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Posts Tagged ‘nostalgia’

k j alhambra view spain

When you say those wedding vows at eighteen, you are committing yourselves—with all that you are and all that you have—to only each other because you are young and wreathed in glory and take up all the space there is.

When you say them at thirty-five, you are signing on for something wider: a whole garden full of people to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health, in wheelchairs and sleepwalking and heart attacks, in arrogance and graciousness, stubbornness and forgiveness, stumbling and wisdom, in meanness and in kindness that falls like snow and shines brighter than the Dog Star.

To love and to cherish, yes. Like a tiger. A hurricane. A family. Relentlessly.

—Marisa de los Santos, The Precious One

Today we are celebrating a decade of marriage.

This passage comes from the end of de los Santos’ novel about Taisy and Willow, estranged half sisters who share a difficult father and eventually come to share much more. Taisy, who narrates the passage above, makes her wedding vows twice, to the same man. As she says, and as one might expect, the commitment has deepened and widened in the intervening 15 years.

J and I did not (quite) make our wedding vows at age 18. But we did begin dating as 20-year-olds, and at 34, we are standing on the edge of our second decade of marriage.

We knew, I think, that we were signing on for a broad and complicated commitment when we said our vows amid a crowd of people we loved, at age 24. But we did not – because nobody ever does – understand quite what the intervening years would entail.

Marriage is a joy, but it’s not always an easy one. It is a life-giving foundation, but it is neither unshakable nor unchanging. I have come, gradually, to believe that it’s more like a plant than a building. Like anything that lives, it requires tending and care. And like anything that lives, it sometimes changes in unexpected ways. Growth doesn’t always look the way you hope or assume it will. It is often surprising, and sometimes it hurts.

Because we met when we were so young, J and I have done a lot of growing up together: learning how to navigate the world as adults, especially during and after our cross-country move from Texas to Boston. In other ways, we have had to let each other grow on our own, and make space for the slightly different shapes we have taken on, even as each of our growth has informed the other’s.

We are facing (more) transition this summer, as I search for a new job and he continues to deal with changes at work. We are used to this by now, but we can’t just coast; marriage, like most things that are worthwhile, requires taking care. I am no expert on anyone’s marriage besides my own, but like Clare, another de los Santos character, I believe deeply that “at least half of love is paying attention.”

Celebrating a decade of marriage feels big, and it is. But it’s also simply waking up to another day together. It is daily and it is infinite. It is lifelong and it is right here, right now. It is doing our best to walk forward as flawed but loving human beings, trusting that our past experience and our present efforts will carry us into the future.

Happy anniversary, love. Here’s to many more.

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alhambra garden fountains roses

Here is the thing about revisiting a place after 14 years: sometimes it feels less familiar than you expected.

I knew that much of our Spain trip, this time, would feel new. I’d never been to Sevilla, never flown straight to Madrid and then Málaga from the U.S., never been to this part of Spain with my husband. Even the neighborhood of Granada where we stayed, the steep cobblestoned streets of the Albayzín, was entirely unknown to me. I expected – even anticipated – dozens of new experiences, new memories.

But I was also expecting something else: the shock of recognition that often comes when you step back onto the ground of a place you have loved.

I am no stranger to this feeling: I’ve had it happen in London, in Washington, D.C., in Prince Edward Island and San Diego and always, always, in Oxford. I am a person who remembers, and I remembered loving Granada, on my first visit there. So I hoped, even expected, it would feel familiar.

And, at first, it didn’t.

I kept waiting to turn down a side street or step into a restaurant or happen upon a square, to glimpse the roofline of a building or the sweep of a view and remember something. And at first – though, as I said, we were staying in a different location and doing new things – I didn’t feel it at all.

I’d glanced through my old photos, the week before we left. I kept remembering snippets of the time I’d spent in Granada with Kyle and Jenny, Elizabeth and Marcela. I remembered a sun-drenched hostel kitchen with saltillo tile on the floor and stacks of toast for breakfast. I remembered tapas and sangria at La Bella y La Bestia. I remembered a group trip to La Alhambra. But I couldn’t make any of it fit with the city I was seeing before me. The architecture matched, but none of it looked like anything I’d seen before.

On our second day in Granada, J and I hiked down and across the Rio Darro, up the opposite hill, to La Alhambra. We had a perfect view of this ancient Moorish palace from our apartment terrace, and I remembered it – palaces, gardens, fountains – as absolutely stunning. And it is. But most of it felt unfamiliar: the labyrinthine garden paths, the intricate tile and plasterwork in the palaces, the views from countless arched windows, the roses. (That last was definitely new: my first visit to La Alhambra was in March, so different plants were in bloom at that time of year.)

We walked on, and I snapped dozens of pictures, but felt sadder and sadder that I couldn’t remember any of it. I’m no longer that girl, twenty years old and wide-eyed, who came to Spain on a whim and a prayer, but she’s still a part of me. I wanted so badly to find some glimpse of her, and I wondered what it meant that I couldn’t.

Near the end of our tour, we walked through the Generalife gardens, which are lush this time of year: tall cedars and red nasturtiums, vivid sweet peas and green arching hedges, so many roses in every color. We wandered into one last palace courtyard, and I all but literally stopped in my tracks because it finally hit me: I was here.

alhambra garden 2004 fountains

The twin fountains on either side of a long, narrow reflecting pool; the whitewashed building at the opposite end; the light and color and feel of the place, even though (as I have said) it was long ago in a different season. I almost started crying, because it was finally true: I remember this.

Suddenly, I could glimpse my friends, or thought I could, out of the corner of my eye. Marcela, squinting into the sun and taking pictures; Elizabeth, with her backpack and sunglasses. Jenny, with her T-shirt sleeves rolled up, and Kyle, gesturing toward every view and saying, with a smile, “Qué linda, no?” (Linda means beautiful, and he was right every time.)

We lingered a few minutes and I snapped half a dozen pictures. Later I would compare them side by side with the one I’d saved from my first trip to La Alhambra, to confirm: this was the place. But I didn’t need to look at the old photo. I knew in my bones that I’d been here before.

The city did not magically unfold itself in memory after that. I only caught a few other glimpses of our first trip, mostly through smells and tastes instead of other sights. But La Alhambra was one of the reasons I fell in love with Granada, one reason I’d insisted to J that we go there this time. So it seems fitting that it was the place where past and present clicked together.

k j alhambra garden granada roses

Just for a moment, I stood in both at once: the adventure I went on as a college student and the life I’ve built as a grown and married woman. The first-time traveler, clueless and eager, and the more seasoned one who’s still searching for something in every place she goes.

I’m no longer that girl, as I said; nor should I be, after nearly a decade and a half. I’ve grown beyond her in many ways, but I still carry her with me. It felt good, and somehow right, to meet her again in a garden and a city we both loved. I breathed a bit easier for the rest of the trip, after that.

More Spain photos and stories to come.

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Ever since the first time I visited Spain, I’ve wanted to go back.

That initial trip came in the middle of a spring semester in Oxford, when my classmates and I took budget flights to the Continent and spent long weekends trekking new cities. We slept in hostel bunk beds, got lost on winding streets with signage in unfamiliar languages, soaked up museums and cathedrals and new foods, and generally had the time of our lives.

spain group 2004

I spent my Spring Break that year with four friends on a ten-day jagged loop of travel that began and ended in Barcelona. We hopped down to Granada and then the south coast for a couple of nights before a train journey to Madrid, which ended prematurely when terrorists bombed several trains in the city that morning. We were still several hours away, but we were substantially delayed, and the city was in shock by the time we arrived.

To many of our loved ones, that last incident came to define the whole trip. We couldn’t get word to our parents and professors for hours, and they were, understandably, terrified. But I have fought ever since to hold on to what came before: a whole week of exploring and soaking up a vivacious, beautiful country, eating tapas and drinking sangria and wandering to our hearts’ content.

I flew back to Spain for a long weekend in the winter of 2008, wandering Valencia with my friend Cole and a group of American students, drinking café con leche and eating fresh oranges and, one night, crowding into the back of a smoky bar to watch live flamenco. The following year, my husband and I took an autumn trip to the Basque country of northern Spain, where we wandered narrow streets in Pamplona and ate our weight in pintxos in San Sebastian, and tried to decipher signs written in Euskara.

Earlier this month – nearly 10 years later – we flew to Andalucía for a glorious 10-day jaunt: to Sevilla, new territory for both of us, and Granada, which I already adored. There are many stories to tell about our trip, and I’ll be sharing some of them with you this summer.

But it starts here: with Kyle saying, “Why don’t we go to Spain?” one night in Oxford, nearly a decade and a half ago. With Marcela, who’s from Honduras, acting as our chief interpreter, and Elizabeth navigating half a dozen unfamiliar cities by paper map. It starts with Jenny’s sweet smile and Kyle’s dad sense of humor, with the wide, colorful chaos of Las Ramblas in Barcelona and the crisp mountain air of Granada. It starts with a hike in the hills near Órgiva, with oranges plucked from tree branches hanging over a fence, with bulky backpacks and plastic grocery sacks of fresh fruit. It starts with crusty baguettes and jamón serrano and slices of queso manchego eaten in public parks at lunchtime. It starts with card games in hostels, with hanging clean laundry to dry on pensión terraces, with glasses of sangria and inside jokes and the wonders of La Alhambra.

Since that first journey, Spain has lived in my bones, and I was absolutely thrilled to go back – again. And while we made lots of wonderful new memories, this trip was part of that larger story. It was my fourth viaje a España, but I very much hope it won’t be my last.

More Spain photos and stories to come.

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Sanctuary

yoga mat leggings

A few weeks ago on a chilly Monday night, I was in my usual Monday-night place: lying on my back on a green yoga mat, in a dim, quiet wood-floored studio with early spring dusk coming in through the windows.

We had just finished an hour of yoga practice: warrior poses and sun salutations and deep breaths in downward facing dog. Meredith’s usual class playlist – acoustic guitar and mellow peace-on-earth lyrics mixed with a little rock ‘n’ roll – thrummed through our muscles and our eardrums. As we lay there, breathing in savasana (the final resting pose), a new song came over the speakers, a song I hadn’t heard in years.

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true…

The singer’s voice slid over the familiar words, eliding the “l” in “Lord” until the word became a simple “o” sound. I knew what was coming next:

With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living
Sanctuary for you.

We talk a lot in yoga class about being present in our bodies, about making space for breath and peace and good things. About letting go of tension and worry and the unhelpful stories we tell ourselves. I have never heard the word “sanctuary” used explicitly in a yoga context, but the concept is definitely there. I couldn’t help smiling, though: my memories of the song “Sanctuary” come from a very different place.

I was one of those Jesus-freak kids in high school: the ones who wore WWJD bracelets and T-shirts emblazoned with catchy Christianese, who led Bible studies before school and knew all the words to the latest DC Talk and Newsboys albums. In small-town West Texas, this did not make me a total outsider, but it did make me a little odd. And, on Thursdays during lunchtime, it meant that I wolfed down taquitos and Bagel Bites with other students in a church gymnasium down the street from my high school, and then got up on a makeshift stage to lead a few praise songs.

Most people, I realized, came for the free food, instead of the spiritual enrichment offered by a prayer and a handful of worship choruses. The songs with goofy hand motions – “Peace Like a River,” for example – were the most popular. But during my senior year, “Sanctuary” became the sleeper hit. We usually sang a song or two and then took requests, and a few kids I knew slightly from marching band would shout, “Sanctuary! Sanctuary!” from their seats at the back of the room.

Maybe they liked the sound of the word (or were channeling Quasimodo). Maybe they liked the melody, played on guitar – different from the piano or the organ that accompanied the hymns they heard on Sundays when their parents dragged them to church. Maybe they just wanted to see if we’d actually sing the same song every single week. I never asked them, so I don’t know. But I stood up there and sang it every time, hoping that somehow it would bring them a little peace or light or whatever they needed. Because I understood even then that we can sometimes be sanctuary for each other.

I never expected to hear that song in a non-religious yoga studio south of Boston. I don’t know if Meredith, my instructor, is a Christian, or if she came across the song and liked the way it sounded. But that studio, with its leaf-green walls and smooth wood floors, has become a kind of sanctuary for me. And it is true that what we do on our mats – those deep breaths and stretches and difficult-but-empowering poses – prepares us for what we do out in the wider world.

Meredith’s playlist varies from week to week, so I don’t know when “Sanctuary” will come up again. But I like both the word and the idea (not to mention the song’s soothing melody). I like the thought of both finding a safe place for ourselves and being one for those who need it. Because heaven knows we could all use a little sanctuary in our lives.

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queens lane cream tea oxford

It’s been an unusual winter, weather-wise: a few snowfalls, a sub-zero arctic blast over Valentine’s Day weekend, a handful of springlike days in February. (I’ve been snapping pictures of crocuses in joy and disbelief.)

Despite the mild spells, though, we’ve had plenty of what I call Yorkshire weather.

Yorkshire is a place in northern England, of course (home to the lovely town of York and the fictional location of Downton Abbey). But it’s also a tea: a stout, strong black blend sold in green-printed boxes of generously sized teabags. I first encountered it, and fell in love, during a long-ago Oxford winter, when I learned the power of a cuppa (with milk and sugar, please) to combat the damp English cold that seeps into your bones.

The climate in Boston is a bit different from Oxford: we generally have more snow and lower humidity, more crisp, blue-skied days than grey, cloudy ones. But every winter, I can count on at least a few instances of that raw, biting wind that whips right through my green coat and makes me shiver.

Hurrying along the street, my head bent against the cold, I want nothing more in the world than a cup of Yorkshire, brewed strong and laced with milk till it’s the perfect shade of rich, creamy brown. (Sugar optional – but it helps balance out the deep, tannic taste.)

Every time I brew a cup of Yorkshire, pouring the boiling water from my red teakettle, I remember winter in Oxford: skimming down the High Street on my green bike, my hands in their fingerless gloves gripping the handlebars till they grew red and raw with the cold. Tramping with Jacque over muddy meadows to the Trout Inn, past the ponies and the canal crowded with boats and the ruins of Godstow Abbey. Making a pot of Yorkshire in a cluttered, homey kitchen with a half-dozen other American students, rummaging through drawers of mismatched silverware to find enough spoons for the sugar. Or sipping a cuppa brewed by Lizzie or Jo from a blue polka-dotted mug, in the spare but cozy downstairs lounge of the little house in Ablett Close.

I can get Yorkshire tea in the States, fortunately, but my English friend Caroline set me up with a big box last summer, and there’s still plenty left. It takes the chill off after a cold walk home, but it also reminds me of my favorite place, and the people and moments I loved there.

Spring is coming and I couldn’t be gladder. But I’m also fine with a few more days of Yorkshire weather.

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katie baking apple crisp kitchen

I am usually a by-the-recipe kind of cook.

I learned to bake before I learned to cook, helping Mom mix up brownies or scooping chocolate chip cookie dough onto baking sheets in Neno’s (my grandmother’s) farmhouse kitchen. Baking often requires precise measurements, specific steps, double-checking the recipe to make sure you’ve done everything right. Too much flour, too little butter, and your cake will fall flat, or your cookies will remain gooey lumps.

There are a few discrete kitchen tasks I learned early on: chopping vegetables, peeling potatoes, sprinkling brown sugar on a pink slab of ham. But for years, I checked and double-checked the recipe every time I made a dish. I lacked confidence in my own ability to improvise, faith in the muscle memory of my hands and arms.

During these years, I marveled at a few college girlfriends who could whip up a stir-fry or a soup – sometimes fairly complicated ones – without so much as glancing at a cookbook. (Especially in Oxford, this creativity was often born out of necessity, if we found ourselves low on grocery money or newly back from a weekend jaunt and forced to make a meal out of odds and ends in the cupboards.)

But after more than a decade in my own kitchen, I’ve become more confident, more sure. I still use recipes frequently, but by now, there are a slew of tasks and a few dishes my hands know by heart.

Rachel’s tomato soup, studded with garlic and butter and sprinkled with fresh basil (if I can find it). The creamy jalapeño soup passed on to us by my mom’s friend Connie. My version of guacamole, which is less recipe than assemblage: avocado, lemon juice, green tomatillo salsa, red tomato salsa. Chop, mash, mix, taste. Repeat the last two steps if necessary. I stop when the texture and the taste feel just right – but it’s a knowledge born of practice, not anything written down.

More recently, I’ve memorized Molly’s scones, making a batch almost weekly in my orange mixing bowl, dry ingredients whisked together before I fold in dried cranberries and stir in the liquid. I know exactly how they should look (dry-ish, but not falling apart). I’ve made them so many times that while I can see the printed text of the recipe in my mind, I don’t have to flip the book (A Homemade Life) open any more. Instead, I let my hands take over: whisk and measure, stir and fold. Knead and press and cut into eight wedges.

There’s a deep satisfaction in this simple knowledge, especially for me, since I spend my time (and make my living by) moving words and pixels around on a screen. Sometimes I hold a pen, which is more tactile, but it’s a different kind of productivity to take raw physical ingredients and transform them into something nourishing. It’s even better when I don’t have to fuss over measurements and spices, and can simply get on with the work of making dinner. (Or scones.) I like knowing that this knowledge is stored somewhere in my body, that my senses and sinews know things my conscious mind can only guess at.

What recipes do your hands know by heart?

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jer christmas tree star

Every year, I highlight a few of the ornaments on my Christmas tree and their stories. (That’s the hubs, putting the star on our tree last weekend.)

This season is all about traditions and stories, and the tree in my living room holds many stories, old and new.

charlie brown heart ornament christmas

When I was about six years old, my family spent Christmas in an apartment in the Dallas area while our new house was being finished. Most of our things – including our Christmas decorations – were in storage. So we bought a tiny Christmas tree and made ornaments out of glitter, wax paper and glue to hang on its branches. Dad and I lovingly refer to them as our “Charlie Brown” Christmas ornaments.

More than 25 (!) years later, a few hearts, stars and bells have survived, and I finally remembered to ask Mom to set aside a couple for me to bring back to Boston last year. I am so pleased to have them on my tree now.

beefeater soldier christmas ornament

My aunt Charlene (my mother’s childhood best friend) has sent us many ornaments over the years. This cheerful Beefeater guard arrived long before I ever visited London, but I love him especially because I’ve spent so much time in the UK now. (He’s definitely more whimsical than his real-life counterparts.)

egg christmas ornament

Deep in the heart of Salzburg, Austria, is a shop filled with hundreds (thousands?) of hand-painted eggs, carefully stacked in crates and tied onto trees with ribbon. It’s a dazzling sight. I’ve been there twice, but I managed to lose the egg I brought back for myself, years ago. My sweet friend Laura knew this, and she brought one back for me when she visited Salzburg with her family last year.

snowflake crochet christmas ornament

I think my mom ordered these starched crochet snowflakes from a catalog many years ago. There are still a few on her tree, and now there are a few on mine.

pickle christmas ornament

The hubs and I found this goofy pickle ornament on a weekend trip to Boerne, Texas, right after we got married. Apparently, the person who can find the pickle on the tree gets a prize. It makes me laugh every year.

Do your Christmas ornaments have stories? (I’ll never have a sleek, color-coordinated tree – I love my mismatched collection of ornaments too much.)

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