Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Call Me Calamity

"Where in the USA are you, Stephanie?"  This is a question I've been getting asked a lot recently, and with good reason.  The past few weeks and the next month are full to the brim with travel.  I keep remarking to people, "I can't wait to get to China and sleep!"

From the 8th to 12th of June, I was in Albany, New York for my friend and former college roommate Sarah's wedding. She was the best roommate I've ever had (the girl fed me soup and changed my pajamas when I was sick -- how many friends will do that?), so being her maid of honor meant a lot to me.  Finally, I got the opportunity to do something big and meaningful for her.  It was also loads of fun catching up with her brothers, now that we were all free from the highly (ridiculously) restrictive/oppressive/strict/authoritarian college that we attended (which I, thankfully, transferred out of as a junior).

The beaming bride and I.
The wedding went beautifully, with very few hitches.  Oh, it rained on the wedding day and I suffered the humiliation of requiring three people to help me zip my bridesmaid dress (stupid thesis weight gain!), but none of that mattered when Sarah walked down the aisle.  In her white dress, her appearance was almost as beautiful as her soul.  I got pretty emotional seeing her come down toward us, as fleeting images of freshman and sophomore years flitted past.  I saw the two of us, playing pranks on our RA, strutting arm-in-arm down the commons while singing, pretending to be British secret agents while enjoying ice cream, scrubbing the dorm room furiously in order to pass our White Glove inspections . . . and now I'm tearing up again!

Being me, I naturally had to have at least one fiasco.  Call me Calamity!  On the day after the wedding, I was supposed to leave Albany and take the train back to Lynchburg, arriving home safely at 8:30 pm.  Sarah, who in all the nine years I have known her has never been wrong, was convinced that my train left at 12:55 pm.  I checked the ticket, saw "New York" and "12:55 pm" on it, and assumed that once again, Sarah was write.  Perhaps it was the wedding excitement -- for the first time, Sarah was wrong.  I learned this after her parents dropped me off at the train station.  I thought it odd that my train number was not among those listed, even though it should be departing in less than half an hour.  I checked the ticket . . . and discovered that I had looked at the wrong ticket when I checked the day before.  My train had left without me four hours earlier!

I ran to the ticket counter and begged to be rebooked.  The kindly ticket agent sadly informed me that all the trains to Virginia were morning trains.  I would not be getting out that day.  Since I knew that I had to move in three days, this situation just wouldn't work.  I called out city after city in Virginia, which a headshake in response to each.  I tried North Carolina -- no luck.  Finally, in desperation, I asked to be routed to Washington, DC, then frantically called friends seeking someone willing to drive almost four hours up to retrieve me.  I was in luck.  My friend Cody, a knight after the order of Lancelot in spirit, graciously volunteered.  He got lost on the way up, but no matter:  at 9:30 that night, he found me.  We made it in to Lynchburg at 2:30 am.

On the bright side, it was neat to see Union Station.  And how fitting to visit DC one last time before leaving the country!

My Most Recent LHP Posts

It's been a while since I've posted links to my Lantern Hollow Press blog articles, so here we go again!  Be sure to leave comments -- I love hearing back from people on my posts!

Last Sunday, I discussed how I once used a college essay to get revenge on an evil professor:  Revenge on a College Essay: Don't Make Stephanie Angry!

The Sunday before, while in New York for a dear friend's wedding, I posted a review of a wonderful Korean movie that I absolutely adore, The Classic:  By Chance, by Coincidence, but Inevitable

The week before that, I discussed a really fun character type, Dumb Dora, highlighting two of my favorite examples:  Characters and Caricatures: Dumb Dora (Part I)

For the three Sundays before those posts, I shared a few of my favorite recipes.  Each one is splendid fuel for a day of happy writing:  Food for Thought, Part I: Stephanie's Delicious Creamy Spinach and Cauliflower Soup, Food for Thought, Part II: Tantalizing Naan Pizza, Food for Thought, Part III: "Eggs Stephadict"

Following my car accident back in May, I wrote an article about the impact of pain and stress on the body, and what one should take into consideration when writing a character:  Just How Much Can a Body Take?

If you'd like to enjoy some short stories, head over to Lantern Hollow Press and download the latest e-zine (also for sale on Kindle on Amazon).  I published two of my short stories in the last e-zine, one of which was my first ever dark fantasy, and I have another short story coming out in the next e-zine (available August 1).  We recently switched webmasters, so please forgive any glitches in the website -- we'll have it all ironed out very soon.

Monday, June 6, 2011

It All Begins to Sink in

It's official:  I'm finally realizing the full scope of what I'm about to do (not that I didn't before; it's just sinking in more now) and I am nervous!  Not terrified, not having second thoughts, not wanting to back out, but just a little frightened.  I am, after all, moving to CHINA.  For TWO YEARS.  Few sane people could make a move like that without feeling a bit frightened!

There is so much to do, and such a short time to do it all in (isn't there always?).  As with Korea, visa documents are entirely dependent on the speed and whim of the country in question, and there is nothing I can do to move things along in a more timely manner.  It's one of those tough cultural differences:  Asians move at a very different speed than Americans.  Of course, they also kick out butts at education and technology, so I guess there is definitely something to be said for their way of doing things.  It just gets a little unnerving to an American-wired individual.  I like things done NOW!  I like fast, smooth transitions with everything possible done in advance and done in triplicate.  I like lists and order.  I would make an awesome micromanaging dictator.

I realized today that I am down to only six physical days left in Lynchburg (I've got to be in New York from the 8th to the 12th of June for a wedding).  Considering how many things have yet to be done and how many things I'd love to do one last time, I feel like I'm on a circular treadmill, racing against a cheating clock.  The stress gave me a spectacular migraine today, which, sadly, meant that I had to miss what would have been my last Sunday at my beloved church, St. Timothy's.  I also managed to hurt my back when I overestimated my own strength and lost a battle with a solid oak dresser . . . well, I guess since I did manage to move the dresser, you could call it a draw rather than a loss.  The dresser got the last laugh, but I got it moved where I wanted it.

The most difficult thing right now is the anxiety over whether or not I'll be able to take Eowyn with me to China.  I have fallen head over heals for this little dog, and the thought of having to sell her and never getting to see her again absolutely breaks my heart.  Isn't it amazing how God wired dogs to become just like family to us?  They really are man's best friend.

So naughty . . . but oh so cute!

Thursday, June 2, 2011


On May 14, 2011, I graduated with my MA in history and a medal for High Distinction (4.0 GPA).  Our speaker, who gave the best graduation speech I have ever listened to, was Hollywood screenwriter/director Randall Wallace.

Rachel and I.  We're sleep-deprived and grateful to be DONE!

The ladies of Lantern Hollow Press, minus Kami.

All nine of the history department's new MAs.

The most fantastic graduation cake ever, courtesy of Rachel's sister Emily.  She made it in the shape of an antique book! And it was a chocolate mocha cake!  She knows us well.

A Blessing in Disguise (Really, Really Deep Disguise)

One of the problems I encountered with my moving to China this summer was the issue of what to do with my car.  After discussing the matter with my parents, I decided that storing it was not a viable option, so I would have to sell the vehicle.  In this present economy, that was quite a daunting task.  However, help with the car issue came in the form of disaster . . .

On May 6, I headed up to my friends' house in the mountains for an all-night Lord of the Rings marathon (yes, we're all very happy nerds).  We planned to watch all three extended versions of the films, and in between films, we planned to each read aloud our favorite section from each of the novels.  In case you're wondering, I had chosen the following scenes:

  1. Fellowship of the Ring - The scene where Gimli is forced to wear a blindfold in Lothlorien, and Legolas volunteers to do the same.  (This scene, sadly, was not included in the film.)
  2. The Two Towers - The humorous scene where Sam forces Gollum to help him make stew and Gollum explains his dietary preferences.  (I actually like the way the film portrayed this scene.)
  3. Return of the King - The scene where Eowyn (my favorite character, of course) defeats the witch-king of Endor.
As I was rounding one of the many curves up on the mountain road leading to the Meltons' home, I suddenly came upon another vehicle approaching from the opposite direction.  These mountain roads in Virginia, I should mention, are very narrow.  When two vehicles meet, each much hug their side of the road in order to pass safely.  This vehicle, however, was in the middle of the road and fast approaching.  I made an effort to swerve to avoid them, but they neither slowed nor swerved (the other driver, a twenty-year-old, was clearly not paying attention).  A front-end collision occurred.

The passengers of the other car (four people) claimed that they were all wearing seatbelts, and that all four seatbelts snapped off during the crash (hmmmm . . . ).  I, as always, was securely seatbelted, so I was kept from serious harm.  My seatbelt gave me a spectacular abdominal bruise and some chest bruising.  The force of the impact gave me whiplash and bruising on the tailbone (not quite sure how/why the tailbone bruising happened).  My brass owl on my necklace swung up and hit me in the head, apparently giving me a concussion (I learned of that later).

OnStar called immediately to see if I was all right.  You know what?  They really do respond exactly as portrayed in their commercials, and they really do stay on the line until help (which they call for) arrives.  OnStar was a particular blessing to me, as my cell phone died right as I tried to call for help.  They offered to call my friends for me, but I couldn't recall the number and couldn't access it either.  Being in the mountains and the middle of nowhere, it took at least twenty minutes for the police and ambulance to arrive.  The other car's passengers all had facial injuries from lack of seatbelts, but were otherwise all right.  I declined to go in the ambulance, not realizing two things:  1.  I was actually hurt worse than I thought and 2. I didn't know that my car insurance would cover it.

I had a remarkable answer to prayer during all this.  The other people were a bit frightening, yelling at me and trying to blame me for the crash (even though they were 100% at fault, as the police eventually determined).  I was trapped in my car, as the driver side door wouldn't open and I was in too much pain to try to find another way out (plus, I honestly was a bit afraid of the other people and their relatives who soon arrived at the scene).  I prayed that God would send a late-arriving friend, have my other friends come looking for me, or else send a kindly neighbor who at least knew them.  God did much better!

My friend David was repeatedly delayed as he tried to leave work that day and head up for the evening/night's festivities.  Normally, he is prompt.  He ended up arriving shortly after the accident, and was clear-thinking enough to take lots of pictures for me.  He was the more opportune friend that God could have sent right then -- you see, David is a lawyer!  After I spoke to the police (the officer only asked about five questions), David drove me up to the Meltons' and reassured me that I was not at fault for the accident.  I knew I had done all that I could to drive safely and to try to avoid hitting the other car, but in my state of shock, I kept wondering if I was remembering everything correctly, and going back in my mind to see if I could think of anything I should have done differently.  In the end, I finally realized the dismal truth:  No matter how careful good drivers are, we can never be completely safe from people who just don't pay attention.  

Poor little Flavia, the best car I ever owned.
In another example of God preparing in advance, I had, at the last minute before leaving home, grabbed my neck heat-wrap and my migraine pain medication.  Although I felt just fine at the time, I had a sudden feeling that it would do well to be prepared, just in case I got a migraine.  Normally, I don't bother to carry my migraine supplies for normal visits to friends.  I was certainly glad to have them with me that night!  

I ended up going to ER the next day, where they proved just how inept ER can be by focusing on only one problem and ignoring the others.  It was not until a few days later that my severe neck pain led me to a chiropractor, who did x-rays.  A week later, I went to my doctor for more pain medication (I had horrible unceasing pain after the accident, plus daily migraines).  My doctor pointed out that I had had internal bleeding from the accident, an injury which people actually die from.  ER should have known that a swollen, hard abdomen after an accident means internal bleeding, but they never bothered to listen to me, and I was too medicated to insist.  Fortunately, God kept me safe.

So what was the hidden blessing in all this?  Well, at least now I don't have to worry about selling my car!

The Defending of the Thesis

In case you were wondering, I defended my thesis on May 2, and passed!  Plenty of things went wrong, since this was, after all, me defending.  I had only gotten two hours of sleep, I was dopey from benedryl (my spring/summer allergies have been HORRIBLE), and I forgot my adapter for the presentation and had to use someone else's laptop, which meant that my slideshow animations didn't work on the inferior PowerPoint (Keynote is SO MUCH better) and a few of my slides got warped or deleted.

Because my topic has not been written on (at least, not published about), I was commended for a thesis that discussed an exciting, unknown topic in the field of WWII espionage history.  My committee members all enjoyed reading it, and they said that it was excellent work.  So, I guess the nervous breakdowns and sleepless nights were all worth it!

Sleepless in Atlanta

Well, that Atlanta trip back in April certainly proved that I can handle both the unexpected and a severe lack of sleep.  I should do just fine as a teacher in China!

Owing to severe storms, my flight leaving Lynchburg was delayed twice.  Instead of departing at 5:45 pm as planned, it wound up being after 8:00, which meant that I had to change my connecting flight in Charlotte to a later one.  That flight then got slightly delayed.  We took off around 10:00 pm and had a highly white-knuckled flight to Atlanta.  I have not experienced so much turbulence since my harrowing flight in the Philippines a few years ago!  It was like being trapped inside a stormy pinball machine.  The plane bounced to and fro, while lightening flashed all around it.  I admit, although I am a seasoned flyer, that I had to say more than one prayer that the plane wouldn't crash!

Once we got to Atlanta, the plane had to circle, as Atlanta was not allowing anyone to land.  After nearly half an hour, the pilot announced that Atlanta had closed and evacuated their airport, and we would have to return to Charlotte.  Everyone on the plane groaned quite loudly!  We had an even more stomach-churning flight back, as the storm had worsened (this was the same storm system that spawned multiple tornadoes, one of which practically wiped out Ringgold, GA).  When we returned to Charlotte, we were able to land, but not to disembark from the plane.  In our absence, Charlotte airport had also closed and evacuated!

After spending more than an hour stuck in a landed plane, with a wild storm going on outside, the airport finally figured out what to do with all of us passengers.  They announced that we would be leaving for Atlanta as soon as it could be done safely; in the meantime, we had to wait in Charlotte's abandoned airport.  We all made mad scurries for electrical outlets, as EVERYONE had electronics (mostly cellphones) that needed recharging.  I found a secluded area a ways from our gate and settled myself on the floor to recharge my own phone, which had died.  From my iPod, I managed to email in and let my new employer know that I would be very late arriving in Atlanta.

Finally, we flew out to Atlanta again, crossing our fingers and hoping that we would actually get to land this time.  Having pulled an all-nighter the night before in order to finish my thesis, I was now completely exhausted.  After landing in Atlanta, getting my rental car, and driving to my hotel, I finally checked in at 5:30 am.   I had been awake for 46 hours straight.  I caught a two-hour nap, showered, then grabbed some expresso from Starbucks for breakfast and went in for my all-day psychological examination (it was to determine if I have the mental stability/stamina to handle life in China for two years or more).

Clearly, I am less crazy than my family and friends think.  Despite all that went on before it, I passed my evaluation with flying colors and got the green light for China!  A few weeks later, I was officially hired by the school and signed my contract.
"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"