Walking to Know a Place

This morning, I put on my cheap white Old Navy sneakers and headed out the door of our new home.

When I moved to Somerville, it was the beginning of a beautiful summery September. I walked everywhere. I quickly learned that the bike path, while not faster than College Ave, at least offered more beauty and quiet. I peered into shop windows. I wandered into a vegan taco shop (accidently) and was sorely disappointed by my cheeseless/meatless taco. I discovered I didn’t have to go to the artsy, hipster (and, ultimately, quite depressing) coffee shop in Davis, but that delicious coffee was around every corner. I learned that cutting through Nathan Tufts park was the best way to prolong a good phone call or enjoy the last rays of a setting sun.

When I moved to this new town, with its rich history and fascinating blend of socio-economic statuses and educations, it was the cold, snowy month of November. Gabe and I got married Thanksgiving weekend, and even though it was a beautiful and fun celebration (there were points in the evening when he would lean over to me at our little table for two and whisper: I wish we could live this over and over again), it didn’t leave much time for settling in. Christmas flew upon us in a whirlwind, and I was suddenly asked to split holidays and change my ideas of how things go. By the time the New Year started, I had only tried two restaurants in our new hometown, and for this pretend-Bostonian, that is shocking.

I didn’t take a single walk.

I drove to the post office, the town hall. I drove to the famed sports bar/restaurant for a buffalo chicken calzone (not even close to Mike’s). I drove to the YMCA, worked out, and drove home. I drove to the DMV and sat groaning for over an hour, only to be told that I needed to change my name with Social Security first. I gripped the edge of the counter, leaned backward and said through my teeth: “I am not mad at you, but I am very mad.”

Not only had I moved to a new state, but that state was not so sure it wanted me.

It’s taking me awhile to settle in because I’ve been confined to my car. Or I’ve been in our condo, trying to set up our home in such a way that we want to spend time here. We’ve arranged furniture, cooked new meals, cleaned the bathrooms. I’ve been so consumed with teaching and life changes, that I haven’t actually settled in.

So today, I emptied the dishwasher. I prayed. I walked downtown. I looked at the buildings I passed. I smiled at the runners (I am still in awe). I met a high school friend for coffee, and she connected me with a friend who is involved with a local church Gabe and I are considering. I drank a hot coffee and tried to explain my experience with the Church, with church, with God, in a few sentences. It felt new and interesting to do this, partly because so many times I talk to the same people who have known my my whole life, or at least my whole adult life.

I walked over the river to the library and got my library card. That’s how I know it’s official. I checked out two books, partly to show the librarian I mean business.

—     —     —

As you can see, I’ve decided not to stop blogging. I seriously, seriously considered it. I went over all the reasons it may be time to move on. I had a few good ones.

But then I set up my desk.

[the imperfection of the creative process — I couldn’t resist a little filter action, though]

It is the largest desk I’ve ever had. Gabe and I found it at a thrift shop and picked it up with my father’s truck two days later. I am still not using it to its fullest potential, but I have a lamp. I have plants. I have a candle.

There’s something about this desk that begs me to write at it, just like this new town begs me to walk its sidewalks.

Discover it for who it is. Bring to it who I am.

That’s what I plan to do here, as well.

An Offering

IMG_1467I am walking along roads I know well — well enough to anticipate dips and turns without thinking. I am walking in the slanted light of morning, and the air smells like spring.

I pass an older woman in purple slacks. She carries a purse, so I know she isn’t out on a leisurely stroll like I am. She has a purpose, a place. I have a purpose, too, but it’s not quite so tangible.

There aren’t many places I feel closer to God than when I am walking. Walks are my response to uncertainty, to fear, to wrestling. I walked around and around on 9/11, and again the day of the Boston Marathon bombing. I walked as graduation approached and I mourned the loss of my little life at college, and I walked the day I realized I would not be able to take that job with AmeriCorps back in 2012.

As I go, I talk to God. I slip in and out of actual conversation with him and conversations with others in my life. I shape thoughts and how I feel and how best to convey these things to other people. But God listens the whole time, and I feel his shaping of my words, too.

I stop by the stream and sit on the crooked cement slab, watching the water flow from under the road. It foams and swirls and swirls together, one floating foam into another, until they converge and slip over the rocks and down the stream.


I think about how we are all “others” and how this is scary.

That seeing and accepting another’s otherness is what community is about.

No one drives by to see me in my striped hoody by the stream, and I know what waits for me on my return home: Bonhoeffer and YA literature, a couch made soft with blankets and the sound of the neighbor children racing their bikes in the street.

I sit for a moment longer, and I want to sing to the Lord. I want to sing a song of trust and faith, a faith that covers and holds up all the brokenness and sadness I sometimes feel.

I want to sing, but no song comes. I wait. I am open.

I want to sing.

But there, by the stream on that quiet road, with birds chirping in the weeping willow, no song comes.

At first, I am concerned. Where is my song? I want to have an offering, but my hand — my throat — are empty.

And then I think that maybe my offering is too much me and not enough listening.

Too much sound and not enough quiet.

Too much struggling for answers and not enough allowance of questions.

And so I sit a moment longer, get up, walk home.

An offering of listening.

Good Things #16

Music. Okay, I know this one isn’t new either. (I turn up a song on the radio, say, “Oh my gosh, I love this song!” and my little brother rolls his eyes and says, “Cath, this was big like six months ago.” Well, Harry, deal.) To add to my appreciation of this song: we sang it around a bonfire at the woodland wedding I attended this summer. Picture this: all of us wearing fern crowns at a cabin in the woods with a stream rushing by. This song will help you picture it.

Books. If you’ve even been in the same room as an education major, you’ve probably heard of the book The Skillful Teacher. Well, that’s what I’m spending my time with this week (getting ready for the second weekend of my grad class). It’s not too shabby, either. I even implemented a few ideas in the classroom already. Thank you, Saphier, Haley-Speca, and Gower. (I apologize for the blur.)skillfulTaking your contacts out. Okay, am I the only one who loves this? Whenever I wear contacts, I can’t wait to rip them out of my eyes. (Too graphic?)

Blogs. I’ve been following Bethany Suckrow over at She Writes and Rights for awhile now. She wrote this post, “Explicit Realities, Explicit Language,” and it struck a chord with me. It deals with the experience and expression of sexual abuse and how euphemisms just don’t cut it. I’m sure there are other sides to the issue, but she has a lot of good things to say.

Homemade beeswax candles. They are amazing. They burn so much brighter than you’d think, and they smell like honey and sunlight. We’ve also been known to make candles out of such things as turkeys, frogs, and skeps…


Children’s Musical. Yes, the time is here. We auditioned for “Aladdin, Jr.” this past weekend and rehearsals start Monday. Kids ages 5-13, faces beaming, singing their hearts out in Agrabah. I kinda wish I could be in it…

Hiking. I am eagerly awaiting a fall hike this afternoon. I envision me, somehow miraculously stronger than I’ve ever been, ascending a mountain far larger than I’ve ever hiked before. In reality, we will probably be walking more than hiking, and I will be just as un-strong as I am at this moment.

And I leave you with one last song. Enjoy your Wednesday!

Good Things #13: Blackberries and Wine

We were walking home from a wine tasting. It was around 6:30 – half an hour past the time they closed – and the sun was still bright. There they were, dangling in greenness along the road, little deep purple berries.

Who cares about poison ivy?

We filled our plastic containers to the top (I filled mine a little over the top and they spilled, rolling along the pavement), and ran back to the house to get more. The berries were everywhere and I couldn’t believe they were untouched. How many children had walked by without venturing into the patch? How many parents had scolded the children who would have?

By the time we were done, we had roughly six quarts, and refrigerators aren’t made for holding so many.

What do you do with six quarts of blackberries at 10:30 at night?

You concoct ways to sell them the next morning at the farmers’ market.

It wasn’t until I stood in the sunlight Sunday morning, the berries proudly displayed in handmade paper-plate-and-staple-pints, that I saw the scratches all over my body. Arms and legs pink and scraped; the thorns had hurt while I was picking, but I’d hoped nothing would come of them. Here I was at the market, looking a lot more like I did when I was seven and eight, little bruises and scrapes on my summer-time calves.

This is the dichotomy of my life right now: I went to a fancy wine tasting and tried five different reds, and then scrambled through blackberry bushes like a child, gleeful at our find, slipping and nearly falling down the steep ditch along the side of the road.

I was still wearing the Ann Taylor Loft dress I’d worn to the tasting. It got caught in the thorns and is probably worse for the wear.

The Good Thing for this day? Feeling okay with switching roles in a matter of seconds.

I am a teacher.

I do midnight runs to the 24-hour McDonald’s.

I sing at weddings.

I dance like a crazy person during the reception.

I long for my own home where I can share my homegrown food and love.

I can’t imagine being anywhere than where I am right now.

I smile and sell honey to strangers.

I trip and drop a box filled with jars, the honey oozing through the bricks, the glass shimmering in the sun.

[He gave the rest of the blackberries to the vendor next to us. Her eyes lit up with joy as I watched from my car. My sister and I finished ours in a blackberry-peach sangria. I’ll probably go back in a day or two because jam is delicious and the idea of them rotting off the stems haunts me.]

Small Town Summer

What do you do when you realize old-fashioned doughnuts are the best?

You eat them.

It is the first week of summer vacation, and I’ve begun a terrible and beautiful habit. This past winter, a little cafe opened downtown. It’s so little that there are only three tables inside and two tables outside. They serve sandwiches and other things, but I go for the doughnuts. I’ve tried a few kinds: old-fashioned plain, maple-bacon (wow, sugar blast!), and a sort of puff-doughnut. But the one I keep coming back to is the old-fashioned cinnamon-sugar.

Yesterday morning, I walked down Main Street in the sun. I was alone, so I carried my journal, and I thought about all the times I’ve walked down that street growing up. I looked down the brand new development that’s engulfed my old woods, and I took a deep breath. Things change, I told myself, and who knows? Maybe those houses will be filled with children who discover life like I did, even if their woods will be a different shape.

I passed the street where dear family friends live, with memories of Man Hunt and swimming and screaming in fun. I passed the Richdale, notorious for its ugliness in our sweet town (and where I routinely purchased Snickers and Coke growing up). Past the graveyard and the old church I used to go to. Past the white house whose kids I still think of as tiny but who graduated this past spring. I hit the cafe faster than I thought and was a little dismayed to find one of the tables outside surrounded by three boisterous women (one of whom I used to know) – how was I supposed to write?!

Doughnut and iced coffee in hand, I sat down and took out my journal. I broke off pieces of doughnut, the kind with crispy edges and fluffy insides, and I thought about how a stranger had said to me recently, “Your hometown’s all backroads – no offense!” and I had looked at her quizzically and said, “Why would I take offense? That’s what I like.”, and it was uncomfortable, but only for me because she wasn’t aware enough to know what I thought of her.

I sipped my coffee and listened to the women pronounce “Elaina” like “Elainer,” “Linda” like “Linder,” and even though a part of me cringes at this botching of a beautiful sound, I secretly enjoy hearing it. I wondered if I would run into Eric of the white beard and full laugh and David of the middle-aged sweet arrogance and too-many-margaritas again. The week before they’d been sitting at the table next to me, their National Grid vans parked on the street, and we had been far too close to each other not to say hello. “Hello” turned into a twenty minute conversation.

[“We’re here every day!” they said. “We’ll be seeing you this summer!”]

I wrote and watched for about an hour, and I packed up only when I begrudgingly admitted I had ESL lesson plans to write. As I threw out my trash and headed to the sidewalk, a National Grid van drove by, and Eric’s white beard shown in the sun. He waved a big wave and said, “Catherine!”, and I smiled.

There is an ease to small-town living that I don’t know if I could live without.

The city is like…


The city is like a wide open field. A weekend cracks open the world to me and reminds me that life is big. I am small and life is big and because of grace I am full.

A small apartment that will never be mine is brimming with love and friendship. Just a few hours sprawled on couches, sprawled on floors, and mutual friends make comfort. We open the windows because even in the March coldness the heat is too strong, and the purple curtains flutter against the walls.

We talk about Lent and its strangeness and we rejoice at its shaping of us. Mine has been less than amazing – but I hold even that up as a sacrifice. I’ve decided it can’t all be emotion; I can’t always be in the throes of feeling. Praise God for that.

It wasn’t easy getting down here. I got lost, mapquest serving as much as a hindrance as a help. I got turned around and turned around and when I finally met up with K I couldn’t even smile. But it wore off quickly. We read each other’s minds: So I was thinking we would drop our stuff off and head out for dinner. Great, me too. And then get coffee before the cello recital. Great, me too. 

And we hit the town with our black and brown boots and feel free.

We sit in a Starbucks window, watching the lights and people passing by. I tell you you’re terrible for redeeming a free treat coupon and only getting tap water, but that doesn’t stop me from splitting the brownie with you. A man stands on the brick, smoking. He leans against the iron railing and watches the cars. Our faces are reflected in the glass, and I say, This is our life, and you laugh at me. But it’s true, and we are blessed. We are sitting right now in a coffee shop and there is nowhere we are supposed to be and nothing else we are supposed to be doing.

Fifteen minutes on a church’s cold stone steps and we laugh because sometimes it’s the only answer to the bizarrity of life (I know, ‘bizarrity’ is not a word, but that’s what it is). Three friends linking arms because it’s warmer that way, and that’s one of the reasons I’ll never really fit in – things are too posh and sophisticated and modern. We part at the street-corner, promising to see each other soon, but none of us really know what will happen.

The shower is running and I am writing and Sunday stretches before me empty and full.

This week of Tech Week and Alice in Wonderland and Good Friday and Easter seems far off.

[The cello rises over the room full of people, and I am transported back to four years spent studying practicing singing. Nostalgia fills me until I am dreaming of both those years and the years to come. The Dvorak makes me want to dance, the Beethoven makes me want to read, and the Barber makes me want to fall in love.]

Trying to Beat the Winter Doldrums

IMG_1342A rainy afternoon in one of my favorite towns with some of my favorite people.

We made two coffee stops, because that’s how we roll. It’s called “I have a giftcard to this place,” and “But I want to go to this cozy, independent coffee shop!”, so instead of fighting we did the only logical thing: we went to both.





IMG_1336Cousin-love. A shout-out to my college-stuck cousin. It’s weird – I kept counting wrong when we were making plans. It just feels wrong without her.



My mocha was BY FAR the best drink at the table. Sorry, guys.

We wandered aimlessly around Banana Republic. So much pretty! I made a mental list for later…


It was rain-snowing, so our walk down the brick walkways was short.


[Isn’t this great?! If I ever open a store, I’ll probably stress out more about the name than anything. I should start brainstorming right now. Except it kind of depends on what type of store we’re talking about.]

On the ride home, we listened to Fleet Foxes, John Mayer, and the Lumineers. It was a good day, even if we didn’t see a ray of sunshine.

Blizzard of ’13

The brothers and I went for a night walk in the storm. We used to do this a lot when we were little – bundle up in layers and wander around in the glowy-darkness that only happens when it snows.

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I liked it better without the flash, even though the images are dark.IMG_1253

This picture looks like it could’ve come from the 1950s, with the Coca-cola machine and the clock.
IMG_1256 Kindly posing.

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The plows were the only vehicles out. They probably thought we were crazy. And we were, a little bit, singing Neil Young and Jim Croce songs at the tops of our lungs.

By the end of it, our cheeks were burning and we couldn’t look straight ahead because our eyeballs were getting sliced. “We’re like Laura Ingalls!” I said, laughing. Except, I realized, she would’ve thought we were pretty stupid, choosing to be out in a blizzard. Probably would’ve shaken her head and muttered something about 21st century wackos.

[Did I mention we had a snow day? I think I was more excited than the kids, waiting for the notification, staying up too late because hope is strong. And it paid off! A whole Friday to fill!]

~     ~     ~

This is the world I woke up to.

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I love it when the glass gets covered in icy snow.IMG_1300 IMG_1298 IMG_1297 IMG_1296 IMG_1293

Spending my morning in front of the fire. It’s quiet, at least til everyone else gets up. Trying to make a dent in “Cost of Discipleship,” but it’s not exactly a quick read. I guess it goes with the territory – “cost” doesn’t sound easy, and neither does “discipleship,” really.

Writing a letter to Switzerland, wondering what the world looks like from there, trying to share what’s been going on in this corner of it.

For someone who was ready for spring, I am certainly enjoying this wintery place.


My 24th Christmas

Christmas Checklist

Christmas Eve Service. Went to two this year (Presbyterian and Anglican services are VERY different). Candles and “Silent Night” and beautiful bells harolding Christ’s birth.

Hospitality. My friend from college who was too far from home came over Christmas Eve. Two nights in our crazy house, a long day of family traditions, and good talks on the couch with rooibos tea, a cozy fire, and the lit tree. It added a new dimension to hospitality, to sharing our blessings.

Christmas morning. Stockings and gifts among the seven of us, waiting for the aunts and uncles and cousins and grandmas. It was a slower Christmas this year (due, in part, to the fact that Anglican Christmas Eve services don’t get out til 12:15am…), but that was a good way to ease into the day.


Christmas walk. Because things were a little behind, we had an hour before the big dinner. The cousins and friend and uncle and the little dog Sammy walked around town. We delivered a gift of honey to some family friends and talked about all the silly things we did before we knew enough to be embarrassed.

Christmas dinner. I could cut the roast beef with a butter knife. My dad made the oatmeal bread. Enough said.

Games. We played our traditional Trivial Pursuit game. It was obvious that Dad’s team was going to win (wow. shocker.), but somehow, miraculously, our team pulled ahead. There was much rejoicing.


Cousin picture. The six of us piled up and took pictures. It wasn’t perfect (the adults in our family are still working out the kinks of all this new-fangled technology), but it was worth it.


Oh, and please note: my brother is wearing the sweater I knit him. It took almost a whole year (because seriously, it gets a little boring knitting round after round of gray), but I couldn’t have given it to a more appreciative guy.

Another reason this year was great: it was my friend’s first (semi) white Christmas.

Christmas number 24, you were pretty sweet.

Pre-Christmas Hike

When people ask me, I will tell them we climbed all the way to the summit. This will be followed quickly by, “Well, actually, we only made it to the warming hut a bit below.” (My conscience often beats out my desire to tell a good story.)

I will tell them that a sunrise climb in December is the best idea ever.

I will tell them that everyone should do it at least once.


(our hiding spot from the groomers)

If they dig a little deeper though, I might tell them that there were times I thought I wouldn’t make it any further. That when I walked through a snow-covered stretch of running water, filling my boots, I wasn’t sure if I would even start the climb. That when I fell through the snow along the tree line WAY ABOVE MY KNEE, I pulled a muscle that hurt with every step.


But what I’ll also tell them, is that when I fell behind the group (which was every single time), they stopped and waited. When I apologized left and right for being slow, for being out of breath, they told me not to worry, that it wasn’t a race, that we’d all make it to the top together.

And I’ll tell them that when I sat down 3/4 of the way up to take my boots off, change my icy socks, and tuck warmers in the arches of my feet, two of them held lights up for me to see, while another held my backpack.

That we toasted our climb with champagne and peach rings and wrote our initials on the wall of the hut.


That I gazed down over the valley and surrounding mountains and thought, God made this. It was in his mind, and he made it.

I’ll tell them I was overwhelmed and proud and grateful. That I looked at the three of them, my climbing companions, and praised God for the mountains.