I love to cry at weddings

Flora Corner


“I love to cry at weddings! Oh, how I love to cry at weddings . . .”

As a high school theater nerd, I remember our production of “Sweet Charity” and one of its iconic songs. I played a “dancer” (dance hall dancer, that is . . .) in the show, and “I Love To Cry At Weddings” was a big final number. I remember liking the catchy tune, but the lyrics didn’t really connect with me. At 17, I hadn’t been to many weddings — but I couldn’t fathom why anyone would actually shed tears at one. I mean, aren’t those happy times?

But, you know, I get it now. It’s an ending; it’s a beginning. It’s a promise and a confirmation wrapped into one emotional package. When our friends Michael and Bethany tied the knot last weekend, I was sniffing and stifling my happy sobs in the sunshine. After nine years together, the high school sweethearts made the big leap — and their happiness was absolutely contagious. They were literally beaming.


Mike and Bethany


It was such a happy day. In addition to being over-the-moon excited for them, it was so nice to have so many friends gathered in one place. That’s the part I’m most looking forward to about our own big day: having our nearest and dearest in the same room, perhaps for the first and only time. There has to be something magical about looking out at a space filled with so many people you care about.

Plus, it’s funny to imagine my coworkers dancing with my friends dancing with Spencer’s family dancing with my grandparents. Just: worlds colliding.

The details of the day are what I most love to capture — and there were plenty to document. As they were married on May 4 and are “Star Wars” fans, “May the Fourth Be With You” was a recurring theme. We even enjoyed some Darth Vader-shaped cookies as appetizers before it was time for barbeque . . .


Darth Vader cookies

May the 4th

Barbeque


The whole day was warm and sun-drenched and beautiful, and I just felt so lighthearted. It’s a great change from the mire and muck of the winter. The wedding felt like the official kick-off to spring — and “wedding season,” if others’ Instagram photos are any indication. We definitely have enough celebrations on the docket. I’m thrilled.

I really do love to cry at weddings. In our whacky, unpredictable world, I don’t think I could tire of celebrating happiness.


Ceremony

Flowers for ceremony

Sugar flower

A toast

Wedding jump

Games

Birdseed


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On meeting (friends) online

This is me toasting you. Because you’re awesome.


At the height of Hanson’s popularity in 1997, I was one of countless 12-year-olds enamored with the flaxen-haired brothers. Since this was also around the time The Internet and web providers like America Online entered the public consciousness, my Hanson glee coincided perfectly with my first online identity: Megan from Megan’s Space of HITZ, a Hanson-based website where I analyzed the lyrics to tunes like “Where’s The Love” and posted my Taylor fan fiction. It was awesome.

Maintaining websites off and on for 15 years (!) means I’ve always been familiar, and comfortable, with having an online presence. An identity, if you will. Though my early sites were fan pages dedicated exclusively to boy bands (Hanson, of course, then ‘NSYNC), I’ve loved establishing friendships with like-minded folks and “putting myself out there.” Even if it’s just on a computer screen. Since it’s what I’ve always done, it’s what I’ve always done. It’s the opposite of weird: it’s normal.

In mid-1998, Megan’s Space of HITZ was my masterpiece. I cultivated friendships with Hanson fans from around the world — including Lara, a buddy who lived in Edinburgh, Scotland. As a 13-year-old, the very idea of “knowing” someone from Scotland was delightfully whimsical. Making friends with folks in other countries still thrills me, honestly — and reminds me that the world really is a small place. I still remember getting parental permission to actually call Lara (extreme long distance!) one Sunday afternoon in 1999 or 2000. I don’t know what ever became of her; we emailed for years before losing touch, and I still think about her. Especially when I was in her city last year.

I’ve always had “online friends.” And I don’t consider my “online friends” any different from my “real” friends. On many days, I talk to my online friends more than anyone I know in “real life” . . . unless you happen to share an office with me. In my mind, there’s no distinction between those I communicate with through Twitter and those I would meet for lunch. When I talk about you guys (and yes, I do — with my family, with my coworkers, with my boyfriend), I don’t call you my “Internet friends,” like you’re little dancing robots I’ve Googled. You’re just my friends. That’s it.

Though I can be an emotional person, I tend to bottle up those feelings — or let them out in dribs and drabs. I don’t like making scenes or bold declarations. I’m not really a hugger. But I’ve been thinking about how fortunate I am to know all of you, and what a lucky girl I am to be able to arrive in any random city — here or abroad — and have a friend in town to call. (Or, you know, email. Or tweet. You know what I mean.)

My sister and I are heading to New York City tomorrow morning, and I’ll be seeing Lu on Sunday. Wish I could see Melissa and scores of other folks, too — will have to snag you all on my next go ’round. Less than 48 hours in New York isn’t enough, needless to say; I’ll be wearing good walking shoes. But I’m really excited.

In 1997, I couldn’t have predicted the way my online identity would change over the years — or how said identity would morph into something bigger than that: a deeper understanding of self. write meg! will celebrate its fourth birthday next month, and I’m intensely grateful to still have this space to call my own. I’ve changed here. Forged new bonds here. Developed new interests here — and become a better person. Whether you know it or not, you’ve helped and inspired me. I’m so grateful.

When I first began posting at 22, I didn’t think about whether I’d still be here at (almost) 27 — but I’m so glad I am.

It sounds like I’m wrapping something up. I’m not. I hope I never wrap anything up; I hope we go on this way forever.

Love to all.

Reading ‘Outlander’ for Nancy

My coworker Nancy was a ravenous reader. For every novel I’d pick up and set down, satisfied with my reading habits, she’d probably have finished two. Her favorite author was Diana Gabaldon — and, despite Nancy’s frequent persuading that I just had to try her “wonderful” work, I’d never been able to get over my fear at the sheer size of her books. At more than 600 pages, they seem so involved – what with their being a Scottish setting and time travel and military battles. And an epic love story.

But Nancy was so passionate about them, I told myself that I would read at least the first, Outlander, so we could chat about it. Despite its seemingly solitary nature, reading is never a truly solitary pursuit for me. Part of the fun of reading a book is getting to talk about that book with others — like with all of you. Working at the newspaper, I’m fortunate to hang around many literary-minded people; we often discuss books, authors, writing. And since we usually talk about the books I like, I figured I could give Gabaldon a try.

But the months went by, as they often do — then years. My shelves have become overstuffed and crowded, dropping paperbacks like dead leaves. I never got a chance to pick up Outlander. I never made it a priority.

Nancy — powerhouse Nancy, cranky-but-loveable Nancy — died on Sept. 18 after a heart attack. A community fixture, she was a staff writer at our paper since 1991 and covered local politics, mostly, but a variety of other goings-on, too. She was 55.

Her presence is already deeply missed in the newsroom — and among her loving family, which included her husband, son, his wife and their four daughters. Those granddaughters had a permanent presence in our newsroom, too; their photos adorned her desk, and stories about them were always lilting through the halls.

Though 30 years my senior, Nancy and I had a connection through literature. Books united us and provided constant conversation and enjoyment for us both. I’ll remember her best for her love and support of the written word, and her own ability to objectively cover and bring life to the happenings in Southern Maryland.

And I’ll miss her as a literature buddy. I plan to pick up Outlander this fall, and Nancy — that read will be for you.

No woman is an island

I have this problem. Being occasionally pig-headed, bullish and fiercely independent, somewhere down the line I got this crazy notion that I don’t need people — or, more specifically, friends. That I don’t need friends.

Growing up, I didn’t have the greatest run of luck with “best friends.” My closest buddy in elementary school was Heather, an adorable little thing who came from a big, gregarious family. Heather and I were inseparable, pairing up on field trips and having sleepovers and sharing lunches. She was the first person to introduce me to salt and vinegar chips and, as those are pretty much the greatest snack food ever, I tip my hat to you, Heather. I tip my hat to you.

That being said, I don’t know exactly what went wrong between us. One minute we were splitting heart-shaped “BFF” necklaces (or, back in the middle ages before text-speak, “Best Friends Forever” necklaces) and swapping potato chips — and the next? Well, Heather was on one side of the invisible line known as “popular vs. unpopular,” and I was on the other. Heather was definitively cool, pretty and popular, while I was Toula in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”: swarthy and bespectacled. Cute but chunky, and slightly awkward.

Middle school brought me closer to Kelly, a good friend from preschool, but we lost touch when she went to a different high school. When I entered my freshman year, I joined the theatre department — and that brought a great many interesting characters into my life. I made new acquaintances and formed new friendships, including one with Sarah, who became my best friend for a few tumultuous years. But, like everyone, she eventually let me down.

Maybe I expected too much from her — and others. And maybe they need much less — or much more — from me.

I’ve had friends from work and friends from high school. The ones from college and the ones from internships. There was the best friend with whom I did everything my freshman year of college – who later kissed my boyfriend in an alcohol-induced haze, then tearfully called up to tell me all about it. To be fair, you know, he kissed her back, but who can quite describe that betrayal? Nothing stings more than sharing your deepest feelings with someone — in this case, K. — only to have that someone turn around and stab you. In the heart. It took me a while to call anyone my “best friend” after that.

I’m not here to throw myself a pity party. I’m just giving you some background on what’s brought me to this point — the point where, at 25, I spend the majority of my time with Spencer, my parents, my sister’s boyfriend Eric, my grandparents and, of course, my sister. Through the cycles of friendships (oh, and there have been cycles), I’ve always had my real best friend — Katie — to listen to anything and everything.

Katie is the Ethel to my Lucy — or, more accurately, the Lucy to my Ethel. (I’m more of the straight-faced prankster, if you will, while Kate is the funny, outlandish and gregarious one. And she would look better as a redhead.) But outside of my sister? Well, I’m a Lucy all on her own. Shoving chocolates in her mouth like a lunatic, with no one to share the candy — and lessen the load. Stomping on grapes alone in Italy. Blundering up “Vitametavegamin” commericals without a cheering section.

Oh, and I tend toward dramatics. Have I mentioned that?

Still, it’s been easy to harden myself up. When I didn’t have good girl friends in my life, I’ve almost always had a boyfriend. Spencer has become my closest friend and confidante, and I’m very fortunate to have him in my life. But a significant other, while being a friend, cannot be your only friend. Not if you want a happy, enriched life.

So, friends, I am not an island — and none of us are. Every time I get an email from Erin, I think how lucky I am to know a woman who always, always makes time for me — and who listens without judgment, supporting me no matter what. No one quite gives advice like Erin.

And when I’m typing away in my office, answering the endless stream of emails that blink up from my taskbar? I have Sandy and Brandon, my good friends and officemates, with whom to share anecdotes and rehash the weekend’s events. As we’ve worked closely together over the years, we’ve gotten to know one another inside and out — right down to the tunes they whistle without realizing it (they hum the song from the “Vonage” commercial on repeat. It used to bother me, but now it’s like white noise).

Beyond the folks I speak with often, I have my blog friends — and I consider them just as much a part of my daily life as my “real life” friends. In many cases, I talk to them more often than I do the people I’ve known for decades! I can count on Kari Ann for funny tweets and notes, and Jessica for emails that always remind me what a small, small world we live in. It doesn’t matter that we’re geographically separated; we have so much in common, and always so much to talk about. There’s Nat and Laurel Ann; Lexi and Erica. And a slew of other fine ladies and bloggers with whom I speak often — and think of fondly. We talk books and we talk life. I’m grateful to know so many of you, and hope to meet many of you in the future.

Life is best lived with other people, it turns out. I need the daily dose of reflection I get from sharing my thoughts with others — in person; in text messages; in my newspaper columns; on my blog. I can’t clam up and retreat into my books, never daring to peek up and answer the phone. The real people in my life — the people who know me; the people I know — are there for a reason.

No woman is an island. And I will not live alone.

And I said, ‘What about a ring from Tiffany’s?’

We all know that I love jewelry and, like most people, attach a certain meaning to each piece I wear. Whether it’s a gift from a family member, friend, boyfriend or something I chose and created for myself, knowing that each piece has a story behind it — even if it’s only significant to me — is important.

So last fall, thick in the middle of a rather low point in recent memory, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to visit California with some girlfriends last November. We all remember I was feeling low, dejected, bored and listless — frustrated that my life had gotten “off track.” Heading to Los Angeles (from my home in Maryland) was a really, really uncharacteristic thing for me to do, but it seemed like the right call. My hands shook as I purchased the plane ticket and asked for time off at work, but the gnawing urge to get away was too strong for me to ignore.

Once in L.A., my friends and I ambled along Wilshire Boulevard and looked at all the pretty storefronts full of shiny things. After window shopping for most of the afternoon, my breath caught as one of the ladies suggested detouring into Tiffany & Co. With my scuffed flip-flops and flyaway hair, I wasn’t exactly feeling like a member of the “elite” clientele — but I went in, anyway.

And when the girls started trying on rings, all of us admiring the way the silver flashed in the California light, I tried some on, too.

And when my friends began to earnestly ask the cost of some of the rings and share meaningful looks with me, seeming to ask me a question, I smiled back.

We all bought rings at Tiffany that day — something I would never have imagined myself doing. The silver band with tiny “xoxo” in a repeating pattern fits perfectly on the middle finger of my right hand, its home for the past four months. I wear it every single day and, despite having rarely worn a ring on that finger before, I now feel naked without it. Take a peek at any photo of me and you’ll probably see it — just a flash of silver on my hand.

Every time I look down, I remind myself of everything I want from life — and how I’m going to get it. It’s become a symbol of everything unpredictable and glorious about living, and helps me remember to take risks and step outside of what’s comfortable and familiar. Because I went to California, 3,000 miles away! I healed my broken heart! I kept living and moving and breathing!

Nothing could mean more to me than an expensive ring I own . . . and bought myself. In the most cliche sense imaginable, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

California, here we come — right back where we started from

So I’m back from California! I don’t know how I could have possibly seen or done more in four and a half days — and I had an absolutely fantastic time, and I couldn’t have gotten away with friends at a better time. As I’d hoped, the West Coast sunshine and time away from ordinary life did me a world of good . . . and helped put many things into perspective for me.

As we cruised down Sunset Boulevard, watched the sunset in Santa Monica, zipped around San Diego, stood in the Pacific Ocean, shopped at Hollywood & Highland and even saw the cast of “New Moon” (more on that later!), I watched my young life come into focus. Nothing about living is perfect — we’re going to hurt others and be hurt, feel like winners but sometimes like failures, forget how to trust and watch ourselves become vulnerable all over again. But all of that? Worth it. And all of my troubles? Not really troubles at all. Life — messy, complicated, painful, extraordinary — is beautiful.

Yeah, travel always makes me wax philosophical.

Good morning BaltimoreSo California! Gorgeous. We arrived at San Diego at 10 a.m. local time on Nov. 4 after getting up at 2:30 a.m. EST and flying for six hours. I watched the sunrise every day for almost a week straight on this vacation — a surreal experience! Especially since it’s rare to find me up before 8 a.m. — even on work days. I suck at mornings. But watching the sky turn colors as I sat on our little plane, listening to Owl City and feeling my life shift again? Gorgeous.

After an uneventful flight in which I alternated between napping lightly and reading According To Jane, we landed in San Diego! After successfully getting our rental SUV, Kim, Elizabeth, Nichole and I cruised around the city, had a delicious BBQ lunch/dinner and spent the evening walking near Ocean Beach and snapping photos at Sunset Cliffs — a sp0t recommended to us by the awesome staff at the restaurant where we had lunch. The Cliffs definitely lived up to their name, I can tell you that! So I officially watched the sun rise on one coast and set on the other. We literally watched the dying of the light, Kim and I standing on the edge of a precipice — literally — until the last few rays had disappeared. An awesome way to start the trip!


Sunset Cliffs


We rounded out our first night in California by heading to San Diego’s Gaslamp District for drinks at Whiskey Girl, where we watched part of the Yankees winning the World Series. I like baseball as much as the next sportswriter’s daughter, but the highlight of that experience for me was just wandering through town and exploring with the girls. It was almost impossible for me to comprehend how far away from home we were — and walking around a strange city with people just wrapping up the work day! At that point — around 6 p.m. PST — I’d been awake for 16 some-odd hours. And by “dinnertime”? Yeah, I was ready to call it a night.

So we did — but not before stopped at El Indio, a restaurant in San Diego that was featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” If it’s good enough for Guy Fieri, it’s good enough for Meg! Our tacos were great, though I was so delirious with exhaustion at that point, you probably could have tossed a bowl of snack peanuts in front of me and I’d have written a joyous song about them. And sung it to you. Loudly.

On Thursday morning, we played a game called Spot The East Coast Girls — we were the ones up at 5:30 a.m., texting our friends and family back home and staring at each other with slightly dazed expressions. Jet lag was our constant companion on the West Coast, tagging along and kicking our tails at every turn. But the bright side of getting up before the sun? We had no trouble at all getting showered, checked out, breakfasted and on the road by 8:30 a.m.!

Yes, friends, it was time for Disneyland, one of the happiest places on Earth! Our drive from San Diego to Anaheim was very scenic and, considering we hadn’t yet made it to Los Angeles, not totally traffic congested. We got to the theme park just as it was opening at 10 a.m. and made our way to Disney’s California Adventure first, where we made our way to awesome rides like the Tower Of Terror and Soarin’ Over California. In Disneyland itself, we saw Sleeping Beauty’s Castle — pretty, though surprisingly small compared to Cinderella’s Castle in Disney World — and admired everything already dressed up for Christmas! We spent hours wandering around the parks and even met Mickey Mouse himself. Nichole, a newbie to the world of Disney parks, was especially thrilled!


sleeping_beauty_castle

Kim, Nichole, Elizabeth and Meg with Mickey


After we left Disney, exhaustion was definitely creeping up on me again. We drove into Los Angeles and, for the first time, I could truly appreciate all the griping folks do about traffic in the city. Hey, I’m from D.C. — traffic-wise, it’s no picnic over here, either! (The Beltway at rush hour, anyone?) I’ve scoffed at the complaints of Californians about their traffic in the past, but trust me — no more. Dude, it was horrible. It took us about two hours to get from the freeway outside the city to our hotel on Highland Avenue. We were on the 101 or Route 5 or something — I’m not sure, Garmin did the work — but it was painful. Thankfully we had good friends and good music to keep us from going insane . . . and we did get inside L.A. Woo! We wrapped up our first night in the city by getting dinner at Hollywood & Highland and doing some light shopping. And for me? Lights out by 10 p.m.! I’m such a rascal, I know!

We were up early again on Friday, making our way to beaches up and down the coast. We left L.A. in the morning bound for Malibu, Laguna Beach, Venice Beach and Santa Monica. Driving the Pacific Coast Highway was fantastic — and all of our stops? Totally a photographer’s dream! I was beside myself, often hanging half of my body out of the car in an effort to snap the mountains or the coastline or a fantastic sign along the road. We even visited Pepperdine University in Malibu, where the stunning views would keep my mind off anything even vaguely related to studying. Seriously, how do those kids get anything done? We had lunch in Laguna at an oceanfront restaurant and, after seven years, I got to dip my toes in the Pacific Ocean once more! And it was cold. Serious Polar Bear Club material.


Driving to Malibu

malibu

flip_flops

me_in_laguna


We wrapped up our big beach day by stopping briefly in Venice Beach on our way to Santa Monica, where we were bound and determined to see the sunset! We’d missed it the evening before while stuck in traffic on the freeway, and it was so pink and exquisite that it broke my heart. The excellent news? We definitely made to the pier, where we wandered about and watching the sun sink over the water. I took a solid 50 photos of just that experience and made sure to call my dad from the pier, one of his favorite spots!


santa_monica_sunset


After we watched the dying of the light again, it was back to Hollywood for the evening! After spending the whole day freezing to death in chilly water and even chillier breezes once it got dark, we made the unanimous decision to have a relaxed evening — attire-wise. I threw on a pair of jeans and a hoodie before we headed back to Hollywood & Highland in search of dinner and something to occupy the evening.

Um, well, we found it, all right.

We figured out something was up as soon as we pulled into the garage on Orange Avenue, a spot where we’d been parking for days without any trouble. It was jammed. Considering it was a Friday night in Los Angeles, I figured maybe people were just out and about in the city. No big deal. Well, after we wedged Blue Beauty in a spot and made the climb upstairs, I heard it: the distinct rumble of an incredibly excited crowd.

An incredibly excited crowd of Twilight fans.

After we stood on the third balcony of Hollywood & Highland for a minute or two to see what was up and heard someone say something about the “New Moon” soundtrack, you could have knocked Kim and me over with little feathers. Mind you, we had no idea what was going on — or who was going to appear. Only that something Twilight-related was happening and, gosh darnit, we weren’t moving until we figured out what it was!

Not even ten minutes later, the event host announced that Death Cab For Cutie was coming out — and I think I yelled myself hoarse on the spot. I freaking love Death Cab, featured on the soundtrack, and actually got tears in my eyes when they started playing “Cath…,” my favorite song from their most recent album. Their “set” was only two songs long, but hey — never in my life did I imagine I’d get to see them play live in L.A.

Or that I’d get to see Rob Pattinson live — in the flesh – with the rest of the “New Moon” cast, including Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner, just minutes later.

Yes, friends, that’s right — ROBERT PATTINSON walked out onto the tiny stage before me and I was pretty sure I was going to have a total mental breakdown. Kim’s and my hyperventilating was legendary — and I’m only glad that Elizabeth and Nichole had retreated into the restaurant to wait for us and didn’t see the total breakdown of my sanity. Because it was bad. Screaming, crying, jumping and, sadly, the breaking of my digital camera. When Rob’s slim form took the stage, I managed to work myself into such a tizzy that I actually cracked the screen of my camera by jostling it around in my purse. (Thankfully, I’m so OCD that I’d brought two cameras with me on the trip, and that was the smaller and least expensive of the two.)

Even with the malfunctioning screen, I managed to snap some pics — but please don’t scoff at the overall suckiness of my shots! In photos two and three below, note that, from left, are Robert, Kristen, Taylor, the host and several other cast members (the Wolf Pack?). For a full account of what went down, visit Letters To Twilight!


Death Cab For Cutie at the 'New Moon' soundtrack event

cast_shot_1

'New Moon' cast: Robert, left, Kristen and Taylor


Needless to say, Kim and I were riding quite high after our unexpected but serendipidous celebrity sighting and jabbered about it all through dinner (sushi) and dessert (Cold Stone ice cream). I was even too pumped to lament the death of my camera, though I’m certainly mourning it now! It served me — and the first half of my trip — well, so I’ll remember it fondly!

Saturday was a big day of sight-seeing, shopping, eating and drinking; the day found us at Cathedral of Our Lady Of The Angels, an enormous church in L.A.; Dodger Stadium, where we convinced a security guard to let us in and take photos (win!); shopping on Rodeo Drive; buying four matching rings at Tiffany & Co. as momentos of our amazing trip; having lunch in Beverly Hills; getting mistaken for celebrities by the paparazzi (!); grabbing cupcakes at famed shop Sprinkles (mine was pumpkin, y’all!); driving up to Griffith Observatory and eating our dessert outside; finally spotting the famous Hollywood sign; stopping by Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the Walk Of Fame; drinks at the Roosevelt Hotel and dinner (sushi again!) on Sunset Boulevard.

Did you get all that? We were booking it.


Cathedral Of Our Lady Of The Angels

Me in Dodger Stadium

Rodeo Drive

With the Ambassador of Beverly Hills

Tiffany's box on our lunch menu

Eating our Sprinkles cupcakes at Griffith Observatory

The girls in Griffith Observatory

Me with the Hollywood sign

Grauman's Chinese Theater

My hands in Daniel Radcliffe's hands! Harry from 'Harry Potter'

Drinks at the Roosevelt Hotel


Yeah, needless to say — by the time I laid my little head on the pillow at our hotel on Highland, I slept like a baby. I don’t think I’ve been that tired since I went to London! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised . . . my vacations are always more adventures than actual relaxing trips. But I like it that way.

On our final day in California, we again greeted the sun as we prepared to leave L.A. and return to San Diego, where three of the four of us were flying back to Baltimore that evening. In order to break up the two-and-a-half hour trek back to SD, we made a stop in Oceanside, Calif., definitely one of the prettiest places we saw! Considering it was a random, spur-of-the-moment stop, I was very happy we pulled over. And paid $1 to park — our cheapest fare in the state!

oceanside_sign


oceanside


Back near San Diego, we made a stop in La Jolla — a seriously, unimaginably gorgeous place. It was hard to believe the rocky beaches were real – and filled with live sea lions! La Jolla Cove and Children’s Pool Beach were teeming with them. Kim took videos on her BlackBerry as the crowd ogled them! Adorable!


la_jolla

Sea lions, left, at La Jolla Cove


After making a stop at the famed Torrey Pines Golf Course, we wandered back to Old Town San Diego to snap photos and get ice cream. By mid-afternoon, it was off to the island of Coronado — just over the bridge from San Diego. We toured through Hotel del Coronado, which was gorgeous, and hung out a little on the beach there.


Me in Old Town San Diego

Hotel del Coronado

Beach in Coronado


By the time it was starting to get dusky and we were just hours from heading to the airport for our red-eye flights back to reality, we began looking for a nice spot to stop and see the sunset. We found it at Silver Beach, which was deserted except for us — and our baggage of excellent memories. Kim and I sat on a ledge and watched until the sun had dipped completely into the Pacific, ending our West Coast vacation. Getting up and walking back to the SUV with full memory cards and a heavy heart was a really difficult thing to do.


Sunset at Silver Beach


Thankfully, my adventure wasn’t quite over — because I got to meet Jessica of Cover To Cover in San Diego! After dropping Kim and Nichole off at the airport, Elizabeth and I headed to where Jess was staying for a conference in the city. Mind you, Jess is from Philadelphia and I’m from Maryland — East Coast girls through and through. But fate somehow brought us both to the same place at the same time . . . just barely! My flight was at 10 p.m. that evening and Jess was headed home the following morning, but we managed to find each other.

We had dinner at Elephant & Castle (coincidentally, the same restaurant chain where I met up with tons of other fantastic book bloggers in September!) and chatted like the old friends we are. It was awesome to meet her in person! I’m sure we could have talked a few more hours, but I had to dash off to make my flight — ending one seriously awesome trip.


jess_me


I can’t say enough good things about my time away . . . and am just hoping I can hold on to this bold, happy feeling as long as possible! There’s definitely nothing like travel to change the way you see the world — and to remind you the world is a big, big place. I’ll always remember standing before the Pacific Ocean and feeling small but tall, and loved that I could share the journey with new and old friends.

Now, where am I going next?

And if you’re feeling particularly brave, bored or, maybe, a combination of both,
I took more than 800 photos on my trip –
and you’re welcome to check them all out!

My big, fat London weekend!

me_jacket

The world traveler herself!

When I arrived in London in 2007, a warm, rushing feeling swept over me — exhilaration, pure and simple, and I’ve been unable to fight off my obsession with all things English since! I spent two days with my family there en route to Italy, and the experience was totally life-changing. For the past two years I’ve been dreaming of making it back to the UK and, when the opportunity finally presented itself, I decided to take that vast and terrifying leap out in the world of travel . . . on my own. And what an amazing weekend I had.

My friend Stacy is studying at the University of Westminster in Harrow, just outside the city, and has been in my favorite place since September. At the gentle (and then forceful) persistence of my parents and sister, I booked a ticket in March to visit her this past weekend. And then I planned. And packed. And obsessed. And worried. And ultimately became very, very excited — though still very nervous!

On Thursday, May 21, we left for Dulles International Airport in Virginia. My 8:45 p.m. flight took off right on time and, for the first time in my life, I made it onto a plane after saying goodbye to Mom, Dad and Katie at security. I changed out my money before boarding so that when I landed at Heathrow Airport at 9 a.m. May 22, I was ready to go. And that was a good thing.

Charting my progress on the plane. Almost to Ireland!

Charting my progress on the plane. Almost to Ireland!

My British Airways flight was comfortable, if not exactly spacious! I managed to get some sleep on the six-and-a-half hour plane ride over, crammed up against the window with two British businessmen to my right. Just listening to the lilting, exotic accents of the flight crew — and my fellow travelers — was enough to get my blood really pumping! Hearing and seeing Brits in the flesh was more than a little exciting. Most of the nervousness I felt saying goodbye to my family melted away as I watched our plane creeping closer and closer to the UK on the TV screen in front of me.

By the time I landed at Heathrow, I was running on pure adrenaline. I had to keep my passport firmly in hand as I made my way through customs, telling the British agent that I was “on holiday” and staying with a friend for just four days. She stamped my passport wanly and let me pass. I turned on my American cell phone, a little worried about what sort of charges I was incurring, but definitely needing to find Stacy! She rang almost immediately and told me where to find her . . . which wasn’t a problem, really, considering I spotted her almost immediately after leaving the international arrivals area! I yelled out to her and waved while she snapped a photo of me with my heavy red suitcase, and we hugged as I started chattering unstoppably.

After making our way over to the underground station in the airport, Stacy helped me buy my first day pass for the Tube — and thus began my obsession with London’s popular mode of transportation! The underground lets you go anywhere, do anything and be wherever you want — all for roughly seven pounds (or $11). I was completely fascinated by all the travelers getting on and off our car, many of them glancing over casually as the two American friends talked over one another — we hadn’t seen each other in six months! I couldn’t believe that I was actually in England — that I successfully navigated my way through two airports and travelled alone! This was absolutely a huge step for me.

And so my first day in the UK began with the two of us taking the tube to Harrow and getting settled in Stacy’s dorm room. I commuted to college and never had the “dorm” experience but, from what I can tell, her building was very nice! Stacy’s room was great and fine for me, an Anglophile who didn’t really plan on getting much (or any) sleep while in London. I unpacked a bit, took a shower and repacked my bag. Then we went out on the town.

Pizza, or salad?

Pizza, or salad?

I hung out and napped a little in the salon where Stacy was getting her hair done, and then we went downtown to do a little shopping on Baker Street, have dinner at Pizza Express and see “Angels & Demons” at a Vue movie theater. I bought plenty of souvenirs as soon as they were in front of me — it’s hard for me to pace myself when I see tons of stuff emblazoned with the union jack! For dinner I had a “Legera” pizza — a centerless pizza filled with salad! It was something different and, though jet-lag really caught up with me around meal time, I toughed it out. Before going to the movie we stopped in W.H. Smith, a large British bookstore, and I bought the British version of J.K. Rowling’s famed Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and a paperback for my sister.

And that tied in perfectly with our other afternoon activity — seeing Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station! It wasn’t really easy, and we did a fair amount of wandering before spotting it. I was trying to spot it on my own but, after circling around a few times with no luck, I broke down and asked a security guard. Conscious of my accent and not wanting to play into any “rude American” stereotypes that might be circulating out there, I tentatively walked up to the sharp-tongued man.

At Platform 9 3/4!

At Platform 9 3/4!

“Hi, excuse me. Can I ask you a stupid question?” I began, smiling sweetly.

The guard eyed me with amusement, flicking his eyes between Stacy and me. “Let me guess. You’re looking for Harry Potter?”

“Yes, actually, I am. Is it that obvious?”

The guard laughed. “He’s not working today. You just missed him,” he said. “And he doesn’t work bank holidays.” (Monday was a bank holiday. I don’t know what that means, but there you go.)

Stacy and I both laughed with him as he indicated that we should keep going around the corner, heading back toward the end of the station. We thanked him and found the queue right after that — our tourists, including two Americans, who also stopped by to see the famed spot. After waiting our turn, Stacy snapped me “pushing” the cart right through the wall — something all Hogwarts students must do at the station in order to board the train bound for school. I was thrilled to be there and totally camped it up! Tourist attractions are made for me, I’ve decided. I buy into everything with fervent enthusiasm.

The movie was really good and I enjoyed sharing Stacy’s “sweet and salty” popcorn — there’s no artificial butter going on there! We chose a mixture of the two offerings — the sweet or salty kernels. And after getting a ribbing from the theater employee about the movie at “2050″ — the clocks are all on 24-hour time — we got to enjoy the film. All of the summer previews were for American movies, which really interested me to note!

We made our way back to the dorm after the movie, making it back to the room around 11:30 p.m. After I called to check in back home and set out my clothes for the following day, Stacy and I settled in to talk and watch an episode of Absolutely Fabulous,” a British television show she loves. We both fell asleep while watching the show on her laptop, an activity that proved to be a weekend tradition.

At Buckingham Palace

At Buckingham Palace

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear. I was so worried I would be exhausted and useless on the trip, so I packed a case of Red Bull to chug every day before we set out. It turns out I really didn’t need it, though — I adjusted surprisingly well to British time and woke up bright and ready to go at 9 a.m. Saturday. By 11:30 a.m. we were fed, dressed and on the tube headed to Green Park, just outside Buckingham Palace. And our string of good luck began — we walked right up to the palace in time to see the changing of the guard! Just as I was commenting on how I though the event took place each day at noon and maybe we would catch, I glanced down for the time and realized that I couldn’t have planned it much better myself. We shot tons of photos, mostly crowd shots, from atop a barrier, then moved in closer to take photos through the fence.

Cute hot dog guy. Hard to see the hot smile here, but trust me -- CUTE.

Cute hot dog guy. Hard to see the hot smile here, but trust me -- CUTE.

From Buckingham we walked across the street to the Hard Rock Cafe, where I picked up souvenirs for my friend Kelly. I took several shots of the iconic red telephone booths here, as well as the red postal box. I basically just had the camera glued to my hand and fired as often as was physically possible. And my battery never once died! Not even when we got to Hyde Park, our next stop, where I photographed one beautiful, flawless pink rose after another.

And speaking of flawless? I fell in love with the man working at the hot dog stand just at the entrance of Hyde Park. I didn’t exactly go to Britain thinking I’d find someone to share my everlasting love, but let me tell you — this was the guy! Stacy laughed as I ordered my hot dog and grabbed a bottle of water, then walked away with a star-struck, dreamy expression on my face. He was very nice, though a bit hurried, and just looked like the classically handsome British guy I would dig. I got not one but two adorable smiles from him, and our fingers brushed as I handed him a two-pound coin! Too bad I’ll never see him again. Stacy managed to snag a picture of him as I hastily ate my lunch en route to the neighboring gardens.

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Rose at Hyde Park

The flowers at Hyde Park were easily the prettiest I saw all weekend — and probably the nicest I’d ever seen. After I showed Stacy how to get some macro shots — oh, how I love macro! — we both wandered up and down part of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Walk in the park to take pictures of the beautiful roses and other flora and fauna. Lots of folks were out lounging in the sun or snapping photos, too, but the park is so big (350 acres) that we weren’t exactly walking on top of one another. I took almost 90 flower shots before we headed on through the park, wandering downtown until we came upon the busy London streets I expected to see and made detours into Harvey Nichols, where Stacy interns, and famous department store Harrods, where I grabbed souvenirs for my coworkers and grandparents. From that busy intersection we hopped on the tube again to head to Piccadilly Circus, the next item on my list.

Piccadilly was nice, though not quite what I was expecting. While it was very crowded and in the heart of the city, there wasn’t really anything to do there — it’s just a giant intersection. So that was a quick jaunt. After plenty more pictures, we stopped inside the tube station to ask for directions to Trafalgar Square from Piccadilly. On our way to Trafalgar we paused to get dinner at TGI Friday’s, a very bustling restaurant. Now before you go crazy about me eating at an American restaurant when I’m in England, let me tell you — the food was totally different! And the place was hectic. But Stacy and I had a really good chat and, thus fortified by chicken and Diet Coke, we walked on to Trafalgar. I took a nasty fall in Leicester Square on the way, but managed to get back up with only a bruised knee, hurt ankle and wounded ego! I still have a really sore bruise several days later, but absolutely nothing was going to ruin the trip for me!

trafalgar_square

Trafalgar Square, one of my favorite spots in London

Trafalgar was awesome — so beautiful and enchanting. Exactly what I pictured it would be! Evening was fast approaching at this point, and the “golden hour” was spilling over the fountains and gobs of people gathered everywhere in front of the National Portrait Gallery. Stacy and I hovered on the large set of steps and listened to a group of protestors railing against “the media” and the infiltration of conservative ideas into the hearts of Brits, and I did a fair amount of quiet heckling! But I was too mesmerized by the square to worry about a group of people yelling about the same stuff they yell about here. After I walked partway down the steps, Stacy excitedly told me to look out. I did. At a group of rowdy football (that’s soccer for we Americans, natch) fans hovering around one of Trafalgar’s giant lions.

“What, at them?” I squawked, snapping a photo.

“No, not at them! Look up. Over there.”

And there, illuminated in the distance, was Big Ben.

big_ben

Ben needs no introduction!

Now, I saw Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in 2007 — but from the top of a cold, windy double-decker bus tooling along at 30 or 40 miles per hour, barely pausing by the majestic structure. Definitely not from the ground, and definitely not when I had plenty of time to admire how awesome it really is. After hanging out at Trafalgar for a while more, we decided we had to get closer to it. And so we started walking.

Like my dad always points out to us when we head to neighboring Washington, D.C., things definitely are much farther than they appear! Big Ben seemed to be calling out to us — and not from that far away. Though the sun was starting to really set, casting shorter and shorter shadows over buildings and cars, we took off toward it. And not twenty minutes or so later, we were standing right in front of it! I was sufficiently impressed, I’ll say that. Both by our ability to keep walking — even with the busted ankle and whatnot — and our ability to track it down quickly. We walked by the River Thames and took plenty more photos of Ben, parliament and the London Eye, the giant Ferris wheel just across the river. Highlighted in the pinks, oranges and blues of the sunset, it was absolutely an amazing sight. We lingered for more than an hour snapping photos and watching others walking with us across the bridge stretching across the water, everyone looking so content in the cool air.

London Eye at sunset

London Eye at sunset

Flush from our success at finding Big Ben and other London landmarks and not yet beaten down by absolute fatigue — that would set in later — Stacy and I foolishly headed off along the riverbank in search of Tower Bridge. A police officer had vaguely told us the direction in which we would find it and, having absolutely no concept of far it really was, we started walking. We passed London Bridge — you know, the one that’s falling down? — and trudged along for what felt like hours, eventually stopping another passerby to ask how much further Tower Bridge actually was. He told us we would find it after passing several more bridges and, lo and behold, we eventually did! It was still very far in the distance — way too far to walk, even if it wasn’t already after ten p.m. — but we did admire it for a while before trying to find a tube station.

The closest one, we were told by another guard, was Southwark. So after dragging our sore, tired feet and sleepy heads along the sidewalks of London, we eventually came upon the station. At that point, my entire body was absolutely ranting at me — what did I think I was doing?! We’d been walking for almost ten hours straight, pausing just to have dinner. My busted knee and ankle were getting sore. Jet-lag and crankiness were setting in. So Southwark couldn’t come along fast enough!

Until we realized it was closed. The station was closed.

At one of the famous red phone booths

At one of the famous red phone booths

I tried not to panic as Stacy guided us over to a nearby bus station, where we waited with a crazy woman ranting about how “they ask too much” (who they were and why they were asking “too much” of this poor lady, I’ll never know) until one of the familiar red buses appeared to save us. We rode to the Elephant & Castle station and took the tube back to Harrow, a very long ride for two sleepy ladies but a welcome relief from our day of extreme touring and walking. I barely remember falling asleep Saturday night, but I did call home and filled my mom in on many of the sites we captured on film.

Things were pretty slow-going Sunday morning. When I woke up on the air mattress, I felt like someone had taken a sledge hammer and smashed in almost every part of my body. My feet and legs hurt so badly, they felt permanently cramped and twisted. Just wriggling my toes hurt. I forced myself to shower, put on some comfortable clothes and slipped on a borrowed pair of “trainers” (or sneakers) from Stacy. Much to my mom’s chagrin, I’d only packed sandals — I had absolutely no idea how hard I would be on my feet! Being so notoriously stubborn, I once again learned my lesson the hard way. At least I’d actually thought to pack socks.

Hampton Court Palace in Surrey

Hampton Court Palace in Surrey

Thank goodness our Sunday was a little bit less hectic, far more low-key — and included a trip by train out to Surrey to visit Hampton Court Palace, home of King Henry VIII. Dad and I are obsessed with The Tudors,” the popular Showtime television show detailing the lives of the notorious womanizer and powerful English leader whose power and religious influence still impact modern British society. I loved touring the building and the traditional English gardens, many of which were enormous and different than I expected. Although they originally called for rain on Sunday – the only day precipitation was in the forecast – it was really hot, sunny and completely cloudless. We walked around the perimeter of the huge estate, getting sunburned and people watching. I really liked the huge, crazy-looking shrubs around the property! I felt like I was in a totally foreign place.

Much taller than I am!

Much taller than I am!

Like the times I’ve stood in the Sistine Chapel, rode in a gondola in Venice or looked up at the Roman Coliseum, it was impossible to realize where I actually was as I was there. We look at pictures in books, read about places online and watch movies and TV shows set in these famous places but, when you’re really standing there yourself, the experience is so surreal that it’s hard to really grasp what’s going on. I couldn’t really fathom that I was standing in King Henry’s real dining room, looking up at beautiful stained glass windows and tapestries originally created for him in the 1500s. How can modern onlookers process that? It’s craziness! And we don’t have anything nearly that old in America, so the antique quality of everything is totally a strange concept for me.

After we were finished enjoying Hampton Court, we walked back up the bridge over the Thames and got this famous ice cream my good friend – and Brit by heritage – Palmer is always talking about, complete with a chocolate flake stick! I’d never even heard of it, but he promised me it would be delicious. Definitely good. Stacy enjoyed hers, too, right before it fell off her cone and she caught it one-handed! It got all over the front of her dress and dribbled down her chin. We laughed as we tried to find a washroom for her clean up, eventually making it back to the train station. Thankfully it all washed out!

Back at the dorms that night, Stacy cooked spaghetti for our final dinner – comprised of ingredients we’d gotten at a British grocery store, Sainsbury’s, that morning. Stacy pointed out how much cheaper food prices were there, including a loaf of bread for 98p (about $1.56). We ate the delicious dinner in the dorm kitchen with the windows open – very pretty and relaxing – and watched “The Devil Wears Prada” on Stacy’s laptop. We chatted away for the rest of the night before eventually falling asleep around midnight, another nightly tradition.

I woke up early Sunday feeling completely, utterly exhausted – all of the running of the past few days definitely caught up with me! But since I only had a few hours left before my 3 p.m. flight out, we had to make the most of my remaining time in England. We took the tube to Harrow-On-The-Hill for breakfast and made a quick stop in Primark, a big Irish clothing/accessories store in what looked like a mall (but Stacy tells me it wasn’t). If I didn’t know for a fact that my suitcase was about to burst open at the slightest touch, I probably would have grabbed some tops! Everything was very inexpensive and really colorful. The place was jammed.

Stacy and the famous ice cream at Hampton Court

Stacy and the famous ice cream at Hampton Court

We walked heavily back to the dorms for the final time that morning, gathering up all of my stuff and walking back to Northwick Park, Stacy’s underground stop. She helped me lug my gigantic bag up the stairs – elevators, or lifts, are shockingly scarce – and we said goodbye before I boarded the train for Heathrow again! Since the ride is about an hour and a half, I told Stacy I would be fine to get to the airport alone – all I had to do was change trains at King’s Cross and make sure I boarded the ride car to Terminal 5. I was pretty freaked out about doing this early in the week but, after spending all weekend on the underground, I was cocky enough to believe I could find my way by myself!

Thankfully, I did – and it was really an awesome experience spending those last few hours by myself. As Stacy herself told me, it really made me feel so calm, independent and alive . . . just really exhilarated. I know it sounds pretty silly to talk about riding a subway like that, but I can’t exactly describe it! Just being so far from home, having made this journey alone and finding my way . . . it was really powerful for me. I listened to Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” and Strawberry Swing,” my favorite song, came on, my eyes started to tear up. As Chris Martin croons, “It’s such, such a perfect day . . .”

And it was – a perfect day, a perfect weekend. We all know that you can’t visit the same place twice, and I really wondered if I’d built London up into some sort of crazy ideal over the past few years. The last time I was there with my family I’d just graduated from college and hadn’t yet started my full-time job, so I was flying off without the sense of adulthood and responsibility I now associate with my everyday life. That was the first time I’d been overseas and was totally overwhelmed with culture shock, but this time I knew more of what to expect.

underground

Street scene, one of my favorites!

I just wasn’t sure if I would . . . feel the same way about it again. I’d fallen in love with a city where I’d only spent two days – and this time, only four. But the weekend was enough to not only stoke the embers of my obsession with England, but really send that flame soaring skyward! I loved it as much as I hoped, and haven’t felt so in the moment in years. I didn’t worry about work or anxiety or anything while I was there – I was just there. I finally, finally let myself be here now. Definitely magical.

I’m sure I’m forgetting some of the little things that made the weekend special, but I’ll add them in as they come up over time! Thanks to everyone who listened to me prattle on and humored my Anglophilia leading up to and following this event . . . and thanks in advance for listening to all of my stories – the ones I’ll probably be telling for the rest of my life!

I took more than 600 photos while I was gone, and I’ve posted many of my favorites on my Flickr account. Check those out here.

If you’re interested in just my garden photos from Hyde Park, check out the blooms here!

Cheers!