Friday, 31 December 2010

Father Time Passes

It’s not a visual that is used much anymore, but I remember New Year’s Eve being slightly disturbing as a child when the old, rickety Father Time smiled exhausted, and faded out and the baby with a sash and top hat came crawling in.  This was on TV specials, by the way, not in our living room or anything. 
After this year, I’m not so disturbed by the exhausted Father Time smiling and fading out.  It was an exhausting year and I am looking forward to it being done and moving on fresh with the curiosity and excitement and general joy of a child.  That has been missing a bit from the end of this year. 
And so, let’s recap the year just to understand why Father Time is so exhausted. 
The first three months of 2010 saw me huddled at my kitchen table, bundled in a blanket and writing 12 hours a day in an attempt to finish the doctoral tome, now three years in the making.  In the evenings I was planning an international five week wedding extravaganza. 
In March, when I got up from writing for the last time, I was permanently hunched over.  My left hip refused to straighten out (and still sticks from time to time).  I was hobbling for days but the writing was done and the 300 page beast turned in on March 23rd.  Four days later, Pete and I left for the US and our last wedding planning trip. 
In April we attended a family wedding in Croatia and got stuck in the village for a week because of the Iceland volcano, Mt. Kyjksntjdnusiohnelf (obviously, I don’t know it’s name, but that is close enough).  On our return I feverishly finished a Postdoc application and submitted at the last minute, literally. 
May was dedicated to preparing for the PhD viva.  The day of Interrogation came and went with little drama, all of which was supplied by me, and a title of Doctor.  (YEAH!!!!!!!!!!)
Two weeks later in June, I left for the beginning of the Wedding Extravaganza. 
I haven’t mentioned Pete’s schedule much in this narrative.  He was basically working his a** off in an attempt to build up some over-time and extra paid holiday time as well as his actually a** (although if he actually lost any of that I would have been very upset).  He sacrificed a 24 hour period of sleep to help me print out my PhD and trouble-shoot the layout issues on printing day.  He also took a day off for my Interrogation to hold my hand through the self-inflicted drama.  But I’m sure his favourite activity of the months were the ballroom dance classes I forced on him in an attempt for us not to look foolish during our ‘first dance.’  However, none of this feverish activity compared to his week before leaving for the wedding.  He started it off going to friends’ wedding and then spending the following week working insane hours while also interviewing for two jobs, accepting one job, and setting up his contracting company.  He was also packing for the wedding extravaganza which would cover four climates and time zones in one large backpack. 
We were married at the end of June.  Five years from the day we met.  It was a gorgeous day.  The only one that week, actually.  The next three weeks were spent flying around the world for honeymoon and a second reception. 
In July we arrived back home more exhausted than when we left.  Pete went back to work for two weeks before starting his new job and I started in on my minor revisions of the PhD. 
In August, the minor revisions were done and my PostDoc application was rejected.  This meant that I had no job prospects on the horizon.  It was a few days of crying.  Oh!  But we got iphones! 
On September 2, I was officially given the title of Dr. while at my last academic conference for the foreseeable future.  For me, this is where it all started going a bit pear-shaped (career and body).  The entire conference was spent listening to my former professors tell me, now that I was done, that there were no jobs out there.  Thanks for that. 
October passed with numerous job applications to universities, libraries, museums, radio stations, and production companies.  All were met with silence.  I started working on a media project based on my thesis work.  It met a dead-end as well.  But the month ended with another set of awesome jack-o-lanterns and trick-or-treaters.
In November I had my thesis cited in a draft article as an emerging author and I have a draft chapter for a book looming, but more applications went unanswered and my morale and ambition and motivation sunk lower.  A business trip to Paris with Pete didn’t go quite as we hoped and ended up being more exhausting than we hoped.  I was so down that I couldn’t bring myself to go out and enjoy Paris on my own.  But the month ended on a high note with a Thanksgiving dinner with good friends.
December brought my 32nd birthday and not much else, at least career-wise.  Although my Nigella and Martha Stewart type skills are coming along nicely.  The Christmas decorations never looked better and even though I joined Weight Watchers, my brownies are the best I have ever tasted, if I do say so myself.  We marked our six-month anniversary on Christmas day and can’t believe how fast the months have gone.  But we are still exhausted and feel like we have lost ourselves a bit. 
We have those exhausted smiles of Father Time.  We are anxious to start afresh in the new year.  Bright-eyed, curious and excited about what the next year might bring. 

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

To-do or not to-do

I had a to-do list for December.  It was ambitious.  It was basically a ‘holy-crap-it’s-the-end-of-the-year-and-I’m-still-sitting-on-the-couch’ list. 
It included things like, ‘major clean-out of all storage areas’, ‘get a library card,’ ‘polish the silver’ (we have two pieces of silver from our wedding, but it sounds like a big job, and it went on the list after the fact), ‘register with GP’ (we have lived here a year and a few months and I never got around to switching from my GP in Watford), then a huge time-waster ‘I.D. and prep t-shirts for quilt.’  Most of these are not major chores and really could be done in a busy afternoon. 
The list also includes items like, ‘readable draft of journal article,’ ‘informal book proposal,’ ‘workable routine of writing/housework/exercise,’ ‘research how to make podcasts,’ and finally ‘any job applications.’
I’ll let you guess which side of the list has more checked off. 
There are a lot of reasons the career-oriented side of the list is still intact.  The most important, I think, is that I am not entirely sure what career I am aiming at here.  As I have said before, the thought of writing a journal article makes me physically ill.  I did however manage to send out an informal book proposal.  It was almost immediately rejected (due to the publishers’ prejudices and not my idea, which is not as soul-destroying somehow).  But the fact that I was able to bang it out in an afternoon, and actually enjoy it, makes me think it might be time to give up on the ‘academic thing.’ 
Yesterday I read an article about the futility of getting a PhD.  It seems it is a simple case of supply and demand with a bit of a twist.  There are nowhere near enough academic positions for all the PhD’s out there.  A chief reason being that Universities prefer the labour of PhD students to do the majority of the teaching and research as they are cheap, so full-time, proper, can-afford-to-live jobs are cut.  It’s a truth we all know when we get into the PhD game but chose to ignore it thinking that we will be the lucky one to get the job. 
Getting the job was once a real dream of mine.  But I am beginning to think it is a hold-over from another person.  It was the dream of a person that thought they would be alone, in a cute little arts and crafts house with a cozy library and great big cat.  I am no longer that person.  I don’t think that dream fits anymore.  That’s not to say that the PhD wasn’t an achievement.  It was.  It was a hell of a lot of work.  However, when I look back over the experience and how I worked my way through it, I have to admit I wasn’t working toward ‘the job.’  I didn’t seek out networking opportunities, in fact I hated them and avoided them.  I didn’t structure my thesis in such a way as to turn it into journal articles immediately.  And, perhaps the biggest clue, I didn’t chose a topic that lends itself easily to government grant proposals or ‘hot’ social issues.  From the start, the project and research was geared toward telling a story and not necessarily engaging in theoretical discussion.  Maybe that is not entirely true.  The story I told was definitely more interesting to academia than the actual world.  This should have been obvious when academics found my arguments engaging and everyone else just said, ‘well, yeah.’ 
I did apply for four academic jobs.  None of which I came even close to being short-listed.  And to be honest, I am not bothered.  I didn’t want any of them and was dreading having to pretend in the interview that I wanted to be there. 
All of this is to say, I think that some of the items on the career list are going to be taken off the list.  I think they are counter-productive. 
What will the new to-do list hold?  Stay tuned. 

WW week one: Gold Star

It was a success.  Three pounds down.  Of course it is now the week before Christmas, and while we don’t have the problem of being forced to eat at a never-ending succession of Christmas parties and dinners with work, friends and family, we do have Christmas cookies.  I can’t let Christmas pass without making cookies.  The likelihood of losing any poundage this week (or next) is low.  So my strategy for this week (notice I am already taking up the lingo) is to maintain. 
Yesterday, the first day of my second week, was a difficult day.  I would have probably stayed within my daily point allowance (even with a dinner of beef tacos) except that I decided to have cookies for breakfast.  Oops.  But here’s the thing that weight watchers has really done for me, I went to the gym.  An aerobics class, no less. Here’s why: I can earn activity points which kind of ‘counteract’ the over-spillage. 
The whole thing is like being back in school and earning gold stars for good grades.  I was always someone that lived for gold stars.  I won’t get into the sub-text of gold star desperation, but yeah (!) for a gold star!!!
I suspect it is easy to lose at the beginning as you’re body is in a bit of shock about the lack of food (although I was only really hungry the first two days).  Once the stomach shrinks back down to a normal size, it probably won’t be as drastic.  I also have no idea what will happen if/when I get a job.  But we’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.  For now, maintain across the holidays.  Translation: no cookie bingeing!!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Let the Transformation begin...

I joined Weight Watchers yesterday.  I know. 
I’m not overweight, really.  I don’t have horrible eating habits, really. 
But I have come to the realization that at 32, my body no longer works like my 25 year old body.  It took me awhile to realize that even though I don’t feel old (and really, I’m not) it’s time to start taking care of the body. 
I didn’t wear facial moisturizer until I was 29.  That’s the same year I started using sunscreen instead of tanning accelerators.  It wasn’t until I was 31 that I finally found a cleansing routine that basically wiped out my acne (thank, god for that.  It had gone on way too long).  I’ve finally come to grips with the fact that my hair is stick straight and will always be so no matter how much product or heat is applied. 
But I can’t seem to get to grips with, and accept, my body.  I tell myself that I can deal with the increasing innertube that is growing around my middle (it can be hidden with the right tops and control underwear) but I have always been disappointed about the bottom half.  I am pear shaped, average height (on the short side) and a disproportionate torso to leg ratio.  Except, no matter how weight I lose, the legs never get any slimmer.  It will be looking good and then, as I range down my reflection, I get down to the calves and ankles and any excitement I had about an outfit, or progress, or whatever is gone. 
I know that at one point they weren’t so big.  At 27, when I returned from Africa, I was fitting into non-stretch, size 6 jeans with no overspill or overstretching.  How was that possible then?  I was eating the worst food possible for two years before heading to Africa.  I called it boiled-water cuisine.  It started in University.  If I could make it in a hot pot, it was a viable dinner option.  It was all pre-processed and full of nastiness.  My idea of a healthy meal was Kraft Mac & Cheese with tuna and frozen peas thrown in.  WHAT???  And yet I was at my skinniest.  To be fair, I was working three jobs, finishing a horrid Master’s degree, off the Pill for about two years (after about 10 on) and stressed through the roof, just coming out of a second serious episode of depression.
How was this possible?
Today, I eat almost exclusively fresh ingredients and we make many foods from scratch.  I go to the gym (usually) around 2-3 times a week and usually workout to the point of wanting to throw up.  I’m stressed, but I am also happy.  And yet, I am verging on being my heaviest yet.  What is happening? 
I have decided it is about portion control as well as my body just getting older and not working as efficiently.  So I joined Weight Watchers. 
After going to my first meeting and reading through the material I am determined to do the program without buying all the Weight Watchers branded materials.  I did this to make a lasting change with the way I deal with weight and food and I don’t believe that is possible if it is done just buying the Weight Watchers food.  Of course I know why they push it, it is a business after all.  But I think that is the easy way out of taking responsibility for what it is that you are putting into your body.  And I have an aversion to pre-packaged food.  I refuse to believe the Weight Watchers microwave meal is better for me than a meal prepared fresh.     
So this is the goal.  Go through the program successfully without buying into the Weight Watchers branded food (I may indulge in a pedometer and cooking oil spritzer).   It is going to be about being mindful of what I am eating and being strong about it.  It is so easy to have the same portion size as Pete and share in the 6 champagne truffles.  We are planning on going to Morocco in February for about 10 days, half of which will be spent at a resort.  The goal is to wear a bathing suit without embarrassment.  I have already made the move to the one piece and find them a more sexy and practical at my age, but I am still mortified by the action below. 
There it is.  Out there and now I must be held accountable.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Inspi(red) Treats

**Girly alert** The following post is directed at mammary-bearing readers, mostly.

Tomorrow is my birthday and while it isn’t a major birthday I decided to treat myself to some new (and good) frillies.  I went to Rigby & Peller (Corsetieres to the Queen).  The experience and outcome was amazing and well worth the price tag.  These ladies are so good that they just look at your lovelies and produce at least 4 bras that fit perfectly.  The shop is lovely and tiny, all bras tucked away in drawers.  No opportunity for all that lace and colour to divert or distract you from the right fit.  These ladies offer you a beautiful dressing room with a lovely silk robe and just make you look and feel better than ever. 
I was wearing two sizes too small and never realized how much affect this had on my posture and my back.  I tend to have fairly good posture, but my back hurts at the end of the day.  Today, no problem.  Awesome.
If you’re in London, ladies.  Make a call and book yourself in for a consult.  Well worth the trip. 

On another note, if you pass a Starbucks today (it would take a real effort to not pass one) buy a coffee.  Ignore the charred taste because today, on World AIDS Day, they will donate £1 ($.40) for each coffee sold to the Product (RED) campaign which helps people living with HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Last Days of Thanks (for the month, not forever)

2-1:  My other half
I am devoting two days of thanks to my husband.  It may be an easy out on these last days, but in fact he has peppered the posts throughout the month, so it shouldn’t be a surprise.  The 30 days of thanks were suppose to be about gratitude overall, but also about thinking about gratitude each day and what was important on that day.  While I am always grateful for my health, opportunity, family and comfort, I am daily thankful for my husband.  Despite all my daily whining about no job prospects, frustration at my Olympic medal feats of procrastination, it is all better and bearable because of my other half. 
And he really is my other half.  We have been together a little over five years now and in that time we have become almost one person in two bodies.  Sometimes it is a bit worrying that maybe we are losing our individuality, but at other times it is very comforting to be so in-tune with someone else. 
SO many ‘life list’ items would not have happened without my Pete.  I wouldn’t have lived abroad, I wouldn’t have travelled as frequently as we do, I wouldn’t have finished the PhD and, while it wasn’t every really on the life list, I may not have gotten married to the most wonderful man in the world. 
I have always believed in some sort of overall magic in the world that gently directs happenings here and there, and Pete and I just confirm that belief for me.  If Magen and I didn’t pull all-night paleo study sessions we wouldn’t have decided to go to Africa some day.  If my Master’s degree hadn’t been such a horrible experience that I needed to escape we may not have gone to Africa in the summer of 2005 and I would never have met Pete in that campground in Zimbabwe.  My life was at a bit of a low-point when we left on that trip (I know it doesn’t sound like it, I was getting a Master’s degree and travelling to Africa, but I was in a low place mentally) and I don’t like to think about what my life would have been like if I didn’t go and hadn’t met Pete.  In fact, until just now I don’t think I have considered looking back. 
Of all my life decisions, moving to London to be with Pete was the scariest, but was also the one of which I was most sure. 
At the end of the month of Thanks and everyday before and after, I am thankful for my Pete. 
(Today I am also thankful for snow.  I don’t get it here in London the way I am used to after years of living in the snow belt, but these last two days have dumped loads.  I know London and the UK hate it, but I love it.  I’m hoping it stays for the weekend so we can go sledding in Greenwich Park and maybe make another snowman.  Pete made his first our last winter in Watford.)

Monday, 29 November 2010

4-3 Days of Thanks

4: Markets
We have been doing Christmas shopping for at least a month now, if not a bit longer.  In the last few years we have missed birthdays and major gift-giving holidays due to the postal service.  We have to be very forward thinking about gifts.  We have started to buy gifts whenever we see something someone would like and just put them away until it is time to go to the post office.  This has relieved gift-giving stress, particularly this year. 
We tend to like to buy gifts from our travels or local markets in London.  In the last two years all of our holidays have been wedding and family oriented so they haven’t offered up any gift opportunities.  So we have become regulars at our local market at Greenwich and have found some great gifts.  The fact that they come from artists nearby our home makes them even better, especially if we have already enjoyed products by these same artists. 
We are regulars at one shop in particular and because of that we were invited to an Open Studio day at a collective of artist studios.  Looks like Christmas shopping is one step closer to being done on time for the postal system. 

3: Harry Potter (or the inclusion of magic in life)
I was late to the Harry Potter bandwagon.  When it first came out I was all, ‘Tolkien is all the fantasy I need.  A boy wizard could never be better.’  I am now a full-fledged Potter fan and a bit of an encyclopedia of random Potter trivia.  I have read the books about five times each, the last three six times (one extra in time for the movies).  I first watched Harry Potter (the second movie) in Croatia when I went to visit Pete for the first time after Africa.  I still wasn’t sold.  I started reading the books the first time I went to New Zealand about a year and a half after that.  Pete had all the current books in his old room.  I was bored and had nothing to do.  I picked up the first one.  A week and a half later I was done with books 1-5.  Before we left to come home we bought ‘Half-blood Prince.’ I tried to read this one more slowly.  At the end I couldn’t put it down and stayed up until 4am the night before a supervision meeting reading the apparent betrayal of Snape.  I couldn’t believe it.
We pre-ordered the final book and took it in turns to read each chapter.  I was ahead of Pete and it was next to impossible to not tell him what was going to happen. 
On Sunday we went to the first half of the last movie.  We were very excited.  For the 2 hours of the movie we were excited.  And then it ended and I felt cheated.  I know they are just drawing out the profits by splitting the last movie, but don’t give me the line that there is just too much information to fit into one movie.  I sat through 4 hours of ‘Return of the King’ I can sit through four hours of ‘Deathly Hallows.’ Don’t give me the line that the movies are for young kids and therefore need to be average length.  The last few have been rated 12 and over.   The majority of the audience is adults that have left their kids home with babysitters. 
Despite the money-making motives of the films, what J.K.Rowling has done is incredible.  Not only has she reintroduced reading to at least two generations that were almost all but lost to TV and Video games, but she also introduced magic into the lives of adults that thought they were too old to believe anymore.  This is the greatest feat.  Adults should never lose the magic they believed in as children.  My parents never did and that is one of the best things they gave me as a child. 
Today I am thankful for Harry Potter and magic and adults that keep that magic and make-believe alive.

Friday, 26 November 2010

5 Days of Thanks

5:  A good clean-out
I have begun the process of cleaning out the house of extra stuff we just don’t need or use.  I want it done before we begin the Christmas process.  It is surprising how much junk we hold onto.  We don’t like throwing things in the bin when they could be recycled or used up later or whatever.  This means that we have about a million empty plastic bags, hotel toiletries, and I have amassed an impressive collection of potions and creams that I am convinced I will use at some point, but inevitably have forgotten about since the last clean-out.  Today I bit the bullet and just started throwing things away.  I found a total of five empty shoe boxes under our bed and in the closet under the stairs.  What were we keeping those for? 
I got about half-way through the house today.  The worst of it is going to be going through my clothes and being ruthless.  If it doesn’t fit and I haven’t even attempted to wear it in the past year, gone.  My goal is to be able to fit winter and summer clothes in the dresser and wardrobe with room to spare so that I can get rid of the two huge suitcases that are useless because they are too heavy.  In order to meet the airline luggage weight restrictions you basically have to leave the suitcase empty.  In the past five years we have only used them as storage for out of season clothing or backpacking gear.  Gone.
The other reason for doing this, besides starting the year out free of useless stuff, is in an effort to keep our house a little less damp.  We have discovered that our flat has minimal, if any, insulation.  Once cold weather sets in, our external walls need to be wiped down at least once a day to keep the condensation from puddling on the floor.  The less stuff we have stuffed under the couch, dresser, bed, etc.  The more air will circulate and hopefully the less dampness.  That’s the theory anyway.

6 Days of Thanks

6: Thanksgiving
Today is our five month wedding anniversary and Thanksgiving (and my Aunt’s birthday and my the first day of my friend Hilary’s baby girl).  It’s just a wonderful day all around. 
There are a lot of things I don’t like about America.  But there are a lot of things I love and Thanksgiving is on the top of the list.  For all its faults, we have a national holiday set aside solely to say ‘Thanks.’  It causes stress, traffic jams, and kicks off one of the worst things about America (Black Friday), (in my opinion of course), but those hours with family saying what we are thankful for before enjoying a huge meal together not in front of the TV, but sitting together on tables pushed together in rooms too small.  We talk about our lives and our hopes and our plans. 
What a wonderful day.  It’s one of my favourites.  Here in the UK, I have to make Thanksgiving myself.  There is no build up, there are no paper turkeys, or harvest corn, no day off.  But this evening I hosted my first Thanksgiving dinner for my wonderful husband and our dearest friends here in the UK. 
Without the Macy’s Parade in the background it was hard to get into the mood.  So I found all the Thanksgiving episodes of ‘This American Life’ radio show and listened to those all day while I baked and prepped and cleaned.  If I hadn’t needed all the horizontal surfaces in our small kitchen I would have watched all the ‘Friends’ Thanksgiving episodes. 
It turned out great.  We had some cocktails and nibbles, a lovely dinner (with minimal left-overs packaged up for our guests), and three desserts. 
To make it even better, after dinner we skyped with my family just before their Thanksgiving feast. 
Today I give Thanks.

10-7 Days of Thanks

I am a bit behind.  I blame a hotel with limited internet and hotel limbo.

10: Holidays with the husband.  Even if it is only a day of wandering in a new neighbourhood. 
9: Trains and radio programs.  I long for a trip on one of those opulent long-distance trains with beautiful sleeping compartments and classy dining cars and smoky (in decor, not air) bar cars.  I spent my train journey listening to radio shows.  I love the radio medium.  It was such a comfort when I was on the circus.  My only connection to the word outside the lot. 
8: A great night of sleep. I might have already done this one, but it is so rare that when it happens I really am grateful and don’t want it to end. 
7: Family Tradition.  This is a big one to tack onto the end of a quick list, but on this day when I began the prep for my first Thanksgiving (beyond Pete and I) I am thinking of my family traditions and how I am adding them to our new family while changing them to fit our new life and new traditions.  I’m thinking of all those people travelling to distant families to say ‘Thanks’ and ‘I love you’ on this day, if not other day of the year.  It can be hard keeping up family traditions on our own, especially when we live in a country that isn’t our own.  But our adopted country (for now) is affecting our traditions in a way that will stay with our new family for years to come and be a continuing part of our family’s story.  I love this. 

Monday, 22 November 2010

11 Days of Thanks

11: crepes
When the sun is shining and you can sit in a little cafe on the square and people watch while munching on a crepe of Nutella and banana.  What a lovely lunch.  Surprisingly filling as well. 
Today we went out and explored a part of the city that we barely touched last time.  Montmartre.  We had a look around the ‘artists’ square and little shops.  We bought a quirky ceramic bowl at an artist’s shop down an alley. 
Then we decided to continue our failed search for the Rose Line.  Last time we were in Paris, I had just seen the DiVinci code and was obsessed with finding Paris’ version of the Prime Meridian.  We photographed many Copper lines in pavement and churches and once in a busy street.  None were the right one, but it just became a ‘thing’ to find every possible line.  On our return we read that the ‘real’ Rose Line was in the courtyard of the Palais Royal north of the Louvre.  We headed there this time determined to finish the search three years later.  No go.  The entire court yard was dug up and barricaded off.  Foiled again.
We decided to walk the distance through the park and Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe and then head back to the hotel.  However at that point I had to pee, yet again.  This is a forever problem for us when we head out for a day.  I always have to find some public toilet.  Usually terrifyingly filthy and requires quite a feat of balance to use without emerging with a cocktail of germs and wet pant legs.  The public toilet I found in the Jardin des Tulieries was the best public toilet I have ever used.  It didn’t cost anything, smelled of bleach, was clean and bright.  Just what I needed. 
I will probably won’t be so lucky again. 

12 Days of Thanks

12: room service
Not in this particular hotel, but in general I love, and am very thankful for, room service.  After a day of wandering a new, exciting city in the cold and rain.  It’s so great to be able to come back to the room, cuddle up in pajamas, put a movie on the lap top and order some comfort food to be eaten in bed. 
The food on offer here isn’t that appetising, but we have ordered enough room service that on Wednesday we were surprised by some gorgeous macaroons.  Lovely.
Some like to find an out of the way restaurant where all the ‘locals’ go for their evening meal and drink.  We do that frequently enough, but sometimes you just want to eat in your pajamas.  I feel like it adds to the luxury and decadence of staying in a hotel, even a mediocre business park hotel. 

13 Days of Thanks

13: ‘Stolen’ apples
After a night drinking with Pete’s bosses in the hotel bar and feeling rough this morning, I am incredibly thankful for the apples I have been systematically taking from the continental breakfast and fitness room.  I can’t face going down to breakfast.  I have a pounding headache (which probably won’t go away as I am going to miss my morning coffee and after 10am caffeine keeps me awake at night) and dodgy stomach and digestive system  (TMI, I know).  These 3 apples and the packet of crisps from yesterday will be perfect.   
I recall a plan to go to a club tonight at midnight.  That is definitely not happening.  I really do not enjoy drinking to excess anymore and my body takes it even harder.  I will eventually have to go and get some lunch.  Not looking forward to that.  The ladies at ‘Paul’ are not nice to non-French speakers regardless of my efforts.  Or at least they are not nice to me during the rush.  If I was asking for complicated service I could understand the frustration.  I’m just pointing to a pre-made sandwich or salad and handing over money.  Not even a coffee or drink.  Less time than the surrounding French business suits.  Oh well.  I still need my lunch. 
Here’s an unrelated tip: don’t have major life discussions while having cocktails.  At the end of the night, Pete and I began discussing when we were going to start having kids.  Not the right moment really.  And we didn’t cover any new ground either.  A waste of good drunken conversation which could have been spent making wildly optimistic travel plans.    

14 Days of Thanks

14: High School French
This one is a double-sided thanks.  It is extremely helpful for little things like ordering coffee and exchanges with hotel staff.  But when the little things are successful it can balloon and I have to ask for English and on at least two occasions has caused people to become very frustrated and upset with me for wasting their time. 
This is a different experience from our last trip.  On that occasion our remedial attempts were appreciated and people were (or at least seemed) happy to excuse our broken French and indulged our request for English conversation. 
We are located in a different part of the city and one that is not frequented by tourists.  However, we have heard English around this business park just as frequently as French.  So English speakers are about, but with the reactions I have been getting, I can only assume that they also speak French beyond four sketchy years of French class at Brookside High. 
Regardless, I am impressed with how much I do remember from those years.  It is not much, let’s be honest, and before we arrived I could barely remember how to say hello.  Little by little basics have returned.  It’s nice to know that it wasn’t completely lost.  Although it does remind me that I always wanted to be able to speak another language.  It is almost unfortunate to be born an English speaker in an English-speaking country.  There is no real drive to learn another language or the opportunity to use it regularly. 
I am glad I remember a bit of my high school French, but I continually kick myself for not taking Spanish in high school.  It would have been very useful for those five months with the circus and the Mexican crew. 
Hindsight is always 20/20.

15 Days of Thanks

To be honest, I am not using this trip to its full advantage and so have little to be grateful for on this particular day besides the usual of good health, ability to travel, etc. 
But here’s what I have been thinking about today and maybe it will lead to a bit of thanks.
This has something to do with what I call Hotel Limbo.  With the exception of the French TV, this could be any hotel room in any city.  I always feel this way about hotels (especially business park or conference hotels) they have a way of stripping away the excitement of a new city.  They then produce a feeling of ‘time off’ from life, a limbo that isn’t enticed by the surrounding business park.  By enticed, I mean I’m not enticed to go out and explore.  Nevermind that the Champs-Elysees is less than 5 minutes away on the RER train.  You would never know it to sit here.  Although, if you wander through the empty skyscrapers at night you can see the Arc de Triomphe in the distance. 
But this caused me to think about the way we were the last time we were in Paris.  We could hardly wait to get out there and explore.  It didn’t hurt that we spotted the Eiffel Tower out of our hotel room the first night.  We passed it each night on the way home and have a million photos of it.  We ran out of money quite early which limited our meals to crepes and fresh bread and our activities to wandering the streets.  We continually got slightly lost and so wandered hand in hand until we happened upon a street that was major enough to be on our map.  It was wonderful.  And it’s part of the reason I don’t want to go and wander alone.  I have someone to wander and wonder with, why go it alone?
This got me to thinking about our new little family and the people we have become together.  We have changed a bit being so dependent on each other.  It made me wonder how much we have changed since we met each other on our fabulously romantic African Adventure.  In the midst of Pete’s growing career and my schooling and now flailing career, I wonder if we have lost our sense of adventure for being more sensible.  It is inevitable I suppose as we get older, but we should still be able to be adventurous while we have the time, or when we have the time. 
This little trip was suppose to be a bit of a break for us.  A change of scenery and maybe a kick in the pants for us to gain back some of our adventurous and wondrous spark.  Other than the hotel room, it is pretty par for the course.  Pete is still working 11 hour days, I’m still writing and watching TV.  It is a bit of a pisser to have to go out to get a cup of tea or coffee as well as lunch and dinner.  As much as our nightly routine of making dinner and clearing up can be a chore at the end of the day.  We are missing our time together in the kitchen and the freedom to eat what we want, the way we want. 
So maybe that’s it today.  I am thankful for our domestic routine.  It takes being out of it to really appreciate the work we do to make our meals each night and the time spent together enjoying it and even the annoyance of the clear-up. 
This is something that I have been fighting with for a long time.  I am continually conflicted about how much I enjoy making our home and taking care of meals, house, etc.  I guess enjoy isn’t exactly right word, maybe it is more pride and contentment.  My mom loathes these activities and it always felt anti-feminist to take care and pride in keeping house.  But then I had a mom was forced to do these domestic tasks and forced to go to typing school because her mom thought she shouldn’t do anything else as a woman.  She ran from it, I have run to it a bit. 

Monday, 15 November 2010

16 Days of Thanks

16.  headtorch
I always bring the headtorch when travelling.  That and my Swiss Army knife.  Partly because I was a Girl Scout for 12 years and trained to be prepared and partly because I had a huge crush on MacGyver and his ability to fix anything with a Swiss Army knife and grey tape. 
Space was at a premium on this pack, so the headtorch was left out.  Seems ridiculous as it doesn’t take much room, but what’s done is done. 
I will never forget it again.  This morning the hotel lost power for about an hour.  With no lights in the hotel room, I was using the display on my phone to find my way to the toilet. 
Never again. 

17 Days of Thanks

17:  Pleasant Eurostar staff
This might be an odd one, but on this day (and my ridiculous stress levels lately) they were very helpful. 
As an update:  Pete was booked a seat by work.  At the time we purchased my ticket we didn’t know if he was in business class or steerage.  We guessed steerage based on teh price, so I booked a steerage seat, opting not to upgrade to business for an additional £15 (Hint: if the upgrade is £15, do it!!)  and was allocated a flip down seat as the train was over-full due to a French bank holiday. 
The next day we learned that Pete was in business class.  She we call and ask if I can upgrade my ticket.  “Only on the train, but shouldn’t be a problem as business class passengers routinely don’t show up.”  Excellent, however no word on the price.
We show up at St.Pancras and head to the ticket counter.  Still nothing available, prepare for the journey on a flip-down seat.  This is where the ridiculous stress level kicked in, I started crying.  I knew it was ridiculous, but I couldn’t stop it.  Again we were assured that business passengers won’t be showing up, it shouldn’t be a problem. 
At the carriage, it’s definitely a problem.  Nothing and “The upgrade cost is £150.”  This is something I never understand and why I have now vowed to upgrade at time of purchase whenever plausible.  Waiting until the day is not an option anymore.  (Plus I just never arrive at a travel terminal looking like someone that normally travels above steerage class).
 So Pete heads to his seat and I start the long walk to the end of the train and my flip down seat in the corridor. Crying starts again.  I stow my bag and take a seat that reminds me of being put out in the hall when you were naughty at school.  Something about the seat made me sit very primly waiting for a carriage manager to take pity and find me a seat.  I tried to look unbothered, but I don’t think I pulled it off. 
Eventually I was assigned a seat, heading backwards which means travel sickness, and surrounded by a family force-feeding their kids sugar (I assume as the five kids didn’t stop moving or yelling or play-fighting for the duration) and a trio of snorers. 
Then I get a text:  “I can’t come visit.  They are serving a meal and I can’t get out.”  Excellent.

In the end, the trip was fine.  Beautiful sunset as we pulled into Paris, actually.  I was in a funk the whole journey from Gare du Nord to the hotel.  But after some room service and a little BBC costume drama, I ended the day contently nested with Pete in a duvet and six pillows.  In Paris.  Lovely.

18 Days of Thanks

18.  Friday night dates
It doesn’t have to be legendary.  It can just be a nice walk with a cocktail and dessert at the other end.  But the Friday night date extends the weekend, especially when the two days are jam-packed with chores and errands. 
It also makes a good end to the week if it was hectic or hard or demoralizing.  Or a great celebration for a good week.  It’s only takes an hour or two to make the week disappear and get the weekend started 12 hours early.  It can make all the difference.
This weekend for us is a bit hectic.  We are headed to Paris on Sunday for a 10 day business trip.  Saturday is filled with packing, laundry, cleaning, a bit of shopping and hopefully a trip to the gym.  The last bit will probably be written off early. 
In the months since we got married, we have instituted a monthly date night on the anniversary of our wedding.  We try and schedule it for the Friday closest to the 25th.  This means not only a Friday night date but a seemingly long weekend.  These dates we try to make a bit more than just a wander and a dessert.  For the first, we went to an after-hours event at the Natural History Museum.  For the second, we hiked up to the Observatory and staged some photos at the Meridian for an upcoming Christmas card.  This month, we are having friends over for Thanksgiving Dinner.  This is one is a Thursday.  It’s my turn to plan, so I may add a Friday night date onto that one, if I have the energy after the dinner. 
Friday night date: £20
Time spent with spouse without TV, cleaning up, or chores: Priceless

19 Days of Thanks

19.  Gramma Rosa (gone but never forgotten)
She’s no longer with us, but she will never be gone.  She was a character so big and vibrant that no one playhouse or script or medical worker could contain her. 
She added so much colour to our family proceedings.  Bright, happy, golden colours and dark, tortured, shadowed colours.  I don’t know that anyone ever figured out what was going in Gramma’s head but I like to think of her as Mama Rose to the extreme.  She was an actress that never really made it beyond community theatre, but in her mind, she was a star and she had the stories to prove it.  She once told me she used to have cocktails with Danny Kaye.  At the time, I believed her.  And I still don’t know for sure if it was true or not, but it was in her mind and it proved, again in her mind, by association, that she had once been part of that glamorous golden age of stardom in either New York or Hollywood. 
I was lucky enough to have Gramma next door for a good part of my growing up.  She was a haven in a time of parental diet experimentation with Microbiotics and no TV to take your mind off the seaweed and bulgar wheat you had for dinner.  Gramma had chocolate donuts and cable TV. 
She would set her table three days before the party, Christmas gifts were out under the tree on the first of December which allowed for at least 24 days of shaking packages, much to her dismay and delight.  We danced to Rod Stewart in the kitchen and once caused Mom to race across the yard in panic when we performed the cymbal part of the Star-Spangled Banner with pot lids. 
Then there’s the time she convinced her church to go against building code and hold a candle-light midnight mass.  She made it on the local news.  Then there was the time she fingered a local disabled man as a murder suspect.  She made the local paper with the headline ‘Hooded Man Lurks.’ Then there was the time she used kitchen magnets to relieve pain after watching an infomercial.  She made it on the local news again. 
She may never had made it in New York or Hollywood, but she was a star in Lorain County.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

20 Days of Thanks (& Dad's birthday)

20.  my Dad
On today, my father’s 60th birthday, I want to write about why I am thankful for him.  As a person, as an artist, as a father. 
First, he is just plain awesome.  It may take a bit for you to realize this when you first meet him, he has no social filter when it comes to conversation (just another reason he is awesome), but once you are his friend and in his circle, that’s it.  You’re in. 
Unless you cause someone in the family harm, in any sense.  Then you’re out.  And that is another reason he is awesome.  To him family is everything.  He will move the earth for his family.  He will give up almost everything (and has) for his family. 
Let’s go back to that lack of filter.  It can be incredibly embarrassing (like when he met my future husband, a fairly serious catholic, for the first time and decided to relate a dream he had in which he systematically eliminated right-wing Christians in gruesome ways.  Pete isn’t a right-wing Christian by any means, but it rattled him and it took awhile for him to warm to Dad after that.) but it can also be hilarious and right on (like when he made a joke about ‘gestapo hostess’’ new husband during a rehearsal dinner that she didn’t catch).  Sometimes I envy this quality in my father.  I don’t always envy what  comes out of his mouth, but I envy his ability to just let it fly as soon as it comes into his head. 
Second, he is brilliant.  You wouldn’t know it to look at his working class, hard labour, slightly grizzled and dishevelled appearance (then again, maybe you would), but he is a quiet genius in writing social commentary in a very witty and entertaining and subtle ways.  He does this through scripts, screenplays and characters created for circus, theatre and radio.  But he also has the ability to write about the joys and magic of childhood in a very innocent and sweet way. 
I wish he would do this more often, but the arts didn’t pay the bills and it got too hard to raise a family (mom and I can be a handful) and produce scripts and shows on the side.  Perhaps now, as familial responsibilities lessen, he can go back to his filter-less creativity. 
Third, he is resourceful.  I once wrote a story about a family that built an entire house out of stuff the dad found on the side of the road.  This was completely inspired by my father and his habit of bringing home road detritus that might be useful in a set or around the house.  I distinctly remember a toilet sitting in our car port for over a year before it found itself in a set.  This wasn’t just dumpster diving, these were goods that had literally fallen off trucks.  He has tamed it down a bit, but he does have an array of bungee cords collecting on the framework of his work truck.  To be fair, he used every single thing he brought home. 
Fourth, he is thoughtful when it counts.  He can verbally battle and throw insults with the best of them but when it counts, he is incredible thoughtful and feels very deeply.  He lives in his head and his heart but hides it well. 
Fifth, he is fun.  My parents were fun parents.  They were my primary playmates and dad is always up for some fun.  Witness father’s day this past summer.  Pete’s family was in town the week before the wedding.  He created a regulation baseball field in the field behind our house complete with bases and foul lines and gathered bats and mitts from around the neighbourhood in order to give Pete’s family the opportunity to experience the great American past-time of baseball.  He didn’t stop there.  He got on the internet (very rare and usually painful for him) and ordered a cricket set as well so that he could try it out with someone that actually played. 
And finally Sixth, he’s my dad.  That is enough in itself.  Being the kid I was, I robbed him of a few key father-teen daughter moments that he had been patiently ready for but that never happened.  He never had to chase away a bad boyfriend or rescue me from a party gone wrong (although I think they might have picked me up from some sleepovers when I got too scared).  He did get to buy me my first car, an 84 blue chevette, and I’m pretty sure he drove from some distant corner of Ohio at top speed when it was totalled and I was in the hospital with a concussion and unable to walk.  He cheered me on through my entire ill-fated softball career, slowly dying each time I missed the ball (frequently).  He dressed in full wet-weather gear to watch me march in the band every Friday night and slowly died each time the Cardinals dropped the ball (frequently).  He moved me into and home from university for four years, into at least three apartments in three states and home again between at least two of those.  He even drove a futon to a friend’s house 120 miles away. 
Then there are the things that just we share.  We have political discussions, we both love Black Adder, we discuss books and movies, and then there was the moment that just we two shared.  The few moments before and during our walk down the aisle last June.  That was just for us and the moment he put my hand in Pete’s and shook Pete’s hand with joy, was second only to our vows as my favourite parts of the day. 
Dad, on your 60th birthday, I love you and am ever thankful for you. 

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

21 Days of Thanks

21. sleeping socks
I’m always chilly.  I used to make fun of my mom for always being cold.  Now I understand.  I’m always chilly. 
Ever since the circus I have kept thick socks by the bed for when my feet get too cold at night.  Sometimes they just won’t warm up.  Pete makes fun of my sleeping socks.  I don’t understand this.  If you have ever been in his parents’ house in winter, I can’t imagine he didn’t sleep in full-on snowboarding gear. 
I’m not big on wearing too many clothes to bed (don’t get too excited) I tend to get a bit tangled with too many layers.  However, my first few months on the circus, I was in full on mummy gear at bedtime.  A motorhome isn’t the warmest of places to live.  I did have central heating but I’m pretty sure most of it immediately moved outside despite the blankets hung over the windows (advice from circus veterans).  Also, while it was never necessary in my few months, there is always the chance that one might have to move one’s house in the middle of the night or be needed for some emergency.  Finally, 5:30 am is a cold time of day.  I was not willing to expose skin to the air in order to change into ‘day’ clothes.  On really cold mornings I drove in my PJs. 
On the coldest nights I wore PJ bottoms, thick socks, mukkulucks, tank top, long sleeve shirt, hoodie (with hood pulled up), and sometimes a wooly hat (with hood).  And of course, heavy duvet.  Nice and toasty. 
Pete has learned to love the sleeping socks, it could be worse. 

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

22 Days of Thanks

22. a great shower
Is there anything better than a good shower?  I don’t mean just the act of cleaning yourself under falling water.  I mean the actual space of the shower as well.  The water pressure, the tile, the layout, the temperature control. 
I had a friend in high school that rated places based on their ice.  That’s right, the quality of their ice.  I rate hotels, homes, etc. based on the quality of their shower.  The hotel we spent our first anniversary:  awesome.  Our upgraded suite in Greece:  would have been awesome if the controls weren’t so confusing and we didn’t have to stuff a towel under the glass door to avoid flooding the bathroom.  Shower in Fiji:  the space of the bathroom (partially outdoors, screened with foliage) made up for the low water pressure and fluctuating hot and cold water. 
Then there is the camp shower.  I don’t expect much from shower blocks while camping so an unexpectedly great shower at a campground in Africa might just be the best shower ever.  I do not, however, enjoy the camp shower when not camping.  This is necessary when living in a motorhome on the circus, but should never be necessary in a stationary home with running water and boiler.  I recently learned that my mother-in-law has been taking camp showers everyday (in her ensuite) for the past 20 years!!  She is a stronger woman than I. 
A good shower can make all the difference.  The cleaning act and the space.  Taking those few moments to yourself, thinking about the day to come or washing off the day that just past.  I find the shower a great place to think. About anything.
Some sing, I think.  Sometimes imagine.
On mornings I have somewhere to be, it’s a quick scrub while thinking about the day’s outfit, what to take out of the freezer for dinner, what to throw in the laundry, what is scheduled for the day.  On days when I’m self-directed (most days), it’s a longer exercise contemplating the future.  Immediate and long term.  Sometimes it’s positive and exciting thinking about possibilities, sometimes it starts a bit of a worry spiral. 
The space can direct the thinking as well.  Our last shower made me think of mould and the need to move.  Our current shower makes me think of travelling.  We have a shower curtain with a world map.  I think I convinced Pete this flat was our next home partially based on the shower/corner tub.  It makes a difference.  When we were searching for flats (both times) I check the water pressure in the bathroom and this time I insisted on a bathtub.  Pete doesn’t understand the enjoyment of a bath, and I don’t take them that often, but I need to have the option.  When we were living in Watford, in a flat with only a shower, whenever we stayed in a hotel I took a bath.  I missed having the option so I took advantage of every opportunity. 
When we finally get around to owning a bathroom, you can bet it will have the most awesome shower and be a space that invites imagination and directs positive and fun thinking while scrubbing.