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Posts Tagged ‘fun’

Last fall, on a whim and a discount code, I decided to try Birchbox, one of those seemingly ubiquitous beauty-subscription boxes. (This post is not sponsored or perked – I don’t even subscribe anymore. I’m simply musing about my experience.)

At the time, I was still in the throes of my divorce and my move to East Boston, and in stereotypically American-female fashion, I thought a little pampering might help. (Though I wasn’t sure it would, honestly. I’m hardly a beauty-product junkie; I dye my own hair from a box every few weeks, and I haven’t had a manicure since 2011. But I love a good lip gloss and I adore getting fun mail.)

I went online, filled out the quiz with details about my hair type, skin type, preferences, etc., and waited for my first box to arrive. When it did, I was charmed by the colorful packaging, breezy info card detailing how to use each product, and the fun array of samples: lip gloss, highlighter (what is that?), moisturizer, mascara. I was surprised, in fact, by how delighted I was.

As a lifelong bookworm, an English major and a feminist who grew up in Texas, I embody a few contradictions: I want people to love me for my brain and heart before my body, and I’d rather browse a bookstore than Sephora any day. But I was raised by a mother who never leaves the house without makeup, and I believe in the importance of both self-care and looking put together. Even during quarantine, I’ve been blow-drying my hair and putting on makeup most days: both routines help signal that I’m ready for whatever the day brings.

As I played around with Birchbox samples of eye cream, lipstick, primer (which I had never used before) and a gold-foil face mask that made me look like Iron Man, I realized something else: I had internalized some serious snobbery about women who self-soothe with beauty products. I still reach for a book and a cup of tea first when I’m stressed or sad, but I had discounted the fun of sticking on sparkly eye pads or trying a new shade of blush. Sometimes, frankly, pampering does nothing at all – but sometimes it helps me see myself a little differently, or just adds a shot of whimsy to the day.

The products didn’t all feel like me, and I ended up passing on a few extras to my mom, sister and girlfriends. (I haven’t used mousse since the eighties, and I’m not sorry about it.) But I found a few favorites that I still use, and several more that I enjoyed trying out on a limited basis. I’ve got a stockpile of still others in the bathroom, waiting for the day I need a pick-me-up and decide to try out that shade of eyeshadow or new face scrub. (Bonus: I haven’t had to buy mascara in months.)

This isn’t quite the because-you’re-worth-it narrative familiar to any woman who’s ever watched a L’Oreal commercial (though I am worth it, in case you were wondering). It’s more about trying something just because I wanted to, and being surprised and delighted by it. Birchbox even made it onto one of my lifesaving lists, because the boxes and their contents were sources of joy. I eventually stopped my subscription because I had enough products for now, but I’m still glad I tried it out. (And I am now a serious fan of Kiehl’s moisturizer and Dr. Lipp lip gloss.)

Have you tried Birchbox or something similar – and/or been forced to confront your own snobbery about makeup? I’d love to hear your stories.

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Since the schools and daycare centers closed, my neighbors have been looking for ways to keep their kids occupied. Especially as the weather warms, I’m seeing a lot of sidewalk chalk in the neighborhood.

Rainbows are a popular theme (they’re in lots of windows, too, including mine). One family scrawled “Quarantine” on the brick wall of their house, and played some tic-tac-toe games on the sidewalk nearby. They also wrote all their names, which I found both lovely and heartbreaking: we are here. 

My friend Ally and her kids have created a couple of epic hopscotch games, involving directions like “Spin 3 Times” and “Dance Party” (see above). And last week, I saw a heartfelt complaint next to the hockey courts at the end of my street: “Mayor Walsh took our hockey nets! We our [sic] very upset!” Someone else had printed an answer beneath: “We are all not happy about how things are going, but we will get through this.”

I have yet to invest in my own sidewalk chalk (maybe I should?), but for now, I’m enjoying the messages I find on my runs and walks, like this one:

That’s all we can do. Love all, wash our hands, keep telling our stories, get outside in the sunshine when we can. And keep going. Somehow we’ll make it through.

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One of the toughest things, so far, about quarantine is not being able to hang out with my friends.

I live alone, so I really rely on my friends in the neighborhood, my classes at the nearby yoga studio and my interactions with colleagues for human connection. We are doing the best we can – Zoom meetings and phone calls and virtual yoga (so much virtual yoga), but I miss just sitting in a friend’s living room, or inviting someone over for tea.

The other night, my friend Lauryn had a brilliant idea: a virtual baking date via FaceTime. We decided to start with Molly Wizenberg’s Scottish scones, about which I have raved here more times than I can count. They were on her blog a million years ago, then appeared in her first book, A Homemade Life – which, in addition to being gorgeous and funny and delicious, is one of the books that landed me my Shelf Awareness review gig. (I had to write a few sample reviews, and Marilyn, my editor, was already a Wizenberg fan – she asked me about Molly’s banana bread when she wrote me back to tell me I’d gotten the job.)

Anyway, I sent Lauryn the recipe and (for good measure) a photo of the ingredient list, and we gathered bags of flour and sugar and cartons of half-and-half and mixing bowls, and I propped up my phone inside the kitchen cabinet so it wouldn’t keep falling over. And we baked, with her husband and kids moving in and out of the frame, and me dashing to the cupboard to dig out the baking powder, and both of us struggling to scrape the zest (lemon for her, orange for me) off our respective graters.

We lost the connection a few times, and had to repeat ourselves more than once, but we caught up a bit, about the day and the weather and this weird new life we’re all living. And it helped. And the scones – need I say it? – were delicious. Mine (with dried cranberries and orange zest) are above; Lauryn’s (with lemon zest and crystallized ginger) are below.

Are you baking in these days, friends? (My friend Jess calls it “distractibaking,” and I suspect she’s not alone.) Do share, if you are. Be well.

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I’ve lived in Boston for nearly 10 (!) years now: a real switch, in all kinds of ways, for this small-town Texas girl. (I grew up in what is technically a mid-size city, and went to college in another one. But I still run into people I know at the grocery store when I go back to either place.)

I’ve been thinking about the triumphs (and trials) particular to living in the city — those moments where you either think, I have nailed this, or the city itself seems to give you a little gift. I’ve had a few lately, so I thought I’d share them with you.

In no particular order:

  • Finding the random item you’re looking for at a grocery store/corner store on your regular route. (Last week: tea lights.)
  • Having just enough quarters (or a couple extra) to do the required amount of laundry.
  • Memorizing your public transit route so you don’t even have to glance at the map (and/or can keep reading your book as you switch trains).
  • Finding out there’s a subway station/bus stop located exactly where you need to go. Bonus points if it’s a route you’ve never taken before.
  • Exploring the library branches and how they’re tailored to their particular neighborhoods. (Though the central Boston Public Library is my neighborhood branch, and it has my heart.)
  • Deciphering the local accent. (Smaht Pahk, anyone?)
  • That moment when a new neighborhood/area gets added to your mental map. Sometimes I can almost hear the puzzle pieces snapping into place.

What would you add?

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Tucked away on a side street near the Fens, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is one of Boston’s hidden gems. I’ve been there a few times, with my parents or visiting friends, but I hadn’t been back in several years.

The museum is open late on Thursdays, with jazz and samba music winding through the galleries and evocative shadows dancing in the corners. I spent the evening there last night with someone dear to me who had never been before (though he’s lived in Boston for years).

We wandered through the galleries, marveling at intricate tapestries, delicate handmade lace, elaborate marble statues and tile work, and gorgeous paintings. In each room, I always end up at the windows, gazing down into the central courtyard, which is amazing from every angle.

The museum is a different place at night: arranged exactly as it is in the daytime, but with more mystery in its corners. We wondered about the origins of some pieces, and noted a few empty frames (which held the pieces stolen in the Gardner’s 1990 heist). Different details catch my eye every time: a medieval portrait of an anonymous woman, an impressionist painting of gladioli, a bronze sculpture of Diana the huntress.

There’s far too much art to take in all at once, and so you don’t have to try, which is what I love about the Gardner: you can simply wander through and experience the art and the place.

I’d never spent an evening at the Gardner before: I’d always been on a weekend afternoon, with the attendant crowds (and sunshine pouring through the skylight). But this was a lovely way to enjoy a beautiful space. I can see more evenings there in my future.

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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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Here we are in October – the days and nights are starting to draw in, the maples are turning brilliantly red, the occasional cold rains have arrived, and fall events are in full swing.

I’m feeling more settled in my new place, and between commutes and running and cooking dinner, I finally had a bit of time to note what’s saving my life now:

  • Sunflowers, at home and at work. I love their cheerful faces, and they remind me of that Mary Oliver poem.
  • My new Rebel Alliance logo earrings. I am not a hardcore Star Wars geek, but I am a diehard Leia Organa fan. These earrings are sterling silver, subtle and badass, and I love them.
  • Birchbox, which I tried thanks to a recent Cup of Jo post. Getting a few colorful boxes of samples in the mail has felt indulgent and also nourishing, somehow.
  • My brand-new travel mug from my friends at Obvious State, who make the best literary swag.

  • Trader Joe’s essentials: crumbly English cheddar, bags of tiny mandarins, Greek yogurt by the tub, peanut-butter-filled pretzels, and smiles from the staff.
  • Texts from my girlfriends (always) and getting to hug a few of them (local and far-flung) in person.
  • A few recent visiting artist events at Berklee, where I work – I get to listen to fascinating, intelligent, talented, kind folks like rapper Dessa and film composer Pinar Toprak sharing their wisdom with our students.
  • A trip to my beloved florist the other day, for the first time in weeks. I caught up with my people and bought some scarlet tulips tipped with gold.

  • Jen Lee’s Morning, Sunshine videos – doses of kindness and wisdom twice a week. Go check out the series on YouTube.
  • The music of the Highwomen.
  • Sunshine on my shoulders, especially when I take my laptop to the plant-filled conference room at work.
  • Chai from the BPL cafe – best in Back Bay.
  • Poetry, including a whole slew of new-to-me gems via poet Maggie Smith.
  • The quilt my friend Carol made for me, so good for snuggling under on these chilly nights.
  • Ginger peach tea and Earl Grey in the mornings, spiced black tea in the afternoons, peppermint tea or pumpkin spice rooibos at night.
  • Rereading The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, a longtime fave.

What’s saving your life these days?

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jer ryder legos Christmas tree

The middle of our Christmas journey is always just that: the middle.

By which I mean: it is messy and rich and full, crowded with some of my favorite holiday traditions and the constantly-in-motion bodies of my two nephews. We are already a little tired, having flown 1,700 miles and driven nearly another 400.

blue sky highway Texas

This year, the drive happened on Christmas Eve – blue sky, long straight highways, Sara Bareilles and Mumford on Spotify, boy-band holiday music when we started to go a little crazy. It ended with my dad greeting us at the door: “We have to leave for church in 45 minutes!”

There was a mad scramble to wrap the last few gifts, kneeling on the guest room floor surrounded by Scotch tape and scraps of wrapping paper. I barely had time to brush my hair before we piled into the car. J and I snapped a photo in front of the lobby Christmas tree before heading inside, hoping we could get a seat – the 4:00 service tends to be crowded.

k j Christmas tree church fbc

Somehow, in spite of the lead-up, I was able to relax then: to exhale into one of my favorite church services of the year. You can count on a few things at my parents’ church: glittering, glorious Christmas trees; Doris on the pipe organ; familiar faces from my childhood and teenage years; and all the verses of as many carols as possible.

candles Christmas Eve silent night fbc

This was Christmas: relishing the third verse of Joy to the World and holding hands with my mother as we lifted our candles during Silent Night. This was Christmas: listening to a string quartet, my husband’s tenor voice, the babbles and cries of so many babies.

This was Christmas: coming, perhaps, no closer to understanding how or why God came into our midst, but choosing to acknowledge and celebrate. We cannot explain, but we rejoice.

moms tree gifts

We headed back to my parents’ for a pre-gift-exchange smorgasbord: cheese and charcuterie, apple slices and carrot sticks, square pretzels topped with chocolate and mint M&Ms. My nephews, decked out in their Santa shirts, could hardly wait to get to the unwrapping, but first we snacked, and then we listened to my sister read the story that still moves me, every year. “For unto you is born this day.” Unto us a child is born, and nothing will ever be the same.

nephews unwrapping presents gifts Christmas

This was the year of the Legos: the boys are obsessed, and they received sets from multiple family members. (Their other favorite thing was a pair of tiny laser guns – a gift for my dad, who still loves to get toys at Christmas.) We had presents that night and stockings the next day, and there were chocolates and new socks, scarves and Starbucks cards and fancy tea (for me).

The weather – after a freak dust-and-rainstorm, complete with tumbleweeds – continued mild, and we spent two afternoons in my sister’s backyard playing football and baseball and climbing on the swing set. We grilled burgers and ribs and did full justice to all the traditional holiday sides (most of them potato-based). I went for a few solo runs in my parents’ neighborhood, looping through the familiar roads under (mostly) bare branches and blue sky.

sneakers rocks running west Texas

The hubs, fighting sinus trouble, won the Best Uncle Award for playing every kind of sport (and Lego) we could squeeze in. My brother-in-law showed off his model train, and more quietly, his grilling skills. I slipped out onto my sister’s front lawn to snap pictures of the sunsets. And the best, as always, was being together.

If you celebrated, I hope your holidays were lovely. Now: onward into 2019.

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Katie post bike ride selfie

I never quite know what to say about a whole year. That’s been especially true of the last several: so full of challenge and change, transition and unexpected moments. A list seems inadequate, at best, but it’s one of the tools I have, so here’s a list of (some of) what I’ve done this year.

In 2018, I have:

  • run my second, third and fourth 5Ks – on a gorgeous April day, a sunny November Sunday and a freezing December morning, respectively.
  • dyed my hair for the first time – I put a few pink streaks in it this spring, and liked it so much I’ve kept refreshing the color.
  • flown to Idaho to visit my dear friends and meet their new baby girl.
  • hosted those same friends for a lovely weekend in Boston this fall.
  • drunk so many chai lattes, mostly (are we shocked?) from Darwin’s.
  • spent my third glorious stretch of days in San Diego.
  • mourned the loss of a dear family friend.
  • met and briefly interviewed Lin-Manuel Miranda.
  • taken a 10-day vacación to Spain with my husband, to celebrate a decade of marriage.
  • toasted my beloved boss as he retired from HKS.
  • savored my sixth Commencement at Harvard.
  • heard the news that my job there was ending.
  • spent a summer freelancing and job hunting (again).
  • started a new job across the river at Berklee.
  • run my first 8K on a hot, humid, sunny Labor Day.
  • taken my first ride (and many more) on a Blue Bike, and become completely addicted.
  • read nearly 200 books.
  • reviewed several dozen of those books, and interviewed six authors, for Shelf Awareness.
  • tended a few geraniums and a basil plant (at home) and a couple of low-light desk plants (at work).
  • bought countless bouquets of flowers, many from my favorite florist.
  • run miles and miles and miles on my beloved trail.
  • seen a few great concerts: the Wailin’ Jennys, the Boston Conservatory orchestra, Five for Fighting, various Berklee students (who really know how to jam).
  • hosted my parents for their annual visit to Boston.
  • spent a couple of whirlwind weekends in NYC.
  • navigated a few losses I’m not ready to talk about yet.
  • celebrated Thanksgiving with friends old and new in East Boston.
  • turned 35, hosted my own birthday brunch and reflected on it.
  • embraced the weekly boot camps I started last year.
  • kept on doing yoga about once a week.
  • spent many mornings in a pew at Memorial Church.
  • learned how to podcast.
  • tried to figure out how to stitch together the old life and the new.

I’ve got a few plans and a lot of hopes for 2019 – though I’m increasingly aware that I don’t know what’s coming next. I’m trying to navigate that with greater ease as we head into a new year. But first I’d love to know: what has 2018 looked like for you?

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Williamsburg bridge

I started a new job last week, about which more soon. But before that: one last summer weekend adventure.

My friend Kirsten was house- and dog-sitting for a friend in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and she invited me to come down for a weekend. I thought: This could be either totally crazy or just what I need.

Well, it was both. But mostly just what I needed.

I took the train down on a Friday morning and, on arrival, headed straight for the West Village. It was swampy hot outside, but iced hibiscus tea and avocado toast at Bluestone Lane went a long way toward cooling me down.

avocado toast iced tea nbc

I spent a while wandering my favorite tangle of streets, browsing Pink Olive and popping into Three Lives for some poetry and bookseller gossip. Then I headed to Astoria for iced tea with Carlee, a friend from Abilene who just moved to the city for grad school. We talked as fast as we could. It was lovely to be together.

Eventually, I made it over to Williamsburg, and Kirsten and I spent the evening wandering and talking, mostly in the company of this lovely canine.

stick dog puppy

This is Stick, and she’s a sweetheart. Aside from trying to lick us to death (which I didn’t mind terribly), she was a wonderful weekend companion. We took several long walks around the neighborhood, and she hopped up on the bed for some snuggles in the early mornings.

We enjoyed Greek food and cocktails at Ela Taverna on Friday night, and walked home through a light, cool rain.

The next morning, Stick and I walked to the nearby park and stumbled onto a farmers’ market. I bought a pastry and some blackberries, and we swung by The Bean (dog friendly!) for chai on the way back. Later on, Kirsten and I grabbed brunch at Allswell in the neighborhood.

k&k brunch allswell Williamsburg

Saturdays are perfect for wandering, and that’s what we did: up and down the neighborhood streets, into and out of funky shops, over to Domino Park with its views of Manhattan and city residents playing volleyball and soaking up the sunshine.

That evening found us grabbing a bite and heading up to Times Square to see Carousel, which was gorgeous and sad. I wasn’t familiar with the story and found it a bit convoluted, to be honest. But the dancing was beautiful, the set was exquisite and Broadway is always magical. We got ice cream afterward, and dragged our tired selves back to Brooklyn.

carousel broadway marquee sign

I had to head home on Sunday, but we did enjoy an early light lunch at a cafe before I hopped on the subway. In addition to all the wandering, we spent hours talking about work and family and life. It was a series of new adventures in a city I know and love: perfect for a weekend that served as a hinge between old and new. And, of course, the puppy snuggles didn’t hurt.

Katie stick dog heart Brooklyn

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