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hammer head coverI’m a writer. I have always wanted to be a writer.

Since I was a little girl scribbling in my first couple of diaries (the kind with locks and keys), or making up stories to tell myself before bed at night, I’ve loved playing with words. But in this digital age, writing can sometimes look a lot like moving pixels around a screen, and less like anything real. Sometimes, after a day of hitting the delete key once too often, I go home and plunge myself into more tangible tasks: cooking, knitting, washing dishes.

After spending her twenties working as a journalist for a Boston newspaper, Nina MacLaughlin found herself similarly dragged down by the endless clicking and digital noise of her day job. Finally, exhausted and soul-weary, MacLaughlin quit, and applied for a carpenter’s assistant position she found on Craigslist. Her gorgeous memoir, Hammer Head, charts her journey into the world of carpentry, working for a tough, wise woman named Mary and discovering an entirely new way of life.

I’m over at Great New Books today talking about Nina’s memoir – one of my favorite books of 2015. Please join me over there to read the rest of my review.

kayak river light water

I spent the last evening of August kayaking on the Charles River with a friend. The waves were high and choppy, and we got soaked, but the light was truly stunning.

An apt metaphor for this summer, and a wonderful way to end this month.

island books newport ri

More (more!) summer reading, as the calendar slides toward fall. Here’s my latest crop of reads:

Fall of a Philanderer, Carola Dunn
A seaside holiday means first relaxation and then a murder investigation for Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher and her policeman husband. A fun, twisty mystery full of entertaining minor characters. This one reminded me somehow of a Miss Marple case.

Second Chance Summer, Morgan Matson
When Taylor Edwards’ father is diagnosed with cancer, her family heads back to their lake house for one last summer together. But Taylor has to face the consequences of a mistake she made five years ago. A wonderful, poignant, rich story of first love, teenage summer, deep grief and – yes – second chances.

The House on Nauset Marsh: A Cape Cod Memoir, Wyman Richardson
Richardson, a Boston doctor who kept a house on the Cape for many years, writes with keen observation and humor about the birds, fish, seasons and rhythms of life there. Lovely and often lyrical; reminded me of One Man’s Meat. Found at the Concord Bookshop last month.

How to Speak Brit: The Quintessential Guide to the King’s English, Cockney Slang, and Other Flummoxing British Phrases, Christopher J. Moore
A quirky, fun “glossary” of common British phrases, with some interesting historical tidbits. Catnip for an Anglophile like me (though I knew lots of the terms already). Found at Raven Used Books.

Grounded: Finding God in the World: A Spiritual Revolution, Diana Butler Bass
Church attendance continues to decline in the West, but increasingly, people of all religious stripes are practicing their faith out in the world. Bass examines the “new” spirituality through the lens of several natural elements (ground, water, sky) and social structures (home, neighborhood, community). Thoughtful, though a bit long-winded at times. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 6).

Pagan Spring, G.M. Malliet
Father Max Tudor, former MI5 spy turned priest, finds himself trying to solve the murder of a man no one particularly liked, while dealing with parish duties and his love life. Not my favorite entry in this series, but the village writing group scenes were hilarious.

Recipes for Love and Murder, Sally Andrew
Tannie (“Auntie”) Maria van Harten writes a recipe-and-advice column for the newspaper in her small South African town. When an abused woman who has written to her ends up murdered, Tannie Maria and her colleagues get mixed up in the police investigation. A satisfying mystery with charm, heart and recipes. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 3).

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

What are you reading?

jer newport cliff walk

A week ago, the hubs and I hopped in the car and drove about an hour southward to Rhode Island. We’ve taken some glorious day trips this summer, but we needed a proper getaway – a brief chance to detach from work and everyday stresses, and clear our heads.

After much searching, J found us an Airbnb room in Jamestown, just across the bridge from Newport, and we spent a highly enjoyable 48 hours just being together.

We arrived at lunchtime, so headed to Mission for delicious burgers and fries. The order numbers are written on toy dinosaurs. (The hubs approves.)

jer pterodactyl

We spent Friday afternoon strolling around Newport, popping in and out of shops – which, of course, included Island Books. A small, cozy shop with a great selection. I ended up with a novel and a fun notepad.

island books newport ri

Before dinner that night, we walked down to Jamestown Harbor. I couldn’t get enough of the boats and the light.

jamestown harbor rhode island

We ate a delicious dinner at Simpatico, which has a spacious patio hung with twinkle lights and Japanese lanterns.

jer simpatico menu twinkle lights

The next morning, we walked down to the beach after breakfast.

sandals rocks beach

Where there are rocks, we both love to climb on them.

jer beach rocks jamestown

We ate lunch in Newport and then walked about half of the cliff walk, which stretches three and a half miles along the ocean, past some of Newport’s famous mansions. (This photo was taken at the top of the Forty Steps, which lead down to a few rocky outcroppings. We saw a couple of brave swimmers nearby.)

katie jer cliff walk

More shopping, more wandering, a break for some much-needed iced chai, and an early dinner at Lucia – then we drove back to Jamestown across the Pell Bridge. (There’s a $4 toll, but I love this view.)

pell bridge sunset

On Sunday morning, we said good-bye to our hostess, Allie (and her friendly beagle, Skippy), and hit the road, stopping in Providence for brunch at The Grange. (Absolutely scrumptious.)

grange providence ri

All in all, a delightful getaway. Just what we needed.

Have you been to Newport? Any favorite places we should hit next time?

katie bethany coffee shop

Here is one thing I love about deep friendships: you develop a kind of shorthand after a while.

Some of this shorthand is topical: my friend Abi and I love so many of the same books and TV shows, and we can discuss/quote them for hours. Some of it’s geographical: my friend Kristin, a fellow West Texas transplant to Boston, knows exactly what I mean when I talk about missing home and loving the life I have here. (Even better: she knows the particulars of certain Texas cities, and how tough it is to find great Tex-Mex food in Boston.)

I’ve been thinking about another kind of shorthand, though: the kind that comes from knowing each other’s casts of characters.

Pretty much everyone I meet knows I’m married: if my wedding ring doesn’t give it away, a comment about my husband is bound to come up before long.

katie jer beach san diego

I also talk frequently about my parents, sister and two adorable nephews – and I’ll show pictures of those sweet boys to anyone who’s willing to look at them. (Here are Harrison and my sister. Adorable, no?)

betsy harrison

But my good friends (and family) also know about the other important people in my life – even if they don’t know one another personally. I tell stories about Sunday nights spent at Ryan and Amy’s, long talks with Abi (and snuggles with her baby girl), college and post-college adventures with my roommate Bethany. (That’s her at the top of this post.)

I talk about my writer pal Hannah (who runs our occasional book club), my snail-mail pen pal Jaclyn, my work buddies Adam and Anissa, my long-distance lifesaver Laura. And in turn, I get to hear about the supporting casts of my friends’ lives: their parents, spouses, siblings, best friends, the people who help anchor them.

It’s a gift to reach the place in a friendship where you don’t have to explain all of that, where the person who’s listening to you has heard, and remembered, the stories about the people who matter. I love hearing stories about my friends’ loved ones – and it’s even more fun if I get to meet them in person. I feel like I know my friends better after getting to know the people they love, because our people are so much a part of who we are.

Do you have this kind of shorthand with your friends? Who’s in your supporting cast of characters?

blue purple hydrangeas

Today’s prompt: green (and blue and purple). I have fallen head over heels for hydrangeas this summer.

sunset clouds tree view

The view from my front patio: moody skies, sunset afterglow, neighborhood lights.

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