Updated on Mondays to Help Start Your Week Off Right!
(and recipes updated whenever I get a chance)

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Day I Didn't Go to Nerd Camp

I'm sorry to announce that I don't have a real entry for today. We spent the weekend driving 4 hrs to visit Husband's family for two days, then driving back, in the middle of a storm, in the Ozarks, in the dark, and our GPS tried to murder us (again) by sending us on crazy, non-existent back-roads. Also, my computer died, so I didn't get a chance to write anything while we were there visiting. I'm on Husband's computer now, and a new power adapter has been ordered. Hopefully that will solve the problem (but since the battery died over a month ago, I can't tell if it's the computer or the power adapter that is the current issue).

So here's a quick anecdote from my youth (I apologize in advance for its lack of hilarity).

In 7th grade, we had to do some kind of week-long standardized testing thing. Turns out, the tests thought I was fairly smart. We lived just outside Baltimore at the time, and Johns Hopkins University did some kind of summer program for nerds, and I had met the nerdquirements and received a congratulatory letter of nerdiness and an invitation to attend Nerd Camp. They recruited based on the standardized tests, and the winning nerds were selected to spend a week or so at the University, being nerds (this is only my assumption, since we ended up moving half-way through my 7th grade year, so I didn't get to go to Nerd Camp).

A week or so after receiving my Nerdvitation, I went to see a movie in the theater with some friends. I have no recollection of what the movie was, except that it was boring, and none of us were interested in watching it, so we were goofing off, instead. (In retrospect, I realize now that we were those infuriatingly annoying pre-teens I dislike so much, at the movies, disrupting the show for everyone else. For the other 10 people in the audience that day, you have my heartfelt apologies.)

Someone had peppermint candies, and they handed me one. I dropped it on the floor (still in its wrapper), bent down to get it, and completely forgot that seats in movie theaters fold up when not in use. I went to sit back in my seat and missed it completely, falling onto the sticky, stale popcorn-infested floor. Everyone laughed. (Well, everyone in our group. I imagine the rest of the audience was growing increasingly more frustrated with our disruptions.)

As we were leaving the theater, I was joking around with one of the other girls and talking in a stupid voice (as I am frequently wont to do). Little did I know, a middle-aged couple in front of us could hear me, and had seen my display of intelligence as I fell on the floor of the theater earlier.

The man leaned over to his wife and said in a not-quite-hushed-enough voice, "I feel sorry for the mentally retarded girl." The wife nodded, knowingly.

Take that, Johns Hopkins.

This incident has stuck with me for years. I think it's been good for my sense of self-awareness. It's hard to become too full of oneself when you know in the back of your mind that your public persona can so easily be mistaken as mentally handicapped.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Recipe: Thai-Style Tofu Curry

When I lived in Germany, one of my favorite things to eat (aside from actual German food, which I love, the awesome pizza everyone over there can make but no one in the US can seem to even come close to replicating, and the mounds of Caprese salad I devoured) was Thai-style tofu curry. Several years ago I attempted to make it myself with disastrous outcomes. So I was terrified to try again last night, out of fear that it would, again, be disgusting, and my dreams of tasting that delicious meal would forever be dashed. I started working off a recipe online, but it didn't seem exactly right. I improvised a bit, and I'm not entirely sure this is exactly what I did, but hopefully it'll be close enough that I'll be able to replicate it again in the future. Probably on a weekly basis, because it was awesome. Probably not as good as what you could get in Germany, and certainly not authentic Thai, but still pretty great for homemade, in a white, Midwestern girl's kitchen.

Thai-Style Tofu Curry:

2-4 Tbsp canola oil
1 (12 oz) package of extra-firm tofu, drained and cubed
1 tsp salt

1 Tbsp butter or margarine (I used dairy-free "butter" and it worked fine)
1 small onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups coconut milk
2 cups water (you could easily use 3 cups coconut milk and 1 cup water - I just happened to only have 2 cups of coconut milk on hand (I make it myself), so I used water to make up the extra liquid I needed. Maybe you could even use 4 cups of coconut milk? I might have to try that next time. But you can easily add more water if it doesn't look like enough liquid after you throw in all the other ingredients)
2-5 Tbsp curry powder (I started with about 3 Tbsp, then just shook a bunch more in. Probably 4-5 Tbsp total)
1 tsp salt (or more, to taste - I thought it definitely needed more after cooking - but some ground sea salt on top after dishing it up was perfect)
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste (optional)
1/2 tsp chili powder, or to taste (optional)
1/4 - 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 green bell peppers, chopped
8-12 oz mushrooms, sliced (I used 12 oz)
8 oz (or so) chopped cauliflower florets

2-3 cups cooked Thai jasmine rice


Drain and dice tofu - I put it in a paper towel-lined colander for an hour or so to try and drain out as much liquid as I could - the more water in it, the more it's going to splatter and pop while cooking and burn your arms.

In a large skillet (or wok), heat canola oil over medium heat. Add tofu cubes, sprinkle over the 1 tsp of salt, and fry, stirring occasionally, until golden on all sides. Remove from the pan onto paper towels to drain, and set aside (it can wait for a while like this, so don't worry about time).

In the same large skillet, melt the butter or margarine over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until tender, about 5 min. Stir in the coconut milk, water, curry powder, salt, peppers, chili powder, and cilantro. Add the tofu, bell peppers, mushrooms, and cauliflower (at this point, assess how much liquid there is - it should be enough to look kind of like soup, but not so much that it covers all the ingredients - if it doesn't look like enough liquid, add more water 1/2 cup at a time). Heat to boiling, then reduce heat to a simmer. Taste to test ingredients, and add more curry powder, chili powder, or peppers, to desired spice level (the measurements I listed were perfect for me, but Husband added about another 1 tsp cayenne pepper to his, and some crushed red pepper, because he's kind of insane about spicy foods). Cover and simmer for about 15 min, then uncover and continue to simmer another 10-15 min. Times aren't specific on this, because it's not really going to hurt it to simmer a bit longer.

Serve over cooked Thai jasmine rice. And, like I mentioned before, I added some ground sea salt on top just before eating, and it made it the perfect flavor for me.

Serves probably something like 4-6.

Sorry everything is so inaccurate on this one. That's what you get when it's actually my own recipe, and I've only made it once. :D Enjoy!!

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Day I Was Left Out

As hard as it may be to believe, I used to be a shy kid. It was probably a combination of the anxiety disorder and our family move from South Dakota to Maryland when I was seven years old. I went from a small Catholic school with about 20 kids in each grade to a massive public school with several hundred kids in each grade. It was somewhat overwhelming, and I basically just shut down. Thinking back on second and third grades, I honestly can't remember having friends. My brain, which is clearly trying to shield my fragile third-grade psyche from the devastation of reality is telling me, "of course you had friends!" but I can't, for the life of me, actually name a single one. Looks like that protective wall of false memories has done its job!

As a side note, I would like to mention that I "won" the Good Citizenship Award (like the consolation prize of boring, polite children - "Congratulations, you are the least disagreeable person in our class!") every year from Kindergarten through 5th grade. So I might not have had friends for a couple years, but at least they didn't all completely hate me. Right? (Shh, it's okay, Third-Grade Laura. Of course they liked you! How could they not like you? You ... had such long, straight hair! And ... you smiled quietly a lot! *Stifles self-esteem with false memories*)

Regardless, the point is that I did not have good friends in my third grade class. One incident in particular stands out as evidence that I was, in fact, an outcast (albeit, a friendly, polite, possibly easily forgettable one).

Although the school itself was large, we were assigned a "homeroom," which was our actual class, and in third grade, as far as I remember, no one switched for any classes (advanced math and language arts classes didn't start till 4th grade, I believe). So I'd been in the same "portable" classroom with the same 30 or so kids for at least 6 months at the time of this incident (our student body size had outgrown the actual school, so they set up about a dozen portable, temporary buildings outside the main building, on school grounds, to accommodate the excess children. We were only supposed to be there for a few months, but we ended up staying there the entire year.)

One Spring day, one of the "popular" (used as liberally as possible to refer to a third-grader) girls passed out invitations to her birthday party to every girl in class, except three of us. I don't know if her mom didn't make her invite all the girls, or if she chose not to give three of us invitations, but the selection process was as cruel as it was swift. One moment, we were returning from recess and settling in our seats, and the next, the Chosen Girls were tittering excitedly, as the rejects tried to not only discover what we were missing out on, but how we could have possibly fallen from the good graces of the beautiful, popular, Jessica.

I've always assumed I wasn't invited because I was shy and quiet. Boring people don't make the best party guests. One of the other girls not invited, Rachel, was also incredibly shy and boring. However, Rachel had a twin sister, Alexis, who was also in our class. And Alexis was invited. Rachel was, understandably, much more devastated about her exclusion than I was. We must learn at a young age the cruelty of other women.

It was the third uninvited girl, though, that made the true sting of the shunning felt. Katie. Poor Katie. Literally, Katie was from a lower-class family. I always felt very sorry for her, as all her clothes were old and worn, she often smelled funky, and the other kids were heartless in their teasing of her. Then again, she didn't help her case much by being one of those strange kids. You know the type. The awkward, weird ones who run up to the popular kids and start talking gibberish at them, because they're oblivious to the social hierarchy of school-aged cliques. They're the type who make the other nerd kids cringe, since we know we'll be associated with them, vicariously, simply for being nerds ourselves, even though we don't want anything to do with their type, either. They're giving us all a bad name.

But then Katie committed the single worst-imaginable in-school offense. She pooped her pants. In class. I don't know the circumstances, except that I was sitting next to her and can confirm that, in spite of her denials of the other children's harsh accusations, she did, in fact, poop in her pants. (Bizarrely, I was also sitting next to a boy in 4th grade who peed his pants. Maybe I have some terrible affect on people in my immediate vicinity, causing them to lose control of their bodily functions. But he had asked the teacher for permission to go to the bathroom, and she denied it. After several minutes, he asked again more urgently, and she again denied it. I, personally, think she should have gotten in serious trouble for making the poor guy sit there till he peed his pants, but, as far as I know, nothing ever happened to her.)

So here we were, lumped in the same group of social-rejects with a girl who pooped her pants. In the unrelentingly cruel world of elementary school social politics, evidently, being shy is just as critical a faux pas as defecating on oneself.

The party was on a Saturday, and the following Monday, I showed up for school, relieved because this traumatic exclusion was now behind us. Oh, how naive was I.

As the other girls in class filtered in and took their seats, not only were they excitedly talking about what an incredible time they'd had at Jessica's Birthday Party (or, as it became known, JBP; it was the social event of the YEAR), but each of them seemed to have donned a new necklace, and they were giddily comparing and showing them off to each other. How could it be that they all coincidentally bought strikingly similar necklaces over the weekend without any form of retail coordination?

I sat perfectly still in my desk, trying to eavesdrop to catch some sort of idea as to the origin of these necklaces. Then I began to notice - each necklace had a set of perfectly adorable beads in the shape of birds. All different colors, strung together amid classic, small necklace beads that brought out the shine and ideal form of each avian creation. Never had I longed for something more than to have my own bird-bead necklace. The minuteness of their beaks struck a chord in my third-grade being, calling out to me with undying desire.

All at once, the glistening birds and the snippets of eager over-the-weekend gossip combined in my brain and it dawned on me: the girls had all made these wearable works of art at JBP. And I also deduced that they had made a vow to wear them every day for the duration of the school year.

I could feel my will to live shattering about me as I looked down at my desk, pretending to go over my completed homework from the weekend in an attempt to hide my devastation. My life would never be complete. My soul felt crushed inside my bare-necked body.

Over the next few weeks, fewer and fewer girls still wore their bird necklaces every day, but envy continued to flutter in my heart every time I caught a glimpse of one. Eventually, third grade drew to a close, I was awarded my certificate of "Good Citizenshipness," and I spent the summer recovering from the painful social blows I'd been dealt.

Then fourth grade started. And who was in my class (besides the guy next to me who peed in his pants on the first day)? None other than Jessica. THE Jessica, of JBP infamy.

So I adopted a new life-approach to friends and being social. I got loud. I tried talking to people and laughing and various other tactics of basic human interaction (besides polite smiling, which I, clearly, had a monopoly on). Lo and behold, my new plan worked. As luck (or intricate planning and methodical social-ladder-climbing) would have it, after just a few weeks of fourth grade, I had befriended the one and only Jessica.

After playing together at nearly every recess, eventually the time came when she was obligated to invite me over to play at her house (although, I have to admit, I doubt I would have even tried to be friends with her if I didn't think there was a possibility that I could wriggle my way into her confidences, be invited to her house, and somehow manage to acquire my own bird necklace). My mom dropped me off, and we played normal fourth-grade girl things. After Barbies in her room, we walked around the neighborhood to spy on a boy in our grade who lived down the street. Then we came back to her house, had a snack, and she asked what else I wanted to do.

Ever aware of the rules of etiquette, I politely said, "I don't know, what do you want to do?" while skirting the obvious: make bird necklaces.

She suggested we play Twister.

Obligingly, I went downstairs with her to get out the Twister game, in spite of the cloud of anxiety closing in around me. I hate games of all kinds. It's not a fear of losing; it's more terror that I'll do something wrong. I'm not sure why it flares up so strongly when it comes to games, but I've always hated every single kind of game there is. They all fill me with overpowering anxiety (I actually can't play or even watch most video games; I get too anxious). Not exactly a two-player game, I was relieved when we found a small plastic bin sitting next to the Twister box.

"What's this?" I said, pointing to the box, already knowing in my heart what it was.

"Oh, those are my beads," she said casually. Then, with a stroke of psychic ingenuity, "do you want to make necklaces?"


"Oh, sure, I guess." I could barely contain the excitement that tried to burst through face. Play cool, Laura. She'll suspect something if you start screaming about bird beads!

We opened the bin to discover small squares of neatly separated beads. Reds, yellows, blues, greens, some little dice beads... but no birds. No. F---ing. Birds.

I started stringing together random colors in no particular order. What's the point, if not to tie down a bird bead through the little hole that ran through its heart to forever tether it to my neck (and soul)?

Jessica was rambling about something. I couldn't concentrate on her tedium. I was too consumed with the twice-dashed hopes of a young, recently socially-revived fourth-grade girl.

I dug my fingers into the red beads again and stopped suddenly. There she was. Hidden among the scarlets, maroon, and fire engine reds. My very own bird bead. Left over, abandoned for nearly a year after the great fete that was JBP, the one remaining, glorious bird bead.

"You've come to me, Sasha," I whispered under my breath.

"Did you say something?"

"Uh, no," I contemplated stealing Sasha and sliding her secretively into my pocket. But what would Jessica think when I wore the necklace to school and she recognized the rogue, rosey bird, fluttering gently between my collarbones, perfectly flattering my non-existent bust-line?

"Hey, I found this little bird bead. Could I use it?"

"Haha, sure!" Jessica said, barely acknowledging the significance of this forever flightless symbol of my restoration of hope in humanity. "I got those last year for my Birthday Party, haha. I thought we'd used them all. We all made bird necklaces, haha. But I guess you can make one now, too! Haha!"

Laugh it up, Bitch.

I didn't stay friends with Jessica after fourth grade (we were in different fifth grade homerooms, which is practically the same thing as moving to different countries, learning different languages, and being forbidden by our parents to associate with one another, or else). But I believe the bird necklace is still in my closet at my dad's house. I'll have to remember to get it the next time I visit him. I guess the old saying holds true: Make new friends, but keep the old (except Jessica); some are silver, and some... are birds.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Recipe: Genoese Fish Soup

This is a seriously awesome soup. I used to think I didn't like fish, but I could eat this soup every day for the rest of my life and be happy. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it was astoundingly good. It is from my most favorite soup cookbook ever. As far as I know, the book, Soup Bowl, is out of print, but there are still plenty of used copies for sale on Amazon.com. Out of the two dozen (at least) soups we've tried from this book, I think we've only not loved three of them. If you cook at all, you need this book. (There, does that justify sharing their recipe on my blog? I did make some minor adjustments, and, like always, the actual text is my own words.)

Genoese Fish Soup (like as in "from Genoa, Italy"):

2 Tbsp butter
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 oz rindless bacon, fried and diced
2 celery stalks, chopped
14oz canned, chopped tomatoes (I think the cans actually come in 14.5 oz - also, you could easily substitute in 3-4 peeled, diced fresh tomatoes)
2/3 cup dry white wine (I use vermouth)
3+ generous cups fish stock (I used vegetable stock)
4 fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
2 Tbsp chopped, fresh parsley leaves, divided
1 lb whitefish fillets (I used cod), skinned and chopped
4+ oz cooked, peeled shrimp, tails removed
salt and pepper to taste

Fry up some bacon.

Melt the butter in a stockpot over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, over low heat for about 5 minutes.

Add the fried bacon and celery and cook, stirring frequently, for another 2 or so minutes.

Add the tomatoes (undrained), wine, stock, basil, and 1 Tbsp of the parsley, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes.

Add the fish and cook (on the same simmering temp) for at least 5 minutes, or until all the pieces are opaque. Add the shrimp and heat through, for about another 3 minutes (I then turned the heat to low and let it cook for a little bit longer while I got the table ready, etc). Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with the remaining parsley.

Serves 4

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Day I Got Engaged

I love super romantic engagement stories. I tear up every time I see an engagement on TV, even if it's not overly thoughtful or romantic. Like most women, I guess I'm just a sucker for love. So that's why I wanted to share my own engagement story. Get ready to be disappointed by your own stories - if they don't involve pedophilia, dirt, the f-word, and Kentucky, you ain't got nothin' on us.

At the end of my senior year of college, Husband (then Boyfriend) and I were exclusively dating, but neither of us were overly convinced of the long-term sustainability of our relationship. I had recently been awarded a Fulbright scholarship and would be leaving in early September to spend a year in Germany. Our initial reaction was to end the relationship, since we were sure we'd never last (or want to last) a year away from each other.

Husband still had another year of college left (although he is older than me, he didn't join ROTC until his Sophomore year, so he had to do a fifth year of college in order to meet all of the ROTC requirements to commission on time with his graduation), and the summer before the last year of ROTC is full of Army-training-goodness. Because of this, we would only have about three weeks in August to actually spend with each other before I left for Germany. So we basically decided to spend the last couple weeks of May together, to enjoy each others' company while we could.

Of course, those fateful weeks made us realize we actually did, in fact, like each other, we both had the same goals in life, and we turned out to be surprisingly compatible.

In early June, Husband left for the Army's Leader Development and Assessment Course (LDAC) in Ft. Lewis, WA (it's basically a giant test of everything they're supposed to learn in ROTC - then they're ranked on their performance, and this ranking helps the Army assign them to their branches, decide which jobs they should have, and determine their first duty station after graduation/commissioning). Because he wasn't allowed to use phones or the internet, I wrote him letters almost every day (how old fashioned and romantic!). As soon as he finished the LDAC course, he was flown to Ft. Campbell, KY to do a Cadet Troop Leader Training course (CTLT) with an aviation unit there.

He called from the airport in Kentucky and told me, since he was staying in a hotel for the entire CTLT course, I could come and spend the three weeks there with him. Like a young person in love (and without a job), I jumped in the car an hour later and drove 13.5 hours straight, from South Dakota to Ft. Campbell.

Over the course of the LDAC letters, we'd basically decided we wanted to get married. It really only seemed logical. Kentucky would be a test to see if we were sure. We talked about marriage, divorce, children, religion, etc, and discovered we shared almost all of the same ideologies and philosophies, and, let's face it, we could tolerate each other better than any of the other people we'd dated. Isn't that the ultimate test of marriage-compatibility? We can spend exponentially more time in a small room together before wanting to bash each other's heads in than with anyone else we'd ever met. True love at it's finest.

So we went ring shopping. We picked out a ring together, he ordered it, and they said they'd call when it was in. Then we went about our daily CTLT lives - Husband went to work every morning, I wasted time until he was finished for the day, and we spent the evenings going out for dinner and hanging out with the other cadets doing CTLT at Ft. Campbell.

One day toward the end of the course, Husband suggested we go to the nearby town to stop by the mall, get some dinner, and maybe go see a movie. He picked a teppanyaki-style restaurant (where they cook the food on the big griddle in front of you at your table), and we got relatively dressed up.

I have to admit, I suspected something. I knew he'd bought the ring and was waiting for it to be delivered to the store, and I had a pretty good idea that he was going to ask me to marry him while we were still in Kentucky. What better place than a super-romantic, fancy dinner? I'd always loved the idea of being proposed to in a restaurant, with all the other customers looking on and clapping for us as I wiped tears out of my eyes and happily said, "yes, of course I'll marry you!!" Sort of like a miniature version of our 15 minutes of fame. The restaurant would probably even give us a free dessert so we could feed bites to each other and solidify the public image of our undying love for each other.

The waitress who came to take our drink order asked if we were there for a special occasion. I glanced nervously at Husband, who also seemed exceptionally anxious. "No, just here for dinner," he told her. He was obviously trying to build up the suspense - waiting for the perfect moment to get down on one knee and ask me to make him the happiest man in the world.

We ordered our food, and the chef prepared it. I'd never been at one of those types of restaurants before, but I was almost too nervous to really enjoy the show the chef was putting on. I could almost feel the ring burning in Husband's pocket. Waiting for its big debut.

We ate our food and finished our drinks. Still nothing from Husband. Okay, he must be waiting till we're about to leave.

The waitress came by with the check and Husband paid.

Wait, what? Why are we leaving? What about my fancy-restaurant, romantic proposal? All these people are just sitting here, waiting to clap and be excited for us! They all want to look at us and exclaim about what an adorable, young, clearly-in-love couple we are! Their dinners will end so anticlimactically!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING, HUSBAND?!

We walked out into the parking lot, and Husband suggested we start to walk toward the movie theater in the mall, even though we had about an hour and a half to waste until our movie started. I was starting to feel stupid for having expected a proposal. He was probably wondering why I was acting so strange and nervous. But I couldn't shake the feeling that he was acting strangely, too.

The mall parking lot was in some state of being re-done. The current stage seemed to be "torn up, covered in dirt, and not tended to in over a year." As we started the trek across the dirt-covered, cracked cement lot, the sun finished setting, and the street lights came on, illuminating the mostly-vacant, kind of creepy area on the backside of the mall. I could feel myself getting more and more agitated and irritated with Husband. I felt so stupid; I'd been convinced he was going to ask me at the restaurant. What a disappointment. How could I have so completely misread the situation?

As we walked along, Husband noticed a group of scantily-clad teenage girls walking in front of us across the dirt lot.

"Don't look at those girls," I told him, letting the irritation take over.

"But look at what they're wearing. Pretty hot."

"They're like 14 years old! That's disgusting."

"Mmm, underage girls... that's the best."

I knew he was joking, but I was so emotionally strung out after the last hour and a half of bitter disappointment, I just let the frustration take over.

"Seriously, if you're going to act like that, I'm not even going to walk with you," I said as I walked faster to get away from him.

"Aww, come on, Laura, I'm sorry. Come back here and hold my hand."

"No, I'm serious. I'm not in the mood. Walk by yourself, or go ask those children to walk with you, if you're so interested in them," and I stomped further away from him.

"Please, Laura? What could I do to get you to come back and hold my hand?"

"Nothing. I'm done."

"Nothing? Not even this?"

I turned around to see him, down on one knee, in the dirt and weeds of the torn up cement parking lot, holding up a little ring box and smiling at me from ear to ear.

"Are you f---ing kidding me?"

Yes, that's right. That is word-for-word what I said in response to my proposal. The epitome of romance.

I walked back to him, and he actually asked me to marry him. I, evidently, said yes. It wasn't how I ever imagined it would be, but I honestly couldn't fathom my proposal being any different than it was. At the very least, it was a microcosm of our relationship. No matter how much Husband can piss me off, he can always make me laugh again. That was almost six years ago, and I still haven't tried to bash his head in.

(It should also be noted that, while reading over this before I publish it, I teared up. Guess it is kind of romantic in its own, weird way. I love you, Husband!)

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Day I Flew Air France

After the harrowing experience of flying Air India, I'm fairly sure the only way I convinced myself to ever step foot on a plane again was the simple fact that I needed to, eventually, go home. Countless very drunken nights in Berlin over the course of nearly a year of living and "studying" there probably didn't hurt to numb my memories of how awful cramped plane cabins can be when full of the scent of Indian airplane food, disgruntled Chinese stewardesses in saris, and gigantic Nigerian princes. But regardless, the time had come for me to once again brave air travel to return to my homeland.

Because this was the second half of our round-trip flight for the study abroad year, it was also booked through Air France. After saying many tearful good-byes to my absolutely wonderful German family (the ones who lived in the communist block housing), and the German guy I was dating at the time, I sadly made my way to the boarding area, only to discover that one of my classmates from the study abroad program would be flying home with me. Not just with me, but in the seat next to me. We hadn't exactly gotten along; he was part of the group of students who thought studying and learning German was for nerds, and I was most certainly the teacher's adoring pet (it's not like it was my fault I spent most nights out getting drunk with Germans and practicing my language so I could speak it significantly better than other people in our group). We gave each other courteous nods, and I sat down on the other side of the waiting area, trying to pretend like I wasn't crying.

After what seemed like an agonizingly long time, we finally got to board the plane. My classmate (whose name I've honestly forgotten - let's call him Nick, because I'm fairly sure it was some variant of a generic male nickname) boarded a few minutes after me and slowly made his way to his seat, immediately next to mine. Courteous nods again as I stifled back more tears. We both put on our headphones and continued to ignore each other while the cabin slowly filled with other passengers and the plane took to the air.

About an hour and a half into the flight, after they had started whatever in-flight movie we were effectively forced to watch in the small screens in the back of every seat, the flight dramatically left the realm of "standard, boring over-seas flight" and decided to try a different angle for our in-flight experience: terror.

The seat-belt signs had been turned off, and flight attendants and various passengers were "free to walk around the cabin," but, like the obedient passengers we'd all be trained to be, the majority of us were still in our seats with our belts fastened.

Out of no where, we hear an incredibly loud boom, then deafening quiet, and the plane seemed to fall. It didn't start to nose-dive, like one would expect if it were going to crash, but instead, it felt as if it suddenly dropped about 100 ft straight down. And then it just simply kept flying.

Then the "fasten seat-belt" light dinged back on.

To this day, I'm still fairly impressed at how well the passengers reacted. Most of us stayed frozen, clutching our arm rests and gazing around wide-eyed at each other. A few people let out startled screams when the plane dropped, but, overall, no one, at least no one near me, panicked.

Except the flight attendants.

They were all prim and extremely proper, perfectly skinny, meticulously manicured French women and gay French men. And suddenly, after the plane stabilized, they seemed to turn into bolts of white shirt, navy pants, and styled hair, zipping up and down the aisles, rapidly shooting out bursts of urgent sounding French to each other. They looked like a panicked flock of odd, yet proper birds - like doves with a crocodile thrown into their nest.

The sight of the clearly distressed stewardesses began to unnerve the majority of the passengers (over half of whom were American, and, based on future events, didn't speak a word of French, like me), but the fear didn't really set in until the pilot spoke to us over the loud speaker:

"Uhhhh.... jemapanesajumouisxtjeaux. Uhhhh.... letimejioux. Uhhh... siseauis."

Those of us who didn't speak French held our breath, waiting for the translation.

The seconds ticked by. Then, the audible 'click' of the speaker turning off.

Nothing else.

I turned to Nick, who had also turned off his ipod and taken off his headphones, and I simply said, "what the hell was that?"

He shrugged, looking about as terrified as I felt, and daringly stuck his hand into the aisle to stop one of the stewardess-doves in might squawk. He asked her what the pilot just said, and what that loud explosion was. She fluttered his hand away with her wing, trilled something in French, and flew away, down the aisle.

Looking around, I noticed other passengers trying to catch the stewardess-doves, also to no avail. Evidently, in a crisis situation, Air France had trained its employees to revert to only speaking French, to sprout wings, and to flitter about, so as to ensure any non-French speaking passengers will be the first to die, from lack of instruction or situational understanding.

After what seemed like an agonizing eternity of confusion, trapped in a small, possibly unstable plane cabin with a bunch of worthless, panicking birds, someone finally managed to gain control of the loud-speaker and explain what had happened in English. It was not, however, the pilot (who had previously used the loud-speaker to greet the passengers in English at the beginning of the flight).

The voice told us simply that, "one of the engines has exploded," and we would be returning to Paris.

Our in-flight movie had been stopped, and instead, the flight map, with the little airplane and red line showing the completed route, had taken its place. Based on the map, we were somewhere over the UK - we could have easily landed in Glasgow or London and been safely on the ground and out of this potential death-trap in a matter of no more than 30 minutes.

But instead, we watched in confusion as the plane flew past all of these possible savior airports, and made its way back toward the English Channel. Where it continued to fly in circles for approximately an hour and a half. If we hadn't been so terrified, the red line showing the path of our plane on the flight map would have been rather comical - it tracked all the circles we were making in a big squiggle, right over the water.

The stewardess-birds continued to ignore our pleas to speak English, and they refused people's pleas for beverages - even water. If someone tried to get up to go to the bathroom, they would swarm the poor passenger, squawking wildly and flapping their wings until the passenger gave up and retreated back to his seat.

Finally, we heard through other passengers that the plane had to waste fuel before it could land. Being a large airplane on the beginning of an over-seas flight, the tanks were still very full of fuel, and, evidently, it was risky to try and land the plane with that much flammable gas and only three engines. So we remained trapped in plane, making slow squiggles over the English Channel, for nearly two hours before we could safely land back in Paris.

Once we landed (with no further incident), we were ushered into a waiting area of the Charles De Gaulle and told a new plane was being prepared for us, and we would be able to re-board soon. Nearly four hours later, the plane was finally ready. This one managed to fly us all the way to Cincinnati without incident.

Along the way, through this whole ordeal, Nick and I actually began to talk and discovered that we didn't actually hate each other. At least not enough to not be able to put our differences aside and both entertain and joke with each other through the terror of getting on another plane.

By the time we landed in Cincinnati, it was well after 1am. The second leg of our flight, from Cincinnati to Omaha, had left around 8pm. Together, Nick and I made our way through Customs and to the desk the airport had set up specifically for our flight - because the delay was mechanical, Air France was footing the bill to put every single passenger up in a hotel overnight. Nick and I took a shuttle to the hotel we were assigned and planned to meet each other in the lobby to get some food together, after checking in to our rooms. However, the hotel restaurant had long since closed, and the only thing open was the hotel bar and dance club (don't all hotels have a bar and dance club? In northern Kentucky, they do).

Since we had both turned 21 in Germany, this was our first time to legally buy alcohol in the States. We decided to make a celebration of it, and used all our meal vouchers on alcohol. We had to ask the bartender to ID us. Other patrons of the bar (surprisingly, not people staying in the hotel - this bar was so "popular," the locals actually frequented it) soon caught on to our "delayed 21st birthday party," and several of them bought us drinks. Nick and I even tore up the classy dance floor a little.

Early the next morning (after having retired to our separate quarters - no "hanky panky" was involved, despite what Husband may think), we met in the lobby again, took the shuttle to the airport, and caught our flight to Omaha, laughing and joking with each other the entire time. We landed in Omaha and walked off the plane together. Nothing like a near-death experience to bond two people together.

That is, until we walked past the security check point and saw our friends and family again. We both turned our own ways and never spoke another word to each other.

But no matter what happens in this life, we'll always have Air France, Nick. Or John. Or Tom. Or whatever your name was...