Saturday, April 30, 2011

Playing Blog Catch-up

Dear Blog,

Forgive me, for I have not posted. For the first time since I started using you, I feel that I have let you down. Two full days have passed, and I have not posted. What I planned not to have happen has happened - my life became hectic, and my blogging crumbled.

End crying over spilled milk. The past three days have been quite good, if busy. The main events have been getting acquainted with our colleges, having my first tutorial, and the Royal Wedding(!). The past couple days also featured some fun nights out with Stanford friends at Oxford pubs.

On Wednesday, we all got tours at our colleges. Each college has its own land, buildings, history, and feel. I belong to Corpus Christi College, known as one of the smaller colleges. The college has maybe three hundred students at it at any given time. I will go there for my meals during the week, and I now have access to their library, grounds, common room, and student activities. I've eaten there a couple times now. I'm not impressed yet, but I still have hope. I've made a few friends at the college. The students there, like people most places, seem very friendly when they are approached, but are not too interested in coming to meet us. Here is a picture I took of the iconic pelican monument in the Corpus Christi courtyard.

My first tutorial went surprisingly well. The thought of meeting with an Oxford Lecturer for an hour, where he could openly critique anything I thought or said seemed very daunting. Our first tutorial covered the Hydrogen atom and other two-body, Hydrogen-like systems. A lot of the main concepts were a review for me, but we also went into them with more detail than I had before. I actually learned quite a lot. As for the tutorial itself, my tutor, Dr. Christopher Palmer, was much better than my worst fears but was not anything super special either. He didn't intimidate me the way some Stanford physics professors can. The main thing, though, was that he spent almost two hours with me and my work, which is more than I can say about the entire Stanford Physics faculty combined over almost three years (minus Rick Pam, but I don't think he is faculty). Through the whole thing, I actually felt really good. I knew all my stuff. I spent a lot of time on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday working through the problems he assigned, and I answered almost everything he asked me.

The Royal Wedding of Prince William and Duchess Kate Middleton was a big event all over the world, but especially here in England. Friday was declared a public holiday for the event. Some friends braved the crowds and traveled into London just to catch a glimpse of the couple in the flesh. I was a bit lamer and stayed in Oxford, where it was a slightly less frenzied celebration. Corpus Christi had a showing of the whole event on a projector in their auditorium. Halfway through the ceremony, the auditorium was packed. Some highlights of the event were watching the looks and smiles William kept giving Kate, Harry's saunter and uncombed hair, the ridiculous hats worn by all the guests in attendance, and the spectacular shots of Westminster Abbey from the ceiling.

Following the royal wedding ceremony, Corpus Christi had its own wedding ceremony - to celebrate the holy matrimony of Foxe and Odham, the College's two cherished tortoises. They are both male, but that's fine here. A bunch of the college showed up for the event. There was an abbreviated ceremony that included recitation of a poem written specially for the event. Here are some photos:

 Sign at the front of Corpus Christi: Kate + Will 4 EVA

"By the power vested in me by the JCR [Junior Common Room], I pronounce you tortoise and tortoise."

If you can't tell, they're holding the tortoises next to each other.

This is the "official" poet laureate of Corpus Christi. I'm not sure if that is a real position.

The nights before and after the royal wedding were good nights to be out in the English pubs. I went out with Stanford friends both nights. At a pub Thursday night, someone at a nearby table had a birthday, and everyone around him sang "Happy Birthday" to him. We decided that, at the next pub we went to, it would be one of our birthdays. Somehow, I got suggested to be the birthday boy. At the next pub, indeed, everyone sang to me just the same. One guy even gave me a flute of champagne.

I kind of felt bad, but not really. I think it's actually less embarrassing to have a fake birthday than a real one. On my real birthday, there's always a feeling of "Aw shucks. All this for me? You really shouldn't have..." On my fake birthday it was more like, "You all think this is hilarious. I don't feel bad about you doing me any obligatory favors, so, if it makes you all laugh, keep it coming." The rest of the night was all really fun. I felt like I got a lot closer to everyone who went out that night.

Friday night was also pretty fun, but not quite as much as Thursday. I think the group was just too big for a while and then it broke into a bunch of groups. I was also kind of tired, so I left a bunch of people at a pub to walk home.

Tomorrow is another really big day - May Day. So, I'll leave it here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

First day using the Radcliffe Science Library and Dessert

Yesterday, the main things I did were read for History of London (see previous post) and work on my Atomic Physics problem set.

For lunch, I went with Victor, Molly, and Heidi to Taylor's, and I decided that it is far inferior to Olive's down the street.

After History of London got out, I began working on physics. At a certain point, I decided I needed some textbooks from the library. The walk to the Radcliffe Science Library is probably 10 or 15 minutes, not horrible but still inconvenient. The nice part about the walk is that it winds its way through some of the oldest, coolest parts of Oxford. For part of the way, the streets are lined with high brick walls separating the colleges from the town. It also goes past the Radcliffe Camera and the Pitt-Rivers Museum. The library itself is also a sight to see. I'll take a picture of it later.

The inconvenient thing about the big libraries here, like the Bodleian and the Radcliffe, is that they don't loan out their books. I can only read the books inside the library. To compound that, the libraries close in the evenings. Yesterday, they kicked me out at 6:50! That's a lot earlier than I'm used to at Stanford, where Green is open until 1 am. Even some of the smaller libraries are open until 9 or 10. I'll stop whining.

I got back for dinner, where Lisa and Lily cooked a beautiful, tasty dinner for Victor, Heming, and me. They made us breaded cod with a mushroom, onion, and apple cream sauce, topped with some sort of fried fish cake (not really sure), and a side of steamed asparagus. It was really good.

Soon after that, most of the house went up to Shannon and Chelsea's room for a pot luck dessert. I didn't contribute anything, but I figured it was fine. The people who did brought tons of dessert. My favorite deserts were probably the rich chocolate pudding thing that Elizabeth and Maricarmen made and the Nutella cookie/cake/pie/brownie things. I'm not sure who made those. Shannon also invited over a bunch of her British Oxford friends for us to meet. I met David and Greg (?). David was a second year physics student at Corpus Christi and a very nice guy, so I may be seeing him again soon.

I left the party to battle Kelly in Peep Wars. The way Peep Wars goes is, both Kelly and I had a peep, bird-shaped marshmallows dyed blue and covered in blue sprinkles with little black dots for eyes. We put them both facing towards each other on a plate, stuck a lance into each of them (usually you use tooth picks, but we used pieces of spaghetti). The lances pointed towards the other peep, as if they were jousting. Then we put the plate in the microwave. We turned it on for about 30 seconds. The peeps ballooned up. The first peep to touch the other with its lance won. And my peep won!!!

That is all.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hearing, Reading, Running, Cooking, Sleeping

I don't have too many good stories from yesterday. I woke up yesterday having trouble hearing in my left ear. I assumed it was some sort of a wax blockage, so I got some ear drops from Boots. Long story short, those didn't help. I think I may have some sort of "eustachian tube malfunction." It seems to have gotten better, but hearing still comes and goes. If it continues to be a problem, I will have to see a doctor, I suppose.

I had a bunch of reading to do for my History of London class. That ended taking me pretty much all day to do, since I'm a slow, sometimes unfocused reader. The four chapters I had to read for today's lecture covered London from about 55 BC to roughly the 17th Century. I selected some of my favorite quotes from the first four chapters of London: A Social History for the readers of this blog.

My personal favorite, selected from the Introduction:
There are countless books on London's history. Is another needed? I believe so. (p. 11)

An amusing description of London in the year 982:
"the only pests of London," wrote a Norman chronicler, "are the immoderate drinking of fools and the frequency of fires." (p. 26) 
How much has that changed, I wonder?

Nevertheless, London eventually became a global center for trading and commerce. By the 17th Century it had become among the biggest and most important cities in Europe.
"A man would say, that seeth the shipping there," boasted William Camden of the Pool of London in 1586, "that it is, as it were, a very wood of trees disbranched to make glades and let in light, so shaded it is with masts and sails." (p. 59)
 Still, it had a long way to go to get to where it is today. Tudor London, late 15th Century to early 17th Century, saw the state seizure, repurposing, and sale of church-held lands as well as the spread of schooling to more of the commoners.
Thanks to parochial bequests, St Olave's had acquired its own school, 'to teche the cheldarne of the sayd parryshe to wrete and rede and caste accoumptes'. (Was spelling on the curriculum?) [The previous comment was the author's.] (p. 65)
Again, a gratuitous, snarky comment from the author. Also, he's right - it's pretty amusing.

Later that day, I went for a run. I did a big loop around all of Christ Church Meadows and along the river (Thames? Isis? still not sure).

For dinner, Victor and I had an adventure cooking a Japanese curry dish. It was a sort of curry stew with chicken, carrots, potatoes, celery, onions, and lettuce. Every step of the way, we sort of winged it, and we ended up cooking way too much of it. We filled a pot and a big frying pan full of the curry stew. Serendipitously, Lisa and Lily were hungry, so they helped us eat it. We served it up with some rice. The whole thing miraculously came out really good, and it was the perfect amount for the four of us. They agreed to make today's dinner for us in exchange. I am so mad I did not get photo documentation of this, but I did not plan for it to be as epic as it turned out to be.

I spent the rest of the night trying to read. The material was a bit dull, which made it hard to focus, but I made it through some of the book. I even focused when a very bored Merissa came in and demanded cuddling from me. I managed to more or less focus on my reading while she just cuddled me. To her chagrin, it was sort of a one-way cuddle, and eventually she gave up and left.

I continued trying to focus on my reading. And then Victor woke me up. I had passed out on my bed for two hours. I brushed my teeth, changed out of my day clothes, and passed out again.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Starting to Work Again and a Fire Alarm

Easter Sunday!

I actually started working again for more or less the first time since finals last quarter at Stanford. I have four chapters of reading due on Tuesday for History of London and a problem set due for my atomic physics tutorial on Thursday. I was surprised to find a very useful copy of Shankar's Principles of Quantum Mechanics in our little library downstairs.

While I was working, around noon, the fire alarm went off. A safe, but annoying, feature of our house is that the smoke detectors set off a fire alarm that calls the fire department. So more than 30 of us were stuck outside while the fire department came and inspected the whole house. They wouldn't let us back in until they figured out what caused the alarm. Since nobody admitted to cooking anything in the second floor kitchen or burning paper in the library, we sat in the courtyard outside for probably more than an hour.

Eventually, Mori, Lynette, Libby, and I gave up waiting in the courtyard and went out for lunch. We got some sandwiches and took them to Christ Church meadows. We weren't supposed to be there, though, so a lady came and shooed us off.

The rest of the day I spent working, eating, chatting, and watching The Hangover.

That's all.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Punting, Some Jazz, and Football

In the morning, a group of us, almost the same group as went to tea a couple days ago, went punting on the river (the Thames, I think). Punting is similar, I imagine, to riding on one of those Venetian gondolas. It was another gorgeous day, worthy of California, even.

In the other boat were Molly, Maricarmen, and Victor.

And Elizabeth was punting.

That's Me and Nina.

Also in our boat were Shannon and Heidi. Heidi is ducking oncoming branches like a pro.

Ducklings! and their mother.

In the afternoon, a lot of us went to see Professor Applebaum talk and perform at the Oxford Jazz Festival. He gave a sort of introductory lecture on what jazz improvisation is and how improvisors think about it. It ended up being a bit boring for me, since I used to play a lot of jazz back in the day. It was nice listening to him play, anyway.

Around 4:30, probably close to 20 of us got together for a game of football (by which, of course, I mean soccer) out on the scenic Christ Church Meadows. I think everyone had a lot of fun, so I'm hoping we do it again soon.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Beautiful Day with Tea and Shabbat

The weather yesterday made me think I might never have left Stanford, it was so sunny and warm. It made it a great day for lounging outside in our courtyard with Nina, Merissa, Heidi, and Elizabeth while reading about the social history of London. 

A bunch of us went down the street to "The Rose" for afternoon high tea. 

From right to left: Shannon, Nina, Molly, Heidi, Victor (my roommate), Elizabeth

Later in the day, I took a nap that ended up lasting a couple hours too many. Oh well. I got up in time to go to Rabbi Daniel's house for Shabbat dinner. I recognized a couple other guests from Passover, but there were a bunch of new people this time. The dinner was really nice, but the Rabbi seemed a bit under the weather, so we all left relatively early.

Three of the guys, Craig, Danny, and Dave, were all Americans from Brandeis and Brown. After dinner was over, they invited me to join them and their British friend Henry at a pub, so I did. As it turned out, Henry was a real Oxford student studying physics. He even knew my tutor, Christopher Palmer, and really likes him (Good news!). The bar we went to, Wetherspoons or Four Candles I think, seemed decent. I was surprised at how much cheaper it was than the US. Anyway, we had a good time. They invited me to go to a club afterwards, but I declined. Maybe another night.

That is all.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Bodleian, Pasties, Class, Moo-Moo's, Crepes, and Harry Potter

Yesterday was another string of fun times.

We had to be out of the House at 9:15 to go to our Bodleian Library Orientation. The Library itself is cool, but the orientation was one of the more boring things I have sat through recently. The only good part about it was that who should I find assisting our guide to the Bodleian, but Jodie from my Air Canada flight! After filling out some paperwork and pledging an oath, we got our Bodleian Library access cards. The first thing some of us did was go to the Radcliffe Camera. At first, it was kind of underwhelming. The ground floor was just a round study space with a few books on the walls, and it wasn't very big either. However, the second and third levels up were much fancier and more impressive. There is pretty great view from the third level windows. The whole place was filled with people studying, so we didn't stay long.

Later, Noura suggested that we go get Cornish Pasties for lunch. (I didn't know what these were either.) (Funny story - Noura knows a lot about cool places to go in Oxford because, in high school, Noura went on a summer program called "Oxbridge Academic Program" in Oxford. I really really wanted to go on the program to Cambridge, where they teach an international espionage course after my sophomore year of high school. Long story short, I didn't get the scholarship and couldn't go.) So, a bunch of us - Noura, Morvarid, Merissa, Chase, Heidi, and I - went to get our pasties on Cornmarket Street. I would describe pasties as very similar to calzones, but with flakier bread. I got a chicken and mushroom pasty. The inside was a kind of warm, stewy mush of chicken chunks and mushroom sauce. It was delicious.

I also had my first class today - History of London. We went over the main structure of the course. Then our professor proceeded to summarise British history as it is relevant to the city of London from the beginning of Roman interaction in 55 BC to the growth of feudalism and guilds up to around 1300 AD. It was really fascinating stuff, and I really like the professor so far.

After class, another even bigger group went to go get smoothies and milkshakes at the famed Moo-Moo's over in the covered market (next to Ben's Cookies). I had a delicious milkshake with ground up Ferrero-Rocher truffles in it.

At some point, someone in that group came up with the idea of making crepes for dinner. It was a brilliant idea, so a bunch of us decided on it. We bought the stuff we needed and brought it back to the Stanford House. The hitch was that none of us knew how to make crepes. It took a while, but we figured it out with some help from the internet. We made savoury crepes with tomato, mushroom, spinach, basil, four cheeses, and sautéed chicken. Once we figured them out, they were really good. Special props to Lisa for working the griddle so masterfully and feeding around ten of us. Afterwards, we also made crepes for desert. We had nutella, nutellla and banana, apple and nutella, and apple and honey. So so so good.

The night ended with Harry Potter. About half of the Stanford House joined together to watch Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (yes, the British version), but with a college twist. Some people made a list of 10 or 15 things that happen throughout the movie, and we drank every time they happened. For example, we drank when Ron looked scared or when Hermione huffed. It made for a good night.

And that is all. I will post more pictures when I have them.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cookie for Lunch; French Cuisine for Dinner

Cookie for Lunch

I kept meaning to make myself a real lunch. However, when Noura and Shannon were going to get Ben's Cookies at around 3 in the afternoon, I had to tag along even though I hadn't eaten lunch.

I have been hearing about Ben's Cookies for the past several months. This place is just really famous for having the best cookies, or so I have been told. So, I had to tag along for the cookies. We walked down to the Covered Market on High Street, where there are all sorts of shops selling different things (the royal wedding cake photo was taken there). Shannon and I both got Triple Chocolate cookies - chocolate dough, chocolate chips, and white chocolate disks on top. They were almost fresh out of the oven, so they were really just half cookie and half goo. They were so good. The chocolate chips were not even chips, unless chips can be a liquid.

The cookie was absolutely delicious, and did not disappoint. I will say, though, that they had been hyped up so much, and I am not sure that they are truly the best cookies I have ever had. I will have to go back again to see if they are.

We continued walking around downtown. We stopped in the famous Blackwell's Books to look for materials for our courses. The store looks quite modest from the outside but is actually an enormous building that extends way behind the store front and into a giant basement. I have been told that it used to be the largest bookstore in the world. Maybe it still is; I don't know. Anyway, it was very cool to visit. I expect I will be back again when I have a better idea of what I will need for my classes.

French Cuisine for Dinner

Later that day, everyone from the Stanford program got to go out to dinner at the Brasserie Blanc.

Quick, funny story - The previous night, when I was walking back to the Stanford house, accompanied by Elisabet, the Danish lady at the seder, we passed this restaurant on Walton Street. She pointed it out and told me that they served very good food. That was the only restaurant she pointed out on the whole walk. The next morning I found an email from Stephanie Williams saying that we were going there for dinner that evening.

The food at the dinner was excellent - avocado salad, beef stroganoff, sticky toffee pudding with ice cream, and nice French wine. The conversation was also excellent. I sat across from Stephanie Williams, the administrator of the Stanford program at Oxford and probably one of the most stereotypically British people I have met so far. She talked a lot about England, wine, and British accents. Next to us were also Yordanos, Tara, and Lily. I got to know them all much better as well.

Overall, I am just loving all the people I have met on the program. They are wonderful and a lot of fun to be around. I'm sure there will be more on them later.

That is all.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

First Day at Oxford

Yesterday was a very long, packed day.

For me, the day started at 3 am, when I woke up. I lay in bed until 4 am, at which point I gave up trying to fall back asleep. Instead, I finished writing the previous two posts and dealt with other things on the internet. At around 7 am, I went out for a walk around the neighborhood, taking pictures along the way.

The photo of the college with the green is Christ College, if I remember correctly. The last one is of punts on the river (the Thames I think) flowing underneath Magdalen Bridge. 

Later in the day, we had a series of logistical orientation meetings dealing with academics and living in the Stanford House. It is still unclear as to which classes I will be taking, since the two I signed up for, History and Architecture of Oxford and History of London, are both over-enrolled. I am guaranteed to get at least one, probably History of London. I am also definitely in my tutorial, Atomic Physics. I already have my first assignment. It looks daunting, but I have not started it yet. 

Later in the afternoon, we went on a guided tour of the area around the Stanford House. 

This is in the quadrangle of Corpus Christi, the college I will be going to for meals and socializing.

This is a decorative cake, illustrating the royal wedding. It may be hard to see, but Prince William is on the floor next to Kate with a bottle of champagne. Everyone else is also doing ridiculous things. 

This is the quadrangle, I think, of Wodham College.

Above is the Radcliffe Camera, which houses part of the Bodleian Library and is possibly the most iconic building in Oxford. 

After the tour, I did some shopping with other people for the program. They all had to get stuff for the potluck dinner I was (sadly) missing for my Passover seder.

Since the seder wasn't starting until 8:30, I meant to at least hang out at the potluck, even if I wasn't eating, but I slept straight through it. Again, Victor saved me by waking me up around 8 pm. I had set an alarm, but it didn't wake me. All the other guys went to a pub, but I took a long walk out to Rabbi Daniel's house for the seder. 

The seder was wonderful. There were a dozen or so people there, the majority of whom I think were graduate students. It was a pretty traditional Passover seder and had a lot of great discussion. I really liked the people I met there, so I hope to see them again at Shabbats or other events in the Jewish community. The seder went until 1:30 in the morning, and I didn't get back to the Stanford House until after 2. And then I went almost straight to sleep. 

Edden's Bar Mitzvah

Yesterday was an awesome day. I had a great time, but I think nobody had a better time than Edden at his Bar Mitzvah. 

In the morning, we woke up and went over to the synagogue for the Shabbat service. Before Edden started leading the service, the Rabbi said a few words, and then Abba gave Edden his tallit. (For those who don't know what a tallit is, it's probably easiest to describe this as a ritual garment that adults wear and let you look it up on Wikipedia for the full story.) The tallit was a beautiful white and light blue tallit that my dad picked up in Israel the last time he was there. Along with the presentation of the tallit, my dad gave his first speech to Edden, telling Edden about the meaning of the tallit. As my dad's speeches often are, it was quite long and a bit hard to follow. 

However, having been in Edden's position before, I think this was a case where the words were not that important, but it really was the thought that counted. Those of you know my dad know that English, particularly writing and reading in English, can be quite difficult for him. Most of the content of the speech was not that unique; Edden could have read many of the things that my dad told him about Jewish tradition and the tallit online or in a book. It just meant much more coming from our dad. Having been at home for the past week more than anyone else, I can attest at the immense amount of time and effort that he put into writing his speeches. They were real labors of love, and I think Edden saw that. 

As with the whole ceremony, my dad stressed the importance of becoming a part of the Jewish community. He told Edden how tallit means, literally, "little tent" in Hebrew and how it will be a kind of symbolic shelter or dwelling for him throughout his life. He stressed how our Jewish community also was shelter for him, and how every Jewish community and synagogue can be his shelter as well. 

After Edden put on his new tallit, he went on to lead most of the Shacharit service, and he was truly impressive. He led with a great amount of confidence, skill, and poise. If I didn't know otherwise, I would have thought he had done it at least a half dozen times before. The whole thing went by quickly and very smoothly. Before I knew it, we were at the Torah service.

Elliane and I said the seventh aliyah together, and then I read the seventh portion. It was a little rough for me, since I haven't chanted Torah with trope in years. I probably should have spent more than a few hours preparing. While I was practicing, I was getting the trope pretty well, but, when I got up on the bimah, stage fright shook up my memory a bit. I pushed through my seven verses and it was fine. 

Edden was up next for the maftir aliyah and reading. He had no problem at all with his Torah reading; he sounded pretty pro. After the Torah reading, he went on to his Haftarah (Prophetic writings) reading. To his misforture (or fortune, if you think reading Haftarah is fun), this week had a super long Haftarah portion. Again, he had no problem at all. Even while everyone was moving around, readying their candies, he kept going unfazed. And, after he finished the Haftarah, we all threw the candy at him - a tradition meant to symbolize showering him with blessings for a sweet life. 

I may have the order all wrong, but I think it was after this that the next round, the long round, of speeches came. Rabbi Ted gave Edden a speech, mostly about growing up and the responsibilities and privileges of being an adult in the Jewish tradition. My dad gave another speech pretty similar to his last one. This one, though, focused a bit more on how Edden has really grown up and how proud he and my mother are of him. (My mother doesn't do as much speaking I think because she's never liked public speaking.) The best part, though, was probably when my dad told Edden about his bris, when Edden peed on the moil's face. It may or may not have been appropriate for the service, but it was definitely hilarious to hear in that context. My dad told him about how the moil said that Edden was going to have a strong character (or something like that), but I don't think anyone heard that. No one had gotten over the hilarity of my dad just telling everyone about Edden peeing on the moil. 

Then there were more presentations by the synagogue and sisterhood presidents. 

After everyone else had spoken, Edden gave his D'var Torah, an interpretation/analysis/commentary on the week's Torah portion. The portion, Acharei Mot, included God giving the Hebrews a series of directions and laws on how to live and involved ideas of sin and atonement that Edden wanted to talk about. Because this portion calls for a day of atonement, Edden asked the question, paraphrased, "Why do we need a Day of Atonement, and why is there only one?" He wondered why, if atonement for our sins is necessary, why it should happen on a single, set day instead of on any and every day. I thought it was a really mature, relevant question to ask. The way he said he understood and accepted Yom Kippur is by relating it to Mother's Day. He made the point that, just because there is single day when we are called upon to appreciate our mothers does not mean that we should not also appreciate them throughout the year. 

He also asked the question, "Why are there written laws, and why does God punish people for breaking them?" To understand this, he thought about the Noah story, where God got mad and destroyed all of humanity because everyone was acting so immorally. Edden said that, by doling out punishments and requiring fasting on Yom Kippur, God really was just softening his fist. To Edden, it was as if God understood that humans would never do exactly what he wanted them to do if left on their own. Rather, we need written laws to follow to keep us on track. Also, we need those small punishments and opportunities to atone for our transgressions. They are much better a flood to wipe out humanity and show a much more understanding, forgiving God than Noah's God. 

He brought in other examples from his life to help him understand these challenging questions. While he didn't fully answer his own questions, he ended his d'var by recognizing that he would continue thinking about these questions for years to come. I was proud of him for taking on such serious, thought-provoking questions even while he knew full well that he wasn't going to be able to answer them satisfactorily. I thought he did a good job balancing addressing these questions and not trying overly hard to come up with any concrete answers. 

Anyway, the service went on, and Edden did a great job through to the end. Everyone there congratulated him and told him what a great job he did. The kiddush was very nice as well. Edden had to leave part way through his own kiddush to go play percussion in the junior high marching band for the Butter and Egg Days parade downtown.  He switched off between snare and crash cymbals. 

When the kiddush was over, we all had some free time before the party started at 6 that evening. We spent it talking at home and then bringing some food and drinks over to the Women's Club for the party. 

Unlike Elliane's and my bar mitzvahs, Edden's was much more focussed on him and his friends. Mine was at our house and featured some speeches by my parents, grandparents, and uncle. Also, I had a small performance where my band teacher, Mr. Bailey, played piano while I played saxophone. 

Elliane's was at a rented hall up in Rohnert Park. She had a catered dinner and a DJ. Hers, like mine, had many more adults than kids, and was very similar to mine in that respect. 

Edden's, however, was pretty different. He also had a rented hall, the Women's Club, and a DJ, the same as Elliane had. The big difference was that there must have been 20 or 30 junior high friends of his and significantly fewer adults. Neither me nor Elliane had such a large friend group at the end of 7th grade. At Elliane's, everyone was dancing and celebrating, but at Edden's I think almost all the adults were scared off of the dance floor by the kids. It was probably one of the social events of the year for his friend group. They danced for hours to Edden's choice of top 40 and classic rock and dance hits. And Edden clearly loved being the center of attention and the life of the party. 

One of the funniest things to watch was when they did the line dances they learn in 7th grade PE. Edden must have picked more than half the dances from PE class to do at his bar mitzvah, and they all had a great time doing them. 

During the party, Elliane and I also put together a sort of roast for Edden. We got up with the microphone and started by giving a pretty serious speech about how proud we were of him today. We then moved to start telling everyone at the party all the most embarrassing stories we could remember from Edden's life. We had spent a few hours brainstorming the list of stories, and ended up just putting it all together in a mostly improvised way. We already embarrassed Edden enough, so I won't publish all the stories online. Most kids Edden's age would not have taken it as well as he did. He stood up there next to us while we roasted him, and he took it all in stride. Even though we told all his most embarrassing stories in front of all his closest friends, he was smiling and laughing for the most part. It just goes to show that he really is a tough and happy person. But we knew that already, which is why we roasted him. And everyone seemed to love it. Also, we ended it on a more serious note, again telling him how proud we were of him and how much we loved him. 

The party ended eventually, with most of the adults beating the kids out the door. Some of Edden's friends stayed there to the very end, even after the DJ turned off the music and we started cleaning up. 

Anyway, that was a great day and one that I am sure Edden will remember as one of the best days in his life so far. 

Getting to Oxford

Getting to Oxford

My trip to Oxford started with leaving my house at around 4:10 on Sunday morning. I just stayed awake until then. I said goodby to my mom, and my dad drove me over to the airporter. We said goodbye and I was off. 

The first flight was at 8 - San Francisco to Toronto. I slept more than half the way there. I chilled at the Toronto airport for two or three hours. Then I went Toronto to London Heathrow for around seven hours. I watched movies for most of the flight. Tron was a petty mediocre movie. The Tourist was not that special either. I had two seats, a window and an aisle, all to myself, but I couldn't sleep. 

Before landing at London Heathrow, the sun rose over the British Isles:

When we were landing, I overheard the lady behind me asking about how to get to Oxford. I told her to take the X70 bus, since I knew. On the way off the plane, we decided to look for the bus together, and we got to talking. 

Her name was Jodie (Jodi?). She was a middle aged woman from Alberta, Canada. She's working on her Master's degree in, I think, library science. As part of that, she's doing a three week internship type thing at the Bodleian Library. After figuring out how to get to the bus station and get tickets, we sat next to each other on the bus. She wasn't super talkative, but we talked about random things. I learned that she is a teacher of some sort. We talked about England, Oxford, and Canada. She told me about wines they produce up in Canada (apparently there is a valley known for its white wine grapes up where she lives). She told me that the Queen Mum was especially fond of Canada. We said goodbye when I got off. I might see her in the Bodleian soon enough. 

Funny anecdote - I was standing next to Jodie and another Canadian in line at the UK border control. The Canadian guy asked me, "Hey, is that C_____?" I had to admit that I didn't know who that was. "C_____, like the former prime minister," he said. I had to tell him that I really didn't know my Canadian prime ministers. He realized that I wasn't Canadian, but Jodie saw the same guy and agreed that it definitely could be him. He didn't have any entourage, so it was hard to tell. After he moved around a bunch, they were pretty sure. We were really sure after we got through the border control and saw a guy waiting outside with a sign that said, "C_____." Jodie pointed it out to me. They guy holding the sign saw us looking and just smiled back. I offered several times to take their picture next to him, but they didn't want to go up and bother him. 

Arriving at Oxford

After the bus dropped me off on High Street, I found the Stanford House (65 High Street) pretty easily. One weird thing is that  the street address numbers seem to increase in the direction of traffic, so they increase in opposite directions on opposite sides of the street. A bit confusing at first. 

I got my room. I will post some pictures of it soon. It's on the fourth ("Third") floor, kind of tucked up in a corner. None of the walls are parallel, and the ceiling is sloped on three sides. It has a pretty good view of HIgh Street, though. 

The House really is almost as confusing as people made me believe. I have not yet gotten lost finding my room, which isn't too hard. Some of the other rooms, including the music room and library are almost impossible to find. I will have to spend some more time exploring this house, which, I have been told, used to be seven different apartments. That explains why hallways and rooms are not connected in any sort of a logical manner. 

After I got my stuff organized in my room, the first of us to arrive (I was the third, since my plane landed around 6:30 am) had our first little orientation meeting. Afterwards, my roommate, Victor Liu; Molly; and I went for a walk down High Street to get a bit of lunch. We found a nice Indian place. I wasn't very hungry. Then we went shopping. I got some soap and shampoo at Boot's, but then I think I forgot my bag with them in it when we bought groceries at Sainsbury's. 

I meant to take a shower when I got back, but I ended up passing out on my bed. I set my alarm for a 25 minute nap. When I turned off my alarm, I just fell back asleep for another hour. Thankfully, Victor woke me up half an hour into afternoon tea so that I wouldn't miss all of it. 

The rest of the day was a sort of frenzy of meeting people and going around Oxford. After tea, Cole, the Junior Dean, gave us a walking tour of some of the area around the Stanford House. Sometime soon I will just post pictures of Oxford instead of trying to describe how cool it looks. I will just say that there are tons of old, awesome-looking buildings everywhere. If you want to see where I live, you can just put 65 High Street into Google StreetView and take your own walking tour. 

We got back to the Stanford House. A bunch of us ate dinner here with some food that the program provided for us. I met a lot more people, and heard a bunch of stories about people traveling in Europe before coming here. 

I ended up completely forgetting that I had signed up for a Passover seder. For some reason, I thought that the first night of Passover was tonight instead of tomorrow night. In any case, I was so tired that I don't think I could have made the 30 minute walk to and from the Rabbi's house. Instead, I went to sleep a little after nine. 

And that brings me to the present. I woke up a little after 3 am and couldn't fall back asleep. After 4, I just gave up, came downstairs and started writing these last couple blog posts. 

Today there will be some more orientation stuff, and, at night, I will go to the Rabbi's house for the second seder, probably apologizing profusely for missing the first one. 

Pre-Bar Mitvah Photos

Here are some pictures I took on the day before the Bar Mitzvah. On the night before, we had dinner at home with my family from Israel and Denmark. The baby in the pictures is my 9 month old baby cousin from Israel named Adar. While Edden was not preparing for his Bar Mitzvah, he was practicing marching for the Butter and Egg Days Parade, which was on the same day.

Monday, April 18, 2011

I am in Oxford!

Hello Everyone!

I am just writing to let you know that I have arrived safely to my new home at 65 High Street, Oxford, UK. The place is wonderful in all sorts of ways. The past several hours have been a frenzy of meeting people, getting situated in this new place, and seeing a bit of Oxford outside of the Stanford House.

I am, however, very exhausted from traveling and am planning on going to sleep soon. I have some pictures to post and stories to tell. The Bar Mitzvah was also wonder, and I promise to give you all an update on that fairly soon.

Much Love,
From Oxford,

Saturday, April 16, 2011

T minus 3 days

As I was laying in be in the morning, before actually waking up and starting my day, I realized that I had not packed my cleats and that one of my water bottles was missing. Eventually, I got up, went downstairs, ate breakfast, and went to go get my cleats. I knew exactly where they should have been, but they weren't there. So I had two things missing. There were only so many places where these things could be, so I just started looking. I looked through the stuff in my room. I looked through the stuff I had packed. I looked through the stuff I just put in storage. I opened up all the suitcases and boxes with things from winter quarter. I looked upstairs; I looked downstairs. I looked in boxes; I looked in bags. I looked in cupboards, cabinets, and closets. I turned the house inside out, and I called everyone I know whom I could have left them with, but to no avail.  

I literally spent hours searching for these two things. You might be thinking - don't you have better ways to spend your time three days before leaving for Oxford and two days before your brother's bar mitzvah? Yes, there were a bunch of things I had to do - more packing, practice my torah portion, check my travel documents, help my parents with things, etc. and I did them all. I would look for these things for a bit, and then I would take care of something important, each time figuring that if i just cleared my head a bit, I would be sure to find them the next time I looked. Well, each time I didn't. 

You might be thinking - don't you have another water bottle and another pair of cleats? are these things really worth the ridiculous amount of time you spent looking for them? The answers are yes, yes, and no. However, I really have a lot of free time these days. Also, and this is the main thing, I almost never lose things, so it really bothers me when I do. I usually know exactly where all my things are, and I can usually remember pretty well what I last did with them. But I have absolutely no idea where these things are right now. I have all the other shoes that my cleats should be with. I have my other Nalgene, which I always use at the same time as its black partner. The last time I used them was on my Death Valley trip, and I have no idea how they got separated. 

After spending the whole day, on and off, looking for these two stupid things, I drove over to Goodwill, thinking maybe my dad somehow took my cleats there along with some of his old suits. After that proved, unsurprisingly, unsuccessful, I basically just gave up. So I have no idea where they are. Maybe they'll show up one day, and maybe their stories will remain a small mystery for all time. 

In other news, my aunt, uncle, and cousins came from Israel last night. They were supposed to show up around noon. After six or seven hours, we started to worry and called my other aunt. When she heard that they weren't here, she started worrying too. We looked online. Their flight out of Orlando early that morning had been canceled. Eventually my aunt got ahold of them, and they were a few minutes away from our house. They showed up safe but tired, and there was much rejoicing. 

Tomorrow, if I have time for a post, I'll put up some pictures of my absolutely adorable, 9-month-old baby cousin Adar. None of us over here, except my dad, have met him before, so it's a fun time. He is the happiest, smiliest baby I have ever seen. Pretty much the only times he is not smiling or laughing are when he is hungry, thirsty, tired, or sleeping. He doesn't really talk yet, but he can crawl around and teeth on things (or fingers). I'm not sure why, but he's adorable and fun. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Yesterday in 15 minutes

I'm going to try to do this post in 15 minutes.

Yesterday, I realized that my sleeping bag - my mom's actually - is probably really dirty from all the use I've been getting out of it. I may or may not take it to England with me, but I took a trip up to REI to buy some down wash just in case I do. As it turns out, I probably won't.

On the way back home, I stopped by the outlet mall to look for some shoes to replace my blue suede Nikes (which I've been wearing for almost 4 years. I really like those shoes.). After trying on a lot of shoes that didn't come close to living up to the standards of my blue suede Nikes, I found a sweet pair of blue suede Pumas. Style's a bit different. They're a narrower shoe and have the signature, shiny puma swoosh thing along the sides. I haven't decided if I like the look as much as the Nikes, but these shoes are really comfortable, which will be important if I wear them all over the UK and Ireland.

When I got back home, the packing began. Bar mitvah preparations are getting much more intense, so I had to get the packing out of the way. I spread all of my clothes and odds and ends all over the living room. I put my suitcase and my backpacking backpack in the middle of the room, and I just started either packing things or setting them aside for storage. I definitely have too much stuff to bring all of it, but I also don't have that much stuff, so it wasn't too hard to figure out what to pack. Right now, I think I am way under the 100 lbs. mark (50/checked bag), which is great. I probably won't add too much in the coming days either. I won't have the most extensive wardrobe, but I don't usually anyway.

Before I finished packing, Christian and Liz, some of our relatives from Denmark, arrived. Christian is my mother's mother's foster brother, and Liz is his wife. That may sound pretty far removed, but we happen to have stayed in close touch with them. They are some of my closest family, and it's awesome that they came all this way for the bar mitzvah. They had been traveling for several days before getting here, starting in Phoenix and then coming north from Palm Springs. We spent the rest of the night chatting with them for a while about all the family in Denmark and their trip so far.

And that's 15 minutes. It wasn't the most interesting summary of the day, and it didn't allow for much reflection or commentary. That said, I was able to cover the main events of the day in a bit of detail. Soon I will be more crunched for time than I am now, so I want to get in the habit of these shorter posts. To keep the quality up, though, I should figure out how to best use limited time. Now it's late, I'm tired, and I'm just rambling. Feel free to comment, you early adopters out there. Suggestions? What do you want to read? What have been your favorite posts so far?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Another Full Day of Staying Home

Yesterday was another mostly uninteresting, but relaxing, day at home.

Probably the most interesting thing that happened was waking up and seeing an email with the subject "Renewing the Call for Divestment THURSDAY." To no one's surprise, SCAI (Students Confronting Apartheid in Israel) is restarting its campaign for divestment. This is at least the third year they have called for it, though I think they precede my time at Stanford by some years. This time they are kicking it off with talks from four Middle East experts. Of course, the four speakers at the event share similar views in the Israel-Palestine political scene; some might call them "pro-Palestinian" or "anti-Israel" if they want to use terms. The flier for the event was sent to the Larkin chat list. I decided to put together a message in response that basically said, "I'm not going to tell you not to go, but here are some things to think about, some things to look out for, and some reasons to be cautious when entering this debate. I know some stuff about this. Feel free to contact me any time." I haven't really heard back from anyone yet, but maybe I will after Thursday.

The rest of the day I spent cleaning up some stuff in the yard, checking up on flight details, reading British history, and surfing the interblags.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Another Day at Home

The main event of my day yesterday was taking my suit and a jacket to the dry cleaners. Other than that, I didn't do or think about much. I may or may not be wasting my time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Stroll through Helen Putnam Regional Park

My interesting thing for the day was taking a walk through Helen Putnam, one of my absolute favorite places in the world. It's a park close to my house that's just a bunch of rolling hills with open, grassy areas and big clusters of oak trees, among other local flora. I've been going there for as long as I can remember, but I grew particularly close to the park when I ran countless miles along its trails as part of cross country training in high school. As you will see, spring at Helen Putnam is arguably the best time to see it, because it is so so so green. The oaks have new leaves, the new grass springs from the wet ground, and poison oak comes up, green this time of year, through the shrubbery. It was a pretty ideal place to test out my new camera, though I have some work to do on figuring out how to take quality shots. More of that to come, I'm sure. Anyway, below are a few of the best I got. I had to compress the files to post them, so anything wrong with the photos is not a result of my inability to use the camera properly. I promise.

If you are wondering, those white things are water towers, and the city over the ridge is Petaluma.

Some of the best views of Petaluma are from these hills. This photo doesn't do the view justice.