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Posts Tagged ‘winter’

  • A (tiny) bit about cricket, thanks to Matthew Lewis’ explanatory video after the cricket episode of All Creatures Great and Small.
  • Worldle is much harder than Wordle (at least for me!).
  • It is lovely to let yourself be cared for. (This is one I have to learn over and over again.)
  • Red-eye jet lag is real.
  • Beverly, north of Boston, is charming (this after a recent weekend spent there with my guy).
  • How to do a few salsa turns.
  • Having local adventures again feels really good.
  • Just ask. (This might be one of my taglines for the year.)

What did you learn in this short, frigid month?

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Well. We are digging out from a serious snowstorm, and it’s also (according to the calendar) the halfway point of winter. I’m linking up with Anne Bogel and others to share a list of what’s saving my life these days – because any and all lifesavers are worth celebrating. Here’s mine:

  • My final paperwhite bulb and the pink hyacinth in a glass vase I bought at Trader Joe’s – both blooming away.
  • The salsa class I’m taking on Thursday nights in Cambridge. It’s fun to learn something new, and it reminds me of the swing dance club I was in, back in college.
  • The big box of fresh citrus my California friend sent last week – most of it from her parents’ trees.
  • Strong black tea in my favorite mugs – a year-round lifesaver.
  • Tuesday writing class, which is back (on zoom) – I adore these ladies and the work we do together.
  • My cozy plaid infinity scarf and every sweater dress I own.
  • Yoga, which feels especially good when it’s so dang cold.
  • Spotify mixes – nineties country, mellow jazz, nineties pop hits, contemplative movie soundtracks and Natalie Cole.
  • Trying new ciders with my guy and writing about them for our cider Instagram account.
  • Dreaming and scheming about spring travel.
  • Baking treats from the Flour cookbook with my partner.
  • Good books: thoughtful nonfiction, plenty of YA and middle grade, and James Herriot before bed.
  • Related: All Creatures Great and Small season 2!

What’s saving your life in these winter days?

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One of my favorite follows on Instagram is Annie B. Jones, who runs The Bookshelf in Thomasville, Ga., and posts about books, musicals, channeling Kathleen Kelly and other lovely things. Last year, she shared monthly “what I learned” posts, and I enjoyed them so much I decided to try my own. We’ll see if it sticks, but here’s what I learned in January 2022:

  • Slouchy sweaters can be a great comfort, even if you’re more of a fitted-silhouette kind of girl.
  • One green curry paste IS different from another (learned while making this soup several times).
  • Paperwhite bulbs might take a while to bloom, but they – like so many things – can surprise you. (See above – my final bulb is flourishing.)
  • COVID brain fog is real. As are the emotions that come with it.
  • It takes 15 minutes to walk from my house down the Golden Stairs to the end of Piers Park and back. And that is enough when it’s 14 degrees outside.
  • It’s fun to be a beginner again, even – or especially – when it means stumbling through salsa steps with a roomful of other novices.
  • Some books (e.g. The Warmth of Other Suns) are just going to take as long as they take.
  • Just ask. (Still working on this one.)

What are you learning these days?

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Well, friends, it happened: after nearly two years of wearing a mask, washing my hands incessantly, getting vaccinated and taking all the other precautions we’re all used to now, I tested positive for COVID-19 a few weeks ago.

I was lucky. My symptoms were fairly mild, mostly fatigue and congestion (though I will say the brain fog is real). My employer has been generous about giving us extra sick time for isolation and recovery (though I did work from home when I felt well enough, to stave off the boredom). I felt tired and draggy for nearly a week, and I’ve still had some fatigue and a lingering cough – but mostly, I feel grateful it wasn’t much worse.

My mild-ish symptoms didn’t surprise me too much: I’m vaxxed, boosted, in a low-risk demographic, etc. What did surprise me were some of the emotions I felt. They ran the gamut from fear (what if I become severely ill?) to worry (does my partner have it too? Spoiler: he did, and he’s also fine now) to eye-rolling frustration (here we go with the isolation and counting days).

There was also abject sadness and terror at the thought of more isolation in my apartment, after spending most of 2020 and the first half of 2021 alone there. I broke down and sobbed to my mom on the phone after I got my positive results. I have worked so hard since my divorce to build a life for myself that includes community, but as a household of one with a highly contagious virus, I knew I was facing down at least a week of serious solitude.

I felt helpless and frustrated (there was nothing I could do about it), mildly outraged (but I’ve been doing everything right! The whole time!), and a little bit ashamed (I caught the virus anyway. Did I do something wrong?). And deep down, after a couple of days, I also felt a creeping sense of relief: now I’ve had it. So that happened.

In addition to all these emotions, I truly did feel lucky: my community stepped up for me, in ways both tangible and intangible. One friend dropped off groceries (and cough drops) on a bitterly cold afternoon. My supervisor called to check in on a few mornings. I went for a walk with a girlfriend who had tested positive the day after I did – which saved both of our sanity. Other friends texted; my parents called; my sister checked in on me every day. My partner and I did our best to support each other via FaceTime and phone calls, and on the weekend when we reunited in person, we hugged for minutes at a time. I felt loved and supported, even while I was physically alone.

As this pandemic drags on and on, the omicron wave has hit a lot of households in my circles that had so far managed to avoid the virus. My folks, my partner and various friends are all recovering; here in Boston we are still masking, sanitizing, flashing our vaccine cards to eat indoors and go to the gym and go hear live music (or dance salsa, in my case).

We are still here, I keep saying to my colleagues, my parents, my COVID-weary friends. I keep hearing Beth Silvers‘ voice in my head: It’s a virus, not a moral defect. Which is to say: keep doing everything you can, but testing positive is not a moral failure. It’s simply something many of us will have to deal with at some point.

I don’t have any neat and tidy conclusions, but wanted to share my experience in case it is helpful to someone here. (Beth also noted that, like childbirth, having COVID is a singular, isolating experience that creates some stuff we need to process together.) Thanks for reading, friends. If you have your own experiences/emotions to share, please feel free – I’m listening.

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Darkest Before Dawn

Three days into the new year,
and despite the lack of adequate light,
our white phalaenopsis orchid
has eased open a third delicate bloom.
Perhaps coaxed by the warmth
of the woodstove a few feet away,
the orchid thrives in its tiny pot
shaped like the shell of a nautilus,
sending out new stems and glossy leaves,
its aerial roots—green at the tips—
reaching upward like tentacles
to sip the morning air. These blooms
stir something too long asleep in me,
proving with stillness and slow growth
what I haven’t wanted to believe
these past few months—that hope
and grace still reign in certain sectors
of the living world, that there are laws
which can never be overturned
by hateful words or the wishes
of power-hungry men. Be patient,
this orchid seems to say, and reveal
your deepest self even in the middle
of winter, even in the darkness
before the coming dawn.

I found this poem last winter in How to Love the World, a lovely, hopeful anthology edited by Crews. I have been thinking of it again in these cold January days: sometimes keen and blue and bright, sometimes grey and damp and dark.

While I am not growing orchids, my last paperwhite bulb – which sat on the kitchen windowsill for over a week with no signs of growth at all – has started to uncurl its green stem, perhaps in response to the blinding winter sunshine. I am taking it as a sign of hope, and thought it was apt to share this poem with you.

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Hello, friends. It is so cold – the high yesterday here in Boston was 14 (!) degrees. It feels much warmer today (we’re above freezing!), but between the cold and the endless pandemic anxiety, I’ve been struggling with the blues. At least the sun is (mostly) shining; we had a solid week of rain and fog around Christmas/New Year’s and it was rough.

I’m isolating in my apartment this week after a positive COVID test. My symptoms are mild and I have enough groceries, etc., but of course it’s a bummer. And the headlines – and their individual impacts on each of our lives – go on and on.

So, in the spirit of hope and trying to find some joy, here’s what’s saving my life this week:

  • Sunshine, as always. Even when it’s bitterly cold, these blue and silver winter days (and the sunlight pouring in my kitchen windows) are so beautiful.
  • The Twisted Tomboy shower bombs I found recently at the Booksmith – so potent and refreshing.
  • Abby Rasminsky’s gorgeous, honest newsletter – she writes so well about pandemic life and trying to find the good.
  • The teas I stocked up on in December: one batch from my beloved local MEM Tea, one from the wonderful McNulty’s in Greenwich Village, NYC.
  • Related: my favorite mugs, including an old one from Obvious State and a newish one from Flour.
  • My friend Micha’s lovely, contemplative podcast, The Slow Way.
  • Hannah Jane Parkinson’s quirky, lovely collection The Joy of Small Things, which I found at the marvelous Three Lives – exactly what it sounds like.
  • Texts and calls from my people, and a friend dropping off a bag of groceries the other day.
  • My leggy, lovely geraniums, which are reaching for the light in my kitchen window.
  • Good books, including a stack of library finds and a virtual stack of e-galleys for review.
  • Fun Spotify mixes: jazz and movie soundtracks, folk and Motown, nineties country – whatever I’m in the mood for.

What’s saving your life in these long winter days?

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Last Monday, I threw on my green coat over my pajamas and went out for a walk instead of my usual morning run. My running coach and many other wise people remind me regularly that rest days are important, and I also know I always feel better when I move.

I walked down the hill under grey misty skies, past the community garden with tidy beds mostly dug up for winter. There are a few roses, ragged and papery but still bright red, clinging to a bush up against the fence. I love them in all seasons, but this year I am particularly taken by the fact that they’re hanging on in the face of frosts and bitter winds.

Although I’d forgotten my headphones, I found The Civil Wars’ version of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and played it on repeat as I walked through the park. Every year there’s at least one morning in December when I listen to it over and over again, the haunting harmonies melding perfectly with the lyrics and their longing: O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by Thine advent here. O come, Thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things far and nigh. We used to start every Advent service at my former church with that hymn, the a cappella notes soaring up into the high-ceilinged sanctuary, setting the tone for the time of year when we watch for the light as the world grows dark.

I am where I often find myself in mid-December: slowly tiptoeing into the season, putting up my two Christmas trees (one tiny, one medium-size) but waiting a few days to add ornaments to the branches. I am listening to quiet Christmas music (Kate Rusby, Nichole Nordeman, Sarah MacLachlan) and some brighter melodies (She & Him, Broadway carol renditions on Spotify). I am rehearsing twice a week in a dusty church sanctuary with a group of friends for a Christmas carol performance, and singing those pieces – some familiar, some new – to myself as I wash dishes or walk to work. This year, we are singing the Magnificat (my idea), and those familiar lines weave in and over and around these days that feel both twinkly and edged with deep dark.

Here we are, I say every year in mid-December, mid-Advent: aching and tired and desperate for hope, working hard to make magic and grab hold of joy and balance our daily lives with the special moments of the season. Here we are, still mid-pandemic, still treading carefully but yearning to celebrate, still waiting for Emmanuel to come. Here we are, praying God will be with us, stubbornly nurturing that flame of hope amid wars and rumors of wars, disease and pain. Here we are: weary, anxious, but alive. I want to stay awake, alert to those flickers of hope, attuned to those whispers of joy.

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I blinked and the first week and a half of September sped by. In between working and running, here’s what I have been reading:

Really Truly, Heather Vogel Frederick
Truly Lovejoy’s third adventure finds her going to mermaid academy on Cape Cod, trying to solve a couple of mysteries and dealing with boy-related feelings. I love this cozy series set in small-town New Hampshire; Truly is a great character and I love her big, warm, crazy family.

The Only Black Girls in Town, Brandy Colbert
Seventh-grader and avid surfer Alberta is thrilled when Edie and her mom move in across the street – their small California town is extremely white. The girls become friends, navigate tricky middle school social politics and discover a mystery surrounding a box of old journals in the attic. I loved this warm, thoughtful middle-grade novel.

The Lord God Made Them All, James Herriot
Since watching the All Creatures TV series this winter, I’ve been savoring Herriot’s books again. (Season 2 is coming soon!) This fourth volume continues the stories of his work and family life in Yorkshire, as well as some travel he did as a ship’s vet. Warm and funny and so soothing.

Instructions for Dancing, Nicola Yoon
Evie doesn’t believe in love anymore – not since her dad cheated on her mom and moved out. But then two things happen: she starts seeing visions of how other people’s relationships begin and end, and she meets a boy named X at a ballroom dance studio. A fun, engaging YA novel – I wanted more dance and I didn’t love one of the plot twists, but overall really well done.

The Last Winter: The Scientists, Adventurers, Journeymen, and Mavericks Trying to Save the World, Porter Fox
Avid skier and climatology journalist Fox is worried about the end of winter – and he set out to interview the folks who are measuring, researching and trying to prevent it. A fascinating (though at times dense) travelogue/climate study/memoir about the world’s frozen places and the threat of climate change. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 2).

A Kind of Paradise, Amy Rebecca Tan
Jamie Bunn made a big mistake right as seventh grade ended, so she’s stuck volunteering at the library all summer. But the longer she’s there, the more she comes to love the place – and she learns a few things about moving on from your low moments. A warm, engaging middle-grade story and a love letter to libraries.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

What are you reading?

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My sister bought it for me a while back. I hadn’t worn it much until this winter. But it’s keeping me warm and stylish on these endless chilly days at home. 

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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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