Category Archives: Biking

Last weekend, I got pulled over, twice.

By two different “cops.” For two different bicycle violations. Apparently, you’re not supposed to go through red lights, even when the coast is clear for miles. Who knew? I pulled my best “I’m from Philly, we don’t have rules,” and the officer (who took his job far too seriously, I might add) told me, “I appreciate where you’re from, but blah blah normally a £30 fine.” Cue the smiling, nodding, and apologizing. Then he told me, “If I see you again…” and I had to try really hard not to laugh. But I guess Oxford is a pretty small town, and unfortunately, he probably will see me again at some point. At least next time, I’ll know there’s nothing more urgent for the police to attend to around here, and I should probably stop at a red light.

The second offense was for riding through a “pedestrianized” zone (10 am – 6 pm). But I was just following that guy! (pointing to the biker who, by now, is at least a block away). And the second “cop” was the same one who helped me register my bike earlier that day (in case of theft, probably the only crime in Oxford worth worrying about).

In other news, it’s been a month since we went to Germany, and I already feel like I need another vacation. It’ll be time to go home soon for the wedding, but I want to sneak in a long weekend somewhere before then– to anywhere, really. But train prices are ridiculous, and flights…well, those countless hours spent getting to Stansted and waiting around make the train prices a little easier to swallow. Anyway, I’ll keep you posted on where we go next.

Hmm, what else. You want wedding updates? Sorry, won’t do it. Before we embarked upon this whole thing (from picking an official date, and onward), John and I outlined our vision of a low-key, low-stress, more like a party than an actual wedding, small guest list, don’t-even-know-if-I’ll-wear-a-white-dress event. There were no complaints at that time, and I thought we might actually get away with it. Of course, now the time is approaching, and everyone has something to say. Something critical.

I landed on that word because it has various definitions, and in this case, several apply:

“Having a decisive or crucial importance in the success or failure of something.”

“Expressing adverse or disapproving comments or judgments.”

Thanks for offering advice, but detail X is simply not critical at this moment (or in the future, if I’m being honest). Also, the concept of “advice” itself is often nothing more than thinly-veiled criticism.

I do appreciate offers of support, but what I want more than anything else is just for people to show up and have a good time. I’m a detail-oriented person, and I’ve got plenty of nerdy spreadsheets to help me throughout this process. Because it is a process, no matter how “low-key” it ends up. The difference is, I know which details are important and which are not.

In the end, it’s one day, one party. Things never go as we plan, so why stress? It’s more about enjoying the beginning of something new. Becoming husband and wife and all of that sentimental crap. So please, no advice, unless it entails procuring sedatives.

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Oxford, Lately

It’s been a little while since I’ve written, but not for lack of intention. Every night I’ll think, “I really should write this down somewhere,” followed by “but I’ve been in front of a computer all day” and finally “nah, I’ll remember it.”

Of course, I don’t.

But today’s the day– the day where I happen to have an hour or so of train time with no book to read (too lazy to download books onto my iPad– sad, but true) and no Wi-Fi connection to draw my attention to more pointless pursuits, e.g. finding the perfect julienne peeler on Amazon. (It took 20 minutes, but arrives Friday!)

I brought a half-liter of coffee with me today, but knew it wouldn’t be enough. 5 minutes before the train departure time, I grabbed a large cappuccino to go, and my body is thanking me for thinking ahead. I was so excited to go to bed when it was still light outside at 9:30, and then I realized that I didn’t do any of my freelance work that was due that afternoon (American afternoon, I was still on time!)

So, my brain isn’t fully awake yet. I normally wake up 25 minutes from now. And that’s why, without a proper introduction or logical organization whatsoever, I present to you, 5 readers, some highlights that I might want to remember one day.

1. My typical pancakes + yoga Saturday morning last weekend was even better than usual. Actually, the recipe flopped (a gooey mess salvageable as crepes) and the class was mediocre, but my trip afterward to the covered market was a success. A sales pitch from the produce guy charmed me into buying the smallest £2 Pakistani mango (or something like that). Totally worth it. And I tried wild garlic for the first time, mainly because it basically looks like a dainty white flower with long, elegant leaves. You can eat the whole thing, stem to tip, and I found it highly amusing to tell John, “OMG, eat this flower!” and kiss him with my garlic breath. Tip: great in arugula salads.

2. The only consolation for post-vacation woes (aside from the cats) was hopping on my bike again, which I did promptly upon returning home, to pick up some sustenance at the co-op. It’s clearly the superior mode of transportation, as much as I do like to walk (and run). I kind of hated biking in Philly, and never identified the root of my reluctance until I moved here. I thought I hated biking itself, because I’m slow and like to whine about the slightest burning sensation in my leg muscles, but it turns out I actually only hated biking in Philly. Maybe that makes me a snob, but you really can’t argue that the scenery is just nicer here. I’m still loving my 40 miles per week commute, and actually find myself making additional trips just because I can.

3. Our 387 sq. ft. walls were starting to close in on us, so John and I rearranged the living room. Basically, we were embarrassed by our neighbor’s comment that we were “living like students,” because we’ve done that for most of our lives, so we decided to keep the bikes outside (need to buy a chain soon!) and squeeze the two-seater sofa into the conveniently two-seater sofa-shaped entryway. I measured the space and was sure we wouldn’t be able to open the door all the way, but apparently using a tape measure is not part of my skill set. It fits! And the room looks much bigger now. I also found a way to open our window without Zora jumping out (it involves using shelf liner as a makeshift screen), so we can finally circulate some air for more than 5 minutes (when she’d typically find a way out and we’d close the window in defeat).

Getting out of the office

“Train to London Paddington, Next Call: Reading.”

Yes, I’m on my way to Reading. I wonder how it compares to the one in PA. But I won’t stop there long enough to find out, as it’s my transfer point to Maidenhead. I woke up an hour earlier than usual today, surprised that the sun was up already and that I actually felt awake, to venture out to our client’s office for some webinar recording. If all goes well, the videos, narrated by my “soothing” voice (well, that was a co-worker’s compliment– I’d describe it more as a manly, monotonous lisp) will be broadcast on the big scary internet. There’s even an app for the site, and I cringe to think of being watched on a phone or tablet.

Well, half-cringe. The other half of me is flattered to take on the task and happy to get out of a typical day in the office. Not that I mind the cubicle lifestyle too much, but it’s great to get a change of pace once in a while. I’m looking out the window at the rolling green countryside: sheep, houses, trees, a bright blue sky. It never stops feeling like I’m dreaming here, really. Except when it rains. And even then…

Switching gears (something I’m still having trouble with on my front derailleur– it might be time to cough up some money for a proper tune-up), the other day I made the mistake of looking at my wedding planning checklist and immediately got overwhelmed. Lists, and big projects, are like that: one task after another, and it all seems to scream at you to get it done. Logically, I know that I have no problem completing a project at a natural yet efficient pace, under the deadline, wondering why I ever worried in the first place. But I have a hard time remembering that when facing something new..

A wedding is pretty new. I decided from the beginning I’d abandon pointless place cards and seating arrangements, “favors” that are never as favorable as intended (Hershey’s Kisses with the couple’s name? Sorry, you just wasted 5 hours putting a sticker on what covers a mediocre piece of chocolate and will inevitably be thrown away), bachelorette/bridal shower plans, matching outfits, etc. And yet, the list looms.

Have I decided where to get folding chairs for the ceremony yet? Exactly how much food do people eat at an appetizer/dessert reception, and how did I decide it’d be a cinch to self-cater a picnic style reception? When will I find shoes and a dress?

Then I get a hold of myself, and remember (like my friend Erika says) that’s it’s more of a “wedding theme party.” No one is going to remember or care about the little details. And like all projects, this will be doable if I stick to a schedule, and don’t peek ahead at what needs to happen 2-3 months from now.

So, aside from some minor wedding stuff, this weekend I’m making it my mission to finally put some more pictures online to entice our friends and family to move here. After all, I can only say “Oxford is awesome, and I never want to leave” so many times before it becomes annoying. Photographs say all of that, and more, in a much classier, more convincing way.

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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.

Don’t make this about the rain

That’s not really a title inasmuch as a little note to myself to not whine about the rain. That’d make me the typical American tourist, right? So, I will not write about biking 4 miles uphill (both ways) through the cold wind to get to a job interview that I was late for and riding home, slaughtered by an angry rain that left me with water pouring out of my shoes. Nope, won’t do it.

I will write about my second attempt at pizza, because it went better than the first, even though once again the dough lacked sugar for the yeast to gobble up. But this time the recipe came from an expert in all things dough, Jim Lahey, and his no-knead crust truly is worth the hype. It’s hard to improve upon genius, but here are some tips that work for me, including two new ones:

1. Bring your dough to room temp. at least an hour before go-time. You’ll want to makesure it’s not sticky, so get your hands dirty (with flour). And if you can avoid turning your kitchen into a floury mess within the next five minutes, tell me your secret.

2. Handle the dough gently (to avoid hurting its feelings). Meaning, don’t roll it into oblivion with a bowling pin, just gently lift and stretch from the corners. I don’t have a pizza stone, so I baked on parchment+a baking sheer.

3. Throw pan with dough in oven as it preheats, maybe 3-4 minutes or so. Watch it carefully. You just want it to get a little firm, not bake. This helps avoid a soggy crust, as does this next tip:

4. Top partially-baked crust with thin layer of olive oil, then your sauce and toppings. A random Internet commenter argues that this prevents the sauce from soaking into the base, preserving that crispy crust. It sounds plausible.

5. Never trust bake times. Since it’s baked in a hot-as-possible oven, pizza can go from underdone to burnt fairly quickly. Just watch it like a hawk, which you’ll be doing anyway, because there’s something magical about seeing your creation spring to life in the oven.

If anyone makes this and wants to wax poetic about pizza, please report back! No, seriously. It can’t be just me.

I wasn’t planning to ramble about pizza, though. I was going to offer a lighter topic than the last post, heavy in statistics and journal citations, so here’s an enlightening list of some cultural differences that are on my mind this week. Now I am being that obnoxious American tourist. But my aim is to admit the wrong of my ways, because the differences I’ve noticed are all positive.

1. People don’t wear a lot of clothes here. Wait, that sounded wrong. I’ll explain by giving you a glimpse into our home: a washing machine that looks like it belongs in a dollhouse, and already too many drying racks. We have to be picky about what to wash (do we want to wear it again soon?), when (things take a while to dry– when do we need this sweater or towel or pair of jeans?), and how often (one load needs to finish drying so the next one can be hung up). I think this type of setup is common in these little houses/apartments, and Europeans (gross generalization, I know) just don’t have extensive wardrobes.

kitchen storage and washer
teeny-tiny washing machine

Basically, I should have packed 1/6 the amount of clothes that I did, because that’s how much I actually wear. When something is dry, I’ll most likely wear it again, rather than dig for that other shirt or pair of socks.

Okay, I have a cat on my lap, telling me to put down the laptop and put up my feet. Because it’s Friday. And all I want to do is watch Homeland, and eventually pass out at an embarrassingly early bedtime. You’ll have to wait for the continuation of this list ’til tomorrow. Or Monday. My blogging habits are sporadic at best, and I’m not going to apologize for it.

Have a nice weekend!

A picture post

Dear audience of 5,
My apologies for taking so long to put up another post. This week flew by, and I find myself sitting here on a snowy (you read that right) Sunday afternoon, finally getting around to photo edits.

First, I suppose I should address what’s on my mind above all the good stuff, because somehow the negative always rises to the top, like oil above water or an alka-seltzer tablet. I applied for a library marketing job and around 2 part-time library assistant jobs, among others. You can see where I’m going with this– I basically don’t handle rejection well. I knew the first job was a stretch (I don’t have an MBA) but part-time library assistant? Shelving books, using databases, customer assistance? I hardly think I’d fail there. I can’t take my own advice that I’d give to others in this situation: it’s not you; it’s who you know, not what you do; be patient, the right job is just around the corner.

I finally shook some sense into myself when I remembered that I’m not here to chase a 9 to 5 or any job, for that matter. I need to enjoy my time off, and not feel so damn guilty about it. With that, let’s move along.

A crisis happened yesterday morning: we were out of eggs. Some Googling for ingredients I had on hand led me to this gem of a blog, but of course I’m incapable of following a recipe without making five thousand tweaks. My improvisation (based, again, on what I had in the kitchen) led to a pretty awesome breakfast, so I thought I’d share the results.

Hearty Oatcakes
Yields: 4 decent-sized pancakes

2 cups oats (instant or rolled)
1/2 cup sesame seeds
2 Tbsp soy flour (could sub flax seed)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
2 Tbsp sugar

Butter (or bacon grease. Yes, I save that stuff in a jar and cook with it. You should, too!)

Directions:
1. Place all ingredients up to and including milk in a food processor (or large bowl, and use your immersion blender like I did) and blend until smooth. Fold in baking powder, soda, sugar.
2. Heat grease in a large, non-stick frying pan over high heat. It’s ready when you throw a drop of water on the pan and it sizzles. Lower heat to medium.
2. Ladle about 1/2 cup of batter onto pan and let cook for 4 minutes on each side. You want the edges to look a little dry before flipping. These pancakes won’t get quite “bubbly” like those made with flour. The second side will take about 3 minutes to cook, and I’d recommend carefully monitoring your heat (i.e. lowering it a notch as you go along).
3. Serve warm with peanut butter and chocolate syrup if what you really wanted for breakfast was a Reese’s Cup (guilty) or your favorite toppings.

John and I biked all around town yesterday, in the rain. Just like the locals. We happened upon a chocolate festival and scored some delicious samples of fudge and something called Scottish butter toffee…or something. Whatever it was, it was good. I also met a nice labrador-mix from Oklahoma, who only intensified my desire to get a dog. I remembered to snap photos for once. Not of the dog; that would’ve been slightly too forward. You’ll also see that our home is shaping up, with nice little touches, including a tv stand I scored for £3!

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Long weekends and languages

I guess any weekend’s a long one when you don’t really need to be at a certain place at a certain time on Monday mornings. I took advantage of that and slept in. For once, I was up late on A Sunday night, because John and I were in the middle of Django Unchained. Tarantino movies might be a rare exception to the multitasking bad habit I have. We’re finishing the movie now, and it’s taking me forever to write this post, because it’s quite the captivating film. I can normally pause whatever I’m doing in order to meet my old lady bedtime, but last night the clock struck 12:30 before John reminded me how late it was.

See, this is already a really poorly organized post. Where was I?

Oh, the weekend. We rode our new bikes around different neighborhoods, stopping in Cowley to get some soup and hummus. We made our way through center city, stopping in Primark and Poundland for essential things like throw pillows, hardware and peanut butter, and finally, to check out Aldi in Botley. We lugged £35 of cheese, milk, coffee and a huge kitchen rug back home, covering around 8-10 miles overall. The weather could have been warmer, but at least the skies were dry.

On Sunday, I woke up with a stomach ache (which actually started Friday night, and has just been a persistent stabbing pain since then. It comes and goes but I’m hoping it goes for good soon). It was even colder that day, so we passed on the bikes and bundled up for a walk into Headington, after a hearty “streaky bacon” (that’s “regular” bacon for Americans– British bacon is less marbled and cut wider), eggs and “soft cheese” on naan. I worked on my CV (Brits never call it a resume, for whatever reason) and tried to eavesdrop on the conversation of the French guys next to us.

And that brings me to the second part of this post’s title: languages. I thought I’d hear more American English here, but the language I’ve heard most often (aside from English, obviously) is French. I sat in Starbucks for a good two hours today, and at least 3 groups of people around me were parlez-ing francais. Unfortunately, my grasp of it has slipped so much since I graduated with that pointless BA in French 5 years ago, that I couldn’t understand any of it. But hey, if its the norm here to hear copious amounts of French in every Starbucks, maybe it’ll come back to me in a few weeks.