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Posts Tagged ‘East Boston’

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Hello, friends. Somehow it is August, and though we are so many weeks into pandemic life that I have lost count, summer is still summer. We’ve had a stretch of gorgeous hot weather (though we desperately need some rain) and I am soaking up all the pleasures summer has to offer, while I can. Here’s a list:

  • Sea breezes from the harbor through my kitchen window, which makes the heat in my apartment just about bearable.
  • Stone fruits and berries galore: cherries, blackberries, peaches and nectarines, blueberries, raspberries, tiny tart red currants.
  • Amanda’s spicy salsa roja with any chips I can get my hands on.

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  • Morning runs along the harborwalk (the earlier I go, the more shaded it is), watching for white herons and Black-eyed Susans, and the boats on the water.
  • Related: funky tan lines and freckles on my shoulders. (I promise I do wear sunscreen.)
  • Evening yoga in Piers Park, whether we’re sweating or catching a cool breeze.
  • Sliced cucumbers from a friend’s garden with Samira’s spicy muhammara – red pepper spread with walnuts and pomegranate.

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  • Sunflowers, roses and catching up with my florist.
  • Library hold pickup, about once every 10 days.
  • My new-to-me bike, which I’ve dubbed my Wild Irish Rose.
  • The music of I’m With Her, Our Native Daughters and several other groups I heard at Newport last year. (Related: reliving that magic.)
  • Making chilled cucumber soup with dill, basil and Greek yogurt – one of the perks of garden caretaking. (See also: fresh marigolds.)

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  • Smoothies from Eagle Hill Cafe, a newish neighborhood staple run by two friendly women.
  • Revisiting some childhood classics, including Maud Hart Lovelace’s stories.
  • Daylilies, Queen Anne’s lace, beach roses, hydrangea, Rose of Sharon, bee balm, nasturtiums and other wildflowers. The world is lush and green and colorful right now.

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  • Bike rides with my guy – around the Seaport (where he works), over to Cambridge, around Eastie (where I live) or just about anywhere.
  • Discovering new farmers’ markets on the bike. The Harvard farmers’ market has my heart, but I like visiting other ones.
  • Jasmine tea lemonade or iced black tea from (where else?) Darwin’s.

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  • Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski mystery series – my newest obsession.
  • Nicole Gulotta’s #30DayHaikuProject on Instagram, which I’m enjoying.

What small pleasures is summer offering you?

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It is hot, y’all. We’ve had multiple 90-degree days here in Boston this month, and the heat doesn’t seem to be letting up. Add to that the constant, endless, gnawing anxieties of the pandemic and you’ve got a recipe for stress and frustration. I am still healthy, but I’ve been on furlough all summer and no one is too sure when we’ll get to go back to work. It’s exhausting.

I am trying – when I can – to focus on the silver linings, and one of those is helping with the frustration, too: park yoga.

My beloved local studio, The Point, has been offering Zoom classes during the pandemic, but about a month ago they also began small, socially distanced in-person classes in Piers Park, down the hill from my house. I’ve been taking my green mat and walking down there once or twice a week, and I have to say: it is lovely.

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There are usually a half-dozen of us there, and we set up our mats in the long grass. Sometimes there’s music; more often it’s the background noise of children and runners and tankers going by in the harbor. (There was some excitement the other night involving a literal wild-goose chase and some very hyped-up kids.) We do sun salutations and lizard poses, stretch out in warrior, try to breathe deeply and let the various stresses fall away, for a little while.

I’ve appreciated the work that goes into Zoom classes, but by May or so I was all screened out. It is so nourishing to be together in person, to see Taylor’s smile or hear Devon’s laugh, to nod at the other students I know by sight. The community matters as much as the poses and stretches. And I am deeply grateful for all of it.

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A few weeks ago, I gave y’all a glimpse of the East Boston Harborwalk, where I often begin my morning runs. After turning away from the water, I cut through the neighborhood and circle onto the East Boston Greenway, which is living up to its name right now.

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The greenway runs right through the middle of Eastie, cutting under several bridges and eventually under the highway. It’s a former (abandoned) rail corridor that was cleaned up and turned into a park starting in the early 2000s. Today, it stretches up to Constitution Beach, and there are plans to extend it further to connect a few neighboring towns and a nearby marsh.

I fell in love with running a few years ago on the Neponset River Greenway, in Dorchester (south of Boston), where I used to live. For me, a huge part of running is about being outside, watching the light and the seasons change as I move through the landscape. When I started dog-sitting in Eastie last spring, I fell in love with running here, too, and now it’s my home, my regular trail.

I love running through the greenway even when it’s grey and brown, but I’m especially enjoying the shade provided by leafy trees right now, and the spots of color from day lilies, rhododendrons and wildflowers. (Plus the colorful paint at the Gove St. entrance.)

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The greenway is a public use path, and it gets a lot of use: I always see other runners, cyclists, dog walkers, solo walkers, people heading to the Blue Line to commute, friends and families walking or riding together. I’m almost never alone out there, and I kind of love that: the greenway belongs to all of Eastie, and many of Eastie’s residents get to enjoy it.

Are there green spaces you love in your neighborhood?

 

 

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One of my favorite things about exploring Eastie this year has been the food.

As a Texas transplant who seriously misses her tacos, I’ve been thrilled to find decent – even delicious – Mexican food in Eastie. But today’s restaurant is something entirely different, something I’d never had before: Somali cuisine, made by the kind folks who run Tawakal Halal Cafe.

Tawakal is a hidden gem, tucked away in a small red house on a corner a few streets away from where I live. I discovered it last spring when I was dog-sitting in Eastie, and now I run by it nearly every morning. My guy and I decided to try it one Saturday, and we fell instantly and completely in love with the combination of flavors. It’s an amalgam of foods I recognize from Middle Eastern and Indian restaurants, and flavors I wasn’t familiar with before.

 

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During quarantine (and especially during Ramadan, which fell during April and May), Tawakal has been providing hundreds of meals to local families struggling with job loss and food insecurity. The Boston Globe did a great Q&A with Yahya Noor, the owner, a few weeks ago. I love that Tawakal is a family business that really cares about the community, and the food – as I’ve already said – is delicious.

I haven’t been eating out much lately, but Tawakal is still a staple: my guy requested it for his birthday dinner last month, and I’ve been going by every couple of weeks to pick up takeout. My favorite dishes are the falafel biryani and the beef kabab biryani (pictured above), both with two kinds of hot sauce and plenty of rice and hummus. (The sambusas, also pictured above, are great too.) G is partial to the Malay fish spaghetti and the goat biryani. We both love the hot, spicy shaah (chai-like tea) they make, and he’s also a fan of the ginger coffee.

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Most of all, I love the warm welcome we always get, and I’m looking forward to the day we can sit at a table again, near the open windows, and eat our lunch and chat with the staff.

Have you ever had Somali (or other East African) food?

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As we head into summer, I’m approaching my one-year anniversary in East Boston, this neighborhood tucked between the airport and the water, where I moved on a hot, chaotic festival weekend last July.

It feels like I’ve lived in Eastie longer than that: I spent a lot of time here last spring, when my marriage was on the rocks and I needed a place to get away (while still being able to go to work). Eastie became my haven, my perch from which to look at my life and decide whether and how to change it. Now, nearly a year later, it’s my home.

On Fridays this summer, I’ll be sharing some glimpses of Eastie here on the blog. For this first one: a little background, and an intro to the things I love.

Like so much of Boston, Eastie is a curious mix of natural and man-made: it is built out of five different islands and a whole lot of landfill that connects them. My part of Eastie, Jeffries Point, looks out over Boston Harbor (the area was a shipbuilding mecca for many years). My kitchen windows look out on the shipyard, which is still active with warehouses and pleasure craft. Some of the piers have fallen into disrepair, but you can walk out on a few others, and a couple of businesses – the Downeast cider house and the excellent KO Pies – have made their homes in the shipyard, too.

I live in a row of redbrick houses with curved bowfront windows and dormers in their roofs. But there are also a lot of traditional Boston triple-deckers, with wood siding and flat roofs, in the neighborhood, as well as some modern homes with more glass and steel in their designs. The architecture reflects the mix of old and new and constantly shifting that characterizes Eastie: it is historically a working-class area, but has seen an influx of wealthier residents over the last decade or so. You’re as likely to hear Spanish on the street as English, which reminds me of my West Texas hometown, but there are immigrants from all over the world, as well as a growing number of young and youngish professionals (like me) who are largely American-born but transplants to Boston.

There are a lot of things I love about Eastie: the plentiful parks, the beautiful Harborwalk (where I run all the time), the delicious food (Mexican and otherwise), the proximity to downtown on the Blue Line. But most of all I love that it feels like a neighborhood.

I’ve lived here less than a year and already run into people I know on the street. I attended my first social event here three days after moving in last summer. (This was thanks in large part to my college friends who live down the hill, who have done their best to invite me to everything.) Even in the era of masks and social distancing, people wave and say hello, and the folks who sell tacos, wine, produce and Somali food at neighborhood establishments know their regulars.

Boston is a city of more than 700,000 (the metro area population tops 4 million), and it can feel – it has often felt – impossible to carve out a small place for myself here, a neighborhood in which to know and be known. But Eastie feels like a patch that is truly mine. I’m still mainly an observer of life in the neighborhood, but am gradually putting down roots here, and I’m thankful for every single one.

More Eastie stories and photos to come.

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When the quarantine orders came down in mid-March, I thought: at least I’ll still be able to run. 

I kept running, mostly as usual – even a little more than usual – for five weeks, except when it poured rain. (Thank goodness for online yoga.) I live in a neighborhood with lots of public space: the Harborwalk, several parks and the East Boston Greenway. I love a three- or four-mile run through these spaces, and I was enjoying the chance to run nearly every day. Until my body mounted a serious protest to those weeks of working on a hard kitchen chair.

I panicked. Then I paid attention. Then I bought a foam roller and took nearly a week off running and did a lot of resting and stretching. The past week or two, I’ve mostly been back to running, though I’m taking breaks to walk more often, and sometimes shortening the distance.

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After several days of feeling good, I was expecting to go on a longer run this bright morning, but I woke up with tired muscles from last night’s long walk. So instead of the planned four-ish miles, I took a slow walk/jog down the hill, through the shipyard, down the pier and back, through the park. It wasn’t the longer run I had hoped for, but it had sunshine and movement and flowers, and it felt good to get out and move. I followed it up with some yoga, which was just what I needed.

I’m slowly learning to trust my body: though I’ve done yoga for years, running has both helped and forced me to inhabit these bones, muscles and tendons in a new way. I am learning to pay attention when my body says stop or wait or maybe not today. And I’m also looking forward to the day – maybe tomorrow, maybe next week – when she whispers Yeah. Let’s go. 

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As with so many other aspects of our lives these days, my yoga practice has gone online.

I discovered yoga about 10 years ago, when a friend invited me to some classes taking place in the Center for Contemporary Arts in downtown Abilene. I was (and remain) a bit intimidated by people who can twist their bodies into pretzel-like shapes, but I fell in love with the poses and breath work, and with McKay (the instructor’s) warm, practical, down-to-earth approach to yoga. When I moved to Boston, I immediately started taking classes at Healing Tree in Quincy, just down the road from my house. And when I moved to Eastie last summer, I found and fell in love with The Point.

Right as the social-distancing plans were ramping up, I went to a Sunday night restorative class at The Point. I had a hunch (correct, it turned out) that it would be my last chance for a while. There were three of us plus Taylor, the instructor, and we spread out with mats and blankets and bolsters, and tried to breathe deeply by candlelight. I felt it might fortify me, somehow, for whatever was coming next.

Since then, I’ve been dipping into Yoga with Adriene on YouTube and taking virtual online classes from both The Point and my friend Erin’s studio, Savin Hill Fitness. I like Adriene’s calm voice and occasional Texas twang (and her dog, Benji). I like that her videos are there for me any time. But I also like the virtual classes: even though we’re not in the room together, it helps me to know there’s a live instructor on the other side of the camera. The best part, when I’m taking from an instructor I know, is getting to wave at Erin or Izzy or Renee at the beginning or end of class.

Yoga is, of course, often silent and individual, except for the instructor’s voice. But for me it is also about community. It’s been a way for me to ground myself in the places I have lived. And even though I’m doing it solo on my kitchen floor these days, it’s still providing a bit of connection. Not to mention some seriously needed stretching, core work and deep breaths.

Are you doing yoga (or other workouts) online these days?

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Hello, friends. Here we are, staring down week 5 (say it ain’t so) of what my former colleague Juliette Kayyem calls “the now normal.” It is also Easter Sunday, and the middle of Passover – and if you are celebrating, I hope you’re finding ways to do that.

These days are edged with worry and fear and loneliness, but also deep gratitude, and I still believe the small good things are always worth sharing and celebrating. In my quarantine stories I am trying to be honest about all of it, but today I really want to focus on the good.

So, even while this is hard (and it is, y’all), here is what’s saving my life now.

  • Watching the birds in the apple tree out back – there’s a pair of cardinals, several blue jays, some tiny house wrens, what I think are yellow finches.
  • That same tree, leafing out and getting greener every day (with a few blossoms showing up, too).
  • Online yoga – with Adriene, the crew at Savin Hill Fitness, or Renee at the Point. My old green yoga mat is getting a lot of use these days.
  • Daffodils, crocuses, early tulips and cherry trees, which are blooming away, oblivious to anything but the light and the warmer weather.
  • The saucer magnolias in the neighborhood, which are pure pink-and-white glory.
  • Tea in my favorite mugs – I stocked up on my favorites from MEM Tea just as all this hit.
  • Texts from friends near and far, FaceTime with my sister, phone calls with friends and my parents, and the occasional video message on Marco Polo.
  • Running – my usual route along the harborwalk and greenway here in Eastie is keeping me sane.
  • Walks, when I’ve been inside all day or even just for a couple of hours.
  • Juliette’s smart, pragmatic commentary in the Atlantic and on Twitter.
  • Occasional trips to the bodega for necessities and human contact.
  • Fresh flowers – my beloved florist has closed for now, so I’m getting both my flowers and groceries at Trader Joe’s.
  • The #LivefromHome music performances online, spearheaded by Chris Thile and multiplying beautifully.
  • This video, made by students from Berklee, where I work – it has gone viral in the best way, and it’s sweet and wonderful.
  • Good books: the last few (for now) physical review copies, the last of my library stack, a reread of Rilla of Ingleside.
  • Seeing my colleagues’ faces during our weekly Zoom meetings.
  • Long walks and bear hugs with my guy.
  • Sidewalk chats with my friends in the neighborhood – we are all staying home/staying six feet apart, but it’s good to be together in person.

What is saving your life in these strange days? Please share, if you like.

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One of the things that surprised me when this pandemic hit was the grocery store panic.

I understand a bit of stocking up, especially if you’re not going to go out as much for a while. (I come from Texan and Midwestern farming families, and one of my grandmothers had a basement stocked with enough canned goods to weather the apocalypse. After my Papaw’s funeral, when Aunt Carmen and I cleaned out the fridge, we had to sneak a jar of long-expired mayonnaise and another of salad dressing out the side door so Mimi wouldn’t see us.)

Anyway, in the face of looming quarantine, it only made sense for people to buy a bit more than usual, if they could. But I was shocked by the stories of empty shelves and long grocery lines, and especially flummoxed by the toilet paper hoarding. It dismayed me, too: I felt like we were giving into our worst impulses before things had even gotten really bad.

When the big stores have been short on some supplies – even Trader Joe’s was low on pasta sauce and toilet paper, for a while – the little bodegas in my neighborhood have still had the essentials. I’ve been dropping in once or twice a week, for eggs or peanut butter or a red bell pepper, and a little chitchat with the guy behind the counter. The TV is usually playing something in Spanish, and I’ll see a kid coming in to buy a candy bar, or a Latina grandmother shopping for dinner.

I don’t speak (much) Spanish, but I grew up hearing it on the street: Spanish is the first language of so many folks who live in Texas. Because Eastie is home to lots of immigrants from the Caribbean and other parts of Latin America, I hear a lot of Spanish spoken here, and it feels like home.

I’m grateful for the convenience of the bodega, the chance to support a small business, and the good chance that they’ll have what I need (including toilet paper). It makes me feel a bit more a part of the neighborhood, and it reminds me that so often, what we need is right here.

(Photo is of Molly Wizenberg’s roasted eggplant ratatouille, which I have made twice recently and am totally making again this weekend.)

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Princess Mia, aka Anne Hathaway, via GIPHY 

Hello, friends. We’re in the middle of week 4, over here (I realize some folks might be on slightly different timelines), and I am here to tell you: I am feeling all the feelings, pretty much every day.

There’s the deep gratitude for my beautiful apartment, my cozy neighborhood, the water views out my kitchen window and the new life I have built for myself here. There’s the (sometimes uncomfortable) awareness that I am privileged to stay home, to still get paid, to continue to have health insurance. There’s the awed thankfulness for the healthcare workers, postal and delivery folks, grocery store staff, transportation employees and others who are still going to work, keeping us fed and safe.

And then.

There’s the loneliness: I miss my coworkers, my yoga instructors, and oh man do I miss my florist. I miss my friends the most. We are doing our best with FaceTime and texting, but it is not nearly the same.

There’s also the ongoing fear and anxiety: wondering when and how things will get worse, if we (the city, the nation, me) are remotely prepared, what we (I) can do, other than staying home and washing our hands. There’s the deep uncertainty of how long will this last? When will things get better? What does ‘better’ even look like? 

And there’s the sudden, surprising joy: the magnolia tree down the street is in full glorious flower, as are the daffodils. I’ve been talking to my sister more often, and checking in on friends near and far. I’ve still got a few good books on the stack. And I’m moved, all the time, by the artists and writers and musicians sharing their work generously via social media.

Everything is heightened, I said to a friend the other day: all our normal fears and frustrations are thrown into sharp relief by this ongoing crisis. It is so much to hold, every day, all at once.

I am trying (oh, am I trying) to be honest about where I am each day: write it out, text a friend, do some yoga, text another friend, cry if I need to. To admit it is hard, and also celebrate the good stuff. Like the bike ride I took with my friend Marisa the other night, or the socially-distanced chat with my friend down the hill while her six-year-old walked across the porch on homemade stilts. Like the cherry blossoms, pink drifts of beauty, and the good meals I’ve (mostly) been making for myself. The endless cups of tea in my favorite mugs. The bear hugs from my guy, extra precious because I can’t hug anyone else right now.

So that’s where we are today, friends. All the feelings, all the time. How are you?

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