Tag Archives: biking

Downtown

Today John and I ventured out of Headington to centre city. We hadn’t been there in a while (going to work doesn’t count), and I think part of the reason we were hibernating was to avoid the usual crowds that nice weather brings. Considering that today was another British summer day, the people traffic was surprisingly tolerable. And I’m glad we got out, because it led to some nice photo opportunities. John might be made at me for this, but…

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We went to the newly-opened H&M, and that happened. We also went to the Botanic Gardens, which of course were closed, but at least I got a good shot of this punter.

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Punting is one of those activities (I won’t call it a sport) that looks fun, but is only enjoyable if you’re the puntee rather than the punter. Pushing a little boat down a canal with a metal pole is much harder than it looks. And even if you’re the puntee, you’ll either get bored after 10 minutes or feel guilty that someone else is doing all the heavy lifting. I could get into a much more detailed rant about punting, but let’s save that for another blog post.

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This is the Magdalen College tower (I think), and as I took this picture, I thought back to last spring, leaving work early and cycling over the High Street bridge to meet my aunt and uncle who were visiting from Italy. It was when I still liked my first job, and felt excited about the possibilities that Oxford had to offer. I was a tourist that day, showing other tourists around. Somehow, seeing this tower looming before me made me feel lucky to be here, and by “here” I mean more than just the geographical location. Seeing the tower again today, I felt the same spark. As much as I complain (to myself, mostly) about where I currently “am” (in terms of a career, and countless other categories by which we measure success), it feels good to let go of that once in a while in favor of being a tourist again in your current hometown. The city still has much to offer and I intend on soaking it up…on those rare occasions I decide to leave the house.

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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.

So this is that rain they warned me about

It’s a quiet and relaxing Friday night. Our bellies full of delicious Chinese takeaway (look, I speak British now!), John and I are drinking peach sparkling water and watching Wreck-it Ralph. Well, sort of. We’re both on our iPads, half-watching. I’d blame this ADD on mobile devices, but I think I lost the ability to focus on whatever’s on the telly (did it again!) when I got a laptop in college.

This movie seems light enough for multi-tasking, though.

I rode my shiny new bike into Headington town center this morning to check out their twice monthly farmers’ market today. Does anyone else find it incredibly awkward to talk with vendors? I sampled some fantastic chorizo, unpasteurized goat cheese, and white truffle hummus, and told each seller I’d stop back. Of course, I didn’t. I find it so awkward to talk to a seller and not end up buying anything. It may be worse to avoid eye contact altogether, though. At least I showed up.

I ended up buying a purple cabbage, to be used in a buttery balsamic sauté recipe that two friends shared with me. I got a cheddar muffin flecked with fresh watercress, and 3 packs of free-range pork sausage (not excessive at all, right?) And then I went into Starbucks to dry off and do some editing.

Oh, right, the title of this post. It rained all day today. And yesterday. Sometimes more of a drizzle, sometimes more of a spray, or a mist, but never a downpour. I skipped my run yesterday, hoping today would be drier. When I realized at 5:30 today that that wouldn’t happen, and remembered that sometimes this might last for days at a time, I decided to suck it up and run in the rain.

The temperature was crisp but comfortable, with no wind, so I zipped up my windbreaker and slapped on my touristy-but-functional Tulum, Mexico baseball cap. Halfway through my brisk 3 miles, my body warmed up and I tied my jacket around my waist. Sure, I got wet, but it actually felt refreshing to dart through the twilight, raindrops cooling my flushed skin.

Now I wish I’d paid attention to this movie, because I’m completely lost. Apparently I’m not as good at multi-tasking as I thought. Actually, I know I’m bad at it and don’t think anyone else is very good at it, either.

The weekend’s on the horizon, and I’m not sure what it will bring. Maybe a trip into the city for Poundland, for some house things. Maybe (definitely) some of those sausages, probably the sun-dried tomato variety. Maybe some sunshine? Even if the rain continues, I’ll still love this place.

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