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Posts Tagged ‘love’

One of my best friends was about to become a mother, and I wouldn’t be there. Oh, we still had e-mails, phone calls, visits, but I would miss the small events—like visiting her in the hospital or leaving a tray of lasagna in her fridge—the mundane participation that is the true meaning of friendship. She was over there and I was here, and the circles of our daily lives overlapped less and less, until they barely touched at all.

I knew it wasn’t her fault, or mine, just the natural consequence of distance. And yet recently the distance had started to loom unforgiving and unmanageable, shadowing almost all my relationships. I felt it when I saw photos of friends’ new boyfriends-turned-husbands, with my baby nieces who were suddenly young girls weaving me pot holders, with my parents who grew a little grayer every time I visited. The people I loved most in the world were living the most important moments of their lives without me, and I was living mine without them. It took me a while to recognize the emotion, unfamiliar as it was, but when I did, it scratched at me with thorny immediacy: I was homesick.”

—Ann Mah, Mastering the Art of French Eating

mom betsy kitchen

(My mom and my sister, in my parents’ kitchen at Christmastime)

I devoured Mah’s lovely, warm memoir of the year she spent alone in Paris while her husband was on a diplomatic assignment in Iraq. (He was originally posted to Paris, but when he was called away, she had to stay behind.) I savored Mah’s descriptions of Parisian cafés and her accounts of trips to Lyon, Brittany, Provence and other locales, as she researched the origins of such classic French dishes as crêpes, cassoulet and boeuf bourgignon. But this passage about love and homesickness made my breath catch in my chest.

Because I know. I know what it’s like to stand on a city street corner, the wind whipping my hair around my face as my sister tells me over the phone, from two thousand miles away, that she’s pregnant. I know the mingled ache and joy of receiving texted pictures of a friend’s sparkling new engagement ring, and the unmitigated ache of not being able to travel to a family funeral. I understand the annual balancing act of splitting my vacation time between exciting destinations (like our recent trip to San Diego) and booking plane tickets back home, squeezing out a few extra days here and there to play with my nephew and quote old movies with my dad.

All of us who have moved away from the places we grew up, or the places where we have lived and made friends as adults, know this particular kind of homesickness. We wish we could gather all our loved ones in one place, so we could be there for all the important moments instead of seeing them on Facebook, or drop in for dinner instead of making do with phone calls and emails and tweets. We do our best to put down roots where we are, digging deeply into a few new relationships, but we miss the everyday joy of the “mundane participation” Mah mentions. We know we are lucky to have friends in multiple states, sometimes even on several continents. But our heartstrings get sore from the constant tugging in so many directions, and we wish it were simpler, but we know it never will be.

I don’t have any answers, and Mah admits she doesn’t either, other than the tried-and-true remedies of spending time with loved ones when possible, and aiming to be present in the life she had, rather than wallowing in nostalgia. (Though sometimes the wallowing is unavoidable.) But I wanted to share this passage because this is what I love best about reading: the shock of recognition when someone else’s words express an emotion or a thought so perfectly that all you can say is “Me too.”

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My name is Katie and I am a stationery addict.

stationery notecards

I have a whole drawer in my desk dedicated to notecards, spare pens, stickers and envelope seals. (There’s a separate drawer for notebooks and notepads.) I have a snail mail pen pal with whom I exchange long, newsy handwritten letters. And despite the fact that I didn’t manage to send out Christmas cards this year, I think handwritten notes are always a good idea.

I’ve been looking for a challenge to pep up February – since the shortest month can feel awfully long when you’re caught in the grip of a New England winter. Since Valentine’s Day falls in February, it seemed like the perfect time to write love notes – not just to my husband (though he’s definitely on my list), but to lots of the people I care about. So, this month, I’m writing one snail mail love note a day.

This project will force me to use my stash of stationery and notecards instead of hoarding them, and I’m hoping my increasingly chicken-scratch handwriting will improve with a bit of practice. And, of course, I hope my loved ones will smile when they open up the mailbox and see a note from me.

The month has already started, and so far I’m right on target. (Here’s hoping I don’t lose steam after Valentine’s Day has come and gone.)

What are you doing to make February a little brighter? Want to join me in writing a few love notes?

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#AugustBreak 2013: home

cape cod sunset k&j

Home is wherever I’m with this guy – be that a Cape Cod beach, our own little flat, or anywhere else in the world.

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Five years of marriage

Two houses. Three cars. Two master’s degrees (one for each of us). Seven jobs and multiple freelance gigs (between the two of us). Two churches. One new nephew, followed closely by one new niece.

Boerne

Two high school reunions. One cross-country move (totaling more than 2200 miles). Twenty or more weekend getaways. Countless dinner dates and bowls of guacamole, kisses and hugs and a few arguments, quiet evenings in the living room watching Friends or reading or doing the crossword.

k & j fenway

So many Sundays singing next to one another. Five Easters, five Thanksgivings, five Christmases. Hundreds of ordinary days, spent blissfully together.

Happy fifth anniversary, love. I can’t wait for the next five.

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Take care

On Monday, I rode home from work on a crowded subway train, walked the short distance to my apartment, started a load of laundry. My husband sent a text message to say he was on his way home. I started a pot of water boiling for pasta, washed and chopped a few stalks of asparagus, grated a bit of Parmesan cheese. It all felt – dare I say it? – so normal.

Except, of course, that it wasn’t.

Farmers' tents in Copley Square

Farmers’ market tents in Copley Square

By now, most of the world has heard about the explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, which killed three people and injured more than 100 others. I would have been horrified to learn about this event if I still lived in Texas, or in England, or anywhere else. But for nearly three years, I have lived and worked in the Boston area.

Copley Square, the same patch of ground that hosts the finish line, is also the location of beautiful Trinity Church and my beloved Boston Public Library, and the farmer’s market I used to visit all the time. I have friends who work in the John Hancock Tower in the Square, and in a publisher’s office one block away. My former workplace, Emerson College, is five blocks from the blast site. I work in Cambridge now, across the river, but Boston is still my town. And that area is my neighborhood.

Sept 2010 160

I am shocked, saddened, sick at heart, that someone chose to mar the most joyous day of the year in Boston – even if you’re not a runner (and I’m not), the city bubbles with excitement on Marathon Monday. This tragedy reminds me of Newtown and Aurora, of Columbine and 9/11 and Oklahoma City – and even the reminding makes me ache, because there should not be a long list of these events stretching back in my memory. Of all the words that occur to us at such a time, the phrase not again should absolutely not be among them.

Yet I am also humbled, by the dozens of text messages and emails and posts on social media sites, from people checking on me, and also on each other. It reminded me of the snowstorm this winter, when we lost power and my family and friends kept checking on us, and of the days after Hurricane Sandy, when, as Alyssa wrote so eloquently, people kept calling out to one another, via phone and email and the vast huddle of the Internet.

Are you okay? Were you anywhere near where it happened? Did you get home all right? Let us know. Be safe. Take care. We love you.

My mom and dad, my sister and my aunt, all in Texas. My friends from college and high school, scattered around the globe. My friend Allison in New York, who sent a text that read, “You and J are our Boston family.” My friend Abi, who lives across town and texted me to make sure I had gotten home safely, after her own ride home on a near-empty train. So many friends I’ve met online, but never in person, and friends I met online who have since become in-person friends. People I know from church and work back in Texas; family friends who have known me since I was born.

So much love, pouring through the electronic connections that bind us all together, however tenuously. I complain about social media as much as the next person, how it can devolve into banal oversharing or political shouting. But after a tragedy like this one, it’s where the huddle happens.

Let me say again: J and I are fine, and so far, so is everyone I know, though we will all be working through the shock and sadness for a while. And let me also say: thank you. Thank you for checking in on us; thank you for praying; thank you for caring. We are so grateful, and we love you back.

Take care.

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April is National Poetry Month, and I love a good poem. So on Fridays this month, I’ll be bringing you a few of my favorites. (Here are some poetry posts from last April.)

tulips boston public garden

Messenger

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

—Mary Oliver

merton-flowers.jpg

I also read more poetry than usual during Poetry Month. This year, that means dipping into Caroline Kennedy’s anthology She Walks in Beauty, eyeing David Whyte’s The House of Belonging, and revisiting favorites by Collins, Frost, Dickinson and others.

What poems do you love? Who are your favorite poets?

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Although I am an Anglophile, a bibliophile and a fan of young adult literature, I spent several years as a Harry Potter skeptic. I first heard about the books when a family friend, a school superintendent, read the early ones and praised them. But I wasn’t sure I’d really like them – wizards? Spells? Some kind of game played on brooms? Sounded a bit too fantastical for me.

During my first semester in Oxford, several friends were thrilled to tour Christ Church because its dining hall serves as the Great Hall in the Harry Potter films. Privately, I scoffed at their excitement. Didn’t they love this elegant, historic building for its own sake? (Yes, I know. I couldn’t stand me, either.)

Finally, Valerie convinced me to give Philosopher’s Stone a chance. “Just try it,” she begged, pushing it across her coffee table on a hot August afternoon. “If you hate it, I swear I’ll leave you alone. But if you love it, come back and you can borrow the rest of the series.”

harry potter series books british editions

Two days later I was back on her doorstep, holding out the book I’d just finished and begging to borrow the next one. I finished Prisoner of Azkaban the following week, sitting at Val’s kitchen table, and as soon as I read the last page, I leaped up and pounded down the hall to her bedroom, to squeal and exclaim and discuss. I had enjoyed the first two books, but the last 80 or so pages of the third one break the plot wide open, forcing readers to reexamine many things they thought they knew. Suddenly, this story was  bigger and deeper – and darker – than I could previously have imagined. (Val, bless her, never so much as said “I told you so.”)

Recently, I spent a couple of weeks immersed in what I think is my sixth reread of the series. And I love it more than ever.

It’s fascinating to reread a series from the beginning after I know the end (though it was fun to wait with bated breath for the sixth and seventh books, with millions of other fans). I can glimpse Rowling’s grand design from the first pages of Philosopher’s Stone, and I know to look for the signs and hints she weaves into the buildup of Harry’s story. I notice the repetition of certain symbols, key phrases, even verbs. These books are full of action, and the verbs “seized,” “bellowed,” “roared,” “dashed,” get quite a workout.

I love tracing the familiar, twisting path from number four, Privet Drive, to Hogwarts and back again, learning about the wizarding world alongside a wide-eyed Harry, taking in the delights of Diagon Alley and meeting the Hogwarts students, staff and ghosts. I love the flashes of humor that pop up regularly (often in the form of Fred and George, whom I adore). From Zonko’s to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes to various clever spells, it’s obvious Rowling had so much fun creating this magical world. And Dumbledore had it right: the heart of the series, the great secret that gives the story its power, is love.

Harry has grown up mostly ignored by the Dursleys, but his mother’s love and protection thrums through his veins in his very blood. Somehow, his years with his relatives haven’t erased his compassion: he is kind, loyal and honorable, although he has a temper and a stubborn independent streak (he is no angel, but rather endearingly human). His parents’ love saved his life, and his love for his friends saves more than one life throughout the series, as the stakes rise higher and higher, and more people are forced to risk their necks for those they care about.

I love the Order of the Phoenix, how these wizards from varying backgrounds band together to fight against Lord Voldemort, though for all they know, it might be a losing battle. I love how the Weasleys take Harry in as another son, how the members of the DA stand up for him and for each other, how Ron and Hermione stay with him until the very end. I love how the story keeps growing in depth and scope, until it becomes truly epic, a battle for the very future of the world we all hold dear.

Every once in a while, I get a hankering to return to Hogwarts, to spend a week or two in this world filled with magic (of various kinds). The best rereading combines the comfort of familiarity with new moments of insight each time, and Harry’s story provides both, in ample measure.

Do you reread favorite books or series? Have you read the Harry Potter books?

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We saw The Fantasticks on our trip to NYC in early October. It’s one of the longest-running shows around, but I’d never seen it and wasn’t familiar with the music. After seeing it, though, I bought the soundtrack, and have been humming “Try to Remember,” the theme song, ever since.

Image from Wikipedia

The Fantasticks is a small-scale show, with a cast of eight (and one of the roles is a mute). The “set” is a curtain, plus a cardboard circle that serves as sun and moon, and a trunk to conceal two traveling bums/actors who pop up when needed. On one level, the story is simply a charming take on the star-crossed young lovers trope. (There’s a wall between their houses, but it turns out their fathers put it up to encourage them to fall in love. Reverse psychology!)

The plot includes a staged abduction (which allows the young “Romeo” to be a hero), several arguments, and plenty of bumbling fun from the traveling actors. The narrator, El Gallo, as wickedly handsome and wryly humorous as Captain Jack Sparrow, spends half his time addressing the audience and half his time acting as chief bandit/architect of the love story.

Part of me is tempted to dismiss The Fantasticks as merely a frothy, whimsical, sparkling piece of musical theatre. There’s a lot of exaggeration and then lampooning of musical-theatre stereotypes (the young lovers, in particular, are so wide-eyed they’re a bit annoying). The dads are highly amusing, with their sly wit and irritable tempers. There’s only a little “real” violence, and all’s well that ends well. Simple, right?

Not quite. The plot’s deeper meaning has nothing at all to do with falling in love, or reverse psychology, or the questionable morality of staging your daughter’s fake abduction. It hides in plain sight, and it only comes to light near the end, when the narrator explains why he pulled the puppet strings to separate the young lovers for a while:

There is a curious paradox that no one can explain:
Who understands the secret of the reaping of the grain?
Who understands why spring is born out of winter’s laboring pain,
or why we all must die a bit before we grow again?

I do not know the answer; I merely know it’s true.
I hurt them for that reason, and myself a little bit too.

El Gallo would never admit it, but he’s a little sad to end up alone, as he has been the whole time. He’s a romantic but lonely figure, riding off into the sunset. However, he’s stumbled on a bit of wisdom, which reappears in the final song and takes on a new gravity after the lines above: “without a hurt, the heart is hollow.”

While I don’t believe in a narrator (or anyone else) pulling my strings like a puppet, I do believe this: sorrow can deepen us, make us into better, braver and more compassionate people. When I was a college student grieving the loss of a friend who had died suddenly in a car crash, one of my professors put it this way: sorrow digs a well inside us.

The young lovers, before their struggle, were sweet but shallow: they needed the separation to make them appreciate one another, and to draw on their own reserves of courage and strength. (After they’re reunited, El Gallo urges the fathers not to take down the wall. One set of obstacles is gone, but others will remain.)

The Fantasticks isn’t a morality tale, and it would be dangerous to view it as a blueprint for life. But these lines about grief and love have lodged in my heart, and I think the show needs this bittersweet reminder. There must always be some darkness to balance the light, a bit of grief to balance out the joy – even in the world of musical fantasy, where anything can happen.

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My friend Kari recently wrote about the liturgy of parenting. While I’m not a parent (though perhaps I will be someday), I’ve been thinking about the liturgy of marriage.

Liturgy is one of those scary church words, calling up images of incense and vestments, chanting and creeds, kneeling and praying and altars and the church calendar. It encompasses all those things. But more simply, Webster’s defines it as “a customary repertoire of ideas, phrases, or observance.” I have heard it defined, broadly, as any sequence of things you do over and over again. My marriage has its own liturgy, one that stretches back four years and is stretching forward into an as yet unknowable number of days.

We wake up side by side, a few minutes before the alarm, and he reaches an arm over to pull me close. We curl into each other like a pair of quotation marks, until the piano music makes itself heard over the whir of the box fan or the oil furnace, and one of us (usually him) gets up.

I wipe the toothpaste off the bathroom faucet, over and over. I tease him, gently, about the clothes on the floor, the dark hairs scattered over the white sink. I tease because I don’t want to nag, because nagging never works, because I don’t want to start off our mornings sniping at one another. I have successfully trained him to make the bed (though I usually do it because he’s the first one up). And he (nearly) always puts his clothes in the hamper, because he can shoot them in like basketballs. He has always been one of those boys who will turn anything into a game of baseball, of basketball, of catch. I am thankful for small victories.

table with tulips dining room

The table is central to the liturgy of our marriage. I grew up in a house where dinner was on the table nearly every night, along with the expectation that we would all be there, together, to pray and eat and laugh and talk about our days. Now, four or five nights a week, six if we’re lucky, we face each other across the dining room table I’ve had since college. (At least once a week, we share dinner with friends, around our own table or theirs.)

We eat pasta and pizza and salad and burritos, soups and enchiladas and other homemade dishes (and, occasionally, takeout) off our red and blue dishes. We use the cloth napkins I bought right after we got married. Sometimes we light candles. We talk about our days, our families, what we’re reading, our jobs. And we laugh.

No one goes to the living room till we’ve either washed and dried the dishes or decided jointly to leave them until tomorrow. I usually wash while he dries, and we step around each other in the choreographed dance of the kitchen, the dance of providing, of tending our home, of creating nourishment to give one another.

We dance around each other in the late evening too, as we brush our teeth, change into pajamas, toss our clothes into laundry hampers or hang them up to wear again. His shoes multiply like mushrooms at the base of his tall hamper. My cardigans and jackets hang on hooks and doorknobs, and once every few days I gather them up and divide them between hamper and closet.

We flop into bed, each with a book. He tackles nonfiction tomes like Kissinger’s book on China, content to stay in one subject, dwell in one set of ideas, for weeks. I save the more cerebral reading for earlier in the day, and for bedtime reading I choose books full of gentle humor and quiet wisdom: Miss Read, Patrick Taylor, assorted middle-grade and young adult lit.

He always turns out his light first (I would read till the wee hours if I didn’t have a day job to go to). I read a few more pages, finishing my chapter, then click off my lamp and reach over to pull him close to me.

We curl into one another like a pair of quotation marks, until one of us shifts or rolls over. Still touching, still barely awake, we murmur, Good night. Sweet dreams. I love you.

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I wanted it to be you. I wanted it to be you so badly.

—Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail

Serving the wedding cake

Four years ago today, we stood up in front of God and our families and our friends who are also family, and we promised each other: It will always be you.

In Maine, last weekend

Happy anniversary, love. You’re my favorite.

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