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Posts Tagged ‘rhythm’

kitchen wall art curtains british flag

Here’s what I know about laundry, after a decade and a half or so: it’s one of the chores I don’t mind.

Make no mistake: sometimes it’s a pain, especially when I’m not eager to schlep a full hamper down three flights of stairs to the basement and back up again. I also know that it’s easier for me than for many people, thanks to my electric washer and dryer: I don’t have to spend hours scrubbing clothes, or days waiting for them to dry.

That being said, I love a warm, soft pile of clean laundry, heaped onto a bed so I can sort it and put it away. I love a full drawer of patterned cloth napkins, a neatly folded stack of clean sheets. I love emptying the laundry hampers after a trip or a harried week.

As Kathleen Norris has noted, laundry is “one of the very few tasks in life that offers instant results, and this is nothing to sneer at.” Laundry is also one of the ways I take care of myself and my husband, putting a part of our lives to rights, creating (some) order where there was previously chaos. And about once a week these days, you can find me combining laundry with a couple of other rituals: podcasts and scones.

I’m a slow listener to only a couple of podcasts. I love Krista Tippett’s wise, thoughtful, wide-ranging conversations with all sorts of folks on On Being, though I admit I don’t get to them all. And I never miss an episode of All the Books!, which features Liberty and a rotating cast of other women talking about the latest and greatest books they’re reading, or highlighting old favorites. There are frequent digressions to other topics, which is part of the fun, and I love hearing their warm, funny, generous voices in my ear as I putter around the kitchen, washing dishes and wiping counters and watering the thirsty geraniums.

The third part of this ritual is Molly’s scones, which I’ve been eating for breakfast nearly every day for a couple of years now. They’re hearty and delicious and not too sweet, and by now I know the recipe by heart and by hand.

I measure out the flour, whisk in baking powder and salt, grate in a few tablespoons of butter and stir in white sugar and dried cranberries. I can do all these things while I’m listening, and while the laundry spins downstairs. I pop them into the oven and then head downstairs to check on the dryer, or hang up sweaters or corral my husband’s socks. I come back up and pull out the cookie sheet, letting it cool on the counter. And I exhale.

It’s been a fast and full stretch around here lately: change, the only constant of the past few years, has been coming faster than I can keep up with. I’ve found myself scattered and frustrated, more often than I care to admit. But this ritual and a few others, when I can sink into them, help ground me.

As we head into summer – with more change ahead – you can (sometimes) find me in the kitchen, baking and folding and listening.

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one day hh instagram

A couple of weeks ago, Laura Tremaine hosted her annual #OneDayHH Instagram event – an invitation to document and share the everyday details and rhythms of our lives.

Although I use Instagram for that anyway (sometimes), it’s always fun to play along, both to share my own daily routine and to see what others are posting. I’m a believer in the loveliness and power of sharing field notes from our lives, and this day always helps bring that back into focus.

This year was my third time participating, and the way it went felt completely fitting: I shared a few photos, mostly of my morning routine, then got totally caught up in the madness of meetings, email and other life tasks/craziness. (This was six days before the election, so my workday included a lot of that particular madness.)

In this full and demanding season, that is often how it’s going around here, and I’m letting myself off the hook for not sharing a “complete” record of the day. I wanted to share what I did post, though, since these details are vital and lovely, and I want to remember them. (Especially when I’m clinging to daily rhythms to save my sanity, right now.)

green coat red pants subway flats

I was up before dawn, moving around our still-new apartment in the dark: showering, brewing tea in a purple travel mug, packing my work bags. Most mornings, I catch the bus, but my husband drops me off at the T station in our old neighborhood on Wednesdays. I carry my black purse and this polka-dot bag (mostly filled with books) on my commute. It was a mild day, so I switched from black leggings and ankle boots back to my happy red pants (but still wore my favorite, magic jade-green coat).

boston skyline sunrise view

Halfway through my commute, I get this view as the train rumbles across the Charles River between Boston and Cambridge. I always take a second to soak it in – I love the sight of the skyline and the river at any time of the year.

golden leaves bikes harvard yard

After a little writing time in the library and Morning Prayers, I walk back through Harvard Yard to my office a few blocks away. Lately, this golden tree in the Yard is taking my breath away every morning. I love the autumn light in Cambridge.

hks desk view

My desk is command central for most of my workdays at the Harvard Kennedy School, and this is a typical view: a little cluttered, but I know where everything is. I spent most of the morning here, catching up on emails and writing projects (with a trip to Darwin’s for chai, mid-morning). My colleagues are out of frame here, but they are a vital part of my workdays, and a big reason I love my job.

soup red pants leaves

Back to Darwin’s at lunchtime for a bowl of spinach-potato-leek soup, and chitchat with the good folks behind the counter. I sat on a bench outside for a while, listening to the ’80s music blasting from the cafe’s open doors, dipping a hunk of baguette into the soup, and watching the sky.

This was the last photo I posted of the day: my afternoon contained three solid hours of work meetings, one of which meant I stayed at the office a little late. I dug into Rae Carson’s wonderful YA novel Like a River Glorious on my train ride home, then spent the evening catching up on home details: laundry, dishes, making huevos rancheros for dinner. Later, I picked my husband up from work and we debriefed our days while he ate. I collapsed into bed around 10:30, rooting for the Cubs to win Game 7 (woohoo!), but not able to stay awake long enough to watch it happen. I scribbled a few notes from the day in my journal, then turned out the light.

Messy, full, busy, mundane, often lovely: this was a completely ordinary Wednesday. Both its broad outlines and its particular details are typical of my life right now. I may not have posted all the details, but I’m glad I captured a few. Every year, this project reminds me to “say a holy yes” to my life as it is, at this moment, and I am grateful.

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darwins chai journal scone orange cafe

A couple of months ago, Stephanie tweeted the following:

Underneath the hustle of the productivity cult, it seems to me what we’re really aching for is liturgy. Small, sacred things on repeat.

I love that definition of liturgy, and I’ve been pondering it ever since. I especially like the idea of liturgy as daily rhythm: the small routines that give shape and meaning to our days.

I’ve written before about the liturgy of dinnertime (and, more broadly, of marriage) in my life, but I started wondering where else liturgy shows up in my days. What small routines, performed over and over, pull me back to the present moment, until the act of doing them becomes a kind of prayer?

My morning tea is the first thing that came to mind. After my shower, wrapped in my robe, I walk into the kitchen and hold the red teakettle under the tap, counting to seven or eight as the water splashes in. I turn on the burner, measure looseleaf tea into my favorite cobalt blue mug (or grab a tea bag, if I’m super rushed).

tea mug scone

I move around the apartment, tending to other details of the morning, until I hear the kettle whistle and rush in to take it off the burner. I pour the tea, let it steep while I get dressed and blow-dry my hair, then sit down (if there’s time) to sip it at the dining room table, with a scone or a bowl of cereal.

Sometime during the workday, or on my lunch break, I slip away to Darwin’s for half an hour with my journal and a cup of chai. This routine, too, has its own shape: I walk in, join the line by the front counter, greet the barista and order a medium chai (sometimes adding a scone or my favorite breakfast sandwich). I snag a table if I can, or perch on a bench or barstool if I can’t, and alternate between sipping and scribbling until it’s time to go back to the office.

When I get home after work, my brain is often fried – and even in our small apartment, there are always chores to do. Often, after walking in the door and dumping my bag, the first thing I do is sort laundry or tackle a pile of dirty dishes.

It doesn’t always feel sacred, and I sometimes grumble about having to deal with all this on top of a full-time job. But making dirty things clean is satisfying, as Anne Shirley often noted. And folding the warm, dry clothes, or lining up the shining dishes in the dish rack, brings a tangible feeling of accomplishment. After a day of clicking and typing, that’s nothing to sneeze at.

I worry sometimes about getting bogged down in routine, going through the motions of my life without really paying attention. (It’s so easy to do that when I’m clicking from email to website to Word doc, all day long.) But repeating these daily acts helps ground me – even if I don’t always realize it.

I also have a few daily “liturgies” that involve other people: blowing a kiss to my husband as he leaves for work, checking in with a friend or two via text message, greeting colleagues as we start the morning. And several weekly routines also help save my life: buying fresh flowers for my desk, yoga class on Monday nights, talking to my mother on the phone.

I wonder if simply naming these liturgies, becoming more aware of them, can turn them into a source of peace, a chance to truly connect with our lives as we go about our days. I love the idea of small, sacred things on repeat as a counterbalance to the to-do list and the relentless pace of modern life. I want more of that, please.

Where do you see this kind of liturgy showing up in your life?

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red journal chai darwins

It’s no secret: this winter has been driving me crazy. You know the salient facts: blizzards for days. Record-breaking cold temps. Snowbanks higher than my head, ice and slush on the roads, more snow (always) in the forecast. (We’re heading toward a new record for Boston’s snowiest winter ever.)

I don’t love the cold (or the high heating bills). But this stretch of weather – unpredictable, intense and requiring lots of cleanup after each storm – has seriously messed with my routine. It’s taken me – and most people I know – nearly two months to settle into a winter rhythm. (Since I work at a university, I see it with our students too: most of them didn’t have a “normal” week of classes until Week 5 of the semester.)

I’ve been thinking about rhythm versus routine. I have a lot of routines in my daily life – some seasonal, some perennial. Right now, the morning routine looks like this: hit the snooze button, hop in the shower, pull on a dress and fleece-lined tights, brew a cup of Earl Grey in my favorite blue mug.

Some routines, like that one, are most productive when they’re well honed and I don’t have to think about them. (I haven’t had the energy for overthinking lately – which isn’t entirely a bad thing.) And some habits are truly life-giving: that morning cup of tea, calling my mom once a week or so, writing every day, catching up with my husband over dinner. I draw deep nourishment from those practices.

Sometimes, though, I get bored with an unchanging routine. I’ll eat the same thing for lunch three days in a row and then crave something new, stat. I’ll drink the same tea for a week or more and then decide, inexplicably, that I want something different. (Fortunately, I always have a dozen or so options on hand.)

tea keep calm mug pei

I’m a musician. I love a good rhythm. I like a certain amount of predictability, of comfort, of knowing what’s coming at the end of the next verse (or day). But I want room for variation, syncopation, a little color or spice. I want the freedom to choose daffodils over tulips, ginger peach tea instead of chai, a new recipe instead of the same old meal (though I rely heavily on our menu of favorites).

Sometimes I try something new and fall in love (like going to the art museum on Thursdays), so it becomes a habit, part of my daily or weekly rhythm. I am thrilled to be back at Monday night yoga, where the instructor and the poses are familiar (though Meredith does vary things a bit from week to week).

But I like having the option for change. I get bored and fidgety if I feel like I have to do the same thing, in the same way, every time. Sometimes I break the routine on purpose, just to shake things up. I like to think of it as that syncopation, an extra beat (or pause) that gives my life a bit of pizzazz.

Is it just a fear of boredom, or does it go deeper than that? Is there something life-giving about rhythms, like a favorite song or a good liturgy? Is there something soul-sucking about routines, like the dullness of an automated assembly line? Or am I just quibbling over semantics?

What do you think?

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something good polka dot mug

I’ve been thinking a lot about decision fatigue lately – because I have it, big-time.

For many of us, each day holds (potentially) a thousand small decisions: what do I wear? What do I eat? What do I read or watch or listen to? How do I tackle projects at work, and in what order? Do I make this phone call, respond to that email, engage in this online conversation? And what on earth do I buy everyone for Christmas?

I’m easily overwhelmed by lots of options. The exception is a bookstore, where the browsing – for me – is a big part of the fun. (My husband, on the other hand, likes to pick one book and read it till I’m done perusing the shelves.)

brookline booksmith interior twinkle lights

In most areas of my life, the decisions can start to crowd my brain until it feels like there’s no mental space left. I like to have choices (and I’m often terrified of being bored), but in this busy season, I’m trying not to waste all my energy on small decisions. So the answers to a few key questions lately are nearly the same every day.

  • What am I wearing? Some version of my winter personal uniform: black leggings and boots with a dress and cardigan, a cozy scarf and my jade-green wool coat. (I’m putting off the switch to the down coat as long as I can.)
  • What am I brewing in the morning? Santa’s Secret black tea with peppermint, usually in my old cobalt blue mug from the Ground Floor. It feels just right in my hands.
  • What am I reading? My Advent book, over breakfast. Working through the review stack, on my commute. And Winter Solstice, before bed.
  • What am I eating for lunch? Leftovers, leftovers, leftovers. Sometimes boring, but reliably tasty. (Bonus: they’re free!)
  • What am I cooking? Simple, tasty meals: pasta with veggies, chicken burritos, lots and lots of soup. (Bonus: leftovers!)
  • What am I listening to? This one’s easy: Christmas music, all the time.
  • What color am I painting my toenails? A festive, rich crimson – until I can make time for a pedicure.
  • What am I ordering at Darwin’s? Chai. Always chai.

Maybe I’ll mix it up a little after the New Year. But for now, this is what’s working.

Are you an overthinker, like me? Do you thrive on routine, or do you relish the chance to make every day different?

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Leaning toward the light

daffodils sunshine morning table

I grew up in a place that had light to spare.

The plains of West Texas are always burnished and sometimes scorched by the sun, which stretches for miles across that wide sky. Clouds, even massive thunderheads, often feel weak and insignificant by comparison. I love (and miss) those sunsets of orange and pink and fiery gold, smudged at the edges with purple clouds, the silhouettes of pump jacks sharp and black against the brightness.

It’s different up here, in my new adopted city. (This is the undercurrent, the bass drumbeat, of the last two years and three months. Everything, from the accents I hear on the street to my commute on public transport, is different.)

In West Texas, even in the dead of winter, it rarely gets dark before six o’clock. The sun, though milder and feebler than its fierce summer self, still makes almost daily appearances, and it starts to get warm again in March. Here in Boston, the evenings grow short in late October, as the dark starts to come down early. The cold, dark days persist well into April, often accompanied by snow. I love the mild Northeast summers and the glorious colors of fall, but winter poses a challenge. I want to hibernate, like a bear, but I can’t: I have to venture out, to work and church and the grocery store. I have to find a way to get through it.

With my third Northeastern winter approaching, I bought a light box, one of those bulky plastic lamps that emits dazzling, semi-fluorescent light, along with invisible ions which will (presumably) recalibrate my body clock and insulate me from the edgy, flat, almost weepy feeling I get on gray and gloomy days. I’ve been flipping it on every morning for several weeks, and swallowing a small Vitamin D pill daily. I think it’s working, though I’m not sure if it will help me when we get to February.

The best thing, of course, is to walk outside into the real sunlight, on days when the blue sky stretches wide overhead, so the trees glow more brightly orange and gold against it. To tip my head back and let the sunlight bathe my face. To soak in the real light, to store up as much of it as I can, whether it comes in through the blinds as I eat breakfast or shines into my eyes as I walk across the Common to work.

Of course, not all the days bring that welcome brightness. Or they bring it in glimpses and flashes, not enough to soak up or enjoy. We are still at the beginning of winter, and we are weeks away from the solstice, after which the days begin, however slowly, to lengthen again.

Sometimes I wish I weren’t so sensitive to the rhythms of the seasons, when this particular change in rhythm renders me both lethargic and vulnerable. I wish I could do without the pills and the box that emits synthetic light. I wish I didn’t require quite so many pick-me-ups, so many cups of tea or bouquets of bright flowers or other winter survival tricks, to get me through this long, dark season.

But this, for better or worse, is how I’m made. Even if the box and the pills don’t erase the darkness, even if I still shiver as I walk in the cold, it helps. It helps to lean toward the light, wherever it happens to come from these days.

How do you lean toward the light in wintertime?

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