Inspired by … home

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Last time I posted as part of the Thursday’s Children blog hop, I’d just returned from a trip to Spain. My post was about the inspirational details that jump out at me while traveling.

This week, my city was attacked.

I didn’t take my kids into town to see the marathon on Monday, but I’d considered it. It’s the sort of thing we do. I love to go in and take advantage of the fun events available in town year-round. Boston is a great city with cool things going on all the time, especially in those few months where it’s warm enough to enjoy being outside.

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This time, we were lucky we didn’t go. I feel the pain of those who know someone affected or who witnessed the chaos of the aftermath. I’m still in shock, and still horribly, horribly sad that someone would do this.

Still, Boston inspires me. Its people inspire me. The way people on the scene ran to help, the way doctors and nurses at some of the world’s best hospitals stayed as long as was needed to do all that they could, the way we stand together, not afraid to go into town.

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I love you, Boston!

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A Visit to the Hub

Bostonians can thank Oliver Wendell Holmes for a nickname that stuck. He dubbed the State House “the hub of the solar system” back in 1858, and people still call Boston “the hub of the universe” today.

So why is this relevant for tourists? Boston is an awesome place to live, but it’s also a great place to visit. Now that visiting season is gearing up–the three months it’s actually warm and pleasant here–it’s a good time to take a look at ten must-see highlights.

  1. Fenway Park. The oldest baseball park in the country, and the home of the Boston Red Sox. Tickets are hard to come by, but you can try www.stubhub.com or at least take a tour of the park and grab a beer at Boston Beer Works.
  2. Newberry Street. Perfect for people-watching and window-shopping. Set yourself up at a café  like Sonsie and watch the world go by.
  3. Public Garden. Especially if you’ve got kids along, you can’t miss a ride on the swan boats and a visit to the duckling statues made famous in Robert McCloskey’s MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS.
  4. Canoeing on the Charles River. Rent a canoe or kayak for an hour or more and paddle along the river between Boston and Cambridge: http://www.paddleboston.com/main.php
  5. Museums. Depending on what type of peeps you come with, consider hitting the Boston Children’s Museum, the Science Museum, the Museum of Fine Art, or the Aquarium.
  6. Freedom Trail. Don’t miss the trail marked in red paint that leads you to many of the historic sites from the American Revolution: http://www.thefreedomtrail.org/ Visit everything from the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown to the Paul Revere House and Old North Church in the North End, then treat yourself to a delicious cappuccino and tiramisu in Caffe Vittoria on Hanover Street or have a pizza at the famous Pizzerina Regina on Thatcher Street.
  7. Quincy Market. Tourists love Quincy Market with good reason. Fun shops and a whole hall full of tasty restaurants on one end, and the historical Fanueil Hall (also on the Freedom Trail) on the other.  Head around the corner for a fresh Guinness at the Purple Shamrock or raw oysters at the (likewise historical) Union Oyster House.
  8. Chinatown. Right beside the theater district you’ll find scores of authentic restaurants, bakeries and shops well worth a visit.
  9. The T. Boston is a very walkable city, but don’t miss a ride on our subways that also go above ground in places. One of the best views of Boston is when crossing the river to Cambridge on the salt-and-pepper bridge.
  10. Trolley tour or duck boat. A great way to get your bearings in the city when you first arrive, but make sure you get off it and into the streets yourself when you finish!
Have a great visit in the Hub!

Diversity in YA’s Boston Visit

We were lucky enough in Boston to be a stop on the Diversity in YA tour, which made its way from California to Chicago, and then from Boston to NewYork:

http://www.diversityinya.com/2011/05/we-are-on-tour/

The tour was spearheaded by Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo, two great authors who are doing everything they can to promote more diversity in YA books. The fantastic event in Boston was held at the Cambridge Public Library, around the corner from both Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School and Harvard University, and included authors Holly Black, Sarah Rees Brennan, Deva Fagan, Fransisco X. Stork, along with Pon and Lo.

Moderated by Roger Sutton from the Horn Book, the panel discussed the need for diversity in YA books. As Sutton pointed out, all the authors on this particular panel except Stork write Science Fiction and Fantasy, but between them, they represent Asian, Latino, biracial, LGBT, and disabled characters in their books.

One of the things they spoke about was wanting to read about characters like them. Another of the discussion points was about cover images: will a white kid pick up a book that has a black or Asian kid on the cover? How do we get them out of their comfort zone? The panel–and audience–were divided on this. On the one side, some felt diversity could be sneaked in. If the book isn’t about race, then it’s not necessary to show. At the same time, some felt that YA readers haven’t been given enough of a chance to choose for themselves.

Stork’s take was that putting characters into universal situations makes a book less about race and more about characters that everyone can understand.  He wants readers to accept books that are different to what they’re used to and not just about race.

So why is diversity in YA important to me–a white, straight writer? Having lived in other countries and immersed myself in other languages and cultures, I know what it’s like to be an outsider. It’s difficult, but it’s also interesting. I personally am less interested in reading about “normal” characters, and prefer to be thrown out of my comfort zone entirely.

I was glad to see the panel members agreed. While everyone acknowledged that it’s important to reach beyond stereotypes and do your research when writing beyond your experience, they agreed that diverse characters–even from non-diverse writers–are welcome. In the words of Fagan, “Don’t let fear of making mistakes stop you. Embrace the potential to fail. Do your research and be aware.”

donut shops: rated by a new englander

Here in New England, Dunkin’ Donuts has quite a monopoly. Which is – let’s face it – a pretty good thing.

You feel like you’re home when you see one on every corner. And the familiar tastes and smells do wonders to remind you of home when you stumble across one in some far-away land, like Virginia or Dubai.

So what are the other choices? What else is out there?

We all know Krispy Kreme didn’t fare too well in the Boston area. Personally, the donuts are just too sweet for me. Like a tiny bit of dough coated in an entire sugar bowl.

Honey Dew. Meh. If there’s nothing else, and I really need a fix,they can suffice.

But if you head south to Rhode Island, west out to the other end of New York State, or of course up north to Canada, you will find another wonderful, amazing donut chain that can – at times – make you cry out in delight when you see one of them from the highway.

I’m talking about Tim Horton’s, a Canadian chain that has stolen my donut-loving heart. Light, fluffy Timbits (aka Munchkins to the Dunkin’ lover in all of us), tasty sandwiches on nice baguettes, and flavorful coffee that lives up to their motto toujours frais – “always fresh.”

This morning, I drove a little over an hour to Woonsocket, Rhode Island to see if they lived up the expectations I had built up in visits to shops in Toronto, Toledo, and Rochester, and, mm-mm, did they ever.

I will always be a fan of DD, but a piece of my heart now belongs to TH.

alexander kemp playground (cambridge)

If you happen to be in the Boston area, and want to visit one of the most unique (and awesome!) playgrounds around, head on over to the Alexander Kemp playground on Cambridge Common. Easily accessible from the red line (Harvard stop), take a quick stroll through the park to see:

  • where Washington gathered his men
  • the golden horseshoes memorializing William Dawes’ ride
  • a memorial to Irish famine victims

Next you’ll probably pass by several patches of students hanging out, playing games etc., and then finally you’ll make it to the playground.

Even before entering the gate, you’ll notice from the outside that this playground looks a little different from the ubiquitous primary-colored plastic slides and swings you see in most modern playgrounds.

These things inside here seem to be made of wood and ropes and – almost too crazy to believe – real trees.

There’s a wooden boat climbing structure that actually feels like a boat, woven swings and a circular merry-go-round that can accommodate a wheelchair. Best of all for the tiny tots, there is a series of metal troughs where you can regulate the flow of water from pumps above to spouts below, along with a huge sandy area with buckets and pulleys, and there are large wooden blocks and a conveyor belt to move them.

I’ve read some articles about the dangers of this park – sure, someone could get hurt (clocked in the head with a block, or falling off the top of the boat they scaled), so it definitely makes you stay close to your little one(s), which – the other downside – can be hard to do when it is teeeeming with people on a beautiful summer day. But it is so beautiful and rewarding that it is totally worth it.

Ah, and a tip: bathing suits for the little ones so they don’t get their clothes soaked/filthy when they sit in a trough and then in the sand. Not that something like that happened to one of my children! Er, um, yeah …

best croissants in boston

I’m always skeptical when I hear from someone that this or that bakery actually has real croissants, like they have in this little place called France.

So far I’ve only come across one place that meets that bill in Boston, and, well, I haven’t come across any others in other parts of the US. Please shout out if you’ve found one somewhere, and I’d be happy to try it out (road trip!).

First off, you can rule out grocery store bakeries, even those like the unique Trader Joe’s, which has many delicious things, but not authentic croissants.

I heard about a couple of bakeries in Arlington that supposedly had European-style croissants, but they just didn’t do it for me:

  • Quebrada: good butter ratio, but too dense and heavy, more like a flaky roll than a croissant
  • Bella Moto: nice and flaky, but waaay too much butter – these things were greasy!

Nope, there’s still only one place for me, even though it often means waiting in a long line outside of the store on a cold or rainy day. Clear Flour in Brookline, right over the border from Allston: http://www.clearflourbread.com/

Oh … my … God … get me some of those croissants!

soni yoga (cambridge)

Found my new yoga home!

Last year, I tried out and liked a Community Yoga class for only $5 in Davis Square (Somerville), but they are now called Samara Yoga and don’t have that dirt-cheap weekly class anymore. It still sounds like a cool place, and I’d probably go back if I lived in the neighborhood: http://samarayogastudio.com/

But since I also wanted to find something a little closer to home, I started poking around and stumbled on some reviews of this place in Huron Village, my favorite neighborhood in Cambridge: http://www.soniyoga.com/

So I went there and tried out the Hatha for Women class, and holy cow, was it amazing! Soni, the studio’s owner, was the teacher, and she was there to meet and greet the students, including me and one or two other first-timers. They recommend on their website that you get there early, both for the parking situation, and because they actually close the doors before class starts so it’s not disruptive to those on time, and I was glad I had followed the advice, so I had some time to settle in and pick a good spot.

They loan out mats, blocks, straps, and blankets, and there is beautiful hardwood flooring, low lighting, and a very subtle scent of incense in the background. One of the reviewers mentioned that they designed the space without the typical huge mirror, and I have to agree that although it had seemed odd at first, I was totally fine without it. It was good to concentrate on feeling instead of seeing the poses.

I’ve done a fair bit of yoga at home, and some in classes, and I was pleased to feel like I actually got a real workout, both for body and mind. Granted, it was like 90 degrees on the evening I took the class, but it broke a sweat on me, and I  hardly ever sweat. At the same time, it was also relaxing and refreshing, so it was the perfect match for me.

Soni has a radiant smile and demeanor, and is an excellent teacher. I will definitely be taking a class there again. Now to find a babysitter …

st. peter’s fiesta

A little bit about Gloucester …

First off, it’s pronounced GLAH-stah (and not GLAW-ches-ter or anything similarly ridiculous). Second, the city’s claims to fame are all closely linked to the sea. Gloucester is known as:

  • America’s oldest seaport
  • The home of the Gorton’s fisherman
  • The home base of the ship and crew of the Andrea Gail, lost in the Perfect Storm.

For residents of Gloucester, MA, the most important festival of the year occurs in late June: St. Peter’s Fiesta, honoring the patron saint of fishermen.

If you want to spend some peaceful time strolling along the Boulevard overlooking the harbor or contemplating the city’s rich history or surrounding natural beauty, then don’t go during fiesta.

Events include religious activities, such as a procession, Mass, and the blessing of the boats. To lighten up the mood, there is also a whole lot of craziness.

Starting with one of the craziest things ever imagined, you can’t make it through fiesta without witnessing the Greasy Pole Contest off Pavilion Beach in the harbor.

All year long, the wooden platform in the harbor just off the beach stands there menacing with an attached telephone pole hanging out parallel to the water below. This is not just any pole, but the infamous Greasy Pole.

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings during fiesta, hundreds of locals and tourists line the Boulevard, the beach, and the side streets to catch a glimpse of the contest. From a distance, you can see the thick coat of grease slathered over the top of the pole.

Boatloads of eager young men are ferried over to the platform, where they crowd for a space while waiting their turn to try and capture the flag at the end of the pole. Once the contest begins, cheers and cries erupt from the crowd, as some of the contestants run, slide, or crash various body parts into the pole on their way down to the water below.

If that isn’t exciting enough, there is also the thrill of watching the Seine boat races or riding on any of the various amusement part rides.

As for food, you can find just about the best festival food anywhere here. Everything smells soooo good, from the chocolate-covered fried dough to the sausage and peppers to the chicken parm. And once you’re clogged up with enough grease, they have delicious slushies in really great flavors like watermelon, mmm.

It’s definitely a must-see if you happen to be up in Gloucester in June, but don’t worry, the craziness is still there the rest of the year too. Just remember the famous line from The Perfect Storm: “They’re always from Gloucester …”

Yep, they sure are.

Julie and Julia and Kip

Ha, before I saw Julie and Julia, I was thinking how cool it would be to try out all the recipes Julia Child did on her show. How original!

Anyway, I’ve since seen the movie, and done quite a few recipes myself, most notably Boeuf Bourguignon and Trout Meuniere. Plus I’ve been working with Bernardo on the madelines, yum. Interestingly, the recipe on the show is not quote the same as in the cookbook. Hmm. Yes, hmm.

holy cow, packing for virginia!

That’s right, boys and girls – Kip is moving to Virginia! Woah, that came out of left field!!! (from Fenway to Camden Yard apparently)

So here in the last week of Boston there is lots to be done:

  • last time at Full Moon as a down-the-street resident
  • watching as many Red Sox games as possible
  • let’s not forget Harvard Square

Al0ng with all the work left to be done:

  • pack books at Gloucester condo
  • clean Gloucester condo
  • finish Gloucester condo!
  • pack camping cubes of baby goodies for the trip down
  • pack immediate books, music, and clothes
  • other baby stuff: baby beds, booster seats, and toy box
  • don’t forget your bike!