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Posts Tagged ‘lists’

Harvard yard November light trees fall blue sky

It has been (yet) another stretch of challenge and change here – though the new job is making a little more sense these days. And despite some heartening headlines from last week’s election (more women, more diversity, higher voter turnout), it’s been (another) hellishly hard week or two to be in the world.

That’s how it seems to go these days, isn’t it? Back and forth. But a few small lifesavers are bearing me up. On some days they feel like just enough. Even that, I recognize, is a gift. Here they are:

  • My short rain boots, which are getting me through the fall storms.
  • Related: my newish belted raincoat, lined with a hood.
  • Chatter with my colleagues: music, books, tea, punctuation. (Yes, we are nerds.)
  • Tart, crisp Empire apples from the farmers’ market.
  • The In the Heights soundtrack, especially the first few numbers.
  • Yoga on Tuesday nights, and Gina’s smile.
  • Standing at the kitchen sink washing piles of dishes.
  • The tiny, sparkly We See Stars earrings I bought in the West Village this summer.
  • This song from The Annual, a yearlong music project from St Aldates, my beloved church in Oxford.
  • Morning bike rides across the river after prayers at Mem Church.
  • Related: trips to Darwin’s before prayers, for chai and community.
  • Mums and late roses and black-eyed Susans.
  • The autumn light that turns leaves to stained glass.
  • The feeling when I’m running of finally being warm to my fingertips.
  • Early sunrises out my kitchen window.
  • Related: my vitamin D pills and my happy lamp.

What’s saving your life these days? Please share, if you like.

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Katie polka dots porch selfie

I turned thirty-five this past weekend. And I have to admit: this one freaked me out a little.

I don’t often worry about birthdays: turning another year older beats the alternative, as my mom says. My (fairly healthy) reaction to turning thirty, a few years ago, was to take my first trip to Canada. But this birthday – falling squarely in the middle of ordinary life and a job change – felt big, somehow, in a way I didn’t quite feel able to process.

I’d debated about having a party, but in the end we celebrated with friends, pulling together a brunch in our top-floor apartment: mimosas and fruit, jazz on my old stereo, scrambled eggs and stacks of French toast made by my husband. Sierra walked in and handed me a bouquet of sunflowers; Aaron brought a bread pudding made with honey cake; 14-month-old Colette toddled around in a pink plaid dress with cupcakes on the smocked yoke. Everyone greeted me with bear hugs and best wishes. They pulled open the cabinets for coffee mugs and Fiestaware plates, and made themselves at home on the living room couches and around the kitchen table, talking, laughing, enjoying one another. It was exactly what I wanted.

sunflowers books mimosas birthday

I’m only a few days into thirty-five, of course, but wanted to capture a few snapshots, literal and figurative, of what it looks like so far.

Thirty-five is about a dozen gray hairs (I stopped counting after three). So far I’m happy to let them coexist with the brown and the pink streaks; you can see some of all three above. I am even a little bit proud: I’ve earned every single one.

Thirty-five is adjusting to the rhythms of a new job, in a new neighborhood across the river from my Cambridge home. Thirty-five is struggling with this change, and also trying to turn toward gratitude.

Thirty-five is still learning to own the broken pieces and wonky seams of this life, to step into both strength and vulnerability, to let herself be seen.

Thirty-five is stepping into my identity as a runner, getting out on the river trail several days a week. Thirty-five loves both the measured pace of yoga class and the change-it-up high intensity of a boot camp workout in Erin’s backyard.

Thirty-five is always reading a handful of books at once: something for review, brain-challenging nonfiction, something with heft and depth (fiction or nonfiction), a damn good story, something just for fun. (These categories often overlap.)

Thirty-five repeats a few good phrases to herself over and over again: everyone is learning. You are loved. The only thing to do is to keep moving. Summon all the courage you require

Thirty-five eats a lot of granola and peanut butter crackers, drinks copious amounts of black tea, tries to stay away from sugar and eat more vegetables (she has no trouble eating lots of fruit). Thirty-five tries to stay off the computer in the evenings, and winds down with a book before bed.

Thirty-five tears up often and laughs every single day. Thirty-five wears the same few pieces of jewelry that have become talismans: a necklace stamped with brave, a Wonder Woman bracelet, a matching set of wedding and engagement rings.

Thirty-five thought she’d have more answers to a few big questions by now. Instead, she is facing the reality that we are always becoming. That few things are set in stone. That even the most foundational relationships will change. Thirty-five would refute the sunny-side optimists who insist that change is always good, but is trying to agree with the friend who often says, “Change is how we grow.”

Thirty-five has learned that love and life are bigger and harder and more complicated than she ever thought possible. Thirty-five is in the middle of a messy, rich story. Thirty-five is doing her best to be honest about, and grateful for, the all of it.

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darwins mug ledge coffee shop

This is the summer of strong Earl Grey, drunk without milk in a ceramic mug or a white paper cup, both of them bearing the blue Darwin’s logo on their sides.

This is the summer of freelance projects: a two-part feature story, an annual report, some calendar and publicity work, the usual book reviews and some author Q&As for Shelf Awareness.

This is the summer of libraries and coffee shops: hours spent with my laptop, elbows on a green table, answering emails and wordsmithing sentence after sentence.

This is the summer of sunflowers and roses, of tall purple iris and pink snapdragons, of smiles from the guys at my florist and drawing a deep breath every time I walk in.

oceana rose kitchen

This is (another) summer of local adventures: a weekend in Falmouth, a return to Marblehead, a glorious Sunday in Lenox, a Friday at Wingaersheek Beach.

This is the summer of Amanda’s salsa, scooped up with tortilla chips or spooned onto burritos, huevos and quesadillas every chance I get.

This is the summer of long runs on the river trail, past loosestrife and birdsfoot and Queen Anne’s lace, through morning haze and thick humidity and evening light.

trail morning summer green trees neponset

This is the summer of blue and purple hydrangeas, of bright yellow beds of black-eyed Susans, of tall gangly daylilies in every shade of red and orange.

This is the summer of boot camp workouts in parks and parking lots, sweating and laughing through push-ups and burpees, growing stronger and feeling grateful.

This is (another) summer of yoga on a green mat: Tuesday evenings, Friday mornings, the occasional Saturday afternoon.

This is the summer of pink streaks in my hair, freckled shoulders and striped skirts and my Wonder Woman bracelet.

This is the summer of soaking in my Cambridge neighborhood, while readying myself for what’s next.

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neponset river light water bridge sky

We’re halfway through July, and y’all, it has been hot.

I grew up in West Texas, where the temps regularly climb above 100 from about May to September, but heat and humidity in Boston can be a whole different beast.

Since we don’t have central a/c in our third-floor apartment, and since I’m not working in an air-conditioned office at the moment, I’ve had to come up with a different arsenal of tricks for surviving a heat wave – especially the weeklong furnace blast we endured earlier this month.

In case you’re sweltering too, or expect to be, here are my expert tips:

  • Go to the movies. We’ve seen three movies in the last six weeks (Ocean’s 8, The Incredibles 2 and Solo) both because we wanted to see them and because of the air-conditioning. Bonus: matinees are cheaper and they get you out of the house during the hottest part of the day.
  • Make gazpacho. We’d tried this chilled veggie soup in Spain, and the hubs has been asking for it regularly ever since. When it’s too hot to turn on the stove or the oven, this makes a filling, healthy dinner.
  • Drink something hot (yes, really). I won’t give up my hot tea in the morning even on scorching days, and I’m convinced it really does cool me down.
  • Seek out air-conditioning.  This one seems obvious, but it’s a lifesaver on these broiling days. I am ever more grateful for coffee shops and libraries, for so many reasons.
  • Eat spicy food. It really does help cool you down – not that we needed another excuse to eat Tex-Mex food around here.
  • Exercise in the morning. I’ve been getting up early to go running (who am I?) on some mornings when the forecast is particularly scorching. There’s more shade and less heat on the trail then. I’m still doing yoga at various times of day – but the studio has a/c and ceiling fans.
  • Box fans. These saved our lives during my childhood summers in Ohio, and they’re saving my life (and my husband’s) on these hot nights. One in the kitchen, one in the bedroom. Plus ceiling fans.
  • Front porch sitting. Our back porch is an oven in the late afternoon, but the front porch gets the shade and the breeze at that time of day. I swear it can make a 10-degree difference.

What are your best tricks for getting through a heat wave?

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mostly books interior abingdon uk bookshop

In my work for Shelf Awareness, I occasionally get to interview authors, and we always talk about good books: theirs, and usually others. But this conversation might have been the most bookish one yet. I was talking to James Mustich, co-founder of the book catalogue A Common Reader and the author of the wide-ranging, ambitious compendium 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die.

If that sounds daunting, let me reassure you: Mustich isn’t out to shame anybody for the books they “should” be reading. Instead, his book is an invitation to explore and discover. Here’s a bit of the extensive review I wrote for the Shelf:

Many avid readers have a “book bucket list”: that hefty classic they’ve always meant to tackle, that series they’ll get around to someday, that book their mother or husband or best friend loves that they’ve just never managed to try. But 1,000 books to read before you die? Sounds intimidating, to say the least.

Fear not. James Mustich, a longtime bookseller, voracious reader and a co-founder of the acclaimed book catalogue A Common Reader, has taken has taken on the task: he’s compiled a massive, eclectic, surprisingly accessible list of 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die. Organized alphabetically, it runs the gamut of taste and time: classic novels, myths and plays; beloved mysteries and children’s books; acclaimed contemporary fiction; seminal works of cultural criticism and much more. But it is not, as Mustich insists in his introduction, a canon or a prescriptive list.

Rather, it’s an invitation to explore. Begin at the beginning, the end, or anywhere you like. Flip through the entries; search for your favorites or for what might be missing. And–almost certainly–enjoy a few moments of serendipity along the way.

The best way to use this book is, in fact, to wander: flip through a section or two, go back and forth looking for something you thought you saw. Read the endnotes, skip a few entries or whole sections, only to find them again later. In short, “Read at whim!” as the poet Randall Jarrell entreated his readers. Mustich invokes Jarrell in his introduction, and it’s good advice: with a list this extensive, whimsy is not only enjoyable but absolutely necessary.

And here’s a bit from the Q&A:

How did you decide what to include in the compilation?

I did a lot of research, and I wrote about each book to the best of my ability. I want to share my enthusiasm about books people love, or books readers may know about but might not have taken the plunge into. I’ve been a bookseller for many years, so I’ve also had lots of conversations with book buyers. All of that mixed with some degree of literary style is built into the entries in the book. It’s not a canon or a prescriptive list, but more of an invitation: Here’s a big bookshelf of interesting things. Find something that interests you and pull it off.

Book lists are flourishing in our culture–from the Pulitzer winners to BuzzFeed listicles and every outlet in between. How do you expect people will react to this particular (long!) list?

I’ve spent 14 years writing this book, and I expect to spend the next 14 months traveling the country on book tour, having people tell me what I left out! But I’m excited about that. The book is meant to engage people’s passions. It’s an invitation to engage with your own shelves and start conversations around what books people should be reading. We can lose a lot of that in the book business, or in online bookselling, which is more transactional. But when you walk into a bookstore, you’re walking into this big conversation, and I wanted to capture some of that here.

How did you ever narrow down the list?

I thought of it in a couple of ways. One: we read the way we eat. One day we want a hot dog, and the next day we want to go to a fancy restaurant. Or sometimes both on the same day! And I also kept imagining: If I had a bookstore with a thousand books in it, and I wanted to have all the books I love, plus the usual suspects of classics and so on, plus something surprising for everyone who came in, how would I put that together? That kind of organized it for me.

Are there any books you love that you absolutely couldn’t squeeze in?

There’s a picture book called Burnt Toast on Davenport Street by Tim Egan. I was in Books of Wonder, a fantastic children’s bookstore in Manhattan, with my younger daughter, Iris, who was maybe three or four. She marched over to the shelf and said, “Daddy, I want this one.” We took it home, and I subsequently read it to her several hundred times. She made a great choice. And I couldn’t get that one in here. But that’s another book, where I’d like to write about those books that have been meaningful to me emotionally.

You can read the full review and interview at the Shelf Awareness website. If you’re looking for summer reading inspiration, this is a great place to start.

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waves neponset summer

Jen posted recently on Instagram that some seasons feel like this: being knocked to the ground and having all your pieces scattered, like a puzzle.

When this happens, the pieces often will not come together again in the same way. You can know this, and still not have any idea what the new picture will look like.

I am standing on the edge of such a season: the open space of summer, the still more open space of the job hunt, the aftereffects of so many changes over the past couple of years still settling in.

Some days, I can admit this to you quite calmly, and on other days, I am trying not to slide into blind panic about what’s next.

I know – since I have been here before – that this is the human condition. We all get our lives rearranged, or decide to rearrange them ourselves, every now and then. And we walk through, and survive. But meanwhile it’s the small things that save our lives, over and over.

So here, because I need to make the list every so often, are the latest things that are saving me:

  • This line from The Last Jedi: “Hope is like the sun. If you only believe in it when you can see it, you’ll never make it through the night.”
  • Getting out on the river trail: summer breezes, so much lush green, thickets of wildflowers, and the light.
  • My neighbor’s dog, Riley, who knows I’ll always stop to pet her and will happily plonk herself down on my feet while I do so.
  • The guy at the phone repair shop, who fixed my cracked screen twice in one week (!) and gave me a case he had lying around.
  • Peonies and good cheer from my beloved florist.

peony close up table

  • Every single kind email from a colleague, friend or acquaintance, with job leads or encouragement. There have been many of these, and I’m grateful.
  • Being in the middle of several good books at once, which is the best kind of middle.
  • Lauren Winner’s words from Still about being in the middle of one’s spiritual life, which resonate deeply these days. And this line from later in the book: “This is the story you will wrestle with forever.”
  • Texts from friends near and far, checking in.
  • Granola bars and peanut butter crackers. I am an inveterate snacker.
  • Every single drop of chai, Earl Grey and compassion from the folks at Darwin’s. That last is, not surprisingly, the most important.
  • Ginger peach tea, when it’s too hot for chai or just because it’s my summer drink.
  • Tamales and fresh salsa from Amanda every Tuesday at the farmers’ market.
  • Kicking butt with Erin and other strong women at Monday night boot camp. And following it up with yoga.

What’s saving your life these days? Please share, if you want.

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sunday sunset river trail neponset

Regular readers know that I periodically turn back to the question of what’s saving my life now. I got it from Barbara Brown Taylor, and I always find answering it a helpful exercise, especially in the winter.

My friend Anne agrees. And today, at the halfway point of winter, she’s gathering all of us to share what’s saving our lives these days.

Here’s my list:

  • Paperwhite narcissus in my kitchen window. I started a new pair of bulbs last week and they are growing a bit every day.
  • The sunrise out that same window, every morning (when it’s not snowing).
  • Related: any scrap of blue sky I can find.
  • Tulips and daffodils for my desk and my kitchen table.
  • The weekly chats with my florist. Dear man.

ranunculus pink orange flowers

  • Spicy chai and scones from Darwin’s, and checking in with my people there. (Always.)
  • My winter gear: snow boots, warm gloves, hats, scarves and my two coats.
  • The days when I can wear real shoes to work. (Related: clear sidewalks, when I can find them.)
  • Tangy, bright clementines.
  • Fleeced-lined tights on frigid days.
  • Any time I can spend on the river trail: walking, running, taking deep breaths.

selfie gray hat river trail

  • The sleeveless gray sweater I found in Oxford this fall: the coziest thing I own. I’m wearing it almost every day, usually over a striped dress.
  • Good books: the latest Marisa de los Santos novel; Ada Calhoun’s wise, candid essays on marriage; lots of mysteries.
  • My favorite podcast: All the Books!, which features Rebecca and Liberty talking books and all sorts of randomness. Makes me laugh out loud on the regular.
  • The Wailin’ Jennys, in my ears on the river trail.
  • Lots and lots of water.
  • So much tea: ginger peach, Earl Grey, peppermint for the late nights.
  • My light box and Vitamin D pills, for the grey days.
  • Texts from a couple of dear friends.
  • The occasional glass of red wine or cup of strong tea with a girlfriend.
  • Monday night boot camp + yoga, both taught by the inimitable Erin.
  • Huevos on Mondays after that doubleheader workout.
  • A couple of upcoming trips I’m excited about. Having something to look forward to always helps.
  • Listening to Acoustic Sunrise as the hubs and I drive to church on Sunday mornings.
  • Good pens, and a minute to scribble in my journal here and there.
  • My Thursday morning writers’ meetings across the street: sarcastic and fun and so informative.
  • Season 8 (yes, we’re behind) of Modern Family, which makes my husband laugh harder than anything, these days.

What’s saving your life now? Please share in the comments, and/or hop over to Anne’s site to read her list of lifesavers and more.

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