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Posts Tagged ‘Cambridge’

crocuses rock light flowerbed

It begins with the snowdrops: shy and white, pushing their way through the frozen ground when the snow melts just enough to let them through. Then the crocuses – those tiny, fierce fighters, deep purple and lavender and sometimes bright gold.

yellow crocuses open

The forsythia come next – “fountains of pale gold,” as L.M. Montgomery wrote – then the daffodils, slender green stems lit like candles at the ends. The hellebores arrive around the same time, creamy white petals giving way to earthy green. Then the hyacinths and scilla, carpeting the still-bare ground with blue and pink and white.

scilla flowers blue

The green stems of tulips start to uncurl, and they bob their vivid heads in flowerbeds and gardens. At nearly the same time, the magnolias unfurl their lipstick-pink buds, and the lilacs appear, filling the air with their delicate scent. The lilies of the valley hide under their broad green leaves, till suddenly – seemingly all at once – the tiny bells burst forth.

lily of the valley flowers

For several years now, I’ve been marking time by flowers here in Cambridge.

It’s both a reliable pleasure and an unexpected delight: every winter I start watching, paying particular attention to a few spots I know well. The air smells like snow and then damp earth and, eventually, the tang of mulch; the trees fuzz over with buds and then leaf out seemingly overnight. Every year I wonder if it will really happen again. And every year, somehow, it does.

red white striped tulips

The season unfolds in a slightly different rhythm at my beloved florist’s shop: amaryllis and anemones, daffodils and ranunculus, buckets of vivid tulips and early peonies. The lilies and sunflowers have already appeared there, though they’re not blooming in the flowerbeds yet. And this year, I’ve been growing flowers in my kitchen: first paperwhites, then geraniums.

wisteria light

Outside, right now, there are wisteria and columbines, the last of the cherry blossoms and dogwoods, the first spikes of tall purple iris. I’ve spotted a couple of budding yellow roses. And all my friends who garden seem to be on peony watch, according to Instagram.

There are many ways to mark time, of course: the alarm clock, the calendar with its dates and boxes, the annual rhythm of the academic year. We are heading into summer, which means the slow season for classes and events, though some things never stop entirely. But as we wrap up another semester, the outdoors is bursting into glorious green life: bellflowers and dandelions, azaleas and wild geraniums, rhododendrons and violets and so many others I can’t name.

violets

It’s almost too much, this abundance, after months of barren brown earth and bare branches. My eyes can hardly take it in; my soul feels sated, full of color, and at the same time it craves more. It is both ephemeral and lasting, this pageant of color and light: it changes daily, weekly, but it makes a living tapestry that endures.

pink azalea flowers

By now it’s a rhythm that lives deep in my body, my fingers thrumming with the awareness of new life, new growth. It is at once a universal and a particular kind of glory: it happens every spring, but it’s still a wonder.

Soon the calendar will flip to June, and the lilacs will go over, to be replaced by roses and peonies, rhododendron and mountain laurel. I’ll be watching for columbines in every color, for iris in purple and white and gold, for poppies and jasmine and honeysuckle, for other delights I don’t know about yet.

You can’t schedule meetings by flowers, maybe, but I’ll be happily marking time by them, all summer long.

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harvard widener library commencement banners

We celebrated Commencement at Harvard last week: my sixth one, the university’s 367th. It was – it always is – a kaleidoscope of moments and light, words and memories.

It was crimson hoods and black robes flapping, piles and piles of special editions of the Harvard Gazette, where I worked briefly during Commencement season, two years ago. It was spring breezes and blue skies, exuberant music by the Harvard band and choir, thousands of folding chairs and dozens of speeches.

I spent most of the morning in the Yard, the epicenter of the festivities, and it was overstimulating and glorious. I stood near the stage with my colleagues Deb and Christina, press passes around our necks. We listened and applauded, soaking it all in.

harvard yard banners trees commencement

Commencement, this year, smelled like lilacs, especially the waist-high versions that bloomed out just in time for the day. It sounded like marching feet and raucous cheers, vuvuzelas and ringing church bells, applause from so many proud parents and friends. It tasted like chai (of course) from Darwin’s, sipped standing in the Yard as we listened to the student orators, and like veggie wraps and guacamole, eaten sitting by a sixth-floor office window while we rested our tired feet.

This year, the road to Commencement has felt long and difficult. It has been a tough time to be doing communications work at a school of government, even (or especially) at Harvard. We have weathered serious internal changes in our staff and leadership, and decision-making processes have shifted, sometimes faster than I could keep up with.

Our work here is informed by the political climate in the nation and the world, and it’s been a wild ride lately in both places. The work of keeping on, of fulfilling our daily tasks and responsibilities, has felt sometimes futile and often overwhelming. I’ve wondered many times whether and how it can possibly matter.

And yet.

I spent a glorious hour sitting in the HKS café last month, listening to a Somali-Canadian student speak about her hopes for nation-building and the good questions she plans to take back to Mogadishu. On Commencement day, I listened to Pete Davis, the graduate student speaker, urge us to commit to showing up and slaying the dragons of boredom and distraction, to do the slow work of building a better world. I listened, that afternoon, to Drew Gilpin Faust speak about hope in her final Commencement address as Harvard’s president, nudging her audience toward wisdom and goodness. I remembered, for a moment, what this place can be.

I’ll be searching out my own new beginning (again) this summer. My current job is ending, so I’ll be looking for a new position where I can write and edit and tell good stories. I don’t know yet where that will be, though I hope it’s at Harvard.

Because after five years, this place is home. It is a challenge and a community, an inspiration and sometimes a source of exasperation. It is both a big, complicated, many-headed beast and a small New England town. It has tremendous potential to do some good in the world, and it is full of bright, thoughtful, curious people who help make that happen.

As our graduates begin their next chapters (mostly) outside of Cambridge, I hope I get the chance to write another one here.

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crocus-sprouts

The crocuses in that triangular bed across from my beloved Darwin’s.

daffodil-sprouts

The daffodils tucked up against brick walls in Cambridge flowerbeds.

witch hazel bloom cambridge

The witch hazel in front of the Harvard Art Museums.

snowdrops dew flowers

Snowdrops tangled in the ground cover on a side street near my office.

Something’s coming, Tony sings in West Side Story. Something good, if I can wait. 

I’m watching and hoping for spring, which isn’t quite here yet. (We’re just knocking on March, after all.) But these sprouts are giving me joy while I wait.

tulip sprouts flowerbed

Even the tulips – a little early – are joining in the show.

What’s sprouting where you are?

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sumac river trail

December has arrived – suddenly, it seems. My neighbors are putting up twinkle lights, and the church sanctuary is full of pine garland, poinsettias and cyclamen. We began Advent on Sunday with the aching melody of “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” and I’m slowly setting out the Christmas decorations and turning back to the words of hope in my Advent book.

Alongside all of that, it is dark. So dark.

Not only does the sun slip below the horizon as I’m finishing my workdays, but the news out of Washington and elsewhere is (still) so disheartening. I have friends who are grieving, weary, afraid. I am struggling with heartbreak, change, loss, fear. I know so many people who are waiting: for test results or resolution or even the tiniest scrap of good news.

In the midst of the darkness (literal and metaphorical), I know there are pinpricks of light, even when I can’t see them. In an effort to remind myself of this fact, I thought it was time for another list of what’s saving my life now:

  • Laurie Sheck’s poem “The Annunciation,” where I found the phrase “honest grace.” Kathleen Norris mentions it in her essay “Annunciation,” and I finally looked it up after meaning to do so for years.
  • Seeing birds’ nests in the bare trees and thinking of Lindsey.
  • Tulips for my desk and the weekly chat with my florist, who is the dearest man.
  • Bracing, practical, sarcastic advice from a writer colleague.
  • I say this every single day: Darwin’s. The ritual of walking down there; the delicious drinks and nourishing food; the familiar rhythm of the place; and most of all, the warmth from my café people.

chai darwins red bracelets

  • Laughter with my coworkers, whenever and however it comes.
  • Morning Prayers at Mem Church, which is wrapping up for the fall: thoughtful words, lovely music, the ritual of repeating the Lord’s Prayer and singing (often sight-reading) the daily hymns.
  • Texts from a few friends who are my lifelines.
  • The return of my winter uniform: striped dress + black leggings (fleece-lined when I need them) + ankle boots + scarf + magic green coat.
  • Weekly phone calls with my parents and looking forward to Christmas together.
  • Twinkle lights wrapped around anything.
  • Susannah Conway’s lovely December Reflections project on Instagram.
  • Walking and sometimes running on the river trail: on bold blue weekend afternoons or under dark weeknight skies after work.
  • In my ears on those walks and at other times: the Wailin’ Jennys and Hamilton. An odd mix, but it’s working for me.

sunrise early winter blue gold

  • Sunrises seen from the kitchen window: fiery orange over the treetops, or blue with silver-streaked clouds.
  • Yoga on my green mat at home (even 10 minutes can help) or at Healing Tree.
  • The boot camp I’m doing on Monday nights, taught by my favorite yoga instructor. So fun and empowering.
  • Slapdash huevos rancheros after said workout, every Monday night.
  • My morning routine: snooze button + hot shower + sunrise gazing + tea in a purple travel mug + scone eaten en route to the trolley stop.
  • Takeout from our favorite Indian place and a few hilarious episodes of Modern Family with the hubs.
  • Putting the world to rights over paella and wine with a girlfriend.
  • The words that have carried me over many months.

What is saving your life these days? Please share, if you like.

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oneday hh camera photo 2017

Last week, Laura Tremaine hosted her annual #OneDayHH Instagram challenge: an invitation to document the details of our lives for one (fairly) typical day. It was a Thursday, a workday, and this was my fourth year playing along.

I snapped a lot of photos and shared quite a few of them on my Instagram, but I thought I’d also share some of them here. I like having the record each year here on the blog.

kitchen wall art curtains british flag

Morning in the kitchen: this room is the beating heart of our home. I had brought my red geraniums inside the night before, and we had also just hung those pictures. The canvas is an original by my friend Kelsey, and that watercolor/pen-and-ink drawing is from Sally Lunn’s in Bath, England.

sunrise november onedayhh

It’s no secret that I’m in love with the sunrise outside these windows: to quote Emily Byrd Starr, it saves my soul alive.

bedside table lamp quilt

That stunning Cathedral Window quilt was started by my Mimi, years ago, and finished (and sent to me) by Carol, a dear family friend. This lamp is a Target find and I love that it shimmers. And that’s my favorite worn-soft shirt to wear to bed.

katie selfie mirror onedayhh

I’m not quite bold enough to post a #wokeuplikethis selfie, but this is a pretty typical outfit: neutrals with stripes, a shot of red and the rings I always wear.

front porch view dorchester ma onedayhh

I also love the view from our front porch: the neighbors’ houses and these trees.

ivy leaves frost

First frost the night before meant that everything sparkled, including the neighbors’ ivy.

trolley morning dorchester ma mbta

It’s a short walk to the Mattapan trolley line from our house every morning.

ashmont station mbta

After a quick trolley ride, I get on the T at the end of the Ashmont line. Commuting can be a pain, but it beats driving – and I love the skylights in this station.

sever quad morning harvard yard sunshine trees

When I reach Harvard Square, I often have a little time before work. Sometimes I run errands or go to Lamont Library to write. Sometimes I walk across the Yard, admiring the leaves and soaking in the sunshine.

darwins d2 start arrow

That day, I ended up (no surprise) at Darwin’s. I perched, elbows on a green table, to sip Earl Grey and do a little writing. As I have said before, they know me there and it’s one of the great joys of my life.

hks desk rose itn computer

This is my desk (obviously), and on screen is the daily media citation email with which I start my workdays. Also pictured: my trusty water bottle, one of the million apples I’m munching these days, a perfect rose from my beloved florist.

hpac notebook tea table window

I love my Thursday morning meetings with other writers from around Harvard. Sarcasm, sanity and good stories on the sixth floor, where I once temped for four months and where I am still welcome.

cambridge common

Later that afternoon (after chai with a writer friend, lunch, more emails and some brainstorming about photos for a story I wrote), I took a walk on Cambridge Common to clear my head. The sun came out again for a little while.

ankle boots leaves

I walked through crunching leaves, talking to a friend on the phone, and exhaling. (I don’t get to do this every day but I love it when I do.)

trolley walk dark trees streetlights

It was already dark when I left work around 5:30, and even darker when I walked home from the trolley. This seasonal shift – the sudden loss of light – is hard for me.

lemon ginger tea books journal

I heated up leftover black bean soup for dinner, washed dishes, puttered and read for a while – first Hunted, and then Brian Doyle’s essays in Leaping (with lemon-ginger tea in my Oxford mug). The hubs worked late, as he often does, and came home to heat up his own bowl of soup. I went to bed early, to read a little and then crash.

begonias building blue sky

I didn’t post all the details of my day, but I’m still glad I participated. This fall has been full of so many things: some lovely, some exciting, many stressful, some heartbreaking. But it’s anchored by the daily round, which is precious in itself. I’m glad for the nudge from Laura to capture and share the details of our days – to say that “holy yes” to them which is so important.

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roxanne hks class

On a grey morning last week, I walked into a crowded classroom at the Kennedy School, caffeine firmly in hand, and slipped into a seat in the back. My day job sometimes allows me to write about the work of our students and faculty, and I’d already sat in this fall on Dara Kay Cohen’s fascinating class about sex, gender, violence, war and global politics.

My presence there last week didn’t have much to do (explicitly) with the piece I’m writing for the HKS website, though. I was there to listen to Roxanne speak, and afterward, to give her a big hug.

Roxanne and I found each other years ago, when our Internet orbits overlapped somehow. It was so long ago that I don’t remember which of us discovered whom first. We met in person for coffee when I had just moved to Boston and she was trying to decide whether to come back for graduate school (she eventually did). While our paths have continued to cross online, we hadn’t seen each other face to face in several years.

I knew a little about Roxanne’s work: research on the intricacies of victimhood, gender, violence and suffering in conflict and post-conflict areas. But this was the first time I’d ever heard her give a formal presentation. Sitting in the back of the classroom, I listened to her talk about gender and post-conflict life for ex-combatants and victims in Colombia. Like many good researchers and storytellers, she asked more questions than she answered, and I wrote down as many as I could:

Who is a combatant? Who is a victim? Is it possible to be both, and who gets to decide? How can ex-combatants, particularly women, rebuild their lives in a society that sees them as transgressive and permanently tainted? How can they grieve the complicated losses that come with leaving an armed group? Are there really flyers advertising lipstick colors for former guerrilleras? (The answer to that last one is, astonishingly, yes.)

More broadly, what happens when we leave people out of the narratives we build – or, conversely, what happens when we make room for all kinds of experiences?

Roxanne reminded me, as I scribbled down her questions in my notebook, that this is part of our work as storytellers and human beings: listening to others’ stories, making room for all kinds of narrative experience. We live in a world that rings with shouting matches, and the counterintuitive but vitally important work is often to stop yelling and listen. We all want to be heard, to be seen, to have our experience witnessed by other people. And we all carry the same responsibility: to make room. To listen. To pay attention.

After class, Roxanne had a lunch date and I had a stack of emails to answer. But we snatched a few minutes to catch up and chat – about everything from work to shoes to relationships – and hug each other tight. I felt seen in those brief moments: known, listened to, beloved. Also a wee bit smarter for having heard her brilliant presentation. And so proud of my whip-smart, wise, compassionate friend.

The whole experience made me deeply grateful for serendipity, and for the ways in which my worlds sometimes overlap – especially the ways I could never predict or expect. I’ll be carrying Roxanne’s questions forward with me this month. (And hoping for a tea date the next time she’s in town.)

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chalk heart flats

I’ve been back from Oxford for a week, and have been fighting serious jet lag, a wicked head/chest cold and an overflowing email inbox (more than 200 messages while I was away!).

Despite the coughing and the catch-up, though, the weather is pure October glory, and I thought it was about time for another list of what’s saving my life now:

leaves yellow green blue sky

  • Bold blue skies, crisp autumn breezes and that golden autumn light.
  • Related: the trees, which seem to be turning in slow motion but are starting to show red and gold.
  • Lemon-ginger tea (from Pukka or Stash), with honey when I can get it.

sunflowers orange rose

  • Sunflowers for my desk (and a bonus rose!), from my beloved florist.
  • The sunrises through my kitchen window: orange and gold, pink and blue.
  • My favorite red pants – always a shot of happy.
  • Walks on the river trail, alone or with my husband.

river trail asters

  • Catching up with loved ones: giving a girlfriend my unofficial Harvard tour, inviting friends over for dinner, meeting up for coffee or a long walk.
  • Salads from home and soup from Darwin’s.
  • The late roses around town, which are truly stunning this year.

late yellow rose

  • Dipping back into Anne of Windy Poplars, because October.
  • Simple kitchen routines: brewing tea in my red kettle every morning, toasting bread for breakfast, whipping up huevos after yoga, standing at the sink washing dishes.
  • Yoga classes: sun salutations, pigeon and warrior poses, deep breaths.
  • Looking forward to a long weekend in NYC.

What’s saving your life this fall? Please share, if you want.

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