Category Archives: Local

Full-on Fall

I could sit here for thirty minutes trying to organize my thoughts, but am trying to minimize the time I spend in front of a screen when I get home. I’ve been taking breaks at work just to sit outside for a few minutes– luckily the weather is still nice enough for that. I just thought about this in relation to my previous job, because I was just as busy but didn’t need that “nature break.” Probably because it involved lots of paperwork, and this job has none of that. I almost miss that feeling of rustling through program commitment and trip reservation forms. Actually, I do miss it.

We are still settling in here in Oxford. 2 weeks ago, we finally got a real dresser for our clothes. Two, actually. It’s nice knowing where to find socks, and t-shirts, and it’s also a good feeling when your clothes have a home. It means this is home now, and I’m enjoying every minute of it. Except maybe the minutes spent vacuuming cat hair.

In cat-related news, we’ve reluctantly allowed them to become indoor/outdoor creatures. Ikky would whine all the time in this little flat, and Zora would sneak outside any chance she got. As of today, they now have collars with bells, so we feel a little better letting them roam free. If they get hit by a car, at least they’ll die happy, right? That’s a morbid thought, but I’m okay with it.

Yesterday I was insulted with just about the worst remark I could imagine. Poor grammar. Even criticizing my appearance doesn’t cut as deeply as that. I’m chalking it up to American vs. British English, but the wound stings and I worry that I’m not actually the strong writer that I think I am. I’m debating the grammar in that last sentence. And now I’m convincing myself to get over it, embrace my flawed sentence structure, and take comfort in being a linguistic outsider, a foreigner, in any language I speak. Being a foreigner isn’t a bad thing. It means I have many homes, and an interesting, traveled life.

An interesting, traveled, married life. Today marks 1 month since becoming a Mrs., and it feels pretty awesome. I still think it’s weird to be congratulated for it, because it’s different from the usual things that call for congratulations. Degrees, promotions, that sort of thing. Congratulations for a relationship? I’ll interpret these well wishes to simply mean others are happy for me, and in that case, I’ll take it. Or maybe people are congratulating me for landing the best husband ever, in which case I’ll also take it, because it’s true.

P.S. we had these for dinner, and they were amazing. Skip the oven part and use two pans, one for the pork and one for the apples. Use butter, not this “vegetable oil” nonsense. Up the cinnamon. Serve with rocket salad, and a lovely miso-tahini-apple cider vinaigrette. Eat the fat off your picky husband’s plate. Enjoy.

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.

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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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!

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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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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