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This is thirty-five

 

Katie polka dots porch selfie

I turned thirty-five this past weekend. And I have to admit: this one freaked me out a little.

I don’t often worry about birthdays: turning another year older beats the alternative, as my mom says. My (fairly healthy) reaction to turning thirty, a few years ago, was to take my first trip to Canada. But this birthday – falling squarely in the middle of ordinary life and a job change – felt big, somehow, in a way I didn’t quite feel able to process.

I’d debated about having a party, but in the end we celebrated with friends, pulling together a brunch in our top-floor apartment: mimosas and fruit, jazz on my old stereo, scrambled eggs and stacks of French toast made by my husband. Sierra walked in and handed me a bouquet of sunflowers; Aaron brought a bread pudding made with honey cake; 14-month-old Colette toddled around in a pink plaid dress with cupcakes on the smocked yoke. Everyone greeted me with bear hugs and best wishes. They pulled open the cabinets for coffee mugs and Fiestaware plates, and made themselves at home on the living room couches and around the kitchen table, talking, laughing, enjoying one another. It was exactly what I wanted.

sunflowers books mimosas birthday

I’m only a few days into thirty-five, of course, but wanted to capture a few snapshots, literal and figurative, of what it looks like so far.

Thirty-five is about a dozen gray hairs (I stopped counting after three). So far I’m happy to let them coexist with the brown and the pink streaks; you can see some of all three above. I am even a little bit proud: I’ve earned every single one.

Thirty-five is adjusting to the rhythms of a new job, in a new neighborhood across the river from my Cambridge home. Thirty-five is struggling with this change, and also trying to turn toward gratitude.

Thirty-five is still learning to own the broken pieces and wonky seams of this life, to step into both strength and vulnerability, to let herself be seen.

Thirty-five is stepping into my identity as a runner, getting out on the river trail several days a week. Thirty-five loves both the measured pace of yoga class and the change-it-up high intensity of a boot camp workout in Erin’s backyard.

Thirty-five is always reading a handful of books at once: something for review, brain-challenging nonfiction, something with heft and depth (fiction or nonfiction), a damn good story, something just for fun. (These categories often overlap.)

Thirty-five repeats a few good phrases to herself over and over again: everyone is learning. You are loved. The only thing to do is to keep moving. Summon all the courage you require

Thirty-five eats a lot of granola and peanut butter crackers, drinks copious amounts of black tea, tries to stay away from sugar and eat more vegetables (she has no trouble eating lots of fruit). Thirty-five tries to stay off the computer in the evenings, and winds down with a book before bed.

Thirty-five tears up often and laughs every single day. Thirty-five wears the same few pieces of jewelry that have become talismans: a necklace stamped with brave, a Wonder Woman bracelet, a matching set of wedding and engagement rings.

Thirty-five thought she’d have more answers to a few big questions by now. Instead, she is facing the reality that we are always becoming. That few things are set in stone. That even the most foundational relationships will change. Thirty-five would refute the sunny-side optimists who insist that change is always good, but is trying to agree with the friend who often says, “Change is how we grow.”

Thirty-five has learned that love and life are bigger and harder and more complicated than she ever thought possible. Thirty-five is in the middle of a messy, rich story. Thirty-five is doing her best to be honest about, and grateful for, the all of it.

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komorebi harvard yard tree sky

First, the leaving.

I knew it was a possibility for a long time: the job I signed on for, back in 2016, is of a type that comes up for renewal each fiscal year. This was my fourth job at Harvard, and I’d already weathered a layoff and two temp gigs – so I wasn’t all that surprised to learn, in April, that I’d have to leave at the end of June.

Even at Harvard, few things are set in stone: my time there has seen massive internal shifts, many of them for the better. This storied place, ancient and rooted, is also a place of constant movement and change.

I did my best, this spring, to soak up all the rhythms and traditions I love there: Morning PrayersCommencement, my daily walks to Darwin’s. I had about a thousand coffee dates and sent out so many emails telling people: This chapter is ending. I don’t know what’s next.

On my last day, I walked to Darwin’s mid-morning, then went back later for lunch with a girlfriend. We sat outside, leaning against the plate-glass windows, eating sandwiches and talking about change. She had just started a new job, and I had no idea what the summer held. We agreed: change is hard, even when it’s exciting. And uncertainty is a beast.

Later that afternoon, I slipped away for a walk with a friend, and then came back to the office for my own bittersweet Mary Tyler Moore moment: packing up my bags and switching off the lights for the last time.

Of course, as a friend reminded me, Harvard isn’t going anywhere: it has survived for nearly four centuries, and if I want to go back there sometime, there’s a good chance I can. But this chapter, this particular stretch of five years where the Square became my daily ground, has ended.

I don’t have a word to sum it up neatly: like so much of life, it is full of contradictions. But somewhere between all those emails and meetings, between the headlines and the phone calls and the student interviews, between Tuesdays at the farmers’ market and Thursday mornings on the sixth floor, between frequent trips to the florist and every single day at Darwin’s, Harvard Square became my home.

I’ve landed in a good place across the river. But I left part of my heart in Cambridge, and for now, I’m making a point to get back there as often as I can.

id rather be reading book flowers Anne bogel

I’m not quite sure how September is half over (I say this every month), but here’s the latest reading roundup. I’ll be linking up with Anne Bogel and others for Quick Lit, and in a moment of serendipity, the first book is hers…

I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life, Anne Bogel
Anne is a longtime Internet friend (and we met IRL in NYC a couple of years ago). She sent me a copy of her brand-new book of essays on reading and the bookworm life. As expected, it was delightful, and I saw myself in many of its pages. A perfect gift for the book fanatic in your life.

Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding, Rhys Bowen
Lady Georgiana Rannoch may finally get to marry her intended, Darcy – but, of course, a spot of murder will intervene first. I’ve enjoyed this series, but this wasn’t my favorite entry: several key characters were largely offstage, and the mystery was confusing. Still, Georgie and her world are a lot of fun.

The Endless Beach, Jenny Colgan
Flora MacKenzie is trying to make a go of both her seaside cafe and her brand-new relationship. But as she prepares for her brother’s wedding and tries to balance accounts, she’s facing romantic trouble too. The setting (the Scottish island of Mure) is enchanting, but I was far more interested in the secondary characters, including a Syrian refugee doctor, than Flora or her (irritating) boyfriend.

Sound: A Memoir of Hearing Lost and Found, Bella Bathurst
Bathurst is a British journalist who lost much of her hearing in her mid-20s, and dove into all sorts of research about hearing loss, deaf culture and remedies for deafness. She has since regained much of her hearing via surgery. This slim memoir was slow to start, but was a fascinating look at various aspects of sound, listening, audiology and the simple things hearing people take for granted. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 2).

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
Celestial and Roy, a young black couple in Atlanta, are newly married and on their way up the career ladder when Roy is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. The book traces their relationship over the next five years, until Roy gets out of prison (early) and they both must reckon with the changes those years have wrought. I read this novel with my heart in my throat; powerful and stunning don’t quite do it justice. It speaks with equal potency to this racial moment and to the inner intricacies of a marriage.

Little Big Love, Katy Regan
This was an impulse grab at the library, and I loved it: a big-hearted, funny, bittersweet British novel about a boy named Zac who goes on a quest to find his dad. It’s narrated by Zac; his mum, Juliet; and Juliet’s dad, Mick. All three of them are hiding secrets. It weaves together themes of family, loss, fitness and body image, and love in many of its forms.

The Summer Wives, Beatriz Williams
I love Williams’ elegant novels about love and secrets, often involving the sprawling, blue-blood Schuyler family. This one takes place on Winthrop Island in Long Island Sound: the story of a fateful summer and all that came after. An engaging story of love and jealousy and murder, though Miranda (the main character) struck me as a bit passive.

Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship, Kayleen Schaefer
Women are often stereotyped as catty and competitive – but for many of us, female friendship is a saving and sustaining grace. Schaefer explores the evolution of female friendship over the last half century or so, via her own experience and a bit of sociology. I liked her honesty and enjoyed a lot of her modern-day references, but wanted more context (and more diversity).

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
My husband read this book a few weeks ago, and I’ve never heard him laugh so hard over anything he’s read. So I picked it up and blazed through it in a day. It was…baffling. There were some truly funny moments, but overall it wasn’t quite my bag.

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

What are you reading?

neponset reflection dorchester water sky

I am a person who loves to hear the same stories over and over again.

Since I was a little girl, I’ve loved hearing my dad’s stories: anecdotes about family members or friends, or stories from when he was growing up in rural Missouri. We read – as many parents and children do – the same picture books over and over, before bed at night. (I still have a special place in my heart for a Little Golden Book called Home for A Bunny.)

I am my father’s daughter in this as well as other ways: I tell the same stories over and over again. My long-suffering husband and many of my friends have heard my stories more than once. And I am – as you know if you’ve heard me talk about my favorite books – an inveterate reader and re-reader.

I do this with music, too: I listened to Hamilton for six months straight once I discovered it and fell in love. I know nearly every word to a couple of Wailin’ Jennys albums (and so many George Strait songs from my childhood), among others. And lately, I’ve been listening to Headed Home, a 2015 release by The Light Parade, on repeat.

The Light Parade is Alex and Kara, two friends of mine from college who began making music back then (as Thus Far). I recently rediscovered their music, and it’s been keeping me company on long runs and train rides. I love many of the songs, but the first track – You Are Loved – is one of my favorites. I’ve been listening to it so often that its first line – you are loved with a fierceness you cannot understand – is playing on repeat in my head.

Yesterday I stood behind the communion table at our tiny church, looking out onto pews full of people I love and a few new faces I barely know. I told them about Alex and Kara’s song, and I said to them: we come together, every week, to hear the same stories and sing some of the same songs. And the message carried by many of those is the same: you are loved. With a fierceness you cannot understand. 

We come to church every week as ourselves: hurting, joyful, brave, broken, despairing, confident. We brim over with stories and wounds, and what we hear at church will – I hope – open up the way for healing and wholeness. If there’s one message, I said, that we should take away from here, one story I want to tell and to hear over and over again, it is this: you are loved. We are deeply and wholly loved.

May you know that today, wherever you are.

Summer 2018, unblogged

sunrise window august

This summer feels like it’s both over and not over.

The hot, humid weather has been hanging on, making for some seriously sweaty runs (and commutes). I haven’t turned on my oven in weeks, and we’re still eating lots of gazpacho and taco salad. The sunflowers and berries are still out at the farmers’ market (for now), and the roses, hydrangeas and black-eyed Susans are still in bloom.

black eyed Susans flowers

But the calendar has flipped to September. Labor Day has passed and students of all ages are starting the new semester. I’m slowly adjusting to the rhythms of a new office life, and I’ve even spotted the first few red sumac leaves on the trail.

As we head into a new season, I wanted to share a few snippets of the summer that have gone unblogged.

In mid-June, the hubs and I made our annual pilgrimage to Crane Beach, stopping for lunch at Honeycomb, a delightful cafe a few towns over.

lemon square cafe

We soaked up the sun for a while and when it got cool, we finished with dinner at Salt, which is reliably delicious.

crane beach k j

This summer has included a lot of front porch sitting, often with books (it’s usually cooler outside than inside). We had a picnic dinner out there on the Fourth of July, before heading down the street to watch fireworks from the hill.

virgil wander book porch

Since I was job hunting this summer and my husband’s schedule varies (he’s a therapist), we spent a few mornings co-working together at home.stead, a local cafe we love.

homestead dorchester cafe interior laptop

We also spent a Friday evening there in July at a karaoke singalong. The hubs got up and sang some Maroon 5; I was a contented observer, though I happily sang along with the Broadway numbers and the nineties boy bands.

Summer always brings a few out-of-town visitors, and this one was no exception. Some friends of ours (who used to live here and have moved back to Northern California) flew in for a night in early July. We all went to dinner at the newly reopened Bowery in our neighborhood. Their little one, Miss Elle, was a hit with the staff (and with us).

greens elle dinner

Later in July, my dear one Laura and her family came up from West Texas. I gave them my Harvard tour, took them to Darwin’s (of course), and we wandered the city and ate dinner in the North End.

Katie laura darwin's Cambridge

They came back through the following weekend and we all went to a Red Sox game. We put Laura’s and my husbands together so they could geek out all night, and of course we all sang Sweet Caroline at the end.

Our tiny church has hired its first full-time minister in many years. We helped Candace move in mid-July, and had her official installation ceremony at the end of that month.

Candace pulpit Brookline church

There has also been plenty of lovely ordinary: so many runs on the trail, several boot camps in Erin’s backyard and a fair amount of yoga, doing laundry and standing at the kitchen sink scrubbing dishes and humming old hymns. (Those last two – well, really all of these – are the most grounding practices I know, these days.)

No summer is complete without ice cream, and we’ve given the Ice Creamsmith our fair share of business this summer. I particularly loved their rotating special flavors: lemon custard in July, peach in August. With sprinkles, of course.

ice cream sprinkles

What have you left unblogged this summer?

nonfiction tbr book stack

Back in March, I posted a photo of my then-teetering stack of nonfiction, some of which had been hanging around for months or (eek!) more than a year. Six months later, I’ve diligently worked my way through most of the stack.

So I thought I’d share an update, and what lessons (if any) I’ve learned.

First of all, the mere fact of a challenge was enough to make me dive in and keep at it. And I admit to a certain amount of bookworm guilt: some of those titles had lingered for years. (Several of them were gifts, which may have had something to do with it – though my friends mostly do know what I like.)

It took a little discipline to make myself reach for these titles instead of the shiny new ones that are always coming in, but I’m glad I did. Most of them were entirely worth it, whether because they were charming (Encore Provence), highly informative (Love of Country), thought-provoking (Crossing the Unknown Sea) or for other reasons.

I’ve now read 10 of the 11 books I had on the nonfiction stack at that time, and – bonus – I loved most of them, especially Ivan Doig’s memoir This House of Sky and Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermon collection, Home By Another Way. I’ll likely return to both of those, for different reasons. I didn’t finish Pigtails and Pernod, but I’m keeping it anyway: I bought my lovely used hardcover on a long-ago afternoon with Caroline in London, and I like looking at it and remembering that day.

I still need to read The Butterfly Hours, and tackle the five nonfiction books I’ve since added to the stack. So the process may start all over again. But it was a helpful lesson in reading what I’d bought (or been given), and a nice break from the sometimes frenetic pace of reading books for review.

All in all, I’m quite satisfied with my progress: now I just need to decide which nonfiction book to read next…

thought bookstore shelf books nbc

August has flown. Between two back-to-back weekends away and starting a new job, I don’t know where I am half the time these days.

The books, as always, are helping preserve what sanity I have. (Bookshelf photo from Spoonbill & Sugartown, snapped on my recent Williamsburg trip.)

Here’s the latest roundup:

Smoke and Iron, Rachel Caine
The Great Library‘s grip on power is slipping, but its leaders can still do a lot of damage. Jess Brightwell and his band of friends have hatched a crazy plan to bring them down. A fast-paced, compelling addition to a great series: I love the way several characters have grown into themselves. So curious to see how Caine will wrap it up in the next book.

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, Patrisse Khan-Cullors
Before Khan-Cullors was an activist, she was a young black girl trying to love and live in a world that often didn’t want her to do either. She weaves her own story together with the narrative of the Black Lives Matter movement. Her account of her brother Monte’s suffering at the hands of law enforcement is especially moving. The style didn’t always work for me, but this is a powerful and necessary story.

The Clockmaker’s Daughter, Kate Morton
Elodie Winslow, an archivist in London, uncovers a mystery: an old photograph of a beautiful unknown woman, presumably associated with the painter Edward Radcliffe and Birchwood Manor, the house he loved. The narrative switches back and forth from the present day to various points in Birchwood’s (and the woman’s) history. Mysterious and atmospheric and quite odd, at times, but I enjoyed it. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 9).

Almost Everything: Notes on Hope, Anne Lamott
I’ve been a Lamott fan since I discovered Bird by Bird and Traveling Mercies as a college student. I haven’t loved her last few books as much, but thoroughly enjoyed this pithy, straight-shooting collection of essays on hope in a time of despair. Lamott is funny and wise, kind and honest, which is exactly what you’d hope for in such a collection. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 16).

Dear Mrs. Bird, AJ Pearce
The premise of this book is my catnip: plucky female British heroine having wartime adventures. Emmeline Lake takes a job working for Mrs. Bird, a no-nonsense advice columnist in London, and starts writing her own replies to the readers whose problems fall under Mrs. Bird’s idea of Unpleasantness. Predictably, a certain amount of chaos ensues. I loved Emmy and her best friend Bunty, and the story was charming.

This Side of Murder, Anna Lee Huber
England, 1919: Verity Kent, a young WWI widow, is trying to move forward with her life. When she’s invited to a house party with her late husband’s fellow officers, she finds coded messages, contention among the other guests, and murder. This one was so-so for me, though the mystery did compel me enough to keep reading.

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

What are you reading?