Moves in Greater Boston

I’ve been working with some visualization tools lately. This one uses Venngage and data from the Census (American Community Survey). You can scroll over the image to get detailed data.

May marks the beginning of the peak rental and buying season. But people move more in some places than in others. Cambridge tops the list, with 27% of residents moving in the last year, followed by Somerville at 23% and Brookline at 19%. Last on the list are Winchester and Lexington at 9% and 8% respectively. Cambridge and Brookline also lead in the percentage of residents who moved from abroad (5% and 4%) with Malden at Waltham following close behind (at 4% and 3%). Lincoln, at 9%, has the largest percentage of movers from out-of-state, followed by Cambridge at 7%. Everett and Melrose have the lowest percentages of out-of-state movers (1.1% and %0.5%). In-town moves are led by Cambridge and Somerville (8% and 6%) while Winchester and Concord have the lowest number of in-town moves (1% and %0.2).

Random Basho Haiku Text Message Generator

I’ve just completed my first very simple Ruby app using Sinatra and the Twilio API, using Git and Bitbucket for version control and deploying with Heroku (I think only Hien will know what this means!). It was a slog but I am very excited. The assignment was to make a form that sends someone a text message to a user-input cell phone number. Not wanting to send random text messages, I chose a carefully curated list of Haikus by the 17th-Century Japanese poet Basho. Enjoy! (I did not choose the fathomless dawn name, but it seems to go well with the Haikus).

P.S. I’m sorry only US cell phone numbers right now (I think).
P.P.S. You can use this app to send text messages to other people’s phone numbers, but you might want to give them a heads up if you do this, and the text won’t come from a recognizable number . . .

Fleece Wonders from MLK Day “Many Helping Hands” Event

Look at the amazing fleece creations (blankets and scarves) that Many Helping Hands Volunteers came up with at the Cambridge YWCA today! I was astonished by the creativity and joy of these folks. Thanks, all!

For this year’s projects, we tried to have more of a focus on no-sew designs because we always have so much work left over for our sewers. I put out a few very basic examples but people really took it to the next level. I’m really in awe . . .

No-Sew Fleece Scarves and Blankets

I’m looking forward to helping with the Many Helping Hands event in Cambridge again this year on MLK Day, January 19th. I’ll be helping make fleece blankets and scarves and despite the presence of many devoted sewers there’s always a lot of sewing left to do afterwards. With this in mind, I looked around for some interesting no-sew scarf (and blanket) ideas. See my comments below each image and click on any image to get more details.

A nice twist on the "tie" method with two colors -- could also be down on the horizontal
A nice twist on the “tie” method with two colors — could also be down on the horizontal
A nice "threaded" technique using a double heart, leaf or diamond template
A nice “threaded” technique using a double heart, leaf or diamond template
An alternative to the tied border -- perhaps less bulky
An alternative to the tied border — perhaps less bulky
Another border technique, using a single piece of fleece
Another border technique, using a single piece of fleece
A "woven" idea (would not implement as an infinity scarf). A thin piece of fleece could also be threaded through a scarf for a rushed effect
A “woven” idea (would not implement as an infinity scarf). A thin piece of fleece could also be threaded through a scarf for a ruched effect
Ruched scarf. This one is sewn but rushing could be accomplished by weaving through a thin piece of fleece and tying or threading into the ends of the scarf
Ruched scarf. This one is sewn but rushing could be accomplished by weaving through a thin piece of fleece and tying or threading into the ends of the scarf

For those of you who are on Pinterest, here’s a link to the board with additional images/links below.

Follow Rachael Burger’s board No-Sew Fleece Scarves and Blankets on Pinterest.

Thanksgiving-Time Volunteer Opportunities with Children (Cambridge/Somerville)

Several of us have talked over time about finding volunteer opportunities that involve children. Here are a couple ideas for Thanksgiving time . . .

Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES) organizes volunteers to deliver meals on Thanksgiving morning. You use your own car and go in your own team or get paired up with one other person. I think these are the meals-on-wheels routes/recipients, but this is for the Thanksgiving meal. We have done this as a family since 2009. We’re generally finished by noon. For this opportunity, you need to have a criminal check (CORI) which as I recall isn’t too complicated. You can contact Marie Mazzeo at Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services if you’re interested: 617-628-2601 x3051 or

In the past, we have also delivered food (not on Thanksgiving day, but a few days before) with the Salvation Army in Central Square, Cambridge (my car, with my son, and a volunteer from the Salvation Army). In this case, we were delivering a box of food (frozen turkey, etc.) also in Somerville. The volunteer was very nice. There was a short talk about church up front but then we moved on to other topics. I didn’t have to have a CORI check for this opportunity. Salvation Army (Cambridge) phone is: (617) 547-3400

In addition, The Little Sister of the Poor (Highland Ave in Somerville – Spring Hill) welcomes donations of pies on Thanksgiving. This is a center for low-income elders. Very nice folks. They particularly enjoy pecans! 617.776.4420

Please note that SCES (Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services) has a number of excellent volunteer programs. I work as a Money Management volunteer and they always need more volunteers for this important program. Happy to talk with anyone about this too.

I am also a fan of the food pantry at the Unitarian Universalist Church near Medford Square (on High Street). More information and drop-off donation times here:

Jam Jam Jam


On Friday, my 9-year old and I made jam using strawberries and rhubarb (with a little mint thrown in) from the garden. We got seven pints of delicious jam! He took the lead, hulling strawberries, sterilizing the jars, cooking the jam and preparing the pot for the canning. I made green soup at the same time. It was fun and all came out great.

Here’s our basic jam recipe which seems to work pretty well with the different fruits we’ve picked (strawberries, rhubarb, plums, cherries, blueberries, raspberries, and tomatoes!). 


2 c. fruit
1 c. sugar
1 t. Pomona’s Universal Pectin*
1 t. Pomona’s calcium water (come with the Pomona’s packet and you mix it up)
Thai or italian basil or mint to taste, finely chopped (we like basil in blueberries, mint in strawberries and rhubarb, ginger/clove/cinnamon in tomatoes). 
Some people also add a bit of fresh lemon or lime juice but I haven’t bothered with this as of late.

(normally I do 6 – 8 c. of fruit in a 3 quart pan, but these — above — are the base proportions).


1) In a large pot, boil water and sterilize jars and lids (this is the same pot that you’ll boil the jam in after it’s ready). 

2) Heat fruit and calcium water at low heat until they get mushy and star to break down and bubble.

3) Add sugar (with pectin mixed in) to fruit and cook at a medium boil for at least 3 minutes. If you’re adding basil or other flavoring, add it with the fruit. Stir only as necessary so jam doesn’t settle on the bottom.

4) Take a bit of your jam and stick it in the freezer for a few minutes and test to make sure it sets up. (It usually does, but better test up front then have to redo your jam later). If it has not set, boil longer and/or add pectin to your mixture. You can also sense whether your jam is setting by observing the extent to which the jam from your stirring spoon (once it’s sitting for a minute or two while you’re not stirring firms up).

5) spoon the jam into jars (with a sterile implement and clean hands), leaving 1/4” of space at the top. If there’s jam on the rim, outside, or in that 1/4” space, wipe it off with a super-clean cloth in hot water or with a super-clean finger.

6) close lids firmly and boil (with 1” of water at least over the tops) in your large pot for 10 minutes. (I use a vegetable strainer at the bottom of my large pot to support the jar and boil 4-5 jars at a time).

7)  remove your jars and let them cool — you’ll hear the tops pop. 


This method has worked quite well across a variety of fruits. I have never had spoilage. I have had batches that didn’t take (or didn’t take very well) but the testing in the freezer seems to eliminate this. I tried making all sorts of jams without pectin (in this case, I usually add lemon or lime juice and have tried making natural pectin from citrus seeds, as I recall) and it worked sometimes and sometimes not. In any case, requires more boiling and I guess I like my fruit not to be overdone (though it is thoroughly cooked). You can always try a little less pectin for fruits that naturally have more pectin. Enjoy!

* I use Pomona’s pectin — it’s supposed to be a natural, low-sugar pectin, though my recipes are not really low sugar. You can also use Ball pectin but I find I have to use more to get a batch to thicken.

First Harvest


Picked the first fruits of the garden this weekend and cooked them up into a vegetable sautée and a rhubarb crumble. Delicious!

Above: bok choy, pea tendrils (both bought from Russos as plants about a month ago), asparagus, chives, and rhubarb (all perennials).

This year, I’ll be adding some new vegetables — okra, watercress, brussel sprouts and lebanese squash (similar to kousa squash) — to accompany lettuce, spinach, cauliflower (you can eat the leaves too and they are abundant), tomatoes, long green and purple beans (an easy-growing favorite), peas, and peppers. I’ve also put verbena, lemon balm, and a new kind of mint into the garden. The thyme bush is going gangbusters: did you know you can make tea out of thyme? More pics to come.

A Salad a Day

About November when temperatures drop, my mood seems to drop with them. A number of years back I tried an all-raw diet, but found it difficult to maintain and very high in oil and nuts. I found that a salad a day was enough to keep my spirits up and made me feel both vital and nourished. Having done this now for a number of years, I thought I’d chronicle these salads in all their beauty.

Chocolate Pie

I cut out this recipe years ago and recently brought this pie to Thanksgiving. This recipe is nice in that it is simple, gluten-free, and can be adapted to be vegan as well (just substitute coconut oil for butter and coconut milk for heavy cream). This pie is rich — almost like fudge, and benefits from the use of high-quality semi-sweet chocolate (e.g. Caillebaut). Enjoy!


The Five Remembrances via Allen Ginsberg

We’ve been reading Fear by Thich Nhat Nanh in sangha and this week I have to present on the chapter on the Five Remembrances, which are as follows:

1) I am subject to aging; I have not gone beyond aging;
2) I am subject to illness; I have not gone beyond illness;
3) I am subject to death; I have not gone beyond death;
4) All that is dear to me, and everyone I love, are of the nature to change. I will grow different, separate from all that is dear and appealing to me.
5) I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir.

Interestingly, Wikipaedia is a pretty good source for context on the five remembrances as is this 2005 article in Yoga Journal by Frank Jude Boccio.

As I was working with the Five Remembrances, a song kept coming into my head — “Father Death Blues” by Allen Ginsberg, which I first heard live from Ginsberg himself in 1988 at a Jack Kerouac Festival in Lowell, MA. For me, Ginsberg’s catchy, dirge-like composition captures much of the essence of this practice: keep close to death in order to realize the preciousness of life.

Here is Ginsberg accompanying himself on the harmonium (and Indian instrument that’s closest to an accordion that he uses here in a drone-like fashion). I did my own (somewhat abbreviated version) with guitar below.

Father Death Blues Cover, by Rachael