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Posts Tagged ‘seasons’

I’m 38 today. And as I have said several times in the last week – to a friend who was joking about being “forever 29,” to another friend’s daughter who started to ask me how old I was and then hesitated, to my partner on the phone one night – I am proud to be 38. If you ask me how old I am, I will tell you. No dissembling, no hesitating. It may not always be that way, but it is that way today.

I have earned every one of these years: every gray hair, every smile line, every scar both visible and invisible. I have especially earned the last three years, which have included (among other things) my divorce, some serious church trauma, a move, two job changes, a new (wonderful) relationship, and a pandemic.

Since my this is thirty-five post, I have navigated challenges I could never have imagined. I have spent most of a year in my apartment by myself (or running through my beloved East Boston neighborhood). I have dealt with furloughs and layoffs and career/identity angst. I have chosen to blow up my life (read: leaving my marriage) and start again, and I have also dealt with changes I did not choose, repeatedly. I have held so much loss, and also so much love. I have not solved nearly everything, and I am still trying to let go of the idea that “solving” anything (except the New York Times crossword) is the goal.

Thirty-eight might be middle-aged, or close to it – but as Nora McInerny pointed out recently, middle age is the goal. Growing old is the goal. I want many more delicious years on this beautiful earth, and I want to live them as fully and bravely as possible. I want to care less (much less) about what people think, and more about creating joy and loving my people fiercely, and becoming a stronger writer, runner and human. (And I’d like to do some more international travel, too, once that feels like a good idea again.)

Thirty-eight looks like morning tea in one of my several favorite mugs, scribbling in my journal before heading out on a run. Thirty-eight is still adjusting to life at ZUMIX, dealing with the constant questions and uncertainty that come with any work (but especially youth-centered work) during a pandemic. Thirty-eight is yoga classes on some evenings and walks with my guy on others, regular text exchanges with a few close girlfriends and weekly phone calls with my parents. Thirty-eight has made New England her home for more than a decade, but is still and always a Texan.

Thirty-eight is still grieving the end of a marriage and an imagined future, and also reveling in the deep love I have found with a man I never expected. Thirty-eight is on a serious nineties country music kick and mixes in some Broadway tunes and folk music on the regular. Thirty-eight is learning to hold so many tensions, to accept and acknowledge that life is often both-and, to name the fear and worry and other hard emotions and then keep going through them. Thirty-eight snaps pictures of flowers every day, reads five or six books at once, eats a ton of granola and Greek yogurt and occasionally cooks real meals for one.

The upheavals of the last few years have made it challenging to plan, or even dream; so many of my former ideas about my life have been completely wiped away. But thirty-eight is starting to dream again.

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upper west side view

Of all the late-nineties rom-coms featuring plucky heroines, adorable New York apartments and lives full of utter charm, You’ve Got Mail might be my favorite.

I saw it in the theater as a teenager, and have watched it countless times since – with my family, my girlfriends, by myself. I remember the days of dial-up AOL and the magic of finding new friends online before social media, though I am about 15 years younger than Kathleen Kelly. I once spent a weekend on the Upper West Side visiting some of the movie’s iconic locations: Cafe Lalo, Zabar’s, Gray’s Papaya, the 91st Street Garden in Riverside Park. (I did not see Joe and Brinkley, but you can bet I looked.) I still have the soundtrack on CD, and New York in the fall definitely makes me want to buy school supplies.

You’ve Got Mail continues to charm me for so many reasons: the witty, perfectly timed dialogue; the cozy bookshop packed with beloved children’s classics and kind employees; the epistolary love story (though I have thoughts, these days, about Joe Fox and his personal ethics). But the more time I spend with it, the more clearly I see what my friend Kari noted years ago: in addition to a classic romantic comedy, it is (in Kari’s words) “a moving portrait of a woman who is going through a crisis of vocation.”

Kathleen has always known she’d run The Shop Around the Corner; she started helping her mother there after school at age six, and never left. We don’t even know if she went to college, or entertained other dreams for her life. She has grown up shaped by this bookstore and this neighborhood, and she would happily go on selling children’s books there forever. But she is not given that choice: Fox Books moves in across the way, and its big-box appeal (coupled, no doubt, with rising rents and the lurking shadow of Amazon) forces Kathleen to make a decision she never foresaw: “Close. We’re going to close.”

I’ve thought about Kathleen a lot this past year, as the pandemic has upended so many of the jobs most of us believed would bring us stability and security. I was furloughed from my higher ed job last May, then finally laid off in January after months of waiting. This wasn’t the first time, though: my last few years in higher ed have been marked by uncertainty and change, including two previous layoffs and a few temp gigs. The thing I have been chasing – meaningful work that provided a steady paycheck and health insurance in an industry I thought was stable – has turned out not to be so reliable after all.

“What are you going to do now?” a customer asks Kathleen as she rings up books (and stuffs in a box of Kleenex) at the closing sale. She gives a vague but honest answer: she’s going to take some time. We see her doing just that in the last third of the movie: reading a thick novel at a coffee shop, buying plants and produce with Joe Fox, heating up a bowl of soup and sitting on the floor in her apartment to eat it and bask in the sunshine. I suspect she also must have done some grieving. She must have wondered – what now? Earlier in the film, she had wondered in an email if her life’s smallness meant it didn’t have value, or that she lacked courage. Now, that life is no longer available to her, and she has to figure out the next step on a road she never saw coming.

We don’t get a tidy resolution of Kathleen’s career story; we don’t get to see her take her next professional step, though she hints that she’s working on a children’s book. I hope that whatever she does next, it is rich and satisfying and allows her to use all that experience from decades of working at the store. I hope her previous life leads, in both good and surprising ways, to her next one. I hope she realizes how brave she truly is – as Birdie tells her, “You are daring to imagine that you could have a different life.” I hope she’s happy with Joe, of course, but more than that I hope she is fulfilled in her own skin and satisfied with the way she gets to spend her days.

My hopes for Kathleen, of course, are also my hopes for myself. (Isn’t that what we do with our heroines – see ourselves in them, and then project our own hopes onto them?) In the wake of an extremely difficult year, I am hoping – and searching – for a steady paycheck, for sure. But I am also hoping for work that gives me a rich, satisfying, joyful way to spend my days. I think Kathleen would approve.

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Wrapping up the month—life is still a struggle, but it helps to name and celebrate the good. I’ve enjoyed this format and will keep looking for hope as April begins.

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The light shifts toward summer, and so does my spirit. Flowers wake up, trees stretch their branches toward different colors in the sky. Evening walks take on new shades of hope.

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We’re halfway through February and it’s snowing (again). I’ve been hunkering down with all the good books – here’s what I have been reading:

A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow, Laura Taylor Namey
Lila Reyes has big plans to take over her abuela’s bakery in Miami. But when three big griefs hit her at once, her family ships her off to Winchester, England, for the summer. Determined to be miserable, Lila nevertheless finds herself giving a Cuban twist to British pastries and making new friends – including a dreamy boy. I loved this sweet YA novel with its mashup of Miami and England.

New Yorkers: A City and its People in Our Time, Craig Taylor
I’ve been reading e-galleys since March (one of the many changes wrought by the pandemic). But y’all, I got a print galley of this collection of interviews with the unsung heroes who make up New York: elevator repairmen, bodega managers, homeless people, nannies, ICU nurses, aspiring actors and singers, cops and firefighters. Joyous, cacophonous, loud, varied and wonderful. (Can you tell I miss NYC?) To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 23).

All the Greys on Greene Street, Laura Tucker
Twelve-year-old Olympia, known as Ollie, loves hanging out at her dad’s art restoration studio and sketching everything in her neighborhood. But when her dad disappears with a valuable piece of art, and her mom goes to bed and won’t get up, Ollie and her two best friends have to figure out what to do next. A vivid, sensitive, compelling middle-grade adventure set in 1980s SoHo.

Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape, Lauret Savoy
I found Savoy’s work in Kathryn Aalto’s Writing Wild, and Roxani also recommended her. This is a thoughtful, layered exploration of how family and national histories are bound up with the land itself, and how race and silence and erasure all play roles. Savoy is mixed-race, with roots in several parts of the country, and she weaves her own story in with several deep dives into the physical landscape. So good.

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, Katherine May
Everyone seems to be reading this book right now, amid our endless pandemic winter. May writes honestly and thoughtfully about her own personal winters–chronic illness, her son’s anxiety, job angst–as well as physical winter and the way different cultures deal with it. I found some nuggets of wisdom to be more illuminating than the whole. Quiet and very worthwhile.

In a Book Club Far Away, Tif Marcelo
I enjoy Marcelo’s warmhearted fiction about strong women. This book features Adelaide, Sophie and Regina, three former military spouses (Regina is also a veteran) who met at a past posting in upstate New York. Ten years later, Adelaide sends her friends (now estranged from each other) an SOS. Sharing a house for two weeks, the three women must confront each other and their past secrets. Very relatable; by turns funny and moving. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 6).

The Love Story of Missy Carmichael, Beth Morrey
Millicent Carmichael, age 79, spends her days mostly alone, mourning her losses: estranged daughter, absent husband, son and grandson in Australia. But then an acquaintance asks her to look after a dog, and gradually, everything changes. Missy’s loneliness was hard to read about sometimes–it struck so close to home–but I loved the characters, especially Missy’s friend Angela, and watching Missy gradually open herself up to connection.

Mergers and Acquisitions: Or, Everything I Know About Love I Learned on the Wedding Pages, Cate Doty
Former society reporter Doty takes us inside the world of writing wedding announcements for The New York Times. Along the way, she muses on her own early obsession with weddings (influenced by her Southern roots), her doomed early-twenties love story, and the onetime coworker who became (spoiler) her lifelong love. Witty, warmhearted and at times juicy (though she doesn’t name names). So fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 4).

The Last Bookshop in London, Madeline Martin
Grace Bennett has never been a great reader. But when she moves to London with her best friend in pursuit of a new life, she lands a position at a dusty bookshop. As Grace seeks to improve the store’s sales, the Blitz comes to London, and she and her new circle of acquaintances must dig deep to find the courage to get through. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 6).

Links are to Trident and Brookline Booksmith, my perennial local faves. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

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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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