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Posts Tagged ‘joy’

Last week, I spent an hour (alongside some colleagues) placing red and silver sparkly macarons into cocktail glasses, along with turquoise stickers and quotes from our student participants. Days before, I brainstormed cocktail names with my supervisor. (We landed on Razzle Dazzle, Stardust, and Fancy Was My Name – sometimes, it’s nice having another Southern girl in the office.)

In the weeks before that, I wrote, rewrote and proofread program text; ordered several life-size cardboard celebrity cutouts online; maneuvered our office van through the winding streets near Boston’s North Station; and bought a fabulous pair of cascading rhinestone earrings. It all came together beautifully last Wednesday, at the aptly named Glitter and Glam version of the annual ZUMIX gala.

When people ask me what we do at ZUMIX, I usually tell them that we provide free and low-cost music lessons and other creative classes for young people, ages 7-18. And we do that, every day, at the Firehouse in East Boston. But the Gala was a chance to celebrate the broader definition of what we do: help young people discover their shine.

One of our youth musicians, Andres, bounded in two hours early, fizzing with excitement for his first-ever paying gig. Julian, sporting a fedora along with his usual funky glasses, played in three different ensembles (a fact Wendy, one of his fellow musicians, made sure to mention onstage). Angelica, rocking a slinky green sequined dress, worked the room at the cocktail party, interviewing guests for her show on ZUMIX Radio. And sisters Layla and Maya – neither one of them out of elementary school – brought the house down with their rendition of Selena’s “La Carcacha.”

I could go on, and tell you about Elia on the drums, Camille rocking both the bass guitar and her elegant blue dress, Samantha swirling around in a sparkly gown and Brandon adding a few rhinestones to his sharp suit (and playing guitar with his usual cool). And my colleagues: Ben and Chris and Brian doing double-time to get there after their other teaching gigs across town. Kadahj and Corey (both ZUMIX alumni) speaking eloquently about the impact this place has had on their lives and so many others. Esther, my supervisor, dashing around in a sequined red fedora and a light-up tutu. And Madeleine – our co-founder, executive director and the hardest-working woman I know – doing everything from setup to schmoozing to calling the ZUMIX Latin Ensemble back out for an encore.

I loved so many moments: getting dressed in the bathroom alongside the setup crew, giggling like girlfriends as we glammed up for the evening. Hugging former staff and alumni whom I’ve grown to love. Applauding my friend Roberto (above), manager at Eastie Farm and community-builder extraordinaire, as he received an award (and, later, getting down with his crew on the dance floor). Dancing with Esther to the Cotton-Eyed Joe after the DJ had finished his set. Sipping a Razzle Dazzle cocktail and snapping photos of our board and staff and community enjoying each other. Handing out light-up plastic rings to those who donated, and to any teenager who wanted one. Snagging a selfie with Madeleine as the party swirled around us. And driving back to Eastie in the van, close to midnight, exhausted but entirely satisfied.

Listen: there are all kinds of scrappy small organizations like ours, doing the work of building communities and giving young people a safe place to be themselves. We’ve made it through 31 years of this work, tied together by red Firehouse doors and ukulele strings and a whole lot of duct tape and hope. We are bolstered by smiles and crashing piano chords and a student’s look of astonishment as they land a guitar riff for the first time. We are scribbled song lyrics and sound-mixing wizardry; we are pupusas and potato chips and endless cups of tea from the office kettle. We are, also, budgets and grant proposals and donor acknowledgments and social media posts; the magic doesn’t happen without the admin grunt work, as my colleagues and I know all too well. But at events like the Gala, it all braids together beautifully, and like those macarons (courtesy of a Latin bakery in East Boston), it all sparkles.

We do provide music lessons, and theatre classes, and teach young people how to operate sound boards and create their own radio shows. But they teach us, too: how to be brave and silly and kind and fearless, how to try out new things – sometimes in front of a roomful of people – and not be afraid of what might happen. They demand honesty from us; they ask good questions; they push us to be better than we are. They ask us to build a world that is safe and creative and just. And they eat a lot of pizza – while making a lot of amazing music.

We have so many reasons to shine, Madeleine wrote in the event program last week. Gonzalo, one of our awardees, added, There is no stronger light than the one we receive from our young people. I am grateful – not just on Gala days, but every day – to be part of the string of lights that allows ZUMIX to keep on shining.

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It started off small, as so many things do: with a job I hated and a commitment to buying myself flowers on Mondays.

My essay “Becoming the Crazy Flower Lady” is up at Random Sample Review! Please click over to read it, and let me know what you think, if you’d like.

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Like so many people, I spent most of two years not going to the movies: first because the theaters were closed, then because I was nervous to go back. (And also because movies these days are expensive!)

But recently, my guy and I have gone back to the Coolidge in Brookline, a restored Art Deco theater we both love. We’d never been there together, until I heard that they were screening Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 version of Much Ado About Nothing (since Shakespeare on the Common is doing its own version this summer). We both love that film, but had never watched it together. So we met up for delicious Chinese food, stocked up on popcorn from Trader Joe’s, and headed to the theater.

I hadn’t seen this version of Much Ado since college, and had forgotten how delightfully over-the-top it is; how many Hogwarts professors (three!) are in the cast; how charming Denzel Washington is when he’s scheming; and how outsized (and gendered) Claudio’s reaction is to Hero’s supposed infidelity. We cringed at that last bit, but savored the rest of it: the sunny slopes of Italy’s countryside, the singing and dancing, the witty sparring between Beatrice and Benedick, and the chance to enjoy a classic film in the company of others.

I love a love story, and I love Shakespeare, which always brings back fond memories of the Shakespeare class I took in college. And I love a movie date with my guy. I’m so glad it’s available to us again, and I’m especially glad the Coolidge – in all its quirky glory – is there for us.

What local adventures are you having, these days?

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Last month, my girl Jackie and I took off on a Saturday morning, heading north up Route 1 to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, about an hour from Boston. (After 12 years in New England, my Texas-girl sense of space still marvels that you can get to another state that quickly.)

Our main destination was Book & Bar, which has had a facelift since I was there last, and still feels full of literary possibilities. We browsed for ages, split a salad and some yummy pretzel rolls, had a long chat with one of the managers, browsed some more. Eventually, we left to wander the main drag (and get caught in a rainstorm). But Jackie had another destination in mind to cap off our day: Auspicious Brew, a kombucha brewery in nearby Dover.

I’d only had kombucha once or twice before, and wasn’t sure I liked it: the fermentation can make it taste real funky. But I’d never even heard of a kombucha brewery, and from the moment we walked in, I was utterly charmed.

The brewery is in a former industrial space that reminded me both of Downeast and of the Lower Mills buildings, near where I used to live. It’s bright and funky, with potted plants and twinkle lights and hand-painted signs. We tried flights of kombucha, choosing from the eight (!) flavors they had on tap, and I picked up a mix-and-match four-pack to take home to my guy. You can also order Mexican food from the restaurant down the hall – they’ll even deliver it right to your table. We were hungry after a day of shopping and schlepping, so we took full advantage.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the kombucha: it reminded me of the fruity ciders I love, with a little extra funk and some creative flavors. (Concord grape and cardamom – the dark purple one above – was surprisingly delicious.) We sipped and talked and snapped photos and talked some more. I was delighted to try something new and tasty, and it was even more fun to share it with a friend.

What local(ish) adventures and/or fun libations are you having, these days?

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Recently, on a mild midweek evening, my guy and I ate dinner at his house and then went for a walk through the neighborhood. We have savored these midweek dinners in this season; they began as taco nights, but have evolved to include lasagna or hot dogs or whatever is in the fridge or pantry on any given week. They also, sometimes, include episodes of Black-ish or The Mandalorian, but on this particular evening, we wanted to wander.

He lives in a mostly residential area, leafy and quiet and hard to get to by public transit; I like it, except that it’s not all that accessible. The houses are a mix of single-family, classic Boston triple-deckers, brick mid-century apartment blocks. There were, on that evening, so many climbing vines and blooming roses and blowsy, beautiful peonies.

We ended up at Kiki’s, a nearby market whose name always makes me smile, because it’s what my nephews call me. I’d never been inside, so we decided to go in for a browse. And to our surprise and my utter delight, we found the aisle you see above: lined with every conceivable kind of digestive biscuit, Cadbury chocolate bar, and various other British treats.

Suddenly I was 20 years old again, standing in the smallish Sainsbury’s on the Woodstock Road in Oxford, or in the tiny post office around the corner on North Parade. I was gazing at the unfamiliar chocolates in their purple wrappers, trying to decide which one to take home for my study session that night. I was in the House 10 kitchen with Jamie, late at night, munching on an orange-wrapped roll of Hobnobs biscuit, talking about dreams and travel and love.

There was more: custard creams and bourbon creams, jammy tea cakes wrapped in marshmallow and chocolate, the orange-scented Jaffa cakes that are my friend Cole’s favorite. I was taken back, too, to the tiny newsstand across from St Anne’s College, Oxford, where you could once buy a bag of broken biscuits (exactly what it sounds like) for a pound or two.

We brought home an assortment of biscuits, plus a Cadbury Mint Crisp bar (still my favorite), and some spicy beef jerky (G couldn’t resist). I was – am – completely surprised to find all these treats in such variety and volume, three blocks from G’s house in Brighton. It kicked my ever-present wanderlust back into gear, of course, but more than that it simply made me happy: so glad to find these goodies that are part of a place I love, and happy to share them with my favorite man.

What local adventures are you having, these days?

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Last week, I hopped a Green Line train after work to go hear my friend Louise Miller have a books-and-baking conversation with fellow author Vallery Lomas. (I met another friend there, and we sampled treats afterward, and I hugged Louise and convinced my friend to buy her lovely first novel.)

The weekend before that, I volunteered as an usher at my favorite local theatre company and saw the excellent play The Book of Will for free. (Bonus: the witch hazel was out in the Public Garden.) And the weekend before that, my guy and I took the commuter rail up to Beverly, just north of Boston, where we ate and shopped and got caught in a snow squall, and took a long, rambling walk along the frozen beach, watching the birds and the light.

After a year and a half where we mostly stayed in our own apartments (or at least in our own neighborhoods) and/or felt safe doing mostly outdoor activities, it’s felt good to open myself up a bit again. The joy of local adventures – besides their accessibility – is the fact that they add serious magic to the everyday.

Some version of this phenomenon happens to me every spring: after curling up inside during the colder months, I love trying a few new restaurants, going for walks, planning visits to museums and generally enjoying the milder weather. Spring adds a bit of zing to life. But this year, going on a local adventure feels extra exciting. Whether that’s trying a new-to-us brunch spot with my partner, walking down unfamiliar streets or immersing myself in music or theatre for an evening, it feels revitalizing and fun.

What local adventures are you having these days?

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Winter can be a tough season: it’s cold, dark and frequently snowy where I live. This winter, I’m leaning hard into small everyday delights, and reaching for books that help me name and/or discover them.

Hannah Jane Parkinson’s witty, charming essay collection The Joy of Small Things is exactly what it sounds like: a compilation of Parkinson’s columns for The Guardian, celebrating quotidian, idiosyncratic joys. Techno music, red lipstick, night bus trips and cheating a hangover are among Parkinson’s delights, and her unabashed elation inspired me to notice my own pleasures. (I found this one at the wonderful Three Lives in NYC, and it was the perfect book for this season.)

I like cooking year-round, but am especially keen on baking in the winter. This year, I’ve reached for dessert inspiration in the form of Flour by Joanne Chang (which I’ve owned for years) and Nadiya Bakes by Nadiya Hussain, the 2015 winner of The Great British Baking Show. Chang, the founder-owner of Boston-based (and one of my faves) Flour Bakery + Cafe, delivers detailed recipes for her goodies, including raspberry crumb bars, lemon-ginger scones (with three kinds of ginger!) and the chunkiest chocolate-chip cookies. Hussain, sporting bright headscarves, showcases clever new recipes and bold twists on traditional desserts (blueberry scone pizza?!). Both women remind me that you don’t need an industrial kitchen to whip up tasty treats, though I do covet Hussain’s bright pink hand mixer.

Finally, Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee provides a tour of what Fetell Lee calls “the aesthetics of joy”: patterns, objects and modes of design that can enhance or inspire delight in our daily lives. Exploring harmony, magic, transcendence and other concepts, Fetell Lee shows how the physical environment (built or natural) can have a profound effect on our moods. As I wait for spring, I’ll be searching out every kind of joy–culinary, aesthetic or simply everyday–that I can find.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran a couple of weeks ago.

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I know we’re only a week into February, but I’ve already read a slew of great books (including on a snow day and a cross-country flight). Here’s what I have been reading:

Love, Lists and Fancy Ships, Sarah Grunder Ruiz
Jo Walker, yacht stewardess, has struggled to keep going since the death of her young nephew. But the surprise arrival of her two teenage nieces for the summer – plus a kind, handsome new neighbor/coworker and his daughter – forces her to get out and knock a few items off her 30-before-30 bucket list. Loved this funny, sweet novel.

Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, Ingrid Fetell Lee
We tend to think of joy as an intangible, elusive emotion – but it can be enhanced, even engendered, by physical objects and patterns in the physical world. A fun, informative look at 10 different aesthetics of joy – natural and human-made. Recommended by Anne and others.

Some of It Was Real, Nan Fischer
Sylvie is a psychic on the brink of stardom who isn’t quite sure she believes in her own abilities. Thomas is a journalist who’s determined to expose her as a fraud. As they go on a road trip to delve into Sylvie’s past, they both are forced to examine some serious grief and other emotions, including how they feel about each other. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 22).

The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane, Kate O’Shaughnessy
Maybelle Lane dreams of a singing career – and when she finds out the daddy she’s never met is judging a singing contest, she schemes her way to Nashville, in the company of a no-nonsense neighbor woman and her maybe-friend, the boy next door. A sweet middle-grade story about loneliness and how you choose to build a family.

Just the Two of Us, Jo Wilde
Julie and Michael have been married for nearly 35 years – but their relationship has gone seriously sour. When they’re forced to isolate together in their home in March 2020, they start to wonder if they can find their way back to each other. I wasn’t sure I was ready for a “light” pandemic novel, but this was a lovely exploration of family and the ups and downs of a long marriage. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 12).

Shoutin’ in the Fire, Dante Stewart
I follow Stewart on Twitter and Instagram – he writes powerfully about being Black, Christian and American. This memoir delves deeper into his own experiences and how he has grappled with anti-Blackness in various contexts (including in himself). He’s a force and this is a message we all need.

The Wicked Widow, Beatriz Williams
I love Williams’ lush, compelling historical fiction. This novel is the third featuring Geneva “Gin” Kelly, a scrappy redhead who gets caught up with a major bootlegging racket during Prohibition, and her connection to the blue-blooded Schuyler family. Heartbreaking and juicy and so good.

A Place to Hang the Moon, Kate Albus
William always tells his younger siblings that their mum thought they “hung the moon.” But when the children – long since orphaned – are forced to evacuate during World War II, clinging to those memories becomes tougher. A sweet (if often sad) story about family, love and the power of good stories.

Every Living Thing, James Herriot
It’s no secret I love Herriot’s books and the new PBS adaptation based closely on them. I found this later volume at the wonderful Dogtown Books in Gloucester (a happy surprise!) and have been savoring it slowly. Funny and vivid and comforting.

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

What are you reading?

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Well. We are digging out from a serious snowstorm, and it’s also (according to the calendar) the halfway point of winter. I’m linking up with Anne Bogel and others to share a list of what’s saving my life these days – because any and all lifesavers are worth celebrating. Here’s mine:

  • My final paperwhite bulb and the pink hyacinth in a glass vase I bought at Trader Joe’s – both blooming away.
  • The salsa class I’m taking on Thursday nights in Cambridge. It’s fun to learn something new, and it reminds me of the swing dance club I was in, back in college.
  • The big box of fresh citrus my California friend sent last week – most of it from her parents’ trees.
  • Strong black tea in my favorite mugs – a year-round lifesaver.
  • Tuesday writing class, which is back (on zoom) – I adore these ladies and the work we do together.
  • My cozy plaid infinity scarf and every sweater dress I own.
  • Yoga, which feels especially good when it’s so dang cold.
  • Spotify mixes – nineties country, mellow jazz, nineties pop hits, contemplative movie soundtracks and Natalie Cole.
  • Trying new ciders with my guy and writing about them for our cider Instagram account.
  • Dreaming and scheming about spring travel.
  • Baking treats from the Flour cookbook with my partner.
  • Good books: thoughtful nonfiction, plenty of YA and middle grade, and James Herriot before bed.
  • Related: All Creatures Great and Small season 2!

What’s saving your life in these winter days?

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We are (nearly) through a very cold January, and post-omicron, here’s what I have been reading:

Kisses and Croissants, Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau
Mia is convinced it’s her destiny to be a ballerina – especially since family legend has it her ancestor was painted by Degas. A summer program in Paris teaches her a few things about dedication, friendship, the stories we tell ourselves – and romance with a cute French boy. Fluffy and sweet – perfect isolation reading.

Our Wild Farming Life: Adventures on a Scottish Highland Croft, Lynn Cassells and Sandra Baer
I loved this memoir of two women who fell in love with a big piece of land in rural Scotland, and are pursuing their dream of a small-scale sustainable farm. A bit too much technical detail in the middle, but mostly a warm, fascinating account of the life they’ve built. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 10).

Taste: My Life Through Food, Stanley Tucci
I love Tucci’s film work (who doesn’t?) and was keen to read this memoir after hearing Anne and others recommend it. (I kept picturing him as Paul Child from Julie & Julia.) He’s definitely more of a storyteller than a writer, but this is an engaging account of his encounters with food throughout his life (plus recipes).

Blanche on the Lam, Barbara Neely
Domestic worker Blanche White goes to court for bad checks (not her fault!) – and ends up hiding out in the country, working as a maid for a wealthy family with secrets. I’d read the sequel to this one, but it was fun to read Blanche’s first adventure. Sharp and sobering.

The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts, Annie Darling
Posy Morland isn’t great at adulting, though she manages to care for herself and her teenage brother Sam. But when Posy inherits the bookshop where she works and decides to turn it into a romance bookshop, she’s faced with all sorts of new challenges. A fun, fluffy British story – I’d read one of the sequels, so I knew the characters. I found Posy rather irritating, but this was good bedtime reading.

Strange Birds: A Guide to Ruffling Feathers, Celia C. Perez
I loved Perez’s debut so much that I picked this, her second novel, up at the library. Ofelia, Cat, Aster and Lane are four oddballs who form a secret club/Scout troop one summer in their small Florida town. A funny, thoughtful story of friendship and standing up for what you believe in. I love seeing more multiracial casts of characters in middle-grade novels.

The Joy of Small Things, Hannah Jane Parkinson
I picked up this essay collection at the wonderful Three Lives in NYC. Parkinson writes a column for The Guardian on small delights, and many of those columns are collected here. Perfect January cheer.

The Reading List, Sara Nisha Adams
Mukesh is a lonely widower living in west London. Aleisha is a teenager reluctantly spending her summer working at the local library. Through a handwritten reading list, the two (and a handful of other characters) form unexpected connections. This was so lovely – both joyful and sad, lots of depth, and wonderful characters. I loved Mukesh’s relationships with his daughters and granddaughter.

Room to Dream, Kelly Yang
Mia Tang is going back to China to visit family and she can’t wait! But once she’s there, she realizes how much has changed – in the country and in herself – since she immigrated to the U.S. Back home, she’s facing challenges at school and with her parents’ motel. I loved this spunky third installment in Yang’s series, and I especially loved watching Mia grow as a writer and a person.

Majesty, Katharine McGee
Beatrice Washington is America’s first (young!) queen after the death of her father. As she tries to figure out how to rule, she’s also planning a wedding – and relationships are getting complicated for her sister Sam and their friends, too. A deliciously scandalous sequel to American Royals, with some real insight on confidence and what it means to truly love someone.

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

What are you reading?

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