Sisters in Boston

I turned thirty-one on Monday, and it was a lovely day full of good wishes from friends, family, colleagues, and some fun surprises from my husband. But just before that, I got an extra-special pre-birthday present: my sister came to visit.

betsy katie boston

She had planned to come with my brother-in-law, but he was felled by a wicked sinus infection at the last minute, so she came alone. And we had three glorious days together.

This was Betsy’s first time in Boston, so we began at the beginning: Boston Common, King’s Chapel, the Old Granary Burying Ground (where Paul Revere, Sam Adams and other notables are buried).

old granary burying ground boston

We strolled the Public Garden (visiting the duckling statues, of course) and wandered down Newbury Street, doing a bit of shopping. (Bets is a champion shopper, and she gives the best fashion advice.)

We ended up at the Prudential Center, where we grabbed some ice cream before heading out on a Duck Tour (my first).

boston skyline river

duck tour boat boston

It was so fun – lots of Boston history with a healthy dose of quirky trivia, imparted by Jason the Argonaut, our laurel-wearing driver/guide.

duck tour jason the argonaut

On Saturday, I gave her the tour of Harvard Square – the Yard and its beautiful buildings, Memorial Church and Widener Library, the campus of HGSE (where I work). Of course we had to stop at Finale for delicious desserts (so rich we couldn’t even finish them).

betsy katie finale

We ate at Fox & Hound that night – delicious American food and bruschetta that will change your life. As we were paying, the waiter said to Betsy, “You’re from Texas, right?” She said, “How did you know?” His reply was succinct: “Steak. Blonde.”

She headed home on Sunday afternoon (after church and brunch at the Regal Beagle), and I miss her already.

betsy katie sunday

Betsy and I are 17 months apart, and were always close during our growing-up years (though we’re very different in temperament and interests). It is such a gift to rediscover some of that closeness as adults. And though I love visiting her in my hometown, it was so much fun to show her around my city.

But I also loved sitting in the living room each morning, sipping coffee and chatting about our lives. We told stories and laughed over high school memories and just enjoyed being together. And, as per tradition, we watched a little Friends (in this case, the Season 7 gag reel – which makes me laugh so hard I cry, every single time).

Come back soon, Bets. Boston (and I) will be waiting for you.


This is thirty-one


I’m thirty-one today. Which means I’m officially settling into my early thirties, trying the phrase on for size.

I have loved being thirty, and I’ve been spending a little time thinking about where I am right now and what I’d like thirty-one to look like. (This post was partly inspired by Lindsey’s gorgeous musings on turning forty.)

Thirty-one is thinking hard, all the time, about the big questions: marriage, money, career, children, where to live, how to live. Thirty-one is realizing that some doors are closed to me, or at least swinging shut – while others are perhaps more open than I think they are.

Thirty-one is buying clothes for the body I have, not the body I used to have, the body I wish I had, or the body that appears in most of today’s fashion catalogs.

Thirty-one is learning to listen to my body and my soul when they cry out (or even whisper) that they need rest.

Thirty-one is learning not to apologize for what I like and the way I am, while remembering to be gracious, polite and adaptable.

Thirty-one is taking a hard look at my budget with my husband, stepping up our student loan payments and our retirement contributions, and also continuing to make travel a priority.

Thirty-one is realizing, in a thousand small ways, that my generation and I are the grown-ups now.

Thirty-one is wearing many different hats: writer, wife, sister, daughter, editor, friend, aunt, resident bookworm. Thirty-one is slowly realizing the impossibility of being all things to all people.

Thirty-one is learning, again and again, to pay attention and soak in the present moment, in all its messy loveliness.

Thirty-one is learning to live with life’s spaciousness and its uncertainty, its jagged edges and its breathtaking beauty.

Thirty-one (as seen in many of the sentences above) is still learning. And loving every minute of it.

travels with charley steinbeck

Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, Morgan Matson
Amy’s dad has died, her brother is in rehab, and her mother has moved to Connecticut, leaving instructions for Amy to follow her in their car. Enter Roger, a long-absent (and now really cute) family friend. Together, he and Amy deviate from the planned route, crisscrossing America while listening to wonderful playlists and gradually opening up to one another. Utterly charming.

Running Like a Girl: Notes on Learning to Run, Alexandra Heminsley
Curvy and nonathletic, Alex Heminsley never fancied herself a runner – but she is one. This candid memoir traces her journey, from her first disastrous run to several marathons. I’m a sporadic runner at best, but this book made me want to lace up my running shoes. Recommended by Kerry.

Baby Proof, Emily Giffin
My friend Rachael handed me this novel during a discussion about the perennial question of whether to have children. The protagonist, Claudia, is child-free and happily married until her husband decides he wants a baby after all. A thought-provoking premise, but I found Claudia selfish and shallow: not because she didn’t want kids, but because everything had to be about her.

Crocodile on the Sandbank, Elizabeth Peters
Amelia Peabody, a wealthy, opinionated Victorian spinster, heads off to explore Egypt by way of Rome. Love, intrigue and nocturnal mummies among the pyramids, all told with Amelia’s biting wit. So much fun. First in a series and highly recommended by Jaclyn.

Looking for the Gulf Motel, Richard Blanco
Blanco writes vivid poetry about love, memory, his Cuban-American family, and belonging. I recognized many images and characters from his memoir (which I confess I liked better than this collection).

The Curse of the Pharaohs, Elizabeth Peters
Amelia Peabody (see above) and her archaeologist husband return to Egypt, working on a dig supposedly plagued by the titular curse. Quirky characters and red herrings abound, but Amelia solves the case. Not as engaging as the first book, but still fun.

The Paris Winter, Imogen Robertson
Maud Heighton, a genteelly poor Englishwoman, struggles to get by while studying art in Paris. When she lands a job as companion to a charming Frenchwoman, Maud believes her troubles are over, but she is drawn into a web of lies, thievery and revenge. A dark, evocative portrait of Belle Époque Paris, with some wonderful characters. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 18).

Travels With Charley in Search of America, John Steinbeck
I broke my book-buying fast because I could not resist the charming, slightly battered copy (above) on the $3 book cart at Raven. I have no regrets. Steinbeck takes a rambling cross-country road trip with Charley (a large French poodle), searching for the language and spirit of America, and narrates it all in wry, witty detail. Wonderful.

And Only to Deceive, Tasha Alexander
After reading The Counterfeit Heiress for review, I picked up the first book in the Lady Emily series. This is clearly a first effort: well written but the mystery’s solution was obvious. I like the characters, though.

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

What are you reading?

Fall 2014 manifesto

memorial church harvard fall red leaves

We’re headed into my favorite season, which contains my birthday (next week!), crisp air and red leaves, the beginning of a new school year (bouquets of sharpened pencils, anyone?) and the sense of endless possibility.

I love a good list in a new season, so here’s my manifesto for this fall:

  • Reread the Emily Byrd Starr books by L.M. Montgomery – they seem perfect for crisp golden mornings and velvet twilights.
  • Find the perfect double-breasted trench coat.
  • Host my sister and brother-in-law for a visit (this weekend!).
  • Go apple picking, make pumpkin bread and cranberry bread, drink chai and savor the last of summer’s produce.
  • Spend a week in Oxford for the first time in five years. (!!!)
  • Spend a long weekend in NYC with the hubs. (I love New York in the fall.)
  • Write by hand nearly every day.
  • Read at least three classics. (I’ve got Silas Marner and The Song of the Lark on the short stack.)
  • Knit something fun and colorful.

What’s on your list for this fall?

tea journal sunglasses

In early August, as I was taking a little break from the blog, I issued myself a small challenge: write every day, by hand, in my low-tech journal.

I’d fallen out of the habit during our crowded July, and I missed spending time at the page – not always writing anything “important,” but simply jotting down thoughts and memories and to-do lists. I also wanted to see if I could do it, plain and simple. If I wasn’t spending (much) time and energy on the blog, could I transmute that same energy into my journal? I started a brand-new journal on July 31, with high hopes.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t write every day.

Here’s what happened, though: I wrote nearly every day.

Sometimes I wrote more than once a day, scribbling down a few paragraphs in the morning and then returning for a longer writing session after work. I mused and rambled and vented; I made lists and dreamed and wondered. I worked through more than a few exercises from The Sound of Paper (for at least the fifth time). My left hand sported ink stains, and my soul remembered how to exhale.

I began to crave that time at the page, that time to listen to myself and remember what I think and why it matters. I urged myself to pick up the pen even when I didn’t want to. I did not always succeed in this, but I began to turn back toward that gentle discipline, the one I’d almost forgotten: the deeply pleasurable act of daily (or almost-daily) writing.

It’s a new month now, and last night I finished the journal I’d been scribbling in during my prolific August. I don’t know as yet if any brilliant essays were hatched in that journal, or if the fresh journal I’m starting will hold better ideas. And I’ve realized it doesn’t matter – at least, not as much as I thought it did.

What matters is the process, the gentle daily doing, the wholesome and freeing (and sometimes frustrating) act of laying it all out there on the page. What matters, as all the best writing teachers would say, is that I’m writing. Even if it’s messy or disjointed or mundane.

I’m not sure if I’ll manage to write every day in September. But I’m keeping the same goal in mind: to write nearly every day, by hand, and thus to dig a little deeper into my own life. (And maybe I’ll turn up a few good ideas while I’m digging.)

Do you write in a low-tech journal, or have a daily writing practice? Do you agree that the process is important? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Early Decision

early decision cover lacy crawfordI read Lacy Crawford’s debut novel, Early Decision, soon after it came out last year. Well, first I read Lindsey’s glowing review. Then I picked up the book and was so glad I did.

Early Decision tells the story of Anne, a young woman working as an independent college admissions counselor in Chicago. Anne once had dreams of a literary career, but now she assists wealthy high school students (and their nervous, hovering parents) with the long process of applying to college and writing their essays.

On Saturdays, Anne volunteers with a group of lower-income students at a public high school, whose dreams (in most cases) are vastly different but no less ambitious. Yet while she helps her students (including a brilliant Guatemalan girl from that public high school) find their voices and take charge of their own lives, she’s stuck in a holding pattern, afraid to pursue a different career or find real love.

I have worked in academia for my entire career: first at my alma mater in West Texas, then at a liberal-arts-cum-performing-arts school in Boston, and now at Harvard. I agonized over my own college application essays more than a decade ago, and like Anne, I earned a graduate degree in English and then wondered what on earth to do with my life.

So I saw myself on so many pages of this novel – both in Anne and in her bright but hesitant students. They are radiant with potential, excited but terrified, firmly convinced that where they go to college will have a profound effect on the rest of their lives. (They’re not wrong about this, but as Crawford notes, where you go to college is not the same as who you are.)

Crawford’s writing is sharp, clear and insightful, peppered with literary allusions and keen insights about the current state of higher education (and the panic surrounding elite colleges) in the U.S. Her characters come alive through their essay drafts and emails, as well as through their conversations with Anne. And while Anne herself is frustratingly self-effacing at the beginning of the novel, she grows into herself by the book’s end, gaining the confidence to grasp – for the first time in years – a life she really wants.

Witty, heartbreaking and keenly observed, Early Decision is both a compelling story and a lovely meditation on learning to build a worthwhile life. (Also: Lacy and I are now Twitter friends, and she is lovely.)

This post is part of the TLC Book Tour for Early Decision. I received a complimentary copy of the book, but was not otherwise compensated for this review.

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?


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