Shiny happy things

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.


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.


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.


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!

Johnny's Luncheonette

This afternoon J and I walked to Newton Centre for lunch at Johnny’s Luncheonette. We’d been to the doctor for our annual check-ups in the morning, so taking a few extra hours off to take a walk and go to lunch was a small reward. We don’t even try to go to lunch at Johnny’s on the weekends, when it’s typically packed with brunch crowds, but if we go on a weekday after the height of the lunch rush, we can usually get a table for two without having to wait.

Funky lamps

Johnny’s has a fun retro vibe with its linoleum diner counter, Art Deco light fixtures, vintage décor, and framed black-and-white class photos from “back in the day.” Every time we sit toward the back of Johnny’s Luncheonette, I try to get a picture of a fixture I call the Diner Diver: a pale blue mannequin hanging from the ceiling in a perfect back dive.

Diner diver

The menu at Johnny’s offers reliable lunch and breakfast standbys: classic diner fare. J typically gets the macaroni and cheese, which features penne rather than macaroni pasta with a blend of Romano, mozzarella, and parmesan cheeses, and I usually get the Jordan Marsh, which features two eggs, a grilled blueberry muffin, and a small fruit cup.

Johnny's Luncheonette sign

Today was busier than usual, so we sat at the counter rather than waiting for a table. As we were waiting for our food to arrive, we heard two women cheering near the coin-operated “claw” machine that stands near the entrance, tantalizing children with a colorful assortment of stuffed animals you can win if you’re deft enough to grab one.

“You won, you won!” the women–presumably a mother and grandmother–cheered as a young boy held a small, hot-pink stuffed Mickey Mouse and beamed. J started clapping, and I joined the women in cheering. “We’ve never seen anyone win anything, and you won” they exclaimed.

Vintage class photos

I don’t know if the boy was old enough to realize his hot-pink prize was probably intended for a girl, but that didn’t seem to matter to him or his mother and grandmother. As the family filed out the door and onto the street, the boy held the toy in two hands, looking at it with an air of overjoyed amazement, as if he couldn’t believe his good luck.

Boston Pride parade

One of the biggest cheers J and I heard at this past weekend’s Boston Pride parade erupted while the marchers were still assembling on Boylston Street and a much-loved, recently elusive entity Came Out: the sun. After a full Friday of torrential rains, on Saturday even tropical storm Andrea couldn’t rain a single drop on Boston Pride’s parade.

Boston Pride parade

Although J and I have watched Pride parades in other cities, before this weekend we’d never attended Boston Pride. Previously, we’d been what you might call accidental Pride spectators, with J watching the Atlanta parade because it wended its way through the predominantly lesbian neighborhood where he used to live and me watching the New York parade one year when my ex-husband and I happened to be staying in Greenwich Village that weekend. Before this year, though, J and I never made a point to attend Boston’s own parade, mainly because we’d never really set the date aside. You might say that Boston Pride didn’t really register on our gaydar.

Boston Pride parade

And then Jason Collins came out. The minute J and I heard that the current NBA (and former Celtics) center had announced he is gay, we knew we’d have to attend this year’s Boston Pride parade, where Collins marched alongside his Stanford roommate (and our congressional representative) Joe Kennedy III. Coming out as a sports celebrity in an age of unrelenting media and Internet scrutiny is a brave thing, and J and I wanted to make sure there were at least a few rabid basketball fans there to personally applaud Collins’ announcement. I’m sure Collins has gotten more than a few angry looks, nasty emails, and mean Tweets simply because he had the nerve to Be Who He Is, and J and I wanted to add our voices to a chorus of cheers drowning out the jeers.

Boston Pride Parade

I’ve mentioned before that I often get teary-eyed when J and I watch the Boston Marathon every year because there’s something emotionally powerful about cheering for perfect strangers:

What chokes me up on Marathon day is the way spectators show up to cheer on strangers, shouting all sorts of encouragements: “Keep going!” “You can do it!” “You’re amazing!”

Boston Pride parade

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?

It turns out, I also get weepy at Pride parades, and for a similar reason. Can you imagine a world where everyone you see is happy and smiling simply because everyone there accepts them for who they are?

Boston Pride parade

Long before we spotted Collins walking alongside Kennedy with a throng of photographers shooting their every move, J and I hollered and clapped for the much less famous marchers. At any Pride parade, the participants who make headlines are the flamboyant and fabulous: the shirtless young men gyrating in underwear, for instance…

Boston Pride parade

…or the strong and serious dykes on bikes,

Boston Pride parade

…or the towering drag queens.

Boston Pride parade

All of the above were present at Boston Pride, but they were far outnumbered by the otherwise ordinary folks who were simply doing in public the things straight people do all the time without considering it a Political Statement, like walking hand in hand with their partners while wearing a uniform…

Boston Pride parade

…proudly proclaiming themselves as parents,

Boston Pride parade

…taking the baby for a stroll,

Boston Pride parade

…or just walking the dog.

Boston Pride parade

A Pride parade, in other words, isn’t about flaunting your sexual preferences in public; it’s about having the courage to show your face in a world that often wants to pretend you don’t exist. This is why J and I wanted to attend Boston Pride, look Jason Collins in the face, and let him know that in the eyes of these two straight, entirely non-flamboyant basketball fans, being gay is okay.

Boston Pride Parade

And so when Jason Collins and Joe Kennedy passed where J and I were standing and cheering near the corner of Boylston and Clarendon Streets, J and I got loud.

Jason Collins and Joe Kennedy

“Celtics Pride,” I yelled while pointing to my Celtics ballcap, and J screamed “Jaaaaasoooon!” while pointing to his Celtics shirt. Collins looked at us, smiled, and waved, and I yelled “We love you, Jason,” at which point Joe Kennedy looked right at me, mouthed the words “Thank you,” and walked on.

Boston Pride parade

And that was J and my brief brush with fame. We’d already cheered and gave our “thumbs up” to peace activist and Boston Marathon bombing hero Carlos Arredondo…

Carlos Arredondo

…and later, we’d cheer (and J would dance) as Senator Elizabeth Warren sashayed her way down the street.

Senator Elizabeth Warren

But the real heroes of the Boston Pride parade aren’t the famous or fabulous folks who dominate the headlines on Pride weekend but the otherwise average, ordinary folks who live, love, and deserve common human decency every day of the year.

Boston Pride Parade

Click here for more photos from this year’s Boston Pride parade: enjoy!

The aliens have landed


Every now and then, I like to take pictures at the grocery store as a way of reminding myself of the abundance so many of us enjoy.


Today is Thanksgiving, a day officially devoted an attitude we should cultivate every day. As I explained last year, I always feel a bit tongue-tied at Thanksgiving, when one is officially expected to count one’s blessings. In my mind, I’ve been blessed with gifts too numerous to count: a loving husband, meaningful work, healthy pets, a roof over my head. Those are the obvious blessings, but less obvious are the simple pleasures that grace one’s life in unexpected ways.

Sometimes while I’m grocery shopping, for instance, I’m stunned by the simple wonder of so many choices–so many pumpkins, so many gourds, so many apples–that surround us daily. Isn’t every pumpkin, every gourd, every apple itself an infinite blessing? And yet we live in a world where we are surrounded by fruit and fruitfulness like leaves pouring down in the fall, the very picture of plenty. How is it, then, that we need an annual holiday to remind us of such riches?

Here’s wishing you and yours a happy Thanksgiving, filled to overflowing with a cornucopia of contentment.

Pumpkin cannibalism

This past weekend was the 20th annual Keene Pumpkin Festival, where you can see carved jack-o-lanterns of all shapes, sizes, and styles. Given all the cute, pretty, and aesthetically pleasing pumpkins on display, it’s always difficult to choose a favorite…but I always seem to gravitate toward those pumpkins that are just a little bit warped.

In addition to the act of pumpkin cannibalism depicted above, for example, J and I spotted a random act of pumpkin violence…

Random act of violence

…along with one pumpkin-person who looked like he’d been in a particularly nasty barroom brawl.

You should see the other guy!

Jack-o-lanterns with odd anatomical deformities naturally grab one’s attention…

Zucchini nose

…as do pumpkins in curious colors.

Pumpkin skulls

One ghoulish gourd displayed such monstrous features, he might best be termed a “Franken-pumpkin.”


Some of the “pumpkins” at the Keene Pumpkin Fest played freely with the definition of “jack-o-lantern,” as in the case of this gourd-geous green swan.

Gourd-geous green swan

Things of beauty notwithstanding, the most creative–and arguably most warped–carved creation we saw at Saturday’s Pumpkin Festival was a gutted spaghetti-squash “baby” with a disgustingly dirty diaper.

Stinky spaghetti-squash diaper

This is my belated contribution to last week’s Photo Friday theme, Warped. Saturday’s Pumpkin Festival reportedly attracted a crowd of 70,000 humans and 22,943 lit jack-o-lanterns, a bunch of which you can see in my 2010 Pumpkin Festival photo-set. Enjoy!

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