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Better. Stronger. Smarter.

My name is Elizabeth, and I am a forever student.

Say it with me now.

“I am a forever student.”

Even though I have 2 degrees, working on a 3rd, and am technically now a professor, I will never stop learning (nor do I wish to).

I believe that it is a healthy endeavor to always strive to learn something new. Reading is a good way to do that. So is doing (experience — and mistakes — make the best teacher?). Combining both is even better.

Now I’m not suggesting that you read the dictionary or encyclopedia from A-Z, or read all non-fiction (though if you haven’t ever read a non-fiction book for fun, might I suggest you pick one up. I promise you they are not boring). In fact, using a well-written book of fiction as an instrument to replace reality with a fantastic place of wherever an author’s imagination took them is a learning tool in itself. Teach your dreams to become reality, and perhaps become a better writer in the process. Ideas of one person can only hope to manifest other ideas in another. Such visions then sprout and grow and produce masterpieces such as “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Once and Future King”. History (as in non-fiction) often influences the fiction and forces the reader to constantly be on their toes to distinguish one from the other. This is most prevalent, I think, in fictional autobiographies such as those by Margaret George. And then there is Umberto Eco, a writer and scholar who manages to produce novels of splendid prose, short witty anecdotes of travel, and also essays on linguistics and physics that he writes in such a way as to grasp your every intellectual sense.

Teaching, on the other hand, is one of the best methods of self-instruction I have ever come across. The more one teaches, the more one learns. I know from my own experiences that I learn from students, from their questions and insights; I learn from the material I read to make me a better teacher (and keep me ahead of the students). This applies to both academic instruction and coaching in the gym.

I’ve often heard that as you specialize you learn more and more about less and less. I can understand that — once I think I know all there is to know about a hero such as Ajax, I come across a new article or book that provides a whole new store of information. Yet as I’ve delved deep into the work of Greek hero cults and iconography I’ve neglected my studies of other aspects of ancient Greece — not to mention ancient Rome! So every now and then I make an effort to brush up on that material.

Now I find that I have to maintain and expand my knowledge of these subjects. I’ll be teaching a course on Greek and Roman mythology through epic literature (Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, Metamorphoses) to undergraduates at the University of Richmond in the fall. I’m pretty excited, to tell the truth. I get to write the syllabus and design the class in a way I see fit. Of course “Xena” will play a role, as will other modern pop culture tributes to ancient mythology and epics (“Troy,” “O Brother Where Art Thou” and “Percy Jackson and the Olympians”, to name a few). But what is really great is that it’s forced me to check off a few things on my forever “to-do” list, such as “re-read Virgil and Ovid”. I had forgotten how engrossing the stories are, even in translation.

My parents just started a summer course on Homer’s “Odyssey” taught by Norman Austin (a very distinguished professor). His approach to the epic literature is different than my own, and I’m always curious to hear what my folks have to say about what Prof. Austin’s lecture of the day focused on. Learning from other teachers, who have been teaching a long time, is an opportunity one should never pass up. Seek the brilliance of others to help your own mind shine a little brighter. Go out and take seminars on new and familiar subjects. If you’re good at a skill, or just interested, take a class in it to learn more. No matter how good you are at something, there is always someone out there who is better. No matter how much you know on a particular subject, there is always someone out there who knows more. These are friends you want to make.

So is networking. Some may claim that’s an ugly word, but it’s a necessary one if one wishes to be successful. Not only because the saying “it’s not what you know so much as who you know” is one of the truest sayings ever to leave man’s lips, but also because you can learn from  people who know things. This sounds like a simple concept, one that should be self-explanatory, yes? But too often do we neglect the best resources we have for information: each other.

Be humble, be modest, be eager to learn. From something as simple as drawing a picture to something as complicated as speaking Navajo to something acrobatic such as a back tuck… there’s always something new to pick up.

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Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Xena

Fun fact: in Greek “Xena” really means “stranger” or “foreigner”. I’ve certainly had the honor of filling that role many times in my life, and recently.

I am Xena!  

I am not ashamed to admit that I own all 6 Seasons of the CLASSIC TV show, “Xena: Warrior Princess” starring Lucy Lawless. The show is full of absurd fight scenes and corny jokes, and also lessons of love and friendship. The episodes are filled with quips on Classics, history, love, friendship, and kicking ass.

When I become a teacher, I’m going to include clips from this show. I kid you not. In fact, I think a great quiz would be to have the students watch an episode of Xena from Seasons 1-3 and then write down the following: 1) inspiration for all names of people and places; and 2) everything that was WRONG with the episode. I can’t blame writers for taking serious liberties with history or mythology. They keep us on our toes!

Greek history: Solon, Callisto, the Trojan War, Greek geography (apparently it takes no time at all to travel around Greece by foot), music, ancient currency, ancient dress (okay not really), centaurs and Chiron, Elysian Fields/Hades, Amazons (who live in “Amazonland” according to John Boardman hehe),

Hercules (sadly not called Herakles), shamans, Greek temple architecture (…no), the gods and their interactions with humans (this actually happens quite a lot in Homer), and so on. Ares especially 

Roman history: crucifixion, Caesar (who is also Cupid who is also the guy who kills Jason Bourne’s wife AND the son of Theodin in LOTR – busy guy!), 

Cleopatra, Christianity, Livia, Vestal Virgins, medicine (Galen), the brutality of the amphitheater

Other cultures!!!: Indian (Krishna), Chinese (where Xena travels to repay a debt to Lao Ma), Japanese (Samurais). During the later seasons of the show Xena travels East (just like Alexander and later Romans!). She learns secret arts of fighting and power and of gods while in India, and later Gabrielle discovers her own power and how strong she really is while in the Orient.

Do you believe in rebirth or past lives? The writers of Xena sure do. It all comes with the idea of “soul mates”, I suppose. Xena and Gabrielle (…and Joxer) are always meant to find each other, no matter what the year.

Real life lessons learned from Xena?

1)      Don’t believe everything you see on TV

2)      Friends are the most precious commodity

3)      You can walk ANYWHERE

4)      Gods exist, but they don’t rule you. You control your own life.

5)      When in doubt: wear leather, carry a big sword, and kick ass.

6)      Good ALWAYS conquers evil.

Lucy Lawless loves to sing. Therefore, Xena loves to sing. There are many musical episodes in this show, some reference “Bye Bye, Birdie”, some “Footloose”, some are anti-war messages… and some, like this favorite of mine, are all about girl-power (kind of a major theme of the show). Enjoy 😀

Cheers, Oxford

My last dinner in Oxford consisted of a pint of Guinness. My lunch today was a beef and stilton pie. I think I’ve grown much too accustomed to British life. Luckily (and sadly, in a way), tomorrow I make my way to Paris for Part 2 of my Travels around Europe(an Museums).

In the meantime, I’ve been quite busy and all over the place.

I realized there are other museums to see in Oxford besides the Ashmolean, and they’re free, too! The Natural History Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum are connected by a building and are FULL of wonderful things to see and even touch.  The Natural History Museum is home to many a skeleton of animal and dinosaur, stuffed animals for the touching (I got to pet a cheetah), exhibits of biodiversity and gems and minerals, and even home to the Oxford Dodo.

The Pitt Rivers Museum is almost like a house museum of a very organized hoarder, in that it is just brimming with this and that object, though thankfully each case is grouped thematically. Even the floors are (sort of). The 3rd floor is weapons and armor — they have some ‘war quoits’ which are basically circular blades which REALLLLY is another name for Xena’s chakram. 😀 The 2nd floor is all sorts of games. And the 1st floor, the bottom floor you see here, is full of EVERYTHING ELSE: boat models, instruments, a totem pole, shrunken heads… you name it, I bet they have it.

Did you know that Oxford is also very centrally located to many interesting cities, sites, and even castles? I did. Many of the students here went to Stratford-Upon-Avon, Blenheim Palace, Nottingham, London, Salisbury, Stonehenge…  I went to Broughton Castle. I took the train to Banbury, which is best known for the nursery rhyme “Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross”, and from there walked west and just south for about 3.5 miles to Broughton Village. Turn right at the “Saye and Sele Arms” pub and soon you will come upon Broughton Castle, home to Lord Sele and Lady Saye (the Fiennes family, yes of Joseph Fiennes and Ralph Fiennes). The castle, church, and grounds date back to the 13th century, and have since been improved and updated and added on to. It is encased by a moat, has a charming little garden, the stables are now a tea room, and the grounds beyond the moat are free for public use.  The castle is full of portraits and period rooms and it is well preserved, and the docents are full of knowledge. It also comes with a very friendly current Lord Sele and Lady Saye, the latter of whom striked up conversation with me on the staircase.  If you can get there, I recommend you go.

Now it’s not all fun and games here in Europe, you know!

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I’ve been occupying my academic time slots in the Brasenose Library, for one, which has a pretty good selection of scholarship on Classical literature and such.  Not to mention it’s got a good interior view!

I also got to spend my time among the books and photos and drawings at the Beazley Archive! Yes, there is the entire database online for worldwide accessibility, but being able to physically spend time with the photographs and notes, and being able to spread multiple images across a very long table, really puts a new perspective on visual comparisons. Plus I got to meet Sir John Boardman, Donna Kurtz, and Thomas Mannack! And of course I’ve been spending much time still at the Ashmolean with the lovely Archaeology class.  Awww aren’t we just a good little group! We also managed to take a field trip to the British Museum and that was lovely (naturally).

Afterward the BM, I took advantage of being in London and went to the Tate Modern, but after one floor I’d had enough of Modern Art. I also stopped by CrossFit Central London, where I’d visited when I was last in London over Thanksgiving break, and saw Brian, the owner, and did some clean and jerks under the careful eye of Sauro. He was an enabler and had me attempt a max effort clean and jerk at 75kg (165#) — which I just kept failing (barely). Sadly. The clean was not happening. Needless to say, yesterday at Oxford Powersports I tried it again and got it nice and easy on the 3rd attempt. Speaking of Oxford Powersports, and this being the end of my trip, I made them all take a farewell group photo with me on my last day!  Because every girl loves to be surrounded by men with muscles, right? Right!

I’m going to miss all these people, including all the other Oklahoma University Honors Program kids who were staying at Brasenose. I like to say I left knowing all of their names, and I assure you that our ‘funny farewell photo’ should more aptly be named a ‘personality photo’: Good bye, Oxford! I’ll think of you fondly during my onward travels!

Next stop: PARIS.