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bike seat cover plaid snow

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about some of the things that are saving my life this winter: blue sky, tulips for my desk, my light box, coffee dates with friends. Three days later, Anne wrote her own post about a quirky winter lifesaver – and promised to share her whole list today of what’s getting her through this season.

In the wake of a massive blizzard (and staring down the barrel of another one), I figured another positive post couldn’t hurt. So I’m joining in. Here are the little things that are saving my life lately:

  • The cobalt blue (now slightly chipped) mug that dates from my days as a barista at the Ground Floor. I’ve been drinking Earl Grey out of it every morning, and it makes me so happy.
  • The stainless-steel half teaspoon I use to scoop the loose tea. Three scoops is the perfect amount, and it’s just the right tool for the job.
  • My snow boots, which I am wearing every single day. (Sigh. But they’re warm.)
  • Glimpses of whimsy, like the plaid bike-seat cover above. (Makes me think of summer picnics.)
  • The adventures of Mrs. Tim (I’m on book 2). She is a charming companion.
  • My weekly trips to the Harvard Art Museums, about which more soon.
  • Fresh scones made from Molly’s recipe, with butter.
  • The zigzag silver ring I bought in Abilene over Christmas.
  • Lemon cuticle salve, vanilla hand lotion and coconut foot cream. (I smell like a bakery.)
  • Texts from a coworker and friend whose snarky sense of humor cracks me up.
  • Coffee with a new friend last week.
  • Instagram. I love it more all the time.
  • Cardigans whose sleeves come down over my hands.
  • Photos of my sweet nephews, with texts from my sister.
  • Taylor Swift’s Speak Now album, which I’ve been blasting when I need a little pep.
  • Norah Jones and the Wailin’ Jennys, for mellower moods.
  • The Yoga Studio app, which I downloaded after reading about it on Ali’s blog.
  • A few pages of The Long Winter every morning over breakfast.
  • Writing by hand in my current journal.

What’s saving your life these days? (And when will it be spring?)

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something good polka dot mug

Earlier this month, Anne published a post about how your feed reader can change your life. Her main argument was that reading about a topic can increase a person’s interest in that topic: she recommended, for example, adding blogs related to exercise if your New Year’s resolution is to work out more often.

While I definitely see how such a strategy could be helpful, I took the opposite approach. After reading the post, I went straight to my feed reader and cleaned it out.

Some of the work was simply long-overdue housekeeping. I follow a few blogs whose feeds had moved, or whose authors hadn’t posted in a year or more. I deleted or updated these. But then I took it a step further. If I often find myself skipping past a blog – because I’m bored with it, because the author’s voice no longer resonates, or because the tone makes me feel defensive or guilty – I deleted it too.

The Internet is a loud place, and for those of us who spend a lot of time on it – especially we who relish the odd, beautiful world of the blogosphere and social media – the voices of the bloggers and tweeters we follow become the voices in our heads.

I’ve never met most of my Internet friends in person, but if I’m reading their words consistently, their voices echo in my head with surprising regularity. Sometimes that’s a boon – as when Anne recommends a great book or Micha shares her gratitude on Thankful Tuesday. But some of those voices are often snarky or judgmental, and those are the voices I do not need to hear.

Related: as a reader and book reviewer, I love connecting with authors on social media. It’s a true pleasure to be able to tell someone directly that I love their book, and I’ve made several friends that way, like Rachel and Jennifer. But it took me a long time to realize that I like some authors better on the pages of their books. I’ve unfollowed a few authors because I’d rather spend time with their characters than with them.

In keeping with my word for the yeargentle – I’m not only trying to speak and act gently, but to make sure I’m not filling my head with voices that are sharp-edged or bitter. I welcome honesty, absolutely, and I relish the occasional dose of witty sarcasm. But meanness or snark at others’ expense? I’m out.

When I find a new blog these days and consider adding it to my reader, I pause and ask: do I want this person in my head? Because, if they’re in my feed reader, that’s where they’re going to end up.

Who are the voices in your head (Internet and otherwise) these days?

*Grammar nerd alert: I know I should have used “whom” in the title of this post. But “who” sounded catchier. Forgive me!

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katie green coat black ink

A couple of years ago, I read Barbara Brown Taylor’s gorgeous book An Altar in the World and was particularly struck by a question in the introduction: What is saving your life now? Since then, I have asked it of myself over and over again, as a kind of reset button for my life and also as a way of giving thanks.

Winter is always a tough season for me, especially in New England where the frigid temps and biting winds make it hard to get through the day sometimes. But this winter, I’ve been employing a few coping mechanisms that are saving my life. (At least until the next blizzard hits.)

yellow tulips desk

I bought myself two bunches of tulips this week: one for the kitchen table, one for my desk at work (above). They make me smile, and they’re having the same effect on my colleagues.

I finally went back to Monday night yoga, after an absence of several months. My favorite instructor’s face lit up when she saw me, and the familiar poses – cat/cow, pigeon, downward facing dog – felt like coming home.

While on the mat, I had a chance to enjoy the bright pink pedicure I got last Saturday. Catching up at the nail salon and then over brunch with my friend Kristin was a real treat – even if it was 16 degrees outside. (Hence another of my little lifesavers: fleece-lined tights.)

In the mornings, before work, I’m flipping on my light box – I’ve started carrying it into the bathroom so I can switch it on the moment I step out of the shower. I move it around the apartment as needed, so I can get as much extra light as possible. That extra hit of light, and my Vitamin D pills, make a real difference on gray days.

I am (it’s no secret) a dedicated tea drinker, and I always go on an Earl Grey kick in the winter. This month, I’m drinking the Earl Grey I bought in Montreal last year, out of my favorite cobalt blue mug, every morning.

I’m wearing cozy cardigans and dresses with my favorite green coat (pictured above), including a few new-to-me pieces culled from my sister’s closet over Christmas. Having a trendy – and generous – sister is such a bonus. (We’ve also been having long conversations via text message about Downton Abbey – she’s been catching up in preparation for the new season.)

Winter can be so isolating, but this year I am making a real effort to schedule coffee dates or excursions like the above brunch-and-pedicure date with Kristin. (It’s also on my winter list to invite people over for dinner – bowls of soup or spicy Mexican food.)

IMG_1521

During the workday, I’m making a real effort to slip away for some chai and writing when things get crazy. Even 20 minutes of scribbling can clear my head and make a real difference in my day.

I’m reading and watching all the good stories I can: Downton, Castle, the brand-new series Grantchester, the newest Flavia de Luce mystery, Lauren Winner’s latest book (out in March).

blue sky bare branches

Finally and always: I am soaking up every bit of blue sky, whenever I can get it – and rejoicing that it’s not quite dark when I leave work now.

What is saving your life this winter?

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stripes tea bare feet red scarf

I love a good list, as you know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while. I’m also battling the winter blues over here (already), so here’s a list of fun ideas to help me get through my least favorite season.

  • Fill up the journal I started earlier this month. (Related: keep writing by hand.)
  • Spend some time at the Harvard Art Museums. They’re finally open again after a multi-year renovation, and my Harvard staff ID means I get in for free.
  • Start hunting for a new pair of red ballet flats. Mine are falling apart, and I know I’ll want some new ones come spring.
  • Invite some friends over for dinner.
  • Spend a long weekend in Nashville with my sweet college roommate and our husbands.
  • Knit myself something cozy. (I’m working on a cabled wrap.)
  • Watch some good stories. (Currently watching new episodes of Downton Abbey and Castle, and season 3 of Veronica Mars.)
  • Read a couple of books for the Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge. (Join us?)
  • Drink lots and lots of tea. (Obviously.)

What’s on your list for this winter?

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tea keep calm mug pei

I love the “around here” posts that pop up periodically throughout the blogosphere. It’s always a true pleasure to get a glimpse into others’ everyday lives, and I like looking back at my own (sporadic) posts of this type – they are wonderful snapshots of certain moments in my life.

red leaves brown boots fall

Life is full and busy and rich (and sometimes stressful) these days, and I want to remember how it feels, in all its particularity. Right now – as of late November 2014 – I am:

  • drinking David’s pumpkin chai almost every morning, and breaking out the Yorkshire tea (with milk and sugar) when the temps dip below 30.
  • waking up to the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack and the hubs curled up next to me.
  • wearing dresses, tights and boots to work, jeans and sweaters on the weekends (with my beloved jade green coat).

katie hot cocoa red cup green coat

  • breaking out the handknit hats and fingerless gloves.
  • eating lunch with the hubs almost every Friday when he comes to Harvard Square.
  • listening to the Wailin’ Jennys, Kate Rusby, a set of jazz compilation CDs I bought in London more than a decade ago, and Sarah MacLachlan’s Wintersong album.
  • getting ready to break out the Christmas music.
  • plugging away at my NaNoWriMo mystery novel (47K words and counting – so close!).

computer mug nanowrimo

  • reading a wickedly funny publishing whodunit (out in Feb.) and rereading The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets (again).
  • looking at photos of my 11-day-old nephew, Harrison, and hoping he and my sister (who have both been fighting infections) get to go home from the hospital soon.
  • wishing I could be in Texas to sit with my sister and hug my parents. Living far away is hard sometimes.
  • burning a Leaves candle in the evenings.
  • starting my dozenth (at least) reread of Watch for the Light as Advent begins.
  • preparing for Turkeypalooza, our annual Thanksgiving potluck with friends, which means I am
  • buying sweet potatoes, pecans, evaporated milk and frozen rolls.
  • continuing my Christmas shopping (I like to start early).
  • cooking a lot of solo dinners (soup, pasta, fried eggs) and saving leftovers for the hubs when he gets home from work.
  • snapping photos of the autumn leaves and light in Harvard Square.

harvard yard autumn light leaves

catte street oxford

  • anticipating our annual Christmas trip to Texas even more eagerly than usual.
  • knitting baby sweaters for Harrison and others.
  • loving the glimpses of others’ lives I see on Instagram.
  • delighting in the weekly email exchanges with the ladies of Great New Books.
  • sipping a lot of chai lattes from Darwin’s, and the occasional peppermint hot chocolate from Starbucks, in a red cup.

darwins chai journal

  • snuggling down under the electric blanket and the quilts from our grandmothers in the evenings.
  • slathering on the hand lotion as the air gets colder and drier.
  • browsing the Harvard Book Store on my lunch breaks.
  • savoring apples from the farmers’ market before it closes for the season.

What are you up to right now?

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NaNoWriMo 2014

 

books about words photo

I’ve said for a long time that I’m not a fiction writer.

I’m a voracious fiction reader – you only have to look at my book list to see that. I love a good novel, and I appreciate the skill and hard work that go into crafting a compelling story. But when I write, it tends to be essays or book reviews (and maybe one of these days, a memoir). I often find myself intimidated by the idea of creating an entire fictional world from scratch.

Enter NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo is a wild, gleeful, no-holds-barred burst of creativity – an annual challenge to write a novel, or at least a 50,000-word draft, in a month. It happens every November, with people around the world participating, and it can be tremendous fun. I did it in 2008, when I wrote a novel about an American girl who goes to Oxford. (Art imitating life, anyone?)

I hadn’t planned to do NaNo this year, but seeing the buzz about it online made me decide to jump in, fittingly, at the last minute. And I’m loving it – such a fun chance to break out of my usual writing box and do something totally different.

I’m drafting a murder mystery set in Oxford – both a fun new challenge, an homage to the detective novelists I adore (especially Dorothy Sayers), and a chance to spend (more) time daydreaming about my favorite city.

radcliffe square dusk oxford

So far I’m at 13,000-plus words and going strong. I’ll keep you posted.

Happy Friday. And, if you’re noveling, happy NaNo!

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harvard yellow leaves houghton library

Back in early September, I posted my fall manifesto. It’s been a gorgeous fall around here, full of travel and crisp days and bright leaves. (And work craziness, just to keep it real.)

Here’s an update on my manifesto items:

  • Reread the Emily Byrd Starr books by L.M. Montgomery. Done. I love this series and it had been far too long. I enjoyed spending time with Emily again.
  • Find the perfect double-breasted trench coat. Still looking.
  • Host my sister and brother-in-law for a visit. My sister came alone, and while we missed her husband, we had a fabulous time.
  • Go apple picking. (Check. Cider donuts and all.)
  • Make pumpkin bread and cranberry-orange bread. I need to get on this.
  • Drink chai and savor the last of summer’s produce. Yes and yes.
  • Spend a week in Oxford for the first time in five years. As you might expect (and as you know if you’re a regular reader), it was fantastic.
  • Spend a long weekend in NYC with the hubs. We had a wonderful time. (I love New York in the fall.)
  • Write by hand nearly every day.* Working on it.
  • Read at least three classics.* (Silas Marner = read. The Song of the Lark, The Handmaid’s Tale and Sense and Sensibility – a reread – are all on the short stack.)
  • Knit something fun and colorful.* I’ve started a Bees to Honey shawl for myself and a secret project for a friend.

How’s your fall going? (To those celebrating – happy Halloween!)

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