Archive for the ‘friendship’ Category


Back in early April (which feels like ages ago now), I posted a spring list. I’ve been working on it since then – so here, an update for you.

  • Bake my favorite strawberry-rhubarb crisp. I made it for a Sunday night potluck, and we all but licked the baking dish clean.

strawberry rhubarb crisp

  • Read some poetry. (Spring makes me long for Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson.)
  • Watch the Masters. It was a great tournament, as always. 21-year-old Jordan Spieth blew everyone away.
  • Reread Jane of Lantern Hill, the perfect spring book. Love love love.
  • Knit something pink for my friend Abigail’s baby girl, who will arrive in May. I made her a sweet little dress.

pink sproutlette dress

  • Savor the new season of Call the Midwife. I’ve enjoyed it, though this season is heavy.
  • Go on a getaway with the hubs. We had a fabulous trip to San Diego, about which more soon.

katie jer beach san diego

  • Keep buying flowers from my local florist – tulips and daffodils, delivered with a smile. I’m in there twice a week.


  • Participate in Susannah Conway’s April Love photo challenge. I posted about a dozen photos. So fun.

Looks like the only thing I need to do is read some poetry. But that’s never a problem.

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…is meeting the friends you make online in real life.

sarah katie brookline booksmithI first met Sarah McCoy when she came to the Concord Bookshop on tour for her second novel, The Baker’s Daughter, back in 2012. We were already Twitter buddies, but we bonded (and squealed) when we finally got to meet in person. We’ve kept up online ever since. And in a stroke of serendipity this spring, my editor for Shelf Awareness asked if I’d be interested in interviewing Sarah about her new book, The Mapmaker’s Children.

Needless to say, I jumped at the chance. We had a delightful (two-hour!) conversation ranging from books to family to music to the expectations placed on women in the modern world. And when Sarah came to Brookline Booksmith this week to do a book event, of course I was there in the front row.

As you can see above, we squealed and hugged and bonded again. We didn’t have a chance for a longer catch-up, sadly – she’s just in town for two days, sleep-deprived and running hither and yon to book events. But being together, even for an hour or so, was the best.

I love the bookish Internet.

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pasta salad red bowl book

Spring is (finally) springing here in Boston, and though the farmers’ markets won’t be open yet awhile, I’m feeling the need to bring a little spring into my kitchen.

We’ve been eating hearty soups all winter, and while I love them, I’m mixing in a few lighter recipes these days. I’m on my annual asparagus kick, and last week I whipped up our favorite pasta salad.

I’m not a fan of most pasta salads – cold, slimy things full of suspect ingredients. But this particular one is warm, light and fresh. It involves several of my favorite things: juicy tomatoes, creamy goat cheese, peppery arugula. It’s quick and easy. And it makes me think of my friend Happy.

His real name isn’t Happy, of course – it’s Craig. He’s a tall Californian ex-hippie who’s lived in Texas for many years. Back when he used to blog, “Happy the man” was his blog moniker, and it stuck. His granddaughters, and lots of his friends, still call him Happy.

One spring when we lived in Abilene, J and I spent a weekend in Austin (during South by Southwest) for a college friend’s wedding. Happy and his wife, Laura, were our hosts – treating us to fish tacos at Wahoo’s and taking us to a couple of fabulous concerts. But we spent one rainy afternoon just hanging out at their house. Happy whipped up this dish, and we ate it from white ceramic bowls, curled up on their sectional leather couch with our shoes off. I felt so warm and taken care of and – well – happy.

Every time I make this for dinner, I remember that afternoon, and a little of that glow comes back. (Plus it’s delicious.)

This is more of a guideline than a recipe, but here goes:

  • Boil a pot of salted water and cook pasta (we like fusilli or bow tie) according to package directions.
  • Slice a handful of cherry or cocktail tomatoes; saute briefly in olive oil if you like.
  • Toss pasta with tomatoes, 2-3 cups arugula, and a small log of goat cheese, crumbled.
  • Garnish with a few grinds of black pepper. If you have some fresh basil to toss in, so much the better.
  • Eat warm, in your favorite bowl. Enjoy!

What are your favorite springtime dishes?

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windy willows

Dirge Without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, – but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love, –
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

—Edna St. Vincent Millay

I came across this poem last month, about a week after Jeff’s passing. Heather Lende quotes from it in the last chapter of her first memoir, If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name.

Lende writes obituaries for her small-town Alaska newspaper, and I write obituaries for the alumni magazine of my West Texas alma mater. A couple of days after Jeff died, I sent what details I had (name, age, birthdate) to my editor (who is also my former boss, and a friend).

It isn’t much, these few lines in a college magazine, especially in light of such a loss. But it is what I can do to mark the passing of someone I loved.

I am in charge of the honoree list for the Easter lilies at church. Every year, we fill the altar with flowers, and publish a list in the bulletin of those we would like to remember and honor. The list is long this year, for some reason; we have twice as many names as last year. It isn’t much, but I understand why we do it. This, too, is a small but important way of remembering our dead.

Earlier this week, I heard about the passing of Susan, a family friend whom I hadn’t seen for many years. She fought the cancer longer than anyone expected she would, but she is gone now, and I know her children – including her three eldest daughters, whom I used to baby-sit in the summers – are grieving.

Like Millay, I do not approve, and I am not resigned. But her eloquent words have helped sustain me as I think about death and loss and grief. I share them, on this Good Friday, hoping that perhaps, when you are faced with a loss, they might do the same for you.

April is National Poetry Month, and I will be sharing more poetry here on Fridays this month.

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light candles memorial church

Over the past week, I’ve been watching the grief over two deaths unfold in real time. My college community has been mourning the loss of our friend Jeff McCain, and many people I know from Twitter and the blogosphere have been grieving the death of Lisa Bonchek Adams.

Both of them had cancer; both of them died far too soon. And in the wake of their deaths, many of their loved ones have taken to social media to express grief and to honor these two lives.

Jeff and I were friends before Facebook existed. (It came into being during our college years.) Our mutual friends are people we know in real life, from that patch of ground in West Texas where we studied, sang, laughed and cried together. My husband lived across the hall from Jeff our freshman year; my sister and her circle of friends all know him, too. And since we’re scattered all over the country and can’t gather to mourn in person, we come to Facebook to mourn together.

Dozens of people have posted brief sentiments or shared photos. Some of us, like me, wrote longer tributes and shared them as a way of marking Jeff’s death and, yes, celebrating his life. (He was, as I have said, a person who carried joy around with him. I have no doubt he’d approve of us recounting all the funny stories we can think of.) I’ve seen a similar trend with Lisa’s death – dozens of tweets and a fair few blog posts honoring her life, as well as mixed (but passionate) reactions to a couple of pieces in the New York Times.

Besides wishing we didn’t have to do this – because these deaths are fundamentally unfair and heartbreaking – I’ve been thinking about how we grieve together, in the age of social media. These sites where we share so much of our lives have become a new forum for public mourning. I’ve seen it happen after several tragedies: the Boston Marathon bombing, Hurricane Sandy, the events in Ferguson. We come together on social media to share our hurt, our outrage and our deep sadness.

It can be cathartic and helpful – a way to reach out to one another and say, “Me too.” It can also, eventually, become overwhelming. My husband and I have both felt the need to step back from Facebook at various times this week. We’ve sat at our kitchen table for hours, trading stories about Jeff and talking through our emotions. Eventually, we’ve needed to step away even from that. Grief has a saturation point, and it’s not something you work through in a couple of days.

I’ve also been turning back to a few beloved poems, including Marie Howe’s “What the Living Do.” But, fittingly, I discovered another poem this week via Twitter – “The Mower” by Philip Larkin. Its last lines sum up, for me, what this communal grieving is all about:

The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful
Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.
This. Always this. We should be kind, and careful to honor the tender places in each other’s lives, the wounds and blank spaces opened by grief. Sharing our sadness on social media is one way to do that. These sites can be loud and contentious places, but when they are avenues for sharing grief (and joy), they become beautiful – even holy – ground.

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katie jeff sing song 2006 acu

Last week, I found out my college friend Jeff was ill with late-stage lung cancer. On Monday, I found out he had died.

I hadn’t seen Jeff for years, maybe since we graduated from college. I don’t know much about his life in recent years, or the events that led up to his death. That story doesn’t belong to me. But what does belong to me – what I am remembering this week – is my friendship with Jeff, and the joy he carried around.

Jeff was one of those small, skinny guys with a big personality – effervescent, exuberant, larger than life. He was restless, energetic, constantly in motion. Maybe that’s how he managed a kind of magic trick: he seemed to be everywhere on campus, for four years. You could hardly walk across campus without running into him. And if there was a big event – Welcome Week for new freshmen, Homecoming, Spring Break service trips, Sing Song (our annual campus variety show), Jeff was there. Usually in a leadership role, and often in a wacky costume.

He had hundreds of friends – from every social group, every class, every academic department. He pledged a popular fraternity and loved those guys fiercely, but he never let his popularity become a barrier: he greeted everyone with the same level of enthusiasm. And it wasn’t fake enthusiasm but genuine joy: I knew he was always glad to see me, and I was always glad to see him.

Jeff dove headfirst into Sing Song as a freshman (he co-directed our class’s winning act), and his Sing Song fever never let up. He participated in seven different acts over four years. (The photo above is of Jeff and me before our senior show, when we and a hundred or so of our classmates dressed up as Jedi knights.) No one loved Sing Song – arranging music, sewing costumes, making up wacky, ACU-themed lyrics to popular songs – like Jeff.

He co-led the Spring Break service trip that ended up being my first visit to Boston. My husband (who was in the group too) and I still laugh about how Jeff made our group walk three miles – uphill, in the snow! – from Harvard Square to Fenway Park, because “it’s not that far on the map, guys.” He could be a flake and he had (obviously) no sense of direction at all, but it was impossible to stay mad at him.

Singing – not just Sing Song but singing a cappella hymns in daily chapel – is a big part of life at ACU. Jeff had a surprisingly deep bass voice, and we sang together in freshman chorale and on many praise teams over the years. He loved music and would burst into song at any opportunity. He sang – as he did everything else – with such joy.

As I said above, there’s a lot I don’t know about Jeff’s story: I know it’s darker and more complicated than what I’ve written here. I know there are others – his sisters, his close friends – whose grief runs deeper than mine. But I also know this: the world is a little less bright without Jeff in it.

My husband, in a tribute to Jeff on Facebook this week, said simply, “I always felt welcome when he was in the room.” I hope that wherever you are, Jeff, you are being made welcome, as you welcomed others. We’ll miss you.

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purple tulips

I’ve been talking about what’s saving my life a lot lately (because it’s the best way I know to get through this winter with a shred of my sanity intact). Today, I’m over at the Art House America blog, exploring how the act of naming those lifesavers can be a lifesaving act itself. Here’s an excerpt from my post:

This winter, I’m finding it worthwhile — even necessary — to name the things that are saving my life. Sometimes I scribble down a list in my journal (a gift from my sister last Christmas, and itself a lifesaver). Sometimes I take the time to write a blog post, with pictures of those purple tulips or a brave blue winter sky. Most often, I’m trading daily texts with my friend Laura, both of us doing our best to find and name the things that are saving our lives. The act of naming them often becomes a lifesaver, a welcome glimpse into the brighter side of this world. (Though sometimes — full disclosure — we also gripe about the things that are killing us. Sometimes venting can save my life, too.)

Join me at the AHA blog to read the rest. (And please, tell us what’s saving your life these days.)

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