Lexington Feed

Star Spotting

Boston isn't an entertainment hub like L.A. or New York, but we do get our share of celebrities.  I've even run into a couple when I've been out on walks.  I saw the chef/restaurateur Todd English enjoying the sidewalk dining at Blue Ribbon BBQ.  If you're ever in the area, I have to recommend their cornbread, or more accurately their corn cake! 

While walking in Boston's Back Bay one evening I passed a man with curly hair that looked incredibly familiar, but couldn't figure out  how I knew him.  Had we worked together?  Did I recognize him from campus?   It was five blocks before I realized I'd never met him, but I'd seen him in countless movies.  His name? John C. Reilly

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Sadly, I was not walking through downtown Lexington in August of 2009.  At least not at the right times.  If I had been, I would have seen Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams filming scenes for the movie The Fighter.  According to a write up in Lexington's Colonial Times Magazine, there are scenes in the movie where the couple goes to a movie at our town's little, two screen, independent theater!  I wonder if they shot any scenes in the loft-like upstairs theater.  Somehow I suspect they went with the more traditional main one.  I heard somewhere that the bead store next to the theater got a bit of a makeover as a thrift shop for the movie, but that wasn't mentioned in the article.     Reportedly hundreds of people lined the street to view the filming.  How did I miss all that?  I guess it's not such a small town afterall.  

The article says "Heather Aveson has been to the Venue twice to see the film and each time she reports that the audience responded with applause and enthusiasm as the Lexington scenes appeared on the big screen."  I have to admit, I wasn't especially interested in seeing The Fighter when I saw the previews, but now I want to see it just to play "spot the landmarks".  It wasn't that long ago that I was at that very movie theater to see The Ghost Writer.   A murmur of recognition went through the audience when Ewan McGregor's character crossed the iconic Bourne Bridge leaving Cape Cod.  I'm sure the same thing happened when The Town, set in Boston/Charlestown, was in the theaters.  I know it did in my living room.  We rewound a chase scene to figure out exactly where in the North End they'd filmed!  And of course Good Will Hunting is full of local shots.

So give three cheers for greater Boston's newest movie star!

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The Power of Soup

That cold Canadian air that has been spreading across the country, made it's way to New England this week.  Yesterday we woke to -5 degree weather.  The high for the day was forecasted to be 8 degrees.  This is child's play compared to the temperatures that Minnesota and other midwestern states have been dealing with, but it's plenty cold for me.   So I pulled the shades (in an effort to conserve heat in this drafty old house), grabbed some extra afghans from the closet and thanked my lucky stars I had no reason to be outside.

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Today the sidewalks (outside the Center) look like this.   Would you want to go for a walk?  No, me neither.  My brain said I ought to get some fresh air after being cooped up, but that argument wasn't convincing me.  Then I realized if I took a short walk, I could stop at Vij's Convenience and pick up some of their soup for dinner.  In minutes I was bundled up and awkwardly making my way across the icy terrain.

You may remember me mentioning Vij's back on my Thanksgiving post.  It is just the sort of locally owned business that separates Lexington center from the main street of other towns.  Jay, the owner knows his customers by name.  If someone doesn't come in for a while he grows concerned and asks if all is well the next time he sees them.  I'm always in buying milk and Jay checks the dates on the bottles as he rings me up.  If the expiration is coming up soon, (not expired yet, just soon), he switches it for a bottle with a better date.  With that sort of eye for detail, you can probably imagine how good the soup is.  And if you have any doubts, just think, it's worth walking several blocks of an icy obstacle course to get to it.

I'm home again now.  The hat, mittens, neck gaiter, boots, and second pair of socks have all come off and I'm warming up from the inside out with my hearty tortilla soup.  The weathermen are forecasting more snow for tomorrow.  I think when the shoveling is over, I'll be rewarding myself with another steaming bowl of Vij's soup. 

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Walking Willards Woods

Winter sports look so graceful and effortless.  The skater slides and spins across the ice; the skier pours over moguls, knees adjusting like well greased pistons; the snowboarder cuts from edge to edge with the most minute muscular adjustments, and the child squeals with joy as she flies down the side of a hill.  Even something as exhausting as cross-country skiing appears relaxing.  When I think of these sports, I always manage to forget the falls, the bruises, the toes gone numb with cold, the  muscles shaking with exhaustion, the long trudge back up the hill pulling an unwieldy sled behind me.  And so I was surprised, and then not so surprised to find that snowshoeing is much more of a work out than Grizzly Adams ever made it appear.   

Last Wednesday we got somewhere between 1.5 and 2 feet of snow.  That evening, once the winds had let up and the shoveling was done, I finally got to try out my new snowshoes! 


These are Yukon Charlie's, 825 series, and yes those are pajama bottoms I'm wearing.  They were the warmest, dry pair of pants I had at the moment. 

It wasn't until I had gotten outside that I realized I hadn't read anything about how to put on or adjust the snowshoes.  Thankfully the toe straps worked just like the bindings on my snowboard, but I did manage to put them on the wrong feet (the straps should point to the outside of the foot).  I felt some doubt as I looked at the wall of snow in front of me and considered stepping out onto it.  Would I just sink down and get mired in the snow like a toddler? 


That first experience was not all that I'd hoped it would be.  I sunk about half way to the ground with each step.  Somehow I'd imagined I would only sink and inch or two, not that I'd based this idea on any research of any kind.  With each step I banged the rear end of the shoes together and  there was a lag between when my foot started to lift and when the shoe followed it (my straps were too loose).  I went in feeling tired and a bit let down. 

After applying the H.A.L.T. rule to that first snowshoeing experience, I decided I better give it another try.  The HALT rule says that you should never make any decisions or trust your impressions when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.  I was certainly tired the night I tried out my snowshoes.  So yesterday I gathered up my gear and headed to the closest place I could think of that would have open snowy areas, ideal for a newbie, and a plowed parking lot.  That place was Willards Woods.   


Willards Woods is one of the larger and better know conservation areas in Lexington.  Long before I'd ever been there, I knew of its existence through seeing "Save Willards Woods" bumper stickers.  I think those stickers may have been part of a debate over whether or not people should be allowed to let their dogs roam free over the 100 acres.  In the end a compromise was reached, with leashes being optional on certain days of the week. 

As I left the parking lot and entered the old orchard area, I was excited to see snowshoe tracks and pole marks running parallel to the trail walkers had packed into the snow.  I looked out at the field of mainly unbroken snow, and thought this is what I'd imagined.  

I roamed like a puppy, following whatever caught my eye.

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A stump that looks like a heron wading in the shallows.

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Evidence of squirrels commuting between the woods and a lone, tall pine tree in the field.

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The ripples of a stream caught in ice, resulting in lace-like forms.

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And the always awe inspiring peace of the woods in winter.

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That morning I'd found a quote from Kurt Vonnegut on our refrigerator, placed there in the night by my partner Z.  It said “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is'."

After 40 minutes of snowshoeing I was sweaty and exhausted, but it had sure been nice. 

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In the Bleak Midwinter

These days the sun makes it just over the treeline and then sighs in exhaustion and starts to set.  The short hours of daylight make me eager to follow the sun's lead and head for bed early...say 5 o'clock.  But in the weeks leading up to the winter solstice,  it was the seemingly endless, impenetrable darkness that made the Christmas lights' glow all the brighter. 

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I love the traditional New England, understated candle in each window look, but I couldn't capture one with my camera.  So here are a few houses that are classic, in a slightly more lavish way.

This house is in Winchester.  I assume the garland of fruit above the door must be fake, but from the sidewalk it looked quite real.   It made me think of the historic homes of Portsmouth NH, where citrus was used as a sign of wealth and hospitality, especially in the cold of winter. 

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This house made me want to just stand and stare.  And I did, until I started to worry that someone would notice.    I love the child-sized toy soldiers guarding the entrance and the Christmas tree filling those floor to ceiling windows.  I wonder what it's like to be on the inside of a house with that sort of window.  Do you feel like you're in a fishbowl or do you become oblivious to it?  They're absolutely lovely from the outside.  

I've only seen such windows on historical homes, which makes me wonder how the original inhabitants ever stayed warm through a Massachusetts winter.  The only thing I can imagine is that it was a symbol of wealth, the sort of thing that says "I'm so rich I can afford to be wasteful", just like owning a Hummer today. 

Lex center

I get nostalgic at the site of the big, orb-like Christmas lights (like the ones in the first picture in this post), but I'm happy to say that a couple years  ago our town took up a donation to change all the town holiday lighting to more efficient LED bulbs. 

IMG_3988 The trees on Mass Ave appear draped in fairly lights.  I was walking under them last week during a snow shower and it was like walking through a snow globe.

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Just take a look at the beautiful holiday display the newest addition to downtown created.  Don't you just want to spend a wintry afternoon in there surrounded by books?  At the time they hadn't even opened yet, but thanks to this display (and my love of children's books) I can't wait to make The Elephant's Trunk a walk destination.  I've found having an enticing destination can be the difference between putting on enough gear to face the cold for a walk, and staying inside quilting with a mug of hot cocoa. 

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Early each December Lexington has a shopper's night where the stores stay open past dinner (the usual closing time for all but the restaurants and the movie theater), Santa arrives via a firetruck, the symphony does a great holiday concert and carolers stroll the streets and shops.  Here's a quick video of one performing group.  I couldn't quite decide if it was rude or not to tape them, so I tried not to make it too obvious.


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One of my favorite walks I took this holiday season was through a residential area while listening to A Christmas Carol.  I've seen quite a few plays and movie adaptations of the story, but the original text has such wonderful description it's almost a new story.  Take for example this line from a description of the Christmas party Scrooge's first employer gave. "In came a fiddler with a music-book and went up to the lofty desk, and made such an orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty stomach-aches".  Who would think to compare a sound to a stomach ache?  Yet it works, I heard it and I knew just what a racket was being made.  If you'd like to hear the story (and get some great insight into why it's called a carol and other things you may never have considered before), check out Craftlit.

I think I've mentioned before that I often associate a certain place with what I was listening to when I walked there.  A Christmas Carol, and specifically Marley's chains will come to mind each time I walk past this grandstand.  You might recognize it from my post about summer music.


And this lovely home is now connected in my mind to the party the Ghost of Christmas Past has Scrooge revisit.

Now Christmas is past, and once the new year begins the lights will slowly disappear from people's homes.  Officially the days are getting longer once again, so I suppose we don't need those lights quite so much to brighten our days and nights.  But it was truly a feast for the eyes while it lasted.  I'm looking forward to next year's.

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The Thanksgiving Stroll

There's joy in watching people do the same things you enjoy doing.  I love watching people do crafts, or even better, spend time pouring over book s.  So it should come as no surprise that it makes me happy to see people out for a walk together, a stroll really, the sort of walk that has no purpose other than the chance to be outside and together.

Thanksgiving morning,  I stopped at Vij's Convenience (the absolute friendliest store in Lexington) for some pre-pie-baking caffeine and found it packed with a family buying hot tea and coffee after a cold morning ramble.  Their cheeks were as red as the old timey candy the kids were asking to buy.  They were joking with the owner and having such a merry time it reminded me of the nephew in Dicken's A Christmas Carol.  Thanksgiving and Christmas are the only times I can think of when brothers and sisters, their spouses and children would get together and go for a morning stroll.  There's a stillness to the streets on those days, when the stores are closed and people have left their routine to be with one another, that's perfect for walking.

  Gibsons summer 1872

My family, circa 1872

I can find holidays rather infuriating due to all the expectations and stress that surround them, but a family stroll is the absolute opposite.  It hearkens back to what we like to consider "a simpler time" without seeming forced or prescribed.   What could be more natural when family comes together and the small talk has dried up, and the kids are both restless and excited, than to get outside and take a walk?  Suddenly there are things to see and comment on.  Conversation resumes.   And if it doesn't that's OK too, because now instead of sitting, staring at each other, it's possible to enjoy each other's company whether you're talking or not.

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As I drove to the house where I would be enjoying Thanksgiving dinner, I smiled to see so many people walking the streets of downtown, peering in the shop windows.   I drove past three cyclists, protected only by spandex from the gusting wind, and imagined their dinner bubbling in the oven at home and just how good it would taste after their frigid ride.  I even saw a couple girls out for a walk with their grandparents and their goats.  Yes, goats!  The goats were on leashes and walked behind their little masters as docilely as dogs.

Later in the day, after my friends and I had eaten heartily, I'm happy to say we joined the ranks of the Thanksgiving Day walkers.  We waved to neighbors enjoying a drink on their porch, and we glimpsed a raucous family football game.  We called hearty hellos and Thanksgiving wishes to the strangers that we passed, and I felt grateful to be out walking surrounded by the people I love.


  • I had the song "Over the River and Through the Woods" stuck in my head yesterday as I drove to and from Thanksgiving dinner.  It turns out that that it has a local connection.  There's an interesting post about it on the New England Folklore blog.
  • If you've never actually read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, or would love to hear it again to help get in the holiday mood, a great audio version is available for free through Craftlit.  You can stream it online or download it to a variety of gadgets.