help (i need some groceries)

just a running list of things I haven’t found in the UK yet that frankly I would expect to find (if you have any advice or tips please do send them)

1.) corn starch

2.) non-stick baking spray

3.) floured baking spray

4.) baking spray

5.) chipotles

6.) ranch dressing

7.) actually hot salsa

8.) maple syrup

9.) “maple-flavoured agave syrup” does not count

10.) creamy peanut butter that is, like, soft?

11.)  Rotel (or literally any off-brand equivalent)

12.) anything strawberry-lime flavoured

13.) anything grape flavoured

14.) ginger ale

15.) non-alcoholic hot apple cider (I know this is a *travesty* fight me)

16.) pumpkin puree

17.) canned pumpkin

18.) IT’S PUMPKIN SEASON WHERE’S THE PUMPKIN

19.) self-raising whole meal flour

20.) caramel for dipping apples

21.) cheese that actually melts

22.) chocolate syrup.

 

this is not a finite list so do subscribe for updates.

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On proper names

A popular paraphrase of Confucius ‘Reflection on Names’ follows: “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper names.”

A couple of weeks ago, the British Museum found itself in internet trouble when an employee implied that Asian names are too difficult for children to understand.  There turned out to be more context to the tweet, so I won’t harp on it, but it’s not an infrequent situation. Anyone can think of at least one friend with an anglicized or westernized name. At my own international high school, non-European students were often encouraged to pick an American nickname to go by (disclaimer that this practice has been discontinued). The logic was well-intentioned: an easier name would hopefully encourage trans-continental friendships.

In all of these situations, though, the same harmful idea carries through. In order to fit in, a person should not only speak English, but exist in English. Beyond skin tone or dress habits- a person should be identifiably English before you ever see them. Studies have shown that between candidates with the same credentials, a person with a ‘whiter’ name is more likely to be hired. I would be curious to see those studies taken a step further: I wonder if the name has to be just ‘white’, or ‘white and part of the majority national group’. For example, Polish and Scandinavian names are both easily visible, and both associated with white culture. And yet, those are also names that, here in England, invite anglicising.

This is all on my mind because it’s something of an ongoing discussion between my new husband and I. He, despite being born and raised in England to an English mother, has a very French surname. Over the years, he’s developed the habit of pronouncing it ‘in English’. Ostensibly this makes it easier when people have to spell it; I’ve noticed, though, that he anglicises it even when nobody is needing to spell the name. I, being myself, decided a few months ago that if I’m going to have a French name, I’m going to have a French name. Part of it is just my standard contrariness, granted. Another part of it is that I’m quite accustomed to having to spell my last name over the phone, and going from six letters to five is actually easier. The last part is the one thing my husband agrees with: if we anglicise in front of his dad, or his dad’s family, we’re going to hear about it. Extensively.

So, we’ve been discussing. And a point that came up a few days ago swung the conversation, fairly effectively, towards a permanent French pronunciation. It’s the same point that is raised in all of the above situations: it isn’t the responsibility of non-white, non-English name-bearing people to make their name easier. Actress Uzoamaka Aduba quotes her mother: “If they can learn to pronounce Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo, they can learn your name”. Difficulty of pronunciation is not the actual matter at hand here. The real debate, the real crux, is whose name is considered ‘worth the effort’. The more famous or accomplished or historically relevant a person is (to Western culture) the less a complex name seems to matter.

That alone is interesting. It implies that we only value and respect people who have proven their worth. It suggests that before we afford someone common kindness, they have to show that they have earned it. And that, that I disagree with. If I meet someone in a coffee shop, that person exists, and therefore has earned basic human kindness. If I take someone’s pizza order over the phone, that person exists- and that person deserves common human kindness. That person deserves to have their name learned. Even if I have to ask them to spell it.

After all, how can we hope to create goodwill and understanding between people if we ask them to prove their right to basic good treatment?

How can we seek wisdom, if we can’t even be bothered to discover proper names?

riding a bike

Have you ever just forgotten that you know how to do something?

Not forgetting how to actually do it- just, forgetting entirely that it’s a thing you’ve spent time learning and practicing and ingraining into your muscle memory.

If you’d asked me this afternoon what my hobbies were in middle and high school, I would have told you about reading and writing and swimming and making jewellery. Possibly cooking, maybe even the time I spent playing around with making candles and such.

This evening, in the process of packing up/getting rid of childhood things in my parents’ house, I found a box full of knitting supplies and half finished pieces. And one only needed two more rows, so I picked it up, finished it, and cast off. My hands remembered what to do, but my mind had completely forgotten that my fourth grade teacher taught me to knit, and that I knit hats and scarves up until I left for college.

Of course, the moment I found the box, the memories came flooding back. Mrs. Mamo used knitting to keep the ‘fidgety’ kids occupied during lessons; after 9/11, most of the class joined in to send homemade warmers to the troops. I was the best at untangling and balling yarn. When I moved to Georgia, I found a few teachers at my new school that also knit: instant new friends. And yet, all of this had slipped my mind, completely.

My mom and I have always disagreed about getting rid of things. She’s a natural minimalist; if left unchecked, I’d probably be a hoarder. After tonight, I wonder about this tendency of mine. If I’d gotten rid of everything- all the excess supplies- would I have ever remembered that I know how to knit? How many memories have I lost because I don’t have a physical memento?  Is my subconscious encouraging me to hoard because it doesn’t want to forget?

Or is there a much simpler explanation?

Most people would get rid of excess after completion- finish a project and dispose of extra yarn and unneeded supplies. In that box were five different unfinished pieces. I’m sure I meant to complete them all eventually. Perhaps my natural procrastination is what’s spurring the hoarding. In which case- am I refraining from finishing because I don’t want to forget? Do I leave things unfinished so that I don’t have to admit that some stage of my life is over? I’m sure I could get married and leave absolutely nothing in my parents’ house- but if I leave some things to collect the next time I visit, well, then, it’s not so total of a break.

Or perhaps I’m just really forgetful. Also a strong possibility.

bureaucracy

Several months ago now, when I started the process of trying to get married abroad, I decided to refrain from waxing poetic online about how frustrating the various necessities were. After about thirty minutes of restraint, I updated my decision. I’ve been writing companion posts to each stage of the process- from determining which visas are needed, to collecting paperwork and applying for those, to resolving difficulties that arise from unclear official instructions. I haven’t publicly published any of these posts yet, as I don’t want to risk irritating any governments before the final step is complete. This post is going to be spare on details for the same reason. The full first stage- from deciding to get married to having an accurate fiancee visa in hand- lasted seven months.

Today, I’m starting the paperwork for stage 2- getting a marriage visa and changing my name. From my earliest precursory checks, I’ll be amazed if everything is done within the ‘expected timeline of four weeks’.

The thing is, on paper, none of this is so complex. You fill out an application, submit it, get a decision. Unfortunately, every single step has twenty more layers and no instruction manual. That’s the frustrating part. It isn’t simply that the process is complex and nuanced and requires a high ability of English comprehension; my partner and I were educated at objectively the best university in the world. Often, the various moving pieces actively contradict each other. In one situation, the visa application guidance and the visa paperwork use different terms to refer to requirements. In another, they actually have different requirements noted. For a name change, two pieces of paperwork must be submitted at the same time- each requesting the approved version of the other as evidence.

Asking for clarification or advice is equally tricky. Apparently, the helplines are restricted to formulaic answers, to avoid being accused of providing assistance on individual applications. This is logical, but the formulas don’t include an answer for “the form number I was told to fill out doesn’t exist.” Plus, calling any lines cost an extortionate amount of money. Millennials have been at a slight advantage, as emails have been free. Have been is the operative phrase there, but I don’t want to call out any one government in particular.

I could keep going, and I have, to my friends. However, this wouldn’t be a YETS post without some moral drawn from the story, so here it is:

There is no point, purpose, or accomplishment to be taken from making necessary paperwork needlessly bureaucratic. Doing so does not deter ‘fraudulent’ applications.* It can be argued that it does encourage bias in favour of wealthy, traditionally educated, English speakers.** I could write a whole essay on the need for reform of immigration priorities and globalisation. And it certainly seems that the only way this complicated of a process came into existence is from haphazard and sideways attempts to reduce immigration of various groups. Another possibility is that some things- like mismatched terminology- arose out of sheer incompetency, but I don’t want to offend anyone.

If your priorities are keeping people out, this isn’t an efficient way to do so. As we have seen in so many other ‘wars’, on drugs and abortions and alcohol, making something difficult to obtain does not stop people from trying. It just encourages them to take risks and do stupider things to accomplish their objective. If you want to change behaviours, change objectives. If you don’t want people getting abortions, help them not get pregnant.  If you don’t want people immigrating, change their need to emigrate. I can promise that nobody is going through this adventure for funzies. They may be doing it from love, like myself, or they may be seeking a better life for themselves or their children. They may be pursuing their life’s purpose through a career. They may be fleeing war. They may be seeking safety. Whatever it is, they aren’t getting it at home. Adding red tape isn’t going to fix the world. However, if we direct our efforts more strategically- who knows what we could accomplish?

 

*drawn from anecdotal evidence since no official stats are kept

**from personal experience

birthright

This post has been bouncing around in the back of my mind since July 4th, and today seems like a good day for it to come out.

Something I learned fairly early about being engaged is that everybody who learns of your upcoming nuptials will give you advice (occasionally, said advice is even solicited). Over the past few months, one concept has become a refrain.

Love is a choice. Marriage, a relationship, a commitment: they are all choices that a couple makes every day. The explanation is simple: most people ‘fall in love’, which implies uncontrollable emotions and feelings that sweep one away. However, the tricky bit of passionate emotions is that they fade. It is then that the choice to love becomes important: when new and powerful emotions pull one in different directions, we have to make the conscious decision to hold to that original passion. When we are faced with a difficult fight, and the choice of winning or loving, we have to choose love and commitment.

Behind this lies the premise that rights come with responsibilities. We begin learning this as children: if you want a pet, you have to take care of it, etc.  The concept carries through. Most Western societies today promote the idea that humans have the right to choose who to marry (with various caveats). With that, then, comes the personal responsibility of each couple to make the marriage successful. If you want to enjoy something that you feel is a natural right, then you must also care for and nourish that right, even when doing so is unpleasant or distasteful. If you want a cat, you have to clean litterboxes. If you want a healthy marriage, you have to make concessions.

If you want a democracy, you have to lose elections.

That’s where this post started on Independence Day, and that’s where it arrived at when I started writing it, as our President issued a statement about the USA ‘worshipping God’.

The Constitution, in the First Amendment, prohibits the government from either aiding or distressing any religion. This clause is used, righteously, often, to allow American citizens to practice what they believe.  If we believe in this inalienable right, we bear the responsibility of extending it to others. We must fight for those of other religions to hold the same rights as we do- even when we disagree with their beliefs.

The Declaration of Independence calls attention to the irregular and disjointed assembly of representatives, and asserts that we have the right to duly elect our leaders. Righteously, elections are held relatively often. If we promote this right, we bear the responsibility of accepting defeat- in fact or imminence. We cannot gerrymander and manipulate to remain in power- even if we firmly disagree with the opposing party.

Likewise, the Declaration states the ‘all men are created equal with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’. If somebody wants to drop everything, move to Hollywood, and pursue an acting career, they are free to do so. If we accept this, we must recognise that what makes some people happy might be strongly displeasing to us. However, if it does not infringe with anybody else’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then  we must accept it. Somebody who wants to drop everything, join the military, and transition gender must also be free to do so.

The USA is in a difficult position. The original passion of 240 years ago has faded. New and strong emotions and obligations are tearing at the relationship between its citizens. The vows, in our founding documents, are still there- but other interests are at play. Now, we are faced with that choice. We could let the desire to win, the desire to be right, the desire to avoid unpleasantness override our vows. Or we could actively fight to not be swept away. We could choose to make concessions, to do the dirty work, and pair rights with responsibilities.

If we want to hold onto our birthright, then each and every day, we must choose democracy.

 

set it on fire

Along with working in a coffee shop, I have another job throughout this interim period. Without giving too many specifics (for reasons that will become apparent), I’m also working with a rowing team as a consultant. I’ve examined all of their fleet, and am giving recommendations on what to do with the shells.

As it happens, not all of their boats are in excellent condition. This is not, by any means, the fault of the rowers, team, or organisation- it’s largely the blame of poor rowing conditions. Nevertheless, I’ve now had the pleasure of examining a boat that’s essentially useless. It will never be waterworthy; it can’t conscientiously be sold, and it’s not particularly good for parts. Nobody else will want it for anything. Which means I’ve been able to write, in a formal report, the following line:

“My best recommendation for [this boat] is to take it outside and set it on fire.”

Am I trying to be funny? Yes, a bit, that’s what I do. I also think it’s a valid opportunity and a valuable use. Sometimes, you just need to set something on fire.

Why?

Well, done safely, it’s pretty entertaining. It’ll draw a crowd, so there’s fundraising and marketing opportunities. It’ll free up space in the boathouse. And, finally, why not?

The reason I’m telling you about this is because I think there are a lot of things in life we could probably ‘set on fire’. How often do we (the hoarders of the world) hang onto something, just in case it will become useful again? How often do we save that little china keepsake, even though it’s worth nothing, because we don’t think we should throw it away? How often do we refrain from getting that haircut/tattoo, just in case we’ll regret it down the line? How often do we refrain from going on that vacation, just in case we’ll need the money later?

In all of these cases, I think we make a pretty sound analysis of the pros and cons. And then, even though all the pros point to ‘fire’, we refrain. We suppose that there is some con we haven’t thought of yet. We suppose that circumstances might change in the future. We suppose that our analysis is inaccurate. We wait five years, and make the same analysis. Same pros, same cons. And we suppose again that we’re missing something.

I would suggest that we all have a little more faith in our analysis. Are we occasionally wrong, and do we sometimes overlook cons? Yes, absolutely. Maybe once out of every ten times.

If we refrain, though, that’s ten boats we’ve got taking up space. Ten lost opportunities for fun and marketing and fundraising. That’s ten vacations we haven’t taken, ten china keepsakes needing to be taken down and dusted. The pros of those ten opportunities, I believe, outweigh the eventuality of needing to replace one of them. The money that might come out of ten boat-fires (through sponsorship and increased activity) is more than enough to replace the one boat that might have been weighed incorrectly. The health benefits of ten vacations well outweigh the stress from gauging one expense incorrectly.

So go ahead, make the leap.

Set it on fire.

geocaching

I’m currently in Oxford, reconnecting with my dear old friend, the Bodleian. I’m also enjoying my reunion with my other long-time pal, Oxford market food. We make a great trio.

I actually arrived yesterday, and although I’ve had a great time visiting friends, I’ve also made an important discovery that I need to share.

Geocaching.

This is the greatest thing I didn’t know I was missing. The concept is simple: players hide ‘treasure caches’, and post the precise coordinates online. Other players then search for the weatherproof stash using GPS enabled devices, such as any smartphone. Once found, a player signs the enclosed logbook, perhaps takes or leaves a trinket (of nominal value), and returns the cache to its place. Ideally, this is done without alerting non-players to the existence or location of a given treasure. Stealth, treasure-hunting, and exploration? I don’t understand how I didn’t know about this before. It’s like Pokemon-Go except that you’re searching for real things.

Anyways, after discovering the concept, I went into this expecting a fair bit of fun. And it is fun. After a point, you can even start ‘levelling up’ by solving riddle caches, which require looking for clues and following a trail from one coordinate to the next. A friend and I found five or so normal caches yesterday; I spent an hour this morning on my first riddle cache. That’s when I noticed something remarkable, beyond simply ‘this is a fun game’. The riddle cache took me searching for clues along two roads and a alley, all of which I have traversed literally- and I do mean that- hundreds of times. I used to live overlooking one road and the alley; my supervisor’s office was along the other road. I’ve walked and cycled along them in all weathers, at all times of day; I’ve photographed them and spilled coffee on them and tripped over cobblestones on them.

Until today, I couldn’t tell you how many blue plaques (citing historic events and persons) were along this route, let alone what they said. Despite my love of detail and art, I couldn’t have told you which gate used to be the entrance to the Oxford Union. I couldn’t have told you that there was a birdhouse on that massive tree behind the Lamb and Flag. I noticed these things in other places, when I visited and conducted my standard art history Insta-storms. I love these things, which illustrate the unique story of each little village and town. But at some point, the weeks and months and toils of daily life blurred Oxford into any normal town, like every other town.

Geocaching- hunting for treasure- brought the magical back into the mundane. Every little average town has its legends and dreams and treasures, once we remember to look.

I can’t wait to see what I can search for next.