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Posts Tagged ‘seasons’

darwins portrait red lipstick

About a year ago, I became fascinated by the concept of a personal uniform. (It was all over the Internet for a while: President Obama’s blue or grey suits, the Australian newscaster who wore the same suit every day for a year, numerous bloggers writing about their wardrobes.)

I’m not a big clothes shopper and I hate making decisions in the morning, so you’d think a personal uniform would be tailor-made (ha) for me. So far, though, I’ve lacked the discipline – or the commitment – to really take the plunge. I haven’t edited my wardrobe down to 10 items or consciously worn the same 33 items for a month. (I have also resisted the Marie Kondo madness because, frankly, everyone else seems to be doing it.)

But as we continue to slog through winter, I realized I’ve developed a personal uniform almost by accident.

Winter in the Northeast is (I need hardly say it) cold – often bitterly so – and snowy. I work in a business-casual office environment and I commute on public transportation, every weekday. So I need warm, sturdy winter gear: snow boots, fleece-lined tights, a knee-length down coat for frigid days and a couple of wool coats for milder ones. But I also need outfits to wear under those coats, and I find myself reaching for a variation on the same ensemble most days.

katie selfie red dress plaid scarf

Right now, that usually looks like a dress, either solid or striped (because I own an embarrassing number of striped dresses). I pair the day’s dress with black leggings and boots (of the snow or non-snow variety, depending on the weather). And I choose a scarf or knitted cowl to go with it. (That, and choosing my tea blend, is the kind of decision-making I can handle in the morning.)

I do own other pieces of clothing – sweaters, tees, skirts – and sometimes I feel like I should be making more of an effort to wear them. But right now, when I’m rushing around between showering and eating breakfast every morning, this winter uniform is what’s working for me.

Do you have a personal uniform – accidental or purposeful? (And if so, what is it?)

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winter breakfast poetry

We are deep into the season of down coats and fleece-lined tights, of snowflakes swirling down from white-gray clouds or the poetry of bare branches against a vivid blue sky.

Winter is here, and while it isn’t my favorite season, I do have a few coping strategies, including a stack of seasonally apt books. So, in case you’re shivering too (because it seems that a lot of us are), I thought I’d share my wintry picks with you.

Winter: Five Windows on the Season, Adam Gopnik
I picked up this essay collection a few winters ago, mostly because I loved Gopnik’s memoir Paris to the Moon. Gopnik examines winter from several angles: historical, literary, cultural, philosophical. He admits to being a lover of winter, and his prose evokes the best of the season: walking home under a snowy sky, ice skating on a frozen pond, watching the snow fall from behind the comforting barrier of a windowpane. He explores winter’s potential for recreation and daydreaming, its vital place amid the cycle of the seasons. For those who struggle, as I do, to develop “a mind for winter,” Gopnik’s musings are enjoyable and thought-provoking.

The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder
I read and reread the entire Little House series as a child, but I’ve picked up this book every winter since I moved to New England. Laura is such a keen-eyed, relatable character, and I always hope to channel a little of her indomitable spirit. She also tells a good story – the prose is simple but powerful, and the struggles of that harsh winter are sharply drawn. I especially love the scenes around the table, when Pa plays his fiddle and sings, and his reminders that “it can’t beat us!” Winter, even on the Dakota prairie, doesn’t last forever.

A Mind of Winter: Poems for a Snowy Season, ed. Robert Atwan
This collection is a new acquisition for me; I picked it up at the Bookstore in Lenox, Mass., this fall. I knew I’d need a few reminders of winter’s beauty when the temperatures dropped after Christmas. The poems here are varied and lovely – Frost, Dickinson, Jane Kenyon, Marge Piercy, Mary Oliver and more – and many of them capture images of winter in words as brief and crystalline as snowflakes.

The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey
Based on an old fairy tale about a girl fashioned out of snow, Ivey’s debut novel beautifully evokes the landscape of Alaska: its harshness, its isolation, its often stunning beauty. It’s a story of love: Jack and Mabel, devoted to each other, yearn for a child. When they build a girl out of snow, a young human girl appears as if summoned, and though they come to love her deeply, she can’t be tamed or kept. Heartbreaking and so, so lovely.

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, Maud Hart Lovelace
Most of Lovelace’s books, which are set in Minnesota, contain a few wintry scenes: sledding, ice skating, sleighing parties. This fourth book in the series has some of the best: Betsy’s cozy afternoons in the new town library, bobsled parties under the stars, sipping hot chocolate (with whipped cream, of course) on cold days. And shopping for Christmas ornaments. So fun.

What are your favorite books to read in the wintertime?

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith

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pain au chocolat croissant mimosa brunch

In case you weren’t aware: winter has arrived.

It’s cold. And by cold, I mean snowy and sharp-edged, with slick patches on the sidewalk and bitter wind chills as I walk through Harvard Square in my down coat. (We have, thank goodness, had mostly blue skies this week.) The weather forecast is calling for more snow – though we don’t know how much – this weekend. And I am resigning myself to slogging through my least favorite season.

By now I have all kinds of tricks for coping with Boston winters. (I ought to, after surviving five of them – though last year’s record 110-inch snow totals nearly broke me.) In addition to the totally virtuous ones, like my light box and Vitamin D pills and plenty of citrus fruit, I’m employing another coping strategy: treats.

I’m not a big spender, unless you count plane tickets every so often, or the occasional weekend in New York. But I have a deep and abiding love for small luxuries, and I find them especially important in wintertime. On these days when the sun sets before I leave work and the wind blows my hood back from my face, it’s often these little treats that are saving my life.

The photo above is from New Year’s Day: the hubs and I splurged on a brunch date at Gaslight, in Boston’s South End. We munched pain au chocolat and sipped mimosas and savored our entrees. It felt like a treat, being out in the chilly city together, and trying new dishes to kick off a new year.

This past Monday, I had the day off work (thank you, Dr. King), so I met a girlfriend for lunch at a cozy pizza restaurant in Brookline. We sat in a sunny window alcove, and split a pizza topped with butternut squash and creamy ricotta. Afterward, I had a long browse through the Booksmith, and popped into the Starbucks next door for some chai. The crowning luxury of the afternoon was a pedicure, in a bright coral shade aptly called Snap Happy.

tulips candle dog table

Most of my days don’t have quite that much room for indulgence, but I still manage to slip in a small pleasure or two: a bouquet of fresh flowers for my dining-room table, half an hour with a good book, a morning chai or a mid-afternoon cookie from Darwin’s. Sometimes I take a walk over to the Yard (if it’s not too frigid) to soak in the sunshine and gaze at my favorite buildings. And the electric blanket the hubs bought me a few Christmases ago is a treat when we snuggle down in bed every single night.

How do you treat yourself during the winter?

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harvard yard snow blue sky

Here is another thing I did not know before I moved from Texas to Boston: Northeastern winters require constant calibration.

In west Texas, winter is short and fairly consistent: chilly and (mostly) dry, with occasional cutting winds that sweep down from Canada, whipping around the corners of buildings and rattling the bare branches of shrubs and trees. There is the occasional ice storm, and also the rare 60-degree day, mild and blue-skied with actual warmth emanating from the sun. But mostly, the days call for a single strategy: don a jacket, turn the furnace up a little, hang on until spring.

In the Northeast, winter comprises an entire spectrum of cold: crisp and dry; bone-chillingly damp; mild and warmed by a pale sun; dark and windy and wet. It requires an entire wardrobe of proper gear: coats, hats, boots, gloves. Especially if you have to get out in it every day (I do), it demands serious attention and adjustment.

I keep a close eye on the weather all year long: I am my parents’ daughter, the descendant of farmers who watched the sky for their livelihood. I am also an inveterate sky-watcher for the beauty, for the deep breath it always prompts me to take, and for the way it helps me feel the movement of the earth in my bones.

Once winter hits, though, my monitoring of the forecast becomes downright obsessive. And it’s amazing what a difference a few degrees, precipitation (or the lack of it), or wind (or the lack of it) can make.

Last week, we had our first true cold snap of this winter: 10 degrees with a windchill below zero Fahrenheit when I left the house on Tuesday morning. I’d checked my weather app and calibrated accordingly: fleece-lined tights, leather gloves, knee-length hooded down coat. By the time the highs crept back up into the 40s, later in the week, I could make do with a wool coat and ankle boots, since it wasn’t snowing. One afternoon, I even stole a few minutes in the sun on the steps of Memorial Church – before the wind started blowing, it felt downright (relatively) balmy.

katie memorial church green coat harvard yard

It can feel like a small triumph to shed a layer or wear a cute pair of shoes when the mercury rises just a few degrees. Similarly, it makes sense to keep a wool hat in my work bag all winter long, and check the forecast daily for snow or sleet. This week, we’ve had two dustings of snow – so it’s back to the down coat and snow boots. But I am quietly rejoicing that the sky is now cobalt, not indigo or pitch black, when I leave work in the afternoon.

We’re only a few weeks into winter (especially since December was shockingly mild). The memory of last winter is still sharp and vivid, and I’m hoping (possibly against all reason) for a less brutal time this year. But no matter what happens, I’ll be watching the forecast. And calibrating.

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In 2015 I have…

darwins portrait red lipstick

For the last few years, I’ve recapped my year in list form for the blog. There’s something about watching it all unroll in bullets – not quite “by the numbers,” but definitely in bite-sized snippets – that I find really fun.

This year, I have:

central park yellow flowers nyc

  • gone on a string of lovely Fri-dates with my husband.
  • bid a fond (and sad) farewell to the car I’ve been driving since I left for college.
  • learned how to kayak and spent many summer evenings paddling on the Charles River.
  • spent a long weekend in Nashville with my sweet college roommate and our husbands.
  • knitted a baby dress, 2 1/2 cowls (including the purple one above), a set of baby mittens and 35 wee smoothie hats.
  • acquired (earned?) my first few grey hairs.
  • continued to write and edit as a freelancer for my alma mater.
  • flown to Texas three times to visit my family, including my sweet nephews.

betsy harrison

  • spent a lot of time trying to be gentle with myself. And others.
  • bought so many bouquets of flowers for my kitchen table: tulips, peonies, sunflowers, dahlias. (And made friends with my florist.)
  • sipped an uncountable number of chai lattes, mostly from Darwin’s. (See above.)
  • participated in (and won!) NaNoWriMo for the third time.
  • spent a lot of Thursday lunch breaks at the Harvard Art Museums.
  • seen three musicals onstage: On the Town (in NYC), Cinderella and My Fair Lady.
  • taken a few weekend getaways with the hubs: Newport, the Berkshires, mid-coast Maine.

katie jer cliff walk

  • fallen completely in love with baby Evie, who belongs to two of my dearest friends.
  • said yes to red lipstick once in a while. (See above.)
  • spent a lot of time taking care of the daily details at church.
  • hosted Shanna for a completely wonderful long weekend.
  • cracked up at hours of Modern Family with the hubs.
  • filled up seven and a half(ish) journals.
  • visited so many wonderful bookstores: Parnassus Books in Nashville, Book Culture and the Strand in NYC, The Bookstore in Lenox, MA, and my neighborhood bookstores in Boston/Cambridge/Brookline.
  • fallen in love with the brave women of Home Fires.
  • tried to enjoy the silver linings of the job hunt.
  • worked hard to build a near-daily yoga habit.

bare feet green yoga mat

  • discovered All the Books and a few other favorite podcasts.
  • attended my first few wine tastings.
  • not conquered the snooze button. (One of these days…)
  • baked innumerable batches of scones.
  • taken so many photos (as I do every year) of fall leaves. (And books, and cups of tea, and the sky.)
  • tried to lean into this messy, exciting, beautiful life of mine, and pay attention to it.

What has your year looked like?

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advent book stack

We’ve come around to the season of Advent again – that quiet, twinkly time of anticipation before the glorious joy of Christmas. As usual, I’m marking the season by humming “O Come O Come Emmanuel” over and over again, and by reading.

Fittingly, I discovered Advent because of a book: Watch for the Light, a collection of readings for Advent and Christmas, which I picked up at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., many years ago. The contributors are a diverse, thoughtful group of scholars, poets, philosophers and theologians, and their words help me live more deeply into this season every year. From essays by Kathleen Norris and Brennan Manning to poems by T.S. Eliot and Sylvia Plath (yes, really), this collection always wakes me up, reminds me to pay attention – which is what Advent is all about.

Kathleen Norris’ lovely memoir The Cloister Walk is loosely organized around the liturgical year, and I turned back to the Advent chapters last weekend, rereading them by the light of our glowing Christmas tree. She speaks of reading the words of the prophet Isaiah on the first Sunday of Advent at a Benedictine monastery, and being grateful that such poetry exists in the Bible, and that “it tastes so good in [my] mouth.”

Madeleine L’Engle, another one of my guides, wrote an odd, striking memoir-cum-meditation, The Irrational Season, that is also somewhat tied to the liturgical year. Some of it is a little esoteric for me, but the Advent chapter, “The Night is Far Spent,” is quietly moving. Madeleine writes of being wakeful in the night, standing at the window of her New York City apartment with a mug of bouillon in her hands, musing on time, creation and the mystery of Advent. It’s an image I return to every year.

I fell completely in love with Rosamunde Pilcher’s Winter Solstice when my friend Julie handed it to me, several Christmases ago. It’s a quiet, lovely story of five rather vaguely connected people who all end up at an old house in northern Scotland at Christmastime. All of them are struggling with different griefs, and all of them find unexpected joy and redemption during their time together. The ending makes me cry.

Someone has said that poetry gets us closest to the mystery of this season, and for that I like Luci Shaw’s collection Accompanied by Angels, which takes us through the life of Jesus. Many of the poems are short, with striking images. Taken together, they form a mosaic that highlights a few new facets of this Jesus who is so well known and yet so mysterious.

I’ve long loved Father Tim Kavanagh and his adventures in Mitford, North Carolina. Shepherds Abiding, the eighth Mitford novel, is a sweet story of one Advent/Christmas season in which Father Tim restores a derelict Nativity scene as a gift for his wife, Cynthia. Meanwhile, other denizens of Mitford are going about their own Christmas business. Like all the Mitford novels, it’s funny, down-to-earth and quietly hopeful.

I reach for this stack of books every Advent, and their words – especially those in Watch for the Light – have become for me part of the fabric of the season, a way to observe these few liminal weeks between Ordinary Time and Christmas. As the days grow suddenly dark and short, I am watching for the light in both literal and metaphorical ways. These words help light the way for me, every year.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading during this Advent season?

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memorial church red leaves blue sky

In mid-September, I posted a fall list (as is my habit). Here’s how it’s been going:

apple trees blue sky

  • Drink chai and bake something with pumpkin. I’ve been mainlining chai, and I’ve baked pumpkin bread and mini pumpkin whoopie pies.

chai journal pencil case darwins

yellow leaves boston blue sky

tealuxe emily deep valley maud hart lovelace

corita kent be of love

anne of avonlea dahlias

  • Read a few “deep TBR” books. I’ve read a few and gotten rid of several more.
  • Try three or four new recipes. I’ve tried five: a Mexican vegetarian lasagna, spiced Moroccan chicken and baked spaghetti and meatballs (all from Real Simple). Plus Jenny’s new favorite weeknight chicken, and her butternut squash pizza.
  • See Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella onstage. Abi and I had a lovely afternoon.

katie-abi-cinderella

  • Sip the occasional glass of Cabernet with a friend. Yes.

What have you been up to this fall?

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