Posts Tagged ‘comfort’


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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one year in boston

I’ve been reading through my blog posts from last summer. Remembering how it felt to slowly say good-bye to Abilene, which had been home for eight years. Looking around our apartment, at the sun-spangled hardwood floors and the twinkle lights framing the windows, at the shelves of books and the sink full of dishes, and wondering how it is that we’ve been here a year.

Didn’t we just pull up in that moving truck the other day? Didn’t we just start settling in, finding the library and the grocery store and a new church, dealing with the mound of paperwork required when you move halfway across the country? Didn’t we just learn to navigate the T, and build mental maps of Quincy and central Boston and the greater Boston area? Didn’t we just learn to shovel snow, buy down coats, collect all the tips we could for surviving our first winter?

Well. Yes. We did. A year ago.

A year ago this weekend, we moved into our apartment with the help of three dear friends (one of whom carried our loveseats up the stairs on his back). We spent our first Sunday morning at Brookline. We set up bookshelves and bedframes, arranged our dishes in the cabinets, began organizing the books. A year ago today, J started his first real, full-time, grown-up job, and I began six months of exploring the city and looking for work. (Six months ago, I started my own full-time job.) We’ve survived a full cycle of the seasons here (and I believe everyone’s comments about “seasonal amnesia” – the summer and fall do make you forget, for a while, how brutal the winter can be).

We’ve struggled, at times, to make our way in a culture and city so different from the place we came from. We’ve missed being known, shaken our heads at the expense of living here, adjusted to commutes and the sad lack of Tex-Mex food and two months of frequent snowstorms. We’ve fought to make a place for ourselves, to draw together a circle of friends, to live here now instead of mourning the friends we left behind or the ease of life in Abilene, or worrying unduly about the future.

Perhaps that is the gift of this time in Boston – to be here now, to embrace each moment, each struggle, each inconvenience or tough experience or unexpected joy. To let each day, each event, be simply what it is, rather than letting it all overwhelm me. To treasure the new friendships we’ve gradually made, while acknowledging that our community here will always look different than our community in Abilene. To appreciate what’s available here, instead of wishing for what’s not. To let life in this new place open us up, let it become part of who we are, even if we don’t stay forever.

It’s been a difficult year in many respects – requiring equal parts bravery (my word for 2010) and comfort (my word for 2011). I don’t expect I’ll ever describe life in Boston as easy. But it’s been instructive, exciting, rich with new experiences, full of challenges and unexpected twists and opportunities (though at times they’ve felt more like trials and obstacles). In short, it’s been an adventure – which is what we were looking for, after all, when we left Abilene.

More than once over the past year, I’ve wished we could spirit ourselves back to Texas, back to the church and the university and the friends and family we left, back to the ease of familiarity, back to the comfort of being home. Sometimes I still wish that. And I think – and hope – we’ll go back someday.

But the story of our lives in Boston isn’t finished yet. This chapter had a rocky start, but it’s by no means at its end. We’ve renewed our lease and committed to stay a while longer, to keep meeting the challenges and embracing the joys. To keep finding out what it means to make a home for ourselves up here, and to know and be known in this place we’ve come to love.

Here’s to another year – at least – in Boston. And to all it holds for us, however difficult and scary – and rich and exciting.

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The other day, as she often does, Sarah had a great idea to jazz up this month a bit – to put a little more swing and spring into the everyday. (She’s good at that – spicing up the everyday with yummy recipes and thought-provoking questions and lovely bits of insight.) I decided to try her Charmed Life Challenge – a wonderful list of 60 ideas to make August a little more fabulous. And I have to say, it’s working so far.

Strawberry gelato on my lunch break

I love it when friends – in the blogosphere or outside of it – whisper these reminders in my ear. Reminders that I can live a charmed (and charming life), and that it’s often up to me to make it happen (since, unfortunately, I don’t have a movie crew following me around with a dreamy soundtrack or a glamorous wardrobe).

Sometimes I forget how much of a difference the little things can make. I forget to make the bit of extra effort to buy flowers or eat fresh berries (straight from the cardboard pint), or dine by candlelight or give something broken a new life. And sometimes it just feels like too much work – like I can’t possibly take the time to make lemonade or gaze at the stars or listen to someone’s life story.

Fresh blueberries at the Copley Square Farmer's Market

But I usually can find the time, make the effort, slow down a little bit to enjoy the everyday moments. I can put on a favorite skirt or steal a little time for quiet reflection or sit in a cafe and write down my dreams. And when I do, I feel like Meg Ryan walking down the New York streets in You’ve Got Mail, music playing behind her, or like Kate Winslet turning her face up to the Santa Ana winds in The Holiday. I feel more alert, more attentive to all sorts of glorious possibilities. As though anything could happen.

How do you make your life feel more charmed (or charming)?

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Last month, I wrote about my need for a neighborhood – and how the smallest church I’ve ever been a part of, with the simplest, most stripped-down services, is becoming my place of home, of rest. Felicity commented (on that post) that she’d heard of city churches stripping down their production values to appeal to overstimulated city dwellers. And the more I think about that, the more it fits. That isn’t why we chose Brookline, but it’s certainly part of why we’ve stayed.

I’ve been a part of three big churches in my life (plus more, when I was a kid) – and all of them are high-production in some way. My parents’ church has an organ, a choir, an occasional orchestra (in which I used to play flute), and a big, extravagant Easter pageant every two years. (I sang and acted in said pageant half a dozen times, and loved it.)

My church in Oxford, though it follows much of the liturgy of the Anglican church (particularly for prayers and communion), has a praise band and snazzy PowerPoint slides and lots of events every day of the week. If, during my time in Oxford, I’d wanted to be at St Aldates every night, I could have. (And as an expat student – often a lonely one – I adored the community there.)

Finally, my church in Abilene, though perhaps simpler than the other two, is high-production in the way of most big churches. There are a lot of details to iron out when you’re serving a congregation of two thousand or so. There are baptisms and baby blessings and Senior Sunday every May, and Wednesday night events and praise teams and semi-annual church retreats and oh my, it’s no wonder my husband used to get a little stressed when he helped organize worship and plan events. Make no mistake: we loved it, and we miss it. But since moving to Boston, I’ve become so grateful for simplicity.

Brookline is housed in a small brick building, whose graceful blue-gray walls, vaulted ceiling and large windows let the light in (and recall its original existence as an art gallery). Our services contain almost no flash – but they bespeak a quiet sincerity I find restful. We certainly don’t all agree on matters of theology (or other things, I’d wager), but most folks seem more inclined toward thoughtful discussion than toward argument. We all pitch in to make the service happen, wash the dishes afterward, bring snacks before worship, bring food for our monthly potluck. And no one has any interest in making things complicated or fancy for their own sake. Which, in a city where life often requires a lot of complicated effort, is a balm for my soul.

I’m working on making our apartment into a similar kind of haven – look for a post on that soon.

Where do you find haven and quiet space in your life?

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