Category Archives: Boston

Moments in Boston

Even when the events of a weekend blur together, there are moments that rise above the rest – the ones that get remembered on the Monday morning when you’re sad that it all had to end. These are just a couple of the favorite ones we had last weekend in Boston, little jewels encrusted on the time-clock of life, when we’d managed to still its ticking hand.

The first was a stop at the Avery Bar in the Ritz Carlton. JoAnn and I had been here for a cocktail on a winter night a few years ago, so I knew there was a cozy fire inside. Though technically the Avery wasn’t set to open for a few hours, the super-friendly gentleman standing at the front desk said we could grab a drink at the adjoining Artisan Bar and bring it back to the fire place area. We really just wanted to be close to the fire, so we thanked him profusely and followed through with the recommendation.

I’ve spent some of my happiest times sitting idly in a hotel bar, and this one proved no different. We dropped our things and leaned back into a leather couch. The fire flickered in front of us, and the place was gloriously empty. When the world pauses… that is the time I like best. What happens afterwards gets swept away in the usual maelstrom of motion and activity that typically characterizes a quick weekend in Boston.

 

The other moment that came to mind as I recollected highpoints from the visit was a much simpler one that happened on a Sunday morning. Usually we are out and about early enough to avoid any brunch lines. On this day it was too cold to find the energy to move. The sun was streaming in so gorgeously and everything was looking especially clean after clearing out the holiday decorations that I didn’t want to leave. We pulled a blanket on and watched the rest of ‘Heathers’ on TV.

The ZZ plant arched happily in the sunlight. A pile of folded towels stood neatly on a shelf. The sun crept slowly along the shiny floorboards. In the corner, a Muji air diffuser dispersed a small plume of fragrant water vapor: their ‘Winter Bouquet’ edition, weighted predominantly with the slumber-inducing scent of lavender. It was certainly seeing us through the winter.

Sometimes you don’t need to travel further than your own bed to find what you’re looking for.

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Even in the Rain and Wind, Boston is Beautiful

When you’ve been in Boston as much as I have, the weekends tend to blur together. Only certain memorable visits stand out above the rest, whether by the singular nature of their purpose (such as a wedding or birthday) or by the seasonal aspect or traditional slant of their occurrence (such as the Holiday Stroll or the Children’s Hour). Much of the time, however, nothing terribly special happens. Such was the case last weekend in Boston, when I rode into town in the midst of a raging rainstorm (that so soaked my clothes I actually had to put jeans and coat into the dryer – a first in all these years of dodging rain and snow). That didn’t mean Kira and I didn’t make our own moments. Every visit, no matter how typical or seemingly-mundane, carries some magic. It’s Boston, after all. This time around, however, much of the magic was garnered from staying inside.

A brief January thaw was coming to an end in dramatic fashion, as high winds and rain slashed through the city. Fortunately, after an early run to the market I had everything we needed – fresh limes and cilantro, and the bulk of a Mexican dinner that I’d prepared the night before: carnitas and a Mexican chipotle fried rice. Kira arrived, wind-battered and bedraggled, but a Paloma cooler soon revived her. She brought a single plantain for frying, and we set to work heating things up, cutting limes, and assembling a proper dinner.

We fell asleep to ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ while the winter weather returned in the night. All vestiges of a January thaw had frozen and disappeared as the wind wailed and the window screens rattled. By morning, the sky was beginning to clear, but in the treacherous way that always seems to bring colder temperatures.

We found a few good sales along Newbury Street before pausing for a lunch at Roost: two burgers with fries. On a cold winter day, a hot hamburger and side of fries is almost as good as a bowl of pho (and that would come later). Fortified for a few more hours, we meandered to Boylston where I found my Mom’s birthday present, then headed back to the condo for a siesta.

I cannot extol the virtues of a siesta enough. It seems to be a sadly-forgotten tradition in our hustle-and-bustle lost country, but other nations still embrace the mid-afternoon rest session with gusto – and whenever I’m away from home I do too. Traveling takes its toll, and a mid-afternoon break from whatever you’re doing is a welcome method of rejuvenation. It’s also one of my favorite times to be in the condo – just as the sun is pouring in through the bedroom window.

We settled in to start ‘Heathers’ – a movie I’d never seen, much to Suzie’s great chagrin. As long as it wasn’t as wretched as ‘Dirty Dancing’ I didn’t care. A quick cat-nap, and then it was time for dinner at Buttermilk & Bourbon. (Not to throw out any additional hubris, our Mexican meal was better than what we ended up getting at B&B. Just saying.)

We wrapped things up with a drink and snack at Douzo, then it was back to the warmth and coziness of the condo. It welcomed us with open arms and comfort, and a bed thick with heavy blankets and lots of pillows.

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In the Wake of Children

Scene: 3 AM, on a squeaky pull-out bed in the living room of the condo, Kira is coughing next to me. The street light from Braddock Park spills in through the high windows, and my body is rebelling against such sleeping conditions at such an advanced age. My mind races to decipher the unlikely predicament in which I find myself, and a Christmas song plays quietly on the stereo. How did we ever get here? I haven’t been this disoriented in the condo since the party days of my youth, following a holiday get-together that found various friends strewn about the place, groggily waking in various states of togetherness.

On this morning, Chris and his four-year-old slept soundly in the queen bed of the bedroom. Kira had insisted we give it up after the boy went in early and we stayed up to talk. Now we were stuck on the wire-springs of the pull-out couch, not getting any quality sleep, and doing our best to stay warm. Another coughing fit woke Kira, so I got up and put on some tea; she swears that a hot cup of the stuff, along with some honey and cinnamon, quells any cough. I poured her a mug, then dove back under the heavy winter blanket and prayed for sleep to return.

Sleep did not return until the baby was already up, but he stayed in the bedroom peacefully occupied with headphones and a cartoon while his Daddy slept. I was in no rush to move, so we stole a few more moments of fitful shut-eye before finally giving up the ghost of meaningful rest.

Kira and I rose, and eventually everyone joined us so we could head off to brunch. The day was brilliant – sunny with blue skies – and after brunch we saw Kristen and Julia off, then Chris wanted to take Simon to Harvard. There’s something very touching about a father showing off his Alma Mater to his son.

Thanks to the Red Line issues on December weekends, Kira and I had foregone what had become a favorite component of our Holiday Stroll: a trip to Cambridge. We hopped in the car Chris ordered and averted any T snafus, thus enabling us to keep the tradition alive. We would be able to browse the shops between Harvard and Porter Squares after all.

On good days, the universe will deliver an unexpected gift to those of us who may have thought such a delight had passed. On that morning, we arrived in Cambridge, bid adieu to the last child of the Boston Children’s Holiday Hour (which had somehow lengthened into a weekend), and Kira and I set off in the direction of Porter Square.

We stopped in our usual haunts, then had a final pho meal to close out the weekend – a neat little bookend to mirror the start of the whole thing. I reminded Kira of how our soup time on Friday had kicked it all off, and how we would look back at its quiet and calm with fondness when things were hectic and crazy. We had a second moment of similar quietude now, and embraced it. We lingered there, not wanting to go back to our real lives just yet, trying instead to stretch Sunday just a little longer. It turned out that our Boston holiday adventures were not quite over for the year.

Ever since she returned from Florida to the winterscape of Boston, Kira has been wanting to go ice skating. Still traumatized from an ice skating incident at Schenectady when I was a child, I’ve always politely encouraged her to do so, with someone else. On our first few holiday strolls, we would somehow end up passing a make-shift skating rink, where people were giddily gliding by, enticing Kira with their fluid motion and seemingly-easy turns on the ice.

I was never fooled.

On our most recent holiday excursion, we passed a rink at Government Center. Entranced, Kira watched the skaters go by, while I looked around for some sort of hot toddy stand (to no avail). We didn’t get into the skates then, and I thought we had escaped the scene for the season.

After making our way to the Red Line, knowing we would need to shuttle-bus it beyond Kendall, we did that damn thing and rode the bus to Charles MGH, where we hopped off and took a leisurely walk along the antique stores and gift shops near Beacon Hill. The best holiday strolls are the impromptu and unplanned ones. We crossed into the Boston Public Garden, and the little pond in the middle had not been drained. A thick layer of smooth ice lay darkly and expansively before us, and a few people rushed by on skates, and off them. Kira squealed with delight, and I knew this was her destiny. She hastened onto the ice, carefully sliding along in her sneakers and begging me to take a picture. She beckoned me to join her, but when I looked at the edge, I could see water coming up through cracks in the ice, and the thought of crashing through and having to walk all the way home in freezing wet shoes kept me off of it. Kira didn’t mind – she took a few spins and had her ice skating moment.

We crossed the bridge and looked at the lights beginning to come out as the sky dimmed. It was a perfect holiday afternoon, and a lovely end to our holiday weekend. We traveled along Newbury for a bit then crossed over to Boylston. At the Lenox, we paused for a fireside break and one last moment of peace and holiday contemplation.

That night, I would return to my quiet life: a still house, a Christmas tree that Andy had installed while I was away, and a comfortable bed. 

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The 3rd Annual Boston Children’s Holiday Hour(s) – Part 2

“Christmas in a Glass” is Jamie Oliver’s nickname for his mulled wine recipe, and if it’s good enough for The Naked Chef, it’s good enough for me. It’s certainly fine for staving off a cold December day and warming the cockles of the heart in seasonal jubilation. And when your child is drinking hot chocolate and eating fifty marshmallows before devouring a chocolate spoon, you need a little something to take the edge off.

I’d combined the dry ingredients with the sugar for a couple of days beforehand (making for an easier traveling plan) and the white granules got to soak in all the fragrance and flavor from the freshly-spliced vanilla bean, freshly-ground nutmeg, cinnamon stick, bay leaves and star anise. That alone was heavenly, but when you added the peels of clementines, a lemon and a lime, it was better than a Yankee Candle.

I loved the idea of being the warming stop after a day of Boston exploration, and the condo has always been a cozy place perfect for just such a scenario. Our little guests began arriving, and Suzie volunteered to pick up some last minute food provisions (I provide the hot drinks and fancy footwear – the rest is always up in the air).

(The family that wears the same coats together, stays together.)

As the hours passed, the hot chocolate was devoured, holiday hedgehogs were crafted, Christmas crackers were pulled open with a pop, and the kids made up a game that involved running between rooms. It was the most raucous the condo had been in some time and I was grateful to have had the foresight to invite the twinfants in the condo below to visit at any time. (The key to any party where you don’t want the police called prematurely.)

 

The light outside went down, while inside the condo candles flickered, Christmas music played, and the sounds of children screaming with laughter (and the occasional bump) filled the normally silent space. At the end of it (and it was a good five-hour stretch) I was drained but giddy with their infectious seasonal excitement. That’s the real reason for the season.

We’d survived another Boston Children’s Holiday Hour, and I was better for it.

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The 3rd Annual Boston Children’s Holiday Hour(s) – Part 1

Despite all outward appearances to the contrary, I lead a largely quiet and calm life. Whatever anyone else makes of my social media shenanigans and website outrageousness, however outlandish my outfits or accessories may get, my day-to-day existence is a rather peaceful one. (That’s the beauty of an outlet like this – I save all the drama for this space and work it out through words and self-analysis, so the rest of my life can sail by relatively uneventfully.)

For my possibly-annual Boston Children’s Holiday Hour, however, I suspend that quiet life for an afternoon of holiday mayhem and celebration and invite the growing cadre of children in my friends’ orbit over for hot chocolate and revelry. Their parents are in tow, so we offer grown-up libations for them, and then before I reach the end of my fraying rope of sanity, we order dinner in, appease the hangry bellies, and send everyone off in more-or-less satiated form. Mostly, though, it nourishes my faith in humanity. My friends are raising some amazing children, and it’s a wonderful thing to watch them interact at this time of the year.

To pull it off, however, requires some planning and preparation – my two favorite things. I did not have to do it alone, thankfully, as Kira stayed around for the whole thing, starting with some preparation the night before, in the form of this holiday libation. Things just run smoother when gin is involved.

The first task, one I had executed a couple of weeks ago, was to find a gift for each child. This is not really a big deal, and I stumbled inadvertently upon a hot-ticket item for kids, or so I’ve been told: magic sequins. I’ve been wearing sequins for years, so I’m not sure why they’re suddenly all the rage, but hey, anytime the drag queens can reach a youthful audience it’s a good thing. (They would also match my shoes for the evening so it worked on every level.)

Then there were the crafts/toys that needed to be on hand to occupy their time while the adults mingled over mulled wine and other things. A holiday hedgehog kit works wonders for such a task (though I warn any novice child-herders to make note of the fine print – you’re going to need glue, glue sticks, scissors, markers, string, a strand of magic beans, and some other nonsense to make full use of the not-so-all-inclusive $20 ‘kit’ – most of which an adult condo in Boston is lacking). I also procured a dozen holiday gift ‘crackers’ – the kind you pull apart to release a plastic piece of crap (a yo-yo or protractor or tissue-paper crown for example).

Finishing the scene were the ingredients and accoutrements for the libations. Citrus, spices, and cinnamon sticks for the mulled wine; chocolate mix, mini-marshmallows and chocolate spoons for the hot chocolate.

Kira and I went to bed watching Lidia Bastianich make a plum gnocchi dish, then fell asleep to the first part of ‘Love Actually’.

The next day we finished up our Christmas shopping and took the T to Chinatown for a bowl of pho before the festivities. As we sat there sipping our soup and stirring in the sriracha sauce, I remarked that we needed to enjoy the calm before the storm. In a few hours there would be kids and sugar, and the riotous excitement that the season brings. I also said we may end up looking back at that moment and realizing it was one of the best of the weekend. She laughed it all off. Having raised two girls of her own, she was looking forward to witnessing Uncle Alan woefully out of his element. We finished our soup and hurried out.

The children were coming…

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Wrapping up the Holiday Stroll 2017

Another Holiday Stroll with Kira is in the shopping bag (busted wide open along the seams because Kira doesn’t know to stop stuffing things in). We traversed our city while keeping things close to the condo, from an opening roasted chicken salvo to a closing Sunday dinner of dim sum. For the whole story, check out the most recent posts if you haven’t yet had a chance:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

It was a good weekend, and a reminder of the power of holiday traditions, no matter how new. At seven or so years, this is one that I hope sticks around.

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Holiday Stroll 2017 – Part 4

We slept well following all the walking we did, slumbering after we finished most of ‘The Family Stone’ was done. In the quiet of the night, I pad silently out to the kitchen for a glass of water, looking out across the street to the row of houses that has all the Christmas lights displayed. In a few weeks, after the holidays have finished, the street will be quieter, but if there is snow it will be brighter. There are drawbacks and benefits to both. On this night it is cozy enough, and I savor the moment. The next day will extend our Holiday Stroll, but it doesn’t begin until brunch at 11, and until such time we rest and relax and take our time waking. Buffering such luxuries is why I like to be prepared and unrushed.

This cheeky peanut thief greeted us as we walked into Sunday morning on Braddock Park. Not content to scrounge around in the little garden square, he haughtily stood on his hind legs and brazenly posed until I got the perfect shot. Everyone wanted to be part of this Holiday Stroll. We made our way into Back Bay and a sinfully excessive brunch at Club Café.

Eating until beyond our hearts and stomachs were content (Kira went back to the buffet three times to my one, not that anyone was counting) we were then ready to walk it all off again, which we started to do with a visit to the SoWa Market.

On the way, we stopped at this Christmas tree stand which we always seem to pass at some point during our stroll. A welcome feast for our noses, the evergreens and pines filled the space with their pungent holiday scents, completing our sensory enjoyment and capping the weekend with a familiar fragrance memory.

When we arrived at the market, there was some Winter Festival happening, but the line wrapped around two blocks and I don’t do a line that wraps around anything, so we passed by and picked up some items at Bobby from Boston.

(We did not pick up these wooden choir boys.)

We made our way through Chinatown, where I thought we might find Kira a reasonable substitute for a green dragon-embroidered robe she had seen at the market. Alas, the Chinatown shops of just a few years ago have closed or moved, and the shell of retail options left us bereft of any such robe. We paused in a few sad spots, but the main thing for sale was food. It had been a couple of hours since our brunch, so who were we to deny the pull of that? A couple of years ago we had a dim sum moment on one of these strolls, and we were happy to try to recreate that magic now. It worked only minimally – you can never do the same thing twice, no matter how fierce, and it was a futile exercise in trying to recapture what was once such a novelty.

We wound our way back through Downtown Crossing and into Faneuil Hall, where we were just in time for the lighting of their grand Christmas tree and a promised ‘special light show’ starting at 4:30. Dusk was falling and made the perfect backdrop for the tree. Mariah’s Christmas classic started up and the lights began moving. I haven’t been the biggest fan of Faneuil Hall since I actually moved to Boston many years ago, but it holds a special place in my heart at this time of the year, and despite the crowds and stupid tourists, there’s a bit of magic that creeps into my most jaded assessments of the place. We stepped carefully over the cobblestone walkways and ended up at Government Center, where we had, in the final hours of our Holiday Stroll, the unique and unexpected delight that I’d been hoping but not specifically planning for.

I’d read about the skating rink here, but forgotten about it – and never really thought much about visiting. We happened upon it en route to the T-stop, and though I should have been on the Mass Turnpike if I was going to make it home at a reasonable hour, the excitement and charm of a little make-shift village and shops was too magical to resist. Kira has been wanting to skate for some time, but that’s just not my scene. I promise her a cross-country ski trek in January, perhaps in Vermont. For now, we watched from the sidelines as our Holiday Stroll concluded with a cool blast of Boston whipping by our chilled cheeks.

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Holiday Stroll 2017 – Part 3

We pause in the Holiday Stroll story to honor one of those jewels-of-a-moment I so treasure: the interim and in-between times in which we find ourselves in a holding pattern, either at the condo or a hotel lobby or quiet bar. There is no great excitement or action involved – just a moment to take a breath, to relax, to simply be. To halt for reflection of holiday joy. The first such moment happened as we returned to the condo after a day of shopping. That late afternoon is one of my favorite times to be in the condo, no matter what time of the year, and strangely enough because it is often so sad. The light is questionable – it can stream in during the summer or the end of winter, or it can be hidden, in grays and cloudy mists. This time of day is often hidden too – just before rush hour, long enough after lunch, one of those awful shifts when you don’t know quite how to feel about it.

On this afternoon, we returned to the condo – spent and sore but happy and relaxed, when you finally sink into the weekend because you are as far from Friday and Monday as you can get. We lit a few candles, and by this time the heat had filled the rooms – from the top of the high ceilings to the amber-glowing floors. No matter what maelstrom of weather of holiday bustle was taking place outside, in here it was always safe and warm, and we took a moment to watch the rest of ‘The Man Who Came To Dinner’ before reserving a table at Post 390 for dinner.

Darkness fell all the way down while we readied ourselves for dinner. Bundling up, we went back into the chilly December night, but the lights were bright, and we cut through Back Bay station and Post 390 was right there. The last time we were there had been a gorgeous spring day a few years ago. We stopped in for an early afternoon snack of oysters before a party we were throwing for JoAnn. On that day the fire had seemed an unnecessary thing; tonight, it was a welcome treat.

Though they forgot our oysters tonight, we made the best of it and decided to do our nightcap elsewhere. Back along Boylston, we took a moment to sit by the fire in the Lenox Hotel, another favorite haunt that is done up to fine effect for Christmas. (Its lemony-scented atmosphere was a happy citrus burst of rejuvenation.) 

These little hotel lobby stops are an important part of our Holiday Stroll. They offer breaks and escapes from the rush of crowds and outside weather. For five or ten minutes, we sit and contempt the scenery. We indulge in some people-watching. Mostly, we enjoy the quiet time together, as friends do during the holidays

Kira showed off her new coat purchase. When you find something that fits you well, and is a steal, you take it. I insisted. She obliged. The end result is chic, stylish, and perfect for a late-night walk back home. We were not quite ready to make those final steps though. The Mandarin quietly called with its own fireplace and cozy Bar Boulud. 

A pair of white cosmopolitans was my acquiescence to Kira’s preference for sweetness and vodka. She struck up a quick conversation with the bartender, who explained that a small band was setting up to play jazz music in a bit, so we stuck around for one more. The music began and the night swelled into something magical. 

 

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Holiday Stroll 2017 – Part 2

Our day began without great hurry, as no plans had been made and no itinerary needlessly nagged us. We had a cup of hot tea and cut into a Panettone, which Kira had never tried before. (Thank you for the inspiration, Miss Coco Peru!) The day was bright, but slightly overcast. As long as it didn’t rain, we didn’t mind. (And even then we’d managed to make the most out of matters in the not-so-distant past.) On this day it looked like uneventful weather for a full morning of shopping and gift gathering, and we began with the bustle of Boylston Street.

In trying so valiantly to do something different and avoid our favorite haunts, we inadvertently fell back onto the tried and true ruts of Boylston Street and Downtown Crossing. Neither of which was necessarily bad, but we still wanted something new and unique to serve as the totem for this trip. That would have to come later, once we stopped trying so hard. For now, we worked our way along Boylston, skirting the Public Garden and the Common, then arriving in Chinatown for an early lunch of pho – a welcome winter habit.

Revitalized and warmed by the spicy broth, we rallied and fought our way through Downtown Crossing, where Kira found a giant FAO Schwartz bear and insisted I take her picture. Around this time we shared this puzzling exchange, in the way that Kira sometimes challenges me:

KIRA: What do you call those people who crash weddings?

ME: Wedding crashers?

KIRA: Yes. That’s it.

And that’s where the conversation ended. It was something she needed to know and I happened to be able to provide an answer. (And then I cracked up laughing.)

Our arms filled with shopping bags, we were feeling the first waves of fatigue as the crest of the day began to subside. I’d made no dinner plans, but it was early yet. Not too early for a cocktail, however, and one of our favorite places – the Bristol Lounge at the Four Seasons – had two high-top seats in a cozy corner of the bar. Service in that corner takes forever for some reason, but eventually we got to enjoy a cocktail. Near the lobby a winter wedding was starting to assemble in the same place where Andy and I held our own wedding lunch. A happy omen for a moment of respite.

The sights and sounds of the season surrounded us as we continued on our merry way. Making the Boston rounds with Kira is always a joy; doing so at this time of the year, with all the decorations and Christmas cheer, adds a certain sparkle to every step, no matter how quickly it gets dark. The light was quickly draining as we walked back to the condo for a late afternoon siesta.

We took a meandering route through the Copley Fairmont and its impressively-baroque archways. A pair of gold lions greeted us as we strolled through the lobby, and deep inside the hallway a pair of peacocks stood sentinel. A hotel lobby is a busy and exciting place at this time of the year. Reunions and squeals of delight, emboldened children doing their best to be good for Santa, and the not-just-yet exasperated friendliness of the staff makes for a crux of holiday mayhem. We bustled our way in and out, then returned to the condo as the last light of the day gently left the sky.

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Holiday Stroll 2017 – Part 1

It was cold and gray when I entered Boston, save for a sliver of blue in the sky beyond the old Hancock building. The clouds were just rolling in, and a chill was settling into my bones. The thermostat in the condo was blank, save for a small ‘Low Batt’ message that I didn’t even notice before heading to the grocery store. In order to set this Holiday Stroll apart from the others (and to make up for a missed birthday in the fall) I was going to make Kira a roasted chicken dinner.

This is only the second or third chicken I’ve roasted in my life, and quite frankly none has ever been a smashing success, but I’m all for breaking through such a psychological impasse, so I picked up a five-pound bird, a bottle of wine, and all the necessary accoutrements then set about cooking dinner with some advice from ‘The Women’ running through my head: “If you stick a roast in the oven, what’s to stop it from getting done?”

The most difficult part for me remains cleaning that bird off and pulling out the insides. Reaching into an animal’s rib cage cavity will always freak me out, but I charged through it, patted the thing dry, stuffed it with lemons and garlic and thyme, then trussed the legs, rubbed it down with butter and sprinkled it liberally with fennel salt.

On a bed of fingerling potatoes, sweet potatoes, fennel, onion, carrots and more thyme, the chicken nestled into its rack. I shut it up in the oven for an hour and half and prayed that the smoke alarm wouldn’t go off. There was other work to be done, in the form of a private cocktail hour for one, and some last minute Christmas decorating to fully furnish the condo with holiday cheer.

I don’t know if it was the candles that mingled with the aroma from the kitchen, the ledge of holiday greenery that I assembled in the bathroom ledge against a background of brick, or the cool cocktail making its way into my belly, but suddenly the cool gray start to the weekend was melting into something warm and fuzzy. Kira would arrive in a little. As much as I eagerly awaiting her arrival, I took a moment to enjoy the solitude, and the coziness of what was to come. Those quiet jewels of time would be the sparkle that shot through the darkest nights when memory was all that remained.

Kira arrived after the chicken had had ample time to rest. I filled her wine glass and the Holiday Stroll weekend had officially begun. We toasted the event, then set about to carving the chicken, which neither of us had a clue how to do. It was a mighty mangled affair, but with some judicious cuts I managed to give us each the majority of a breast, and the darker meat we somehow pulled apart until satiated. The vegetables, soaking up all the fallen butter and chicken renderings, were the decadent stars of the meal. All in all, it was a success, and I’ll be more confident in roasting chickens for the future.

It was already late. Time moves swiftly when good friends are in company. Rather than head out for a night-cap, we stayed in the cozy comfort of the condo, which for the most part was warm from the oven and the candles. The bedroom was still cooler than it should have been, and it was then that I took closer notice of the whole ‘Low Battery’ thing. We would get a trio of triple A stock the next morning; for now a heavy winter blanket and a late-night viewing of ‘The Man Who Came To Dinner’ would suffice to keep us toasty.

A jazz-inflected piano version of ‘The Christmas Waltz’ lulled us to sleep. A full day of strolling was on the agenda. The holidays had arrived.

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Planning & Prep Work From a Boston Perch

Did anyone else catch that ‘60 Minutes’ piece on the Millennium Tower in San Francisco? The high-rise building is sinking a few inches per year, and starting to lean as well. For those of us not paralyzed with fear at such a height, it seems lofty living is a desirable, if expensive, goal. The older I get, the more afraid of heights I grow, so I’m good with crawling around the lower levels of this planet with all the other human ants.

Sometimes, though, we yearn to fly and soar as high as we can go, and looking up at the tops of buildings and cathedrals and skyscrapers has always thrilled me. There’s something to be said for a bird’s-eye view of the world. When I was a kid, I used to climb a very tall evergreen in our backyard. The higher I went, the more exhilarated I felt. A little terrified too, and at times I would cling to the sturdy trunk and close my eyes to calm myself before carefully climbing back down.

I’m better at more reasonable perches, such as the two-and-a-half story vantage-point of our Boston home. (I say two-and-a-half because the first floor is actually above street level by quite a bit, in the brownstone tradition.) From there, one has a decent view of the street, and the John Hancock Tower. If you lean out the window a bit and strain your neck you can also glimpse a bit of the Prudential Center.

It was here that I spent a single night last weekend to prepare for the holiday season events. There’s the annual Holiday Stroll with Kira, and the relatively new Holiday Children’s Hour with Suzie’s family (and hopefully a few other kids to keep Milo and Oona company). Both have become happy holiday traditions which I’m hoping to keep going. Since I won’t likely be in Boston again until December, I had to decorate, do some laundry, and get a few things together beforehand. It was gleefully anticipatory work – my favorite sort of work – and I loosely plotted out possibilities in my head. ‘Tis almost the season…

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When Summer Gloriously Refuses to Yield

Mother Nature has taught us some valuable, and brutal, lessons this year. The first of which is rather simple: don’t fuck with her. I was psychologically ready to turn the page to fall and snuggle into some cozy nights with cool air, but she wasn’t having any of it. Not yet. She doesn’t care what the calendar says or where your mind might be at – she was going to pump up the temperatures like it was July. Yet she did throw us a tantalizing preview, and as I drove through a rainy band of hurricane remnants, I felt the faint thrill of a fall chill last weekend in Boston.

With schedules that don’t quite seem to align, Kira and I haven’t been able to spend as much time as we usually do together, so this marked the first chance to see her in a couple of months, and the last (based on the filled calendar for the next two months). We made the most of it, starting with a late night meal at The Elephant Walk (Boston, you still go to sleep much too early for a Friday). The night felt like fall, and I’d neglected to look at anything other than the 80 degree sunny weather set for Saturday and Sunday. The sky was filled with moisture, as if we were caught in a cloud. Mist and rain swirled around us in the wind, making umbrellas useless (had we thought to bring one along). I embraced it. I will never complain about summer lingering, but I also love the first cozy jolt of fall. We had that, and after we made our way back through the seasonally-appropriate night, we brought out the sumptuous winter blanket to stave off the chill.

The best atmosphere for sleeping is a night of coolness with a wind whipping about to rustle the curtains a little. There was still enough warmth to leave the windows open but on this first day of fall the new season was poised to pounce.

That never happened. We awoke to a bright day. The early chill of the morning quickly dissipated, but not until we stopped for the first pho of the season. I’d only brought shorts, so I was ready for the bowl of spicy goodness. By the time we finished, the sun was out and the sky was blue. It felt like summer again. Downtown Crossing has come a long way in the past year or so, and new hotels and restaurants and simple sitting spaces were on beautiful display. We vowed to make it a prominent part of our Holiday Stroll this year, if we could ever find a time to do a Holiday Stroll. Life impedes on so much fun these days.

I’m rambling on, and running ahead like I usually do, and that’s not good. Fall has only just begun, and Mother Nature reminded me that she will not be rushed. The day turned hot and humid. It was the exact lesson I needed, and a perfect extension of a summer in which I didn’t get to spend much time in Boston. We embraced the heat, leisurely strolling to a late dinner at Aquitaine. (Their Saturday Boeuf Bourguignon special is divine – meat so tender it melts in your mouth after you slice through it with the dullest fork.) Walking back, we took our time, basking in the balmy weather. I paused a few times to stand beneath the shimmering leaves of trees that will be bare the next time we pass under them. There was a certain sadness to that, but the fullness of the moment was enough to see us through.

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Braddock Before the Rain

Given my job, I don’t often have the luxury and treat of being in Boston on a Wednesday morning to enjoy the street cleaning barrenness as depicted here, but this week I did. It’s a hazard for those unaware of the rules (they will ticket and tow in a heartbeat) but it keeps things neat and tidy, and affords the rare shot of a car-free side of the street.

On this day, I was showing my Manchester pal Andy around before his flight departed later that evening, and the day was humid and hot and threatening rain, but it held off until the very end. A day in Boston is a treasure indeed, and I’ll take them whenever I can get them.

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Bits of Beauty, Bits of Boston

The little things, those bright pockets of beauty that often go hidden, are what connect the bigger scenes to each other.

Here a bee beckons the viewer deeper into a garden.

There a lunch break of salmon eases the feet after a tour of the Museum of Fine Arts.

Everywhere, beauty waits to bind the messy bits of life together, and somehow it always manages.

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Beauty, Now More Than Ever

The respite of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is always a balm upon the soul. We need more beauty in this world. The courtyard, though bright, is cool on these summer days. The dim environs of the surrounding rooms offer spiritual respite. Angels watch over the space, even if demons have infiltrated over the years. (Empty gold frames remind of which works were stolen in a still-unsolved crime back in 1990.) There are ghosts here, but they feel benign. Perhaps they were merely sleeping on the night of the robbery.

Four large tree ferns rise in the center court, framing the square space with delicate fronds of unfurling grace and elegance. Carpets of baby tears border the stone paths, and potted orchids nestle in every nook and cranny.

Art watches over all, standing sentinel in the absence of Ms. Gardner, whose will made it clear that nothing was to be touched or moved, so we have an idea of what it was actually like when she walked these beautiful floors. I stared out of windows and up at fantastical works and wondered what she did when she stopped to soak up the beauty at hand.

Through portals of stone and light and time, I peered into past and future alike. I was also able to inhabit the present moment – the most difficult trick of all for those of us who would rather be anywhere else than this moment in time. Here, it was all right. Surrounded by beauty, it was bearable.

A fountain gurgled its peaceful, bubbly melody in the background.

Palm trees, rubber plants, and philodendron soaked up the sun coming in from the skylight.

It was impossible not to smile at the world.

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