Friday, May 13, 2016

A Portrait of Sir

One of my favorite photos of Stuffed, this one was a quick capture taken yesterday afternoon when he settled himself beside me while I wrote in my journal.  What a face.  Seventeen years old now.  Stuffed the Magnificent. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

May at My Parents' House

This visit found my parents' gardens coming back to life, the start of a season my mom and dad yearn for all Cabin Fever-filled winter.  Both planting, repainting, and repairing things in their yardDad out for his walks.  Dad fishing, almost chortling later as he recounted the morning's successesMom getting ready for Sunday's visit with all her kids and grandbabies.  Plant-shopping with MomA now-traditional slice of lemon meringue pie and an iced tea for me at a local restaurant, and a toasted gluten-free roll with jelly and a cup of hot tea for Mom.  Laughing when I found her an imitation-pewter George Washington plate in the local Goodwill and not in Boston three weeks prior as I had hoped.   Talking bee-keeping and the 1956 Chevy Bel Air (his pick) vs. the 1957 Ford Fairlane (my pick) with Dad.  Oohing over handsome Hal Linden while watching "Barney Miller" with Mom.  Laughing with my brothers and their kids this Sunday.  We are blessed.  'Such a sweet weekend home, and I am now homesick for everyone as I always am post-visit

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

And My Birthday Cake (Lilac Petals Cupcake)

My birthday fell the day before Mother's Day this year, making my weekend home even sweeter for both me and Mom.  Some years, we mail each other our cards and goodies, and other years, we just wait until we see each other to exchange gifts.  This time around, Mom made me my usual cheesecake--and the only cheesecake I've ever liked (with a chilled-not-baked filling of lemon gelatin, cream cheese, sugar, evaporated milk, and vanilla)--for Saturday night, and we all had leftovers of that and Mom's berries-and-flowers Mother's Day cake on Sunday, so by yesterday, a single cupcake back here at the apartment seemed like more than enough.  I froze a few Lilac petals I'd pulled from one of Mom and Dad's shrubs before leaving yesterday morning and they were still a pretty shade of lilac when thawed and sprinkled over the cupcake last night, but the camera refused to capture the color.  In any case, this was my tiny 39th birthday cake, a simple end to a sweet weekend and a pretty start to the last year of my thirties.  

A woman I spent some time talking with in my hometown bus station yesterday morning asked me if I was a student, and I was momentarily flustered by the question, answering clumsily, "Oh no, I'm out of school--Done with school.  I'm older.  I'll be 40 next year"--because I'm smooth like this in conversation, clearly (see:  Goals, cross-referenced with Val, Self-Improvement Needs of)  :)--and she exclaimed, "Forty!?  I was thinking maybe 24 if you were out of school!  Well!  Good for you!"  Noooo, thank youuuuuuuuu!  We talked some more, and it was part of an otherwise already-lovely kick-off to the year ahead.  Lisa and Cheryl, if I looked 39 or 40 or 45 to you in-person last month, let me have a week before you burst my bubble.  ;)

Last year's birthday wishes and goals included finishing a first draft of the 80s memoir I've been working on, and while I've written a lot, I learned early-on this past year that producing a rough draft by this May wasn't a realistic goal, so the work on that continues.  I continue to write, though, and I'm still walking my way back into running shape, dreaming of spending the morning of my 40th birthday finishing my first full marathon.  I have a lot of (gained, lost, and re-gained) weight to (re-)lose before then, and many miles to walk and then run before that day, but it remains the goal.  Here's to the year ahead.  

Monday, May 9, 2016

Mother's Day Cake and Cookies (Edible Flowers Love)

That this cake ended up looking exactly as I'd envisioned was one of the sweet things about a wonderful weekend with my family.  It was a simple two-layer yellow cake--gluten-free so Mom could enjoy it, of course--but the filling and frosting marked my first desserts made with either ricotta cheese or edible flowers.  Now I want to sprinkle flower petals over everything I bake.  :)
I played around with a recipe I'd found online until all my own frosting/filling had in common with the original recipe was the 16 ounces of ricotta. My own, then:  16 ounces ricotta cheese, 8 ounces cream cheese, 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, a generous splash of vanilla--you may remember how I love my vanilla--a pinch of salt, a pinch of cream of tartar, about a tablespoon of honey, enough powdered sugar to help thicken it all (maybe a cup here), and a few diced strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and edible flowers to add some texture, color, and flavor. 
I pressed a few extra petals and berry slices into the sides of the visible filling-layer to add extra color there, as well.  The frosting had set nicely before I'd even refrigerated it--no berries or flowers puddling around the cake.  I added some petals to a few sugar cookies for Mom too, but the cake thrilled me more.  
And everyone raved about it--even Dad who isn't much of a cake person and Mom who actually prefers cookies and pies--which was so satisfying, of course.  The cheese/cream mixture gave this cake a more sophisticated flavor than my cakes usually have, and between that and the edible flowers, it was nice to branch out a bit with this one.  A sweet end to a sweet Mother's Day and weekend.  I miss everyone already but get to go home again next month, which does my heart good. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

I go to Nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put together. ~ John Burroughs

It has been a wearying work-week.  "One!  More!  Day!"  And it is weeks like this one, especially, that I am most thankful to be able to get outside for my walks, and pretty much as long and as often as I want to walk, in order to get away. 
A professor I didn't like in college said at least one thing in the semester I had with her which I did appreciate and it was that when life was getting us down, we needed to remember to head outdoors and soak up nature for awhile.  Yes.  My walks--the eight-mile ones, the ten-mile ones, and even the one-and-a-half-mile ones--have saved my sanity this week (and many other weeks).  Thank God for them. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Six Beauties

A visit to a local butterfly forest exhibit this rain-drenched week was sadly underwhelming in terms of butterflies, but the garden center's statuary and spring blooms were as beautiful as ever.  

Thursday, April 28, 2016

During and Between Rain Showers

It's been raining here all week, but I've been getting my walks in anyway, even if the bathroom shower curtain rod has had to double as a clothes-drying rack every afternoon'Such beauty along the way!

Monday, April 25, 2016

I Fell in Love Last Wednesday

First there was the mid-1980s fascination with the Boston Celtics-Los Angeles Lakers rivalry, then the learning about Boston in the late 1980s because the members of New Kids on the Block all hail from there and so much was written about their hometown in the articles I tacked to my walls and pasted into scrapbooks in junior high, and then my crush on fictional former-Boston-Red Sox-pitcher-turned-"Cheers"-bartender Sam Malone, and on and on over the years, but last week, I finally got to visit for the first time what I've always somehow known would someday become my beloved Boston, and I've been so giddy ever since, it almost feels like I've fallen in love with a person and not a place.  Seconds after landing in Boston and walking from the plane into the terminal, I saw the heart below and knew that any trip that began this way would be as beautiful as I expecting, and I was right.
As soon as I had learned this January that the Tom Stoppard play Arcadia (Lisa, don't read past the synopsis or it'll be ruined for you) was going to be performed in Boston this spring, I booked a flight--I studied this play in college in the fall of 1997 and have wanted to see a production of it ever since--and emailed Lisa and Cheryl to see if it would be possible for them to make the trip up from their homes a few hours away for a visit.   "That will be great!" wrote back Lisa.  "That would be wonderful to meet you in person!!!" wrote Cheryl.   :)  Minutes after running into these guys--
 --outside my subway stop at Boston's Old State House Wednesday, then, I found myself hugging Lisa and Cheryl and telling them that having had this trip to look forward to this spring had made the last few months of winter so much easier. 
I love that picture.    We had lunch in the North End, where I chose the menu's hardest thing to eat while trying to carry on a conversation meatball sandwich, toured Paul Revere's house, walked around Faneuil Hall and the Harbor--the salt water!  the sea gulls!--found desserts (and my first tiramisu and first cannoli, neither of which thrilled me but I has happy to have saved them for Boston), admired the architecture--ahhhhhh, the architecture!--and explored the neighborhood. 
After Lisa and Cheryl headed back to Haymarket Station to catch their train around 3:30 that afternoon, I walked--and I mean walked, until about 6:30 pm, only stopping to take a few pictures, since I became spectacularly--but blissfully--turned-around on my walk to my hotel.  It was the prettiest walk.  I don't know if the city workers were just out in full-force during my visit or if the wind blew it away right before I turned every corner, but the only litter I ever saw on the ground there was cigarette butts and hardened gum.  It was so CLEAN, I was so impressed.  I pick up more trash in a fifteen-minute walk here in my own city than I saw in Boston in two and a half days.  
A friend from high school has completed the Boston Marathon three times so far--Go, Michelle!--so finally seeing Boylston Street, the last leg of the race, and imagining her joy upon reaching its finish line each time, made that part of my visit even sweeter.  
Boston, like any new love--or any love worth its salt, I suppose--makes me want to be an even better version of myselfSmarter and stronger and more athletic and kinder and more helpful to tourists here at home.  I came back wanting to be a better woman, and maybe it is the effect of the city or maybe it is more "me," but I've lived in New York City, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and outside Milwaukee and didn't walk away from any of those places as inspired as I felt while in Boston.  I connected with something in this place, and I'm still on a high from it.  
A sweet moment from inside Fenway Park Thursday:  Before the game began, a guy probably my younger brother's age in the next section over held the seat beside him steady so his maybe-four-year-old son could climb up onto it.  Once they got settled, an older man leaned forward and said to the young dad--all in endearing stereotypical Boston accent--"If this is yuh son's fuhst time heeuh and he can't see past that bah, I'll switch seats with him so he can see bettuh."  The dad thanked him but declined his kind offer, since his son was too young to pay much attention to the game anyway and likely wouldn't care at all about the obstructed view the "bah" (i.e. bar [i.e. one of the poles that support the upper-deck seats above our grandstand section seats]) caused.  The kindness, though! 
And another sweet Fenway Park moment that continues to make me laugh:  Two guys my age or a little older who were sitting together were talking, and one of them suddenly said to the other, "Don't cuss here."  :)  Except it sounded like "Don't cuss heeuh," making it even more charming.  :)  Love!  
And as I reported to my parents and brothers immediately upon checking in with them: Everyone was SO over-the-top nice and helpful while I was there.  I encountered this kind of I'll-give-up-my-seat-for-your-kid/Don't-cuss-here goodness so many times in my two days there.  I asked someone on Beacon Street the quickest way to such-and-such, and she not only answered, but also pulled out her phone, looked up the destination on a map, then--over my thanks and protests, since she'd helped so much already--patiently read me street-by-street directions too.  Another woman took the extra time to explain which local bus was heading toward my destination and how often it would pass along a certain street, and she pointed out the nearest stop for it too.  When I called the theater needing to switch something with my ticket-order for the play, I told the man on the phone I had my card ready and could read off the numbers to pay the fee as soon as he was ready, and he laughed and waived the fee, saying, "I'm not charging you five dollars after you traveled six-hundred miles to see this."  My soft-spoken cab driver kindly answered a bunch of my questions about Fenway Park on the way back to the airport at the end of my visit.  So many kindnesses.  And Cheryl gifted me with a rainbow-striped pen for my writing.  :)  And Lisa paid my admission to the Paul Revere House.  :)  It felt like the entire city--all the people in it, all the pretty and well-kept grounds, and even the perfect weather--knew what this trip meant to me and sweetly conspired to make my visit as beautiful as possible.  
And just when one would think I couldn't be more charmed--and before the Red Sox game had even begun Thursday afternoon--the sweet "Cheers" theme song was played in the stadium, leading me to text my younger brother and simultaneously catch it on video. 

And the play was beautiful, and I cried watching it as I do while reading it.  I eventually mailed my former English professor a postcard from the airport to let him know I'd finally seen it.  :)
Much too soon, I was again flying over ocean and islands on my way home.  I don't know what part Boston is destined to play in my life, but it's captured my heart.  I'd only been home about twenty-six hours before I'd booked a flight to return this fall.    (Most of this trip's budget was still unspent when I got home and thus went to the start of visit #2's.)  Until October, Boston, my love!