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Posts Tagged ‘adventures’

It has been a year, y’all. There’s no way a list can capture it all, but here are a few highlights from the past 12 months:

  • run miles and miles through my beloved neighborhood of Eastie, mostly in the mornings before work
  • knitted myself a pair of gloves, a cozy headband and two sets of legwarmers
  • lived in leggings, jeans, Allbirds sneakers, scarves and my green coat (see above)
  • discovered volunteer ushering and leaned hard into it
  • returned to Vermont, and adventured to western MA and the North Shore, with my guy
  • spent a couple of sweet solo weekends in NYC
  • delighted in hearing and promoting our young people’s music at ZUMIX
  • made lots of chickpea curry, ratatouille, black bean soup and other simple meals
  • drunk hundreds of cups of tea
  • spent a sweet Thanksgiving with my guy
  • interviewed several authors for Shelf Awareness
  • read roughly 230 books
  • done a lot of yoga, mostly at The Point
  • sung in a local carol choir for the fourth year
  • said goodbye to my beloved Darwin’s
  • written a couple of pieces for ACU Today
  • spent a little time in Texas
  • hosted my parents for their first joint visit to Boston since 2018
  • continued to savor my writing class on Tuesdays
  • worked the polls again, twice
  • gone to the movies alone (and with my guy)
  • helped pull off the ZUMIX Gala and Walk for Music
  • started a newsletter
  • done a “Southwest tour” to visit friends in Arizona and California
  • become a regular at the Eastie library
  • published a couple of essays online
  • gone back to some local museums
  • been to Portsmouth, Amherst and Westerly with my girl Jackie
  • taken a salsa dancing class
  • been to my first Comic-Con
  • survived having COVID
  • attended a number of outdoor concerts here in Eastie
  • seen both the Indigo Girls and the Wailin’ Jennys in concert (!!)
  • loved All Creatures season 2 and Magpie Murders
  • turned 39
  • tended geraniums, a fern, an African violet, paperwhite bulbs and cherry tomatoes
  • tried my best to pay attention, love my people and be brave and true

What has this year looked like for you?

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Last week, I caught the train to Cambridge for a workshop at Albertine Press – an introduction to linocut printing. This involves carving a design into a linoleum block, inking the block with a roller (by hand or with a printing press), and transferring the design onto paper. I’ve done my fair share of scrapbooking, but had never tried anything like this.

Seven of us, plus the instructor, spent the evening happily carving and chatting, learning the feel of new tools in our hands and printing our designs in red or blue ink on one of the shop’s hand-cranked presses. Tiny pink rubber shavings piled up as we began carving; my fingers bore graphite stains from transferring my sketch from paper to rubber. I was fascinated by the tactile, physical nature of the process, and I learned – again – that my drawing skills are no match for the designs I can see in my head.

My attempt at a set of fall-ish postcards (see above) came out very wonky, and not just because the paper was sometimes a little crooked. I had to work hard not to be embarrassed at my efforts, especially after seeing others’ beautiful, elaborate designs. But I kept reminding myself: this is an experiment. I’m trying something new. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

We so often try new things expecting to master them quickly: a yoga pose, a new program at work, an interesting recipe. (Just me?) Sometimes it goes as planned: the pantry brownies I made last week turned out beautifully. Sometimes it’s sort of a disaster. Most of the time, we land somewhere in between.

My postcards are cute, with perhaps a sort of offbeat charm, but no one would mistake them for the work of an experienced artist. (Because I’m not!) But it was worthwhile: the trying, the experimenting, the meeting kind strangers while we learned something new, together. I may not become a linocut expert any time soon, but the joy of being a beginner again, for a couple of hours, was well worth the price of admission.

And now – if I can get over my own perfectionism – I have a stack of cute(ish) postcards to send to friends this fall.

When’s the last time you tried something new, just for fun? I’d love to hear.

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Earlier this summer, one of my dear friends moved away (sniff), and we made a serious effort to soak up some time together before she left town. One afternoon in late June, she texted with a question: would I like to join her and her daughter at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum that week? Of course, the answer was yes.

The Gardner is one of my favorite semi-hidden Boston gems; it’s tucked away in the Fenway neighborhood, built around a central courtyard that’s full of lush plantings year-round. Mrs. Gardner, as the docents still call her, was an avid collector of art, furniture and curiosities, from around the world. Her acquisitions are still arranged just as she specified – in multilayered, sometimes overwhelming splendor – at the mansion/museum she called Fenway Court.

The first few times I went to the Gardner, I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of art: there are thousands of objects, including paintings, textiles, furniture, dishes, sculptures, sketches, letters, tapestries and who knows what else. It took me a while to realize the goal isn’t to see or learn about everything: it’s to walk through and experience the total effect, the layers of history and different origin stories and artistic styles, all brought together by one woman’s passion for collecting. These days, I wander through, pausing when a piece catches my eye, but less focused on the details than on the whole.

This time was different, for several reasons: first, we enjoyed a snack at the cafe before our museum tour. I’d never been to the (relatively) new Cafe G before, but I have to say, the citrus pound cake was delicious (and felt fancy).

The three of us wandered around, starting at the top floor of the museum (for something different) and winding our way back down to the ground floor. I loved being there with 12-year-old Lucy, who noticed things I’d never have picked up on, and asked excellent questions (my favorite: “What would you want to ask Isabella, if you could?”).

In light of the current conversations around artistic objects, their provenance, and the recent encouraging trend of museums considering returning stolen objects, I also wondered about the collection at the Gardner. Where did all these objects come from? Who brought them to Isabella? Were they given freely (in exchange for money, of course) or stolen from their original homes? What happened to the people, buildings and communities who created them? I never used to consider these questions when I visited museums, but I am thinking about so many things differently now. (I am also, as ever, curious about the heist in 1990, which has never yet been solved.)

Every time I go to the Gardner, I find myself drawn to the windows in every room, gazing out onto the courtyard, which I find both restful and beautiful. (I’ve never seen the famous nasturtium plantings there, but it’s on my list for this winter.) Mostly, I was grateful to share a lovely afternoon with two women I love, in a place we all enjoy.

What local adventures are you having, these days?

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This past weekend, I spent a day at Boston Fan Expo – known popularly, if not officially, as Boston Comic-Con – with my guy. He’s a comic-book geek from way back, and he and his son have been going to this event together for more than a decade.

It was my first con event ever, and I decided – after a fun but seriously overstimulating day – that it was sort of like traveling to a foreign country.

Why? First of all, it took a little effort to get there: for me, one stop on the train and then a bike ride to the convention center. G made sure to give me the lay of the land (not quite a guidebook, but close) before we went inside. But there was a lot he didn’t know, even after years of doing this, and a lot I had to figure out for myself.

Once inside, we explored and wandered. The costumes, languages and locals I saw spanned the gamut from familiar to totally unknown. I’m fairly fluent in Harry Potter, for example, and I speak a bit of Star Wars and some Lord of the Rings. But I only know a little Marvel, and even less DC (except for Wonder Woman, of course), and I don’t speak anime (or horror) at all. It reminded me of being in Spain: I could decipher some of the main language, with patience. But several of the dialects, and other languages such as Catalan and Euskara, remain totally unfamiliar to me after multiple trips there.

The people-watching, as advertised, was excellent: one vendor had a live parrot on her shoulder, and another had gone full hobbit, with pointy ears and a green Elven cloak fastened with a leaf clasp. I saw so many tattoos and costumes whose meanings I couldn’t begin to guess at, and mostly I saw a ton of folks having fun, in a world they inhabit and love.

We made sure to hydrate and take breaks, and I came away with a few fun souvenirs, including a Gryffindor keychain. I loved chatting with the locals (i.e. a few vendors) and exploring a part of G’s world alongside him. But by the end – I have to say – I was very ready to go home. We picked up tacos from a favorite local spot, headed back to my house, cracked open a new cider, and crashed.

Have you been to a con or other event like this? Did it feel like a foreign country to you?

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Back in the winter, Lyric Stage (my favorite local theater company) tweeted about needing volunteer ushers for their early spring production, The Book of Will. I’d never even thought about ushering before that, but I signed up and happily showed up early to hand out programs, direct patrons to their seats, and see the show for free. One of my fellow ushers said she’d been doing this for years: “It’s a whole scene!” she told me. I resolved to look into it.

Since then, I’ve ushered at two more Lyric Stage productions, and last month, I expanded my efforts to other theaters: the Huntington, which was showing the brand-new production Common Ground Revisited, and the ART in Cambridge, which just finished its run of the fantastic revival of 1776. I spent three out of four Friday nights in June ushering at local shows, and I have to say, it’s the best volunteer gig in town.

I love live theater, and I missed it sorely during the worst of the pandemic: streaming a play or two online, as I did, just isn’t the same thing. There’s something visceral and immediate – and so much fun – about being in a space with live actors, watching them tell stories in real time.

Volunteering has allowed me a glimpse behind the scenes, too: I’ve met a few staff members as well as fellow volunteers, and watched the audience stream in, excited or indifferent or anxious to find their seats, and settle in for an evening (or an afternoon) of storytelling. It’s a delight to be a small part of making the show happen, and (of course) the reward is wonderful: getting to see the show for free in exchange for a bit of time.

Several of Boston’s theaters are dark for the summer right now, but you can bet I’ll be ushering again this fall. I’m so thrilled to have discovered this new-to-me slice of the city I live in and love.

What local adventures are you having, these days?

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On a recent Saturday afternoon, I took myself to Boston’s North End for some wandering, before meeting a friend and her kids for ice cream nearby. I’ve long enjoyed an occasional meal out there – the neighborhood is justly famous for its Italian food – but in the 12 years I have spent in Boston, I’ve rarely gone there simply to explore. It felt good to wander around while not worrying about making a dinner reservation, and I found a few new spots to enjoy.

My first stop, as you can tell from the photo, was I AM Books – a delightful Italian-American bookstore, which moved to its new home on Salem Street last fall. I’d never visited its first incarnation, to my shame, but this one is glorious. It has tons of space and an amazing selection of books about Italy, books in Italian, books on Italian food and culture, and books by Italian-American authors. I picked up a food memoir and some expensive (but delicious) chili-spiced chocolate.

The neighborhood has more than a few small shops, and I dropped into several: a funky vintage store, a sweet gift shop, a venerable wine shop with an incredible selection, a market called Going Bananas. There were lots of tourists around (it was a Saturday in July, after all), but it was fun to wander the streets as a local, picking up an item or two for dinner and noting restaurants I’d like to try soon.

My last stop was Salumeria Italiana, which my guy and I discovered only recently. Their sandwiches are delicious (and affordable!), but I was after something else: the briny mixed olives from their deli counter, which G loves. I picked up a bag of Tuscan crackers to go with them, and headed home via the T. I think I’ll save my next North End excursion for when the tourist traffic calms a bit – but it was still fun to explore a corner of my city in a way I rarely do.

What local adventures are you having, these days?

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Last month, my guy and I headed to the MFA on a Saturday (thank goodness for library passes). Both the permanent collection and the rotating exhibits there are stunning, and we love an occasional afternoon spent strolling among the art.

We spent most of our time in the New Light exhibit, which brings together new pieces and older artworks, placing them side by side and in conversation with one another. I saw more pieces than I can possibly tell you about here, but I was fascinated by the juxtaposition of art in different media, from different eras, telling different sides of a story or simply highlighting the various angles of a subject or topic.

There were paintings, of course, and sculptures, and mixed-media pieces made of textiles and paper and wood. There were pieces clearly inspired by other artists’ work, and a tiny scale model of a gallery that an artist had used to virtually showcase others’ pieces during the height of the pandemic. There was a sculpture of Fred Hampton’s door, a powerful piece calling attention to the brutality so often faced by Black Americans. There were detailed botanical drawings next to a piece by Lui Shtini that combined a recognizable flower with some fantastical elements. And there were a number of pieces that simply identified the artist as “Artist once known.”

That, perhaps, caught me more than anything else: a way to acknowledge the fact that artists unknown to us (many of them female, Indigenous or marginalized) were once known, and important, to their loved ones and communities. Someone knew this quilter, this painter, this sculptor, this folk artist who took such care to carve or draw or assemble a piece. Their identities, while maybe lost to us, are still important, and still vital to acknowledge. It brought those “unknown” artists a little closer to me, and reminded me that art is always saying something: it highlights beauty, records and analyzes events, calls out injustice, names and honors complicated emotions.

The neon sign above, which hangs in a different gallery of the MFA, reminds me of that, too: the museum encourages visitors to look, feel, talk, communicate, interact with the art. You don’t have to be an artist or an art historian to do any of those things, to engage with art on a human level. I’m grateful to the MFA for reminding me of that, in different and thought-provoking ways.

What local adventures are you having, this summer? How do you like to engage with visual art?

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Like so many people, I spent most of two years not going to the movies: first because the theaters were closed, then because I was nervous to go back. (And also because movies these days are expensive!)

But recently, my guy and I have gone back to the Coolidge in Brookline, a restored Art Deco theater we both love. We’d never been there together, until I heard that they were screening Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 version of Much Ado About Nothing (since Shakespeare on the Common is doing its own version this summer). We both love that film, but had never watched it together. So we met up for delicious Chinese food, stocked up on popcorn from Trader Joe’s, and headed to the theater.

I hadn’t seen this version of Much Ado since college, and had forgotten how delightfully over-the-top it is; how many Hogwarts professors (three!) are in the cast; how charming Denzel Washington is when he’s scheming; and how outsized (and gendered) Claudio’s reaction is to Hero’s supposed infidelity. We cringed at that last bit, but savored the rest of it: the sunny slopes of Italy’s countryside, the singing and dancing, the witty sparring between Beatrice and Benedick, and the chance to enjoy a classic film in the company of others.

I love a love story, and I love Shakespeare, which always brings back fond memories of the Shakespeare class I took in college. And I love a movie date with my guy. I’m so glad it’s available to us again, and I’m especially glad the Coolidge – in all its quirky glory – is there for us.

What local adventures are you having, these days?

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Last month, my girl Jackie and I took off on a Saturday morning, heading north up Route 1 to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, about an hour from Boston. (After 12 years in New England, my Texas-girl sense of space still marvels that you can get to another state that quickly.)

Our main destination was Book & Bar, which has had a facelift since I was there last, and still feels full of literary possibilities. We browsed for ages, split a salad and some yummy pretzel rolls, had a long chat with one of the managers, browsed some more. Eventually, we left to wander the main drag (and get caught in a rainstorm). But Jackie had another destination in mind to cap off our day: Auspicious Brew, a kombucha brewery in nearby Dover.

I’d only had kombucha once or twice before, and wasn’t sure I liked it: the fermentation can make it taste real funky. But I’d never even heard of a kombucha brewery, and from the moment we walked in, I was utterly charmed.

The brewery is in a former industrial space that reminded me both of Downeast and of the Lower Mills buildings, near where I used to live. It’s bright and funky, with potted plants and twinkle lights and hand-painted signs. We tried flights of kombucha, choosing from the eight (!) flavors they had on tap, and I picked up a mix-and-match four-pack to take home to my guy. You can also order Mexican food from the restaurant down the hall – they’ll even deliver it right to your table. We were hungry after a day of shopping and schlepping, so we took full advantage.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the kombucha: it reminded me of the fruity ciders I love, with a little extra funk and some creative flavors. (Concord grape and cardamom – the dark purple one above – was surprisingly delicious.) We sipped and talked and snapped photos and talked some more. I was delighted to try something new and tasty, and it was even more fun to share it with a friend.

What local(ish) adventures and/or fun libations are you having, these days?

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My guy and I love a good bike ride, and he, in particular, can rarely resist a new trail. So when a friend of his told G about a recently completed project that links Cambridge with Watertown – and takes you from a busy retail area to the quiet of Fresh Pond – we had to check it out.

We started in Watertown on a humid Sunday, picking up the trail behind the Arsenal Mall and riding it through neighborhoods neither of us had ever seen. The area is a mix of residential and old industrial buildings, and it’s all suddenly lush with early-summer green. We crossed a few streets G knew, but so much of it was unexplored territory to him, and it was all fresh to me.

We took a snack break near Fresh Pond, eyeing the sky because a storm was rumored to be blowing in. The wind did kick up, but we decided to take our chances, and it was a beautiful ride (my first) around the pond.

I’ve been riding in Boston for several years, but there’s still so much I don’t know about the bike paths in the area. It was a particular treat, though, to explore a trail that neither of us knew – G’s delight in discovery was evident at every turn.

We’ll be riding more this summer, of course, and having other local adventures. I’m looking forward to every single one.

What local adventures are you having, these days?

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