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Posts Tagged ‘rituals’

garden-small-beginnings-book-journal

Hello, friends. March has been a bit of a whirlwind so far: the coronavirus is disrupting work and travel plans, among other things. I’m still running, cooking, reading—trying to stay sane. Here’s what I have been reading:

Chasing Utopia, Nikki Giovanni
Thanks to the library’s Black History Month display, I picked up this “hybrid” of poetry and prose poems. I know Giovanni is an important black poet but I’ve only read her work here and there. This was a great introduction: witty, wry, vivid, lots of jazz.

The Garden of Small Beginnings, Abbi Waxman
In a post-Harry Potter fiction slump, I picked up Waxman’s fun debut for a reread. (I read it a few years ago and loved it so much I bought it for my sister—twice. True story.) Lilian, a young widow who works as an illustrator, gets roped into taking a gardening class with her sister and kids. Hijinks (vegetable-related and otherwise) ensue, as well as new friendships and the possibility of romance. Witty, warm and downright hilarious.

Don’t Overthink It: Make Easier Decisions, Stop Second-Guessing, and Bring More Joy to Your Life, Anne Bogel
Anne is a longtime Internet friend and a voice of wisdom on so many topics, including reading, fashion, personality types and, in this book, overthinking. She delves into the nitty-gritty of “analysis paralysis” and what we can do about it. Practical and wise, and you know I love any book that tells me to #buytheflowers.

The Women in Black, Madeleine St. John
In F.G. Goode’s department store in Sydney, the women in black run the dress department. Over the course of a Christmas season in the 1950s, four women (novices and veterans) form friendships that will change their lives. A lovely, witty period piece. An impulse buy at Trident. (I regret nothing.)

Good Bones, Maggie Smith
I love Smith’s heartening “Keep moving” affirmations on Twitter (can’t wait for her new book) and finally picked up this poetry collection. The titular poem is well known, but I loved lots of others too. Beautiful dark images shot through with light.

For Small Creatures Such as We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World, Sasha Sagan
Sagan is the daughter of astronomer Carl Sagan, and a committed secular Jew, but she still craves ritual and believes in wonder, mystery and sacred moments. This lovely book explores times and seasons (the year’s cycle, but also birth, coming of age, death) that cry out for rituals. I’m a longtime (though currently wandering) Christian, but I think people of different faiths (or no faith at all) will find Sagan’s work thoughtful and wise.

Tweet Cute, Emma Lord
Pepper is a high-achieving perfectionist, and captain of the swim team at her elite Manhattan school (where she secretly feels like a fish out of water). Jack is the class clown, used to living in his twin brother’s shadow. When they get embroiled in a Twitter war over grilled cheese, they’re both forced to confront their assumptions about themselves and each other. Sweet, snarky and so much fun. Recommended by Anne.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstores, Brookline Booksmith and Trident.

What are you reading?

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This is the winter of lunchtime runs, hauling my running gear and bright blue sneakers to work in my gray backpack so I can get out on the Esplanade twice a week or so, catching the sunshine and whatever warmth it provides.

This is the winter of all the puzzles, spread out on my friend Chrissy’s coffee table: NYC signs and Italian hillsides and bucolic New England landscapes, worked a piece at a time while we talk about our lives.

This is the winter of Cooking Solo, Klancy Miller’s brilliant cookbook about doing just that. I’ve been eating her lentil soup (stuffed with other veggies), her lemony pancakes, her roasted veggies with tahini dressing, for weeks.

This is the winter of almost no snow and only a few extended cold snaps. I’m missing the brilliance of sunlight on reflected snowbanks (and worried about what it means for the climate) even as I give thanks for the lack of grey slush.

This is the winter of settling into Eastie, continuing to make a home in this neighborhood that became mine last year. I’m growing paperwhites in my kitchen window, meeting a few more neighbors, going to yoga and strength training classes at The Point on the regular.

This is the winter of a(nother) Harry Potter reread, undertaken in tandem with someone I love, walking alongside Harry and his companions as they learn and grow and face unbelievable evil with courage and love.

This is the winter of sharp loneliness and sudden tears, still mourning the death of my marriage and adjusting (in all ways) to a new landscape without it.

This is the winter of avocado toast, handfuls of clementines, chunks of Trader Joe’s crumbly English cheddar, Molly’s scones and Jessica Fechtor’s oatmeal cookies, soup simmered in my red stockpot, endless cups of Earl Grey.

This is the winter of runs along the Harborwalk, vivid sunset light reflected in the water, marking the tides and the miles with my feet and the pounding of my heart.

This is the winter of Tuesday indoor picnics in the Pru, hearty soups decanted into red-lidded Tupperware and heated in the office microwave, cloth napkins and on-the-go utensils and laughter before we hug and go our separate ways.

This is the winter of starting to heal, doing my best to welcome unexpected joys where they appear.

What does life look like for you this winter?

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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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