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Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

I’ve lived in Boston for nearly 10 (!) years now: a real switch, in all kinds of ways, for this small-town Texas girl. (I grew up in what is technically a mid-size city, and went to college in another one. But I still run into people I know at the grocery store when I go back to either place.)

I’ve been thinking about the triumphs (and trials) particular to living in the city — those moments where you either think, I have nailed this, or the city itself seems to give you a little gift. I’ve had a few lately, so I thought I’d share them with you.

In no particular order:

  • Finding the random item you’re looking for at a grocery store/corner store on your regular route. (Last week: tea lights.)
  • Having just enough quarters (or a couple extra) to do the required amount of laundry.
  • Memorizing your public transit route so you don’t even have to glance at the map (and/or can keep reading your book as you switch trains).
  • Finding out there’s a subway station/bus stop located exactly where you need to go. Bonus points if it’s a route you’ve never taken before.
  • Exploring the library branches and how they’re tailored to their particular neighborhoods. (Though the central Boston Public Library is my neighborhood branch, and it has my heart.)
  • Deciphering the local accent. (Smaht Pahk, anyone?)
  • That moment when a new neighborhood/area gets added to your mental map. Sometimes I can almost hear the puzzle pieces snapping into place.

What would you add?

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Tucked away on a side street near the Fens, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is one of Boston’s hidden gems. I’ve been there a few times, with my parents or visiting friends, but I hadn’t been back in several years.

The museum is open late on Thursdays, with jazz and samba music winding through the galleries and evocative shadows dancing in the corners. I spent the evening there last night with someone dear to me who had never been before (though he’s lived in Boston for years).

We wandered through the galleries, marveling at intricate tapestries, delicate handmade lace, elaborate marble statues and tile work, and gorgeous paintings. In each room, I always end up at the windows, gazing down into the central courtyard, which is amazing from every angle.

The museum is a different place at night: arranged exactly as it is in the daytime, but with more mystery in its corners. We wondered about the origins of some pieces, and noted a few empty frames (which held the pieces stolen in the Gardner’s 1990 heist). Different details catch my eye every time: a medieval portrait of an anonymous woman, an impressionist painting of gladioli, a bronze sculpture of Diana the huntress.

There’s far too much art to take in all at once, and so you don’t have to try, which is what I love about the Gardner: you can simply wander through and experience the art and the place.

I’d never spent an evening at the Gardner before: I’d always been on a weekend afternoon, with the attendant crowds (and sunshine pouring through the skylight). But this was a lovely way to enjoy a beautiful space. I can see more evenings there in my future.

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Every December, I pack a big suitcase and travel down to Texas to spend the holidays with my family. (I make this journey two or three times a year, but Christmas is the big one.)

It’s always something of an odyssey, and it’s never without a headache or two. But there are a few things that save my life, every time. Here are the ones from this trip:

  • My refillable water bottle, and water stations/fountains in every airport. These are a money-saver and a welcome antidote to that dry airplane air.
  • Clementines, granola bars and any other healthy snacks I can find in the airport newsstands.
  • The in-flight magazines, which I truly enjoy. I also sometimes treat myself to a magazine from one of those newsstands; this time it was Runner’s World. 
  • Pleasant and helpful gate agents, who helped me tremendously when I mislaid my boarding passes (on the way to Texas) and ran into long flight delays (on the way back).
  • The yoga room at DFW Airport. I’d heard about this newish trend, but this was my first time seeing it in action. It felt so good to dump my stuff and stretch out on a mat for a few minutes.
  • Sweet seat mates, like the woman traveling with her toddler son on my flight to Dallas. We chatted about food and travel and Boston winters, and her wriggly little redhead gave me a few smiles.
  • Layovers long enough to catch my breath.
  • Strategically placed outlets throughout the gate areas.
  • A place to get some decent Earl Grey – whether it’s Starbucks or a local cafe in the airport.

What saves your life when you fly? Any tips? I’m always up for more ways to make it easier.

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What a year, y’all. I say that every year, but this one has brought so much change I didn’t see coming.

Here is my annual non-exhaustive list of what has happened this year. As always, it’s a limited tool, but an interesting one.

In 2019, I have…

  • marked a year (and some change) at Berklee, where I get to write about our students, faculty, alumni and guest artists making music and doing various cool music-adjacent things.
  • moved to East Boston after spending a lot of time there this spring, and falling completely in love.
  • Related: moved into my own apartment for the first time in more than a decade.
  • run several 5Ks, one of them in a cape and one in a Wonder Woman costume.
  • run my first 10K, this summer – a triumph.
  • flown to Texas several times, once to celebrate my grandfather’s 85th birthday with the whole fam.
  • spent hours and hours on the Neponset River trail, the Charles River Esplanade and the East Boston Harborwalk and Greenway, running to my heart’s content.
  • done a lot of yoga, at three different studios: Healing Tree in my old neighborhood, Erin’s shiny new Savin Hill Fitness Studio, and The Point in my new neighborhood.
  • read more than 150 books, and reviewed 58 (I think) for Shelf Awareness. (Still the best.)
  • Related: interviewed nine authors for the Shelf, all of whom were lovely and fascinating.
  • attended my first Newport Folk Festival and had a fabulous time.
  • filled up half a dozen or so journals (and – gasp – I got rid of at least six boxes of old ones when I moved).
  • started going to therapy.
  • gone through a divorce.
  • spent many weekday mornings at Mem Church, and a few Sundays at assorted churches here and there.
  • drunk so many chai lattes, mostly from the Boston Public Library and (of course) Darwin’s.
  • bought and enjoyed countless bouquets of flowers, most of them from my beloved Brattle Square Florist.
  • taken a number of BlueBike rides across town and along the river.
  • spent a weekend in rural Pennsylvania with my friend Christie and her family – so good for the soul.
  • hosted my longtime friend Abigail in my new digs for a glorious long weekend.
  • spent Thanksgiving with my friends Joe and Lauryn, and assorted other friends old and new.
  • taken Phoenix, the sweetest mini golden doodle, on many walks through East Boston. (And cuddled him a lot.)
  • followed thrive as my one little word, to sometimes unexpected places.

What has 2019 looked like for you?

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celebrating Pop

live love Texas sign

My grandfather turned 85 last month. If you asked him about it, he’d likely shrug it off as no big deal – but the rest of us disagree. So we’d been secretly planning a surprise party, spearheaded by my Aunt Cat, for months. (The hardest part was letting my grandmother, whom we all call Neno, in on the secret. She said it was stressful to keep it quiet!)

I flew down to San Antonio (my grandparents live about an hour away), and various family members came in from across Texas and Arizona. I hadn’t seen many of these folks in years, nor been to my grandparents’ spacious house, with its saltillo-tiled floors and stuccoed walls hung with Pop’s original paintings. (He worked in tool design for many years, and is a talented artist and woodworker.) They built this house themselves when they retired to Texas, twenty years ago, and stepping inside felt like coming home.

My parents and I surprised Pop at lunchtime on Friday (thereby pre-empting the surprise party, but Aunt Cat swore it was okay). I was grateful for that extra time around their kitchen table, just the five of us. Neno pulled out a box of beautiful handmade baby clothes (some hers, some Pop’s, some that her kids – my mom and her siblings – had worn). We exclaimed over the embroidery and tiny, meticulous stitches.

neno baby clothes

Later, we ate burgers and watched the birds out the back windows, trading stories and laughing. My sister and her family arrived that night, and it was a gift to hug her and play Uno with my nephews, and trade running tips with my brother-in-law (he’s training for a half marathon).

ryder harrison uno

The party on Saturday was total happy chaos – all of us weaving around one another in the kitchen, making corn casserole and pouring drinks and finding space for the pork ribs, chopped brisket and three huge cheese/fruit/veggie platters. There were two layer cakes, and tiny cups of Blue Bell ice cream, and lots of hugging, and even a surprise guest…

Pop is a huge John Wayne fan (so is Neno), and my aunt and uncle had schemed to have him show up for the party. None of the rest of us knew that was coming, and we were all highly entertained.

I may live in New England now, but I am a Texas girl to my core, and I needed that brief, nourishing time with four generations of my family. I was so happy to chat with my aunts and catch up with my cousins and especially to hug my sweet Neno.

Until next time, Texas. It was good to be back.

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cobble hill Brooklyn NYC

One of my favorite things about NYC: there are endless new neighborhoods to explore.

I love returning to my well-loved haunts there. I’ve spent some time in Fort Greene, and I was happy to revisit Park Slope (especially the Chocolate Room) on this most recent trip. But on Saturday, I decided to walk a few blocks west and wander Cobble Hill – partly motivated, you will not be surprised, by a bookstore.

Novelist Emma Straub opened a bookstore, aptly named Books Are Magic, a while back. It was an easy walk from my Airbnb, so I headed that way, grabbing an iced tea and popping into a few shops. I bought a long green dream of a dress at Something Else, then headed for the bookstore. It was well-lit and well-stocked, a little bit funky and yes, a little bit magical.

I browsed for a while, dipping into novels and mysteries, and saying “amen” to a fellow customer who was recommending Anne Lamott to her friend. (Bird by Bird!) I picked up a fun kids’ mystery featuring Agatha Oddly, then went down the street for an early dinner at Jolie – the only French-Mexican bistro I’ve ever seen.

Even though I’m living in Eastie, land of delicious tacos, I rarely pass up an opportunity for good Mexican food. The enchiladas, the fresh guacamole, and the late afternoon light at Jolie were all perfect.

My next stop was Whisk, which I discovered a while back via their store near the Flatiron Building in Manhattan. That location has closed, but their main store is in Cobble Hill, so I popped in to buy a couple of new tea strainers. (I can always use them.) From there, I headed for the subway and my Saturday-night plans: Come From Away, which I adored.

I was a little bit worried about coming to Brooklyn: it holds some tender associations for me. But I was very glad to discover a new pocket of it for myself, and make some new memories.

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Penelope NYC interior restaurant

I spent my Labor Day weekend in NYC, staying in a little apartment near Park Slope and wandering in both Brooklyn and Manhattan. The trip, like most of my New York weekends these days, was a mix of familiar and new: a long browse at the Strand, a fantastic musical I hadn’t seen (Come From Away, which made me laugh and cry), a lovely Friday evening in my favorite tangle of streets in the West Village. (The bookseller gossip at Three Lives continues to be the best.)

I went back to the Chocolate Room, which I visited on my first-ever trip to NYC for a retreat led by Jen Lee, years ago. I finally went to Books Are Magic and then tried out Jolie, a French-Mexican cantina in Cobble Hill. I had brunch with dear Abilene friends (both of whom I’ve known since I was a college student and they were just kids) at Maman in TriBeCa, which was new to all of us.

And on Sunday night, I went back to Penelope.

Like so many of my NYC loves, Penelope was a gift from Allison, my dear friend who used to live in Queens and periodically take me to all her favorite NYC spots. Penelope is the kind of place we both love: cozy and inviting, with simple, homey comfort food and yummy desserts. We first ate there on a frigid January weekend, and it lived in my memory as twinkly and delicious.

There are literally hundreds (thousands?) of restaurants in NYC, and I love trying multiple new ones every time I go. Part of the adventure is simply walking into a new place that looks interesting, on whatever street I happen to be on. But I am also both a creature of habit and a person who and delights in repeating joys. When I find something I love, I generally want to enjoy it again and again.

A couple of years ago, during a work conference in midtown, I trudged over to Penelope for dinner one night, dry-eyed from staring at PowerPoint screens and nearly voiceless from a lingering cold. I sat at the bar, which was festooned with twinkle lights, and ate a bowl of spicy, orange carrot-ginger soup. The waitress, after hearing my scratchy voice, brought me a mug of hot water with honey and lemon, a vibrant yellow slice floating on top. Her kindness choked me up (even more than my sore throat). It was such a gesture of care.

I’ve spent enough time in New York now that parts of it feel like mine: there are places I can throw off the tourist mantle for a few minutes, neighborhoods I know well enough not to second-guess my every step. Much of it, of course, is either unfamiliar or constantly changing; the city is huge and dynamic, and even if I lived there, it wouldn’t stay the same. But I’ve drawn immense pleasure from coming back to my favorite places, including Penelope.

This time, it was late on a Sunday night and the place was nearly empty. But the waitress still had a smile for me, and I sat and read my book, savored my sandwich and glass of rosé, and relaxed into the quiet familiarity (and the nineties jams on the stereo). I walked back to the train through Murray Hill, with my leftovers in a brown paper bag, sleepy and footsore (I’d been walking for three days) and entirely satisfied.

Do you like going back to favorite places in cities you’ve visited? Or would you rather try something new every time?

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