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


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Powering through a powerful rut

books

Hi, I’m Meg, and it’s been three weeks since my last book review.

Have I stopped reading? Nope. I mean, kind of, but I’m still holding a book in my hands every single day. I’m a bit all over the place and can barely concentrate, but I am most definitely still reading. Even if it’s just a few paragraphs at a time.

After my library sent me a cheery note that my hold had arrived, I made a special trip Saturday to pick up a copy of Stephanie Perkins’ Isla and the Happily Ever After because I’ve been in a rut, cycling through endless novels while committing to nothing, and I thought it would help?

Young adult is a good rut-buster, I think. Melissa discussed this recently and I was nodding along, thinking yep yep yep, because it’s been so long since I finished a non-audio book, friends.

So long. Embarrassingly long.

Why? I don’t know. I have a lot on my mind, yes, what with work and the house and a busy fall and change. But this has happened before, and my beloved novels are typically the place into which I escape and find solace and zone out.

But lately? Something has changed. I am s-s-s-slumped in a big way. Even with my fancy new reading chair and a functioning home library, I’m the pathetic mess who is plunked down in front of the TV with a big bag of Tostitos instead.

It’s bad. I know.

I am a reader through and through — a lit lover to my core. Nothing will ever separate me from books for too long. But for now? For the moment? I’d love your tips on getting back into a reading groove. Better yet: tell me the best book you’ve read lately! Preferably something entertaining and/or funny that will grab me by my shirt collar and refuse to let go.

I trust you. Let’s beat this together.


Giving her away: one year later

One year ago, I was preparing to give my sister away.

And that’s truly how it felt: giving her away. Three years my junior, Katie has been my partner in crime since the day she was born. We lived under the same roof until the morning of her wedding, just a wall apart for 25 years, and the day she married — though joyous and much-anticipated — was undoubtedly bittersweet.

It’s hard to admit that. I love my brother-in-law and love him for my sister; it’s nothing like that. My fear was purely, purely selfish. I didn’t want to feel anything but happy for her on September 28, but I was so scared and sad for myself. Just weeks from my own wedding in November, the swiftness with which everything changed — a giant rug suddenly torn away — was like being shoved into an icy river. Sans clothing. In January.

But now, a year later, I can reflect on that weekend with happiness. With clarity. So many of the fears I had about us moving forward — that we wouldn’t remain close; that we wouldn’t see our parents often; that everything would be fractured, different — have not come to pass. As always, my imagination is worse than any reality could be . . . and though things have changed, of course, they are not bad.

They are good. Great, even.

I looked through Katie’s wedding photos last night, remembering all the anticipation and excitement and anxiety we experienced in swift tumult leading up to their union. As I walked the aisle as maid of honor, I remember clutching the best man’s arm because I was legitimately afraid I would fall over — because of my high heels, partially, but mostly because “I Won’t Give Up” was playing and everyone was there, watching, and it was really happening.

The moment we’d anticipated since we both got engaged — on the same day — was here.

It was surreal. That’s the best way I can describe the entire day: surreal.

But surreal can be beautiful, too.


Fall on the desert island

Rainy day


“This is definitely a desert-island album for me.”

Spencer and I were driving along our winding road last night, heading to my parents’ house, rain splattering against my windshield. Earlier in the day I’d dug around in the trunk for my old CD case: a fat compilation of albums, mostly collected a decade ago.

John Mayer’s “Heavier Things” was the first CD I bought with my own money. I was a freshman at a nearby community college, running out on my lunch break to pick up odds and ends at Walmart. It was September 2013, just a week or so into the school year, and I’d just started a job as a cashier at a craft store. My paycheck was paltry, but I didn’t know any different — and it didn’t much matter. I still felt impossibly adult with my brand-new debit card.

I told Spencer this story last night: how, eleven years ago, John Mayer’s “Clarity” and “Something’s Missing” and “Wheel” were the soundtrack to my 18-year-old days. I can close my eyes and be back on campus, climbing into my battered old Corolla, cranking the music up with cool September air pouring through the windows. A love note on my windshield. A scarf around my neck.

Music meant more to me then. I don’t listen to it much these days, preferring news radio or audiobooks on my drives. But when I do? It’s the “old” stuff. My vintage stuff. The songs that comprised my mornings and afternoons and weeks when I was younger and bursting and unsure, but still making progress. Steadily. Grasping.

Does your music change seasonally? Because as soon as the leaves begin to turn and I dig out my boots, I find myself reaching for Ingrid Michaelson, The Fray, Death Cab for Cutie. The softer, subdued stuff. It’s like my mind shrugs into a sweater, too, wrapping up and quieting.

I like that. It’s cyclical.

John may feel that, too.

“When autumn comes, it doesn’t ask. It just walks in where it left you last. You never know when it starts . . . until there’s fog inside the glass around your summer heart.”


“What do you mean — desert island?” my husband asked.

“Desert island. You know. An album you’d take with you if you were trapped on a desert island?”

“I’d bring a satellite phone,” replied my scientist, smiling in the dim evening light. “So I could call for help.”

“That’s not the question!”

But I laughed, anyway.


My reputation precedes me

Walking through the office last night, I ran into a coworker. I was overloaded with bags on my way home, per usual; I seem to carry a rotating set of objects back home each night.

Lunch bag.
Recycling.
Diet soda bottle.
Purse.
Cell phone I’m trying not to drop.

“I thought of you over the weekend,” she said. “I was out . . .”

“And you saw pumpkins?” I finished, laughing.

Indeed.

Pumpkin tablecloths. Table runners. Napkin rings. Pumpkin beverages and dishcloths, candles and body wash.

It’s always the same. As soon as fall rolls around, I get the most delightful messages from friends and family — all related to my favorite gourd.

My reputation as the Pumpkin Lady is well-earned, I’d say. Even folks I don’t get a chance to speak with often drop me little notes with recipes for homemade pumpkin spice lattes or coffee, pies and cookies, unconventional ways to use pumpkin as facial masks or home remedies.

If I’m super lucky, I even get pumpkin-themed gifts. A newspaper reader unexpectedly popped in last year with a set of pumpkin-scented candles — which has to rank up there as one of the nicest things ever. My lovely mother-in-law gave me pumpkin pasta sauce last year (delicious), then surprised us with pumpkin-shaped pasta shells on our last visit to New York.

Almost too cute to eat.

Almost.


Pumpkin pasta


Like the onslaught of Facebook messages on your birthday, hearing from old friends and new celebrating my favorite emblem of autumn never ceases to delight and entertain me. I started a set of bookmarks (plus my fall Pinterest board) with all things pumpkin ‘n’ spice, and I’m pretty sure these creations will keep me busy until Christmas.

And I have zero problem with that.

Pumpkin spice latte cupcakes
Pumpkin coffee in a Crock Pot (thanks, Jill!)
Pumpkin snickerdoodle cookie bars
Pumpkin spice granola
DIY pumpkin spice latte
White chocolate pumpkin snickerdoodles
Easy mini pumpkin cinnamon rolls


Brown butter cinnamon apples with walnuts

Cinnamon apples

I don’t always have my stuff together.

As much as I’d love to be the sort of person who preps meals for the week on Sundays, moving deftly through the kitchen wielding a knife and storage containers, it just never seems to happen. I can’t blame being busy for this; I mean, we’re all busy. The truth? I just don’t make the time.

In an effort to attack our grotesque grocery bills, though, I’m trying to get better about meal planning — and limiting the number of dinners and lunches we eat out. I started keeping a budget sheet at the beginning of September just to get an idea of where our funds are going, and it’s definitely been enlightening.

Apples

Where am I going with all this? Using up. Consolidation. Waste not, want not. When Spence grabs the big bag of apples at the grocery store for $5, I look at them warily . . . because until recently, most of them went into the garbage. They’d go bad before we’d have a chance to eat them — and having to toss money (er, food) into the trash feels awful.

I noticed quite a few of the apples on our kitchen table were getting to the end of their shelf life yesterday . . . so I did what any budget-conscious lady would do: I hurried up and cooked them. With a little inspiration from the Food Network, I whipped up some pan-fried apples that tasted delicious and soothed my guilty conscious.

Spencer happily declared that they “taste like fall,” too, so there’s that.

You know I’m all about that.

This dish comes together quickly, uses ingredients you probably already have on hand and would be a great alternative to a more traditionally sugary dessert. The result is a warm, tasty side — but if you’re feeling bold, you could certainly add brown sugar or up the amount of walnuts. Despite all that butter in there, I was trying to err on the side of healthy.

You win some, you lose some.



Brown butter cinnamon apples with walnuts

Ingredients:
Six medium red apples, cored and diced
4 tbsp butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
Pinch of salt

In a medium-sized skillet, add butter and cook over medium-high heat until melted. When the butter turns a golden brown (about 5 minutes), add apples, cinnamon and vanilla. Cook apples until softened but still firm, about 10 minutes, and add chopped walnuts. Cook together an additional 3-5 minutes until apples are fork tender. Serve immediately; refrigerate any leftovers. Serves 4.


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