Posts Tagged ‘candles’

As the late-afternoon light shifts, I switch on the lamps, light a candle, start thinking about dinner. Transitions are hard when your whole life is in one space, but this helps. 


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We’re entering the dark time of the year: when the sun starts to sink in mid-afternoon, and even some of the mornings are grey and dreary. My apartment gets much more natural light than my cubicle at work ever did, but it can get lonely, here by myself most days.

To stave off the loneliness and help kick-start my creativity, I’ve been taking my friend Nina Badzin’s writing class through ModernWell, on Tuesday mornings. Some of us are doing NaNoWriMo, and we’re cheering each other on through this crazy month of trying to write 50,000 words.

“I think ideas beget ideas,” Nina declared in class the other week. “So don’t ‘save’ them – just write them down.” It made me think of a similar sentiment I’d read recently on Anne Bogel’s blog: she shared her habit of lighting candles in the winter months. She said – and I agree – that it takes a bit of effort, but that having a candle burning while she brews a hot beverage is so much more satisfying than hoarding the “good” candles. (I rummaged in a drawer immediately after reading that blog post and came up with a couple of scented candles I’d been hoarding for a year. Why?)

I’m working on a secret project for NaNoWriMo, doing my usual book reviews for Shelf Awareness and some other freelance work, journaling most mornings and trying to post here sometimes, too. Sometimes all that writing feels like a lot. But I’m trying to follow Nina’s advice and just chase the ideas, when I have them. More often than not – as with my #run31 posts – coming up with a few ideas gets the wheels turning.

Candles do not beget candles, unfortunately, but I often light one while I do the writing anyway. It’s an affordable indulgence, and that bit of flame is a cheery way to help beat back the dark.

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candles ashmont vigil

Metal and glass, granite and flame: I snapped this photo at a small vigil in Dorchester last Sunday night, in the wake of the awful events in Charlottesville.

I’d seen a list online of vigils in the Boston area, so the hubs and I hopped on the trolley to the Ashmont T station (about a mile from our new house) to join about 50 people in a quiet show of solidarity and peace.

I wasn’t sure whether to go: I am wary, in these uncertain days, of doing anything just to make myself feel better, when none of this is about me at all. I didn’t go so I could tell people I’d gone; I was shy even about introducing myself to others who were there. But it still felt important to show up, to stand with other people in our new neighborhood who care about justice and peace, and who understand that we are all culpable in this long story of hurt and hatred and injustice in the country we love.

We chanted Heather Heyer’s name; we sang a verse of a song about peace and carrying burdens together; and afterward, a few of us stood around chatting, learning each other’s names: Patricia, Johanna, Orin, Rachel, James, Lizzie, Kathleen. I left feeling still heartbroken, but quietly buoyed up.

It felt so small, hardly worth mentioning – but worth doing.  I share my experience here, in case you are wondering if the small things you’re doing are worth it, or in case you need an idea of how that might look. Because showing up – however that looks – always matters. I have to believe that.

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Lighting our candles

candle red berries penguin

Light your candles quietly, such candles as you possess, wherever you are.

—Alfred Delp

I am lighting a lot of candles these days.

We are into the short days of December, and while several of them (so far) have blazed with sunshine and brilliant blue skies, it’s still nearly pitch dark by five o’clock. The twinkling lights of our two Christmas trees (one big, one tiny) are helping to combat the darkness of the long evenings, but even so I find myself reaching for the lighter on a regular basis, hearing the click-click and smiling as the flame springs into life.

charles river clouds boston

Last week, I took a lunchtime walk along the Charles River, which glinted gray and silver under a sky chased with fitful clouds. I stumbled onto a small monastery whose existence I had only learned about recently. I slipped into its tiny chapel, set with jewel-like stained-glass windows, and I lit a candle, one in a row of flickering tealights set in a wrought-iron rack.

I wanted to murmur a prayer for our world, which is hurting so badly in so many ways, and in the end I couldn’t. I had no words. I let that tiny flame, joined with its fellows in that small stone chapel, express my plea: Lord, have mercy.

“I simply get to work on ordinary things,” Sarah wrote in a blog post a few weeks ago. “This is all I know to do when I don’t know what to do.” I think about her words almost daily, as I go about my own ordinary work.

I make the bed every morning with my husband’s grandmother’s quilt. I wash last night’s dishes while the kettle is boiling for my first cup of tea. I sort and wash laundry, lug it downstairs to the basement, haul it back up when it’s dry, fold it and put it away. I make grocery lists, errand lists, to-do lists, and work through them, slowly.

I peel a clementine for an afternoon snack, buy Christmas gifts, answer emails. I drink chai and more chai from Darwin’s, scribbling a few lines in my journal if there’s time. I write – news stories, book reviews, social media posts – and edit and proofread till my eyes hurt.

I come home and I need to plunge my hands into a sink of soapy water, or a batch of scone dough or a tangle of yarn. Or I need to simply sit in front of our Christmas tree with yet another mug of tea or mulled cider. And a candle burning nearby.

There is a lot of joy in this ordinary work. And there is also – at times like this – a feeling of helplessness.

christmas tree living room


What can I do about the headlines, the scenes of terror and tragedy on every side, the constant shouting in the halls of power that drowns out the tears of those who mourn? Not much, honestly. I can’t change anything for the families who are grieving, for the refugees without a home, even for my friend whose baby has been sick or other friends who are walking through dark times. I’m not a doctor, or a magician. I can’t do much. But I can light a candle on my kitchen table while I scrub pots and pans and make a meal to nourish myself and my love.

We are deep into the season of Advent, and even if you are not Christian, or religious, the world seems to be waiting for something. We are aching for peace, for reconciliation, for an end to the violence and anger that threatens to overwhelm anyone who picks up a newspaper or turns on the TV. We are desperate for solutions to these seemingly intractable problems, and we yell at each other because we don’t know how to fix things, how to move forward in the wake of so much loss.

It seems a small thing, to make a pot of soup, or a cup of tea. To go to a friend’s house on a Tuesday night, share a meal, trade stories and laughter, and read aloud the words of Luke and Isaiah. To spend Saturday morning wrapping potted poinsettias in gold paper, hanging pine garlands around the doorways at church. To text a friend, to share something funny or joyous or exciting, or simply to say, I’m here.

It seems small. But it’s what I can do.

As we turn toward the solstice and the nights grow ever longer, as the headlines continue to shout reminders of how broken and raw the world is, as I deal with continuing struggles and uncertainty of my own, you can find me here. Reading the words of hope and expectation in my Advent book, listening to the carols that thrill me with their longing and joy, sitting in the silence and taking a deep breath.

And then going about my quiet, unglamorous, ordinary work. Lighting the candles I possess, while I wait for the Light of the world to come again.

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(quote mug from Brookish on Etsy)

Last night, after a long, gray, mind-numbing day at work and a long, wet walk through the North End and back (for some admittedly delicious Italian food), we walked home from the subway stop hand in hand, grabbing the mail on our way in. We shucked off damp coats, and I changed from my smart work skirt and leggings into worn-in, comfortable jeans.

We turned on the twinkle lights and I lit a vanilla candle, and we listened to a Belgian girls’ choir singing covers of popular songs (odd, but beautiful), and to the patter of rain outside. And I could feel my entire body and spirit exhaling. Ahhhhh.

In my yearlong quest for comfort, it’s nice sometimes to find it right here at home, waiting for me.

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I’ve never seen winter like this, y’all. Even my native Northeasterner friends are astonished at the snow we’re seeing – and we poor new Texas transplants have been knocked winding by it. I’m sick of snow shoveling, frigid temps and way too many layers. But I’m trying to be a good sport. So here, in the spirit of Sarah’s list from last year, is what I love ( or am trying to love) about winter:

1. Twinkle lights.
2. Blue-and-gold sunsets.
3. Christmas (now a distant memory).
4. The quiet of snowy mornings, while the flakes fall.
5. The poetry of bare tree branches against the sky.
6. Snow on the beach.
7. Tea. Lots and lots and lots of tea.
8. Soup, soup and more soup.
9. Blankets, particularly wrapping up in them while I write.
10. Handknitted anything.
11. The smell of woodsmoke.
12. Crisp blue-skied days.
13. The promise of spring.
14. Cuddling.
15. Mulled cider, simmered on the stove.
16. Frequent texts from my uncle, who used to live in Philly and is truly worried about J and me surviving our first Northeastern winter.
17. Flannel pajama bottoms.
18. The lights of the Boston skyline when we drive back from Waltham on Sunday nights.
19. Apple crumble.
20. Wool skirts.
21. Knee socks.
22. Textured tights.
23. Cute boots.
24. Fresh flowers reminding me that spring will come.
25. Wintry-scented candles – pumpkin, peppermint, burning leaves.
26. Holiday episodes of Friends. (“Monica, Monica, have a happy Hanukkah…”)
27. Hot chocolate, with a dash of peppermint.
28. Birthdays (my mom, my sis, my friend Abi).
29. Valentine’s Day. Yes, I am a sap.
30. Slowly lengthening days. (It’s light until 5:00 now!)
31. Books to sink into, like the Maisie Dobbs series.
32. Soft moody music.
33. Downton Abbey (via the PBS website).

Got any more to add to the list? Anyone? Help me out here…we’ve got a long way to go till spring.

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Well, the decorations are up, the store windows are lighted, the sales are on, the church is decked with evergreens and an Advent wreath. The Christmas season is in full swing, in case you hadn’t noticed. But aside from the big decorations/ads/songs/celebrations, here are a few signs of the season I notice and love each year:

1. Red Starbucks cups. I’m an indie-coffeehouse girl, but there is something about those red cups – so cheerful and comforting.
2. Twinkle lights – draped around a tree, a window or a balcony, here and there, before everyone starts putting up their lights and trees and inflatable snowmen.
3. Christmas/holiday stamps at the post office.
4. Red Macy’s bags.
5. Bath & Body Works holiday window displays (they have the BEST ones).
6. The readings in Watch for the Light, which start on Nov. 24 and so start before Advent nearly every year.
7. My hankering for spiced black tea, which grows ever stronger as Christmas approaches.
8. Mint M&Ms in the green bags.
9. Switching from leafy/pumpkin-y candle scents to cinnamon and peppermint ones.
10. My few holiday tees and snowflake pj pants. (Thank you, Old Navy.)

What little things signal Christmas to you?

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trying to pay attention

I’m writing this post, as I write many posts, with a candle burning on the table beside me. Today it’s a tall vanilla column, which gives off more light than scent, but I like the cheery flicker and the sense of peace it creates. I lit it against the grey day outside, with cold sleet-rain dashing up against the windowpanes. And I lit it because of what Lauren Winner says, in her wise little book Mudhouse Sabbath:

You don’t find candles lit in frenetic houses; you find them lit in houses where people are trying to pay attention.

It’s true, and it makes me wonder: what am I paying attention to when I light a candle?

Just now, of course, it’s my writing; I often light candles when I sit at our blond wood dining table, laptop in front of me, to blog or write articles or work on other projects (like my NaNoWriMo novel). Sometimes I light a candle, for scent or ambiance or just for fun, when J and I eat dinner together, sharing tidbits about our days. Each week at the beginning of our church service, we light the Christ candle to remind us of the true Light coming into the world. And sometimes I simply light a candle because I’ve had a hectic day or am feeling frantic in my spirit, and I need to calm down.

I’ll be lighting more candles as the days grow darker, and as the holidays approach – you can bet I’m stocking up on festive scents, from Leaves and Autumn to Cinnamon Stick and Spice. I’ll light them to make me smile, to fill the air with a delicious aroma, to combat the long grey days of winter that will last far longer than I want them to. But I’ll also light them to make me draw a deep breath – and remind me to pay attention to the work and the people I love.

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(Note: These are all things I have in abundance, but always, always want more of – and have to frequently resist buying more of.)

1. Good books. (Especially at bargain prices.)
2. Quality tea – especially my favorite blends.
3. Scarves and pashminas.
4. Cute hats (though I usually make my own these days).
5. Fingerless gloves (ditto).
6. Charming coffee mugs/teacups. (I have much more than a dozen now.)
7. Ballet flats.
8. Scented candles. (I love Bath & Body Works candles the most.)
9. Fun socks.
10. Cozy cardigans.
11. Quality dark chocolate.
12. Hand lotion in my favorite scents.
13. Patterned tights. (I’ll need them this winter.)
14. Journals (though I’m picky about style, size, etc.).
15. Luscious yarn.

What can you never have enough of?

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lighting candles

Some thoughts from Lauren Winner’s Mudhouse Sabbath, a little jewel of a book about Christian and Jewish spiritual practices, on candle-lighting:

“Even though – or perhaps because – literal illumination is as easy as, well, the flip of a switch, there’s something remarkable about a candle. There seems to be no surer way to sacralize time or space than lighting a candle, and no quieter quiet than the silence of candlelight.”

“Candles seem to create peace. You don’t find candles lit in frenetic houses; you find them lit in houses where people are trying to pay attention.”

“I like to keep [candles] lit whenever I am home. Even when I am just lighting two thin tapers over dinner, I like to think about the light of Christ rectifying the sin by which came death to the world. The Light of Christ, I sometimes say to myself. Thanks be to God.

Thought-provoking and beautiful. And true in the very best sense.

I think I’ll light a candle when I get home tonight.

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