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 squaringup.blogspot.com

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