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.