Fall 2015 List Update

memorial church red leaves blue sky

In mid-September, I posted a fall list (as is my habit). Here’s how it’s been going:

apple trees blue sky

  • Drink chai and bake something with pumpkin. I’ve been mainlining chai, and I’ve baked pumpkin bread and mini pumpkin whoopie pies.

chai journal pencil case darwins

yellow leaves boston blue sky

tealuxe emily deep valley maud hart lovelace

corita kent be of love

anne of avonlea dahlias

  • Read a few “deep TBR” books. I’ve read a few and gotten rid of several more.
  • Try three or four new recipes. I’ve tried five: a Mexican vegetarian lasagna, spiced Moroccan chicken and baked spaghetti and meatballs (all from Real Simple). Plus Jenny’s new favorite weeknight chicken, and her butternut squash pizza.
  • See Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella onstage. Abi and I had a lovely afternoon.


  • Sip the occasional glass of Cabernet with a friend. Yes.

What have you been up to this fall?


harvard yard leaves light

For long walks under bold blue autumn skies and vivid red and golden leaves.

For bouquets of yellow tulips and sunflowers, and a florist whose smile is kind.

For two groups of bookish colleagues, at Shelf Awareness and Great New Books, who make me laugh and make my to-be-read list grow every week.

For a new temp gig in my beloved Harvard Square neighborhood, which I’m already loving.

For chai lattes and strong black tea and spiced apple cider, sipped from paper cups or my favorite mugs.

For a husband who believes in me and cheers me on no matter what.

For family and friends whom I adore, who are wise and funny and supportive and kind.

For text messages and email and social media – all the tools that allow me to keep in touch with those I love.

For good books – stories and poetry that move me, make me think, entertain me, and make me want to be a better person.

For a small but stalwart church community of faithful, loving people.

For scented candles and funny TV shows and cozy slippers – all the little luxuries that make life more enjoyable.

For the blessing of having all I need – really, as Jaclyn said this week – more than enough.


It has been a hard couple of weeks in this world, and a hard few months in my own life. But today, I am pausing to remember the good, and give thanks.

If you’re celebrating, I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.

christian cds nichole nordeman

Until recently, I thought I had grown too cool for Christian music.

Don’t mistake me: I love a good old-fashioned hymn, especially the ones that periodically set up camp in my soul: Be Thou My Vision. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. I Love to Tell the Story (which I always hear my dad’s voice singing). Amazing Grace.

I’m also deeply attached to a few praise songs I learned as a university student: Holy is the Lord. In Christ Alone. Blessed Be Your Name. And oh, how I love the Magnificat.

But for a few years, the Christian contemporary music that filled my ears and my CD player during my high school and college years got pushed aside. I grew tired of the often formulaic melodies and refrains, the sometimes too-packaged theology. I’ve spent the past decade or so walking into a more complicated faith, one that leaves a lot of room for gray areas and messy edges. The bright, happy sounds of ’90s Christian pop didn’t seem to fit any more.

But earlier this year, Nichole Nordeman – whose music I have loved for nearly half my life – released her first new album in ten years, an EP called The Unmaking. I downloaded it a few weeks ago, and I cannot stop listening to the title track. The musical style is familiar, but the lyrics are wonderfully honest and fresh:

This is the unmaking / Beauty in the breaking / I had to lose myself to find out who You are. 

Even before that, during these last few difficult months, I’ve caught myself humming snatches of other songs I thought I’d forgotten, half-remembered lyrics that, to my surprise, still ring true.

Keep on looking ahead / Let your heart not forget / We are not home yet, from Steven Curtis Chapman (who headlined the first concert I ever went to). I believe that He loves you where you are, from Mark Schultz. Lines from Nichole’s older songs: Gratitude, Healed, Brave, We Build. On the night of the recent Paris attacks, sick with worry and fear, I finally soothed myself to sleep by singing an old Point of Grace line over and over in my head: God loves people more than anything.

These songs wouldn’t always pass muster in a theology class, nor would some of them win any awards for musical style or originality. But I don’t care about that as much as I used to. These familiar words and melodies (and the newer ones from The Unmaking) are bringing me comfort these days. They often say what I can’t articulate, or help succor me when I’m raw and hurting. These singer-songwriters are old friends, and their voices help me feel less alone.

I don’t plan to reconstruct my entire CD library from the early 2000s, but I’m keeping the songs that have come back to me. These are the good ones. And since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I will definitely be humming Nichole’s song “Gratitude.”

I’m linking up with Sarah Bessey for her Out of Sorts book synchroblog. This post was partly inspired by the playlist she made to go along with the book.

bookstore lenox ma interior

We recently (re)visited The Bookstore in Lenox, MA. A bookish wonderland.

We are heading straight for Thanksgiving and, as always, I’m thankful for good books. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Finding Serendipity, Angelica Banks
Right before finishing her latest book, the novelist Serendipity Smith disappears. Her daughter, Tuesday McGillycuddy, must travel to the land of Story to find her mother (with her faithful dog, Baxterr) – but the adventure doesn’t go quite as planned. Sweet, whimsical and so fun. Found at Book Culture in NYC.

The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton
Why do we travel? What do we gain from exploring new places? How can we become more thoughtful travelers? Alain de Botton explores these and other questions in this series of travel essays, with “guides” such as Vincent van Gogh and John Ruskin. He’s an observant, lyrical and occasionally cranky narrator. Thought-provoking and highly enjoyable. Recommended by Laura.

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly
It’s springtime in the Texas Hill Country, and Calpurnia Tate has all she can do to keep her brother, Travis, and his ever-expanding collection of stray animals out of trouble. Meanwhile, Callie keeps learning about astronomy and biology from her grandfather and starts assisting the local vet. A fun historical novel with a wonderful, spunky heroine. (I also loved Callie’s first adventure, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.)

A Place We Knew Well, Susan Carol McCarthy
For 13 days in October 1962, the U.S. held its breath as tensions in Cuba ratcheted up and up. McCarthy explores the Cuban Missile Crisis through the lens of a tightly knit family in a small Florida town. Tense and well-crafted. I loved protagonist Wes Avery: such a deeply compassionate man.

Between Gods, Alison Pick
Raised in a Christian household, Alison Pick was shocked to discover that her father’s Czech relatives were Jewish – some even died in the Holocaust. In her thirties, preparing for marriage, she undertakes the difficult journey of conversion to Judaism. Pick seems more interested in religious participation than a personal connection with (either) God, but this is still a luminous, moving, achingly honest memoir. Found at The Bookstore in Lenox.

Girl Waits With Gun, Amy Stewart
After their mother’s death, Constance Kopp and her two sisters are living peacefully on their farm in rural New Jersey. But when a powerful, ruthless silk factory owner hits their buggy with his car and refuses to pay up, things get ugly. A witty, whip-smart, action-packed novel of a woman who became one of the first female deputy sheriffs in the U.S.

Plainsong, Kent Haruf
Two elderly rancher brothers take in a pregnant teenage girl, at the suggestion of a compassionate teacher. Another teacher must raise his two young sons alone after his wife leaves. A luminous, quietly powerful story of ordinary people acting with great generosity and kindness, told in Haruf’s spare, beautiful prose.

Sheer Folly, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple’s 18th adventure finds her at a(nother) country estate, doing research for an article and investigating a(nother) crime. These books are my Cadbury milk chocolate: smooth, sweet and delightfully English.

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

What are you reading?

home fires masthead

It’s no secret I love a good British period drama, especially Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife and Lark Rise to Candleford. This fall, I’ve been swept up in the latest series showing on Masterpiece PBS: Home Fires.

Home Fires follows a group of women in the fictional village of Great Paxford, most of them involved with the local Women’s Institute, at the outset of World War II. The show’s marketing has centered around the ongoing feud between traditionalist Joyce Cameron and new WI leader Frances Barden, but the plotlines delve deeply into the lives of several more women: quiet bookkeeper Alison Scotlock, schoolteacher Teresa Fenchurch, stoic farm wife Steph Farrow.

Most of the women are committed to “doing their bit” and to the work of the WI: making jam from local produce that would otherwise go to waste, building an air-raid shelter for the village, raising funds for ambulances. The WI gives Frances (in particular) a purpose to fill her days. But all the characters are also grappling with other challenges: family illness, raising teenagers, financial difficulties, deep marital rifts. Several of them have husbands or sons who end up going off to fight. All of them find their lives irrevocably changed by the war, and each of them has to make hard choices over and over again.

Home Fires is a quiet show: it lacks the tense life-or-death scenes of Call the Midwife or the soapy drama of Downton. So far (the first season ranges from 1939-40), there are few massive military battles being fought. But the quietness is what I love about it. It is a show about ordinary people living small but valuable lives, who are called upon to do things they never thought they would have to do.

I am not (obviously) living in a war zone or facing the same challenges as the women of Home Fires. But I am fighting my own battles every day, and I am also mourning with the world after Paris and Beirut, wondering where it will all end. I’ve enjoyed the period detail and witty dialogue of Home Fires, but most of all I have loved watching these women as they face what comes.

Sometimes they fail. (They are human, after all.) Sometimes personal tragedy shakes them to their cores. But most often, they rise to the occasion – usually with quiet humility, sometimes with all flags flying. They adapt and make do; they find new ways to solve thorny problems. They hear bad news, and mourn, and then get back up and move forward. Together.

Courage has been variously defined as grace under pressure, the judgment that something else is more important than fear, or the simple act of seeing something through. The women of Home Fires embody all these definitions, and I’m looking forward to watching them face new challenges in season 2.

Have you watched Home Fires? What did you think?

(Image from pbs.org)

Mustering my wits

emily of deep valley mums gourd

Recently, I reread Emily of Deep Valley, a lesser-known book by Maud Hart Lovelace of Betsy-Tacy fame. I read it for the first time a few years ago, and fell in love with Emily’s sweet spirit. An orphan who lives with her grandfather, Emily struggles when her friends all go off to college and she’s left behind in Deep Valley. (While her grandfather is a kind man, this is 1912 and it’s never crossed his mind that she might want to go to college.)

I’ve loved Betsy Ray and her friends since I was a little girl, but I also found Emily a kindred spirit: she’s shy and introverted, but kind, intelligent, generous and deeply loyal. This time around, I related to her feelings of being left behind: when it seems everyone has a purpose to fill their days except you, it can be hard to keep going.

One Sunday morning, though, Emily hears a quote from Shakespeare that bolsters her up: “Muster your wits; stand in your own defense.”

While that line doesn’t erase her loneliness or her worries, it gives her a mantra to focus on, and helps her get up the courage to seek out some good things – dancing lessons, a book group, even a few dates – to fill her lonely winter. As I continue with the job hunt, I am reaching for Shakespeare’s words (and Emily’s example) frequently these days.

Mustering my wits sometimes looks like self-care: yoga in the morning, a chai latte at Darwin’s, long walks in the autumn sunshine, baking a batch of scones. It can also look like being brave: reaching out to a friend via text or email to schedule a lunch or coffee date. Quite often, it simply looks like doing what needs to be done: freelance work, job applications, church administrative work, laundry, dishes. Some of these tasks are their own reward, and some I’m just relieved to cross off the list. But all of them help me move forward, especially on the days when I seem to spend all my time fighting back the dark.

I’m lucky to have a supportive community: my husband, my family, an inner circle of dear friends. (I also deeply appreciate the support from this blog community, including the comments on this recent post.) But in the end, like Emily, I do have to stand in my own defense. It’s ultimately my responsibility to muster my wits, and get on with the hard work of finding a job and living my life while I’m searching.

Emily’s story has a happy ending on several levels: she finds a new purpose in her work with Deep Valley’s Syrian community, makes some new friends and falls in love with a good man. My story, of course, isn’t over yet; I’m living in the messy middle, in so many ways. But I am glad to have Emily (and Shakespeare) along on my journey, when I need the reminder to muster my wits.



Paris. Long walks on grey cobblestones alongside the rushing, undulating waters of the Seine. Bookshops (librairies) full of slim paperbacks with incomprehensible titles in a beautiful language. The tall, proud spires of Notre-Dame, from whose roof you can see the entire city, spread out at your feet.

Paris. Blooming trees in the springtime, golden leaves in the fall. Soft watercolor paintings by Monet and ballerina sculptures by Degas. A train station-turned-museum – the Musée d’Orsay – full of light and open space and beautiful, thought-provoking art. Twenty-three bridges over the Seine, many of them lit softly at night, ghost bridges to another city, another time.

Paris November 07 181

Paris. The setting for some of my favorite books: Les Misérables, A Moveable Feast, A Homemade Life, The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, My Life in France. And many more with Paris in the titles: Lunch in Paris, Paris My Sweet, Paris in Love, The Paris Wife, Paris to the Moon.

Paris. Thin buttery crepes with sugar and lemon juice, wrapped in wax paper and eaten piping hot on the street. Wood-paneled cafes with long mirrors, white tablecloths, small round tables. Gold-rimmed cups of café crème and chocolat chaud, with sugar cubes wrapped separately in crackling paper. A glass of vin chaud at Cafe Panis one sharp spring night, after a long solo browsing session at Shakespeare & Company.

cafe panis paris mulled wine notre dame

Paris. Swing dancing in a stone-vaulted basement at Caveau de la Huchette. Cigarette smoke and elegant buildings. Buttery croissants and thick onion soup. The best falafel in the world on Rue des Rosiers in the Marais. An exotic honey shop on the Rue de Rivoli, filled with glass jars that seemed to capture different flavors of sunshine.

Paris. Endless grey rooftops stretching out across the sky. The wedding-cake confection of Sacre-Coeur, set high on a hill in Montmartre. The siren call of streets and gardens; the mystique of a city I adore but have only begun to discover. And, this week, the site of unimaginable yet all-too-familiar tragedy.

Paris, je t’aime. My heart is with you.


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