Category Archives: Blogging

The “R” Word

Normally, I start thinking about what I’d like to do differently in the upcoming year immediately after Christmas. But for the first time, New Year’s Eve came and went (with a bang– lots of bangs–as the Nuremberg sky lit up with fireworks and smoke so thick you had to climb through it), and I found myself kissing my husband and not really thinking about anything else.

Then I remembered, oh yeah, this is when I should resolve to do something about those habits I still keep although they don’t do me any good. Or to put it in a more positive light, this is the time of year where the collective desire to effect change gives us the momentum we need to begin. Beginning is the hardest part. John gave me the scientific interpretation earlier today– something about a moment of momentum, and overcoming that energy barrier– but understanding it* still might not inspire us to do anything about it*.

*it: That feeling of procrastination. I-know-I-should-just-start-but-don’t-wanna. The motivation to start.

Today, I went for a rainy run and thought about all of those little things I do or don’t do that annoy me, and reflected on how all those other times I made New Year’s resolutions that didn’t pan out, and I realized that those other resolutions lacked…well, resolve, really. And accountability. It’s easy to keep intentions in mind, and then to berate ourselves when we inevitably forget those intentions months later, because we never put them into practice.

So to keep it simple, my resolution is to write more. And read more. I’ll be a pretty crappy librarian someday if I never read, right?

Also: To not feel like a failure for not having the aforementioned career that I got my Master’s degree for. It doesn’t hurt to cast a wider net when it comes to jobs and business experience.

And finally: To give myself more credit. Which is probably a resolution that’s good for everyone.

 

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Epilogue to a Wedding, Prelude to Autumn

Part of my hesitation to write, I have to admit, has been because my trip back to the “rebel” country hasn’t been as rosy as expected. To begin with, I woke up with a sore throat the day after arriving, which progressed to probably full-blown bronchitis and is still lingering. That’s a diagnosis brought to you by Dr. WebMD; even though I have some sort of international health care card, I don’t think an actual doctor could have done anything for me.

I got well enough in time for the wedding, and got through the day with smiles and a hefty dose of cold pills. Any way I phrase this will sound terrible, but I have to be honest: there’s a lot of pressure for the big day to be this wonderful, magical event. Months of over-planning and over-scrutinizing are supposed to lead to a carefree, effortlessly elegant day where it hits you that you’re a Mrs. now, and have a Mr. for life, and you celebrate that with your nearest and dearest.

Don’t get me wrong– it was a wonderful day. And it feels fantastic to be married to my favorite person. But from a rushed morning to a delayed ceremony start, to worrying that no one could hear us from that picturesque gazebo on the top of that hill in Chickies Rock Park, to accidentally leaving in that bit about gay marriage that might piss off some relatives, to feeling rushed while setting up the food for hungry guests and not having any idea where to put all of the stuff, to spilling barbecue sauce on my dress on three separate occasions and making the mistake of using a burgundy-colored napkin to blot it out (not my smartest decision), to…just knowing that we didn’t really devote more than 2 minutes to anyone in particular, it just wasn’t all that Martha and David (that’s Stewart and the Bridal mogul to the uninitiated) promised.

I expected that, to some degree. But I still wish I could have done it perfectly, because that’s how I am. On my wedding night, we stayed at John’s mom’s house, and the groom eventually passed out around midnight while I was up until 4 or 5 because I couldn’t stop my brain from flashing images of the day (greeting guests, blotting stains, searching for extra guacamole and tin foil) in front of my eyes.

The icing on the cake (possibly the only item of which there was no leftovers) was that throughout the day, and even a week later, people are still telling me what a great time they had and how relaxed and happy I looked. The pictures will show that, too. So that’s how I will choose to remember it. Still, I felt the need to give you a sneak peek of the “man behind the curtain,” to reinforce that– appropriately, like a marriage itself– things are never perfect. They’re messy and a little chaotic and the key to happiness is learning to embrace all of it.

And then there’s the aftermath. Now that a week has gone by, I can laugh about taking all of the tupperware into the back yard, along with a sponge and a gallon of dish soap, and hosing everything down. And pawning off bags of roasted garlic baguettes, pickled red onions and tortellini salad onto anyone who entered the house. These tasks kept my mind occupied, which I needed. My amazing, genuine and brilliant (to borrow the British slang) mother-in-law isn’t doing well, and I just don’t know how to deal with illness and…well, hopelessness, on my part. I want to make things better, and when I can’t, I either shut down or find a way to distract myself.

One of the distractions, of course, has been sugar. They call it emotional eating for a reason. I suppose there could be worse coping mechanisms, so I’ll give myself a break, but I do look forward to getting back on my bike and off the addictive white substance back in Oxford.

And yet, I’ll really miss it here. I loved spending time with my family (and new family!) I’m leaving just as my favorite season hits. The fine line between summer and fall. The few days where the air has a crisp edge to it, but the leaves haven’t lost their summer luster. The days where we introduce scarves and layers to our wardrobe. Not to mention the pumpkin spice everything.

I’ll miss you, Pennsylvania. But it’s time to go home, and start the next chapter of my life: experiencing my first autumn in Oxford. Oh, and learning how to be a nagging wife to my darling “hubby.”*

*I promise to never use this term seriously.

Fighting screen-time

John and I are upstairs with our neighbor Mike and his cousin, watching crappy reality tv. Mike is about to take a bath (a totally normal thing to do when you have company, right?) and the smell of his Lush bath salts is torturous. It’s been a long week already, and a bath sounds SO good. And I never take baths.

I wrestled for a good 5 minutes with the idea of blogging today. That’s right, I verb-ed that word. I’m a serious blogger now. I fought the (urge to) blog, and the… Well, you know the rest, because you’re reading this.

I like writing, but I don’t like my bloodshot eyes at the end of a long day, 8 hours glued to the computer, interspersed with meals and commuting, finished off with a few more hours of multiple screens, including but not limited to iPads, laptops, TVs. Er, tellys (tellies?)

Have I become one of those (eye-roll inducing) anti-technology people? I don’t think so, but lately I do seem particularly drawn to open windows, staring at my cats, meditating over simmering massaman curry chicken noodle soup. Avoiding the pixels when I can.

I got a flat tire (tyre) today, and ended up taking a new way home from the overpriced repair shop in Cowley. Passed a nice park, huffed up the hill to the appropriately named Hilltop Road, weaved through the JR hospital parking lot. Just when I thought things were getting familiar, Oxford continues to surprise me.

Thai Curry Noodle Soup (totally improvised and seconds-worthy)

coconut oil
2 T curry paste (I used massaman)
1 large shallot, halved & thinly sliced
2 birds eye chilies, de-seeded and diced, optional
1-2 chicken breasts, diced
14 oz can coconut milk
Handful (a bundle?) wide rice noodles
1T lime juice
1 T fish sauce

1. Heat a spoonful of oil over medium in saucepan. Add curry paste and stir-fry for a minute.
2. Add onions and chilies. I forgot to de-seed and our eyes were watering with each bite.
3. Add can of coconut milk, then fill the can up with water and dump that in as well.
3. In a frying pan, add a little oil and stir-fry the chicken over medium-high, until lightly browned on all sides. Add chicken to saucepan.
4. Did you catch that mistake?
5. Submerge noodles (broken in half worked for me) and cover. Bring to boil, then simmer for 8-10 minutes.

Finish with lime juice and fish sauce (for the brave) and enjoy!

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.

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!