Pop-Cultured with Barnes and Noble

Are you looking for fun free things to do this summer? Yep, we all are. Last week I headed over to my local Barnes and Noble…because I had coupons. I discovered their summertime program “Get Pop-Cultured”.

In honor of the 75th anniversary of the caped crusader, July 23rd (I just realized that is TODAY!) is Batman day, and they’re giving away a special edition comic. They’ll also be chances to win things like a mini bat-signal. The rest of the week continues with their DC Comics Spectacular. (July 23-27)

Beginning on July 24 they’ll have summer convention collectibles available in limited supplies, and that will also run to the 27th.

August 1st at 7pm is Frozen, and I hear there will be a cupcake decorating contest. Who doesn’t love cupcakes?

Marvel day is August 2nd to coincide with the release of Guardians of the Galaxy. They’ll have activities and giveaways in honor of Marvel’s 75th anniversary.

August 3rd is James Patterson Day, and all week August 4th celebrates Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

August 9th and 10th they’ll be discussing connections between the page and the screen with all kinds of fun stuff.

Now I’m going to head over for my free comic today…as soon as the thunderstorm blows over anyway.

‘Till next time,
Jessica


Boston: Part Five – Food!

Okay, so maybe this is a bit extreme, but in addition to the NE Aquarium, Freedom Trail, Salem, Fenway, and Sam Adams Brewery I had to tell you about the food (and beer). One of the great experiences of any vacation is trying out the local cuisine.  Coming from a landlocked state, I jump at any chance for fresh seafood, but all the food was excellent.

We started every morning at City Feed in Jamaica Plain (well, except for a morning we went to Whole Food to pick up some groceries).  Most days we just got coffee or tea, but the first morning I got a prosciutto scone.  I’d never really eaten savory scones before, but this is something I’m definitely going to have to try.

On the recommendation of our host, we also checked out Strega in Boston’s North End.  I had the most amazing dish of pasta with scallops, shrimp, spinach and their strega sauce.  Oh my gosh…delicious.  I still feel bad that my friend has a mild allergy to shell-fish, so she could only eat a bite of mine.  She said her pasta with eggplant was good, but not nearly as good as my pasta.

 

Union Oyster House Boston MA

Union Oyster House

Union Oyster House takes its place as my favorite for the week, though.  Although the restaurant was founded in 1826, the building has been there for 250 years, and it played its own part in the founding of the United States.  The first paymaster for the Continental Army, Ebenezer Hancock.  At that time it was Capen’s silk and dry goods store.  The wives of Adams, Hancock and Quincy often sat here, sewing and mending clothes for the colonists.  A future king of France lived on the second floor in 1796.  Exiled from France, he taught French to Boston’s fashionable young ladies.  Louis Phillippe later returned to his country and served as king from 1830-1848.  The building later came to be called Atwood & Bacon, an oyster house, and some of Boston’s greats came to dine at the fabled semi-circular Oyster Bar, including Daniel Webster.  The Kennedy’s were also frequent customers, and there is a booth dedicated to the memory of J. F. K.  The Union Oyster House  has only had three owners during its long history. (All historic information comes from Union Oyster House website under “History”.)

The history of the establishment is not as impressive as its food, and that’s saying something.  Our first visit, I had baked haddock filled with seafood stuffing, roasted potatoes and asparagus.  Now, anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I consider potatoes to be their own, essential, food group.  The fish was so tender and flavorful, that I skipped the potatoes in order to be able to eat more fish…yep, that good.  Our second visit, I had lobster ravioli.  Succulent, creamy and delicious…I didn’t bother ordering any sides or even a salad.

One of the first things a friend of mine, a Boston native, told me was that I needed to get Monkfish Marsala at The Daily Catch.  The North End location is tiny, and seats maybe 15 people total.  At first, I thought we weren’t going to be able to get in.  Every time we walked by their location there was a line down the street.  However, we managed to get there during the week for an early lunch, and there were two seats left.  Now I’ve never had monkfish before, but I swear the next time I had lunch with the friend who recommended it, all I could think about was that tender fish and savory/sweet sauce.  How am I supposed to go back to eating frozen seafood after this?

We couldn’t escape the North End without trying a couple of the Italian bakeries there.  Bova’s was first on our list.  Their eclairs and Boston Cream pie were as beautiful to look at as they were to eat.  A mad dash through the pouring rain didn’t even deter us from trying their pastry.  We also got a mini-cannoli to share.  That bite convinced me, I was going to need to explore further.  My favorite may have been Modern Pastry.  This is where I really got my first cannoli, and tried macaroons for the first time too.  You pick out your shell, filling and toppings and they make it for you right there.  I chose a crisp shell, dipped in chocolate with a traditional ricotta filling.  I’m going on a hunt for cannoli in Tulsa, but I’m afraid I’ve been spoiled.  Before trying the cannoli in Boston, I thought they were kind of like a cream horn that are readily available in bakeries here.  I’ve never been so wrong.  Instead of the overwhelming sweetness I was expecting, these were creamy but not quite as rich as a cream cheese filling and barely sweet at all.  They have a great balance between that crisp shell, light creamy filling, and dusted with powdered sugar for the perfect amount of sweetness. (now I’m hungry).

BostonGreenDragonTavernI can’t leave out the taverns.  We stopped for a beer at the Green Dragon, which was established in 1654.  Paul Revere, John Hancock, and Daniel Webster were all frequent customers.  John Hancock’s brother actually lived next door.  The plans for the invasion of Lexington and Concorde were overheard here, so this is really the beginning of Revere’s historic ride.  It gives me goosebumps every time I think about it.  Paul Revere and John Hancock discussed the ride in the same tavern I enjoyed a Sam Adams Summer Ale.

We also stopped at Bell in Hand, which boasts its status as the oldest tavern in America.  It was built in 1795.  When we dropped it there, it wasn’t what we expected.  It was more dance club than tavern, with flashing lights, loud music, and a plethora of twenty-somethings crowding up to the bar.  It reminded me of college.  We didn’t stay long, but we did have a beer there.

Of course, this being Boston, there was no shortage of Irish Pubs to be found.  Our first evening in town we stopped off at The Black Rose for a pint or two before heading back to the condo.   Like most Irish pubs, it didn’t disappoint, dim but warm atmosphere, a good bartender, and a group of drunken revelers made for an entertaining evening.

‘Til next time,
Jessica

P.S. I discovered when we got home, that Benedict Cumberbatch arrived in Boston the week after we left…he also enjoyed cannoli at Modern Pastry.  Really?  A week after I left?  Well, Benedict, I hope you enjoy Boston as much as I did!


That’s All I Have to Say About That

kakistocracyThere’s actually a word for this!  Hm…I’m just leaving this one as it is.

‘Til next time,

Jessica


Boston: Part Four – Fenway Park and Sam Adams

Catch part one, part two, and part three too.

My best friend received tickets to see the Red Sox play in Fenway along with dinner at Strega for her birthday gift (okay, so maybe it was a bit of a gift to myself too).  The day of the game dawned cold and rainy.  Now when I say cold, I mean frigid, especially for the end of May.  The high never made it out of the 50’s and the rain made things just that much more dreary.

Utopia Sam Adams Brewery Boston MA

Utopia

Before we ever made it to the game, we toured the Sam Adams Brewery (free beer before the exorbitant prices of concessions at the ball park?  Of course!).  I’ve toured my fair share of breweries, and this definitely wins first prize for entertaining tour guides and fun atmosphere.  The Boston location is their R & D facility.  This is also where they brew Utopia.  What’s Utopia?  This is their 27% alcohol, limited release beer that I’d never heard of.  They only sell the concoction on odd number years, and only release between 1,500 and 2,000 bottles with the price per bottle averaging between $150 and $200.  Utopia actually won a cognac taste contest…well, it did until they revealed it was actually a beer.  Then they took their prize away.

Every tasty thing starts with ingredients, and that’s where the tour began as well.  Allowing each person to taste the different roasts of barley (my favorite was the caramel roast, but as much as I enjoy a good dark beer, I wasn’t thrilled with the dark roasted barley.  It just tasted burnt.) and rubbing hops between our hands to release the aroma was fun and interesting.  I’d never really given too much thought to the ingredients of beer before, and after this part of the tour, a little idea got put in the back of my mind…it would be kind of fun to brew my own beer.

Unsurprisingly, my favorite part of the tour was the tasting.  We tried three different brews.  The Boston Larger, Summer Ale and a new one that is in development.  So new, in fact, it doesn’t have a name.  Of course it doesn’t.  It was my favorite.  All week, I’d been drinking Sam Adams Brick Red, an Irish Red sold only in Boston and Sam Adams Summer Ale (very different, but both delicious).  I really enjoyed the explanation of the difference in brewing techniques, clarity in different varieties, and thinking about the actual flavors revealed with each taste.  The new beer, referred to as extra special bitters, contains a couple of varieties of English hops and has a great crisp flavor.  If you hear about any Sam Adams beers being released that sound a bit like this, let me know.

All good tours end in the gift shop, and this is where our Sam Adams brewery tour ended as well.  We were free to peruse the shop with the remnants of our last beer from the tasting (mine was long gone).  I was getting a bit nervous about the cold weather predicted for the game, so I was on a hunt for warm…stuff.  We’d started the day with a bit of shopping at Faneuil Hall and Quincy Markets.  If we were going to go to the game tonight (predicted to be 45 degrees and raining), I was going to need something warmer than anything I packed.  Fortunately, I found a hoodie and we both got some gloves.  Sam Adams Brewery also supplied a long-sleeved t-shirt from their gift shop.  I should have joined my friend in purchasing a beanie, but I foolishly thought the hood would be enough.

Fenway Boston MA

Fenway!

Fenway Boston MA

It’s Cold!

Our seats were in the right field bleachers, and pretty great.  The Red Sox beat the pants off the Braves, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment at all.  There have probably been baseball games in which I paid less attention.  I can’t remember them though.  There was a lot of texting happening to keep my mind off of the cold.  A lot of laughing with my friend, and getting to know the couple sitting behind us.  This was the evening that convinced me that I wasn’t as keen to move to Boston as I thought.  It was the end of May.  This weather was just wrong.  We had a great evening, and lasted until the top of the 9th before we gave up and went back to warm up.

Fenway is an exciting place.  In spite of the weather there was a good crowd in attendance, but that may have been due to the fact they were celebrating the 10th anniversary of their 2004 World Series win.  Members of the 2004 team were brought back to make an appearance, and the mood was pretty festive.  My parents were in (warm) Oklahoma watching the game on television, and watching for us.  By the time our section made national television, we were out of there. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything though.  It was a fun night (even if I slept in the hoodie because I couldn’t get warm).

What’s the coldest event you’ve ever attended?  Also, anybody out there brew your own beer?  How’d it turn out? Is it worth a try?
‘Til next time,

Jessica


Boston: Part Three – Salem

You can catch up with part one and part two, if you missed them.

Nathaniel Hawthorn Statue, Salem MA

Nathaniel Hawthorn Statue

During our stay, we took a day trip out to Salem to see the location of the infamous Salem Witch Trials.  The town has more little museums, occult themed gift stores and store fronts for psychics than any place I’ve been outside of a Renaissance Fair.  It makes for a very cool, slightly spooky place.  The town itself is gorgeous with beautiful architecture, well maintained gardens, tasty restaurants and a beautiful view of the ocean, but I also got the feeling that I didn’t want to be there after dark.  I’m sure this has more to do with my runaway imagination than anything else, but I’m grateful we had a sunny day for our visit.

Hopping on the train with no real plan in mind, we made the short journey.  When I say no real plan, I’m completely serious.  We knew there was a museum or two we wanted to visit, but other than that…we made things up as we went.  We thought that the red lines painted on the sidewalks would be incredibly helpful.  In Boston they have a red brick line embedded in the sidewalks to guide tourists through a walk on the Freedom Trail, so this is the same thing right?  Nope.  Close though.  The red lines all led to a tourist attraction, but there isn’t a real trail.  It branches off and goes in different directions, and following the red lines didn’t lead us where we thought they would.  There were just too many things to see.

The first museum we visited was the Salem Witch Museum, and surprisingly it was more performance than typical museum.  Everyone starts the tour sitting in a darkened room with an illuminated red pentagram emblem in the floor and wax figures or mannequins in life-sized shadow boxes on the upper level surrounding the viewing area.  As the story of the Salem Witch Trials unfolds individual shadow boxes light up.  Of course, the whole thing begins with a figure of the devil and the only light is his red eyes.  It was creepy but fun.  Not quite haunted house scary, but creepy. (otherwise, my bestie would never have gone in with me.  There may have been an “incident” in which I threw pushed her into a wall when a werewolf in a haunted house ran toward me much more quickly than I expected. That ended her willingness to allow me to participate in these events with her.)  The tour ended with another tour guide explaining the exhibits and proven facts of the time period.  What really impressed me was the tail end.  They explained a bit about Wicca, which really set the actual religion apart from what these 17th Century people had been persecuted for.  Of course, I’m a fan of anything that advocates tolerance for people’s’ differences.

Cemetery Salem MA

Salem Cemetery

Before we actually embarked on our museum tour, we explored some other sites in town, including an old cemetery.  A cemetery in which my best friend abandoned me (although she swears that is not the case).  Victims of the trials are laid to rest in this cemetery along with others from the same period.  My short time in that place felt eerie, even in the bright sunlight.  I explored tombstones from another era, and scared…myself.   My friend told me she was going to go look at a sign featured at another entrance to the cemetery.  This didn’t worry me because it was only a dozen yards away and there was a tour group that arrived the same time we did.  However, a few minutes later, I looked over and no friend, so I looked for the tour group (about 15 people) and I couldn’t see any of them.  Not. A. Single. Person.  I may have possibly been worried for a moment that the dead witches took them all. (It was only for a second though!)  As I slowly turned in a circle, searching for any human being (who wasn’t dead and buried), I got a little nervous, but by the time I made it back around to the last place I’d seen the tour group, they were actually there.  My friend however, was not.  Possibly, it was a coincidence that my particular location meant that when I looked the first time, all 16 people were hidden from view by trees, signs or tombstones…we’re totally going with that.  A minute or two later, I got a text from my friend who was waiting at a church six blocks away.

IMG_0804A fascinating aspect of the cemetery (other than the spooky abandonment) were the style of the tombstones themselves.  Many of them depicted a skull surrounded by wings.  Although, this is just my personal theory, I’m guessing the carving isn’t meant to be spooky, but more to depict the flight of a soul to heaven.  That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.  I can’t imagine why my friend didn’t want to stick around this place?

Next, we decided to stop at a brewery for lunch. (No comments about needing a drink after the cemetery please.)  Lunch was pretty decent, but not quite up to the standards I’d come to expect from Boston’s North End.  The best part was the beer.  My friend’s blueberry beer in particular (although my Irish Red was lovely too).   Hers had actual blueberries dancing around in the glass.  Actually, I don’t even remembered if I tasted it, but I spent a lot of time watching the bubbles make the berries dance.  (I swear, I only had the one beer.)  After lunch, we split up.  I really wanted to see the House of the Seven Gables on which Nathaniel Hawthorn based his novel The House of the Seven Gables and she went…to a dungeon, I think. (and she’s afraid of cemeteries…)

House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorn, Salem MA

House of the Seven Gables

The house is just as interesting as the novel makes it sound.  Filled with secret passages and beautiful views, I thoroughly enjoyed my tour.  The home was actually owned by Hawthorn’s cousin who inherited it after her father and brother were lost at sea.  She also inherited all of her family’s business holdings and never married.  It is assumed she didn’t want to be forced to turn over control of the business to her husband.  Probably a smart move considering her family came into possession of the property because the original owner lost all of his money in a poor investment.  The house began with seven gables, but it was reduced to four (no one knows why) before Nathaniel Hawthorn ever visited.  The description of the house comes solely from his cousin who he spent a lot of time talking with.  Many people assumed he lived there, but he never did.

IMG_0817The house has been faithfully maintained and restored down to the paint colors.  My favorite part was the secret passage though.  (How could it not be?  How often do you get to explore a secret passage?) The passage opens in a false wood cupboard and goes up into the attic.  It is curvy and tight, but so very cool.  From the window there you can look out over the ocean. I’m still a bit in awe of the fact that I got to walk through the same secret passage as Nathaniel Hawthorn…so very cool.  They have also moved Hawthorn’s birthplace to Salem.  I’m always fascinated by exploring the way people before us lived, and while we weren’t permitted to take pictures inside, the grounds and view are beautiful here.

Salem Friendship

Salem Friendship

On my walk to the House of the Seven Gables, I came across another three-masted ship, the Salem Friendship.  I didn’t have time to explore the vessel, but I did snap a picture.  Due to my inordinately bad sense of direction on this trip, and a bit of a time crunch (neither one of us wanted to stick around after dark) I just moved on my way to my destination.  On the way back, I discovered I’d spent too much time exploring the gardens and an unguided trip through Hawthorn’s birthplace to do much other exploring as I met up with my friend to take the train back in to Boston.

What do you think?  Abandoned?  Not abandoned?  I’m sure my friend would love to hear other people’s opinions. ;)

‘Til next time,

Jessica

P.S. Up next Fenway Park!

 


Tasty Goodness: It’s Time for Pie

Alright, Dean Winchester, listen up.  I’m making pie.

Apple Pie

Homemade Apple Pie

I mentioned in my Fourth of July post that I made an apple pie, so I thought I’d revive my Tasty Goodness (links are below) series, and share my recipe with you.  Now, I’m still tweaking the filling a bit, but it tastes phenomenal. (Also, my mother threatened strongly advised me to not forget whatever it was I’d done.)  For me, it is about the crust almost as much, if not more than, the filling, and I have finally gotten my grandmother’s crust recipe down pat.  For years, I’ve been told this made the easiest, tastiest, flakiest pie crust, but until this year, it never worked out as well for me. I don’t know what I did different, if I “cut in” the flour and shortening a little more or what, but it worked

Grandma Audrey’s Pie Crust

Ingredients

  • 3 Cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1 1/3 Cup shortening
  • 1 Tablespoon vinegar (yes, just trust me)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 1/2  Tablespoons water
  • 1  Egg, lightly beaten

Place flour in a mixing bowl and “cut in”* shortening until the mixture reaches a corn meal consistency (a little chunkier is okay too).  I used a pastry cutter, but I have been reliably informed that you can use a knife and fork to achieve this.  Add salt, vinegar, egg and water (one tablespoon of water at a time.  I usually only end up using 5 Tablespoons) and mix until everything is well combined and it looks like pie crust dough.

Split the dough in half and form each half into a ball.  On a well floured work surface, roll the dough into a piece big enough to cover the bottom of your pie pan with a little overlapping the edge.  (My pie pans are extra deep, so my dough is sometimes a bit thinner when rolled out).  Gently move into the pie dish.  Don’t worry if it tears a little.  This happens to everyone, and no one sees the bottom of the pie anyway.  Just use your fingers to press the torn edges together.

Jessica’s Pie Filling

Ingredients

  • 5-6 Large Apples (or 6-8 small apples) Peeled, cored and sliced (I used Jonagold in one and Granny Smith in the other.  Both were delicious)
  • 1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1-2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2-3 Tablespoons of butter

Disclosures: Okay, fair warning.  I mentioned this recipe needed a bit of tweaking to perfect.  I’ve tried this with both cornstarch and flour as a thickening agent, and both times it ended up a little runnier than I’d like.  The taste, however, is divine.  I’m thinking I use a bit too much lemon juice in combination with the vanilla. (I don’t actually measure the lemon juice).  Also, I mentioned my pie pans are extra deep, so you may not need as many apples.

Heat oven to 375 F.  As you peel, core and slice your apples into a mixing bowl, be sure to sprinkle them with lemon juice.    This will keep them from turning brown while you work.  When all your apples are ready to go, add the vanilla.  Toss until all the apples are well coated.  There shouldn’t be extra liquid in the bottom of the bowl.  If there is, I recommend you drain it off.

In a separate bowl, combine granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cornstarch, and whisk to combine.  Add the mixture to the apples and mix well with a large spoon until all the apple pieces are coated with the mixture.

Pour the apples over your bottom crust in the pie plate.  Cut up the butter into little chunks.  I usually quarter the tablespoons I cut from the stick of butter.  Dot the pie filling with butter (it adds a nice richness to the filling, but if you forget, it isn’t a problem).

If you haven’t already, roll out your top crust to the same thickness of the bottom crust (kind of close anyway.  You don’t want it to be too unbalanced).  Carefully transfer the top crust to cover the apples in the pie plate.  Make sure you have enough to overlap the edges of the pan a bit (although this isn’t strictly necessary, I found it helps me to make a prettier pie).  If your crust tears, just gently press the torn edges together with your fingers.

Trim off the excess crust with a small, sharp knife.  My pie plates have a pretty wide lip, so I use that as my measurement on where to trim.  It is about 3/4 of an inch wide, and I find that is just enough to make a pretty edge.  Press the top and bottom crust together with your fingers, and turn up a little bit.  Then, using your fingers, scallop the edge of the crust.**  (Really I should have taken pictures to show you, but I was too excited about eating pie.)  Finally, using a sharp knife, cut a pretty design in the top crust to allow steam to vent during cooking.

Cover the edges of the crust with foil to prevent burning.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, checking occasionally, until the crust is golden brown.  (If it takes a little longer, don’t worry about it.  I start checking at 10 minutes in, because I’ve owned ovens with a…unique sense of temperature.)  Once golden deliciousness is achieved, and your whole house smells like heaven, remove the pie from the oven and let cool.  I know we like warm pie, but that filling is hot don’t eat it too quickly and burn yourself!

* To “cut in” the shortening to the flour using a fork and knife, just act like you’re cutting up dinner.  You’re just looking to achieve much smaller pieces than bite sized, and it takes a little while, so don’t get frustrated.

**Keeping in mind I’m left-handed, I use the first two fingers on my right hand on the inside edge of the crust and the first finger of my left hand on the outside of the crust.  Press the single finger on the outside of the crust in between the two fingers on the inside and make your way around the edge of the pie.  Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect.  That’s called “rustic”. ;)

‘Til next time,

Jessica

P.S. Tasty Goodness links to parts

  1. Tasty Goodness Part One
  2. Tasty Goodness Part Two
  3. Tasty Goodness Part Three
  4. Tasty Goodness Part Four
  5. Tasty Goodness Cheesecake

 


Boston: Part Two – The Freedom Trail

Paul Revere Square Boston, MA

Paul Revere Square

Just in case you missed it, Boston: Part One – The New England Aquarium can be read here!

One of my favorite things about Boston is the history.  Seriously, I loved Washington, DC.  The nation’s capital contains so much of what makes the United States, but Boston is really where it all started.  When politicians on both sides really start to hack me off, I think about Boston and the men who conspired for a revolution to create a society and government that, in some ways, little resembles what we have more than 200 years later…but, I digress.  No soapboxes, I promise (okay, probably soapboxes, but I’ll keep them as short as I can).

Old North Church Boston MA

Old North Church

Commemorative Lantern - Old North Church, Boston MA

Commemorative Lantern – Old North Church

Old North Church, the location of the lanterns used to signal that the Regulars were coming (as one helpful guide pointed out, technically everyone was British, so “the British are coming” wouldn’t have made much sense.  The things we never really think about…) held a hushed reverence even with all the tourists.  The church now holds a commemorative lamp that is always lit in remembrance of the two lanterns hung to signal the British attack.  Did you know that church members purchased pews, and decorated them as they saw fit?  The placards with the family names still adorn the individual pews, and they’ve preserved the decoration of several as well.

Paul Revere’s house was an interesting tour.  With beautiful leaded glass windows, it was a wonderful insight into the life of a man so…admired (see, I didn’t say revered) for his role in the Sons of Liberty and the foundation of the United States.  My dad must have asked me three or four times what the name of Paul Revere’s horse was for that midnight ride…I found him a book titled What’s the Name of Paul Revere’s Horse? (Short answer, it wasn’t his horse, so we don’t really know.)  However, before finding the book, I read up on every bit of history about the Revere family, in hopes that a horse would at least be mentioned.  Nope, not there.

U.S.S. Constitution Boston, MA

U.S.S. Constitution

U.S.S. Constitution Boston MA

U.S.S. Constitution

One of the best parts of the trip, for me, was visiting the oldest active warship in the United States, the U.S.S. Constitution.  A three-masted ship, who maintains her active status by being towed into Boston Harbor (1 KM) every July 4th to give a 21 gun salute to all fallen military personnel.  Don’t ask my how my best picture of this magnificent ship contains the blur of my finger…I don’t know.  I really don’t know.

As an active vessel, the Constitution is maintained and staffed by Navy personnel.  Their wealth of knowledge about the ship amazed me.  They answered questions I hadn’t even thought to ask, and their insight into the workings and history made everything so much more fascinating.  The cannons, cannon balls, and hammocks for the crew are all available to view.  No, you cannot touch the cannon balls.  I think you may have been able to lay in the hammocks, but due to a certain person’s discomfort with tight places, I didn’t test it out (She’d already been a great sport hanging with me as I “oohed” and “ahhed” over the mechanism for lowering the anchor and my fascination with the cannons.)

U.S.S. Cassin Young Boston MA

U.S.S. Cassin Young

U.S.S. Cassin Young Boston MA

U.S.S. Cassin Young

From there I headed over to the U.S.S. Cassin Young, a World War II battleship.  Since this is not an active vessel, park rangers, instead of Navy personnel, are available to answer questions.  The first thing I see as I head up the gangplank is a sign that states that “this vessel has not been renovated for the safety of visitors”.  What does that even mean?  As the drizzle began to fall, I wove in and out of sick bay and communications centers, (without tripping, I might add) and gazing in fascination at the guns (are you sensing a theme here?  Hmm…).  However, I didn’t stay long since the drizzle was making the deck slippery and “this vessel has not been renovated for the safety of visitors”.

Bunker Hill Monument Boston MA

Bunker Hill Monument

Did you know the Battle of Bunker Hill wasn’t fought on Bunker Hill?  The colonial troops accidentally needed up on Breeds Hill instead, and the battle was fought there.  The quote, “don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” comes from this epic battle that the colonial troops actually lost, but so many of the British regulars were brought down during the fighting that it was commemorated with the Bunker Hill Monument.

I take this as further proof that history was written by men.  1) They wouldn’t admit they were wrong and just change it to the Battle of Breeds Hill as soon as it happened.  2) They built a giant monument on Breeds Hill for the Battle of Bunker Hill (which was fought on Breeds Hill) even though they knew it wasn’t right…

Old State House, Boston MA

Old State House

This actually brings me to my next example of quirky Boston facts.  The Boston Massacre began with a 13-year-old boy in front of the Old State House, and having a 13-year-old nephew…I’m not shocked. There is a medallion to commemorate the location set into the paving stones in front of the Old State House for an event that actually occurred across the street in front of what is now a Bank of America. IMG_0702 Is it just me or does it seem like there’s a problem with sense of direction happening here?  I know I’m bad with directions (no less than three times did I leave a historic location and turn the wrong direction), but I am not in charge of battles or the location for monuments…yet. ;) Actually, I highly recommend the tour of the Old State House and the talk on the Boston Massacre.  This is truly fascinating stuff for the history geek.

Boston Harbor, Boston MA

View from Boston Harbor

Okay, so this has nothing to do with the Freedom Trail and more of a quirky Boston fact.  Did you know that Boston was considerably smaller when it was founded.  I’m not talking the city itself (although that is true too).  I’m talking about the land.  The shoreline was actually only a couple of blocks from the Old State House.  Over time, they reduced the height of some of the hills in Boston and used the earth to fill in the area between the wharfs.  Back Bay is actually built on top of a landfill, and now it is one of the most prestigious areas in Boston.  Tom Brady and his supermodel wife actually live there.  As I’ve told this story to…more than one person, there have been some comments made about the Patriot Quarterback’s choice of location…

Faneuil Hall, Boston MA

Faneuil Hall

Faneuil Hall hosted the trials of the British soldiers who killed Bostonians during the Boston Massacre.  John Adams served as the attorney for the defense of one of the accused and another lawyer (who is stupidly famous, but I forgot his name) also served as the attorney for the defense against his brother, the prosecutor.  In actuality all but two of the soldiers were acquitted in the case.  The convicted solders received sentences for manslaughter.IMG_0697

Boston Commons and the Public Gardens were a balm after all the city streets we’d meandered  through (although, Boston has remarkable green space and beautiful trees).  Boston Commons is a big green area in the middle of the city that historically was used to billet British troops, graze cattle, etc.  Incidentally, the troops sent for peacekeeping purposes (Ha!  4,000 troops to keep peace in a city of 16,000 people, half of which were women and children?) were suppose to camp in Boston Commons.  However, it was November and they would have frozen to death.  That’s why colonial citizens were forced to house them in their homes.

Swans Nesting in Boston Public Gardens, Boston MA

Swans Nesting

IMG_0739Just across from Boston Commons are the Public Gardens.  This area is just gorgeous.  Lush and green with ponds, flowers, and trees.  This is also home to the world’s smallest suspension bridge (which I walked across) and the famous swan boats.  I like trees, and bridges.

On a side note, during our stay in Boston we came across no less than two weddings and got to watch while they took pictures (well, I say “watched”, more like patiently(ish) waited for them to finish). During our trek through the gardens we came across the tadpole pool, an actual swan’s nest (complete with nesting swans), and the bronze ducklings.

Make Way for Ducklings, Boston Public Gardens, Boston MA

Make Way for Ducklings

Boston, MA World's Smallest Suspension Bridge

World’s Smallest Suspension Bridge

The ducklings are in honor of, Boston author, Robert McCloskey’s children’s book Make Way for Ducklings published in 1941.  Every year, the ducklings are dressed up for Mother’s Day, a parade is held and families come out to have their picture taken with the ducklings.  If you look closely, you can still see the blue bows around their necks.

‘Til next time,

Jessica

P.S. Up next – Boston: Part Three – Salem


Doctor Who – Into Darkness

Yesterday, the BBC released the first actual trailer for the new season of Doctor Who, premiering on August 23. So, what can we expect from Peter Capaldi’s first outing as The Doctor? Questions, Drama and Daleks, oh my!  Also, apparently a t-rex.

I know, like many of you, I have not-so-patiently been awaiting the return of my favorite time traveler. I have to say, I’m excited.  In Day of the Doctor, we learn that the 11th Doctor is the one who forgets, who is so damaged by pain and regret that he wants to block it all out.

This trailer shows us a man bent on redemption. My first impression is that he’s owning up to his past and wants to make amends.   He’s lived for over 2,000 years and made a lot of mistakes and “it’s time I did something about that,” he says.  When I think about this part of the trailer I think of healing, the five stages of grief and even the 12 step program for addicts, and isn’t that an interesting idea if applied to The Doctor.

The Doctor asks Clara if he’s a good man, and I really want to know what’s prompting this.  We saw the 10th Doctor’s struggle to determine what kind of man he was and deciding that he was “rude” and “still not ginger”.  Is this more of the same?  Possible, but I get the feeling that it is something more.  Also, why can’t Clara answer him?  What happens between the end of the 11th Doctor and this conversation that makes her question whether or not the Doctor is a good man?

Fans have seen Doctors fly by the seat of their pants, making things up as they go along and generally proceeding through each crisis with little to no plan at all, but I can’t remember a Doctor who truly doubted himself.  Is admitting to his mistakes putting a dent in that infamous confidence?  If so what consequences could it have?  One of the Doctor’s greatest weapons is his certainty that he is absolutely correct, and since in so many of his adventures the fate of the world/universe/all of time and space rest on his actions…well, if he’s not sure that could have a devastating effect.

What do you think?  You know if left to my own devices the theories and supposition will just get out of control.

‘Til next time,

Jessica


Boston: Part One – The New England Aquarium

My Boston trip doesn’t fit into one post…plus, as my best friend will attest, I may be a little camera-happy on vacations.  What can I say? I want to remember stuff!

For this trip, we rented a condo for the week instead of choosing a hotel.  I have to say, I don’t plan on doing anything else on vacations from now until eternity.  It was perfect.  We arrived in Boston pretty late, so between the darkness and the rain, I wasn’t able to get a really good look at the city or the neighborhood we would call home for the week.  However, the space we’d rented exceeded all my expectations.  The Victorian was filled with fresh flowers, and felt like coming home.  It didn’t hurt that the bed was one of the most comfortable, and I slept better than I had in months.

Our first day in Boston was crisp and sunny with barely a cloud in the sky…in other words – perfect, and although the forecast called for rain that day, none arrived (I cannot say that for the rest of the week).  On our host’s recommendation, we checked out a great shop for breakfast.  The little shop filled with organic food, and the beautiful aroma of coffee perfectly suited our needs for the morning.  A chai latte and prosciutto scone later,  I sat outside to enjoy the sunshine and watch the “neighbors” walk by.  This is a cozy little neighborhood.  Cars stopped to talk with acquaintances, people out walking their dogs smiled and said hello, and apparently everyone is a master gardener (or they just don’t have my black thumb).

IMG_0523After breakfast we headed out to see the New England Aquarium, and see an IMAX 3D movie on the South Pacific.  I did promise not to sing show tunes to my best friend (musicals are not really her thing…except she loves The Little Mermaid is Disney an exception?  I’ll have to ask.)  It was hard, but I managed to sing “I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair” only in my head.  I’m pretty sure she caught on though.

I would love to pick out my favorite part for you, but there were a lot…a lot.  The penguins ranked right near the top.  They are so adorable, waddling around jumping up and down the rocks in their enclosure.  So awkward on land, but amazingly graceful in the water.IMG_0520  The waddle-waddle hop action just cracked me up.  I could have stayed to watch them for at least an hour, however the NE Aquarium is a big place!

IMG_0528The seals were up next, and they gave us a good laugh as two youngsters wrestled and pushed each other into the water. They reminded me of a couple of kids…or well…possibly…me…That’s when I saw the big daddy, walrus!  This gigantic dude sat there and stared at a door like someone was late for feeding time before lumbering up the stairs to watch the crowds.  As soon as he realized he was getting some attention, he slowly slouched down no one could see his face (like we’d forget he was there).

IMG_0561

Myrtle the Sea Turtle

From there we moved on to an astounding variety of sea creatures and exhibits.  One of the best things (other than seals, penguins and walrus, oh my!) is the giant aquarium that shoots through the center of the building.  The ramp winds up to the third floor, giving guests an opportunity to watch more than 3,000 species in the habitat.  Rays, sharks, tangs, sea turtles…all kinds of amazingness!

 

IMG_0569Myrtle, the sea turtle, is gigantic, and, according to staff, believes herself the star of the show here.  She’s really not wrong.  The slow-moving turtles gave a wonderful show, following guests both at the top of the habitat and down through the lower levels, looking like they were posing for photo-ops.

I have a soft spot for rays.  They were my first in-person encounter with ocean living creatures, and I even got to feed one when I was a kid.  That’s when they hooked me, and I really loved watching the rays fly through the water, flapping their fins like wings and darting in and out of the other fish.

After exploring the marine life to our hearts’ content (and the detriment of my feet), we headed to the IMAX, and after making thoroughly certain we were not going to see the 3D shark movie, settled in to watch the beautiful reefs in the South Pacific.

IMG_0588After the movie ended, we wandered around the wharf.  Coming from a landlocked state like Oklahoma, any chance to see the ocean is a thrill!  Eventually we settled in for a snack and a glass of wine before trying to decide our next steps.  The breeze coming in off the water was a little cool, but then again most things feel a little cool when you’ve come from temps in the 90’s.  Just the colors of the sky bleeding into the darker blue of the water dotted with sailboats…maybe I need to move to the coast?

‘Til next time,

Jessica

 

P.S. Next up – Boston: Part 2 – The Freedom Trail

 


More Beautiful for Having Been Broken

This kintsukuroiis a technique that I’ve read about, and I’ve seen a view pieces in museums.  The broken pieces veined with gold are truly gorgeous.  This is a concept that appeals too, that something or someone isn’t useless for having been broken, but is more valuable and beautiful in the broken places.

‘Til next time,

Jessica


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