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Summer 2014, unblogged

beach summer sunset

I have blogged about a lot of the big events this summer: our glorious trip to PEI, two days with my parents in Rockport, the four-year anniversary of our move to Boston. But as often happens, some of the smaller summer joys have gone unblogged.

In mid-June, we revived a fun summer ritual and had small group at our beach. We had to wait for ages for our fried clams, but I hung out with Sarah, age 2, and hunted for shells and rocks.

sarah shells beach

Once we finally got our fried clams and calamari, they were delicious. (Abi agrees.)

abi clams beach

The hubs and his a cappella group had their big summer show in early June, and he sang a solo on “Pompeii” by Bastille.

jer mass whole notes

They are an ambitious group: their repertoire includes Mumford & Sons, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin and a highly entertaining mashup of Tom Petty and the Notorious B.I.G. (known as “Mo’ Free Mo’ Fallin”’).

Later in June, we celebrated our sixth anniversary with an Italian dinner at Bacco in the North End, and dessert (gelato for me, cannoli for him) at Caffe Vittoria.

jer katie anniversary

In early July, the lovely Rachel Bertsche came to town to read from her new book, the entertaining and relatable memoir Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me, and I got to hug her at the reading.

rachel katie booksmith

That same week, Shanna and Grace came to visit from Atlanta, and we drank tea and stayed up late and talked for hours and laughed and laughed. I wish these ladies lived closer to us. I love them.

shanna grace beach

After we returned from Rockport, we took my parents to Top of the Hub for drinks and appetizers. J and I had never been there either.

top of the hub view boston

The food is delicious, but the views are sublime.

Later in July, we had a small group picnic, complete with bocce ball.

small group picnic

The kids really got into it.

sarah bocce ball

August was mostly about savoring summer as I went about my daily life: long walks, trips to the farmers’ market, Friday lunches in Harvard Square with the hubs. (Pictured below: Shake Shack.)

jer shake shack
I have worn sandals nearly every day, eaten handfuls of fresh berries, and stopped by Crema for more than a few glasses of strawberry limeade.

book limeade harvard yard summer

The basil on my balcony is thriving, and I’m using it on everything: pizza, pasta, bruschetta, ratatouille, scrambled eggs with veggies. The latter have been my dinner on many nights when J works late.

eggs dinner fruit book

This summer took a while to get started, and then it has whizzed by. We’ve been caught up in work, family, church, the usual round of life – and sometimes I feel like summer has passed by without our noticing. But we’ve taken day trips and grabbed dinner with friends, eaten dinner on the patio when we could and lit candles inside when we couldn’t.

In short: we’ve done our best to savor this season, and we are looking forward to a glorious fall.

What have you left unblogged this summer?

bookstore gloucester ma

(Interior shot of The Bookstore of Gloucester, MA)

The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood, Richard Blanco
I love Blanco’s 2012 inaugural poem and was swept up by this colorful memoir of his Cuban-American childhood in Miami. Full of vividly drawn characters (his family and friends) and poignant reflections on being caught between two cultures. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 30).

The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances, Ellen Cooney
Evie, age 24 and a total mess, applies to be a trainer at a remote, highly unusual school for rescue dogs. Spare, quiet and moving, though I felt it ended too abruptly.

Mrs. Pollifax Unveiled, Dorothy Gilman
Mrs. Pollifax‘s 14th (and final) adventure finds her headed to Syria (with her friend John Sebastian Farrell) in search of a missing American girl. An entertaining adventure, and Mrs. P saves the day as always. I’m sad to have finished this enjoyable series.

The Pink Suit, Nicole Mary Kelby
I devoured this fictional imagining of the story behind Jacqueline Kennedy’s iconic pink suit. Kate, the Irish seamstress who works on the suit, was a wonderful character, and the language is gorgeous. Absorbing and evocative.

The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Victoria Jones has grown up in the foster care system, becoming hardened and cynical – except for her secret love of the Victorian language of flowers. Fascinating characters, beautiful writing and a heartbreaking but hopeful story.

The Counterfeit Heiress, Tasha Alexander
A murder at a masquerade ball leads to a peculiar missing-persons case – but well-bred sleuth Lady Emily and her dashing husband are up to the task. Witty and well plotted. Ninth in a series, but the first one I’ve read. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 14).

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

This winter, I decided my one little word for 2014 would be light.

coronado ca sunset

I did pretty well at chasing it for a couple of months, especially in the winter when looking for the light becomes a survival technique. We chased it all the way to San Diego in March, and then I followed it to Texas in late April.

austin mural waterloo records

And then spring came, and though we had some gray days in late May and early June, it has been a summer flooded with light – so much so that I haven’t paid it much attention.

But when I stop to look, the light is everywhere.

It’s in the cloud-streaked blue sky as I walk to work.

blue sky cambridge

It streams in through the big picture window in my temporary office.

new office desk computer

It greets me when I walk down to our beach.

sunset beach boston ma

And though it hid from us for a while, it eventually blazed out in glory during our vacation in PEI.

sunset blue mussel cafe pei

We’re headed toward the turning of the year: already the mornings feel a little brisker, the nights a little cooler. The quality of the light will soon shift from summer’s mellow golden to autumn’s crisp, lucid clarity.

I love autumn in the Northeast with a passion, but I also want to savor these last, gorgeous golden days, and watch the transition day by day. I don’t want to miss it. I want to be awake, to pay attention. I want to keep looking for the light.

If you’re following one little word this year, how’s it going? Do you get off track sometimes and then come back, like me?

shoes book harvard yard

As we head into another school year, I’m thinking back over my favorite reads of the summer. I love to read all year round (which you knew), but there’s something about summer reading – diving into a fast-paced series or sprawling out on the beach or sofa with a juicy novel.

Here are the highlights from my book list this summer:

Most Exquisite Coming-of-Age Stories: Mambo in Chinatown and Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. Both books feature Chinese-American protagonists trying to make their own way in New York City. Heartbreaking, gorgeously written and hopeful.

Darkest/Most Fascinating YA Series: The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo. Epic battles, unusual magical powers and a truly fantastic love story, set in a fictional realm (Ravka) inspired by imperial Russia.

Juiciest Smart Beach Read: A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams. Love, scandal and natural disaster among the New England aristocracy, which I read (fittingly) on the beach in PEI.

Best Combination of Zen and Whimsy: Bunny Buddhism by Krista Lester. Because we could all use a bit of advice about how to hop mindfully.

Wackiest Blend of Greek Mythology, Teenage Love & a Great Story: the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan (a reread).

Best Ultramodern Jane Austen Adaptation: The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick. (I loved the web series too.)

Loveliest Travel Memoir: The House on an Irish Hillside by Felicity Hayes-McCoy, which is not only about Ireland but about how to live.

Most Beautiful Language: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather.

Best Refresher on Writing and Life: The Sound of Paper by Julia Cameron, an old favorite. I’ve been going through it sloooowly, letting its words sink into my soul.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are the best books you read this summer?

brookline booksmith interior

(Interior shot of Brookline Booksmith, my happy place.)

The Titan’s Curse, Rick Riordan
This third book in the Percy Jackson series is so fast-paced it’s hard to keep up. Percy and his friends head to the West Coast on another quest: meeting deities, fighting monsters, and learning more about their own destinies. (Also: Blackjack the pegasus returns. I love him.)

Cosby: His Life and Times, Mark Whitaker
I grew up on The Cosby Show (the sweaters!), Cosby’s Jell-O commercials, and my dad quoting lines from Cosby’s comedy records. So I devoured this (long) biography of the man himself, from his tough childhood in Philly to his years on the stand-up circuit and his forays into TV. Meticulously researched and balanced; Whitaker loves his subject but doesn’t idealize him. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 16).

The Battle of the Labyrinth, Rick Riordan
Percy Jackson and his friends go underground into the Labyrinth, in search of its creator (Daedalus) and a way to defeat the Titan army. The series’ mythology grows deeper and wider, with plenty of new deities and monsters.

Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
I’d never read this slim classic before. Woolf’s language is powerful and vivid, though her narrative style is often confusing. Lovely glimpses of London and of all the nuances rippling under the surface of everyday life.

The Last Olympian, Rick Riordan
War is coming to Olympus (and Manhattan), and Percy Jackson must rally the troops from Camp Half-Blood. Heartbreaking and heart-pounding; a great conclusion to the series, balancing wacky mythology with deep truths about love and honor, war and sacrifice.

The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books, Azar Nafisi
Nafisi explores American identity and literature through the lens of Huckleberry Finn, Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt and Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. She weaves in anecdotes from her life in the U.S. and Iran. I thought the first section was the strongest. Thought-provoking. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 21).

Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather
This novel traces the journey of Father Jean Marie Latour, a French priest who becomes Archbishop of the diocese of Santa Fe. Gorgeous, lyrical descriptions of the rugged Southwest and a sensitive portrait of cultural and religious tensions. Meditative and melancholy, like all Cather’s novels.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Jenny Han
Lara Jean keeps a stash of letters to boys she has loved – top secret, until someone mails them and her love life spins out of control. Compelling in a teen-drama way, but I didn’t like any of the characters. Pass.

Tea & Cake London, Zena Alkayat
A pictorial tour of London tea shops – from the simple to the froufrou. I will be in London briefly this fall (!) and have bookmarked a few places to check out. Whimsical and fun with mouthwatering photos (though it needs a map).

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

treasures big ben books shelf

A Big Ben tealight holder, a gift from my friend Charity in memory of our times in London together.

A lacy, silvery box that once held dark chocolate, a gift from my husband.

A book of love poetry from a long-ago afternoon in York. A book of Shakespeare quotes handed down from my dad (who received it from a favorite professor). A copy of Gift from the Sea, picked up at a used bookstore somewhere, so full of wise words.

All sitting on a shelf from my favorite antique store in Abilene.

Treasures, indeed.

boston marathon finish line heart

Four years ago last week, the hubs and I landed in Boston, exhausted after four days and two thousand miles of driving cross-country (with the help of our friend Drew) and emotionally wrung out from so many good-byes in Abilene.

We moved into a smallish but spacious apartment with creamy white walls and scuffed hardwood floors that glowed golden in the afternoon light. We visited a tiny new church and J started his first full-time, post-graduate-school job as a therapist. And we began the long, slow process of making a home in a city wildly different from any place we’d ever known.

sailboats charles river boston summer

By now, we’ve learned a few things about life in Boston and the Northeast, including:

  • How to interpret the Boston accent, dropped ahhhhs and all.
  • The intricacies and frustrations of the subway system, otherwise known as the T.
  • The meaning of the phrase “bone-chilling cold.”
  • Related: a down coat and good snow boots are so worth the investment.
  • How to order cannoli at Mike’s Pastry (pro tip: there are no lines – just push your way in!).
  • The necessity of carrying cash for toll roads, mom-and-pop businesses (like Mike’s) and the farmers’ market.
  • The vagaries (and delights) of two different library systems.
  • How to register a car in Massachusetts, which is far more complicated than it ought to be.
  • What it’s like to live 2000 miles away from family, see them a few times a year and miss them every day.
  • How to juggle trips to exciting destinations with trips home to see said family (it’s a constant balancing act).
  • How to commute on public transportation without losing our minds. (Usually.)
  • Most of the words to “Sweet Caroline,” a Fenway tradition.
  • The location of nearly every bookstore in Boston, Cambridge and Brookline.
  • How the ducklings in the Public Garden will be dressed if a Boston sports team makes the playoffs.

ducklings beards red sox public garden boston

  • That making plans with friends is a process: spontaneity is tough in a big city when everyone’s schedules are packed.
  • There is no decent Tex-Mex food in greater Boston that I know of – so we make our own, or go to Portsmouth.
  • How to shovel snow and reserve a parking spot after you’ve shoveled it out. (Pro tip: milk crates.)
  • Semi-related: how to survive when the power goes out in February.
  • Various bits of Harvard lore – so much fun since I work there now.
  • Wildly varied, sometimes wacky nuggets of colonial history and Boston trivia.
  • The quickest routes to our beach, pictured below.

sunset beach boston ma

  • The location of the best lasagna, gelato and spicy calamari in the North End. (Sadly, the place with the best fettuccine has closed.)
  • The difficulty and the rewards of maintaining relationships at a tiny church whose members are spread across the city.
  • Related: how to live with a much smaller and uniquely precious circle of friends.
  • Many, many winter survival tricks.
  • What it’s like to stand with a city after a tragedy. (We are Boston Strong.)
  • How amazingly different life can be in a new place, even when you’re in the same country.

We’ve learned much more than that, of course – so much that is difficult to put into words, nonverbal but no less valuable and vital. This is a charming, mercurial, frustrating, vibrant, beautiful city, and living here has changed me in ways I can’t quite articulate.

Happy four years, Boston. It’s been an adventure. And it’s not over yet.

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