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Posts Tagged ‘light’

Hello, friends. Welcome (?) to 2021.

It’s hard to believe we are only 10 days in. Last week’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol has left me reeling. My partner and I both have family members who have the virus, and the general stress and isolation of pandemic life has not let up. If anything, the cumulative weight of the last few months makes it feel even heavier. So I’ve been quiet here, because really, what is there to say?

I still don’t know, but a comment from a reader (hi Mary!) helped remind me that coming back to this space is often a healthy outlet and a source of joy. So I’m starting the year on the blog with a list of the tiny good things that are getting me through, at the moment. Here they are:

  • My paperwhites (above) are finally blooming. Every year this is a miracle, and I have rarely watched so anxiously for those buds and creamy flowers as I did this year.
  • My Christmas tree is still up (oh yes it is), and twinkle lights feel hopeful in this dark season.
  • The fish I am feeding for a friend are all (knock wood) still alive.
  • I started a new journal last week, and this one is Harry Potter-themed.
  • Dinner on Friday was a new recipe from Real Simple, and it was delicious.
  • My new coat does have functional pockets (I had to open them with a seam ripper, but they are there).
  • The fizzy shower bar a friend sent for Christmas is such a treat. (I have a tiny shower and no bathtub, so it’s perfect.)
  • I have been reading some really good books: Elizabeth Wein’s gripping YA novel The Enigma Game and Horatio Clare’s gorgeous, honest memoir The Light in the Dark.
  • My writing class has started back up, and seeing everyone’s faces and sharing our writing is so nourishing and fun.
  • The Wailin’ Jennys’ cover of “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” – with their ethereal, bell-like harmonies – is perfection.
  • My local tea store, Mem Tea, is still faithfully shipping out online orders, and I just stocked up on my winter staples: English Breakfast and Earl Grey.

What are the small things getting you through, these days?

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Hello, friends. Here we are, two days before Christmas, and I am feeling all the emotions: seesawing between loneliness and hope, heavy sadness and sharp, sudden joy.

On the long list of things that are different this year, my holiday traditions (like most people’s) have been upended. I’m not in Texas with my family, and I am also still figuring out life (and Christmas) after divorce. I love December and all its rituals, large and small, and this year I have had no choice but to adapt and remake so many of the traditions I love.

I wrote last week about how I put up my tiny tree, not the same as the big one we had for years, but still twinkly and lovely. Many of my ornaments remain packed away, for now, but the ones I’ve chosen all have deep and sweet associations. I cried when I found our old stockings packed away in a box, but I pulled out the snowflake hangers, and my guy and I bought new stockings, for a new season.

When J and I sent Christmas cards, we’d pick out a photo, design a card on Shutterfly, order stacks of them, then hand-address them all in one go, sitting at the kitchen table with Christmas music playing. This year, that honestly felt like too much. (I didn’t send cards at all last year.) I bought a few different sets of letterpress cards and have been addressing them in small batches, scribbling notes to faraway family and friends and sealing each one with a poinsettia sticker. The ones I’ve received are Scotch-taped to the doorframe, reminding me of the folks I love and wish I could hug.

There will be no Christmas Eve service in Texas this year, but I’ll tune into a Zoom listening party for the carol choir I’ve participated in. We won’t have a traditional menu, because we are making this part up as we go along. I won’t go running in my parents’ neighborhood or bump into friends from high school, but I’ll run along the Eastie trails I love, and wave at the few local friends I can still see in person.

It won’t look like this forever, I know. But this is how it looks now. And some days, it’s enough to simply acknowledge that it looks different, and keep on making it new.

Merry Christmas, if you’re celebrating. See you next week.

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This year, I’ve been pulling out my favorite Christmas albums, most of which I still own on CD: Sarah McLachlan, James Taylor, Elvis and (of course) Charlie Brown. But on my morning runs through the snow, I’ve been listening to a newer favorite: Nichole Nordeman’s Christmas album, Fragile.

I’ve loved Nordeman’s music since I was in high school, when I saw her open for Avalon and bought her second album, This Mystery. I rediscovered her a few years ago when she released an EP, The Unmaking, but didn’t pay much attention to Fragile when it came out last year. Now, though, in the quiet of these days before Christmas, it has been a balm to my soul.

My favorite Christmas albums mix traditional carols with the artist’s own interpretations and sometimes an original song or two. Nordeman’s voice shines on classics I love, like O Holy Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem and O Come O Come Emmanuel, but I also love her remix of What Child is This? with a song called Fragile (originally performed by Sting, of all people). The few original songs – Maybe, How Love Comes and We Watch, We Wait, – capture the longing and heartbreak of Advent against the good news we are all waiting for. Her voice is reverent and lovely and so familiar: it is a voice of truth to me, and has been for twenty years.

Between my divorce, my own church grief and the pandemic, I haven’t been to church in a long time, nor do I expect to go for a while yet. But on Sunday morning, running along the snowy trails, Nichole’s voice in my earbuds felt like the closest to church I’ve come in a long time. I am grateful, this Advent, for the writers and artists and voices who hold the beauty and the brokenness, and help the rest of us do the same.

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This year, it seemed that fully half my friends (at least, the ones who post on Instagram) hauled their Christmas decorations out in early November. I couldn’t fault them for it: as my sister and others have said, 2020 needs all the joy it can get. My mom famously decorates early every year (my parents have three Christmas trees), but everyone else seemed to jump on that bandwagon this year. It made a lot of sense to me, but I just was not ready to put up my own decorations.

Decorating the tree is one of my favorite Christmas traditions: I am one of those people who loves tons of (small, white) lights, and for whom nearly every ornament has a story. But since my divorce, that ritual is a bit fraught. Last year, I had my friend Lauryn come over and help me decorate, and this year, I asked my guy to help me do it.

We hauled my little tree and assorted decorations out of the basement on a Saturday night, and assembled it on the fireplace. I strung the lights that night (he provided moral support and Christmas music), and we waited another week to do the ornaments. I sort of like the look with just the lights, and it felt like a small acknowledgment of Advent: waiting, letting the process take its time.

Last weekend, we unwrapped a few cherished ornaments (plus two new ones I bought at Albertine Press), and hung them on the tree. And we also bought stockings at Target, and hung them on the snowflake hangers I’ve had for years. Old alongside new.

I can’t erase the memories of Christmases past, nor do I entirely want to. But we are moving forward, and I’m so pleased with the effect. It’s cozy and twinkly, and since I’m home all the time these days, I get plenty of chances to enjoy it.

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During this completely bonkers year, I have needed voices of reason more than ever — to help me make sense of the pandemic and political madness, and cut through all the noise. Juliette Kayyem is one of my go-to sources for sharp, thoughtful, sane news commentary, and her tweets are a major source of light (and reliable information) these days.

I met Juliette when I worked at the Harvard Kennedy School, where my duties included staffing the camera room on campus. We had multiple faculty members who were regular guests on CNN and other networks, and the camera allowed them to speak to networks remotely.

I got to know Juliette as she’d come dashing into the camera room before a CNN hit, frequently finishing up a call with her consulting company before plugging in her curling iron and changing into a snazzy blouse. She struck me then as brilliant, real and funny, and I’ve enjoyed following her work ever since — but she is really knocking it out of the park these days.

This pandemic, whatever else it is, is confusing, and the distribution of a vaccine (not to mention containing the spread, distributing PPE, etc.) is (and will continue to be) a huge logistical and policy challenge. Juliette (a former homeland security advisor at the state and federal level) knows a thing or two about disaster response and logistics, and I have so appreciated her thoughtful takes on various stages of the pandemic and the challenges facing us at each stage. She and a colleague have also done a wise, funny “Questions from Quarantine” video series, and she occasionally peppers her Twitter feed with photos of her sunset runs, or her dog.

In short, she’s a human being sharing her considerable expertise and also her very real, very human take on life during the pandemic, and I am here for all of it. I’m thankful today for the experts who are pulling back the curtain a bit, sharing their scientific and political knowledge (and their struggles with bored teenagers) as we continue to navigate this pandemic together.

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One of the toughest parts of the pandemic, for me, has been the isolation. I live alone, was working full-time from home until I was furloughed in May, and have not seen my family (all of whom live in Texas or other far-flung states) at all this year. I’ve still been seeing my guy (thank goodness) and a few local friends, but there are a lot of empty hours to fill, and even when I have work to do, I’ve been missing community.

Back in September, my friend Nina Badzin posted about an online writing class she was teaching through ModernWell, which usually happens in person but had moved to Zoom for the fall. I’ve known Nina online for years (we both used to write for the now-defunct Great New Books), but we’ve never (yet) met in person. But I loved the idea of a safe, fun, creative space on Tuesday mornings, a chance to write in community. I signed up, and y’all, it has been life-giving.

There are around a dozen women, mostly Midwesterners (a few of us live elsewhere) of varying ages, careers/life situations and writing experience. Many of us love to cook, and we’ve had a few cookbook discussions alongside the writing chat. All of us love books and enjoy a well-written TV show (I think I’m the last one who hasn’t yet watched The Queen’s Gambit). Everyone has been warm and welcoming, and I’ve so loved seeing their faces on Zoom every week. Our focus is writing, but bits of our lives creep in around the edges – one woman’s newborn granddaughter, another’s house renovation, another’s passion for beautifully wrapped gifts.

We go around and share what we’ve been up to creatively – both what we’ve been writing/creating and how we’ve been filling the well. Nina gives us a prompt or exercise, usually with a sample essay by a pro, and we turn off our cameras and write for a while. Then we take turns sharing our work. The results are rough, of course, but they are full of gems – astonishing warmth and humor and vivid details, whether we’re writing about our current lives or memories from way back.

In a time when I’ve struggled to find both community and silver linings, this group has been a major source of both. We’re taking a few weeks off for the holidays, but we’ll be back in the New Year, and I’m so glad.

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It’s no secret I am a flower fanatic – I’ve always got a vase or two of fresh blooms around here, plus the geraniums I can usually coax to go through the winter. My Instagram feed is at least half flower photos, and one of the ways my guy and I fell in love was taking flower walks through Cambridge and Boston together.

Recently, though, I’ve been taking even more flower photos than usual: I’m running the Instagram page for my beloved florist. They’ve been without a social media person for a bit, and I had both time and inclination, so once a week, I pop in to snap some photos of the latest arrangements, and post them throughout the week.

It’s a fun creative challenge: the flowers are gorgeous, and I’m enjoying the chance to try out different angles and filters. The holiday decorations are coming in now, too, and they’re so much fun to photograph.

In a time where I’ve struggled to find community, it’s also nice to have a compelling reason to show up somewhere once a week. I always grab a bunch of flowers to take home – tulips or sunflowers or bright gerbera daisies – and Stephen will wrap up a rose or two for me. The extra bit of cash doesn’t hurt, but mostly it’s a fun excuse to stop by a place I love.

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Since we all began staying home in mid-March, I have spent a lot (a lot) of time working on my laptop in my apartment. At first I was sitting at my kitchen table, but my IT band started to protest after a few weeks of that. So I made a makeshift standing desk (using stacks of books, naturally), and put a cushion on the kitchen chair where I often sit. Simply shifting positions more often, and using that standing setup, has made a huge difference (in addition to buying a foam roller).

Recently, though, I’ve been adopting a third writing position, a rather unexpected one: sitting on my kitchen floor with my back against the cabinets. It gives me a chance to stretch out my legs, and I like the shift in (literal) perspective it provides. (Also, I can’t sit here for too long without needing to stretch or hop up and grab something – which helps with flexibility.)

My favorite part, though: the afternoon light, which floods in through the window by the sink, filtering through my geraniums and warming my face and shoulders. We are entering the cold season, and the winds off the harbor are already brisk. But basking in the sun when I can – like a cat – helps me get through these chilly days. And I’ve logged more than a few thousand words sitting on my leopard-print kitchen mat, sipping black tea and feeling thankful to be in this place.

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Last summer, I moved from Dorchester to East Boston, to a studio apartment overlooking the harbor, a listing I found through a friend of a friend. I have marveled, many times, at the journey that led me to Eastie: a reconnection with college friends who live down the hill, an introduction that led me to dog-sitting for a sweet doodle pup, a gradual recognition that I was falling in love with this neighborhood. I love my light-filled apartment here by the water, and sometimes I still can’t believe it’s mine.

Whenever anyone comes over (less often, these days), they immediately move to the kitchen windows, drawn by the view. It is an ever-changing landscape, this view of the seaport skyline: I’ve seen it painted in sunset colors, washed in silver grey, blanketed in mist and fog and snow, or standing out sharply against a sky of brilliant blue.

By now, I’ve watched the trees in the park lose their leaves and bud out and grow full again; I’ve watched the little garden just below my windows bloom and change with the seasons. Sometimes I stand in the window and bask in the afternoon sunshine. And nearly every night, I pause to look out and look up at the few stars visible above the city lights.

Amid so much uncertainty, it has been a gift to wake up each morning in this place, to drink my morning tea with this view as the backdrop. It feels anchoring and nourishing, and it is always beautiful. I am grateful every single day to be rooted here: it is still new in some ways, but it feels deeply like home.

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Last year, one of the joys of December in Eastie was participating in a local Christmas carol choir, spearheaded by my friend Peter and often hosted by him and his wife, Giordana. (That’s their dining room table, above, complete with pencils for marking and herbal tea for scratchy throats.)

We are all keeping our distance this year, of course, but I think Peter (and some of us) could not bear to do nothing, so we’re cobbling together a pandemic-safe carol service. We’re holding rehearsals on Zoom and planning to record ourselves singing the individual parts, to be mixed together and then released as a full (amateur) recording.

I thought it might feel sad, or inadequate: like so many things, this practice is a shadow of what it was pre-pandemic. We can’t gather in anyone’s living room, or sing together in real time; instead, we all mute ourselves and sing along with recordings on YouTube, sharing the sheet music on our computer screens (with lots of attendant technical glitches).

It is messy and imperfect and sometimes hilarious, and the recordings are hit or miss, frankly. But it’s still nourishing to see everyone’s faces, and wave hello and sing together, even if it doesn’t look at all “normal.” I am learning a few songs I didn’t know, and revisiting cherished favorites, like “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “O Holy Night.”

These songs have layers of associations for me, long years of singing them with family or friends or church communities, all the way up to Christmas Eve. For me, the music and the community are both vital to marking the season. So despite the tech issues and the funky recordings and the wish that we could all be together, these rehearsals – virtual though they may be – are a real source of light and warmth and laughter.

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