03 Jan

Christmas 2014: Oakley, Sacramento, Merced

On this tenth day of Christmas, I thought it might be fun to share some pictures from our various Christmas gatherings around Northern California. We had a beautiful time in Oakley, Sacramento, and Merced, our respective homes where our parents live. It was a nice time to see family, relax, and take a break from work.

On Christmas Eve, we first stopped off in Oakley where Tiana’s Mom and Ron live. In attendance: Tiana’s brother Stevie and his wife Shan, Tiana’s sister Shalina and her daughter Katie, along along with Jason (Ron’s son). Not pictured, but they added plenty of excitement to the gathering: Gus the American Boxer, and Rosa the chihuahua, Stevie & Shan’s dogs.

(Below in each gallery, if you hover over each picture, it will pop up a brief caption underneath each. You may also click on a picture it will enlarge it to see the full size and you can click over to the next picture in the gallery.)

Then we traveled to Sacramento (with Stevie, Shan, Shalina, & Katie in tow) to spend Christmas day with Tiana’s Dad and Denise’s family. I didn’t take as many pictures here, but the Christmas cheer was no less in effect. We exchanged presents, ate a ton of delicious food, participated in a white elephant gift exchange (I received a white sock and an ornament), and even played games of Love Letter and Elevenses with Katie, Kevin Jr., and Shannon.

The next day on the 26th (Boxing Day), Tiana drove to my hometown of Merced to spend the day with my parents and my sister Jenna and her husband Kenny. Of course, Dexter the right-handed dog (hah, Latin jokes) joined them. My cousin Amy and her Mom (my Aunt Carol) also spent time with us. Amongst many kind gifts, my Aunt gifted me a bunch of flower seeds that I am excited to get started soon in our small greenhouse out back!

We were in Merced from the 26th to Sunday the 28th. Visiting Merced is always a welcome, extra relaxing time for me as my parents’ house is surrounded by an acre of lawn and blanketed in the crisp quiet of the neighborhood out in the countryside.

We’ve still been unpacking all of our stuff and trying to re-organize our house since we’ve returned in between daily chores and briefly returning to work (well, Tiana had to work yesterday on Friday). There are a host of exciting new (and silly and funny) books to read; calendars to hang up; mugs to drink out of; pictures to hang; boxes of childhood memories to go through; a puzzle to assemble; boardgames to play with fellow nerds; and even a home brew kit to get started. Our family has been far too generous with us; we are blessed. That reminds me: we hung up some stockings and forgot to see what is inside!

18 Dec

To Stay or to Go

Hyacinth and Muscari (called blue grape hyacinth in the States) bulbs

Above is a picture of some dirt in our back garden that I tilled whereupon I set out the placement of some hyacinth and muscari bulbs. It was a really cold day today, so I had to work really quick before my fingers became too frozen. Ideally, it’s a bit late in the season to be planting bulbs, but it seems like it will be okay (I hope).

On the opposite side of the garden is another area that a friend (Rob) helped me till where we then planted about 80+ tulips. I think we planed that area a solid two months ago, so I am less worried about that. And, underneath a damson tree we planed scads of crocus. The last time I planed so many bulbs, I think I was twelve years old!

At the moment, we are strongly considering moving to a new flat or cheap house to rent. We have had some never-ending, incredibly frustrating experiences with one of our neighbours over the past couple years, and this last year, thing have come to a head. At one point right before our visit to the States, we had to call the non-emergency police on our neighbours, for a metal hammer was thrown at me (or in my direction at the very least, and it is very difficult to tell what is going on in the minds of such small kids). At any rate, while there are many more details to retell, suffice it to say that we are looking for another place to live. Despite our best efforts, there’s really not many other options. (We have actually attempted knocking on our neighbour’s door a couple months back to ask the mother to instruct her children to pick up the loads of candy, toys, trash, etc., that they had thrown over, but not only was she not responsive, but Tiana basically heard the mother basically yell at her to ‘go away’ [more or less].)

For me in my last 9+ months of writing before my final deadline to submit my PhD, moving is less than ideal. In fact, books on ‘how to write your PhD’ actually strongly inform the reader not to move during the writing time due to the time and stress involved in such an undertaking. But, if we do move, we are hoping to hire our friends (with Pizza!) to make the moving day quick and fun so that distractions to my study and writing are kept at a minimum. I’ve known other PhD students who have pulled off such moves in the final years, and they seemed to have gotten along just fine.

We’ve only just begun to search online for places to stay. Some flats are opening up, but considering it’s mid-December, we can’t see ourselves moving until January anyway. In general, we don’t want to move, because we do like our place so much–with our decent rent, our big garden, and cozy house–so the thought of moving occurs half-begrudgingly.

On the other hand, our letting agency has become less and less responsive to our letters sent to them over the last year to fix certain things, and our place is dreadfully cold in the wintertime. None of our windows (save one) are double-paned, and so Tiana has had to sew thick curtain covers to help with heat transfer issues. Also, our bathroom, no matter how many times we clean it, keeps reverting back to its Lovecraftian abyss of unspeakable black mould horrors every couple of weeks. We don’t really know what to do yet except for continue to look online for new places.

I’ve planted nearly two hundred bulbs (with help) over the past couple months in our back yard, but these are the kinds of domestic practices that one does under the assumptions that–one stays around. That is, come Spring we could very well not be living here to enjoy the blooms of our bulbs and watch our cat Andi frollick around chasing butterflies.

But, assuming some decent (even cheaper) place comes up, we will likely move. We continue to live here where we are, however. We even happened upon a £1.99 artificial tree at a charity shop in Beeston that looks amazing, and are content to decorate it with the ornaments we’ve collected throughout the years from our travels.

In the meantime, keep us in your thoughts and prayers in this transitional year for us. We will most likely be moving to a new place, and then by September I have to submit my PhD thesis and then we may be moving (or staying) once more. We miss our friends from the States dearly, but were so thankful to be blessed with seeing them all in California these past weeks!

Happy Advent and Merry Christmas!

 

Our budget--but exceptionally awesome!--Christmas tree ornamented with our travels and our time together. The star on top comes from the Nürnberg Christmas market!

01 Oct

Changing Winds

Reading spot.

I took this picture a few days ago. The sun has been shining bright and steady over the last week or so as the University of Nottingham fills up with eager undergraduates. I have been spending part of my time in the department, but also a portion of my time reading and working in our back garden (not to mention my favourite coffee shop).

One nice addition to the new sunny weather was the lack of normal unpredictable winds that often blow through the East Midlands. However, a couple days ago the gusts briefly came through and blew the umbrella away and it broke. So, here’s a brief pictorial reminder of my little shady spot.

 

 

13 Sep

Moving to a new academic space

Thus far I haven’t really shared much information or pictures on this blog regarding my academic activities–mainly because I have been busy just trying to read and think through my project, but also because I thought I may just leave that to my other, personal blog. But for now I think I’ll share some pictures of the new Humanities building that our department has just moved into.

Our Department of Theology and Religious Studies used to inhabit its very own building called the Highfield House on the main University Park campus. But now we’ve moved into a much larger, shared building along with a bunch of the other humanities departments. So, we mainly share the floor with the Philosophy department, but the other floors contain Art History, Archaeology, and Classics. Here’s some pictures of the outside and inside of the building, as well as what our nearby view looks like.

Main entrance to the new Humanities building. Flagship shot.

Close-up of main entrance.

What the main entrance looks like from the inside.

The main lobby, looking up to the 2nd and 3rd floors (or, if you're from the UK, the 1st and 2nd floors). There's lots of glass and natural light, which is a plus.

Another shot of the lobby looking up from the other direction. You can see the tables and couches for the open spaces to gather, have tea, etc.

Approaching the walkway and field opposite the Humanities building. They've put in a nice new path for walking to the main part of campus where the library and everything else is.

View of the field across from the new Humanities building. I love this view.

 

This means we also have new postgraduate study space. We’re mixed in with other postgrads, so my colleagues are in another aisle, and there’s a couple of philosophy students in my row.

 

This is my row. I'm the 3rd from the left.

My study space. Have fun cranning your neck to read the titles of the books if you're ever so curious!

06 Aug

Blackberry Harvest

Cup of tea and blackberry harvest

Had a very lovely day of doing language work and reading yesterday, mostly outside. The weather was gorgeous, and our blackberry bush in the back of our garden was filled with berries. I probably could have picked another couple of bowls worth.

The mug there was given to us from our friend Aaron Riches. He got the mug from the monks at Mount Saint Bernard Abbey.

30 Jul

An afternoon in the life of our cat Andi

Just thought I’d post some pictures of our cat Andi, wandering around and being a surly cat. She’s a tortoise shell (or “tortie”) cat, and she’s awesome.

She spies me through the window (hence the blurry bits)

Approaches, stares me down.

oh hai

As I leave the room she fans out getting even cuter.

 

30 Jul

Ethiopian Food: Our House Smells Amazing

The Recipe of Love: an Ethiopian Cookbook, by Aster Ketsela Belayneh

Our house smells amazing because I just made some Niter Kebbeh, the name for the amazing spiced butter used in a many Ethiopian dishes. For my birthday, our good friends Kate and Catie got me this Ethiopian cookbook (pictured above). We already had some Berbere (spicy stuff used in nearly any hot dish like Wat or spicy lentil stew), but had not made any Niter Kebbeh for a while. I needed to use it for a recipe in this book for Tiana’s birthday party tonight.

Spices used for Niter Kebbeh (Ethiopian spiced butter)

There you can see the array of spices. I’m actually not quite following the recipe in the book, but rather another recipe I found online ages ago which works well. I have, however, added some fenugreek which the book’s recipe recommends. Also, since it’s readily available, some of our friends are allergic to dairy, and I think it tastes great–I tend to use the Pure brand butter.

Stirring the simmering Niter Kebbeh. Don't let it brown!

It’s very easy: you dump all the spices in melted butter and then let it simmer for 30 minutes. It made our house smell amazing all morning.

Straining all the spices out.

Then you strain it into whatever container you want. It says to use double cheese cloth but we never seem to have any of those so this strainer works just fine.

Niter Kebbeh all ready to use

It looks kind of funny but it smells and tastes amazing. It even works awesomely on toast if there’s any leftover from recipes. I’m really looking forward to making Ethiopian food again. It’s been a while.

Thanks Kate & Catie!

Links:

  • The Recipe of Love: an Ethiopian Cookbook, available on the Addis Ababa Restaurant website
  • Pure dairy free butter website
  • A blog post describing the first time I made Ethiopian food, complete with pictures. Unfortunately the recipes from the website I originally used are gone, although I do have them written down.

 

 

26 Feb

Germany, pt. 4: Freiburg

It’s been almost a month since I’ve been back from Germany but I’ve been so swamped with work that I haven’t had the time to think about finishing up our blog series on our visit. It’s a rainy Saturday, we’re doing housework, waiting for the mopped floor to dry, and so I have some time.

Our last stop together in Germany was Freiburg. This place was very different from the other places we visited. Mainly, it felt like all of the buildings in the main part of town were from another era. So much of the town felt like Christmas fairytale architecture. That is a ridiculous description, but this place was very special.

On the morning that we left for Freiburg from Wintersdorf, of course, the trains were delayed due to the weather. And then some people were occupying our reserved seats and my German wasn’t good enough to inform them that they belonged to us. We had had enough and just settled on standing in the onboard café. But when we arrived in Freiburg, everything was “coming up Millhouse” (things were good). We went straight to our hostel called the Black Forest Hostel, checked-in, and then got some food at a nearby pub/café and got some delicious food.

Our Hostel. Was a totally rad place. Highly recommended.

Inside the Black Forest Hostel. Very chill open area. Always smelled like nag champa incense. Reggae was usually playing on the stereo. Felt a bit like hanging out in OB, San Diego <3

Our tomato and Gorgonzola salad. Very simple but wonderfully tasty. We ordered other food as well at this café/pub and it was all surprisingly good. Oh, and a nice pilsner of course.

 

Then we headed to the main part of the city of Freiburg. The weather was quite nice and cold, there still being snow on the ground, but at least it wasn’t damp and humid like England. We set out, and first came upon one of the Freiburg gates (pictured below), and then we attempted to do a little shopping. The area near where we were staying was known for having a lot of cool shops. Of course, I gravitated toward the bookshops, but there was plenty of nice things to see. And then we headed for the Freiburg Münster which was absolutely breath-takingly gorgeous.

 

One of the main Freiburg Gates. I'll look up the name later.

So goth(ic).

Entrance to the Freiburg Münster

Inside the Freiburg Münster. We absolutely loved this place.

 

Upon exiting the Münster, I spotted a game store called Spiel am Münster (Game/Play by the Minster). The store was two stories and whilst the ground floor was decked out with smaller card games (and children-type games), the first floor above was filled with the more serious type of modern boardgames I love (all auf Deutsch, of course). I spent a bit of time browsing around, and even saw that there was an area set aside for the German Spiel des Jahres (game of the year) for 2010: Dixit (which is an awesome game that I highly recommend by the way). I came away not getting anything, mainly because it would be difficult to play games in German with our friends back in England, but more primarily because of space and weight constraints that Ryan Air imposes on luggage.

 

Basically this is boardgame heaven.

 

Also in the same area surrounding the Münster, we saw this crazy red building. We had no idea what it was, but Tiana posed in front of it. And around the other side of the Münster we went to this lovely wine shop, ordered some wine, and relaxed a bit while we wrote some postcards in the shadow (literally) of the Münster.

 

Tiana posing in front of this one building right next to the Münster.

At a very nice wine shop in the shadow of the Freiburg Münster

Writing postcards. Enjoying wine.

Tiana looking smart and cute.

 

We had the opportunity to go to a few microbreweries (they call them Hausbrauerei), both of which were excellent. The first one was called Hausbrauerei Feierling where we sat on the 1st floor and looked down at this big copper vats or whatever-they’re-called, and ordered some food which proved tasty. The beer here was probably my favourite of any place we went to. We also checked out Martin’s Bräu which was also very good.

 

One of the two microbreweries we went to, called Hausbrauerei Feierling

The other microbrewery: Martin's Bräu

 

The last morning in Freiburg we woke up very early, made ourselves breakfast in our Hostel kitchen, and left for the train station getting there on time (for once) because of our timely taxi driver. And then we were off for 7 hours of train rides. I can’t remember exactly, but I think there were train delays all day and it was horrible. But, we did finally arrive in Berlin where we spent the night in a hotel near the airport.

 

Last morning in Freiburg, just before catching the train

 

On the next day (30th of December) I bid Tiana farewell at the airport. She had to fly back to return to work, and I stayed in Berlin to attend a month-long German language immersion course at the Goethe-Institut. I stayed in a crappy hostel in Charlottenburg for about five days while I waited for the course to begin, but then moved into a really nice place in the Hackenshen Markt area right near the Institut itself. I don’t think I’ll be making separate posts about that time in January mainly because it would consist of fairly repetitious descriptions of spending 4.5 hours a day in class and then doing homework and reading every day, plus smoking the occasional cigar. Moreover, I really didn’t take a lot of pictures while I was there by myself. The course was top-notch, but I’ve still got a long way to go in learning a few more essential bits of grammar, not to mention vocabulary.

It is very, very good to be back in Nottingham with Tiana. We had a wonderful time in Germany with pristine couchsurfing experiences, not to mention a fantastic time of seeing and experiencing a wide swath of Germany itself. As for our upcoming travels, we’ll be in Kraków, Poland in June, and possible France in July!

 

Links from this post:

20 Jan

Germany, pt. 3: Baden-Baden and Wintersdorf over Christmas

On Christmas eve and for the next two nights, Tiana and I stayed in Wintersdorf, Rastatt (near Baden-Baden, just a few miles away from the Black Forest) with some couchsurfing friends of ours. Back in 2008 a woman named Christine stayed with us in Nottingham, and a couple years later, she returned the favour for us and let us stay at her place with her husband Michael and their new little baby Caroline. On Christmas morning we woke up to a lovely cute little tree, and the most snow I’ve seen in a while. It had snowed all night.

Christmas morning tree with a soft light coming through the windows

So, we decided to go for a hike in some fairly deep snow. Before setting out for the hike, however, we had to do about an hour’s worth of shoveling snow. At one point we even got yelled at by a neighbor for (what I think was) putting snow on the street next to his house. Even though he didn’t own this part of the street, he seemed incredibly angry — on Christmas, even! Vielen dank!

Once the hike begun: it was breathtakingly gorgeous. We hiked along a river and towards a waterfall. The whole landscape was frosted with a thick layer of fresh snow and the trails hadn’t been touched yet that morning. We were at times up to our knees in snow. Below are some pictures from that morning.

Christine and Tiana. Probably my favourite picture of them hiking along the river.

Tiana giving us an idea how deep the snow is.

Tiana and Christine posing with a waterfall in the background.

Hallo!

When we returned from our Waldswanderung (forest hike, although I just made that word up in German so I dunno!), some of Christine and Michael’s family had already arrived and so we ate the cakes they had set out for our lunch. Afterwards we took a rest in the other room and I off-loaded the pictures of the hike to our laptop and uploaded them to Facebook later that night. In the early evening we had a delicious Christmas dinner with home-made (hand-pounded) schnitzel and home-grown food. We were satisfyingly stuffed!

Michael’s father told many stories about his family, many of which included old tales of circus clowns! He spoke very well and it occurred to me that even though I really couldn’t understand what he was saying, that he could very well be like a voice on a German instructional CD/MP3 because his annunciation was so clear (and apparently he wasn’t even originally German–Austrian I think).  Then we watched as they all exchanged gifts and had a very lovely time enjoying their company.

We were very tired because of all the food and the very long day which began with a hike, so we didn’t stay up very late. Unfortunately, this meant that we didn’t get a chance to Skype with our families because none of us thought ahead of time to schedule a Skype date. Oops!

The next day we took a train to Triberg to attend the Triberger Weinachtzauber. The views on the way were gorgeous. Here’s a few of them.

View from the train. A bit dim but okay.

Another view from the train. Wonderful weather that day.

View.

Once in Triberg we took a shuttle bus to the top of a mountain where the festival itself was held. It was complete with many of the typical stands at Christmas Markets around Germany, although there were actually some incredibly unique booths with great hand-made items. Of course, as soon as we got there we got some food and some Glühwein! We did some walking around, and soon we spotted a cool local tradition: roasting a piece of bread on a stick!

on right: Christine (with baby Caroline in coat!), Tiana, and Michael (behind Tiana) roasting (baking?) their bread on sticks

As the sun was setting we wandered around to the decent-sized waterfall which was surrounded by snow and amazing icicle formations all around it. Such an incredibly unique and sweet look.

Wasserfall. There is a little bridge visible at the top of the fall where the pyrotechnic show was performed later that night.

Hallo! If we had stayed here much longer we would have looked like we were encased in carbonite. "I love you." ... "I know."

The evening was finished with a spectacular pyrotechnic show at the top of the waterfall. We headed up the hill surrounded in a tunnel of lights…

On the way to the top of the falls to get a view of the Rammstein music video--er, the Christmas pyrotechnic show!

…arriving to see this craziness, performed to electronic versions of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal”: (my apologies for the not-the-greatest pictures: I’m not so good at night-shots)

'Playing' the violin with a fiery bow.

Auditioning for 'Stomp'

'Yes, I covered my body with oil.'

Grand finale.

Christine brought her camera along as well, including a couple of specialty lenses such as a telephoto lens (?) which I was able to borrow and put on my own camera to zoom in to take the above shots. We both have a Canon!

It was another long, but wholly enjoyable day. Christine & Michael (and Caroline!) were very gracious hosts and showed us a very nice time in their neck of the (German) woods. We had a lot of really fun conversations, as well as some serious ones. It seems like we share a lot of concerns in common (environmental, political, etc.). We will have to come back one day to do some mushroom-hunting (edible & non-hallucinagenic–I know what you’re thinking) with Michael & Christine when the snow has melted.

The next day we woke up early to board a train to Freiburg. Those tales and deeds will have to wait for another post.

Links of relevance from the above post: