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Posts Tagged ‘adventures’

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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“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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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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No scones here!

This weekend I’m doing a two-day Wilderness First Responder recertification. I’ll be renewing my CPR and first aid skills. I’ll also be learning all sorts of emergency tricks for situations like: what to do if you fall on your ice-pick while climbing in the White Mountains in January. Or how to respond to a snake bite in the back country in Arizona. It should be a lot of fun.

Of course, now that I live in Somerville, wilderness survival is less relevant than it was three years ago, when I took the original course. These days, my emergency survival kit includes things like an extra T pass, several Starlite mints, and a travel toothbrush. Just in case.

And when things get really desperate (like they did last week), my response rarely involves binding a broken limb with twigs, an old t-shirt, and a sleeping pad. Instead, I turn to baked goods, like the Emergency Scones that I made last week. The recipe, modified from epicurious, is below. Whether you’re feeling desperate or not, I recommend these for a delightful Sunday morning treat.

I’ve also included some tricks for working butter into flour, and for not having to go out and buy buttermilk (especially during a snowstorm). Naturally you should feel free to disregard.

Pea-Sized Pieces: the trick to making these scones is crumbling the butter into pea-sized bits. If you’ve ever made a really good pie crust before, you know that this is what makes flakiness happen – each pea-sized bit melts into a thin film that separates the layers of dough. If the bits are too big, you’ll get uneven dough. If they’re too small, you’ll get a heavy dough. And if you smear them together as if you were making cookies, then you’ll get, well, cookies. To make pea-sized bits: take a stick of cold butter and dice it as if it was an onion. Cut it lengthwise and widthwise until you have lots of discreet, rectangular butter bits that you can throw into the flour mixture. Dump the butter into the dough. Then use your hands and break the bits up until they are pea-sized, or really a little bit smaller. More like a lentil. Keep in mind, once you add the wet ingredients, that you want to keep those butter bits intact as you mix the batter.

Buttermilk Substitute: Buying buttermilk is silly since I never use it and it goes bad quickly. I mixed together 1/4 cup plain yogurt and 1/2 cup milk. Then I squeezed in the juice from half a lemon, mixed, and let it sit while I made the batter. Tasty, cheap, and I didn’t have to go to the store!

Emergency Scones

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I used white whole wheat, plus some whole wheat, plus some white. go crazy.)
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, diced
  • grated peel from one lemon
  • 3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips. (Or chop up regular chocolate chips, or a bar of chocolate).
  • 3/4 cup chilled buttermilk (or 1/4 cup yogurt, 1/2 cup milk, and the juice from half a lemon – see above)
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Whisk together dry ingredients: flour, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon peel.

3. Add butter and work in until lentil sized. (see above for some tips.) Mix in chocolate chips.

4.In a separate bowl, whisk together milk/buttermilk, egg yolk, and vanilla. Pour into dry ingredients and mix gently to keep the butter balls intact.

5. According the original recipe, you can now take this dough, shape it into a large cheese-wheel on a lightly floured surface, and cut it into nice triangles. Instead, I scooped it up with my hands and formed it into scone-sized balls. Array the balls/triangles on a greased cookie sheet.

6. Sprinkle sugar on top.

7. Bake for 20 minutes or until crusty and a toothpick comes out clean.

Weather:

34 degrees and sunny. A great leap forward from yesterday’s single digits.

Moods:

Hannah: 6 and TGIF on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale.
Anna: 6 and really antsy.


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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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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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Yesterday, at about 7 o’clock am, Somerville caught on fire.

I was walking to the gym, pushing my way through sidewalks heaped high with snow (and leaping over the occasional puddle or slick of ice) when the sun suddenly slipped over the horizon and Wednesday’s snowstorm turned brilliant in the reflected light. The trees, already frosted with snow, turned pink. I looked east down the major avenue by my house and the Boston skyline spread out before me. It was beautiful.

As a kid, sunrises were the sign of a special event. On family vacations we would all get up in the pitch black, blearily dress and pile our luggage into the car and drive off to our destination, hoping to evade the rush-hour traffic. I remember waking up in the back seat, wrapped in a blanket, and watching the sun rise over the highway. I remember feeling its warmth on my face and realizing that I was on my way to an adventure.

As an adult, I have become a sunrise chaser. I’ve caught sunrises at the Galilee in Israel and over the pampas in Argentina; I’ve driven recklessly down one-way streets in search of an eastern horizon on St. Croix, USVI. One all-time favorite memory involves climbing a mountain in the dark and the rain with a fellow sunrise chaser. Our purpose was to catch the sunrise over San Martin de Los Lagos, in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. We sat down on a rock overlooking the lake and pulled out a thermos of hot tea that we had lugged up for the occasion – only to realize that it was raining. There was no visible sunrise at all.

But yesterday’s sunrise was special because I didn’t have to chase it at all. It caught me unaware and, beautiful in itself, reminded me of so many beautiful sunrises past.

It also alerted me to the fact that the days are getting longer. Morning is a half-hour earlier than it was in December. I know January feels long and cold but at least I know that things are getting brighter from here.

Weather: 20 degrees and so gray you can’t tell the snow from the sky.

Mood:
Hannah: 6 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Looking forward to a sleepy weekend indoors.
Anna: Is in Athens. it’s 55 degrees and sunny and she is most likely sitting in front of the parthenon and drinking a glass of wine before dining on olives, lamb, stuffed grape leaves, and other delicious things.

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