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When I was a kid, my Mom encouraged me to weed through my toys before Christmas. Reasoning I’d have more room for Santa to bring me new toys if I gave away some of my old ones, I’d set aside the toys I no longer played with, and my Mom would take these to Goodwill so other children could enjoy them.


Kids in Newton seem to do something similar, but instead of bagging up old toys to take to Goodwill or the Salvation Army, parents leave these toys out on the curb for any interested neighbor or passerby to claim: a grassroots form of curbside recycling where everything eventually finds a new, appreciative home.

Outside the ICA

In New England in late November, you don’t have to stay out late to stay out after dark. When we arrived at the Institute of Contemporary Art a little after 3 pm, the sun was already setting, and by the time we left at closing time two hours later, it was completely dark.

Underpass on A Street

In New England in late November, you silently give thanks for any light that brightens your path, whether it comes from candles lit in windows, colorful displays lit in shop windows, or delicate strings of tiny blue Christmas lights strung beneath an otherwise ordinary underpass.

Johnny Kelley - Young at Heart

The statue of Boston Marathon legend Johnny Kelley at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Walnut Street here in Newton serves as a kind of shrine for long-distance runners, many of whom leave medals or race bibs from the races they’ve completed: an offering left to honor a man who still inspires.

Shoe offerings

I always wonder about the people who leave these mementos. Why not keep the keepsakes they trained so hard to earn, and why give them to a statue rather than a flesh-and-blood person?

But in asking these questions, I reveal how little I understand of a marathoner’s mind. In the the course of training and then running a marathon, there must be many times when runners hearken to their inner pantheon of heroes, reminding themselves that if Johnny Kelley could run the Boston Marathon 61 times, win it twice, and complete his final race at the age of 84, they can finish their own marathon, too.

Johnny Kelley - Young at Heart

The title of Johnny Kelley’s statue is “Young at Heart,” and it shows a youthful Kelley running his first marathon hand-in-hand with his older self. I can only assume that the runners who leave well-worn shoes at Johnny Kelley’s feet do so because they feel he somehow ran alongside them during their marathons, too.

A heaping pile of candy

As if a galaxy of toys weren’t alluring enough, the window display at Green Planet Kids in Newton Highlands now features a heaping pile of Halloween candy, which begs the obvious question. If you were a child, which would you prefer: a heaven filled with candy or one piled high with toys?

Aldermanic Chamber

Today J and I walked over to Newton City Hall for this weekend’s Newton Open Studios juried art festival. Newton City Hall is an impressive old building that houses an assortment of municipal offices, and today a variety of painters, potters, and other artisans set up booths in the hallways, right next to offices where locals pay parking tickets and register for marriage licenses.

Second floor women's restroom

Because Newton City Hall is an old building, it doesn’t have central air conditioning, so when I ducked into the second floor ladies’ room, I was met by a heaping pile of window AC units, including a surprisingly small one marked “Mayor.” More impressive than the crowded corner where air conditioners hibernate was the empty Aldermanic Chamber where each city alderman has a seat at a set of circled desks, each one piled with important-looking paperwork.

Goodies from the Newton Open Studios fall juried art festival

The whole point of an art festival, however, is the art, so J and I did our civic duty by purchasing a handful of locally crafted items, including a pair of figurative mugs by Emma Vesey and a ceramic tile by Lisa Blacher. All art tells a story, and when you buy an artwork directly from the artist, that piece forever has a face on it.


The fall foliage in the Boston suburbs is now past peak, which means it’s my favorite time of year, when the ground is just as colorful as the trees. I like the crunch of leaves underfoot, and I like the burnt and burnished tone of the late-changers, who lean toward brown and bronze. October is ethereal, with bright colors overhead, and November is grounded, with earth tones underfoot.

Please don't erase

Several of the lounges in Framingham State’s new science center, Hemenway Labs, have whiteboard walls, giving students plenty of space to scribble graphs and equations while they work. Although I’m not a scientist and don’t understand most of what these figures mean, I enjoy seeing them. As a writer, I deeply respect the blank page, and that’s basically what a whiteboard wall is. Whether you’re scribbling the draft of an essay or a graphic equation, you’re translating an imaginary idea into a visual figure that others can see and comment on. Where once there was nothing, now there is a visual expression of deep ideas.

Whiteboard dragon

This morning in my first-year writing class, I asked students to take a learning style assessment. Some of my students already know whether they are auditory, visual, or tactile learners, but others don’t, and I think it’s helpful for students to understand how they learn. Since I myself am a visual learner–someone, that is, who likes to see the shape of an idea and who remembers concepts according to where I saw them on the page–it makes sense that I love the whiteboard walls in Hemenway Labs. I’ve always struggled to do math in my head, so even the most complicated figure makes more sense to me than a verbal explanation of that same concept.

Fun with whiteboard walls

Whether or not they are visual learners, college students are perpetually stressed, so it should come as no surprise that some of the whiteboards in Hemenway Labs are covered with cartoon doodles that have very little to do with science. One thoughtful soul even went so far as to leave a mandala coloring book and shared stash of markers for anyone who wants to color their way to calm: visual learning at its best.

Communal art supplies

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