"Our most ancient metaphor says life is a journey. Memoir is travel writing, then, notes taken along the way, telling how things looked and what thoughts occurred. . . .This is the traveler who goes on foot, living the journey, taking on mountains, enduring deserts, marveling at the lush green places...as a pilgrim, seeking, wondering." -Patricia Hampl

December 30, 2007

A Welcome End to 2007





I know, I know. It's been a while.

Honestly, the three of you who've recently brought to my attention that I haven't posted since July aren't really telling me any news. I just haven't felt much like writing. I decided today, in talking with a friend, that perhaps it's a good time (it's New Year's Eve-eve) to take stock of what I am most thankful to have had in 2007, though admittedly I'm looking very forward to a better 2008. In the spirit of what has become my favorite holiday correspondence, the holiday letters from my favorite Pittsburgh gals, which recount the past year's exploits, traumas, and adventures, I hereby submit the high- and low-lights of Old Man 2007: these are what I am most thankful for.

1.) Our house. 191 Vassar Street continues to be a source of comfort in my favorite spot in the city of Rochester: the Park Avenue area. On a quiet Sunday morning, light comes through the front windows and illuminates three of the four stained glass windows that are original to our house, constructed in 1902/3. Sure, it has it's share of Money Pit woes common to old houses, like faulty, strange electrical stuff that has me convinced that a (friendly) ghost lives in my closet, and leaky windows through which 75% of our heating bills go, but we're able to host gatherings and parties that allow us to invite more than just immediate family.
In August, Heath and I opened our home during Park Avenue Festival weekend to celebrate the many people here who'd helped us through a difficult winter and spring, and to turn a corner. Some stopped by before attending the fest, some after, and Heath led a rowdy tournament of Corn Hole (traditional sport during Park Ave Fest weekend) in the backyard. The hit of the party: the cold cucumber water.
In September, we hosted a Rosh Hashana feast, and later on, in November, Heath and I hosted Thanksgiving--and at the end of the night, had seated about 20 people. Our Cool Cousins from Cleveland were, I'm happy to say, present at both. To top off the house events, in December, I hosted our local Hadassah chapter's annual Chanukah Brunch, during which we assembled baskets of canned goods for needy Rochester families and holiday cards for the Rochester elderly (and of course, brunched). Thanks, spacious house!

2.) A really, really good gig. Anybody who's followed the trends in public education between the Clinton and Bush eras knows that it's a tough time to be a student and a teacher. Presently, 1 out of 5 young teachers quit due to poor salaries, inability to pay their student loans with those salaries, or the demands and responsibilities of the job have become extreme (compared to what they were when many of us entered the profession). Having said that, I have wrestled endlessly with the fact that I love what I do--I still teach English, Film as Literature, Theater, and Humanities--and that I have a long way to go before I'm any good at it. I happen to be teaching in a high-performing district, one of the best in the country, but it's reputation has little to do with why I enjoy it.
My colleagues are the kinds of teachers I aspire to be: and they're really freaking funny people, to boot. Our banter consists of everything, from the origins of crazy words we've never heard before to things that can only be spoken between people who are close enough to joke about body parts and such. There's something poetic about being surrounded, all day, by intellectual goofballs. What's more, we meet monthly for our Writer's Circle, whereby we discuss each other's personal work at someone's cozy home. It's professional development in the best sense: in becoming better writers, we teach the craft of writing more genuinely. (One of my shorter pieces is posted below.)
I also happen to have some pretty amazing students this year, and the right combinations seem to have found their way into my courses. I am constantly impressed by their ideas, dialogue, humor, sensitivity. In a few weeks, I'll begin teaching three sections of Humanities (my favorite class to teach) to seniors on the verge of graduation. I can't wait. And I enjoyed directing "A Streetcar Named Desire" in October--the second Williams play I've directed, my 8th show overall. The kids were fabulous: click here for production stills.

3.) The JCC. I've only just started exercising regularly again, and I can't believe I stayed away so long. This place, our Jewish Community Center, has smelled exactly the same way it did when I first became an official member in 1979--like sweaty racquetball court and someone's cologne--but that's no deterrent. The J has modernized itself from a "gym" to a "fitness spot," replete with cycling, yoga, pilates, fancy-shmancy equipment with personal video screens, and personal trainers. Where else can you go to workout AND get yelled at by old, Jewish men for not stretching long enough, I ask you? And to that end,

4.) Yoga. Having taken one course at the J and one at the Retreat House, I think I'm beyond the beginner's level. OM-G! This was a terrific way to relieve some stress and find a way to laugh at myself again.

5.) Acupuncture. Still not a fan of needles, but Heather is amazing--and the foot warmer thingy while you rest for 20 minutes is sooooo nice.

6.) My family. We braved an excruciating season when dad got sick and so quickly passed away. We continue to survive it. Lucky for us, we have a tight family here in Rochester that celebrates birthdays and holidays with panache and sentiment. We also have a constant source of entertainment in my niece, whose intelligence at 2 y.o. is staggering.
As you probably know about us by now, the Hiller clan has always regarded close friends as family, too. And late-summer visits by Danielle, Tina, and Allison, who are like sisters, made the transition from a tough summer to a working fall a lot easier. (Looking forward to Dani's and Tina's weddings in '08, not to mention cousin Ethan's, friend Amy's, old roomate Mason's, friend Elizabeth. . .!) With Dani's visit home to Rochester from Colorado came her first taste of bridal showers and engagement parties, for which some of our oldest friends from middle school gathered--here's a shot of the gang, twenty years or so after we all first met. Other cousins' weddings provided opportunities to see/explore D.C. & Annapolis, MD (Congrats Elaine and Phil), and visit with old friends in N.Y.C. (Congrats Brett & Heather).

7.) My Heath. My East, West, North, South. Since our engagement, it seems we've had more than our share of hardships to weather. But this kid has a sense of humor that doesn't quit, the most optimistic outlook I've ever been asked to share, and a mean flare for pan-searing when the mood strikes. We traveled to Argentina in February, and then, it seemed, began a different kind of adventure: through the trial of a lost pregnancy and my Dad's cancer, we learned more about love and companionship than, I believe, some people ever do in 50 years of marriage. I look forward to more life adventures with My Main Man, if for no other reason than I know we can tackle anything together.

July 29, 2007

Day at Mirbeau

01Around here, the mere mention of the name Mirbeau sends people into fits of ecstacy: while most people we know haven't been there themselves, the word connotes luxury, pampering, and a healthy kind of decadence (e.g., you can order the chocolate cake for dessert because you know the ingredients are organic). Just an hour or so from Rochester, in the lakeside, historical town of Skaneatles, and one quick turn off the beaten path, there sits a spa of national merit, where one parks the car and walks into a Monet painting. Nevermind all the lavender and lillies beside the startling replica of Monet's bridge over the bubbling pond where the koi fish swim happily around the lily pads, because you have stuff to do.
Mirbeau greeted us with a bottle of delicious champagne in our room (I brought strawberries from home); and somehow we managed to enjoy about half of it before stepping out to prepare for our spa treatments (previously booked). Given robes, lockers, and even the house flip-flops, we soaked in the spa's 12-person, outdoor hot tub (the nearby fireplace was lit despite it being 80 degrees) for a spell before dipping into the cooling footbath of the adjacent "relaxation room," or what Heath called "the Roman Baths Room," pictured here 150x150_resting (though this really doesn't do it justice--so quiet, so dark, so tranquil). This is where spa-goers rest *before* their treatments, ahem. Heath and I both thought we'd forego the typical massage route, so we opted for French Clay treatments that involved paintbrushes and heat blankets. But man, were we shiny after that! With our supple and toxin-free skin in tow, we shlepped (because really, after this sort of treatment one is no longer walking, but floating deliriously) into our respective eucalyptus steamrooms and then freshly showered with all sorts of nice lavender-y spa product to prepare for dinner.498x135_din003
Dinner is four courses: in short: salmon/sashimi; duck with potato and some tricky roasted veggies; beef tenderloin with in-season veggies; "mood-altering" chocolate cake. Additionally, Chef Moro sends "gifts" intermittently throughout the meal, so we also tasted fresh olive bread, champagne sorbet, fresh, still-hot madelines and chocolate-raspberry truffles. A pinot noir goes well with all of it, by the way. Comfortably full, we sashayed back to our petite chateau over the bridge.
This morning, Heath finally got his much-needed massage while I was the only member of a cardio class; once more to the hot tub and steam rooms, and it was time to go home. Ahhhhhhh. This kind of living sure costs a lot of Monet--good thing we had gift certificates.

July 16, 2007

Chocolate Sushi Attempt #1

Have I been sitting on the couch, watching Food Network for too long? Having just spent the first half of my summer vacation trying to scrape myself back into the civil, social world, I finally gave into a creative nagging: to master the art of chocolate sushi. Not that I thought it'd be easy: I looked here and there for some guidelines--even Martha came up short. So I experimented (note authentic baking lingo):
1 cup melted chocolate

4-5 (?) tbsp. karo light corn syrup

stir

skillfully spoon/brush melty stuff onto parchment paper on frozen cookie sheet

sprinkle coconut on

gummy fish

freeze for 5-6 (?) minutes

goop karo onto fingers while trying to roll chocolate without breaking it

put back in freezer and wait for Heath to discover that the Gardenburgers have been relocated


July 09, 2007

After


clouds, sand, water, sky
Originally uploaded by animox72
It has been just over three weeks since we lost my father.

I'm still at a loss for words. I thought I might have been able to write by now, but this just does not come easily.

Heath and I went to visit friends last weekend in New Hampshire, and while we were there, were able to see some friends in Boston, see a game at Fenway, and visit York Beach in Maine. The trip was good, restful. But there is a pain we can't shake.

Goals this week include trying to cook again and writing a little. In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you.

May 21, 2007

Spring Again



This was a hard winter.

My father's illness threw us all for a major, life-examining loop. Now he's in chemo, and finally eating again. This may change, we've come to understand, but for now, we'll take it.

Heath suggested we enjoy the first sign of Spring in Rochester: the Lilac Festival. A chilly walk through Highland Park one evening and a sunny, warm, jaunt through its hills two afternoons later, our senses were refreshed. Since many of you are nowhere near enough to enjoy a fragrant stroll for yourself, enjoy the pictures.




February 20, 2007

Estamos Aquí!

Ahoy!  Mateys.

Gente!
Estamos pasando un buen tiempo en Buenos Aires! Ya he visitando con la familia Gebel y visitaba los lugares que se llaman Palermo y Puerto Madero: voy a escribir mucho mas en el futuro, pero es el tiempo para salir-es las dos! con amore, monica. xx

Folks!
We are having a great time in B.A.! We´ve already visited Heath´s relatives and visted parts of the city known as Palermo and Puerto Madero: I´ll write more later, but it´s time to go out on the town, two a.m.!! with love, monica
Click here for day 1 photos. . .

February 14, 2007

Valentine's Snow Day!




The kids at school were all but off the walls about the weather report: snow, snow, and more snow. We'd anticipated a delay, but as of the last weather report before bedtime, all signs led to a blustery day--and no school. Heath and I celebrated with Mayan Chocolate milkshakes.

To be on the safe side, I woke up around 5:30 this morning to double-check: sure enough, schools had been cancelled all over the area, the plows were out, and our street was practically buried. Seeing as how it is, after all, Valentine's Day, I put on my brother's old firefighter boots and braved the driveway, shovel in hand. Heath joined me a little later, and there we were, bundled up to our ears in the blue wintery twilight, shoveling our hearts out, thoughts of South America dancing in our heads (we leave in four days!). While he was getting ready for work, I warmed up his car and put his valentine (and some hershey's kisses) on the dash. It IS, after all, Valentine's Day.

Here are some pictures: the boots (on a shoveled driveway and in our backyard snow drift), the walkway I had to stop shoveling (needed coffee), the house and its icicle glory.