Shiny happy things


Making a chocolate mouse

Last night J and I watched the 1960s episode of a History Channel program called “Christmas Through the Decades.” Both J and I were born at the end of the 1960s, so many of the advertisements, toys, and other pop culture artifacts mentioned on the show figured prominently in our 1970s childhoods. (Throughout my childhood and into my teens, for instance, I grew up with an aluminum Christmas tree my parents had bought when such trees were all the rage.)

Food porn for chocoholics

One of the quintessential Christmas touchstones mentioned on the show was the Sears “Wish Book” catalog that children of our generation used to pore over like Scripture in the months leading up to Christmas. Both J and I have vivid memories of paging through paper catalogs, making a mental list of the items we wanted. For J, Radio Shack catalogs were his preferred wish book, and for me, the Service Merchandise catalog pictured all the toys I could ever hope for. Although I knew better than to confront Santa with a long wishlist–Santa, like my parents, was frugal and tended to bring whatever toys were on clearance–simply looking at a well-illustrated catalog was almost as good as actually receiving the toys you wished for, the toys in your imagination never growing old or wearing out.

White chocolate snowman

Nowadays, I toss Christmas catalogs directly in the recycling bin, finding it much easier to browse and shop online. But in today’s mail, J received a catalog and calendar from L.A. Burdick Chocolate, and I swiftly claimed both. Just as a small child can spend hours poring over pictures of toys in a catalog, I as an adult can easily fill an afternoon looking at calendar-quality food porn.

Be the best version of yourself

This week the Framingham State community is celebrating a Week of Kindness, which means there are random compliments and words of encouragement posted all over campus.

Keep the kindness coming

We’re at a particularly busy point of the semester: both students and faculty alike are swamped with work, and it seems like everyone is sleep-deprived, sick, or both. We’re at the exact moment in the semester, in other words, when everyone could use a word of encouragement, even if that word is written on an anonymous Post-It note.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the things I love about watching the Boston Marathon every year is the way spectators cheer and wave signs to encourage random strangers:

Bathroom selfie with Week of Kindness post-it.

Can you imagine a world where we cheered each other on like this everyday, not just on Marathon Monday? Can you imagine a world where strangers shared simple kindness with one another, simply to keep them motivated and moving?

This week’s Week of Kindness at Framingham State feels a bit like the love-fest that is the Boston Marathon, but with smaller signs.

Be the best you can be

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?

Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival

This past weekend, J and I went to the Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival, a celebration of Japanese culture that doubled as an excuse to be outside on a beautiful spring day. There were women in colorful kimonos…

Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival

…young people in origami Samurai hats…

Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival

…performances by taiko drummers…

Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival

…and a shishimai lion dance.

Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival

The costume for this dance was simple, consisting of a cape-like cloth and wooden lion head, but the charm lay in the creature’s mischievous behavior. Acting more like a dog than a lion, the puppet-like creature chewed his own toes and curled up for a nap before romping into the audience to spread good luck by nibbling the heads of delighted onlookers.

Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival

After a long, brutal winter, simply being able to sit outside in the sun felt like good luck, with or without mischievous lion nibbles.

Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival

Little Liam wins "Fan of the Game"

Earlier this month, a video made the rounds of an adorable moppet in Bruins gear fist-bumping the entire team as they left the ice after their pre-game warmups. (If you haven’t already seen the video, do your mood a favor and watch it…or, if like me, you’ve watched it countless times, take a minute to watch it again. It’s impossible not to smile when you see the obvious joy on the kid’s face as each player acknowledges him.)

Liam fist-bumps the team

The adorable moppet in that viral video is eight-year-old Liam Fitzgerald, and he was in attendance at yesterday’s Black Friday matchup between the Boston Bruins and the Winnipeg Jets. Little Liam, who was born with Down’s syndrome, diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at age four, and now endures daily injections of growth hormones, has become an unofficial Bruins mascot. Hockey players pride themselves for their mental and physical toughness, and you have to admire the toughness of eight-year-old who has beat cancer, continues to face medical challenges, and still finds unbridled joy in something as simple as meeting his favorite hockey players.

During the third period of every home Bruins game, fans vote for the “Fan of the Game.” While three candidates are shown on the scoreboard screen, fans cheer and applaud for their favorite. At yesterday’s game, the matchup between the Bruins and the Jets was a nail-biter that went into overtime. But when it came to voting for the “Fan of the Game,” there was no contest, fans going absolutely wild when little Liam was shown on the big screen, his dad holding him on his shoulder like a modern-day Tiny Tim.

This is my Day Twenty-Nine contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Symphony Hall dressed up for the holidays

On Sunday, J and I went to Symphony Hall for a Holiday Pops concert. Whereas the mood for a typical Boston Symphony Orchestra concert is staid and serious, Sunday’s Pops concert was fun and festive, with a holiday sing-a-long, a “surprise” appearance from Santa Claus, and performances of fan favorites like “Sleigh Ride” and “The 12 Days of Christmas.” (If you’ve never heard the Boston Pops’ clever interpretation of the latter, this obviously amateur video will take you up to Day Seven and its strains of Swan Lake.)

Freezing rain on crabapples

It was fun, too, to see Symphony Hall decked out for the holidays with evergreen garlands, flaming lanterns, and colored lights. This past week has been largely gray, with sleeting rain and slush instead of snow, so we’ve had to take our color where we can get it, whether indoors or out. On gray and dim days, even the smallest pop of color is appreciated: more precious than even a partridge in a pear tree.

Sea turtle and barn owl

Apparently I’m not the only one fascinated by sea turtles. On our way to the New England Aquarium on Sunday, J and I stopped to admire the carousel on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, which surprisingly was still in operation with a handful of hardy souls braving a merry-go-round ride on a bitterly cold and windy day.

Lobster

Instead of horses, the Greenway Carousel features native New England creatures like the sea turtle and barn owl pictured above or the lobster pictured at right. I took more than a dozen photos of these creatures the first time I visited the Greenway carousel this past summer, and I shot a couple videos as well, which you can view here and here.

Carousel horse

When I was a child, I loved merry-go-rounds because they were the closest a horse-crazy city girl could get to actually riding a horse. (The carousel horse at right has been retired from active duty and how lives at Kelly’s Roast Beef in Natick.) Now that I know that carousels can feature far more than horses, though, I’m at a loss to decide which of the Greenway carousel’s critters is my favorite. Whenever I try to pick just one favorite animal, I end up going round and round.

This is my Day 27 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Shooting Red, Yellow and Blue

Today J and I went to the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, MA to wander and take lots of pictures. (Click on the picture below to see a larger panoramic shot.)

Panorama

Although I had gone to the deCordova with a friend in June, 2012, J hadn’t been there since we’d visited in April, 2009. Some of the permanent works we’d seen back then are still on display, but there is always a changing array of temporary installations, so every trip to the deCordova is a mix of old and new.

Premier make-out opportunity

One of the most popular attractions today wasn’t technically an art installation, although it definitely qualifies as “temporary.” In a grassy field at the center of the sculpture park, a volunteer stood blowing enormous soap bubbles for children and passing grown-ups to chase and admire.

Big bubble

There’s nothing more fleeting than a soap bubble whose iridescence rivals any of the colors in even the most skillful painter’s palette: awe in an instant.

Big bubble

The deCordova is located in a beautiful woodsy setting, so the artworks on display are only part of the place’s appeal. In additional to the permanent and temporary installations you’ll find on the sculpture park map are attractions of a far more ephemeral nature.

Cloud installation (abstract)

This is my Day 10 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

I’m still sorting through the pictures I took at the deCordova today, so I suspect you’ll be seeing them in small installments over the next week or so.

O'Hara's renamed Uehara's

Yesterday I took a slight detour from my usual Friday afternoon routine to photograph a banner outside O’Hara’s Pub in Newton Highlands, which now reads “Ue’Hara’s” in honor of Red Sox closer Koji Uehara. I’d seen a photo of the banner on Universal Hub and figured I’d walk an extra block or two to photograph it while I was in Newton Highlands getting takeout at the Newton House of Pizza as I do most Fridays. It’s not every year that your team wins the World Series, and it’s not every year that your Japanese closer has a last name that can so easily be adopted by an Irish pub.

Red Sox lawn jockey

Uehara has been a pleasure to watch this postseason: he’s a veritable strike-throwing machine. The typical experience of being a Red Sox fan this postseason has been as follows: keep your fingers crossed that the starting pitcher is having a good night, pray that the Red Sox bats provide enough run support to get you through the sometimes spotty middle relief, then breathe a sigh of relief when Uehara takes the mound, because that means it’s lights out for the opposition.

Lights out, indeed. After I’d walked the few extra blocks to O’/Ue’Hara’s, walked back to the Newton House of Pizza, ordered and waited for the calzones we had for dinner last night, and was walking back to my car, the sun displayed its own version of “lights out,” dappling the western sky with glowing patches of pink and orange.

Sunset

My photo here doesn’t do last night’s sunset justice: the sight was so striking, the woman walking in front of me stopped in midstride to snap a picture on her phone. Koji Uehara might be a strike-throwing machine, but when it comes to guaranteed lights out, Mother Nature is still the best closer in the league.

This is my Day 2 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

The Potluck

Yesterday morning, I went to the Cambridge Zen Center to practice and give teaching interviews, stopping on my way to photograph David Fichter’s “The Potluck,” a bright, larger-than-life mural depicting a happy gathering of all ages and races sharing an abundant meal. Yesterday was a gorgeous day—sunny and not too warm—so it would have been perfect for either a picnic or potluck, but instead, I started the morning by going to the Zen Center, where I spent a half hour quietly contemplating the Dharma room floor before secreting myself in the interview room, where I met individually with a handful of fellow meditators, one after another, each bringing some sort of question: a potluck of interactions, each presenting its own possibilities.

Dharma room

After I’d gotten home from the Zen Center, J and I took the T downtown, where we walked to the North End for Saint Anthony’s Feast: a whole other kind of potluck. Instead of the quiet minimalism of the Zen Center Dharma room, in the North End we encountered the pomp and camaraderie of an Old World religious festival, a marching band accompanying a group of men who carried a statue of Saint Anthony through the streets, stopping (and even raising the statue to second-floor level) when anyone wanted to pin money to the ribbons that adorned it.

Offerings

Although most of us easily understand the pomp and protocol of a picnic or potluck, Catholic festivals can be a bit more mystifying to the uninitiated. Both J and I are Italian and were raised as Catholics, so we don’t raise an eyebrow when we see colorful saint statues decorated and adorned…but I can imagine the consternation and even concern that people from other religious backgrounds might feel when they see folks in the North End apparently worshipping or even “bribing” idol-like statues with kisses and cash.

Dollar-pinned ribbons for Saint Anthony

When I see the obvious reverence that attendees at Saint Anthony’s and other North End feasts display toward these saints, though, I see tradition, not idolatry. Italians in Boston’s North End have been celebrating Saint Anthony’s Feast for nearly a century, continuing a festive tradition they carried with them from their homeland. Saint Anthony’s Feast might not match the kind of picnic or potluck you see in mainstream America, but it does suit North End tastes and traditions.

Saint Anthony pinned with dollars

America is often compared to a melting pot, but that metaphor is all wrong. When you toss (and then melt) disparate cuisines in a pot, what you end up with is a homogenous mush, the various tastes and textures all pureeing to gray. America isn’t a melting pot but a smorgasbord—a potluck—where each community offers something characteristic to their own tradition, even if “my” cuisine doesn’t perfectly match “yours.”

Italian pastries

At a potluck, everyone contributes something, and everyone shares…but at a potluck, you have the opportunity to pick and choose, not every plate offering something for every palate. Do you prefer a quiet morning spent meditating in the shadow of a gold guy? We have that. Do you prefer a festive afternoon feasting among confetti and cannoli? We have that, too. Whether you stick with familiar foods or explore something new, you can help yourself to whatever you’d like, then come back for seconds. There’s plenty for everyone, and something to satisfy every taste.

Dipped

As much as meditating at the Zen Center and feasting in the North End might seem like opposite ends of the spiritual spectrum, I find a lot of ways that Buddhism and Catholicism complement one another. Both Buddhisim and Catholicism offer a rich iconography of visual images: when newcomers come to the Zen Center, for instance, I make clear that the Buddha sitting at the head of the Dharma room isn’t a god to be worshiped but a visual representation of the clear, pure nature we all possess. Similarly, the money that festival-goers pin to statues of Saint Anthony or Saint Lucy aren’t idolatrous bribes: they’re expressions of gratitude and hope. A Catholic festival like Saint Anthony’s Feast suggests that if we make a point to be generous with saints, perhaps those saints will in turn be generous with blessings.

Saint Anthony shrine

Both feasts and potlucks, after all, are celebrations of abundance: there’s enough for everyone to eat, enjoy, and come back for seconds. On a gorgeous August Sunday, I can’t think of a better way to spend the day.

Click here for more photos from Saint Anthony’s Feast, which J and I had first visited in August of 2007…or click here for more photos of David Fichter’s “The Potluck,” which I’ve blogged in May of 2009 and February of 2011. Enjoy!

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