Still reeling – Election 2016

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Wall of hopeful messages outside the Park Street MBTA Station in Boston.

Folks, it’s been a week. And that’s an understatement. One day, I’m uncontrollably shedding tears of joy, riding the high of the Chicago Cubs clinching their first World Series Championship in 108 years (a feeling of pure elation) and not even a full week later, I experience an anxiety for the future—not just my future, but the future of a democracy that values liberty and justice for all—unlike any I’ve experienced in recent years.

In the days immediately following the election, I was consumed by overwhelming feelings of aloneness; fear for myself, my friends, and family, and anyone else who has been the target of hatred based on aspects of their identity; shock; and disillusion. I cried more tears than I thought I was capable of producing. (Crying doesn’t come easily to me, and there was a time I worried that I had exhausted all my tears in my younger years and become hardened by time or something, but it turns out I just needed an upheaval of national safety to make me feel again.)

I attended a peace rally where the attendees chanted words of resistance and commiseration (no shouting “Fuck Trump;” just positive statements); I signed petitions to abolish the Electoral College that probably won’t go anywhere but made me feel slightly less helpless; I tried to numb my feelings with many drinks over many nights with friends of all backgrounds. It’s been four days since I’ve last cried, so I think that phase of my mourning  for America is over, and now I’m somewhere between denial and acceptance that will help me get through the day.

Maybe you think I’m melodramatic for saying I’m in mourning. Maybe in four years, I’ll look back on this blog post and I will laugh because my words will seem ridiculous. Even as I hear the names of inexperienced (looking at Ben Carson, who took himself out of consideration because he has no experience with the role he was thought of) and/or hate-mongering appointees to Trump’s transition team and future Cabinet, I hope they are; I hope I am proven wrong and that what I’m afraid of never comes to pass.

What I am afraid of is not so much the man who the Electoral Vote—as we know, not the Popular Vote—elected our president. Donald Trump, though he spouts hate speech and seems to not fully grasp the responsibilities of a president, is not who threatens me. It is the can of worms that he has unleashed; the anger and outrage he has stoked among white nationalists, xenophobes, and the like who are now driving around waving Confederate flags, spray painting “Make America White Again,” and terrorizing women wearing hijabs.

I’m not by any means trying to reduce this to being all about me, but it does strike me that those who are having the hardest time processing the results of the election are those who believe they have the most to lose based on their experiences as—or perhaps in relationships with—marginalized people. My worries stem from what I observed was happening to people who looked like me, and what I myself, encountered post-9/11.

Immediately after 9/11, my family received harassing phone calls; so many phone calls by people who thought Amladi sounded like an Al Qaeda name (based on nothing but syllables), that we got caller ID installed. We’re not even Muslim, and it should go without saying that I don’t believe that everyday American Muslims should have been targeted or victimized by racial profiling, but we got funny looks at the places where we were regulars, and stopped and searched at airports. In a meeting at work the other day, a colleague said rather flippantly that while she was upset, she thought the younger generation was overreacting. “It’s not like this is 9/11.” And yet, the same anxieties are arising. It’s not the same of course, we didn’t get attacked by an evil external force, but it feels as though by electing someone who has the endorsement of the KKK, that we are normalizing prejudice and discrimination, and that feels like an attack on the people who have been on the receiving end of it.

Because I have always prided myself on having a Benetton crew of friends from all different racial and ethnic backgrounds, orientations, and hometowns, I now find myself worrying about the mental health of all of those friends.

One of my closest friends is gay, Muslim, and Latino. Despite the ups and downs of life, I’ve rarely seen him upset. He’s inconsolable. He might now have to go into a Muslim registry. He could be a target of hate crimes based simply on the people he wants to sleep with or the melanin in his skin. I have LGBT colleagues who are legally married but now worry about health care and other benefits being cut for their children. And friends with preexisting medical conditions who now aren’t sure they’ll be able to continue receiving coverage.

The day after the election, in my state of disbelief, I really wanted to read the analysis, to see what had happened. I was disappointed by my fellow ladies, the 53% of white women in particular, who voted for a man who relishes rating women and normalizes misogynistic rapey “locker room talk.” Girl, the Boys Club will never extend you membership simply because you’re cool with it; you have to challenge its bylaws.

I do want you to know I’m not trying to call out all white people. Despite reports of record numbers of Latinx, Black, and Asian American voters at the polls, I know there are some confused POC who supported Trump, so I don’t see this as just a racial issue. I will however, question anyone who voted for Trump who thought it was OK to condone the spread of racist/sexist/homophobic attitudes. I think if more people were able to present arguments for Trump beyond disagreeing with Hillary on single issues (abortion, health care), or bringing up her character, I could be convinced that people care about the future Of the People, and not just their own self interests.

Though I am a Taurus, and therefore given to being stubborn and always believing I’m right, I believe compromise gets the work done. I like to analyze situations and empathize with others. The thing is, I’m not sure I want to fully analyze this situation. I think if I dig in, I won’t be able to empathize for the sake of my sanity.

I believe in decency and the Golden Rule and that every single person should have the same basic rights, after all that is what our Constitution claims. (Well, sort of, I know the framers were really only considering land-owning white men, but times have changed.) So I don’t understand: How can Trump voters have rationalized casting off other people’s rights in the hopes that things might go back to where they were decades ago?

In hindsight, people are saying we’ve been blindsided by this because we live in a liberal echo chamber. And granted, I live in True Blue Boston and the majority of my friends and family are somewhat liberal. But I am well aware of the angry people in the Heartland who have seen industry disappear and new populations spring up.

I grew up in a city that is known as the former Screw Capital of the World for its once flourishing manufacturing industry. I worked as a bank teller there in 2008, when unemployment was close to 25%, when one of our major employers, Chrysler, couldn’t afford to keep its third shift, and the busiest day was the first of the month, when people came to cash their social security checks. It broke my heart to see people come in with their severance checks and watch them spend them down. It is unbelievably sad to see formerly prosperous place fall, but the marketplace has changed, and companies (like Trump’s) are the ones making the decision to produce their goods overseas.

I know people are hurting, and that there’s a feeling of oh no, everything around me is changing, I want to go back to how things were. At the same time Rockford’s economy was falling apart, Confederate flags flew freely at the trailer homes across the way from my bank. And we had to call the police when a customer got angry with my Black supervisor and his hurling of racial slurs became a threat to our safety. And this was in Northern Illinois. The same year that our senator had been elected as president. So I’m aware of the hurt in these communities; I just never expected someone to play off of their racial anxieties, and I hoped that with time, decency would prevail.

You might have lost your job to someone who looks like me and I’m sorry for that loss, but I had nothing to do with it, and taking your anger out on people like me, here in America, does nothing to get them back. And I don’t get how Trump is the man to trust here; while the government indirectly played a role by taxing those businesses at high rates, businessmen (including Trump) actively made this decision.

The draw for nostalgia is strong, but I don’t believe the way forward is by going backward. It’s awfully narrow-minded to think we can reinstate manufacturing jobs by severing foreign ties; we also need job training programs, or else we will continue leaving this population behind.

Now on to abortion, reproductive rights, and gay marriage. If you voted Trump because of these issues, we will probably always disagree on those topics, but if your beliefs are solely tied to the church, and your church told you to vote for Trump, that’s not good enough. Though we seem to only practice it through lip service, America was established as a place of religious freedom; where church is separate from state. The rights that were won in these areas were hard fought, and I don’t believe anyone goes casually into an abortion clinic, and although Mike Pence believes you can ungay yourself, science tells us otherwise.

To each their own, but if you truly don’t believe in interfering in other people’s lives, why does it matter that some random person has gotten an abortion or married someone of their own sex? Odds are, unless you need to get an abortion to protect your health or your future baby’s health, you get that abortion as soon as you decide you don’t want a kid and you don’t want to carry a child and give it up for adoption. The CDC estimates that 66% of women get an abortion in the first eight weeks. And if you get it done after that, that’s still your prerogative. Every woman has her own reasons for not wanting a baby, the same as any woman who decides she wants a baby does.

The people who have really done democracy a disservice are the 43% of voters who just didn’t exercise their right as citizens. While I agree that lines can be long and that there are definitely people who work two or three jobs or lack the childcare to get to the polls, many states now have early voting in-person and mail-in options. I am less irked by those people who couldn’t make it out than those who couldn’t be bothered, whether it’s because they didn’t support either candidate, or thought that Clinton and Trump were somehow the same amount of harmful to our nation. To those people, especially the ones who were shocked that Clinton didn’t win, shame on you. Do the research, watch the debates (painful as they were), go to their websites to find out their stances on the issues, and do the fact checking.

If you did all of that and still thought that a woman who has dedicated her career to providing access, has proven capable of reaching compromises with the other party, and has a ridiculous amount of foreign policy experience is less qualified than a reality TV star who ran on a slogan, then perhaps logic doesn’t speak to you. Maybe it’s about the gut feeling you get from a candidate. Sure, I didn’t think Hillary was very inspiring, especially after eight years of Obama, but I knew she was the most qualified person for the job. My gut feeling about Trump was that he was loud, placed his self interest above all else, and frankly, juvenile. If you think Hillary’s “crookedness” is somehow not outweighed by family Trump’s racist housing policies, shady Trump University, refusals to denounce the KKK, his complete lack of transparency on taxes and business dealings, and my god the list goes on, then the next four years of his ineptness are what you deserve.

For those who are saying, grow a thicker skin, I don’t know if you’re saying this because you have not been in a situation where you were physically or verbally assaulted or felt unsafe simply because of how you look, how you pray, or who you love, but for those who have been, we have already had to grow that thicker skin to protect ourselves. That doesn’t mean it still can’t be punctured and we can’t still bleed. If you’ve ever dealt with that kind of trauma and went ahead and voted Trump, know that at the very least you’ve enabled a bully and that condoning that behavior in our country’s highest office will have repercussions, not to mention it sets a model for kids that bullying is unpleasant but in the end, totally OK.

I have 5,0001 thoughts on this election, but I’m ending here for now. Stay tuned for part two, Healing.

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Boston Calling score card

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Last weekend, I attended my first-ever Boston Calling. Boston’s answer to the urban festival scene, Boston Calling is a 2.5 day musical extravaganza that celebrates indier artists. I am in no way a queen of modern indie music, so this was the first year there were multiple acts I was excited to see. It would be my first musical festival in 11 years, since Lollapalooza 2005, when it made its Grant Park debut.

I had a late work meeting on Friday and Saturday the temps reached the 90s, so full disclosure, I did not attend all the shows. But what I was for the most part was fun, energizing, and a great display of showmanship on a makeshift stage. Here’s a run-down of the acts I caught.

Friday night:

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Sia – A+  The first time I heard a Sia song on Spotify, I honestly thought it was Rihanna, which in hindsight, makes sense considering she wrote the smash-hit Diamonds for the singer. I had completely forgotten about that until Sia performed her rendition of the song, which honestly, was more fun to listen to. I would classify Sia in the same category as Lady Gaga, an artist and a provocateur. I was worried about being so far away from the singer, but it turns out those of us at a distance had the advantage because Sia’s show hinged on impeccably produced music videos, which played along on the screens next to her as she sang on stage in the background. While the videos played on screen, dancers acted out the movements on stage, which led to some confusion as we saw Paul Dano, Kristin Wiig, and Sia’s go-to dancer Maddie Ziegler in the videos. Were they actually on stage? No one seemed to know, but there was no Shia, so who knows. Whatever was going on, it was seamless and masterful, and I would wholeheartedly recommend attending a Sia concert to anyone who has found themselves struggling to get Chandelier out of their head.

Saturday:

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The Vaccines – B  In fairness, I knew nothing about this group ahead of time, just that my co-concertgoer Jackie was a big fan. Things I learned were that they are a shaggy haired rock group from the U.K. (major points for the accents). Lead singer Justin Hayward-Young leapt around stage with the energy of a man who was not sweltering in 90+ heat even though he was. I will definitely be streaming them in the future.

Courtney Barnett – B  As a subscriber of Rolling Stone, I have been reading nothing but praise about the Aussie export for months. Save for the few times she’s popped up on my Spotify stream and the final episode of Saturday Night Live, which she performed on, I hadn’t actually known much about her music though. Dressed in a simple T-shirt and jeans, Barnett had the attitude of just one of the bros but a solidly gritty voice. I imagine she’s going to be nominated for awards soon, so I’d keep an eye out for her.

Miike Snow – C  At about this point in the day, I was getting massacred by bugs. Turns out wearing yellow attracts them because it reminds them of pollen, duh! So, I had to go to CVS to buy some advanced strength bug spray. Jackie and I also made a pitstop at her job to clean up and use the bathroom. When we got back to City Hall Plaza, Boston Calling’s homebase, his mellow vibes weren’t enough to draw our attention. We ran into some of her friends and ending up chatting with them. Overall, not that engaging.

Robyn – F  No concert experience has ever been so disappointing. Apparently right before performing, Robyn’s peeps dropped a press release announcing a new remixed album that the singer would be promoting during her summer festival shows. I didn’t notice because I was too busy trying to stake out a place in front of her stage for an hour and a half and eat my delicious pulled chicken sandwich and not get my beer knocked over. Needless to say, Robyn’s all-remix set was a disaster. She barely sang, rather, she spent most of her time dancing around on stage. At one point, she appeared to go offstage and I assumed she was changing. Nope, it turned out she was just dancing in between two mirrors on the side of the stage… no one knows why. I made friends with a group of gay men from Chicago who had traveled specifically to see her show. One of them commented to me that he could have seen that act in any gay club at home and that he felt he had wasted his time and money. By then end of the show,  most of his friends had abandoned him. In fact, several of the people who had pushed their way past us to the front had left the show entirely. It was later noted in reviews that a sizable portion of the audience was so disappointed they left. I love, love, love Robyn’s pop 2010 album and she was one of the people I was most looking forward to seeing, but now I can safely see I’ll never think of her the same.

It was an overall fun day despite the heat, later finding bugs in my hair when I showered, and the evening ending with an abysmal Robyn performance.

Sunday:

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Charles Bradley – A   Charles Bradley is the closest living thing we will ever have to James Brown. The 67-year-old soul singer in fact began his musical career as a James Brown impersonator. Amazingly, it wasn’t until a few years ago that Bradley was discovered and awarded a record contract. For decades, he struggled, working odd jobs, and the pain comes through his voice. Like the Godfather of Soul, Bradley rocked capes, shiny pantsuits, and dance moves that at half his age, I could not do.

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Elle King – B+  Previous to Boston Calling, all I really knew about King was that I liked her gritty voice on the single Exs and Ohs, and also that she was said to be SNL alum Rob Schneider’s daughter. Well, after hearing her cover Johnny Cash’s “I Shot a Man in Reno,”  I was a convert. As an added bonus, home girl has a hilarious sailor’s mouth that I appreciate. I feel like she and I could hang.

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Janelle Monae – A+  I hate to sound like the hipster I am turning into, but I have been onto Janelle Monae for years. I love everything about her: her black-and-white attire, the fact that everyone in her band matches her style, her infectiously positive energy, her dance moves, the fact that Prince was one of her mentors, and that she has collaborated with some of the coolest people in R&B. Her set was the one I was hands-down most looking forward to and she 100% delivered. Not only did she do my favorite song of her, Tightrope, but she also nailed a James Brown/M.J. medley. The whole audience turned into a dance party. I especially loved that when she performed her most pop-radio friendly hit, Yoga,  she basically prefaced it with an apology about how she needed a more conventional song to stretch out her dollars. Gotta appreciate the truth. Just when I thought that the show was ending, she pulled out a rendition of Let’s Go Crazy to honor Prince.

Haim – B-  All I really knew about Haim ahead of time was that they seem to hang out with Taylor Swift A LOT, which in my book, is a negative. Jackie and I hung back from the crowd and listened at a distance while we munched on BBQ and later, waffles with fixings. I enjoyed the sister act and their ear-worm worthy songs, though a lot of them sounded the same. I’d give them a deeper listen.

Sunday was the perfect day with much cooler temps and near perfect performances. A great end to a fun weekend. Boston Calling typically happens twice a year but this year, the Labor Day event is being replaced with a beer festival. With a Natalie Portman-curated film festival, and a greater focus on art and comedy, I can’t wait until next year!

Bag ladylike

Cambridge, Mass went plastic-bag free earlier this week. Which is wonderful because it demonstrates a great commitment to the environment, that places care for our planet’s future above consumer preference. Cambridge is not the first place to adopt this measure, but a few days in, it is an interesting experiment in changing our behavior.

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The first day this ordinance went into effect was March 31, a Thursday. I had walked home from work and was sweaty. I had just picked up my boots from a cobbler, who was repairing the heels, so my backpack was filled with them. But at Star Market, where I had stopped for a quick milk run, I had to stuff my gallon in my backpack along with the freshly cleaned-up boots. Result = milk that smelled like boot polish. Minor inconvenience.

Today at CVS, my self-serve register went bonkers because the bag I brought from home was setting off its “foreign objects in checking area” message. Self-serve registers are the best and the worst. Do they actually save you time when the other registers are full? Not really since you have to wait to be served by the same CSRs. Again, not a huge inconvenience, but I can see this creating jams in the future.

Today also marks the season finale of the Walking Dead. I’m pretty sure everyone’s favorite nerd-turned-romantic Glenn is going to die in a most brutal fashion. So I bought some wine because this episode is going to be tough to sit through. At the liquor store, the cashiers were discussing the ordinance and I heard one guy telling the other that thus far, many of their clients haven’t had a problem bringing in their own bags. Part of the ordinance is that you can still get plastic bags (though they are compostable and therefore thinner than before) but that you have to pay 10 cents for them. The cashier ringing me up said that the main people who were paying this fee were “bums buying nips” (his words, not mine). And these bums haven’t really minded ponying up the fee because they didn’t really have another option.

So, I’m not going to comment on alcoholism and homelessness, but I do think this has created another class issue that those who thought up the ordinance probably never considered. Reusable bags have previously been a marker of weller-to-do environmental types. People who bring resuable bags with them often have the time to plan out their trips because they can stop home to bring bags with them, or maybe they always keep bags in their car. Not to make judgments, but if you don’t own a lot of belongings, I’m guessing resuable bags might not be part of the mix. Or, you use those bags to carry around all your other belongings.

I get the whole reasoning behind the bag fee. It’s a disincentive and it’s meant to condition us to be less reliant on plastic bags. And it’s only taking place in Cambridge, so if you travel into Boston this ordinance doesn’t matter. But it is an interest experiment. And it carries an assumption about Cambridge citizens based on consumers with more disposable income. I suppose that’s how most things go, so it’s not really surprising. And maybe it’s not really putting that many people out. Maybe in five years it will be hard to remember life before this ordinance.

 

 

 

Peace out, late nights

Boston’s late-night MBTA service, a two-year experimental offering, ended last weekend, just in time for the drunken shenanigans of St. Patrick’s Day Weekend. When the city announced this decision, we were universally mocked. The New York Times ran a story on how the transit system’s midnight-pumpkin trick means that Boston is stunting its own development and is sealing its fate as a mini big-city.

When I first started this blog, I wrote an entry much to the same effect. Having lived in close proximity to Chicago my whole pre-Boston life, I assumed that big cities have at least one or two major train lines that run all night to facilitate the going out habits of its younger inhabitants. And in Boston, because of all the colleges and tech companies housed in the Boston/Cambridge/Somerville area, about a third of its inhabitants are Millennials. So it would follow that late-night service would cater to this crowd.

The funny thing is that since this service was introduced in March of 2014, I have taken advantage of it maybe a handful of times. I distinctly remember when late-night service was instituted, the weekend of my friend Jeanean’s 30th birthday. She had arrived from NYC to spend the weekend in Boston and was crashing at my place. A very proud Latina, the theme of her party was doble quince, meaning it was a grown-up redo of her quinceanera. We wanted to do it big, so we got dressed up and headed into the city for a night out. We even went to a club that required tickets to get in. As the digital display on my phone alerted me that it was far past 12:30, I wasn’t freaking out about the shitty cab service in downtown Boston because I knew we could hop on the freshly up-late Red Line. But then Jeanean’s friend offered to drive us home.

Since then, Uber has come into my life. Now, any time I’m out past midnight and somewhere that I can’t walk home from (which is basically just Davis Square), I have an on-demand car service to take me back. Not the cheapest, but not as expensive as a train. It is certainly far faster than the train. Most of the time, when I’m out late with friends, they’ll suggest splitting an Uber or Lyft to get home if we live in the same general area.

So maybe it’s not that the city is limiting our ability to go out, but rather than people in Boston have started to rely on technology instead of public services. Of course, that comes with all sorts of economic implications—people who work late-night shifts in medicine and hospitality, or whatever—have an additional barrier to getting home reliably at reasonable cost. But since that barrier only came down for the last two years, hopefully it’s not so much of a financial burden to acclimate to it. So really, what it comes down to has less to do with us stunting a thriving nightlife scene than having an economic divide. Which let’s face it, what’s more big city than gentrification pushing out/inconveniencing lower-income inhabitants. Tragically, in that aspect, we’re probably closer to New York than it would like to think.

Letter to a middle school me

Earlier this evening at a dinner with my coworkers, someone mentioned Armageddon, a film that has gone down in history as the launching pad of the cinematic brain suck of Michael Bay, but to me it represents all things middle school. Around that time, I developed a massive lady boner for Ben Affleck, and was obsessed with the Aerosmith-heavy film soundtrack, even and especially the “Animal Crackers” dialogue that made all the girls swoon. Later, I started thinking about the major song from that album, “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” and drifted back to one particular middle school experience.

As a seventh grader at Eisenhower Middle School, I attended my first co-ed dance. It was in October and fall themed. Aerosmith played. I loved watching music videos on VH1 and had seen this video hundreds of times. I did my best Steven Tyler impression, complete with the hair flips, gyrations, and finger wags. And people thought I was a fucking weirdo. My friends─the ones I had been so close to the previous year at Bloom School─largely ignored me in their quests to find boys to dance with, or more likely, dance next to. I remember feeling like a loser, but I kept dancing because it made me happy. And all these years later, that’s still something I believe: just keep dancing.

I was a weird, quirky art kid and that sucked then because when you’re 12, weirdness is not appreciated. Sameness and not sticking out is what it’s all about. But as an adult, my weirdness─my obscure knowledge of pop culture, self-deprecating sense of humor, and unique interests are treasured. In the workplace, standing out is valued. So in the spirit of cleansing my soul of all those leftover insecurities, as a cathartic exercise, I wrote a letter to my past self.

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Dear Middle School Me,

Always keep dancing. People might be giving you the side-eye now or talking smack about you because you’re doing more than just swaying robotically in place and─shocker─you’re actually moving your arms, but that’s because they lack your natural rhythm and they don’t want to look uncool by trying and failing. So they make themselves feel better by mocking those who can. Know that years from now, when you’re living in Boston, people will be envious of your moves. They will wish they had natural rhythm and you will on more than one occasion hear someone else on a dance floor say to their friend, that girl really knows how to dance.

You will have only as many friends as you can count on one hand, and more people will mean girl you than be cordial with you, but it will help you develop hobbies and build character. The friends you do have will be loyal. And you will spend a great deal of time reading books beyond your reading level with lots of adult language for cheap thrills that will take you on adventures, fill your head with ideas, and teach you about the world. You will spend your time watching an inordinate amount of TV, and the result will be that you are amazeballs at pub trivia as an adult and anyone would be lucky to have you as a partner.

As an adult, the nerds shall inherit pop culture. Socially awkward outsiders will star on TV shows (though they will be unrealistically attractive to men) and movies based on comic book characters will dominate the cinema. Also, there will be a handful of cool brown people in both media that you can actually relate to. Your comprehensive knowledge of music will result in reverence for your playlist creating abilities.

All the things that made you an angst-filled outsider teenager will suddenly make you popular, at least among the people whose opinions you care about. You will be known by your friends and grad school peers as “the funny one.” Your pickiness in choosing friends, a result of not trusting people after years of being treated shittily by my peers, will result in strong friendships with people you know would take someone out for you if you asked them to.

You will form a gang of friends that proudly refers to itself as the Nerd Crew that carries on a daily Facebook conversation laced with profanity, references to superheroes, cartoons, and The Room. Those nerds are also there anytime you have a problem. Most importantly, years of being on your own will result in a strong, independent woman who knows how to take care of shit, for herself and others. In short, you will grow up to be awesome, so just keep dancing and screw the haters.

The quest for Boston Cream Pie

Boston cream pie (sometimes spelled Boston creme pie) is the official dessert of the state of Massachusetts. First created at Omni Parker House hotel in 1856, it’s become a staple American treat.

This August, it will be six years since I moved to Boston. And it was not until today that I tried my first authentic BCP. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve sampled it growing up, but having never eaten it in Boston is equivalent to someone living in Chicago for a number of years and only having eaten deep dish at an Uno’s in New Jersey. Not the real deal.

The other morning, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when a delicious pic caught my eye: it was the pie, retweeted by my friend Christine. The one below was baked by famed Bostonian chef Joanne Chang of Flour and Myers + Chang fame.

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I tweeted at Christine, “Can you believe I’ve never actually tried Boston Cream Pie in Boston?” and a challenge was born. My amazing friend Christine loves giving tours, especially food tours, so she asked if we could go on a BCP tour of the city. We decided to jump on the opportunity ASAP, because why not?

With the sun out and temps topping out in the 50s, it was the perfect day to walk all over the city. We met some roadblocks along the way: namely, two of the restaurants we had selected were closed. One, Finale, a dessert restaurant many friends had suggested we hit up on our tour, had closed last week. Such luck! A third place we naturally assumed would serve BCP–LA Burdick’s–chocolate cafe did not.

We first stopped at Flour, the inspiration for our quest. With locations in Boston and Cambridge, Flour is a popular bakery and there is always a line out the door. We went to their new shop in Back Bay thinking the line there might be a lesser beast. And then–HORRORS–when we made our way to the bakery case, we discovered there was no more BCP. They were sold out. Not ones to stand in line at bakery and not order anything, Christine opted for the coconut cream pie and I went with the chocolate cream pie, which seemed like it would be BCP’s little sister dessert.

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The chocolate cream in the pie was dark chocolate pudding perfection. I’m not big on coconut, but I tried a bite of the other pie and it was good as well. Neither pie shared the custard interior of a BCP, so they weren’t really substitutes, but they counted in the moment, and most importantly, were delicious.

After our other options failed, we headed to Omni Parker House, birthplace of the BCP. Christine and I had started our day by vowing to “eat as much pie as humanly possibly,” but when we sat down at Omni’s bar, it became evident that our bodies craved actual nutrients as well. So we ate some real food: soup for Christine, salad for me. Then our bartender, a crusty, hilarious, friendly older woman who would have fit in on Cheers, asked if we wanted to split a BCP. Christine and I eyed each other. This lady didn’t know about our deal. We were going to eat as much as possible, so why would we share? She caught our look and added her two cents: It was Sunday, we had earned our own pieces.

boston cream pie 2

When the pie came out, it was the archetypal Boston cream pie. Chocolate with swirls, rum-infused custard cream filling. The interior of the “pie” was actually a dense yellow sponge cake and the exterior was coated with almond shavings. This was it. The dessert six years in the making.

You eat with your eyes, and the first few bites of the BCP were really satisfying. Especially when I swirled the whipped cream and berry sauces together with each bite. But then after a few bites, I realized the cake was denser than I liked and while the custard was cool and creamy, there wasn’t enough to counterbalance the denseness. So the cake in the end was drier than I imagined. After dessert, we decided to abandon the quest in favor of a cocktail to cleanse our palates.

Internet friends of Christine’s suggested we try Petsi Pies, Watertown’s Deluxe Diner (too far for today), and of course, there are many North End options, including Bova’s Bakery, which is allegedly open 24 hrs/day. So maybe the quest is just on hold, ready to be completed another day. Maybe then I will find that cream-chocolate-cake balance I’ve been dreaming of.

 

Another year in the rearview

Happy 2016! Last year will forever go down as the year I was trapped inside my apartment going cabin fever crazy all winter long. It definitely triggered my Seasonal Affective Disorder and sent me down a yearlong path of deep introspection that at times probably made me not the most awesome person to be around. But hey, your 20s are supposed to be kind of navel-gazey, right?

Coming up in 2016, I will be saying goodbye to my 20s. And while the ageing is not a process I’m looking forward to, I don’t think I’ll mind being 30. I’ve felt 30 all year, so I may as well just be that age. Once I get there though, I might start to be one of those people who pretends to be 30 for a couple of years cuz I think I can get away with it (brown don’t frown!).

Though this year felt exceptionally LONG and frustrating, lots of amazing things happened too.

  1. I crossed two destinations off my bucket list: Miami and Montreal! My family went on its first real road trip, from Boston to Montreal, and I got to drive in another country! Plus, I got to use my passport for the second time in 10 years.  And now, I’m kicking off 2016 by checking another box: New Orleans over MLK weekend!
  2. Three years of hard work culminated in a promotion. Work has been especially hard this year as my team underwent a large transition over the summer, but I’m making more money and handling more responsibilities, so yay!
  3. I got to take my brother to his first Cubs game.
  4. I mastered holiday hosting  by slow cooking the perfect Thanksgiving turkey.
  5. I got more in touch with my artsy side, taking a batik class and painted a really cool portrait of Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson.

Other notable things that happened this year:

  1. Thanks to my friend Christine, I became obsessed with awkward British comedies (Peep Show, In Betweeners, and Fresh Meat).
  2. I read a lot more than I did the previous year.
  3. I made some really dope playlists that made me minorly famous among friends of friends.
  4. Between yoga, spinning, and workouts at the Tufts gym, I think I exercised more consistently than I ever have before. Excited to keep this trend going in 2016.
  5. Last night I rewatched Inside Out. I realized that with getting older, I’ve been owning my feelings better and as a result, have been keeping it realer, at work as well as in my personal life. And it’s had  the positive effect of more people keeping it real with me and more interesting conversations.

Falling for fall

I’ve always had a funny relationship with fall. I suffer from year-round allergies, but fall especially does a number on my sinuses. Fall also signifies the end of summer and the coming of winter, my least favorite season. And fall in Illinois was generally very short-lived. The leaves change over the course of one week, and then it’s Halloween and everyone’s already in their puffy jackets so the costumes you spent so much time planning are covered up.

But fall in New England is another story. The foliage here is the ideal of leaves changing, the source of much literary inspiration. There’s something so peaceful about holding a cup of cider (no pumpkin spice latte for this lady) as you walk through down the street, leaves of burnt sienna, red-orange, and taupe crunching underfoot, all cozy in your light jacket.

fall leaves

Much as I find Christopher Colombus one of history’s great assholes, I enjoy not having to work on Columbus Day. This year, my roommate and I rented a Zipcar and road tripped to Honey Pot Hill apple orchard in Stow, MA. It’s located about 45 minutes away from Boston, which isn’t too bad. The drive over lets you taken in all the glory of New England fall colors.

Going to the apple orchard was a regular tradition for me growing up. Edward’s Apple Orchard is a beloved cultural institution in Northern Illinois. It’s just not fall without a trip to the orchard. A few year’s ago, there was a terrible storm that struck Poplar Grove and tore up the barn at the orchard. The community rallied and now the farm store at the orchard looks better than ever. I started going to the orchard with my best friend Katie and her mom, but soon enough, I convinced my family to make it a local tradition. So every year, we made the pilgrimage to indulge in all things apple: cider, pie, donuts, fudge, and more.

At Edward's a decade ago.

At Edward’s a decade ago.

Honey Pot Hill for the most part didn’t disappoint. Although they tragically (though not for my waistline) didn’t have any slices of pie for sale, the apple cider donuts were light, fresh, sugar-packed, and best of all, there was no wait to pick them up! My roommate and I decided to pick our own apples, and had a blast roaming the rows of trees, climbing and posing on ladders, and finding juicy, ripe apples of both the green and red varieties. It was Indian summer weather, sunny with temps in the 70s. With an acute awareness that winter could rear its ugly head at any time, we made the most of our day.

Anyone with a desire to make their own apple pie, or take a hayride in an orchard, or visit a different Green Monster, New England’s largest maze (according to the sign), should check out Honey Pot Hill. There’s also a petting zoo and pumpkin patch; it’s obviously a great spot for the kiddos. Nothing could measure up to my memories of Edward’s, but that doesn’t make my new memories of roommate bonding and taking in the fall colors any less meaningful.

apple tree

Until the weather dips and the I need to dig out my puffy coat and turn the heat on, Yayyy fall.

Blissed out

Those who know me know I’m a pretty low-maintenance chick. I can count the number of massage treatments I’ve had on one hand.

  1. A facial I got when staying at a hotel that doubled as an Ayurvedic spa on a family trip to Kerala, India
  2. A deep-tissue massage two years ago at a low-key massage parlor I scored a Groupon for
  3. A foot massage on New Year’s Eve with my bestie

This weekend, I decided it was necessary to really treat myself. This summer has been rough with roommates moving in and out, my grandfather passing away, and a giant work transition. I’ve been running on super stress mode for the last month and for Labor Day Weekend, I made minimal plans: a yoga session, some scheduled reading time, and a massage.

Shockingly, Groupon failed me. None of its advertised massage deals were in the city, so I took to Yelp to find the ultimate stress-relieving cure for my aching TMJ-fucked jaw and the effects of a non-ergonomic desk set-up. What I found was Bliss. Bliss Boston is a branch of the extremely popular brand that sells luscious body butters, cellulite creams, and the like at department stores and Sephora.

bliss

I booked the “Rubber Neck,” a package that focused on the neck up to the ears, upper back, and shoulders. Perfect for my tense upper body. Since there was no coupon, the price was higher than I’d normally want to spend, but I got the convenience of booking online, a feature that most spas don’t offer. Bliss Boston is located downtown in the extremely upscale W hotel. It took me a minute to figure out how to actually get to the salon, as it is located on the Mezzanine, which means you have to go through the main hotel entrance and hop on an elevator.

Due to my confusion, I arrived at my appointment a little late; but no matter, once I checked in, I was led on the same tour all first timers get. The women’s facilities featured steam showers equipped with Bliss products, a changing room with robes and lockers provided, and a waiting area with a plush velvet couch, and free cheese! There was a “brownie bar” too, but I attacked the free cheese cuz I love cheese.

bliss bar bliss food

My masseuse (I unfortunately don’t know how to spell her name and don’t want to murder it), was freaking amazing. Before she started, she asked why I booked the massage. I told her I have TMJ disorder and also carry a lot of tension in my upper back. She asked me to disrobe and then liberally applied a hot mineral mud pack to my back. She told me the mud pack would take 15 minutes to dry, so in the meantime, she offered me a complimentary foot or scalp massage. I asked if I could have both.

The foot massage was definitely much-needed since walking is my primary mode of transportation in the city. But the scalp massage was EVERYTHING. It was like getting your hair washed at the salon x 100. I am a regular headache sufferer and I’m convinced that if I got regular scalp massages, this would no longer be an issue.

After the mud pack dried, she peeled it right off and werked my back. It was definitely worth the cost of the massage as she dug her elbows in REAL DEEP and got out all my knots. As a note: I like my massages to hurt because it helps me feel the tensions being worked away, but I know she would have been gentler if I asked because she constantly asked me if her pressure was OK, or if the wrap was too warm, etc. Once she finished my back, she turned me over and gave me an actual house-made fresh cucumber eye mask.

Because I had  mentioned my TMJ issues prior to the massage, once she finished my neck and shoulders, she started on my face and really worked my jaw and TMJ. It was everything I wanted and more, and I think she went above and beyond the normal massage package. Afterwards, my poor cranky TMJ felt a lot better. I just generally felt good, which is a feeling that’s been harder to access lately.

Once my massage was over, I was led back into the waiting room, where I gulped down fresh lemon water and snacked on cheese. Then, because I had time, I tested out the steam showers. Bliss bathing products are quite a bit outside my budget, but I used every product and left the spa smelling like eucalyptus, chamomile, and lavender.

steam shower room

Massages are definitely a treat yo’self experience for me that I can see myself indulging in once or twice a year. I would definitely recommend the spa to anyone who needs a special afternoon to take a break from life’s stress. Definitely not the place for penny-pinchers, but a chance to pamper yourself that is well worth every penny.

On Homecations

Both my Boston friends and my back-at-home friends have expressed to me that they feel bad for me because I use a majority of my vacation days making trips back home to Rockford. And while I resolved this year to go on more destination trips, I’ve never felt that by taking trips home to visit my family and friends instead of visiting, say the Bahamas, I’ve been missing out on anything.

As a transplant the idea of home is always a loose concept. When in Boston, I never think of it as my home … even though my apartment is my home. And when I’m back in Rockford, I can’t help but compare everything to and make references to Boston at a rate that must be extremely annoying to the people who have to listen to me.

I love portmanteaus, so I shall henceforth refer to trips home as homecations because if staycations are a socially acceptable phrase that Word doesn’t correct, vacationing back home should be a thing too.

I made a recent trip home that was especially nice because it was like a marathon of all the things I love. In four short days and nights, I went to a Cubs day game in celebration of my brother’s birthday, saw Inside Out, ate some of my favorite meals care of my mother, and spent time with three of my closest friends. It was short, but sweet, and action-packed.

When I landed at my favorite airport, O’Hare, my brother picked me up curbside and we promptly drove to a Mexican restaurant in Rosemont to meet up with my college roommate whom I often call my sista. We all then attempted to go out in a massive outdoor party area, but it was way too fratty and I was too sleepy to focus. So my brother drove me to his apartment in Humboldt Park. As an older sister, the experience was particularly meaningful because it was a reversal. My brother got to host me and take care of me, thereby demonstrating his entry into adulthood. It was refreshing to be the sibling taken care of rather than the chauffeur, chef, or entertainer.

The next day, we went to his first Cubs game, a birthday present from me. The Chicago Cubs are not a team known for earning championship pennants but the fans have a reputation of being rowdy and fun-loving. And this game-despite a loss-was not a letdown. Sharing the ballgame experience once again strengthened the roommate bond.

cubs

                                                                                             At the game.

The following two days, I met up with two of my childhood friends and discovered two new spots. In a very unplanned ironic turn, I spent Independence Day evening at a British pub, Hope and Anchor. It’s a bar roughly five minutes away from my parents’ house but because it sprung up in the time since I moved away, I had no idea this gem existed. When my friend and I rolled up, we found a double-decker bus in the parking lot. Inside, were poster of famous British films, signs of Brit slang, and all the drinks were themed. Since I had been obsessed binge watching Peep Show at the time, I was geeked. Their version of the Moscow Mule was especially refreshing as the ginger beer was actually alcoholic, and packed an additional light punch.

Then on Sunday, I got to see my best friend from elementary school, a friend who has known me since the age of six. When you know someone from that long–23 years–you just jump back into the natural rhythms of your relationship, which for us is ranting about media, politics, society, etc. … which has been a big part of our friendship since we hit angsty teenhood. We hit up Rockford Brewing Company, a local brew house that popped up in the historic Prairie Street Brewhouse. Rockford Brewing Company was right next to the rink my friends and I used to ice skate at. The interior was open, exposed, and beautifully wood finished. Makes sense that it has become THE wedding reception hot spot in town. I ordered a flight and my friend got an absurdly massive pub pretzel, and both of our orderings were delightful.

After a lunch at Stockholm Inn, the spot to get Rockford’s specialty Swedish pancakes, I was off to Boston again. Though it was rough to return to work the next day, I came back to town feeling like not a single moment of my homecation had been superfluous. I had spent quality time with my family, had good conversations and experiences with my brother, helped my mom get socially connected on Facebook, and had some memorable moments with my best friends.

Looking forward to my next homecation.