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Look at the silver lining, they say.
But what if, instead,
I pluck it off
and use that tensile strand to bind
myself to those things I do not 
want to lose sight of.

Families knit together by evening walks,
board games, laughter. 
The filament fixing us to friends
no matter the distance apart.
A braid of gratitude for small kindnesses.
The thin gauge wire of loss.

Let me twist that lining 
around my finger, 
it’s silvery glint a reminder 
of just how quickly life can change. 
I will remember to love more.
I will remember to give more.

I will remember to be still

I will knot the string tightly. 
So it won’t slip away.
So I won’t forget.

I found Paula’s poem in the anthology How to Love the World, and was struck by the idea of silver linings becoming tangible. You can read more of her poetry on her Facebook page.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry here on Fridays this month, as I do every year. 

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How is it the end of March already? Then again, we’ve been stuck in a strange time warp for a year. Here’s what I have been reading:

How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, Clint Smith III
Poet and educator Clint Smith visits eight locations with deep ties to the history of slavery, to explore how the U.S. has (and has not) reckoned with the brutality and the deep scars. He’s such a good writer–this book is thoughtful, clear and evocative, though obviously heavy, given the subject matter. Highly recommended. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 1).

This Time Next Year We’ll Be Laughing, Jacqueline Winspear
I love Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs mystery series. This memoir chronicles her childhood in rural Kent, but also explores her family dynamics and the effects of two wars on her elders (a theme she continually returns to in her novels). Elegant, thoughtful and full of rich period detail.

84 Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff
A friend mentioned the lovely film adaptation of this book and I pulled out my old copy, above (bought at Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, years ago). Hanff struck up a friendship with the booksellers at Marks & Co. in London, and their letters make for warm, amusing reading. So much fun.

You Go First, Erin Entrada Kelly
Charlotte’s dad just had a heart attack. Ben’s parents are getting a divorce. Through their online Scrabble game, they help each other navigate a seriously tough week (plus the usual middle school ugh). This was cute, but I wanted more from the connection between the characters.

A Deadly Inside Scoop, Abby Collette
Bronwyn Crewse is thrilled to be reopening her family’s ice cream shop. But when a dead body turns up and her dad is a prime suspect, she turns her attention to amateur sleuthing. This premise was cute, but Win’s best friend Maisie, who helps her solve the case, was seriously obnoxious. So-so, in the end.

Murder-on-Sea, Julie Wassmer
It’s nearly Christmas in Whitstable, and Pearl Nolan is juggling work and holiday plans when several of her neighbors receive nasty Christmas cards and ask her to investigate. The plot of this one was so-so, but I like Pearl and her cast of supporting characters.

Perestroika in Paris, Jane Smiley
I adored this charming tale about a curious filly–Paras, short for Perstroika–who noses out of her stall one night and finds her way to Paris. She joins up with Frida, a savvy dog; Raoul, a voluble raven; a pair of ducks and a lonely young boy, Etienne. A delight from start to finish.

Most links are to Trident and Brookline Booksmith, my perennial local faves. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

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Casual weeknights around the table: spaghetti, chicken, pizza or takeout Chinese. The kids (and Chloe the cat) drift in and out. We watch videos, laugh, and I’m part of a family. 

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For a spill of yellow calla lilies and long-stemmed roses tipped with crimson, both from my beloved Cambridge florist.

For morning runs along the harborwalk and up the greenway, sea and sky and breath and music in my earbuds, a ritual that makes me stronger and happier and more at peace.

For three bags of cranberries and plump sweet potatoes, homemade mac & cheese and beef en croute from Trader Joe’s, with cider from Downeast for our tiny, two-person feast.

For daily chats with my girl Allison in California, whose good humor and grace and honesty about the vagaries of pandemic life have kept me sane for so many months now.

For Friends Thanksgiving gifs shared with my sister, weekly phone chats with my parents, Thanksgiving cards from my aunts. I am far from most of my family, but we love one another fiercely, even in these strange times.

For the memories of past Thanksgivings, in Texas and Oxford and Missouri and a few miles away in Brookline. There is pain in some of those memories, but also community, and joy.

For a light-filled, wood-floored apartment near the harbor, which has been a true refuge and home during a turbulent year and a half.

For a man who loves me deeply and shares my joy in the fact that we get to twine our lives together.

For the freelance writing projects that have helped give me purpose and income and a chance to use my skills in these furloughed months.

For strong black tea brewed in my favorite mugs, stacks of library books and e-galleys, candles on the mantel and cozy plaid slippers and all the comforts of home.

For the nurses, doctors, grocery store workers, delivery folks, farmers and other essential workers who are keeping us all going.

It has been a hard and sobering year, but there is still and always so much to give thanks for. If you are celebrating today, I wish you a Thanksgiving full of love and gratitude.

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My antiracist reading list this summer includes some of the usual suspects (White Fragility and How to Be an Antiracist, among others). But just as crucially, I’ve been spending time with Mildred D. Taylor’s Logan family.

Outspoken, whip-smart Cassie Logan entered my life in the fourth grade, when I first discovered her story in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Unusually for Depression-era Mississippi, Cassie’s tightly knit Black family owned their land, and the book tells of a year when they fought to keep it. I adore Cassie and her brothers, their no-nonsense grandma and their wise, thoughtful parents. I remember extensive classroom discussions about racism, and it was also important for me to encounter a Black protagonist who was not a slave.

Back then, I also read and loved Taylor’s powerful sequel, Let the Circle Be Unbroken. I’ve reread both books this summer, and they are as rich and compelling now as they were 25 years ago. But there’s more to their story, and I’ve been relishing and learning from the new-to-me chapters of the Logan family saga.

Taylor’s 2001 prequel, The Land, chronicles the childhood of Cassie’s biracial grandfather, Paul-Edward Logan, and his quest to acquire his own land. Born to a plantation owner and a slave woman, Paul-Edward has to reckon with his heritage and make his own way, and he does both with strength and spirit. I also picked up The Road to Memphis, which follows the teenage Cassie, her brother Stacey and several friends as they spirit a friend out of town after a racially charged altercation with three white men. (Bonus: the reissued paperbacks feature covers by 2020 Caldecott Medalist Kadir Nelson, who recently illustrated a New Yorker cover featuring George Floyd.)

Taylor’s concluding Logan novel, All the Days Past, All the Days to Come, picks up Cassie’s story in adulthood. She travels the country as part of the postwar Great Migration, finds both love and grief in California, and goes back home to Mississippi to participate in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Taylor returns to her perennial themes of justice, equality, fierce pride and the Logans’ deep love for their land and one another. Their strength and dignity in the face of discrimination are a potent reminder that Black people have suffered long enough: it’s time for white Americans to do better.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran last week. I love the Logans and I highly recommend these books for older kids and adults alike. 

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tif-marcelo-book-dinner

We’re halfway through May (how??), and while I am not nearly halfway through my long-unread stacks, I’ve been working through some of them. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Once Upon a Sunset, Tif Marcelo
I really enjoyed Marcelo’s previous novel, The Key to Happily Ever After, and I liked this one, too. D.C.-based ob/gyn Diana Gallagher-Cary heads to the Philippines after a work crisis to investigate her family history. Her free-spirited photographer mother and various relatives and friends help Diana navigate a series of epiphanies. Lush descriptions of the Philippines, and several engaging subplots.

House Lessons: Renovating a Life, Erica Bauermeister
I love Bauermeister’s delicious, warmhearted novels, so was excited for this memoir about renovating a trash-filled house in Port Townsend, WA. She weaves together anecdotes about the physical house – staircases, windows, light fixtures – and learning to navigate her marriage and motherhood, and see herself, in new ways. Lovely and insightful.

Two in the Far North, Margaret E. Murie
The good folks at West Margin Press sent me this book after I wrote a Shelf Awareness column about women in Alaska, last year. Murie spent many years in Alaska, first as a young person and then with her biologist husband, Olaus. Her memoir describes some of their travels in detail, and oh my, it is lovely. Clear-eyed descriptions of birds, wildlife and flowers, and so much joy and wonder in the natural world. I’m so glad I kept it all this time, and finally read it.

Last Bus to Wisdom, Ivan Doig
This novel has sat on my shelf since last summer (!) – and I finally picked it up after loving The Whistling Season. Donal Cameron, age 11, is packed off to his great-aunt in Wisconsin when his grandmother has to have surgery. After enduring several maddening weeks, Donal and his great-uncle, Herman the German, head back to Montana on the Greyhound bus and have all sorts of adventures. A rollicking tale of adventure, and so much fun.

The Key Lime Crime, Lucy Burdette
It’s nearly New Year’s in Key West, and food critic Hayley Snow is juggling her new husband, her enigmatic mother-in-law, her octogenarian roommate and a local key lime pie competition. Things get stickier when one of the chef-contestants ends up murdered. I like this cozy mystery series following Hayley’s foodie adventures. To possibly review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 11).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstores, Brookline Booksmith and Trident.

What are you reading?

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Several years ago, when my sister had her first baby, I knitted a surprise for his first Christmas: three ornaments in the shape of Weasley sweaters, each with a monogrammed initial, of course. Even my brother-in-law, who isn’t a Harry Potter fan, was delighted, and they’ve hung on the tree every year since.

Harrison, my second nephew, was born two and a half years later, and every December since then I’ve gotten a text from my sister, reminding me: we need another Weasley sweater. (She’s not a knitter, but she is excellent at reminding people about stuff.)

I finally got my act together this year and made Harrison his own Weasley sweater, to match the other three. I’d forgotten how easy and fun they are to knit. And how cute the final result is.

I’m thinking I need to knit myself one to hang on my own tree – maybe next year. (Also in Gryffindor colors, of course.)

In case you’re wondering, the pattern is from Alison Hansel’s Charmed Knits, though I used another knitter’s mods to make them top-down instead of knitting them in pieces and seaming them. Much easier, and so cute.

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celebrating Pop

live love Texas sign

My grandfather turned 85 last month. If you asked him about it, he’d likely shrug it off as no big deal – but the rest of us disagree. So we’d been secretly planning a surprise party, spearheaded by my Aunt Cat, for months. (The hardest part was letting my grandmother, whom we all call Neno, in on the secret. She said it was stressful to keep it quiet!)

I flew down to San Antonio (my grandparents live about an hour away), and various family members came in from across Texas and Arizona. I hadn’t seen many of these folks in years, nor been to my grandparents’ spacious house, with its saltillo-tiled floors and stuccoed walls hung with Pop’s original paintings. (He worked in tool design for many years, and is a talented artist and woodworker.) They built this house themselves when they retired to Texas, twenty years ago, and stepping inside felt like coming home.

My parents and I surprised Pop at lunchtime on Friday (thereby pre-empting the surprise party, but Aunt Cat swore it was okay). I was grateful for that extra time around their kitchen table, just the five of us. Neno pulled out a box of beautiful handmade baby clothes (some hers, some Pop’s, some that her kids – my mom and her siblings – had worn). We exclaimed over the embroidery and tiny, meticulous stitches.

neno baby clothes

Later, we ate burgers and watched the birds out the back windows, trading stories and laughing. My sister and her family arrived that night, and it was a gift to hug her and play Uno with my nephews, and trade running tips with my brother-in-law (he’s training for a half marathon).

ryder harrison uno

The party on Saturday was total happy chaos – all of us weaving around one another in the kitchen, making corn casserole and pouring drinks and finding space for the pork ribs, chopped brisket and three huge cheese/fruit/veggie platters. There were two layer cakes, and tiny cups of Blue Bell ice cream, and lots of hugging, and even a surprise guest…

Pop is a huge John Wayne fan (so is Neno), and my aunt and uncle had schemed to have him show up for the party. None of the rest of us knew that was coming, and we were all highly entertained.

I may live in New England now, but I am a Texas girl to my core, and I needed that brief, nourishing time with four generations of my family. I was so happy to chat with my aunts and catch up with my cousins and especially to hug my sweet Neno.

Until next time, Texas. It was good to be back.

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what I know about Kelly

 

flowers lilies windowsill church tulips brookline easter

My friend Kelly passed away last week.

I hadn’t seen her for some months, since her health began to fail (she had battled cancer for two decades, but the last stretch has been particularly rough). She and her family are a part of the church here in Boston where, for eight years, I spent nearly every Sunday. I always loved catching up with them at common meal, or in the back of the sanctuary after service. Since my time at that church ended, abruptly and painfully, last fall, I had mostly heard updates about her health through the grapevine.

By some measures, I didn’t know Kelly very well. I know she came to Boston from Oklahoma, many years ago, and chose to make a life here with her husband, Joe. I know she fought hard to beat back the cancer long enough to watch her two daughters grow up. I know she makes a delicious cranberry relish, which she would sometimes bring to Turkeypalooza, and sometimes Amy would bring it, made from Kelly’s recipe. I know she listened well, and was honest about her pain while never letting it dominate a conversation. A few years ago, she and Joe hosted the church Christmas party, and we ate and laughed, and sang carols in their living room. I know she enjoyed having everyone there.

Most of all, this is what I know about Kelly: she is a person who loved, and was loved.

I ran into Kelly on the library steps a few months back, when she was on her way to meet friends for afternoon tea and I was heading to the farmers’ market. We hugged, caught up a bit, and there was sorrow and kindness in her gentle eyes. We miss you, she said. I know, I said. I miss you too. We chatted about her girls, and my then-new job at Berklee, and we parted with another hug. I can’t remember if we said I love you, but I know we both felt it that day.

Last year, on Easter Sunday, J and I stood in front of the congregation and sang an old hymn I have known all my life: There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins. J played the guitar and we took turns singing, and I looked at Kelly sitting in one of the front pews, quietly singing along with us. It was her lips moving to those familiar words, and the joy on her face, that prompted me to invite everyone to join us on the last verse: Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die. 

Kelly lived by redeeming love, walking a hard road with faith and compassion for many years. She embodied the names she gave to her daughters: grace and hope. And she is – I hope with all my heart – at peace and at rest from her pain.

Rest well, good and faithful friend. I believe you are healed. We will miss you here, but I look forward to hugging you and singing with you again one day.

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book puzzle flowers table ranunculus

Somehow, it’s nearly May. I am deep in the pre-Commencement swirl at work, but am snatching reading time where I can. Here’s the latest roundup:

Ask Again, Yes, Mary Beth Keane
Brian Stanhope and Francis Gleeson meet on the job as rookie cops at the NYPD in the 1970s. They end up being next-door neighbors in the suburbs, and a shattering incident one night changes both their families forever. A thoughtful, heartbreaking novel about family and forgiveness. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 28).

The Favorite Daughter, Patti Callahan Henry
Ten years ago, Lena Donohue found her fiancé kissing her sister on the morning of her wedding. She fled her small South Carolina town and has never looked back. But when her dad’s memory starts to go, her brother calls her to come home. Lena–now Colleen–and her siblings must confront the past and try to mend their strained relationships. A warmhearted, poignant family saga. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 4).

Field Notes on Love, Jennifer E. Smith
Hugo is all set to travel the U.S. by train with his girlfriend Margaret before they start university, until she breaks up with him. The tickets are in her name, so he finds another Margaret (Mae, a filmmaker from the Hudson Valley) to go with him. They spend a week together, contemplating their futures (and, of course, each other). I enjoy Smith’s sweet, funny, highly improbable YA love stories. I especially loved the group texts with Hugo’s five siblings (he’s a sextuplet) and Mae’s wise Nana.

Swimming for Sunlight, Allie Larkin
Reeling from her divorce, Katie Ellis takes her rescue dog, Bark, and moves back in with her grandmother in Florida. Nan’s friends welcome her back, and soon Katie is designing costumes for an underwater mermaid show. A sweet, engaging novel about anxiety and family, love and moving on.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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