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Archive for the ‘friendship’ Category

brookline backyard snow blue sky

I feel like winter is all I’m talking about here lately. (Well, winter and books. Because I’m always talking about books.)

I forget, every year, how winter takes over my life. It affects my commute, my diet (everything warm and spicy, please), my wardrobe (what goes with fleece-lined tights)?, my mental state. And although we escaped the recent blizzard with just a few inches of snow, it’s still cold, dark and sometimes icy out there.

Since winter is hard for a lot of us, my friend Anne put out a call for answers to this question: what is saving your life right now?

She didn’t make up the question, and neither did I – we both got it from Barbara Brown Taylor. But it’s too good a question not to revisit once in a while. Especially when things are tough.

So, in the midst of short days and long nights, constant subway delays and unpredictable weather, family illness and work stress and frustrating news from all over the world, it strikes me as not only good but necessary to list the things that are saving my life now. (I’m linking up with Anne and others – feel free to join us!)

lonesome dove breakfast

  • A few pages of Lonesome Dove every morning over breakfast. I am loving the epic story of Augustus McCrae, Woodrow F. Call, and their journey from Texas to Montana. (My dad adores it, but I’ve never read it before.)
  • My snazzy red journal, a gift from my sister.
  • Chitchat with my favorite sandwich-maker at Darwin’s, who has dreads halfway down his back, a fondness for tie-dye and a warm, wide smile.
  • Sea salt and vinegar chips (a new addiction).
  • Molly’s scones, which I cannot stop making (and eating).
  • Chai lattes from Darwin’s (also known, on some days, as the elixir of life).
  • Weekly group emails from the Great New Books ladies.
  • Related: stacks of good books. And my favorite bookish podcasts.
  • Blue skies, which can turn an entire day around.

blue sky orange building cambridge ma

  • Twinkle lights in my living and dining room.
  • Tea in my favorite blue mug (above).
  • Scarves and boots and fleece-lined tights.
  • The display of local art in the hallway at work. So cheery and colorful.
  • Tulips on my dining-room table.
  • The final season of Downton Abbey, which (so far) is so good.
  • Texts from a couple of stalwart friends.
  • The staycation my husband and I were able to take this weekend (of which more soon).
  • Sunday nights around the table at Ryan and Amy’s.

It’s your turn. What is saving your life right now?

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between you and me beach

A colleague’s new haircut. The results of the latest presidential debate. The next round of frigid winter weather. Small talk.

The best type of Girl Scout cookies. Real estate prices in Boston. The vagaries of the office microwave. Small talk. 

Weekend plans. The PowerBall jackpot. The merits of various restaurants or dog breeds. Small talk.

Small talk often gets a bad rap these days – especially among introverts. We like to think of ourselves as deep, sensitive, thoughtful souls whose true brilliance can’t possibly be captured in a brief exchange on trivial topics like the ones above. But honestly, the longer I am an adult, the more I believe that small talk is a necessary skill to build and hone.

I’m a true introvert, and my preferred form of conversation is long and deep and wide-ranging, preferably with a dear friend. But that isn’t always possible, especially in a professional setting, or a gathering of friends where I don’t know everyone. I’d often rather hide in a corner if I’m feeling shy or uncomfortable, but I frequently find myself making small talk instead, whether it’s to tamp down my own anxiety or put someone else at ease.

Recently, I’ve found myself in a lot of social situations with new people: greeting visitors at church, meeting work colleagues for the first time, attending a party where I knew the hosts but almost none of the other guests. I didn’t have to carry the entire conversation in these instances, but in each case, I made the effort to ask a few questions or throw out a comment on a topic of general interest. And it helped.

To be clear, I’m no expert on wine or property taxes or long-distance cycling. But a brief conversation on each of these subjects has helped me build bridges with brand-new acquaintances. (Bonus: one of those bridges led to a conversation about mystery novels, a topic I adore.)

Small talk – those tiny, seemingly inconsequential interactions sparked by comments such as “It’s cold out there today” or “I like your scarf” – can be more than a social lubricant among strangers. It’s often the first building block of a real relationship. And in a world where we all reflexively pull out our smartphones to avoid uncomfortable moments, it’s often noticeable by its absence.

I’m on the lookout for ways to bring more gumption into my life this year, and making small talk often requires it of me. I’m sometimes afraid my comments will fall flat – and, let’s be honest, they occasionally do. But I’m almost always glad I made the effort.

If I’m lucky, I’ve done more than mitigate my own nervousness: I’ve also put someone else at ease, or enjoyed a moment of human connection. That’s worth a little trivia, or a little embarrassment. Small talk is definitely a skill worth keeping in my conversational arsenal.

How do you feel about small talk?

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betsy boys presents christmas

I never quite know how to write about Christmas, once it’s over. The presents have all been opened and admired, the holiday cards (finally) sent out, the suitcases packed and repacked and finally unpacked. We’re back in the routine of work and winter and daily life, and the 10 days we spent in Texas, driving up and down I-20 to see people we love, seem very far away.

This year will go down as the year of not-quite-normal: so many of our usual family traditions were altered or skipped over altogether. My sister has two small boys and was hobbling around in a knee brace this year (see above), so we opened family presents at her house instead of at my parents’ on Christmas Eve. For the same reason, J and I drove to Christmas Eve service by ourselves, slipping into a center pew to listen to a sermon by an unfamiliar minister. My dad, despite his best efforts, could not find any eggnog, so we missed having our annual cup together. And the small-child chaos was such that we completely forgot to read Luke 2 aloud before diving into the presents.

My husband’s family moved to a new house in a new town this summer, so we spent the first weekend of our trip navigating unfamiliar territory – a string of small towns in the East Texas countryside. The weather swung wildly from unseasonably warm (73 degrees on Christmas Day) to icy sleet and snow two days later. Our favorite Mexican restaurant was closed on the day we tried to go, and I had a 24-hour bug earlier in the week that prevented me from enjoying another Tex-Mex meal with my parents. All in all, it felt – I have to say – a little weird.

And yet.

On a breezy Monday night, J and I stood in a semicircle and sang Christmas carols a cappella with a few of his choir buddies from high school. The notes of those familiar tunes – “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” an absurdly complicated arrangement of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” – touched something deep inside me. This was our second time at this choral reunion, and though I am technically an outsider, they welcomed me like an old friend. Afterward, we walked to a local bar for snacks and cocktails, and told stories and laughed late into the evening.

My in-laws may have changed their address, but we are always sure of a welcome there: from J’s parents, his sister, the two cats, and three-year-old Annie, who jumped on J the minute we walked in the door and hardly let go for three days. She danced around, effervescent with joy, trying out her new rocking horse while clad in a pink princess dress. “Look at me, Uncle Miah! Watch me, Aunt Katie!”

jer annie shoulders smiles

It felt odd to be at Christmas Eve service without my parents, but their church, where I grew up, is still and always my favorite place to be on that night. We found seats in front of some family friends and lit our candles during “Silent Night.” Our beloved music minister, George, led the service with his customary joie de vivre. I slipped through the crowd to give him a hug afterward. And that felt – unmistakably – like Christmas.

My grandparents drove up from their house near San Antonio, and Pop brought me a gorgeous bookcase that he’d worked on for months. Neno brought a stack of old photos for Betsy and me to look through, and we spent a happy afternoon in Betsy’s kitchen, riffling through them and laughing and telling stories while we snacked on Pop’s guacamole and took turns making dishes for Christmas dinner.

We had all our traditional favorites: smoked brisket with Neno’s barbecue sauce, sweet potato casserole, Mom’s cranberries suspended in Jell-O, peanut butter kiss cookies. We ate several meals around the table that Pop made for Betsy, with my nephews in their high chairs and all of us squeezed in elbow to elbow. We had stockings at Mom and Dad’s on Christmas morning, with Mom’s three Christmas trees twinkling, and Dad and I sneaked in our favorite parts of Christmas Eve on Sesame Street.

cookie monster christmas eve telephone

“The best is being together, even if it is chaotic,” I said to Mom after Christmas, when we were discussing this year’s craziness. And it might sound cliched, but it’s true.

The best was sitting on the big sectional couch in Betsy’s living room, telling stories and cracking up at inside family jokes and hugging my nephews (when they stood still long enough). The best was catching up with multiple friends in Abilene, cramming in so many stories from the past year, sitting around a table until nearly midnight and laughing until our sides hurt. The best was chicken and dumplings around Frankie’s table, homemade pizza with Laura and Bill, cups of chai with Lisa and Mike, hugs from Shanna and Calvin and Gail.

The best, always, is heading two thousand miles south and west, knowing what’s at the end of that road: home. (And those small, wiggly cuties we love.)

jer harrison christmas

I hope your holidays were wonderful, and that 2016 is treating you right so far.

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christmas tree living room

I say this every year: I love December.

It’s the one month when I don’t mind a chill in the air, because it feels so very Christmassy. (Though this week has been astonishingly mild.) I love the sensation of hurrying along a busy city street, under twinkling lights, wrapped in my favorite green coat and the winter accessories I haven’t grown sick of yet. And the twinkle lights – plus the festive shop window displays everywhere – make the dark (which comes so early) much more bearable, at least for now.

I also say this every year: I feel like I blinked after Thanksgiving and it’s mid-December already.

This time of year has such potential to be holy, sparkling and peaceful. And let’s be honest: it can also feel rushed, frenetic and hollow. So as I work through various lists (gifts to buy, tasks to cross off, emails to send), I’m relishing a few small things that are saving my life:

  • Kate Rusby’s Sweet Bells album. Quiet yet cheery, and wonderfully Celtic. (Also, I love the way her Yorkshire accent comes out on certain vowels.)
  • The cozy purple wrap I knit for myself last year, which I am wearing all the time.
  • The Magnificat, which I cannot stop humming.
  • The black ankle boots Mom bought me last Christmas, which I’m wearing almost every day.
  • The tiny birch bark reindeer who have taken up residence outside my favorite local flower shop.

birch bark reindeer flower shop

  • Chai in a paper cup from Darwin’s, every weekday. And about once a week, my favorite breakfast sandwich there: eggs over medium, bacon, melted cheddar cheese and avocado. Perfection.
  • This beautiful desktop wallpaper (via Susannah Conway).
  • Instagram photos of Mary Todd Lincoln – not the First Lady, but the tiny dachshund puppy who’s one of the shop dogs at Parnassus Books. (So. Much. Adorable.)
  • Clementines – tiny, bright, delicious hits of citrus. (Bonus: they make my hands smell so good.)
  • A few convivial evenings with friends, trading laughter and stories around a table.
  • Giggles from baby Evie.

evie abi giggles

  • The words of my Advent book, full of hope and longing.
  • Stealing at least a few minutes every night to sit in front of our twinkling tree.
  • The sound of my husband playing Christmas carols on the guitar. (I particularly love his rendition of “Angels from the Realms of Glory.”)
  • A few pages of Winter Solstice and/or Shepherds Abiding, every night before bed.
  • My dachshund slippers.

What’s saving your life this December? (And how many days till Christmas?)

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jer christmas tree star

Every year, I highlight a few of the ornaments on my Christmas tree and their stories. (That’s the hubs, putting the star on our tree last weekend.)

This season is all about traditions and stories, and the tree in my living room holds many stories, old and new.

charlie brown heart ornament christmas

When I was about six years old, my family spent Christmas in an apartment in the Dallas area while our new house was being finished. Most of our things – including our Christmas decorations – were in storage. So we bought a tiny Christmas tree and made ornaments out of glitter, wax paper and glue to hang on its branches. Dad and I lovingly refer to them as our “Charlie Brown” Christmas ornaments.

More than 25 (!) years later, a few hearts, stars and bells have survived, and I finally remembered to ask Mom to set aside a couple for me to bring back to Boston last year. I am so pleased to have them on my tree now.

beefeater soldier christmas ornament

My aunt Charlene (my mother’s childhood best friend) has sent us many ornaments over the years. This cheerful Beefeater guard arrived long before I ever visited London, but I love him especially because I’ve spent so much time in the UK now. (He’s definitely more whimsical than his real-life counterparts.)

egg christmas ornament

Deep in the heart of Salzburg, Austria, is a shop filled with hundreds (thousands?) of hand-painted eggs, carefully stacked in crates and tied onto trees with ribbon. It’s a dazzling sight. I’ve been there twice, but I managed to lose the egg I brought back for myself, years ago. My sweet friend Laura knew this, and she brought one back for me when she visited Salzburg with her family last year.

snowflake crochet christmas ornament

I think my mom ordered these starched crochet snowflakes from a catalog many years ago. There are still a few on her tree, and now there are a few on mine.

pickle christmas ornament

The hubs and I found this goofy pickle ornament on a weekend trip to Boerne, Texas, right after we got married. Apparently, the person who can find the pickle on the tree gets a prize. It makes me laugh every year.

Do your Christmas ornaments have stories? (I’ll never have a sleek, color-coordinated tree – I love my mismatched collection of ornaments too much.)

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memorial church red leaves blue sky

In mid-September, I posted a fall list (as is my habit). Here’s how it’s been going:

apple trees blue sky

  • Drink chai and bake something with pumpkin. I’ve been mainlining chai, and I’ve baked pumpkin bread and mini pumpkin whoopie pies.

chai journal pencil case darwins

yellow leaves boston blue sky

tealuxe emily deep valley maud hart lovelace

corita kent be of love

anne of avonlea dahlias

  • Read a few “deep TBR” books. I’ve read a few and gotten rid of several more.
  • Try three or four new recipes. I’ve tried five: a Mexican vegetarian lasagna, spiced Moroccan chicken and baked spaghetti and meatballs (all from Real Simple). Plus Jenny’s new favorite weeknight chicken, and her butternut squash pizza.
  • See Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella onstage. Abi and I had a lovely afternoon.

katie-abi-cinderella

  • Sip the occasional glass of Cabernet with a friend. Yes.

What have you been up to this fall?

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harvard yard leaves light

For long walks under bold blue autumn skies and vivid red and golden leaves.

For bouquets of yellow tulips and sunflowers, and a florist whose smile is kind.

For two groups of bookish colleagues, at Shelf Awareness and Great New Books, who make me laugh and make my to-be-read list grow every week.

For a new temp gig in my beloved Harvard Square neighborhood, which I’m already loving.

For chai lattes and strong black tea and spiced apple cider, sipped from paper cups or my favorite mugs.

For a husband who believes in me and cheers me on no matter what.

For family and friends whom I adore, who are wise and funny and supportive and kind.

For text messages and email and social media – all the tools that allow me to keep in touch with those I love.

For good books – stories and poetry that move me, make me think, entertain me, and make me want to be a better person.

For a small but stalwart church community of faithful, loving people.

For scented candles and funny TV shows and cozy slippers – all the little luxuries that make life more enjoyable.

For the blessing of having all I need – really, as Jaclyn said this week – more than enough.

gold-red-leaves-grass

It has been a hard couple of weeks in this world, and a hard few months in my own life. But today, I am pausing to remember the good, and give thanks.

If you’re celebrating, I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.

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