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).
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…
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.
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.
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.
Today I wore shorts and a tank on a 4 mile run, and spent the first five minutes afterwards staring at my red face in the mirror and seriously considering whether it might be sunburn. I was half-expecting to see punters happily punting their friends, champagne, and strawberries down the Thames. It didn’t happen, but will soon enough.
I’m approximately 1000 times happier when the sun is shining and when, if I stand still too long outside, I feel like I’m slowly roasting. Hint to John about looking for the next post-doc in California. Hint.
It’ll be nice to shift my cooking to warmer weather fare, too. I’m suffering from bacon overload (streaky for breakfast, and a bacon joint stew for dinner…which was way too salty, even for me). It’s time for fresh, green stuff and juicy stone fruit. I think what I like best about spring is feeling fresh and rejuvenated, brought back to life from the depths of the de-thawing ground. Things grow and bloom. It’s an underrated and understated phenomenon, and it just feels good.
In other news, we are babysitting our neighbor’s kitten. The neighbor is in Italy for 1.5 months. The kitten has small-dog syndrome and won’t stop growling at our much larger and rightfully irritated cats. The whole situation would be annoying if that kitten wasn’t so damn cute.
For a country that purportedly prides itself on not being very religious, England is all about Christmas. Not as much as Germany – which has Heiligabend (Christmas Eve), Weihnachtstag (Christmas Day) and Zweiter Weihnachtstag (the second Christmas day), but close enough. I mean, they started decorating after Halloween. Somehow, I managed to avoid the usual holiday stress of getting exactly the right gifts and having exactly the right plans, and had a really nice time.
Today is Boxing Day, which (much to my disappointment) is not rooted in boxing the crowds at the mall to return all those gifts you didn’t like. Wikipedia, source of all knowledge, says:
Boxing Day is traditionally the day following Christmas Day, when servants and tradesmen would receive gifts, known as a “Christmas box”, from their bosses or employers. Today, Boxing Day is the bank holiday that generally takes place on 26 December. It is observed in the United Kingdom, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago and some other Commonwealth nations. [Source]
I’m not disappointed that I didn’t get a Christmas box from bChannels. I’d much rather have a day off, to lounge around in my pajamas until 3 pm (not that I’m speaking from experience…), bake gluten-free banana bread, make tikka masala for dinner (this is the best recipe ever, but today I’m using pork instead of chicken), and finally go for a run after 9 long, mostly-bedridden, flu-filled days. Being sick is the worst.
Anyway, it was a very nice Christmas. John got me a gift card to a department store that sells Mac and Urban Decay makeup, which is wonderful because I love that stuff but am too stingy to buy it for myself. I got him some double-chocolate digestives and chocolate (no, really, it’s for him…not me) and finally, a reasonable-sized mug for coffee-guzzling. Because that’s what we do in this house.
I also got us tickets to see Cats tomorrow in centre city Oxford. I’m sure Icarus and Zora will appreciate us badly belting out showtunes and making them dance around in a reenactment after the fact. But, they’ll be spared (for the most part), because just a few hours after the show, we’re hopping on the red-eye bus for the 3-hour journey to the Stansted airport.
Then it’s off to Germany for a few days. Can’t wait!
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.
This is my first attempt at fiddling around with iMovie. And proof that I am, in fact, a crazy cat lady.
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.
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!