The view from 30

Me at 30

Yesterday, I turned 30.

I wrote a long, meandering, overly-philosophical post about Life and Love and Where I Am At This Point versus Where I Thought I’d Be.

And it’s not bad, that post. It’s full of hope and reflection and features shout-outs to my husband and loving family, wonderful friends and darling baby son.

But it was missing something. Something real.

Though Oliver is sleeping a bit more all the time, exhaustion still steals so much of my creativity. Even when I have a moment to sit and write here, my favorite space, it’s like my brain misfires and words become jumbled. I’m still reading and writing for work, where I’m paid to not suck and meet deadlines, but all of my extra energy goes toward caring for Ollie before and after getting home. And things like feeding my husband and me . . . you know, as time allows.

So as my thirtieth birthday rushed up to greet me, I started thinking — weeks ahead, actually — of what I might like to say to mark the occasion. There isn’t much I haven’t documented here, and I wanted to write a big ol’ important post to remember what I was thinking on July 18, 2015.

But mostly I was thinking . . . zzzNAPzzz chips more coffee please.

Now that I’m caffeinated and have a napping infant finally settled in his swinging chair, I can reflect. I can process.

Over the last three decades of life, I’ve learned what I like and what I do not. What I will stand for and what I will not. My 20-year-old self would have been far too timid, too nervous, too insanely anxious to tackle any of the things my 30-year-old self deals with regularly . . . and though I know I talk about it constantly, having a baby — especially a premature baby — has completely changed my perspective on everything. Especially what matters.

So what matters?

Being there for people when and how you say you will. Keeping your word. Making time to look up at a night sky and hold hands with someone you love. Drinking good coffee. Getting outside your county, state or country to see and appreciate the vastness and beauty of the world around us.

Eating good — and good for you — food. Dressing in a way that makes you feel powerful and comfortable and strong. Listening. Putting thoughts behind actions. Celebrating the holidays — especially the ones you create yourself. Cheering for small victories and large ones. Recognizing when someone needs a hand and offering it, expecting nothing in return.

Carving out time for small indulgences. Watching movies that remind you of the goodness of humanity. Playing favorite songs loud enough to wake the neighbors (at a reasonable hour, of course). Visiting the ocean. Occasionally painting your nails. Remembering that the “flaws” that seem so obvious will be invisible to those that love you.

At 30, I certainly don’t have it all figured out. Though I’ve been out of college for eight years (!), I’ve never stopped being a student. I love talking to others, absorbing their stories, churning out my own. Like all readers, I constantly seek powerful books that make me think and feel and want to help.

I’m incredibly grateful for the friends I’ve made — at work, at school, through this blog — and the fact that, at some point, I started letting people in. That sounds silly, doesn’t it: letting people in? Cheesy, maybe. Slightly embarrassing. But the truth is that, for years in my mid-twenties, I felt a little detached and adrift. Then I met my husband and stopped pretending like I didn’t want — need — friendship, and everything changed. Everything got better.

At 30, I love my family more than ever. Sometimes I sit back in awe of the little tribe around me, and I appreciate what it means to be loyal and devoted to others. Relationships — romantic and familial — take work, and I try hard not to take any of them for granted. I often look at Spencer and think, There is my partner. Seeing my husband tenderly hold our son never gets old.

When we needed our tribe in April, they were there. And in life, that’s what matters.

In this next decade of life, I look forward to building our little family up and making our home even homier. I hope to see the world with Spence and Oliver at my side and listen to more of my loved ones’ stories. At my next milestone birthday, Ollie will be 10 — and I hope to be his staunchest supporter and cheering section. I hope, more than anything, to be a wonderfully fun and compassionate and loving mother.

I look forward to eating ice cream, scribbling stories, finding a dress that really makes me feel fabulous. Walking through Paris and watching the leaves turn color. Making scones and sharing them with friends both new and old.

I’m open to it. To all of it.

Just after my next iced coffee.

Happily 29


Almost-29, shorter-hair selfie

So, my 28th year was a pretty wild one.

July and August were spent with nonstop planning and prep for two weddings.

In September, I stood at my sister’s side as she tied the knot.

I moved out of my parents’ house for the first time in October, and made all those last-minute preparations for our own nuptials — then married my sweetheart on an absolutely gorgeous, unforgettable day in November. I officially became a Johnson.

December found us celebrating our first married Christmas, and the long winter months from January to March were eventually broken by fun trips to Canada in April and California in May.

Speaking of . . . we bought our house two months ago! Then moved in June, welcoming Spencer’s parents for a week as we transplanted everything we own and tried to maintain our sanity. We’re still recovering.

Now it’s July again . . . and today is my 29th birthday! It’s crazy to think I’m entering the final year of my twenties, that infamous decade filled with indecision, heartbreak, healing, growth and near-constant change . . . an era that transformed me from a young woman to a full-fledged, allegedly adult adult. One complete with a marriage license and mortgage.

Astounding, actually.

Especially since the house purchase, you know, I’m feeling settled. In a good way. Just four weeks ago, we were staring down a huge financial undertaking, preparing to change residences and generally all over the place. I was emotional and freaked out and crazy-feeling, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to get myself together.

And then I kind of did.

It’s funny how that happens, isn’t it? We may not even notice the shift. Everything starts to come together, bit by bit, and the rooms that were stacked high with boxes are emptying. All the nervousness and worry I’d been carting around for months has started to dissipate . . . maybe reassemble on shelves, where I can see it but find it less daunting. The fear I’ve worn like a backpack has begun to lighten.

As I enter the final year of a life-changing decade, I don’t find myself gripped by any of the sadness I thought I might. It’ll be weird to cross the threshold to 30 next year, no doubt — and I’m sure the next decade will bring more shake-ups. And a growing family, I hope.

But I’m not there quite yet.

And right here? It’s definitely where I want to be.

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.

It’s my birthday, and I’ll throw confetti if I want to

{Photo by Spencer}

Today is my birthday! Cue the confetti, candles and cupcakes. As of 10 a.m. this morning, I’m 27 years old — and I’ve officially reached my late twenties. Considering I was a tender 22 when write meg! was born, I consider the intervening years to be a major accomplishment. Y’all are awesome.

Since my 26th birthday, I’ve traveled to New York City, California and the Outer Banks. I’ve continued to write, both here and in the paper, and have tried to strengthen my photography skills (or skillz. Am I too old to write “skillz” now? Or just too uncool?). I took my first hot air balloon ride with Spencer, which was scary but inspiring, and we celebrated our two-year anniversary in March. I read lots of books. I got up two see two sunrises — a major accomplishment for my lazy, tired bones. I spent lots of time with family and hope I’ve strengthened some friendships. Overall, I kept it moving . . . and tried to stay positive, especially in difficult times.

And here’s age 27, looking bright and sparkly and new. Though change is sometimes hard for me, I’m excited about what the coming year will bring — and how things will look next July. My hope is that 27 will be filled with good reads, happy moments, gorgeous sunsets and new opportunities to learn. I have a few goals — volunteering more; worrying less — but am learning not to put too much pressure on myself. “Be Here Now” has been my mantra for a while, and I’m trying hard to engrave those words on my heart.

So here’s to another great year — and to 27 being the best one yet. Virtual cupcakes for everyone!

Birthday giveaway from Knock Knock: A Personal Library Kit and bookmark pad

Today is my birthday, and I am now 26 years old. I’m not going to pretend like my breath didn’t catch a little writing that, even though most of my friends — many old enough to be my parents — sneer and scoff at my angst over getting “older.” “Oh, to be 26 again!” they cry.

But I’m the one crying.

Okay, okay — I’m not. I’m thankful to be here and writing and growing and changing, even if that means changing the digit at the end of my age. I’ve always harbored these delusions that I’d be a young, accomplished and genius author — and as I’m tipping toward 30 now, I guess I’d better get on that.

Before I scurry away to write the next Great American Novel, friends, I have an exciting gift for you: an opportunity to win two adorable products from Knock Knock! I recently discovered the site, which boasts hip and unconventional stationery products and fun gift ideas. Not to sound all saleswoman on y’all, but this stuff is cute. I have the Paper Tweet pad and have been using it to play pranks on my coworkers, so . . . you know. I’ll share the details of that with you soon.

In honor of my 26th birthday, Knock Knock has been kind enough to supply a Personal Library Kit (pictured at top) and Bookmark Pad (right) for one lucky entrant in the U.S.! Knock Knock has all sorts of adorable book-related products with a fun and funky flair, and I love their tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.

The bookmarks are crazy fun, and the library kit is a great way to make sure those novels you lend actually make it back into your hot little hands . . . so do you want them? To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment on this post with a way to reach you. For extra entries, you can:

1. Visit Knock Knock and tell me what your favorite product is.
2. Tweet, Facebook or blog about this contest and let me know where you shared it.

No need to enter them as separate comments, unless that’s easier for you. Maximum number of entries per U.S. entrant: three.

Giveaway will run between Monday, July 18 and 12 p.m. EST on Friday, July 22, and one winner will be randomly selected by I’ll email him/her promptly for an address, and then you can wait patiently for your prize to arrive!

EDIT ON JULY 22: Congrats to sara, our winner! I’m emailing you now.

Birthdays, gardens and even more cupcakes

Born in July, I’m used to sweaty, sultry birthdays. I can’t recall a July 18 that wasn’t an assault on my already-frizzy hair, and 2010 was no different — but we still made it work!

Being all into photography and pretty things, we made a trip to Wheaton, Md., to visit Brookside Gardens — a 50-acre destination that came highly recommended by my good friend Erin. I wanted to see beauty! Gardens! Loveliness! And we definitely found it all at Brookside, though the temperatures soared in the afternoon to around 95 degrees. With ten thousand percent humidity.

Mom, Katie, Spencer and I were troopers and managed to walk for a few hours, though. I still managed to grab some decent shots before we just. couldn’t. take it. anymore. After making a circuit around the grounds and visiting the butterfly exhibit — butterflies everywhere! — we headed back to Southern Maryland and grabbed sweet, cold sodas en route.

Did I mention we got a flat tire on our way up — and on the Beltway? On my birthday? We totally did. Luckily, my faith in humanity was once again restored as someone immediately pulled up behind us to help put the spare on — which was awesome, considering I didn’t have a lug wrench. And apparently, lug wrenches are needed to change tires. Who knew? This is why you should travel with dudes. Or, in my case, become less of a female stereotype and figure automotive things out on your own. (Doubtful. I’m too busy reading to care.)

Still, butterflies! Flowers! Macro photography! It was a good day. And yes, I had plenty of cupcakes to celebrate — and a creme brulee at Bonefish Grill, complete with homemade whipped cream and a lit candle. I even straightened my hair with my brand-new straightener for the occasion, so you know it was special!

Birthdays no longer come with My Little Ponies, but I’m all right with that

As a kid, birthdays were all about the sparkly stuff. After spending the day going to the movies, hanging out with our little friends and watching movies, Mom and Dad would take my sister and me to Red Lobster. There we would dine on cheesy bread (mmm, cheesy bread!), popcorn shrimp and Shirley Temples before heading to a nearby Toys ‘R’ Us.

And that’s when the real fun began.

Katie and I were born three years and five days apart and, in typical sisterly fashion, we did everything together — including our birthday celebrations. My big day is July 18, while hers is July 23 — and we’ve had no trouble sharing our celebrations. (Well, except for the year my sister got her own Mickey Mouse birthday cake, while I had to share with she and my father, who was born on July 19 — and I was enraged. Um, but I got over it. Sure.)

Our Toys ‘R’ Us shopping sprees were the highlight of our year. With $50 in hand, we soared through the aisles with Dad shouting, “Supermarket sweeeeeep!” at the top of his lungs. We were frantic, taking in everything our little hands could possibly grab. Of course, the trip was a math lesson, too; with the $50 each, we had to make sure we were getting the perfect amount of merchandise for our money. And, you know, not going over. (I wasn’t always too great with that part, and Katie was worse.)

I remember the year I got a sparkly cupcake doll — the doll was encased in a “scented” rubber cupcake bottom, and would pop up — and a sky dancer. The tiny pink girl would spin on colorful wings, shooting off into the sky. No matter what we picked up, Katie and I would get the same toys — just in different colors. Since we played together for hours and hours every day through our childhood, we had to have the same toys to do the same things. It used to irk me, growing up, all that togetherness — having to choose the same items. But now I find it sweet. Now? I miss it.

Life has changed dramatically in the 15 years since I last wandered the hallowed halls of an overflowing toy store. It’s hard for me to imagine anything being as exciting as loading fresh toys into that cart, my mom and dad smiling down at me. I’ve experienced so much as I sit here on this, my 25th birthday, and I know that so many exciting things are yet to come. I’m eager and happy; I’m ready for all of them.

Even if birthdays don’t come with My Little Ponies anymore.

Congratulations to Lara, the winner of my birthday book giveaway! She’s been emailed. Thanks to all 83 of the entrants — I loved hearing about your favorite birthday gifts! I was surprised, too, to learn that many of them weren’t material . . . like Robby, who answered a hug from his mom. I’m all verklempt.