Joys Feed

New Neighbor

Someone has moved into the house behind ours.  It wouldn't be worth noting except that the house went up years ago and I've never seen anyone go in or out of it. 

I remember my dad commenting on its charm the last time he visited.  I was showing him the raised garden beds we'd built, and he walked over to the edge of the yard to get a better look at the house out back.  That was the last time I saw him before he died, not that we had any inkling at the time that it would be.  

It's like Alex (my partner) says, when you're a kid you get picked up all the time.  If you fall asleep in the car, you're carried up to bed.  You get lifted onto your mother's hip, carried on your brother's back or hoisted on your father's shoulders for a better view.   Then one day you're put back down, and you're never picked up again.   There's no announcement.  No right of passage.  It's just over.  That's what my parents' visit in  2015 was like.  I'm sure if it hadn't been the last I wouldn't remember something so insignificant as my dad liking the house out back, but I remember feeling pleased that we had that in common.  After all, it's not a typical house.  It's a bit of an oddity actually, surprisingly tall and thin with asymmetrical elements, but charming in its cooky way.  

That house stood empty for so long that I'd  begun to wonder if there was something wrong with the interior that made it uninhabitable.  I tried to get a look inside, but to really see I would have had to get right up close, and empty or not, that didn't seem like a good idea.  After all, what if I was wrong about no one living there?   Just imagine getting up close, looking in and being face to face with the homeowner!  No thank you.  

Then, early this year I noticed there was something different about the door.  A couple days later it was clear that renovations were taking place; the original door was being replaced with a much, much wider one.   I was partial to the old one; it fit the place.  The new one is out of proportion with the rest of the building, but what did my opinion matter, I reminded myself.  I wasn't the one living there.  Did I mention that the new door is off center?

When it snowed I saw a path had been made, but there was still no sign of my new neighbor.  Of course in the suburbs it is easy to go weeks, even months without seeing the neighbors.    

And then this morning we met.  

Squirrel headon

I have a hard time pronouncing his name, but he says I can call him Red; most people do.  He says he did all the renovations himself and gave me permission to post a picture.  

Revised birdhouse 05122017

The Sounds of Christmas

Our little town had its Christmas tree lighting last week.  As I walked along main street, listening to brave carolers striving to sound joyful as the mist turned to freezing rain, and later hail, the sight of the lights instantly filled my mind with scenes from Dickens' A Christmas Carol.   There wasn't anything particularly Victorian about the scene, and it's not as if there were any ghosts or street urchins.  No, last year I'd walked under these very same lights, face frozen but smiling as I listening to Dickens' words on my iPod.  I love it when that happens.  I'll see a curve in a road and instantly know what I was listening to the last time I walked there, or hear a bit of a story and know where I was when I first heard it.   This doesn't happen when I'm driving; it's something particular to walking and the way it makes me engage with the world around me.

Lex center 2010
When I hear the first notes of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear", I'm instantly transported to the tree lined streets I grew up on.  When my friends had been called in for supper, I would go out walking.  My mother worked, so my brother and I made our own dinner, on our own schedule most nights.  I liked to wander as the sun set, watching the lights come on in neighbors' windows and the sun's last rays stretch over frozen fields.  As I walked I sang aloud; there weren't a lot of people around.  There was one year that I loved "Winter Wonderland" and joyfully sang all the verses as an endless loop.  Another year I loved "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman" with its alto friendly notes, but the one that stands out the most is the year of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear".  When I hear that song I can feel the acrylic yarn of long outgrown mittens, hear the crunch of ice and snow underfoot and smell distant wood smoke.  I sang that song like a prayer, full of longing and wonder.

"Still through the cloven skies they come/ With peaceful wings unfurled/ And still their heavenly music floats/O'er all the weary world" 

The bare trees once again sway with the wind overhead and the stars shine painfully bright.   

Evening backyard 031610

Today I rarely sing as I walk; there are just too many people around.  Instead this December I'll be listening to Christmas instead. 


Do you have any Christmas favorites?  Leave a recommendation in the comments.


He Walked - A Guest Post from Daniel K. MacDonald

Today's post is  from my friend,  Daniel K. MacDonald the curate at St. Anne's in the Field's Episcopal Church in Lincoln, MA.  Religion is not normally a part of this blog, but I asked Daniel if I could share his essay because it is rich with images of walking, both literal and metaphorical.  The first time I read it, I appreciated the way it made me look at stories I'd heard a hundred times, through a new lens. Whether you're religious, spiritual or agnostic, I think there's something in here for you.


Jesus walked.  I mean, Jesus walked a lot.  Sure, he took an occasional boat ride across the Sea of Galilee, and of course, he rode on a donkey during his triumphal entry into Jerusalem but mostly, almost exclusively, he walked.  Walking from one town to another, from one region to the next.  That was the life of the itinerant prophet, the traveling teacher, the marginal 1st century Jew: walking.

But also, talking.  When Jesus walked, he attracted a crowd, and a dialogue ensued.  Jesus almost always walked with others.  Picture Jesus walking around Judea in the midst of a throng of curious followers: this is a defining image of the New Testament.  So many Gospel stories consist of Jesus teaching or healing after arriving - that is, having walked - to a new place.  Sometimes Jesus' fellow walkers were few in number.  In the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus takes a mere three - Peter, and James  and John - up the mountain.  But in other places, the Gospels describe crowds beyond number, as when Jesus had to get into a boat to teach, because his listeners were so many.

Whether few or many in number, walking with others invites conversation, as much today as it did for Jesus and his followers.  Something about walking opens us up to those with whom we are traveling.  Yet walking in company is also a space for silence and private reflection, a time to simply take in one's surroundings, God's good creation.

Battle green lexington 101312
On October 20th, 11 youth and 6 adults from St. Anne's walked together for 7 kilometers through crisp fall air and beneath many a bejewelled oak, raising money for hunger relief through the Concord Crop Walk.  The weather was glorious, but more importantly, we used the shared experience of going somewhere together to open ourselves up to our teammates who were walking the way with us. We walked and talked and laughed and shared and questioned, much as the first followers of Jesus must have done in the Judean countryside all those centuries ago.  Walking invites openness, and 7 kilometers after we began, with the finish line in sight, we all knew each other better than we had at the beginning.

We are happy to report that St. Anne's raised $1,655 for the Concord Crop Walk. Thank you to everyone who donated monet for this important effort.  If you did not support the Crop Walk, we still welcome your contribution.

But beyond the Crop Walk, God is inviting us on another walk.  Come walk this year with the people of St. Anne's to go deeper in faith, deeper in the life of our growing, thriving parish.  Actual walking can be a great spiritual resource, as we see from Jesus in the Gospels.  But we can walk spiritually, too, as a community of faith that is going somewhere.  Opportunities for spiritual growth and community engagement abound at our church this year.  So come, join the good people at St. Anne's as we follow Jesus, wherever he is walking next.

St Annes chapel 061911

Foraging Makes It Taste Better

Smitten KitchenOrangetteDinner: A Love StoryRemedial EatingThe Wednesday Chef. Eating from the Ground Up. These are food blogs that I read as much for the back stories, as I do for recipe ideas.   So when I sat down to write about a salad and how a walk made it so much better, I automatically tried to write in a collective version of my favorite food bloggers' styles.  I remember doing this rather well in college French when given the assignment to write in the style of Emile Zola, but then I was only immitating one author.  And more importantly, today I prefer to sound like myself.

So I set that version aside and asked myself, what do I want to say about this salad?Scissors food project 072611
A couple weeks ago, my partner Z and I invited friends over to break in a new game that he'd received for his birthday.  Our friends took care of drinks and dessert, Z picked up an assortment of sushi and I made the Corn + Avocado + Cilantro salad from Real Simple magazine. 

Sort of. 

Through the "magic" of modern food shipment, you could make this salad any time of year, but right now, in the heat of the summer is when it truly should be made. Local and in-season make a difference in the flavor, especially when a recipe only has six ingredients, and two are givens (salt and olive oil).  

You start with the corn.  Grab a cloth sac and get ye to your local farm or farmer's market for summer's gold.  I'm lucky enough to live within walking distance of a farm stand where tomorrow's corn harvest can be seen over the shoulder of the cashier as you pay today.  With its wrapper of green and jaunty tassles, corn is the only food that nature wraps like a present.

On the way back from the farm, stop at a grocery store and pick up avocados and limes, unless of course you live somewhere that grows these foods.  One nice thing about avocados, is even though they do not grow in the northeast, and therefore have to be shipped long distances for our enjoyment (a "sometimes" food rather than an every day staple), there is no loss in flavor.  Avocados do not ripen until removed from the tree, so unlike many other fruits and vegetables which are picked early to benefit the shipping process, but arrive with just a shadow of their potential flavor, avocados taste great several thousand miles later.

The final ingredient in the salad, as published, is cilantro.  I neither like nor dislike cilantro, which means it's not growing in my herb garden, and I don't want to pay for a bundle and end up with a pile of leftovers.  I was walking back from Wilson Farm when I bent down to nibble on some lamb's quarters growing by the side of the trail.  The first bite is nearly tasteless, but then there's a wave of green, much like the taste of a cucumber with the peel left on.  I decided to replace the cilantro in the recipe with wild lamb's quarters

Lambs quarters 060312
The walk home became a scavenger hunt.  Whenever I saw a sprig I plucked it and added it to my sac of corn, feeling quite triumphant.  Though lamb's quarters grow abundantly along the edges of farm fields, they are harder to find in wooded areas (like the one I was walking through).  What does grow there, in abundance, is wood sorrel.  This slightly vinegary herb is often mistaken for clover, but wood sorrel's leaves are tiny hearts, in that yellow sort of green associated with spring.  I tried a bit of lamb's quarters with a sprig of wood sorrel and smiled.  This tasted world's better than cilantro.  In no time I had enough greens to complete the salad.

Wood sorrel 080412
 When I got home I gave the greens a careful wash and whirl through my salad spinner.  I'd been careful to gather plants several feet away from the path, since it's a popular dog walking spot, but you never know. I ripped off the leaves and set the stems aside to add to my garbage pail vinegar (but that's a story for another post).

Corn + Avocado Salad

  • Shuck 4 ears of corn.  Either boil them briefly or cook them on the grill, turning them frequently.
  • Once the corn is cooked and cooled, place an ear in a bowl and carefully cut off the kernels.   Repeat with remaining ears of corn.
  • Chop one avocado and add to the corn.
  • Add lamb's quarters and wood sorrel leaves.
  • Pour in lime juice to taste (a tablespoon or two).
  • Pour in a tablespoon of olive oil.  
  • Add a pinch of coarse salt.
  • Mix gently and serve

  Corn avocado salad 072113

 If you'd like to learn more about cooking with wild foods, I recommend Didi Emmons book Wild Flavor's: One Chefs Transformative Year Cooking from Eva's Farm.  She has a whole section on lamb's quarters (also known as goosefoot).  Russ Cohen's Wild Plants I Have Known...and Eaten is a great introduction to foraging in New England.


Berry Picking - A Walk for the Nonwalker

I'm suspicious of people who say they've changed their boyfriend, girlfriend, life partner...  This ability to mold the other person is usually claimed by the woman in the relationship. For my own peace of mind I have to suspect they're overstating their achievements, because the only other option is to accept that I am seriously lacking in this important skill.   I'm not quite ready to concede that.

Exhibit A.  For more years than I'd like to admit, I tried to convince my partner that going for a walk is a fun activity.  I wasn't trying to create a daily walk-buddy.  I didn't expect him to take up walking as his preferred form of exercise; my goal was reasonable (in my mind at least).  Let's just go for a walk together every now and then.  It didn't take. You won't see us taking an after dinner stroll.



You may, however,  see us using ambulatory power to reach our local frozen yogurt vendor.  The outing is all about the goal.  The walking is a means to an end, barely worth mention or notice, at least to half our party.   Yet we both come home smiling (and that's only partly due to the joy of mocha chip melting into a pretzel cone). 

 If you too have found yourself in the position of trying to coax a nonwalker to join you, or maybe you think you ought to take up walking but your heart's not in it, may I suggest berry picking?

I mean it.   A trip to the berry fields isn't going to bestow any sort of aerobic benefit, but a walk with another person is often more about the socializing than the exercising, so that's OK.  Here in the northeast the distance between the barn/farm stand where you pick up your bucket and the actual field can be anywhere from a quarter to a full mile.  The longer the distance the more chance that some sort of hayride or golf cart will be offered to you.  Decline the ride and you have your walk. 

Russel orchards path
And once you've reached your destination, wander the rows, see which ones have the most easily accessible fruit.  This is especially important if you're picking something with thorns.  You don't want to risk a thorn to the underarm as you reach, tippy toed for perfect berries just beyond your reach.  Trust me.  I know what I'm talking about.  


A trip to the berry fields may not make you (or anyone you bring with you) take up walking on a regular basis, but you're sure to smile as you ride home, fingers stained, teeth full of seeds and a bucket of berries at your feet.

***In case you're local and curious, the berry photos were taken at Russell Orchards Farm Store & Winery in Ipswich, MA and  Parlee Farms in Tyngsboro, MA***


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.

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. 




Shorter days do have one magnificent advantage.

When else is your daily walk likely to include a light show like this one?



Do you see the traveler?



Gute nacht.


For the astronomically minded, the moon pictured is a waning gibbous, 99% of full.  I'd never heard the term "gibbous" until a month ago when a second grader explained it to me.  Does knowing the definition make it any more beautiful?  Of course not, but I've always gotten a thrill from being able to name things, especially in the natural world.  I think it might run in the family.




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.