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Posts Tagged ‘family’

three lives bookstore interior nook nyc

We are (somehow) halfway through the year already, and I’m doing what I always do: taking stock of the books I’ve read so far, and sharing a handful of my favorites with you.

I’ve read about 75 books thus far in 2017, and here are a few I have particularly loved. (I found a couple of them at the wonderful Three Lives & Co., pictured above.)

Wittiest Love Story: The Romantics by Leah Konen. I read this YA love story – ably narrated by Love herself – on our Florida beach vacation in March, and loved every page. The footnotes are hilarious.

Most Beautiful Memoir: A Country Between by Stephanie Saldaña. An American journalist married to a Frenchman (and former monk) moves with him to Jerusalem, and this luminous, wise, honest book is the story of their navigating so many cultural in-betweens.

Best Novel about Family and Food: The Last Days of Café Leila by Donia Bijan. Mouthwatering descriptions, a really wonderful family saga, and a few lines near the end that kept me going all spring.

Series That Keeps on Getting Better: The Chronicles of St. Mary’s by Jodi Taylor. This series about time-traveling historians with a penchant for disaster – including, but not limited to, copious explosions – is so much fun. Lots of dry British wit and so much tea, but my favorite thing is how fiercely this (truly) motley crew fights for one another, in every era.

Best Story About Friendship: Summerlost by Ally Condie. The story of Leo and Cedar, who become friends while working a summer theatre festival, captured my heart and still won’t let it go.

Poetry That Sings: anything by the wonderful Brian Doyle (whom we lost last month, sadly). I’ve read three collections of his wise, funny, thoughtful, keenly observed “proems” this year: How the Light Gets In, A Shimmer of Something and The Kind of Brave You Wanted to Be. Each of them cracked my heart open in the best way.

Best Book on Writing: Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg. I savored this one over many commutes, and it was a treat: incisive, plainspoken, inspiring.

Best Lit Crit I’ve Read in Years: Not Just Jane by Shelley DeWees. A whip-smart tour of seven little-known badass feminist British writers = catnip for my brainy English-major side.

The Wise, Luminous, Lovely Book I Didn’t Know I Needed: Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear. I keep coming back to this slim book, with so many lines about loss, building a creative life, loving your people well and paying attention.

What are the best books you’ve read so far this year? I’d love to hear about them.

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katie jer xmas 2016

  • bounced around Harvard (or a certain section of it) like a pinball, temping in two different offices and coming back to the first one for a more permanent gig, which I am loving.
  • taken countless walks to Darwin’s for cups of chai, delicious sandwiches, various other treats, and good talk with the folks behind the counter.
  • Related to both of the above: found several places where I know in my bones that I belong.
  • flown to Texas to surprise my dad for his 60th birthday.
  • moved to a new apartment in the same town I’ve lived in for six years, and navigated many shifts in my daily routine.
  • read nearly 200 books. I reviewed 51 of them for Shelf Awareness and six for Great New Books.
  • visited Martha’s Vineyard for the first time.
  • spent three blissful weekends in New York City: one in March, one in August and one in October.
  • become an obsessive (is there any other kind?) Hamilfan.
  • survived a wild Commencement season right in the thick of things at the Harvard Gazette.
  • been humbled over and over again by friends and colleagues who have helped me through transition: with advice, packing boxes, kind words, cups of tea and so much more.
  • returned to PEI for a wonderful and much-needed vacation.
  • hosted my parents for their annual visit to Boston.
  • returned to Abilene for my 10-year college reunion and a packed, nourishing weekend of time with my people there.
  • walked across Harvard Yard to many Morning Prayers services and had my spirit refreshed.
  • filled up half a dozen journals.
  • turned thirty-three and grown even more comfortable in my own skin.
  • spent my seventh (!) fall in New England, and snapped so many photos of leaves, as I do every year.
  • survived (as have we all) the most contentious election season in recent memory.

I’m frankly not sure what to say or think as we head into 2017. A friend sent me this Grace Paley quote recently, and it seems more apt than anything I could come up with: “Let us go forth with fear and courage and rage to save the world.”

Wishing you courage and peace in this new year, friends.

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turkeypalooza table

For three long tables set end to end in a tiled church basement, covered with red-and-white cloths and decorated with gourds and tiny pumpkins and sparkly wooden leaves.

For a dozen strands of Christmas lights twinkling overhead, and mellow acoustic music via Spotify providing the soundtrack.

For breakfast at Abigail and Nate’s on Thanksgiving morning: Friends episodes and French toast, link sausage and apple slices and Evie toddling around trying out her two newest words – “Kay-kee” and “Miah.”

katie abi nate jer

For a husband who peeled and chopped sweet potatoes to save me some time (and labor) the night before. For the sweet potato casserole-cum-dessert I make every year, topped with brown sugar and pecans.

For a mix of beloveds and new faces around the table: half a dozen nationalities and at least as many languages.

For the pause to say a prayer and sing “Give Thanks” a cappella before the meal, and Evie clinging to my hip as the mad scramble for food began.

For two turkeys, 15 pounds (!) of mashed potatoes, a table crowded with casseroles and one crammed with desserts. For apple-pomegranate salad and cranberry relish, pumpkin bars with cream cheese frosting and three kinds of pie.

dessert table

For mulled wine and ice water, sipped from goblets gathered from three different kitchens. For stacks of paper napkins and so many dishes, and lots of willing hands to wash and dry them afterward.

For my favorite twins, so grown up now (they’re 10), trying to spell “facetious” and bombarding me with questions about Harry Potter.

For little Adam, who turned four on Thursday, and the chocolate cake and joyful cacophony of “Happy Birthday” when it was time for dessert.

For dominoes and chitchat and so much laughter. For inside jokes and old stories, budding friendships and brand-new memories.

simpsons smiles thanksgiving

When you do something once, it’s a novelty. When you do it two, three, four times, it becomes a habit, a ritual. When you’ve done it seven times, it’s a tradition.

This year’s Turkeypalooza – our name for the joyous, chaotic, come-as-you-are feast at our church – is in the books, and it was a good one. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be on Thanksgiving Day than with these friends who have become family.

How was yours, if you celebrated?

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Remembering George

 

water clouds light

“Why is it so hard to acknowledge that we all walk through life with grief for which there is, today, no compensation?”

I read these words on Christie’s blog last week, at the end of a summer that has held chaos and change and all sorts of upheaval. Transitions are difficult, no matter the kind, and they bring with them their own, often bittersweet grief. But Christie’s words also came as I, and many people I love, are mourning the death of our friend George.

I always find it hard to write about these losses, not only because of the sadness, but because it feels impossible to convey the life, the spirit, of a person through a handful of sentences.

I could tell you that George was the music minister at my family’s church in West Texas for 23 years. I could tell you that he was a talented, accomplished musician, always willing to highlight and encourage others’ gifts while modest and humble (to a fault) about his own. I could tell you that he had four children, a wife he adored, five grandsons and dozens – no, hundreds – of friends. But all that would go a short way toward honoring the memory of the man himself.

George came back to Midland to work at our church (where he had grown up) when I was in the fourth grade. His son Wade is the same age as my sister, and they became firm friends. George directed the Sunday morning choir, in which my mother sang; the youth choir, in which my sister and I both participated; and the sweeping, elaborate Easter pageants that were a formative part of my teenage years (and which came to involve my entire family).

For years, George led worship at youth retreats and Vacation Bible School, at candlelight services on Christmas Eve and at four services every Sunday: three in the morning, one at night. He managed pianists and organists, praise bands and orchestras, pastors and PowerPoints, thousands of details no one ever knew about. His fingerprints are all over that building and that community: quiet but indelible, the definition of the word faithful. But my favorite thing about George was this: he always had time for everyone.

“A friend told me he had the greatest capacity for love [they had] ever seen,” George’s wife, DiAnn, wrote on Facebook recently. “He belonged to everyone.” And it’s true: George had as many things to do as most of us (maybe more), but I never saw him turn away anyone who had a question or needed a smile. During all those rehearsals for summer musicals and mission trips and Easter pageants, I never saw him lose his temper. If I close my eyes, I can hear his clear tenor voice and see his practiced gestures, guiding us through ancient hymns, nineties praise songs and soaring choral anthems with his signature humor and grace. He loved his work and he loved his community, and I am – we are – so grateful that he was ours.

“Time is cruel because it carries us so far from the people and places and things we have loved and lost,” Christie wrote in that blog post. In a certain sense, George is far away from us now: death has a way of creating distance. It feels final and inevitable, and I know it will come home to me again, some Sunday when I’m standing in those familiar pews and he isn’t there. We grieve, and we are right to do so: it means we have loved.

Grief is complicated, and so is faith: I don’t pretend to have any answers about what happens after we die. But I believe, and hope, in a time when everything will be made new: when, as Christie wrote, “all the fragments of our lives, all the broken bits and pieces, will be gathered up.” I know George believed that too, and I hope to see him again one day.

Rest well, good and faithful friend. I am grateful for all the songs you taught me, and I will keep singing them until we meet again.

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papaw-grandkids

Last week, my dad sent a group text to my mom, my sister and me, reminding us that it was my grandfather’s birthday. “He loved the three of you very much,” Dad wrote. “I do too.”

I read it and thought about Papaw, a quiet man with kind eyes (pictured above with some of his grandkids in the late ’80s). It seems unbelievable, but he has been gone 16 years now. He died of cancer in the summertime, when I was a high school student, and we drove up to the family farm in southwest Missouri as we did every summer – but this time it was for the funeral.

We gathered with family on a June day at the old farmhouse outside of town where my grandparents raised their three boys. My dad spoke at the funeral and made everyone laugh, telling stories about his childhood and honoring the man who taught his boys to work hard, respect their elders and love one another.

Afterward, we all went back to the farmhouse and I helped my Aunt Carmen, my grandmother’s best friend, clean out the crowded kitchen fridge so we could find room for a dozen deli trays. (I remember us laughing helplessly at outdated jars of mayonnaise and so much sliced cheese, grateful for a moment of lightness amid our grief.)

Even without that text, I would have remembered Papaw this month: he was born on June 2 and later died on June 19, and so this month always reminds me of him.

There are dates that loom large in every life: birthdays, anniversaries, deaths. The births or the funerals of those we love; the days we receive the news that will change our lives, for a moment or forever. As I recently passed the one-year anniversary of my layoff, I’ve been thinking about the smaller anniversaries that also mark us.

I got laid off on the day before my husband’s birthday, which also happens to be the same day he proposed, nine years ago now (we’ve been married for nearly eight). There are other dates I don’t have to mark on a calendar to remember: the August night I got the phone call about my friend Cheryl’s death; the long-ago spring evening I got baptized in the little Baptist church in Coppell. And the night we arrived in Boston, grubby and tired from four days of driving cross-country but still eager to begin a new adventure.

I’ve written before about how my body also seems to remember certain places at certain times of year: the mountains of New Mexico in mid-May, windswept Whitby in February, Oxford at many times and seasons. Time and calendars may be relatively recent human inventions, but I believe our bodies and souls hold these memories, nudge us to remember these anniversaries. It is part of being human, this bittersweet ribbon of memory, the way we are marked by both grief and joy.

I miss Papaw even though he’s been gone a long time: I wish he could have met my husband and my sister’s husband, attended our weddings and our graduations, gotten down on the floor to play with his great-grandsons. He would have loved it, all of it. But I am grateful for him and his memory, and for the quiet reminder in my soul (and, okay, from my dad) every June: a nudge to remember.

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bunch of grapes bookstore marthas vineyard ma

We began May with a string of grey, rainy days – which are good reading weather, if nothing else. (We did get some sunshine while visiting the enchanting Bunch of Grapes Bookstore on our Martha’s Vineyard trip.)

Here, the books I have loved lately:

Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld
This much-heralded 21st-century retelling of Pride and Prejudice is a wild ride. Sittenfeld elegantly skewers both the Bennets and 21st-century social mores in biting prose (and on reality TV). Most of the relationships herein are more than a little depressing, but it’s still fun to read. I thought the elder Bennets were particularly well done. Reminiscent of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which I adored.

Wednesdays in the Tower, Jessica Day George
This sequel to Tuesdays at the Castle finds Princess Celie and her siblings dealing with (more) new rooms, a gallery full of mysterious armor, a highly suspect wizard, and a newly hatched griffin. Really fun – though the ending felt quite abrupt. Made me curious to read book 3!

Trouble is a Friend of Mine, Stephanie Tromly
After her parents’ divorce, Zoe Webster is not excited about moving to tiny River Heights, N.Y., with her mom. But then Digby – rude, sarcastic, brilliant and obsessed with crime-solving – shows up on her doorstep. Think Veronica Mars with a male sleuth and a smart female narrator. Snarky and fun, though a few plot threads were left dangling.

Lost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year, Neil Hayward
After quitting his executive job, Neil Hayward found himself drifting. A longtime avid birder, he began spending copious amounts of time on birding trips, and found himself pursuing a Big Year (a birder’s quest to see as many species as possible in a year). This memoir traces his journey (geographical and personal). Slow at times, but full of lovely descriptions of birds, and insights into Hayward’s struggle with depression. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 7).

Orchard House: How a Neglected Garden Taught One Family to Grow, Tara Austen Weaver
I adore Tara’s blog and liked her first book, The Butcher and the Vegetarian. But this memoir is in a whole other league. She writes in gorgeous, sensitive prose about the ramshackle Seattle house and overgrown garden that her mother bought, and how their family brought it back to life together. So many insights on family, growth and community, through the lens of gardening. Beautiful.

Hour of the Bees, Lindsey Eagar
Carol, age 12, isn’t thrilled about spending her summer at her grandpa’s ranch in the middle of the New Mexico desert. But as she listens to Grandpa Serge’s stories, she comes to appreciate the ranch’s wild beauty, and gains some surprising insights into her family and herself. A lovely, bittersweet middle-grade novel about family, imagination and the titular bees.

My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life, Ruth Reichl
When Gourmet magazine folded unexpectedly, Reichl, its longtime editor, wasn’t quite sure what to do with herself. This memoir-cum-cookbook chronicles the year after Gourmet‘s demise, when Reichl spent hours upon hours in the kitchen, cooking her favorites and trying new things. Beautifully written (with her lyrical, haiku-like tweets sprinkled throughout) and so many tempting recipes. (I’ve already made two and have plans to try more.) Delectable.

A Certain Age, Beatriz Williams
New York, 1922: Mrs. Theresa Marshall’s dissolute brother, Ox, is finally getting married and he wants to employ an old family tradition: having a cavalier, a proxy, present the ring. Theresa enlists her lover, Octavian, as cavalier to the beautiful Sophie, which naturally leads to all sorts of tangled passions. Deliciously scandalous and elegantly written, like all Williams’ novels. (With cameos by members of the sprawling, blue-blooded Schuyler clan.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 28).

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

What are you reading?

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stir book stack jessica fechtor

After suffering a brain aneurysm at age 28, Jessica Fechtor found herself mostly physically healed, yet utterly disoriented. Multiple surgeries had left her brain clear of “problem areas,” but also caused the loss of her sense of smell and the sight in her left eye. And while she was “aggressively grateful” to have survived the medical ordeal, Fechtor still yearned to resume the life she loved: her graduate studies at Harvard, her still-new marriage, and the hours she spent in her Cambridge kitchen, cooking and baking for her husband and her friends.

“Getting well means finding your everyday,” Fechtor explains in her gorgeously written memoir, Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home. “I found mine in the kitchen.”

First came clear chicken soup and fresh raspberries, the latter eaten with her fingers in a Vermont hospital bed. Later, she propped herself up in a kitchen chair, watching as her loved ones prepared her favorite meals. Gradually, Fechtor ventured back into the kitchen, rediscovering “the protective powers of kneading, salting, sifting, and stirring, because you can’t be dead and do these things.”

It’s my turn again at Great New Books today, and I’m raving about how much I loved Stir. Please join me over there to read the rest of my review.

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