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Posts Tagged ‘daily life’

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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wreath old south church Boston

It’s a cold, diamond-bright December, with sharp blue skies and angled shadows that stretch long beginning in the early afternoons. I hurry along the sidewalk in my green coat and fleece-lined tights, avoiding the loose tiles and listening to the repeated entreaties from the homeless guys. I dig in my purse for the bright pink strap that holds my work ID, nod to the security guy and the construction crew in our building. Every week the work looks different: dangling wires, fresh plywood, so many cables and work boots and dust.

Katie selfie mirror post bike ride

There hasn’t been much snow so far. If I bundle up well enough, pull on a vest and two pairs of gloves and a blue fleece-lined headband, I can still hop a Blue Bike across the river from Harvard Square in the early mornings. I’ve come to enjoy skimming down Mt. Auburn St. to Mass Ave, then across the bridge by MIT, heading for the skyline, from the old neighborhood to the new.

commonwealth avenue brownstones Boston blue sky

We finished up Morning Prayers with a week of Advent hymns: Comfort, comfort ye my people. Watchman, tell us of the night. People, look east, the time is near. On Friday, after the final service of the term, we crowded into the kitchen downstairs for coffee and blueberry cake. I took my husband to the carol service on Sunday night, red poinsettias and thundering organ music and clear voices ringing out from the balcony. We stood with the congregation and sang a few of my favorites: Silent Night, Hark the Herald, Angels We Have Heard on High with its trilling Gloria.

red poinsettias flowers church

I’m thumbing through my Advent book again, reading wisdom from Sylvia Plath and Kathleen Norris, poetry and plainspoken prose, awe and wonder, longing and praise. For the first time in years, we are adrift this Advent, unmoored from a church community, except for my mornings at Mem Church. It feels strange and hard, and also this is where we are: right in the middle of more change and transition, of messy, ordinary life.

My florist’s shop is bursting with poinsettias and cyclamen, with miniature trees and tiny birch-bark reindeer. I stop in weekly, still, for roses and red tulips and a hug from Stephen. At home, we’ve finally decked our tall tree with ornaments, a colorful hodgepodge of old and new. The Christmas shopping is half done, the cards ordered and received but not sent, the packing not even thought about. We are living in the in between.

snoopy tree lights Christmas

I watch the sun rise out the kitchen window, my elbow brushing the geranium still stubbornly bursting with scarlet flowers. I sink into bed at night with a book, the glow of the Christmas tree from the living room just visible through the doorway. I take solace in a hot cup of chai, in the smile of a friend. I keep moving, because that is, as always, the only thing to do.

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plants sunny window blue sky

Earlier this month, Laura Tremaine hosted her annual #OneDayHH Instagram challenge: documenting the details of an ordinary day. I’ve participated for several years now, and I always enjoy it, both in the moment and looking back on it later.

This fall, I’m doing a lot of moving between my two worlds: Harvard Square, still and always my home, and my newer Berklee neighborhood in Boston’s Back Bay, where I spend most of my workdays now. This year’s #OneDayHH fell on a Thursday when I spent a lot of time in both, so here are some of the highlights from that day.

november sunrise sky

I love watching (and snapping) the sunrise from our kitchen windows while I move around and make tea.

butler stop leaves fall trolley

My commute begins with a quick walk down the street to the trolley stop. The trees were still in full glorious leaf.

mem church leaves fall blue sky Harvard yard

I walked across the Yard to Mem Church for prayers, as I often do…

Darwin's chai berries journal coffee shop

…and then I headed to Darwin’s, to hang out and work for a while. I had chai (of course), Kelly’s homemade apple bread, blueberries and a bit of writing time.

Lowell house window view plants Harvard

Some Thursdays still include that Harvard writers’ meeting on the sixth floor, in one of my favorite places. This is the view of Lowell House from the window near Wendy’s desk.

I dashed to the florist after my meeting and then to Central Square to meet a girlfriend for lunch. I’d been meaning to try Andala Cafe, and it was delicious.

blue bikes central square Cambridge

Boston’s Blue Bikes are making my back-and-forth possible, these days, so I grabbed one for a quick ride back across the river.

Berklee desk flowers computer lamp work

I spent the afternoon partly here, at my desk: flowers, Oxford, tea, cards from friends, emails. I also spent a while in the sunny conference room – see photo at the top of this post. The plants love the sunshine as much as I do.

Berklee banner building Boston

The afternoon also included a walk to the other end of campus: I was supposed to meet a student. We missed each other, but I popped in to see a work friend, grabbed some Earl Grey from Pavement and headed back to the office to wrestle a podcast episode into submission.

prudential Boston sunset back bay

I left the office late and headed to the public library before meeting a friend for dinner at Flour and a wander around Trident. No photos from that part, but we didn’t need any.

I got home late and was exhausted – these dual-world days take a lot out of me. But I am grateful to belong in both places.

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Harvard yard November light trees fall blue sky

It has been (yet) another stretch of challenge and change here – though the new job is making a little more sense these days. And despite some heartening headlines from last week’s election (more women, more diversity, higher voter turnout), it’s been (another) hellishly hard week or two to be in the world.

That’s how it seems to go these days, isn’t it? Back and forth. But a few small lifesavers are bearing me up. On some days they feel like just enough. Even that, I recognize, is a gift. Here they are:

  • My short rain boots, which are getting me through the fall storms.
  • Related: my newish belted raincoat, lined with a hood.
  • Chatter with my colleagues: music, books, tea, punctuation. (Yes, we are nerds.)
  • Tart, crisp Empire apples from the farmers’ market.
  • The In the Heights soundtrack, especially the first few numbers.
  • Yoga on Tuesday nights, and Gina’s smile.
  • Standing at the kitchen sink washing piles of dishes.
  • The tiny, sparkly We See Stars earrings I bought in the West Village this summer.
  • This song from The Annual, a yearlong music project from St Aldates, my beloved church in Oxford.
  • Morning bike rides across the river after prayers at Mem Church.
  • Related: trips to Darwin’s before prayers, for chai and community.
  • Mums and late roses and black-eyed Susans.
  • The autumn light that turns leaves to stained glass.
  • The feeling when I’m running of finally being warm to my fingertips.
  • Early sunrises out my kitchen window.
  • Related: my vitamin D pills and my happy lamp.

What’s saving your life these days? Please share, if you like.

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