Thank you for all of the lovely wishes! I had a great 31st birthday/birthday weekend:
- I did, indeed, get a Chipotle chicken burrito bowl for lunch, but I didn’t go alone and read my book while I ate. My pesky co-workers came along and treated me! Oh, well. (Just kidding) The scoop of guac I got on my bowl was the biggest I’d ever seen, and I did not take that for granted.
- In the afternoon, my team took a break for root beer floats, which I requested in lieu of the birthday baked goods I usually bring in for my co-workers. They got me that enormous, hilarious glass mug for my float, and I could not love it more. At the end of the day, I took home the leftover root beer and ice cream — more floats for me!
- At home that night, I ate as much mushroom pasta as I pleased before opening a pile of presents and cards from my family. Yes, that is a cut-out of Eleanor Roosevelt, and yes, it’s from my mom. I love a dog in a sweater, and that one’s from JG. I got lots of fun things this year! My in-laws gave me a generous gift card to Photojojo, and my parents gave me a gift card to LOFT and a cute swim coverup for my vacation this summer.
- My sister and I love sending gifts to each other that comprise a bunch of small items; we call it a Package of Awesome Gifts from Your Sister, or POAGFYS (POHG-fiss), for short. Per the usual, she outdid herself this year with a special accessories edition. So much fun stuff! Jewelry, cute sticky notes, a new lip balm, a preppy mug, and a scarf. I’ve been on a Tour de POAGFYS ever since, wearing or using one item per day. Today is Skinny Leopard Belt Day!
- JG produced a stack of practical things that I would never have bought myself (piping bags, a replacement book light, stemless wine glasses), plus a fish-shaped mug made by our friend, a local ceramics artist. I’m most excited about the collection of mini-books he got me, Frames Season 1, which is about trends in the modern church. I fully intend to nerd out on those infographics soon.
- On Saturday, I was supposed to get my hair cut in the morning, but I had to reschedule until right before JG and I had to leave for Philly. So, I got all dressed and ready (except for wet hair) so that I could fly from the salon to home and out again. I wore the clearance Old Navy sequin dress (SIX DOLLAHS) (no, I will not stop saying that) over a blousy black top to create a sleeved dress, black tights and heeled boots, new sparkly earrings from the POAGFYS, and a rhinestone bangle. The theme was black and sparkly! I added a velvet blazer and a green scarf, and I was definitely overdressed for typical downtown Kennett fare. After my haircut, I stepped out of the salon onto the sidewalk, freshly cut and styled, and a dude in a pick-up truck whistled at me! I took it as a compliment.
- Before dinner, JG and I met Laurel (of Sass Attack, RIP) for drinks at The Dandelion, which was insanely crowded. Nonetheless, it was awesome to see Laurel, sip yummy Pimm’s cups, and catch up.
- We had such a good time at dinner at Butcher and Singer. The decor is so cool and immersive. Everything is cushy and dark, and the staff all wear tuxedo jackets and speak in hushed tones. JG and I ordered fancy drinks — a Manhattan for him, a dirty martini for me — and escargot to start, plus steaks and Brussels sprouts for dinner. Everything was awesome. My martini was clear and sharp, and the escargot might be one of the best things I’ve eaten in my life. The restaurant was such a fun, fancy, novel thing to try for my birthday, and I’m so glad we tried it. Dressing up and going out with JG was exactly what I wanted.
- Halfway through the meal, it became clear that JG and I were seated between unrelated bachelorette and bachelor parties. At first, I was a little nervous, but neither party was obnoxious, and it ended up being pretty entertaining. Both groups exhibited such stereotypical behavior that we couldn’t help but laugh. For example, the bride (in white, with a pink sash, of course) sat in the middle of her table so that she could talk to everyone; the groom sat at the head of his. The girls WOO-ed with their toasts, and the guys went, “Hey-oh!” It was so amazing.
- At one point in the evening, a waiter dropped and broke an empty glass kind of near our table. The plush carpet prevented glass from careening everywhere, and JG and I were totally fine, but a floor manager swiftly moved between JG and the point of impact. Meanwhile, a SWAT team swooped in silently to deal with the glass, and the manager asked JG three times if he was all right. I appreciated the level of service, but toward the end of the clean-up operation, it was sort of comical that the floor manager was so intense. When the floor was clean to his satisfaction, he turned to face us and asked, “Can I get you folks a complimentary round of drinks?” WOO! JG got another Manhattan, and I tried a tasty gin-based thing with lavender honey. We were both going to stick with one cocktail that night — those things are not cheap — but given the circumstances, why not get a free one? Hey-oh!
Hey, I turn 31 today!
On one hand, 31 sounds about right. Last year, I said, “I feel like this year is an important year for me. I’m working on my goals, and I feel tiny nudges of progress. Hooray! I hope that when I turn 31, I’ll be able to feel the difference.” And the crazy thing is that I can feel the difference. Being 30 was great. I feel much more open to possibility and confident in who I am and am not.
On the other hand, I realized at 11 last night that my credit card payment was 2 days late. Ugh, adulthood fail! Happy birthday, self, here’s a late fee! And a bunch of new alerts to ensure that this never happens again!
Anyway, I have been forgetting about my birthday all week. I think it’s a combination of a weekday birthday, not planning a party, and being a boring adult. JG would say, “Are you excited for Thursday?” and I’d be all, “What’s happening on Thursday? Oh.” Lest you think this major occasion would go uncelebrated, let me put you at ease.
Today, I’m wearing one of my favorite dresses (it’s green, of course), and I started the day with breakfast at Philter, where I changed up my usual order and got a savory bread pudding that had smoked ham, cheddar, and rosemary. My awesome co-workers gave me a card and a gift card to a local beer bar, and the administrative assistant brought supplies for a root beer float social this afternoon! I’m taking myself to lunch at Chipotle for a chicken burrito bowl, and I am splurging on the guacamole, OH YES I AM. While I eat, I’m going to start Stray, which was a lovely surprise birthday present from Janet. Yes, I am having lunch by myself, but it’s really a treat because eating + reading is one of my favorite combinations.
Tonight, JG is making my requested dinner: Ina Garten’s mushroom lasagna (but with short pasta, like a baked ziti) and roasted Brussels sprouts. When faced with the full spectrum of dishes JG would gladly make for my birthday, leave it to me to choose creamy pasta and vegetables. Party time, folks! After dinner, we’ll have lemon cake from a great local bakery, and I assume that we’ll watch our usual Thursday night television.
Then! On Saturday, JG and I are getting gussied up for a fancy schmance steak dinner at Butcher and Singer. I’m wearing a black sequin dress that I found at Old Navy in the clearance section for SIX DOLLAHS, what what! I’m getting my hair cut and styled in the morning, so I intend to be very high-class, indeed.
Why, yes, the theme of this birthday is Eat Whatever I Please, how did you guess?
Sooo, for my birthday, I would love it if you would leave a comment for me. If you have been hanging out and this would mean delurking, all the better! Thanks for reading, friends!
Today, I’m participating in a link-up with Christy of Avoiding Atrophy! She threw down a challenge to share 10 things I like about myself, and I initially found this exercise to be difficult because, well, who likes a braggypants? (technical term) I also felt like, “Aren’t these just statements of fact?” Well, yeah, they are, and that’s the point. These things are true about me, and I like them, and that’s good.
Here we go!
1. I have great hair.
Let’s start on the surface, shall we? I really do love my hair. It’s thick, fine, black with reddish highlights in the sun, and super straight. I’ve never had any chemical processes or treatments done to it, and I don’t plan to, although I’m not sure how I’ll handle the onset of grays. I love that my hair responds well to the cheapest of cheap shampoo, air drying, and humidity.
2. I remember people’s birthdays and important dates overall.
Maybe it would be more accurate to say that “I write down people’s birthdays and important dates,” but the end result is that I remember. Who cares about the method? It’s not just birthdays, when I get a crib sheet from Facebook. I make it a point to remember wedding anniversaries, job interview dates, and when people’s loved ones passed away. I think it makes a difference, that’s all.
3. I give thoughtful gifts.
I love thinking about what gifts to give people, and I always have a running list of ideas for every gift recipient on my list. I relish the challenge of coming up with a great gift that the person didn’t know existed but would find invaluable. Last year, JG and his siblings agreed to stop giving birthday and Christmas gifts to each other, and even though I completely understand that we were just trading money, I was a teeny bit disappointed. I had already bought the sisters-in-law cute scarves! Oh, well.
4. I send real mail.
Receiving snail mail is one of my very favorite things, so in 2009, I made a goal to write my grandmother every week, and it was a really good discipline for me. Plus, my grandmother loved it. The following year, I backed off to every other week, and I’ve kept it up ever since. (One of my Christmas gifts for my grandmother this year was a “subscription renewal notice” that I put together in PicMonkey, got printed as a 4×6″ print at Walgreens, and glued to a piece of 5×7″ stationery.) But I also like to send real birthday cards, postcards from vacation, and just-because notes. I have a stack of generic birthday and blank cards at the ready for whatever occasion arises. It’s morbid, but I always keep sympathy notes on hand, too, because you never know when you will need one.
5. I can pick out and sing harmony lines by ear.
When I was growing up, my mom would assign harmony parts to my sister and me. We’d be in the car, listening to a cassette of a choir or something, and she would say, “Okay, RA, you take the low part, Sister takes the high part, and I’ll do the melody this time.” Or she would whisper at us during church and point to the musical line in the hymnal to follow. Now, I automatically hear the harmony lines to whatever songs are in the background, even if I’ve never heard them before. JG always laughs at how I extract traditional harmony lines from pop songs. I can’t help it!
6. I always bring something.
If I’m coming to your house, I’m bringing something. Usually, it’s a dessert, but it might be a side dish or drinks or a game or flowers, but I need to bring something. It’s been drilled into me since childhood, and I think it’s put me in good stead. Similarly, I try not to show up at meetings or other interactions “empty-handed”; that is, I come prepared with ideas or questions that I’ve thought about in advance.
7. I can clarify others’ thoughts.
When I edit other people’s work, I try very hard to be invisible. The end result shouldn’t sound like me, but I’m trying to make that person’s voice come through as clearly as possible. For example, JG asked me to look at his best man toast for his brother’s wedding, and I was pretty sure I knew what he wanted to say, but it was trapped under a layer of extra words. So I chipped away and shifted things around, and when JG read my revisions, it turns out that I had read his mind correctly after all.
8. I read a wide variety of books.
I like that I have a pretty broad swath of reading under my belt and in progress. My interests are diverse, and I read to satisfy all of them. So, it feels good to be able to recommend a book to almost any reader of any age and know from whence I speak.
9. I get really excited about the things I’m into.
I think that Calvin and Hobbes comic strip where Calvin says, “The world bores you when you’re cool,” (hold up, that was from 19-freaking-86?!) was prophetic of today’s sarcastic, over-it, hipster detachment. And, well, that is so not me. I am not cool at all. When I get into something, I am giddy. I am ecstatic. I am immersed. In college, someone told me, “RA, I don’t think you have interests. I think you have obsessions.” At first, I was defensive, but the more I thought about it, I realized, yeah, that’s about right. Current fascinations: Ben Rector’s music (still on repeat!), the end game of How I Met Your Mother, the endless appeal of Jimmy Fallon, and the latest Flavia de Luce mystery.
10. I try to keep learning and improving myself.
I’ve always made new year’s resolutions, but I think 2013 was the most significant year for learning and growth yet. I’m already seeing the effect of my 4 actions in 2014, and it’s exciting to see how I’m becoming the person I want to and should be. Ultimately, I’m becoming more myself, and that is so energizing.
What are 10 things you like about yourself?
I read Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger, for the first time in September 2010. I didn’t think I liked it that much until I found myself recommending it to everyone I could. Something about the quest story, miracles, and western poetry hooked me. In June 2011, I read it a second time in preparation for a book club discussion, and I consider it a personal victory that people still talk about Peace Like a River as one of their favorite books we have read. Then, last month, after way too long, I read Peace Like a River for the third time, and oh, I still loved it.
Re-reading the book was like visiting old friends. I missed Reuben and Swede! I missed the straight-forward telling of miracles. I even missed the stark, midwestern winter landscape. The easy cadence of Enger’s prose welcomed me back, and I loved recognizing lines that resonated especially strongly in my heart. Ah, there you are, I thought.
“People fear miracles because they fear being changed — though ignoring them will change you also. [...] No miracle happens without a witness. Someone to declare, Here’s what I saw. Here’s how it went. Make of it what you will.”
“… it’s difficult to do productive work and fume simultaneously — the labor dissipates your righteous steam …”
“… truly I suppose that moment had been gaining on us, secretly, like a new piece of music played while you sleep. One day you hear it — a strange song, yet one you know by heart.”
This time, it took me a month to read the book. A month! And it’s barely over 300 pages! I blame part of my slow reading on the Olympics and its imposed insomnia, but also, I was loath to finish the book again. I didn’t want to leave its world too quickly or race toward the tearjerker ending. Besides, I reminded myself, I’m reading fewer books and re-reading old favorites this year. Going slowly is really just part of meeting my goals. But I knew I was contriving to drag my feet, just putting off the inevitable. I finally read to the end, blinked away tears, and closed the book. Oh, well. Goodbye, Reuben, until next time.
I feel like there is a fairly sharp divide between those who re-read and those who do not. Obviously, I’m a re-reader, but I understand why others aren’t. There are so many good books in the world, so why would I spend time with a story when I already know the ending?
I don’t really know. When faced with this question, I usually babble about how the characters in the books are my friends, reading those books brings back such good memories, and certain writers made such an impact on my life. Then the unfortunate question-asker backs away slowly because I can’t stop myself from making The Crazy Eyes as I talk. I’m not sure what it is about re-reading for me. My tendency to re-read contradicts the check-it-off, get-it-done, move-along attitude that I have toward most other areas of life. To be frank, I don’t re-read nearly as much as I would like; I’m always looking ahead to the next book on my list. This resolution to re-read is intended to remind me to revisit those beloved books of my past.
Why re-read? To me, it’s the same question as, Why visit old friends? Because you know each other. Because you have the same old stories. Because they remind you of other memories. Because, when you spend time together, you see what has changed and what has remained constant.
Last summer, an old barbershop downtown went under construction. “Coming soon,” the paper sign read, “Philter Handcrafted Coffee.”
A new coffee shop! The town buzzed around the site for months. We have places to get a good breakfast sandwich or a greasy plate of eggs and sausage, but there hasn’t been a place with plenty of seating where you can meet and chat with someone. So we all watched the facade get a fresh coat of teal paint, we read articles in local papers, and we drank samples of coffee at the Mushroom Festival. The opening day kept being pushed back until the shop finally opened in November.
Inside, Philter has gray and navy walls, and the owner, Chris, says that when he started painting, people told him it would feel cold, but the opposite is true. The shop feels warm and comfortable but still modern and efficient. The furniture is made of reclaimed wood and metal conduit, and large-scale, local art hangs on the wall. A corrugated cardboard sculpture sits in one of the bay windows, and a vintage cabinet holds sweeteners and napkins. The menu is written in chalk pen in the panes of a big, old window. Tea steeps in white cups with orange saucers, and individually brewed servings of coffee are served in monogrammed mugs. Lattes always come with steamed-milk art.
I went for the first time with a girlfriend, and the funny thing is that neither of us drinks coffee. Instead, we both got mugs of tea and sat in bar stools facing the street. We’d been out at a First Friday art stroll, the rain was falling steadily. We watched people rush by under umbrellas and held our cups more than we sipped from them.
Ever since, I’ve had at least one breakfast meeting per week at Philter. My “office hours” are 7-8am, and I always order the same thing. I slide my travel mug across the counter to Chris (20-cent discount!) and say, “Could I get a decaf rooibos tea and a toasted sesame bagel with honey-walnut cream cheese?” That’s my usual. The last time I was there, Chris joked, “I should know that by now,” and I said, “Don’t worry, I’ll keep ordering it.” They steep my tea behind the counter with a timer, and I find a seat while I wait. This week, I’m “only” scheduled for 2 Philter meetings; I’ve had as many as 4. I still have yet to eat lunch there, but I’ve heard that the mushroom soup is great, and as a conscientious Kennett Square resident, I must try it.
Last year, I read Tim Chester’s A Meal with Jesus, which is about hospitality as ministry. In the past few years, JG and I have made a point of hosting people at our house as often as possible, and a friend from church lent me his copy because he thought I’d like it. And I did. The book is slim, but it’s packed with thought-provoking insight, and I recommend it. One of the biggest concepts for me was the idea of “a third place,” which Chester describes in the context of Starbucks:
In his history of Starbucks, Taylor Clark argues that the secret of Starbucks’s success is not in its coffee, but the “pull of the coffeehouse as a place.” When sociologist Roy Oldenburg coined the term “third place” to describe a neutral gathering spot that’s neither home nor work, “the company,” Clark writes, “now had its philanthropic rallying cry: it wasn’t a coffee company, but a third place bringing people together through the social glue of coffee.”
I love that Philter contributes to and promotes the community feeling in Kennett Square simply by providing a third place to gather. The shop is a great equalizer, and hardly a meeting goes by when I don’t recognize a local friend in line for their morning cup. And I can’t speak from experience, but I hear the coffee is pretty good, too.
Last October, my friend Shalini self-published her novel, Lost & Found, and it was a big deal. I was so happy for her! But I was not in a rush to read the book because romance is not my jam, and I felt kind of bad about that. Serendipitously, Shalini tweeted, “If you don’t like chick lit or romance, please, pretty please don’t feel obligated to buy or read my book, okay? Okay.” I e-mailed her immediately, and we had the following exchange:
Me: I love your tweet about non-chick-lit readers. I support YOU! But this book is not up my alley, and I’m so glad you understand that.
Shalini: Of course! If you wrote a horror novel, I’d be all “GO RA,” buuuut I wouldn’t be able to read it. I am a librarian. I get it.
Love that Shalini!
Then I saw on Twitter that Emily was doing a giveaway of print and electronic copies of Lost & Found, and I thought, “Why not?” And I won! I won the physical copy!
When I held the book in my hands, I was highly cognizant that I was holding the physical manifestation of someone’s dream. How often does this happen? Maybe if you hold a newborn baby of a friend who’s always wanted to be a mom or try on a white lab coat emblazoned with your friend’s name and “MD.” Maybe? But what if someone dreams of being an Olympic athlete? Or an astronaut? Or visiting Paris? You can’t really hold the dream in your hands, feeling the heft and reality of it. Lost & Found isn’t a tome by any means, but it was still weighty. I felt so honored and privileged to experience the gravity of a dream realized.
I guess you’re wondering if I liked the book, but I don’t feel like I can speak to that. I have no context for romantic novels, and they clang against my personality. So, I doubt that my opinion is going to be that useful to you if you really like romances. But if you are such a person, I think you might like Lost & Found. (Least helpful book review ever? Probably.)
If you’d like to see if you would like this book, I’m passing along my copy to 1 lucky commenter! I’ll even throw in that funny magnetic cupcake bookmark. My co-worker gave me a set of those for Christmas, and I chose the blue one because it matches the cover, and it’s even more perfect because Laney is a baker! Yesss.
For a chance to win Lost & Found, leave a comment on this post by Friday, February 28 at 5pm ET, and I will choose a winner on March 1. I’ll ship anywhere in the US.
But I don’t want this to be just a giveaway; I want it to be a pass-it-along. When I read Fangirl last year, it was an ARC that had passed through the grapevine. I got it from NPW, but I don’t know where it originated. All of the readers wrote their names and cities in the inside cover, and I did the same when I finished it. I passed Fangirl along to -R-, and I hope that book is still traveling across the country. I would love for that to happen with this copy of Lost & Found, especially for those of us who don’t love romantic books. Read it, appreciate how it’s a dream in reality, and send it to the next reader! If you loved it, buy your own copy and support Shalini.
I’m not saying that, if you win, you have to pass it along. How would I even know? But, I don’t know, I think it could be cool. You don’t even have to have a blog or do a blog giveaway. Pass it along to your sister or a co-worker or a Facebook friend. Maybe you’ll read it on the beach or during your honeymoon. Wherever you read it, remember that you are holding a dream in your two hands.
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This giveaway is closed. Congratulations, Sandy! (The numbers shifted down 1 since Jesabes didn’t enter the contest.)
For a time, I decided not to post gift guides or product round-ups. When I read them on other sites, I get this compulsion to spend money, or I am acutely aware of the things I don’t have, or I feel jealous of people who can afford the pricey items, or I scoff at a writer who thinks a $32 t-shirt is “totally affordable.” To my mind, not much good comes of those lists, so I opted out. (I made an exception for book lists because libraries are free!)
I was telling NPW about this loose resolution, and she protested, “But if you really liked something, I would want to know!”
Huh. That’s true. If someone I trusted really loved something, I’d want to know about it, too.
So, in that vein, here are 5 things I really love right now, FYI. (No pressure to buy anything! Do whatever you want!)
Have you all heard of Ben Rector already? If so, why did no one tell me?! I love this guy’s music. I had heard about him here and there for a few months, but I finally downloaded this free, 7-song sampler from Noisetrade, and I was hooked right away. I listened to those 7 songs on repeat for a week and then bought Ben’s latest release, The Walking in Between. After a weekend of listening to that on repeat, I said to JG, “So, I think I have to buy everything else Ben Rector has ever done.” And JG said, “Yep.” And we did, and I’ve been listening to it nonstop since. I really enjoy Ben’s music because it’s piano-based singer/songwriter-style, and at times, he sounds like Billy Joel, John Mayer, or Michael Bublé. The lyrics are strong and true; every time I listen, I hear a new line that strikes me so deeply. I love it, and I think you will, too.
Keep Calm and Carry On daily calendar
I love a daily tear-off calendar. My favorite one had quotes from 30 Rock, but they were sometimes NSFW. I also enjoyed the Word a Day calendar, but the second time I got that one, I … kind of knew a lot of the words. This year, I went out on a limb and got a calendar with inspirational-type quotes, and I’m surprised by how ardently I love it. I was afraid that the words would be flimsy or superficial, but I find most lines to be a pleasant shot in the arm. I have a hard time not taking a picture of each square and tweeting them every morning. Right now, my bookmark is the page that says, “Word by word the great books are written” (Voltaire), and it gives me a little thrill every time I see it. These are some of my favorites so far:
- “Joy is not in things; it is in us.” — Richard Wagner, 19th-century German composer (January 23)
- “Are we downhearted? NO!” — WWI British military expression (January 31)
- “Do a common thing in an uncommon way.” — Booker T. Washington, American writer and educator (February 15)
I think I’ve overdosed on Olympic figure skating, but I’m going through a phase of loving the angsty tones of 20th century Russian composers. Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky — I can’t get enough. It’s convenient for me that the skaters appear to have chosen their music to align with the Sochi locale. Stravinsky’s The Firebird is one of my very favorites, and I bristled a bit when one of the figure skating commentators noted drily that many skaters use music from that ballet. Of COURSE they do! It is awesome! Back up off Stravinsky!
Forest Friends bookplates
I’ve leaned away from giving customized onesies as baby gifts because, well, did you know that babies grow really fast? Not cool, babies! Instead, I’ve leaned more heavily on books, and I started including bookplates with them. I don’t stick them into the books in case there are duplicates, but I’ve loved this set of woodland animal labels. They are unisex and charming but not babyish. The packet comes with 80 labels, but I’ve been tearing off a set of 10 for each baby and tucking them into the card. I still have enough for 5 more baby gifts! It’s a nice touch that doesn’t break the bank.
Fresh Sugar tinted lip balm in Rosé
Last summer, I won a gift card to Sephora in one of Merrick‘s giveaways. The win was well-timed because I was scraping the bottom of my Bare Minerals foundation barrel, and that stuff is not cheap. Over Christmas, I finally schlepped to the Sephora at the King of Prussia Mall, where I was promptly overwhelmed by the bright lights and array of beauty products. I have more to say on my deer-in-headlights response to cosmetics, but for now, let me thank heavens for Rachael, the Sephora sales girl who rescued me. I successfully retrieved my foundation and then asked for help finding a lip color that was “my lips, but better,” with the added complication that I hate lipstick and am self-conscious about my ginorm lips. Rachael pointed me to these tinted lip balms, and I love mine. The lip balm gives me just a bit of color, but it’s not super opaque or shiny. However, if I had not had a gift card, there is no way I would have purchased this. $22 for a lip gloss! YIKES. But now I might have to budget for this product because I love it that much.