Thursday, 30 June 2011

Bread and The Post of The Month

I'm trying to make sourdough bread for the first time in my rather short, if I do say so, life. The sponge came out perfectly, but the dough doesn't appear to be rising. I am told that this is to be expected with a first loaf. In fact, I had been told this with such certainty that when I set the dough to rise last night, I also made a second sponge just in case.

I am fairly certain that it is a bad idea to use bread making as a way of considering my life for no greater reason than it is a giant cliche. Instead, I'm joining Happy Homemaker Uk's post of the month club today. Hop on over and see what folks have on offer.


Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The Flowers, The Flowers

The Guildhall, Bath

The flower boxes and hanging baskets have returned to Bath, and I am so very grateful. Summer does seem to have begun. Our first heatwave has been broken. Now cool air and patches of cloud are a welcome sight. So to will be my skirts when it is finally so warm that I'm up for wearing them.

I'll be linking up with Happy Home Maker UK tomorrow for the post of the month club. On Friday, we'll be talking some more about toilets, bathrooms, and mixer taps. Wee.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Fabulous Things About England #33: Baths, Showers, and Electricity

Light switch is outside the bathroom

You were hoping I'd show you my toilet, weren't you. The light at this time of night is terrible, so you'll have to wait until another day to see how I feel about thick bleach. If you're very lucky, I'll do a week of blogs about toileting and bathing facilities.

Why yes, that is an Armitage Shanks bathroom suite in pink. You're dying of envy aren't you? Not as envious as I am of avocado green refrigerators, but it does come close. Nonetheless, the pink isn't so bad when you consider that this used to be my toilet.

Outhouse that used to be mine

The outhouse also had no light unless there happened to be sun. My fantastic pink bathroom does have light, and like every other bathroom in the UK the light switch is not on the inside wall. This is considered far too dangerous as there is so much water in a bathroom. Instead, you'll find the light switch on the outside wall of the bathroom or as a pull cord just inside the bathroom door.

Difficult to See Pull Cord

Pull cords are always white, never neon. Ah, the Americans are saying, it does rather make sense. No electricity in the bathroom means fewer accidental electrocutions. Until you add in this:

Should probably pick up some descaler

That would be an electric shower. That would be an electric shower that shares a wall with my outside the bathroom light switch. Now the English are shaking their heads and pointing out that these are usually installed by well qualified folks to keep us all safe. And they're right, but wasn't the person who installed the house's electrics also highly qualified?

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Kitchens are Kitchens

After making bread.

I've talked about my kitchen before. I live in a rental. When I first moved in, I didn't expect to be here more than 18 months. It'll be five years in November. Very little in the flat belongs to me. The dishes are the housemates, the table is the housemates, the kettle is the landlords. The wall colors, the cupboards, the stove are all choices of people I don't think I have ever met. Still, I like the kitchen.

Wonder Woman

When Modern Country Style asked her readers to talk about their favorite parts of their kitchens, I wanted to choose something that is mine, something that makes me smile, something that I use every day. This brought the choice down to a set of cutlery, a big pot, a skillet, a steamer, and a couple of mugs.

So I give you Wonder Woman. She, can I gender a mug, follows me around the house. Sometimes she sits on the desk in my bedroom. Mostly she is full, because I drink my coffee long after it has gone cold. In the old days, when I was writing, I wrote a paragraph, went and filled a coffee cup, smoked a cigarette, drank the coffee, and wrote another paragraph. Now that I do not smoke, I fill the coffee cup, write a paragraph, pace, drink the cold coffee and repeat. I miss smoking. I like breathing. I like hot coffee. The compromise, for me, seems to be cold coffee and lots of it. That and a new found love of style blogs.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Midsummer and Solstice

Summer Solstice, Alaska 2007

When I was in Kindergarten, Mrs. Barnhill read us a book about the seasons. She informed us that regardless of the weather, spring began on March 21st, summer on June 21st, autumn on September 21st, and Winter on December 21st. I was terribly put out. I was a winter baby regardless of what Mrs. Barnhill's calendar book said.

In Alaska, regardless of religion, the solstices are days of celebration. In winter, it is an acknowledgement that there is hope and days will not be getting any shorter, that we are not spiraling into an eternal night. In summer, it is a celebration of that hope in that fruition.

Here in parts of England, the solstice is part of Midsummers' celebrations. For some, it is a religious celebration. But like most of  America, many will not even note its passing.

And now I live in England where the summer solstice speaks to midsummer's day, a time of growth before the harvest,

Friday, 17 June 2011

Fabulous Things About England #32: Walking in the rain

Out the London Road

We are wet here in the West Country. After last weekend's unusually long deluges and wind, the constant patter of a slow soaking rain is almost reassuring.

The path stops at the river.

What better way to spend the early evening than meandering around the edges of the the countryside?

At least I think it's elderflower

And stopping to smell the elderflower.

The leaves look like elderflower

The farmers and the plants are still desperate for rain.

The Toll Bridge at Bathampton

 Sometimes I walk out this way

The countryside boarders the river and the road.

To be reminded how far the river travels.

How to capture rain drops?

or to see if there are any ducks among the reeds,

The Bathhampton Inn

 And to watch the river falling.

There is no toll for walkers

 Before turning toward the hill

Who lives here?

And heading home.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Brightly Colored Veg: Learning to Live with Five a Day

When I was growing up, my mother made cucumber and carrot sticks, she broke off cauliflower and broccoli florets, and she cut stars into the tops of radishes before throwing the lot into old margarine tubs and covering with them with water. Mom would place these on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, allowing my sister and I to graze our ways through the day.

It isn't a terribly practical plan here. My butter containers would fit just about two carrots. Refrigerators are small, and unlike the US, freezers tend to be on the bottom. I've tried over the years to emulate my mother, but vegetables tended to get eaten before they made it to the tubs or forgotten all together. Here I share the the refrigerator with my housemate, and she'll be the first to tell you that I forget about the food I cannot see when first glancing below the counter and into the fridge. Food was rarely wasted, just eaten well into the floppy but edible stage.

I'm terrible about making complete meals for one. I plan them, buy the food stuffs, then eat the ingredients one by one. This usually results in a lot of uncooked pasta and rice. It isn't that I don't have the time, but that I generally eat when I reach the point of starving or when I'm trying to sit down to write. I generally cook when someone might thank me for doing so. The question is one of degree. While I am happier when I am fed, I am happier still when I have fed someone else.

Years ago I stopped getting hungry. Until the point at which my eyes rang the migraine alarm bells or I simply fell over, my body gave me no reminders to eat. I wouldn't have eaten at all at University had the other women in my hall not knocked on my door and asked me when I was going to dinner, to breakfast. Mostly, I forgot lunch until after the dining hall had closed because there was no one to remind me to put food into my stomach between classes and work. When I tried to explain, men and women alike envied me my stick figure.
I still rarely get hungry; though, I have lost the stick figure.

Friends will tell you that I am never so grateful as when someone feeds me a meal they have cooked. They'll say that I eat ravenously. They may even say that they have heard me utter the words: I'm hungry. My friends are reasonably smart people. They know what I mean is that I want to break bread in their company. They know that I have likely forgotten to stop for a moment for lunch. They know I have looked toward my own kitchen and figured I'd go and make something soon. Soon is rather like the rest of the future; it rarely arrives when we most expect it to.

The night before we buried my grandmother, my sister made a roast for my brother-in-law, my father, my stepmother, and I. We ate slowly, taking our time over the thick slices of pork.  We didn't talk about what the next morning would bring; though, my father slowly articulated our families life in that far off place we call a long time ago. For one short moment, we forgot the forks in our hands, the dishes to be done, the years in between that make the distances between us so necessary. There in the rental house, I sat with my father and one of my sisters, and we ate a home cooked meal as a family--something that hasn't happened in sixteen whispering years.

I am trying to learn to eat food cooked for one. It has become, rather suddenly, a necessity. After that dinner in Denver, we sent my sister and her husband on a date. My stepmother began to do the washing up, and Dad prepared for bed. I opened my laptop, typed my password, and discovered that the job that made up the bulk of my income no longer existed. Nor did the job of anyone else who was working from outside of the state in which the university's buildings sit.

And I am lucky. I have a second job with good people who are throwing as many hours as they can afford in my direction. I have friends who have been out of work for two years, who at thirty-three are living with their parents who themselves cannot afford to retire. I have friends who have been told to go back to university to retrain, despite their PhDs and decades worth of student loan debt. I have friends who dole out calories to their children, skimping on their own, in hopes that children who feel hungry are still well enough fed. But I also know how thin the line between underemployed and unemployed is. I know that the electric bill is going to be much higher than the amount the housemate and I toss into the savings account each month. I know that I may or may not have enough hours next month to make up the difference. I know that what I write as melancholy is really fear. So while I search for another job that may well be forthcoming, I'm buying what's left at the end of the day at the veg stall to avoid paying rent with the emergency plane ticket. And I am grateful that it is, for now, more than enough.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Untranslatable: Ants and Pants

Part of being an immigrant to this lovely green land is learning to live in a new idiom. That is to say that you must learn to live in a new figurative language. Should you manage an invite to a barbeque, I cannot recommend highly enough asking a wiggly English child if they have ants in their pants. You will become ever popular with the under-10 set, and the adults will be forced to engage you in conversation.

For those of you who are English and would like to play the game, ants in one's pants refers to a general state of wiggling or impatience for a desired event. If you want to share your own antsyness, you'll want to announce, "I have ants in my pants, and now I've got to do a boogey dance." A boogey is, of course a bogey.

Thanks to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks for the shout out in the alumni news feed.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Other People's Nursery Rhymes

The problem is, of course, leading other people's children astray. It's a question of not sending an English boy off to nursery singing "Ring around the rosies/ pocket full of posies/ ashes ashes/ we all fall down." The English sing "Ring-a-ring of roses/ pocket full of posies/ a-tishoo a-tishoo/ we all fall down."

While American toddlers learn to blow dandylion seed in hopes of making a wish come true, here in the West Country they are simply attempting to tell the time. I hear that there are places where children learn that they are trying to tell the hour at which their wish will come true.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Waiting for the Rain

Summer2009 003 by rachaelalonzo
Summer2009 003, A rainy day during another summer

This morning I was grateful to wake up to storms typical of an English spring and late summer. Back in Indiana, we would have called it a deluge. Here we would say that it tipped, and tipped, and tipped. Since I arrived back in the country a month ago, we have had cloud but little rain. I still have difficulty making sense of drought on this Island. I shouldn't. The UK is the about the same size as Oregon. It's an island, but not a small one. I continue to be amazed by the English in Bath. While the weather was ruinous for summertime activities here in town, many people are still looking to the skies for more rain. The ground is thirsty and the farmers are struggling.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Fabulous Things About England: The Railroad Bridge, Bathampton

Between Bathampton and the toll bridge

Years ago, I went to Florida to take care of my grandmother while she recovered (as far as recovery happens in the later stages) from an exacerbation of COPD. I was a year into a PhD, and I thought that it would be easy enough to write when she slept. Inexperience is a fabulous reminder of the eternal naivety of the human condition. I read a lot of blogs during those months, and I wrote a handful of rather dire personal essays, but mostly I coped with a seventy-five year old toddler. I didn't see a lot of Florida that trip; though, I let Gram dream aloud about what we would do the next time I visited. I didn't mention how much I hate Florida, but I did apply for a handful of permanent faculty positions close enough to her residence, far enough away from her residence.

We spent a lot of our time in the medical-industrial complex that runs the length and breadth of Florida. One stucco building runs into the next until you're practically eating peaches in Georgia. Most days, as tempting as it was to keep on driving, I kept an eye on the amount of oxygen left in the green tank that road shotgun attached as it was to Gram. I learned to turned us toward home before the red indicator light would frighten her.

It isn't surprising, now that I have time to ruminate, that when my great aunt relieved me I hadn't seen much of America. I headed north for my sister's wedding and began the litany of things I had forgotten: which way to look when crossing the street, how heavy nickles are, the intricacies of filling up a petrol tank, how American roses smell, the necessity of greeting people you pass in the street, and American boys. I'd forgotten their long khaki shorts and worn-out t-shirts, the way they sit in threes and fours on front stoops drinking brown bottled beer, that they shake hands, that they hug each other, that they can throw a Frisbee up and down a road for hours. I'd forgotten America boys, train horns, and wintergreen mints.

I find a certain disquiet in knowing that melancholy is little more than knowledge of a memory turning first pleasant, then fading. I like to stand on the railroad bridge out by Bathampton for no greater reason than I am finally old enough to do so for as long as I choose. There is no great adult insisting on a bath then bed, no one to tell me one more train and then we'll go. And still, until I snapped the picture, I hadn't remembered how the city rises quite suddenly on the horizon.  I am grateful for pavements that are no wider than my hips, for the shadow the abbey throws in mid-afternoon, for the weight of a pound or two in my left pocket.

I am glad to be home.
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