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Posts Tagged ‘home’

darwins mug heart table striped journal

When I thought about the shape of this freelancing summer, I knew one thing: it would still include lots of time in Cambridge.

I’ve been working on several projects for Harvard, which means I sometimes come into the Square for meetings and research. But, more simply and importantly: this is my neighborhood. I love it here in Cambridge, and whether I’m sending out resumes, writing book reviews or meeting friends, there’s no place I’d rather be than Harvard Square.

Tuesdays this summer, in particular, have fallen into a routine I’m loving.

First: a morning with my journal and laptop at Darwin’s, drinking tea, writing and answering emails. Sometimes I meet up with a friend and we co-work for a while, taking breaks to chat. Other times it’s just me: elbows on a green table, sunshine pouring through the plate-glass window at my back.

The sunset walls, the cheerful baristas, strong Earl Grey or ginger peach in a deep mug and a sweet-tart lemon scone: all of these are deeply familiar delights. I nod to a couple of other regulars, and either ease or dive into the work, depending on the day.

Around lunchtime, I close my laptop and head to the Harvard farmers’ market, where I get lunch from Amanda: homemade Texas tamales, elotes (street corn) slathered with garlicky sauce and spices, and a container of salsa roja to take home to my husband.

tamales elotes lunch

I find a shady spot, if I can, to perch and eat my lunch. The people-watching at the market is always a treat, and then I go pick up the week’s fruit from my favorite produce guys. I loved chatting with them about the World Cup earlier in the summer, but we also talk about the weather, the market or whatever comes to mind.

I run a few errands or go work at the library for a while, then frequently meet a friend in the afternoon for (iced) tea. Inevitably, I’ll run into another few folks I know (or see some of my favorite baristas), and sometimes I go by the florist to pick up a bouquet for my kitchen table.

Making the rounds, seeing my people, walking the familiar streets I love: this is my place. And on Tuesdays, especially, I get to glory in it.

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pink gold texas sunset sky

I’ve been carrying Frank’s funeral program in my purse for days.

I slipped it in there at the end of his memorial service, a couple of weekends ago, in the high-ceilinged sanctuary of the church where I spent nearly every Sunday growing up. I nearly forgot about it, until I reached in a few days later to retrieve something else and my fingers brushed the paper. I saw his law firm portrait again and thought: That can’t be right.

Frank was an attorney, a father and husband, a percussionist, a dog lover, a man of faith. He and his wife, Kim, have been friends with my parents since the mid-eighties, since my sister and I were tiny. We grew up seeing them at church every week, where they worked tirelessly alongside my mom and dad, teaching Sunday school and directing events, serving in countless quiet ways. I used to baby-sit their sons and daughter, going over to their big, friendly house with its assorted dogs and cats (and, for a memorable time, a corn snake named Queenie). They have loved me, and I have loved them, nearly all my life.

When Frank went into the hospital in mid-April, none of us thought for a second that we’d be sitting at his funeral service in early May.

This is how it happens sometimes: without warning, in the middle of a full and busy spring, with school programs and work assignments and birthday parties and all the stuff of life. Kim is a preschool teacher (she taught my older nephew last year) and found herself taking days off school, both when Frank became ill and when he died. Their sons and daughter-in-law came in from Houston and North Carolina, and friends local and far-flung have rallied. And I think all of us have been wrestling with the sense of sturdy disbelief that Lindsey described in a recent post.

That day at the funeral, and the next day at church, people spoke about Frank and shared stories, funny and tender. He loved Mexican food, the spicier the better. He was a stickler for doing things well: his secretary learned years ago that there is a right and a wrong way to affix paper clips, and his kids knew he had high standards. He was a disciplined, faithful servant to his church and his community. He helped more people, in more ways, than I think any of us will ever know.

But the whole time, I was thinking about something much simpler: he was my friend.

Frank embodied discipline and duty, as his son Joey said at the funeral. (I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house when Joey started crying in the middle of his tribute to his dad.) He served, as so many people said, without fanfare and without ceasing. He showed up, quietly and consistently, over and over again. These things are important.

But what I will remember – what I suspect all of us will remember, too – is his warmth, his compassion, his smile.

I don’t get back to my hometown too often these days: a few times a year, for a long weekend or a few days at Christmas. I don’t have the kind of daily or weekly interaction with the folks there that I once did. But there are still places where I am sure of a welcome, and one of them is the big Sunday school room at the north end of the church. And Frank was one of the people who always welcomed me home. He always wanted to hear about Boston; he and Kim had enjoyed several trips to Nantucket. It made him happy that we shared a connection to this part of the world.

Those chats on Sunday morning, that rock-solid welcome, is what I will remember, and what I will miss the most.

We are all grieving: Frank’s family, his coworkers, his many friends, the church family he was a part of for so long. My parents are deeply sad and shaken by the loss of their friend. There are no easy words for this; I hesitated to even write these. But it feels important to mark his passing, to say: he was here and he lived and loved. And we loved him. We still do.

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ryder poppy cards

A couple of weeks ago, I hopped a plane to west Texas, leaving behind emails and work to-do lists for a different kind of busy. My older nephew, Ryder, was turning six, and I’d planned to head home for his birthday party and a t-ball game, plus some Mexican food and time with my sister and parents.

The family texts flew back and forth in the days before my trip: party plans, flight schedules, what to buy Ryder for his birthday (answer: Nerf guns and Uno).

But on the day before I left, my sister and dad both sent a different kind of text: bring a dress in case the funeral happens while you’re here.

Frank, a longtime family friend of ours, had gone into the hospital in mid-April. It caught us all by surprise: he was 56 and healthy, and we were all stunned by the infection that took over his body. We had expected a long recovery, perhaps weeks in the hospital. But I stared in disbelief at the early-morning text my sister sent with news of his death. I still don’t quite believe it’s real.

I slipped a dress and a black cardigan into my suitcase, alongside my red shorts, running gear, flip-flops and a stack of books for the plane. After a long flight to Dallas and an even longer layover, I finally landed amid thunderstorms on a Wednesday night.

The next few days, it seemed to me, contained all of life: board games and Tex-Mex lunches, t-ball and the funeral, church on Sunday morning. There was, of course, lots of playing with my nephews: climbing around on their backyard fort, shooting baskets in the driveway, playing with the new Nerf guns in the living room. Tears and laughter and chaos. Grief and love.

“Life’s full,” my coworker Janet is fond of saying, usually with a wry smile in response to some fresh crisis, or a week like this one: crowded and crossed with the glory and the pain of life, all at once.

This trip was certainly full, and at times I could barely keep up: watching Ryder and his teammates run through the dirt at the t-ball fields, pushing Harrison (my younger nephew) in the swing and filming them both running through the sprinkler with my dad. Hugging Kim and Abbye, Frank’s wife and daughter, on a Friday morning that felt otherwise so ordinary. Eating chips and queso at Rosa’s with my mom and sister, before making a Target run. Holding Harrison on my lap at lunchtime, and admiring his new big-boy bed. Talking work and vacations with my parents and brother-in-law. Sitting outside at my sister’s house after the boys were in bed.

I went for three solo runs through my parents’ neighborhood, admiring the ocotillo and oleander, breathing in the fresh air under the big sky. Afterward, I sipped tea and ate breakfast in my mother’s kitchen, flipping through the local paper, which included, unbelievably, Frank’s obituary. We sat in a side pew at the packed funeral on Saturday morning, surrounded by so many faces I know and love. This church is part of the architecture of my life, and these people – not only Frank and Kim but so many others – are part of my family. We wound up the funeral by singing “It Is Well with My Soul” through our tears, Doris playing the organ as she has for decades. The next morning, we spent most of the Sunday school hour sharing stories about Frank.

There’s no tidy way to wrap up such a post; it feels unfinished, like the weekend itself, like life. Kim and her grown kids are at the beginning of a long road of grief, and Ryder and Harrison are wrapping up the school year. I’m caught, as always, between missing the cozy world of my hometown and being fiercely proud of the life I’ve built in a different city, hundreds of miles away.

I flew back to Boston that Sunday night, grateful to get back to my own house and my husband, who had been at a conference in L.A. while I was in Texas. But I also believe I was exactly where I needed to be that weekend: stepping back into a town that isn’t my current address, but which will always be home. Cheering for Ryder and his buddies as they batted and ran. And standing with my community, in grief and in joy.

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kitchen wall art curtains british flag

Two corn tortillas, fried in a small sauté pan. Two eggs, fried one after the other in the same pan. Black beans, laced with salsa roja and a few shakes of cumin. Grated cheese. Jarred salsa verde (or Amanda’s fresh salsa, if we’ve got it). Tortilla chips. And a tall glass of water.

For months now, this has been my dinner on Monday nights. After a long, full day at the office and Erin’s yoga class, it’s the only thing I want to eat. (Especially after adding in a boot camp workout before yoga, for the last six weeks.) The meal itself – spicy, nourishing and so easy – and the ritual of preparing it are both saving my life these days.

Mondays are usually a full day at the office: catching up on the weekend’s headlines, gearing up for the week with its projects and meetings. There’s always at least one curveball and usually a lot of email. By the time I leave the office, I’m physically weary and mentally wiped out.

It’s no secret that I love a lifesaving routine. While I reserve – and relish – the right to change things up sometimes, the truth is that my daily and weekly rituals keep me grounded, fed, rested and sane (for the most part). When I realized, several months ago, that I was craving huevos every Monday night, I thought: why not make it official? So now huevos is on the menu every Monday.

We make sure to restock the necessary ingredients during the weekend grocery shop, and we pull out the pans and the egg carton as soon as we walk in the door. My husband usually works late on Mondays, so we ride home together, catching up on our days. Once we’re home, we tag-team the prep: setting the table, pouring the water, flipping the tortillas, frying the eggs.

As with all routines, I’m betting this one won’t last forever: eventually we’ll get sick of it, or I’ll switch my workout night, or we’ll just decide to try something new. But for now, at least, on Mondays we make huevos. And they are delicious.

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kettle mug tea kitchen

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.

—Annie Dillard

Recently, my friend Lindsey wrote a post ruminating on what she does every day. She agrees with Dillard’s words, above: the habits we keep, the actions we repeat, have a powerful effect on the shape of our lives. Gretchen Rubin’s version of this idea, which Lindsey mentioned and which I’d read before, is similar: “What we do every day matters more than what we do once in a while.”

Even though I’d argue that less frequent actions – things we do once a month or once a year – also shape us, I agree with these wise women: the daily actions of our lives do matter. They form us into the people we become. Lindsey’s litany of the things she does every day, or most days, inspired me to reflect on my own small daily acts.

katie selfie mirror onedayhh

Every day, I drink several cups of tea – usually brewing the first one in our kitchen. I pause to gaze out the east-facing window at the sunrise over the tops of the trees. Most days, I commute to Harvard Square, where I write stories and answer emails, go to meetings and chat with colleagues.

I walk to Darwin’s at least daily, for chai and scones, Earl Grey and hot cider, and – best of all – convivial chat with the baristas I know. I make the rounds of my beloved work neighborhood: the bank, the florist, the post office, other errands. I look up and snap pictures of the sky, or around and snap pictures of flowers and leaves. Most days, I post on Instagram and Twitter (though I usually spend far too much time looking at each). Most days, I write: journal entries, blog posts, book reviews, work assignments, emails. (Always emails.)

Every day, I text a couple of dear friends, and often at least one family member. I talk to my husband briefly in the middle of the workday. I make or juggle plans with friends; community is often fragmented in this world but it’s dear to me, and I fight for it. Every day, I dive into several books – on my commute, on my lunch break, before bed. I need good stories, and words that make me think or laugh or cry.

A few times a week, I do yoga: either at the studio I love or on my own green mat on the kitchen floor. I get out for a walk and/or a run on the river trail near our house. About once a week, I talk to my mom on the phone. Several times a week, I do laundry, cook dinner for myself and my husband. On other evenings, I spend time with friends: usually a one-on-one walk or dinner date. Every day, I make the bed, and later I stand at the sink and wash dishes, scrub out the tea strainer, wipe the counters, sort the mail.

“What do these small, mundane acts say about my priorities?” Lindsey wondered in her post. I think my small acts say that I value the daily: the act of nourishing myself and others, the act of pausing to pay attention to the world and the people I love.

I spend a lot of time and energy keeping up and taking care: of our home, of my work to-do list, of the details of my life. I’m an introvert: I need time by myself and time with the people I love, but I prefer the latter in small-group doses. I need sunshine and I need to move my body. And I am – though I sometimes struggle to believe it – a writer to my core.

As we move into the holiday season, my days will contain a number of seasonal rituals: starting with Turkeypalooza, continuing through Advent and Christmas prep (shopping, sending cards) and my annual trip to Texas to see family. I’ll pull out my beloved, battered Advent book and sing favorite carols. I’ll make an extra effort to gather with friends before we all scatter for the holidays.

Through it all, my daily routine will anchor me. What I do every day will continue to shape me. And if I need to make a change, or want to reinforce a new habit, it starts there: in the dailiness, the small round of hours and minutes that is so mundane and so precious.

What do you do every day, or most days? Do you think it matters?

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oneday hh camera photo 2017

Last week, Laura Tremaine hosted her annual #OneDayHH Instagram challenge: an invitation to document the details of our lives for one (fairly) typical day. It was a Thursday, a workday, and this was my fourth year playing along.

I snapped a lot of photos and shared quite a few of them on my Instagram, but I thought I’d also share some of them here. I like having the record each year here on the blog.

kitchen wall art curtains british flag

Morning in the kitchen: this room is the beating heart of our home. I had brought my red geraniums inside the night before, and we had also just hung those pictures. The canvas is an original by my friend Kelsey, and that watercolor/pen-and-ink drawing is from Sally Lunn’s in Bath, England.

sunrise november onedayhh

It’s no secret that I’m in love with the sunrise outside these windows: to quote Emily Byrd Starr, it saves my soul alive.

bedside table lamp quilt

That stunning Cathedral Window quilt was started by my Mimi, years ago, and finished (and sent to me) by Carol, a dear family friend. This lamp is a Target find and I love that it shimmers. And that’s my favorite worn-soft shirt to wear to bed.

katie selfie mirror onedayhh

I’m not quite bold enough to post a #wokeuplikethis selfie, but this is a pretty typical outfit: neutrals with stripes, a shot of red and the rings I always wear.

front porch view dorchester ma onedayhh

I also love the view from our front porch: the neighbors’ houses and these trees.

ivy leaves frost

First frost the night before meant that everything sparkled, including the neighbors’ ivy.

trolley morning dorchester ma mbta

It’s a short walk to the Mattapan trolley line from our house every morning.

ashmont station mbta

After a quick trolley ride, I get on the T at the end of the Ashmont line. Commuting can be a pain, but it beats driving – and I love the skylights in this station.

sever quad morning harvard yard sunshine trees

When I reach Harvard Square, I often have a little time before work. Sometimes I run errands or go to Lamont Library to write. Sometimes I walk across the Yard, admiring the leaves and soaking in the sunshine.

darwins d2 start arrow

That day, I ended up (no surprise) at Darwin’s. I perched, elbows on a green table, to sip Earl Grey and do a little writing. As I have said before, they know me there and it’s one of the great joys of my life.

hks desk rose itn computer

This is my desk (obviously), and on screen is the daily media citation email with which I start my workdays. Also pictured: my trusty water bottle, one of the million apples I’m munching these days, a perfect rose from my beloved florist.

hpac notebook tea table window

I love my Thursday morning meetings with other writers from around Harvard. Sarcasm, sanity and good stories on the sixth floor, where I once temped for four months and where I am still welcome.

cambridge common

Later that afternoon (after chai with a writer friend, lunch, more emails and some brainstorming about photos for a story I wrote), I took a walk on Cambridge Common to clear my head. The sun came out again for a little while.

ankle boots leaves

I walked through crunching leaves, talking to a friend on the phone, and exhaling. (I don’t get to do this every day but I love it when I do.)

trolley walk dark trees streetlights

It was already dark when I left work around 5:30, and even darker when I walked home from the trolley. This seasonal shift – the sudden loss of light – is hard for me.

lemon ginger tea books journal

I heated up leftover black bean soup for dinner, washed dishes, puttered and read for a while – first Hunted, and then Brian Doyle’s essays in Leaping (with lemon-ginger tea in my Oxford mug). The hubs worked late, as he often does, and came home to heat up his own bowl of soup. I went to bed early, to read a little and then crash.

begonias building blue sky

I didn’t post all the details of my day, but I’m still glad I participated. This fall has been full of so many things: some lovely, some exciting, many stressful, some heartbreaking. But it’s anchored by the daily round, which is precious in itself. I’m glad for the nudge from Laura to capture and share the details of our days – to say that “holy yes” to them which is so important.

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katie st marys tower oxford england

I don’t consider myself a tourist in Oxford.

It is home, and has been home now for over a decade: almost since I first stepped off the bus after an overnight flight, back in 2004. I carry its map in my heart; the streets are full of memories, and I spend a lot of my time there revisiting favorite haunts and catching up with my people.

Every time I go back to visit, though, I can’t resist a few of its tourist attractions. The cobblestoned beauty of Radcliffe Square; the green vistas of University Parks; the shops on the Broad stuffed with T-shirts and postcards (because I always need a souvenir for someone). I roll my eyes at the tour groups as much as the next person, and then I, too, pull out my camera to snap photo after photo of the dreaming spires I love.

My favorite tourist spot, though, is a little higher up: 127 steps, to be exact. It’s the tower at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin: the highest point from which to view the city, and easily my favorite.

radcliffe camera oxford tower sky all souls

Looking north, you can see Radcliffe Square with the iconic Camera (in the foreground), with the bulk of the Bodleian just behind and All Souls College off to the right. If I squint, I can see past the Broad and the Science Center to the towers of St Anne’s and St Antony’s Colleges, up the Woodstock Road. You can’t quite see the North Oxford street where I used to live (and where I stayed this time), but I know exactly where it is: true north indeed.

all souls college view towers oxford

From the eastern side of the tower, All Souls is on full display. The colleges further along the High – Queen’s, University, Magdalen – are a little more coy, hiding themselves behind gates and battlements. Past Magdalen’s tower is the roundabout of St Clements, which leads to East Oxford and Headington Hill, down which the green sweep of South Park rolls like a velvet carpet. The middle road off St Clements leads to Cowley, which was my neighborhood as a graduate student: I lived there in a little chocolate-box house with three British girls who are still dear to me.

magdalen college tower oxford buildings

To the south lies a tangle of college buildings, old even by Oxford standards: Merton, Oriel, Corpus Christi, Christ Church with its famous Tom Tower. Right across from Christ Church is a less famous spire, but one that holds pride of place in my heart: St Aldates, the church where I have found grace and community since my first Sunday in Oxford.

christ church oxford towers south view

The western view, bounded by hills that glow yellow with rapeseed in spring, includes yet more colleges: Exeter, Jesus, Lincoln. I always feel I could step onto the rooftops and dance across them from here, like Bert and his chimney-sweep friends in Mary Poppins. This view of the city feels at once lofty and completely, utterly mine: I can pick out individual buildings I know while appreciating the whole sweep of it at once.

exeter college oxford view towers

I lingered as I always do, snapping photos from every angle, taking deep breaths and letting other visitors squeeze past me, talking in their various languages. Many of them are seeing Oxford from above for the first time, and I smile at their wonder, but it’s different from mine. They are seeing a place that is new and foreign. I am looking down, with love, at my home.

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