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Posts Tagged ‘East Boston’

It’s been such a strange year that I almost decided to skip this annual blogging tradition. But – why not? – we can still take stock, even at the end of all these months of isolation. So here we go. In 2020 I have:

  • run probably hundreds of miles through my neighborhood of East Boston
  • gone through three pairs of On Running shoes
  • taken dozens of yoga classes, in the park and via Zoom (and, briefly, in the lovely studio at The Point)
  • gone on so many bike rides with my guy
  • participated in my first protest rides
  • walked with my friend Marisa a few times a month, keeping each other sane while trading news of work and books and life
  • survived divorce court (back in January)
  • worked on campus for two and a half months, worked from home for two months, then been furloughed and eventually laid off
  • covered Berklee’s Dancing with the Stars event, pre-quarantine (so much fun)
  • driven up to Gloucester for a sweet birthday weekend with my guy
  • celebrated a cozy, quiet Thanksgiving, just the two of us
  • spent some time hanging with Chloe, my friends’ kitty
  • read about 220 books
  • adjusted to reading and reviewing ebooks for Shelf Awareness
  • taken Nina Badzin’s wonderful ModernWell writing class
  • drafted a novel during NaNoWriMo
  • tended herbs, geraniums, paperwhites, a fern and an amaryllis
  • sung in a virtual Christmas choir
  • made and delivered numerous lasagnas for my neighbors
  • filled up several journals
  • enjoyed a cozy, sweet Christmas
  • looked ahead to 2021 with tentative hope

Happy New Year, friends. Here’s hoping it brings more light.

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We had 13 (!) inches of snow here in Boston last Thursday, and I left the house exactly twice: once to shovel out my own front steps and walk, and once to shovel a friend’s front steps (I’m checking their mail and feeding their fish while they’re away). It was blowing and swirling – decidedly not a day for running. But since the storm passed, I’ve been loving the season’s first taste of winter running.

I became a runner right around this time three years ago, when it got too cold to walk for long on my beloved river trail. I’ve slowly been learning about, and buying, the right gear: fleece-lined running tights, a few warm headbands, snow spikes for when the trails are really dicey. Sometimes I have to talk myself into bundling up and heading out into the cold. But often, once I’m out there, I’m surprised again by how much I love it.

Running in the cold is an invigorating challenge: I have to keep moving to keep my body warm, and the resulting heat and motion feels satisfying. The road feels different under my feet when I’m dealing with snow and ice, though I love how the snow spikes take away some of my worries about slipping on ice or slush. I love the pure, sharp contrast of white and blue and green, and the cold air in my nose and lungs. And these days, I’m listening to Christmas music while I run (or dash?) through the snow.

There will be plenty of gray days this winter, and we’re expecting rain later this week. But for now, I’m grateful for these crisp, clear, snowy winter days, and the chance to get out and run.

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I’ve written before about how yoga has been getting me through the pandemic: lots of classes over Zoom this spring, then in the park this summer. Those outdoor classes were one of the true gifts of this strange time: setting up our mats in the lush grass, tree branches waving gently overhead, the sounds of birthday parties and children playing and a YMCA cardio class drifting over. We had occasional invasions from the local geese, but otherwise, it was just about perfect.

Lately, we’ve been back in the studio on a very limited basis, and I have loved showing up on Sunday and Wednesday nights with two or three others, to practice with Taylor and Carla, my favorite instructors. They are both warm and kind and understanding about how hard everything feels right now. They even put up twinkle lights and a couple of wee Christmas trees recently, and going there has felt quasi-normal, which is a serious gift right now.

Today, Boston is rolling back to an earlier phase of reopening for a few weeks, so we’re back to Zoom (fitness centers are closed) until January, at least. I am super sad about it: sometimes those few moments of chat in the studio are my only in-person conversations of the day. And while we don’t talk during class, it’s nourishing to be with other people, especially since I spend so much time alone right now.

I keep reminding myself that yoga will be there: that I can pull out my mat and practice at home; that (hopefully) my little studio will survive, and we will gather again on our mats, when we can. Until then, I’ll be tuning into class on Zoom, because I want to support a beloved small business, and I believe yoga is better when we do it together.

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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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Here we are, at the end of a month of running posts – I did it, even though I wasn’t always sure I could come up with anything new to say. Since today also happens to be Halloween, I’m sharing a photo of the only 5K I have ever (yet) run in costume and talking about my love of Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman.

I wasn’t a comic-book reader as a child, and I am a little bit younger than the target audience of Lynda Carter’s iconic show. But I have a long history of loving badass heroines, and the 2017 Wonder Woman film captured my imagination. I loved Gal Gadot’s portrayal of courage, humanity, compassion and strength (not to mention the fact that she can fight evil and dance in the falling snow with equal grace). Since then, I’ve come to identify deeply with the character, who is both fierce and tender, committed to justice and just as committed to preventing needless violence.

As a runner, I’ve had to dig deep to find my physical strength on the days when getting out there (or getting through it) is a real struggle. But my association with Wonder Woman is more about that mental toughness I’ve found partly through running: the grit it takes to keep going, the grace to breathe through a tough situation and make it through.

The annual East “Booston” costume 5K went virtual this year, so I didn’t pull out my Wonder Woman outfit to run the race (though I did participate). But I wear a red leather wrap bracelet with the WW logo every single day. And though she’s perhaps not a runner in the modern sense, Diana is definitely one of my heroes in running and life.

Thanks for sticking with me through a month of #run31 posts, friends. It’s been fun. If you’re celebrating, happy Halloween. And if you live in the U.S. and you haven’t yet, please vote.

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It’s no secret that I am a creature of habit and stability: I drink the same tea (usually from the same mug) nearly every morning, write in my journal almost every day, buy myself flowers (at least) once a week and run the same basic route throughout Eastie nearly every day. But I read somewhere that humans need a combination of stability and novelty, and that’s also true for my running route. Sometimes, changing up the loop a bit can be just the refresh my brain needs.

When I lived in Dorchester and ran on the Neponset, this looked like circling through the hills of Pope John Paul II Park, or going out as far as I dared to the point with the wooden pier flanked by beach roses and a forsythia bush that turned shocking yellow in the spring. Once in a while, I’d turn around and run the other way, through the woods toward Milton, but not very often: I loved my water-and-sky views too much.

Here in Eastie, the beginning of my run is always the same: out the door and down the hill, down the harborwalk to the point and back. But once I finish that loop, I have choices.

I can run the length of Maverick Street and take the back entrance to the greenway. Once there, I can loop around the stadium – or go through the playground framed by locust trees (currently a gorgeous golden yellow). Once I rejoin the greenway, I can run straight down it toward home, or if I want a little extra distance, I can go the other way, up toward the YMCA, the playground and the branch library. (The maple trees along that stretch are a glorious red right now.) If I’m just not feeling it, or the skies have opened up, I can turn back through the shipyard after running the harborwalk, and head home early.

The ending is usually the same, too: either past Piers Park or through it, and then home. I love passing the same landmarks on my route: the community gardens, the houses with mums currently decking their front porches, the public art, the patches of asters (in the fall) or daffodils (in the spring). I love paying attention to the small changes through the seasons, and making small changes, as needed, to my route to stretch myself or just wake my brain up.

This is one reason I hate running on a treadmill: it’s endlessly the same. Running outside, even if it’s the exact same loop, always offers new details to see, and the light changes subtly every single day. But there’s also more room for variation in this “regular” route than I sometimes remember. Turning just one different corner can make such a difference to the morning, and it’s a good reminder: sometimes a little novelty is just the thing.

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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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Last Tuesday, I did something entirely new to me: I spent 15 hours (yes, basically my whole waking day) serving as a poll worker at my neighborhood high school. This year, many veteran poll workers, who tend to be older, are stepping back due to coronavirus risks, so I signed up to help fill the gap.

As an experience, it was both eye-opening and at times mind-numbingly mundane. We did a lot of counting: blank ballots, tally marks, voter lists, early-voting ballots, all the scanned ballots at the end of the night. There was a lot of recounting and double-checking, to make sure the numbers matched the tabulations on the electronic machine. The smell of hand sanitizer hung in the air (with the universal funk of high school gym underneath). I wheeled my bike out of the gym at the stroke of 9 p.m., too tired even to pedal down the steep hill toward home.

All day, I kept thinking of something I heard Elizabeth Gilbert say a few years ago, in a podcast interview: some of the most important things in life are “ninety percent boring.” Writing is this way, she said, and marriage, and certainly raising children. And it occurred to me that this is true of democracy, as well.

Voting is, typically, modest and understated: you go to a school gym or City Hall or the Knights of Columbus clubhouse, give your name to a neighbor or a stranger, mark a ballot with a few dark circles. No one who came to vote on Tuesday was doing it to call attention to themselves. But what I loved was the aggregate: the mosaic, taken together, of all these people of different races, ages, genders and walks of life.

There was the young Hispanic mother in scrubs, holding her two children by the hand, who came to vote after work. (We made sure both kids got an “I Voted” sticker.) There were the retired couples, thin white hair and thick Boston accents, who came together in their sensible shoes. There were several women in hijab, alone or with their husbands, and a few men who walked straight in from their construction job sites, chunky boots and jeans smeared with dust.

We saw a number of first-time voters, young people feeling shy about feeding their ballots into the machine, unsure if they were doing it right. One woman rushed in at 7:45 p.m., saying she’d been on a deadline all day but was determined to come vote. The one that nearly made me cry was the biracial family with two tall teenage sons. One was voting for the first time, and he smiled shyly when I congratulated him. The other one wasn’t old enough to vote yet, but he followed his mother to the booth, and I knew: even if he didn’t act like it, he was paying attention.

Signing petitions, serving on a jury, ensuring free and fair elections: these things are ninety percent boring. Even protests can get hot and dusty and dull, though they’re fueled at first by passion. But these small levers of democracy are the ones that move it forward.

On Tuesday, there was a lot of sitting in hard chairs and watching people come through the line, one by one. There was a lot of pacing back and forth, answering the same few questions over and over, handing out stickers and pens, putting my limited Spanish to use (East Boston has a large Latinx population). It was, perhaps, ninety percent boring – though I truly enjoyed chatting with my fellow poll workers, and my guy came in to bring me dinner. But that made it no less important: in fact, possibly more so. And at the end of the night, we left satisfied that we had done our part to ensure that everyone’s vote counted.

I’ll be working the polls again this November. If you’re able, I’d urge you to consider joining me.

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radishes-strawberries

I’ve lived in my little studio in Eastie for a year now, and for most of that time, I’ve been chucking my fruit pits, veggie peels, eggshells and tea leaves (so many tea leaves) into a countertop compost bin I bought from Target. (No perks or affiliate links here; I just did some searching for sleek, easy-to-clean countertop bins, and I like this one.)

I don’t have space (or need) for a big compost bin of my own, but the City of Boston’s pilot compost project, charmingly named Project Oscar, includes a couple of bins down the hill from my house. Every few days, I tie up the green compostable bag filled with flower stems, orange peels and zucchini ends, and carry it down the hill, where I dump it into the bigger compost bin and hope whoever picks it up is hauling it away to some good purpose.

Sometimes, I think about Natalie Goldberg’s chapter on “Composting” in Writing Down the Bones, where she compares writing (and mulling over your lived experiences) to composting our kitchen scraps. “Our bodies are garbage heaps,” she says, “and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. […] But this does not come all at once. It takes time.”

I like the notion that I’m diverting some of my kitchen leavings away from the landfill, and sending them where they can do some good. Sometimes I wonder who else is tossing their kitchen scraps into the bins over by Maverick Square, and what they will eventually become, and what they will feed. (Sometimes, I simply hold the bag at arm’s length – even pre-compost starts to smell – and promise myself to bring it down to the bins sooner next time.)

I’ve found it difficult, these last months, to create anything of substance, other than book reviews, the occasional meal, and countless cups of tea. I tend to beat myself up about this, but then (sometimes) I remember Natalie and her advice: “Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil.”

I’ll keep doing that. And I’ll keep composting my apple cores and bell pepper stems and those tea leaves, hoping they contribute to a richness I can’t yet see.

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