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The much-needed update has arrived. No, I'm not horribly lazy. Sorry for putting this off for so long.

Last Thursday was one of those surreal days. Ada and I were about to leave lectures when a motorcade went by; there was a woman sitting in the main car, surrounded by police cars and motorcycles. We both just kind of stared as it went past, and I noticed that the car was flying a small flag. I only got a glimpse, but it seemed to be red and yellow.

Ada turned to me and said, "Hey, she was wearing a hat that was kind of like the ones the Queen wears..."

"Uh...I think that was the Queen, Ada..."

Sure enough, she was here in Oxford to preside over the grand opening of the Oxford castle. Ada found a newspaper article on it, complete with a picture of the Queen. The Queen, wearing that hat.

So that makes two members of royalty in one school year. How many other college students could boast that? Man, I love Oxford; my life is such a fairytale here.

The ball last Saturday was so much fun; the chocolate fountain, pampering room, and champagne reception were all amazing. One of the tents displayed various dance and singing groups, such as the belly dancing club and the Oxford Belles. Katie got a massage in the pampering room, and I had some henna done on my hand. I can't believe it was free; the girl who did it was incredibly nice, and even had advice to give for my upcoming exams.

Speaking of exams, they finally let us know when and where they're going to be held. The Exam Schools are just down the road from here, but I'm going to have to travel all the way to the edge of the city to take mine. Ah, the joys of inconvenience...

As soon as my exams finish, I'll be on my way home; that doesn't make me feel much better about them, though. I'm still terrified, to put it mildly. To quote Prachett, "...there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it was a flamethrower." I'll survive somehow, though.

Our lab practicals are hilarious. We've been making genetic recombinants, mapping bacterial genes, and test-crossing various yeasts. Our professor pointed out that all of this has to do with sex, and to "set the mood", he put on some love songs. So we're all cracking up over our petri dishes while these crooning make-out tunes play in order to "encourage the yeast".

I've said it before, and I say it again: I love this school.
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Today was way too cold to go outside. In fact, it's always too cold to go outside. So after getting up today and taking a shower, I put on a clean pair of pajamas and just gave up.

If you were here, I don't think you would blame me. The highs over the past week have been mid-thirties, and the lows...Well, we're not going to even talk about them. But I'd like to point out that they still don't turn on the heat at night. I get up every morning and have to quickly pull on a sweatshirt before I can start moving about my room. Changing clothes is...not fun.

It's not even like I'm being a stupid Floridian about it and exposing myself to the cold because I don't know any better. I dress warmly, I can tell you that much. Every day, dressing is the same: unmentionables, an undershirt, a long-sleeved turtleneck, a jacket, a huge hoodie over that, tights (the thick, black ballet kind), my rowing leggings, and jeans. Followed by thick socks, big black boots, a scarf, a hat, and gloves.

And even after all that, the windchill created from riding a bike is horrible...It's bad enough that it's almost ten degrees below freezing, but to have that freezing air rushing past you is just brutal. And your body responds in weird ways; imagine that you're riding along, squinting against the cold air, when suddenly you feel something strange on your cheek. Well, guess what? It's so cold, your eyes are trying to keep from freezing; moving water doesn't freeze as easily, so you've got tears streaming down your face. Seriously. Even inside my gloves, my fingers go numb. So the first five minutes of every lecture are spent massaging my hands and feeling like the finger tips are on fire.

Welcome to England, everybody: Winter's a bitch.

So....yeah. I stayed inside today. I made myself some hot chocolate and curled up in my bed under all the covers to read. I caught up on the background reading for my labs today with "The Effect of Glucose, Lactose, and Galactose on the Induction of beta-Galactosidase in E. coli" and "Drosophila, the golden bug, emerges as a tool for human genetics". Then it was on to my research for my next organisms essay (on the physics involved that allow fish to swim) with "Review of Fish Swimming Modes for Aquatic Locomotion" and "Energetics of median and paired fin swimming, body and caudal fin swimming, and gait transition in parrotfish (Scarus schlegeli) and triggerfish (Rhinecanthus aculeatus)".

Yeah, just a little light reading. Which is probably why I fell asleep...


What can I say? The hot chocolate was there on the bedside table, the blankets were nice and warm, and I had good reading in hand...I made myself comfortable to read, and was a little too comfortable, I suppose. But that's what I get for being in such scientifically domestic bliss. Or would it be domestically scientific bliss? Either way, I can see myself doing the same thing, years from now. It's a nice habit, in its own way.

I just have to make sure I don't fall asleep all the time.

Current Sin: Sloth
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Just a quick one, I promise.

Okay, so I was sitting in Darwin's Cafe after my morning lectures, putting the finishing touches on the lab report that was due this evening. I was sitting at the table closest to the vending machines, so I overheard some third years while they were getting a snack.

Now, you have to understand that Oxford's degree in Biological Sciences is only a three-year course, so these people were the equivalent of Seniors in our colleges back home. Except for the fact that they have to work on a "third-year project", which is basically a thesis. You know, the kind of stuff that most people do during graduate work. So yes, I do have respect for them to begin with; and the kids here at Oxford are nice. They don't lord it over us freshers, just because we're new and they're the oldest. Anyway, back to business.

The vending machines are always a pain; they're moody, they don't give back your change sometimes, and they've even been known to take your money without actually giving you the food/drink. (That's happened to me twice so far; there's actually an Oxford Facebook group "Victims of Vending Machine Trauma". But I digress...) The vending machines downstairs accept actual money, but the ones next to Darwin's don't; as a member of the science department, you're issued a special card (a "Darwin's card") that you can load money onto and use in the cafe or upstairs vending machines. And if you loose it...well...

Student 1: Bollocks, I don't have my card.
Student 2: Lost it already, have you? It's been...two and a half weeks since the start of term?
Student 3: Ah, no worries. You can use mine and just pay me back later.
Student 1: God bless you all. God bless us, every one.
Student 4: These machines are so hard to manage sometimes; I'd prefer the Drosophila to be honest. How is that going, by the way?
Student 2: Well, I'm certainly getting my kicks with the ether. And I found out yesterday that the methyl iodide is a carcinogen.
Student 1: Mmmm...Cancerific...

People here usually don't have "my kind of humor", so it was a refreshing surprise. And I know how crazy it is to try to work with Drosophila; we've been breeding them in our genetics labs over the past few weeks. You have to check who's male and who's female and such, so you have to gas them with ether and just hope you finish identifying them before they begin to regain consciousness and start twitching.

Oh, and the spot I had in lectures today had "I *heart* Bacteria" written into the tabletop. I need to keep a list; arthropods and bacteria so far.

I know it's only a matter of time until I find an "I *heart* Drosophila".....Hey, I would write it.

God bless the little buggers. Every one.
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I haven't had time to update in a while, and no wonder...

But our organisms lectures were rescheduled due to illness, so I have the whole day off today. And I was able to have a bit of a lie-in. Shocking. But it's given me the opportunity to update here a little.

Okay, Saturday's trip to London was amazing. Getting myself to and from London wasn't that big of a deal; I'm so used to traveling between continents, this was a cinch. So we arrived at the Museum of Natural History, and I have the say, the building itself was incredible. It was built during the Victorian era for the sole purpose of being a science museum, so the outside of the building (as well are the inside) was covered in carvings of various animals. I'm so glad that I thought to bring my camera with me on this trip...

I could easily spend a couple weeks looking around the whole building. Floors and floors, filled with various exhibits...The place was huge, and a person could easily get lost in there. Lost in science. Hey, I wouldn't mind...

Then it was time for our behind-the-scenes tour of the Darwin Centre (the area of the museum devoted to current research and storage of specimens). We were given special lab coats to wear, and our guide unlocked the door to the research facilities. You have to understand that this museum is special; when a new species is discovered, it's sent here to be recorded and officially classified. There are only three that officially do this; the Smithsonian, a museum in Paris, and the Darwin Centre. So they have several floors devoted to the storage of these key specimens (the first of their kind known to science). There are always two sets of automatic doors; you have to unlock the first with a remote control (looks like a small garage door-opener on a key chain) and step inside. The next set of doors won't open until the first set have closed and sealed; this is all to help maintain the temperature and humidity in the storage rooms. Everything is controlled: temperature, humidity, light, air pressure....

They do everything they can to ensure that these specimens are protected. The guide (who had a accent that sounded Eastern-european; maybe Russian?) lead us around, showing us various jars and their contents. Some of the labels had mold spots on them, and she explained that these jars had to be hidden in caves during World War II to keep them safe during the German bombing of London. And she showed us that the ones with red around the seals meant that they were special in some way.

"Red means 'be careful with me'. Sometimes it means that they're especially fragile or old specimens. Sometimes it's because they were the first individual of their species to be identified. And some are from special expeditions. If you can please look at this one...The labels show the year they were entered into the museum here, who collected them here, the classification here...And if they were from a scientific expedition, then the ship's name is here. Can you read it?"

We all gathered around and peered into the jar.

"The HMS Endeavor?"

"Yes. This one is from Captain Cook's famous journey on the Endeavor."

Woah. That voyage was from 1768 to 1771, guys. These were brought back and added to the museum before we had even declared our American independence. So we went from room to room, floor to floor, as she told us stories about various specimens and the explorers/scientists that had brought them in; each jar has its own special story, and I wish I could have heard them all. (Though that would've been impossible; they have more than 70 million specimens...) She showed us the tanks were they kept the bigger creatures; they have the only complete giant squid in the world, and its tank is longer than a London bus. It was so impressive. She showed us the cranes mounted on the ceiling that are used to lift the lids of the tanks, and showed where an artist from the BBC had come to do some sketches; apparently they want to do a television program on a certain fish species, so they came to the museum to look at some of the specimens there. She said that even art students come here, to sketch the jars (since each of them are so different).

And then she stopped beside a barrier that said "no visitors beyond this point" and gave our little group a long, hard look.

"Well, I'm not supposed to let you past here, but I know that you'll be able to appreciate seeing this. Just be very careful."

So she moved it aside and led us to a shelf with several old jars.

"Can you read these labels?"

We all crowded around again and squinted at the labels. They were more than a hundred and fifty years old, and then we noticed the ship's name in the bottom right corner. 'Beagle'.

"These...These are from the Beagle?!"

"Yes. These were specimens that Darwin himself collected when he was a young man, on a world-wide expedition on the HMS Beagle."


Guh. Chills, people; it gave me chills. They were right there. I was breathing on them...

So yes; my trip to the museum was amazing, incredible, and I'm going back as soon as I can.

The rest of my week has been fairly routine so far. Monday afternoon was spent running around our own Museum of Natural History in a strange parody of a scavenger hunt. We couldn't dissect any reptiles, so our reptile lab consisted of wandering around the museum and doing things like comparing the hip joint of a crocodile to the hip joint of the Tyrannosaurus. Looking at the fossil skull of an early mammal-like reptile and trying to figure out what it might have eaten while it was alive. (It was an omnivore; its teeth showed the differentiation that's so classic in mammals, but so revolutionary to reptiles.)

It's kind of funny; I'm not very artistic, but a major portion of our organisms labs is drawing. We have to cut things open, and then draw them; look at various muscles, and draw them; look at the guts and draw them. Look at the skeletons in the museum and draw them. And yes, they do have to look like the real thing. And we really don't have much time to spend on it. So I've actually been developing drawing skills during my biology studies. Who would have thought?

It makes sense, though. A scientist has to be able to describe what they see, and sometimes words just aren't enough. Quick (but stunningly accurate) sketches are extremely important in fieldwork. You could be the first person to ever see this or that animal, and it's not going to sit still and let you take your time with its portrait.

Yesterday's dissection was the one on birds, and Ada's been dreading it since we first learned that we would be dissecting things. She wants to be an ornithologist and study birds for a living; and since she loves them so much, it was terrible for her. So I was the one doing all the actual cutting. And plucking. So I had to sit there and pluck the poor thing, which had been shot so I got its blood on my hands. Yes, that really bothered Ada; and to tell the truth, it kind of bothered me too. I can do these gory sorts of things, no problem, but it doesn't mean I'm going to enjoy it.

But we got through it all right, and were able to study all the muscles involved in flight. That was really cool. So now I've seen the inside of a bird's wing; add that to the list of odd things I've done in my life. Next Monday is a mouse, by the way.

In the meantime, Ada and I spent last night relaxing in my room again, and watching some movies and FMA. I finally saw Pulp Fiction (it was funny because she had to turn off the Polish subtitles), and now I know where she learned her "more interesting" English phrases...Heh, and she now has ten more episodes of FMA under her belt. We have so much fun watching it; she always asks what's going to happen, and I always refuse to tell her. We joke around about how Maes Hughes reminds us of our genetics tutor. ^.^

So yeah; life is definitely good.

Pictures! )
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Okay, I'll try to make this one quick. (Ha! Yeah, right...)

Ada is convinced that I'm "americanizing" her. She'll pause in a sentence and say the word, "Like...", and then she'll blame it on me.

"Ah! I'm saying "like" now, and it's your fault..."

What can I say? I don't say it that often, but I suppose it was only a matter of time. And you know what else was only a matter of time? Last night, Ada and I hung out in my room and watched Fullmetal Alchemist until we had to get to bed. Needless to say, she wants to figure out a time as soon as possible for us to finish watching all of them. Sweet.

And I've been playing with Photoshop in my spare time. (Pssh...."Spare time"...) Which means that I first started using it today, and was playing with it during lunch and after dinner tonight. Oh, it's so much fun. For someone who's not creative, it makes me feel very artistic.

So after an hour and a half of fiddling, I was able to work out how to make animated icons. Joy of joys. So you can see for yourself what fun I've been having. And on top of that, I've started scouting out and collecting the images needed for my new mood theme. Which I will now be able to easily make myself. Ah...The weekend stretches before me, and life is good.

Tomorrow, we're going on a "little biology fieldtrip"; Sarah (aka Dr. Watkinson) set up a behind-the-scenes tour with the Natural History Museum of London. So those of us that are going will grab some breakfast, hop on a bus to London, surf the London Underground to South Kensington, and spend the afternoon being shown around the museum. It's so nerdy of me, but I have to say that I'm excited about this. This isn't exactly your average museum...

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Yes, I was right. I walked into our afternoon lab today; the image on the display monitor? A dead frog.

If only one of you had taken me up on that bet...

Ah, the many joys of dissection. It just never gets old. Of course, I always shock Ada with my lively commentary.

"I wonder what would happen if it were still alive?" "Woah, feel his skin..." "He looks like he's screaming." "How soon do you think we'll be doing people? What? Don't give me that look....I would donate my body to science..."

She jokes around with me a lot more now, so the hours pass by much quicker. Our sarcastic quips and bored jabber are priceless sometimes.

All of the professors decided to take a coffee break at once, so all of us with questions had to stand around and wait in the meantime. We were supposed to be drawing the major veins and arteries around the heart, but ours were covered in a kind of dried-blood paste; we tried to scrape away as much of the gunk as we could, but the cardiac arches just weren't visible. We wanted to get out of there before it got dark, but there was no one around to ask about it. So Ada and I entertained ourselves.

Me: *stares listlessly down at my drawing of the frog's internal anatomy* My frog is too fat. And it doesn't have enough guts.
Ada: *leans over to look at my diagram* I think it should be fine.
Me: *draws a tongue sticking out of my frog's mouth, in a parody of death* OMG DED!
Ada: *reaches over with a probe and pulls the real frog's tongue out of its mouth* Now your drawing is scientifically accurate.
Me: Ha! "I swear, Professor Martin! I was just drawing how the frog looked!"
Ada: *reaches over and draws a crown on the head of my frog* Give him a kiss!

(Disclaimer: This in no way is meant to be disrespectful to the animals that give their lives and bodies to science. We are all living things, and even in death, we deserve dignity. Unless our legs are sticking straight out and our tongues are lolling out of our heads. Then that's just funny.)

(Additional Disclaimer: The above was a joke. Don't be offended; I know the importance of respect for all life, probably better than anyone. But I'd also like to think I have a sense of humor, too.)

(Overkill Disclaimer: If you're still offended, then you should either get a sense of humor, or read something else. Sheesh...)

The beauty of having really long labs is that you get out after the Zoology building has officially closed. And that's when they feed the snakes. For those of you that don't know, our building has a special cafe for biologists. (Yes, the building's real name is "The Department of Zoology and Experimental Psychology", so the psychologists have their own cafe/lounge too. But we don't generally go there. Unless we want to lay down on their couches. Heh, yeah...I go there to take naps. Those couches really are comfortable. It figures, I suppose...)

Well, anyway, we all like to hang out in Darwin's Cafe when we have a free hour between lectures and nothing else to do. One of the walls is covered in glass windows; each one contains an aquarium or tank of some sort. You name it, they've got it; and beside each is a poster describing all the animals inside. It's really entertaining to sit there while you're eating.

I'll be there with my bag of chips, staring down a crab the size of my head through the glass. He'll reach down and strip the seaweed, and then quickly shove his claw to his mouth; I'll reach down and grab a chip, and then quickly shove it into my mouth. He'll reach down and munch, then I'll reach down and munch, then he'll reach down...And then I'll run out of chips, and he'll reach down again. I stand up to throw my trash away, and give him a long, silent look.

"Okay, Sebastion...You win this time."

He twiddles his eye-stalks at me, and reaches down again. Yeah, rub it in, why don'tcha...

Well, anyway, they were feeding the corn snakes that live in the very last tank by our laboratory door. There are two of them; one is the wild type orange and black, while the other is an albino. (I wrote an essay about their gene expression pathways yesterday, actually. Mutations in epistatic genes are so cool...If you have red hair, by the way, then you're a mutant for the same reasons that some mice or dogs have yellow fur.) I tell you, watching those snakes eat is better than TV. Seriously. As more and more people finished up the lab, the audience grew. We were all crowding around, peering through the glass like delighted toddlers. The wild type snake was hesitating near the mouse it was supposed to eat, no matter how much the grad student wiggled it. One of the professors mentioned that they usually don't like to eat if they're about to shed their skin, so that could be the cause.

Girl from St. Anne's College: It kind of looks confused...
Me: I don't know...I don't think I would be too confused if someone dangled a steak in front of me...
Guy from Christ Church College: Yeah, but what if someone was dangling a whole cow?

God, I love this school...
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Today was exhausting, but it was still very satisfying.

Last night, I had a lovely conversation with Alex about what they're really teaching me here. No, it's not biology; it's how to wield a large book with deadly force. Yes, Oxford is building itself an army; an army that can smite down even the blackest and most foul of ignorance. And I shall be its newest Lieutenant, thrusting myself and my trusty microorganism textbook to the forefront of battle. FOR GREAT SCIENCE!

Okay, for those of you that have been wondering, this is how things work around here:

1) I don't choose my classes. There's no registration day here at Oxford; they tell you what classes you're taking, and that's that. The first year is all introductory biology, so everyone is taking everything. Next year, I'll be able to decide what I want to focus on; your second year, you choose three general subjects that you want to study in-depth. Then by your third year, you should know what you really want to focus on, and you choose subjects accordingly. Your third year is also when you do your thesis, so people usually spend the summer between their second and third year traveling (to places like Malaysia, to study endemic butterflies; or the Great Barrier reef to experiment on the reversal of coral bleaching).

2) Each of my terms only last eight weeks. They are numbered accordingly, and that's how we keep track of them. There are three terms in each school year, and eight weeks in each term. So yes, I'll be spending six months of each year in Oxford, and the other six at home (or somewhere here in England, if it turns out that way). When I get my schedule for the term, it shows where I have to be according to the week. For the first four weeks I have labs every Monday and Tuesday, from two until five in the afternoon. But on weeks Two and Four, I have Thursday afternoon labs as well. And on Sixth Week, I only have a Monday afternoon lab, but it's coupled with a full-day lab on Friday. It's crazy to try to work out, but we all managed somehow. It's still kind of funny to walk around and hear people say things like, "How are you finding this term?" "Oh, it's mental! You should see Fifth Week!"

3) I generally write two papers per week. If any of you guys would like to read them, I'll send them your way. Some examples of the titles are: "How widespread are sedentary and sessile organisms? How do they feed, reproduce and disperse?"; "What is a species? Critically appraise the various criteria employed to split animals and plants taxonomically. How do species arise in nature?", "What is a skeleton and what use is it? Review the major types of skeleton found in animals and plants and discuss their advantages and disadvantages. Is it better to be 'squishy' or 'rigid'?"; "What is an arthropod? They are often considered to be the most successful group of animals on earth. What does this mean? Do you agree? Justify your opinions, using appropriate examples." My latest prompt is, "Using examples, discuss the main similarities and differences between the major vertebrate Classes."

4) I have cut open just about everything. As we focus on each ascending phylum of animal, we have to dissect at least one of them. So far it's been Cnidaria (jellyfish and Hydra), Platyhelminthes and Nematoda (various worms), Annelida (more worms, including polychaetes), Mollusca (squid), Arthropoda (we observed just about every insect you can think of and some chelicerates as well, and then cut open a crayfish), Echinodermata (starfish), and Chordata (lancelet). From there we've been focusing in on the craniates, including the cartilaginous fish (cut open a stingray) and the teleost fish (cut open a trout just this afternoon). And from there? I'm willing to bet a whole lot of money that I'll be facing a frog tomorrow afternoon.

It's been so tough lately; I've been working from nine until five at least three days a week. They usually give us an hour here and there to eat lunch or whatever, but I had to run to the bank today instead of eating. Well, I had no idea how to quickly get from the science area to the corner of High Street and Cornmarket, and time was definitely of the essence. After being giving bad directions twice, having to turn around and go back down the street I had originally been down, just taking a guess at which little side-street I was actually on, and just getting turned around in general by Oxford's maze of streets, I found my way to the bank. I figured that I would be late for my afternoon lab, and spent the whole way back planning how to apologize. Well, I got back to the Zoology building, and what do you know? I was twenty minutes early. Go figure.

But I now know how to get straight from my classes to the Eagle and Child pub. Hooray for exploration, and a photographic memory to go with it. One of my new hobbies this term is to worm my merry way through every nook and cranny of this city. It shall be my playground. (Except not in the way most students "play" here.)

In other news, it's unbelievably cold here now. During the hottest part of the day, I could see my breath. And it's supposed to get colder. That cold front from Russia? Yeah, it's coming....for my soul. Ada spoke on the phone with her mom today, and from what she says, all the water is freezing right in the pipes in Poland. And the cold is slowly creeping West.

My reaction? I'm going to die. O.o

But I won't go down without a fight. I've armed myself with new gloves and a crapload of sweaters.

Bring it on, Moscow!
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Yes, I'm alive and across the ocean once again.

My schedule for this term is going to own my soul, but I'm ready for it. I spent most of the afternoon on my reading, which was nice and really quite relaxing. There's nothing like a Sunday afternoon spent curled up with a cup of tea and a good vertebrate textbook. It's funny; last term I was so anxious to get home....But now that I'm back here, I realize that I've missed it. I've missed the quiet, monastic bustle of the University; everyone running back and forth with their hands full of books, as if there's nothing in the world more important than your latest research.

And for now, that's true. There's nothing more important than my studies, and my lifestyle has been reflecting that. After shaking off my horrible jet-lag and getting my head/heart/emotions back in order, I've been a studious little monk. And not just with biology; I'm going for a complete education here, so I've been picking up other things here and there. I suppose I'll explain more later. (Everyone has to have a hobby, right?)

I took some pictures of the city with my digital camera, so when I have time, I'll be sure to upload those and let you guys take a look. I even got some video of a swan in the Isis River; it's quick, but lovely all the same.

Speaking of lovely, Laura has designed the gorgeous new layout I have. And on top of that, she's sent me scans of the drawings she did for [ profile] our_resistance; so those are up now too. Major thanks and kudos to her. ^.^

So what else is new? I've been thinking of making my own mood theme (and maybe even my own icons for a change...), but seeing how I don't have the technology....Regardless, I'm going to have a look around and see if I can't snag what I want. Maybe someday Photoshop shall be mine; call me crazy, but Paint just doesn't cut it...
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I'm feeling so much better today; only a slight sore throat and some weakness to deal with now. And it was much warmer than usual, with a high of forty-eight degrees. Oh yeah, bring on the heat.

Tonight should be really nice. Packing up everything, followed by Carols on the Stairs and then chocolate cake with the rest of the Bio girls. Carols on the Stairs is a tradition that St. Hilda's has had since the 1930's, and consists of everyone gathering around the main staircase of South building and listening to the girls of our choir sing. This is no shabby singing, let me tell you; my neighbor next door is a music major, and a member of the choir. The first time that I heard her sing, I originally thought I was hearing a violin, her tones were so pure. So we get to hear all of this beautiful singing, to really herald in the Christmas feelings, and then they're going to serve mulled wine and minced pies. Sounds good to me...

We had our Principal's collections on Tuesday, which was a bit stressful. Basically, each of our tutors writes a report on each of us and how we've progressed over the term. Then we all dress in our formal gowns and meet with the Principal and one of our tutors individually to discuss the reports and how we've been doing so far. I've spoken with Lady English before, but never in an academic context; Sarah (aka Dr. Watkinson) was there, and read each of the reports aloud. I was relieved to hear that all of my reports were good. Sarah thought that I've made consistent progress with my essays, that my writing style has been flowing and compelling to read since the beginning, and that I've always contributed interesting points to discussions; Petros (aka Dr. Ligoxygakis) thought that my essays really captured the essence of the subject, and that I was always forthcoming in tutorials; and Annalie (aka Dr. Morris) thought that my essays were clear and concise, and that I was very active during tutorials.

Which means they all said more or less the same thing: my essays are short/to-the-point, and I talk a lot.

But we all knew that already, right?

Well, Lady English asked if I had been doing anything extracurricular during my time here, and I mentioned the fact that I had joined St. Hilda's boat club and had been rowing this term. I don't know about you guys, but here, everyone who hears the phrase "I'm in boat club" realizes the same thing: you're up horribly early all the time, you're always tired, and you have no time for a social life (even on weekends). So I saw the surprised look on her face before she smiled. "Oh, you've been rowing? Well, that's a very Oxford thing to do, isn't it?"

And yes; it is a very Oxford thing to do. It's obsessive here. There's even an anti-rowing group on Facebook because of it...

"Any of you who have been at Oxford for at least a term will understand the horror of this apparently civilised sport. Not only does it require that greatest taboo, physical exercise, but it also turns those once much loved friends into unrecognisable monsters. Yes, it's true. That neighbour of yours who once got up at noon is suddenly taking a shower at 9.30, is knocking on your door for breakfast at 8 and, worst of all, you hear their alarm clock at 5.30. Those friends who could once talk to you about anything become closed-minded and yes, rowing obsessed. One by one we are losing them, those once ordinary people who are gradually taken by this monsterous sport. We must stop it. We must save them."

Ha! That's all I have to say. It's funny; the girls on my floor introduce me as "the American rower". I'm the only rower on our floor, so they like taking the mickey out of me sometimes. All in good fun, though. (I'll convert them yet, just wait and see...)

But in the end, Lady English said that it seemed like I was really taking advantage of my time here, and that I was a credit to the college and the university. This is the part where I went bright red, blurted a "thank you", and was lead out of the room in a kind of daze. When I got back to my room, Eva knocked on the door. Apparently, she and the rest of the girls had been talking, and they wanted to know how my session went. I told her it was fine; nothing bad happened, of course. She said that all of them had figured that I would have the best report. That was more than a little surprising for me. But apparently, the others had been told about some "areas that needed improvement" in their work, so I suppose I really did do well.

I still can't believe it, though.
sangre_fria: (Laura- EL suit)
I don't want to sound melodramatic or anything, but I seriously thought I was going to die last night. I actually considered how Oxford would have to tell my mother.

Dear Mrs. M_____,

It is with our deepest regrets that we must inform you of a tragedy. Your daughter, Cassondra, passed away last night. There were no witnesses, but questioning of her neighbors revealed that she had mentioned feeling ill. The medical examiners have confirmed that the death was due to natural illness, and nothing suspicious was found in her room. Arrangements are already being made to return her remains to you. St. Hilda's College, and the University of Oxford as a whole, sympathizes with your loss and offers any aid that you would require in this most unfortunate of times.

Lady English
Principal of St. Hilda's College
Oxford University

I can't remember the last time I felt this sick; certainly not in the last two years, at least. High fever, the shakes, sore joints and muscles, killer headache, horrible sore throat, neck pain, and dizziness. It all came on so quickly, too. I had felt a little sick before, and then boom; it hit me like a ton of bricks. I had an essay to finish, too. The last paper of the term, and I could barely concentrate for more than two minutes. I was so dizzy and confused, not to mention colder than I've ever been. I had to struggle with the button on my alarm clock because my shivering was so bad. No cough and no runny nose, which was odd. I had to just curl up and bed and try my best to keep warm.

I feel so much better today, that it's almost like a miracle. I slept until eleven, and missed my lectures for today, but it was worth it. I needed the rest more than anything, really. I'm supposed to go to an erg test tonight, to see how hard I can pull and which team I'll be on next term. I can walk around without feeling dizzy now, and so I might go anyway. If I set out early, I can ride nice and slow to our boathouse at Longbridges. I know that my split would be crap, but then again, it would be crap anyway. I'm the weakest one on my crew, sadly enough. I was also supposed to go to the biology student social tonight, but there's no way that I'm going to go out if I could be resting. Rachel was organizing it, and she's going to be upset at me for missing it, but there's just nothing I can do. I can barely function, so socializing is right out.

So now I'm just going to putter around my room like an old lady, doing what I can to pack and resting every few minutes when I get tired.
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Thursday: Our second day that the ChCh regatta. The current in the river was so strong, one of Merton's shells crashed into the bank and had to have people rescued. (We passed by the accident site later, and the shell was complete wreckage.) Because of that, our race was delayed an hour. So we sat out in the freezing cold, in a boat, fighting the current for an hour. Two (Irina) and I had to constantly row so that we could stay in the same place; I'm not kidding. Then it started to rain (freezing rain) right before our race. By the time we finally started our race, it had started absolutely pouring. We couldn't even see, and we could barely hear our cox, even though she was screaming at the top of her lungs. Halfway through the race, hail started to come down on us. Chunks of ice, about the size of marbles. The wind made the current so bad, we almost crashed into the bank like the other crew. And, of course, after our race they had to cancel the rest of the regatta for the day...

We did manage to make it to the finish line. When we rowed past Merton's wrecked shell, I felt like crying. It was so sad; it was a wooden one, hand-crafted and polished to a shine. Broken more ot less in two, the riggers all twisted on one side. It was a horrible crash, and such a shame losing such a beautiful shell. And we almost knocked a goose senseless, because it was just too stupid to get out of our way. Strokeside accidentally knocked it about a bit with their blades before it swam on. Yeah, geese are pretty dumb...

Pictures, anyone? I'm the bow, which for you non-rowers means that I'm the one on the end...

Thursday night was spent at Katie's party, which was absolutely fabulous. She had a murder mystery party, and each of us was given a character to dress up as and act the part of during the game. These mystery party games are all the rage here in Britain. It's all in a kit that you buy in party shops and such. You buy one that has the right number of characters for your party, and it contains invitations that tell everyone who their character is and how to dress. So then you get there; everyone's in character, and you put on a tape that came with it. A "detective" starts talking about the murder, and gives you clues here and there to help you solve it. Each of us gets a booklet for our character, telling us who we are, and what our real motives are; what we're supposed to tell people, and the things that we should try to keep secret. Then we go around accusing each other and questioning to figure out who did it. No one knows who the murderer is until the very end, after you go around guessing who did it. Then you play the last bit of the tape, and all the pieces fall together.

And just in case you guys were wondering who did it, I can tell you that it was just about everyone. It was a lot more complicated than I thought it would be. Apparently, the dead Butler had been stealing the Uncle's port, and since the Uncle was pathologically insane, he put poison in the alcohol to "teach him a lesson". That would have killed him, except for the fact that the French Girl he had an affair with tried to poison him too, because he was blackmailing her. The two poisons canceled each other out, but he was feeling very sick and had to stay in bed. That's where he was shot, but the curious thing was, there was blood on both sides of his pillow. As it turns out, the Nun was his long-lost sister; when their father had died, their family became penniless so the Nun was sent to America and the brother/Butler was sent to London. Their mother later married a rich German, who already had a daughter, the Caberet Star. When she died, the money was going to go to the Butler, but he died so the Caberet Star was going to inherit it all.

The Nun was my secret lover, and I wanted her to inherit it all instead; so I was going to kill the Butler. I even had a suicide note all written up. But when I got there, he was already dead. So I left the suicide note and snuck away. The Butler was killed because the Niece's Fiance owed him money. The Butler was actually a member of a the crime underworld, and the Fiance didn't want to get mixed up in it. So he convinced his wife-to-be to actually pull the trigger. But the shot to the head didn't actually kill him. That's why there was blood on both sides of the pillow. The Nun (his sister) had come in afterward, and had seen that he was shot, but still breathing. She smothered him with the pillow; a mercy killing.

Man, it was so much fun...

Friday: An unspeakable amount of work was done.

Saturday: Errands were run, inquiries were made, and laundry was done. The dryers only take twenty pence coins, and I ran out halfway through. Despite borrowing money from a porter, there still wasn't enough to actually dry my clothes. Or the sheets I was supposed to sleep on. Or the towel I was supposed to use after showering. I'm almost positive that my annoyance could be felt across the Atlantic ocean. If you felt a chill come over you that afternoon, then yeah, that was me.

Sunday: Finished my last cells and genes paper a day early. I'm almost positive that my jubilation could be felt across the Atlantic ocean. If you felt the sudden urge to laugh hysterically come over you that afternoon, then yeah, that was me. My clothes and sheets and towels were still wet, though. But on the bright side, the regatta after-party was that night. So I got to hang out at Filth with some of my crew, and more or less danced the night away. I ended up getting to bed at three o'clock in the morning; not because of leaving the club late, though. I actually left around one o'clock. When I got back to my room, I remembered that Biz had borrowed my extra mattress because she had had a friend come to stay with her. Of course, I didn't really "remember" this by myself; I saw the mattress laying out in the middle of the hallway. So there I was at about two in the morning; single-handedly dragging a mattress through the hall to my room. Ducking under the clotheslines still covered in drying clothes, I finally managed to shove it back on the bed. Then bed for me.

Monday: Last dissection for the term; the poor little starfish never had a chance. I turned in my cells and genes paper, but I have my last invertebrate paper due Wednesday; so it was off to the library for me. I stumbled across a book written by Dr. Speight, which was interesting (though not really surprising, at this point). He gave his last lecture this morning, so I suppose I'll just have to chat with him about it after I get back from winter break. Like most of our dissections, today's had been a bit rough on the nerves, so Ada and I took up our habit of hanging out in the college bar for a while after dinner. She doesn't like cutting things open (not to mention that she's a bit of a vegetarian), so I bought her a drink for being such a good sport about it all. Afterwards, I walked back to my building.

It started to rain, but something just wasn't right about it. The rain wasn't falling as fast as it should have, and it wasn't very wet. I looked down at my coat and got the shock of my life. I'm almost positive that my childish wonder could be felt across the Atlantic ocean. If you felt the sudden urge to dance in the middle of a snowfall about four hours ago, then yeah, that was me. They weren't proper snowflakes, but it was still snow.

I'm in complete awe.
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Well, our Organisms lecture today was taught by the Head of the Department, Dr. Martin Speight.

Now, Dr. Speight is one of the funniest people I have ever met in my life. I'm not kidding. Every lecture he gives is like a comedy hour; the whole class laughs all the way through it. Well, today Dr. Speight had an announcement. We've been doing dissections for a few weeks now, and we're slowing moving our way up to higher organisms. Well, apparently we're going to have a visitor on Monday afternoon.

Prince Charles is coming to get a tour and a demonstration, so we'll be seeing him while we work.

Yes, that's right. Prince Charles. And no, I'm not joking. Though Dr. Speight certainly was.

"Right; make sure you all look very interested and interesting. And you're not allowed to mention either his ears or his wife...."

So, yeah...

All those times before I left, everyone would say, "Oh, Cassie; you're going to be meeting royalty and stuff!"

And I was just like, "Yeah....right."

Freaky to the max, man.
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Yeah I know, Becky; it's been a while. Even I was starting to believe that I had died...

Well, last week was bad. There's this thing called "The Fifth Week Blues", but I somehow managed to catch it a week early. Just my luck. But all the girls on my floor have been going though it as well.

"Oh, I just felt so homesick, I called my mom and she came up to see me for the afternoon."

.....Mhmmm.....I'm trying to imagine how something like that could work in my case. Nope, it's just not there.

And I finally had that serious case of food poisoning that I've been joking about for weeks. Yeah, remind me to never joke about that again. Also, I missed one of my lab practicals, and absolutely panicked. I talked to my tutor about it, and he said that it's okay, that these things happen, and that I should be fine. But enzyme-mediated reactions are not something to take lightly, so I'm going to have to study that uber-hard so it's not a weakness on the final exam.

But this week was fine, at least in my mind. The light on my bike broke and the seat is twisted, but I'll just have to go get those fixed this weekend.

Last Friday, we had our tutorial with Dr. Watkinson out in the woods instead of our usual room in South Building. Her specialty is fungi, and when I say that, I mean it. You know the essay I wrote last week about pathogenic fungi? Well, I used the recommended textbook on fungi as a reference, and guess who co-wrote it? Yep, Dr. Watkinson. (Or "Sarah", as she has us call her...) This is why I love this place so much. She's the top of her field, she literally wrote the book on fungi, and she was taking us all out on a jaunt in the woods to identify and collect specimens. How awesome it that?! She's also kindly invited Ada and myself to have lunch with her this Sunday, because we're the international students, and the homesickness always gets pretty bad on the weekends.

The girls finally managed to pry me out of my room last Saturday for Bonfire Night (aka Guy Fawkes' Day), and we walked down to Green College to see their fireworks. It was nice, but I swear...I prefer my firework holidays to be summer holidays. Only the British would be crazy enough to have a holiday where everyone stands around outside in the cold. Heh, of course, the holiday was created because of a crazy British nutjob, so I suppose it's only fitting...

We were going to head to Teddy Hall's party afterward, but it was canceled because of a highbrow concert or somesuch, so we ended up at The Turf. I adore it there; it's just full of so much history. It's the pub that I mentioned before, the one that's nestled into a bunch of alleys near the old city wall. It was famous for cockfighting in the eighteenth century, sword fighting in the seventeenth century, and...something about the owner dying on the job in the sixteenth century, but I can't remember what the circumstances were. So yeah; it's old. It was incredibly crowded so we ended up drinking in the open air in the back courtyard, which would probably be where people used to leave their horses...

And I'm sure you're all waiting for me to talk about rowing. What can I say? It's currently the most interesting thing about my life.

On Wednesday morning, I was staring at a pair of locked gates. It was five-thirty in the morning, freezing cold, with all the gates locked up and not a porter in sight. So I'm standing there with my bike, glancing back and forth between my watch and the sign that said "back in five minutes", for about fifteen minutes. Finally, one of the porters comes strolling back from South building, and trust me, he was taking his sweet time about it. After acting like I was inconveniencing him (Look, buddy; this is your job...) and making a point of asking me if I wanted to go out and why I needed to go out, he finally unlocked the bike gate.

That's right; take your time. Oh, no, don't worry about it...I was just standing out here at half-past five in the morning because I felt like getting hypothermia. It's a hobby of mine, you see. I also like being late for rowing practice, so if you could take a little longer, I would really appreciate it...

Our first regatta is in a few weeks, and it's going to be huge. The Christ Church Regatta, and I hope we're all ready. I don't think anyone is ready, frankly, so it's good to know that we're on even footing with our opponents. Novice B is really giving it everything we've got. We're the ones that have all taken the swimtest; we're the ones that were able to catch up to and pass another crew on the river (while they were rowing full eights and were we only using bow four). We had an erg session last night, and we raced Novice C for three thousand meters. We won, and it felt really good.

I still have a ton of work to do personally, though; I felt like I was going to be sick that last fifty meters, and I had to more or less crawl off the erg afterwards. Wuss, wuss, wuss, wuss... They have two ergs down in Hall, behind the bar, so I'm going to hit one of those for a while tonight, and every night I can for the next few weeks. I wasn't able to make it to the gym session last week, but I will this weekend. And now that our Tuesday practices have been moved to Thursday, I should be able to make the Tuesday morning weightlifting practice before class now. Go for it, go!

As the girls here would say: Keen to the point of madness.

But chatting with friends back home who've done crew is always a joy. I'll paraphrase one for you.

Cass: I just ordered my rowing kit, and I'm (apparently) going to be in a regatta. What Crew Gods should I be praying to?
Ross: JOBU.
Cass: .....What now?
Ross: Jobu. God of rowing. And bow ball.
Cass: ...How do you pronounce that?
Ross: Joe. Boo.
Cass: Okay, just checking. That's hilarious; so where did that one come from?
Ross: SCC. You offer him rum, and fine cigars. And strap him to your bow ball.

Kevin and Evan's input/advice are always valuable and entertaining, as well. I don't know what I would do without my friends; die of boredom, probably. But with friends like these, I'll never have to worry about that.

I can just laugh, and concentrate on killing myself with an erg.

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I really should have updated last night, but I just didn't have time.

Lectures are awesome, and incredibly interesting. On Wednesday, the Organisms lecture was on animal behavior as explained by optimizing resources. Which more or less means that animals act the way they do because they're trying to get what they want with the least effort/cost to themselves. So my professor started talking about how birds set up mating systems.

Females want to have offspring with the best male possible; a strong male that will pass on good genes and has a large territory in which to raise their brood. Males, on the other hand, want to pass on their genes to as many offspring as possible, and will try to court multiple mates. If the male is of high quality, it will be more advantageous for a female to consent to sharing a male than to choose a male of lower quality. So harems develop, because the male is just too good to pass up. Sometimes, two weak males will band together, combining their territory, in order to attract one female. So then you have one female and two males. Females want to mate with more males, because her offspring will have a higher chance of surviving. Males, on the other hand, want to mate with more females, because they will end up having more offspring (and some will survive by sheer numbers). So a species' (or society's) mating system is created by this struggle between the sexes.

Heh...Birds are funny. One of the slides in the presentation showed how the monarch butterfly was brightly colored and poisonous. Birds see the bright colors and eat one, but once it gets sick, it will always associate those bright colors with distaste. Poisonous, but dull, butterflies won't be recognized as distasteful so quickly, and many more will be eaten. A black butterfly may surprise the birds with its hidden poison, but they won't remember it for next time. It will always shock them, as if they didn't know. So a slide showed a bluejay eating a monarch, and then puking. I've never seen a bird puke before. Everyone started laughing, because it was just so ridiculous looking. If my professor posts the slides online, I'll snatch that picture and show you guys.

I got back to my dorm after class and just crashed. I've been feeling horribly sick lately, and my throat was killing me. I had stayed up most of the night before because I had called my mom. We talked for a long time, and then I had to finish writing an essay. Yes, an essay. I had to turn in a seven-page essay on my third day of class. Are you really surprised? Not me. So I spent from two until six that afternoon in bed, alternatively sweating and shivering with fever. They call it "The Freshers' Flu", and everybody has it. You should hear everyone hacking during the lectures. Thankfully, I feel much better today.

We had a formal dinner last night, and were officially accepted into St Hilda's as freshers. We all were required to be "smartly dressed" and wear our gowns. You know Harry Potter? Yeah, they're like that. My gown as funny black wings hanging down my back; ah, tradition. It was all so cool. We each sat at the tables according to our area of study, and our tutor sat with us. The Head of House (our Principal) banged a gavel on the table, then said some things in Latin that none of us understood, and then the waiters can around with wine. They served the first course with white wine, and then the second with red wine. I didn't have any of the white, but the red was quite good, in my opinion. Of course, that was the first time I had tried red wine, but I prefer it to white.

The main course was something called "Supreme of Pheasant" with raspberry sauce. It was delicious. Pheasant is much more juicy and flavorful than chicken, and they had wrapped it in what seemed like very tender bacon. The raspberry sauce sounds strange, but it was delicious. It wasn't sweet, so the slight tartness offset the flavor of the meat perfectly. Dessert was a passionfruit mousse. With a strawberry on top. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it...

So after dinner, we all had a little coffee, while the Principal gave a speech about the traditions here at Oxford, and that she was proud of us, welcomed us, expected us to grow as both scholars and people while we were here, etc. Then she said something more in Latin, and left. That was our signal that dinner was over and we were free to leave. I came back to my room, and just chilled out for a while. Then I took a shower and collapsed into bed.

This morning, I took my sweet time getting ready, and rushed off the class. I still have yet to be late. (Just watch; I will be tomorrow...) Hooray for copious amounts of exercise. But I always enjoy my walks around the city. Everything's just so beautiful here.

Classes today? Awesome. We're working on DNA structure and sexual selection right now, which is always amusing. In fact, it was too amusing to talk about here. So when I come home, you guys'll have to ask me about the primate correlation constant.


I had my first real tutorial session today. The way that things work around here is that you have lectures (given by the University) to introduce the material, and then tutorials (given by the college) to reinforce the ideas and give you assignments. You can also discuss the subject in deeper detail with the professors that happen to be your tutors. So Dr. Watkinson already had our essays read and graded, by the time we had our tutorials this afternoon. Each of us go in as groups of two, and my partner is Clare. So she asked us both to read our papers outloud, and she stopped us occasionally to discuss things that we had written about. So then she gave constructive criticism and asked us to edit our papers. Next time, we'll turn those in to her so she can copy them and distribute them to the other students. Also, she gave our next essay topic for next week.

"Compare the advantages of molecular genetics and comparative morphology in understanding the ancestry and relationships of organisms."

Rocking. Awesome. I'm really looking forward to this one. Also, I got an email from my other tutor, setting me an assignment to do by Monday. I'm supposed to answer these points:

a) Describe the main features of the DNA structure.
b) Based on these features, what are the predictions for DNA replication and the flow of information to the protein level? Do Watson and Crick refer to these in their paper?
c) Which properties are required for the genetic material to perform its biological role?
d) Briefly describe how DNA replicates.

I certainly have my work cut out for me, don't I? Bring it on!


Edit: Oh, I thought this was funny. My mom emailed, and said that I was the "OxFox". According to her, that means "brains and beauty!". Such flattery, from my own mother, even. It's really nice to know that I have a cheering section back home, though.
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Last night, some of the girls on my floor invited me over for a "we survived the first day of term" party. At first I declined, but then I figured that I had already taken my turn to be antisocial over the weekend, so I ended up walking down the hall to Biz's room. (Her name is Elizabeth, but everyone just calls her Biz.) So I ended up spending a few hours there, which we spent talking, playing cards, sharing and eating our sweets (which are the currency around here), and drinking a bottle of wine that they had bought to celebrate.

They kept asking me things about how Americans live, and wanted to know how we said this or that. They thought that the way I say "aluminum" is weird, and one of them asked me what we called the little orange things that float to show where crab pots are.

"What, you mean like buoys?"
"Oh my God! Is that really what you call them?"
"Buoys? Yeah, I guess."
"How on Earth do you spell that?"
"B-U-O-Y. Buoy."
"That's the strangest thing I've ever heard. It's just a strange sound when you say it."

So then they tried to say it like I did, and couldn't quite get it. But we were all pretty amused. Then two other girls showed up and so there were six of us, so we all sat around and talked about theater here. I, of course, had to mention Dracula. All in all, it was a nice evening spent.

I came home to my room around eleven o'clock and got ready for bed. I finally got to bed at some point, and set my alarm for seven thirty. Well, I didn't make it to seven thirty.

The fire alarm went off at seven this morning. Seven. That's the second time I've been woken up by that thrice-cursed alarm. And it's not a fire alarm like we have back home. It's gives off a "Oh sweet Jesus, the world is ending! A nuke has been dropped and we're all gonna die!" sound. And there's a speaker in every room. Mine is right over my bed. Joy.

So we all shuffle out of our building, and it's freezing cold. We're lead into the dining hall, where they take roll and then finally let us go. So it was about seven fifteen when I got back to my room, and my alarm was supposed to go off at seven thirty. I just kind of stood there in front of my bed, staring at it. It was one of those moments when you're so tired, you just stand there with a sardonic, half-lidded look on you face and then just say to yourself, "Well, screw that."

I stayed up and just took a few extra minutes in the shower. Taking a shower here is like going home for me. To be able to stand there and breathe such warm, humid air again reminds me of Florida. So I was brushing my teeth when Eva knocked on my door. That must have been an interesting sight; I open the door, my hair still wild and a toothbrush hanging out of my mouth. Charming. So we made plans to meet at the Lodge and walk down to class together.

I was late getting down there, but I was wearing my bracelet. We managed to get to class on time. The first lecture (about the solubility products of macromolecules) was wonderful, but I was still so tired that I let my eyes drift shut during the parts I already knew. But guess what happened then? The fire alarm went off.

Oh, God; You and that zany sense of humor You have...

So we all ended up standing outside in the cold, telling each other bad jokes to pass the time. I met a nice guy from Christ Church College, but I never got his name.

"I can tell that you have a slight bit of an American accent, but I can't tell where from..."
"Heh, slight? I'm from Florida. It's too cold here."

My second lecture was awesome. All of that embryology and developmental biology is really interesting. We discussed regulatory genes, mainly. I enjoyed it, but some of my friends thought it was a bit complicated. I was the idiot who did the summer reading, so it was all review. Yeah, just call me Hermione...

Well, I need to run off for lunch now. Then I have a class at two o'clock on microscope techniques. I'll let you guys know how that goes later. Hopefully we won't have a fire drill.
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Well, that was certainly interesting.

I stayed up until past two o'clock in the morning, because I'm dumb like that. But it was only seven o'clock on the evening for you guys, so it almost counts as me going to bed early. From your point of view, I went to bed early; that'll just have to be enough.

I woke up at seven, stared blankly at my alarm, turned it off, and dozed until seven thirty. My eyes would snap open and look at the clock every other minute, because I was afraid that I'd oversleep. So then I finally dragged myself out of bed, showered, dressed, and rushed across the city.

I didn't take time to stop for breakfast, since I was afraid that I'd be late, but I ended up being a good ten minutes early. At least I was able to get all the way there by myself. If I had gotten lost, I definitely would've been late. I hadn't really been paying much attention the last few times that I walked there with people, but I somehow got there fine by just following my gut instincts. I think that I have my lucky bracelet to thank for that.

Everyone has something lucky, I think. Mine is a bracelet. I got it a few summers ago, the last time that I was in Key West. It's a hemp cord with a blue yin-yang charm on it. And since it's from Key West, it's not just regular luck. It's desperate, gung-ho, flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, holy-crap-I-can't-believe-I-just-pulled-that-off luck. So you can see why I need it while I'm over here. I've been wearing it since I left home, and I've yet to be late (despite leaving extremely late a few times).

My first class started at nine this morning, in the Zoology and Experimental Psychology building. The class is "Cells and Genes", taught by Professor Ratcliffe. I love him. He said that since the class in so early in the morning, he would make sure to always start at four minutes after so that people can be a little late without panicking. He reminds me of a thin Remus Lupin, as played by David Thewlis. I'm not kidding. He's a biochemist, and he's awesome. We went over the basics of water today. (Yes, water is that important to life.) It was a lot easier than I expected, but that doesn't mean I'm going to let my guard down. It's only the first day, after all.

After class, they were selling lab coats and dissection kits, both of which are mandatory to have. My mom had already bought me a lab coat and had my name embroidered in red on it. Yeah, I'm spoiled. ^.^' So I bought my dissection kit. Holy crap and a half. This stuff is no joke. It's a seven piece set, including small scissors that say "eye scissors". According to my professors, we're all officially "biologists" now, and that's how they always refer to us.

I ran back to Hilda's for a bit, then came back for my noon class, "Organisms". It's taught by Professor Harvey, who's an absolute riot. He reminded me of a white-haired Gene Wilder. It was all easy, but extremely interesting. He talked a lot about the incredible book I read this summer, The Ancestor's Tale. I laughed a lot during that class.

Back to Hilda's again for lunch, then over Magdalen Bridge to the Botanic Garden field trip at two o'clock. It's the oldest botanical garden in Britain, and it contains some of the most endangered plants in the world. The guy who lead us around was hilarious in that straight-faced way that only British people can be. I'll have to give an example. We were standing near the front entrance, between two yew trees. I thought they were interesting because I haven't seen yew trees before, and Voldemort's wand is supposed to be made of yew, since it's wood is supposed to represent death. (Yes, I know; I'm a total geek.)

One of the trees had red berries, but the other was plain. So he was talking about how the garden was originally built to house medicinal plants for the teaching of young doctors, but that some of the people who studied there were experts. One of them, whose name I can't remember, was the first to actually look at the trees and realize that one was male and one was female. But the way that the guide explained it was more like, "So this chap looks at these two yew trees and says to himself, 'Well, bugger me, they're different!'" Little things like that crack me up.

So I had a lovely first day, and I'm already looking forward to tomorrow.



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May 2008

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