Blooms and Butterflies and Blown Glass

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Yikes, I really fell off the blogging map this spring. I am going to blame a combination of rainy weather and one too many irons in the fire, but I am happy to say it is green and pretty in Carlisle, and I am ready to get back to adventuring!

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And it seems appropriate that my first post back is all about beautiful things: butterflies and blown glass. Last week, I traveled to Columbus, Ohio to spend time with family and during my visit I went to the Franklin Park Conservatory. It is a place that holds both nostalgia and excitement for me. The nostalgia comes from my time working as a volunteer in the butterfly garden every Sunday during one summer break in college. I was quiet, and a little awkward, and loved escorting people through the double door system (to keep the butterflies in) and watching their faces ripple with wonder as the small, striking creatures took flight in front of them, sprinkled through the air like tiny drops of fairy dust.

That summer, I also helped release newly hatched butterflies into the garden, delicately pinching their wings between my fingers and freeing them with the quick flick of my wrist. It made me feel like I was part of something bigger, something unique and beautiful. Now when I visit, I get that wonderful feeling of returning to a special place that has changed, yet somehow still feels familiar in just the right kind of way.

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Stepping back through the double doors on this trip, I was amazed to see so many butterflies in one place. Instead of being sprinkled through the air, as I remember, the butterflies coated the room like stars across a night sky. The air seemed to vibrate with them. We spun in circles watching them land, feed, and spring to the air again. Some flew in tight groups, like swirling leaves, while others dipped and glided alone. A little girl near us held out her hand and one landed, perched on her finger like a snowflake, gone before she had time to breathe. It felt almost magical.

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In addition to the butterflies, the conservatory is also speckled with Dale Chihuly’s incredible glass artwork, which only adds to the swept away feeling of stepping into the gardens. Originally part of a visiting exhibit, some of the Chihuly pieces where purchased by the Friends of the Conservatory, a private nonprofit group, to remain as a permanent collection. Every time I see his work I find myself in awe. The glass seems to embrace art and nature and color all in one breathe.

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My favorite piece is a bright red and yellow, twisting sculpture set in the Pacific Island Water Garden, which also happens to be the home of the butterflies. The piece seems to rise out of the green like a volcano and the butterflies have taken to it as their own personal resting place. It is a combination of my two favorite parts of the conservatory: a swirling, spinning, quiet reminder of all things bold and bright.

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I think I still have butterflies on the brain!

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Fairbanks Fun: Homemade Pizza, Botanical Garden, and Muskox

Last Friday, Lucas and I decided to recreate the fabulous Bear Tooth Theater Pub. As I mentioned in my Anchorage post, the Bear Tooth Theater Pub is a combination brewery, restaurant, and theater. What a great concept, eating dinner and drinking yummy beer while you watch a movie! So last week we gathered the essentials to turn our apartment into a private version of the theater pub: a throwback movie, The Truman Show, a growler of low-bush cranberry beer from a local Fairbanks brewery, Silver Gulch, and the ingredients to make homemade pizza.

The movie and the beer were awesome, but the pizza was probably my favorite part. Over the last several years I have gotten really into baking, particularly bread. I credit this interest to the two years I spent working for The Bread Bakers Guild of America, where I gained an appreciation for good bread. My bread certainly isn’t close to the quality I tasted when I worked there, but it has been a fun hobby that I am steadily getting better at. Since we arrived in North Pole, once a week I have been baking a pan loaf or two baguettes. And last week I branched out to homemade pizza dough.

The first step was finding a great recipe. Lately, I have been reading Heidi Swanson’s food blog, 101 Cookbooks, and this is where I found my new favorite thin crust pizza dough! The dough has simple ingredients: flour, salt, yeast, olive oil, and water. You can find the complete recipe on her blog here. Creating the dough is simple, but the key is time. The dough needs time to chill in the refrigerator over night and time to rise at room temperature before baking. With our little kitchen, we don’t have a pizza stone, but even on a baking sheet our two personalized pizzas came out really well. Lucas went for meat-madness with chicken and bacon. And I had a veggie pizza with broccoli, corn, red onion, and mushrooms. There is something really satisfying about eating pizza with homemade dough. Overall, it was a great date night that reminded us of our trips to Anchorage!

Last weekend we also visited the Georgeson Botanical Garden, part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. I had been looking forward to seeing the super-sized veggies that they can grow in Alaska, but unfortunately, due to budget cuts, the vegetable trials were canceled this year so we only got to see really large cabbage. Most of the blooms were on the way out, since we are well into fall here, but the wildflowers were still beautiful as well as the dahlias. It was a sunny day, and we could see the mountains on the horizon as we ate lunch in the garden, so I was still a happy girl. Oh, and they have reindeer! Always fun to see.

Our final stop for the weekend was the Large Animal Research Station, also part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. It was closed for the season, which we knew ahead of time, but you can still see the animals from the parking lot, and I was super excited to see my first muskox. A muskox is an arctic mammal only found in remote areas of the north: Alaska, Greenland, Canada, and Siberia. I had hoped to see one during our trip to the Arctic Circle, but it was still neat to see them at the research station. They are huge and look almost like a cartoon character with curled horns and shaggy hair. They certainly seem per-historic. Everything about Alaska continues to remind me about the past, what the world used to look and feel like.