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Posts Tagged ‘Cambridge’

roses crimson

The seeds Dickon and Mary had planted grew as if fairies had tended them.

roses apricot sunlight

Satiny poppies of all tints danced in the breeze by the score, gaily defying flowers which had lived in the garden for years and which it might be confessed seemed rather to wonder how such new people had got there.

poppies red longfellow house garden

And the roses—the roses!

roses pink library

Rising out of the grass, tangled round the sun-dial, wreathing the tree trunks and hanging from their branches, climbing up the walls and spreading over them with long garlands falling in cascades—they came alive day by day, hour by hour.

climbing roses purple door

Fair fresh leaves, and buds—and buds—tiny at first but swelling and working Magic until they burst and uncurled into cups of scent delicately spilling themselves over their brims and filling the garden air.

rosebud honeysuckle pink flowers

I keep thinking of these lines from The Secret Garden as I walk around Cambridge, stopping to sniff roses and snap pictures and marvel at the colors. Summer has arrived and I am reveling in it, naming its glories: poppies, iris, peonies, columbines, honeysuckle, trees in full vivid green leaf.

I don’t know the names of everything I see, but as Mary Oliver says, “one doesn’t need to know the names to feel the presences.” I do know the roses, though, and their sweet scent and rich, velvety colors are a delight both familiar and new.

budding rose

I carried pink roses at my wedding, nine summers ago, and I picked wild roses on my grandparents’ farm as a child. My florist’s shop has buckets of them right now, in every color of the rainbow. But I love seeing them along the sidewalks too, nodding their heads in the breeze. They are “sweetness pure and simple” (Mary Oliver again), and they are saving my life these days.

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harvard yard banners commencement 2016

We are (rapidly) approaching Commencement here at Harvard. Classes are over; fluttering robes and other regalia are appearing on the streets of Cambridge; the Yard is filling up with folding chairs, audio speakers and other equipment. (Three days to go.)

I’ve been walking through the Yard whenever I can, watching it all take shape: watching the banners unfurl and the stage come together on the south porch of Memorial Church, piece by piece. There is a comfort in these steady rituals, year after year, a reliability deepened by knowing where to look.

Most of our students at the Kennedy School of Government, where I work, are graduating after one or two years in a master’s program, while our Ph.D. students have been in it for a longer haul. But many of the students earning their undergraduate degrees from Harvard College have spent four years in this place. And as of this spring, so have I.

harvard yard memorial church view

This time of year always makes me reflective: we are wrapping up another academic season, pausing before the plunge into summer, stopping to take stock of what we’ve accomplished and what we’ve gained. We are celebrating another class of graduating students right before we lose them: we are sending (most of) them out into the world, charging them to take what they’ve learned here and do some good.

Yet those of us who stay, who spend our workdays year-round in this place, are under the same charge: to take what we have learned, what we have built here, and do some good.

During this turbulent academic year – a year in which I’ve been adjusting, simultaneously, to a new job and to constantly shifting political realities, which directly affect said job – I have been thinking of James Baldwin’s words about America. Baldwin asserted his love for this country, and added in the next breath, “Exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

Similarly, I have developed a bone-deep love for Harvard, but I insist on the right to question it perpetually, and yes, sometimes to criticize it.

To be a part of this place, with its nearly four centuries of history, tradition and scholarship, is also to reckon with its scars and inconsistencies, its blind spots and the weight of its privilege. It is to keep speaking up (in my own quiet way), insisting on a place for those who have often been marginalized here: women, immigrants, African Americans and other minorities, those who don’t fit the mold of the “traditional” Harvard student or employee. It is to believe – sometimes by an effort of will – that I belong here, and that my voice matters: that I, too, am Harvard.

Over the past four years, I’ve worked in three different areas of Harvard: the Ed School, where I first landed and began to stretch my wings; the Harvard Gazette, where I survived a wild and wonderful Commencement season last year; and the Kennedy School, where I spend my days now. I have worked hard to make a place for myself here, to find a home, and I’ve been surprised and delighted to find several. In addition to all three of my offices (current and former), there are other corners of Harvard that belong to me.

harvard yard path trees light

The sunken garden on Appian Way, where tulips and iris bob their vivid heads in the spring and summer. A particular carved wooden pew in Memorial Church, where I have sat on many mornings this year, listening to the choir sing and the congregation recite the Lord’s Prayer. A cluster of squashy armchairs in Lamont Library, with a window that looks out into the trees. The second-floor room at the Harvard Art Museums that holds my favorite Monet paintings and one of Degas’ Little Dancer sculptures. And I can’t forget the places that are technically not part of Harvard, but that anchor me and nourish me here in the Square: the flower shop, the Harvard Book Store, and – most especially – Darwin’s.

As I’ve said before, working at Harvard is often like working anywhere else: there are politics and frustrations and paperwork, and also triumphs and community and good, satisfying work. I have struggled here, and felt lost and heartbroken – especially after being laid off, two years ago this month. I have also worked hard for every relationship I’ve built here, and that work has been rewarded: now I regularly see familiar faces around the Square, or have coffee dates and congenial email exchanges with colleagues and friends. This feels like my place, and it is: I speak the language, I know the streets and buildings, I understand the rhythms of this neighborhood. There is so much more to learn (there always is), but I am rooted here, and thriving.

Like our students, I realize that what I’ve gained here – what I have been given, and also what I have worked hard for – comes with responsibility. So I’ll keep asking questions, keep moving forward, keep thinking about how to do my work well, how to affect this place for good.

I’m not graduating with a degree from Harvard this year. But I am grateful, down to my bones, for my four years (and counting) in this place that is ever more mine.

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tulips multicolored bed

After this long, gray, lingering winter, the spring in Cambridge has surprised me, as it does every year. This is my seventh spring in New England, and each time it feels entirely new: the slow budding of the bare trees, the first crocuses and snowdrops, the daffodils sprouting up in flowerbeds and in glorious scattered patches along the Charles River.

daffodils charles river cambridge spring

Though we had some warm days early in the season, it has been unrelentingly chilly for weeks: the skies heavy with lowering clouds, the wind whipping off the river, the rain pouring down. As a descendant of two farming families who also grew up in a near-desert region, I hesitate to complain about the rain – especially this year, when we needed it badly to make up for last summer’s drought. But it has left my spirits sodden, my heart disconsolate. I crave the sunshine like a cat, or a sunflower.

scilla flowers sunlight cambridge ma

I have taken lots of long walks, this winter and spring, around Cambridge with a friend who loves the flowers and trees as much as I do. We have watched, together, for every scrap of color and new life: first the snowdrops and crocuses, then the daffodils and hellebores, the gold forsythia and tiny blue scilla, the blooming cherry and redbud trees.

redbud blue sky brick building

Now we’re onto the tulips – my favorite – and the lilacs, which are truly stunning this year. I can’t walk down the sidewalk without stopping to sniff them. Lilies of the valley, shy and dainty, are peering out from under their curving leaves. The azaleas are out in force and the rhododendrons are budding. And the dogwood trees – creamy white and rich, vivid pink – are breathtaking.

dogwood pink flowers blue sky green leaves

It feels inconsequential, sometimes, to pay attention to trees and flowers when the headlines are shouting dismay and destruction, when heartbreak and strain are pressing in on all sides. There is so much going on, both in the world and in the lives of people I love: surgeries, cross-country moves, national security breaches. Job stress, political turmoil, the ache of endings and beginnings, so much fear and pain. All of it, or nearly all of it, beyond my power to mend.

tulips lily of the valley tree roots

I know that snapping photos of flowers, or buying bouquets of them for my desk, won’t solve these larger struggles. Some days I despair of finding enough hope to move forward, though I know in my bones that is the only thing to do.

lilacs may

But on other days, as my friend Jet noted recently, the sky is “a saving kind of blue.” The leaves of the pin oaks are an electric yellow-green, zinging with life. The cherry blossoms pile up along the streets in pink snowdrifts. The white lilacs carry their own scent along with a hint of honeysuckle. And on these days, the very act of stopping to gaze, to sniff, to snap a photo – in other words, to pay attention – is the thing that is saving my life now.

azalea bush

I say this every year: I don’t want to miss it. I want to stay awake, to notice every bit of beauty. I want to be right here, to soak up this glorious, brief season, to walk with open eyes through this neighborhood I love so well. I want to be open to it, all of it. Even when it makes my heart ache.

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pink tulips boston public garden spring 2017

This spring weather, y’all. I don’t even know. We’ve had temperature swings worthy of my native West Texas: 80s and humid, 40s and raining, nearly every point in between. Swift-moving clouds, flashes of sunshine, sudden downpours and so much misty rain.

In some ways, the weather is reflecting the state of my soul: fitful, unsettled, often unpredictable. I am dealing with a lot of recent transitions and the fallout from the past year-plus of big changes. Sometimes it’s all I can do to keep up, brew myself a cup of tea and keep going. (Donia Bijan’s words about “the only thing to do” are running through my head every single day.)

In that spirit, I decided it was time for another list of what’s saving my life now: because something, or someone, always is. My lifesavers, in this topsy-turvy spring, include:

  • That benediction I love at Morning Prayers on Tuesdays. “May God go before us to lead us…”
  • My favorite black ankle boots: good for nearly all weather and comfortable for long walks.
  • Poetry by John Daniel, John Terpstra and Brian Doyle.
  • A recent visit from some beloved college friends and their little boy.
  • Tulips in all shades of lipstick red and pink. (See above, for evidence from the Boston Public Garden.)
  • Also: budding lilacs. The first lilies of the valley. Every new green leaf I see.

lilacs may

  • Playing Twenty Questions with my friends’ 10-year-old twins the other night and laughing ourselves silly. (Partly because they’re still figuring out how it works.)
  • The wise, funny, earnest Senior Talks at Morning Prayers, given by graduating students as we wrap up for the year.
  • My daily walks around Harvard Square to my places, especially the florist and my beloved Darwin’s.
  • Lauren Winner’s wise words about middles.
  • My umbrella, fingerless gloves and sunglasses, all of which I’ve been keeping handy. (See also: crazy weather.)
  • Long, long walks around Cambridge with a dear friend.
  • The hilarious sixth installment in Jodi Taylor’s series about time-traveling historians. (I’m the crazy person cracking up on the train, reading it.)
  • Unexpected moments of connection with friends and strangers.
  • As always: lots and lots of tea.

What’s saving your life these days? Please feel free to share in the comments.

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darwins notebook chai

“It’s only alchemy until you know how it works.”

So said a friend of mine recently, as he stood behind the counter at (where else?) Darwin’s, steaming the milk for my chai latte. That’s admittedly one of the simpler drinks they serve: one part spicy chai mix (which they make themselves), one part milk. But he was talking about the more complicated espresso-based drinks they offer: latte, cappuccino, macchiato, mocha, cortado. He had done a refresher course the day before, and found himself newly fascinated with this everyday alchemy, the process of taking disparate ingredients and blending them into something new.

I understood what he meant. I remembered the same aha! moment from my own barista days, when Barb and Cynthia showed me how to pull an espresso shot, steam a stainless-steel pitcher full of milk, add a dollop of rich chocolate or a smooth cap of foam, and create a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts. I’m not even a coffee drinker – I love the smell, can’t stand the bitter taste – but I found myself fascinated, then and now, by the process. It does make a new kind of sense when you watch the steps unfold one by one.

As I stood there that morning, though, listening to the whir of the milk steamer, the grind of the espresso machine, the morning music mix on the stereo, I thought: that factual knowledge doesn’t quite cover it.

I understand, empirically, that a shot of espresso plus steamed milk equals a latte, that a cappuccino has more foam, that a mocha includes a shot of chocolate and that chemical reactions explain a lot of the taste and texture (and pleasure) we get from those drinks. But there are also other, less measurable ingredients at play: the sunset-colored walls, the music, the smiles from my favorite staff members. That, too, is everyday alchemy (or magic) – and even though those elements are familiar and ordinary, they delight me every single day.

This applies to more than coffee: I understand most of the science behind the steps I follow to make a pot of soup, marinate and roast a chicken, stir up a batch of scones. But I believe there’s room for wonder alongside our knowledge of how those processes work. It isn’t alchemy in the Nicolas Flamel sense, perhaps – but it’s still everyday magic.

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one day hh instagram

A couple of weeks ago, Laura Tremaine hosted her annual #OneDayHH Instagram event – an invitation to document and share the everyday details and rhythms of our lives.

Although I use Instagram for that anyway (sometimes), it’s always fun to play along, both to share my own daily routine and to see what others are posting. I’m a believer in the loveliness and power of sharing field notes from our lives, and this day always helps bring that back into focus.

This year was my third time participating, and the way it went felt completely fitting: I shared a few photos, mostly of my morning routine, then got totally caught up in the madness of meetings, email and other life tasks/craziness. (This was six days before the election, so my workday included a lot of that particular madness.)

In this full and demanding season, that is often how it’s going around here, and I’m letting myself off the hook for not sharing a “complete” record of the day. I wanted to share what I did post, though, since these details are vital and lovely, and I want to remember them. (Especially when I’m clinging to daily rhythms to save my sanity, right now.)

green coat red pants subway flats

I was up before dawn, moving around our still-new apartment in the dark: showering, brewing tea in a purple travel mug, packing my work bags. Most mornings, I catch the bus, but my husband drops me off at the T station in our old neighborhood on Wednesdays. I carry my black purse and this polka-dot bag (mostly filled with books) on my commute. It was a mild day, so I switched from black leggings and ankle boots back to my happy red pants (but still wore my favorite, magic jade-green coat).

boston skyline sunrise view

Halfway through my commute, I get this view as the train rumbles across the Charles River between Boston and Cambridge. I always take a second to soak it in – I love the sight of the skyline and the river at any time of the year.

golden leaves bikes harvard yard

After a little writing time in the library and Morning Prayers, I walk back through Harvard Yard to my office a few blocks away. Lately, this golden tree in the Yard is taking my breath away every morning. I love the autumn light in Cambridge.

hks desk view

My desk is command central for most of my workdays at the Harvard Kennedy School, and this is a typical view: a little cluttered, but I know where everything is. I spent most of the morning here, catching up on emails and writing projects (with a trip to Darwin’s for chai, mid-morning). My colleagues are out of frame here, but they are a vital part of my workdays, and a big reason I love my job.

soup red pants leaves

Back to Darwin’s at lunchtime for a bowl of spinach-potato-leek soup, and chitchat with the good folks behind the counter. I sat on a bench outside for a while, listening to the ’80s music blasting from the cafe’s open doors, dipping a hunk of baguette into the soup, and watching the sky.

This was the last photo I posted of the day: my afternoon contained three solid hours of work meetings, one of which meant I stayed at the office a little late. I dug into Rae Carson’s wonderful YA novel Like a River Glorious on my train ride home, then spent the evening catching up on home details: laundry, dishes, making huevos rancheros for dinner. Later, I picked my husband up from work and we debriefed our days while he ate. I collapsed into bed around 10:30, rooting for the Cubs to win Game 7 (woohoo!), but not able to stay awake long enough to watch it happen. I scribbled a few notes from the day in my journal, then turned out the light.

Messy, full, busy, mundane, often lovely: this was a completely ordinary Wednesday. Both its broad outlines and its particular details are typical of my life right now. I may not have posted all the details, but I’m glad I captured a few. Every year, this project reminds me to “say a holy yes” to my life as it is, at this moment, and I am grateful.

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jfk jr forum balloons hks

It’s been a bruising week, y’all.

On Tuesday, J and I left the house early to stand in line at our local polling place, and cast our votes for a candidate we believed in. I was thrilled to have the chance to vote for a female president for the first time. (That’s not the only reason I voted for Hillary Clinton, but it’s an important one.)

voter selfie k j

I believe in the democratic process, as I’ve written about here before, and I was glad to see many people I know – in many states and yes, at various locations on the political spectrum – exercising their right to vote. I spent a tense, hopeful day with my colleagues and a tense and increasingly worried evening with my husband, watching the news and the election returns.

And then I woke up on Wednesday morning to heartbreak.

I’ve never considered myself especially political, until this election cycle. I come from a deeply conservative state (I grew up in West Texas) and my political leanings have gradually shifted left over the years, but I don’t usually start conversations about them. I live in a deeply liberal state now, and I work at a place that is focused on public policy, but we are an educational institution and therefore non-partisan. We have students, faculty and staff from dozens of states and countries, who hold wildly differing views. We encourage open dialogue and respect for all beliefs; it is fundamental to our mission.

And yet: I am appalled that our country has elected a man who has repeatedly made bigoted, insulting and uninformed comments about Muslims, women, immigrants, disabled people, African Americans, the LGBT community and other groups. I am shocked at the extent of the deep divisions in our country, and deeply troubled by the bitterness and hatred that have come out into the open.

I don’t expect to agree politically with everyone I know or even my close friends and family members, but I am so sad that we seem to have lost the ability to have reasoned, respectful dialogue with people with whom we disagree. No candidate or party is solely responsible for this division, and it didn’t start with this election, but it has become shockingly visible, and it breaks my heart.

The top photo above is from Wednesday, when the HKS community gathered to hear words of empathy and encouragement from our dean. We dropped the balloons, silently, to mark the end of a bitter and vengeful election season, but there was no celebration in it at all. As they floated down to the crowded floor, someone began to sing “Amazing Grace.”

Afterward, we filed quietly back to our offices and classrooms. At least in my office, there were tears and disbelief, venting and anger. We are asking lots of questions for which there are, at least now, very few answers. And, gradually, we are getting back to work.

There is a lot to do, and I am not the person to direct any of it: I don’t even know where to start. Right now I am simply trying to listen, hug my people, check in on the ones who live too far away to hug, and take a hard look at my own life. That is a small beginning, and I know it’s not enough on its own, but we all have to start somewhere.

I’ll be lighting candles, both physical and metaphorical, for peace this weekend. (Advent cannot come soon enough.) And I will be listening. If you want to have open and respectful conversations, or need a shoulder to cry on, I’m here.

Take care, friends.

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