weekend trip to Oxford

This post was written by my lovely husband David. 🙂 

Oxford (June 23rd – 25th)

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My birthday is June 23rd, a day that we were originally planning to spend either in London or en route to Germany – but sometime back in May Laura started planning a surprise birthday trip, and this morning (see pic!) I finally found out what it was. We made our way to the Marylebone Station (without my knowing exactly why) and had breakfast nearby, after which she handed me a large envelope that had been hidden in the back of our red binder.  Inside were train tickets to Oxford! There were also details of an Airbnb reservation, a list of pubs to choose from for dinner that night, and tickets for a walking tour of Oxford organized around places important to J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis (really got my nerdy heart racing!).

We caught our train, spotted a few sheep on the ride, and then hoofed it to our Airbnb (our favorite so far, largely owing to the presence of a dog named Tig).

 

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River boats on the Thames path (the river is called the Isis by Oxford residents – inside tip for you)

Some Googling from our room revealed that there was a trail called the Thames Path that passed our location just a few blocks away and led into the city along the river, so in the early evening we took a beautiful walk into Oxford to look for the pub I had chosen for dinner.

Along the way, though, we passed a restaurant with enough comfortable outdoor seating right next to the Thames that we abandoned our plan and ate there instead.

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View from the Head of the River restaurant, looking back along the Thames

 

During dinner Laura presented me with another birthday gift, a box of chocolates – a good gift in itself, and even better with the following quote on it: “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years,” attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Laura found this hilarious, because of course Abraham Lincoln never said anything of the sort. I chuckled and wondered how long I should wait after dinner before stuffing the chocolates into my face.

Our Saturday in Oxford started slow, which suited us just fine: London had tired us out. The only planned activity for the day was the Tolkien- and Lewis-themed walking tour in the afternoon. This is a tour that runs once a month, people – and Laura discovered it and made sure we got spots. She’s good. Anyway, in the late morning we took another walk along the Thames, found the meeting place downtown, had lunch, and met our tour guide Alistair.

Alistair was exactly the kind of person you would expect to lead a tour like this: an elderly retired professor with a lovely accent who had himself attended Oxford decades ago and remembered, he said, the excitement back in the fifties when The Lord of the Rings was published. He showed us all around the city, starting with the pub where Tolkein and Lewis and their friends liked to meet on Thursdays (Thursday mornings, mind you) to drink beer and read each other whatever they were working on. The pub is called “The Eagle and Child,” or more commonly and irreverently, “The Bird and Baby.” Our favorite story of the tour came early on, just after visiting the pub. Alistair told us that C. S. Lewis (who went by “Jack” in honor of the family dog who had been hit by a car) and his brother, Warren, had had a very unhappy childhood after their mother died and their father moved the family from Ireland to England. To comfort each other the two boys used to tell each other made-up fantastical stories, hiding at home in a wardrobe – hence, a wardrobe serves as the door to a magical land in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

We stopped by the various colleges where Lewis and Tolkien studied and taught at, visited the University College Church where Lewis attended regularly and gave some of his theological lectures, and saw the small gated-off street where Tolkien retired late in life, having left Oxford to avoid fans knocking on his door and returning years later only when assured that his residence would be a secret.

After the tour we visited Christ Church college (the biggest and richest college) and then made our way back to the Eagle and Child for dinner. Our impression during the tour had been that it was a fairly dark, stuffy, crowded little pub, but when we returned for dinner we found a large, bright room at the back with an empty table for two. The food was great, the beer even better.

We slept like rocks that night and rose early the next day for our bus to the airport. We were already talking about how much we’d like to spend some extra time in England at the end of our trip – but for now, on to Germany.

 

 

 

 

 

they can’t take that away from me

The title of this post is, of course, a reference to the wonderful song. I’ve no idea who wrote it, but I think of this version : 

 

I wrote this on July 8, early in the morning, in the kitchen in Cipressa.

 July 11th is my father’s birthday. Born in 1948, he would be 69. He passed away seven years ago after a long and difficult battle with cancer.

I always miss my dad, and there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about him. We were very close, sharing a love of poetry, waking early, going for walks, running, and toast & tea. (I didn’t fully develop my love of tea until the past few years.) In Cipressa, my grief has been heightened. Probably some of this has to do with the time of year — I often feel grief more strongly around his birthday, the anniversary of his death, my birthday, and the winter holidays. And probably some of it has to do with vague memories of being here with him, in this house in Cipressa, when I was seven years old.

The thing about grief as I experience it — or one of the many ‘things’ — is the futility. No matter how strongly I feel pain, or sadness, or the gaping hole of his absence — and I feel all of these things very strongly sometimes — it makes no difference. I could tear down a building in my agony, and he would still not come back. Sometimes, I don’t even acknowledge my feelings to David, because it feels so pointless. We’ll be sitting across the room from one another, me twisted up with the agony of loss, and I think, If I tell David I’m missing Daddy, he’ll hold me, and I’ll cry, and then eventually I’ll stop and move onto the next activity because what else is there to do? Why bother?

On the anniversary of my dad’s death as well as on his birthday, I like to enjoy his favorite things — Indian food, Beck’s beer, poetry, jazz, and, if possible, strawberry shortcake the way his mom made it. Maybe we’ll ‘celebrate’ his birthday the usual way next week when we are in Cologne, as we’ll have a whole apartment and not just a bedroom to use, and we’ll be with my friend Peter, who knew my dad.

Last night, David and I were walking up to the tower that overlooks Cipressa. We were talking about vivid memories — which moments our brains have held onto with sharpness and color. Most of my vivid memories are from traumatic moments in my life, some of which involve my father and his illness and death. But suddenly, mercifully, a different memory popped into my head. It was the memory of a dream. In the year after my dad died, I had dozens of dreams about him. In almost all of them, he was dying for some reason or another, it was my job to save him, and I always failed. But in the very first dream that I had after my father’s death, I am on a stage, participating in a math competition (nervously, as someone not particularly talented at mathematics). I look to the audience, and am surprised to see Daddy, sitting in the front row. Our eyes meet, and he smiles at me and makes the “I Love You” symbol in sign language. And I feel like I can do whatever scary thing the competition throws at me — because my dad is still here, somehow, and he loves me.

the week in London

After our busy weekend, we still had a little time to spend here in the glorious city of London. Tomorrow we leave on a little weekend getaway for David’s birthday (as he proofreads for me and does not yet know where we’re going, you’ll have to wait to find out), so I am taking a little pause to record a bit about the last several days.

On Tuesday we embarked on a walking tour designed by our friend Matt. Matt lived in London for a year while his wife (also our dear friend) Jenny was completing a master’s program here. The walking tour was very enjoyable and mostly along the river. We began the day with time in my favorite part of London — Parliament Square.

We had a very enjoyable walk along the river, and saw, among other buildings, the Globe Theatre.

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We were very ready for lunch by the time we got to Borough Market! We began our meal with some vegetable samosas and juice. This was followed by one order of steak & ale pie and one of fish & chips (we shared everything). It was all very good, especially as we’d been walking all morning.

We continued our walking-tour and ended at The George Inn, a VERY old pub where supposedly William Shakespeare dined (as well as, obviously much later, Charles Dickens). Jenny & Matt sent us £10 before we left on our trip and told us to “get a couple of pints on them” — so of course we did so! I had cider and David had Old Speckled Hen, a favorite of his dad’s. On our way back to our AirBnB we crossed the London Bridge and had good views of Tower Bridge, which I adore.

On Wednesday we went to Paddington Station to pay a visit to Paddington Bear. David has never read these books but I adored them. We are planning to read them together later this year. 🙂 It was a lot of fun to see the painted bench & the statue in the station.

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Next, we went to the British Museum. David has very fond memories of visiting it with his parents and sister, Mary, when their family traveled abroad about ten years ago. We visited the rooms about the British Isles (both pre-Roman & Roman Britain) and saw Lindow Man (entirely by accident) which was pretty crazy. Then we stumbled upon, and followed, the LGBTQ trail in the museum. My favorite part was the cocoa cups owned by a British lesbian couple in the 19th century.

 

 

After this, we went up to Hampstead to visit the Burgh House & Hampstead Museum where our dear friend Jenny completed her internship while getting her Master’s in London. Hampstead is SUCH a lovely, quiet neighborhood. We chatted for a long time with the woman at the front desk at Burgh House and heard from her about how different artifacts of the house survived WWII, and the different people who lived in the house over the years. She also told us that one of the main ways they stay afloat is by renting out the beautiful hall for weddings. After browsing the house & museum displays, we had a lovely tea in the garden café there.

We ended our long day with a quick stop at the Twinings tea shop & museum (I drink at least one cup of Twinings brand tea every day) and dinner at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, another very old pub. (Lots of those in London.)

Thursday was our last day (until August) in London and was a Harry Potter day! (If you know me literally at all, you may have caught on that Harry Potter is my favorite thing in the universe.) We visited a few famous sites, including Leavesden Market (AKA Diagon Alley), the Millenium Bridge (which is featured in the movie Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince), & of course visited Platform 9¾ where we had our pictures taken.

Quick lunch back at the Borough Market so that I could FINALLY get my much-longed-for Prosecco spritzer. We had samosas and artisinal jammie dodgers.

Then, we visited Tower Bridge (my beloved!) and David took me on a fancy date night — first, dinner at an Italian place along the Thames, and then drinks at a bar on the 32nd floor of the Shard (!!!). It was SO fancy. I think the hostess could sense the Velcro on my sandals.

We had such a good time in London, but kind of ran ourselves ragged. That was partly because our accommodations tended to be waaay on the edge of town. So, once we were out for the day, we usually stayed out. Plus, there was just so much to fit in! We’re excited to spend another day or two there in August without the big checklist hanging over our heads. It was definitely a great way to start the summer off with a bang! Until August, London! 🙂

hello, London!

Our journey from the airport to our first AirBnB in London was very long. A bus, 2 trains, and a bit of walking later, we arrived at the first place (we moved to a different one on Monday). After washing up a bit, we went to a local pub and had meat pies and beer (or in my case, cider). Y’all. Random pub on the edge of London and the food was SO GOOD!! Yes, we were super hungry, but I think it was also just really good food.

Our first experience of staying in an AirBnB that we booked has been…underwhelming. It is very inexpensive, and although it takes a while to get into the city it’s very doable. However, it’s also pretty grimy…and the bed is excruciating. We finally figured out that it’s actually broken (the bed) which explains the bizarre and epic dips in the mattress. At about 1 AM, early on Saturday, we figured out a solution. David slept atop the comforter, diagonally on the mattress (which is pretty comfortable actually, it avoids the dips) and I slept on the floor on the mattress topper. David used a towel as a “blanket” and I use a sheet.

You know what…it worked.

Our first full day in London was Saturday. And wow, what a day it was!! We had a slower morning than hoped, but eventually got on a bus to downtown London. Yes, it was a double-decker bus, and yes we rode on the top right up front. It was very fun and we could see where the inspiration for the Knight Bus, squeezing through tight spaces, came. From up top your perspective is wider and it seemed like we were constantly squeezing through tight spaces. At one point a bunch of tree branches smacked into the window right in front of my face, and I couldn’t stop giggling.

you can't just walk in there, you have to Make An Appointment
Where the Queen buys wine. Note the golden “Royal Warrant” above the door.

Once we got downtown, we boarded our hop-on, hop-off bus tour. We saw St.James’ Palace and some of the shops with which the Royal Family does business. The shoe shop where Prince Philip gets his shoes, for example, sells shoes for £2000. The place where the Queen buys her wine has an average bottle go for £24,000 (!!!).

After just a few stops, however, the tour guide mentioned that it was the observance of the Queen’s birthday that day, and that we should get off the bus if we wanted to see the festivities and have a chance at seeing the Royal Family. We got off a couple stops later (after frantically whispering, and being confused as to why no one else got off) and walked across Green Park, following the crowds, to the gate at Buckingham Palace.

And. Y’all. We saw the end of the Trooping of the Color, including seeing THE QUEEN and many other members of the Royal Family. I was most excited to see the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, and her children George and Charlotte. I adore Kate’s sense of style and her personality seems genuine and kind as well. (Fun fact : we are both 5’10”.) We also saw the Royal Air Force fly over the Palace which was really exciting and cool.

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We were so floored by this experience that we walked away saying to each other, “we just saw the Queen of England. THE QUEEN!” There were large crowds streaming out of Green Park along with us. We went to a Marks & Spencer store across the street (thanks Jenny for the recommendation!) and got sandwiches, water, & a Victoria sponge muffin to try. It was all very tasty and our experience was heightened by the group of women (we think it was a bachelorette party — or as they much more cutely call it here, a hen party) sitting nearby, screaming the words along to “Man! I Feel Like A Woman” by Shania Twain while drinking champagne. I was surprised (and pleased) that British women know all the words to that song, too. David commented, “see? This is why drinking in public is a good thing.”

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surprisingly good sandwiches

After lunch, we got back on the tour bus and finished the “circuit.” We saw many exciting sights, including the Victoria Tower (which CONTAINS a bell called Big Ben, but which is NOT Big Ben. okay folks. we got it.), Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and a peek down the long lane into Buckingham Palace.

The tour ended at The Tower of London, where we could board a River Cruise included in our bus tour ticket. Before doing that, we visited the London Wall, built in 200 AD by the Romans. It’s always so bizarre to see structures of that age just…sitting there, in the midst of people eating ice cream and talking on their cell phones.

We also visited All Hallows By The Tower church. It is the oldest church in the City of London (which is not the same thing as London, but a part of London) and I was pleased to see a notice in their entryway that they are an Inclusive Church. It was a peaceful and fascinating place to visit. We even went downstairs into a small “chapel” to St.Clare which was VERY small and a bit spooky — turns out it used to be a tomb.

We then went down to the docks by the Tower of London and went on our river cruise. We weren’t super impressed, but it was fun to be on the water and see many of the sights of London from Father Thames himself. I fell in love with Tower Bridge. What a gorgeous structure!

As we left the river cruise, we happened upon this awesome statue of Boudica. We learned about her in a documentary about the history of London that we watched a couple of months ago. Boudica was a Queen of the Celtic Iceni tribe, and she led an uprising against the Romans in 60 AD and died after it failed. She seems like a complete badass. If anyone knows of a good novelization of her story, let me know.

Sunday was busy, too. We got up early and headed into the city to attend church at Westminster Abbey. It was an amazing experience and I’m SO glad we went. I expected it to be packed, but there really weren’t so many of us there. We were actually in the second row of seats (there were several seating sections, going out from the altar in three directions). Yes, the choir was there and sang. Yes, it was gorgeous. Yes, the boys really do wear those frilly collars. (And yes, they really are little kids. It was very cute to see how, although they were very focused during singing, they scratched their noses and stared at the ceiling during the sermon and prayers like any normal kid.) The sermon was given by Reverend Jane Sinclair, and dealt with how stories tell the truth more than history sometimes can. Receiving communion was, for me, a really wonderful spiritual experience. I always get a lot out of communion, but this was a pretty special one.

Sunday afternoon we went SHOPPING. Not exactly a complement to the morning, but fun nonetheless. I was very excited to go to a store called Long Tall Sally that specializes in clothes for women 5’8″ and up! I bought a lovely dress and tried on pajamas pants that were at least 6″ too long.

Today (Monday) we moved to our new AirBnB, which is SO MUCH NICER. Photos to come I am sure. We have an en suite bathroom, coffee and tea station in the room, and the location is way better. The bed is still not super comfortable (when will the world learn that spring mattresses are stupid and awful?? I will never understand) but given that I already fell asleep on it twice by accident, I think it will be fine.

After dropping off our bags, we went to take a ride on the London Eye! It was super fun.

Afterwards we got lunch by the river (hot dogs and frozen yogurt from fancy food carts) and then came back to the AirBnB, where we have been relaxing (and where I have been finishing this EPIC blog post) all afternoon. In a few minutes, we’re headed to the park across the street with sandwiches, and then we’re planning to go to bed at like literally 8:45 or 9 PM. We’ve been walking well over 10,000 steps per day (I can confirm this due to my FitBit’s enthusiastic buzzing) and getting usually a bit under six hours of sleep. 😀 This is obviously not sustainable!!

If you got through this huge blog post, kudos to you. We’re excited to spending the rest of the week continuing to explore lovely old London town!

departure

We were surprised to discover that our flight is the first international flight out of Stewart Airport! When we arrived, there were news crews and cameras all over. We were greeted at the door and given souvenir sunglasses. David, my mother, and I watched as a press conference was held, complete with ribbon-cutting ceremony and free cupcakes for all. Mom says this is an auspicious way to begin our trip. It was certainly a lot of fun! We’re having a bite to eat at the one little café here. Turns out it is the first day this café is open. Employees keep coming to ask if our meal is good and offer us ketchup packets and whatnot! 🙂 Fewer than two hours until we board our flight! 

 

nine weeks, one bag

David and I leave tomorrow night (!!!) for our nine-week adventure in the U.K. and Europe. We have a long itinerary involving lots of time in London and in Liguria, Italy, as well as trips to Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, The Netherlands, Ireland, and Cardiff. (Also one mystery location — I have planned a weekend trip for David’s 28th birthday, which is in 9 days — so I can’t tell you where we’re going yet in case he looks at my blog!) I have been planning my bag for this trip since we decided to travel in February. We got super cheap tickets ($100 per person!! to Edinburgh!! from New York!! no I am not joking and yes I am FAIRLY sure we’ll get to sit down!) which means that they are bare bones tickets. We get 22 lbs of hand baggage — nothing more. That includes carry-on and personal item. No checked bags. Etc. And not even just for this reason but just for general ease of travel, I really wanted to do this whole trip with one bag. I mean, I have smaller bags WITHIN my one bag…but on travel days it will be me + backpack. Super simple.

Today I thought I would take photos of my bag and its contents, and explain what all I am bringing! Luckily we’re going to parts of the world where we can easily buy anything we need, but I’m hopeful I won’t need to make many necessities purchases so I can save my pounds, euros, and Swiss francs for souvenirs. 😀

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ta-da!
The bag I purchased for the trip is the eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible JunioreBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible Junior. I read lots of reviews and chose it for several reasons : the backpack straps are padded, it’s really very small and fits under the seat in front of you on a plane if needed, it has various organizer compartments, fun bright color (which it looks like they no longer make!), and a low price. I really liked the Tom Bihn bags I saw but they were WAY out of my price range. I got this bag for $88 (normal price $110) with a coupon. I took it on a shorter trip and March and really liked it. I also noticed that it fits in the tiny overhead compartment on a very small plane I rode on — it’s good for tight spaces. I love the bright orange lining too, just very cheerful! 🙂

There are three main front compartments — the small slash pocket (currently empty, but where my boarding passes and such will go), the front compartment, and the “brain” (the little pocket that sits on top of the bag — that’s what I was taught to call this when I went to backpacking school!).

In the front pocket, I have my liquids bag, makeup bag, pajamas (capri pants and a soft t-shirt), glasses (sunglasses and regular), SPF-protection cardigan, journal, clutch (with passport, wallet, and phone), and waterproof phone bag. I ended up dumping out some toiletries between the bigger photo and the one of just my toiletries bag. My husband is carrying a razor handle that we’ll share, and packets of blades for each of us (we use Dollar Shave Club and he gets fancier blades because face > legs) In the “brain” compartment I have mostly “comfort items.” (I put them in the “brain” to make them easy to access, but also as a little joke. I have an anxiety disorder and my “brain” requires a lot of “comfort” sometimes.) My mini Hermione doll, eyemask for sleeping, and my little snail pouch that is literally always beside my bed — I’ll put lipbalm and eyedrops back into it once I get through security. It also has a mini flashlight, my headphones, and a calming cross (it’s a little wooden cross that fits perfectly in your hand — I hold onto it when I’m nervous or sad and it’s very comforting in a tactile way).

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the mesh, flat compartment
On one side of the main compartment, I have my Pardon My Trench rainjacket from Columbia Sportswear. I love the cute color and the chic look of the “trench” style. It’s also very lightweight and waterproof. I also have a little zip-top tote bag for longer days of sightseeing — big enough that we can carry sandwiches and water and a layer. Plus, my hairbrush and Kindle (which is loaded with new books).

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main compartment
On the other side of the main compartment is the largest section. I packed three packing cubes of clothes, plus my Teva sandals and little black purse. That little orange pouch comes with the bag and snaps onto the edge, which I love.

I probably tried on at least ten pairs of sandals in the process of choosing ones for this trip. It came down to these Tevas vs. Chacos. I ended up going with the Teva Terra Float Nova for a few reasons : they are super lightweight (helpful for packing and for less fatigue after long days of walking), have a softer footbed, and were less expensive. So far they’ve been good although there’s already a teeny bit of fraying on one strap (I’ve been breaking them in). I hope they prove to be the right choice.

I packed my clothes in three packing cubes : one big green on for “bottoms” and a dress, one half-size pink one for underwear and socks, and one small green cube for tops. I haven’t posted pictures of my underwear because…that felt odd. That said, I have about 5 pairs of underwear plus 2 pairs of little bike shorts to wear under the dress. I’m packing 2 bras (one tan, sports bra — I got a high-neck sports bra that will look cute peeking out from my black dress and v-neck shirt) and wearing one onto the plane. I also have about 5 pairs of socks! My swimsuit is in my husband’s bag because we packed the swimsuits together, figuring they’ll share a ziploc when wet.

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tops
For tops, I have one black tank top (“muscle tee” technically…for showing off…all my muscles?), one lime-yellow (? what is this color) t-shirt, one navy v-neck, and 2 striped tops (black and white and green and white). All are super lightweight and roll up teensy-tiny, plus they dry super fast. The navy one is from Victoria’s Secret and I’ve had it for probably about 3 or 4 years. All the other shirts are from Madewell.

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bottoms
For bottoms, I have UPF-blocking black pants (something between thin sweatpants and leggings), athletic shorts, 2 skorts, and a black maxi dress.

To my fellow one-bag travelers : yes I know that 2 skorts is silly. BUT I LOVE THESE SKORTS. HOLY WOW. SO MUCH. I’ve had the maroon one since February and wore it to work ALL THE TIME. Also to church. Also to the grocery store. Also on a hike. Also on dates. ETC ETC. It is stretchy, comfy material, it has a TON of pockets (including a hidden passport pocket!! and a hidden credit card pocket!! and 3 ZIPPER pockets!!), and built in shorts (with ANOTHER POCKET ON THEM! no joke!). They are fairly high-waisted (comfy and flattering) and are knee-length (hit at the knee on me, probably just past the knee on most women as I’m tall — I do wish they made these in a tall length!) so they’ll be appropriate for going into cathedrals and such. The blue one is new for the trip. They’re kinda pricey ($88) but I got the blue one for $58 with a promotion they’re doing.

I found that maxi dress on a clearance rack at an independent “adventure outfitters” store back in Indiana. It is actually long enough on me (never happens) and has pockets. Thank you, Mountain Hardware!

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little things
This tiny orange pouch has a lot of small, semi-random items that I wanted quick access to and which needed a home. This includes charger cables (iPhone, Kindle, and fitbit), tweezers, a few makeup wipes, a headband, laundry soap papers, floss, and menstrual supplies. I use a menstrual cup which I love and which makes traveling super easy. Obviously you can always buy supplies on a trip, but the convenience of always being prepared is great. I tried the Diva Cup in college and never found it comfortable to insert/remove, but I find the Lily Cup compact to be very comfortable, and it folds into that little pink case and can fit into a pocket (even a women’s jeans pocket).

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my travel outfit
As per usual, I’m wearing my heaviest stuff on the plane. Blue jeans, a pink t-shirt, a greige sweater (late Christmas gift from David — he’d hidden it so I wouldn’t see it before Christmas, which takes a lot of effort since we shared a very small apartment — and he found it again in May), Harry Potter themed scarf that was a going-away gift (I actually got two, from two amazing friends — the other is mostly white and I worried it might get dirty with travel, whereas this one is mostly black and will not show smudges as easily), watch/ring/earrings, compression socks, and my beloved Reebok Skyscape Runaround sneakers. The most comfortable sneakers ever made. Plus, a hankie for my pocket. 🙂

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travel binder!
And fiiiinally, my pride and joy : my travel binder! There’s a secret pocket on the back of the backpack which is meant for a laptop but where I am bringing my binder! I would be remiss to not mention how incredibly helpful I found Angela from the blog blue i style’s post on creating a travel binder! I used her printable itinerary pages, and incorporated many of her suggestions. In my binder, I have an itinerary (still finalizing it — it’s a nine week trip, y’all) as well as maps, flight/train/bus confirmations, walking directions, tickets for activities, AirBnB receipts and information, travel health insurance details, copies of important documents, and even some word search and sudoku pages for when we get bored. 🙂

Just a little more time to plan, load music onto my phone, triple-check that it’s a good pair of earbuds…and off we go!!

the world awaiting

We are in a strange phase, David and I. I have one week (one! week!) left at my job, and the apartment is becoming more and more a moving zone of cardboard boxes and plastic totes. We sold two bookshelves and they were picked up yesterday, leaving empty rectangular spots where they used to live. Early next week, David will drive the car, packed full of artwork and other fragile or precious belongings, to my mother’s house. He’ll fly back to Indiana to finish packing up our home, and then we will have one last weekend here. A last workday, a few farewell dinners, and we’ll be rolling out of town in a rented moving truck together, waving goodbye to our relationship’s “hometown.” I am zig-zagging between exhilaration at the future — like standing on a cliff at the ocean, feeling the breeze on my face — and grief at the ending of this special chapter. One moment I am imagining our travels, hardly able to wait until we leave, and the next I’m in tears, reminiscing about the wonderful friends we’ve made here and the many little places around town that have become our homes.


On the horizon waits a whirlwind gift of a trip. We’ve been writing our “top three” priorities for the many cities we’ll visit, trying to make sure we don’t over-pack our itinerary. We’re trying to make sure we don’t over-pack our bags, either : allowed just 22 pounds each on the airplane, we’ll be carrying everything we bring on our backs. (Look for an upcoming post where I show everything I’m bringing! It’s been fun to carefully plan this.) I don’t even know what we, or our lives, will look like in August. We have plans for a slow fall — David will have nothing to do but his dissertation, and I’m hoping to focus on a variety of projects, including taking a course in making organizational printables and starting a wee etsy shop for a little income. I’ll go help my best friend Lindsey get settle in her new home in Idaho, and we’ll make our way even further west for some time with David’s family.


The summer and fall seasons are going to be such opposites, and contain so much variety. In the last few years, our lives have felt very routine. David has continued to do all his “student things.” Teaching, writing, learning. Once I started working as an advocate at a rape crisis center/domestic violence shelter, things settled down into a rhythm. Given that my job doesn’t have any holidays or breaks (unlike school), we rarely traveled. I worked Monday through Friday, on Saturdays I ran and we did fun things, and on Sundays, we went to church. The rhythm became sweeter with time, and although we have loved it, I think it will be exciting to break completely out of that pattern and into something very, very different. A summer of constant change, motion, and new life. A fall of quiet, finishing up projects (in David’s case, his doctoral dissertation), and bedding down. These patterns match the seasons, and feel appropriate for that reason. When is summer not a season of frenetic energy, or change, of life? When is fall not a time for tying up loose ends, bedding down — preparing for winter?


Living out this new rhythm will bring change — and that brings challenge (for me at least) — but I am hopeful that with constant reflection and plenty of self-care, I will be okay. Maybe even great. 🙂

these happy golden years

Two more weeks in the City of Bloomington, where David and I have shared the vast majority of our relationship. The city of our first date, our first kiss, our first shared home. The city where we got engaged, where we both earned master’s degrees, and where I had my first full-time job.

I am looking through hundreds of photos, trying to cobble together a photo album of our four years in Bloomington. And as I look through these photos, I’m reminded of one of the things I love most about David, one of his qualities that made me fall for him in the first place: his ability to find life and joy in anything, anywhere. Understand that this isn’t an intentional quality. This isn’t David thinking, “well this is pretty crummy, how can I make it special?” This is just David’s eyes, and how they see.

These are photos of us where we got a take-out pizza and sat on the hillside of a middle school, watching the sunset over budget apartment buildings and pawn shops and a run-down bowling alley. To a cynic, we were eating crappy food on a dirty, littered hill looking out at run-down buildings on an impoverished side of town. David didn’t see that. He saw a picnic on a grassy hillside, watching the sun set.

There we are that first summer, reading magazines in the library to enjoy the free air-conditioning. Cuddling with puppies at the smelly pet store in the mall. Splashing through a tunnel (overpass) in a (paved) creek. Day after day of beautiful moments that he created for us out of his grad student stipend, his creativity, and a good eye for beauty. The public pool became a private oasis, the back bedroom (with a laptop on a chair), a dinner theatre.

This ability of David’s, to see the world as beautiful and interesting and exciting in every situation, is one that has helped us through so many days. I know that wherever we end up settling next, I will be leaning in beside him to see our new home through his eyes.

fourth of july 2013
good eyes

(Where are we going? Well, here’s the answer!)

baby’s first french macarons

I often enjoy a baking project on a weekend afternoon. Last Saturday evening, I had a friend over and she baked cookies while I provided feedback and guidance (in January, she taught me some weightlifting, and the agreement was that in exchange I would teach her some baking tips). It was a fun evening and left me in a baking mood. So the next day I decided that after church, I would swing by the craft store to get the correct decorating tip for making French macarons. I’m not particularly enamored of them (although they are tasty, and beautiful) nor have I ever made them before…but they seemed like a challenging pastry to learn to make, and what better day to start my learning process than a sunny, warm, April Sunday?

After gathering the ingredients that I didn’t have lying around (almond flour and a #1A baking tip), I consulted about a dozen blogs for advice before beginning my macaron process. I used this recipe for the macarons but I have written out the steps I took, adding in the tips I learned from reading and from experience, below. This was only a first batch so mine were a bit uneven, but I am pretty excited to keep perfecting my skills and wanted to share!

Some initial tips : this recipe takes time, largely due to letting the egg whites come to room temperature and also letting the macarons “rest” before they go in the oven. Don’t start baking them after dinner unless you want to be up late. I also read that they don’t do well when there is a lot of moisture in the air, so don’t try them on a humid or rainy day (aka, where I live, don’t try them during summer at all). I read the recipe that I used, and the tips, about six times — and then I wrote my plan out by hand. I know that may sound like a lot of work, but it was worth it.

  1. Separate three eggs. Set the egg whites in a bowl under a dishtowel on the counter to come to room temperature. This took about two and a half hours in my case — I checked the temperature with an instant-read thermometer. (Room temperature should be around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.) While you wait, make the filling. I made this super-easy chocolate ganache.
  2. Meanwhile, sift together one cup of fine-ground almond flour with two cups of confectioner’s sugar. Discard any almond bits that don’t make it through the sifter.
  3. Once the egg whites are at room temperature, beat them in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment along with 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar and a pinch of salt, on high speed (I used level six) until foamy. (This happened quickly.)
  4. While the mixer is still running, slowly pour in 1/4 cup of granulated sugar. Stop a few times to carefully scrape the sides of the mixing bowl.
  5. When the mixture reaches soft peaks, add one teaspoon of vanilla and desired food coloring.*
  6. Continue whipping until the mixture forms stiff peaks, occasionally pausing mixer to scrape sides (remember, you are trying to trap air in the mixture, so scrape sides very gently).
  7. Gently pour confectioner’s sugar-almond flour mixture over the whipped whites. (I removed the bowl from the stand mixer first.) Fold in mixture. (There are lots of online guides to folding. What I did was, using a rubber spatula, basically a gentle scrape down one side of the bowl, carefully guiding the spatula across the bowl, and then lifting out and twisting my hand so that it rotated the spatula which then “folded” the batter down into itself. It took me about forty-one folds until it appeared to be well combined — I’ve read “no more than fifty” lest you over-fold it and deflate the batter.)
  8. Carefully transfer the batter to a confectioner bag. (I used a 16″ disposable bag with a #1A tip. I forgot that my fastener for tips wouldn’t fit a #1A so David taped it to the bag and that worked fine.)
  9. Pipe 1″ rounds onto parchment-paper** lined baking sheets, slightly more than 1″ apart.
  10. Tap the pans on the countertop, hard, four to five times to release air bubbles.
  11. Let the macarons sit 20 – 30 minutes at room temperature, until they form a skin and do not stick to your finger when gently touched.
  12. Bake 18 – 22 minutes in center of oven. Rotate midway through, and switch sheets if you have two in at once (I just did one sheet at a time). ***
  13. Cool completely on a rack before creating sandwiches with your filling!

 

* I have read that liquid food coloring (as opposed to gel) can harm the structure of the macaron by introducing too much liquid to the batter. To avoid this, I dropped four drops of food coloring into the teaspoon measure before adding the vanilla, and then filled the vanilla to the top. This way, I didn’t add any extra liquid (just a teeny bit less vanilla).

** PARCHMENT PAPER. Not silpat. I tried both. On silpat, my macarons needed to be removed via a metal spatula. On parchment paper, they skated around like happy children on a frozen pond.

*** How do you know when macarons are done? THE WOBBLE TEST. Place your finger gently atop a macaron in the oven and if it “wobbles” on its foot it is not yet done.

DSC_0161

 

the wide-open future

David has lived in Indiana for six years now, and I’ve been here with him for almost four. In that time we’ve found an apartment we love, a church community that is our heart in Indiana, and (in my case) a fantastic job with amazing coworkers. We’ve also made some great friends and had wonderful experiences — I mean, the majority of our relationship has taken place here in Indiana. It is pretty weird to think about leaving, even though we’ve known all along that we would.

And now, we are preparing for our next adventure. David will finish his teaching responsibilities in May. And in June, I will leave my (beloved) job and we will drive all of our possessions east to my mother’s house, where they will live in her basement until our next solid plan comes into existence.

In the meantime…we are traveling Europe for nine weeks from June until August!

!!!

We are so incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity. We have funds specifically set aside for traveling purposes from David’s family, and my family has a small house in a teeny town in Italy. We also have various contacts in different parts of Europe. There are even some opportunities for David to meet with some scholars who do work related to his dissertation work at Cambridge in England. We have a wide-open summer ahead of us with exciting travel but also many lazy days of reading (and in David’s case, dissertation-writing) in the little house in Italy. We are going to be visiting :
– The U.K.
– Italy (of course)
– Sweden
– Denmark
– Germany
– The Netherlands
– Belgium
– Switzerland

& possibly France, too, who knows? I’m so excited (and nervous), but determined that even though it is scary, we will not miss this amazing opportunity! We’re trying to travel carry-on only, as lightly as possible, and hoping to fill ourselves up with memories that will last a lifetime.

 

We will be using this blog to update as we plan our trip and as we are traveling (although I don’t know how consistently we will have internet access — but I intend to write blog posts while I am on the road and then upload whenever I can!). We still have 2 months living in the sweet city of Bloomington and spending time with our friends and church community here before we leave, and we’re working to balance our excitement and need to plan with the desire to live in the moment and enjoy our home here before we leave. 🙂