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“Nineties country is my love language,” I joked last week, after making yet another reference to a song I loved as a teenager. I grew up on steel guitar and driving fiddle, on ballads meant for long road trips and hot sunny days with the car windows down. I was married for years to a fellow Texan who turned up his nose at country music, but I have never stopped loving it. And this morning, for the third time this week, my running playlist was the Jo Dee Messina Spotify station.

I’d almost forgotten about Messina until a few weeks ago, when I went digging for the lyrics to her 1998 hit single “Stand Beside Me.” Since then, I’ve happily fallen down the rabbit hole of her straight-talking anthems about love and loss and standing up for herself.

Perhaps it’s no surprise: strong southern women are my truth-tellers, which is why I’m loving Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Songs from Home on Instagram these days (and why I was so jazzed to write about Mary Gauthier when she came to Berklee last fall). This pandemic coincides with the one-year anniversary of deciding to leave my marriage, and build a new life for myself, on my own. It has been both scary and exhilarating, and I’ve needed the voices of all my heroines: my real-life girlfriends, the literary women I love, and the singer-songwriters who speak the words written on my heart.

I’m thrilled to have rediscovered Messina as part of this chorus. And as summer approaches, you can sometimes find me pounding down the East Boston Harborwalk humming along to “Bye Bye,” “Heads Carolina, Tails California” or – most especially – “I’m Alright.”

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Like a lot of readers, I have a stack or two (or five) of unread books around the house at any given time. They are library books, advance copies for my review gig, gifts or loans from friends, books I’ve bought but haven’t picked up yet. And some of them tend to linger for months.

About three weeks into quarantine, when I was really missing the library, I decided to tackle one book from these stacks every week. I bought or borrowed all these books because I thought I’d enjoy them, and now that I’m not able to browse the shelves at the library, I can give them some attention.

I started with Ivan Doig’s wry, wonderful novel The Whistling Season, and moved on to a comics collection my guy had lent me. I tried a book of poetry (which did not stick, for now), and am slowly making my way through A Fine Romance, an illustrated travelogue my friend Kate sent me. I have been loving Mardy Murie’s memoir of her life in Alaska, Two in the Far North, and am hoping to find some other gems in the stacks as I keep going.

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This is good for my wallet, since I am just as tempted as usual to buy stacks of books from my favorite indie bookstores. It’s good for my brain, which relishes different kinds of books, and is particularly craving absorbing nonfiction right now. And it’s good for my sense of accomplishment – no small thing in these strange days.

What (and how) are you reading these days?

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When the quarantine orders came down in mid-March, I thought: at least I’ll still be able to run. 

I kept running, mostly as usual – even a little more than usual – for five weeks, except when it poured rain. (Thank goodness for online yoga.) I live in a neighborhood with lots of public space: the Harborwalk, several parks and the East Boston Greenway. I love a three- or four-mile run through these spaces, and I was enjoying the chance to run nearly every day. Until my body mounted a serious protest to those weeks of working on a hard kitchen chair.

I panicked. Then I paid attention. Then I bought a foam roller and took nearly a week off running and did a lot of resting and stretching. The past week or two, I’ve mostly been back to running, though I’m taking breaks to walk more often, and sometimes shortening the distance.

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After several days of feeling good, I was expecting to go on a longer run this bright morning, but I woke up with tired muscles from last night’s long walk. So instead of the planned four-ish miles, I took a slow walk/jog down the hill, through the shipyard, down the pier and back, through the park. It wasn’t the longer run I had hoped for, but it had sunshine and movement and flowers, and it felt good to get out and move. I followed it up with some yoga, which was just what I needed.

I’m slowly learning to trust my body: though I’ve done yoga for years, running has both helped and forced me to inhabit these bones, muscles and tendons in a new way. I am learning to pay attention when my body says stop or wait or maybe not today. And I’m also looking forward to the day – maybe tomorrow, maybe next week – when she whispers Yeah. Let’s go. 

Hello, friends. Happy Monday, and happy May.

I’m writing to you from my kitchen floor, where I sometimes sit for a bit these days to give myself a break from the kitchen table. (A couple of weeks ago, I started having serious soreness and muscle tightness – at least partly caused by weeks of sitting on a hard chair.)

I was a bit burned out after 30 straight days of posting stories from quarantine, but I’d like to keep creating and sharing with you during May. To that end: daily tulips, and a daily thought, at least on the weekdays.

It is tulip season in Boston (hallelujah), and I’ve been snapping and sending daily blooms to a friend in California (hi Allison!) who loves them as much as I do. Both the parks around town and my neighborhood are full of glorious, nodding beauties, and I want to share them with you. (I may switch to #dailylilacs or something if we run out of tulips.)

Today’s thought, like so many of mine right now, is related to connection. In this extended time of social distancing, I have been missing time with my people, though I still get to hug my guy, thank goodness. Several friends of mine are feeling the same way: those with kids/partners at home need some additional adult interaction, and those of us who live alone are dying for face-to-face connection, period.

As we head into the next phase of whatever-this-new-normal-is, I’ve got to make some shifts: I can’t count on one person for everything, nor can I spend all day, every day, alone with my own thoughts. We are all taking calculated risks, even if they’re small, and I need some of mine to include community.

So last week I took a (distanced) walk with a girlfriend, and made plans to check in regularly with another on the phone. I FaceTimed a friend from high school, and took a long, glorious Sunday afternoon ramble with a local friend. We stopped by Downeast to buy some cider, and we waved at a few folks I know. It might not be magic, but it’s helping.

My therapist expressed it well: how can I sprinkle in moments of being seen throughout the week? As we head into May, I’m keeping that in mind: how to seek out that space for connection, and create it for others.

Where are you this week, friends? I’d love to know. I’ll be back tomorrow, with more tulips.

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April has felt like the longest, strangest month ever. But we’ve (nearly) made it to May – and whatever it may bring. Here’s what I have been reading (with ratatouille, sometimes):

The Whistling Season, Ivan Doig
I picked this novel up months ago at our street’s Little Free Library (which is now closed). It’s set in rural Montana in 1909, when a widower with three sons hires a housekeeper, and her arrival – along with her brother’s – has all kinds of effects on the community. Warm, witty and absorbing; Doig evokes place so well and I loved his narrator’s voice.

Inbound 4: A Comic Book History of Boston, Boston Comics Roundtable
My guy is a comic-book geek from way back, and he lent me this quirky collection of comics about incidents in Boston history. I’ve lived here for nearly a decade and I’m a history nerd, but I learned a lot from this collection, and chuckled several times. Link to the Million Year Picnic comic shop in Harvard Square, where it came from (and to whose owner it is dedicated).

I Was Told It Would Get Easier, Abbi Waxman
Single-mom lawyer Jessica and her teenage daughter, Emily, embark on a weeklong college bus tour of the East Coast. They see a lot of campuses, but spend even more time learning about themselves and each other. I like Waxman’s fun, quippy novels and this one was enjoyable, especially the witty dual narration. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 16).

Use the Power You Have: A Brown Woman’s Guide to Politics and Political Change, Pramila Jayapal
Jayapal, a congresswoman from Seattle and a longtime activist, recounts her career and lays out her passionate arguments on several big issues: U.S. immigration policy, Medicare for All, a national $15 minimum wage. She’s whip-smart, warm, compassionate, super prepared and compelling – and so is her book. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 30).

This Won’t End Well, Camille Pagán
After chemist Annie Mercer quits her job over her boss’s sexual harassment, and her fiancé tells her he needs to go find himself (in Paris), she swears off new people altogether. But that’s before Harper, a glamorous but mysterious young woman, moves in next door, and also before Mo, an annoyingly cheerful amateur PI, shows up too. I loved this sweet, witty novel about a woman trying to make sense of her life in the wake of big changes (sound familiar?). Recommended by Anne.

Rilla of Ingleside, L.M. Montgomery
I adore this underrated final book in the Anne of Green Gables series, set during World War I. This story stars the grit and gumption of the women of Ingleside, especially Anne’s youngest daughter Rilla, faithful cook-housekeeper Susan (whose wit is second to none) and local schoolteacher Miss Oliver. I needed its wisdom and warmth during these weeks of quarantine.

Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice, Thich Nhat Hanh
I’m not big on mediation, but I am looking for ways to bring peace into my space these days, so I dipped into this slim book over the last few weeks. I like the notion of bringing peace to every aspect of one’s home – even a studio apartment – though the mantras themselves didn’t really work for me.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstores, Brookline Booksmith and Trident.

What are you reading?

In these strange days of mostly working and interacting from home, I’ve been getting used to lots of Zoom calls.

I expected that, of course: we’ve moved our weekly team meetings online, and we’ve had at least one bigger departmental meeting and tried a couple of virtual happy hours. I’ve interviewed a few students and faculty for stories via Zoom (though sometimes regular old phone calls are easier). I’m also taking Zoom exercise classes regularly, and I’ve used it and other, similar platforms (like FaceTime) to catch up with friends, family, my boss and even my therapist.

Like so much of life under quarantine, it is similar but not the same. I like seeing my colleagues’ and friends’ faces, and it’s been fun to get a peek into everyone’s living spaces (and sometimes wave hello to their children or cats). I’ve been doing most of my calls either from my kitchen table or the bar cart that is serving as my makeshift standing desk. And here’s one thing I didn’t expect: they are exhausting.

There’s a human energy that comes from face-to-face interactions, whether it’s your best friend, the bank teller, or a work acquaintance. It’s really hard to recreate that dynamic over video, not to mention the vagaries of unreliable signals and dropped calls. It’s also hard to feel like I must be extremely focused the whole time – rather than shifting my attention out the window or to my notepad/laptop for a few seconds, the way I would do in a “normal” meeting. After one Zoom call, I’m wiped out; after two, I am done.

I’m grateful for the technology that allows us to connect in different ways, especially now – I’ve loved FaceTiming my friends in England and California, and the family Zoom calls have been sweet and hilarious. But it’s an adjustment, like so many things right now. And I need to go stare out the window (or take a walk) afterwards.

How are you adjusting to this new videoconferencing life?

 

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One thing I miss, in this strange time of restricted movement: popping into my favorite shops (and restaurants).

A couple of my faves, like my beloved florist and the best taqueria in Maverick Square, have simply closed down for the duration. There’s not much I can do except look forward to the day when I can visit them again. (You can bet I’ll be hugging my florist, when it’s safe to do so.) But there are a few other small businesses I’m supporting with my dollars, during this crazy time. Here’s a list, in case you’re in need of books or tea or stationery, or other fun things, and have a bit of cash to spare.

  • Trident, Brookline Booksmith and the Harvard Book Store are my three favorite indie bookshops in Boston, and they’re all still operating online. (Trident’s cafe is still open, too, if you’re local.) If you’re a book lover, please support an indie bookstore during this time – they are such centers of creativity and joy, and they really need the cash flow.
  • My two favorite yoga/fitness studios, The Point EB and Savin Hill Fitness, are offering online classes via Zoom. They’re super reasonable – Savin Hill even offers one free class each day – and the instructors are great.
  • Mem Tea Imports, based in Somerville, is still shipping their delicious teas. I stocked up in mid-March, and I’m sure I’ll be making another order soon. They always stick an extra sample or two in each order.
  • I ordered some fun quarantine correspondence cards from 1canoe2, a small stationery business I’ve loved for years. They are hilarious and cute.
  • Jenny at Carrot Top Paper Shop is still bringing the cheer, even drawing some of her heroines wearing masks. Love love love.
  • Marathon Sports, my favorite Boston-based running store, is still shipping online orders. They’ve provided me with new running shoes and a much-needed foam roller since this all started.

What are some favorite small businesses you’re supporting right now?