Dog days of summer

Dogs


The summer has been crazy. My brain is like a sieve this morning. Between getting up at 4 a.m. Saturday for a lighthouse cruise and getting up at 3 a.m. yesterday for an amateur radio flea market two hours away (I read while Spencer sold stuff), I am off to work . . . barely able to form a coherent thought. I need more diet soda. Please excuse this random post.

But I wanted to share this photo of three dogs on a raft with you. I took it last weekend on a rare day when I was actually sitting poolside, steadfastly not burying my face in dessert and trying not to freak out as Spence tried to teach me to “swim.” (Despite years of lessons as a kid, no, I can’t swim.)

They’re my sister’s fiance’s dogs. They’re cute. I totally have a favorite . . . and he definitely doesn’t like me as much as I like him. (Buster, in the foreground — and refusing to look at me. Typical.)


Summer sunflowers

in a field of sunflowers


Much as my mom and I make an annual pilgrimage to document the cherry blossoms in Washington each spring, finding a hidden field of these bright sunflowers has become a project in the summer. This was our second year driving up to McKee-Beshers and, I’m pleased to note, they were much easier to find than last year.

The heat and humidity were oppressive and, honestly, I’m not much fun to be around when hot and sticky. I whine — like, a lot. Thankfully only parents were around to hear my nonsense because, you know, they’re used to it. I don’t want to tip my annoying hand in front of Spencer mere months before the wedding.

(Kidding — he’s totally used to my crankiness! He gives me a Diet Coke and it goes away. Miraculous.)

So the sunflowers this year were definitely in full bloom, soaking in the sunshine and hosting a million bees. We snapped pictures for 45 minutes before the bug infestation was threatening to give me a conniption and, admitting defeat, we headed off to dinner. The storm clouds that had threatened all day finally rolled in on our drive home — but we made it!


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What’s the big deal about sunflowers? They’re cheery. Happy. Vibrant. Seeing such a cluster of them is enough to elicit gasps from the most stone-hearted in any group, and “cluster” is a bit of an understatement at McKee-Beshers. As we wandered around with our cameras, other families and photographers filtered into the open area.

I think it’s in our DNA to feel upbeat in a field of flowers.

Minus the bees.


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The promise of peach wine

Peaches


I like lazy days.

They don’t happen very often. Especially in light of wedding prep (four months to go! Holy cow), so many weekends brim with schedules and plans and checklist items that must be marked off. I’m not spontaneous, preferring my days to maintain a sort of predictable order that might be off-putting to some, but . . . I don’t know. I like knowing what I’m going to do before I do it.

Sometimes.

On Saturday, Spencer and I left relatively early to go check out a local Amish farmers’ market (photos coming tomorrow). I say “relatively” because, you know, early to my fiance means 5 a.m. and early to me means . . . oh, maybe 8:30-ish? I get the sense that our marriage will be one long negotiation on when and how much to sleep, but I’ll work with it. Relationships are all about compromise, no?

So, we left “early” to check out the local produce and came home with all sorts of goodies. I couldn’t resist the allure of green tomatoes — and can’t remember ever actually seeing them in person before. I sliced one, gave it a healthy dash of pepper and salt and promptly fell in love with its firm texture and fresh taste. Way better than those common ol’ red ones, especially given how mushy they become. Love at first bite.

I took my camera with me because, once upon a time, Spencer and I often spent lazy Saturdays wandering around Southern Maryland just looking for places to stop and snapping pictures. I’ve missed that aspect of our relationship — mostly because, as the years have gone on, we’ve gotten busy and life is chaotic and weekends once spent getting to know each other and wandering around holding hands have morphed into photography club meetings, wedding vendor meetings, scheduled events, family functions.

I love that — and I love our lives, and our life together — but it’s nice to have a down day, too. So this rare Saturday was not one to be missed.

So we looked at pies (but didn’t buy — victory!), bought zucchini, admired bunches of sunflowers with the light hitting them just so. The sky was unusually clear for a late June day around here and the humidity, miraculously, was low. Now that I’m 25 pounds down and fully committed to healthy eating, I was entranced by all the vegetables and fruits just ready to come home in our eco-friendly green bag (what grown-ups we are). I felt . . . at peace. Adult. Happy.

And the cartons of peaches Spencer bought from one of the Amish families will, in a few months, morph into some of his sweet, delicious homemade wine.


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Peach wine. My 28th birthday. A double bridal shower. Finishing three major work projects. A visit from my soon-to-be mother-in-law. My first dress fitting, stamping our invitations, getting ready for my sister’s wedding in three short months . . .

So much to look forward to — and how sweet it will be.


A summer of peaches


I normally don’t pay much attention to fruit. And yes, I know I’m trying to “eat healthier” and “make better choices” and “exercise,” but somehow consuming more fresh produce hasn’t really gotten onto my radar.

But I’m working on that. Spencer and I have been hitting up farmers markets and fruit stands from here to California. Last weekend’s early-morning trip to Berryville, Va., had us stopping at a cute spot called Nalls Farm Market for goodies on our way back to Maryland.

Funny thing about Nalls: we’d gone looking for it 10 minutes earlier. According to trusty Google Maps, it should have been just up ahead on our left after a U-turn — but no such place existed. Dismayed but eying the ominous thunderstorm headed our way, we kept driving toward home and said we’d look for the market another day. And that’s when I spied the ant.

I really don’t like bugs.

“Do you really want me to pull over so you can get an ant off your door?” Spencer crowed, giving me his patented raised-eyebrows look of bemusement and irritation.

Yes, I said. I really do. Or I’ll stare at it the entire drive home — two-plus hours. “Just pull off up here,” I said, gesturing to a little barn and its driveway up ahead.

We were just a few feet away when I recognized the sign I’d seen online: Nalls Farm Market. If it hadn’t been for the wayward ant, we would have sailed straight past the stand . . . and I wouldn’t have gotten these delicious peaches.



In hindsight, we should have just sprung for the bushel. Buying eight of them individually was almost as much as a whole small basket, but I couldn’t imagine we would eat more than a dozen peaches before they rotted.

I was wrong. They’re already gone.

It’s been a summer of fruit. There’s something so refreshing and intoxicating about farmers markets, and I like buying local. What good does my $5 really do? I don’t know. But it feels good to pass it over, even if it’s just a small purchase.

I need more peaches. And peach recipes. If you have any, don’t hold out on me.


Book review: ‘It’s Not Summer Without You’ by Jenny Han

This is the second book in a three-book series.
May contain spoilers.

Where once Belly looked forward to summer with breathless anticipation, nothing is the same this year. After the death of Susannah, her mother’s best friend and Belly’s second mother, a dark pall has been cast over the warm weather months. Susannah’s teen sons have struggled to move forward, but Conrad and Jeremiah haven’t easily dealt with the death of their mother. And now the house at Cousins Beach, the cozy place they once shared with Belly and Laurel and Steven, is empty.

As Belly spends her summer days mindlessly drifting at home with Taylor, her hometown best friend, she doesn’t expect to get a call from Jeremiah — or to learn that Conrad has gone AWOL from his freshman year of college. As Jeremiah and Belly reunite to search for him, Belly must confront the feelings she once had — for both boys.

Jenny Han’s It’s Not Summer Without You, sequel to The Summer I Turned Pretty, is the sort of lovely, atmospheric book in which I love to get lost for hours. Han’s Cousins Beach reminds me so much of my own summers sharing a beach house with my extended family, and that’s exactly why I waited to read this one on our annual vacation in the Outer Banks.

I wasn’t disappointed. Though It’s Not Summer Without You is really a quiet sort of novel, it’s impossible not to get absorbed in Belly’s world. I related to her intense feelings of first love that is tinged with grief — and that pain is only broadened by the loss of Conrad (as a boyfriend) and Susannah (completely, irrevocably — dead after battling cancer). Though Belly is so young, she has to deal with so much heartbreak. Though I wished more than anything she wouldn’t treat her own mother so poorly, I didn’t fault her for her behavior.

Not a lot happens in these books, but that’s really not a problem for me. Han wastes no words in setting her scenes, giving us flashbacks of Belly and Conrad’s doomed relationship while still staying rooted in the present. The evolution of our narrator’s feelings was very well-drawn and moving, and I felt like I’d really gotten inside Belly’s heart by the close of the story. And was I overjoyed with the resolution? Yes.

These books are about first love and family — the one we’re born into and the one we choose. Though romance is a key part of Belly’s life and the narrative arc, it’s not the sole focus of Han’s novels. The characters are dimensional, interesting and very flawed — and I could almost see a prequel to The Summer I Turned Pretty telling the story Susannah and Laurel’s friendship. Their bond, even after death, is irrevocably strong.

Han’s Summer series is almost universally beloved — and I can see why. Eloquent, heartwrenching and perfect for the summer season, It’s Not Summer Without You is another win by a talented author.


4 out of 5!

ISBN: 1416995560 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review

A little something sweet

When I think of summer, it’s the sweet tang of a Slurpee on my tongue that hits me first.

Near my grandparents’ home was a 7-Eleven — a convenience store just far enough away to constitute a “walk,” but not nearly far enough that we couldn’t make it over there. My sister and I were fortunate to spend summers with my grandparents growing up, and Grandma tried to get Kate and me out for fresh air. When the Maryland humidity didn’t threaten to knock us out, we’d prance around the neighborhood and wind up at the store for a treat.

I remember my sister in the stroller and my hand in Grandma’s. I remember the shells adorning a neighbor’s driveway — as fine and delicate as bone. And I remember, too, the way the cool air and neon lights would strike us as we made it to 7-Eleven — and I headed straight for the Slurpee machine. I couldn’t always reach it.

My dad kept up the ritual, too, and trips for Slurpees were an after-school routine. When Dad would collect us for home, we’d pop into the store for chips and a drink. Coke Slurpees have always been my favorite, and still are; a throwback to the sweetness of growing up.

When I’m having a rough day, 7-Eleven’s siren song is more powerful than anything Starbucks could ever offer. I often stop for lunch near a gas station that carries this nectar of the gods and can’t help but get a large beverage for the road. In the decades since those lazy days at Grandma’s, I’ve traded my sneakers and corduroys for heels and trousers — but my childish taste buds? Totally intact.

Katie and I made a special trip for a free “birthday” Slurpee on 7/11. They were out of Coke, of course, considering it’s the most awesome of all awesome Slurpee flavors. But I got a cherry — a decent substitute. And it’s definitely not unusual to find my sister and I making special trips to drinks to this day.

July is rapidly winding to a close. Our birthdays have now passed — an annual celebration of Dad, my sister and me. August is waving and friendly, but still threatening to disappear as fast as the previous months. We anticipate summer for so long — the vacations and tanning and fireworks — but once it’s here, we’re helpless to slow it all down. As I type, the leaves on trees lining my office’s street are yellowing and preparing to drop. It won’t be long before our 100-degree heat yields to cold, damp 60-degree days.

And don’t get me wrong — I still get Slurpees on 60-degree days. But there’s something about the rapidly-melting, hot-and-steamy July afternoons that make your drink all the sweeter.

And who couldn’t use a little sweet?

Summer titles: Getting swept away

Thinking about summer, I immediately conjure an image of myself on the beach — sunburned, smiling, sunglassed — with a giant novel in my lap. In any given year, I can be found near the ocean approximately two out of a massive 365 days, but that doesn’t stop me from imagining the sun on my face as I roast — and get swept up in a good story.

And with a plethora of books featuring summer — my favorite season! — we have plenty of literary options. Some of these are new, some old; some I’ve read, some I haven’t. So grab a glass of lemonade, load the kids up in the car and grab one of these paperbacks. We’ll meet up at the shore.


Read and Recommended

 
The Summer We Fell Apart by Robin Antalek

Summary from Goodreads:

The children of a once-brilliant playwright and a struggling actress, the four Haas siblings grew up in chaos — raised in an environment composed of neglect and glamour in equal measure. When their father dies, they must depend on their intense but fragile bond to remember what it means to be family despite years of anger and hurt. These brothers and sisters are painfully human, sometimes selfish, and almost always making the wrong decisions, but their endearing struggles provide laughter through tears — something anyone who’s ever had a sibling can relate to.

I read this one a few months back and was immediately bewitched by the tangled, complicated mess that was the Haas family. It’s not pink, fluffy and sparkly, but it is an engrossing look at love, loss and hope. I can’t recall if I did much laughing here — don’t you love how misleading jacket copy can be? — but I was definitely moved.


secrets_summer Secrets Of A Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas

Summary from Goodreads:

Annabelle Peyton, determined to save her family from disaster, decides to use her beauty and wit to tempt a suitable nobleman into making an offer of marriage. But Annabelle’s most intriguing — and persistent — admirer, wealthy, powerful Simon Hunt, has made it clear that while he will introduce her to irresistible pleasure he will not offer marriage. Annabelle is determined to resist his unthinkable proposition . . . but it is impossible in the face of such skillful seduction.

Her friends, looking to help, conspire to entice a more suitable gentleman to offer for Annabelle, for only then will she be safe from Simon — and her own longings. But on one summer night, Annabelle succumbs to Simon’s passionate embrace and tempting kisses . . . and she discovers that love is the most dangerous game of all.

My first foray into the romance genre, I had an excellent time traipsing about Regency England with this crew. Featuring the quintessential “bad boy with a heart of gold,” as I wrote in 2009, Kleypas’ romances don’t disappoint. And the moody summer setting is fun, too.
 


The Summer We Read Gatsby by Danielle Ganek

Summary from Goodreads:

A delightful comedy of manners about two sisters who must put aside their differences when they inherit a house in the Hamptons.

My most recent “summer” read, this story of two sisters and their adventures in the Hamptons was fun, fresh and silly. Summer — its onset, its decline — plays a major part in the story of Cassie, Peck and the love they find — with others, with each other.

I finished it in a cafe in New York City, drinking tea and overlooking the busy city streets, and I think that will remain a very poignant memory for me. There’s something magical about reading a book set in an unfamiliar place and then . . . finding yourself there.


On My Summer Radar

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

Summary from LibraryThing:

According to her best friend Frankie, twenty days in Zanzibar Bay is the perfect opportunity to have a summer fling, and if they meet one boy ever day, there’s a pretty good chance Anna will find her first summer romance. Anna lightheartedly agrees to the game, but there’s something she hasn’t told Frankie –she’s already had that kind of romance, and it was with Frankie’s older brother, Matt, just before his tragic death one year ago.

Beautifully written and emotionally honest, this is a debut novel that explores what it truly means to love someone and what it means to grieve, and ultimately, how to make the most of every single moment this world has to offer.

I remember seeing reviews of this one when it was first published and, despite the somber subject matter, think I would really enjoy the story. I’ll just have to wait for a time I’m not all weepy and emotionally fragile, you know?



Summer At Tiffany by Marjorie Hart

Summary from LibraryThing:

Do you remember the best summer of your life?

New York City, 1945. Marjorie Jacobson and her best friend, Marty Garrett, arrive fresh from the Kappa house at the University of Iowa hoping to find summer positions as shopgirls. Turned away from the top department stores, they miraculously find jobs as pages at Tiffany & Co., becoming the first women to ever work on the sales floor—a diamond-filled day job replete with Tiffany blue shirtwaist dresses from Bonwit Teller’s—and the envy of all their friends.

Hart takes us back to the magical time when she and Marty rubbed elbows with the rich and famous; pinched pennies to eat at the Automat; experienced nightlife at La Martinique; and danced away their weekends with dashing midshipmen. Between being dazzled by Judy Garland’s honeymoon visit to Tiffany, celebrating VJ Day in Times Square, and mingling with Café society, she fell in love, learned unforgettable lessons, made important decisions that would change her future, and created the remarkable memories she now shares with all of us.

Memoirs, especially about “ordinary” people, are very fascinating to me. As a personal project, too, I’m going to make an effort to include more of them in my literary diet. Everything about this book sounds enchanting to me, right down to the Tiffany blue cover, and I’m sure it’ll find its way into my beach bag soon!


Summer House by Nancy Thayer

Summary from LibraryThing:

After years of wandering from whim to whim, 30-year-old Charlotte Wheelwright seems to have at last found her niche. The free spirit enjoys running an organic gardening business on the island of Nantucket, thanks in large part to her spry grandmother Nona, who donated a portion of land on the family’s seaside compound to get Charlotte started. Though Charlotte’s skill with plants is bringing her success, cultivating something deeper with people — particularly her handsome neighbor Coop — might be more of a challenge.

Nona’s generosity to Charlotte, secretly her favorite grandchild, doesn’t sit well with the rest of the Wheelwright clan, however, as they worry that Charlotte may be positioning herself to inherit the entire estate. With summer upon them, everyone is making their annual pilgrimage to the homestead—some with hopes of thwarting Charlotte’s dreams, others in anticipation of Nona’s latest pronouncements at the annual family meeting, and still others with surprising news of their own. Charlotte’s mother, Helen, a Wheelwright by marriage, brings a heavy heart. She once set aside her own ambitions to fit in with the Wheelwrights, but now she must confront a betrayal that threatens both her sense of place and her sense of self.

As summer progresses, these three women — Charlotte, Nona, and Helen — come to terms with the decisions they have made. Revisiting the lives and loves that have crossed their paths and the possibilities of the roads not taken, they may just discover that what they’ve always sought was right in front of them all along.

I’m a sucker for a gorgeous setting and, like the Hamptons, there’s something whimsical and fun about novels set in Nantucket. For a good summer read, this one sounds interesting.



The Last Summer (Of You & Me) by Ann Brashares

Summary from Goodreads:

Set on Long Island’s Fire Island, The Last Summer (of You and Me) is an enchanting, heartrending page-turner about sisterhood, friendship, love, loss, and growing up. It is the story of a beach community friendship triangle-Riley and Alice, two sisters in their twenties, and Paul, the young man they’ve grown up with-and what happens one summer when budding love, sexual curiosity, a sudden serious illness, and a deep secret all collide, launching the friends into an adult world from which their summer haven can no longer protect them.

As a big Brashares fan — Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants, anyone? — I’m a little shocked I haven’t read this one yet . . . especially considering I already own a copy, purchased when it was first out in paperback. I have the feeling I should definitely remedy that soon.
 


Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly

Summary from LibraryThing:

Until the summer before college, Angie Morrow didn’t really date. Her mother didin’t like her to go out much. But no one — not even Angie’s mother — can resist the charm of strikingly handsome Jack Duluth. His good looks grab Angies’s attention from the moment in June when Jack throws Angie a smile at McKight’s drugstore. And on their first date sailing under the stars — when Jack leans in and whispers to Angie, “You look nice with the wind in your hair,” the strange new feelings begin. Tingles, prickles, warmth: the tell-tale signs of romance. It’s the beginning of an unforgettable summer for Angie, full of wonder, warmth, tears, challenge, and love.

I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for stories of first love. There’s something so exhilirating, crazy and amazing about falling in love for the first time — and, though many of us go on to love again, it’s later through the lens of an older, wiser and (maybe) jaded person. Young adult novels like this one, a classic first published in 1942, have a real charm and warmth to me. I’ll be looking for Seventeenth Summer.