned something useful in that year. But no, he was right, there is nothing particularly useful about law school. Just like there's nothing useful about the bar exam. They're just the tickets that let you into the club. Law school is a marathon, meant more to determine your ability to endure than your ability to apply law to facts.

Like law school, the bar exam is the same kind of hurdle. And in case you haven't noticed, I'm pretty short. Hurdles aren't exactly my strongest sport. In fact, sports aren't my strongest sport. I'm the kind of girl who got an A+ in yearbook and a C- in gym. But here I am, plugging away at mile 20 of the 26.2, jumping over all those stupid fences they keep putting up. And I'll finish, I mean, of course I'll finish. I'm going to look like hell when it's over, I'm going to feel dumber, exhausted, beat-up, and strung-out. But of COURSE I'm going to finish. I can see it now, that ribbon off in the distance, waving a little bit in the breeze, Thomas Jefferson pondering quietly on one side, John Quincy looking disgruntled on the other. Hold onto your powdered wigs old men, I'm almost there.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Things that Make Me Saner

Immediately after I wrote that post about being at that bad place with the bar exam, a few things happened. First, things got worse. (That's always the way, isn't it?) I had a crying breakdown to Julie over gmail chat, wherein I sat typing in all of the reasons that I was such a mess. In case you're curious, typing down all of the reasons that you're feeling batshit insane isn't necessarily the best way to make yourself less so. You're just confronted with your insanity in black and white, and by your own hand, and you feel more absurd and yet strangely less able to do anything about it. But Julie calmed me down by reminding me that it's just a day, and that my only goal was to get through the day before I could move on to worrying about the next day, or the intervening days between then and test day. And then I felt better because she was being so reasonable and calm and normal.

I felt better right up until later that day when some perv walked into the library and started touching himself in plain sight of me. I shit you not. There are actually people who think that kind of behavior is okay, people who walk into public libraries, libraries full of sweet little children, and touch themselves because they are perverted sick bastards. And that was about the time I remembered why I'm doing what I'm doing, that in the end, law is a way to keep pervs like that guy off of the street, out of your library, and away from your kids. Dude, law can help and so can I!

And then I had another breakdown. But then, THEN I got a phone call from one friend and an email from another, both of whom have been here before, both of whom have taken this test, who know how positively soul-destroying it can be. It helps that both of these women are the kind of women whose advice and counsel I respect and seek out. And even though I listened to their words and thought, "but they don't know how little I know about Commercial Paper," I started to see that there was some light at the end of the tunnel. And I actually started to remember what I feel like when I'm not taking the bar exam. Except, of course, that we ate pie for dinner last night. That's still not normal.

Every day this week I've been studying in the Lexington Library, right down the street from where Matt works. It gets me up and out of the house in the morning, plus it keeps me on Matt's schedule, which is good, because if I was left to my own devices I'd study between the hours of midnight and noon, instead of the other way around. Because we're in such close proximity, I've had the chance to meet Matt for lunch. Monday was a shared salami sub, Tuesday we tried the Indian restaurant in Lexington, Wednesday we had caprese salad and tuna fish, Thursday we went to the Japanese/Chinese restaurant (don't ask), and today we're meeting for chicken sandwiches. Every single meal has been tailored to my bizarre and unreasonable cravings, cravings that occasionally (read: usually) change in between the time that I voice them and the time I'm eating, so that I'll get to a restaurant and stare at a menu for 10 or 12 minutes, wondering what on earth I'll do if I order the sushi box when in the end I really want chicken and broccoli, oh the choices are so overwhelming! It's tough, I know. But lunch with Matt is the absolute highlight of my day, the very best and most indulgent moment that I allow myself at this point in the process. We talk about anything but the bar exam, and we spend a few minutes lamenting the fact that we'll have to give up our midday lunch dates when the exam is over and I'm (presumably, hopefully, please oh please!) working.

The past two nights I've come home to care packages. These care packages are full to the brim with items that will surely rot my teeth, but that also make me extremely thankful that I have friends and family who love me enough to help me rot my teeth. You know you're doing well when your peeps basically send you a message that says, "of COURSE you're going to pass the bar exam. And when all of your teeth fall out, we'll STILL think you're a fantastic lawyer and a pretty great friend/sister-in-law. Although, we will then reserve the right to encourage you to find a dentist. But we'll do it gently, and with love." From the very bottom of my toothless grin, I love you guys. Thanks for thinking of me.

So it's just four wee little days before the exam and even though I had a mental breakdown in the car today (nothing to do with the test, no, this one was all about why I didn't just become a saxophone teacher, nevermind the fact that I've never even held a saxophone in my life. Sure, Lizzi, it had NOTHING to do with the exam.), I'm feeling mostly alright. I mean, I'm surrounded by a mountain of candy, I've got lunch to look forward to, and there are pervs in my library. I can feel it already: it's going to be an exciting four days! But seriously this time, I'm doing alright. I mean, it IS going to be an exciting four days, but after these four days and then those excruciating two days of the exam, it will all be over. And then my biggest concern will be the future of my dental hygiene.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

When the Solution is the Problem

While volunteering in Nepal, Lizzi and I met a couple from The Netherlands, who had volunteered with VSN two years ago. In fact, it is through their fundraising efforts when they returned to Europe that VSN was able to build the orphanage we stayed in. On their return visit to Nepal, they brought with them two humongous crates of things that were donated by various corporations. One of those businesses donated a pair of freakishly high-tech Bugaboo strollers. The hope was that a quick photo of the orphaned kids being pushed around in their new Bugaboos would result in instant "social responsibility" points for the company. Of course, neither the VSN coordinators nor the orphanage caretakers knew what to do with a set of pushcars for babies. Because, here's the punchline: Nepali people don't use strollers. Moreover, during our entire time in Asia, we didn't see a single Asian person pushing any type of device that could be remotely construed as a stroller. Asian women (at least in the countries we visited) primarily carried their children in their arms. Of course, the sentiment was fine, and the folks at VSN were grateful. But let me tell you what they didn't need: a pair of $1,000 baby strollers they won't use, when the orphanage didn't even have a single flashlight for the eight hours a day when power is out.

At the time, the whole incident of the Bugaboos got us talking about how VSN needed more appropriate donations. Moreover, we discussed that a lot of the talk we'd been hearing at home about what the developing world "needed" just didn't make sense once we were there. Computers and the internet aren't going to solve illiteracy in developing nations because most schools still don't have power or educated teachers. In general, throwing "developed-world" technology at developing world problems creates more problems than solutions.

So what technology be more appropriate? I don't know, but some folks over at MIT seem to be on the right track. Amy Smith, a lecturer in engineering at MIT, actually holds an entire course of study in appropriate technology. She and her students have come up with some amazing and appropriate inventions for parts of the developing world. To me, she absolutely has a dream job: she travels around the world and improves the quality of life for thousands in the world's developing communities through technology. Maybe on our next trip to Nepal I'll be packing an appropriate-tech water filtration system to provide clean drinking water instead of a couple of $1,000 strollers.


Remember last week when I was feeling all calm and confident? And I promised to keep you posted about my mental state in the coming days? Well, here it is folks, the much-anticipated mental status report wherein I confidently assure you that I am once again totally and completely batshit insane over this test.

It happened sometime between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning, though I suspect that Matt would report that it’s been happening slowly but surely since I started studying in June. But Friday afternoon at about 4:45pm, a kind woman announced over the library’s loudspeaker system that the library would be closing in 15 minutes. I shit you not, tears welled up in my eyes as I felt the weight of the stress of having to move to a different locale settle somewhere between my shoulders and my brain. And then Saturday afternoon, as it became increasingly apparent that I can’t, in fact, read in a moving car (um, perhaps the fact that I’ve been getting carsick since I was a child should have given this away, but no, I tried anyway), I actually felt grateful for the 90 minutes spent in the waiting room of a Subaru dealership, where Julie’s car had been towed and was getting a new alternator and several new belts. Sitting in that air-conditioned waiting room meant I got to read an extra 10 pages of Civil Procedure.

And Sunday, oh Sunday. Sunday I woke up feeling antsy, angry at myself for getting 8 hours of sleep. And when Matt expressed frustration over an undeniably frustrating experience at IKEA, I had to consciously remind myself that without Matt, I wouldn’t be able to afford to take all this time to study for this stupid test, let alone have food and shelter. After I’d calmed myself the F down, I walked back into the kitchen and looked sadly at Matt’s eyes, which were smiling at me despite the fact that I’d recently turned myself into a she-devil. “It’s happening,” I told him. “I know,” he said. “I don’t want chicken for dinner,” I said tearfully into his neck as he hugged me. “Okay,” he said, “that’s good to know. I’ll call you before I head to the grocery store.” I nodded as he hugged me, hugged me despite the fact that it was no less than 110 degrees inside our apartment, despite the fact that my wet hair was dripping all over his face, smudging his glasses.

I left our apartment a few minutes later to walk to the coffee shop that’s been my home-away-from home for the past couple of weeks. It’s full of weirdos and nerds and a quiet hum of conversation that’s more interesting than what you overhear in Starbucks. On the way, despite the fact that I feel horrible about my body these days, despite my general commitment to eat organic, I stopped at CVS and bought fig newtons, a box of cheez-its, some gummy bears, and a bottle of smart water (you know, just in case). My stomach already hurts from the cheez-its, and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be able to eat dinner until at least 10pm tonight. On the downside, I’ll feel guilty for taking a break to eat it. On the upside, dinner will not include chicken.

And for those of you keeping score at home: the guy who hangs out at this same coffee shop who brings with him a stuffed animal that bears a creepy resemblance to a raccoon, yeah, THAT guy just sat down next to me. It’s going to be a long 9 days.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Because She Helped Me To Like Scallops

Hello Internet! Remember back when we were on the trip and we'd write up birthday messages for the people whose birthdays we didn't get to celebrate because we were halfway around the world? Well we've stopped that feature since we've been home because we're, you know, HOME to actually celebrate people's birthdays. But there are some people in our lives who we think deserve to have their birthday blogged about, who we love so much that we just can't contain what we have to say about them.

Which brings me to the subject of this post. Our favorite Cris turned 30 last week and she was out of town and away from the internet (oh, the horror!). So I waited to post this until today, when I know she'll be at work and bored out of her mind. I actually wrote this post while we were gone, because when you're thousands of miles away from your friends and family, it's nice to write about them because they feel closer somehow. (For those of you out there whose birthdays have already passed who are wondering where YOUR birthday posts are, hang tight, I WILL get them to you, I promise.) But, without further ado, a birthday tribute to Cris:

Julie sent me some pictures of the little one today, and as I stared at the pictures of this beautiful baby girl in her little red hat, ready to be loved and adored by her family at Easter, it occurred to me just how much I miss that little one and her family. I only met little-C once, back when she was a wee little one-month-old, but those few moments spent holding her were perfect and precious. She looked like her father to me then, but today, looking at those pictures of her smiling in her red hat, I saw her mom's bright and pretty eyes smiling back at me, her mouth the same happy grin of Cris's. And it just about melted my heart.

I met Cris sometime early on in college. Our paths crossed and doubled back over each other through student life and Scotch n' Soda, winding its way over mutual friends and experiences. We really met through J, and for the first three years of our friendship we danced around each other, not entirely sure how we felt about each other, probably suspecting that we could be friends, but not entirely sure how to get there from here.

But all of that changed one week in March during our senior year. It was spring break and it was New Orleans, hot and muggy and drunk and antiquated, New Orleans. We literally ran into Cris and J and their merry gang of spring breakers on the street, and if you've ever been to New Orleans, you know what a surprise it is to run into someone you know. "Wait," you think to yourself, "YOU like this much debauchery too?!" And then you laugh and get a daiquiri and several hours later you've realized that duh, of COURSE you both like this much debauchery, and perhaps you should get married and have little debaucherous children together. And another daiquiri.

Cris's feet were badly sunburned, and when I say badly, I'm grossly underestimating the pain that she was in. AIR caused her pain, they were THAT sunburned. It hurt my feet to look at her feet. And yet there she was, walking around Bourbon street, drinking and laughing and having a good time. And all at once, somewhere between the time she and a few others went to watch a sex show, but before I showed my boobs off to a balcony of leering men, it occurred to me that Cris was one of the coolest women I'd met in a long, long time, and that if J continued to be an idiot about her, I'd have to beat him up.

Fast forward a few years and a few weddings and a few different cities and here we are. Over the years Cris has become someone who is a true-blue friend. Which is to say that she'd beat up anyone who had anything bad to say about me; she loves Matt fiercely and protectively (which I know because she almost always laughs at his jokes, even the truly terrible ones); and she silently suffers with worry about where we are in the world, following our itinerary to the letter, keenly aware of whether or not we're in harm's way.

In the past few months we've had a lot of time to think about our upcoming move to Boston. We keep saying over and over again that one of the best things about living in Boston will be that we'll have the chance to watch little-C grow up, that we'll get to be a part of her life almost from the very beginning. But we've also spent a lot of time talking about the fact that in addition to the little one, we'll get to watch her parents grow up too, that we get to be a part of their lives almost from the very beginning too. Because Cris came into my life at a time when I was still figuring out what it meant to be an adult, and while at the time it meant flashing a group full of strangers for a strand of shiny, plastic beads, it now means a lifetime full of wonderful meals, ordinary treasures, good jokes and bad jokes, and watching our families become grown-ups together.

Happy 30th birthday, Crissy. I promise that you're only as old as you feel. And if it makes any difference, there's a part of you that will always be just 21 to me.

lizzi and matt

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Only Bar that Might Not Let Me In

The MA bar exam will be over in exactly two weeks. Just two weeks from right now, I will be swinging a margarita back and forth while I gesticulate wildly and contemplate packing for my four-day jaunt to the Bahamas, all while celebrating my new freedom with respect to the likes of Corporations, Secured Transactions, and Commercial Paper.

Many of you who read this remember what I was like the first time I studied for this exam. For those of you who don't, or don't know me at all, allow me to paint a picture for you: my hair was wild, my eyebrows unkempt. My cuticles were ragged and raw. I gained and dropped 5 lbs in any given day and cried at least twice. An hour. I would be loving and happy for the briefest moment, and then wildly and explosively angry. I plunged myself into new depths of self-doubt, and spent whole days uttering an endless stream of "IwillnotpassIwillnotpassIwillnotpass" under my breath. As you might guess, this kind of confidence-inspiring mantra did wonders for my mental health and I suffered the consequences of the bar exam for months after I found out that I had actually passed, and was, wonder of wonders, a lawyer in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

This time around, I'm actually a lot calmer. I'm too calm, in fact. I'm eerily calm. Sure, I've done a couple of hundred multistate questions. And I've reviewed a few of the essay subjects. But despite the fact that I'm having incredibly strange and vivid dreams, I'm not freaking myself out like I did the last time around. And I gotta tell you: it's kind of strange. I feel like a dull-edged version of my former bar-studying self. It's like I"m watching myself from outside of myself. And the ghost-like floating version of me is trying to knock off the version of me that's writing a blog post instead of a Trusts Outline, and ask why on earth I'm not feeling crappier about this undoubtedly crappy test. "Eh," I want to tell her, "chill out. It's JUST a test."

To compensate for my bizarre mental state, I've imposed a rigorous 16-hours-a-day study schedule for myself. Every moment of every day will be spent practicing inane multiple choice questions or working through subjects that never once, not even for the briefest of moments, held my interest in law school. It should be fun! Where fun = wanting to pull my teeth out. The one upside to imposing a ridiculous course of study on myself is that I believe it gives me free reign to give into my cravings. Last week it was spinach and scallops and caramellos. Today it was a toasted bagel with lox cream cheese. There's a half-eaten package of Rolos in my bookbag, along with a fruit leather and some smooshed pretzels.

Matt spent three days last week traveling for work. Life without him was odd and I felt like a first-year law student again, talking to Julie in the middle of the day, succumbing to my bizarre and over-the-top cravings, sleeping on the wrong side of the bed, dreaming about law that doesn't make any sense. I couldn't WAIT for him to come home, not least because I was craving this salmon dish that I really didn't have time to make for myself, but which I knew he'd attack with the vigor of a man who wants nothing more than for the beast to remain hidden this time around.

So wish me luck, Internet! I apologize in advance if my next post on this blog comes out as one enormous scream. Consider yourselves warned. And send candy.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Because You Asked, Part Two

Q: Place where you wish you had more time to visit?

A: Ok, Steph asked this question waaaay back when we were in Alleppey. We answered the one about the weirdest person we'd met and if we watched TV, but at the time, we felt that we were ill-equipped to answer this one. Sure, we'd already finished almost two-thirds of the trip and only two new countries lay ahead of us, but we didn't want to cheat any one of them. So we held back. Of course, life got the better of us, and I didn't find the question again until today when I was feeling all nostalgic for the trip. Lizzi and I have talked a lot about this, and we feel that it would be best if we each answered this question.

Matt's Version
It's kind of a cop-out to say that I wish I could have spent more time everywhere we visited. Four months is just way too short for our itinerary. When I look back and see that, on average, we spent less than 3 days in any one place, I realize that we only just nicked the tip of the iceberg. But before I make my pick, I want to say that there isn't a single place we visited where I wouldn't want to spend some more time. Despite the rough time we had in Vietnam, I would wish we could have spent some more time there to really find something to enjoy about it. I'm convinced that if we'd had more time we could have escaped Hanoi and found something wonderful about northern Vietnam.

With that said, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise when I say that I wish we could have spent more time in Nepal. Even though we spent two weeks there, we really only got to see a small part of Kathmandu Valley, not to mention just a sliver of the country as a whole. But what's hardest for me to believe is that we went to Nepal and didn't spend a single day trekking. Not one! All of those glorious mountains went completely unexplored. I mean, if you're going to Nepal, you really should do some trekking. Personally, I have a dream of returning to Nepal to hike up to the Everest base camp or maybe trek the snowy ridges of the Annapurna Range. No matter what I desperately want to go back just to take in the vast outdoor adventures of the Himalayas.


But it's not all crampons and ice axes for me. Some of our friends at VSN who had more time ended up in Pokara, as well as a number of ashrams and even some of the more rural areas outside of Kathmandu. I'm not really a touchy-feely guy, but some of the meditation/yoga retreats sounded really relaxing, and, hey, I'm willing to try anything once.

Still, I feel that I didn't get all that I could have out of Kathmandu. The city has a little bit of everything from the adrenaline-addicted climbers to the electronic-music raves that went till the wee hours of the morning. With so much to experience, two short weeks really didn't do the city justice.

And, finally, there are the kids. I would go back in a heartbeat to spend more time with them, helping to build them a better school or lifting them high into the air just hear them laugh. Lizzi's not sure if I think about them at all, but I do. And I miss them dearly.

Ramesh Looks

Lizzi's Version
I sort of wish we'd had more time to spend in every place that we visited. Time and time again, we said that if we'd had six months to do the trip instead of four, we wouldn't have changed our itinerary at all. We would have just spent longer in each place. It certainly would have cost about the same, since the biggest expense is definitely the plane tickets.

But when I think about this question now that we're home, I think about it in terms of the places I'd return to if someone were going to give me a free ticket. Probably first on my list would be (not surprisingly) Nepal. The people and the culture there were amazing, and there's so much of the country that we didn't even catch a glimpse of. And of course, there are lose little ones at the orphanage pulling me back. But even beyond that, there was something about that country that really just felt right to me. The pace of life is slower, by and large, than the pace we left behind in northern India, and life is simply saturated with the color, smell, and sound of Himalayan culture. It's really just an incredible place to see.

Other than Nepal, I find myself often wistfully thinking of Bangkok any time I'm in a city, which is fairly often. I just loved the hustle and the bustle of that city and the general hum of life there. I loved the mix of old and new and the fascinating place that is Thailand. If I could work in Bangkok and live in Pepsicola, vacationing occasionally in Koh Lanta and Siem Reap, I'd be a happy, happy girl.


Of course, there are days when I think that I could spend a lifetime in Munnar, that I fantasize about someday being sent on a business trip to Saigon, and I wonder what the people in the Hmong village in Lao are up to. I also think that if we'd had more time in some of the places that we didn't like as much (Hanoi for me, Delhi for Matt), we would have ended up liking them a lot more. I think that it's no coincidence that part of the reason I wish we had more time in Nepal was because it was the place we spent the longest amount of time. We actually had a brief chance to get a flavor for the place, long enough (for me at least) to want to stay.

My desire to see more of the world is curbed only by the fact that the teeny tiny portion of the world that I saw only made me wish that I could spend my days as an independently wealthy traveler, staying in one place as long as I desired. The backpacker lifestyle does get exhausting and I wonder if, had we been traveling for, say, a year, we would have eventually come to place where we thought, "good enough, let's hang out here for a while." As it is, we never really got to that point (or we did, and it coincided nicely with staying in Nepal for two weeks). The bottom line, of course, is that if the Internet wanted to send me to any one of the places we visited, I wouldn't turn down the opportunity. So, um, if any one of you really REALLY wants me to go back and love on Vietnam, all you have to do is show me the plane ticket and I'll be there in a heartbeat!


Sunday, July 6, 2008

Aboard the Animal Train

We sit around the table, talking at the same time, each person's voice answering someone else's question, commenting on another's thought. It is a conversation punctuated by laughter, by loud, raucous guffaws, by bursts of bright and glorious hysteria, and I look across the table to see Matt laughing so hard that his eyes scrunch into tiny little slits with wrinkles at the side as he nods his head up and down, up and down, chortling into the hand clenched into a fist at his mouth, which is wide and grinning. Cris has to excuse herself to pee, because when you laugh so hard that you have to pee, and you've already had to pee for about 20 minutes, you know that if you sit at a table for another moment, you will surely wet yourself.
We wake up bright and early to the sound of the baby's cries. We're not used to it, those of us who are not yet parents, and particularly those of us who prefer to use our weekends catching up on sleep. But when I stumble into the living room, my hair a wild mess, and see the little one on the floor, toys already in her mouth, I feel my un-caffeinated self softening a little, waking up by the sheer energy of the amazing little person I'm seeing first thing in the morning. "Don't worry," her father assures her, "Lizzi doesn't talk first thing in the morning. She'll be nice again in a minute." After I brush my teeth and wash my face, I come out of the bathroom and the little one smiles up at me again, hopeful that I will smile back. And I do. And then she lunges for Julie, giggling as she grabs fistfuls of her hair and pulling her towards her so that she can gum on her face with her two shiny new teeth.
I'm in the kitchen now, cooking pasta, chopping vegetables, marinating meat that will later spend some time and then, whoops, it's not done yet!, more time on the grill. "What are we doing in here, hmmm?," Adam moos at me. "London broil. Orzo Salad. Green Beans and Tomatoes," I respond. "Me likes," Adam assures me. I smile as I turn towards my artichoke hearts, waiting to be cut into bite-sized pieces and tossed with parsley and kalamata olives. "Grab me one," Katy calls out to Geoff and he responds in kind, equal parts affectionate and gross, grabbing a beer out of the cooler for himself and Katy. They sit around the table, feeding the baby, keeping the beer bottles out of her reach, talking about talking about talking, and I cook.
We wander into a restaurant in Provincetown, ready to stretch our legs after the hours and hours of traffic heading east. But none of us want to be there, none of us are interested in the overpriced menu, or the food that doesn't sound appealing. So we leave, packaging up the baby and grabbing our bags, and head out to the street, where some of us search for good pizza, others of us eating fried seafood and sandwiches. Adam, who snacked too much on the way down, is hungry for none of it. We are not surprised, we probably all have the same thought that's running through my own head: "that's Adam!" We wander around the town, smiling in the direction of Ellie and the overly tanned and muscled men, thinking that we're all tired and zonked, wondering how J and Cris do it day after day with the little one. We find ourselves in a cool little store and J is impulsive and it makes us all feel a little bit giddy for him and for Cris. They are exceptionally nice watches.
We have been around the world, I think to myself as I watch Matt sleeping. We have been to corners of the earth that we will never see again. "A lot has changed in a year," Matt remarks. And he is right. A lot HAS changed in a year. But here we are, back again, back with each other, back where I cook and Geoff is ridiculous, where Adam eats snacks and Katy talks about artsy things we don't understand. Back where we would give anything, anything at all to know what Julie has to say about us, where J and Cris have done the most amazing thing imaginable and brought this new little creature into our circle, into our lives. We are back in the best part of our world, the part where our family knows us, wants nothing more than to be with us and make fun of us, where we always know we have a place to call home.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Down South

If you think selecting the best out of 5,491 pictures is easy, think again. It's a huge undertaking, which hasn't been helped by a heap of procrastination, but slowly and surely, the pictures will keep coming. The latest batch comes from our first few days in Kerala in southern India.

We started in Fort Cochin, having taken the night train from Goa. While Goa was pleasant with a fresh sea breeze, Fort Cochin was hot. Damn hot! At night, we laid on our bed as naked as the nasty sheets would allow us, trying our best not to touch each other because, yes, it was THAT hot.

There's more to the story than just the heat, like our desperate craving for fresh vegetables (our intestines be damned!). But that'll have to wait until I'm a) less tired and b) have more time to actual tell a decent story. In the meantime, enjoy some pretty pictures. The second pic is of two guys performing traditional martial arts. We were just a few feet from them, and we could actual feel the impacts of their blows. They weren't kidding around.

twilight in fort cochin

kerala fighters

Sunday, June 22, 2008

It's Where Fenway Is

It's been so long since I have written anything for this blog that I hardly know where to begin. We've been home for almost 3 months already and even though that's not quite as long as we were gone, that day is fast-approaching. There are still a lot of stories to tell from when we were gone, but there's a part of me that doesn't know how to begin to tell those stories now that we're home. One of the funny things about having kept the blog while we were gone is that it probably seems as though most of our stories are already out there, already told. But as with most nonfiction writing (and this is something I learned directly from having a best friend who happens to write nonfiction for a living), the stories we told were snapshots of our experiences. So there's this other part of me that wants to mix up the trip posts with stories of our newest adventure here in Boston. You know, ease the transition and all. So this post is not about Southeast Asia, or the trials and tribulations in Delhi, but about our newest home-of-the-moment: Boston.

None of you who read this and actually know us will be surprised to learn that our apartment is still in a state of total disrepair. So even though we actually pay rent for our apartment, and even though we're staying here for more than a few nights, it still feels a lot like we're in a state of transition. And if there's one positive thing to draw from being in a state of transition, it's the fact that I still feel like Boston is on loan to us, that we're hanging out in someone else's home. This may not seem like a good thing. And indeed, as a woman who doesn't have the easiest time adjusting to new cities, it's not always easy. But at times it gives me the opportunity to view this place as just another place, a stop along the way to somewhere called home.

Most of the people I've met who have grown up in Boston love it here. And they don't love it like some people really love, say, mint-chocolate-chip ice cream. No, they love Boston like they love their own beating heart. Without Boston, these people would cease to exist. Their blood would halt in their veins, flowing on a course to nowhere. They would collapse. And the words on their lips in their last moment would be, "Go Sox!" In my long experience with cities, I've found that you cannot dislike a city like that. It's just not possible. Cities like that, cities where the heart and soul of the city really IS the people who live there, just have a way of worming their way into your heart. Pittsburgh occasionally held that charm for me. But it always kept me at arm's length, never wanted to welcome me in to the warmth of its steel buildings. But Boston is the opposite. It holds out its arms, a Sox cap in one hand, something greasy in the other, and says, "come on in, hang out here for a while. Eat some good food. Watch some good baseball. Hate the winters, love the summers." Except that it doesn't really say that, because, c'mon, it's NEW ENGLAND. So instead it stands there looking equal parts threatening, disgruntled, and loving.

One of the interesting things about this place is that before I got here I saw it as a bastion of homogeneity. Except that now that I'm here, I do see more diversity than I expected. It's not everywhere, and it seems like things are often sort of begrudgingly progressive, but there are bits and pieces of change happening all around. And there's a pretty core group of people doing amazingly good work here. The kind of work that makes you stand up and notice it, that kind of good work. It's the kind of work that helps to reinforce my decision to do public sector work here. I think that when you're fighting the good fight, it helps to know that you're not flying solo on the battlefield.

Drivers get a bad rap around here. And not without good reason. Boston drivers are no worse than drivers in any other city. Except, of course, that they are. The traffic here is fine, better than DC, better than Philadelphia. But the drivers? They're ridiculous. Even though the Commonwealth has a pedestrian law that every pedestrian hopes to see strictly enforced, as soon as that pedestrian hops behind the wheel of their car, they'll run you down the moment you take your big toe off the curb and peer gingerly in the direction of the crosswalk. By way of example, I will tell you that before we moved here, Matt never once used the horn in our car. In fact, he didn't even know where it was. He still doesn't. But that hasn't stopped him from pounding his fist on the steering wheel in frustration, hoping to make SOMETHING emit from our car. I, of course, find this kind of driving exhilarating. Every trip to the grocery store is an exciting game of chance. There's also that added bonus to my car trips of ending up halfway-to-Concord every time I get in the car. But whatever. Concord is really pretty. And I know for sure now that it's west of where I live.

I spend most of my days studying for the Bar exam, reminding myself that the pass rate is high, that I've done this once before, and that I deserve an ice cream cone for working so hard. Because of my oh-so-diligent study schedule, I haven't seen as much of the city as I'd like to. I'll admit to being a teeny bit sight-seeing weary, to boot. But in good time, I will walk authoritatively around Quincy Market, smiling in the general direction of the tourists who are amazed and awed by this birthplace of American history. "Yes," I will think to myself, "this is Boston. Welcome to my city. Go Sox."

A Note About Receipts

Written in India

This post is long overdue. It's a bit geeky, but it's still worthwhile. More importantly, it's short. Asia does not appear to have the same powerful privacy lobby that we have in the States. How do I know that? Because when we got our first ATM receipt, I looked down and noticed my credit card number. The whole thing. No X's politely obfuscating the digits of the account number. Then we noticed it again when we paid for Starbucks with a credit card in the airport -- our whole credit card number right there, for anyone to copy down. Clearly, we can't just throw them away. We spent about 20 minutes one day tearing them into tiny and tinier shreds. And then we just started saving them to throw away or shred when we get to Lizzi's Dad's house in Philadelphia. A moment of brilliance came when Chris and Amanda suggested that we burn them. Um, DUH. Except that we never stay in smoking rooms, so for the time being at least, they're still cluttering up the bottoms of our packs, waiting for the day when they meet their fateful end in a shredder. The point behind all of this is to say that even though identity theft in the US is on the rise, it's really easy to do from India. Let us know if you need some quick cash and we'll hang out by an ATM and send you some receipts!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Nepali Horticulture

stuff grows like a...well...weed

Ok, so this stuff really was everywhere in Kathmandu Valley, growing alongside the road, between buildings, everywhere. Even though it's not my cup of tea, it was funny to watch the guys try to replant this stuff everywhere they could. Nevertheless, the farmers in the village saw these plants as nothing but a nuisance. They would pull them up by the roots and throw them on the nearest open garbage fire. Huh.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Checking In

We have been home for exactly 50 days. In that time we have lost three apartments and found one. We have attended a funeral and two graduations. We have put about 2000 miles on our car, and spent about that much in gas. One of us started a new job, one of us applied for several. We made a commitment to eat organic, to find comfort in faith, to spend more time together. In short, it's been an eventful 50 days. But it has also been an adjustment. Because for all that has happened in the past 50 days, it is incredibly, unbelievably, undeniably different than all that occurred in the 50 days before these 50 days.

Before we went on the trip, I knew that there was a chance that a trip like that could really change us. But I feared that it would change us in mostly negative ways. I worried that we would grow really tired of each other and that the trip would make us want to spend as much time apart as possible. I worried that it would be nearly impossible to integrate into my former life upon my return. I worried that I would resent Boston for not being somewhere as exciting as Bangkok. Um, I'm a worrier. But as it turns out, some of my fears were well-founded, and others of them were totally unfounded.

One of the things I have noticed over the course of the past 50 days is that I look at the world as though I'm wearing different glasses. By way of example, we went to hear Jane Goodall give a lecture a few weeks ago. Before the trip, I would have heard what she was saying, would have reflected upon her words as the true message of an incredible woman, but I would have walked away thinking that I do enough to make the world a better place without worrying about chimpanzees in Africa. For the most part, I still believe this about myself. But while I was listening to her lecture, I also found myself thinking that I DO care about chimpanzees in Africa, that I have opinions, STRONG opinions, about the effects of global warming, and that while I believe I do a lot to make the world a better place without occupying my mind with thoughts of chimpanzees in Africa, I enjoy being someone who can stop to think about chimpanzees in Africa.

Just this past weekend, as we were listening to various graduation speakers remind us to follow our passions or risk living an empty life, I found that I wasn't sitting there thinking of all of the things I have yet to do with my life, rather, I was sitting there thinking about what I have already done. I felt proud that we listened to our hearts and bought those plane tickets, that I have decided to listen to my heart and follow it to a career in the public sector, that I realize just how good my life is.

In a way, coming home has helped me to see what an incredible place this was to leave behind for a while. In this new city of ours, I literally have every opportunity at my very fingertips. And I am in a place, a good place, where I feel grateful and excited about that opportunity.

I am very fortunate to have a few people in my life who understand exactly what it is that I am feeling these days. They write me encouraging emails to remind me that the adjustment will get easier. They tell me that I'll eventually get used to living two lives, the one here that I'm actually living, and the one I might be living if I was in, say, Nepal. They say that I will grow accustomed to having two simultaneous conversations, the one I'm having with whomever I'm speaking with, and the one I'm having in my mind about whatever is going on in the wide world. I have every reason to believe that these people are right, that I will get used to this new person that I have become.

I also think that as I pursue my place in Boston, as I find where it is that I belong here, there will be a part of me that might never get used to those feelings, that might never get used to the fact that I was lucky enough to follow my passions to places farther east than here, that I am lucky enough to hear a heartfelt tale about chimpanzees and feel that I can actually do something to make their lives better, that I am lucky enough to be living that moment where I realized that to change the world, all you need to do is to positively affect just one single soul.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Checking Out

As we jetted off to my graduation this past weekend, I finally felt relieved. Not that I was culminating a difficult chapter of our life, even though there was a touch of that mixed in. No, I was relieved because that morning we finally checked out of the hotel we've been living in since the beginning of April. Yes, we finally have an apartment that we love and we are excited to call home.

Think of this: we checked out of our hotel here in Boston EXACTLY six months after we moved out of our apartment in Pittsburgh. If that's not auspicious, I don't know what is.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

By the Numbers

Because I'm a complete dork, when it comes to reflecting on our trip, I try to capture things in terms of numbers. Because, to me, numbers make sense. Even though one of the things that I discovered on the trip is that I like people too. So, yeah, people and numbers, they are what makes me happy. We've writing so far about the people, but I can't let that go unabated any longer without paying my own homage to the actuarial side of our adventure. Here is a glimpse of our trip broken down by the numbers.

Days: 108 days
Time zones encountered: 4
Longest lag (difference between current time zone and Eastern Time): 13 hours (Hong Kong, Dec 2007)
Shortest lag: 9.5 hours (India, Feb-Mar 2008)

Countries Visited: 8
Hotels/Guesthouses/Home Stays: 37 (that's a new place to call home every 2.92 days)
Total Distance Covered (includes one-way, long-haul travel, not local tuk-tuks, taxis, trains, subways, or buses): 28,306.76 miles (262.1 miles per day or about 1.14 times around the Earth)
Air Miles: 24,876.98 miles
Land Miles: 3,210.79 miles
Sea Miles: 218.99 miles

Number of Cameras Taken: 2
Total Number of Photos: 5,491 (that's 51 photos per day, folks! It's also the red line on the graph below)

I came up with a little metric that I like to call "geophotodensity," and it's defined as the number of photos taken in each country. Nifty, huh? We took the most pictures in India, almost 2,000 (a whopping 1,985 to be exact). The least number of photos came from the US the day before we left (we took 9 snaps then). But if you don't count those few shots, then China (only Hong Kong, really) is the biggest loser with only 61 photos taken.

Clearly there's a correlation between the number of photos taken and the number of days we spent in a particular country. If you're interested (I know I was), the correlation factor between those two data sets is 0.99. In other words, the longer we stayed, the more pictures we took. I used Excel, but I think a 4-year-old could have reasoned through that bit of intuition.

I normalized the number of photos taken in each country by the number of days we spent in the country to achieve some measure of how interesting we found each country. Although we took the most pictures in India, by this measure we thought Cambodia was far more interesting. Hm.

There's more analysis to do, particularly on the financial side. I'm really curious to see exactly how close we came to our budget. But this reflection took almost a month to collect the data and get the graphs just right, so we'll see when/if that bit of reflection ever sees the light of day. For now, enjoy the graphs and pie charts.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Home without a Home

We've been back in the country for a little over two weeks now, and while I can confidently report that we are finally adjusted to THIS time zone (read: we are no longer waking up at 6am thinking about where to go for dinner and drinks, as opposed to waking up and thinking about what we'll eat for breakfast like normal people do), we're still not completely adjusted to the...I don't know...the HOMEness of being home.

Basically, not a whole lot has changed since Matt wrote that last post, except for the fact that I can now turn one sentence into an entire paragraph like I just did.

Boston has been less than welcoming to us. In the 10 days since we started looking for an apartment in this crazy town, we have seen forty different apartments. Yes, you read that correctly. Forty. Apartments. Which, for the record, is more apartments than we've ever seen in our long history of looking for apartments. Combined. So we still have yet to find a home, but we're reluctant to settle for anything less than something that feels like it should be home. Maybe that means we're picky. I think it means that we decided that we're ready to set down some roots and dammit, we want to set them down somewhere where we're sure they should be set down!

One of the strangest things about coming back from our trip has been that there's a part of me that feels like we never left at all, that we tesseracted through time and here we are again, having experienced a lifetime of experiences that we can't really talk about because we were the only two people there. On the other hand, it feels like we were gone FOREVER and that now that we're back, we have to re-figure out who we are and where we fit. I used to feel this way about my parents every summer after I came home from camp. It was as though I'd just experienced this amazing thing, totally separate from my life as their daughter, and I just couldn't explain it to them in a way that made sense to any of us. Of course, these feelings would usually end in a loud screaming fight sometime around the first week of school, and I'd pound up the stairs to my room, crying and yelling something along the lines of, "you just don't underSTAND meeee!" This is not really an option right now. Especially because running up the steps and screaming at the hotel we're staying in would probably just get us kicked out. But also because this time, at least, Matt and I went through this experience together, so I do get to feel like someone really does understand me.

Not a day has gone by since we've been home that I haven't pictured Sangita's sweet little face smiling up at me from the floor of the orphanage classroom, or thought of the serenity I felt while standing awestruck under the reclining buddha. But when I dwell on these things too hard, when I picture myself turning from Sangita's face and accepting a plate of daal bhatt from Didi, or walking out of Wat Pho towards the madness of the Bangkok city streets, my heart does a little flip-flop and it really does actually hurt a little bit.

Over the past few years, I have come to realize that although I am more willing to talk about my emotions and my feelings than just about anyone I know, I am reluctant to talk about the thoughts that I hold most dear, the precious thoughts that no one thinks to ask me about because they're so used to me just talking all the time about whatever is on my mind. It's a strange thing to realize that even though most of the people who know you would describe you as an "open book," there are times when you feel more private than even your most emotionally-quiet friends. Which I think is the reason that I haven't posted anything since we've been home. When we were gone, the blog was a way for me to connect my life to the people who usually hear about my life all the time. Now that we're home, I don't know where to begin with the stories about how my life was without them for the past few months. So instead I've remained quiet about it all, or at least quieter than my mind feels, trying to blend back into the life I kind of left behind for a little while, trying to feel positive about the fact that we're still more-or-less homeless.

Matt thinks that we'll both feel worlds better when we find a place to move to, when we're more settled into our lives in Boston. I really hope he's right, because it's definitely surprised me that I felt more settled in cities where the only words I could say were "hello" and "thank you" than I do in a place that's supposed to be home.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Culture Shock

We've been back in the States for a little over a week, and although "home" does not properly connote our current living situation, it's good to be home. As we've caught up with friends and family, they've peppered us with questions and requests for more pictures, but even we've noticed that every sentence we speak seems to start with "When we were in [fill in the country]..." However, the one question that keeps popping up, and we've heard it no less than 10 times in the past week is: Have you adjusted to being home?

The answer to that question is a little convoluted. First, let's just say that we are slowly recovering from our jet lag, so I can safely say that we have adjusted to the difference in time zone. But here are a few ways in which neither of us has still quite overcome the shock of re-entering our lives.
  • Recoiling in horror that I just rinsed my toothbrush with tap water
  • Driving down the road and thinking that I'm supposed to be on the other side of the road
  • Toilet paper is abundant and readily available, like it grows on trees or something!
  • Washing and then eating fresh fruit and vegetables
  • No longer needing to grunt and point to communicate
Before we left Asia, we had talked a lot about what to expect when we got home. Would we experience culture shock? Or would it be a seamless transition back into American pop culture? I don't know if I can adequately answer either question right now. But I do know that when we were in Nepal, it wasn't this hard to find an apartment.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Safe and Sound

Written and Posted from Philadelphia, PA, USA

We're home! We're really home! Sort of. Because right now, we don't have an actual home, per se. Which means we're actually homeLESS. But we're in Philly, staying at my Dad's home! And in a few days, we'll be in our new home! in a hotel in Boston!

Our flight was totally uneventful, except for the fact that it gave us the opportunity to watch movies and use clean bathrooms (yes, I'm talking about airplane bathrooms and yes, I know how ironic this is). We got in exactly on time and spent last night boring my dad with details about the trip that are probably only interesting to us. But he was a good sport and played along because I think he's happy that we're home! and safe and sound. In case you hadn't noticed, the word "home"! will be followed by an exclamation point for the duration of this post.

We will be spending the next few days trying to get over our jetlag and eating the food that we missed. It's 1:15am in Hong Kong right now and my body can't quite understand why I'm not out somewhere drinking a beer at this late hour. I'm trying to convince it that it really wants to eat a corned beef sandwich from Barson's instead. It is not complaining.

We can't wait to see you guys soon! But for now, we wanted you to know that we made it here in one piece, and that we're home!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

...Come Home for Love

Written and Posted from Hong Kong

Exactly one hundred and eight days ago, we sat in a tiny little hotel room somewhere close to JFK and wrote the post that preceded this journey by an evening and a long-ass plane ride. I am writing to you now from a tiny little hotel room in Hong Kong, about to spend another 16 hours on a plane to get back home.

There are a lot of reasons that we decided to take this journey. At least, I think there were a lot of reasons that we decided to take it. Now it just seems like we decided to take a journey so that we could see what there was to see, and now we have seen some of it, and we are coming home, where we will stay until we decide to take another journey again. This is enough of a reason to me now. I have thought about this post almost since the day that we left on our trip, because I am the type of person who thinks of the ending while we're just at the beginning, and I am not likely to become a different type of person any time soon, try as I might. I thought I would be able to say something profound, like tell you some kind of story about what I learned about myself on this trip. But what I learned is, of course, something I've known for a long time, a mantra that some of you are probably so sick of: you take yourself wherever you go. But see, sometimes you get to go to really cool places. And when you do, and you're able to appreciate the coolness of the places while you're actually in them, well then the self that you've taken along with you is one lucky girl.

I will share with you this one thought that I can't get out of my mind, because it seems appropriate, given the title of this post. I don't know where the original quote came from, but the more that I think about it, the more I think that the idea that you go out for adventure and come home for love seems...oversimplified to me. Because I went out for adventure and managed to find love all around me, everywhere I looked, particularly when I looked to the man standing next to me. And I'm coming home for love, but also for an adventure in Boston that I'm really just really really excited about. Basically, over the course of the past three months I've concluded that love and adventure are often the same thing, that you can go out to experience the world, or you can have an adventure all by yourself, amidst the comforts of your hometown. I wish I could explain to you guys why this means so much to me, but I can't seem to get the words right so I'll just tell you that all of you are part of the adventure that I'm so excited to get home to, and all of you are part of the love that I was sad and nervous to leave behind for three months. But in the end, it was your adventurous spirits who helped to motivate me to find a way for us to take this trip, and as usual, I took your love right along with me. Thanks for that.

I'll stop with the philosophy long enough to tell you that we'll be in New York tomorrow by 2pm, (even though we leave Hong Kong tomorrow at 10am). And I'll also tell you that this isn't the very last post for this blog, because there are still some trip stories to tell you, and tons of pictures to put up, and unnecessary advice about traveling that we want to share with you, and oh yeah, that adventure we're about to start in Boston!

So thanks for following along on this journey, for reading this blog and supporting us, and letting us complain to you about so many things. Thanks for dealing with the fact that we didn't always have a fast enough internet connection to give you pictures, or even a post. Thanks for offering your comments and your suggestions and special e-birthday wishes to Matt. If you don't hear from us for a couple of days, it's because we're too busy brushing our teeth with water FROM THE TAP, walking into public restrooms just because there's toilet paper there, and stuffing our faces with meals that involve neither rice nor curry nor lentils. See you at Vino's!

matt got a tattoo

Remember When We Ate Pudding for Dinner?

Posted from Hong Kong, China

When I first met Alan almost 8 years ago, we had an awkward lunch with another lieutenant at the Chinese restaurant which would come to be known as "Chickenbutt North" a few years later. Later that day, he showed up at the house I was staying at and crashed on the couch for 10 days. Then he was put up in the room next to me in Biloxi. And for the next few years, not counting deployments and visits from girlfriends, we were nearly inseparable.

Since those early days, it's been a few years and a few thousand miles. Alan lives in Germany, and I keep moving from state to state, as if I'd never left the Air Force. We stay in touch, but not nearly as much as we should. But then again, as soon as we reconnect, it's like no time has passed at all.

The other night Lizzi and I were watching an episode of Friends, one in which Monica and Chandler are still keeping their relationship a secret. Monica comes over to Chandler and Joey's apartment in the middle of the night for a bit of nooky. Of course, Joey wakes up and interrupts them. They play it off by telling him that it's actually 9AM instead of 3AM. And Joey heads off to the bathroom to wash up, where he promptly falls asleep with a toothbrush in his mouth.

I'm not saying that Alan and I have shared any moments similar to this one, but when I saw it, I immediately thought of him. Because Alan is the Joey to my Chandler, the Watson to my Holmes, the Barney to my Fred. He's a wonderful guy with a huge heart. So on his 30th birthday I wanted him to know that I was thinking of him in Nepal. And even though we are continents apart and I won't see him again until this winter, I couldn't be happier that we pushed through that awkward lunch and the 10 cramped days at Packler's house. I am honored to count him among my best friends.

Alan, Happy 30th Birthday!!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Katybeck Birthday, A Few Days Late

Written and Posted in Hong Kong

I met Katy when she was an 18-year-old freshman in college. She lived in E Tower in Morewood Gardens and I was an RA just a few floors up from her floor. To say that I met her that year is sort of not true, because I didn't meet her so much as I heard about her. She was a co-RA's favorite resident, and she became a sort of model-resident in our weekly RA meetings. Whenever anyone would do something really stupid, like that time my resident accidentally lit a cardboard box on fire in her room, one of us would turn to the other and say, "Katy wouldn't do that." She wouldn't.

The first thing I noticed about Katy when I DID actually meet her the following year was that she had the shiniest, straightest, brownest hair of anyone I'd ever met. I also noticed that her eyes got really wide just before she was about to burst out laughing, and that there was a piece of construction paper tacked to the wall near her desk with what seemed like hundreds of fortune-cookie fortunes tacked to it, the words "IN BED!" scrawled on the construction paper.

For many years, Katy remained something of an enigma to me. She's not the easiest person for me to read because we're different in so many ways. But there are times when Katy has balanced me out, been different than me in the way that I need a good friend to be different than me. And she has always, always, always loved Matt, and the quiet and calm part of her that completely and totally understands him is the quiet and calm part of her that I get, that isn't even a little bit enigmatic to me.

In the past two years, Katy did something that very few people do: she followed a dream and went back to school. She gave up a big apartment, a good-paying job she didn't really enjoy, and a city she'd called home for five years, and moved to Rhode Island to go to art school. If you don't think this is brave, then you should see the pictures of her studio, because she practically lives there. I've known Katy for about 10 years now, and I'd venture to guess that on an average day, she doesn't see herself as an inspiration to others. But for her 29th birthday, I'd like her to know that I think she's braver than she gives herself credit for, that I think she is an incredibly talented artist, and that I'm okay with not always being able to read her because I feel really lucky to have her in my life.