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.

Day 90 ~ #The100DayProject

#the100dayproject

Three months! 90 days! The time has flown by!

When I first learned about #The100DayProject, April was just beginning. It was still cold and raw.

Now it’s July. This week is supposed to be humid and well over 90 degrees each day.

I had a few intentions going into the #100DayProject. To take a big leap and try something different. To heal from my father’s death in March. To pay tribute to him and follow in his footsteps. Toward the end of his life, he did some beautiful paintings and his creativity bloomed. To start the process of bringing more art into my life.

This online project has been wonderful and connected me to some local creative people that I’m looking forward to meeting in person. I’m so glad that I joined in!

Today’s watercolor illustration is a wedding cake inspired by a photo of a pressed flower cake by Lori Stern. It may be the most beautiful cake I have ever seen!

One of the things that I’ve learned from this project is that you never know when inspiration will strike or where it will come from. Many days I thought I would create one thing and it ended up completely different.

Starting the process and being open to an unexpected end result is a common theme with artists. Recently, one of my cousins had his first art exhibit at West Medford Open Studios. I walked around and spoke to a few of the other artists that were there as well. Two of them both mentioned how they really don’t know how a piece will end up. It’s usually a surprise to them. Some things are out of their control and as artists they have learned to accept it. A life lesson to be sure.

In my 20s, I would often read the end of the book first, because I always wanted to know how things ended up, so I would be prepared. Oh, dear Lisa — my younger self. So much of the time there is no preparing for the future, even if we know the end.

I found that when I did that, I was often still shocked by how the story unfolded and got to that end that I already knew. There are no shortcuts. Life is the unfolding. The journey. I will be 54 on my next birthday. I’ve learned a few things in those intervening 30 years. If I’m lucky enough to get 30 more, I cannot even imagine where the journey will take me.

#The100DayProject

#The100DayProject

Like most people, when I was a kid, I loved to draw and paint. For years after, I used to doodle as well. Then I stopped. I’m not sure why or when. But that creative part of myself ended.

Sure, I had many other creative outlets — writing, photography, baking and cooking. Then blogging.

Over the past few months, my father had been talking about how much he was enjoying painting. He really loved it! Talked about his color palette and the textures. He often remarked that he was quite good.

When he passed away last month, I was able to get his paintings. They are beautiful! My mom has two. My brother and I each have one. I hung up mine a few days ago.

Over the last several years, I’ve found myself very drawn to illustrations with ink and watercolors. I started thinking that I might try it someday. Then I didn’t.

Then last Monday, I learned about #The100DayProject. It’s a free global art project that anyone can participate in. Last Tuesday, April 3rd, was the first day of the project that will last for 100 days. The end date is July 11th. All you do is pick an art project and post everyday on Instagram with the hashtag #The100DayProject.

Creative Mornings of Boston is joining in and has their own hashtag #100DaysofCMBOS, so I’m joining in with them too. I set up my own hashtag (#lisajillustrations) as well, so I can see all my art and my progress in one place. Hope you’ll take a look!

If you’re interested in the project, you can join in anytime. People are quite encouraging and I’ve learned a lot already. And it’s only the 6th day! The picture of the tree above is my painting for today.

Part of the reason that I’m doing this project is because my father was enjoying painting so much during what turned out to be some of the last days of his life. Maybe painting will help me heal.

Last April 29th, my blog anniversary, I chose MEND as my word for the year. I had no idea how that word would play out in such a huge way.

It will be 12 years that I’ve been blogging in a few weeks. I haven’t chosen my new word for the upcoming year yet, but maybe this art project will help show me the way.

How I Made My American Quilt

Folded patchwork quilt on top of bed spread.

Remember when I ran to make the train and fell on the tracks? That was my most recent lesson in learning to slow down and be patient.

Well, this post shows that sometimes I can be patient. The quilt pictured above is the result of nearly twelve years of patience!

For me, the key to patience is to forget about whatever I’m trying to be patient about and do other things. Time will pass and often things will work out as originally intended.

I’m grateful for blogging, because it helps me figure out the timing of when things happened. February 2008 was my first quilting post. But I had already started quilting before that.

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My quilting journey started in the summer of 2005. My mom and I went to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and saw an exhibit called The Quilts of Gee’s Bend.

I have never been a fan of traditional quilts. Had never wanted a quilt. Not the ones that I had seen.

Then I saw the quilts made by the women of Gee’s Bend and realized that quilts can be so much more. My perspective of what defines a quilt changed.

Photo of back of quilt next to photo of quilt folded on top of cushioned stool.

They can be beautiful and boho. Modern and freestyle. Jazzy. Sexy. Solid colors. Different textures. Sewn by intuition without a pattern. Sewn by hand. Using pieces of fabric from old clothes alongside new fabric.

It was possible to quilt the way I cook and bake. Using the foods that I have on hand and improvising a new recipe. I could create a style of quilting that matched my personality. This exhibit gave me freedom and permission. I could do exactly what I wanted. With no limitation or rules.

I learned about quilts with hidden messages made by slaves. I learned that as an African American woman, quilting is my birthright. This exhibit was like breathing fresh air. I claimed myself.

Looking back I can see the journey. Finding myself anew. Bit by bit over time. I started blogging within a year of seeing this exhibit — and pushing my freelance writing. Trying to manifest my dreams. I started doing yoga and meditating.

As I’m writing this post, I am seeing even more. A relationship that I had been in (on and off for far too long) had a clear and definite ending. My heart was so broken. More than I care to admit. It’s taken a long time to mend. Maybe too long. The mending happened in ways that I did not expect. Within another relationship and while alone. I’ve learned many lessons. And I’ve quilted here and there along the way. Over many years.

In 2013, I blogged a picture of my quilt in progress. In 2014, I took part of the quilt and used it as the covering for a chair cushion.

I worked on it, then put it away and forgot about it. Then remembered it. Worked on it and put it away — and that pattern repeated. Focusing on other things and knowing that it would be finished eventually. When the timing was right. Going with the flow.

Quilt spread out on rug, patches of blue denim, along with other prints and textures.

At the end of 2015, I finished reading Marie Kondo‘s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I started tidying and finished tidying around April 2016. Well look at that, about a year ago.

Since then, I’ve been able to accomplish a lot and move forward with many things. Clearing out the old to make room for the new. So about a month ago, I started feeling like I needed to clear out more things and finish the quilt. I set a deadline for last Sunday and finished last Saturday night in the wee hours.

It’s done. What a journey!

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Updated 4/28/2020: Since I’ve been so inspired by the women of Gee’s Bend, I was happy, yet sad, to read about how the pandemic has impacted their community. The women have turned to making face masks instead of quilts.