Christmas in Salem

Christmas in Salem

When most people think of Salem, Massachusetts, the first things coming to mind are probably Halloween and the witch trials. But Christmas? Not so much.

Well, Salem does Christmas quite well and has its own unique twists.

The plan hadn’t been to visit Salem for the Christmas season. But I just learned about an art exhibit there that was ending today, so I visited yesterday. That will be a separate post. Along with possibly one or two other posts. There is so much to see and do in Salem!

I visited a couple of adorable coffee shops and wanted to try so many more. I worked in Salem in the early 2000s, but didn’t spend much time wandering around like a tourist. It was fun to do and end the year on that kind of note — like a full circle and healing moment.

This time spent in Salem was also an Artist Date. Time spent alone getting out of my daily routine to help increase my creativity. I have to say that these dates really work.


There was a magical air to everything. With the whimsical Christmas decorations and the witchy history of Salem itself.

The historic Hawthorne Hotel was beautifully decorated. Keeping with the more traditional touches for the season. I also noticed the South Korean flag out front. I have to admit that I don’t know the flags of most countries, so it was interesting to me that it was one that I knew. It’s quite distinctive and I like the symbolism.

Since I was curious about why it was being flown, I asked the front desk. I was told that they change the flags everyday, in order to be more inclusive and welcoming. What a great idea! It was just random that I happened to be there the day this flag was out front.

In keeping with my always being on the lookout for signs from the universe, I’ll take it as a good sign that maybe I’ll get to visit South Korea sooner rather than later.

And on that note, this is the last post of 2023, so Happy New Year!

An Artist Date at Italian Cafe Gelato

If you’re a writer, then you’re probably familiar with Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way and the idea of Morning Pages. I’m not a morning person. So writing first thing was never something that appealed to me. But the Artist Date. Now that’s something that I can get with. And so I did.

An Artist Date is supposed to become a weekly habit. Weekly may not happen. But I can try. Visiting cafes is one of my favorite things, so it’s definitely an easy way to get that date in. I’ve also ventured out a lot more since the pandemic, so I’m getting used to or maybe creating a new way of being out in the world again. I still wear a mask indoors at many public places. But I’m also eating out now, obviously without a mask. It feels a bit strange, but it also felt a bit strange when I first started wearing a mask. Doing the reverse will take an adjustment period too.

Last week the weather was more like July than April. So one night after work, I decided to take myself out for a gelato at Italian Cafe Gelato here in Quincy. They have so many delicious flavors to choose from. I taste tested a few and settled on the lemon ricotta. It was so good! Sweeter than I expected, and so creamy and cold. Just perfect.

One thing to be aware of if you go. Most places you can get a cover and take your gelato to go. You cannot get a cover to go unless you buy a pint. Rather odd. Oh well.

So I sat inside, and savored my gelato while looking outside the window at the pretty lights in the alley.

It was such a lovely night out, so I took my time heading back to my car and looked around the area. Over the past several years, I’ve noticed so many places going out of business. Noticed trees being cut down. The landscape of cities and towns changes every few decades. The stores that you see and go to everyday probably won’t be around in 25 years. It made me think that I should have taken more pictures of the ordinary 25 years ago.

Since I don’t have the option of time travel at this point, I figured I’d start taking those ordinary pictures now. Future me will be glad that I did.

This Sully’s sign is from a bygone era and probably won’t be around for too long. According to Eater Boston, the bar opened soon after Prohibition ended and closed in June 2018. I love these old signs, so I’ll try and capture them when I can.

A little past the Sully’s sign is Sergeant George Montilio Square. As someone with a huge sweet tooth, I immediately though of George Montilio of Montilio’s Bakery. But it seemed that he would be way too young to have served in World War II. Maybe it was his father?

So after taking this picture, I did some research. George, the famous baker, just recently turned 70, so that definitely was not him. His father started the bakery 76 years ago, but his name was Ernest Montilio. The Square is named after an Army Sergeant who “died of wounds” on April 17, 1945. Well, that’s odd. Just realized that today is April 17th as well!

The Hall of Valor Project website states that Sergeant George Montilio received the Distinguished Service Cross, “[F]or extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving with Company H, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, in action against enemy forces on 6 June 1944, in France. As a volunteer scout, Corporal Montilio carried out an assault on a footbridge under intense machine gun and small arms fire. Though the bridge was held by a superior number of the enemy, his daring and aggressiveness forced them to withdraw and thereby permitted his unit to organize and hold their objective.”

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When I decided to go out for gelato, I didn’t realize that I was doing an Artist Date until afterwards and I thought about it. This type of practice really does bring about creativity and some learning along the way.

Since George Montilio is not a very common name, I wonder if he was part of the same family. Considering he was from this area, it seems likely that he could have been a relative. Maybe the current George was named after him? I guess it’s family history that he probably knows.

Rest in peace, Sergeant Montilio, and thank you for your service.

Eating Out Alone: Pity Party Or Joyful Escape?

Woman alone sitting in restaurant looking at a menu.

When you see this woman sitting at a restaurant alone, looking at a menu, what do you think of her?

Do you pity her and think she has no friends? Do you want to rescue her from solitude? Do you assume she’s waiting for someone‘s arrival? Does she look sad or content?

Do you envy her and think she was able to slip away for a slice of freedom from an otherwise very busy and full life?

Is she an introvert reveling in the pleasure of her own company? There’s a whole Reddit thread on introverts eating alone. And of course, it’s mostly positive. A downside mentioned is trying to spare others feelings when wanting to eat alone.

The one thing I hated about college was that many people would feel bad for me when I would eat alone in the dining hall. Sometimes, you just need some time to be alone with your thoughts. I silently cursed when somebody would say ‘Come sit with us. You don’t have to eat alone.’ Obviously, I appreciate the gesture, but it was always so uncomfortable for me.

Whether an introvert or not, maybe you might consider that à la writer Julie Cameron, she has taken herself out for a weekly Artist Date — where she is wooing her own consciousness to cultivate and sustain her creativity.

Maybe you assume nothing. But many Americans may feel sorry for her.

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When I started The Chowdah Project on this blog, I couldn’t find a free stock photo of chowder and didn’t have a picture of my own. I was on a self-imposed deadline and wanted to get started right away. I decided to go to a nearby restaurant, enjoy some chowder and take some photos.

Since I was going by myself, I brought a book. I was seated at a table next to a man about my age or a bit older, with two young women who appeared to be teenagers or maybe in their early 20s.

The chowder was good and I got the photos that I wanted. As the people at the table next to me were leaving, the man said to me that he hadn’t realized that I was there alone. If he had, he said that he would have asked me to join them. I was at a loss for words (which often happens to me when I’m caught off-guard), so I smiled, said that was okay, but thank you.

It was very kind of him, but like the Reddit thread, it made me wonder what he was thinking. Maybe he had assumed I was meeting someone.

A few weeks ago, a story went viral about three young men at a restaurant inviting an older women eating alone to sit with them. The takeaway from the story was always be kind to people, because you never know what they are going through. She was an elderly widow missing her husband on a day close to what would have been their 60th anniversary. It’s definitely a feel good story and with all the current news, something that we can all appreciate.

This story also reminded me of my solo chowder eating experience and made me want to explore the topic further.

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The circumstances of eating alone may play a part on how society generally sees it.

One article that I read about eating alone was written by a man named Justin who was eating with his girlfriend at a restaurant and saw a man dining on his own. Justin was intrigued and decided to try it himself. His reflections on the experience are quite interesting. One thing he noted was that people are curious and spoke about him.

There was actually one statement I overheard that really caught my attention however. ‘You know, I’d love to do that one day.’ A voice articulated from a few tables behind me. It was the very sentence I had uttered to my girlfriend the time I had seen the suave, champagne-drinking gentleman.

It seems to me that maybe there is a different perception of men eating alone than women. Also, maybe the age of the person matters. Society may view older people as lonely, especially women. Sometimes that may be true, but it seems to be just as likely that it’s not.

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An Eater article says that solo dining in New York City increased 80% between 2014 and 2018. So maybe more people are discovering the thrill of solo dining. It seems to be a taboo that people are shunning.

Writer Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat Pray Love fame, is all for eating breakfast alone once a week.

One of the simplest acts of happiness you can experience in life is this: Once a week, take yourself out to breakfast, all alone, at a local diner or cafe. Bring a good book. Sit by a sunny window. Read. Marvel at how this changes everything.

Sounds perfect to me. What about you?