Books Feed

DIY Mailboxes

One of the fun things about walking, is seeing the creative ways people have found to personalize their space.  There are the houses painted in bright, fairytale colors; tree forts complete with glass windows; weather vanes ( I have such a weakness for weather vanes); statues made from found objects and of course the ubiquitous mailbox.  As long as the door stays shut and the flag is well attached, there's very little reason to think about these oddly shaped boxes, until someone makes them worth noticing. 

About a year ago I did a post about a walk I took in Lincoln, where I was surprised at the number of unique, home decorated mailboxes.  There was one mailbox that I debated whether or not to include in that post.  It was gray, with just the name Frost painted on it.  There was really no reason to give it a second glance except that it was the spitting image of the mailbox in front of Robert Frost's home in the White Mountains.  I decided this was more likely coincidence, than an homage of any sort and left the mailbox out of the post.  This spring, that gray mailbox went through a major transformation.  I decided to explore the neighborhood and see what (if any) other changes had occurred.

Circles mailbox 042112Formerly the Frost mailbox

I started out in the parking lot of the Lincoln Exchange, one of the few public places to park near Tower Road.  You can click on here to see my route.  The Exchange is home to one of the town's post offices, and I always feel like I'm stepping back in time when I walk through those doors to buy stamps or what not.  We'd had a week of summer weather (in April mind you), so it was a pleasure to walk under stone colored skies through the occasional shower.  It's the sort of weather I imagine when I think of the Pacific Northwest, great for a visit but I wouldn't want it everyday.

Post office 042112
The lilacs are in that wonderful inbetween stage where the closed buds are one shade and the opened blossoms another.  If I were an impressionist painter, I would paint lilacs the way Monet painted water lilies, one after another, trying to capture each change in light and growth.

As I headed to the Frost mailbox (as I think of it) I realized I was just steps from a cute little tree lined road I pass all the time and have wondered about.  I didn't have a schedule to keep, and I figured if it didn't come out somewhere I recognize, I could always retrace my steps, so I took a left on Upland Road and immediately discovered more DIY decorated mailboxes!  Don't you love serendipity?

Butterfly mailbox lincoln 042112
I like the easy, sketch-like look of the ladybug.  Whoever painted this was Ok with imperfection, and in that created something lovely.  I wonder what the inspiration was to create a house around the mailbox.  Maybe the house was originally the mailbox, but the post office decreed they needed a USPS approved receptacle?  Maybe they needed something to help the mailbox stand out so plow drivers wouldn't hit it?  I have seen one other similar to this in Lexington (next town over).  In that case the wooden exterior was intended to look like a house and garden.

House mailbox 040612
The picture is a little dark, but can you see the painted window, complete with lacy white curtains on the front?

As I continued down Upland to Beaver Pond, I saw several boxes decorated by kids.  Think back to being a kid and just how few things you had complete control over.  Now imagine being given permanent paint, part of the family home and permission to do what you want.  What a heady opportunity!  And then that art work is on display for everyone to see: the mailman, people driving by, anyone coming to visit and of course their friends on the bus.  What a great idea.

Butterflies etc lincoln 042112
Hand flowers lincoln 042112Notice the difference in hand sizes?  It's like a much more personal version of those stickers people put on their minivans to show how many people are in their family.

More hand flowers lincoln 042112
These hand flowers make me smile.  Kids grow so quickly that artwork which makes those stages of growth a little more permanent are a wonderful idea.  When I was three or four I was at camp with my family.  There was an organized children's program so the parents could go off and do things on their own.  One day we were all given white t-shirts and the counselors traced our hands on them in permanent marker.  Mine was green.  I loved that shirt.  When I outgrew it I dressed my dolls with it.  Sometimes I'd place my hand over that earlier tracing and try to imagine I'd ever been that small. 

Blue mailbox lincoln 042112
This garden mailbox was in front of an artist studio.  One side was clearly done by children, and then the other has a bit of an adult's touch.  I wonder if they crafted that roadrunner shape themselves.  The spirals and zigzags behind it make me think of a meteor shower.  Looking at that mailbox, the way it's been warped over time and has started to rust, I can imagine the painting as an effort to beautify it in its last days of use.  Then again, maybe it was new and shiny when those little hands drew rabbits, flowers, dogs and curly ques.  The kids may have kids of their own by now, but this reminder of their younger selves remains.

Roadrunner mailbox lincoln 042112
There was one mailbox that looked like a great steamer trunk, the sort George Bailey dreams of traveling with in It's a Wonderful Life.  Now it's just an unadorned mailbox, bought from a store, but imagine what it would look like with old-timey stickers from around the world and passport stamps painted on it.  

Trunk mailbox lincoln 042112
When I got to the end of Beaver Pond I realized it intersected with Tower Road, the place where I'd found so many unique mailboxes a year ago.  What prompts one area, in a rather traditional, historic New England town to create so many works of public art?  I believe residents gain inspiration by driving past each other's creations each day.  It's the same logic that drives people in economically depressed areas to clean up a corner or a vacant lot and by doing so inspire neighbors to take on their own beautification projects. 

As I walked Tower Road back to the exchange, it was nice to see a lot of my favorite mailboxes still standing.  There was the shocking tiger striped box, the Grandma Moses style red fox and more.  At the end of the street there was a new addition, a yong girl's dream mailbox, all purples and reds with fluffy white rabbits and a shiny moon.

Bynnt moon box lincoln 042112

What do you make of those little running figures?  They remind me of Crockett Johnson's character Harold, who with the help of his purple crayon sets out in his pajamas each night for all sorts of adventures. 

As I drove home I thought about all the personality and creativity that went into the mailboxes I'd seen, and I wanted a bit of that for myself.  For the first time in my life I live in a place where the mailbox is a box (not a wall of doors with tiny keys).  What could I create that says a little something about me?

Check back for the next post and you'll see.

Battle Road - Minute Man Historical Park (Part 2)

Trail avenue 040712
When we look back on history, it's hard to see events without a sense of inevitability.  We think of the siege of Fort Sumter as intended to launch the Civil War, when in fact other southern forts had been ceded to southern control without launching a war.  The chain of events is only obvious in hindsight.  This is true too of the American Revolution.  The colonists did not set out to start a new country.  They intended to work within the system to gain more equitable treatment.  It was only after their complaints were ignored (or greeted with punishment) and the crown rescinded their right to self govern, that the idea of separation started to take hold.  This is just one of the little tidbits of knowledge I gained while walking Battle Road.  I grew up in New England where there is only one war that matters, in a school where the Revolution dominated any discussion of history, daughter to a woman who enjoyed visiting historic homes of that period; so the fact that I learned something new about this topic I thought I knew so well, was truly exciting.  Did I mention that Johnny Tremain was my favorite book in 5th grade?

Battle Road does a wonderful job of showing how ordinary people make history.  There's the Nelson's house (Ok, doorstep and well at this point), where a member of the family heard steps on the road, went out in the dark to ask for news of the soldiers' advance, and was shot by those very soldiers.  

Thomas nelson junior 040712
There's the field where a farmer waited for the line of soldiers to pass, and shot at them from the relative safety of the boulders.  As I looked at this "field" full of new growth, I was reminded of something Bill Bryson said in one of his books.  Modern day New England is a veritable forest compared to the same land a couple hundred years ago.  All those stone walls hikers come across in the woods once marked the edge of a field.  Of course back then the cleared land was not covered in strip malls and parking lots, so our current abundance of trees is not a clear win for Mother Nature.

Boulders for cover 040712

Not far from here stands one of the many memorials along the route to the British soldiers who died in the fighting.  I heard a battle reenactor explaining that many of these impromptu graves were found when digging began for Route 2A (relatively recent history).  As he explained, the colonists didn't want any sign of the enemy dead to remain near their homes, out of fear that the British would come back and take vengeance. 

British burried 040712
Just think about that for a moment.  This was not a battle fought in the open, far from women and children.  It was fought over thirteen long hours, along a well travelled road, from behind hedges and stone walls,  across farmers' fields, and  just steps from civilians' homes. 

Farmed since 1700s 040712
Hartwell tavern 040712

There's a scene in the miniseries John Adams that illustrates the proximity of the war to civilian's lives beautifully.  This is a bit later in the war, but you an imagine it playing out hundreds if not thousands of times.  In the scene, you see Abigail Adams tending to the family farm, feeding the chickens, hanging out clothes, and then she and her children stop what they're doing because they've heard something in the distance.  The rumble of drums and footsteps, the sharp squeal of a fife and before you know it there are soldiers marching down the road just a few feet from her and her babies.  If you have any interest in this period of history, I highly recommend the miniseries and of course the book it was based on, by the same name.

One of the best known structures along Battle Road in Minute Man Historical Park belonged to one of Abigail Adams' relatives. 

Cpt william smith house 040712
The Captain William Smith house stands in a meadow abutting the intersection of Route 2A and Bedford Street.  Runners can often be seen using the stone wall to stretch.  Children run happily through the field, after the relative confinement of the wooded trail.  The house is closed to the public, but people peek in the windows to see what's there.  

Several of the houses in the park have this saltbox silhouette.  It's a style that originated in New England in response to the weather.  The bulk of the house's windows were on the southern exposure, taking advantage of the sun's light and heat.  The northern exposure was low and often windowless, ensuring that precious heat wasn't lost.  The sloped roof helped heavy snows slide off, rather than accumulating and endangering the roof.  

Cpt william smith door 040712

Saltbox house 040712
If you've ever read or seen anything about the Revolutionary War, you are probably aware of the disadvantage the Bristish army's red uniforms placed them in.  This year, spring came early and the landscape is unusually lush for April.  Even so, those red coats stand out like a beacon.

Bristish soldier 040712

As you can see, I was lucky enough on my walk to run into some pre-Patriot's Day events in the park.

Brits and colonists 040712
I'm assuming the white uniforms were the equivalent of the dress whites today's navy wears on formal occassions, but that's just a guess.  If you happen to know, please be sure to leave a comment.

Woman and soldiers 040712

Lincoln minutemen 040712
The colonists may not have had the same gun power as the soldiers, but they blended into the countryside (their clothes dyed using local plants).  They had the advantage of knowing the terrain, and were fighting for their lives.  As I write this I can't help but think of the similarities between these early patriots and the people our modern day military is battling overseas.  Yes, there are important differences, but the similarities give pause.  Our national heroes, the original patriots, the people who everything (and I do mean everything) is named after in this region were rebels and terrorists in the eyes of the King. 

Minutemen potty 040712
Yes, that's a patriot on the side of a port-o-potty.

Minuteman sign 042412

Today, a good section of the park borders Hanscom Air Force Base.  At some points on the trail you look down through the trees onto base housing, at the families who today continue to place their security and happiness second to the needs of the country.  I often see solderies training together, running the Battle Road trail, and I wonder if they give any thought to the events the park commemorates.  Do they see themselves as inheritors of that tradition?

Candidate 040712

The Minutemen who answered the call some two hundred years ago, didn't know what the outcome would be.  They didn't know that their actions would become the stuff of legend, or that their actions were one step along the way to the founding of a new domoctractic nation.  their legacy is alive in this man.  He's a candidate for the state legislature.  While people gathered to listen to music and hear the details of Paul Revere's capture, he was making his way through the crowd, introducing himself and talking with potential voters.  As I watched him I marvelled at his willingness to go up to stranger after stranger and insert himself into their day.  Everyone I saw him talk to was polite, but I'm sure that's not always the case.  No matter our political system's flaws, the people who get elected really have to work for that office.  There's beauty in that.

  Clouds over barn 040712
When I set out to walk the Battle Road trail, I did it more out of a sense of duty than pleasure.  So I was surprised at just how moving I found the experience.  As I walked, read the signs, and listened to the audio tour, I found myself wondering if I would take the kind of risk Mary Hartwell did, when she left her children asleep in their beds, to get the message of the British advance to the Minutemen leaders in time for them to act.  I was made uncomfortable as I realized that our bitter enemy in the late 1700's, is today our closest ally.  While this gave me some hope for a more peace-filled future, it also highlighted just what an inevitable waste enmity between nations is.

By the time I got home again, I was tired and sore (I really hadn't realized just how substantial a walk it would be), but it felt like a day well spent.  I had no idea how much I'd see and learn when I left the house that morning, and for that, the surprise of life, I'm grateful.

Swamp walkway 040712


Poetry in Motion

Morning clouds 022412

I woke this morning to a sky of shocking blue, with clouds so fluffy and white they looked more like the creation of children set loose with a bag of cotton balls, than anything to be found in nature.  The wind shook my window in its casement and there it was, the embodiment of a poem I memorized when I was just learning to read...



                                            White sheep, white sheep, 

                                            On a blue hill,

                                            When the wind stops

                                            You all stand still;

                                            When the wind blows

                                            You walk away slow,

                                            White sheep, white sheep,

                                            Where do you go?


Morning clouds trees 022412

I still have a few of my most well worn and loved books from childhood.  I wanted to be sure to give "Clouds" author credit, so I went to my shelf and there between an old scratch and sniff Winnie the Pooh book and my copy of Miss Suzy, was Poems and Prayers for the Very Young.  As a kid I loved the pictures and remember wishing there were more poems and fewer prayers.  That may be part of why I read "Clouds" so much.  Book 022412

The author is Christina G. Rossetti.  I'd never heard of her, but of course Wikipedia had.  It turns out she was a famous poet in England in the 1800s, who many saw as the successor to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  Her life reads like a novel,  not something I think I've ever said about an encyclopedia entry. 

Without realizing it, you've probably encountered her poetry before.  She's the author of the Christmas carol "In the Bleak Midwinter".   It's somehow fitting that a break in this winter's bleak weather lead me to learning about Rossetti.



A heavenly smile

If I think about it long enough, I'm sure I could reconstruct a long ago heard explanation of exactly how the earth, moon and sun must be positioned to create the various phases of the moon.  I suspect we saw it played out in the darkness of our high school's planetarium, or maybe acted it out using twirling students and a flashlight "sun" back in elementary school. 

I like that there's a why and a how and that it's all wonderfully logical, but when I looked up tonight, all I saw was a heavenly smile - a reminder that we are loved.

If you've never read Walt Whitman's poem "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer" I recommend it.  It is short, reader friendly and a wonderful reminder that no matter how much we study and learn about the workings of the universe, the experiencing of it is where the magic lies. 



Apples in my Pocket

Signs of Fall
Apples have been on my mind.  First came John Seabrook's article "Crunch" in the New Yorker, which I heard read enticingly on NPR.  Seabrook's description of SweeTango, the latest apple breed to hit stores, had me wondering if the experience of biting into its crisp glory, might be worth stabbing myself in the leg with an EpiPen afterward.  Read his words aloud and see if your salivary glands don't leap into action.

 "[The store owner] handed the apple to [the customer]. She looked it over, and then sniffed the calyx, the apple's bottom. It was a large apple, but not supersized, like the Fujis down the aisle. It had sunburned shoulders, yellow sides, and a splash of green around the stem bowl, and it was freckled with 'lenticels,' through which it was imperceptibly breathing." 

Nothing yet?  Read this.

"Like Honeycrisp, SweeTango has much larger cells than other apples, and when you bite into it the cells shatter, rather than cleaving along the cell walls, as is the case with most popular apples. The bursting of the cells fills your mouth with juice. Chunks of SweeTango snap off in your mouth with a loud cracking sound. Although a crisp texture is the single most prized quality in an apple--even more desirable than taste, according to one study--crispness is more a matter of acoustics than of mouthfeel. Vibrations pass along the lower jaw and set the cochlea trembling."

That paragraph deserves an award, and I may too for resisting its siren song. 

Then came a flurry of apple recipes in the blogs and magazines that fill my reading life: Apple ButterRoasted Apples , Cardamom Roasted Apples, Apple Pie Cookies, Apple Sauce, Apple Butter, Apple Pie Jam and the most adorable (can a New Englander say "twee"?) Apple Chai Pies in CraftSanity (issues 4 and 5).  I resisted them all on the premise that while I can eat cooked apples safely, these cooked apples were just too desserty at a time of year that needs no more desserts.

We rang in the new year and my apple longings faded along with the discussion of holiday baking.  And then I heard Spilled Milk's Apple episode.  I was a goner.  When Matthew read off a list of apple varieties,  an image of a road trip based on tasting everything from the Aunt Rachel to the Tarbutton flashed into my mind.  Then there was the audio of the hosts, Matthew and Molly crunching into apple after appple.  Seabrook knew what he was talking about when he wrote that the crispness of an apple is all in th ears.

Several cook books and recipe websites later, I had a solution.  The apples were cooked, but still maintained a whisper of crunch.  The recipe wasn't a dessert, in fact it was pretty healthy (see notes in the recipe).  I put one in my pocket (bagged, of course) before heading out for a walk tonight, and a half hour later it was none the worse for having  shared space with my cell phone and keys.    Did I mention they're really yummy too?

Cinnamon Apple Muffins

Apple and Cinnamon Muffins

This recipe is a modified version of the one Rachel Allen provides in her excellent book Favorite Food at Home: Delicious Comfort Food from Ireland's Most Famous Chef.


2 eggs - lightly beaten

6 tbsp skim milk

6 tbsp (roughly a individual pack) vanilla yogurt

1/6 cup oil

1/3 cup apple sauce - this takes the place of most of the oil normally called for

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 unpeeled apple cut into matchstick size pieces

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tbsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

dash of salt

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 cup wheat germ - high in fiber, iron, zinc and folic acid.  It adds a nice nutty taste too.

1 cup wheat flour

1/2 cup light brown sugar

3 hand fulls of your favorite raw (unsalted, unroasted) nut.  I used hazelnuts. 


  1. Preheat to 350 degrees.  The recipe makes 12 muffins.  Use paper liners or grease your muffin pan.  These muffins retain their shape well, so the paper liners are optional.
  2. In a large bowl lightly beat the eggs.  Add the wet ingredients: milk, yogurt, oil, vanilla, and apple.
  3. In a second bowl mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.  Then add the wheat flour, wheat germ, sugar and most of the nuts.  
  4. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ones.  The batter will become quite thick.  As soon as the ingredients are mixed stop, you don't want to overwork the dough.
  5. Fill the muffin cups to the top.  The batter is thick enough that this step could even be done successfully by a young child.  Anyone who has ever had a child (or themselves) get frustrated as more cupcake batter ended up on the flat of the pan than in the cups, will love this.
  6. Chop the remaining nuts and sprinkle them on top. 
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the dough offers resistance (spring) when touched. 

Last muffin


Camping - at home

Two and a half days of camping in my own home taught me a few important and several not so important things about this modern day life.  I'll leave the categorizing up to you.

Through window 100911

  1. The hardest thing about losing electricity is dealing with food: how to keep it from spoiling, how to heat it up (cold food is not fun when you're already cold), and how to keep to a reasonably healthy diet.  My breakfast of Cheeze-Its fell a bit short on a couple of these.
  2. Time stretches delisciously in a world without clocks.  A morning feels twice as long when you're not aware that you've already "used up" half of it.  
  3. Quilting and knitting are perfect activities when there's snow outside and no source of heat inside.
  4. You really can light a gas stove with a match without losing your eyebrows.
  5. I owe Jenna of the Cold Antler Farm blog a debt of gratitude.  Her posts about storm preparation and trying to live on as little outside power as possible lead me to buy wind up flashlights, a batter free radio/mp3 player and a solar powered lantern (that also happens to be a water bottle).  Knowing I had these at hand and didn't have to worry about running out of batteries felt luxurious.
  6. Washing up with cold water has more rejuvenating power than a trip to Starbucks.
  7. When the sun goes down and there are no screens, time moves at the turtle pace of childhood.  
  8. While the dim glow candles produce makes reading and needlework painful, there's no better backdrop for listening to Bram Stoker's Dracula!
  9. New Englanders are known for their reserve, but that's just because it only snows 1/4 of the year.  There's nothing like bad weather for creating opportunities to meet the neighbors.
  10. The comforting power of a hot water bottle is underrated.  Curling up with Cozy Bear (my own pattern) in a cocoon of blankets was pure bliss.

Sleepy bear 022011





Gram and Albert



"Life is short

and we do not have too much time

to gladden the hearts of those

who travel the way with us,

so be swift to love

and make haste to be kind."

-Henri Frederic Amiel





Photo - My grandmother and one of her brothers

Colorful Jamaica Plain - Part 2


Tomatoe sign jp 080611
A quick walk down Centre Street in Jamaica Plain and it's clear that this is a town where "main street" is still valued.  There are a few big chains, mainly banks and New England's own Dunkin' Donuts, but the majority of storefronts are independents.  There are enough restaurants to keep you trying something new for quite a while, whether its spicy Indian cuisine, succulent sushi or sandwiches named after gangsters.  I passed a martial arts school, a yoga studio with an adorable monkey on the sign and Kitchenwitch, a kitchen supply store I'm itching to go back and wander through. 

It's always a bit depressing when a store can't come up with anything interesting to put in those huge storefront windows that face the street.  I've noticed hair and beauty businesses seem to find this especially difficult.  But Kitchenwitch caught my eye immediately with their wedding gifts display filled with matryoshka doll inspired wares, tea pots and did I mention the life-size mannequin wearing a wedding dress and witch's hat?  Anyone who can come up with a window like that must have a unique perspective to share inside.  I tried to capture it in a picture to share with you, but the glare from the sun on the glass worked against me. 

Shop lically sign jp 080611
This idea of shifting where we spend our money so it supports the local economy and independent sellers/growers whenever possible, really appeals to me.  I heard Heather Ordover of Craftlit talking about the book Switch, in which an economically depressed town tried all sorts of expensive projects to keep from dieing.   And then a group of students realized that if each person in town just spent $40 a month there, in town, the economy would turn around, and it has.  It's something to think about.

A small sign for the Blue Frog Bakery drew me down a side street, where I couldn't miss the shop.

Blue frog 080611
I'm always impressed when a food establishment is willing to give a glimpse behind the scenes at food preparation.  There's a dessert restaurant in Boston called Finale where they've placed a mirror on the ceiling above where they torch the creme brule so patrons can watch the caramelizing magic.  Blue Frog's action that afternoon wasn't so dramatic, but it certainly made me want to stop in and sample a bite, or two, or three the next time I'm in JP.

Blue frog bakery jp 080611
There must be something about JP and 3D animal signs.  The toy shop had whimsical, Jim Henson-esq aliens climbing its store front, and JP Licks, the ice cream shop which started in JP and spread across the greater Boston area,  has a larger than life cow emerging from its brick facade! 

Jp licks 080611

The interior is a bit of an ice cream Disney world.  The tall ceilings make the space feel huge.  There are figures hanging from the ceiling and large paintings, not to mention a display case of pastries and the scent of freshly brewed coffee.  And of course the ice cream is rich, flavorful and original. 

Jp licks park 080611

Outside is a bit more relaxed.  There's a bubler with a bowl beneath it labelled "Homemade Dog Water".  I don't even own a dog, but I always think it speaks well of an establishment when they remember their customer's furry friends.  To the right is an area designated as Belle's Park.  Not so many years ago Belle sold her handmade jewelry from this spot.  In addition to being craftminded, she was also an avid backgammon player and belonged to the New England Backgammon Club.  When she passed away JP Licks set up this little memorial.







My favorite part of this spot, is the giant mural on the adjacent business's wall.  What could be an eyesore, an alley leading to trash cans, is turned into an attraction, a celebration of the space. 

Woman squirrel mural 080611

Woman fox mural jp 080611
These ladies are brand new.  They still had paper hanging beneath them to protect the wall from splatters. 

Women animals mural jp 080611

When I was here just two weeks before, there were different murals.  I don't remember what they were of, but they didn't look old or faded. I wonder if they change them out regularly to give more artists a chance to share their work.   The abundance of murals  was one of the main reasons I wanted to come back and take a closer look. 

Burito mural jp 080611 On the side of the Purple Cactus restaurant


Childrens mural 080611
A mural created by the Jamaica Youth Mural Program in 2004

Children mural detail 080611
The moon in the window, and the running girl's untied shoe laces make me smile.

Jamaica pond mural 080611
A mural of Jamaica Pond, including the boat house.

Sports mural jp 080611
This elaborate mural overlooks garbage cans and a municipal parking lot.

And then there's my favorite.

Lantern parade mural jp 080611

It stands opposite to the sports mural, bookending the parking lot.  The scene looks like something out of a children's book, but it actually commemorates the annual lantern parade around Jamaica Pond.  People bring their own homemade lanterns or buy one on the spot, and join together to walk the 1.5 mile trail around the pond.  It looks like it happens in the fall, based on their dress.  I'll try to go to it this year and bring back photos to share.

Lantern parade 3 jp 080611

 You can see the same boat house here that appears in the earlier mural. I like the variety of the people, the pregnant woman, the women with dreadlocks, the child with the giant hat who is clearly marching and having a great time.  And why not?  Being outside, at night, with a touch of fire is a recipe for magic.

Lantern parade 2 jp 080611

Can you remember being small enough to ride on someone's shoulders?  I remember being on my dad's at the local air show.  I was two parts thrilled (I could actually see above the crowds), and one big part terrified, but I wasn't about to let on.  Then I'd have to get down and walk!

Lantern parade 1 jp 080611

If you'd like to see more murals, some of which have been replaced by the ones I showed here, visit the JP Community Arts Advocates website.

There's just one more intallment to come of this trip through JP. Fittingly, it will continue from where we've left off, Jamaica Pond.

Colorful Jamaica Plain - part 1

There are benefits to walking the same places over and over, across the seasons.  I get to see the little changes and discover patterns (like the tree that Orioles nest in year after year).  But sometimes I just want to see something radically new, to explore the unknown, get lost and find my way out again. 

Oriole and nest 051310

 A couple weeks ago I was in Jamaica Plain (JP) getting ice cream with friends, and I knew that I had to come back on my own to explore.  I admit some of that feeling was based on a desire to have another cone of Bailey's Cheese Cake ice cream at JP Licks, but it was also based on the quirky shops, murals on every corner and the chocolate box-like assortment of architectural styles.  I wanted to see it all.

For anyone reading who's not local, JP is a Boston neighborhood, about 5 miles south of the city.  I've heard it described as "eclectic", "shabby chic", "artsy" and "hip".  But I've had almost no first hand knowledge of the place - until this weekend.

There are a couple reasons why I haven't gotten to know JP sooner.  For one, it's on the south side of the city and I'm usually to the north.  Just as important, the few times I've been there have involved driving on the Jamaicaway (designed for carriages) or Route 9; both are way too skinny for the number of speeding cars on them.   Getting to JP requires advanced driving.

Whale weathervane center st jp 080611

I arrived in JP for my walk with water, a camera, and my GPS in pedestrian mode in case I got thuroughly turned around.  My only plan was to explore until I couldn't resist the siren call of ice cream any longer.  

I'd come to walk, but this sign

Boomerange whitey sign 080611

and the steady stream of people going into a thrift store of all places, caused a small shopping related detour. The sign says:

"Booms has everything you need for your trial watching party. 

Even Whitey Bulger can't deny that Booms has the best deals in town. 

And he loves raising AIDS funds." 

You've got to admit, it's original. 

A purchase heavier and a few dollars lighter, I was back on track.  I took the first side road I saw and wondered if I might have made a mistake.  The yards I passed were overgrown with weeds up to my shoulder.   On the other side of the road a few twigs of men were arguing in front of an apartment building.  They shared the gaunt, leathery look that comes from hard living.  I was just starting to consider turning back and trying a different road, when I came around a corner and the scene changed dramatically. 

The gardens still grew tall, but now instead of wild grasses, they were full of sunflowers, black eyed susans and flowering bushes.  The houses appeared freshly painted in colors fit to challenge the radiance of their gardens. 

Flowers and fence jp 080611

Colorful house jp 080611

Stained glass jp 080611

Sun detail 080611

Even that Boston area mainstay, the 3-family/triple decker had gotten a facelift. 

Colorful triple descker 080611

I saw more than one that had beautiful gardens cascading off the upper balconies. 

And then of course there were the porches.  I love a porch that invites you to sit down and just watch the world go by.  It doesn't take anything elaborate, just a couple comfortable chairs,

Red chairs 080611

a little table for your drink,

Blue porch 080611

and a bit of something green.  No need for an extended family of gnomes, an orchestra of windchimes and so many other things that the space becomes pinched.  A porch is for taking a deep breath, letting your shoulders sink away from your ears and stretching your legs out long and cat-like.   

Walking through JP made me once again wish I knew more about architecture.  If anyone knows a good beginner's book to recognizing what eras different features came from, please be sure to leave a comment or send an email.  I saw:

a terrific cupola atop a grand old house,

Cupola jp 080611

a garage that looked like a cross between a barn and a church,

Great garage 080611

  a playhouse complete with windowboxes, 

Playhouse 080611

and a blue house all but lost between tall apartments, which reminded me instantly of Virginia Lee Burton's book The Little House.  

Little house 080611

On the corner of Green and Alfred Streets I came across a chain link fence decorated with fantastic sculptures made of wood and found objects.

Green street jp 080611
Green street girl jp 080611

Her dress is covered in the words "I am 8 years old" in all the languages of the neighborhood.

Green street girl jpdetail  080611

Green street horse jp 080611

That's a scrub brush for his mane.

Green street jp people tree 080611
I would have loved to see this when the colors were fresh.  To me this one looks like people growing out of a tree.  Is it rebirth?  Showing our connection to the earth?   I tried to find out who was behind this project and what idea inspired the figures, but the only reference I found was an image on Google maps street view.  The next time I'm in JP I'll have to look around and see if there's a sign that I missed.  

The artsy nature of JP is not limited to vacant lots.  In part 2  I'll share some amazing murals and fantastic store decorations.   

I hope you're enjoying this glimpse of Jamaica Plain.




The Light'll Be On

Dusk, especially summer's dusk has always held magic for me.  Even our words for this time lost between day and night are beautiful: twilight, gloaming, owllight, le crepuscule (to the French). 

Bales 062811
Fresh hay, baked all day by the sun perfumes the air.

Haying Lincoln 2011

The air wraps softly around me, and the bats put on an incredible aeronautics show for free.

Bench lincoln 062811

Just sitting, watching the world shift from the white hot glare of noon, to cool darkness lit by a rising moon. Nothing to do but wait for firefly sightings.

Codman farm evening 062811

Crickets celebrate, Mourning Doves coo and somewhere a baseball game plays on a radio.  The opening line of a Robert Frost poem comes to mind, " I have been one acquainted with the night".  I choose to take it literally. 

Outdoor light 2011

The outdoor light's turned on, a reminder that someone at home is thinking of me. 

When I was a kid I was ambivalent about that light and what it represented.  I knew the house would feel stuffy and mundane after the night air: the joy I'd known outside, would dim.  But it was nice to be welcomed home too. 

All these years later, I still pause before crossing the threshold - tired, often thirsty, but not wanting to break the spell.