31 October 2010

Life is beautiful....

I thought that there was going to be a beautiful sunset on this day, so I headed out to the old monastery to try to catch it. I thought that I had captured the day's best light (and had rolled around in the nettles enough for one day) so I headed back home. Just when I got back, the sky exploded in red.

In that moment, I could only imagine the limitless possibilities for breath-taking beauty, and while I recognize that I will only observe, describe, and capture a tiny portion of it, I was reminded to always be watching.

29 October 2010

Food: Highs and Lows

Tuesday was a great day.

It was the day that JIF returned to my life. For those of you who have not been without JIF or who do not love it as much as I do, let me just tell you that while grainy chunks of peanuts in oil may satisfy your hankering for some peanut-flavor, it does not quiet the inner pangs for that comfort food (chosen by all choosey mom's...or mums).

My life has been improved, but the lives of my roommates and friends, people from all nations--Australia, Turkey, Austria, South Africa, New Zealand, England, Texas--have been changed.

But for every exhilarating culinary experience (yes, peanut butter is my pinnacle--it is still the simple things), there are some....less exhilarating meals.

1. Eel. I have to admit that if I hadn't known what it was, I would have just thought it was a white fish. I was pleasantly surprised with its flaky texture. I was deterred by the rank fish smell. I don't know if it was marinated in anything, but all you got was 'fish'.

Here's the good news. I had this at a formal hall (multiple courses) which has two inherent benefits. First, my main course wasn't eel, so it's not like I went hungry. And secondly, it was a risk-free-eel-trial. I had already paid for the food and it wasn't like I had a choice between eel and something delicious. I had a choice between trying eel and not trying eel. That's a choice I can make.

2. Pâté (yes, I had to copy that off another page because I couldn't get the appropriate accents here).

According to Wikipedia (the true source of all knowledge), this delicacy is 'a mixture of ground meat and fat minced into a spreadable paste'. I don't know about you, but I don't really dream about eating my meats as a 'spreadable paste'.

Unfortunately, this particular treat is a popular favorite at Jesus College formal hall. MMM. This last time, the presentation was particularly disturbing.

First course came out and looked charming enough. There was a little espresso cup of 'something', with a few crunchy pieces of bread and some sort of tomato chutney/relish. Fine. I would even go so far as to say that I thought it was cute.

But then you look a little bit closer to your cup and realize that it looks like a solid. You know the custard shops that advertise custard so think that you can tip it upside down quickly and the thickness of the shake (combined with physics) will prevent it from falling out? Well, this takes that to the extreme. You could turn this cup over and leave it upside down for infinity, and it would never fall out.

Now, I have to admit that I couldn't figure out exactly what the solid-waxlike substance was on the top of (what we later determined to be pate). But I can tell you that I am pretty confident what foodgroup a 'solid-waxlike' substance would have to be. And no, it is not a fruit.

So, I broke through the cholesterol-in-a-cup covering to find pate underneath. I tried it (because its formal after all). I am not even sure I tasted it, but conceptually, I just don't approve.

Choosey mums do not choose pate.

21 October 2010

Don't Question my Fanhood

That's right world. Eat your heart out. I am wearing the helmet of the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.

Here's the back story. I had said that if the Chiefs were undefeated at 4-0 when I left the United States, that I was going to buy a jersey. I was confident that if they reached the 4-0 mark in our division which is less-strong (ok, weak), that they would coast to a play-off appearance. I wanted to be ready to root them on from afar.

But then I was confronted with a dilemma. The Chiefs got a bye-week in week four leaving them undefeated but a win short of the 4-0 mark. In other news, I was already compulsively over-packed and was having a hard time justifying even one more piece of clothing. Sure, clothing is super-light, but it was the cumulative weight of 100 effectively weightless pieces of attire that had pushed two large bags north of the 50 pound mark.

So, I had settled that I would just wear the Chiefs t-shirt that I already had with pride. I didn't need a Chiefs jersey, and I was bailed out of my bold statement by a technicality. But then, I went with Luke to a discount Chiefs apparel store. As tempted as I was to buy a Brody Croyle jersey, I decided that I could hold off. But then I came across this bad boy. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up--I could protect my brain and represent my pride. And let's face it, I can wear this helmet everyday. While I could wear a Chiefs jersey every day, that might actually be weirder than the helmet. It's hard to believe, but I think it's true.

So the Chiefs have arrived in Oxford. I hope they start making me proud.

And now, for a few caveats:

1. As far as I am concerned, the Chiefs are 3-0. Boom. I have heard whispers of trouble, but I refuse to be swayed. Call me delusional. You should.

2. Yes, this is my posture at every stop light. I got passed by 'Lance Armstrong' the other day and have decided that I need to step up my game.

3. No, no one knows who the Kansas City Chiefs are here (other than the Americans and a few well-informed Canadians and Australians.

4. No, I would not have worn this helmet last year. At this time last year I was still under the allusion that I could (and should) try to blend in here. I have given up that pipe dream.

You (all those who read the blog last year as well as those concerned about my personal safety) will be glad to know that I have purchased a new bike--Chiefs red of course.

10 October 2010

The More Things (Don't) Change, The More They Stay the Same

In three short months, I have managed to forget a few things about English life. Or perhaps more accurately, things that had ceased to surprise me, that had become routine, now seem as unusual to me as they did at first. In some instances, experience these things again has been a reminder that has caused me to chuckle or appreciate with new freshness life in Oxford, in others, old frustrations have returned in waves, and in some, the surprises have been downright dangerous.

Here are a few of the things that I had temporarily forgotten:

1. Cars Drive on the left side of the road.

Yes, this was one of the 'dangerous'. I was walking a family of Canadians to Jamie's Italian (they were only walking in the wrong direction about 1.5 miles from the restaurant). As I was showing them some good old fashioned midwestern hospitality, and motioning to the route that they could have taken to the restaurant, the mother gasped as I was almost hit by a car. Lesson learned. (This might have had more to do with the fact that I just wasn't paying attention, but I do need to get readjusted to the flow of traffic.)

2. It is still ok for women to wear white (yes!) even after labor day. (I told you mom).

Also, surprisingly enough (or not), it is still ok for men to wear pink pants, red skinny jeans, and other fashion statements that I would find questionable. Just to clarify, I am not surprised that they can be worn at this time of year, but rather that they can ever be worn. But if I am being completely honest, I am not surprised at all--I just forgot what it was like.

3. Pedestrians still refuse to use sidewalks. Shocker.

This is one of those unfortunate surprises that is not surprising at all. It has always been difficult to navigate amongst people off for an afternoon stroll, window shoppers, and tourists--especially on the weekend--but let's just say that when your bike has two gears (which you cannot choose between), and tends to catch when you have bursts of pedalling, this pedestrians-in-the-street phenomenon takes on a new dimension of irritating.

At one point yesterday as my bike popped, caught, and swerved, I thought of an arrangement that I think could work for everyone. Hey, pedestrians--I'll make you a deal. If you refuse to walk in the street, I will NEVER ride my bike on the sidewallk. No, this wouldn't involve any changes as a cyclist, but it seems to be a fair arrangement and one that would make all of our lives safer, easier, and less angry (ok, maybe that would just be my life).

To be continued...(so much material to work from)

06 October 2010

Shaking off the Blogwebs

It is hard to get started after such a long time off.

I have heard some people say that they think in tweets--apparently all of their thoughts are 150 words, or 500 characters, or whatever constraints are placed on tweeters. Obviously I don't tweet. But while we are on the topic, let's just say that if tweets are defined by characters and people actually think in tweets that is incredibly impressive. And everyone who is spending mental energy on that should apply that mental energy to something else--like alleviating poverty.

But even though I have never tweeted, I think I can kind of understand the concept of thinking in tweets. By the end of the year, I kind of thought in blogs. Seriously, I would be in some bizarre situation or experience (like the time a fellow bus-rider started an impassioned speech about how Rosa Parks was the only reason why we could even be on the bus, and how women are (apparently? This was news to me...) the only ones who are supposed to ride buses. Apparently the men are supposed to walk. It was a very informative bus-ride--but I always learned a lot on buses.) and start collecting the details needed to make it blog-worthy (Though let's be fair, there are times when nothing is required to make a given experience blog-worthy). (Insert what I said about how we spend our mental energies here.) "What does it mean to think in blogs?", you may be wondering.

Well, thanks for asking.

First, it should be said that there are a few 'types' of blogs. You have news, politics, or other commentary blogs which feature the author's opinions on a given topic--personal experience is not required. Then on the other end of the spectrum, you have what I will call "Dear Diary" blogs that are incredibly personal and replace facts and opinions with feelings. Obviously, there is a full spectrum of blogs between these two and I fall, as is often the case, somewhere in the middle. I suppose you could say that this blog is a 'commentary of personal experience' blog--I cut out feelings, am less than concerned with facts, and you are left with my opinions as revealed by random life-experiences. I suppose that is kind of like politics, or at least the political attacks (ahem, ads) that are being lobbed between candidates in the run-up to the election.

So with that context in mind, it should be said that my kind of blog requires a few things--some of which are positive and others may be....less than positive.

First, it requires an eye for the exceptional. Eeyore would not be a particularly good blogger. Ho-hum life does not make for interesting blogs. And here, I am not talking about an actual difference between the life of Eeyore and Pooh, let's say (Ok, who decided to name a cartoon character Pooh...?). The difference is not in available material, but in our perception. I am convinced that exceptional moments occur to each of us, but we do not always cultivate an awareness for them. I would say this attention to detail has certainly been a positive result of blogging.

Second, it seems that blogging almost always (unless you are talking about the extreme version of the 'personal experience' kind) requires a bit of a dry, ironic, sense of humor. A snarkiness, if you will. (I know that some people would call this 'sarcastic', but I am convinced that we have about as clear a definition for sarcasm as for 'irony'--and that's not real clear. But while we are on the topic of irony--see a previous post for the start of this monologue--I think I have actually found a good example. Customer service in the UK is awesomely bad. By American standards it is just bad, but I find myself enjoying the freedom to walk into a retail store without anyone asking me if they can help me. The only time it is a problem is when I need someone to help me and no one can be found. But, suffice to say that the customer service is poor. And if you read the blog last year you know about my disdain for the banking system. But, if you call the bank, it is the most incredible customer-friendly experience--especially if you compare it to the woman who tells me (about 30 times) that the insurance company really values my business but just doesn't have anyone to talk to me right now. That customer service dichotomy is ironic. Boom.) Anyway, before that rabbit trail, we were talking about a dry, ironic, sense of humor, which is required (seemingly) in the blogosphere. This might be a negative result of blogging. I am not sure that my cynicism needs to be fed.

And now I would write that blogging takes perseverance and commitment and blah, blah, blah, but I am tired. (My stamina has run down over the summer). So I am just going to stop (which might be another requirement--"Thou shalt know when you are rambling about a boring topic (aka, when you are trying too hard)."

Hopefully I do better next time.