Thursday, May 31, 2012

Happy Birthday Mom

Dear Mom,

I spent a little time yesterday thinking about how best to acknowledge your birthday. In the past, when we have not been able to be together on this day, I called you first thing in the morning. Just like I did this morning. To wish you a happy day, to hear your voice. 

And even though I usually do, this year I did not send a card. Because I have too many words to fit into just one card. Because lately, my head is filled with words. And the more I write, the faster the words come. My head is filled with words, and today, those words are for you. 

Not long ago, we were all together in Pittsburgh. On Saturday afternoon, your sisters came over, and we sat in the living room for hours. Me and my two sisters, you and your two sisters. Laughing and talking about family and fun. About big things and small things. Two generations of sisters. Three sisters. Six sisters. So different, but still so much the same. And you. You are our center. Our true north. A magical mother. A thoughtful sister. A fierce protector. A most special friend.

It has been two exquisitely busy years in this family of ours. Engagements. Weddings. Babies. New jobs. New houses. Events for which we all came together to enjoy each others company. To celebrate, to laugh, and to love.

And just over a year ago we all gathered once again. This time to say goodbye. To a special lady. To our pillar of strength. We stood close and held tightly to each other. And reflected on a life well lived. On a life filled with fun and family. A life that sparkled. A life that mattered deeply.

And in the quiet moments of that day, and all the days that followed, I realized something. I realized that even though she is gone, really, she is still here. Because you are here. She gave the best parts of herself to you, and every day you give them to all of us. You help us see that it is our similarities, not our differences, that rule the day. You keep us together when we might otherwise drift. You teach us patience. To be kind. To be funny and optimistic. To laugh. You show us the true meaning of family. You have her strength, her courage, her sense of humor. Her delight in family, friends, and the adventure of it all. She was your mom. And you are ours. How incredibly, impossibly lucky we all are.

As us three Brinn girls grow and make lives and families of our own, we think of you each and every day. Because you are the common thread that runs through us. The tie that binds us. We know how to live and how to smile. How to learn and how to love. How to share our lives with another and remain true to ourselves. Because you taught us how. 

And today. Today is your day. To indulge and to celebrate. And it is our day. To reflect and to thank. To thank you, simply for being you. For guiding us. For helping us find our way. For letting us find our way. For understanding us - and knowing us - even when we feel like we don't understand ourselves. For teaching us to be good sisters, good friends, and strong women. For helping us find our place, and our voice. We are thinking of you today. All day. And every day.

Happy birthday.

We love you.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Making Recommendations Part I: The Best Place to Start

I have been making a lot of book recommendations since starting this blog. Hardly a day goes by now without someone asking me what books to read, and in what order to read them. It seems to me like there is a romance novel lover inside of everyone just dying to get out. And it makes my heart simply sing.

And every time I get the question "what should I read?" I do the same thing. I stand in front of my overflowing bookshelves, looking at each book in turn. I think for awhile about the person. Because if she is a practical sort, I certainly can't recommend my beloved Nora Roberts Key Trilogy, chock full of gods, goddesses, fantasy and magic. Well, actually, I usually do suggest this trilogy (i can't help it, they are Nora's best female characters), but with a disclaimer, lest the inquirer judge the entire genre based on a single book.

But there are certain books, certain amazing books, that I would recommend to absolutely everyone. 

So, in a nod to these inquiries, and as a tool for those of you who might be afraid to ask, I have categorized my romance novel collection on the pages of this blog. There are books for every mood, appetite and preference, and you will invariably find something on these lists to suit you. Some books belong in more than one category, but I have put them where I think they most appropriately belong. Not every romance novel I have read is represented here, just the ones nearest and dearest to me. Where the books belong to a series, I listed the series in order with publication dates, in case any of you are as obsessive compulsive as I am when it comes to reading books in order.

There are obviously way too many books in my collection for a single post, so every Thursday for the next few weeks I will post a different list, giving you ample time to plan your weekend reading, if you so choose. I start today with the best books to read to start your romance novel exploration, and end in a few weeks with the most fantastical of romance novels (think witches, wizards, time travel, ghosts, and the like). 

You may be saying I have too much time on my hands. Well, the opposite is actually true. But my love for romance novels, and my desire to share them, knows no bounds. 

Enjoy the lists. I hope they help you find your heart's desire.


If you are new to romance novels, today's books are, in my opinion, the best place to start. If you have been reading romance for awhile but have never read these? Well, I say its time to go back to the beginning and fill in the gaps. Within the pages of these books are some of my most beloved characters, my favorite families, love stories that warm my soul, and gloriously happy endings. I have read each and every one of these book many, many times. I hope you love them just as much as I do. 

The Best Place to Start

The Chicago Stars Series - Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Meet Phoebe Sommerville, the glamorous owner of the Stars, Chicago's second NFL team; Phoebe's feisty sister Molly; Molly's best friend Annabelle Granger; Stars coach Dan Calebow; players Bobby Tom Denton, Cal Bonner, Kevin Tucker and Dean Robillard, among others; sports agent Health Champion, and many more. These delightfully vivid characters twist and wind their way through each other's lives with heart, love, and snappy dialogue to boot.

The Books
It Had to Be You (1994)
Heaven Texas (1995)
Nobody's Baby But Mine (1997)
Dream a Little Dream (1998)
This Heart of Mine (2001)
Match Me If You Can (2005)
Natural Born Charmer (2007)

The Brides Quartet - Nora Roberts
Best friends Mac, Emma, Laurel and Parker grew up playing "wedding day," and now own and operate Vows, a premier Connecticut wedding planning company. Throughout this series, these four amazing women work together, support each other, and learn to trust their own hearts when love finds each of them, in turn, in quite unexpected ways.

The Books
Vision in White (2009)
Bed of Roses (2009)
Savor the Moment (2010)
Happy Ever After (2010)

The Templetons - Nora Roberts
Margo Sullivan, Kate Powell and Laura Templeton grew up together, close as sisters, in Templeton House on the breathtaking cliffs of the California Coast. As children they shared fun, games and stories. Now, as adults, they share beautiful dreams of love, happiness and family.

The Books
Daring to Dream (1996)
Holding the Dream (1997)
Finding the Dream (1997)

The Quinn Brothers - Nora Roberts
Brothers Cam, Ethan and Phillip Quinn return to Maryland's eastern shore to honor their father's last wish; to raise and protect Seth, the newest Quinn boy. The four brothers learn to live together, and love each other, in the face of tremendous adversity, and along the way, each finds his own peace, and his own happy ending.

The Books
Sea Swept (1998)
Rising Tides (1998)
Inner Harbor (1999)
Chesapeake Blue (2004)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Seven Years Since '05

A few weeks ago I looked at the calendar and realized that an anniversary was on the horizon. May 22nd. Today. Seven years since our graduation from Brandeis University. In the world of higher education, where reunions are routinely marked every five years, seven is not a particularly momentous number. Two years since our fifth reunion. Three years until our tenth. But something about this seven year mark struck me. Perhaps because there have been so many changes since we gathered on campus two years ago for our fifth. Or maybe because seven years seem to have passed both slowly and so very, very quickly. Or most likely because ordinary occasions have taken on a stunning importance now that I process them by writing words.

Nevertheless, for reasons unknown, I found myself wanting to mark this significant and insignificant passage of time in some way. So I started to write. And almost immediately, I got stuck. I needed help, a reminder if you will.

So I looked for some pictures of that day. Graduation. To remind myself of the happiness and excitement of the day that mixed with equal parts sadness and anxiety. A dizzying cocktail of emotions to be sure. And I have a few, but not nearly enough. I remember wanting to soak up the day. To experience it in real time, rather than from behind a camera.

So I sent an e-mail. I wrote to my friends and asked for their pictures. And as the pictures came rolling in, the memories came rolling back.

Lining up to march on a gloomy Sunday morning in May. A sea of black caps and gowns. Hoods no one could quite figure out how to attach. A speaker we were too preoccupied to hear. A shower of blue and white balloons. Cameras snapping. Laughs. Smiles. Tears. Excitement over what was to come. Wishing badly for just one more year - or two, or four - in the warm embrace of the campus that had become our home.

With those pictures came e-mails as well. And one of them sticks with me as I sit to write this, my mind and heart back in 2005. One of my friends wrote to us "Can't believe that was 7 years ago. Remember how much we thought we knew?"

Everything. We thought we knew everything.

We met as Freshman. Wide-eyed and new. We were finally there. College. A land filled with unknown places and faces, just waiting to be discovered. And in all that vast and unknown territory, we met each other. Together we twirled and navigated our way through those crazy beautiful college days. We learned, and loved, and grew. We laughed until our sides hurt, and we cried ourselves dry. We accomplished and we stumbled in equal measure. We had fun. Huge sunbursts of fun.

We lived together and studied together. Drank vast amounts of coffee and ate late night junk food together. We analyzed everything in that beautifully complex way unique to college. We learned about each other, and about ourselves. And we planned for the great unknown future. And hoped that we would still be together.

Today, this seven year anniversary urges me to look back. And when I look back I see us. Gathering in a freshman common room on that first, terrifying night. Piling into booths in Sherman Dining Hall. Trudging up the Rabb Steps in blinding snow and unbearable heat. Navigating move-in days and frantic housing lottery weeks. Filling Ziv common rooms on Friday nights. Going back to our freshman quad during senior week; walking the halls where our journey began. Staring at those falling balloons on graduation day with a mixture of awe and dread. Coming back to campus five years later for three incredible days to relive it all.

And it urges me to look at the now. At all we have accomplished. At our good lives. The accomplishments and lives that would not be possible but for that sad and exciting day seven years ago. And I feel so incredibly lucky. Lucky to have had the four incredible years that preceded that day; the years that made an indelible mark on who I was and the person I have become. To have the friendships forged during those years. To know that I always will.

Sometimes I wonder. I wonder what we will think when we look back on today, many years from now. I hope we'll feel the same way. Nostalgic for the past. Happy about the now. Excited for all that still lies ahead. Lucky to still have each other.

Seven years since '05.

Here's to us. The girls we were then. The women we are now. And the journey we're still on. Together.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


It was the summer of 1996. My family had just moved from Pittsburgh, PA, where Brinns and Rosens had lived, and loved, and grown, and learned, for nearly four generations. We landed in Jacksonville, Florida. A sleepy southern town on the Florida-Georgia border full of strip malls, strange accents, college football, and wide-open spaces.

Two months after the move I started eighth grade. On my first day of school I got acquainted with "Zero Hour," my school's name for the half hour between when school opened and the start of the first period of the day. Zero Hour was for studying, make-up tests, finishing homework, and other such activities. But no one really used it for that. Mostly, it was used for socializing. For talking with friends, for telling stories, and for whispering secrets in that deliciously sly way that only teenage girls can. 

For most at my school, Zero Hour was the best part of the day.

For me, it was hell.

For five years, stepping onto campus for this hour made my hands shake. My stomach knot. My mind race. Who am I going to talk to? What are we going to talk about? Can I fill an entire half hour? Why hasn't the bell rung yet? 

If I could find an uninhabited place on campus where I could read a book, my mind would quiet, and the half hour would race by. But out in the open, surrounded by the masses? Severe, palpable anxiety.

It seemed like everyone was the same. Everyone loved this half hour, except for me. I tried to be like everyone else, but trying proved harder than not trying at all.

I was different. I am different.

It is no accident that I came to love romance novels as much as I do. Because I discovered them during those mad, uncertain high school days. In the comfort and solitude of my own home I could sink into those books, into those stories, and stay there for hours. And in those hours my anxiety from the day would melt away.  

I felt varieties of this same emotion when I left Jacksonville for the suburbs of Boston and Brandeis University. I loved college, but still, I felt different. Because while the people around me loved to go out, I preferred to stay in. Because I spent the first night of college surrounded by romance novels, and enjoyed it. Because I liked small groups instead of big parties, and small classes instead of big lecture halls. 

I was lucky, so amazingly lucky, to meet a group of friends who loved and accepted me for exactly who I was. Even if I was not sure exactly who I was. Or what it was that made me different. And we held hands and twirled our way through those crazy beautiful college days together. After college we all moved to New York together, and through grad school, first jobs, new jobs, engagements, weddings, babies, and more have remained the best of friends. 

But still, I didn't quite understand. I didn't understand why my first inclination was to think rather than act. I didn't understand why I left parties drained and exhausted, feeling like I could sleep for days. Why I preferred to stay in on Saturday night even when the boy who would later become my husband liked to go out. Why in three years of law school I never joined a study group, despite the dean's warning of certain failure without one. Why I spent the entire summer after law school graduation alone in my apartment studying for the bar exam, instead of joining all my classmates in the library.

All of these things felt so incredibly right to me, but so vastly different than everyone else.

And I struggled. Not all the time.  But sometimes I did. Because it seemed wrong to do what came naturally to me. What felt right and what felt comfortable. It seemed wrong for a long time. Until. 

Until one day about three years ago. I was home in Jacksonville for a visit when my mom insisted that we all take the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. So we did. I learned that I am what the test calls an "ISTJ"

Upon my return to New York, because I am a curious sort, I started to read on-line descriptions of my so-called personality profile.

And I had, what dear Oprah Winfrey would call an "Aha Moment." Because the websites were describing me. Me. Exactly how I feel. Exactly how I think. Exactly what I want.

It seems silly to say that these descriptions changed me, but they did. Because they validated the way I feel and think. They gave me the comfort and the strength to be myself. And they helped me understand exactly who I am. And that who I am is something to be celebrated and nurtured. 

I am an introvert. And so are many of you, because we are everywhere. I am quiet. I like the quiet. I often like to be alone. I prefer the company of close friends and family to a room full of strangers. I don't like conflict. I have to think before I can speak. I like low key schedules. After work I need to go home and recharge. I often work in rooms with the lights off. I like to work alone. I can read, alone, for hours at a time.

I am an optimist. This is me. And I am proud.

And I am lucky, so lucky, to have a family who embraces me. To have a husband who not only understands me, but who sees me. Who encourages me. Who helps me find my way. Who doesn't mind going it alone on a Saturday night when his wife decides to stay at home.

The past few years have been filled with a new kind of self-awareness. A deep understanding of who I am and where I fit. In my family. In my life. In my little piece of the word. And those years have also brought a keen insight into what I am meant to do.

Only when I gave myself permission to be quiet did I discover a vast well of creativity within me. And a surprising need to share it. 

So in quiet rooms I read my books, write my words, spin my stories and share a piece of myself with you. And I am grateful. 

I am an introvert.

This is me.

And I am proud.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Happy (early) Mother's Day

Romance novels. Accessories. 

Food obsessions. Movies. 

Recipes. Shopping.

Strength. Friendship. 

Happiness. Family. 


All of the best things, we learned from you.

Happy Mother's Day.

We love you.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


The first thing I saw when I arrived at the Pittsburgh airport last Friday morning was this sign:

It was a stark reminder that this was not just any weekend at home. This was The Weekend. The weekend I had been waiting for, and training for for nearly half a year. It was Race Weekend. I was one of those runners they were welcoming. And it was time.

Our first order of business was the race expo to pick up my number, t-shirt, and assorted other sponsor paraphernalia. We made our way downtown to the Pittsburgh Convention Center, just a few short blocks from where the starting line would stand in 36 short hours. And there was a buzz in the air. Of excitement. Of nerves. Of anticipation. A heady mix of emotions that would propel thousands of runners through the next day-and-a-half of fueling up for the grueling miles to come. 

I spent the day before the race on the couch. The entire day. Getting up only for meals and multiple trips to the bathroom due to intense hydrating. I'm sure many runners spent Saturday reading race material. Familiarizing themselves with the course. Where the water stops and bathrooms were. Where all the turns were. But not me. Definitely not. Keeping me company on the couch was the second book in Nora Robert's Boonsboro Inn Trilogy, The Last Boyfriend. I read the entire thing that day. I figured that if the race got tough, I could spend some happy miles replaying Avery and Owen's romance, thinking about the events that might shape book #3, and bemoaning the long wait before that book will grace the shelves of my local Barnes & Noble. It was a good day.

Before I went to bed, my dad, an amazing multiple-marathon finisher himself, gave me some race advice. "It's just another training run," he said. Simple advice. And as I would later find out, impossibly wise.

I wasn't really sleeping when my alarm rang at 5:30 on Sunday morning. I'm sure I must have slept at some point that night, but I really can't remember. I got dressed in a hurry. I was ready. My mom drove me downtown to the starting line. At 6:15am, more than an hour before the race was set to begin, it was already teeming with runners. Some were warming up along the sidewalks. Some were stretching out, legs propped up on any available surface. Some were walking alone, their faces masks of intense concentration. Some were walking in groups, laughing with excitement for the hours to come.

For nearly an hour, I stood in my assigned race corral. I chatted with people around me, heard some of their stories, and told a little of mine. I thought about my months of training. The weeks I was forced to rest because of injury. And I wondered if it would be enough. 

Suddenly, the crowd erupted in a huge cheer. And slowly, we started to move. 7:30am. It was time. It took nearly 20 minutes to make our way to the starting line. Already, there were people lined up along the sidewalks shouting words of encouragement. And then, we were there. 

And I was off and running.

For 9 miles, the race was amazing. I made my way through Pittsburgh's most iconic neighborhoods. Smiled at the spectators who lined the course. Marveled at how lucky I am to hail from such a beautiful city. Though about how, after nearly two years of trying, I could hardly believe that I was finally running this race. That I was lucky enough to be here. Running these streets, and bridges draped in banners like this:

I was glad, so glad, that I left my headphones at home. So happy that my ears were open and free to soak up the experience. To hear the music, the cheers, and the excitement. I didn't want to forget even a minute of this exquisite day.

Then, just after I passed the yellow flag signaling that I was about to start my 10th mile, something happened. The run stopped being easy. Stopped being fun. My legs started to slow down. Started to feel like lead. I could barely put one foot in front of the other. 4 miles to go. Might as well have been 400. 

For the first time, I really thought I might not finish. Then, I heard my dad's voice in my head. "It's just another training run." So in my mind, I went somewhere else. I was no longer on the streets of the South Side of Pittsburgh. I was running my Park. Central Park. That inner 4 mile loop I know so well. Have run so many times. I imagined myself running up the rolling hills of the West Side. Turning on 102nd street. The familiar sights and sounds of the east side. And the 72nd street transverse looming ahead. 

"It's just another training run." Simple advice. And impossibly wise. And I kept on running.

At the end of mile 12, there was a hill. Not a big one. But after almost 13 miles, it felt like a mountain. At the top of the hill, with less than a mile left to go, I saw it. 

The Finish Line.

And once I saw it, I put my head down and started to fly. I barely remember that last half mile. The people cheering along the sidelines were a blur. I might as well have been alone on the course for all the attention I paid the other runners. At the flag signaling 13 miles, with one-tenth to go, I started to sprint. Every ounce of my being focused on crossing that final line. 

And I did. With my head up. And it was amazing. 

And today, as I hobble around on sore legs with seemingly endless exhaustion, I think back on this past weekend with pride. Because I did it. I finished strong. I finished happy. 

And I already can't wait until the next one.

I am happy to be linking up today with The Extraordinary Ordinary for Just Write.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

THIS Sunday....

Four days and sixteen hours from now, I will cross the starting line of the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. For nearly six months, I have been training. There have been Good Runs, and Bad Runs. There have been injuries. There have been moments when I thought myself crazy for even attempting this feat. There have been moments of elation and anticipation. And there have been many, many pieces of writing composed in my head during those endless long runs around Central Park. I may or may not have occasionally composed them out loud. Apologies to my fellow runners. Whatever gets you through right?

This past Sunday, I completed my very last long run. During that six mile loop, my mind was spinning with ways to encapsulate this entire experience. Because training is not really about a single run, Good or Bad. It is about the sum total of all those hours. About mental and physical fitness. Because, honestly, at mile ten, I'm pretty sure it is my mind, rather than my legs, that will carry me through to the finish. And whether I run, skip, walk, crawl, or am carried across the finish line, I will finish.

Somewhere around East 95th street, it came to me. How to best sum up the past six months. Before I knew it, my run was over, and a blog post was composed.

So here, for your reading satisfaction, in an homage to my amazingly talented and beautiful cousin Jena Friedman, writer extraordinaire for the Late Show with David Letterman, are the Top Ten Things I Learned While Training for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon:

10. Map My Run is the best website ever. I now know what landmark is exactly 1.5 miles from the front door of my apartment in every direction.

9. I get jealous of other runners. Even if I have already run that morning. Or even if it is a rest day. Seeing someone running instantly makes me want to don my gear and head for the park. Major change from my previous reaction of "ugh, that looks horrible, why would anyone want to do that?"

8. I do laundry just so I have clothes to run. I hate doing laundry. Loathe it. It is my absolute least favorite household chore. In law school I sometimes bought more underwear rather than do laundry. But since I started running, I find myself in the laundry room far more often than I used to be. Running clothes are way more expensive than new underwear.

7. Running requires a lot of gear. Handheld water bottle. Fuel belt. Foam roller. Running gloves. Running headband. Running hat. iPod. Headphones. Stopwatch. Not to mention t-shirts, long sleeve shirts, jackets, hoodies, shorts, tights, shoes, socks, and the like. And I kind of love it all.

6. I love running in the morning. I have always been a morning person, but mostly a wake-up-early-and-drink-coffee-while-watching-the-news kind of person. Not a don-running-gear-and-head-to-the-park-for-a-3-mile-run kind of person. But I love it. Dearly. Unreasonably.

5. I am the kind of person runs on vacation. 5 miles in Tel Aviv. When I could have been sleeping. Or reading a book on our hotel room terrace overlooking the ocean. Or drinking coffee on the beach. Or any number of other things that don't involve physical movement of any kind.

4. I consider the aforementioned 5 miles a "short" run. I believe this lunacy needs no explanation.

3. I say "I'm never doing this again" and "I hate running" with stunning regularity, and mean it. At least once every time I hit the park.

2. Running in extreme weather is amazing. Seriously. My best runs have all been in weather I previously thought meant "stay home and watch tv. Or read. And have a snack. Do not attempt physical exercise of any kind. Even walking ten feet to the drug store is far too taxing." Heat wave. Bitter cold. Pouring rain. Blinding snow. Give me those over 65 and sunny any day. I understand this might make me a little crazy. Ok, a lot crazy.

1. I run in my dreams. No longer is my most common anxiety dream showing up for a test I haven't studied for, or leaving for the airport having not packed for a trip. I now dream about showing up late to the starting line. Or getting lost on the course. Or finishing the race dead last. Or starting the race and forgetting how to run.

So, there you have it. The culmination of six semi-insane, but superbly fun months. Friday morning, romance novels (I'll have the new book in Nora Robert's Boonsboro Inn Trilogy to help combat pre-race anxiety) and running shoes in hand, I head to Pittsburgh for the weekend. And Sunday morning, I'm (literally) off to the races.

I wonder how many blog posts I can write in my head in 13.1 miles? I think we're all about to find out.