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Posts Tagged ‘daily life’

stir book stack jessica fechtor

After suffering a brain aneurysm at age 28, Jessica Fechtor found herself mostly physically healed, yet utterly disoriented. Multiple surgeries had left her brain clear of “problem areas,” but also caused the loss of her sense of smell and the sight in her left eye. And while she was “aggressively grateful” to have survived the medical ordeal, Fechtor still yearned to resume the life she loved: her graduate studies at Harvard, her still-new marriage, and the hours she spent in her Cambridge kitchen, cooking and baking for her husband and her friends.

“Getting well means finding your everyday,” Fechtor explains in her gorgeously written memoir, Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home. “I found mine in the kitchen.”

First came clear chicken soup and fresh raspberries, the latter eaten with her fingers in a Vermont hospital bed. Later, she propped herself up in a kitchen chair, watching as her loved ones prepared her favorite meals. Gradually, Fechtor ventured back into the kitchen, rediscovering “the protective powers of kneading, salting, sifting, and stirring, because you can’t be dead and do these things.”

It’s my turn again at Great New Books today, and I’m raving about how much I loved Stir. Please join me over there to read the rest of my review.

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daffodils blue pitcher plums

Every once in a while, I find it helpful to make a list of what is saving my life – from the small daily things to the big, soul-affirming stuff. As we make our way through April, here’s what’s saving my life these days:

  • Daily chitchat with the folks at Darwin’s, who provide spicy chai, delicious lunches and cookies, and excellent conversation about everything from pickles to music to childhood memories.
  • Tulips from my local florist, perched on the corner of my dining-room table. (Also, daffodils on my friend Amy’s table, above.)
  • Poetry from Veronica Patterson and Naomi Shihab Nye.
  • Running into people I know in Harvard Square and realizing all over again: this is my neighborhood.
  • The Sunday #FlowerReport on Twitter, hosted by my friend Alyssa. (Photos of gorgeous spring flowers from all over the place.)

early tulips public garden boston spring

  • Sarcastic asides from my co-workers. (Sometimes a little snark can save the day.)
  • Weekly phone calls with my mom, and reports on my three-year-old nephew’s T-ball games.
  • Frosted lemon cookies, flaky Scottish scones and whatever else I feel like baking.
  • Good books. (Recent favorites include Stir, The Enchanted April and Under a Painted Sky.)
  • Budding trees and blooming flowers – many of which I photograph for the #FlowerReport.

tulip magnolia buds blooms

  • The views from my sixth-floor office in Harvard Square.
  • Striped dresses and black leggings with my favorite green coat. Rinse and repeat. (See also: not overthinking it.)
  • A couple of blue-sky, open-window days.
  • Eating my lunch outside, when I can, preferably on the south porch of Mem Church.
  • Several much-needed catch-up sessions with friends: book club, lunch dates, cups of tea.
  • The dim glow of the over-the-stove light in my kitchen, which makes it look so cozy late at night.
  • Holding hands with my husband before we fall asleep.
  • Texts from my sister and a couple of dear friends.

What’s saving your life these days? I’d really like to know.

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freesia flower yellow candle table

Daily

These shriveled seeds we plant,
corn kernel, dried bean,
poke into loosened soil,
cover over with measured fingertips

These T-shirts we fold into
perfect white squares

These tortillas we slice and fry to crisp strips
This rich egg scrambled in a gray clay bowl

This bed whose covers I straighten
smoothing edges till blue quilt fits brown blanket
and nothing hangs out

This envelope I address
so the name balances like a cloud
in the center of sky

This page I type and retype
This table I dust till the scarred wood shines
This bundle of clothes I wash and hang and wash again
like flags we share, a country so close
no one needs to name it

The days are nouns: touch them
The hands are churches that worship the world

I am more and more convinced that the small, everyday things hold so much of the sacred. This poem expresses that perfectly. (I have been enjoying Shihab Nye’s collection Words Under the Words.)

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry here on Fridays this month.

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dish rack kitchen

To Be of Use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

I found this poem via the good folks at Image Journal, who are always providing thoughtful perspective and encouragement related to doing good work.

As a person who does a lot of my work digitally (and/or in my head), I spend a lot of time thinking about “real” work and what that means. I am grateful for the physical tasks of life that must be done, that require labor and muscle and provide tangible satisfaction. I love Piercy’s images of mud and harvest, of people plunging into work – of various kinds – that is good and real and true.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry here on Fridays this month.

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laptop darwins chai

On any given day, I get a lot of email. I bet you do too.

I appreciate the tabs in my Gmail inbox that (mostly) separate the pertinent, interesting stuff from the marketing emails and social media notifications. But some of the best, most surprising messages end up in the “Updates” category.

These aren’t the notes from friends (though I love those) or the emails from my editors about freelance assignments. (Though those are important and sometimes moderately lucrative.) These are the email newsletters to which I subscribe, and they are some of the best things in my inbox.

Here’s a roundup of my faves:

shelf awareness readers banner

Shelf Awareness
Full disclosure: I am biased, because (in case you didn’t know) I write book reviews for this smart, funny, big-hearted, bookish newsletter. But I still read it every single day. It comes out in two versions. (I get both.)

The longer-running daily newsletter is stuffed with book-trade news and bookstore updates, plus one book review each day. The Readers edition comes out on Tuesdays and Fridays and is chock full of book reviews and “book candy” – all those fun bookish articles/quizzes/photo galleries you see floating around the Internet.

The Shelf crew is proudly pro-indie bookstore and anti-literary snobbery. We love great books and we want to help people find them, and we love bookish fun in all its forms. Our mascot, Vik (a happily book-obsessed Buddha), likes to dress up for special occasions. I have met some wonderful people, and interviewed a few fabulous authors, through my work with the Shelf.

One caveat: your to-be-read list (or library holds list) will grow after reading the Shelf. But if you’re a bookworm, that’s not really a bad thing.

 

modern mrs darcy banner

Modern Mrs. Darcy‘s newsletter
Anne Bogel writes a smart, thoughtful, charming blog at Modern Mrs. Darcy. I also love her monthly-ish newsletters, which inevitably contain thought-provoking musings, lovely photos and links to blog posts you might have missed. I sometimes save the newsletters to read again.

Anne’s voice is warm and inviting, and she’s always finding and sharing good stuff. It’s a pleasure when her newsletter pops up in my inbox – it’s like getting a letter from a friend. (I count her among my Internet friends.)

 

innocent newsletter banner smoothies

Innocent Drinks newsletter
When I lived in the UK, I developed an addiction to Innocent smoothies, which are tart, fruity, delicious, and (sadly) not sold in the U.S. Innocent sponsors the annual Big Knit, in which they ask folks to knit tiny hats for their smoothie bottles, then donate part of the proceeds from each behatted bottle to charity. They publish a weekly e-newsletter full of updates from Fruit Towers (their office), tidbits about smoothies, and humorous absurdities. (I’ve always thought it would be a hilarious place to work.) The newsletter makes me laugh, and crave smoothies.

I also subscribe to a few bookstore newsletters (from Brookline Booksmith, the Harvard Book Store and the Bookstore in Lenox); Hollywood Housewife’s newsletter; and the New York Times daily headline email. And, of course, I always like to see an email telling me I’ve got a library hold to pick up.

What are the best things in your inbox?

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darwins chai cup creamer coffee shop cambridge ma

10 a.m.: One medium chai latte, to go.

12:30 p.m.: Half a Longfellow sandwich (ham, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, sliced Granny Smith apples and spicy Dijon mustard) on sourdough. With salt and vinegar chips in a bright turquoise bag, if they’re available.

3:30 p.m.: One chocolate-dipped butter cookie, shaped like a heart, shamrock, Easter egg or autumn leaf, as the season dictates.

These are my usual orders at Darwin’s, the cafe down the street from my office. Sometimes the particulars vary a bit: I’ll add a buttery scone to my morning order, or splurge on a chocolate-glazed peanut butter cookie in the afternoon. If I’m feeling healthy I’ll swap the chips at lunch for a fruit salad, and on frigid days, I’ll often order a bowl of the daily soup, with a hunk of baguette for dipping.

I’ve worked in the same neighborhood for three years, and been an occasional visitor to Darwin’s for most of that time. But over the last year, I’ve become a regular. And it has brought me more pleasure than I could have dreamed.

I’m over at Art House America today waxing rhapsodic about my love for Darwin’s, and what it means to be a regular. Please join me over there to read the rest of my essay.

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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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