Semester's Close

I love this time of year. Last night, when I realized that the weekend was over and I had to go back to work the next day, I didn't even mind. It's quiet at the office because all of the students are either buckled down finishing the last of their finals, or quietly packing up and slipping away home. I share that feeling of relief (finally done!) now that I'm a student again, too--my final paper is all but submitted (ABS), and I had my last class this evening, just watching some PowerPoints. One of the groups that presented last week gave out free toothbrushes to everyone in the class: early Christmas present! I actually do see it that way: I like toothbrushes, and dental hygiene in general. I floss every day, brush morning and night, and sometimes after lunch. And take a multivitamin every morning. These are like religious rituals, the things I do each day to ensure good health and long life and tooth retention.

We finally got our Christmas tree this weekend. Nay, our two trees. We got a real one from the garden center down the road, and a bright silver one from--of all places--Urban Outfitters. I've looked everywhere for just the tree I want, silver or white and kind of sparse, but there was nothing at Target, nothing at the hardware store, I even tried KMart and Macy's and Michael's and some other far-flung places. And then we wandered into UO yesterday and practically tripped over just what I was looking for. I'll try to get some pictures soon.

The real tree is looking a little bare right now as it awaits its gingerbread adornment. I always do gingerbread ornaments. My parents got an artificial tree when I was little, but when I was in high school they started augmenting the big fake tree with a little real one in the kitchen, because my mom missed the nice smell. Since all of our ornaments went on Big Fake, we needed something else to put on Little Real, and I volunteered to make cookie ornaments. I usually just pick one or two shapes for all the cookies. The first year I did Hippos and Hearts. Another time we did all gingerbread men. Last year, when Stephen and I had our own tree for the first time, we made moose-shaped cookies. I think I might go back to hearts this year, for simplicity's sake. Plus, I've been doodling a lot of hearts lately. I don't know what that means, but I have to be careful about it, because you can't just sit in a meeting or class and doodle hearts all over your notebook. People would talk.


Christmas Prep

Whoops. I didn't make pickles after all. Waited too long and the dill went bad. This is what they would have looked like, though. (The picture is from August, but the red and green is festive, no?)

Instead, I made oranges full of cloves. Not for eating, for looking at and smelling--and how! Those things smell fantastic. An orange-and-clove scented breakfast table is just the thing with one's morning bowl of Rice Krispies.

That's pretty much the only decorating we've done for Christmas so far--no tree yet. I really ought to get going on that, because I want two this year, a real one and a fake one. Here's my reasoning: The real one will smell good and look nice. But I like to keep the tree up through January, and that doesn't work so well with a real tree, because it dries out after a couple of weeks and starts shedding needles and posing a fire hazard. And if you miss the two-day window during which Public Works will truck it away, you must dispose of the thing in a sneaky fashion, as we did last year by cutting it up and hiding it in garbage bags. Lots of drama and intrigue.

So the plan this year is to enjoy the real one until the pick-up deadline, then bask in the glow of the fake one for the rest of the Christmas season (which, as far as I'm concerned, ends a month after the holiday--else how could I get through the long, dark chill of January?)

But not just any fake tree will do. Just as I dislike vegetarian food that pretends to be meat (faux grill-marked Boca Burgers, I'm looking at you), I don't like fake trees that try to look real. If I'm going fake, I'm going fake all the way. Right now, I'm thinking something silver or white. I haven't found just the right one yet, but I know it's out there. The hunt is on!


Cupcake Overload

It was Stephen's birthday last week, so we have a lot of leftover cupcakes sitting around the house now. Why doesn't Betty Crocker make half-batches of cake mix? You can't help but make two dozen. I've been eating them for breakfast and for dessert, but we've still got about 10 left in the fridge. It's funny how breakfast and dessert foods are so similar--not bacon and eggs, I know, but danishes and donuts would feel just as right after dinner as they do first thing in the morning. Moreso, even. Or they should, but people would probably think it wrong to serve muffins for dessert. But what is the Muffin, after all, if not Cupcake's unadorned cousin with pretensions of nutritiousness?

Sometimes I try to imagine what visitors who have never experienced American/Western cuisine find strange about our food. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches probably seem kind of gross. (Peanuts processed into a fatty spread? Combined with gelatinous berry goo? Sandwiched between slices of bread? Yum.) And cereal with milk. ("It's like a soup, served cold. With two ingredients--milk and bits of dry cooked grains.") And hot dogs. Even we don't like to think too much about hot dogs.

Anyway, so now Stephen's a year older, and we've got all these cupcakes in the fridge. Our Fair City received a blast of frigid arctic air this weekend, but the radiators are keeping drafts at bay, and the garden center down the street is selling Christmas trees. Midnight Madness is this Thursday. Oh, and I bought pickling supplies! So I'm planning to make some homemade pickles today. Those will go nicely with the cupcakes, I'm sure.


What's This?

Snow! It's snowing and snowing outside. I have to drive across the state tonight, and I don't even care. It looks so awesome out there. People complain about Holiday Creep, but I have no problem with it. None. At. All. I woke up the other day so excited about the Christmas Season. Family - yes! Tree decorating - yes! Cookies, presents, snow, snow boots, wool hats, wrapping, jollyness - yes, yes, yes. Bring it on.


Sweet Jane

Oh, wait. Blankets. I was going to write more about blankets.

This started around the time I went off to college. I had a work study job (hence, disposable income, although a paltry amount--$5.40 an hour doesn't add up quickly), and a bed to clothe, and no closet full of blankets and sheets with which to clothe it. I quickly discovered that I loved buying bed stuff--sheet sets, pillow cases, quilts, comforters, you name it. I started with two sets of ticking-striped cotton sheets, then added a flannel set for the winter. I found a sewing pattern for pillowcases and starting making my own. I spent a whole year quilting a homemade cover for my comforter. Cutting out all the pieces and sewing it together was a long and tedious process, but I loved my dorm bed that year. Coziest thing ever.

When I moved into my first apartment, I inherited my grandparents' old maple bed frame. Since it was a double bed, I had ("had") to find all new linens. I bought a new comforter and some fancy sheets (I remember discussing thread counts with my roommates). And kept going from there.

These days, I've got a spring quilt, a summer quilt, a fall/winter quilt, a yellow quilt for the couch, a wool blanket for the green reading chair, two duvet covers, a mountain of pillowcases, and almost half a dozen sheet sets. It's ridiculous, I know. But a warm bed is synonymous with home and comfort for me. I like nesting.

Unfortunately, our apartment is far too well-heated for such things. The radiators are irrepressible. I grew up in a house heated by wood stoves--a romantic, but relatively ineffective, method of heating, especially when your room is in the attic (as mine was) and the wood stove is on the ground floor (as ours was). So blankets were essential to winter comfort.

Luckily, with the New England chill right outside, we're still able to recreate the wood-heat experience occasionally by opening the windows at night to let the cool air spill in. Wasteful, I know, but we can't control the thermostat--it's set for the whole building. And it means I can pile the bed high with blankets, just as it should be.

In other news, for all you Jane Austen lovers out there (my sister and I actually call her J.A.): Did you know that PBS is playing adaptations of all her novels in January? At least, they are here in Boston. I saw an ad for the series today, accompanied by the Cowboy Junkies cover of Sweet Jane. Ha! A network after my own heart.


Low Tech

From "Caution: Killing Germs May be Hazardous to Your Health," in the October 29th issue of Newsweek (what can I say, sometimes I get a little behind on the news):

Americans have been obsessed with eradicating germs ever since their role in disease was discovered in the 19th century, but they've been partial to technological fixes like antibiotics or sanitizers rather than the dirty work of cleanliness.

(And by the "dirty work of cleanliness," the authors apparently mean washing "in all the spaces between the fingers and under the nails and rubbing for at least 20 seconds.")

I agree. Although I cringe a little when I hear broad generalizations about "Americans," as though we're all of one mind, I do think that many people put a lot more faith in technology than in time-tested, low-tech remedies for things like disease and climate change. Maybe there's a feeling that simple, old-fashioned solutions--soap rather than sanitizers, clotheslines as opposed to Energy Star dryers--just can't solve our weighty problems. Or that technology will save us. Or that taking the bus is just less glamorous/fun/enlightened- looking than driving a shiny new hybrid.

I don't say this to be Greener-Than-Thou. I have a car (not a hybrid); I have a computer; I just got a flu shot. I'm a fan of technology. But I find it reassuring that research is now showing that the simplest and cheapest ways of doing things--cleaning with baking soda and vinegar, buying less, walking more, drinking plain ol' water right out of the tap--are good for our health and good for the planet.



Two dream-like things have happened to me in the last twenty-four hours:

I awoke in the dark at 4:59 this morning to the sound of a small crash, about the volume of a slammed car door, followed by the frantic peals of a car alarm. There were flashing lights, and I could hear a large truck huffing and puffing outside--like a garbage truck, but they don't come by on Sundays. I walked to the window and saw that a firetruck passing its way up our narrow, potholed road with lights blaring but with no siren, had swiped the bumper of a little Honda hatchback out front. The car, as though startled from its slumber, was squealing and screeching its dismay. Three tired firefighters stood, surveying it, in the hazy glow of the streetlights. After a minute, the Honda settled itself, one of the firemen took its plate number, and the truck moved silently on.

That's the kind of scene my sleeping mind is wont to fabricate, and I'd be convinced now that I'd been dreaming then if Stephen didn't remember it, too.

In the daylight, hours later, we took the train to North Station in search of a new cupcakery we'd heard about in Boston. The storefront was so narrow that we almost missed it. Inside, a table for two was crowded in one corner, and a narrow counter ran along the opposite wall. An antique mint green lacquered stove stood sentinel next to a waist-high cooler of fancy drinks in translucent pastel-colored bottles. The remainder of the shop was divided in two by an enormous glass case filled with the kind of fanciful desserts that one might see in Willy Wonka and wish were true. S'mores cupcakes topped with tiny toasted marshmallows. Palm-sized Boston cream pies. Homemade Hostess cupcakes. Miniature pumpkin cheesecakes. Vanilla cupcakes, chocolate cupcakes, peanut butter and jelly cupcakes. Oreo cupcakes. Red velvet cupcakes. And so on. And on and on and on.

We bought four, and stuffed two in our mouths immediately. I drifted off to my afternoon meeting on an extended sugar high. The remaining two now sit, fluffy and decadent, preening, in their little white bakery box on the kitchen counter.

Proof that dreams can come true. Wow.


Changing of the Guard

The end of Daylight Savings this morning marked the end of one half of the year, and the beginning of the other. I know that DST is really more than 26 weeks, but the non-DST part feels long enough to be half. A friend once told me about a book in which the author describes six seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall, The Clenching, Winter, and the Unclenching. That image really works for me, because there's about a month and a half (half of October and November, March and half of April) on either side of winter that's not quite fall- or spring-like. Colder and grayer than those seasons should be. I think those months falls into this half of the year, the one we've just begun.

The shortened days have a lot to do with my negative feelings about winter. The limited daylight makes everything feel rushed to me. The sun is setting when I leave work, so I hurry home on the darkened streets. The stars are out by the time I arrive, so dinner feels overdue. No time for a nice walk or anything else outdoors, it's already night. And the wind is so biting that I've no inclination to venture outside anyway.

Luckily, I've discovered some antedotes to the season(s) ahead, and I'm looking forward to partaking in them. These are things that I don't enjoy nearly as much at other times of the year, so I guess that says something for winter:

Chai. Tastes the way I imagine liquid pumpkin pie would. I got some of the rooibos kind at the store last week, and it's waiting in the cupboard until temperatures drop.

Baths. When Stephen and I were looking for an apartment in Cambridge, we called our priorities the Big Three: I wanted a bathtub, he wanted hardwood floors, and we both wanted a dishwasher. We lucked out on the first two with this place. When I feel particularly cold or tired or sad, I always go run a piping hot bath. It's soporific, too.

Food. I love cooking in the winter. Smells nice, warms up the house, cheers everyone up. I'm making eggplant tonight. Maybe something with pumpkin tomorrow.

Light. My family is notorious (among its immediate members) for leaving the Christmas tree up until February. I still do that. It's so nice to have a lit-up tree in your house when it's dark and gray outside. Plus, it smells good.

Radio. This one surprised me, but I discovered last year that turning on NPR really takes the edge off when I'm feeling cooped up and isolated. Particularly This American Life or Wait Wait..Don't Tell Me! (But not A Prairie Home Companion. I can't take that voice.) Or sometimes I'll play records. Charlie Parker is particularly good for this.

There are a bunch of other things, too, now that I think about it. Wood stoves. Snowshoeing. Mountains. Cities. The smell of yuzu. Blankets. I'm actually kind of a fanatic about blankets. Have I written about that before? I don't think so. Well, there's a lot to say, so I'll have to save that for another time.


Inside Looking Out

Cold and rainy out today, perfect weather for a November Saturday. Stephen has grad classes all weekend, so it's quiet and still here at home. I have another paper to write, but haven't gotten up the motivation to start yet. I just want to sit at my desk and listen to the passing cars on Mass Ave. stir up the puddles.

I also want to clean. You know how some people claim to like exercising? I feel the same about cleaning. Not the drudgery kind of cleaning, like scrubbing the tub or rinsing dishes, but the sorting and putting things away kind. I love a clean apartment. I find it difficult to get much done when it's messy here--too distracting. So maybe I'll go straighten things up for a while, and then start my research. I think I might write about government-mandated inoculations. That'll wake things up around here.

Across the road, there are a dozen trees with all of their leaves still on, most of them green. That's surprising, because the honey locust that fills our living room windows went gold and then dropped its foliage weeks ago. I don't expect things to be green after Halloween.

Although I'm not fond of the cold, I love this time of year. I remember having a similar feeling about the summer after undergrad. I had lined up a summer job for June, then I was going on vacation with Stephen's family in July. My family was going away for the first half of August, and I had secured a full-time job that started right after we got back. It's rare for me to have arrangements set that far ahead of time, and I remember thinking that the summer would be like a conveyor belt, effortlessly moving me through all of the plans I had made. And that's pretty much how it was.

I get the same feeling at the beginning of November every year. Thanksgiving and Christmas lay ahead, glowing with promise, and all we have to do is wait for the conveyor belt of time to usher us into the holidays. It helps cushion the descent into winter.


Change of Heart

When I left work today, I noticed that someone had dressed up the elephant statue near the office for Halloween. They had put a sheet over his back with holes cut out for his eyes, a pumpkin on his head, and a bucket full of peanuts on his trunk. Seeing that, my Halloween-Grinch heart thawed a few degrees. So sweet. Happy Halloween.



Done! I finished up the last of the midterm mayhem on Friday morning. It seems that while I was inside over the last two weeks, fall turned to late fall. It dipped below freezing here a couple of nights ago, and again last night. The sun is rising later (as I discovered at the tail-end of an all-nighter) and setting earlier.

I bought a new coat on Saturday, and not a moment too soon--I had to wear it for the first time on Sunday when we went to see Michael Clayton. Jacket-wise, I've been making-do up until now with a trench coat that I usually wear on rainy days in the summer, but I realized on Sunday afternoon--out for another walk at Great Brook Farm with Stephen and his dog--that the time for such cobbled-together cold-weather solutions has passed. It's time now for hats and gloves and scarves, and lots of wool.

A couple of weeks ago, I got out all of my sweaters and lined them up in the blue cubbies that Stephen made last year. (We couldn't think of any other name for them, but that word--cubby--cracks me up. I haven't had a cubby since kindergarten.) I used to hate the itchiness of wool sweaters, and would only wear cotton or acrylic. But I like the look and smell of wool, so I always hoped to get over my aversion to the itch. Then I met Stephen and noticed that he wore lots of wool. I asked how he could stand the itch-factor, and he said he just got used to it after awhile. So I gave it another try, and now I'm a total devotee. Wool, wool, wool, all the time, from late October to early April. The Cold Season.

This is our thirteenth month in Cambridge, so I'm starting to recognize patterns from last year. Walking home from work in the dark, seeing pots of mums on all the porches, opening the door into an apartment hissing with radiator heat. We got our first batch of brussels sprouts--one of my favorite treats from last autumn--from the grocery store this evening.

The neighborhood is really geared up for Halloween. Some people have dozens of carved pumpkins on their porches, or miniature graveyards out front and huge spiderwebs strung in the trees. I like seeing my neighbors' creativity, but I just don't get into the holiday that much myself. I'm already looking forward to Thanksgiving. I mean, I like carving pumpkins as much as the next person. But unless you're going out trick-or-treating--something that I think is weird to do past the age of 18 unless you're with kids--there's just not a whole lot to do on Halloween. Especially if you don't like horror movies, which I don't. I think I'd be more into the holiday if I lived in a house where people came for candy. I hope to someday. Then I could both hang out in my pajamas and partake in the festivities. Killer combo, that.


Midnight Oil

Midterms. I'd forgotten what they were like. Now I remember--lots of late nights, counting down the days and hours until each assignment is done, and then the next one. I've programmed my body to think that 2 am is a normal time to go to bed, and that getting up 6 hours later to start working again is perfectly reasonable. This sleep deprivation obviously can't last, but I just have to get through Friday. Two more days, two more days.

What else is new.

Ooh, I'm learning to play the banjo! I'm loathe to commit this to blog, since last time I did that--with the juggling--I promptly lost all ambition. But this is fun, so I'll tell you anyway.

On Sunday, we were listening to that Feist song from the iPod commercial, and I said something like, "That part with the banjo is cool."
To which Stephen replied, "Yeah."
"I'd like to play the banjo."
"You can use mine if you want."
[dumbfounded silence]
"You have a banjo?"
"Um, yeah."
"Where is it?"
"In the other room."
"HERE? Like, in the apartment?!"
"Well, what do you think is in that banjo-shaped case?"
[more stunned silence]
"I don't know. You have a lot of instruments in a lot of cases."

I mean, in my defense, the guy owns four different stringed instruments. I knew about the guitar, the mandolin, and the ukulele, but apparently I never noticed the banjo.

So we got it out and he tuned it a little and I tried on the fingerpicks. I learned the G, C and D7 chords, and a little ditty called Boil Down Them Cabbage. I'm very excited about it, so much so that I think Stephen might be getting a little sick of hearing Boil Down Them Cabbage. But he's been an extremely patient teacher, enduring the occasional pathetic outburst ("Why isn't it working? I am pressing down on the second string! Whine whine whine!") and tolerating my habit of wrapping my fingertips in band-aids before playing, even though real banjo players just build up calluses.


Wind in the Wee Hours

We had a wind storm here the other night. Morning, really--it started around 2:30 am on Saturday. I ran around closing all of the windows, but not before the rain got in. The living room floor was soaked. We sat and watched the trees jostle wildly outside. The screens on the windows rattled, and I worried that they might fall off. Then the street lights went out, followed a second later by the security lights on the building across the street. We didn't lose power, amazingly, but it was quite a sight. I fell asleep to the sound of police cars and fire trucks racing by, sirens blaring.

When I woke up later, though, there was little evidence that the storm had ever happened. It's been bright and sunny ever since. The storm seems to have shocked the honey locust outside our window into autumn mode--the leaves, so green only a week ago, are now bright yellow and starting to fall.


Apples, Zinnias, Steamboat, Tea

It's well and truly fall now. The radiators have come on in our building, and if we leave the windows open overnight I wake up with a chilled nose. We got a new duvet cover at Ikea and put the comforter back on the bed. I got a bottle of Woolite and started freshening the sweaters I've been storing in the "jam" cupboard since last winter. I love the smell of a Woolited (Woolit?) sweater. So clean.

We haven't gotten any pumpkins yet, but I plan to soon. Problem is, I've got two papers due next week. School, bleh. Actually, I like what I'm learning, and I like the assignments; it just stinks to sacrifice brilliant fall weekends to the computer screen. One of my classes ends in a week, though, and then I can chill a little. Finally get some groceries. Make fall-ish things to eat. We went out for breakfast last Saturday and I had pumpkin cranberry pancakes. They didn't taste all that pumpkinish, but it was a nice idea. And the cranberries looked festive. I love all of the pumpkin-themed food this time of year. Last week, I got a pumpkin cupcake with cinnamon frosting at Kick Ass Cupcakes. Worth every penny, and it was a lot of pennies for a cupcake.

The last of the warm weather disappeared after Columbus Day. We went to visit my family in NY State for the long weekend, and it was hot there. Stephen and I went apple- and zinnia-picking, and we had to take a couple breaks for water and ice cream. So sunny. It was a magical weekend, though. Just what you want on a three-day weekend in October.

On Saturday, we went to the Applefest in town, then wandered down Huguenot Street looking at the old houses. We found a sweet, ancient cemetery and sat there for a while, soaking up the afternoon sun. Some of the gravestones were from the 18th century, and were very primitively carved. I loved that. I think I'd rather have a hand-drawn gravestone than one of those flashy granite ones they have today. Modern ones look too slick to me, like a PR person printed them out. These stones, by contrast, had a lot of character. There was care in them.

On our way back up the street, we walked under a black walnut tree. Just then, the wind picked up, and baseball-sized nuts rained down, smashing into the pavement with alarming determination. I jumped out of the way as a woman next to me pointed skyward, saying, "Look at all of those apples falling!" Geez, save yourself, lady!

On Sunday, we went with my mom and dad for a ride on the Rondout on their friend's homemade steamboat. There was another steamboat out on the river, too, although ours was small (big enough for 7 people) and theirs was about twice the size. We all waved to each other. People always wave to each other on the water. I'm not sure why—it's like we're all so excited and happy to be out on a boat that we can't help but share it with others—"Isn't this fun? Weeee!"

After the boat ride, we had tea and fancy food at the little Tea Room in New Paltz. I'm not very adventurous when it comes to food--I like it meat-free and mild—but I'm willing to go crazy with tea. Black tea, white tea, green tea, oolong, rooibos, chai—bring it on. I think I got some kind of Provence rooibos blend. Fruity, sweet. I could get into tea the way others get into wine. Talk about the bouquet and the nose and other subtleties of flavor. Drink it long into the night. Sigh. Born in the wrong century, wrong country.

Later, my dad showed us his Iceland slideshow. We used to watch slideshows all the time when I was little—my dad would hang a white sheet in the living room doorway, and we'd sit on the couch as he narrated his various adventures. Most of the pictures were taken before I was born, so it's cool to see my parents building their house, my mom with long hair, the dog they had when they were first married. This particular slideshow is from a trip my dad took to Iceland to film the aftermath of the eruption on the island of Heimaey in the 1970s . The streets were full of black, black dust, and they arrived just as people were starting to return to the island. One guy they met invited them to dinner and served puffin. His was the only yard that had been swept clean at that point. Some houses were completely buried and had to be abandoned. Hard to imagine living in the shadow of a volcano.

The next day, Stephen and I went to a farm to check out the Corn Maze they'd advertised. It was pretty effective--the corn was tall and thick, and the dense greenery muffled all outside sounds. I got lost at one point and shouted to Stephen, but he couldn't hear me. Luckily, I could just see the top of the chestnut tree we passed on the way in, so I was able to navigate my way out. I heard some parents calling for their kids in the maze, and was grateful not to be looking for a lost child. I'd probably tie my kids to me before venturing in. I'm a worrier that way.

We picked zinnias at the farm, like I said, and apples, and got some ice cream. They had animals there, too--goats and rabbits and heirloom chickens—so we went to see them and took some pictures. We agreed that turkeys, followed closely by guinea fowl, are the Ugliest Animals That Ever Were.

Don't you think?


Friday Afternoon

I was thinking today about what my outdoor education trainer used to call the Friday Afternoon Fester. In undergrad, this is the time between 3 and 6 pm when there's no prescribed activity. It's too early for dinner, too early to party, but classes are over and there's no need to start your weekend homework yet. If you live on campus, there's no commute to transition between the workweek and the weekend, so unless you're leaving for a trip, you're thrown into an activity-less limbo.

A couple of years ago, when I was working at the Women's Studies Center, we started a Friday afternoon tradition of hosting a knitting circle. It began as a fundraiser for breast cancer research--we'd knit up hats and scarves and then raffle them off to students when the frosty winter air blew in. It was such a hit that we started a new project when that one was done, crocheting children's clothes and blanket squares for Afghans for Aghans.

The Friday afternoon circles continued all year long. When three o'clock rolled around, a few student workers and other enthusiasts would trickle in. I'd finish up my last emails and turn off the computer. We'd dig out the box of yarn and needles and settle into the couches while someone turned the radio on. Thus, the last few hours of every work week were spent sitting in our cozy Center, talking about campus happenings or just knitting in companionable silence.

I miss that now. There are a few student workers who come in on Friday afternoons this semester, and I try to think of fun things for us to do on those days. Last week we took the bus to Davis Square to pick up refreshments for a seminar and check out the new cupcake bakery. This week we went to a talk on solar energy. It's not knitting, but it's a nice break after sitting and staring at my monitor for four and a half days.

Anyway, now the fester is over and I'm leaving on a little road trip. Stephen and I are heading to New York (state) tonight to see my parents and siblings. Yay for brilliant maple leaves along the Mass Pike!


Rush Hour Serenade

I take classes after work two days a week, so I'm usually on the T heading into Boston when most people are packing up and going home. The subway cars get really crowded, and by the time we're downtown, it's stuffy and difficult to move. Yesterday, I found myself en route to Boston near the peak of rush hour on a car without air conditioning. The conductor kept encouraging those of us in the "hot car" to move down the train, but I was worried that I wouldn't make it to the next set of doors before the train left the station. So I just sat there, stewing in the heat, while cranky commuters bustled around me.

Then we pulled into Harvard Square, the doors opened, and a cool breeze blew in. The conductor announced that we'd be standing by for a few minutes. The waiting crowd filed on and took a seat. A man sat playing the cello right outside my car. The timeless, moving sound of his instrument echoed through the cavernous station, and everyone became still. People leaned back in their seats and closed their eyes, enjoying the haunting music and the cool air. It was such a beautiful moment of calm, and the train was much less grumbly when we left the station.

Well done, cello player. Well done, MBTA.


A Walk in the Woods

We were supposed to go see the Mountain Goats this weekend, but then the concert we had planned to attend was canceled, and the only other one in the area was sold out. So we consoled ourselves with a trip to IKEA. Funny thing about that place--it's fun to walk through the showrooms, and discover little displays of inexpensive and well-designed items tucked in the corners. I admire their concern for the environment, and the idea of democratizing good design. But I always feel a little sad when I walk out of there. Picking out a lamp and seeing five of the same in the check-out line; seeing strangers sit on the same couch we chose a few months ago, the model I now consider "ours"; everyone eating identical bowls of macaroni and cheese at the cafe--it makes me feel so anonymous. It's hard to hold onto any illusions of uniqueness in there. Plus, I always spend more than I intend to. After three hours of buying stuff in a big windowless box, I feel soul-nauseated. I need to go breathe fresh air and feel like an autonomous non-consumer for a while.

Luckily, we were also watching Stephen's family's dog this weekend, so we spent a lot of Saturday and Sunday walking in the woods. We met some goats on a farm, passed through a horse field, visited an old, old cemetery (I love looking at the slate tombstones), and saw farmers harvesting grapes in a vineyard. I love going for walks in the fall. Summer and autumn seem like country times to me, seasons best enjoyed in a farmhouse surrounded by fields and forest. In the winter and early spring, I like to be huddled in the city, sitting by a radiator and watching the snow fall under the streetlights outside. Otherwise I have a tendency to feel lonely on those long, dark nights. But when it's warm out, there's nothing like being out in nature. I'm trying to get out as much as possible now, before it gets too cold.



You know when you've just found out about some hilarious or delicious or interesting thing, and suddenly you can't get enough of it? I do that all the time. I'll find a blog I like and read through all of the archives in a day. Or I'll get obsessed with some food. Last fall, when I figured out that I like brussels sprouts, I just made 'em made 'em made 'em right through the winter, until it became spring and it no longer seemed right.

Stephen and I are going through an obsessive phase right now with The Office. We used to watch the British version, and thought it was really funny. But eventually I got tired of cringing my way through each episode. They do such a good job of finding and exploiting the awkwardness in every situation that it can be hard to watch. I have to keep reminding myself that it's just a TV show, that these scenes of gut-wrenching social interaction aren't really happening before my eyes.

The American version is much kinder and gentler, in my opinion. The characters are more likable, the awkwardness less edgy. The whole thing is a little more jolly than the British version, if I'm remembering correctly. But it could be that all comparisons have been tainted by our recent marathon of U.S. Office-watching. We watch four episodes a night, sometimes more. Each one is so short that we always want to see just one more, and then another, and so on.

Problem is, it can't last. We're almost done with Season 2, and I don't think Season 3 is out on Netflix yet. We're almost done with Manor House, too. Shoot. Nothing gold can stay.



writing my first grad school paper
reading Susan Sontag's Illness as Metaphor
watching Manor House
listening to Feist
drinking apple cider
eating pumpkin ravioli
wearing new boots
visiting Great Brook Farm State Park
looking forward to the Mountain Goats concert

Happy Equinox.


A Visit

Some friends came to visit last weekend, so I got to do things that I forget about until guests are in town: go the Public Garden, Beacon Hill, etc. On Friday, we ate delicious pizza in Beacon Hill and sat next to a family from Houston who told us about the school system in Texas and how much their son admires Einstein. Then we saw the Ether Monument at the Garden ("To Commemorate the Discovery that the Inhaling of Ether Causes Insensibility to Pain - First Proved to the World at the Mass. General Hospital in Boston - October A.D. MDCCCXLVI"), which I'd never noticed before, being too transfixed by the Swan Boats. We also celebrated our friend's birthday with coconut cupcakes, and watched the Red Sox beat the Yankees on Saturday (on TV, not at Fenway). We visited a little board game shop in Harvard Square, where Stephen and I collaborated on solving a 2' x 2' Rush Hour puzzle. We all played 1000 Blank White Cards. It was an amazing weekend.

I remember when I first moved here and someone told me that there wasn't much to do around Boston. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I had just come from a town of less than 5,000 people, and there was plenty to do even there. Surely Boston had something more to offer.

But now I understand what she meant. It's not Boston--there's lots going on in the city. But when you're a resident for a while, you stop seeing a place with visitor's eyes. There are inevitably some places that you never get around to visiting, and those drift to your peripheral vision and eventually leave the realm of possibilities altogether. All you see is that one coffee shop you go to, and your grocery store, your pharmacy, etc.

Case in point: I'm overdue for a visit to the dentist, so yesterday I went to my insurance company's website to locate providers. Turns out there are dozens
of dentists within a mile of my apartment. Dozens. Within one mile. As I read through the list, I realized that I had seen some of the names before. Some of those offices are on the route that I walk to work five days a week.

So maybe I need to look up more often.



I find uprooting difficult. This really became apparent when I was an undergrad. During those first few days back at school in the fall or at home in the summer, I would often wake up feeling lost. The context of my life had changed overnight, and suddenly all of the people and landmarks around which I normally structured my day were gone. It was disorienting, but I adjusted after a while.

When I studied in Santa Fe during my junior year, the feeling was much stronger, and lasted for weeks. The landscape had a lot to do with this. I felt as though I had traveled to another planet. The land, the adobe houses, the dust all glowed bright red-brown, brilliant against the deep blue desert sky and scrubby, green-black clumps of junipers. The Sangre de Cristos loomed larger than any mountains I'd ever seen. It was beautiful, but so, so alien. I was used to being tucked between small, forested hills, a blanket of clouds overhead. Maple trees. Apple farms. Snow drifts. The Northeast. I was living with friends from school, but outside of our apartment, everything was unfamiliar.

I had a similar reaction to very different circumstances when we moved to Cambridge last fall. The landscape was not at all foreign. In fact, the move felt like a geographic homecoming, since my family has always vacationed in New England, and the landscape is similar here to that in rural New York.

We had some friends in the area, but the whole community I'd been a part of at college was gone. I went to work, I came home. My co-workers were friendly, but I still felt lost. And loss. It took a long time to get over the feeling. Months. Finally, I think I realized that I wasn't busy enough. I had shied away from commitments since moving in because I thought that what I wanted was extended, guilt-free leisure time. No homework hanging over my head. No evening meetings to go to. Unencumbered weekends. The dream that every college student dreams during finals week.

But sometime in the spring, I finally realized that all of that free time left me feeling empty. I needed commitments, I needed to be a part of more things. So I began new projects at work, and started taking yoga. Then I applied for grad school. Classes began last week. I'm busy now. Things are rushed, and the weekends are no longer entirely my own. I have papers to write, and sometimes it's overwhelming.

But all in all, I feel so much better. The more I do, the more connected I feel, like I'm rooting myself. Busy can mean happy. It's not just stress. It's thriving.


Island Escape

I'm sitting in the kitchen with the windows open, doing homework. (No, really. I am. Okay, I'm not reading this very second, but I will. In a minute.) The world outside looks beautiful--all bright sun reflecting off the dark green leaves on the honey locust and sugar maple in the yard. In the big brick apartment building across the street, someone is playing the trumpet. Some days, as we walk to the corner, we can also hear a pianist practicing there. There used to be a violinist living on the first floor of our building, too, but I think she moved out. Too bad; it was a nice to listen to while waiting for the elevator.

It's still technically summer, and it really feels it around here. So humid outside, and that flat, pressing buzz of cicadas hovering over the sidewalks. Just last night it felt like fall. I like this, the ever-changing weather. Some days we eat ice cream, other days we drink tea. It's time to start thinking about new, more serious things, like seminars and writing assignments and budget meetings, but I'm still caught up in the sensory joys of summer, and I think everyone else is, too. No one wants to sit inside all day.

On Labor Day, we took the ferry out to the Harbor Islands. What is it about islands that so capture our collective imagination? People love to go to islands. I guess it's the idea of being in a self-contained world, away from the everyday. Stephen and I looked out from the ferry at the many islands in the harbor and tried to choose one to live on. I think we settled on Great Brewster. Yes, I know this is impossible. But we would have a house built next to the hill, and some sheep, and a dog. And when people came to visit, they'd cross the harbor on a boat. We'd sit up on the hill and watch the sun set over the city.



I don't know where I've been for the past year, but somehow I managed not to visit the Boston Public Library until yesterday. That place is so nice! We went to see an exhibit of miniature books, which I was feeling a little skeptical about because the publicity poster showed an old, musty-looking book, and I was convinced that we'd be looking at a bunch of little Bibles. I was so wrong. The was a huge variety of books, from the complete works of Shakespeare in books smaller than a deck of cards, to a stamp-sized version of Edward Gorey's The Eclectic Abecedarium. The smallest book there was 0.9 mm square. Tiny!

In the next room over, there was an exhibit of posters from WWII, with slogans like, "America Needs Your Scrap Rubber," and "Save Waste Fats for Explosives". I was struck by how much the message of what constitutes patriotic consumerism has changed over time. These days (moreso right after 9/11, I think), buying a Hummer and eating a Big Mac means that we're not "letting the terrorists win". The posters we saw yesterday, by contrast, extolled the virtues of growing veggies in your Victory Garden (saving manufactured food for the troops) and traveling as slowly and as little as necessary (to reduce wear on rubber tires and to free up space on trains). What once was defined as patriotic would be considered decidedly less-so now; the values espoused in those old posters sound more like arguments for the modern-day environmental movement. Weird how values flip around like that.

Then we went out to the courtyard, which felt spectacular in the late afternoon sun with a cool September breeze blowing around. There were dozens of people sitting there reading the newspaper or typing on laptops. It looked like a great place to do schoolwork. I don't know if I'll ever make it out there to do work for grad school, but I'd like to. There were kids running around the fountain, but the scene was surprisingly quiet, cocooned as it was from the noise and bustle of Copley Square outside.

The BPL wasn't the only fantastic building we saw this weekend. On Friday, I went on a tour of MIT with Stephen and his brother. It was interesting to hear about the various pranks ("hacks") that students have pulled over the years, the history of the buildings, etc., but the whole point of the trip for me was to see Stata. We spent a good half hour there after the tour ended, running up and down the staircases and through the serpentine corridors, seeking out all of the little nooks and deciding where we'd like to have our offices. Creatively designed buildings like that really spark my imagination. I never want to be an architect--it's just not the kind of problem that I like to solve--but I love to be in well-designed spaces. It's unfortunate that interesting buildings are so rare. How often do we even notice the spaces we're in?


Back to School

September has always meant big changes for me. My parents are both teachers, so Back to School marked the end of vacation for all of us when I was a kid. In elementary, middle, and high school, it signaled a return to early morning wake-ups and homework and after-school programs, sports practice, or play rehearsals. In college, it meant packing up my room and moving across the state. I've been out of school for over two years now, but because I work at a university, back to school still brings changes-- students return, and the workload picks up.

The new class of students arrived on campus yesterday. The Quad was abuzz with nervous energy and excitement. Even though I no longer work at my alma mater, the sights and sounds of the day brought me back to my own first day of college. I remember feeling so many things--I wanted to set up my room and meet my roommates, wanted to explore my new school, wanted to sit alone and think, wanted to spend time with my parents because I wouldn't see them again for a month. A month seemed like such a long time. I stood outside the dorm as they drove away that afternoon, and didn't go in again until they were out of sight.

Yesterday, as we sat on the lawn and watched the students and their parents swarm over the lawn, I asked a co-worker what she remembered about her first day of college. "Fear," she said. "A lot of fear. Everyone was afraid."

That's how it often is for me. I think dread is my default setting when it comes to new experiences. I've been feeling it a lot lately, because today was Back to School for me, too, in a big way: I started grad school.

Honestly, I'm not even sure why I was so nervous about it. When I critically examined each element that might inspire fear--the specter of getting lost, or of not knowing anyone--none really seemed intimidating. I knew I wouldn't get lost, and I didn't really care that I wouldn't know anyone. And yet, when I wasn't staring the fear down, it would creep back in.

Orientation went swimmingly, though. Everyone was friendly, we had a delicious lunch of dim sum, and I got my schedule for the fall all straightened out. Piece of cake. You would think that this experience--and an accumulation of similar experiences over time--would teach me not to worry like I do. But this fear clings tightly, and won't be pacified by reasoned thinking.

Nevertheless, I am excited about grad school. I think it will make my life bigger, in a way. Sitting in my quiet office, in a quiet corner of campus, I sometimes feel like the world I inhabit has grown small--smaller than me. It's nice to be expanding again, moving out into new places. Finding new challenges.



What was I just saying, about not being ready for fall? Something about needing "a little more time to soak in the honey-colored, sun-saturated end of summer"? Well, I got it. And how. We've had record-breaking high temperatures over the last few days. Now I remember exactly what it was like in July, when the humidity made even my eyelids sweat, and it took two or three showers a day just to make life bearable. Trips to Herrell's every afternoon. Dreaming of the beach. That line from To Kill a Mockingbird.

I'm really grateful for this little reprieve. It was a great weekend, full of small surprises. On Friday, we escaped into the cool of a movie theater to see The King of Kong, a documentary about the race to break the top score on the classic arcade version of Donkey Kong. (If that sounds official, it's because I paraphrased the synopsis. I myself know nothing of arcade games.) The film was surprisingly moving and engaging. At first, I thought it was a mockumentary, because the people it featured were such caricatures of video game fanatics. But the filmmakers did such a good job of drawing us into this little world of gaming that I was soon rooting for the hero, and booing the villain, and laughing at the funny parts, and crying at the heartbreaking ones. The entire audience was caught up in the story, and people broke into spontaneous applause at more than one moment. I think we were all surprised at how much we liked it.

On Saturday, Stephen and I went back to the theater to see The Nanny Diaries, which...well, was amusing enough. The surprising part, though, was when we left the movie and found an exuberant band playing jazz and swing music in the lobby. I think they had just finished a concert on the performance stage at the theater, and they were pretty pumped--as was the crowd that quickly formed around them, ourselves included.

There were other nice surprises, too, like the offbeat ice cream flavors we tried on Friday and Saturday--Earl Grey, Mexican Chocolate, Cinnamon Banana, and Negative Chocolate Chip (chocolate ice cream with white chocolate chunks). And the bubble machine we passed on the way home from dinner last night--all of a sudden, I looked up to see a waterfall of bubbles cascading over the sidewalk from a high window above the ice cream shop.

We went out to the garden this afternoon to water our poor wilting plants. The tomatoes are producing like crazy, and the nasturtiums are in full bloom, but the corn looks sad and dry. I think it will be good for them all when temperatures cool down tonight. As Stephen says, the fever of this weekend has broken. It's already much cooler than it was at this time yesterday. So maybe that was the last "real" bit of summer, but that's okay. I'm starting to get excited for things ahead.


Summer Jam

I can't stop buying raspberries. It's something to do with wanting to capture the summer. There's lots of talk about capturing the moment, but I'm not exactly sure how to do it. If I focus too much on each individual moment as a unit of time, it becomes like counting. The only other way I can think of is to do all things deliberately, and try to be genuine, and not zone out. To use all five senses. Raspberries make that easy. They're so red and sweet and soft. Do they smell? Well, they do when you cook them. They don't make much of a sound, but who cares if they're quiet?

I did end up making raspberry jam a couple of weeks back. Pickles, too. It was almost embarrassingly easy. I thought there would be lots of complicated sterilization business involved, but it turns out you don't have to worry about that unless you want jars of preserved food lining your larder shelves. (Not a problem for me since I don't have a larder.) The raspberry jam making went like this:

Wash the raspberries. Dump them in a sauce pot. Add a little sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice. Crush the berries up a little with a fork. Turn the heat on. Stir the jam occasionally. Taste it. Put it in jars. Let it cool, then keep it in the freezer until you're ready to eat it. So simple, don't you think?

Well, if you thought that was easy, wait until you hear how I made the pickles. Basically, you throw some cucumbers into a bowl with water, salt, garlic and dill and wait for them to turn into pickles. Like the jam, these don't last for very long in the fridge (about a week), but we didn't have a problem eating them up before the deadline.

By the way, I got both recipes from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, which I highly recommend.


Dress Up

Stephen is making me a dress. I'm very excited about it. I'm not sure it will be done in time to wear before cool temperatures set in, so I may have to wait until next summer. Nevermind; this season has certainly not lacked for dresses. I have about half a dozen that I've been wearing in regular rotation. I can't remember wearing dresses this frequently since... kindergarten, really. I wore them every single day back then. I remember one in particular, with long sleeves and a yellow skirt and a rainbow across the front with a heart button. I wore it for school picture day.

Then, in first grade, I suddenly stopped wearing dresses. I think I got self-conscious about it. The next time I bought a skirt was in my junior or senior year of high school. It seemed like a really big deal, and I made a huge production out of it. My best friend and I went to the mall and looked all day for the perfect skirt. We finally found just what I was looking for--something knee-length and batiked. The skirt cost $40, which seemed like a fortune. It was really fun to wear, though. So much more flattering and comfortable than shorts.

In college, I had a million skirts, most of them thrift store finds. Several were clearly homemade. I wore them around campus with flip flops and felt very Bohemian. I bought a sundress here and there over the years, but I didn't start wearing them in earnest until this summer.

It started with an intolerable heat wave in June. I couldn't stand wearing khakis to work every day, so I stormed into H&M one afternoon and stormed out again with a bag full of dresses. I got three with polka dots, one with puffed sleeves, one with flowers, and a plain black one. Soon (or not), I'll have another to add to the line-up. Hurry, Stephen, hurry!

I also started to develop an interest in shoes this summer. I can see why some people are so into them; they're really fun. So many colors and shapes! If I suddenly started making a million dollars a year, I might be in danger of buying an inordinate number of them. Red patent leather flats and tall brown boots and vintage pumps from the 1940s. Fortunately (for my wallet), most fancy shoes are also extraordinarily uncomfortable, and I can't survive in un-walkable shoes. My feet have felt the effects of too much sandal-shod power walking this season, so I'm switching to humble scuffed sneakers for awhile. All for the best, I guess. I'm starting graduate school in a couple of weeks, and I'll need to start putting my money into less material things.



Back, back, back. I'm back. I've been through one week of crazy last-minute preparations and two weeks of blissful summer fun. Several adventures. I rode for four hours on the back of a Vespa carrying a 25 pound backpack. I spent another 4 hours on a ferry. I visited three states and two islands. I swam in the ocean. I hiked in the rain. I visited the trout pond at the LL Bean store in Freeport. I went to an outdoor wedding in Vermont. I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I read Freakonomics. I saw Rocket Science.

And I can't believe how much it feels like autumn now. I had a dream last night that I had just returned to New England and found the fall foliage at its peak, and I was devastated that I'd missed the lovely beginning of the season, when the leaves just start to turn. When I left work today, I noticed that a red maple outside of our office had already begun to change color, and temperatures have been unseasonably cool since Saturday. Is fall really here already?

There are many things I love about September and October. I love putting on sweaters again. I love looking forward to Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I love picking apples and carving pumpkins and roasting brussels sprouts. But I'm not quite ready for that to start yet. I need a little more time to soak in the honey-colored, sun-saturated end of summer. Can't it wait just a few more weeks?



Summer vacation is finally here for me, so I'm out and about and on short-term blog hiatus. But I'll be back soon.



We found a cockroach in the office yesterday. Specifically, a 1.5 inch long sucker fell out of the ceiling tiles onto a co-worker's desk. If she'd been sitting in her chair, it would have hit her head on the way down. I guess the roach was as startled by the incident as we were, because it spent the next five minutes (until we lost track of it) scuttling around the floor with surprising animation, trying desperately to hide under recycling bins and behind doors. We finally cornered it, ready to pounce with an overturned cup ('cause no one wanted to squish the thing in their sandals). While we lay in wait, that crafty bug snuck behind the filing cabinets and tried to scamper passed our turned backs. Suddenly, someone noticed and shouted "Oh my GOD! It's RIGHT BEHIND YOU!" and much panicked re-staking of defensive positions ensued. The whole episode was like the (movie) love child of a slasher flick (much suspenseful anticipation punctuated by violent bursts of action and screaming reaction) and the lobster scene from Annie Hall. We never caught the roach, but no more have turned up since then, so I hope it was an isolated incident rather than an infestation-type scenario.

Speaking of which, the exterminator is coming on Friday to make sure we don't get any bug-type visitors in our aparment. We haven't had any pest problems at home, for which I'm truly, truly grateful. It's one thing to have a roach fall on your desk (as unappealing as that is); it's quite another to have to sleep with one eye open.

This morning, I undertook a pre-emptive strike against much smaller nasties: got all my immunizations for grad school. Three shots, three little sore spots on my arms. It's nice that I don't have to worry about getting meningitis or diptheria or anything like that. Aren't immunizations amazing? I mean, except for the rare cases where they fail, it's like magic: get a little injection, and you don't have to worry about catching a deadly disease. Smallpox is eradicated. Polio is almost history. Pretty crazy.

In other news, something reminded me the other day of a great Dar Williams song. Maybe it was the puttering I did over the rainy weekend? Anyway, this really speaks to me because I went to college in central/western New York state, and four members of my family were or are SUNY students. I've never been to southern California, but I love how she tried to capture rural New York's intangible charm in the lyrics.

Southern California Wants to be Western New York

There's a part of the country could drop off tomorrow in an earthquake,
Yeah it's out there on the cutting edge, the people move, the sidewalks shake.
And there's another part of the country with a land that gently creaks and thuds,
Where the heavy snows make faucets leak in bathrooms with free-standing tubs.
They're in houses that are haunted, with kids who lie awake and think
all the generations past who used to use that dripping sink.

And sometimes one place wants to slip into the other just to see
What it's like to trade its demons for the restless ghost of Mrs. Ogilvey,
She used to pick the mint from her front yard to dress the Sunday pork,
Sometimes southern California wants to be western New York.

It wants to have a family business in sheet metal or power tools,
It wants to have a diner where the coffee tastes like diesel fuel,
And it wants to find the glory of a town they say has hit the skids,
And it wants to have a snow day that will turn its parents into kids,
And it's embarrassed, but it's lusting after a SUNY student with mousy brown hair
Who is
taking out the compost, making coffee in long underwear.

And southern California says to save a place, I'll meet you there,
And it tried to pack up its Miata, all it could fit was a prayer,
Sometimes the stakes are bogus, sometimes the fast lane hits a fork,
Sometimes southern California wants to be western New York.

Tempe, Arizona thinks the Everglades are greener and wetter,
And Washington, D. C. thinks that Atlanta integrated better,
But I think that southern California has more pain that we can say,
Cause it wants to travel back in time, but it just can't leave L. A.

But now I hear they've got a theme park planned, designed to make you gasp and say,
Oh, I bet that crumbling mill town was a booming mill town in its day,
And the old investors scoff at this, but the young ones hope they'll take a chance,
And they promise it will make more dough than Mickey Mouse in northern France,
And the planners planned an opening day, a town historian will host,
And the waitresses look like waitresses who want to leave for the west coast.

And they'll have puttering on rainy weekends, autumn days that make you feel sad,
They'll have hundred year old plumbing and the family you never had,
And a Hudson River clean-up concert and a bundle-bearing stork,
And I hear they've got a menu planned, it's trés western New York.


Weekend Plans

It was a weekend of adventure. Adventures planned, adventures had, adventures narrowly missed. Started on Saturday morning with a trip to the local donut shop for a sugar-laden breakfast, after which we planned to go to do the beach, but were dissuaded by thunder, lightning, and intermittent torrential downpours. I napped instead. There's nothing like sleeping with the sound of rain falling outside. In high school, I always found it hardest to get up on rainy mornings. My room was in the attic, and my bed sat right under a skylight in the eaves. I'd hear the steady patter of rain right over my head and all I wanted was to stay snuggled under my comforter until noon.

It cleared a little later in the day and we went out for dinner with Stephen's dad and brother and saw the Simpsons Movie. It played on the big screen at the independent theater in town, and the crowd was pumped. Lots of laughing, clapping, hooting and hollering. It was fun. What is it about the Simpsons that makes it so fresh and funny, never tiresome or lame? Oh, except for the Itchy & Scratchy segments. I hate Itchy & Scratchy. If you're like me, you'll want to avert your gaze for the first few minutes of the movie. While you're at it, skip the part directly after that where Homer is trying to hammer shingles onto the roof.

On Sunday, the real adventure commenced. First, we tried to catch a 12:15 commuter train out of North Station, but because the subway runs so infrequently on weekends, we arrived late and missed the train by 2.5 minutes. Arg! So we hung out in Boston while we waited for the next train. I dragged Stephen through the Holocaust Memorial, which is really beautiful and moving, but feels uncomfortably incongruent when you're wearing flip flops and carrying around a Dunkin Donuts cup. (The last time I saw it was on a cold, rainy night in the late fall. That felt much more appropriate.)

Afterward, we bought some magazines for the train ride and got snacks at Quincy Market. We headed back to the station early to be sure to catch the next train. Success! Off to the beach.

I love riding the train. It's so pleasant to sit and read or look out at the scenery and not to have to worry about traffic or parking. I almost wish I lived outside the city and had to take the commuter rail in each morning. I could bring some tea and read the paper. Such a civilized way to get to work.

We finally got to the beach around 3. It was sunny but not too hot, and not overly crowded. I swam and sat and read and soaked up any errant rays that got past my SPF 30. I always have a strong sense of place when I'm near the ocean. Sort of the opposite of how I felt when I lived in a landlocked state for a little while--there, I felt almost lost in the landscape. At the ocean, I feel found, or securely located in space or something. Hard to explain. Maybe I'm just at home in the Northeast, and proximity to the ocean is an integral part of that home-y feeling. (I didn't grow up next to the ocean, though, so I'm not sure if that reasoning works.)

Then we got ice cream (White Russian Chip--wow) and took the train home. That night, we had awesome plans to go to an outdoor showing of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory that was being presented in Smell-o-Vision. The movie was originally scheduled for Saturday, but since it rained all day, we figured they probably moved it to the rain date (Sunday). Well, we were wrong. We showed up at the site and found nothing, not a scrap of a sign nor a trace of a whiff nor anything else to suggest that Smell-o-Vision had ever come to Union Square. Darn.

We consoled ourselves with some iced chai at the coffee shop and went home to read Harry Potter. Oh well. The train part was fun.


City v. Country, Round 2.1

Transportation, Revisited
The latest installment in my round-up of city/country pros and cons

I was reading this blog today and ran across a cool program that rates the "walkability" of any location on a score of zero to 100: Walk Score. I immediately tried it out for every place I've ever lived. The house I grew up in (near, but definitely not in walking distance of, a small town) got a score of zero. No surprise there. I tried walking into town once or twice on a lark when I was in high school, and always had to call someone to come pick me up and drive me home afterward. You might be able to manage it on a bike (my little brother certainly tried before he got his license), but even then it would take a lot of patience and bugspray (the bike trail is pretty overgrown), and it would only work about 8 months out of the year.

The apartment I lived in last year, when I was working at my alma mater in an even smaller town, got a 62. It was a great apartment over a flower shop in an old Italianate, practically in the center of town. I could walk out my front door in the late spring and bump right into the farmer's market. The coffee shop, pizza place, yoga studio, health food store, movie theater and ice cream parlor were all within a block or two. (Basically, the whole town was within in a block or two.) The grocery store was a little farther away, but you could walk there on nicer days if you really wanted to. The downside to all of this is that there just wasn't a whole lot in town. If you wanted, say, art supplies (which, as an art major, I often did) you had to drive 45 minutes or more to the closest city. So I guess that's why it only scored a 62. I really felt a little trapped there when I didn't have access to a car.

My current apartment scored a 92. It's true; this place is really walkable. We rarely have use for a car, and even those places we drive to are usually accessible by public transport, if you're willing to work on the city's schedule (which I usually am). It's cool. But there are a couple of things that I don't think the Walk Score takes into account, such as the local climate or (as the blog I linked to pointed out) crime rate. The latter isn't a problem here, but the former can definitely put a damper on walkability in the long winter months. Still, I guess I'd rather be walking or taking the bus than trying to navigate city roads and crazy commuter traffic in the middle of a January blizzard.

Try it out; it's fun to see what the program comes up with! I discovered a tea store just a few blocks away. I hope it exists in real life.



I really want to make some raspberry jam. And dill pickles. There's this farmstand we pass occasionally that has a huge sign out front advertising homegrown corn, raspberries, and other wonderful things. I should just be bathing in all the happy fresh food that abounds at this time of year, but I can't help feeling sad, too, that we have to hurry up and gorge ourselves on this feast now because it will be a distant memory in a few months. Well, five months. That sounds silly, I know, but I just want to spread the tasty goodness over the whole year. Maybe preserving some of it in jam jars is my way of doing that.

I've only made jam once before, when I was really little. My grandfather had a huge (as I remember it) garden, and one day we went and picked buckets and buckets of berries there. There were lots of bees buzzing around, but they were all so drunk on the high-summer abundance that no one got stung. Then we cooked up the jam and put it in the freezer and ate it all year long. It might have lasted longer than that, actually--I think we had it for quite a while. It was a different color than commercial jam, much redder, and it tasted different, too. I would say it was like the difference between fresh-squeezed orange juice and the O.J. you get in a carton, but my taste memory isn't that well-defined.

We don't have any berries growing in our garden, unfortunately (you only get the plots for a growing season, so it wouldn't be practical), but we went out to visit this weekend and it is growing things. We've got all kinds of tomatoes coming out, and the nasturtiums look ready to bloom. The sunflowers are almost as tall as me. It's a relief because the only things we were producing for a while there were basil and weeds. We thought we might get kicked out for having such a messy plot. But Stephen went all-out this weekend and weeded the whole thing in the space of a couple of hours. He found all kinds of interesting things in there--some really pretty wildflowers, and a couple of rogue tomatillo plants producing fruit. We transplanted the latter into a nice row so they look intentional.

I can't take any credit for the effort because I mostly sat in the shade and watched. What can I say, weeding just isn't my thing. But I did make a couple of trips to the grocery store down the road for snacks and a bucket to hold the weeds. And guess what else I got at the grocery store? The new Harry Potter book! I couldn't believe it--I was waiting in the check-out line, and there was a copy of the book, leaned up against the register. At first I thought it might be the cashier's (like, he brought it to read on break and left it out as a conversation piece), but when I found out it was on sale, I snapped it right up.

I always think it's more fun to read the book along with someone else so you can discuss plot twists together, dissect characters, develop theories, etc. But (incredibly) I don't know anyone else who is right in the middle of the book at the moment, so I asked Stephen to be my reading partner. To make sure we're in the same place (and, frankly, because I like reading aloud), we're reading it aloud bit by bit. Well, not bit by bit--we've had it for two days and we're already 200 pages in. But I think that's a pretty reasonable pace considering the frenzied way in which true Potter devotees tend to devour the books.

I feel like people are probably going to have some questions for J.K. Rowling when they finish this one. (Maybe not, though--I've heard that she ties up all the loose ends really well. But surely people will have SOME questions about her motivation for doing certain things, etc.) But it's not like interviewers can say "How did you decide to have so-and-so die?" right now, since that would spoil it for anyone who hasn't finished up yet. Is there a set amount of time during which people can reasonably expect not to have to dodge spoilers on, say, Oprah or the evening news? A few months? A year? Until the movie comes out?

Speaking of J. K. Rowling, did you know that she started going by her initials because the publisher thought it would hurt her sales among the young male demographic if the author was obviously female? And that she didn't HAVE a middle name, so she took her grandmother's name for her middle initial? At least, that's what Wikipedia tells me. So it must be true.


Merry England

It's gray out and misting. Has been almost all day, and yesterday, too. It's the kind of rain they called Female Rain at the Pueblo where I did my internship while studying in Santa Fe. The kind of rain that slowly quenches the earth's thirst.

I love this weather. No one comes in from this kind of weather and says, "What a beautiful day," but that's how I feel. It feels soft to me, like the world has gotten smaller and closer and easier to pass through. Less intense. I like to put up my bright yellow umbrella and pretend I'm in England.

My whole family, we're Anglophiles. We like to watch British murder mysteries and drink tea and talk about Jane Austen and play croquet on the lawn. I know that people in the U.K. don't really do those things all day, but they do in our collective romantic imagination.

I visited England a few years ago, and being there only intensified my good feelings about the place. The small towns we saw in Northumberland (with names like Once Brewed and Twice Brewed), the heather-covered hills, the stone walls, the sheep, the gray weather--I liked it all. I know that things always look rosier when you're on vacation, but it really was beautiful. And vegetarian friendly, which I wasn't expecting.

I think that my warm and fuzzy feelings about this weather are closely linked, maybe even dependent upon, this whole vision of sitting in a cozy old house, wearing a wool sweater and sipping a foamy cup of chai. I love passing through it on my way home or watching it through a window, but I despise being stuck in it, like when I'm out camping. Ugh, then it's the worst possible weather--wet and humid, so you're drenched on the outside from the rain and drenched on the inside from sweat, with no hope of drying out until you're out of the backcountry. No bugs, though. I guess that's the bright side.



I just saw an hour-long documentary about contemporary synchronized swimming. Wow. Who knew. I thought synchronized swimming was something that women in flower-petaled bathing caps did on TV in the 1950s. But apparently it's a big sport nowadays--the U.S. even has an Olympic team. The documentary follows two clubs to the U.S. Open. It looks like a ton of work; the swimmers are very athletic. But it turns out that one of my stereotypes was right on: they wear very glitzy costumes, with all kinds of make-up and sequins and glitter. Who came up with this sport?

Reminds me a little bit of playing field hockey in high school. I was on the team all four years, and even co-captained for the last two. We never won a game. We were a really small team, and very laidback. Even our coaches didn't take it too seriously. One said he figured he could coach because "it's basically just soccer with sticks". But field hockey is a little more complicated than that; there are all of these weird rules that seem to serve no purpose but to confuse. For instance, you can only hit the ball with one side of the stick. If you want to hit it from the other direction, you have to turn the stick around and use it backward. Also, the stick is too short to reach the ground unless you're hunched over, so you can't really run standing up. It's considered dangerous enough that mouthguards are required to protect players' teeth, yet the kilted uniforms are feminized and almost dainty.

I wasn't perfectly suited to field hockey, but I was definitely better at that than at swimming. I think swimming is the most exhausting thing. One lap can tire me out. In college, we had to pass a swim test in order to graduate, and I put it off and put it off until my senior year. (When I finally did it, everything was fine, but I wouldn't say it was fun.) I like going to the beach or splashing around in the pool on a hot day as much as the next person, but after a little while, I want to get out and go have an ice cream.

Plus, I'm a little creeped out by swimming in lakes or the ocean or anywhere that I can't see the bottom. Who knows what lurks in the seaweed? Once, when I was a kid, I was swimming with my siblings at the beach and I kept stepping on something sharp. I reached down to see what it was and pulled a spiky fish out of the water. A dead spiky fish. I don't know if that's where my fear originated, but it may as well have been, right?


Tea and Oatmeal

The weather has been hot and humid around here lately. I love cooking, but coming home from work and making, say, a lasagna just doesn't appeal to me right now the way it did in January. So instead I've been working on variations of my lemonade recipe to get that culinary creativity fix. Last week, I tried making an iced tea-lemonade hybrid. Not quite as good as Half-and-Half, but it's quick and pretty tasty. If you want to try:

. . .

Boil about a cup and a half of water. Pour the water into a large mug and steep 2 or 3 tea bags in it for five minutes. I used plain old Red Rose tea, but it would probably be good with any kind of black or herbal tea.

Add sugar to the tea--lots of sugar. I think I put in about five heaping spoonfuls--you'll need it to counteract the sourness of the citrus and the bitterness of the tea. (I add the sugar at this point because it seems easier to dissolve in hot tea than in cold.)

Juice one lemon and one lime. Put the lemon and lime juice and a lot of ice--maybe a tray full--in a pitcher. I do this in a Mason jar, which makes measuring and mixing very easy.

Add the tea to the jar. Mix it all around until the tea has cooled off, then add some water. Not sure how much--maybe start with a cup and see how it tastes? I ususally just fill it up to the top line on the Mason jar and then mix it.

Taste the lemonade-tea and make adjustments as necessary. I also throw in a couple of the lemon / lime halves for interest. Just remember to wash them before doing so.

This makes enough for two or three regular people or one very thirsty one.

. . .

Luckily, it's been pretty cool in the morning for the last couple of weeks, so I'm able to do a little cooking then. I've been hearing a lot about how great Irish/steel-cut oats are lately, so last time I was at the grocery store I decided to splurge and try them. They cost about $8 a can, but you can get them in--presumably cheaper--boxes, too. (They're up on a top shelf at our local store, though, so I had to rely on a kind passerby to reach them for me, and I didn't want to test her patience by comparing prices for the various containers.)

I've tried them two different ways--toasted with butter then simmered for half an hour (fun, but time-consuming), and soaked overnight, then simmered for ten minutes in the morning (much more practical on workdays). Once they're done--when all the water is absorbed--I just throw in whatever is close at hand: milk, maple syrup, brown sugar, cinnamon, etc. It's really...wholesome. I don't even know if I like the taste of it so much as the texture (it's crunchy, very different from regular rolled oats) and the energy boost it gives you. You can run on that stuff for hours before you're hungry again. They say a serving is a quarter-cup of dry oats and I agree. It's easy to multiply the recipe (just keep the oats:water ratio at 1:4), but a little of this goes a long way. Especially first thing in the morning.