Celebrating year two

Wedding

Two years ago today, Spencer and I joined hands before family and friends and officially became the Johnsons.

It’s a strange and wonderful thing, being married. Braiding your life with someone else’s, creating a home, starting a family. Welcoming our son in the spring changed us forever, but we were a duo before becoming a trio. And we are a twosome still.

We were able to sneak in a “date” yesterday. Spencer was out on work-related errands, and I had a little time before deadline to take an early break. It was spontaneous (not my strong suit), and also pretty wonderful. Oliver was at day care. We haven’t been alone in a restaurant in months — and when Spence climbed from his car without the ever-present car seat, we both laughed.

“This is weird,” he said.

And it was. But by dessert — the denouement of a meal free of diaper changes, fussing or crying with one of us pacing the restaurant with an infant while the other scarfed down their food, well . . . we were good with it.

Our second year of marriage has been filled with so much love — love laced with deep exhaustion. It was, of course, the year we became parents.

The best thing to come out of 2015 — aside from our actual child, of course! — is the deep joy I feel seeing my husband become a father. As I wrote back in April, you can’t always know how someone is going to react to trying circumstances until you’re in them — and Spencer has proved time and again to be a loving, patient, devoted dad to Ollie and spouse to me.


First dance


We said “in sickness and in health,” and we meant it. If there was any mystery left in our marriage, it was definitely shucked in the ambulance taking us to Baltimore and, soon after, in the delivery room.

But there’s a comfort to that: a sense of wellbeing that comes from knowing someone doesn’t care if you have more gray laced in your hair these days or haven’t yet bothered to brush your teeth. That familiarity is what makes our house our home, and I love nothing more than plopping Ollie between us on Sunday mornings so we can drink coffee in our pajamas.

Our evenings aren’t as exciting as they once were. I’m lucky if I can stay awake to watch an hour-long drama on the DVR. We both come back from work depleted, and then we have an adorable 7-month-old (!) seeking more of the time and energy we don’t always feel we have to give.

But no matter how ornery or broken I feel, Spencer knows how to step in, put an arm around me and say, “It’s OK — we’re in this together.”

What a wonderful thing to know you have a partner, a teammate, a fan waving a sparkly banner for you on the sidelines. To know the world can be hard and unflinching, but you won’t breathe any of that when you shed your coat at the front door.

When I come in carrying the remnants of my work day, I almost always find Spencer snuggled with Ollie over the evening news. They both look up at me, two sets of sweet dark eyes, and smile.

There’s nothing in the galaxy I would trade for those moments.

Happy anniversary, Spencer! You make home the absolute best place to be. xo

Halloween


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Like sunshine itself

I had a dream that spring arrived overnight, bringing with it clusters of flowers pushing up from their beds and warmth spreading across the crown of my head.

Then I woke up Monday morning to that, shed an icy little tear and shoved my growing girth into some maternity pants. The day must go on.

It’s gotten old, all this cold and dampness, the slush and mess, but I know we’re approaching the bend in the road. It’s almost over. And just a hint of spring can get me through some ugly days.

Fall has historically been my most favorite of all seasons, but something about spring — the melting snow; the freshness; the warm breezes hinting at something more — has really captured my winter-battered heart.

Spencer and I met in March on the first warm day of the season; later this month, we’ll celebrate five years together. We’d arranged our first date through OkCupid — the modern way, you know — and wanted to meet somewhere outside, taking in the first delightful peeks of the summer to come.

We wound up sharing a wrought-iron table at Panera. Though it wasn’t quite warm enough to sit comfortably outdoors, especially with the wind, we were determined. Persistent. And as we started talking, I stopped thinking about the goosebumps on my arms. I’ll never forget sipping a smoothie while this funny, cute guy pushed curls from his eyes in that ridiculous breeze.

Maybe that’s when spring transformed for me: that new sense of change, of excitement; this sudden belief that anything was possible. I fell in love in the spring. After a long stretch of winter, Spencer marched in like sunshine itself.

And we’re almost there again. Almost. Soon the days will grow longer, cherry blossoms will burst open, the salt and brine will slip away from our cars.

Life will bloom again. And in three months, we’ll welcome a new life ourselves.

Bring on the sunshine.


Pink trees


Book chat: ‘Me Before You’ by Jojo Moyes

Me Before YouOh, you guys.

I can’t really think about this story without tearing up. I mean, I am deeply hormonal — but I really think I’d have been reduced to a whimpering mess even without a baby playing havoc with my emotions.

This book is powerful. Redemptive. Uplifting. Soul-wrecking. Funny, exhilarating, memorable. Basically, it’s everything I want in a book — and though I ardently wished it could have turned out differently, I understood it. This book? This book was love.

Louisa “Lou” Clark and Will Traynor meet at the most complicated points in their lives. For twenty-something Lou, life is a tireless march between the home she shares with her parents, sister, nephew and grandfather and the tea shop where the regulars all know her name. Day-to-day, nothing much changes; day-to-day, Lou has no plans for change. Or escape.

Will Traynor was a handsome, successful, high-flying London hotshot until a freak accident left him paralyzed with no desire to live. Now wheelchair-bound and living with his devastated parents, Will spends his days immersed in music or staring blindly at films. What he doesn’t want — or need — is a babysitter, but the freshly-unemployed Lou seems determined to fit that bill.

Though initially prickly, distant and cold, Will can’t help finding himself won over by Lou’s eccentric dress and caring personality; she is funny, kind, beautiful. Their days once spent in silence are soon filled with soaring conversation, and they open up to one another within the confines of Will’s home.

When Lou dares to begin to venture outside the safe walls Will has constructed, their friendship deepens — and her desire to make him see the world (and himself) as valuable becomes her reason for rising each day. But what — or who — could change Will’s mind about life?

Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You is easily one of my favorite reads in years. I whipped through it like crazy, simultaneously unable to part with it and absolutely dreading having finished it. When I got to the pivotal conclusion (which I will not spoil, don’t worry), I was sobbing as though I’d just gotten word that my soldier was never coming home.

Lou and Will’s growing dynamic makes this story — and I really fell for Lou. She is so resilient, funny, strong-willed, independent . . . yet still vulnerable and searching, searching. When she meets Will, she’s initially afraid of him and his coldness — but desperately needs the money his parents are paying for his care. She’s not a nurse (Will has someone for that); she’s there for moral support. Companionship. Hired for her cheery disposition, Lou is determined to be a friend.

And she is. As they begin to trust one another, I felt my heart bursting as they set out on adventures like attending a concert or going for walks around a nearby castle. Though Will seems broken, physically and spiritually, he finds healing in Lou’s company. They complement each other perfectly, actually, and I loved the idea that love comes in many forms.

As I approached the last few chapters, I felt a gnawing pit open in my stomach. Though I was desperate to learn what was going to happen, I worried endlessly about both Will and Lou. There was a surprising amount of romance and sensuality in their interactions; their relationship became quite intense. I grew concerned that one or both would get hurt, but realized hurt is inevitable.

Hurt is inevitable. But we can choose how to build from that hurt, how to use that hurt to become something greater, something more . . . and though my heart absolutely broke for Lou, I could see her becoming the woman she is meant to be. The fighter, the dreamer, the do-er that Will encourages.

Me Before You is not a novel I’ll soon forget, and it has cemented Jojo Moyes as one of my favorite storytellers. I loved One Plus One, but this story? It’s one for the ages.

5 out of 5

Pub: 2012 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg


Book chat: ‘Seven Letters from Paris’ by Samantha Verant

Seven Letters from ParisTwenty years after they shared one fateful weekend in Paris, Samantha and Jean-Luc are separated by an ocean and wealth of varying experiences. Samantha herself is in a rut — 40 and jobless, staring down an impending divorce, living back with her parents as she nervously tackles her debt.

When Sam stumbles upon a series of letters Jean-Luc sent after she returned to college in America, the passion and connection they shared decades ago comes flooding back to her. She realizes she hasn’t felt that way before or since — but never actually responded to her French Romeo. At all.

Though she believes her apology comes a little too late, she’s able to find Jean-Luc online and sends him the answer she feels he was owed in the ’80s by way of a blog. Their emails lead to phone calls, and calls expand to talk of visiting in person. Is she crazy to leave California for France to see if the connection they once shared has stood the test of time?

Maybe. But she has nothing to lose, and all the world to gain.

Samantha Verant’s memoir Seven Letters from Paris is the romantic, entertaining story of how she reconnected with the love of her life when the odds certainly seemed stacked against them. Their story is an improbable one: a young American woman and French rocket scientist randomly meet at a cafe when Sam and a friend visit Paris in the late ’80s. After they share a weekend exploring the city, Jean-Luc falls completely in love . . . and Samantha disappears. He sends seven letters to her address at an American university but never hears from her again.

Until, one day, he does.

I’ll just come out and say that I’m a huge fan of serendipity. I love stories that connect lovers who, by all logic, should not have found one another; I adore tales of fate stepping in to guide the lives of unlikely people. Sam and Jean-Luc live an ocean and a continent apart — and the idea that they could randomly meet on a sidewalk, lose touch and find each other again after 20 years, several marriages, children and so on was nothing short of amazing.

Where the story could have become schmaltzy and boring, Samantha’s self-deprecating humor and humble roots were endearing and kept me rooting for her from start to finish. As she sheds her dog-walking skin back in California and takes a chance on visiting Jean-Luc, I was breathless with anticipation of their meeting once again. Ah, true love.

Are Jean-Luc’s overtures a bit over-the-top? Sure. But as Sam points out often, the standard for romance in France is, um, a bit different than what we might expect of courtship here in the U.S. She is wooed quite thoroughly by her older scientist — and who could blame her? I mean, really.

A quick and engaging read, Seven Letters from Paris  was just the sort of story I needed to help break me out of my reading slump. I loved Sam and Jean-Luc — and especially loved them together. I’ve heard rumors that we may get a follow-up on their new life together in France (not a spoiler!) . . . I’ll just be over here with my coffee and macaron, waiting.


4 out of 5

Pub: October 2014 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Advance copy provided by publisher for review consideration


Fate tied into a bookstore

Time feels fluid in the fall.

Blink and I’m 16, watching open-mouthed as the second tower falls from my silent high school physics class. Again and I’m in my final year at college, sliding hardcovers into long rows at Borders not long before it shuttered. Now and I’m 29, calling into the basement in search of my husband — husband — before making a third cup of coffee.

I get lost in the past sometimes. Perhaps we all do? As Spencer and I worked to install the bookcases in the new space at home, I couldn’t stop thinking about where those shelves had come from — and remembering my bookseller days. For as much as I love my newspaper job (and I do), sometimes I fantasize about going back to shilling novels to the masses.

Silly, I know — but I was happy there. Really, really happy. Part of it was just that time of my life: graduating from college, having the first of my “own” money, making new friends. Being surrounded by words and roasting coffee and folks eager for the latest paperback, the newest hardcover.

That was, of course, nearly a decade ago . . . and the world has changed around us. It would never be the same now. That Borders closed and reopened later as a Books-a-Million, and the bones may be the same — eerily similar, actually — but the soul is not.

It shouldn’t feel different, but it does.


Bookshelf


I find it hard to go in there, actually . . . though why remains a mystery. I have more books than I could possibly read already — but that hasn’t stopped me before. Part of me feels slightly haunted as I walk the aisles I once knew so well, I guess, looking for familiar faces that have long moved on and away.

For as much as I lobbied for a hometown bookstore, I rarely go in. I talk about it and think about it and plan to, but then I just . . . don’t.

Maybe because I need new memories. In random moments when we’re driving around town, chatting and daydreaming, Spencer and I talk about if we ever would have met without online dating. Though we lived just 20 minutes apart, we moved in such different circles that they rarely would have intersected.

But oddly, we do have mutual friends.

If you had gone to this party . . .
If I’d left work early to . . .
If you’d come into the bookstore . . .

The bookstore is where our lives could have crossed — if only for a moment. Down from New York for an internship the same summer I worked at Borders, Spencer might have found himself in Waldorf looking for a guide or record and seen me there, flush from searching for a Hemingway, Welty or Rowling.

I squint and crane and remember, trying to picture the faces of countless customers I saw each week in the evenings with mass markets in their arms. In the years I asked for Borders Rewards cards and took special orders, gift-wrapped and greeted, I can’t bring up his face among them.

But it might have been there.

Thinking of those happenstance moments — the serendipity — is fun. “Fate” feels like a big word, but it’s easy to believe in sometimes.

Though I once lamented my husband and I don’t have a “meet-cute,” I’ve come to realize that isn’t true at all. There were so many factors that led to us eventually sharing coffee on a windy afternoon, each path a different thread in the tapestry now knitting us together.

When I was brokenhearted and uncertain at Borders, looking for direction and wondering how it would all play out, he could have been there in the maps or movies — a man I didn’t yet know that I would come to know best.

Though cheesy, maybe, the bookcases standing sentinel in our new home are comforting. A reminder of happy days, of a part of my past, the job that really solidified my love for reading and eventually helped me launch this space. And my column. And the rest of my life.

My home library is “real” now! Really real. We’re building it slowly, finding pieces here and there, and I don’t plan to call it finished . . . well, ever, probably.

There’s always another book. Another world.


Five things on Friday

Spencer - Niagara


1. Today is my husband’s birthday! He’s not generally the make-a-fuss type, but I totally am — and this is his first “married” birthday. So on this, the auspicious day of Spencer’s birth, I’d like to acknowledge how kind, thoughtful and hardworking my guy is — for me, for the family, at work, for friends. He’s always ready to lend a hand or critical eye, and he’s taught me so much about rolling with life’s punches and smiling anyway. I love him for that — and so many other reasons. Happy birthday, Spence! ❤ And thanks for always letting me have the last of the salsa. I love you!


2. If I hear “All of Me” one more time, I’m going to scream. I didn’t really have an opinion of John Legend one way or another until we started listening to a local radio station at work, and said station apparently has a penchant for torture. The song played six times — six! — in the span of my eight-hour work day on Wednesday, and I was ready to jump through a window. My hatred has become a running gag with coworkers . . . only I’m not kidding.


Outlander


3. I started Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, and y’all applauded my decision. I’m 3% finished and the book is, apparently, 800-ish pages? So great progress, I’d say. The great thing about reading on my Kindle, as Trish has pointed out in the past, is I don’t have to feel that sagging weight of a too-long book pressing on my shoulders. I pay less attention to how much I have left to go (a guilty habit) and more just getting into the story. I’m enjoying it so far, though I probably have a bit until I meet the infamous Jamie!


4. Thanks to your suggestions, I’ve spent far too much time looking at comfy chairs on Wayfair (affiliate link). I’m pretty much in love with this one and this one, but we have a month until we’re in the house — and I don’t want to move that sucker twice. Plus, um, we have no space for a chair right now . . . like, at all. So I’ll have to settle for daydreaming.


Yosemite


5. Speaking of daydreaming . . . in a few weeks, we’ll be in San Francisco! I’m so excited to return to California and relax. After the stress of winter and spring, I’m ready to just hang out. We’re driving to Yosemite, too, and will actually spend three days there . . . versus the four-ish hours we had in the valley back in 2012. I plan to buy a backpack, recharge all my camera batteries, grab some water and sunscreen and just go. I bought new sneakers, too! Real, non-sandal shoes! It’s going to be marvelous.


Happy weekend, friends!


On the edge

American Falls and bridge


For someone so afraid of heights, you wouldn’t take me for a crazy waterfall fanatic.

But something about cascading water — plummeting, falling, twirling, twisting — always holds me captive. And of all the cataracts I’ve had the pleasure of seeing? Well, Niagara Falls stands alone. (Until I see the Devil’s Throat, anyway.)

My first visit was in 2004 on a family trip with my sister and parents; we hit Buffalo, Toronto and surrounding areas one muggy week in July. I had my first “legal” beer at a bar on the Canadian side of the falls, my dad teaching me how to tip the bartender as I tried not to gag on the light-colored brew. (Pretty sure it was Labatt Blue. Kind of a thing up north.)

My husband grew up in New York south of the famous sight, so they’re a wee bit “old hat” to him. On my first-ever trip to meet his family, we detoured from Buffalo to see Niagara — my second visit ever, and my first on the American side. I was captivated, especially when we donned ponchos to see American Falls from below. We got soaked; we smiled and laughed; I felt far away and happy.


Niagara 2010

American Falls from below


When I think of Niagara, I think of looking over the precipice with Spencer. Wind in our eyes and our hair; mist gathering around my shoulders. I remember our romance and how exciting it was to visit when everything was bright and bold and Technicolor. We were with the kind, wonderful woman who has become my mother-in-law, and the very dear friend who would someday serve as the best man at our wedding. The sun was shining, the roar was pounding in my ears . . . and I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so happy.

Because of the company, of course.

And because of the giant, exhilarating waterfalls.


Niagara II


When I stand at the edge of Niagara, I have that free-falling, free-floating feeling — like my feet have gone out from under me. My toes tingle. My stomach flips. It’s like I’ve been dropped into a barrel and that barrel is ricocheting toward the edge. Like I can’t be righted, as though I’ve lost my balance; everything is topsy-turvy and uncontrollable.

It’s a strange sensation, an odd stomach-gripping feeling; it’s like I really do need to grip the railing and hold on.

Just a little like love, perhaps.


Niagara I


Though I’m many years out of school, it’s spring break!
And I’m breaking to enjoy time up north with our family.
I’ll see you back here on April 21! Happy Easter, friends.