Posts Tagged ‘adjustment’

the top ten things i will miss

In ascending order:

1. The snow.
Yes, after all that complaining, I will miss the snow. Justalittlebit. In my hometown, two inches of snow is grounds for canceling school. Easily. Virginia just doen’t get that much snow (er, excepting the last couple snowpocalypse years. Don’t know what’s going on there). Snow has never lost its magic on me, and Iowa has been extremely good to my winter wonderland excitement. Here, snow is measured in feet, not in inches.

2. Central Time.
At the risk of sounding really old and uncool, I love that shows start an hour earlier here. I am totally jazzed that SNL is over by midnight and the Daily Show airs at a very manageable ten o’clock. Sometimes the time change works the wrong way — like when I had to wake up at four to watch the Royal Wedding, instead of five like every other normal human — but normally I couldn’t be happier with the earlier hour.

3. The co-op.
New Pi is fabulous. I can’t tell you how — relieved? — I was the first time I walked inside two Septembers ago. The cheeses! The freshly baked bread! The bulk herbs and spices, the sandwich bar, and then, once again, the cheeses! It’s primarily stocked with organics, which I like, but not at the exorbitant prices Whole Foods charges, which I like even more. Plus, there’s just something about being in a co-op. You have a member number; you belong.

4. The downtown/small town thing.
People always ask me what it’s like living in Iowa, and I always make the careful distinction that Iowa City is very different from Iowa the state. As with most most states. Chicago is not like the rest of Illinois. McLean is definitely not like the rest of Virginia. And so it follows, Iowa City is a little oasis of cosmopolitan life in a state (let’s be honest, an entire region, a whole swath of the country) usually associated with corn fields. With such outstanding law, medicine, and especially creative writing programs, it’s more sophisticated than you’d think. But at the same time, it’s a very small town, and retains that coziness right down to the taxi drivers, who have been to that restaurant you directed them to and recommend the bacon-wrapped dates.

5. The trains.
This rates really pretty high on the charm scale. Reliably, several times throughout the day and when we’re falling asleep, the sound of a train horn woo-woos its way to our house. There are train tracks winding their way to, um, somewhere, right through the children’s park at the end of Melrose Court. And there have been many times, mostly in Cedar Rapids, when I’ve had to wait fifteen minutes for a cargo train chug to through. Most people in New York blame their lateness on the trains, meaning the subway; but I’ve been late because of an actual train. I’m not going to lie… it makes me feel like a pioneer.

6. Cheap rent.
I am well aware that I may never again pay such a low price per square foot. I haven’t done the math, but I have spent two years living in a duplex with a lawn, a garage, a porch, three bedrooms, a washer/dryer, a dishwasher, walk-in closets, hardwood floors, and a living room couch the size of most of my friends’ living rooms. I know, factually, that the price my boyfriend and I pay per month is the same as what a New York friend pays for her half of a two-bedroom apartment. It’s going to be hard realigning my shock-o-meter with big city prices.

7. The restaurants.
Particularly Hearth (where we ate Monday night), Shorts (where we ate last night), and Devotay (which we haven’t been to recently, but will be my first stop on return visits). I love these restaurants. They are places I would eat at in any city — even in New City, a big ol’ town filled with some many wonderful, varied dining options, I would stick with these three. Devotay, with its wall of windows overlooking Linn Street, its twinkle lights, its candles and mismatched chairs, has the most fabulous tapas (the grilled zucchini with aioli! swoon!) and paella I’ve ever had — and the most romantic, homey atmosphere. Shorts won me over from the get-go with their locally sourced beef, and has held onto my affection with their enormous list of upapologetically creative, boldly flavored burger toppings. And then there’s Hearth. If my first year in Iowa was all about Devotay, this second and last one has been a lot more Hearth-concentrated, and it’s the one I will miss the most, because I came to think of it as our place. We went when it first opened about eighteen months ago, and have witnessed the menu’s ups and downs — the ascension of their wood-fired pizzas, the sad departure of the ceviche, the return of the fish tacos to B’s utter delight. The last couple times, the waiter (for there is only one) greeted us with a “nice to see you again,” and on Monday said, “I’ll give you your regular table.” Friends, there are few things I love more than being a regular. So I will miss the restaurants.

8. Grilling on our porch.
I know it seems like a small thing, but grilling on our L-shaped porch, with its slightly elevated view of the rest of the neighborhood, is one of the things I’ll most miss. I love it in football season (ie. all of autumn), when the street is chock full of students wearing gold and black t-shirts or overalls or bathing suits, and everyone is loud, happy, and carrying a beer. (Those three things are probably related.) And we’re perched up on the porch, with a big group of friends, and the grill lets out a smoky sizzle when we turn the brats. And then there’s spring, when it’s calmer, colder, most students quietly streaming home from class while we barbecue chicken or grill burger patties, porch swings in hand. It is my favorite thing.

9. The house.
Even though it positively leaks heat, it’s been home for almost two years. I will miss listening to the house settle at night and the creaks that used to freak me out until I realized it was the sound of our neighbors walking around the other half of the house. I will miss our groaning, moaning stairs that double as a built-in security alarm. I will miss the unfinished basement and it’s coal storage room, mostly because I have enjoyed telling people I live in a turn-of-last-century house with a coal storage room, and I will miss the dumb birds who lay their eggs in the nook below the window air-conditioning unit. I will miss the beveled edges of the front door’s glass windows and the way that hot air blowing out of the living room vent makes the fan blades turn. I never got to open the mysterious trunk in the garage. Maybe over a visit next fall.

10. Boyfriend.
Well. I think it’s pretty self-explanatory. This is what I’ll miss the most.


top five things i won’t miss

1. The cold.
Cold, gray, and wet winters that blow in early and linger until first of May: good riddance! (NB: I know it is not actually good riddance, as Williamstown winters are nothing to sneeze at, either. But go with it.)

2. The house’s almost complete lack of insulation.
Which necessitates keeping the thermostat at bracing sixty or sixty-five degrees throughout the aforementioned half-a-year-long winters. The worst part is that these measures only kind of help. The heating bill is still too high.

3. The shopping.
Or lack thereof. There are some (four) very cute women’s boutiques downtown, but otherwise it’s extremely slim pickings out here. I can’t wait to get closer than two hours from J. Crew, Williams Sonoma, and Crate and Barrel, and less than three from Anthropologie, Nordstroms, and so much more. I miss drooling over their window displays and dreaming of the day I’ll be able to recreate a Pottery Barn catalog spread in my rustic-chic beach house.

4. The dearth of weekend activities.
I can’t wait to get back to cities with a lively museum and cultural landscape. I’ve missed having the choice of which museum to explore on a leisurely Sunday afternoon. There is one museum here, and it’s thirty minutes away, and I spent last spring writing an educational guide to it — so I don’t need to spend my weekends meandering through it, too. Oh, and I’ve missed brunch! Oh, how I’ve missed brunch. One of our favorite restaurants, One Twenty Six, just started serving a very respectable brunch; before that, your options were a diner; a hamburger joint; a vegan restaurant; and Blackstone, which does a very nice brunch but is a bit far. All told, it adds up to a very limited choice of weekend diversions. There’s Amana, which is beautiful in September and May (and sometimes October) and enchanting in December… but how many times can you actually visit the Amana General Store and the Amana Woolen Mill? Once a month for two years is rather pushing it.

5. The layovers.
More precisely, the layovers to get anywhere. You can only get direct flights to three places: Minneapolis (takes just as long to drive), Chicago (likewise), and Detroit (which, it must be said, is a splendid airport). I will be one happy kitten when I don’t have to fuss with gate-checking luggage, timing layovers properly, and taking propeller planes.

So there you have it. The top five things I’m thrilled to be leaving behind!

the last week

This is less than the last week. This is the last three days. Shortly after noon on Thursday, when the boys get out of their last exam, B and I will be leaving Iowa — he for the summer, and me forever. We’ll load up the car with his summer suitcases and my life ones, and head east. The first stop — it doesn’t feel right to call it a road trip, since our one stop is two days at a friend’s house, but I suppose it’s a road trip all the same — is at friend Rob’s house in Kentucky. On Friday, we will lay by his pool in the (forecasted!) 70-to-80 degree sunshine. That night, the rest of our friends from Iowa City will arrive and on Saturday, we will go to the Kentucky Derby. There will be floppy hats, horses, and mint juleps. We leave terribly early on Sunday for the ten-hour drive home to Virginia and will (fingers crossed!) arrive in time for Mother’s Day dinner. Monday is B’s birthday, Tuesday we train up to New York, Wednesday we fly to Paris, Thursday morning we arrive in Paris, Friday we train out and then right back in to see my family in Brittany for the day. Saturday, next Saturday, is when the commotion finally settles down and we roll into the rhythms of an extended week in Paris.

So there is a lot of hullabaloo on the horizon.

Luckily, my “Before Leaving” to-do list is in pretty good shape. The car has been duly inspected and repaired, mailing addresses changed, new checks ordered, bills paid, recycling dropped off. It’s really just packing left, and I am one of those blessed but rare souls who loves packing, unhesitatingly unpacks a just-packed bag to find a more efficient roll-and-fold configuration. I’m hoping that, for the last day or two here, I can just float.

when it rains, it pours

I haven’t updated in a week. What is this, last summer? But I have an excuse! Several, actually. Let’s catch up.

1. Last Thursday morning, B. went to meet with a professor at school. He came back an hour later, with my best friend (who lives in Virginia! Who just got back from living in Cambodia! And Korea before that!) in tow. A surprise visit! I freaked out and couldn’t stop screaming and bouncing for ten minutes. Then we all ate lunch at Short’s, made those ridiculous enchiladas the next night, went to Amana on Saturday and had brunch at Blackstone on Sunday, and for a change of pace, ate some more and lay around watching movies. She left on Monday. Sad.

2. My birthday was on Sunday! I’ve been trying to come up with a witty way to broach the subject of now, officially, entering my mid-twenties, but I believe that would require me to feel discernibly older. Which I don’t. When people mention something about “the last decade,” my brain immediately leapfrogs to the nineties, not the 00’s. Clearly, I am stuck in some kind of ageless time warp, but maybe the next point will help on the “feeling older” thing.

3. I’ve been dropping breadcrumbs on this subject since London, but since it’s official, I’ll come out and say it: next fall, I will be taking my place at a stellar grad school on a full-tuition-plus-living-stipend fellowship. The town is both smaller and colder than Iowa City! I can’t wait to (a) start, and (b) blow all my money on a puffy down coat that I deemed unnecessary for these Midwestern winters (a dusting of snow yesterday morning, by the way) but am finally caving into for this return to the Northeast. (Any suggestions?)

4. I am leaving Iowa City in a little over a month. For good. Haven’t bought a plane ticket yet (maybe I should get on that?), but it’s coming, and not soon after May 1st, I will be winging back to the East Coast. My number one goal before leaving: visit the Grant Wood House, which is a real house, and in which someone actually lives. In fact, the woman who lives there writes a blog! about pie! Oh yes, there is a road trip to Eldon in my future. Ain’t that America.

admittedly naive

Perhaps I was being optimistic to the point of foolish, but I honestly thought we were done with winter. In the past week and a half, all our snow from the Groundhog Day Blizzard melted. That’s feet and feet of snow, which usually hang about, browned with dirt and gasoline emissions, until May. We actually saw our lawn! Our green lawn! And not just us — the whole town melted. I quickly adjusted to hearing cheeping birds in the morning and to not needing gloves to drive. I guess the “record” in “record highs” should have tipped me off, though. Snow is back.

It returned on Thursday night, in powerful force as Boyfriend and I left Devotay with some out-of-town friends on a (successful!) school visit. Full of patatas bravas, zucchini and aioli, chorizo, bacon-wrapped dates, and paella, we lolled out of the restaurant into a bracing shock of freezing air and, yes, furious flurries. Boyfriend and I waited for a cab for over half an hour before finally hailing one that carved a tenuous, fish-tailing path up Burlington, over the river, and down Melrose Avenue. On Friday, the snow proceeded to melt, but then returned overnight. And I’m not going to sugar coat this, friends: I’m ready for spring! I’ve got slingbacks and sundresses and open-knit tops bookmarked on my browser and I just want to feel, you know, not ridiculous for that fact.

But today, this gray and snowy day, I am happy to hole up inside and nosh my homemade take-out. It is a great disappointment of life here that there are no good Thai restaurants in Iowa City. Chinese, yes; Indian, reportedly yes; sushi, surprisingly yes again. But the Thai food we’ve sampled has been dishearteningly bland and boring, nothing to inspire repeat visits. So I am really excited to have found an incredibly simple, tasty, and fast at-home version of that classic, pad thai.

Sure, whipping out a wok will never be quite as simple as dialing out for take-out, and I can’t promise that I’ll continue making it when I’m back in New York (for the summer, say): there are too many authentic, delicious, and reasonably healthy restaurant options in every neighborhood to send me on a hunt for rice sticks. But for now, for me — and for any of you looking to satisfy a craving that your neighborhood place cannot — it works beautifully. It’s best with shrimp, which the original recipe calls for, but I had no shrimp and extra sugar snap peas this morning, and the substitution was just dandy. Add some scrambled egg, bean sprouts, garlic, roasted peanuts and the inescapable lime quarters and you’ve got yourself a lunch, a dinner, or a movie-in-bed meal.

Pad Thai
(From Williams Sonoma’s Cooking at Home)

Serves 2


  • 4 oz rice vermicelli (long, thin noodles like spaghetti), also called “rice sticks,” and sold in the Asian section of most grocery stores
  • 4 tbsp canola or peanut oil
  • 1/2 lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
  • 2 eggs, thoroughly whisked together
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 green onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tbsp coarsely chopped roasted peanuts (to roast, bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes; or, saute in a hot pan for a few minutes until charred and fragrant), divided
  • 2 limes, quartered
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, chopped


Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook rice noodles according to package directions. Mine take 8 minutes.

In a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat, warm 1 tbsp oil, swirling to coat bottom and sides. When very hot but not smoking, add the shrimp and stir until pink and firm, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to bowl and set aside.

Add another tbsp oil to pan, swirling again to coat evenly. When hot, add eggs and stir until scrambled, about one minute. Add to shrimp.

Add the remaining 2 tbsp oil to the pan, again swirling to coat. When hot, add the sugar and fish sauce to pan. When the sugar dissolves, add the cooked rice noodles and toss with the sauce. Return shrimp, garlic, and eggs to pan. Add bean sprouts, red pepper flakes, green onion, and half the peanuts. Toss everything together and turn out onto a platter or individual plates. Garnish with remaining peanuts, cilantro, and lime quarters. Serve immediately and enjoy!

lida rose

I’m home again, rose.

I guess I should tell you I’ve been back in Iowa for two days. And that before that I was in California. Awful sorry for not mentioning it! This trip to California, as all trips to California, was wonderful. Movies, my kind of Mexican food (that would be fresh limes and avocados), the aquarium, light jackets and flats, salty ocean air and this kind of view:

Oh yes, it was hard to come back to our little house on the tundra. One thing that made it easier: a free bump-up to first class, thanks to Boyfriend’s miles and points and other American Airline secret handshakes still barred to new clubhouse-member me. We left Santa Ana at 7:30 am and had a mid-flight second breakfast — which, did you know that you place your order, and they bring it out individually, not on a cart? I did not. I am too pedestrian to live!

(Please note the real glassware.) And before we landed in Dallas, I had a glass of champagne. Because I COULD. It was great. Then one more flight north and we were back home. I couldn’t help but notice all the differences between homecoming this year and last: temperatures in the positive twenties, hardly any snow on the ground, a car that starts. When you’re dropping fifty degrees, it’s the little things that count!

falling back

Did you remember to set your clocks back last night? Or did you get that sweet treat of looking at your bedside clock and suddenly remembering, Oh, I have another hour? The days are darker now, but no colder yet. Enjoy the first real fall Sunday, and enjoy the poems below, happily lifted from this weekend’s Falling Back: Poems for Fall column in the Times.


Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends

into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing, as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don’t say
it’s easy, but
what else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?
So let us go on

though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.

— Mary Oliver, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author, most recently, of “Swan: Poems and Prose Poems”

. . . . .

Light Verse

It’s just five, but it’s light like six.
It’s lighter than we think.
Mind and day are out of sync.
The dog is restless.
The dog’s owner is sleeping and dreaming of Elvis.
The treetops should be dark purple,
but they’re pink.

Here and now. Here and now.
The sun shakes off an hour.
The sun assumes its pre-calendrical power.
(It is, though, only what we make it seem.)
Now in the dog-owner’s dream,
the dog replaces Elvis and grows bigger
than that big tower

in Singapore, and keeps on growing until
he arrives at a size
with which only the planets can empathize.
He sprints down the ecliptic’s plane,
chased by his owner Jane
(that’s not really her name), who yells at him
to come back and synchronize.

— Vijay Seshadri, author of “The Long Meadow”