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Posts Tagged ‘Boston’

As the snow swirls down outside, I’ve been plowing (ha) through books – poetry, fiction, memoir and strong women, as usual. Here’s what I have been reading:

Swan, Mary Oliver
I adored this Oliver collection, unsurprisingly – especially the first poem, and several others. She writes so well about nature, the interior life, seasons and paying attention. Perfect morning reading.

Salty: Lessons on Eating, Drinking, and Living from Revolutionary Women, Alissa Wilkinson
I’ve known Alissa online for years, and loved her book of essays on smart, strong, bold women – Hannah Arendt, Edna Lewis, Maya Angelou, Laurie Colwin and others – who had interesting things to say about food, gathering, womanhood and community. If that sounds dry, it isn’t; Alissa’s writing sparkles, and each chapter ends with a delectable-sounding recipe. Found at the lovely new Seven and One Books in Abilene.

Running, Lindsey A. Freeman
As a longtime runner, a queer woman and a scholar, Freeman explores various aspects of running through brief essays – part memoir, part meditation, part academic inquiry. I enjoyed this tour of her experience as a runner, and the ways she writes about how running shapes us. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 14).

Beyond That, the Sea, Laura Spence-Ash
During World War II, Beatrix Thompson’s parents send her to the U.S. to escape the bombings in London. Bea lands with a well-off family, the Gregorys, and her bond with them – deep and complicated – endures over the following years and decades. A gorgeous, elegiac, thoughtful novel about love and loss and complex relationships. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 21).

Winterhouse, Ben Guterson
Elizabeth Somers, an orphan who lives with her curmudgeonly relatives, spends a surprise Christmas vacation at Winterhouse, an old hotel full of delights. She makes a friend, uncovers a dastardly plot, makes some mistakes and discovers family secrets. I liked Elizabeth, but I really wanted this to be better than it was.

The Belle of Belgrave Square, Mimi Matthews
Julia Wychwood would rather read than go to a ball – but the only way to placate her hypochondriac parents is to plead illness. She’s rather miserable when Captain Jasper Blunt, a brooding ex-soldier in need of a fortune, arrives in London and begins pursuing her. A fun romance that plays with some classic tropes; I loved Julia (a fellow bookworm!) and her relationship with Jasper. I also loved The Siren of Sussex; this is a sequel of sorts.

The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times, Michelle Obama
Michelle needs no introduction from me; this book discusses some of the tools she uses to steady her during challenging times, such as knitting, exercise, friendship and keeping her perspective straight. I loved the insights into her marriage and her relationship with her mom, and her practical, wise voice. So good.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

P.S. The fourth issue of my newsletter, For the Noticers, came out last week. Sign up here to get on the list for next time!

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If you read my recent newsletter, you know: the first week of January here was dreary and grey, with mornings shrouded in mist and afternoons that looked just like the mornings. It wasn’t particularly cold (at least, for New England), but it was gloomy as a Yorkshire moor, and not in the romantic way. By Thursday I was mopey, and by Friday I was downright cranky. And on Saturday morning, I nearly squealed – or wept, I couldn’t decide which – when I woke to bright sunshine.

There’s a sharpness to the light this time of year, a sudden urgency, as though the daylight itself is trying to make the most of its limited hours. The sun’s low angle bounces off the harbor and arrows straight into my kitchen window, nearly blinding me, but its golden warmth is welcome.

My houseplants stretch toward the light, and so do I – making sure to bundle up and get out for walks as often as I can. If it’s too cold or I’ve just come back inside, sometimes I stand in the kitchen window and let the sunlight flood my cells, my shadow stretching long on the floorboards behind me, lighting up the ordinary objects that crowd my shelves. Even my silverware drawer looks ethereal, bathed in that kind of light.

For the grey days, I still have my happy lamp and vitamin D pills – and you can bet I’m outside every day, whether walking or running or simply commuting the few blocks to my office. The fresh air helps, no matter what color the skies are. But the sunlight – blazing or shy, intense or elusive – is its own particular gift. Especially on these short, dark days, I’m making the effort to soak it up as much as I can. (I’m also thinking of dipping back into Horatio Clare’s lovely memoir, aptly titled The Light in the Dark.)

How do you find light in the middle of winter?

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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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For bright, bracing miles along the river on Thanksgiving morning, sunlight sparkling on the water and my favorite women of folk in my ears.

For a phone call with my parents, standing on the back porch in the sunshine, talking football and family and the recipes we were all making for the day, two thousand miles apart.

For two racks of ribs with my grandmother’s barbecue sauce, my partner’s legendary mac and cheese, the sweet potato recipe that tastes like Thanksgiving to me. For corn muffins and tabbouleh and a charcuterie board to tide us over while we cooked. For a table positively groaning with food – more, much more, than enough.

For a bike ride with my guy in the sunshine, and the love, respect and genuine affection that sustains us every day.

For the texts rolling in from faraway friends, with Friends gifs and pictures of tables and kitchens and families. For feeling held by the communities I love, scattered though they may be.

For an evening spent washing stacks of dishes and baking dozens of cookies, scrolling through Christmas movie trailers on Netflix and listening to episodes of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

For tricky conversations about the history of the day: I believe gratitude is always worth practicing, but I also, increasingly, believe we’ve got to reckon with the colonial legacy that took so much from Native peoples.

For my job at ZUMIX – community, music and young people – and a fun, diverse group of colleagues who are both hardworking and kind.

For the chance to keep building a life I love, challenges and all.

If you celebrated last week, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

P.S. The third issue of my newsletter, For the Noticers, comes out this week. Sign up here to get on the list!

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It was November – the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines. Anne roamed through the pineland alleys in the park and, as she said, let that great sweeping wind blow the fogs out of her soul.

Anne of the Island, L.M. Montgomery

We are deep into November: biting winds; golden leaves gradually blowing down from the trees; crisp morning air and sharp, gold-and-blue early sunsets, or nights swathed in rain and fog. Life is full, as a coworker at Harvard used to say: there are plans to make for the upcoming holiday season, projects to delve into and wrap up at work, meals to make and yoga classes to attend and dishes to wash. (Always, always dishes.)

I’ve been thinking of Anne in the mornings, when I pull on my leggings and running shoes and head out the door for a run in the brisk air. My roaming looks different than Anne’s, but it serves one of the same purposes: blowing the fog out of my soul, setting me right for the day ahead.

The last few years, as we all know, have been so much. The pandemic and my divorce have completely rearranged the way I move through the world, the way I think about so many things. There have been grief and anxiety, loneliness and job changes, slow edging back into community and vibrant, surprising joy.

We are all, whether we realize it or not, carrying some scars from those months we spent so isolated. And everyone I know is eager for community and connection these days, though we have differing ideas about what it might look like.

Anne, too, found herself facing some shifts in her third year at Redmond; it was partly due to romantic troubles, but I think it’s worth admitting that seasons of great change also change us. Those years at college were transformative, and they also left her altered: she was not the same Anne who left the Island full of hopes and dreams, even after some of those came true. I am not the same person who moved into this studio apartment three years ago. I’ve grown and changed and struggled mightily, and all that has left me altered. I am, as Stanley Kunitz noted, not who I was – though I still love a morning run under brilliant blue skies.

November, this year, looks like some Mondays doing yoga and some Mondays staffing the front desk at work, greeting our students and parents as they come in and out. It looks like bowl after bowl of Thai butternut squash soup, alternating with chickpea curry or other quick meals. It looks like a glorious weekend in western MA with my guy, and thinking ahead to our plans for Thanksgiving. It looks like saying good-bye to my beloved Darwin’s, which is unexpectedly closing next week. It looks like sending cards (and soup, when I can) to several friends who are struggling, trying to show up in the ways I know how. It looks, for the fourth year in a row, like Christmas choir rehearsals in an old church on Sunday nights, gathering with friends to puzzle our way through classic carols and unfamiliar harmonies.

November begins the taking-stock time before year’s end, the mad rush of the holiday season and my attempts not to let it overwhelm me. I am starting to think back over this year, to consider what I might want for 2023. I am pulling out the humidifier (winter is coming) and watering my indoor geraniums, buying paperwhite bulbs in preparation for December. I am walking to work in my green coat each morning, sometimes sporting a handknit hat or leg warmers.

I am trying, as always, to pay attention and take care, to savor these beautiful blue-and-gold days as the darkness begins to set in. I am – like Anne – always doing my best to notice the beauty, and to be here now.

What’s November looking like for you, this year?

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It’s becoming my pre-theatre tradition: a train ride from Eastie to the Back Bay neighborhood, a BLT and a bag of salt-and-vinegar chips, a cookie or brownie, and half an hour with a book. I take this pause between the workday and the show, immersing myself in one fictional world before diving into another. And then I gather my purse and head across the street, ready to begin my ushering gig at Lyric Stage Boston.

I started ushering back in the winter, first for The Book of Will (above) and subsequently for several other shows at Lyric Stage and elsewhere. I’ve loved my gigs at the Huntington and the ART, but I’ve returned, over and over, to this small black-box theatre in the heart of Back Bay, which puts on dazzling productions – funny, clever, moving – in a small space.

my fair lady set

I’ve loved live theatre since I was a child, since my parents would take us to musicals and the annual production of A Christmas Carol at our local community theatre. I was too shy to participate, beyond the Easter pageants at church, but I’ve always loved settling into my seat and watching a story – new or familiar – come to life. I especially adore getting a glimpse into the magic behind the scenes, whether it’s actors warming up or sets being moved into place or simply stacking programs in preparation for the audience to arrive.

There’s no physical curtain at Lyric Stage, but I often think of Betsy Ray’s poem from Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown while I’m handing out programs or waiting, along with the rest of the audience, for the show to start:

The curtain goes up,
The curtain goes up,
It’s a wonderful moment,
When the curtain goes up…

Betsy captures the anticipation – be it quiet or electric – of those moments in the pre-show dark, when we are waiting to be entertained or moved or challenged, when the actors are standing backstage, their lines on their lips. I love watching the pieces move together, the story envelop us all, the lines and scenes and musical numbers come together to immerse us in a completely different world for a while. Theatre as an art form has endured for thousands of years, but each performance is singular, ephemeral, time-limited: it hangs in the air for a couple of hours, then disappears as we emerge, blinking, back into our lives.

I’m looking forward, always, to the next time I get to see a show – whether as an usher, an audience member, or both. I love being a tiny but integral part of the process: answering questions, handing out programs and showing people to their seats. And I especially love that collective deep breath before Act I, Scene I – that moment, alive with anticipation, before the (real or metaphorical) curtain goes up.

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We are nearly halfway through October – and between bike rides, a major work event and daily life, here’s what I have been reading:

Picture in the Sand, Peter Blauner
In 2014, a young Egyptian-American man leaves his home suddenly to join a jihadist uprising overseas. His grandfather, Ali Hassan, decides to share his own story with his grandson: his experience working on the movie set of The Ten Commandments and getting swept up in political forces larger than himself. I flew through this – it’s part thriller, part historical epic, part love story, part intergenerational family saga. Fascinating and layered. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 3, 2023).

Book Lovers, Emily Henry
Nora Stephens is not a rom-com heroine: she’s the other woman, the sharp-edged, stiletto-wearing city person who loses the guy. When her sister Libby begs her to go to a tiny North Carolina town, Nora reluctantly agrees – and even begins to enjoy herself. But the presence of a handsome, infuriating editor from the city throws a wrench into Nora’s plans. A fun, sometimes steamy rom-com with plenty of bookish references, but at its heart this is a story about sisters, family, and the stories we tell ourselves.

Seasons: Desert Sketches, Ellen Meloy
I picked up this collection at the Desert Museum in Arizona last spring. They’re short, bracing essays (originally recorded for radio) on life in southern Utah: flora, fauna, human community. Meloy is smart and salty and often hilarious. Perfect for morning reading.

The Verifiers, Jane Pek
Claudia Lin is loving her new hush-hush job working for an online-dating detective agency. But when a client turns up dead, and it turns out she was impersonating her sister, things get complicated fast. Claudia, like any good amateur sleuth, keeps digging into the case, even after she’s warned off. I loved this smart mystery about choices and expectations (our own, our families’, our potential partners’). Well plotted and I hope the author writes more.

The Dressmakers of Prospect Heights, Kitty Zeldis
Brooklyn, 1924: Catherine Berrill is desperate for a child to complete the family she’s started with her kind husband, Stephen. Dressmaker Beatrice Jones, newly arrived from New Orleans with her ward Alice, has a secret that connects her to Catherine’s past. I really enjoyed this twisty historical novel about three different women trying to make their way. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 3, 2023).

The Vanderbeekers on the Road, Karina Yan Glaser
I loooove this warmhearted middle-grade series (and loved meeting Karina in person recently!). The Vanderbeekers (plus assorted animals) pile into a friend’s van for a cross-country road trip. As is often the case with road trips, not everything goes to plan. Sweet and funny, like this whole series.

Take My Hand, Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Montgomery, Alabama, 1973: nurse Civil Townsend is working at a women’s clinic purporting to serve poor patients, but she grows concerned about the side effects of birth-control shots (and the necessity of giving them to young girls). A powerful, often heavy, brilliantly told novel about a woman who gets caught up trying to save the lives of the people she’s serving. Highly recommended.

The Woman with the Cure, Lynn Cullen
As polio infects thousands of young children, the race for a cure is on. Too-tall Dr. Dorothy Horstmann, obsessed with detecting the virus in the blood, becomes caught up in the science – and the politics – around finding a vaccine. A well-done historical novel (with lots of real-life characters, including Horstmann) about science and feminism and sacrifice. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 21, 2023).

Holy Spokes: The Search for Urban Spirituality on Two Wheels, Laura Everett
Everett, a minister and four-season cyclist, shares what she’s learned about spiritual practice from riding the streets of Boston. Thoughtful, forthright and wryly funny – I loved reading about her journeys around my adopted city. (I haven’t met her yet, but we know a lot of the same bike folks, including my guy.)

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

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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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Hello, friends. It has been hot here in Boston (though I hear some relief might be on the horizon), and my workplace is still operating on a hybrid model. I like the flexibility of having a work-from-home day each week, but I can’t spend all day in my studio apartment without going a bit mad – especially when the temps are in the 90s. So I’ve been heading to (where else?) the local library on Tuesday afternoons to work.

I love the Eastie branch library: it’s airy, open and welcoming, with a cadre of friendly librarians whose faces I know now. It has air-conditioning, free wi-fi, and (of course) lots of books nearby. I bring my laptop and settle in at one of the tables, getting up occasionally to stretch or refill my water bottle. The people-watching, when I need a break from work emails, is always excellent: Eastie is truly multicultural, and the folks who use the library are multigenerational, too. There are worker bees with laptops, like me; folks who come in to use the public computers and printers; children coming in and out for summer reading programs; and lots of teenagers, who drift in and out during the afternoon.

I love both the idea and the reality of third places – those locales, neither work/school nor home, that bring people together and foster connection, as well as serving other purposes. My beloved Darwin’s in Cambridge was my third place for a long time; ZUMIX, my workplace, is a vital third place for the young people we serve. I love watching and participating in the library as a third place, too, and seeing my community thrive here.

Yes, it gets a little loud sometimes – but the presence of other people is often the whole point. I’m grateful the library is just a short bike ride away.

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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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