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Archive for the ‘Summer’ Category

wildfire smoke, early yesterday morning*

There was a haze of smoke over the city this morning as I rode north towards campus. It was late morning and at first I thought it was the kind of haze that comes from intense heat and humidity, but this is austin, it is dry as a bone.

Many of you have heard about the Bastrop Wildfires that have been burning outside of Austin the past few days. As of this morning, 34,000 acres have burned and 577 houses have been destroyed in Bastrop County alone. Because of the damage it’s incurring, this fire is drawing national coverage: but according to Texas Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples, “Damage to this community is reflective of all Texas.  This is the worst burn season ever.”

Information about the fires is spreading slowly across the city. I heard about it early, from people who know people who lost their homes last week. (You can keep track of the fires reliably here.) Then I started getting e-mails from my friends back and east, and I realized the fire was going to be something big. One gentleman in my yoga class said it was a sign of global warming; others implied it might be intended for Rick Perry. Two weeks into my class on the apocalypse, I’m tempted to see signs of impending doom in the slew of natural disasters that have hit us this summer.

The truth, of course, is much smaller and closer to home. For those of us in Texas, the news is full of information about how to get involved, and it was inspiring this morning to see people on the street collecting money for the relief effort. And for everyone else – political and religious views aside, now might be as good a time as any to pray for rain.

Weather:
In texas we’re having a cold snap at 93 degrees. In Somerville, it’s 60.

Mood:
Hannah: 6 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale.

*photocredit to the wildfire blog wildfiretoday.com, which also shows an extraordinary map of the fires. But this photo they pulled from youtube.

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There is a sign around the corner from my new house that says, “We were created. Evolution is a lie.”

Texas Longhorns

austin!

It is over 100 degrees in Austin today and I am hiding inside with the curtains down because my blood’s too thick for this kind of weather. (“Take an aspirin,” my roommate advises, “if you want your blood to thin faster.”) To think I used to believe thick blood was a metaphorical statement!

I arrived in Austin on Monday and drove back to the apartment with my new roommate. On the ride home Amy, who is from New York, told me about Austin. “You’re going to experience some culture shock,” she warned as we drove past a Cowboy Boot store and a trailer park which doubles as a restaurant. “It’s like being in a different country.”

So far, I’ve found it difficult to get a handle on just what kind of country I’m living in. Austin is home to Whole Foods and Rick Perry; the Texas Longhorns and South by Southwest. The UT campus features a confederate statue and a Gutenberg bible. And did I mention it’s over 100 degrees outside?

My roommate told me that Austin is great because everyone’s happy all the time. “It’s not like the northeast,” she said. “People don’t do cynicism.” This is scary to me, and I asked if she thought it was because Austin is always sunny. She says she thinks it’s because Texas has hardly any history, and its economy has always been great.

As for the heat, Amy says that summer in Texas is like winter in Boston. You stay inside all day long, and you suffer from all the accompanying madness. I didn’t believe that until I got up at seven this morning to go for a bike ride and discovered it was already 80 degrees.

Of course, the super-hot weather has some perks. In my new backyard is a vegetable garden. Right now, it’s totally dead. But by November, just as winter starts to set in back east, I’ll be looking forward to a second harvest. That’s something to be optimistic about.

Weather:
Austin: 93 degrees and sunny, with a high of 105
Somerville: 82 degrees and sunny, with a high of  82.

Moods:
Hannah: 8 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. excited to be in a new place.

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Here’s the thing: I really love tomatoes.

Spain has amazing fruit. Melocotones and ciruelas, frambuesas and cerezas – the cerezas (cherries) were particularly spectacular, especially when picked straight off the tree on a hot afternoon.

Cherry picking, somewhere past Leon

But the tomatoes, like many other vegetables in Spain, are terrible. And in the end, that’s what brought me back home.

The problem was the e-mails I kept receiving. “Kale’s in,” one would say. “Radishes just starting to sprout.” “You should see the carrots. You should really see the carrots.” And most importantly, “Tomatoes are coming along just fine.”

Meanwhile, my life underwent a radical change when I decided to move to Texas in the fall. The more I thought about Texas, and tomatoes, the more I came to understand that I couldn’t bear a summer more fresh vegetables than you can possibly eat. So, despite the temptations of European travel, I changed my plane ticket and returned home early. I visited family and friends in New York and Pennsylvania. And then finally, on Sunday, I arrived in Worcester and went straight to Nuestro Huerto, my favorite urban farm. I arrived just in time for their block party. And I went straight for the heirloom tomatoes.

I go to Texas on Monday, where it will be about 10000 degrees outside and in the middle of a drought. But this week I’m soaking up the rain, and eating all the tomatoes I can get my hands on.

Ripening verduras*

Weather:
Rainy and 71 degrees.

Mood:
Hannah: 8 out 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. yum.

Anna: 7 out of 10. Just ate a tomato.

*Photo credit to Nuestro Huerto. Photo is from last year’s crop.

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100 Percent Hot*

It’s pouring rain outside of my window and I finally feel like I’ve come home.

I was in Europe for two months. Two months always goes faster than you think it will: I could swear it was only a few weeks ago that I packed up my bags and walked through security at Logan Airport. But when I left the blossoms had just come out on the trees and it was still cold enough to wear sweaters in the morning.

Apparently a lot changed in my absence, because on Wednesday I stepped out of the airconditioning and found myself in the middle of a heat wave. The temperature peaked at 98 this week, according to my household thermometer. (That’s 36 in celsius!) For the last two days all I’ve done is sit on the couch in a stupor, reading Gary Shteyngart or staring off into space. I don’t know whether it was the heat wave or the jet lag that did me in, but I’ve hardly been able to move, never mind speak in complete sentences or write coherent statements. The Emotional Calendar has all kinds of tips for managing jet leg, but I was too hot and tired to do any of them. “I should have stayed in Barcelona,” I moaned several times a day.

Then this morning I woke up at 5:30 (that’s 11:30 Barcelona time!), just in time to hear the first drops of rain against the windows. Minutes later we were in the midst of a full-fledged thunder storm. Lightning flashed, water poured in through the wide-open windows (I took a break from writing this to run around shutting them) and the temperature dropped to 70 degrees. Finally, I’m glad to be home.

Weather: 70 degrees and raining
Mood:
Hannah: 8 out of 10.
Anna: in Beijing!

*Image courtesy of weather.com

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Although for me summer began as soon as I could ditch my coat and sweater every morning, it’s official start is today, the summer solstice. Many people mark the year’s “longest” day — the day when we in the Northern hemisphere experience the lengthiest period of sunlight all year — but my favorite celebratory ritual is a fictional account from I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (best known for The Hundred and One Dalmatians).

On the morning of Midsummer Day, the narrator, Cassandra, closets herself in the attic of her family’s crumbling castle and reflects on the rites she and her sister, Rose, traditionally perform each June 21:

“Yesterday I instantly remembered that it was Midsummer Eve, my very favorite day, and lay awake looking forward to it and planning my rites on the mound. They seemed all the more valuable because I wondered if it might not be my last year for them — I didn’t feel as if it would, but Rose outgrew them when she was about my age. And I agree with her that it would be dreadful to perform them just as an affected pose; they were a bit peculiar last year when Topaz [her freewheeling stepmother] kindly assisted me and went very pagan. The nicest times of all were when Rose and I were young enough to feel rather frightened.”

In this year of transition, Cassandra is celebrating Midsummer without her sister, and so she gathers wild flowers, braids campion and bluebells into a garland, and weaves roses into her hair alone. Then, as the church bells ring nine times, she piles twigs on top of logs and ceremoniously lights them on fire with a taper. Only when “the whole world [seems] filled with hissing and crackling and roaring,” does Cassandra carry out the ritual and dance and leap around the sacred fire — but this Midsummer she’s joined by an unexpected guest.

Midsummer bonfire in Mäntsälä, Finland. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

I’ve never marked the start of summer in quite the same way, but I like the idea of pausing to reflect on the seasonal transition. I have, however, been to a Swedish Midsummer party with garlands and cake and a feast. Maybe next time I’ll suggest a bonfire.

Weather: Gorgeous, sun-filled day with a temperature around 80 degrees. Currently, a lovely summer night.

Moods:

Anna – 7.5 out of 10. Summer has returned and with it, my energy!

Hannah – Perhaps hiking over sacred mounds or enjoying a roaring campfire. I’m imagining the possibilities…

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I’ll admit it. At the first sniffle, jabby pain at the back of my throat, or cough, I start worrying I’m coming down with something. I’m particularly conscientious of my health in the fall and winter during the back-to-school flu season, but it’s in the summer that I usually get sick.

Last year, it was the (possible) cat scratch fever (long story) that plagued me until the leaves turned orange. The year before that, just as the warm weather greeted the Northeast, I picked up swine flu at BookExpo America (thank you, Javits Center for your recycled air!). This year, it was nothing as dramatic, but, like clockwork, I got slammed at the beginning of June.

On Sunday, I woke up with a telltale scratchy throat. By nightfall, I was cowering in my bed. The virus passed in 24 hours, but I felt sandbagged all day Tuesday, every motion a chore.

Unpleasant recollections of my week with swine flu rushed back to me, and I relived a two-year-old memory: my epic swine flu-ridden walk to a  local convenience store the day I needed more medicine. At the time,  I felt like I had crossed the Sahara (without a camel) while the sun zeroed it on me and laser pointed its rays at my head. Not pleasant. I couldn’t believe a 15-minute excursion had me gasping for air, burning up, and slightly delirious, but so were the joys of H1N1 that summer.

And so, as I walked to work on Tuesday, I thought back to that more excruciating journey two Junes ago, and celebrated the fact that this time, at least, I didn’t have a disease that was terrifying America and parents everywhere. Just a 24-hour bug.

[There’s no song that I know of about swine flu, but here Ted Nugent croons about cat scratch fever, to the delight of the cats in the video.]

Weather: 70 degrees and cloudy. No sign of tornadoes.

Moods:

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

Hannah – She’s on an adventure, and hopefully thrilled by the beautiful landscapes around her.

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Rating our moods and matching them with a description of the weather was somewhat of an afterthought when Hannah and I started Ditch the Umbrella. We began with a looser formulation of what we wanted this blog to be about, and that mainly relied on self-reflection. But as we’ve written before, it can be difficult to balance insightful stories, impressions, memories, and emotions, and personal privacy. We have no desire to become constant over-sharers.

The mood rating has done a funny thing over time. First, we found ourselves seemingly-endlessly happy. Then we realized our scale must have been slightly off because we rarely judged ourselves to be middling 5’s. We made a course correction and started looking at general patterns.

Ever since it’s become cold and snowy, our moods have dropped. I’ve shed about two points from my summer/fall ratings, and Hannah’s have also decreased slightly. What had originally been an afterthought has actually provided us with a (slightly) more objective view of ourselves over time. And while last winter I didn’t take note of any mood drops, I also wasn’t on the lookout for them.

For me, summer is a time of freedom and exploration, sand dunes and salt water, and friends and weekends in seaside towns. In summer, it’s not at all uncommon for me to walk more than 5 miles, exploring the city and meeting with people. In the winter, I’m much more likely to stay in, watch a movie, and hibernate. Last winter, though, I explored the joys of the season, discovered cross country skiing, and rekindled my love for figure skating.

Somehow, though, I haven’t managed to get to the Weston Ski Track yet this year, and I’ve only skated once. We’ve been hit by storm after storm and I seem to go to meeting after meeting. By the time the weekend arrives, I’m ready to relax, not explore. That adventuresome part of my personality seems to retreat.

Now that I better understand these nuances, I am going to:

  • Join a gym and/or generally increase physical fitness. (Endorphins, yay!)
  • Schedule at least one weekend day in advance.
  • Leave one weekend day less structured. Sleep. Read. Relax. Undertake spontaneous adventures.
  • Play jazz. Loudly.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables (even though winter tomatoes regularly disappoint).
  • Go cross country skiing!

I welcome other suggestions.

Note: I may have to add trampoline dodgeball to my list.

Weather: Sunny, blue skies. 34 degrees.

Moods:

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

Hannah – 5 out of 10. Tired.

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