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Posts Tagged ‘fall’

We’ve turned the corner into mid-November, flipping the big switch of Daylight Savings and shifting from bright green trees to russet leaves and early, gold-streaked sunsets. Back-to-school excitement (and trepidation) is a thing of the past, and even my trip to Texas last month feels like a long time ago. The accordion of time continues to contract and expand in strange ways in these still-pandemic months. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’ve lived one year, or five, or a strange in-between number, since March 2020. 

Here in Massachusetts, we are cautiously back to some kind of normal: back in the office, back to school, back to (some) indoor collective experiences. We are still wearing masks, keeping an eye on the COVID numbers, pulling out our vaccination cards to go to concerts or the theater. I know it isn’t the same everywhere; one of the defining features of this pandemic, for me, has been the wide range of experiences based on region, age and political affiliation. Sometimes I wonder if we are – if I am – being paranoid. But then I think about the losses of the past 20 months, all those lives memorialized this summer by tiny white flags near the Washington Monument. I think about the people I know who have lost loved ones. I think about the folks I love who have underlying health issues. And I think: maybe being cautious isn’t so bad.

I’ve thought often this year about an exchange between General Leia Organa and Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo in one of the newer Star Wars films. It’s the part in every Star Wars movie that always makes me cry: the moment when several of the characters acknowledge the odds they’re up against, and decide to go in anyway. This Leia is a different Leia than the fresh-faced princess with the cinnamon buns we met in A New Hope: she’s older, wearier, more familiar with the costs of constantly fighting. “So many losses,” she says quietly to her tall, purple-haired friend. “I can’t take any more.”

“Sure you can,” Holdo responds instantly. “You taught me how.”

Holdo’s comment first struck me as flippant when I saw it in the theater; I wondered if she was even listening to Leia. But it has stayed with me – this moment of vulnerability between two women who are longtime friends – through my divorce, a move, job changes, and the pandemic we’re all still living in. Sometimes I think it’s a testament to human resilience: we are all capable of withstanding more than we think. (Hasn’t the pandemic taught us that, if nothing else?) Sometimes I think it’s an important way for Holdo to remind Leia of her own courage. Some days I agree with Leia; my heart and soul have had enough.

Most of the time, I recognize it’s not that simple, not always. We may think – or even believe – we can’t take any more, in the moment. But we have to keep going. And we rely on our people to remind us that we can. 

The days are so bright right now, the low autumn sun sparkling on the harbor and flooding through the still-vivid leaves, making shifting patterns of orange and crimson and gold. And the nights are so dark – after those fiery sunsets at 4:45 p.m., the hours stretch on and on in pitch blackness, as I know they will for months. 

Somehow, I have to learn to hold the extremes – the dark and the bright, the losses and the joys. I have to learn to embrace it all, to lean into the loneliness as well as the deep connection. I am trying (always, it seems, I am trying) to accept all of it, to let it be what it will be and face whatever comes with courage and hope.

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One of the perks of having a partner who works at Trader Joe’s: a front-row seat to all the new fun seasonal products. This summer, it was jalapeño limeade, sparkling coconut water with yuzu and watermelon mint tea, and in mid-September, I walked into the store to find that a pumpkin spice factory had apparently exploded.

Starting on my birthday, we’ve tried all the fall treats: pumpkin ravioli with harvest pasta sauce (delicious), leaf-shaped tortilla chips (good, but kind of strange); pretzels dipped in pumpkin-spice yogurt (a little over the top, but yummy); pumpkin curry simmer sauce (divine); ginger-turmeric granola (I am seriously addicted). Now that we’re into November, the holiday treats have started arriving at TJs, but I’ve still got fresh apple cider in the fridge and a box or two of pumpkin samosas stashed in the freezer.

I’m not a pumpkin spice latte girl (I don’t drink coffee), and I’m not even that into pumpkin pie. But as Anne also noted, leaning hard into the seasonal joy this year felt like a good antidote to election anxiety and pandemic sadness. It even became a joke with one of my girlfriends: “Don’t hold back on the pumpkin [or fall] joy!” And, truly, from harvest spiced nuts to a cranberry goat cheese log, I feel we have made the most of the fall grocery-store delights.

So much of the novelty in our daily lives is missing this year; I am trying to savor the sweet parts of home, but I miss travel and trying new restaurants and having new experiences. A box of pumpkin pancake mix might not make up for all that, but it’s a fun way to bring a bit of novelty and joy into our days. (Especially when paired with ginger maple syrup and a steaming cup of tea.)

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Hello, friends. Here we are at the edge of a new month. After a mostly dry, sunny October, our November weather has blown in with a vengeance. We definitely needed every drop of rain, but I’m adjusting to sudden cooler, wetter days and nights – and serious darkness, at both ends of the day.

Parts of this shift happen every year: the end of Daylight Savings Time, the slow droop of the sun’s angle in the sky. The dark starts to come down early in mid-autumn, and I know: winter is coming. This year, I’m spending most of my time alone in my apartment, and it’s more important than ever to do the things I know will help me get through.

I start reaching for the Vitamin D pills in mid-October, popping one every morning to help mitigate the effects of so much less sunlight. And, later in the month, I start flipping on the light box in the mornings.

I’d lived here about two years when my friend Ryan finally convinced me to buy a light box: he swears by his, and I always tell people it helps take the edge off Boston’s long, dark winters. My light box is not beautiful – it’s a big square gray plastic thing, which gives off piercingly white-blue light. (My ex-husband used to refer to it as “the glory of the Lord,” because it was so blinding when he’d walk into the bathroom in the mornings.) I flip it on for 15 or 30 minutes while I’m showering, drying my hair, etc., and count on it to help boost my mood a bit, especially on grey days.

Real talk: sometimes I’m not sure either the pills or the box have any impact at all. Other days I’m convinced it’s a placebo effect. But even if that’s the case, I’ll take it: in both cases, it can’t hurt. And I feel like I’m at least doing something to beat back the dark.

What coping strategies do you have to mitigate the dark – or help you embrace the cold/cozy season? I’d love to hear, if you’d like to share.

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It’s October – and even though a lot of our seasonal markers are missing these days, the trees are still turning and the nights are starting to draw in. I’ve been buying dahlias at the florist, and trying out a few pumpkin-themed goodies from Trader Joe’s. (Yes, I am a walking fall cliche, and no, I do not care. We need all the joy we can get, in these persistently weird and off-kilter times.)

A friend reminded me recently of a few lines from Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments, in which one character rhapsodizes to another about October:

In that spirit, I’m wishing you a merry October, and telling you about a new project I’ve thought up for myself: #run31.

I’ve been a runner for nearly three years now; it started when I moved to Dorchester in 2017 and fell in love with the Neponset River trail. But I haven’t written very much about running, though it’s become a durable and vital part of my life since then. So, every day in October, I’m going to share a brief essay about running, mostly to kick-start myself (ha) into writing about it. I hope you enjoy them, and here’s the first one.

I never thought of myself as a runner. I wasn’t even, I believed, someone who enjoyed running. I hated playing soccer in gym class partly because it seemed like too much running up and down the field. I discovered yoga in my twenties and fell in love with it, but I was convinced I wasn’t one of those people: those gym rats who logged mile after sweaty mile on the treadmill, or those crazy runners who got up long before dawn to run along the Charles River in their spandex and special shoes.

My journey to running started, perhaps fittingly, with walking.

One of the reasons I love living in Boston is the potential for walking everywhere, eliminating (at least for some of us) the need to sit in traffic for hours every day. My jobs in Back Bay and Harvard Square have all allowed me to commute on the subway, then walk to my office, and use my lunch breaks to run other errands on foot: bank, library, post office, coffee shop. The longer I worked at Harvard (I was there for five years), the more I grew to love roaming the streets of Cambridge, either by myself or with a friend. Beyond the redbrick walls of the university buildings, Cambridge offers quiet twisting streets bordered by elaborate gardens and trees far older than I am. By the time I moved to Dorchester in the summer of 2017, I’d rediscovered my love of long walks. And our new apartment, sitting just a stone’s throw from the Neponset River Greenway, offered the perfect entry point for more rambles on my own.

As summer slipped into fall, I left the house alone most evenings, usually with my earbuds but sometimes without, and set off along the trail, noticing blooming asters and changing sumac leaves, rustling reeds and the footsteps of fellow walkers. When the weather turned colder, I didn’t want to give up my time out on the trail – but neither did I want to be chilled and miserable. I wondered: could I try running? Would I hate it as much as I always had? At least you’ll know, said a voice in my head. So I slipped on an ancient pair of sneakers and sped up my pace.

Three years later, I’m a dedicated runner: I buy new sneakers every six months, eye the weather forecast to determine which layers I should wear (and how many), and have a few 5K and 10K medals clinking in my dresser drawers. During this pandemic, I’ve hit the trails in my neighborhood almost every morning, and it is a consistent lifesaver. I feel better when I get that dose of movement in my day, but it’s also become a part of my identity in a way I never expected.

I haven’t run on the Neponset in just over a year: I moved to East Boston last summer, in the wake of my divorce, and now I run past the harbor instead of the river each morning. But so many elements are the same: the movement, the fresh air, the love of being outside and testing what my body can do. I’m a runner now, indelibly. And I’m so happy about it.

More #run31 stories to come.

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govt-center-twilight

We have arrived at the dark time of year: the pre-solstice, post-Daylight-Savings season when the sun starts dipping low in the sky by midafternoon. Even after nine years in Boston, the sudden, thick darkness always catches me off guard; the fiery, early sunsets tilt my axis off-kilter. I know it’s part of the seasonal rhythm and I know it won’t last forever. But every year, it takes some getting used to.

By now I’ve developed a few seasonal tricks: vitamin D pills, lots of citrus fruit, my beloved and signature green coat. I flip on my light box in the morning while I’m getting ready in the bathroom, and at work, I escape to the plant-filled conference room as often as possible. (It’s the only side of our office suite that gets any sunlight.)

plant-yellow-leaves-pru-window

I’ve started squeezing in a few lunchtime runs again, because while I love my regular running route along the harbor walk and the greenway in Eastie, it’s much less appealing when I get home and it’s already pitch black out (and cold). But sometimes – I admit – the dark resists my best efforts to beat it back.

I’m not sure if it’s Seasonal Affective Disorder or simply my body’s very real reaction to the turning of the year. But I’m trying to strike some kind of a balance: to acknowledge the dark while pushing back on it a little bit. To breathe deeply, brew another cup of tea, and remember that the darkness doesn’t last forever.

How do you deal with the dark – literal and otherwise – this time of year?

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phoenix dog sidewalk

Fall has come to Boston, and I’m dog-sitting again for my friend Carolyn, who is now also my neighbor. I spent several weeks at her house this spring, taking care of Phoenix the golden doodle pup, and I’m happily spending the second half of September hanging out with him again.

The alarm goes off in the morning, and I stretch and hit snooze and turn to look out the windows at the park, where the leaves are just starting to turn. As soon as my feet hit the floor, Phoenix starts scratching at the door of his crate: if I’m up, he wants to be up. But when I get out of the shower, I usually find him curled up on the bed, often next to my pillow. Sometimes he’ll wave a paw, asking for some extra pets or snuggles, and I usually comply. (He knows I’m a softie.)

I get dressed, blow-dry my hair, grab a banana for me and some treats for Phoenix, and clip his red leash to his collar. We head downstairs and out the door, taking the same route most mornings: down the street, around the corner and back up the hill.

Sometimes we run into a friend, or a small child excited to see a doggie. Sometimes we both stop to smell the flowers (though Phoenix also likes to smell everything else). He trots along happily, plumy tail waving, and does his business, and I give him treats and take deep breaths of fresh air. I drop him back off at home, feed him breakfast, and head to the train to go to work.

It’s a simple morning ritual, and I love it: scratching him behind the ears as he wanders around the bedroom, watching him wag frantically at other pups, giving him those extra cuddles, stretching our legs together. His little joyful presence is good medicine, these days. And I’m grateful.

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apple orchard trees wonder woman bracelet red

I had my first bite of a September apple last week, sampling a crisp Macintosh from the white bag on the kitchen counter. It tasted delicious: tart, juicy, the embodiment of fall in New England. And I was stunned by the wave of sadness that followed it.

Since I moved to Boston, apples have been tangled up with September: crisp sunny days, cool nights, black-eyed Susans and dahlias and late daylilies in the flower beds around town. September is the start of the academic year, and in a city like Boston, that shifts the rhythm in a big way. And every fall, September has meant apple picking.

apple trees blue sky

Apple picking was and is a beloved tradition for my former church. I’d eaten apples all my life, but there are no apple orchards in West Texas, and I wasn’t prepared for the sight of their rambling, gnarled branches heavy with fruit. I fell instantly in love.

Last year, some dear friends who’d moved away came back to visit for a long weekend, and we made sure to plan our apple-picking excursion when they were here. We wandered the orchard and filled our bags to bursting and ate the traditional orchard lunch of hot dogs and apple cider donuts. There were photos and laughter and tired kiddos, and cold, fresh cider. It felt right.

This year, so much has shifted: I’m living across the water in Eastie, spending my Sunday mornings sleeping in or running instead of going to church. I’m navigating the end of the marriage whose story began when I was in college. I am not who I was, and my life is a testament to that fact. But it is still September, and the apples have appeared at the farmers’ markets and grocery stores.

I’ll keep eating them, because the flavor and enjoyment are worth the reminder of all I have lost. Things are different now, but life is still full of sweetness. I’m trying to feel it all, live it all, truly taste both the grief and the joy.

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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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chalk heart flats

I’ve been back from Oxford for a week, and have been fighting serious jet lag, a wicked head/chest cold and an overflowing email inbox (more than 200 messages while I was away!).

Despite the coughing and the catch-up, though, the weather is pure October glory, and I thought it was about time for another list of what’s saving my life now:

leaves yellow green blue sky

  • Bold blue skies, crisp autumn breezes and that golden autumn light.
  • Related: the trees, which seem to be turning in slow motion but are starting to show red and gold.
  • Lemon-ginger tea (from Pukka or Stash), with honey when I can get it.

sunflowers orange rose

  • Sunflowers for my desk (and a bonus rose!), from my beloved florist.
  • The sunrises through my kitchen window: orange and gold, pink and blue.
  • My favorite red pants – always a shot of happy.
  • Walks on the river trail, alone or with my husband.

river trail asters

  • Catching up with loved ones: giving a girlfriend my unofficial Harvard tour, inviting friends over for dinner, meeting up for coffee or a long walk.
  • Salads from home and soup from Darwin’s.
  • The late roses around town, which are truly stunning this year.

late yellow rose

  • Dipping back into Anne of Windy Poplars, because October.
  • Simple kitchen routines: brewing tea in my red kettle every morning, toasting bread for breakfast, whipping up huevos after yoga, standing at the sink washing dishes.
  • Yoga classes: sun salutations, pigeon and warrior poses, deep breaths.
  • Looking forward to a long weekend in NYC.

What’s saving your life this fall? Please share, if you want.

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autumn sign leaves chalkboard

“Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first of September was crisp and golden as an apple.”

—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

September is here and so is fall, suddenly: classes have started, events are ramping up, and the mornings feel crisp and cool. The light in Cambridge has shifted to its autumn self: clear, lucid, heartbreakingly golden. I learned a new word this summer: komorebi, which is Japanese for “light filtered through leaves.”

komorebi harvard yard tree sky

As is often the case in the autumn, everything feels big and immediate and full.

In the midst of heartrending headlines (hurricanes, DACA, nuclear threats) and so many responsibilities (my to-do list is as long as my arm), I figured it was time for another list: what’s saving my life now.

I need the reminder to name the good things, and maybe you do too. So here they are:

  • Ginger peach tea in a purple travel mug, Earl Grey from my barista friends at Darwin’s, and lots of water all day long.
  • Seeing my red geraniums on the back porch every morning, and watching the sunrise through the kitchen windows.
  • Moving around in the new apartment and feeling like it belongs to us.
  • A few truly wonderful books: Salt Houses, The Captain’s Daughter, The Rules of Magic.

book geraniums captains daughter sandals porch flowers

  • Making new connections with folks at Harvard and around the Square, and running into people I know and love: this is my neighborhood.
  • Community in all its forms: our first dinner guests; a new-to-me book club; long walks with a dear friend; rich conversations over text and Twitter and email with loved ones who are far away.
  • End-of-summer flowers: Queen Anne’s lace, black-eyed Susans, multicolored hydrangeas, the first few asters.

black eyed susans

  • Harmonizing with the Wailin’ Jennys, whose music is in my earbuds and my heart every day.
  • Looking forward to some travel later in the season.
  • Burt’s Bees lemon butter cuticle salve, which I am using for everything these days.
  • My favorite clothes: happy red pants, go-with-everything flats, a scarf my sister gave me long ago, the malachite ring I bought in NYC last summer, and that brave necklace I never take off.
  • Yoga: once or twice a week at Healing Tree, and occasionally on my mat at home.
  • The Thursday morning writers’ meetings I love: sarcasm + sanity.
  • Morning Prayers at Memorial Church, as often as I can make it there.
  • The walking trail near our new house, and the first red leaves, spotted there on a solo walk this weekend.

red leaves neponset trail

As we plunge into fall, what is saving your life now? Please share, if you want.

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