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Posts Tagged ‘community’

Hello, friends. Welcome (?) to 2021.

It’s hard to believe we are only 10 days in. Last week’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol has left me reeling. My partner and I both have family members who have the virus, and the general stress and isolation of pandemic life has not let up. If anything, the cumulative weight of the last few months makes it feel even heavier. So I’ve been quiet here, because really, what is there to say?

I still don’t know, but a comment from a reader (hi Mary!) helped remind me that coming back to this space is often a healthy outlet and a source of joy. So I’m starting the year on the blog with a list of the tiny good things that are getting me through, at the moment. Here they are:

  • My paperwhites (above) are finally blooming. Every year this is a miracle, and I have rarely watched so anxiously for those buds and creamy flowers as I did this year.
  • My Christmas tree is still up (oh yes it is), and twinkle lights feel hopeful in this dark season.
  • The fish I am feeding for a friend are all (knock wood) still alive.
  • I started a new journal last week, and this one is Harry Potter-themed.
  • Dinner on Friday was a new recipe from Real Simple, and it was delicious.
  • My new coat does have functional pockets (I had to open them with a seam ripper, but they are there).
  • The fizzy shower bar a friend sent for Christmas is such a treat. (I have a tiny shower and no bathtub, so it’s perfect.)
  • I have been reading some really good books: Elizabeth Wein’s gripping YA novel The Enigma Game and Horatio Clare’s gorgeous, honest memoir The Light in the Dark.
  • My writing class has started back up, and seeing everyone’s faces and sharing our writing is so nourishing and fun.
  • The Wailin’ Jennys’ cover of “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” – with their ethereal, bell-like harmonies – is perfection.
  • My local tea store, Mem Tea, is still faithfully shipping out online orders, and I just stocked up on my winter staples: English Breakfast and Earl Grey.

What are the small things getting you through, these days?

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I’ve written before about how yoga has been getting me through the pandemic: lots of classes over Zoom this spring, then in the park this summer. Those outdoor classes were one of the true gifts of this strange time: setting up our mats in the lush grass, tree branches waving gently overhead, the sounds of birthday parties and children playing and a YMCA cardio class drifting over. We had occasional invasions from the local geese, but otherwise, it was just about perfect.

Lately, we’ve been back in the studio on a very limited basis, and I have loved showing up on Sunday and Wednesday nights with two or three others, to practice with Taylor and Carla, my favorite instructors. They are both warm and kind and understanding about how hard everything feels right now. They even put up twinkle lights and a couple of wee Christmas trees recently, and going there has felt quasi-normal, which is a serious gift right now.

Today, Boston is rolling back to an earlier phase of reopening for a few weeks, so we’re back to Zoom (fitness centers are closed) until January, at least. I am super sad about it: sometimes those few moments of chat in the studio are my only in-person conversations of the day. And while we don’t talk during class, it’s nourishing to be with other people, especially since I spend so much time alone right now.

I keep reminding myself that yoga will be there: that I can pull out my mat and practice at home; that (hopefully) my little studio will survive, and we will gather again on our mats, when we can. Until then, I’ll be tuning into class on Zoom, because I want to support a beloved small business, and I believe yoga is better when we do it together.

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Last week, I made the drive across Boston to Quincy, the just-south suburb where I lived for seven years, to visit my hairstylist, Jess. Every time I go, I grumble to myself about it being kind of a pain; it’s the other end of town from where I live now. And every time, I remember: it’s totally worth it.

I found my salon through an acquaintance I met soon after moving to Boston; Annmarie used to live in Quincy, and had high praise for the salon and its owner, Micki. Walking into a new salon is terrifying (anyone hear me?), and I was further intimidated when my stylist, Jess, turned out to have Technicolor hair (it was a different bright shade every time) and so many tattoos I didn’t know where to look.

Despite my initial worries, it turns out Jess is a wizard with scissors, and she’s also a sweetheart. I’ve been going to her for almost ten years now, which definitely qualifies as a long-term relationship.

In the time I’ve known Jess, we’ve each moved several times; her salon has changed locations; we’ve both gotten divorced and found new love. She’s gained a dog and two stepsons; I’ve gained two nephews; and her daughter has gone from a preschooler to a full-blown teenager. Not to mention we’re both currently surviving a pandemic and the weirdest year ever. But she is dependably skilled at trimming my hair back to a sleek, elegant shape, and we catch up on our lives while I’m sitting in the chair. These days, we’re both wearing masks (and her hair is ice-blue after a long stretch of her natural blonde), but her warmth and styling mojo are as present as ever.

I had to talk myself into going, as usual, and I won’t lie: revisiting my old neighborhood feels a bit strange these days, post-divorce. But I’m always glad to see Jess, and I think the feeling is mutual. And I always come out of the salon feeling like a million bucks.

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Is it an odd thing to say I love my grocery store? In the middle of a pandemic, perhaps it’s fitting: these folks are among the essential workers who are keeping the rest of us fed and safe. As I’ve mentioned before, my partner works at the nearest Trader Joe’s, and I’m feeling extra grateful for him and his colleagues this week.

Since I moved to Eastie, I’ve been cobbling together grocery-store runs: picking up a few things on my way home from work, borrowing a friend’s car or using grocery delivery for bigger trips. But when my guy got a job at TJs back in the winter, I bought a rolling cart and started doing my weekly shops over there. These days, it’s an integral part of my week.

I make my list, go and wait in line (a short one, if I’m lucky), greet his coworkers as I walk through the produce section. I usually pick up some flowers to supplement my weekly bouquets from Brattle Square. There are always new treats to try (see above), plus reliable staples, and I sneak in a hug from my guy if he’s stocking the shelves or working the cash register. The store atmosphere is cheery and bright, and many of his coworkers recognize me now, even with a mask. I wave hello or chat with whoever’s ringing me up, then haul my groceries on the train back home.

Real talk: it’s sometimes a pain, and grocery shopping for one can feel a bit depressing. But we all need to eat, and I’m thankful to have a store I like nearby. I’m even more grateful for the community there: it’s good to walk in and be welcomed.

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One of the toughest parts of the pandemic, for me, has been the isolation. I live alone, was working full-time from home until I was furloughed in May, and have not seen my family (all of whom live in Texas or other far-flung states) at all this year. I’ve still been seeing my guy (thank goodness) and a few local friends, but there are a lot of empty hours to fill, and even when I have work to do, I’ve been missing community.

Back in September, my friend Nina Badzin posted about an online writing class she was teaching through ModernWell, which usually happens in person but had moved to Zoom for the fall. I’ve known Nina online for years (we both used to write for the now-defunct Great New Books), but we’ve never (yet) met in person. But I loved the idea of a safe, fun, creative space on Tuesday mornings, a chance to write in community. I signed up, and y’all, it has been life-giving.

There are around a dozen women, mostly Midwesterners (a few of us live elsewhere) of varying ages, careers/life situations and writing experience. Many of us love to cook, and we’ve had a few cookbook discussions alongside the writing chat. All of us love books and enjoy a well-written TV show (I think I’m the last one who hasn’t yet watched The Queen’s Gambit). Everyone has been warm and welcoming, and I’ve so loved seeing their faces on Zoom every week. Our focus is writing, but bits of our lives creep in around the edges – one woman’s newborn granddaughter, another’s house renovation, another’s passion for beautifully wrapped gifts.

We go around and share what we’ve been up to creatively – both what we’ve been writing/creating and how we’ve been filling the well. Nina gives us a prompt or exercise, usually with a sample essay by a pro, and we turn off our cameras and write for a while. Then we take turns sharing our work. The results are rough, of course, but they are full of gems – astonishing warmth and humor and vivid details, whether we’re writing about our current lives or memories from way back.

In a time when I’ve struggled to find both community and silver linings, this group has been a major source of both. We’re taking a few weeks off for the holidays, but we’ll be back in the New Year, and I’m so glad.

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It’s no secret I am a flower fanatic – I’ve always got a vase or two of fresh blooms around here, plus the geraniums I can usually coax to go through the winter. My Instagram feed is at least half flower photos, and one of the ways my guy and I fell in love was taking flower walks through Cambridge and Boston together.

Recently, though, I’ve been taking even more flower photos than usual: I’m running the Instagram page for my beloved florist. They’ve been without a social media person for a bit, and I had both time and inclination, so once a week, I pop in to snap some photos of the latest arrangements, and post them throughout the week.

It’s a fun creative challenge: the flowers are gorgeous, and I’m enjoying the chance to try out different angles and filters. The holiday decorations are coming in now, too, and they’re so much fun to photograph.

In a time where I’ve struggled to find community, it’s also nice to have a compelling reason to show up somewhere once a week. I always grab a bunch of flowers to take home – tulips or sunflowers or bright gerbera daisies – and Stephen will wrap up a rose or two for me. The extra bit of cash doesn’t hurt, but mostly it’s a fun excuse to stop by a place I love.

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Last year, one of the joys of December in Eastie was participating in a local Christmas carol choir, spearheaded by my friend Peter and often hosted by him and his wife, Giordana. (That’s their dining room table, above, complete with pencils for marking and herbal tea for scratchy throats.)

We are all keeping our distance this year, of course, but I think Peter (and some of us) could not bear to do nothing, so we’re cobbling together a pandemic-safe carol service. We’re holding rehearsals on Zoom and planning to record ourselves singing the individual parts, to be mixed together and then released as a full (amateur) recording.

I thought it might feel sad, or inadequate: like so many things, this practice is a shadow of what it was pre-pandemic. We can’t gather in anyone’s living room, or sing together in real time; instead, we all mute ourselves and sing along with recordings on YouTube, sharing the sheet music on our computer screens (with lots of attendant technical glitches).

It is messy and imperfect and sometimes hilarious, and the recordings are hit or miss, frankly. But it’s still nourishing to see everyone’s faces, and wave hello and sing together, even if it doesn’t look at all “normal.” I am learning a few songs I didn’t know, and revisiting cherished favorites, like “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “O Holy Night.”

These songs have layers of associations for me, long years of singing them with family or friends or church communities, all the way up to Christmas Eve. For me, the music and the community are both vital to marking the season. So despite the tech issues and the funky recordings and the wish that we could all be together, these rehearsals – virtual though they may be – are a real source of light and warmth and laughter.

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For a spill of yellow calla lilies and long-stemmed roses tipped with crimson, both from my beloved Cambridge florist.

For morning runs along the harborwalk and up the greenway, sea and sky and breath and music in my earbuds, a ritual that makes me stronger and happier and more at peace.

For three bags of cranberries and plump sweet potatoes, homemade mac & cheese and beef en croute from Trader Joe’s, with cider from Downeast for our tiny, two-person feast.

For daily chats with my girl Allison in California, whose good humor and grace and honesty about the vagaries of pandemic life have kept me sane for so many months now.

For Friends Thanksgiving gifs shared with my sister, weekly phone chats with my parents, Thanksgiving cards from my aunts. I am far from most of my family, but we love one another fiercely, even in these strange times.

For the memories of past Thanksgivings, in Texas and Oxford and Missouri and a few miles away in Brookline. There is pain in some of those memories, but also community, and joy.

For a light-filled, wood-floored apartment near the harbor, which has been a true refuge and home during a turbulent year and a half.

For a man who loves me deeply and shares my joy in the fact that we get to twine our lives together.

For the freelance writing projects that have helped give me purpose and income and a chance to use my skills in these furloughed months.

For strong black tea brewed in my favorite mugs, stacks of library books and e-galleys, candles on the mantel and cozy plaid slippers and all the comforts of home.

For the nurses, doctors, grocery store workers, delivery folks, farmers and other essential workers who are keeping us all going.

It has been a hard and sobering year, but there is still and always so much to give thanks for. If you are celebrating today, I wish you a Thanksgiving full of love and gratitude.

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Here we are in mid- to late November: Thanksgiving literally around the corner, Christmas peeking over the horizon. The days have grown short here in Boston, and my morning runs are taking me under increasingly leafless trees.

The holiday season holds so much love and magic for me, but there are some painful memories, too, and this year – whatever else it turns out to be – promises to be a departure from the norm.

I don’t usually travel for Thanksgiving, so was not worried about skipping a plane trip or explaining to family why this isn’t the year to be together. (I am dealing with those things around Christmas, and I’m sad about not spending my annual week in Texas, eating my mom’s cooking and playing with my nephews and catching up with so many people I love.)

My guy and I are going to hang out and cook this week, and while I’m looking forward to that, I’ve still been sad about our teeny Thanksgiving. This is only our second year together, so we don’t have long-established traditions, though we would probably be eating with friends if not for the pandemic. But I finally figured out the other day what was making me so sad: for me, Thanksgiving is about welcome. Creating it, finding it, receiving it. And this year, that concept has felt thin on the ground – or, at least, profoundly different than usual.

This year has held so much isolation for me: so many hours alone in my apartment, trying to plan pandemic-safe interactions with local friends. I miss having girlfriends over for tea, or meeting up at a cafe for an after-work cuppa. My arms ache to hug the friends I still see and the family members I won’t see this year. I miss walking into Chrissy’s house like it’s my own, chatting about music with my coworkers, making plans to visit faraway loved ones. I have struggled to find welcome, and create it, this year when we all know that we can best love each other by keeping our distance.

I am trying, this week, to create welcome where I can: texting friends near and far to check in, attending last night’s Christmas choir rehearsal on Zoom, going to a couple of small in-studio yoga classes. On Thursday, my guy and I will cook our favorite side dishes, and I’ll drop off some sweet potatoes on a friend’s porch (her kids don’t like them). I will remember past Thanksgivings, in church basements and friends’ houses and my mother’s kitchen. I’ll listen to my favorite Nichole Nordeman song, and soak in the company of the man I love. We will welcome each other into this holiday with its joy and complications, and somehow, I hope, that will be enough.

If you’re celebrating, I wish you a lovely Thanksgiving.

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Over the weekend, we hit eight months of pandemic life here in Boston. It worries me, honestly, that not much seems to have changed over the last eight months. People are still getting sick and dying; hospitals and essential workers are still stretched thin; we are still in a strange not-quite-normal limbo. Closer to home, I am still furloughed, and still spending a lot (a lot) of time alone in my apartment.

These autumn days can feel like feast or famine: one day might hold a long bike ride with my guy through falling golden leaves, a nourishing walk with a girlfriend, a yoga class in the park (we squeezed in a few more outdoor classes when the mercury hit the 70s last week). Other days, I might not say a word aloud to a human being until the afternoon, though I check in daily via text with a few loved ones. My in-person circles, always smallish, have shrunk to three or four dear friends, plus my partner. Sometimes it feels impossible to conceive of how we’ll continue this way. (It’s all very Waiting for Godot.)

The isolation is wearying, and sometimes I wish I could spread the interactions out to make sure I get the right amount every day. (I do try, but it isn’t always possible.) But I am also conscious of something else: a steady sense of gratitude for the good days, whether caused by community or sunshine or a satisfying writing session or all of the above.

We do what we can, I (and many others) have been saying for months now. We wash our hands, wear our masks, put off trips to see loved ones or visit favorite places until it’s safe to do so. We find creative ways to connect with folks we love. I send photos of autumn leaves to friends in Idaho and California and Scotland. I curl up in the evenings with a middle-grade novel or the latest Sara Paretsky mystery or an episode of Mary Tyler Moore. And, when the opportunity for feasting comes – be it pizza around a friend’s table or a bear hug from my guy or a ride to the grocery store – I take it.

Some days still feel like famine: I feel acutely the lack of the small interactions at work and in public that made up so much of my days. That seems likely to continue for a while. But most days offer richness, in both surprising and in durable ordinary ways. And for now, as we head into winter (not without trepidation), I will feast when I can.

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