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Posts Tagged ‘blessings’

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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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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autumn sunrise window view trees

I say this every year: I can’t believe it’s nearly Thanksgiving. But the weather has turned seasonably chilly, and the signs – including turkey stickers at a wine tasting I went to last week – are everywhere.

Every year mid-November, I perform a few annual rituals: I buy sweet potatoes and chop pecans for the casserole-cum-dessert that is my favorite Thanksgiving dish. (No marshmallows for me, thank you.) I double-check the sign-up list for Turkeypalooza, our annual potluck celebration in the church basement. I shiver as I hurry down the Cambridge streets in my green coat, watching the golden leaves dance and fly off the trees. I queue up the Friends Thanksgiving episodes. I reread W.S. Merwin’s poem “Thanks” and hum Nichole Nordeman’s song “Gratitude.”

This November, I’ve been doing a few new things, like listening to Richard Blanco discuss Merwin’s poem in a recent WGBH segment. I’ve been thinking about how some of my best friends, who moved to Idaho this spring, won’t be with us to celebrate Thanksgiving, for the first time since we all moved to Boston. I’ve been trying to come to grips with the realities of the last year: many things have changed, or been thrown into sharper relief, since the 2016 election. And I’ve been thinking about Wendell Berry.

The title of this post is a line from Berry’s poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” It captures my own struggle over the past weeks and months: how to choose joy, find the silver lining, set my face toward gratitude, while looking steadily at the sobering and often horrifying realities of this world.

It is easy – so easy – to become sad and overwhelmed and terrified by the headlines: natural disasters, infighting and cruelty in Congress, so many stories of horrific sexual violence in this country and elsewhere. Closer to home, I have friends and loved ones who are navigating bad news every day: surgeries, budget cuts at their workplaces, losing beloved pets, struggling through breakups, depression, job hunts. Sometimes it’s a battle to get up and face the day, to consider these facts without becoming paralyzed by them.

ankle boots leaves

I forget, sometimes, that the bright parts of life are just as factual as the tough parts: that the blessings, like my florist’s smile and the taste of Earl Grey (served with good cheer by my folks at Darwin’s) and the arc of a bold blue autumn sky overhead, are as real as the worries that tug at my heart. They are all part of this life, the beautiful and the terrible, the joyous and the disheartening. Sometimes the weight of the darkness threatens to pull me down. But the goodness, the light, is also always there.

“Ask the questions that have no answers,” Berry urges his readers. “Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.” Like all the poets I love, he urges me to pay attention, to keep up the hard and honest work of taking care, to look for and celebrate the sharp, sudden beauty of these days. “Laugh,” he says. “Laughter is immeasurable.” And again: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

This is the challenge, as Lindsey wrote so eloquently last week: to acknowledge the sorrow, sit with the grief, call out the wrongness and work to change what we can, while actively seeking the “glimmers of joy” in our days. To be joyful, though we have considered all the facts – even the ones that make us cringe or roll our eyes or weep. To give thanks for what we have, what we enjoy, what (and whom) we love. For the blessings we have worked for and for those that come unasked, unbidden.

I am finding gratitude, like so many other things, complicated these days. But I also find it important, even vital. This week, before (and after) the turkey and the pies and the hours in the kitchens (mine and others’), I will be choosing to give thanks.

If you’re celebrating, I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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harvard yard leaves light

For long walks under bold blue autumn skies and vivid red and golden leaves.

For bouquets of yellow tulips and sunflowers, and a florist whose smile is kind.

For two groups of bookish colleagues, at Shelf Awareness and Great New Books, who make me laugh and make my to-be-read list grow every week.

For a new temp gig in my beloved Harvard Square neighborhood, which I’m already loving.

For chai lattes and strong black tea and spiced apple cider, sipped from paper cups or my favorite mugs.

For a husband who believes in me and cheers me on no matter what.

For family and friends whom I adore, who are wise and funny and supportive and kind.

For text messages and email and social media – all the tools that allow me to keep in touch with those I love.

For good books – stories and poetry that move me, make me think, entertain me, and make me want to be a better person.

For a small but stalwart church community of faithful, loving people.

For scented candles and funny TV shows and cozy slippers – all the little luxuries that make life more enjoyable.

For the blessing of having all I need – really, as Jaclyn said this week – more than enough.

gold-red-leaves-grass

It has been a hard couple of weeks in this world, and a hard few months in my own life. But today, I am pausing to remember the good, and give thanks.

If you’re celebrating, I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.

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nate evie small group

On Sunday afternoon, after a day of rushing around from church to lunch to the grocery store, my husband and I hopped in the car and drove across the Boston metro area, under an already-darkening sky.

We head that way several times a month, to a house in the western suburbs where our friends Ryan and Amy live, with two kids, two cats, one dog and a general atmosphere of cheerful, friendly chaos. On Sunday nights, when we can, about a dozen of us come over for a potluck dinner, sitting around the long table on mismatched chairs, eating, laughing and catching up on our lives.

This fall, we have struggled to gather on a regular basis: soccer games, illness and travel have kept one family or another from joining in. But the minute we stepped inside the front door to be greeted by Telly, the resident dog, we were home.

telly dog

We piled jackets and handbags in the front hallway, carrying the food we’d brought through to the kitchen. Ryan stood at the stove, flipping pancakes, while Nate turned sausages on the griddle he’d carted over from his house. There were hugs and hellos as the kids raced around underfoot, and baby Evie, befuddled by the time change, tried to decide whether to laugh or cry.

Eventually, we all gathered around the table in a ragged circle, Evie bouncing on my knees, to join hands and hear Amy say grace.

It’s the simplest and sometimes the most difficult thing in the world: inviting people into your home, letting them be a part of your family’s life. I have missed it this fall, while we’ve all been tugged in our opposite directions, and that night, it was loud and imperfect and crazy, and just right.

Perched around the table, we dug into stacks of pancakes and munched on crispy bacon, and exclaimed over photos of the kids in their Halloween costumes: a pirate, Scooby-Doo, Princess Leia, a “zombie skeleton scientist.” We listened to snatches of a cappella songs (sung by Nate and my husband), told stories, cracked jokes. We refilled the kids’ glasses of milk and our own mugs of hot mulled cider. Telly padded around underfoot, and Nate carried a massive skillet of scrambled eggs out of the kitchen and spooned them onto everyone’s plates.

Later, I stood in the kitchen and tried to explain Daylight Savings Time to nine-year-old Michael, nearly dead on his feet after two soccer games that morning. And still later, we drifted into the living room to sing a few songs from battered hymnbooks, Abi rocking Evie slowly to sleep, the younger kids looking wide-eyed at Richard Scarry picture books while we sang “Be Thou My Vision” and “Mighty God.”

We left later than we intended (isn’t that always the way?), with bear hugs and “see you soons.” J and I were exhausted by the time we got home: we’re both introverts, and Sundays can be challenging. I was out of words and out of extrovert. But I also felt full, and grateful. This community, this warm, chaotic, nourishing thing we do on Sunday nights, saves my life over and over again.

Where do you find community in your life?

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Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.

―Frederick Buechner

Lindsey tweeted this quote the other day, and I’ve been thinking about the deep truth of it, the “both-and” nature of our lives, where joy and grief are the only guarantees. We don’t get to choose the timing of either, the ways in which they will come, or the ratio of joy to pain. We only know we will encounter deep darkness, dazzling light, and many ordinary days in between. The challenge, as we walk through the glory and the heartache, is this: Don’t be afraid.

graffiti heart boots public garden

This year has been full of beautiful things: the births of my nephew and niece, an idyllic week at the Glen Workshop, trips to Maine and Texas, to New York and D.C., to see people I love. It has also held terrible things: the loss of my grandmother and my cousin, missing faraway loved ones, knowing many people who are struggling against cancer or depression or other ills.

On a more mundane level, each day holds joys and frustrations: lunchtime walks in the park and crowded subway trains, books I treasure and books I toss aside in frustration (fewer of those, thank goodness). It is hard at times not to grow weary or depressed, to remain brave and open, not to be afraid.

I couldn’t come up with a traditional “gratitude” post this year: a list of blessings seemed too facile, oversimplified. Instead I am reading and rereading the W.S. Merwin poem I posted last year, its final lines echoing in my head: “we are saying thank you and waving / dark though it is.”

As I gather tomorrow with my husband and our friends around a table, I will carry Merwin’s and Buechner’s words in my heart. I will give thanks for the beauty, and give thanks for having made it through the struggles. And I will do my best not to be afraid.

If you’re celebrating, I wish you a happy (and delicious) Thanksgiving.

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I know I said I was thankful last week (and even pulled out a favorite poem and song to mark the occasion). But after a lovely, mild, peaceful, fun weekend, I am even more thankful. A brief recap:

Thursday began with breakfast at Abi and Nate’s – cranberry-orange scones, fruit, tea and pumpkin muffins:

We eventually moved into the living room, to watch Friends Thanksgiving episodes (The One With All the Thanksgivings, The One Where Ross Got High [known to us as The One Where Rachel Makes the Trifle], and The One Where Chandler Doesn’t Like Dogs, for those of you keeping score at home):

(I love Kristin’s face there. Clearly she’s excited.)

Our church hosts a Thanksgiving potluck – “Turkeypalooza” – each year. It could just as well be called Casserole-palooza, or Yumminess-palooza:

Mmm. So much goodness. (This doesn’t even include the turkey cooked by Shanna’s brother Bryan, who is a chef – he was visiting her for the week, and decided to wow us all with his culinary skills.)

After dinner and cleanup, there was a long, hilarious game of Apples to Apples:

And the rest of the weekend? There was sleeping in, a long walk on the beach (in 60-degree weather!), bowls of jalapeno soup and chicken enchilada soup, cups of tea, games of Bananagrams, episodes of Mary Tyler Moore. There were pine wreaths and poinsettias and candles, as we decorated the church for Advent. There was the new Muppet movie (which was inspirational, celebrational and completely Muppetational). There was mending, knitting, lighting candles, digging out Christmas decorations. And so much love and laughter and thankfulness.

Clearly I’m easing back into work – and the holiday season – with a smile on my face. If you’re in the States, how was your Thanksgiving? I hope it was lovely.

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