2016 Summer Bucket List

We returned from our honeymoon on Monday. Reader, it was glorious. We had so much time to just relax, and hike, and talk, and read, and people-watch, and eat that I think everyone should go on a honeymoon at least once a year, whether you’re married or not. (I think other people might call these vacations, but like a true grad student, I don’t really know how to take time off. A honeymoon seemed like a good enough excuse, though.)

While driving back on Monday (so much driving!), I started thinking about what I wanted to do this summer. So here it is, my summer 2016 bucket list, in random order:

  • take L. to camp at Sequoia and/or King’s Canyon National Parks (this was a favorite family destination when we were growing up so obviously L. needs to go, too)
  • visit Santa Cruz
  • go to a baseball game (Go Giants!)
  • visit Lassen Volcanic National Park
  • experiment with spelt bread recipes
  • make my own yogurt
  • run a 5k (I’m on week 5 of couch to 5k now, which is like three weeks further than I’ve ever made it, so I’m hopeful)
  • ride another century
  • visit friends and family in the Netherlands this summer
  • write and submit an article to an academic journal
  • not get sunburned (which is harder than it looks, at least if you’re me. I went on a bike ride a couple of weeks ago, and cavilierly applied sunscreen, thinking I’d only be out for 90 minutes or so. Thanks to my abysmal sense of direction, 90 mins turned into 3,5 hours and my arms and legs got very red indeed. I’m going to aim at not repeating that experience). Also included in this goal is to avoid heat exhaustion/sunstroke
  • go to Yoga in the Park, put on by a local yoga studio here
  • go see a movie on Courthouse Square in Redwood City (the city puts on free movies on a big square in the summer–it’s a good mix of older and newer movies, and there should be at least a couple I’m interested in)
  • volunteer with CASA San Mateo (Court Appointed Special Advocates–I’ve talked with them and they’re amiable to me helping out. I get some hopefully relevant work experience, they get an extra pair of hands)
  • check out Cal Academy of Science’s new show, “Incoming!”, narrated by George Takei
  • attend at least one meet-up event
  • find a new book club
  • watch Love Between the Covers, a feature length documentary on romance novels, readers, and writers
  • keep writing cover letters until someone finally hires me

My reading goals are separate. The biggest one is to make a dent in the unread books on my shelves, but specifically:

  • Ron Chernow’s Hamilton 
  • Greg Prince’s Leonard Arrington and the Making of Mormon History 
  • Annie Clark Tanner’s A Mormon Mother
  • Kate Bowler’s Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel
  • Heather Hansen’s Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bisons and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service 
  • Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull’s Creativity, Inc. 
  • Robert Putnam’s Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis
  • Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You
  • Annie Barrow’s The Truth According to Us
  • Frederick Backman’s My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry
  • Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian
  • Marilynn Robinson’s Lila
  • Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life

although I also reserve the right to reread the Harry Potter series for the fifth hundred time, and anything I might find on my no doubt frequent trips to the library. Hashtag spontaneity.


adventures in transit

I flew into San Francisco on the 21st. My dad and I are slowly making our way to Utah (where he’ll drop me off into my new life) by way of Calaveras National Park, the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City, Arches, and Ashley National Forest.

–I’ve sat next to massively overweight people, had couples engaging in heavy PDA next to me, have told stories to kids, and even had a glass of whiskey dropped into my lap once (that was especially fun for an almost-non-drinker like me). But this was the first time I’ve shared my row with a woman and her dog. I’m allergic, so that was fun. At least I didn’t start sneezing till halfway through the flight.

–because I was using my dad’s frequent flyer miles, and he has a Premier Access/Gold Elite/Whatever Status because he flies a lot, I had access to the United Lounge at the airport on Wednesday. The ground steward asked me if I needed directions, and it immediately became clear I was not the owner of that card, since my answer was, basically, “Lounge? Me? What lounge?” I am so smooth when traveling.

–Case in point: my first day in the States, I stood in line to get a bagel, but when it was my turn to order, suddenly wasn’t sure in which language I should order and started out in a mixture of English, Dutch, and German. That was very helpful, as I’m sure you can imagine.

–on our first night in San Francisco, the rental car was broken into and our camping stuff gone through. The thief made off with all my dad’s socks and underwear (leaving his clothes behind), two towels, and five dollars in quarters. Quite the heist. We’ve replaced the underwear but are kind of wondering what the purpose behind it all was.

–Concierge lady at hotel, after my dad leaves the breakfast room: I didn’t want to say anything, but yesterday, when you came in for breakfast, I wondered if you were his daughter or his very young wife.
Me: Um, his daughter.

I then felt the need to include the fact that he has a completely age appropriate wife (which is technically true). The lady later told me about the father of one of her sons, a punk rock musician who hasn’t missed a Giants game in years and is completely passionate about fishing baseballs out of the bay, so I’m thinking it’s her, rather than me. (Also, I don’t think I’m blond enough to be a trophy wife. Small blessings.)

Pioneer Day

July 24 is Pioneer Day here in Utah, celebrating the first Mormon pioneers entrance into the Salt Lake area. There are parades, people dress up in pioneer clothes, and other such awesomeness. I went to a local park here with a friend from the seminar, and was royally entertained.

Kids were running around in bonnets, older people were square dancing, there was a lot of American Indian-related stuff you could do (somewhat un-politically correct, like “warrior face painting”), the local little Pioneer heritage park thing was open and running, with people in period clothes at the forge or the spinning wheel or giving tours of the tiny cabins. There was even an old-fashioned casket and coffin maker displaying his wares.

The whole had a kind of wild-west feel, very entertaining for the kids. There was a little jail, wanted posters on the trees, and the possibility to become the sheriff’s deputy. You could also do a covered wagon ride. R. and I channeled our inner child and climbed aboard.

the driver promised us cliffs, bumps, and speed. He delivered surprisingly well.

they even supplied you with hats for a more authentic experience.

In the evening, we went to Spanish Fork, wanting to see the rodeo. When we asked for tickets, the guard asked where we were from, saying we must not be local, since tickets for the rodeo had been sold out for a year. So we went to the fair instead before watching the fireworks show. And indeed, we saw a sign at the town hall that tickets for the 2013 rodeo would go on sale the next day at 8AM sharp. Good to know..but the fireworks were pretty. So we had that, at least.

It was (obviously) my first Pioneer Day, and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it.

strawberry cake

On Monday night, my roommate J. came home with a big tray of raspberries that needed eating. (Thanks, J’s mom!)

So we made a cake. (Of course.) It’s a very basic cake and it’s perfect for an impulsive baking spree on a summer’s night. (Except that part where you have to turn on the oven and the kitchen gets even hotter. Sorry about that.)

I love Smitten Kitchen.

Strawberry summer cake (Smitten Kitchen), slightly adapted.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved

Note: yes, this is a strawberry cake. But we used raspberries and it turned out fine. I think any kind of berry would work.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9 inch springform/cake pan (you need more room than a 9-inch pie pan is going to give you).

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together. Beat the butter and 1 cup of sugar until pale and fluffy (about three minutes with a mixer). Mix in the egg, milk and vanilla and then add the dry mixture bit by bit, mixing until just combined and smooth.

Pour the batter into the cake form. Arrange the berries on top of the batter in a single layer, then sprinkle 2 tbsp of sugar over the berries.

Then bake the cake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Reduce the temperature to 325 and bake until the cake is golden brown and a tester (skewer, fork, knife, whatever you’ve got) comes out clean, about 50 more minutes.

Now comes the hard part: let the cake cool on a rack. We failed utterly at this, by the way. Serve with whipped cream if you’re so inclined.

week three in provo

Only in Provo:

the male missionary mall was across the street.

On Sunday, I’ve been going to St Mary’s in the morning (a semi-“high church” Episcopal church) and then to a LDS Church in the afternoon. It’s quite the transition, from celebrating the mystery of the Eucharist with bread and wine to a pragmatic passing around of little paper cups of water. Especially when I go to a singles ward, since they’re not held in actual church buildings but in one of the classrooms at BYU. So in that case I go from lit candles and crosses to a science classroom with the periodic table of elements on the wall.

This afternoon, I went to church with my roommate and had the weirdest experience ever. A while ago, I went to the LDS Church in Dortmund for one of their Institute meetings because a BYU orchestra was coming to visit and it sounded like fun. Well, cue the playing of “It’s a Small World” because it turns out that two of the musicians I met there are living across the street now and thus in the same ward. Quite the coincidence. (Here, my name comes in handy. No one can pronounce it and they end up calling me Jessica for at least ten minutes before I finally just spell it for them, but once learned is apparently never forgotten. As soon as they heard a Saskia from the Netherlands was in town, they put two and two together.)

All that church is exhausting though, so I’m going to hurry through my work and then go enjoy the air conditioning before my frugal roommates turn it off. The powers that be cannot be praised enough for air conditioning.

i wish someone would make a print out of that

Do you know what I find remarkable about images like these?

[Print found in an etsy shop via pinterest]

They’re so in contrast to what depending on your bike for transportation so often is. Yes, you have the sunny, perfect days, in which robins alight on your bike and sing you to your destination. (Well, the last part never happens to me, but maybe I’m in too many accidents for birds to want to take that chance and keep me company.) But you also have many awful days, like  we had a lot of this summer and will probably have this fall, days in which you start to feel like you should start building an ark in the back yard.

Biking in that kind of weather means screwing your eyes up against the rain, feeling your jeans soak through to your underwear, if you’re unlucky, and your shoes fill with water. It’s cold, and miserable, and distances you routinely cover in twenty minutes seem to take forever.

But, and that’s my point, it’s also exhilarating. It’s part of the Dutch national consciousness, fighting the elements on your bike and getting somewhere out of breath and cold and so happy to finally be there. It’s what makes you a biker – that you bike on not just the nice days, but also on the crappy ones. That you own weather gear to get you there semi-dry (if you choose to use it is another post altogether) and brave the wind and cold on your trusty bike.

At that point, you have earned the right to ride through the sunny days and have a robin alight. At least, if I had any say in it…

…it’s probably good that I don’t.

a new kind of pie

Last week, I came across the whole pie-in-a-jar phenomenon. (I don’t remember where – sometimes the Internet is a big black hole. I only know I ended up at Our Best Bites.) I instantly fell in love with the idea – little individual pies in an unexpected container, perfect for dinner parties or any time, really. And once I had figured out where to buy the jars (thank you, Xenos!) I set out to replicate the recipe.

I decided to do small sweet potato pies, but a fruit pie works just as well. (The fun thing about tiny fruit pies is that these freeze really well, and you can take one out of the freezer in the depth of winter, bake it, and then surprise your dinner companion with a taste of summer – in a jar! Awesome, right?) I was kind of in a hurry when I made them, and you can tell – it tasted fine, but it’s just that tiny bit off because I didn’t stop to taste the filling properly.

One thing that did surprise me was that they really needed as much baking time as the regular, big pies. Also, you might not want to fill the jars all the way up, as pies baked in jars tend to slide up and then you won’t be able to get the lid on as easily. (It will involve smooshing your pie back down and that’s a very easy way to destroy your neatly made lattice top. Trust me on this.) But other than that, go right ahead and make them – it’s quite fun! And they’re adorable enough that people will ooh and aah over them anyway, no matter how they look. That’s a win right there.