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.


Movie Night

We went to an outdoor screening of To Kill a Mockingbird last night. Such a good film. (Not technically a film, I know--it was a DVD.) As people biked or walked past the park, they almost invariably stopped to watch when they figured out what movie it was. There was such a nice small-town atmosphere about, parents and kids and students and dogs all sitting on blankets enjoying the warm evening air. I love that feeling, and it was the first time I'd experienced it here in the city.

I read To Kill A Mockingbird in a high school English class, and I remember our teacher telling us that she cried the first time she finished the book because she didn't want it to be over. She also said she had a crush on Atticus. I mean, who wouldn't? Especially when he's played by Gregory Peck.

I had forgotten what a good movie that was. I liked Dill better this time around than I did when I saw it in high school. And I'm relieved to finally know where that line comes from--"ladies bathed before noon, after their three o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft tea-cakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum"--because it's been running through my head all summer and I just couldn't place it.

I often think of that line in the summer because one of my strategies for getting through humid eighty-degree days is to douse myself with baby powder in the morning. It used to drive my mom crazy because I'd leave a fine layer of dust wherever I went. Now it drives Stephen mad, too. But at least it smells nice.

The night before, we went to see the new Harry Potter movie. I'm really going to miss the HP phenomenon when it's over. When was the last time that there was so much collective excitement about a single book-and-movie series? And will it ever happen again? My favorite HPmania story is from two summers ago, right after the sixth book came out. Everyone knew that a major character dies at the end of the book, but most people hadn't found out who yet. Some pranksters in England hung a banner over a bridge that many commuters cross on their way to work that said "[So-and-so] dies." A highway crew came to take it down, but the crew members didn't want the surprise spoiled for them, either, so they had to shield their eyes to avoid reading it. Newspaper reports about the incident respectfully refrained from revealing the character's name.

There was a ton of excitement in the theater on Wednesday night. People applauded when the movie started. The women behind us had lightning bolt scars drawn on their foreheads. When Harry and Cho kissed, people giggled nervously and yelled "Woohoo!" at the screen. I think that's a testament to how close the audience feels to the story. People reacted like they were watching their brother or a friend get their first kiss than rather than a fictional character have a scripted moment that we'd all read about months or years in advance.

By the way, did you know that Harry Potter was born (uh, "born") in 1980? That's what Wikipedia says. (And wow, people have done a lot of research on this stuff.) That seems really weird to me, 'cause it puts Harry is in his mid-to-late twenties right now. That is, if he survived the seventh book. He's not really gonna die, is he? (Is he? I think not, but I also had myself convinced for a while that Dumbledore was going to come back. Like the phoenix, yeah? But...maybe not so much. Boo.)


The Have to Write a Book Challenge

More from Stephen:

I think that it would be really fun and interesting to write a book, especially a children’s book. The problem is, what do you write it about? There are already so many books out in the world. But if I ever came up with a really good idea and knew where I wanted to go with it, I would do it. All the illustrations could be linoleum cuts. It would be a blast.

This came out of a conversation we recently had about the Have to Write a Book Challenge. You may have noticed that I like to pose little mental challenges for myself: work from home or work in an office, live in the city or live in the country, choose one color for the rest of my life, etc. One that I've been ruminating on lately (who knows where I thought it up) goes like this:

Imagine you wake up one morning to find that you have sleep-signed a contract with a publisher. You have no way to get out of the contract, which requires you to write a book within one year. What do you write about?

I think my book would be non-fiction. I really don't know how people write novels. They seem so complex, like juggling a hundred things at once, trying to make the whole thing engrossing, original, easy to follow and relatable, and remembering to tie up your loose ends. Mine might be more of a coffee table book, which may not sound very high-brow, but it's the kind of thing I'd like working on: large format, with lots of images. Maybe it would be an art book. Like Stephen, I envision something along the lines of a collection of linoleum prints. Like this.

I went to visit my parents over the weekend, and ended up going through a lot of stuff from college that's been collecting dust up in my room. I came across some old prints I'd made in my senior year, a couple of ancient letterpress blocks I found in Bouckville (the Antiques Capital of Central New York), some linoleum stamps of shopping carts and aprons and brooms I carved for a series on domesticity. It made me miss college and all the time I used to devote to things like that. I'm going to try to make more time for those things.


From Stephen, P. 1

As promised, a post from Stephen:

Heather says that I am on summer vacation. It is true that I don’t have a job, but I am taking three classes, so I’m not sure if this officially counts as vacation or not.

Here is my list of top three things to do during the summer:

  1. Tell Heather not to go to work. On days that I don’t have classes (like Fridays) I tell her she shouldn’t go, so that we can go to the beach together. Which leads me to

  2. Go to the beach. I have this vision of waking up early on some weekday morning, going to a nice breakfast store like Verna’s, and then driving on the Vespa to a quiet, empty beach.

  3. Eat outside.
Tomorrow: What if you had to write a book?



Oh yeah, so, the wasps. On Wednesday afternoon, I was standing next to Stephen as he rooted around in the trunk of his car, looking for his toolkit. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a large bug buzzing by, then felt a sharp pain in my arm. I started shouting that a horsefly had bitten me (I don't know why I thought it was a horsefly, I guess because it looked so big and black in my peripheral vision?) and tried to both crouch and run away. Stephen started to correct me-- "Actually, it's a wasp" --then he got stung, too. Wow, killer wasp--two stings in less than five seconds.

On further (cautious) inspection, we discovered a nest in one of the vents on his car. In the few weeks that the car has sat idly in his parents' driveway (grounded until it passes state inspection), the little buggers have made a nice home for themselves there.

I've long been known as a Friend of the Stinging Insect in my family. When my mom or sister would find a bee in the house, I'd calmly scoop the thing up in a paper cup and let it go outside. I never let them smoosh it. But something about the double-stinging on Wednesday really teed me off, so I was perfectly satisfied to see Stephen take the garden hose to that nest. From a safe distance, of course.

I think it's always been easy for me to feel kindly toward bees and wasps because I've so rarely been stung--only twice that I can remember. The last time it happened was the week before I started second grade. I was playing outside with some friends, and I accidentally got too close to a nest of bees. When they started to swarm, I tried to shield my face with my hands. Somehow, in so doing, I caught a bee and trapped it between my hands and face, and it stung me on the eyelid. Seriously, ow.

I remember the babysitter putting some kind of paste on my face--I think it was baking soda and water?--that was meant to draw the stinger out. And I remember starting the school year a few days later, wondering what the other kids would think of me with my big swollen eyelid. I recall looking in the mirror and thinking, "They'll probably call me Pumpkinface."

But no one made fun of me; I don't think there was much reaction at all, in fact. I guess bee stings and grass stains and sunburns were just all mundane facts of the post-summer second grade world.



Funny things, fireworks. Exciting at first, but they can get pretty boring if they go on too long. Like pancakes.*

We saw two fireworks displays this week--the first a small show over a lake out in the woods over the weekend, the second a massive display between Boston and Cambridge on the holiday itself.

I really didn't expect to go see the Boston fireworks. If there's one thing I shy away from, it's large groups of shouting people congregating in the dark. I really don't like crowds, especially loud ones. Add to that the headaches of finding a parking space or room on the train and the rush to claim a place to sit on the lawn, plus the steady drizzle and cold temps of last night, and I see no reason to venture beyond my cozy apartment door. I know, what a party pooper.

But when the time came for the show to start last night, we just couldn't resist. We drove out of town to a hill overlooking the city in time to catch the second half of the show. It was bigger and gaudier than any fireworks display I've ever seen, including one I saw on Bastille Day in Paris a couple of years ago. By the time they got to the finale, there was so much smoke in the air that we couldn't even see the fireworks themselves, just flashes of light shooting through the clouds.

The weekend display was much more humble, but I really liked the feeling of being out on a lake, surrounded by other boats full of people. For all of my talk about not liking crowds, one thing I really do like is being in a silent crowd, especially when it's dark. Not like in a movie theater, when there's something else taking the place of the crowd-noise, but when everything is quiet and still, when people are gathered and waiting. It was like that while we were waiting for the fireworks to start on Saturday night--a little hushed conversation between neighbors, but mostly a stillness, a sense of calm, collective anticipation.

That's such a beautiful and eerie experience to me. It's one of the reasons I love to go to Easter Vigil Mass with my family every spring. On the night before Easter, everyone gathers in the darkened church holding unlit candles. The windows are open, and the contrast between the warmth inside and the cool breeze from outside makes the air feel deliciously alive. Everyone is standing, silently, watching and waiting, for several long minutes. Then the priest comes in from the back, carrying a lit candle, and we pass the flame until the whole place is full of little burning candles, and we sing. Then they do the reading from Genesis and turn the lights back on, which makes thematic sense, but I wish we could do the whole thing in the semi-dark. So different from the everyday.

So anyway, the waiting for those lake fireworks to start was, in my opinion, the highlight of the Independence Day festivities.

There was lowlight, too, involving a nest of wasps, but I'll save that story for another day.

*I know, I totally stole that from Mitch Hedberg.


A Look Ahead

They clean the streets here one day every month in the spring, summer, and fall. If you forget and leave your car parked on the wrong side of the road that morning, it's ticketed and towed away. So it's the sort of thing you try not to forget.

I was marking down the street-cleaning days on our calendar just now, filling them in for the rest of the year. By the time I got up to October, I found myself almost scoffing--the possibility that it will ever be October again seems so remote. Summer is just kicking into high gear, and I've only been to the beach once this season. There are so many sunny days and warm evenings and lightning bugs and late-night flip-flopped trips to the ice-creamery ahead that it seems impossible that autumn lies ahead, even distantly.

I find myself thinking this way often. I'll go to buy something, a sweater or a dress, from a catalog, find out it's on back-order for four weeks, and cancel the order. Because I just know that August is never going to happen.

It's similar, I think, to the way many of us react to warnings about global warming or species extinction or other things that we can't see happening right before our eyes. We feel on some level that they are never going to happen. Especially because the wait-time is not weeks or months, but decades or generations.