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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Starving Artist: How to Improve Your Writing

I love art. When you read the word “art”, I’m sure your brain triggers thoughts of painting, and sculpture, perhaps a trip to a museum. I don’t believe art is that exclusive. Art can be a masterfully written essay, a heartfelt song, a beautiful bedtime story as well as the aforementioned painting, sculptures and the like. Being an artist of the written word, I have a great appreciation for fellow artists no matter their trade.
Something I have always regretted is not expanding my knowledge and abilities in the arts. I wish I had learned to play an instrument. I wish I could paint the sunset.  However, there is something these varieties of art participate in that I believe my specialty can benefit from borrowing. Musicians improve their understanding of tone and melodies by practicing, some of the best practice every day. Visual artists often hone their skills with daily sketches. Writers need to adopt this discipline.
Writing a memoir, fictional story or recount of history (among others) cannot be accomplished overnight. It can’t be finished in a week. It is undoubtedly the art with the longest investment in the completion of a single task. For some writers, like myself, the prized project could take years, a decade even. So how do you improve your wordsmith abilities? Even writing a short story or piece of poetry could wrap you into another assignment. Taking a page out of the musicians and visual artists’ playbook, I propose writers practice their skills with fifteen to thirty minute vignettes.
From now on, the majority of my writing specific posts will entertain this desire. Using a random list of objects, people and places I will write a piece for the allotted time in a free-flowing manner, neglecting my usual craving to edit. This sort of practice is something I suggest for all writers. I hope at over time for this drill to become a daily staple and something writers can share with each other.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Breakfast Crawl

While on an unrelated work assignment, I found myself touring bakeries and cafés in the Metrowest and Norfolk county areas of Greater Boston.  My objective quickly transformed from a simple, yet repetitive task to a ravenous, impromptu food critic. Expecting to see mountains of scones, muffins and bagels, it came as a surprise to me that each bakery also sported some savory shade of a luncheon café. Had this trail taken me through these quaint, side-road shops several hours later, surely I would have sampled their great array of sandwiches, but alas, it was barely past the sunrise so I happily dined on delectable pastries. I broke from my typical pattern of eating in which I purchase the same item in order to choose which was best at the end of the day and instead opted to embrace the variety of breakfast fare.
At the beginning of the bakery crawl, I chose to obtain a sampling of a hole-in-the-wall’s delightful muffins, keeping to tradition I had the chocolate chip—slightly warmed. I knew at the first velvety bite that it was a stroke of luck I had a partner helping me that day; otherwise my stomach would soon be none-too-happy with me. We devoured the muffin from its sugary top down, ensuring each bite held a morsel of chocolate. Nearly a mile further down that road was a bagel shop, their everything-style bagel, slathered with lox-cream cheese and a side of iced coffee (hazelnut, of course) paired perfectly for a hearty second breakfast.
We meticulously looped through the town and located a larger, well marketed establishment that had just recently changed hands. The stream of customers boosted my belief in the eatery’s quality. Soon enough, their generous sampling of sweet breads placed precariously atop their counter was vultured clean in seconds. I was merely able to snag a piece of apple danish and cinnamon bread before the platter was retracted.  Nonetheless, the meager snack satisfied my trust in the bakery’s claim of having the best bread in the county. But despite my taste buds begging for another bite of the danish, I had developed a whisper in my head instructing me to trek northward to the mythical home of what I had heard was the best croissant outside of Paris.
Another unplanned stop held me back from the buttery goodness awaiting ten miles away as we parked for a shared frozen mango smoothie. This was the precise boost of fruit needed to urge us further towards the final stop of the day and hopefully the famed croissant. As the mound of whipped cream melted into our mango drink just as the miles faded behind the wheels of the car, we emerged into the bustling town center of red brick buildings flanking a thriving park. Sitting on the common, this bakery was the most vibrant of all the others we had visited that morning. And there it was. Parked next to several incarnations of the luscious dough was the chocolate croissant. Light and airy, it practically floated onto our plate. Drizzled with chocolate and filled with the same smooth substance, the croissant pulled apart in flakey layers. Like unwrapping a long awaited Christmas present, I cherished each piece of the croissant before inhaling the thick, luscious center.
As the final bite disappeared, I regretted sharing this scrumptious pastry, devilishly eyeing its counterpart as it too was devoured. Feeling heavier already, we relaxed at the table long enough to recall how nearly each bakery we visited also boasted cupcakes; dainty cakes in all sizes: mini, cup or jumbo. Classic versions, specialty flavors and two for three deals. It was settled: as soon as we recovered from the marathon eating event, we would venture out again to discover if these bakeries could support an equally delicious cupcake crawl as well.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Top Five Massachusetts Audubon Sights

If you share my kindred love for nature, this list is for you. The National Audubon Society has preserves, sanctuaries and centers in nearly every state and even some US territories. Their mission to conserve America’s natural wildlife is breathtaking, not only in their extensive effort but the sights their parks offer. The Massachusetts Audubon is one-step removed from its national brethren, providing a local stomping-ground for the state’s residents with specialized rewards for its members. I was practically raised on these timeless sanctuaries, spotting animals through the brush and calling out bird names after their sweet songs. As a product of an Audubon wedding and a current employee, it seemed fitting to post my top five Mass Audubon locations.
Welfleet Bay, Welfleet – This prime Cape Cod sanctuary takes the top spot for its winding trails that snake visitors through a seaside forest before breaking into a magnificent seascape of the bay. The low tide estuaries harbor extensive sea life begging for a closer look, and the hide tide observation platform offers a glimpse into a hidden world.

Stony Brook, Norfolk – There is slight favoritism being played here since this is my second home during the spring and summer months. Located south-east of Boston, Stony Brook provides a central pond with accompanying marshes that are easily navigable. Crossing through three habitats on your walk, spotting a variety of animals on the short walk is commonplace.  

Joppa Flats, Newburyport – Unusual terrain is not often as accessible as this Newburyport landmark. Nestled along the ocean’s edge, this north shore sanctuary draws you along placid salt-marshes and through living mudflats to the best location in Massachusetts for birding elusive birds and waterfowl.

Drumlin Farm, Lincoln – The name itself is indicative of its unmatched excellence for entertaining children. Its namesake farm houses grazing animals and the ageless hayride. Moreover, the compact loop of zoo-style exhibits allow for an interactive trail: the aviary is a personal favorite as is the underground room, giving a covert insight to burrowing animals. This sanctuary is a must-visit for young nature-lovers.

Broadmoor, Natick – Vast fields and a beautiful inland marsh provide the tranquil backdrop for a secluded walk. Patrons can traverse the paths while leaving their daily worries behind. Broadmoor is a wonderful viewing station for the transition of the seasons. Each cyclic visit opens new passageways to inspiration and reflection. After all, the bend in the boardwalk was the site of my parent’s wedding.

This list is only one review of the dozens of options available. Explore and make your own list! Outdoorsman, or not, the Mass Audubon houses such a vibrant collection of sights that people from all walks of life can find the right walk for them.