Miss Monica Jean

26 October 2014

Walking the Walks of Dreams

I had weaved so many dreams and spun so many fantasies before coming to London that I almost worried I had romanticised the city to a point where the real thing could never measure up. After today, I am surprised to say that our adventures have surpassed my most fanciful expectations. Living here is nothing short of extraordinary.

My flatmates and I planned to take out the Boris bikes and ride around this afternoon. We took the train to Waterloo, which was so nice. I absolutely love taking the train, especially coming from Barnes Station. It’s so great to sit by the window and observe the changing landscape, because you watch this primarily residential area slip out of view and you start to see the sprawling buildings of the city cutting the skyline as you get closer.

Waterloo Station

Whenever I leave a station, I always need to take a minute to adjust my perspective. It’s a bit disorienting at first. I don’t know if it’s because I feel so confined on the tube or if it has to do with how colossal the buildings are in the city, but whenever I step out of a station I feel so unspeakably small, like this infinitesimal speck being swept between giants of glass and steel.

Much to my excitement, we got to walk across Westminster bridge, something I’ve always wanted to do. It was so surreal because I used to have a poster in my room that captured the view walking across the bridge. Now, three years later I’ve actually done it. It’s so schmaltzy to say so, but I couldn’t even feel my feet on the ground, it was like I was floating or something. After three years of hard work, I’d practically transported myself into that moment in the poster, and I swear I felt as though the whole thing was one big miracle.

{walking the walks of dreams}

{westminster bridge}

{the clock tower}

We got the bikes and rode to Buckingham Palace. The sun was going in so everything was all lit up. It got dark so early today because we changed our clocks last night. I had been t Buckingham Palace the last time I was in London, about a year ago, and I couldn’t believe I was back. We sped in circles, weaving around pockets of tourists, ringing our bike bells at each other, and taking photos and videos on our phones. We rode up and down the long roads leading to the palace, the streetlamps glowing gold and the union jacks billowing in the wind.

Goodnight, Queenie

{october nights}

Once we had circled the palace several times, we decided to go over to Hyde Park and ride in the dark. It was a bit difficult to see because there weren’t many lights, but we had the flashing lights from our bikes to guide us. We went all over the park, around trees, through tunnels, along the waterfront. I’d love to go back sometime soon, maybe for a ride in the morning, so I can see what it looks like in the light. Also, I think the leaves will be changing over soon, and that will be beautiful to see.

{lonely swan}
{these trees reminded me of Sleepy Hollow}

After riding our bikes for nearly two hours, we deposited them and sat down on the fence, thinking about what we could do next. Then we realised, we could do anything, really. And after we said that out loud, we all just got so excited to be in London, to be with each other, to be out exploring. I was overwhelmed with gratitude.

We took the tube to Leicester Square Station and walked around Chinatown. It felt like it was so late at night, because it was so dark and everything was all lit up, but it was only like, six o’clock. We ended up eating at Nando’s, which was still an adventure for me because I’d never been.

Another crowded tube ride and a short bus ride later, and we were back at uni. After that, I spent a long time looking through my photos and videos from earlier on. I was happy with all the moments I’d captured and saved, but I couldn’t help wondering about the things I couldn’t photograph or film, moments missed in a flurry of excitement or blur of movement. I never want to forget anything about today.

Lots of Love,
Miss Monica Jean

16 October 2014

Presents in the Post

I try to stop by the mail room every day after lectures and seminars, just to make sure I’m not missing any important packages or envelopes. 

I often wish other students would check the mailboxes as frequently as I do, because it's getting to be such a mess in there. I sometimes worry that I've missed something of mine in the big piles.

Anyway, no matter what kind of day I'm having, it's always about a hundred times better if I find out that I have boxes from home.

When I first arrived at uni, I got a bunch of packages from my Mum. Some were filled with all the clothes and kitchenware that I’d been unable to fit in my suitcases on my way here. Others were direct orders from Amazon that Mum had put through for me. My favourite part was receiving familiar food, just little snacks and things that you couldn’t get in grocery stores here. I just got another package full of binders and tabbed dividers that I used in high school and can reuse now that I’m in uni. Now I don’t have to buy new supplies or anything.

I know how expensive it is to send these packages, I am always so excited and grateful when they arrive. 

The best part is seeing their careful handwriting on the box. It really makes them feel much closer than they are, and sometimes they even leave little notes inside like, "love you" or something.

The other day, I was lucky enough to get another box, this time from Nana and Papa Joe. They sent me my favourite cookies and candies, a cute little Halloween mug and saucer, and a gift card. She also included an easy recipe for her pasta sauce, because last week I was really missing it with the spaghetti and meatballs I’d made. (I think anyone can attest that if you grew up on homemade sauce, the store-bought stuff just won’t do.) 

It was such a nice surprise to get this big box in the mail. It completely made my day. I smile whenever I make a cup of tea and have some of the cookies that they sent me. 

It's almost transporting. If I close my eyes, I can picture myself in my Nana's kitchen with my brother and my cousins, the warm glow of the lights and the sun slipping away. We will play cards and maybe watch a movie later. Then we will go to sleep looking forward to a full breakfast in the morning with pancakes, eggs, fruit, coffee and tea. Things like this make me miss them a lot. I can't wait until I get to see them all again.

Lots of Love,
Miss Monica Jean

12 October 2014

Twelve Things I'm Missing About New England

London is lovely in the fall, but lately I've been yearning for the familiar.
Here are twelve things I'm missing about New England in these autumn months:

1.) Everyone actually being in agreement of the season’s name — it’s fall. (In England, it’s autumn. I am corrected often.)

2.) Apple Orchards — I wish I had spent more time at Honey Pot Hill. It was so pretty there in the fall, and it smelled of cider donuts, pumpkin spice, and bales of hay. You could get rides on tractors that would wind through the trees. If you wanted, you could get an old wooden ladder to use while you picked apples. If you could balance on the top rung, you would be able to see the golden sun above you and the whole orchard stretch out below you.

3.) Canning Season — Mum, Nana, and Auntie would make homemade applesauce, chicken soup, salsa, and chili and can them all in Mason jars for winter storage. They would last all year. The house was so warm when it was full of food and family, and it was always so cosy in our yellow country kitchen. (Sidenote: the kitchen is light green now, and it has all new furnishings. I miss the yellow walls and crackle-painted cabinets more than I thought I would.)

4.) My Favourite Road — There’s this road on Route 20 that we always used to take to get to Waltham. When Joe and I were little, Mum and Matt used to try to convince us that a hippo lived in the lake beneath the overpass. Finally, when I started driving, it became my favourite road. In the fall, the leaves would all change and it would look like you were driving right into an Impressionist painting.

5.) My Corona — When the weather got cool, I used to take my typewriter outside with me and sit under the trees and type away. I used to get so lost in my own head, I loved having an escape in my own backyard. My dad got me that typewriter, and of all the things I wish I could have brought with me to university, that's a big one. I miss it a lot, that machine is magic.

6.) Pillsbury Halloween Cookies — You can’t have a holiday without them. England seems to be doing fine without Pillsbury in general. (I, on the other hand, am missing it terribly.)

7.) Eloise — She may have been a Christmas kitty, but there’s something about a black cat peering out the window of an old white house that is just so fitting for October.

8.) The House — My used to put little broomsticks and pumpkins by the doors, and the black-iron lantern would swing when the wind picked up. The leaves would always sweep into our yard because of the breeze that carried up the hill. Everyone used to get so annoyed about it because of all the extra yard work, but I loved watching the leaves swirl and scatter.

9.) Yankee Candles: Autumn Wreath & Pumpkin Spice  October and November are nothing without the warm glow of those candles. Unfortunately, we can’t have candles in our building on campus, and I’ll admit that it feels nothing like home without them.

10.) The Chestnut Tree — There’s a very old tree in my grandparents’ front yard that drops chestnuts bigger than golf balls; you have to be careful where you walk because you could get knocked on the head, or turn an ankle on a chestnut concealed by the grass. It was always sort of nature's timeline that told us autumn was coming even before the calendar could. I think the tree is dying now, but I can still smell the chestnuts in the cold grass if I think back to it.

11.) Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City — When this album came out, Julia and I listened to it on repeat for the entire fall season. I started calling her “Hanna” because of the song “Hannah Hunt” and I don’t think I’ve called her Julia once since then. "Diane Young" was a song for jumping around in the leaves. "Hudson" was spooky and particularly eerie as it had the same name as our hometown. "Young Lion" reminded me of the lions at the library.

12.) Dozing Lions at the Library — They may be stuck in a perpetual slumber, but in the fall, their dreams and the dead leaves are whisked away by the wind.

I'll admit, it's especially hard to be away from home during my favourite season. 
As far as I'm concerned, autumn is all that matters in the long slump of the year. 
Halloween and Thanksgiving are my favourite holidays, 
and not being in Massachusetts, immersed in the blazing colours and richness of the season, 
well, it's proving to be more difficult than I expected.

Lots of Love,
Miss Monica Jean

10 October 2014

A Small Eternity in South Kensington

I love waking up on Friday mornings. They hold so much promise for the weekend ahead.

This morning I got up early and edited some assignments to be submitted online this afternoon. I had oatmeal pancakes and maple syrup for breakfast and got ready for my only lecture of the day. I made some hot chocolate, I’ve been bringing it to class so I can warm up after walking across campus to my lecture rooms. It’s not too cold yet, but there’s an autumn chill, and it’s nice to bring a treat to class.

After my lecture, I stopped at the bank and met up with my flatmates. We’d agreed to venture out into South Kensington today to check out the museums and get some lunch. I hadn’t been into Central London since I arrived here, so I’ve been dying to get out and do some exploring. I was particularly excited about South Kensington because that’s where I spent the most time when I was here a year ago, so it was kind of like returning to an old haunt, in a way.

The weather was perfect today: warm and sunny, with a slight breeze that was just chilly enough to cool you down when exiting the crowded underground stations. We walked to Barnes Station, about twelve minutes away, and took the train to Waterloo. I love taking trains, and I hadn’t been on one in so long. I’d forgotten how big Waterloo Station is. The first thing that I said when we hopped off the train was, “I’m suddenly feeling very small.” It’s not just Waterloo, Central London has that effect. It’s the same sort of sensation one gets when they look at the stars at night.

We switched onto the underground lines and made our way to South Kensington. Thank goodness my flatmate Alex knew how to navigate because Elise and I were so overwhelmed. I mean, we could have figured out where to go and what to do, but if we didn’t have Alex, we’d probably still be there figuring it out. Like any other metropolis, London isn’t exactly patient with new learners. It’s important to keep up the pace and learn as you go.

Once we arrived in South Kensington we started walking to the Victoria and Albert Museum just around the corner. We saw a telephone box, the first one since we arrived, and took some photographs by it. Generally, I don’t do that sort of thing, but I was glad they made me do it because it is a bit symbolic in a way. Though I will admit, I will always prefer candids to “posed pictures”. The timing was perfect because we got a double-decker and a black cab in the driving by in the background.

The museum was unbelievable. For one, the building itself was so impressive, just architecturally. I mean, we hadn’t even entered yet and we were already so in awe of it. We went inside and allowed ourselves to get lost. We tried navigating through the exhibits, but it was difficult not to get lost in the labyrinthine corridors and staircases. We saw sculptures, tapestries, paintings, photographs, costumes from theatre performances, some of the world’s oldest and most expensive jewellery, and classic pieces of fashion from all eras. You can walk into a place like that and learn anything you’d like, for free. We passed by people writing and sketching in the galleries. It’s all part of the experience. If I lived closer, I’d probably go to a museum every week. The next one I’d really like to go to is Tate Modern.

After the museum, we walked back towards the station because there were a bunch of little food shops. We settled on Pret a Manger, where I had the most delicious mozzarella-pesto toastie (AKA: grilled cheese). I just love the little food shops in London. Pret a Manger is pretty famous all over Europe, but we don’t have those sorts of shops in the US. Generally all take-out is fast-food and is therefore quite bad for you. Everything in these shops is made same-day and heated up for you on the spot. There’s free wi-fi everywhere, too. Such a plus, especially for the girl still struggling without a mobile phone plan (fingers crossed for next week).

As I mentioned before, I’m rather sick, so I wanted to get something warm to soothe my throat. We went next door to Starbucks and I got a little pumpkin spice latte, my first of this season. I see how they can be addictive. Just one today and I’m already thinking about where I can go to get another. Must be the combination of cream and pumpkin.

We decided to go to Harrods after lunch, so we circled back the way we came. On the way, we passed Muriel’s Kitchen, which is the cutest little tea and cake shop I’ve been to so far. I had gone there with my grandparents and my aunt when I was on a short vacation in London about a year ago. It was such a strange feeling to walk by Muriel’s again, like I was running into one of my old ghosts or something. If I had seen my former self and revealed that I would return to this spot again in one year’s time, but as a resident of London and official uni student, I don’t know if I would ever have believed it.

Harrods was exactly as I remembered it. Elise had never been, so we pointed out the distinctive gold and emerald awning out as we approached the building. We meandered throughout the store, up and down different floors, looking at this and that. Harrods is more of a symbol than a practical place to shop. You walk in and you’re just bombarded with this overwhelming sense of opulence. You can have anything at Harrods. You can walk out an entirely different person, if you please. It’s the epitome of luxury, and I think everyone could stand to be dazzled by a bit of gold and glitz every once in a while. I’d like to go back again when I get a chance, maybe for Christmas, so I can see the lights.

Around five or so we decided to head back home. The ride home was much more hectic because it was rush hour and everyone was getting out of work. It’s that unfortunate timing when you jump on the tube and you realise there’s hardly any space for your handbag, let alone a place to put your hands to steady yourself as the train jolts to a start. It got very hot very quickly, and it was a bit confining. I’m always amazed at how quiet it is on the tube. Everyone’s pretty courteous, no one tends to break the silence. Even walking between platforms and changing lines, you’re in a crowd of people but really the only noises you can hear are the shuffling of shoes and the grinding of escalators. The Underground is such an bewildering place. It can come off as being a bit cold and mechanical, like a machine, with all the people as the moving parts. But then you hear a child laughing somewhere or someone playing smooth jazz and you remember that there is so much above you.

We made it home before it got too chilly or too dark. Today was one of the best days I’ve ever had. I missed Central London so much. We were only gone for a few hours, but it felt like a small eternity. The more I go out and about, the more I feel that this is the place I am supposed to be. Ever since I arrived, I’ve had this longing to go out and get to know the city, and today I finally got that chance. I’m becoming more comfortable getting around. There’s just so much to do and see, there’s always something going on. The idea that I could wake up tomorrow and decide to go anywhere or see anything is just too much for me, I can’t wait.

Lots of Love,
Miss Monica Jean

8 October 2014

An Average and Altogether Uneventful Day Off

Sometimes I look back at my schedule in high school and wonder how I did it. Waking up early in the morning, sitting through eight hours of school, then going off to a part-time job; finally getting home, only to sit down and do hours of homework after that. I was lucky I didn't know any better because if I knew how gruelling that schedule was, I don't know how I would have been able to carry on with it. I think those were probably the worst four years of my life, I just never knew any different.

Boy, when people say things get better, I mean, they really get better.

I love my schedule at uni because I have one long day Monday when I get all my assignments for the week. That way I can work on them a little bit everyday. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday I only have an hour or two of classes, and I get a nice break in the middle of the week because I have Wednesdays off.

As such, Wednesday is generally shopping day, so today I took the 265 to ASDA because my cabinets were getting sparse. I swear, I spend all of my money on food. I mean, it's not as if I have anything else to buy, I just never realised how expensive it is just to feed yourself for a week. I'm lucky because I don't have to pay any bills or anything (aside from my cell phone) because everything is included in my accommodation fee. If I were living off-campus, I can only imagine how costly that would be.

After ASDA, I came home and mixed some spaghetti, chicken, asparagus, and broccoli together and topped it with mozzarella. Mum sent me some of the seasoning she always uses to cook with at home, so when I made my chicken, it tasted just like hers. That brought me a strange sort of peace.

I settled down on the couch and watched American Horror Story on Netflix. I just started watching the show because it's now October and I'm really getting into the spirit of it. I love Halloween and all sorts of creepy things. There's a gothic exhibition in the British Library that I would love to get to, it's open until January. And there's this other exhibition called Tales from the Autumn House that has all sorts of autumnal art and music and whatnot. Sadly, that closed on the second of October, so I've missed it. But there's just so much to see and do in London, I can't wait until I can go out and explore. It seems like we have a plan forming to get a group to venture out to South Kensington on Friday, so I'm going to keep my fingers crossed for that.

But for now, I'm content with cool rainy days and staying warm in the flat. Especially as I'm getting a nasty cold. Lots of medicine for me!

Lots of Love,
Miss Monica Jean

5 October 2014

Lazy Weekend

It’s been a lazy weekend here at uni. Here’s how we’ve spent our last few days. 

This morning I woke up as the clouds were rolling in. It was the first rainy day since I’ve come to London. I would have loved to go to the museums, but my friends weren’t feeling up for it, and since I still don’t have a cell phone, I didn’t feel fully comfortable venturing out on my own. The last time I was brave enough to do that, I was lost for about four hours, so that was a bit discouraging. I’ll get the hang of it all soon enough, though. Hopefully, I’ll have a phone and debit card by next week. 

A few of my flatmates and I have been sitting here in our living room, making cups of tea and watching television for most of the day. It’s cloudy outside, so it’s dark in here, like a little movie theatre. We’ve all been hiding behind our laptops with headphones in, and every once in a while, one of us would exclaim over an unexpected plot twist. Three of my flatmates are completely obsessed with Homeland at the moment, and that’s been keeping them on the edge of their seats for days.

I, on the other hand, am having a particularly hard time finding a new television series to get into, so I tend to gravitate more towards films instead. I don’t watch many modern films, though. I’m not sure if I’m just looking at the wrong genres or the wrong directors, but I just find it very difficult to find a movie that’s well-written, well-casted, and creatively filmed. I have a thing for film noir I can’t really shake. The scripts are smarter, the filming is more precise, and the music rings with nostalgia. New films can’t seem to measure up. I just feel that things are overdone in modern films, it’s the subtleties in old movies that lend them their charm.  

Today I decided to revisit an old favourite — my all-time favourite, actually: Pickup on South Street. I was first introduced to this movie in my Cold War Era & Film class in my senior year of high school. It’s a Cold War spy film noir directed by Samuel Fuller, released in 1952. If you haven’t seen it and you’re looking for a good rainy-day film, this is a classic.

Around ten o’clock, the guys and I decided to go for a night-walk in Richmond Park. It’s about ten minutes’ walk from uni and it was chilly and cool. You could definitely feel autumn in the air. We shuffled our boots through dead leaves and passed by stone walls covered in English ivy. We passed through this black iron gate and lit the path of the paved road with our little flashlight. The boys were trying to find some deer, but I just wanted to see the park because I heard it was extraordinary. 

The fog was unbelievable, it turned everything this sparkling grey-blue colour. It was dark and eerie, I couldn’t believe how bright the stars were. I heard that you can‘t see the stars at nighttime in the city, but the sky was as clear as it was at home. The moon was luminous, and there were these two rings around it, one blue and one red. I was so curious about those, the guys said it had to do with the pollution in the city. It makes sense, but there’s also this phenomenon called lunar halos, and they occur when moonlight is refracted through ice particles in the Earth’s atmosphere. Either way, it looked like magic. We trudged through tall grasses and eventually found a small family of deer. The boys satisfied, we turned around and made our way back home, they passed around the flashlight and pretended to be soldiers from Call of Duty.

When we got home, we made tea to warm up and hung out in the living room. We shut out all the lights and told ghost stories. I guess October is kind of getting to us. 

This morning I slept in because it was nice and quiet. I went for a run around eleven this morning, I cut through campus and into the main street. There are always quite a few runners on the main roads on the weekend, so it was nice to see so many people out and about. After that I did some pilates and watched the news.

When I went into the kitchen to make lunch, I saw that the guys were streaming the football game on their laptop. I had never seen a full match before, so I was intrigued. We watched the Manchester United v. Everton game and then followed up with Chelsea v. Arsenal. I’m not even into sports that much but I was really getting into it for some reason. There’s such a high energy involved, they’re always moving. In baseball and stuff, there are these long pauses where not much is going on, and it tends to drag the game out. But in football, they never stop. I was impressed by the whole thing, really. The announcers were good as well, very articulate and well-spoken. And there were no commercials at all. That would be unheard of on American television. It was a nice way to spend the afternoon, I think I’ll watch the next game when it’s on. 

After that I took some notes from my last lecture and fell asleep on the couch. Then I made spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. Compared to the way my mum and nana make them at home, they were abysmal, but I’d done a fairly good job of it. I’m still learning to cook, to be honest. I’m good at baking things, but you can’t live off of sweets. My mum’s right, it’s deciding what to cook that’s half the battle.

I haven’t done much schoolwork this weekend, I’ve mostly just been trying to recharge. But I think tonight I’ll work on some of my assignments for next week. I’m trying to start them early because they’re rather challenging and I want to give myself plenty of time to figure them out and edit them before submission.

Lots of Love,
Miss Monica Jean