A Very Bostonian Weekend

All of a sudden, I got thrown head-first into Boston fun, y’all. I don’t even know what to do with my burgeoning social life! But never fear – I have been taking plenty of pictures and mental notes to share with you all. So RELAX already.

Most recently, I started to trade in my sweet tea for Dunkins with the celebration of the HEAD OF THE CHARLES. Besides having a dirty name, this is some annual event that brings a bunch of boats to Boston where they paddle around. See how athletic I am? You may go ahead and be impressed.

And so I celebrated in the best way I know how: artistically and fan-ically! Or whatever. What am I, a doctor?

First up: a trip to Paint Bar painting the Head of the Charles! If you’ve never been to one of these, please drop everything you are doing and go immediately. I’ll wait. They basically walk you through step-by-step how to paint a specific picture, and you drink. WHAT MORE COULD YOU WANT?!

Painting, wine, and Katie: three of my favorite things.

Painting, wine, and Katie: three of my favorite things.

We got there before our other friends and, in addition to prepping the stations and doing the paint-gathering thang, brought in a GIANT delicious pizza and Katie-made desserts for munching throughout our artistic process. We were the best darned prepared artists there.

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I had this not-so-secret-because-I-told-everyone belief that I was going to turn out to be really awesome at this. When I was seven, I was utterly convinced I would become an artist because I was really good at painting sunsets. I don’t know if that’s true, but I CAN say that my aunt still has a picture I drew of my dog in her house 15 years later, so you know.

Anyway, the end result was, shall we say, less than impressive, especially compared to some of the other ones. To be fair to me, Bob the Bartender was very generous with his pours because Katie and I got there early and got our harmless flirt on. Thanks, Bob!

Also pictured: Bob in the background on the left. I shall write of you favorably in my memoirs.

Also pictured: Bob in the background on the left. I shall write of you favorably in my memoirs.

Artistically talented or not, it was still a darn good time and I am ABSOLUTELY going back.

To pair with our painting of the Head of the Charles, on Sunday I headed over to the actual Charles for the actual Head (or something) to cheer on my alma mater with two of my favorite fellow Colonials: Katie and Josh! (Y’all, I swear I have more friends than them, I just REALLY like them so they are often blog-featured).

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Things I learned:

  • Once a GW student, always a GW student; as soon as I saw the free food, I was opening up my purse and sweeping in as much of it as possible. OMG THEY’RE FEEDING ME MUST TAKE IT ALLLLLL
  • You will never feel more Bostonian than walking across the Charles, cheering on the teams below you, sippin’ your Dunkins
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  • As a society, we may not know a lot about crew (or whatever sport was happening during this event) but we know enough to hate Canada. When I was hanging out on the sidelines it was a fairly tame crowd as the announcer said which teams were rowing by, but when he said, “And here’s our own Team USA coming up on Team Canada,” the entire crowd erupted in a chant of “U-S-A! U-S-A!”
  • There is no good way to take a picture with those weird megaphone things.

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Nailed it.

Nailed it.

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The Be Brave Book Club

I like to call myself an ambivert. While I inch closer to an introvert,  I find that a little limiting to my actual personality traits: I’m typically completely at ease in situations with a lot of people, I am a friendly, bubbly person who enjoys meeting new people and getting to know them, but after a while I get really exhausted and just want to curl up with a book and read (there goes my introversion showing again!). I’ve found being an introvert to be a double-edged sword in new situations (like traveling solo or moving to a new city): I am comfortable and happy being by myself, but sometimes I am too comfortable and I can easily fall into a rut of being alone that quickly folds into loneliness (my kryptonite is that I love being alone but I get nervous and sad if I am alone for too long. Don’t we all, though?).

One of my biggest struggles in the past has been pushing myself out of my comfort zone and endeavoring to meet new people. If I am already thrown into a situation where I have to interact with new friends (start of college, a new job, a party) I can do just dandily, but I shy away from having to make the effort myself. I failed miserably at making new friends while in London. I kept intending to find some friends outside of my immediate circle of coworkers, but with the business of work, my hectic travel schedule, and the knowledge that I would be leaving in December, I figured there was no point. There’s a similar vibe with traveling solo: I met plenty of people through activities, hostels, and guesthouses, but since everyone is on their way to somewhere else, these were mostly one-off situations (or, in the smaller cities, multiple run-ins, which was fun but still had an expiration date).

I wanted this to be different when I moved to Boston. This was my first time moving somewhere new where I would be living for the foreseeable future since I had left for college when I was 18. Even when I graduated college, I stayed in DC, as did most of my friends. No need to make new ones! But I made a leap of faith when I decided to move to a new city 500 miles away from DC and 700 miles away from my hometown, and this time, I was going to get out of my comfort zone.

I am incredibly lucky that I already have a strong support system in Boston, with several friends from different parts of my life who already live here. But now that I’m past my two month mark, I’ve started to acknowledge that I need to have friends here who I didn’t already have before. Enter: book club.

As you may have gathered by the fact that I tend to read about 7-10 books per month (and that’s a slow month), I really enjoy reading. Meetup.com is full of book clubs; what better way to meet new people than to have a set topic of conversation, I figured? I joined a bunch and waited for the stars to align with the perfect date, time, and group.

Despite my resolve, I was nervous as all get out when I was walking to meet the group. I actually texted my mother, “I’m about to go to a book club where I don’t know anyone. Mommy I’m scared but you should be proud of me!” I figured that if I hated it, I could just leave. And so I steeled my resolve and found – not so scary after all! I loved the ladies, loved talking about the book and other things, and will definitely return. Most importantly, I discovered an amazing new bar in Boston and I shall definitely return – probably with one of my ready-made friends, but who knows? Maybe I’ll go there with a new friend!

This reminds me of one of my favorite mantras from my favorite person Laura Maas: “Keep calm. Be brave.” I repeated it over and over when I was traveling in Asia and when I was working at a tough job in London. I can already see where this sometimes tough and stressful year has helped me grow: I might have been nervous when I walked into the new situations, but I still did it and look forward to the next time. I’m going to carry this thought around with me in my pocket as I continue to build my life here.

I Eat All the Pasta So You Don’t Have To: Carmelina’s North End

YOU’VE BEEN WARNED – this is very ranty. Hey, it’s my blog!

I had high hopes going into my dining experience at Carmelina’s in the North End. It’s one of the better reviewed places on the main drag in the North End and came highly recommended by two of my favorite people in Boston (and the world), Katie and Josh. Moreover, the Beyonce to Katie and my’s Michelle and Kelly (despite the fact that she hates Beyonce) was in town and the dinner promised to be a fun gastronomic adventure.

This lil lady in the middle! Of course she's in the middle. She's our Beyonce.

This lil lady in the middle! Of course she’s in the middle. She’s our Beyonce.

Our first hint that something was amiss at the restaurant was when we took a look at the special note in the menu…

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…I mean, okay, you’re a fancy restaurant and that’s fine, but just a little bit sassy, no? Of particular Sasquatch note, in my humble opinion:

  • “Please refrain from asking us to add or delete any item from a dish.” Why? According to your previous little sassy blurb you are carefully and conscientiously preparing each and every dish. Is it really so difficult to refrain from putting peanuts into mine if that’s my dietary preference?
  • “We do not accept credit cards for charges under $20, cash only.” REALLY?! Come on, people. This isn’t a little taverna in Greece run by somebody’s grandma. This is a major, high class restaurant in Boston. If I can use a credit card to pay for a 75 cent stick of gum at CVS, are you really telling me I can’t use a credit card for something that’s $19?

Anyway, as I said, that’s just fine. We were shown to our table and after a nice long wait (enough time for us to select the wine and our dishes and do the whole, “awkwardly making small talk while we wait for the waiter to finally come around” dance), the waiter swung by our table and hurriedly took our orders, assuring us bread would be on the way. I’m not going to string you along, gentle readers – the bread was not, in fact, on the way.

That was the theme of the night – we received minimal to zero service at our table, despite the fact that every other table around us did. We asked for the bread literally five times, each time being told it was on the way/in the oven/just a minute. About ten minutes after we got our meals (well, three of us did), the bread finally arrived… strangely enough, not piping hot and fresh from the oven, but lukewarm at best. Strange also is that every other table around us, most of which were seated after us, received bread almost immediately after sitting down.

Of course, someone’s dinner at our table arrived about 15 minutes after everyone else’s did. If you read the sassafras message from their menu, that is only to be expected,  capice? But you have to admit — 15 minutes (more than enough time for everyone else to finish their meal) is a bit much, especially considering she ordered the same thing someone else at the table did.

The icing on the cake was that at no point did anyone come around to refill our water or ask if we needed anything (which we did). After begging them for our check (to be fair to them, they did take the late meal off the check), the coup de grace was finding out they can only split the check on two cards – which apparently isn’t even true, as by that point we engaged in a conversation with the manager about our dissatisfaction and he told us that we were lying and could split the check on three cards (perhaps tell your staff that…?).

I was, most of all, SHOCKED by how they treated our concerns. They were rude and dismissive, stating that it was busy. I understand that, but if you cannot handle that amount of clientele, don’t seat that amount.  I was so shocked when, after the manager listened to our concerns, we could see him and his staff LOUDLY complaining about us and then he just threw the check back to us without another word. I didn’t want a gift certificate or something, but at least a polite if insincere, “I’m so sorry for your experience and I hope we can see you soon” would be normal human behavior – particularly when you are paying $16+ per entree, not to mention alcohol and extras.

Needless to say, I shan’t be dining here again. I took my complaint to Twitter and the Executive Chef Damien engaged in some back-and-forth with me, but never followed up with an email as he promised. Luckily for me, there are about fifteen thousand other places that serve exactly the same food. The hunt continues!

Thankfully, we got a lobster tail at Mike’s after, and all was right in the world.

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A Story-Worthy Week

I recently (as in, about a year ago) started to listen to The Moth Podcast. It’s on many lists as one of the best free podcasts to download, which first prompted me to give it a listen. The Moth Events are held regularly all over the country and feature regular people getting up on a stage to tell true, live, unscripted stories from their lives around the theme of the night.  Some of the best stories are recorded and aired via this podcast; from week to week, you can hear a story from any city, any time, any theme. Apparently the NY Times has hailed Moth events as “the hottest and hippest literary ticket,” so obviously I had to go.

My first Moth event was a StorySLAM, an open-mic storytelling event, where people throw their names into a bag if they are interested in telling stories based on the theme, “Only in Boston.” How perfect, right? Besides being held in a very cool venue of a church converted into a performance center (and being shockingly lax on alcohol regulations, leading to people bringing in their own wine bottles like it was a picnic and getting increasingly sloshed), it was just my perfect idea of an evening. Cheap, entertaining, shared with a friend, and a wonderful way to get to know this city better. Every person I’ve talked to about this has exclaimed about how cool it is and expressed disbelief that I’ve only been here for two seconds and I already know more about the city than they do. Thank you, public radio.

Ten different people got up to tell five-minute stories about their “Only in Boston” experience (some funny, some heart-warming, two about poop), and in between the emcee read little pieces of paper audience members had filled out to complete the sentence, “I knew I was in Boston when…”

“I knew I was in Boston when… an 80 year old woman hip-checked me coming off the T and told me to ‘F*$& off.'”

“I knew I was in Boston when… even my GPS got confused.”

And of course, the one my friend Lauren contributed that I adore: “I knew I was in Boston when… the cashier at Trader Joe’s asked me where I was watching the Bruins game. Not if – where.”

The main thing that listening to the Moth makes me think about is how I view my own life. Every podcast recording ends with, “We hope you have a story-worthy week.” Well, I hope so too, Moth Podcast Host Dan Kennedy. Now to go out there and live the story-worthy week is another thing. It’s so easy to just stick to the routine and never try to view things as future stories or reflections – I know I am certainly guilty of that. But that’s part of the reason of this blog – so that I can live and explore more deliberately and make sure I am not staying down in my rut, as comfortable as it may be.

And with that, I hope you, too, have a story-worthy week. As for me, I am headed to the great commonwealth of Virginia on Wednesday for a long weekend and I could not be more excited. The K10 Explorations continue down south!

I Eat All the Pasta So You Don’t Have To: Lucia Ristorante vs Bottega Fiorentina

I happen to be a gigantic fan of Italian food, and in case you haven’t heard, Boston happens to have a bunch of Italian restaurants. HOW PERFECT! Recognizing that everyone I know has a different favorite joint, I decided to start a series where I go to all the different top-recommended-by-friends restaurants and give them a go. Hence, I Eat All The Pasta So You Don’t Have To. In related news, I’ll also be starting a series where I document my pasta-weight gain.

I decided to shake it up a little and compare and contrast a higher-end Italian restaurant in the North End and a fast-food joint down in Coolidge Corner – I know, I am benevolent and kind. Which one will I like more?! Read and find out, hello.

NORTH END: Surprisingly, it took me three restaurants to make it to Boston’s famed “Little Italy:” the North End. According to my very intense (Wikipedia) research, it is the oldest continually inhabited neighborhood in Boston, with residents (including Mr. Revere) since the 1630s (you’re only 23 years too late, suckers! Virginia was up and thrivin’ by that point! HaHAAA). Most importantly, Italian immigrants made this area their stomping ground, which means you can’t swing a dead cat now without hitting an Italian place there.

With a plethora of options to pick from, I went with the recommendation of a good friend of mine and joined them at Lucia’s Ristorante, on the main drag of Hanover Street.

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I waffled over the massive pasta selection (food pun!) but ended up springing for the Tortellini Quattro Formaggio, a whole $2 more than the wallet friendly linguine with marina. YOLO amirite?

However, I forgot that every time I get a pasta sauce that is not tomato based I can only eat about two pieces before I get overwhelmed. The $20 price tag (including tax and tip) was a bit overwhelming, but I can stretch that sucker to about two or three meals so I’m counting it as a WIN.

Most importantly, we happened to be in the neighborhood during the Feast of St. Anthony, one of the major celebrations in the North End, and an entire brass marching band came to the bar. After playing us a tune, the manager bought them all a beer, and I got to bang on someone’s drum. Rrrr.

Also, we hit up the infamous Mike’s Pastry and I got to follow dinner with entertainment in the form of my good friend (and former boss) smearing a lobster tail all over her face, to the chagrin and disgust of nearby French tourists. Overall, it was a night in which everyone won. Except maybe the French.

COOLIDGE CORNER: A few nights later, I arranged to meet up with a friend at a little corner kinda-fast food pasta place called Bottega Fiorentina. This is my idea of paradise: delicious, simple Italian that comes up quickly. No fuss, no muss. Plus, on Wednesdays and Sundays a penne dish is only $5. Me like.

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This price tag was definitely a friendlier than Lucias, although there is something to be said about how much fun it is to go to a nice restaurant and enjoy a meal (to be honest, I could have made that at home for about 80 cents). Verdict: if I am ever in the area and in need of dinner, it’s definitely happening, but any place where I can bang someone’s drum is a-okay in my book!

The moral of the story is, I got to eat two delicious Italian meals in one week (it’s okay, guys, pasta is completely healthy. In fact, I think it’s in the same food group as kale). So K10: two points. The French: still at zero.

My Boston

It’s taken me two months of living and working here, but I have almost, almost settled into what I consider to be my Boston. I had a heckuva start: I landed at Logan on July 7th at 8:30pm and started work the very next day. I first lived with friends, and then a month-long sublet, before finally moving into my apartment, where I can put pictures on the walls and flowers on the bookshelf. In celebration, I would like to take you on a pictorial tour of what I consider to be my Boston – my favorite places and what my daily life entails.

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE PLAZA

Every day, I am so grateful that my office building is next to the reflecting pool of this gorgeous tourist destination. Besides being a fantastic location in downtown (right next to the Prudential Center and a stone’s throw from Copley Square, Boston Public Garden, and Boston Common) it’s also a wonderful place to sit and relax. Every day that the sun is shining, you can find me outside at 1pm eating lunch and soaking in the rays.

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COPLEY SQUARE 

A five minute walk from my office and home to a wonderful farmer’s market Tuesdays and Fridays, this is a must-stop after work a few times a week. Exploring the local produce available, sitting on a bench, or even indulging in a little crusty-bread-and-goat-cheese picnic, it’s my recipe for Boston.

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BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY

Without a doubt, my favorite place in Boston. I’m easily here three-four times a week (largely because it is conveniently located on Copley Square!). The first time I walked in, I was a little surprised: I was definitely in a library (or so all the books told me), but it seemed kind of…. normal. Clearly constructed in the 1970s or a similar period of terrible construction tastes, it reminded me of my college library. I had heard rumors it was a gorgeous building, but I guess not?

Well, thankfully the next time I visited I entered through another side (the one facing the square) and realized, “OH. THIS is where the pretty is kept.” And so was born my favorite, favorite Boston reading spot – perfectly protected from the wind and the rain, serene and with thousands of titles just a few feet away.

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BOSTON PUBLIC GARDEN

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Garden, wouldn’t I? My normal farmer’s-market-visit to Copley Square will usually result in me wandering the few extra blocks of the Garden, sitting under a tree, and enjoying all that is around me. Also an excellent place to spy on wedding pictures.

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AND FINALLY… WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS.

I spent the last month mentally interior decorating this room and I am so happy that I can finally start putting everything into place. It’s still a work in progress, but my favorite part is genuinely the flowers on the nightstand in the mason jar.

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I guess the only question left is… when will you be visiting me?

Merry Allston Christmas!

Santa Clause

It’s September 1 and you know what that means: it’s Christmas! At least in Allston, Mass, one of the many cute little Boston neighborhoods  and home to a million zillion college students and young professionals.

More than anywhere else I have lived (i.e. DC), Boston is a September 1 move-in date kinda place. Check out Craigslist at any point between March and July, and 90% of the postings will be for a September 1 start. Contrast this to DC, where most of the CL posts are for either RIGHT THEN or the first of the month immediately coming up, and you’ve got a move-in date where half the city is out of the streets hauling boxes in and out. I’m not exaggerating when I say 10,000 people move on that day in this little area. It’s been described to me as “rats coming up from the sewers and taking over the streets.” I’ve heard that the population of Boston area grows 3/4 of a million after September 1. Someone is making a WEBSERIES about it. Needless to say, there’s a whole lot going on.

Enter Allston Christmas, the most wonderful time of the year when so many people are moving that the sidewalks are overflowing with free, discarded stuff. An excerpt from a marvelous poem on boston.com:

They warn that from the refuse trouble could fly,
When that nuisance makes a new home, it may multiply.
So bright orange stickers warn residents to avoid the debris,
The rubbish could be full of bedbugs, even a flea.

But still there are those who ignore what crews advise,
For they are desperately in need of cheap, new supplies.
They’ll poke their head in whatever’s around,
Down the streets and alleys they will abound.

They’ll be drenched all in sweat, from head to foot,
And their clothes will be tarnished with stains and soot.
A sofa or mattress flung over their back,
They might look like a sad sight, but misery they lack.

Their eyes — how they’ll twinkle! Their dimples how merry!
For each has just become a proud beneficiary.
A new table, TV, even a guitar,
They’ll have saved some bucks to spend at the bar.

I tried my best to avoid the worst parts of Allston Christmas – i.e. moving – by moving my stuff into my apartment a few days early. So come this September 1, you’ll see me scavenging on the street for the next great piece of apartment furniture. As long as it’s not upholstered, because that’s gross. Buy new.