Category Archives: Travel

Marrakech: Days 0.5, 1, and 2

After too many months of not enough sun, John and I decided it was time to travel to a warm locale where we could soak up some vitamin D and broaden our cultural horizons (what a cliche) by not just sitting on a beach in the Canary Islands like we did last year, but by taking my aunt & uncle’s advice and heading to Marrakech for a few days. I’d been interested in Morocco since college, when I took a French class on North African literature (or something to that effect). Plus, I really like tagine, dates, and Moroccan mint tea, and the fact that Marrakech was just a 3 hour plane ride from Gatwick was icing on the cake (the very same moist, delicious cake our Riad served us for breakfast every morning).

Continue reading Marrakech: Days 0.5, 1, and 2

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.


The inevitable Halloween post

I’m back in Oxford after a quick and unexpected trip to the states. I almost wrote home, but it doesn’t feel like home anymore. Then again, neither does being here without John. The cats are driving me crazy. Well, just Icarus. He won’t stop whining. I think he misses John. That, or he wants me to give in to his pleas for endless amounts of wet food. Maybe a little of both. Zora is getting fat, and was reported to be trotting around with a tail hanging out of her mouth, sometime last week, by our neighbor. I think she’s been getting mice across the street. That’s enough about the cats, though.

I don’t want to write about the other obvious thing on my mind, because I’m afraid it will sound cheap, sentimental, not good enough. I guess I’ll just say that I’m angry and sad to lose my mother-in-law so soon. And very lucky to have my parents alive and well. It was nice seeing them again, though briefly. I hate when people make promises of changing their lives after someone dies. Like, “I’m going to be super healthy and do everything I can to avoid disease.” Or, “I’m going to call my friends/family more often, because one day they’ll be gone.” So I’m not going to do that. Instead, I will keep doing what I always try to do, in the back of my mind– enjoy life, and continue learning how to deal with everything it brings.

So, on to the title of this post. Halloween was my favorite holiday growing up. I think it had something to do with candy, the thrill of being scared, and the opportunity to be someone else for a while. My most common costume was probably a vampire or witch, though I made a mean Cinderella one year (and won a costume contest thanks to this amazing dress my mom sewed).

One of our last, and best, parties in Philadelphia was for Halloween. I think we held it in November, so that attests to my desire to stretch the holiday out longer. I was a German zombie in my dirndl, and John was just…a German person, because I forgot to do his makeup. I loved seeing my friends dressed up and having a good time.

This year will be a lazier, low-key celebration, probably involving lots of terrible horror movies on Netflix and hoping for no trick-or-treaters because I don’t feel like buying candy. That might sound boring, but to me, holidays are more about reminiscing about how you spent every previous holiday than making the current one bigger and better.

I’ll report back with the movies I watched on this quest, and a rating. First up is (was) Sinister, which (spoiler alert) was pretty terrible.



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.

The only time I read

We have a few minutes until boarding time. I just refilled my coffee (cup # 5? 6?) and my stash of airport snacks is rapidly diminishing. Organic lamb & bacon burgers and steamed sweet potato is a totally normal snack, right?

It’s almost time now. 7 hours plus change, and no excuses not to finish this book I’ve been reading for months. It’s not even a very long book, but flights are the only time I read. Sad, but true.

It’s likely John will tempt me with countless episodes of House, stored on his laptop, but I must stay strong…and read. Reading! It’s for book lovers.

See you on the other side of the pond.

Travel Tips: how to beat baggage restrictions

When we learned that a certain airline flies directly to Nuremberg, John and I decided that a 3.5 hour bus ride at 1:10 am to London Stansted would be worth the cheap price. And it turned out to be fine, actually– I took a few 2-hour naps throughout the day and found myself having energy for shopping once I landed (fine, I like shopping sometimes).

Then I remembered that our return trip luggage is always much heavier. Specific souvenirs: chocolate. Good chocolate. And clothes, bath products, pasta, lotion, etc. John and I simultaneously decided to pay for a pricey checked bag, and happily continued along our consumerist voyage (it’s justified: German things are better).

As we weighed our suitcase on the last night, I realized I’d have to leave behind my Oma’s nice blanket and Opa’s knife collection (well, a small part of it). But I couldn’t cut out anything else. Yes, I needed those little cans of nuts and biscuits and kilogram of magnesium-infused Dead Sea salt!

Even paying the higher baggage fee, we were still stuck. So, instead of being reasonable, we…got creative.

How to beat a certain budget airline that rhymes with Dyin’ Bear*
*name has been changed to prevent my name from showing up on the “No Fly” list.

1. Wear at least 2 shirts, preferably your heaviest ones. Tie 2 sweaters around your waist, fashionably, and wear your heaviest pants–sorry, trousers–and raincoat. And hat, scarf, etc. Sneakers, of course.

2. Contemplate wearing your 2nd pair of sneakers on your hands, with the explanation: “Where my people come from, we wear shoes on our hands.” Decide you can’t do it with a straight face.

3. Stuff your backpack full of mugs, jeans, books, dried fruit, an entire spice rack (metal with glass jars). Act as if your 15+ kg bag is definitely under the 10 kg carry-on limit. Turn sideways when the staff walks by with their cardboard “your bag must fit in here, and absolutely no purses, laptops, small dogs, assorted electronic devices on the side” container.

4. Realize your purse won’t fit under your raincoat (I blame the schweine braten dinner) and admit defeat for faking pregnancy.

5. Give purse to John, whose raincoat is like a black hole with endless pockets. He almost looks convincing as a tourist who’s heading back home with a much, much bigger beer belly. (Irony: we drank no beer).

The ticket-taking lady glances at John’s ticket and raises an eyebrow as he walks by, but it’s too late– we’ve won! We take our seats next to a middle-aged salesman (I snuck a peek at his iPad; it was filled with “Sales Process” charts and notes on how to “close”). John unzips his jacket.

“Take that, Dyin’ Bear!* I’m not actually fat!”

The 3.5 hour bus ride back to Headington was worth the laughs, hair products, and Kinder Riegel packages.

Number 5

As I should have predicted, my “things to do in Germany” list turned out not to be that important. I accomplished most of the list without thinking, but have neglected the meat-eating part so as not to offend my vegetarian Oma too much. I’ll try to catch up on that tonight, when I meet my friends in the Stadt for some German food.

Apparently there are pictures of us in the bath tub together– now, we’ve all grown up and are starting to form our own families. It still feel surreal to me. I’m sure this feeling– growing up– is not uncommon, but I’ve been working on number 5 on the list (diving into old photos) and that’s why it’s on my mind more so than usual.

Last night, I found the goldmine: an entire bookshelf of photo albums in Oma’s room. The familiar and unfamiliar faces from the 60s-70s made me wish I lived back then, if only for the hairstyles and dresses. However, I was more absorbed by the album my mom made, that captured the years ’99-2000. I’m always thinking about the past and the evolving versions of myself, trying to figure out how I got from there to here.

Maybe we all do this to some extent, as a form of self-preservation– as the researchers and writers of our autobiographies, even if we never put pen to paper.

Those photos brought back some powerful memories. In one, I’m sitting hypnotized in front of a bulky Windows monitor, looking at a Prodigy Internet site. I wish I could make out the information on the screen. My AIM buddy list, showing all of buffy1547’s friends and some non-friends, is minimized in the bottom left corner. In the snapshot above this one, a conversation is captured on the screen. One name in dark blue, the other in red. The red correspondent is writing in acqua-blue Lucida Handwriting.

Instant Messenger was such a vital, drama-enabling tool of being a teen in the late 90s and into the next millennium. I got teased about my short pants (before they made “tall” jeans) and crush on the popular boy, because clearly, I was out of his league.

I also got dumped by my first boyfriend online. It happened right before my family and I went out to see a play. I’m sure I didn’t pay attention to whatever was happening on stage, because I was replaying that Instant Messenger conversation over and over, wishing I never signed online. Although, it would’ve happened sooner or later.

Of course, I forgive him now (mostly. You have to admit, that’s a cowardly move).

In another photo, it’s my dad’s 39th birthday and my mom wrote about how I’d get up for school an hour and a half early for my “beauty ritual.” I wish I could go back and tell 13-year-old Clea (confession: I had to pause for 2 minutes and count on my fingers) to sleep in and focus less on conforming to whatever the standard of beauty was at the time (answer: Britney Spears. In another photo, Emily is showing off a “B.S.” figurine out of homemade playdough).

I probably wouldn’t have listened to my older and wiser self, though. She still doesn’t know much about fitting in, after all. (She’s much happier, but ’99 Clea won’t believe that).

When I finally shut the album and went to wash my face, I looked in the mirror and was a little surprised. I was half-expecting to see my blue-rimmed eyes staring back, shaded by overly tweezed eyebrows, furrowed in a slight frown.

Then I wondered what my 2027 self will look like. Will she be expecting to see ’99 or ’13 Clea? Facebook albums have replaced photo albums, and I haven’t been keeping inventory as carefully as my mother.

Will my 41-year-old self wish that she could tell my 2013 self to do x, y, z differently, even though it won’t make a difference, and maybe that’s not a bad thing? I guess only time, and photographs, will tell.