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Posts Tagged ‘comfort’

south portland st brooklyn

One of the delights of visiting and revisiting a city: there are neighborhoods that become yours.

Last month, the hubs and I spent our third weekend in Fort Greene, which has become our favorite pocket of Brooklyn. I’d just spent three days at a conference in midtown and I was ready to get out of the bustle and glitz, to a tangle of quieter streets where people actually live. Coming out of Manhattan, even dragging all my luggage, felt like a much-needed exhale. And coming up out of the subway onto Fulton Street – even into a cold winter wind – felt like coming home.

We rented the top floor of a brownstone near Fort Greene Park, and spent the weekend popping into our favorite places and discovering new ones. It was the kind of travel I adore: the new and novel blended with the comforting and familiar.

We didn’t even discuss where to go for dinner on Friday night, but headed straight to Madiba for bowls of spicy lamb curry with raisin-studded saffron rice. When we told our hostess we were headed to the farmers’ market in the park the next morning, she laughed. “You’re practically natives!” And, indeed, it felt wonderful to stroll the stands and buy a cup of steaming apple cider and a scone the size of my fist. We perched on a bench and sipped our cider, watching dogs and children running in the cold, crisp air.

k-j-ft-greene-park

I’d made a short list of places to revisit, and we hit all of them: Greenlight Bookstore, the winter Brooklyn Flea market, the wonderful Greene Grape and its adjacent wine shop, and the bagel place on Lafayette Avenue. We ate Sunday brunch at Walter’s and strolled up and down the streets we love. But we also visited new coffee shops, turned down unfamiliar corners, ate guacamole and huevos at Pequeña. And we did something I’ve long wanted to do: took the gorgeous walk across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan.

brooklyn bridge cables sky

New York, more than most cities, offers endless new discoveries, and I am surprised and delighted by it every time I visit. But I also love that certain parts of it have become mine, or ours. Fort Greene welcomed us back, and I’m already looking forward to our next trip there.

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sunset sky west texas

Let Evening Come

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

I don’t know much of Kenyon’s work, but I love this poem, with its simple imagery and the quiet comfort of the last lines.

April is National Poetry Month, and I have been sharing poetry here on Fridays this month. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

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rocks waves blue sky two lights state park maine

Every once in a while, usually when I’m not looking, a line from a hymn sneaks into my soul and lodges there, like a bird building a covert nest under the eaves of a house.

This happens with non-religious music too (I’m looking at you, Taylor Swift), but when a hymn lyric sets up camp in my consciousness, it becomes a kind of mantra, or a kind of prayer. Last December, during Advent, it was my favorite four-part version of the Magnificat. This winter, a Lenten hymn caught my attention, and I hummed it over and over as we plodded toward Easter.

memorial church interior

This fall, it’s a line from a hymn I’ve known for years: God of Grace and God of Glory.

I’ve sung the several verses of this song all my life, in the big Baptist church where I grew up and in various other churches since then. I know most of the words by heart, and I love them all, but one line in particular has burrowed into my mind and soul lately:

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the living of these days.

I was laid off from my job a few months ago. I have not wanted to talk about it here on the blog, but that simple fact has informed every day of my life since I received the news. The job search has been longer and more difficult than I expected, and I miss the purpose and the camaraderie of my former workplace. I’ve had some interviews and a few promising leads, but it has been hard. And it continues to be hard.

After months of job hunting – the relentless cycle of applications and rejections, the constant worry about whether I’m doing it right or doing enough, the loneliness that comes from missing colleagues and community – I am finding it difficult to pray. There are a host of reasons for this, not all directly related to the job search, but I can’t always make the words come, or even bring myself to believe that it matters.

But this quiet hymn lyric keeps coming to mind, both on the hard days and the not-quite-so-hard days. I catch myself humming it at odd moments, or I find the words floating through my head. (We also sang this song at church yesterday, because my husband – who plans our worship services – is evidently a mind reader.)

Both halves of this line resonate with me. “The living of these days” speaks to a broad swath of struggles and worries, both personal and societal. When I’m wondering how to face these difficulties, I’m always hoping for more wisdom and more courage. And when I’m too tired or too dispirited to form a prayer, this seems to be a pretty good one.

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the living of these days.

Amen.

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Frazzled.

It’s a mad week around here, folks. Full of exciting things: a wonderful folk concert, a book event, an evening of pizza and wine and Downton Abbey with friends. And full of crazy-making things: too many meetings, a two-day work conference, a 48-hour deadline on a work project made necessary by said conference. Gloomy and frustrating winter weather – no single-digit temps this week, but we have had rain, snow, slush, high winds and grey skies. Many of the things that preserve my sanity – routine, sunshine, spare time, home-cooked meals – are in short supply at the moment.

I am wishing (again) that I could fly to some exotic location, explore a new city or revisit a beloved one, leave the mundane tasks and damp, chill weather far behind. I forget, every year, what a long grey slog the Northeastern winter can be. (I think most people must, or they wouldn’t go on living here.)

But tonight, I came home and took off my boots and slid my feet into cozy slippers. I took a few deep breaths and made a pot of Tuscan sausage soup, and washed a sinkful of dishes. I ate far too many Dove chocolates, and a steaming cup of decaf vanilla black tea sits at my elbow as I write. And there are yellow tulips on my dining room table.

yellow tulips

I am trying not to be discouraged, to remember the words of Shakespeare, taken to heart by a certain Emily Webster: “Muster your wits; stand in your own defense.” And the words of Marcus Aurelius, which I discovered via Father Tim Kavanagh: “The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”

The chaos will still be waiting for me tomorrow. But like Emily, and Mary Tyler Moore, and the rest of my heroines, I’m determined to make it after all.

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Gentle Reading

Life has been recently (I keep saying) full of challenges. Mourning my grandmother and then my cousin from a great distance. Struggling to write, in the wake of these griefs, sometimes terrified that my muse has deserted me, or that I’ll never write anything of significance. Missing faraway friends (though I am deeply grateful for the smaller circles that surround me here). Waiting through the long weeks of March and now April, through biting winds and chilly nights, for weather that truly feels like spring.

miss read books

My growing Miss Read collection

Sarah at Pink of Perfection asked recently what we like to read in the spring, and someone mentioned the novels of Miss Read, village schoolmistress at Fairacre (England’s answer to Mitford). I first discovered Miss Read in Oxford, and had read and enjoyed four of her Fairacre tales. That very weekend, I found Summer at Fairacre on a browse through Rivendell Books. I snapped it up and savored it, then found two more at the Brattle. And now I’m planning to make my way through the whole Fairacre series, and maybe the Thrush Green novels, too.

These books are the perfect comfort reading – well written, with a bucolic setting, a witty and lovable narrator, a colorful cast of village characters, a pleasantly meandering plot. They’re a blessed escape from my daily frustrations and larger troubles. Sometimes a dose of gentle reading is just what the doctor ordered.

the train to estelline

Breakfast with Lucy

Along the same lines, I’m enjoying the Irish Country Doctor series by Patrick Taylor – a perfect cross between Mitford and James Herriot – and the Lucinda Roberts trilogy by Jane Roberts Wood (the first book is pictured above). And, this weekend, I reread Jane of Lantern Hill for the first time in years. Now I want to live in a little cottage by the sea on Prince Edward Island.

What’s on your spring and/or gentle reading list?

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We all have them, don’t we? The phrases we carry in our hearts, like the rosaries or stones or other talismans some people carry in their pockets, to be pulled out or simply touched, over and over, during difficult times. Here are a few of mine – and I’d love to hear yours.

1. “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” —Julian of Norwich
2. “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” —Mary Oliver
3. “Come forth, and bring with you a heart / That watches and receives.” —Wordsworth – from that poem I memorized recently
4. “I really and truly believe in God with all kinds of doubts. But I base my life on this belief.” —Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet
5. “You should sing, then, as wayfarers do – sing, but continue your journey. […] Sing then, but keep going.” —St. Augustine

What words do you carry in your heart?

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I confess: I haven’t been taking good care of myself lately.

Sometimes it’s just so easy to follow the routine, head down, going through the motions of work and errands, projects and obligations, to-dos and should-dos. Hitting the snooze button in the mornings, running late to work, letting the dishes pile up in the sink and the laundry stack up in the baskets, with (seemingly) no time to write my morning pages (or much of anything else), no chance to keep a tidy house or spend quiet evenings on the couch, reading or knitting and sipping tea. (J and I have been watching – and loving – copious episodes of Castle, though that’s currently on hiatus as he cheers the Rangers on in the World Series.)

Our Boston weather, and my internal weather, has been swinging wildly from one extreme to the next: clear skies and gorgeous autumn leaves one day, grey gloom and buckets of rain the next. When it’s like this, I start to shrug off the value of taking care; I start to neglect the things that keep me comforted, the little routines and lifesavers and the things I do to tend my house and my soul. And that means, among other things, a precipitous drop in comfort, my often-elusive one little word for the year.

The answer, as usual, is in the little things, the small shifts back toward the balance I crave. It’s in lighting a pretty candle in the evenings, in brewing a cup of tea at my desk, in taking a long walk at lunchtime. I’ve been remembering a phrase Jen used last year, and hearing it in my head like a nudge, a kindly imperative: pull back to gentleness. With myself, with my husband, with the way things are right now. And that means: no judgment, just acceptance. A letting go, and telling myself: it is enough.

It is enough, even while I think I should be doing so much more, to wash one sinkful of dishes, do one load of laundry, write one or two or three pages in my journal. It is enough to sink into this seasonal transition, to wrap myself up in cozy cardigans and a new red scarf, to cook simple meals and sit on the couch flipping through a magazine after dinner. It is enough to just be, just breathe, while I try to figure out a more nourishing routine for myself, a more rhythmic shape to my days. It is enough.

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