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Cards

I ran into an old friend recently.

It was one of those funny situations where you see someone out of context: a teacher at the grocery store; your boss in a Target clearance aisle. I hadn’t seen M., the girlfriend of a friend I met through my sister, since last New Year’s. We were in Hallmark.

The last time we saw each other, in those newborn hours of 2015, I was still adjusting to the idea of being pregnant. It seemed a strange concept . . . almost an embarrassing one. Despite being 29 years old, married and independent and financially sound, the admission that I was expecting was always accompanied by my own nervous laughter.

In fact, I’d been whispering it. A friend pointed that out. “I’m pregnant!” I’d hiss, raising my eyebrows, even if everyone in the room already knew the state of my womb.

I told M. at the New Year’s party, her eyes lighting up. She confided that she was anticipating a marriage proposal in coming months. And though we hadn’t seen each other in almost a year, M. is so easy to talk to that we can pick up where we left off.

“So,” she said in the card store, hands cross delicately on a counter, “you had your baby?”

I blinked at her. A beat of silence passed, then two. Paper wishes of “Happy birthday!” and “Merry Christmas!” and “Happy Baptism!” hemmed us into a corner. My own stack of cards drooped in my hands.

“Oh wow, yes,” I said. “Are we … not Facebook friends?”

For two 30-year-olds in 2015, this was . . . bizarre. Almost unimaginable. But I wracked my brain to think of any posts I’d seen from M. in recent months — photos of a tropical vacation, news of a job offer — only to draw a blank.

“Oh, I’m not on Facebook,” she said. “Do you have a boy or a girl?”

To see a friend — in person, in the flesh — and tell her the news of my son was . . . well, it was invigorating. Just as she’d shared in my happiness with my in-person pregnancy announcement, the news of Oliver’s birth brought on the same excitement.

M. and I don’t trade texts or tweets; we don’t “like” each other’s lunches or comment on cat videos. Just as I knew nothing of her engagement (her boyfriend had indeed popped the question), she knew nothing of my baby. M. hadn’t seen our mutual friends in months, either.

How rare it is to tell — really tell — my own stories now. I’m so used to divulging my experiences on Facebook, Twitter, through my column and this blog — to prepare vignettes of my life for public consumption; to frame my anecdotes in an Instagram square. Nothing feels private — not unless you work hard to keep it that way. Everything is in a feed.

Telling M. about Oliver and watch her eyes crinkle? That brought me joy. And when I saw her ring (on her actual hand), it was all I could do not to jump up and down with her.

This is not to say I’m going ghost online. I love keeping up with friends and family through social media . . . and would be pretty bored without it. But that chat with M. definitely got me thinking about the nature of connection — and how I might want to be more present in others’ lives.

Thumbs-up emoji. Hands clapping emoji. Pink heart.


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Book review: ‘Open Road Summer’ by Emery Lord

Open Road Summer 2Though the humid days and sticky nights will soon fade into autumn, there’s still time to enjoy a summer treat — and Emery Lord’s Open Road Summer may well be it.

Life on the road with music superstar Delilah “Dee” Montgomery is always an adventure — especially for Reagan O’Neill, Dee’s childhood best friend. Happy to shimmy away from a troubled year back home in Nashville, Reagan throws herself into keeping Dee happy and energized while trying to block out memories of the last few months.

After a scandal threatens to sully Dee’s deserved “good-girl” image, a scheme to pair her with Matt Finch — a musician who earned fame with his brothers, but is decidedly all grown up — hopes to put a spin on the situation. As Reagan gets to know Matt away from the harsh glare of the spotlight, she realizes there may be more to him — and life — than she’d anticipated.

What I really loved about Open Road Summer was its honest take on first love and friendship. Having a best friend requires nurturing and care just like any other relationship — something Reagan and Dee acknowledge and understand. Though they’re ridiculously tight and always looking out for each other, they fight and fret and have their disagreements, too. They’re like sisters — and as with any dynamic, there are ups and downs.

Still, the bond the teens share is admirable . . . especially as the enter and leave one another’s orbits. As Dee’s honest lyrics and sweet persona catapult her far from their high school, she could have left Reagan behind — but she doesn’t. Though the “scandal” concerning Dee is extremely mild, especially by modern standards, I bought the idea that pairing her with “wholesome” singer Matt Finch would be a positive for them both.

Especially because Matt was pretty swoon-worthy.

I couldn’t read Open Road Summer without picturing Taylor Swift as Dee and Nick Jonas as Matt, which worked for me. Their stories paralleled their famous counterparts enough to create the comparison, but they certainly weren’t copycats. Matt, in particular, is shouldering his own pain alongside Reagan — but being a tough girl and all, she doesn’t want him to know it.

As a narrator, Reagan was the right combination of jaded but hopeful. She puts on a good front, you know, with her rough-and-tumble boyfriends and high heels — but we know she’s secretly striving for connection, just like all of us. Her evolution from damaged to trying was believable and commendable, and I definitely bonded with her and wanted her to succeed.

This is a quick, enjoyable read about hanging on and letting go — and I loved its accurate portrayal of friendship and love. While the ending was hopeful, it wasn’t sappy . . . which I really appreciated given, you know, we are talking about teenagers here. Not to be a cranky Old Married, but honestly — stories about 17-year-olds pledging their undying love sort of provoke epic eye-rolling in me.

But there were no rolled eyes here. Only big grins.

Fans of contemporary young adult novels, tales of first love and stories centered around the rich and famous (but nice!) will find lots to enjoy in Emery Lord’s Open Road Summer. It’s the perfect companion for a late-summer weekend . . . virgin daiquiri not included.

4 out of 5

Pub: April 15, 2014 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Copy provided by publisher via the lovely ladies of Rather Be Reading

What we talk about in our twenties

Sunset

Over the weekend, I had an interesting chat about chatting.

What we talk about with others.

How we handle social situations.

I’ll admit to getting a little anxious in big groups, and sometimes I feel like I have “nothing to say” — or nothing interesting to say, anyway. Because I write a personal newspaper column, most of my “good” stories become fodder for my work. It may not seem tough to write a measly 450 words twice a week, y’all, but trust me: it gets challenging.

Sometimes I sit around in my pajamas and eat cookie butter out of a jar. Other times Spencer and I watch “Manhattan” and surf eBay and hang around drinking coffee, then do some laundry or pull weeds or whatever. All necessary tasks — but not exactly compelling.

When my sister and I had the chaos of planning two weddings last year, we always had something to talk about. Joint bridal planning is a unique brand of chaos that provided constant conversation with everyone we knew for a solid year, and I’ll be darned if I didn’t milk that for all it was worth.

(I did. I know I did.)

Regarding social occasions, I find that so much we want to share with others — IRL, if you will — has already been “shared” elsewhere. We post photos of vacations on Facebook; share milestones on Twitter; Instagram the heck out of an awesome meal. By the time we actually see someone, they’re well aware of what we’ve been doing and eating and thinking about.

For me, there’s another component: because I blog. And beyond that, friends may read my column and have already “heard” everything cool going on in my world.

I’ve gotten kind of used to this. It is what it is. The fact of the matter is, you know, I’m kind of boring; I only do so many “interesting” things in a day. And when I get together with folks I haven’t seen in a while, there aren’t always that many fascinating anecdotes to relay.

And that’s okay. It doesn’t matter.

Because sometimes? It’s enough to just be together. Without iPhones, without Facebook, without Gchat. It’s enough to sit and drink a cold beer on a friend’s new deck and blow bubbles with a 3-year-old and all watch the sun go down. To brush mosquitoes away from each other’s legs, hold up a beer and mouth “Another?” and laugh about silliness from five years ago — because we can.

Sunset II

I haven’t had a large crew of friends since high school, back when we bonded through theatre in the way that only in-the-trenches teens can. As an adult, I was folded into a large group of friends via my brother-in-law and sister — and my husband was been welcomed, too. I’m so grateful for all of them.

Maybe our conversations are about work, or houses, or children . . . maybe a little travel, if we’re lucky, or movies we’ve seen. Plans we have. Food we’ve made. Or money because, you know, we all only have so much of it; budgeting has become a common talking point.

I’ve learned from them. Been comforted by them. And even if it’s not all groundbreaking stuff, it’s more than enough for a group of twenty-somethings who have ushered in many life phases together. Though I didn’t meet the crew until we were all out of college and making our young way into the world, I’ve known them all longer than I’ve known my own husband.

It’s good, really — to look out at a porch now filled with newborns and toddlers, friends who have moved away and come back, those of us who have coupled up and married and now throw bashes in new spaces. We can’t all get together without mentioning how “things have changed,” often jokingly and innocently . . . because they have. Change is everywhere. It fills the cracks of every conversation.

But that change feels good, too — solid, real, reassuring. As we enter different phases at different times, we lend support and camaraderie. One couple actually bought their house the day before we did, and we’ve bonded over unpacking and adulthood in new ways.

Things change. Things stay the same.

And when we talk, we make the words matter.


Book review: ‘The Heart Is Not a Size’ by Beth Kephart

The Heart Is Not a SizeBest friends Georgia and Riley don’t keep much from one another — but each is bearing a tart fruit of secrecy in different ways. When an opportunity to visit Mexico as part of a group community project comes up, Georgia longs to get away from her stagnant present before college . . . but is afraid to go alone. She convinces Riley to sign up, too — and their secrets can’t help but emerge in the baking-hot sun of Anapra.

Beth Kephart’s The Heart Is Not a Size is a story of friendship, trust and acceptance. With Kephart’s trademark lyrical language and descriptions that feel like a pierce through the heart, her young adult novel struck a chord with me — and likely will with anyone who has had a best friend.

Georgia is the sort of talented girl wracked by self doubt we all remember from our teen years — or were ourselves. I definitely relate to her body-image issues and uncomfortableness in her own skin, especially compared to Riley’s so-thin-she’s-disappearing presence. The novel is about Riley’s on-the-surface eating disorder, yes, but it’s so much more than that. It’s about self-esteem and longing and desperately wanting to belong, but not knowing how to start.

It’s Georgia falling to pieces without anyone to bolster her up, and learning to save herself . . . and also about Riley still being Riley, impossible and beautiful, and her longing to spread beauty to others when she cannot see it in herself. I wanted to smack Riley’s mother for the number she’s done on her daughter, and these self-confidence issues made me really think about how I will want to speak with and to a future daughter/child someday. My heart ached for them both, especially as Georgia struggled with anxiety and doubt. Who hasn’t?

The Heart Is Not a Size is a quick, atmospheric read that dropped me in the middle of the cracking villages of Anapra and broke my heart for its inhabitants. Kephart herself visited the village, as she notes at the end of the book, and her imagery is amazing. From the dolls abandoned atop crumbling roofs to the eager, hopeful faces of children to the wolfish dog who stalks their lodging, it was so descriptive and engulfing. For a few days, I was truly a part of their expedition.

Though I wished at times to have bonded more with Riley outside of Georgia’s lens, I think the dependency of their friendship — and how they learn to separate, just a bit — is important. I couldn’t help picturing Riley as the sort of Head Cheerleader Princess-type that tortured peons in school, but I know isn’t right. I just felt like I got to know Georgia much better than her best friend, though I guess that’s to be expected. Georgia is our narrator, after all.

Fans of young adult fiction, socially-conscious novels and lyrical writing will find much to love in Kephart’s story of acceptance and forgiveness. It was a beautifully-written work I will remember.


4 out of 5!

Pub: 2010 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg


Postal connections

photo


Remember the More Love Letters project? I’m still writing strong for those who need a boost, and I wanted to mention the team’s new system: more people! More love letter requests! More good sent out into the world!

I know I harp on the power of the written word (perhaps too often?), but I really believe “real” mail — a letter, care package, little trinket . . . or just a “hi!” card — has the power to restore the spirit. When’s the last time you received something other than a sales flyer, bill or charity request? How did it make you feel?

More than a decade after the digital explosion, I see many people now taking a step back from media like Facebook. Maybe we’ve over-shared. Maybe we’re fatigued from the whole experience. It might seem strange to scrawl this on a blog, of all places, but I also find myself turning a little more inward and sharing less online these days. When I see my friends in person, I don’t want all my stories to be something they already saw on Instagram.

I like having moments — real moments — just for us. And for my fiance. And for my family. It’s not all about shouting into the void, waiting to see if anyone will bite. Life is fragile and way, way too short. We all crave real connection.

Mail can do that.

If the idea of penning words of encouragement to a stranger feels a little weird to you, I challenge you to embrace the weirdness. Get out that box of note cards you got for your birthday but have never had an occasion to use. Pick up a funny card for 99 cents at the grocery store. Heck, steal a page of your kid’s notebook paper and just sit down to write. Whatever you say will be more than enough. There are people who need you. And when you learn about them, the words will come to you. They always do.


Book review: ‘All the Summer Girls’ by Meg Donohue

All the Summer GirlsThree friends, three cities, three completely different lives . . . and one summer house filled with memories, ready to be revisited — or best left in the past.

In Philadelphia, good girl Kate is dumped by her fiance the day she learns she is pregnant with his child. In New York City, beautiful stay-at-home mom Vanessa is obsessively searching the Internet for news of an old flame. And in San Francisco, Dani, the aspiring writer who can’t seem to put down a book — or a cocktail — long enough to open her laptop, has just been fired . . . again.

In an effort to regroup, Kate, Vanessa, and Dani retreat to the New Jersey beach town where they once spent their summers. Emboldened by the seductive cadences of the shore, the women being to realize how much their lives, and friendships, have been shaped by the choices they made one fateful night on the beach eight years earlier — and the secrets that only now threaten to surface. (Goodreads)

Meg Donohue’s All the Summer Girls is a story of friendship.

Oh, it’s about more than that, too — like motherhood and substance abuse and grief and first love. But beyond those tiny, inconsequential little topics? It’s friendship. Sisterhood. The bonds of women — the marks we make upon each other, and how we flounder or thrive in the aftermath of loss.

A fateful night one summer eight years before drove a wedge between this once-inseparable trio: three friends who grew up visiting the same beach house each summer in Avalon, New Jersey. It took me about 30 pages to clarify who was with whom and what they were doing and where they lived, etc., but once I had the principle players down, I was hooked on Donohue’s latest. Her sophomore effort delved much deeper into her characters’ interior lives than How To Eat A Cupcake, which I really appreciated. And who couldn’t use a little literary vacation to the Jersey Shore? (Sans Snooki, of course.)

Almost a decade later, each woman is carrying a secret — or a half-truth — about one tragic night. Though Kate and Vanessa have moved jerkily forward, Dani is as broken as ever. Despite her messy edges (or maybe because of them?), Dani was my favorite character. An aspiring novelist and lost soul who wanders San Francisco like a ghost, Dani dances with too many personal demons . . . and I really felt for her. More than the others. When she reunites with Vanessa and Kate after losing her twelfth job in seven years (no small feat), we know her tough, somber exterior is just a mask.

Vanessa. Despite empathizing with her desire to sift through the painful end of a first love, I found something about her to be off-putting. Despite all she’s gone through in her marriage, something about her was alarming. But she didn’t irk me, persay; just functioned more as an enigma. I knew her the least of the women — and was the least interested in her.

But Kate. My Type-A side could relate to this serious, steadfast lawyer; my tender side broke in half as she struggled with the end of an engagement and new, unexpected pregnancy (all facts revealed almost immediately, so no spoilers). She’s never come to terms with what happened in Avalon eight years ago, changing her family forever, and her fiance’s ultimatum that she come to terms with it was heartbreaking. And that her friends would declare A Kate is a Kate is a Kate felt, to me, like the highest kind of compliment. She’s loyal, honest and true.

The book is quick and fast and, dare I say it, an excellent “beach read.” I hesitate to use the term too often because we hear it all the time as soon as Memorial Day rolls around. Plus, you know, some readers dismiss “beach reads” as fluffy entertainment — and All the Summer Girls has real heart. I felt the ends were wrapped nicely without convenient “tied with a bow” packaging, and I appreciated the resolute — even hopeful — close. After the heartache, it was a balm.

With mystery, beautiful language and a gorgeous beach backdrop, Donohue’s story will appeal to fans of women’s fiction, novels on friendship and books laced with emotion and drama in equal measure. All the Summer Girls deserves that much-coveted spot next to your SPF 30 — or the spot on your nightstand to simply take you away.


4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0062203819 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review


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