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Posts Tagged ‘Boston’

Last summer, I moved from Dorchester to East Boston, to a studio apartment overlooking the harbor, a listing I found through a friend of a friend. I have marveled, many times, at the journey that led me to Eastie: a reconnection with college friends who live down the hill, an introduction that led me to dog-sitting for a sweet doodle pup, a gradual recognition that I was falling in love with this neighborhood. I love my light-filled apartment here by the water, and sometimes I still can’t believe it’s mine.

Whenever anyone comes over (less often, these days), they immediately move to the kitchen windows, drawn by the view. It is an ever-changing landscape, this view of the seaport skyline: I’ve seen it painted in sunset colors, washed in silver grey, blanketed in mist and fog and snow, or standing out sharply against a sky of brilliant blue.

By now, I’ve watched the trees in the park lose their leaves and bud out and grow full again; I’ve watched the little garden just below my windows bloom and change with the seasons. Sometimes I stand in the window and bask in the afternoon sunshine. And nearly every night, I pause to look out and look up at the few stars visible above the city lights.

Amid so much uncertainty, it has been a gift to wake up each morning in this place, to drink my morning tea with this view as the backdrop. It feels anchoring and nourishing, and it is always beautiful. I am grateful every single day to be rooted here: it is still new in some ways, but it feels deeply like home.

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We’re nearly halfway through November, which so far has included gorgeous weather, serious election stress and (more) pandemic uncertainty. Here’s what I have been reading:

Julieta and the Diamond Enigma, Luisana Duarte Armendariz
Nine-year-old Julieta is so excited – she gets to go to Paris to help her dad bring some valuable pieces from the Louvre back to Boston. But then a rare diamond is stolen. Julieta tries to help catch the thief – but she seems to make things worse. A cute middle-grade mystery with fun details about Paris and Boston (Julieta’s parents both work at the MFA).

This is My Brain in Love, I.W. Gregorio
Jocelyn Wu is trying to save her family’s Chinese restaurant from failure. Will Domenici just needs a summer job. But when he becomes Jocelyn’s first employee, they become friends – and maybe something more. A witty, sweet YA novel with two protagonists who both struggle with their mental health.

The Last Garden in England, Julia Kelly
When garden designer Emma Lovell is hired to restore the gardens at Highbury House, she unearths not only overgrown plants, but secrets: some related to the house and its family, some to the garden’s original designer, Venetia Smith. An engaging multi-timeline story about strong women fighting to make their own choices: Emma in 2021, Venetia in 1907, and three different women during World War II. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 12).

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, Holly Jackson
Pippa Fitz-Amobi has never believed that Sal Singh killed his girlfriend, Andie Bell. So when she needs a senior capstone project, she launches her own murder investigation with the help of Sal’s brother, Ravi. This was very Veronica Mars (though Pippa often has terrible judgment) – a real nail-biter, but a very effective distraction from election news.

Some Places More Than Others, Renee Watson
Amara is dying to go visit her dad’s family in Harlem for her 12th birthday – she’s never been to NYC, or met her cousins. But once she gets there, she has to deal with some unexpected friction. I loved this sweet middle-grade story about family, forgiveness and finding yourself in a new place.

Birds by the Shore, Jennifer Ackerman
I found this essay collection in September at the beautiful Bookstore of Gloucester. Ackerman shares quiet, keen-eyed observations about the wildlife (birds, yes, but also fish, crabs, invertebrates) and shifting microclimate of the Delaware shore. A little slow, but worthwhile.

Finding Refuge, Michelle Cassandra Johnson
Our society tends to see grief as an individual, linear process–but it has collective aspects, too, and it’s much messier than that. Johnson shares some of her own story and practices around processing grief. I applaud her premise, but the writing style was hard for me to follow (could be election brain). Includes meditations/journaling prompts. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 12).

Fire Sale, Sara Paretsky
When V.I. Warshawski gets roped into (temporarily) coaching the girls’ basketball team at her old high school, she’s drawn into a web of other problems: poverty, teenage pregnancy, unsavory conditions at a couple of local manufacturing plants. This entry was intense (I shouldn’t have read it before bed!), but so compelling. I love this series.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident, Frugal Books and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

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Hello, friends. Here we are at the edge of a new month. After a mostly dry, sunny October, our November weather has blown in with a vengeance. We definitely needed every drop of rain, but I’m adjusting to sudden cooler, wetter days and nights – and serious darkness, at both ends of the day.

Parts of this shift happen every year: the end of Daylight Savings Time, the slow droop of the sun’s angle in the sky. The dark starts to come down early in mid-autumn, and I know: winter is coming. This year, I’m spending most of my time alone in my apartment, and it’s more important than ever to do the things I know will help me get through.

I start reaching for the Vitamin D pills in mid-October, popping one every morning to help mitigate the effects of so much less sunlight. And, later in the month, I start flipping on the light box in the mornings.

I’d lived here about two years when my friend Ryan finally convinced me to buy a light box: he swears by his, and I always tell people it helps take the edge off Boston’s long, dark winters. My light box is not beautiful – it’s a big square gray plastic thing, which gives off piercingly white-blue light. (My ex-husband used to refer to it as “the glory of the Lord,” because it was so blinding when he’d walk into the bathroom in the mornings.) I flip it on for 15 or 30 minutes while I’m showering, drying my hair, etc., and count on it to help boost my mood a bit, especially on grey days.

Real talk: sometimes I’m not sure either the pills or the box have any impact at all. Other days I’m convinced it’s a placebo effect. But even if that’s the case, I’ll take it: in both cases, it can’t hurt. And I feel like I’m at least doing something to beat back the dark.

What coping strategies do you have to mitigate the dark – or help you embrace the cold/cozy season? I’d love to hear, if you’d like to share.

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As I’ve grown to love running, and explored various running routes around the Boston area, I’ve been doing a similar thing with cycling.

I used to love riding bikes in my neighborhood as a child, and I spent hours on my jade-green bike as a grad student in Oxford. But I’d lived in Boston for eight years before I got up the gumption to try riding the city streets on a bike. The traffic terrified me, and I didn’t have a bike of my own.

My guy (though we were just friends then) convinced me to try out Bluebikes, Boston’s bike-share program, two years ago after I’d started a new job at Berklee. My first dozen or more rides followed the same route between Berklee and Harvard Square – much more pleasant than the 1 bus, except in driving rain. As I got stronger and more confident, I began trying new things occasionally: turning down a side street to see where it would go, trying out part of my commute on a bike, riding around Eastie when I moved here. I began paying more attention to bike lanes and traffic signals, and I’m still trying to make my peace with the hills in certain parts of Boston. This summer, I inherited a bright pink single-speed from a friend, and I’ve participated in several protest rides, plus a number of long rides with my guy (who is a cycling instructor, advocate and general bike fanatic).

As with yoga, I didn’t really think of cycling as having any connection to running. But they inform one another, sometimes in surprising ways. I’ve gained confidence on a bike in a similar way to the confidence I’ve gained with running: in this case, the muscle memory was there, but it needed to be revived. I keep learning that I can go farther, pedal stronger and even ride faster than I think I can. Sometimes I need a rest day after a seriously long ride. And in both cases, the main motivation is the sheer joy of moving through the world in this particular way.

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One of my favorite things about running is the way it lets me move through the landscape, whether it’s a new-to-me city (or neighborhood) or my comfortingly regular harborwalk-to-greenway loop. I love the constant nudges to pay attention: to the feel of the road under my sneakers, the air on my skin, the changing leaves and flowers nearby, the dog walkers and rabbits and squirrels on the path.

But this summer, I got seriously lucky: the folks at PangeaSeed partnered with half a dozen local artists (like Imagine876, above) to create new, colorful murals in my part of Eastie. For a couple of weeks, I watched the murals evolve day by day on my morning runs, and I’m loving the gorgeous colors now that they’re finished. This one is in the shipyard, on the building that houses Downeast Cider, and you can see its vibrant colors from all the way across the harbor.

The mural at the top of this post is on the greenway, where I often run; it’s a celebration of the salt marsh sparrow, which is in danger of extinction due to rising sea levels. I’ve seen more of Sophy Tuttle’s work around Boston, and I love the bold colors and detailed depictions of the natural world. There are several more murals in the series, and they’re a welcome splash of color on grey days.

I love public art, especially when it combines beauty with purpose, and these murals definitely fit the bill (like this one, above, by Artists for Humanity Boston). They are all done by women and/or artists of color, and they call us insistently to treasure and protect the natural world. They make my runs more enjoyable, certainly, but I hope they also keep inspiring me – and others – to pay attention to, and care for, the world in which we live.

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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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Katie silhouette trail river blue sky

I used to see her in the neighborhood all the time, on the river trail where I ran, or standing on the sidewalk by her house, chatting up a storm with Sharon or Claire or one of the other neighbor women. Her dog, Riley, a beautiful red golden retriever with a few years on her, was nearly always in attendance.

Riley was used to being showered with affection by pretty much everyone in the neighborhood. She’d walk right up and sit on my feet while Kenzie and I chatted a minute, nudging my hand to keep scratching her silky ears if I got too distracted by our conversation. There was a man who lived down the street – Paul or Joe or Mike, one of those monosyllabic Boston Irish names – who referred to her as The Great Riley. He always remembered my name because he had a sister named Katie, the only girl in a family of five or six brothers. 

Kenzie lived in the yellow house on the corner, which was her dad’s house until they bought it from him about ten years ago, she and her husband Frank, whom I’d regularly see on the trail too. He’d either be striding along, deep in thought, or sitting on one of the rough granite benches, watching birds fly over the marsh with his binoculars. I never saw him smile, but once or twice in December I caught sight of him wearing a Santa hat, which was at odds with his expression but fit perfectly with his long white beard and hair. 

Kenzie was kind and inquisitive and funny, a retired nurse with a daughter in her twenties and a stepson whom I never saw. She was the first neighbor I ever made friends with, after seven years in Boston and three different apartments, not for lack of trying. I was charmed by her open, easy manner and the New England accent you could have cut with a steak knife. I never even knew her last name, but we were friends, of a sort, and I was always genuinely glad to see her.

I haven’t been down to the old neighborhood in a year or more, not since I separated from my husband and moved across the city. I told Kenzie I was getting divorced the week before I moved out. “Put your phone number in my mailbox,” she said. “We’ll go for a drink sometime.” I wanted to, and I meant to, but I never did. Somehow it was easier to leave a few of those loose ends of my old life untied. 

It’s October again, and the air turns sharp as the sky changes from cobalt to serge blue to golden in the evenings. I think of the waving reeds on the trail, and the murmuring sound they made. Sometimes I think of Riley, gone now, and wonder if Kenzie has gotten a new dog. I hope she has. Our friendship was brief, but it sustained me, made me feel like I belonged in that pocket of Dorchester, between the old chocolate factory and the river, in the third-floor apartment that was home for a while.

I wrote most of this post as an exercise for a writing class I’m taking online through ModernWell this fall. Since it’s sort of running-related, my fellow group members suggested I share it with you.

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Katie ww run selfie trail

I didn’t get into running to win races. (I am still not especially fast, though I am much stronger than I used to be.) But I’d only been a runner for about six weeks when I ran my first 5K.

It happened like this: I was running down on the Neponset river trail and saw a flyer for the annual Halfway to Dot Day 5K, scheduled for early December. I wasn’t tracking my mileage (I still don’t, not really), but I knew that if I could manage a race at all, it would be this one: a flat, simple, familiar course on the trail I already loved. I talked my husband into signing up, and we had so much fun we did it again the next year. (In true Boston fashion, we ran with layers, lots of fleece and snow flurries, both times.)

Running, for me, is a mostly solitary activity: I like the time by myself, at my own pace, with my own music in my ears. But once in a while, I thoroughly enjoy running with a community and testing my skills against a group. I’ve done a few 5Ks around Boston, the Super Run in San Diego, the MR8K in memory of Martin Richard, and Eastie’s own Halloween-themed 5K in support of the YMCA, last year. (I ran dressed as Wonder Woman.) My longest race, to date – and possibly the most fun – was the BAA 10K last summer. My guy came to cheer me on, and I loved (nearly) every minute of the course through Back Bay.

Just before I started running, I visited some friends in Oxford in the fall of 2017. My friend Mike was running the Oxford Half Marathon that weekend, and I walked to the end of the street with his wife and their children to cheer him on. We all yelled and waved as he ran past, and then I walked downtown to go to church. I remember thinking he was a little crazy to run a race like that without much training – but a few months later, when I became a runner, the Oxford Half hopped onto my list of dream races and has stayed there ever since.

As I said, racing isn’t why I run – I have a lot of other reasons for that, and I mostly like running alone. But sometimes a race is the kick-start I need to get out there, or it’s for a good cause, or it just sounds like fun. I’m happy to be an occasional race participant. And I’m looking forward to the day when road races can happen in person again.

If you run, do you race, or do you prefer not to?

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Katie trail blue gray water

When I started running, I may have had (as previously stated) some insecurities about it. I didn’t want to fail at this. I wasn’t even sure how long it would last. What if it proved painful or depressing or just not fun? What if I injured myself right away, effectively ending my running career before it began? What if I told people I’d started running, only to fade out like the autumn daylight over the treetops on the trail?

So I didn’t tell anyone, at least not for a few weeks.

I’m not even sure I mentioned anything to my husband after those first few sweaty evening runs on the trail. He knew I was out there walking, of course, but I didn’t want to jinx this new thing I was trying: me with my old sneakers and baggy t-shirts and the ancient sports bra I’d dug up from somewhere. I didn’t look like a runner. I certainly didn’t know if I felt like one. And I felt, too, that this new attempt was just for me: I needed a chance to see if it would work, without anyone else’s gaze, without perceived or actual judgment. For that first month or so, especially, I didn’t say a word to anyone.

heart sneakers trail

It felt freeing, to be out there on the trail, moving my body in a way that still felt foreign, pumping music through my headphones and trying to figure out how long I could jog before stopping for breath. I quickly learned that running lets you see the world at a different rhythm than walking (although then, as now, I will always slow down to snap photos of flowers or vivid leaves or a particularly breathtaking sky).

When I did start telling people I was running, I slid it in sideways: a casual mention at boot camp, a post on Instagram that emphasized the sunset instead of the reason I was out there seeing it. My previous perception of a runner – strong, dedicated, serious – and my perception of myself (at least, in regard to exercise) didn’t quite match up. But to my own surprise, I found both joy and satisfaction on the trail. (I still do.)

These days, I’m much more vocal about my enjoyment of running: I’ve done a few races, and my Instagram feed is at least half running photos (harbor views, leaves, flowers, skies, sneakers, repeat). It’s not my secret any more, though it definitely still belongs to me. But I am glad I gave myself a chance to try it without anyone knowing, for a while. It helped me move toward embracing running as a new and vital part of my life.

More #run31 photos and stories to come.

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