Posts Tagged ‘daily life’

anne of avonlea dahlias

I’m not going to lie, y’all: October has presented a few challenges around here.

I adore fall in New England: crisp air, bold blue skies, vivid leaves, fresh apples. But the days suddenly grow shorter in October, presaging the difficult winter ahead. The seasonal shift, as Christie has so eloquently articulated, leaves me feeling a bit raw and vulnerable. And the daily struggles have been piling up.

I’m job hunting, as you know if you read this recent post. That ongoing strain is starting to tell on me – and on my husband. I’ve been fighting what I think (hope) are season-change allergies, and as we turned our heater on to combat the first few cold nights, it kept sputtering and switching off. We have made six service calls in three weeks, and though the repairmen are always prompt and polite, I just want it to be fixed. (Preferably before the snows come.)

As if that weren’t enough, I lost my wallet – a beautiful red Kate Spade wallet I adored, full of vital bits and pieces that had to be canceled (bank cards) and/or replaced (driver’s license, subway pass, health insurance cards). And on the way to church recently, my husband and I were in a fender bender. No one was injured, and the other driver readily admitted his fault, but still. We can’t seem to catch a break.

While the big stuff is driving me insane, I’ve been taking refuge in small triumphs: the little tasks that, once completed, give me a (sometimes disproportionate) rush of satisfaction.

something good mug porch

The button-down shirt, crisply ironed. The broken curtain rod, reattached. The perfectly brewed cup of tea; the vase of flowers trimmed and arranged. The book review, written and polished and sent off on time. And, related to my wallet loss: the phone call made, the paperwork dealt with, the brand-new account opened or ID card replaced.

I’m hoping some of these big challenges will smooth themselves out before long. But until then, I have to say: tackling a sinkful of dirty dishes or finishing off a few knitted smoothie hats can feel awfully rewarding.

What kind of small triumphs give you a rush of satisfaction?

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rocks waves blue sky two lights state park maine

Every once in a while, usually when I’m not looking, a line from a hymn sneaks into my soul and lodges there, like a bird building a covert nest under the eaves of a house.

This happens with non-religious music too (I’m looking at you, Taylor Swift), but when a hymn lyric sets up camp in my consciousness, it becomes a kind of mantra, or a kind of prayer. Last December, during Advent, it was my favorite four-part version of the Magnificat. This winter, a Lenten hymn caught my attention, and I hummed it over and over as we plodded toward Easter.

memorial church interior

This fall, it’s a line from a hymn I’ve known for years: God of Grace and God of Glory.

I’ve sung the several verses of this song all my life, in the big Baptist church where I grew up and in various other churches since then. I know most of the words by heart, and I love them all, but one line in particular has burrowed into my mind and soul lately:

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the living of these days.

I was laid off from my job a few months ago. I have not wanted to talk about it here on the blog, but that simple fact has informed every day of my life since I received the news. The job search has been longer and more difficult than I expected, and I miss the purpose and the camaraderie of my former workplace. I’ve had some interviews and a few promising leads, but it has been hard. And it continues to be hard.

After months of job hunting – the relentless cycle of applications and rejections, the constant worry about whether I’m doing it right or doing enough, the loneliness that comes from missing colleagues and community – I am finding it difficult to pray. There are a host of reasons for this, not all directly related to the job search, but I can’t always make the words come, or even bring myself to believe that it matters.

But this quiet hymn lyric keeps coming to mind, both on the hard days and the not-quite-so-hard days. I catch myself humming it at odd moments, or I find the words floating through my head. (We also sang this song at church yesterday, because my husband – who plans our worship services – is evidently a mind reader.)

Both halves of this line resonate with me. “The living of these days” speaks to a broad swath of struggles and worries, both personal and societal. When I’m wondering how to face these difficulties, I’m always hoping for more wisdom and more courage. And when I’m too tired or too dispirited to form a prayer, this seems to be a pretty good one.

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the living of these days.


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Privacy in public

chai journal pencil case darwins

For one reason and another, I have spent a lot of time working in libraries and coffee shops over the last few months. (If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen my copious photos of the chai lattes at Darwin’s.)

I love both settings, for different moods and often different kinds of work. But it occurred to me recently that both places offer a way to strike a balance between privacy and being in public.

farnsworth reading room lamont library harvard

In a library, it is of course generally expected that you won’t – or don’t have to – talk to anyone. Though many libraries now offer group study spaces, you can also settle in quite comfortably with your laptop at a table or in a deep armchair.

I spent an hour in Lamont Library (at Harvard) one recent afternoon with about fifteen other people – all of us tucked up in different corners of the Farnsworth Room, typing contentedly away at our computers or scribbling in notebooks. We weren’t oblivious of each other’s presence, but we didn’t have to acknowledge it, either.

The collective presence in the room formed a kind of reassuring cushion for me. Introvert that I am, I still like to know that there are other people out there in the world (or right next to me), working on their own projects, doing their thing. I like knowing I’m part of that collective, without having to talk to anyone.

darwins cafe cup

In a coffee shop, the boundaries are more porous. There’s food and drink, for one thing, and generally also music. (The music at Darwin’s ranges delightfully and eclectically from classic rock to indie folk to the occasional country song.) I’ve learned the names of a couple of baristas, and I know most of the other ones by sight – and I’m sure I surprise no one, any more, when I order a medium chai latte.

At Darwin’s, you still don’t have to talk to anyone – but the general volume is a little louder, the vibe chummier. People do sometimes ask if they can share tables, borrow a chair, or make use of a power strip or outlet. I know a few of the other regulars by sight, and occasionally I bump into a friend or colleague. I listen with pleasure to the baristas’ banter as they sling drinks behind the counter or bring new supplies up from the basement. (It reminds me of my days as a barista at the Ground Floor, long ago.)

Here, too, the background noise forms a sort of comforting baseline: the small noises of footsteps and chatter, the whirr and hum of the espresso machine, blend into a pleasing buzz. I can (usually) detach my brain from following individual noises, letting it rest in the general hum, as I jot down notes (or a to-do list) or type away on my computer. Around me, there’s usually a mix of fellow workers on their laptops, elderly men perusing the newspaper, the guy who brings in his pastels to sketch, and chattering pairs of friends.

I love my solitude, however I can get it: a solo lunch in Harvard Yard, a quiet evening at home alone, even disappearing into a book on a crowded subway train. But I also love this contradictory mix of privacy in public. I like being part of the rhythm of a place, even if – sometimes especially if – my thoughts and words can remain all my own.

Do you like hanging in out libraries and coffee shops?

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red leaves blue sky autumn

I woke up last Monday morning to a certain realization: fall had arrived, seemingly overnight.

After the snowiest winter on record, we enjoyed – even gloried in – a hot, sun-soaked summer. I hesitated to complain about the heat, because the memory of winter’s sharp cold and piles of gray-edged snow lingered in my mind. (I always hesitate to complain about heat in New England: it feels like tempting fate, because I know winter is coming.)

ogunquit beach sunset

When the heat index rose this summer, I simply slathered on more sunscreen, turned the ceiling fans up a notch, and stocked up on lemonade and ice cream. The hubs and I escaped to the beach on multiple weekends (see above), and if things got really bad, we retreated to places with air-conditioning.

But by the time my parents visited in early September, I admit it – I was ready for fall.

The temperature swung from 90 to 60 degrees while Mom and Dad were here, but we had a few more summer-like days after they left. I did my best to savor them, going kayaking on the Charles River and walking around in shorts. But last Monday, the shift in the air was sharp and sudden. Autumn is here.

kayak river light water

In response to the sudden shift in seasons, I’m enjoying – and making – a few subtler changes.

I’m sipping fall teas – cranberry almond, Cream of Earl Grey – instead of summer’s ginger peach and blackberry sage. I ordered a couple of favorite autumnal candles, and I’ve switched from my beachy summer perfume to a crisp, classic scent. I’m wearing jeans and ballet flats and button-downs. And I’m thinking about fall activities, fall reading and other things on my autumn list.

Fall in New England is so lovely every year: red leaves, blue skies, juicy apples, that energizing crispness in the air. I know we are heading toward winter, but for now I’ll do my best to savor every moment of this season.

How do you mark or observe the change in seasons?

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Fall List 2015

harvard yellow leaves houghton library

After a lovely, lingering summer, both the calendar and the weather are sliding toward autumn. I love a good seasonal list, so here’s what I’m hoping to do and enjoy this fall:

  • Go apple picking (as always), eat apple cider donuts, drink chai and bake something with pumpkin.
  • Take long walks and maybe a few day trips to soak in the fall colors and light.
  • Reread Emily of Deep Valley – it is a perfect autumn book and I could use a dose of Emily’s “muster my wits” spirit.
  • Go see the Corita Kent exhibit at the Harvard Art Museums.
  • Participate in NaNoWriMo, which is always such fun.
  • Find my fall flower at the local florist. This spring was all about tulips and daffodils, and this summer I fell deeply in love with sunflowers.
  • Read a few “deep TBR” books that have been lingering on the stack for a while.
  • Try three or four new recipes.
  • See Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella onstage.
  • Sip the occasional glass of Cabernet with a friend.

What’s on your list for this fall?

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everybody loves books sign

I get asked this question at least a couple of times a month: How do you find time to read so much?

I realize my book list is long even for an avowed bookworm – which I am. (Last year, introducing me at a staff retreat, my Boston-born supervisor summed me up this way: “This is Katie. She’s wicked smaahht and she reads a lot of books.”)

I’ve always been a voracious reader, but I’ve read even more than usual the past few years. So I thought I’d share the factors (and a few tips) that have helped make that happen.

First and foremost: I choose to read. That may sound obvious, but most of us have some measure of choice in our leisure activities, and reading is often the one I choose.

Second (and definitely related): I keep a lot of books around. I buy a fair amount of books, but I’m also an avid library user, and I always have several (piles) of books handy. This helps me sneak in a few pages over breakfast, before bed, or while I’m waiting for dinner to finish cooking. And I always have at least one (usually more) books in my bag when I’m out and about.

Third: I’m a fast reader. I don’t speed read; I don’t (usually) skim; I just read quickly. I always have. I realize this isn’t a helpful tip, or something you can change (past a certain point) – but it does help me read a lot. (Anne touched on this recently when she talked about unfair advantages.)

Fourth: I’m always reading several books at once. These are often different genres, but usually include fiction and nonfiction. Sometimes it’s “challenging” fiction plus a middlebrow mystery or young adult novel.

Related: I often tackle classics or stimulating nonfiction earlier in the day, when my brain is fresh. Currently, I’m reading a few pages of Middlemarch over breakfast most mornings. And I love to unwind with something gentle before bed.

Fifth: I have built-in reading time – on the subway. It takes about 45 minutes to get from my house to Harvard Square, and while I sometimes pull out my smartphone and surf around online, I spend most of that time reading. (This is another argument for carrying more than one book in my bag; some days I spend a lot of time on the train!)

Sixth: I read a few “assigned” books for review each month. My review gig for Shelf Awareness means I get a stack of new books every month for review. I get to choose which ones I review, which means I don’t have to slog through a book I’m not enjoying for the Shelf. This is liberating, and helps mitigate the overwhelm. And those review deadlines are great motivators.

Seventh: I’m always hearing about great new books, thanks to several sources. These include the eponymous site where I’m part of the review team; both versions of Shelf Awareness, which I read avidly as well as contributing to; and the plethora of bookish folks in my Twitter feed and blogroll. I think it’s crucial to be excited about what you’re reading, and these sites and people help keep my to-be-read list fresh (and long).

Do you build in reading time, or read more than one book at once? Any other tips for squeezing in more reading time? Or any great book recs? I’m always looking for those.

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blue purple hydrangeas

Today’s prompt: green (and blue and purple). I have fallen head over heels for hydrangeas this summer.

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