Wordless: Ready for Halloween

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Longfellow Bridge, Boston, Massachusetts

The Boston Blueberries

For my son’s fourth birthday, a friend gave him this hat:

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Yesterday he and I were paying for our produce at the farm stand when the woman in line behind us said, “Hey! What does the ‘B’ on your hat stand for?”

My son—who has not yet learned to be annoyed when adults ask him questions to which they already know the answer—replied, “Blueberries!”

Ah, yes! I remember when the Boston Blueberries won the World Series in 2004! What a game that was!

This explains why he was adamant about wearing his new “B” hat when we went blueberry picking for his birthday.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: The World Through Your Eyes

This is my photographic response to this week’s photo challenge by The Daily Post. I like taking photos, especially for this type of challenge. I find it leads me to see the world differently. And seeing the world differently is something I always find enriching.

Old Meets New. Boston, Massachusetts

Old Meets New. Boston, Massachusetts

Copley Square Memorial, Boston, Massachusetts

Copley Square Memorial. Boston, Massachusetts

Broadmoor, Natick, Massachusetts

Broadmoor. Natick, Massachusetts

Book Review: The Given Day by Dennis Lehane

The Given Day
The Given Day by Dennis Lehane
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wasn’t totally excited to read this book at first.

I opened it and right at the beginning there’s this whole Babe Ruth thing, and I thought, “Oh, crap. Is this going to be another Underworld (by Don DeLillo) and go into excruciating detail about baseball?”

While it shares elements with Underworld (baseball and J Edgar Hoover, among others), I wouldn’t describe this book as excruciating at all. The biggest beef I had with The Given Day was that there were so many scenes of very detailed violence that it often left me feeling sick to my stomach. If I read it again, I’d count up the number of times the reader hears a bone cracking. My guess is it would be more than 30.

I picked it up because I wanted to learn a little more about Boston’s history, and I did, at least about this small period of the city’s history. I’m still not totally clear about what a Boston Brahmin is, but I’ve got a general idea. I do, however, have a much clearer sense of the intense loyalty people have for the city. As a life-long nomad, I’ve never felt myself very attached to any particular location; it’s enjoyable to me to be inside characters who do have this attachment.

Aside from the violence, my other complaint with the novel was the somewhat contrived feeling it had at times. There was a point about 2/3 through where it seemed like everything was going to crap. People were making bad choices and were caught in untenable situations and being backed into corners. The future looked bleak, but all of a sudden, characters started making sound choices. They were suddenly compassionate and reasoned in their decisions. Bad things happened to them, but against all odds, they came out on top, sometimes in almost comic superhero fashion.

I like the points Lehane was making about family and race and the difficulty of doing the “right” thing when all of the parties involved have a different idea of what’s “right.” I’m glad it wasn’t a short book and that Lehane took at least a little bit of time to explore the large number of characters he included (it saved some from being entirely two-dimensional). I just found the tidy little package in which he tied everything at the end a little disappointing. It was an enjoyable read, but when I closed the back cover, I just kind of said, “Meh.”

And incidentally, I have absolutely no idea why my library put a “mystery” sticker on the spine of this novel.

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A Glimpse of an Alternate Reality

"A plan of the town of Boston with the in...

Image via Wikipedia

When my husband got a job in the “Metro West Boston area”, we envisioned a move to an urban setting. We envisioned downsizing significantly to fit into a two-bedroom apartment with rent higher than our mortgage in Utah. We envisioned car-light (or maybe even car-free?) living, using Boston’s wonderful public transit to visit museums and restaurants and all manner of historic sites. We envisioned living side by side with people from all over the world.

What we found when we arrived was that my husband’s work is about as far from Boston as you can get and still be in “Metro West.” We considered living in the city and having my husband do the reverse commute to work, but we found that the commuter rail station is miles and miles from where he works and the schedules aren’t really set up for a reverse commute. The commute by car would be about an hour and that would leave me without the car during the day (which would be an extended day because of the 2+ hours of commuting time, without traffic. And from what I can tell, you’re never entirely without traffic here).

We settled for a nice, suburban home in a friendly neighborhood about 2 1/2 miles from the downtown of our little suburb, which is nonetheless nearly inaccessible without a car because the drivers are unaccustomed to sharing the road with bikes and pedestrians and there are sidewalks only part of the way. The benefit is that we’re only an 11-minute bike ride from my husband’s work, so if he can winterize his bike sufficiently to commute during the New England winter, we can remain a one-car family.

But still, our situation is such that the kids and I can do hardly anything without driving. This was a rude awakening for me. I’ve been systematically decreasing our driving time and distance since we lived in California. When we were in Utah, I challenged myself to use the car just one day a week for bigger errands and to walk or take public transit the rest of the time. I back-burnered this idea during my heavily pregnant months (for me, about five months in) and throughout the newborn months when I was ultra-germphobic. I was just working my way back to using the car less again when we moved.

And now here I am. Totally and utterly dependent on my little car. This week (Sunday to Saturday) we will spend a total of about 11.5 hours in the car. If you’re guessing that this means we’re spending very little time outside walking, playing, or otherwise exercising, you would be right. Not only are we spending more on gas and auto maintenance, we’re becoming less fit. I recognize that this is the norm for middle-class America, but it’s not the norm for us, nor is it consistent with my family’s values. And that pretty much sucks.

During our long drive today, we went to Boston. Well, to Brookline, which is just west of Boston. There the kids and I got a glimpse of what I thought life would be like for us here. There were friendly people of innumerable races, religions, and ethnicities walking the streets together, greeting one another on their way into or out of any number of independently owned shops and restaurants or picking their kids up—on foot—from neighborhood schools. We stopped in at a tiny little place and had an awesome lunch, much better than we’ve had out our way in the five months since we rolled into town.

I loved it.

Yes, there was a lot of traffic, and I did see some apartment rental signs that indicated we would be paying the equivalent of our mortgage or more for a two-bedroom apartment were we to live there. But there! Right there! It was a T stop! Oh, the places we could go with a T stop near our home!

Instead we walked back to our car with nearly an hour still on the meter and hopped on the turnpike back out to the suburbs while listening to the story of the Ingalls family braving Minnesota blizzards in their nineteenth-century prairie farmhouse.

I like our house. I like all of the trees in our neighborhood. I like the hikes that are nearby. I like our neighbors. I like having a garage. I like that downsizing is voluntary rather than necessary. But tonight I’m feeling wistful for that alternate reality in which we are an urban family bee-bopping around Boston, creatively arranging and decorating our tiny apartment, and walking to the grocery store rather than comparing gym membership fees.

Perfect Follow-Up to a Swan Boat Ride

Make Way for Ducklings (Picture Puffins)Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We rode the swan boats in Boston last weekend. All the while, I was thinking of this book and of E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan.

Then today we were killing time in the book store while I had some work done on the car, and I found (and bought) a lovely hardcover edition of Make Way for Ducklings. My husband is reading it to the kids as I type. I read it to my daughter several years ago, and we both enjoyed it (as we did s0 many other of McCloskey’s books, especially Blueberries for Sal). It makes the story even better having seen so recently the sights depicted in the book. My kids are thrilled.

Aside from the names of the ducklings (Ouack?), I enjoy this book quite a lot. The writing is a pleasure, the story is a classic, and the illustrations are fabulous.

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