Thank you President Trump

Dear Mr. Trump,

By all accounts this has not been a good month for you. The witch-hunt, the memos, the press secretaries hiding in bushes, Comey disguising himself as a curtain, the persistent fake news, and, of course, those pesky Russians—it really must have taken a toll. My British heritage taught me that etiquette and kindness matters, and I thought you might appreciate some praise and thanks amongst all this “American carnage.”

I hear you only read information with your name in, which, although perhaps a little narcissistic, is also a potentially a useful tool to get my thanks directly to you.  Being president, I doubt you ever have any downtime to aimlessly peruse the Internet, but if you do find yourself googling terms like “Trump,” “great job,” and “tremendous praise,” I hope this letter finds its way to you.

As a green card holder I can’t vote, and unlike those thousands of people who, you’ve told us, engaged in voter fraud in November, I didn’t. I have to admit I didn’t support your rise to power. I went to a Hillary rally the day before the election, while my husband stayed at home and made hours of phone calls for her. The night of the election, I held my husband as the nation he loved slid away to a man wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat.

For your inauguration, I was not part of the “largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period.” Although, congratulations on this remarkable achievement. Instead I was listening to a lecture with a group of distinguished historians at Cambridge University. The dark January evening hung thick with dismay, and we awaited your ascension like students at Hogwarts waiting for the final battle.

Two months later I spent a nervous six-hour flight over the Atlantic Ocean worrying whether I would be allowed to enter my country of residence in light of your travel ban and acerbic attitude to foreigners.

As a foreign female academic who cares about facts and studies cultural diplomacy, I was perhaps understandably fearful of your self-certain rejection of experts and penchant for diplomacy via Tweet. And yet less than 6 months in I find myself writing this letter of praise.

On the campaign, I never understood “Make America Great Again.” It seemed an ill-timed slogan for a nation experiencing economic boom and falling unemployment. America didn’t need fixing, it already was great. While I still stand by this assertion, I am forced to admit that in important ways you have made this country greater, and for this, and this alone, I thank you.

Your ascent to power forced me to question the entire basis of American democracy and its cherished checks and balances, which now seem like little more than gentleman’s agreements. You’ve shown that the Oval Office needs a gentleman who respects the office, and without one the presidency is dangerously fragile. Your office highlights how much gesture, goodwill, and morality matter, and reminds us all that the letter and the spirit of the law are often two different things. But you also reminded me of the power of a single voice—for good or evil—and your ascent inspires me to use that voice.

While I study American history, I’ve rarely studied Washington. With you, all this changed. In the last few months I’ve been involved and actively engaged in politics in new and exciting ways. I look forward to discussing events with my husband, family, and friends, and I find great pleasure in being informed.

Your assault on fake news has inspired some of the best journalism I’ve ever read. The fierce rivalry between the New York Times and the Washington Post only serves to benefit the American people, as both institutions strive to dig deeper and break bigger stories. Both have hired more writers and devoted more resources to finding the truth hidden behind the arsenal of press conferences and tweets your administration relies on.

Like the fourth estate, the judiciary and the FBI also stepped up to make America great again. They’ve made bold statements and held you accountable for the hate filled anti-Muslim rhetoric you were so fond of brandishing on the campaign trail.

But your biggest success is with the people. Thanks to you, thousands of women knitted pink hats, New York lawyers rushed to JFK to assist in pro bono work for victims of your travel ban, people donated to fund Planned Parenthood and public art programs, guerilla crafters placed Sean Spicer cutouts in bushes, and all around the world millions have marched in support of democratic principles of knowledge, equality, and freedom.

Thank you 45, for you have indeed made America great again, but not in any of the ways you intended. You’ve provided Alec Baldwin with full-time employment, you’ve encouraged people to run for office, and you’ve made a marcher out of me. You reminded me of the power of my voice, and made me use it.

Maybe one day when you are out of the Oval Office, and a safe distance from the nuclear codes, this is how we will remember your legacy. I doubt it, but as your presidency demonstrates—anything can happen…

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Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy

phdpfej2.jpgI-95 meanders along America’s East Coast, bringing drivers from the Maine/Canada border to the Southern tip of mainland Florida. Although it follows the path of the Atlantic Ocean, I-95 offers few scenic views. These belong to US Route 1, which hugs the coastline more closely. Instead, I-95 is bedecked with the remains of burned out tires, the occasional “Welcome Home US Marine_______” banner, and overly complex construction projects.

I-95 and I are old friends. There is no road in the US that I know better. I know when to move lanes, how to avoid the potholes, and where to slow for waiting State Troopers. If ever I feel down, the battered highway restores my faith. Every Monday I drive north on I-95 for chorus practice, and in this hour with an open highway and a Honda Civic stereo, I am reminded of the possibilities of America.

My travel companions are numerous. I’ve shouted at Donald Trump during the Presidential Debates, celebrated with Big Papi as the Sox won the World Series. I’ve joined the cast of Jersey Boys, and climbed on the back of Springsteen’s motorbike. But the person who spends the most time on the road with me is not an American. It’s Elton.

I went to my first Elton John concert when I was six years old. I drew a picture of him, complete with his Diet Coke can in an ice bucket. My Dad was so impressed that he had a color photocopy made—it was the pinnacle of my young artistic career. I had a The One album poster on my bedroom wall, and dressed up in novelty pink sunglasses and my Dad’s giant red Converse to watch Top of the Pops. Understandably, neither of my parents ever corrected my version of The Bitch Is Back, and for years I happily sang, “I’m a Bisc, I’m a Bisc, I’m a Biscuit Bag”…

I’m lucky enough to have lost count of how many Elton shows I’ve been to. I’ve seen him play at Madison Square Garden for his 60th birthday, I’ve danced on stage at the Million Dollar Piano in Vegas, and I’ve heard Philadelphia Freedom in Philadelphia. In the week leading up to my wedding last year, my Mum and I danced arm in arm, wearing wellies and Niagara Falls ponchos at a rain-soaked concert in Bath, England. A Tiny Dancer Marryoke followed at my wedding a week later.Tessa and Aaron's wedding at St Nicholas; Church, Pyrford and Ham Polo ClubWhile Elton is well known for his giant shoes, eclectic eye wear, and a penchant for both flowers and Donald Duck costumes, there is a depth and richness to the Taupin/John partnership than many underestimate. Although resolutely British, they both belong in the great American songbook.

Bernie Taupin and Elton John were among the many voices that inspired my love of America. As I began my life here, it was their words—“Boston at last, and the plane’s touching down,” that echoed through my thoughts. I still hear this lyric whenever I land at Logan. From 1971’s Holiday Inn, the Taupin/John love affair with America has grown from a passing motel room to a deep understanding of this land, its peoples, its strengths, and its foibles.

Their work touches all facets of American life—heroes and hidden stories, highways and back roads. In Empty Garden they stood outside the Dakota building contemplating the loss of John Lennon. With I Feel Like a Bullet (in the Gun of Robert Ford) they used the death of Jesse James to explore the pain of break up. Equally adept at discussing celebrated figures as commonplace folk, the Taupin/John songbook gives plentiful attention to everyday Americans—from the Monalisas and Madhatters navigating daily life in Manhattan, to the unnamed Indian warrior hurling a tomahawk in 1971’s Indian Sunset.phdpfej5phdpfej6Having sat on the swing in Elvis’ Tupelo home, I can almost taste the Mississippi heat as I listen to Porch Swing in Tupelo. The lilting delay as Elton sings “Tennessee” and “Mississippi” in the second verse, perfectly captures the slow inaction of summer in the South. Delving further back into Southern history, the heavy percussive beat of Gone to Shiloh (2010) paints the reluctant dread of a Union soldier marching into battle. Their music moves across states and centuries, equally adept at bringing to life Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins, a seventeenth century savant, as the tragic Norma Jean.

Taupin’s knowledge of American culture and history is encyclopedic, and his lyrics find as much fascination in Roy Rogers cartoons as the war of 1812. With the dexterity of the best intellectual scholars, he blends high and low culture, attack and praise. On 2006’s Postcards from Richard Nixon, for example, he describes the wonders of “Brian Wilson’s promised land, where Disney’s God” and Steve McQueen drives down Sunset, while also criticizing Nixon’s Vietnam policy.

With time, the partnership moved from historical reflection to political action. Ballad of the Boy in the Red Shoes, on 2001’s critically acclaimed Songs From the West Coast, lambasted President Reagan, “the old man [who] wouldn’t listen,” and his refusal to fund research and fight AIDS. Fourteen years later, Sir Elton addressed the US Congress urging them to do more to fight the disease.phdej3.jpgThis year, Bernie and Elton celebrate 50 years of musical collaboration. Two boys raised on Westerns in rural England grew to be the superheroes they always dreamed of being. Living in a dude ranch in California, Taupin, the brown dirt cowboy from Lincolnshire raises cutting horses. The young pianist from Pinner, now a Knight, has always been Captain Fantastic.

Travelling back from chorus, I-95 is empty. With years of practice on this stretch of open road, my ability to drive, sing, and dance at the same time is unmatched. In the dark I hit the hillside with Roy and Trigger, I sit with Elvis on that Tupelo porch swing, and I join George Michael in introducing, “Ladies and Gentleman, Mr. Elton John.” For the captain, the kid, and me, together on our stretch of I-95, all is well.    phdpfej4

 

O-Bam-A! O-Bam-A!

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On a crisp blue day, the sun shone bright and low in the November sky. New England’s yellow and orange leaves crunched underfoot, as I navigated the twisting wooded paths of my new campus. Unable to vote, I felt a twinge of embarrassment whenever people approached me and asked if I had cast my ballot. That night I gathered with my new American friends, and watched the beginning of a new era in American life. Tears fell as the hopes and dreams of a nation were encapsulated in the figures of an African-American family standing on the stage in Chicago.

I began my life in the United States on a student visa, three months before Barack Hussein Obama became president. His presidency transformed America from the international embarrassment of the Bush era, and once again recast the US as the Promised Land. His presidency has been an example of decency, diplomacy, and possibility throughout my American life.

Eight years later, in the potentially crucial swing state of New Hampshire, Obama spent the last day of the election campaign rallying for Hillary Clinton at the University of New Hampshire.  And so on a similarly bright blue day, I found myself back on campus—this time a green card holder with an American husband—waiting in line to see the president speak.

Parking in a distant car park, I waited for a shuttle bus to take me on to the campus. The air seemed thick with possibility. Students, many of them first time voters, spoke excitedly about the significance of the UNH community to the election. In front of me, I met a journalist taking a day off from his usual local crime and obituary work, and behind me a seasoned protestor who regaled me with tales of her international Eco-protests.

Scores of people lined the streets in queues that snaked all over the campus. We found ourselves enveloped into the waiting line, and soon were passing through metal detectors, and discarding all our food and drink at security.

In the brilliant sunshine, I sat on the ground outside the Whittemore center and listened to the UNH band perform. Last time I had stood there it was at my graduation.

At 12 o’clock the doors opened and we were herded into the arena and offered a choice of seats or floor. With a long wait ahead I chose seats, my seasoned companions chose the floor.DSCN7059.jpgIn the hours that followed, neighbors were friends. People saved seats, and shared pretzels, Sour Patch Kids, and anecdotes of elections and rallies past. Springsteen’s We Take Care of Our Own blared across the arena, and a sea of “Stronger Together” posters tiled the floors and walls.dscn7067Excitement grew with each entrant to the stage—from local politicians to local choirs. Representative Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly reminded people of the importance of common sense gun law and universal health care, while Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan talked about local concerns, pleading with voters to vote not just for Hillary but for Democrats up and down the ballot ticket.

After several hours of waiting, a secret service agent took to the stage and ceremoniously placed the seal of the president on the front of the lectern. And then the crowd went wild.

The president ran in from the side of the stage, shirtsleeves rolled up and arms waving. The atmosphere was euphoric. I have never felt the excitement of politics in this way before, never felt part of something so much bigger than me, or part of a force for such good. My heart raced and tears streamed down my face.

Chants of “O-Bam-A” and “Four More Years” thundered through the arena, amidst the deafening applause. The president graciously accepted this thanks, but channeled the passion into support for Hillary. He spoke of the democratic possibilities afforded by Clinton, and of her experience and superiority as a candidate. When the crowd booed at mention of Donald Trump, Obama shouted “Don’t Boo, Vote.”

He understood the crowd, and combined chants and interactivity with careful reasoned rhetoric. Obama is a natural orator with incredible command of a stage. His was more than just a speech for Clinton, it was a rally for American democracy. Talking about the importance of grass roots campaigning and getting out there to meet people, he spoke with such prescience and understanding about the state of America and its politics. He understood the divides, and worked to fire up the next generation to get involved and believe.dscn7193He spoke for about 35 minutes, and then almost as quickly as he arrived, the president left in a sea of black-suited agents. In a daze of excitement and Springsteen songs, the crowds exited the arena, carefully clutching their “Stronger Together” posters.

Standing outside in the dark, we were “fired up and ready to go.” As the spectacular presidential cavalcade sped through the campus, election day seemed simply a formality. Among the crowds of people–of all races, genders, and ages–the first female president seemed the inevitable heir of the first African-American president.

For the next twenty-four hours the world was full of promises. Of Yes We Cans and shattered glass ceilings.  Of “I voted” stickers, SNL impressions, and pantsuits.

Then the dream shattered, not the ceiling.

In the hazy light of our new reality, life looked different the next day. Yet somehow leaves still crunched under my feet, people still squished in together on the subway, and red brake lights still painted the gray I-93 corridor. The smoke still rose from the Holocaust memorial and curled into the sun, which too, still set. Everything and nothing had changed.

As the sun sets on this our second Camelot, there will be no glittering smiles, no little girls in J Crew coats watching their father shatter glass ceilings, no speeches with promises to protect democracy, and no belief in the “patchwork heritage” of the United States. Instead there is fear and America First, the promise to end health care for millions, to curtail minority rights, a partnership with Russia, a destabilized Anglo-American alliance, and, perhaps most importantly, inaction on climate change.

While there is no longer a President Obama, now more than ever, there must still be yes we cans.

God Bless the USA.

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I Found The Gown

vows8.jpgSeveral years ago I was in New Jersey for the wedding of one of my dearest friends. The day before the wedding, a hurricane hit the Eastern corridor and so our 5-hour journey took us nearly 11 hours. When we finally reached our hotel, we found the largest bed I have ever seen and a welcome box from our wonderful hosts filled with personalized cookies. After hours in the car, it was such a relief to put on a dressing gown and relax.

While channel hoping, I landed on TLC and saw a wedding show was on. Usually I skip over Say Yes to the Dress but I noticed that this show had a different name—I  Found the Gown —and kept watching. Within minutes I was hooked. While Say Yes to the Dress featured expensive gowns in the gleaming decadence of Kleinfeld’s New York boutique, I Found the Gown took place at Vows salon in Massachusetts and showcased bargain designer wedding dresses. And so together with my then-boyfriend, I sat on the giant bed, eating cookies in the shape of New Jersey state, and watched episodes of I Found the Gown till I fell asleep.

Being, frankly, quite cheap by nature, I was overjoyed to consider the possibility of one day getting a bargain when purchasing a wedding dress. Not only did I witness the wedding of one of my favorite couples that weekend, but I knew where my first stop would be when I got engaged. And so, two years later when my then-boyfriend became my husband, it was time to call Vows. Vows1Reviews of the store described the experience at Vows as rushed and harried. However, as someone who previously sat on dirty floors at both Michaels and Target in order to reach bottom shelf bargains, this did not phase me—if anything it made the challenge all the more exciting. With my Mum in tow, we headed to Watertown ready to use elbows if necessary to get a dress. On arrival however, Vows could not have been more serene. We parked in the “engaged” parking spots and went into the store where our assistant met us.vows6While Vows is an authorized retailer for a handful of designers whose gowns can be custom ordered, the real attraction of the store is the sample sale designer gowns. As they are samples, there is often just one of each gown in the store and the inventory changes often. Each gown in stored in a clear garment bag and the shop is arranged by style–mermaids to the left, ball gowns to the right, etc. You are given time to peruse the floor and select the gowns you think you might like to try on. However, with all the dresses are stored in garment bags it can be hard to really tell what a dress is like. On two occasions dresses sprang out like jack-in-the-boxes when I unzipped the bag, revealing far more bling and poof than I was looking for.vows3Bit-by-bit we narrowed our options down, and I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to dress up and try different styles. There were only two other brides in the store, and we stayed much longer than the allotted one-hour appointment time. I imagine the weekend appointments are likely more crowded, but our Thursday morning appointment was bliss.  vows7I came to the store looking for a ball gown with short sleeves, so how I came to leave with a strapless trumpet style remains one of the great magical mysteries of the bridal salon. While looking for dresses, the ruching on a Romona Keveza gown had caught my eye, and so I added it to my sleeved selections. As I took it out of the bag the beautiful French silk tulle puffed out, and I felt a little rush of excitement. There was no bling just acres of delicate tulle and English net. When I put the dress on, I knew it was a contender. As I walked out into the viewing area and saw my Mum’s face I understood this was something special. With a veil on, I let out the audible gasp I had heard so many times on bridal shows. This was my gown.

vows5 copyAfter several moments parading up and down, taking photos and staring into the mirror, we had to decide what to do. With only one dress in the store, I did not want to let it go, yet I have never been one for quick decisions. We opted to put a deposit down to hold the gown for 5 days. During that time I went to another salon and tried on the sleeved ball gown I had originally been interested in, and by sending photos to my friends and family crowd sourced opinion on the gown. Romona got the most votes. Five days later, Vows kindly let me come in and try the gown with heels. It was still my gown.

And so I found a gown that was $400 under my budget and $3000 less than it originally retailed for. It was the first step in my wedding bargain hunting, and I cannot think of a better gown or place for me. The staff at Vows were incredibly helpful, and I went on to order my bridesmaids dresses with them too. There is a further discount if you order both wedding dress and bridesmaids gown at the store.VowsCome January when it was time to begin dress alterations, I finally collected my gown and went to see Anahit, the seamstress Vows recommended. The world of the seamstress is a timeless, female-dominated empire. In an age of mechanization, it is one of the few arenas in which handcraft remains king. It is a world I would have been entirely unaware if if not for the wedding dress. I felt privileged to have entered it, if only for a few brief hours.

Like the business it houses, the unassuming storefront seems to belie age. Faux ferns adorn the entranceway, and aging plastic wedding bouquets with faded glittered petals sit in delicate gold vases on the store counter. There is no website or email, no credit cards are accepted, and all bills are calculated by hand on carbon paper. The rows of thank you cards showing pictures of smiling brides are the only nod to the contemporary world outside.vows4For my first fitting, my husband helped to carry the garment bag into the store and was almost instantly sent away. An assistant whisked the dress out of my hands, and directed me to remove my shoes and stand on the towel in front of me. Walking along a carpet of white towels, I moved to the seating area and watched as Anahit pinned and repositioned the lace applique onto another bride’s intricate gown. Like many Vows customers, the bride had purchased a dress, which was too big for her. Anahit had altered it to her size and now begun the painstaking work of reapplying lace details along the seams. As the seamstress worked her magic, kneeling on the floor with a mouth full of pins, the bride offered frequent suggestions as to other alterations she felt could be done to the back of the gown. With my limited knowledge of sewing, I could see that her suggestions were impossible. The seamstress’ task, I suspect, is not always an easy one.

When it came time for my fitting, Anahit welcomed me with enthusiastic greetings and congratulations in her lilting Eastern European prose. She ohhed and ahhed as I took my dress out of the bag, and knew it was a Romona Keveza straight away. “Honey,” she said as I put on my gown, “you have the butt my previous bride wishes she had.” And instantly I loved her.

During our next three fittings Anahit continued to call me Honey. Despite the thousands of dresses she has altered she still delighted in beautiful gowns and exquisite fabrics. She seemed genuinely excited to be working on my gown and confided that she was glad to work with tulle as the royal wedding created a surge in lace. Together we designed a removable shawl to add to the top of the dress. As she put it, “we will add Oscar De La Renta to this Romona Keveza.” When it came time to cut the dress she said a wedding blessing as her scissors snipped away at the tulle. On more than one occasion she grabbed my phone and took pictures of my dress, with instructions that I must send the photos to my mother. At the final appointment, Anahit made the previous bride wait to see me in my finished gown. She was, quite simply, a supremely talented, reassuring eccentric.Tessa and Aaron's wedding at St Nicholas; Church, Pyrford and Ham Polo ClubOn the day of my wedding I accessorized my Romona Keveza dress with the tiara my Mum wore when she married my father, as well as pearls given to me by my Mum and aunt. I wanted a ball gown for a classic look, but I found it in a strapless trumpet gown of English net and French tulle. My husband cried as I walked down the aisle, and when we got outside he said the dress was Jackie Kennedy and Grace Kelly all in one, making my every dress dream come true.

In a blush pink gown, that bride from New Jersey three years ago now looked exquisite as one of my bridesmaids, unaware of what an important role her personalized wedding cookies played in my dress selection. Because of her, I found the gown.vows2

Ode to the Target Dollar Spot

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The Daily Mail expressed surprise this week at spotting Adele shopping in a California Target despite “being a multimillionaire.” I felt no such shock. Although I am mildly ashamed to admit it, #targetdoesitagain and #targetdollarspot are always among my top Instagram searches. These tags provide carefully staged photos of pencils, notepads, chalk markers, and cake stands, choreographed by Instagram users with names like Plannergirl59 and MacaronMagic. (Macarons and the Eiffel Tower are very popular with American crafters, most of whom I suspect have never visited Europe).

To understand the allure of these hashtags, you need to understand a little about the Target dollar spot, or to use its official name, Bulleye’s Playground. The dollar spot greets you as soon as you walk into any Target store. Everything in the section is either $1 or $3 (although there are also $5 items now), and the items change seasonally. From Halloween window clings to hot dog baskets, glitter glue to heart-shaped paper clips, mason jars to US maps, Dr Suess erasers to Frozen hairbrushes, the dollar spot knows no bounds.

Consistency, however, is not the spot’s strong point—one day it will be fully stocked with seasonal gems, then, almost instantly the shelves will be empty for weeks on end. The dollar spot is a cruel mistress.

It is this unpredictability that feeds the Target Instagram frenzy. “Hit the jackpot at Target today!” reads the caption on bountiful images of stickers, rubber stamps, dish cloths, and the occasional wire pumpkin or Easter Egg tree. Hitting the jackpot at Target does not mean goods were on clearance, or that the store offered free gift cards, but rather that the dollar spot was fully stocked, and you were able to part with your hard earned cash. This is success to a dollar spot fan.

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While they might not recognize themselves as a fandom, Target dollar spot enthusiasts share many characteristics with other well-known fandoms such Potterheads or Trekkies. For example, there is a shared jargon—every item offered at the dollar spot is unfailingly described as “cute,” or, for real emphasis, “so cute” in Instagram comments.

There is a shared sense of purpose—a common belief that only like-minded stationery and home goods addicts can understand their plight. For example, next to an image of a lone novelty Easter pencil, user ilovemakeup laments, “I’ve only been able to find one pen out of the four from the target dollar spot,” accompanied with a range of sad-faced emojis.

In online forums, shoppers share pictures of Target trucks and cardboard boxes of dollar spot merchandising awaiting the shelves. Stories of women patiently pacing the aisles waiting for shelves to be restocked are not uncommon. The oft-cited idiom that “the dollar spot struggle is real” provides unity to shoppers dispersed all over the United States.

Indeed, the dollar spot’s fanbase is not limited to the USA. On the pages of Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook’s “dollar spot swap” group, crafters the world over lament the paucity of Targets in their countries, and plead for volunteers to buy Target’s list pads, post-its, and gel pens and mail them internationally. PayPal makes such transactions easy.

phdpftarget4Planner girls—women who approach a weekly planner with the same tenacity as a Midwestern scrapbooker—find particular delight in the Target dollar spot and its ever changing range of seasonal list pads and labels. The most sought after items are the page flags—decorated miniature post-it notes, which rarely stick due to the cheap adhesive. Such a design flaw, however, does not deter a committed planner. Instead, they swap tips on how to redo the glue and laminate the flags. Like any self-respecting fandom, Target fans assign their own values on dollar spot products, most especially the hallowed page flags. I recently sold a “rare” set of $1 page flags for over $20 on eBay. The coveted teal polka dot and pink striped page flag set can go for upwards of $75.

This frenzied economy explains the shelf-lifting craze of 2015. Target shoppers realized that older merchandise occasionally fell underneath the stores’ shelving units, and thus advocated taking apart the metal merchandise displays to see what hidden gems could be found amongst the dust. After people began posting images of injuries they sustained in the process, online communities began to advocate against the practice.

At the end of 2015, Target rebranded the dollar spot. When shelving displays disappeared from stores, chatrooms feared the end of the Spot. Following the rebrand announcement, fears were instantly allayed and instead communities speculated about Target’s new bargain bins with the ferocity of a teenager waiting for a favorite boy band to come to town.

Along with other Target aficionados, I now dutifully add #bullseyesplayground to my Instagram searches. I tell myself I have my standards. I won’t shelf-lift or risk any bodily injury in the pursuit of bargains. I refuse to buy the multipack pencils, however “cute,” because they never sharpen. I will never buy page flags on eBay, or use the phrase “the struggle is real.”

And yet, yesterday I hit the Target jackpot. I took a photo of the rows of dollar spot merchandise and sent it to my husband. I sat on the shop floor to reach merchandise stuck at the back of the shelf. I left the store with 50 paper straws, a water carafe, two yards of glittery ribbon, 40 ice cream cups, and a packet of novelty erasers. Target did it again…

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Mission Impossible in a Sofa Store

Strange as it sounds, furniture stores remind me of home. A Christmas at home in England wouldn’t be Christmas without watching the plethora of sofa ads, preferably with a glass of mulled wine in hand, and asking out loud who buys these terrible products. “There’s not one there, I would buy” is a frequent outburst in our house, often accompanied by “I wouldn’t give it house-room”—one of my late grandmother’s famed phrases.

When I first saw Jordan’s Furniture ads, I knew I had found the American equivalent. Jordan’s is a large New England furniture company that takes its local links seriously. The store’s owner is a dedicated Red Sox fan, and watching him promise free furniture if the Sox win the World Series is now part of the ritual of the New England Spring. An enthusiastic balding man with a silver ponytail, Jordan boasts about his stores’ current offers with great gusto in low budget local tv commercials. He is also not really called Jordan, I recently discovered his name is Eliot. However, to me, and I expect most of New England, he will always be Jordan.

The mysterious allure of Jordan’s Furniture deepened last Christmas when I heard Jordan (ok, Eliot) on the radio inviting people to come to the store to purchase the famous Jordan’s blueberry muffins! As I was driving at the time, I had to wait till I got home to investigate this properly. I suspect the powers that be at Jordan’s were inspired by Rowan Atkinson’s observation that “this is so much more that a bag” in Love Actually, as Jordan’s really appeared to be “so much more than a store.” In addition to the famed blueberry muffins, the store website promised an enchanted village for Christmas, and a light and water spectacular with over 9,000 water nozzles.

Having spent most of my childhood holidays in the Isle of Wight where we stoically eschewed Waltzing Waters as a matter of principle, my natural instinct was to avoid Jordan’s at all cost, however, a final attraction caught my attention: the IMAX cinema. I know this sounds like I made it up, but I swear it’s real. Our local furniture store contains an IMAX cinema!

Further investigation revealed that the 8 Story-high screen offered 12,000 watts of “mind boggling surround sound,” all brought to you while in the comfort of a memory foam Tempur-Pedic seat. I would love to have been in the marketing meetings when they dreamed this idea up. I can picture the conversation at which two executives said if we could get people to watch a movie in a memory foam chair then surely they will buy a memory foam mattress. The logic almost works, and yet somehow it doesn’t.

By this point, however, I was hooked; I had no choice but to experience this cinema for myself. Hearing that the new Mission Impossible film was playing, we decided that this would be suitably epic for the Jordan’s big screen. We drove to the store, parked in the ginormous car park and entered the revolving glass doors.

Nothing, not even my careful consultation of Jordan’s website, prepared me for the sight that met us. To our left was a Jelly Bean factory, to our right a trapeze school, and straight-ahead a giant mechanical moving statue of Wally, the Red Sox mascot (a cleaner version of Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch). Alarmingly the green creature seemed to have taken a Yankees player hostage in his giant hand, rather like King Kong and Fay Wray.phdpiefillingjordans1With some understandable trepidation, we passed under the mascot’s giant arm and found ourselves in a very normal looking furniture store. We followed small signs for the IMAX through rooms of beds, patio furniture displays, living room set-ups, sofas, and vases. The walk seemed to go on forever, and we both really doubted whether the IMAX would ever materialize. However, eventually we passed our final settee and found ourselves at a popcorn stand. We purchased tickets and entered into the cinema.phdpiefillingjordans4Utterly bemused, we discussed what had just happened. Why was there a Jelly Bean factory in a furniture store? Had Michael Jackson designed this bizarre play land? How were people walking through rooms of furniture to get to a cinema like it was a perfectly normal thing to do?

Our discussion was interrupted as the room went dark and Eliot’s giant face appeared on the 8-Story screen and his 12,000-Watt voice boomed through the cinema. This was, we were promised, the most comfortable seat we would ever sit in and the most impressive sound we would ever hear. Eliot proudly explained that our seats were not merely seats; they were “Butt Kickers” with built in subwoofers. The thought of Eliot’s voice so close to me was quite unnerving.phdpiefillingjordans3The film, however, was excellent, and fully deserving of the supersized screen and subwoofers. The storyline was gripping, I only had to close my eyes a couple of times, and the shots of London and its skyline were all the better for the 8-Story projection. As the credits rolled and the lights came up, we made our way out of the cinema and into a display of grey-striped armchairs before eventually returning to the entrance and the giant green monster. We exited the store by passing underneath a statue of George Washington on his horse made entirely out of Jelly Beans….phdpiefillingjordans2Blinking in the bright Boston sunlight we struggled to make sense of what we had just experienced. Suffice to say we will not be buying a subwoofer or a Tempur-Pedic mattress, but we might just be back to this most bizarre of institutions. If DFS or Land of Leather were to offer similar such experiences in England, maybe I would move from mocking their ads to visiting their stores. In the mean time, I watch Eliot’s ads with new appreciation, armed with the knowledge that behind the unassuming black clothes and greying ponytail there is a real American eccentric. I’m not convinced this fantasy world helps to sell furniture, but thank you for the show….

The Dress

phdpfwedding4Last month I thought I might drown in tulle. Having got engaged the month before, we were now preparing for our civil ceremony in Boston. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted my dress to be like, and as my vision was unavailable in stores I took it upon myself to make my wedding dress. For the duration of late June our apartment looked somewhat akin to Miss Havisham’s dining room, but instead spider webs, blush tulle draped every surface. Crossing the floor became a dangerous assault course of pin-dodging, and I even pulled tulle remnants out of the bathroom drain.

The project took 3 seasons of Madmen to complete. Whole days were lost to hemming and the high temperatures outside meant that I kept the curtains closed to try and keep the apartment cool. And there, alone in the darkened room, I sewed and cut, and pinned and unpicked, and wondered if I was in fact in danger of becoming Miss Havisham.

Thankfully, these fears were unwarranted: opening the curtains and vacuuming quickly removed all traces of the Dickensian spinster, and instead a happy bride with a fabulously fifties-inspired outfit emerged from the piles of tulle, thread, and pattern paper.

For the skirt I used Simplicity 1427 View C. I have never made a skirt before and this one was an ambitious start as it calls for nearly 14 yards of gathered tulle. The reviews I read online were not generally very complimentary about the pattern design and instructions, and it is certainly a complicated and time-consuming procedure. I actually think the design is rather clever as the skirt waistband is constructed of two separate yolk pieces each with approximately 7 yards of gathered tulle to ensure that there is not too much bulk around the waistline.phdpfwedding6

The tulle is sewn onto a circular underskirt requiring nearly 5 yards of fabric. The woman at the fabric store balked when I told her it was all for a skirt, and I should have responded to her hesitancy. After sewing 5 yards of rolled hem, (a process that took nearly 4 episodes of Madmen) I constructed the skirt and tried it on. You could easily have fitted 3 of me in the skirt. Foolishly I persevered, telling myself that once the elastic was added this three-person skirt would shrink to my size. However, elastic does not have magical powers. I tried on the skirt complete with the first seven yards of tulle and was horrified. There was extra fabric everywhere and it was clear that that my hips did not need another 7 yards of padding, as they already had quite enough.

After a rather tense day of wondering how I would ever get this skirt to work, I realized deconstruction was the key. I carefully unpicked all the tulle from the skirt so that I could attack the underskirt with scissors. I removed about 2 yards of the underskirt and felt a stab of pain as I cut apart my carefully rolled hem. I also abandoned the duel-yoke construction and opted instead for a mere 7 yards of tulle on my skirt. To those of you brave enough to tackle this skirt yourself, I would suggest ignoring the underskirt pattern and instead constructing a circular skirt based on your actual waist measurements- no one needs 5 yards of fabric on an underskirt.

With nearly half the underskirt removed, I once again sewed the tulle to the skirt and added the elastic to the waistband. With bated breath I looked in the mirror and felt much relief to see that I no longer looked liked the Michelin Man, and instead had achieved the Fifties silhouette I was seeking.

For the top I chose to make the bodice of one of my favorite dresses to make, the Emery Dress by Christine Haynes. As I have made this dress several times I knew it would fit, however, I had to add a couple of inches to the bodice so that I could tuck into the skirt. I also chose to shorten the sleeves by several inches to make cap sleeves. For the top I used Michael Miller’s Confetti Border in Confection, which is from the Glitz collection. Michael Miller is a dream to sew with, and every time I use his fabric I swear I will never sew with cheap cotton again. To accommodate the print, I had to cut on the cross grain even though the Emery pattern is supposed to be on the grain. It did not seem to effect the fit too much, it was just a smidgen tighter than if cut on the grain.

The Emery dress has an invisible zipper and I included this in my bodice. As invisible zippers are joined together at the bottom this did mean that the top had to go on over my head. I plan to add a skirt to this Emery bodice after the wedding so that I can continue to wear it.

phdpfwedding5For the dress sash, I went to M&J Trimmings in NYC. The store is a mecca of ribbon with floor to ceiling ribbon displays in every color and texture imaginable. I could happily have stayed there for hours. Exercising some restraint, I purchased three yards of blush and gold ribbon. I wore the gold during the day and the blush sash when we went for dinner the night of our wedding.

phdpfwedding1Unlike the hapless Miss Havisham, I was not left alone on my wedding day. Instead my groom cried when he first saw me in my dress. My sister sent me a beautiful gold and blush tote bag from England, and my husband bought me a blush Kate Spade handbag as a wedding gift, so I was well accessorized. The dress was a big undertaking, but when a little girl in our hotel ran towards her Mum and told her she had seen a princess, every pinprick was worth it. For one day, I was Jackie O, and Belle, and every cover girl of Life magazine rolled into one, and I absolutely loved it.phdpfwedding3

Happy Daffy

phdpiefillingdaffy6 I knew the phrase “Call me Ishmael” long before I had heard of Moby Dick or Nantucket, as it is the last lines of the movie Matilda. As I got older I learned that Nantucket occupies a special place in the American imagination, and thus it seemed quite fitting that Matilda, a girl with extraordinary intelligence, would enjoy adventures with Captain Ahab and the white whale.

We first went to Nantucket three years ago during a summer vacation with my family. It was the only rainy day during our week on the Massachusetts coast, but the rain did not diminish the mystique of this island. My boyfriend does not necessarily share my desire to see every historical site in the United Sates, yet visiting an island known in imagination for so long through the words of Melville visibly moved him.

Nantucket is famous for its baskets, woven from rattan with wooden bases. These baskets were first used in the whaling ships in the 1800s and their appearance has changed little since then. They are incongruous in the modern world and yet they look at home amongst the grey cedar shingles of Nantucket’s old whaling mansions. Standing in the rain we watched a well-dressed man wearing an ornate chain of office emerge from the Pacific National Bank at the top of Main Street. Behind him several women, equally well-dressed in pretty linens, processed down the cobbled streets carrying their woven Lighthouse baskets. While we never found out who the people were, we still reminisce about seeing the King of Nantucket.

Although part of the state of Massachusetts, Nantucket is a world apart. Indeed in 1977 the island formally tried to secede from Massachusetts. It is only 30 miles south of Cape Cod, and yet, despite their shared affluence and sea-faring heritage, these summertime meccas are entirely different. Comprised of only 45 square miles of land, Nantucket is a both a step across time and geography. Arguably as influenced by England as by America, Nantucket is a living testament to the vibrant transatlantic culture that flourished in colonial America.

Perhaps because of their colonial connections, Nantucket has a distinctly English feel about it, and this is best exemplified in their annual Daffodil Weekend celebration, known locally as Daffy Day. When planning a trip away for my birthday in April, I was thrilled to learn that Daffy Day corresponded with my birthday weekend and knew instantly that this was how I wanted to celebrate.

Being an island utterly dependent on the mainland, it is easy to understand why Nantucket would welcome the beginning of Spring. While summertime Nantucket plays host to the elite of America and their boats, life on the island is not always so glamorous. I recently read a fascinating New York Times article written after Nantucket’s last funeral home closed. Bodies now have to be shipped to the nearest funeral parlor on the Cape and returned to Nantucket for burial. The Times detailed a funeral at which the body the was not present as rough weather prevented sea travel. With the worst winter on record I can only imagine how hard life was for year-rounders on the island this year.

At this year’s Daffy the sense of a new beginning was palpable. Ferries from the mainland were sold out and Nantucket’s cobbled streets bustled with holidaymakers. The excitement began before we had even arrived at the island as the ferry carried several passengers sporting daffodil attire. For some this was a subtle boutonniere, for others a cycling helmet sprouting daffs.

As you pull into Nantucket harbor Great Point lighthouse greets you. To many visitors, the sight of this national treasure is a welcome sign of summer. For Daffy weekend the lighthouse was bedecked with a large wreath of daffodils, and we jostled with the ferry full of Daffy-goers to get a glimpse of the famous landmark.phdpiefillingdaffy5Walking off the ferry and up the cobbled streets was like walking into fairyland, and I think I nearly broke my boyfriend’s hand I was gripping it so hard in excitement. Window boxes, storefronts, and even parking meters were decorated with daffodils. I don’t know whether it’s the sea air or something in the soil but the daffodils in Nantucket were the largest I have ever seen–the flowers were as big as dessert plates.

As we wandered towards Main Street scores of vintage cars decorated with daffodils and spring flowers gathered for a rally. In total there were about 100 cars, including many classic British designs such as the Morris Minor, a car my Grandparents had once owned. We stood in the sunlight and watched as the cars tackled the uneven cobbled streets. It was clear from the emcee’s lively commentary filled with insider jokes that Nantucket is a very close community. The day was a family affair with several generations cheering and clapping as the cars entered the thoroughfare. Old friends welcomed each other back to the island with hugs and salutations of “Happy Daffy!”

phdpiefillingdaffy2Once the cars had all arrived we wandered to the children’s beach for the next stage of the festivities: a children’s parade and a decorated hat competition. Both were delightfully English and took me back to the Easter Bonnet parades of my childhood. While the English are naturally competitive, the Americans take it to a new level. If an English bonnet had 50 daffodils on it, an American one would have 100. Standing on the beach watching grown men balance daffodil planters on their heads was one of the most surreal experiences I could imagine. Surreal but ever so nice.phdpiefillingdaffy1The final celebration of the Daffy day morning was a dog parade through downtown. The cobbled Main Street in Nantucket is very small, I would imagine there are about 20-30 shops in total. As we ambled back to the Main Street area, a voice over the loudspeaker announced that the dog parade would begin in front of the Ralph Lauren store. This seemed to capture the essence of Nantucket–no funeral parlor but still a Ralph Lauren.

The people of Nantucket have a spark of wonderful eccentricity that delights my English self. I’ve never seen so many bold flower-print clothing garments in my life. Any object that could be decorated was, whether it be headbands, bikes, or Nantucket baskets. This spirit, gusto, and willingness to look, quite frankly, a little daft is quintessentially English. As we walked along the sloping cobbles, a troupe of Morris Dancers came towards us. While they are often viewed as a quaint English village tradition, I, like my mother, hate Morris Dancers. I had to move away as I couldn’t suppress my laughter as I watched a team of men, likely high-achieving lawyers, doctors, and fathers amongst them, painstakingly count out their steps while waving hankies and sticks. I never in my wildest dreams expected to see Morris Dancers outside of English village fetes, but it seems Nantucket is the place to find them.phdpiefillingdaffy3With the morning festivities ending we ate our first lobster rolls of the year before joining a bus to take us to our next destination–the annual Nantucket Daffodil Show. One of the highlights of my childhood calendar was our local flower show. Together with other local children, I entered contests for the best handwriting, seascape, flower display or fairy garden, and the perennial favorite: the vegetable alien. The local village show is so distinctly English it is very hard to explain to an American. For one thing there is not necessarily a winner in each category. For example, you could have only one entry in a category and yet it might only win 3rd prize as it is not deemed good enough to win 1st. In addition, the judges have a little card in which they can (and do) write rather scathing comments about the entry. My boyfriend is fascinated with this odd English eccentricity, and thus was very excited for the Nantucket equivalent.

The 41st Annual Nantucket Daffodil Festival did not disappoint. Approved by the American Daffodil Society, Inc. they follow the English Royal Horticultural Society’s classification rules. We walked through rows and rows of individual daffodil stems competing in different flower categories. My favorite category was “Best Historical Daffodil.” We were thrilled to find that the Nantucket judges could be equally scathing, and wrote comments like “use a sharper knife for a cleaner stem cut,” when disappointed with an entry.

After the individual flower categories we idled through daffodil photo contest, before ending at the flower arrangements based on the theme “Found on Nantucket.” We found that we didn’t really understand the judges’ reasoning, and often disagreed with their awards and comments. But this is part of the charm of a local flower show.

phdpiefillingdaffy7To end our day on Nantucket we wandered along the beach collecting shells before heading to Sayle’s Seafood, an unassuming seafood shack at the end of a residential road. When walking from downtown it seems highly unlikely that there will be a restaurant in this area, but I promise it is there. The restaurant only has three or four plastic tables and chairs, and you sit surrounded by lobster tanks and counters displaying giant tuna and cod. Looking out the window you can see the ocean as you bite into some of the freshest, most delicious fried seafood around. The scallops are the size of burgers and the Fisherman’s Platter easily serves two.

Full of seafood we ambled back to the ferry as dusk drew in across Nantucket Harbor. While ours was a different type of escapade from those of Ahab and the Pequod crew, Nantucket remains ripe for adventure. Spending the first day of my next decade on this fairytale island, I was, without doubt, a very happy daffy.

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The Kitchen Aid

phdpiefillingpartyring2For our three-year anniversary in February I decided to make my boyfriend a cake. Naturally, I decided it should have five tiers in order to fit moose decorations on the side of the cake. Five tiers’ worth of buttercream seemed a bit much, so instead I  resolved that it was time to learn to make frosting. I chose Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Martha insisted that you need a stand mixer to do this, however, the Internet told me it was possible to make it with a hand mixer, it would just be very difficult. I grabbed onto the fact that it was technically possible and scorned at the idea of difficulty. It really couldn’t be that bad. After all I’ve watched Mrs. Patmore whip cream by hand.

I actually got blisters from holding the mixer, and I believe I may have done permanent damage to my wrists. I had to keep taking breaks as I could not physically hold onto the mixer anymore and my hand seized up in a grab position. It does, in fact, take hours to make Swiss Meringue Buttercream by hand. I doubt Mrs Patmore would ever have been foolish enough to attempt it. You whisk it over the stove, then you whisk peaks, then you add icing sugar and continue to whisk until the end of time. At one point the mixture curdled and despite Martha’s advice not to worry it would come together again, I found myself alone in the kitchen covered in sticky sugary semi-whipped egg whites screaming abuse at Martha.

phdpiefillingpartyrings7After reading a lot of advice online, I did eventually manage to salvage the icing and produced a halfway decent cake. However, it was now clear that the hand mixer wasn’t going to cut it anymore: I needed a Kitchen Aid. Both of my sisters have Kitchen Aids, and my younger sister has been trying to convince me to get one since Christmas. Initially I ignored her advice but Swiss Meringue-gate had changed things.

For the last few months I’ve spent a lot of time looking at Kitchen Aids, indeed a couple of weeks ago my boyfriend practically had to drag me away from an Ice colored one during a late night Target visit. He kept telling me that the prices went down in May and I could look again then. Unusually I believed him. I should have known he did not actually know the Kitchen Aid sale schedule by heart; this is much more my type of knowledge. Unbeknownst to me, my wonderful Mummy had already told him that she was getting me one for my birthday. I had no idea and could not have had a better surprise when I opened the beautiful Ice colored mixer.

For my first Kitchen Aid experience I decided to make Party Ring cakes. Party Rings are my favorite English biscuit. For those Americans reading, they are small circular sugar cookies with a hole in the middle, covered in colored icing. They are a staple at English birthday parties, and were affectionately called finger-mice biscuits in my house as we wore them on our fingers before eating. Now that you can buy mini ones I tend to buy several packets when I’m home. I’ve wanted to try decorating cakes with them for ages, and the birthday Kitchen Aid’s maiden voyage seemed like perfect opportunity.

phdpiefillingpartyrings3For the first few days, I just looked at the Kitchen Aid, stroking it occasionally, admiring its industrial beauty. When I finally drummed up the courage to get it dirty, the Kitchen Aid worked like a dream. The Swiss Meringue Buttercream only took about 20 minutes in the mixer and I watched in awe as the machine did all the work of whisking and whipping my icing. The mixture did curdle, but it seems Martha was right, if you leave it alone the Kitchen Aid does bring the mixture back together. I’m sorry I yelled at you last time, Martha. I shouldn’t have doubted you and blame the blistered hand and the curdled egg whites in my hair.phdpiefillingpartyrings4Perhaps best of all, the arrival of the Kitchen Aid provided a fantastic storage problem and justified the purchase of another Ikea Raskog cart. The Kitchen Aid fits perfectly in the top shelf, and the additional shelves provided a welcome excuse to display all my other teal bakeware. My boyfriend, who was initially skeptical of the need for a new cart, now admits it is the perfect finishing touch for our kitchen.phdpiefillingraskogSince making these cakes, we’ve used the Kitchen Aid for whoopie pies, frosting, pie and pizza dough. It has even got the seal of approval from my bread-making boyfriend – high praise indeed. The two of us, both former vegetarians, have invested in sausage making attachments and casings and plan to finally have proper English sausages this side of the pond. Whether I can man up enough to use the meat grinder remains to be seen…. but at least I’ve mastered the Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

 

04.15.13

phdpiefillingbostonstrong1 It was months before I could bear to pick up Allies at War again. Although it wasn’t the book’s fault, it felt as if the mere act of reading it would once again transform my world—suddenly making the mundane the extraordinary—as had happened that day.

“Attention passengers” announcements are nothing extraordinary on Boston’s public transport. Indeed, as I heard the familiar voice I only briefly paused from reading to groan. Snapping the book closed I begrudgingly left the train as it pulled into the station, expecting that once again the T had encountered a problem. As I stood on the platform at Kenmore waiting for a new train, the transformation began. Transit workers started ushering people out of the station, disrupting the usual lackadaisical motions of frustrated passengers. No longer was this an ordinary day in which the T breaks down and commuters are disgruntled—it was fast becoming one of the most frightening days of my life.

From the gossip around me I gathered that there was a bomb threat at Kenmore. It seemed odd then that we had been made to get out at Kenmore and were now standing in the path of this bomb. Wanting to leave the crowds I headed away from the station and in the growing confusion found myself in the marathon, literally in amongst the runners. I called my boyfriend and told him about the bomb scare, and continued to weave my way through the runners. All the while heading further into downtown Boston.

The bomb threat was not in Kenmore Square. I should have stayed there. My boyfriend, watching events unfold on the TV, called me to break the news that two bombs had gone off at the finishing line, two blocks from where I was standing. Somehow he tried to keep me calm. It must have been awful for him seeing the carnage, knowing I was right there. Thankfully he was also able to get hold of my Mum before she saw the news in England.

I first felt real panic when black SUVs emerged from every direction. It did not seem possible that so many black cars could have been in the city. Where had they been hiding? It is cliché to say it felt like a film, but it was my only frame of reference in this chaotic new world. In the movies, swarming black SUVs with tinted windows generally denotes danger. From ramps and underpasses, alleyways and parking lots, shiny black cars seemed to swarm like bees. Their black exterior starkly contrasted the sea of colorful neon Lycra-clad athletes, which I had somehow become a part of.

While the city of Boston came together in remarkable ways after the marathon tragedy, during the event itself I was alone except for my prayers. In the climate of rumor and fear, everyone became an enemy. Tales of unexploded bombs spread like wildfire. At one point I was squashed up against a truck when someone yelled for us to evacuate the area, as there was another bomb in the truck. I had never considered my own mortality in such a direct way before and desperately prayed to live.

I had to get out of the city, but to do so I had to get through the finish line area. In trying to maneuver my way through an increasingly alien and hostile city, even the police seemed to be against me as they blocked pedestrian access and closed roads. I got turned around and rerouted so many times that I totally lost my bearings, becoming thoroughly lost in a city that once felt like home. Phone calls and texts stopped, and the angry dissonant beep of my phone’s dying battery magnified my eerie solitude.

There are still parts of the day that I do not remember. I know I must have walked along one particular two-mile stretch of road, but I have no recollection of doing so. My sense of time is similarly vague. Thoroughly lost, I joined a group of evacuated hotel guests and a wedding party standing in the street. Watching the bride shivering I questioned what was this all about. What had this woman done to deserve the horror and confusion that now engulfed her perfect day? After an undetermined amount of time I was able to get hold of my boyfriend, who gave me directions through the now unfamiliar city towards the train station and the promise of home.

As I walked, I repeated his directions over and over in my head, scared of losing this new knowledge. The mantra kept me focused on my task, and prevented thoughts of what dangers the city still held. As I neared the station I found myself in a deserted alley, silent except for the sound of my thumping heart beat. My heart felt like it would come through my chest as I ran terrified from a pile of trash. In a world transformed, a discarded pizza box could seem like a bomb; the mundane could now be the extraordinary.

Once in the station I was struck by how ordinary life seemed. The familiar departure boards, hot dog stand, and ticket machines were all unaware of the chaos of the world outside. As I got onto the train my phone rang. Looking down at the screen, I saw “Mummy” in the caller ID. Frantically pushing buttons, I screamed down the phone desperate to talk. The call failed to connect and tears streamed down my face as all the terror and fear of the day crystalized in a primordial need to hear her voice.

As soon as I got back to my house I plugged in my phone and collapsed in a heap in the corner. I called my Mum and in incoherent breathless sobs began to vocalize all that I had felt and experienced that day. In my 800 square-foot apartment I sat crouched under a side table for a few hours; a small place of safety from which to confront and comprehend the dangerous world.

phdpiefillingbostonstrong3The next few days in Boston were uneasy. Allies at War sat on my desk unopened, trains bypassed the finish line area, and police and National Guard stood watch. Our Episcopalian church worshiped at the Jewish synagogue while its own church remained inaccessible. The city came together in grief, and worked to return to the peace and security of a predictable world.

Five days after the marathon the city came to a standstill once again. We all remained inside watching the police chase in Watertown. When the blood-soaked, skinny boy eventually emerged from the boat, it did not seem possible that one so small and insignificant could harbor so much hate. The nightmare, it seemed, was over.

For me, the nightmares continued for months. Visiting my Mum in Las Vegas in May, I woke up drenched in sweat after terrorists chased me through sleep. It still occasionally happens, but with much less frequency. Slowly life became normal. In time “Attention Passengers” notifications became an everyday frustration, not a terrifying reminder. I did eventually finish Allies at War and the world remained stable. At home with my boyfriend, I watched the Red Sox win the World Series, and later joined the crowds standing in clouds of red and white confetti at the Victory Parade. Sport helped the city heal. While I wasn’t physically hurt on 04.15.13, I was one of the many who were Boston Strong.phdpiefillingbostonstrong2