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Posts Tagged ‘seasons’

If you read my recent newsletter, you know: the first week of January here was dreary and grey, with mornings shrouded in mist and afternoons that looked just like the mornings. It wasn’t particularly cold (at least, for New England), but it was gloomy as a Yorkshire moor, and not in the romantic way. By Thursday I was mopey, and by Friday I was downright cranky. And on Saturday morning, I nearly squealed – or wept, I couldn’t decide which – when I woke to bright sunshine.

There’s a sharpness to the light this time of year, a sudden urgency, as though the daylight itself is trying to make the most of its limited hours. The sun’s low angle bounces off the harbor and arrows straight into my kitchen window, nearly blinding me, but its golden warmth is welcome.

My houseplants stretch toward the light, and so do I – making sure to bundle up and get out for walks as often as I can. If it’s too cold or I’ve just come back inside, sometimes I stand in the kitchen window and let the sunlight flood my cells, my shadow stretching long on the floorboards behind me, lighting up the ordinary objects that crowd my shelves. Even my silverware drawer looks ethereal, bathed in that kind of light.

For the grey days, I still have my happy lamp and vitamin D pills – and you can bet I’m outside every day, whether walking or running or simply commuting the few blocks to my office. The fresh air helps, no matter what color the skies are. But the sunlight – blazing or shy, intense or elusive – is its own particular gift. Especially on these short, dark days, I’m making the effort to soak it up as much as I can. (I’m also thinking of dipping back into Horatio Clare’s lovely memoir, aptly titled The Light in the Dark.)

How do you find light in the middle of winter?

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We’re a week into the new year, and in typical fashion, it’s chilly (though not as biting as it could be). The blue-sky days are brilliant, and the winterberries are showing off their cheery red, but there’s not a lot of visible growth outside. These days, the growing things I cherish – and a consistent delight – are my profusion of houseplants, a cluster of pots positioned to catch the winter sunlight.

I’ve nurtured a couple of geraniums for years – sometimes red, sometimes pink. Currently I have one of each, and I’m keeping a close eye on them after they got frostbitten during our Christmas cold snap. I’m hoping the southern sunshine will coax them back to thriving before too long. I love their cheery faces and the spicy scent of their leaves.

Across the kitchen, there’s a trio of smaller pots: an African violet sporting purple flowers, a re-sprouting amaryllis, and a purple-and-green striped nanouk plant from Trader Joe’s. Their spot on the waist-high cabinet that serves as a pantry means they catch the afternoon sunlight, and their fresh green growth makes me happy when there’s only brown to be seen outside.

On each kitchen windowsill, I’m starting a paperwhite bulb: my florist sells these around Christmastime, and I always scoop up a few. We are weeks away from crocuses, months away from daffodils and tulips and blossoming cherry trees, but the tall green shoots and sweet-scented white flowers always give me hope that we’ll survive the winter.

I love my houseplants for their inherent beauty, for their promise of new growth in a cold and dark season, for the unruly joy they bring to my (mostly) tidy apartment. New life is messy; growth pokes out an elbow or stretches out a leaf in unexpected places, and I often need the visual reminder. These plants, plus the fresh flowers I buy on the regular, and the fern that sits next to the humidifier, help me look for growth and vitality where I otherwise might not.

What’s delighting you this week? I’d love to hear.

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It has been a year, y’all. There’s no way a list can capture it all, but here are a few highlights from the past 12 months:

  • run miles and miles through my beloved neighborhood of Eastie, mostly in the mornings before work
  • knitted myself a pair of gloves, a cozy headband and two sets of legwarmers
  • lived in leggings, jeans, Allbirds sneakers, scarves and my green coat (see above)
  • discovered volunteer ushering and leaned hard into it
  • returned to Vermont, and adventured to western MA and the North Shore, with my guy
  • spent a couple of sweet solo weekends in NYC
  • delighted in hearing and promoting our young people’s music at ZUMIX
  • made lots of chickpea curry, ratatouille, black bean soup and other simple meals
  • drunk hundreds of cups of tea
  • spent a sweet Thanksgiving with my guy
  • interviewed several authors for Shelf Awareness
  • read roughly 230 books
  • done a lot of yoga, mostly at The Point
  • sung in a local carol choir for the fourth year
  • said goodbye to my beloved Darwin’s
  • written a couple of pieces for ACU Today
  • spent a little time in Texas
  • hosted my parents for their first joint visit to Boston since 2018
  • continued to savor my writing class on Tuesdays
  • worked the polls again, twice
  • gone to the movies alone (and with my guy)
  • helped pull off the ZUMIX Gala and Walk for Music
  • started a newsletter
  • done a “Southwest tour” to visit friends in Arizona and California
  • become a regular at the Eastie library
  • published a couple of essays online
  • gone back to some local museums
  • been to Portsmouth, Amherst and Westerly with my girl Jackie
  • taken a salsa dancing class
  • been to my first Comic-Con
  • survived having COVID
  • attended a number of outdoor concerts here in Eastie
  • seen both the Indigo Girls and the Wailin’ Jennys in concert (!!)
  • loved All Creatures season 2 and Magpie Murders
  • turned 39
  • tended geraniums, a fern, an African violet, paperwhite bulbs and cherry tomatoes
  • tried my best to pay attention, love my people and be brave and true

What has this year looked like for you?

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It seems to start earlier every year: the full-on blitz of evergreens, candy-cane decorations, tinsel and twinkle lights. Red cups at Starbucks, Santa hats all over the place, peppermint-flavored everything…the list goes on.

I’m here for the twinkle lights and the peppermint treats – and y’all know I love Christmas music and movies. But for the last several years, I’ve been edging into the season: tiptoeing, observing tiny rituals, looking for the light. It feels like too much to turn the Christmas-ness up full blast in mid-November, if I want to actually enjoy it. As Father Tim once observed, it feels like “hitting, and holding, high C” for weeks on end. As a singer, I know that is both screechy and impossible.

This year, I am taking the season in small doses: putting up my two trees, both of them festooned with lights, but not rushing to hang the ornaments. I’m taping Christmas cards around my door frame, wearing the tiny raccoon-holding-a-holly-sprig pin that was my mother’s in the ’90s. I’m listening to Christmas music when I feel like it (Sara Groves, Kate Rusby, the Indigo Girls, Vince Guaraldi), and turning it off when I’ve had enough.

I’ve been rehearsing for our annual neighborhood carol service with friends, trying to hear how the phrases should sound, relaxing into the familiarity of “Silent Night” and “The First Noel.” The music is still creaky, but it will come together. We will probably miss a cue or two, stumble over words in an unfamiliar language. And we will also create chords of beauty and longing, both from carols we know and pieces we have only learned this year.

“The light shines in the darkness,” we are told, and we hear it often this time of year. But living in the Northeast reminds me that the darkness is necessary, too. I can savor the fiery sunsets and crisp moonlit nights, while also appreciating the longer evenings. The light and the darkness need one another; neither one can exist alone.

This truth is harder to accept on an emotional level; I’d rather skip over the grief that comes up this time of year, and focus on the joy. But I know I can’t do that. Ignoring the sadness will only make it worse. Naming it, and leaning into the music and rituals that make room for complexity, is vital if I want to live honestly in – and enjoy – this season.

I do miss some of the Advent rituals of my old life: greening the church on a Saturday morning, gathering with friends I don’t see anymore, singing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” in a community that is no longer mine. There is brokenness and longing in these memories, and also joy: those rituals nourished me, for a time, and now I have to find new rituals to carry me through.

As is so often the case, there’s a metaphor here. Advent is about what happens when the old ways don’t work anymore. It is a sudden interruption, a dramatic entrance, into a world that is desperate for all things to be made new. It is making sense of the light and the darkness – or, failing that, accepting the presence of both in this world.

How are you savoring the season this year? I’d love to hear.

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For bright, bracing miles along the river on Thanksgiving morning, sunlight sparkling on the water and my favorite women of folk in my ears.

For a phone call with my parents, standing on the back porch in the sunshine, talking football and family and the recipes we were all making for the day, two thousand miles apart.

For two racks of ribs with my grandmother’s barbecue sauce, my partner’s legendary mac and cheese, the sweet potato recipe that tastes like Thanksgiving to me. For corn muffins and tabbouleh and a charcuterie board to tide us over while we cooked. For a table positively groaning with food – more, much more, than enough.

For a bike ride with my guy in the sunshine, and the love, respect and genuine affection that sustains us every day.

For the texts rolling in from faraway friends, with Friends gifs and pictures of tables and kitchens and families. For feeling held by the communities I love, scattered though they may be.

For an evening spent washing stacks of dishes and baking dozens of cookies, scrolling through Christmas movie trailers on Netflix and listening to episodes of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

For tricky conversations about the history of the day: I believe gratitude is always worth practicing, but I also, increasingly, believe we’ve got to reckon with the colonial legacy that took so much from Native peoples.

For my job at ZUMIX – community, music and young people – and a fun, diverse group of colleagues who are both hardworking and kind.

For the chance to keep building a life I love, challenges and all.

If you celebrated last week, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

P.S. The third issue of my newsletter, For the Noticers, comes out this week. Sign up here to get on the list!

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It was November – the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines. Anne roamed through the pineland alleys in the park and, as she said, let that great sweeping wind blow the fogs out of her soul.

Anne of the Island, L.M. Montgomery

We are deep into November: biting winds; golden leaves gradually blowing down from the trees; crisp morning air and sharp, gold-and-blue early sunsets, or nights swathed in rain and fog. Life is full, as a coworker at Harvard used to say: there are plans to make for the upcoming holiday season, projects to delve into and wrap up at work, meals to make and yoga classes to attend and dishes to wash. (Always, always dishes.)

I’ve been thinking of Anne in the mornings, when I pull on my leggings and running shoes and head out the door for a run in the brisk air. My roaming looks different than Anne’s, but it serves one of the same purposes: blowing the fog out of my soul, setting me right for the day ahead.

The last few years, as we all know, have been so much. The pandemic and my divorce have completely rearranged the way I move through the world, the way I think about so many things. There have been grief and anxiety, loneliness and job changes, slow edging back into community and vibrant, surprising joy.

We are all, whether we realize it or not, carrying some scars from those months we spent so isolated. And everyone I know is eager for community and connection these days, though we have differing ideas about what it might look like.

Anne, too, found herself facing some shifts in her third year at Redmond; it was partly due to romantic troubles, but I think it’s worth admitting that seasons of great change also change us. Those years at college were transformative, and they also left her altered: she was not the same Anne who left the Island full of hopes and dreams, even after some of those came true. I am not the same person who moved into this studio apartment three years ago. I’ve grown and changed and struggled mightily, and all that has left me altered. I am, as Stanley Kunitz noted, not who I was – though I still love a morning run under brilliant blue skies.

November, this year, looks like some Mondays doing yoga and some Mondays staffing the front desk at work, greeting our students and parents as they come in and out. It looks like bowl after bowl of Thai butternut squash soup, alternating with chickpea curry or other quick meals. It looks like a glorious weekend in western MA with my guy, and thinking ahead to our plans for Thanksgiving. It looks like saying good-bye to my beloved Darwin’s, which is unexpectedly closing next week. It looks like sending cards (and soup, when I can) to several friends who are struggling, trying to show up in the ways I know how. It looks, for the fourth year in a row, like Christmas choir rehearsals in an old church on Sunday nights, gathering with friends to puzzle our way through classic carols and unfamiliar harmonies.

November begins the taking-stock time before year’s end, the mad rush of the holiday season and my attempts not to let it overwhelm me. I am starting to think back over this year, to consider what I might want for 2023. I am pulling out the humidifier (winter is coming) and watering my indoor geraniums, buying paperwhite bulbs in preparation for December. I am walking to work in my green coat each morning, sometimes sporting a handknit hat or leg warmers.

I am trying, as always, to pay attention and take care, to savor these beautiful blue-and-gold days as the darkness begins to set in. I am – like Anne – always doing my best to notice the beauty, and to be here now.

What’s November looking like for you, this year?

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On a recent Saturday night, I slid into a movie-theater seat with snacks stuffed into my tote bag. I sat through a raft of previews (some engaging, some decidedly less so) before settling back and enjoying the main feature, Ticket to Paradise. (This is not a review of that film, but I will say that George Clooney’s “peak dad” dance moves were hilarious, and Julia Roberts’ laugh is as wonderful as ever.)

This was only the second film I’d ever seen solo: the first was Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, earlier this summer. I am 39 years old, and I’ve been going to the movies since I was a child, but it had somehow never occurred to me that I could go alone – or that I’d want to.

For me, one of the challenges of getting divorced – and then living alone, during a pandemic, with local friends (and my partner) scattered around the city – has been learning to do things alone that I used to do in community. My ex and I used to do grocery shopping together most weekends, for example. I didn’t mind going alone, but I liked pushing the cart through the aisles together, picking out ingredients for the meals we planned to cook that week. We always went to movies as a couple, or with friends. We had some separate hobbies and interests, but our lives, for a long time, were ultimately oriented toward being together.

That is the part of marriage I miss the most, even after three years living solo: the emotional sense, and the practical reality, of being part of a unit in this world. Now that my life is much more solitary, I’ve had to adjust my perceptions of these activities, even though I still have friends and a partner who are more than happy to ride bikes or go to dinner or attend a play with me, if the timing works out.

I’ve grown to love doing some things alone: these days, whether I’m ushering or not, I love a solitary night at the theatre. But it’s still a bit weird to me to walk into the movies alone. I’ve been trained to see moviegoing, like concerts or sporting events or church, as a social, communal activity. And while I know people attend these events solo all the time, a part of me still wonders if I’m lacking somehow when I show up without a companion.

Fortunately – at least so far – going to the movies alone has proven an unexpected delight. There’s a tinge of loneliness, sure, but I can still text my friends after the movie to tell them how much fun it was. I can eat my snacks and laugh or cry along with my fellow audience members, and enjoy being swept up in a story. And afterward, when we emerge blinking from the theater and back into our lives, I can feel proud that I took a small but brave step toward embracing this still-new, more solitary life.

Do you like going to the movies alone? I’d love to hear.

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I’m almost recovered. This is what I kept saying to friends, only half jokingly, for at least two weeks after our ZUMIX Gala, which was sparkly and musical and made for a very late night. It was beautiful and fun and entirely worthwhile – and it took much longer to get “back to normal” than I expected.

It wasn’t only the loss of sleep that required some catch-up: there’s a huge swell of emotional and mental effort leading up to an event like that, and sometimes riding the downswell (both the release and the letdown) means you need to take a minute. I was also fighting a cold, for at least a solid week afterward; one of my colleagues likewise couldn’t stop coughing; and another one came down with COVID, which is still with us no matter how much we’d like to pretend otherwise. As we tallied donations and sent thank-you letters and boxed up leftover swag, I talked to several friends who all said the same thing: recovery times, in general, seem to be longer these days.

Part of it is the exhaustion; we’d all put in a lot of hours in the weeks before the Gala, and our bodies and minds needed some rest and space, even as we looked (and continue to look) ahead to the next major project and the daily work. But I think it’s also a lingering effect of the last few pandemic years.

All of us, whether we realize it or not, are still dealing with the compounded results of isolation, fear, mixed political and public-health messaging, and (for many of us) the aftermath of the virus itself. I think differently about social gatherings now, in the wake of 18+ months of barely attending any. I cherish the chances to dance, break bread and celebrate with friends, but I also notice that I need longer to recover – socially and/or physically – afterward. My running routine has had to change since I had the virus; I’ve struggled to build back my stamina and speed. I am noticing a renewed zeal to get back to normal (or pretend it’s already here) in various circles, in person and online. And – honestly – I don’t know if pre-pandemic “normal” is the thing to aim for.

Life is decidedly not the same as it was in 2020; we have vaccines and few restrictions, and I can move about the world in a way I couldn’t then. I’m also conscious that life is not the same as it was in 2019. I am not the same; none of us are, or should be. One way I’m trying to honor that difference is to give myself (and others) the recovery time that’s needed. And if – when – it’s longer? So be it. I’m learning to recognize, and make allowances for, that important fact.

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There are asters all over my part of East Boston, peeking out at the bottom of hedgerows and growing thick among the milkweed and mulberry at the end of the greenway.

They were a little late to show up this year. The long, hot summer days lingered, and I wondered if the drought in Massachusetts would fry them on the stem. I was delighted – and relieved – when they showed up in mid-September, in (most of) the usual places. Along with cosmos, morning glories and stubborn late-summer roses, they herald my favorite season: the long golden days of summer-into-fall, the time of year when I was born. This time always feels like a new beginning to me, even as the world begins to prepare for its winter sleep.

I always knew asters were my birth flower: I remember seeing their name alongside sapphire, my birthstone, on those lists of symbols associated with each month. But I didn’t know what they looked like for many years. Like so many of the plants that grow in New England, they don’t grow in West Texas. I read about them in the Anne series and The Secret Garden, but I didn’t encounter them in living color until I was an adult.

These days, their presence – peeking over scrub grass or sticking out of fences – feels like a secret sign. Asters don’t shout, not like bold dahlias or tall sunflowers or creamsicle-orange daylilies. But they are distinctive: purple or white or sometimes hot pink petals, yellow or purple centers, charming nicknames like farewell-summers and Michaelmas daisies. I love that they appear in my season, in my neighborhood, mingling with the other plants as green begins to turn to gold. Their friendly faces feel like a wink, as I run or walk by on my neighborhood rounds: right here, in this moment, I am where I’m supposed to be.

P.S. My first newsletter comes out tomorrow! Sign up here if you haven’t already!

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Thirty-nine. Almost 40. I’m still amazed by that reality, especially since I sometimes feel 17 or 22 or eight years old inside. But as I say often (quoting Madeleine L’Engle), I am every age I’ve ever been.

Thirty-nine is getting up and going for a run most mornings, even when I don’t feel like it, because I know I’ll be a better person the rest of the day. Thirty-nine does her best to hydrate, moisturize, make the bed, wash the dishes – all those acts of self-care that sometimes seem boring but are actually so important. Thirty-nine does a fair bit of yoga and walking, eats a ton of yogurt and granola, drinks black tea like it’s my job, indulges in a cider once a week or so.

Thirty-nine moves more cautiously, these days, after some serious shakeups the last few years. Thirty-nine does her best to lean into the present, to be here now, living with heart and commitment, while also realizing that things can change drastically at any moment. Thirty-nine loves her current life and is starting to dream about making some changes. Thirty-nine is grateful – as a teacher of mine once said – that not only have I survived through great upheaval, but I’ve thrived.

Thirty-nine has seen her life and world shift in ways she never imagined a few years back. Some of those changes she chose and orchestrated; some came out of nowhere and left her staggering, for a while. Thirty-nine is still healing, still grieving; learning to name and acknowledge the wounds that linger longer than we think they will, while also making space for new and vivid joys.

Thirty-nine still writes for Shelf Awareness, still texts a few stalwart friends nearly every day, still loves chai from Darwin’s and flowers from Brattle Square, still reads piles of books and still needs a dose of Texas once in a while. Thirty-nine is trying, always, to live with grace and courage and wisdom. Thirty-nine knows it’s important to be both brave and kind.

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