New Feature: Used Bookstores of New England

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You can't find this on a Kindle – seriously.

You can’t find this on a Kindle – seriously.

Summer is here, and that means travel season. I obviously take a lot of trips, and one of my favorite things to do when I’m out of town is perch myself at a nice coffee shop or used bookstore – or, ideally, something that’s a hybrid between the two – and read.

I read voraciously growing up. I didn’t realize then that adolescence would be the last time in my life when I had unlimited time to curl up with a good book. As an adult, I’m lucky if I get through a book a month – and that’s more than many people . (According to the Pew Research Center, 24 percent of American adults haven’t read a book in the last year.)

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This Month’s Recipe: Possibly the Best-Ever Jerk Chicken Tacos

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Jerk Chicken Tacos

Tastes as good as it looks.

This jerk chicken is possibly the best thing I’ve ever made with my own two hands, so I wanted to share. It’s a great recipe for the slow start to spring we’ve been having in the Northeast. If it’s cold outside, you can leave the chicken whole or use the leftover jerk broth as a soup starter. If it’s warm outside you can shred the chicken and add it to tacos — like I did — then wash the whole thing down with a cold lemonade.

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Great places to get snowed in: Simsbury, CT & Newport, RI

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Simsbury Inn -- Staircase

The grand staircase at the Simsbury Inn.

Yesterday was the first day of spring and we still can’t get away from the snow. Last week the temperature topped out in the low 50’s and we had a string of sunny days. The crusty snowbanks had almost disappeared from the streets, even in Boston.

Then, all of a sudden, winter was back with 5 inches of snow. I’m hoping this is the last snow we see this year, but I’m not optimistic. Fall is my favorite season and winter used to be a close runner up, but this winter has really tested my patience. Growing up in the Midwest, I know bad winters: sub-zero temperatures, blizzard conditions and piles of snow are nothing new to me. But I think living in Southern Indiana, where winters tend to be more mild, for 6 years prior to moving to Connecticut spoiled me.

This winter has been especially bad, even by New England standards. February 2015 was the coldest month ever in Connecticut. Massachusetts broke snowfall records for the season and for the month of February.

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Goodbye New England Fall, Hello New England Winter

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I always really miss fall when it’s over. Fall is my favorite season, which is strange when you consider the fact that the most important day of the year — my birthday — is in the summer and my favorite holiday is Christmas (weird for an atheist, I know). Fall in the Northeast, as I’ve mentioned before, is especially grand.

So what is it about fall that’s so special? Some images and anecdotes that demonstrate:

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Torrington and the Litchfield Hills

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Fall is the best time go for a drive and a hike in almost any part of the country, but this is especially true for Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills region. The Litchfield Hills are technically the southern tip of the Berkshires, which are in turn technically the southern half of the Green Mountains that start in Vermont. Western New England and Eastern New York are where most of the mountain ranges of the Northeast Appalachians converge, and the effect is beautiful.

New England is also 80 percent forest — the most heavily-forested region of the country — a fact that can be counted as one of the great environmental victories of the 20th century. Early settlers’ logging and farming had cut that percentage down to 30-40 percent in the mid-1800s.

So what’s there to do in the Litchfield Hills besides “leaf-peep”?

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No beach envy on America’s Third Coast

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Indiana Dunes State Park in Chesterton, Indiana.

Staring out at another beach this weekend, I finally decided to put down a few words about my trip to the Indiana Dunes in early August.

Being in close proximity to dozens of beautiful, unique beaches — the tumbled-down cliffs on the Sound, the pearlescent yellow sand of the Jersey Shore, and the scrub-topped dunes of the Cape — is probably my favorite thing about living on the East Coast.

My boyfriend and I both work in politics and while what we do is ultimately rewarding, without our hideaway on Cape Cod I’m not sure we’d be able to make it through the frequent stress and petty problems that come with the territory, especially now that we’re in the final stretch. That’s why we went this weekend: Between Labor Day and Election Day, there really is no other opportunity to take a break.

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A Hoosier in the Nutmeg State

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A new logo, to better reflect my bi-state tendencies.

I finally did it. I renamed the blog. Sure, I said I was going to do this back in February, but then I got sidetracked by finding a new job. Also, I was lying when I said I had a lot of ideas for this switch. It took me an embarrassingly long time – and bouncing a lot of ideas off friends – to come up with something as simple as “A Hoosier in the Nutmeg State.”

Although Connecticut is officially the “Constitution State,” colloquially it’s known as the “Nutmeg State” and its inhabitants are, reluctantly, sometimes known as Nutmeggers. Reluctantly because although the term seemingly has very obvious, benign origins – colonial settlers in the area used to trade nutmeg seeds – the legend is that these settlers were actually selling wood carved to look like nutmeg in order to swindle the rubes who were just passing through.

The word Hoosier is said to have similarly defamatory roots. While there are many theories about the term’s origin, by most evidence it is a slang word that originated in the south and that denoted a person who was “rustic, a bumpkin, a countryman, a roughneck, a hick or an awkward, uncouth or unskilled fellow,” according to the research department at Indiana University’s Herman B Wells Library.

To further tie our demonyms together, I’ll leave you with this little gem from the Indiana Historical Bureau:

“For well over a century and a half the people of Indiana have been called Hoosiers. It is one of the oldest of state nicknames and has had a wider acceptance than most. True, there are the Buckeyes of Ohio, the Suckers of Illinois and the Tarheels of North Carolina — but none of these has had the popular usage accorded Hoosier.

The only comparable term in the American experience is Yankee. And that started out as a synonym for New Englander. In the Civil War era Southerners applied it indiscriminately to all Northerners. In the world wars, many a boy from Dixie doubtless felt a sense of shock when he discovered that in the eyes of our British (Limey) allies, all Americans were Yanks!”

Well how about that, O adopted home? We have more in common than I thought.

A weekend with mom: NYBG Orchid Show

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A few weeks ago my mom came to visit me for Easter. She hadn’t been to New York City in almost 10 years and really wanted to go, so after giving her a little taste of downtown Hartford (lunch at Max Bibo’s and stroll down Pratt Street), we said goodbye to the Nutmeg State and headed for the Big Apple.

Once we were there I found myself at a bit of a loss in how to entertain my mother for three days. My friend Julie – who you met before last year – suggested we hit up the New York Botanical Garden’s orchid show, which was closing out its last weekend. My mom was a little skeptical. She said she had been to the United States Botanic Garden in DC and a few others, and had never been impressed. But she changed her tune once we stepped into the conservatory.

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A brief foray into Connecticut pizza

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Where I come from, the concept of a “good pizza” radiates outward from its epicenter in Chicago – home of the stuffed pizza, the deep-dish pizza, and just in general pizza that can be measured vertically as well as horizontally. We also have our hyper-local favorites, as do most cities you could point to on a map (shout out to Mother Bear’s in Bloomington and Bazbeaux in Indianapolis).

As you might imagine, on the East Coast they have a different idea of what makes good eatin’ when it comes to pizza.
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Short Essay: “888”

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Right now, a car is sitting on the next block down. A few minutes ago it was honking its horn – “beep, beep, beeeeeeeep” – every 15 seconds or so. Maybe someone is trying to get the attention of his date without having to actually walk up to the door. Now someone is whistling loudly. Maybe it’s the horn honker, frustrated that his previous attempts to be heard (at least, by his date) have not been successful.

Later at night, someone upstairs will hum, or sing (or yell) as they pad around, getting ready for bed. The space between my ceiling and their floor is so thinly insulated I can hear most of what goes on in the apartment above me, especially if I’m sitting in my bedroom.

As the clock ticks toward midnight a siren or two will squeal outside, or an inconsiderate person with very loud music will squeal his tires up and down the street.

Every morning starts the same, with footsteps on the floor above me and a muffled man’s voice that sounds like it’s saying, “888,” over and over a couple times very slowly and deliberately. This will continue sporadically throughout the day, sometimes four or five times. It’s a little eerie – every day, without fail, over and over again: “888 … 888.”

The day time is pretty quiet (except for the mystery man in B5). Most people are at work or school. Occasionally the maintenance men come to one of the neighboring apartments. I can usually tell them from the sharp “pop pop pop” of their knock on someone else’s door, and their accented English “Hello? Anyone home?”

The outside chorus picks up again when the kids get out of school. The air is alive not with voices of children who’ve just happily finished another day in class, but with the honks and yells of angry drivers who are upset that the bus is blocking their way through the narrow street. Both sides get backed up with traffic, so much sometimes that the bus can’t even move. The honking gets worse.

Then, the voice again, unexpected but now familiar: “888.”