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Posts Tagged ‘neighborhood’

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A few weeks ago, I met my guy for lunch in Cambridge on a rainy Tuesday. We had sandwiches at a place we both love, grooving to nineties music, and then I walked down the street to a coffee shop to work for a while. Later, I dropped in at Albertine Press, where I’ve taken a few craft workshops, and went to a yoga class at the studio near my house, where the instructor – sweet Kristina – greeted me by name.

As we move through these spring days, I keep thinking about this time three years ago: the fear and isolation, the masks on the T and at the grocery store, the almost total lack of in-person gatherings (except on warmer days, when we could take walks outside). One of the (many) things I missed during that time was my “third places”: the spaces separate from work and home where I spent time and formed relationships. At that time, those places included Darwin’s (above); the beautiful main branch of the Boston Public Library; Brattle Square Florist; and that same yoga studio, among others.

These days, my third places are the same and different: still the yoga studio; Toasted Flats, where I pick up a pita wrap for lunch every week or two; the East Boston library branch, where I am known by name; and that sweet Cambridge florist, where Stephen always has a smile for me. ZUMIX, where I work, functions as a third place for our students, where they can come and be themselves and make music, and get a little rowdy if they so choose.

I’m thankful today for those third places, and for the people – including my colleagues and friends – who work so hard to make them beautiful and accessible. It’s a true delight to welcome and be welcomed, and I’m grateful every time I walk in.

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There are asters all over my part of East Boston, peeking out at the bottom of hedgerows and growing thick among the milkweed and mulberry at the end of the greenway.

They were a little late to show up this year. The long, hot summer days lingered, and I wondered if the drought in Massachusetts would fry them on the stem. I was delighted – and relieved – when they showed up in mid-September, in (most of) the usual places. Along with cosmos, morning glories and stubborn late-summer roses, they herald my favorite season: the long golden days of summer-into-fall, the time of year when I was born. This time always feels like a new beginning to me, even as the world begins to prepare for its winter sleep.

I always knew asters were my birth flower: I remember seeing their name alongside sapphire, my birthstone, on those lists of symbols associated with each month. But I didn’t know what they looked like for many years. Like so many of the plants that grow in New England, they don’t grow in West Texas. I read about them in the Anne series and The Secret Garden, but I didn’t encounter them in living color until I was an adult.

These days, their presence – peeking over scrub grass or sticking out of fences – feels like a secret sign. Asters don’t shout, not like bold dahlias or tall sunflowers or creamsicle-orange daylilies. But they are distinctive: purple or white or sometimes hot pink petals, yellow or purple centers, charming nicknames like farewell-summers and Michaelmas daisies. I love that they appear in my season, in my neighborhood, mingling with the other plants as green begins to turn to gold. Their friendly faces feel like a wink, as I run or walk by on my neighborhood rounds: right here, in this moment, I am where I’m supposed to be.

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Well, friends, it happened: after nearly two years of wearing a mask, washing my hands incessantly, getting vaccinated and taking all the other precautions we’re all used to now, I tested positive for COVID-19 a few weeks ago.

I was lucky. My symptoms were fairly mild, mostly fatigue and congestion (though I will say the brain fog is real). My employer has been generous about giving us extra sick time for isolation and recovery (though I did work from home when I felt well enough, to stave off the boredom). I felt tired and draggy for nearly a week, and I’ve still had some fatigue and a lingering cough – but mostly, I feel grateful it wasn’t much worse.

My mild-ish symptoms didn’t surprise me too much: I’m vaxxed, boosted, in a low-risk demographic, etc. What did surprise me were some of the emotions I felt. They ran the gamut from fear (what if I become severely ill?) to worry (does my partner have it too? Spoiler: he did, and he’s also fine now) to eye-rolling frustration (here we go with the isolation and counting days).

There was also abject sadness and terror at the thought of more isolation in my apartment, after spending most of 2020 and the first half of 2021 alone there. I broke down and sobbed to my mom on the phone after I got my positive results. I have worked so hard since my divorce to build a life for myself that includes community, but as a household of one with a highly contagious virus, I knew I was facing down at least a week of serious solitude.

I felt helpless and frustrated (there was nothing I could do about it), mildly outraged (but I’ve been doing everything right! The whole time!), and a little bit ashamed (I caught the virus anyway. Did I do something wrong?). And deep down, after a couple of days, I also felt a creeping sense of relief: now I’ve had it. So that happened.

In addition to all these emotions, I truly did feel lucky: my community stepped up for me, in ways both tangible and intangible. One friend dropped off groceries (and cough drops) on a bitterly cold afternoon. My supervisor called to check in on a few mornings. I went for a walk with a girlfriend who had tested positive the day after I did – which saved both of our sanity. Other friends texted; my parents called; my sister checked in on me every day. My partner and I did our best to support each other via FaceTime and phone calls, and on the weekend when we reunited in person, we hugged for minutes at a time. I felt loved and supported, even while I was physically alone.

As this pandemic drags on and on, the omicron wave has hit a lot of households in my circles that had so far managed to avoid the virus. My folks, my partner and various friends are all recovering; here in Boston we are still masking, sanitizing, flashing our vaccine cards to eat indoors and go to the gym and go hear live music (or dance salsa, in my case).

We are still here, I keep saying to my colleagues, my parents, my COVID-weary friends. I keep hearing Beth Silvers‘ voice in my head: It’s a virus, not a moral defect. Which is to say: keep doing everything you can, but testing positive is not a moral failure. It’s simply something many of us will have to deal with at some point.

I don’t have any neat and tidy conclusions, but wanted to share my experience in case it is helpful to someone here. (Beth also noted that, like childbirth, having COVID is a singular, isolating experience that creates some stuff we need to process together.) Thanks for reading, friends. If you have your own experiences/emotions to share, please feel free – I’m listening.

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For leggy geraniums in my kitchen window and brilliant afternoon light.

For morning runs along the harbor and the greenway. For so much outdoor public space in my neighborhood, and a body that is strong and healthy, beautiful and resilient.

For a kind, brilliant, passionate, funny, fierce man whose love sustains me.

For a few local friends who are my lifelines, every single day.

For my faraway family, both blood kin and chosen.

For texts and calls with my girlfriends scattered across the miles. For the technologies that allow us to share in the details of one another’s lives.

For vaccines, nurses, doctors, public health officials and everyone who is (still) working so hard to keep us safe.

For a job at a neighborhood nonprofit that I love, working with good people to bring music and creative empowerment to our young folks.

For nourishing trips this summer and fall – to Texas, Minneapolis, Vermont and beyond – to explore new and beloved places and spend time with folks dear to me.

For music in all its forms: the Wailin’ Jennys and the women of country on my long runs, humming favorites in my kitchen, singing carols with others at Christmas choir rehearsal, hearing our ZUMIX students play ukulele or drums or guitar.

For good books, those who write them, and the chance to read and review them regularly.

For a place – my studio, my neighborhood, this city, my communities – where I have built a home and been welcomed into other people’s homes.

For all – as my friend Amy would say – that we have been given.

If you’re celebrating this week, I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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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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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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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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One thing I’m noticing in this strange “now normal” is the absence of the usual transitions in my day.

Like a lot of workers, I usually commute to my job, which means (in my case) leaving my house, walking to the train station, getting on the subway, switching lines, then walking to my office at the other end. That ritual, and the physical movement, helps signal to my brain and body that I’m at work, and that I’m leaving work when I do it all again at the end of the day.

I don’t miss crowded subway cars, but it can be easy for all the hours at home to start feeling just like one another. So, last week, when my friend Anne Bogel posted 10 of her favorite work-from-home tips, I was caught by the first one: Walk yourself to work.

Like Anne, my “home office” (in my case, my kitchen table) is almost no distance from the rest of my living space, especially since I live in a studio apartment. I only have to carry my laptop a few feet to start working, and that’s not always enough of a demarcation. So I’ve started adopting Anne’s trick. Some mornings, I’ve been going for a run first thing, if the weather and my schedule permit – which feels great and definitely gets me moving before the workday starts. But when it’s raining or I have early meetings or otherwise can’t squeeze in a run, I’ve been putting on a jacket and walking myself to work.

I go around the block and back up through the park, or down the hill and through the nearby shipyard. Sometimes I carry a travel mug of tea, or a clementine, and I try to pay attention: to blossoming trees and sidewalk chalk and my neighbors, out walking their dogs (or their kids). Once in a while, I wave at someone I know. And I usually arrive back home feeling better, and (slightly) more ready to start the workday.

Like a lot of things I’m trying right now, it’s not magic, but it’s helping. And most days, that’s good enough.

What work-from-home tricks are you trying, in these days?

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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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Since the schools and daycare centers closed, my neighbors have been looking for ways to keep their kids occupied. Especially as the weather warms, I’m seeing a lot of sidewalk chalk in the neighborhood.

Rainbows are a popular theme (they’re in lots of windows, too, including mine). One family scrawled “Quarantine” on the brick wall of their house, and played some tic-tac-toe games on the sidewalk nearby. They also wrote all their names, which I found both lovely and heartbreaking: we are here.¬†

My friend Ally and her kids have created a couple of epic hopscotch games, involving directions like “Spin 3 Times” and “Dance Party” (see above). And last week, I saw a heartfelt complaint next to the hockey courts at the end of my street: “Mayor Walsh took our hockey nets! We our [sic] very upset!” Someone else had printed an answer beneath: “We are all not happy about how things are going, but we will get through this.”

I have yet to invest in my own sidewalk chalk (maybe I should?), but for now, I’m enjoying the messages I find on my runs and walks, like this one:

That’s all we can do. Love all, wash our hands, keep telling our stories, get outside in the sunshine when we can. And keep going. Somehow we’ll make it through.

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