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Posts Tagged ‘tea’

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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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. It’s February, which is always a long month, even though it’s a short one. (See also: endless pandemic fatigue, etc.)

We’ve had some snow and will have more, and I keep thinking of E.B. White’s words about cold weather: “firm, business-like cold that stalked in and took charge […] as a brisk housewife might take charge of someone else’s kitchen in an emergency.” My kitchen, thank goodness, is full of tea and flowers, but I can see White’s point.

Last week, my friend Anne Bogel shared, as she does every winter, the surprising daily things that are saving her life right now. (This year, it’s laundry.) I am a whole week behind in sharing my own winter lifesavers, but I wanted to do it because I believe the practice is important, even in this pandemic year.

I am still job hunting, still missing my people, still spending a lot of time alone in my apartment. But here are the things getting me through these midwinter days:

  • Strong black tea, forever and always. I mostly drink MEM teas from Somerville, but have also been enjoying David’s Cream of Earl Grey lately.
  • Clementines by the handful (I say this every winter) – tart, sweet and cheery.
  • Nina’s writing class on Tuesday mornings – best Zoom of all, by far.
  • Daffodils! So cheerful and bright. Spotted at the florist and at Trader Joe’s.
  • Mini peanut-butter-filled pretzels, also from Trader Joe’s.
  • Morning runs and daily walks in the neighborhood, even when it’s frigid. (I’m still aiming to leave the house at least twice a day.)
  • Some really good books: New Yorkers by Craig Taylor, Wintering by Katherine May, A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey.
  • Good pens and my Wingardium Leviosa Moleskine journal.
  • Vitamin D pills, my happy lamp, and (best of all) real sunshine, some days.
  • Daily check-ins with my guy, my friend Allison in California, and a couple of other dear ones.
  • Martina McBride, whose music I have loved for years – but I’m rediscovering her badass-women anthems and sweet love songs, and they are saving me.
  • Yoga – on Zoom for now, and maybe back in the studio soon.
  • The knowledge that we have a competent administration in Washington working to combat this virus and other problems.

What’s saving your life these days? I’d love to know.

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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’re deep into summer heat and summer reading over here. Here’s what I have been reading:

From the Desk of Zoe Washington, Janae Marks
My friend Kari recommended this middle-grade novel, narrated by aspiring baker Zoe, who begins writing to her incarcerated birth father. She has lots of questions for him, and becomes determined to clear his name. I loved Zoe’s narrative voice and the other characters, especially her grandma. Bonus: it’s set in Boston/Cambridge and contains many references to neighborhoods I know well.

Dead Land, Sara Paretsky
Chicago private eye V.I. Warshawski gets caught up in a tangled case involving two murders, a mass shooting several years before, a plan to redevelop some public lakeshore property, and a mentally ill homeless woman who might hold the keys to all of it. This is Paretsky’s 20th Warshawski novel but the first I’d read; I really enjoyed both the plot and V.I.’s smart, snarky voice.

Infused: Adventures in Tea, Henrietta Lovell
Lovell is the founder of the Rare Tea Company, and this charming memoir chronicles her journeys to source and brew the best teas. Each brief chapter focuses on one tea/location, and they’re packed with travel anecdotes and useful information about all kinds of tea. Found at Three Lives & Co. during my last NYC trip, back in January.

She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs, Sarah Smarsh
Dolly Parton is indisputably a cultural icon, but there’s more to her than rhinestones and big boobs and twang. Smarsh delves into Parton’s long career, her business empire and her smart-but-subtle feminism, adding anecdotes from her own life that help illuminate Parton’s appeal. I loved Smarsh’s first book, Heartland, and this is a strong follow-up. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 13).

Not Like the Movies, Kerry Winfrey
Chloe Sanderson is used to taking care of everything: her coffee-shop job, her online business classes, her dad (who has early-onset Alzheimer’s). But since her best friend Annie wrote a rom-com inspired by Chloe’s life, it’s getting harder to hold things together. I loved this sequel to Waiting for Tom Hanks, which forces Chloe to confront her past pain and is also a sweet love story with great characters.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
A friend lent me this classic memoir, which I’d never read. Angelou chronicles her childhood in Stamps, Arkansas, the trauma of being raped by her mother’s boyfriend in St. Louis, and her eventual move to California. Vivid and arresting, with lots of colorful characters, including Angelou’s family.

Indemnity Only, Sara Paretsky
After enjoying Dead Land, I went back to read V.I. Warshawski’s first adventure. It involves a missing college girl, her murdered boyfriend, crooked union men, insurance fraud and lots of wisecracks. A solid mystery and a good setup for the series.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident, Brookline Booksmith and Frugal Books.

What are you reading?

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bookstore lenox interior shelves

One thing I miss, in this strange time of restricted movement: popping into my favorite shops (and restaurants).

A couple of my faves, like my beloved florist and the best taqueria in Maverick Square, have simply closed down for the duration. There’s not much I can do except look forward to the day when I can visit them again. (You can bet I’ll be hugging my florist, when it’s safe to do so.) But there are a few other small businesses I’m supporting with my dollars, during this crazy time. Here’s a list, in case you’re in need of books or tea or stationery, or other fun things, and have a bit of cash to spare.

  • Trident, Brookline Booksmith and the Harvard Book Store are my three favorite indie bookshops in Boston, and they’re all still operating online. (Trident’s cafe is still open, too, if you’re local.) If you’re a book lover, please support an indie bookstore during this time – they are such centers of creativity and joy, and they really need the cash flow.
  • My two favorite yoga/fitness studios, The Point EB and Savin Hill Fitness, are offering online classes via Zoom. They’re super reasonable – Savin Hill even offers one free class each day – and the instructors are great.
  • Mem Tea Imports, based in Somerville, is still shipping their delicious teas. I stocked up in mid-March, and I’m sure I’ll be making another order soon. They always stick an extra sample or two in each order.
  • I ordered some fun quarantine correspondence cards from 1canoe2, a small stationery business I’ve loved for years. They are hilarious and cute.
  • Jenny at Carrot Top Paper Shop is still bringing the cheer, even drawing some of her heroines wearing masks. Love love love.
  • Marathon Sports, my favorite Boston-based running store, is still shipping online orders. They’ve provided me with new running shoes and a much-needed foam roller since this all started.

What are some favorite small businesses you’re supporting right now?

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Hello, friends. Here we are, staring down week 5 (say it ain’t so) of what my former colleague Juliette Kayyem calls “the now normal.” It is also Easter Sunday, and the middle of Passover – and if you are celebrating, I hope you’re finding ways to do that.

These days are edged with worry and fear and loneliness, but also deep gratitude, and I still believe the small good things are always worth sharing and celebrating. In my quarantine stories I am trying to be honest about all of it, but today I really want to focus on the good.

So, even while this is hard (and it is, y’all), here is what’s saving my life now.

  • Watching the birds in the apple tree out back – there’s a pair of cardinals, several blue jays, some tiny house wrens, what I think are yellow finches.
  • That same tree, leafing out and getting greener every day (with a few blossoms showing up, too).
  • Online yoga – with Adriene, the crew at Savin Hill Fitness, or Renee at the Point. My old green yoga mat is getting a lot of use these days.
  • Daffodils, crocuses, early tulips and cherry trees, which are blooming away, oblivious to anything but the light and the warmer weather.
  • The saucer magnolias in the neighborhood, which are pure pink-and-white glory.
  • Tea in my favorite mugs – I stocked up on my favorites from MEM Tea just as all this hit.
  • Texts from friends near and far, FaceTime with my sister, phone calls with friends and my parents, and the occasional video message on Marco Polo.
  • Running – my usual route along the harborwalk and greenway here in Eastie is keeping me sane.
  • Walks, when I’ve been inside all day or even just for a couple of hours.
  • Juliette’s smart, pragmatic commentary in the Atlantic and on Twitter.
  • Occasional trips to the bodega for necessities and human contact.
  • Fresh flowers – my beloved florist has closed for now, so I’m getting both my flowers and groceries at Trader Joe’s.
  • The #LivefromHome music performances online, spearheaded by Chris Thile and multiplying beautifully.
  • This video, made by students from Berklee, where I work – it has gone viral in the best way, and it’s sweet and wonderful.
  • Good books: the last few (for now) physical review copies, the last of my library stack, a reread of Rilla of Ingleside.
  • Seeing my colleagues’ faces during our weekly Zoom meetings.
  • Long walks and bear hugs with my guy.
  • Sidewalk chats with my friends in the neighborhood – we are all staying home/staying six feet apart, but it’s good to be together in person.

What is saving your life in these strange days? Please share, if you like.

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Every December, I pack a big suitcase and travel down to Texas to spend the holidays with my family. (I make this journey two or three times a year, but Christmas is the big one.)

It’s always something of an odyssey, and it’s never without a headache or two. But there are a few things that save my life, every time. Here are the ones from this trip:

  • My refillable water bottle, and water stations/fountains in every airport. These are a money-saver and a welcome antidote to that dry airplane air.
  • Clementines, granola bars and any other healthy snacks I can find in the airport newsstands.
  • The in-flight magazines, which I truly enjoy. I also sometimes treat myself to a magazine from one of those newsstands; this time it was Runner’s World. 
  • Pleasant and helpful gate agents, who helped me tremendously when I mislaid my boarding passes (on the way to Texas) and ran into long flight delays (on the way back).
  • The yoga room at DFW Airport. I’d heard about this newish trend, but this was my first time seeing it in action. It felt so good to dump my stuff and stretch out on a mat for a few minutes.
  • Sweet seat mates, like the woman traveling with her toddler son on my flight to Dallas. We chatted about food and travel and Boston winters, and her wriggly little redhead gave me a few smiles.
  • Layovers long enough to catch my breath.
  • Strategically placed outlets throughout the gate areas.
  • A place to get some decent Earl Grey – whether it’s Starbucks or a local cafe in the airport.

What saves your life when you fly? Any tips? I’m always up for more ways to make it easier.

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Here we are in October – the days and nights are starting to draw in, the maples are turning brilliantly red, the occasional cold rains have arrived, and fall events are in full swing.

I’m feeling more settled in my new place, and between commutes and running and cooking dinner, I finally had a bit of time to note what’s saving my life now:

  • Sunflowers, at home and at work. I love their cheerful faces, and they remind me of that Mary Oliver poem.
  • My new Rebel Alliance logo earrings. I am not a hardcore Star Wars geek, but I am a diehard Leia Organa fan. These earrings are sterling silver, subtle and badass, and I love them.
  • Birchbox, which I tried thanks to a recent Cup of Jo post. Getting a few colorful boxes of samples in the mail has felt indulgent and also nourishing, somehow.
  • My brand-new travel mug from my friends at Obvious State, who make the best literary swag.

  • Trader Joe’s essentials: crumbly English cheddar, bags of tiny mandarins, Greek yogurt by the tub, peanut-butter-filled pretzels, and smiles from the staff.
  • Texts from my girlfriends (always) and getting to hug a few of them (local and far-flung) in person.
  • A few recent visiting artist events at Berklee, where I work – I get to listen to fascinating, intelligent, talented, kind folks like rapper Dessa and film composer Pinar Toprak sharing their wisdom with our students.
  • A trip to my beloved florist the other day, for the first time in weeks. I caught up with my people and bought some scarlet tulips tipped with gold.

  • Jen Lee’s Morning, Sunshine videos – doses of kindness and wisdom twice a week. Go check out the series on YouTube.
  • The music of the Highwomen.
  • Sunshine on my shoulders, especially when I take my laptop to the plant-filled conference room at work.
  • Chai from the BPL cafe – best in Back Bay.
  • Poetry, including a whole slew of new-to-me gems via poet Maggie Smith.
  • The quilt my friend Carol made for me, so good for snuggling under on these chilly nights.
  • Ginger peach tea and Earl Grey in the mornings, spiced black tea in the afternoons, peppermint tea or pumpkin spice rooibos at night.
  • Rereading The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, a longtime fave.

What’s saving your life these days?

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pavement tea cup window cafe Boston back bay

As regular readers know, I have a deep, longstanding and well-documented love affair with Darwin’s, the coffee shop in Cambridge I have adopted as my own.

I started going there – first occasionally, then regularly – not long after I began working at Harvard, and I came to love nearly everything about it, especially the people and the chai.

darwins scone stripe journal coffee shop table

I’m not a coffee drinker, preferring hot tea year-round: ginger peach, Earl Grey, strong black tea with milk when it’s frigid out. But I am a lover of chai lattes, and Darwin’s spicy, house-made chai mix blended with steamed milk (and served with a smile) is my gold standard. I work across the river now, but I still made regular trips to the Square for chai this fall.

The adjustment to a new neighborhood has been, shall we say, difficult. And while I’m planning to continue popping over to Darwin’s when I can, I know I also need to embrace this new place. So I’ve been making a study of chai lattes in the area near my office.

Back Bay has no shortage of cafes, though I tend to avoid Starbucks and Peet’s in favor of independent coffee shops or Boston-based chains. Pavement and Flour, both in the latter category, each have two locations nearby. The baristas (many of them students) are kind, though the chai at both places is too sweet for me. (Flour is a good lunch spot, though.)

To my surprise, Trident, the quirky indie bookstore on Newbury Street, does a decent chai with lots of cinnamon, and I dropped by Caffe Nero last week to sample their chai. (Also too sweet, though I like the atmosphere – and I associate Caffe Nero with Oxford, where I first discovered it.) The Boston Public Library, in addition to having all the wonderful books, does a pretty good chai. And there are a few places I haven’t tried yet.

I’m under no illusions that I will find a new Darwin’s: any coffee shop I love over here will be different, and that’s (mostly) fine. When I really need it, my favorite Darwin’s chai and my beloved baristas are just across the river. (As are my florist, Mem Church and the Cambridge streets I adore.)

Part of this quixotic quest is just giving myself a mission – or something to look forward to – on these bitter winter mornings. And if I can’t find the perfect chai, a few smiles from new baristas are still no small thing.

What helps you feel at home in a new neighborhood?

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