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Posts Tagged ‘reflections’

I’m 38 today. And as I have said several times in the last week – to a friend who was joking about being “forever 29,” to another friend’s daughter who started to ask me how old I was and then hesitated, to my partner on the phone one night – I am proud to be 38. If you ask me how old I am, I will tell you. No dissembling, no hesitating. It may not always be that way, but it is that way today.

I have earned every one of these years: every gray hair, every smile line, every scar both visible and invisible. I have especially earned the last three years, which have included (among other things) my divorce, some serious church trauma, a move, two job changes, a new (wonderful) relationship, and a pandemic.

Since my this is thirty-five post, I have navigated challenges I could never have imagined. I have spent most of a year in my apartment by myself (or running through my beloved East Boston neighborhood). I have dealt with furloughs and layoffs and career/identity angst. I have chosen to blow up my life (read: leaving my marriage) and start again, and I have also dealt with changes I did not choose, repeatedly. I have held so much loss, and also so much love. I have not solved nearly everything, and I am still trying to let go of the idea that “solving” anything (except the New York Times crossword) is the goal.

Thirty-eight might be middle-aged, or close to it – but as Nora McInerny pointed out recently, middle age is the goal. Growing old is the goal. I want many more delicious years on this beautiful earth, and I want to live them as fully and bravely as possible. I want to care less (much less) about what people think, and more about creating joy and loving my people fiercely, and becoming a stronger writer, runner and human. (And I’d like to do some more international travel, too, once that feels like a good idea again.)

Thirty-eight looks like morning tea in one of my several favorite mugs, scribbling in my journal before heading out on a run. Thirty-eight is still adjusting to life at ZUMIX, dealing with the constant questions and uncertainty that come with any work (but especially youth-centered work) during a pandemic. Thirty-eight is yoga classes on some evenings and walks with my guy on others, regular text exchanges with a few close girlfriends and weekly phone calls with my parents. Thirty-eight has made New England her home for more than a decade, but is still and always a Texan.

Thirty-eight is still grieving the end of a marriage and an imagined future, and also reveling in the deep love I have found with a man I never expected. Thirty-eight is on a serious nineties country music kick and mixes in some Broadway tunes and folk music on the regular. Thirty-eight is learning to hold so many tensions, to accept and acknowledge that life is often both-and, to name the fear and worry and other hard emotions and then keep going through them. Thirty-eight snaps pictures of flowers every day, reads five or six books at once, eats a ton of granola and Greek yogurt and occasionally cooks real meals for one.

The upheavals of the last few years have made it challenging to plan, or even dream; so many of my former ideas about my life have been completely wiped away. But thirty-eight is starting to dream again.

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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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This is thirty-three

katie mirror larchmont

I turned thirty-three a couple of weeks ago. It was, in many respects, a completely ordinary Thursday: I brewed a cup of tea and ate a scone for breakfast, spent my commute reading, walked across Harvard Yard to Morning Prayers before heading to the office.

From there, the day unfolded as so many of them do: full of emails, tasks, small triumphs and frustrations, along with the two standing meetings I have on Thursdays. I walked many of my favorite, familiar paths through Harvard Square, from the Yard to the office to Darwin’s and back again, going about my day under a vivid, arching, bold blue sky.

The day also felt special in some ways: my husband and several sweet friends made sure I felt celebrated, and my colleagues fêted me (between meetings) with croissants and a card they had all signed. One of the joys of social media is receiving birthday wishes from friends near and far, and I checked in a few times during the day to savor those. My parents were visiting from Texas, so they treated J and me to dinner at Pomodoro in the North End.

Last year on my birthday, I was in my fourth month of job hunting: frustrated, lonely, tired, deeply sad. I hadn’t yet landed the temp gig that would lead to the job I have now, and I was struggling mightily with my sense of identity and self-worth. So this year, when a friend asked why I was at work on my birthday, I was able to tell her: coming to work that day was exactly what I wanted.

My friend Lindsey wrote a couple of years ago that her fortieth birthday was all about real life: simple tasks and routines, family dinner, daily joys. Her words resonated in my head this year as I answered email, wrote and rewrote to-do lists, talked with colleagues about work projects and politics, and slipped away to Darwin’s at lunchtime for black bean soup and chitchat with my people there. I sat on a bench outside later that afternoon, sipping an iced tea and taking deep breaths to clear my head. And I thought, again, of Lindsey’s words: more of this.

Thirty-three is a place both rich and demanding: I have responsibilities at work, church and home, which often means trying to juggle a lot of balls. Thirty-three is gradually learning to ask for help with the juggling. Thirty-three is grateful that my husband and others are willing to step up and help me – but I still have to ask, and keep asking.

Thirty-three is speaking up more often, stretching out to take up a bit more space in this world. Thirty-three is leaning into my daily routines, my trusted relationships, my work neighborhood, and treasuring them all while leaving room for surprises.

Thirty-three is reading a lot of books and blogs (always) but also learning to step away from the constant information barrage: to take a long walk with my thoughts for company, or sit outside watching the sky.

Thirty-three is more aware of this world’s heartache than I’ve ever been, and also asking what I can do to make a small daily difference where I am.

Thirty-three is doing a lot of listening, and also a lot of talking, about the big questions: vocation and adulthood, politics and faith, marriage and friendship. Thirty-three also knows that the small things can save our lives every single day.

Thirty-three is growing more confident in my own skin, more accepting of my flaws (and other people’s), more and more grateful for this rich, messy, heartbreaking, quietly miraculous life.

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For the fourth time, I present my year in list form.

I chronicle a lot of daily life here on the blog, but it’s fun to see it all unroll in one fell swoop.

katie hot cocoa red cup green coat

In 2014 I have…

What have you been up to this year?

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oxford wall blue sky

The old familiar way into Oxford, then. Down Headington Hill, which offers no prospect of the towery city; along a nondescript street to the roundabout always called “The Plains,” with no sight yet of anything remarkable; and then a turn onto the bridge, on the far side of which rises Magdalen College tower – Gothic at its most austere and beautiful, and shedding like falling petals into the memories of anyone who ever heard them, the voices of the choirboys from aloft, singing an annual welcome to the first day of spring.

—The Late Scholar, Jill Paton Walsh

I read The Late Scholar on my overnight flight to London a few weeks ago – particularly apt, since its plot features Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane (now Lady Wimsey) returning to Oxford (to solve a mystery, of course). I first fell in love with Peter and Harriet during my first long-ago spring in Oxford, when I read Gaudy Night and thrilled to every description of the city’s towers, golden stones and winding streets.

all souls towers oxford england

Like Peter, whose journey is described above (though he came by car), I came into Oxford the old, familiar way: on a bus from Heathrow Airport, through the countryside, half dozing for the first hour and then sitting up, alert, as we approached Oxford via the busy ring road.

all souls college oxford radcliffe square

It’s true that Headington Hill offers no view of the spires I love, but Headington’s high street has its own charms, and I relished every familiar sight: charity shops, alluring side roads, the Starbucks where I used to go see Lizzie at work and indulge in peppermint hot cocoa.

oxford view g&d's ice cream

We swept down the steep hill, past Oxford Brookes’ gleaming modern campus, the green bolt of South Park unrolling down the hill to our left, then swung around The Plain and rumbled over Magdalen Bridge.

magdalen bridge oxford england

I am never quite back in Oxford until I’ve caught a glimpse of Magdalen’s tower, tall and proud, its carved battlements tipped with gold in the morning sunshine. Then it was down the High Street, past Christ Church with its iconic Tom Tower, through a few back streets to the bus station, and onto the familiar cobblestones of Gloucester Green.

feet cobblestones

And then home, the old way – down St Giles and the Woodstock Road, past buildings and shops whose names all called out, dear and familiar to me.

st giles church oxford england

The pub where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to drink and argue about writing and theology. The Oxfam bookshop, though it was too early to stop and browse. The wishbone-shaped piece of land at the divergence of the Woodstock and Banbury Roads, where sits St Giles’ Church and its peaceful graveyard.

st giles church oxford england

The grand Roman Catholic Oratory. The unassuming Radcliffe Infirmary. A few familiar pubs, and several colleges bounded by their stone walls, over which leaned graceful trees, their leaves colored with the first hints of autumn.

katie leaves oxford

Peter Wimsey notes, later in the chapter quoted above, that “Oxford people return to base.” For Peter (as all Wimsey fans know), this means visiting Balliol, where he earned his degree.

balliol college oxford uk

For me, it means a pair of tall Victorian houses on a quiet street in North Oxford, where I spent a blissful semester as an undergraduate and many happy days as a postgrad student. They have sheltered hundreds of American students from my alma mater, and the sight of them always means one thing, deep down in my bones: I am home.

house 9 oxford uk

More Oxford photos and stories to come.

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The leaves on the Common are flaming out in color, shedding the thick, lush green of late summer for the panoply of fall. A few weeks ago, the spindly maples lining the brick path between the bandstand and the tennis court began flaunting their red leaves, and I thought, “These maples always turn first.” Autumn winds have now stripped off half their leaves, but vibrant shades of scarlet and orange remain. This, too, happens every year.

boston common maples autumn leaves red orange

I have lived here long enough to know a few things: which trees on the Common bud first in early spring, when the Swan Boats come out for the season and when they disappear. I know the stretch where the wind sweeps most fiercely down the east side of the Common. I can tell by the sky if the outdoor carts at the Brattle will be open, or if the booksellers will hedge their bets and cover the carts, but open the shelves. I have a favorite stand at the farmer’s market. I am a small part of the bustling routine of this particular city, these few square blocks, this everyday.

carrots peaches farmers market summer fall

And yet: I have not yet learned to hide my surprise when a grove of green trees turns orange overnight. New obstacles on familiar streets (construction, always construction) catch me off guard. There are still fresh delights to discover, like the food truck near the Park Street station, with its rosemary french fries, mulled cider and friendly staff. And sometimes I board a crowded subway train and snag a seat for the ride home. After a long day, a square of faux leather and plastic to perch on feels like grace.

I have been here long enough to know this blogging neighborhood, too. Eight years and hundreds of posts – today marks my 1,000th – is sufficient time to get to know any terrain. I have my favorite haunts, my well-traveled paths online. Some bloggers and readers are constant companions, others intermittent visitors. I know the landscape and can predict some of the seasonal changes. I have a practice, a process, a routine.

I began writing in this space as a college student in Oxford, posting commentary on The Lord of the Rings as part of a guided study conducted with a professor back in Texas. I quit posting when I came home, but started blogging a year later with a group of friends on a private site. At the urging of another friend, I switched back to this public blog, to muse about travel, books, college life and the looming uncertainty of my future.

I never expected to reach 1000 posts, as I typed in the crowded computer lab on Canterbury Road in 2004. The online world continues to surprise me: how huge and unknown it still is, how fast it can grow, how much potential it holds for connection. There is plenty of rubbish too, like the litter and grit along Boston’s streets: the Internet can be a venue for bickering, bullying, snark or simply too much shouting. Sometimes I retreat from it for a day or a weekend or longer. But I always come back. And this online corner of my own, a place to connect with readers and share my life, feels like grace.

Our digital world is changing so rapidly that I can’t predict where I’ll be writing in another eight years or 1,000 posts. But for now, I plan to keep coming back here, sharing books and travelogues and bits of my life story with you. The element of connection makes this space rich and sacred, and for that – and for all of you – I am so grateful.

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