Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Bump in the Night

**warning: the following contains 'belly' photos

Last week, at a birthday party for a one-year-old, at least two mothers informed me, with much scorn in their voices, I was not 'showing' at all.

They then went on to tell me 'not to worry,' with my second one I will be showing straight off the mark.

How does one respond to this kind of comment?  It's like planning a wedding all over again.  Everyone has an opinion and feels within their rights and even obligated to pass on that opinion.  In this case, I am doing it all wrong because I have not 'popped' to their satisfaction.  That the 'belly' is a mark of some kind of achievement and I have failed.

It should be said, these women and I had never met before this occasion and so have no reference on which to judge whether or not I am 'showing.'

This was my first experience of a kind of 'mummy shame.'  I'm not a fan. Surprise, surprise.

To be honest, my changing body is one of the hardest bits of this experience for me thus far.  At the time I got pregnant, I was the fittest I have ever been in my life. I had worked for over a year to get there and it was finally a part of my everyday life.  I'm not talking about being 'skinny.'  I'm speaking of feeling fit in my body and mind.  Knowing what my body can and can't do.  Being aware of what was going in and how it affects my mood and energy.  Knowing that I could run across a train terminal with a full backpack and not die on the concourse.

I was in tune with my body.

Or so I thought.

Now, my body is harboring an almost completely independent being and it is really bizarre.  My body can no longer manage simple tasks like bending at the waist.  Getting dressed below the waist requires the kind of concentration I normally reserve for yoga balances (I have fallen over putting on my underwear more times than is comically allowed).  I give myself a mini pep-talk before descending the stairs EVERY TIME as I am now a tumble risk and I am inexplicably tired after a few mundane tasks around the house.

I have had to learn a lot of patience with myself and my body.  I am learning this little by little through my yoga class.  I attend a pregnancy yoga class but it's more a place to practice breathing than anything else. I still attend my usual class and this is where my 10 years of yoga practice and body awareness is becoming really important.

In the past, I had no question that my body could do what my instructor asked of it.  Now, I am amazed at what my body can no longer do and how frustrated I become when I can't follow the class in the same way I did before.  However, in that frustration I have found a deeper connection with my body.  I truly have to listen to my body and what it can't do.  Instead of serenely following along with the class I am mentally involved in creating variations of each pose based on those 10 years of practice.

Surprisingly, not being able to follow along in class is strengthen my yoga practice and my patience.  I find I am much more patient with myself and others.  It also allows me to take care of myself for myself as well as for the little being inside.  It's not a one way street.

All body connection talk aside, I still get a bit freaked out when Pruin starts kicking and wriggling.  At times it literally takes my breath away.  Not in a TOP GUN kind of way but in a what-the-hell-is-that? kind of way.

What will happen after Pruin enters the world?  How important will my fitness be to me then?  I don't know. I hope it is still a priority.  My fitness levels directly affect my mood levels so I hope it becomes a priority again. But we shall see.

Until then, dear reader, I leave you with the following evidence that I have in fact started showing...something.

Starting point
Halfway point

(preggo bum & thigh cellulite mercifully cropped out)

Friday, 7 December 2012

Pregnancy brain

I'm still here and still pregnant.  Here are some of the more public-friendly thoughts I've had about being pregnant.

F-Y-I: catching the common cold or whichever flu virus is currently incubating in the London Underground is a bummer and annoying when you're not pregnant.  When you're pregnant it is the Black Plague and lasts for weeks on end.  On the up side, it gives you lots of opportunity to engage those pelvic floor muscles during a sneezing fit when you absolutely do no want to pee your pants in public.  Of course, that battle is frequently lost before it even begins.

Pram shopping is a bit like searching for the right rental.  Interpreting the lingo is the first step in assuring you aren't wasting your time fawning over a flat/pram that looks great at first blush but will cost you double in the end due to 'plumbed for oven/cooker/washer/shower' clause/additional mandatory accessories available.

Baby on board badge--smug fertile declaration or passive aggressive plea for a seat? Or, when viewed off public transport, permission to judge and remark loudly on pregnant woman's scandalous behaviour  such as partaking in a cup of over-boiled mulled wine at the Christmas fair or lunching on a scalding hot sausage sandwich?  Last weekend I left the badge at home so I could partake in a bit of mulled wine on my birthday while viewing the town center Christmas lights without fear of disapproving stares. I'm really living on the edge these days.

There is definitely something moving around in my lower abdomen and it's not gas.  But it sure as hell isn't 'butterflies' either.  The description of first movements as 'butterflies in the tummy' or 'flutters' hacks me right off.  First off, the movement is no where near my 'tummy'.  Let's get our anatomy straight.  There's no reason to continue with the dialogue of babies in bellies as we all know they are not popping out the stomach on a hinge like Pregnancy Barbie so many years ago.  Second, whenever I read this description it sounds like it's being said by some breathy hippie waxing lyrical on the beauty of life while high at a music festival.  Maybe I missed the initial 'flutters' while hacking up a lung for the past month or maybe I passed it off as gas.  Or maybe after 15 years of yoga and modern dance I am more attuned to my body than most so these 'flutters' feel more like burly Mexican wrestlers slinging themselves off the ropes that is my uterine wall.  Whatever the case, something is alive in there and it's freaking me out a little bit.

We had our mid-pregnancy scan this week.  I have to admit it was a bit anti-climactic.  However, the baby did flip us off very clearly when the sonographer attempted to catch a glimpse of its face.  So that's fun.  Baby also has a head on the large side.  Attitude and a big head.  Double fun.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The impossible dream

Can we talk about pregnancy fitness for a moment? (she asks while heating up three (yes, three) butter croissants in the oven)

Before I fell pregnant (a term I love as it was like falling sick) I declared, more than once, I would be a fit preggo woman.  I was determined to stay in my jeans and just use those button extenders/belly band things.  I would keep running and doing yoga and this would make the unimaginable pain of labour a bit easier (all things being relative, so I hear) and we would have a healthy kid before it was even born.  I would have to give up the half-marathon but, who are we kidding, I wasn't that into it anyway.


I just spit part of my croissant across the room laughing at myself.

As I said, this was before I fell pregnant and was immediately leveled by mourning sickness and incredible bloating.  I naively assumed the body gently worked its way into pregnancy and I had time to get used to the idea of being inhabited by something eventually the size of a watermelon.

HA!! HA!!

Almost immediately after those lines showed up on those sticks (because I took more than one test, just to be sure, who doesn't?) I was sick and bloaty.  Now sure, I have in the past made myself sick purely through mental stress and anxiety (hello, PhD viva and almost any job interview) but I have never made myself, or even heard of, bloating caused by mental anxiety.  This was unbearable.   Only six, maybe seven, weeks gone and I can't fit into 90% of my trousers and jeans!!!!!

Needless to say, I wasn't running anymore.  If I could make it out of bed it was a good day and if I only had one conference call with the toilet it was a great day!

Cue everyone telling me to get some fresh air and take a walk.  It took all I had to not throw the nearest toilet roll at them.

I'm now 17 weeks gone and the sickness is gone and yoga is regular once again but those jeans aren't seeing the light of day again for a long, long time.  I can't torture myself, it's just too mean.  I've only 'gained' a few pounds but all the muscle in my thighs and bum is gone and the cellulite has returned.  So much for being a fit preggo lady.

Two nights ago I dreamt about a midwife/scan appointment.  It was drawn out and a lot was going on but the one 'test' I remember watching them perform was to suddenly poke a pregnant woman's bladder (from outside, just a short jab to the belly, you know, nothing invasive) and measure how much urine she released. Of course, they gave no warning of this test and I watched two women flood the floor before I woke up.

My fitness goal now is to not pee my pants when I sneeze.  Pie in the sky, I know, but it's all relative.

Pelvic Floor Muscles: 5  Sneeze: 2

Not too shabby but definite room for improvement.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

of Greece, Gods and Salted Gold

Half-way through the month and a little over a third through the pregnancy.

Or as I like to call it, the habitation or invasion.

Before I go on, I should warn my dear readers that I am not (thus far) of the glowy-happy preggo persuasion.  That probably goes without saying for my regular readers, but in case you're new to this corner I'm giving you fair warning.*

Yes, these past few months have felt more like being host to a parasite than making a cute baby, and I know parasites.  I drank the water in Turkey and ate the street food in Morocco.  I know parasites.

Here's a tip, to you from me, Pinky Lee, don't schedule a beach holiday in the middle of your first trimester. Especially if that holiday is in a country where you can't flush toilet paper so every toilet, public or otherwise, has an aroma which sends you dry-heaving even when you're not 8 weeks pregnant.

Two days after we moved, we left London for the sunny beaches of Greece.  We hadn't had a proper relaxing holiday in over a year (Morocco doesn't count, we were both sick twice and spent at least half the time in a crowded and hot SUV. I said relaxing holiday) so we were looking forward to a week of laying around and eating.

I did a lot of laying around.  Not so much eating.

attempting glowy-happy & failing

I spent four point five of the seven days rotating between the bed, the balcony and the toilet.  Eating was next to impossible   The buffet on offer turned my stomach before I even got close enough to see what I couldn't eat.  I was stockpiling apples in the room and the only things I could keep down were generic cocoa pop-like cereal in the morning and bland spaghetti in the afternoon and evening.  But even then it wasn't a safe bet.

Before I forget.  You know what's awesome when you're feeling like you are dying?  And I say this with complete sincerity, salted crisps.  Regular potato chips.  They are a gift from the gods.  Seriously, the mythic gods worshiped in the surrounding temples reached down from the heavens and delivered me crunchy, crispy, salted gold.

Of course that could have been Pete coming back from the local store.  He is olive skinned with dark curly hair and I was laying on the dark bathroom floor.  It's entirely possible I was hallucinating.

So preggo tip No. 1, no beachy holidays with plumbing that won't accept toilet paper and salted potato chips are AMAZING!!!!

*These experiences are completely my own and I pass no judgement on glowy-happy preggo women or mean to cause pain to those suffering through infertility.  

Wednesday, 7 November 2012


It’s the day after the US presidential election and I don’t feel like puking.*  

Seems as good a time as any to start things back up.

For the last two years November becomes the Thirty Days of Thanks in this space.  On the surface, this practice was in deference to my favourite holiday, Thanksgiving.  As I contemplated doing it again this year I realized that it is also a coping mechanism. 

The first year I was in a very, very dark place.  I had put on those post-wedding/post-PhD pounds and lost momentum in the job market.  But the real clue I was stumbling was finding myself on a week’s holiday to Paris, completely paid for by my husband’s work, hiding in a hotel room in the business district.  

I was in Paris! 

Not my favourite of cities but not my least favourite.  I had all day to myself and was one train stop away from the centre of this beautiful city (I mean I could see the Ferris Wheel in the Place de la Concorde from our hotel room) and I was hiding in the room watching BBC daytime programming (reality programming seeking out ‘cowboy builders’ and various ‘benefit cheats’).  The housekeeping staff felt so sorry for me they started delivering free macaroons to the room.  The situation is obvious in the posts I threw up in this space.  I was thankful for ‘stolen apples’ and ‘my headtorch.’  I was so far down my hole I couldn't see beyond my daily situation to find things to be thankful about.  

Shortly after that trip I joined Weight Watchers and started CBT therapy and by the time the next November rolled around I was feeling good.  

Really good.  

I was 30 pounds lighter and regularly running 6Ks.  We just returned from Morocco, a trip we dreamt about for years, and I started volunteering at a place I hoped would jump-start my working life.  I threw our first Halloween cocktail party and then headed back to Cleveland for a month.  

Last November I learned you can’t go home again.  It’s a cliché, but it’s true.  At least for me.  Going back to the US causes me all kinds of stress.  When I left the US six years ago I was flailing.  

I was going on my third year of flailing.  

To be honest, I was running away and trusting to another cliché (love conquers all) that everything would out.  The girl who left is not the woman that returns and Cleveland is slow to catch on.  Or maybe we both are playing catch-up.  I was counting the days until I got to go home, my home, the home I had built with my person.  Once again, November’s Days of Thanks became painful and difficult to write and turned into a kind of therapy.  

Which brings us to this year.  

Following the pattern, I find myself with a need to cope but for completely different reasons.  In September my world changed drastically (and I guess that’s where this long-winded post is going).  
In September we moved into our very own house.  A few months earlier we made a concrete decision for our future. Finally stepping away from some abstract, what-if, if-where, future shaped by the demands of our families.  This was for us.  Just us and everyone else would have to deal.  

Two weeks before we moved we found out we were pregnant.  

That’s what happened to us as well.  A double-take and a long HOLY SH*T-type pause.  

Shortly after the move, the year-long volunteering gig I hoped would jump-start my working life ended leaving me with a lot of ‘experience’ but still tragically underemployed.  

Prior to all this change I was blocked.  I had the words, but I couldn't get them out on a page. I write best when ‘improving’ the truth of my day to day circumstances and I had become a bit of a bore. So the universe served up the perfect writing prompt: 

new mortgage, knocked up and unemployed.

Is this my life or a sitcom premise? 

This is all to say that the Days of Thanks will most likely take a backseat to new house/preggo anecdotes.  

I hope you’ll stick around.

*see what I did there? 

Friday, 19 October 2012

In the Meantime III


September happened.  I assume September happened because the calendar now says October and I am sitting in my new house, but that might be my only proof. 

The few scattered memories of the past weeks aren't much help. 

Sleeping on a mattress on the floor of our Fingal Street flat and crying about leaving a space that felt more like home than any space before.  I remember returning to the empty flat a few days later to clean and walking into an empty bedroom that smelled like our bedroom and crying.  

My skin can still feel the raging wind on the beach, described as a light breeze, whipping away any relaxation I hoped to gain sitting in the sun on a spit of land called Greece but serviced by Turkish cell service.

The anxiety and disappointment of a long-awaited interview, bookended by a very sad (figuratively and literally) shower.

Virtual friends becoming real friends. 


I am plagued by a constant feeling of being lost.  I lose things in the house constantly, I don't know the foibles of the house yet, I haven't hit on a routine in the house just yet, I don't know my neighbourhood yet.  We moved less than a mile from the flat but in a city where amenities are set up by walking radius we have all new services to find. 

And now it's October.  Back to School.  It will always feel like the beginning for me instead of the natural winding down.  Although that feeling is there as well.  How can it be helped when the sunlight is slowly disappearing and soon it will be dark at 3pm.  The long winter rain cloud arrived and is making itself at home.  Thankfully the new house is actually insulated and I can almost forget about the damp upholstery of the Fingal flat. 

As I look out the office window at the primary school across the street, I find myself missing my Fingal neighbours.  I didn't know them really but I was very familiar with their daily habits and goings on and I find myself wondering about the lesbian couple across the street, has the brother moved out yet? The gay couple next to them, is he still opening the blinds wearing nothing but tight briefs or has he switched to boxers? The crazy, loud, obnoxious family next door, what stage is the teenage daughter going through now?  The foul-mouths behind the garden, have they trained that dog or broken the tire swing yet?  

I'll never know now.  It's like your favourite show being cancelled after the cliff-hanger.  But unlike the TV show, life is continuing on Fingal Street.  Our sitcom moved location and there will inevitably be a whole new round of mishaps as we get comfortable.  I should state that the majority of mishaps we deal with are entirely my fault.  I'm a menace.  The most recent...almost gassing us because I don't know how to use the grill on our new cooker.  Oops.

We may be attempting a DIY/circus-rig fix of the sad shower which I can almost guarantee will be laughable.


It's going to be fun, people.  Stay tuned.  

Thursday, 30 August 2012

What I've been doing other than writing here...

Now that all the paperwork is FINALLY done, I can tell you that we bought a house.  

Crazy grown-up shit, right?!  We can't really believe it either, except when we look at our bank account.  Then it becomes real as a punch in the face.  And that is what it felt like sometimes as well.  Ugh.  

Because we like to cram big events together into the most inopportune times*, we decided to buy a house in an Olympic borough, during preparations for the Olympics.  Needless to say, it took a bit longer than expected as no-one in the city was at their desk or if they were they were too busy watching the action to file some paperwork for little 'ole us.  

But it's done now and in a few weeks we will be settling into our third home together, but this time it is well and truly ours.  No crazy landlords refusing to fix burst pipes.  Now we will have sole responsibility for said burst pipes.  FABULOUS!!

But seriously, we are excited to have a space of our own to do with as we wish (with council approval, of course).  There are a few choice decor items that I know you are dying to see, for instance the bathroom wallpapered in imitation cork with beautiful, truly vintage, avocado bath, sink and toilet.  But that will have to wait for a bit.  

Meanwhile, while we *patiently* waited for paperwork, etc. we poured all our energy into nurturing another baby. 

GOTCHA!!!  Meet our little babies.  Tomas and Tommy.  We love them.  

We picked these guys up as seedlings.  During one of our walks through the 'new' neighborhood, we noticed someone had put out some tomato seedlings that needed new homes.  we scooped up two and they lived in the shower for two weeks before moving to their new home.  We have urged bees to visit and actively removed snails and slugs.  They are flourishing with our attention and we think they make a great addition to the family.  

I've also been sewing like a madwoman.  Last week I spent two days creating havoc in the living room as I burned through the t-shirt quilt.  An eight-hour run followed by a twelve-hour run have left me with almost complete quilt top and bottom.  You can read about the process over at Squaring Up.  

So that's me.  Not as exciting as you hoped, I know, but not everyday can be spent in the medina or recording petulant baking and laundry woes.  

What have you been up to these last few weeks?  

*see completing my PhD, international wedding and job change in June of 2010.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

5 minutes in the medina

Last October I spent 17 days in Morocco.  Five of those were spent in the medina of Marrakesh.  The above photos were taken over a span of five minutes while sitting at a cafe waiting for lunch.  The teeming humanity of the medina and souks is hard to explain or illustrate.  

bread-wool sacks
logs-iron rebar
satellite dish
safety vests
cinder blocks
donkeys/scooters/handcarts/mopeds/bicycles (100s)
misc. bundles
rolled bundles
coffee kettle with attached stove
boxes of cupcakes
van w/bikes
sacks of dates
humanity in general

This list comes directly out of my travel journal recording the contents of five minutes of traffic. While we sat, stationary, at the entrance of the souks the amount and variety of traffic was fascinating.  We had been weaving our way in and out of the teeming masses for a few days, had more than a few close encounters with speeding motorcycles or scooters in the narrow passages and pressed into the wall to avoid passing donkey carts.  But sitting here, just watching, the mass movement washed over me.  

I haven't been able to find the words to describe the majority of that trip.  I wrote a lot during the trip, but I can't bring myself to turn those scribblings into anything as of yet.  What I have been able to do is create some photo stories.  These five stories speak to themes I experienced in those 17 days.  

Thresholds for the slow realization of my transition.  
Red for the heat, and sometimes frustration, of the country.
Earth and Sky for the deep contrasts in colour and the inescapable basic elements.
Green for the lush valleys and ever-present sickness (of our own).
Crowds for the, well, ever-present crowds.  

At the time of leaving Morocco, I had no thoughts of going back.  Our organized tour was close to disastrous, although the moments spent on our own exploring were exceptional.  After almost a year, the memories of frustration and sleeplessness and illness have faded, a bit, and my opinion has changed.  
The magic and mystery of Marrakesh is worth another look and the sea breeze of Essaouira so refreshing.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Ivy Women

I was the third granddaughter to get married.  
I was the third granddaughter to carry the ring down the aisle.  
I was the first to carry her mother's ring down the aisle.  

I was the first granddaughter to get married.  
I was the only granddaughter.
I carried her ivy down the aisle.  
The same ivy she carried down the aisle, and after, to each garden. 

After, I left the ivy at her grave.  The same grave I took ivy from after she died.  

photo by Genevieve Nisly

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Idle Hands 2

My hair is straight.
What my stylist calls, pain-in-the-ass-straight.  

A simple trim that would normally take 30 minutes takes almost an hour because she has to 'sculpt' each hair.  It's not that I have a complicated haircut, it's that the hair is so straight and lies so limp, every strand is visible and anything out of order stands out like neon.  

This brings me to my fringe (bangs).  I have always been in the school of thought that anyone can trim their own fringe if they pay attention while in the stylist's chair.  Of course I have photographic proof that this was not the case in elementary school, but my mother claims my eye-scrunching was to blame for those choppy mishaps.  
I regularly trim my fringe to add another week or so to my short haircut.  Shorter fringe and the whole thing looks fresh again.  That is until June. 

The problem started when I dropped in to a semi-trendy salon on my way home from work instead of waiting a day for an appointment at my usual place.  The stylist was reluctant to trim as much as I wanted and did some funky flat-ironing to my already flat hair which caused a bizarre cowlick in the fringe, around which he based his fringe-trimming!!!
We have all had these experiences, yes?  You sit there watching your haircut go horribly wrong but you can't bring yourself to say anything except, "Thanks, that's great! Perfect!" You  hand over the exorbitant amount due for a drop-in session with an 'expert' stylist and as soon as you're out of eyesight, pull your hair back into a ponytail (or as close as you can get) and hope you're pulling of the 'messy look.'   Then for the rest of the day you either avoid mirrors completely or obsessively peer at how horrible it is and hold back the tears.  

What I should have done was go directly to my stylist, begged forgiveness and had her put it to rights.  What I did instead was attempt to put it to rights myself. 

Now, I am not a complete novice.  I have no real training, but I have cut other people's hair from time to time with some success.  Except that time when I got carried away with the buzzers and inexplicably shaved off part of my husband's hairline.  I'm not sure what happened there, and bless him, he just went with it, but he now trims his own sideburns.  
That episode aside, I'm not too shabby. So how hard could it be to, at least, clean up the fringe situation in this all-around disaster?

The answer can be found in the following scene...

It's 10am.  We're supposed to be getting ready for the wedding and I'm searching, desperately, through my toiletry bag for my scissors.  I know I put them in here, I never travel without them for just this reason: an emergency fringe trim.  All week I have been trying to fix the damage caused by that hack, but all I have at my disposal are fingernail scissors and the scissor on my Swiss Army knife.  The result is disastrous.  The cowlick he created is now a permanent fixture and trying to compensate for it is beyond my skill.  I have left a trail of tiny hair trimmings on hotel sinks across Ireland tyring to remedy this situation, but the curved nail scissors are not cut out for this job.  
I can't find the scissors and it's time to leave.  In a last ditch attempt, I secure my hat and get out the Swiss Army knife, flipping out the scissor section and trimming so at least it looks even for today.  I just won't take off the hat.  (And I didn't until about midnight.  That's commitment.)

On my return, I immediately made an appointment with my stylist and, upon seeing me, she gave me a right scolding and had a good laugh at my expense.  She did the best she could but the fringe was still a bit wonky when I walked out.  She just sighed and shook her head. 

I have an appointment tomorrow.  Do you think she'll notice I've been at it again? 

Updated: She didn't notice.  Or at least she didn't say.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Idle hands...

This week, despite the beautiful weather, I have been feeling a bit hermity.  

I've been curling into myself a bit and enjoying the smell of freshly laundered sheets which hold the smell of the sun.  I've been taking 'serious' naps, as in bra-off, contacts-out, naps.  
I've been doing a lot of writing and internet searching and a lot of re-reading of books.  All because of an idea.  

The idea, which was sparked in my field research and has haunted me ever since, is that objects and actions and even smells and sounds, have the ability to hold memories we temporarily forget.  As it's unlikely I will run away to the circus, again, in the relative near future, I found another way to 'investigate' this idea (without a funding body). 

I embarked on a new domestic adventure.  Quilting. 

Or at least I started, in earnest, a quilting adventure.  I have had it in my head to do this for awhile.  But it's more than a quilt.  In doing this I am trying to harness a bit of tradition and wisdom.  I want to collect the stories of sewing hands and materials, I want to create a collection of squares and memories.  I want to connect to the different versions of myself through sewing.  Part of me sees this as a bit of a research project with an exhibition of textile and story and oral history.
The other part, just wants to make a quilt.  I want to physically cut and piece and sew and create something tactile.  With so much of our lives tied to the immediate and intangible, I want to do something that takes time and effort and will endure time and technology.  

I'm embarking on the adventure with a friend, over the internet.  We are taking to quilting in two very different ways and writing about the process.  

We have only begun, but I hope you will follow along.*  Even if you aren't the quilting, handicraft-type, I think you might enjoy where the journey takes us.  That's not to say there won't be description of step-by-step process.  There most likely will be some dry quilt-eze, but I think there will also be some interesting narrative about the act of making the quilt and the memories the activities unearth.  

My hope is to have guest posts about readers' own experiences with quilting, sewing and the 'domestic' arts. Good, bad and ugly.  And who knows, maybe someday we will have that exhibition.

What I do know, is that at the end of it (if there is an end?) I will have a quilt, made by my hands.  A useful and beautiful object to hold some memories while I make some more. 

*you can visit us by clicking the link to the right or just bookmark

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Clarity after coffee

This weekend summer finally arrived in London.  

And not a moment too soon.  I have laundry piling up to dangerous levels.  
This sunshine means I can finally get through it all.  No more draping of damp clothes all over the flat, adding to teh already damp atmosphere, and having to turn the heat on just so I have some clean underwear.  

Yesterday, I got through three loads of laundry.  Washed, dried and folded.  It was amazing!!!

This morning, as I rolled out of bed, I got it in my head to continue the streak.  I gathered up another load and shoved it into the washer.  As I was squeezing out the blue washing liquid into its little awkward cup, my hand-eye coordination failed and somehow it ended up on the floor and running down the side of the washer.  

I stared at it for a few seconds and considered leaving the mess while I made my morning coffee (and there is the root of the accident, attempting productivity before coffee) but it started seeping into the seams of the kitchen tile and the machine itself.  10 paper towels later, it was cleaned up and I could continue with my laundry mission.  

Except now I want to get in the shower and the laundry still has about 45 minutes.  

The lesson here: do not attempt household chores before your morning coffee. 

Friday, 20 July 2012

Spinach & Bourbon

“I’m of the opinion that when it comes to Spinach, more is more.” –my husband, formerly anti-vegetable
This comes almost a year after, “I can’t believe I’m looking forward to a vegan meal.”

It’s amazing how marriage changes you.  

These last few weeks I have been thinking and writing about changing paths, or growing up, or just getting on with it.  All these posts are written by my 33 year old self thinking back to my ‘younger self’ (my entire 20s) and contemplating the difference.  Here’s what I realised recently.  

I’m married.

Right!?  It’s not like I woke up and suddenly figured it out.  I know I’m married.  
But what I’m forgetting in this reminiscing is that being married means I have someone else to consider in my plans and that I am a consideration in someone else’s plans.  
It’s simplistic, sure.  But it makes a hell of a difference.  The entire context is changed.  And not in a co-dependent way (although we are pretty inseparable) but in a completely supported way.  Like doing yoga poses at the wall or the mechanic on the trapeze.  You don’t need it, but the support is there, just in case.  

And that leads me to dinner the other night*…

My husband put ‘mac n cheese’ on this week’s meal plan.  I recently decided to quit giving my talents away for free to my ‘employer’ which means I am throwing myself back into house-wifery and giving my talents away to my faceless readers.  In my renewed zeal, I decided plain mac n cheese wouldn’t do. 

I attempted to find a recipe I vaguely remembered tearing out of a magazine, but then I found this recipe: Gnocchi with a spinach-broccoli-cheese sauce and pancetta.  Actually, the pancetta wasn’t part of the original recipe, but if it won’t completely ruin the taste of the dish, or if it doesn’t already contain a pork product, I can be counted upon to throw in pancetta.  Not really the same as mac n cheese, but I figure it’s carbs and cheese, so the basics are there.  

The first thing that happened?  I spilled my expensive bourbon.  Not a good start.  Everything halted until I rectified that situation.
Second thing that happened? I tied one on.  

An apron that is.  A locally produced apron, no less.  If the food isn’t local, at least the cooking apparel will be.  

When cooking while drinking, I recommend gathering all your supplies first.  Measure out each and every ingredient in its own individual bowl/measuring cup/glass.  This gives you the ability to just throw ingredients in, just like a TV chef.  This also gets all the prep time out of the way so that you have time to sip your drink while you wait for milk, butter and flour to boil.  This also clutters up your counterspace so that when you refill your drink, there is a very good possibility you will splash a bit of bourbon into the waiting milk.  

Other tips: 
Nutmeg. Nutmeg in a cheese sauce? Yes. Who knew nutmeg was the secret ingredient to cheese sauce?
Fried pancetta and bourbon is my new favourite cocktail.  This cocktail brought to you through extensive, measured, not-at-all-accidental, science. 

And then, 40 minutes later and an entire kitchen full of dirty dishes, I had gnocchi with spinach and broccoli cream sauce. Pancetta scattered across its top like beautiful bacon-coloured gemstones.

The verdict?  
More bourbon when cooking (that’s how marriage has changed me: cooking and bourbon.  It’s a good thing.)
More pancetta, less cheese sauce.  So he can taste the spinach.  

He pours me bourbon, I make him cheesy spinach.  It's a good thing, this marriage thing. 

*just go with it.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

a travel metaphor...

I've been thinking about journeys lately.  Geographical and temporal and mental and physical.  I guess it’s only fitting, being a geographer and all.  Places and movement in and between places is my jam. 
However, despite my academic pre-occupation with movement between places, in my everyday life I get very hung up on destinations. 

“it’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.” 

Somehow, I got this mixed up.  My approach to life planning, thus far, is basically to settle into every destination.  I get nice and comfortable in my little squat and forget to go out and look around.  I seem to prefer to sit in the corner and complain about missing the colours and people I remember seeing on the way in, having conveniently forgotten there is a bus stop just down the alley.  Or worse yet, refuse to believe there is anything outside my tiny world.
This is becoming problematic. 
I’m not saying I want to live a life of aimless roaming.  That would be exhausting.  At the ripe old age of 33, I’m too old for that.  I like my comforts and routine.  But I’m also too young to be accepting that this is always how it will always be or that I am running out of time and have missed the boat, so to speak. 

Seven years ago, I was sure I would settle into a nice little college town in a nice little house, with some cats and a library and become that eccentric professor at the end of the hall.  I planned to travel, but I never really thought about buying the tickets or how I would manage it on my own. 
I had been working toward this particular version of life for a good while and it seemed like it would happen. 
Then, my university department denied me entry to their doctoral program.  A few months later, I failed my master’s degree defence.  My carefully crafted world was falling apart.  And I was dating a guy who couldn't care less. 
At the bottom of this well, at seemingly the worst possible time, I got on a plane to Africa.  I was going with a friend to make good on a declaration we had made four years prior during a sleep-deprived study session.  Note: memorizing fossils in the wee hours of the morning can drive you a little batty.

That journey forever changed my life.

The feeling of being in Africa, of travelling down those bumpy, red roads playing with random kids who just appear, walking through markets and witnessing the collapse of an economy, has all but disappeared.  Or at least the immediacy of it has faded. 

Sadly, something more than scenery and smells faded.  I can’t quite put my finger on it.  I got a hint of it in Morocco, but I think I was too sick to really focus. 
I think it is something akin to peeking behind a curtain, seeing the wizard for who he is.  A talented showman making the best of a difficult situation. 
Maybe that is a bit heavy. 

Two years ago, my world kind of fell apart again.  However, and here’s the part I’m struggling with, it was the pre-Africa part of my life which fell apart.  The half of my life directly linked to my African journey was fantastic.  It was the stuff of childhood dreams wished for, but never expected; an international romance turned marriage, living abroad and travelling the world. 
Africa changed my life, but I didn’t change my plan to fit that life. 

“the best laid plans of mice and men, oft times go astray”

You said it. 

What I want to get back to, if I ever really had it in the first place, is to have an itinerary but be willing to deviate if the possibility arises or an interesting road beckons.  I don’t want to wear blinders and I don’t want to flit from place to place. 

Is that possible?  
I mean in day to day life, not just travel-metaphors. 

Photos: Stone Town in Zanzibar, Kande in Malawi, somewhere in Mozambique?

Friday, 13 July 2012

Approaching customs...have passport ready

Seven years ago I landed in Heathrow airport, just another tourist.  I was returning to the US from a few weeks camping and travelling through east Africa.  A few weeks which had forever changed my life.  The night before I had said a very tearful good-bye to my holiday fling who, five years later, would become my husband.  

At that point I was not aware of the massive shift which had occurred in my timeline.  I was, however, very aware of not being sure how to get to our hostel.  The city was still in chaos following a transit bombing a few days prior. 

I remember being aware of a low level panic coupled with a determination to continue with life as usual.  I remember being aware of very strong body odour on the tube and bus and realising, with horror, that it was coming from me.  I remember a moment of silence settling over the entire city one morning.  

For three days, my dear friend and a new friend, roamed the streets of London.  We walked past Buckingham, Big Ben, the Eye and along the south bank (Southbank).  We browsed the book tables under the pedestrian bridge at Embankment and joined a tour through the Globe Theatre.  We wandered through Kensington Gardens and got repeatedly lost in winding streets with no signs. We rummaged through thrift shops in Notting Hill and marvelled at all the vegetarian options unheard of in the US and Australia.  

And when it was time to leave, time to return to my previous life of four jobs and no health insurance, we hailed a cab and asked to be taken to the nearest working station for the 'blue line.'  Not realising there are two blue lines (and what we wanted was the Piccadilly Line), we navigated a surprise mid-journey change with bulging backpacks.  

In little over a year, I would be landing in Heathrow again. The African holiday romance proved to be 'the real deal' and an interview with a university waiting for me. 

It's six years later and it looks like we are here to stay.  At least for the foreseeable future.  
This is exciting and a bit sad simultaneously.  We are attempting to move through that expat transition of 'when do we go home?' (a question made all the more difficult by having two homes and families to consider) to 'this is our home.'  This decision feels a little bit like an adventure.  Like an adventure on par with running away to Africa in that this one little decision, to call this place home, has the potential to change our timeline in a million ways we could never have imagined, even just a few years ago.  This is grown-up adventure. 

Having made the decision (or to be honest, giving in to the lure of Greenwich and earning GBP) to take up a more permanent residence here in London, means we also made the decision to endure A LOT of rain and non-existent summers.  We both grew up thinking summer was hot and sticky and sunny (albeit at completely opposite times of the year).  It's a bit heart-wrenching to think our children could grow up thinking our memory of summer a complete fabrication.  

And then there are the deeply-held and loved holiday traditions which either don't fit with our adopted country's weather patterns (Christmas Barbecue and New Year's baking on the beach), are slow to catch on (costume parties and Trick-or-Treating on Halloween) or are completely non-existent (Fireworks and parades on the Fourth of July, Turkey and football (American-style) on Thanksgiving).  And of course, the new-to-me holidays and accompanying traditions of Guy Fawkes, Boxing Day (which bare a resemblance to the Fourth and Black Friday) and random Royal events.

As most of my readers will know, there is a lot of talk on wedding/marriage blogs about creating your own traditions.  When talking of a wedding, this seems a nice concession to each family of origin and the couple and makes for great wedding stories  of harmony and independence.  Looking forward into a life of forever new traditions, this idea seems exhausting.  We aren't just talking about melding two families here, we are also adding three/four cultural heritages and customs to the mix*.   

Most of the time it is relatively easy to just go about our usual business and traditions.  Occasionally we include some friends willing to go along with whatever traditions we have mashed together and it really isn't such a big deal.  

Except when it comes to holidays traditionally spent with family.  Then it is just us two and the gatherings that make the holiday so special are absent.  The people we wish to be gathered with spread across the globe.  

When I left Africa seven years ago, I knew I would keep travelling.  Something clicked within and I knew I would be forever compelled to seek out new places and observe the similarities and differences and general beauty (and sometimes ugliness) the world has to offer.  

What I didn't know was that one stamp in the passport, one graphic permission to enter, would mean a lifetime of shuffling back and forth between families in three corners of the map.**  

Can I find the new and exciting, the beauty and the darkness, in places so familiar, yet far-flung? 

Will the stress of trying to maintain family traditions and customs mean that we resign ourselves to becoming *gasp* British?  


They may take our accents and summers but they'll never take our pumpkin pie and pavlova.

*For those of you new to the Graphy and slightly confused on how I got to 3/4 when speaking of two of us, here's a crash course in our background.  I'm a mid-western American (1).  Pete is from New Zealand (2) and of strong Croatian stock (3).  We live in London (4).  (I occasionally claim my 1/2 Sicilian blood, but really only when I am overly dramatic/emotional or have to choose a team to back in European sports tournaments.)

**Don't hate me. It's really not as glamourous as it sounds, all this travel.  Anyone who has experienced the 30 hour one-way trip between NZ and London, 24 of those in air, will testify.  It is painful and maddening.  Scream-into-your-airline-pillow maddening.  

Apologies for the random white highlighting.  I've obviously done something Blogger doesn't like.  I'm working on a solution. 

Wednesday, 11 July 2012


Following on from Kirsty's Monday, my Tuesday was an exercise in the ridiculous.


~Milk curdled in the porridge.
~Scale confirmed 10 pound weight gain.
~Shins refused to go farther than 3K, weather decided wet is better for running, phone/music/timekeeper decided silence was the best running motivator and vehicle traffic decided frequent stops is the way to achieve any kind of running consistency.  
~Boiler recommended a cold shower after a rainy run.
~Head scheduled migraine for the afternoon.
~Biblical downpour chose my three minute walk home from yoga as its 'time to shine.'

I have it on good authority that Pete's day mirrored mine.  

Come on, July.  Pull it together!

Monday, 9 July 2012

Up next?

Four years of our life turned out to be something for me to do... so I wouldn't have nothing to do.*

Two years later and I still have nothing to do.  

What does one do when they have a 100,000 word manuscript about a circus adventure only 5 people have read and nothing to do?  

*This revised quote comes from Meryl Streep's Julia Child after her cookbook is rejected in the movie Julie and Julia.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012


This past weekend I dug out my flip flops.  They were still covered in Morocco.  That last night in country when we walked back from dinner at the vegan cafe (because we just couldn't handle anymore tagines) through the pouring rain.  Weaving our way through the medina's alleys and passages now familiar after three days of exploration.  Our legs and feet slowly caked in rain and red mud and whatever else ran through those streets where horses, donkeys, feral cats and motor scooters shuffle the teaming crowds of humanity, even at that late hour.  

Those last three days in Marrakesh transformed our experience of Morocco but also transformed our vision of ourselves.  We had returned to Africa with the same mindset in which we left six years prior, rough and ready and willing to experience some hardship in the pursuit of the travel experience.  Then came two weeks of driving in a stuffy hot car for hours on end every day, hot hotel rooms above pumping night clubs, waves of sickness, fear of water and the inability to wash.  When we arrived in Marrakesh at the end of our tour, all we wanted was a shower and a plane home.  I wasn't interested in exploring any more, I couldn't look at another carpet or leather bag or handcrafted shoe.  

That was when I knew something had changed.  I had no desire to ogle shoes and handbags.  Something was definitely wrong and it had nothing to do with the searing cramps in my abdomen.  

In the most 'backpacker' moment I have experienced thus far in my life, we loaded up, (front and back) and hiked through the crowded alleys of the medina to a quiet corner, deep in the rabbit warren.  The directions indicating turns at the 'corner carpet shop,' 'fountain,' 'mosque' completely useless as they apply to every corner within the Old City.  Behind the big wooden door in a dark underpass was a beautiful and calm space we willingly fell into, covered in grime and sweat, bowels churning.  

In those last three days in Marrakesh, when we had access to working showers and quiet rooms and the freedom to roam as we pleased, we got comfortable with the fact that we had changed.  We weren't the twenty-somethings that ran away to Africa for adventure six years before.  We were thirty-somethings with obligations and responsibilities that had replaced 'exotic' adventure and we really were just too tired to try and replicate those magical weeks/months we experienced six years ago.  

This realisation, that I am no longer who I was, is a difficult double-edged sword for me to swallow.  One edge is 'thank goodness that time of insecurity and arrogance and ignorance is over' the other edge 'what fresh hell is this 'grown-up' thing of responsibility and obligation and constant effort?'

It's the constant effort that is catching me up lately.  There is no resting.  And while this is a lesson best directed at somewhat intangible goals, it is one that has come home in a very tangible way in the form of my physical body.

Three months ago I signed up for a half-marathon.  

I'll give you some time to let that sink in.  

A half-marathon. 


At the time of signing up I had never run farther than 6K (about 3.75 miles).  A half-marathon is 21.1 K (13.1 miles).  I'm not sure what I was thinking.  

Three weekends ago I ran 10K.  

I got very cocky about it.  I tweeted and facebook-ed status-ed about High School gym stinking-that-in-its-pipe-and-smoking-it. 

I have yet to do it again.  After that I stopped running three times a week and have only gone for runs on the weekend and have yet to reach 10K again.  This is not how you train for a half-marathon.  

There is no real reason for this sudden apathy.  The weather hasn't been great, but it never is and I still managed to run three times a week throughout the entire winter.  The same thing with my weight loss/gain.  This past winter I reached my goal weight and then slid back into unhealthy eating patterns.  Coupled with less running, I have put back on about 10 pounds.

No.  There is something else going on with me.  For eight months I have been crossing a threshold without really being aware of the process.  It started with that realisation in Marrakesh.  I am moving toward a different version of me.  A grown-up version.  But every time I get close to embracing this next transition, I stop.  Almost afraid to continue through the door and leave the previous me behind.    

Two steps forward, one step back.  Reach a goal with 'grown up' responsibility and accountability, and then expect to reap the benefits without effort with 'childish' arrogance and entitlement. 

Intellectually, I know this is how life works and I think I am excited about the possibility of new-ish Ariel.  How horrible to stay the 'same' your whole life.  

But, damn.  It would have been nice to figured that out before we booked the 'rough and ready' Morocco tour.  Working showers and night club-free hotels would have made a world of difference. 

Photos: Tomb of Moulay Ismail/Meknes, flip flop full of Morocco/Sahara Desert