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Posts Tagged ‘neighborhood’

 

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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I live in the middle of a bustling city: home to nearly four centuries of colonial history, more than 60 colleges and universities, thousands of residents from all over the world. Boston is a geographically compact city by American standards, but it’s still bigger and louder and more diverse than the West Texas towns where I grew up and spent my young adulthood. My neighborhood of Eastie is home to more than 40,000 people, and the airport lies a mere half mile from my front door.

When I moved here, I had to get used to the planes: normally they fly overhead so frequently that they form a kind of constant background noise. There are also buses and cars, delivery trucks rumbling through the shipyard, families out for a walk or scooter ride, parents walking their children to school. My neighborhood has a lot of dogs, and some days it’s like the Twilight Bark in the park near my house: one of them has something to say, and the others take it up like a canine game of telephone.

One of the most noticeable changes from the quarantine, so far, is the quiet.

The planes are still flying, but there are so few of them now that I can hear each one distinctly, as it flies overhead. There are no school buses, no kids walking to school in the mornings (though the afternoon walks and scooter rides are still happening, to save the parents’ sanity). The city buses and car traffic have settled down considerably. And sometimes, it’s so quiet that you can hear the church bells.

There are other sounds, both inside and out: the ticking clock in my kitchen, the crackle and hiss of the old radiators in my apartment, the tall white masts clanking gently in the shipyard down the hill. Sometimes I can hear the wind howling through the tree branches, whipping around corners. If I’m lucky, I hear children’s laughter and those barking dogs from the parks on either side of my house: a reminder that we’re all still here, even now. And the birds – blissfully unaware of everything except the springtime – are holding their own conversations, which are particularly noticeable these days.

In the absence of so much city noise, we can hear some things more clearly, and although the quiet also unnerves me a little, I’m trying to listen.

What are you hearing these days, where you are? I’d love to know, if you’d like to share.

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magnolia-eastie

Hello, friends. It’s April – though, to be honest, the days are all starting to run together a bit.

Like many of you, I’m still adjusting to the new not-quite-normal, sometimes multiple times a day. I woke up so sad this morning that I couldn’t just walk into the office and see my coworkers, or go hang out at Darwin’s, or buy armfuls of flowers from my florist in Brattle Square. (Though you can bet I will do all those and more when this is over.)

Stuck at home, there are lots of things I can’t do: go to the library, take a yoga class at my local studio, sit in my friend Chrissy’s living room and work on a puzzle together. But I am a storyteller, and I can still tell stories. So, every day this month, that’s what I’m going to do.

I need your help: please tell me, in the comments, what kind of stories you’d like to hear. And even leaving a comment at all helps: it lets me know that you’re out there, listening and reading.

Here’s today’s story:

magnolia-april

I started watching this magnolia tree last spring, when I was spending several weeks at a time in East Boston, walking Phoenix the doodle around the neighborhood in the mornings before work. I would wake up to filtered morning light and his furry face at the foot of my bed (sometimes closer if he had already decided it was time to get up). After a shower and my morning ablutions, I’d grab a banana and clip on his red leash, and we’d head out the door. (On the weekends, I grew really comfortable walking him in my pajamas.)

At the time, I’d lived in Boston for almost nine years, but had never spent much time in Eastie, this neighborhood tucked between the airport and the harbor, suspended between water and sky. I’d met Phoenix and his owner through a longtime friend of mine, and those first weekends at her house turned into two long stretches that spring while Carolyn was traveling and needed a dog-sitter. If I’m honest, I needed those weeks in Eastie as much as Phoenix needed those walks: I was sifting, agonizing, thinking and worrying, trying to decide whether to stay in my marriage or whether – though it seemed barely possible – I could walk away and start again.

The magnolia tree stands near the end of our morning walks, in the yard of a house that sits catty-corner from where I live now. I did not know, then, as I glanced up at it on our way to the park and back home, that I would be watching it bloom this spring, waiting for the fuzzy buds to open up and unfurl their white and lipstick-pink petals. I didn’t know I would pass it every time I went for a run, pausing to snap photos of its budding branches and the purple crocuses that share its yard. I did not know, yet, that Eastie would become my new home.

I’ve been watching the magnolia and its neighbors for nearly a year: the forsythia bush down the street, the budding maples with their red flowers, the unexpected patch of tulips in the shipyard, are all dear and familiar now. I’ve only officially lived in Eastie since the end of July, but it feels more like a year, and this spring feels like an anniversary. And I am grateful.

I’ll be back tomorrow, friends. Hope you’re staying well and safe.

 

 

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I am (it’s no secret) in love with my new neighborhood of East Boston, tucked between the water and the airport. I’ve spent nearly five happy months here now, and I’ve loved watching my neighbors get festive for the holidays.

The Italian restaurant around the corner was one of the first to decorate:

My neighbors are putting up wreaths of all kinds, including this shiny silver one:

Fences are draped with twinkly lights, including this display down the street from my house:

Even the yoga studio has gotten into the spirit, with this tiny, charming tree:

The wreath at the top is from the park near my house, which also put up a lighted tree last week. I love walking down the dark streets after work and seeing all the festive trees and decorations in people’s windows. And, of course, I’ve done a bit of decorating of my own.

It is that famously hectic week before Christmas, with work projects and holiday parties and last-minute details galore. But just like every year, I’m trying to slow down and notice the sparkle. I hope it’s looking cheery (or quiet and peaceful) where you are.

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