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Posts Tagged ‘daily life’

spiky-purple-tulip

Like a lot of readers, I have a stack or two (or five) of unread books around the house at any given time. They are library books, advance copies for my review gig, gifts or loans from friends, books I’ve bought but haven’t picked up yet. And some of them tend to linger for months.

About three weeks into quarantine, when I was really missing the library, I decided to tackle one book from these stacks every week. I bought or borrowed all these books because I thought I’d enjoy them, and now that I’m not able to browse the shelves at the library, I can give them some attention.

I started with Ivan Doig’s wry, wonderful novel The Whistling Season, and moved on to a comics collection my guy had lent me. I tried a book of poetry (which did not stick, for now), and am slowly making my way through A Fine Romance, an illustrated travelogue my friend Kate sent me. I have been loving Mardy Murie’s memoir of her life in Alaska, Two in the Far North, and am hoping to find some other gems in the stacks as I keep going.

tulips-pink-red

This is good for my wallet, since I am just as tempted as usual to buy stacks of books from my favorite indie bookstores. It’s good for my brain, which relishes different kinds of books, and is particularly craving absorbing nonfiction right now. And it’s good for my sense of accomplishment – no small thing in these strange days.

What (and how) are you reading these days?

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It’s official, friends: after six weeks of working at my kitchen table and sitting on a hard wooden chair for six to eight hours a day, my body has had it. 

I started feeling twinges in my IT band earlier this week, quickly followed by serious soreness and tightness a few days later. It freaked me out – because, as y’all know, I love to run, and especially right now, it’s vital for my mental and physical health. I texted a couple of friends in a panic – one a dancer, one a longtime runner. Buy a foam roller, they both urged. Stretch it out. Rest. 

I’m taking their advice (thank goodness for Marathon Sports, my local running store). But I still need help. This wasn’t an issue until it really was, and I don’t want it to either continue or get worse.

This is the current setup: my work laptop, either set flat on the kitchen table or propped on a double stack of books as a makeshift standing desk. It helps to stand sometimes, and moving around when I can is important (plus online yoga). But I can’t type like this all day, and I need all your best work-from-home ergonomic advice. I live in a studio apartment, and I don’t have a “regular” desk or room for much new furniture, so this is going to be a case of working with what I’ve got and getting creative.

How do you avoid tight shoulders, sore tailbones, repetitive stress injuries, etc., when working from home? I’m really asking. And if you’ve got recs for products that work – laptop stands, etc. – let me know. I’m all ears.

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We’re in the middle of week 6 (of how many?) of quarantine over here, and it seems clear this is going to be our lives for a while. I am alternately grateful for my blessings and privileges (my lovely apartment, a job that allows me to work from home, virtual connection with family and friends) and really missing the aspects of “normal” life that are suspended right now (in-person yoga classes, trips to the library, hugs).

Like a lot of folks, I do better with a bit of routine and structure, so as I adjust to wearing a mask, doing yoga online and canceling travel plans, I’ve come up with a few daily rules for myself. I’m sharing them here, and I’d love to hear yours, if you have any.

Leave the house twice every day.
I need fresh air and movement like I need oxygen. And while getting out for a run is great (I do this most days), I get tetchy and restless if I’m inside for the entire rest of the day. So I’m walking myself to work, going to the bodega, meeting my guy for a bike ride, walking the compost bag down the hill – whatever it takes to get outside more than once.

Related: Get up and move. 
I’m spending a lot of time sitting at my kitchen table, and my body is starting to feel it – so I’m trying to get up and move around the apartment as often as possible. Even a few steps makes a difference (or so I’m telling myself).

Write it down.
I journal regularly anyhow, but those morning pages (and sometimes evening ones) feel important right now. Sometimes I’m just whining on the page, but sometimes it helps to think things through, remember moments of joy or make lists. I stocked up on journals right before our stay-at-home order hit, so I’m set for a while.

Drink more water.
However much I think I’m drinking, it’s probably not enough.

Pick up the phone.
I’m alone most of the time right now, but I need my people, and I want to be there for them, too. So I text a friend (or three) every day, FaceTime my sister, call my mom, trade Marco Polo messages with a couple of friends. Hearing a friendly voice, or just getting a text update, helps.

Wash the dishes.
Because if I don’t, they tend to pile up quickly – plus it’s often oddly grounding.

Tackle at least one book from the long-unread stacks every week.
While I’m bemoaning the temporary loss of my library, I’m trying to see this as a chance to catch up on the books that tend to linger on my bedside shelf. So far, I’ve picked up (and loved) an Ivan Doig novel, a quirky collection of Boston-themed comics, and now a memoir about life in Alaska.

Make a list.
I’ve been making “Today I…” lists each night, as a way to reassure myself that yes, I did the essential things today, and to capture some memories in list form if I’m too tired to write it all out. It’s a (mostly) reassuring practice.

Give myself a break.
My friend Jen Lee keeps reminding us to “go gently” in her Morning, Sunshine videos (they are so good, y’all). I tend to be hard on myself at the best of times, and it’s helpful to remember that we are all dealing with a lot right now. So I’m giving myself a break: curling up with a book (see above), taking a leisurely walk, going to bed early if I want/need to. This rule (and the first one) may be the most important one on this list.

Do you have any rules/practices for your daily routine during this time?

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red-kettle-stoveIn these strange stay-at-home days, I’m spending (even) more time in my kitchen than ever before.

In my little studio, the kitchen area (read: stove, oven, sink, cabinets, fridge) is ranged along one wall of the apartment, close to the table where I spend my workdays. As I try to settle into some sort of a rhythm, I’ve been noticing how my kitchen routines have changed.

kitchen-eastie-morning

My red teakettle is getting a lot of use: I fill it up to half a dozen times a day. Instead of walking over to the shared kitchen in my office building, I’m getting my constant water refills from the kitchen sink. I am eating a lot fewer granola bars for snacks, and more yogurt with granola, or slices of toast with fruit or cheddar or avocado. And while I like to cook normally, now I’m cooking (and/or reheating leftovers) for almost every meal. My Tupperware containers are not getting their usual workout, but my pots and pans are getting washed more often, and my countertop compost bin is filling up much faster.

I’m still using my travel mugs sometimes for my morning walks, and I’m baking a batch of scones or superhero muffins nearly every week. I’ve been cooking mostly soups, stews and other hearty dishes that will last me for several meals, though occasionally I’ll fry up a couple of eggs or make some pasta. I’m also trying to plan ahead for my weekly shopping trips to Trader Joe’s, though I can also get some essentials at the bodega if I run out.

Mostly, it’s a mindset shift: I can’t count on popping in somewhere to grab an ingredient or a meal on the go (not that I’m on the go, much). It’s learning to be here now, as frustrating as that sometimes is (and washing so many more dishes). It’s giving thanks for the sunlight that often streams in the kitchen windows. And it’s reminding myself (again) to fill up that water glass.

How have your kitchen rhythms changed in these times?

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Now more than ever, I enjoy cooking, especially in the colder months: hearty soups, crumbly scones, buttery scrambled eggs (with endless cups of tea). Last July, though, I moved into a studio apartment during an unusually hot Boston summer. After weeks of takeout, stovetop huevos rancheros and ready meals from Trader Joe’s, I needed some new kitchen inspiration.

Enter Cooking Solo, Klancy Miller’s brilliant, colorful cookbook about not only feeding yourself, but enjoying it. I’ve made her risotto, her lemon pancakes, her spicy coconut-sweet potato soup… the list goes on. But more than her recipes, I love Miller’s approach: she insists, as a longtime single person, that investing the time and effort to feed oneself well is worth it. As a recent divorcée, I need that reminder on the regular.

My success with Miller’s recipes inspired me to flip back through some perennial favorites, like Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life. I bake Wizenberg’s Scottish scones at least twice a month, but recently made her ratatouille for the first (and second, and third) time in years. Like Wizenberg, when I am dining alone on something that delicious, “I lick my knife until it sparkles, because there’s no one there to catch me.”

For a broader perspective on solo cooking, I turn to Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, an eclectic essay collection edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler. Inspired by Laurie Colwin’s eponymous essay (which kicks off the anthology), these pieces, some with recipes, recount the delightful, the depressing and the quirkily indulgent aspects of setting a solo table. Many of the contributors recall solitary meals (or seasons) with deep fondness, even nostalgia. Cooking for one can feel like a depressing prospect, but these books help remind me that there’s a wealth of flavor, adventure and–yes–true sustenance to be found at a table for one.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran at the end of March. I submitted it before the virus hit, but it’s more applicable in some ways now than ever.  

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Yesterday, I went to Trader Joe’s to do my weekly grocery shop, as I’ve been doing for the past few weeks. Boston has several Trader Joe’s locations, one of which – the tiniest one – is down the street from my office. (I’ve grown used to dropping in there a few times a week for snacks and essentials, and I miss it, these days.)

My guy works at the newest TJ’s, in the seaport district, across the water from where I live in Eastie. It’s comforting, on the days when I know he’s working a morning shift, to look out my kitchen windows and know he’s there on the other side of the harbor.

Grocery shopping looks different these days: the line to get into the store stretches down the block, with customers standing in ones and twos, six to eight feet apart on the sidewalk. There is still no toilet paper (I’ve been getting mine from the bodega near my house). This week, the employees and many of the customers wore masks.

When I moved to Boston, I hadn’t spent much time at Trader Joe’s (they still haven’t made it to West Texas). My friend Fei Ying, who lived near the big TJ’s store in Brookline, used to rave about everything from their potstickers to their produce, and I teased her about her “addiction.” I get it now: the selection is good, the prices are fair, the employees are friendly, and the products are delicious. (My sister is obsessed with their Marcona truffle almonds; I’m partial to their crumbly English cheddar and their dark chocolate peanut butter cups.)

I came home yesterday with a backpack and two bags full of produce, baking staples and other essentials – plus two bunches of purple tulips, which are now split among three different vases in my apartment. In these strange days, grocery shopping feels both normal and decidedly off-kilter. But I’m grateful for a store that has what I need, that’s relatively easy to get to without a car, and where I am sure of a welcome from someone I love. And I owe – we all owe – the staff and managers a deep debt of gratitude.

How are you grocery shopping (or not) in these times?

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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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magnolia-eastie

Hello, friends. It’s April – though, to be honest, the days are all starting to run together a bit.

Like many of you, I’m still adjusting to the new not-quite-normal, sometimes multiple times a day. I woke up so sad this morning that I couldn’t just walk into the office and see my coworkers, or go hang out at Darwin’s, or buy armfuls of flowers from my florist in Brattle Square. (Though you can bet I will do all those and more when this is over.)

Stuck at home, there are lots of things I can’t do: go to the library, take a yoga class at my local studio, sit in my friend Chrissy’s living room and work on a puzzle together. But I am a storyteller, and I can still tell stories. So, every day this month, that’s what I’m going to do.

I need your help: please tell me, in the comments, what kind of stories you’d like to hear. And even leaving a comment at all helps: it lets me know that you’re out there, listening and reading.

Here’s today’s story:

magnolia-april

I started watching this magnolia tree last spring, when I was spending several weeks at a time in East Boston, walking Phoenix the doodle around the neighborhood in the mornings before work. I would wake up to filtered morning light and his furry face at the foot of my bed (sometimes closer if he had already decided it was time to get up). After a shower and my morning ablutions, I’d grab a banana and clip on his red leash, and we’d head out the door. (On the weekends, I grew really comfortable walking him in my pajamas.)

At the time, I’d lived in Boston for almost nine years, but had never spent much time in Eastie, this neighborhood tucked between the airport and the harbor, suspended between water and sky. I’d met Phoenix and his owner through a longtime friend of mine, and those first weekends at her house turned into two long stretches that spring while Carolyn was traveling and needed a dog-sitter. If I’m honest, I needed those weeks in Eastie as much as Phoenix needed those walks: I was sifting, agonizing, thinking and worrying, trying to decide whether to stay in my marriage or whether – though it seemed barely possible – I could walk away and start again.

The magnolia tree stands near the end of our morning walks, in the yard of a house that sits catty-corner from where I live now. I did not know, then, as I glanced up at it on our way to the park and back home, that I would be watching it bloom this spring, waiting for the fuzzy buds to open up and unfurl their white and lipstick-pink petals. I didn’t know I would pass it every time I went for a run, pausing to snap photos of its budding branches and the purple crocuses that share its yard. I did not know, yet, that Eastie would become my new home.

I’ve been watching the magnolia and its neighbors for nearly a year: the forsythia bush down the street, the budding maples with their red flowers, the unexpected patch of tulips in the shipyard, are all dear and familiar now. I’ve only officially lived in Eastie since the end of July, but it feels more like a year, and this spring feels like an anniversary. And I am grateful.

I’ll be back tomorrow, friends. Hope you’re staying well and safe.

 

 

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This is the winter of lunchtime runs, hauling my running gear and bright blue sneakers to work in my gray backpack so I can get out on the Esplanade twice a week or so, catching the sunshine and whatever warmth it provides.

This is the winter of all the puzzles, spread out on my friend Chrissy’s coffee table: NYC signs and Italian hillsides and bucolic New England landscapes, worked a piece at a time while we talk about our lives.

This is the winter of Cooking Solo, Klancy Miller’s brilliant cookbook about doing just that. I’ve been eating her lentil soup (stuffed with other veggies), her lemony pancakes, her roasted veggies with tahini dressing, for weeks.

This is the winter of almost no snow and only a few extended cold snaps. I’m missing the brilliance of sunlight on reflected snowbanks (and worried about what it means for the climate) even as I give thanks for the lack of grey slush.

This is the winter of settling into Eastie, continuing to make a home in this neighborhood that became mine last year. I’m growing paperwhites in my kitchen window, meeting a few more neighbors, going to yoga and strength training classes at The Point on the regular.

This is the winter of a(nother) Harry Potter reread, undertaken in tandem with someone I love, walking alongside Harry and his companions as they learn and grow and face unbelievable evil with courage and love.

This is the winter of sharp loneliness and sudden tears, still mourning the death of my marriage and adjusting (in all ways) to a new landscape without it.

This is the winter of avocado toast, handfuls of clementines, chunks of Trader Joe’s crumbly English cheddar, Molly’s scones and Jessica Fechtor’s oatmeal cookies, soup simmered in my red stockpot, endless cups of Earl Grey.

This is the winter of runs along the Harborwalk, vivid sunset light reflected in the water, marking the tides and the miles with my feet and the pounding of my heart.

This is the winter of Tuesday indoor picnics in the Pru, hearty soups decanted into red-lidded Tupperware and heated in the office microwave, cloth napkins and on-the-go utensils and laughter before we hug and go our separate ways.

This is the winter of starting to heal, doing my best to welcome unexpected joys where they appear.

What does life look like for you this winter?

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I’ve lived in Boston for nearly 10 (!) years now: a real switch, in all kinds of ways, for this small-town Texas girl. (I grew up in what is technically a mid-size city, and went to college in another one. But I still run into people I know at the grocery store when I go back to either place.)

I’ve been thinking about the triumphs (and trials) particular to living in the city — those moments where you either think, I have nailed this, or the city itself seems to give you a little gift. I’ve had a few lately, so I thought I’d share them with you.

In no particular order:

  • Finding the random item you’re looking for at a grocery store/corner store on your regular route. (Last week: tea lights.)
  • Having just enough quarters (or a couple extra) to do the required amount of laundry.
  • Memorizing your public transit route so you don’t even have to glance at the map (and/or can keep reading your book as you switch trains).
  • Finding out there’s a subway station/bus stop located exactly where you need to go. Bonus points if it’s a route you’ve never taken before.
  • Exploring the library branches and how they’re tailored to their particular neighborhoods. (Though the central Boston Public Library is my neighborhood branch, and it has my heart.)
  • Deciphering the local accent. (Smaht Pahk, anyone?)
  • That moment when a new neighborhood/area gets added to your mental map. Sometimes I can almost hear the puzzle pieces snapping into place.

What would you add?

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