Sometimes it is enough
to know without thinking where the milk is,
or the bread, or how to sidestep
with a ducked head,
“sorry” under the breath
to anyone, or to half-unpacked boxes.
What a luxury it is to be thoughtless,
to grow into the cracks of a place
like a weed
and not a wildflower.
The second phase of adjustment to expat life has been harder. Little things, differences I once found charming, irritate me or depress me. Turns of phrase I’ve picked up sound fake wrapped in my accent. Running, once a joy, has become a chore. My creative life is clogged, hunched around a few untidy drafts that shake off revisions like a damp dog.
This is all exacerbated by the end of winter, which is going out not with a bang or a whimper but a fifty-foot billboard, a white-tie gala, an open-heart surgery, a not-to-be missed affair attended by its starkest clouds holding something more final than snow.
I am tired of you, not-quite-new life, and I am tired of me too. So it is time for a gratitude exercise, and some hasty snaps from the Royal Botanic Garden.
- I am feeling positive about the job-searching front, especially because I have such excellent friends sending me job announcements and offering advice.
- Speaking of friends, my garden-viewing companion today was another expat. She is turning out to be quite a kindred spirit, and not only because we have the expat thing in common. Though I won’t lie: it is really nice not to be the newest newbie sometimes.
- For my first 10K race next month, I am fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support, and we’re already a third of the way there. Well done, generous readers!
Well, my participation in Holidailies wasn’t very participatory this year. No matter. I’d trade a million journal entries for the December I’ve had.
Right now I am feeling low, post-commencement and post-vacation whirlwind, and more than a little homesick. While in Chicago, my mom and I shared a treat of Whole Foods’ curried chicken salad. FunkyPlaid and I used to get this from the deli counter, and I had forgotten how much I love the taste. I vowed to find a good recipe for this when I returned to Edinburgh, so I could make it whenever I needed a culinary hug from home.
This is the best approximation I’ve found of Whole Foods’ delicious curried chicken salad. Thank you, Beth Garrison!
Prep Time: 15 Min
Cook Time: 45 Min
Total Time: 1 Hr
- 4 chicken thighs whole
- 1 lemon quartered
- 1/2 bunch cilantro chopped
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tsp curry powder
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tsp lemon juice freshly squeezed
- 2 scallions thinly sliced
- 2 stalks celery thinly sliced
- 2 Tbsp dried currants
- Put the chicken thighs, lemon, and cilantro into a skillet or saucepan. Fill with water just to cover the chicken and season generously with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium heat, and then reduce the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer. Cook until the chicken is tender and falling from the bones, about 40 to 45 minutes (note: I just throw it in the oven and bake instead of poaching it).
- Remove the chicken from the poaching liquid and allow cooling. When cool, remove the skin and strip the meat from the bones, discarding the skin and bones. Reserve the meat.
- In a bowl, mix the mayonnaise, curry, honey, and lemon juice. Stir in the scallions, celery, and currants until combined. Add the cooled chicken meat and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
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Maybe it was my heart. No, my heart was there, for a time, spread out in beating chunks across the hills and Muni lines and friends and restaurants and libraries and moments I thought I would never survive and the moon so full reflected on Ocean Beach.
San Francisco, you taught me what it meant to expect beauty down every little alleyway, to believe in magic because living without it is dying a little every day. You taught me never to assume that I was alone because I felt lonely. You taught me patience with frustration, and when patience ran out you taught me how to curse it colorfully so I felt that at least I was doing something.
San Francisco, you gave me serendipitous meetings by the truckload if only I would look up from my books. You gave me ridiculous inconsistencies that I had to learn to wrestle, and in learning, let a little of my compulsivity go. You gave me a career direction and a writer’s voice.
I left something with you. I left my friends and I left knowing where to go for the best meals in the world and I left a part of myself, too, I know I did, that part that believes in a transit system and tolerance and a world with poets instead of politicians at the wheel.
But not my heart.
You gave me my heart.
I have a few moments post-packing, post-homework, to write something substantial on What Is Going On.
I’m doing all right. I think the cats are in various levels of “all right” — Torgi is obviously very confused, but Zen is fine as long as she has me around and some kernels in her bowl. Tomorrow the housecleaners are here, and also a wonderful TaskRabbit named Gabriela is helping me take all of the donations to Goodwill. I will make a run to the storage space with some of the little stuff in a Zipcar before I go to my in-laws’ for dinner, my last at their house for a while. This is difficult to process.
FunkyPlaid has been amazing as always, and as supportive as he can be from so far away, but there is nothing quite like being alone in the evenings for this phase of it. Trying to keep up with schoolwork has been tough, but I just received an A on a paper I was struggling with last week, so I must be doing all right.
Le Chateau de Jambon looks astoundingly different without our stuff in it. Torgi is huddled with me on one of the remaining sofas as I write. We are in the room that has so often been filled with smiling faces. I am thinking of the house shows and the parties, and then of the near-silent nights with just soft breathing and cat snores and the foghorns so close.
I am thinking of crying myself to sleep last Saturday night after singing karaoke and then feasting on South Indian food with my friends.
I am thinking of my mom’s voice in my study as we spoke quietly about the future, my future and her future and San Francisco and that I would leave it someday.
I am thinking of my dad’s voice just a few short weeks ago as he sat right where I am now and spoke of this departure in terms of days instead of somedays.
I am thinking of how the house sounded so warm and cozy with all of our stuff in it, and now it is a giant, cold cavern that echoes with every footfall, even the littlest paws.
Melodrama comes easily to me, as does melancholy, so I know I need to be focusing on the wonderful thing just ahead. Still, this house became a symbol to me. The first time I ever saw it, FunkyPlaid had just returned from Scotland in 2004, and he was so excited to be here. I was hesitant and a poor guest because circumstances were different between us, and I had no idea how to comport myself. I was awkward and I stared at the homely tile in the kitchen briefly before running off, then hated myself for it.
I saw this house again when we reunited, and I fell in love with its warmth and luxury as surely as I fell in love with FunkyPlaid. When his home became our home, I could not believe that I deserved such a beautiful place.
I grew to believe it. It took a while. And then, after he left for our new home, I dismantled this one, piece by lovely piece.
The symbol is taunting me. I am seeing it right now not as a to-do list to check off but as a culmination of love, of safety and laughter and home-cooked meals, of a place I always belonged no matter how wretched I felt about the world just outside its door.
It is so much harder to leave than I thought it would be.