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We haven’t had particularly good weather luck here in Massachusetts this summer. Sure there have been warm, breezy, sunny days, but in the span of the past few months we’ve also experienced tornadoes and an earthquake. Now, here comes Hurricane Irene.

Last night I bought more non-perishable food and 3 jugs of water from the grocery store. In the check-out line there were mixed reactions. While chatting with the customer ahead of me, the cashier observed, “There have been people stocking up on water and food all day long! I think this is all over-blown. What happens, happens, but I’m not going to worry about it. I think they’re the ones overreacting.” I looked down guiltily at my stacks of soup, crackers, and trail mix, and wondered if I could hide a jug of water under the counter.

I’ve been tracking the hurricane all day and reading up on storm prep.  (After all, I am my mother’s daughter.) Apparently, you’re supposed to buy one gallon of water per person per day of potential captivity; a 3-day supply is listed as the minimum. A 7-day supply is the preferred quantity. Whoa, hold up — do I even have room in my apartment for that much water?! And how could I possibly drink that much in the course of a day? But after reading that, I’m concerned I won’t have enough, so I’ll be stopping at the grocery store again tonight. This time I’ll avoid the criticism and find another check-out line.

But in all seriousness, the reports show this storm could inflict massive damage, and it’s better to be over-prepared than unprepared. Here’s what The Weather Channel suggests people gather:

Essential Items

During a hurricane, and possibly for days or even weeks afterward, electricity and other utilities might not be available. Debris and/or water might block the roads, preventing vehicles from getting in our out of your neighborhood. Help might not reach you for days after the hurricane, so you’ll need to be completely self-sufficient during that period.

Here are some of the most critical supplies to have on hand, well before a hurricane threatens:

    • At least a 3-day and preferably a 7-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day)
    • Non-perishable food
    • Formula, diapers, and other baby supplies
    • Manual can opener
    • First aid kit
    • Prescription and non-prescription medicines
    • Toiletries
    • Cell phones and battery-powered cell phone chargers
    • Battery-powered radios and flashlights
    • Plenty of batteries
    • Extra cash
    • Blankets, sleeping bags, books, and games (especially if evacuating)

Additionally, here are the steps The Weather Channel recommends people take when a hurricane threatens:

When a Hurricane Threatens

Depending on your location, you could be told to evacuate before a warning or even a watch is issued by the National Hurricane Center. Notify someone unaffected by the storm about your whereabouts.No later than when a watch is issued:

  • Fill vehicles with gas.
  • Get extra cash.
  • Fill prescriptions.
  • For mobile homes, secure tie-downs and prepare to evacuate when ordered.
  • Bring in loose objects from outside.
  • Prepare to secure all windows with shutters or plywood.

No later than when a warning is issued:

  • Secure all windows with shutters or plywood.
  • Place valuables and important papers in a waterproof container and store on highest floor
  • of home.

If you are told to evacuate:

  • Follow all instructions from local officials, and leave immediately when told to do so.
  • Bring emergency supplies listed above.
  • Bring copies of important papers such as insurance policies and list and photos of your home’s contents.
  • Bring blankets, sleeping bags, books, and games.
  • Unplug appliances, turn off electricity and main water valve.
  • Lock windows and doors of your home.
  • Go!

If you are not told to evacuate:

  • Stay at home! Leave the roads available for those who must evacuate.
  • Clean bathtub with bleach, fill with water for washing and flushing (not drinking).
  • Set fridge to maximum cold and keep closed.
  • Turn off utilities if told to do so by local officials.

During a Hurricane

  • Go to an interior room on the lowest level of the structure in which you’re taking shelter.
  • Stay away from windows and doors, even though they’re covered with shutters or
  • plywood.
  • During extremely strong winds, lie under something sturdy such as a stairwell or large piece of furniture.
  • Do not go outside, not even during passage of the eye. If the eye passes directly over you, the winds could become very weak, but only for a very short period. It will not be long before hurricane-force wind resume, blowing from the opposite direction as before the eye arrived.

After a Hurricane

  • Help might not come for up to a few days, and power could be out for days or even weeks.
  • Avoid driving on roads covered by water and/or debris. It is often difficult to determine the depth of water covering a road. Turn around, don’t drown.
  • Avoid downed power lines. Stay away from objects that are touching a downed power line, such as a fence or tree.
  • Do not touch anything electrical if you are wet. Stay out of water that could be touching anything electrical, such as in a basement with electrical appliances, or in flooded areas outside where there could be downed power lines.
  • Only use a generator in an outdoor, well-ventilated area, and closely follow manufacturer’s instructions. Many people have died in the aftermath of a hurricane from inhalation of poorly ventilated carbon monoxide from a generator.
  • Use flashlights instead of candles for light. Candles pose a serious fire hazard.

Stay safe, stay dry, and stay hydrated and nourished. Here’s to hoping all this preparation is needless after all.

Weather: 80 degrees. Blue skies, fluffy clouds, and sun.

Moods:

Anna – 7.5 out of 10. Ready to buy more supplies. Stay safe, my friends.
Hannah – 6 out of 10. Hoping everyone back home stays dry… and send some of that rain my way!

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I don’t usually read fashion blogs, but my friends are writing one that I wanted to share. My Grandfather’s Ties isn’t only about fashion (and if you knew the authors, you’d know why). It’s successful because it’s a way of thinking about memory through the lens of a physical object – in this case, through a tie collection. These guys don’t have any pretension, but we at d.t.u. might say that they’re doing some mindful, therapeutic work. Not to mention fashionable.

Home sweet home

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.

The call of the tomato

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.

I never imagined hiking the Great Wall of China. Pictures I had seen — the throngs of tourists with cameras, the sea of bodies moving from watch tower to watch tower as the wall darted and rose in the background. But three days ago, I woke early and traveled to Mutianyu, about an hour and a half drive from the Forbidden City in Beijing, where I’d stayed since Tuesday.

We drove through ring road after ring road until we reached a highway I hadn’t traveled on before. In less than 45 minutes, we were passing fertile farm towns where rows of corn stretched wide and the stalks rose high. Willows and poplars lined the road and ushered us past a small river dotted with bridges. Soon we came to a place advertising itself as an “eco village” and one of Beijing’s most beautiful towns. We bounced past once-colorful, now-muted and rusted playgrounds and campgrounds — empty except for a smattering of colorful tables — until we arrived at the busy entrance to Mutianyu.

Tourists have several climbing options: they can take cable cars up to the wall or choose to climb one of the paths, hundreds of steps long, to one of the many watch towers. On the way down, there’s a third option — a toboggan — that looks not unlike a giant twisting slide you would find at Disney World.

I tried to spot the actual wall as I climbed the path, but the trees and the mist obscured the view. Even when I finally ran up the watch tower stairs and swiveled around to see the surrounding land, I could barely make out the rest of the structure in the distance. Visibility was more or less limited to one watch tower ahead of my position. At 9:00 AM on a Friday morning, most other tourists were still on their way to the wall, and with the heavy fog, I could almost imagine I alone kept watch in the towers.

The Great Wall in the mist.

Watch tower.

In less than a half hour, though, the visibility improved and hundreds more climbers poured into the towers and onto the wall. I overhead conversations in Chinese, Japanese, English, French, Spanish, and Hebrew as people from all over the world walked along this magnificent granite structure, originally built by the Northern Qi Dynasty (550–577) and later rebuilt and reinforced by the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).

Better visibility.

China is, at once, everything I expected and nothing I imagined. Every which way I look, I find something that fascinates, that spurs my imagination, or that baffles me. In Beijing, at all hours of the day, there are people playing cards on the sidewalk, dancing or practicing tai chi in the parks, or men in public spaces, carefully honing their technique with a giant whip (I filed that under the hybrid “baffling/fascinating” category). And each day, before tucking into bed, I observe the city one last time from the top of my hotel, taking in the tiled roofs and pagodas around me. Until 10 PM, that is, when the lights illuminating the historic buildings of Beijing turn off all at once, snuffed out by some invisible worker.

Weather: Now in Delhi, India where it’s hot, humid, and gray.

Mood:

Anna: 8 out of 10 on my first day in India!

Hannah: Hopefully happy and staying cool after her magnificent travels.

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

The End of the World

Sunset at Finnisterre

Sunset at the end of the world

The other day I walked to the end of the world, and I watched the sun set in the Atlantic from the most Western point in Spain. According to the Romans, this was the end of the world; each time the sun fell beyond the horizon there was doubt as to whether it would rise again. According to older traditions, a boat that sets out from this point will arrive eventually in paradise. Not to be too symbolic about the whole thing, but we now know that if I were to set out in a boat and sail west from Finnisterre, I would arrive, eventually, in Boston.

I walked about 790km, or 36 days, to make it to the end of the world. I walked through Basque country, where I could see my breath in the morning and where the fields of wheat rolled towards red clay towns nestled in the valleys. I walked across the meseta, which is utterly flat farmland that shimmers in the sun. I passed through Rioja, famous for its wine, and through Burgos and Leon, with the most beautiful gothic cathedral I have ever seen. Near the end I crossed a windy mountain pass and entered Galicia, where they speak Galician, a derivative of Portuguese. In Galicia the houses are made of slate and the hills are covered with oak forests that drip with moss: tradition says Galicia, which was once Celtic, is the home of witches.

One super-hot 40 degree day I walked 40km and ended up sleeping in a cow field on a hill surrounded by eucalyptus trees; the next day I got up early and walked to Santiago de Compostela. According to Catholic tradition, the Camino de Santiago ends there, and it was an ending of sorts as I reunited with friends I had made along the way. But the camino predates the Catholic church and so I kept on walking until I reached the ocean, which to me felt like a more fitting ending to a long road.

On the camino you follow yellow arrows, or scallop shells, which show you which way to go. It was a running joke among my companions that we would be totally lost without these symbols to guide us. And it’s true that for the three days I spent in Finnisterre, I didn’t know what to do without anywhere to go. I slept on the beach, I went swimming, I collected shells, watched the sun set, hoped (liked the Romans) that it would rise again. To my surprise, every day, with or without yellow arrows, it did.

Basque Country, Northeast Spain

 

The meseta, outside Leon

Approaching Galicia, northwest Spain

Weather: cool and sunny, London!

Mood: Hannah, 7 out of 10, a bit groggy after a long weekend.