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Posts Tagged ‘daily life’

Rhythm vs. routine

red journal chai darwins

It’s no secret: this winter has been driving me crazy. You know the salient facts: blizzards for days. Record-breaking cold temps. Snowbanks higher than my head, ice and slush on the roads, more snow (always) in the forecast. (We’re heading toward a new record for Boston’s snowiest winter ever.)

I don’t love the cold (or the high heating bills). But this stretch of weather – unpredictable, intense and requiring lots of cleanup after each storm – has seriously messed with my routine. It’s taken me – and most people I know – nearly two months to settle into a winter rhythm. (Since I work at a university, I see it with our students too: most of them didn’t have a “normal” week of classes until Week 5 of the semester.)

I’ve been thinking about rhythm versus routine. I have a lot of routines in my daily life – some seasonal, some perennial. Right now, the morning routine looks like this: hit the snooze button, hop in the shower, pull on a dress and fleece-lined tights, brew a cup of Earl Grey in my favorite blue mug.

Some routines, like that one, are most productive when they’re well honed and I don’t have to think about them. (I haven’t had the energy for overthinking lately – which isn’t entirely a bad thing.) And some habits are truly life-giving: that morning cup of tea, calling my mom once a week or so, writing every day, catching up with my husband over dinner. I draw deep nourishment from those practices.

Sometimes, though, I get bored with an unchanging routine. I’ll eat the same thing for lunch three days in a row and then crave something new, stat. I’ll drink the same tea for a week or more and then decide, inexplicably, that I want something different. (Fortunately, I always have a dozen or so options on hand.)

tea keep calm mug pei

I’m a musician. I love a good rhythm. I like a certain amount of predictability, of comfort, of knowing what’s coming at the end of the next verse (or day). But I want room for variation, syncopation, a little color or spice. I want the freedom to choose daffodils over tulips, ginger peach tea instead of chai, a new recipe instead of the same old meal (though I rely heavily on our menu of favorites).

Sometimes I try something new and fall in love (like going to the art museum on Thursdays), so it becomes a habit, part of my daily or weekly rhythm. I am thrilled to be back at Monday night yoga, where the instructor and the poses are familiar (though Meredith does vary things a bit from week to week).

But I like having the option for change. I get bored and fidgety if I feel like I have to do the same thing, in the same way, every time. Sometimes I break the routine on purpose, just to shake things up. I like to think of it as that syncopation, an extra beat (or pause) that gives my life a bit of pizzazz.

Is it just a fear of boredom, or does it go deeper than that? Is there something life-giving about rhythms, like a favorite song or a good liturgy? Is there something soul-sucking about routines, like the dullness of an automated assembly line? Or am I just quibbling over semantics?

What do you think?

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bright bowls mugs anthro

We are (it’s hardly news) buried in white and gray over here. Dingy snowbanks edged in dirty, blackened ice. White skies blanketed in clouds that foil the sun’s feeble attempts to shine through. Road salt stains on my (black) snow boots. This week had a three-day stretch where we didn’t see the sun. (Though the blue skies are on their way back – I hope.)

blue sky bare branches

Until then, I’m seeking out color wherever I can find it – like this bright display at Anthropologie. Sometimes I drop in on my lunch break just to feast my eyes on the vibrant housewares. It’s food for the eyes and the soul, even if I don’t buy anything (and I rarely do, though I’m coveting one of those London mugs).

I walk by the local flower shop all the time, drinking in the rainbow of color there. Sometimes I buy tulips for my desk, in whatever shade strikes my fancy, but lately, I’m all about the daffodils. They’re so cheerful and sunny, and they remind me of spring in Oxford.

daffodils book desk

I’m wearing a lot of black these days (it goes with everything). But I wear a deep red scarf at least twice a week, sometimes with a slash of red lipstick. When it’s warm enough, I shrug out of my down jacket and don my favorite jade-green wool coat.

katie hot cocoa red cup green coat

I’m knitting myself a bright pink cowl, after finishing that purple wrap. I wear a favorite pink dress about once a week. I use colored Sharpies to make to-do lists at work. And I slip away to Darwin’s whenever I can, sipping my chai amid the walls painted the glorious oranges and pinks of a Texas sunset.

darwins cafe interior cambridge ma

I’m itching for my annual reread of Jane of Lantern Hill, which describes Prince Edward Island in glorious summer color. And I’m waiting for spring, which will bring crocuses and budding trees and blue skies – some day. Until then, I’m getting my color fix however I can.

Where do you find color during the long gray winter?

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purple tulips

Last month, I posted a list of fun ideas to get me through the winter. We’ve had plenty of snow (so much snow) and frigid temps, but I’ve been working on the list anyway. Here’s an update:

  • Fill up the journal I started in early January.* Working on it (though my handwriting is truly atrocious these days).
  • Spend some time at the Harvard Art Museums. I’m going over there once a week, and exploring a new gallery each time.
  • Start hunting for a new pair of red ballet flats.
  • Invite friends over for dinner. We’ve hosted three sets of friends for spinach enchiladas and spicy chicken soup.
  • Spend a long weekend in Nashville with my college roommate and our husbands. We had a fabulous time, though bad weather delayed our flight home.
  • Knit myself something cozy. (I finished that cabled wrap.)
  • Watch some good stories. J and I finished Veronica Mars and are loving Grantchester, and I’m still watching Downton solo. (Also Castle, but I have to admit I am not loving this season.)
  • Read a couple of books for the Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge. I’ve crossed off four categories already: a book I’ve been meaning to read (Beauty: The Invisible Embrace), a book published this year (the newest Flavia de Luce mystery), a book from my childhood (The Long Winter), and a book by a favorite author (Wearing God by Lauren Winner).
  • Drink lots and lots of tea. No sweat. I am on a serious Earl Grey kick.

Things that were not on my list but are happening anyway: lots of snow shoveling; many batches of Molly’s scones; several snow days; all the tulips; and fervent prayers for spring.

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The alphabet of right now

blue sky bare branches

Lindsey (whose blog I always find so thoughtful and inspiring) recently published a post about her alphabet of right now. I liked the concept so much I decided to try writing my own. As I’ve said before, I love these glimpses into daily life through the small, telling details.

A is for attention. I am always trying to pay attention to the details of my life – even when, as right now, a lot of those details involve slogging through a relentless winter.

B is for bare branches and blue skies. One of the things I truly love about winter (and a familiar sight these days).

C is for chai. Whether it’s Darwin’s or Starbucks, you can find me sipping chai on many of these frigid mornings. (Even better if I can snag a cafe table and half an hour to write while I drink it.)

D is for delays. This series of snowstorms has crippled Boston’s aging public transit system, and delays on the Red Line, on my daily commute, have become a way of life.

E is for Earl Grey. I’m on my annual winter Earl Grey kick and I am mainlining it. The strong black tea with the hit of bright citrus is perfect for these cold days. (I’m drinking David’s Cream of Earl Grey, Stash’s Double Bergamot Earl Grey, and sometimes MEM Earl Grey at the coffee shop.)

F is for fleece-lined tights. I have three pairs and I am living in them these days.

G is for Grantchester on PBS. It might be my new favorite show.

H is for Harvard, where I have worked for two years this month. It’s cool to be able to say I work there, but I am so grateful to love both my work and my colleagues.

I is for Instagram. Some days it’s my favorite social media outlet (though I love Twitter too).

J is for journaling. I’m making a conscious effort to do it every day and I really notice the difference when I don’t.

K is for knitting. I recently finished a cozy cabled wrap. It’s both fun and calming (I usually knit while I watch TV).

L is for Laura. She lives in Texas and her funny, encouraging, honest texts are saving my life these days.

M is for museums. Specifically the Harvard Art Museums, where I’m spending a little time on Thursdays.

N is for Nashville. We recently spent a wonderful long weekend there with my college roommate Bethany and her husband – though we ended up staying longer than we’d planned, due to weather issues.

O is for over it. Everyone I know is done with this winter – but we know it isn’t (nearly) over yet.

P is for puttering. I do this a lot, in the evenings or on the weekends – laundry, dishes, tidying, a little cleaning. It takes a lot of work to keep up with the dailiness of life.

Q is for quiet. After a long day at work or a commute on an overcrowded subway train, I love coming home to our quiet, twinkly apartment.

R is for reading. I’m (always) reading lots of books – mysteries and fiction; memoirs and young adult; books to review for Shelf Awareness and the ones I slip in just for fun. I always carry two or three in my work bag.

S is for snow. So much snow. We are breaking all kinds of records in Boston, and it’s difficult to remember life before these constant, punishing blizzards.

T is for tulips. I’m buying them by the dozen these days.

U is for us. I am grateful every day for my sweet husband and how we are surviving this winter (and other challenges) together.

V is for Vitamin D. I’m taking my Vitamin D pills and using my light box faithfully – and every blue-sky day is a good day, even if it’s freezing (and they all are).

W is for walking. I love to walk and I do a lot of it these days – on my commute and my lunch breaks. (Though I can’t wait for the snow to melt and the sidewalks to widen.)

X is for…I don’t know. This is always a hard one.

Y is for yoga. I recently returned to Monday night yoga, then haven’t been able to go back again because of all the snow. But I downloaded the Yoga Studio app and am using it several times a week.

Z is for…I don’t know. Zipper? Zed? Zigzag?

What does your alphabet of right now look like? Please feel free to share in the comments, or post your own.

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All the tulips.

purple tulips

This winter, I’ve been visiting the local flower shop at least once a week, buying bunches of tulips and daffodils for my desk at work. (Lately, it’s been more like two or three times a week. Because my kitchen table needs brightening too, and with nearly five feet of snow piled up on the ground, I’m looking for lifesavers wherever I can find them.)

tulips table book bowl curry lunch

A week or so ago, a male colleague paused to comment on the current arrangement (I think it was the vase of purple tulips above). “Where are all these flowers coming from?” he asked.

yellow tulips desk

Brattle Square Florist,” I replied. (To be honest, dropping in there is half the fun. It’s packed with blooming plants and cut flowers, and it always smells amazing – fresh and sweet and green. And the owner, a tall man with kind eyes, always has a cheery word for me.)

He looked confused. “Not from your husband?”

Before I could reply, one of my female colleagues called from her office, “We do buy flowers for ourselves sometimes, you know!”

tulips tea jeeves

I cracked up. Exactly.

My husband has many fine qualities, but he only buys me flowers about twice a year. Rather than hinting or feeling sorry for myself, I just go buy them if I want them. It’s gratifying to take care of myself in this small way, and I get to choose exactly what I want. (It’s usually tulips – or sometimes daffodils.)

Bonus: confusing my male colleagues is sometimes really fun.

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bike seat cover plaid snow

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about some of the things that are saving my life this winter: blue sky, tulips for my desk, my light box, coffee dates with friends. Three days later, Anne wrote her own post about a quirky winter lifesaver – and promised to share her whole list today of what’s getting her through this season.

In the wake of a massive blizzard (and staring down the barrel of another one), I figured another positive post couldn’t hurt. So I’m joining in. Here are the little things that are saving my life lately:

  • The cobalt blue (now slightly chipped) mug that dates from my days as a barista at the Ground Floor. I’ve been drinking Earl Grey out of it every morning, and it makes me so happy.
  • The stainless-steel half teaspoon I use to scoop the loose tea. Three scoops is the perfect amount, and it’s just the right tool for the job.
  • My snow boots, which I am wearing every single day. (Sigh. But they’re warm.)
  • Glimpses of whimsy, like the plaid bike-seat cover above. (Makes me think of summer picnics.)
  • The adventures of Mrs. Tim (I’m on book 2). She is a charming companion.
  • My weekly trips to the Harvard Art Museums, about which more soon.
  • Fresh scones made from Molly’s recipe, with butter.
  • The zigzag silver ring I bought in Abilene over Christmas.
  • Lemon cuticle salve, vanilla hand lotion and coconut foot cream. (I smell like a bakery.)
  • Texts from a coworker and friend whose snarky sense of humor cracks me up.
  • Coffee with a new friend last week.
  • Instagram. I love it more all the time.
  • Cardigans whose sleeves come down over my hands.
  • Photos of my sweet nephews, with texts from my sister.
  • Taylor Swift’s Speak Now album, which I’ve been blasting when I need a little pep.
  • Norah Jones and the Wailin’ Jennys, for mellower moods.
  • The Yoga Studio app, which I downloaded after reading about it on Ali’s blog.
  • A few pages of The Long Winter every morning over breakfast.
  • Writing by hand in my current journal.

What’s saving your life these days? (And when will it be spring?)

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black bean soup book candle dinner

I’ve written before about my soup obsession. In the winter, you can find me stirring a pot of soup on the stove (or making use of my Crock-Pot) at least once a week. Every year, I pull out the old favorites like my grandfather’s chili, my friend Julie’s butternut squash and apple soup and my friend Rachel’s tomato-basil soup.

Recently, I’ve added a newish recipe to the mix, and I thought I’d share it with you, because it’s perfect for these frigid, snowy days.

The recipe came from Epicurious, though it originally appeared in Bon Appetit, according to the website. I usually amp up the jalapeño (using two whole peppers – we like spicy food at our house) and add an extra teaspoon of cumin. (I also toss in more carrots if I have them.)

My husband hates onions, so I skip them, and while the recipe recommends toppings of fresh cilantro, green onions and feta cheese, we prefer grated cheddar or a dollop of Greek yogurt. (You could also use sour cream.) I also like to dip tortilla chips in it.

Black Bean Soup with Cumin and Jalapeño

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin [or more to taste]
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons chopped jalapeño with seeds [or more to taste]
  • 2 15- to 16-ounce cans black beans, undrained
  • 1 15-ounce can petite diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot, and garlic; sauté until vegetables begin to soften, about 6 minutes. Mix in cumin and 1 teaspoon jalapeño. Add beans, tomatoes with juice, and broth; bring soup to boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook until carrots are tender, about 15 minutes.

Transfer 3 cups of soup to blender and puree until smooth (or use immersion blender). Return puree to pot. Simmer soup until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and remaining 1 teaspoon jalapeño, if desired.

The week before Christmas, when life was spinning at twice its normal speed, I made a double batch of this and we ate it all week long. Several nights that week, when the hubs was working late, I heated up a mug or bowl of soup and ate it in front of the Christmas tree, staring into the twinkling branches, giving my brain a break and my body some nourishment.

It’s supposed to snow at least a foot and then get wicked cold again here in Boston this week. You can bet I’ll be making this soup at some point.

What are your go-to soup (or other cold-weather) recipes?

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