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Posts Tagged ‘New England’

mystic seaport ct

Earlier this month, the hubs and I took off for a much-needed weekend getaway. His birthday is in early May, and it seemed like forever since our quick trip to Florida in mid-March.

We’ve been through southern Connecticut many times on our train rides to NYC, but had never spent any time there – so we decided to hop down to Mystic (as in pizza) for a long weekend.

In spite of some truly crazy spring rainstorms, it was delightful. (As were these tulips, spotted outside a shop in downtown Mystic.)

tulips mystic ct

We arrived on a windy, rainy Friday afternoon, checked into our Airbnb apartment and ate lunch at the S&P Oyster Company, down by the water. The views were a bit obscured by the weather, but the clam chowder was delicious.

After lunch, we drove over to nearby Westerly, R.I., where we spent most of our time at the Savoy Bookshop & Cafe. (If you know me, you are not shocked by this one bit.)

savoy bookshop westerly rhode island

I browsed the stacks while J curled up and read for a while, and later (after wandering around in the rain) we came back for an afternoon snack.

The rain had (mostly) stopped by dinnertime, and we ate at the other pizza place in Mystic – not the one from the movie, but Pizzetta, down on Water Street. Both the spinach-artichoke dip and the pizza were fresh and delicious. (The after-dinner excitement: several of the server girls shrieking because a frog had found its way onto the back stairs!)

Saturday began with pastries from Sift (yum) and brought more wandering, including a long browse at Bank Square Books, which is owned by the same folks who run the Savoy. I could have stayed for hours: it is well-stocked, pleasantly arranged and full of unexpected corners.

bank square books mystic ct window

Our Airbnb hostess, Melissa, had told us about M Bar, a hip little restaurant in a converted gas station, a short walk from downtown Mystic. We had dinner there on Saturday night and I loved every bite: avocado mash with pita chips, veggie lasagna with white sauce, and the best fries I’ve had in quite some time – with house-made ketchup. (Plus lovely wine, a great ambiance and a handsome date.)

jer m bar mystic ct

The sun finally came out on Sunday, so we drove over to Gillette Castle, though we were disappointed to learn it was still closed for the season. (J really wanted to climb it, and I was curious to go inside.) We had to content ourselves with wandering around the site, and marveling at the exterior.

gillette castle exterior ct

After that, we headed to yet another bookstore: the rambling, overstuffed Book Barn in Niantic. It boasts a fairy garden, a “haunted” mystery shed, several annexes of various kinds, and – I kid you not – a hobbit hole.

hobbit hole book barn niantic ct

More to the point, it is positively overflowing with used books, and we ended up with a bulging bag of them: fiction and mysteries for me, history and other nonfiction for J. My favorite kind of vacation shopping.

In between our wanderings, we spent a lot of time at the apartment: sleeping late, going to bed early, curling up with good books. I spent hours on the wicker sofa by the window, under a white afghan, sipping tea and reading a couple of YA novels I loved. It was restorative in the best way: walking and resting, exploring and eating, just being together.

We capped off our trip with brunch at Rise (which J kept mistakenly calling “Shine”) on Monday morning, and headed home, refreshed.

jer pancakes rise mystic ct

Mystic, you are enchanting. (And restful.) We’ll be back.

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boston-skyline-boats

I wasn’t very familiar with Boston when I moved here. I had visited once, as a college student, and I knew it had played a key role in the American Revolution and that Bostonians harbored a bizarre passion for the Red Sox. (See below.)

ducklings beards red sox public garden boston

Naturally, I began reading everything I could get my hands on about the city, the area and its (rich, layered, deeply convoluted) history. And I have found some truly wonderful books about this gorgeous, frustrating, complicated place.

Here are my top picks:

Fiction

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay
Kalotay’s gorgeously written first novel explores the career of Nina Revskaya, a former Soviet ballerina who chooses to sell off her jewelry collection. Both Nina and her jewelry harbor a number of secrets, and Kalotay unravels them in luminous prose. Set partly in Boston’s Back Bay, it was one of the first Boston novels I read after moving here, and it evokes the neighborhood perfectly. (Kalotay’s second novel, Sight Reading, is also partly set here.)

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
Howe’s novel is a delicious blend of history, ghost story and self-discovery. Graduate student Connie spends the summer in her grandmother’s house in Salem (north of Boston, site of the notorious witch trials). The plan is to get it ready to sell, but Connie discovers a trove of family history that grabs her and won’t let go. Slightly creepy (perfect for October, when I read it) and so compelling. Howe’s second novel, The House of Velvet and Glass, is also set in Boston.

The Secret of Sarah Revere by Ann Rinaldi
I found this (rather obscure) YA novel at a library book sale not long after moving here. It gave me a window into a critical piece of the American Revolution through the eyes of Sarah Revere, daughter of Paul, and was one catalyst for my Boston book obsession.

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
Brooks writes sweeping, richly detailed historical fiction, and this novel (inspired by a true story) follows a young Native American man who attended Harvard in the 17th century. It tells of a very different Boston and Cambridge than the one I know, but the new has its roots in the old, of course, and this is a glimpse of a fascinating slice of history.

Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams
I love Williams’ deliciously scandalous novels about the Schuyler family, and this one has some gorgeously rendered scenes in Boston and also on Cape Cod. (I also adore Christina, the narrator.) A book to sink into (and then you’ll want to read all Williams’ other books).

harvard yard autumn light leaves

Nonfiction

Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick
No one does New England history like Philbrick (he wrote Mayflower, In the Heart of the Sea and Away Off Shore, among others). Bunker Hill tells the story of the famous battle, in the context of the colonies’ desperate struggle for freedom. John Adams and his family are key players in this story, and I live just a few miles from their houses, so I found it particularly fascinating. Well-researched and highly readable. (Bonus: this is the book that started my first conversation with my librarian friend Shelley – on an airplane a few years ago!)

Hammer Head by Nina MacLaughlin
This memoir was my favorite book of 2015 – a gorgeously written, pithy, fascinating account of a woman who becomes a carpenter’s apprentice. MacLaughlin lives and works in Boston, and she vividly describes streets and neighborhoods that I know. An insightful window into the culture of this place, plus a wonderful meditation on how to build a good life.

As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, ed. Joan Reardon
These letters cover so many topics: food, marriage, the Foreign Service, Paris (of course) and various other exotic locales. But they are full of Boston, where Avis lived and Julia eventually moved. Sharp-eyed, often funny and utterly fascinating.

And, of course, no Boston book list is complete without Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. I have a deep love for those ducklings – in book and statue form – and every spring I delight in watching their real-life counterparts quack and swim their way around the Public Garden.

ducklings mama duck public garden boston

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are your favorite books set in Boston? I’m always looking for new gems to add to the list.

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harvard yard snow blue sky

Here is another thing I did not know before I moved from Texas to Boston: Northeastern winters require constant calibration.

In west Texas, winter is short and fairly consistent: chilly and (mostly) dry, with occasional cutting winds that sweep down from Canada, whipping around the corners of buildings and rattling the bare branches of shrubs and trees. There is the occasional ice storm, and also the rare 60-degree day, mild and blue-skied with actual warmth emanating from the sun. But mostly, the days call for a single strategy: don a jacket, turn the furnace up a little, hang on until spring.

In the Northeast, winter comprises an entire spectrum of cold: crisp and dry; bone-chillingly damp; mild and warmed by a pale sun; dark and windy and wet. It requires an entire wardrobe of proper gear: coats, hats, boots, gloves. Especially if you have to get out in it every day (I do), it demands serious attention and adjustment.

I keep a close eye on the weather all year long: I am my parents’ daughter, the descendant of farmers who watched the sky for their livelihood. I am also an inveterate sky-watcher for the beauty, for the deep breath it always prompts me to take, and for the way it helps me feel the movement of the earth in my bones.

Once winter hits, though, my monitoring of the forecast becomes downright obsessive. And it’s amazing what a difference a few degrees, precipitation (or the lack of it), or wind (or the lack of it) can make.

Last week, we had our first true cold snap of this winter: 10 degrees with a windchill below zero Fahrenheit when I left the house on Tuesday morning. I’d checked my weather app and calibrated accordingly: fleece-lined tights, leather gloves, knee-length hooded down coat. By the time the highs crept back up into the 40s, later in the week, I could make do with a wool coat and ankle boots, since it wasn’t snowing. One afternoon, I even stole a few minutes in the sun on the steps of Memorial Church – before the wind started blowing, it felt downright (relatively) balmy.

katie memorial church green coat harvard yard

It can feel like a small triumph to shed a layer or wear a cute pair of shoes when the mercury rises just a few degrees. Similarly, it makes sense to keep a wool hat in my work bag all winter long, and check the forecast daily for snow or sleet. This week, we’ve had two dustings of snow – so it’s back to the down coat and snow boots. But I am quietly rejoicing that the sky is now cobalt, not indigo or pitch black, when I leave work in the afternoon.

We’re only a few weeks into winter (especially since December was shockingly mild). The memory of last winter is still sharp and vivid, and I’m hoping (possibly against all reason) for a less brutal time this year. But no matter what happens, I’ll be watching the forecast. And calibrating.

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memorial church red leaves blue sky

In mid-September, I posted a fall list (as is my habit). Here’s how it’s been going:

apple trees blue sky

  • Drink chai and bake something with pumpkin. I’ve been mainlining chai, and I’ve baked pumpkin bread and mini pumpkin whoopie pies.

chai journal pencil case darwins

yellow leaves boston blue sky

tealuxe emily deep valley maud hart lovelace

corita kent be of love

anne of avonlea dahlias

  • Read a few “deep TBR” books. I’ve read a few and gotten rid of several more.
  • Try three or four new recipes. I’ve tried five: a Mexican vegetarian lasagna, spiced Moroccan chicken and baked spaghetti and meatballs (all from Real Simple). Plus Jenny’s new favorite weeknight chicken, and her butternut squash pizza.
  • See Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella onstage. Abi and I had a lovely afternoon.

katie-abi-cinderella

  • Sip the occasional glass of Cabernet with a friend. Yes.

What have you been up to this fall?

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harvard yard fall golden leaves

November is often a tricky month for me. The days are abruptly shorter after the fall time change, the long twilights of September and October suddenly snipped off like a ribbon. There’s a chill in the air most mornings, and I have to adjust to a different seasonal rhythm, the angle of the sun somehow melancholy even when the sky is vivid blue.

golden leaves sunshine

This week, though, has been one of almost unreal perfection: a glorious stretch of Indian summer, wherein (to quote L.M. Montgomery) “November dreamed that it was May.” I have spent hours in Harvard Yard, on the wide south porch of Memorial Church, perched on a bench or the concrete steps, sipping chai and scribbling in my journal or typing away at my laptop.

Every few minutes, I pause to look up as a breeze sends a swirl of golden leaves fluttering down from the trees. It’s like living in a postcard, or catching a glimpse of an enchanted forest.

harvard yard path trees light

Sometimes I think that if I watch hard enough, I can almost see it happen: the sun’s angle shifting gradually, the golden leaves falling one by one from the trees. The slow, elegiac turning of the year, the bright flaming out of orange and gold before the bare branches emerge to line the sky through the winter months.

orange gold leaves blue sky

Every year, it is a challenge for me to savor these last weeks of fall without dreading what comes after: the long, dark New England winter, which requires every bit of courage (and snow gear) I possess. I love the light, and like Dylan Thomas, I rage against its dying.

yellow leaves dormer windows harvard yard

But this week, I have felt cocooned in this quiet golden world, nourished by these bold blue skies and mild breezes and glowing, fire-bright leaves. I have stopped in my tracks so many times, looking up (and sometimes down), marveling at the colors, snapping pictures, soaking it up.

gold-red-leaves-grass

It all feels like a moment of grace, a gift. And for that, I am grateful.

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red yellow leaves autumn light

“The climate changed quickly to cold and the trees burst into color, the reds and yellows you can’t believe.

yellow leaves boston blue sky

“It isn’t only color but a glowing, as though the leaves gobbled the light of the autumn sun and then released it slowly.

red leaves blue sky light

“There’s a quality of fire in these colors.

memorial church red leaves blue sky

—John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

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rocks nubble light maine

Last Saturday, I woke up to grey skies and spitting rain. The hubs was out of town on a work retreat, and my friend Adam and I had planned to drive up to Maine in search of fall colors and fresh air.

fall-color-maine-early-oct

We almost didn’t go. It had been a long week for both of us, and the howling wind made me want to hunker down and watch movies all day.

I knew I’d get cabin fever, though, and we hoped the skies would clear up if we drove north. So we hopped in my car and hit the road.

We stopped first at the Nubble Lighthouse on Cape Neddick. It was cold (and crowded, despite the photo below), but gorgeous.

nubble light cape neddick maine

We wandered around and took photos of the light and the waves, then bought steaming bowls of soup from a nearby clam shack (chowder for me, lobster bisque for him) and ate them sitting in the car.

Our next stop was Two Lights State Park, up on Cape Elizabeth. Adam had been there before, but I never had. It is windswept and understated and quietly stunning.

rocks waves two lights state park

We climbed all around the rocky cliffs – which go right down to the water, great slabs piled on top of one another to form a sort of natural terrace.

adam two lights waves rocks

Ahead, we glimpsed the blue sky we’d been chasing (though we never quite reached it).

rocks waves blue sky two lights state park maine

The wind roared in our ears, frothing the waves into whitecaps and sending the clouds scudding across the sky.

It reminded me of being in Ireland, long ago: climbing up to an old ruined fort on the largest of the Aran Islands and letting the wind blow my hair straight back and pull the breath right out of my lungs.

katie two lights rocks

Here, on the other side of the Atlantic, I remembered a favorite line from Anne of the Island:

Anne roamed through the pineland alleys in the park and, as she said, let that great sweeping wind blow the fogs out of her soul.

Without consciously realizing it, that was exactly what we had done: left the city behind to come stand on the edge of the world, letting the wind – and each other’s company – blow the fog out of our souls.

It was a bracing antidote to the daily frustrations and larger struggles of the week. Just what we needed.

Our last stop was Bug Light – a glimpse of blue sky, a dramatic sunset, and the tiniest lighthouse I’d ever seen.

bug light sunset sky

We headed home (stopping for dinner in Portsmouth) – windblown and tired, but utterly at peace.

What are your best antidotes for soul fog?

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