London, finally

When I began telling people about my impending move to Oxford, a common reaction was, “Oh, you’ll have fun in London!” Or, “Oxford…that’s in London, right?” Really, I can’t blame anyone for thinking that. Oxford is known for its famous university, and probably not much else. Even after proving to some that Oxford is, in fact, an actual city, it was not uncommon to hear, “Oh. Well, you can still go to London on the weekends!”

I spent a semester in London during college, and knew I’d love the chance to return. What I didn’t expect was that I’d fall in love with Oxford as its own entity, considering it much more than just a suburb of that famous metropolitan city well known for its clock tower and falling-down bridge. I didn’t expect to find Oxford satisfying enough to, well, not really be tempted to leave at all.

But the temptation finally arose this week, after finding out my aunt and uncle would be in London for a few days while my cousin attended an English School course. They came into Oxford for the evening; we had dinner, and enjoyed surprisingly gorgeous weather. The next day,I got to leave work a few hours early to hop on a bus and head into the other city.

As soon as I stepped off the bus and into the crowds of Marble Arch, I sort of…regretted it. That sounds pretty terrible. Maybe I’m less of a “city person” than I thought I was, but I had a similar reaction to whatever I feel when I visit NYC. Sure, I like getting out and exploring an exciting place, but there’s something about crowds, busy people pushing their way as they rush rush rush from here to there, that’s just too overwhelming for me. Maybe I’m just getting old.

Oh, happy belated birthday, self– you have to remember you’re 27 now, not 26, which was finally starting to roll of the tongue, effortlessly. I’m 27: saying it will make it seem true, right?

I don’t want this to sound like I hate London. I like it. I particularly like where I am now, in a Harry Potter-esque castle, waiting for my cousin to come back from his school excursion into city centre, battling the same traffic we fought to get here. Funny story: Bought 2 bus tickets –> Sat on bus and moved maybe 2 blocks in 40ish minutes –> got off bus –> Did the smart thing and went underground, £30 poorer from topping up Oyster Cards with a sum that sounded reasonable.

Anyway, this makes me think: did I really love London all that much when I lived here, 6 years ago? Sadly, I was too wrapped up in early-twenties angst to fully enjoy it. Maybe the busy-ness, the sense of overwhelm, was a good distraction at the time. Maybe I’ve just gotten better at filling my days with enjoyment and reflection, engagement and confidence, a sense of self that isn’t a complete embarrassment.

This is getting a little too heavy for what was meant to be a light travel post, but I guess what I love best about being here in London, right now, is that I’m learning about myself. Learning about change. No, the best thing is seeing my family– that emotional crap comes second. Of course, it’s also kind of scary to think that the last time John and I were in London together was after a few months of dating. He visited once, then came back for a second time. I never pictured this kind of future for us, or myself, but I guess the unknown is what keeps life exciting.

And with that, it’s time to get bak to enjoying London, to the fullest extent.

Even if that means taking a break, or a nap, when needed.

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Taking matters into my own hands

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A friend told me this blog needs more pictures. So I took the as-lazy-as-possible route, and you’re stuck with a shameless, makeup-free mug as I sit here in my pajamas and old glasses. Actually, the picture has a point: I went back to my college habit of cutting my own hair rather than springing for a professional. Apparently, the cheapest ladies’ haircut in Oxford is £22, at Leona’s. I’m a little fanatical about saving money where I can, even though I’m not exactly hurting financially. Moreover, I’ve always been happier with my own results than any hairstylist. Maybe because I’ve never gotten a £22 haircut, but I digress.

In other DIY news, I got the bright idea to fix my rattling bike chain by just, oh, tightening all those screws that were sticking out. Stop laughing. I seriously knew nothing about derailleur adjustments, not to mention knowing “derailleur” is even a word. Anyway, after riding around the block to check out my handiwork and finding out that I’d made a terrible mistake, I looked up some Youtube videos and read some overly complicated feedback on a bike enthusiast forum (yes, those exist, too), and tried again. The next day, my commute to work happened in a very noisy, rattly 2nd gear.

Not to be dissuaded, I took some time after dinner (3.5 hours, before I gave up) to try again. After a final check to make sure I could shift through all of my gears, I gave an optimistic nod to my handiwork and decided I’d be fine the next morning.

To make an already-too-long story short, my chain got stuck between my rear derailleur…thing, and the spokes of my back wheel, as I was climbing Rose Hill and shifting into a lower gear.

But wait! I was prepared this time, and pulled out my screwdriver to begin fiddling with the high and low limit screws (this may sound impressive, but I’ll be honest: I know the terminology, but not what they do. Someone zoomed past and asked if I was okay, but I figured I’d eventually get the chain unstuck and be on my merry way.

That didn’t happen. I didn’t dissolve into a crying heap, which sounds dramatic but isn’t an out-of-the-question reaction when I get frustrated, but I did regress to just staring at the bike and hoping it’d fix itself.

I don’t believe in God, but I do believe in things working out, most of the time. Luckily, this was one of those times– as if on cue, a nice older man pulled over and got off his bike to help this damsel in distress. I showed him the disaster, and offered my pointless screwdriver, but he whipped out a Swiss Army knife and began adjusting all of those little screws for me.

“This is really bad! These haven’t been adjusted properly at all, have they?”
“Uh, I might’ve tried to…fix it myself.”
“These screws are rubbish; there’s no stop mechanism.”
“Uh-huh.” I nodded as if I knew what he was talking about.
“So where are you from?”
“Philadelphia.”
“Ah, famous for its [mumbled] cream cheese.”
“Yeah, but honestly, I like your cheese better. Soft cheese, right?”
“Ah, no, I said grape juice. I have a friend from Philadelphia whose parents are grape farmers.”
“Ohhh, grape juice. Hmm, sure!” (Thoughts run through my head– Grape juice? Does he mean Welch’s? Are his friend’s parents the Welch juice people? What is he even talking about? Where were we?)

“So, where did you learn how to do all this?” I ask.
“When I was a kid. It’s just what you do. As a boy, though, mainly.”

This last comment brought back memories of Girl Scouts. Why couldn’t we have been learning how to do useful things instead of making clothespin dolls and dealing drugs? (I’m referring to the cookies. Those Thin Mints are addictive).

The happy ending to this story: my bike rides smoothly and quietly now. Of course, I can’t adjust the left-hand thing (front derailleur, right?) with any success; it just makes the chain rattle around and gears begin to slip. I think I’ve learned to leave well enough alone on this, though.

…At least until I procure a bike stand, immerse myself in more YouTube videos, and hope that another kind soul will pick up the pieces of my inevitable mess.

Brunch for One

Brunch for One

Some people thrive on independence, solitary space, me-time, being alone—and then there are those who collapse into mild panic at the notion. I think it goes a little beyond introversion and extraversion; our comfort with having time to ourselves depends on our current mood, outlook, and level of motivation.

There are times where I need company—to drag myself out of a funk, or get out of my own head, or just to reaffirm that I’m a real person and have both feet on the ground. As funny as that sounds, I’m kind of a daydreamer, and tend to get lost if I don’t have someone anchoring me to reality.

My anchor is in Utah right now for a Physics conference, oddly enough at the same ski lodge where my dad worked once. Luckily, today is one of those days where I like being alone. I was wide awake when he left at 8 am, but then I turned on a geeky podcast (on how nutrition affects our skin, hair, teeth) and fell right back to sleep. Too bad, because I could’ve learned something.

Anyway, I woke up hours later, after a series of bad dreams involving a fictitious heroine hiding from her murderous husband who started killing the whole family (don’t worry, she joined in on the killing eventually and was the only one standing at the end). The dreams confirm that I definitely have a cold, if my runny nose and mannish voice weren’t strong enough indications. Bizarre dreams are the ultimate diagnosis.

I decided I should get out of bed, since it was 1:30 in the afternoon, although Zora didn’t like that idea. Yep, she cuddles with me under the blanket—my little purring spoon. It’s sickeningly cute.

I couldn’t decide if I wanted savory or sweet, pancakes or eggs, so I came up with something seriously blog-worthy. I might have to make this all week. It’s basically crepe batter, the way my Oma taught me how to make it, but poured into one thick, flappable pancake-omelet hybrid. Whatever you call it, it’s delicious.

Give me a title, someone.

2 large eggs

2 Tablespoons flour (I used Sainsbury’s gluten-free mix)

Splash of whole milk (maybe ¼ cup—you want the batter to be thick, but pourable)

–       Thoroughly mix the ingredients above. I just cracked my eggs into one of those blender bottle things, and shook it all up. Worked like a charm!

–       Heat large non-stick pan to medium-high. Add butter. When a drop of water is flicked onto the pan and it sizzles, it’s ready. Pour in all of the batter.

–       When the edges are dry and the crepe no longer looks liquidy on top, flip it.

–       Cook other side on medium for another minute or two, just until the eggs set.

Now the fun part- fillings! I spread on some “soft cheese” (cream cheese), sliced avocado, and cooked bacon (“back rashers,” which shrivel up more than my beloved “streaky bacon,” but which are equally tasty). Salt and pepper. I rolled it up, and topped with a little honey (the opaque, creamy kind, please). And maybe some bacon grease, if we’re being honest.

The rest of the day has gone by quickly. I got a package in the mail from my mom: a birthday card and some gorgeous earrings that I’m wearing now. I cleaned the whole house, including wiping down the messy kitchen, fridge, bathroom, surfaces, etc. Vacuumed—or should I say hoovered? They call vacuums “hoovers” here. Drank PG Tips with coconut milk. Organized all of our clothes. I really like cleaning, but I realize I’m probably putting most people to sleep.

I needed to get some fresh air (even though I can’t smell much today), so I walked into Headington and put my new Waitrose membership card to good use. It’s sort of like Whole Foods—overpriced and basically like a toy store to me. I signed up for a free membership card basically for the promised cup of coffee with each visit, and was delighted to find out that I can get coffee, a latte, or a cappuccino (I opted for the last one). I can see myself seriously abusing that privilege. Since it’s my birthday on Monday, I also stocked up on Lindt dark chocolate (one bar with blueberries, and one with sea salt).

Now I’m in Starbucks, and it’s closing soon, so I’d better pack up. The rest of the night will include marathoning season 6 of Dexter, homemade pizza, and more hot beverages. All in all, a decent me-time Saturday.

Words that amuse me

This post is going to be a short one. I have something extremely important to do (catching up on Mad Men). I did have something deep and insightful in mind– something that probably would have turned into a long-winded rant, about “the business of blogging” and creating/losing identity. But that will have to wait.

Instead, you get my official list of hilarious Britishisms (and confirmation that I have an 8-year-old’s sense of humor).

  • Nappies. “Soiled” nappies, in particular, just cracks me up. (That’s American for “makes me laugh.” I hope it doesn’t translate to something inappropriate, like this next one…)
  • Helmet. My neighbor was shocked when John told me I could borrow his helmet to ride my bike (I have one of my own now). Apparently helmet means something quite different here. And that’s all I’ll say about that.
  • Wind. As in, a strong gust of wind. John’s colleague said the other day that one downside to dogs is that they can be rather…windy! The pharmacy sells medicine to combat “wind” as well. Ever since we learned about this one, John and I can’t stop laughing at our own snide remarks about hurricanes and drafts in the house.
  • Brilliant. Everything is brilliant. “Brill,” for short. Seriously? Maybe it just means “good” here. Or “okay.” 
  • Clever. That person is not smart, they’re clever. I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear “clever,” I picture someone being up to no good. Devious. Sneaky!
  • “Getting on.” How are you getting on with that? What do you mean, climbing on top of some unsurmountable obstacle? Or Let’s Get it On? The day I start using this one will be the day I officially relinquish my semi-American identity.

What’s that? Sorry, Mad Men’s calling.

This weekend’s pancakes

I like to make pancakes once a week. And in the never-ending quest to find the “best”– the elusive, fluffy-yet-hearty, nutritious-meets-indulgent pancake– I’ve tried too many recipes to count.

I haven’t found the perfect one yet, but this one comes pretty close. 

Made some modifications, of course:

-the rest of some coconut milk + whole milk, to use up what was in my fridge

-chia seeds instead of flax (either will work, and I decided buying a 2 lb. bag of chia seeds was a good idea, 2 years ago. I’m still working through that supply).

-coconut oil instead of vegetable oil, ’cause veg. oil is gross. Butter for the skillet, of course.

-sugar instead of honey, because my honey was a little too thick to mix in

-I used a standard gluten-free flour mix from Sainsbury’s, which works really well (rice flour + potato and tapioca starch is all that’s in it, I think). I’m not gluten-free, but try to cut down where I can, after reading some convincing scientific journal publications that suggest it’s not all that great for us).

-double the salt (I ❤ sodium).

 

I topped those babies with peanut butter and banana, as per usual.

Now it’s off to Headington to do some last-minute educational technology product summaries for the upcoming May print edition of my freelance work. I know you’re as excited as I am.

9 miles, uphill, both ways

I know– it’s been a while. I could say I’ve been waiting until I had an expertly drafted, nail-biting, page-turning blog post before hitting “publish” again, but that’d be a lie. Still, better to get something out there before another week goes by, and so forth.

If I let that happen, I’d find myself here two years later (in the same position, curled up on the couch in my Carrier-branded fleece jacket and cat hair-covered fleece blanket, watching another thrilling episode of Ice Road Truckers). And I’d wonder, what happened to the past 24 months?

It’s one reason I decided to blog again, aside from the obvious “living abroad is exciting” thing. Too often, I find myself missing complete chunks of time. I can’t remember how old I was when I learned how to ride a bike, or what my favorite TV show was in 12th grade, or what I learned in my college French classes, or what it was like living in my first apartment in Philadelphia. Without stopping to write things down, my brain doesn’t have that motivation to go, “Hmm, we might want to remember this one day.” And then I feel boring. Complacent. It’s not that I need my life to be filled with constant excitement– on the contrary. I’m kind of a homebody, happier on the couch with John and the cats (with or without Ice Truckers) than…anywhere else, really. But If I don’t stop to notice and appreciate (and remember) these nice, relaxing days and nights, they’ll just turn into more “missing chunks.”

To summarize that tangent into one sentence: Writing and sharing is good for the soul, so here I am.

In attempt to remember what the hell happened this week, before it goes into black hole territory:

1. I started my new job! Oh, maybe I didn’t even mention I had a new job. Or an interview. I’m superstitious like that; it wasn’t a sure thing. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted the position, so I was pretty relaxed about the whole interview process. Somehow, that translated to confidence. And the most surprising thing is that I really like it so far. The people and work environment are wonderful, and I’m finding more and more support to what might be the closest I ever get to a life epiphany:

It’s more important to find a supportive, engaging and enjoyable environment rather than to  land the ideal (planned-for, studied-for, ultra-specific) job.

Maybe it’s just the honeymoon phase, but I don’t think so. Speaking of honeymoons, though…

2. That thing in September is my wedding. This might be awkward, but obviously we have guest list limits (and there’s that whole dislike of large crowds thing). We’re keeping it to mostly family, because, well, John and I are becoming our own family through this whole “marriage” thing. We’d like our individual families to see that, be part of it, support it. It’s kind of a private event, if you think about it. We can always party with our friends later, right? (Please don’t hate me, non-invitees!)

One promise I plan to keep, before that bigger “I do” promise: this blog will not turn into a melodramatic, wedding planning bridezilla frenzy disaster. I couldn’t care less if my “bridal party” (our siblings) wear matching ensembles that they’ll never wear again. I frown upon chair sashes. Pomanders and place cards? Shudder. It’s one day, people. It’ll be a fun party, and I’ll get to wear a pretty dress, and then I’ll be married. It doesn’t have to be an overly-constructed, over-priced ordeal. And instead of getting into wedding bikini shape or whatever pre-wives do to torture themselves, I’ll keep nursing my Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food (half price at The Co-op today! In all my excitement, I ate, um, most of it).

3. My name is Clea, and I have a problem: lists must be comprised of at least 3 items.

Oh, biking. That was going to be the subject of my original post. See what happens? Anyway, I have a 9ish mile round-trip commute to work. There’s one way to go that’s maybe .2 miles shorter than the second route, but it involves the grueling Headington Hill, that murderous quad-builder that starts at my front door. So I take the more scenic route through Cowley and Rose Hill (“the ghetto” of Oxford, apparently, though it seems pretty idyllic and just like everywhere else in this city). The slightly-more-flat route. I’m getting dusted by everyone from middle-aged ladies on cruisers to teenage boys riding with look ma, no hands!

It seems like everyone and their grandma “cycles” all across town, so I should be getting in pretty good cardiovascular condition in a few weeks here. And catch up to my fellow commuters. Maybe leave a few of them in the dust.

Fine, and maybe negate some of that Ben & Jerry’s, because I’m not above vanity after all.