When you're not working it's easy to slip into perpetual holiday mode. While this sounds lovely (and so many people have told me that I'm lucky not to have to work at the moment) it's not ideal for a sense of personal accomplishment. And although it is tempting to let the days slip past as I do nothing but read books and watch TV, I hate ending the day feeling like I've done nothing worthwhile. Plus John is working hard so I can hardly sit around being lazy.
Hopefully by the time my visa comes through I will have done some research and made connections that might make getting employment easier. In the meantime I find it important to have some routine, and to be able to end the day with a list of accomplishments. At the moment we are living in temporary accomodation about an hour away from where we plan on settling, so it's a little pointless to spend much time looking for jobs at this point, but there are certain things I'd like to achieve while I have the spare time.
So here's my average day:
So yeah, that's my exciting life at the moment. It's fulfilling if a little lonely but I know it is only temporary. As soon as we're settled into our new place I will be out proactively making friends and sorting out our house until I get a job, but until then I'm happy enough with my own company. Of course, it doesn't make for the most exciting blog post material, but that will come in time.
After almost 2 weeks of lunches, dinners and drinks, not to mention leaving parties and many cups of coffee, we finally left Belfast early on Monday morning. The friend who had been putting us up since we'd moved out of our apartment kindly drove us to the airport and we were off.
Our flights were uneventful. We travelled business class which was nice - particularly being able to relax in the lounge at Heathrow (free breakfast! And free lunch! And free bar although we didn't partake in this one). On the long flight from London to San Fran it was great to have the extra space although my legs are too short and I couldn't reach the footrest (first world problems, I know). However I did enjoy the lie-flat bed feature, and really can't complain about getting served ice cream sundaes with whatever toppings you wanted: fudge sauce and cherries for me; fudge sauce, caramel sauce and strawberries for John.
Once we touched down in San Francisco it was a matter of getting the train into the city and then a taxi to our apartment. On arrival we were met by a representative for a meet and greet. The apartment is lovely and fully furnished, and they'd very kindly stocked the kitchen: milk, bread, cheese, turkey slices, lettuce, mustard, mayo, lettuce, eggs, apples, bottled water, english muffins, apples and cornflakes as well as coffee and sugar for the coffee machine. No kettle or tea though - we're not in the UK anymore!
My very favourite however was this:
Here it is next to my hand for scale:
Yes, that is a giant (party-size) frozen lasagna which serves 10 people. We know nobody else here, so we're just going to have to eat 10 servings of lasagna ourselves.
There were towels and soap and shampoo etc in the bathroom and the bed was made up with lots of pillows.
Needless to say we feel incredibly well looked after.
Tuesday we were awake early (hello jet lag!) and walked into town to pick up a few things we needed. We're less than 10 mintues' walk from a supermarket, and 20 mins from central San Francisco, so the location is perfect.
The real win of the day was finding a funky little mexican diner near our apartment. John is great at looking for suggestions on Foursquare and it's not failed us yet. We had a great dinner and then struggled (but managed) to stay awake until 8:30pm. Oh yes, we are living the highlife!
Today we caught the train down to Sunnyvale where we were treated to a drive around the surrounding areas to help us check out where we would like to live. While we are staying in temporary accomodation in San Francisco at the moment, the plan is to move further down to the South Bay area before Christmas. It's a lovely spot and far less of a commute for John. Our driver told us all about the area, showed us some local art galleries and music venues, and kept mentioning things like "farmers market" and "artisanal cheeses". It all sounds very promising.
John starts work tomorrow, and I'm sure I'll find some way to occupy my time.
The buildup to moving country is always rather surreal and extremely bitter-sweet. There's so much stuff to do, so many people to see. Things to get organised and things to get excited about. A list of Lasts which will soon turn into a list of Firsts.
We move out of our apartment today, and we're finding it surprisingly hard. This is the first house we've lived in that really felt like 'home' and it's slightly wrenching to be packing up and leaving it. But the movers are in this morning, we'll be cleaning up this afternoon, and tonight we'll be staying with a friend who has kindly offered to put us up in her spare room until we fly out on the 10th.
As doors close and things get ticked off the to do lists, it all starts to feel a bit more real. We've packed, gotten our house in order, organised our leaving party, and last night we finally booked our tickets to our new home.
Through the stress and chaos I keep remembering that at least we are doing this together, and it is so much less daunting then the times I've done it on my own. There's someone there who is going through exactly the same things as I am and even if we snap at each other out of stress (something that's happened quite a lot in the last few days) we're very excited to be setting off on our next adventure. Together.
I’ve spent years not really knowing what I want to do with my life. When I was in my late teens, I wanted to travel the world as an anthropologist. I eventually realised that I wasn’t emotionally prepared for that sort of upheaval. I don’t like feeling out of my depth and travelling to the far corners of the world as an anthropological pioneer sounded romantic but in reality I found it horribly stressful and upsetting. It would have been nice to have discovered that before I found myself lost on a street in Greece away from everything and everyone I knew and unable to ask for help or directions, but at least I figured it out eventually.
Then after several years of working student jobs, I wanted to earn money. Real money. And so in my early twenties I went to college. And I got a job in the legal field. And I earned money. And after close to a decade I decided that making money wasn’t as fulfilling as I wanted my life to be.
Next I wanted to help people and again I returned to university. And I interned with a charity, and lo I was poor but fulfilled. I entered the world of non profits and it was good.
I’m ready to make my next career move, and for once I think I know what I want. Having never had a firm idea who or what I wanted to be (and being married to someone who has always known EXACTLY what he wants to do and who he wants to do it for has not been helpful) it’s exciting to finally have a bit of a plan. I know it might not turn out exactly how I expect it too, and I don’t have it exactly mapped out, but I can finally envision where I would like to be in 5 and 10 years’ time and think about what steps I need to get there.
It is exciting, and thrilling, and far more fun than I expected. Now fingers crossed I get the job I want!
One great thing about Belfast is that it is conveniently close to Dublin. While I travel down there frequently for work, we also visit for shopping trips, the theatre, to catch up with friends, or to take part in the craic and drinking culture. We haven’t done many of the touristy things, but we have been to the Guinness storehouse.
This past weekend to celebrate a friend’s birthday a group of us caught the train down to Dublin for whiskey tasting at the Jameson Distillery. The train is definitely the best way to travel to Dublin: not only is it comfortable but you can sit around a table chatting and have a couple of drinks. Plus the train station in Dublin is handily central. So, after a brunch of ‘bacon butties’ (aka bacon sandwiches) 12 of us headed to Belfast train station to catch our train.
Arriving to a bright and sunny afternoon we made for the Jameson Distillery, where our tasting was to take place. I’m a fan of whiskey and had been looking forward to this, but even so it surpassed my expectations. We were led to a quiet room where a table was set up. Each place was set with 4 glasses of whiskey and 2 information cards. A lovely barmaid told us about how each whiskey was distilled and allowed us to taste each glass while explaining what was special about that particular whiskey (the principal difference being the type of casks they were aged in from sherry casks to flame charred barrels to 18 years in an oak casks). The information cards contained a bit more info including flavours that we could expect to smell and taste. After sipping from all 4, our barmaid left us to sit and enjoy the remainder of the whiskey, letting us know there was no rush and to take our time. It was a wonderful 2 hours!
After the whiskey tasting we grabbed a quick dinner and headed out to a bar (it’s what you do in Dublin after all, and this was a birthday celebration). We ended up at The Porterhouse in Temple Bar – an old favourite that always has live music. Finally at about 1am we caught the bus back to Belfast to be in our beds by 4am.
And while I’ll be in Dublin again this week for work, it was great to have a final night out in the city.
We’re slowly working our way through our ‘bucket list’ of things to do and places to visit in Ireland. And last weekend we finally made it to Galway. We’d always heard lovely things about Galway, and it was one of the places we really wanted to see before we left. Fortunately for us, some friends were keen to join us for a weekend away, so after lunch on Friday we (myself and 3 boys who are all (rather confusingly) called John) piled into the car for the long journey.
It takes about 4½ hours to drive from Belfast to Galway. In order to avoid getting snarled up in Dublin’s rush hour traffic we took the motorway as far as Dundalk where we struck off cross country. Once off the motorway the roads were narrow windy, but wonderfully scenic. It was raining on and off, and West Ireland is particularly gorgeous in the rain – all green rolling hills and remote farms that suit wild weather. We arrived in Galway for 6pm and retired to our respective accommodation to unpack and change before meeting for dinner. John and I were staying in a hotel, while the 2 other Johns had opted for a hostel down the street. We reconvened in a nearby pub for the first pint of Guinness of the evening.
Halfway through the pint we started discussing our dinner options. It suddenly dawned on us that it was after 8pm and we were in rural Ireland, so few places would still be serving food (I will not miss that!). The best we managed to find was a takeaway pizza place so we grabbed a few big slices. While it did the job, it wasn’t the relaxed pub meal we were all looking forward to after the long drive.
The plan for the evening was simple – have a few pints but only one pint in each pub we went to. Basically we were planning a mini pub crawl. Galway has hundreds of pubs all extremely close together, so this was easily sorted. And despite it being Friday night and incredibly busy the fact that there were so many pubs meant that we managed to find a seat almost everywhere we went so it was perfect for nursing a pint. While we mostly drank Guinness, we did try the local ‘Galway Hooker’, named after a traditional fishing boat used in Galway Bay. We called it a night reasonably early as we were keen to do some sightseeing the next day.
We woke up on Saturday to clear skies and sunshine and the morning was spent strolling through the cobbled streets of Galway, walking along the seafront, and visiting the local markets. Galway itself is quite small and it didn’t take us long to feel that we’d seen the bulk of it so, just before lunchtime, we hopped back in the car for a bit of a tour of the countryside. We had no destination, just the idea that we would head out and get constructively lost. We stopped for lunch in a small town, came across some local ruins, enjoyed bleak views of The Burren, and attempted (and failed) to find the house used in the TV show Father Ted.
We headed back to Galway early as it was our mission to find a nice pub for our evening meal. After a nap and shower, we reconvened and headed out, joined by a Canadian tourist that the Johns had met in their hostel. We found a nice pub for dinner and enjoyed an excellent meal (steamed hake on mashed potatoes served with an almond and garlic butter sauce for me – delicious!). We then went back to the hotel for a few drinks before going out for a night on the town. No pubs this time, it was all dancing and nightclubs, and we had a blast.
Sunday was a slow start, and we left for Belfast around lunchtime, getting us home by 5 to rest and recuperate after the weekend. Galway was a great place, and we’re so glad to have gone. Even better to have been joined by friends!
One of the things we won’t miss about Belfast is the weather. While we’ve had a couple of warm summers, the weather here tends to be cold and wet – Ireland has good reason to be green. That being said, the weather at the moment is unseasonably warm and dry.
To make the most of it a group of us headed to Castlewellan Forest Park, an hour’s drive from Belfast. There we got lost in the giant hedge maze, walked around the lake, and enjoyed stunning views of the castle and the Mourne mountains before enjoying an early dinner in the pub.
I was on vacation last week. Asked to go to London for work, I managed to wrangle the rest of the week off to visit friends and do some sightseeing.
My best friend Percy, along with her husband and two kids, have recently moved from New Zealand to Ely. I’d been meaning to visit them and since I was over on the mainland already this seemed like the perfect opportunity. So after a few days of work in London, I hopped on a train and, just over an hour later, found myself in a quaint English town.
Ely is famous for its cathedral, which is big, lovely and old: it was built between 1083 and 1375 but the original abbey was founded in 673 CE. Also of note is the house where Oliver Cromwell lived from 1636 to 1647 and the Great Ouse river complete with riverboats (evoking for me memories of The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit).
While so close to Cambridge I couldn’t resist a short side-trip there. My parents were married in Cambridge, so I was excited to see the chapel where it all happened as well as to walk along The Backs. Unfortunately I only had a couple of hours to spend there, so my tour was brief. It is a beautiful place and I could have spent much longer walking the ancient streets.
The River Cam
I also did some sightseeing while in London. There are a few places on my London bucket list which I hadn’t yet gotten round to visiting. The first was the Natural History Museum and the second was Kew Gardens.
Being a consummate nerd, I had an amazing time at the Natural History Museum. There were a few things I was particularly excited about seeing: A first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, an emperor penguin egg and rocks collected by Scott’s ill-fated expedition to Antarctica, Joseph Banks’ herbarium sheet from his time on Endeavour, William Smith’s ammonites, the first adult skull of a Neanderthal ever discovered and the Broken Hill skull, and fossils collected by Mary Anning. For me the interest generally lies in the people behind the collections rather than the collections themselves.
Kew gardens were as beautiful as I had imagined. Founded in 1840 they are the world's largest collection of living plants and I spent several happy hours strolling in the sunshine around the immense grounds.
Of course, the main reason for my trip was to visit with Percy. We spent many hours chatting, went for afternoon tea and dinner out and just generally hung out together. Despite being friends for over 18 years, we haven’t lived in the same country for most of that time and generally see each other about once every 3 years. I’ve seen her once already this year (she was one of my bridesmaids) so getting to see her again so soon was bliss.
Back in the day when I worked in Starbucks (shockingly over 12 years ago now – where does the time go?!) one of my favourite things from the pastry case were Organic Blueberry Bars, known by the staff as Orgasmic Blueberry Bars.
Now, I know what you’re thinking – Starbucks food is awful and I agree, but occasionally there were some good things (Cranberry Bliss Bars and Ginger Molasses Cookies were two other favourites). Blueberries are everywhere at the moment, and while the most common use for them in my house is in pancakes, I was inspired to make some blueberry bars. While these aren’t organic, they are delicious: not too sweet and almost healthy enough that you could call them breakfast in a pinch.
Blueberry bars (original recpie here, but I made some adjustments). Makes 15 bars
Preheat the oven to 175C. Line a 9x9 inch baking dish with baking paper and grease it.
Combine the flour and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and the egg, then use a fork (or your fingers) to incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients. You want it to end up as a coarse crumble. Then press ½ the crumb mixture into the bottom of the baking dish, making sure it is flat and firmly pressed into the corners.
In another bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and cornstarch. Add the blueberries and gently toss them to coat. Layer the blueberries on the top of the crumb mixture in the baking dish.
Mix the oats in with the remaining crumb mix, then sprinkle this on top of the blueberries. I like mine to be reasonably chunky, and it should almost cover the blueberries.
Bake the bars for 45 to 50 minutes until the blueberries are bubbly and the top is golden brown. Let the bars cool completely before cutting.