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Nov 26 2015

Thanksgiving from Old England

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Ah, once again, we are back to a life where Thanksgiving is merely a thing happening an ocean away, of no concern to us, rather than a driving-cooking-family frenzy. It took me until about 11am today to realize today was even Thanksgiving and feel weird about it. Hmn. Well, tomorrow Seth and I will be hosting a potluck Shabbat dinner which will supposedly be Thanksgiving themed (but, um, who knows what the theme may actually turn out to be…). Today, however, is a normal day, ho hum. Hah, “normal,” as if life here has become even close to such a thing. E.g. it is gray and drizzly, not too cold, classes and lectures, high table formal dinner at St Peter’s as on any Thursday (academic gowns, two desserts, sherry, gavels, latin, and all!). Unlike in Switzerland, where America was a total non-entity except maybe in the realm of banking, being in Old England does make one reflect on the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States and how odd it is to be in the “old country” of settler America.

Well, anyway, I am thankful for many things in my life, despite still feeling rather unsettled here. Especially for having a job in the same place as my significant other in a safe and fascinating nook of the world and for my extended family and friends network who are supportive even across the Atlantic. I am also thankful for the harvest and the many wonderful foods America and its indigenous peoples contributed to it. But that only scratches the surface. I hope for healing and a better world, too, for others present and future who have much less to be thankful for.

Back to work.

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Nov 05 2015

Our stuff has cleared customs!

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And in just a few short days, our stuff will be in our home.

Last time we moved overseas, everything we brought came in our luggage. But those were the days before really excessive luggage fees. This time, we shipped books, dishes, clothes, etc. (but no electric kitchen gadgets thanks to the different voltage.) We shipped a few key furniture items, like bookshelves and a dog bed. And my bike. Everything left New Jersey exactly 2 months ago, and arrived in port in the UK a few days ago. And now it’s cleared customs and will get to us next week!

Last time, we got things used from people, and then carried them across town. This time, we got used things and then very kind people gave us rides home with them. And other very kind people lent us things (and gave us rides). We also got furniture at charity shops, and the charity shops do deliveries.

Last time, we frantically stocked our fridge on a Saturday night at Migros (and then got kicked out at closing time). This time, essentials were provided by other (!) kind people, and now we’re in a routine of weekly vegbox deliveries, occasional online grocery store deliveries, and regular visits to the Summertown farmers market. Pretty good routine, I think, and we’re back to Switzerland levels of carrot consumption.

Last time, we made our first ever trip to IKEA on our first frantic day in our new apartment. This time, we waited weeks before caving into IKEA, then bought a bunch of things online (including a big drying rack) and got them delivered yesterday. And someday soon, we’ll assemble them. (We assembled the drying rack.)

Jackie is off giving a seminar talk. Ruben is working on a kong filled with peanut butter (too wet and muddy for a long walk). And I’m cooking some of our vegbox potato surplus and wondering where we’ll put all our stuff when it arrives. Just like last time–no closets!

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Nov 01 2015

Announcing Holiday Harmonies

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It’s out, it’s out! Here it is! Hot off the press! Get it on Amazon or on ITunes! Way back when in February, I had the great pleasure of rehearsing and then recording with a fabulous group of artists in New York City. I admit, it was a little strange to be singing Christmas songs in February with such intensity, but what an experience it was. One worth taking a short pause from dissertating. And now it is finally ready for you all to hear! This CD features soloist Jamie Barton, whom a quick google will reveal to be a young and rising star in the opera world, most recently with an excellent review of her performance at the Met in the New York Times. It has beautiful piano and harp supporting the choir, stunning arrangements, wonderfully rich voices. It sounds like you are standing in the middle of a warm, glimmering, intimate choir. Maybe it feels like you are, in fact, a Christmas tree in the middle of the choir.  This is not the typical array of carols…it has carols, yes, but it also has a simple children’s song and the most profound choral singing of newly composed music mixed in with the old. Just enough fiddling with the tried and true to be traditional without any stuffiness. If you get the album, you will even see a photo of me in the album notes. The day we recorded at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in Harlem was frigid and the heating system was off so the noise wouldn’t get into the microphones, so we were not exactly warm, but our voices were! And our conductor, Judith Clurman, not only was in her element directing the music and shaping it according to her vision, but also made us an excellent chocolate cake with pantry odds-and-ends on top to get us through the long day of hyper-focus. Please listen, please gift for the Christmas season. Read a bit more and listen to the sampler here.

And if you’re thinking maybe Christmas isn’t your thing, here’s Clurman’s album (which I am not on) from a year ago, Cherished Moments, which is extraordinary in its own right and speaks to everything familiar in my world of Jewish and Western classical music traditions and brings to reality what had always lain in the realm of the imaginary meeting of those worlds in my mind. I have been returning to it throughout the year, as it tracks the Jewish liturgical calendar and life cycle. Soon would be a good time to meet it at Chanukah.

Today was the warmest Nov 1 on record for the UK. Warm and sunny. What a way to ring in the winter and holiday season!

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Oct 26 2015

Assessment at 1.5 months

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I should say, you haven’t heard from me because we have been carefully researching things in Oxford, like the Byzantine bureaucracy, toilet plungers, electric showers, cake, mini biscuits, college life, wildlife, “perma-gloom,” halloumi, the BBC, dog culture, academic dress, road works, charity shops, and laundry to write about in future. I especially can’t wait until I have enough material to thoroughly cover the topic of laundry. In the meantime, I hope that list put you on the edge of your seat. I know I’d want to read about permagloom.

This morning, however, Seth discovered in our junkmail an advertisement for a family vacation resort called, no joke here, “Sandy Balls.” Now that…was enough reason alone to post something here. Sandy Balls is apparently on the edge of New Forest, which you know, was created in 1079. Ah. So, I must say, there ARE ways of knowing we are not in Kansas anymore. The names that would never be said with a straight face in the US, for one. Also, the fact that British Englishes are hard to understand. I simply cannot listen with a half ear, and while not as exhausting as listening to people speak in French, it is exhausting to do it all the time.

Now, we’ve adjusted to the constant threat of rain (maybe?) and the fact that we have to catch the bus on the opposite side of the road than our feet go to automatically. We’ve already turned our clocks so that it gets dark extra early and are currently watching the leaves go straight from green-on-the-tree to brown-on-the-ground. Our stuff is still floating across the Atlantic supposedly arriving in the UK in two days (and then…could take another 3 weeks to get to Oxford), but we have some furniture basics that we have acquired, some generously lent-to-us kitchen and other supplies, plus we recently caved and will be filling in furnishings with the reliable Ikea assortment (but not GOING to Ikea, no no no). We have been figuring out steadily where to source the food we require. We’ve gotten the big British bureaucratic tasks out of the way, and I have been told that I will even get paid next week. We’ve met some nice people in our departments and through the synagogue. I’m happy to report that yesterday we went to brunch and sat indoors with both Ruben-the-dog AND a cat at our table. In the main, all is well, and we are adjusting probably with more ease than we adjusted to Switzerland. True, the pumpkin spice latte on offer at the Oxford Starbucks does make me feel a little nostalgic for New England, but England England has enough corporate gimmicks to make sure I don’t feel too uprooted and sad. Here, subtle Christmas marketing has been underway for weeks already!

Nevertheless, I am still mopey. Christmas in early October hasn’t cheered me up, though backyard apples and Sandy Balls the holiday resort do make me happy. Moving and mopeyness go together–and that is my useless wisdom. Be generous with your local transplant.

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Sep 16 2015

Apples in the Garden

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When I think England in the fall, I definitely think apples. Not just apples, but apples are somewhere in the mix. I’m not sure what else is in that mix…rain, pies, wool, um? Imagine my surprise when on our way to Oxford, we stopped at a mini grocery in the autoroute “services” (rest stop) and found only New Zealand and South African apples on sale, and the same, curious situation prevailing at our local Marks and Spencer supermarket. Does England not have its own apples? From whence does that tradition of hard cider come, then? Apples had to be in season…they were already in Switzerland and France.

And, curiously, in our “garden” (backyard), the first thing to greet me was a half-eaten apple on our back steps. Who has been throwing half-eaten apples into our garden before we had a chance to move in, anyway? I don’t want to live in a place where people toss half-eaten apples into my yard!

But THEN! THEN! We found an apple tree in our garden. It is tiny, just Seth’s height, but has at least 5 apples, a couple gnawed like the one on our steps. It has a tag that says it is a Jonagold tree. Undamaged, ripe apples are crisp and fresh, and from our own backyard!!! This is magical. What a greeting. How appropriate for Rosh Hashanah.

Then I remembered that at one house viewing back in July, the current owners told us that they had two apples trees in the garden, one for cooking and one for eating. And so far, everyone (sample size = small) who has a garden seems to have their own apple tree, sometimes more than one, and they trade apples with one another and cook them into applesauce and apple crumbles and apple pies and have special long-handled applepickers they share with neighbors to reach the high ones and altogether eat tons and tons of apples, so local they didn’t have to travel through the supermarket or even the farmers’ market. I asked one local what she does to tend her apple trees–“nothing,” she answered. Well. Um, why again do Americans love to plant ornamental fruit trees, lacking in fruit? This is so much better!!!

Our garden also has some brambly blackberries, a nice tree with a baby doll stuck high in its branches (can apple pickers pick dolls out of trees, too???), a little tree covered with something that might be crabapples and I don’t know if we can eat/cook them, and a shed. In-between, there is high grass that will soon need mowing (…um, how do we do this?). The fence is sealed and high, keeping Ruben in, and nosy neighbors out. Except, of course, that from the windows upstairs, it is quite easy to peer directly into all of our neighbors’ gardens. Can’t wait to spy on all the professors’ children and apple-picking habits and see them spying back. It would be nice to have a suke back here.

Now, our 5 apples are awesome but are going to only last a few days. I better make friends with some neighbors who have more apples than they can eat, and soon!

Oh, and now we have Internet. I just had to test it out, you see.

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Sep 14 2015

For the New Year: GVA—>OXON

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Leaving the US, again. Packing, packing. Electronics waiting to rust in my parents’ basement. Farewell to our things (my books!) for 2 months…see you on the other side. Frantic driving around and hours on the internet spent working out more paperwork than can possibly be imagined. Doctor’s visits and last appointments. Trying to tire-out Ruben. Last-minute raspberry picking and eating. Saying goodbye—I miss you already. A largely empty overnight flight with Ruben on the alert for fidgety snoozers, agreeing to snooze himself only after arrival.

Switzerland. Beautiful blue and golden early fall weather. A wild hedgehog hanging out on the sidewalk. Ruben enjoying his homeland, remembering it all, including the vet, our old apartment, how to walk off-leash in the countryside, how to behave in train stations and snooze on trains. A serene park on a hillside overlooking the lake between an art museum in an old mansion and the Olympic museum, with several packs of teenage boys rebelling against life by listening to techno music together and practicing their party tricks. A sign in the train station saying in English that “composting”of tickets is not obligatory. Three francs for 2 deci-liters of hot milk in a cafe, but successfully poured directly into my travel mug on top of my coffee. A village post office open from 7am to 10am and not a minute longer. A wonderful week spent with friends Adar, Horesh, and growing boys G and N, who are Ruben’s new favorite playmates. A graduation ceremony that verges on a graduation parody, one lucky prize recipient, and so little food at the following reception that it is gone within 10 minutes. One beautiful, restored carriage house in Nyon. Fresh fall apples, plums, squash, and grapes. Where “self salade” (e.g. “pick your own lettuce”) is more convenient for dinner than a trip to the grocery store. A potluck dinner for kids and parents where the options are limited to green salad, ham quiche, ham pizza, slices of ham on hand-sliced bread, popcorn, plain potato chips dispensed meagerly on small plates, grapes, several versions of apple tart, wine grown and fermented down the street, and apple juice. A public bus packed with teens on the way home from school…because why have separate school buses? Sheepsmilk ice cream in “raisinee” flavor (syrup of reduced pear/apple), perfect for the lactose sensitive among us.
France. One day, traveling across it on the express train. The Jura mountains and rain over the fields, demarcated by trees, dotted with French country villages with a church at the center. Seth: “This looks like the MidWest.” Right, except for the hills, the trees, the fast train, and the villages. Feeling grateful that we have the papers to cross its borders. Seth got everything right on this account.
Oxford. We are moving here, to North Oxford, dog and all. Together, wherever we go. We are both doing postdocs in our respective disciplines. Since I last wrote, we both defended our doctoral dissertations and are each just a few administrative steps away from our PhD diplomas. Relief, for the time being. We know it will be ok, because we can buy good bagels in London and drink a lot of tea, even if we are arriving to an unfurnished house, no internet or telephones, a non-existent bank account, and streets that are all backward. Bring on the rain! Check back for OxFording rather than SwissWatching.
Thank you to everyone who has made our last year ultimately so sweet. Shana tova. To a sweet and gebentsht year.
Written September 12.

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