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Archive for the ‘musings’ Category

strawberry-science-plaza

The hardest part of quarantine, for me, has been the constant isolation. I live alone, have been working remotely since mid-March (until I was furloughed last month), and have been seeing very few people in person. (I do still get to hug my guy, and walk with a girlfriend or two once in a while. Thank goodness.)

I miss my friends the most, but I’ve also been feeling the loss of what sociologists call “weak ties”: those casual, in-person relationships with people like your barista or librarian or yoga instructor. And I’ve been missing the “third places” where those relationships often take place: communal spaces outside of home and work where people interact and enjoy each other’s company.

All that to say: the Harvard farmers’ market is back, and I am loving it.

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The past few Tuesdays, my guy and I have biked across the river to Cambridge, to visit the half-dozen vendors set up on the Harvard Science Plaza. It’s a smaller group than usual, but they are cheery behind their masks, and the offerings are limited but delicious. We sanitize and keep our distance and browse the stalls with our eyes, and choose a few treats to eat on the spot or take home.

I showed up at this market all the time when I worked at Harvard, and that’s where I met Amanda, who makes fantastic tamales, salsas and chili beans. (She’s from Corpus Christi and she knows how tough it can be to find decent Mexican food in New England – plus she’s warm and friendly.) I am downright thrilled to be eating her products again, and I’ve loved seeing her in person, too.

It’s strawberry season in New England, and G and I have bought pints of them recently, plus crisp Boston lettuce and peppery Easter egg radishes. (Aren’t those colors gorgeous?) The latter, it turns out, are delicious with hummus, and I even made pesto with the greens last week. Weather permitting, we’ve sat on the benches or lawn nearby, eating strawberries till our fingers are stained red with the juice. I toss the tamales back in the freezer when I get home, but they never last long – and the strawberries and salsa both tend to disappear within 24 hours.

So many things are still strange and hard, but I am looking for joy where I can find it, these days. And fresh fruit + sunshine + time with my favorite person in a place I love = serious joy, pandemic or no pandemic.

Are you shopping farmers’ markets this summer?

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A few weeks ago, I gave y’all a glimpse of the East Boston Harborwalk, where I often begin my morning runs. After turning away from the water, I cut through the neighborhood and circle onto the East Boston Greenway, which is living up to its name right now.

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The greenway runs right through the middle of Eastie, cutting under several bridges and eventually under the highway. It’s a former (abandoned) rail corridor that was cleaned up and turned into a park starting in the early 2000s. Today, it stretches up to Constitution Beach, and there are plans to extend it further to connect a few neighboring towns and a nearby marsh.

I fell in love with running a few years ago on the Neponset River Greenway, in Dorchester (south of Boston), where I used to live. For me, a huge part of running is about being outside, watching the light and the seasons change as I move through the landscape. When I started dog-sitting in Eastie last spring, I fell in love with running here, too, and now it’s my home, my regular trail.

I love running through the greenway even when it’s grey and brown, but I’m especially enjoying the shade provided by leafy trees right now, and the spots of color from day lilies, rhododendrons and wildflowers. (Plus the colorful paint at the Gove St. entrance.)

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The greenway is a public use path, and it gets a lot of use: I always see other runners, cyclists, dog walkers, solo walkers, people heading to the Blue Line to commute, friends and families walking or riding together. I’m almost never alone out there, and I kind of love that: the greenway belongs to all of Eastie, and many of Eastie’s residents get to enjoy it.

Are there green spaces you love in your neighborhood?

 

 

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harborwalk-trees

We’re (more than) three months into quarantine – my personal clock hit the three-month mark last weekend. Massachusetts, like a lot of states, is slowly reopening, even as coronavirus cases continue to appear. Recently, I’ve been out to a few local businesses that were closed for a while, but otherwise, my routine hasn’t changed much since March. And I’m frankly sick of it.

I keep seeing essays or tweets around the Internet of things people want to keep from this time: more time with their families, fewer commutes, less traffic congestion, and so on. That’s all fine and good – and I have a few silver linings of my own. But honestly, there’s a lot from this time I don’t want to keep.

I don’t want to keep the constant, gnawing anxiety: will I get sick? Will someone I love get sick? Will I/they be able to afford the medical bills? What if they don’t get better?

I don’t want to keep the constant risk/reward calculation (what one friend called “mental actuarial tables”) that goes on in my brain every time I leave the house. I am sick and tired of mentally estimating the risk of a walk or a hug or a trip to the grocery store. I miss being able to plan travel, or have anything but a walk or a Trader Joe’s trip to look forward to.

I don’t want to keep the constant isolation, so acute it sometimes makes me cry, sitting here at my kitchen table with no one else around. I miss my coworkers, my librarians and baristas and yoga instructors and especially my florist. Most of all I miss my friends, even those I have seen since quarantine started. We go on walks and wave goodbye from behind our masks instead of sharing a meal together and parting with hugs. It helps, but it’s not the same.

I don’t want to keep this incompetent president, unwilling to listen to scientific experts or wise advisors, fanning the flames of partisan division for his own selfish ends (or because he just likes chaos, I can’t tell). The U.S. response to the pandemic has been fragmented and inadequate, and I am frustrated and sad that so many people have died.

I don’t want to rush into a post-pandemic “new normal” until we can do so safely, and I think we’ve got a long road ahead. I will keep taking precautions and wearing a mask when I go out, for as long as it takes. But I don’t want to keep so many aspects of this time. And I needed to say so.

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stronger together heart graffiti three lives

Today is Juneteenth, the anniversary of the day the last slaves in the U.S. learned they were free, in 1865 (nearly two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation). I vaguely remember learning about it in school: I grew up in Texas, after all, and the holiday began in Galveston. But I had almost forgotten about it, until this year. Amid the recent Black Lives Matter protests and national conversations about race, lots of us white folks are relearning history, which includes Juneteenth and why it’s important.

I believe listening and educating ourselves is one of the first and best ways for white people to join the work of anti-racism. I also believe we need to vote with our dollars, and support Black-owned businesses and initiatives. To that end, here are a few links:

Happy Juneteenth, friends. See you next week.

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Like millions of Americans, I’ve spent the past few weeks doing a lot of reading, listening and processing. The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, the ensuing protests, and the waves of activism and helpful resources popping up everywhere have all been rightfully demanding my attention.

I’m a few chapters into White Fragility (“like all the other white people,” my friend Ally joked last week). I’m listening to podcast interviews with Black leaders, finding Black-owned businesses to support and following new-to-me accounts on Instagram run by Black folks. (One of my favorites: Black Librarians, which highlights – what else? – Black librarians doing excellent work in their field.)

It’s tempting to think that is enough: that exposing myself to new ideas, information and voices will root out my own biases. It will help, of course, but it is not nearly enough. I keep thinking, too, about a poem I found back in early 2016: Veronica Patterson’s “A Charm Against the Language of Politics.”

Patterson’s poem begins:

Say over and over the names of things,
the clean nouns: weeping birch, bloodstone, tanager,
Banshee damask rose.

Patterson’s poem talks about pleasant things, beautiful things: spiderwebs, apples, okra, calendula. Racism and violence are not nearly as appealing, but they are real, and we have to stop ignoring them.

If we are to face racism and work to end it, we must name it, and that means naming a host of other things: specific laws and policies that discriminate against Black people; instances of violence and murder (historical and present-day); our own sometimes-hidden biases against (various) people who do not look like us. It also means, for me, naming my own whiteness, and working to understand how it has shaped me.

In conversations with friends and family, I am trying to stop vaguely referring to “everything that’s going on.” If I mean my ongoing anxieties about the coronavirus pandemic and states reopening, I say that. If I mean the sadness, outrage and drinking-from-a-firehose overwhelm of trying to process all this new information about race and racism, I say that. Sometimes I think about Albus Dumbledore, gravely reminding Harry, “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”

I was taught to ignore or sidestep race, especially the racial identities of brown and black people, and thus to ignore racism (or insist that it had been solved). But we cannot hope to solve a problem we don’t name. So, for me, it starts (in part) with naming.

Where are you finding yourselves these days, in the work of acknowledging and working to end racism in the U.S.? I’m still overwhelmed (and ashamed at how long it’s taking me to catch up), but I’m here for the work. Let’s learn together.

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tawakal-art-tree

One of my favorite things about exploring Eastie this year has been the food.

As a Texas transplant who seriously misses her tacos, I’ve been thrilled to find decent – even delicious – Mexican food in Eastie. But today’s restaurant is something entirely different, something I’d never had before: Somali cuisine, made by the kind folks who run Tawakal Halal Cafe.

Tawakal is a hidden gem, tucked away in a small red house on a corner a few streets away from where I live. I discovered it last spring when I was dog-sitting in Eastie, and now I run by it nearly every morning. My guy and I decided to try it one Saturday, and we fell instantly and completely in love with the combination of flavors. It’s an amalgam of foods I recognize from Middle Eastern and Indian restaurants, and flavors I wasn’t familiar with before.

 

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During quarantine (and especially during Ramadan, which fell during April and May), Tawakal has been providing hundreds of meals to local families struggling with job loss and food insecurity. The Boston Globe did a great Q&A with Yahya Noor, the owner, a few weeks ago. I love that Tawakal is a family business that really cares about the community, and the food – as I’ve already said – is delicious.

I haven’t been eating out much lately, but Tawakal is still a staple: my guy requested it for his birthday dinner last month, and I’ve been going by every couple of weeks to pick up takeout. My favorite dishes are the falafel biryani and the beef kabab biryani (pictured above), both with two kinds of hot sauce and plenty of rice and hummus. (The sambusas, also pictured above, are great too.) G is partial to the Malay fish spaghetti and the goat biryani. We both love the hot, spicy shaah (chai-like tea) they make, and he’s also a fan of the ginger coffee.

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Most of all, I love the warm welcome we always get, and I’m looking forward to the day we can sit at a table again, near the open windows, and eat our lunch and chat with the staff.

Have you ever had Somali (or other East African) food?

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Last fall, on a whim and a discount code, I decided to try Birchbox, one of those seemingly ubiquitous beauty-subscription boxes. (This post is not sponsored or perked – I don’t even subscribe anymore. I’m simply musing about my experience.)

At the time, I was still in the throes of my divorce and my move to East Boston, and in stereotypically American-female fashion, I thought a little pampering might help. (Though I wasn’t sure it would, honestly. I’m hardly a beauty-product junkie; I dye my own hair from a box every few weeks, and I haven’t had a manicure since 2011. But I love a good lip gloss and I adore getting fun mail.)

I went online, filled out the quiz with details about my hair type, skin type, preferences, etc., and waited for my first box to arrive. When it did, I was charmed by the colorful packaging, breezy info card detailing how to use each product, and the fun array of samples: lip gloss, highlighter (what is that?), moisturizer, mascara. I was surprised, in fact, by how delighted I was.

As a lifelong bookworm, an English major and a feminist who grew up in Texas, I embody a few contradictions: I want people to love me for my brain and heart before my body, and I’d rather browse a bookstore than Sephora any day. But I was raised by a mother who never leaves the house without makeup, and I believe in the importance of both self-care and looking put together. Even during quarantine, I’ve been blow-drying my hair and putting on makeup most days: both routines help signal that I’m ready for whatever the day brings.

As I played around with Birchbox samples of eye cream, lipstick, primer (which I had never used before) and a gold-foil face mask that made me look like Iron Man, I realized something else: I had internalized some serious snobbery about women who self-soothe with beauty products. I still reach for a book and a cup of tea first when I’m stressed or sad, but I had discounted the fun of sticking on sparkly eye pads or trying a new shade of blush. Sometimes, frankly, pampering does nothing at all – but sometimes it helps me see myself a little differently, or just adds a shot of whimsy to the day.

The products didn’t all feel like me, and I ended up passing on a few extras to my mom, sister and girlfriends. (I haven’t used mousse since the eighties, and I’m not sorry about it.) But I found a few favorites that I still use, and several more that I enjoyed trying out on a limited basis. I’ve got a stockpile of still others in the bathroom, waiting for the day I need a pick-me-up and decide to try out that shade of eyeshadow or new face scrub. (Bonus: I haven’t had to buy mascara in months.)

This isn’t quite the because-you’re-worth-it narrative familiar to any woman who’s ever watched a L’Oreal commercial (though I am worth it, in case you were wondering). It’s more about trying something just because I wanted to, and being surprised and delighted by it. Birchbox even made it onto one of my lifesaving lists, because the boxes and their contents were sources of joy. I eventually stopped my subscription because I had enough products for now, but I’m still glad I tried it out. (And I am now a serious fan of Kiehl’s moisturizer and Dr. Lipp lip gloss.)

Have you tried Birchbox or something similar – and/or been forced to confront your own snobbery about makeup? I’d love to hear your stories.

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harborwalk-point

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen my photos of the East Boston Harborwalk: I go running there all the time. The Harborwalk writ large is a 43-mile collection of not-quite-continuous pedestrian and bike paths along the waterfront in Boston. It starts in Eastie, three miles north of where I live, and extends all the way to the Dorchester/Milton line, where I used to live (and where I fell in love with running).

My section of the Harborwalk is a small one: it picks up at the tennis courts down the hill from my house, and curves around past several buildings belonging to the Massachusetts Port Authority, all the way down to the Hyatt hotel on the point. It’s a smooth paved path bordered by trees and tall white hydrangeas, and it’s the starting point for many of my morning runs.

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For me, running is mainly about two things: moving my body in a way I enjoy, and moving through the landscape (preferably one I enjoy). One of my favorite things about running the same several routes all the time is observing the subtle changes in familiar places.

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On the Harborwalk, I’ve watched the trees and shrubs bud and leaf out (and lose their leaves, last fall). The water is always changing: the tide comes slowly and inexorably in and out, creating a landscape of mud flats or rolling blue water in the harbor basin. These changes differ depending on the time of day and year, and I love noticing how it looks each time I’m out there. The brick buildings remain the same, but the light is always changing, too: I’ve taken dozens (hundreds?) of photos of the Boston skyline, with its ever-shifting skyscape of clouds and sun and even stars.

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On my way home, I sometimes go through the Navy Fuel Pier park, which was redeveloped as part of the Harborwalk project (it used to be an actual fuel pier). In June, it’s dotted with purple iris and heady with the scent of wild beach roses. And the gravel sidewalk has sea glass embedded in the concrete: a nod to the area’s maritime history, which looks different than it used to, but is still being written.

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My guy and I have plans to bike other sections of the Harborwalk this summer, and discover where they lead. I’m looking forward to that, but I’m also very grateful for this small part of the whole that belongs to me.

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I posted this book stack the other day on Instagram – it was/is the result of a quick scan of my shelves, pulling off books by black authors that have been (for me) powerful and thought-provoking. Some are longtime favorites, some newer discoveries.

Like any book list, it is only a small beginning. I am reading and listening to black voices on social media: Osheta Moore, Austin Channing Brown, Well-Read Black Girl. I am ordering and placing library holds on books by black authors. I signed a NAACP petition calling for an independent investigation into the murder of George Floyd, and broader police reform. I donated to my local bail fund after more than 50 protesters were arrested this weekend in Boston.

None of this is “enough” or gets me off the hook for doing more. I share what I’ve been doing because so many of us white folks don’t know where to start. But we have to start, if we haven’t already. Until everyone is able to thrive in this country, the work will not be done. And we have to look hard at our own hearts – our biases and hesitation and fear – because the real work happens internally, too.

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As we head into summer, I’m approaching my one-year anniversary in East Boston, this neighborhood tucked between the airport and the water, where I moved on a hot, chaotic festival weekend last July.

It feels like I’ve lived in Eastie longer than that: I spent a lot of time here last spring, when my marriage was on the rocks and I needed a place to get away (while still being able to go to work). Eastie became my haven, my perch from which to look at my life and decide whether and how to change it. Now, nearly a year later, it’s my home.

On Fridays this summer, I’ll be sharing some glimpses of Eastie here on the blog. For this first one: a little background, and an intro to the things I love.

Like so much of Boston, Eastie is a curious mix of natural and man-made: it is built out of five different islands and a whole lot of landfill that connects them. My part of Eastie, Jeffries Point, looks out over Boston Harbor (the area was a shipbuilding mecca for many years). My kitchen windows look out on the shipyard, which is still active with warehouses and pleasure craft. Some of the piers have fallen into disrepair, but you can walk out on a few others, and a couple of businesses – the Downeast cider house and the excellent KO Pies – have made their homes in the shipyard, too.

I live in a row of redbrick houses with curved bowfront windows and dormers in their roofs. But there are also a lot of traditional Boston triple-deckers, with wood siding and flat roofs, in the neighborhood, as well as some modern homes with more glass and steel in their designs. The architecture reflects the mix of old and new and constantly shifting that characterizes Eastie: it is historically a working-class area, but has seen an influx of wealthier residents over the last decade or so. You’re as likely to hear Spanish on the street as English, which reminds me of my West Texas hometown, but there are immigrants from all over the world, as well as a growing number of young and youngish professionals (like me) who are largely American-born but transplants to Boston.

There are a lot of things I love about Eastie: the plentiful parks, the beautiful Harborwalk (where I run all the time), the delicious food (Mexican and otherwise), the proximity to downtown on the Blue Line. But most of all I love that it feels like a neighborhood.

I’ve lived here less than a year and already run into people I know on the street. I attended my first social event here three days after moving in last summer. (This was thanks in large part to my college friends who live down the hill, who have done their best to invite me to everything.) Even in the era of masks and social distancing, people wave and say hello, and the folks who sell tacos, wine, produce and Somali food at neighborhood establishments know their regulars.

Boston is a city of more than 700,000 (the metro area population tops 4 million), and it can feel – it has often felt – impossible to carve out a small place for myself here, a neighborhood in which to know and be known. But Eastie feels like a patch that is truly mine. I’m still mainly an observer of life in the neighborhood, but am gradually putting down roots here, and I’m thankful for every single one.

More Eastie stories and photos to come.

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