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Posts Tagged ‘summer’

It is officially summer in Boston. We’re not quite at the solstice yet, but we’ve survived our first official heat wave and a couple of downpours, not to mention a few perfect porch-sitting nights. Unsurprisingly, my reading inclinations are going where they always go in the summer: mysteries featuring whip-smart female sleuths, and middle-grade novels.

I love both of these genres year-round, but there’s something about sitting on the patio or in the park (I don’t get to the pool very often) with a fast-paced, twisty mystery or a story about kids discovering the world for the first time. Both genres also take me right back to my own childhood summer reading days, devouring books by Beverly Cleary and Patricia MacLachlan, and (on the mystery side) piles of Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden stories, some of them picked up in used bookstores on trips to visit my grandparents.

I still own a few of those childhood faves (maybe it’s time for a reread this summer?), but my reading is skewing toward slightly newer stories these days. I’ve discovered a few great middle-grade authors recently, like Gillian McDunn (Caterpillar Summer), Jasmine Warga (Other Words for Home), Kelly Yang (the Front Desk books), and Renee Watson (Ways to Make Sunshine). I am a huge fan of Karina Yan Glaser’s Vanderbeekers series (and the antics of her corgi puppy, Lalo, are my favorite thing on Instagram). I adore Lauren Wolk’s thoughtful novels and Lena Jones’ quirky Agatha Oddly series. And for the perfect summer-camp story, I recommend Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer’s To Night Owl from Dogfish.

Regular readers may remember that I spent last summer obsessed with Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski series, set in Chicago. I loved Vic and her adventures, but got a little burnt out after more than a dozen books, so I took a break for a while. This summer, there’s a new sleuth in town for me: Lane Winslow, a British ex-intelligence agent who has moved to rural Canada after World War II for some peace and quiet. Unsurprisingly, she starts finding mysteries to solve, in the company of the local enigmatic police inspector and his cheerful young constable. I adore Lane and her supporting cast, and am already halfway through the series. Iona Whishaw’s writing is both thoughtful and compelling, and the mystery plots are fascinating.

I’ve also read a couple of fun standalone mysteries recently: SJ Bennett’s The Windsor Knot and Stephen Spotswood’s Fortune Favors the Dead. I loved the latest Maisie Dobbs and am looking forward to a new Mary Russell adventure by Laurie R. King this summer. (Clearly my taste, as ever, runs to the Anglophilic.)

What’s your summer reading looking like this year?

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It’s no secret that I love a good coffee shop – even though I am not, and have never been, a coffee drinker. I’ve also been hankering for new places to (safely) explore during this pandemic, and missing my regular “third places.” (Though I have been dropping by Darwin’s once in a while, to get iced tea and wave at my people.)

A couple of months ago, I heard that Eagle Hill Cafe had moved from its previous location (in Eagle Hill, the next neighborhood over) to one of the main streets in my part of Eastie. I hopped on my bike one afternoon and rode over to check it out. And I’ve fallen completely in love: with the kind, friendly atmosphere, the delicious bagel sandwiches, and their smoothies.

We’ve had a hot summer here in Boston, so I’ve been on the lookout for new cooling treats (and meals that don’t require cooking). The smoothies at Eagle Hill are fresh and delicious, and I’ve decided to work my way through the dozen or so options on their list. The Sunset (pictured above) is my favorite so far: strawberry, mango and apple juice. But I’ve tried several others: tropical concoctions involving mango and pineapple; super-healthy green ones with spinach and cucumber; the “Purple Rain” and “Berry Fairy,” which both involve (surprise) lots of berries.

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It’s nice to have something to look forward to, and something to cross off a list, even if it’s just the next smoothie flavor. I like dropping in and saying hello to Ellis and Monica behind the counter, and soaking in the a/c for a few minutes. Once in a while I treat myself to a bagel sandwich, and last month, I took my guy there for a lunch date. Especially in these times, we take our joys where we can find them, and I’m so glad this one is just a few blocks down the street.

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This is the summer of simple breakfasts: Greek yogurt with granola and blueberries in the blue-and-white bowls I bought from Carolyn. I eat sitting at my kitchen table, sipping ginger peach or English Breakfast from one of my favorite mugs.

This is the summer of morning pages: filling up slim notebooks with scribbled thoughts, jottings, worries, hopes, half-remembered dreams. I went to Bob Slate right when quarantine started and spent a small fortune on journals, which have lasted up until now.

This is the summer of morning runs, down the hill to the harborwalk and over to the greenway, pausing to snap photos of harbor views and herons, wild roses and day lilies.

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This is the summer of purple sneakers pounding on pavement, I’m With Her or the Highwomen in my ears, pulling up my neck gaiter when I pass another person, wishing I could stop to pet the friendly dogs.

This is the summer of masks: wearing, washing, pulling up and down, wondering if I should buy more, on repeat.

This is the summer of long bike rides, alone or with G on my new single-speed pink bike, gradually gaining confidence in hills and corners, thankful for a way to avoid public transit and be out in the sunshine.

This is the summer of missing normal: canceled plans, Zumix concerts in the park, dinner with friends, time with my family, hugs.

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This is the summer of Sara Paretsky: I’m deep into V.I. Warshawski’s adventures fighting crime in Chicago and I think it’s safe to say I am obsessed.

This is the summer of Tuesdays at the farmers’ market, buying salsa roja and berries and sometimes hummus or muhammara, from the handful of sellers who wait faithfully on the plaza. After we shop, we sit in the grass and snack, savoring tart currants and sweet strawberries before heading our separate ways, toward home.

This is the summer of so much time and feeling like I should be doing something with it.

This is the summer of yoga in the park, spreading my mat out a safe distance from everyone else and breathing through sun salutations and hip openers.

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This is the summer of light on the water, watching sailboats and dinghies and yachts on the harbor, marveling at how it changes from hour to hour.

This is the summer of antiracist reading: Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo, Mildred D. Taylor and Nikki Giovanni, making a conscious effort to seek out stories by people who don’t look like me.

This is the summer of Downeast cider – no samples, but cans or growlers picked up to go, refreshing fruit flavors with a little bite.

This is the summer of serious loneliness, trying to build in phone chats and/or in-person connection every day. Sometimes it works; sometimes it’s simply exhausting.

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This is the summer of smoothies at Eagle Hill Cafe, a new favorite in Eastie – I’m working my way through their smoothie list.

This is the summer of reading e-galleys for review; I still don’t like it but I am used to it by now. I am thankful to pick up physical books at the library, and drop in at my favorite bookstores occasionally.

This is the summer of waiting: for the pandemic to be over, for my unemployment to come through (finally), for news about my furlough status, for a time when we can gather without fear.

What does this summer look like for you?

 

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Hello, friends. Somehow it is August, and though we are so many weeks into pandemic life that I have lost count, summer is still summer. We’ve had a stretch of gorgeous hot weather (though we desperately need some rain) and I am soaking up all the pleasures summer has to offer, while I can. Here’s a list:

  • Sea breezes from the harbor through my kitchen window, which makes the heat in my apartment just about bearable.
  • Stone fruits and berries galore: cherries, blackberries, peaches and nectarines, blueberries, raspberries, tiny tart red currants.
  • Amanda’s spicy salsa roja with any chips I can get my hands on.

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  • Morning runs along the harborwalk (the earlier I go, the more shaded it is), watching for white herons and Black-eyed Susans, and the boats on the water.
  • Related: funky tan lines and freckles on my shoulders. (I promise I do wear sunscreen.)
  • Evening yoga in Piers Park, whether we’re sweating or catching a cool breeze.
  • Sliced cucumbers from a friend’s garden with Samira’s spicy muhammara – red pepper spread with walnuts and pomegranate.

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  • Sunflowers, roses and catching up with my florist.
  • Library hold pickup, about once every 10 days.
  • My new-to-me bike, which I’ve dubbed my Wild Irish Rose.
  • The music of I’m With Her, Our Native Daughters and several other groups I heard at Newport last year. (Related: reliving that magic.)
  • Making chilled cucumber soup with dill, basil and Greek yogurt – one of the perks of garden caretaking. (See also: fresh marigolds.)

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  • Smoothies from Eagle Hill Cafe, a newish neighborhood staple run by two friendly women.
  • Revisiting some childhood classics, including Maud Hart Lovelace’s stories.
  • Daylilies, Queen Anne’s lace, beach roses, hydrangea, Rose of Sharon, bee balm, nasturtiums and other wildflowers. The world is lush and green and colorful right now.

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  • Bike rides with my guy – around the Seaport (where he works), over to Cambridge, around Eastie (where I live) or just about anywhere.
  • Discovering new farmers’ markets on the bike. The Harvard farmers’ market has my heart, but I like visiting other ones.
  • Jasmine tea lemonade or iced black tea from (where else?) Darwin’s.

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  • Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski mystery series – my newest obsession.
  • Nicole Gulotta’s #30DayHaikuProject on Instagram, which I’m enjoying.

What small pleasures is summer offering you?

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It is hot, y’all. We’ve had multiple 90-degree days here in Boston this month, and the heat doesn’t seem to be letting up. Add to that the constant, endless, gnawing anxieties of the pandemic and you’ve got a recipe for stress and frustration. I am still healthy, but I’ve been on furlough all summer and no one is too sure when we’ll get to go back to work. It’s exhausting.

I am trying – when I can – to focus on the silver linings, and one of those is helping with the frustration, too: park yoga.

My beloved local studio, The Point, has been offering Zoom classes during the pandemic, but about a month ago they also began small, socially distanced in-person classes in Piers Park, down the hill from my house. I’ve been taking my green mat and walking down there once or twice a week, and I have to say: it is lovely.

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There are usually a half-dozen of us there, and we set up our mats in the long grass. Sometimes there’s music; more often it’s the background noise of children and runners and tankers going by in the harbor. (There was some excitement the other night involving a literal wild-goose chase and some very hyped-up kids.) We do sun salutations and lizard poses, stretch out in warrior, try to breathe deeply and let the various stresses fall away, for a little while.

I’ve appreciated the work that goes into Zoom classes, but by May or so I was all screened out. It is so nourishing to be together in person, to see Taylor’s smile or hear Devon’s laugh, to nod at the other students I know by sight. The community matters as much as the poses and stretches. And I am deeply grateful for all of it.

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The hardest part of quarantine, for me, has been the constant isolation. I live alone, have been working remotely since mid-March (until I was furloughed last month), and have been seeing very few people in person. (I do still get to hug my guy, and walk with a girlfriend or two once in a while. Thank goodness.)

I miss my friends the most, but I’ve also been feeling the loss of what sociologists call “weak ties”: those casual, in-person relationships with people like your barista or librarian or yoga instructor. And I’ve been missing the “third places” where those relationships often take place: communal spaces outside of home and work where people interact and enjoy each other’s company.

All that to say: the Harvard farmers’ market is back, and I am loving it.

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The past few Tuesdays, my guy and I have biked across the river to Cambridge, to visit the half-dozen vendors set up on the Harvard Science Plaza. It’s a smaller group than usual, but they are cheery behind their masks, and the offerings are limited but delicious. We sanitize and keep our distance and browse the stalls with our eyes, and choose a few treats to eat on the spot or take home.

I showed up at this market all the time when I worked at Harvard, and that’s where I met Amanda, who makes fantastic tamales, salsas and chili beans. (She’s from Corpus Christi and she knows how tough it can be to find decent Mexican food in New England – plus she’s warm and friendly.) I am downright thrilled to be eating her products again, and I’ve loved seeing her in person, too.

It’s strawberry season in New England, and G and I have bought pints of them recently, plus crisp Boston lettuce and peppery Easter egg radishes. (Aren’t those colors gorgeous?) The latter, it turns out, are delicious with hummus, and I even made pesto with the greens last week. Weather permitting, we’ve sat on the benches or lawn nearby, eating strawberries till our fingers are stained red with the juice. I toss the tamales back in the freezer when I get home, but they never last long – and the strawberries and salsa both tend to disappear within 24 hours.

So many things are still strange and hard, but I am looking for joy where I can find it, these days. And fresh fruit + sunshine + time with my favorite person in a place I love = serious joy, pandemic or no pandemic.

Are you shopping farmers’ markets this summer?

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We are nearly through June – which has felt endless – and I’ve been reading a lot. Here’s the latest roundup. (Photo from Manchester by the Book, where I popped in for a properly masked/distanced browse with a girlfriend recently. It was so nourishing to be in a real bookstore again.)

I’m Fine and Neither Are You, Camille Pagán
Penelope Ruiz-Kar loves her husband and kids, but she’s exhausted from juggling it all, and secretly envious of her put-together best friend Jenny. When tragedy strikes, Penelope is forced to examine her misconceptions about Jenny’s life, and take a hard look at her own. Funny and breezy with surprising depth – Pagán does that combination so well.

Two Truths and a Lie, Meg Mitchell Moore
When Sherri Griffin and her daughter arrive in Newburyport, Mass., they’re running from more than just a “bad divorce.” The local Mom Squad is curious, but it’s the former squad queen, Rebecca, who actually connects with Sherri. Recently widowed, Rebecca has struggles and secrets of her own, and so does her teenage daughter. Fast-paced and compelling, full of summer sunsets, compassion and snark.

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, Jeanne Birdsall
It’s summer in New England and the Penderwick sisters (with their widowed father and big dog, Hound) are staying at a lovely estate in the Berkshires. All sorts of adventures ensue, as they make friends with the resident boy, try to dodge his snooty mother, and do their best to take care of each other. This series is a little bit precious, but the characters are so much fun.

The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo
I loved Acevedo’s second novel, With the Fire on High, and finally picked up her debut novel-in-verse. Xiomara Batista is a Dominican-American teenager living in Harlem. She has lots of questions about God, boys and life (and her strict Catholic mami doesn’t want to hear them). She starts writing poetry, then gets invited to join her school’s slam poetry club. I loved reading Xiomara’s powerful, honest, fiery words, and seeing how she cares for her twin brother and friends.

Blanche Among the Talented Tenth, Barbara Neely
I read about Neely in a recent Shelf Awareness obituary, and picked up her second mystery (for $3!) at Manchester by the Book. (Serendipity!) Blanche White is a domestic worker who’s spending a well-earned vacation at an all-black resort in Maine. Two dead bodies turn up, and she gets mixed up in a nest of secrets, while dealing with tricky interpersonal dynamics. A well-plotted mystery and an incisive look at colorism in the black community.

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwick girls are back at home, dealing with school, sports, new neighbors and – to their chagrin – their father’s attempts at dating. This sequel is sweet and funny, and I love the ending.

Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite
When Alaine Beauparlant’s journalist mother makes a scene on the air, and Alaine herself gives a disastrous school presentation, they both end up back in Haiti with Alaine’s aunt Estelle. Alaine is a sassy, snappy narrator who’s trying to figure out some family business (a curse?) while working for her aunt’s nonprofit (where something definitely smells fishy). This epistolary YA novel, written by two sisters, was so much fun.

Atomic Love, Jennie Fields
Rosalind Porter enjoyed success as a scientist, working on nuclear projects during World War II. But she’s haunted by the destruction caused by the atomic bomb. When her British ex-lover turns back up, so does the FBI: they think he might be selling secrets to the Russians. Rosalind walks a fine line as she tries to help the FBI and protect her own heart. A compelling, twisty story of love, science and conflicting loyalties. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 18).

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor
I read this book back in fourth grade and it has stayed with me all these years. It’s the centerpiece of Taylor’s family saga about the Logans, a black landowning family in Depression-era Mississippi. Narrated by Cassie, age nine, this book tells the story of one year when racial tensions erupt, with disastrous consequences, but it’s also a story of love and strength. I adore Cassie – opinionated, headstrong, with a firm sense of justice – and Taylor’s writing is so powerful.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin DiAngelo
This book is everywhere right now, and for good reason: so many of us white folks are waking up to conversations about race. DiAngelo (who is white, and has been doing inclusion/antiracism work for years) pulls no punches in her examination of white supremacy as a system, the ways it shapes all of us, and how we can begin to interrupt that system. Powerful and thought-provoking.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, Jeanne Birdsall
It’s summer and the three younger Penderwick girls are off to Maine with Aunt Claire. Before long, their friend Jeffrey turns up too, and all sorts of adventures ensue while Skye tries to wrap her head around being in charge. Sweet and funny, like its predecessors.

Why I Wake Early, Mary Oliver
I love Oliver’s poetry and have been reading a few of these each morning. Her luminous imagery is helping me to pay attention in these strange days.

Let the Circle Be Unbroken, Mildred D. Taylor
Taylor’s sequel to Roll of Thunder (above) picks up the adventures of the Logan family in the 1930s. A friend of theirs stands trial for robbery and murder; their biracial cousin comes to visit and tries to pass as white; and Cassie and her siblings continue learning what it means to be black in America. So compelling and vivid.

The Penderwicks in Spring, Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwicks are back, and Batty is finding her singing voice, starting a dog-walking business, and dealing with some really tough emotional stuff. Some sad parts in this one, but I love Birdsall’s fictional family.

The Penderwicks at Last, Jeanne Birdsall
Rosalind is getting married – and all the Penderwicks are back at Arundel, the estate where the series began. Eleven-year-old Lydia takes center stage in this last book, and it’s so much fun.

A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside, Susan Branch
My friend Kate sent me this book months ago, and I’ve been dipping into its pages at night when life feels too hard. Branch and her husband, Joe, sail on the Queen Mary 2 for an extended tour of charming English villages, and her illustrated travelogue is cozy and sweet.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident, Brookline Booksmith and Frugal Books.

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Sunday at Newport Folk: slightly cooler, a little less disorientation, a lot more exhaustion than Friday. I’d moved on Saturday, then had a long morning trying to return my truck and get myself down to Fort Adams. By the time I arrived I was tired and hungry, and frankly not at all sure I wanted to be there.

I bought lunch from one of the food trucks, but I was so tapped out I could hardly enjoy either it or the upbeat set from Lake Street Dive on the main stage. (I do love Rachael Price’s voice, and I got a kick out of seeing Hozier come up and join them for a tune or two. He always looks so moody in his videos, but his grin was a mile wide that day.)

After lunch, though – and a gallon or so of water – the rest of the afternoon definitely improved.

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I wandered over to the Quad stage to catch Our Native Daughters and was absolutely stunned by their vocals, their songwriting, their fiddling and banjo picking and their bold presence. I could listen to Allison Russell sing all day long, and Amythyst Kiah wowed the (mostly white) audience with the anthem “Black Myself.” Serious power there, folks.

After that, I hopped over to hear Molly Tuttle (a Berklee alumna) and Billy Strings in a soulful, rollicking set that included – to my utter surprise – a cover of Cher’s “Believe.” (It worked, surprisingly.) I got some tacos and returned to the same spot, sitting in the grass with my back against the fort wall, to listen to the Milk Carton Kids and take a few deep breaths. I saw them open for someone – maybe Glen Hansard? – at Berklee years ago, so hearing them at Newport felt like coming full circle.

My reason for going back on Sunday – and the day’s real magic – came at the end: the festival’s closing set, known as If I Had a Song. It was a singalong, featuring too many great musicians to count. But the first one was small and green.

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Yes, that is Kermit the Frog. And yes, he cracked a few jokes, and invited the crowd to sing along as he performed “The Rainbow Connection.” Pure magic, y’all. (I adore the Muppets and he is my favorite.) Jim James – wearing a fabulous rainbow-cuffed jacket – joined him, but I only had eyes for Kermit and his banjo.

The magic just kept coming after that: Trey Anastasio (and our Berklee students) playing the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.” Rachael Price and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band giving us all chills with “We Shall Overcome.” Brandi Carlile and Alynda Segarra jamming out on “If I Had a Hammer.” Our Native Daughters leading the crowd in “If You Miss Me at the Back of the Bus.” I was standing in the front area, clapping and grinning and singing my heart out.

One of my favorite parts of Newport was the generous spirit of collaboration – everyone up there, singing together, and having so much fun doing it. Hozier came back out with Lake Street Dive for “Everyday People,” and then he joined Mavis Staples (who looked tiny next to him but brought the house down with her vocal power) for “Eyes on the Prize.”

Robin Pecknold (from Fleet Foxes) came out onstage for “Instant Karma!” and stuck around for “Judy Blue Eyes,” which featured Judy Collins herself in an amazing magenta dress. They sang “Turn, Turn, Turn” together, and then Colin Meloy and the Milk Carton Kids came out to sing “This Land Is Your Land.” (Meloy called it “just as much of a national anthem as the one we’ve got.”)

The last song, which made me cry, featured Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and as many musicians as could cram onto the stage, swaying with their arms around each other, singing “Goodnight Irene.” Our string students joined in on that one too, adding their notes from the back of the stage.

I looked around: sunset light, fans and musicians singing together, banners blowing gently in the breeze. It was a picture-perfect ending to a weekend that embodied the sign at the top of this post: be present, be kind, be open, be together.

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Last month, on the same weekend I moved, I spent two days at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island.

Why, you ask? The answer I’ve been giving: because I am a crazy person. And I might be, honestly. But more than that: I love folk music, and I’d scored a press pass through my day job at Berklee. Several of our students were playing the festival on Friday and Sunday, so I volunteered to go down and write about them.

It was exhausting and crazy and so hot (I got a wicked sunburn on Friday). But was it worth it? Absolutely.

I drove down on Friday with some friends. At the top of my list that day was the all-female trio I’m With Her – both because our students were playing with them and because Sara Watkins is amazing. (I’m a Nickel Creek fan from way back.) My friend Jackie and I snagged seats up close to listen to them, and they were fantastic.

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I’m With Her also includes Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan. They were smart and funny and energetic – I loved everything from their cover of Dolly Parton’s “Marry Me” to their original tunes like “Call My Name” and “Ain’t That Fine.”

Their second-to-last song, “Overland,” featured our students, and Watkins asked the audience to sing along on the chorus. “This is for anyone who’s facing some uncertainty in their lives,” she said, before singing us the lines we would join in on:

Goodbye brother, hello railroad
So long, Chicago
All these years, thought I was where I ought to be
But times are changin’ – this country’s growin’
And I’m bound for San Francisco
Where a new life waits for me 

I welled up at that third line, but I sang along on every repeat of the chorus, watching our students play their string instruments in the background. I got to interview them afterward (in the artists’ tent, which had free snacks and comfy, non-folding chairs!), and they were excited and thoughtful and so sweet.

I wandered over to the Fort stage to buy some frozen lemonade and catch the end of Sheryl Crow’s set, and as I walked up, I heard her say, “Let’s soak up the sun, shall we?” I broke into a grin, and joined the crowd dancing to – yep – “Soak Up the Sun.”

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Then – then! – Crow said casually, “I have a friend who was telling me about playing at Newport a long time ago.” (beat) “James Taylor, why don’t you come out here and tell this story?”

Dressed in jeans and a baseball cap, Taylor walked out on stage and told us about the time he was playing Newport in 1969 and they interrupted his set to break the news of the Apollo 11 moon landing. (No big deal!) Then he grabbed a guitar, and he and Sheryl played “Every Day is a Winding Road.” I could barely believe my ears, or my eyes.

I wound up my Newport Friday at the standing-room-only Highwomen performance – Brandi Carlile and her bandmates brought down the house. I especially loved “Heaven is a Honky Tonk” – their tribute to some of the great outlaw musicians – and “Redesigning Women.”

I’m not usually much for crowds, but I loved the Newport atmosphere: relaxed and fun, with lots of families, and musicians who seemed genuinely glad to be there. I spent a while talking to a woman named Mary Lynn who was selling her gorgeous leather goods, and wandered around on my own, soaking it all in. And one of the best parts of Friday? I knew more adventures were in store for me on Sunday.

More Newport photos and stories to come.

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Street art spotted on a run this weekend, which fits two August Break prompts: curved and ground. This is the Gove Street crossing of the East Boston Greenway, which got a colorful face-lift this summer.

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