Tag Archives: work

Overdue for a pancake post (flapjacks, actually)

I was going to write a blog post about how I don’t like my job anymore and maybe never did, how I make laughably dumb mistakes (bringing flip-chart markers to write on a whiteboard tops the list), and how I feel like I’m going backwards on the career progression ladder by being an admin assistant (again). But that wouldn’t be very fun to read, nor would it help me feel good about how I spend 35 hours of the week, which is the ultimate goal, right?

So instead, here’s a pancake recipe. This one’s a winner (which I could have predicted as soon as I saw cocoa in the ingredient list. And because I’m feeling generous, I’ll follow it with a (British) flapjack recipe for comparison. Those were a hit at the office this week. Probably because the main ingredient is butter. To clarify: American flapjacks are thick pancakes, and British flapjacks are basically thick squishy granola bars. 

Warning: these recipes contain coconut because I just bought a lifetime supply at the Indian grocery store. You can omit if you hate it, but we can’t be friends if you do.

 

Cocoa-nut Flapjacks

Adapted from this.

  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup mineral water (the fizzy stuff)
  • 1/2 cup flour (I used this gluten-free brown bread mix that I love)
  • 1/2 cup desiccated coconut (un-sweetened and finely ground)
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder (use the Dutch-processed dark stuff)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat your temperamental electric hob to slightly-too-hot (medium-high for normal stovetops).

Mix dry ingredients together with a fork. Add butter, vanilla, and milk; lightly mix again. 

Add a tablespoon or so of butter to your pan and let it melt, swirling it around with a spatula. When drops of water sizzle in the skillet, lower heat to medium.

Add a little sparkling water (makes pancakes fluffy!) to thin the batter a bit; then and add scoops of batter to the pan. I can get about 3 small pancakes in my 12″ skillet. Cook for approx. 3 minutes, or until the edges look dry, then flip and cook for 2 additional minutes. Transfer to a plate and make your second batch.

Serve with a variety of toppings (John had peanut butter and honey, I had greek yogurt/black currant jam/more coconut).

 

White chocolate coconut flapjacks (the British version)

Adapted from this, and converted into NORMAL (read: American) measurements.

  • 1/2 cup butter (yes, really. Suck it up, and use a decent organic/grass-fed type like Kerrygold to help you feel better about this decision)
  • 2 tablespoons granulated (caster) sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 1/4 cups quick oats, or porridge oats to use the adorable UK terminology
  • cinnamon, sea salt
  • 100 g bar of white chocolate
  • about 1/4 cup desiccated coconut

In a large glass bowl, melt the butter and sugar together in the microwave (about 40 seconds on high). Stir in the honey, vanilla, and oats. Microwave on high for about 3 minutes, stopping to stir after 2.

Spread mixture on the bottom of a lightly greased 8″ x 4″ glass baking dish. Top with cinnamon, a little sea salt, and sprinkle with coconut. Press mixture down firmly with the back of a spoon.

Break the chocolate into pieces and melt in the microwave, stopping to stir every few seconds. When the pieces are almost all melted, it’s likely to be ready (you don’t want burnt chocolate). Stir some more. Spread chocolate on top of oat mixture and cover the dish. Let cool, then move to refrigerator for overnight firming up. When ready to cut/serve, it helps to let the dish come back to room temp. Slice into whatever sizes you’d like, and enjoy.

 

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For lack of a better title: My new job

It’s officially my second week at [insert name of big university publishing company here]. Friends and family have asked me the usual questions – what do I do? Do I like it? And which part exactly of publishing do I touch?

I think I’m drawn to jobs that sound straightforward on paper, but are actually kind of complicated to explain. And yet I’ve come full circle, and find myself in a role much like the one I landed straight out of college – Admin. Assistant. It’s pretty different (in scope) compared to the first time I found myself in this type of job – much more document management and many more meetings to arrange around insanely-busy schedules, but the groundwork feels familiar and I really enjoy it. My (extreme) attention to detail is both a blessing and a curse, as I submerse myself in the why, how, and did-I-dot-all-my-i’s of my daily workload.

I’m happy to be part of an organization devoted to literature, research, and education, so I feel inspired to be a better admin. assistant this time around. And there’s much to learn; for instance, I’ve never worked on a PMO (programme management office, in this case) and feel challenged to wrap my head around MS Project workbooks and change management processes. As to the question of “which part” of publishing I do, I suppose the easy answer is people. Divisional infrastructure, risk management, and other business-y terms might be a better description, but the core of it is: look at how departments are currently doing things (hierarchy, IT and process support, etc.) and help them do things differently. Well, help my boss help those departments do things differently.

So, I get a high-level view of how things work here, and that’s pretty cool.

Other perks: cheap cappuccinos, a gym in the basement (did a ViPR class today, which was fun) and an in-house library. Not to mention a slightly shorter commute (by 5 minutes, I’m slow on my bike) and walking distance from John’s office. He likes the cappuccinos, too (and burger-bar Fridays).

This past weekend, I got together with my former co-workers, and hope to keep that going as my previous job increasingly becomes a distant memory. The people were (are) great, and Oxford is small, so I feel I can actually maintain those connections. What I won’t miss is the ride up Rose Hill (and possibly a few things I liked to grumble about on regular occasion to anyone who’d listen).

I should wrap this up because I have a deep conditioning treatment* dripping down my face and into my eyes (ouch), but as a last note on this subject, I feel like this is the most “career”-ish job I’ve had. Maybe it’s just a result of getting older, but it could also have something to do with aligning my love of literature and knowledge with how I pay my bills. It’s a nice feeling.

*Homemade science experiment: mix equal parts warmed coconut oil (one of the few oils that penetrates the hair cortex, rather than just coating it) with a moisturizing conditioner (conditions, duh) and add a small blob of raw honey (an effective humectant/emollient) and massage into your hair. Secure with clips/bobby pins. Leave in for a few hours (or until you get sick of it dripping down your face) and wash hair as normal. Shiny!

Finally, it has happened to me

As I was cooking breakfast this morning (spinach & bacon omelet), John decided to make sure I was fully awake by playing this:

And now I can’t get it out of my head. You’re welcome!

So, a little update. This has been one of the craziest weeks, work-wise, but rewarding enough to prevent me from going nuts myself. That’s right, I still have a life outside of my job, though the line seems to blur sometimes. I’d argue that’s true for everyone, although I’d also argue that we should argue against it.

You follow me, right?

If not, don’t worry– I’ve got something for the brain’s-nearly-fried-day crowd. A recipe that will make your insides glow! (Not literally. If they do, I accept no liability).

(Bangers and…) Pub-style Pea Chips

(Why pub-style? Because ‘pea chips…I swear, better than they sound’ won’t inspire you to make these).

Serves…me.

You’ll need a few handfuls of peas (I tried some local-ish “Dwarf peas” on clearance at the co-op. Must resist un-PC joke about “don’t they prefer ‘little people’ peas?”)

And some coconut oil (not Olive, oxidizes [whatever that means] at high temperatures)

And finally, some spices (like sea salt, black pepper, paprika. Though I may try curry next time)

Preheat oven to 200 C (which I think is 400ish F?)

Wash and trim ends off peas. Slather them in coconut oil and place them on a piece of parchment paper, on a baking tray. Sprinkle on those spices. Be liberal (not just in terms of politics, though that helps).

Put some cumberland sausage on the tray while you’re at it. I basically roll all the links together into one beautiful spiral, like this).

Bake for 20 minutes. Take out the tray (WHY DID YOU FORGET THE OVEN MITT AGAIN OW OW OW) and flip the sausage, stir the chips around, return to oven (remembered the mitt that time…) and bake for another 15 minutes.

Here’s our lovely model.

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Fooled you! He didn’t eat any. The pea-hater deemed them “not terrible.” I deemed them all gone.

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Now that I’ve thoroughly procrastinated from diving into a screaming inbox of 92 educational technology product press releases, I should get back to that.

Enjoy the weekend, and eat your veggies.

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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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.

What about work?

When John accepted the Oxford U. position, I almost immediately started looking for a job of my own. I was leaving a pretty comfortable (in terms of environment and salary) position that I saw as something between administration and management. Administrative in that I made sure people were crossing their t’s and dotting their i’s, and managerial in that I got frequent opportunities to go, “Well, that idea seems stupid, so let’s try this instead.” I found myself back in my 2008 shoes (the beat-up blue slip-ons with the rainbow straps), applying to entry-level administrative/personal assistant jobs, with the occasional, hopeful, part-time librarian application thrown into the mix.

After about 2 months, I received my 8th rejection. Sure, I was pretty upset. I thought I was over-qualified for most of these jobs; not that I think I’m a genius, but I can file papers and type. And I still maintain that my library science coursework was somewhat of a joke, though John will argue with me until I see that I’m doing that “thing” where I brush off accomplishments because they seemed easy to me. It took me a while to understand that maybe finding something easy (of course, putting in the work along the way) means I’m good at it. In a society where we’re always comparing ourselves against and measuring up to one another, we should pat ourselves on the back more often for our natural talents. Sounds cheesy, but I mean it.

After that 8th rejection, I decided to chill out and back off for a while, rather than continue the job hunt. John is far more generous than I am with money, and continuously reassured me that we’d have enough to cover our living expenses from his salary (which is, roughly, what I’d been making for the past year or so). I also wanted to continue my freelance work– perhaps even give it the full, focused attention it deserves, rather than rushing to meet deadlines on Sunday nights.

Of course, I still did the deadline-rushing thing last week. For my Tech & Learning work, I assemble anywhere between 20-100+ monthly press releases from various vendors (Blackboard, PBS, Epson, even Mitsubishi) into neat little product “what’s new” lists, cutting out the sales-y language and repackaging them into unbiased summaries. It’s easy and, actually, interesting– students and teachers today have access to more Apps and gadgets than we know what to do with. What’s actually useful and how to make these tools affordable is another point of discussion, but I’ll lead that up to the education experts. It’d make sense for me to set a reasonable daily, or even weekly, schedule to do this– but if we’re being honest, I always wait until the day before the monthly deadline before I even open a single email. Not much has changed since college.

I also occasionally proofread Philadelphia Stories editions. It’s a free publication that features artwork, poetry and short stories, and I get to indulge my inner grammar nerd while reading some pretty decent work at the same time.

My main focus for this month, though, is editing the final chapters (80-90 pages or so) of a friend’s memoir. My former boss introduced us; she’s unbelievably friendly, awesome, and brave for putting her writing out there to the public. I struggle between calling myself a proofreader and an editor, but now that I don’t have a full-time job using up my brain-space, I should be able to check for transitions, symbolism, flow– all that other stuff that doesn’t fall into “capitalize this” or “change that word.” And I’m looking forward to it.

Finally, on a whim, I responded to a call for a proofreader that someone posted to DailyInfo.co.uk. I didn’t really know what to expect, or stop to question whether I was even qualified (side note: I should probably learn the actual proofreading marks; I’m surprised I’ve gotten as far as I have when considering my abuse of parentheses and penchant for inserting too many commas). I met with a phD candidate in Business Management, and sat with him for an hour in a local cafe. We went over his professor’s comments on a paper; English wasn’t his first language, so I clarified some language and improved his sentence structure in a few places.

I learned some new words, which I’m still not convinced are words– they’re business jargon, an abuse of the English language. I still cringe whenever I see “COB” or “EOB,” and paragraphs about stakeholder power/influence make my skin crawl. But, it was fun, I made £10, and I like to think that I taught the guy something he wouldn’t have learned from submitting his paper to one of those “professional proofreading” websites (my competition, I suppose).

Friends and family were asking whether I’ve been applying to more jobs, now that I’m hear [full disclosure: just caught my own typo, and I’m leaving it in to make fun of myself. But I did fix another one in this post…], and it’s hard for me not to feel guilty when I respond with a firm no. I have to remind myself that I’m not falling into the bored-housewife role, or the lazy-dependent role. What I’m doing, at the moment, is actually pretty close to my dream job. I don’t rush off to the office to plop in front of a computer and put in a straight and straightforward 8-9 hours. I write and pick apart people’s spelling mistakes and get paid (a little) for it.

I wake up when I want to, and I get to make breakfast and coffee with John. I can take breaks, naps, read for fun, cook lunch or go out, go for a run (on the agenda, after I hit the “publish post” button: a 4 mile round-trip into Summertown, an apparently gorgeous neighborhood I haven’t been to yet). I can sit and think, or not think for a while. I can work on making our shoebox feel more like home. I can continue the search for that much-needed dresser, all before dinnertime.

Sure, I might tire of that freedom and life of luxury, and want to rake in a little more dough so we can shop at Waitrose more often or go on short weekend trips to Spain, France, or to visit my grandma in Germany. But before I get ahead of myself, I need to remember that this is sort of a golden opportunity to just relax for a while and do exactly what I want, when I want. Not many people get that. I’m very lucky.