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Posts Tagged ‘daily life’

Erie hat pom pom knit table

I used to be quite a prolific knitter.

Especially the first few years I lived in Boston, I was always making something – fingerless gloves for my girlfriends, sweaters for my then-baby nephews and niece, so many hats and cozy cowls for myself. These were also the years of Downton Abbey and Castle, Lark Rise to Candleford and Sherlock and Grantchester. I’ve never been a big TV watcher, but an hour here and there added up to lots of knitting over the years.

And then a couple of years ago, I just…stopped.

We’d moved again, and several of my favorite shows had gone off the air, and I couldn’t really justify knitting myself yet another hat or scarf. I spend more of my evenings running than sitting at home these days, and so the knitting fell by the wayside. But around Thanksgiving, as the hubs and I were watching Modern Family or doing the NYT crossword (possibly both), I realized I had itchy fingers. So I picked up a skein of Madelinetosh sock yarn I’d had sitting around for ages, and I started knitting – just a round or two here and there.

Two months later, I have an Erie hat – cozy and soft. And I decided it was high time I owned something with a pom-pom. (Red, of course.)

It’s been a comfort to have something back on the needles, and to watch the progress, stitch by stitch, round by round. The merino wool feels good in my hands. And when the weather in New England does its schizophrenic thing, I have another way to keep out those biting winds.

I’m not sure I’ll dive back into knitting the way I once did. But I am eyeing the Queensland Beach headband pattern, with some yummy red yarn I have in my stash…

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red geranium flower close up

Delight, according to poet Ross Gay, is underrated: its very existence, the multiplicity of delights present in the world, the noticing and celebrating of said delights. (For what it’s worth, I agree with him.)

Between his 42nd and 43rd birthdays, Gay decided to capture as many delights as possible, and spin them out into a series of “essayettes.” The result, The Book of Delights, is a kaleidoscopic collection of joy–an accumulation of blessings that, piled up, create a larger enchantment.

I interviewed Ross via email for Shelf Awareness after reading The Book of Delights – the paragraph above is the first part of my review. His answers to my questions, not surprisingly, were a delight, so I wanted to share them with you. (And I highly recommend the book itself, which came out last week.)

KNG: Tell us about the inspiration for The Book of Delights.

RG: I was–this is not a joke–walking back to the castle I was staying in for the month of June in Umbria, at an artists’ residency. I was delighted, and acknowledged it. I was like, “Oh, this is really delightful!” It might have been the wildflowers at my feet swooning with bees, or the fig trees (unripe) everywhere, or the way Erykah Badu singing in your headphones usually makes things more delightful. Or the castle, I guess.

But I think catching myself in delight that day made me think it would be interesting and challenging and fun to do every day for a year. It was close to my birthday, so that was an easy form: birthday to birthday. And, too, the fact that I am always hungry, like deeply hungry, for writing about and thinking about and theorizing about and singing about that which I love.

How did you decide which delights to capture and expound upon? (You note that stacking delights is itself a delight, but at the same time, you cant write about them all!)

Today, outside my window, is what looks like a weird kind of poppy shrub–a cardinal just flipped by, and there goes her fella–which amazes and delights me, you know, because it’s January and, thank god, very cold outside, much too cold for a poppybush to be growing, whatever a poppybush is.

Then I realized I’d chucked a couple clementine peels out of the car when I was coming home from the store, and the way they landed behind the bald shrub, and from this distance, makes it look as though they are flowers on the tree, as though they are a poppybush, which they are. And one of those cardinals is so bright, looking right into this window from across the street, that he looks like a red light bulb. I mean, I don’t know. There is, along with all else, so much to delight upon, the way I see it.

I remember trying to write about things that really delighted me, but they just kind of spun out as essayettes and didn’t go anywhere. So probably I needed the delight to take me somewhere, which could mean associative wandering, or musical wandering, or digging really hard on a thing. But I guess the delights needed to offer a certain amount of puzzlement in addition to delight. They often had to make me ask why a thing delights me, which often took me far from delight–often took me nowhere I would have anticipated.

You talk about delight, and the noticing of it, as a muscle that can be strengthened, or a radar that grows more sensitive over time. Tell us about about the process of finding more delight as you went along.

I think I was prepared for a kind of scarcity of delight. To need to be scouring my life for delight to write these essayettes. And then, as I turned it on, it was like this is what Im doing, attending to my delight.

I found, with that attention, that I am often kind of delighted. And often delighted by things I didn’t realize delighted me. And that is a gift–to be like, “Oh, shoot, I love that jade plant that my student gave to me and I have spent all these years never realizing how much I love it!” Or, “I love that candy because it reminds me of my father, who could be so ridiculously sweet to us.” To do that again and again. But it took me giving myself the task of attending to and articulating the experience of delight to myself to realize that. Because, the truth is, my inclination has been kind of melancholic plus.

Delight, or at least the public celebration of it, has often been denied to black people in the U.S. Can you talk about writing a book of black delight. Daily as air?”

I think there’s a very clear desire (and industry) by some to crush the experience, or to imagine the experience, of black people into, simply, suffering and pain. Like if it isn’t pain, it isn’t black. If it isn’t about pain or reacting to or resisting pain, it isn’t black. Something like that. That’s bullsh*t, and it’s poisonous, all around. (Black pain as a salable product, a good, that’s familiar, huh?)

I’m interested in the full, weird, complex, surprising, tender humanity of my life, our lives. Which includes delight. (And I recommend Kevin Quashie’s book The Sovereignty of Quiet.)

Theres a perception that delight, joy or playfulness arent serious, or that celebrating them forces people to ignore the harsher realities of life. But your collection draws together the dark and the light, and takes joy and pleasure seriously. Were you consciously trying to strike that balance or was it more organic?

It’s a mistake to imagine that what is brutal or awful is the only thing worth talking about. Primarily because the brutal and the awful and the harsh are not the only thing.

I mean, what is the world in which the only thing worth talking about or thinking about or meditating on or studying, the only thing worthy of our fullest attention, is that which sucks? What are the results of thinking and counseling that joy–which, in my opinion, comes from the realization that we are utterly interdependent, we are utterly connected (part of that connection being that we all die)–is not worth studying? F*ck that.

I want to study the zillion ways we care for each other so that I can get better at caring. I want to study the ways we collaborate, the ways we interdepend, whether we acknowledge it or not, which we damn well better do.

Do you have advice for readers who may be inspired to start their own delight-noticing projects, or write about their delights?

I’m not that good for advice, but I will say there was something useful to me about dailiness, about making writing these delights a practice. I also think having a little time constraint was useful for me; it helped me to think in a looser, non-precious way. I loved writing them by hand, too–that helps me to think more bodily, which I think is more delightful, frankly. And then you can have these notebooks full of meditations on things that have delighted you–how lucky!

I originally conducted this interview and reviewed this book for Shelf Awareness, where both pieces appeared last week. 

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carrot ginger soup bowl strawberries table

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, these days. But I am always looking for ways to add a little more joy to the everyday, especially during the winter. So I floated an idea by my husband recently: how about we try 19 new recipes in 2019?

I know myself, and it’s super easy for me to rotate between the same half-dozen meals (or, in the winter, the same few standby soups). And while there’s nothing wrong with huevos on a Monday night after boot camp, a big pot of simmering tomato soup, or tacos (always tacos), I could always use a little meal inspiration – and a few more veggies – in my life.

Nineteen recipes seems doable: an average of one or two per month, a way to interrupt or spice up the usual pattern without hijacking it altogether. There’s usually at least one recipe in each month’s Real Simple that I want to try, and I have a dozen cookbooks I hardly ever use. I’m hoping this goal will push me to do a bit of experimenting – maybe even find a new favorite or two.

We started off with a simple chicken adobo recipe (from Real Simple, naturally), then dipped back into Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (an old favorite) to try sweet potato-and-spinach quesadillas. With guacamole, of course.

The verdict in both cases? So far, so good. I’ll check back later in the year.

How do you find new recipes to try? Any tips?

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winter berries trail January bare branches

A few years ago – around the same time, I think – Anne Bogel and I both discovered Barbara Brown Taylor’s brilliant question: what is saving your life now?

I made it the subject of my Morning Prayers talk at Harvard, two springs ago, and Anne has made it a tradition to host a linkup in midwinter, to invite people to share the small but vital things that are keeping them sane, healthy and whole. Today is that day: we’re halfway through winter (technically), though spring is a long way off here in the Northeast.

I shared my list of winter pleasures last week, but this is a little different: the small daily things that are bringing a burst of joy or simply getting me through. In the dark, cold season, there’s something to be said for celebrating not only the delights but the lifelines, and some things that are both.

As we head into February, I’m relying on two kinds of lifesavers: the building blocks of healthy routines, and the tiny, almost-too-small-to-mention stuff that either catches me by surprise or simply makes a slight but vital difference. The list below includes both. Here they are:

  • Black spicy tea (I have a few different blends) in my favorite purple travel mug, every morning.
  • The leggy paperwhites in my kitchen, which are bursting with blooms this week.
  • Sunrises out the kitchen window, especially on blazing bright mornings.
  • Making travel plans. (Clicking “buy” on the Amtrak or flight site can be very satisfying.)
  • Texts from a friend who’s spending the semester in Germany: travel updates and our usual lifesaving check-ins.
  • Chai. Always, always chai. And the smiles from my people at Darwin’s.
  • Lots and lots of water, all day, every day.
  • Vitamin D pills + my happy lamp + all the sunshine I can find.
  • Daffodils for my desk, flame-bright tulips, velvety roses and good cheer from my florist.
  • Dropping by the Boston Public Library on my way home from work.
  • The two Buff wraps (one head, one neck) that I wear when I’m running.
  • My Wonder Woman playlist.
  • Running on the river trail, under open skies.
  • When I can’t get out there: quick lunchtime runs through Back Bay or along the Esplanade.
  • Hauling my laptop into the conference room at work as often as I can: plants, sunshine and an excuse to move.
  • Midday snack or lunch runs to the tiny Trader Joe’s around the corner. (Dark chocolate peanut butter cups, am I right?)
  • Wearing real shoes instead of snow boots as often as possible. (Related: keeping a pair of flats at the office.)
  • Fleece-lined tights, every day.
  • Morning Prayers, which has finally started back up again.
  • Laughing with my coworkers about whatever we can find to enjoy or joke about.
  • Doing the NYTimes crossword with my husband, sometimes while munching on Girl Scout cookies.
  • Our twinkling Christmas tree (yes, it’s still up).
  • Tackling a sinkful of dirty dishes.
  • Tangy clementines, tart pomegranate seeds, out-of-season but delicious raspberries.
  • Burt’s Bees lip balm: in my purse, in my pocket, on my nightstand.
  • Tiny moments of human connection, either experienced or observed: a smile at Mem Church, two friends riding the T and chatting, a friendly barista or trolley operator or librarian. These things matter.

What’s saving your life this winter? (U.S. friends: are you surviving the polar vortex?) And any tips for making the best of this season, while we wait for spring?

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January sunrise pink clouds gold blue

Every year as the calendar turns over to January, I think: here we go.

My friends and family in Texas always ask, at Christmastime: Is it snowing up there in Boston? My verbal answer is usually Not yet, and my silent one, which comes right after it, is something like: Real winter starts in January. 

winter berries trail January bare branches

December was cold and bright this year, but now we are into the season of snow, wintry mix, biting winds and cold rain, not to mention record-breaking cold over the long weekend and (still) much less daylight than I’d like. We are – hallelujah – past the solstice, so the days are getting longer, but winter in the Northeast can feel long no matter how much sunshine there is.

So, as I often do, I thought I’d make a list of the good stuff: those small pleasures that are (mostly) limited to this less-than-favorite season of mine. Here they are:

  • Slicing open a fresh pomegranate and scooping out the seeds – like handfuls of little tart jewels.
  • Clementines, peeled and eaten out of hand, juicy slices bursting with tart sweetness. (Bonus: the scent lingers on my hands.)
  • Chai, for me, is a three-season pleasure, but it’s especially comforting on bitter mornings.
  • Winter sunrises out my kitchen window (see above): blue and gold, sometimes streaked with pink clouds.

paperwhites window flowers

  • Growing paperwhites near those same kitchen windows. Watching their long stems grow feels like magic to me.
  • Hearty, spicy soups and stews – nothing better on a bitter night.
  • Those diamond-bright, blue-sky mornings – if I’m properly bundled up, I love them.
  • Sitting in the right spot on a morning subway train to catch the sunshine flooding into my face.
  • Morning light on the deep-blue waves of the Charles River, and watching the ice patches spread (it’s fascinating).

Ivey book slippers twinkle lights

  • Snuggling up under the faux-fur blanket I’ve had for years. (Related: plaid slippers and fleece-lined tights.)
  • Dreaming of spring travel.
  • Twinkle lights that linger after the holidays.
  • Cozy handknits, especially my workhorse Evangeline gloves and my pink Gin Fizz.
  • Long walks in the clean cold air, with hot tea – preferably Earl Grey – at the end of them.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be a true winter lover, but I am trying to develop a mind for winter, as Adam Gopnik says (to counterbalance the grumbling). It helps to notice and celebrate these daily pleasures.

What are the small delights of winter where you are?

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pavement tea cup window cafe Boston back bay

As regular readers know, I have a deep, longstanding and well-documented love affair with Darwin’s, the coffee shop in Cambridge I have adopted as my own.

I started going there – first occasionally, then regularly – not long after I began working at Harvard, and I came to love nearly everything about it, especially the people and the chai.

darwins scone stripe journal coffee shop table

I’m not a coffee drinker, preferring hot tea year-round: ginger peach, Earl Grey, strong black tea with milk when it’s frigid out. But I am a lover of chai lattes, and Darwin’s spicy, house-made chai mix blended with steamed milk (and served with a smile) is my gold standard. I work across the river now, but I still made regular trips to the Square for chai this fall.

The adjustment to a new neighborhood has been, shall we say, difficult. And while I’m planning to continue popping over to Darwin’s when I can, I know I also need to embrace this new place. So I’ve been making a study of chai lattes in the area near my office.

Back Bay has no shortage of cafes, though I tend to avoid Starbucks and Peet’s in favor of independent coffee shops or Boston-based chains. Pavement and Flour, both in the latter category, each have two locations nearby. The baristas (many of them students) are kind, though the chai at both places is too sweet for me. (Flour is a good lunch spot, though.)

To my surprise, Trident, the quirky indie bookstore on Newbury Street, does a decent chai with lots of cinnamon, and I dropped by Caffe Nero last week to sample their chai. (Also too sweet, though I like the atmosphere – and I associate Caffe Nero with Oxford, where I first discovered it.) The Boston Public Library, in addition to having all the wonderful books, does a pretty good chai. And there are a few places I haven’t tried yet.

I’m under no illusions that I will find a new Darwin’s: any coffee shop I love over here will be different, and that’s (mostly) fine. When I really need it, my favorite Darwin’s chai and my beloved baristas are just across the river. (As are my florist, Mem Church and the Cambridge streets I adore.)

Part of this quixotic quest is just giving myself a mission – or something to look forward to – on these bitter winter mornings. And if I can’t find the perfect chai, a few smiles from new baristas are still no small thing.

What helps you feel at home in a new neighborhood?

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Katie post bike ride selfie

I never quite know what to say about a whole year. That’s been especially true of the last several: so full of challenge and change, transition and unexpected moments. A list seems inadequate, at best, but it’s one of the tools I have, so here’s a list of (some of) what I’ve done this year.

In 2018, I have:

  • run my second, third and fourth 5Ks – on a gorgeous April day, a sunny November Sunday and a freezing December morning, respectively.
  • dyed my hair for the first time – I put a few pink streaks in it this spring, and liked it so much I’ve kept refreshing the color.
  • flown to Idaho to visit my dear friends and meet their new baby girl.
  • hosted those same friends for a lovely weekend in Boston this fall.
  • drunk so many chai lattes, mostly (are we shocked?) from Darwin’s.
  • spent my third glorious stretch of days in San Diego.
  • mourned the loss of a dear family friend.
  • met and briefly interviewed Lin-Manuel Miranda.
  • taken a 10-day vacación to Spain with my husband, to celebrate a decade of marriage.
  • toasted my beloved boss as he retired from HKS.
  • savored my sixth Commencement at Harvard.
  • heard the news that my job there was ending.
  • spent a summer freelancing and job hunting (again).
  • started a new job across the river at Berklee.
  • run my first 8K on a hot, humid, sunny Labor Day.
  • taken my first ride (and many more) on a Blue Bike, and become completely addicted.
  • read nearly 200 books.
  • reviewed several dozen of those books, and interviewed six authors, for Shelf Awareness.
  • tended a few geraniums and a basil plant (at home) and a couple of low-light desk plants (at work).
  • bought countless bouquets of flowers, many from my favorite florist.
  • run miles and miles and miles on my beloved trail.
  • seen a few great concerts: the Wailin’ Jennys, the Boston Conservatory orchestra, Five for Fighting, various Berklee students (who really know how to jam).
  • hosted my parents for their annual visit to Boston.
  • spent a couple of whirlwind weekends in NYC.
  • navigated a few losses I’m not ready to talk about yet.
  • celebrated Thanksgiving with friends old and new in East Boston.
  • turned 35, hosted my own birthday brunch and reflected on it.
  • embraced the weekly boot camps I started last year.
  • kept on doing yoga about once a week.
  • spent many mornings in a pew at Memorial Church.
  • learned how to podcast.
  • tried to figure out how to stitch together the old life and the new.

I’ve got a few plans and a lot of hopes for 2019 – though I’m increasingly aware that I don’t know what’s coming next. I’m trying to navigate that with greater ease as we head into a new year. But first I’d love to know: what has 2018 looked like for you?

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