(Insert all usual apologies for taking so long in between real updates here.)
The first two weeks of teaching are history now for both me and Geography Teacher, and we celebrated surviving the first week last Friday night by going out to Luigi's on the lake, so we could relax with a drink and some yummy Italian food and enjoy a sunset so gorgeous that it looked like it had been painted in the sky. Luigi's is one of my favorite places; it's tiny and dark and unpretentious and comfortingly old and crammed full of happy boaters, and the food is obscenely yummy. And needless to say, the company was second to none. ;-)
Aside from the standard sort of start-of-semester bobbles and irritants, it's all gone VERY well. I am pleased! The retirement of one particularly grumpy and toxic colleague has had a positive impact on the entire department, or so it feels, and this year's crop of new grad students includes some very cool, funny, intelligent, promising souls. I also baked a bunch of different varieties of cookies before start-up week, so that both Geography Teacher and I could bring in some treats for the long-suffering admins (the first weeks of the semester are always brutal on them, and we'd be lost without them), and those seem to have gone over well. (Maybe a bit too well! The admins gave me a card and a gift certificate for a local funky jewelry/clothing boutique, which is incredibly kind of them, but also not at all expected. How do you respond when somebody gives you a thank you gift for your thank you gift?)
It also feels like I have some very good groups this year. That is, of course, based on the early days, and time will tell, but... yes. Good. I am happiest that I was able to very successfully incorporate an episode of Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy into some of the intro lectures! I wanted to get students, especially new students and non-English majors, to think about interpreting/analyzing art, and letting go of the idea of there being one single right answer, and of the way even artists can be surprised to discover what's embedded in their own work, and the ways in which art comes to life when we interact with it, and... well, I don't need to explain it to all of you; you know. *g* It inspired a lot of laughter, a LOT of good thinking and discussion (which has carried through to the following classes), and a little bit of uneasiness, which is I think exactly what I'd hoped for. It was really not what they expected, which I think can only be counted as a success. Whether the lessons stick remains to be seen, but I feel like it was an effective primer for the sort of thinking I want to encourage (that is, don't be afraid of the weird stuff, keep an open mind, just dig in and give it a try), and it definitely encouraged more widespread participation and discussion.
So that's good. The whole summer was good, too. The longest, hottest, driest, sunniest summer I can remember in a very long time--but packed with good things.
The garden has bloomed gorgeously and profusely. The intense heat and sunshine of the summer means that most of the residents of the Garden of Misfit Plants flourished and bloomed in a very impressive way. The petunias are winding down now, but since they ended up a foot tall, with blooms several inches across, I don't think I can really complain. Likewise, the basket of Thousand Bells is probably nearing retirement, but only after its tendrils reached an impressive 2 and a half to 3 feet, blooming all the way. Almost everything else should keep going well into the autumn: purple-black-magenta Black Dragon Coleus, blue-violet verbena, lime and scarlet and cream and splatter-painted Wizard Mix Coleus, yellow and burgundy and cheerful pink dahlias, the tuberous begonia in all its sherbety orange-salmon-pink-coral glory. The split-off hosta that I transplanted at the start of summer has taken to the spot so well that it's actually produced a plume of new leaves and filled out the space--and for those resurrective qualities, I think it's earned the name Sherlock. ;-) (His partner, of course, is John.) It turns out that Sherlock also brought some English ivy with him, and that is also doing well. Not enough to be trellised this year, of course, but next year...
I've also made good food and eaten at great restaurants and had good times with family and friends this summer--most notably with Geography Teacher (the trip to Frankenmuth was a delight from start to finish), but with lost of other treasured people, too, which has been a joy. I had a completely delightful Fangirl Friday lunch-on-the-lake at Fishbones with clairvoyant, who is as wonderful as ever, and despite the fact that it's a New Orleans-inspired restaurant, we spent three hours nibbling sushi (I couldn't resist ordering something named the "Boom Boom Roll", for the name alone--Luxury Comedy fans will probably know why), sipping some wonderful fruity Hurricane-esque cocktails, and talking about everything. These lunches are always several hours of solid delight, and this was no exception. :D
And of course, there's been ice cream. I've made lots of ice cream for people, got lots of good feedback on it (and demand for it!), and have had a ton of fun experimenting. I made a special 13th Hour Coffee-Stout ice cream for Bluey Dad's birthday, infused with Kona coffee and swirled with a deep, spicy Imperial-style stout, and for Geography Teacher's birthday, I made a deep, deep truffley sort of dark chocolate ice cream infused with peppermint oil, like the darkest and most intense Thin Mint ever. Both were well received by the respective birthday boys!
And there have been other experiments, too, guided by the advice of the Jeni's book, and the produce available, and my own tastes and curiosity. I've made a Banana Pudding ice cream (a custardy base redolent of bananas and vanilla, layered with crumbled shortbread cookies), a Baked Peach Crumble ice cream (fresh peaches baked with brown sugar and nutmeg, then pureed and swirled into ice cream with buttermilk and Amaretto, with a ribbon of homemade oatmeal-brown sugar crisp), and a Roasted Black Cherry and Buttermilk ice cream--with fresh Michigan cherries, obviously. I've also made a chocolate, kulfi-style ice cream with toasted coconut, curry powder, and cashews folded in. (Verdict: thumbs up, even from Geography Teacher, who was equal parts intrigued and terrified by the idea. He takes the sanctity of chocolate very seriously.) And this weekend, for the Labor Day BBQ, I'm making Gravel Road ice cream, which is a salted caramel ice cream layered with smoked almonds.
The ice cream also lead to an interesting... concept, I suppose that we've been toying with. It's really just a germ of a thought right now. But it came to pass after another amazing dinner with Geography Teacher at The Union Woodshop, which has kind of become our place, despite the fact that it's a bit of a drive and often requires a two-hour wait for a table. (It's got more popularity than it can really handle, since being featured on the Food Network, but it's worth every minute of the wait for the food, service, and distinctively funky, unpretentious atmosphere--and besides, there's a bar and lounge upstairs, and a main street full of shops and Victorian-era houses to stroll.) The restaurant itself is stupendously stylish and tasty and resolutely weird; the only thing it takes seriously is the quality of food and service. (To give you an idea: dinners are served in prison-style aluminum trays, there's a quote from the Simpsons about the pig being a "magical animal" etched into a wall-sized mirror, and the last time we went there, our server was wearing a mechanic's shirt that informed us that his name was Nacho.) Everything is local and from-scratch, and they even have excellent vegetarian selections on the menu, which is a major achievement for a barbecue joint.
So we love the place and have never been less than thrilled with it, and it was no different on this night that I'm telling you about. On that particular night, we decided to try the Ice Cream Sandwich Tray for dessert, because that's the sort of thing that rotates depending on what experiments they're trying out on any given day; you never know what you'll get, so it's an adventure. That night, we got chocolate chip cookies sandwiching maple-bacon ice cream and peanut butter cookies sandwiching chocolate malt ice cream. (I'm technically allergic to peanut butter and not supposed to ever ever eat it, but I can have a little bit every now and then, shhhh, don't tell my immunologist.) They were both really delicious and clearly homemade in every respect, but I have to admit that as I was eating it, I had the thought: My ice cream is better. Creamier, silkier, more intensely flavorful, with better body. And then I felt like an idiot for thinking it, but of course it is natural to compare your own stuff against the pros; it's how you figure out how far you have to go.
I might not have ever given that a second thought, except that, as we were leaving, Geography Teacher leaned down and whispered in my ear, "Your ice cream is better."
Well. That's a bit different. And that sparked a thought, on the walk back to the car. And the thought sparked a bunch of "what ifs" and a conversation on the drive home. GT pointed out that there really is no indie ice cream shop in the area, and it's true; there's nothing else that comes even close to filling that sort of niche, even though the interest in artisanal food is extremely strong here, and there are a number of areas in Metro Detroit where that sort of shop would fit well and have a strong potential audience...
I don't know. I don't know. It's not going to happen today or anything; it's the sort of thing that requires a lot of time and thought and research and commitment in order to be successful. But it is also an idea that feels worth pursuing further, and I think I just might. It's an exciting and scary sort of thought. But it was also really, really wonderful to be able to talk about a fantasy like that with another person, and talk about ways in which we might be able to make it more than just a fantasy, and feel like it was valid and possible and real and supported and maybe even inspired. It's hard to share the scraps of your dreams with other people, but it feels so good to do it and get good feedback. It feels good to have your trust honored and rewarded. &hearts
So yeah, there's that.
Hmm, what else? In matters peacocky, I have come to that time where I have to groom my feathers, so to speak, because some of my old favorite standbys are at the point where they have to (very reluctantly) be pitched. I always develop an emotional attachment to clothes and accessories, and I tend to want to wear my favorite pieces until they are very literally full of holes and falling apart--and that's happened with a few things lately! This is always a bit sad, but at the same time, I'm looking at it as an opportunity to add some new things and refresh my look, and that is fun and exciting.
So I've lost some beloved shoes and boots, but that means I'm making way for these and these and these (in the grey and pink) and these, right? ;)
~whistles "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life"~
Right, now we're off for shopping for provisions for the weekend and the upcoming holiday BBQ, which has now been moved from Monday to tomorrow, in deference to the oncoming hurricane fallout. There will be eleventy billion things to do before then, I'm sure. Hope you're all doing well, and for those of you who are going through some rough times right now--and I know there are a number of you--please know that I am thinking about you and holding you in my heart and sending all the virtual hugs and love I have to offer.
Is it a joke or a concept?
- Of teaching and gardening and glittery boots...