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magnolia tree tulips pink boston spring

I loved Ali Edwards’ post last week about 39 little things she’s thankful for right now. We are in the middle of a full, messy time of year – the end of the semester is approaching and there’s a lot going on, both at work and at home.

This is, as Ali noted, one of the best times to stop and take a look around. So here’s a snapshot of my life right now, with several snippets of gratitude thrown in.

Right now – in early May 2015 – I am:

  • walking around Harvard Square on my lunch breaks, enjoying the (sometimes chilly but no longer brutal) spring air.
  • sitting on the steps of Memorial Church and watching the world go by in Harvard Yard, when it’s warm enough.
  • snapping photo after photo of flowers and blooming trees. (See above.)
  • buying tulips twice a week (one bouquet for work, one for home) from my favorite florist in Brattle Square.

tulips

  • texting a friend or two about what is saving my life, what’s driving me crazy, and everything in between.
  • looking forward to (and soon, packing for) a trip to San Diego with the hubs!
  • still eating lots of soup, but mixing in some dishes that include spring veggies.
  • wearing dresses (most of them are striped) with black leggings and my jade green coat.
  • switching between silver ballet flats, black booties and the green loafers that match said coat.
  • reading a fantastic history of the Sherlock Holmes phenomenon (out June 2), and all the cozy mysteries I can handle.
  • drinking David’s Cream of Earl Grey tea by the quart, and ginger steamers with honey and lemon from Crema (the best cure for a sore throat).

crema cup table pussy willow

  • fighting a lingering cough from that cold I caught a couple of weeks ago.
  • watching episodes of Mary Tyler Moore on some evenings, and Call the Midwife once a week.
  • blasting Taylor Swift while I cook dinner or clean.
  • celebrating my husband’s 31st birthday, which is tomorrow.
  • keeping up with the daily duties of church and work and home.
  • hanging out in the Public Garden about once a week – where the trees are blooming and the ducks are quacking up a storm.

public garden tulips may 2015

  • missing my Texas family and wondering when I can get down there next.
  • prepping for the end of the semester and the attendant Commencement craziness.
  • sorting through piles of review books, and curating a short stack of vacation reading.
  • sipping a glass of red wine (usually Cabernet) about once a week.
  • scribbling in my journal when I can.
  • stretching out at yoga class on Monday nights, and doing an occasional at-home session with the app.
  • thinking about making summer plans.

What does life look like for you right now?

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brookline booksmith interior twinkle lights

The Bookman’s Tale, Charlie Lovett
After losing his wife, antiquarian bookseller Peter Byerly is subsumed by grief – until he finds a Victorian watercolor that eerily resembles her. Chasing this mystery leads Peter into a web of intrigue involving book forgery, Shakespeare and murder. Wonderfully inventive, richly detailed.

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
I hadn’t read this novel since high school, but picked up a copy at Foyles in London. I loved watching Elinor – so steady and patient – steer her family through a difficult time. Not my favorite Austen, but still a pleasure.

Driving the King, Ravi Howard
This novel tells the story of Nat King Cole’s childhood friend (and later chauffeur), Nat Weary. The story is heartbreaking and the voice is pitch perfect. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 6).

A Murder of Magpies, Judith Flanders
London book editor Samantha Clair lives a fairly routine life. But when her favorite client goes missing, she begins hunting for clues alongside a handsome policeman. Whip-smart and wickedly funny, though the ending fell flat. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 24).

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
Caroline convinced me to buy this book during our day out in London. It is well written, compelling and completely terrifying.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, Eva Rice
This sweet, witty story of love and rock’n’roll in 1950s England is one of my favorite books ever. Loved savoring it on this reread.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith. (It’s also pictured above.)

What are you reading?

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Gratitude

harvard yard autumn light leaves

Send some rain, won’t you send some rain?
‘Cause the earth is dry and needs to drink again
And the sun is high and we are sinking in the shade

Would you send a cloud, thunder long and loud
Let the sky grow black and send some mercy down?
Surely you can see that we are thirsty and afraid

But maybe not – not today
Maybe you’ll provide in other ways
And if that’s the case

We’ll give thanks to you with gratitude
For lessons learned in how to thirst for you
How to bless the very sun that warms our face
If you never send us rain

I have loved Nichole Nordeman’s song “Gratitude” for a long time, since the days when I listened to K-LOVE religiously and went to several Christian concerts a year. As a high school student, I saw Nichole open for Avalon, quietly playing the piano in a college gymnasium full of eager, revved-up teenagers. In a culture always impatient for the next thing, her music prompted us to slow down and listen.

Daily bread, give us daily bread
Bless our bodies, keep our children fed
Fill our cups, then fill them up again tonight
Wrap us up and warm us through
Tucked away beneath our sturdy roofs
Let us slumber safe from danger’s view this time

But maybe not – not today
Maybe you’ll provide in other ways
And if that’s the case

We’ll give thanks to you with gratitude
A lesson learned to hunger after you
How the starry sky offers a better view
If no roof is over our heads
And if we never taste that bread

I later saw Nichole play at a megachurch in my college town, still quiet, still soulful, still disarmingly honest about the gaps that sometimes appear between faith and reality. I own three of her albums; this song comes from Woven & Spun (which also provided the name of my original blog). I know every word, every piano chord, and I always pull out the CD around this time of year. But it is particularly apt as we approach this Thanksgiving.

Oh, the differences that often are between
Everything we want and what we really need

My nephew, Harrison, was born on Nov. 13, and he and my sister have both been in the hospital for going on two weeks now, fighting infections (first her, then him, then both of them). They are going to be okay, but it has been hard and stressful, and I can hear the strain in my mother’s voice every time I talk to her on the phone.

In a certain sense, we have what we need – Harrison is here, and he and Betsy will both be all right – but it is so far from what we want.

Grant us peace, Jesus, grant us peace
Move our hearts to hear a single beat
Between alibis and enemies tonight

But maybe not – not today
Peace might be another world away
And if that’s the case

We’ll give thanks to you with gratitude
For lessons learned in how to trust in you
That we are blessed beyond what we could ever dream
In abundance or in need
If you never grant us peace
But Jesus, would you please?

I am far away from my family this Thanksgiving (though I will be there next month, for Christmas). It is hard to be far away, to get reports from the hospital of tears and pain, and still be grateful. (It is even harder when I hear bad news from other places too.)

But I am trying – we are all trying – to offer prayers of thanksgiving alongside repeated pleas for healing and peace. We are doing our best to practice gratitude, even while we can’t help worrying. And frequently, this song is the best prayer I can offer.

If you’re celebrating this week, I wish you a Thanksgiving filled with loved ones, joy, peace and gratitude.

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Scenes from a day out in Gloucester.

tea plates cafe table
Tea at the Pleasant Street Coffee Bar & Tea Company (with a raspberry jam turnover).

flip flops sidewalk
Enjoying flip-flop weather for as long as it lasts.

jer bookstore
The hubs did some reading while I browsed at the Bookstore of Gloucester.

guitar rug
And we found a super cool rug outside Mystery Train Records.

Hope you’re having a gorgeous weekend.

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Adventures in Rockport

rockport ma boats harbor

For the last few summers, my parents have flown up from Texas to visit us in Boston. We’ve walked most of the Freedom Trail, savored Italian dinners in the North End, gone to two Red Sox games at Fenway (sadly, we’ve been rained out both times), and wandered Harvard Square. This year, we decided to do something a bit different, and explore Rockport, a charming little town on Boston’s North Shore.

rockport ma harbor ocean

J and I had been up to Rockport before – some friends of ours live there, and we’ve enjoyed visiting them. But this was Mom and Dad’s first time in Rockport, and it was utterly lovely.

I drove up with my parents on a Thursday afternoon (J had to work, and joined us later that night). We checked in at the Eagle House Motel, a basic but charming hotel just off Main Street. We loved the location – it was so close to everything – and the friendly innkeeper, Gary, gave us several great restaurant recommendations.

eagle house motel rockport ma

We spent part of the afternoon wandering Bearskin Neck, a narrow spit of land crammed with shops and restaurants – lobster shacks, ice cream stands and a couple of sit-down eateries. Such fun to poke into lots of different places.

bearskin neck rockport ma

We ended up, not surprisingly, at the charming Toad Hall Bookstore, housed in an old bank building.

toad hall bookstore rockport ma interior

There’s a narrow spiral staircase leading up to a loft area (which houses used books) and down to the basement (which is the children’s section). It’s a small place, but I could have browsed for a long time. (I bought a novel set in Paris, and scored a vintage Georgette Heyer hardcover at the tiny used bookshop down the street.)

We had dinner that night at the 7th Wave, down on the wharf, and Dad got his lobster fix. You can’t get seafood like this in West Texas.

dad lobster rockport ma

We ate on the rooftop deck, and this was our view:

rockport ma boats rocks harbor

I didn’t take a picture of my oysters, but they were delicious, and the lobster bisque was divine.

After dinner, we walked back down to the water to watch the sunset.

rockport ma sunset

And to take a family selfie.

 

family rockport

The next morning, after coffee and pastries at Brothers Brew (the scones!), we wandered through town a bit more, then drove up to Halibut Point State Park. There’s an old quarry, now filled with water, and rimmed by rocks which J had to climb.

halibut point rocks

J and I also love the park because it gives us a chance to retell our favorite Fozzie Bear joke.

quarry halibut point state park rockport ma

I’d only been to the park in the winter before (it feels like standing on the edge of the world), but the views in summer are just as stunning. That’s New Hampshire over there.

halibut point state park rockport ma

That night, we headed to the Shalin Liu Performance Center, home of Rockport Music, for a truly stunning concert.

shalin liu interior rockport ma

Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas (a Scottish fiddler and an American cellist, respectively) brought down the house.

alasdair fraser natalie haas concert rockport ma

We tapped our toes and clapped along to Highland reels, and sat mesmerized as they both drew haunting, complex melodies from their bows. As you can see, the back of the stage is a window onto the harbor, complete with boats, gulls and even baby ducks. Between the music, the company and the view, it was an amazing night.

We headed back to Boston the next morning, but not before discovering that Mom and I were inadvertently matching. (We did not plan these outfits.)

mom katie red shorts matching

I snapped a photo with my sweet husband to cap off the trip.

jer katie rockport ma

All in all, a fabulous two days. Rockport, you were lovely. We’ll be back.

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My husband is a music fanatic. (It’s one of the things that brought us together.) He’s forever discovering new bands, and while he was a good sport about visiting Green Gables with me, he was really excited about the fact that summer in PEI is music-festival season.

With a bit of help from our guidebook (and a bit of Internet research), we snagged tickets to two concerts, which were quite different from one another, but equally amazing.

We drove through a light rain on Friday night to New London, a village down the road from where we were staying. The concert we attended was part of PEI’s annual Festival of Small Halls, which draws musicians from PEI and many other places.

Our concert featured three groups: the Gawler Sisters (who hail from Maine), the wonderfully named Ten Strings and a Goat Skin (local PEI boys), and the Rua Macmillan Trio – a Scottish fiddler accompanied by a guitarist and a drummer.

gawler sisters small halls pei

From the moment the Gawler Sisters (above) stepped on stage (with a dizzying array of instruments between them) to the last note of the encore (played by all three groups on stage together, below), it was a wonderful, mesmerizing night. We tapped our toes and clapped, laughed at some truly awful music-related puns, and tried to pick our jaws up off the floor as the fiddlers’ fingers flew faster and faster. We bought the Gawler Sisters’ album and I’ve been humming the songs ever since.

festival of small halls pei

On Sunday, we headed a bit farther west for a rather different music experience, in the gorgeous and light-filled St. Mary’s Church.

st mary's church indian river pei

The Wailin’ Jennys, whom I discovered in Starbucks (no kidding) a few years ago, were kicking off the Indian River Festival. We had fourth-row seats to watch them sing and play, and it was dazzling.

wailin jennys pei

Soulful lyrics, layered harmonies, string-and-drum witchery. All three women were so warm and lovely that I wanted to be friends with them. And toward the end of the night, they came down from the stage and stood on the steps – the room’s acoustic “sweet spot” – and sang two songs a cappella, including my favorite, “Long Time Traveler.” I could have listened all night long.

More (more!) PEI stories and photos to come.

 

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george strait

Recently, a colleague pointed me to the wonderful in-depth Texas Monthly article on George Strait’s long career and his farewell tour. (The image above is from the article.) I didn’t make it to George’s tour stop in southern MA, but I devoured every word of the feature, which included a complete list of his (60!) No. 1 hits over the years.

I must have shocked my colleague – a native New Englander, more of a rock-and-roll guy than a country fan – when I said, “I could probably sing you forty of those sixty number-one hits, from memory.” I didn’t add that I could also sing (at least) twenty of George’s songs that never made it to the top of the charts. His music is a constant thread, woven through the background of my childhood memories.

I don’t know how my parents discovered George’s music, but I do know they have loved him since the early eighties, nearly all my life. Our stack of George Strait cassettes grew gradually over the years: Ten Strait Hits, Greatest Hits Volume 2, the Pure Country soundtrack, Ocean Front Property, Lead On, Easy Come Easy Go. Later we added (on CD) Blue Clear Sky, Carrying Your Love with Me, One Step at a Time, The Road Less Traveled. And every year, we put on Merry Christmas Strait to You (along with Elvis’ Blue Christmas and Kenny G’s Miracles) as we decorated the Christmas tree and hung the stockings. (Now I play it each year as my husband and I hang ornaments on our own tree.)

Every summer of my childhood, we packed the car with suitcases and stuffed animals, and pulled out of the driveway before dawn. It is nearly 700 miles from my West Texas hometown to my grandparents’ farm in southwest Missouri, and we always made the trip in one day, the long gray miles of highway sliding by to the sound of George’s voice. Especially in those early years, when reading made us carsick, my sister Betsy and I would sit and listen, leaning our heads against the car windows, listening as George spun tales of love and loss and family, mile after mile after mile.

After spending a few days with Dad’s family, we’d load up the car for another long day of driving, this time to my mom’s hometown, outside of Dayton, Ohio. We’d leave early to get a jump on the day, sometimes stopping for breakfast at a Cracker Barrel after we’d been on the road a few hours. We always brought along travel games – Yahtzee, Uno, Outburst – but so many of those miles unfolded to the sound of George’s voice. We occasionally slid in other albums for variety – a cassette of Elvis classics like “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Jailhouse Rock,” an album of Eagles hits like “Take it Easy” and “Desperado” – but my memories of those trips are laced with “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind” and “Ace in the Hole” and “Baby Blue.”

My sister and I memorized all those songs before we knew what they meant, before we knew that some relationships are “easy come, easy go,” that “you can’t make a heart love somebody,” or what “The Fireman” was really doing when he “put out old flames.” My dad always took Mom’s hand in his during “I Cross My Heart,” and he’d reach back to the backseat and squeeze my hand or Betsy’s during “Love Without End, Amen,” which is about a father’s love (and which still makes me cry).

We laughed at the “grits and red-eye gravy” line in “My Heart Won’t Wander Very Far From You,” tapped our toes at “Adalida” and “Lovebug,” and I loved hearing the names of towns I knew during “Amarillo By Morning” and “All My Ex’s Live in Texas.” Even though I was years away from falling in love, I used to get a lump in my throat at “Baby’s Gotten Good at Goodbye” and “Nobody in His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her.” I couldn’t explain the melancholy, though I knew even then that many of the best love songs are sad ones. But we listened to those songs, over and over, till they became as much a part of me as the hymns I sang at church every Sunday.

Recently, browsing Waterloo Records in downtown Austin, I found two of those vintage George Strait albums – the Pure Country soundtrack and Greatest Hits Volume Two – for next to nothing, and I snapped them up. “The Chair” still makes me smile, “Heartland” still sets my toes tapping, and especially as George has conducted his aptly named farewell tour, my eyes well up at “The Cowboy Rides Away.”

His music is safety, stability, a steady voice matched by a twinkle in his green eyes. It’s those road trips when I was a child, Dad driving and Mom in the passenger seat, painting her nails or flipping through a magazine. It’s those hours spent unraveling strands of white Christmas lights in the living room, singing about how “there’s a new kid in town” or “for Christ’s sake, it’s Christmas.” It’s Wrangler jeans, a white cowboy hat and a crisp, starched button-down shirt. It’s a man and his guitar, singing about love and heartbreak and faith, with a little gambling or rodeo thrown in once in a while.

Thanks for the memories, George. You’ll always be the King.

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