Thursday, July 31, 2014

Girls' Day Out

I went with a couple of friends today to visit Hillwood Mansion, the former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post which is now a museum. Heiress to the cereal fortune and a shrewd business woman in her own right, Post was famous for her entertaining and her collections of Russian Imperial art and French decorative art. Hillwood, just one of her many properties, represented the perfect intersection of these pursuits.

Married and divorced four times, Post was by all accounts an independent woman who signed an agreement with the Smithsonian turning over the entire estate upon her death. In many ways the property was renovated, landscaped, and improved during her lifetime with this ultimate use in mind. There are many gardens, a greenhouse with thousands of orchids, and the house is still full of antique furniture, paintings, tapestry, porcelain, crystal, silver, jewels, and clothing. Our complimentary one-hour tour took 90 minutes, the guide admitting that we would see a small fraction of what the place had to offer.

Before the tour, as we stood in the grand entry hall beneath the rock crystal chandelier, I fiddled with my bright yellow entry tag, Fabulous! it read, and looked around at our fellow guests. Many had joined us from the short tour we had just taken of the cutting garden. Of the thirty-five or so people waiting among the portraits of Russian royalty, there were perhaps 5 younger than 40, and there were no more than a handful of men. All the tour guides were women over 60. I thought back to the visitor center-- all the folks there were also women. This sure is a hot spot for middle-aged ladies, I laughed to myself.

After Marjorie Post's death in 1973, Hillwood was taken over by the Smithsonian, just as she'd arranged, but in two year's time the impossible logistics of running such a property away from the National Mall became apparent, and ownership of the estate reverted back to her family, who was not caught unprepared. Post had left a 10 million dollar contingency plan in her will to convert Hillwood to a private, non-profit museum should the need arise. Today the estate is run by a board of trustees with the mission to delight and engage visitors with an experience inspired by the life of founder Marjorie Merriweather Post and her passion for excellence, gracious hospitality, art, history, and gardens.

A quick glance at the list of key staff running Hillwood reveals that the majority are women, as are 12 of the 17 trustees on the board. They cite their mandate as continuing Mrs. Post’s legacy by sharing the contributions she made in the fields of American business leadership; women’s studies; progressive thought; political history; philanthropy; community and social involvement; healthy lifestyles; Russian imperial art; French decorative arts; costume, jewelry and textile design and estate and garden design.

Fabulous! indeed.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Walking the Dog

Heidi gives Isabel a lot of attention, and since she's been away this week I haven't wanted our poor old dog to feel neglected. Not really the kissy-huggy type, I prefer to show my affection in a different way. Every day, I have taken Isabel for a walk in a new or favorite place. 

Certainly, the weather has been a blessing for late July; yesterday it did not go above 80, and so our jaunts have been most pleasant. On Sunday we visited Green Spring Garden, a place I had never been despite the fact that it's no more than 15 minutes from our home. The former site of a family farm from 1720 to the mid-1900's, it's a lovely property tucked away right off a major road. Oh, I left the historic house for another day, but we happily explored the ponds, wooded path, gardens, and the outdoor classroom. 

On Monday our destination was Great Falls, and in addition to a nice walk, we proved that dogs can participate successfully in selfies. 

Yesterday, we were off to another favorite local spot, Roosevelt Island. Isabel has been enjoying the trails there since she was a puppy. Back then, there was a little sandy beach off the main loop trail where we used to let her swim. It's a park rule that all dogs must be on leash, but we bent it knowing that she wouldn't leave the water until we made her. Even so, we still laugh about the woman who walked by with her own dog, properly leashed. "That would be fun... if it were allowed!" she said loudly as she pulled her pet away from our criminal influence.

And today, my friend Mary was kind enough to show us Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, another National Park Site, but one I have never visited. The three of us spent a very nice hour meandering across boardwalks and dikes, admiring all the water lilies and lotus. The neighborhood surrounding the park is kind of sketchy, but you know what? 

Isabel didn't seem to notice at all.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Carnivores, Unite!

I will say this: The dog and cat are much more interested than usual in what's going down in the kitchen this week. Coincidence? I think not.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Walk in the Park

The weather here has been unseasonably fantastic, almost Northern Cali-like, and so I took Isabel for a little walk out at Great Falls NP today. It was more crowded than I expected for a Monday, and most of the plates in the parking lot were local, lots of folks like me taking advantage of the pretty day.

Even so, there were stretches of the River Trail where it felt like we had the place to ourselves, if you don't count all the people right across the river on the Billy Goat Trail in Maryland. Right as we were about to take the carriage road back to the parking lot, the sky darkened, and a little while later I heard fat rain drops hitting the leaves in the canopy fifty feet above my head. Only one made it through before the storm passed, though.

Up ahead on the trail a group of kids from a day camp with their counselors were coming towards us. "What a cute dog!" exclaimed a couple of 8 or 9 year old girls.

"Thanks!" I smiled.

Behind the group two stragglers trudged along complaining to the counselor who was bringing up the rear. "We never do anything at Great Falls," one whined. "It's always just walk, walk, walk!"

Sunday, July 27, 2014

When the Vegan's Away...

The carnivore will play! Chicken for dinner tonight, with pork and scallops planned for the coming days. I miss my girl, but it's fun to get back basics and put some old favorites on the menu.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Grand Illusions

It's always kind of thrilling for me when I see a movie that is set in a familiar place; somehow having been in the exact same spot as the characters are makes everything more vivid. Likewise, it's cool to visit a place that I recognize from film or TV. My hometown of Washington, DC is always in a lot of shows, and lately I've seen a few things shot in Atlanta, where my sister lives.

When we were in San Francisco, our plan to visit Lombard Street was actually foiled by a movie production. It turned out to be San Andreas, a disaster film starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, something I probably never would have gone to see, but I might now. On the plane on the way home, I read something about the new Planet of the Apes movie, and it reminded me that not only is it set in San Francisco, but there's a large part of the story that takes place in Muir's Woods, which we also visited.

As a rule, Heidi will not go to see any movie where animals are in danger or distress, so we hadn't seen either of the films in this reboot of the classic series. (As an aside, she doesn't have any trouble with seeing the likes of Charlton Heston mistreated.) Heidi stayed in California for a conference, though, and so one of the things I decided to do on my own this week is to catch up with Caesar and his crew.

I watched Rise of Planet of the Apes this morning, and wow! That was the jackpot for a setting junkie like me. Isn't that the boardwalk at Muir's Woods? Look there's a Bay City Trolley! And I could barely even follow the action of the climactic battle, because it took place right on the section of the Golden Gate Bridge that I had walked on just three short days ago.

Movies can be deceptive, though; it's their nature. A quick search on the internet revealed that most of the movie was actually filmed in Vancouver, and that big scene at the end? Green screens on a sound stage. So, I'm a little deflated, but... I'm definitely in for Dawn of Planet of the Apes! Did you see those previews? They are all over Market Street, and this time? The redwoods are real.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Dear Brutus

Of the "geo" studies, I guess I find geography the more accessible. Once, when I was in college, I caught a ride from upstate New York down to Washington with a couple of geology majors. Oy! You should have heard those guys all the way down I-81 through Pennsylvania where the road has been blasted out of the Appalachian Mountains. It was like they were speaking a different language; they were all Shawgunk this, and orogeny that. I still have no idea what they were saying.

Even so, when I was flying across the country this week, certain geographical features made me curious about the geological forces that formed them. The plains are so flat; the Badlands so sculpted; some rivers are super bendy; some mountains look sheer and stony, but others look folded and crinkly. What makes them that way? If only geologists spoke my language, or I theirs.

I understand how the mountains of Maine were carved by glaciers, but San Francisco and Marin County are hills and mountains that seem to rise directly out of the sea, a phenomena that couldn't be more different than the wide beaches and wetlands we have here on the east coast. After spending a couple of days in northern California, it occurred to me to look it up, and I found that I actually do know how they were formed.

Sometime between 24 and 34 million years ago two tectonic plates collided and pushed those mountains right up. That plate boundary is still there today; we know it as the San Andreas Fault.

Perhaps there's hope for me, yet.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

In the Desert

I've written before about what an inveterate window-looker I am on airplanes. Just this week, I've had the chance to spend over 11 hours with my nose smashed up against the double-paned plexiglass as I flew cross country not once, but twice.

On shorter flights, it's relatively easy to figure out where you might be, but that's not always the case once you get over a couple of hours. Throw in some cloud cover and you've got nothing more than educated guess about what that landscape below might be. When I was a kid, the pilot was always very informative, often pointing out landmarks below as we flew past them. I saw the Grand Canyon from the air long before I ever peeked over its rim in person, and I knew it was the Grand Canyon, because the pilot told me, dammit.

In later years, I was fascinated by those flat screens in economy class that traced our route across the Atlantic, but that was in back in the day when everyone had to watch the same movie when you flew, and then only if you rented the headset. These days, many planes have wifi, and with internet access you can track your flight on your phone. That was not the case with either of the 737s that I flew on this time. It was all up to me to reckon our location.

In general, I think I did a pretty good job, using the huge, obvious things to guide me. We didn't fly over the Grand Canyon, but I could see the Rockies and the Great Salt Lake. On the way out there, I also saw something really strange in the Nevada desert.

It was like this giant circle made of concentric rings with an opening in the middle that had some kind of tower or structure in the center. It was so odd that I took a few pictures of it with my phone so that I could identify it later.

Today I was planning to listen to some podcasts I as we flew. I had Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, some Slate Gabfests, and This American Life, and about an hour and a half in, I decided to catch up on the Writer's Almanac for today. Just as Garrison Keillor said, It was on this day in 1847 that the Mormon leader Brigham Young led his people into the Valley of the Great Salt Lake, I looked out my window, and there it was, the Great Salt Lake!

I gasped as Keillor continued, He was leading a group of Mormons from Illinois to find a new settlement in the West where they might not be bothered. Brigham Young had gotten sick during the journey and was being carried prostrate in a wagon. But when they reached the edge of the Valley of the Great Salt Lake, the wagon stopped as it came to a natural lookout point. According to legend, Brigham Young was able to describe the scene below without looking. Then he sat up and looked out at the valley and said, "This is the right place. Drive on."

To be honest, from my point of view, the place did not look that welcoming, but it was really cool to be able to make that judgment in person.

Following that amazing coincidence, I turned to the latest issue of Saveur Magazine that I had also downloaded before my trip. I was swiping through, reading with interest a tale of Swedish midsummer celebration and the story of a woman who lives on an island in the Penobscot Bay during the summer, when the next image I saw was...

concentric circles in the desert!

It was an article about the Burning Man Festival.

According to their websiteOnce a year, tens of thousands of participants gather in Nevada's Black Rock Desert to create Black Rock City, dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance. They depart one week later, having left no trace whatsoever. 

Question? Answered!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Thousand Stories

There's not a lot of air conditioning here in San Francisco, probably because the climate just doesn't call for it. Still, we were a little surprised to find our hotel room equipped with a ceiling fan and big, double hung windows that open wide. On the ninth and top floor of our circa 1910 building, our room looks east over a painted iron fire escape and a gorgeous city scape. During the day, the bay peeks out from between buildings, but at night the view is even better in some ways.

Last night after we turned the lights out, I sat for a while at the window. The thrum and muffle of the streets rose up and into the room on the cool night air. Occasionally a car horn or clear phrase voiced by an invisible person pierced the steady hum. Hundreds of windows lit the skyline, some shaded or too far away to be anything other than light, others with visible details: here a stove, there a lamp, a TV, an empty chair, a man brushing his teeth. 

I sat in the darkness, city above, city below, and then surrounded by the city and its sounds I slipped into bed and slept.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

It's All Uphill from Here

We walked around six miles today exploring San Francisco. Armed with my trusty tour book and hotel map, I plotted a course that took us through Union Square, down Market Street to the  Ferry Terminal and Market, along the Embarcadero, and through Fisherman's Wharf to Ghiradelli Square. The only thing I wasn't completely sure of were the hills, but I figured if we stayed close to the waterfront we would be fine. My return route involved hopping a cable car to take us up and over Russian Hill with a quick stop at Lombard Street.

Turns out, I wasn't the only one trying to avoid hills and after a quick glance at the long line of people at the bottom of Hyde Street, we agreed to walk up, and possibly hop the cable car en route. Wow! What a climb! We were huffing our way up when behind us a bell rang cheerfully to alert anyone hoping to catch a ride that there were no seats on this car. With a sigh, we continued our ascent, catching up with the stopped cable car a couple of blocks further.

Yellow police tape blocked the street, and the only way to get to Lombard Street was to go down and back up. We paused to catch our breaths, hoping the situation would be resolved shortly. The folks on the cable car waited, too, and any car who tried to enter was waved away by the police. Finally it became evident that we would not be able to pass this way any time soon, and so with a grumble, we turned left and down a street so steep that cars were not allowed to parallel park; rather they pulled straight in to the curb.

Halfway down the block I spied a staircase with a street sign (!) leading in the direction we wanted to go, so we took it, and a at the top there was a short block that led us to the "crookedest street" in the world, and a young man who waved us away. It seems that they were shooting a movie, and they needed Lombard Street clear. From above we heard someone call action and smoke billowed. Below, a single figure crossed the street with his shopping cart. A few minutes later we were allowed to quickly descend, where we were met by a confused cop. "How did you all get through?" he wondered.

Our adventure was not over yet. Down we climbed to pick up another cable car line to take us back to our hotel. After waiting in a long curvy queue, we hopped on board and were snapping some pictures when the friendly conductor informed us that there was a problem with the cable in Chinatown, and we would have to switch to a shuttle bus there. Not us, though. No we hiked another four blocks up hill and waited for yet another cable car. When we climbed off a few minutes later, it was all downhill to our hotel.

Later, relaxing with my feet up, I did a little research about these famous hills. I discovered that an enterprising citizen has actually created an app that will show you how hilly the streets around you are, so you can plan accordingly. "Sometimes I like to take the hilliest route possible," he writes. With somewhat of a different frame of mind, I punched in the address of my hotel, and here's the image I got:

That explains a lot! Clearly MC Escher designed this city!

Monday, July 21, 2014

California Here We Are

Our flight touched down at 11:15 am local time, which provided more than enough time to be crammed into the tiniest airplane seat I have ever experienced, but the weather here in San Francisco, 68 and sunny, promised to make up for the inconvenience.

At our hotel, that attitude of friendly accommodation continued, and they allowed us to check in hours ahead of the regular time. After dropping off our bags, we were off, meeting up with a friend from school who is here for the same conference that Heidi will attend. We ate lunch at a local place and then used our handy hotel-provided map to find the Cable Car Museum, which was a steep little hike up and over Nob Hill.

Watching the ginormous gears that actually spin the cables that drag those famous cars around this town was fascinating, and on a whim, I bought a book at the gift shop called Historic Walks in San Francisco: 18 Trails Through the City's Past. With that in hand, we walked down Washington Street to Chinatown and picked up the tour at stop 11. Yikes! If our guide was even half accurate, we learned that the history of that neighborhood is tightly woven together by opium, prostitution, gambling, prostitution, government corruption, prostitution, gang riots over a prostitute, prostitution, slave markets where girls were sold into prostitution, prostitution, squalid places where sick and old prostitutes were dumped to die, and of course prostitution. Even Rube Goldberg owned a brothel! (Wouldn't you like to see that cartoon?)

After all that sordid history, we climbed four flights of stairs to visit the oldest Chinese temple in the US. Despite French doors flung open to a wide balcony overlooking Waverly Place, the air was thick with incense. Oranges were stacked on every flat surface and hundreds of slips of red paper hung from the lanterns covering the ceiling, each representing an offering and a prayer.

Back on the street, we made our way back along Grant Avenue to St. Mary's, and at the bottom of California Street we hopped a cable car and rode back up and over Nob Hill, and then walked on down Hyde Street to our hotel.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Here We Come

When I was a kid, our family had the good fortune to be able to fly for free since my dad worked for an airline. Back then, we had some good friends who moved to Huntington Beach, California, and we traveled from our home in New Jersey to visit them often. Even before they lived there, though, California was our vacation destination more than once. We visited Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm, then flew north to see the central coast and the Redwoods. A few years later, we had other friends who lived in Monterey, which was also a fun trip.

As much as my brother, sister, and I traveled by airplane, it never really lost its excitement for us, and we never grew tired of visiting the Golden State. There was always some point in our journey where one of us would turn to the others and sing, softly at first, California here I come...

And then a chorus of three would continue:

right back where I started from.

Then a little louder,

Open up those Golden Gates--


California here we come!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Millbrook Charlie Gordon

Today when I logged onto my online banking account, there was an automated message asking me to change my security questions. I could have skipped it, as I often do, but on a Saturday in July I had plenty of time to jump through a few hoops designed to keep my fortunes safe.

In our household the division of labor is such that I manage most of the financial accounts, so there are times when I am called upon to answer personal questions on Heidi's behalf. Of course I could consult her or even make up the responses (especially since it would likely be me who had to provide the correct answers in the event of a forgotten password or something), but I don't.

I like to consider those occasions little trivia quizzes about Heidi, quizzes that, if I may say so, I ace every time.

Well... she is one of my favorite subjects.

BONUS: What three questions did I answer today?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Job Benefits

What a busy summer it's been so far! Kyle, Josh, Maine, Buffalo, Hershey, Annabelle and Richard, Kyle, Courtney and all the fun that goes with them. It's amazing to me that, when I stop to do the math, our vacation is not even half over, yet. Four weeks ago was our last day of school; five weeks from Monday, we head back.

Richard and Annabelle are on a different schedule, though. They report back to class just two weeks from Monday. Of course, they've been out since May. Growing up in the north, our schedule when we were kids was much more similar to mine now-- school days were from September until June, and while it's hard not to be a little jealous knowing we have three or four more weeks when some people are starting their summer breaks, it feels pretty great right about now looking forward to more than another month off.

These are the times when it's pretty hard to complain about being a teacher.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Stoop

We live in a townhouse-style condominium community that was designed to balance privacy with common space. For example, we have two balconies in the rear of our unit that offer a fair amount of privacy, and a small front porch that really doesn't: even though we are the end unit, there's always foot traffic.

Because of fire safety laws, the front is where I have to cook when I want to use the grill. As a result, that backyard barbecue vibe is generally absent from my outdoor cooking. I'm usually in and out, poking and flipping, in between other kitchen chores, and when the food is done I carry it right back into the house.

That was not so tonight, however. My sister is in town for a rare visit, and with my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew on their way over for dinner, we moved the party out front when it came time to cook the veggies and chicken for our fajitas. 

The weather was gorgeous, and a couple of lawn chairs, a couple if folding chairs, a glass of wine, a cold beer, and a game of pick up sticks played on a makeshift table were all we needed to enjoy the evening. Heck, we didn't even need those, but it was nice to have them.

The folks that passed by did not appear to be the least bit inconvenienced. No, if anything, they seemed charmed by our little gathering. When the food was done, we moved inside, but those lawn chairs are still out there, and who knows? Maybe we'll get some more use out of them.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Cave of One's Own

We took Richard and Annabelle to visit Luray Caverns today. Even though it had been six years since our last visit, in cave time that's nothing, and the place was pretty much as I remembered it-- a hundred-sixty feet deep and 55 degrees. The paved path winds a mile and a quarter down and back up through massive formations that continue to amaze and impress, despite their hokey names.

Despite the crowds and commercialization, though, there are still places on the tour where it's possible to imagine how thrilling and terrifying it must have been for the first people exploring the caverns in 1878 with only candles to light their way.

And just as last time, the romance of such exploration nibbled at my consciousness, and I recalled that then I did some research and discovered that there are over 3,000 caves in Virginia, most of them considered "wild" and unexplored, 95% of them on private property. Sometimes I think I would love to own a cave, but then I remember how years ago a friend of mine told me the story of a lost caver in South Dakota.

My friend was enrolled in a three month program at NOLS, the National Outdoor Leadership School, and they were doing some rescue training in Wind Cave. One of the other students left her pack with extra lamps and batteries in the large Cataract Room and went off to search some of the smaller side passages.

Her carbide lamp ran out of water, so she waited in the dark, calling out to her fellow searchers. Panicking, she began to crawl around in the dark. Eventually, it occurred to her to pee on her lamp to activate it, and she crawled some more through, now, unfamiliar passages. Eventually, the light went out again, and she continued crawling in the dark.

They found her 48 hours later in an unmapped section of the cave, dehydrated but otherwise unharmed, but when the first rescuer approached, his long hair and beard haloed by his headlamp, she raised her hands to her face and whispered, "Are you God?"

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

An Overlap of Cousins

We have had a full house the last couple of days; a niece and a couple of nephews from both sides of the family have been bunking with us for some summer fun. Kyle is nearly 14, Richard is 8, and Annabelle is 6, but the three of them seemed to hit it off when they met in Maine 2 years ago, and that warm rapport continued into this visit as well.

Kyle is very considerate of the younger kids, but they have fun together, too. He and Richard played for hours at the pool, yesterday, and there were a few rousing rounds of UNO before dinner, as well. Every one in the house piled into the little kids' room last night to hear a few chapters of Flora and Ulysses, and Kyle sat quietly on the floor until both fell asleep.

Today we took the whole gang to see Earth to Echo, and it may have been a touch too old for Richard and Annabelle, although they both claimed to enjoy it. The main characters are middle school aged, (which would explain my profound affection for them-- they seemed very true to life, and just as I was thinking how much I miss the kids in the summer, I realized a student from last year was right behind me.)

At one point in the plot, when the main girl character is first introduced, one of the three boys is pretty rude to her. His friends question him about his reaction, and one of them says, "You know how it is-- you always fight with the girls you like..."

At which point Richard turned to Kyle and loudly asked, "Is that true???"

Monday, July 14, 2014

Good Eats

Tonight's dinner of grilled steak, french fries, corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes, green beans, baby carrots, and apple slices was definitely one of the best I've had in a while. (And I have eaten verrrry well lately!) To begin with, the tomatoes came from my garden, and as good as I always think farmers market 'maters might be, they are no comparison.

In fact, these tomatoes inspired me to tell my fellow diners, Heidi, Richard, Annabelle, and Kyle, about how my mom used to stop almost every summer day at the "tomato man"' down the street to buy a couple of slicers for dinner.

"What are some of your favorite things to eat?" I asked them as Richard put another slice of tomato on his plate.

"I love that French toast we had for breakfast," answered Kyle.

"Hot dogs for lunch!" added Richard.

"Like we also had today?" I  asked. He nodded vigorously.

"I love that, too," said Annabelle.

Clearly, I hit the trifecta of menu planning. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Picnic Boss

Richard and Annabelle are here for their summer visit and among many other delights, that means playing I'm going on a picnic... whenever we are riding around in the car.

For those who are not familiar, the game goes like this: I'm going on a picnic, and I'm going to bring [fill in the blank]. What are YOU going to bring? The object is to have some pattern in mind, so that whenever it's your turn, you give an example of an item that fits your pattern, and the other players have to figure it out by trial and error.

So, if my pattern was alphabetical order, I would say, I'm going on a picnic and I'm bringing apples. What are you going to bring? If the next person said balloons, or anything else that started with a B, then I would benevolently reply, You can come.

But, when they guess something outside your pattern, You can't come! is the answer. The audacious rudeness of that reply makes me giggle to this day, as does the shock on the face of anyone who hears it for the first time. Their eyes widen in disbelief and quite often they say, as Annabelle did when I taught her and Richard the game last summer, "That is not nice!"

But now, we're old hands at it, and we picked it up this morning almost as if we'd never had a 52 week hiatus. Heidi started with an easy B pattern, and 6-year-old Annabelle followed with the classic A-B-C pattern. When it got to my turn, I couldn't resist messing with her. "I'm going on a picnic, and I'm going to bring dog poop!" I laughed wickedly, waiting for her to let me come along with my unsavory contribution.

She didn't hesitate. "I'm going to cut that off," she told me with authority.

My eyebrows shot up in surprise, and I looked at her in the rear view mirror.

"You can bring a dog," she said. That's it."

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Cupcake Calculations

     2 kinds of cupcakes
+   4 kinds of frosting
     8 choices for dessert

You're worth it, Treatie! Happy Birthday.

(For the record: chocolate or vanilla cake with chocolate or vanilla or peanut butter or earl grey buttercream.)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Unintended Consequences

Who knew that when we put a potted sunflower out on the deck that we would get an almost-resident pair of goldfinches, too? 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

When Life Gives You...

Peaches? Make peach crisp.

Cucumbers and basil? Whip up Thai cucumber salad.

Zucchini? Roast it and serve with tahini sauce.

Eggplant? Ratatouille is always nice.

Tomatoes? Fuggedaboutit! We never met one we didn't love.

Don't worry, summer. I can handle it.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Desperate Measures

An inveterate introvert, I know how lucky I am to have Heidi, who is usually more than willing  to approach, ask, order, sit in the middle seat on airplanes, or otherwise interface with strangers on my behalf. Who knows what was happening today? In order to prepare for Richard and Annabelle's upcoming visit, we were shopping for fun art supplies at our local craft store when I mentioned that teachers get a 10% discount with identification. "Why don't you tell the cashier we don't have our IDs because it's summer?" I suggested.

"Why don't you?" Heidi replied.

Just then a former student waved at us. It turned out she was working there for the summer, so as we waited in line we exchanged pleasantries and did a little catching up before she went off to stock some shelves. Moments later, the cashier was ringing up our purchase, and I looked at Heidi with raised eyebrows. She returned the exact same look. I sighed.

"Don't you guys give a teacher discount?" I began. The cashier nodded. "Well," I continued, "we're teachers, but we had to turn in our IDs for the summer." I shrugged. "You can ask Stephanie," I continued hopefully, "I taught her when she was in 6th grade."

"I don't believe a word Stephanie says," the cashier told me. My heart sank. "But I do believe you!" she finished merrily as she punched a few buttons on the register and even scanned an extra coupon.

Fifteen bucks later, Heidi was not as impressed as I thought she might be. "So..." she started, "if there's money involved? You don't seem to have any problem at all talking to strangers. I'll have to remember that."


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

No Problem

After putting 2100+ miles on the rental van, traveling from Virginia to Maine and then to Buffalo, we finally pulled up to Josh's house in Hershey, PA at around 6:30 last night. "Here we are!" I announced.

"Sweet," he answered. "Thanks for the ride!"

Monday, July 7, 2014

Turn About

Two days later, and we're still  laughing about that t-shirt we saw in Orchard Beach: That's a nice story, Babe, now make me a sandwich. But we think it's funny, because in our house, the opposite would be way more accurate. In fact I can almost hear Heidi saying it now: That's a nice sandwich, Babe, now listen to my story...

Sunday, July 6, 2014


I've never been a big fan of amusement parks. Once many years ago when a group of coworkers at the catering company where I cooked planned a big day-off outing to Busch Gardens, I tagged along for the company. It wasn't long before someone noticed I wasn't waiting in many of those long turnstile lines. "If you don't like rides, what are you here for?" she wondered.

"Oh, I came for the food and the shows," I replied. That cracked us up for a while.

When I was a kid, the cool, new ride was the flume. Theme parks everywhere were adding a log ride to their attractions. People loved the novelty of getting wet at the end of the thrilling plunge. Back then, the lines for the flume were always over an hour long, especially on a hot summer day. I remember waiting impatiently in such a line with my mom, brother, and sister. Even though I tried to avoid anything with a big drop, there was something about the churning water in the half pipe chute that soothed my fear. When we emerged, dripping as advertised, down the ramp at the end of the ride, my reaction was a distinct, That wasn't too bad.

Even today, there's something about a log ride that I find vaguely inviting, and so when I found myself at an amusement park this afternoon with Heidi's parents, Kyle, and Josh, I agreed to ride the flume with Kyle when no one else would. The line was maybe a quarter of an hour long, and I passed the time enjoying the shade of the pavilion, chatting with Kyle, and people watching.

I was probably the oldest person waiting to climb into a fiberglass log, and my first observation was that tattoos really seem to be here stay, at least among the western New York theme park crowd. After that, I affectionately noticed many people who reminded me of students, past and present, and then I saw folks who reminded me of me. Here a little girl waiting with her mom and siblings, there an a young girl with her cousins, and another older girl with her high school friends. In the next turnstile over, I saw a woman in her thirties with a group of kids who weren't her children, but were definitely hers.

At last it was time for me and Kyle to board our log and float off with the rushing current, and so we did, laughing as the water splashed us at the foot of each drop. "That was fun!" Kyle said as we walked down the ramp to rejoin our group. I did not disagree.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Roadside Assistance

Hurricane Arthur smacked the Maine coast somewhere around three this morning. Hard steady rain pounding on the skylights and wind howling through the balsams woke me up, and it was hard to get back to sleep knowing all the packing and loading we would have to do once day broke.

The storm was still steady when we all got up, but with the help of Josh and the benefit of our new foul weather gear, we were only slightly soggy when we piled into the van for a 9:30 departure. The going was a little slow on the two-lane roads that made up the first leg of our journey, though, and it was close to noon before we made the interstate.

Then there was the question of that lobster we promised to bring to Heidi's parents in Buffalo, so I got off the turnpike again south of Portland, hoping to find a good place on Rte 1. Our search took us on a detour to Orchard Beach, where we found a helpful lobster pound who packed up four to go. 

Saturday of Fourth of July weekend is crowded at any beach town, though, and we found ourselves stuck in traffic on the strip. Even though it gave us a lot of opportunity to people watch and window shop from the van (best bad shirt slogan: That was a nice story, babe, now make me a sandwich), knowing we had miles to go before we slept, we soon became impatient to get back on the road. 

By now it was well past lunch time, and we delayed a little longer looking for a spot where we could get one last lobster roll and maybe a couple of burgers. No such luck, though, and so I turned back onto the highway.

Not too far down the road we passed a rest stop and service area with a huge sign: Lobsters packed to travel, and darn it if they didn't have lobster rolls and burgers, too. Good to know.

Friday, July 4, 2014


With a hurricane looming and a national holiday on the calendar, we decided to take it easy this last day of our vacation and hang close to our rental home. At dinner last night, anticipating rain, I proposed taking advantage of the ping pong table downstairs by organizing a little double elimination tournament.  "I know what's going to happen," Bill said. "Josh is going to crush us all-- unless I can beat him." Despite the dire prediction, everyone agreed to play, and with the help of that miraculous internet, I put together a random bracket for the nine of us.

Today dawned clear and sunny, though, and with Wimbledon and the World Cup, we all found other things to do until about 4 pm. There were gathering clouds then, and the prospect of making a potluck supper using as many of our left overs as possible, so we knew it was now or never, and the nine of us trooped down the stairs for the first game of the tourney.

The table was a flat blue as Bill and Emily picked up their paddles to face off in the first game. We are all rusty or novices or both, and as the tournament progressed the play was an exciting combination of skill and incompetence. Double elimination gave all of us a chance at redemption, and there was a lot of improvement as we played. Even so, it seemed like Bill's prediction would hold, as Josh soundly beat his early opponents. Bill himself fell in an early round, and the consequence was that he had to win several games in a row to advance, but at last he did, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat on more than one occasion.

In the end it came to the show down of Bill versus Josh. Josh was well rested, having come through the winner's bracket, and Bill, having played three straight matches, had to beat him twice to claim the title "Clam-pion" or king of the clams.

We were all on the edge of our seats, our heads nodding back and forth with each rally, as they battled point by point. Bill took the first game, but Josh smiled with casual determination as he served to win the title. It was not to be. Bill's prediction of the night before was borne out. He had stopped the juggernaut of a Josh.

Outside, a light rain had started. Arthur approached.

Thursday, July 3, 2014


For me, one of the pleasures of a long road trip is always the chance to listen to an audio book on the way. For this voyage from Virginia to Maine and on to Buffalo and Hershey, PA, before returning home, I had to think for a while before I came up with a book I thought all four of us, two middle aged ladies, and two boys, 18 and 14, might enjoy.

As I browsed through the options, I came across Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, the story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who as an airman during WWII crashed into the Pacific and then spent 47 days adrift in a life raft before being captured by the Japanese and imprisoned. My friend Mary had told me what a great story it was, and it definitely seemed to have something for everyone in our group, so I thought I would give it a try.

We were almost to Connecticut when I made a general announcement to the van that all passengers would have to listen to at least two chapters of the book before putting in their own earbuds. Josh and Kyle were more than obliging, and the four of us were hooked long before we hit the detour at exit 30 on I-84. 

The narrative is so riveting that we have listened to it all week up and down the country roads of Maine on our way to this or that beautiful place. We have also brought it up in conversation so many times, that this evening when I was helping with dinner, my brother burst into the kitchen, the NY Times website on his iPad. "Louis is dead!" he announced.

I was momentarily confused, but then I understood. At 97 years old, after all the trials he had faced, the hero of our story finally passed away peacefully at home in California. I felt a lump in my throat and goosebumps on my arms; it was as if someone I knew had died.

Rest in peace, Louie.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Fly Boy

It was no easy feat to get our party of nine people and two dogs out the door by 8 am this morning, but we did it. We only had one chance for the mail boat in Stonington that would take us over to Isle au Haut for the day, and so everybody got up early, ate breakfast, and packed lunches and enough water to last all day-- there were no stores where we were going.

The island was just as beautiful today as I remembered it, with plenty of wide granite ledges and cobble stone beaches overlooking the deep blue Atlantic, but it was a much buggier than last time, too. The cool ocean breeze kept a lot of pests away, but there were still a few stretches of trail where we were all swatting deer flies and some pretty huge horse flies, too. It became almost a social activity; each of us obligingly smacking anything that landed on the hiker in front of us. Kyle pursued the parasites with particular alacrity, reveling in each successful swat. "Pow!" He exclaimed at one point, "I got him right in the buzzer!"

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


There's a little park at the end of Main Street in Bar Harbor that looks out over the Harbor itself and the Porcupine Islands beyond. Our group of nine split up after doing our traditional picnic on Great Head this afternoon. The big boys and Seiyoung headed off for the Bee Hive and other challenges while Bill, Emily, Heidi, Kyle and I took the dogs into town. Once here, I thought it was a little too warm to leave the dogs in the car, and with not much interest in shopping, the three if us set off down the hill. Here I found a shady spot on the grass just a little ways up from the four masted schooner Margaret Hood. Right now bits of conversations in several different languages are floating past on the warm breeze blowing through the maples and birches, and the dogs are sleeping only to be roused by the friendly folks asking to give them a pat as they pass.