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Archive for the ‘friendship’ Category

pink gold texas sunset sky

I’ve been carrying Frank’s funeral program in my purse for days.

I slipped it in there at the end of his memorial service, a couple of weekends ago, in the high-ceilinged sanctuary of the church where I spent nearly every Sunday growing up. I nearly forgot about it, until I reached in a few days later to retrieve something else and my fingers brushed the paper. I saw his law firm portrait again and thought: That can’t be right.

Frank was an attorney, a father and husband, a percussionist, a dog lover, a man of faith. He and his wife, Kim, have been friends with my parents since the mid-eighties, since my sister and I were tiny. We grew up seeing them at church every week, where they worked tirelessly alongside my mom and dad, teaching Sunday school and directing events, serving in countless quiet ways. I used to baby-sit their sons and daughter, going over to their big, friendly house with its assorted dogs and cats (and, for a memorable time, a corn snake named Queenie). They have loved me, and I have loved them, nearly all my life.

When Frank went into the hospital in mid-April, none of us thought for a second that we’d be sitting at his funeral service in early May.

This is how it happens sometimes: without warning, in the middle of a full and busy spring, with school programs and work assignments and birthday parties and all the stuff of life. Kim is a preschool teacher (she taught my older nephew last year) and found herself taking days off school, both when Frank became ill and when he died. Their sons and daughter-in-law came in from Houston and North Carolina, and friends local and far-flung have rallied. And I think all of us have been wrestling with the sense of sturdy disbelief that Lindsey described in a recent post.

That day at the funeral, and the next day at church, people spoke about Frank and shared stories, funny and tender. He loved Mexican food, the spicier the better. He was a stickler for doing things well: his secretary learned years ago that there is a right and a wrong way to affix paper clips, and his kids knew he had high standards. He was a disciplined, faithful servant to his church and his community. He helped more people, in more ways, than I think any of us will ever know.

But the whole time, I was thinking about something much simpler: he was my friend.

Frank embodied discipline and duty, as his son Joey said at the funeral. (I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house when Joey started crying in the middle of his tribute to his dad.) He served, as so many people said, without fanfare and without ceasing. He showed up, quietly and consistently, over and over again. These things are important.

But what I will remember – what I suspect all of us will remember, too – is his warmth, his compassion, his smile.

I don’t get back to my hometown too often these days: a few times a year, for a long weekend or a few days at Christmas. I don’t have the kind of daily or weekly interaction with the folks there that I once did. But there are still places where I am sure of a welcome, and one of them is the big Sunday school room at the north end of the church. And Frank was one of the people who always welcomed me home. He always wanted to hear about Boston; he and Kim had enjoyed several trips to Nantucket. It made him happy that we shared a connection to this part of the world.

Those chats on Sunday morning, that rock-solid welcome, is what I will remember, and what I will miss the most.

We are all grieving: Frank’s family, his coworkers, his many friends, the church family he was a part of for so long. My parents are deeply sad and shaken by the loss of their friend. There are no easy words for this; I hesitated to even write these. But it feels important to mark his passing, to say: he was here and he lived and loved. And we loved him. We still do.

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ryder poppy cards

A couple of weeks ago, I hopped a plane to west Texas, leaving behind emails and work to-do lists for a different kind of busy. My older nephew, Ryder, was turning six, and I’d planned to head home for his birthday party and a t-ball game, plus some Mexican food and time with my sister and parents.

The family texts flew back and forth in the days before my trip: party plans, flight schedules, what to buy Ryder for his birthday (answer: Nerf guns and Uno).

But on the day before I left, my sister and dad both sent a different kind of text: bring a dress in case the funeral happens while you’re here.

Frank, a longtime family friend of ours, had gone into the hospital in mid-April. It caught us all by surprise: he was 56 and healthy, and we were all stunned by the infection that took over his body. We had expected a long recovery, perhaps weeks in the hospital. But I stared in disbelief at the early-morning text my sister sent with news of his death. I still don’t quite believe it’s real.

I slipped a dress and a black cardigan into my suitcase, alongside my red shorts, running gear, flip-flops and a stack of books for the plane. After a long flight to Dallas and an even longer layover, I finally landed amid thunderstorms on a Wednesday night.

The next few days, it seemed to me, contained all of life: board games and Tex-Mex lunches, t-ball and the funeral, church on Sunday morning. There was, of course, lots of playing with my nephews: climbing around on their backyard fort, shooting baskets in the driveway, playing with the new Nerf guns in the living room. Tears and laughter and chaos. Grief and love.

“Life’s full,” my coworker Janet is fond of saying, usually with a wry smile in response to some fresh crisis, or a week like this one: crowded and crossed with the glory and the pain of life, all at once.

This trip was certainly full, and at times I could barely keep up: watching Ryder and his teammates run through the dirt at the t-ball fields, pushing Harrison (my younger nephew) in the swing and filming them both running through the sprinkler with my dad. Hugging Kim and Abbye, Frank’s wife and daughter, on a Friday morning that felt otherwise so ordinary. Eating chips and queso at Rosa’s with my mom and sister, before making a Target run. Holding Harrison on my lap at lunchtime, and admiring his new big-boy bed. Talking work and vacations with my parents and brother-in-law. Sitting outside at my sister’s house after the boys were in bed.

I went for three solo runs through my parents’ neighborhood, admiring the ocotillo and oleander, breathing in the fresh air under the big sky. Afterward, I sipped tea and ate breakfast in my mother’s kitchen, flipping through the local paper, which included, unbelievably, Frank’s obituary. We sat in a side pew at the packed funeral on Saturday morning, surrounded by so many faces I know and love. This church is part of the architecture of my life, and these people – not only Frank and Kim but so many others – are part of my family. We wound up the funeral by singing “It Is Well with My Soul” through our tears, Doris playing the organ as she has for decades. The next morning, we spent most of the Sunday school hour sharing stories about Frank.

There’s no tidy way to wrap up such a post; it feels unfinished, like the weekend itself, like life. Kim and her grown kids are at the beginning of a long road of grief, and Ryder and Harrison are wrapping up the school year. I’m caught, as always, between missing the cozy world of my hometown and being fiercely proud of the life I’ve built in a different city, hundreds of miles away.

I flew back to Boston that Sunday night, grateful to get back to my own house and my husband, who had been at a conference in L.A. while I was in Texas. But I also believe I was exactly where I needed to be that weekend: stepping back into a town that isn’t my current address, but which will always be home. Cheering for Ryder and his buddies as they batted and ran. And standing with my community, in grief and in joy.

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On our previous two trips to San Diego, J and I have mostly spent time on Coronado, the idyllic island across the bay from the city proper. It was home base this time, too, and we took full advantage of its delights: Bay Books, the Hotel del Coronado and its adjacent beach, tacos at Clayton’s and several long runs through its beautiful streets in the sunshine.

This time, Allison and I also spent a good chunk of our Saturday exploring a new-to-me neighborhood: South Park. We began with a yoga class at Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga, up in Normal Heights, then hopped on bikes for the rest of our journey.

First stop: acai bowls at Captain Kirk’s Coffee. I’d never had one, but they’re sort of like a cross between a smoothie and fro-yo, topped (in this case) with granola, fresh fruit and coconut. Yum.

We popped into Target (always worth a visit, right?), wandered the neighborhood, and found – what else? – the bookstore. The Book Catapult, to be exact.

book catapult bookstore exterior san diego ca

It’s no secret that I love an indie bookstore, and this one was just perfect. It’s open and airy but crammed with good books of every kind, from fiction and travel to local interest, nonfiction and a fabulous children’s and young adult section in the back.

book catapult bookstore interior san diego books

Allison and I had a wonderful chat with Vanessa, who was working the register and is a contributing writer for Book Riot. We bonded over YA novels (The Hate U Give, Moxie, When Dimple Met Rishi) and our respective book-nerd haunts online (mine is Shelf Awareness). I came away with a wonderful travel guide to Spain and a fun travel-themed novel.

katie del sur mexican cantina tacos

We were starving by then, so we enjoyed tacos at Del Sur (above) – it was Tacopocalypse, after all. A bit more wandering and then we headed up to North Park to meet the guys. I couldn’t resist a stop at Verbatim Books, a wonderful (mostly) used bookstore.

I could have spent so much money, but restricted myself to a like-new copy of Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year, which I loved but hadn’t quite brought myself to splurge on.

We dipped into Pigment, which is full of whimsical and gorgeous things, before meeting up with our husbands and heading back home.

As I joked to Allison, our Saturday was like a postcard of California: yoga, a bike ride for acai bowls, wandering, tacos, flowers, blue sky. But in case you couldn’t tell, I loved every minute.

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ranunculus flower fields carlsbad ca

When we made plans to fly to San Diego in March, our hostess, Allison, had a few suggestions for our visit.

We are kindred spirits, so she knows what I like: independent bookstores, coffee shops, the beach near the Hotel del Coronado, walkable neighborhoods full of fun places to explore.

But this time, she added a new idea.

“I know how you feel about flowers,” she wrote. (My love for my florist and the #FlowerReport is well documented.)

flower fields view carlsbad ca blue sky

On a sunny Sunday, we drove up the highway to Carlsbad, where the Flower Fields waited for us.

Fifty acres of ranunculus, y’all. I could not stop gazing (and taking pictures).

After a long, grey, lingering winter in Boston, this vivid color was a gift to my eyes and my soul. I could have stayed all afternoon – and we did stay a while.

The fields are planted in bands of color, as you can see. They sell cut flowers and bulbs (I bought a few) and also host events.

We (I) could hardly take it all in – but we did our best.

ranunculus multicolor flower fields

More San Diego photos and stories to come.

k j flower fields carlsbad ca

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buen sign del sur mexican cantina san diego ca

It’s been a month since I left the house on a snowy Thursday morning and hopped a plane to California with the hubs. After three nor’easters in a row, we were bracing ourselves for travel delays in the midst of a fourth one – but it was a false alarm for Boston.

Which was a good thing, because we had plans in San Diego: what we’d dubbed Tacopocalypse 2018.

Our friends Allison and Duncan, whom I met (through this blog!) when they lived in NYC, were our hosts. We had a picture-perfect stay, and there were – need I say it? – so. Many. Tacos.

san diego skyline mural

We ate dinner on our first night at Liberty Public Market in Point Loma. There are lots of food options, but I chose tacos from Cecilia’s, and I was very pleased with my choice. (No photos – we were too busy eating!)

del sur san diego interior restaurant

Saturday found Allison and me wandering solo while the guys went on a hike. We explored South Park (more on that soon), and had a late, delicious lunch at Del Sur Mexican Cantina. I had the carne asada tacos, and as you can see, I was thrilled about them. (Yum!)

katie del sur mexican cantina tacos

On Sunday, after an excursion to the flower fields in Carlsbad (more on that soon too), we stopped by Pancho Villa Market for some freshly made carne asada and tortillas, so we could make tacos at home. Naturally, there was also guacamole.

guacamole rice tacos

For lunch on Monday (our last day there), J and I revisited a local favorite: Clayton’s on Coronado Island.

claytons mexican coronado sd interior

They have a walk-up coffee window and a sit-down diner, but there’s also a takeout Mexican food stand, all owned by the same folks. We’ve been there before, and it did not disappoint this time. (The hot sauce is J’s favorite part.)

katie claytons tacos

We left sated with spicy seasoned meat, homemade tortillas and so much salsa. Perfecto.

More San Diego stories to come.

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idaho view boise mountains treasure valley

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself on a westbound plane, traveling way past my usual west Texas destination. Some beloved friends of mine moved from Boston to Boise last spring, and welcomed their second daughter right after Christmas. So I hopped a plane to the “big sky” country and spent several days soaking up time with my dear ones and exploring a brand-new place.

abi katie boise state house

Abigail and I, and our respective husbands, have been friends since our college years. We all – plus our friend Shanna – moved to Boston together in 2010, and the five of us got one another through that first difficult year (and snow-covered winter). I’ve missed Abi dreadfully since they moved, and we hardly stopped talking the whole time I was there.

We spent an afternoon wandering downtown Boise: visiting the Capitol (above), Goldy’s for a delicious brunch, Rediscovered Books for copies of the new Flavia de Luce mystery, and Snake River Tea for some afternoon caffeine.

rediscovered books boise bookstore interior

Of course, a main object of my visit was meeting this little lady.

genevieve

Miss Genevieve is a sunny little thing – happy to snuggle or just hang out, and fascinated by her big sister, Evie. We had lots of cuddle time while watching the Olympics, and I think we’re going to be friends.

On Saturday, Abi and I drove with the girls up to Table Rock, high above Treasure Valley, where Boise sits. It was cold and windy – more so than we expected – at the top, and Genevieve was not impressed. (Poor baby girl.) But once Miss E adjusted, she was fascinated by the views and the rocks. “I want to go to the edge!”

katie evie table rock wind

We all had a delicious dinner at Fork that night, and we spent most of Sunday out in nearby Caldwell, where a lot of Abi’s extended family lives. I’ve known Abi’s parents for years, and it was so fun to see them and slide right back into the cheery family chaos at their house. I loved seeing Abi’s sister Bailey, who is my friend and a former student, and meeting a few other relatives I’d heard about over the years. Also: white chicken chili + Olympic speed skating + cheesy jokes from Abi’s dad, Allen = feeling right at home.

It wouldn’t be a Katie-and-Abi weekend without lots of tea. This was Sunday afternoon: Earl Grey, of course. We both love it, but Abi is an Earl Grey connoisseur.

afternoon tea teacups tray

There’s a little park around the corner from Abi and Nate’s house, and I went for a couple of runs there. It was my first time running in high altitude (Boise is about 2,700 feet above sea level), which was a challenge. But I loved the mountain views and the pink sky.

boise park pink sky pond

Mostly, it was so good to be together: washing dishes, cooking dinner, watching the Olympics, talking and talking and talking. We folded laundry and made scones, and Evie climbed into my bed to cuddle on a couple of mornings. Nate gave me the tour of his workplace and we traded stories about work and church and classes. And Abi and I talked about nearly everything under the sun.

I’d never imagined myself hopping a plane to Boise. But after this visit, I can say for sure: I’ll be going back.

abi gen smile

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blue sky branches

Ash Wednesday felt incongruous to me this year.

I’m sure it was partly the jet lag: I was only 36 hours out from a late-night arrival at Logan. I wasn’t quite back in step with the daily round, and I was so tired. And, as others have noted, Ash Wednesday fell on Valentine’s Day this year, for the first time in decades. Talk about mixed messages.

I walked across the Yard to Memorial Church for Morning Prayers, where Florence Ladd gave a graceful talk that invoked the film Chocolat (which fit perfectly with the day’s conflicting identities). I came back on my lunch break for the brief Ash Wednesday service: readings from the prophet Joel, a quiet Lenten hymn, Alanna marking my forehead with ash, repeating the traditional words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The sun had come out after a grey morning, and I paused on the steps after service and looked up into the suddenly blue sky. It, too, felt at odds with the day’s somber message, though I welcome the sunshine any day, especially in the winter.

Walking back to work, I wondered how to reconcile the messages of these two coinciding days. Remember that you are dust; that everything is temporary; that grief and sorrow are a fundamental part of this human life. And also: remember, even after the chocolate has melted and the chalky candy hearts have all been eaten, that you are loved.

That afternoon, I walked down to Darwin’s for a cup of tea. “Ash Wednesday?” asked the barista, nodding toward the smeared cross on my forehead. I nodded, and then complimented her red sweater and vintage pink earrings. We talked a bit about the odd confluence of dates, and she said, “It’s all a form of love, isn’t it?”

I thought, then, of a line I’d read several days before, in Julia Spencer-Fleming’s fifth mystery featuring Russ Van Alstyne and the Reverend Clare Fergusson. During a scene set in Clare’s kitchen, where Russ is wrestling with guilt and doubting that he deserves forgiveness, Clare tells him, “We none of us get what we deserve, thank God. We get what we’re given. Love. Compassion. A second chance. And then a third, and a fourth.”

We none of us get what we deserve. We get what we’re given. Those words have stayed in my head for days now, and when Lauren mused that it’s all a form of love, I thought: Yes. This.

The ashes; the sobering reminder of our own mortality; the blue sky arching high above; the love that comes to us unbidden from family members, friends, acquaintances, partners. We don’t earn any of it; we simply receive what we’re given. Call it grace; call it forgiveness; call it blessing. In the end, all I can say is thank you.

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