This was a year, if ever I had one.

Holy cows, it’s been awesome. And challenging. And fulfilling. And worrying. And exhilarating. And confusing. I wanted to write a Year in Review, but it’s hard to pull it all together. Four continents, untold thousands of miles that I’m too lazy to add up, and major life shifts just don’t make for easy writing. So I’m going to make it a simpler, categorical look back at the last 365 days, month by month. I have a love hate relationship with “listicles” of this kind, but I just cannot get my brain to wrap around organisation without the structure.

This is 2013.


The year began in our tiny Korean apartment, quietly. I had a couple of the German beers from the 7-11 down the street, and Russell was deathly sick with prawn-induced food poisoning. I was working working working working. It was intensives season in my hagwon, which meant long days and an impossible commute in the cold. I walked one day from my apartment all the way to work, when the weather was -17C.

I was ill practically the whole month, and just seemed to be stuck in a revolving door of colds. The coup de nuisance was a nasty bout of gastroenteritis, which rendered me incapable of standing up to teach. I threw up outside my classroom, into a trashcan, and returned to continue taking roll. I taught my favourite class ever, the science class! It was the best. I miss it so much.

We went to the Toilet Museum and the Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon, and spent our last few weeks in Korea eating delicious food and seeking out places we had not yet been. It all started to wind down.


This month brought the first of the major continental shifts. My contract ended and I said goodbye to all my friends at Avalon on February 19. I shed my identity as Coleen Teacher with a dramatic outward change: cutting all my hair off. When I showed the picture to the stylist in Itaewon, he literally walked away saying, “No!” I loved having my pixie cut.

We left for India on February 22, and flew through the night through Seoul, Shanghai, Chengdu, and finally Mumbai. Our arrival was an intense baptism by taxi-cab, complete with annoying and pushy “helpers” in the cab rank. No seat belts. No apparent rules of the road. No idea where the hell we were going. A 90-minute rocket across Mumbai through slums, late-night religious processions, and crumbling colonial architecture. The patterns that would define our long and annoying wander through the country all showed up on that night, but at least we were still optimistic. Our version of Around the World in 80 Days kicked off.


March was intense. Well over 2500 miles overland in India, by boat, bus, train, foot, taxi, tuktuk, and whatever else we could find. It was an exploration of the South of India, the closest to the equator I’ve ever been. 9 degrees North, and I’ve got the permanent freckles on my right forearm to prove it. It was already so hot we could barely function, and I learned to dress for travel there by wearing stifling clothing all the time. I had hoped that having shorn hair and wearing the baggiest (read: practically maternity) clothing possible I’d avoid some of the terrors of being a woman in India, but it was an impossible task.

We stopped in Mumbai, Panjim (Panaji), Palolem Beach, Mangalore, Udupi, Calicut, India, Sultan Bathery, Fort Cochin, Alappuzha, Munnar, Bangalore, New Delhi and Jaipur in the span of those 31 days. We went on quests for beer in dry states. We took mountain buses to nature reserves that turned out to be on fire. We nearly died on the most terrifying road by far I’ve ever been on to see a stupid temple and eat a gnarly thali. We went to the first Indian Biennale. We played Holi. We swam in the Arabian sea. We spent the night on a boat. We saw countless monkeys. We narrowly avoided major rock-throwing riots by minutes and hours in a few places. We got used to me wearing my right-hand ring backwards on my left, as a “wife ring.” We flew on an Indian jet. We negotiated a hotel in New Delhi.

March was packed, and at times incredibly difficult. We made the decision to leave India early, after a series of difficulties and terrifying news stories. But not before we saw a little more of the country.


April began in India and ended in England. We travelled the north of India, and visited all the major sights. We weren’t actually too stoked on being there at this point, but we made a point of staying beyond the point of annoyance and anger in order to never return. I don’t feel we missed out on much.

We swam with the dead in the Ganges, and whitewater rafted past cremations in the late spring melts. We saw the stupidity of some well-meaning hippies in Pushkar, Rishikesh, and Haridwar. I got an ulcerated cornea that required a trip to an Indian hospital. We practiced yoga and learned to chant (half-assedly) at an ashram. I scaled the wall of that ashram to get medicine to Russell when he fell ill with a bad stomach. We got the sickest either of us have ever been on grape kofta. We saw the Taj Mahal at dawn, eaten alive by mosquitoes and flies and still running high fevers from the terrible illness. We went, “Eh,” in Varanasi and saw some dead bodies in the river. We saw a wedding on the Ganges. We stayed in the nicest hotel I’ve ever been to in New Delhi, and dodged cows standing on the smoke-choked highways to get to the airport.

Russell called our flight to Munich “The Party Route.” I wasn’t as pleased with it. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Part of Iranian airspace, Russia, Georgia, Serbia…the gang’s all there!

We ended the month in London, with an almost miraculous transition to the clean, safe, and beautiful city we now call home. My very first day ever in London was spent on the Eye, seeing the whole thing spread out below our feet. We even explored the English coast with friends in Devon. I finally began to relax after months of Fight, Flight, or Will The Bus To Stay On The Road. We decided while we were there, given my failure to get into US graduate school, that we would move to London in September.


May brought more exploration of London, a trip to the Tower, and a direct flight to Denver. Three hours of customs/immigration and one incredibly rude officer later, we were in the US! Our trip around the world in 80 days was complete, and we’d also physically circumnavigated the globe as of that point since the previous November.

Our route around the world.

Our route around the world.

We didn’t stop travelling. A long road trip through the American Southwest, including the Four Corners, the Grand Canyon, and Lake Powell was our May trip. I drove the whole time since Russ doesn’t, and we even got to go on a 130-mile detour through the Arizonan wilderness when the canyon we were meant to go through collapsed onto the roadway. Guns, bibles, and dust devil territory. We passed within miles of the FDLS enclave Colorado City, and tried to swim in the frigid waters of Lake Powell. We got laughed at by a nice French couple doing the same, and got out to “enjoy” the 3/4 mile walk back to the parking lot.

This was the month we discovered Gravity, our favourite brewery. It’s in Lousiville, CO, and on Memorial Day we went down to check it out with the intention of coming back after a beer. It was so amazing that one beer turned into four, and our bike ride back to my parents’ house turned into a tipsy adventure. We became regulars there over the summer.


June brought a big family vacation in North Carolina. My parents organised that trip that brought together 13 family members  from both sides of the family, and we got a nice beach-front house for a week. It was so relaxing and wonderful to have everyone around. Our aperitivo worked exactly as planned to make everyone talk to one another for several hours, and we had fun making tacos!

June is where the travelling had to start tapering off. I had to buckle down and work as an intern at my university, and Russell spent his days doing jiu jitsu and wandering around my parents’ house. Our weekends were Louisville Street Faires and trips to Gravity.


July took us to the West Coast in San Francisco. We explored the city and did all the best touristy things like eating a ridiculous amount of Dim Sum, buying tea in Chinatown, eating at Fisherman’s Wharf, and climbing the huge hills to view the Bay. Seeing the city that was our other choice for moving (if I’d gotten into graduate school there instead of in England) was bittersweet. I still feel very at home in the Bay Area, for never having lived there.

July 4th was fun for Russell, as an Englishman in the former colonies. We had a great party with neighbours and drank far too much Avery IPA. I started working properly full-time, so there are few pictures from this month.

At the end of the month, we climbed a 14,000 foot mountain in Colorado. Mt. Evans required summating a 13er first, and then an hour and a half of scrambling over terrifyingly loose rocks. It was a reward to reach the top, out of breath and beaten up from scrambling, with all the folks who lazily drove their vehicles to the top. I thought I was in the worst shape of my life, but I wasn’t even that sore the next day!


There are very few photos from August. It was a somewhat crappy month. Russell’s visa waver finished, he had to get on a flight on the 10th and go back to London to job search. I had to continue working full-time and finishing up projects for my summer internship. The money was good, and the coworkers amazing, but travelling this was not. I finally got my Tier 4 visa for England, after months of emailing almost daily to various organisations and getting very little support.

I went on a crazy health kick and tried gluten-free, vegan, no-alcohol diet (mostly in the attempt to drop weight). By the end of the month I’d actually gained weight and I was eating rare lamb shanks. One lives, one learns.

One good thing is that I finally got on the Pintrest bandwagon. I’ve found so many great recipes and projects there, and I actually make most of what I pin! Check it out if you want to see some great Nibbles and Booze and some attempts at DIY.


I moved, again. Abroad, again. I finished my internship, packed up and got ready to go. Then, the night before I was to fly to London, the mother of all floods struck Boulder County. Some estimated that such an even had not been seen since well before the city was established, perhaps as long as 500-1000 years ago. The devastation was epic, but at our house we got off easy. Even so, I spent the night before it was time to go bailing our backyard like it was a sinking ship. My room at my parents’ house was ruined, and much of my meagre material possessions were covered in dirt and water. Miraculously, my brand-new laptop made it through the storm.

I arrived in London and we spent time exploring again. We went to Cambridge, a city that I instantly fell in love with. We got me enrolled and registered as an official graduate student. Russell began his new job. I got the first of my checks from the US Department of Education, and began studying on the MA Linguistics programme I decided on. Russell had his birthday. I began to understand just what an hour commute in London’s rush hour means.


October was a great month! We found a new “home brewery,” in Hackney at London Fields, where we spent a long day drinking big German style pints. I settled into (or more properly began to chafe under) my MA. Russell toiled with his accreditation process for his job. We spent our weekends travelling around London and going on the Emirates Air Line, a guided walk in Westminster, and many great restaurants. We met up with friends in the city about once a month, as we continue to do. I spent hours and hours on Syntax and the rest of my courses. Russells’ parents greyhounds and I spent many long hours studying together (well, they spent many hours sleeping near me).

On my 26th birthday, we took the Thames Clipper from Canary Wharf to central London. It’s still one of my favourite nights of the year, since we got to see everything in the centre from the Thames itself. The city was alive and glittering, beautiful and futuristic. It started to feel like home.


November was a good month. It began with my very first Reading Week, and the writing of my first assignment for the MA. We went to Norwich for the annual beer festival, and I immediately felt homesick for the place although we’d spent barely 36 hours there. We stumbled upon the rehearsal of the Norwich Cathedral Choir, which made my month! Such beautiful singing, and such beautiful acoustics.

We began our search for our own place to live, which was a quick and mildly annoying process after a couple of missed meetings. My parents came to visit for nearly a week, and we had a lot of fun showing off our new home. The weather was surprisingly beautiful. They met Russell’s parents and we all went to the Romford Dogs. Dad had incredible luck and won a lot of money on the races. The rest of us, not so much.

We settled in Leyton, and began to wander our neighbourhood. With the end of the term looming, I set myself the task of making Thanksgiving Dinner for all the family. It turned out better than I could have hoped for.


This hasn’t been the easiest of months. The final month of December saw the end of term, the settling into our own place here in Leyton, and our annual Christmas Steak Dinner. We loved being out in London and spent time using the Central Line to see parts of London we never saw before. I got my first marks back for my MA, and went through an annoying last week of term trying to figure out why they were so very low.

We spent Christmas at Russell’s parents’ house, and we had a great time. There are so many presents that we don’t know where to put them.

Yesterday, we went through the city and walked along the Thames. It was beautiful light, and still I struggle to believe that we live in such a beautiful place. I very nearly fell into the Thames on a wet staircase near Embankment. Now that would’ve been a great story to end 2013!

Goodbye, 2013! May 2014 bring as much adventure. 

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The Great Accent Shift – October 2013

My throat is really sore!

My throat is really sore!

39 days ago, I moved to England. One month ago, I started a long-term accent tracking project. This is the second instalment of the Great Accent Shift 2013.

There were some pretty hefty online criticisms of the first video, for selection biases and experimental design. While I recognise that there would be those issues if this were, say, my dissertation project (which would never happen)…this is mostly for fun. And for practice. I am hoping to go into the field of Phonetics in some form or another over the course of the next few years, and this project gives me the means to practice using some of the software I will need to be familiar with to succeed.

Today my voice is considerably lower than last month, and squeaky. I had to take class off today because I’m feeling really horrible. This may even make my accent more ‘authentic’ to how I speak when relaxed, because I’m less able to modulate my voice and frankly, I care less.

Here is the second installation:

Even as I spoke, I noticed a slight difference on some words and in the ways that I was speaking. The words in the list that I read are ones that are likely to show accent shift, because they are ones that vary across English accents. My accent in the US is known as Western General American, and a characteristic of that accent is that one says the words ‘cot’ and ‘caught’ with almost exactly the same sound. I ran the two recordings of the word ‘caught’ through Praat, a free software program that phoneticians use to analyse speech.





The lines on the blue parts are called ‘waveforms,’ and they give information about the pitch, loudness, duration, and quality of the sound recorded. This is a double recording, from the video onto Praat. Thus, not really acceptable for true scientific enquiry. Whatever. They look different to my (mostly untrained) eye. See those red dots? They track some aspects of the vowel in a sound, the formants. They look different to me! Maybe a small shift from the ‘caught’ of my Western General American accent? Next up, “Alabama.”





To my ear, the two readings sounded different. In the analysis in Praat, they look pretty similar. Like I said in the video, even if there is no change over a year at all, that is a result in itself. It’s likely that certain words will drift more than others, as is already happening. Another visible change was the rhotic (r) pronunciation in “February.”





Those waveforms look quite different! The reason is that in the October recording, I pronounced the ‘r’ in Feb-bru-ary, whereas in September I said my original Feb-bu-ary and skipped the r. I hadn’t really thought of this being a regional accent thing until my boyfriend came home and said the former without any prompting from me. A closer look at the r portion of the speech shows a visible difference in quality, even though my very limited phonetic training prevents me from putting it into technical terms.





Those blue lines are pitch, by the way. I’m still learning Praat.

So it appears that something may or may not be happening with the way I speak, 39 days into living in London. Next month I will add a natural conversation to the mix and try for better analysis! In the meantime, remember that this is just for fun, and that it’s not a real experiment.

"Real Experiment"

“Real Experiment”

Edit: I’m not using IPA symbols here because I’m still learning them, but by the end of the year I will. Also, I forgot to include that I dropped a ‘t’ in today’s recording when I said “It’s not a real experiment” at the beginning. It came out more like “It’s no(glottal stop) a” almost “notta” in an East London-ish accent. Behold. 

Dropping a t

Dropping a t

Long Term Project: The Great Accent Shift 2013-2014

From an outtake

From an outtake–I’m a pirate, ARRRRR

This marks the start of a new project, on my own accent. Tomorrow morning I officially begin my Master’s in Linguistics at UCL, and I thought it prudent to begin a small pet project in addition to my work for classes/dissertation (Why, yes! I am delusional!). As I am living in an English-speaking country that is not my own for the first time since my globe-trotting began, I can’t necessarily work on my French, Italian, or Spanish as easily as on previous jaunts. Immersion is just not possible with my native language everywhere. I am, however, immersed in accents rather different from my own.

In the past, I’ve had a tendency to pick up on and mimick the ways that those around me speak. Often unconsciously. Occasionally to my own detriment (“Stop speaking in an Irish Accent!” “I can’t! I swear!”). This led me to want to track my accent and see how (or if) it changes and modulates throughout the next year, as I am awash in British English. I plan to make a new video with the same format every 22nd of the month, and upload it here. I’ve never posted a video of myself speaking before, and I have to admit I’m a bit nervous.

I created a method for the video to attempt to standardise it in some way.

Read the following words in a list in a video. Try not to modify my accent, and read quickly to prevent thinking about it too much. 
Words to Read: Aunt, Route, Wash, Oil, Theatre, Iron, Salmon, Caramel, Fire, Water, Sure, Data, Ruin, Crayon, Toilet, New Orleans, Pecan, Both, Again, Probably, Spitting image, Alabama, Lawyer, Coupon, Mayonnaise, Syrup, Pyjamas, Caught, Pillow, Toothpick, aluminium, Eggs, February, Often, Almond, Roof, Candidate, Jewellry, Library, Clothes, Drown, Espresso, Pasta, Miniature, Melbourne, Triathlon, Roll, comfortable, orange, both, tour, sure, Nevada, chocolate, drawer, Ramen Noodles, Caribbean, envelope, coffee, Reese’s Pieces, data, About, Morning, Stocking, Stalking, Cot, Caught, Grocery, our, 
 Read a section of Mr. Tickle to track inflection and intonation changes, found from a study at the British Library on Regional Accents here: http://www.bl.uk/pdf/tickle.pdf
 Make comments, about 30 seconds long, while speaking normally and talking about any changes/patterns I notice in my speech at the time. 


I noticed when recording today that I am not particularly good at reading lists of words quickly. You can occasionally see the consternation on my face as I try to remember the correct pronunciation, and when I get to Nevada I distinctly heard in my head the English version and tried to say the American one that I grew up with. This produced an effect similar to momentary illiteracy while my brain and mouth tried to communicate. The same thing happened with a couple other words.

I noticed that a few of my pronunciations have changed already, in a little over a week in England. “Library” and “Miniature” both seemed to lean toward Received Pronunciation (RP- also known as “BBC English”), but I might be exaggerating. I definitely notice that my word choice and accent are quite different in average conversation, and although this video seems to have brought out my teacher voice, I bet that I can catch myself in different accents as I become more comfortable with the idea of being on camera.

Tired after a few moments' speaking.

Mr. Tickle first run, fail.

As with all experiments, I need a hypothesis and controls. One possibility is that nothing will happen, and my accent will remain in it’s pristine North American newsreader state. Living in England will have no effect. Another possibility would be that my accent will drift toward RP and I will start subsisting on tea, corned beef, and lager exclusively. Still more likely in my mind is that my accent will become polluted, some will mistake me for an Australian, and I will be able to move my accent consciously toward RP or North American depending on my mood. At the moment, I am often too embarrassed to attempt any British accent because it comes out in a mangle of Northern, South London, and WTF. I may find myself slipping more or more able to have an authentic accent after some time spent here. I will control the environment in which I record as much as possible, by filming in the same place and doing it alone. At some point I may add a “natural conversation” piece, which will be harder to control.

Check out the video and tell me how you think I did below! Follow along and we’ll see if next month’s entry shows any discernible changes.

New on Reverse Retrograde: Weekly Polls

I’m happy to announce that my HTML skills are progressing to the points that I can add depth to the site. Every week, I’ll put up a poll for you lovely readers, and you can give feedback on posts, on my views, on your own views, on the news, or whatever pops into my mind as something I’d like more than just my opinion on.

Click on the answer you prefer in the sidebar!

Spring 2013: Fashion Loses Its Mind

I am currently in a very fashionable city, where people from around the world dress to impress while on vacation or while working in high powered jobs. A lot of people have the money for a substantial clothing budget, and even those who don’t have vintage and thrift fashion available to them. I’ve been under a rock for the last two months, in India. The fashion there could not really be called cutting edge, even though I plan to wear some of the clothing I obtained there as avant garde pieces back home.

Yet THIS is what I see in all the storefronts. Terribly cheap, terrifying printed, horribly cut clothing that will look good on exactly no one. No, not even you Beyonce. This outfit is a prime example of what I like to call “fashion terrorism.” It’s so bad that people may be in danger just by looking upon its clashing prints and shitty fabric.

But far worse than fabric or cut is that I’ve read that some call these mostrosities throwbacks to the 1990s. The bare midriff is back! And it’s 2013, and the world is on average 20 pounds heavier than then. Bare, chunky midriffs. Noooooooooooo!

I have already spent my clothing allowance for the year and will need to sell a lot of my wardrobe in preparation to move abroad (again). All I hope is that by this time next year the hideous 2013 fashion will have blown over.