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Posts Tagged ‘rituals’

phoenix dog sidewalk

Fall has come to Boston, and I’m dog-sitting again for my friend Carolyn, who is now also my neighbor. I spent several weeks at her house this spring, taking care of Phoenix the golden doodle pup, and I’m happily spending the second half of September hanging out with him again.

The alarm goes off in the morning, and I stretch and hit snooze and turn to look out the windows at the park, where the leaves are just starting to turn. As soon as my feet hit the floor, Phoenix starts scratching at the door of his crate: if I’m up, he wants to be up. But when I get out of the shower, I usually find him curled up on the bed, often next to my pillow. Sometimes he’ll wave a paw, asking for some extra pets or snuggles, and I usually comply. (He knows I’m a softie.)

I get dressed, blow-dry my hair, grab a banana for me and some treats for Phoenix, and clip his red leash to his collar. We head downstairs and out the door, taking the same route most mornings: down the street, around the corner and back up the hill.

Sometimes we run into a friend, or a small child excited to see a doggie. Sometimes we both stop to smell the flowers (though Phoenix also likes to smell everything else). He trots along happily, plumy tail waving, and does his business, and I give him treats and take deep breaths of fresh air. I drop him back off at home, feed him breakfast, and head to the train to go to work.

It’s a simple morning ritual, and I love it: scratching him behind the ears as he wanders around the bedroom, watching him wag frantically at other pups, giving him those extra cuddles, stretching our legs together. His little joyful presence is good medicine, these days. And I’m grateful.

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apple orchard trees wonder woman bracelet red

I had my first bite of a September apple last week, sampling a crisp Macintosh from the white bag on the kitchen counter. It tasted delicious: tart, juicy, the embodiment of fall in New England. And I was stunned by the wave of sadness that followed it.

Since I moved to Boston, apples have been tangled up with September: crisp sunny days, cool nights, black-eyed Susans and dahlias and late daylilies in the flower beds around town. September is the start of the academic year, and in a city like Boston, that shifts the rhythm in a big way. And every fall, September has meant apple picking.

apple trees blue sky

Apple picking was and is a beloved tradition for my former church. I’d eaten apples all my life, but there are no apple orchards in West Texas, and I wasn’t prepared for the sight of their rambling, gnarled branches heavy with fruit. I fell instantly in love.

Last year, some dear friends who’d moved away came back to visit for a long weekend, and we made sure to plan our apple-picking excursion when they were here. We wandered the orchard and filled our bags to bursting and ate the traditional orchard lunch of hot dogs and apple cider donuts. There were photos and laughter and tired kiddos, and cold, fresh cider. It felt right.

This year, so much has shifted: I’m living across the water in Eastie, spending my Sunday mornings sleeping in or running instead of going to church. I’m navigating the end of the marriage whose story began when I was in college. I am not who I was, and my life is a testament to that fact. But it is still September, and the apples have appeared at the farmers’ markets and grocery stores.

I’ll keep eating them, because the flavor and enjoyment are worth the reminder of all I have lost. Things are different now, but life is still full of sweetness. I’m trying to feel it all, live it all, truly taste both the grief and the joy.

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birch bark reindeer

On Monday morning, I dropped off a thick stack of Christmas cards at the post office.

The hubs and I sat at the kitchen table the night before, listening to Christmas music, surrounded by sticky labels and the ever-changing list I print off and then mark up every year. We both reached for our phones several times to text friends for new addresses. As I said to Jaclyn, the act of virtually asking for a physical address seems to capture December in the modern world. (That might go double for Jaclyn herself: we met online, have exchanged many snail-mail letters and even met in person a few times, and are mostly keeping up via text and blogs these days.)

I only write down many of these addresses once or twice a year: my aunt and grandparents near San Antonio, my housemates from grad school in England. A cluster of houses in southwest Missouri, where my dad grew up and his family (by blood and by choice) still lives.

Some of these folks I don’t talk to all that often, and haven’t seen for years. But their addresses, and the physical act of writing them by hand, are in there. And sending Christmas cards – choosing a photo, scrambling to update the list, finding an hour to scribble notes on the back of each card to our loved ones – is one of the small but important rituals of the season.

Christmas tree snoopy

Last week, on a rare weeknight at home together, we watched The Muppet Christmas Carol over bowls of spicy carrot-ginger soup, delighting in the songs and silliness and cracking up at the asides by Rizzo and Gonzo. This weekend, we ordered takeout from our favorite Indian place and watched White Christmas. I giggled at Danny Kaye’s facial expressions, marveled at Vera-Ellen’s footwork, and welled up when the General walked down the stairs in his uniform. (Every year.)

So much (I keep saying) has changed in the last few years: my job(s), our address(es), the way we navigate so much of our daily lives. This year, Advent has felt hard and different; I’ve missed some of my usual traditions, like the church Christmas pageant and the a cappella notes of O Come O Come Emmanuel.

But some of the season’s tiny rituals remain the same. J has hung the felt mistletoe ball in the doorway between the dining and living room. The words in my Advent book are still there, sustaining and comforting and sometimes shaking me awake, as I page through them before bed. The cyclamen and poinsettias at my florist are vivid and glorious. The shop windows all over town are sparkly and festive. I’m fighting (hopefully defeating) my annual December cold, and laughing at my sister’s photos of her Elf on the Shelf, Oliver, and his antics.

poinsettias brattle square florist red flowers Cambridge

We are making travel plans, packing, doing laundry, finishing up the Christmas shopping. I am humming the familiar carols, and singing them with others, when I can. (We spent Sunday morning at a lessons and carols service that fed my soul and made my heart sing.) We bought (more) wrapping paper and Scotch tape this weekend, and the tiny coat-hanger tree I’ve had for twenty years is sparkling away on top of the microwave.

Some of our neighbors have set electric candles in their windows, and the sight warms me when I glance outside after dark. Before I go to bed, I pause in the kitchen to glance out the window at the quiet street, then in the living room to take in the glow of the Christmas tree before unplugging it for the night. So much of each day feels hurried and hectic, but just for a moment each night, there is peace.

Advent is about the waiting, the longing, the gaps between what ought to be and what has not yet come. We are waiting, we are hurting, we are tiptoeing toward Christmas. And while we wait, I am savoring every bit of joy.

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memorial church window light candles

I go for the sunlight shafting through the high windows, sometimes flooding directly into my eyes as I sit or stand. It feels like its own sort of benediction, like a blessing I didn’t earn and can only receive.

I go for the voices of the dozen students dressed in long black robes trimmed with scarlet cord. They sing a different anthem every weekday, and their voices soar clear and pure above the carved pews to the cream-colored ceiling.

I go for MemCafé on Wednesdays after service: a paper cup of Lady Grey tea, a granola bar for the road, a warm smile and chitchat from a college student who has no idea how much his kindness means to me.

I go for the words of the ancient texts: a psalm to begin the service, the Lord’s Prayer near the end. Sometimes I participate in the responsive readings or the prayer, my voice blending into the chorus. Other times I sit and listen, letting the community speak for me.

I go for the talks by members of the Harvard community and guests: always varied, often surprising, usually carrying an insight I didn’t expect.

I go because it’s good to be known and welcomed, to see other familiar faces in the pews even if we never speak to one another.

I go to let the ritual anchor me, to breathe deeply before the workday begins, to find a bit of hope and peace among the crowded tasks of ordinary life.

I go for the benedictions, every day: May the Lord bless you and keep you. May he preserve your going out and your coming in. May the peace of God rest, rule and abide in each of us until we meet again. Amen.

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kitchen wall art curtains british flag

Two corn tortillas, fried in a small sauté pan. Two eggs, fried one after the other in the same pan. Black beans, laced with salsa roja and a few shakes of cumin. Grated cheese. Jarred salsa verde (or Amanda’s fresh salsa, if we’ve got it). Tortilla chips. And a tall glass of water.

For months now, this has been my dinner on Monday nights. After a long, full day at the office and Erin’s yoga class, it’s the only thing I want to eat. (Especially after adding in a boot camp workout before yoga, for the last six weeks.) The meal itself – spicy, nourishing and so easy – and the ritual of preparing it are both saving my life these days.

Mondays are usually a full day at the office: catching up on the weekend’s headlines, gearing up for the week with its projects and meetings. There’s always at least one curveball and usually a lot of email. By the time I leave the office, I’m physically weary and mentally wiped out.

It’s no secret that I love a lifesaving routine. While I reserve – and relish – the right to change things up sometimes, the truth is that my daily and weekly rituals keep me grounded, fed, rested and sane (for the most part). When I realized, several months ago, that I was craving huevos every Monday night, I thought: why not make it official? So now huevos is on the menu every Monday.

We make sure to restock the necessary ingredients during the weekend grocery shop, and we pull out the pans and the egg carton as soon as we walk in the door. My husband usually works late on Mondays, so we ride home together, catching up on our days. Once we’re home, we tag-team the prep: setting the table, pouring the water, flipping the tortillas, frying the eggs.

As with all routines, I’m betting this one won’t last forever: eventually we’ll get sick of it, or I’ll switch my workout night, or we’ll just decide to try something new. But for now, at least, on Mondays we make huevos. And they are delicious.

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sumac river trail

December has arrived – suddenly, it seems. My neighbors are putting up twinkle lights, and the church sanctuary is full of pine garland, poinsettias and cyclamen. We began Advent on Sunday with the aching melody of “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” and I’m slowly setting out the Christmas decorations and turning back to the words of hope in my Advent book.

Alongside all of that, it is dark. So dark.

Not only does the sun slip below the horizon as I’m finishing my workdays, but the news out of Washington and elsewhere is (still) so disheartening. I have friends who are grieving, weary, afraid. I am struggling with heartbreak, change, loss, fear. I know so many people who are waiting: for test results or resolution or even the tiniest scrap of good news.

In the midst of the darkness (literal and metaphorical), I know there are pinpricks of light, even when I can’t see them. In an effort to remind myself of this fact, I thought it was time for another list of what’s saving my life now:

  • Laurie Sheck’s poem “The Annunciation,” where I found the phrase “honest grace.” Kathleen Norris mentions it in her essay “Annunciation,” and I finally looked it up after meaning to do so for years.
  • Seeing birds’ nests in the bare trees and thinking of Lindsey.
  • Tulips for my desk and the weekly chat with my florist, who is the dearest man.
  • Bracing, practical, sarcastic advice from a writer colleague.
  • I say this every single day: Darwin’s. The ritual of walking down there; the delicious drinks and nourishing food; the familiar rhythm of the place; and most of all, the warmth from my café people.

chai darwins red bracelets

  • Laughter with my coworkers, whenever and however it comes.
  • Morning Prayers at Mem Church, which is wrapping up for the fall: thoughtful words, lovely music, the ritual of repeating the Lord’s Prayer and singing (often sight-reading) the daily hymns.
  • Texts from a few friends who are my lifelines.
  • The return of my winter uniform: striped dress + black leggings (fleece-lined when I need them) + ankle boots + scarf + magic green coat.
  • Weekly phone calls with my parents and looking forward to Christmas together.
  • Twinkle lights wrapped around anything.
  • Susannah Conway’s lovely December Reflections project on Instagram.
  • Walking and sometimes running on the river trail: on bold blue weekend afternoons or under dark weeknight skies after work.
  • In my ears on those walks and at other times: the Wailin’ Jennys and Hamilton. An odd mix, but it’s working for me.

sunrise early winter blue gold

  • Sunrises seen from the kitchen window: fiery orange over the treetops, or blue with silver-streaked clouds.
  • Yoga on my green mat at home (even 10 minutes can help) or at Healing Tree.
  • The boot camp I’m doing on Monday nights, taught by my favorite yoga instructor. So fun and empowering.
  • Slapdash huevos rancheros after said workout, every Monday night.
  • My morning routine: snooze button + hot shower + sunrise gazing + tea in a purple travel mug + scone eaten en route to the trolley stop.
  • Takeout from our favorite Indian place and a few hilarious episodes of Modern Family with the hubs.
  • Putting the world to rights over paella and wine with a girlfriend.
  • The words that have carried me over many months.

What is saving your life these days? Please share, if you like.

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kettle mug tea kitchen

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.

—Annie Dillard

Recently, my friend Lindsey wrote a post ruminating on what she does every day. She agrees with Dillard’s words, above: the habits we keep, the actions we repeat, have a powerful effect on the shape of our lives. Gretchen Rubin’s version of this idea, which Lindsey mentioned and which I’d read before, is similar: “What we do every day matters more than what we do once in a while.”

Even though I’d argue that less frequent actions – things we do once a month or once a year – also shape us, I agree with these wise women: the daily actions of our lives do matter. They form us into the people we become. Lindsey’s litany of the things she does every day, or most days, inspired me to reflect on my own small daily acts.

katie selfie mirror onedayhh

Every day, I drink several cups of tea – usually brewing the first one in our kitchen. I pause to gaze out the east-facing window at the sunrise over the tops of the trees. Most days, I commute to Harvard Square, where I write stories and answer emails, go to meetings and chat with colleagues.

I walk to Darwin’s at least daily, for chai and scones, Earl Grey and hot cider, and – best of all – convivial chat with the baristas I know. I make the rounds of my beloved work neighborhood: the bank, the florist, the post office, other errands. I look up and snap pictures of the sky, or around and snap pictures of flowers and leaves. Most days, I post on Instagram and Twitter (though I usually spend far too much time looking at each). Most days, I write: journal entries, blog posts, book reviews, work assignments, emails. (Always emails.)

Every day, I text a couple of dear friends, and often at least one family member. I talk to my husband briefly in the middle of the workday. I make or juggle plans with friends; community is often fragmented in this world but it’s dear to me, and I fight for it. Every day, I dive into several books – on my commute, on my lunch break, before bed. I need good stories, and words that make me think or laugh or cry.

A few times a week, I do yoga: either at the studio I love or on my own green mat on the kitchen floor. I get out for a walk and/or a run on the river trail near our house. About once a week, I talk to my mom on the phone. Several times a week, I do laundry, cook dinner for myself and my husband. On other evenings, I spend time with friends: usually a one-on-one walk or dinner date. Every day, I make the bed, and later I stand at the sink and wash dishes, scrub out the tea strainer, wipe the counters, sort the mail.

“What do these small, mundane acts say about my priorities?” Lindsey wondered in her post. I think my small acts say that I value the daily: the act of nourishing myself and others, the act of pausing to pay attention to the world and the people I love.

I spend a lot of time and energy keeping up and taking care: of our home, of my work to-do list, of the details of my life. I’m an introvert: I need time by myself and time with the people I love, but I prefer the latter in small-group doses. I need sunshine and I need to move my body. And I am – though I sometimes struggle to believe it – a writer to my core.

As we move into the holiday season, my days will contain a number of seasonal rituals: starting with Turkeypalooza, continuing through Advent and Christmas prep (shopping, sending cards) and my annual trip to Texas to see family. I’ll pull out my beloved, battered Advent book and sing favorite carols. I’ll make an extra effort to gather with friends before we all scatter for the holidays.

Through it all, my daily routine will anchor me. What I do every day will continue to shape me. And if I need to make a change, or want to reinforce a new habit, it starts there: in the dailiness, the small round of hours and minutes that is so mundane and so precious.

What do you do every day, or most days? Do you think it matters?

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