moving city

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We are apartment hunting which has me deeply nostalgic for our current apartment even as we live here for a few more months. Reminiscing the present is like writing a greeting card to yourself every morning when you wake up. Things become overwrought with significance.

It was originally our landlord’s idea, but once he suggested it, it felt right to us too. Comparing us to us back at our apartment tour, we now feel just a percentage too big, maybe 15%.

Four years, two infancies in our bedroom, a few rooftop drinks, lots of sleeping-in with light blazing onto our pillows (the eastern reach of the eastern time zone), watching rain fall over the park from the windows, watching the tops of the trees change from flowers to leaves. Actually, much of life lived through the windows, often open on both sides like a railroad car, like a porch you happened to enclose with brick walls and place sixty feet in the air.

Joan helping me in the kitchen, Lux in the bathtub, listening to The Last Battle, the sound of the narrator’s British accent coming through the door over her light splashing.

Lux watching the Hancock Tower’s weather beacon visible from her window and reciting the code to us as if it contained predictive magical powers: “Steady blue, clear view. Flashing blue, clouds due. Steady red, rain ahead. Flashing red, snow instead.”

The mice, a revolving chain of them, heedless of the abrupt disappearance of their elders.”I just saw something scamper in the kitchen, it looked like a bird, but I think it was a mouse.”

Four years with just a bathtub for bathing (such a lovely old fashioned word), fun years where I mentally added shower to the amenities I would enjoy on vacation, even when we were just staying over at a friend’s house for the night.

It’s hard to leave a stage you still love.

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Because we still love it, we have become persnickety rental hunters. We have no interest in replicating our space, we want everything we’ve loved so far, but more! Small, quirky, south facing windows, wood burning fireplace, pets welcome, heat & hot water included, washer & dryer, quiet at night, a real patio, wood floors, same fifteen minute commute for Joe. Because this Christmas list continues to be a hopeful prayer of mine I will avoid blasé language, but suffice to say Boston’s rental market is not in the business of making dreams come true.

Around this time of year I often visit friends with yards, kiddie pools, sidewalks, climbing trees, front porches, and extra bedrooms, and I have to stifle my awe of it all. Act natural like them. They shrug at the grandeur, “well, we’re thinking of re-doing the kitchen.” Their children totter from thing to thing, express boredom, ask for snacks. I become overwhelmed by the probability that my children would act the very same way in such circumstances, instead of turning into joyful competitive cyclists or champion swimmers like I secretly imagine.

(that said, I affirm any dissatisfactions with space, no matter how much of it. Having looked at approximately two hundred real estate listings, I believe we can say that space does not equal human comfort–comfort typically found in things like light that pools on the floor, windows that open, hearing your family while you cook, a room looking clean after you’ve cleaned it, the way a wall can expand a room instead of dividing it.

Is it odd or totally natural to experience deep identity crisis with a new home? Why are we as humans always leaning into things to make them who we are. Must your clothes, job, children, home, aspirations, facebook profile remind you of your value?

Naturally the girls hate the idea of moving. Like a loyal friend, they sing the praises of our current space  (“Isn’t it so quiet on this street Mom?”), brush over the negatives or simply don’t see them (“I don’t want to say this out loud around anyone because I might hurt their feelings, but we live on the top floor.”)

You could make the argument that fertility is arranging this need for a new apartment. We have outgrown it. It worked for the 3rd infancy, but with all five of us walking now, it feels clumsy; the enforced minimalism more insistent than we want it to be.

Fertility can seem like a moving walkway that keeps turning me into new things and handing me things–infancy, baby, kindergarten, drop off and pick up, doctors appointments, feeling late a lot, nights on zappos analyzing miniature sandal straps, grocery lists peppered with apples and peanut butter jars, afternoons that begin when I pack the snacks and end with a bowl of tuna fish between us on the floor, me scooping spoonfuls into their mouths.

To some extent I feel like an active participant, in others, like leaving this apartment, I feel like decisions were made by some other creature.

 

a hot chocolate stand in February

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A hot chocolate stand setup in 20 degrees is a very popular thing, almost too popular for us to keep up with! Lux watercolored the sign, and we found a spot in the sun next to our neighbor’s house. Mini marshmallows (in the Luxardo can) and whipped cream were included with purchase. Joan sat sedately behind the table, Lux eagerly filled cups, and our neighbor friend counted out change. They sold out quickly, and we learned a few lessons, like: always start with two gallons of milk, buy more cups than you think, and practice basic business habits (“thank you!” “have a nice day!”) beforehand. There was lots of talk about next time, and I’m already looking forward to it.

They made way too much money, because everyone was overpaying, which led to an easy lesson about net profit after cost and tithing.

Lux spent the rest of the day making jokes about how gross profit sounds like “gross pockets.” A thing, I might say, she knows quite a bit about.

I struggle to type anything against Ina Garten, but her onion dip recipe is a mix of sour cream and cream cheese which is too sweet to go with onions. Julia Turshen’s adds mayo to sour cream with a 1tsp douse of sherry vinegar. An action that suggests that you put the “salt and vinegar” in the dip instead of the chip. (Her dip recipe, though I did a thin-sliced caramelized onions version instead of roasted scallions.)

My super bowl weekend was a new jar of pickles and gin martinis with fresh orange juice, the girls running down to the neighbors’ to color while I cooked venison burgers in silence, save the sizzle. Reading Best American Essays 2016, edited by Jonathan Franzen, which is excellent so far. Too many twitter checks for me, for sure, but what’s a savvy girl to do these days? I saw a pussy hat out in the wild, shopping with her daughter, and I realized: these pink handknit babies will be with us all winter! We’ll see them out: pulling sleds, loading up groceries, examining birthday cards in the aisles of Target, shoveling sidewalks. A cheering thought.

 

 

January 2, milk street

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This week I listened to vintage Diane Rehm episodes. She has already retired from her daily radio show, but before she did, she replayed old favorite episodes. In one, an interview with her best friend, they confess that they’ve spoken to each other every morning at 7am for over thirty years. ADULT. GOALS.

(Thank you to reader Julia for suggesting these wireless headphones for nap time listening/doing, right when I needed something to ask for Christmas! Thanks mom.)

But I began by listening to her interview with Fred Rogers, a show which sounded like a pillow and a blanket had curled up to talk to each other and recorded it for radio. Quiet and deeply soothing. I listened to the whole thing on the couch and nearly teared up it was so encouraging.

After the episode finished I immediately hunted down the current best-method to watch Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, which is: all seven seasons streaming on Amazon, free to prime members. What a gift to modern parents! The girls have both watched Daniel Tiger, the cartoon iteration produced by PBS that carries many of the same sensibilities (and the background-ambient feeling that this is all just a rouse to make better parents out of us), but I see a big difference between the shows. On the Neighborhood adults are running into each other all day and interacting: well mannered and thoughtful. You see adults shaking hands, asking after each other’s health, thanking each other, and bidding good day. You see Mr. Rogers make a point to greet his local shoe salesman, his grocer, his milkman. Watching this social courtesy modeled in slow-motion on television is really quite something.

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Another wonderful thing from last week: I had the great pleasure of visiting 177 Milk Street, Christopher Kimball’s (founder of Cook’s Illustrated) new endeavor in downtown Boston. Like Cook’s Illustrated, Milk Street has a TV and radio show and a bimonthly magazine. However, unlike Cook’s Illustrated, they have designed their kitchen to host monthly classes and talks. It is a wide open space with fabulous big windows, located right in the heart of downtown. They are offering free cooking classes to Boston teenagers, which is so cool.

I went with a gaggle of wonderful-cook girlfriends to see Julia Turshen. Julia was a wee bit shorter in person than I expected after seeing many photographs of her fabulous hair. She was soft spoken yet an amazing public speaker. She made several simple recipes for us but even in their simplicity we were all able to pick up a few professional tricks. For example, before mincing garlic, she always crushes the cloves under her knife to flatten them. Genius. When adding garlic to a pan of olive oil, she tips the pan for a minute so the garlic can merrily slosh around and very-nearly fry. She said she roasts pretty much everything at 425–easy to remember!

There’s something reassuring about watching a professional do things you do in your kitchen every day.

So we began with glasses of wine, potato chips, and scoops of her scallion chip dip. Then we sat and watched her cook (luxury!), then we got to taste everything and get our cookbooks signed. It was really fun and I highly recommend it for your next outing.

The photo above is from when I made her turkey and ricotta meatballs along with her very easy to doctor-up can-of-tomato sauce. The next morning I turned the leftovers into shakshuka, where you poach eggs in the simmering sauce (takes about ten minutes, just dump them in and put a lid on the pan) and then serve with a crumble of goat cheese.

secret peek at your neighbor-human

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Even if you skate alone ice skating is romantic because it is a valentine to winter. People leave their cozy couches and make their way in the cold to a clear patch of blue ice. Then they lean down and yank-yank on their skate laces, totter like penguins over rubber mats, and finally step with their steel spindles onto the frozen water.

A few sail away like pretty ships, but many, many, slip and slide, fail, flail and laugh. Get back up, grab their friend’s hand, do it again. Laugh at themselves, lunge into the wall, gently push off, start over. Adults do this! They pay to do it! Sure, some of them are high on drugs, or optimism, or both. But they do it and it’s inspiring to see.

Sometimes you see someone walk out, just a guy, dressed in sweats. Maybe he’s slouching. His hat is covering his eyes. He walks to the ice and all of sudden it’s like he’s dancing. You can’t help but watch his ankles because they are like two birds weaving through the trees. He’s so good! Did he play hockey? Did his mom used to take him skating as a kid? Does he love to skate by himself on Tuesday afternoons every week? We’ll never know. Without them saying a word, you get a secret peek into your neighbor-human and you see how talented and graceful they are, and you just admire them so much, these strangers.

The Ocean House, Rhode Island

We were so fortunate to be hosted by my mom and my aunt Anne in Rhode Island a few weekends ago. My sister Joanie and two of my brothers were also able to come. My mom had reserved rooms at the Ocean House and we managed to squeeze everyone in together.

On the way down we stopped at Monahan’s for a classic clam shack experience, tables outside near the water, fried oysters or clams (you don’t always see both, actually) and lobster rolls. We should have stopped off at Matunuck’s Oyster Bar on the drive as well, but we regrettably decided to wait until later that weekend (and never made it). My mom from Michigan, and my aunt from Denver, kept exclaiming over the smell of the ocean.

In the fall, the Ocean House puts boxes of apple varieties on the front steps for guests to sample on their way in or out. It was this small perk, and the adorable downstairs candy and doughnut shop, that topped the girls’ memories of the place.

The hotel is absolutely stunning. Its restoration was a labor of love by a local man who wanted to save the land from turning into condos. I could not stop taking pictures of it, and I often found myself hiking around the long way just to see it from another perspective.

Not surprisingly the beauty of the property, the time with my family, all their help with the girls, the extra undisturbed time to put Alma down for a nap, and the long dinners together, were totally restorative!

We were all able to sit on one of the giant teak porches for dinner both nights, watching the slow sunset, eating local oysters, and catching up on all we’d missed in the past few months.

The town of Watch Hill is a five minute walk from the front steps of Ocean House. The tiny carousel was closed for the season, but cozy wood-raftered St. Claire’s Annex was serving breakfast with fresh squeeze mimosas, Huxter was stocked like a slim closet for an elegant east coast surfer with a taste for nice dinners, Ten Sandwiches had espresso and sandwiches, and the iconic pink walls of the Olympia Tea Room were visible through the spotless glass windows.

Ocean House has a free borrow-a-car ahem, borrow-a-Mercedes-Benz, program. You show up at the front desk and ask if any cars are available at that moment. If there is one, they pull one around for you right away. Thanks to all the devoted volunteers, Joe and I were able to go for a short (FAST) drive together. I wanted to show him the rolling green farmland-n-pond drive to the Weekapaug Inn. Then we drove on for a bookstore date to The Savoy. I found the hardcover of a book I’d read on the kindle, Fates and Furies. I loved that book and it was fun to see its beckoning presence in a real live bookstore. (We bought Commonwealth, Substitute, and for the whole family: Thing Explainer.)

After we got back, we handed the car on to my brother and his girlfriend for their own tour.

Oh, let us remain fearless in the face of school calendars. Let September and October always be dotted with crossed off long weekends of refreshment! Let late beach visits and still-long sunny days and hotels that feel peacefully abandoned flourish alongside neatly packed lunchboxes and clean uniforms.

 

That First Year

on the occasion of our 8th anniversary

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I remember the overwhelming satisfaction of moving into an apartment that was only for us. We firmly believed it was a perfect apartment. Each guest that came to visit, we waited for them to observe the perfection aloud (many of them instead noted the petite bathroom). The curtains we bought for the bedroom were the wrong color, the shelves Joe built in the kitchen were exactly right. The insanity of the wedding gifts, how amazing all those things were! We were given a beautiful, enormous wooden salad bowl that June. I found it bizarrely large, couldn’t seem to fit in anywhere in our apartment, couldn’t imagine making a salad that large, and I returned it.

Now, age-old-like-cheese me, longs for an enormous wooden salad bowl.

I don’t remember the quarrels, but I remember we had them and that they seemed Very Serious. Perhaps it is age (again) but based on how rarely they happen now, I feel sure they were nothing but the mumbo-jumbo of believing all of your emotions deserved to be said aloud.

It must have taken a year, maybe two, to discover was how to motivate each other. There’s a theory that you give the type of love you hope to receive (debatable), but certainly you encourage in the way that encourages…you. For me that is soft phrases implying the work has already been finished, I need only to do a bit more to dust it off. Even better if it is implied that the work doesn’t need to be done at all, but if I cared to, well then, it would be nice. For Joe, what wakes him up in the morning are stark roadmaps that give way to how much still needs to be accomplished. The sight of a nearly-burned-out building, for him, is just the thing to set to work on.

The metaphor carries easily to housework—I keep up with tasks like clean countertops, a full fridge, and the constant reincarnation of dirty dishes. Joe prefers overhauling the bathroom or vacuuming the entire apartment after five wool blankets were dragged over the carpet.

But mostly I bring up encouragement in the meaningful adult sense—ideas you want to pursue, important shifts in your habits, projects at work, projects for yourself. Encouraging each other in these areas is one of the best elements of marriage.

My parents asked us to take a financial course within our first year of marriage. The sessions ironed out most wrinkles in our mental wardrobe of crumpled habits. (We had revealed a few subliminal expectations already through reading the book Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts which suggested asking about things like do you always order dessert? and, when you stop for gas, do you buy a snack? The book is not amazing, but it did have its moments.) The course encouraged a joint bank account, something that we would have done anyway. It required that we document, on paper, all spending for three months. First month: document. Second month: document, set a goal, but go easy on the slip-ups. Third month: document, set a goal, do your very best to reach it.

We tracked ours on a small library card tacked to the fridge, his and her handwriting marking small deductions by turn. When you do that you encounter the thrill of marking down something you were excited to buy together, but also the sapping drag of a purchase already you wished you’d skipped. Three digit bills seem enormous, but endless tiny ones add up as well. Without noticing, you began to value the days you didn’t have to write anything down.

I remember grocery shopping and not knowing what to buy; me in the aisle with my hand hovering before a box of crackers wondering do we both like these?

I wanted to be impressive in my capacity to cook well, but spend little. But I believed true couples’ cooking was Cook’s Illustrated recipes—expensive meals, perfectly executed, preferably heavy on the carbs. I wanted to make only new things. It took us a year, at least, to pin down that we usually wanted to eat different things. Joe wanted chicken breast and a vegetable. I wanted four cheese pasta. We both wanted tomato egg sandwiches, caramels from the shop around the corner now and then, and in the summer–peaches and cottage cheese for dinner.

(Though I remember cooking a garlicky shrimp pasta from the tomes of Cook’s Illustrated for a classmate of Joe’s. And as he ate, he sighed and quietly said, like a restaurant.)

the first hot weekend

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I found a drawer for the sunscreen, sun hats, sunglasses, sun shirts, and the bright bathing suits that pile together like fresh picked wildflowers. I can’t wait to use it every day.

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We all have sandals but I’ll probably order another round just to be safe. Sandals are the ninety-nine problems shoes, in my experience. It would be better if we could apply a seasonal permanent sole to the children’s feet. Easily removed with mineral oil, come autumn. Young corked, or maybe, rubberized feet would be a small price to pay not worry once about the buckles, the velcro, the pinched toe, the rubbed heel, the way they slide a bit when they’re wet, the way they don’t fit now but will in July, the way one falls off under the restaurant chair and both fall off in the car.

But of course I would never go for this because, aside from feeling squeamish about plastic adhesive surgery on the very young, the truth is I love all their sandals. I love how they show the toes, love how their texture is faintly squishy, love how they cut around their ankles so prettily, love how once discarded, in the sand, they look like oval lollipops.

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This weekend we went hiking, a hobby that has unexpectedly become an interest of ours, though ideally not launched on a day, like Saturday, forecasted to be ninety degrees. My friend suggested the Blue Hills, a convenient half hour drive. The Blue Hills website is what really wooed me–the old fashioned list layout, with photos!–was ideal for finding the hike we wanted. After a sweaty thirty minute hike, blessedly circular, we picnicked on sparse provisions that I had thrown together before we left and then searched for a place to put our feet in water. Only a seven minutes away was Houghton’s Pond, clearly no secret as approximately two hundred other people had already thought to visit that day. There were small grassy hills with shade, a playground, a large bathroom facility, and parking.

The pond itself was fresh water, lukewarm and sandy-dirty. The girls got in with just their underwear (bathing suits having been ignored in their new drawer-home) but it felt wonderful and from there we could walk to a small snack shop for syrupy slushies.

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Juliet, Union Square, Somerville

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Juliet is tucked into the old Sherman Cafe space in Union Square, neighbors with the ultra cool Loyal Supply Co. Sherman’s space never had the right vibe layout-wise, but on the weekends they did make toothsome english muffins, and Joe and I used to go there back when I lived up the street and he was in graduate school for architecture.

They’ve remodeled the space so it feels full of light, white, and wood. You can go for a prix fixe lunch at the counter, meaning they decide the menu for you. Or you can come in and just get a lovely coffee and sandwich and sit at one of the tables. In the evening for dinner, the roles are reversed–à la carte at the counter, or prix fixe at the tables.

I love the idea of a luxurious lunch where you commit to sitting through dessert from the very beginning. My friend Lisa and I ubered over together from Boston last week. It was so relaxing and I loved sitting at the counter watching the cooks prep hundreds of vegetables for their dinner and lunch tomorrow (realizing I could really learn a thing or two, or six, about how to cut mushrooms well). Lisa went off the menu, something they usually can’t offer at the counter but were able to because it was quiet, to order a kale salad and a lobster roll.

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The prix fixe comes with a house made soda (it was rooibos when we were there, delicious!) and of course dessert (one slice light lemon tart, perfectly homemade).

However since you are in Union Square already, and it’s not every day that you’re there, I think walking over to Union Square Donuts for one more sweet bite is worth it. If that somehow doesn’t appeal, Gracie’s Ice Cream (home of the cone with toasted fluff) is right there as well.

Tea at the Boston Public Library

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Joe’s parents came to town last weekend and then my mom came shortly after. It was so wonderful to have all that love for the girls around! Plus, Joe and I enjoy planning these short visits and filling them with all the good things as best we can manage. For Joe’s family we spent a morning at the Museum of Fine Arts to see the amazing Megacities show (I picked up a library pass beforehand to offset the cost a bit). From the museum we drove to the greenway and went to the Public Market and picked up a few bags of the amazing roasted nuts from Q’s nuts for snacking, plus some very ripe, very cheap fruit from the outside Haymarket weekend vendors. The girls played on the greenway benches and grass till dinner time when we ordered lobster rolls from Pauli’s to eat outside. The next day Joe and I took his brother Ross for an evening at the wonderfully funky Hojoko, followed by shakes outside at Tasty Burger. And on Sunday after Alma’s baptism, we spent the morning in the Public Garden with Swan Boats, finally seeking drinks and hot chocolates in the Bristol Lounge at the Four Seasons when we got too cold.

My mom comes to visit more frequently, so I often use that grandmotherly babysitting time to do things like get a haircut, go to a pediatrician appointment with just one child, return clothes and try on clothes in the actual store, get lunch with a friend, or go out to dinner with girlfriends. What I just typed up is basically my complete personal hit list of wonder!

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My mom and I started a tradition of going out to tea and this time I remembered to make a reservation at the BPL Courtyard Restaurant. I thought the food was delicious, really, and the staff was very accommodating and kind with the girls. Alma fell asleep in the stroller right before we went in, which always feels like such a lucky break!

It runs $35 each, we ordered three teas total, and made it our lunch-dinner for the day.

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The girls know all about sugar cubes because I like them in my afternoon coffee, so this jar provided immediate distraction when we sat down. They do offer high chairs or booster seats, but the girls preferred the wide armchairs.

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When the food came Joan made a point to inspect everything on the trays and pick out her favorites–which turned out to be one of nearly everything. Actually it’s a little silly that I order these grand teas–I’m really obsessed with scones and that’s all I eat, especially with the devonshire cream and jam.

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The tea is served in the BPL Courtyard restaurant Wednesday-Saturday, a spot that feels hidden and quiet from chaotic Copley Square. If anyone gets overtired or overwhelmed, you can always step back out into the sunlit courtyard. And absolutely you should head upstairs to the children’s library after your meal! We got there just in time for a story hour and craft.

tea_skeptics^^This was before they saw those tea trays. And the sugar jar.

 

Museum of Fine Arts

During Joe’s paternity leave he took the girls to the MFA and the Harvard Museum of Art frequently. Originally I suggested that he take them to one of my favorite programs–the homeschool Fridays at the MFA. He did that one time, and told me he didn’t like how programatic it was. Which is funny because that’s exactly what I like about it! We realized we each have preferred styles for outings with the kids. I like to plan ahead and have plenty of direction. Joe likes to decide that morning, and riff on the plan as he goes. A nice thing to discover.

On a grey day this week, a day guaranteed to rain all day, Alma and I got to tag along on one of their trips. Joe led the way, and asked the girls a good question to frame our time: what kind of thing do you want to see? They said a tapestry, and a painting of Mary. We never did find a tapestry, but we found plenty of Marys.

“I just love to see children in art museums,” someone commented to me as the girls twirled and semi-sprinted through a gallery. Which is exactly what someone should say when they see kids in public spaces!

And we managed to eat lunch in the lovely glass courtyard. With the new addition, completed in 2010, the restaurant was given an amazing space–centered in the atrium built between the old building and the new. The 63ft high ceilings and the equally high windows dull the acoustics and make you fee like you’re the only table in the place, while the green plants outside make for the most soothing view. We asked for a table along the edge so the girls could hop off their seats to wander while they waited for food.

Joan really really likes to hold onto whatever stroller I’m pushing Alma in. She’s like the guide dog trotting alongside beside me.

Please note the silverware that was used as a distraction before the food arrived.My lunch: steak and cheese. Favorite things!Alma life

Hallway bench, a classic breastfeeding oasis (though they do also offer a lovely enclosed nursing room, near the entrance).