Thirty.


“Our birthdays are feathers in the broad wing of time.”
~Jean Paul

birthday cake

I’m not gonna lie: even with the lessons learned last year on my birthday, I still wasn’t especially looking forward to this one. Thirty. There’s no denying that it’s a milestone, a birthday that somehow feels bigger than the others. And that should be good. It should be a celebration, not a critique – but, as with most things, that’s easier said than done. Entering a new decade always feels like a marker of sorts. How can it not? And so I let myself reflect: on the things I’ve accomplished, on the things I’ve yet to achieve, on the path I’ve travelled thus far and how different it is from the one I once imagined I’d take. Are there things I’d change if given the chance? Of course. But my friend Karly said something last week that has stuck with me and really helped my mindset to do an about-face: that none of us are ever “where we thought we’d be” at any given point. How true is that? Nobody’s plans pan out exactly as they hoped. That’s simply not how life works.

seagulls

So, instead of focusing on the things I’m not happy with, I made a conscious decision to do the opposite. No, I’m not a published author yet, but I’ve written five books and savored the experience each time. I don’t have an agent yet, but the feedback I’ve gotten from people who have read the novels, especially SOT, has touched my heart and made it soar. I’m not working in journalism, where I used to picture myself, but that’s because I’ve found a greater love, a deeper passion. I’m not married yet, I don’t have kids yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future. There have been a few eye-opening experiences lately when it comes to different people in my life, and though they were difficult to process at the time, I see now that I’m better off for it. Tough times occur so we can appreciate the lovely ones. People disappoint and hurt us so we can appreciate those who are always there, always supportive. Dreams take a long time to come true so we can appreciate the journey, as well as the destination.

pond

That’s where my thoughts are now. Instead of seeing thirty as a roadblock, I’m choosing to see it as an open road with limitless possibilities. I had a marvelous weekend celebrating – dinner with friends on Friday, family on Saturday, and a trip to the shore Monday through Wednesday. I spent my actual birthday in Atlantic City, where Charlotte and Nolan’s half of SOT is set, and oh my gosh, it was so fun – and so special! – to visit all the places they call home. Steel Pier, Fralinger’s, the Atlantic City Beach Patrol headquarters … it was, truly, like living in their world, and it just made me very happy, very thankful, very hopeful. I even found a picture-perfect miniature conch shell right by the lifeguard stand in Atlantic City. It’s going in the ‘message in a bottle’ on my desk so it’ll officially hold a piece of AC inside. So … I don’t know what thirty has in store, but of this I am sure: I’m looking forward to it and am blessed to have some wonderful people along for the ride.

bday

Here’s hoping for many wishes-come-true for all of us.

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29.


“Every year on your birthday, you get a chance to start new.”
~Sammy Hagar

When I was younger, I used to wait in excited anticipation for my birthday. Falling out on September 9th, it always gave me something to look forward to even after the summer sun slowly began to blend with the autumn crispness. It wasn’t about presents, or cake, or adventures in mini golf and roller skating (though, granted, I enjoyed those, just as any kid would). But more so, it was about the chance to spend a day celebrating with all the people I loved most. It was a chance to make wishes for the coming year and believe, truly believe, that they’d come true.

The innocence of a child, right?

I hate to say it, because I really do think it’s best to approach life with optimism and hope, but over the past few years, that belief faded … and instead of looking forward to my birthday, it became something that put me in a funk. Instead of it being the marker of what I’d accomplished since the previous September, it became a marker for all I’d yet to achieve. All the wishes that went unfulfilled. All the goals that were still dreams and nothing more. Sure, I’ve written a book – or two, or three, or four – but they haven’t been published yet. Sure, I’ve gotten requests from agents, but they didn’t result in an offer. Sure, I’ve been so lucky to have the opportunity, freedom, and support to create these book-babies, but they weren’t out there in the world to share.

If you asked me ten years ago where I’d be at twenty-nine, I’d have rambled off a list of answers. And do you know how many of them correlate with where I actually am now? A quarter, if that. I’m not going to lie, I was pretty upset about that for awhile. For as much as I would never begrudge anyone their success and dreams-turned-reality, it can be hard to watch these things happen to everyone around you while you’re still sitting on the sidelines. It can be hard to work and work – and work some more – only to have it not pay off.

But then something happened. I spent a lovely long weekend in Ocean City for my birthday. It’s amazing what a difference a week makes: not even seven days after Labor Day, and the shore was so quiet and peaceful. I swam in a pool that was empty except for my mom and me. I sat on a beach that was free from the summer chatter, music, and makeshift sports tournaments. I stood in an ocean that was rough from the rip currents, but devoid of all the boogie-boards you normally see. I walked on the boardwalk in sunshine, in clouds, and in a monsoon (no, seriously, that’s exactly what it looked like as torrents of water suddenly poured down from the sky and my dad, sister, and I ran for cover under a pavilion). I had Polish Water Ice, Dippin’ Dots, and Steel’s Fudge. I spent the evening of my birthday in my absolute favorite place in the world – Ventnor, NJ, where my grandparents used to own a condo. It’s been fifteen years since they sold it and Ventnor still has my heart. It always will. There was something very special about being there again – about walking on the boardwalk I’d traveled down every summer as a kid, about venturing onto the beach and watching the lights of the pier glimmer down onto the ocean water below, about going out to dinner with my mom at JoJo’s, a restaurant that will always hold such wonderful memories and still remains my favorite. I had a fantastic time with the people I love most in the place I love most.

And for the first time in recent years, I didn’t spend the day beating myself up or feeling like a failure for not having accomplished every goal. Twenty-nine feels old to me, but I know it’s not. My goals can still grow. Am I published yet? No. Married with kids of my own? No. Working at a news station like I’d have been insistent upon in my answer ten years ago? No. But I have worked at that station before. I have written four books. I have experienced a joy through writing them that words cannot come close to describing. I do have the best family and some really fabulous friends who are the family I choose. And those things? They’re the best gift of all.

So instead of getting into a funk because another year has come and gone, I’m going to be thankful for that year. I’m going to be thankful for the one ahead. I’m going to remember the inspiration of standing on the boardwalk and gazing out at the ocean. I’m going to remember how my family went out of their way to make it a special day. I’m going to remember the kind words from friends like y’all. I’m going to remember that, no, I may not be where I imagined, but that doesn’t mean I’m a failure. It means success comes in many forms. It means my hard work has paid off in other, intangible ways.

I am looking forward to what twenty-nine has to offer.

Here’s hoping for a wish come true.

“Scene” in NYC.


“Practically everybody in New York has half a mind to write a book – and does.”
~Groucho Marx

Question for y’all: how many books have you read that are set in New York?

If you’re anything like me, the answer will be “a lot.” So many novels these days seem to take place in the city that never sleeps, and every time I visit Manhattan, I’m reminded of why. There’s an energy pulsing through it, a unique kind of adrenaline which excites. There are skyscrapers soaring up toward the clouds, courtyard cafes filled with delicacies and nestled among tiny gardens, office buildings overflowing with high-powered employees, tourists taking in the sights of a place that is truly a cross-section not only of America, but also of the world. There are bright lights and bright souls. And, to a writer, the city unfolds a plethora of opportunities. Everywhere you turn, there’s a story idea dangling in the air, just waiting for you to find it. There are publishing houses that motivate, waterfront views that inspire, and parks that provide the perfect spot to settle in with a journal and write, write, write. And, as I discovered this weekend, there’s even more.

There are views like this:

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir

And this:

Times Square skyline at night

There’s the Museum of Natural History:

Clearly I had to take a picture with this.

And the restaurant I wrote about in one of my books:

Barolo in SoHo

In fact, there’s all of SoHo – my character Lily’s favorite place in Manhattan. Her heart beats for the Big Apple, especially this charming area that’s a juxtaposition of old against new, of traditional against modern.

LOVE the cobblestone streets!

Such unique and historic architecture.

I’d like to live here, please and thank you.

If you’ve read the SHOPAHOLIC series, you should recognize this store.

The SoHo Building.

There’s Central Park:

I’ve wanted to see the reservoir for years!

Pretty!

View from Belvedere Castle.

And Times Square:

M&M Store

Early morning shot.

Outside the GMA studios.

Robin Roberts

There are Red Velvet cupcakes from Crumbs:

SO. GOOD.

And great friends to share the experience:

Whoever invented the self-timer on cameras is a genius.

I’m still in the middle of MINE TO LOVE edits, and the next book I’m planning (yes … the next one … I like to think ahead) will be set somewhere along the coastline, but after that? I think it’s time for a character of mine to call Manhattan home. Or maybe not. Maybe that character will belong in a different city, or a quaint suburb, or a sleepy town. But whatever the case, I’ll continue to be inspired by those big lights. Because though New York may be a place where dreams are made, other spots can be, too. It’s about how we work for those dreams and how dedicated we are to them.

(That said – if the time ever comes when my books sell, I am totally celebrating with dinner at Barolo. One day …)

Three Things.


“Some colors exist in dreams that are not present in the waking spectrum.”
~Terri Guillemets

Cool: I have always been one to have crazy dreams – elevators that drop a hundred stories, career changes that involve a foray into producing reality television, airplane flights that go cross-country in a half hour – but last week, my subconscious journeyed to a place I’d give anything to experience. Even though the specifics are fuzzy, as is often the case when night turns to day and dreams fade into reality, the main gist remains clear. I was in Georgia instead of Pennsylvania, going about everyday life as normal, but there was one major, exciting, OMG-I-love-it! difference. That everyday life? It included Sofie, Brandon, Ellie, Aubrey, and all the other characters from my book(s). It was as though their story had literally sprung alive, as though I was living in their world and weaving myself into the tapestry of their tale. And it was AWESOME. It was like seeing with my eyes everything my imagination has envisioned, and it may sound strange, but that made me feel even more connected to these characters who have truly become like friends over the past year and a half.

Very Cool: I went to a concert with Sara and Latia two Fridays ago, and though the singer wasn’t anyone I was familiar with, one song he performed instantly stood out. Why? Because its title is the same as the one I decided on for my current work-in-progress! It’s been a couple months now since the name popped into my head – one of those “aha!” moments where you just know something feels right for your characters and their story – and so it was a really, really awesome coincidence. What are the chances, right? It immediately gave me a zap of happiness and I’m choosing to take it as a sign that good things are hopefully ahead.

Not As Cool: Question for y’all – have you ever stopped reading a book in the middle? Been tempted, for one reason or another, to set it aside before finding out how the storyline resolves? It is very rare for me to feel that way – I think, as a writer, I’m always inclined to want to see how things tie together and how the author helps their characters grow – but every now and then, it happens. Even when it does, though, I keep reading. Something makes me see it through. In twenty-eight years, there’s only one novel I can remember not finishing. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I persevere, because I know that sometimes the conclusion of a story can be its most special, inspiring moment.

Do you always read every book until the last word? Have you had any interesting dreams lately? Found yourself pondering any cool coincidences?

Tuesday’s Tunes: The Stronger Tour.


“This is not my surrender
I’m not runnin’ for cover
I’m right here
I know you see me
But your words no longer defeat me…”
~Kelly Clarkson, “The War Is Over”

Warning: this post will contain excessive excitement, enthusiasm, elation, and, yes, exclamation points. Because Sunday? It was the BEST. DAY. EVER.

We headed down to Atlantic City around noon and then proceeded to stalk (erm … visit) the Taj Mahal box office for our Meet & Greet passes. First we were told they’d be there at 3:30, then 5:00, then 5:30, then … well, you get the picture. They weren’t brought down until nearly 6:00, but that’s okay because while we were waiting, we got to listen to Kelly’s soundcheck. The doors were closed, but it was still really awesome to hear her and the band practicing – especially because one of the songs was a new addition to the setlist and something we hadn’t heard her perform live before! The passes arrived shortly thereafter, and to say we were thrilled is probably the understatement of the year. Decade. Century. How did we show that? By taking a zillion pictures with our passes, of course.

Our instructions told us to meet by stage right at 7:30 – when the opening act started – but we got there fifteen minutes early, just in case, and were met by the head of Kelly’s security, who checked our passes and separated us according to group. I love that they save the fanclub meet and greet for last because it means you get more time with Kelly. They took us backstage (literally behind the stage – we saw the dressing rooms, catering, band area – SO NEAT!) and Kelly’s security head explained how things would go. Everyone with RCA passes would see Kelly first, then the radio winners, and then us … which meant lots of nervous and excited chatter as we (im)patiently waited our turn. It’s funny: we’ve known for a week – some of us longer – that we had the passes, so you’d think that would be enough time to process it, but standing backstage was still so surreal. It’s like we were floating in a bubble of happiness and the air around us was just fizzing with energy and adrenaline.

I was the first of our group of six to talk with Kelly. I made myself a notecard again, complete with a reminder to actually tell her my name this time (go on and laugh!), but I was (slightly) calmer than the first time four and a half years ago so I decided not to use it … and then forgot to say my name AGAIN. Oops? That’s alright, because I said everything else I wanted to. Before I even got over to her – as soon as she was finished with the person in front of me, actually – she smiled and called over, “Ooh, I love your sweater!” That almost made us all crack up, because I seriously made myself nuts trying to find the perfect outfit. I went to four different stores, had five different possibilities, and didn’t decide until about an hour before we left. Boy, am I super glad I chose that one!! :) I thanked her, she hugged me, and as she pulled back I was instantly struck by how intense and expressive her eyes are. I remember that from before, too – she holds your gaze the entire time you’re talking with her and you can just tell she truly, genuinely cares. She doesn’t do the M&Gs because she has to; she does them because she wants to, honestly and sincerely. The first thing I told her was that I’m a writer and how I build a soundtrack/playlist (though I’m almost certain I got flustered with her two inches away and called it a setlist, but whatever – she knew what I meant) for each book, and that for the one I’m starting now, the main song on that list is her new one, “Stronger.” As soon as she heard about me being a writer, she said “Oh my God, that’s so cool!” and she broke into this huge smile when I mentioned her song being the inspiration for my characters and their upcoming journey. She said that it’s one of her favorite songs and totally empowering to sing – and I know there was something else she said, too, but it is SUCH a blur when you’re up there with her that I cannot for the life of me remember what it is.

The other important thing I wanted to tell her … well, it was more of a thank you than anything, for her song “The Sun Will Rise.” I told her that it was one of the only things that brought true comfort and peace to me after our family went through such a horrible time last year. I swear, I’ll never, ever, ever forget the look on her face – and in her eyes – when I told her what happened with Gram. There was such empathy there as she said she was so sorry, and Mary Kate said she looked really touched by what I’d said. How many celebrities do you find who so fervently and compassionately care about their fans like that? It was just very, very sweet and very, very special. She told me that they were going to sing TSWR that night, but had replaced it with a different one for the acoustic set. We took our picture next – I asked for a hugging one, she said “sure!” and grabbed me – and before it was time to leave, she called out this loud “good luck with your writing!” SO UNBELIEVABLY COOL and something I’ll remember always. And our picture? It is definitely getting framed and hung up immediately!!!!

KELLY!!

Marissa was next to meet her, then Sara, Mary Kate, Julie, and Daniel. It was so wonderful to watch them all with her, especially everyone who was meeting her for the first time and having their dream come true. The joy was truly palpable and there are no words to express how elated I am for them that they finally got to have this experience. Seeing them with Kelly made my heart so happy. Seeing all my fabulous friends with her did.

I think the best way I can describe meeting and talking to her is that it feels like a bear hug. Like Mary Kate was saying yesterday – when you’re with her, she makes you feel like you’re the only person she cares about at that time. It’s a really special, genuine quality – and she is so humble and down-to-earth. Marissa, Sara, and Mary Kate talked to her about dancing, teaching, and delivering babies, and her response was “Man … writers, teachers, dancers, nurses … y’all are talented! All I do is sing!” She meant it, too. She’s just so gracious and personable, always treating her fans like friends. And, honestly, I believe that’s how she views everyone. The gratitude and appreciation goes both ways, and that sets her apart from so many others.

As soon as we got back to the arena, we shared a group hug and bounced around in excitement. To be blessed enough to share the M&G experience together was and will forever be such a gift. And the concert! It was FABULOUS, a celebration of her ten-year career (looking forward to the next ten!) that included lots of songs from every album. She even did a song in the audience right from the row behind us! She is so personable and spunky – stopping to chat with people in the audience and teasing the spotlight guy who couldn’t seem to find her for half the show – and she seriously has SO much energy, it’s crazy. I can’t get over how she can sing while twirling, spinning, jumping, and bouncing everywhere. As for us … we danced/jumped/sang so much that we left the casino barely able to walk or speak. Oops? Such a truly fantastic time, though, and I loved getting to experience it together with my family and friends. It made it so very special.

KC1

KC2

KC3

KC4

Jackie

Julie & Daniel

Sara

MK

This week’s Tuesday’s Tunes? Concert videos, of course!

“I Forgive You”:

“The War Is Over”:

It’s no secret that Kelly’s been a gigantic inspiration to me for years, and I will be forever grateful for having the opportunity to talk with her again. She’s such a special person, one who truly makes the world better for being in it, and there really are no words for how very much Sunday meant. To be able to thank her for her music, to explain what a chord it strikes, how deep an impact it has, and how strongly it helps give us faith when we need it the most … and to see her reaction to my writing … and just to have a conversation with each other, to be reminded yet again of how graciously and whole-heartedly she cares about her fans, it was truly a treasure to cherish. It was a ray of sunshine, a cloud nine to settle on, and a starburst of hope. It resounded. It resonated. Kelly’s heart is as big as her talent, and we are the luckiest ever to have gotten to experience it again. Some people wait a lifetime for a moment like that.

Journaling.


“Visualize this thing you want. See it, feel it, believe in it. Make your mental blueprint, and begin.”
~Robert Collier

We all have things we love – big things, small things, important things, extraordinarily ordinary things. Morning coffees, scrapbooks of photos, seashells scooped up from the ocean’s edge, swooshy scarves and fuzzy boots, the list goes on and on. It’s different for everyone, which, when you think about it, is really cool. How lucky we are to have such a give and take, to share relationships where everyone brings their own passions and interests to the table. For me, that includes writing journals. Sure, most of my work is done on the computer (pretty sure Mother Earth wouldn’t be a fan of printing out hundreds of pages to do hard copy edits), but there’s still something invaluable about keeping a journal. I use it to brainstorm, plot, and plan when beginning a new manuscript. I use it to keep track of ideas, sentences, sometimes several paragraphs of writing as I work – because, it never fails, future passages always come to me at the most random times. I write chronologically and seriously could never skip around throughout the book, but I am totally fine with jotting down notes and even full passages to include later on. That’s when my writing journal becomes a treasured friend. Over the years, many pages have been filled to the brim with notes in every color of the rainbow: pink, turquoise, orange, green, purple, and more. Each manuscript gets its own shade, and (this is going to prove when an organizational fanatic I am, but whatever), with character sketches, each person gets their own hue. Those pages are home to ideas come to life, seeds that blossomed more than I ever could have imagined when cracking open the stiff, fresh cover and easing it into its comfortable new existence.

In a word, that’s what those journals represent: comfort. They’re a way to look back on past inspiration and to glean new faith for the future. They’re a way to live my characters’ journeys and follow their paths. They’re a way to blaze some paths of my own. So when Sara gave me a fabulous new journal for my birthday last month, one with the words “Remember, ideas become things” scripted on the cover, it was love at first sight. As I flipped through the crisp pages to find a plethora of quotes scattered throughout, it quickly bumped every other journal out of line and scurried to the top of the pile for the next one I’ll use. Because those quotes? THEY. ARE. PERFECT. They’re encouraging. They’re motivating. They’re just the right pick-me-up for when the querying roller coaster takes a dip or when the editing process seems truly never-ending. They’re also the right starburst of inspiration for when things are moving along smoothly and you are in love, so giddily in love, with everything about writing and all it evokes.

And they make you think. Take the quote above, for example. As writers aspiring to be published authors, we get caught up so often in daydreaming about the future: how we’d react to getting The Call from an agent offering representation, how we’d celebrate the amazing news of selling our first novels, how it’d feel to walk into a bookstore and see our works of heart on the shelves. Dreaming big is important. It’s exciting. But what about dreaming big on a different scale? Instead of visualizing the life-altering milestone moments, why not visualize the ones we’re in control of on a daily basis? Visualize the euphoric, filled-with-adrenaline, I’m-so-in-love-with-this-project-that-I-can’t-stop-writing high of beginning a new manuscript. Visualize the moment of pride when you watch your characters truly grow and learn. Visualize the bittersweet moment when you write the last word of the last chapter, your first draft now more of its own person than your baby. Visualize the revisions you’ll make, the way your story will tighten with each edit until it snaps together like puzzle pieces that were always meant to be interconnected. Visualize the query letter writing, the synopsis writing, the agent research, the query emails. Visualize each and every bit of the process, and let yourself feel every emotion that comes along with it. See them, feel them, believe in them.

Maybe that’s the best mental blueprint we can have. This process is not easy, and the road often seems like it stretches too far into the distance to see where it leads, but that’s okay. One step at a time, we’ll get there. We’ll make it. We’ll turn that blueprint into something concrete. Maybe that will take our daydreams of agents, editors, and bookstores and make them a reality. Maybe it’ll mean that big dreams will morph into bigger dreams. Nobody can know for sure. But what I’m certain of, what I understand as though the knowledge has always floated through my thoughts, is that the journey will always be worth it. When things get tough, all I have to do is flip through my writing journals for a reminder. Because the words that splash across those pages, they don’t only bring my characters to life. They don’t only tell their stories. They tell mine, too.

And I’ll be forever grateful.

(Side note: how in the world is it OCTOBER already? Does that seem crazy and ridiculous to anyone else?)

Why I need a beach house:


“On the beach, you can live in bliss.”
~Dennis Wilson

#1: Long walks are so much more fun when you can listen to the waves lapping against the sand, see the seagulls soaring through a cloudless blue sky, smell the salty air swirling around you in curlicues, and feel the wooden boards beneath your feet.

#2: There is nowhere else in the world where it’s better or more relaxing to lose yourself in the pages of a good book and the journeys that are threaded with every word.

#3: Store-bought ice cream just isn’t the same as Polish Water Ice or Kohr Brothers soft serve.

#4: Seagulls are in a bird category all their own – as in, ones that don’t wake you up before dawn or chirp, chirp, chirp as you’re trying to work. What’s a stolen sandwich or two in exchange for that?

Seagull 1

Seagull 2

#5: Sunshine over the ocean in the mornings and moonshine over the ocean in the evenings … ‘nough said.

Sunshine

Moonshine

#6: After spending warm, sunny summer days at the shore, you wouldn’t feel compelled to sit on the beach in windy, fifty-five degree temperatures – alone, because nobody else is ridiculous enough to do it. Since when does September usher in November-like weather? Boooo.

#7: Your childhood memories of summers at Grandmom and Pop’s condo can evolve into new memories that you make as an adult and, one day, with a family of your own.

Ventnor 1

Ventnor 2

Ventnor 3

Ventnor 4

#8: You can enjoy not only the peak season, where the beach and boardwalk are pulsing with the energy of vacationers, but also the quieter off-peak season, where a calm serenity drops its curtain over the coastline.

Boardwalk

OC Pier

#9: You can go to the best restaurant EVER more than once every few years.

JoJo's

JoJo's bread

#10: And, finally, two words: THIS VIEW. What could be more inspiring? Someday, somehow, I am going to have that beach house, and when I do, the first morning will be spent sitting right here, writing journal in hand, and letting the ocean’s majestic inspiration wash over me.

Music Pier 1

Music Pier 2

Six days in Ocean City didn’t feel like nearly enough. For the first time in months, it was a chance to truly let go and let be, a chance to enjoy the moment instead of dwelling on the future or past. Sitting on the beach, swimming in the pool, strolling along the boardwalk, soaking in the expanse of ocean that never fails to make me feel small and big at the same time, spending an evening in Ventnor (one of my absolute favorite places in all the world) … it was blissful. Sure, it was crazy chilly toward the end of the week (thanks, cold front – don’t you know we still have another week until autumn?) and my sister I were nearly blown off a fishing pier due to some insane wind (PSA: do NOT walk on a pier that goes out into the ocean when it’s more gusty than breezy), but that’s okay. We had a lovely time. It was truly nourishment and rejuvenation for the soul. Not gonna lie, it was a bit disappointing to come home and return to normal life, but one thing’s for certain: the hope and faith carried along those cresting waves hasn’t faded. They’re just somewhere deep inside me now, motivating me more than ever.

This morning, I sat down at a writing desk overlooking the cherry tree outside and resumed editing. Someday, I will sit down at a writing desk that overlooks the Atlantic. I will sit on that bench at the music pier, the outside world fading away as I lose myself in the story, the characters, the unique journey that writing always is. Because, like all the individual drops in the ocean add up to something magical, so too can hard work, determination, belief, and dedication. So maybe I shouldn’t say someday. Maybe I should say one day.

How about you? If you could have a home anywhere in the world, where would you choose?

The Help.


“Go to New York, Ms. Skeeter. Go find your life.”
~Aibileen Clark, via Kathryn Stockett in The Help

The Help 1

If you have read Kathryn’s best-selling novel – even if you haven’t – please do yourself a favor and run, don’t walk, to your local theater for a showing of the movie adaptation. I can say with confidence that you won’t be disappointed. And, if the audience I shared the experience with is a good barometer, you will also laugh, cheer, cry, and feel more inspired than you can possibly imagine. In fact, if I could only use one word to sum up this film, that’d be it: inspiring. There’s something very, deeply, fully special about the book, and to see it translated to the big screen adds an entirely new dynamic. It takes the images Kathryn paints so beautifully with her words and makes them come alive. We’re transported back in time to Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s and become a part of an extraordinary journey taken by three extraordinary women and the people who fill their lives. We see their struggles. We understand their boundaries. And then we watch them break those boundaries and cross all kinds of lines. We’re right there beside them as they change the world – one word, one story, one book at a time.

The Help 2

Without giving away the details (seriously: read the book and see the movie, have I made myself clear?), I’ll say that they did a fabulous job following the plot and including the milestone moments, both big and small, that are at the very heart of the novel. They showed the power of a myriad of bonds: family, friendship, and the relationships that encompass both. The casting could not have been more spot-on. Emma Stone positively shone and sparkled as Skeeter, Octavia Spencer achieved a delicate balance between tugging at the heartstrings and being laugh-out-loud funny as Minny, and Viola Davis embodied Aibileen with stunning complexity. Together, they told the tale of three women whose lives intertwine in the most compelling way. Their journeys are separate, but their story is one. It’s unified. It’s proof of what happens when different threads are woven together with dedication, devotion, and diligence: you create a tapestry with everlasting stitches.

The Help 4

There was one scene left out that I’d have loved to see – Aibileen taking over for Skeeter at the newspaper – but beyond that, the depiction was so true to the essence of the book. I can only imagine what a sense of overwhelming pride, jubilation, and pure emotion Kathryn must have felt the first time she saw the film. To have your vision come to life before your eyes instead of playing like a movie in your mind, words cannot describe how magical and moving it must be. It’s so well-deserved for Kathryn. She’s an example to so many of us who are pursuing our own writing dreams. Never give up. If you believe in your story with all your heart and soul, keep going, keep trying, keep working until your dream becomes reality.

The Help 4

That’s what Skeeter did. Even when so many people told her it wasn’t possible, she followed her passion. She broke down walls, she took a leap of faith, she told the stories she couldn’t not tell. Maybe that’s why her character resonated most strongly for me, both in the movie and the book. Maybe that’s why, nearly a year after I read it, I still find myself thinking of her. She’s a reminder of who writers are. Of what we feel. What we love. What we do. What we create. What we love and what we live. There is a breathtaking scene towards the end where Aibileen tells Skeeter to “go find your life.” Reading it made me pause. Hearing it gave me chills. Because even though I’m not there yet, even though sometimes it feels like I never will be, I know what my life is. I know what I pray for it to be. Will it play out that way? Things never happen exactly as we plan. We never know what curves are waiting around the bend. But if Skeeter can do it, maybe I can, too. One thing’s for certain: I’ll never give up. I’ll remember the lessons these women taught, the lessons they make us feel. And, like so many other people whose lives have been touched by this story, I’ll be inspired.

Where Dreams Are Made.


“In New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made, oh
There’s nothing you can’t do, now you’re in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you, let’s hear it for New York
New York, New York.”
~Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind”

Life continues to be difficult, draining, and nightmarish, but yesterday was a much needed distraction from that, and I’m excited to finally have something cheerful to write about on here. It was my sister’s twenty-third birthday, and in lieu of a family celebration like normal – just too difficult this year – she decided that she wanted to spend the day in New York. One of my favorite things about The Big Apple is that it’s like its own world, a snow globe of inspiration and energy, so I was more than happy to go with her and spend the day ensconced in Manhattan’s magic. There really is no other place like it.

Times Square

After the most bizarre coincidence ever (finding myself face-to-face with my fifth and sixth grade teacher the second I stepped off the train at Penn Station – we both did SUCH a double take!), we headed to Bryant Park to take in its sights and sounds on what was easily the most beautiful weather day I’ve ever had in NYC. The sky was the color of robin’s egg blue, and the sunbeams bounced off the buildings with such intensity that it was nearly blinding. Bea-u-tiful. So was Bryant Park, although it was much smaller than I imagined. Carousels are always fun, though, and we got a good laugh out of this sign. The birds, they are a-following me!

Carousel

Birds!

Next up was Mr. Softee (best. soft serve. ever.) and Rockefeller Plaza, probably my very favorite place in the entire city. There’s something really special about it – hustle and bustle mixed with serenity, this atmosphere that comes alive with all the colors in the flags. Simon & Schuster being a five minute walk away? Added bonus! It doesn’t matter how many times I see different publishing companies in New York, it always, always, always engulfs me in a starburst of inspiration and excitement. And, just when I think it’s impossible for me to feel even more passionate about writing than I already do, it reminds me that lines cross over into the possible all the time. Being in such a publishing mecca only makes me fall in love with the industry even more. It has my heart, and it’ll never let go. That’s what my dreams are made of so completely.

Rockefeller Fountains

Rockefeller Flags

Simon & Schuster

Then there’s Times Square – so easy to see why it’s called the Crossroads of the World – and Broadway. How can you not fall in love with their magic? We’d been hoping to see Anything Goes, but tickets were sold out, so we decided on Memphis instead. I didn’t know much about the show beforehand, but I enjoyed it and so did Marissa. The dancing was fun, the singing was stellar, and the rhythm of the beat was so infectious that you couldn’t help tapping along. Such fun, as was running to the Gershwin to buy a second Wicked shirt and going to dinner at our favorite Olive Garden, the one overlooking the center of Times Square. How can you beat that?

Memphis 1

Getting away for the day was like medicine for the soul, and even though everything going on at home was never far from our thoughts, we still had a lovely day. Marissa really enjoyed her birthday, I really enjoyed spending it with her, and we both really enjoyed one of the world’s most spectacular cities. I say this frequently, but it’s true: that place sparkles with light and life. The air is alive with possibility and potential, and it grips you in its embrace so completely. Like the shirts say, I Heart NYC.

How about you? Have you ever been to the City That Never Sleeps? What’s your favorite part?

The Bake-Off.


“I don’t care that you lost our legacy. I don’t care that you got disqualified. None of your mistakes make me love you any less. But, on the flip side, none of your achievements make me love you any more.”
~Vasylina Bialek, via Beth Kendrick in The Bake-Off

The Bake-Off

I’ve talked a lot on here about friends being the family we choose for ourselves, but what about the other way around? Can family ever be the friends we choose for ourselves? That’s just one of many ideas Beth Kendrick explores in her newest release, The Bake-Off, which hit stores last month. At its heart, this is a book about sisterhood – the ties it weaves, the bonds it makes (and sometimes breaks), and the journey it sets in motion between two people who are brought together by chance and given the option of staying together by choice.

Amy Nichols is the older sister. The artist. The fun-loving, outgoing, opportunity-seeking party girl turned responsible, charming, dental hygienist and suburban soccer mom to two-year-old twins. Linnie Bialek is the younger sister. The child prodigy. The perfectionist, needs-to-succeed genius (literally!) who applied to college at fourteen and was expected by her parents to change the world. Except she didn’t. She dropped out a semester later, burdened not only by the pressure of everyone’s anticipations, but also by the regret that continues to haunt her today, fourteen years later. Because the one time she wasn’t perfect? It came at her sister’s expense.

Cleverly thrown together in a baking competition by their charmingly sassy Grammy Syl, both sisters are forced to work side-by-side for the first time in a decade. And, just as their szarlotka evolves from a less-than-savory dish to golden gourmet, Amy and Linnie begin to slowly pick up the pieces of their shattered relationship. Like any baking connoisseur knows, each ingredient must be added ever-so-precisely, and the delicate, often-times-fragile bond between the sisters is no different. For Amy and Linnie, the road to forgiveness is equal parts loyalty, repentance, acceptance, dedication, and, perhaps above all else, love.

Through a series of laugh-out-loud hilarious events (case in point: Linnie correcting misspelled graffiti with a tube of mascara, because she can’t possibly let the error stand), heartwarming shows of family solidarity (Grammy Syl passing on the recipe box that’s been among her most prized possessions), and deeply touching shifts in perspective (no spoilers here – you’ll have to read to find out what they are), Beth tells a beautiful tale of family, friendship, and what happens when the two intersect after having been on divergent paths for over a decade. Is it ever too late to change our lives? Are there mistakes that can’t be fixed and wounds that can’t be healed? Or can everything come back together and blend into a new kind of reality?

This reader found herself wishing for the latter. Amy and Linnie – each with very different personalities, lives, and opinions – grabbed my interest from the beginning. I understood them. I liked them. I rooted for them. I was compelled by their individual stories and their story together, and as the pages passed by and their journey unfolded, I found myself thinking about them even when I wasn’t reading. These characters resonate. They leap off the pages, jump into your head, and stick around awhile. They become more than characters in a novel … they become your friends. That vibe was present early on and only grew as the book progressed and the plot spun its lines. Watching (yes, watching – Beth writes so vividly and with such realism, description, and vibrancy that it felt as though the scenes were playing on a movie screen inside my mind) these sisters learn from each other in ways they never expected was gratifying, and I found myself practically racing through the pages, so interested to see what happened next. I was invested from beginning to end, and then some – and not just in Amy and Linnie, but in the fabulous supporting cast Beth introduces. Twins Chloe and Ben are the epitome of adorable, hotel owner Cam is a refreshing change of pace, and Grammy Syl … quite simply put, she’s the best.

Family is about unconditional love. That love may be knocked down by trials and tribulations, but like a good recipe, it can be tweaked when necessary and adapt to a plethora of changes. We don’t love our family – by birth, by choice, by anything in between – because of their mistakes and achievements. We love them because of who they are and how they change our lives for the better. Beth’s book is a reminder of that. It’s a reminder to fight for what – and who – we believe in, and also to never stop believing in ourselves. When we pursue our dreams and goals because we want to, because we have faith in them and in ourselves, that’s when they start to come true. That’s when sweetness abounds.

For more information, you can pop over to Beth’s website, follow her on Twitter, or friend her on Facebook.