Enjoying the ride

Tall balloon

The quiet surprised me the most.

The first time we took a hot air balloon ride (over Napa Valley, back in our dating days of 2012), we were in a large basket with at least 10 other adults. It was crowded, everyone was chatting — and Spencer I wound up in different compartments on our ride.

(Side note: I was somewhat convinced Spence was going to propose on that fateful ride, but that moment would come six months later. Also, if he had wanted to pop the question in that balloon, it might have been mighty awkward. We would barely have been able to reach each other and hug.)

Back on our honeymoon last November, Spence and I booked a second ride over Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Having had so much fun the last go ’round, we were hoping for another memorable experience. Alas — cold and wind kept us grounded that trip, meaning we had to reschedule . . . for nine months later.

We certainly could have gotten back out to Woodstock, Va., before last weekend, but it’s a long trip — and I knew we’d be in the area for an annual ham radio event Spencer loves on Sunday. The stars finally aligned for us to get airborne once more.

Climbing into the basket (I have stumpy legs — it’s a process), I felt a rush of nerves as our balloon was untethered and the ground crew below us began to fall away. When a hot air balloon is released, everything happens really quickly; one moment you’re on the grass, the next you’re airborne and looking down at the world you thought you knew.

Everything looks different from above.


Blowing up balloons

Mountain view

Church sunset

Farmland


I thought I’d be scared, but somehow . . . I wasn’t. On paper, this looks like exactly the sort of experience that would push me into a fetal-position panic attack (extreme heights, lack of protection/parachute, risk of pilot error and, um, horrible fall to imminent death), but I didn’t even hesitate to ungracefully get in.

Not even after signing my life away in a series of legal documents.

Unlike our large ride in California, only five of us — including the pilot — shared this basket. Without the occasional bursts of fire from the burner keeping us afloat, it was silent . . . or close to silent, anyway. Even from high above we heard cars on the highway, cicadas in trees, dogs barking below on working farms. It was peaceful . . . almost holy.

No one said much. We were smashed with strangers, for one, but more than that? It just didn’t seem like the time. I was too busy gazing at the mountains — ones we were almost even with, it felt — and taking in the low clouds cresting the darkening mountain peaks.

Though only in flight for about a half hour, our view from above was totally different from our sunrise trip in Napa — but just as exciting.


Hills and house

Shadowy hills

Red house

Balloon landing


And this time? I totally wasn’t analyzing Spencer’s every movement, waiting to spot the glint of a diamond. That was a beautiful thing.

We’re married now, I thought. This was an experience we were scheduled to have had in the early days after our wedding, but I suddenly felt grateful it hadn’t worked out.

We needed this break. From the house, from our worries, from work. Though it hasn’t been so very long since our Yosemite trip, the summer has been brutally busy — and this balloon ride, though brief, was almost medicinal.

I didn’t even panic as we sank toward the ground, our basket just clearing the treetops as our pilot prepared us for landing.

For once, I hadn’t worried about the ending.

I just enjoyed the ride.


Hands


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.

Weekend wrap-up: D.C., books & birthdays

newseumkatie_birthdayTo say the last few weeks have been busy would be a gross understatement (gross, I tell you!). Birthday season is always action-packed, but I’ve been enjoyed every minute of it! My baby sister turned 21 last Thursday and we made a trek to the Newseum in Washington, D.C. once more to check out the history of journalism and see all the cool exhibits. We had lunch at the Elephant & Castle — a British-style pub we love — and then had dinner at Clyde’s, which was awesome. Their fantastic blondie (and the birthday girl) are pictured at right!

Saturday was my sister’s big pool party, held by her boyfriend Eric! My grandmother’s “beer cake” was a huge hit, and I’m happy to say that I only had one slice — a serious achievement for me! I loved lounging with my best friend Nichole and meeting Kate and Eric’s great group of friends. Throughout the day, I even managed to actually A) put on a bathing suit; B) get in the pool; and C) participate in pool volleyball, all while barely keeping my head above water. (Hey, I’m only 5’2″. That pool was wicked deep!) 

poolI was proud that I’d “stepped out of my comfort zone” and made strides toward becoming a new, balanced and more relaxed me. I’m heading to another friend’s pool party this weekend, and I even broke down and bought a new suit! Of course, considering it’s almost August, I had a hard time finding anything decent . . . but that’s my own fault for being so inhibited for so long, I suppose!

little_china_pigYesterday found my mom, sister and I walking around an antiques show at our old high school, and logically my eye immediately went to any old books that seemed to be hanging around. I had a vague, ridiculous notion that maybe I’d find an antique copy of one of Jane Austen’s works at a crazy low price, but that didn’t happen! What we did find was a small, worn copy of a children’s book I haven’t seen or thought of in more than a decade — The Little China Pig. First published in 1969, my grandmother would read to Kate and me as kids from a copy that belonged to my mom and aunt! I got so excited when I saw it, and for $2 our china pig came home with us.

I’ve started a collection of kids’ books for my kids — all the unborn, not-even-a-remote-twinkle-in-my-eye ones. Is that strange? I just worry that when I have my own children, all of the movies, books and toys I loved will be gone — or, you know, selling for $1,000 on eBay. I want to make sure I have items like “The Little Mermaid” (my childhood favorite) and will be able to share that with my future family. Don’t worry — my stack of “to be shared with kids” items is very small. But I’m sure it’ll start growing in earnest soon.

Knitting Club Book Club ’09

friday_night_knittingApril 23 marks a pretty momentous day for me as a reader — and a social butterfly! I’m going to be hosting the first Borders Book Club at my local bookstore — a place I’ve worked, off and on, for more than two years. This month’s selection is Kate Jacobs’s The Friday Night Knitting Club, a book I just finished reading last week.

As you may have seen, I had some pret-ty strong reactions to it! Well, I’ll be honest: I freaked out after finishing it. If you haven’t yet read it, far be it from me to spoil anything for you . . . because I really did enjoy the book. I was just so flat-out flabbergasted by the ending, it tainted much of the story for me. I’m going to leave out any spoilers here, but I’ll just say, again, that I was a little heartbroken and angry.

So yes! Excellent first book club pick! Definitely a book that incited some emotion and fist-punching from me. But I’ve never led a book club in my life . . . in fact, I’ve never even attended a book club. I’ve read plenty of books about them (see: The Jane Austen Book Club; The Reading Group) but have yet to sit with a group of ladies (or gentlemen) with coffee and plenty of novels piled between us. And, to be honest, I’m worried that no one is going to show up! Our Knitting Club Book Club, as I’ve begun to refer to it, is sponsored by Borders — and folks across the country are all meeting at their individual stores to discuss it. I’m in Southern Maryland and our store is usually pretty busy, but I’m going to be so disappointed if we don’t have any attendees! Especially since I have some conversation topics ready to go.

Well, I think I have some conversation topics ready to go. I’m working on it. The back of my novel has a reader’s guide and several pages of additional information, as does the Borders website. And I love that sort of stuff! I’ve never had an occasion to actually bring any of these points up with anyone else, but I love reading the author interviews and checking out the discussion topics. Usually I get a better understanding of what I supposed to “get” from the book . . . and I use them as catalysts for beginning my book reviews.

bookmarks_i_made So I’m excited! Meeting other book-minded people! Expanding my circle of acquaintances! Getting paid to talk about a good book for a few hours! Seeing my friends from the store! Drinking a latte — something I’ve just been depriving myself of while detoxing from caffeine!

In fact, I’m so overzealous about the Knitting Club Book Club that I’ve actually crafted . . . bookmarks for my fellow clubbers. Yes. In all sorts of colors! I’m a pink girl, but I figured not everyone wants a pink paper bookmark shoved in their novel. And you can’t go to a party and not take home a little favor, right? I dig the bookmarks. I was optimistic and made 18 of them, my lucky number! I’m planning on putting this blog address on the back of them, hoping they’ll come visit write meg!

But now that I’ve successfully rambled my way through this post and shared some bookmark eye candy, I ask of you all: Is there anything that I, a total book club newbie, should know about running a successful book discussion? And if you’ve read The Friday Night Knitting Club, is there any awesome question or talking point you could share with me? I’m totally open to suggestions / thoughts /ranting, and I appreciate any feedback! I really want it to be a successful, fun night.

Halloween wrap-up and weekend fun

Wow, I have a lot of updating to do from the weekend! And my weekend is continuing — I’m using up some vacation time today. As always, it’s been insanely busy . . . and I’ve been plugging away on my novel for NaNoWriMo. I’m up to 12,000 words! That’s way beyond where I’d hoped to be on day three, but not as far (I don’t think) as I was on day three last year. Well, it’s no matter — I’ll have more time this week to forge ahead.

So Friday was Halloween, of course, and we had a lot of fun! My day at the paper turned out well, with many folks arriving in costume.

A few highlights:

I'm an undead witch; Kelly is a butterfly!

I'm an undead witch; Kelly is a butterfly!

Brandon is Calvin of Calvin & Hobbes (he made that!)

My sister is a lovely '50s glamour girl; I'm still undead

My sister is a lovely '50s glamour girl; I'm still undead

So I ate way too much — especially where chocolate is concerned — but we had a good time. It’s hard to believe Halloween came and went in such a hurry, now it’s November and we’re gearing up for Christmas . . . but I’m excited for the holidays, too!

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Birthdays, anniversaries — all in a weekend’s work

Whew! I’m coming off a food and sugar high of fabulous eating and family time this weekend. Yesterday was my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary and we celebrated with a wonderful dinner, a fantastic cake (made by my grandmother herself — and with her original cake topper!) and tons of presents.

Everything went incredibly well! As always, I loaded up on tons of desserts. Here’s a sample of what we bit into last night:

As always, it seems too pretty to eat! But we did, of course.
After taking tons of photos.

My grandparents (right) on their wedding day -- Oct. 25, 1958

My grandparents (right) on their wedding day -- Oct. 25, 1958

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