A Minimalist Trip to Boston

This past weekend, Dave and I went up to Boston! I love going there. It’s an easy drive (as long as you don’t hit traffic…), and the city itself is just so… people-sized.
Months ago, I saw that The Minimalists were going to do a show at The Wilbur. In a moment of spontaneity, I bought us tickets. So that’s how we ended up on this trip.

I accidentally booked our Airbnb for the wrong night… luckily it was just the night before the show instead of the night of. So we just went up a day early.

We got to our Airbnb a little after 3, got settled, and then hit the streets. We walked up to Boston Public Gardens and strolled around and people-watched. Boston Common was already set up with all kinds of tents and stuff in preparation for the Marathon.

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We walked along Newbury Street and made our way to the Prudential Center. My mom had mentioned that there was an observatory there that you could get great views of the city. As I am a fan of looking at life from above, we made this a priority to check out.

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The view from the Pru was nice, and it was a gorgeous sunny day. We watched planes coming in and out of Logan, saw lots of sailboats on the Charles, found the finish line for the Boston Marathon, and finally, watched the sun set over Fenway Park. Pretty cool! We did sit and watch some of the documentaries they had about immigrants to Boston and how the culture has changed over time. It was well done, and very relevant to our current political climate.

There was a lady playing her violin during the sunset. She played Can’t Help Falling In Love, which is one of the many UB40 songs that Dave seduced me with back in the day. (I know it was originally done by Elvis – whatevs…) Here’s part of it…. I didn’t think to start recording until midway through, and then I move the camera too fast… ugh. I am not a videographer.

After that, we were super hungry, so once at ground level, we found a place called 5 Napkin Burger. There was a veggie burger on the menu, so I was game. It wasn’t as amazing as I had hoped, but it was good. I was more enamored with the mint and lemon iced tea, of which I drank two.

We walked back to our Airbnb, which was in the Theater District. By the time we went to bed, around midnight, we had already been hearing lots of ruckus from the comedy club next door, and the people leaving the various theaters around us. Not a big deal – that’s life in the city, right?

After snuggling into the comfortable bed, we fell asleep quickly and peacefully. Several hours later, I began dreaming that a band of jolly Irish men was bustling down the street, singing heartily. But no, it was no dream. As consciousness returned to me, I realized there were actual men singing heartily down in the streets below. I don’t know if they were Irish, but they were loud. Then there was lots of yelling and honking and general mayhem. I regretted not bringing my earplugs along… fail!

Fortunately the commotion only lasted about a half an hour and then we slept soundly for the rest of the night.

The next day we met up with Nick and Matt for lunch at Temezcal, and the weather was so nice that we sat outside. It was a leisurely lunch and a great time of catching up with each other and discussing life. Actually, I had just seen them both the week before in Northampton, but that’s a story for another time. (Not really, but it made you think my life was interesting for a second there, right?)


Matt, Nick, Dave and me – obviously

After parting ways with Nick and Matt, Dave and I cruised up to the North End. I mean why not hit all the sections of Boston while we were there? We hung out on the pier by the aquarium for a while and then got a delicious pineapple smoothie in Quincy Market, before wandering around for the rest of the afternoon.

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Eventually the time came for us to get over to The Wilbur theater to see the Minimalists. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve been reading their blog and listening to their podcasts for a while now – if you’ve been paying attention to my blog, I have mentioned them before and my own quest to live a more minimalist lifestyle.

We were a bit early – we arrived at 6:45 or so, which seemed like a reasonable time for a 7pm show. There was no line, and most of the seats were still empty.  The stage was plain, and they just had some mellow background music playing.

The place filled up, a little after 7pm. They came out and the crowd went wild. They started out by telling their story, which if you search for their TED talk, you can hear for yourself. The second part of the show was a Q&A.

The majority of the questions were what you would expect – people asking for advice about a particular aspect of minimalism, or how to make certain lifestyle changes.

Some of the questioners were – dare I say it – devotees of minimalism. One women proclaimed that she had a “one in, one out” policy, so before she would buy something new, or, presumably, receive a gift, she had to get rid of something she already had. She asked them how they dealt with the emotional struggle of deciding whether to keep something or get rid of it.

After some prodding, she revealed that the item in question was her mothers vintage Levi’s jacket that she actually still wears.  For some reason she felt it was frivolous and she should get rid of it, even though she obviously didn’t want to. At that point a bunch of people in the audience shouted out that she should just keep it. Seriously.

Another woman was kind of a sad case.  She spoke of how she had successfully followed all the steps to becoming a minimalist and now she didn’t know what to do next. She seemed to be hoping that they would just tell her what to do with her life. At this point, they had reached the “lightening round”, where they were only supposed to give tweetable-sized answers, so they gave her some statements about how life without passion isn’t living, and that sort of thing. It was disturbing to me that she apparently didn’t have passion for anything. Or maybe she felt she needed some kind of permission to pursue it. Or maybe she was just trolling all of us…

The show was interesting and light – there were lots of funny comments and good points made. I can’t say that I went away having learned anything new, but Dave said he enjoyed it and that he thought it was interesting.

They had a meet and greet afterward, which we decided to skip since we hadn’t had dinner yet and also because I feel super awkward meeting “celebrities” and I wouldn’t have known what to say.

We grabbed dinner at Panera and then headed out. It was actually pretty nice driving home after the show – there was virtually no traffic and we made it home in just under two hours.

All in all, it was a great trip. If you’ve never been to Boston, make sure to check it out someday!

The Mins

As seen from the window of Panera, where we immediately ran after the show.

Costa Rica Trip, Day 3 – La Catarata Fortuna & The Rainforest Chocolate Tour

On Monday morning, while our friends and family back home were commuting to work in the cold and snow, Dave and I were preparing to visit our first Costa Rican waterfall!

Of course we had to start with the hotel breakfast – fruit, eggs, gallo pinto, and toast – which was just what we needed to fuel the adventure.

La Catarata Fortuna

La Catarata Fortuna, aka La Fortuna Waterfall is located only a few miles outside the town of La Fortuna. It was a gorgeous drive, with breathtaking views of both Arenal and Cerro Chato.

It cost about $15 for admission to the park, and it helps to have a healthy pair of legs. There are over 400 steps to climb down to the waterfall! By the time we were at the bottom, I could feel my calves quivering and I just hoped they weren’t visibly twitching.

The waterfall is breathtaking. Seen from the viewing platform above, it looks deceivingly delicate, like a lock of silver hair streaming through the forest. At the bottom of the stairs, looking up the 200+ feet of thundering whitewater, you really get a sense of it’s might.

The river bends around to the left, where there are lots of shallow, calm areas. And rocks, of course. We spent a bit of time relaxing here, trying to capture video of fish with the GoPro, and enjoying the fresh water.

When we’d had our fill of calm, we climbed back up the few stairs to the pool at the base of the waterfall. People were swimming here. Of course we had to try it out too.

The water was surprisingly cold (though not as cold as a Vermont waterfall), and extremely turbulent. There really was no shallow area – you just sort of slid in and had to swim. There were some rocks to stand on, but the water was moving around us so vigorously that I couldn’t keep my balance. The closer you got to the waterfall, the more turbulent it got. So much for that romantic vision of putting my head under the waterfall and tossing my hair back sexily. I’m pretty sure it would break a person’s neck.

There was actually a lifeguard on the scene and a lifesaver (is that what those foam rings are actually called?), but he was standing so far back from the water that I think a person could drown before he made it across the slippery rocks, untied the life preserver (ah, that’s what it’s called, right?) and threw it into the water.

I called it quits after a few minutes in the pool, preferring not to drown on my third day of vacation. Dave went back in with the GoPro, to try to get some action shots, but the camera would not cooperate. Note: learn to use your GoPro and troubleshoot any issues before you take it on vacation.

Moments later, two young women approached him and asked him to take their picture. The three of the struggled to remain upright in the water during the transaction. I ate some cheetos and watched from the sidelines.

After drying ourselves off we were ready to hike back up the 400+ steps.


I was a bit worried, since I have weak lungs, weak legs, and – frankly – am just a weak person all around. It ended up not being too bad. We (I) only had to stop to rest once. We stopped next to a mother and grandmother who were carrying a very fat baby. The grandmother gave me a knowing look and said “gordito!” as she shuffled the baby onto her other hip. He was smiling broadly and clearly not concerned with the fact that he was overweight and weighing his people down.


Taking a breather on the way back up.

Once we got to the top, we changed out of our wet clothes and had a look around the butterfly garden there. There was also an orchid garden, but the entrance was closed off because they were doing construction in the area. That’s one of the downsides to visiting in the off-season – not everything you might want to see or do is available.

The Rainforest Chocolate Tour

While perusing the map the day before, we noticed there was a cacao farm along the route between la Fortuna and the waterfall. So we casually dropped in on our way back, and found out that a tour would be starting at 1. We had just enough time to eat some more snacks and slap some more sunscreen on my white self.

The tour began under a covered patio, where the guide gave a history of the natives use of the cacao fruit, and how it evolved over the years to the chocolate we know and love today.

We then walked around the farm, which not only had cacao plants, but also coffee, banana and lots of flowers.  We learned about the different colored pods and how to tell when the fruit was ripe.

Then we gathered in another covered area, and the guide gave an interesting explanation and demonstration of how the cacao is harvested, the different components of the fruit and how it was used back in the day versus how it’s used now.

We got to taste the raw beans. They were covered with a slimy white goop, which is actually cocoa butter and felt quite lovely as I rolled it around on my tongue. We were warned not to try to chew the raw bean because it would be intolerably bitter.

He showed how the farmers dry the beans and let ferment them before grinding them up. Several people in the audience took turns grinding the dried beans. Then, the other guide showed how to pour the ground beans from one bowl into another, while blowing through the falling pieces, to blow the bits of shell away. She had a girl come up and try it, and it seemed much harder than it looked.

Luckily we were sitting in the back row and there were eager kids in front of us, so I didn’t have to embarrass myself with any of these activities.

We got to taste the ground up chocolate. It was kind of like tasting baking chocolate, only fresher. Not sweet, but not terrible, either.

They made us a drink of hot chocolate, which was good, but the highlight for me was when they had us line up and receive a spoonful of melted chocolate. There was a table full of toppings – sea salt, nuts, caramel, coffee, and different spices. I tried it with sea salt and it was so amazing, I had to go back and get another spoonful. I would have gone back for a third (they said we could have as much as we wanted), but by then the line had dwindled down and I didn’t want to look greedy. Plus, Dave said if I wasn’t careful, I would get the runs.

After we left the chocolate place, we were ready to get some lunch. It was close to 3 pm at this point, so we were pretty hungry.

I’d seen a sign in one of the restaurants in la Fortuna, proclaiming it to be the home of “The Best Vegetarian Food in Town”, so I suggested we try it. It was called Life House. At 3 pm, it was basically deserted, but a friendly waiter came over and took care of us quickly. I got a veggie burger and Dave got a chicken sandwich. Both were really yummy. We met the owner of the restaurant, who grows much of the food in his own garden. It was a neat place.

That evening we went to Ecocentro Danaus, which is a local conservation and education center. We’d read that they gave night forest tours. However, when we arrived, they were just closing up, and they told us to call and make a reservation for the next night. It was a gorgeous time for a drive though!


Costa Rica Trip, Day 2 – Exploring Fortuna

On Sunday morning, we woke to the sounds of exotic birds and animals chirping and calling in the trees outside our room. Ah, vacation.


Note the non-light blocking curtains


Our room was a tad smaller than what I’m used to. Or maybe we overpacked…

More adventurous folk may have chosen to rise early and run off to explore the volcano, or glide through the canopy on a zipline, but not us. We leisurely woke up, got dressed, and walked 30 feet to the outdoor dining room, where our hosts were preparing breakfast.

The meal consisted of an initial dish of fruit – a banana and a slice of melon. Then, the cook brought out a dish of mixed rice and beans (called gallo pinto), scrambled eggs, toast, and a slice of cheese. Of course there was also fresh juice and coffee or tea to drink. We sat and enjoyed the food while looking out over the gardens.

After we ate, we took a walk around the hotel gardens. They were nicely kept, but gave the impression of being entirely natural, like the groundskeeper did nothing more than mow the grass and trim everything to keep it from growing uncontrollably. I saw many familiar plants – much healthier versions of the  poor, longsuffering houseplants we keep here in the north.

We found impressive trails of leafcutter ants – so dedicated to their work that they had worn deep paths in the thick groundcover. (I’ll post videos later.)

After strolling for a while, Dave suddenly clapped his hand on his neck. “There’s something biting me, can you get it off?” he asked. I looked and saw nothing on his neck. Then, a moment later he was bitten again. And then whatever it was bit me on the face! We ran back to our room to get away from the violence. Our bites stung so badly – like a wasp sting, but there was nothing more than a little pink dot to show for it!

Once we recovered from the insect attack, we took a walk into town to explore. We wandered down the main street and looked at all the shops and restaurants, and we strolled through the park in the center of town.

We ate lunch at the Lava Lounge, which, it turns out, is a popular tourist restaurant. The food was good though – Dave very much enjoyed his arroz con pollo. It was here that we first noticed how dogs would just casually walk into restaurants and hang around waiting for handouts.


At first we were charmed by the volcano-shaped rice until we realized that EVERY restaurant in town did the same thing.

After lunch, we wandered around town some more before we went back to the hotel to rest and figure out what we were going to do next. We brainstormed ideas for activities to do in the area, and then ranked everything according to how much we really wanted to do it (and how much money we wanted to spend!)

For dinner, we went to a place called La Choza de Laurel, which was also a bit of a tourist spot. It was “typical” Costa Rican food, served by women in traditional dresses. Dave got fish and I got some kind of veggie and rice platter. Oh, and a pina colada in an anthropomorphized pineapple.


After drinking this entire thing, I realized it had no rum in it. Boo!

After our meal, we headed back to the hotel. It was a low-key first day, but we were both so tired from working so much and sleeping so little in the days before the vacation that we were fine with a chill day. There’d be plenty of time for adventures in the days ahead!


New York, New York – Hornblower Cruise

Our final major tourist activity for the trip was to take the Hornblower Sightseeing Cruise  around lower Manhattan. We took the Big Bus to Pier 15, but when we arrived, the line for the boat was crazy long.

Luckily we had spotted a restaurant – Industry Kitchen – on our way in, so we decided to get lunch there and wait for the 1:30 cruise.  Dave got a Caesar salad and I got a pizza. Dave doesn’t usually like pizza, but he tried some of mine and ended up eating half of it! Which was fine, since it was way too big for me to eat all by myself anyway. The restaurant was nice, and because it was so sunny, they had all the doors open, so even though we were sitting inside, it still felt very light and airy.

OH- and how could I forget this? They had a unisex bathroom. It was the first time I’ve actually witnessed one with my own eyes and bladder. It was three or four stalls, with solid walls in between and full-length doors. The sink area was shared. I really wanted to take pictures and mention the experience on Facebook but I restrained myself.

When we finished lunch we got in line for the boat. One thing I’ve noticed they do at a lot of these places is ask you to pose for a picture before you go into the attraction. When you come out, they’ve printed out your picture and want to sell it to you for $35. I noticed the guy behind us was alone (he was a photographer) and he declined to have his picture taken. I guess I should remember that next time, as we aren’t going to buy photos.

I mean, why buy photos when we can take our own?


It’s us or the skyline… we nearly succeeded at fitting both in this frame. I’ll spare you the other selfies we took.

When we first got on the boat, I was annoyed because there was very limited seating and it was only around the windows. People had already claimed their spots and were viciously defending their territory. I had really looked forward to sitting down, as my feet were sore from walking so much and not wearing proper shoes. (What, they were cute boots!)

We  didn’t want to go up to the deck because we were afraid it would be really cold. We’d been freezing standing in line. I even had my mittens on! But after a while of jostling around in the boat, watching 90% of the occupants focusing more on their phones or their snacks than the actual view, we decided to get up to the deck and just deal with the cold.


The view was much better outside!

It turned out to be windy but not as chilly as I’d feared. We got a good look at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island as we chugged by.

Then the boat turned back around and we headed back to land.


There’s Manhattan!







Dang, we could have taken a helicopter tour.


Ferries are born here.


The Brooklyn Bridge

The ferry ride, or whatever it was we were on, was about an hour long, although I think that included boarding and de-boarding (?) time because it went quickly.

We hopped back on the bus and back to Times Square. After a quick visit to Starbucks, we got on the bus again to do the uptown loop. This went around Central Park, along the upper West Side, to Grant’s Tomb, Harlem and Spanish Harlem and then back along the park, along what was once known as Millionaire’s Row – where the Astors and Vanderbilts had their mansions during the gilded age. Along the route we saw the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine (where James Gandolfini’s funeral was), The Dakota – the apartment where John and Yoko lived, John was shot and where Yoko still lives, and lots of other buildings where some famous person lived or still lives. Our tour guide kept joking about how much it cost to live along the park, but it was kinda bringing me down. Like, “Enjoy looking, but you will never be able to afford this life.”


Grant’s Tomb through the bus window.

We did enjoy the uptown bus loop. We sat on the top of the bus but it had a little shelter thing over the front, and heaters by our feet, so we kept warm enough. The people in the back, who were out in the breeze were freezing. They kept trying to get up and come to the front and the guide kept yelling at them to sit down because there were no seats open.

We got off the bus at the south end of Central Park since it was closer to our hotel than going back to Times Square. I have a soft spot for Central Park, as it’s the most well known works of the father of landscape architecture; Frederick Law Olmsted. Oh, and Calvert Vaux, but FLO is my homeboy. Ugh, why am I not doing landscape architecture?


Looking in to Central Park from W 59th St

Next time we go back to NYC, the plan is to do museums and Central Park. I’ll be sure to tell you all about it!


New York, New York – 9/11 Memorial and World Trade Center Plaza

On Saturday morning, we made the trek down to the World Trade Center Memorial Plaza in lower Manhattan.  Please have a look at the slideshow. My thoughts on the visit are below.

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Going into this, I expected it to be an emotional experience. What else could it be? This was the site of the most horrific event I have witnessed in my lifetime, and the beginning of a decade-plus of war, violence and ever-growing cultural tension.

A little personal history – I actually visited the Twin Towers in March of 2001, with my good friend Jonathan. The towers were massive concrete-faced structures. Humongous and imposing. We took the elevator up to the observation deck and looked out over the world. It was nighttime and the city was all lit up. The view went on for miles in every direction. At the time I took my role as a Vermont chickie very seriously so I was unimpressed with the urban jungle and sprawl. But deep down I had to admit it was cool. Of course the memories of that visit were since tinged with gloom and sadness. Just months later I would see smoke rising up from the stark empty space where the towers had been as I traveled from New Jersey to Connecticut just days after 9/11.

Walking towards the site on this bright Saturday, my mind is on the memories of people running desperately down streets billowing with smoke and ash and papers – so many papers. As we approach, we see the gleaming glass structure of One World Trade Center piercing the blue sky.

Rounding a corner just before entering the plaza, we’re accosted by a guy selling glossy photo books commemorating that day. He eagerly flips through the pages, pointing out full-color scenes of the towers churning out thick black clouds of smoke. “Do you know how many buildings fell after 9/11?” he asks us. “I don’t know,” I admit feebly, “Five?” I’m caught off guard by this interaction, and just want to get past him already. “Seven,” he says, pointing to another page with a graphic showing which buildings were damaged and which fell. “In the museum they charge you $20 for this book, but I only ask $10.”

He also tried to sell us another book with even more photos. Dude. I have seen enough photos of that day. The images are permanently seared into my mind. I do not want to see photos.

Finally, we break free of him and make our way into the plaza. The first thing we notice on the way in is a wing-like white structure soaring over us. I later learn this is the new transportation station – called the Oculus.

We then come upon the first pool – the north pool. I try to envision how huge those towers were, and somehow it seems incongruent with these gaping holes in the ground. It’s like my brain can’t process that these footprints could have held those massive buildings.

At this point I’m doing ok with the emotions. It’s like they haven’t caught up to me yet. We look at the names engraved along the edge of the fountains. I later read that the names were grouped by people who were associated in some way. In some cases it was the flight they were on, or a group of co-workers. You can read more about that here.

As we made our way around the north pool we notice the inscription: Rahma Salie and her unborn child. Wow. I later learned that there were 10 more inscriptions like this one. After we left, I looked up Rahma Salie, since it was her name we happened upon. She and her husband were traveling together on Flight 11. They were Muslim. They were on their way to a wedding in California on September 11.  She was 7 months pregnant with their first child.

Now we turn away from the pool and look up at the tower. One World Trade Center. The Freedom Tower (apparently they don’t call it that anymore though). It is tall and sleek. In the gleaming sunlight, the glass reflects all kinds of colors.

When we turn back to the plaza we see the Survivor Tree. As we get closer we can see that people have put mementos on the tree. There’s a tour group standing in front of it while a tour guide with an abrasive voice describes her 9/11 experience.

Walking towards the south pool, I notice there are Easter bunnies and flowers stuck into two of the names. Something about this sight knocks loose the last of my emotional wall, and the tears start pouring from my eyes. The reality of all the names is overwhelming. And remembering all the people who are still alive and aching today for the loss of their family members, friends, co-workers….

We step away from the pool and walk under the trees. Dave and I sit and watch people while I cry for a bit. The tour group is still mesmerized by the Survivor Tree. Clusters of teenage girls huddle together, underdressed in summery clothes. The majority of the occupants of the plaza at this time are tourists. Many of them seem too cheerful and light and I want to scream at them to stop smiling and sober up. But I don’t. I realize you can’t expect people to be acting like they’re at a funeral when they visit a memorial. You can’t force people to be sad.

Once I’ve pulled myself together again, we walk around the other side of the south pool. I want to take a picture of the pool with the tower behind it, but as I approach, a young couple jumps in front of me. They look at the pool for approximately two seconds, and then the guy goes back to looking at his phone. I expect them to move along, so I wait patiently. The girl then begins primping herself in preparation for a selfie. Seriously. My eyes were rolling so hard I’m lucky they didn’t roll right out. Finally, satisfied with her photo shoot, she moves on.

As that’s going on, the couple on the other side of us gives each other a sheepish grin before quickly turning around and tossing coins over their shoulders into the fountain. What the hell? I’ve got nothing against coin-tossing in other fountains, but this is like throwing coins into a grave. I don’t know what possesses people sometimes.

Finally everyone with offensive behavior clears out from my shot and I’m able to get the picture of the pool and tower behind. It’s an odd mix of macabre and shiny new hopefulness. A least I think so.

We leave the plaza now and on the way out we notice the FDNY house that is RIGHT THERE. Like literally in ground zero. These guys were on the scene first because the scene was happening right around them. See their website.

All in all, we probably spent an hour walking around the plaza. There is a 9/11 museum on the site (it’s the short, mirrored building in some of the north pool pictures in the slide show). We did not go into the museum. I don’t know if I’d ever be ready to go in.

One World Trade Center also has an Observatory. It probably would have been a great day to go up there, actually, as it was clear and sunny. But I really just wanted to see the plaza, and that was enough.

So that was that.

Our next stop was the Hornblower Harbor Cruise…. stay tuned.

New York, New York – Big Bus Night Tour

After our visit to the Intrepid, we debated whether to have dinner first or to go ahead and take the Big Bus tour. We wanted it to be dark so we could enjoy the lights of the city, and it was still a bit early.

We walked toward the bus pickup area, which was right outside the M&M’s store in Times Square. We figured we would just grab dinner on the way and catch a later bus. When we got to the store and saw how long the line was, we decided to just get in line. It was a good thing we did, as it got really long, really fast.

The Big Bus is one of several companies that operates open-topped double decker busses that haul tourists around the city, while a tour guide shares details about various historic landmarks or notable events. During the day, you can hop on and off the bus at certain locations, but in the evening it’s a two-hour loop that starts and ends in Times Square.

We were excited to get good seats! And also to be sitting down.

I put the rest of the pics into a gallery, which hopefully makes viewing easier. Also, I didn’t remember all the names of the buildings, so if I wrongly identified something and you notice, please let me know and I’ll fix it. Also-also, pardon the blurriness and general lack of artistic quality to many of these. It was dark and we were in a moving bus, so it was not that easy to get decent pics. 🙂

Next up – the 9/11 Memorial