Wish I could say I didn’t sweat my way through the spelling bee . . .

spelling bee


. . . but that would be a lie.

I’ve never been so terrified of the English language in my life.

And I was not competing.

When I was asked to be the official word caller for a county-wide spelling bee this week, my gut instinct was to run screaming into the cold, snowy night. Though I don’t generally mind public speaking, my head has been so full of home stuff that I worried I couldn’t fit any other stressful event into my panicking brain.

But, you know, it worked out. Load up on caffeine and do that thing, I say!

As a staff member of the local newspaper sponsoring the bee, I felt it was my professional duty to help out. And I like an adventure, a challenge. I said from the get-go that, if nothing else, it would make for a good story.

And here we are. Without potentially-embarrassing challenges, we’d have nothing to share over dinner, right?

Or, in my case, on a blog.

I was tasked with saying a word for each student, then offering the requested definition, sentence, etc. Though I participated in spelling bees as a kid and watch the national competitions sometimes, I didn’t know much about the official rules. And oh, there are official rules. After boning up on the ins and outs, I plunged headfirst into the murky waters of studying for the bee myself.

This was a middle school event, I reasoned. How hard could it be?

Um.

Guys, some of those words were ridiculous. Insane. Unpronounceable . . . even to me. And I’m a book nerd, as we know. I got my bachelor’s in English. I read like a madwoman. I have a daily calendar featuring nothing but word origins, and I consider myself a wordsmith. But this? These? Some of the terms were completely foreign to me — “azimuth,” “keelhaul” — and I spent the better part of Sunday studying like I was back cramming for final exams in college.

Despite being out of school for seven years, I have this recurring nightmare that I’ve signed up for a class and forgotten all about it . . . only to realize it’s the end of the semester, you know, and I haven’t shown up for any of the tests. It’s usually a math class, given numbers make me clammy, but sometimes it’s a history course. Or this crazy logic class I once took.

The spelling bee? This is what that felt like. Like I was late to a party to which I didn’t know I’d been invited, and oh yeah — the party features 49 anxious kids staring at you intently, watching your mouth move for the exact pronunciation of an obscure word. Which you can’t screw up. While parents and teachers and administrators stand by, waiting for you to falter.

I was sweating. Sweating so much.

THE PRESSURE. Oh, the pressure!

Joining the bee as word caller was a last-minute thing, and I felt completely adrift . . . save the packet of 300 words delivered to me Friday. Those words became my anchor, a life raft.

I didn’t want to mess up. Look silly. Embarrass the paper. Look dumb. I was worried I’d trip up on the words, bumbling and stuttering . . . looking completely inept, basically. I was worried my throat would close up, I’d have a panic attack, I’d lose it completely.

That was a bit dramatic, of course.

I did none of those things.

Everything was fine. As always.

Once I hit my stride, it was nothing to recite words and sentences into a microphone. I felt for the kids, all eliminated one by one; I remembered being in their shoes so easily, and it didn’t feel so long ago. But everyone did well, very well, and I was proud.

Of them. And of me.

As I always tell my dad (which always makes him chuckle), Once again, my worst fears were unfounded.

I worry and worry and obsess about these things, and somehow? They always go off without (much of) a hitch. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Thank God for my theater background, though. Being a drama geek in high school has served me well over the years. Once chronically shy, my mom has always said she wanted to save my sister and me the paralysis of public speaking by teaching us not to be afraid of standing in front of a group. My parents got us into dance lessons as soon as possible. I was 3 when I took my first class, and I learned not to be afraid of putting myself out there.

I’m very grateful for that — but I still get scared. I push through it, though. And the bee? It was fun! Really fun. I was honored to have been asked. Tuesday’s winner will be advancing to the national level, and I hope we’ll get to see her in the big competition.

And me? I’m going to go breathe into a paper bag now.

And keep studying, maybe.

You never know when you’ll need to find the azimuth, y’all.


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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


A very bookish baby shower

A very bookish baby shower


In early February, friends and family gathered to welcome my cousin Karen’s little one — due later this month! Though I meant to write about this a little earlier than right now, it’s fun reliving that afternoon . . . and all the awesome touches that went into making it special.

Book wreathFrom the food to the decorations to the games, these lovely ladies — Karen’s cadre of awesome friends — put on a day to remember. Walking up to the front door put you face-to-face with a book-inspired wreath (that I kind of wanted to steal. Did I say that?). I’m not talented enough to even begin thinking about how the ladies whipped this wreath up, but seriously: it was impressive.

I mentioned the prep work for the big day and how guests were asked to bring their favorite childhood reads to build the baby’s library, which I thought was an awesome idea. Upon arrival, we were given book plates to sign so each story would bear an imprint of the giver. I love that my little cousin will someday flip through If You Give A Mouse a Cookie and see my chicken scratch!


Book plates


Making our way into the dining room, each of the dishes had been inspired by a children’s story — like The Onion’s Great Escape. As I’d started Weight Watchers about two weeks before, I had to run out of there as fast as my jiggly legs would carry me. Still? I could totally appreciate the creativity from afar, and I only snuck in once: to get a snivel of strawberry pretzel salad, a personal favorite (and Karen’s, too!).


Pigs in a blanket

Onions Great Escape


As we all admired the stories artfully placed around the living room, it was obvious that Baby’s library was going to be pretty impressive — though most of us were more concerned with a certain dessert in the kitchen. Our grandmother commissioned a book cake for the occasion, topped with Mother Goose reading a story, and I almost died from the cute.


Book cake


And though I heard it was delicious, I didn’t eat any cake.

I did have two of Maw Maw’s famous homemade peanut butter cups . . . but I’m only human.

We had so much fun celebrating Karen and Ben, who are one of the best and sweetest couples I know. I’m so excited to welcome a new member to our growing family, and I wish their trio so much love and happiness.

And lots — and lots — of good reads!


Getting the sparkly wedding ball rolling

Engagement ring and coffee


Though I’d vowed to refrain from much wedding planning until after January 1, y’all know I’m no good at waiting. I’d crafted color-coded spreadsheets and potential guest lists before Christmas Eve — all in the name of having a plan. I like plans. I like lists. I like organization. And now that 2013 is here, I’m in major wedding mode for our planned November nuptials.

It should surprise no one that the very first vendor I researched — before the venue, catering or florists — was the photographer. When my sister and I attended a bridal event with a friend last fall, we met a lovely mother-daughter photographer duo from our area. I was so enamored with the vintage quality of their photos and fun, friendly personalities that I immediately bookmarked their site — you know, “for someday.” I’ve had a wedding bookmarks folder in my browser since a friend was engaged four years ago, so you know I’m happy to be finally using some of this research!

In the months since that meeting, I’ve followed their event shoots with only the tiniest smidgen of jealousy — and fantasized about booking them someday. Just days after Spencer proposed, I’d emailed Maggie and Betty to get the sparkly wedding ball rolling — and once we finalize a date, Birds of a Feather Photography will document our big day.

I’m so excited.

I’m even more excited that Spence liked the ladies as much as I did, and that their work spoke to him like it spoke to me. There’s something timeless and serene about their images — and I’m thrilled they’ll be the ones behind the lens this fall. Knowing how passionate my family is about photography, I figured finding just the right people to document our wedding would be rough . . . and I feel lucky to have stumbled upon them so early in the process.

As far as other wedding-related matters? We have a color palette in mind, and I’ve mocked up a few potential save-the-dates. We’re visiting a prospective venue this weekend with my parents and sister, and I’m hoping it looks as lovely in person as it does online and in reviews . . . because it can accommodate our large guest list and budget. No easy feat. Kate and her fiance have already chosen their site and date (in September!), so it’s going to be quite a busy year.

I’m seeing wedding planning is filled with decisions “big and small,” as a coordinator recently said, and sometimes the sheer volume of what needs to be done overwhelms me . . . but then I remember we’re really planning a big ol’ party to celebrate our union, and everything is going to be fine.

Better than fine, even. Everything will be awesome.


A day at the olde Renaissance faire


I was a Ren Fest hold-out.

I’m not quite sure where my beef with the annual Maryland Renaissance Festival stemmed from. I thought it was geeky? Or strange? Or like a grown-up version of trick-or-treating, wandering from booth to booth with cider and asking for treats?

I don’t know. I was misled. And I’ve since seen the error of my ways — and am officially converted.

This year marked my first trip to the yearly celebration of all things medieval. We’d talked about going last year, but it never worked out. My sister and her boyfriend are big fans and frequently discussed the awesomeness of Ren Fest’s good eats, and I’m nothing if not hungry. So with that in mind, we made plans to meet up with my cousin Karen and her husband, Ben, who showed us the ins and outs of such an experience. When our buddies Mike and Bethany got there, too, our crew of eight was ready to tackle anything.

Including archery. And rock climbing.

Well, they attempted rock climbing. I’m not that crazy.



Our day at Ren Fest was marked by lots of good eats, hard apple cider and lots — I mean lots — of people-watching. Many attendees come dressed in their finery: flowing gowns; kilts; suits of armor; fairy wings. It was like stepping into a magical land. Or a “Harry Potter”-esque village. Because the festival happens every year, the structures are permanent. Before we got there, I was picturing circus-like tents and the atmosphere of a county fair.

Not so much.

Ren Fest is no joke. Jousting, shops, dining, archery, a maze — there was more than enough to kill an afternoon. I really enjoyed the joust and my “fryed” ice cream (it’s old-timey, see), and it didn’t hurt that it was an absolutely gorgeous fall day spent with family and friends. It was huge, too, and easy to get turned around. Even with the maps and texting, it wasn’t hard to get separated. And wind up in the middle of a walking “show.”



Though I’m not sure I’m ready to dress up myself, I see the appeal of being someone else for a day — and walking around with others who totally appreciate the merits of chainmail. Going from 2012 to 1514 wasn’t as big a leap as I expected . . . especially after watching “The Tudors” religiously for years.

Man, I miss that show.



So after years of dodging the Ren Fest, I finally made it — and I’m not sure why I was such a fool. I mean, how can you be unhappy while eating a crab, cheese and Old Bay-covered pretzel? (This is Maryland, after all.) And with plenty of photo opportunities, I was a happy little Renaissance-era camper.

I’m not sure you’ll squeeze me into a Queen Guinevere gown anytime soon, but the good eats and fall leaves will keep me coming back for more.



National Book Festival promises to be a good ol’ bookish time

Taking a short break from all the BBAW festivities today to mention an event I’m incredibly excited about: the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.!

After last year’s rainy day, I’m hoping for some decent early fall weather — because we have an all-star literary cast coming to town. With the likes of Isabel Allende, Diana Gabaldon, Julia Glass, Ken Follett, Jonathan Franzen (oh, the controversy!), Allegra Goodman, Suzanne Collins and my crush to end all crushes, Jonathan Safran Foer, it’s sure to be a fun time. (Check out the full list of featured authors for more.)

Held from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25, rain or shine, the National Book Festival is a great way to see authors you’ve admired for years, listen to plenty of literary talk and meet other book-loving folks in the nation’s capital. The festivities are happening between 3rd and 7th Streets downtown.

I’m about 45 minutes outside the city and taking the Metro in, where I’ll spend the day dragging Spencer to a seat where I can ogle Foer and try to snap non-blurry photos while he talks about how it’s bad to eat animals. That might be awkward for me, but we’ll roll with it.

Like last year, Swapna of S. Krishna’s Books is organizing a post-event dinner for book bloggers in attendance — and I hope you can make it! Spence and I will be at Elephant & Castle, a nearby British-style pub with awesome soft pretzels, and you can get all those details here. Submit the form to Swapna by Sept. 19 so we have a way to reach one another, if desired, and hopefully grab some grub after the festival winds down.

I’ll be live tweeting from the event using the hashtag #nbf; follow me @writemeg! Twitter can be a great way to reach me on event day, too, if you’d like to track me down. Unlike the Book Blogger Convention, I haven’t yet decided what I’ll be wearing . . . that will depend on whether or not we get a nice, sunny day. Not the Power Dress, that I know, but I’ll keep you posted.

And I’ll have an epic recap. I mean, that’s what I do.

Ready to read at the National Book Festival, y’all?

national_book_festival

So this bookish event is happening downtown this weekend. You may have heard of this little gathering . . . it’s The National Book Festival! Yes, folks, it’s that time of year again. Last fall I lamented the fact that I’d been living under a rock and had to work the day of the bash, but this year? Not so much! Working just one job has been quite, um, awesome. So there’s no way I’m missing this year’s festivities!

Authors representing all genres will be on the mall in Washington, D.C. from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26 — reading, signing novels and, most importantly, talking books! Among many others, slated to appear are James Patterson, Shannon Hale, Paula Deen, Nicholas Sparks, Ken Burns, Julia Glass and George Pelecanos.

My dad and I will be making the trek downtown, where we’ll be dashing from pavilion to pavilion in order to soak up as much literary goodness as possible. If you’re looking for me, I’ll be the one in the blue top with a slightly crazed look in my eye. Look for the curly hair — it’s slightly ridiculous, but comes in handy if you’re searching for me in a crowd! After the event is over, I’ll be heading to dinner with several of the fine book bloggers I’ve gotten to “know” over the past year, and I’m seriously excited.

festival_mapIf you’re coming to the event, The Washington Post has a really helpful special section (see, special sections! I’m a special sections editor, too, so I have to plug them when I can!) on the festival, including times, author bios and a handy map. Said map has already been printed and highlighted by yours truly so we  can make it to each author discussion quickly and efficiently! Yes, I’m a tad OCD. But that’s part of my voracious charm, right?

The Library Of Congress is also integrating some nifty social media tools this year, including the ability to text “BOOK” to 61399 for book news and information while on the mall. For everyone into Twitter, like moi, you can follow the LOC and join in festival-related news with the hashtag #nbf (National Book Festival, kiddos). If I can find a free Wi-Fi hotspot (please, oh please!), you know I’ll be Tweeting it up!

So there you have it! I hope we have a fine bookish Saturday and look forward to meeting many of you at the festival! If you see me, remember — I have blog business cards to hand out! If that doesn’t entice you to approach, well, I don’t know what will.