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Posts Tagged ‘everyday life’

window lamp geraniums herbs porch

One of my favorite things about our new bedroom: looking out the window next to my bedside table and seeing my beloved red geraniums.

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steel and rye lights sunset

Back in January, I decided my one little word for 2017 would be magic.

I’d had a year that required a lot of gumption (my word for 2016), and I wanted something a little lighter, more whimsical, for 2017. Between the headlines (which are constantly crazy-making), the months-long adjustment to a wonderful but demanding new job, and the annual challenges of winter in New England, I knew I could use some magic.

We’re (slightly over) halfway through 2017, and I found myself thinking about my word the other day. More accurately, I found myself wondering: is magic really the word for this year?

Let’s be honest: 2017 has not been an easy road, so far. It has contained a lot of beauty – flowers and good books, long walks with friends, many lifesaving encounters at Darwin’s and elsewhere – but it has also brought new and ongoing challenges. It has, in short, required a lot of grit.

Grit is a popular word in higher ed circles right now, and a favorite word of Drew Gilpin Faust, the president of Harvard (where I work). I tend to think of it in both the verb and noun forms: grit as in gritting your teeth and hanging on, and grit as in the humble but honest dirt that collects in the floorboards of a house, or gives something the texture needed to grip it.

This year has contained a lot of both kinds of grit. I’ve had to wrestle with even the good gifts, and summon all my courage to get through even the beautiful days.

roots sky book sunflowers table

At the end of her lovely memoir, Roots and Sky, my friend Christie Purifoy writes about late-summer chaos: a gust of wind scattering the kids’ chore charts, a stray elbow sending a jar of gold star stickers all over the kitchen floor. “I intended them to march in rows across our charts, but now they sparkle among the dust bunnies,” she writes. “When [my son] Beau suddenly runs through the screen door, gold stars shine from the bottoms of his dirty feet.”

That image keeps coming back to me: it seems to perfectly capture the interplay of magic and grit. They are present, side by side, in unexpected places. They are frustrating and undeniably real, glorious and utterly ordinary. They both stick to the soles of my feet and insist on their place in the story of this year. So I am letting them both in, as I walk through these long, full summer days.

We’re moving again at the end of the month, to a different apartment in the next town over. More change is on the horizon: at work, at church, in other areas. I have no doubt all of these changes will require more grit. But – I hope and am trying to believe – they’ll also contain magic. At least, they will if I have anything to say about it.

The answer to my original question, it turns out, is “yes, and.” Magic is definitely present in this year, and so is grit. I can’t separate them, and it turns out I don’t really need to. Because they are both necessary, and both – sometimes to my surprise – life-giving.

Are you following a word (or more than one) this year? How’s it going? I’d love to hear.

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katie pei beach

Several months ago, in the midst of my sixth Boston winter and a yearlong job hunt, I chose gumption for my one little word for 2016.

I’d spent 2015 trying to be gentle with myself and others – a reminder I needed frequently during a difficult year. But as the calendar flipped over, I decided I wanted something with a little more energy, a little more drive. Gumption, as embodied in The Holiday and elsewhere, tackles the tough stuff of life with a twinkle in its eye. I chose it knowing I’d need its particular combination of tenacity and spunk.

Midway through the year, I can say with certainty: I was right.

I spent the first few months of 2016 at a temp gig I loved, which gave me a safe place to land while continuing to balance the job hunt and other worries. That gig led to another temp assignment at Harvard, in a different office (literally) across the street, where I needed every bit of gumption I could muster to learn the ropes of a new place before diving into the swirl of Commencement. I don’t think I took a deep breath for the entire month of May.

Life on the sixth floor, wrangling stories and inquiries from all around Harvard, was a lot of fun, but it was a wild ride. I learned a lot of new systems and a few new skills, and I spent a lot – a lot – of time being brave and hanging on. (Longtime readers will know that brave, my one little word back in 2010, has become both a mantra and a talisman for me: I wear it around my neck and deep in my soul.)

Recently, I’ve been able to breathe a little easier: our trip to PEI and a new job (back in the same office where I temped this winter) have both helped me to feel more settled, less precarious. But I am diving into new responsibilities, and (soon) moving to a new apartment – both of which, not surprisingly, have their own requirements for gumption.

During this topsy-turvy year, gumption has come to mean both lightness and grit: doing hard things, or simply taking care of the business of life, with a bit of whimsy thrown in. It means sending that email, starting that conversation, tackling that work assignment, without taking it all too seriously. It means being brave enough to be a little silly sometimes. It means reaching across to connect with other people, even when I’m feeling shy or sad. It means speaking up when I can’t be silent any more, and it means knowing when to listen.

I have no doubt that the second half of 2016 will require yet more gumption of me. (See also: new job, new apartment and the resulting shifts in routine.) But I am also proud of the way I’ve handled the sweeping changes of the past year. As Iris (Kate Winslet) says near the end of The Holiday, “I think what I’ve got is something slightly resembling – gumption!”

iris gumption kate winslet the holiday

Here’s to more tenacity, grace, grit and spunk – more gumption – in the coming months.

Did you choose a word for this year? If so, how’s it going?

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july sunset

I wrote a post on margin recently, and as it often does, the universe laughed. The first half of July has been fast and furious and full. Hot days, crowded calendars, so many things jockeying for space in my brain. It has not been particularly restful. But there’s still lots of good stuff happening, and I want to note the details of how life looks right now.

Right now, in the thick of a hot, busy summer, I am:

  • waking up to the buzz of the window a/c unit and the piano music from Pride and Prejudice.
  • drinking my two favorite summer teas in my favorite mug: blackberry sage and ginger peach.

lady cop breakfast

  • making scones when I can stand to turn on the oven, and eating granola and Greek yogurt for breakfast when I can’t.
  • wearing skirts, sandals and all the work-appropriate short-sleeved tops I own.
  • living in shorts and bare feet at night and on the weekends.
  • lugging a box of veggies home every Wednesday (we’re doing a CSA share) and then trying to figure out how to use them all. green veggies
  • getting excited for the Rio Olympics.
  • eating tamales from the farmers’ market on Tuesdays.
  • tending basil and geraniums on my front porch.
  • dropping by Darwin’s a couple of times a day: for tea in the morning, a sandwich and chitchat at lunchtime, and sometimes lemonade and a cookie (and more chitchat) mid-afternoon.

darwins chai cookie bench

  • reading allllll the books (as usual). Recent favorites include Lady Cop Makes Trouble, Everyone Brave is Forgiven, The Atomic Weight of Love and Jane Steele.
  • aching over the news reports from so many places riddled with tragedy.
  • treading water at work as I adjust to new routines and responsibilities.
  • relishing the familiar faces and witty banter of my colleagues.
  • snapping photos for the #FlowerReport when I’m out and about. This bed of lavender is growing outside our town library.

lavender library

  • texting my sister and a couple of friends about the madness and the fun of daily life.
  • listening to Hamilton on repeat, learning all the words, and priding myself on being able to rap (almost) as fast as Lafayette.
  • hunting for a new apartment (we have to move next month for reasons beyond our control).
  • savoring the last few weeks in the apartment we have lived in and loved for six years.

dining room dusk twinkle lights

  • sipping a lot of lemonade and the occasional glass of rosé.
  • flipping back through Julia Cameron’s The Sound of Paper: such wise words on writing and life.
  • sneaking in a beach day here and there.
  • trying (always trying) to pay attention to my life and the people I love.

crane beach jer

What does life look like for you right now?

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On margin

daffodils dachshund table

Recently, my husband and I took a weeklong road trip to Canada, to celebrate the end of a long, full spring season (at work and at home) and so I could take a break between jobs. We had a glorious time, and I promise I’ll tell you more about it soon. But I’ve been thinking about how I also loved having a few quiet days at home after we came back. My husband headed straight back to work on Monday morning, but I had a couple of days to sleep in, catch up on laundry and putter around the house. I had some margin.

I started my new job at the Harvard Kennedy School last week, and I am thrilled to be back among colleagues I already know, at a place I already love. I’m easing in, with a couple of days at work, a long weekend for the 4th of July, and a short workweek this week. And I am so happy about it – not just because it’s summer and things are therefore a little slower, but because it gives me some margin. Some room. Some breathing space.

I’m a classic type-A overachiever, and I live and work in a culture that prizes hustle. When the occasion calls for it, I can hit the ground running and keep up a hectic pace, for days or weeks on end. That’s what I did during my temp gig at the central Harvard Public Affairs office this spring. Commencement season around there is a maelstrom, and I was right in the thick of it.

But that’s not how I like to operate. When I can get it, I prefer a little margin.

This spring, I jumped straight from one temp gig to another with only a weekend in between. After our lovely weekend on Martha’s Vineyard, it was full speed ahead at work for the entire month of May, while still trying to figure out my next step. And although early June was quieter, it involved a lot of tying up loose ends and handing over tasks and projects to my replacement, before I took my vacation. I haven’t had a lot of margin lately.

I’ve been doing my best to snatch breathing room where I can get it: solo lunch breaks with a sandwich and a book, a quiet evening at home with dishes and a podcast or another book (or three), and in rare cases, half an hour scribbling in my journal after my husband goes to bed. But I’m looking forward to a little more margin in my life this summer. There’s still a lot of change and adjustment ahead on the horizon, but I am hoping for more space – physical and mental – during these long, sunlit days.

Do you find that margin is necessary in your life? How do you make sure you get it?

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harvard yard memorial church view

It is (finally) springtime in Cambridge. The trees are blooming, the tulips are lifting up their elegant heads to the sun, the azaleas and hydrangeas are flowering. And the tourist groups are out in force.

Working at Harvard, especially during the warmer months, means engaging with (sometimes dodging) people whose purpose for being on campus is quite different from mine. Harvard is where I spend my workdays: it is the backdrop for my meetings, projects, lunch breaks, my work-related frustrations and triumphs. It is a living, breathing, complex community, comprising several thousand students and employees. But it is also world famous and storied, and certain parts of it are very public, even iconic.

harvard yard autumn light leaves

I love some of the public spaces at Harvard, such as the Yard (above), edged with red-brick buildings and dotted with colorful chairs in the summertime. The wide south porch of Memorial Church, which is my favorite place to eat a picnic lunch. The grand, columned facade of Widener Library, iconic in both design and purpose. The towering exterior of Memorial Hall (below), which evokes nothing so much as Hogwarts.

memorial hall harvard

All these images are “very Harvard” – part of the history and mythology of this place, but also integral to its everyday working life.

But one unexpected gift of working at Harvard is the chance to see and explore its hidden corners. I’ve worked in three offices here now, and visited eight of the University’s schools (and many different buildings) for interviews, meetings and events. I spent an entire semester making weekly visits to the Harvard Art Museums last year. And while the view from my current sixth-floor workspace includes several of those famous spires, I have discovered a few hidden corners I adore.

The sunken garden on Appian Way, where I spent many lunch breaks when I worked in the building next door. The exhibition room at Houghton Library, where treasures from the archives are on display to the public (but it’s dim, quiet and rarely crowded). The corner of Boylston Hall, next to Widener, which catches the most gorgeous afternoon light. The passageway between Larsen Hall and Christ Church Cambridge, where crocuses and forsythia bloom in the spring.

cambridge ma forsythia yellow spring

After three years, this is, unquestionably, my neighborhood. I still have much more to discover: Harvard is a big, complicated, multilayered place. But the physical space, the ground of the Square, grows more and more familiar to me. It no longer feels like a code I can’t crack, a walled garden I can’t open. I have my routines, my rhythms, my favorite spots for work and play. I watch the seasons change, delighting in spring flowers, autumn leaves and even the occasional snowstorm.

johnson gate harvard snow

Many of the nooks and crannies I love are technically public: they are available to anyone who is willing to explore and pay attention. But some of them feel like hidden treasure, like delightful secrets that are all mine. They are perhaps less awe-inspiring than the grand public spaces, but they hold their own tranquil beauty. They are part of the life of this place, as much as the postcard-worthy columns and towers. And they are part of my Harvard: my particular experience of this place I love so well.

Commencement is next week, and I will delight in the public pomp and circumstance, as I do every year: the banners, the caps and gowns, the Latin oration, the glorious swirl of excitement and new beginnings. But after the dust has settled and the folding chairs have been put away, you can find me hiding out in these quiet corners: relishing the approach of summer, dodging the tourist traffic, and trying – always trying – to pay attention to the beauty around every bend.

katie memorial church green coat harvard yard

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cafe lalo table berries teacup

This year, I chose gentle for my one little word. Or, more accurately, it chose me.

I’ve been choosing a word each year for a while now, and while I can’t ever predict how my choice is going to shake out, I always enjoy the process of following a word through the year.

Gentle, when it came to me, felt like a deep sigh of relief, a much-needed shift away from some frantic and critical habits I’d slipped into during a hectic few months. Also, as I said at the time, it felt like a good companion to brave, my word from 2010 which remains so important to me.

The circumstances of this year, as it turns out, have not been particularly gentle. I struggled through a record-breaking Boston winter, with bitter temps and frigid winds and so much snow. The gentleness in that season was mostly internal: nourishing myself with tea and soup, reading good books, doing lots of yoga, making an effort to dial back the criticism (often silent, sometimes verbal) of myself and others.

When the weather finally warmed up, I found myself facing another hard thing: the loss of a job I loved, and the subsequent months of networking, interviews and job hunting. That process has been, in a word, brutal. And it’s not entirely over, though I am grateful for a temp gig I’m loving, and for my ongoing freelance assignments.

With the job hunt, too, the gentleness has been mostly internal: doing my best work on a given day, and letting that be enough. Working hard to polish my resume or answer interview questions thoughtfully or compose yet another cover letter. And then taking a break, to cook dinner or meet a friend for coffee or curl up on the sofa with a book or a good TV show.

I have been reminded, over and over again, that I’m only human. I am capable, but I’m not Superwoman. I need rest and downtime and connection with the people I love. I need to ask for things once in a while. And often, I need to turn off the computer and go to sleep.

It has also been (I need hardly say) a tough year to live in this world. Headlines that provoke anxiety and terror, so many shouting matches that solve nothing, an increasing sense of the precariousness of this life. I don’t know what to do about that, except to keep lighting the candles I possess.

It’s an ongoing process, this gentleness with myself and others. But I’m glad this quiet, unobtrusive word has been my companion in 2015. I’m hoping to find a new word for 2016, but I think gentle will hang around a while, too.

Did you choose a word for 2015? If so, how did it go?

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