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Archive for the ‘friendship’ Category

chalk heart flats

I’ve been back from Oxford for a week, and have been fighting serious jet lag, a wicked head/chest cold and an overflowing email inbox (more than 200 messages while I was away!).

Despite the coughing and the catch-up, though, the weather is pure October glory, and I thought it was about time for another list of what’s saving my life now:

leaves yellow green blue sky

  • Bold blue skies, crisp autumn breezes and that golden autumn light.
  • Related: the trees, which seem to be turning in slow motion but are starting to show red and gold.
  • Lemon-ginger tea (from Pukka or Stash), with honey when I can get it.

sunflowers orange rose

  • Sunflowers for my desk (and a bonus rose!), from my beloved florist.
  • The sunrises through my kitchen window: orange and gold, pink and blue.
  • My favorite red pants – always a shot of happy.
  • Walks on the river trail, alone or with my husband.

river trail asters

  • Catching up with loved ones: giving a girlfriend my unofficial Harvard tour, inviting friends over for dinner, meeting up for coffee or a long walk.
  • Salads from home and soup from Darwin’s.
  • The late roses around town, which are truly stunning this year.

late yellow rose

  • Dipping back into Anne of Windy Poplars, because October.
  • Simple kitchen routines: brewing tea in my red kettle every morning, toasting bread for breakfast, whipping up huevos after yoga, standing at the sink washing dishes.
  • Yoga classes: sun salutations, pigeon and warrior poses, deep breaths.
  • Looking forward to a long weekend in NYC.

What’s saving your life this fall? Please share, if you want.

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leguin book ballet flats

September, like all the months lately, was full: of apples, long walks, yoga, endless emails and work chaos, and a lot of things I can’t quite explain or articulate. But it also contained (thank heaven) a few good books. Here’s the latest roundup:

Dreamland Burning, Jennifer Latham
When Rowan Chase stumbles on a skeleton on her family’s Tulsa property, she uncovers a mystery that leads to some searing truths about the city’s history. A heart-wrenching, well-crafted YA novel that shifts between Rowan’s present-day narrative and the Tulsa race riot of 1921. Powerful. Recommended by Anne and others.

The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom, Helen Thorpe
In Room 142 at South High School in Denver, Eddie Williams teaches an unusual group of students: newcomers to the U.S. from many different countries and conflict zones. Thorpe spent a year in Mr. Williams’ class, learning the students’ stories, and she tells them with skill and grace in this thoughtful, fascinating, meticulously researched book. I fell in love, as Thorpe did, with the newcomers and was captivated by the narrative of their adjustment to life in the U.S. So very timely. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 14).

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
I read this luminous novel years ago and loved it. (I’ve since read its companions, Home and Lila.) Some friends of mine hosted a dinner and book discussion on Gilead recently, so I picked it up again. Took me weeks, but I savored the quiet, melancholy joy of Robinson’s prose, and her characters – narrator John Ames and his loved ones – who felt so real.

A World Without “Whom,” Emmy J. Favilla
Favilla is the copy chief for BuzzFeed, and her book – subtitled The Essential Guide to Language in the BuzzFeed Age – is as snappy and irreverent as you’d expect. But it’s also thoughtful, well-informed and relentlessly commonsense. As an old-school, old-soul English nerd, I admit to cringing a few times, but I also (literally) LOL’d and took down a few cheeky quotes. For grammar nerds both traditional and modern. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 14).

Wonder Woman: Warbringer, Leigh Bardugo
I’ve been a little obsessed with Wonder Woman since the new movie, and I’m wearing her symbol on my wrist these days. I loved this fast-paced YA novel about Diana, Princess of Themyscira, and her quest to help Alia Keralis, a girl from New York who doesn’t know she’s a Warbringer: a powerful descendant of Helen of Troy. Heart-pounding and so much fun, with bravery on every page.

No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, Ursula K. Le Guin
“Words are my magic, antiproverbial cake. I eat it, and I still have it.” Le Guin is best known for her speculative fiction, but this sharp-eyed, big-hearted collection of essays, adapted from her blog, is excellent too. I loved reading her thoughts on aging, cats, writing, egg cups, belief and science, and other miscellany. So much fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 5).

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

What are you reading?

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disappearance damascus book plum

How is it mid-September already? I love this golden month, but my brain is all over the place lately. I have finished a few books, though, and here they are:

The Unlikelies, Carrie Firestone
Sadie Sullivan is bummed: the summer before her senior year looks like a dud. But when she saves a baby from her drunk father (and gets badly beaten up), Sadie becomes a “homegrown hero.” She and four other local teens (the Unlikelies) band together to fight hate and do some good in their town. I read this sweet, sharp, funny YA novel in one night. Recommended by my colleagues at Shelf Awareness.

Blackbird House, Alice Hoffman
I picked up this linked story collection after loving Hoffman’s The Rules of Magic: I just wanted to stay in her world a while longer. The stories wind around the titular house, on Cape Cod, and its occupants over generations. Deeply bittersweet, with a fairy-tale quality and beautiful, melancholy descriptions.

The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, Esther Perel
Infidelity is as common as it is heartbreaking, and Perel, a renowned couples therapist, argues that we need a new conversation around it. She delves into many facets of affairs: secrecy, lies, jealousy, the effects of modern technology, the politics of open marriages and the ways marriage and infidelity shape our sense of identity. Fascinating and thoughtful; a sensitive take on a really sensitive topic. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 10).

A Disappearance in Damascus, Deborah Campbell
Soon after Campbell landed in Damascus on assignment for Harper’s in 2007, she met Ahlam, an Iraqi refugee and “fixer” who worked with journalists and humanitarian groups to help tell the story of Iraqis who had fled to Syria after Saddam Hussein was overthrown. When Ahlam was arrested and imprisoned, Campbell became determined to find her, however long it took. Vivid and compelling. To review for Shelf Awareness (published Sept. 5).

On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service, Rhys Bowen
Lady Georgiana, a minor British royal, ends up in Italy trying to help out a friend and doing a(nother) small errand for the queen. Of course, the house party she’s attending doesn’t go as planned: there’s a murder, and Georgie tries to solve it before the killer strikes again. A really fun entry in this highly entertaining series.

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

What are you reading?

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autumn sign leaves chalkboard

“Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first of September was crisp and golden as an apple.”

—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

September is here and so is fall, suddenly: classes have started, events are ramping up, and the mornings feel crisp and cool. The light in Cambridge has shifted to its autumn self: clear, lucid, heartbreakingly golden. I learned a new word this summer: komorebi, which is Japanese for “light filtered through leaves.”

komorebi harvard yard tree sky

As is often the case in the autumn, everything feels big and immediate and full.

In the midst of heartrending headlines (hurricanes, DACA, nuclear threats) and so many responsibilities (my to-do list is as long as my arm), I figured it was time for another list: what’s saving my life now.

I need the reminder to name the good things, and maybe you do too. So here they are:

  • Ginger peach tea in a purple travel mug, Earl Grey from my barista friends at Darwin’s, and lots of water all day long.
  • Seeing my red geraniums on the back porch every morning, and watching the sunrise through the kitchen windows.
  • Moving around in the new apartment and feeling like it belongs to us.
  • A few truly wonderful books: Salt Houses, The Captain’s Daughter, The Rules of Magic.

book geraniums captains daughter sandals porch flowers

  • Making new connections with folks at Harvard and around the Square, and running into people I know and love: this is my neighborhood.
  • Community in all its forms: our first dinner guests; a new-to-me book club; long walks with a dear friend; rich conversations over text and Twitter and email with loved ones who are far away.
  • End-of-summer flowers: Queen Anne’s lace, black-eyed Susans, multicolored hydrangeas, the first few asters.

black eyed susans

  • Harmonizing with the Wailin’ Jennys, whose music is in my earbuds and my heart every day.
  • Looking forward to some travel later in the season.
  • Burt’s Bees lemon butter cuticle salve, which I am using for everything these days.
  • My favorite clothes: happy red pants, go-with-everything flats, a scarf my sister gave me long ago, the malachite ring I bought in NYC last summer, and that brave necklace I never take off.
  • Yoga: once or twice a week at Healing Tree, and occasionally on my mat at home.
  • The Thursday morning writers’ meetings I love: sarcasm + sanity.
  • Morning Prayers at Memorial Church, as often as I can make it there.
  • The walking trail near our new house, and the first red leaves, spotted there on a solo walk this weekend.

red leaves neponset trail

As we plunge into fall, what is saving your life now? Please share, if you want.

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rainbow spines bookshelf books color

The students are trickling back into Boston and Cambridge. The light is shifting – gently but inexorably – toward fall. And (sniff) I’ve hugged two of my favorite baristas good-bye in the last two weeks.

Change is in the air, as it always is at this time of year. I’m writing this post, belatedly, to tell you about another change: we’ve decided to let the sun set on Great New Books.

My friend Jennifer, the site’s founder and our fearless leader, invited me to be part of the GNB team three summers ago, and I said yes right away. I knew several of the women who wrote reviews for GNB, and I loved its mission: sharing the best new books we could find with the world.

I enjoyed writing my quarterly-ish reviews and reading my colleagues’ writing. I quickly fell in love with the smart, honest, well-read, funny group emails we’d all exchange every week, trading book recommendations and keeping each other updated on our lives. And I eventually took over the site’s Instagram account, which was a fun outlet for the #bookstagram photos I love to snap.

This spring and summer, several of my fellow reviewers decided to step down: new jobs, urgent writing projects and shifting family priorities meant they needed to rearrange, reevaluate. I was thinking of stepping down, myself: I’m also spinning a lot of plates these days. We were approaching the five-year anniversary of GNB, and it felt like the right time to decide: revamp and rev up for the next five years, or let it go?

We decided, as you know by now, to let it go. It was a bittersweet decision: I love books and I love community, and GNB has provided a lot of both for me. Those friendships won’t disappear because the site is going quiet, but this is still the end of something that’s meant a lot to me. I’m writing this post to name that: to mark an ending, and to give thanks for what has been.

Check out the final GNB post for the links to our various homes on the Internet, and you can still browse the site for our past book recs of all kinds. And as always, if you have great books to recommend, I’d love to hear.

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candles ashmont vigil

Metal and glass, granite and flame: I snapped this photo at a small vigil in Dorchester last Sunday night, in the wake of the awful events in Charlottesville.

I’d seen a list online of vigils in the Boston area, so the hubs and I hopped on the trolley to the Ashmont T station (about a mile from our new house) to join about 50 people in a quiet show of solidarity and peace.

I wasn’t sure whether to go: I am wary, in these uncertain days, of doing anything just to make myself feel better, when none of this is about me at all. I didn’t go so I could tell people I’d gone; I was shy even about introducing myself to others who were there. But it still felt important to show up, to stand with other people in our new neighborhood who care about justice and peace, and who understand that we are all culpable in this long story of hurt and hatred and injustice in the country we love.

We chanted Heather Heyer’s name; we sang a verse of a song about peace and carrying burdens together; and afterward, a few of us stood around chatting, learning each other’s names: Patricia, Johanna, Orin, Rachel, James, Lizzie, Kathleen. I left feeling still heartbroken, but quietly buoyed up.

It felt so small, hardly worth mentioning – but worth doing.  I share my experience here, in case you are wondering if the small things you’re doing are worth it, or in case you need an idea of how that might look. Because showing up – however that looks – always matters. I have to believe that.

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flats red pants front steps

We moved two weeks ago, and while the new apartment is looking good (hooray!) and (most of) the books are shelved, I keep thinking: there are moments from the transition itself I don’t want to lose.

We had a stalwart crew of friends, plus perfect weather (cool and breezy). I wanted to write some of these snippets down: the beginning of a good change, one we chose and one we are already loving.

I want to remember our landlady, Maria, surprising us with a bottle of wine and two glasses as we hauled boxes up the stairs earlier that week. I want to remember her saying what our first Boston landlady, Gina, said to us when we met her seven years ago: “I hope you’ll be happy here.” (We already are.)

I want to remember the friends who showed up: Jason bounding up the front stairs at 9 a.m. on a Saturday, Kirsten moving heaven and earth to get to us after a late night, Matt and Janille walking from their house down the street, Ryan puzzling out how to fit all our stuff into a moving truck.

I want to remember how my husband and friends schlepped 24 boxes of books down one long staircase and up another, without a single word of complaint.

friends couch balcony

I want to remember how Ryan lashed a climbing rope (which he just happened to have in his car) around our two loveseats and the box spring for our mattress, and how the guys hauled all of the above up three stories, over the back-porch balcony, and didn’t even destroy my geraniums. (I want to remember dashing outside with Kirsten and Janille, to witness this miracle and snap the above photo.)

I want to remember Janille, nearly seven months pregnant, making endless trips up and down stairs at the old place and the new, filling both her car and mine with seventeen thousand odds and ends.

I want to remember standing in our old empty kitchen, amid countertops scattered with cleaning supplies and tool boxes, eating honey-glazed donuts and feeling tired but so grateful.

I want to remember knocking the bed frame together not once but twice, laughing with Kirsten and Janille, who had never met before that day but were soon chatting like old friends.

I want to remember eating pizza in the crowded new kitchen, sitting on benches and boxes, telling stories and guzzling water and saying thank you, over and over.

I want to remember Betsy and Charles turning up on our new doorstep with their month-old baby, Colette, whom they promptly handed off to me (to my delight). I want to remember how she slept, snuggled on my chest in a yellow onesie, for two hours while Betsy and Charles moved furniture and put sheets on beds and assembled bookcases. By the time they left (and J came back from dropping off the moving truck), the place was starting to look like a real home.

I want to remember my last solo walk-through of the old place: empty rooms and sunlight slanting across wood floors, and pausing in the kitchen to acknowledge: I’ve loved this.

I want to remember our first dinner on the new back porch: soup and salad from the Panera in our old neighborhood, which we ate under a gorgeous sunset sky.

jer back porch dinner

I want to remember our new neighbor, Denise, inviting us over for a drink that night, though she’d never laid eyes on us before. I want to remember the welcome we received there: Carlene plying us with food and wine, Kasia chatting to us about the neighborhood, Jude talking to us about work and life and photography.

I want to remember Emily and Adam, spending their Sunday afternoon helping us unpack dishes and glasses, pots and pans, so that we had a fully functional kitchen come Monday morning.

Most of all, I want to remember our community: helping, sympathizing, schlepping, unpacking, encouraging us every step of the way. “We have the best friends,” J said more than once. I agree: we do.

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