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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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blue bikes central square Cambridge

This fall, I became a semi-regular user of Boston’s BlueBikes system, mostly riding between Harvard Square, my beloved former work neighborhood, and Back Bay, where I work now.

Even as the weather has turned colder, I’ve continued to enjoy my rides, usually along the same route: down Mount Auburn Street to Massachusetts Avenue, over the bridge by MIT and all the way to Commonwealth Avenue, down which I ride for a few blocks before docking my bike at (or near) Copley Square.

I hadn’t ridden regularly – especially in city traffic – since my grad-student days in Oxford, when I pedaled my green bike everywhere, from school to work to church and back again. Boston’s traffic (and weather) patterns are a little different, and I’m finding the whole process of riding a bit different this time around.

I’ve been taking notes, mostly in my head, most of which can be summed up as I am learning. But I thought I’d share a few of them with you.

back bay Boston brownstones sky

I am learning (again) that layering is key: if I bundle up properly, I can ride in colder weather than I initially expected. (I am also learning that I have my limits – which include snow, rain and wind chills in the teens.) I am learning to pull on two pairs of gloves, to wear sunglasses and slather on stick sunscreen to protect against both sun and wind. I am learning to carry an extra base layer, to change into at the office – because I hate that clammy post-ride feeling after you cool down.

I am trying to carry a lighter work bag (probably good for me anyway), though I’m also learning to strap whatever I’m carrying (including flowers, sometimes) into the front basket. I’m learning to pack extra snacks, make sure my water bottle is sealed, wrap my lunch in a plastic bag (it helps if the food is frozen).

Once I start riding, I’m learning how to thread my way through traffic and when to pause, in the absence of protected bike lanes. How to shrug off the occasional yells from grumpy motorists. How to signal a turn, usually not once but several times. How to avoid drains and puddles and manhole covers. The particular traffic signals and patterns along my regular route.

Back in those Oxford days, cycling gave me a new kind of freedom, and opened a different window on the city I already loved. It is doing the same for me here in Boston and Cambridge, and like so many things I love, it urges me to pay attention. To my surroundings, to the changing weather, to the buildings and trees and the view across the river, to my own body and spirit moving through the world. I can see why a few friends of mine are addicted to cycling. I just might be, too.

Any tips on riding in the city – or in the winter – for a novice?

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pavement tea cup window cafe Boston back bay

As regular readers know, I have a deep, longstanding and well-documented love affair with Darwin’s, the coffee shop in Cambridge I have adopted as my own.

I started going there – first occasionally, then regularly – not long after I began working at Harvard, and I came to love nearly everything about it, especially the people and the chai.

darwins scone stripe journal coffee shop table

I’m not a coffee drinker, preferring hot tea year-round: ginger peach, Earl Grey, strong black tea with milk when it’s frigid out. But I am a lover of chai lattes, and Darwin’s spicy, house-made chai mix blended with steamed milk (and served with a smile) is my gold standard. I work across the river now, but I still made regular trips to the Square for chai this fall.

The adjustment to a new neighborhood has been, shall we say, difficult. And while I’m planning to continue popping over to Darwin’s when I can, I know I also need to embrace this new place. So I’ve been making a study of chai lattes in the area near my office.

Back Bay has no shortage of cafes, though I tend to avoid Starbucks and Peet’s in favor of independent coffee shops or Boston-based chains. Pavement and Flour, both in the latter category, each have two locations nearby. The baristas (many of them students) are kind, though the chai at both places is too sweet for me. (Flour is a good lunch spot, though.)

To my surprise, Trident, the quirky indie bookstore on Newbury Street, does a decent chai with lots of cinnamon, and I dropped by Caffe Nero last week to sample their chai. (Also too sweet, though I like the atmosphere – and I associate Caffe Nero with Oxford, where I first discovered it.) The Boston Public Library, in addition to having all the wonderful books, does a pretty good chai. And there are a few places I haven’t tried yet.

I’m under no illusions that I will find a new Darwin’s: any coffee shop I love over here will be different, and that’s (mostly) fine. When I really need it, my favorite Darwin’s chai and my beloved baristas are just across the river. (As are my florist, Mem Church and the Cambridge streets I adore.)

Part of this quixotic quest is just giving myself a mission – or something to look forward to – on these bitter winter mornings. And if I can’t find the perfect chai, a few smiles from new baristas are still no small thing.

What helps you feel at home in a new neighborhood?

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jer ryder legos Christmas tree

The middle of our Christmas journey is always just that: the middle.

By which I mean: it is messy and rich and full, crowded with some of my favorite holiday traditions and the constantly-in-motion bodies of my two nephews. We are already a little tired, having flown 1,700 miles and driven nearly another 400.

blue sky highway Texas

This year, the drive happened on Christmas Eve – blue sky, long straight highways, Sara Bareilles and Mumford on Spotify, boy-band holiday music when we started to go a little crazy. It ended with my dad greeting us at the door: “We have to leave for church in 45 minutes!”

There was a mad scramble to wrap the last few gifts, kneeling on the guest room floor surrounded by Scotch tape and scraps of wrapping paper. I barely had time to brush my hair before we piled into the car. J and I snapped a photo in front of the lobby Christmas tree before heading inside, hoping we could get a seat – the 4:00 service tends to be crowded.

k j Christmas tree church fbc

Somehow, in spite of the lead-up, I was able to relax then: to exhale into one of my favorite church services of the year. You can count on a few things at my parents’ church: glittering, glorious Christmas trees; Doris on the pipe organ; familiar faces from my childhood and teenage years; and all the verses of as many carols as possible.

candles Christmas Eve silent night fbc

This was Christmas: relishing the third verse of Joy to the World and holding hands with my mother as we lifted our candles during Silent Night. This was Christmas: listening to a string quartet, my husband’s tenor voice, the babbles and cries of so many babies.

This was Christmas: coming, perhaps, no closer to understanding how or why God came into our midst, but choosing to acknowledge and celebrate. We cannot explain, but we rejoice.

moms tree gifts

We headed back to my parents’ for a pre-gift-exchange smorgasbord: cheese and charcuterie, apple slices and carrot sticks, square pretzels topped with chocolate and mint M&Ms. My nephews, decked out in their Santa shirts, could hardly wait to get to the unwrapping, but first we snacked, and then we listened to my sister read the story that still moves me, every year. “For unto you is born this day.” Unto us a child is born, and nothing will ever be the same.

nephews unwrapping presents gifts Christmas

This was the year of the Legos: the boys are obsessed, and they received sets from multiple family members. (Their other favorite thing was a pair of tiny laser guns – a gift for my dad, who still loves to get toys at Christmas.) We had presents that night and stockings the next day, and there were chocolates and new socks, scarves and Starbucks cards and fancy tea (for me).

The weather – after a freak dust-and-rainstorm, complete with tumbleweeds – continued mild, and we spent two afternoons in my sister’s backyard playing football and baseball and climbing on the swing set. We grilled burgers and ribs and did full justice to all the traditional holiday sides (most of them potato-based). I went for a few solo runs in my parents’ neighborhood, looping through the familiar roads under (mostly) bare branches and blue sky.

sneakers rocks running west Texas

The hubs, fighting sinus trouble, won the Best Uncle Award for playing every kind of sport (and Lego) we could squeeze in. My brother-in-law showed off his model train, and more quietly, his grilling skills. I slipped out onto my sister’s front lawn to snap pictures of the sunsets. And the best, as always, was being together.

If you celebrated, I hope your holidays were lovely. Now: onward into 2019.

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cotton mural texas

The shape of our Christmas journey has changed a little over the past few years.

When we moved to Boston, J’s parents and sister were still living in the eastern suburbs of Dallas, where he grew up. My father-in-law talked for years about retiring to “the country,” but I secretly never believed they’d actually do it. Until one summer day in 2015 when they shocked us all by announcing they were moving to a tiny East Texas town we’d never heard of.

Now, instead of staying in the suburbs, we fly into DFW, pick up the rental car and drive east for about an hour, to a cluster of small towns set off the highways amid cotton fields, (mostly) defunct railroad tracks and a few smallish lakes.

lake ray Hubbard Texas

It’s still a relatively quick drive into Dallas, and we end up going in at least once while we’re there, to meet up with J’s high school choir friends and sing Christmas carols. My husband, the lifelong choir nerd, is not a fan of most pop Christmas music, but he loves – and so do I – the chance to sing a cappella arrangements of the classics.

girls caroling

It always takes us a few songs to warm up, and there’s always at least one carol we don’t quite hit (this year it was O Tannenbaum). But we find our way through the familiar sheet music, singing Hark the Herald and Joy to the World, O Come O Come Emmanuel and O Come All Ye Faithful (with at least the first verse in Latin). We always do multiple renditions of Jolly Old St. Nicholas and Jingle Bells, and this year, Kelly had a surprise for us: actual sheet music for the absurdly complex version of We Wish You a Merry Christmas. We wind up with a few non-Christmas classics: the alma mater (even I know all the words) and The Lord Bless You and Keep You.

The weather was mild this year: blue skies, brisk but not biting winds, and temps in the vicinity of 60 (!) degrees. J took advantage of the hotel’s fitness center, but I made several drives to the park we discovered last year, where, it turns out, I love to run.

park pond blue sky

At the front end of a 10-day trip filled with people, those long solo loops around the pond and the neighborhood saved my life, and helped settle me after a rough travel day.

We kept a few of the traditions we’ve established over the years: the caroling party, a trip to the local pie place to meet J’s aunt and cousins for lunch (and pie); the family gift exchange, where my niece, Annie, got more presents than all of us (also a tradition). And we tried a few new things: Korean barbecue with my sister-in-law, some Tempranillo at the local winery, my in-laws’ new church.

I struggle sometimes to savor our days in East Texas, because I’m already looking forward to what always comes after them: Christmas in my hometown with all the traditions I love, and a few crowded, love-filled days with friends in Abilene.

But this year, for whatever reason, I was (mostly) able to slow down and enjoy this first leg. I wanted to really notice the blue sky and the cotton fields and the sun-bleached buildings. I wanted to remember: there is real life out here, in this place. I wanted to pay attention.

We’re (slowly) finding our way into the new year over here. I hope you are too.

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Katie post bike ride selfie

I never quite know what to say about a whole year. That’s been especially true of the last several: so full of challenge and change, transition and unexpected moments. A list seems inadequate, at best, but it’s one of the tools I have, so here’s a list of (some of) what I’ve done this year.

In 2018, I have:

  • run my second, third and fourth 5Ks – on a gorgeous April day, a sunny November Sunday and a freezing December morning, respectively.
  • dyed my hair for the first time – I put a few pink streaks in it this spring, and liked it so much I’ve kept refreshing the color.
  • flown to Idaho to visit my dear friends and meet their new baby girl.
  • hosted those same friends for a lovely weekend in Boston this fall.
  • drunk so many chai lattes, mostly (are we shocked?) from Darwin’s.
  • spent my third glorious stretch of days in San Diego.
  • mourned the loss of a dear family friend.
  • met and briefly interviewed Lin-Manuel Miranda.
  • taken a 10-day vacación to Spain with my husband, to celebrate a decade of marriage.
  • toasted my beloved boss as he retired from HKS.
  • savored my sixth Commencement at Harvard.
  • heard the news that my job there was ending.
  • spent a summer freelancing and job hunting (again).
  • started a new job across the river at Berklee.
  • run my first 8K on a hot, humid, sunny Labor Day.
  • taken my first ride (and many more) on a Blue Bike, and become completely addicted.
  • read nearly 200 books.
  • reviewed several dozen of those books, and interviewed six authors, for Shelf Awareness.
  • tended a few geraniums and a basil plant (at home) and a couple of low-light desk plants (at work).
  • bought countless bouquets of flowers, many from my favorite florist.
  • run miles and miles and miles on my beloved trail.
  • seen a few great concerts: the Wailin’ Jennys, the Boston Conservatory orchestra, Five for Fighting, various Berklee students (who really know how to jam).
  • hosted my parents for their annual visit to Boston.
  • spent a couple of whirlwind weekends in NYC.
  • navigated a few losses I’m not ready to talk about yet.
  • celebrated Thanksgiving with friends old and new in East Boston.
  • turned 35, hosted my own birthday brunch and reflected on it.
  • embraced the weekly boot camps I started last year.
  • kept on doing yoga about once a week.
  • spent many mornings in a pew at Memorial Church.
  • learned how to podcast.
  • tried to figure out how to stitch together the old life and the new.

I’ve got a few plans and a lot of hopes for 2019 – though I’m increasingly aware that I don’t know what’s coming next. I’m trying to navigate that with greater ease as we head into a new year. But first I’d love to know: what has 2018 looked like for you?

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wreath tree NYC Christmas

It’s no secret that I love New York City: in the fall, in the spring, even in a sweltering summer heat wave. But I’d never seen the city decked out for Christmas, and I’d always wanted to. So, when my husband told me he had a work conference in Chicago, I made plans for a quick solo trip: 48 hours to wander on my own. It was, as you might expect, glorious.

Every time I go to New York I fall in love. This time, it was with crisp Snapdragon apples and pumpkin cookies at the tiny farmers’ market in Abingdon Square; with the stands of freshly cut Christmas trees on so many corners, tunnels of prickly green. I even fell in love a little bit with the tree-seller who called “Merry Christmas!” and actually tipped his hat.

high line view NYC blue sky

I fell in love with running on the High Line: bold blue skies and views across the Hudson, public art and the sharp angles of skyscrapers and the pounding of my own feet. After my run, I stopped at the Hudson Cafe for oatmeal and a cup of strong Earl Grey, and fell in love with a little dog named Stella. Her owner invited me to sit down and chat, and we talked public transit and city life and unexpected career moves. “How long have you lived in the neighborhood?” I asked her. She grinned, a little wickedly. “A hundred and fifty years!”

Cornelia street cafe awning NYC

I fell in love with the cheery red-striped awnings at the Cornelia Street Cafe just off Bleecker, and with their excellent eggs Florentine (oh my). I fell in love with the stunning array of artisans in the maker space at Chelsea Market, and with the quiet, unpretentious Epiphany Library branch on East 23rd Street. I ended up there when I needed a place to rest my feet and charge my phone (because Hermione is right: when in doubt, go to the library).

red decor west village

I bought a rush ticket to Saturday night’s Live from Here with Chris Thile at the Town Hall. And while I knew I loved Thile’s mandolin music (I’m a Nickel Creek fan from way back), I fell completely in love with his warmth and charm onstage. When he invited the audience to sing along with a few lines from a John Denver song about home, it felt both magical and holy. I’ve been humming those lines ever since.

Some trips to New York are full of new discoveries, and some are about revisiting old favorites. The best are a bit of both, and this was no exception: I made sure to pop into Three Lives for a browsing session and a bit of eavesdropping on the friendly booksellers. I visited Pink Olive and refueled later with Earl Grey at Joe. I went back to Bar Six, back to the Strand, back to the Bryant Park holiday market at the main NYPL branch. I went back, most of all, to the city whose streets I find endlessly fascinating.

I didn’t make it to Rockefeller Center or walk down 5th Avenue to see all the decked-out department stores. But I did get a little of that holiday sparkle. And I did my favorite thing to do in New York: wander to my heart’s content. It was, as always, exhausting and lovely.

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