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Archive for the ‘musings’ Category

Katie ww run selfie trail

This is what we used to say to my dad, when he came in from mowing the lawn or an afternoon walking the golf course. In West Texas, you can do both for a good chunk of the year, and while it’s often warm (or hot) enough to break a sweat, this was something different. Sometimes I could smell the lawn fertilizer or the musty scent of dried leaves, but often it was simply the outdoors: earthy, fresh, dusty, a distinct contrast to the clean interior smells of our house.

For as long as I’ve lived in Boston, I have commuted by a combination of public transit and walking, so I have to – and like to – get outside multiple times on any given day. But since I’ve become a walker and then a runner, I get outside much more often, for longer stretches, in nearly all kinds of weather and at all times of day.

Whether it’s the river trail or the Commonwealth Ave mall, or a long, rambling stroll through the streets of Cambridge, I go outside as often as I can, to feel the wind in my hair and the sun on my face, to observe the particularities of the changing seasons. I go to move, to take breaks, to run errands, to ride a bike, to meet friends: to refresh myself by being out in the big wide world.

Of course, I often break a sweat, especially when I’m running or riding. But sometimes, when I come back inside, it’s not quite sweat I smell. It’s something different, more earthy, in my hair or on my clothes. I realized the other day what it was: sometimes I just smell like outside. And I am so happy about that.

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On Sunday morning, I put on a striped dress, brewed a travel mug full of spicy black tea, and got in my car to drive to church.

This is not so different from what I’ve done for the past eight (or 35) years, except that my destination is different, and varied, these days.

I have been a part of several church communities in my adult life, and mostly, once I found them, I have plunged in, swift and sure. I visited Highland as a college student, and several months of Wednesday night meals in the fellowship hall, a cappella singing and welcoming faces convinced me that it was where I belonged. I stayed there for six years, singing on the praise team and joining a small group, walking through more than half my twenties with people who are still family to me.

On my first Sunday in Oxford, 15 years ago last month, jet-lagged and overwhelmed and excited, I walked into St Aldates. I fell in love at once and forever with the joyful music, the ancient liturgy read with fresh eyes, the vibrant international community and the way they welcomed me: a stranger, an American, a young woman just learning to question so many things.

Nearly nine years ago, my husband and I walked into Brookline three days after we arrived in Boston, exhausted and grubby from a cross-country move. We found welcome there too, and music, and later, a place to serve. (Eventually I found another quiet, anchoring community on weekday mornings at Mem Church, where I still show up as often as possible.)

Last September, for reasons that I won’t go into here, we lost our footing at Brookline, at least for now. And I have felt, perhaps not surprisingly, unmoored.

I grew up in church, almost literally. My parents and sister and I spent countless Sunday mornings sitting in the pews of a handful of Baptist churches scattered across Texas. When I go back for Christmas or a long weekend, I join my parents in the same sanctuary they’ve frequented since I was eight years old. There are unnumbered Sunday nights and Wednesday nights in there too, hot meals eaten around folding tables off plastic trays, mornings studying the Bible and evenings singing with the youth group, learning so many songs and Bible verses I still know by heart.

Even when I am mad at the church, I crave church. I need to be among the people of God, to hear the words I have heard my entire life: words of grace and love and redemption, the hope (however slight) that God is working, making all things new. Like most people, I picked up a few messages from my childhood religious experience that I don’t want to carry around any more. Like a lot of us, I have spent time raging at church people who have gotten church wrong. More recently, I have hurt and been hurt in ways I’m still struggling with. I believe we are called, ultimately, toward reconciliation, and I also understand that it is not instant, and not guaranteed.

Since last fall, I have spent Sunday mornings all over the place: eating brunch in a friend’s spacious dining room, or watching another friend’s little boy run around the soccer field. Sometimes I’ve slept late and headed right for the river trail, or walked with my husband to a restaurant in our neighborhood. Some weekends, I’ve traveled or entertained guests, taking a break from a place and a rhythm that had come to cause me pain.

But on some Sundays, still, I go to church.

I go because I need to hear the words: The Lord be with you. Christ is risen. The body of Christ, broken for you. I go because I need to say the words out loud: And also with you. Christ is risen indeed. Forgive us our trespasses. For thine is the kingdom. I go because I need to sing, not only alone but as part of a community: Be Thou my vision. Holy, holy, holy. Alleluia. 

I wrestle and question. I doubt and grieve. Sometimes I stay silent, and sometimes I cry. I have come to believe I need all of that, and that church is a place where that can happen. I am not sure yet when or if I’ll find a new community to call mine. I am not ready, yet, to decide one way or another.

I have been grateful, in this city, to find welcome in every church I have visited so far: with screens and folding chairs in a community center, or the box pews and crimson-covered hymnals at Memorial Church. My heart tugs at the mixture of old hymns and more recent praise music at a church I’ve visited in the Fenway, and my soul relaxes into the rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer in almost every place.

While I believe God is present throughout the world, I also know that, for me, one place to find God is church. So I keep going, keep seeking, keep wiping away tears. I keep doing my best to show up, when I can. I keep listening to the words I know so well, and saying the words I am given to say: Good morning. Peace be with you. Help us, Lord. Thank you. Amen. 

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carrot ginger soup bowl strawberries table

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, these days. But I am always looking for ways to add a little more joy to the everyday, especially during the winter. So I floated an idea by my husband recently: how about we try 19 new recipes in 2019?

I know myself, and it’s super easy for me to rotate between the same half-dozen meals (or, in the winter, the same few standby soups). And while there’s nothing wrong with huevos on a Monday night after boot camp, a big pot of simmering tomato soup, or tacos (always tacos), I could always use a little meal inspiration – and a few more veggies – in my life.

Nineteen recipes seems doable: an average of one or two per month, a way to interrupt or spice up the usual pattern without hijacking it altogether. There’s usually at least one recipe in each month’s Real Simple that I want to try, and I have a dozen cookbooks I hardly ever use. I’m hoping this goal will push me to do a bit of experimenting – maybe even find a new favorite or two.

We started off with a simple chicken adobo recipe (from Real Simple, naturally), then dipped back into Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (an old favorite) to try sweet potato-and-spinach quesadillas. With guacamole, of course.

The verdict in both cases? So far, so good. I’ll check back later in the year.

How do you find new recipes to try? Any tips?

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winter berries trail January bare branches

A few years ago – around the same time, I think – Anne Bogel and I both discovered Barbara Brown Taylor’s brilliant question: what is saving your life now?

I made it the subject of my Morning Prayers talk at Harvard, two springs ago, and Anne has made it a tradition to host a linkup in midwinter, to invite people to share the small but vital things that are keeping them sane, healthy and whole. Today is that day: we’re halfway through winter (technically), though spring is a long way off here in the Northeast.

I shared my list of winter pleasures last week, but this is a little different: the small daily things that are bringing a burst of joy or simply getting me through. In the dark, cold season, there’s something to be said for celebrating not only the delights but the lifelines, and some things that are both.

As we head into February, I’m relying on two kinds of lifesavers: the building blocks of healthy routines, and the tiny, almost-too-small-to-mention stuff that either catches me by surprise or simply makes a slight but vital difference. The list below includes both. Here they are:

  • Black spicy tea (I have a few different blends) in my favorite purple travel mug, every morning.
  • The leggy paperwhites in my kitchen, which are bursting with blooms this week.
  • Sunrises out the kitchen window, especially on blazing bright mornings.
  • Making travel plans. (Clicking “buy” on the Amtrak or flight site can be very satisfying.)
  • Texts from a friend who’s spending the semester in Germany: travel updates and our usual lifesaving check-ins.
  • Chai. Always, always chai. And the smiles from my people at Darwin’s.
  • Lots and lots of water, all day, every day.
  • Vitamin D pills + my happy lamp + all the sunshine I can find.
  • Daffodils for my desk, flame-bright tulips, velvety roses and good cheer from my florist.
  • Dropping by the Boston Public Library on my way home from work.
  • The two Buff wraps (one head, one neck) that I wear when I’m running.
  • My Wonder Woman playlist.
  • Running on the river trail, under open skies.
  • When I can’t get out there: quick lunchtime runs through Back Bay or along the Esplanade.
  • Hauling my laptop into the conference room at work as often as I can: plants, sunshine and an excuse to move.
  • Midday snack or lunch runs to the tiny Trader Joe’s around the corner. (Dark chocolate peanut butter cups, am I right?)
  • Wearing real shoes instead of snow boots as often as possible. (Related: keeping a pair of flats at the office.)
  • Fleece-lined tights, every day.
  • Morning Prayers, which has finally started back up again.
  • Laughing with my coworkers about whatever we can find to enjoy or joke about.
  • Doing the NYTimes crossword with my husband, sometimes while munching on Girl Scout cookies.
  • Our twinkling Christmas tree (yes, it’s still up).
  • Tackling a sinkful of dirty dishes.
  • Tangy clementines, tart pomegranate seeds, out-of-season but delicious raspberries.
  • Burt’s Bees lip balm: in my purse, in my pocket, on my nightstand.
  • Tiny moments of human connection, either experienced or observed: a smile at Mem Church, two friends riding the T and chatting, a friendly barista or trolley operator or librarian. These things matter.

What’s saving your life this winter? (U.S. friends: are you surviving the polar vortex?) And any tips for making the best of this season, while we wait for spring?

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heart-trail-dusk

As regular readers know, there are few things I love more than a long walk, in any season and almost any weather. My walking and reading inform each other: the books I’m reading often provide fodder for ambulatory reflection, but some books capture the pleasures of walking itself.

Scottish author Robert Macfarlane (whose work I adore) collected hundreds of “land-words” for his book Landmarks. Each section begins with a lyrical essay about a type of landform in the British Isles (mountain, coastline, forest), and contains a glossary of related words. Walkers and word nerds – or those who are both – will find much to love in Macfarlane’s treasures from “the word-hoard.”

For those who particularly relish a walk on a wet day, Melissa Harrison’s Rain: Four Walks in English Weather is a celebration of misty treks through various landscapes and seasons. I picked it up, fittingly, at Blackwells in Oxford last year.

The octogenarian title character of Kathleen Rooney’s novel, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, embarks on a different kind of journey: a zigzagging walk around Manhattan on New Year’s Eve 1984. Narrating her odyssey with the wry zingers that defined her advertising career, Boxfish takes readers on a tour of 20th-century New York on her way to a good steak at Delmonico’s. I’d walk with her any time.

And finally, Emma Hooper’s spare, lovely debut novel, Etta and Otto and Russell and James, follows Etta as she treks across the plains of Canada, determined to walk until she finds the ocean. Like Lillian, she is elderly, a bit lonely and fiercely stubborn. Like Macfarlane and Harrison, she walks with purpose and a sharp, observant eye.

These books celebrate the particular joys of a journey, whether it’s a stroll around the block or a cross-country peregrination. The call to interested readers is the same: let’s go.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness for Readers, where it appeared last fall. 

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January sunrise pink clouds gold blue

Every year as the calendar turns over to January, I think: here we go.

My friends and family in Texas always ask, at Christmastime: Is it snowing up there in Boston? My verbal answer is usually Not yet, and my silent one, which comes right after it, is something like: Real winter starts in January. 

winter berries trail January bare branches

December was cold and bright this year, but now we are into the season of snow, wintry mix, biting winds and cold rain, not to mention record-breaking cold over the long weekend and (still) much less daylight than I’d like. We are – hallelujah – past the solstice, so the days are getting longer, but winter in the Northeast can feel long no matter how much sunshine there is.

So, as I often do, I thought I’d make a list of the good stuff: those small pleasures that are (mostly) limited to this less-than-favorite season of mine. Here they are:

  • Slicing open a fresh pomegranate and scooping out the seeds – like handfuls of little tart jewels.
  • Clementines, peeled and eaten out of hand, juicy slices bursting with tart sweetness. (Bonus: the scent lingers on my hands.)
  • Chai, for me, is a three-season pleasure, but it’s especially comforting on bitter mornings.
  • Winter sunrises out my kitchen window (see above): blue and gold, sometimes streaked with pink clouds.

paperwhites window flowers

  • Growing paperwhites near those same kitchen windows. Watching their long stems grow feels like magic to me.
  • Hearty, spicy soups and stews – nothing better on a bitter night.
  • Those diamond-bright, blue-sky mornings – if I’m properly bundled up, I love them.
  • Sitting in the right spot on a morning subway train to catch the sunshine flooding into my face.
  • Morning light on the deep-blue waves of the Charles River, and watching the ice patches spread (it’s fascinating).

Ivey book slippers twinkle lights

  • Snuggling up under the faux-fur blanket I’ve had for years. (Related: plaid slippers and fleece-lined tights.)
  • Dreaming of spring travel.
  • Twinkle lights that linger after the holidays.
  • Cozy handknits, especially my workhorse Evangeline gloves and my pink Gin Fizz.
  • Long walks in the clean cold air, with hot tea – preferably Earl Grey – at the end of them.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be a true winter lover, but I am trying to develop a mind for winter, as Adam Gopnik says (to counterbalance the grumbling). It helps to notice and celebrate these daily pleasures.

What are the small delights of winter where you are?

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think deeply be kind sign words window lights

You don’t need me to say it: by any measure, the last two years in American politics have been turbulent, if not downright disorienting. As politicians engage in shouting matches on social media (and elsewhere), I’ve been turning to an unlikely source of comfort: memoirs by staffers from the Obama White House. (This is a little easier to do now that I no longer work inside the maelstrom of politics every day.)

It isn’t just nostalgia, or denial. Whether they’re youthful idealists like David Litt (Thanks, Obama), who jumped on the former senator’s campaign and ended up spending years working for him, or veteran public servants like Wendy R. Sherman (Not for the Faint of Heart), whose career spans multiple administrations, these voices have helped me in two key ways. They remind me of what it was like to live in slightly saner–if no less complicated–political times. And they help explain, with their insider views of the Obama administration’s triumphs and failures, how the U.S. reached its current moment.

Ben Rhodes, who spent nearly a decade working on foreign policy and communications for Obama, chronicles the complex issues, impossible decisions and flat-out unbelievable moments of his political career in The World As It Is – one of my favorite books of 2018. His thoughtful accounts of the Arab Spring and the reopening of U.S.-Cuba relations make a great pairing with Sherman’s blow-by-blow of negotiating the Iran nuclear deal and Litt’s breezy but sharply observed rendering of life as a speechwriter for Obama. These memoirs, plus Alyssa Mastromonaco’s Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?, which I read last summer, offer insights on leadership and show their authors’ staunch commitment to hard work and public service.

Mastromonaco wins for best title (and most wry humor), but all four books provide fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpses into the daily lives unfolding alongside massive world events. Even more importantly, they remind me that even in fraught and divisive times, the American experiment of democracy is still–à la Mastromonaco–an excellent idea.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness for Readers, where it appeared a couple of weeks ago.

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