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Birthday

I was sort of dreading my 30th birthday for a while.  My sister’s 30th birthday was so fun, from the spa treatments we had together to the five cakes, the night out in Newcastle, the afternoon tea the next day.  It was a big celebration.  All the family came in and out all day.  It coincided with my cousin’s hen night.  It was so much fun.  And since I’m the little sister I always try to live up to what my big sister does (which, anyone who knows anything about my big sister will concur, is impossible!  She is literally a superhero and I’m not even using literally to mean figuratively).  Well, it turned out great!

I planned a grand weekend in Chicago that involved no work and lots of fun.  We went down on Thursday night but my birthday couldn’t officially start until I’d run my last long training run for the marathon.  This one went a lot better than the last two – I did I think about 21 or 22 miles and it felt pretty alright.  So fingers crossed I can finish!  Friday night we went to a housewarming party thrown by our friends, which turned into a dance party perhaps forever ruining their relationship with their downstairs neighbours.  It was a bit of a late night but Saturday was the day I was going to have ALL THE FUN and so I didn’t let the late night stop me!

On Saturday we went on an early morning walk to the lake – one of my favourite things to do but one I haven’t done a whole lot of this year, all my early outings being runs instead of walks.  Then we ate Saturday morning breakfast – we do this every Saturday, or as often as we can (don’t mess with my Saturday mornings!): lie in, make a delicious brunch together and watch telly that we’ve saved up during the week.  We then got dressed and headed to downtown Chicago for some shopping.  I bought two tops for work, two dresses, some gold accessories to match my gold sandals (not actually gold, of course, but gold-coloured) and what I thought were vest tops, but apparently I’m deluded as to how long my torso it because when I got home I found they were vest-dresses, or slips.  I’m now the proud owner of two slips!  I haven’t had a slip since I was about 8 years old I think.  My mam will be so proud.  Maybe it’s because I’m old now?  I have an iron too, and I’ve recently become very sensitive to the idea of going out in visibly creased clothes.  Don’t get me wrong, I still do it, I’m just more aware of it.

So we rushed home and I put the finishing touches to my birthday cake – (vanilla sponge filled with creme patisserie, fresh cream, and strawberries) while I skyped with my parents during which time they sang happy birthday and showed me the delicious cake they had made me complete with not just a candle, but a Roman Candle in it. In the house.  Adding to my theory that, evidenced by the injuries and ailments they’ve sustained over the last year, they probably shouldn’t be left alone without supervision (they’re happily insane).

Birthday cake

My Mam taught me how to make a pretty good cake… hers are still better though!

After a while getting ready and chatting to my in-laws who came into town for the party, we headed out to my favourite restaurant, Masouleh.  It’s an Iranian restaurant that I’ve posted about on here before I’m sure.  A bunch of friends came – we were I think 13 people total and the food, as usual, was amazing.

Happy birthday to me :-)

Happy birthday to me🙂

We headed from there to a bar and met a couple more friends, then off to the Green Mill, a famous Chicago dance club.  We danced a bit but it was one of the serious jazz shows with a lot of people sitting stroking their chins and nodding so there weren’t too many people dancing.  We drank Tom Collins’ (delicious cocktail!!) and all in all had a great time, then headed back to mine and Robs’ apartment for cake.

Rob also gave me a preview of my birthday gifts…

Modelling my new American Flag bumbag.

Modelling my new American Flag bumbag.

Since we didn’t go to sleep until after 4am getting up the next morning felt a little bit rough.  We had a sleepy breakfast in our favourite local diner.  Then home for presents! Highlights are the lovely necklace from Robby – acid dipped glass and granite on a silver chain, so pretty!!  Complements perfectly the all-american outfit that accompanied it (see below!). And the BEAUTIFUL suitcase from my parents – all my travelling this summer saw my 10 year old small case finally break and so they got me a lovely Cath Kidston one, navy blue with flowers.  It’s so nice!  And best thing, it was FILLED with the 30 presents my sister sent for me – including new Crunchy-Nut granola (it’s a thing!  Who thought Crunchy-nut Cornflakes couldn’t get any better after they brought out clusters??), a packet of Smash and a tub of Bisto, a shopping bag with a moustache motif, nigella seeds, and stampers saying “epic win” and “epic fail” to make grading more fun!!.  And 24 other things…🙂

Pressies

Next year I want 31, mind. It’s the only way to have birthdays continue to get better as you age!! Genius!🙂

I spent the morning Skyping with my parents, my sister, my grandparents, my auntie.  It was great!  Rob agreed that the day was great since he watched about 4 football games while I chatted.  In the evening I really wanted Sunday dinner so I made my second Sunday dinner of the year (I know I’m behind on the whole new year’s resolution thing) and put my Smash and Bisto to good use!!  All in all it was a fantastic day!!

Other gifts from Rob - in case you can't see the shirt shows George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, drinking mugs of beer, and an eagle wearing sunglasses and a bandanna.  'Mrrrca.

Other gifts from Rob – in case you can’t see the shirt shows George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, drinking mugs of beer, and an eagle wearing sunglasses and a bandanna. ‘Mrrrca.

Marathon blues

I was back at work this week.  I had been sort of dreading it – three months off makes for a harsh reality check once they’re over.  But actually, getting back has been far more pleasant than I was expecting.  I’ve caught up with people I hadn’t seen over the summer and it’s nice to have some structure to my days.  And a reason to wear nice clothes instead pyjamas, to running clothes, back to pyjamas…

At the moment I’m trying to train for a marathon that I’ll be running in October.  I didn’t train as much as I would’ve liked over the summer because I ended up travelling a lot, including two unanticipated trips.  So fitting in long runs as been difficult (excuses, excuses).  This time around I’ve done most of my training alone too, rather than with a friend like I did last time I marathoned.  It isn’t as much fun.

This Friday I decided to do a 20 mile – I had to cover 20 really, I only have one long run left before the marathon since it’s only 5 weeks away.  I psyched myself up and on Friday morning trotted out the door.  I didn’t quite make 20 miles.  About 19.  When I started it was 79 degrees fahrenheit, (26 celcius) about 85 (30c) by the time I finished.  It was 70% humidity.  And it wasn’t fun.  It felt much more like endurance than a workout.  And it made me question why I’m doing it.  I mean, I want to be healthy and I didn’t feel like it made me healthier.  As I lay on the floor for about 30 minutes trying to recover afterwards I started to think it was sort of silly.

A few years ago I ran a half marathon.  My first half marathon.  A few days beforehand I went on a normal run and I hurt my Achilles tendon.  I decided that the pain was in my head, that I was imagining it because I was nervous about the race.  I didn’t want to bow to the temptation to back out so I just ran through it  (I did take a cocodamol before the race).  I ran the half marathon.  It was great fun once I managed to block out the pain in my ankle and heel.  As I drove home my ankle swelled to about four times its normal size.  The next day it wasn’t any better.  I went to the doctor the day after that.  I’d torn my Achilles tendon the week before the race and then just ran through the pain.  It took about three weeks in a cast, and 6 weeks of physiotherapy to rehabilitate it.  I was really stupid!

So now I have the same feeling, that if I back out of the marathon I’m just giving in.  But I don’t really want to do it.  And I’m meant to be doing it for fun.  I think I’m over thinking it.  So I’ll think about it some more then run it anyway.🙂

Sometimes the Universe likes to have a laugh…

Rob and I need a new table.  We’ve been trying to decorate our apartment in Milwaukee more nicely, make it feel more homey.  We’ve been trying to do that since we moved in really, but we advanced new efforts  this week.  We purchased a nice rug from Craigslist.  We moved around a furniture in an effort to make it cosier.  It was working.  We were feeling pretty good.  We decided that the three things we need are a futon (for when my parents or other guests come to stay), a dining table, and a coffee table.

We started to look on Craigslist and found a couple of things we liked but didn’t manage to strike a deal.  We were planning to see one table that looked perfect but then decided it wasn’t quite worth the drive to the other side of Chicago.  And then, like magic, on Sunday a lovely little table and a coffee table appeared by the dumpster (skip) in our alleyway!  The universe provides!!!  We carried them up our back stairs and deposited them on our balcony in Chicago for cleaning.  Later, Rob scrubbed them down and we brought them inside our Chicago apartment ready to take to Milwaukee.

Well, in the middle of the night I went to the toilet and noticed a bug.  I couldn’t identify it sans glasses but I suspected cockroach.  I squished it and went back to sleep.  We sometimes occasionally see cockroaches in our apartment, although not many since it was sprayed last year.  Well in the morning, again in the bathroom, I’m brushing my teeth when a second cockroach emerges from behind the door.  It was on the floor and I had bare feet so I called for Rob to come and stomp it.  He did.  A bit later a third is spotted by Rob above the mirror.  This is unusual so we leave a message for the landlord thinking that we need them exterminated again.

Rob went off to campus and I was waiting in for a package.  I was in the sitting room and noticed yet another cockroach under the table.  I killed it but then it occurred to me – the table was the common denominator.  I texted Rob my theory.  When he arrived home we flipped the table over to examine any gaps underneath.  I thought I saw something move.  It might have been paranoia.  Nevertheless, I went to the kitchen and got the heavy duty cockroach spray out.  We sprayed the underside of the table.

SUDDENLY!  MILLIONS OF COCKROACHES CRAWLING EVERYWHERE!!!  NIGHTMARE!!!

The spray had made them slow and dizzy so we managed to get them.  But we had to get that table out of there.  We struggled with it out the back door and couldn’t figure out how to angle it.  Panic!  We struggled with it out the front door.  We took it back to the dumpster.  And the coffee table too, just to be on the safe side.  And we’re having our apartment sprayed again now.

Moral of the story?  Sometimes the Universe likes to have a laugh at your expense.

Wilderness

I went to the Wilderness for the first time.  My in-laws had organized it a year ago – a plan for the entire family to go to the Boundary Waters wilderness for an entire week.  I suppose when there are that many people involved it has to be organized well in advance.

I started to get nervous about it a few weeks before.  I’d never been that far from a city before.  The furthest I’d been was the couple of times we went to my friend’s cabin in central Wisconsin (read about it here).  This is Really Far away from anything – it took us about 8 or 9 hours to drive there and the closest town really only had about two streets so I’m not even sure it can be truly considered a town.  I didn’t really know anything about the Boundary Waters before I went – other that what I’d heard from my sisters and brothers in law who all have been, one of whom even worked there for quite a long time doing archaeology type stuff.  I had imagined what it was – I knew you had to canoe in – people had said that a lot – so I had an image of a large forest filled with bears and moose and other things that want to kill you, perhaps on an island that you had to canoe to, and once you were there you sort of went thrashing around in the trees until you could fashion a campsite.  Well, it wasn’t like that at all and if I’d read more about it before we went I would have had a much better idea.  The Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) is a series of lakes in Minnesota on the border between the US and Canada.  It’s a preserved area so no cars or anything motorised.  And, probably in order to maintain its upkeep, you can get a pass to enter into it and it’s used as a large recreation zone really. You canoe from lake to lake, which have campsites around the edge that really consist of a fire pit, maybe the odd rock or log to sit on, and a trail that leads away to a VERY BASIC latrine.  Imagine an old rusted metal toilet that no one would want to sit on in a million years, out in the open air with no shelter around it or anything.  A latrine over an open pit, meaning that its swarming with insects.  Yep.  Basic.  But, as I was saying you canoe from lake to lake with short portages between each one over which you have to carry the canoe.  There are rules like there can’t be more than 9 people or 4 canoes in any one group at any time.  And you can’t leave anything behind, it’s no-trace camping.  You can’t take in glass.  There are probably more rules but I don’t remember.

We were not staying right in the BWCA but in a couple of cabins a few miles off the famous Gunflint Trail.  We had to hike a bit or canoe through the lake to officially enter the BW area. The cabin’s were actually very nice and cozy and very clean.  Each cabin had its own dock from which you could swim or get in your canoe.

Our cabin.

Our cabin.

I’m not going to narrate everything we did here – I just started to do that and I think it will get boring pretty fast.  So some highlights… I got quite brave really regarding the wildlife.  The day after we arrived I went on a longish run with my brother-in-law.  It was pretty nice and I was nervous about running by myself because of the lions and tigers and bears, oh my. It turned out that it wasn’t that scary and I ran by myself a few times later in the week.  I stuck to the road and didn’t go off on any small trails and as long as I didn’t dwell too much on the potential of meeting something bigger than me with sharp teeth I was alright.  I also started to do some yoga every day out on the dock, which was lovely.  However, on the first day I discovered the dock was filled with big nasty spiders – it was a dock of nightmares.  I enjoyed the yoga so much though, and it was difficult to find nice flat ground so I kept doing it and just tried to focus inward and not on the spiders.  Every so often I’d see legs creeping between the wooden boards.  I thought I was dealing with it remarkably well given how terrified I am of spiders, but it turned out it was sort of messing me up.  Every night as I was trying to sleep those legs would come back to me.  Horrors!

Little dock of nightmares.

Little dock of nightmares.

There was other less horrifying wildlife.  One thing that never ceases to entertain me here in the Midwest is that there are wild chipmunks.  I remember going to look at the pet chipmunks in the Hypermarket garden centre as a kid.  I really wanted one, they were so cool, swinging around the cages on wheels and swings and tiny trapeze-type things. Well here, they are just outside like squirrels.  And at the cabin there was an incredibly friendly chipmunk.  Rob petted it a few times and it didn’t run away.  At one point it even leaped onto his lap.  

Friendly chipmunk

Friendly chipmunk

Greedy squirrel

Greedy squirrel

 

I really enjoyed canoeing – I would have liked to do more of it.  We went out quite a bit on the lake by our cabin, and once on a day-long trip with a picnic lunch, where we canoed through three different lakes, although we had to go back early and didn’t get quite as far as we had planned.  It made me feel quite privileged – I’d never canoed before and who gets to just have canoes for a week at a cabin to paddle around and go out on beautiful unspoilt lakes.  Not many people.  

We came close to a disaster one day when Katie, Emily and I decided to go out in the canoe.  We had just put it in the water when a big fat snake unfurled itself in the bottom of the canoe.  Can you imagine if we hadn’t seen it until after we were all in??  We would definitely have been in the water.  Instead we tipped the snake into the water and watched it swim away!

Other highlights included our Come-Dine-With-Me type competition dinners.  The big cabin had a Girl Scout theme (like Guides) and taught us how to tie knots and then we had a sing-off. They cooked hot dogs (veggie burger for me), brats, and beans and we roasted marshmallows to make s’mores (marshmallow, dark chocolate, and graham cracker) around a campfire.  We had a Greek theme (predictably!) and made souvlaki, salad, and potatoes and held the first Topinkiad.  This was a relay race in which the first person had to toss a beanbag into a hole, the second ran a course balancing a potato on the end of a canoe paddle, the third person had to answer trivia, and the fourth person had to draw pictionary for the whole team to guess.  Lots of fun!

We did a fair bit of hiking too.  Rob and I went on one long hike on a really overgrown trail.  We didn’t see a single soul.  We had to turn back sooner than we’d planned because the trail was all overgrown and flooded.  It was fun looking for moose as we hiked through the bogs though (we didn’t see any).  The worst thing was the mosquitoes.  Millions of them.  I got one bite right on the bridge of my nose and my ankles were shredded with bites that I scratched.  Also, note, if you plan to pee in the woods make sure you put insect repellent on your bum (a lesson I learnt the hard way!). 

Flour Lake

Flour Lake

 

Devachan

This has been quite a busy week.  I’ve finally been hit with the reality that in a few short weeks I’ll have to be back to work, teaching again.  So I’ve been starting to think about putting my syllabi together.  I also realised that I’m going to miss the 13 and 15 mile routes with the group I was planning to run with to train for the marathon because I’ll be away at the Boundary Waters on a trip with Rob’s family.  So I’ve been trying to get in my miles so I can join them on the 18 mile route after we get back.  I did a 14 last week and I had thought about a 15 or 16 this week but at this point I still have a lot to do so I don’t know if its going to happen.

Last Sunday Rob and I went to the Clark Street Festival, ate some good food (really great Senagalese food so now we’re planning on trying the restaurant it came from) and saw some bands.  One in particular – Boogat, a Latino rapper from Montreal – was really fantastic.

Clark Fest

At the festival

Back in April I found a hair salon that specialises in curly hair.  I waited a really long time before I decided to try it.  I hate getting my hair cut because it always ends with inevitable disappointment.  When I was younger, in high school and uni, I always wanted straight hair (which curly girl hasn’t had that story??).  My mam would always make us go to a hair place that said they did “natural” hair, and so they refused to straighten it (what I should say is, my mam was kind enough to buy me and my sister expensive haircuts at a nice salon every few months, and the salon cared about the health of your hair so wouldn’t use chemicals or do it damage by straightening the life out of it).  Which now I think is a great idea, but when I was 15 and had giant triangular shaped curls I did not think was so great.  When I was in uni came the advent of ceramic straighteners.  Well, actually, affordable ceramic straighteners.  That I could own.  I also got a hair cut I really liked in Lefkosia when I studied at the University of Cyprus.  So that helped.

Eventually, I learnt more about the politics of beauty standards and decided to embrace my curls and never straighten my hair again (apart from my fringe).  My fringe has been an addiction – I have a big square head, a giant nose, and a large chin.  Having a fringe balances that out and makes me look like I have less FACE.  Insecurities…  But I’ve wanted to abandon my fringe for a while.  However, every year it reaches a certain length and I crack and have it cut back in again.  So TLDR, I hummed and harred and then decided to try a Devachan curly cut.

Devachan is a method for curly hair.  They cut it dry so it can be true to the natural shape of the curl.  Then they teach you how to sham-no-poo it (no poo, because the poo is sulphates and those are bad bad bad for curly hair).  And condition it (sham-no-poo from the scalp down, condition from the middle) but the conditioner has to be wax free.  And never towel dry – it’ll make your hair frizz.  Use an old t-shirt or paper towel (I’m going to say t-shirt because paper towel, destroy the environment).  The hair should still be pretty wet when you put the product on, to lock in the moisture.  And then to dry, crucially, you have to use clips.  If you just let it hang then it’ll draw all the weight down to the end.  So you clip the top to lift it then just walk around with your hair all clipped until its dry enough.

I explained to the hairdresser that I did not want to look like Brian May.

Here are my before and afters…

Was in a hurry so Rob took the befores while I was brushing my teeth...

Was in a hurry so Rob took the befores while I was brushing my teeth…

So. Much. Hair.

So. Much. Hair.

And my afters…

Curly fringe

Curly fringe

Profile

Profile

No ageing rockers, cowardly lions, or Cogsworth in sight.

Cogsworth

Cogsworth

cowardly

Cowardly Lion

bribri

Brian

Relaxing

This has been a nice week.  We came down to Chicago late on Sunday because Rob had a conference to attend this week and we wanted to spend some time in our Chicago apartment.  It’s quite nice to have two cities to choose between sometimes.  Other times it’s annoying – like when the sandals I want to wear are in Milwaukee and I’m in Chicago or I realise I took the iron to Chicago but I have creased clothes in Milwaukee.

But anyway…

This week was really hot.  It started out hot, and the temperature climbed all week.  To be perfectly honest, I loved it.  Its so nice to wake up in tangled sheets and go for a run knowing that already it’s hot and the sun isn’t even fully up.  Then get home and drink coffee with all the windows open so you can smell the outside at the same time. The smells of summer always remind me of Cyprus, which is and will always be my happy place.  Weird little things – like the smell of the inside of my cupboards smells exactly like the smell of the inside of my grandmas cupboards growing up – it must be something to do with the humidity in the wood.  I get a whiff of it and I’m just transported to Cyprus for an instant.  The smell of melon in the kitchen.  Or the sun on hot sand.  Or drinking a cup of tea when I get back from the beach.  The humidity in the air at night after the sun has gone down.  Knowing that you will absolutely not need a cardigan (as long as you don’t plan to go inside, since this is America not Cyprus!). Glorious!  I love summer!

I ended up working quite a bit on a draft of an article I’m co-writing so on Thursday when I sent my latest edits back to my co-author I decided to treat myself with a trip to the beach for an hour and a half, where I sunbathed and read the latest chick-lit novel I had pre-ordered at the public library – the sequel to The Devil Wears Prada (putting on hold the 1000-pager on the life and times of Henry the VIII).  I had a very nice time (poor Rob was still conferencing at that point) but on returning home I was acutely aware that my grandma wasn’t waiting for me with a cup of tea and a ginger biscuit ready.  I just need to figure out how to get her and my granda to come and visit next summer!!

On the beach.

On the beach.

In Chicago our apartment is less than a half mile from the beach so it’s easy to wander down there for a little while. I go at least once a day when I’m in Chicago, even if its just for my morning run.

Rob was well jel of my beach trip so on Friday we went in the morning together to go swimming.  Unfortunately we were attacked by these horrific biting flies so we couldn’t do too much sunbathing (the drawback of a lake beach).  I swum about half a mile.  Swimming in a freshwater lake is hard!  Much tougher than the sea!  And it was very very cold – so cold that my heart was racing just from dunking under the water.  It was a nice swim though although I was sore from it the next day – I really need to diversify my workouts.  I always run but then if I do anything different I get really sore from it.

Friday I continued work on my sample chapters to send out with my book prospectus and in the evening rewarded myself with a glass of wine and a chapter of my aforementioned chick lit novel.  At this point Rob had reached his tipping point with the heat.  We decided to go to the movies so he could enjoy the air con and I agreed to see World War Z, mostly because it was playing at a convenient time at the cinema near our house.  I teach an IR course where I incorporate a zombie themed assignment and I’m doing that in the fall, so the film was research.  Well, it was awful.  Entertaining, yes, but I can talk for a really long time of the problematic portrayal of race and gender in that film.  I shan’t do it here in case you’re not interested but if you are, let me know and I’d be happy to elaborate!

Friday night treats!

Saturday was equally pleasant.  Long walk along the lake front, an hour of yoga, then dinner and a comedy show.  We went to the Heartland Cafe for dinner which is right across the road from our apartment.  That place is hit-or-miss.  Good gin and tonics, over-priced appetizer, FANTASTIC corn bread.  I love corn bread.  I think it’s the best thing to have come out of America.  And the portions of corn bread are what most people might describe as huge but I think are appropriately sized.

Nom nom nom

After dinner we went over to the South Side to see Paul Mooney at the MLK center.  He was … not as good as I’ve seen him perform on netflicks.  And they were filming a dvd too.  However, I did see a room full of American citizens applaud and cheer a proposal to re-write the constitution (a lot to do with it being written by white propertied males for white propertied males).  I think I’ve found a part of American culture I can get well on board with!

 

 

 

Summer

Since I for back from New York I’ve been having a nice old time enjoying the sunshine.  I like that I have a job where I don’t have to go to work during the best weather of the year.  I’m not going to write too much right now because I got back from a seven mile run this morning and I really need to take a shower, but here is a small update on some of the things I’ve been doing:

1. Attended my friend Liz’s bridal shower and hen party.  We had a party bus that I’m sure would be illegal in the UK given that it was decked out like a night club complete with pole for pole-dancing, a bar, and no sign of a single seat belt.

2. Walking and hiking.  I call it hiking, but hiking is really also just walking.  Rob and I went out to Kettle Morraine State Park and did some hiking in the woods.

3. Visiting with Rob’s parents – Emily, Ben and Clare were there too and we had a really nice weekend, culminating with a trip to La Crosse to visit Rob’s grandparents.  It was a nice day but a looooong drive.  I think my British view of appropriate distances to travel in one day has not yet expanded to the American sense.  Being in a car too long makes me sleepy and restless at the same time.

4. Festivals in Milwaukee – for some reason Milwaukee has all these summer festivals: Bastille Days (complete with Eiffel Tower replica), Italian fest, German fest, Greek fest, Irish fest.  Summer fest too, but we didn’t actually go to that…

5. Lots of reading fun books!  And drinking wine on the balcony.  And taking evening walks to smell the summer air in the city and watch those funny glow bugs that light up.Bastille Days