There are places I remember

For someone who likes to keep a tight fist around her emotions, I can be pretty mushy.

Like, really mushy.

Too-embarrassing-to-put-on-the-Internet mushy.

But I guess that’s not a bad thing, right? I mean, I really love my husband. Which is a good thing, considering we’ve only been hitched for two months . . . and if the sheen had already worn off, that might be a little scary.

Last weekend I started going through old photo albums hunting for favorite photos of Spencer and me through the years — pictures that will be included in a montage for our wedding video. I’ve totally slacked on this task; though I vowed to get our videographer the needed materials soon after the wedding, I crashed hard in November and basically abandoned any remaining bridal tasks . . . save the all-important thank-you notes.



But. It’s late January now and, well, I seriously had no excuses left. Plus we would like to get our video back eventually, and I’d already stalled things enough with my procrastination.

And I’m getting déjà vu for some reason. Perhaps because I’ve procrastinated on many tasks before?

Eh, maybe.

So yes, Sunday afternoon was the culmination of all my putting-things-off-post-wedding — and the process of finding pictures of us was actually really fun! My parents-in-law were kind enough to bring many pictures of Spence when they visited at Christmas, and I had so much fun finding shots of us from similar ages.

Watching Spence through the years — and seeing physical evidence of my own rise to eventual adulthood — was actually really emotional. I remember being 16, 17, 18 . . . and friends, it doesn’t feel so very long ago. It’s crazy yet somehow reassuring for me to think that as I nursed my first break-up, my first heartbreak, my whacky twenties . . . well, Spencer had been out there somewhere. Waiting to meet me.


Middle school

HS graduation

I used to lament that we didn’t have “a story.” Meeting online means you never have that our-eyes-met-from-across-the-room moment, you know? There’s no crowded bar, no college psych class, no high school sweetheart mythology. We met because Spencer stumbled upon my online dating profile and sent me a message, and I responded.

But I never would have joined the dating site if Jess hadn’t encouraged me to. If my parents hadn’t weighed in with an enthusiastic “do it!” If I hadn’t recently seen my first love again — live and in the flesh — only to realize that what I needed, more than anything, was to move forward. If I hadn’t felt hopeful enough to try.

Spence and I probably wouldn’t have met if he hadn’t gone into a physics program in college, eventually meeting the man who would encourage him to apply for an internship in Maryland. If he hadn’t felt comfortable coming to Maryland. If he hadn’t gotten the job, or been able to leave New York, or wanted to join a dating site himself. If he’d had a girlfriend at home or been too broken up by a past that wouldn’t let him move forward, either.

So, well, we do have a story.

And in some ways, it was 24 years in the making.



We went to court . . .

Town hall

. . . for our marriage license.

Our marriage license. It’s all official now.

Well, almost. We have to, you know, actually get married — which will occur in just a few weeks! And then it will be all official.

Hard to believe.

Time went by slowly, then quickly — and now faster still. I moved over the weekend. It was intensely emotional. By Sunday evening I felt wrung out, depleted; organizing everything I own in a new space has been challenging and scary and a little fun at times, yes — but also intimidating. And painful. And odd.

Spencer has been wonderful. Patient and kind and helpful. Understanding when I felt too wiped out to do much but stare into space; comforting when I most definitely needed a hug and chai tea.

Growing up is hard. I’m 28 but can easily close my eyes and be 10 or 12 or 22 again. I feel like my world is topsy-turvy — like everything is out of order, rearranged. I’m guessing many people feel that way after leaving home? After 25 years, I’m having a hard time thinking of “home” as anywhere other than the house in which I grew up. With my parents. And my dog.

But it’s only been two days. Two strange days. And I keep thinking of my future husband and the life we’re building and the positive changes that will accompany stepping into real adult world, though they’re hard to sort out sometimes.

Look forward, my mind hollers. Keep looking up.

I’ve always found change so difficult. Every major life transition has been met with uncertainty and fear. Graduating from middle school and high school, starting and leaving college. Break-ups. Reconnections. Heck, even falling love. So why would leaving home and getting married by met with anything but uncertainty? I know myself well enough to anticipate this would be an interesting time for me, and I was so very right.

But I’m hanging in. And I’m adjusting. I’m working on adjusting.

Bittersweet has become my refrain, my own broken record. That one word has come to embody everything I know and think and feel about 2013. I’m always so hesitant to talk about my sadness regarding leaving home because I fear judgment — like others think my anxiety is a reflection on my relationship. It’s a general assumption that wedding planning should be The Happiest Time of Your Life!!!, which makes it even harder to express the mixed bag of emotions I’m actually feeling. It makes me feel guilty and pathetic and bad. (Which is why I’ve been so grateful for places like A Practical Wedding. Nervous brides-to-be, get thee to that website.)

I remember reading Aidan Donnelley Rowley’s Life After Yes in 2010 — how it spoke to me on a deeper level than any other novel had at the time. The thought that moving forward isn’t something that just happens to you — that growing up and being happy are a choice — is a theme that struck every little chord in my soul, and it’s something I return to now.

“Growing up doesn’t just happen. It’s not a fact; it’s a decision.”

So I have decided. I am deciding. We are deciding.

Starting with that license.

Wishing, hoping: some advice I’ve heard


I’m back from New York — and coming to you with
some Blogtember words of wisdom today!

I’ve never been good at living in The Now.

It feels nebulous, hard to pin down.

When I was in elementary school, I couldn’t wait to be a fifth grader — oldest in the school — for the sense of power and sophistication it would grant me. Then I turned 10, got to fifth grade and . . . well, it was fun, but not all that I expected. And I couldn’t wait for middle school.

Then high school.

Then a driver’s license.

When I was single in those early days, I couldn’t wait for a boyfriend. Then I got a boyfriend — one in a string of wrong boyfriends — and . . . just wanted to be single.

I wished for freedom, for work, for life to begin. I remember visiting my future college with my dad one summer, back when I’d just received my learner’s permit. He let me drive the 45 minutes to campus on the Beltway, ever mindful of passing traffic, and I fell in love with the sense of independence that came from walking around the University of Maryland. Though I still had my senior year of high school to look forward to, it lost its appeal.

I suddenly couldn’t wait to get to college. I wanted to be older, wiser, grown up.

And now I’ve been done for six years.

Growing up, I used to bounce from activity to activity, constantly asking my parents “what we’d be doing next.” Whether it was playing Uno, watching TV, making dinner or scratching out some math problems, I liked having A Plan. I wanted to always know what we’d be tackling, where we’d be going. And I simply “couldn’t wait” to get there.

But I don’t say that phrase much anymore. My mom and dad drove home one salient point as I got older: Don’t wish your life away. I spent so much time waiting, waiting, waiting to hit Point A or Point B, wanting to reach some achievement or other, when I could have been taking a nice, cool sip of Right Now.

Right Now, I’m less than 70 days from my wedding. And just three weeks from my sister’s.

Right Now, I’m enjoying the creative inspiration that comes from a fresh, new office with so. much. natural light.

Right Now, I’m going through my bridal shower gifts and writing thank-yous and thinking about how lucky and grateful I am to know such amazing people. And to be marrying into a wonderful family.

Right Now, I’m remembering the first few sips of the first pumpkin spice latte this fall.

So the Right Now? It’s pretty awesome. And standing on the brink of so much change, I can’t help but feel fortunate.

The time, these fleeting moments . . . they’re precious. With so much to look forward to, I’d never wish that away.

They say it’s my birthday

Happy birthday to me

Growing up, having a summer birthday was the worst.

Where other kids in elementary school got special cupcakes, treats and pats on the back all day on the occasion of their birth, those of us cursed with non-school-day celebrations were recognized in a lump at the very end of the year. No colorful pencils. No birthday song. On the final day of school, everyone with a late June, July or August birthday was mentioned during the morning announcements — names blared over the loud speakers in one fluid rush.

“And, finally, happy birthday to those celebrating over the summer: KrissyThompsonJennaSmithMeganSniderLesleyAtkinsJohnnyMiller . . .”

So much for a moment in the sun.

To be fair, my parents were always outstanding about recognizing the colossal importance of birthdays. In fact, they’re the ones who spoiled us to death — and first put the idea of Birthdays are Awesome in my frizzy head. Long before Facebook sent out timely reminders of friends’ special days, my mom and dad made sure everyone in our social circle remembered that, though our birthdays weren’t recognized with our classmates, our days were important. They took us to the movies, baked cakes, had the friends not gone on summer vacation over for themed parties. We went all out.

My sister and I were born three years and five days apart, making us both July babies. I’m the 18th (today!); my dad is actually the 19th; and my sister is the 23rd. This trio has been dubbed “Christmas in July” for all the celebrating we do in a short period of time, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The pains to which our parents went to make us feel special meant that, even without the classroom cupcakes, we got our chance to shine.

As an adult, birthdays are less exciting. There’s no morning announcement, no day off work. Where once my mom took off to take us for a special lunch and do some shopping at a local music store, vacation time is now in short supply . . . and, heck, music stores don’t even exist anymore.

I’m starting my 28th year at my desk, same as I have for most of the last seven, but that’s all right. I know my fiance and family will be waiting (with dessert!) when I get back, and that’s a gift itself.

Cousin-induced motion blur

My cousins are always in motion.

Since I don’t have little ones around every day, I really look forward to seeing the kids in my family. On one side is our Virginia crew of rambunctious, adorable boys (and their equally great little sister!); and from Pennsylvania, we have a gaggle of girls to delight and entertain us. All my little cousins — actually second cousins, in most cases — are under the age of six, so it’s never dull at our gatherings.

Whether I’m coloring, running, doing “karate” (Peyton’s favorite, learned from many a screening of “Kung Fu Panda”) or jumping on a trampoline, our kid crew teaches me to live in the moment. I absolutely love spending time with them — mostly because they’re hilarious and random. They let me color in their Barbie coloring books. And yes, they definitely say the craziest things.

It’s both my blessing and curse to be so aware of the passage of time — and I know that the next time I see Trinity and Peyton, my northern cousins, they’ll be older. Different. In school. With new friends and new experiences. And because they don’t see us too often, they probably will have forgotten all our silly jokes and games from this summer and their Thanksgiving visit. I will remember them, but they won’t remember me.

So I tried to document our family time — if only for myself. My photography skills have definitely been put to the test . . . and, um, have been found lacking. And I’m learning there isn’t a shutter fast enough to capture a child’s devilish grin or head thrown back in laughter. I mean, news alert: kids are fast. They move all the time. And if I thought I was one step ahead of Peyton, an adorable blonde firecracker, I was wrong. Nearly every picture I took was blurry — save this one:

The motion speaks to me, though. I bask in the knowledge that I can barely keep up with them — and love the challenge of capturing a fleeting moment. The girls will never be 3 or 4 or 5 again, but there’s a beauty in that. In the growing up. In the knowledge that these moments are temporary — but no less meaningful. Maybe more meaningful . . . because they’re temporary?

And I know someday I’ll come home to a family of my own — a family with kids I’ll desperately want to document, want to suspend in time. They’ll be fast and wild and silly and smart and bossy. And loved.

Let’s hope there’s a shutter fast enough to capture all that.

Humbled by nature

It seems strange that I should feel optimistic in fall, when all around things are changing and falling and landing softly on the ground.

But I do.

We went on a little field trip to a local park over the weekend — and I’ll be showing you the photographic mementos of that trip tomorrow! But for today? I was standing beneath these too-tall trees, craning my neck as far back as it would go. And it was not enough.

Just like the redwoods, it’s impossible to take in the enormity of nature until you’re standing beneath it. Quiet. Humbled. That’s been the theme of my 2012: Humbled By Nature. (Catchy — sounds like a band or something.) I’ve been waxing poetic about the great outdoors since we went to California in May, and I haven’t stopped thinking about Yosemite.

I’m finally learning, at 27, that my happiness directly correlates to the amount of sunshine on my skin. Fresh air in my lungs. New sights, smells and scenery to enjoy. Whether my camera is glued to my palm. And to my surprise, I like being outside. Even when I’m wearing inappropriate footwear.

Though I’m really getting better about that. I’m in sneakers most of the time — a fact that would horrify my once-fashionable and often barefoot self. But it’s not easy to scale hills, walk beaches and sunflower fields, skid on ice or scramble over rocky shoreline in flats or sandals.

Guess I really am growing up.

Trading school for freedom

There are things I miss about school.

How life was broken into 180-day cycles — and even smaller ones, tidier ones. First quarter. Second quarter. First semester. Second semester.

My high school locker, where friends would congregate or slip notes or slam for me when I’d forgotten to shut it.

Fall play season. Staying late with my friends to run lines, ordering Chinese take-out when our rehearsals stretched too long. The exhilaration of looking out into the audience and seeing my parents’ faces. That harsh glare of the spotlight, obliterating anything except what was directly in front of me.

A fresh pack of crayons. A blank “Barbie” coloring book.

Meeting new teachers — one that would push me, inspire me. Ones I would irritate me. Ones that would greatly help me.

Stacks of college-ruled paper. Carefully printing my name at the top of each page.

Seeing your buddies for the first time after summer vacation, taking stock of how tall or tanned they’d gotten. Trading vacation stories. Resuming your call-every-afternoon-to-rehash-the-school-day routines.

Now five years out of college and nine from public school (!), I guess I’m allowed to wax philosophical about the whole experience. School wasn’t always a breeze, that’s for sure — and it’s easy to slip on my rose-colored glasses and forget the tough moments. Like algebra and difficult teachers. Peer pressure. Feeling left out.

But for me? The good moments crowd out the bad ones. I look back on my school days with curly, pink-hued nostalgia, remembering the thrill of selecting first day of school outfits and organizing my school planner. It will come as a shock to absolutely no one to learn I once made lists upon lists of every assignment to complete, every phone call to return. And since my school days existed pre-Facebook, text messaging and Twitter, the only way to get in touch with friends over the summer was to call or write them a letter. I probably still have most of them.

As a working adult, the weeks stretch on without end. I live for vacations, planning the next one while still away on the first. My weekends are precious real estate, planned to maximize every free moment, and I cherish the time I’m up and away from my familiar, well-loved desk.

Summer ending means nothing more than switching my linen crop pants for slacks. Flats for boots. Tanks for cardigans. It means turning off the tiny fan by my desk and slipping a blanket over my lap. Seeing coworkers return from their summer vacations, all of us hunkered down together with our vacation time gone — eagerly waiting for Christmas. Needing a break.

Since I’m not in school anymore, kids returning to the classroom has little significance to me — but I still acknowledge it. When Target pushes out their school supplies, I flip through the stacks of folders and colorful pens. Hot August pushes into sunny September, and I remember my own days in countless classrooms and how it felt to spot your high school crush for the first time since June. A sense that this could be the year. A delirium, bright and irrepressible, that anything is possible.

My mom always laughs as she tells a story about her grandmother, my great-grandmother, who would often look in the mirror and joke, “Who is that old woman?”

“What you look like on the outside doesn’t match what you feel on the inside,” Mom says. “You feel the same as you always have. You just look different.”

So sometimes I’m 10 again, or 15, or 20. Sometimes I’m in a lecture hall at the University of Maryland or on my elementary school playground — a stone’s throw away from my grandparents’ house. Sometimes I’m hoofin’ it across my college campus or slamming my middle school locker, sliding into home economics class or writing a Spanish paper at my first love’s apartment.

These moments all live inside me, jostling against one another. They overlap. They war and twist and turn, pushing me in and out of the present, and it’s not a stretch to feel like my school backpack has landed heavy over my shoulders again.

But then I grab my car keys, my Diet Coke, a paperback for my lunch hour. I’m snorting with laughter at a text from my boyfriend, counting down the minutes until the work day is over — the time when I’ll meet my family for dinner or take a walk with Spencer. I write. I read tons of books. I earn money at a job, one I really like, and I’m paid to write for a living — a fact that would astonish 7-year-old me. And I can eat dessert for dinner.

My time is my own — no mention of essays or math problems. No assignments or worries. No homework.

I’m free.

And ice cream for dinner is sounding pretty good right about now.