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Posts Tagged ‘music’

Powerhouse voice in a 5’2” body. I’ve loved her music for years but am rediscovering her soulful ballads, badass girl-power anthems and heartfelt love songs. Strong Southern women are my truth-tellers.

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Since October, Allison and I have traded themed collections of music we love: jazz, ‘90s country, soulful female singer-songwriters.  These voices keep me company and help me believe we’ll get through.

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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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We are nearly at the end of this bizarre year (and I agree with Oscar the Grouch – 2020 can scram). Here’s what I have been reading as we head for a (hopefully) brighter new year:

Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change, Maggie Smith
It’s rare that I read the same book twice in a year, but 2020 is unusual (as we all know). I read Maggie’s book back in the spring, reviewed it for Shelf Awareness, and bought myself a finished copy when it came out. I’ve been rereading it slowly since October. (I also bought it for a friend or two for Christmas.) Her notes and essays about loss, hope, despair, divorce, change and moving forward are exactly what I need right now.

A Winter Kiss on Rochester Mews, Annie Darling
It’s December in London, and pastry chef Mattie and bookshop manager Tom, both of whom hate Christmas, are not pleased with their colleagues’ merriment. But as the bookshop struggles toward Christmas – helped along by record snow, staffing problems and a very pregnant (and neurotic) owner – Mattie and Tom are forced to band together to help the shop survive. A sweet, witty British rom-com with great characters and dialogue. An impulse buy at the Booksmith – totally worth it.

The List of Things That Will Not Change, Rebecca Stead
I like Stead’s thoughtful middle-grade novels. This one features Bea, whose dad is getting remarried, and her struggles to welcome her new stepsister, Sonia, and also be sensitive to Sonia’s feelings. Funny and sweet and so real.

Winter Solstice, Rosamunde Pilcher
My friend Julie gave me this book years ago, and I reread it nearly every Christmas. It’s a lovely, absorbing story of five people who find themselves in a Scottish village at Christmastime. I love living in it for a few weeks every December.

A Deception at Thornecrest, Ashley Weaver
Preparing to welcome her first child, Amory Ames is shocked when several visitors, including a previously unknown relative, show up on her doorstep. Then two suspicious deaths happen in the village, and Amory – as always – can’t resist a bit of sleuthing. A fun mystery, but not as compelling as some of the others in this series.

A Promised Land, Barack Obama
I love a thoughtful, compelling political memoir, and I truly enjoyed the first volume of Obama’s presidential memoirs. Clear-eyed and compassionate, with flashes of humor and so much fascinating behind-the-scenes info. I learned a lot about his first term, and gained even more respect for the man himself and many of his colleagues.

Footnotes: The Black Artists Who Rewrote the Rules of the Great White Way, Caseen Gaines
In the 1920s, Broadway was lily-white, and Black performers were often relegated to vaudeville. Shuffle Along, the first all-Black show to hit Broadway, helped transform the industry. Gaines meticulously tells the story of the show, its creators and its afterlife. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 25).

The Hiding Place, Paula Munier
Mercy Carr’s third adventure finds her digging into the cold case that haunted her sheriff grandfather (now long dead). When the man who shot him breaks out of prison, and Mercy’s grandmother is kidnapped, Mercy and game warden Troy Warner (and their dogs) must act fast to solve the case and save several lives. I like this fast-paced mystery series. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 30).

Links (not affiliate links) are to Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

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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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As a lover of Christmas (and twinkle lights), I have a soft spot for December. It usually feels both hectic and peaceful: holiday celebrations and travel prep and last-minute gifts alongside the hush of quiet evenings and diamond-bright, blue-sky mornings.

This year, of course, December feels different: I’m not packing for Texas, not finishing up a semester of full-time work, not going to Advent services or planning to sing carols in church on Christmas Eve. I am trying to wrap my head around a low-key, cozy, local Christmas. But I am still observing a few tiny rituals of the season, and I thought I’d share them with you. They include:

Stringing twinkle lights on a Christmas tree – I put mine up last weekend, well behind the pandemic-inspired holiday rush but with plenty of time to enjoy it before Christmas.

Lighting the good candles, as often as I want.

Pulling out a few cherished mementoes, like the metal mailbox with a little moose on it and the words “Merry Kiss Moose” in red letters. And the coat-hanger tree I’ve had since junior high, which still – miraculously – works, at least for now.

Listening to The Holiday soundtrack while I clean or cook or write. And watching the movie itself, which is a perennial fave.

Addressing Christmas cards and wondering whether I need to buy more stamps. (Related: texting friends to ask for snail-mail addresses.)

Pulling out my now-worn Advent book and flipping to my favorite essays.

Seeing those plush reindeer antlers and noses on cars around town, which always make me smile.

Revisiting Shepherds Abiding, a tale of Mitford at Christmastime that charms me and chokes me up every. single. year.

Searching out stocking stuffers (this time, for my guy).

Looking up at birds’ nests in bare tree branches.

Snapping photos of holiday decorations around town.

Humming the carols I love, and pulling out a few favorite albums: Sarah McLachlan’s Wintersong, James Taylor’s At Christmas, the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack.

Following along with Ali Edwards’ December Daily stories, even though I’m not making a scrapbook myself.

Pulling out the fleece-lined tights and handknit accessories.

Remembering Christmases past: red felt stockings on the mantel at Mimi’s, candles in the sanctuary at my parents’ church, the words of Luke 2 from Mom’s worn old Bible, Christmas-morning shenanigans with my nephews.

What are your tiny December rituals?

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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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For a lifelong musician and music lover, I’ve had a surprising amount of trouble finding the right music to run to.

I’m not a big fan of the pump-it-up playlists featured in most gyms and workout classes (though Erin, bless her, did help make me a Macklemore fan). For nearly a solid year, I ran to Act One of Hamilton (which contributed to me learning every word by heart). I also love to run to In the Heights, Lin-Manuel’s first Broadway musical, with its salsa undertones. But some days – well, it’s a challenge to find music to match my headspace.

I gravitate toward soulful singer-songwriters and mellow sounds: Hem, the Wailin’ Jennys, Norah Jones, Red Molly, I’m With Her. I’ve run to every one of these artists, but they’re best for long slow mellow runs, not mornings when I need a boost of energy.

This spring, my friend Jen Lee made and shared multiple playlists as part of her Weekenders project. I’ve run to the “Welcome” playlist dozens of times, and tried a few other ones, too. This summer, I dipped back into the nineties country I love, which is good for shaking the cobwebs out. Now that we’re into October, I’m struggling to find music to match both the season and my mood. I want something I can move to, a rhythm that will keep me going, but nothing so loud that it will overwhelm my thoughts.

What music do you like to run (or exercise) to? I’m always open to new ideas.

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Hello, friends. Somehow it is August, and though we are so many weeks into pandemic life that I have lost count, summer is still summer. We’ve had a stretch of gorgeous hot weather (though we desperately need some rain) and I am soaking up all the pleasures summer has to offer, while I can. Here’s a list:

  • Sea breezes from the harbor through my kitchen window, which makes the heat in my apartment just about bearable.
  • Stone fruits and berries galore: cherries, blackberries, peaches and nectarines, blueberries, raspberries, tiny tart red currants.
  • Amanda’s spicy salsa roja with any chips I can get my hands on.

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  • Morning runs along the harborwalk (the earlier I go, the more shaded it is), watching for white herons and Black-eyed Susans, and the boats on the water.
  • Related: funky tan lines and freckles on my shoulders. (I promise I do wear sunscreen.)
  • Evening yoga in Piers Park, whether we’re sweating or catching a cool breeze.
  • Sliced cucumbers from a friend’s garden with Samira’s spicy muhammara – red pepper spread with walnuts and pomegranate.

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  • Sunflowers, roses and catching up with my florist.
  • Library hold pickup, about once every 10 days.
  • My new-to-me bike, which I’ve dubbed my Wild Irish Rose.
  • The music of I’m With Her, Our Native Daughters and several other groups I heard at Newport last year. (Related: reliving that magic.)
  • Making chilled cucumber soup with dill, basil and Greek yogurt – one of the perks of garden caretaking. (See also: fresh marigolds.)

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  • Smoothies from Eagle Hill Cafe, a newish neighborhood staple run by two friendly women.
  • Revisiting some childhood classics, including Maud Hart Lovelace’s stories.
  • Daylilies, Queen Anne’s lace, beach roses, hydrangea, Rose of Sharon, bee balm, nasturtiums and other wildflowers. The world is lush and green and colorful right now.

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  • Bike rides with my guy – around the Seaport (where he works), over to Cambridge, around Eastie (where I live) or just about anywhere.
  • Discovering new farmers’ markets on the bike. The Harvard farmers’ market has my heart, but I like visiting other ones.
  • Jasmine tea lemonade or iced black tea from (where else?) Darwin’s.

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  • Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski mystery series – my newest obsession.
  • Nicole Gulotta’s #30DayHaikuProject on Instagram, which I’m enjoying.

What small pleasures is summer offering you?

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We’re deep into summer heat and summer reading over here. Here’s what I have been reading:

From the Desk of Zoe Washington, Janae Marks
My friend Kari recommended this middle-grade novel, narrated by aspiring baker Zoe, who begins writing to her incarcerated birth father. She has lots of questions for him, and becomes determined to clear his name. I loved Zoe’s narrative voice and the other characters, especially her grandma. Bonus: it’s set in Boston/Cambridge and contains many references to neighborhoods I know well.

Dead Land, Sara Paretsky
Chicago private eye V.I. Warshawski gets caught up in a tangled case involving two murders, a mass shooting several years before, a plan to redevelop some public lakeshore property, and a mentally ill homeless woman who might hold the keys to all of it. This is Paretsky’s 20th Warshawski novel but the first I’d read; I really enjoyed both the plot and V.I.’s smart, snarky voice.

Infused: Adventures in Tea, Henrietta Lovell
Lovell is the founder of the Rare Tea Company, and this charming memoir chronicles her journeys to source and brew the best teas. Each brief chapter focuses on one tea/location, and they’re packed with travel anecdotes and useful information about all kinds of tea. Found at Three Lives & Co. during my last NYC trip, back in January.

She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs, Sarah Smarsh
Dolly Parton is indisputably a cultural icon, but there’s more to her than rhinestones and big boobs and twang. Smarsh delves into Parton’s long career, her business empire and her smart-but-subtle feminism, adding anecdotes from her own life that help illuminate Parton’s appeal. I loved Smarsh’s first book, Heartland, and this is a strong follow-up. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 13).

Not Like the Movies, Kerry Winfrey
Chloe Sanderson is used to taking care of everything: her coffee-shop job, her online business classes, her dad (who has early-onset Alzheimer’s). But since her best friend Annie wrote a rom-com inspired by Chloe’s life, it’s getting harder to hold things together. I loved this sequel to Waiting for Tom Hanks, which forces Chloe to confront her past pain and is also a sweet love story with great characters.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
A friend lent me this classic memoir, which I’d never read. Angelou chronicles her childhood in Stamps, Arkansas, the trauma of being raped by her mother’s boyfriend in St. Louis, and her eventual move to California. Vivid and arresting, with lots of colorful characters, including Angelou’s family.

Indemnity Only, Sara Paretsky
After enjoying Dead Land, I went back to read V.I. Warshawski’s first adventure. It involves a missing college girl, her murdered boyfriend, crooked union men, insurance fraud and lots of wisecracks. A solid mystery and a good setup for the series.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident, Brookline Booksmith and Frugal Books.

What are you reading?

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