Category Archives: Out in the World

A Room and a View

When I tell people that I have an amazing view from my apartment in New Haven, they usually respond with some skepticism. As in, “Really? What can you see in New Haven?”

My poor part-time city. It doesn’t get a lot of respect as a scenic destination.

My apartment faces north. And, it is on the 26th floor of one of the tallest buildings in town. And, I have floor-to-ceiling windows that make my tiny space feel much bigger than it actually is.

And, dominating my vista is a spectacular geologic formation. East Rock is a 200-million year old trap-rock ridge. Its peak is 366 feet above sea level. It is comprised mostly of diabase, a mineral compound that oxidizes when exposed to air (I looked it up), turning the face a beautiful shade of reddish-brown. All of the non-rocky surfaces are crowded with oak, elm, and maple trees. Since we’re in Connecticut, and it’s October, you can imagine the colors out my window this week. But why just imagine, when I can share the sunset view from my living room on Monday evening?

IMG_0145What can you see in New Haven? Well, I can see this.

And also (because I seem to be beginning most of the sentences in this post with the word and), just to give you a bit more perspective on the whole “Views in New Haven” concept, consider the following. This is the view from East Rock looking downtown.

IMG_0147This photo was taken one week before the sunset shot above. You can see across the top of the Yale campus and out to Long Island Sound.

I love my part-time city.

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The Thing About the Coffee

I have a thing about my morning coffee.  It’s been mentioned in previous posts, and here it is again. A 4-shot latte. Usually called a “quad venti,” because I usually get it at Starbucks. Otherwise, it’s just a large four-shot latte. The point is, I order this beverage. By talking to a person. While smiling and usually while making conversation about the weather or some other relevant topic.

When I started my new job last year and rented my new apartment, a lot of my favorite people asked me about my coffee thing. Now that I’d be walking to work, didn’t I want a Keurig, or an espresso machine, or some other handy appliance?

No.

I absolutely do NOT want a coffee-making toy. I am way too much of an extrovert to make my coffee all alone and walk to school for half an hour without speaking to anyone. One of the reasons I decided to live downtown and walk to work was specifically so that I could find a coffee shop (or more than one) where I could stop every morning and talk to someone. Where people might get to know me a little, and might recognize me and say hello when I opened the door. And also, that they would make me a nice strong latte.

I am happy to say that my morning routine is exactly what I envisioned.  Because sometimes, in both large and small ways, we get to make our lives happen. The  coffee thing is kind of small. But it is really nice. Today, it was pouring out when I left the apartment building, so I drove the whole 1.9 mile route instead of walking.  But I stopped for coffee anyway. And when I walked into the cafe, the barista smiled at me and  said, “4-shot latte?” And I said, “oh, yes, please.” And then we talked about the weather.

Three Little Boys

It seems as though everyone is posting about the attacks at the Boston Marathon yesterday. Most of us can’t erase the images, and the unfolding events, from our minds. What I will remember the most when I think about this day are three young children–all boys, all strangers.

Patriot’s Day is a state holiday in Massachusetts. If you live here, it’s a significant date on the calendar. Patriots Day marks an unofficial start to spring, the beginning of a week of school vacation, an opportunity to reflect on the intellectual and philosophical spirit and emerging national identity that heralded  the Revolutionary War, and a chance to celebrate two beloved athletic events: a Red Sox home game, and the Boston Marathon, which ends less than a mile from Fenway Park.

I’m a marathon runner myself. I’ve covered those 26.2 miles on foot many times, and crossed the finish line in front of the Boston Public Library twice. As many people have written in the past two days, the Marathon has become not only a premiere international race, but also an individual and collective social action effort. Many of the runners making their way down Boylston Street at the time of the explosions had entered the race to end cancer,  AIDS,  homelessness, hunger, and other medical and social causes. They were not  celebrity athletes; they were the “regular” people who find time to train on weekends, early in the mornings, and late in the day. They slogged through the snowy streets this winter, building up their stamina. They sent letters and posted pledge sheets, collecting donations in the name of loved ones. They stood at the starting line on the main street of Hopkinton yesterday morning, exhilarated and a little anxious as they thought about the next four hours of their day.

Most of the spectators standing along those four blocks had been there for hours. They had seen the champions speed past. Now they were watching the 9- and 10-minute milers in their final push to the blue and gold marker painted on the street. They cheered, calling out last words of encouragement, sharing the moment of personal victory for each of those people, enjoying a crisp spring day–that is the spirit of this marathon.

Some of the folks  along those last few blocks–Hereford, Gloucester, and Fairfield Streets– made their way into the Marathon scene after leaving the baseball game, which had just ended. The Husband and I were in the midst of that  group. We had enjoyed a spectacular day watching our team from a pair of terrific seats above the first base line. Part of the joy of the game was provided by our seatmates–a little boy named David and his father. Although we had never met, we all subscribed to the commonly accepted assumption that anyone who shares your row at Fenway is, at least for those few hours, a friend. David is a first-grader. He has the face of countless children who fall in love with baseball for both the joy of the game and the mystique of the ball park. David’s father and I talked a bit between innings and during the slow moments. We expressed our shared devotion to our sons. The dad agreed with me completely when I said that The Boy is my most important investment. We discussed schools, vacations, and family values. David ate a hot dog, sipped on a large soda in a commemorative cup, and smiled shyly when I asked him questions. He kept track of the pitching changes, the outs, and the batting order.

When the game ended, The Husband and I decided that our best plan was to walk from Fenway through the Back Bay and over the bridge into Cambridge, where we would take the Red Line to the commuter train back to our home in the suburbs. In order to execute that plan, we had to get across the Marathon course at Beacon Street. Runners were streaming past us, with a little more than half a mile to go to the finish line.  We stopped for a few minutes to watch them before joining the throngs that were descending into the subway station at Kenmore Square. I held onto The Husband’s coat sleeve to keep from getting separated from him as we made our way through the crowded tunnel under the street and out to the other side. Not long after we had begun our walk across the bridge, we heard the first blast. It was about four blocks behind us. A huge cloud of white-gray smoke rose above the buildings. Everyone stopped and turned to look. People offered their first ideas: a commemorative cannon, a traffic accident, an exploding manhole cover, a burst gas pipe…then the second bomb went off. More smoke drifted up. At that moment, we knew something was wrong. Within minutes, sirens sounded from every direction. Ambulances, police cars, fire trucks, and motorcycles screamed past us. For several minutes, we stood on the bridge watching, although there was really nothing to see. We checked Twitter, news websites, and e-mail. Then we walked on, looking for a place that we could see a TV.

We entered one of the MIT bar/restaurants just as the first camera coverage was being aired. The place wasn’t very crowded, so we were able to find a seat. The bartender turned up the volume on the television and as the reports came in, everyone stopped talking to watch and listen. Those images–dazed runners, spectators covered in blood, emergency responders pushing wheelchairs and gurneys–were almost impossible to process. We had been right there. We had heard the blasts. We were still less than a mile away.

More and more people began to fill the restaurant. Many of them had been walking back from the game, or from watching the race. They had also heard the explosions and wanted to get more information. I turned around to see a little boy with his eyes wide and his mouth open, staring at the screen. He couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old. I’m sure he had come in with an adult, but there was no one standing with him. I said, “are you OK, watching this??” He looked at me for a few seconds and nodded his head. “This looks really scary, doesn’t it?” I continued. “You know, there are a lot of grownups over there helping everyone. They’ll take care of the people who are hurt.” I didn’t know what else to say.

A few hours later, The Husband and I were safely back at home, still trying to absorb the events and watching more news. When it was revealed that one of the lives lost had been that of an eight-year-old boy, my heart sank even more than it had earlier in the day. A little boy with his family, enjoying one of the great, wholesome, community-wide celebrations in our city. A little kid, watching people accomplish their personal goals, modeling perseverance, motivation, and the human spirit.

Three little boys, surrounded by adults. What did David and his father talk about when they found out that this horror occurred a few minutes after the baseball game ended? What did that child in the bar think, and who else helped him make sense what he had seen on television? What happens to a family literally shattered on a street in the midst of a civic celebration that suddenly turns into a war zone?

I can’t stop thinking of the poem that Nikki Giovanni wrote in the aftermath of September 11. It’s called “Desperate Acts.”

Its not easy to understand

Why angry men commit
Desperate acts

Its not easy to understand
How some dreams become
Nightmares

Those who wish
And those who need
Often feel alone

Its easy to strike back
But hard to understand

She’s right. It isn’t easy to understand. But we need to teach about understanding. For David, for the little boy in the bar, for the children who knew the child who died. We are the grownups. We are their grownups.

Fireworks

There are places in the world where it’s impossible to ignore the sky.

Here I am, in one of those places. As you know from several previous posts, this is where I recharge. It’s where I sleep late, exercise as much, and in as many forms as I want, cook whatever makes me and my people happy, and relax into a state of complete calm.

This visit is no different from the many others that have preceded it. As is typical, we arrived here after a high-energy, intense (and I’m glad to report, successful)  burst of work and productivity. The boy had been on a series of adventures across the Northeast for a couple of weeks and we were all thrilled to be reunited for a 10-day vacation in the heaven of the Hudson Valley.

Which brings us to the sky.

There are hills here. Hills, and meadows, and cornfields, and close-up contact with flora of every color. Above all of it is a sky that is layered with texture. On the brightest, sunniest day, the sky can show you fourteen shades of blue. If it’s really hot, the sky can be white. When a storm comes in (and lucky, lucky, you if you’re outdoors to watch it approach), you can be astonished by the variations of gray that roll above you. At the end of the day, the sunset reflects off of everything below and everything above. Sunset literally vibrates here–in tones of pink, purple, orange, and a red that takes your breath away. Stay out later, and you’ll see the purest indigo lit up by stars and moon only the way a country night can shine.

We’ve had all of those skies in the past week. How about this, on my favorite walk, bracketed by a postcard scene so perfect you’d think it was staged?

Or how about this, taken during the preparations for our barbecue party, when the rain and hail came down so hard that we could literally pour a glass of ice water by holding up a cup?

But the best of all was display on the evening of July 4. We drove out to Poughkipsee to watch a fireworks show over the Hudson River. We arrived as the sun was sinking below the hills and the clouds were massing over the water. This was what we saw as we walked onto the bridge:

We found seats in front of the railing to wait for dark, when the light show would begin. Above us, this was happening:

The view up the river was a scene out of one of the greatest romantic stories about the Hudson:

And then the lightning started and the rains came, and the bridge had to be evacuated to protect all of us from harm. We didn’t rush to leave, and we weren’t particularly disappointed.

Really. What kind of competition could a barge-load of gunpowder and chemicals pose to this?

We drove home watching lightning bounce among the clouds. It was the best 4th of July show ever.

Macro Vision

I’m going to try to maintain a logical flow to the narrative of this post, but bear with me if I follow a couple of tangents. In my mind, a set of somewhat unrelated observations and experiences share common elements.

I lost my glasses last week. It was totally my own fault; the Husband and I took the Boy and five of his buddies to dinner and a movie, and I left my glasses on the table in the restaurant when I got up to talk to one of the moms who came to retrieve her son. I forgot to go back to my seat and put the glasses in my bag, and didn’t realize my mistake until the next morning. Despite three phone calls and two visits, my oh-so-useful glasses, the pair that took four attempts at adjusting the lens strength, the ones with the gorgeous French designer frames, are gone. I was (and still am) quite annoyed with myself.

I’ve been squinting and straining all week. My vision has been a challenge for my entire life. When I was in first grade, I got my first pair of glasses. I still remember my astonishment when I walked out of the doctor’s office wearing them. I could see every leaf on the trees in the parking lot. I could see the texture of the weave in my skirt, and the numbers on the dial of the radio in my mother’s car.  In seventh grade, I “graduated” to contact lenses, keeping a pair of glasses on hand only to wear in the evenings or on lazy weekend days. Over the years, my eyesight has become slightly, but progressively, worse. Every time I notice that people’s eyelashes or the petals on flowers are getting a bit blurry, I know it’s time for an adjustment. A few years ago, my opthalmologist shook his head and said in his inimitable gentlemanly way, “perfection cannot be achieved.” We moved on to a compromise contact lens choice, which is adequate for most daily activities, but which requires a highly customized pair of glasses to bring menus, textbooks, nighttime road signs, crossword puzzles, and needlework into focus. Those are the glasses I lost. Those were the glasses for which I didn’t really have a prescription, because the optician and I went through a series of attempts before we found the just-right settings to make everything work.

As it turns out, I was due for an eye exam anyway. The terrific office manager found a way to squeeze me in for an appointment on Friday afternoon, and I walked out of the hospital into the oh-so-bright spring sunshine with my pupils dilated and a new prescription in hand. For the time being, I’ll be wearing glasses to work until I am ready to take on the challenge of a new combo of contacts and supplemental eyeglasses.

Friday’s spectacular spring sunshine brings me to the second thread in this tapestry of a blog post. This season has been amazing in the array of colors we’ve been seeing. The dogwoods, cherry trees, forsythia, daffodils, lupines, crocuses and hyacinths are blossoming with flamboyant abandon. Even the ever-practical Husband had to stop his car the other day so that he could photograph a particularly flashy display of flowering trees. The fleeting brilliance of the blooms makes me almost anxious as I grab my camera and get up close. I don’t want them to fade away before I can preserve them. My macro lens allows me to capture the most intimate features and the delicacy of these days. And, in case you needed the connection to be made explicitly, I can’t help the thrill I feel when I can appreciate those fine details with my sometimes imperfect eyes.

I went to the optical shop yesterday to choose a new pair of glasses. I found a frame I liked, selected the features I wanted (anti-reflective coating, compressed carbon material…) and had my face measured so that the technicians  can align the distance and reading portions of the lenses. While I was sitting there, two young women were also shopping. One of them complimented the other on her t-shirt slogan, which I could not see. She then said, “I don’t understand all those people who wear ‘Life is Good’ shirts. I always want to ask them, what’s so good?”

Forgive me, friends, for judging another person here. But, really? What’s so good? The woman who made this comment was wearing beautiful, fashionable, new-looking clothing and shoes and carrying a handbag with a recognizable luxury logo. She appeared to be quite physically fit and healthy. She was out shopping on a Saturday afternoon in an affluent, safe, suburban community. Like most people, she probably has unfulfilled hopes and dreams. It’s entirely possible that she might have suffered painful losses in her life. However, in the three minutes that I observed her, those negative elements were not evident. And her remark didn’t seem to be self-reflective; rather, her tone was incredulous that other people would choose to wear and share a slogan that presented a positive outlook.

I am not a fan of cynicism. It is  fatalistic and implies surrender to negativity. It does not allow the possibility of change for the better, or the recognition that people will, and can, do the right thing, even in difficult circumstances.  I think cynicism is lazy. Optimism, on the other hand, requires work. It requires a deliberate decision to look for the opportunity in disappointment, the silver lining around a dark cloud, the episodic nature of an experience instead of a global categorization of a condition. Optimism is based on the belief that life is, in fact, good, even when there are bumps along the way. The work of optimism can be challenging, but it is also gratifying and rewarding. Sometimes, you have to look closely and carefully to find the goodness. Sometimes, you need to sharpen your vision. Sometimes, you need a macro lens.

Comfort Food

When I started writing this online journal, I didn’t think of it as a food blog.

As it turns out, it’s sort of a food blog. More accurately, it’s a personal blog about happiness and gratitude and family and friends–which, in my mind, often brings us to food. What makes you happy and grateful? What do you do to share happiness and gratitude with your family and friends? My answer to that question: I cook.

For the past few days, we happily and gratefully celebrated the long holiday weekend by borrowing the retreat haven of some of our best friends. We know the place by heart; we’ve been fortunate to be invited there numerous times since they bought it. Familiarity is certainly one of the requirements of a comfort, don’t you think?

We were in the Hudson River Valley–possibly one of the most humbly beautiful parts of our country. There are rolling hills, cows grazing everywhere you look, small villages that were established in the 1600s by hard-working Dutch folks, beautiful views of the river, the cornfields, and the sharpest blue skies to be seen anywhere. The Husband, The Boy, and I arrived on Friday after a long but exciting week for the grownups in the family. One decision I made early in the week was that we would “pack in” everything we needed for our 3+ days of R and R. That plan made it possible for us to rustle up a quick and delicious meal of homemade whole wheat pizzas within an hour of unlocking the door. It also meant that we never needed to leave the premises all day on Saturday. The Husband and I went out for an exhilarating 3-mile walk on the country roads, we relaxed, enjoyed a bottle of wine, and watched old movies. I made shrimp tikka masala for dinner, with jasmine rice and naan bread. Indian isn’t our culture, but the meal incorporated many of the elements that I think are essential for edible comfort: rich sauce, simmered protein, and a starchy base to absorb all the flavors.

I also made French macarons, which probably don’t count as comfort food. However, the movie-set kitchen always motivates me to try something daring.

Sunday, we went to the Rhinebeck Farmers Market, which is open indoors on alternate Sundays in the winter. What a bonus for us that we lucked into a market day! We bought maple syrup (the sap is running early this year due to the season’s mild weather), fresh spinach, yarn (which I did not cook, but which will make a gorgeous scarf), sausage, bread, pastries, and a perfect red onion. I took lots of pictures of the wonderful array of products and produce.

That evening, I made another comfort meal. And again, although Italian isn’t our culture either, how can you go wrong with this menu, and the delicious aromas that emerged from cooking that onion into a sweetened, delectable bread topping? Or the earthy, herb-infused scent of  a  spicy sausage ragu, simmering  in the background? I served the bread and pasta with that beautiful fresh spinach,  and spread the caramelized onion and some fruity rosemary onto fresh bread dough to make a yummy focaccia. . The perfect meal on a winter night. And again, a lot of the same features as the previous night’s meal.

So–what are the necessary elements to a “comfort meal?” Sunday featured pasta and bread (hearty starch), meaty sauce (slow-cooked protein), and a flavorful vegetable. That combination can be re-defined and adapted in countless ways. Macaroni and cheese doesn’t need a protein (unless you’re counting the cheese). Braised short ribs seems to fit the bill in every way. Black beans and rice is an inexpensive and versatile vegetarian option, as are lentils and barley, or polenta with an earthy mushroom sauce. Turkey stew is certainly a comfort meal. These are winter foods, rich with herbs and spices, warm and dense, familiar and filling. Wrap yourselves up, friends. Build a fire, open a bottle of dark red wine, and snuggle with someone you love. It’s all good.

Outpacing Zeus

Cloud bank building in the hills

Today was our last day in the Hudson Valley. The week has been ideal in terms of family  companionship, relaxation, work time and professional reading, physical recovery, culinary fun, accommodations, and weather. We had a bit of rain, but it never got in the way of our plans. I went out walking on the beautiful rolling roads every day, building my stamina to four miles at a brisk pace. Today’s walk was the most exciting, because a major thunderstorm was brewing and I was determined to complete the loop before the rains came.

The photo above was taken at approximately the 3-mile mark. By that time, the rumbling in the sky was unmistakably closer and the wind had picked up substantially. I love love love the energy in the air in the moments before a summer storm; the smell, the temperature shift, the color changes in the sky, the literal charge—LOVE it. I stood there at the top of the hill trying to focus the camera on my cell phone, feeling absolutely giddy. With a mile to go, I figured I’d be perfectly safe, if slightly soggy, when I got back to the house.

Walking in the Dutchess County hills this morning, I was caught between the immediacy of the moment and a collection of memories from 30 years ago. For three summers in high school and early college, I was the aquatics director at the country club in my hometown on the north shore of Massachusetts. The club sat at the mouth of a tidal river, and I was responsible for closing the pool when there was a thunderstorm. My vantage point above the river and the knowledge gained from a lifetime of summers on the local beaches usually gave me an accurate sense of whether or not a storm would hit my location. I could watch the clouds build over the ocean and the marsh, gauge the way the flag moved in the wind, and smell the salt and ozone in the air. I would make my decision and spring into action, closing up the pool chairs, checking the chemical balance one more time, and locking the doors. Then I would jump on my bicycle and gamble that I could reach my house, which was four miles away, down a dirt road, up one hill, over a bridge, and then over another hill. Sometimes I made it; most times I didn’t. And on the days that the rains came before I got home, it didn’t really matter. How exhilarating is it to be 17, 18, 19 years old, riding a bike in the pouring rain down the wide main street of a rural town in the middle of the afternoon?  When you are wearing deck shoes, a bathing suit, old shorts and a T-shirt, who cares if you get wet?

Five minutes after I took that photo today, I saw The Husband’s car cruising down the road. He and The Boy had come to my rescue! Just as we pulled into the driveway, the rain started. For about half an hour, we were directly underneath one of the most brilliant, ferocious, torrential storms I have experienced this season. The power went on and off half a dozen times, thunder cracked like gunshots, and the water pressure from the rain made the drops sound like metal pellets. It was thrilling.

Rain pounding the deck. 1 p.m. and the sky is as dark as midnight.

We sat and watched for awhile. The Boy and I had an excellent snuggle during the loudest peals of thunder. Then we packed ourselves up and got ready to go home. As we were loading the car, the sun came out.

Same view, an hour later. Sparkling sunshine.

And now, here we are, back in our own house, listening to the crickets outside.