Boston Winter 101

Where have I been, you ask?  One might say I’ve been distracted by the changing of seasons, in many ways.  I shall explain.

I came back to Boston after Christmas jaunts up and down the west coast and, HELLO, here’s WINTER!  As in, snow banks taking up most of the sidewalk.  Bluebird days aplenty – you know, freezing cold but bright blue.  Just like the last time I got back from Christmas.

Except, totally unlike that last winter, this one decided to keep at it.  As in, rumor has it that January was the third snowiest in Boston’s history.  The locals will complain about that every chance they get.

So, even though this is my second winter here, I’m figuring out all this business for the very first time.  I look back on last winter, which I honestly don’t recall being colder than 20 degrees ever, and I chuckle – it’s as though I learned nothing!  No shoveling, no battles with ice, no snow berms higher than my head.  Actually, I don’t think I knew what a “berm” was…

So, for those of you who don’t know that term either, I suspect the following list will be quite useful to you as well.  A round-up of some of my biggest lessons in Proper Winter thus far:

1.  Watch out for ice…  on the roof, not just underfoot.

Turns out, if there is a lot of snow and ice piled on your roof, the law of gravity is free to act upon it.  Then, on a “wintry mix” day (another official weather term I had never heard of, implying a swirl of snow, sleet, and rain through the course of a day), that rain and the related above-freezing temperatures might melt that ice/snow pile enough… to fall on your car.  My boyfriend has a new car door and window, and I learned the art of ghetto taping a window.  Lessons from Vallejo and Boston combine!

2. Snow shoveling is fun… for the first 2 hours.

Be sure to not favor one wrist/arm over the other.  Or your wrist will still hurt a week later, as mine does.  At least 2-3 hours of snow shoveling makes for lots of good quick conversations with passersby.  Especially if you’re chipping at a wall of ice with a caveman-like tool.  I no longer take pre-shoveled, decently wide sidewalks as you see above for granted.

3.  You don’t have to leave town to go mountain climbing.

… or to get a military-style workout.  The 3-mile walk from Harvard to the MFA in Boston over the weekend took about 1 hour, 45 minutes.  And we planned for 1 hour.  We simply didn’t anticipate how slushy/icy/unplowed the sidewalks would be between the two.  And after balancing on ice or jumping from one side to the next for nearly two hours, my boyfriend and I were somehow both ravenous.  The amount of crackers I consumed the next day confirmed that our slow trek was not for naught.

4. Winter is simply beautiful.

Sure, I tease about all this snow business.  To be quite honest, I’m completely taken by it.  Every day even the most familiar sidewalks and settings look different.  It makes me honestly a little sad that I didn’t decide to launch into some time-lapse photography on the sidewalk outside our place…  And every time I tramp through a fresh pile of snow, I get so darn excited about winter that I literally nearly call home to California to share my joy.  Really.

And even though winter hardly seems like a season of growth, I would argue the opposite.  Nicely timed with the new year, when we all make resolutions of some sort, I have found it to actually be the greatest time of new growth and regeneration – at least for myself, these past two years.  We might stay indoors a bit more, as does everyone, but that leaves extra space for thinking about who we are and what we want to be doing, and more free time to try these out.  And when the scene outside changes drastically each and every day, there’s no better reminder that we’re capable of doing the same.

And, hey, check in with me in a week or two – if my wrist is still sore, the attitude might not remain so sunny.  But for now, I’m still on Team Winter.  Who knew?

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Neighborhood Guide: Porter Square

As mentioned in my previous post, I might as well admit that one of my very favorite activities – random neighborhood exploration – will surely be curtailed as it just gets colder.  I love a brisk walk, but probably just in short bursts, if I’m really honest.  So, the next couple of quick neighborhood guides will focus on spots that are super conveniently right next to the T.  And that offer plenty of appealing pitstops in them, winter or not!

So, today’s highlighted spot is none other than Porter Square… a mere 0.7 miles from my home.  This review is probably most useful for folks moving to the area, but it’s a place worth getting to know otherwise too.  Read on…

Quick take-away?  My dear neighbor Porter Square is more handy than charming… but it grows on you.

To elaborate, when I first asked friends which neighborhoods in and around Boston I should set up shop in, Porter came up a number of times – mostly in the same breath as Harvard, Central, and Davis.  Attempting to do this housing/’hood research from SF, I did the best I could on the Internet, and otherwise kept Porter on the list of places to check out when finally doing the sprint of looking-for-and-magically-getting-a-place-while-visiting-for-a-week.

(Again, with the disclaimer that this is my complete and utter bias…)

I stepped off the Porter Square T and I was less than charmed.  Given that I’d heard all about how it’s just one stop past Harvard, between the school and Davis, and so on, I figured it would have a lot of the character of those two, and just be a bit of a quieter version.  Instead, it felt a little more like stepping into a handy-but-not-enough-to-move-me-across-the-country neighborhood that you swing by for groceries on the way home.

What’s so handy about it, then, if that’s Porter’s main offering?  Once again, right on the red line T, one stop past Harvard and one stop before Davis.  It has a gigantor Shaw’s, and not one but three gyms (one – Planet Fitness – that’s an excellent $10 a month while still being new and clean.  They pull off some magic at that place).  A City SportsCVS, Dunkin’, Pier 1 Imports, and fabulous hardware store.  So, yes, great place if you’re just moving in, or are ravenous on the way home from work.

So, yes, I landed in Davis, not in Porter.  But I will concede that Porter has grown on me a bit, and not just for the discovery of the two organic aisles in Shaw’s.  Nope, nestled between Shaw’s and Dunkin’, you’ll find a few quality local businesses that are pretty standout. Some favorites are Porter Square Books (as described in my last post), where you’ll find, um, books, but also a café that’s a great spot for working (free Wi-Fi), reading, and people-watching, and that seems to attract people who are interested in all three – it’s not just 97% laptops. Next door, Tags Hardware welcomes you with lollipops or popcorn, and has funky kitchen items and housewares, not just bolts and screws.  Poorly-named Liquor World actually has a great little selection of microbrews in the back.  And Cambridge Naturals just smells great. Interesting restaurants and my occasional indulgence – little Tibetan shops – are steps away on Mass Ave.

So I say move here if it’s really helpful for you to be near just about anything you might need, and if you like having equally-easy access to the likes of Davis and Harvard.  It’s also cheaper than both, and the houses on the west side of Mass Ave are beautiful, and on flowery, well-kept, dare I say charming streets.

If this still isn’t your cup of tea, then you will still be plenty close to Porter Books, Planet Fitness, or another favorite Porter find if you instead opt for Davis or Harvard.  Porter’s a handy neighbor or afternoon jaunt, indeed.

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Best Cafés in Boston

It’s official:  Boston has now gotten cold enough that, even though I look out my window and it’s BLUE and beautiful, I’m still shy to venture outside.  It often takes – not kidding – several hours of putting on ever-more layers before I buck up and do it.  Yes, I believe the long outdoor runs and definitely the leisurely 15-mile exploratory walks around town are on hold for a few months.  Especially since weather.com says it’s 21 (ooh, toasty) but feels like 9 (bah).

Still, I want to get out in it.  I even sometimes find that, properly equipped with a knee-length puff coat, a cold shock to the face feels kind of great.  Yes, Jeanette, you’re ALIVE!

So I think my new “outdoor activity” for winter will be café-hopping – something I would happily do any day of the year (cold or warm), but still.  Brisk walk, followed by hot beverage with milk foam piled high, sounds perfect, and somehow even more rewarding than the summer equivalent of iced coffee after sweaty stroll.

If you’re in the same mood, I’ve compiled a list of favorite cafés (so far!) around the Boston area, plus a few more I must trek to as well.  I rather think I will excel at this new winter sport.

CRÈME DE LA CRÈME

Though this first list gets a mighty big title, keep in mind it’s just my favorites.  I tend to love spots that are a mix of delicious coffee, warm atmosphere, and enough welcoming couches or open tables for me to stick around for a while.  Other pluses that will bias the following list include outlets (free) Wi-Fi, since I work remotely and sometimes must just be practical about that!  Also keep in mind that I live in Davis Square, so I’m clearly more familiar with spots on this side of the river than the other.

So, quality of coffee + people + food + vibe gets most points with me… but I’m guessing I’m not alone there.

Boston /

  • Espresso Royale Caffe (Gainsborough installment) – Neighborhood:  Northeastern? – Fantastic hipster fantasyland!  Also populated by grumpy old men (I have a video of these funny men arguing on my camera, and I’ll show you if you ask nicely), students, etc.  I have a new love for this spot for several reasons:  a fun, warm atmosphere despite the kind of big space; delicious coffee (and two free refills on cups of it – holy smokes); and something personal about the place.  I’ve had really familiar interactions with several folks who work there, and something about that charms me, I’ll admit it.  I love friendly strangers, and this place is full of them.  And free Wi-Fi, no joke.
  • Ula CaféJamaica Plain – A new favorite.  Design-y wood interior.  Lots of seating (plenty unoccupied, perhaps due to distance from major universities).  Free Wi-Fi during non-peak hours.  A sweet potato sandwich that I’m dying to try, along with other sandwiches that sound like they’ll rival it.  Also, let’s not forget the proximity to the Arnold Arboretum for an outdoor break, and to Centre St. Café (a place I plan to write about as many times as I can) for brunch and dinner as bookends to your café work.  Just a suggestion.

Cambridge + Somerville /

  • Darwin’s Ltd.Harvard Square – This spot, above most, reminds me that there are some amazing, impressive characters in our midst in Cambridge.  I spent my first 2-3 visits in long conversation with Lucy, a 70+-year-old regular who was among the first group of women admitted to HBS.  You can find her in one of the armchairs, and she will likely talk to you, even if you’re across the room.  Otherwise, this spot offers some big delicious sandwiches in the adjacent grocery-ish areas, ginormous produce to match, free Wi-Fi.  Just delightful place in general.  And I can’t resist the walk through the surrounding neighborhood on the way there.
  • Diesel CafeDavis Square – OK, this one’s kind of a gimme.  First, I live in Davis – wunderbar.  Second, every hipster or young professional or grad student near or far puts this on his/her list too.  But I think it earns its spot near the top of most lists.  Yes, I’m a sucker for a place that decorates with random things hanging from the ceiling, and that includes pool tables and photo booths while still offering lots of booths, tables, couches, etc.  Also has some great coffee and killer sandwiches.  And for how popular it is, I can usually snag a table somewhere.  Atmosphere’s great, and the crowd includes not just those I already mentioned, but families and professors alike as well.  It’s just great.  Just don’t expect Wi-Fi unless you want to pay – fair enough.
  • Petsi PiesSmack dab between Harvard and Central – Often crowded with grad students, but for good reason.  Simply lovely.  And I consider holding off on breakfast every morning, just to hold out for their breakfast couscous.  Unfortunately, the 2.5-mile walk means I’d be seeing stars by the time I got there.  Alas, their free Wi-Fi was just replaced with the kind you pay for, but a great spot for catching up with good company, or for actually being productive because of that lack of Internets.  Also, it’s high time I actually try their pies.
  • Simon’s Coffee ShopPorter Square – Yay, new favorite!  First, you all should know that it pretty much tops most lists for quality of coffee/espresso in Boston.  It’s the kind of place New Yorkers and San Franciscans are excited about.  It’s another spot, like Diesel, that doesn’t have free Wi-Fi… but that lack plus its smaller size ends up being lovely in that Simon’s then especially seems to attract the crowd who just wants to read and enjoy some brilliant espresso.  The relative lack of computers is refreshing to me, somehow.  There are also enough devoted regulars and friendly staff (especially the morning crew) that it feels more welcoming and familiar to me than probably any others on this list.  I’m coming back, stat.
  • Cafe Zing (@ Porter Square Books)Porter Square – The only installment on this list that offers free Wi-Fi and a bookstore, a grand combination!  All of the cafe seats face the outdoors (granted, a big shopping center parking lot, but still), and I always seem to find a seat even with so few of them.  Great food, quirky gifts to buy, and a decent bargain books selection also help.  The baked goods also happen to be locally made, and the espresso organic.  Well, then.
  • True GroundsBall Square – Another place that has all of my favorites in terms of atmosphere and consumption.  So comfy and wonderful.  Only one hour of free Wi-Fi at a time means I’m magically uber-productive here too.  I’ll take it!

HONORABLE MENTION

Perfectly honorable spots, mind you.  We’re just dealing with my own biases here.

Boston /

  • Boston Common Coffee Co.North End – This spot actually stands out most in my mind for the super jolly folks working the register.  There’s also a surprising number of tables for a North End spot.  I guess I expect all properties there to be tiny and have a line down the block.  Free Wi-Fi here too, and Yelp tells me the locals love it.  Perhaps worth a second shot.
  • Espresso Royale Caffe (Newbury installment) – Back Bay – You know, delicious coffee and food, good atmosphere.  But I’m not absolutely won over.  Perhaps its location on Newbury?  Perhaps because it feels more transient than cozy-up-to-your-coffee?
  • Wired PuppyBack Bay – Where to head on a hot (or super cold) day when Espresso Royale’s full.  A random recent find that actually looks to hold its own in terms of quality coffee around here.  Very little seating, though.  (btw – got Boston magazine’s 2010 “Best of Boston” Award for Best Coffee Shop)

Cambridge + Somerville /

  • 1369 Coffee House Inman and Central – I know, most locals would say it’s a crime that I put this on my second-tier list.  Forgive me, but I just haven’t been here enough times to develop a passion.  It’s absolutely the type of café I’d fall in love with – yummy local food, atmosphere, all that.  Just give me time.  Or more non-Wi-Fi work to do.
  • Andala Coffee House – Central Square – Oh, the Mediterranean food!  Airy, sunny.  Almost so empty I wonder if I’m supposed to be working there.  Free Wi-Fi.  I must give this one a shot again.
  • Blue Shirt CaféDavis Square – I do love this place.  Only trouble is that its specialty is food, not coffee (they just have basic drip).  It only lands on this list because I figured you fine folks would love to learn about more free Wi-Fi spots.  However, you need to spend $5 here to get the Wi-Fi code, which is easy to do if you want to snag one of their wraps or panini sandwiches, etc. – probably one of my favorite wraps places ever.  I just tend to only treat myself to lunch at these spots occasionally.  Also, the atmosphere is, um, kind of lacking, though they’ve certainly put up more art over the past year.  So, do go here if you’re hungry, and/or want a generally peaceful place to work all afternoon when Diesel is full.
  • Crema CafeHarvard Square – Not much to say here.  Pluses:  delicious coffee, smells great, is airy and beautiful, and the sweets in the front astound me (to look at and to eat).  Minuses:  I can’t find a spot to sit down 95% of the time – midweek, mid-morning, whenever.  Bumma.
  • Sherman Cafe – Union Square – Thank you, artsy, hipstamatic Union Square.  Just the kind of design-y (yes, second use of this new word) cafe that gets me all inspired to write and think and generally be prolific.  Cool random art.  Will have to try again to see if this gets kicked up a notch on my list.

REALLY MUST TRY

I’ve done a bit of research on great cafés around Boston now, for both quality of coffee and just interesting new finds (with a bias towards free Wi-Fi).  Here’s the current To Try list:

  • Angora TooBrighton – I found this one on a “Best Boston Coffee Shops for Writers” list (which is how I made it to Espresso Royale on Gainsborough, by the way)… sounds intriguing.  This one’s up next!
  • Bloc 11 CaféUnion Square – Apparently a sister café to Diesel.  Interesting…
  • Blue State CoffeeAllston/Brighton – Free Wi-Fi, evidently
  • Cafe PamplonaHarvard Square
  • Equal Exchange CaféNorth End – Free Wi-Fi, as well.  And their coffee seems to be served around Boston – must be a good sign.
  • Flour Bakery + CafeSouth End – I’ve heard this place is great, but my perusal of the Yelp reviews, and a peek at the place one evening makes me wonder if this is mainly for buying lunch, not sticking around.
  • South End ButterySouth End – About the same as Flour…?

While Boston might never be known for coffee in the way that New York, San Francisco, and Seattle can claim, I think you can tell I’m plenty enamored of the current selection.  It seems as though winter can become pretty darn isolating if you don’t make the effort to get out in it.  But I say that the opportunity to spend the afternoon in one of these spots, or to try another that I keep hearing about, cures all.

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How to Get Motivated – Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose

Good morning to you all – it’s Friday!  Here in Boston, the sun is shining, the sky is straight blue (after most of a week of gray), and I actually got enough sleep last night.  What better combination for high energy, engagement, and motivation on a Friday?  Well, we all know better than that – sometimes, no matter how warmly the day greets you, a Friday’s work might just go to hell around 2pm.  And, honestly, after a long week of work, I’m not entirely against a little leisurely transition into the weekend, a little rest for the weary.

Still, I’ve been thinking a lot about motivation, about drive, lately – whether on a Friday when all you can think is that’s too darn beautiful to stay inside and parked in front of a desk, or perhaps during a slump that’s much more significant than those driven by circadian rhythms or the promise of happy hour after work.

With luck, I was recently sent the following video, crafted by Dan Pink of recent Drive fame – Drive being the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc. bestselling book on motivation.  A book I actually picked up months ago, and ran through with zeal – really, the guy has some great ideas.  But they didn’t really hit home until this time, when the subject of my own motivation (or how I could find it) was on the top of my brain.

Please do take the 10+ minutes out of your Friday to watch the video below (you know you were probably going to spend at least 10 minutes on YouTube as of 2pm anyway).  And watch it again in a few days.  Whether you’re trying to figure out how to put some oomph into the end of your week or your weekend, or you’re facing the much bigger decision of which job/project/big move you’re making next, I really think you’ll find it inspiring.  He also does some pretty awesome sketches.

Drive:  The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Summary for those in the audience who like to read rather than listen/watch, or who simply can’t bring themselves to pull up YouTube at work.  Understandable.

In short, Dan Pink explains that we – economics and laymen alike – often assume that the best way to motivate someone is with rewards, often monetary ones.  The carrot on a stick idea.  But plenty of psychologists will tell you that not only are we not horses (indeed), but that sometimes being rewarded for our actions either diminishes our performance (anxiety much?) or takes away our drive to do that thing of our own volition.

(For example, it’s not a great idea to pay your children to do chores, or else they’ll only feel compelled to do them if they can get that reward in exchange.  OK, this isn’t always true given that I always insist on doing the dishes for my mom even though I used to get paid to do so at age 8, but still.  We all see their point.)

So, to cut to the chase, what really motivates us?

Pay? Well, like I just explained, no.  Except, Pink makes a great point – it does motivate us if we don’t have enough of it.  So, to really motivate the people who, say, work for you, be sure to pay them enough (or more than enough) so that compensation is not an issue.  Just take the issue of money off the table.

Once this is done, three factors lead to better performance:

AUTONOMY – We love to be self-directed!  To run our own lives.  This is a really important element for engagement.

Here, Pink gives an example that really resonated with me:  Atlassian, an Australian software company, does something pretty cool once per quarter.  On a Thursday afternoon, they tell their developers that, for 24 hours, they can work on anything they want, the way they want, and with whomever they want.  All they have to do after is present their results to the company the next day, and at a fun party that involves beer, cake – all those elements one loves on a Friday anyway (see above).  And, whaddya know, out of that short period come some of their best ideas, most innovative solutions for nagging problems, and so on.  Not motivated with some innovation bonus, but by saying they know the developers want to do interesting things, are creative folks, so why not run with it?  Brilliant, I say.  I love that.

MASTERY – As in, the urge to get better at stuff, even if it may seem irrational economically.  Yes, getting better is just plain fun, satisfying.  It’s part of why my boyfriend spends hours on the bike each week.  Why I’m dutifully listening to Coffee Break French as many days as I remember to.  He’s not trying to become a pro cyclist.  I’ll never be a translator.  But we still get a high from the effort and from seeing that we’re improving, from making it up that hill more easily next time, or actually understanding words when a French speaker walks by.

Pink’s example was funny but an even better one:  learning a musical instrument.  He reasoned that that move really doesn’t make sense, given that violin mastery probably doesn’t find you a mate, find you a job, and so on.  But we still might devote our evenings and weekends to it, no matter how busy our lives already are.  Other apt examples:  Linux, Wikipedia.  Those don’t make economic sense either but, in his words, “challenge and mastery, along with making a contribution” – that’s what counts. That’s what works.

PURPOSE – Finally, more organizations today are (smartly) focusing on having a transcendent purpose to their work.  As Pink explains, it makes coming to work better, attracts better talent, and so on.  This can be alongside profit, sure, but the purpose piece must be there.

The big trouble comes when a company only focuses on profit, not tied to purpose at all:  this is when people do bad things ethically, plain produce “crappy products,” offer “lame services,” and/or just generally create uninspiring places to work.  I think he’s dead-on there (which is part of why I’m excited to see the rise of design thinking and socially-driven for-profits, but that’s another story).

Dan Pink:  the organizations that are flourishing are animated by purpose.  Take Skype, Steve Jobs/Apple.  They focus on profit, sure, but make sure to maximize their purpose piece too – probably first.  So their work/products resonate – and sell.  What a combo.

Though my notes are hardly brief, I hope they are ones you’ll come back to.  It’s easy to see how probably each of us fit in autonomy, mastery, and purpose in our lives, but often quite separate from one another.  Maybe job owns one of those, your hobby’s focused on another, and so on.  But why not try thinking about all three at once?  While it might have once seemed counter-intuitive (particularly to the economist of yore), makes perfect sense to me.


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Neighborhood Guide: (Visiting) Davis Square

Funny enough, I write this post from well outside of Davis (by Boston standards, that is) – the other side of the river, right near Northeastern.  I found a fantastic new (to me) cafe and had time on my hands, so why not an adventure?

Still, I can see how, from all the way over here – either a several mile walk, two T rides, or a foray on the bus – one might not think to make it over to Davis.  “So far!” they cry.

I still say it’s worth it.  So, to supplement my prior post on the beauties of Davis Square, here are some points on making it aaaaaaaaaaaaaaall the way across the river to my beloved ‘hood.  And in my favorite Who/What/When/Where/Why/How format, as learned in elementary school.  (You know you like the simple organization of that approach too.)

  • WHO you’ll find there? A lot more locals than tourists.
  • WHAT to do?  For studying (let’s say you’re struggling to find a seat in a Harvard cafe, cough cough), try Diesel if you’re reading, Starbucks or Blue Shirt if you need Internet (or delicious wraps, in the case of the latter). For a date (“Hey, I’m cute and interesting – I choose random new neighborhoods to venture to”), Redbones and put your name in early.  If the line’s too long, try local-ingredient-heavy pizza at  Flatbread, complete with the option of candlepin bowling.  Then go to a movie at Somerville Theatre, where you can even get beer/wine and homemade ice cream.  Or, if it’s more your style, go dance to a cover band in the back of the Burren, or catch live Irish music up front.  For shopping, Magpie (hipster craft store, people! You know you’re interested), Artifaktori (legit vintage clothing and knick knacks), Buffalo Exchange (for clothing interests that are a smidgen more modern), Goodwill housewares (I have taken a rug on the T in the name of getting great pieces to my home. You can too).
  • WHEN? As I said in my other post, just about any evening it’s lively and lovely. Good option for some alternative date/study/eat/people-watching.
  • WHERE? It’s on the Cambridge side of the river. On the red line, two stops past Harvard – really, just a 15-minute ride from Boston. Buses come through too – the 89, 90, 94, and 96. I would also argue that it’s not a bad walk or bike ride from most places either. Just don’t park your car there unless you possess lots of quarters.
  • WHY? OK, I liked sticking with the questions my fifth-grade teacher told me to include in all articles, but I think I’ve already explained “Why?” enough times.
  • HOW? Same.

Though this write-up is a bit shorter than the other, I just couldn’t commit the crime of complete repetition.  But just in case you missed the other, take advantage of a fine Friday night, and take your date/best friend/family of 5 to Davis.  Enjoy!

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Boston in the Rain


You know how I know that I’ve lived in New England for over a year now?  I went running outside yesterday.  In 40ish-degree weather.  In the rain!  It took a bit of self-coaxing, but I figured that if I can’t run outside now, I sure won’t be doing so again until March.  So why not take on a challenge?

Turns out, a great pair of new, long, warm running pants, and many mismatched layers all over my upper body did the trick!  Besides the high of realizing my body can indeed still generate heat as winter approaches, I’m also grateful for the rainy run’s inspiration of this blog post – What the Heck Does One Do in Boston When It’s Raining? (and not that lovely, warm summer rain of days of yore)

I asked this question a few weeks ago as well, when my wonderful family planned away, botched up their work schedules, and vowed to lose sleep on red-eyes… and arrived in Boston for a few days of rain.  Bah!

This felt especially troublesome since, as many of us know, one of Boston’s primo offerings for first-time visitors (in the case of 2 of 3 of my visiting family) is the Freedom Trail.  Which is entirely at the mercy of the elements.  Or how about a walk along the Charles, or through the back alleys of Beacon Hill?  All still lovely, but certainly worth saving for the one or two days of sun they’d get while in town.

I got creative.  So I’m excited to present the list of things I came up with for their visit that are not just good options in a downpour, but are GREAT rain or shine.  And you can bet that I’ve been adding to it as I try/learn to celebrate the rain, now that it’s become a more constant presence:

What to do in Boston if it’s raining and…

YOU’RE A TOURIST

  • Visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. In fact, take friends/guests/yourself there whether or not it’s dumping outside.  This is one of my favorite museums anywhere, actually (I still say after recent trips to Rome, Florence, Paris, and New York).  It’s basically the former home of, yes, Isabella Stewart Gardner, a Boston heiress who was way ahead of her time in the late 1800s.  As in, she and her husband traveled the world to places like Egypt.  She and T.S. Eliot were penpals.  The museum she built was the first Venetian-style in the States.  Pretty cool lady.  She just asked that the home with all of her favorite art (as in, 2,500+ pieces of all sorts) be kept as she arranged it.  Only trouble is that this precluded a more extensive security system… So the place is also memorable/intriguing for becoming the site of the most expensive art heist to date in 1990.  Mystery still unsolved, and the frames still hang empty.  I could go on!  (I will spare you, and leave that to the museum’s audio guide.  Yes, get it.)
  • Head to other museums too, of course. I will still cheerlead most fiercely for the Gardner, but you can certainly get lost in the MFA, right around the corner.  The place is so big that you can actually get back into the museum for free within 10 days, as long as you present your original ticket (having trouble finding this verification online, but I swear this was what I learned last time I went).  My dad was a huge fan of the crazy-intricate glass flowers at the Harvard Museum of Natural History.
  • Catch a movie. Yes, I agree that this is the type of thing you can do anywhere.  But sometimes a movie is just what you (/my parents/my extended family/my boyfriend’s parents) want on a rainy day or a Saturday evening.  (Yes, every time I talk to my grandma on the phone she asks me what I’ve seen lately.)  Even if the latest hit isn’t a favorite subject at family dinner for you, Somerville Theatre is the best, and almost certainly more fun than what your fine visitors can find back at home.  For starters, you can buy beer, wine, and homemade ice cream there.  Also, the theater was built in 1914, and has all the trimmings.  U2 performed on their main stage last year (for reals) and other musical artists come through all the time too.  And they have the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA, of course) for free in the basement.  Also, cheapest movie ticket in town.
  • Drive to Maine, savor lobster. Lobster wonderment knows no weather.  The drive up there is beautiful as well, and it’s hard to resist just how close this other state is.  A favorite indoor spot for the best lobster in town (with a free chowder, if you make it there in time for lunch) is Lobster Shack in Ogunquit.  Brave the beach in rain, if you’re especially daring.  Or, if you prefer the warmth of the car, drive north from lunch to Kennebunkport, where the coastal road takes you past old, stately mansions and even the Bush compound (it’s the one with the Texas flag, if you were wondering).

YOU’RE A LOCAL

  • Go for a run! And I’m not just putting this one down to pat myself on the back.  For the same reason that many of Boston’s best offerings are found on sunny walking tours, it’s just as beautiful – and far more peaceful – when you’re the only one padding on Beacon Hill’s brick sidewalks, or get umbrella-d by trees on the Minuteman, or want your own pathway next to the river.
  • Catch some live music. I hear Boston’s known for it.  Recent favorite: Tuesday night bluegrass at Cantab Lounge.  As in, every Tuesday, and no cover (though a donation to the great musicians is highly suggested.)
  • Go to the Gardner Museum. I can’t say it enough.  I might even name my firstborn child Isabella just so he/she can get into the museum for free for life.

I realize it’s best to just keep that second list brief, because who am I to tell you what you love most on a rainy day?  My personal list would also include reading in bed for hours upon waking up, cooking a large delicious meal with friends (who bring wine), or holing up in a café.  But while I’ll keep my other habits to myself, I do hope to add to that visitor list soon.

Happy hosting!


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Favorite New Quote – Why I Travel

“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”

– Anonymous

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard my sentiments captured so well, nor so succinctly.

And now just two months after my jaunt to Hungary, Croatia, and Bosnia (and five months after India and France), I find myself already plotting the next adventure.  How brilliant would it be to head to Cuba, sandwiched between weekends in Montréal?…

Cheers, regardless.

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I Heart… Podcasts

Yes, I said it, folks.  I… love… podcasts.  Adore them.  Almost cannot wait to wash dishes and tidy the kitchen just for the opportunity to get a 20-minute dose of Stuff You Missed in History Class.  (Nerd alert!)

And, yes, I realize a large part of the point of this blog is to share my various urban adventures/discoveries.  But what’s at my side every time I set out?  The trusty iPod, freshly synced with my podcast list.

Podcasts help pass the time on a long walking jaunt, or even marathon run.  But the reason they’re my companion many other times too, though, is because they’ve been such a fantastic source of random learning, especially now that I’m years out of college/grad studies.  They quench my curiosity (is that even a proper saying? I’ll go with it) about any topic imaginable.  They, quite honestly, have inspired me on many fronts.  They’re free!  Etc…

So, a feature I would love to add to this wee blog is perhaps a weekly sharing of a podcast that really struck me, lately or long ago.  The kind of info tidbit I’ve already sent to my boyfriend and immediate family, brought up in conversations with friends, or felt compelled to record or mull on otherwise.  In essence, what you’ll hopefully find intriguing too, and that I’m still just itching to share!

Without further ado, my list of favorite long-time podcasts (I’ve had a relationship with this medium for over three years now), as well as a few that are up-and-coming on my faves rankings:

Cream of the Crop:

Up-and-Coming:

  • Amateur Traveler Podcast (Only on this list because I just adopted this podcast a couple of weeks ago.  Quite the quality travel podcast, though, so I’m guessing it will be promoted quite soon.)
  • Coffee Break French (and Spanish, for that matter)
  • Front Page (By NYTimes.  For some reason, I’d much rather listen to this for 6 minutes than spend that time scanning the front page of the paper.  To each his own.)
  • Global Guru (A random question about some aspect of a different nation each week.  Confusing sentence, straightforward awesomeness.)
  • Indie Travel Podcast (Same as AT)

Now, what am I missing?

P.S. If you are super new to podcasts, and literally don’t know where to begin, I suggest making your way to iTunes for a great collection of them (though they can be found on individual websites aplenty, as well).  Next step:  iTunes Store (found on the left side of your iTunes player).  From there, you’ll see “Podcasts” listed along the top of the store.  Click on that section, and I suggest you just go crazy with some browsing.  On the right side of the Podcasts main page, there’s usually a good list of top podcasts, and podcast networks, and that’s how I got going.  And once you get going with them, you just might be surprised to discover how many of your friends are closeted podcast lovers as well.  Happy searching, and happy sharing!

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Neighborhood Guide: (Living In) Davis Square

Yes, Davis Square – as in, where we ended up after taking off over a year ago now.

Before I moved here last summer, I’ll admit it – I had never set foot in Davis, or even heard of it.  (Well, I was living 3,000 miles away, and had only been to Boston itself twice.)  But as soon as I asked local friends where to move not just visit, Davis Square came up a lot.

During the whirlwind visit to the area to get a real feel for different neighborhoods, my first trip to Davis unfortunately fell on a Tuesday, around 2pm, in the middle of a rainstorm.  Oh, and we walked up Highland to get there, unknowingly never landing on the much more populated/interesting Elm or Holland Streets.  So, um, it pretty much looked like a wet, concrete intersection.  Bummer.

So we figured we’d get a place in Inman instead, for something that’s still a bit off the main drag that is Harvard and Mass Ave.  But we were convinced otherwise when the realtor (who kindly took us in at 7pm on a Friday evening – seriously?) started with his listing in Davis before heading to the one in Inman.  Oh, yes, Friday evenings, particularly during summer, are some of the BEST in Davis.  People everywhere, lights in the trees, live music.  Restaurants flowing over onto the sidewalks.  We saw the place and signed the lease in a matter of two hours, and have been rewarded for that spontaneous opt-in ever since.

Since I have the most excellent situation called working-at-home-on-West-Coast-hours, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to explore some of those other neighborhoods we seriously considered – South End, Inman, Central, and so on.  So, with a bit more perspective, I offer a few nerdy, bulleted points on what I think Davis aces, and what it admittedly lacks compared to some other great spots.

OVERVIEW

  • Quick: Davis is one of the only places I’ve encountered in Boston where you find hipsters, grandmas, professors, Tufts kids (in requisite sweatpants ensemble), working class folks, young professionals, artists, and families.  A place that feels like an actual community, yet right on the red line. Excellent southern BBQ and local vegan, within a few blocks of each other.
  • My very favorites: I’d probably have to start with food – Redbones (the beer is as good as the BBQ, by the way), Pulse Café, wraps at Blue Shirt Café (don’t mind the lack of atmosphere), whopping sandos + sides at Deli-icious. Dave’s Fresh Pasta. Other – Diesel Café, balanced by free Wi-Fi at an unusually friendly Starbucks. Living 380 ft from the T, and around the corner from the library. Downtown Wine and Spirits. Recognizing faces. Buffalo Exchange. The housewares selection at Goodwill. The Minuteman.
  • What it lacks: Hm.  5 points of historical charm compared to, say, Harvard.  I also sometimes wish I were closer than a 4ish-mile walk to Boston, but that’s mainly so I can actually have company for that walk.  A great bookstore.
  • Best time to scope it out: Any evening, but especially Friday or Saturday nights or when the evening weather is perfect.  Go for a date, or when you want a new place for dinner or studying.
  • Other neighborhoods you might like (if this is your cup of tea): JP, Allston-Brighton, Central, Inman.  Somewhat South End.  Union Square.

IF YOU DECIDE TO STAY A WHILE

If you’re still with me, and are also intrigued by the possibility of setting up shop here, a few more notes:

  • WHO lives there? Again, a great mix.  Folks who have been there for generations, and others who are in the 20-35-year-old range (with babies or not). Really friendly people, from all I’ve seen.
  • WHAT does life look like? It feels like you’re in the city, yet a more low-key version.  There’s a good mix of restaurants as well as small markets, a farmer’s market, lots of CSA drop-offs, and Davis is within easy walking/driving distance of Shaw’s (closest), Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, etc.  The Minuteman Bikeway (Trail, really) runs through Davis, which is a great option for heading out on a run.  We’re also 2ish miles from the Fells, for a real taste of the woods. Just over one mile to a jog around Fresh Pond.  And, again, still feel close to the city with the T being right there. One of the most livable places I’ve found on either coast.
  • WHEN? Be sure to check listings 60-90 days in advance.  Places seem to turn over most come September, but given that many non-students live here too, you can probably try to find places all other months as well.  The neighbors downstairs moved in during December, for example.
  • WHERE? In the little bounds of Davis Square, you probably can’t go wrong with housing.  The neighborhood has felt safe in all directions to me, even on an evening stroll.
  • WHY? I have to say, I love the squares that the Cambridge side of things offers. A real community in an urban environment.
  • HOW? Probably best with a realtor, as we found out. Just negotiate down the fee!
  • COST:  Housing – Though Davis itself is more expensive than the rest of Somerville, it’s still a steal compared to many of the other great neighborhoods in the Boston area.  For the cost of a one-bedroom near Harvard, we instead got a two-bedroom in a beautiful, character-filled Victorian, with a driveway parking spot, a basement (a.k.a. loads of storage), free laundry, a backyard garden/patio/grill area.  And we’re one block from the T, really.  Housing tends to be Victorians, by the way.  Other – Parking permits are $15 for the year, and visitor parking cards (you can get 2) are $5 for the year.  As someone who used to live in downtown SF, this is amazing.  Obviously the T is cheap, but with the proximity of Davis to many places – urban or more rural – we rarely even have to pay for that.

OTHER HELPFUL LINKS

For as long as this review is (apologies, apologies, I just get carried away when it comes to my home turf!), I hope it’s a helpful one. If you hadn’t already guessed, we happily signed another one-year lease in our Victorian attic, and don’t plan to budge any time soon.

Posted in Boston, Misc. Lists, Musings | 4 Comments

Back to Blogging?

I know, it’s about time.  Before you get your hopes up (I know you’ve been waiting with baited breath), I’ll confess that this post is just to say that… I’ll post again soon.  Not too useful, but I needed a little push to get the blogging momentum again.

My excuses?  Family and best friends visiting half of October, on the other side of the country (amid births, birthdays, reunions, and showers, among other things) the other half of the month.  I recognize that most bloggers – some of my very favorites, in particular – are far busier than that on a regular basis.  But, hey, still finding my stride.

And at least all that running around creates fodder for the posts that are just starting to brew for the coming week or two.

Back soon!

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