Hello Again!

Its been over 5 months and although an update may be redundant, here it is anyway.

After a hectic departure from the UK this summer, Patrick and I enjoyed a relaxing summer with our parents in Wisconsin and Minnesota, respectively. We spent our first few weeks recuperating beachside (yes, Square Lake is indeed a beach), and the remaining weeks shopping and visiting old family and friends.

We are currently doing all we can to make the most of our life back in the US. I had forgotten how much more stuff one needs here–or thinks one needs–and in turn, we’ve been accumulating our fair share of it. We can have things here that we didn’t bother with in London–winter sports and camping gear, dual wardrobes for the drastic change in seasons, our own furniture, bikes that aren’t intentionally unattractive, etc.

I’ve gone through the requisite stages of both elation and frustration with my new job at New Millennium, and I’m just now beginning to settle somewhere between these two extremes. Working with 1st and 2nd graders can be both adorable and annoying. Yesterday a student inadvertently called me Mr. Crab–adorable or annoying? You decide.

Of course, there are many things I miss about London. Surprisingly, Caffe Nero and Starbucks (!). Cider that doesn’t come in a can. A reliable bus service. And pub quizzes, not this watered down bar trivia.

But, Minnesota is and always will be home. The refinished antique desk, empty plate of pork chops, and half-drunk bottle of New Belgium currently planted in front of me are archetypes of Minnesotan coziness and comfort. This tableau of my daily life is exactly why I’m proud to call myself a Minneapolitan.

Anniversary

I don’t always boast my accomplishments so publicly, but I am quite proud of this one.

Today is my one-year anniversary being smoke free. Couldn’t be happier.

Canada to London to Russia

The best thing about Patrick’s position at the magazine is his access to free, early release books. Publishers send advance copies of their newest books being released–a small fraction of these books get reviewed by the magazine, and the rest pile up in some back room at Manchester Square. Every few months, the staff is allowed to take the unwanted copies home, resulting in a library here in West Hampstead that we couldn’t dream of shipping back to the States.

This perk has brought me out of a slump of downloading free classics to my eReader. With our growing library, I’ve had the chance to explore some contemporary fiction I wouldn’t have picked up otherwise. I’ve also been inspired to be more adventurous in my other reading choices.

I could offer a review of the highlights I’ve read this winter, but I’m no literary critic, and great reviews of these books already exist (that’s how we got the books in the first place, remember?). I’ll will, however, throw out a few quick recommendations for any interested readers.

  • Canada–Dell Parsons, the main character and narrator, is an accomplished English professor reflecting on his life as a boy, his relationship with his father, and how his father’s poor decision to rob a bank both positively and negatively shaped the man he has become. It is a good, slow read for those that like that kind of thing. The book is male-heavy in it’s themes, but the story is told through the voice of a peaceful and reflective old man that resonates, even with me.
  • London–After reading Zadie Smith’s big release last year, NW, I was keen to read some more fiction set in modern-day London neighbourhoods that I am just beginning to know. After all the hype over NW, I wanted to read the novel that many agree is her best. I enjoyed White Teeth, but found myself comparing it to NW along the way. White Teeth created a more elaborate scene of Northwest London with a wider variety of characters and settings, but I preferred the subtleties and starkness of NW. Another much talked about London novel, Pigeon English, found its way onto my reading list via the ICS staff book club. I won’t waste many words on this one–simply, don’t bother. Mrs. Dalloway was excellent, and I’m excited to explore more of Woolf’s writing. I don’t know how I would have managed to read her work without having lived in London, and I’m glad to have a context into which I can now ground her stories.
  • Russia–I love Russian authors that let you into the deepest, most personal and intimate thoughts of their characters (take Humbert Humbert or the Underground Man). Mikhail Shishkin follows in this tradition in The Light and the Dark, as we intercept love letters that are written between the two main characters, Volodenka and Sashenka. There is nothing like the classics, though, and while I don’t enjoy reading plays, Anton Chekhov has a massive body of short stories. He builds characters and scenes in such a brief but captivating way, that the stories often end sooner than I’m ready for. An absolutely fascinating collection, I’d recommend it to anyone.
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Upcoming Talent

Since graduating, Patrick has been working and writing for Standpoint Magazine. I’m immensely proud of his hard work and excited to share his writing.

His April piece tells us about the misguided intentions of hacktivist groups, in Internet Invaders

Learn about the Taliban release programme in his March piece, Taliban Tourists.

Check out his book review of  Theodore Dalrymple’s book, The Pleasure of Thinking, in a piece called Shelf Life from the January/February issue.

Well done, honey!

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Spring Break

We’ve been imprisoned in England this spring while our passports are off with the Border Agency. To be honest, it’s not a bad place to be. A few highlights from this year’s spring break…

Since the weather’s warmed up, I’ve been able to enjoy some lengthy strolls home from work. My favourite walks take me through Regent’s Park which are always enjoyable, even in the rain. I recently ran across a reminder of my lovely, white-haired, Aunt June in the park, three years this spring after she left us. Another recent walk (more sunny, this time) took me around Primrose Hill. I found Sylvia Plath’s London home where she wrote much of Ariel. No pictures, but a small, Chalcot Square-inspired painting, is above. I might copy her pink exterior some day.

Even with a lack of passports inhibiting our travel, we were at least able to escape from the city last weekend to our friend Teddy’s country home in Suffolk, where the snow kept us indoors for most of the weekend. It did not, however, keep us from a healthy run through the countryside, a windy walk as we searched for the coast, or a stop at a sea-side fish monger for some fresh, fresh sea bass. I feel so lucky for Patrick’s friends who invited us for such a lovely weekend. Yesterday, we were able to escape again and tick another English destination off our list. After missing our coach to Bath by 2 minutes, we made a last-minute decision to ride out to Canterbury. The cathedral was immense, but I’d say a day-trip was plenty.

In London, I enjoyed the 2013 Designs of the Year exhibition at the Design Museum. My nominee for this year’s winner is Occupy London’s pop-up publication, The Occupied Times, designed and printed in 40-hours on the steps of St. Paul’s. I also got a last glimpse of Kusama’s Selfridge’s display, and I was impressed by the only unique furniture design I’ve seen in a long while, inspired by the artist’s experience with Alzheimer’s.

All in all, being stuck in England for a few months is a hard complaint to make. Here’s to another week of spring break.

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St. Patrick’s Day

Patrick and I suffered the rain today to make it out for the St. Patrick’s Day parade at Trafalgar Square. It was a surprisingly stoic and well-behaved event. Maybe we should have gone to Dublin.

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Reset

Springtime. Time to hit reset.

In Minnesota we have a myriad of snows. Heavy, wet, lugubrious. Fluffy, light, innocent. Icy, sharp, nasty.

In London, I’ve been learning about the rain. We’ve left the windy, biting mists of winter for a calm and refreshing spring. Rain drops feel substantial. Cloud cover is heavy and sops up the sunlight like a warm blanket. The air is sodden and generous. It feels lovely.

I undo the latches, open the windows, and let fresh air into the flat. I plan to do the same with my life. I’ll share my experiences here, as I resolve to contribute more updates to my blog. Perhaps my stories will be tedious, but for those of you that are interested, please do read on.

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Fresh Pespective

In early October Patrick and I left Earl’s Court and moved to West Hampstead, from where I am currently writing. The neighbourhood is greener, cleaner, and friendlier. The flat is bigger, cosier, and more charming. And for those of you who saw our last place, we’ve got a lot less stairs now. What a relief.

Autumn is my favourite season by far, and this year it was accompanied by some welcome changes to our lives. I started a new job at ICS Secondary School, where I am, surprisingly, much more comfortable than I was at working at the primary school last year. This year, my students come from Libya, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Canada, Israel, France, Nigeria, and Brazil.

Patrick finished his exams last spring and spent the summer working on his Master’s dissertation, which he submitted in early September. He is currently working at Standpoint, a monthly magazine based in Central London. He has just had a few short pieces published in this month’s edition; check out his work on Quentin Blake (for those Roald Dahl fans out there) and Francis Bacon. In November we also received the good news that Patrick received top marks for both his dissertation and his final overall grade; an award well earned by some serious academic toil over the past year. When you see him, give him a big congratulations. He deserves it.

Of course you’re thinking, “But when will I be seeing Patrick anytime soon?” My answer – in less than a month! We are finally coming back home to Minnesota/Wisconsin for a visit. It’s been a long 15 months since we’ve last been home, but we’re looking forward to spending Christmas back in the States. For those of you interested in the details, we’ll arrive in Chicago on the  23rd of December, spend Christmas in Appleton with Patrick’s family, and be back in Minnesota from roughly 28 December through 2 January. I hope to see lots of you when we’re back home, and there had better be some snow waiting for us!

As for other celebrations here in London, I brought Patrick to his first fireworks outing at Southwark Park on Guy Fawkes Night, we took a short weekend trip to Oslo for my half-term holiday in October, and we had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner last weekend with our flatmates and a few friends. The meal was complete with my mom’s cheesy vegetables, both apple and pumpkin pie, a 6 lb. stuffed turkey, and ham cooked in coke. It was brilliant.

For those of you back in the States, we’re excited to see you soon!

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Moving Out

It’s that time of the year again. The inevitable and ever-dreaded apartment search. Time to pack up and say good-bye to Lillie Road. For those of you that haven’t seen it, our landlords have posted this flattering picture (if you can believe it) of our humble abode for the past 11 months.

Our life in the attic

The thing I hate most about moving is seeing my possessions heaped up and jostled about in a mess of miss-matched boxes. It’s not because I love my possessions, but rather, it looks to me like some quantifiable and pitiful measure of my existence. It reminds me of the physical space that my things and I require to live.

Some years when I move, my heap appears small and surprisingly sparse. Other years, the boxes stack up, split open, and spill out. In either scenario, its a weeks-long process of evaluating each item that I own, deciding it’s worth, and predicting the role it will have in my future life.

But before that game begins again, we’ve got to go through the tedium of flat searching first. Wish me luck.

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Cities

IMG_1011Will I gain anything by the change?

It is still a city; this one happens to be cut in two by a river, the other one is by the sea, yet they look alike.

But you mustn’t leave them. If you go too far you come up against the vegetation belt. Vegetation has crawled for miles towards the cities. It is waiting. Once the city is dead, the vegetation will cover it, will climb over the stones, grip them, search them, make them burst with its long black pincers; it will bind the holes and let its green paws hang over everything.

You must stay in the cities as long as they are alive, you must never penetrate alone this great mass of hair waiting at the gates; you must let it undulate and crack all by itself.

In the cities, if you know how to take care of yourself, and choose the times when all the beasts are sleeping in their holes and digesting, behind the heaps of organic debris, you rarely come across anything more than minerals, the least frightening of all existants.

~Nausea, by Jean-Paul Sartre

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