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Posts Tagged ‘daily life’

harvard yard trees snow

It snowed eight inches in Cambridge on Friday, as predicted. I’d kept an eye on the forecast, pulled out my snow boots, bundled up in all the right gear. But I was not ready.

After last winter’s record-breaking 108 inches of snow (that’s nine feet, people), most New England residents are greeting the weather forecast with a little trepidation these days. Even though we’ve had some shockingly mild spells, and this snow was mostly falling on bare ground, I still expected the usual slew of snow-related problems: icy sidewalks, bitter winds, slushy streets, possible train delays.

I didn’t want to walk out there and face it. But I had to.

harvard hall snow trees winter

These past few months have been a tough stretch for me, and for several people I love. We’re all dealing with the present reality or the aftermath of hard things: surgery, illness, uncertainty in our personal and professional lives. We wake up and face them because we have to, and we get through the day somehow, but at the end, it is still winter.

My sister is still on crutches after her knee surgery; my friends’ grown daughter still has cancer. I am still job hunting. We are all hanging in, bearing things we’d rather not have to bear, hoping for a glimpse of good news.

And yet.

cambridge fence sidewalk snow

On Friday, I arrived at the office to find I wasn’t alone, as I had feared I might be; about half of my colleagues had made it in. We spent a quiet, convivial, productive morning, watching the snow swirl down outside Sarah’s office window.

It felt like being inside a snow globe, and at lunch I walked out to the scene above. I made my way down the street to Darwin’s, for a sandwich and chitchat with the staff, and returned to work feeling nourished in several ways.

Later that afternoon, I threw on my coat, picked up a library book that needed returning, and headed over to the Yard. It is difficult to overstate my love for this particular patch of ground: I love it in all seasons, and it’s stunning in the snow.

johnson gate harvard snow

I walked down snowy sidewalks through Old Yard, past Widener Library and over to Lamont, where I returned my book and picked up another one. I stopped every few yards to marvel, sliding off my glove and snapping photos of buildings and trees limned with fluffy snow.

houghton library harvard memorial church snow

I am not a lover of cold and snow by nature. Given the choice, I’d prefer a mild spring evening or a crisp autumn day when the trees blaze red instead of standing out in black and white. But this winter wonderland has its own charms. And I was so grateful, on Friday, to be out in it, enjoying it. (I was equally glad to go back inside, where it was warm and dry.)

Worried about a messy evening commute, I left work a little early, only to find that the snow had stopped when I reached my neighborhood. The sky was tinted a delicate sunset pink, and the rosy light on the branches of the trees next to the subway station took my breath away.

sunset light snow branches winter

I would rather not have to bear the frustrations of winter (and I’m watching the forecast carefully, since more cold and snow are on their way). And I am so ready for the job hunt to be over. But both of them also possess some lovely silver – or, occasionally, rose-tinted – linings.

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brookline backyard snow blue sky

I feel like winter is all I’m talking about here lately. (Well, winter and books. Because I’m always talking about books.)

I forget, every year, how winter takes over my life. It affects my commute, my diet (everything warm and spicy, please), my wardrobe (what goes with fleece-lined tights)?, my mental state. And although we escaped the recent blizzard with just a few inches of snow, it’s still cold, dark and sometimes icy out there.

Since winter is hard for a lot of us, my friend Anne put out a call for answers to this question: what is saving your life right now?

She didn’t make up the question, and neither did I – we both got it from Barbara Brown Taylor. But it’s too good a question not to revisit once in a while. Especially when things are tough.

So, in the midst of short days and long nights, constant subway delays and unpredictable weather, family illness and work stress and frustrating news from all over the world, it strikes me as not only good but necessary to list the things that are saving my life now. (I’m linking up with Anne and others – feel free to join us!)

lonesome dove breakfast

  • A few pages of Lonesome Dove every morning over breakfast. I am loving the epic story of Augustus McCrae, Woodrow F. Call, and their journey from Texas to Montana. (My dad adores it, but I’ve never read it before.)
  • My snazzy red journal, a gift from my sister.
  • Chitchat with my favorite sandwich-maker at Darwin’s, who has dreads halfway down his back, a fondness for tie-dye and a warm, wide smile.
  • Sea salt and vinegar chips (a new addiction).
  • Molly’s scones, which I cannot stop making (and eating).
  • Chai lattes from Darwin’s (also known, on some days, as the elixir of life).
  • Weekly group emails from the Great New Books ladies.
  • Related: stacks of good books. And my favorite bookish podcasts.
  • Blue skies, which can turn an entire day around.

blue sky orange building cambridge ma

  • Twinkle lights in my living and dining room.
  • Tea in my favorite blue mug (above).
  • Scarves and boots and fleece-lined tights.
  • The display of local art in the hallway at work. So cheery and colorful.
  • Tulips on my dining-room table.
  • The final season of Downton Abbey, which (so far) is so good.
  • Texts from a couple of stalwart friends.
  • The staycation my husband and I were able to take this weekend (of which more soon).
  • Sunday nights around the table at Ryan and Amy’s.

It’s your turn. What is saving your life right now?

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darwins portrait red lipstick

About a year ago, I became fascinated by the concept of a personal uniform. (It was all over the Internet for a while: President Obama’s blue or grey suits, the Australian newscaster who wore the same suit every day for a year, numerous bloggers writing about their wardrobes.)

I’m not a big clothes shopper and I hate making decisions in the morning, so you’d think a personal uniform would be tailor-made (ha) for me. So far, though, I’ve lacked the discipline – or the commitment – to really take the plunge. I haven’t edited my wardrobe down to 10 items or consciously worn the same 33 items for a month. (I have also resisted the Marie Kondo madness because, frankly, everyone else seems to be doing it.)

But as we continue to slog through winter, I realized I’ve developed a personal uniform almost by accident.

Winter in the Northeast is (I need hardly say it) cold – often bitterly so – and snowy. I work in a business-casual office environment and I commute on public transportation, every weekday. So I need warm, sturdy winter gear: snow boots, fleece-lined tights, a knee-length down coat for frigid days and a couple of wool coats for milder ones. But I also need outfits to wear under those coats, and I find myself reaching for a variation on the same ensemble most days.

katie selfie red dress plaid scarf

Right now, that usually looks like a dress, either solid or striped (because I own an embarrassing number of striped dresses). I pair the day’s dress with black leggings and boots (of the snow or non-snow variety, depending on the weather). And I choose a scarf or knitted cowl to go with it. (That, and choosing my tea blend, is the kind of decision-making I can handle in the morning.)

I do own other pieces of clothing – sweaters, tees, skirts – and sometimes I feel like I should be making more of an effort to wear them. But right now, when I’m rushing around between showering and eating breakfast every morning, this winter uniform is what’s working for me.

Do you have a personal uniform – accidental or purposeful? (And if so, what is it?)

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pain au chocolat croissant mimosa brunch

In case you weren’t aware: winter has arrived.

It’s cold. And by cold, I mean snowy and sharp-edged, with slick patches on the sidewalk and bitter wind chills as I walk through Harvard Square in my down coat. (We have, thank goodness, had mostly blue skies this week.) The weather forecast is calling for more snow – though we don’t know how much – this weekend. And I am resigning myself to slogging through my least favorite season.

By now I have all kinds of tricks for coping with Boston winters. (I ought to, after surviving five of them – though last year’s record 110-inch snow totals nearly broke me.) In addition to the totally virtuous ones, like my light box and Vitamin D pills and plenty of citrus fruit, I’m employing another coping strategy: treats.

I’m not a big spender, unless you count plane tickets every so often, or the occasional weekend in New York. But I have a deep and abiding love for small luxuries, and I find them especially important in wintertime. On these days when the sun sets before I leave work and the wind blows my hood back from my face, it’s often these little treats that are saving my life.

The photo above is from New Year’s Day: the hubs and I splurged on a brunch date at Gaslight, in Boston’s South End. We munched pain au chocolat and sipped mimosas and savored our entrees. It felt like a treat, being out in the chilly city together, and trying new dishes to kick off a new year.

This past Monday, I had the day off work (thank you, Dr. King), so I met a girlfriend for lunch at a cozy pizza restaurant in Brookline. We sat in a sunny window alcove, and split a pizza topped with butternut squash and creamy ricotta. Afterward, I had a long browse through the Booksmith, and popped into the Starbucks next door for some chai. The crowning luxury of the afternoon was a pedicure, in a bright coral shade aptly called Snap Happy.

tulips candle dog table

Most of my days don’t have quite that much room for indulgence, but I still manage to slip in a small pleasure or two: a bouquet of fresh flowers for my dining-room table, half an hour with a good book, a morning chai or a mid-afternoon cookie from Darwin’s. Sometimes I take a walk over to the Yard (if it’s not too frigid) to soak in the sunshine and gaze at my favorite buildings. And the electric blanket the hubs bought me a few Christmases ago is a treat when we snuggle down in bed every single night.

How do you treat yourself during the winter?

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harvard yard snow blue sky

Here is another thing I did not know before I moved from Texas to Boston: Northeastern winters require constant calibration.

In west Texas, winter is short and fairly consistent: chilly and (mostly) dry, with occasional cutting winds that sweep down from Canada, whipping around the corners of buildings and rattling the bare branches of shrubs and trees. There is the occasional ice storm, and also the rare 60-degree day, mild and blue-skied with actual warmth emanating from the sun. But mostly, the days call for a single strategy: don a jacket, turn the furnace up a little, hang on until spring.

In the Northeast, winter comprises an entire spectrum of cold: crisp and dry; bone-chillingly damp; mild and warmed by a pale sun; dark and windy and wet. It requires an entire wardrobe of proper gear: coats, hats, boots, gloves. Especially if you have to get out in it every day (I do), it demands serious attention and adjustment.

I keep a close eye on the weather all year long: I am my parents’ daughter, the descendant of farmers who watched the sky for their livelihood. I am also an inveterate sky-watcher for the beauty, for the deep breath it always prompts me to take, and for the way it helps me feel the movement of the earth in my bones.

Once winter hits, though, my monitoring of the forecast becomes downright obsessive. And it’s amazing what a difference a few degrees, precipitation (or the lack of it), or wind (or the lack of it) can make.

Last week, we had our first true cold snap of this winter: 10 degrees with a windchill below zero Fahrenheit when I left the house on Tuesday morning. I’d checked my weather app and calibrated accordingly: fleece-lined tights, leather gloves, knee-length hooded down coat. By the time the highs crept back up into the 40s, later in the week, I could make do with a wool coat and ankle boots, since it wasn’t snowing. One afternoon, I even stole a few minutes in the sun on the steps of Memorial Church – before the wind started blowing, it felt downright (relatively) balmy.

katie memorial church green coat harvard yard

It can feel like a small triumph to shed a layer or wear a cute pair of shoes when the mercury rises just a few degrees. Similarly, it makes sense to keep a wool hat in my work bag all winter long, and check the forecast daily for snow or sleet. This week, we’ve had two dustings of snow – so it’s back to the down coat and snow boots. But I am quietly rejoicing that the sky is now cobalt, not indigo or pitch black, when I leave work in the afternoon.

We’re only a few weeks into winter (especially since December was shockingly mild). The memory of last winter is still sharp and vivid, and I’m hoping (possibly against all reason) for a less brutal time this year. But no matter what happens, I’ll be watching the forecast. And calibrating.

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What I know

red journal chai darwins

I’m not much on New Year’s resolutions, these days, though I do love choosing a word for the year. But I recently read Lindsey’s lovely, thought-provoking take on starting the New Year: musing on what she knows. (She wrote a similar post back in November about starting with what we know.)

As we go deeper into January, I thought I’d share a few things I know (but often need to remember):

I know that I need eight hours of sleep. It’s so hard to close the book/turn off the computer/put down my phone and go to bed, but so necessary.

I know that I feel more clearheaded if I start the day with a little writing: a journal entry, a blog post, a work-related project when I get to the office. I also know that I feel much more centered if I scribble in my journal nearly every day.

I know that too much time online makes me feel scattered and vaguely uneasy. But I also know that deep connections exist online, and I am grateful for them.

I know that planning ahead for the week – even in broad outlines – often saves me from feeling crazed later in the week.

I know that I need to move my body on purpose: taking lunchtime walks, doing yoga when I can, getting up from my desk a few times a day. I also know that I need to get outside, every single day, even when it’s frigid.

I know that I need to drink a lot of water, especially during these dry, cold winter days.

daffodils book desk

I know that fresh flowers make me unbelievably happy. They feel like a small extravagance, but are so worth the money. (The weekly chats with my florist are also nice.)

I know that I’m a happier person if I spend some time immersed in a book every day.

I know that the copious cups of tea I drink serve several functions: warmth, caffeine, pleasant taste, beloved ritual. I also know that chai lattes are both a frequent treat and a lifesaver. (It is the small things that save my life over and over.)

I know that so many of these practices – taking walks, reading, writing, buying flowers, making tea – help me to pay attention to my life, which is so vitally important.

 

What do you know? How is 2016 treating you so far?

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In 2015 I have…

darwins portrait red lipstick

For the last few years, I’ve recapped my year in list form for the blog. There’s something about watching it all unroll in bullets – not quite “by the numbers,” but definitely in bite-sized snippets – that I find really fun.

This year, I have:

central park yellow flowers nyc

  • gone on a string of lovely Fri-dates with my husband.
  • bid a fond (and sad) farewell to the car I’ve been driving since I left for college.
  • learned how to kayak and spent many summer evenings paddling on the Charles River.
  • spent a long weekend in Nashville with my sweet college roommate and our husbands.
  • knitted a baby dress, 2 1/2 cowls (including the purple one above), a set of baby mittens and 35 wee smoothie hats.
  • acquired (earned?) my first few grey hairs.
  • continued to write and edit as a freelancer for my alma mater.
  • flown to Texas three times to visit my family, including my sweet nephews.

betsy harrison

  • spent a lot of time trying to be gentle with myself. And others.
  • bought so many bouquets of flowers for my kitchen table: tulips, peonies, sunflowers, dahlias. (And made friends with my florist.)
  • sipped an uncountable number of chai lattes, mostly from Darwin’s. (See above.)
  • participated in (and won!) NaNoWriMo for the third time.
  • spent a lot of Thursday lunch breaks at the Harvard Art Museums.
  • seen three musicals onstage: On the Town (in NYC), Cinderella and My Fair Lady.
  • taken a few weekend getaways with the hubs: Newport, the Berkshires, mid-coast Maine.

katie jer cliff walk

  • fallen completely in love with baby Evie, who belongs to two of my dearest friends.
  • said yes to red lipstick once in a while. (See above.)
  • spent a lot of time taking care of the daily details at church.
  • hosted Shanna for a completely wonderful long weekend.
  • cracked up at hours of Modern Family with the hubs.
  • filled up seven and a half(ish) journals.
  • visited so many wonderful bookstores: Parnassus Books in Nashville, Book Culture and the Strand in NYC, The Bookstore in Lenox, MA, and my neighborhood bookstores in Boston/Cambridge/Brookline.
  • fallen in love with the brave women of Home Fires.
  • tried to enjoy the silver linings of the job hunt.
  • worked hard to build a near-daily yoga habit.

bare feet green yoga mat

  • discovered All the Books and a few other favorite podcasts.
  • attended my first few wine tastings.
  • not conquered the snooze button. (One of these days…)
  • baked innumerable batches of scones.
  • taken so many photos (as I do every year) of fall leaves. (And books, and cups of tea, and the sky.)
  • tried to lean into this messy, exciting, beautiful life of mine, and pay attention to it.

What has your year looked like?

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