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Posts Tagged ‘tea’

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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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wreath tree NYC Christmas

It’s no secret that I love New York City: in the fall, in the spring, even in a sweltering summer heat wave. But I’d never seen the city decked out for Christmas, and I’d always wanted to. So, when my husband told me he had a work conference in Chicago, I made plans for a quick solo trip: 48 hours to wander on my own. It was, as you might expect, glorious.

Every time I go to New York I fall in love. This time, it was with crisp Snapdragon apples and pumpkin cookies at the tiny farmers’ market in Abingdon Square; with the stands of freshly cut Christmas trees on so many corners, tunnels of prickly green. I even fell in love a little bit with the tree-seller who called “Merry Christmas!” and actually tipped his hat.

high line view NYC blue sky

I fell in love with running on the High Line: bold blue skies and views across the Hudson, public art and the sharp angles of skyscrapers and the pounding of my own feet. After my run, I stopped at the Hudson Cafe for oatmeal and a cup of strong Earl Grey, and fell in love with a little dog named Stella. Her owner invited me to sit down and chat, and we talked public transit and city life and unexpected career moves. “How long have you lived in the neighborhood?” I asked her. She grinned, a little wickedly. “A hundred and fifty years!”

Cornelia street cafe awning NYC

I fell in love with the cheery red-striped awnings at the Cornelia Street Cafe just off Bleecker, and with their excellent eggs Florentine (oh my). I fell in love with the stunning array of artisans in the maker space at Chelsea Market, and with the quiet, unpretentious Epiphany Library branch on East 23rd Street. I ended up there when I needed a place to rest my feet and charge my phone (because Hermione is right: when in doubt, go to the library).

red decor west village

I bought a rush ticket to Saturday night’s Live from Here with Chris Thile at the Town Hall. And while I knew I loved Thile’s mandolin music (I’m a Nickel Creek fan from way back), I fell completely in love with his warmth and charm onstage. When he invited the audience to sing along with a few lines from a John Denver song about home, it felt both magical and holy. I’ve been humming those lines ever since.

Some trips to New York are full of new discoveries, and some are about revisiting old favorites. The best are a bit of both, and this was no exception: I made sure to pop into Three Lives for a browsing session and a bit of eavesdropping on the friendly booksellers. I visited Pink Olive and refueled later with Earl Grey at Joe. I went back to Bar Six, back to the Strand, back to the Bryant Park holiday market at the main NYPL branch. I went back, most of all, to the city whose streets I find endlessly fascinating.

I didn’t make it to Rockefeller Center or walk down 5th Avenue to see all the decked-out department stores. But I did get a little of that holiday sparkle. And I did my favorite thing to do in New York: wander to my heart’s content. It was, as always, exhausting and lovely.

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neponset river light water bridge sky

We’re halfway through July, and y’all, it has been hot.

I grew up in West Texas, where the temps regularly climb above 100 from about May to September, but heat and humidity in Boston can be a whole different beast.

Since we don’t have central a/c in our third-floor apartment, and since I’m not working in an air-conditioned office at the moment, I’ve had to come up with a different arsenal of tricks for surviving a heat wave – especially the weeklong furnace blast we endured earlier this month.

In case you’re sweltering too, or expect to be, here are my expert tips:

  • Go to the movies. We’ve seen three movies in the last six weeks (Ocean’s 8, The Incredibles 2 and Solo) both because we wanted to see them and because of the air-conditioning. Bonus: matinees are cheaper and they get you out of the house during the hottest part of the day.
  • Make gazpacho. We’d tried this chilled veggie soup in Spain, and the hubs has been asking for it regularly ever since. When it’s too hot to turn on the stove or the oven, this makes a filling, healthy dinner.
  • Drink something hot (yes, really). I won’t give up my hot tea in the morning even on scorching days, and I’m convinced it really does cool me down.
  • Seek out air-conditioning.  This one seems obvious, but it’s a lifesaver on these broiling days. I am ever more grateful for coffee shops and libraries, for so many reasons.
  • Eat spicy food. It really does help cool you down – not that we needed another excuse to eat Tex-Mex food around here.
  • Exercise in the morning. I’ve been getting up early to go running (who am I?) on some mornings when the forecast is particularly scorching. There’s more shade and less heat on the trail then. I’m still doing yoga at various times of day – but the studio has a/c and ceiling fans.
  • Box fans. These saved our lives during my childhood summers in Ohio, and they’re saving my life (and my husband’s) on these hot nights. One in the kitchen, one in the bedroom. Plus ceiling fans.
  • Front porch sitting. Our back porch is an oven in the late afternoon, but the front porch gets the shade and the breeze at that time of day. I swear it can make a 10-degree difference.

What are your best tricks for getting through a heat wave?

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sumac river trail

December has arrived – suddenly, it seems. My neighbors are putting up twinkle lights, and the church sanctuary is full of pine garland, poinsettias and cyclamen. We began Advent on Sunday with the aching melody of “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” and I’m slowly setting out the Christmas decorations and turning back to the words of hope in my Advent book.

Alongside all of that, it is dark. So dark.

Not only does the sun slip below the horizon as I’m finishing my workdays, but the news out of Washington and elsewhere is (still) so disheartening. I have friends who are grieving, weary, afraid. I am struggling with heartbreak, change, loss, fear. I know so many people who are waiting: for test results or resolution or even the tiniest scrap of good news.

In the midst of the darkness (literal and metaphorical), I know there are pinpricks of light, even when I can’t see them. In an effort to remind myself of this fact, I thought it was time for another list of what’s saving my life now:

  • Laurie Sheck’s poem “The Annunciation,” where I found the phrase “honest grace.” Kathleen Norris mentions it in her essay “Annunciation,” and I finally looked it up after meaning to do so for years.
  • Seeing birds’ nests in the bare trees and thinking of Lindsey.
  • Tulips for my desk and the weekly chat with my florist, who is the dearest man.
  • Bracing, practical, sarcastic advice from a writer colleague.
  • I say this every single day: Darwin’s. The ritual of walking down there; the delicious drinks and nourishing food; the familiar rhythm of the place; and most of all, the warmth from my café people.

chai darwins red bracelets

  • Laughter with my coworkers, whenever and however it comes.
  • Morning Prayers at Mem Church, which is wrapping up for the fall: thoughtful words, lovely music, the ritual of repeating the Lord’s Prayer and singing (often sight-reading) the daily hymns.
  • Texts from a few friends who are my lifelines.
  • The return of my winter uniform: striped dress + black leggings (fleece-lined when I need them) + ankle boots + scarf + magic green coat.
  • Weekly phone calls with my parents and looking forward to Christmas together.
  • Twinkle lights wrapped around anything.
  • Susannah Conway’s lovely December Reflections project on Instagram.
  • Walking and sometimes running on the river trail: on bold blue weekend afternoons or under dark weeknight skies after work.
  • In my ears on those walks and at other times: the Wailin’ Jennys and Hamilton. An odd mix, but it’s working for me.

sunrise early winter blue gold

  • Sunrises seen from the kitchen window: fiery orange over the treetops, or blue with silver-streaked clouds.
  • Yoga on my green mat at home (even 10 minutes can help) or at Healing Tree.
  • The boot camp I’m doing on Monday nights, taught by my favorite yoga instructor. So fun and empowering.
  • Slapdash huevos rancheros after said workout, every Monday night.
  • My morning routine: snooze button + hot shower + sunrise gazing + tea in a purple travel mug + scone eaten en route to the trolley stop.
  • Takeout from our favorite Indian place and a few hilarious episodes of Modern Family with the hubs.
  • Putting the world to rights over paella and wine with a girlfriend.
  • The words that have carried me over many months.

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

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kettle mug tea kitchen

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.

—Annie Dillard

Recently, my friend Lindsey wrote a post ruminating on what she does every day. She agrees with Dillard’s words, above: the habits we keep, the actions we repeat, have a powerful effect on the shape of our lives. Gretchen Rubin’s version of this idea, which Lindsey mentioned and which I’d read before, is similar: “What we do every day matters more than what we do once in a while.”

Even though I’d argue that less frequent actions – things we do once a month or once a year – also shape us, I agree with these wise women: the daily actions of our lives do matter. They form us into the people we become. Lindsey’s litany of the things she does every day, or most days, inspired me to reflect on my own small daily acts.

katie selfie mirror onedayhh

Every day, I drink several cups of tea – usually brewing the first one in our kitchen. I pause to gaze out the east-facing window at the sunrise over the tops of the trees. Most days, I commute to Harvard Square, where I write stories and answer emails, go to meetings and chat with colleagues.

I walk to Darwin’s at least daily, for chai and scones, Earl Grey and hot cider, and – best of all – convivial chat with the baristas I know. I make the rounds of my beloved work neighborhood: the bank, the florist, the post office, other errands. I look up and snap pictures of the sky, or around and snap pictures of flowers and leaves. Most days, I post on Instagram and Twitter (though I usually spend far too much time looking at each). Most days, I write: journal entries, blog posts, book reviews, work assignments, emails. (Always emails.)

Every day, I text a couple of dear friends, and often at least one family member. I talk to my husband briefly in the middle of the workday. I make or juggle plans with friends; community is often fragmented in this world but it’s dear to me, and I fight for it. Every day, I dive into several books – on my commute, on my lunch break, before bed. I need good stories, and words that make me think or laugh or cry.

A few times a week, I do yoga: either at the studio I love or on my own green mat on the kitchen floor. I get out for a walk and/or a run on the river trail near our house. About once a week, I talk to my mom on the phone. Several times a week, I do laundry, cook dinner for myself and my husband. On other evenings, I spend time with friends: usually a one-on-one walk or dinner date. Every day, I make the bed, and later I stand at the sink and wash dishes, scrub out the tea strainer, wipe the counters, sort the mail.

“What do these small, mundane acts say about my priorities?” Lindsey wondered in her post. I think my small acts say that I value the daily: the act of nourishing myself and others, the act of pausing to pay attention to the world and the people I love.

I spend a lot of time and energy keeping up and taking care: of our home, of my work to-do list, of the details of my life. I’m an introvert: I need time by myself and time with the people I love, but I prefer the latter in small-group doses. I need sunshine and I need to move my body. And I am – though I sometimes struggle to believe it – a writer to my core.

As we move into the holiday season, my days will contain a number of seasonal rituals: starting with Turkeypalooza, continuing through Advent and Christmas prep (shopping, sending cards) and my annual trip to Texas to see family. I’ll pull out my beloved, battered Advent book and sing favorite carols. I’ll make an extra effort to gather with friends before we all scatter for the holidays.

Through it all, my daily routine will anchor me. What I do every day will continue to shape me. And if I need to make a change, or want to reinforce a new habit, it starts there: in the dailiness, the small round of hours and minutes that is so mundane and so precious.

What do you do every day, or most days? Do you think it matters?

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