Sunday, September 29, 2013

Season of mists....and zombies

The season is changing: warm days and cool evenings mean that each morning the lake is swathed in mist. The Canada geese are calling out to each other as they plan their trip south, and I love to listen to them argue and encourage one another, as they get ready for their flight. .

Our cottage sits among the fall foliage, and the chipmunks and squirrels are especially busy now, storing away seeds and nuts for the winter.

So, Saturday seemed like the perfect day to experience another Vermont Fall tradition: the annual Zombie run.

Just to enter the stadium, we had to sign a waiver relieving the organizers of responsibility for any injuries,  including drowning and bites by wild animals.

It was a full day affair, with teams of runners arriving at different times, and engaging in a cross country run while trying to avoid the zombies.

There didn't appear to be winners and losers, but everyone seemed to be having fun!

After that excitement, we took to the highway to take Grandma and Grandad to see Barre and Montpelier, where we might have lived. Barre (pronounced Barry) is home to the biggest granite quarry in the US.

We went on a tour of this remarkable place, in a yellow school bus.

And sandblasted our own piece of granite:

Afterwards, we visited the Hope Cemetery, where the mostly Italian and Spanish granite workers had sculpted their own memorials

The trip to Montpelier was a poignant moment for my parents:

And so we headed home, taking a winding road through the mountains, where the Fall colours take your breath away, and on the way home stopped to pick out some pumpkins to decorate our deck.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Return to Ann Arbor

I think everyone has a few places in their lives that are special, places of particular memories, where a younger part of yourself still lives. I'm thinking of the house in South Street where I was first a mother, All Saints, the Old Main Building, St Paul's Cathedral (I know that sounds odd - but my 21 year old self lives there) - places that are, in ways that are hard to define, home. They hold moments of unfaded happiness, as well as struggle and difficulty, but they are in some ways part of who we are.

The first US conference I attended was in 2005. I was terrified for weeks beforehand. My conception of America was entirely based on a somewhat eclectic combination of American movies, TV crime shows, the TV news, and To Kill a Mockingbird. I was convinced everyone would be carrying guns. When I confided my fears to a colleague from the US, he asked where I was going. "Ann Arbor" I said. "hmmmm", he murmured drolly, 'not so many concealed weapons there, I think. You shouldn't worry". But I still wrote out a set of instructions for my funeral just in case.

I didn't think, then, that it was possible I would fall in love with anywhere in the US.   But it really was love at first sight. I remember walking down State Street, murmuring to myself "I am here!" and feeling that was all the happiness I needed. The days of that conference were a revelation: I saw a different aspect of American life, I enjoyed every moment of the conference, made a good and lasting friend (Pat, and later his lovely wife, Jo), and accidentally sowed a seed that would lead to a visiting faculty position in 2007.

So, in the Fall semester of 2007, Bruce, the girls and I spent 4 months in Michigan, while I taught a senior science writing seminar at the Sweetland Writing Center. There is not enough space here to describe our adventures, but we saw  - and for a short time, lived - a side of American life that is never shown in the media. We explored all around the state, and have rich warm memories of pumpkin patches and fall festivals, popcorn shrimp and apple donuts, football and Saturday mornings at the Farmer's market and Zingermans, and snow and squirrels and cardinals, kind and generous neighbours, visitors from NZ, the UK, and other parts of the US, and living in a house we loved.

Farmer's market on Saturdays

the only pink in a sea of maize and blue!

This weekend we retraced our footsteps, and drove 12 hours across the country to visit old friends and reacquaint ourselves with favourite places.

Our girls may have grown up since then, but old pleasures remain:
We stayed with our lovely neighbours, Joyce and Barry, in their beautiful home:

And finally got to meet Deborah and Perry, owners of "our" Ann Arbor home. 
We visited places we loved:

Bruce's favorite place is the Whole Food shop:"not so much a shop as an experience' says Bruce
We ate like kings:
Barry's remarkable breakfast muffins!

Joyce makes a melt-in0the-mouth raspberry pie

As we drove the long route home, we looked back on all the places that hold memories for us in Michigan, but best of all the dear friends, and the home that was ours for a short time - and in some indefinable way, remains so.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The modern music lesson

This isn't a proper post. But I wanted to show you how we have managed to maintain Lizzy's progress on the piano while we're away. We thought it would take some time for Lizzy to develop a rapport with another piano teacher. And happily, when we talked this through with Liz (Lizzy's wonderful piano teacher) she'd just heard of someone conducting piano lessons by skype and was keen to give it a go.

So this is what Lizzy's piano lessons look like:
It's not quite as good as being in Liz's snug music studio. But it's keeping Lizzy moving on with her piano, and we're all learning from the experience.

Thanks, Liz!

Mount Philo and geocaching

For a month now, we've been driving past Mount Philo and planning to hike up to the top. The girls, of course, act as if this will require crampons, oxygen, and ropes, and is nothing short of child abuse. In fact, Mt Philo is little more than a smallish hill. My host at UVM, Susanmarie, said her daughter had hiked up it when she was much younger than our this weekend was set as the day we 'knocked this bugger off' (to quote a famous New Zealander).

Bruce wanted to do the walk when the leaves turned (we are going to be VERY busy when the leaves turn, since most things, it seems, need to be seen at that time) so when Susanmarie and Sofia said they'd like to come with us, he jumped at the chance to get some work done. A girls' day out it would be!

The hike up was quite steep, but lovely.

Very 'Lord of the rings' I thought

And the views at the top were magnificent.

The Adirondacks never looked more mysterious.

We rewarded ourselves with honey crisp apples and sugar cookies, and a most mysterious and utterly delicious seaweed snack
 Just as much fun, though, was that Susanmarie and Sofia introduced us to geocaching.  I had read about geocaching, and have friends who spend their weekends exploring new places this way, but never tried it before. It's a kind of treasure hunt. On Mt Philo we found our first 'treasure'. It required Susanmarie to show some agility, ingenuity and determination.Whichever way we walked, the GPS showed we were getting further away from our quarry. Until Susanmarie decided the only logical direction was up.

She had to climb up a tricky rock to get here!
The three girls had such fun investigating and recording the find. We left a NZ$2 coin in the treasure.

With a great sense of accomplishment, the girls almost ran down the hill!

Sofia and Susanmarie headed off to a skating lesson, and we headed home. Where we spent a happy time feeding the chipmunks:

And I purred over my new, beautiful, yet-to-be-broken-in hiking boots:

They feel like you're walking on a cloud. No excuse now not to do the Tongariro Crossing!

ps I should add that the highlight of Bruce's weekend was going to the Monkton Fire Brigade Mud Bog - a much more testosterone fuelled affair. But since I was beavering away at my book, there was no-one to record this fuel-burning mud-splattering (and by all accounts hilarious) episode.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

More about birds

It's been a busy week, and I've been writing, writing. The weather has been mad. We thought the Fall weather had settled in, but on Wednesday the temperatures suddenly soared to 33 degrees C (with a humidity factor that took it to 43 degrees), and Thursday was much the same.

 Then Thursday night the weather broke at last, with thunderstorms over the forest - and in the morning the temperature had dropped by almost 20 degrees.  And through it all, I haven't stopped writing. Except to watch the birds in the garden. We've had some new visitors, some of which we haven't quite been able to identify.

The first one, though, was unmistakable. We've been hearing his voice since we got here, but thought it was a crow. Then we started feeding the chipmunks unshelled peanuts, and look who showed up on the deck to steal them away!

The cheeky and noisy blue jay moves at speed....
We're not so sure what this ground dweller is....

But the most likely candidate is the purple finch
The gold finches continue to delight...
Sharing the tree with the little chickadees
But who was the mysterious stranger who appeared today?

I thought, by the speckled throat, that she must be a thrush, but her beak is wrong

In the end, I think she must be a female purple finch.

This white throated nuthatch is a regular visitor

This, I think, must be a female black throated blue warbler

Sharing a feeder with the downy woodpecker
Our pair of humming birds have not yet flown south for the winter

And young mourning doves settle under the tree

And as well as all this bird life, we have encountered an opossum (which we think is living under the house) who comes out at night to eat apples on the deck (I'm trying to get a photo, but it's tricky - I don't want to startle it with a flash). A very odd creature, quite different to a NZ possum. And today, after much patient waiting,Em got the chipmunks to eat out of her hands...

So, there is much to distract me in the garden. But my work is going well. Maybe, what they say is true - life is all about balance.

ps again, to see the pictures more clearly, just click on one of them