Archive for the ‘friendship’ Category

One of my best friends was about to become a mother, and I wouldn’t be there. Oh, we still had e-mails, phone calls, visits, but I would miss the small events—like visiting her in the hospital or leaving a tray of lasagna in her fridge—the mundane participation that is the true meaning of friendship. She was over there and I was here, and the circles of our daily lives overlapped less and less, until they barely touched at all.

I knew it wasn’t her fault, or mine, just the natural consequence of distance. And yet recently the distance had started to loom unforgiving and unmanageable, shadowing almost all my relationships. I felt it when I saw photos of friends’ new boyfriends-turned-husbands, with my baby nieces who were suddenly young girls weaving me pot holders, with my parents who grew a little grayer every time I visited. The people I loved most in the world were living the most important moments of their lives without me, and I was living mine without them. It took me a while to recognize the emotion, unfamiliar as it was, but when I did, it scratched at me with thorny immediacy: I was homesick.”

—Ann Mah, Mastering the Art of French Eating

mom betsy kitchen

(My mom and my sister, in my parents’ kitchen at Christmastime)

I devoured Mah’s lovely, warm memoir of the year she spent alone in Paris while her husband was on a diplomatic assignment in Iraq. (He was originally posted to Paris, but when he was called away, she had to stay behind.) I savored Mah’s descriptions of Parisian cafés and her accounts of trips to Lyon, Brittany, Provence and other locales, as she researched the origins of such classic French dishes as crêpes, cassoulet and boeuf bourgignon. But this passage about love and homesickness made my breath catch in my chest.

Because I know. I know what it’s like to stand on a city street corner, the wind whipping my hair around my face as my sister tells me over the phone, from two thousand miles away, that she’s pregnant. I know the mingled ache and joy of receiving texted pictures of a friend’s sparkling new engagement ring, and the unmitigated ache of not being able to travel to a family funeral. I understand the annual balancing act of splitting my vacation time between exciting destinations (like our recent trip to San Diego) and booking plane tickets back home, squeezing out a few extra days here and there to play with my nephew and quote old movies with my dad.

All of us who have moved away from the places we grew up, or the places where we have lived and made friends as adults, know this particular kind of homesickness. We wish we could gather all our loved ones in one place, so we could be there for all the important moments instead of seeing them on Facebook, or drop in for dinner instead of making do with phone calls and emails and tweets. We do our best to put down roots where we are, digging deeply into a few new relationships, but we miss the everyday joy of the “mundane participation” Mah mentions. We know we are lucky to have friends in multiple states, sometimes even on several continents. But our heartstrings get sore from the constant tugging in so many directions, and we wish it were simpler, but we know it never will be.

I don’t have any answers, and Mah admits she doesn’t either, other than the tried-and-true remedies of spending time with loved ones when possible, and aiming to be present in the life she had, rather than wallowing in nostalgia. (Though sometimes the wallowing is unavoidable.) But I wanted to share this passage because this is what I love best about reading: the shock of recognition when someone else’s words express an emotion or a thought so perfectly that all you can say is “Me too.”

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The grandest lives

I lead a small life. Well, valuable, but small. And sometimes I wonder: Do I do it because I like it? Or because I haven’t been brave?

–Meg Ryan (as Kathleen Kelly), You’ve Got Mail

tea journal sunglasses

Even the grandest lives come down to a few people and places. Loved ones, your daily work, your neighborhood. I don’t mean that in a belittling way. I’ve been realizing how complete our lives can be with just the few people and activities you most love.

–Daphne Kalotay, Sight Reading

I spend a lot of time wondering about the shape of my life.

I’ve made two grand, sweeping location changes as an adult: the first, a move to Oxford to spend a year studying for my master’s degree; the second, a cross-country move to Boston from Texas with my husband nearly four years ago. Both of these moves, the kind that would mark a turning point in a novel, required more than the usual round of packing, planning and good-byes. They demanded a leap of faith, a willingness to plunge into an entirely new culture: new weather, new food, new ways of getting from place to place. The shape of my days – my work, my commute, how and where I shop and eat – has shifted each time, forming itself to the contours of my new city.

But I still wonder if my life is big enough.

I’m over at TRIAD today, musing about the quotes above and the size and shape of my life. Click over there to read the rest of my post.

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blue sky appian way

My one little word this year is light. And as we keep shivering our way through the Northeastern winter, it has often been hard to find.

The days, thank goodness, are getting longer, and although many of them are still frigid, their brave blue skies are a gift. The raw cold and keen winds feel even colder after the soft snow disappears, but I welcome the extra light, and the few stars winking down at me amid the city streetlamps.

Soon Daylight Savings Time will tilt the balance of our hours again, abruptly lengthening the evenings while plunging the mornings briefly back into darkness. I love the longer evenings – they make life feel more expansive – but while the bitter cold lingers, the lighter skies can feel like a cruel joke. It’s not warm enough yet to enjoy the light the way I want to.

Much of the light this month has come from inside: from the twinkle lights festooned around our living and dining rooms; from the candles I light on the dining-room table when we eat dinner; from the good stories we’ve been watching, Olympic and otherwise. I have struggled to reach for green and healthy foods during the midwinter slump, but the asparagus is back in my fridge, and the yoga classes are now part of my weekly routine. It is not perfect, but it is good enough.

The light is also coming from time with loved ones: after a couple of quiet weeks, I’ve had a few outings with girlfriends and a long evening around the table at Ryan and Amy’s. Midwinter can feel so isolating, everyone cocooned in their own houses, and it’s good to venture out and spend time catching up over coffee or dinner.

In a couple of weeks, the hubs and I will chase the light all the way to the West Coast, when we go and visit some friends who live in San Diego. And when we get back, spring will be that much closer.

If you’re following one little word this year, how’s it going so far?

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tealuxe interior cambridge ma

I’ve been having one of those email exchanges with a friend, the ridiculously convoluted ones in which we try to find a time to get together. This friend is in my book club, but since we don’t work or go to church together, she’s not in my daily orbit. After several rounds of back-and-forth, I exclaimed, “I swear it’s feast or famine. There are weeks when I don’t see anyone, and then there are weeks I’m trying to juggle various plans.”

It’s a frustrating cycle, this balancing of daily life with friend-dates, this complicated matching up of schedules. Often I spend a couple of weeks reaching out to various friends, trying to set up a lunch here or a dinner there, or invite a group over to our house. Everyone is buried in schoolwork, or traveling, or just too busy, so we have to make plans several weeks in the future.

Eventually, we hit the Week of All The Plans, and suddenly I have something on three or four nights in a row. After the resulting social whirl, I’m exhausted, and I put off making more plans for another week or two. Then I start reaching out to friends again, and the cycle continues.

Why, I wonder, is this the case? And does it have to be this way?

Is it the logistical challenge of living in a city, where each of my friends lives in a different neighborhood or suburb? The energy demanded by jobs, commutes and all the daily tasks of keeping life going? (And I don’t even have children.) Is it simply our overscheduled modern age? Or have we lost some sort of cultural spontaneity, the kind of freedom that can come from building time and space into our routines?

I made the feast-or-famine comment for two reasons. One was pure frustration: how hard can it be to coordinate my schedule with someone else’s? But I also wanted my friend to know that I really want to see her. I wasn’t trying to flake out or avoid her or hide behind a screen of busyness. I want to make space to spend time with her.

Micha is running a blog series on invitation and making space, and it’s causing me to ponder how I can make space for the people in my life – my husband, my family, my friends. I know none of us are likely to be unbusy any time soon, but I wonder if we could all dial back the craziness a bit and hold some space to spend time with the people we love.

Because scheduling a coffee date shouldn’t take three weeks.

Does it take you forever to make plans with friends? How can we make space for those we love? If you’ve got ideas, I’m all ears.

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My name is Katie and I am a stationery addict.

stationery notecards

I have a whole drawer in my desk dedicated to notecards, spare pens, stickers and envelope seals. (There’s a separate drawer for notebooks and notepads.) I have a snail mail pen pal with whom I exchange long, newsy handwritten letters. And despite the fact that I didn’t manage to send out Christmas cards this year, I think handwritten notes are always a good idea.

I’ve been looking for a challenge to pep up February – since the shortest month can feel awfully long when you’re caught in the grip of a New England winter. Since Valentine’s Day falls in February, it seemed like the perfect time to write love notes – not just to my husband (though he’s definitely on my list), but to lots of the people I care about. So, this month, I’m writing one snail mail love note a day.

This project will force me to use my stash of stationery and notecards instead of hoarding them, and I’m hoping my increasingly chicken-scratch handwriting will improve with a bit of practice. And, of course, I hope my loved ones will smile when they open up the mailbox and see a note from me.

The month has already started, and so far I’m right on target. (Here’s hoping I don’t lose steam after Valentine’s Day has come and gone.)

What are you doing to make February a little brighter? Want to join me in writing a few love notes?

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Every December, my husband and I pack our big suitcases with clothes and Christmas presents, trade our down coats for lighter wool ones, and hop a plane to Texas. We live and work two thousand miles away from our families and many of our dearest friends, but once a year, we get to spend about 10 days driving up and down I-20, seeing as many of our loved ones as we can.

stockings christmas texasStockings at my parents’ house

We started in Dallas, opening presents and eating at our favorite restaurants with my husband’s family. We saw a magical (if tearjerking) movie, and we drove out to East Texas to spend the day with J’s aunt and uncle, whom we hadn’t seen in five years. Despite four (yes, four) instances of the fire alarm going off at our hotel, we enjoyed having our own space – especially the free wi-fi and the cozy reading chair.

J’s niece, Annalynn (17 months), entertained us all. She’s a sweetie:


The day before Christmas Eve, we headed west to my hometown, stopping in Abilene for a long lunch with Shanna. My nephew, Ryder, was waiting for us when we arrived:

ryder book papa d

This kid is so much fun. At 19 months, he’s a bundle of energy, and we all spent large portions of the next few days chasing him around. He wasn’t sure about J at first, but bonded with him pretty quickly:

ryder jeremiah

(Throwing golf balls in the backyard is apparently big fun.)

We made, and ate, all our Christmas favorites: sweet potato casserole topped with pecans and brown sugar, fluffy mashed potatoes, hot rolls, whole cranberries in Jell-O, green bean casserole. We grilled ribs one night, steak another night, and toasted each other on Christmas Eve with eggnog. Even the boys (my husband and brother-in-law) got more than enough to eat:

food christmas eve jeremiah stephen

We went to my parents’ church for the Christmas Eve candlelight service, one of my favorite evenings in the whole year. Our beloved music minister, George, is receiving treatment for cancer, but he was onstage leading the carols, his voice as strong as ever. We sang “O Come All Ye Faithful,” Mom’s favorite, and ended with Dad’s favorite, “Silent Night.”

This was the year of the camel, since my dad is obsessed with the Geico hump day commercial. My sister even bought him a T-shirt:

camel t-shirt dad christmas

And we must have watched the commercial 15 times. The best part was watching him laugh:

dad betsy laughter

Ryder’s favorite gift was a tractor he can ride (closely followed by a pair of socks with tractors on them):

ryder opening tractor

His legs don’t quite reach the pedals yet, so we all took turns pushing him around.

ryder tractor fun

Mostly, we just had so much fun hanging out with my family.

mom betsy kitchen

(That’s my mom and my sister, in my parents’ kitchen – where we spent a lot of time.)

Christmas 2013 106

We ended our trip with three days in Abilene, where we lived for eight years (including our undergraduate years, J’s time in graduate school and our first two years of marriage). I never take many photos there because we’re too busy hugging everyone we know and talking as hard as we can, trying to catch up on all the news. But I did snap this photo of J playing dominoes with our hosts:

donagheys 42

So that was our Christmas. Merry, bright, magical, and full of hugs and Tex-Mex food. Pretty wonderful.

How were your holidays? (And happy belated New Year!)

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We put up our big, beautiful Christmas tree this past weekend, listening to Elvis, George Strait and Charlie Brown while we did so (it’s tradition).

christmas tree

My husband picked up takeout from our favorite Indian restaurant, while I unraveled and strung the lights.

lights christmas tree decorating

I am my mother’s daughter – I love small white lights, lots of them – and also my father’s daughter, because I love the mismatched, heirloom, handmade, funky ornaments on my tree.

Most of our ornaments have stories, and every year, I snap a few photos to share with you. Here are this year’s gems:

fenway ornament apple

I bought this ornament for J the first year we lived in Boston, from a handmade craft market downtown. It makes me smile, especially in light of this year’s World Series win. (Hanging above it is an apple that I think came from my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Drake.)

angel christmas tree ornament

This angel also came from a teacher – Mrs. Hicks, who directed a pull-out program called Project Challenge at the school I went to in first grade. My name and the year are on the back.

suitcase travel christmas ornament

My mom gave me this suitcase last year. Three of the four cities (Rome, Paris and New York) are places I’ve visited and love.

moose christmas ornament

During my year in Oxford as a graduate student, I had an American friend whose nickname was Moose. I found these silver moose ornaments at Northlight, a Scandinavian housewares shop on the High Street, and bought one for him and one for myself. (They’re difficult to photograph, because they reflect everything.)

telephone booth christmas ornament

This ornament came from a Christmas shop in my West Texas hometown, but it represents my love for the UK (and its red phone boxes).

Do your ornaments have stories? I’d love to hear them.

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sunset cape cod

You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.

—G.K. Chesterton

We often say grace before meals at our house – sometimes a spontaneous prayer, sometimes the old Lutheran blessing I learned at my grandparents’ kitchen table when I was a child. We fell out of the habit for a couple of years, but have come back to it. I like the ritual, the brief pause to give thanks before plunging into a meal and an account of our days.

We say grace, too, before Sunday night dinners with friends, joining hands in a wonky circle around a long wooden table. When it is Amy’s turn, she always says, “We are so thankful for all that we have been given.” When she says, “Thank you for our family,” I know she means both her blood family and us, the family we have chosen, the family we have become. Tomorrow, when we gather in our church basement with Amy and her kids and some other friends, to eat and celebrate and be together, we will say grace, and perhaps we will sing about thankfulness.

I don’t always say grace verbally at other times of the day. But in one way or another, I am saying grace all day long.

I say grace at the sunset and the sunrise, at the streaks of gold on the horizon and the deep cobalt twilight of the Cambridge sky. I say grace before snatching half an hour with a cup of tea and a good book. I say grace before traveling to places known or unknown, before spending time with family or friends.

I say grace when I receive a text or an email from someone I love, and when I walk across Harvard Yard to Morning Prayers, the bells of Memorial Church ringing through the crisp, cold air. I say grace when my colleagues make me laugh, and when I pull off a complicated piece of writing, and when a package of shiny new books comes in the mail. I say grace when I cook a delicious meal or wrap up in a warm sweater or watch a good movie.

Every year around this time, I reread W.S. Merwin’s poem “Thanks,” which admits a prickly truth: saying thank you can be difficult in a world that is often dark and dangerous. But I believe the very act of saying it, and Chesterton’s parallel act of saying grace, both create pinpricks of light in the darkness. No matter how dark it gets, or how mundane the days can seem, we have much to be grateful for.

This week, as I bake treats and wash dishes and laugh with my husband and call my mother, I will be saying grace, and saying thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. See you next week.

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Oct 2013 001

I posted my fall manifesto in early September, and thought I’d pop in to give an update. It is a beautiful, if slightly hectic and suddenly chilly, autumn around here.

Here’s my list and the updates to it:

  • Go apple picking (by now a beloved tradition). We went back to Honey Pot Hill for the fourth year. Sunshine, bags of apples, and delicious cider donuts.
  • Reread Gaudy Night for my book club. We had a brilliant discussion, fueled by wine and yummy snacks.
  • Voyager a Montreal to celebrate my 30th birthday. Such a fun trip with my love.
  • Listen to this song from The Fantasticks. (Yes.)
  • Visit Nantucket. (Don’t know if we’ll make it before winter sets in.)
  • Spend a weekend in New York. We had to cancel. Sad day.
  • Reread the Harry Potter series again. Soon! November’s blustery winds are the perfect Hogwarts weather.
  • Go to a Harvard football game. We saw them beat Brown – so much fun.
  • Head down to Texas to see my family and cuddle my nephew. (Spent three days last week doing just that.)
  • Attend author events at the Booksmith and/or the Harvard Book Store. (I went to Dani Shapiro’s lovely reading.)
  • Reread Anne of the Island and/or Anne of Windy Poplars. I loved revisiting Redmond with Anne, and plan to visit Summerside soon.
  • Start rehearsals with the choir I just joined. In full swing (or song).
  • Celebrate my fourth (!) Turkeypalooza with friends. (We are making plans.)
  • Drink chai, make pumpkin bread, simmer soup on the stove, and revel in all the fall flavors. (Absolutely. But I need to make some pumpkin bread, stat.)

tealuxe teapots tea

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I turned 30 last month, which felt rather momentous and completely ordinary at the same time. I’ve never been one to worry over milestone birthdays, but I did enjoy marking this one with our trip to Montreal, and of course, I loved the cards and gifts from family and friends.

Katie Gibson-4

For the past few years, I’ve made a list of things I want to do, try, accomplish and/or enjoy before my next birthday. I crossed off many of the items on last year’s list, but I am feeling less ambitious this year. (Besides, I’m already working on my fall manifesto.)

But I do love a good list, so here’s my fresh, new, slightly shorter one:

1. Try a new-to-me author every month, including the list of Canadian authors sent to me by a Canadian friend.
2. Knit myself a pair of cozy slippers (probably from this book).
3. Visit Nantucket.
4. Buy a go-to neutral handbag (black or brown).
5. Fly to San Diego to visit our friends who live there.
6. Go to the dentist (carried over from last year).
7. Visit Prince Edward Island.
8. Attend a carol service at Harvard.
9. Spend at least one lovely long weekend in NYC.
10. Visit a place I’ve never been. (Three of the above items qualify for this one.)
11. Get a massage (my husband bought me a gift certificate for my birthday).
12. Develop a regular exercise routine.
13. Write something I can be proud of.

(Photo by the talented Kristin.)

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