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Posts Tagged ‘rhythm’

darwins mug heart table striped journal

When I thought about the shape of this freelancing summer, I knew one thing: it would still include lots of time in Cambridge.

I’ve been working on several projects for Harvard, which means I sometimes come into the Square for meetings and research. But, more simply and importantly: this is my neighborhood. I love it here in Cambridge, and whether I’m sending out resumes, writing book reviews or meeting friends, there’s no place I’d rather be than Harvard Square.

Tuesdays this summer, in particular, have fallen into a routine I’m loving.

First: a morning with my journal and laptop at Darwin’s, drinking tea, writing and answering emails. Sometimes I meet up with a friend and we co-work for a while, taking breaks to chat. Other times it’s just me: elbows on a green table, sunshine pouring through the plate-glass window at my back.

The sunset walls, the cheerful baristas, strong Earl Grey or ginger peach in a deep mug and a sweet-tart lemon scone: all of these are deeply familiar delights. I nod to a couple of other regulars, and either ease or dive into the work, depending on the day.

Around lunchtime, I close my laptop and head to the Harvard farmers’ market, where I get lunch from Amanda: homemade Texas tamales, elotes (street corn) slathered with garlicky sauce and spices, and a container of salsa roja to take home to my husband.

tamales elotes lunch

I find a shady spot, if I can, to perch and eat my lunch. The people-watching at the market is always a treat, and then I go pick up the week’s fruit from my favorite produce guys. I loved chatting with them about the World Cup earlier in the summer, but we also talk about the weather, the market or whatever comes to mind.

I run a few errands or go work at the library for a while, then frequently meet a friend in the afternoon for (iced) tea. Inevitably, I’ll run into another few folks I know (or see some of my favorite baristas), and sometimes I go by the florist to pick up a bouquet for my kitchen table.

Making the rounds, seeing my people, walking the familiar streets I love: this is my place. And on Tuesdays, especially, I get to glory in it.

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trail morning summer green trees neponset

I get up when the alarm goes off, or, if it’s Saturday, when the sunlight glowing through the living-room windows reaches me in our bedroom, across the house. I roll out of bed and start to wake up: opening the window blind to check on the weather, heading to the kitchen for a drink of water.

When I started running last fall, it was almost always evening: after the workday was done, stepping out on the trail toward the edge of the dark. I love the trail at dusk and even when it’s “proper dark,” as my English housemates used to say. And I love it too in the long golden glorious lengthening evenings of spring and summer.

But on some Saturdays, and on a few weekday mornings this summer, I’ve started getting out there early.

No matter what my plans are, it takes me a while to wake up: putting in my contacts, slathering on sunscreen. I change into running clothes: an ancient pair of Old Navy running shorts, a tank top or T-shirt, one of the two black sports bras that are creating funky tan lines on my back. My shoulders are freckling, for the first time in years.

trail morning selfie sea water

I brew a cup of ginger peach tea, this most essential morning fuel. I grab a handful of cherries, pop a piece of bread in the toaster, or eat a few spoonfuls of Greek yogurt with granola and dried cranberries. If I remember to, I do a few calf raises while I’m drinking my tea, moving around the kitchen. Sometimes I stretch or do a few lunges. I almost always do some jumping jacks and a minute’s worth of push-ups, a habit I’ve picked up from Monday night boot camp.

I grab my phone and headphones and sunglasses, hook a house key onto my sports bra, slip on the stretchy headband that keeps my hair out of my face. I head out the door, down three flights of stairs, down the block and around the corner. I walk until I hit the trail proper, and then I crank up the music and run.

The Neponset is lush with green shade in the early morning, scarlet sumac and spreading trees and climbing nets of wild roses, past their bloom now. There’s a mural and a trolley overpass and then a long stretch edged with tall reeds, which is all sunshine in the early morning. It contains the chalk heart I love, the water to my right, boats bobbing and glinting in the morning sun.

blue flowers sea sky neponset

I turn on the music that helps me rev up or wake up: Walk the Moon or the Cranberries, or a few folk songs written and sung by an old professor of mine. It’s an unusual running playlist, but it works for me. I take my time, letting my legs hit their stride, stopping to walk in between stretches of running. I look up and breathe in deep.

My loop is the same, or similar, on most of my runs: down the straightaway near my house, waiting for the traffic signal to change at the busy road nearby. A couple of semicircle loops on the next stretch, past municipally approved daylilies and tall elderflower bushes. Past the first wooden pier, the boxy apartment complex, through the park entrance and over a bridge. The music moves on, through folk and rock, Broadway soundtracks and sometimes hip-hop. (No one is more surprised than I am about my newfound love for a few Macklemore tracks.)

Out there I can let my thoughts unwind, sometimes mulling over a problem, sometimes humming along with the music and letting it all go. There are dog walkers, other runners, some of whom I’m starting to recognize. Sometimes the thick humidity holds the promise of shimmering heat later. Other times it’s crisp and blue, and I luxuriate in the feel of the air against my skin. Always, I am so glad to be out there, to be moving, to be alive.

We’ve lived in this neighborhood almost a year, and the trail has become as much home as the house we inhabit. I return to it at all times of day, watching the seasons change, its contours by now both familiar and a new delight. The particular joy of the morning run is embracing all this beauty early in the day. Sometimes the pace is slower than on my evening runs, but the glory makes me think of an old hymn line I love: new every morning.

By the time I make the turn and come home, I’m sweaty and starving and sometimes a little sore. But I often feel new, too. Along with the muscle fatigue, there’s another thrumming in my bones: a sense of accomplishment, quiet joy. And gratitude.

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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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