Posts Tagged ‘ideas’

We’re entering the dark time of the year: when the sun starts to sink in mid-afternoon, and even some of the mornings are grey and dreary. My apartment gets much more natural light than my cubicle at work ever did, but it can get lonely, here by myself most days.

To stave off the loneliness and help kick-start my creativity, I’ve been taking my friend Nina Badzin’s writing class through ModernWell, on Tuesday mornings. Some of us are doing NaNoWriMo, and we’re cheering each other on through this crazy month of trying to write 50,000 words.

“I think ideas beget ideas,” Nina declared in class the other week. “So don’t ‘save’ them – just write them down.” It made me think of a similar sentiment I’d read recently on Anne Bogel’s blog: she shared her habit of lighting candles in the winter months. She said – and I agree – that it takes a bit of effort, but that having a candle burning while she brews a hot beverage is so much more satisfying than hoarding the “good” candles. (I rummaged in a drawer immediately after reading that blog post and came up with a couple of scented candles I’d been hoarding for a year. Why?)

I’m working on a secret project for NaNoWriMo, doing my usual book reviews for Shelf Awareness and some other freelance work, journaling most mornings and trying to post here sometimes, too. Sometimes all that writing feels like a lot. But I’m trying to follow Nina’s advice and just chase the ideas, when I have them. More often than not – as with my #run31 posts – coming up with a few ideas gets the wheels turning.

Candles do not beget candles, unfortunately, but I often light one while I do the writing anyway. It’s an affordable indulgence, and that bit of flame is a cheery way to help beat back the dark.


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harvard yard construction

I work at Harvard. And right now, I work in a construction zone.

For the past year and a half, I’ve worked in a red brick building on Appian Way, a quiet Cambridge street several blocks northwest of the bustling center of Harvard Square. And for months now, since the construction crew began work on a project that includes adding two new floors to our building and various other improvements, we’ve lived with the sounds of drills, jackhammers, and construction workers shouting instructions to one another.

The elevator is permanently out of service until it can be brought up to code. Scaffolding wraps around the outside walls of our building, and a thick film of construction dust coats the windows in our ground-level office suite. By the time you read this, my colleagues and I will have moved across the street to a temporary office suite in the library so the construction crew can install a (long overdue) sprinkler system in our usual location.

Over in Harvard Yard, three blocks away, it’s a similar story.

I’m over at the Art House America blog, talking about life in a construction zone. Please click over there to read the rest of my essay.

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While it’s no secret that I am a tea fanatic (especially as the nights grow colder), I’m drinking a fair amount of mulled apple cider these days. The orchard where we go to pick apples sells it by the gallon, and it’s also in stock at my grocery store.

This isn’t the saccharine, powdered cider mix of my childhood, stirred into mugs of hot water: it is pure, distilled apples, fresh and tart and bold. A cold glass of it tastes like apple juice, only stronger and less sweet. But I like it best after it’s simmered on the stove for a while, with a few cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, allspice berries and a sprinkle of nutmeg.

My friend Abigail often brings cider to church potlucks or friends’ houses in the fall and winter. She likes it best when it’s “really mulled” – the longer the better. It amazes me that while the cider is delicious in its fresh form, the application of heat, spices and time transforms it into something richer, layered and ultimately different.

cafe panis paris mulled wine notre dame

This time of year, I start to miss Oxford pubs, most of which keep a fat-bellied pot of mulled wine simmering on the front counter through November and December, spiced and steaming, with thin orange slices floating in it. I’m not much of a drinker, but I have fond memories of sipping that wine in a few cozy pubs on wet, dark English winter nights. (The photo above is from Paris, where the mulled wine is equally lovely.) I have nothing against red wine by itself, but I like it best with the added notes of cinnamon, cloves and citrus.

So it is with mulling over thoughts. Most of my (good) ideas don’t arrive fully formed: they require some simmering before they reach their final state. Sometimes I have to throw some “spices” into the mix: different angles, fresh questions, a conversation with a friend. Sometimes, as with the cider, I add the extra ingredients and walk away, letting time and my subconscious do their work. Although the ideas often have value in their raw state, they are improved by a little mulling.

As far as I know (and I even consulted the OED), the mulling of cider or wine and the mulling over of thoughts aren’t etymologically related. But the processes, it turns out, are quite similar. And they both produce something sweet at the end.

What are you mulling – cider, wine, ideas – lately?

PS: We did see high winds and rain as a result of Hurricane Sandy, but we never lost power and are safe and dry. I hope all of you who were in the storm’s path are safe, too. And Happy Halloween!

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The other day, as she often does, Sarah had a great idea to jazz up this month a bit – to put a little more swing and spring into the everyday. (She’s good at that – spicing up the everyday with yummy recipes and thought-provoking questions and lovely bits of insight.) I decided to try her Charmed Life Challenge – a wonderful list of 60 ideas to make August a little more fabulous. And I have to say, it’s working so far.

Strawberry gelato on my lunch break

I love it when friends – in the blogosphere or outside of it – whisper these reminders in my ear. Reminders that I can live a charmed (and charming life), and that it’s often up to me to make it happen (since, unfortunately, I don’t have a movie crew following me around with a dreamy soundtrack or a glamorous wardrobe).

Sometimes I forget how much of a difference the little things can make. I forget to make the bit of extra effort to buy flowers or eat fresh berries (straight from the cardboard pint), or dine by candlelight or give something broken a new life. And sometimes it just feels like too much work – like I can’t possibly take the time to make lemonade or gaze at the stars or listen to someone’s life story.

Fresh blueberries at the Copley Square Farmer's Market

But I usually can find the time, make the effort, slow down a little bit to enjoy the everyday moments. I can put on a favorite skirt or steal a little time for quiet reflection or sit in a cafe and write down my dreams. And when I do, I feel like Meg Ryan walking down the New York streets in You’ve Got Mail, music playing behind her, or like Kate Winslet turning her face up to the Santa Ana winds in The Holiday. I feel more alert, more attentive to all sorts of glorious possibilities. As though anything could happen.

How do you make your life feel more charmed (or charming)?

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1. A job.
2. A trip to Oxford. (Always.)
3. Some friends in my neighborhood.
4. Motivation to go back to yoga.
5. Phone calls (and visits!) from far-away friends.
6. A chicken fajita with queso and a large chips & queso from Rosa’s Cafe.
7. A way to scrapbook/organize/sort through all the random memorabilia and photos in the guest room.
8. An iPod nano.
9. The Swell Season’s self-titled album (I have Strict Joy, and oh, how I love it).
10. Pies & Prejudice, the newest Mother-Daughter Book Club title. Yes, I am addicted to young adult fiction and I don’t care who knows it.
11. A dinner date with my husband.
12. Nichole’s red Paris color story.
13. My Oxford map, framed.
14. A small red teapot.
15. Dark chocolate (the good stuff).
16. Natalie Goldberg’s book about writing memoir.
17. A license to go shopping, just a little bit.

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the purse mystique

I need some feedback, guys. Bethany (my roommate) and I had a really hilarious idea for an article yesterday. While reminiscing about our grandmothers and how they taught us to put on lipstick when we were little (solely a girl thing, I know), we started talking about women’s purses and the mystique associated with them. I know Jeremiah used to get his wrist slapped for reaching into his mom’s purse as a kid – it was sacred space. What about the rest of you men? Are women’s purses sacrosanct? Did your mom/grandmother/sister/wife/daughter ever make a big deal about you rummaging through her purse? I need to see if this is a widespread phenomenon, and well, you guys are pretty diverse. 😉 Ladies, feel free to leave feedback as well. Do you get on to your husband/son/boyfriend/guy friends for violating your purse space? I’m trying to get some thoughts so this whole thing can gel. I may even quote you if you are particularly witty or clever. 🙂 So please, comment away! Please please!

By the way, ANOTHER ARTICLE of mine ran in a Relevant e-newsletter yesterday. I’ll either post it on the blog or…figure out something clever. Cheers!

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