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Posts Tagged ‘seasons’

Hello, friends. Welcome (?) to 2021.

It’s hard to believe we are only 10 days in. Last week’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol has left me reeling. My partner and I both have family members who have the virus, and the general stress and isolation of pandemic life has not let up. If anything, the cumulative weight of the last few months makes it feel even heavier. So I’ve been quiet here, because really, what is there to say?

I still don’t know, but a comment from a reader (hi Mary!) helped remind me that coming back to this space is often a healthy outlet and a source of joy. So I’m starting the year on the blog with a list of the tiny good things that are getting me through, at the moment. Here they are:

  • My paperwhites (above) are finally blooming. Every year this is a miracle, and I have rarely watched so anxiously for those buds and creamy flowers as I did this year.
  • My Christmas tree is still up (oh yes it is), and twinkle lights feel hopeful in this dark season.
  • The fish I am feeding for a friend are all (knock wood) still alive.
  • I started a new journal last week, and this one is Harry Potter-themed.
  • Dinner on Friday was a new recipe from Real Simple, and it was delicious.
  • My new coat does have functional pockets (I had to open them with a seam ripper, but they are there).
  • The fizzy shower bar a friend sent for Christmas is such a treat. (I have a tiny shower and no bathtub, so it’s perfect.)
  • I have been reading some really good books: Elizabeth Wein’s gripping YA novel The Enigma Game and Horatio Clare’s gorgeous, honest memoir The Light in the Dark.
  • My writing class has started back up, and seeing everyone’s faces and sharing our writing is so nourishing and fun.
  • The Wailin’ Jennys’ cover of “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” – with their ethereal, bell-like harmonies – is perfection.
  • My local tea store, Mem Tea, is still faithfully shipping out online orders, and I just stocked up on my winter staples: English Breakfast and Earl Grey.

What are the small things getting you through, these days?

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We had 13 (!) inches of snow here in Boston last Thursday, and I left the house exactly twice: once to shovel out my own front steps and walk, and once to shovel a friend’s front steps (I’m checking their mail and feeding their fish while they’re away). It was blowing and swirling – decidedly not a day for running. But since the storm passed, I’ve been loving the season’s first taste of winter running.

I became a runner right around this time three years ago, when it got too cold to walk for long on my beloved river trail. I’ve slowly been learning about, and buying, the right gear: fleece-lined running tights, a few warm headbands, snow spikes for when the trails are really dicey. Sometimes I have to talk myself into bundling up and heading out into the cold. But often, once I’m out there, I’m surprised again by how much I love it.

Running in the cold is an invigorating challenge: I have to keep moving to keep my body warm, and the resulting heat and motion feels satisfying. The road feels different under my feet when I’m dealing with snow and ice, though I love how the snow spikes take away some of my worries about slipping on ice or slush. I love the pure, sharp contrast of white and blue and green, and the cold air in my nose and lungs. And these days, I’m listening to Christmas music while I run (or dash?) through the snow.

There will be plenty of gray days this winter, and we’re expecting rain later this week. But for now, I’m grateful for these crisp, clear, snowy winter days, and the chance to get out and run.

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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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Last summer, I moved from Dorchester to East Boston, to a studio apartment overlooking the harbor, a listing I found through a friend of a friend. I have marveled, many times, at the journey that led me to Eastie: a reconnection with college friends who live down the hill, an introduction that led me to dog-sitting for a sweet doodle pup, a gradual recognition that I was falling in love with this neighborhood. I love my light-filled apartment here by the water, and sometimes I still can’t believe it’s mine.

Whenever anyone comes over (less often, these days), they immediately move to the kitchen windows, drawn by the view. It is an ever-changing landscape, this view of the seaport skyline: I’ve seen it painted in sunset colors, washed in silver grey, blanketed in mist and fog and snow, or standing out sharply against a sky of brilliant blue.

By now, I’ve watched the trees in the park lose their leaves and bud out and grow full again; I’ve watched the little garden just below my windows bloom and change with the seasons. Sometimes I stand in the window and bask in the afternoon sunshine. And nearly every night, I pause to look out and look up at the few stars visible above the city lights.

Amid so much uncertainty, it has been a gift to wake up each morning in this place, to drink my morning tea with this view as the backdrop. It feels anchoring and nourishing, and it is always beautiful. I am grateful every single day to be rooted here: it is still new in some ways, but it feels deeply like home.

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ornaments light book

Hello, friends. Here we are in December, and like every other month in this strange year, it’s going to be a weird one. For the first time in my life, I will not be in Texas for Christmas; I will (still) be hunkering down here in Boston, drinking tea and doing freelance work and spending time with the few folks I am safely seeing. It’s the right decision, but it feels strange and sad, as you might expect.

I struggle with the short, dark days every year (hence my light box, Vitamin D pills and plenty of twinkle lights). This year, I am making an extra effort to look for the light, so every weekday this month, I’ll be sharing one of the ways in which I’m finding joy and comfort these days. The first one is hinted at above: the traditions of the season are bringing light, even though they look different this year.

Every year since I was a high school senior, I have pulled out my copy of Watch for the Light to revisit the poetry, theology and wisdom in its pages. I found it on an endcap at the National Cathedral gift shop, and it sparked a love of Advent that runs deep, nearly 20 years later. I have complicated feelings about church these days (and I’m not going to any in-person services this year), but I love the way Advent explores darkness and hope, longing and anticipation. Feels especially apt this year.

I’m observing a few more of my own traditions: listening to Christmas music, decking my halls, shopping for gifts (which will mostly be shipped, this year), and remembering Christmases past. Some of those associations are bittersweet: they involve faraway friends, my former church, family I won’t see this year, the life my ex-husband and I used to have. But they are there, inescapable, so I might as well acknowledge their presence. And there’s a lot of sweetness to remember, too.

I hope you’ll join me this month in looking for the light, and sharing yours, if you’re so inclined. xo

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Here we are in mid- to late November: Thanksgiving literally around the corner, Christmas peeking over the horizon. The days have grown short here in Boston, and my morning runs are taking me under increasingly leafless trees.

The holiday season holds so much love and magic for me, but there are some painful memories, too, and this year – whatever else it turns out to be – promises to be a departure from the norm.

I don’t usually travel for Thanksgiving, so was not worried about skipping a plane trip or explaining to family why this isn’t the year to be together. (I am dealing with those things around Christmas, and I’m sad about not spending my annual week in Texas, eating my mom’s cooking and playing with my nephews and catching up with so many people I love.)

My guy and I are going to hang out and cook this week, and while I’m looking forward to that, I’ve still been sad about our teeny Thanksgiving. This is only our second year together, so we don’t have long-established traditions, though we would probably be eating with friends if not for the pandemic. But I finally figured out the other day what was making me so sad: for me, Thanksgiving is about welcome. Creating it, finding it, receiving it. And this year, that concept has felt thin on the ground – or, at least, profoundly different than usual.

This year has held so much isolation for me: so many hours alone in my apartment, trying to plan pandemic-safe interactions with local friends. I miss having girlfriends over for tea, or meeting up at a cafe for an after-work cuppa. My arms ache to hug the friends I still see and the family members I won’t see this year. I miss walking into Chrissy’s house like it’s my own, chatting about music with my coworkers, making plans to visit faraway loved ones. I have struggled to find welcome, and create it, this year when we all know that we can best love each other by keeping our distance.

I am trying, this week, to create welcome where I can: texting friends near and far to check in, attending last night’s Christmas choir rehearsal on Zoom, going to a couple of small in-studio yoga classes. On Thursday, my guy and I will cook our favorite side dishes, and I’ll drop off some sweet potatoes on a friend’s porch (her kids don’t like them). I will remember past Thanksgivings, in church basements and friends’ houses and my mother’s kitchen. I’ll listen to my favorite Nichole Nordeman song, and soak in the company of the man I love. We will welcome each other into this holiday with its joy and complications, and somehow, I hope, that will be enough.

If you’re celebrating, I wish you a lovely Thanksgiving.

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Over the weekend, we hit eight months of pandemic life here in Boston. It worries me, honestly, that not much seems to have changed over the last eight months. People are still getting sick and dying; hospitals and essential workers are still stretched thin; we are still in a strange not-quite-normal limbo. Closer to home, I am still furloughed, and still spending a lot (a lot) of time alone in my apartment.

These autumn days can feel like feast or famine: one day might hold a long bike ride with my guy through falling golden leaves, a nourishing walk with a girlfriend, a yoga class in the park (we squeezed in a few more outdoor classes when the mercury hit the 70s last week). Other days, I might not say a word aloud to a human being until the afternoon, though I check in daily via text with a few loved ones. My in-person circles, always smallish, have shrunk to three or four dear friends, plus my partner. Sometimes it feels impossible to conceive of how we’ll continue this way. (It’s all very Waiting for Godot.)

The isolation is wearying, and sometimes I wish I could spread the interactions out to make sure I get the right amount every day. (I do try, but it isn’t always possible.) But I am also conscious of something else: a steady sense of gratitude for the good days, whether caused by community or sunshine or a satisfying writing session or all of the above.

We do what we can, I (and many others) have been saying for months now. We wash our hands, wear our masks, put off trips to see loved ones or visit favorite places until it’s safe to do so. We find creative ways to connect with folks we love. I send photos of autumn leaves to friends in Idaho and California and Scotland. I curl up in the evenings with a middle-grade novel or the latest Sara Paretsky mystery or an episode of Mary Tyler Moore. And, when the opportunity for feasting comes – be it pizza around a friend’s table or a bear hug from my guy or a ride to the grocery store – I take it.

Some days still feel like famine: I feel acutely the lack of the small interactions at work and in public that made up so much of my days. That seems likely to continue for a while. But most days offer richness, in both surprising and in durable ordinary ways. And for now, as we head into winter (not without trepidation), I will feast when I can.

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One of the perks of having a partner who works at Trader Joe’s: a front-row seat to all the new fun seasonal products. This summer, it was jalapeño limeade, sparkling coconut water with yuzu and watermelon mint tea, and in mid-September, I walked into the store to find that a pumpkin spice factory had apparently exploded.

Starting on my birthday, we’ve tried all the fall treats: pumpkin ravioli with harvest pasta sauce (delicious), leaf-shaped tortilla chips (good, but kind of strange); pretzels dipped in pumpkin-spice yogurt (a little over the top, but yummy); pumpkin curry simmer sauce (divine); ginger-turmeric granola (I am seriously addicted). Now that we’re into November, the holiday treats have started arriving at TJs, but I’ve still got fresh apple cider in the fridge and a box or two of pumpkin samosas stashed in the freezer.

I’m not a pumpkin spice latte girl (I don’t drink coffee), and I’m not even that into pumpkin pie. But as Anne also noted, leaning hard into the seasonal joy this year felt like a good antidote to election anxiety and pandemic sadness. It even became a joke with one of my girlfriends: “Don’t hold back on the pumpkin [or fall] joy!” And, truly, from harvest spiced nuts to a cranberry goat cheese log, I feel we have made the most of the fall grocery-store delights.

So much of the novelty in our daily lives is missing this year; I am trying to savor the sweet parts of home, but I miss travel and trying new restaurants and having new experiences. A box of pumpkin pancake mix might not make up for all that, but it’s a fun way to bring a bit of novelty and joy into our days. (Especially when paired with ginger maple syrup and a steaming cup of tea.)

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Hello, friends. Here we are at the edge of a new month. After a mostly dry, sunny October, our November weather has blown in with a vengeance. We definitely needed every drop of rain, but I’m adjusting to sudden cooler, wetter days and nights – and serious darkness, at both ends of the day.

Parts of this shift happen every year: the end of Daylight Savings Time, the slow droop of the sun’s angle in the sky. The dark starts to come down early in mid-autumn, and I know: winter is coming. This year, I’m spending most of my time alone in my apartment, and it’s more important than ever to do the things I know will help me get through.

I start reaching for the Vitamin D pills in mid-October, popping one every morning to help mitigate the effects of so much less sunlight. And, later in the month, I start flipping on the light box in the mornings.

I’d lived here about two years when my friend Ryan finally convinced me to buy a light box: he swears by his, and I always tell people it helps take the edge off Boston’s long, dark winters. My light box is not beautiful – it’s a big square gray plastic thing, which gives off piercingly white-blue light. (My ex-husband used to refer to it as “the glory of the Lord,” because it was so blinding when he’d walk into the bathroom in the mornings.) I flip it on for 15 or 30 minutes while I’m showering, drying my hair, etc., and count on it to help boost my mood a bit, especially on grey days.

Real talk: sometimes I’m not sure either the pills or the box have any impact at all. Other days I’m convinced it’s a placebo effect. But even if that’s the case, I’ll take it: in both cases, it can’t hurt. And I feel like I’m at least doing something to beat back the dark.

What coping strategies do you have to mitigate the dark – or help you embrace the cold/cozy season? I’d love to hear, if you’d like to share.

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“Are you a morning runner?” a friend asked recently, on a rambling (masked) walk along the Esplanade. She’s the second or third person to ask me that in recent months, since the pandemic has shifted all our rhythms so drastically. I thought about it for a second. “I guess I am now.”

When I started running, I started doing it at night – after work and the long commute home, I’d grab a snack and pull on my running gear. I loved rambling alone down the Neponset river trail, even as the evenings grew longer and darker. I bought a running light at Target, and though it made me nervous sometimes, I kept running mostly in the evening for nearly a year. (I do love a morning/noontime run on the weekends, when I don’t have to squeeze it in before work.)

Two summers ago, I was between jobs for a couple of months and did a lot of morning running. When I started working at Berklee, I switched back to evening and sometimes lunchtime running – mostly because I am not motivated to get up early enough to run, shower and then commute to work before 9 a.m. But the pandemic has shifted that rhythm, along with so many others, and these days, I get up and run (after breakfast and tea) almost every morning.

There’s a lot to love about both kinds of running: for me, getting out there to move early in the day can be very satisfying, physically and mentally. I love watching the neighborhood wake up (if I’m out early enough) and the morning light on the water. But I also love a good evening run: it can shake out the cobwebs from a long day at the computer, and the sunsets over the river or the harbor can be truly spectacular.

For now, it seems, the time of day I run depends on the rhythm of my life at any given moment. Which is fitting, given that I want running to be a durable and flexible part of my life. It has to fit, and I’m willing to do what I need to do to make it fit into my days. It’s adaptable when I need it to be, but also sturdy – whether it’s happening morning, noon or night.

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