Learning to Be

IMG_1434Normally when you go on vacation you stay for a week or two, at the most.  Rarely do you get three whole weeks to sink into island mode.  It’s amazing what can happen when you strip away all the distractions of normal life- no internet, no cell service, no meetings, errands, or appointments, minimal belongings to attend to (we packed so light and have been staying in a one room cottage).  Just  days spent at the beach, being active and exploring.  Before we left home I turned in a few big projects, which freed me up to not have to work while we traveled.  I knew I would have no time- I’m with the kids from the moment they wake up to the moment I put them to bed- and since we’re all sharing a room, I go to bed when they do.  That’s the funny thing about tropical island time with kids- it is far from relaxing.  But it is amazingly invigorating.

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IMG_1472Our daily routine is simple, but very active, and the boys are sun-drenched and exhausted at the end of each day- to see them so healthy and active is amazing.  In the midst of our time on Tortola, we also had the chance to visit Virgin Gorda with my mom, who came to see us for a week.  That was beyond fabulous.  Beyond.  And the size of the hermit crabs there….well it pretty much blew our minds!

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_MG_1147But here’s what I’ve realized after two weeks on the island- down time makes me a bit squirmy.  I’m wired to be “productive.”  Always working on some project, always juggling things at home and work, always multitasking.   All in all our time here has opened my eyes to what life might look like when the busyness is striped away.  I’m not sure I could stay at this pace forever (I mean, one can only ‘hang out’ for so long before losing one’s mind!) but it has been a wonderful and welcomed change.  I’m hoping to bring back a bit of the island attitude when we return home in a week or so.  I’m hoping I can remember to put down my making/ doing and simply be with my family, without allowing my mind to wander to my to-do list or the unfolded laundry.  I have never wanted a busy life, or a life that the outside world might define as high-powered or important.  I want to live a life of beauty, purpose, faith and love.  It’s nice to step away and be reminded of what’s really important, even if you knew it all along.

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An Island Escape

_MG_0759When I talked of having a stressful year in 2014 much of that had to do with my husband leaving his position at Brown University to strike out on his own.  There were ups and downs, as there is whenever you take a risk and start your own business, but he landed on his feet as we knew he would.  And not only did he land on his feet, but he has been given the opportunity to work on the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands for the next three weeks.  Of course we followed him here.  You can’t pass up an opportunity like that!  And so we are camped out in a small cottage on an organic farm perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean.  It is rustic, and I am slowly making peace with the mosquitoes, spiders and roaches (eek!), but we are having such an adventure.

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_MG_0937We begin our mornings on the porch eating breakfast, feasting on fresh fruit from the farm.  The boys enjoy picking our daily pineapple and bunch of bananas.  Most mornings there is a light rain and we are greeted with a rainbow that soars over the green mountains and lands somewhere out in the ocean.  It is quite magical.

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_MG_0808We then back our bags full of beach toys and snacks and head to one of the many pristine, hidden beaches around the island.  We spend the day crashing in the waves and building sand castles.  It is a simple and beautiful daily routine and it tires the boys right out.  We find ourselves turning in early, around 7pm after a dinner of jerk chicken or grilled fish and veggies.  I’m writing this from a small coffee shop- the only one on the island- as we have no internet or cell service anywhere else.  It is so refreshing, but I did want to take a few minutes and share a slice of sunshine with you.

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2015 Reading List

2014-11-19_0002I had time to read over the holiday…not a lot of time, but a nip here and there.  I’ve made my way through quite a few books since the last time I gave you an update, so I feel a few recommendations and reviews are in order (before I forget because, kids= short term memory loss!).  I’m not going to give you the plot overview for each, as I feel you can easily read a synopsis on Amazon, or whatnot…I’ll just stick to my opinions.  During the last few weeks of November, I read the above four.  All of them were chosen from your recommendations.  I’ll start with my favorites:

The Snow Child: This was one of my favorite reads of the year.  The book is so well written that it practically whisks you away to the Alaskan frontier when it was first being settled by homesteaders.  The couple at the focus of a book long for a child, and when the one that they build out of snow seemingly comes to life, it takes them on a magical and heartfelt journey.  I simply loved every single thing about this book and would highly, highly recommend it.

The Invention of Wings: This was another favorite for one simple reason: the characters.  Sue Monk Kidd brings her characters to life in such a way that you mourn them when the book is over.  This book left me speechless with its spanning, historical plot- a brilliant read.

We Are Water: Whoa…this is a heavy book.  Perhaps I am just in a place in my life right now where I want to read books that have a redeeming quality about them.  I don’t need a super happy ending where everyone hugs it out and flies away on a rainbow… just a conclusion that leaves you with a bit of hope.  This was much too dark and ultimately sad, for my taste, though Lamb tries to end the book on a hopeful note.  Too little too late for my taste!

Astrid & Veronika: So many of you loved this book that it made me really, really want to love it.  I tried, I really did!  The writing was just beautiful, but ultimately, the story did not hold my interest.  I kept waiting to get into it, and although I made it to the end, it never really caught a hold of me, and I never fell for the characters.

2015-01-04_0002Next up, during the month of December, I read these four.  I’ll come right out and say it…good reads, but not at the top of my list for the year.

Astonish Me: This was my favorite of the bunch.  I really enjoyed Shipstead’s first book, Seating Arrangements, so I was looking forward to her second book.  I find reviewers to be especially harsh when it comes to a popular author’s second book- and I’ll admit that the Amazon reviews initially turned me off from reading Astonish Me.  I’m glad I gave it a second chance.  The book follows the life of a ballerina, and I really felt that Shipstead nailed it; taking us inside the hidden world of professional ballet.  I enjoyed her characters as well, especially the relationship between the main character and her husband.  I found it fascinating to watch it unfold.

Small Blessings: A very sweet story- not overly intellectual or complicated.  I would save this for a beach read, and enjoy it with a cocktail.  Fun and well-written, the story moves along swiftly.

Me Before You: I liked this book, I really did.  But I felt the ending was a bit cheesy and the plot a bit predictable.  What I did love about it was the relationship between the main characters- it warmed your heart to watch it evolve.  Here’s the synopsis…but I’ll warn you, this pretty much gives you the whole plot line, so although I liked the book, I never like to be able to see the entire plot laid out before I even begin.  “Before Louisa met Will, her plans didn’t reach beyond their tiny English town. Will was used to closing multimillion-dollar deals, blew off steam scaling mountains, leaping from planes, and enjoying exquisite women–until an accident left him paralyzed and seriously depressed. When his mother hires Lou to keep his spirits up, he meets her awkward overtures with caustic contempt, but she’s tenacious and oddly endearing. Their fondness grows into something deeper, gaining urgency when she realizes his determination to end his life, and her efforts to convince him of its value throw her own bland ambitions into question.”

The Cold Song: This book is dark, and lives up to its title as very cold.  The story follows a Norwegian family, a quirky family where each member is filled with anger and secrets.  The story builds up to the summer where the family’s nanny disappears, and how the event unravels each member of the family.  It is a brisk read, with wonderful prose.  I liked it…but I’m not really sure it belongs on the list of 100 Notable Books of 2014 by the NYT, which is from where I took the recommendation.

2015-01-04_0001The six titles above are next on my list, culled from a variety of book lists and recommendations…but I really feel like starting my year with a gripping and suspenseful mystery (and yes, dark…I like my mysteries dark and gritty).  There’s something about curling up with a chilling mystery book on a dark, cold winters night.  I’d love any and all recommendations.  Who are your favorite mystery/ crime writers- gritty mysteries, great writing…give me some good stuff here!

I’d also love to hear what’s on your reading list for 2015.  I came across this reading list this morning, which looks very solid.  I’m going to spend some time diving into these recommendations next.

2014: A Look Back

_MG_6077Happy New Year!  I hope you welcomed 2015 in style.  I was in bed, wearing a ratty bathrobe and sound asleep by midnight but we did enjoy a big family dinner where we all got dressed up and ate some fabulous food.  All in all, it was perfect.  I hadn’t planned on looking back at the year that was…but I thought that such a year required a bit of reflection and as I scrolled back through my posts, month by month, it occurred to me that 2014 was quite a year.  Settle in…this is a length one!

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Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 1.59.02 PMJanuary: We kicked off the year by spending a month in India and Bhutan.  It was truly the trip of a lifetime and remains my most cherished memory of the year.  When I returned home, I launched my first pop-up shop, which was super fun.  That led to selling my wares at Squam and another pop-up shop later in the year.  I’d love to do more of these in 2015!

_MG_7396February: We renovated our cold, dark attic and turned it into a light-filled studio where I spend my working hours writing, photographing, sewing and knitting.  This place is my sanctuary.

_MG_8010March: I finished my first real sweater, Antler, with short rows and shaping and all those knitterly things that I have come to know and love through the course of this year.  This sweater remains my greatest knitting achievement and my most worn handmade piece.

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_MG_9210April: We spent the most heavenly ten days in Dominican Republic with my parents and younger brother.  It was the perfect break from the freezing spring that we were experiencing back in Rhode Island.  Luckily, we made it home in time to catch the blossoms.  The weeks where our beautiful town is in bloom are always some of my favorite of the year.

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PROMO-IMAGE-PITCH-PERFECT-THE-ART-WIDE-700-WEBMay: I made my yearly pilgrimage to Brimfield Antique Show.  I think I bought $2 worth of quilt scraps, but my favorite part is taking pictures of all the interesting things you find at the show.  It is always sensory overload, but I can’t help being pulled back year after year.  I also kept busy teaching Pitch Perfect, which was such an amazing experience.  I will be teaching the course again this year, online through Squam.  I can’t wait to tell you more about it soon!

_MG_0210June: Ahhh, June.  The weather is finally warm, and I take my yearly getaway to Squam.  I always look forward to my time here, and every year I am so grateful that I get to be a part of this amazing community of makers.

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_MG_2646July: My most favorite month of the year!  Every year we spend the entire month in Northern Michigan with my family (I even wrote a guide to the area here).  It is a true old-fashioned summer; swimming in the lake, playing on the beach, visiting the dunes, riding bikes into town for ice cream, spending time in nature, watching my boys running wild and free with the kids along our dirt lane, learning to water ski, eating our weight in cherries….the stuff of life.  Northern Michigan, specifically our family cottage on Torch Lake, is my happy place.  And how lucky is Vik that he gets to celebrate his birthday “Up North?”  It is my most favorite place in the whole world and we are so darn lucky to spend our summers there.

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_MG_3163August: It is all about the garden in August.  All the good stuff is ready to harvest, including cherry tomatoes, my favorite.  You can feel summer beginning to wane in August, and that is always bittersweet, but August holds such beauty that it is worth staying in the moment.

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_MG_5473September: What a busy month, full of new experiences.  Vijay started school, which was very tough emotionally for both of us but has turned out to be the best thing we could have ever hoped for.  I started contributing to Gardenista, which has been such a privilege and has given me the chance to explore some amazing gardens and shops.  My husband and I went on an overnight trip to Vermont, our first time as a couple ever away from the kids for a night.  And I made a quick trip to Squam, arriving just in time for the fair and a day of relaxing.  Yes, we were on the move in September! I also made reading a priority again, and you all chimed in with amazing suggestions.  I’ve been making my way through the list and have yet to be disappointed.  Expect plenty more book reviews in 2015.

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_MG_7267October: As we settled into our new school routine, which consists of preschool on Tuesday and Thursday morning, we also celebrated Vijay’s fourth birthday with all of his sweet classmates, and the local fire station.  It was a PARTY!

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_MG_8634November: What a gorgeous fall we were blessed with in Rhode Island.  It was sunny and sparkling almost every day, and the leaves were absolutely riotous.  I paid a visit to Tower Hill Botanic Garden for Gardenista and had the most amazing time wondering around their fall gardens.  I also finished my favorite sewn wardrobe addition…this quilted vest from The Purl Bee.

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_MG_0093December: Here I thought December was such a slow and peaceful month, but we traveled to Chicago for Thanksgiving (returning the 1st of December), then I took off for Martha’s Vineyard to finish up a few book details, and after decking out our own small tree, we packed up and headed to Michigan for Christmas and the New Year.

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sewnAll in all, it was an amazing year.  In addition to all of our travels and all the excitement, it was the year that I felt my work life finally dropped into place.  I was hard at work on my second book, which is so near and dear to my heart, I contributed regularly to Edible Rhody and Gardenista, I taught Pitch Perfect, and launched a few pop-up shops.  2015 is going to be filled with even greater accomplishments…I can feel it and it makes me so very excited.  2014 was also the year of making…between sewing and knitting I pretty much have made a complete wardrobe, and with each piece I gain a better understanding of my fit and personal style.  Above are just a few of my favorite makes of 2014.

I try to keep this a place of positivity and beauty, so it is interesting to scroll through these posts and see so many of the harder emotional things missing.  But it is also a beautiful reminder of how much we have to be thankful for and how unbelievably blessed we are as a family.  If 2015 is half as gorgeous, we’re in for a great year!  And after that look back, I’m excited to move forward.

Merry Christmas

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_MG_0271I wanted to take a moment and express my sincere gratitude: thank you for reading all year long and for being a part of the conversation.  This space means so much to me…more than I can put into words.  I wish you the merriest Christmas and happiest New Year.

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Preparing for Christmas

_MG_0093The holidays haven’t felt rushed at all this year, instead they feel slow and sweet.  We decorated our little Charlie Brown tree as a family (only one ornament casualty, which is truly a Christmas miracle). Out of all the trees in the lot, Vijay picked the smallest, cutest little tree.  It was the perfect size for the boys to decorate and once I had strung the lights and garland, they handled the rest.  We put candles in all our windows and at night, when the candles are glowing and the tree twinkling, it feels pretty magical in this little home of ours.

_MG_9709We’re keeping things really simple this year in terms of gifts- the boys are getting hockey skates and perhaps a few books and little stocking stuffers, and for the rest of our immediate family, we’re continuing the tradition of giving Pinhole Press calenders, which everyone requests year after year.  As much as I love crafting, it feels good to have lifted the self-imposed pressure to make something handmade for everyone on my list.  _MG_0110We used Tiny Prints this year for our Christmas cards, and I was immensely proud of myself for finally organizing all of our friends and family into an address book that I uploaded right to the website for printing labels.  Why oh why did it take me so long to do this?  Not having to write so many addresses by hand- priceless!  I’m looking forward to these next few weeks rolling out slowly, giving all of us time to savor the holiday spirit without feeling rushed or pressed.

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Martha’s Vineyard

_MG_9883I found myself making the quick trip to Martha’s Vineyard this weekend to work on a few last minute details related to Little Bites.  It was bone-chilling cold when I arrived, after having been delayed for a few hours because it was too windy for the ferry to embark.  After working through the afternoon, we began losing the light at 3 o’clock.  I had forgotten how early the dark comes during these winter months.  By 4 o’clock the sun was setting, igniting the sky and dancing over the churning waves.  I quickly made my way out to the end of the island to capture the sunset against the working docks of Menemsha, a small fishing village.  I love the patina of the worn fisherman sheds, and the way the boats and all their rigging look against the setting sun.  I tried so hard to capture the way the sunset lit each surface with a different light ranging from pink to twilight blue.  But I’m not sure you can really capture the sunset and the light as seen with your eyes.  The raw wonder of it all is a bit lost in translation….  It will most likely be quite some time before I see this Island again…work on the book is just about done, and it will be off to the printer soon.  I will sorely miss my seasonal weekend escapes to this breathtaking place.  It’s so nice to slow down every now and then…if only for a sunset.

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Chicago

_MG_9309Chicago has had a hold on me for years, ever since I left it for Providence back in 2005.  Returning annually for Thanksgiving has always been bittersweet.  I always take a stroll past my old apartment, and the various places I waitresses, and I take an El ride since I probably spent more time on that damn train than anywhere else in the city.  This year was different- I had a great time exploring the city, but honestly it didn’t pull me back in at all.  Perhaps I’m simply growing up, or perhaps I’m done romanticizing my early twenties.  Or…most likely, I’ve settled into a happy place once again with Providence.  Whatever the case, I was happy to come back home, happy to drive the familiar streets while dropping Vij at preschool, and practically ecstatic to grab a coffee from Blue State, where the barista knows just how I like it.  All that being said…back to Chicago.  It was great fun, even if it was freezing cold and the kids preferred swimming in the hotel pool over every other activity!

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_MG_9291We didn’t do as much as I had hoped, mainly due to the freezing temps and the fact that both boys caught a cold and pretty much wanted nothing to do with anything besides the hotel hot tub!  But I did get out for a few naptime walks, where I took in a few of my favorite sites and shops.  Above is the ceiling in the Chicago Cultural Center, which is simply breathtaking.  Worth a stop if you’re in the Millennium Park area.  A few other favorites include P.O.S.H. (an adorable, eclectic shop that goes all out for Christmas), A New Leaf (the most amazing floral shop I’ve ever come across), and Heritage General Store (a hybrid between a coffee shop and bike repair shop).  I tend to visit the same places every single year, and could probably use a few recommendations to spice things up.  Does anyone have cute shops/ great restaurants/ fabulous coffee shops or other cool things to recommend in Chicago.  To try and find a concise guide to this stuff online is like panning for gold, and whose got that kind of time!

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_MG_9342(all of the above are from A New Leaf)

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_MG_9196(all of the above are from P.O.S.H.)

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Giving Thanks

15628488030_e2cf3ae38d_oToday I am feeling thankful for the year we’ve had so far.  It has been one of the most emotionally difficult years in so many ways, but it has forced us to stretch and grow (uncomfortable as it may be) while we figure out what’s next for this little family of ours.  I have battled with my love for Providence, and feeling overwhelmed by work.  I’ve learn to let go as Vijay ventured off to school for the first time.  We’ve had major house repairs that took us by surprise, and cost us a pretty penny.  And there have been personal battles that threw us all for a loop.  But as the year begins to draw to a close, I can’t help but feel that so much of the stress is behind us for now.  I remember complaining to my mom that, “I just want it all to end.”  It being the stress, unwelcome surprises, and upheaval.  She just looked at me and said, “It will end when life ends.”  True enough (though not quite the sympathy I was looking for in the moment!).  Life is messy and unpredictable.  But beauty comes from broken places, and how are we to appreciate that beauty if we haven’t been through the darkness?

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15789693546_d1ce059ba2_oIn just a few hours, Vik and I will join Vijay at his preschool, and along with all of his classmates and their families, we’ll be treated to a Harvest Feast that the kids cooked themselves.  Pumpkin muffins, apple sauce, vegetable soup, homemade bread; they’ve been hard at work.  Vijay is so excited that he’s been counting down for weeks.  “How many more days until the Harvest Feast?” he asks every morning.

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15627540839_d719ffaa81_oAfter his Harvest Feast, we’ll board a plane to Chicago, my favorite city, where we’ll spend Thanksgiving surrounded by family.  I’m feeling very thankful indeed.  Life is messy, as I’m continually learning, and the house will always need cleaning, and the laundry will always need folding, and the to-do list will never end.  But these are the signs of a life well lived, a life that is full of love, and chaos and laughter, and most importantly little people.  Oh, those little people- that’s where it’s at.  I hope you and yours have a blessed Thanksgiving, and I’ll see you back here next week with pictures and stories to share from the Windy City.

(pictures from my recent Gardenista article on Tower Hill Botanic Garden, the most magical place)

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A Reading Update

2014-11-19_0003I went on a binge this past week.  A reading binge, that is.  It’s like I couldn’t put my book down, even when the dishes, laundry and cooking (not to mention the boys!) were calling to me.  I’ve been single parenting quite a bit while my husband travels for work, so when he gets home, I retreat to the couch for a bit of down time.  Minutes turn into hours and before I know it, I’ve finished a book in one sitting.  When I get up out of my stupor I feel completely relaxed, and at the same time invigorated by the beauty of the story I just read.  You guys know your books- I have been relying solely on your recommendations, and I have not been steered wrong once.  I am slowly working my way through the list…savoring each read.  What’s amazing is that they are all different- mystery, YA, established authors, new writers- but they are all amazing.  I’m back to the library for my books now- with my new addiction I just couldn’t afford to keep up the bookstore thing! I’m no book reviewer, and you can easily read the blurb for each of these online, but here are a few thoughts…

Eleanor and Park, my favorite of the bunch, is a YA novel, but so beautifully written that it will take you right back to the awkward, painful, and often heart-breaking high school years.

The Furies is also set in a high school, where the students are behaviorally challenged, and their teacher, Alex, is recovering from her own traumatic incident.  A fast paced, thrilling read.  I liked it quite a bit, and sped through it, but it didn’t touch me, like Eleanor and Park.

Delancey is Molly Wizenbergs latest book, which picks up where A Homemade Life left off.  If you love food, and you’ve always wondered what goes into opening a restaurant, this book is for you.  I appreciated that it did not glamorize the process, but kept things very real; from the emotions, to the amount of physical labor and financial strain involved in starting up a business.  Basically, this book has me dying to jump on a plane and head to Seattle to soak up the food scene (it sounds incredible!).

Still Life is the first of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Mysteries.  I love mysteries, though I like mine a bit more on the dark and gory side (that makes me sound weird, but whatever, it’s the truth!).  That being said, I loved the characters, and the setting; a small, picturesque town south of Montreal.  I’m definitely hooked enough to check out the next in the series (I believe there are 10 total).

And now, waiting for me on my nightstand….

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