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buddha book stack

I’ve been running hither and yon this month: starting a new job, packing up my apartment, hopping down to Texas for a quick visit with my family. Here, the books that are keeping me (moderately) sane:

I Shot the Buddha, Colin Cotterill
Dr. Siri Paiboun, retired coroner of Laos, and his wife, Madam Daeng, stumble onto a mystery when their friend Noo, a Buddhist monk, disappears. A slightly wacky mystery with quirky, entertaining characters and occasional paranormal elements, set in 1970s Laos (a brand-new location for me). To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 2).

The Atomic Weight of Love, Elizabeth J. Church
Meridian Wallace, an aspiring ornithologist, moves to Los Alamos, N.M., with her scientist husband as he works on a top-secret government project (the atomic bomb). Over several decades, Meri wrestles with her own choices and the realities of womanhood and marriage, while observing a certain group of crows in a nearby canyon. Church’s writing is gorgeous and I loved Meri’s narrative voice. Beautiful.

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
This book needs no introduction from me; I’m late to the game here, but very glad I finally read it. Coates writes a searing indictment of the way black people have been treated in this country since its inception, in the form of a letter to his son. Powerful and thought-provoking.

To Catch a Cheat, Varian Johnson
The gang from The Great Greene Heist is back, and this time they’re on a mission to stop a blackmail plot. A smart, funny middle-grade novel with highly entertaining characters (and pretty believable teenage bickering). Like Ocean’s 12 for teens, with lots of computer hacking.

Hamilton: The Revolution, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
Hamilton has taken the country by storm – count me among its legions of fans. The “Hamiltome” combines the show’s complete libretto with stunning color photos and richly layered essays about Hamilton’s origins, its cast and crew, and the conversations it is sparking. A treat from start to finish.

Finding Audrey, Sophie Kinsella
Audrey is struggling with serious anxiety after a bullying incident at school. With the help of her therapist, her wacky family and her brother’s friend Linus, she gradually finds her way out of the dark. Sweet, poignant and often hilarious (Audrey’s mom is particularly funny). My sister loves Kinsella, but this – her first YA novel – is the only one of her books I’ve read. Recommended by Anne.

Ashes of Fiery Weather, Kathleen Donohoe
The O’Reilly men have been firefighters in Brooklyn for decades – which means the O’Reilly women know a thing or two about grief and sacrifice. A sweeping family saga, told from the perspectives of seven different women, moving back and forth in time. Well written and powerful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 30).

The Book of Lost and Found, Lucy Foley
I picked up this novel (Foley’s debut) after loving her second book, The Invitation. This story follows Kate, the daughter of an orphaned ballerina, and her quest to discover more about her mother’s history. Foley weaves together art, love, war and self-sacrifice. Beautifully told (and now I want to go to Corsica, where the book is partly set).

Outrun the Moon, Stacey Lee
Mercy Wong isn’t like most girls in Chinatown: her “bossy cheeks” mark her as a woman of action. She talks her way into an exclusive boarding school, hoping to gain important business connections. But the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 changes everything. A fast-paced story with an engaging heroine and wonderful supporting characters (I loved Mercy’s friend Francesca). I also enjoyed Lee’s debut, Under a Painted Sky.

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

What are you reading?

Weekend in Halifax

halifax harbour j k

After our glorious five nights/four days in PEI, the hubs and I headed to Halifax for the weekend. We’d never been there, and we thoroughly enjoyed checking out this smallish, vibrant city on the water.

halifax harbour dusk

I’ve said it before: on vacation, we like to wander and we like to eat. That is exactly what we did in Halifax, for two days.

We arrived on a Friday afternoon, checked into our Airbnb apartment, and immediately went a-wandering. We found the Halifax Common, and a few streets away, DeeDee’s ice cream.

jer-deedees-ice-cream

(J’s berry-swirl ice cream happened to match his polo.)

katie-deedees-ice-cream

I had raspberry passionfruit sorbet, which is as tart and delicious as it sounds.

We strolled the neighborhood a while longer, then drove down to the waterfront that evening for dinner at the Bicycle Thief.

bicycle thief sculpture halifax

While we were waiting for our reservation (it was crowded), we walked along the harbourfront. Live musicians, food trucks, cool old ships, and lots of families out enjoying the lovely evening.

ships halifax harbour

When we did have dinner, it was delicious. I had a truly amazing lobster-corn chowder with new potatoes and bacon. (Also: their bread is focaccia and it’s homemade. Yum.)

bicycle-thief-chowder

We sat outside, and the view was as fantastic as the food.

bicycle thief restaurant halifax

We wandered around town in the long dusk, and split a decadent chocolate torte with raspberry sauce at the Middle Spoon. I could not get a good picture, but it was scrumptious.

The next morning, we headed to Annie’s Place for breakfast.

annies halifax

Annie herself welcomed us, and we had huge chai lattes (not that either of us were complaining) and excellent eggs, bacon and toast.

We spent most of the day exploring after that. First up was Woozles, an utterly charming children’s bookstore down the street from Annie’s.

woozles bookstore halifax

We didn’t spot any Heffalumps (or Woozles), but there were plenty of gorgeous books.

woozles interior

We also stopped by Bookmark – I’d been to their Charlottetown store, but enjoyed exploring this location.

bookmark halifax

The Halifax Public Gardens are close by, and they are gorgeous.

halifax public gardens

We’d heard the Halifax Central Library was worth seeing – though, to me, a library is always worth seeing. This one did not disappoint.

halifax central library

We ate lunch at the Seaport Farmers’ Market, then wandered back downtown, popping into more fun shops, including The Loop, a sweet little yarn shop.

loop yarn store halifax

For dinner that night, we ate at 2 Doors Down – really good pub food and local Nova Scotia wines.

two doors down halifax wine list

We weren’t quite ready for dessert, so we spent a while playing board games and eating popcorn at the Board Room Game Cafe. A Canadian friend had told us about this trend – it was so fun.

jer board room game cafe halifax

We capped off the night by splitting a slice of cheesecake at Sweet Hereafter. (It’s J’s favorite dessert.)

jer cheesecake sweet hereafter

We had to hit the road on Sunday, but stopped at Coastal Cafe for brunch first. J’s face says it all. (The huevos were amazing – some of the best Mexican food we’ve had outside of Texas.)

jer brunch halifax

Halifax, you are charming. Cheers!

halifax mural

katie pei beach

Several months ago, in the midst of my sixth Boston winter and a yearlong job hunt, I chose gumption for my one little word for 2016.

I’d spent 2015 trying to be gentle with myself and others – a reminder I needed frequently during a difficult year. But as the calendar flipped over, I decided I wanted something with a little more energy, a little more drive. Gumption, as embodied in The Holiday and elsewhere, tackles the tough stuff of life with a twinkle in its eye. I chose it knowing I’d need its particular combination of tenacity and spunk.

Midway through the year, I can say with certainty: I was right.

I spent the first few months of 2016 at a temp gig I loved, which gave me a safe place to land while continuing to balance the job hunt and other worries. That gig led to another temp assignment at Harvard, in a different office (literally) across the street, where I needed every bit of gumption I could muster to learn the ropes of a new place before diving into the swirl of Commencement. I don’t think I took a deep breath for the entire month of May.

Life on the sixth floor, wrangling stories and inquiries from all around Harvard, was a lot of fun, but it was a wild ride. I learned a lot of new systems and a few new skills, and I spent a lot – a lot – of time being brave and hanging on. (Longtime readers will know that brave, my one little word back in 2010, has become both a mantra and a talisman for me: I wear it around my neck and deep in my soul.)

Recently, I’ve been able to breathe a little easier: our trip to PEI and a new job (back in the same office where I temped this winter) have both helped me to feel more settled, less precarious. But I am diving into new responsibilities, and (soon) moving to a new apartment – both of which, not surprisingly, have their own requirements for gumption.

During this topsy-turvy year, gumption has come to mean both lightness and grit: doing hard things, or simply taking care of the business of life, with a bit of whimsy thrown in. It means sending that email, starting that conversation, tackling that work assignment, without taking it all too seriously. It means being brave enough to be a little silly sometimes. It means reaching across to connect with other people, even when I’m feeling shy or sad. It means speaking up when I can’t be silent any more, and it means knowing when to listen.

I have no doubt that the second half of 2016 will require yet more gumption of me. (See also: new job, new apartment and the resulting shifts in routine.) But I am also proud of the way I’ve handled the sweeping changes of the past year. As Iris (Kate Winslet) says near the end of The Holiday, “I think what I’ve got is something slightly resembling – gumption!”

iris gumption kate winslet the holiday

Here’s to more tenacity, grace, grit and spunk – more gumption – in the coming months.

Did you choose a word for this year? If so, how’s it going?

atomic weight of love book sunflowers

I was humbled by the thought that our lives, however briefly, had touched. I thought about how lives bump up against each other, whether for moments of superficial conversation in line at the post office or a deeper enmeshment. […] How much meaning should I ascribe to knowing a stranger for the moments it took for me to donate to a V-book [war stamps] campaign? What were the evolutionary implications of kindness?

—Elizabeth J. Church, The Atomic Weight of Love

I came across these lines recently in Church’s stunning novel about the life of Meridian Wallace, an ornithologist who studies the behavior of crows. They reminded me powerfully of that Elizabeth Alexander poem, the one I have carried with me during a spring and summer fraught with personal changes and national tragedy:

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each other?

Every time I turn on the news, there is more heartbreak to absorb and to bear: shootings by and of policemen, black families afraid for their lives in the U.S., refugees struggling to find a safe place to land, military unrest in Turkey and political turmoil in Britain. I have wept and I have ached, and I have wondered, What now?

I have failed, so far, to come up with any answers except this one: we must stop reacting to each other out of hatred, disinterest and fear.

I moved to Boston six summers ago from the plains of west central Texas, where I had lived nearly all my life. I’d heard that people in the Northeast were cold and unfriendly, and I was unsure how to carve out a place for myself in this bustling, unfamiliar city. It took me a long time to build a community here, to form real bonds with colleagues and friends. It took me even longer to start reaching out to others without fearing rebuff or dismissal. I cherish the friendships that have grown from that slow work: the brilliant women in my book club, the far-flung but genuine community at our church, my coworkers at various offices around Harvard.

When I read these lines about kindness, though, I thought about a different group of people: the ones whose lives bump up against mine in small but important daily ways.

The florist in Brattle Square, who always has a kind word for me when I go in to buy tulips or roses. The mail guy I used to work with, who would pause on his daily rounds to chat about Boston sports or the weather. My elderly Italian landlords, who live downstairs from us. The woman who makes the delicious tamales at the farmers’ market, tops them with freshly made salsa and calls me mi’ja. And the coffee-slinging, sandwich-making crew at Darwin’s, most of whose last names I don’t know, but whose smiling faces and cheerful banter are a regular and indispensable part of my workdays.

I am fascinated by the idea of all these lives constantly bumping up against each other, against my life, as I go about my daily routine. I am even more fascinated when I get a glimpse into one of their stories, when I break out of my self-focus long enough to truly connect with someone else. More and more, I am convinced this is the only way to begin healing the deep wounds of our common humanity: to listen, to look, to pay attention to one another.

It takes no work at all to encounter other human beings: we are surrounded by each other constantly, especially those of us who live and work in cities. But it sometimes takes work, and it always takes intention, for us to engage one another with kindness.

I’m not sure about the answer to Meridian’s question: I don’t know what the evolutionary implications of kindness would be. But they have to be better than the results of racism and hatred, fear and indifference, that are tearing our nation apart.

I know that smiling at a stranger will not solve the problems of the world: finding a better path forward will be the work of years. But kindness and attention must be where we begin. We must – I will keep saying it as long as I have to – we must be of interest to each other.

pei sandstone cliffs

The shore road was “woodsy and wild and lonesome.” On the right hand, scrub firs, their spirits quite unbroken by long years of tussle with the gulf winds, grew thickly. On the left were the steep red sandstone cliffs, so near the track in places that a mare of less steadiness than the sorrel might have tried the nerves of the people behind her. Down at the base of the cliffs were heaps of surf-worn rocks or little sandy coves inlaid with pebbles as with ocean jewels; beyond lay the sea, shimmering and blue, and over it soared the gulls, their pinions flashing silvery in the sunlight.

“Isn’t the sea wonderful?” said Anne, rousing from a long, wide-eyed silence.

Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

pei north rustico harbour

On our recent return to PEI, the hubs and I stayed in a tiny village on the Island’s north shore. We were just a few minutes’ walk from the beach in one direction and the harbor (above) in the other. And though we did a bit of driving around the Island (lunch in Summerside one day, dinner in Charlottetown another night), we spent most of our time as close to the water as possible.

“You’ve made a beach bum out of me,” J said recently. I laughed and pointed out that I didn’t do anything: our trips to San Diego and PEI are wholly responsible for that change. The red beaches of PEI’s north shore, in particular, have completely captured our hearts.

pei north shore beach prince edward island canada

The Island’s north shore is quieter than the south; there are fewer towns, more long, unbroken stretches of beach. These comprise plenty of soft red sand (the Island soil contains so much iron that it oxidizes on contact with the air), and an occasional outcrop of sandstone cliffs (as in the photo at the top of this post).

I love visiting both the sand shore and the rock shore that L.M. Montgomery writes about in Anne’s House of Dreams and Rilla of Ingleside, but for spending an afternoon, the sand shore is my favorite. The sky is wide and open, the far red cliffs topped with lush green. As for the Gulf of St. Lawrence, I have to quote Jane Stuart: “I never thought anything could be so blue.”

gulf of st lawrence beach pei

We took a guided kayaking trip around the north shore one night, which was exhausting but wholly enjoyable, and a couple of late-evening walks to watch the sunset. But mostly we sprawled out on the sand with our books, getting up occasionally to splash in the shallows or toss the Frisbee. We came home with sand in the folds of our shorts and tote bags, but I didn’t mind. Those hours on the north shore, walking through the foamy waves and sinking into the sand, restored my soul.

katie pei beach

More PEI photos and stories to come.

july sunset

I wrote a post on margin recently, and as it often does, the universe laughed. The first half of July has been fast and furious and full. Hot days, crowded calendars, so many things jockeying for space in my brain. It has not been particularly restful. But there’s still lots of good stuff happening, and I want to note the details of how life looks right now.

Right now, in the thick of a hot, busy summer, I am:

  • waking up to the buzz of the window a/c unit and the piano music from Pride and Prejudice.
  • drinking my two favorite summer teas in my favorite mug: blackberry sage and ginger peach.

lady cop breakfast

  • making scones when I can stand to turn on the oven, and eating granola and Greek yogurt for breakfast when I can’t.
  • wearing skirts, sandals and all the work-appropriate short-sleeved tops I own.
  • living in shorts and bare feet at night and on the weekends.
  • lugging a box of veggies home every Wednesday (we’re doing a CSA share) and then trying to figure out how to use them all. green veggies
  • getting excited for the Rio Olympics.
  • eating tamales from the farmers’ market on Tuesdays.
  • tending basil and geraniums on my front porch.
  • dropping by Darwin’s a couple of times a day: for tea in the morning, a sandwich and chitchat at lunchtime, and sometimes lemonade and a cookie (and more chitchat) mid-afternoon.

darwins chai cookie bench

  • reading allllll the books (as usual). Recent favorites include Lady Cop Makes Trouble, Everyone Brave is Forgiven, The Atomic Weight of Love and Jane Steele.
  • aching over the news reports from so many places riddled with tragedy.
  • treading water at work as I adjust to new routines and responsibilities.
  • relishing the familiar faces and witty banter of my colleagues.
  • snapping photos for the #FlowerReport when I’m out and about. This bed of lavender is growing outside our town library.

lavender library

  • texting my sister and a couple of friends about the madness and the fun of daily life.
  • listening to Hamilton on repeat, learning all the words, and priding myself on being able to rap (almost) as fast as Lafayette.
  • hunting for a new apartment (we have to move next month for reasons beyond our control).
  • savoring the last few weeks in the apartment we have lived in and loved for six years.

dining room dusk twinkle lights

  • sipping a lot of lemonade and the occasional glass of rosé.
  • flipping back through Julia Cameron’s The Sound of Paper: such wise words on writing and life.
  • sneaking in a beach day here and there.
  • trying (always trying) to pay attention to my life and the people I love.

crane beach jer

What does life look like for you right now?

anne books blue chest

Like many young girls, I read the Anne of Green Gables books over and over when I was growing up. My mom put the first three into my hands, and I devoured them, then went on to read the other five books in the series. I later came to love L.M. Montgomery’s other novels: The Story Girl, Jane of Lantern Hill, the three books featuring Emily Byrd Starr. And I was thrilled, a few weeks ago, to return to the land from which they sprang: beautiful, bucolic Prince Edward Island.

My husband was a good sport about touring Green Gables when we first visited PEI in 2014. I loved every second of that visit, but I wanted to explore another Anne-related site this time (there are several on the Island). So we drove to the Anne of Green Gables Museum in Park Corner.

silver bush anne of green gables museum pei

This house was owned by some of L.M. Montgomery’s relatives. As you can see in the photo, she dubbed it “Silver Bush” and used it as the setting for several books (Pat of Silver Bush, The Story Girl, and their respective sequels). Like Green Gables, it has been lovingly maintained, and it is full of artifacts from Montgomery’s life. I could just imagine Maud and her cousins, or the clan of King children, popping popcorn by the parlor fire or gathered in the kitchen after dinner.

Maud was married in Silver Bush’s parlor in 1911, and it looks much as it might have then:

silver bush parlor anne of green gables museum pei

(I love the geranium on the side table, which reminded me of Anne naming the flowers and trees at Green Gables, including a geranium she called “Bonny.”)

There are also bookcases stuffed with beautiful first editions of Montgomery’s books:

silver bush bookcase anne of green gables museum pei

The whole house is filled with similar treasures: letters, linens, china from New Moon Farm (!), photographs and newspaper articles related to the Montgomery/Macneill families and the time period. It felt as though Maud herself – or Anne – might come around the corner at any moment.

My favorite part of the museum, though, is at the top of this post: a stellar collection of Anne books, in editions old and new, sitting on the actual blue chest from The Story Girl.

The chest’s contents are on display upstairs, but seeing the chest itself – the one I’ve read about so often – gave me goosebumps.  I half expected to see Sara Stanley perched on top of it, peeling potatoes as she regaled her cousins with the story of Rachel Ward’s handsome, dissolute groom who never showed up to their wedding. Maud changed the names and a few details when she wrote about it, but as with so much of her writing, the inspiration was drawn straight from real life.

Silver Bush and the blue chest reminded me – again – that this woman whose work I love so deeply was real. Her characters are longtime friends of mine: their words, after so many readings, live deep in my bones. They were real to her, too, as she notes in this journal entry about Anne:

anne quote silver bush pei

We finished off our time at Silver Bush with a stroll through a woodland path near the farmhouse. Perfection.

birch path woods silver bush pei

More PEI photos and stories to come.

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