Friday, June 06, 2008

Get a Hamster for $200

Beacon Hill is an expensive neighborhood, but geez...


Friday, October 06, 2006

Flufferheffalumps on a Train!

I live in a fairly interesting place when I pay attention. For instance, last week we had a little celebration down the street in Union Square to honor a man with a truly excellent name: Archibald Query.

While you may have thought Marshmallow Fluff was invented in the 1940s, it was actually invented by our man Archie right here in 1917 or so. It's said the sugar shortages of WWI squashed his door to door sales effort and he sold it off.

If you're not from the northeast, you did not grow up on Fluffernutter and will not appreciate this fact, and you may be really grossed out to know we adore sugar sandwiches in our school lunches here even while trying to abolish soda in vending machines in schools. You should, however, appreciate this winner in the science experiment and food contest: a fluff volcano cake, complete with dry ice-induced steam and bubbles. Sweet.

Meanwhile if you aren't too distracted by the wacky MIT dorm building in this photo, you will notice something I've been watching for: The Barnum & Bailey Circus Train. That's right, the circus folk live in the cars, most of them have bikes parked outside the door. I think the train has all the amenities of a small town, including a post office.

See, I'm not waiting to run away with the circus, though I'd probably fit right in. I'm waiting to see an event that I think I probably missed again. They walk the elephants from my neighborhood to the Boston Garden for the circus, but it's not publicized when they'll do it. Look at this great shot someone got last year of the parade of heffalumps in front of the Stata Center.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Humans are Bizarre

I haven't written in a bit because I've been lying down and feeling horrible a good percentage of the time. I'm on day 7 of a wicked dose of two antibiotics plus Prilosec and yesterday was my first day I felt no pain all day. Today I feel crappy again, great. I have such a distrust that anyone knows what they're talking about. Do I really have an ulcer? I've been to work with people with ulcers who were not rendered immobile. Bodies are bizarre.

So on that topic, since I had to be in the Longwood Medical area in Boston this morning for a derm appointment, I walked back behind the big granite/marble grandeur of Harvard Medical School to Shattuck Street and into the library on the end there. I'd heard that on the 5th floor there was an anatomical museum. I figured I could pay over $20 to see the Bodies exhibit at the Museum of Science, or I could check this out for free. There I went.

Around the atrium of the 5th floor are glass cases. It's small by museum standards, but fairly intense. There are anatomical models of things used by doctors. There are a number of skulls or parts of deformed people, sometimes with a drawing of the subject. Typically they were operated on and then died of infection. Just over a century ago we didn't know as much about keeping things sterile and we had not so much anesthesia. (Though opiates, alcohol, cannabis, mandrake, and more had been used throughout history, and nitrous oxide is a 18thc invention, ether and its like came later.) Abitrary fact for you: Oliver Wendell Holmes, the writer of the poem "Old Ironsides" which helped preserve the US Constitution coined the term Anesthesia and also invented things like stethescopes.

Anyway in the cases were minute fetal skeletons from various ages, deformities, two truly disturbing skeletons of conjoined twins, on in which the spine ended up in a torso and head both directions, the skulls of a number of famous cases include Phineas Gage, and a lot of truly frightening surgical, midwivery, and autopsy tools.

No photos were allowed, which you're probably happy about.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

On the Importance of Picking Blueberries

Every summer I pick blueberries. There are people you can bring berry picking and those you can't. Some people just "get" it. It's the outdoors, or the tradition, or they are the food of the gods, or it's just what's done. It's important that they get it. But why is it so important? I think blueberry picking is like some kind of portal to my bloodline. Like it represents part of who I am, and is one of my few definable team pennants that I can wave.

I think about my Maine grandparents whenever I pick blueberries. They lived by the ocean and worked at the shipyard and then moved to a mobile home on a small mountain. Grampa would hide out in his corner office of the garage and carve birds and go on several days long "hunting" trips. I'm under the impression he never really shot anything; he just took advantage of the concept to wander in the woods for days.

"Mama and I are goin' out," my grampa announced one afternoon when I was staying with them as a kid. "If you see a man walking through here," he waved toward the hilltop, "then you call the police. Unless he has a gun. Then he's all right." (He really didn't know I would grow up and move to big cities. )

I was a kid with a few questions, and they were full of answers and rules to live by. Never, ever, pick the corn until the water's boiling, my grandmother said. Put your wrists in the ocean first to take the edge off of the cold. Be sure to peel the tomatoes for the salad. And of course you go blueberrying at the end of the summer. One day I went picking with my mother, my grandmother, and her mother (who lived on a farm nearby) all packed in my Grammie's bright orange VW bug that she drove like a race car. The four generations returned home to eat required bowls of blueberries and Ritz crackers in fresh milk. "Blueberriescrackers'n'milk" was said as one word. It was what you do. I remember being horrified later to find a tick on my underpants.

I think I was less than seven years old on my first canoe camping trip with my grandparents. I remember bragging to my parents later about how I had paddled in the front of the boat for three hours! one day. My grandparents' friends had come along and brought a screen and projector and showed slides. I slept in a tent and felt the happiness of just being out in the world. We hiked mountains together and there was always a picnic once the adults made it to the top. Grammie would unpack homemade cookies she had always stacked safely in a Pringles can.

Sometimes in the summer we'd get extended relatives together at the shore and there would always be pork shoulder, barbecue potato chips, and cheap seventies cola. I could spend hours looking for tiny pieces of seaglass "gems" with my grandfather and his brother-in-law, Brownie.

In the fall while my grandmother was making relishes and pickles, my grandfather took me hiking near the mountain house. We'd look for old foundations and find the old houses' trash pits, digging up ancient bottles from old remedies and bone buttons.

Even when they lived by the shore, he told me the names of all the birds and trees, and his opinions of them. When a Baltimore Oriole made a long stocking nest in their yard, I went home to Massachusetts and meticulously painted a model of the bird in black, white and VW orange.

My favorites stories were of the cabin they once had in the North Woods. Both my grandfathers had built their summer cabins, and I spent weeks each summer at my dad's family's place in New Hampshire, but I never got to see this mythical place in Maine. Instead we'd sit in front of their mobile home by their His and Her gardens looking out across an old orchard at the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and they'd tell me about watching a moose swim all the way to an island across the lake through clouds of no-see-ums. We'd laugh and eat shrimp dip on Fritos and later have lobster.

Not long after they passed away, I escaped from my high tech career and stayed a week in a decaying Maine camp, in a desolate town in northern Aroostook County with two convenience stores and a hotel that catered to fishermen. My boyfriend and I drove the abandoned logging roads, and saw bear in the new forests where potato fields failed.

While boating along the shores of some public lands, we discovered a row of abandoned cabins, each carefully wallpapered in birch bark anchored in the corners with scrolling twigs. It was silent except for the sudden splashes of Kingfishers. I closed my eyes and imagined the families taking the train north from the cities to ferry across the lake from the dance halls and excitement of town to these cabins… getting together to watch moose and trade fish stories in front of the biggest stone fireplace in the state of Maine, by then reduced to a pile of stones in the long grass. Today it's been revamped into lodgings again for fishermen. (It's in the book I wrote about New England Cabins & Cottages, that I dedicated to my Maine Grampa.)

And today I feel like my times are so different, and yet while my grandparents and my mom and my uncle Brownie are all dead, my brother and I are still here and those folks would be having a good chuckle over how similar we are. And until he was no longer able, my dad still picked blueberries with me, and still provides the buckets when he can. "The nut doesn't fall far from the tree," he'd say.

My brother, my husband and I picked blueberries last weekend with two friends we'd just visited at their family's cabin in Northern Maine. I went home and contemplated whether my pickles were sealed properly and how I was going to make jewelry from some beach glass and ceramic shards while he went home and worked on sculptures involving trees and old farm equipment like a couple of nuts.

I feel a little guilty though – I just don't feel like I have the proper Maine accent to enthuse over "Blueberriescrackers'n'milk" but I did have some berries on Cheerios, which is pretty close. We all used email to report the ticks we'd removed. This weekend I'll be down the street from my grandparents house where I sat eating berries with my great grandmother. My inlaws have retired to Maine, and if I have kids, they'll get to visit their grandparents in the very same shore town I first knew as Grammie and Grampa's. Granted, it's a nine times bigger house and the town is known these days for its outlet stores, but I'll take it. Each time I drive up there I pass the Dairy Queen where my Grampa would sometimes let me get a highly illicit cone, and it makes me smile.


Sunday, June 25, 2006

Boston Parking Reg Loophole

Sometimes going old school solves the problem. . .


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Ivy League Dumpster Diving

Last week I forgot my trusty camera and missed a really great shot at the Harvard Recycling Surplus Center. This is a pile of furniture and office bits and odd junk collected from offices, dorms, and other corners of the university that gets given away for free. I carried away a portion of wrought iron fencing and a bookshelf. As people cleared away filing cabinets, oak desks, office chairs and more, one lone item was left like an island in the center of the junk. It was a padded gynecologist table, stirrups and all.


Saturday, May 27, 2006

Allston, Quincy, Dorchester, Roslindale

I'd planned to assistant lead a mellow sea kayak trip in the Rowley River down thru Ipswich and the backside of Plum Island today. I was hoping for a calm reintroduction to my gear, which sat uncharacteristically unused a good part of the last year, a chance to spy on some willets and egrets and a good time with some new people. But there was a chance of lightening and no good bail out spots so we cancelled it. Instead, today glenn and I explored where we live.

We drove to Allston in the morning and had a Columbian breakfast. Then we found just how fast we can drive over to the beach in Qunicy. (10 minutes) Then we explored Squantum in Quincy and we walked along the beach along the road out to Long Island that you aren't allowed to drive down. It was warm and we spent a couple of hours there. Glenn taught me the finer points of skipping stones. I taught him about horseshoe crabs and razor clams. It was nice, and looked like we were somewhere a lot less populated, except for the cigarette I saw extinguished on the back of a beached skate, and a good deal of washed up debris. And as we left we passed a guy who had decided to drive an SUV onto the wet sand with a canoe on top and buried his car up to the wheel wells.

Then we took a look at what was a big blank spot there on glenn's road atlas. It's Marina Bay, a peninsula full of condos and a park and fish restaurants and docks and docks full of boats and a beach side club/restaurant called Water Works where band play and you can hang out and eat or dance on the sands and they have real palm trees. Someone once described going on a date here to me and I had no idea where they were talking about and assumed it was on the Cape.

Then we drove around the edges of the water the best we could toward the city. We sampled fudge from a local chocolate shop. We took a look at UMass Boston and the JFK Library and Carson Beach. We won ugly shirts and hats and drank free Snapple at a radio station promotion on the boardwalk.

We drove the length of Dot Ave. noting where all the great Vietnamese places are in the city these days. Then we drove over to Rozzie Village. It's so cute – it has some cute little boutiques and some restaurants with a brick courtyard full of tables. It is next to a commuter rail stop. It made me want to open a store, but places are still sitting empty there. Before leaving we of course sampled the local bakeries and sushi.

Then back home to pack a picnic for a little hike tomorrow. I'll be 37 tomorrow. Last year on my birthday I was passing the final "Scenarios Day" of my kayak trip leader training out in the Marblehead area. I landed and launched in little crevices in the rocks and surf, rescued variously "injured" people, lead people on various legs of the trip, stabilized a "hurt" paddler while being towed through surf to a rocky beach. It was hard playing along with pretend scenarios. You couldn't prevent anything from happening, only deal with it after it did. (Of course today I prevented a trip with planned routing and timing in order to be careful and replaced it with a haphazard journey through unfamiliar places! But 't'weren't the ocean.)


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Things Aren't as They Seem

Not a bad day for not having slept much last night. Things were consistantly different than they seemed at first, in that special sleep-deprived way -- but not in a Twilight Zone way.

I worked finishing rings for another jeweler at the bench in the front window of her shop all afternoon. What was impressive about this is that I successfully did NOT lean outside and yell "Nice Ass...phalt!" to the guys trying to strike poses while displaying butt cleavage in the process of working on the sidewalk outside. Later in the day one grubby guy, whose suspenders had unfortunately popped off on one side while he was working, stumbled to the locked door with his fly unzipped and looked at me aggressively. I unlocked the door for him and thought he was going to ask to use the bathroom, but instead he whipped out a hundred dollar bill and bought some pearl earrings for his girlfriend for her birthday.

I was relieved to find I didn't have "the dropsies" today since yesterday I was clumsiness incarnate. Jade, who owns the jewelry shop, told me about a guy who, on the first day of a high profile designer job, hit a springy-handled scoop of tiny diamond baguettes on the edge of the karat scale, spraying them upwards. His coworkers spent the next half hour picking diamond lice out of his hair with tweezers.

After work I walked into a bookstore and picked up a book by Elinor Lipman that looked interesting... and then she walked in. The store suddenly filled up with people to see her. She was there for a reading and was introduced by a similar style of writer, Mameve Medwed (or Mascara Medwed, as I think when I see her). Elinor read a nice brief amount and was charming and entertaining and afterwards I was able to have a chat with her. It really was a good turnout for a night competing with a Sox/Yankees game, the finale of Lost and the American Idol pagentry. Go Cambridge! Elinor lives in western MA and I mentioned that my brother lived out her way and is the managing editor of the Massachusetts Review. Elinor said her first really great rejection note, the kind where an editor took a lot of time to type up thoughtful notes, was from the Mass Review. I told her Cory just randomly sent me rejection notes. I didn't even have to submit anything.

Today, however, Cory sent me the coolest present for my birthday. It was on the table with the mail when I came home. Look closely, it contains two kinds of screwdrivers, a bottle opener, and a couple kinds of wrenches. I promptly donned my bat belt and ran around the house with my superhero sidekicks (our two kittens). Sadly, I could not hang myself on my magnetic strip where I hang pliers. For some reason I found myself wishing it had a hidden knife, too. I blame glenn for this since as I fell asleep last night he was singing "abunakunasasoodesu" over and over in various tunes -- that's the complicated Japanese grammar he'd just learned to say: "It doesn't seem to be dangerous to me. . . ."

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