Bearded Dragons and Baking Bread

You know you’re too busy when you’re still reporting on things that you checked off the list in February…

My friend Abby and I intended to ride a zipline set up in a Boston park by a Kissimmee, Florida, tourist organization one February weekend. But when I arrived 15 minutes before it opened and the wait was already two hours, we settled for having our photo taken with a baby alligator and holding a lizard called a bearded dragon. I pleaded with the handler to refrain from putting a large snake around my neck. (However, the snake was surreptitiously slipped around Abby’s neck.)

holding a bearded dragon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was expecting the bearded dragon to be solid and rough, but it had a very soft underbelly. It was cute for a lizard.

And with no segue…I baked zucchini bread for the first time. My mom baked it once in a while when I was young so I feel nostalgic whenever I buy it at a cafe. I found her recipe for zucchini muffins (not bread, curiously) and spent a Sunday afternoon grating zucchini.

grated zucchini

 

 

 

 

 

 

It turned out SO GOOD. I’m adding it to my baking rotation now.

zucchini bread

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’ll be hearing from me again soon as I attempt to make up for lost time…

 

 

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20–Year Love Affair

I realized the other day that I was wrapping up my semester abroad in England 20 years ago this month. I chose to study in England because I didn’t have proficiency in another language…and I’m convinced that I was destined to start a love affair with England.

I went from studying at a small state college a 30-minute drive from my family to studying at a large research university with tens of thousands of international students thousands of miles from my family. It was the opportunity of a lifetime and I’m eternally grateful for it. I studied at the University of Leeds with my two friends, Sam and Ellen, which eased the homesickness.

Many of my experiences were those of a typical college student. I remember that the coursework was tough and I was glad that my grades didn’t factor into my GPA at home. I joined the chorus and sang Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols in the city streets in December. Ellen and I joined a musical theater club and performed in the musical Chess. I subsisted on jacket potatoes with shredded cheese at the refectory (dining hall) and spent hours at a time doing this new thing called emailing in the computer lab. I lived in Clarence Dock, a dorm that was far from campus, so I spent many nights taking the “women’s minibus,” a shuttle that departed from campus and dropped people off at their dorms/apartments.

Not-so typical experiences included weekend trips to Liverpool, where we consumed everything Beatles; Dublin, where we drank Guinness in pubs and saw The Book of Kells at Trinity College; and London, where my wallet was stolen (I don’t remember anything else from that trip).

I consider that I started on the path to adulthood during my semester in England. Even though I had traveled abroad in high school, it was here that I really grasped that there was a whole world outside of the United States. I gained a newfound appreciation for my family and friends. I learned from people of other cultures and they learned from me.

Another opportunity of a lifetime tied to my semester abroad was the three-week trip around Western Europe that I took after the semester ended with Ellen and my friend Daisy. Twenty years ago at this very moment, Ellen and I were sitting in a bohemian bed and breakfast in a frigid Corfu, Greece, watching American movies with Greek subtitles and listening to Radiohead’s The Bends album with a small group of new friends.

We had just come from Rome, where we were blessed by the Pope on Christmas Day. We would be meeting our friend Daisy in Milan next and heading to Venice for New Year’s. And then back to Rome and on to Spain and France. Armed with Eurail passes, a thirst for adventure, and not enough clothing for one of Europe’s coldest winters, we visited countless museums, ate delicious and sometimes strange food, and made friends of fellow travelers along the way. If I could turn back the clock and do it again, I wouldn’t change anything.

As I sit with my Twinings tea and McVittie’s Ginger Nut cookies, I insist that if you are thinking about studying abroad or know someone who is thinking about it, you/he/she/they DO IT. It’s worth every penny of the extra student loans.

England now feels like a second home to me—and my mother! She visited me when I worked in London for six months after graduation (that 20th anniversary is next December). And the rest is history, as they say. We’ve visited England five or six times since and have many wonderful and funny memories. I feel lucky that we fell in love with the same place.

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Photographic Memories

I’ve loved taking photos since I was a teenager. I’m fairly certain that the pink Le Clic disc camera was my first camera.

Courtesy of liketotally80s.com

Courtesy of liketotally80s.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was looking through some old photos recently and was reminded that I haven’t printed any photos since 2008, besides the occasional photo book of a particular event. Darn you, digital camera! Sometimes I miss the mystery of film…not knowing how your photos turned out until you had them developed.

I made a pact with myself to start ordering prints from the last eight years of my life after recently visiting the George Eastman Museum in my hometown.

I hadn’t been to the museum in years, possibly decades. This seems odd for someone who loves photography, but usually my visits to see family are too brief as it is and there is no time to “sightsee.”

The museum is partly exhibits and partly George Eastman’s house, which he had built in 1902–1905.

The museum exhibits were interesting. My favorite was Jason Lazarus’s Too Hard to Keep, which was part of a bigger exhibit. Since 2010, he has invited people to send him photos that they didn’t want to keep but they didn’t want to destroy. Many of the photos in the room had no description; they were just adhered to the wall. A slide projector on the floor projected slides nowhere. (Some people ask for the photos not to be shared.)

Too Hard to Keep

Too Hard to Keep

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the holidays, the museum fundraises by holding gingerbread house and wreath auctions. Thirty-plus houses and wreaths were on display and visitors could bid on each of them. This was one of my favorite gingerbread houses:

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The house itself is beautiful. George had exquisite taste.

Living room of George Eastman's house

Living room of George Eastman’s house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I walked through the house, I wondered what George would think about phone cameras. I think it’s “too easy” to take photos with a phone camera. And what do we all do with the photos? Recently, I’ve quelled my desire to capture every single beautiful moment just because it’s convenient. I saw a breathtaking sunset during a flight a few weeks ago. As I reached for my phone, I said to myself, “Just enjoy the moment. Don’t try to capture it.”

I saw this question in the museum and answered “no.” And so I begin the process of printing out hundreds of photos from the last eight years.

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Do you print out your photos?

4, 3, 2, 1

My third favorite band is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. I discovered these guys on December 31, 2000, when they opened for Barenaked Ladies in Boston. I had been a Boston resident for a year and a half, so to me, Guster is synonymous with my entire life in Boston….i.e., my early 20s to early 40s and counting.

Guster had been a band for nine years at that point, having met each other during their freshman year at Tufts University. I dug their music because a lot of it was fun and had a great beat, yet they could also write songs that were serious and thoughtful. And I dug them as people because I found them to be great musicians, as well as being spontaneous, quirky, creative, and comical.

I got to know them well because they toured in New England A LOT, it being their home turf. This is mind-boggling, but between the years of 2001 and 2016, I have seen them at least 27 times. I say “at least” because I know I am missing a few ticket stubs.

January 2016, Boston

January 2016, Boston

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What sealed the deal for this love affair is that during my early years of following the band, Brian, the drummer, wrote an online “road journal” about their adventures on the road. I remember laughing out loud until I cried many, many times. My love for this journal led me to send an email into the ether, to Guster’s general email address, to express my appreciation.

And Brian wrote back! We had an email correspondence for a few years. It was a special experience and I really appreciated how he took time to chat with the fans.

There have been many concert highlights over the years, but here are a few:

  • Seeing them at University of New Hampshire in 2003 with a new work friend…we drove up on a weeknight and waited outside after the show and met Brian! So fun. We were giddy and goofy the entire ride home as only 20-somethings who just met a rock star could be. Years later, the same friend scored backstage passes for one of their Boston shows and we met them again.
  • Attending a show at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston on Halloween: Both Guster and the fans dressed up. I think that they also opened the show by descending from the ceiling while seated in chairs.
  • Seeing them perform at Radio City Music Hall and with the Boston Pops Orchestra.
  • Seeing them in my hometown in New York. It was my second time seeing them outside of their home turf of New England. It was sold out, and a friend and I stood around before the show trying to find her a ticket. And at the last minute, we did! It was great to see Guster being embraced in my hometown.

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Guster just announced a four-day residency at the Paradise in Boston in January. Guess who bought a four-day pass?

October and the Trees Are Stripped Bare

Well, my two other most favorite bands are celebrating anniversaries this year, so let’s give them some love, too.

U2 just celebrated 40 years as a band. 40 years! Not many bands can claim this milestone.

I was late to the U2 game. I remember hearing their early hits on the Top 40 countdown, but the first album I bought was Achtung Baby in 1991. So if I had to pick a favorite album, I would pick this one. Because it’s the one that made me fall head over heels. So many of these lyrics are imprinted on my heart.

“Took a drive in the dirty rain to a place where the wind calls your name”

“You gave me nothing; now it’s all I got”

“Love is clockworks and cold steel, fingers too numb to feel”

“If you want to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel (on your kneels, boy!)”

U2 is an inspiration not only because they are incredibly gifted musicians and perform stunningly good live shows, but also because of their politics (which I happen to agree with). Some of their most popular songs are about injustice, political movements, war against others, war against ourselves. Watch them take on Trump recently.

I first saw them in concert in 1997, right before my 22nd birthday. Two friends and I drove six hours to see them. It was the Pop Mart tour, so I remember the wild graphics and stage setup. I also remember that we were walking around when they started playing, so we freaked and my friends, two tall men, proceeded up a down escalator. I barely made it; they had to yank me up the last few steps.

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The next time I saw them was in Boston in 2001. They played four nights and I attended two of them. They produced a concert film of the shows, which is awesome. Boston loves U2!

2005 is the year I set my credit card on fire for the boys…they played in Boston for two nights in October, of which I attended one. I remember the seats were one of the best I’d ever had at a concert.

…Until December, when they returned for two nights. I attended both. This is where my memory fails me: I remember meeting a guy at a subway stop and buying a ticket from him for one of the nights. When he had bought it, he thought he was buying two tickets because the price was so steep. So he decided to sell it. I remember being grateful to him because he was selling the ticket for less than he paid. It was a super special ticket that allowed me to go to an exclusive bar at the venue before the show and I received a leather folder embossed with the U2 tour logo.

For years, I’ve though that I spent maybe $175 on the ticket. Which is a lot! But I just looked at the price on the ticket: $390.

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Whaaaat! Did I really pay that much? I doubt it, but I’ll never know. But I do know that I had the time of my life at the concert.

It was also in 2005 that I attempted to give U2 a letter. I had read that they were staying at the Ritz. I wrote a heartfelt note thanking them for their music, being an inspiration, etc. etc. With note in hand, I, along with a work friend, walked into the Ritz’s lobby and asked the person at reception if U2 was staying there. The response was, “I can’t confirm that.”

OK. So then my friend and I approached the doorman. My friend was cute so we chatted him up. He didn’t confirm or deny that they were staying there either. But he ended up taking the note and said he would try to get it to them. I’m not hopeful that they received it, but I’m happy that I at least attempted to thank them.

I missed the band’s next visit in 2009 because they played at a stadium outside of Boston and I didn’t have a car or any super fan friends to go with.

Therefore, I went 10 long years without seeing U2. I saw them in Boston last fall. What I love about their concerts is that they always play a perfect mix of new and old songs. The magic in the air at their shows is incredible. There is nothing like belting out the lyrics to “Bloody Sunday” or “Pride” along with 19,000 other people.

U2 is going on tour next year when they release a new album. And I’ll be there.

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