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Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

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One of the most exciting things about the job hunt is also one of the hardest: imagining a new, possible life both before and during the application process.

A certain amount of this is necessary, of course. Before I apply – before I invest the time into combing an organization’s website and writing a cover letter – it makes sense to consider whether the job is a good fit. Am I qualified? Does it sound interesting? Would the commute (when we go back to office life) be workable? Does the organization seem like a place I would want to work? The answer to all these questions has to be “yes,” or at least “maybe/probably,” before I even open up a new Word doc and start trying to find the name of the hiring manager.

For me, it’s sometimes tougher after I’ve applied – or in that strange limbo period between a first-round interview and whatever happens next. Sometimes I try to picture what a day or a week in that job would look like. I always go on Google Maps to check and double-check the potential commute. If it’s an organization where I know someone, you can bet I ask them what it’s like to work there. But all of this is purely hypothetical at this stage. And it can require a lot of emotional effort.

When Kathleen Kelly has to close her bookstore in You’ve Got Mail (more on this in a future #romcomrewatch post), Birdie invites her and Christina over for tea. “Closing the store is the brave thing to do,” Birdie declares over Earl Grey and scones. “You are daring to imagine that you could have a different life!”

Kathleen is disinclined to believe her, at that moment (and I don’t blame her), but Birdie’s words have come back to me in many contexts over the years. Going to grad school, changing jobs time and again, moving to Boston, getting married, deciding to get divorced, starting a new relationship – in all of these instances, I have dared (sometimes still am daring) to imagine that my life can look different than it did. Sometimes that’s exciting. Sometimes it’s daunting. More often than not, it’s both.

It can be a real bummer to invest time and energy into applying for a job and then imagining how that life might look, only to find out you didn’t get it. (This has, obviously, happened to me more than once.) But I don’t want to stop imagining potential lives, because the alternative is to just apply mindlessly – or settle – for whatever comes my way. And I don’t think that’s the answer. I have to believe (despite the evidence, some days) that a thoughtful, curious search for a new job is better than a robotic one. I want to go toward work that interests me, even delights me, or at least has the potential to do so. And that only happens, I think, with a bit of imagination (and a lot of Internet searching/letting friends know I’m looking/pounding out cover letters).

So, at least for now, I’ll keep daydreaming a bit about possible lives as I keep tweaking cover letters and scouring job boards. Hey, at least daydreaming is fun.

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Hello, friends. It’s Monday again and I’m back at the computer with a mug of Earl Grey at my elbow, watching the fog drift over Boston Harbor and pegging away at the job hunt. There are a few postings today that look appealing, so I’m making a list and diving in, while pausing to acknowledge the Groundhog Day quality of this whole enterprise – namely, search-draft-apply-rinse-repeat.

I keep thinking of that old saw about the definition of insanity. I don’t know if Einstein actually said it or not, but it seems clear to me that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is a recipe for at least feeling crazy.

Why should I apply to this job or that job, if the same set of actions last week garnered a rejection or (more) radio silence? What makes me think this college or nonprofit will answer my email, or call me for an interview, when most of the others have not? How do I know which job description, full of industry jargon and careful HR-approved wording, might possibly lead me to a real place with real people where I can be useful, be welcomed, make a contribution (and earn a living)?

I don’t, of course. And while it’s true that getting creative with the job hunt – going to webinars, letting friends and former colleagues know I’m looking, even writing a whole blog series about job hunting – might help, it’s also true that, for many jobs, a resume and cover letter are required. You have to go through the process: find the posting (or look at the one someone sends you), decide whether it sounds interesting, write and proofread a cover letter, go through the electronic steps to apply. You have to sit through the auto-response emails and the waiting (more on that in a later post). You have to, in short, do a version of the same thing, and expect – or at least hope for – different results.

I don’t have a neat and tidy answer for this one, except that it’s got to be done. Grit and gumption (and lots of tea) are definitely required. And for now, I’ll try to vary the process (and my cover letters) enough so that it doesn’t feel exactly the same every day.

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Tuesdays are for Zoom calls with Nina or Mindy and others from across time zones. We wave, trade news, write together, share our work. They give me wisdom, joy, connection, solidarity. 

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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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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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Here we are at the end of September – the weather feels like summer this week, but the light and the leaves say it’s definitely fall. Here’s what I have been reading:

Hard Time, Sara Paretsky
V.I. Warshawski stumbles on the body of a young Filipina woman who turns out to be a prison escapee. But how did she make it back to Chicago – and why are so many powerful people insistent on covering up her death? This ninth entry in the series was slow to start, but then it gripped me.

Good Harbor, Anita Diamant
When Kathleen Levine is diagnosed with breast cancer, her peaceful empty-nest life is upended. Then she meets Joyce, a writer who’s feeling restless and lonely. The two women bolster each other through long walks on Good Harbor Beach. I found this lovely book in Gloucester (where it’s set) and so enjoyed it.

Echo Mountain, Lauren Wolk
Ellie’s family has lost nearly everything in the stock market crash, and they’re building a new life on Echo Mountain. When her father is hit by a falling tree and slips into a coma, things look bleak. But Ellie – curious, stubborn and a born healer – is determined to try everything she can to make him well. I love Wolk’s writing and especially loved the characters Ellie meets on the mountain.

A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver
I am definitely deep into my “revisiting Mary Oliver” phase. This 2012 poetry collection is a bit opaque, but still lovely. Oliver writes so well about nature and paying attention.

Running, Natalia Sylvester
Fifteen-year-old Mariana Ruiz has always been proud of her politician father. But when he launches a presidential campaign, Mari starts to feel she has no privacy anymore. And then she finds out she may not agree with some of his policies. A sharp, well-written, engaging YA novel about the complications of family, politics and friendship.

A Royal Affair, Allison Montclair
Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge, running a marriage bureau in post-World War II London, are asked to undertake an investigation for the Queen. (Discreetly, of course.) They trace a cache of letters that may cast doubt on the suitability of Prince Philip as a suitor for Princess Elizabeth. Witty and wry, though the plot lost me a couple of times. A fun series.

The Heir Affair, Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
This sequel to The Royal We (which I loved) picks up when royal newlyweds Nick and Bex are hiding out from scandal in Scotland. Eventually they have to go home and face the music: the Queen, Nick’s brother Freddie, and the British public. This was juicy and fun (though it got weird toward the end) and I enjoyed seeing all the familiar characters.

The Sea Gate, Jane Johnson
After her mother’s death, Rebecca finds a letter from an elderly cousin in Cornwall, who is in danger of losing her home. When she arrives, she finds Cousin Olivia – a tough old bird – in hospital, and both the woman and the house are hiding some secrets. A sweeping dual narrative of war and love, betrayal and art. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 5).

Big Dreams, Daily Joys, Elise Blaha Cripe
I used to read Elise’s blog faithfully, and really enjoyed this practical, wise, no-nonsense book about goal-setting and getting things done. I need a little kickstart this fall and am hoping to try some of her ideas.

Thinking Inside the Box: Adventures with Crosswords and the Puzzling People Who Can’t Live Without Them, Adrienne Raphel
If you’re a puzzle geek, I highly recommend this thoroughly researched history of the crossword (with frequent appearances by Will Shortz and other cruciverbalists). Informative, engaging and so much nerdy fun.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident and Brookline Booksmith.

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July has been a long hot month – and clearly books are one of my coping mechanisms, as always. Here’s what I have been reading:

Other Words for Home, Jasmine Warga
I flew through this sweet middle-grade novel in verse, narrated by Jude, who leaves her native Syria (with her mother) to live with relatives in Cincinnati. She misses her father, brother and best friend terribly, but gradually adjusts to her new life. Lovely.

The Feminist Agenda of Jemima Kincaid, Kate Hattemer
It’s April of Jemima Kincaid’s senior year and she’s burning to do something big to leave a legacy at her tony prep school. But she’s also dealing with teenage stuff: learning to drive, an inconvenient crush, friction with her best friend. A fun novel with a likable, flawed protagonist learning to confront her own privilege. (Warning: some truly cringeworthy teenage sex.)

Flying Free: My Victory Over Fear to Become the First Latina Pilot on the U.S. Aerobatic Team, Cecilia Aragon
Bullied as a child in her small Indiana town, Aragon found her way to a career in computer science, but still struggled with crippling fear and anxiety. A coworker’s love for flying ignited her own, and she threw herself into her new hobby, eventually competing on the U.S. Aerobatic Team. This straightforward, fascinating memoir chronicles her journey. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 22).

Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Brokenhearted World, Osheta Moore
Moore is a wise, compassionate voice on Instagram and elsewhere, and this, her first book, is about pursuing shalom – God’s vision for true peace. It’s part memoir, part theology, part real talk. Warm and thoughtful.

Emily of Deep Valley, Maud Hart Lovelace
I picked up this lesser-known classic by the author of the Betsy-Tacy series for a reread. Emily Webster is one of my favorite heroines: thoughtful, sensitive and brave. She struggles with loneliness after finishing high school and feeling stuck in her small town, but she learns to “muster her wits” and build a life for herself. I love her story so much.

Mend! A Refashioning Manual and Manifesto, Kate Sekules 
Mending has existed as long as clothing has, and Sekules is here for the visible mending revolution. Packed with clothing/mending history (chiefly in the West), practical tips for sourcing vintage/mendable clothing, an extensive stitch guide and lots of snark. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 8).

House of Light, Mary Oliver
I’ve been rereading Oliver’s poems over breakfast. They are “lovely, dark and deep,” to quote Frost. Most of them are set in the woods or ponds. She is so good at paying attention.

Deadlock, Sara Paretsky
When V.I. Warshawski’s cousin, a former hockey star, dies under mysterious circumstances, V.I. begins to investigate. She finds herself drawn into a complex case involving corruption in the shipping industry. I like her snark and smarts and will keep going with the series.

Amal Unbound, Aisha Saeed
Twelve-year-old Amal dreams of becoming a teacher, though her family struggles as her mother deals with postpartum depression. But then Amal unwittingly offends the village landlord, and is forced to work as a servant in his house. She’s determined to find a way out, though. Bittersweet and inspiring, with a great cast of characters.

Bitter Medicine, Sara Paretsky
In V.I. Warshawski’s fourth adventure, she’s investigating the death of a young pregnant woman, a family friend. What she finds is potential malpractice, corruption and gang involvement – not to mention her smarmy lawyer ex. I especially loved the role played here by her elderly neighbor, Mr. Contreras.

Wild Words: Rituals, Routines, and Rhythms for Braving the Writer’s Path, Nicole Gulotta
My friend Sonia recommended this book months ago, and I’ve been reading it slowly all summer. Gulotta is wise, warm and practical, and this book (organized by “season”) has been deeply helpful for me.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal, G. Willow Wilson
Kamala Khan is an ordinary teenager, until she’s suddenly invested with strange powers she can’t quite control. A girlfriend lent me this first volume of the adventures of a young superhero growing into herself. The plot is a bit thin, but it was fun.

Blood Shot, Sara Paretsky
V.I. Warshawski isn’t crazy about going back to her South Chicago neighborhood. But a high school basketball reunion and an odd request from a friend pull her back in. Soon she’s investigating chemical corruption, chasing a friend’s (unknown) birth father and trying not to get killed. This was a grim one, but (see above) I am hooked on V.I.’s adventures.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident and Brookline Booksmith.

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We’re halfway through June, somehow – and what a ride it has been. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy’s Vanishing Explorers, Emily Levesque
Most people imagine astronomers gazing into a backyard telescope, discovering new stars or trying to make contact with aliens. The reality is a little different, and Levesque’s memoir tells that story with humor and heart. She traces her own journey from backyard stargazer to Ph.D.-holding astronomer, and gives readers a tour of some of the world’s most powerful telescopes. Plenty of fun anecdotes about her colleagues and the field, too. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 4).

Song of the Trees, Mildred D. Taylor
I love Taylor’s series about the Logan family. This novella, narrated by Cassie, tells the story of a white landowner threatening to cut down some of the trees on her family’s land. Short and powerful.

Black History in Its Own Words, Ronald Wimberly
My guy gave me this book a while back – a collection of powerful quotes and portraits of black leaders, past and present. Some were familiar to me (bell hooks, Nina Simone, Muhammad Ali), others less so (Kimberly Bryant, Emory Douglas). Made me want to learn more about all of them.

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, Louise Miller
I needed a cozy, familiar story, so I picked up my friend Louise’s lovely debut novel. Boston baker Olivia Rawlings escapes to Vermont after setting her workplace (literally) on fire. Once there, she finds herself with a baking job, some new friends and a possible love interest. I love Livvy’s story and its warm, good-hearted cast of characters.

The Nesting Dolls, Alina Adams
Spanning eight decades, from Siberian work camps to 1970s Odessa to present-day Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, Adam’s saga follows three protagonists in the same Soviet family: Daria, her granddaughter Natasha, and Natasha’s granddaughter Zoe. It’s a compelling look at how the Soviet state’s ideas affected every aspect of its citizens’ lives, but it’s also a really good family saga – so good I flew through it, even on the Kindle. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 14).

I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations, Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers
We are living in polarized times – and it can feel difficult and daunting to have conversations with people who think/vote/believe differently than we do. Sarah and Beth, hosts of the Pantsuit Politics podcast, share what they’ve learned through several years of digging into the issues together, and trying to do it with humility, curiosity and grace. So thoughtful and thought-provoking. Highly recommended.

The Scent of Murder, Kylie Logan
School admin assistant Jazz Ramsey spends her spare time training cadaver dogs. But she’s not prepared to find a body one Saturday night – much less one that belongs to a former student Jazz knew. Troubled by Florie Allen’s death, Jazz searches for answers while dealing (or choosing not to deal) with her personal life, including her detective ex-boyfriend. A solid entry in a new mystery series.

Silver Sparrow, Tayari Jones
Jones’ breakout novel tells the story of two girls who share a father, but only one of them knows it. In 1980s Atlanta, Dana and Chaurisse navigate both their teenage years and the complications of their family’s story. I loved (and was stunned by) Jones’ An American Marriage, and am glad I finally read this one.

Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy, Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen, Grace Ellis
Jaclyn sent me the first two volumes of this highly entertaining comic, which follows five friends at an unconventional summer camp. I loved their exclamations (“Holy Mae Jemison!”) and the ways they band together. Lots of setup in this volume for whatever is coming next. So much fun.

The Late Bloomers’ Club, Louise Miller
Nora Huckleberry is mostly content running the town diner in Guthrie, Vermont. But when she and her free-spirited sister inherit some land from an acquaintance, Nora’s life suddenly gets complicated. Miller’s second novel features some familiar faces and lots of new ones, and a protagonist wrestling with big life questions. Full of charm and heart.

Keep It Moving: Lessons for the Rest of Your Life, Twyla Tharp
Anne recommended this follow-up to Tharp’s The Creative Habit, which I loved. Tharp, a world-renowned dancer and choreographer, gives practical advice for building stamina and maintaining creativity and vitality as you age. She’s no-nonsense and wise, and this was a worthwhile read.

Spiderweb for Two, Elizabeth Enright
Randy and Oliver, the two youngest Melendys, are lonely without their older siblings. But a mysterious scavenger hunt fills their winter with adventures. I like the Melendys best when they are all together, but this final book in the quartet is charming and fun.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstores, Brookline Booksmith and Trident. I’ve also linked to Frugal Bookstore, a black-owned bookstore here in Boston. Y’all know I love independent bookstores, and I am also trying to support black-owned businesses more often as part of my commitment to anti-racist work.

What are you reading?

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We are halfway through April (how??), and I’m mostly able to focus on books again. The days feel both long and short and somehow suspended – time is moving differently, I suspect, for many of us. But I’m still reading, and here are the books I’ve been enjoying:

Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change, Maggie Smith
Maggie’s poetry and “keep moving” notes speak right to my heart. This collection combines some of those notes with longer essays about dealing with loss, grief, upended expectations, and the surprising new spaces created by upheaval. She and I are both recently divorced, but I believe these essays will resonate with many people’s experiences. Wise and honest and so lovely. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 6 – it was originally May 5).

Braver Than You Think: Around the World on the Trip of My (Mother’s) Lifetime, Maggie Downs
Downs undertook a trip around the world as her mother was slipping into late-stage Alzheimer’s: she wanted to see and do all the things her mother never got to do. She has some rather harrowing adventures (and stays in lots of grubby hostels), but gains a few hard-won insights about her mother and herself. Compelling and moving, for fans of travel memoir and self-discovery. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 12).

American Royals, Katharine McGee
What if George Washington had been the first king of America? What would his 21st-century descendants look like, and how would they rule? That’s the premise of this fun YA novel (first in a series), which follows Princess Beatrice (future queen) and her siblings as they navigate the expectations that come with their crowns. Witty, juicy and so much fun – a perfect distraction for these times.

The Paris Hours, Alex George
Paris, 1927: the lives of four ordinary people intertwine on one extraordinary day. A struggling artist, an Armenian refugee, Marcel Proust’s former maid and a grieving journalist are all searching for different things, but their paths cross and recross in fascinating ways. With cameos by Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach and others. I have read a lot of Paris novels, and am glad I picked this one up: it was really engaging. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 5).

Waterlight: Selected Poems, Kathleen Jamie
My friend Roxani has raved about Jamie’s essays, and I picked this poetry collection up at the library. Some of it, especially the poems written in Scots, didn’t really work for me, but some of them are melancholy and lovely.

Of Mutts and Men, Spencer Quinn
Chet and Bernie are back on the case – this one involving a hydrologist who was murdered, a vineyard perched in a strange place, and a lawyer who might be up to something. Chet (the dog) is a great narrator, and I was so glad to escape into this series again. To (maybe) review for Shelf Awareness (out July 7).

Last Train to Key West, Chanel Cleeton
As a hurricane bears down on Key West in 1935, the paths of three very different women – Cuban newlywed Mirta, former New York society girl Elizabeth, and battered wife Helen – intersect in interesting ways. I like Cleeton’s fiction about the Perez family and this was a solid historical novel. (Also the first ebook I’d read in quite a while.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 16).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstores, Brookline Booksmith and Trident.

What are you reading?

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One of the toughest things, so far, about quarantine is not being able to hang out with my friends.

I live alone, so I really rely on my friends in the neighborhood, my classes at the nearby yoga studio and my interactions with colleagues for human connection. We are doing the best we can – Zoom meetings and phone calls and virtual yoga (so much virtual yoga), but I miss just sitting in a friend’s living room, or inviting someone over for tea.

The other night, my friend Lauryn had a brilliant idea: a virtual baking date via FaceTime. We decided to start with Molly Wizenberg’s Scottish scones, about which I have raved here more times than I can count. They were on her blog a million years ago, then appeared in her first book, A Homemade Life – which, in addition to being gorgeous and funny and delicious, is one of the books that landed me my Shelf Awareness review gig. (I had to write a few sample reviews, and Marilyn, my editor, was already a Wizenberg fan – she asked me about Molly’s banana bread when she wrote me back to tell me I’d gotten the job.)

Anyway, I sent Lauryn the recipe and (for good measure) a photo of the ingredient list, and we gathered bags of flour and sugar and cartons of half-and-half and mixing bowls, and I propped up my phone inside the kitchen cabinet so it wouldn’t keep falling over. And we baked, with her husband and kids moving in and out of the frame, and me dashing to the cupboard to dig out the baking powder, and both of us struggling to scrape the zest (lemon for her, orange for me) off our respective graters.

We lost the connection a few times, and had to repeat ourselves more than once, but we caught up a bit, about the day and the weather and this weird new life we’re all living. And it helped. And the scones – need I say it? – were delicious. Mine (with dried cranberries and orange zest) are above; Lauryn’s (with lemon zest and crystallized ginger) are below.

Are you baking in these days, friends? (My friend Jess calls it “distractibaking,” and I suspect she’s not alone.) Do share, if you are. Be well.

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