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Archive for the ‘friendship’ Category

It’s been such a strange year that I almost decided to skip this annual blogging tradition. But – why not? – we can still take stock, even at the end of all these months of isolation. So here we go. In 2020 I have:

  • run probably hundreds of miles through my neighborhood of East Boston
  • gone through three pairs of On Running shoes
  • taken dozens of yoga classes, in the park and via Zoom (and, briefly, in the lovely studio at The Point)
  • gone on so many bike rides with my guy
  • participated in my first protest rides
  • walked with my friend Marisa a few times a month, keeping each other sane while trading news of work and books and life
  • survived divorce court (back in January)
  • worked on campus for two and a half months, worked from home for two months, then been furloughed and eventually laid off
  • covered Berklee’s Dancing with the Stars event, pre-quarantine (so much fun)
  • driven up to Gloucester for a sweet birthday weekend with my guy
  • celebrated a cozy, quiet Thanksgiving, just the two of us
  • spent some time hanging with Chloe, my friends’ kitty
  • read about 220 books
  • adjusted to reading and reviewing ebooks for Shelf Awareness
  • taken Nina Badzin’s wonderful ModernWell writing class
  • drafted a novel during NaNoWriMo
  • tended herbs, geraniums, paperwhites, a fern and an amaryllis
  • sung in a virtual Christmas choir
  • made and delivered numerous lasagnas for my neighbors
  • filled up several journals
  • enjoyed a cozy, sweet Christmas
  • looked ahead to 2021 with tentative hope

Happy New Year, friends. Here’s hoping it brings more light.

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‘Tis the season for treats – because it’s cold outside (good baking weather), because the holidays are coming, and because we are in month fourteen thousand of this pandemic year. (And because we got over a foot of snow here in Boston last night/today.)

I’ve been doing a bit of baking myself – mostly scones and superhero muffins – but have recently found myself the glad recipient of cookies made by friends. A girlfriend handed me a container of margarita shortbread cookies (with plenty of citrus and salt) on a recent walk in Cambridge. The following week, another friend texted to say she’d dropped off a tin of cookies (above) on my front porch. It contained crinkly chocolate cookies dusted with powdered sugar and, underneath, some classic sugar cookies. I stretched them out over nearly a week, to make them last.

The loneliness is hitting hard this week, but I am – as always – grateful for kind gestures from friends, which add sweetness to my life in more ways than one.

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Last week, I made the drive across Boston to Quincy, the just-south suburb where I lived for seven years, to visit my hairstylist, Jess. Every time I go, I grumble to myself about it being kind of a pain; it’s the other end of town from where I live now. And every time, I remember: it’s totally worth it.

I found my salon through an acquaintance I met soon after moving to Boston; Annmarie used to live in Quincy, and had high praise for the salon and its owner, Micki. Walking into a new salon is terrifying (anyone hear me?), and I was further intimidated when my stylist, Jess, turned out to have Technicolor hair (it was a different bright shade every time) and so many tattoos I didn’t know where to look.

Despite my initial worries, it turns out Jess is a wizard with scissors, and she’s also a sweetheart. I’ve been going to her for almost ten years now, which definitely qualifies as a long-term relationship.

In the time I’ve known Jess, we’ve each moved several times; her salon has changed locations; we’ve both gotten divorced and found new love. She’s gained a dog and two stepsons; I’ve gained two nephews; and her daughter has gone from a preschooler to a full-blown teenager. Not to mention we’re both currently surviving a pandemic and the weirdest year ever. But she is dependably skilled at trimming my hair back to a sleek, elegant shape, and we catch up on our lives while I’m sitting in the chair. These days, we’re both wearing masks (and her hair is ice-blue after a long stretch of her natural blonde), but her warmth and styling mojo are as present as ever.

I had to talk myself into going, as usual, and I won’t lie: revisiting my old neighborhood feels a bit strange these days, post-divorce. But I’m always glad to see Jess, and I think the feeling is mutual. And I always come out of the salon feeling like a million bucks.

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Is it an odd thing to say I love my grocery store? In the middle of a pandemic, perhaps it’s fitting: these folks are among the essential workers who are keeping the rest of us fed and safe. As I’ve mentioned before, my partner works at the nearest Trader Joe’s, and I’m feeling extra grateful for him and his colleagues this week.

Since I moved to Eastie, I’ve been cobbling together grocery-store runs: picking up a few things on my way home from work, borrowing a friend’s car or using grocery delivery for bigger trips. But when my guy got a job at TJs back in the winter, I bought a rolling cart and started doing my weekly shops over there. These days, it’s an integral part of my week.

I make my list, go and wait in line (a short one, if I’m lucky), greet his coworkers as I walk through the produce section. I usually pick up some flowers to supplement my weekly bouquets from Brattle Square. There are always new treats to try (see above), plus reliable staples, and I sneak in a hug from my guy if he’s stocking the shelves or working the cash register. The store atmosphere is cheery and bright, and many of his coworkers recognize me now, even with a mask. I wave hello or chat with whoever’s ringing me up, then haul my groceries on the train back home.

Real talk: it’s sometimes a pain, and grocery shopping for one can feel a bit depressing. But we all need to eat, and I’m thankful to have a store I like nearby. I’m even more grateful for the community there: it’s good to walk in and be welcomed.

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One of the toughest parts of the pandemic, for me, has been the isolation. I live alone, was working full-time from home until I was furloughed in May, and have not seen my family (all of whom live in Texas or other far-flung states) at all this year. I’ve still been seeing my guy (thank goodness) and a few local friends, but there are a lot of empty hours to fill, and even when I have work to do, I’ve been missing community.

Back in September, my friend Nina Badzin posted about an online writing class she was teaching through ModernWell, which usually happens in person but had moved to Zoom for the fall. I’ve known Nina online for years (we both used to write for the now-defunct Great New Books), but we’ve never (yet) met in person. But I loved the idea of a safe, fun, creative space on Tuesday mornings, a chance to write in community. I signed up, and y’all, it has been life-giving.

There are around a dozen women, mostly Midwesterners (a few of us live elsewhere) of varying ages, careers/life situations and writing experience. Many of us love to cook, and we’ve had a few cookbook discussions alongside the writing chat. All of us love books and enjoy a well-written TV show (I think I’m the last one who hasn’t yet watched The Queen’s Gambit). Everyone has been warm and welcoming, and I’ve so loved seeing their faces on Zoom every week. Our focus is writing, but bits of our lives creep in around the edges – one woman’s newborn granddaughter, another’s house renovation, another’s passion for beautifully wrapped gifts.

We go around and share what we’ve been up to creatively – both what we’ve been writing/creating and how we’ve been filling the well. Nina gives us a prompt or exercise, usually with a sample essay by a pro, and we turn off our cameras and write for a while. Then we take turns sharing our work. The results are rough, of course, but they are full of gems – astonishing warmth and humor and vivid details, whether we’re writing about our current lives or memories from way back.

In a time when I’ve struggled to find both community and silver linings, this group has been a major source of both. We’re taking a few weeks off for the holidays, but we’ll be back in the New Year, and I’m so glad.

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Last year, one of the joys of December in Eastie was participating in a local Christmas carol choir, spearheaded by my friend Peter and often hosted by him and his wife, Giordana. (That’s their dining room table, above, complete with pencils for marking and herbal tea for scratchy throats.)

We are all keeping our distance this year, of course, but I think Peter (and some of us) could not bear to do nothing, so we’re cobbling together a pandemic-safe carol service. We’re holding rehearsals on Zoom and planning to record ourselves singing the individual parts, to be mixed together and then released as a full (amateur) recording.

I thought it might feel sad, or inadequate: like so many things, this practice is a shadow of what it was pre-pandemic. We can’t gather in anyone’s living room, or sing together in real time; instead, we all mute ourselves and sing along with recordings on YouTube, sharing the sheet music on our computer screens (with lots of attendant technical glitches).

It is messy and imperfect and sometimes hilarious, and the recordings are hit or miss, frankly. But it’s still nourishing to see everyone’s faces, and wave hello and sing together, even if it doesn’t look at all “normal.” I am learning a few songs I didn’t know, and revisiting cherished favorites, like “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “O Holy Night.”

These songs have layers of associations for me, long years of singing them with family or friends or church communities, all the way up to Christmas Eve. For me, the music and the community are both vital to marking the season. So despite the tech issues and the funky recordings and the wish that we could all be together, these rehearsals – virtual though they may be – are a real source of light and warmth and laughter.

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Here we are in mid- to late November: Thanksgiving literally around the corner, Christmas peeking over the horizon. The days have grown short here in Boston, and my morning runs are taking me under increasingly leafless trees.

The holiday season holds so much love and magic for me, but there are some painful memories, too, and this year – whatever else it turns out to be – promises to be a departure from the norm.

I don’t usually travel for Thanksgiving, so was not worried about skipping a plane trip or explaining to family why this isn’t the year to be together. (I am dealing with those things around Christmas, and I’m sad about not spending my annual week in Texas, eating my mom’s cooking and playing with my nephews and catching up with so many people I love.)

My guy and I are going to hang out and cook this week, and while I’m looking forward to that, I’ve still been sad about our teeny Thanksgiving. This is only our second year together, so we don’t have long-established traditions, though we would probably be eating with friends if not for the pandemic. But I finally figured out the other day what was making me so sad: for me, Thanksgiving is about welcome. Creating it, finding it, receiving it. And this year, that concept has felt thin on the ground – or, at least, profoundly different than usual.

This year has held so much isolation for me: so many hours alone in my apartment, trying to plan pandemic-safe interactions with local friends. I miss having girlfriends over for tea, or meeting up at a cafe for an after-work cuppa. My arms ache to hug the friends I still see and the family members I won’t see this year. I miss walking into Chrissy’s house like it’s my own, chatting about music with my coworkers, making plans to visit faraway loved ones. I have struggled to find welcome, and create it, this year when we all know that we can best love each other by keeping our distance.

I am trying, this week, to create welcome where I can: texting friends near and far to check in, attending last night’s Christmas choir rehearsal on Zoom, going to a couple of small in-studio yoga classes. On Thursday, my guy and I will cook our favorite side dishes, and I’ll drop off some sweet potatoes on a friend’s porch (her kids don’t like them). I will remember past Thanksgivings, in church basements and friends’ houses and my mother’s kitchen. I’ll listen to my favorite Nichole Nordeman song, and soak in the company of the man I love. We will welcome each other into this holiday with its joy and complications, and somehow, I hope, that will be enough.

If you’re celebrating, I wish you a lovely Thanksgiving.

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Over the weekend, we hit eight months of pandemic life here in Boston. It worries me, honestly, that not much seems to have changed over the last eight months. People are still getting sick and dying; hospitals and essential workers are still stretched thin; we are still in a strange not-quite-normal limbo. Closer to home, I am still furloughed, and still spending a lot (a lot) of time alone in my apartment.

These autumn days can feel like feast or famine: one day might hold a long bike ride with my guy through falling golden leaves, a nourishing walk with a girlfriend, a yoga class in the park (we squeezed in a few more outdoor classes when the mercury hit the 70s last week). Other days, I might not say a word aloud to a human being until the afternoon, though I check in daily via text with a few loved ones. My in-person circles, always smallish, have shrunk to three or four dear friends, plus my partner. Sometimes it feels impossible to conceive of how we’ll continue this way. (It’s all very Waiting for Godot.)

The isolation is wearying, and sometimes I wish I could spread the interactions out to make sure I get the right amount every day. (I do try, but it isn’t always possible.) But I am also conscious of something else: a steady sense of gratitude for the good days, whether caused by community or sunshine or a satisfying writing session or all of the above.

We do what we can, I (and many others) have been saying for months now. We wash our hands, wear our masks, put off trips to see loved ones or visit favorite places until it’s safe to do so. We find creative ways to connect with folks we love. I send photos of autumn leaves to friends in Idaho and California and Scotland. I curl up in the evenings with a middle-grade novel or the latest Sara Paretsky mystery or an episode of Mary Tyler Moore. And, when the opportunity for feasting comes – be it pizza around a friend’s table or a bear hug from my guy or a ride to the grocery store – I take it.

Some days still feel like famine: I feel acutely the lack of the small interactions at work and in public that made up so much of my days. That seems likely to continue for a while. But most days offer richness, in both surprising and in durable ordinary ways. And for now, as we head into winter (not without trepidation), I will feast when I can.

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Katie silhouette trail river blue sky

I used to see her in the neighborhood all the time, on the river trail where I ran, or standing on the sidewalk by her house, chatting up a storm with Sharon or Claire or one of the other neighbor women. Her dog, Riley, a beautiful red golden retriever with a few years on her, was nearly always in attendance.

Riley was used to being showered with affection by pretty much everyone in the neighborhood. She’d walk right up and sit on my feet while Kenzie and I chatted a minute, nudging my hand to keep scratching her silky ears if I got too distracted by our conversation. There was a man who lived down the street – Paul or Joe or Mike, one of those monosyllabic Boston Irish names – who referred to her as The Great Riley. He always remembered my name because he had a sister named Katie, the only girl in a family of five or six brothers. 

Kenzie lived in the yellow house on the corner, which was her dad’s house until they bought it from him about ten years ago, she and her husband Frank, whom I’d regularly see on the trail too. He’d either be striding along, deep in thought, or sitting on one of the rough granite benches, watching birds fly over the marsh with his binoculars. I never saw him smile, but once or twice in December I caught sight of him wearing a Santa hat, which was at odds with his expression but fit perfectly with his long white beard and hair. 

Kenzie was kind and inquisitive and funny, a retired nurse with a daughter in her twenties and a stepson whom I never saw. She was the first neighbor I ever made friends with, after seven years in Boston and three different apartments, not for lack of trying. I was charmed by her open, easy manner and the New England accent you could have cut with a steak knife. I never even knew her last name, but we were friends, of a sort, and I was always genuinely glad to see her.

I haven’t been down to the old neighborhood in a year or more, not since I separated from my husband and moved across the city. I told Kenzie I was getting divorced the week before I moved out. “Put your phone number in my mailbox,” she said. “We’ll go for a drink sometime.” I wanted to, and I meant to, but I never did. Somehow it was easier to leave a few of those loose ends of my old life untied. 

It’s October again, and the air turns sharp as the sky changes from cobalt to serge blue to golden in the evenings. I think of the waving reeds on the trail, and the murmuring sound they made. Sometimes I think of Riley, gone now, and wonder if Kenzie has gotten a new dog. I hope she has. Our friendship was brief, but it sustained me, made me feel like I belonged in that pocket of Dorchester, between the old chocolate factory and the river, in the third-floor apartment that was home for a while.

I wrote most of this post as an exercise for a writing class I’m taking online through ModernWell this fall. Since it’s sort of running-related, my fellow group members suggested I share it with you.

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