Friday, 25 March 2011

pain au raisin

Two weeks into lent. I've done this on numerous occasions and it's really no big deal. As soon as you complete your challenge once, you are positive you know you can do it, and that stress of whether you will succeed disappears almost completely. So here I am. What still remains, however, is the blatant denial which you have to subject yourself to. Once you get used to this, it's fine, but then comes along the craving. You will beat it, but it lingers over you for a while. Recently, this has taken the form of a 'pain au raisin', or 'caracol con pasas' (something like that). I don't really know the English term for them. They are kind of like a danish pastry, in a swirl shape, with raisins. They also contain this gooey goodness inside of them, and when served warm from the oven are absolutely divine. They were jumping out at me in the patisseries in the streets today. Yet I don't do giving in. I have a sneaking feeling they will most definitely be one of - if not the - treat which I will devour at Easter. The eggs can wait.
One of the things I love about lent is that as I evidently still have that sweet treat desire, I am able to rediscover all of the other decidedly delicious and healthy options which so often get left behind. I had forgotten how sweet and chewy and downright yummy that dried figs and dates are. Also, cut up some fruit and mix it with a dollop of yogurt and your taste buds will sparkle into action. Sprinkle some dried fruits on your cereal and let the fruits get to work.
All of this for some reason has given me the ache to bake. I'm making plans to try out some fig bread/cake recipes, along with any other fruity bread/cake creations. I don't really know what has brought on this sudden baking burst, but I'm more than happy to exploit it:) When the time comes.

the little things

So small and seemingly insignificant, yet filled with an immense happiness power. That's the little things. They are often brushed aside in a whim, leaving us devoid of these simple pleasures which unwittingly fill us to bust with joy. For me these miniature happiness bursts are so crucial in my little world that I have some kind of burning necessity to seek them all out, express my joy for them, say a little thank you, and insist on their importance in everyone's world.
Your hot shower in the morning. Take that away and your day just may take a turn for the worse. So too may missing your morning coffee. Anarchy may prevail. Our day to day happiness really does rely on such seemingly unimportant details, and our body almost cannot function without it's mini routines and pleasures. We are such creatures of routine that we often do not realise to what extent we subconsciously demand them. I constantly fall victim to the demands of my mini desires, especially recently as my daily routines and surroundings have changed on a number of occasions recently, and right now it seems like everything is being shaken up like a cocktail. Bring on the day when some routines and order are established and I can take pleasure in my own little things, which bring me so much happiness.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Barcleona Once Again

Three months with tourist status over in the blink of an eye. Five months waiting for a visa passing by with the pace of a snail. The best things are always over too soon, while all those irksome torments in the world never seem to end. Bureaucracy may well be a necessity but it certainly knows how to cause turmoil. That just about sums up the situation right now, with a whole lot of not much I can do about it. So back to that city of Barcelona once again, waiting.
While it is far too easy to focus on the negatives, there are lurking somewhere underneath this waiting game some positives: I have a free place to stay and something to keep me mildly occupied. I returned to the city that haunts me because I was able to stay in the hostel where I used to work in exchange for a few hours of work. Otherwise I probably would be paying for my accommodation during my few weeks in Spain. It's not so bad really. My own bed is, however, infinitely better. I think we all enjoy our home comforts, so rip them from under me and everything becomes that little bit more awkward.
Just before my return I remember my little buzz of excitement from knowing that I would be able to walk around a city again, walk to a shop and browse around the city. Yes, I stretched my legs and enjoyed take a little extra time enjoying being amidst all the little pleasures of the city. What wasn't so prepared for was being hit once again by the smoke of the infinite amount of people who for some extraordinary reason partake in this bizarre habit. It was a shock to my system and I had forgotten how deeply embedded this is into the Spanish culture. I am totally in favour of the new smoking law which has banned smoking from all bars and restaurants in Spain, but now - even though this was still essentially true before the ban - it seems that nearly all of the people on the street are smoking a cigarette. It chokes. My leisurely wander around the streets has become that little bit less enjoyable. Add to that the creepy passing comments which can be received from certain lowlifes in society and that's your stroll somewhat ruined.
On the bright side, the multitude of little cafés which reside throughout the city bring coffee joy, with an attempt to read the news in Spanish thrown on top. I can only let my eyes linger over the delicious yet sinful treats that stare at me from the patisserie windows; we are deep in the grasp of lent, and all the better for it.
The fun wears off the little walks very quickly. Of course. I'm full of that thing called life and it's bursting out of me. I feel like I am throwing great potential down the drain and this is brings me great disappointment. To feel like one has made a positive contribution to the world and to oneself each day is a source of great self satisfaction, so take away the ability to achieve this and the fire in our human spirit will slowly burn out. At least now I know what makes me tick and I have every intention of sucking it all up when it makes an appearance.
Even with an abundant amount of time flying around at the moment, it still seems like there is some mighty force holding me back from completing all those unachievable items on the never ending to do list. I'm slowly resigning myself to the fact that they will forever be in this form, and so we really should stop beating ourselves up about what we haven't done, but be content with what we have achieved. This is no easy task to achieve. Put it on the to do list.
To cut a long story short, I think it is safe to say that I'm exceedingly exhausted of Barcelona, and I am totally scraping the bottom of the barrel for the enthusiasm to keep me pushing forward. I'm just going to invent the whole light at the end of the tunnel thing, because at the moment it's hidden around some corner somewhere.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

A Tourist in Texas.

Early December 2010 and my first venture onto American territory. Three months of 'tourist status' brings a whole lot of time to gradually accustom myself all the little American nuances and rhythms. Arriving on a two day delay and a hefty cold accentuated my nerves, but the wonderful friendliness of all those Americans really did help. This was one of my first impressions which started as soon as the airport and lasted for weeks; it took me a while to really get used to their friendliness, not only in customer service roles, but everywhere. Coming from Spain and the Czech Republic, where a friendly face is scarce in the service industry, I was overwhelmed by the fall over oneself attitude to serving the customer. Initially it seemed to real to be true, and I deemed almost everyone as a fake friendly, but after a while, I came to the conclusion that it's all natural. If you grow up surrounded by unfriendly people, that will most likely eventually be you. However, I'm slowly getting the feeling that the politesse and general friendliness of Americans is all natural, and not the over the top fake which I initially presumed.
One of the most prominent differences between America ans Europe for me is - no shock here - the abundance of roads. Of course, Europe is strewn with road networks, but this is easily avoided by living in a city and using public transport. I only had around 30 hours of driving lessons as a teenager, and although I'm evidently used to travelling in cars, doing so with such frequency actually takes a while to get used to. Then there comes the need to learn to drive. For me, this is one of the things what I have obviously always wanted to get sorted, but it is also one of the things that I have never imagined myself doing. On the other hand, maybe doing something you have never imagined yourself doing is one good way to grow in oneself. Overcoming apprehensiveness maybe the battle here. Such a trivial matter can mean much more to someone else.
With an arrival date in what to me is the middle of winter, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect for North Texas weather. Of course I had an idea, but still it is the small things that surprise you most about a different country. The abundant beautiful sunsets, and the mild climate with the occasional bust of freezing weather followed by a few glorious days really shook things up for me. England in general has more consistency in it's weather patterns, and stark changes are not the norm. For a female this meant I was never sure what to wear. I wore sunglasses for the first time in January, while still wearing my winter coat, because, yes, it is still January. Adapting takes a while.
Three months of no paid work, but instead a good opportunity to give a little to the world of volunteering. For me this was mainly administrative tasks in a couple of places, which unfortunately was definitely not the most interesting of jobs, yet it's a small cog in a big chain, so hopefully my little efforts were useful. It is quite amazing how quickly such menial tasks can become mind numbing, and I have no idea how people do these types of things every day. Including me. However, it was my first steps into living and working in America, and I actually learnt a lot about the American way of life on a daily level, which can only be useful. The small things, like the use of powdered milk instead of the fresh delicious stuff, and the absence of tea and a kettle in the average kitchen just amazes me. I have to teach these people a few things. All of the little differences between England and for that matter Europe in general can actually take a while to get used to, as everyone gets by their day to day routines with the help of these home comforts, and when they are taken away we are all lost.
As I was not constrained to any job, I was able to spend one day a week with my fiancé's mum, and join in her fitness classes, as well as spend some enjoyable time getting to know her and the other members of the family later in the day. She is a wonderful lady with such a positive outlook on life. Whats more, the whole family have literally welcomed me with open arms. They are such lovely beings, and their strong family bonds are evident as soon as you enter their household. It is naturally nerve-racking for any future husband or wife to enter into another family, and I am so immensely lucky to enter into such a welcoming one.
Even though I was able to keep myself busy with volunteer work and spending the day with Tim's mum, Elayne, I still had lots of spare time floating around to fill. This you would think would be the perfect opportunity to do all the things that you never seem to have time for with a heavy work schedule. To a certain extent this is true, yet I actually think people achieve more when they are schedules are full, as having all the time in the world to complete something renders things incomplete. I personally feel like I function better when filled with activities, therefore I am impatient for the time to arrive when I have a million things to do. Something tells me I won't be thinking like that when the time comes. The need for work and a daily routine seems to me to be innate within us humans, that when it is all thrown askew we don't really know what to do with ourselves.
While I am eternally grateful to my fiancé for supporting me during my stay in America, living without a car or a job means complete reliance on another person for everything. He obviously did a beautiful job at this, but I am very much looking forward to having some independence. Living without a car in America is harder than I even thought it would be; it is actually probably verging on impossible, depending obviously on where you live. Going from living in a city where most things are within walking distance to living where most things need to be driven to is a shock to the system and really does take a while to get used to. Also, I am quite fanatical about environmental issues, and when driving around I cannot help but think of the damage, but life doesn't stop and we must do the best we can in the areas where we can. I just have to convince myself that everyone else does this too.
While on the topic, it fits well to mention my astonishment at the lack of recycling in the apartment complex where I will soon be a permanent resident. I actually feel a little cry of pain every time a plastic bottle or glass jar is not recycled, and it agonises me that far too many people are unperturbed by their lack of consideration for their environment. I have to realise that nothing is ever perfect, and we can only improve things one small step at a time.
The most amazing part of the past three months in America was to start sharing my life with my fiancé. I cannot want for someone more fantastic, and to be able to share the rest of my life with him brings goose bumps to my skin.
The past few months have proved to me that sometimes life hits you with the most unexpected experiences. For me, three months of living in Spain and working in a hostel, followed by three months as a tourist in America was not even close to any of my previous future plans. It is just a small reminder that sometimes you just have to take life as it comes and not be thrown off balance when something out of the blue is thrown into the equation. For better or for worse.