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Archive for the ‘friendship’ Category

y’all come sing

newport-goodnight-irene

Several times recently, I’ve found myself in a friend’s living room, paging through a hymnal or flipping through a binder of Christmas-themed sheet music. I’ve joined a holiday choir in my neighborhood, and we’re rehearsing a mixture of classic, well-known carols (O Come O Come Emmanuel, The First Noel, Silent Night) and choral arrangements that are new to me.

I used to do this all the time when I lived in Texas, whether it was a praise team rehearsal early on a Sunday morning (standing in a rough circle in the passageway leading to the baptistry) or gathering in Gail and Calvin’s living room on a Sunday night. More recently, there were many Sunday nights at Ryan and Amy’s, west of Boston, where we’d pull out the hymnals after dinner and sing a few favorite songs.

As a college student, I sang in ACU’s choir, where we performed mostly classical music – some of it complex and demanding. Our kind-eyed director, Dr. Mike, would occasionally grow frustrated when we got sloppy during an opera chorus or failed to hit the harmonies precisely. This was not, he would sometimes remind us, a “y’all come sing.” We were aiming for technique and skill beyond that.

Every Thursday, though, we would end rehearsals for the week with The Lord Bless You and Keep You, sitting on carpeted risers in the rehearsal room that felt like home. Letting the harmonies and the sevenfold Amen wind over and around each other, we let our voices be a benediction to one another before we parted for the weekend. In those moments, we simply had to show up and sing.

I understood Dr. Mike’s point, then and now: we were practicing a craft, learning new techniques and often performing really difficult music. Those pieces took focus and discipline; we couldn’t just open our mouths and sing any old way. But he knew – and so do I – that there is a place for “y’all come sing.”

There’s a place for letting the music be the reason we gather, rather than a polished end in itself. There’s a place for y’all – because where I come from, y’all means everyone. There’s a place for the beauty that comes in missed notes and unfamiliar lyrics and those moments where it all comes together in a way that feels, just a little bit, like grace.

(Photo from the end of this year’s Newport Folk Festival, which was a different kind of “y’all come sing.”)

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Here we are in October – the days and nights are starting to draw in, the maples are turning brilliantly red, the occasional cold rains have arrived, and fall events are in full swing.

I’m feeling more settled in my new place, and between commutes and running and cooking dinner, I finally had a bit of time to note what’s saving my life now:

  • Sunflowers, at home and at work. I love their cheerful faces, and they remind me of that Mary Oliver poem.
  • My new Rebel Alliance logo earrings. I am not a hardcore Star Wars geek, but I am a diehard Leia Organa fan. These earrings are sterling silver, subtle and badass, and I love them.
  • Birchbox, which I tried thanks to a recent Cup of Jo post. Getting a few colorful boxes of samples in the mail has felt indulgent and also nourishing, somehow.
  • My brand-new travel mug from my friends at Obvious State, who make the best literary swag.

  • Trader Joe’s essentials: crumbly English cheddar, bags of tiny mandarins, Greek yogurt by the tub, peanut-butter-filled pretzels, and smiles from the staff.
  • Texts from my girlfriends (always) and getting to hug a few of them (local and far-flung) in person.
  • A few recent visiting artist events at Berklee, where I work – I get to listen to fascinating, intelligent, talented, kind folks like rapper Dessa and film composer Pinar Toprak sharing their wisdom with our students.
  • A trip to my beloved florist the other day, for the first time in weeks. I caught up with my people and bought some scarlet tulips tipped with gold.

  • Jen Lee’s Morning, Sunshine videos – doses of kindness and wisdom twice a week. Go check out the series on YouTube.
  • The music of the Highwomen.
  • Sunshine on my shoulders, especially when I take my laptop to the plant-filled conference room at work.
  • Chai from the BPL cafe – best in Back Bay.
  • Poetry, including a whole slew of new-to-me gems via poet Maggie Smith.
  • The quilt my friend Carol made for me, so good for snuggling under on these chilly nights.
  • Ginger peach tea and Earl Grey in the mornings, spiced black tea in the afternoons, peppermint tea or pumpkin spice rooibos at night.
  • Rereading The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, a longtime fave.

What’s saving your life these days?

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phoenix dog sidewalk

Fall has come to Boston, and I’m dog-sitting again for my friend Carolyn, who is now also my neighbor. I spent several weeks at her house this spring, taking care of Phoenix the golden doodle pup, and I’m happily spending the second half of September hanging out with him again.

The alarm goes off in the morning, and I stretch and hit snooze and turn to look out the windows at the park, where the leaves are just starting to turn. As soon as my feet hit the floor, Phoenix starts scratching at the door of his crate: if I’m up, he wants to be up. But when I get out of the shower, I usually find him curled up on the bed, often next to my pillow. Sometimes he’ll wave a paw, asking for some extra pets or snuggles, and I usually comply. (He knows I’m a softie.)

I get dressed, blow-dry my hair, grab a banana for me and some treats for Phoenix, and clip his red leash to his collar. We head downstairs and out the door, taking the same route most mornings: down the street, around the corner and back up the hill.

Sometimes we run into a friend, or a small child excited to see a doggie. Sometimes we both stop to smell the flowers (though Phoenix also likes to smell everything else). He trots along happily, plumy tail waving, and does his business, and I give him treats and take deep breaths of fresh air. I drop him back off at home, feed him breakfast, and head to the train to go to work.

It’s a simple morning ritual, and I love it: scratching him behind the ears as he wanders around the bedroom, watching him wag frantically at other pups, giving him those extra cuddles, stretching our legs together. His little joyful presence is good medicine, these days. And I’m grateful.

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apple orchard trees wonder woman bracelet red

I had my first bite of a September apple last week, sampling a crisp Macintosh from the white bag on the kitchen counter. It tasted delicious: tart, juicy, the embodiment of fall in New England. And I was stunned by the wave of sadness that followed it.

Since I moved to Boston, apples have been tangled up with September: crisp sunny days, cool nights, black-eyed Susans and dahlias and late daylilies in the flower beds around town. September is the start of the academic year, and in a city like Boston, that shifts the rhythm in a big way. And every fall, September has meant apple picking.

apple trees blue sky

Apple picking was and is a beloved tradition for my former church. I’d eaten apples all my life, but there are no apple orchards in West Texas, and I wasn’t prepared for the sight of their rambling, gnarled branches heavy with fruit. I fell instantly in love.

Last year, some dear friends who’d moved away came back to visit for a long weekend, and we made sure to plan our apple-picking excursion when they were here. We wandered the orchard and filled our bags to bursting and ate the traditional orchard lunch of hot dogs and apple cider donuts. There were photos and laughter and tired kiddos, and cold, fresh cider. It felt right.

This year, so much has shifted: I’m living across the water in Eastie, spending my Sunday mornings sleeping in or running instead of going to church. I’m navigating the end of the marriage whose story began when I was in college. I am not who I was, and my life is a testament to that fact. But it is still September, and the apples have appeared at the farmers’ markets and grocery stores.

I’ll keep eating them, because the flavor and enjoyment are worth the reminder of all I have lost. Things are different now, but life is still full of sweetness. I’m trying to feel it all, live it all, truly taste both the grief and the joy.

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what I know about Kelly

 

flowers lilies windowsill church tulips brookline easter

My friend Kelly passed away last week.

I hadn’t seen her for some months, since her health began to fail (she had battled cancer for two decades, but the last stretch has been particularly rough). She and her family are a part of the church here in Boston where, for eight years, I spent nearly every Sunday. I always loved catching up with them at common meal, or in the back of the sanctuary after service. Since my time at that church ended, abruptly and painfully, last fall, I had mostly heard updates about her health through the grapevine.

By some measures, I didn’t know Kelly very well. I know she came to Boston from Oklahoma, many years ago, and chose to make a life here with her husband, Joe. I know she fought hard to beat back the cancer long enough to watch her two daughters grow up. I know she makes a delicious cranberry relish, which she would sometimes bring to Turkeypalooza, and sometimes Amy would bring it, made from Kelly’s recipe. I know she listened well, and was honest about her pain while never letting it dominate a conversation. A few years ago, she and Joe hosted the church Christmas party, and we ate and laughed, and sang carols in their living room. I know she enjoyed having everyone there.

Most of all, this is what I know about Kelly: she is a person who loved, and was loved.

I ran into Kelly on the library steps a few months back, when she was on her way to meet friends for afternoon tea and I was heading to the farmers’ market. We hugged, caught up a bit, and there was sorrow and kindness in her gentle eyes. We miss you, she said. I know, I said. I miss you too. We chatted about her girls, and my then-new job at Berklee, and we parted with another hug. I can’t remember if we said I love you, but I know we both felt it that day.

Last year, on Easter Sunday, J and I stood in front of the congregation and sang an old hymn I have known all my life: There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins. J played the guitar and we took turns singing, and I looked at Kelly sitting in one of the front pews, quietly singing along with us. It was her lips moving to those familiar words, and the joy on her face, that prompted me to invite everyone to join us on the last verse: Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die. 

Kelly lived by redeeming love, walking a hard road with faith and compassion for many years. She embodied the names she gave to her daughters: grace and hope. And she is – I hope with all my heart – at peace and at rest from her pain.

Rest well, good and faithful friend. I believe you are healed. We will miss you here, but I look forward to hugging you and singing with you again one day.

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pink flowers flats shoes sidewalk

I’m loving my friend Jen Lee’s new YouTube series – aptly titled Morning, Sunshine – in which she shares sound advice and what’s on her mind lately. Several of the videos have touched on self-care practices: moisturizing, using music as a mood shifter, taking an emotional inventory when it feels like everything is too much.

In that spirit, I jotted down a list of my small (sometimes tiny) self-care practices in my journal, and I thought I’d share them with you.

  • Making tea several times a day. I need the caffeine, but I also need the ritual: scooping the leaves or finding a teabag, brewing the tea, sipping it from my favorite purple travel mug or a ceramic mug at home.
  • Working in the conference room at my office, even for 20 minutes between meetings. It’s full of sunlight and plants, and I find I think better when I’m in there.
  • Listening to good words (including Jen’s, and all the songs I love) over and over again.
  • Putting a Band-Aid and some ointment on a cut instead of ignoring it.
  • Washing dishes – an act of care for myself and my home.
  • Making my bed (same).
  • Moisturizing and putting on lip balm.
  • Texting my people, especially on the hard days.
  • Keeping enough snacks handy, at home and at the office.
  • Taking a walk – often to run an errand – during the workday. Movement is good medicine.
  • Putting on a fresh pillowcase even when I can’t change the sheets.
  • Going out for chai – also a combination of caffeine + ritual. The baristas at the BPL are getting to know me, and I them. (They also make the best avocado toast. Mmmm.)
  • Snapping photos of flowers (see above), sunsets, or other happy-making things.

What are your small self-care rituals?

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gold-red-lily

It’s August, somehow, and I’m in full summer mode: iced chai, tan lines and freckles (and lots of sunscreen), stovetop cooking (when I cook anything), and all the berries I can eat. Here’s what’s saving my life, in these hot, hazy, still-transition-filled days:

  • Late-summer flowers: black-eyed Susans, deep blue and pink hydrangeas, the first dahlias, day lilies in every shade of yellow and red and orange.
  • Running into Phoenix, my little golden doodle buddy, and his person on my morning walks.
  • My friend Jen Lee’s brand-new, free YouTube video series: Morning, Sunshine. Go check it out if you’d like a dose of connection and compassion.

boston-harbor-view

  • The views out my new apartment windows: Boston Harbor on one side, the local park (usually with a friendly dog or two) on the other side.
  • My Rothys, which I’m wearing all. the. time. 
  • The silver triangle Zil earrings I bought at the SoWa market last month.
  • Texts from friends checking in on my move and transition.

iced-chai-blue-bikes

  • Iced chai – from Darwin’s when I can make it to the Square, and from the BPL or Tatte when I can’t.
  • Ginger peach MEM tea in my favorite purple travel mug, every morning.
  • Susannah Conway’s August Break photo project.
  • My favorite LUSH face mask – it’s Cookie-Monster blue and smells like citrus.

frame-up-book

  • Impulse grabs from the BPL’s new books shelf, and piles of ARCs for Shelf Awareness.
  • Morning Bluebike rides across the river.
  • Rosé and raspberry-lemon sorbet after a long evening of unpacking.
  • Eating my breakfast granola out of a real bowl.
  • Trader Joe’s veggie beet wraps, berries and cherries, yogurt, granola, hint-of-lime tortilla chips and sourdough bread. (Not all at once.)

hot-chocolate-woodcut-journal

  • Bryan Nash Gill’s “Woodcut” journals – I bought a four-pack at Trident a while ago. And good pens.
  • Colleagues who make me laugh.
  • Listening to some of the artists I heard/discovered at the Newport Folk Festival – about which more soon.
  • Having enough brain space (finally!) to make this list.

What’s saving your life these days, my friends?

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