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Archive for the ‘musings’ Category

wreath old south church Boston

It’s a cold, diamond-bright December, with sharp blue skies and angled shadows that stretch long beginning in the early afternoons. I hurry along the sidewalk in my green coat and fleece-lined tights, avoiding the loose tiles and listening to the repeated entreaties from the homeless guys. I dig in my purse for the bright pink strap that holds my work ID, nod to the security guy and the construction crew in our building. Every week the work looks different: dangling wires, fresh plywood, so many cables and work boots and dust.

Katie selfie mirror post bike ride

There hasn’t been much snow so far. If I bundle up well enough, pull on a vest and two pairs of gloves and a blue fleece-lined headband, I can still hop a Blue Bike across the river from Harvard Square in the early mornings. I’ve come to enjoy skimming down Mt. Auburn St. to Mass Ave, then across the bridge by MIT, heading for the skyline, from the old neighborhood to the new.

commonwealth avenue brownstones Boston blue sky

We finished up Morning Prayers with a week of Advent hymns: Comfort, comfort ye my people. Watchman, tell us of the night. People, look east, the time is near. On Friday, after the final service of the term, we crowded into the kitchen downstairs for coffee and blueberry cake. I took my husband to the carol service on Sunday night, red poinsettias and thundering organ music and clear voices ringing out from the balcony. We stood with the congregation and sang a few of my favorites: Silent Night, Hark the Herald, Angels We Have Heard on High with its trilling Gloria.

red poinsettias flowers church

I’m thumbing through my Advent book again, reading wisdom from Sylvia Plath and Kathleen Norris, poetry and plainspoken prose, awe and wonder, longing and praise. For the first time in years, we are adrift this Advent, unmoored from a church community, except for my mornings at Mem Church. It feels strange and hard, and also this is where we are: right in the middle of more change and transition, of messy, ordinary life.

My florist’s shop is bursting with poinsettias and cyclamen, with miniature trees and tiny birch-bark reindeer. I stop in weekly, still, for roses and red tulips and a hug from Stephen. At home, we’ve finally decked our tall tree with ornaments, a colorful hodgepodge of old and new. The Christmas shopping is half done, the cards ordered and received but not sent, the packing not even thought about. We are living in the in between.

snoopy tree lights Christmas

I watch the sun rise out the kitchen window, my elbow brushing the geranium still stubbornly bursting with scarlet flowers. I sink into bed at night with a book, the glow of the Christmas tree from the living room just visible through the doorway. I take solace in a hot cup of chai, in the smile of a friend. I keep moving, because that is, as always, the only thing to do.

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thanksgiving plate

For an invitation over lunch, when I told a friend we weren’t sure of our plans: Come have Thanksgiving with us. 

For a heater that got repaired before the freak Nov. 15 snow and the Thanksgiving cold snap.

For a long run on Wednesday morning with a friend down the trail I love so much, legs pumping and breath puffing, wind and sea and sky.

For the sweet potato recipe I’ve been making for nearly 15 years, in Oxford and Abilene and Boston, which tastes like Thanksgiving to me.

k j trail walk November

For a walk with the hubs on Wednesday afternoon, down the trail (in the other direction) to the local ice cream shop before it closed for the season.

For sunshine on Thanksgiving morning and a warm welcome in East Boston.

For eggs baked in tortilla cups and mimosas at Steve and Chrissy’s, the kids toasting with sparkling apple juice and Christian stalking around in his Grim Reaper costume.

For a moment alone in Lauryn’s kitchen, stirring the gravy and taking a deep breath.

For the hilarity that ensued later when we could barely get the cranberry sauce out of the can. (We had homemade, too, but someone requested the traditional log.)

j carving turkey thanksgiving

For turkey and ham, both carved by my husband; for homemade stuffing and green beans wrapped in bacon; for hot rolls and mashed potatoes and Waldorf salad.

For two long tables in Joe and Lauryn’s living room, football on in the background and the kids running up and down the stairs. For Joe’s invitation to share a bit about the people we love, who bolster us up every day.

For my friend Kelsey’s baby boy, Bennett, born in Texas the night before, healthy and perfect and right on time.

east Boston view sky sunset rooftops

For the breathtaking view over Eastie’s rooftops from Kem and Fabricio’s kitchen window.

For laughter and stories as we all stood around sipping coffee and tea.

For Kem’s delicious dessert spread – seven kinds of pie! – and a bowl of freshly made whipped cream.

For the chance to be welcomed and to welcome others.

pie spread thanksgiving

If you celebrated, I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving.

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plants sunny window blue sky

Earlier this month, Laura Tremaine hosted her annual #OneDayHH Instagram challenge: documenting the details of an ordinary day. I’ve participated for several years now, and I always enjoy it, both in the moment and looking back on it later.

This fall, I’m doing a lot of moving between my two worlds: Harvard Square, still and always my home, and my newer Berklee neighborhood in Boston’s Back Bay, where I spend most of my workdays now. This year’s #OneDayHH fell on a Thursday when I spent a lot of time in both, so here are some of the highlights from that day.

november sunrise sky

I love watching (and snapping) the sunrise from our kitchen windows while I move around and make tea.

butler stop leaves fall trolley

My commute begins with a quick walk down the street to the trolley stop. The trees were still in full glorious leaf.

mem church leaves fall blue sky Harvard yard

I walked across the Yard to Mem Church for prayers, as I often do…

Darwin's chai berries journal coffee shop

…and then I headed to Darwin’s, to hang out and work for a while. I had chai (of course), Kelly’s homemade apple bread, blueberries and a bit of writing time.

Lowell house window view plants Harvard

Some Thursdays still include that Harvard writers’ meeting on the sixth floor, in one of my favorite places. This is the view of Lowell House from the window near Wendy’s desk.

I dashed to the florist after my meeting and then to Central Square to meet a girlfriend for lunch. I’d been meaning to try Andala Cafe, and it was delicious.

blue bikes central square Cambridge

Boston’s Blue Bikes are making my back-and-forth possible, these days, so I grabbed one for a quick ride back across the river.

Berklee desk flowers computer lamp work

I spent the afternoon partly here, at my desk: flowers, Oxford, tea, cards from friends, emails. I also spent a while in the sunny conference room – see photo at the top of this post. The plants love the sunshine as much as I do.

Berklee banner building Boston

The afternoon also included a walk to the other end of campus: I was supposed to meet a student. We missed each other, but I popped in to see a work friend, grabbed some Earl Grey from Pavement and headed back to the office to wrestle a podcast episode into submission.

prudential Boston sunset back bay

I left the office late and headed to the public library before meeting a friend for dinner at Flour and a wander around Trident. No photos from that part, but we didn’t need any.

I got home late and was exhausted – these dual-world days take a lot out of me. But I am grateful to belong in both places.

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Harvard yard November light trees fall blue sky

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.

[…]

Then said my friend Daniel
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it—
books, bricks, grief—
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

—from “Heavy,” Mary Oliver

I read this poem in Thirst a few years ago, but heard it read aloud this week at Morning Prayers. I listened to the words and thought, not for the first time lately, that gratitude—along with courage and books and yes, grief—can be a heavy burden to bear.

For me and for many of the folks I love, this has been a year of coming close to grief: closer and closer until we are right in the middle of it. We have navigated trauma and transition; we have wept, sometimes privately, sometimes together. We have been sustained—never doubt it—by friendship and sunshine, hot drinks and fresh flowers and occasional blinding joy.

geraniums window red flowers kitchen

But I cannot come up to Thanksgiving without first pausing to acknowledge: there has been so much, this year, to carry.

Even the good gifts this year have sometimes felt prickly, as my friend Micha put it years ago. My new job at Berklee, where I am glad to be, came at the expense of leaving Harvard, which I love. My husband has seen the end of one nonprofit he runs and the beginning of another: a professional success, but a stressful one. I have multiple friends who have navigated moves, loss, job changes, seeing their lives upended and rearranged. Sometimes it comes by choice; often it is a product of circumstances. Always, it requires summoning courage.

We carry our griefs, like other burdens, as best we can; we shift and strain and sometimes we ask for help. And alongside the heartache is the constant reminder: there is so much, in this world, that inspires thanks.

I am grateful for—among other things—the vivid sunrises out my kitchen window, and the cheery red geraniums that turn toward the light as I do. I’m grateful for pleasant workdays at Berklee, and the snatched hours I still spend in Harvard Square. I am grateful, in both places, to have found home: the one I am working to build, the other I am determined not to lose.

I’m grateful for countless long runs on the trail, for Monday night boot camps with Erin and company, for yoga in a green-walled studio, for the chance to step into my own strength. I’m grateful for good books and thought-provoking articles, and the connections I’ve made via both, online and off.

Most of all, I am grateful for the stalwart loved ones who have supported me through another year of challenge and change. Some of them are bound to me by blood or vows, but all of them are family.

If you are celebrating: I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving. If you are carrying grief: I see you. And if, like me, you are doing both, I wish you joy and strength for the road ahead.

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berklee-building

That’s not quite true. But it has felt true lately, as I’ve added podcast-hosting duties to the round of life at my new job.

My colleagues and I take turns hosting Sounds of Berklee, our weekly podcast featuring songs by and interviews with Berklee students, alumni, faculty and visiting artists.

Here are my first two episodes, if you’d like to listen. The first features Avanti Nagral, a Berklee student pursuing a dual degree with Harvard and making great music while she’s at it:

The second is a Q&A session with Cristina Pato and Edward Perez, two artists from Silkroad who came over to talk about their collaboration with some of our students, and treat us to a live performance (of bagpipes and double bass!) in the studio.

It’s been fun to explore a new medium, and record at the studio on campus. Happy listening.

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Harvard yard November light trees fall blue sky

It has been (yet) another stretch of challenge and change here – though the new job is making a little more sense these days. And despite some heartening headlines from last week’s election (more women, more diversity, higher voter turnout), it’s been (another) hellishly hard week or two to be in the world.

That’s how it seems to go these days, isn’t it? Back and forth. But a few small lifesavers are bearing me up. On some days they feel like just enough. Even that, I recognize, is a gift. Here they are:

  • My short rain boots, which are getting me through the fall storms.
  • Related: my newish belted raincoat, lined with a hood.
  • Chatter with my colleagues: music, books, tea, punctuation. (Yes, we are nerds.)
  • Tart, crisp Empire apples from the farmers’ market.
  • The In the Heights soundtrack, especially the first few numbers.
  • Yoga on Tuesday nights, and Gina’s smile.
  • Standing at the kitchen sink washing piles of dishes.
  • The tiny, sparkly We See Stars earrings I bought in the West Village this summer.
  • This song from The Annual, a yearlong music project from St Aldates, my beloved church in Oxford.
  • Morning bike rides across the river after prayers at Mem Church.
  • Related: trips to Darwin’s before prayers, for chai and community.
  • Mums and late roses and black-eyed Susans.
  • The autumn light that turns leaves to stained glass.
  • The feeling when I’m running of finally being warm to my fingertips.
  • Early sunrises out my kitchen window.
  • Related: my vitamin D pills and my happy lamp.

What’s saving your life these days? Please share, if you like.

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The gift of welcome

mem-church-window

Morning at Mem Church: sunlight filtering through the clouds or gleaming between the changing leaves outside the windows above the high altar. Depending on where I sit, sometimes it shines directly into my face, and I close my eyes and receive it like a blessing.

The electric candles are lit, but they’re more for effect than illumination. We file in quietly, in ones and twos, choosing our familiar places in the carved wooden pews.

I glance at the week’s printed list of speakers and anthems, my eyes occasionally lighting on a hymn I know. Some parts of the service are as familiar as breath: the responsive verse-by-verse reading of a psalm, the quiet unison of the Lord’s Prayer. The phrases have held me all my life: Hallowed be thy name. Forgive us our trespasses. For thine is the kingdom.

Other parts I still stumble through: most of these Episcopalian hymns are not mine, but I relish the chance to lift my voice and sing, however imperfectly.

Most of us regulars know one another’s faces, even if we never speak or learn one another’s names. I greet the seminarians, nod at the music professor with perpetually tousled hair, smile at the student I came to know slightly last year, wave at my friend Ellen if I can catch her eye. There’s a loosely knit comfort in being together, all turning toward the light in this place.

The talks are varied, sometimes uneven: they draw in speakers from across the university and beyond. People speak out of their Christian and Muslim, Hindu and Jewish faiths, or no faith at all. Sometimes they are students, earnest and hesitant; sometimes professors, more polished, but less certain that they have all the answers. Sometimes a sentence arrows straight into my heart. On occasion, my eyes prick with sudden tears.

I like it best when there are a few new faces in the pews, come to support a friend or hear a professor speak. They shuffle in shyly, unsure of where to sit, when to stand and when to be seated. They fumble with the black-covered psalters, the crimson hymnals. It’s all right, I want to say to them. You are welcome here.

There’s a deep longing in all of us for community, for belonging, for a place to lay our burdens down and know that we are safe, welcome, loved. Most of those places eventually ask something of us, as they should. We who belong to communities must share the work of building and caring for them.

But for me, Mem Church has been a simpler gift: all it asks, most days, is that I show up.

On any weekday morning, I can walk down the long center aisle, or slip in the side door if I’m running late. All that’s asked of me is to be there, to sit and listen, to receive the gift of this time and place. I often add my voice to the prayers and the singing, but sometimes, I stay silent and let the community hold me.

In every faith community I’ve belonged to, I have heard words of welcome and grace. Sometimes we struggle to live those words out: it’s part of the challenge that comes with being human. But sometimes, for a few minutes, our words and our actions match up, and we are able to welcome one another. It is always a gift. And I’m grateful.

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