Kickstarter, Henna, and the Roman Empire


I need to kick my addiction to Kickstarter. There are just so many good ideas waiting to come to fruition…I just chipped in for three projects so now I want you to as well:

Reading Rainbow

OK, this one doesn’t technically need any additional help. But don’t you want to ensure that Reading Rainbow is available to every child on the planet?? Of course you do.

These two are Boston-based:

Poetry on the T

Replace ads with poetry on the subway! Ever since I saw poetry on London’s Tube, I’ve wanted to see it done in Boston.

Craft Beer Web Series

A student at the college where I work wants to produce a web series about local craft breweries. I want to watch this series.

Now that that’s out of the way, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

I dyed my hair with henna the other day. I had read countless reviews of Lush’s henna and I was prepared for a smelly and messy time. I covered my bathroom in newspaper, whacked the blocks of henna with a meat tenderizer to make smaller pieces; mixed in boiling water, cinnamon, and paprika; and went to town.









When I was done glopping it on, I wrapped my head in saran wrap and then tied a plastic bag over my head. This was supposed to make the color more vibrant by keeping heat trapped. Lush suggested keeping it in for a couple of hours. Some reviewers kept it in for up to eight hours. I decided on four.

I personally liked the smell. It smelled like coffee grinds and tea and mud. I washed it out and waited a day or two for the true color to appear, as the reviewers noted.

Verdict: My hair feels healthier, but there was VERY LITTLE color change. Sadness. I tried the second boldest hue, so I’m going for the boldest hue next time. I like the idea of coloring my hair without chemicals, so am going to keep dabbling with the henna.

Lastly, the Roman Empire. I watched the first installment of the 1976 TV series I, Claudius. I read the novel that it’s based on a month or so ago. I found the novel a little hard to handle because there are so many characters. I can almost keep them all straight in the TV series, however. I’ve learned that extreme family dysfunction has been with us literally since the Roman times. Adultery, backstabbing, setups, poisoning…nothing is off limits in the Roman Empire. I’m looking forward to watching the next installment. It’s a soap opera for history fans!

So that’s this year’s list, folks. When I return from Block Island (#39 on the list), I’m going to publish a greatest hits list: my favorite item from each of the 10 years. Let me know if you contribute to any of the aforementioned crowdfunding campaigns. And tell me if there are any other ones I should know about. Money grows on trees, doesn’t it?




Love the Age You Are


The birthday list really does what I want it to do (= distract me). I wasn’t even brooding about my birthday until I started receiving birthday greetings in the mail last week from stores that I shop at.

Oprah magazine came through with a perfectly timed issue called “Age Brilliantly.” I read this article with interest:









The article is nice but doesn’t expose a one-size-fits-all answer to my question. When will I love the age I am? The earliest record I have of dreading my birthday is 17…this is not a new problem of mine. I’m hoping the answer lies in taking more time for myself and working on gratitude.

I have a week left before my birthday, and I’m finishing the list tonight. Well, except for the last item, which is to go to Block Island the day before my birthday.

I’m currently entering my third hour of sitting with saran wrap and a plastic bag around my head. I’m dyeing my hair with henna for the first time and have no idea what to expect. While I let it set a little longer, I’ll finish watching the first installment of I, Claudius. Stay tuned for a review of that as well as my hair color…










Being a Tourist at Home Continued


I spent last weekend being a tourist at home again!

Walking the entire route of Southwest Corridor Park is #35 on the birthday list. I’ve walked along parts of the 4.7-mile-long route in the past, so I decided it was time to walk the entire length of it.

I love the story of this park: the short version is that the government knocked down lots of houses and businesses in preparation for building a 12-lane highway through this part of the city in the 1960s.

The community protested and won! The governor cancelled the project in 1969, and over the next couple of decades, the area was transformed into a park. Residents along the route take care of sections of the park. I’ve volunteered with the Southwest Corridor Park Conservancy in the past and have had a lovely experience.

Deb and Melissa joined me for the walk, and it was a beautiful day. This is the most urban park I have ever seen. It cuts through the South End, Back Bay, Roxbury, and Jamaica Plain neighborhoods of Boston.We walked through landscaped green space as well as city streets. We saw tennis courts, playgrounds, community gardens, and huge granite blocks with short stories engraved on them along the way.









We got a little lost in Roxbury at one point, but we found our way with the help of our trusty phones. I look forward to doing the walk again this summer.

The following day, Anya and I visited the Dorchester Historical Society‘s open house. Dorchester was founded in 1630, and the society has been in existence since 1843. The DHS owns three historic houses; its headquarters is in the William Clapp House (1806), and the Lemuel Clap house (1765)  is next door. The James Blake House (1661) is nearby. It is the oldest house in the city of Boston!

William Clapp and his father, Lemuel Clap, were in the tannery business in Dorchester. William also became very involved in farming and he and his sons developed many apple and pear hybrids. His son Thaddeus developed a famous pear named “Clapp’s favorite,” which Dorchester is quite proud of. I hope to find that pear in the store someday.

William Clapp House
William Clapp House


Lemuel Clap House
Lemuel Clap House















James Blake was an English immigrant who grew up in Dorchester and built a house there in 1661. It stayed in the family until 1825. It then passed hands a couple of times until the city of Boston bought it in 1895. The city soon granted the house’s ownership to the DHS.

James Blake House
James Blake House










Besides the exploration of the houses, Anya and I enjoyed the DHS’s current exhibit of hand fans. Not only are the fans beautiful, but we were also tickled to learn that there is a “fan language.” In the nineteenth century, when hand fans were in vogue, women used them to relay all kinds of messages to male suitors, such as “I’m married; you are cruel; I’m not interested.” Here’s a list of the various messages.

The DHS is volunteer-run, and I am grateful that these folks are so passionate about preserving their town’s history. If you live in the Boston area and enjoy touring historic homes, do not miss these gems!

Adventures in Birding and Drawing


I went on my first official bird walk last week. I’ve always been quite fond of birds, but not quite fond enough to wake up at 6:00 am on a Saturday to go on a bird walk. But when I was invited to a 7:30 am weekday bird walk near my office recently, I jumped at the chance.

I arrived at the designated location in the Public Garden to find around 12 other Nature Conservancy members. They were a friendly bunch and many of them seemed to know each other. I instantly felt like an amateur because of the size of my binoculars. Mine looked like mere opera glasses compared to other people’s. But some casual walkers hadn’t even brought binoculars, so I didn’t feel terribly embarrassed.

We were led by the state director of the Massachusetts Nature Conservancy, Wayne Klockner. He was amazing! He’s been a birder for most of his life. Many of the other walkers knew their stuff as well. We saw an Ovenbird, a Nuthatch, Yellow-bellied Warblers, and many robins and sparrows. I probably saw about half of the birds that others saw, due to my tiny binoculars. But even when I couldn’t find a bird, it was fun to hear the others exclaiming about its location. “11:00, at the very top of the branch. Look for the movement of the leaves!” I think the most exciting spotting was an indigo bunting, which I failed to spot. We ended the walk with a sighting of a hawk who was protecting a nest on a ledge under the clockface of a church.

In theory I can see myself enjoying this hobby, but there are two things working against me: (1) early mornings and (2) binoculars. You see, I can’t look through both lenses of binoculars at the same time. For years, I just never felt right while looking through binoculars. A few years ago, I realized why when I was diagnosed with stereoblindness. It’s not harmful for me to look through binoculars (I don’t think), but it feels a little odd and uncomfortable after a while.

So onto drawing!

That same day, I went to the Museum of Fine Arts to check out its weekly “Drawing in the Galleries” event. I hadn’t properly drawn anything in at least two decades. I decided it was time to pick up the pencil again.

I imagined myself sitting in front of a still life painting and trying to re-create it on drawing paper. So I was surprised to find around 15 people sitting in front of a live model and trying to re-create his seemingly awkward pose on drawing paper. Not that I have anything against live models—I was just stymied by the task of having to draw hands and feet and ears.

I still found it relaxing, though. The model held a pose for 15–20 minutes as classical music piped out from a small speaker in front of him. Then he would take a 5-minute break before coming back and holding a new pose. During the break, people would get up and walk around and look at each other’s drawings. I spoke with one woman who attends every week, and she told me that there is a different live model every week.

I stayed for three poses and then went on my way. I enjoyed myself and will probably draw again sometime.

So those were #34 and #35. Up next: walking the Southwest Corridor and visiting the Dorchester Historical Society. Until then…










Being a Tourist at Home


I looove being a tourist at home. I’ve visited a lot of historic sites and museums over the past 10 years of birthday lists, but the beauty of living in a city is that there are always more places to visit.

Last weekend, I toured Old North Church and the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum.

I don’t know why it’s taken me 15 years to get to the Old North Church. Well, I had thought that I walked in and looked around before. But when I looked at its website earlier this year, I read about a “behind the scenes” tour and voila. I knew I hadn’t seen the bell chamber and the crypt before, so that would count as a birthday list item.

The special tour only runs once an hour, so when I arrived I had some time to kill. I had read about a printing shop and chocolate shop around the corner from the church, so sought those out. The Printing Office of Edes & Gill was SO COOL. I should preface this by saying that I am interested in printing because I used to work in the book publishing industry. The owner and master printer is very engaging and is obviously very knowledgeable about colonial printing techniques.

He has two printing presses that are circa 1700s: one which he bought from Colonial Williamsburg and one French printing press, which is only one of four left in the world. His work is a labor of love…he said it took him 30 hours to set the type for Longfellow’s poem about Paul Revere’s ride and 12 hours to fix the typos. I’m grateful that he is keeping the art of printing alive. Long live the printed book!

Printer Gary Gregory using the colonial Williamsburg press
Printer Gary Gregory using the Colonial Williamsburg press










The French press, which prints from an inked engraved copper plate
The French press, which prints from an inked engraved copper plate













Right next door is Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop. They demonstrate how chocolate was made in colonial times. The employees said that no recipes from the time existed at the Old North Church, so a historic division of Mars, of all places, tracked down a recipe and has re-created it.

Visitors are given a sample of drinking chocolate and it is dee-vine. There are a few different chocolate products for sale, as well as tea. I learned as I was leaving that the chocolate shop has been open a year and the printing office has been open four years. So I didn’t feel quite as guilty for not knowing of their existence until a month or so ago.









As soon as I stepped into Old North Church, I realized that I had not been there before. I would have remembered the box pews!









Guests do a self-guided stroll and an employee gives a 5–10 minute talk about its history. Its claim to fame is that on the eve of the American Revolution, Paul Revere told some church employees to hang one lantern in the steeple if the British troops would be coming by land, and two if by sea. Once he saw the lanterns, he and William Dawes hoofed it to Lexington to warn the colonial militia.

It was fun to see the bell chamber and learn about the history of the change ringing bells. As a teen, Mr. Paul Revere approached the church and offered to ring the bells for a small fee. He and a group of neighborhood youth formed a little company of bell ringers. In recent years, volunteers from MIT have rung the bells. Each of the eight bells ring a different note, and there are thousands of different patterns that can be played.

Check out this video that shows the change ringers in action.

The crypt wasn’t terribly exciting in that there isn’t much to see. Just a bunch of brick walls covered by cement. But 1,100 people are buried there, which is hard to believe. The crypt was in operation between 1732 and 1853. Some of the more famous people buried there have carved stones or plaques in front of their tombs. A bunch of British soldiers are buried there, as well as Samuel Nicholson, the first commander of the U.S.S. Constitution.

Wow, this is a long post. I’ll make the recap of the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum quick. Visitors are taken on a guided tour by different character actors along the way. We walked around on a replica ship and kids were literally able to throw soft blocks of “tea” into the harbor. It’s a fun interactive experience with a few different videos and one of the actual tea chests on display!

Tea waiting to be thrown in the harbor
Tea waiting to be thrown in the harbor










The ship in the harbor
The ship in the harbor










Two birthday items checked off in a day…that’s how I like to roll.