Boston. The way I know it.

I wrote this post a year ago after I just got back from Boston. I left the day before the bombings. A year later, I am finally publishing it.

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I left Boston on Sunday following a tearful goodbye with my niece and nephew and heartfelt embraces with my brother and sister-in-law.

It had been my first trip there–part business and part pleasure–and I walked the cobblestone streets thinking that this could be a nice place to live one day. So much history, lovely architecture, good restaurants. Even the rain had an aura about it. 

Then Monday came and along with it the news. I’ve spent the last few days trying to get images out of my mind while simultaneously gluing myself to the news, searching for answers. Of course, the real answers we seek–the explanations for “why” and how”–will never come.

Last night, as I tried to fall asleep, I felt grateful for inane blog posts (like some of my own) that could momentarily take me out of my head and provide temporary peace. But the grief comes back, along with fears for the future.

It’s right to feel despair. It’s right to feel angry. But it’s also right to not give up hope.

I’m fearful that Monday’s events will take away my memories of Boston the way I first experienced it, so I’m using this post to recount what I experienced there. I refuse to let one person or group’s violence and hatred forever sully my memory of a city and its people.

While I was in Boston, the city was abuzz with pre-marathon activities. Runners were everywhere, exuberant about the upcoming race. The weather was cold and drizzly a couple of the days, but that didn’t slow the city down.

I finished my conference one evening and walked with some new friends to the North End. We warmed up with a round of beers at a pub and then had homemade pasta at a small Italian restaurant. Afterwards, we walked a little further to Mike’s Pastries, which was filled with people shouting their orders for cannoli and cheesecake slices.

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We planned to take the T back to our hotel, but as we waited in the station, three trains came by, each filled with fans from the hockey game that had just ended. So we chose to walk back instead, misted by a light drizzle on Newbury Street.

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On Friday, I had lunch with a friend I met at another conference in Vermont last summer. I tried my first oyster, and she and I caught up on the events of the last year. I window shopped at the Prudential Center and bought Patrick an MIT shirt.

On Saturday morning, my niece and nephew climbed into bed with me in the morning, and I held them both as tight as I could. I played with stickers with my niece, and giggled with my nephew as he tried to tickle me. Then the kids, my brother, my sister-in-law and I bundled up and walked to the Public Garden.

The kids showed me the Make Way for Ducklings sculpture, and we noticed that someone had put bonnets on the ducklings. It was the first day the swan boats were open, and even though it was cold, we enjoyed the second boat ride of the season. Weeping willows reflected in the pond, and I explained to my niece how the boy ducks and the girl ducks had different colored feathers and how you could tell them apart. We quacked at them, and they quacked back.

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ducklings

After the swan boat, my brother and I accompanied the kids on a nearby merry-go-round on Boston Common. My nephew rode a zebra. My niece hopped on a jewel-encrusted pony. We waved to my sister-in-law as we passed.

Following the merry-go-round, we stopped at Starbucks for something hot to drink. A homeless man was standing outside singing. He called out to passersby in a baritone singsong voice: “Anybody got any change? Anybody got any change?” A lady with two dogs walked by. He sang out, “Anybody got any huskies? Anybody got any huskies?” I admired his direct approach and found some loose change in my pocket to put in his cup.

We walked a bit longer before heading home to get the kids ready for their naps. That evening, my brother and sister-in-law took me to a couple bars in their neighborhood. I sipped on fancy cocktails and relished being around such vibrancy.


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The next day, I packed up and prepared to head home, thankful for a wonderful trip and for such special time with my family.

Today, I thank God that my family in Boston and the friends I have there are okay. I pray for those who weren’t so lucky and for the loved ones of all the victims. And I thank God people around the nation are gathering together in solidarity to prove that light penetrates darkness.

I didn’t buy any souvenirs in Boston (other than the MIT shirt for Patrick). I brought home a few photos on my phone, a handful of business cards and some priceless memories. While I’ll never forget what happened the day after I left, I will cherish the memories I have of my trip to Boston. It’s a place where people are thoughtful enough to put bonnets on bronze ducklings when it’s chilly; where the homeless don’t beg–they sing; where children find endless joy on public merry-go-rounds; and where runners will always continue to run.

Eat Simpler

My friends Megan and T.J. gave me a book called Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison a while ago. It’s part cookbook, part gardening book, and part manual to plants. It’s a gem, and you should add it to your bookshelf immediately. You can learn the scientific names for all your favorite vegetables as well as an abundance of fun facts like this: the tomato was thought to be an aphrodisiac when it was introduced to Europeans, earning it the name pomme d’amour (love apple).

Last night, I made Deborah Madison’s cauliflower with saffron, pepper flakes, parsley and pasta. I was looking for a simple, comforting dish that wouldn’t require too much prep. I have found saffron to be difficult to cook with in the past because it is so easily overwhelmed by other flavors. However, not only did this dish allow the delicate saffron to shine through in flavor, it also imbued the meal with a lovely yellow hue.

Madison suggests using shells, but since I’m making a feeble attempt to eat gluten-(almost)-free, I used Trader Joe’s brown rice fusilli.  Here’s my version, slightly modified. I used a bit less than a full head of cauliflower, and I didn’t boil it first as Madison suggests because I wanted to keep my dishes to a minimum. I also didn’t have fresh parsley on hand, so I used to a heaping helping of dried parsley.

Deborah Madison Cauliflower Saffron Pasta

Saffron Cauliflower Pasta

Ingredients
1 cauliflower (about 1 lb), broken into small florets
2 Tbs olive oil, plus more for tossing the pasta
1 onion, finely diced
2 pinches of saffron threads (I was pretty liberal with my saffron)
1 large clove garlic, minced (I used a cube of Dorot)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
sea salt
1 teaspoon dried parsley or 4 Tbs finely chopped fresh parsley
8 ounces of pasta
Grated aged cheese such as parmesan or crumbled feta

Directions
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and prepare the pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saffron and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft. Add the garlic, pepper flakes, and the parsley. Give everything a good quick stir, then mix in the cauliflower, making sure it gets coated in the seasonings. Add 1/2 cup of water, and season with salt. Cook until the cauliflower is tender.

When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain it and add it in with the cauliflower mixture. Turn off the heat, add a little more oil, and integrate everything together. Add parmesan and season with additional salt and red pepper flakes as desired.

 

 

The Wind Brought Them to Texas

My friends Caitlin and Jed are on a world tour for the next 365 days. They quit their jobs. They sold their condo in Chicago. They packed up 6 pairs of underwear each (no, seriously…I’m not joking).

And one of the first stops on their journey was to visit us in Texas!

So this past weekend, we gave them our best Texas tour (within 200 miles). We took them to First Friday in Downtown Bryan where we introduced them to our College Station friends and to Big Red margaritas. We took them to Bryan’s only gay bar, Halo, for a night of dancing and drag queens. We took them to Lexington for BBQ (Caitlin and I ate kind bars and yogurt, since we’re both not the beef-consuming kind).

Along the way, we stopped and took obligatory bluebonnet photos.

Caitlin and Jed at Snows

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On Saturday night, we took them to the eastside of Austin to enjoy food truck pizza and beers at Violet Crown Social Club. We showed them a little of 6th Street. After no luck finding a decent place to stay, we threw caution to the wind and settled on a Super 8. It was not so super (particularly the plethora of cop cars in the parking lot when we got back from our evening out), but it worked out. On Sunday afternoon, we gnoshed on vegetarian vittles at one of my favorite Austin restaurants, Bouldin Creek Cafe, and then parted ways in the parking lot.

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Caitlin and I have been friends since freshman year of college. She was one of my bridesmaids. This girl is like family to me. I’m in awe of her courage. Not everyone has the cojones to give up the life with which they’ve grown comfortable and go out in search of the unknown. If there’s anyone who will be a pro at it, it’s Caitlin. In college, she studied abroad in Belfast. After we graduated, she was in the Peace Corps in Zambia for two years. I was always amazed by her enthusiasm and her adaptability. And, really, anyone who can poop in a pit deserves some kind of award.

I am hoping to take a page from her book as I prepare for my trip to Brazil. Thanks to her infinite knowledge, I’m learning about things like traveler’s underwear, which I’ve already purchased three pair of. I’m hoping that I can be as easygoing as she is, as willing to open myself up to new experiences… as willing to go wherever the wind takes me.

Safe travels, my friends. Hope to see you soon, perhaps on the other side of the world.

 

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Lately I feel like my patience has worn thin. I feel judgmental and harsh and quick to take a negative stance. And as a result, I’m angry at myself.

I consider myself an open-hearted person, someone who sees the good in others and tries to give people the benefit of the doubt. I’m someone who chooses to trust before I cast doubt, even at my own expense. But certain things can easily set me over the edge: I don’t have much patience for carelessness, laziness or–perhaps worst of all–bad pet owners (who frequently embody the former two traits).

The other morning, I went to a gas station before work to fill up. My parents always warned me to never let get my car down to E, but I didn’t heed their advice this time–shame on me. Low and behold, I swiped my card to get an error message. So, I got back in my car, drove to a second pump and got the same message.

As I walked inside to ask the attendant what caused the problem, I had to silently tell myself to be kind and compassionate. It wasn’t her fault, after all. She told me there was a technical glitch and all pumps were down. But that didn’t quell the riptide of rage that rolled inside of me. “Why the hell didn’t you put a note on the pumps?! Now I’m going to be late to work!”

If you close your eyes, you can hear the fabric of my patience ripping every so slightly.

And now for the bad pet owner part of this post.

Recently, a good friend found a dog in the park. She and her husband kept the dog for three days and tried to find the owners, posting pictures on every public message board in town and making calls to the local shelters.

When the dog owner eventually turned up, she was rude and ungrateful. Ultimately, she refused to reimburse them for the vet bill my friends had incurred to make sure the dog was healthy. Instead of gratitude for not taking her pet to the shelter, the woman posted hateful comments on her public Facebook feed. That same feed, by the way, was bereft of any “LOST DOG” posts.

Rrrrrippppppp. Another tear, this time much wider.

I’m also not very patient with myself. With every subtle change in my weight, I find myself making self deprecating remarks out loud–at the very least I should censor myself.

I become exasperated when I don’t keep up with housework as I should, instead of accepting the fact that three animals create a junkload of fur that blows around my baseboards like tumbleweeds. I’m not getting rid of my pets, and I’m not shaving them, so fur is inevitable. I might as well deal with it and move on.

Last night, I found myself sitting in my friend Astrid’s living room talking about beauty and creativity. She is an expert quilter, and I had asked her to help me learn the art of quilting. As we sifted through her overflowing scrap bins, I felt a bit calmer.

The serene feeling continued to envelope me as I started sewing; the gentle hum of the machine connecting unmatched segments of fabric became an Om. Yellow to gray to striped to spotted. The monotony of the needle going up and down. The refilling of the bobbin. The cutting and connecting of cloth.

Quilting is tedious and time-consuming and it hurts my back… but it’s a perfect exercise in patience.

The castaways of past sewing projects and torn pillowcases become reborn into a beautiful blanket that will keep you warm for years. What a glorious reminder and a true labor of love.

Hopefully with continued practice, I will gradually stitch up the tears of impatience I’ve created within myself. After all, every soul needs to be wrapped in a patchwork quilt. And I have quite a lot of scraps that need to be mended.

Words

I have always loved words. In school, the vocabulary portion of my English classes was always one of my favorites. Today, I keep a Google doc of words that are new to me to try to amplify my vocabulary. Today’s addition: bivouac. I discovered it in Scott Stossel’s eloquent prose in The Atlantic, a heartbreaking but also empowering tale about his lifelong struggle with crippling anxiety. It’s inspiring that Stossel writes such a candid exposé of his mental illness, even if I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when he described clogging a toilet at the Kennedy estate. I wish more people would be so brave–to write so honestly, that is, not to clog powerful political potties (insert “they’re already filled with plenty of shit” joke here).

Perhaps related to being a logophile is the thrill I derive from learning a new language. I’m currently learning Portuguese for an upcoming trip to Brazil. Throughout the process, I’m frequently amazed by the way the human mind works. Words I didn’t know I knew form in my mouth inexplicably. There are so many theories about learning a new language–the number of times you must repeat a word before it’s cemented in your brain, the amount of time you can practice a new language daily before the exercise is futile, the association of a word with a picture to create a better linkage in your brain. For me, it’s a combination of all of these things.

Portuguese is a beautiful, lilting language, with a cadence at times reminiscent of Italian. I try not to get self-conscious about how slowly I speak or the fact that I frequently butcher grammar. And my new Brazilian friends are always patient and encouraging. Como se diz, “I forgot how to say…?” Even with my constant blunders, the process of learning the words is fascinating–as I type the word words, my brain is buzzing palavras palavras palavras. 

In my opinion, the best part about learning a language is the way it makes you relate to yourself and shapes how you interact with the world. As I speak another language, I find that I take on a new persona, and I think this is true with any bilingual or trilingual person. I’m sure my mom, who was born in Poland, reinvented a part of herself through language during her transition to America at the age of 18. English gave her a chance to start over.

For me, the careful, calculated way I attempt to speak Portuguese serves as a reminder to me to be more selective in the words I choose daily. I’m more attentive to what I’m saying, how I say it, and the message I want to convey. Sadly, this is something I think most people (myself included) fail at daily. Comment sections on websites and YouTube always reinforce the fact that most people don’t think before they speak (or type). Sorry for so many poop references in one post, but we’ve become a world of verbal diarrhea. We don’t think before we excoriate others with our words. We call people ugly, stupid, bad parents, and worse at the drop of a hat. A journalist posts something we disagree with and there are those who tell him to kill himself. I’m not yet a parent, but I struggle with the idea of bringing my children up in a world where cruelty has become so convenient.

I don’t have an easy ending to this post. It’s been a lot of ideas in one, and I apologize for the stream-of-consciousness. But that’s the great thing about words–they eddy in all directions, and like fireflies, we catch the ones that sparkle most when they come along.