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Posts Tagged ‘adventures’

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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newport-folk-banner

Last month, on the same weekend I moved, I spent two days at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island.

Why, you ask? The answer I’ve been giving: because I am a crazy person. And I might be, honestly. But more than that: I love folk music, and I’d scored a press pass through my day job at Berklee. Several of our students were playing the festival on Friday and Sunday, so I volunteered to go down and write about them.

It was exhausting and crazy and so hot (I got a wicked sunburn on Friday). But was it worth it? Absolutely.

I drove down on Friday with some friends. At the top of my list that day was the all-female trio I’m With Her – both because our students were playing with them and because Sara Watkins is amazing. (I’m a Nickel Creek fan from way back.) My friend Jackie and I snagged seats up close to listen to them, and they were fantastic.

im-with-her-newport

I’m With Her also includes Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan. They were smart and funny and energetic – I loved everything from their cover of Dolly Parton’s “Marry Me” to their original tunes like “Call My Name” and “Ain’t That Fine.”

Their second-to-last song, “Overland,” featured our students, and Watkins asked the audience to sing along on the chorus. “This is for anyone who’s facing some uncertainty in their lives,” she said, before singing us the lines we would join in on:

Goodbye brother, hello railroad
So long, Chicago
All these years, thought I was where I ought to be
But times are changin’ – this country’s growin’
And I’m bound for San Francisco
Where a new life waits for me 

I welled up at that third line, but I sang along on every repeat of the chorus, watching our students play their string instruments in the background. I got to interview them afterward (in the artists’ tent, which had free snacks and comfy, non-folding chairs!), and they were excited and thoughtful and so sweet.

I wandered over to the Fort stage to buy some frozen lemonade and catch the end of Sheryl Crow’s set, and as I walked up, I heard her say, “Let’s soak up the sun, shall we?” I broke into a grin, and joined the crowd dancing to – yep – “Soak Up the Sun.”

james-taylor-sheryl-crow

Then – then! – Crow said casually, “I have a friend who was telling me about playing at Newport a long time ago.” (beat) “James Taylor, why don’t you come out here and tell this story?”

Dressed in jeans and a baseball cap, Taylor walked out on stage and told us about the time he was playing Newport in 1969 and they interrupted his set to break the news of the Apollo 11 moon landing. (No big deal!) Then he grabbed a guitar, and he and Sheryl played “Every Day is a Winding Road.” I could barely believe my ears, or my eyes.

I wound up my Newport Friday at the standing-room-only Highwomen performance – Brandi Carlile and her bandmates brought down the house. I especially loved “Heaven is a Honky Tonk” – their tribute to some of the great outlaw musicians – and “Redesigning Women.”

I’m not usually much for crowds, but I loved the Newport atmosphere: relaxed and fun, with lots of families, and musicians who seemed genuinely glad to be there. I spent a while talking to a woman named Mary Lynn who was selling her gorgeous leather goods, and wandered around on my own, soaking it all in. And one of the best parts of Friday? I knew more adventures were in store for me on Sunday.

More Newport photos and stories to come.

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Three summers ago, in the wake of a stressful move, I hopped a train to New York City for a solo weekend getaway. It was August – and hot – but I stayed at the cute, cozy Larchmont Hotel (now defunct, sadly) and spent all weekend wandering the Village and drinking gallons of hibiscus iced tea.

My travels led me at some point to Bleecker Street, where I bought a gorgeous green malachite ring from a friendly Turkish man selling jewelry from an open stall. I wore it almost every day for months, until it got accidentally crushed under the wheel of my car.

green ring iced tea

I tried to tell myself it didn’t matter that much, but I was sad about it for weeks. That ring felt like a talisman, a bit of beauty I had chosen for myself, in the midst of a long, chaotic season crowded with lots of other changes that I did not choose.

I ended up back in NYC last December, staying at the Jane and soaking in the city I love, dressed in its sparkling holiday cheer. I wandered back down to that stretch of Bleecker one day, after brunch at the Cornelia Street Cafe (best eggs Florentine I’ve ever had). My Turkish friend was there again, the last in a line of white-peaked stalls, open for one of the last times before winter. I spent some time chatting with him, and picked out a beautiful garnet ring this time.

Recently, that ring has migrated from my right hand to my left: a tangible reminder of bigger things that are shifting in my life. My address has recently changed, too: this past weekend, I moved to East Boston, to a little studio right around the corner from where I dog-sat this spring. For so long, the rhythms of my life have been shaped by my marriage, and that, too, is changing. It’s hard and painful, even though it’s the right thing.

In the midst of all this (further) change, wearing my own ring feels like a small but vital act of self-care: a visible reminder that I am acting for myself in this season. (The tank top in the first photo – a PEI find from Kim Roach a few years ago – doesn’t hurt, either.)

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owls mantel painting

Despite living so close to Cape Cod (we’re only an hour – maybe less – from the two bridges that provide a way in), we don’t get out there very often.

But when some friends who were traveling offered us the use of their house on a recent weekend, we looked at each other and said: yes. We badly needed to get out of town, and also the offer of a free, lovely place to stay – during high season! – is nothing to sneeze at.

So we spent a weekend in Falmouth. And it was lovely.

cape sun porch house

Our friends’ house is cozy and airy, with a sun porch (above), a lovely living room, a sweet little kitchen and a resident gray-and-white cat, Percy. I didn’t get any photos of him, but he did eventually jump up on the couch for a snuggle or two.

Friday was the only sunny day, but we made the most of it, heading down to the beach in the late afternoon. Half the town was also there, it seemed, but we sprawled on the sand and read for a while.

k j falmouth beach

We ate dinner that night at Epic Oyster, which lived up to its name – the local Cape oysters were perfection. (The crab cakes were also quite good.) They brought us chocolate chip cookies with the check, and we headed home full and happy.

epic oyster sign falmouth

Saturday was grey and cloudy, but we spent part of it wandering in town, which of course included a trip to Eight Cousins, the local bookstore. I had to get a photo in this wonderful alphabet chair outside.

katie abc chair

After a tasty lunch at the Bean & Cod, we took a long afternoon walk along the Shining Sea Bike Trail, which winds through woods and cranberry bogs. We could hear the music from a wedding starting up across the fields, and ran into plenty of cyclists and dog walkers.

We ate dinner in Woods Hole that night, sampling appetizers and (more) oysters at Water Street Kitchen. (We though the wait would take ages, but we were seated quickly at the bar, which was fine by us.) The atmosphere was lovely and twinkly, and the gin cocktails were wonderful.

water street kitchen bar glasses lights

The next day, we had a lazy, cloudy morning – I spent part of it on the sun porch reading the paper – before grabbing brunch and then ice cream on our way out of town.

holy cow ice cream falmouth ma eat sign

All in all, a delicious weekend. We will (I hope) be back.

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