Monday, April 9, 2012

Senator Costa Comes to Oxford

On 10 March 2012, my grandmother, former Senator Catherine Costa, arrived in Oxford along with my cousin, Sara Haines.  They checked in at their hotel (the rather posh Randolph), and, finding their room not yet ready, settled into the lounge for tea.  They rang to ask me to join them, but I was, unfortunately, in the river, having taken a tumble out of the single in which I was practicing sculling for the third time ever (luckily it was a warm, sunny day, and I was able to scramble back in and row another lap before docking!).  When I finally did meet up with them, it was in the evening, and we were all dressed to the nines for a fancy dinner in hall at Lincoln.  I had managed to get special permission to bring them to this dinner, which was the second half of an exchange with Lincoln's sister college in Cambridge, Downing College.  We arrived early to partake of complimentary sherry and cheap beer in Deep Hall, and then were called upstairs by the butler into the large, impressive hall (where I had reserved us seats in a section where Grandma wouldn't have to climb awkwardly over a bench to get in, and where she might have something supporting her back if she needed it), where the candles were glowing and the tables were beautifully laid.  After the Latin prayer, we were served the first course, which was a piece of salmon in hollandaise sauce.  Grandma had been hesitant, because she usually only likes the thinly sliced smoked salmon, but she tried it, and she loved it.  In fact, she raved about it for the rest of the week!  The main was a roast contrefilet of Beef Bordelaise served with sautéed potatoes, glazed carrots, and broccoli, and the dessert was profiteroles topped with chocolate sauce.  Everything was delicious, and as usual, the wine was free-flowing, so we were all quite giddy by the time it was over.  Back down in Deep Hall afterward, Grandma earned admirers amongst my Lincoln friends for her energy and wit, and no one believed she was nearly 86 years old!

The next day was Sunday, so we met at 9 for breakfast and then went to Church at Mary Mag's. Grandma got Father Peter talking for a good 15 mins afterward, and we discovered that he was impressively well-informed in regard to American politics.  When we left it was a stunningly gorgeous day, so we decided to walk around town rather than visit any museums.  We walked through Cornmarket Street and across to St Aldates, and then we walked through Christ Church meadow to the river (where we admired the swans), and then to the boathouses, which we were able to enter because Aisling and Phil were about to go out sculling.  Afterward, we came back up to Lincoln to use the loo, and then went over to the Bodleian to see the Divinity School and the Romances of the Middle Ages exhibit--which I think I found even more fascinating than they did!  We went back to the hotel to rest for a bit and plan our evening, but we quickly discovered that there wasn't all that much happening on a Sunday night out of term time.  After a brief rest, we went out to O'Neill's Irish Pub for dinner, where we all had an amazing Irish stew (again, Gram raved the rest of the week) and Grandma got a Guinness on the recommendation of the lady next to us (she and her husband were celebrating their anniversary), which became her drink of choice for the duration of her stay.  We had read online about a film showing at the Odeon called "The Woman in Black," a Victorian ghost story starring Daniel Radcliffe.  We decided to see it, and though Grandma scoffed at its silliness, Sara and I were thoroughly spooked.  When we got back, Gram was peckish again, so we had tea and shortbread in the Randolph lounge before saying good night and heading to bed.

On Monday we were supposed to meet for breakfast after my morning outing, but the sleepyheads didn't get out of bed till 11, so we had some pastries and tea in the lounge and then went wandering.  I took them up by the Eagle and Child (where the Inklings met during the 1930s-60s) and through the Lamb & Flag passage to get down to the Natural History Museum and Pitt Rivers Museum, which are two of my absolute favourite museums in the world.  After a few hours there we walked back up toward town so we could enquire about the City Sightseeing Tour bus (a hop-on, hop-off, all-day tour) at the Tourist Information Centre.  We bought tickets for the next day, and then went back to the hotel for a short rest again.  For an early dinner that evening we went to the Turf Tavern, which is a fun place to take visitors because you can reach it by going down a narrow, hidden alleyway by the Bridge of Sighs that used to be known as Hell's Passage.  While there we eavesdropped on the conversation of some American boys at the table next to us, and then Gram got some of them chatting with us, and we learned that they were a group from the Naval Academy off for an adventure on their break.  This somehow led to us escorting them to The Bear pub, with a detour into Christ Church meadow so they could glimpse the river.  I was acting as tour guide along the walk, while Grandma told stories to whomever would listen.  When we finally got to The Bear, Gram ordered a Guinness, and all the boys cheered her.  Unfortunately, they had to rush off to catch their train to London, so we waited for Grandma to finish her beer and then we went back to the Randolph.  Grandma was tired, so she got ready for bed, and Sara and I decided to walk through Jericho, the more hip part of town.  Once again, out of term time it wasn't really hopping, but I did get to point out Frevd, the Greek-Revival-Church-turned-dance-club, and she saw some of the cute restaurants and shops, and was impressed by the architecture of the Somerville nursery.  We decided to stop into the Albion Beatnik Bookstore and browse for a bit, while listening to a writing club go over their work.  Later, we and one other man were the only ones left in the shop, and the man was chatting with the shopkeeper in a pedantic sort of way, but then he struck up a conversation with us.  He was more pleasant than he seemed at first impression, and we had a lovely chat which resulted in his mentioning that he had been at Harvard and been to some of Stephen Greenblatt's lectures, so I asked if he had known Wendy Hyman, my Shakespeare professor at Ithaca, who had worked with Greenblatt on her dissertation.  He said he did know her, and he said to ask her if she remembered Patrick Mackie.  He also gave me his email address in case we wanted to meet up again.

The next morning we made it to breakfast in the hotel around 9:30, and then went to get on the bus tour.  Unfortunately, it was a bit wet and grey that morning, so we couldn't sit on top for the first loop.  We had decided to take the whole hour-long ride once, while listening to the recorded tour, to see where we wanted to stop, and then do it again, getting off at the places we liked.  It was especially convenient that the bus stopped right in front of Grandma's hotel!  We picked it up there, and I enjoyed learning some new facts about this lovely old town while we rode around.  I also supplemented wherever I could with information of my own.  We decided we would get off at the Oxford Castle, at Alice's Shop, and at Queen's College.  We only managed the first two of these, really, but we had a lovely time walking around the Castle and then the Westgate Shopping Centre (including Sainsbury's and Poundland, where Granda found the Maynard's Wine Gums which had been requested by her friend), and also at Alice's Shop, which I had never actually been inside.  I spent most of the time in there reading one of the books on Alice Liddell's life (everything was far too expensive for me to even consider buying it), and then we walked back out intending to catch the bus again.  Fortunately (and entirely according to my plan), Grandma noticed G&D's, and asked if either of us wanted ice cream.  I will never say no to that!  So we went in and had a scoop or two each, and enjoyed the ambiance for a bit.  When we got back on the bus, I think Grandma was getting a bit sleepy, because she asked me if there was really anything interesting inside Queen's College, and I could honestly say that there wasn't all that much for her to see besides the chapel and the huge quads, so we decided not to get off there.  Indeed, we didn't get off again till we were back in front of the Randolph.

We decided to go into the Ashmolean Museum for an hour or so, and we had a lot of fun looking at all the statues and artifacts, and Grandma insisted we see the bit about restoration.  We went up to the top to see if the restaurant menu offered anything appealing, and then back down to the basement to use the loo and check out the gift shop.  We came out by way of the money exhibit, which is always fun, and went back to the hotel.  For dinner that night we asked William, Grandma's favourite porter, for a recommendation, and he suggested the Red Lion.  I had heard good things about it from the people at RBA, and it was quite close to the hotel, so I said we should try it.  It was not the old-fashioned pub I had expected from the outside; inside they had sort of hipster art and fur-covered seats and some modern music.  But we had a couple of really nice, cute young waiters, and the dishes were quite good.  Grandma finally had her fish and chips here, and I finally had a sticky toffee pudding, which I had seen listed on every menu in the UK but never really knew what it was (it was awesome, and I thanked our waiter for recommending it to me).  Very full and sleepy, I walked Grandma and Sara back to the hotel (along with Charlie, my bike, whom Grandma loved), and then went home to get some rest.  The following day, we would be off to London!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

That Kind of Writer

Today it is a rainy day in Oxford.  It is one of those classic English days, actually, where the rain is interspersed with periods of glowing cloud or even sunshine, from which will then burst a sudden shower at the very moment you thought it was safe to pop your brolly into your bag.  I have wasted most of the morning reading emails and blogs and articles people have posted to Facebook.  I also read the little booklet that came in Evan's organic veg box from Abel & Cole, and was inspired to make some stewed cabbage and balsamic caramelized onions.  I had intended to go to a Medieval Romances lecture at the Bodleian at 1:00, but my onions were only just finishing at 12:45, and that would have been the absolutely latest I could leave if I were walking.  I might have been able to cycle, but it is really hard to hold an umbrella when you are cycling, and it was raining again until about ten minutes ago.  Now, of course, the sun is shining from a mostly-blue sky, and I am rather regretting not getting myself out the door.  My day is wide open until at least 5 p.m., when there is another lecture on 15th century Italian astrologists at All Souls which sounded interesting, and then a drop-in information session at 6 at Exeter for a programme whereby Oxford graduates will teach taster-courses to students considering applying for a degree.  (I was speaking to an adviser at the Careers Centre on Monday about the possibility of using my teaching skills in a student recruitment or access role, and this seems like a good way to get involved.)

Our German housemate said they were too small...
As mentioned previously in my Unmotivated post, I don't do well with unstructured time.  Lately I have been carefully planning a few activities every day so that my time is well apportioned.  I have been rowing, of course, and attending events and lectures offered by the university.  Last night I went to a showing of "The Kiss of the Spider Woman" at Queen's College, the film being part of a series of Brazilian movies being shown for Brazil week.  I had heard of it before, but knew nothing of the plot.  How very strange it was!  Rather terrible dialogue, really.  I have also spent a lot of time in the kitchen, baking soft pretzels, cookies, and cakes.  Before the film last night I made a sour milk cake, mainly because I had some milk that had gone off.  It's really moist and chocolatey; I didn't even need to frost it.  Last Saturday I spent a lovely afternoon with my friend James making penguin cupcakes that turned out to be really adorable!  So creativity in the kitchen is returning, which makes me happy, because for the longest while I had rather stopped enjoying cooking and baking, or at least never felt strongly inclined to do any.

I shall call him Squishy, and he shall be mine
I have done a lot of reading lately, too.  I've read about half of We: the Psychology of Romantic Love, which I bought on a whim with a Borders gift card right before they closed.  It is not exactly riveting, and its desperate attempt to scrape a pattern of all human behaviour from the romance of "Tristan und Iseult" smacks of a mediocre master's thesis.  I read a book on living with people who are depressed, which I picked up absent-mindedly in the MCR when I was up there waiting for someone.  I read Henry and June, a portion of Anaïs Nin's diary dealing with her affair with Henry Miller and her obsession with his wife, June.  I had never read any of Nin's writings before, but I have decided she is wonderful.  Descriptive, observant, passionate, honest, she captures perfectly the experience of being a sensual woman, of studying her own desires while also fully realising them.  It has made me want to start writing again, myself.

We all wanted to be Harriet
I am further inspired by an old friend from middle school, who even as an eighth grader was writing fantasy stories and illustrating them, who later became an excellent artist, and who is working on a novel which she is allowing me to read, even in its unfinished state.  I have only managed three or four chapters, but I am finding her world well-described and her characters realistic, and I think she will be able to publish it quite easily.  Strangely, it was this same friend having filled multiple notebooks with her scribblings by the age of 13 that made me fear that I did not have the right combination of talent and dedication that it would take to become a writer.  I had wanted to write almost since I had learned to read, and was reasonably confident in my ability to write well (which had been reinforced by the constant approbation of teachers and other adults up to that point), but when I saw the sheer volume of her work, and the time and energy she spent constantly thinking about it and discussing it and imagining new personalities to populate her stories, I faltered.  I didn't have that kind of drive, nor did I think I could learn to cultivate it.  At that point, I gave up on becoming a writer.  No, really, I did.  I decided I would be an English teacher instead, so that I could help other people study and appreciate literature the way I did, and maybe become writers, themselves.

Ah, for a doghouse roof of one's own
Fifteen years later, I am thinking maybe I was a bit too rash.  I still don't have drive, or discipline.  But the praise and admiration of my writing has never ceased, and the pleasure I feel whenever I have produced a piece that I am proud of gives me hope that it could be fulfilling--even if it won't pay the bills.  I think I might give writing another go.  Not here; I have heard plenty of times that I am a terrible blogger, that I lack pithiness and humour, that I am not regular or engaged enough to gain a following, that my readers do not have the attention span to do anything more than skim my long posts.  But I don't really want to be "a blogger," as such.  I want to be a writer, with all the egotism, narcissism, self-righteousness, and self-deception that that entails; the kind who write without a plan, who write for the sake of writing, for the art, for the fun of it, rather than in order to please their readers; the kind who are rarely published during their lifetimes because they refuse to submit to editors' amendments, yet who are often revered as literary geniuses decades after their deaths.

I want to be that kind of writer.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Do I look too happy about this?
Ahh, that's a great word, isn't it?  Well, maybe not for everyone.  But at the moment, I can't keep the smile off my face every time I say it.  I'm unemployed!

After months of putting up with, rather than enjoying, my job, I sat down with my boss during what should have been my 6-month review (the point at which they would decide whether or not to confirm me in my contract, though this happened a little over 7 months into my working there) and told him that I didn't think he should confirm my contract, after all.  He had been leaning that way, and so had I, since November at least, and I explained that I just didn't think my personality well-suited to a marketing role.  I hate lying, I hate bullshit, I hate trying to anticipate what other people will find interesting, I hate having to dumb-down my writing so that other people will understand it, and I despise using marketing language to promote something I don't really believe in.  The events management aspect would have been fine, if I had ever managed to get clear communication regarding exactly what they wanted, but that was extremely rare, and when coupled with the kind of reaction I got when I went ahead and did things the way I thought they should be done, well, it was not the most pleasurable part of the job.

Tasting at the Summertown Wine Café
Anyway, I am not going to harp on what was negative, because I can honestly say that I have walked away from this job with a number of new skills and a greatly improved understanding of the education systems in the UK, as well as an insider's knowledge of fundraising for them.  Best of all, I have a group of excellent former co-workers (friends!) who threw me a glorious leaving party that included a wine tasting and a fantastic Italian meal.  I hope that I am able to keep in touch with them regularly, and to see them around Oxford when they are in the area.

So, what am I doing now?

W3, looking good before Torpids Dinner
Well, over the weekend I had a wonderful time watching most of the LCBC boats earn blades in Torpids (my W3, whom I had been coaching this term, didn't win blades, but they did get a spectacular bump on Brasenose while I was cycling and shouting next to them!), after which I attended the Boat Club Dinner and got the promise of a job reference from an Old Member.  For the past three days of active unemployment (I only left on Friday!), I have been spending a few hours each day working on job applications, and the rest of the day enjoying the Oxford I remember.  I have been rowing, erging, visiting libraries, and doing some window shopping (no real shopping; when one is not receiving a regular paycheque, one must be even more frugal than usual).  I have enjoyed the remarkably warm weather we have been having, and I have returned to baking and other kitchen experiments with alacrity.  (I always bake with alacrity, but my newfound freedom has engendered extra enthusiasm.)  I am regularly scanning the lecture lists and Faculty events pages so that I can get involved in all of the wonderful (and free!) stuff that happens so regularly around here.  Tonight, for instance, I went to a free showing of the Italian film "Un Marito," which is part of a commemoration of Triestine writer Italo Svevo.  Tomorrow I will see the Jane Austen exhibit at the Bodleian, and hear the lecture on her youthful writings.

So really, I am enjoying myself thoroughly since leaving my job, and though I know it can't last forever, I am going to continue to enjoy it for as long as humanly possible.  My grandmother and cousin will arrive for a visit in a week and a half, and at the end of March I will go with the Lincoln College Boat Club on a rowing training camp trip to Budapest, Hungary.  If by that time I don't have a new job lined up, I will reassess my situation and act accordingly.  But for now, it's all good.

I have to say, unemployment agrees with me.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Sometimes I don't feel like doing much of anything.

This is not entirely true.  In fact, most of those times when I would say I feel like not doing anything, I really have lots and lots of things I could or ought or might be doing. Sometimes it is the sheer volume of choice that paralyses me, as when I can't decide what to wear to work most mornings.  But sometimes it is just sheer lack of motivation that keeps me from being the active, productive, positive person I want to be.  I am sitting here at my desk with 45 mins to fill before I go to meet a friend.  45 mins is long enough to do any number of things.  I could bake brownies.  I could reorganise my desk.  I could sort my finances and pay my bills, or hunt for teaching jobs online (well, I could if my internet were working, but I think my housemate is making a Skype call to South Africa, and when he does that I tend to lose the wireless signal up here).  I could call my grandmother, which I told my mother on Saturday I would do that afternoon, and still haven't managed it.  I could write the first paragraph or two of a blog post.  Hey, look at that.

The thing is, it was really difficult to get to the point where I could decide to start writing this.  I stood still in the middle of my room staring off into space for a while, completely directionless.  This happens to me with relative frequency, and it is, I suspect, the reason I am much more effective and efficient when I am scheduled.  Being a teacher worked well for me, even though I had to plan out what we would do each day, because the day was broken down into 45 minute lessons that all had a predetermined subject.  I can work within those kinds of parameters. When faced with an absolutely blank slate and asked, What shall we do today,  I falter.  The possibilities are endless, to be sure, and that is exciting...but they all seem to hold about the same level of interest for me.  If one of them would rise up above the rest and declare itself superior, the choice would be easy.  If the choices were: 1.) do laundry, 2.) do my taxes, or 3.) eat a brownie sundae, the answer would be obvious.  But in the absence of outliers, I am left just staring at a sea of stuff to do. 

Do other people find this as difficult as I do?  I am sure I am not alone, but I think the majority of people either don't suffer from this kind of inertia, or they have come up with creative ways of overcoming it.  Maybe they make lists.  Maybe they parcel out their tasks in timed intervals over the course of the day in the same way I did when teaching.  Maybe their pragmatic instincts take over, or their self-respect pipes up to tell them they can't just sit there drooling like a dazed baboon all day if they want to call themselves human.  Perhaps I need to take a lesson in good old-fashioned Puritan work ethic.

Ha, even here I am failing, because I have repeatedly checked the clock whilst I have been writing this to see if it is time to stop yet.  Focus, Danielle!  What can I write about?

The other day after I posted the reflections on picking up a coin in the street, I was walking back up the hill from the Chipping Norton post office and saw a 50 pence piece lying on the sidewalk.  With a laugh and a cry of "50p!" I scooped it up and put it in my pocket.

(I don't usually do the Lolcats thing, but this is how I felt)
Then, after I blogged about being cold, I came home from work on Friday to find that our boiler wasn't working at all, and the whole house was freezing with no heat or hot water.  We called the repair man, Adrian, for an emergency visit, and he came with his 14-year-old son, whom he had just picked up from karate.  The child was polite and well spoken, and he is a black belt already, but he refused the chocolate I offered him, so clearly his priorities are not in order.  I chatted with him while Adrian tinkered with the boiler, which he not only fixed, but improved the performance of, and reset so that it would actually come on and turn off at the times we asked it to without us having to flick switches and kick it.  Then I begged Adrian to bleed my radiator, which he did, resulting in the most wonderful warmth coming from it almost immediately!  I hugged him before he left.

The obvious and completely logical conclusion to make from both of these circumstances is that I should now blog about being poor, and some time in the next week an opportunity will arise for me to become extremely rich.  Then I would be able to quit my job and buy a comfortable house with good insulation and excellent heating, and I would have loads of free time.  In which to sit around, staring at the wall.  Until, of course, inspiration struck, and I wrote the most beautiful, moving, entertaining blog post anyone has ever read.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Domestic Dani, or, Cold and Wet

This weekend, I was Domestic Dani.  I began on Saturday by doing two loads of laundry, realising only after the second one had gone in that the dryer wasn't working.  No problem; it was beautiful and warm (for January) at nearly 9 degrees (just under 50-ish F) outside, so I hung everything on the clothes airer in the back yard.  Then I got my workout clothes on and rode my bike into town, intending to deliver a book for my boss, then deposit a cheque in the bank, and then do some light grocery shopping all before the second load was finished--which was perfectly within the realm of possibility, because our washer cycle takes hours.  I made it through the first errand easily enough, but when I got to the bank I realised they still had my address as Lincoln College, so I asked if I could fill out a form to change it.  Apparently you have to see an "associate" in order to do that, so I was sent up a staircase with a shiny mirrored wall (always interesting, as there is no full-length mirror in my house, and I am rarely able to view any part of myself lower than my waist) to sit on a cushioned chair and wait for an associate to become available.  The twelve-year-old boy who came to assist me was very sweet and pleasant, with a cute accent that made him seem even younger, and I waited patiently whilst he fought with the computer, which made him enter my new information twice before it would retain it.  Then he asked if I wanted to open an interest-earning Saver account, as I was now a resident (it hadn't been an option when I was just a student), and as I had been thinking about doing so, I said yes.  This involved entering all sorts of information about my current job and what my plans were for the future.  He also took the time to tell me about the ISA Barclay's would launch in March.  This is a kind of tax-free, high-interest account with a limit on what you can contribute each year, much like an American IRA, except that it isn't a retirement account, and you can withdraw the money without penalty whenever you wish.  (And they pronounce theirs "ice-uh" while we say "I-R-A".)  It sounds like a pretty good deal to me, so I will go back in March to see what it is all about.

Having spent much more time in the bank than I meant to, and feeling suddenly cold because the winds had picked up, I decided to go home and take my laundry out of the machine before doing any grocery shopping.  I got my sheets out first, because I only have one set and I wanted them to be dry enough to sleep on that night.  I thought the high winds would help to dry them, even though our yard doesn't get much sun, and the airer is stupidly placed where it receives the least of all.  I collected them 5 hours later, because the dew was beginning to fall and I didn't want them to get wet again.  Of course, I needn't have bothered; neither they nor the other clothes I had put out earlier were dry.  I have no idea why.  Things just don't seem to dry around here.  Sometimes I try to dry my laundry in my room, and three days later things are still wet.  Of course, my room is entirely another issue.  It is always, always cold in my room.  Even when the entire house is warm, my room is cold.  You walk into it from the warm hallway and feel an immediate drop in temperature.  Sometimes at night I am shivering so much in my bed, even when wearing sweatpants and hooded jumpers, that I can't get to sleep.  When I do sleep, it is excruciatingly difficult the next day to get out of bed into the cold morning air, and even worse to think about removing clothing so I can shower, or put on work-appropriate attire.  I have tried everything I can think of to warm my room.  I keep the window closed at all times.  I put cling film across the glass and over the cracks.  I hung an old duvet cover inside the existing curtain, to give it an extra layer, and I always keep them closed (unless it is a rare sunny day and I am home, when I will open the curtains for the three hours that the sun shines into my window).  I put tin foil behind the radiator to try to prevent any heat loss through the wall.  Nothing works.

I have recently discovered that my radiator does not get anywhere near as hot as all the others, nor as quickly, so I am convinced I need to bleed it.  I have tried to do this with the radiator key in the kitchen drawer, but it does not fit my valve.  A friend gave me his radiator key to try; that did not fit either.  I have fiddled with all of the valves and knobs I can find, and I have read every internet site about how to bleed a radiator without a key, which all seem to involve tools I do not possess--and some liberties I probably can't take in a rented room.  I sometimes sit on the floor with my back to the radiator just so I can enjoy some of the heat that I am paying for but not receiving.  When I move away from it I am immediately cold again.  I have recently put an old single duvet lengthwise across my bed, underneath the fitted sheet, for an extra layer of heat beneath me, and my friend has purchased me a hot water bottle, so at least I will be able to sleep.  I have a vanilla-scented candle in a glass jar that I burn on occasion to trick my brain into thinking the room is cosy because there is a fire in it.  Maybe I should call the landlady...

Not my experience with the dryer.
We are going to have to call her anyway, about the dryer.  I tried to fix it, myself, while waiting for my bread to bake, but it didn't work.  See, after I had hung my second load of laundry to dry, I decided I didn't feel like grocery shopping just then, but I did feel like baking bread.  So I measured and mixed and kneaded, and then put my ball of dough into the boiler cupboard (the warmest place in the house, ironically not two feet from my bedroom door) to rise.  Meanwhile, I decided I would make a soup out of the broccoli I had bought the other day and the sweet potatoes that were languishing on top of my refrigerator.  So I chopped and sautéed and boiled and stirred and simmered, and had just finished with the immersion blender (of course having forgotten to remove the bay leaf, but I guess it won't kill me) when it was time to put the bread into the oven.  I covered the soup so it would stay hot, and anticipated a delightful homemade dinner.  All this time, I had been trying to dry some of my socks and underwear in our condenser dryer, to no avail.  I had emptied the water container (condenser dryers are supposedly more environmentally friendly because they condense the steam from your clothes back into water, which you have to periodically dump down the drain...I don't really understand why this is better than having a steam vent to the outside); I had cleared the lint screen; I had even dug down below the lint screen to get all the soggy bits of old lint that had collected there when others hadn't cleared the lint screen.  At first the dryer had pretended to do its thing but had really just made my clothes warm-and-wet.  Now it wasn't even pretending.  There were two lights glowing, one of which told me the water container was full (it wasn't, because I had just emptied it) and the other saying to clean the heat vent.  So, I popped open the filter compartment at the bottom and pulled out a vent contraption that was covered in soggy lint, and following the pictorial instructions on the top of the machine I took it over to the sink and rinsed it as best I could, after which I took it into the bathroom and hosed it down with the shower head.  This was a very messy process, and both kitchen and bathroom, as well as one Danielle, ended up soaked.  (I also had to pull the balls of lint out of both drains when I was finished...)  I reinserted the vent and tested the dryer, hopefully.  It seemed to start up...and then promptly stopped, flashing the same two lights at me as before.  At this point I gave up, washed my hands, and ate my delicious dinner.

Hello, my friend, hello
Today I added some athleticism to my domesticity, beginning the day at 9 a.m. by cycling to the Head of the River to meet Lauriane and Natasha for some voluntary erging.  This is what I had been missing in my life!  I had replaced it, to be sure, with a serious amount of Christmas cookies and mince pies and multi-course meals, but somehow those just left me feeling empty inside...and by that I mean really full and almost a stone heavier than I was last year after Summer Eights.  So I jumped at the chance to do some training with my former teammates, knowing full well that it would hurt like hell.  Unfortunately, when we reached the boathouse we found a group of boys already on the ergs, and due to continue there for another hour.  Lauriane had to be in the lab, and Natasha had to do some work, so we agreed to come back around 5 or 5:30 p.m.  Knowing how unlikely I was to want to do that, I rang my friend W to see if he wanted to do some light jogging around South Park.  He was up for it, so we spent a lovely 25 minutes or so alternately jogging and walking, while also chatting and taking in some of the beautiful views of Oxford that you get from the top of Headington Hill.  Afterward we stopped for a coffee and a croissant at the Starbucks opposite the Headington Shark, and then I cycled back into town to go to Sainsbury's and do some grocery shopping.  Twenty-eight pounds later I was fully restocked, after having gotten rid of all of my food before the Christmas break.

When I got home it was back to cleaning: I helped Evan clean out his fridge, which Chris had filled with food for him before he left, and which Evan then had not opened for four weeks, resulting in extreme moulditude and some fungerific sliminess.  Then I tidied and vacuumed the living room and wiped down the kitchen in anticipation of our new housemate, who was meant to move in that afternoon.  (Of course, the kitchen has been used by three people since then, and Michel has only just arrived, so I guess that was a wasted effort.)  After a tuna salad lunch (paired with my homemade bread), I then came upstairs to do a little tidying of my own room, including reorganising my shelves, which contained a jumble of books, papers, packaged food, and bath products in varying amounts.  Who would have guessed, after all of that activity, that I would actually get myself back out to the boathouse to erg this evening?  It may have taken repeated text-prods from friends, but I went, and I did 30 mins of erging plus 15 mins of core exercises, and now I am completely exhausted.  I have eaten a dinner of cold leftover soup, followed by some peanut-butter-chocolate-chip-oat balls (to which I added some dried cranberries, for colour and textural variety) and a large mug of milk--so much for my grand plan to make sausage and peppers when I got home--and I think it is bedtime.  I guess my Perfect Housewife Weekend has come to an abrupt end.  (Aaaaand my internet has just cut out, so I won't be able to post this tonight.  ::shrug::  Oh well!  I'll post in the morning.  Good night, all!)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Free Money

Millet's Gleaners pick up stray grains after the harvest

How old were you when you decided you would no longer stoop for a coin if you saw one lying in the street?  When you realised you felt too self-conscious of seeming greedy to those around you, or that you had gotten too busy to waste even the time it would take to bend down and pick it up?  Maybe you had become so confident in your own financial security that you could proudly and consciously refuse this dose of monetary serendipity.  Maybe you were suspicious of the coin, having been told repeatedly by your mother that "there is no such thing as a free lunch."  Or maybe you had seen an iteration of that prank whereby someone glues coins to the floor and watches amusedly as people try to pry them up.

A woman stoops for a coin (image found here)
Of course some of you have not outgrown this habit at all.  Some of you will unabashedly announce that you always stop to pick up coins, be they pennies or pounds (or silver dollars), because hey, free money, right?  The economy is bad, and you believe in karma, and this is probably your just reward for not having honked your horn at that idiot the other day.  Some people have a more philosophical approach, such as those who believe that coins found lying heads-up are good luck.  Others consider the acquisition of funds in this manner to be merely the logical response to a presented opportunity.  While taking a walk with my parents once, we came upon a patch of grass upon which were scattered what looked like over 100 quarters.  There was a plastic bag nearby with a big hole in it, but some coins left inside.  We looked around for the source of this mess, and saw no one.  We decided to collect the coins and put them on top of the bag.  This took a long time, as they really were scattered about.  All the while, we kept expecting someone to come up and claim the money, or even to approach us in anger, thinking we were stealing it.  But no one came.  When we had finished, we looked at each other questioningly until my father made the executive decision that, because we had done the work of collecting them, we should take the coins with us.  We had earned them, hadn't we?

The other day I saw a twenty pence piece lying on the ground as I was walking (briskly) to the bus.  I saw it about three steps before I reached it, and had enough time in those three steps to consider the question of stooping to pick it up.  There were a lot of factors involved in the decision.  I was (nearly) late for the bus, so I oughtn’t stop because I might miss it—though in actuality I could see the stop from where the coin was.  I was wearing a skirt, so bending to pick up the coin would require balance and poise to remain decent, neither of which I have naturally.  I was also carrying a backpack, which would make stooping even more awkward.  Still, 20p is a significant enough amount to make one pause.  I don’t make much in my current job, and though I live very frugally, I also take opportunities whenever they come to enjoy free meals, free drinks, and free clothing and other items.  Why shouldn't I pocket this coin, when it might come in very handy later--if only as a means of appeasing my conscience when a homeless person asks me if I have any spare change?  Indeed, I was once accosted by no fewer than four people begging for change on my way home from the bus stop, and I silently thanked God when I found at least one coin to give to each of them.

As I continued on to the bus without picking up the coin, I considered the fact that that 20p could be found and used by someone who needed it more than I did.  A homeless person, to be sure: Oxford has plenty.  A broke teenager.  A struggling single mum.  A starving artist.  Some college kid could be 20p closer to doing a load of laundry.  A runaway could be 20p closer to a bus ticket home.  Charlie Bucket might have used that money to buy his golden-ticket-bearing Wonka bar.  Yes, I was helping someone by not taking that coin.  There was a bit of smug self-satisfaction in the idea, and I held onto it as long as I could by doggedly ignoring the very strong likelihood of that money being found by someone just like me, with a slightly less inflated ego.

All thanks to that 20p!

I once lost $50 in a night club in Rome.  I had pinned it inside my trousers as a sort of emergency fund in case I found myself lost in the middle of the night and in need of a cab.  It wasn't a well-thought-out plan, really, because most Italian cab drivers would not have accepted American dollars, and where would I have exchanged them in the middle of the night?  I have no idea when in the evening the pin came loose (except that it was some time after I had used the loo and made sure it was still there), but the next day I checked the trousers and the money was gone.  What is worse, is that it had been folded into a tiny square and sewn inside a piece of fabric, so if someone did find it, they might not have recognised what it was.  It might have been thrown away.  It might have been swept into a dustpan.  It could to this day be lying in the street somewhere, being trampled by pedestrians into the filth of the living city.

Win some, lose some...take it or leave in, one out...easy come, easy go...the wisdom of the ages (and the adages) says that money is just one of those things in life that you have to take as it comes, and let go when it leaves.  I have a vague suspicion that if I keep that philosophy in mind, I will more or less break even in the end. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Picture is Worth...

...a lot of saved time.  Having ended 2011 without managing to bring my blog up to the present, I have decided that the most efficient way to speed things along so that I can actually write about the here and now is to post a string of photos with pithy captions that will tell you only the most superficial details of the full story.  If any of these is so very enticing to you that you just can't stand not knowing everything, leave me a comment, and I will either write a Retro-blog post for you, or email you the particulars (depending on how wild the full story is!)

Meeting Elia Salani at the Henley

Punting and pretzels...and ice cream


My first lattice pie, made with wild blackberries

My first peanut butter pie, made with AWESOME

Mary's Turkish wedding--the ladies' night

The happy couple and their accidental maid of honour

Night out in Kirklareli

Touring the Bosphorus on the Hiawatha

Lots of cooking happened in 2011

The infamous peas-and-carrots cupcakes

Popped home for a weekend to go on a hayride

And go to my 10-year high school reunion

And catch up with my amazing family

Jack is happy because it's Halloween

I made butternut squash soup!

Chalking the quad for our victory at Torpids

First visit to Cambridge, an exchange with Downing College

The door from 10 Downing Street, given to the college in the late 60s

Weekend in Florence

My first favourite student, Mary Cherubini, now about to finish college!

RBA Christmas party

Home for the holidays--and it's BAKING DAY

Christmas Eve at my house
Christmas morning...Daddy got a Macbook Pro

A rainy day at Longwood Gardens

And there you have it, folks!  August to December 2011 in a few select images.  I hope you are not too disappointed in the lack of words here, because my hope is that this will free me to write many more words in shorter, more regular posts during 2012.  I never do well with resolutions, because I have no resolve (I really wanted to write "no sticktoitiveness," but people always complain when I use multisyllabic words), and targets or goals don't work for me because my aim is terrible...but I promise to try.