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Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

shoes book harvard yard

(Remembering the days when it was warm enough to sit and read in Harvard Yard.)

The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder
Since moving to Boston, I’ve reached for this book every winter. The Ingalls family’s hard winter gives me perspective – at least I’m not living off seed wheat! – and courage to face the bitter winds and freezing temps. I particularly love the bond between Pa and Laura, and their staunch bravery (and honest frustration) in the face of blizzard after blizzard. A favorite.

The Girl Who Chased the Moon, Sarah Addison Allen
Emily Benedict, orphaned at 17, moves from Boston to her mother’s North Carolina hometown, longing to discover her family history. She gets more than she bargained for and also meets an unusual boy. I like Allen’s gentle magical realism, but I had trouble believing in this book’s central conceit. Garden Spells is still my favorite of hers.

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, Austin Kleon
A fun, fast, quirky list of creativity tips (per the subtitle). Good reminders about the importance of side projects, the potential to get ideas anywhere, and other aspects of the creative life. A quick hit of inspiration.

Meant to Be, Lauren Morrill
Type-A, straight-A Julia believes in being prepared for all scenarios. But on a class trip to London, she gets paired with Jason, a goofy, spontaneous rule-breaker who drives her completely crazy. Can Julia – and Jason – let go of the notion that “meant to be” is always what you’ve planned? A fun YA love story in a fabulous setting.

The Supreme Macaroni Company, Adriana Trigiani
Shoemaker Valentine Roncalli is finally marrying the man she loves, but juggling a new marriage and an established business proves challenging. I usually love Trigiani’s stories of women from big Italian families chasing their dreams, but this third novel about Valentine felt rushed and unsatisfying.

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

I’m joining Leigh’s February Reading Challenge, so I won’t be buying any books in February (though I will be using the library). Wish me luck!

What are you reading?

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My one little word for 2014 is light.

light cafe window

I love the light. I am a sunshine girl, a sky-watcher, a relentless photographer of sunrises and sunsets.

sunset cape cod

I crave the light this time of year, when I have to augment the real stuff with some artificial light, just to get me through the short, dark days. Winter light in Boston can be hard to find – though I love those days when a brave blue sky arches overhead and sunlight glints off the snow.

I love the light – watching it, capturing it, basking in it. But that’s not the only reason I chose this word.

I want to be lighter this year – to foster a sense of joy in my daily life, rather than getting bogged down by financial worries or the daily commute. The big things in my life – my marriage, my job, my church, my family – are so good, and I want to savor them, enjoy them, embrace the light in them.

I’d like to be lighter on my feet, quicker to adapt and change course when a situation doesn’t go my way. I’d also like to lighten up on myself when I make a mistake – apologize, do my best to rectify it, and let it go.

I’d also like to be a few pounds lighter, a little leaner and healthier. To that end, I am continuing to take yoga classes and making an effort to eat something green every day.

Finally, I’d like to infuse some light into my writing – to hold it more lightly, embrace a bit of whimsy, enjoy the process rather than agonizing about the possible outcome of every piece. That’s difficult for an overthinker like me, but important.

Have you chosen a word, or made resolutions, for the year? I realize I’m a little behind the curve here, but if you’ve made any shiny new plans, I’d love to hear about them.

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In 2013 I have…

Last year and the year before that, I’ve made long (but non-exhaustive) lists of the things I’ve done over the course of the year. It’s so much fun to look back on a year and appreciate all it has contained.

coral-scarf-christmas

In 2013 I have:

What have you been up to this year? (Do you make lists like this?)

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tea journal sunglasses

Recently, I’ve returned to yoga, taking a few classes at two local studios after a hiatus of more than two years. I am definitely what you’d call a beginner yogi: I’m familiar with most of the basic poses, but in every class I encounter new terms, new twists (literal and figurative), and new ways of putting the poses together. My body is not naturally particularly flexible, and I am out of practice, so I have to be patient with myself. More specifically, I have to overcome the twin obsessions of what Natalie Goldberg calls my “monkey mind”: perfectionism and the need for validation.

My first yoga teacher, McKay, used to tell us, “There is no judgment or competition in yoga.” That statement always felt like an exhale to me, a huge relief. I repeat it to myself every time I’m on the yoga mat. The lack of competition is one of my favorite things about yoga, one of the reasons I look forward to yoga classes, rather than dreading them the way I used to dread those physical fitness tests in elementary school.

Even with McKay’s words in my head, I still find myself glancing around at the other students, or at the teacher. I’m not judging their practice, usually; I’m judging my own. Are my toes pointed in the right direction? Are my legs up high enough? Do I look stupid with my hair falling down around my face? Am I sweating more than anyone else? (The answer is usually yes.) And the question underneath all those: Am I doing it right?

Because I’m relatively new to yoga, I am only really confident of a few poses: plank, cat/cow, downward facing dog. When I twist myself into triangle or pigeon or some other more intense pose, I always automatically wonder: is this right? Sometimes the wondering continues: should I bend this way, stretch that way, lean forward or back, breathe in or out? Sometimes I’m able to quiet the inner chatter and hold the pose, simply be there, breathe through the discomfort. At other times, I glance toward the front of the room, wanting the instructor to give me a gold star, to say, Yes. You’re doing it right.

As you know if you have practiced yoga, being right isn’t the point. The practice, the very act of showing up and doing the poses, is the point. Aiming for the right form is good, of course; it stretches the muscles properly and helps prevent injury. But perfection is not the goal. The goal is to be present, to exercise your body, to calm your spirit. The goal is to do, and to be.

I run into these twin obsessions at other places in my life, most particularly in my writing. I have always been good at fulfilling assignments, and I’ve earned plenty of gold stars for doing so over the years. But now that I’m not in school anymore, now that I write mostly for myself, I don’t have anyone looking over my shoulder to tell me if I’m doing it right. I can make massive mistakes, spend hours working on sentences I’ll eventually throw away. Without a built-in system for validation, the possibilities are sometimes frighteningly endless.

But in yoga, as in writing, that lack of judgment, competition and validation provides a quiet freedom, the chance to experiment and find out how a pose or a technique works for me. There is a place in both arenas for honing and refining my craft. But for now, what I need is to turn off the judgmental voice in my head, lean into the yoga pose (or into the blank page), and practice. I need to show up, so I can do, and be – without relying on anyone else to tell me I’m doing it right (or wrong).

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I turned 30 last month, which felt rather momentous and completely ordinary at the same time. I’ve never been one to worry over milestone birthdays, but I did enjoy marking this one with our trip to Montreal, and of course, I loved the cards and gifts from family and friends.

Katie Gibson-4

For the past few years, I’ve made a list of things I want to do, try, accomplish and/or enjoy before my next birthday. I crossed off many of the items on last year’s list, but I am feeling less ambitious this year. (Besides, I’m already working on my fall manifesto.)

But I do love a good list, so here’s my fresh, new, slightly shorter one:

1. Try a new-to-me author every month, including the list of Canadian authors sent to me by a Canadian friend.
2. Knit myself a pair of cozy slippers (probably from this book).
3. Visit Nantucket.
4. Buy a go-to neutral handbag (black or brown).
5. Fly to San Diego to visit our friends who live there.
6. Go to the dentist (carried over from last year).
7. Visit Prince Edward Island.
8. Attend a carol service at Harvard.
9. Spend at least one lovely long weekend in NYC.
10. Visit a place I’ve never been. (Three of the above items qualify for this one.)
11. Get a massage (my husband bought me a gift certificate for my birthday).
12. Develop a regular exercise routine.
13. Write something I can be proud of.

(Photo by the talented Kristin.)

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shoes red leaves

It is the season of red leaves, vivid against the still-bright green of the trees around them, falling from spindly branches in Harvard Yard until they pile up on the ground, layer on layer. I want to gather up handfuls and press them in frames, paper my living room with them, slip them into envelopes and send them to friends.

It is the season of jackets and ballet flats, of a scarf in the morning and a bare neck at lunchtime, the in-between season where we squint at the forecast and open and close the windows accordingly. It is the season of crisp apples and golden butternut squash, piled at the farmers’ market alongside the last few heaps of plump tomatoes.

It is the season of bare feet and snuggly robes, of waking up early to a slightly dimmer sky each day, of reaching for the Vitamin D pills but not pulling out the light box. Not quite yet. It is the season of adjusting, of reveling in the sunshine and warmth while readying ourselves for the short dark days to come.

memorial church harvard fall red leaves

It is the season of cranberries, baked whole into bread flavored with orange zest, infusing my cups of tea along with citrus and almond. It is not quite time for the spiced holiday blends or the stout Yorkshire that will see me through the winter. It is the season of pumpkin chai and pumpkin bread and local apple cider sipped cold and refreshing from a glass or warm and spicy from a mug.

It is the season of fall events, from conferences and work celebrations to book signings and church clean-out days. It is the season of football and midterms and fresh-faced students everywhere, sporting still-new college tees and hoodies.

It is the season of juggling at our house, as my husband adjusts to a new work routine and I balance a day job with freelance gigs and try to keep a bit of mental space clear for my own writing. It is the season of a few routines – church on Sunday, Castle on Monday nights, washing the dishes after dinner, the New York Times crossword – that keep us sane and connected.

It is the season of looking ahead to the holidays, thinking about plane tickets and travel plans, about Turkeypalooza and Christmas cards, starting to make gift lists but not worrying over it yet. Two thousand miles changes the shape of a holiday season, means more planning ahead, more laying of groundwork now so it doesn’t slide into a spiral of stress in December.

It is the season of being here now, of reminding myself every day to pay attention to the light, the words on the page, the office banter and the faces of those I love. It is the season of settling into a rhythm, but also of waking up every morning with a fresh start, a willingness to begin again.

What season are you in, these days?

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tealuxe emily deep valley maud hart lovelace

Emily of Deep Valley, Maud Hart Lovelace
I discovered Emily’s story – a lesser-known classic by the author of my beloved Betsy-Tacy books – a few years ago, and now I hanker for it every fall. Emily feels stuck in Deep Valley, caring for her grandfather while her friends go off to college. But she “musters her wits” – starting a Browning Club, taking dancing lessons, befriending a few Syrian families – and gains some much-needed self-confidence. She’s a winning, quietly strong, utterly relatable heroine. I adore her, and I love seeing all my favorite Deep Valley folks (Cab Edwards, Miss Fowler, Betsy Ray herself) again.

Thirty Days to Glory, Kathy Nickerson
Kathy (a dear blog-friend) sent me the e-version of her debut novel (out Oct. 25) for review. It’s a heartwarming holiday story about Catherine, an elderly widow who longs to do something important with her remaining days on earth, and Elmer, a down-on-his-luck drunk who needs something good to happen to him. Their stories intertwine in surprising ways. Bittersweet but hopeful.

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy L. Sayers
When an elderly general turns up dead in his easy chair at his favorite club, everyone supposes he simply died in his sleep. But Lord Peter Wimsey suspects foul play – especially since the distribution of a sizable inheritance depends on exactly when the general died. Wimsey is coming into his own as a detective (and Sayers as a writer) – this mystery was great fun, and satisfyingly plotted.

Emerald Green, Kerstin Gier
Since Gwyneth Shepherd found out she’s one of an elite circle of time travelers, everything has been going wrong – including her relationship with Gideon, a charming but cocky fellow time traveler. In this conclusion to the Ruby Red trilogy, Gwen and Gideon must hopscotch back and forth through time to avert a disaster and to find answers to some pressing questions. Witty, romantic and fast-paced – a fun conclusion to a wonderful trilogy. It had been a year since I read the second book, Sapphire Blue; I’d like to reread these books all in a row.

Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life, Dani Shapiro
I had the pleasure of meeting Dani when she read at Brookline Booksmith this month. Still Writing is a wise, quiet collection of musings, anecdotes and encouragement about the writing life. Divided into Beginnings, Middles and Ends, these short essays offer wisdom, guidance, humor and hope to those of us who return over and over again to the blank page. Lovely.

Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, Debora Spar
I found an article by Spar via Lindsey’s blog and picked up her memoir-cum-dissection of feminism, its effects, and the relentless perfectionism under which many women still struggle. Spar is president of Barnard College and a former Harvard Business School professor; I appreciated her insights on the differences between male- and female-dominated workplaces. She explores the dizzying array of options (for careers, childbearing and relationships) available to women, but I wanted more practical ideas on how to balance them. Not quite as good as Lean In, but still thought-provoking.

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links.

What are you reading?

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