Boston Shines

Kristie Helms —  May 3, 2014 — Leave a comment

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This is basically what 200 bottles of nips looks like.

Ok. 200 bottles of nips, a few dozen Dunkies cups, more than a two bottles of formula and at least one condom. Unused.

The dollar I found went right into my back pocket.

I took part in the annual Boston Shines today. It’s a day or two in spring, organized by the City of Boston, where volunteers across the city clean up everything that’s been collecting under the snow and leaves since last October. I’ve never taken part in it before, but we moved into a neighborhood back in December that tends to get covered in litter. Largely I think because it’s right across the street from the Amtrak/MBTA tracks and trash gets stuck in weeds and fences rather than in someone’s yard where they’re more likely to pick it up.

It was kind of an amazing time.

Not because I’m way into trash or litter. But because I’m just way into how amazing the people in this city are.

Our street had four people taking part in the clean-up. One of them was going to be away this weekend, so she pre-cleaned a good quarter mile of trash yesterday. Because. Sure.

Another lady got up super early and not only cleared her section of the street, but also began plotting out a community garden with the City’s help. And by “city’s help” I mean… I’m fairly certain she strong-armed the City into sending out a back-hoe and dump truck and clearing a spot.

In the middle of cleaning, a gentleman from an elder housing complex on the street came out on his cane to thank us and bring us bottled water.

The third guy? He started in the morning cleaning Roslindale Village, and then came by my house at around 1. Zipped up in his car with rakes and buckets and brooms and gloves and safety cones!

In the middle of picking up nips, wiping off sweat and generally just trying to keep up with Tom who is probably 25+ years my senior, he and I had a solid conversation about the urban sociologist William Whyte (because why not), the progressive policies of the new mayor of New York City and whether or not wildflowers would grow against the Amtrak fence.

I did a good solid two and half hours worth of work, but I’m fairly certain Tom was out there for close to five hours.

Cleaning up the city.

Happy spring, Boston.

You get more and more beautiful the more of you I get to meet.

Our awesome neighbors brought over lock-down biscuits today. Celebrating with mine now.
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This whole week feels unreal. Like it was a movie. Or a haze. Or happened to someone else. I assume that’s the glories of the human mind allowing you to get through something difficult. I also assume it will hit me again and again and again at several points in the coming months that it was in fact very real.

Also a wonderful way the mind works I guess. Sharp edges of reality fitting themselves into a narrative of self.

I’m really really trying to hold on to how things are Right Now. When we all feel so relieved. And together as a community. And just determined to get back to ourselves.

I have no doubt that this will become “other” at some moment. We’ll figure out a way to make this a “story” to make those sharp edges of the reality of it all fit better into our memories.

We were all already practicing it Friday night even before it had all ended. Because of course we couldn’t know that it was going to end. Someone told me today that if the rose of memory were not clipped short, how pricked upon the thorns of reality we might all become.

Which is so true.

So on Friday evening around the time the lock-down was being lifted and some guy in Watertown was wondering why his boat’s tarp was torn and we had all just about had it dealing with the anxiety in our own homes clicking/refreshing and making GIFs on Facebook about how strong we were because really we were frikken scared to death but we didn’t want anyone to KNOW that for crying out loud. So about the time that was all happening, we went to the Dogwood. Our pub.

And met some friends and started talking.

About where we were on Monday when this happened. And how we spent Friday on lock-down. And how nervous/not nervous we all were.

Friday for us was trash pick-up day. Usually it’s on a Thursday unless there’s a holiday. And Monday was a holiday so trash day was Friday. They picked up the regular trash before Boston was under lock-down. But the recycling was never picked up because they called lock-down before the recyclers came. The people who usually come to pick through our recycling for bottles and cans to redeem never showed up.

It was really windy Friday and I was too nervous to go outside to get the cans and drag them back to the house. And at one point the wind blew the trash can over and scared me to death.

Our neighbors across the street decided lock-down was a great time build a new porch. We all have our coping mechanisms I guess. Every time they hammered, I jumped. Friday also kept getting increasingly humid and muggy. It was almost 70F and probably 70% humidity. It felt stifling.

We kept the news on all day. What they were saying didn’t change from about 10:30 am to 5:30 pm. Over and over basically the same things. I kept trying to turn it off. At one point I watched The Office episode on Netflix streaming about “diversity day” because I had talked to someone earlier in the week about how funny that episode was.

I couldn’t really watch it so I put the news back on.

I remember being at one of my first jobs as a receptionist at a Nashville insurance company, when the Oklahoma City bombings occurred. And how absolutely frightened we were. We didn’t have twitter or the internet then, so we all called into the radio stations to talk about what we thought was maybe happening.

For this one, we clicked and refreshed.

I answered emails for work and kept some projects moving. I had a couple of meetings on the phone. I remember the last one of the day I had while leaning over my bed and staring out the open window while I was talking. Because it was really really hot. And because my neighbors had just brought over biscuits they had made because they were anxious too. And we’d all been up way too early and were scared.

And then we just all decided we had to go to the Dogwood because it was almost 6 pm and we’d all been watching this unfold since 6 am, and it was just way too much.

The lock down hadn’t been lifted, but we needed people.

The streets were empty. The buses across the street at Forest Hills T stop were just sitting there. Dark. We got a parking spot on the street. The Dogwood was awesome. We ran into tons of friends and hugged everyone. All of the tvs were on the breaking news. People were standing 3 rows deep at the bar to watch it. It looked. It looked just like the 2007 World Series. With people watching at the bar.

We ordered drinks and an appetizer. And as they were bringing the stuff out, they announced the lock down was lifted. And then we had another drink and some pizza. And the news erupted.

Shoot-outs. And pictures of a boat. And people got closer to the bar and the tvs. and the manager turned the sound way up. And everyone got quiet. We finished up. Had a really nice chat with our friends and other folks and drove home as fast as we could. And about the time we got home. Maybe? Like 15 minutes… they announced they had him in custody.

And I heard someone on our street shouting with joy.

And that’s what Friday really was.

Because in about one. Or maybe two days. This will all become something else. We’ll wrap slogans around our feelings. We’ll start talking about what we can all do to make sure this never happens again. We’ll start to get more answers about “why” or probably not. We’ll start having funerals. We’ll start arguing with one another about due process and rights and can’t we just remember the victims.

Life for a really really long time will feel like it’s been cut in two — before the marathon. And After.

I used to work in the World Trade Center. Two World Trade, 23rd floor. I had moved to Boston two months before 9/11. When I worked in the World Trade, it was just an office building. A really really cool office building that was on postcards that you could buy and send to your family back home and write, “I work here!” with an arrow pointing to the tallest buildings in Manhattan. And as a kid from Possum Trot, Kentucky, I could feel like I had made it. Because I worked in those office buildings.

But after 9/11, they became something else. And if you say, “I worked in the World Trade Center,” people get a momentary look of worry on their face. Instead of the excited/that’s cool face they used to get.

And the marathon will never ever ever be the same. There will never be that rush of joy about a Monday holiday that only Massachusetts seems to get. And a morning Red Sox game and walking down to Boylston to see the finish line. I mean. We’ll do that. But we’ll always think about it for a second. We’ll always have it in the back of our heads. Marathon Monday will always be something we’ll have to “take back” rather than just let it be.

But the thing is? Is that we’ll do it.

Because we will.


The Snow Arrives After Long Silence (by Nancy Willard)

The snow arrives after long silence
from its high home where nothing leaves
tracks or stains or keeps time.
The sky it fell from, pale as oatmeal,
bears up like sheep before shearing.

The cat at my window watches
amazed. So many feathers and no bird!
All day the snow sets its table
with clean linen, putting its house
in order. The hungry deer walk

on the risen loaves of snow.
You can follow the broken hearts
their hooves punch in its crust.
Night after night the big plows rumble
and bale it like dirty laundry

and haul it to the Hudson.
Now I scan the sky for snow,
and the cool cheek it offers me,
and its body, thinned into petals,
and the still caves where it sleeps.


Every week the New York Times Book Review does this clever little Q&A with an author. It’s so clever that whenever I read it, I supply my own answers to the questions inside of my head.

Remembering that I do indeed have a blog, I realized I could share those answers with you too. So, every week when I remember to do it, I’ll post my own little NYT Book Review Q&A here.

What book is on your night stand now?
I just finished this crazy memoir, “Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality” by Jacob Tomsky that I just loved. It wasn’t incredibly well written, but it was so refreshing. Usually memoirs are a little morose or life-affirming or something and this was just a straight-forward take on how this guy worked as a front desk agent in a  hotel.

What was the last truly great book you read?
I loved “Liar’s Poker”. Just so incredibly well-written.

What is your favorite literary genre? Any guilty pleasures?
I read memoir. I’m absolutely fascinated by people and how they choose to present themselves to the world. I’ll watch any reality show and read pretty much any memoir ever. There’s this great Quaker saying of “Let your life speak”. I love seeing how other people are letting their lives speak.

Have you read any good books on philosophy lately?

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be? The prime minister?
Every person at all times should be required to read Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.” I’ve always said that when I win the lottery, I’ll stand on street corners and pass out free copies of that book. I read “A People’s History” about the same time as Theodore Dreiser’s “Sister Carrie” and Dorothy Day’s “On Pilgrimage”. The combined effect of reading each of those in such a short period of time were really foundational in my progression toward being a latte-sipping East Coast elitist liberal.

What were your favorite books as a child? Did you have a favorite character or hero?
My all-time favorite book as a child was “Poky Little Puppy”. I mean seriously. What’s not to love about roly-poly puppies? I was also a huge big fan of the under-rated “Tommy Goes to the Doctor”. This was kind of a brilliant read because not only did Tommy go to a doctor, but running underneath Tommy’s journey was the story of a bunny (Fluffy, maybe?) who also went to a bunny doctor. So brilliant. Tommy’s doctor gave him a lollipop after the visit and Fluffy got a carrot.

I loved the structure of that book. Two stories! In one!

What books had the greatest influence on you when you were a student?
I had this amazing classics professor in college who taught Oedipus just brilliantly. I had never read any classics before then and was BLOWN AWAY. I remember just being so completely shocked at the end of that book. Reading that and the other classics helped me really understand humans have always craved a certain bit of structure in the stories we’ve told one another throughout time.

What was the last book that made you cry?
I can’t think of one. I try to not read books that make me cry.

The last book that made you laugh?
I apparently don’t read funny books either.

The last book that made you furious?
“The Receptionist” by Janet Groth. Honest-to-G*d it just could have been so much better. What a great story she had to tell as a long-time receptionist at the New Yorker! And she just wasted it by being a name-dropper. And tedious. She was so very tedious.

What’s the best love story you’ve ever read?
Cutting for Stone was just so beautifully written. A love story in every sense of the word. I wish I were still reading that book.

Are there any architects that you think are also particularly good writers? What are your favorite books on architecture?
I don’t know if it’s by an architect, but “House as a Mirror of Self” is just brilliant. It’s all about our emotional connections to our homes. How we surround ourselves with things… or not.. how we decorate them and the houses we choose as a reflection of our selves.

If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know?
Since I was 8-years-old and fell asleep on Christmas Eve clutching my new collection of Little House on the Prairie books, I have wanted to meet Laura Ingalls Wilder. I stand by that wish. There’s not anything really I’d want to know, but I’d probably make her my best friend and we’d hang out together writing awesome memoir.

And if you could meet a character from literature, who would it be?
Oedipus!!!! I mean. COME ON.

Who are your favorite writers of all time? And among your contemporaries?
Dorothy Allison, Minnie Bruce Pratt and Peggy McIntosh. All of whom have saved my life any number of times.

And if you had to give a young person a list of books to be read above all others to prepare for adulthood, what would you include?
A People’s History of the United States. Standard.

What are you planning to read next?
I like to keep a few books going at a time. So up next on the Kindle are Wendy Lawless’ “Chanel Bonfire”, Stephen King’s essay “Guns” John Kenney’s “Truth in Advertising” and Lois Frankel’s “Nice Girls Just Don’t Get It.”

Let's talk about how we really did re-elect #Obama and so I got this inaugural invite. #love
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That’s all.*

*Don’t worry, it’s a commemorative invite. But. It’s still awesome.

These eggs are #hard #boiled
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Two things happened this weekend: 1) The wife got ridiculously sick, and 2) I continued to not eat donuts. Neither of these things were really pleasant, but it did cause us to focus a lot on what we were eating.

During a panicked call to the urgent care nurse wherein I attempted to learn the exact point in “throwing up for a few days” that one should become really concerned (panic when they can’t walk or they’re ill immediately after eating, btw) — the nurse happened to run through a list of foods to try to eat on an unsettled stomach.  It ran the spectrum from chicken broth to broiled chicken breast and along the way she mentioned hard boiled eggs.

Boy… the nurse had a real focus on the whole chicken there, didn’t she?

Hard boiled eggs! I had forgotten about them completely! What a genius idea. A pre-cooked, pre-packaged, portable punch of protein! (Feel free to use that, American Egg Board.)

So that’s what we did. And after we had very nicely progressed straight from broth and onto corned beef and cabbage (she craved it, I didn’t) we had an egg or so left over for me to have as a snack post-Ward Committee meeting last night. It was awesome! It filled me up, didn’t involve a drive-thru and it tasted good even without having to pour melted cheese on it.

Having mentioned briefly to the wife how great it would be to have a few hard boiled eggs on hand for other meeting-filled evenings – I came home to this. A bowl of very cleverly marked up hard boiled eggs.

And that picture. Is exactly how a hard boiled egg becomes better than a donut.

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My friend Casey is a seriously awesome blogger. She’s good at it *and* she makes time to do it. Which is more than I typically do.

Instead of blogging, yesterday I did errands. I went to the pharmacy to get pharmacy-things, the UPS store to drop off some poor Zappos purchases from September, the dry cleaner, and then vet to pick up Callie’s medication. And then because why not, I went to the Apple store, Sephora for a lipgloss emergency and then out to Ikea because I’m a tiny bit obsessed with their wooden hangers and needed more. Lots more of them.

Instead of blogging today, I did everything around the house that I haven’t done since the holidays or when the wife was ill or when it snowed. So there was all of that dusting and cleaning and laundry and picking rock salt out of the carpet and whatever other tiny obsessive thing I decided needed to be done.

So all of that was super important, but the most important thing I did today was to make the world’s best playlist. Seriously. World’s. Best. (I mean other than the fact that I just this second noticed the severe lack of Tegan and Sara here.)


  • Hell On Heels — Pistol Annies
  • All the Above (feat. T-Pain) — Maino
  • Wild At Heart Gloriana — Wild At Heart -
  • Raise Your Glass — P!nk
  • Paycheck Man — Randy Houser
  • Ridin’ — Chamillionaire & Krayzie Bone
  • Fire Bomb — Rihanna
  • Mountains — Lonestar
  • Loneliness — Annie Lennox
  • One Big Love  — Patty Griffin
  • Untouchable Face — Ani DiFranco
  • Back That Thing Up — Justin Moore
  • There Goes The Neighborhood — Sheryl Crow
  • The Queen — Lady GaGa
  • Missundaztood — Pink
  • This Is Not A Song, It’s An Outburst: Or, The Establishment Blues — Rodriguez
  • I Wrote the Book — Beth Ditto
  • It’s Alright — The Smithereens
  • Vertigo — U2
  • Love Will Find Way  — Yes

You can thank me later.

Night tea

We have a Shetland Sheepdog who is beautiful, smart and growing slightly senile in her old age. (By which I mean she does things like comes in from being outside and stands and waits for a treat. Which is what she’s always done, but now she’s staring at a wall instead of looking up for me for the treat.)

And if you know anything about shelties, you know they’re ridiculously clever, can be trained to do anything and they bark. It’s how they herd sheep. Apparently though there are some oddly quiet shelties who can just mind control a sheep into doing sheep things. That’s not how Callie does things. Callie loves to bark. It’s her great joy — and she’s really good at it.

In all of her almost 14 years on the planet, we’ve never been able to get Callie to not bark. But what we can do is get her to stop barking and do something else. It took a few tries, but now when the grocery delivery arrives, Callie barks at the truck and then puts herself into her crate and stops barking.

She trained herself to do something else.

A few months ago I read a book — OK, part of a book — about changing habits. And one of the points the author made was that people are most successful in changing habits when they switch a habit with another habit. Find something else to do instead of smoking when you drink your coffee in the morning. Or if you always have a vending machine run at 3pm when you’re tired and crabby… then switch it with a walk around the building.

One of the habits I’m trying to adjust this year is snacking before bed. I have no idea why I started doing it, but it sure hasn’t done me any favors.

I’m replacing that sad little habit with tea. A nighttime tea in the fanciest cups we have. With little special serving dishes and this oddly special quiet time spent waiting for the kettle to whistle. The whole process has a wonderful rhythm to it that I’m really enjoying.

I’ve given myself a little bit of mind space that I never noticed before because I was too busy doing what I’ve always done.

Turns out? I take my tea with a little milk.

2012-12-30 15.58.18

When I was going on a filing fling before the end of the year, I came across an envelope of “Things From When We Got Married.” Including the front page of the Boston Globe from our wedding day. June 15, 2007.

It’s so odd to me. In my memories, the span of time from when the state legislature refused to put the issue on the ballot and when we got married was a couple of weeks. But it was actually the next day.

We got married on the day of that headline.

We’ve been together since 2001. Marriage equality became law in Massachusetts in 2004. We didn’t get married then because we kept telling ourselves that we didn’t believe in marriage. That whole “patriarchy” and “property of the man” thing. Which might have been pretty true. But looking at this headline, the date on the paper and the date on my marriage certificate… I think it might also be true that we didn’t let ourselves think that marriage was a possibility until we were sure that it wouldn’t be taken away from us.

How absolutely devastating that must be. To have the state tell you one day that you’re a real citizen with real rights. And the next day to take that away from you.

I feel so absolutely grief-stricken for the couples in California that happened to. How did we allow that to happen to them? How did we tell them their love was OK one week and then tell the next week that they didn’t love the “right way” for the state to recognize them? How did we allow that to happen?

The day that we got married. The day that this headline ran on the front page of the Boston Globe, we had a judge grant us a “marriage without delay” allowing us to get married on that day rather than holding out for the three-day waiting period. We couldn’t wait any longer. And when she granted it to us, she told us. In front of a full courtroom she said:

“On behalf of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I wish you both a long and happy life.”

I’m placing so much hope this year on the Supreme Court overturning DOMA. You have no idea how much. Mostly I just keep telling myself that I really want my spouse’s Social Security. Like every other spouse gets. That I want to be able to put her on my health insurance without paying taxes on the full premium (not my portion of it). Like everyone else gets to do. That I don’t want to have to pay taxes on anything she gives me. Or for the state of Virginia to recognize us as a married couple when we go to the River House. Or to maybe someday think about moving back to Nashville to care for my parents as they get older and to see my nephew grow up without having to worry about getting fired from a job for. You know.

Being gay.

I told my friend Casey the other day that I was so nervous about 2013. At the time I didn’t really know why. I thought maybe I was nervous that it wouldn’t be as wonderful as 2012 was. I had such a great 2012, I didn’t want my luck to wear out. But looking at this headline and seeing the date on it, I think I’m really nervous about the Supreme Court telling me that I’m not like every other citizen. That I should have to pay extra taxes. That I shouldn’t have the same rights.

That the United States of America isn’t wishing me a long and happy life.

I have so much hope for this year.

Are We Doing Resolutions?

Kristie Helms —  December 31, 2012 — 2 Comments

2012-12-30 09.37.57

Are we making New Year’s resolutions now? I think I’ve put off thinking about it because 2012 was such a fantastic year for me, 2013 makes me a little nervous. Like maybe my luck will run out or something.

That’s probably not how things work. So. Let’s do resolutions.

1. Go to yoga more often. Yoga is so awesome and I pretty much rock out the modified poses. Everyone needs someone in the class doing modified poses, so they feel more awesome about how good they are. I’ll be the modified pose person for your class.

2. Stop counting the dogs. I count my dogs. All of the time. Like, some people obsess when the leave the house about leaving the iron on or water running or something. I don’t iron, so I worry if all of the dogs are IN the house when I leave. So before I leave, I count the dogs. I’m going to stop counting dogs. One dog, two dogs, three dogs. Three dogs.

I’ll stop tomorrow.

3. I’m going to eat vegetables. Just. In general. And not act like I’m 12 about it. Because I do honestly love spinach and I think I even like brussel sprouts. There are probably others out there that I’d like too.

4. I want to go to San Francisco. They have flights there pretty regularly and some time in 2013, I’m going to get on one. I hope it’s Jet Blue. I like those tvs.

5. Read. I love to read so this isn’t really a resolution. Other than to remind me in 2013 that I love to read.

6. Look for the better seat. This is kind of a big one for me, and it’s really the stretch resolution in the list. The wife and I tell this story to illustrate our different styles. And the story is that one time we took a train to NYC. (Oh, that was fun! Sub-goal 6a is to take another train ride to NYC. Someone remember that for me.)

So we took a train ride to NYC once and we got on at Back Bay. And I sat us down in the first two seats we came across even though they weren’t together and they weren’t good seats. And the wife was like, “No, let’s go to the front of the train and get better seats.” And I’m like, “no, let’s stay here and when people get off further down the line we can rearrange ourselves into better seats.” For a really long time (read: whole life) I’ve done this thing where I take the ok seat and then strategize on how to get the better seat. And, that’s worked pretty well for me (yay me!) but there’s really no reason to do that now that I know how to get the better seats.

(Amtrak Northeast Regional Corridor travel tip: Go to the bar car.)

Happy 2013 y’all!