Posts Tagged ‘transition’

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My family has a deep love for 1990s romantic comedies – from While You Were Sleeping to French Kiss to the Nora Ephron classics. When my sister was unpacking my DVDs recently, she exclaimed, “You have all the good ones!”

One of my faves in this category is Runaway Bride, which I love for its brilliant supporting cast (including Rita Wilson and Hector Elizondo); its quirky small-town details (a hair salon called Curl Up & Dye!), and its best friend, the salon owner, played by Joan Cusack. (“Peggy Flemming–not the ice skater.”)

At one point in the film, Peggy and Maggie (Cusack and Roberts) are at the town softball game when Maggie spots Ike (Gere’s journalist character) approaching. “I will handle this,” Peggy says, in true best-friend fashion. Maggie snaps: “Don’t move your lips!” (They’ve already figured Ike can probably read lips.)

“I will handle this!” Peggy exclaims, through clenched teeth. “I won’t say anything.”

Lately, this is how I often feel. Whether it’s setting up utilities or hanging pictures, writing book reviews or sorting out divorce paperwork, I find myself thinking, “I will handle this!” while worrying I’m not handling it at all.

To be clear, I’ve had lots of help: my mom, my sister, several stalwart friends. But a lot of these responsibilities fall solely to me, and that can be exhausting. And the never-ending list(s) of tasks can make me feel like I’m failing at all of it.

And yet: my little apartment, full of light and books and my favorite things, is coming together. The book reviews are (mostly) getting turned in (relatively) on time. I have gas and electricity and enough food to eat. And not every decision has to be made today.

“There is nothing you’re not handling,” my therapist said the other day, her gentle eyes full of kindness, as they always are. In the midst of such massive transition, it’s worth cultivating a little self-compassion – or, sometimes, channeling my inner Peggy Flemming. (Not the ice skater.)


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Katie post bike ride selfie

I never quite know what to say about a whole year. That’s been especially true of the last several: so full of challenge and change, transition and unexpected moments. A list seems inadequate, at best, but it’s one of the tools I have, so here’s a list of (some of) what I’ve done this year.

In 2018, I have:

  • run my second, third and fourth 5Ks – on a gorgeous April day, a sunny November Sunday and a freezing December morning, respectively.
  • dyed my hair for the first time – I put a few pink streaks in it this spring, and liked it so much I’ve kept refreshing the color.
  • flown to Idaho to visit my dear friends and meet their new baby girl.
  • hosted those same friends for a lovely weekend in Boston this fall.
  • drunk so many chai lattes, mostly (are we shocked?) from Darwin’s.
  • spent my third glorious stretch of days in San Diego.
  • mourned the loss of a dear family friend.
  • met and briefly interviewed Lin-Manuel Miranda.
  • taken a 10-day vacación to Spain with my husband, to celebrate a decade of marriage.
  • toasted my beloved boss as he retired from HKS.
  • savored my sixth Commencement at Harvard.
  • heard the news that my job there was ending.
  • spent a summer freelancing and job hunting (again).
  • started a new job across the river at Berklee.
  • run my first 8K on a hot, humid, sunny Labor Day.
  • taken my first ride (and many more) on a Blue Bike, and become completely addicted.
  • read nearly 200 books.
  • reviewed several dozen of those books, and interviewed six authors, for Shelf Awareness.
  • tended a few geraniums and a basil plant (at home) and a couple of low-light desk plants (at work).
  • bought countless bouquets of flowers, many from my favorite florist.
  • run miles and miles and miles on my beloved trail.
  • seen a few great concerts: the Wailin’ Jennys, the Boston Conservatory orchestra, Five for Fighting, various Berklee students (who really know how to jam).
  • hosted my parents for their annual visit to Boston.
  • spent a couple of whirlwind weekends in NYC.
  • navigated a few losses I’m not ready to talk about yet.
  • celebrated Thanksgiving with friends old and new in East Boston.
  • turned 35, hosted my own birthday brunch and reflected on it.
  • embraced the weekly boot camps I started last year.
  • kept on doing yoga about once a week.
  • spent many mornings in a pew at Memorial Church.
  • learned how to podcast.
  • tried to figure out how to stitch together the old life and the new.

I’ve got a few plans and a lot of hopes for 2019 – though I’m increasingly aware that I don’t know what’s coming next. I’m trying to navigate that with greater ease as we head into a new year. But first I’d love to know: what has 2018 looked like for you?

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wreath old south church Boston

It’s a cold, diamond-bright December, with sharp blue skies and angled shadows that stretch long beginning in the early afternoons. I hurry along the sidewalk in my green coat and fleece-lined tights, avoiding the loose tiles and listening to the repeated entreaties from the homeless guys. I dig in my purse for the bright pink strap that holds my work ID, nod to the security guy and the construction crew in our building. Every week the work looks different: dangling wires, fresh plywood, so many cables and work boots and dust.

Katie selfie mirror post bike ride

There hasn’t been much snow so far. If I bundle up well enough, pull on a vest and two pairs of gloves and a blue fleece-lined headband, I can still hop a Blue Bike across the river from Harvard Square in the early mornings. I’ve come to enjoy skimming down Mt. Auburn St. to Mass Ave, then across the bridge by MIT, heading for the skyline, from the old neighborhood to the new.

commonwealth avenue brownstones Boston blue sky

We finished up Morning Prayers with a week of Advent hymns: Comfort, comfort ye my people. Watchman, tell us of the night. People, look east, the time is near. On Friday, after the final service of the term, we crowded into the kitchen downstairs for coffee and blueberry cake. I took my husband to the carol service on Sunday night, red poinsettias and thundering organ music and clear voices ringing out from the balcony. We stood with the congregation and sang a few of my favorites: Silent Night, Hark the Herald, Angels We Have Heard on High with its trilling Gloria.

red poinsettias flowers church

I’m thumbing through my Advent book again, reading wisdom from Sylvia Plath and Kathleen Norris, poetry and plainspoken prose, awe and wonder, longing and praise. For the first time in years, we are adrift this Advent, unmoored from a church community, except for my mornings at Mem Church. It feels strange and hard, and also this is where we are: right in the middle of more change and transition, of messy, ordinary life.

My florist’s shop is bursting with poinsettias and cyclamen, with miniature trees and tiny birch-bark reindeer. I stop in weekly, still, for roses and red tulips and a hug from Stephen. At home, we’ve finally decked our tall tree with ornaments, a colorful hodgepodge of old and new. The Christmas shopping is half done, the cards ordered and received but not sent, the packing not even thought about. We are living in the in between.

snoopy tree lights Christmas

I watch the sun rise out the kitchen window, my elbow brushing the geranium still stubbornly bursting with scarlet flowers. I sink into bed at night with a book, the glow of the Christmas tree from the living room just visible through the doorway. I take solace in a hot cup of chai, in the smile of a friend. I keep moving, because that is, as always, the only thing to do.

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komorebi harvard yard tree sky

First, the leaving.

I knew it was a possibility for a long time: the job I signed on for, back in 2016, is of a type that comes up for renewal each fiscal year. This was my fourth job at Harvard, and I’d already weathered a layoff and two temp gigs – so I wasn’t all that surprised to learn, in April, that I’d have to leave at the end of June.

Even at Harvard, few things are set in stone: my time there has seen massive internal shifts, many of them for the better. This storied place, ancient and rooted, is also a place of constant movement and change.

I did my best, this spring, to soak up all the rhythms and traditions I love there: Morning PrayersCommencement, my daily walks to Darwin’s. I had about a thousand coffee dates and sent out so many emails telling people: This chapter is ending. I don’t know what’s next.

On my last day, I walked to Darwin’s mid-morning, then went back later for lunch with a girlfriend. We sat outside, leaning against the plate-glass windows, eating sandwiches and talking about change. She had just started a new job, and I had no idea what the summer held. We agreed: change is hard, even when it’s exciting. And uncertainty is a beast.

Later that afternoon, I slipped away for a walk with a friend, and then came back to the office for my own bittersweet Mary Tyler Moore moment: packing up my bags and switching off the lights for the last time.

Of course, as a friend reminded me, Harvard isn’t going anywhere: it has survived for nearly four centuries, and if I want to go back there sometime, there’s a good chance I can. But this chapter, this particular stretch of five years where the Square became my daily ground, has ended.

I don’t have a word to sum it up neatly: like so much of life, it is full of contradictions. But somewhere between all those emails and meetings, between the headlines and the phone calls and the student interviews, between Tuesdays at the farmers’ market and Thursday mornings on the sixth floor, between frequent trips to the florist and every single day at Darwin’s, Harvard Square became my home.

I’ve landed in a good place across the river. But I left part of my heart in Cambridge, and for now, I’m making a point to get back there as often as I can.

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geraniums front porch

The summer breeze is blowing through my kitchen: one window on the north wall, one on the east. Both are cracked slightly to let the evening air move through, and the blinds are pulled halfway down to provide some relief from the heat. It’s almost working.

I’m sitting at the blond wood kitchen table that dates from my college years, with a glass of iced tea and a vase of wilting sunflowers at my elbow. If I look up, I can see the gallery wall above the table, hung with an assortment of my favorite pieces of art: a vivid watercolor of Boston’s North End, three red maple leaves pressed under glass, a textured map collage made by a friend. The kitchen curtains, brightly patterned cloth napkins bought at Pier 1 and artfully arranged by means of hook and rod, shift slightly in the breeze.

I’m trying to memorize this view. It won’t be mine for much longer.

tulips table kitchen

We are moving again soon, for the second time in a year: to a third-floor apartment in a different Boston suburb than the one we’ve lived in for seven years now. This move, unlike the one we undertook last summer, is our choice, triggered by months of frustration with our current living arrangement. It’s also the result of my husband’s careful combing of real estate listings, several weekends spent driving around to apartment showings, and the help of a realtor named Dante.

Both of us are looking forward to the new place: my commute will be a little shorter and easier, the neighborhood seems beautiful and interesting, and the apartment itself has spacious rooms and a covered back porch. But, as we pack our lives into cardboard boxes (again) and recruit our friends to help us fill a moving truck, I’m starting to realize what I’ll miss about this place.

I’m back at Art House America today (where I write periodically), sharing a bit about our upcoming move and the things I’ve loved – to my own surprise – about the apartment we’ve lived in this year. Please join me over there to read the rest of my essay.

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red leaves blue sky autumn

I woke up last Monday morning to a certain realization: fall had arrived, seemingly overnight.

After the snowiest winter on record, we enjoyed – even gloried in – a hot, sun-soaked summer. I hesitated to complain about the heat, because the memory of winter’s sharp cold and piles of gray-edged snow lingered in my mind. (I always hesitate to complain about heat in New England: it feels like tempting fate, because I know winter is coming.)

ogunquit beach sunset

When the heat index rose this summer, I simply slathered on more sunscreen, turned the ceiling fans up a notch, and stocked up on lemonade and ice cream. The hubs and I escaped to the beach on multiple weekends (see above), and if things got really bad, we retreated to places with air-conditioning.

But by the time my parents visited in early September, I admit it – I was ready for fall.

The temperature swung from 90 to 60 degrees while Mom and Dad were here, but we had a few more summer-like days after they left. I did my best to savor them, going kayaking on the Charles River and walking around in shorts. But last Monday, the shift in the air was sharp and sudden. Autumn is here.

kayak river light water

In response to the sudden shift in seasons, I’m enjoying – and making – a few subtler changes.

I’m sipping fall teas – cranberry almond, Cream of Earl Grey – instead of summer’s ginger peach and blackberry sage. I ordered a couple of favorite autumnal candles, and I’ve switched from my beachy summer perfume to a crisp, classic scent. I’m wearing jeans and ballet flats and button-downs. And I’m thinking about fall activities, fall reading and other things on my autumn list.

Fall in New England is so lovely every year: red leaves, blue skies, juicy apples, that energizing crispness in the air. I know we are heading toward winter, but for now I’ll do my best to savor every moment of this season.

How do you mark or observe the change in seasons?

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astrid veronika lemonade stripes

What is it that makes us know when the summer turns? The smallest shift in the light? The slightest hint of chill in the morning air? A certain rustling of the leaves of the birches? That is how it is – suddenly, in the midst of the summer heat, you are overcome by a tightening of your heart. The realisation that it will all come to an end. And that brings a new intensity to everything: the colours, the smells, the feeling of sunshine on your arm. […]

Summer had turned. Although the weather remained sunny and warm, with each morning the air grew a touch crisper, the light a shade sharper, the evenings a notch darker.

Astrid & Veronika, Linda Olsson

I read Astrid & Veronika in late July, sitting in Harvard Yard with a cup of blueberry lemonade in hand. It’s a spare, lovely story about two women who become neighbors and help one another deal with deep grief. It is also about noticing the details, including the subtle shift in the seasons, the turning of summer toward fall.

The passage above leaped out at me when I read it, even though we were in the thick of summer, its full glorious green heat (and humidity). Now the calendar has flipped to September, and I’m noticing that seasonal shift – even though the weather is still summer-like.

Everyone I know – or their kids – seems to be heading back to school. (I work in higher ed and my circles of friends, both in Boston and Texas, include a lot of university students, professors and staff.) The blue of the sky is a little deeper, heading for that autumn blue I love so much. The sunsets are coming a little earlier, the sunrises a few minutes later. The light is sharpening a bit, the haze of summer gradually disappearing.

It has been a lovely summer and also a difficult one, in some ways. I am hoping for good things this fall, starting with a visit from my parents this week. And as I walk through these autumn days, I will do my best to pay attention, to notice the shifting light, the new coolness in the air, all the harbingers of my favorite season.

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I’ve been reading through my blog posts from last summer. Remembering how it felt to slowly say good-bye to Abilene, which had been home for eight years. Looking around our apartment, at the sun-spangled hardwood floors and the twinkle lights framing the windows, at the shelves of books and the sink full of dishes, and wondering how it is that we’ve been here a year.

Didn’t we just pull up in that moving truck the other day? Didn’t we just start settling in, finding the library and the grocery store and a new church, dealing with the mound of paperwork required when you move halfway across the country? Didn’t we just learn to navigate the T, and build mental maps of Quincy and central Boston and the greater Boston area? Didn’t we just learn to shovel snow, buy down coats, collect all the tips we could for surviving our first winter?

Well. Yes. We did. A year ago.

A year ago this weekend, we moved into our apartment with the help of three dear friends (one of whom carried our loveseats up the stairs on his back). We spent our first Sunday morning at Brookline. We set up bookshelves and bedframes, arranged our dishes in the cabinets, began organizing the books. A year ago today, J started his first real, full-time, grown-up job, and I began six months of exploring the city and looking for work. (Six months ago, I started my own full-time job.) We’ve survived a full cycle of the seasons here (and I believe everyone’s comments about “seasonal amnesia” – the summer and fall do make you forget, for a while, how brutal the winter can be).

We’ve struggled, at times, to make our way in a culture and city so different from the place we came from. We’ve missed being known, shaken our heads at the expense of living here, adjusted to commutes and the sad lack of Tex-Mex food and two months of frequent snowstorms. We’ve fought to make a place for ourselves, to draw together a circle of friends, to live here now instead of mourning the friends we left behind or the ease of life in Abilene, or worrying unduly about the future.

Perhaps that is the gift of this time in Boston – to be here now, to embrace each moment, each struggle, each inconvenience or tough experience or unexpected joy. To let each day, each event, be simply what it is, rather than letting it all overwhelm me. To treasure the new friendships we’ve gradually made, while acknowledging that our community here will always look different than our community in Abilene. To appreciate what’s available here, instead of wishing for what’s not. To let life in this new place open us up, let it become part of who we are, even if we don’t stay forever.

It’s been a difficult year in many respects – requiring equal parts bravery (my word for 2010) and comfort (my word for 2011). I don’t expect I’ll ever describe life in Boston as easy. But it’s been instructive, exciting, rich with new experiences, full of challenges and unexpected twists and opportunities (though at times they’ve felt more like trials and obstacles). In short, it’s been an adventure – which is what we were looking for, after all, when we left Abilene.

More than once over the past year, I’ve wished we could spirit ourselves back to Texas, back to the church and the university and the friends and family we left, back to the ease of familiarity, back to the comfort of being home. Sometimes I still wish that. And I think – and hope – we’ll go back someday.

But the story of our lives in Boston isn’t finished yet. This chapter had a rocky start, but it’s by no means at its end. We’ve renewed our lease and committed to stay a while longer, to keep meeting the challenges and embracing the joys. To keep finding out what it means to make a home for ourselves up here, and to know and be known in this place we’ve come to love.

Here’s to another year – at least – in Boston. And to all it holds for us, however difficult and scary – and rich and exciting.

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I’ve been hiding out in Mitford. To the tune of rereading half the series in just a few days, ignoring the stacks of shiny library books on my coffee table. I’ve been alternately chuckling and wiping away tears on the T, not caring who sees me. These books are that good.

I love them for their honest depiction of faith, for the cast of quirky characters filling their pages, for the beautiful ways in which “all things work together for good” for Father Tim and his ever-expanding family. And oh, I’ve needed a good dose of all those things lately.

During a strange transitional season, when I might leave the house in wellies and a coat and come home in ballet flats and a cardigan; when some weekends brim with fun and rich community and others feel oddly barren; when some days on the job are fulfilling and others are just plain flat; when I alternately long for the comfort, safety and warmth of Abilene and try to enjoy this new adventure…

…it’s nice to escape to “the little town with the big heart,” where everyone takes care of each other, where everyone is known, and where, somehow, things always work out for the best.

Where do you go to hide out?

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I’ve read more than my share of mysteries this winter.

Part of this is due to the read-along of the Maisie Dobbs series, hosted by Book Club Girl, which convinced me to try out the series. I love reading about Maisie’s cases and her journey in post-World War I London – the books just keep getting better. But I’ve also picked up a few other mysteries at the library, and watched an episode or two of Castle, alongside our current obsession with Friday Night Lights.

I have a low threshold for gore, creepiness and violence in general, in movies or in books, so I don’t do crime shows like Law & Order or CSI. I don’t usually read or watch anything you’d consider a “thriller.” (This disappoints my husband; lots of my movie choices are too tame for him.) And I’m too much of a literary snob to read “cozy” mysteries often – though I did go through a Tea Shop Mysteries phase – because most of them aren’t that well-written.

However. Aside from my enjoyment of Maisie’s story – which is rich with history and fascinating characters, as well as mystery – I’ve relished a good mystery novel this winter. And I think it’s because of what happens, without fail, at the end of every mystery: the criminal is caught, the loose ends are tied up, and everything makes sense.

This is the kicker for me. I’ve been plagued, this winter, by disconnected clues, bits of life and periods of waiting that haven’t really connected to one another or made much sense. I’ve struggled to survive a harsh winter in this northern climate, to adjust to a new job and make new friends, to deal with bouts of homesickness, to tend my home and spend time with my husband, and read and knit and balance the checkbook. Very little of it has added up the way I expected it would. So I’ve been reaching for mysteries, following Maisie and other detectives through their sleuthing processes, because I know that by the end of the book, we’ll have some answers.

Of course, one of my favorite things about Maisie is that her story keeps going – it’s not all neatly tied up at the end of each book. Neither she nor her clients are ever quite the same after finishing up a case; they all go forward a little different. So it is, I suppose, with this difficult winter, this transition period into a new job. I’m not quite the same person who came to Boston in August, and I don’t have everything neatly tied up, nor do I expect to. But like Maisie or any other sleuth worth her salt, I’ll keep moving forward. As spring approaches, thank heaven, there’s a lot to look forward to.

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