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Archive for the ‘Memory’ Category

John Constable: cloud study.

On June 12, 1824, John Constable sketched, in oils, squall clouds over Brighton beach. On June 13, 1871, Gerard Manley Hopkins saw a red rack of clouds floating away. On June 12, 1869, John Muir noted Cumuli rising to the eastward over the Merced River. “How well they harmonize with the upswelling rocks beneath them!”

The writer Annie Dillard locates something sacred in the human history of clouds, and it was with that in mind that I went back into the DTU archives to see what clouds I observed a year ago today.

As it turns out, far from contemplating clouds, on November 15, 2010 Anna and I were talking about food. Apple strudel, pumpkin pie, and while I’m on the topic let me say that caramelized butternut squash is now officially my new favorite snack.

As Anna mentioned in her post earlier today, after a little more than a year of tracking our emotional calendars, it’s time for this phase of the project to end. Anna, the more practical member of the team, wrote about ways DTU has changed her lifestyle. I have to confess that just this morning, after hearing predictions of heavy thunderstorms and flooding across Austin, I hopped on my bike and rode to campus – just like I would have last year. Lesson emphatically not learned.

Or maybe my morning bike ride perfectly reflects my DTU experience. It’s true that this project has documented the whole range of my emotional experience, from a wild post-book-writing trip to Ipswich to the anxious (and endless) anticipation of spring. But mostly, when I think about DTU, I am struck with a feeling of delight. I think about maple syrup-making and early crocuses, ridiculous chanukah songs and really, really good food.

As we come round to winter again, it seems like DTU has permanently embedded itself into my seasonal experience, giving emphasis to all its most delightful aspects. Now the arrival of hot summer weather will remind of the time that Anna and I gave up chocolate. Thanksgiving, on top of being about family and food, will be about Anna’s ridiculous proposal that we live-blog the whole thing. January snowstorms will come hand-in-hand with the requisite Dorchester.

It might not be as sacred as the contemplation of clouds. But when those clouds turn to rain, I’ll ditch my umbrella and take out my bike. As they say, it’s been a good ride.

Thanks for reading.

Weather: 63 degrees and lovely in Austin tonight.

Mood: 7 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Bittersweet.

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A full year has come and gone since Hannah and I started Ditch the Umbrella. In that time we’ve reflected, mulled, and written about our emotional calendars, and, hopefully, gained a deeper understanding of what boosts our moods and where our emotional hotspots lurk. But now that we’ve completed a full seasonal cycle, we’ve completed our original mission, and so we will be concluding our little experiment. This will be my last blog post, and Hannah’s final reflection will be coming soon.

I, at least, have made changes to the way I live because of these little revelations: last winter, my worst season by far, I had such a bad case of cabin fever that I resorted to a frenetic and uncoordinated evening playing my roommate’s DDR (Dance Dance Revolution). This year, in an effort to prevent bad dancing, I’ve joined a gym so I can have an outlet for my energy when the days are short, the nights frigid, and the sidewalks nearly unwalkable.

The DDR incident, as I’ve come to think of it, taught me that I need to find ways to enjoy the winter sun, even if my face becomes an icicle. So this year, I plan on returning to cross country skiing, and may even try some winter hiking. (But only if I can start a snowball fight somewhere along the way.)

And I’ve started cooking, and cooking seasonally — enjoying fruits and vegetables when they’re naturally fresh (though I’ll still eat winter tomatoes, even if they’re nothing like the tomatoes Hannah rushed back to the States for) — and synching myself with the cycles of New England in that way.

But most importantly, I’m aware of my hotspots. Of the energy I feel in the fall that propels me to go-go-go, and to have an adventure. Of my weather obsession, which I no doubt inherited from the women in my family. Of my need to travel in the summer, or feel like I’m missing out on something. Of the amount of sleep I need to feel well rested and ready to go, especially when the hours of daylight are limited. Of the joy the holidays bring me with their carols, gingerbread, pine, and good cheer. Of the frustration I feel in the middle of winter, when I just can’t think about slipping on ice yet again. And of the things I can do to make the most of these experiences, and to revel in the joys each year brings.

Thanks for reading.

Late afternoon on the rails, Peru

Weather: Cloudy and unseasonably warm. Over 60 degrees in Cambridge.

Mood:

Anna: 6 out of 10. Energized, but slightly sad to be saying goodbye to DTU. A bit nostalgic.

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“Hot out today,” the woman at the bus stop said. It was 5 pm. It was 101 degrees. I nodded.

“Hard to believe it’s September,” she said.

That broke my heart a little bit. Because September is my favorite month, and the precursor to my favorite season. September is when the first apples start to ripen on the trees. It’s when the nights turn a little bit crisp and there’s the scent of fall in the air. In September all your notebooks are new, all your pencils are sharp, and your homework is always in on time.

For the last four years, I missed the feeling that you get on the first day of school: the sense that something new and possibly extraordinary is about to begin. As a “young professional” I found it almost impossible to adjust my mental schedule to a lifestyle that disregarded the academic calendar. I thought that once I was back in school, that sense of disorientation would disappear.

I was wrong. As it turns out, going from a 9-5 lifestyle to a 24/7 one isn’t such an easy thing to do. I seem to have picked up some habits in the past four years that I’m not ready to abandon.  Although technically I may be “back” in school, this doesn’t feel like going back at all. It’s not just about my schedule: my relationships with my peers, the pedagogy of my professors, even my homework is different than it’s ever been before. Whatever I’m doing here, it’s something entirely new.

New things in September – that, at least, is a familiar feeling. But at 100 degrees fahrenheit, I don’t think I’ll be getting apples this fall.

Back to the Future. Obviously.*

Weather:
A pleasant 98 degrees at sunset in Austin; 64 degrees and cloudy in cambridge.

Mood:
Hannah: 7 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Feeling pretty peaceful now that it’s cooled down a bit.

*I think the post title works with the content. Or maybe I just really wanted a picture of a flying car.

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Oberlin College Campus

My college campus - three weeks a year.*

I remember as a kid visiting the Harvard University campus with my aunt, a div-school alum. We would walk past students sprawled out on patches of grass, books splayed out around them. This must be what college is like, I thought. Green grass, sunshine, and really good books.

The truth is that most of college was nothing like that at all. Most of college, as I remember it, was late nights in the basement of the library and an oppressive cloud that hung over campus, making everything monotone and miserable. College in Ohio was great for many reasons, but for most of the year, weather wasn’t one of them.

The only exception was the last three weeks of the spring semester. Unlike Massachusetts, where the spring arrives slowly and hesitantly, in Ohio the warm weather comes all at once. One day it’s forty degrees and raining. The next day, it’s seventy degrees and sunny, there are flowers on the trees, and the smell of summer is in the air. On Friday afternoon in spring, student DJs would set up on the lawn and the student union would bring out coolers full of beer. It was good enough to erase all memories of winters past and convince you to return the following year.

Today is the first really warm day of the year: the sun is out, and the temperature is somewhere in the seventies. Generally I prefer the cooler New England springs to their Ohioan counterparts, and I don’t really miss being a student. But on days like this, I always feel nostalgic for my college years. I find myself filled with a sudden desire to abandon my responsibilities, find a good book, and lie out in the sun.

Weather: Technically, only 66 degrees.

Moods:
Hannah: 7 out of 10 on the ‘can’t get out of bed’ to ‘jumping for joy’ scale. loving the warm weather.
Anna:  6. She’s happy about the sun. Less happy about the amount of work she has to do.

*Photo credit to ideastream.org, from an article about marketing.

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It’s been exactly two years since I moved to the city.

All March, I had been frantically searching for apartments on Craigslist, trying to find the perfect place that wouldn’t break the bank, and kept striking out. Crumbling walls. Exposed wires. Crazy layouts. Possible death traps.

Finally, in mid-March of 2009, I walked into my current place, took one look around, and asked for the lease.

At the time, I was what my mother would call “transitioning.” I had returned from Haifa the summer before, started a new job in the winter of ’08/’09, and finally put together enough pieces of the post-graduate puzzle to move to the city. The only problem was that I didn’t know anyone. Or, barely anyone.

I started joking about Friend #1, a Cornellian who was starting his PhD coursework, and Friends #2 and #3, who had recently  married each other. I had a terrible feeling I’d never meet numbers 4, 5, and 6. That I’d wander around on weekends, sit in cafes, watch the city hum with energy, and feel utterly outside all the excitement.

But things quickly fell into place after I signed for my apartment. I ran into old friends on the street, caught up with them over coffee, and began connecting with new people. Soon enough, I didn’t have to number my Boston friends anymore.

2009 seems like a lifetime ago now, but when I reach back into my memory on this two year anniversary, I can still tap into that original anxiety.

Weather: It snowed again today, and that’s not an April Fool’s Day joke.

Moods:

Anna – 7 out of 10. Weekend!

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Back in October of 2008, at the end of the fall season of environmental education, we threw an end-of-year celebration and staff party that happened to coincide with Halloween. That was the year that I wore my most inspired costume ever: a lampshade rigged up on top of my head. Partygoers were invited to pull the cord dangling by my ear. Nothing would happen.

“Oh dear,” I’d say. “I must be burnt out!”

Speaking of burning out, I was pretty exhausted last week after an epic writing run. So I took Thursday and Friday off and put myself through a strick four-day recharging regimen.

Task One: Read a novel. I chose Swamplandia!, which I purchased even before reading all the media hype because of a loose affiliation with the author. Enjoying a luxury I haven’t taken advantage of in years, I read for two days straight, failing to leave my apartment between 5pm Thursday and 9am Saturday morning. It was total immersion in the hot, humid, mosquito-ridden Florida swamps — the perfect escape from a cold winter of writing in New England.

Task Two: Go on an adventure. The final third of Swamplandia! is a hallucinatory near-death expedition into the swamps. On Saturday I got up early and caught a train out to Ipswich, where I rode my bike out to Crane’s beach. For the first 1.5 hours it was sunny, cold, and beautiful to be walking along the beach. Then I rounded the point and found myself in the salt marshes on the windward side of the peninsula. In the wind it was bitterly cold, I was exhausted, and when I tried to find my way into the shelter of the dunes I instantly lost the trail and got lost in the hills. Sand rose up steeply around me, the wind whipped through the narrow valleys, and slick sheets of ice pooled in the depths. I felt a little bit like the thirteen year old hero of Swamplandia!, lost and exhausted in extreme conditions in otherwise familiar marshland — the precise opposite of the Florida keys.

Task Three: Recovery. I slept for eleven hours on Saturday night and woke up feeling fully refreshed. Then I opened my curtains and saw the snow piling up outside. The solution? Fresh-baked chocolate chip scones, which were remarkably easy and delicious, if I do say so myself. (I will save the recipe for a Food Friday.) These particular scones always remind me of my uncle Mike, who lives in San Jose, California. Mike’s rare visits to the east coast involved massive pillow fights at night, and chocolate chip scones in the morning. This time I shared them with a few friends for an impromptu brunch. Glorious.

Today, I’m feeling refreshed, renewed, and ready to keep writing. Even the worst weather ever can’t put me off.  Plus, I had leftover scones for breakfast.

 

Not my scones. But don't they look good?

Weather: worst day ever. Thirty six degrees and rain/sleet/horrible.

Moods:

Hannah: 7 out of 10 on the can’t get out of bed to jumping for joy scale.
Anna:  6.5 in her current caffeinated state, but she has a stressful week ahead of her. “It’s Monday. But soon it will be Thursday!”

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This post is a week overdue, but I hope you’ll indulge me.

I can’t remember ever really hating Valentine’s Day. Most years it’s just a pink and red square on my mind’s calendar. In grade school, I loved buying packs of Valentine’s Day cards, signing my name, and affixing a packet of candy to each note. The school required that if you gave one person a valentine, you had to give one to every kid in the class—a sound policy. But, of course, there were inevitably a few people I thought deserved extra special congratulations for being rad (fourth grade in the 90s, rad = ubercool). Something like these:

So, I’d sort my cards, separate the ones with the best messages and illustrations, and give those to my crush(es). Of course, there were always at least 4 copies of each card, so for every crush that received an accurate message, there were usually at least 2 non-crushes that received exactly the same message. Noting that my system had flaws, I decided to offset this by adding candy hearts to each note. I sorted the candies based on message, shoved the hearts reading “Be Mine” and “Luv Ya!” into my crush(es) envelope(s), and taped them shut so that my plan couldn’t go awry. I figured the killer combo of sugar, pithy declarations, and cartoons would make my admiration clear and my crushes smitten.

Fail.

But these days when I think about Valentine’s Day, I remember my senior year of college.

Ithaca got thwacked by a massive snowstorm on February 14, 2007. I holed up in my warmly-lit room reading Jane Eyre for class, unwilling to venture into the snow drifts until I had to.

And then a visitor knocked on my door. One of my best friends (and former boyfriend)—let’s call him Q. because it sounds daring and mysterious—knocked on my door with a massive plate of cookies. And not just any cookies—frosted cookies fresh from the oven, sprinkled with mini M&Ms.

While I had been holed up, Q. had been making the rounds, bringing cheer in the form of baked goods to a handful his closest friends. And now, four years later, that’s my most vivid (and default) memory of Valentine’s Day. A day filled with sugary declarations of friendship, not mass market candies.

Weather: Sunny. 34 degrees.

Moods:

Anna – 7 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Happy memories.

Hannah – ? out of 10.

 

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Last night, I ventured onto the not-yet-fully-cleared sidewalks of Somerville in search of food at Highland Kitchen.

“Highland Kitchen?” you think. “Kinda sounds like a greasy-spoon diner.” Or at least, that’s what I thought when I first heard about it.

Located a slightly-inconvenient distance between Porter Square and Harvard Square (it’s a 25-minute walk from Porter and a 30-minute walk from Harvard), Highland Kitchen hardly resembles the restaurant I expected when I first went there a year ago.

It’s actually a warmly-decorated space full of interesting-looking people that seems to be full by 6:45pm every night. And their menu is nothing like that of a greasy-spoon diner, although it has more than a few comfort-food options. A sampling includes smoked bluefish cakes, a spicy coconut curried goat stew, and their decadent Highland cheeseburger.

Keep in mind I had trudged through mounds of snow to get to the restaurant. Before I sat down, I had to peel off a zillion layers (see The Coldest Cold to fully understand this). And then I ordered The Dorchester.

The Dorchester is made with vodka, triple sec, pink lemonade, and a cucumber, and since Highland Kitchen likes to share, you can even find out how to mix it here.

Let me tell you, it is, hands down, the PERFECT summer drink. Which is exactly what I told the waiter, after saying that it would be even better if a) summer were actually here, b) I had a porch, and c) I were sitting on said imagined porch. Something, perhaps, like this:

Kind, optimistic man that he was, he responded, “But it gets you into that frame of mind, doesn’t it?”

It did. For a minute, I could almost feel the sun on my face. And then I looked outside.

Weather: 16 degrees in Boston when I left my apartment this morning, but at least it’s bright.

Moods:

Anna – 7 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Feeling pretty good.

Hannah – 5 out of 10. Long week.

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Three years ago this week I was in the Grand Canyon!

Actually, three years ago this week my life was flashing before my eyes as I tried to swallow my fear (and my pride) and slide across a frozen waterfall over a 15-foot drop at the Grand Canyon.

Yesterday was possibly the worst day ever. It was gray out and preparing to snow and it felt like one in a long line of gray days that extended not just since winter began, but across all Januaries past and future.

And then today, the sun is shining, and I’m thinking about the Grand Canyon. I went there at the end of a poorly planned trip across the country with my then-boyfriend. A few days before I left there was a snowstorm just like yesterday, and I wrote an e-mail to a friend: driving across the country is the worst idea I’ve ever had.

Then the snowstorm ended and the sun came out. I drove north to Maine between glistening piles of snow on freshly-plowed roads. I wrote an e-mail to the same friend: this is the most gorgeous place I’ve ever been. The next day I headed west. A week later, the sun was shining and I was in the Grand Canyon.

I’m not in Maine today, or in the Grand Canyon. But the sun is shining on fresh piles of snow and even though I’m sitting at the same desk as yesterday, I’m filled suddenly with a sense of adventure. Today, I’m thinking, anything could happen. I could leap over a melting waterfall above a 15-foot drop. I could write a really brilliant chapter for the book I’m working on. I could make bread.

I made bread.

I guess I can’t go on an adventure every time a storm ends and the sun comes out. But it’s nice to remember the things that are possible. And it’s nice, after a month of storms, to have a beautiful day.

When I lived in Maine I used to recite a Robert Frost poem to my students that begins like this:

Happiness Makes Up in Height for What It Lacks in Length

Oh, stormy stormy world,
The days you were not swirled
Around with mist and cloud,
Or wrapped as in a shroud,
And the sun’s brilliant ball
Was not in part or all
Obscured from mortal view—
Were days so very few
I can but wonder whence
I get the lasting sense
Of so much warmth and light.

Weather:
32 degrees and sunny!

Moods:
Hannah 7 out of 10 on the can’t get out of bed to jumping for joy scale.
Anna: 6 out of 10 and much better than yesterday, which was a 2! (our worst ever – sorry anna.)

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As Hannah indicated, I’ve been traveling the world, or at least part of it, for the past couple of weeks. Stops included Prague, Vienna, Berlin, Thessalonike, Meteora, Athens, and Nafplion. That’s a lot of travel for only 15 nights.

Highlights included all imperial palaces, castles, summer estates, and massive Greek temples, particularly those elaborately decorated with delicate inlays and master carvings. Sort of like my apartment. Or not.

Just like home.

Despite adventuring, I realize that I’ve returned without any killer stories. There were no crazy encounters. No out of body experiences. No swashbuckling tales. But there were some tasty morsels of food, excellent birds-eye views, and more than a few masterpieces along the way.

I haven’t taken a two-week vacation from work for nearly three years. Last summer I had a week-long escape to Maine, prior to which I had had a terrible fever (which led doctors to mistakenly believe I had cat scratch fever). My body was recovering when I left, I didn’t feel up to snuff, and taking antibiotics every morning and evening of the trip did not spur relaxation. It was not ideal.

When I was a kid, my dad and brother and I would take long, leisurely vacations to tropical islands—the more remote, the better. About five or six days in, my father would declare he was finally starting to relax. A highly knowledgeable seven-year-old, I’d counsel my father to relax more quickly. Who could possibly need all that time (practically a year!) to adjust to frozen drinks and blossoming flowers?

But when I arrived in Vienna (Trip Day 5), I realized it had taken that long to stop thinking about work. Day 5 was followed by a week of actual relaxation, and also full of museum-hopping. It wasn’t until the Friday before I flew back to the States that thoughts of current and future projects again pushed their way to the surface. Fifteen nights left me with seven blissful, carefree days. And now I’m thinking that two-week sojourns may have to be here to stay.

Weather: Mountains of snow. And even when it’s not snowing, the wind whips the snow around, making it look like we’re being further buried.

Moods:

Anna – 5 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Still getting back in the swing of things.

Hannah – 4 out of 10. She’s had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Luckily, it’s a Friday.

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