Book review: ‘Baby Proof’ by Emily Giffin

Baby ProofOh, I’m so torn about this one.

On one hand, it was very entertaining. Like all Emily Giffin novels, I raced through it — barely pausing between sentences, between chapters. It was interesting and often amusing and filled with (mostly) likeable characters, but . . .

But.

It felt shallow. Ill-conceived (eh, pun intended). I wasn’t entirely comfortable with where the story was headed, and I definitely wasn’t comfortable with where it wound up.

But look. If you’re a Giffin fan, you’ve probably already tread down the path of Baby Proof — like, years ago — and don’t need me to tell you to grab it or not grab it. If you like women’s fiction, chances are favorable you’ve come across the author’s work — and I certainly have. This was actually the final book of her backlist I had to pick up, and I’m not sorry I read it.

Would I read it again? Nope.

The gist of our story: Claudia Parr thinks she’s happily married to Ben, a man with whom she shares a no-child vision for their lives; Ben decides that may not actually be the case; marriage crisis ensues. In the end, Claudia must decide if she’s secure in not wanting to be a mother — and if she’s comfortable with Ben going on to parent with someone else.

That’s it.

It’s a pretty long book centering on one precise issue, but I actually thought Giffin handled it well. Of course, because our narrator emphatically declares she does not want a child — and stands to lose her marriage because of it — she sees babies everywhere. One sister desperately wants to be pregnant, but can’t be; another friend thinks she is going to have a child with her married lover, but fate might have other ideas. Basically, it’s all the babies all the time in Claudia’s world . . . and everything gets complicated.

If this sounds like a read you’d enjoy and/or you like Emily Giffin, you’ll probably dig this one. It was not my favorite of her books — that distinction would go to Something Blue — but, you know, it was passable.


3.5 out of 5!

Pub: 2007 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg


Book review: ‘The Supreme Macaroni Company’ by Adriana Trigiani

Supreme Macaroni CompanyThis was the book I chose to read during that most sparkly of times of a woman’s life: the week of her wedding. Knowing its lead character, Valentine, was tying the knot herself, I figured it was just the engrossing-but-lighthearted read I craved.

I have a long track record of enjoying the works of Adriana Trigiani, which feature a lovely blend of love and family, and I was really looking forward to sinking into The Supreme Macaroni Company. I’d saved it for November, in fact, and couldn’t wait to get started.

The reading experience? Well, it featured highlights and lowlights, really. But before we get into all that, here’s the gist of it from the publisher:


For over a hundred years, the Angelini Shoe Company in Greenwich Village has relied on the leather produced by Vechiarelli & Son in Tuscany. This historic business partnership provides the twist of fate for Valentine Roncalli, the school teacher turned shoemaker, to fall in love with Gianluca Vechiarelli, a tanner with a complex past . . . and a secret.

A piece of surprising news is revealed at The Feast of the Seven Fishes when Valentine and Gianluca join her extended family on a fateful Christmas Eve. Now faced with life-altering choices, Valentine remembers the wise words that inspired her in the early days of her beloved Angelini Shoe Company: ‘A person who can build a pair of shoes can do just about anything.’ The proud, passionate Valentine is going to fight for everything she wants and savor all she deserves — the bitter and the sweetness of life itself. (Goodreads)


So we’ve seen Valentine before — twice, in fact. It’s been three years since I joined Ms. Roncalli on her adventures, and . . . well, I needed a refresher. In fact, though I apparently enjoyed both books immensely in 2009 and 2010, I couldn’t have told you much about them.

Not a good sign, I guess.

Once I got back on board, though, I was ready to ride that Italian-infused train for hours. I spent portions of this novel completely lost in Trigiani’s world and language, falling in love with Gianluca along with Valentine and reveling in their short — but happy — engagement. I loved the family Christmas, the dynamics and intricacies involved with creating beautiful shoes, and the obvious love the families share for one another.

But somewhere along the line, everything just . . . started to derail. Fall flat. Become quite dull. My relationship with Valentine deteriorated when I realized how she was determined to assert her independence no matter the cost — which could include her husband.

It all just seemed . . . unnecessary. And was painful to read.

But honestly, I don’t have warring emotions about this story. I read it quickly on my honeymoon, grabbing long passages here and there, and I adored much of it — especially Trigiani’s descriptions of the loving, complicated Roncalli clan — but still felt it lacked an emotional component that usually hooks me on stories laced with family dynamics.

The plot twist toward the end felt like a gut-punch — in a sour way. I understood it, but it just . . . made me angry. And this after Valentine had already begun to come across as pushy, bossy, negative, unfeeling. I really hardened toward her, and that feeling lingered long after I’d closed the last page.

Longstanding fans of the Valentine series will want to see how their heroine fared, but I ended the story feeling rather deflated. I believe Trigiani concluded the series in a realistic way, and Valentine certainly did evolve as a character, but I can’t help but feel disappointed we didn’t get a more fulfilling send-off.


3.5 out of 5!

Pub: Nov. 26, 2013 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review


That crazy name-change issue

photo


In the past nine days, I’ve slowly started becoming a Johnson. It’s exciting, scary — and everything in between.

In the months leading up to the wedding, I toyed with the idea of . . .

Keeping my maiden name;
Hyphenating my last name;
Legally changing my last name, but keeping my maiden name professionally;
Just straight-up changing my last name and rolling with it.

It took me a while — and a bit of soul-searching — but I’ve ultimately decided to take Spencer’s last name. The choice is very personal, of course, and feels “right” to me. My husband has been very supportive of whatever I want to do, and I’ve been uncertain about it — but at the end of the day, my marriage marks a great change. A step into the future. And I feel like Johnson is that refresh I’ve been wanting.

I’m still me, of course. But I’m married me. And it will feel good — albeit scary — to take a new name.

Of course, these are all just words floating around the universe right now . . . I haven’t taken any legal steps to change just yet. Honestly, the idea of changing my entire identity makes me want to cower under a table fort made of old sheets at my grandparents’ house (which everyone knows is awesome). My younger sister has started the process, as has a newlywed coworker, so I’m relying on them for help and advice.

But I did make one big alteration: I changed my name on Facebook. That might as well be legal, right?

So it’s all fine and good to become Megan Johnson on a screen, friends, but that left me with another decision to make: what to do at work. Regardless of what I chose legally, I always thought I’d keep Snider somewhere in my moniker — either as a middle name or hyphenated part of Johnson. Since I write for a newspaper, I considered it a pen name. I thought it would be a nice homage to my roots.

Then I panicked.

Whatever I put with my column on Wednesday would set the tone for everything to come. If I’m Snider-Johnson now, even just professionally, that’s how I’ll be addressed by friends and readers alike. Staring at a computer screen on Monday morning, I realized I had to make a decision. A real decision.

Am I changing my name — or not?

It suddenly seemed strange to go halfsies . . . to be Snider-Johnson some places, Johnson or Snider in others. Which is it? Who am I?

Can I be both?

Caught up in the excitement of the wedding, I avoided the name-change issue. Friends have already started calling me Mrs. Johnson, and I love the way it sounds . . . but it’s still so foreign. But like all things surrounding my nuptials, both large and small, I’m sure it’s just a shift to which I’ll have to grow accustomed. I’m sure I’m not the first woman to look around in confusion when the doctor beckons “Mrs. So-and-so” out of the waiting room. (Who? Me?)

When the time came to put my byline on tomorrow’s column, I made a decision I didn’t expect.

I just went with Johnson. Plain ol’ Johnson.

So far, being Megan Johnson — at least in spirit — is pretty similar to being Megan Snider: both women are readers and writers, photographers and dreamers, daughters and sisters and friends. But the former gets to be part of my refresh, my reboot: my big, bold steps into whatever comes next with my husband.

Scary and good.

—–

If you’ve changed your name, how did it make you feel?
Did you ever feel uncertain about your decision?
Are you happy with the choice you ultimately made?


Almost a Mrs.

Married


Exactly one week before I met Spencer for the first time, I was driving home from another lukewarm date with The Temper Trap’s “Sweet Disposition” pouring through my speakers. It was raining in Annapolis; I had a long drive home. The man I’d met for coffee had been nice and polite, but there was no spark. No chemistry. When we shook hands goodbye, I knew I wouldn’t see him again.

And yet, I felt . . . so hopeful.

I remember everything about that Sunday: meeting with girlfriends earlier in the day; walking through the city; the squish of my toes in my too-small boots. It was a chilly March afternoon and I’d already received my first email from Spencer, though I’d set this Annapolis date up before we’d firmed up ours. I don’t remember when I emailed him back, exactly, but I know it wasn’t long after I got home. I just felt in my bones that good things were afoot.

That hope was not misplaced.

After years of getting-to-know-yous and falling-in-love-with-yous and wondering and excitement and a little indecision and lots of laughter, it’s official — officially time.

I’m getting married. To my best friend, my confidante — a man so thoughtful and sweet and mine that I can hardly stand it. Sunday is our wedding.

It’s been a long journey — one that started long before Spencer and I even met. But I can’t look back on the last decade of love lost and found without a sense of purpose, gratitude and joy . . . because as pedestrian as it sounds, every detour eventually brought me to Spencer. And I feel grateful every day to have him by my side.

I’m taking a blogging break for our big day and following honeymoon in West Virginia, but I plan to make my triumphant return as a married lady on November 18. I’m sure I’ll have lots of moments and photos to share! I can’t wait.

Thank you for coming along with me on this wild ride . . . and, well, every ride we’ve taken together in the last five years. It’s been so fun sharing wedding updates with y’all, and I’m sure I’ll have many stories from the other side!

Signing off for now . . . but so excited about all that’s to come.

See you soon!

xoxo


My sister got married. I’ve freaked out a little.

photo


As we wait anxiously for my sister’s professional wedding photos to come back, I thought I’d tease you with this little iPhone treat. I have others — even taken with real cameras! — but not many, honestly. Which is strange. And good.

I made a vow for Katie’s day: I would stay present, physically and emotionally. I would not be updating the events in real time on Facebook; I would not be tweeting or Instagramming (save the one above!) or checking email. For once in my life, I would live by my long motto: be here now.

And more than anything, I wouldn’t be taking pictures.

That last one was hardest. It was easy to tuck my phone away for the day — a reprieve, really. My little hiatus last week was restorative in many ways, and I definitely needed the time to break away from social media and its many distractions.

Saturday was a great day, but it was a hard day. It was hard to be with my emotions, to sit still and not shrink from them. To embrace them, actually. I cried a lot. Not because my sister was getting married, but because my sister was getting married. I love Eric, my new brother-in-law; I think the world of him, in fact. But this wedding was both a beginning and an ending.

It was emotional. And raw. At one point, a friend walked up to put her arm around me and said, “Are you okay? You seem really . . . sad.”

And then I was embarrassed. My carrying-on may have prompted family and friends to think I was devastated by my sister’s nuptials, which just wasn’t true — but it was too complicated to explain. In that moment, I couldn’t begin to articulate the swirl of feelings in my heart.

It was happiness. Of course.

But also sadness.

And fear.

And anxiety.

And joy.

And wonder.

And hope.

It was everything, really, and also nothing. As I stood on the steps with the other bridesmaids, waiting for my turn to walk down the aisle, I felt an odd zen that I was in the right place at the right moment . . . that there was nowhere else I could possibly be.

And then I panicked, thinking I wanted to run and retreat into the night. I wanted to turn the clock back a day, a week, a year or three. Maybe then my sister and I would be back home in our pajamas, back when we were freshly engaged and just beginning to plan our dual weddings. Or further, back when I was home late from work in college and Katie was waiting up for me. Or much further, back and back, back to when we were kids with an entire summer day to do nothing but play Uno and watch the Nickelodeon line-up and play Barbies.

But we were there together in our too-high heels, all grown up. Katie with her hands in Eric’s. Me white-knuckle clutching a bouquet, squinting in the sunshine.

And then it was over. He was kissing the bride.

It went so fast. It all went too fast.

I’ve been in a bit of a turmoil this week, honestly. An existential crisis, perhaps. I haven’t even been reading much. My own wedding is six weeks away and there is much to do, but I haven’t felt like plunging right back into the wedding cauldron. Spence and I have made inroads in lots of areas and life is still busy busy, busy as ever, but I feel a little detached from it all.

But I’ve started moving. I transported one whole shelf worth of books on Tuesday — the first step in a daunting process. Spence and I have those tall bookcases from Borders lining the living room walls, and the prospect of neatly and categorically organizing my novels filled me with a sense of hope and calm. My books made it feel homier, like a place where I belonged. I felt happier stacking my books in their new home than I have in days. Knowing each hardcover will have a place to nestle is soothing.

I like knowing there’s a place for everything . . . and everything in its place. Including myself.

Even if I’m not sure exactly where that will be.

Even if life seems to move faster than I can process sometimes.

I will get there. I will have a place . . . with Spencer, and with my family, and with my career. I will have a place.

Even better, I will make a place.

Our place. Together.


The story we’re painting together

Paint samples


Buying paint is such a grown-up thing to do.

And six months from being a married woman, I’m starting to feel like one.

I don’t know why it’s taken so long for us to slap some color on the walls. Spencer became a homeowner almost two years ago, and we were both pumped to decorate his space. It was a blank canvas — literally. White walls, beige carpet. Nothing but empty space to fill, fill, fill.

But the options were overwhelming. Since we could do anything with the kitchen and living room and hallways, the options were too much. And I have no real clue about interior design. For years I was actually afraid to really make any bold moves in the house, nervous about stepping on Spence’s toes as The Girlfriend who didn’t, you know, live there. How could I decide what he should have to look at when I was only there half the time? It didn’t seem fair.

That being said, that was all firmly in my head. Spencer never gave me anything but free reign to help design and decorate his home into a very “us” space — even before we were engaged. But now that we’re six months out from the wedding, I feel the earth shifting. I’m moving in soon. And we’re trying to get things organized before that happens.

In addition to redesigning the master closet to accommodate my avalanche of clothes and shoes and bags (that should be nice and scary), we’re finally sprucing things up. Hanging prints and photos. Dusting. Vacuuming the nooks and crannies. Going through old boxes. We went through the bedroom and closet on Sunday, getting rid of the detritus that tends to accumulate, and it felt so nice and productive. We opened the windows, got a trash bag and began sorting and throwing out and organizing.

I do like to be organized.

So that’s one little corner down. After procuring the Borders bookcases two years ago, our work around the living room came to a stop. We did quite a bit of reorganization after Christmas, moving decorations and ornaments to a hall closet, but haven’t done much of a purge since then.

Spence jokes I’m moving in one garbage bag at a time, and that’s not entirely untrue. I bring something with me every time I come over. Lately I’ve been sorting through my clothes at home, donating older items to charity and bagging up the out-of-season clothes to bring to Spencer’s. I’ve already moved several trash bags full of sweaters and hoodies, plus all of my work-out clothes (Lord knows I barely use them). I’ve also dragged all of my winter coats and jackets over and hung them with Spence’s in the hall closet.

Moving is weird. I still live at home. I never moved out, not even for college, and as a 27-year-old woman with a lifetime of memories in one childhood bedroom? Well, it’s strange. It’s hard. I’ve moved beyond fear at the idea of leaving to excitement at the prospect of sharing a home with my guy, but it’s still going to be odd to live full-time in another town.

Hmm.

But not going to dwell on that. Let’s talk about paint! After years of staring at white walls, Spence and I finally made a plunge last weekend. We decided the living room was in need of an accent wall — and since we were juuuuust getting started with this whole color thing, it seemed like the logical place to begin.

We motored over to check out paint at a home improvement store, the first time I’ve ever been excited to hang out in one, and grabbed swatches in varying hues. We finally narrowed our choices down to three and bought samples, which came in cute little containers. Our living room is mostly green, brown and taupe, so we were looking for something earthy but bold to complement the palette we have going on right now.

So we chose red, naturally!


Spencer painting


It sounds weird, I know, but stick with me. Though Spence and I may not have identical tastes in decor, we’re both suckers for red (our primary wedding color, in fact). We brought home samples in deep purple, an olive-toned brown and this unusual, bold red hue . . . and after Spence painted swatches on the wall, we agreed immediately that red was it.

Plus, as an added bonus? The red will totally complement our postcard pillows. Visiting Spence’s family in New York last summer, I stumbled upon fabric featuring vintage postcards in a quilting shop. I fell in love instantly, of course, but had no clue what I would do with said fabric. My lovely soon-to-be mother-in-law is a talented quilter and certainly no slouch with a sewing machine, so she kindly made pillows out of the fabric when she came to visit at Thanksgiving. I am in love with them. And they’re beige, green . . . and red!


Postcard pillows


Are we strange enough to match an accent wall to a collection of pillows? Maybe. But in all honesty, I just think the red looks really cool. We’ll officially convert the wall to red later this week, and I’m enjoying the little splash of color in the meantime.

You know, I was terrified when Spence first dipped his brush into the paint — afraid of the enormity of bright red on a white wall. It was so permanent. And scary. But once it was done, decided and begun, it was invigorating. It’s the second life of his home — our home. We’re ushering in a new chapter, scrawling the rest of the story . . . the one we’re writing together.

Or painting together.


So I have a little (big) news for you!

Spencer and Megan get engaged
{Photos by E. Guy Stephens Photography}


Spencer and I met on a windy March day in 2010. We’d arranged to have coffee at a local cafe on a Sunday — a date I figured could go well (and lead to dinner), or poorly (and wrap up after just one drink).

I’d joined an online dating site two months before and had a few nice dates, but they’d all just been . . . well, um, nice. Though there was nothing wrong with any of them, I didn’t feel that spark. That connection. That camaraderie and mutual interest and excitement. No butterflies, if you’ll pardon the cliche — just a couple of nice excursions with nice men that ended with a shrug of the shoulders.

But then.

Spence walked in wearing a red T-shirt and green shorts — a wardrobe choice I’d come to understand is totally standard for my adorable, endearing scientist. After exchanging a few emails about photography, we set up our date for that weekend — and then I waited. On his dating profile were a variety of photos — some with long hair; some with short; one with a beard, and one without. After trading phone numbers, I sent him my first text message: “So should I expect you clean shaven, or with a beard?”

“Clean shaven,” he replied, joking, “I clean up pretty nice.”

He was right.

Our bond was immediate. We talked for hours that first day, leading from coffee to dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant. Our common interests filled every crevice of conversation. Though he grew up in Western New York and I’m a Maryland girl, we come from similar backgrounds and share many philosophies. We parted on March 21 with a hug and a promise to get in touch. He texted me before I’d even gotten home.

And I already knew.

It seems silly to say that, I’m sure — and I don’t know that I’ve ever believed in love at first sight. But from the first afternoon Spence walked into that cafe, pushing his curls out of his eyes and turning a mega-watt smile in my direction, I’ve been his and he’s been mine. After doing my share of dating, I felt confident I’d know when I found a good thing — a real thing. I never doubted our connection, never questioned our relationship. From the first “I love you” to today, right now, I’ve never wanted to be anywhere but at his side.

On Sunday, Spence and I drove into downtown Washington, D.C., to see the holiday display at the U.S. Botanic Garden. We had a date there in 2010, our first Christmas together, and have talked often about how much we like the greenhouse. It’s my favorite place in Washington: easy to find and explore; packed with gorgeous flowers and other greenery; a prime photo spot.

And on the very same bench where we’d taken this picture almost two years ago to the day, Spencer asked me to marry him.


Spencer and Megan get engaged


As I’m sure you’ve gathered, I said yes!!!!

We’re both so, so excited — and it almost doesn’t feel real! Spence asked our friend and talented photographer Guy Stephens to meet us downtown to capture the moment and immediately after, making our first engagement shoot just a few minutes after he got down on one knee. Guy and his family were wonderful and the photos are priceless — especially because I was in such shock at the time, I don’t even remember Spencer putting the ring on my finger! We walked from the Botanic Garden to the Capitol, where we took photos by the Christmas tree and generally soaked up our first moments as a newly-engaged couple.

I’ve already gotten to call him my fiancé a few times, and it’s exciting and scary and awesome all at once. I mean, I’ll never have a “boyfriend” again.

!
!
!
!
!

Thrilled. We are thrilled! I can’t stop smiling and had to come here and tell you all at once. After all the family and friend phone calls/texts were made, of course — and after I had a day to let the news marinate! But after that? Here. I’m all here. You know I wouldn’t leave you hanging after all we’ve been through together.

And I can’t wait to see what the future brings — as Mr. and Mrs. Johnson.

!
!
!
!
!


Spencer and Megan get engaged

Spencer and Megan get engaged