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still book stack table ranunculus flower

So far this month, I’ve been flipping through old favorites and diving deep into new books. Here’s the latest roundup:

I’ll Be There For You: The One About Friends, Kelsey Miller
I’m a longtime Friends fan, though I came to it late. I blew through this smart, well-researched, loving look at the origin, history and cultural impact of one of my favorite shows. Miller adores the show, but she’s not afraid to question its more difficult parts. Fascinating and so much fun.

Four Gifts: Seeking Self-Care for Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength, April Yamasaki
Sarah Bessey chose this book to kick off a yearlong challenge to read spiritual formation books by people of color. My go-tos in this genre are all white women, so I appreciated the nudge. Yamasaki is wise and thoughtful. Lots of her advice is common sense – but we all need a reminder sometimes.

What Now?, Ann Patchett
I love Patchett’s essays and some of her novels (and Parnassus, the Nashville bookstore she founded). This quick read is based on her commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College. Warmhearted, wise advice for college grads and anyone who’s ever wondered about their winding path (which I bet is most of us).

Wishtree, Katherine Applegate
I picked up this slim middle-grade novel at Porter Square Books. It’s narrated by Red, a red oak tree who serves as the neighborhood “wishtree” – people tie wishes to its branches. When a young, lonely girl moves in next door, Red becomes determined to help her find a friend. A sweet story with gorgeous illustrations (and I loved Bongo the crow).

Belong to Me, Marisa de los Santos
After rereading Love Walked In last month, I turned back to this sequel-of-sorts, which finds Cornelia in the suburbs, struggling with new challenges. This book is full of warmth and vivid detail and characters I want to be friends with – even Piper, Cornelia’s neighbor, who is hard to like at first, but I’ve come to adore her. So many good and true lines.

Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith, Sarah Bessey
Reading Four Gifts (see above) spurred me to (finally) pick up Sarah’s second book, on her struggles with church and faith and how she found her way back. I love the sorting metaphor, and it feels particularly apt right now as I am between churches. Her words on community and grief and calling are so good.

The Golden Tresses of the Dead, Alan Bradley
Flavia de Luce is back for a 10th adventure, involving a human finger found in her sister’s wedding cake and a couple of mysterious deaths (naturally). I like this series, though I think it’s struggling a bit lately. Really fun escapist British mystery.

Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace, Christie Purifoy
Christie is a gardener, a writer and an Internet friend of mine. This, her second book, examines the places she’s lived and loved (each chapter has a different tree motif) and her efforts to care for them. So much here about loss, grief, joy, transition, community and how we shape and are shaped by our places. I loved it. To review for Shelf Awareness(out March 12).

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

What are you reading?

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thanksgiving plate

For an invitation over lunch, when I told a friend we weren’t sure of our plans: Come have Thanksgiving with us. 

For a heater that got repaired before the freak Nov. 15 snow and the Thanksgiving cold snap.

For a long run on Wednesday morning with a friend down the trail I love so much, legs pumping and breath puffing, wind and sea and sky.

For the sweet potato recipe I’ve been making for nearly 15 years, in Oxford and Abilene and Boston, which tastes like Thanksgiving to me.

k j trail walk November

For a walk with the hubs on Wednesday afternoon, down the trail (in the other direction) to the local ice cream shop before it closed for the season.

For sunshine on Thanksgiving morning and a warm welcome in East Boston.

For eggs baked in tortilla cups and mimosas at Steve and Chrissy’s, the kids toasting with sparkling apple juice and Christian stalking around in his Grim Reaper costume.

For a moment alone in Lauryn’s kitchen, stirring the gravy and taking a deep breath.

For the hilarity that ensued later when we could barely get the cranberry sauce out of the can. (We had homemade, too, but someone requested the traditional log.)

j carving turkey thanksgiving

For turkey and ham, both carved by my husband; for homemade stuffing and green beans wrapped in bacon; for hot rolls and mashed potatoes and Waldorf salad.

For two long tables in Joe and Lauryn’s living room, football on in the background and the kids running up and down the stairs. For Joe’s invitation to share a bit about the people we love, who bolster us up every day.

For my friend Kelsey’s baby boy, Bennett, born in Texas the night before, healthy and perfect and right on time.

east Boston view sky sunset rooftops

For the breathtaking view over Eastie’s rooftops from Kem and Fabricio’s kitchen window.

For laughter and stories as we all stood around sipping coffee and tea.

For Kem’s delicious dessert spread – seven kinds of pie! – and a bowl of freshly made whipped cream.

For the chance to be welcomed and to welcome others.

pie spread thanksgiving

If you celebrated, I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving.

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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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sunrise window august

This summer feels like it’s both over and not over.

The hot, humid weather has been hanging on, making for some seriously sweaty runs (and commutes). I haven’t turned on my oven in weeks, and we’re still eating lots of gazpacho and taco salad. The sunflowers and berries are still out at the farmers’ market (for now), and the roses, hydrangeas and black-eyed Susans are still in bloom.

black eyed Susans flowers

But the calendar has flipped to September. Labor Day has passed and students of all ages are starting the new semester. I’m slowly adjusting to the rhythms of a new office life, and I’ve even spotted the first few red sumac leaves on the trail.

As we head into a new season, I wanted to share a few snippets of the summer that have gone unblogged.

In mid-June, the hubs and I made our annual pilgrimage to Crane Beach, stopping for lunch at Honeycomb, a delightful cafe a few towns over.

lemon square cafe

We soaked up the sun for a while and when it got cool, we finished with dinner at Salt, which is reliably delicious.

crane beach k j

This summer has included a lot of front porch sitting, often with books (it’s usually cooler outside than inside). We had a picnic dinner out there on the Fourth of July, before heading down the street to watch fireworks from the hill.

virgil wander book porch

Since I was job hunting this summer and my husband’s schedule varies (he’s a therapist), we spent a few mornings co-working together at home.stead, a local cafe we love.

homestead dorchester cafe interior laptop

We also spent a Friday evening there in July at a karaoke singalong. The hubs got up and sang some Maroon 5; I was a contented observer, though I happily sang along with the Broadway numbers and the nineties boy bands.

Summer always brings a few out-of-town visitors, and this one was no exception. Some friends of ours (who used to live here and have moved back to Northern California) flew in for a night in early July. We all went to dinner at the newly reopened Bowery in our neighborhood. Their little one, Miss Elle, was a hit with the staff (and with us).

greens elle dinner

Later in July, my dear one Laura and her family came up from West Texas. I gave them my Harvard tour, took them to Darwin’s (of course), and we wandered the city and ate dinner in the North End.

Katie laura darwin's Cambridge

They came back through the following weekend and we all went to a Red Sox game. We put Laura’s and my husbands together so they could geek out all night, and of course we all sang Sweet Caroline at the end.

Our tiny church has hired its first full-time minister in many years. We helped Candace move in mid-July, and had her official installation ceremony at the end of that month.

Candace pulpit Brookline church

There has also been plenty of lovely ordinary: so many runs on the trail, several boot camps in Erin’s backyard and a fair amount of yoga, doing laundry and standing at the kitchen sink scrubbing dishes and humming old hymns. (Those last two – well, really all of these – are the most grounding practices I know, these days.)

No summer is complete without ice cream, and we’ve given the Ice Creamsmith our fair share of business this summer. I particularly loved their rotating special flavors: lemon custard in July, peach in August. With sprinkles, of course.

ice cream sprinkles

What have you left unblogged this summer?

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wingaersheek beach path reeds blue sky

In the continued spirit of summer Fridays, we loaded up the car last Friday and headed north.

We’d planned to meet some friends at Wingaersheek Beach, near Gloucester, and in spite of scattered thunderstorms, it was a wonderful afternoon.

jer katie wingaersheek beach

We began with lunch at J.T. Farnhams in Essex: fresh (mostly fried) seafood and delicious, creamy clam chowdah. Then we squeezed into one car (the beaches around here charge for parking per vehicle) and drove over to Wingaersheek, where we set up our gear on the sand, with this view.

view wingaersheek beach lighthouse

Twenty minutes later, nearby lightning strikes meant we had to pack up and leave, at least temporarily. But we decided to salvage the afternoon with ice cream at Holy Cow in Gloucester. I had the homemade Mayan Chocolate, which was zingy and delicious.

holy cow ice cream sign

By the time we finished eating, the skies had cleared, so we headed back to the beach and spent the rest of the afternoon wandering between the sand and the waves.

katie emily beach sky

We stood knee-deep in the water and talked, and chased the seagulls away from our bags, and soaked up the sun and sand, the salt water and blue sky, and the being together. Pretty perfect.

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Ever since the first time I visited Spain, I’ve wanted to go back.

That initial trip came in the middle of a spring semester in Oxford, when my classmates and I took budget flights to the Continent and spent long weekends trekking new cities. We slept in hostel bunk beds, got lost on winding streets with signage in unfamiliar languages, soaked up museums and cathedrals and new foods, and generally had the time of our lives.

spain group 2004

I spent my Spring Break that year with four friends on a ten-day jagged loop of travel that began and ended in Barcelona. We hopped down to Granada and then the south coast for a couple of nights before a train journey to Madrid, which ended prematurely when terrorists bombed several trains in the city that morning. We were still several hours away, but we were substantially delayed, and the city was in shock by the time we arrived.

To many of our loved ones, that last incident came to define the whole trip. We couldn’t get word to our parents and professors for hours, and they were, understandably, terrified. But I have fought ever since to hold on to what came before: a whole week of exploring and soaking up a vivacious, beautiful country, eating tapas and drinking sangria and wandering to our hearts’ content.

I flew back to Spain for a long weekend in the winter of 2008, wandering Valencia with my friend Cole and a group of American students, drinking café con leche and eating fresh oranges and, one night, crowding into the back of a smoky bar to watch live flamenco. The following year, my husband and I took an autumn trip to the Basque country of northern Spain, where we wandered narrow streets in Pamplona and ate our weight in pintxos in San Sebastian, and tried to decipher signs written in Euskara.

Earlier this month – nearly 10 years later – we flew to Andalucía for a glorious 10-day jaunt: to Sevilla, new territory for both of us, and Granada, which I already adored. There are many stories to tell about our trip, and I’ll be sharing some of them with you this summer.

But it starts here: with Kyle saying, “Why don’t we go to Spain?” one night in Oxford, nearly a decade and a half ago. With Marcela, who’s from Honduras, acting as our chief interpreter, and Elizabeth navigating half a dozen unfamiliar cities by paper map. It starts with Jenny’s sweet smile and Kyle’s dad sense of humor, with the wide, colorful chaos of Las Ramblas in Barcelona and the crisp mountain air of Granada. It starts with a hike in the hills near Órgiva, with oranges plucked from tree branches hanging over a fence, with bulky backpacks and plastic grocery sacks of fresh fruit. It starts with crusty baguettes and jamón serrano and slices of queso manchego eaten in public parks at lunchtime. It starts with card games in hostels, with hanging clean laundry to dry on pensión terraces, with glasses of sangria and inside jokes and the wonders of La Alhambra.

Since that first journey, Spain has lived in my bones, and I was absolutely thrilled to go back – again. And while we made lots of wonderful new memories, this trip was part of that larger story. It was my fourth viaje a España, but I very much hope it won’t be my last.

More Spain photos and stories to come.

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sass harrison christmas fire truck

We are easing back into routine over here: wrapping up against frigid temps; shoveling snow; making lots of soup (and huevos); drinking tea and answering email. It felt so good to hit pause on the responsibilities of work and church for a while, but now we’re back to it, albeit not quite at full throttle yet.

I am – I think – recovered from our annual 10-day holiday odyssey across Texas, and I’ve been thinking about the gifts it brought: not only the wrapped presents under various trees and the time with our families and friends, but a few surprises that sneaked in under the radar, and reminded me that this is a season of joy, love and – yes – magic.

In no particular order, here are the unexpected gifts I savored this Christmas season:

  • A dozen homemade gingersnaps, hand-delivered by J’s sweet Aunt Joy when we met her for lunch.
  • Singing O Holy Night at Christmas Eve service. It’s ambitious for congregational singing, but the new music minister at my parents’ church urged us to attempt it, “with gusto!” So we did.
  • Three blue-sky morning runs through my parents’ neighborhood, past houses decked with Christmas decor, with the Jennys in my ears.
  • Running into a longtime friend at a new-to-us pizza place in Abilene, and discovering later that she’d paid for our lunch.
  • My nephews, snuggled up on either side of me and listening with (mostly) rapt attention as I read the Christmas story aloud.
  • Laughing with my brother-in-law on Christmas Day about homemade sourdough pretzels and the dough that wouldn’t rise. (They were still delicious!)
  • Cuddling with my sister on the couch that night as everyone traded stories and sipped wine.
  • Playing baseball in the driveway with my dad, my husband and my older nephew, Ryder.
  • A couple of sunsets so stunning that we all piled out of my sister’s living room and onto her front porch to gaze at them.

texas sunset sky december pump jack

  • Waking up with Do You Hear What I Hear? in my head the week before Christmas. We sang it every year when I was in youth choir, and it made me think of George.
  • The moment when my niece’s hair ties ended up in one of my (bald!) dad’s Christmas presents – my husband exclaimed, “That’s where those went!” and everyone burst out laughing.
  • Half an hour to myself in front of the Christmas tree one night, journaling and reading The Dark is Rising.
  • Coconut eggnog pie, with Blue Bell vanilla ice cream, as the denouement to a dinner with dear friends.
  • Picking up a novel I loved at the DFW airport bookstore.
  • Cracking up with J’s high school choir friends as we sang Christmas carols: “Johnny wants a pair of skates, Susie wants a shed…”
  • A wee girl named Genevieve Noelle, born to some of my best friends on Dec. 26. (We knew she was coming, of course, but we didn’t quite know when.)
  • The sentiment handwritten in my Aunt Cathy’s Christmas card: “And seriously, peace on earth.” (Hear, hear.)
  • Running straight into a few friends from high school at Christmas Eve service. I’ve been gone from my hometown a while, but it’s still and always where I’m from.
  • Singing hymns in the hallways of a hospice unit one night, with old friends.
  • A hilarious game of Scrabble with my in-laws.
  • The glass heirloom fruit bowls my Neno gave me.

There were plenty of gifts I was expecting this year: so much food and laughter at my parents’ house, time with beloved friends in Abilene, chips and salsa whenever we could squeeze them in. Those gifts were sweet and nourishing, and they filled me up. But these surprises have a magic all their own.

I hope your holidays included a few unexpected gifts, too.

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