Friday, December 25, 2009

Chirstmas Eve Boston Walk: signs of winter and spring mixed together

Keeping close to home this holiday season, I've been pampering myself with lots of head cold fighting remedies. That and staying horizontal most of the time has gone a long way (I'm hoping) to prevent a major flu/cold event. Still, I answered a bit of cabin fever with a lovely walk yesterday late afternoon and saw plenty of signs of winter mixed in with images that I usually think of as signs of spring. Maybe life's like that: just when we think we know what the script is for something or someone, an unexpected sign crosses our path and we're not sure how to file it away in the stories we tell ourselves. Best stop telling stories and just enjoy the unexpected: pussy willows and robins in early winter, blizzards in the spring. Rather than go on and on with words, I'll show you scenes from yesterday's walk, then get back to another cup of hot lemonade.

These pussy willows were along Huntington Avenue

A very well-fed squirrel in Public Gardens

Amaryllis in bloom all along Prudential mallways

Just before sunset the light painted gold flourishes on all the windows.

Early ice formations along the Charles River paint new patterns for my eyes.

Some Bostonians never pass up an opportunity to celebrate the seasons
with new life for their windows.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter heart still beating in the least likely places

Before the big snow yesterday, a friend and I found ourselves striding along the heated Prudential mallways to avoid frostbite. All of a sudden this "natural" heart whose shape was forged into the fossilized limestone floors over which I have passed for years and years, now popped into view. Mixed in with the other markings on the stone I had never noticed it before. It got me thinking about frozen hearts, hearts stuck in time, closed off, maybe no longer even beating. But the more I thought about the symbol, the more it reminded me that the universal shape pulsates in our imaginations, even if we think our own hearts will never beat again with the ardor they once did. A stone valentine is still a valentine.

Another unlikely juxtaposition was surely an ice skating rink inside Fenway Park. If I had a press pass or a lottery ticket I would have been able to get a better shot of this. The security guards insisted that I stand outside, behind a crack in the cement that separated inside Fenway from the outside pavement. So from outside, I used my zoom to shoot what I could of the outside sport inside Fenway.

On the walk back from Fenway Park, passing the frozen Muddy River, another strange combination jumped out at us: a smashed guitar just a few blocks from the House of Blues or the Guitar store, who knows how it got there, and did it get thrown there after I took the picture below?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Steps and bones away from home . . .

In NYC recently, I was out food shopping on 187th St., only this long staircase interrupts the street for over 100 steps until it reaches the top. Once it's succeeded in getting you to huff and puff, it resumes its identity as a street on which lives Frank's Gourmet Market, a miniature Whole Foods—neighborhood style—with everything and anything you could want from a health foods store mixed in with enough of the usual essential suspects you might find in a major supermarket chain.

All over Italy, especially in Perugia, streets become long climbing staircases taking you from one level in a hilly town to the next one, or to a Piazza you never thought was there before you climbed. The last time I climbed such an Umbrian staircase, I rewarded myself with the moscarpone-rich TeramisĂș, my favorite aorta-stopping Italian delicacy—often imitated and very rarely duplicated to satisfaction.

Something about climbing those stairs transformed Washington Heights, NYC, into a "foreign" experience, pushing not only my heart beat but my perceptions beyond the usual steps I take in my level walks along the Charles River here in Boston. The NYC stairs pushed me to a place way past my comfort zone—that place we all must climb to in order to move forward in our lives. Outside the comfort zone. Where the unpredictable, the unannounced, the unknown waits with every increasing step, carrying us to and through an altitude of fear. Still we do it. Over and over again.

A couple of days later, I found myself reunited with some friends at MOMA to see an Italian movie: Una Vita Difficile (A difficult life). The skeleton you see hanging in a large room was assembled from dried and abandoned whale bones the Mexican artist Orozco and his assistants created using thousands of lead pencils to draw concentric patterns on the skeleton, to make his mark, his commentary on what is. To embroider it somehow with his human print.

And so we do the same with each step into the unknown, we imprint it with everything we know from what came before in our lives, sometimes in neat concentric patterns based on what we think we're supposed to do and think and feel. Still the larger form of "destiny" or "fate" casts its shadow over us, ignoring the scribblings of our plans and schemes. Maybe it's best to watch the shadow play, enjoy the day, and take another step, draw another circle, and say hello to the people we meet climbing, too.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Same week, same town: two different worlds

Out walking last Friday, the air was warm, the light was bright; it felt as though fall were still here. Even though the reflecting pond at the Christian Science Church complex had been drained for the winter season, their summer fountain sprayed streams of water-light designs in soft curves—remembering the time just weeks ago when children played in its celebration. I also found vestiges of summer color in this intrepid hydrangea pair that whispered blue in defiance of its dulled and dried out co-habitants on the same bush.

Just a few days later, other soft curves grew more pronounced under the weight of our first snow:
And so the season of extreme changes continues. I can see it in the weather and I can feel it in the pulse of my family and friends as the tension builds and all matters seem to burst into crises of one kind or another. Routines collapse and there is a kind of mad racing to the finish of the year, hoping, always hoping that this one will bring . . .

I'll let you finish that sentence yourselves. I know for me it changes day by day until I come back to the realization that the best approach is to love what is. Hold on to dreams as long as I'm willing to move toward them, but be sure to be open to the unexpected gifts along the way.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sink or Swim in Plumber's bills? The Home Depot's plumbing aisle: a win for sure.

Julio Delgado from Somerville's Home Depot to the rescue . . .
I used to be the queen of do-it-yourself. I once was the only female shop hand building cabinets and counter tops in a southern New Hampshire kitchen cabinet shop. The experience was so life changing that I wrote a full length screenplay about it called "Sawdust." One day it will be a full length movie if I ever find the courage to start sending it out again to potential movie makers. In the mean time, my do-it-yourself handywoman identity has atrophied since those days. Now my tools are stuffed into into a small red cracked toolbox (I accidentally backed my car up over it and cracked its top). No longer do I have my router or my table saw. In fact I couldn't even find a pair of pliers to loosen the hoses of my leaking faucet.

Sometimes unattended home flaws live on like neglected fading houseplants with enough life in them that you still think they might recover but instead you end up tossing them out. My kitchen sink faucet started to die months ago. I didn't realize how ill it was. Finally, one day I found a puddle in the bottom of the sink base cabinet and the particle board had become swollen and warped. Out of practice as a do-it-yourselfer I called in a plumber who charged me $75 to tell me that my faucet was causing the problem. He told me I needed to buy a new one for at least $100, and that he'd install it for another $100. All too complicated and costly for my living-on-the-edge world so I put a bowl in the bottom of the cabinet to catch the leaky water. It worked, but then it created a great mystery: how could water accumulate in the bowl even when the faucet was off, when I had been away from the apartment for 12 hours? It had to be coming from another unit, I surmised, so I spent another $50 for the maintenance man to come out to tell me that the problem was coming from my faucet. I was out $125 and I still had the leak! Plus all the stuff I normally stored under the sink was out on the kitchen floor.

To make a long story longer, I went to the Home Depot in Somerville just to price a new faucet and was told by Co Store Manager Bryan McMakin that they would happily replace my leaking Kohler faucet with a brand new one if I brought in the old one! How cool is that? Next project was to get the faucet off the sink. Before he rushed back to NYC, my son was able to disconnect the hoses but couldn't get the faucet off the sink so he removed the sink with the faucet which I took the same day to the Home Depot. Bryan who was off duty had told his colleague Frew Gelahun, Assistant Manager, that I was coming in and that they should take good care of me which is exactly what he did when Frew put me in the hands of Julio Delgado who took out the old faucet and meticulously replaced it with a new one. In hard times when there's no extra money to pay the plumber to come and do everything, I was able to get the help I needed from Bryan and Frew and Julio. Now to reconnect! I called my local handyman Michael Buck who came by that afternoon to not only reconnect the sink, sealing everything against any further leakage, but also to replace a dimmer light switch that had not been working for 6 months. All that for another $50!

Thank you, Bryan and Frew and Julio for your outstanding customer service. Once everything was reconnected and running, it was as though my very own body had received a youth hormone. There's something about having my house seem to be falling apart that accentuates the fact that my body is slowly falling apart, too. Repairing the sink was like having an energy drink.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gratitude = beatitude = take what you need and leave the rest

I like Thanksgiving because there's no gift giving, just thanks giving. Hopefully. In this climate of holiday frenzy when emotions run wild as this wild turkey feather (above) and expectations and wishes for perfect family ties and directives for happily-ever-after can gobble up any sense of reality, it's good to take a moment to remember all that's still working. As I tell my yoga students, "Celebrate what you can do and be philosophical about what you can't do yet—remembering to keep hope alive with the word 'yet'." Take some time before you put that first mouthful inside you and take some deep breaths to say thanks. Gone are the days when I had 20+ folks around my table. Right now I can only fit two in my tiny kitchen so I'm heading up North to celebrate with friends. Every time I hosted Turkey Day, I encouraged us to go around the room to say what each of us was thankful for before hiding all that personal stuff with gravy. So if you're reading this, take a moment to make a gratitude list: I know it sounds corny....but wasn't corn at the first thanksgiving? Challenge yourself. Make a list of 50 things you're grateful for and don't overlook the simple things like matching socks or the fact that your car can still get you where you want to go or that you have a bed you could make this morning. Or for all those glorious Indian summer days we've been blessed with this November. Whatever you do, enjoy, and say the words to yourself that a very wise woman told me when I was feeling low, "I am enough. There is enough. I have enough!"

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

NaNoWriMo and the birth of the one-month novel

Juiceboxartists writing studio played host to 25 NaNoWriMos yesterday afternoon
Every November, thousands of people all over the world write fifty-thousand word novels in thirty days. The challenge is sponsored by a non profit organization that encourages, and shepherds all these aspiring novelists through their journeys. From the launch pad of each writer's computer, the game starts one minute after midnight on November 1 and ends at midnight on November 30. In between, local liaisons schedule "write-ins" to encourage NaNoWriMos to meet in groups to set word count goals for a three-hour session. I hosted such a write-in Sunday at my Somerville Studio—Juiceboxartists—where I teach weekly workshops in creative writing. Yesterday's write-in attracted 25 novelists, each with their laptops humming.

These participants worked intensely on their novels for three hours.
Several times a week, Chris Batty, the founder of National Novel Writers Month (NaNoWriMo) sends encouraging e-mails to help us navigate through the ebb and flow of confidence, creativity, desire and available time to forge ahead and make the word count. Last November I wrote an historical novel about Pauline Cushman, a double agent during the Civil War. I had always wanted to bring my research about and fascination for this character into a written form, but previous attempts had been fruitless. Having the framework of a 30-day challenge forced me to immerse myself in the subject and to plow ahead, keeping quantity ahead of quality. After all, this was to be at best a rough draft and that's a good step towards a revision.

This NaNoWriMo participant reached her goal at Sunday's write-in

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More scenes from Indian Summer, Fresh Pond style . . .

Here are some shots from this weekend's walk around Fresh Pond Reservation in Cambridge. I lived in Cambridge for 13 years and never once walked the entire perimeter of the preserve. You can live with a treasure right under your nose and not smell it until it's out of reach. Luckily the trip from Boston to Cambridge is a short one.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Indian Summer

This image combines the wooden sculpture of an American Indian Princess who stands in front of a cigar salon in Boston with some of the fall leaves along Boylston St. today.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The aesthetics of decay . . .

The fall colors have peaked. Brown crackling leaves line the gutters and the streets mixed with gold. What were lush and wildly out of control gardens with tendrils and dripping flowers so large they might have been cast in a sci-fi movie where ordinary objects become super-sized, have been stripped with their soil turned over. The picture above shows the remnants of some oversized leaves I saw along Memorial Drive this morning as I made my way on foot back to Boston. Yes, the tow truck and more car problems got me over to that side of the river early this morning, but the walk back in bright sunshine distracted me from the parts of my life that weren't working, transporting me instead into an extended reprieve into nature and the miracle of my breath going in and out. In Italian, inhale is ispirare—so close to the word inspiration.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The New Beat on Boylston Street . . .

I ran this picture of construction on my street earlier in the summer. It's the corner of Boylston and Massachusetts Avenue. Didn't realize it was part of a dramatic improvement for our block. The city and the landlord for the buildings on the block worked together to transform what was once a rather seedy section with new life.

A few months later, just a couple of weeks ago Mr. Brown, the landlord and an official from Berklee College of Music performed a ribbon cutting ceremony to inaugurate the opening of all the new patios and sidewalks. This is now the new location of the Berklee Book Store.

Today I bought the first ice cream cone in Subway/HaagenDaz sandwhich shop which is to open officially this Friday.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ellen Schmidt—muse to the musical in you

As if raising seven kids were not enough, Ellen Schmidt helps local musicians grow while she keeps her own songwriting alive and well. Frequent host of multiple open mikes around Boston and Metro West, Ellen has a way of welcoming you into her world, first by the songs she writes that draw you in with a complex web of emotions and then with her invitation to share the stages she frequents in Natick, Boston, Framingham. She appeared (above) last night at the Emerson Umbrella in Concord, Mass., an art center that nurtures artists of every persuasion.

Jack McCarthy , formerly from Massachusetts, but now from Washington State, was in town as the featured poet last night at the Emerson Umbrella. He began performing his poetry at the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge in 1993. Ever since then he's increased his output from a couple of poems a year to a poem a week. The man's prolific! And a compelling performer who draws you in with subtle rhymes and even more subtle truths about life, love, and broken down cars and broken down lives that get a chance for a glimmer of glory—not the fame and fortune kind, but the miracles of daily life filled with appreciation for the wheel that keeps turning.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Adult kids play Halloween games around the back bay . . .

Boylston Street near the Berklee College of Music isn't your usual trick or treat location and the only costumes I saw last night on my walk around town were the ones that college kids who don't want to give up this fun holiday wear.

I'm not very savvy about children's TV programming put I have heard of Teletubbies and the ones I heard about don't drink beer, but these ones do. The ladies above were French speaking and are most likely having fun with their first American Halloween parties. The moon looked full last night as it flitted in and out of the clouds.

The air was humid and balmy and it inspired me to head up to the top of the Prudential Tower—once again playing tourist in my own home town. You've got to pay $10 (Sr.) to walk around the Skywalk Observatory but the views were worth it. I think the foliage peaked this weekend. You can see little dabs of it on this photo I took from the 50th floor.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Levitation or yoga demonstration?

Guillermo Barrantes from Bikram Yoga Quincy was one of many participants who displayed their focus, concentration and stamina at the New England Regional Yoga Asana Championship 2009, on Saturday, October 24 at SpringStep in Medford, Mass. Although the event is called a "yoga competition," which in itself sounds like an oxymoron, it is more an event of yoga enthusiasts competing together to celebrate the ultimate lengths each yogi has been able to take his/her yoga practice. Underneath the founding of this "competition" is the hope that yoga will become a bonafide sport worthy of inclusion at the International Olympics. Once this distinction is achieved, yoga will easily become part of any public school curriculum, enabling its young practitioners to learn how to de-stress, promote health and fitness, as they learn a powerful tool for living a balanced life. Unlike other sports that often deplete, this discipline energizes the body and mind creating a sense of balance and calm that a lifetime yoga practice can instill.

Founder of the United States Yoga Federation, Rajashree Choudhury (above) of Yoga College of India, was on hand to lend her enthusiasm and support to all the participants. The final competition takes place in Los Angeles each February.

I took several hundred pictures at the event. Once I sort through them all, I'll post an album online so everyone can see what happened. Come back to this posting in a couple of days to link to that album. The link I just added tonight 11/1/09 will bring you to one of six albums from the event that are posted on my mobilme account. Once you've got entrance to that album you should be able to click on the other five if you want to see more. Above is Allie Foy from Bikram Yoga Concord, Concord NH.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Car free in Boston and environs . . . almost

Last Friday night my Nissan Sentra 2000 began to gasp and shake. The engine light flickered on and off and within a few minutes a burning smell wafted up to my nostrils. I parked the car to abandon it for the weekend until I could get it towed yesterday morning. Shades of past auto-neglect returned— that cracked block on the Dodge Dart because of no oil, and again on Blue Heinrich, my used Mercedes Benz deisel, that conferred vehicular status for a short period of my life until, that, too, died from lack of oil. I was already assuming that I would join the ranks of those car free in Boston citizens and returned, at least for the weekend and into Monday, to the public transportation system.

Yesterday I made my way on the Rockport commuter line to visit a friend. The round trip train ticket (Sr. price) was $7.35 and to my great surprise the ride included free WiFi.....OMG, how cool is that! The picture above is one of many I took through the window with my digital camera and transferred them immediately to my computer and was able to send some of the images to friends, all the while, never having to look at the speedometer to make sure I wasn't violating something or putting my life at risk.

The good/bad news from my loyal mechanic is that the car had some kind of ignition problem. There was plenty of oil and for now, I won't be car free in Boston, though I plan to use it less and less and may just make my weekly pilgrimage to Gloucester a mini vacation from the auto highway and ride instead an electronic one.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Not-so-daily blog . . .

I've changed my signature that appears on the bottom of all my emails. Part of the signature used to have this blog address, implying that it's a daily blog, but time and truth have surfaced. Now the blog address is prefaced by the words: not-so-daily. Some days I may even post twice, but then a week or 10 days might go by with nothing new. The busier I'm getting in this fall season, I'm finding that my walks are getting shorter and the zip that went into thinking of my blog first as my entry point into the day's creative action is changing. My latest foray into the land of inventing something out of nothing is songwriting. Now I've been listening to music and especially lyrics for years, but once I finished my behemoth novel FLORIANA a few months ago, I'm gravitating to shorter pieces of writing. Through a set of serendipidous connections, I've been immersed in songwriting for the first time and sometime in the not-too-distant future may actually make my way onto a stage to bark at the audience in whatever voice comes out. But let me tell you, short doesn't mean easy. The form of songwriting is full of craft traps that force you to express complex thoughts in simple language with the fewest amount of words. Call me a Jill of all trades, but I do love/hate being a beginner. Every time I learn something new I am a beginner and in this genre I'm at the lowest rung, but there's a kind of joy and ease in that. No expectations. I'm just doing it for the pure joy of it. Which brings me to a quote I've wanted to share with you for weeks now. It was on someone's office bulletin board and I copied it down so that I would never forget it. And today's the day I want to share it with you. It's by G. K. Chesterton. Not sure who he was, but he said,
A man must love a thing very much if he not only practices it without any hope of fame and money but even practices it without any hope of doing it well.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Classic Rock at the Lowell Auditorium . . .

I want to know what love is, I want you to show me . . . Hot blooded! . . . Cold as Ice . . . Urgent . . . I've been waiting for a girl like you to come into my life . . . It wasn't until my son Michael (pictured above on the keyboard from last night's concert in the Lowell Auditorium) began to tour with the band FOREIGNER, that I realized those classic rock lyrics from my past, had been created this 80s band, the only original member of which is Mick Jones (the original "foreigner" of the group). Most of their classic rock tunes appeal to all of our sturm and drang relationship woes and ecstasies, so when we hear them years later, they still pull at our fantasies and heartbreak, two aspects of the human condition that never change.

Wikepedia says Sturm und Drang (the conventional translation is "Storm and Stress"; a more literal translation, however, might be storm and urge, storm and longing, storm and drive or storm and impulse) is the name of a movement in German literature and music taking place from the late 1760s through the early 1780s in which individual subjectivity and, in particular, extremes of emotion were given free expression in response to the confines of rationalism imposed by the Enlightenment and associated aesthetic movements."

The concert at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium evoked all of those emotions. The crowd stood all evening swaying and singing along, each of us with our own personal history, reliving the music and all the sturm and drang attached to it— past and present.

If you'd like to see more pictures from the concert, click here and it will connect you to an album I've placed on mobile me.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Who needs Maine when you can ride the Blue Line train?

Looking at this tranquil bay you would never expect that it is just a few minutes' walk from the Orient Heights stop on the Blue Line. Secrets abound in East Boston, Winthrop, and the cozy little quiet neighborhoods with triple decker houses whose porches spill out onto scenes like this. Although I saw several planes take off and land across the bay at Logan Airport, I heard no disturbing sounds. Not only the home of Boston's best pizza joint— Santarpio's, East Boston has one of the most exquisite views of the Boston skyline from Piers Park which you can easily reach from the Maverick Blue Line stop.

Instead of heading back to Boston the way we came, my friend and I did something very spontaneous when we got back to the Orient Heights T stop after our walk. In the spirit of exploring unknown places as I often have when traveling in Europe, I convinced my companion to jump on a Revere Bus Line bus that was waiting at the Orient Heights T stop just to see where it might take us rather than getting back on the Blue Line. Our bus driver, Riccardo, lives in Winthrop so he served as a guide answering all our questions as the bus went to its final destination: the entrance to a five mile trail that encircles the tip of Winthrop known as Deer Island— absolutely a trip I want to take in the future. I'll pack a lunch, put on my walking shoes and explore. By the time we found that spot, it was getting cold and windy, the light was fading so we stayed on the bus as it brought us back to Orient Heights. Deer Island would be a bookmark for the future, and hopefully, the near future—before the first snow.