Tuesday, December 6, 2011


((I still owe y'all a Kat and Nicki Do Boston post, but it'll have to wait until I rip the pictures from the clutches of my camera.))


In the first month after moving to Boston, I kept a running list of ideas for my Since Moving to Boston series. Some of them I used, some I didn't, but I came across the list yesterday and I couldn't resist sharing. 

Things I've Discovered Since Moving to Boston:

--Living in a nice residential neighborhood means you pick up nice residential neighborhood habits, like ogling your neighbors in SPITE of you promising yourself you wouldn't fall into such nosy-neighbor pitfalls.

--You quickly get used to living in front of neighbor Joe (an elderly, golf-loving widower who lives directly behind us with only a waist-high fence to separate our yards-- meaning yes, he sees all the times we're dancing in the kitchen and yes, he sees my morning-hair when I let the dogs out in the morning and yes, he hears my terrible singing when the windows are open and yes, he sees my midnight raids on the fridge. Joe sees all. Joe knows all.)

--Squirrels? FASCINATING.

--Gardening: Forget green thumbs. I've got a bonafide black thumb.

--There is a local _____ for everything. Your local cupcake shop. Your local urban winery. Your local organic dog treat baker. Your local goat butcher.

--Everyone is deliciously friendly.

--Live lobsters don't scream when you cook them.

--When a Bostonian tells you their dog's name is Koopa, they don't mean Bowser from Mario. They mean Cooper. You will spend the next twenty minutes in your living room giggling and saying "Coopah, the wicked good dog."

--Smiling and say "We're Southerners" will get you anywhere here, even though you're actually from the snowy Pennsylvania countryside and only moved to VA when you were 20.

--We're rapidly descending downward into a hippie spiral, complete with hand-crocheted market bags and compost piles. Yes, compost piles.

--Summer is more precious here, and every fleeting glimpse of summer sun reminds you that winter is coming, and it's coming quickly.

--Even though you're poor, in debt, and months away from your first paycheck, everything seems wonderful and fresh and new, a come-clean beginning, a cocoon opening, a fluttering awakening-- and the grass is greener and the flowers are brighter and the water is sweeter and you look at each other and say this. This is what we've been waiting for. Just this, only this, this sweet hereafter we've found.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

gratitude: 2011

A Loaded Handbag tradition since 2010.

Let's just get this right out of the way. I'm thankful for being healthy, for being mentally sound, for being fed, clothed, watered, sheltered.

But there's a lot more to life, no?

Like having a backyard to call my own. A garage. A kitchen. A home.

The red bricks of Boston. The worn pubs of Boston.

 Fire-red leaves, fresh-split wood, sliced green apples. The smell of sage.  

Grace Kelly by firelight.

 Pencil skirts. Liquid eyeliner. Ray Charles on the record player.

Salted caramel cocoa, poured in a mug for two.

Asking the woman in the North End Italian bakery if you can take a picture of her rack.

Realizing two blocks later you meant display case.

Twelve grilled oysters, splashed with garlic butter.

Sugar-white sand. A rolling surf. A picnic on red-checked cloth.

Watching free Shakespeare, barefoot in the park.

Homemade hollandaise. Breakfast in bed.

Mozzarella. Mimosas. Margaritas.

A new book waiting on a freshly-made bed.


Trying to pretend killing your first lobster doesn't bother you, doesn't make you want to cry, not even a little bit, not at all.

That magic hour when the sun slants on the table, when the words you've been chasing for hours start pouring back onto the keyboard.

When you find the words you thought you'd lost.

Wandering. Exploring.

Finding wings you thought you'd clipped.

(Your turn.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

baltimore blues

Longtime readers know I'm having a torrid affair with the city of Baltimore.

I have complicated relationships with the entire Eastern seaboard. NYC's the one that got away, my long-distance love. I'm downright married to Boston. Philadelphia's my skeevy older brother that I take for granted, and Pittsburgh's my hard-working, good-souled favorite uncle. But Baltimore? Baltimore's my one-night stand, my old flame, my I'll-regret-this-in-the-morning love affair.

I flew down to Baltimore on Friday for a wedding, and after months of hiking through the red bricks of Boston, my heart just doesn't flutter for Baltimore the way it used to. Though my heart now belongs to a world of Sam Adams and lobster rolls instead of cobblestones and crab cakes, I still carry a wide-eyed admiration for this screwed-up town.

I never leave Baltimore without a story. It's where I found hair fertilizer. It's home to some of the absolute craziest people I've ever met. It's dirty. It's mean. It's been kicked around, and it's got one of the best personalities of any city I know.  I woke up one morning and dyed my hair red in a Baltimore hotel-- it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time. I scrawl poems on Baltimore bar napkins. I spent the night in a Baltimore hotel bathtub with a washcloth pillow. Hell, The Loaded Handbag's header photo was taken in Baltimore.

Since it'll take me another eight months to get my pictures from the weekend trip edited, I figured it's high time to post pictures from my Baltimorean birthday weekend this past February. So let's all raise our crab cakes on high in a toast to the quirkiest town on the Eastern seaboard-- to Baltimore, you wily tattooed mynx, you.

(Impressionist) Ice on the Harbor

The Katyn Memorial

No. It's not part of a Tim Burton set.

Yes. There is a metaphor at work here, y'all.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cracking Spines on September 12th

I didn't write anything about yesterday. Anything I could have said wouldn't be anything compared to Steph or Kat's posts on the subjects-- please read their heartwrenching tributes. My words pale by comparison.

I do feel compelled to note that I started blogging on September 11, 2001. I didn't write anything about what happened. I had spent hours curled in my room, wrapped around stuffed animals from my childhood, watching the events unfurl on television. Every channel. Every minute. When I couldn't bear any more I went to the computer. And I started a blog. I've been blogging (admittedly through different mediums) ever since.

On September 11, 2011, I didn't turn on the television. Couldn't. Didn't blog. Avoided the Internet. Avoided the tributes, the pictures, the stories, the epitaphs. I read. All day. I dragged a blanket and a few beers out to the yard and was lost in someone else's words. The day passed quietly.


Thinking of yesterday-- which must happen when I opened my computer to deal with the backlog of email, blog posts, and headlines that had piled over the weekend-- and how I spent it reminded me of where I was roughly a year ago. Remember the Spine Cracking Poll? In a nutshell for new readers, I was in a reading drought though I was reading everyday. I was reading an abundance of blogs, news articles, etc.-- but I wasn't reading books. I was stockpiling $1.00 books from thrift stores and yard sales and they sat, sadly, on the bookshelf.

This year, I'm happy to report The Great Nicki Reading Drought is over-- at least, for now. I've given myself the meager goal of reading at least one book and one play a month, no matter how much work I have to do. And damn it, I've been doing it. Even in June and July, the months so busy I barely breathed (July, in particular, was so busy I worked straight through the 4th of July weekend).

So for my fellow book lovers out there-- you know who you are-- I present my Summer Reading List of 2011.

Cracked Spines: Summer 2011 Edition

All images taken from Amazon in the hopes that both the company and authors won't mind I'm pimping out and linking to their products.

  1. The Sweet In-Between by Sheri Reynolds.

    Full disclosure: I studied with the brilliant Sheri Reynolds in college and she remains one of my all-time, absolute favorite authors. If you like Carson McCullers-- deceptively simple Southern prose with a beating heart and a sharp mind-- you'll love Sheri Reynolds. Start with Rapture of Canaan, a book so brilliant it caught the busy eye of Oprah herself (she chose it for Oprah's Book Club in 1997).

    The Sweet In-Between was no exception. Beautiful writing, breathing characters, a silent, subtle theme running like water underneath her prose.

    There's a quote from the book that I find myself repeating, over and over, when I'm having one of those days that makes me want to rail against the bars, smash the glass, or bury myself in a deep sleep until I wake up when things are better: But sometimes you have to pass a day - in one way or another - just to get tomorrow. It isn't the most memorable quote in the book, nor is it the best. But that quote keeps me running on those dark days. And I pass those days, in one way or another, just to reach tomorrow.

    And eventually, in one way or another, the tomorrows come.

  2. Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande.

    Would I recommend this book to everyone? No.

    Would I recommend this book (about a doctor enduring a Boston-based residency) to significant others of doctors just beginning a Boston-based residency? Yes, yes I would.

    I'd also recommend this book for med students, pre-med students, or anyone who wants an intelligent, well-crafted view of medicine. Insightful.

  3. Fluke by Christopher Moore.

    My first Christopher Moore. Don't look at me like that. Two years ago I rented a Moore novel on audiotape to pass the time on a long trip home to Pennsylvania. The audiotape was so damn funny I stopped it after Chapter Two, determined to experience Moore in a setting that wouldn't call for me to tune out every few pages in order to not die on the freeway.

    I bought Fluke in a Virginia used bookstore only to discover a receipt tucked into the pages from a Mystic bookstore. Odd that a book left New England, traveled to Virginia, and landed in my belongings-- only to end up carted back to New England in a UHaul.

    In short, Fluke is a hilarious whale of a tale about a brilliant whale scientist, a loveable photographer, a cute-as-hell research assistant and a whale that says "Bite Me" on its tail. Complete with a science fiction twist.

    Was it funny? Yes. Did it contain anything I ever wanted to know about whales-- and more? Yes. Did I love it? Yes. Do I suspect it's Moore's best, given what I've had a taste of in the past? No. No, I don't.

    Still, fantastic.

  4. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace.

    Wallace has received a metric ton of critical praise, especially after his untimely death, so I don't know if I need to add to the thunderous applause. I'll say this: he inspires me. He's one of creative nonfiction's best and brightest. As a creative nonfiction gal myself, I'm a ready fan and a wide-eyed worshipper.

    However, I will readily admit that I skipped an essay or two in this collection. Tennis doesn't interest me. My apologies, Mr. Wallace. However, "Getting Away From Pretty Much Getting Away From It All" and the book's namesake essay were so absolutely fantastic they made the book's purchase well worth it. If you want to read the most hilarious send-up of a Caribbean cruise you will ever read, buy this book. Or save yourself a few dollars: get it from the library instead.

  5. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
    by Barbara Kingsolver.

    I will not gush about this book. I will not gush about this book. I will not-- okay, just a little gushing.

    This book is probably the most boring book you'll ever read in your life unless you are absolutely envious of turkey butcherers and families who spent 90% of their free time planting, harvesting, cooking, and canning. I am one of those loony people. My weekly trip out for fun? It's not the movies, the bar, or the golf course-- it's to the farmer's market. It is, honest to God, the highlight of my week. Even loonier, I am a from-scratch addict. I make my own tortillas. I make my own tomato sauce, my own mayonnaise, my own BBQ sauce, my own stocks. I make my own crackers, for Chrissake. 

    So, being the sustainable food nut that I am, I read with rapture about chicken raising, mozzarella making, and turkey sex-- yes, turkey sex. It was one of my most informative, joyous reads of the year. But, like I said, unless you're a self-proclaimed food loony like me, it probably has the appeal of a book about mothballs.

I'm currently reading The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.

If you feel the need to tell me any spoilers, I will find you and I will cut you.

It's your turn. I'm ALWAYS looking for new titles-- in fact, thanks to Brent's suggestion, I picked up a copy of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs for a whopping $.50 at a recent library sale. What are you reading? What have you read this summer? Who's your latest favorite author?  And are the Hunger Games really as good as everyone says they are?

Note to my oh-so-fabulous guest posters: the guest week should (cross your fingers) begin next Monday! I'll get a schedule out later in the week.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

the lost summer: part one

Some days I think summer just passed me by this year. Whistled on past while I was unpacking. Waved from the window as I counted the pennies in my bank account, depleted from the move. There were no afternoons spent sunning at the beach, no August ice cream dripping down my wrist, no picnics, no barbecues, and that sin of all sins for a gal with the wanderin' blues, no road trips.

Yet there was a summer spent here, no matter how fleeting-- afternoons under a tree reading with a glass of wine in my hand and the dogs at my feet. Backyard clambakes. A trip-- however brief-- to see Nantasket Beach. An outdoor music festival, a brewery tour, a Sunday afternoon at the vintage market. Ripe tomatoes-- yes, tomatoes-- this was the summer I discovered however I may still loathe the inedible cookie-cutter variety found in the grocery store, a fresh-grown tomato from the farmer's market is indeed a wonderful thing. 

In fact, I went on a culinary tour of New England this summer, sampling mahogany clams, debearding mussels, shucking corn, unshelling husk cherries, gorging on blueberries, and yes-- boiling my own lobster. 

There was a summer spent here. Such a short summer, compared to my April-October summer seasons in Virginia, but there was a summer-- a fleeting, startled summer that was as good as any I've known.

 Scenes from the Lost Summer: Part One-- Before Boston

The Great Janes Island Camping Adventure (more on this later) 

When I first moved to Virginia, I fell in love with two things: a.) the miles of rolling shoreline within walking distance of my new home and b.) she-crab soup. I said goodbye to both of these things at the Virginia Beach She-Crab Soup Classic.
After tasting dozens of local restaurants' she-crab soup varieties, I can safely say I'm an expert on the cuisine-- so much so that Derrick and I made our own batch before leaving the state (complete with our own fresh-caught crabs)

Forget lobsters-- give me a pile of hot steamed blue crabs any day.

Saying goodbye to the my true shellfish love, the blue crab

Gorging ourselves at the Chincoteague Seafood Festival

The house-hunting trip to Massachusetts on a shoestring budget, where we stayed at a dive hotel and shivered through cold, rainy weather-- in the packing whirlwind, we'd forgotten our coats. 

The upside of the trip was falling in love with the South Shore-- and finding our dream single family home with a backyard on our last day of house-hunting for less money than the smaller apartments we were convinced we'd be stuck with. It was the biggest stroke of luck we'd had all year.

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy concert-- complete with AUTOGRAPHED RECORD (and plenty of ridiculous swing dancing)


Memorial Day trip to picnic at my grandparents' house in Delaware-- and to see their brand new, insanely adorable puppy

The very last forbidden cookout on our apartment balcony

 Summer rain window-watching sessions in the old apartment

 Derrick's graduation from med school

 ...and losing our minds in the moving insanity. 


Two Quick Things:

1.) Because of a pesky draft and because I can't count, the last post was #94, not #95. We folks here at the Loaded Handbag sincerely apologize for any inconvenience.
2.) I've already received some guest posts and they're fabulous! Remember to send your guest post masterpieces to theloadedhandbag (at) gmail (dot) com. With @ & . instead of (at) and (dot), of course.

Monday, August 22, 2011

we are taking this whole organic movement way too far, america

Here I thought I was a total player in the locavore-organic-urban-farm movement.

Taken in a CVS on a winter trip to Baltimore:

I'm the only one not using this crap, aren't I? You're all out planting soybean crops on your scalp and making follicle treacle from your little hair harvests.  I knew it. I knew it.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

things I've learned since moving to Boston: 3

I spend my days writing on a screened porch that faces my neighbor's backyard. There are sixty years and a picket fence that separate my neighbor and I, and I know he must think me a flighty creature rarely without her laptop or a book in her hand, one who openly dances in the kitchen to too-loud music; a frivolous thing prone to polka-dot skirts and ruffled hems; a strange bird who crawls on her belly to take pictures of dragonflies and drinks wine in the afternoon.

Our mirrored houses were built in 1954, and he knows everything about my new address-- when my well was built, what flowers grow in my flowerbeds and when they were planted, when the new porch went up, when the hedges need pruned. He mourned for the husband who died here. He knew the name of the 94-year-old woman who needed the steel handles in my bathtub.

I come inside when he mows the lawn-- who can write with a motor going? He avoids the backyard when I play with the dogs-- who can enjoy the afternoon with two dogs barking? We live in a perpetual avoidance, one without small talk and exchanged pleasantries.

Yet when the summer rain comes we sit, he in his lamplit living room and I on my porch, and together we watch the storms roll in, and we both put on a record-- him New Orleans jazz, me classic blues, both of us Glenn Miller-- and I feel like I know him, this old friend, this daytime companion, this neighbor I've only spoken to once.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

things I've learned since moving to Boston: 2

Taken while moving in...
Our hallway does not look this now, swearsies

One closet-sized bathroom per house? Unethical. Should be against building codes.

Monday, August 8, 2011

things I've learned since moving to boston: 1

Smiling and saying "We're Southerners" will get you anywhere, even if you're actually from the snowy Pennsylvania countryside and didn't venture south of the Mason-Dixon line until you were 20.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

so guess which cowgirl managed to wrangle up herself some internet access and is now moseying through a month of old blog posts?

that's right. this cowgirl.

Meanwhile, back at the Boston ranch, this little country gal is trying to fit in with some city slickers after the Great Northern Migration of 2011.

This little country gal also now has some mean bicep muscles after REPEATEDLY CARRYING EVERYTHING SHE  OWNS DOWN TWO HUGE FLIGHTS OF STAIRS IN 100 DEGREE WEATHER.


Let it be said that I never knew what hell was until I moved out of the South in the summertime. And let us never speak of moving out of Virginia again.

Unless I decide to do some terribly witty blog post about it.
Then let's laugh jovially and use dry humor and clever wordplay to hide the deep scars that the Great Northern Migration has left on me.