Oops, I shaved my head (published november 28, 2008)

For several weeks before I left, my family and I joked around about how England would change me. I made wisecracks about getting off the plane with blue hair, giant tattoos, various facial piercings, a baby … but nothing I joked about could compare to what actually happened.

I’m bald.

No, I’m not kidding. I, Catie Osborn, have less than a quarter inch of hair on my head.

The story of how I came to be this way is a long and detailed one, but basically, it’s gross, and you don’t want to hear it. While I wasn’t actually affected with anything at the time of my haircut, I was warned by the good doctor that I could very easily get it, and exposure, in itself, was enough to endanger myself and others, especially my dad.

So, in the interest of my father’s health, I went to the barbershop in town like the true adventurer I am, and Ihad it all sh-sh-shaved off. Sorry, it’s still kind of hard to say. The lady at the barbershop actually started crying halfway through my haircut, which was a little disheartening. Funnily enough, she also shaved off about half of it, stopped, looked at me, and said, “Are you SURE you want to do this?”

So I’m bald. Which, all in all, isn’t as incredibly tragic as I thought it was going to be. People either think that I’m G.I. Jane or Natalie Portman … or Mr. Clean. I’ve started rocking a lot of fun hats, and I bought a really terrible wig for those occasions when I can’t wear hats respectfully. Thankfully, it’s so cold here all the time that no one questions me wearing winter hats 24/7.

Most of my close friends, both here and at home, know about it already, and it’s been really fun waiting for the perfect moment to unveil my new look. My favorite way to do it is to wait until someone is complaining about the terrible day he or she has had, and then whip off my hat and say something like, “Yeah, I know how awful it must have been getting a library fine. Did I mention that I DON’T HAVE ANY HAIR?”

There have been a couple times when I’ve been sad (like when I found my favorite hair clip after two weeks of looking for it, only to realize …), but I’m trying to keep a positive attitude. It’s only hair; it will grow back; and now I have a really awesome story to tell. Although losing the excuse of “I can’t, I have to wash my hair” has been kind of a bummer. And I keep getting chased out of bathrooms by girls who think I’m a boy.

To tell the truth — and here’s where it gets cheesy, folks — I did it for my dad. He has gone through so much in the past year that I feel as if having a crappy haircut for a few months is the least I can do.

Last year, my amazing theater professor, Cory, and I were talking about how she had shaved her head for a part she once played, and I remember her telling me that it was just the right thing to do. I never thought I would be faced with a situation like this, but I am really glad that I have people like her in my life to help me remember what is really important.

And yes, I would have preferred to keep my ’do, but you know what? Seeing my family, especially this year, at Christmas is WAY more important than being able to put my hair into a ponytail — any day.

At least my family knows what to get me for Christmas. A new car.

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Nothing To Write About Column (Published Nov 2008)

Hi. I’m Catie. Yeah, I’m American. Iowa. No, that’s Idaho. No, it’s right in the middle. You know where the Mississippi River is? No? Oh. Let’s see … yeah, kind of by … no, it’s not by New Orleans. Iowa. No, it’s not a city. It’s a state. Ohio is a different state. Yeah, I guess they kind of sound the same …

So far, living in England has been an excellent adventure. I’ve enjoyed every minute of my experience abroad, but after repeating the preceding conversation with all of my classmates, teachers, new friends, the lady at the shoe store, people in elevators, on trains, in the restroom … I’m thinking about having a T-shirt made up.

See, to many of the native inhabitants I’ve met, there are three options. Americans are from a) New York, b) California, or c) somewhere in the middle. Now imagine trying to explain to someone who thinks that Iowa is the one that looks like a mitten that you’re technically from two states and four cities, plus a few extra tacked on here and there with a river in between, but the river is just for looks because we have like three bridges. (Insert witty bridge-under-construction joke here.) I’ve started carrying in my wallet a map on which the Quad-Cities is circled to aid conversation. Only once did I try and explain the Sky Bridge.

The most exciting thing about being here is that people actually are interested in our “outsider” perspective. Because of this, our blog also is taking off, and we have become minor celebrities here on campus, which has been very interesting. We keep getting recognized as “those girls from that blog” (which gives me a warm homey glow, as I’m used to being “that girl from that column” in the good old QCA), but I fear that English people will start taking my word for things.

Let’s be honest: I’m weird. I should in no way be trusted with being a cultural ambassador. I have half of my fiction class believing that all Americans burst into show tunes whenever the mood strikes, and we all will drop whatever we’re doing immediately if the Sherlock Holmes episode of “Star Trek” comes on. True story: I made friends with a guy in my English class when I made the comment, “Hey, you’re wearing fingerless gloves (long, awkward pause) just like Fagin.” I am so cool.

I’m glad that I chose England for my study-abroad experience. Until now, the only experience I had had with English culture was reading books by Charles Dickens and about Harry Potter, and watching the good version of “The Office,” so finding out what life is really like on this side of the pond has been an adventure all its own. Plus, being from America makes me mysterious and exotic, thusly ensuring a talking point when initiating conversation with cute boys around campus. OK, who am I kidding? But I could initiate conversation. If, you know, I wasn’t busy reading Harry Potter.

Whitey’s Column (Published Oct 2008)

It finally happened. After almost a month here in England, I finally got homesick. But not for my friends or family, my own bed, the way the QCA smells during the fall, or even the ability to drive places. It was something else, something bigger, something more necessary to my survival.

Whitey’s. Sweet, sweet mother of delicious, do I miss Whitey’s ice cream.

Let me explain. I have been sick for about two weeks. And not just runny-nose sick. I’m talking hard-core, should-have-been-to-the-doctor-a-week-ago, can’t-really-get-out-of-bed sick. I’m currently on three different medications; I haven’t been able to go to class for a week; and I have a cool inhaler that I get to use whenever the coughing gets too bad. (Mom, put down the phone. You do not need to book a ticket here.)

I was really sick; I was hungry; and all I wanted was a big, thick Whitey’s malt. Or milkshake. I didn’t really care at that point. I just wanted to hold that beautiful red-and-white cup with its familiar crystalline insulation in my hand, grab a long white plastic spoon, and know that for the next 10 minutes all would be right with the world. But it was not to be.

England has a definitive lack of decent milkshakes. (Don’t even bother looking for a malt.) No one in town even makes milkshakes except McDonalds, and, well … McDonald’s is not Whitey’s. There is one place that advertises milkshakes on the menu, but when I requested one, I was given a plastic bottle filled with something vaguely resembling Slim-Fast.

This is the big problem here. They sell these “milkshakes” in the stores, and yes, while they taste better than diet drinks, you cannot hold them upside down for 10 minutes. Sub-par, my friends, sub-par.

So I thought I would beat the system. I had heard tell of this amazing milkshake place in Liverpool, where people stand in line for upwards of 30 minutes to experience the deliciousness and pay … well, they pay a lot.

I cracked. I bought a train ticket into Liverpool and found my way to supposed milkshake heaven. (Keep in mind that, at this point, I vaguely looked as if I might die at any moment. I was asked at least four times by the train-ticket guy if I was SURE everything was all right and if he could do anything for me. I assured him, through my 45th coughing fit of the day, that unless he could remove the disease from my lungs, I would have to work it through on my own.) It was also about 38 degrees and raining. This is important to the story.

After lining up (outside) and waiting for about 20 minutes, I got my “shake.” And right there, in the middle of Liverpool, I held my milkshake and cried like a little girl. Why? To give you some sort of idea, picture milk. Got it? Now picture crunched-up Oreos in your milk. That’s what I paid 4 pounds for. I am not exaggerating. It sounds like it, but really, I’m not. Oh, and by the way, that was the equivalent of $8. I would pay $200 for a Whitey’s chocolate malt right now.

I went home, curled up in bed and, for the first time since coming here, was homesick. I tried explaining it to the other Americans, desperately searching for words to explain why I was so upset, but Whitey’s is not something you can really explain. Its an experience that most of my friends here will tragically never have, nor understand. My loyalty to the best ice cream in the world runs deep. (And really, that is not an underestimate. I’ve been trying to find something better all over Europe, and so far I haven’t. Trust me. I don’t mess around when it comes to ice cream.)

Later that night, Abby came home and we played “If You Could Be Eating Anything Right Now, What Would It Be?” Guess what we both said?

Amsterdamn Column (Published October 18, 2008)

So far, everything in England has been amazing. We’ve traveled a bit, seen the sights, but it wasn’t until last weekend that we decided to finally take the plunge and do some real European exploring. And what an adventure it was.

We decided on Friday that we were going to try and make it to Munich in time for the last weekend of Oktoberfest. So we hopped on a train to Liverpool, then from Liverpool to London. All good. There was a moment when an angry ticket agent asked us where we wanted to go. I said, “Munich”.

“You want to go WHERE?”

“…Munich?”

“NOT FROM HERE YOU’RE NOT!”

We were at the wrong station. We needed to go down the street…but I refused to leave the station until I got my picture taken in from of Platform 9 and ¾. It was probably one of the best moments of the trip.

After a quick visit to a pub to… warm up… we discovered that all of the trains from London to Germany were booked. So, on the spur of the moment, it was decided that we would go to Amsterdam instead. We bedded down for the night in the train station which, at the time, was a balmy 37 degrees. After making friends with a French guy named Thomas and getting asked out by three Spanish college students, our train finally arrived and we took off for Amsterdam bright and early and hating the world.

Upon our arrival, we were asked at customs why, particularly, four American college students would have the desire to go to Amsterdam. I told him: “the architecture, of course”.

The trip was fairly uneventful. I had never been so glad for the things my mom has taught me, nor have I ever been so glad that my mother was 2000 miles away. After spending an exciting day…looking at architecture….we got ready to head home. It was then that the trip took an interesting turn for the worst. The train workers in Belgium, where we had come from, were on strike, and because of this, the trains were running at odd times and being rerouted. We were stuck, at least temporarily, for the night in Amsterdam.

Finally, after nearly being robbed by an unscrupulous innkeeper (who would only have been creepier if his name was Norman Bates), we wound up in a respectable hotel with a courteous staff , hot water and clean towels–all things the previous choices charged extra money for.

After taking the early train out, we made a horrible discovery. We had been sold the wrong tickets for the train ride home, and because of the train strike, the trains were booked through to next week. We visited three different ticket agents, we still hadn’t gotten anywhere. The only thing we had been told was that all the seats were booked and that if a seat opened up, we would have to pay an additional 75 Euros per ticket. Not an option. We were still stuck, and I was terrified.

It was at this moment, stranded in Belgium, tired, hungry, broke and completely lost that I realized the seriousness of my situation. It was also the moment I remembered that I was a theatre major who can cry on cue.

We rode home, for free, in first class.

My First Column From England

Well… I made it!

After  months of waiting and planning, I am in England. Hopefully you didn’t miss me too much. England is fantastic, and filled with very nice people.  I think. I still haven’t worked out some of the terminology around here, so I might be getting insulted, but when it’s in such a charming accent, I don’t really mind either way.

 On my first day here, we heard gunshots.  Our tour guide explained that we had nothing to worry about, and that it was just the farmers scaring off birds from the fields. She then told us that Ormskirk, the town I am staying in, has the lowest crime rate of any English city. However, if anyone wants to stab anyone with plastic knives, I can tell you exactly where to find them.

I never thought unpacking would involve so much effort. Around our house, the biggest problem was hangers. No one in town sold hangers, and no one had thought to pack them.  Enter Catie. We were on a trip to Wales (which was awesome as well), and we, being the girls of the group, stopped at a store  to shop for important historical artifacts. Meaning we wanted new purses . The lady at the counter was delighted by  my accent (It’s so cool to be the one with the funny accent) and we struck up a conversation about how we had just arrived and were still unpacking. Then she popped into the back and came out with a GIANT bag of hangers and told me to take them, as she wasn’t using them.  So I lugged 20 pounds of hangers around Wales for the day, but in the end, we all got our hangers.  I am a hero.

I’ve met some amazing people already, and the American students I am on the program with all deserve to have columns of their own. Never before have I been exposed to such varied personalities, backgrounds and cultural differences, but we are already one big family… a family who just happens to visit the local pub more than twice a day. Just kidding, Mom.  

There are some interesting cultural differences. Lemonade has carbonation, spell check keeps telling me I’ve spelled things wrong,  cars tend to keep having to swerve to avoid me (look RIGHT first!!) and the “@” symbol is reversed with the quotation marks on the keyboard. Somehow though, I think I will survive.

There have been some major issues with getting access to the internet, but it’s all sorted out now and I will continue writing for as long as the paper is willing to put up with me.  I do have a new website as well, which is a travel blog where you can keep updated on my adventures in England. Find it at http://2girls1adventure.wordpress.com

Cheerio!

I Believe In Catie O (published 9/6)

I have an important announcement to make. It is with great humility and respect for this fine country of ours that I happily accept my own personal nomination, for myself, to be President of the United States Of America. We’re not going to mess with tedious elections and party nominations. Straight to the top!

I’ve thought a lot about it, and I’ve decided that it’s probably in your—my fellow American’s— best interest to vote for me in the upcoming election. Here’s why.

I ran many committees and meetings in high school, and, as anyone who has ever dealt with high school drama knows, it is far more serious then anything the world stage may have to offer. I also play tons of Sim City.

In addition to my vast experiences in leadership, I am well versed in foreign policy. I feel that any problem can be delt with rationally, civily and with respect. If not, I will merely implement my “Monday Night Pudding Wrestling/Mart Kart Tournament At The United Nations” approach. Loser has to take care of the ozone for a week.

Plus, I am great with dealing with difficult, unpredictable and crazy dictators…I mean, anyone living with my mother would be an expert by now.

I also have a Facebook. That means instead of dealing with the copious chore of digging through my past to find embarrassing and potentially career-ruining photos, I will save the hoards of reporters who will following me energy and fuel emissions by allowing them unlimited access to all of my pictures from freshman year.

I am great with balancing a budget. Okay, that’s a lie, but my dad isn’t really busy these days, and I could totally get him to do it.

Sorry about the lie.

In my America, no child will be left behind, Instead, children will ride the backs of magical winged unicorns to school and delicious cotton candy clouds will rain down sherbet gumdrops into the chocolate rivers. Pants will always be optional and those without shirts or shoes will not be discriminated against when searching for service any longer.

I am a firm believer in helping fix our nation’s problems. Under my reign, I will distribute one free roll of duct tape to every citizen and institute a 10 minute or less wait time on the phone with customer service.

I will lower our nation’s dependency on foreign oil, and instead push for French fry cars, thusly improving the air quality. Because who doesn’t want to live in a country that perpetually smells like French fries? As for gun control, I feel that instead of restricting guns, we can simply compromise, and legalize the right to punch people in the face.

I will do my best to boost our economy by making it Christmas, every day except Tuesdays. Tuesdays are the day after Thanksgiving.

I have already chosen Chuck Norris as my running mate, Batman my Secretary of State and Jesus my co-pilot. I have no illegitimate children, mistresses or interns. I often assist old people in crossing the street, and I kiss babies while shaking hands with people and squeezing firmly but not giving them a “death grip”. I can read, have a valid driver’s license and can honestly name all the past presidents. In song. I look really good standing by a podium and even better in front of a flag. I can wave really, really well. I also look good on t-shirts and coffee mugs. I can nod seriously and use hand gestures for emphasis with great skill.

Vote for me, America.

Please? I don’t want to have to get a real job.

To The Driver of the Red Pickup Truck: (Published August, 2008)

Hi. It’s me. You know, purple running shoes, black shorts, favorite blue tank top?

Well, it’s not blue any more, thanks to you. That strawberry milkshake you threw out of the back of your crappy pickup truck really improved the look.

I mean, I should have known that running on your personal, private highway was in poor taste. But oh, man, how can I ever thank you for showing me, via air-born dairy product, that you disapproved?

I mean, I was ALL the way over on the sidewalk, which I’m sure impeded your view around that half mile straightaway. And plus, I mean, I was all happy looking with my ipod and headband. How dare me, sir, how dare me!

Perhaps I startled you. I mean, it would be hard to concentrate on anything else, what with the sound of your dying engine and all of that Shania Twain blasting out of your cheap speakers.

I’d like to apologize for my rampant disregard for your vendetta against public display of kneecaps. Or maybe it was my headband. I mean, it did perfectly match my once-blue tank top. I can understand how coordination might be something you fear. I would have flung my melted milkshake in terror as well, had I come across something so terrifying as a girl in a blue tank top running down a hill.

I mean, I was merely 40 feet away from the “Beware of Pedestrians” sign. It would be easy to misconstrue that sign as a warning against attack. I do look like the type to suddenly attack the lone motorist. Especially considering that I was singing along to show tunes. That’s a sure sign of an Attack Pedestrian.

From this day on, I promise to do my best to not do anything as silly as avoid your melted rain of strawberry hatred, but rather, to accept it as my punishment for breathing more than my fair share of oxygen. I mean, shallow mouth-breathers like yourself just don’t need as much oxygen, and there I was, breathing heavily because of my run. It was terribly selfish of me, I know.

I should probably explain what a “run” is. You see, some people, like myself, enjoy this thing called “fitness.” I know that this is a new and difficult concept for you, sir, but if you’d just stop crunching on potato chips in between spits of tobacco, you would have noticed that this “fitness” thing isn’t communicable. You can’t catch it, so lobbing your sugary drink was really rather unnecessary.

But also, thank you for that final kicker: the way you partially stopped at the stop sign and oh-so-casually lobbed your half-finished cigarette out of your window. That was great. As if your feelings on outdoor exercise weren’t clear enough, I learned more about you today. We share something in common.

I, too, love litter, polluted air and forest fires! You see? Your sticky pink beverage of lactose-infused hatred was wasted on me.

So, in closing, thank you, sir, for educating me, and reminding me why I am going to England in 34 days.

Because in England, redneck jerks like yourself are shipped off to Australia before they can cause any trouble.