Saturday, June 23, 2012

"Ze Children, Zey Love Me"

Well, folks, the first week of ND Vision 2012 is now officially over. I'd been planning for some time on writing about the week once it ended, but now that it's in the books, I have more blog fodder than I could ever have imagined. You see, ladies and gents, before the kids arrived, I was assigned the job of Top 9 Girl. The Top 9 person gets up every morning in front of all 360 high school kids and gives a list of the Top 9 somethings from the previous day. The point of this presentation is basically to be funny. Apparently, high schoolers find me quite funny. Being Top 9 girl, as it turns out, reaps a very interesting array of benefits.

The most notable of these benefits are the comments received from the high schoolers. To fit my job, I have arranged some of these comments here as the Top 6 Comments About Top 9: Week One Edition. I would do the Top 9, but these are the only 6 I can remember, because I've slept since I heard these. (Specifically, for anyone who cares, I've slept 13 hours, since I not only slept during the night like a normal person last night but also turned a short nap yesterday afternoon into 6 hours accidentally. YOLO.)

6. After passing me and my life-size Justin Bieber cutout (yes, he made an appearance in top 9) on the quad, one young lady turned around and cried out, "Hey, you're the funny one!" After searching the area to ensure that Tina Fey wasn't standing somewhere nearby, I replied, "Yeah, I'm Top 9 Girl!" Seeing Justin folded up under my arm, she grew concerned. "So," she said, "Do you really like Justin Bieber or are you just making fun of him?" I assured her that my Bieber Fever was indeed genuine, and, looking very relieved, she thanked me and walked away.

5. Though I technically heard this comment from one of my fellow mentors, I'm still counting it. While working on Top 9 one night, one of the guys informed me that, while performing his RA duties the previous evening, multiple kids had informed him that they were purposely breaking rules so that I would hear about it and mention them in the Top 9. While I can't officially condone such behavior...I can't say I didn't enjoy that piece of news.

4. The trend of begging to be in the Top 9 continued on Thursday afternoon, when I ran into a few boys from the prep school group that had been terrorizing everyone all week. "Hey Sarah Cahalan," they said, staring for an uncomfortably long time at the name tag pinned to my shirt. They went on to commiserate with me over what they correctly assumed was the hassle of people constantly pronouncing my name wrong ("It must be like the whole world is dyslexic"), explained some of their inside jokes and puns with each other's last names ("You just got Lynched, Sarah!"), and then made fun of some people, so I got bored and left. Just when I thought I'd escaped them, I heard someone running through the grass on DeBartolo Quad behind me. To no one's surprise, it was them. "Sarah," their ringleader pleaded, "Would you please put us in the Top 9? We'll do anything. I love your work, really, I do." I chuckled as I watched this boy's dignity slip from his grasp. "I've been a big follower of all the Top 9s so far. Big supporter. I just - wow.'ll put us in the Top 9?"

3. On Friday afternoon, one of the mentors informed me that during her group's affirmations that morning - a time when the kids are supposed to go around and share with each other the ways in which they see God through these new friends, etc - the conversation somehow turned to me. "My group would like to affirm that you should be a stand-up comedian. Who sings." [Note: When not presenting Top 9, my job is that of Music Mentor, meaning I'm on stage singing a lot.] Thanks, kids - I'll get right on that. The options in the bustling job market of singing comedians are supposed to be really great this season!

2. This next one wins the award for cutest comment of the week. I was sitting in the dining hall with Justin Bieber in the seat next to me when a kid from the next table turns around. His name, I would learn, is Charlie, and he just finished eighth grade. He is adorable. He says to me, "Are you doing Top 9 tomorrow?" I assured him that I would be doing Top 9 every day, and after thinking for a minute, he asked, "Do you write those all by yourself?" I explained that I have a committee, he nodded, and one of my friends asked if he had any Top 9 ideas. Wide-eyed, he said that he did not. I made him promise that he'd let me know if he thought of anything. He never came up with any ideas, but did I strongly consider a "Top 9 Cutest Things About Charlie"? Maybe.

1. While walking up the stairs in Badin: "Hey!'re like literally the most awesome person I've ever met. My entire church has a girl crush on you." Girl pauses to think about that last sentence. "Like...not in a weird way. We just can't resist!" Because saying that made it less weird.

So that's what my first week has been. I feel like Regina George. (Hopefully the summer won't end with me getting hit by a bus.) I also feel that there's something weird about being the popular girl on staff at Jesus camp, but I mean, I'm not complaining. The title of this post refers to the line I have had quoted to me most frequently this week, taken from one of our musicals. "Ze children, zey love me!" The character who says that line goes on to say, "And do you know what I do? I svallow ze svord for them!" Watch out, Vision, because I think I've got my act planned for next week.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Domerberry, Meet Nature

By 8:00 this morning, the clock was already ticking on what would quickly become one of the strangest days of my life. At that particular time, I was sitting on a bus, telling my friends and anyone who listened that today would be the day of my death. Today, you see, the Vision mentors went together to an action-adventure-outdoor-sports ranch called, at various points throughout the day, Manowe, Summit Adventure, and Hell (the latter mostly by me). Before embarking on this journey, I had been told very little about what the day would hold, but what I had heard sounded a little something like this: 

"There's a high ropes course. They strap you into a harness but I think the risk is still pretty high that it will kill or severely maim you." "All we ask is that you 'challenge yourself.'" "It's all outdoors and in nature!" "Here, sign this waiver and fill out this extensive medical history form." "Today's forecast calls for a high of 93 degrees." "I hear they make you jump through flaming hula hoops over a pit of lava while large knives swing in front of you and the goat-man from Hercules screams insults at you from a lawn chair." 

Even if one of those statements was never actually said (hint: it's the last one), it should be obvious to anyone who knows me why I went into this day more than a little concerned. You see, I do not do particularly well in nature settings. I also don't exactly excel at 99 out of any 100 physical and athletic endeavors you can throw at me. Should you need proof of this, simply look at a picture of me - particularly one taken last year during my brief encounter with pole vaulting. Though I hate to spoil the ending of a good story, I'll warn you now that the day turned out to be significantly less horrible than anticipated...but, as I predicted around the same time I predicted my death, it was still plenty ridiculous enough to merit this blog post. 

My group's day at Manoventurehell began at the equestrian center. I was elated to hear that this would be my first stop of the day, since I figured my chance of dying from a slow-walking-pace ride on a horse would be pretty minimal. This assumption proved largely true, but if you think my horseback-riding days (okay...minutes) were uneventful, think again. My assignment to a horse the size of an F150 was my first concern. Said horse's inexplicable desire to walk only on the parts of the trail where low-hanging, thorny branches hit both him and me in the face every few feet was the next. Luckily, we managed to avoid the barbed-wire fence my horse seemed bent on walking three inches from. I think this is due in large part to my repeated attempts to logic with the horse. "Um, hello. Horse? I think maybe it might be a better idea to not walk next to that barbed wire. Wouldn't you like to walk over there where we won't be ripped to shreds by barbed wire? I certainly think you would" apparently always works. The most dangerous moment of horseback riding came when a large insect landed on the back of my head and, in my attempts to shake it off, I A) made the bug angry enough to bite me, B) almost definitely pulled a muscle in my neck, and C) came inches from falling off the horse - all at the same time. In all, though, this part of the day was really quite enjoyable. 

I met our next station with a tad less elation than I had with the horses. As the Vision veterans had explained a few times, this next station basically consisted of a giant pole which you must climb, then jump off of. This station sounded suspiciously likely to kill me. Fortunately for me, my sub-section of the group avoided our seemingly imminent deaths for a while by heading first to the team-building obstacle course and low ropes course. The team obstacle course - which, to clarify, was less an obstacle course and more just a series of stumps and logs we had to get from one end of to the other without falling on the ground, but is a lot easier to describe as just "obstacle course" - taught me primarily that I am very bad at interpreting directions that are communicated without the use of spoken word. Of the three sections of the low ropes course that my sub-sub-group attempted, I managed to finish two without falling into a split and subsequently crying and refusing to try again. So I call that a success. Then came the suspiciously-deathy-sounding pole. I attempted to avoid the event altogether by politely allowing others to go first and hoping our time would run out. When time did not run out, it was pole-climbing time for Sarah. Something you should all probably know about me? As surprising as this may be, I am not good at climbing poles. Yes, there were step-like rung-y things (I'm good at adjectives) all the way up. No, this did not alleviate my inability to climb up a pole. I got to the point where the plastic steps turn to metal rungs and politely requested that the team holding up my harness please return me to the ground because I would not like to go any further, thank you. And by "politely requested...thank you," I actually mean that I shouted a string of angry demands that were apparently, blissfully interpreted as attempts at light-hearted humor and, on the way back down through the air, screamed at my boss - the man who brought us to Manoventurehell - that I hated him. Luckily, my boss (who, shortly thereafter, climbed up the pole using only one hand) realized that this particular outcry actually was meant to be a joke, because I like not being fired. So basically, the suspiciously-deathy-sounding pole was a success only in that I did not depart from it on a stretcher. Better than nothing. 

To finish off the day, my group headed over to the rock-climbing/archery station. My sub-group began at the rock wall, which was surprisingly non-miserable. Now don't get me wrong, it's not like I got any more than 7 or so feet off the ground. I did, however, outsmart the system. After each of the six or so times that I fell (in hydraulics-controlled harness) off the wall, I stood frustrated at the bottom staring at the wall until eventually confronting Coach Matt about its myriad problems. I started with the dozens of spots where handholds were clearly missing, which, as I suspected, they do in fact move around just to mess with people. I finished by pointing out that about 3 out of 4 handholds on the "easy wall" - which I was obviously on, let's not get crazy - looked to be perfectly helpful, grab-able handholds had they not been attached to the wall at the strangest angles imaginable. Coach Matt then admitted that, as I suspected, those were, in fact, in wrong, and the part that you can clearly wrap your hand around should indeed be at the top of the handhold where your hand actually goes. I blame my relative failure on the rock wall on the faulty engineering and mischievous whims of Coach Matt. 

The last stop of the day, archery, was far and away the best one. I vaguely remembered shooting a bow and arrow at 4-H Camp in my youth and distinctly remembered sucking at it, so I approached archery with some caution. Then came my turn at the lefty bow. As it turns out, I'm pretty freaking good at archery. Of the 15 arrows I shot (16 counting the one I accidentally stole from my neighbor - sorry Frank), only 3 landed in the bushes behind my target, which was significantly better than most people were doing. My best one landed well within the area our instructor had disturbingly designated as kill shot territory. Shooting the bow and arrow also made me feel like I was Katniss Everdeen, so even if I'd sucked, archery would've been a success for that and that alone. Clearly, as long as all my competitors jumped about a foot to the right of where they stood when I shot at them before my arrow reached them, my chances in the Hunger Games just became very good. 

So the moral of the story is, I'm not dead. I survived Manoventurehell with nothing more than some serious neck pain from that stupid bug and, oh yeah, pretty much third-degree burns all over my body because I am an idiot and decided to wear a bro tank and only apply sunscreen once. This would certainly not have been my first choice on a list of ways to spend my Friday, but it definitely could have been worse. Mostly, I'm alive, so that's a good thing. I have callouses all over my hands, which gives me the deceptive effect of looking like I work hard at something. When it comes down to it, I faced nature head-on today. Tomorrow morning, when I wake up and will probably be unable to move for at least an hour, it will be official that nature won. But for now, I'm holding fast to the statement that today, the Domerberry met nature and almost kind of didn't totally lose. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

School's (Not) Out for Summer

For those of you who don't know, this summer, I am working on campus as a music mentor with the Notre Dame Vision program. As part of this job, I am living in the dorms and generally doing what I do all year from my recent return from Ireland until the end of July. When we first pulled up to Coleman-Morse on Tuesday afternoon, my fellow Folkheads vis-a-vis music mentors heard, several times, that "all Notre Dame students need the experience of spending at least one summer on campus." Now that I've been doing just that for a few days, I understand why. Being on campus in the summer is really, really weird. Your on-campus friend/classmate base is different, your dorm is different, your responsibilities are different, the weather is definitely different, and yet everything else is essentially the same. I imagine this must be how visiting alumni feel all the time, minus the nostalgia and stories about how much better Notre Dame was before women got here.

One of the most striking weird things about summer on campus is the people. The Vision kids, as opposed to those here for summer classes and other miscellaneous jobs, are lucky in that many of us count our best friends among the mentors. But no matter what you're on campus for, it's a sure bet that you're not here with all the friends you'd be here with during the semester. It is very weird to walk across the quad, go to the dining hall, or hang out in a dorm lounge knowing that you're not going to run into the girls from your section, the overachieving freshman from your stats class, or that hot guy from Squash Club* you've been secretly in love with all year. (*I do not actually know if we have a Squash Club.) This weirdness is particularly amplified this early in the summer, since most classes and jobs have not yet begun. At lunch yesterday, the dining hall contained a whole six people who weren't Vision music mentors. Aside from us and the Alliance for Catholic Education trainees, pretty much the only people on campus right now are the football players. Going about your day knowing you will, in the whole day, run into a maximum of three people who aren't your coworkers is strange. Doing so when those three people are Andrew Hendrix, Manti Te'o, and Louis Nasty Dawg Nix is significantly stranger.

Weirder still than the people you're on campus with in the summer are the things you're doing while you're there. Campus during the school year is a busy, stressful place. Compared to the 15-18 credit hours per semester, dozens of club meetings per week, and endless stream of work that accompany campus life during the school year, campus during the summer is one big, sunshine-y playground. As music mentors, my summer-on-campus crew and I are essentially getting paid to sing a bunch of songs and put on some musicals about the Bible. Now don't get me wrong; we practice for a lot of hours every day, which, with a group of only 14 singers, is going to get pretty hard on both of our voices and our patience with one another before long. Once our two weeks of practice ends and Vision itself begins, our days will be even longer. But even if your summer responsibilities are fairly strenuous - those people, for instance, who are taking summer classes or doing the 10-day death march version of the semester-long Vision theology class the rest of the mentors already took - they're nothing compared to what you do during the year. Summer on campus, no matter what you're doing, gives you the best possible college experience. You can play frisbee on the quad at all hours without having to brave snowstorms or the permacloud, and you don't even have to burden yourself worrying about the piles and piles of homework you should be doing instead!

After a long day of playing frisbee, eating in empty dining halls, and cavorting with football players, it seems only proper to retreat to the comfort of your familiar, perhaps even air-conditioned dorm, right? Wrong. The last of the summer-on-campus oddities is that you're shoved into a dorm that, chances are, you've never even set foot in. And assuming you're here for Vision or Summer Scholars or anything that isn't summer athletic practices, you can bet your new home will be AC-free and "full of character!" While some logical people would look at this as a fun new adventure, I - living mere yards away from my beloved Howard in a dorm that is universally despised by the Ducks but is, I now see, generally just a nicer, roomier version of its neighbor - am less than thrilled by the idea. I am, however, looking forward to seeing where in Badin and Howard the kids are put when they arrive for Vision. It is my sincere hope that my sister and cousin are placed in my tiny double from freshman year, just because I feel that would be amusing karma.

Well, friends, at this point, I've got to run. Between the enthralling episode of Teen Wolf I have playing in the background and the looming knowledge that I have less than an hour to get ready to go down one flight of stairs to the porch where we're going to sing some songs about Jesus for the rest of the morning, my stress level is far too high to blog right now! Clearly, as this post shows, summer on campus is both the weirdest and one of the best things ever invented. (We'll see how my opinions on this change as the summer goes on and my days start to span from 7 AM to midnight.) For those readers among you who have had or are having graduation parties in the weeks surrounding this one, you now understand why I couldn't be there for them. I was either out of the country singing or at Notre Dame singing. Sorry! May all of your college experiences include at least one summer on your campus of choice, and to all my readers, may your summers be as song-filled and homework-free as mine.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Tale of Two (or Three) Host Cities

The past few days of tour have been quite the whirlwind of host experiences. In three nights, I went from crazy to perfect to unpleasant and back to perfect with barely a minute to catch my breath. After each of these nights, I considered writing a post solely to describe the experience, but now that it's been several days, I figured I'd just write about all three.

Our last two nights in Ireland were spent in what I'm going to call 'the beach cities.' The first one is technically called Barna. I honestly have no clue what the second one was called, since it was a 40-minute drive away from the parish that hosted us. This lack of name knowledge is merely one of a thousand mysteries presented to me by the beach cities. I met my first mystery early in the evening in Barna, when I was shifted around between three different host family assignments before finally landing with our outgoing Folk Choir president in the home of a woman named Mrs. Fagan. Upon seeing this name, I naturally grew concerned that this woman would live in an abandoned warehouse where she would rope my roommate and I into a ring of underground pick-pocketing and song on the mean streets of London. I then remembered that my life does not actually follow the plotline of Oliver!. The actual Mrs. Fagan experience, however, was just about as weird as the crime ring would have been. This woman, you see, greeted us with purple spiky hair, a largely toothless (albeit enthusiastic) smile, and a 1984 Nissan whose trunk was inexplicably filled with rope and walking sticks. To enter her home, Mrs. Fagan led my roommate and I and our suitcases packed for two weeks of international travel through a small path set in the middle of her entirely rock front yard. Despite the sidewalk two feet from us, we walked through this rock-yard, passing such lawn ornaments as a giant rubber duck and a small collection of live chickens, eventually arriving at her Winnie the Pooh sticker-adorned front door. Once inside, Mrs. Fagan showed us where our room and the bathroom were, informed us that her cat often enjoys perching on the windowsill next to my roommate's chosen bed, and left us to relax in our new room. Relaxation, however, proved a difficult task, seeing as my roommate is allergic to cats, our room contained such disturbing distractions as a poster of Roald Dahl's terrifying Big Friendly Giant and not one but two quilts that looked to be made of flattened scrunchies, and the whole house reeked of fish. After Mrs. Fagan popped back by to inquire about or preferences in eggs (duck or chicken?) and milk (cow or goat?) for the next morning's breakfast, we drifted off into an uncomfortable and anxious slumber. Breakfast, as it turned out, was blissfully free of both duck eggs and goat milk, but it did allow us a strange glimpse into the life of the Fagan family. For starters, Jake the cat stood directly outside the window the whole time, perching on the windowsill, glaring at me, and - I kid you not - even mimicking the concerned faces I made at his every move. Then Mrs. Fagan told us about her children. Highlights of this discussion included her assertion that she dyed her hair purple because two of her grandkids are on a dance competition TV show in England and the news that her youngest, most 'bohemian' daughter, named her latest child after marijuana. Needless to say, this was a strange night.

When we arrived at our hotel the next night, then, I could not have been more thrilled. Our rooms were spacious and clean, not a single scrunchie quilt was in sight, and we were just yards away from a real, beautiful beach! This place seemed perfect. After our concert, a few of us got the bright idea of stopping by the bar for a glass of wine before heading down to the beach. By the time we left the bar, an unrelenting drizzle was pouring from the sky, the temperature had dropped to about 45 degrees, and it was something like 11:45 PM. I realized at this point that a beach trip was probably ill-advised, but we soldiered on. Because it was dark and we couldn't see the steps that lead straight to the water, we set off on the only path to the beach we thought possible - climbing over a surprisingly steep, tall grass-covered hill until we hit sand. This was tolerable if unpleasant on the way down to the beach. The return trip proved a bit more challenging. Climbing up a hill of about 85 degrees in flip-flops during a driving rain would have been bad enough. Doing this when the grass covering the hill is, unbeknownst to you, full of devil-sent brambles that will make you feel like your hands and feet have only minutes left before they fall off your body, is considerably worse. Let the records show that it has been 60 hours, and the little red marks all over my hands are still visible.

After these two experiences, I was eager for a fresh and bramble-free start in Edinburgh. And Edinburgh has delivered. My host family here is arguably the most perfect family in Scotland. Their twelve-year-old daughter is both adorable and sassy, a combination that I thought only a young me could pull off. Their twenty-year-old son is a (hot) Scottish guy my age living in the same house as me. Literally nothing about this can be bad. Both nights since we've been in their home, they've served my roommate and I light snacks at their kitchen table, where we've sat around and chatted happily for hours on end. When I first saw my absolutely beautiful host bedroom, my young host sister whispered to me, 'Mum keeps that one like a hotel. She doesn't let anyone sleep in there!' My host dad just popped his head in to the room where I'm sitting at the computer writing this and said, 'Ah, good mornin'! You sleep okay? Ah, great.' Our first activity yesterday when we left our host homes for the day was a workshop at the primary school where my host siblings went. At this school, they let us go to recess with the kids, and then go in groups of seven or eight to sit in their classrooms and chat with them. The class I went to - Primary 4 - sang us two songs they had prepared for their First Communion and then asked us dozens of weird questions made adorable by their accents, such as 'What is your favorite mountain?' and 'What is your favorite country in Africa?'. Sightseeing yesterday afternoon confirmed what my host family and the school had already shown me: Edinburgh is the best city ever. I am never going to leave.

So, readers, that is what the last four days of my life have been. Really, really strange. I'm very pleased that this is our last host family for the trip, because one more experience as extreme as these last three have been may just send me over the edge. I hope you've all enjoyed my tour posts, since this will probably be my last one. I'll be back in the US of A on Monday night, and undoubtedly back on the American life blogging grind shortly thereafter. See you (stateside!) again soon!