Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Little Doors

Another entry in my series on places I miss in Ann Arbor

One of the first unusual features of Ann Arbor that I heard about was the Fairy Doors scattered around the city. I've mentioned them in a couple posts previously - they were one of my favorite parts of the city. I ventured out to see a few of them in my first couple years, but this past Easter Sunday a friend and I walked around to try to find as many as possible. The weather was beautiful and it was a perfect day for wandering up Main Street. We found a bunch of the doors, though there were a few we couldn't reach. (We couldn't see the one inside the Ann Arbor District Library, since it was closed.) Tonight's post is mostly pictures.

Here's the one at the Ark, a music club:

They even have a ticket window!

This one is squeezed between two of the storefronts. Watch out for brightly colored bugs!

The fairies at Peaceable Kingdom close up shop at the same time as the humans.

This one is at Red Shoes, a store I wish I'd visited before my last week in town!

This is the first one I ever saw. It's inside Sweetwater's just off of Main Street.

When I was little, I used to build little rooms out of sticks and bark for the fairies that I hoped lived in my backyard. One summer, I also wrote a book of fairy recipes for a tea party - most of them involved exotic-sounding ingredients or substances I could find in my backyard, like dirt and leaves. Wandering around Ann Arbor and spotting these doors - and the other fairy doors and windows not pictured here - made any given day feel whimsical and allowed me to remember my seven-year-old self's love of fairies. I liked walking around town, being mostly grown up, but still getting to pretend. The fairy doors always made my days feel more magical.

Have you visited the Ann Arbor fairy doors?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Book and a Cup of Tea

I recently read Sherlockian by Graham Moore, which I really enjoyed. I feel a little blasphemous, since I haven't actually read any of the real Sherlock Holmes mysteries yet. (They're on my list for the summer! Really!) However, I think it's a sign of a well-written book if even someone who is not especially familiar with Sherlock Holmes can find it hard to put down.

A theme running through the book was the idea that even though the past had its share of horrors and tragedies, there's a certain romanticism to the late 1800s that readers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's work wish to recreate. In a scene with two men who switch gas street lamps for electric ones, Moore writes: "So much that had been hidden was revealed in the electric light, so much had been gained. But perhaps something had been lost as well. Perhaps, both men thought but did not say, a part of them would miss the romantic flickering of the gaslight." (page 346).

I have to say, I often feel the same way about Agatha Christie mysteries. To me, there's something romantic about the idea of Britain in general - afternoon tea, the royal family, words like "wanker" and "flat" and "loo." There's something that seems special and dignified about Britain in the 1930s through the 1950s that attracts me in the same way that having a tea party did when I was growing up. (If I'm being honest, I still want to have tea parties on a regular basis. The only difference is that this time I'd drink tea instead of water and the cups would be regular-size rather than doll-size.) Reading an Agatha Christie book allows me to imagine that if I step outside my door, I might see double-decker red buses and someone might offer me a scone or ask me my opinion of how Scotland Yard handled the most recent unusual crime.

Clearly I'm not the only one, since I found this picture with this article.
Other people relate Agatha Christie to tea!

Also, I get to indulge in the idea that if ever my heirloom jewels were stolen or I had a sneaking suspicion that my long-lost brother was not actually the same man who had recently returned, I could call Hercule Poirot, who would use those gray cells in his brain and solve the crime. (This would also assume that I was the type of person who had heirloom jewels or a long-lost brother.) Or, if I visited St. Mary Mead, Miss Marple would pour me some tea and tell me about the latest crimes in her village that she had solved.

If you haven't read any Agatha Christie, at least read this one.
It was published in 1926 and is my favorite mystery.

Within this romantic world of fiction and tea and detectives, there is also the appeal of rationality. Graham Moore makes this point in his book, since Sherlock Holmes was one of the most famous rational sleuths, and it's absolutely true - the world seems safer if all crime can be solved by simply observing, thinking, and determining the only possible way the crime was committed. In a world where there is much uncertainty and many unfathomable tragedies, imagining a life in a small British village or in the London of the turn of the century - whether true or completely off-base - is comforting.

For me, the entire United Kingdom is easy to romanticize, but that certainly doesn't limit the time or place. Growing up in New England, I loved the colonial era and thought often about living on Plymouth Plantation. When my second grade class learned about the Oregon Trail, my teacher set up a covered wagon for us to play in, and two kids were selected during "silent reading time" each day to read in the wagon. I also still like to imagine that there were actually dragons in the medieval era.

There's a certain fantasy to the past - it's easy to examine with rosy vision, to see the events that you want in the way you want and ignore those you don't. As a history student, I can understand the dangers of this, even in leisure activities. (For a great article about selective historical memory in relation to X-Men: First Class, check out Ta-Nehisi Coates op-ed in the New York Times from June 8.) It's fascinating to me how history can be altered for varied purposes. But still, on any given summer afternoon, I would be thrilled to curl up with a pot of tea, a scone, and an Agatha Christie mystery so I can disappear into a seemingly more dignified era.

What historical periods seem romantic to you?
Are there any books you've read that get you caught up in a different world?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Midnight Snacks

I recently started working at a coffee shop/cafe here in Philadelphia, and so my sleep schedule has been out of whack. Opening shifts start at 6 am during the week, and closing shifts can last until 11 pm. Coupling that with my 10-5 job two days a week, I have been feeling more than a little jet-lagged. After opening shifts, I often find myself napping between 5 pm and whenever I hear dinner being made, then I have a hard time falling asleep at a normal hour. In addition to some late nights, this schedule has also reintroduced a habit that I thought I'd kicked when I turned in my thesis: the midnight snack.

For the last two semesters of college, I never had a class before 10 am, and even then, it was only three times a week. The other two days I got to sleep until noon, if I had any class at all. Because of this, I frequently stayed up until about 2 am. (I'd like to say that I used this time to diligently work on my assignments, and not watch many TV shows online.) Now, when I would eat dinner at 6:30 pm or so, I would often find myself up reading through assignments or writing my thesis (or watching Parks and Rec...) at midnight, and my stomach would start to grumble just a little. I wouldn't want a whole meal, but I'd want a little something... and a little something can quickly become a regular nightly event.

On a related note, while I am often lazy in the afternoons and evenings, I also like to feel like I'm being at least a little bit productive. For some reason, my solution to this often involves making baked goods. I whipped up some apple muffins a few weeks ago, and during the 4th of July weekend I made this:

I would have cut a bigger piece but Eric stopped me.
Damn nutrition.

That is a s'mores pie: graham cracker crust, chocolate filling, and toasted marshmallows on top. It is exactly as delicious as it looks. I got the recipe from this website. (The only change I made is the oven temperature - the writer used a Tyler Florence recipe for the chocolate filling, and while she set her oven to 325 degrees, he set his to 350 and it cooked faster.) It was a great treat and definitely a good use of my time.

However... there were only two of us to eat this pie. We each had a piece that night, but it is very rich, so we had most of a pie leftover in the fridge. For the next week, each night I would think: "Well, I'd like a little something, but I guess it's getting late. I could just go to bed. Or..."

Pie that's made of chocolate and marshmallows, it turns out, is not a good midnight snack. Something about excessive amounts of sugar, I guess? It is absolutely delicious and tasty and seems like a wonderful idea until I realize that I am super awake and it's 2 am.

Here's another picture. It was a very photogenic pie.

I would have taken photos before I cut the first pieces but I really wanted to eat it...

It seems that it will take some more time before I truly get out of the midnight snack habit. Until then, I will try to stick to non-sugary, non-caffeinated snacks. At least until I bake again, that is.

Do you find yourself eating midnight snacks? Do you have any favorites?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Two and a Half Months Out...

It has been about two and a half months since I graduated from Michigan and moved out of Ann Arbor. Though I do like having no homework, even after this short time I miss school. I miss taking history classes. I miss my friends, classmates, and Ann Arbor. Last week, I went to a cool street fair that showed me that West Philly is actually full of environment-loving vegans. This reminded me of Kerrytown, but rather than making me feel a little more homey, it just made me miss Michigan that much more. Di Bruno Bros. Deli has a great cheese section, but it's no Zingerman's. And while Penn's campus is gorgeous, there's no giant M for me to avoid!

Growing up, there were a couple movies that always made me tear up.
The Fox and the Hound. (When they end with "'Cause You're the Best of Friends" - oh man.) I don't think I ever actually made it to the end of Bambi. And both An American Tail and Fievel Goes West always got me with the song "Somewhere Out There." The idea of being separated from family, lost in New York or the Wild West was so sad. Recently, however, the song started helping me to feel a little less homesick.

During its first season, the NBC comedy
Community had a plot line in which two characters, Troy and Abed, had to train a rat to respond to a certain song. They named their rat Fievel before he escaped from the lab. This clip is from the end of that episode. It makes me smile because it reminds me of school, it makes the distance between Philadelphia, Boston and Ann Arbor feel shorter, and because there's dancing. If you are unfamiliar with the show, I hope you appreciate it for the great music and for the fact that Chevy Chase is in it.

Community - Somewhere, Out There by blacktuna4581

Cheers me up every time!

What reminds you of places you miss? What makes you feel at home?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Images of Summer

Every year in the dark of winter I huddle under my down blanket, Red Sox fleece, and other sheets with my hot cocoa and my cozy sheep and I think, "Man, I can't wait for the warm weather of summer. It's going to be so wonderful." And I sigh.

When I imagine summers, I get a few very specific pictures in mind.

First: Sipping lemonade while sitting in a flourishing garden

I have never actually read
Anne of Green Gables, but my mom's best friend growing up and her family used to drive up to their house on Prince Edward Island every summer. My mom went a few times when she was younger, and when I was little I also got the chance to visit PEI. During my first visit, I toured the Anne of Green Gables house and gardens, and that summer I also checked out an Anne of Green Gables cookbook from my local library. The only recipe I tried was for homemade lemonade. I learned quickly that real lemon juice is not sugary. Because of the mix of PEI, happy vacations, nice weather, lemonade and a classic book that I still haven't read, my common idea of summer looks like this or this, plus a white adirondack chair and the aforementioned lemonade.

Beverages sold separately.

Second: Beaches in Massachusetts

On the great Bay State's north shore, Gloucester, Rockport, Ipswich and other towns right on the coast are gorgeous and have beautiful beaches. They also have histories as fishing ports, and as I walk along the water I often wish I lived in a lighthouse. In the past several years I've gone to the north shore for days at the beach, fried clams, and other relaxing summer activities. (In fact, one
summer day at a beach in Ipswich, some of my friends tried to use lemon juice to lighten their hair, so lemons fit in here, too!) Being near the ocean is something I've always associated with summer.

Blue ocean, blue sky, salty smell in the air...

My lighthouse would also have a dragon.

Third: Piles of Books

When I was growing up, I never went to sleep away camp and only tried day camp for one week in elementary school. I spent my summers reading, writing, going to my brother's baseball games, and otherwise entertaining myself. I would go to the local library and bring home stacks of books. When I got to college and found that I had little time to read for fun, the idea of books during summer became even more clear in my mind. Summer was for fiction, for mysteries that have puns for titles and recipes in the back, and for telling myself I would read some of the more serious classics.

Part of this summer's pile

These images all mix in my head to create an ideal picture of summer. Then, when I am mentally preparing for my relaxation in the beautiful outdoors, summer arrives. I find myself wanting a shower after walking five blocks. I start grumbling about the heat and sunburns. I remember that I can never find shorts that fit quite right and I get annoyed by all those Back to School commercials that start in July. Construction projects are easier when there's no snow on the ground, so even if I wanted to sleep in, the screeching equipment that is undoubtedly nearby will wake me up by 8:00 am. By mid-July, I am eager to see the leaves change colors so I can drink apple cider, go to football games and feel that first cool, crisp fall breeze on my face.

And then I get to November...

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Happy Birthday America

There are certain holidays that make me miss Massachusetts ridiculous amounts. I grew up in the Birthplace of American Liberty (that's not conjecture - it says so on our flagpole), and so holidays related to American history remind me of my historic hometown.

This is pretty normal to see on any given day in Lexington.

The first, and perhaps most obvious to my friends in the Greater Boston area, is Patriots' Day in April. It commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the famed midnight ride of Paul Revere. Each year, Lexingtonians rise early to watch Paul Revere and William Dawes warning John Hancock and Samuel Adams at the Hancock-Clarke House (one block down from my childhood home!) that the British Regulars were marching toward Lexington. The 5:00 AM battle reenactment is also popular, as the Redcoats march in from Boston and start firing on the Minutemen, officially starting the Revolutionary War. I haven't attended since I was about four, since the gunfire is loud and terrified me at the time. (That one time that I did see the reenactment, there were some disturbances on the battlefield as elementary school students, fearing for the lives of the Minutemen, ran out onto the Battle Green to see if they could help them and tried to call 911.) After the morning reenactment, there are pancake breakfasts at the churches around the Green as well as morning and afternoon parades.

Buckman Tavern: Conveniently located off of the Battle Green, it is where the Minutemen went to drink between the time they were alerted that the British were coming and the time that the British actually showed up.

Patriots' Day is the Monday on or around April 19, and was always the first Monday of the public schools' spring break. To the rest of the country, it is often better known as Marathon Monday, when really fast people run around Boston. I had no idea how much I'd miss Patriots' Day until I moved to Michigan, where no one had heard of it and it fell right around finals time.

The Lexington Minuteman statue:
The rumor is that he was modeled after a wrestler from Waltham.

The Fourth of July is another holiday that makes me miss Lexington and Boston. While I rarely did anything special for the Fourth, it always felt like a very Bostonian holiday to me. On the Fourth, the Boston Pops performs their Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular on the Esplanade. I usually watched it on TV with my family, though a couple years ago I went to the pre-concert on July 3 with some friends and got to see Neil Diamond sing "Sweet Caroline." On the third or fifth each year, Lexington lights off fireworks from the high school football field, and the Lion's Club sets up a carnival.

I am not an especially patriotic person, but there's something about American holidays that get to me. Maybe part of it comes from my interest in historical memory - as both a history student and a Lexingtonian it frustrates me when politicians mess up American history. (I would add a link there but it seems unnecessary. Also, there are sadly multiple things I could link to.) But also, it comes from my personal regional identity. I spent four years in Michigan and loved it, but I will always be an east coaster and specifically, a Massachusetts girl.

I'm spending the Fourth this year in the place where it really happened - I might even go hang out by Independence Hall where they signed the Declaration of Independence! - but I still miss Boston. While there will be plenty of chances to hear renditions of the "Star Spangled Banner" or "America the Beautiful," I will more likely be humming "Dirty Water" to myself as I wander around Independence Mall, eating hot dogs and pointing out that John Adams was from Massachusetts.

Happy Independence Day to all! What are your plans this Fourth of July?
Do you have any favorite American holidays?