A fall Friday

Pumpkin

Despite my static-filled silence, friends, I promise I’m a busy little bee back here in my solitude. Last weekend featured a surprise leopard-themed 75th birthday party for my grandma, who seemed shocked indeed, as well as a visit to one of our favorite local parks. Though the leaves weren’t too impressive, it was nice to walk around and soak up a little nature before winter gets here.

Winter. I shudder.

Saturday will be another fun family day as we celebrate a dear cousin’s baby shower, and I am determined — determined, I tell you! — to get through some of the remaining boxes currently littering our office and basement. One of the spare rooms upstairs has also become a dumping ground for my childhood memorabilia, and I have the sinking suspicion I should, like, do something about that.

I don’t know.

The house has gotten away from me. We stopped by our condo this week to just check things over (still looking for a renter/buyer, God help us), and I swear I wanted to fold myself up into one of its rooms and stay there. I love the house, don’t get me wrong — it’s amazing, and it’s ours — but the condo was cozy and warm. Comfortable. Familiar.

In many ways, I still feel like a kid who somehow wormed her way into owning property . . . it doesn’t seem conceivable that Spencer and I are actual adults with actual bills and an actual house, as opposed to the cute apartment we shared. I feel completely old enough to have an apartment, but a three-story structure I’m responsible for maintaining? All those toilets for the cleaning?

Yeah. No.

But I won’t dwell on that. I certainly have no regrets, and our house is our house. As much as I love the rooms and space and the library, though, sometimes I do get wistful for our first place. I only lived there myself eight months, but Spence was there for years — and we have so, so many memories there.

But, you know. Now I’m depressing myself.


Pumpkin II


Let’s talk about my favorite subject: food! I’ve been prowling Pinterest like a champ, mostly because I totally cheated on Halloween and have just gone straight to Thanksgiving. I have approximately 10 million fall-inspired recipes I want to try, but I won’t torture guests with an exclusively pumpkin buffet. Though we’re still ironing out the details, I believe we’ll be hosting the holiday meal this year — a first! — and I’m not nervous so much as fearful of breaking tradition. Thanksgiving has always been at my grandparents’ house, but sometimes change can be a good thing?

I’m going with that.

Focusing on food gives me purpose. Direction. Hunger. When I get a little antsy, I think about pumpkin cornbread and cheesy artichoke pumpkin dip and frosted apple blondies.

All better.

Happy weekend, friends!


About these ads

Well, hi

Fall color

I hate to break the fourth wall and go all “sorry I haven’t been blogging,” but sorry I haven’t been blogging. Between getting sick last week, battling through general exhaustion and a few grueling projects at work, my head has been all over the place and, quite honestly, I’m just trying to muddle through.

That sounded a little more depressing than I intended. Everything is okay! I am good! But I’m tired and sort of boring right now, though I anticipate having some fun stories to share with you soon. And probably some pictures . . . once I get my camera batteries charged again. I’m slacking.

How are the leaves where you are? Because here, friends, they’re kind of sucking. Most of the trees behind the house have uniformly shed their leaves without much color change at all, leaving us with all of the yard work and none of the beauty. Which is pretty terrible, actually. I’m still waiting for “real” fall to begin . . . it’s been muggy, stormy and weird. I need my autumn breezes.

So, yes — going to try and get my act together. I miss you guys. I miss having mildly entertaining and/or whacky things to talk about. I’m optimistic — cautiously? — that I’ll get back into the groove soon.

Until then, I’ll be on the couch.


Book chat and giveaway: ‘Seven Letters from Paris’ by Samantha Verant

Seven Letters from ParisTwenty years after they shared one fateful weekend in Paris, Samantha and Jean-Luc are separated by an ocean and wealth of varying experiences. Samantha herself is in a rut — 40 and jobless, staring down an impending divorce, living back with her parents as she nervously tackles her debt.

When Sam stumbles upon a series of letters Jean-Luc sent after she returned to college in America, the passion and connection they shared decades ago comes flooding back to her. She realizes she hasn’t felt that way before or since — but never actually responded to her French Romeo. At all.

Though she believes her apology comes a little too late, she’s able to find Jean-Luc online and sends him the answer she feels he was owed in the ’80s by way of a blog. Their emails lead to phone calls, and calls expand to talk of visiting in person. Is she crazy to leave California for France to see if the connection they once shared has stood the test of time?

Maybe. But she has nothing to lose, and all the world to gain.

Samantha Verant’s memoir Seven Letters from Paris is the romantic, entertaining story of how she reconnected with the love of her life when the odds certainly seemed stacked against them. Their story is an improbable one: a young American woman and French rocket scientist randomly meet at a cafe when Sam and a friend visit Paris in the late ’80s. After they share a weekend exploring the city, Jean-Luc falls completely in love . . . and Samantha disappears. He sends seven letters to her address at an American university but never hears from her again.

Until, one day, he does.

I’ll just come out and say that I’m a huge fan of serendipity. I love stories that connect lovers who, by all logic, should not have found one another; I adore tales of fate stepping in to guide the lives of unlikely people. Sam and Jean-Luc live an ocean and a continent apart — and the idea that they could randomly meet on a sidewalk, lose touch and find each other again after 20 years, several marriages, children and so on was nothing short of amazing.

Where the story could have become schmaltzy and boring, Samantha’s self-deprecating humor and humble roots were endearing and kept me rooting for her from start to finish. As she sheds her dog-walking skin back in California and takes a chance on visiting Jean-Luc, I was breathless with anticipation of their meeting once again. Ah, true love.

Are Jean-Luc’s overtures a bit over-the-top? Sure. But as Sam points out often, the standard for romance in France is, um, a bit different than what we might expect of courtship here in the U.S. She is wooed quite thoroughly by her older scientist — and who could blame her? I mean, really.

A quick and engaging read, Seven Letters from Paris  was just the sort of story I needed to help break me out of my reading slump. I loved Sam and Jean-Luc — and especially loved them together. I’ve heard rumors that we may get a follow-up on their new life together in France (not a spoiler!) . . . I’ll just be over here with my coffee and macaron, waiting.


4 out of 5

Pub: October 2014 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Advance copy provided by publisher for review consideration


GIVEAWAY!

One lucky winner in the U.S., Canada or France will receive a copy of Seven Letters from Paris, courtesy of the publisher. Your response goes only to me and will not be shared with anyone. Enter by Oct. 17 by filling out this simple form, and good luck!


Book chat: ‘The Book of Unknown Americans’ by Cristina Henriquez

Book of Unknown AmericansIntense. Riveting. Heartbreaking.

Cristina Henriquez’s The Book of Unknown Americans had me feeling nearly every emotion under the sun — especially as this tale of devotion and hope unraveled and left me with an ache in my stomach, a painful desire to undo what was done. To go back in time, helping to repair it — bit by bit, blow by blow.

Following the lives of several immigrant families, Henriquez’s tale focuses on the Toros and Riveras who rent apartments from the same Delaware complex. Mayor Toro falls in love with Maribel, a fellow teen, nearly at first glance — but can tell the Riveras harbor secrets. Everyone who comes to America is searching for something, reaching for something, but for this family? It’s something more. It’s a running-away, too.

As the Toros attempt to help acclimate Alma, Arturo and Maribel, tense relations with neighbors strain further. Mayor wants nothing more than to swoop in and protect Maribel, erasing all the pain etched on her face, but some forces are beyond their control.

It’s been a while since I sank into some good literary fiction. Honestly, with the chaos of the last year or so, I’ve favored neutral works or memoirs that may not demand as much from me as a reader. But it’s not fair to categorize The Book of Unknown Americans as a “tough read” — because in Henriquez’s hands, the tale digests so easily.

It’s impossible not to feel for Alma and Arturo, Maribel’s parents; as they flee their old life in Mexico, wanting to help and protect their injured daughter, they must abandon everything they know that is safe and familiar. The early moments the Riveras share at their dingy, anonymous apartment were heartbreaking. It’s impossible for me to imagine what it must be like, leaving behind a home filled with everything you love, everything you’ve built. And to come to a new country and community that may be hostile toward you — called an “outsider,” a foreigner, or worse — is gut-wrenching.

But Alma and Arturo are tenacious. They care. They try. Desperately wanting Maribel’s condition to improve, they tolerate the time she spends with Mayor and encourage her to form new relationships. Mayor was an interesting character in that he shares some of the Riveras’ experiences, but his own life in America is different. I didn’t bond with him the way I did with the Riveras, but I certainly felt with and for him throughout the novel.

Peppered between the unfolding saga of the two families are the stories of many more men and women, also immigrants who have arrived in the United States for one reason or another — and their personal narrations, sometimes only a few pages long, break up the ongoing narrative. I loved these glimpses into the lives of neighbors, coworkers and new friends. I recognized how responsible they felt for each other — even though they may have all arrived in the country as strangers. They’re Americans now.

This isn’t a love story, but it is a love story. From the blush of early love between Mayor and Maribel to the many sacrifices parents make for their children, the novel is a testimony to devotion and wanting more.

Though the subject matter is often difficult, the pay-off is so great. Henriquez spins a powerful tale filled with memorable characters, heartbreaking narratives and incredible depth. By the time I finished The Book of Unknown Americans, I felt nearly breathless; it was so intense, so moving, that I felt I’d barely come up for air. Highly recommend.


4.5 out of 5

Pub: June 2014 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Advance copy provided by publisher for review consideration


Mum’s the word

Field of mums

This field of mums is on a popular route in Southern Maryland — a corridor that takes you through a neighboring county, a road I’ve driven countless times.

Each October, we pass by in a blur of headlights and coffee headed for an early-morning flea market or photography club meeting — times we are rushed rushed and can’t stop to admire them. And they’re certainly worthy of admiration.

Spencer and I were out and about on Saturday with a few minutes to spare, and I realized this is the first year we have a home of our own — a place with a porch, an entrance, outdoor space — where said mums could be placed. We’ve stopped to photograph the field in previous years with my mom, but never taken anything home.

It was time.

After debating the merits of various colors, we eventually settled on two fat orange ones. I felt like a real homeowner out there, pacing the dusty paths, using flag markers to signal the staff who came to dig up our favorites. Others were choosing four, five, eight, but we figured a pair would suit us fine.

Mums

They make quite a statement on our porch — especially when combined with the trio of pumpkins we picked up at the farmers’ market, probably one of the last of the season. If I’ve dreamed about anything in homeownership, it’s probably decorating for autumn . . . and it’s here!

And then it will be Christmas. We have our holiday decorations organized in a basement corner, red and green boxes clearly marked and ready for Santa. Sparkly ornaments, tinsel, candles and trains . . .

Ahem.

All things in time.

We’ll start mums.


Five things on Friday

photo

1. I’m totally cheating on my beloved coffee lately, and . . . you know what? I’m okay with it. Most mornings find me hovered over the Keurig making a chai tea latte — just brewed chai with milk — and it’s my new obsession. Have you tried chai? Are you a tea drinker? If not, consider this your invitation! And if you’re feeling really fancy, add cinnamon. It’s totally like the delicious drink at Panera Bread and Panera is also my happy place.

2. Speaking of Panera, I took myself to lunch yesterday! In an effort to stay on budget and watch how much we’re eating out (er, often), I’ve been trying to limit my weekday work lunches to leftovers and soup. Which is fine, you know . . . most of the time. But sometimes? One gets a hankering for kettle chips. And soup. And chipotle sauce. And when that happens, there’s only one thing to do — so I did it. No regrets.

3. After confessing to my book rut earlier this week, I’ve actually found my interest in reading has been making a turn-around! I’m halfway through Samantha Verant’s Seven Letters From Paris — a fun memoir for francophiles — and just started Stephanie Perkins’ Isla and the Happily Ever After. The latter is a library book, so I’m trying to stay motivated; because it’s such a hot item, I doubt I’ll be able to renew it. And if we get to crunch time before it’s due, I will stay up all night because no. Returning an enjoyable library book half-read is torture.

4. Is it really bad for me to admit I started Christmas shopping already? I actually have three gifts hidden away for the holidays. I’m something of a gift-giving nut — I love, love to pick out presents — and it’s giving me a “project.” Now that the house is (mostly) put together and the wedding is over, I’m finding myself rather idle. Planning for the holidays is definitely a way to

5. In my travels over at Etsy, I’ve fallen in love with this print and this one and also this quote, probably because we married in November and I’m a fall fanatic. I’m pretty sure I need one or all of them, but I’ll refrain and be a good girl.

For now.


Happy weekend, friends!


My new happy place

Though I admitted yesterday to reading less than I would like lately (thank you all so much for your rut-busting recommendations!), I am happy to report that our home library is now functional, pretty and perfect for settling into with a good read.

From the moment we stepped into the house, I pictured this bright, sunny and quiet room near the door as a space for reading and relaxing. I lobbied for a library just as my husband campaigned for a basement workshop, and we’re both pretty happy with the results! (And our separate spaces. One does benefit from a room of one’s own.)

The bookcases were originally from our local Borders, purchased for Spence’s old condo and finally moved to the new house. They were gathering dust in the basement until a friend helped us bring three upstairs, and then I was doing my happy-happy dance all over the room until I just couldn’t shake it anymore.

I love that the room feels a little random. It’s filled with goodies we’ve collected in the last few years and is already shaping into the fun, funky, colorful room I envisioned.

The chair was a purchase from Target, the throw a gift from my grandmother. My beloved book pillow was purchased from a French-inspired shop during a trip with my mother- and father-in-law to Niagara-on-the-Lake in April.

I bought the cushion for a future library before there even was a library. The ultimate “If you build it . . .,” wouldn’t you say?

Of course, the books themselves draw most of the interest . . . and rightfully so. I have childhood favorites, beloved series, collections and review copies. There are hardcovers, cookbooks, old journals and photo albums.

A little of everything. Everything I love.

On an end table are coasters for tea (of course!), a painted initial from our wedding and a favorite photo from our engagement shoot. With a tiny piece of Parisian lamp, too, because classy.

Back when I was silly and thought I needed to decorate the house immediately, I made canvases featuring my favorite cover art from three cherished books: The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice and I Capture The Castle.

I’ve had them for months and debated their placement approximately 10,000 times, but Spence and I finally settled on a spot and hung them last week — along with an older “Keep Calm” poster I had in my childhood bedroom. I love that it’s back, displayed proudly again.

Though we still have a few things to work on and will eventually get an ottoman and couch for an adjacent wall, it feels good to have one room close to “done.” I love passing through there daily, even if I don’t have much time to sit, and look forward to all the quiet mornings of coffee and daydreams I’ll enjoy in that chair.

And the reading, of course. The words and stories and change.

And just because before-and-afters are always fun . . .

old library

New library