Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mass Backyard and Abroad

This past month I've had the chance to travel a bunch over New England, mostly for work with a tad bit of fun squeezed in.   

Follow me as I travel Massachusetts this week for work, armed with a bunch of meetings with great Toxics Action Center members (have you donated yet?) to meet with and the Good Beer Guide to New England

Is Settling Down, Settling?

These past few months I've settled down in Boston.   I hate to use the word 'settled'.  It sounds as if I've given up my travel dreams.  Or maybe regulated them to the dream realm.  Perhaps I did cut out a bit early from my leave of absence, but now that I'm back to the 9-5 (or 9-8 more aptly for the nonprofit world) I hold onto the thought that my 4 weeks vacation are there for the taking.  

Whereas some women wonder if they can 'have it all' and mean family, job, etc., when I think about 'having it all' and  I wonder if I can see the world and have a job that makes an impact on the issues I care about and allows me to hold onto meaningful ties with friends that I really value.  

This year is that test.  

It doesn't happen automatically.  You have to write vacation proposals and then advocate for them.  You have to throw yourself into your work to make sure it actually works.  Friends, even when they love you, are prone to forget to call, so you must pick up the phone and make the plans.  

So far, somewhat good?  There's still places I miss.  I still wish I was better at my job.  There's still people I wish I had brunch with every Sunday.  But I'm finding the balance.  I continue to find the community and beauty of Boston entrancing.  I learn more at work.  I buy plane tickets to see friends and arrange dinner dates when I sweep through their city.  

I don't want to settle, but I am settling down and letting the scale balance itself out to a comfortable place, a balance of travel, impact, and friends, that all might actually be good for me.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

20 Tips

Well actually not 20.  Just one--but I made number 2! 

What am I talking about?  If you're a reader of Budget Travel magazine, you no doubt laugh at the funny top 20 tips from readers each month.  Most of them are hilarious little strange things that middle-aged travelers do to make themselves more comfortable while on the road -- like bringing hooks with you when you travel in case your hotel room doesn't have anywhere to hang your towel or save shower caps from hotels to put over your bike helmet when it rains.  Every once in a while you get a gem.  Mine was one of those gems.  

I'm tip number 2 this month in Budget Travel magazine!  Grab it on newstands or check it out online.  

For getting my tip featured I get a year's subscription to Budget Travel--not bad.  

What's my tip you ask?  

"2. Vacation education Anytime I plan a trip, I subscribe to blog feeds and news from the area I'm visiting. It helps me catch up on the culture and gets me even more excited about what's to come! Megan Stokes, Boston, Mass."

Here's a little how to do this.  
*Sign in with your gmail account (or get one).
*Click on the add a subscription button and type in keywords like "Mexico" "Budget Travel" "Lativian News" or "Boston Art."  
*Visit the website whenever you want and new blog entries will show up in one convenient place to read them all.

If you sign up--let me know!  I really want to get some more folks on Google Reader.  There's a 'bookmark with comment' function that I love.  You can then follow your friend's articles that they like and comment on.  Pretty neat and a much better way to share interesting stuff than forwarding.  Check out the little box to the right that says "Megan's shared items," it's a sampled of my bookmarked articles from Google Reader.

Well-Read Weekend #7


I think the sky in Boston knows when it's a weekend.  Every Friday afternoon rolls around and it decides to cut loose in celebration of the work week being over.  All winter this meant horrendously blustery snow storms every weekend.  The sky cloaked in grey, throwing gales of snow down like confetti.  Except for me this was no party.  People say they like the winter because they get to feel all 'cozy' when they go inside.  These people do not pay their own heating bill.  To get cozy I'd pile on two sweatshirts and wear my jacket while I ate dinner at home.


But now the sky is letting loose in a different way.  All week we had rainy weather, but on Friday--gorgeous.  It was as if the sky was obliged to do it's April shower thing all week and let loose as soon as the job was done. 


In honor of the beautiful sky, yesterday I spent the day exploring Brookline by going beer tasting to beer tasting by bike.  My guide along the way?  Not for Tourists. 


I highly recommend these books if they offer them for your city.   You'll know the ins and outs of each neighborhood better than a long-time local, be able to surprise your friends with the hippest bars in their neighborhood they didn't even know about and find where every swimming pool, skating rink and bowling alley is town.


This book was my bible in LA.   Well-worn and well-loved.  It lived in my bag or my car, depending on my mode on transportation and guided me straight to the best eats and bars in town (and around the confusing highway system). 


In Boston it's indispensible for biking around when streets double back on eachother (did you know Tremont intersects with Tremont?) and knowing the story behind the old amazing church you're staring at. 


Each guide really does a great job at being for the local.  All the guides show you where banks, book stores, bars, etc. are.  The LA guide also has a detailed one-pager on each mall and beach.  Boston has dots on each map to show you where donut shops and community gardens are.  (Interesting commentary on what's important for Angelenos v. Bostonians, no?)   LA's guide is large with a pull-out highway map.  That would never work in Boston, where you usually get around by foot or T, so it's guide is condensed and fits in a pocket.  

Right now you can great deal on the notfortourists website: buy a customized wall map of your neighborhood and get a free book!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

More Beantown Steals

At the risk of turning this into one of those deal/coupon blogs, I'm going to share with ya'll the MassValue Pass.

I was lured into visiting the site by their colorful ads in Budget Travel mag.  But nothing hooks me like a good deal.

Download the MassValue Pass here.  Especially for a mass resident, there's some good discounts here:

I'm mainly bookmarking these for my own use, but join me if/when you're in town!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Well-read Weekend #6

So far I've managed to keep myself apart from the Italy craze.  On my last Europe trip we skipped over the country entirely since it's in such an inconvenient place--jutting out into the water protected on to by the Alps.  (slight sarcasm there) I haven't read Under the Tuscan Sun or felt any deisre beyond 'graci' to learn the language.  Folks oooh and aaah over Italy and I'll counter with my love for the Eastern European capitals or Spain.  

But when a friend whose opinion you trust hands you a book and says you must read it, you read it.  This is what happened with Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr.

At the face of it, Four Season looks incredibly cliche--new parents with twins from Iowa move to Rome.  They live out the stresses of being parents in a foreign city.  What struck me at first from Anthony's stories is that I do not want to be a parent.  It seems like hell.  Wailing constantly, the toothing children sweating from the summer heat don't sleep through one night.  If and when I go to Rome I am definitely going childless.

But then as Anthony and his wife slowly get over what seems like the horror of child-rearing and get into the groove (and a babysitter), Anthony's recondite perceptions are fascinating.  He gleans the deepest truths from his everyday experiences with the city, his children and his stuggles writing.  He connects his life with those of thousands of years of Romans before him.   He draws strange parallels of his observations with those of Pliny the Elder's as he reads Natural History.

The city ceases to be a cliche of Romans and cathedrals and more of a year long meditation on the generations before and to come and what we think of the world.

Since reading this book I've rented A Roman Holiday and made pasta primavera, so I'm afraid I've fallen from my pedastool above fads.  Perhaps Rome is more than a fad, no?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Deals on Local Restaurants - Wherever Local is for You

I still can't believe that this is even real.  I am always looking for new impressive gifts to send my parents that don't actually require packaging and mailing them myself.  And since I'm a procrastinator--something that arrives in one's e-mail inbox is even better.  A couple years ago I googled "restaurant gift certificate" and found 

I gladly paid the $10 for a $25 restaurant gift certificate to be sent to my dad.  He then was able to browse and pick out a hot new place in Philly and have dinner on me.  But now they send me these discount codes so that you can literally pick up a $100 gift certificate for $12.

There's a just a few catches--most have some restrictions on them.  Like you have to buy 2 dinner entrees or it's not good on Friday.  Be careful about large gift certificates; they have high minimum spending limits.  

The worst is probably being a bit embarresed when you hand over the printed out gift certificate.  Buy hey, a deal is a deal.

Try it yourself!  Here's how it works.
Go to the website.
You can buy a specific restaurant certificate, but I recommend you just go to buy a gift certificate and then send it to yourself.  You then can use portions of the total amount anytime you'd like by signing in to your account.
At checkout enter 'FEAST' into the coupon code box.
Wah-lah--70% off already discounted gift certificates!

You'll thank me for this one.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

Has spring finally arrived in Boston?  While it's another sunny, gorgeous day, the temperature is decidedly winter.  Oh well.  

Today I celebrate the holiday by eating carrot cake, doing a big spring cleaning and watching Jesus Christ Superstar

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Well-Read Weekend #5

I continued on my spanish kick this week, devouring yet another Gaudi book. Perhaps I do regeret leaving Spain so early. I also just got done with my second flamenco class. Flamenco, I've learned, is not just looking angry and stomping your feet--it is a complicated combination of head turns, skirt work, heel-tow, hand twisting, and body angling. I'll need to practice a bit.

What was easy however, was reading The Gaudi Key by Esteban Martin and Andreu Carranza.
I remember longingly picking up the book at FNAC, a giant department store in Barcelona that was a fun way to kill time without spending any money. (It also has an interesting Socialist history if you read the wiki article.) I say longingly not because I couldn't afford the book, but rather it was only out in Catalan, and later Spanish. I had already started on my Gaudi obsession trying to visit every building he had created in the city.

Finally the book has come out in English, and armed with my library card, I had it delivered within a week to my branch.

The Gaudi key has some serious flaws. It reads much like a mystery novel and lays the religion on pretty thick. I'll blame the lack of poetry on the translators. (How many Catalan to English translators exist anyway?) I'll blame the religion on Gaudi's nature. In any case, it was not too hard to swallow all the God talk when it came alongside the fantastical secret tunnels and objects hidden in Gaudi's works. I lump it all in to fantasy.

The book might be a bit hard to follow for one not familiar with Gaudi's works. But for one who is, it was really exciting to follow along the couple's mission as they raced through the streets of Barcelona to each of Gaudi's buildings decoding the mystery of the knights. Toward the end I pulled out my picture books of Gaudi's architecture and a google map of barcelona and tried myself to decode the symbolism and riddles.

I'd recommend for other lovers of Gaudi, otherwise the book is just a confusing Catalan copy of the DaVinci Code.