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Posts Tagged ‘adventures’

My guy and I love Salem, that famously witchy town a bit north of Boston. We spent a few weekends there in 2019, but hadn’t been back since March 2020, for the obvious pandemic and life reasons. But a couple of weeks ago, we decided to just go for the day – hopping on the commuter rail in the morning and coming back in time for dinner. It was, in a word, fabulous.

We started the day with iced chai and treats from Caffe Ducali (see above) and then hopped on the train. When we arrived, we did some browsing of favorites old and new: the bike shop, the comic-book shop, the fabulous consignment shop Re-find (where I always find the best stuff). We ran into an old friend of G’s and chatted a minute, then headed down the street for hot dogs. I almost never eat hot dogs unless I’m at a ballpark, but I made an exception for these:

Thus fortified, we wandered some more (stopping at Front Street Coffee for iced tea – it was hot!), then headed out on a bike ride. I love exploring new parts of familiar places with G, and we adore a good long bike ride. We ended up at Winter Island, which has campgrounds, a beach and ocean views.

We rode back to town and headed to Far From the Tree, Salem’s wonderful local cider house, for some sampling (G) and an old favorite (me). We have a cider-focused Instagram account these days, and it’s so fun to taste different ciders and compare notes.

After a ride back on the commuter rail, we ended the day where we began it: at Ducali for a delicious dinner. It was so lovely to revisit one of our favorite towns together. I want to go back (again).

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A few weekends ago, I hopped on a plane – still a novelty after nearly 18 months of not going much of anywhere. I was headed to a new-to-me destination: the Twin Cities. I’ve been taking a writing class through ModernWell with Nina Badzin and others during this pandemic year, and when my classmates started planning an in-person meetup, I knew I had to be there.

Nina and I have been friends online for years, but we’d never met in person, and I’d never met any of the other women in our class. But in some ways we know each other deeply: we have spent the past year meeting via Zoom on Tuesday mornings, exchanging updates about what we’ve been reading and watching, then discussing writing prompts and craft, and sharing our writing with one another. I don’t know all the names of their kids or where they went to college, but I know the soul-deep insights they’ve shared in class these last months. In turn, they have been sounding boards for me as I processed my pandemic grief, post-divorce loneliness and various job hunt woes.

My friend Debra picked me up from the airport and took me straight to Lake Harriet for lunch and a run (see top photo). “I feel like you need to run a city lake while you’re here,” she had told me. She was determined to show me the best parts of her hometown, which included that lakeside run, a bike ride to the cute little town of Excelsior on Saturday morning, a long walk around Lake Minnetonka (shades of Betsy Ray!), and several delicious meals both out and at home. (Debra has a fun cooking Instagram, and I loved watching the magic happen in real time in her kitchen.)

I didn’t care about most touristy things (we skipped the Mall of America, for example) – but I had to make a pilgrimage to a certain street corner downtown.

I went through a serious Mary Tyler Moore phase after moving to Boston. I watched all seven seasons of the show over the course of a year, and I drew strength and comfort (and a lot of laughs) from Mary’s adventures in Minneapolis and her close bonds with her friends and colleagues. So of course I had to go pay homage, and throw a hat (which I borrowed from Nina) in the air.

The rest of the weekend was filled with eating and talking: so many stories to tell and catch up on, so many delicious dishes to sample. Debra and Nina took me to the charming Excelsior Bay Books (after brunch at Coalition) on Saturday, and then Debra whipped up a fabulous happy-hour spread for the whole group before we all went out to dinner. I was out of words every single night by the time I went to bed. And it was wonderful.

Just as Debra intended, I was utterly charmed by the Twin Cities, and by meeting her and my other ladies in person. I’ll definitely be back.

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I mentioned last week that I love running on vacation: it’s fun to lace up my sneakers and head out to explore a new neighborhood on foot. (I seriously can’t wait to run in NYC again.) But today’s post is about something a little different: running a new route that I know I can come back to.

For nearly two years, I ran almost exclusively on the Neponset River trail: past the marshes and reeds, across Granite Street to the parks on the other side. I went as far as I dared until the path ended, and ran my first 5K there. As long as I lived in the neighborhood, I was entirely satisfied: my daily runs didn’t need to be anywhere else.

When I started dog– and house-sitting for friends in Eastie last spring, the days were still short: I didn’t want to venture out on unfamiliar streets in the dark. So I brought my running gear to work and began doing lunchtime runs on the Esplanade. That route – close to my office, and a favorite haunt of Boston runners – has become one of “my” places to run. And as the days lengthened, I began exploring new running routes in Eastie. Those loops along the harborwalk and the greenway are now, of course, where I run all the time.

Last week, I tried out another new-to-me route: the forest path along the river in the Brighton-Watertown area, close to where my guy lives. We’d been for a bike ride or two in that area, but I’d never run that path before. I set off on a stunning morning, the Highwomen in my earbuds, savoring the light and the way it filtered through the leaves.

Running that new-to-me loop felt both normal and refreshingly new. I kept up my usual pace, mostly, but I had to pay attention to my feet (so many tree roots!). Plus, it was kind of fun not knowing exactly where the path would go. I adore my normal route and all its variations, but I didn’t know how much I needed that dose of novelty. I ran all the way to Watertown Square, where there’s another bridge over the river, and came back down the other side. By the time I reached my starting point again, I was sweaty and smiling.

If you run, or exercise regularly, do you like to switch it up sometimes?

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sneakers rocks running west Texas

Running has brought me many unexpected joys: as previously stated, I never expected to try it at all, let alone love it this much. But even after I discovered the meditative, satisfying qualities of running, I mostly expected that to be part of my daily life. I was surprised to discover that running on vacation is its own particular pleasure.

I started my vacation running by going back home: I packed my gear for Christmas vacation, the year I became a runner. My in-laws had recently moved to a new town in East Texas, and I came to enjoy running around a local park and the surrounding neighborhood. (I did hop on the hotel treadmill one rainy day when I got desperate, but I’d much rather run outside.) And I love morning runs around my parents’ neighborhood: they live in a quiet subdivision with wide streets, and I have taken myself out there in all seasons, enjoying the big Texas skies, the sunshine, and (in December) the neighbors’ creative Christmas decorations. (Bonus: it’s often a dose of much-needed solitude during crowded family holidays.)

I’ve taken my sneakers on a few other trips, so far: I loved running the High Line in Manhattan, and I did a big loop around Prospect Park in Brooklyn last summer. My favorite place to run, other than Boston, might be Coronado Island in San Diego: I’ve visited friends there several times, and relished morning runs around the island, past palm trees and the golf course and all manner of blooming flowers.

palm trees san diego

Running is a way for me to pay attention as I move through the world, so it adds a new dimension to any place I’m visiting. I love running past tall apartment buildings and corner delis, through winding neighborhoods with wide curving roads, past whatever local features, natural or human-made, dot the landscape. I love how I notice different details when I’m on foot rather than whooshing by in a car or a bus. And the particular qualities of each place – the feel of the air, the strength of the sun, the humidity, the altitude, the smells and sounds – all combine to form indelible memories that add to my experience of each trip.

I’m not doing much traveling at the moment, of course, but am looking forward to lacing up my sneakers in new places when it’s safe to go on long-distance adventures again.

If you run (or otherwise exercise), do you do it on vacation?

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Last week, my guy and I hopped on the commuter rail (for the first time since March) and headed to Gloucester, about an hour north of Boston. We’d each been up there before, but not together, and we reveled in wandering around, eating seafood and soaking in some time away.

Because I am me, and because we were there to celebrate my birthday, we went to two bookstores, both of which were utter delights.

The Bookstore of Gloucester was our first stop: it’s a cozy, well-curated shop with green walls, situated right at the bend of Main Street. I loved browsing their local section at the front, and picked up one of Jennifer Ackerman’s books on birds. They have a huge children’s/young adult section (this is only a slice, above), a handful of cards and journals, and interesting stuff in all genres. I always enjoy seeing what bookstore owners choose to highlight in their spaces – it’s such a reflection of both the staff and the community.

Our second bookstore was down the street: Dogtown Books (“used and unusual”). It had an entirely different feel – a huge space lined with crowded bookshelves, bursting with titles of all types and eras.

I headed straight for local history and fiction, where I picked up Anita Diamant’s novel Good Harbor. I browsed the poetry, too, and the children’s section in the “way back” of the store. (I did not buy any awesome pulp fiction, but I appreciated the sign.)

There was entirely too much to take in, but I did snap a half-dozen shots of fun used-bookstore touches, like this typewriter. (Yes, I did type a few letters and yes, some of the keys do stick.)

Bookstore browsing feels different these days: lots of places have limited hours, and of course everyone – staff and customers – is distanced and masked. I made some online orders from my favorite stores during quarantine in the spring, but I am so glad to be able to wander the shelves again. The booksellers at both Gloucester shops were friendly and kind, and it felt good to lose myself in the stacks for a little while.

Despite their good cheer, I am sure both stores, like lots of indie bookstores, have struggled mightily during the pandemic. If you can, please order your books (and anything else they sell) from independent bookstores instead of online retail giants. It makes such a difference to those stores and the communities to which they belong.

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One of the things I’ve missed the most in these pandemic times is travel.

I love my little nest in Eastie, but I also love hitting the road or jumping on a plane or train, to see somewhere new or revisit familiar, favorite places. Like so many folks I know, I have mourned multiple canceled trips this spring and summer. My guy and I have ridden our bikes all over Boston, and it’s been fun, but I’ve barely been out of the city for months.

Last week, though, I decided to get out of town – at least for the afternoon – and head down to Falmouth, near the base of Cape Cod. My friend Hannah had invited me for lunch and a walk, so I rented a Zipcar and drove down in the late morning. By some miracle I escaped the weekend traffic (in both directions), and the afternoon was just what my soul needed.

Hannah and I met at a writing workshop years ago, and we love talking about books and faith and catching up on our lives. I sat on her sun porch and sipped tea while she made lunch for us, and we ate at a square blue table in her front yard, trading stories while the skies gradually cleared.

After lunch, we slipped on our sneakers and went for a long, rambling walk, past a local farm where someone had nailed a small box to a fence post and written “Enjoy!” on the side. It held a few cherry tomatoes, so I helped myself. And the dahlias nearby were stunning.

We walked down the bike path, through a sedate neighborhood filled with late-summer trees and flowers, over to Little Island and the beach there, which you reach by walking through the woods. There was a rotting pilot whale carcass on the beach (so smelly!) but there was also sweet autumn clematis, blooming away, and the first red leaves. We perched on the rocks and talked for a while, and then we walked back and I hopped in my rental car to make the drive home.

It was only a few hours, but I’d forgotten how refreshing it could be to see different views, explore a new path, breathe (slightly) different air. Not to mention the nourishing company of a dear friend. In these strange, anxious months, making the effort to get away often feels overwhelming. But I’m here to tell you: it is entirely worth it.

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In the midst of the profound strangeness we are all living in, it has been a gorgeous spring in Boston. The lilacs, in particular, are simply stunning this year. I’ve been stopping to sniff them on my daily walks and runs around Eastie, and on Sunday, my guy and I soaked them up at one of our favorite places.

The Longfellow House, just west of Harvard Square, has an entire hedge of lilacs out front and another grove of them all the way around its western side, ending in a stand of them by the back garden entrance. We love that garden, but it is not quite in its full summer glory yet; we were there for the lilacs, and oh my, did they deliver.

We walked and sniffed and snapped photos and sniffed some more, and actually crawled through a tunnel made by overhanging lilac branches. We saw a few other people who were as ecstatic as we were: a woman whose purple shirt matched the flowers, a mother with her redheaded toddler daughter, an older woman wearing blue eyeliner who told us she had grown up among lilacs in Lexington. Sunday was G’s birthday, and all he wanted was to wander among these lilacs, which he’d seen in bloom here and there before, but never at their peak.

Before the lilacs, we got sandwiches at Darwin’s (with chai for me) and ran into several people we know – both staff and regulars. Afterward, we rode bikes back across the city to the Blue Line, which brought us back to Eastie for a birthday dinner and presents. And all day long, we soaked up the beauty, and enjoyed being together.

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Two things I’m struggling with during this time: being unable (or deeming it unwise) to travel very far, and – related – having no fun travel plans to look forward to.

Like a lot of folks, I had to cancel several planned trips when the coronavirus hit the U.S.: a work trip to NYC, pleasure excursions to D.C. and California, a beach vacation with my family. I did squeeze in a day up in Salem with my guy, before the restrictions really clamped down, but I haven’t been on a plane since Christmas, and who knows when I’ll get to hug my family in Texas, or other far-flung friends, again.

It’s a first-world problem for sure. I am healthy, I am safe, I have a steady job and health insurance and plenty of food, or the means to acquire it. I know all this, and I am grateful for it. But I am missing my annual dose of California sunshine and flowers (I usually take a trip there in the spring), not to mention my West Coast girlfriends. I’m craving the wide-open skies of my West Texas hometown, and my nephews’ excited chatter about bikes and board games and Disney movies. I’m longing for the bustling streets of Manhattan (though I know they’re not bustling right now), or the excitement of packing a bag and heading somewhere entirely new.

None of us know, of course, how long it will be till we can travel freely again without putting ourselves and others at risk. So, for now, I’m losing myself in the occasional travel memoir or novel set in a faraway place, and dreaming of future trips that take me farther than the grocery store.

Are you missing travel during these strange times?

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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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newport sign be present

Sunday at Newport Folk: slightly cooler, a little less disorientation, a lot more exhaustion than Friday. I’d moved on Saturday, then had a long morning trying to return my truck and get myself down to Fort Adams. By the time I arrived I was tired and hungry, and frankly not at all sure I wanted to be there.

I bought lunch from one of the food trucks, but I was so tapped out I could hardly enjoy either it or the upbeat set from Lake Street Dive on the main stage. (I do love Rachael Price’s voice, and I got a kick out of seeing Hozier come up and join them for a tune or two. He always looks so moody in his videos, but his grin was a mile wide that day.)

After lunch, though – and a gallon or so of water – the rest of the afternoon definitely improved.

our native daughters

I wandered over to the Quad stage to catch Our Native Daughters and was absolutely stunned by their vocals, their songwriting, their fiddling and banjo picking and their bold presence. I could listen to Allison Russell sing all day long, and Amythyst Kiah wowed the (mostly white) audience with the anthem “Black Myself.” Serious power there, folks.

After that, I hopped over to hear Molly Tuttle (a Berklee alumna) and Billy Strings in a soulful, rollicking set that included – to my utter surprise – a cover of Cher’s “Believe.” (It worked, surprisingly.) I got some tacos and returned to the same spot, sitting in the grass with my back against the fort wall, to listen to the Milk Carton Kids and take a few deep breaths. I saw them open for someone – maybe Glen Hansard? – at Berklee years ago, so hearing them at Newport felt like coming full circle.

My reason for going back on Sunday – and the day’s real magic – came at the end: the festival’s closing set, known as If I Had a Song. It was a singalong, featuring too many great musicians to count. But the first one was small and green.

kermit the frog Newport stage

Yes, that is Kermit the Frog. And yes, he cracked a few jokes, and invited the crowd to sing along as he performed “The Rainbow Connection.” Pure magic, y’all. (I adore the Muppets and he is my favorite.) Jim James – wearing a fabulous rainbow-cuffed jacket – joined him, but I only had eyes for Kermit and his banjo.

The magic just kept coming after that: Trey Anastasio (and our Berklee students) playing the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.” Rachael Price and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band giving us all chills with “We Shall Overcome.” Brandi Carlile and Alynda Segarra jamming out on “If I Had a Hammer.” Our Native Daughters leading the crowd in “If You Miss Me at the Back of the Bus.” I was standing in the front area, clapping and grinning and singing my heart out.

One of my favorite parts of Newport was the generous spirit of collaboration – everyone up there, singing together, and having so much fun doing it. Hozier came back out with Lake Street Dive for “Everyday People,” and then he joined Mavis Staples (who looked tiny next to him but brought the house down with her vocal power) for “Eyes on the Prize.”

Robin Pecknold (from Fleet Foxes) came out onstage for “Instant Karma!” and stuck around for “Judy Blue Eyes,” which featured Judy Collins herself in an amazing magenta dress. They sang “Turn, Turn, Turn” together, and then Colin Meloy and the Milk Carton Kids came out to sing “This Land Is Your Land.” (Meloy called it “just as much of a national anthem as the one we’ve got.”)

The last song, which made me cry, featured Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and as many musicians as could cram onto the stage, swaying with their arms around each other, singing “Goodnight Irene.” Our string students joined in on that one too, adding their notes from the back of the stage.

I looked around: sunset light, fans and musicians singing together, banners blowing gently in the breeze. It was a picture-perfect ending to a weekend that embodied the sign at the top of this post: be present, be kind, be open, be together.

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