You are going to need some cream cheese icing…

Never you mind the missing cookie.

These are really good cookies; they are also sort of healthy cookies. Not by any means low-fat, but, you know, the good kind of fats- almond butter, coconut, eggs. You really should make some; here is the recipe:

summerharms spiced banana almond cookies

And her pictures are so much prettier than mine, but the big thing that you should notice is pretty as her cookies are, they are missing something, and, mine happen to be strategically paired with one another based on their size and shape…

Half a container of cream cheese or neufchatel cheese, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and a splash of high quality vanilla whirled and fluffed with the blender makes these normal spiced banana almond cookies into a better than you remembered oatmeal cream pie. The smooth but spicy cookie marries well with the sweet tang of the icing.

These are the perfect summer into fall treat- warm, cinnamon autumn flavors with cool cream cheese icing.

The only problem with these is that they tend to fall apart; we haven’t seemed to mind too much. No one worries about dignity when eating a cookie.

How to take a 6 day bike tour in Michigan…

We wanted a grand adventure this summer, but it turns out we really only had time and resources for a small adventure. In that spirit we thought about what we like to do on vacation. This is encompassed by two major activities: strolling the sites of a walkable town and eating good food. The problem is that the walking is never quite enough for the smorgasbord we find, and so the idea of an “active vacation” was born, and with a husband with a history of bike touring, Michigan Bike Tour 2012 was born- 200 odd miles around Northern Michigan with stops in-between.

*Disclaimer #1: the mileage and activities will seem rather epic to many; they’re not, just about anyone could do this ride (and should!).

*Disclaimer #2: Many of you might be thinking “Michigan?”, and I was too. I originally was set on a bike tour of coastal Maine, but it seems that the Sunday drivers on the winding coast don’t make for hospitable road conditions. I went into this Michigan trip a bit begrudgingly, but,  heavens, is it a gorgeous place! Hi thee to Northern Michigan in the summer. Just last night, I told John that I have found myself longing to return several times, and he agreed.

So, if you are ever to decide to go on a 6 day bike tour here is a handy, though incomplete little guide to having a good time. Get ready for a lot of pictures…

You will need a vehicle that can contain or retain your bikes and all of your gear. If you are me, you will need a real suitcase for your “real person” clothes and another suitcase for your “bike person” clothes (you really should wear the shorts, I know, I know, but they are a good thing). If you are us, you will send your husband to Florida to buy and drive back a champagne colored Jetta TDI with trunk space that goes on for days, and you will call her Angela Merkel to honor her German heritage.

We really needed a new car anyway- promise.

Next you will drive your car to a great starting point; we chose a place at the head of a trail: Gaylord, Michigan. If you are adventurous, you will camp because nothing inaugurates 60 miles of cycling like sleeping on the ground!

Gaylord, Michigan, the home of Alpenfest! We happened to roll into town on the biggest day of the year…

It is always the right time for a camp fire.

You should awaken bright and early to get on the road. 63 miles means 8:30- 4, but with room for stops in-between.

Once you get on the road it is very important to keep your spirits up…

Try a stop at the playground in Wolverine, MI.

They have swings! (for cross training)

You’ll need lots of snacks for fuel, and Cheybogan has a great little coffee shop. If you are lucky you will meet a nice lady from the UP; she will tell you wonderful stories about how Portland is exactly like the show Portlandia.

But the important thing is just to keep going; little victories along the way as you make it to each new town make it easier. Especially when the next little town is Tobinabee, with the cutest red library you have ever seen. I hope we have a little cabin here one day; it would rest right on the shore of Mullet Lake (say it with a French accent and it really sounds quite charming).

We also met quite a few other cyclist out on the 4 day Michigander trail ride. My favorite group was “Grandpa’s Gang.” A man at least in his 70’s had no fewer than 6 grandkids on all manors of bike; they were having the time of their lives.

And here is the really important thing after you keep on keeping on through the trail, you really should reward yourself with a soft bed and good food, so we did on Mackinac Island at the Grand Hotel. This is a place to see and experience at least once. It was like being back in the 60’s at a supper club. (There was a lounge singer, though regretfully she did not emerge from a clam shell.) We moseyed around the island, soaked up the charm and spectacular views, ate a five-course meal in the dining room, and danced to the orchestra in the “lounge.” It was so much fun.

Corralling bikes and panniers onto the ferry is a team effort!

The Grand

In Mackinac the fudge and ice cream flow like wine.

And the salmon live in this beautiful bay…

And the streets are charming, though the ubiquitous horse is not required to wear a diaper…

The hotel’s decoration is over-the-top in wonderful way, and be sure to get on your Sunday best for the evening’s events so as to be in dress code.

Objects are bigger in life than they appear on the screen.

and after a lovely evening and a huge breakfast, you should get back into your lycra and back onto the ferry and back onto your bike because you have miles to go before you sleep at the campground for one more night.

A few other things you should do on a bike tour that were not pictured include:

See old friends and have amazing conversations in Traverse City and eat the flakiest croissant possible in America at Nine Bean Rows,

Eat a pasty,

Buy something to do with Michigan cherries in Traverse  City,

Ride the trail around breathtaking Sutton’s Bay,

Stay at a Bed and Breakfast and talk to your housemates at breakfast,

Interview each other about the trip on video- even though your wife will tell you she hates it, you will laugh about them for months afterward,

Visit another great friend on your way home, who graciously offers an air mattress and a beagle to cuddle, and eat at Frita Batido’s in Ann Arbor (yum),

and, perhaps most importantly, when your wife tells you she has nothing to prove and wants to be picked up from the final 15 miles of the trip, you should gallantly race back to the car and drive back to get her. She will be alright;  an E.M. Forester novel and a man’s weekend cadre of fly fisherman will keep her company (and protected) in Wolverine. She will love you forever for it.

Bike touring really is one of the most special ways I have ever traveled; we plan and hope to make it a yearly affair. I hear they are building a trail in Maine to be completed soon; Maine Bike Tour 2013!

A thing of beauty…

Prolouge: In my time teaching English I realized that what I loved to teach most was poetry. I had never thought much about my specific appreciation of it until I began periodically receiving notes from students in which they thanked me for my attitude toward poetry. (I once received a mug carved with the words “Carpe Diem” after a particularly zealous lecture on the 17th century’s answer to YOLO.) From time to time, I will share a poem to keep my literature muscles in shape as well as to share something I love. My students usually shuddered at the first mention of poetry, but I hope that by the end of it there was a deeper appreciation for it all.-

A post on Ann Voskamp’s website this morning reminded me of this Keat’s poem. Keats was one of the most romantic of the Romantics and has a story as full of tragedy as could be expected from that. In true Romantic form his favorite topic was beauty, and he was a great student of it. To him, the actual objects of beauty were just a first blush to the philosophical questions and metaphysical pondering that could be extracted from them. In this poem, Keats established his reason for writing his book of poetry Endymion. The fear of professional oblivion is an oft-repeated theme in many poets, including the old Bard himself, and here Keats proclaims that his writing will be established as a thing of beauty and will therefore last forever. I particularly like that Keats claims the right for his poems to exist forever most likely before they are even written; to him they are a thing of beauty waiting to be born on the page and it is his hope that will alone warrant his charge.

It is worth noting that Keats died young and knew early on that he would not live into old age- a classic case of the tragic, romantic youth with tuberculosis. When he warns against letting his work go unfinished in the “bare and hoary” winter, he knows that if his work is not quickly done, he will not get the chance to finish. This “thing of beauty” he was to write was a kind of last will and testament; he knew that men inevitably “pass into nothingness” but here is his hope that something of him will remain.

*Bolded words simply denote lines I especially like. A colleague of mine once described these as “golden nuggets.” Simply starting with what jumps out to you is a great way to begin when you are faced with a difficult poem (or really any poem).

Looking particularly tragic and consumptive.

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:

Its loveliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness; but still will keep

A bower quiet for us, and a sleep

Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old, and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
‘Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.

Nor do we merely feel these essences
For one short hour; no, even as the trees
That whisper round a temple become soon
Dear as the temple’s self, so does the moon,
The passion poesy, glories infinite,
Haunt us till they become a cheering light
Unto our souls, and bound to us so fast
That, whether there be shine or gloom o’ercast,
They always must be with us, or we die.

Therefore, ’tis with full happiness that I
Will trace the story of Endymion.
The very music of the name has gone
Into my being, and each pleasant scene
Is growing fresh before me as the green
Of our own valleys: so I will begin
Now while I cannot hear the city’s din;
Now while the early budders are just new,
And run in mazes of the youngest hue
About old forests; while the willow trails
Its delicate amber; and the dairy pails
Bring home increase of milk. And, as the year
Grows lush in juicy stalks, I’ll smoothly steer
My little boat, for many quiet hours,
With streams that deepen freshly into bowers.
Many and many a verse I hope to write,
Before the daisies, vermeil rimmed and white,
Hide in deep herbage; and ere yet the bees
Hum about globes of clover and sweet peas,
I must be near the middle of my story.

O may no wintry season, bare and hoary,
See it half finished: but let Autumn bold,
With universal tinge of sober gold,
Be all about me when I make an end!
And now at once, adventuresome, I send
My herald thought into a wilderness:
There let its trumpet blow, and quickly dress
My uncertain path with green, that I may speed
Easily onward, thorough flowers and weed. 

It’s not the heat…

It’s the humidity!

Oh my how many times have we said these words over the last few weeks, and then rolled our eyes at what a cliche we have become. I have always wanted to live in the Carolinas and felt like they would be my kind of place, but, for real, the humidity has invaded every nook and cranny of life. Today, the weather sent a cool blessing from Heaven and we enjoyed a foretaste of fall. I am not convinced that summer’s boggy waves will not strike again, but today there was a promise of the ideal Carolinas, the fall/spring Carolinas that I had always pictured in my mind and heart.

And so before these days where nothing will evaporate (this is John’s scientific explanantion for why we feel like we are sweating all of the time; I think it could be proven in a laboratory -maybe- he says that we are always sweating this much, but when the sweat reached the atmosphere in normal to dry climates it evaporates into the air; here the sweat meets the air and the paltry drop in the bucket to the dew point of us bows in submission to the mighty humidity; this mighty humidity shares the wealth and slathers you with a little something to remember it by. Ladies I have been “glistening” more than ever before.) end, I want to commemorate the five best and worst things about the humidity in North Carolina’s summer.

Worst:

1) I can not prove it, but I am convinced the moist air makes hair grow faster, eyebrows, legs, all of it. Urban legend? Probably, but we are in the atmospheric equivalent of a greenhouse, so …

2) People leave lot of things on curbs here and thrift stores even have covered patio areas with lots of treasures, but they have all seemed to acquire a must that I can not imagine ever getting out.

3) That crisp, freshly cleaned sheet feeling that is probably the most satisfying of earthly things can only be achieved if you dry the sheets minutes before making the bed. It is like a time trial trying to actually get into bed before the sheets develop a damp hairiness ( I think this would be the equivalent tactile sensation to finding a food “toothsome;” this is excellent in al-dente pasta but a tragedy in the linen closet).

4) What it does to your hair; I don’t think I need to explain.

5) I mentioned the glistening, but what I really should have said is the down-and-out sweating. There is no escape. A couple of friends who hail from Florida called the humidity life-giving and quenching; all I can think when I am outside is that the very life is running out of me. Three outfits and two showers later in the day, I crawl into my hairy sheets and get ready for it all to repeat.

Best:

1) No dry skin; John’s poor, dry cracking feet are perfectly soft and lovely. Now I don’t have to encourage him to wear socks to bed because honestly no one likes to do that.

2) Happy, little mushrooms grow in random places all over town (see above). These are the platonic ideal of mushrooms (excepts for the polka-dots), and you see them scattered about everywhere. I always knew that fungi appreciated a soggy existence, and Durham obliges such that they feel at home just about anywhere.

3) The landscape is so lush. In Kentucky by the end of summer the grass is too dry to comfortably walk on with bare feet; here everything is verdant and soft. The ground feels loamy and the trees look nicely nourished.

4) I like being a part of the south, and humidity is part of the deal. It has made people slower and I like to think kinder for ages, and I am thankful for that. I have been reminded several times of these lines from To Kill a Mockingbird: “Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it … Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.” I don’t profess to be a soft teacake, but you get the idea.

5) Lastly, the heat and humidity add a quality of humanity to the place. People don’t just stay inside, so when you are inevitably out at a food truck rodeo or a neighborhood brewery in the blaze of day, so are your friends and neighbors. They are just as flushed and sweaty and dazed as you are and really there is no way to hide it; instead it becomes a badge of the place. Everyone makes those good-natured remarks about “What a scorcher it is!,” and everyone wears those loose, baggy outfits that touch only 3-4 points on your body, and no one looks put together. Pretense is lost; maybe that is why the humidity makes the south a little kinder.

Cheers to summer, but especially to the coming fall.

Places

This is me in an indeterminate Starbucks in an indeterminate location. (Actually I was in the Chevy Chase location in Lexington, Kentucky sometime in winter, but roll with me.) The thing about places is that they are all different even though they are all the same. I am not trying to be opaque here; hear me out. With the way that the internet and media in general connects us all and lets us all into the big and little secrets of other places, it is hard to feel sometimes that anything is unique. Recently as I have visited new towns I start looking for the categorical locations that must exist there: the whimsically cute gift shop where ladies lunch, the grungy record shop that has a small cache of vintage items that most of us probably shouldn’t wear but always want to, and the greasy spoon restaurants that nicely jive with memories that have been given a soft glow by nostalgia (these memories defy indigestion and sticky tables); these are only a few of the “types;” we could certainly go on.

I mentioned in the last post that we have had a lot of changes since I fell off the blog train, and they have been big ones. We moved states away, John is headed to Divinity School, and I am no longer a teacher and instead in the lea of a job search, and while change is good and these particular changes are good, I am a lover of routine and familiarity. I like to know my places and my people and to know right where they are. You are probably thinking that I have a lot of room to grow, and I do, and you are right, and I am framing this move that way (most of the time).

But back to these places, you would think that having these categorical places would be comforting to a routine hound like myself, but instead I have found myself pondering the metaphysical qualities of it all. I had a surreal moment in which the clocks on the wall might have actually turned into puddles in a JoAnn’s fabric. Thrilling I know. I had been in this store before; I had seen these wares; the chintz and calico and flannel were the same as they had always been arranged in a color gradiation from beige, to puce, to Christmas, to prom dress, and yet this was a place I had never been. The same feeling got me at Target and the neighborhood coffee place that wasn’t exactly my coffee place. We are infinitely familiar with all the faces of these places yet just like any human doppelganger there is no substitute for the original. It has been unsettling at first, remember I am the one you loves the familiar, but last week I triumphantly reported back to John that I found the Marshall’s that “felt” right (Maybe I do believe in Feng Shui?), and slowly I am finding my equivalents, musing that Parker and Otis could be my new Wallace Station and Guglhupf Bakery could (possibly, though this one will take considerable time) be a replacement for my beloved Magees. (Someone please bring me a glazed donut!) Places don’t become our own too easily; we have to earn them and that is the way it should be, and just to even the score, they have to earn us too. I am looking forward to earning my places and new friends; cheers to Durham becoming the new normal.

Long time no see…

I think I am a stereotype and statistic given that my New Year’s resolution dwindled while the confetti still lingered in  the trashcans. Something I will, I am sure, struggle with all my life is knowing that something is good, and even enjoying it immensely, and simply not producing the discipline to do it.

Blogging was like that; I enjoyed thinking of posts to write, of forcing my mind to creatively form them, and pushing that publish button to implode my ideas on the great white way of the interwebs. Also, most importantly I started to blog in order to cultivate gratefulness. In preparing my life for public view I had a chance to really study it and to find that it is good and uniquely good. Yet, I did not continue it because, well because, isn’t it true that often we all know the good things to do and inevitably don’t do them.

Being an American, a teacher, a Christian, and an old soul I am a firm believer in second chances, so here I go. I am in a new place with a lot more time on my hands, and I need the reminder to think, to create, and to be thankful. August 27th is the new January 1.

A little of today…

Good days begin with a meal safely tucked away in the crockpot, that goes for winter days anyway. (Does anyone ever wonder why we don’t capitalize seasons? Funny and perhaps troubling, or is that just me?) On summer days a good day begins with the promise of a meal on the grill, plumbed with fresh garden foodstuffs, but on any other day the crockpot is a good beginning.

Weariness followed me around a bit today; a friend mentioned “teacher immunity” today- this is a condition wherein your incessantly tested and tired antibodies only allow you to get a little sick. You wander around thinking, “oh no, it is happening; any day now the plague will descend, and I will really feel bad.” But, instead, you just feel the looming malaise of  “getting sick.” This is like getting a ticket to a great concert and then having to watch it on a teleprompter in another room. You don’t get any of the fringe benefits of being sick (pity, sick days, entitled engorgement on treats), and yet you feel rotten. Cue: Holding of head at the temples and prominent clearing of throat in order to justify feeling not quite on the tip top of your game. Teacher immunity is (politely) for the birds.

There were very nice moments too: I had a light up teacher moment today. In a discussion, we just began to flow. Students were asking good questions, pondering good ideas. One was thrown out that threw us all for a spell; the gravity of thought descended on the group- a silence that ached to be born, and in the end we all nodded in agreement at the answers we possessed. Leave it to a class of 20 seniors and a twenty-something me to solve the mysteries of the human condition.

And then there was eating the cookies. My husband and I shared the bounty: coconut chocolate chip and peanut butter. We liked the peanut butter better; the coco chip was too sandy, if you know what I mean, but the best part was the ritual. Me a bite then him a bite. Silence and satisfaction in the studied way we marched around those treats. Leaving an acceptable amount for the other, but maneuvering just so that the last bite would be peanut butter. I know this man well and tease him when he lays the last bite close to his side. He snatches at a crumb like it is a gold doubloon, and I relish of him just as much as the zest of these little treats. Our back and forthing just like hands in the old time game, I will place mine on top, yours on top, and over again until we tire of it, but I won’t tire for a good long while. The sweetness of the communion lasts on my tongue longer than that of the cookie.

It’s the simple things that aren’t.

I chopped green peppers; making the knife jag crossslant at the end of every cut because it is a cheap one from before our wedding registry. It was a night alone, house to myself, and I decided I would eat this curry while only listening to the television. I congratulated myself at the restraint- only listening to one thing at a time. Silly to be so busy in mind to be happy with that, perhaps wary of actual, humming silence. I stepped back a moment and tapped into the sounds that had allowed a moment’s thought to bustle to the surface; how little I often listen to myself think: rounding tumble of the sheets in the dryer (washed on hot to welcome the crisp newness of that night’s sleep), sizzle of those green peppers hitting a black-bottomed pan, and a looming white noise of nothing else. I could hear my heart beat in my ears and feel my lips move one over the other in a nervous maneuver. This level of noise, perhaps this is the level that allows the mind to wander but find itself again. It was in this level of noise that I could no longer contain it and had to come write it down. A level that lets thoughts find one another and knit together an idea; a level that welcomes a neat refrain of contented sighs settling in for a long winter’s nap.

Miracle

“What did i do to be worthy to see one dandalion grow?”
-G.K. Chesterton

“Daffy-down-dilly came up in the cold, Through the brown mould Although the March breeze blew keen on her face, Although the white snow lay in many a place.”
Anna B. Warner (“Amy Lothrop”) Quotes

I have several bulbs of paperwhites growing in a small china blue vase. I have a very black thumb and perhaps that has something to do with it, but I can’t believe that they are growing. I know that it is what they are made to do, to root and spring and grow and then fade, but I never quite believe it will happen, and I always feel a sense of awe when it does. My father plants an impressive garden every year, and it is with wonder that I actually eat the food that came out of the ground. I expect the peppers and tomatoes and asparagus (Have you ever seen that grow?) that I place in my mouth to simply evaporate before they can be tasted- that they  perhaps alighted like apparitions of Turkish Delight in Narnia and will simply vanish once again.

But here I have watched the sleepy bulbs that I placed in rocks rouse themselves and shoot out roots, tendrils that lace and latch anything in sight, willing and willing to do what each of those bulbs has always intended, grow. A friend recently promptly identified this vase as full of alien pods, nothing real could look like that, and I agree; yet this is the most natural and basic off all that goes on here on this crazy, blessed planet. No wonder small  children believe in storks- even when I see the very process of a plant growing in front of my eyes, one day when the first flowers bloom I know that I will feel that they have been quietly and slyly delivered- it is too fanatastical that they would simply grow.

One Hour Delay

What do you do when you find yourself with a whole extra hour in the morning before you must leave for school?

(Besides a happy little dance.)

                                                                                   Do I really even need to say?

We really appreciate French toast around here.