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Posts Tagged ‘North Shore’

Last week, my guy and I hopped on the commuter rail (for the first time since March) and headed to Gloucester, about an hour north of Boston. We’d each been up there before, but not together, and we reveled in wandering around, eating seafood and soaking in some time away.

Because I am me, and because we were there to celebrate my birthday, we went to two bookstores, both of which were utter delights.

The Bookstore of Gloucester was our first stop: it’s a cozy, well-curated shop with green walls, situated right at the bend of Main Street. I loved browsing their local section at the front, and picked up one of Jennifer Ackerman’s books on birds. They have a huge children’s/young adult section (this is only a slice, above), a handful of cards and journals, and interesting stuff in all genres. I always enjoy seeing what bookstore owners choose to highlight in their spaces – it’s such a reflection of both the staff and the community.

Our second bookstore was down the street: Dogtown Books (“used and unusual”). It had an entirely different feel – a huge space lined with crowded bookshelves, bursting with titles of all types and eras.

I headed straight for local history and fiction, where I picked up Anita Diamant’s novel Good Harbor. I browsed the poetry, too, and the children’s section in the “way back” of the store. (I did not buy any awesome pulp fiction, but I appreciated the sign.)

There was entirely too much to take in, but I did snap a half-dozen shots of fun used-bookstore touches, like this typewriter. (Yes, I did type a few letters and yes, some of the keys do stick.)

Bookstore browsing feels different these days: lots of places have limited hours, and of course everyone – staff and customers – is distanced and masked. I made some online orders from my favorite stores during quarantine in the spring, but I am so glad to be able to wander the shelves again. The booksellers at both Gloucester shops were friendly and kind, and it felt good to lose myself in the stacks for a little while.

Despite their good cheer, I am sure both stores, like lots of indie bookstores, have struggled mightily during the pandemic. If you can, please order your books (and anything else they sell) from independent bookstores instead of online retail giants. It makes such a difference to those stores and the communities to which they belong.

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wingaersheek beach path reeds blue sky

In the continued spirit of summer Fridays, we loaded up the car last Friday and headed north.

We’d planned to meet some friends at Wingaersheek Beach, near Gloucester, and in spite of scattered thunderstorms, it was a wonderful afternoon.

jer katie wingaersheek beach

We began with lunch at J.T. Farnhams in Essex: fresh (mostly fried) seafood and delicious, creamy clam chowdah. Then we squeezed into one car (the beaches around here charge for parking per vehicle) and drove over to Wingaersheek, where we set up our gear on the sand, with this view.

view wingaersheek beach lighthouse

Twenty minutes later, nearby lightning strikes meant we had to pack up and leave, at least temporarily. But we decided to salvage the afternoon with ice cream at Holy Cow in Gloucester. I had the homemade Mayan Chocolate, which was zingy and delicious.

holy cow ice cream sign

By the time we finished eating, the skies had cleared, so we headed back to the beach and spent the rest of the afternoon wandering between the sand and the waves.

katie emily beach sky

We stood knee-deep in the water and talked, and chased the seagulls away from our bags, and soaked up the sun and sand, the salt water and blue sky, and the being together. Pretty perfect.

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devereux beach marblehead

On Fridays in the summer, we like to take day trips.

Since my husband is usually done early on Fridays (he’s a therapist and his schedule ebbs and flows with the school year and vacations), and I’m freelancing/job hunting, we are continuing our summer tradition of exploring the Boston area. A few weeks ago, we decided to revisit Marblehead, a little town on the North Shore that we’d visited a long while back.

It was a hot, humid afternoon, but it was – in a word – glorious.

striped petunias window box flowers

We drove up after a busy morning: sessions for him, yoga and errands and some writing work at the library for me. After a freak thunderstorm, the skies had (mostly) cleared, and we nosed our way into the pretty downtown area, and spent a couple of hours wandering.

I found a sweet blue dress at a boutique called She, and we poked in and out of several other shops. I was disappointed to find that Authors and Artists, a great old used bookstore, had closed (or at least moved?). But the Spirit of ’76 Bookstore, several streets over, is thriving. Of course we had to go for a browse.

spirit of 76 bookstore interior

We also found a garden shop overflowing with flowers, and Bella, one of the resident spaniels, sprawled out in the doorway.

garden shop flowers dog spaniel bella

We headed, with our books, over to Devereux Beach, where J settled down on my yoga mat (necessity being the mother of invention) and I waded into the waves, then walked up and down the beach for a while. I love the feel of sand under my feet, of wind and waves and sky. Eventually I stretched out next to J and read a bit of Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places, which felt fitting even though we were only a mile from town.

katie devereux beach selfie marblehead

When we got hungry, we headed back in and decided to try the local taqueria, Howling Wolf, which – glory be – was delicious. We took the leftover salsa home and snacked on it for days.

All in all, a delightful return to Marblehead. I’m sure we’ll be back (again).

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Living in New England, I’m (still) constantly amazed by how close together everything is. Drive a few hours from Boston and you could be in any one of six states. We drove to Maine for the day last month, just because we could. (I grew up in west central Texas, where we routinely drove two hours one way to play district high school football games.)

We’ve got plans to explore all the New England states, but I also love taking off for an adventure closer to home, when we didn’t plan ahead but want to discover a new place, and get back in time to make soup for dinner and watch a little Castle. So on Saturday, we hopped in the car and let Agatha, our trusty GPS, point us toward Marblehead.

I admit I had an ulterior motive: I’d heard about the Spirit of ’76 bookstore. And yes, we went, and it was lovely. But before we hit the bookstore, we found some other gems, such as these autumn leaves:

Marblehead has a charming little downtown area, lined with quaint old buildings, and we spent a couple of hours browsing the shops, picking up a few treasures. We bought a wee Christmas-tree-shaped ornament made of shells (with a tiny starfish on top), and I dragged J into Artists + Authors, where I found a lovely old edition of Eight Cousins for $10. (And so many other books I wanted to buy. But I’ll be back.)

I could have snapped dozens of photos of the signage (I love unusual signs), but this one was a favorite:

(The toy store itself was also fabulous – crammed with cool toys, puzzles and games.)

It was one of those crisp autumn afternoons, a little chilly in the shade but perfect in the sunshine, with trees gently waving their vivid leaves and the sun making us squint and smile at the same time. Especially when we found a street called Darling:

(That’s my darling. On Darling Street. All together now: Awww.)

We bought chai lattes from a little cafe and sipped them as we walked to the Spirit of ’76. J employed his usual bookstore technique, which is to pick out a book, curl up in a chair and read while I browse to my heart’s content:

I love simple adventures like this one – exploring a town, getting a feel for its streets and its vibe, and then hopping back in the car and heading home. I love weekends away and long vacations too, but it’s fun to make new discoveries by traveling literally over the next hill. (As Woody Allen famously noted, the trick with this kind of voyage is “to avoid the pitfalls, seize the opportunities, and get back home by six o’clock.”)

What little adventures have you had lately?

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