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Posts Tagged ‘rituals’

As the late-afternoon light shifts, I switch on the lamps, light a candle, start thinking about dinner. Transitions are hard when your whole life is in one space, but this helps. 

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Some mornings need a serious pick-me-up, so I end my run with chai in a blue-stamped paper cup. I miss coffee shops, but enjoy her smile with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

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After a year, they know me there: the brunette in the green coat who loves Gamal. I buy essentials—eggs, yogurt, tulips, soup fixings—and am nourished by kindness and smiles. 

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Brown paper bags hold potent black leaves infused with spice, caffeine and warmth. I wrap my fingers around my favorite mug, breathe in the steam, steep myself in this everyday magic. 

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Hello, friends. Here we are, two days before Christmas, and I am feeling all the emotions: seesawing between loneliness and hope, heavy sadness and sharp, sudden joy.

On the long list of things that are different this year, my holiday traditions (like most people’s) have been upended. I’m not in Texas with my family, and I am also still figuring out life (and Christmas) after divorce. I love December and all its rituals, large and small, and this year I have had no choice but to adapt and remake so many of the traditions I love.

I wrote last week about how I put up my tiny tree, not the same as the big one we had for years, but still twinkly and lovely. Many of my ornaments remain packed away, for now, but the ones I’ve chosen all have deep and sweet associations. I cried when I found our old stockings packed away in a box, but I pulled out the snowflake hangers, and my guy and I bought new stockings, for a new season.

When J and I sent Christmas cards, we’d pick out a photo, design a card on Shutterfly, order stacks of them, then hand-address them all in one go, sitting at the kitchen table with Christmas music playing. This year, that honestly felt like too much. (I didn’t send cards at all last year.) I bought a few different sets of letterpress cards and have been addressing them in small batches, scribbling notes to faraway family and friends and sealing each one with a poinsettia sticker. The ones I’ve received are Scotch-taped to the doorframe, reminding me of the folks I love and wish I could hug.

There will be no Christmas Eve service in Texas this year, but I’ll tune into a Zoom listening party for the carol choir I’ve participated in. We won’t have a traditional menu, because we are making this part up as we go along. I won’t go running in my parents’ neighborhood or bump into friends from high school, but I’ll run along the Eastie trails I love, and wave at the few local friends I can still see in person.

It won’t look like this forever, I know. But this is how it looks now. And some days, it’s enough to simply acknowledge that it looks different, and keep on making it new.

Merry Christmas, if you’re celebrating. See you next week.

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I’ve written before about how yoga has been getting me through the pandemic: lots of classes over Zoom this spring, then in the park this summer. Those outdoor classes were one of the true gifts of this strange time: setting up our mats in the lush grass, tree branches waving gently overhead, the sounds of birthday parties and children playing and a YMCA cardio class drifting over. We had occasional invasions from the local geese, but otherwise, it was just about perfect.

Lately, we’ve been back in the studio on a very limited basis, and I have loved showing up on Sunday and Wednesday nights with two or three others, to practice with Taylor and Carla, my favorite instructors. They are both warm and kind and understanding about how hard everything feels right now. They even put up twinkle lights and a couple of wee Christmas trees recently, and going there has felt quasi-normal, which is a serious gift right now.

Today, Boston is rolling back to an earlier phase of reopening for a few weeks, so we’re back to Zoom (fitness centers are closed) until January, at least. I am super sad about it: sometimes those few moments of chat in the studio are my only in-person conversations of the day. And while we don’t talk during class, it’s nourishing to be with other people, especially since I spend so much time alone right now.

I keep reminding myself that yoga will be there: that I can pull out my mat and practice at home; that (hopefully) my little studio will survive, and we will gather again on our mats, when we can. Until then, I’ll be tuning into class on Zoom, because I want to support a beloved small business, and I believe yoga is better when we do it together.

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Last week, I made the drive across Boston to Quincy, the just-south suburb where I lived for seven years, to visit my hairstylist, Jess. Every time I go, I grumble to myself about it being kind of a pain; it’s the other end of town from where I live now. And every time, I remember: it’s totally worth it.

I found my salon through an acquaintance I met soon after moving to Boston; Annmarie used to live in Quincy, and had high praise for the salon and its owner, Micki. Walking into a new salon is terrifying (anyone hear me?), and I was further intimidated when my stylist, Jess, turned out to have Technicolor hair (it was a different bright shade every time) and so many tattoos I didn’t know where to look.

Despite my initial worries, it turns out Jess is a wizard with scissors, and she’s also a sweetheart. I’ve been going to her for almost ten years now, which definitely qualifies as a long-term relationship.

In the time I’ve known Jess, we’ve each moved several times; her salon has changed locations; we’ve both gotten divorced and found new love. She’s gained a dog and two stepsons; I’ve gained two nephews; and her daughter has gone from a preschooler to a full-blown teenager. Not to mention we’re both currently surviving a pandemic and the weirdest year ever. But she is dependably skilled at trimming my hair back to a sleek, elegant shape, and we catch up on our lives while I’m sitting in the chair. These days, we’re both wearing masks (and her hair is ice-blue after a long stretch of her natural blonde), but her warmth and styling mojo are as present as ever.

I had to talk myself into going, as usual, and I won’t lie: revisiting my old neighborhood feels a bit strange these days, post-divorce. But I’m always glad to see Jess, and I think the feeling is mutual. And I always come out of the salon feeling like a million bucks.

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Is it an odd thing to say I love my grocery store? In the middle of a pandemic, perhaps it’s fitting: these folks are among the essential workers who are keeping the rest of us fed and safe. As I’ve mentioned before, my partner works at the nearest Trader Joe’s, and I’m feeling extra grateful for him and his colleagues this week.

Since I moved to Eastie, I’ve been cobbling together grocery-store runs: picking up a few things on my way home from work, borrowing a friend’s car or using grocery delivery for bigger trips. But when my guy got a job at TJs back in the winter, I bought a rolling cart and started doing my weekly shops over there. These days, it’s an integral part of my week.

I make my list, go and wait in line (a short one, if I’m lucky), greet his coworkers as I walk through the produce section. I usually pick up some flowers to supplement my weekly bouquets from Brattle Square. There are always new treats to try (see above), plus reliable staples, and I sneak in a hug from my guy if he’s stocking the shelves or working the cash register. The store atmosphere is cheery and bright, and many of his coworkers recognize me now, even with a mask. I wave hello or chat with whoever’s ringing me up, then haul my groceries on the train back home.

Real talk: it’s sometimes a pain, and grocery shopping for one can feel a bit depressing. But we all need to eat, and I’m thankful to have a store I like nearby. I’m even more grateful for the community there: it’s good to walk in and be welcomed.

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As a lover of Christmas (and twinkle lights), I have a soft spot for December. It usually feels both hectic and peaceful: holiday celebrations and travel prep and last-minute gifts alongside the hush of quiet evenings and diamond-bright, blue-sky mornings.

This year, of course, December feels different: I’m not packing for Texas, not finishing up a semester of full-time work, not going to Advent services or planning to sing carols in church on Christmas Eve. I am trying to wrap my head around a low-key, cozy, local Christmas. But I am still observing a few tiny rituals of the season, and I thought I’d share them with you. They include:

Stringing twinkle lights on a Christmas tree – I put mine up last weekend, well behind the pandemic-inspired holiday rush but with plenty of time to enjoy it before Christmas.

Lighting the good candles, as often as I want.

Pulling out a few cherished mementoes, like the metal mailbox with a little moose on it and the words “Merry Kiss Moose” in red letters. And the coat-hanger tree I’ve had since junior high, which still – miraculously – works, at least for now.

Listening to The Holiday soundtrack while I clean or cook or write. And watching the movie itself, which is a perennial fave.

Addressing Christmas cards and wondering whether I need to buy more stamps. (Related: texting friends to ask for snail-mail addresses.)

Pulling out my now-worn Advent book and flipping to my favorite essays.

Seeing those plush reindeer antlers and noses on cars around town, which always make me smile.

Revisiting Shepherds Abiding, a tale of Mitford at Christmastime that charms me and chokes me up every. single. year.

Searching out stocking stuffers (this time, for my guy).

Looking up at birds’ nests in bare tree branches.

Snapping photos of holiday decorations around town.

Humming the carols I love, and pulling out a few favorite albums: Sarah McLachlan’s Wintersong, James Taylor’s At Christmas, the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack.

Following along with Ali Edwards’ December Daily stories, even though I’m not making a scrapbook myself.

Pulling out the fleece-lined tights and handknit accessories.

Remembering Christmases past: red felt stockings on the mantel at Mimi’s, candles in the sanctuary at my parents’ church, the words of Luke 2 from Mom’s worn old Bible, Christmas-morning shenanigans with my nephews.

What are your tiny December rituals?

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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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