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Posts Tagged ‘daily life’

darwins chai journal scone orange cafe

A couple of months ago, Stephanie tweeted the following:

Underneath the hustle of the productivity cult, it seems to me what we’re really aching for is liturgy. Small, sacred things on repeat.

I love that definition of liturgy, and I’ve been pondering it ever since. I especially like the idea of liturgy as daily rhythm: the small routines that give shape and meaning to our days.

I’ve written before about the liturgy of dinnertime (and, more broadly, of marriage) in my life, but I started wondering where else liturgy shows up in my days. What small routines, performed over and over, pull me back to the present moment, until the act of doing them becomes a kind of prayer?

My morning tea is the first thing that came to mind. After my shower, wrapped in my robe, I walk into the kitchen and hold the red teakettle under the tap, counting to seven or eight as the water splashes in. I turn on the burner, measure looseleaf tea into my favorite cobalt blue mug (or grab a tea bag, if I’m super rushed).

tea mug scone

I move around the apartment, tending to other details of the morning, until I hear the kettle whistle and rush in to take it off the burner. I pour the tea, let it steep while I get dressed and blow-dry my hair, then sit down (if there’s time) to sip it at the dining room table, with a scone or a bowl of cereal.

Sometime during the workday, or on my lunch break, I slip away to Darwin’s for half an hour with my journal and a cup of chai. This routine, too, has its own shape: I walk in, join the line by the front counter, greet the barista and order a medium chai (sometimes adding a scone or my favorite breakfast sandwich). I snag a table if I can, or perch on a bench or barstool if I can’t, and alternate between sipping and scribbling until it’s time to go back to the office.

When I get home after work, my brain is often fried – and even in our small apartment, there are always chores to do. Often, after walking in the door and dumping my bag, the first thing I do is sort laundry or tackle a pile of dirty dishes.

It doesn’t always feel sacred, and I sometimes grumble about having to deal with all this on top of a full-time job. But making dirty things clean is satisfying, as Anne Shirley often noted. And folding the warm, dry clothes, or lining up the shining dishes in the dish rack, brings a tangible feeling of accomplishment. After a day of clicking and typing, that’s nothing to sneeze at.

I worry sometimes about getting bogged down in routine, going through the motions of my life without really paying attention. (It’s so easy to do that when I’m clicking from email to website to Word doc, all day long.) But repeating these daily acts helps ground me – even if I don’t always realize it.

I also have a few daily “liturgies” that involve other people: blowing a kiss to my husband as he leaves for work, checking in with a friend or two via text message, greeting colleagues as we start the morning. And several weekly routines also help save my life: buying fresh flowers for my desk, yoga class on Monday nights, talking to my mother on the phone.

I wonder if simply naming these liturgies, becoming more aware of them, can turn them into a source of peace, a chance to truly connect with our lives as we go about our days. I love the idea of small, sacred things on repeat as a counterbalance to the to-do list and the relentless pace of modern life. I want more of that, please.

Where do you see this kind of liturgy showing up in your life?

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yoga mat bare feet

Back in January (which feels like years ago now), I read a post on Ali Edwards’ blog about her New Year’s getaway to Cancun. It was full of gorgeous photos – Ali’s posts always are. But the thing that grabbed me was a little throwaway paragraph about yoga.

Ali linked to a yoga app she’d recently downloaded, and said, “My goal is really just to do something […] I’ve had an all-or-nothing mentality for way too long.”

I couldn’t get those two lines out of my head.

A couple of weeks later, I went back to Monday night yoga for the first time in months. And then, when the blizzards began and I couldn’t make it back to the studio, I downloaded that same yoga app. I’ve been making an effort to unroll my green yoga mat in my dining room, a couple of times a week, ever since. Just do something.

The all-or-nothing mentality is a killer, isn’t it? For so long, I thought I couldn’t do yoga (or take up any other form of exercise) unless I did it every day. I worried (sometimes still worry) that I’m not a real writer unless I write every day. After a few unhealthy meals (like Saturday’s dinner of all the fried things from the local clam shack), I sometimes start to panic that my diet is going off the rails.

And then I remember: it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. A small change – even a tiny effort in the right direction – can pull me back toward balance.

I’m not doing yoga every day – not even close. The past couple of weeks, I’ve only managed my Monday night class and one short session at home. But it’s something. It feels good to make that effort. I’m not writing every single day, but I am writing most days – and that’s something, too. When I end up on the mat (or come back to the page or cook a dinner involving vegetables), I feel healthier, balanced, more whole.

Just do something. In the spirit of being gentle with myself this year, that’s what I’m going for.

Does the all-or-nothing mentality trip you up, too? What are your tricks for subverting it?

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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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