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Posts Tagged ‘life’

Lindsey recently wrote a breathtaking post about what thirty-eight looks like for her. I am just a few months away from turning thirty (which alternately seems totally normal and a bit overwhelming), so I thought I’d do my own take.

This is twenty-nine.

chocolate room spiced hot cocoa

Twenty-nine is on the cusp of her third decade, seven years out of college and five years married. Twenty-nine is content so far to play the cool aunt, though she’s starting to wonder about having kids of her own.

Twenty-nine has successfully held down a series of real, full-time jobs with benefits and retirement plans, but still sometimes struggles to feel like a grown-up inside.

Twenty-nine looks in the mirror and sees her mother: the big green eyes, the shy smile, the long eyelashes. Twenty-nine hears both her mother’s advice and her dad’s punny jokes come out of her mouth all the time.

Twenty-nine always packs an extra book (or two) in her bag, makes sure to carry cash (but not too much), pays her bills on time, plans out meals for the week on a dry-erase board in the kitchen. Twenty-nine believes in being prepared.

Twenty-nine is slowly realizing that some friendships will fade with time, in spite of (sometimes because of) the relentless onslaught of social media minutiae. And that some friendships will endure in surprising ways.

Twenty-nine still keeps a handwritten journal as she has done since she was six, and has carted several boxes of old journals to half a dozen houses and apartments.

Twenty-nine still loves the boy she fell in love with at nineteen, and can hardly believe they will celebrate a decade of being together in November.

Twenty-nine is learning to resist the allure of cheap clothes in favor of well-made pieces. Twenty-nine is embracing her signature style rather than chasing trends, though her favorite pieces of clothing still tend to come from her sister’s closet.

Twenty-nine knows what it is to grieve, to question, to struggle with faith and come out on the other side with a faith that acknowledges all kinds of doubts. Twenty-nine believes, increasingly, that community and grace are far more important than doctrines or creeds.

Twenty-nine is learning to loosen up, to laugh more, to plan spontaneous adventures, to be silly sometimes rather than so serious all the time.

Twenty-nine is learning how to balance nice and honest, learning not to apologize for who she is.

Twenty-nine dreams of many more adventures, but is deeply grateful for her life as it is right now.

k & j fenway

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maine bar harbor smiling photo

  • survived my second (thankfully milder than the first) Boston winter.
  • admitted that, to survive my third such winter, a light box and Vitamin D pills will be helpful tools.
  • read nearly 300 books – a personal record. (Yes, I am fast. No, I don’t “speed read.” Yes, I spend a LOT of time reading.)
  • lost a grandmother and a cousin, and grieved.
  • flown to Texas three times to visit my family.
  • become an aunt twice over, to Ryder and then to Annalynn.
  • taken J to D.C., shown him the monuments and museums I love, and discovered some new places there with him.
  • spent two wonderful long weekends (one frigid, one fall-ish) in New York City.
  • drunk SO many cups of tea.
  • taken countless lunchtime walks.
  • filled up six and a half journals.
  • overslept a LOT of mornings.
  • had my soul fed, my heart uplifted and my intellect challenged at the Glen Workshop.
  • gained about 10 pounds. (Which I’d like to lose in 2013.)
  • attended my 10th high school reunion, and marveled at the ways my classmates and I have grown into ourselves since 2002.
  • kept up a pen-and-paper correspondence with the lovely Jaclyn (who also hosted us in D.C.).
  • driven to the wilds of Maine for a super-fun wedding.
  • kept showing up for my day job, even when I did not feel like it.
  • continued to work as a freelance for my beloved alma mater.
  • taken on extra responsibilities at church.
  • realized why church work is sometimes thankless and sometimes deeply rewarding.
  • missed my family, and faraway friends, deeply.
  • welcomed my sweet college roomie and her husband for a visit to Boston.
  • paid down a LARGE percentage of the balance on my student loans.
  • written 170-ish blog posts (and hit the milestone of 1,000 posts).
  • tweeted probably more than was strictly necessary. (But it’s so much fun.)
  • joined a networking group for bookish folks.
  • celebrated my third Turkeypalooza.
  • knitted 6 hats (4 adult, 2 baby), 4 baby sweaters, 2 pairs of booties, 2 cowls, 3 mini sweaters, 1 pair of leg warmers, 1 sunglasses case, 2 pairs of fingerless gloves, and 42 wee hats for smoothie bottles.
  • fallen head over heels for Lark Rise to Candleford, finished watching Mary Tyler Moore, and continued my love affair with Castle.
  • reviewed more than 40 books for Shelf Awareness.
  • met a dozen or more online friends in person.
  • become part of a book club.
  • visited Vermont, Newport (R.I.) and western MA.
  • found a question I keep asking over and over.
  • celebrated my fourth wedding anniversary.
  • relished a rain-soaked, hilarious, memorable 4th of July.
  • soaked up all I could of the London Olympics.
  • reflected on two years in Boston.
  • struggled at times to make this life fit.
  • talked about the future with J.
  • fallen in love with a slew of new-to-me detectives, including Mary Russell, Tommy & Tuppence, Sarah Kelling, Chet and Bernie, Bess Crawford, and the Spellmans. (This has been a year for mysteries.)
  • seen both The Lion King and The Fantasticks on Broadway.
  • spent many Tuesday evenings sipping tea with girlfriends.
  • wondered what is next.

I wrote a post like this last year, and it was so thought-provoking I decided to do it again. It’s amazing to look back over a year and see what’s happened, and what I have made happen.

What have you done, experienced, read, accomplished in 2012?

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Let us remember . . . that in the end we go to poetry for one reason, so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.

—Christian Wiman

I have been craving poetry lately, reading an entire volume of Robert Frost and a luminous chapbook by Gregory Orr, and returning to the words of Marie Howe and W.S. Merwin almost daily. The world can be a grim place, whether I’m battling the mundane frustrations of crowded commutes and grey rainy days and maddening to-do lists that seem to multiply overnight, or worrying over the larger issues of pain and hunger and need that plague so many people, in so many different ways.

As a bookworm, I am tempted to hide behind books when life is either colorless or painful, and sometimes escaping into a sweeping story or a beloved tale (or even a witty volume of letters) is just the ticket. But ultimately, hiding from my life and the world is neither productive nor satisfying. And poetry, with its brief, searching lines that often break me wide open, provides a way for me to pay more attention to both my life and the world around me. And when I start to pay more attention, to lean into the moments and middles and mundanities, I often find hope and beauty there. I often find sorrow and frustration, too, but poetry helps me realize that grief and ennui do not have the last word.

Do you read poetry – for this reason or for others? What helps you inhabit your life more fully? And what are the poems, or other words, you return to over and over?

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Recently, my husband and I reached the two-year anniversary of our move from West Texas to Boston. The first anniversary felt both weighty and giddy; we could hardly believe we’d survived a whole year in our new home. We had left blistering heat on the West Texas plains for a greener, more erudite land where summers were milder and fall was a riot of color, scented with apples and woodsmoke. Our first winter was long and bitterly snowy, but we learned to shovel snow and wear layers, and we felt deep pride in having stuck out an entire year in a place so divertingly unlike our homeland.

This two-year anniversary, this second milestone, feels different.

orange leaves boston common fall

I’m over at the Art House America blog today, sharing some thoughts on our two years in Boston. Head over there to read the rest!

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About a year ago, I got several hints from the universe about The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Suddenly, she was everywhere – in friends’ blogs and casual conversation. I’d been briefly acquainted with Mary as a child, but we hadn’t hung out in years.

mary tyler moore hat

I’ve been borrowing the seasons from our library, and I watched the series finale a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t sniffle my way through it as I did when we finished Friends, but I did get a little misty as Mary looked around the WJM newsroom before turning the lights off for the last time.

Mary’s story bears several parallels to my own over the past few years. True, she’s a single girl and I’m married, so I’m already done with the dating travails that sometimes bedevil her (though her love life is never the true focus of the show). But we both have struggled, and sometimes triumphed, as we’ve adjusted to new cities and navigated the rocky path of being career women in what is (still) often a man’s world. (And we each have a few stalwart friends in our corner, though unfortunately mine don’t live in my building.)

mary tyler moore rhoda

(Image from Hooked on Houses)

Mary is (nearly) the only woman in the WJM-TV newsroom in the early 1970s. The sexism she deals with is more overt than any I’ve ever encountered. But we both are pursuing that tricky thing called “work-life balance” or “having it all” – holding down a financially and emotionally satisfying job, while enjoying an active life outside of work and nurturing deep friendships. (And for heaven’s sake, both she and I would like a little time to ourselves once in a while.)

Mary’s pursuit of a successful life and career is not effortless. (Despite her hospitable spirit and impeccable fashion sense, her lousy dinner parties are a standing joke.) She loves her friends at the newsroom, but often gets caught up in their crises, and Rhoda and Phyllis (her upstairs and downstairs neighbors, respectively) do their part to keep things lively (and complicated). She never does get married, that we know of. She is bright and beautiful and capable, but she’s also just another girl trying to make a living, find love, sustain friendships, “make it after all.”

Therein, of course, lies Mary’s charm: who among us hasn’t dealt with cranky coworkers, awkward dates, deadlines at work and a stretched-to-the-breaking-point budget? Who hasn’t headed home to a hot bath after a stressful day or a frantic week, only to be interrupted by a friend’s crisis or a family member’s emergency? And who among us (especially women) hasn’t struggled to balance our people-pleasing instinct and cultural conditioning as “nice girls” with our drive for success?

I loved watching Mary find her feet, eventually summoning the moxie to talk back to her gruff boss, Lou Grant, and the self-absorbed anchorman, Ted Baxter. By the seventh season, she has grown into a feisty, independent but still compassionate woman who knows what she wants out of life (even if she can’t throw a perfect dinner party). She may not have all the answers (though she does have a hip little apartment and a fabulous wardrobe), but by the end of the series we know: she, and we, are gonna make it after all.

Thanks, Mary, for the laughs and the inspiration. I’ll be coming back to visit you in Minneapolis once in a while.

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it’s a both-and kind of world

A bouquet of pink tulips with slightly bruised petals. My favorite black textured tights, with a hidden run too high for anyone to see. A brave, cheer-you-up blue sky, almost springlike, and punishing winds that whip right through my plaid coat. Tired eyes and low energy in the morning, and comforting cups of chai, strong Yorkshire and Earl Grey.

These are the details of my life this week. And it’s oh-so-tempting to spin them one way or another.

We do that a lot on the Internet, don’t we? Take the threads of our lives, and spin them in a certain way, positive or negative, pulling and twisting them to suit our frame of mind. As I did on Twitter yesterday: “Combating tiredness with pink tulips, a chai latte, the Puppini Sisters and a long to-do list. Hello Tuesday.” I did pause before I wrote that, knowing it could just as easily have been the other way: “I have pink tulips, a chai latte and the Puppini Sisters. But I have a to-do list as long as my arm. SO tired.”

It’s tempting to choose one way or another – to appear ever cheery, staunchly optimistic, to show the world a stiff upper lip and only post the photos that show order and calm. Frankly, it’s also tempting to go the other way: to rant and rave, complain and whine, knowing someone will offer a sympathetic ear, a “me too” to help us through the day. But the truth is so much more complicated. The truth is rarely either-or. The truth, instead, is both-and.

I’m tired this week, struggling against the late-winter blues and several deadlines and crowded commutes. I’m deeply grateful for new bookshelves and letters from pen pals and beautiful books and Mary Tyler Moore. I’m excited for the first meeting of our new book club, and I’m sad, wishing I could travel two thousand miles to attend my sister’s baby shower this weekend.

It’s all true. All of it. The hopeful and the depressing; the deep joy and the deep pain; the little, everyday precious blessings and the equally ubiquitous frustrations. And though it’s difficult to hold it all in tension, I am slowly learning not to spin it, to accept the deep and complicated fact that it’s all part of this thing called life.

How do you make peace with living in a both-and world?

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1. Books to be read (and sometimes reviewed).
2. Knitting projects to start (especially this time of year).
3. The dishes (someday we’ll have a dishwasher!).
4. The laundry (though I don’t mind that so much).
5. Emails to answer and to write, to dear ones.
6. The clutter – in the closet, on the counters, on the coffee table.
7. The teas – because I’m always trying new kinds.
8. The recycling (and also the trash).
9. The canned goods and baking supplies, as the weather turns colder.
10. Recipes to try.
11. Tasks on the to-do list.
12. Places I want to visit.
13. People I miss.
14. Blankets on the bed, as winter approaches.
15. Ideas for projects of all kinds.

Some of these heaps are delightful, some onerous – but they’re all the stuff of my everyday life.

What piles up in your life?

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a bit of mending

Recently, my life feels like a mad swing between two poles on a pendulum. The house is either sparkling clean in preparation for guests, or dusty and untidy, dishes piled in the sink, after they’ve gone. Our weekends are either crammed with social engagements, or they stretch out ahead of us, long and lazy (how grateful I was, this past weekend, for the latter). Our meals are either elaborate and delicious (chicken curry with jalapenos and sweet peaches) or quick renditions of the tried-and-true standbys (homemade pizza, pasta tossed with tomatoes and basil, burrito night). (Tasty, but boring after a while.)

Similarly, my mind is either frantically cluttered, chasing a to-do list longer than my arm, tearing through books to review, trying to keep up with friendships and freelance projects and the demands of the day job, or blissfully serene, affording plenty of time to curl up with a Madeleine L’Engle novel on a Saturday afternoon. There hasn’t been much balance, or indeed much in-between time.

Mending, I’ve discovered, can be an antidote to this crazed back-and-forth – a chance to stop, in the middle of commitments and commutes, present stresses and future worries, and focus on one little thing. I’m no professional seamstress (I knit better than I sew), but I can sew on a button, mend a torn seam, insert a clear snap on a shirt placket in the place where it tends to gap open. And there’s satisfaction in threading my needle with just the right color of thread, and making tiny, precise stitches to close a hole or adjust a fold or hold a seam together. I’m always amazed by the strength of those tiny stitches, and the sense of accomplishment I get afterward.

Again and again, when I get frantic and tired and spread thin, I have to remind myself: the small steps are often the most effective ones. Washing a sink full of dishes. Making my bed in the morning. Sipping tea or savoring fruit sorbet in the evening, over an episode of Friends or The Mary Tyler Moore Show or a chapter of a good book. Sorting the books and magazines into neat stacks on the coffee table. And mending a hole in a skirt or anchoring a stray button back where it belongs.

Does anyone else derive this kind of pleasure from mending, or from another small, tactile (but enormously satisfying) task? And how do you “mend” your life when it all starts to unravel?

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That’s what I’ve been doing since we got home on Sunday. Or trying to do.

Bethany’s wedding was so much fun – a whole weekend spent with old and dear friends, five of us crammed into a hotel room just big enough for us and all our stuff (and about a million inside jokes). Jeremiah serenading everyone at the wedding with Sister Hazel’s “This Kind of Love.” The guys making faces whenever a camera appeared. The welcome sound of so many Southern accents. Bethany, nervous and beautiful in her white dress and veil. Angela, sister of the bride and baker extraordinaire, working hard to make sure the cake didn’t fall. Lots of lip gloss and curling irons, silver high heels and jewelry, and yards and yards of twinkle lights and white tulle. Hugging one dear family who made it all the way up from Abilene.

But between flight delays on Sunday, houseguests when we got home (though we thoroughly enjoyed them), cold rainy weather in Boston, a stack of stuff waiting for me at work and bad health news for one of J’s aunts, it’s been a tough reentry. Still is, actually – it’s not over yet. I’m not quite back to a regular sleep/work/cooking/life routine, and 57 degrees does not feel like summer.

So I’m trying, trying, to take it slowly. Letting (some of) the laundry wait; stocking up on (some) essential foods and also picking up takeout; treating myself to a chai latte here and there; spending my lunch breaks reading at my favorite cafe. Listening to Frank Sinatra as I edit webpages; reading young adult books and Agatha Christie mysteries and Laura Harrington’s gorgeous debut, Alice Bliss. Trying to shut the computer down in the evenings and get some sleep. And remembering all the lovely moments from the weekend. (Photos + stories to come.)

How do you reenter after vacations or time away?

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Well. I don’t know where the last week went.

Between having Abilene friends in town, a couple of evenings out with other friends, my Monday night class at Grub Street and my regular coffee night with the girls, I somehow spent seven evenings in a row away from home, returning to collapse in front of the computer for a little while before crashing into bed. I didn’t cook. I did maybe one load of laundry. And I ended up thoroughly exhausted.

This dizzyingly social spell came, of course, after a long, hard, lonely winter – it seems it’s feast or famine around here. And while spending time with friends is a feast – one for which I have longed, as we settle into this new Boston life – spending time at home, with my husband, is its own kind of feast. And I missed indulging my domestic tendencies – it’s so satisfying to have my nest in order, and it can be so wearing when everything gets out-at-elbows.

Sarah addressed this same issue lately, confessing she has felt spread thin, and then recommending a small step (or two) back toward normalcy, toward balance, toward peace. For me, the small steps came in a quiet evening at home, in which I did a couple loads of laundry, splashed around until all the dishes were done (for the first time in I won’t tell you how long), painted my toenails bright summery pink, and made a summery pasta salad, creamy with goat cheese and juicy with cherry tomatoes. We ate it warm in bright ceramic bowls, at the cafe table on our porch. A tiny Asian girl walked by holding her grandmother’s hand, and when Jeremiah waved to her, she waved back, solemn under her black bangs.

I know we’ll have a few more zany weeks like this one, as summer brings visitors, vacations and its own kind of busyness. But I’m hoping to strike a better balance most of the time. To make time for dinners on the porch, small but vital acts of self-care, pulling warm lavender-scented sheets out of the dryer, baking something delectable, and curling up with a beloved book on the couch. (The other night it was The Saturdays, and I am newly in love with every member of the Melendy family.)

What small steps help to re-balance you, when life goes off-kilter or just gets over-busy?

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