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Posts Tagged ‘whimsy’

crimson snapdragons table flowers

There are two kinds of dragons in my life this summer: the snapdragons from Brattle Square Florist, which are glorious in every color (though these crimson ones are my favorite). And Toothless, who is a recent and happy-making addition to a friend’s bike helmet.

toothless dragon peonies bike helmet

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darwins notebook chai

“It’s only alchemy until you know how it works.”

So said a friend of mine recently, as he stood behind the counter at (where else?) Darwin’s, steaming the milk for my chai latte. That’s admittedly one of the simpler drinks they serve: one part spicy chai mix (which they make themselves), one part milk. But he was talking about the more complicated espresso-based drinks they offer: latte, cappuccino, macchiato, mocha, cortado. He had done a refresher course the day before, and found himself newly fascinated with this everyday alchemy, the process of taking disparate ingredients and blending them into something new.

I understood what he meant. I remembered the same aha! moment from my own barista days, when Barb and Cynthia showed me how to pull an espresso shot, steam a stainless-steel pitcher full of milk, add a dollop of rich chocolate or a smooth cap of foam, and create a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts. I’m not even a coffee drinker – I love the smell, can’t stand the bitter taste – but I found myself fascinated, then and now, by the process. It does make a new kind of sense when you watch the steps unfold one by one.

As I stood there that morning, though, listening to the whir of the milk steamer, the grind of the espresso machine, the morning music mix on the stereo, I thought: that factual knowledge doesn’t quite cover it.

I understand, empirically, that a shot of espresso plus steamed milk equals a latte, that a cappuccino has more foam, that a mocha includes a shot of chocolate and that chemical reactions explain a lot of the taste and texture (and pleasure) we get from those drinks. But there are also other, less measurable ingredients at play: the sunset-colored walls, the music, the smiles from my favorite staff members. That, too, is everyday alchemy (or magic) – and even though those elements are familiar and ordinary, they delight me every single day.

This applies to more than coffee: I understand most of the science behind the steps I follow to make a pot of soup, marinate and roast a chicken, stir up a batch of scones. But I believe there’s room for wonder alongside our knowledge of how those processes work. It isn’t alchemy in the Nicolas Flamel sense, perhaps – but it’s still everyday magic.

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katie green coat black ink

A color story:

For several years, my favorite coat has been the jade-green wool one I found at a consignment shop in downtown Boston. It matches my eyes (like a certain Boy Who Lived, I have my mother’s green eyes) and it is warm, stylish and comfortable. It also garners compliments – from friends and strangers – like no other article of clothing I’ve ever owned.

When I started showing up at Darwin’s every day, some of the staff came to know me initially as “the girl in the green coat.” (They know my name now, and they also know my fondness for their chai lattes, shortbread cookies and soups of every kind.)

My green coat – with a warm scarf, fleece-lined tights and appropriate footwear – is perfect for many, if not most, winter days in Boston. But occasionally, we have arctic blasts (or blizzards) that send the temperatures dropping to near zero. That means I need to pull out the big guns: my knee-length, hooded, quilted down coat, which is red. (In the mornings, when I look around the subway platform, I’m often the only person not wearing black or gray.)

katie-red-coat-snow

A few weeks back, I walked into Darwin’s on a single-digit day wearing my red coat, and chatted with a friend behind the counter before going up to place my order. The staff member working the register stared at me for a moment in utter disbelief.

“Katie!” she exclaimed. “I didn’t even know who you were when you walked in!” I laughed out loud, and reassured her that the green coat would be back soon.

I told my husband this story that night. His comment? “Only you could wear a red coat and go incognito.”

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west village window nyc pink olive

A few weeks ago, the hubs had a three-day work training that took place over a weekend. We had just moved, and our new apartment was a wilderness of boxes. Rather than spend the weekend alone, digging out, I did the logical thing: I hopped a train to New York City.

I love New York at any time of year, and I’d been there by myself once before, on a dreamy solo trip last fall. This time, I booked a room in the West Village, where I’d spent a little time but never stayed. And although the city (and I) sweltered in a heat wave all weekend, it was fantastic.

larchmont front door west village nyc

I stayed at the Larchmont Hotel on West 11th, which I heard about on Joanna’s blog (and later from Anne). The rooms are tiny, but clean and comfortable, with a certain spare charm. (Plus: air-conditioning!) And it’s super affordable.

Although I’ve done a fair bit of traveling on my own, it somehow still feels like a radical act: leaving my regular life for a few days of pure, solitary pleasure. For three days, I ate and wandered and did exactly what I wanted.

bryant park nyc nypl view

I bought a last-minute ticket to Matilda on Friday night. I ate my lunch in Bryant Park (above) nearly every day. I popped into the New York Public Library‘s main branch, also above, to see the exhibit on my favorite rapping Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton, and to say hello to Pooh and his friends.

I went to five bookstores. I went with my college friend Mary Kate to see our friend Jeremy act and sing in his New York theatrical debut. I walked and walked and walked. (And drank quarts of hibiscus iced tea, to counteract the stifling heat.)

hibiscus iced tea journal

“New York meant much more than New York,” Julia Cameron writes in The Sound of Paper. “It meant sophistication, taste, freedom and accomplishment.” New York means all those things to me, and it also means a chance to explore neighborhoods and streets I find endlessly fascinating.

I have some New York favorites now: the bookish glories of the Strand; the elegant and charming Upper West Side; the twisting streets of the Village, packed with boutiques and restaurants galore. I love a ramble through the urban wildness of Central Park, and I love popping into the nearest library branch. (This time, the Jefferson Market Library was just around the corner.)

jefferson market library tower nypl nyc

I love the way New York is always surprising, teeming with life and change, thrumming with ambition and hustle. And I love the pockets of quiet and peace, the carefully tended flower boxes, the occasional empty street. New York is all possibility, and I love stepping into its current for a few days, becoming a part of the bustle and verve.

More NYC photos and stories to come.

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katie mirror larchmont

I’m not much for selfies, but every once in a while I snap one just for fun. This is from my recent trip to NYC – I loved the effect of these mirrors in the hotel lobby.

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katie pei beach

Several months ago, in the midst of my sixth Boston winter and a yearlong job hunt, I chose gumption for my one little word for 2016.

I’d spent 2015 trying to be gentle with myself and others – a reminder I needed frequently during a difficult year. But as the calendar flipped over, I decided I wanted something with a little more energy, a little more drive. Gumption, as embodied in The Holiday and elsewhere, tackles the tough stuff of life with a twinkle in its eye. I chose it knowing I’d need its particular combination of tenacity and spunk.

Midway through the year, I can say with certainty: I was right.

I spent the first few months of 2016 at a temp gig I loved, which gave me a safe place to land while continuing to balance the job hunt and other worries. That gig led to another temp assignment at Harvard, in a different office (literally) across the street, where I needed every bit of gumption I could muster to learn the ropes of a new place before diving into the swirl of Commencement. I don’t think I took a deep breath for the entire month of May.

Life on the sixth floor, wrangling stories and inquiries from all around Harvard, was a lot of fun, but it was a wild ride. I learned a lot of new systems and a few new skills, and I spent a lot – a lot – of time being brave and hanging on. (Longtime readers will know that brave, my one little word back in 2010, has become both a mantra and a talisman for me: I wear it around my neck and deep in my soul.)

Recently, I’ve been able to breathe a little easier: our trip to PEI and a new job (back in the same office where I temped this winter) have both helped me to feel more settled, less precarious. But I am diving into new responsibilities, and (soon) moving to a new apartment – both of which, not surprisingly, have their own requirements for gumption.

During this topsy-turvy year, gumption has come to mean both lightness and grit: doing hard things, or simply taking care of the business of life, with a bit of whimsy thrown in. It means sending that email, starting that conversation, tackling that work assignment, without taking it all too seriously. It means being brave enough to be a little silly sometimes. It means reaching across to connect with other people, even when I’m feeling shy or sad. It means speaking up when I can’t be silent any more, and it means knowing when to listen.

I have no doubt that the second half of 2016 will require yet more gumption of me. (See also: new job, new apartment and the resulting shifts in routine.) But I am also proud of the way I’ve handled the sweeping changes of the past year. As Iris (Kate Winslet) says near the end of The Holiday, “I think what I’ve got is something slightly resembling – gumption!”

iris gumption kate winslet the holiday

Here’s to more tenacity, grace, grit and spunk – more gumption – in the coming months.

Did you choose a word for this year? If so, how’s it going?

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lilacs flowers rain

That is one good thing about this world…there are always sure to be more springs.

—L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

As soon as the snow melts, I’m poised and ready: watching for the first spears of snowdrops and crocuses, the first buds on the trees, the first leaves on the bushes. Spring in New England is a wonder every year, and I keep an eye out for it, snapping photos on my daily rounds of Harvard Square and wherever else I happen to be.

purple hyacinth

Sometimes I share those flower photos on Instagram or here on the blog, but this year I’ve also been sharing them on Twitter, as part of the Sunday #FlowerReport.

orange-tulips-public-garden

My friend Alyssa, a writer and professional delight-er who lives in Austin, anchors the #FlowerReport, which consists of people sharing photos of gorgeous blooms. We have “correspondents” from all over the U.S. and a handful of other countries, and I love seeing what people spot on their walks, in their gardens or on their kitchen tables.

red ranunculus table

Occasionally someone will share a shot of an unknown species and ask for help in identifying it. (I did this recently with a photo of what turned out to be tradescantia, or spiderwort.) I love the friendly spirit on the thread; the more experienced flower-spotters are always willing to help us amateurs out. And there is so much beauty.

dogwood tree brick wall

The #FlowerReport taps into one of the central refrains of my adult life: I am always trying to pay attention. It’s so easy to get distracted by my phone or my to-do list or my latest worries, but I am constantly trying to stay awake to this rich, messy, glorious, complicated world.

alliums boston public garden

This is maybe a bit easier in the spring, when the natural world is waking up and shouting for our attention with its vivid, gorgeous color. But I still need a reminder every so often. And the #FlowerReport is there like a nudge: What did you see today? Can you show us?

daffodils dachshund table

We have moved from snowdrops and crocuses through tulips and daffodils, on to lilacs, dogwoods and lilies of the valley. Now we are approaching summer, with azaleas, rhododendrons and the first few irises, peonies and roses. I love watching the different flowers appear, and it’s so much fun to share them with this little corner of the Internet.

white tulips boston public garden

If you love flowers or need a bit of beauty in your life, come join us. We’ll be there on Sunday.

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