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Posts Tagged ‘Cambridge’

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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ice cream cookie stripes sprinkles

Did I mention that we moved, earlier this month? And that I started a new job, not long ago? And that, perhaps, all these transitions at once (along with the usual responsibilities of daily life) might have been a wee bit stressful?

Well. In case I didn’t, I’m mentioning it now.

August has been a month for hanging on by our fingernails: unpacking the new apartment one box at a time, calling all the utility companies and the washing machine repairman, scraping together dinner from whatever’s in the fridge (which often hasn’t been much). I am looking forward to September, always one of my favorite months, and simultaneously not sure how it’s upon us already.

changes-fortune-cookie

As I wade through transition (aided by a bit of fortune cookie wisdom, above), I decided it was time for another list of what’s saving my life now. Amid the chaos, there is still a lot of good stuff – “lots of joy,” a friend reminded me the other day. “But you have to seek it.” She was right, as she usually is.

So, as we soak up these last hot days of summer (and hope for some rain), here’s what is saving my life now:

  • My daily trips to Darwin’s, for sustenance of several kinds. Chai in the morning, lunch at midday, snacks and/or fresh produce in the afternoon. And always, chitchat with the folks behind the counter. This is my place and I am grateful for it every single day.
  • A simple summer salad, which has been dinner several times recently: tomatoes, mozzarella, peaches, fresh basil and balsamic vinegar.
  • Good books: gorgeous fiction (Alice Hoffman’s Faithful), smart nonfiction (David Hajdu’s Love for Sale and Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures), entertaining light fiction (Meg Cabot’s The Boy is Back and Rhys Bowen’s Crowned and Dangerous).
  • A scone and a cup of tea for breakfast, nearly every day. (See also: not overthinking it.)
  • The silver ring set with malachite I bought in NYC, which makes me so happy every time I wear it.
  • An ongoing text conversation with a friend about All The Things, which is a daily lifeline.
  • A standing Thursday meeting with other writers from around Harvard, a font of both useful information and witty, sarcastic one-liners.
  • Red roses from my local florist, and a clear surface to put them on.

red roses

  • Having (most of) my books shelved and arranged so I can find them.
  • Our washing machine works again – and doing laundry always makes me feel more in control of my life.
  • Pictures of my nephew, headed back to preschool, and so many of my friends’ kids who are also going back to school. I love those brand-new backpacks and gap-toothed grins.
  • Ice cream dates, with J and with friends, at the place down the street from our new apartment.
  • Photos of a colleague’s new puppy, and interactions with other friendly dogs in Harvard Square.
  • Julia Cameron’s wise words on writing and life in The Sound of Paper, to which I return every summer.
  • A couple of long heart-to-hearts with good friends. There’s nothing like being together.

What’s saving your life these days? I’d really like to know.

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summer beach view boston

Summer is drawing to a close here in New England. The season’s heat is still lingering, but I’ve noticed a new crispness in the air on several recent mornings. My Facebook feed is full of back-to-school pictures of my friends’ children, and the students at Harvard, where I work, start classes next week.

Before we jump into my favorite season, I wanted to share a few summer scenes that have, so far, gone unblogged.

Some friends of ours – former fellow Boston transplants, who now live in northern California – blew into town over Memorial Day weekend. We spent an evening catching up over pizza and wine, in their swank 14th-floor suite (!) at the Liberty Hotel, looking out over the Charles River.

charles river sunset view boston fog

After surviving a hectic and fun Commencement season at my temp gig, I stepped aside to make room for (and train) my replacement. This photo is from my last solo day in that temporary space, on the sixth floor with so much light.

computer tulips hpac

My colleagues surprised me with a good-bye reception on my last day there. This is Wendy, our office manager, who made that (and so many other things) happen.

katie wendy books

At the end of June, I started my new job (back where I temped this winter) and was greeted by this tiny orchid, a gift from my boss.

you are here orchid desk

On the 4th of July, we headed to Fenway to cheer on the Rangers as they played the Red Sox. It was sweltering in the outfield, but fun to be there with friends.

simpsons gibsons fenway

The hubs and I sneaked in an afternoon at Crane Beach in mid-July: sun, sand and a delicious dinner afterward at Salt.

crane beach jer

I flew to Texas at the end of July to surprise my dad for his 60th birthday. We threw a party at the home of some friends and he didn’t suspect a thing, which was perfect. Then I spent three days chasing my nephews, who are so big and who both love to play in the dirt.

ryder harrison tractor

One of J’s friends from his a cappella group got married in July, and the group performed the processional music – “The Book of Love.” J also played a few acoustic songs during the cocktail hour, and then we all danced the night away. So fun.

mass whole notes wedding

I spent a lot of time on our front porch before we moved, soaking up the views in the neighborhood we called home for six years.

summer sunset view porch

We moved almost three weeks ago, and honestly, life has felt like utter chaos since then. But I did snag a lunch date with this guy one Tuesday – fresh tamales at the Harvard farmers’ market, and fro-yo from Berryline.

jer katie harvard yard

I’m looking ahead to fall: making plans, making lists, feeling ready to be more settled at home and at work. This summer has felt chaotic and hot and stressful, in a lot of ways. But looking back at these photos reminded me: there’s been a lot of beauty, too.

What have you left unblogged this summer?

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chai skirt breathe

Back to reality today (and stacks of emails), but I stole a moment this morning to sit outside Darwin’s with my chai. Ahhhh.

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harvard yard banners commencement 2016

Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.”

—Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

It is Commencement season here in Cambridge (as I may have mentioned once or twice). As we have prepared to celebrate our graduates, I’ve been reading Jahren’s smart, luminous, wry memoir about simultaneously building three labs, a career as a botanist, and a life. My brain has craved good nonfiction this spring, and I am feeding it with thoughtful, beautiful true stories: Stir, Becoming Wise, Orchard House, My Kitchen Year, and now Lab Girl.

Jahren writes about seeds, roots and leaves: the building blocks of the plant world, which she has spent her career studying. She emphasizes their otherness: plants are not animals, and they are definitely not the same as people. But she draws many sensitive parallels between a plant’s growth and that of a person: the right conditions for growth, the patterns we can chart and some we can’t, the ways both plants and humans react to unexpected strain.

Jahren also writes, wisely, about the cyclical nature of growth: plants, like their environments, have seasons, and endings are inextricably tied to beginnings. So it is, of course, with human beings. There’s a reason these elaborate ending ceremonies, at Harvard and elsewhere, are called Commencement. Each end is also a beginning.

I have done a lot of waiting over the past year, since I was laid off from my job and have spent months searching for what is politely called “my next step.” This has entailed a tremendous amount of work and worry, but much of it is out of my control. Every single part of the process – combing the job boards, sending out applications, worrying over where I might land next, questioning everything from my chosen career to my identity as a writer – has involved waiting. There have been multiple endings, and also beginnings.

Three weeks from now, I’ll finish up my temp gig at the Harvard Gazette, where I started in mid-March and have worked through the full cycle of Commencement prep and activity. It’s been a wild ride, and I have loved it up here, on the sixth floor overlooking a slice of Harvard Square. It will be an end, and also a beginning.

After a vacation with my husband, I will take that much-anticipated next step – right across the street, back to the communications office of the Harvard Kennedy School, where I temped from November to early March. I’m heading back to an office full of colleagues I already love, and a school whose mission of service and scholarship I respect. There will be a lot of learning and adjusting, as there always is when something new begins. But this feels like the next right step. I am grateful – and thrilled – that it’s worked out this way.

We are each given exactly one chance to be, as Jahren says: to forge our paths without always knowing precisely how to do that. My path has led me, somewhat unexpectedly, to Harvard, and it has become one of my places. I am grateful for the chance to stay here, to continue doing the work I love. To keep growing and asking questions and thriving. Because that is what people – and plants – do.

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