Wednesday, March 22, 2017

"Home" - a Book Arts Project

My final semester of college (Spring 2016), I was lucky enough to be able to take a studio art class on Book Arts and Typography. The class was incredible, and that's a whole other story, but right now I want to tell you about one of my favorite projects that I did in that class. It involved this very blog!

The only specification of the project was that we were supposed to use one of two very simple bindings that don't require any sewing. The details aren't important, but I chose to make an accordion fold book (also known as a leporello binding). All of the other parts of the project, including materials and content, were totally up to us.

Being a computer science major, I thought it would be fun to use technology in my project in some way. I thought about this project for a long time, and I finally decided I wanted to do something relating to my months in Ireland. I remembered all the blog posts I wrote about my time in Ireland, and my idea was born.

To start, here is the short explanation that I put into the book itself:

"I studied abroad at Trinity College Dublin in Spring 2015. The words in this book were chosen from a list of the most common words that I used in my blog during the month that I was abroad, and the pages of the book are constructed from an old calendar containing pictures of Ireland.
Leah Ferguson
February 2016"

front cover
back cover
As I mention in that short description, the main material that I used in the book was pictures of Ireland that I cut out of an old calendar I had lying around. The front and back covers of the book are made of binders board (which all hard cover books are made of) covered in old paper maps that we had in the book arts lab.

The front cover is a picture of Minnesota, my home state, and the back cover is a picture of Massachusetts, where I went to college. With the main topic of the book being Ireland, it seemed fitting to have these two other places that have been so important to me involved in the project as well. (Also, we didn't have any maps of Ireland available...)

The way I developed the main content of the book (the words from my blog) was by using a website I found which, given a bunch of text, counts the words and gives you a list of the ones that occur most often (minus common words like "the", "of", "and", etc.) The text that I entered into the site was the text of all of the blog posts I wrote about my time abroad. I decided to rearrange the words and not keep them in exact order of frequency, because I wanted to tell more of a story. I used those words to create concepts that made sense to me and summarized some aspects of my time in Ireland.

Every good story also has a meaningful title. One of the words, "Home", seemed like the perfect choice to serve as a title for my book. The longer I live and the more I travel, the more I realize how complicated of a concept home really is. When I was in Ireland, I became so fond of it that it felt almost like home, and now that I'm gone I miss it a lot. But while I was there, especially near the beginning of my trip, I was also terribly homesick for Minnesota, for my family and friends, for what I knew. There was a tension between the joy of exploration, of being surprised every day, of learning to love a new place, while also longing for the known and the familiar.

Here are a few of my other favorite pages in the book. These pages are roughly from the beginning, middle, and end of the book and show a little bit of its overall arc.

find | different

Near the beginning of my time abroad, everything was different than what I was used to and I found new things every day, both good and bad.

time | went

Just when I was starting to get more comfortable and fall in love with my new home, I realized that time is a strange thing and that what had once seemed like forever (5 months) went by in a flash.

realize | remember

I may no longer be in Ireland, but I remember it often very fondly, and through my journey and my return home I have realized so many new things about myself and about the world.

Now as I look back, the main themes of the book seem to be transition and change. Going to Ireland for 5 months certainly involved a lot of change. Even now as I am in a season of transition in my life, the words and themes resonate with me in a new way. I guess that's one of my favorite things about art - it isn't static. It can mean different things to different people, and even to the same person during different periods of their life. When I came up with the idea for this book I was excited because I thought it could be a really beautiful reminder of my semester abroad. The more time has passed the more meaningful it has become to me, not just as a reminder of a fun few months, but as a benchmark in this journey that I'm on and is nowhere near finished yet. I guess I can remember the past while still looking forward to finding new and wonderful things in my future, and its good to be reminded of that.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Year of Change

It's that time of year when people tend to look back on the previous year and do some reflection. Well, I'm a few days late, but you get the idea... This is one of those blog posts that I don't even know how to begin. So much has happened in my life, I think it's safe to say this year has brought with it more major life changes than any other. Buckle up, it's been a wild ride.

I guess I'll get the horribleness out of the way first. On April 13, 2016, my dad died of depression, taking his own life. I hate the word "suicide". That is an accurate descriptor for what happened, but it seems like our society has attached so much shame to that word. I have trouble using it to describe a situation that's so personal to me, and a person that I loved so much. Maybe someday I'll write more about it, but for now it's still a bit too raw. Suffice it to say that April 13 was the single worst day of my life, and every other event this year has been affected by the cloud of grief that hangs over our family.

This year wasn't all bad. On May 27, 2016, I graduated from Wellesley College. Wellesley does commencement right, and it was such a joyful few days. Many of my family and even one of my best friends flew out to Boston to visit my college and see me graduate, which meant the world to me. It was certainly bittersweet, both because I was missing somebody very important to me and also because I liked Wellesley and knew I'd miss being there. I did miss Wellesley this fall as everybody else was going back to school. It had to end sometime though, and our commencement was a fitting end to 4 great years. The icing on the cake was being able to show many of my family and friends around campus and around Boston for the first time; we had a blast!

On June 21, 2016, I boarded a plane for Bangkok, Thailand. I was participating in a program called the Global Urban Trek (I've written about it here before) and I was embarking on a 6 week journey to live in a slum in North Africa and minister to the community there. (I know, it's kind of confusing; we spent a week of orientation in Thailand before going to North Africa. No, the two places are not very close together, as my jet lag attested.) I had been on several 8-10 day missions trips before, but this summer was entirely different. I formed relationships deeper than I ever could have imagined in only 6 weeks. I learned so much from each member of my team, but also from the local people that we served with and who showed us incredible hospitality as we entered their culture. I learned a tiny amount about what it's like for a family to live in a community where the main source of income is collecting and sorting garbage by hand, where packs of feral dogs and rats in the street (both dead and alive) are a daily reality. It was an eye opening experience; I am very grateful for all that I learned, and I hope that maybe I was able to contribute to their lives in some small way.

On August 5, 2016, I arrived back home. And ever since, I've been trying to sort through my life and evaluate what comes next. I am incredibly lucky that I've had this time to relax and recover and slowly enter into life after college, but it's also frustrating. What I wouldn't give to have already had a plan in place! Following a plan sounds so much easier than being in this limbo, living day to day and somehow trying to figure out what's next. I know I'll continue moving forward, even if some days it feels as though I've moved backwards, or that I'm moving impossibly slow.

What is a new year for if not new beginnings?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Book Review: Tough As They Come

As many of you probably know by now, I participate in a program called Blogging for Books. Basically, I get to request free review copies of books in exchange for posting a review on this blog. I enjoy it a lot, its super easy to sign up and there are no deadlines (you just can't request a new book until you've posted a review of the last one). So if you like books and/or blogging, you should check it out!

I'm not usually the biggest fan of non-fiction, but I couldn't put this book down; I finished it in just 2 days! This is the story of a soldier, Staff Sergeant Travis Mills, who became only the fourth American soldier to survive becoming a quadruple amputee. Travis is very matter-of-fact about his story. He tells it like it is, from giving history about his life and time in the military, to the way he felt after his injury, to his mindset that drove him to get better ("never give up, never quit"). He is an engaging storyteller, and doesn't flinch from talking about mistakes he's made and the harder moments in his journey. He doesn't like to call himself a hero, because in his mind he only did what he had to in order to overcame the obstacles that were placed in his way, the same as everybody else.

The book is written in a refreshingly casual style, with Travis telling stories from his own perspective and chiming in about how he felt about different events. He describes unimaginable stories of his time spent in heavy combat in Afghanistan, but also emphasizes the camaraderie he felt with the men he served with and the more light-hearted aspects of deployment (like the drawn out conversations they would have about nothing to try and relieve the intense boredom). He talks about not only the physical challenges he faced but also the intense emotional roadblocks. In his words, the moment that he was told he had no arms or legs hit him just as hard as the original explosion, and it took him a couple days before he could work up the courage to even talk to his wife. I don't want to give too much away, just read the book for yourself! I promise you'll be encouraged and inspired.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Summer Update: My Trip to North Africa!

Hi everybody! It has certainly been a long time since I've posted here... Oops. This has been an exciting time in my life, I just returned home a couple days ago after my graduation last week from Wellesley College. 4 years just flew by! I'm enjoying spending some time at home, finally having all of my belongings in one location and just relaxing after my last finals period and all of the celebrations.

I'm writing to share about a really exciting opportunity I have this summer. On June 21 I will be embarking on a 6 week long service trip to North Africa, through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's Global Urban Trek program. Along with a team of about 15 students (plus staff) I will be living and serving in an urban poor neighborhood in North Africa. This program is InterVarsity's way of giving college students (and recent graduates such as myself) firsthand experience living in a different culture and serving the global urban poor. While there are still many things I don't know about the trip yet, most likely we will be living with host families and serving alongside pre-existing local ministries. The Global Urban Trek has many different locations, so while my primary ministry site will be North Africa and we will be there for 4 weeks, for a week at the beginning and end of the trip we will be in Thailand with other Trek students for orientation and debrief. This time of debriefing at the end of the trip will be invaluable for exploring how we can continue this important work after we return home.

One of the reasons that I'm so excited about this experience is to take time before I start working full time to think about how I can engage in service for the rest of my life. One of the main focuses of InterVarsity's Global Urban Trek program is for students to spend time without distractions (no cell phones or electronics allowed!) thinking about how they can use the rest of their lives to serve the urban poor. Whether that means longer-term international missions, supporting others who do this work or getting involved closer to home, everybody has something they can contribute. After devoting four years in college to learning new skills, this trip will allow me to continue learning more about myself and about the world. The 5 months I spent studying abroad in Ireland last year were focused on education and travel rather than service, but I still learned a huge amount about myself and gained a lot of confidence. I know this trip will help me to continue that learning and growing process.

How can you get involved?
Since I am going on this trip to serve, I need to raise all of the funds for the trip through supporters like you. My overall goal is to raise at least $4000, the cost of the trip for one person. (If I raise extra, that money will go towards other students who didn't meet their goal, or for other operating costs or future trips.) Thanks to many generous contributors, I'm already about halfway to my goal. If 50 more people each contributed $40, all of my costs would be covered! Would you consider helping me continue that progress? Every little bit is important, so please get involved however you feel comfortable. I also need prayer support to make this trip successful, and if you just want to receive updates before, during, and after the trip you can sign up for that. If any of those options sound interesting, you can fill out this online form (the form also provides instructions for donating). I leave on June 21, in about 3 weeks, and while I can still receive donations after then, the closer I am to my goal when I leave, the better!

I'm so excited about this opportunity that I have, I feel very lucky to be able to devote these few weeks to service before I settle in back at home. I hope that you can get involved and share in this adventure with me! I'm sure I'll have interesting stories to tell.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Book Review: The Fold

As many of you probably know, I participate in a program called Blogging for Books. Basically, they send me free books in exchange for posting a review. I enjoy it a lot, its super easy to get started and there are no deadlines (you just can't request a new book until you've posted a review of the last one). So if you like books and/or blogging, you should check it out! :)

I recently finished reading the book The Fold, by Peter Clines, which is a science fiction thriller. I'll preface my review by saying that this is a genre I don't read a lot of, largely because I don't like creepy or disturbing things. (I don't watch horror movies for the same reason.) In parts, this book was a little intense for me, and its the kind of book that I didn't want to read right before I went to sleep. If you're used to the genre it would probably be pretty mild, I just wanted to give a disclaimer if you're sensitive to that sort of stuff like I am!

I really liked this book. The basic story line is about a man who has a perfect photographic memory and an extremely high IQ, but who has chosen to be a high school English teacher rather than take better advantage of his unique skills. He has a friend, however, who is involved in funding government projects, and specifically a team of scientists building a teleportation device. The English teacher is recruited to check out the project and report back about it, because the people funding it have an uneasy feeling about continuing to put money into the project.

The story was engaging and always left me eager to find out what would happen next. The further I got into the book the more difficult it became to put it down. It does start out a little slow, but even then there was enough interest to keep me engaged until the story really picked up. There were so many surprises and curve balls, I couldn't wait to find out how the story ended!

The ending of the book was also very well executed. It wasn't at all predictable. I thought that the ending did a good job of wrapping up an intense story, tying up many of the loose ends but still leaving me with many thought-provoking questions.

One of my favorite parts of the story were the descriptions of the main character's mind, about what it was like for him to have a perfect photographic memory and an amazing analytical capacity. It added a level of complexity into the storyline and the interactions between the characters. Overall, I would definitely recommend this book.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thanksgiving Break and Course Registration

A few days ago, I remembered that I have a blog that I haven't updated in over a month... I guess that tells you something about the frame of mind I've been in for the past few weeks. I haven't even had the brain capacity to remember I have a blog, much less post anything!

I guess I'll just give you a general update on my life. The last few weeks have been a bit rough with exams and everything. I'm officially in relaxation mode now though (perhaps a little prematurely!) since Thanksgiving break starts on Wednesday, and I don't have anything due before then. There is definitely an atmosphere of stress on campus, many of my friends still have big assignments to finish before they can enjoy their break. I guess I just got lucky this year!

I'll be staying on campus for Thanksgiving this year. I'm very sad that I won't get to celebrate in Minnesota with my family, but this just made the most sense. There are pros and cons to going home, and the cons (namely the cost of a plane ticket and the hassle of travelling during Thanksgiving!) won out this year. I will miss my family greatly, but I am excited about the chance to just relax, and not have to worry about travelling or making plans. Last year when I stayed on campus I had a chance to breathe and actually take a break. I spent lots of time knitting Christmas presents and watching movies and cooking for myself, all things I don't generally have time for at Wellesley. I have fond memories of break last year, so I'm looking forward to this one as well. One of my friends graciously invited me over for Thanksgiving dinner so I have plans for that day, but the rest of my break I'm planning on, well, not having any plans at all. And I can't wait!

Another eventful thing that happened recently was class registration! I use "eventful" in a relative sense, it wasn't nearly as eventful as registration other years since I was able to get into all the classes I wanted (yay for being a senior!). It was eventful in the sense that now I have some idea what my spring semester will be like. There are so many classes that I would still love to take at Wellesley, so narrowing it down was tough. I wish I had more time! It was one of those moments that really reminded me I'm a senior, my last ever class registration.

So, here's what I ended up with:
Computer Science 249: Data, Analytics, and Visualization
     This course is to fulfill a requirement at Wellesley called the Quantitative Reasoning requirement. Basically it has to be some sort of real life statistics, and somehow none of my many math, computer science, or intro science courses have counted thus far... Whenever I tell professors this is my one distribution requirement left they think it's very odd. But, that's another story! Thankfully this class is available in the computer science department next semester, so I can fulfill the requirement with a class that's not completely random and unrelated to my interests.

Computer Science 349: Natural Language Processing
     I need one more 300 level course to finish my Computer Science major and my Wellesley degree. (300 level courses are the highest level at Wellesley.) There are several different courses being offered in the department, but this one sounded the most interesting to me. Being a classical civilizations major as well as a computer science I'm pretty interested in the intersection between technology and the humanities, so I'm excited to explore how computers can interact with human language.

Math 223: Number Theory
     This course doesn't count for any requirements at all... (Except to finish my math minor that I can't declare! Wellesley doesn't allow you to declare more than two things, and since I'm a double major I can't declare this minor, even though I will technically have finished all the requirements.) I like the professor and the topic sounds pretty interesting, and one of my friends is in the class. Plus I do miss taking math classes! I'm excited to take one more class in the department before I graduate. I came into Wellesley pretty confident that I wanted to be a math major, so the math department will always have a special place in my heart.

Arts 222: Introductory Print Methods - Typography/Book Arts
     I'm super excited about this one! This class is also just for fun. We have a book arts lab at Wellesley, which is basically a workspace that has equipment for printing and paper making and all sorts of book-related things. I've always wanted to take one of  Wellesley's book arts courses, and now I finally get to! I'm definitely happy that I was able to fit this in before graduation.

I can't really think of much else to share at the moment... Life has been good, if hectic. This year I made a decision not to do any homework on Sundays, which has been very good for my mental well-being. There's big difference between trying to be productive and not getting anything done (which happens quite a lot on weekends...) and intentionally taking a break from work. When I make the decision that I'm not going to do any work, I'm not guilty about relaxing. I think that has definitely contributed to my sanity, because my classes this semester have been fairly tough.

Anyway. I think I've rambled about my life for long enough! I hope you are all surviving as the weather gets colder and the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons approach (and finals, for those of us in college.) Don't forget to take a deep breath every now and then!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Fall Break in Pictures

Last weekend was fall break at Wellesley (our fall break is a Monday and Tuesday). I ended up just staying at Wellesley this year, which was actually very relaxing. Unfortunately I had quite a bit of work to get done, but I was also able to spend some time outside and relaxing. Wellesley is beautiful, so I wanted to share some of my favorite pictures that I took walking around campus.

This is what most of the woods around the lake look like,
even the plain yellow and green is beautiful.

The Wellesley boat house

"End of Wellesley College Property"
Don't say I never leave campus!

This time of year I use any excuse to take this path
across campus.

I spent about 3 hours one afternoon reading out by the lake.

I was reading a fascinating book about the archaeological
remains of Qumran (the community associated with the
Dead Sea Scrolls) for a class.

These last couple weren't actually taken during break, but they're too beautiful not to include!