Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: A Year Of Finding Happiness and Home. And Reading Books.

January 1, 2013. I was laying on the couch under a blanket, trying to warm up after a freezing cold New Year's Day run and reading over what I had posted the day before as my year end review. Looking over all the words, all the links to the posts filled with the words that told the story of my year, made me proud, and a touch overwhelmed. And, when I got to the sections for November and December, they made me a little sad.

Because even though the construction was done and the house was finally finished, sitting on that couch on New Year's Day, I still felt profoundly unsettled after our move to the suburbs. Adrift in a sea of change and uncertainty, not sure when I would again find myself on dry land. And I looked forward to a new year, relishing the idea that maybe, just maybe, I would begin to find some comfort and peace. That maybe it would finally start to feel like home. Like my life, instead of a life that I was viewing from the outside, wishing it could be different.

If 2012 - the second half at least - was a story of saying goodbye, of transition and nostalgia tinged with sadness, 2013 was the story of finding my place. Of building a new life in a new neighborhood. Of joining a community. Of meeting new people who became new friends. Of finding a running path I loved as much as I love Central Park. Of getting to happy. Of discovering that slowly, and without my even realizing it, what was once new becomes normal. 

2013 was the story of finding home.

And 2013 was the story of reading books. 

Because when I feel unmoored, books are where I turn. When I lose myself in the words of my favorite authors, all is right with the world. So when we moved into our new house, the very first thing I did, even while my kitchen was still a black hole and everything was covered with a layer of construction dust, was set up my bookshelves and start reading.

My Bookshelves: Romance Novel Central

And Everything Else

And when I had torn through 3 books in our very first week, I decided it might be fun to keep track of everything I read for an entire year, and to write about it. So I created a new bookshelf in my Goodreads account, and started filling it. 

And when I checked it this morning, my grand total was 132 books in 2013, including 72 by Nora Roberts, 13 by her alter-ego J.D. Robb, 3 Hunger Games, 3 Divergent, 2 by John Grisham, 2 by Dan Brown, 13 by Brad Thor and 13 by the late and great Vince Flynn. The other ten are a mixed bag that include Maine and Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan, Early Decision by Lacy Crawford, The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty and a few from my law firm's book club that I hated but read anyway to avoid feeling stupid in the bi-monthly meetings.

It was a year of romance and mystery, of brand new and very old. Of re-reading my favorites, and giving the unfamiliar a chance. Of sinking contentedly into my favorite characters and the stories that I love, and relishing happy endings. It was a year of embracing the familiar while surrounded by the unfamiliar, and finding out that I am still me, no matter where I land.

365 days and 132 books later, I am happy, and I am home.

Thank you for taking this journey with me. It is an honor and a pleasure to write, and to be read.

Wishing you all and your families lots of love, happiness and success in 2014.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Weekend Moments

A snow-blower shows up on my front porch.

David is now the proud owner of an R2-D2 cell phone car charger.

And a jacket with battery operated heating coils inside of it.

My sisters come to visit and we sneak the best snacks into the 
movies in our big, big bags.

And bottles of water inside of our jackets.

Target is already selling Valentines Day cards, even though
the date when this picture was taken was December 29th.

I care more about the Kansas City-San Diego game than any other non-Steelers
game ever. The refs miss a penalty call. The Steelers miss the playoffs.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Let The Celebration Begin...

For almost thirty-one years, I have had a friend.

I met her on the very day she was born, when I was exactly two months and two weeks old.

And this friend and I, we have been through a lot together, good and bad, happy and sad. Our moms are best friends too, and we grew up together in Pittsburgh, running around my backyard and hers, swimming in her pool, celebrating snow days with cookies and long walks to the movie theater when our parents' cars were snowed in, watching Steeler games, and celebrating my birthdays with sleepover parties and art projects at night, and her St. Patrick's Day birthdays with sleepover parties and green bagels in the morning.

When we were thirteen and my family moved away from Pittsburgh for awhile we drifted a little bit, but it didn't seem to matter. Because our friendship is the kind that sticks. The kind that can't be hurt by time and space and distance. The kind that only gets better with time.

It is a friendship that has endured as we have grown and become who we are.

We survived law school and the bar exam and our very first real jobs together, and celebrated when she moved to New York and settled in mere blocks from where I lived. She was my first call after my family when David and I got engaged, and she walked down the aisle at our wedding, standing up for me as I started a new phase in my life.

And now. Now I get to do the same for her. Because last Friday afternoon the phone rang, and when I saw it was her I just knew. I knew she was calling to tell me that she had gotten engaged. And she was. Her voice radiated happiness and excitement, and a little bit of awe at the sudden, exquisite change.

And so, a new phase of our lives is about to begin, ushered in by months of parties and planning and dresses and wild fun. And I am honored to be a part of it all. To watch my best friend, my forever friend, take her next steps into a bright and beautiful future.

Congratulations R and B. Wishing you lots of love and happiness, always.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My Best Childhood Pal

The way the story goes, my dad bought her for me in a chic toy store in Pittsburgh's storied Station Square when I was a newborn baby. No one can remember what it was exactly about that stuffed dog that struck my fancy. She was fluffy and yellow, with big eyes, black eyelashes, and pink bows tied around her floppy ears. Rather ordinary as stuffed animals go, but I loved her on sight. 

I called her Fifi.

She slept with me in my crib and later in my bed. She went with me to the doctor's office when I had to get a shot, and when I begged really hard, she got to come in the car for more mundane errands too. When my sister and I moved up to new bedrooms on the third floor after my parents remodeled our house, Fifi chased away the scary shadows on the first, unfamiliar night.

She read books with me and watched TV with me. She came on our family vacation to Israel when I was twelve and she dried my tears when the very first boy I liked decided he didn't like me the same. When we moved to Florida she made that strange city feel a little more like home, and I was never homesick at sleep-away camp because she was there with me.

She came with me to college and moved with me from one New York apartment to the next, and I'm pretty sure David met her before he met any of my people of the flesh and blood variety.

I was perusing Facebook a couple weeks ago and saw that a friend of mine had posted a link to a book written about the childhood "security blankets" we all loved. I clicked on it and when the Amazon page loaded, a little thrill went straight through me. Because there, on the cover of the book, was my beloved Fifi, in all her faded, worn out glory.

I sent the link to my parents and my dad promptly bought the book for me. Then we spent a few minutes reminiscing on my best childhood pal, my parents both wondering what became of her.

When I hung up the phone I headed straight for my bedroom closet. There, on the bottom shelf, propped up by a pile of sweaters, sat Fifi, her big eyes looking up at me as if she had been waiting for this visit. I picked her up and held her close, soaking up the familiarity of her bedraggled body. Her fur is gray now, her eyelashes gone, and her pink bows lost long ago. But it hardly matters.

Her home is in my closet now, but occasionally, if I am home alone or feeling a little shaky from what life can sometimes bring, she sleeps next to me in my bed, standing guard, still ready to slay the dragons.

Monday, December 23, 2013

An Ode To Sisters

I sometimes think about what life would be like if I had a brother. And I can't imagine it. Because for me, it has always been about sisters. Two of them to be exact. And we are, and have always been, the Brinn girls.

When things are good, when things are not so good, and for all those times in between, it is my sisters who fill in those missing pieces of myself. Who pick me up when I'm down, celebrate with me, and walk by my side always through the twists and turns of life's path.

Every girl needs a sister, of this, I am certain. I'm not sure I would make any sense at all if not for mine.

They have given me brothers and babies that I love, and they love the man I chose. And together, we are not just family, but friends. 

And this week. This week is the very best of all. Because as you may know, both of my sisters live in Ohio, and even though we get to see each other lots, it is never, ever enough. But this week, the Brinn girls are taking NY by storm. They are staying with me, and for the next six days, my house will be the very best kind of crazy. And I am so, so happy about that.

K and L, nothing, nothing, without you.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

YA? Why Not?

Frequent readers of this blog may know that I have a bit of an obsessive personality. If I find a snack I like, I eat it constantly. If I find an author that pleases me, I read absolutely every single book that he or she has written and then go back to the beginning and read them again. I'm a long distance runner, which is synonymous with obsessive.

Sometimes these obsessions are short-lived, like that incident with the Stop and Shop brand white cheddar rice cakes that I can no longer even look at without getting vaguely nauseous. Sometimes they withstand the test of time, like my love of all things romance novel since the minute I opened my first one fifteen years ago, and my burning desire to own hard copies of every single book that Nora Roberts has ever written. And sometimes they come and go, depending on my general mood.

My latest obsession - the YA book - has ebbed and flowed since I read my first Harry Potter book back in high school. It started off innocently. My little sister was reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and since I had heard some buzz, I picked it up too. I was sucked in right away, read all the rest of them that were out at the time, and spend the next five years anticipating the rest of the series. I pre-ordered each new book and the day that it arrived I shut everything else out and read it, cover-to-cover. The wait in between books was painfully long, but worth it for the glory that was Harry. Once I read the final word of the final book, I went back to my regularly scheduled reading habits.

It wasn't until two years ago that my love of YA was rekindled. It was two Aprils ago. David and I were in Israel for 10 days, and one night we decided to go to the movies at a mall in Tel Aviv. I had heard good things about The Hunger Games, so we went to see it. It was against my better judgment since I really like to read the books first before I see the movies, but were there, and so was it, so see it we did. And it was amazing. Every single scene.

When I got back to America the very first thing I did was buy the first Hunger Games book in the airport gift shop. I was thrilled to see that the other two books in the trilogy were out also, and over the next three days I tore through them all, and was left with a vague book hangover at the end, desperately wanting more of the story even though there was none to be had.

I flirted with some more YA over the next two years. I tried some Twilight but couldn't make it through the first one, and I sobbed my way through The Fault in Our Stars, but neither rekindled my original YA passion.

I thought that this particular obsession of mine had finally run its course. Until two weeks ago, that is.

I was sitting in a darkened theater on a Thursday night to see the second Hunger Games movie. The previews began, and the first one was for the movie version of the first book in the Divergent trilogy. I had heard about these books, but hadn't read them yet. I decided that there was no time like the present.

I ordered them all from Amazon, and dug in the second they showed up at my house. Three days later, with blurry eyes and only a vague idea of what day it actually was, I closed the third book, vaguely dissatisfied with the ending but still totally enthralled and again, wanting more. Without any new YA books within reach, I did the only thing I could think of to do. I grabbed the first Hunger Games book off my shelf, and started the series all over again.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

When Plans Change

The minute he said the words "Thanksgiving" and "New York" in the same sentence a steel door slammed shut in my mind and I didn't hear anything else that came out of his mouth. Instead I fired back with a less diplomatic version of "no way in the world are we staying in New York for Thanksgiving," and walked away.

I probably could have been a little more receptive to what he was saying. I mean, that's what a good wife does right?

But with my Thanksgiving plans in jeopardy, I hopped on a train headed straight for crazy town.

For nearly my entire life, Thanksgiving has meant Pittsburgh. It has meant my sisters and brothers-in-law, my parents, and sundry aunts, uncles and cousins all gathered around my aunt's giant dining room table. It has meant Shabbat dinner the next day at my parents' house with the aforementioned aunts, uncles and cousins, and a Saturday night at the movies. It is three days immersed in my big, loud, manic, amazing family.

Since I got married, it has never been particularly difficult for us to split the holidays. Thanksgiving with my family in Pittsburgh. Chanukah with his here in New York. The September Jewish holidays wherever is easiest depending on what days of the week they fall out on and how easy it is for us to travel. We count ourselves lucky to be close with both sides of our family, and have never, ever had any conflict over this.

Until this year. The once in a lifetime overlap of Thanksgiving and Chanukah upset our easy balance, and all of a sudden we had a decision to make.

We negotiated. We discussed. I got mad. David stayed utterly reasonable.

He pointed out to me that this year was a bit of an anomaly anyway. For various reasons both of my sisters had to be at their in-laws for Thanksgiving, so they had to skip the Pittsburgh festivities too. And shouldn't we save the 6 hour drive for a weekend where we can all be together?

His logic cut through the mass of resentment lodged in my brain. I knew he was right. I knew it. But it didn't make the thought of Thanksgiving without my parents for the first time ever any less sad.

It was strange to wake up in my own room on Thanksgiving morning instead of in my childhood bed. I spent the day making pies, watching the parade, lounging around in my sweatpants, talking to my parents and sisters. Missing them.

Then it was time to leave for dinner.

When we got to David's parents' house, we all gathered in the living room as David's dad prepared to light the Chanukah menorah. I stood there, David's sister and her fiance to my right, and David's brother and his wife to my left. There was David's mom, and some cousins. A room full of people who have, over the past seven years, accepted me, and supported me, and loved me like their own.

In the glow of the candles, one thought slid quietly through my mind.

This is my family too.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Does This Freak You Out?

I drove into the driveway, looked up, jumped out of my seat, and then almost drove my car straight into the garage. 

Wouldn't you, if this is what you saw in the garage window?

No, it was not someone waiting to kill me. It was a huge Darth Vader that David got as a Chanukah present from a friend and put in the window either to freak me out or to scare away intruders. 

Jury's still out on that one.

Friday, December 13, 2013

On One Year Since Newtown

Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. It was a day of fear and confusion, and those feelings hung heavily over all of us in the days and weeks that followed. 

And in the midst of the national debate on gun control that began almost immediately and continues to rage today, there was a town. A community. A group of families shattered with grief, wondering how the world could possibly keep spinning in the face of such wrenching tragedy.

It was those families I couldn't get out of my mind, even as I wrote about my own feelings on gun violence and gun control. And it is those families that I am thinking about today. I hope that they have found some peace in the 364 days since their lives changed forever. I hope they have found some happiness in the arms of the ones who love them. And I hope they have found some comfort from an entire nation whose tears fell - and continue to fall - along with theirs.

Three days after the shooting, the funerals began for its tiniest victims. One of the first funerals was that of Noah Pozner, a six year old first grader at Sandy Hook Elementary. And while I couldn't be exactly sure what all the other funerals would be like, I knew what would happen at Noah's, because Noah is Jewish and so am I. And the day after the funeral, thinking about Noah's family, I sat down in front of my computer and I wrote, trying to make sense where there was none. Trying to understand that which was beyond comprehension.

In honor of this one year anniversary, and in memory of those twenty-six lives lost, I am re-posting the essay I wrote on that day about funerals and Jewish tradition

May Noah's memory, and the memory of all of those lost, be a blessing.
The Comfort of Sameness and Jewish Tradition
I couldn't settle down yesterday. I couldn't settle down because I was thinking about what was going on in a town just forty miles to the north of where I sat. In that town, there was a funeral. The funeral of Noah Pozner, one of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
I knew that, at about the same time, there was another funeral too. And there are more today, and there will be countless others in the days ahead. But it was Noah's that was on my mind as I went about my business yesterday. It was Noah's that I couldn't get out of my mind. Not because he is more important than all the rest; of course he isn't. But because Noah is Jewish, and so am I.
So while I couldn't be quite sure what the other funerals would look like, what the order of the services would be, for Noah's, I knew. I knew because Jewish funerals are generally all the same. And there is a solace in that sameness. In a format that has changed little in over four thousand years. A format designed to offer direction in this moment of intense crisis and confusion.
I knew that his funeral was on Monday because Jewish law commands that the funeral be held as soon as possible after death. I knew that he had not been left alone for even a second from the time of his death until the time he was buried; that someone had been watching over him since Friday afternoon.
I knew that there would be a tiny closed casket at the front of the room. A simple wood box adorned with a Star of David. I knew that before the funeral his family would gather in a room and each would tear a piece of their clothing, and I knew what that tearing would sound like. I knew that they would sit in the front row and prop each other up as eulogies were given. I knew that before the funeral's end someone would recite "E-l Malei Rachamim," a haunting prayer asking God to grant eternal resting to the soul. 
I knew that at the burial Noah's family would take turns shoveling the dirt onto his casket themselves, and I knew that when the burial was over the community would form two lines leading away from the grave for the family to walk through; a symbol of solidarity. I knew they would go straight home to start sitting shiva, and I knew that family and friends would be waiting for them when they arrived. I knew that those same family and friends and even some strangers would pay visits over the next days, attempting to relieve the burden of the Pozners' crushing loneliness.
I don't presume to know what it is like to lose a child in such a violent and shattering way. But it is my greatest hope that these ancient traditions offered a bit of comfort as Noah's family struggles to find light in the darkness.
I couldn't get Noah out of my mind yesterday. And I am still thinking about him today.
Hamakom yenachem etchem b'toch she'ar avelai Tziyon Vi'yerushalayim.*
May God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
*A hebrew prayer that visitors to a shiva house offer to the mourners

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Books Books Books Books Books

I love books. Romance novels particularly, but really anything with a happy ending will do. I have loved to read since before I knew how to read, and books remain - and will likely always be - one of the greatest pleasures of my life.

I read during my commute to work, my commute home, and often times while walking to and from the train station. My favorite thing to do when I get home from work on Friday afternoon is to curl up with a blanket on the couch in my reading room with my current book of choice, and then head straight back there when I wake up on Saturday morning. I often feel like losing myself in a book can fix whatever problem ails me. Books have been my constant companions during every part of my life, good and bad, and seeing them all lined up on my shelves fills me with happiness and love.

So, when I saw this little self-interview about books and reading on Lindsey Mead's blog a couple of months ago, I knew I had to post it here too.

So, here, in 28 questions, is my life in books. Heavy on romance novels, light on sadness, and always, always with a happy ending.

Author You’ve Read the Most Books From

Nora Roberts, without a doubt

Best Sequel Ever

Books two, three and four in Nora Roberts' Bride's Quartet. Especially books three and four.

Honorable Mention - Night Fall, by Nelson DeMille

Second Honorable Mention - Books 2-7 of the Harry Potter series. Can't just pick one.

Currently Reading

Allegiant, the third book in Veronica Roth's Divergent trilogy

Drink of Choice While Reading

Lemonade in the summer, hot chocolate in the winter, always coffee on Saturday mornings.

E-Reader or Physical Book?

Physical book, always and forever

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated In High School

Ron Weasley from Harry Potter.

Glad You Gave This Book A Chance

Plum Island, by Nelson DeMille. My parents were both after me to give this one a try for a long time, but for some reason, I resisted. I'm glad I finally gave in and read it - and the other five in the series - because John Corey is now one of my favorite literature heroes of all time.

Honorable Mention - The Fault In Our Stars, by John Green. The premise - kids with cancer - offended my "only happy endings" sensibilities, but really, the book is a beautiful testament to life, love, and the people who join us on our journey. It's sad, yes, but ultimately uplifting. 

Hidden Gem Book

Sisterhood Everlasting, by Ann Brashares, the fifth book in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. It's ten years later, the girls are about to turn 30, and a reunion is on the horizon. It's a little sad, but the ending is a whole lot of happy. I loved the first four books in the Traveling Pants series, so when this one came out I cleared my schedule, sat down, and read it from start to finish in one day. I wasn't disappointed.

Important Moment in your Reading Life

The day I read my first Nora Roberts book. I was 16 and in my junior year of high school, the book was The Stanislaski Sisters, and nothing would ever be the same again.

Just Finished

Divergent and Insurgent, books one and two in the Divergent trilogy.

Kinds of Books You Won’t Read

Obviously, I love romance novels, but I absolutely will not crack any book by Nicholas Sparks. I require my romances with a side of happy, and his romances come with a heaping dose of the death, disease and peril, which is absolutely unacceptable to me. For more on my utter hatred for this author and my love of a happy ending, read this.

Longest Book You’ve Read

I don't know for sure, but if you count all three volumes of Dante's Divine Comedy as a single book, I think it would probably be that. And I've read the whole thing twice. And loved it. Both times.

It could also be the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs. It was long, but I devoured every single word of it during a non-fiction bender I went on a couple of years ago.

Major Book Hangover Because Of

Vince Flynn's Mitch Rapp series. I love post-9/11 CIA spy novels almost as much as I love romance novels. I started reading the Mitch Rapp series years ago and then stopped for awhile. Recently, I started again from the beginning and read all 14 books straight through in about a month. By the end, I was practically cross-eyed.

The cliffhanger ending of the 14th book was brilliant but ultimately sad. Vince Flynn passed away this past June at the incredibly young age of 47 after a long battle with prostate cancer, so we will never know what became of his Mitch Rapp.

Number of Bookcases You Own

I have floor to ceiling built-in bookshelves along 2 walls in my living room and 2 walls of my sun room. They were what sold me on my house when we first looked at it. My books cover one of the walls, but will soon start creeping over onto the others.

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times

Birthright, by Nora Roberts. I'd be hard pressed to say what my absolute favorite Nora Roberts book is, but this one would definitely be in the running.

Preferred Place To Read

My reading room. My most favorite place in my house.

Quote That Inspires You/Gives You All the Feels From a Book You’ve Read

"Whatever setbacks he had faced in his life, he said, however daunting or dispiriting the unfolding of events, he always knew he would make it through, as long as when he woke in the morning he was looking forward to his first cup of coffee...Uncompromising purpose and the search for eternal truth have an unquestionable sex appeal for the young and high-minded; but when a person loses the ability to take pleasure in the mundane...she has probably put herself in unnecessary danger...One must be prepared to fight for one's simple pleasures and to defend them against elegance and erudition and all manner of glamorous enticements. In retrospect, my cup of coffee has been the works of Charles Dickens...I've come to realize that however blue my circumstances, if after finished a chapter of a Dickens novel I feel a miss-my-stop-on-the-train sort of compulsion to read on, then everything is probably going to be just fine"
-Amor Towles
 Rules of Civility

Reading Regret

That it took me so long to jump on the YA bandwagon. Hunger Games and Divergent? I could have started loving you years ago. Better late than never, I say.

Series You Started And Need To Finish (all books are out in series)

I may have a little bit of a one track mind, but I'm racing through the third book in the Divergent trilogy. I'm torn because I absolutely can't wait to see how it ends, but also kind of want it to last forever and ever.

Three of your All-Time Favorite Books

Just As Long As We're Together, Judy Blume (and the sequel, Here's To You Rachel Robinson)
This Heart of Mine, Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Birthright, Nora Roberts

Unapologetic Fangirl For

Anything by Judy Blume. From her incredible Just As Long As We're Together, all the way to the slightly disturbing but positively addicting Summer Sisters, I love them all. 

Very Excited For This Release More Than All The Others

Nora Roberts' newest mystery, out this spring

Worst Bookish Habit

Reading as I walk from Grand Central Station to my office on 52nd Street and 7th Avenue. I know. But sometimes my train pulls into the station while I'm in the middle of a chapter.

X Marks The Spot: Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book

I'm not exactly sure because I'm not at home right now, but I know for a fact it's a romance.

Your latest book purchase:

Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings. I've heard fun things about this one, and I can't wait to get it in the mail.

ZZZ-snatcher book (last book that kept you up WAY late):

I don't generally read before bed for this exact reason. Any book I start will keep me up late, so right before bed is usually TV time. But the last book that kept me up WAY later than would ever be normal or acceptable for a school night was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I was equally disturbed and fascinated by it, and even though I wasn't at all sure I liked it, I couldn't put it down. I was about one-third of the way through at 10:00 one night last summer when I settled into bed with it.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

First Snow

I knew it was supposed to snow today, but that didn't dim my excitement when I woke up this morning to find that it had already started falling. I cursed my responsible self for going to work, not because I didn't want to commute in the weather, but because I really wanted to spend the day sitting on my sunroom couch, hot chocolate in hand, watching out my back window as the snow piled up. 

I love winter, and I love snow.

I took this picture at 7:30 in the morning, right at the beginning of today's winter adventure, and I can't wait to see what it looks like when I get home.

The bright side of going into work was that I got to take this quick video of the snow falling over the train tracks and over my favorite running path that starts right behind the train station.

And as I waited for the train to come, I dreamed of a run through snow covered trails.

When I get home tonight I will make something extra special for our snow day treat - a tradition started by my parents when I was little, and that I continue to this day - and, if I can convince David to take a snow walk through our neighborhood.

Come February I may be thoroughly sick of shoveling, salting and navigating up and down my icy driveway, but for the moment, this is what I love.

Happy first snow!

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Moments Between Dark and Light*

She stands on the platform enveloped in darkness, the only illumination spilling from the orange glow of the streetlights that dot the track.

Other passengers wait with her, shadowy figures huddled inside their coats, the mammoth hoods shielding their faces from the bite of the wind that whips through the station. They are there but they are not, mere cameos in her early morning moment, and she looks straight through them - seeing but not really seeing.

The world is silent but for the rustling of the autumn leaves that have yet to fall from their trees, and the silence - the stillness - suits her. She is a creature who inhabits these moments between night and day. Each morning she walks the thin line between dark and light, and it is there that she is her truest self.

And then it happened, as it does every morning. She heard the rumbling of the train seconds before she saw the headlights round the bend. The train roared into the station, its horn signaling that her night had come to an abrupt end. And as she stepped through the doors and into harsh glare of the car she took one last glance outside into the darkness, to watch as the first light of dawn rose over the horizon to greet the day.

*A fictional tale inspired by an early train ride into Manhattan this morning

Friday, December 6, 2013

Celebrating The Joy and the Love Of Friendship

I open the book. My eyes scan the table of contents first, looking for my name, not quite sure where I will find it. And then I see. A little thrill rushes through me as I stare at it. Samantha Brinn Merel. First, maiden, married. Partly the name I have had forever, and one I adopted a little over three years ago. It seems strange to see it all in print. Almost like I am looking at someone else's name instead of my own. I stand in my reading room, surrounded by all the books that I can't live without. I scan the brightly colored spines featuring the names of my favorite authors, and suddenly it hits me. 

I'm published

It's a dream.

I sit down on the couch with the beautiful book in my hands and I flip to my essay. I settle back against the pillows and I read my own words. Words I have barely been able to go back to since I first wrote the piece months and months ago. Words borne of sadness, loneliness and even a little bit of despair. Words that left me aching and vulnerable and forever changed. Words that describe a friendship that is no longer; a friendship the loss of which has left me with an empty space in my heart that I sometimes feel might never fill up again.

And then I turn back to the beginning of the book and I read other words. Words written by smart and amazingly talented women. Words of love and friendship and sisterhood. Words that describe the way that these relationships shape us and change us and make us who we are. Courageous words. Beautiful words.

I am at once in awe that my essay lives in these pages alongside theirs and lifted up by what all of these essays together have done. And I start to think about my other story. Not the story of friendship loss, but of the ones I am lucky enough to have.

I think about my sisters who are the missing pieces of myself. Who know me all the way through in a way no one else can, and I them. I think about phone calls and e-mails and Facetimes and weekend visits. About shared books, shared recipes and shared secrets. About knowing that they walk beside me no matter where I am. About being so proud of them and the lives and families that they are building. About knowing that none of this will ever change. That we only get closer as we get older, and as time marches on.

And I think about my best friends, the sisters of my heart. I think about the little girls we used to be, the women we are now, and the path we walked together to get here. I think about late night phone calls and early morning e-mails, Tuesday night dinners and Saturday night manicures. I think about seeing them as I walked down the aisle at my wedding, and standing at the end of the aisle watching them walk down at theirs. I think about laughter and tears, joy and sadness. I think about how lucky I am to have these women in my life, and to know that I always will.

Female friendship is a complex beast, full of joy, pain and power, as this book so lovingly shows. And I have experienced it all. But today, in the company of these fifty other women who have opened their hearts and shared their stories, I celebrate the joy and the love that friendship has brought to me.

And I am grateful.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My Story

I sat back in my chair and stared at the computer screen, a little stunned at what had come out of my head.

It was the fastest I had ever written six hundred words. It was probably twenty minutes, but it felt more like two. The words had been rattling around in my brain for weeks, arranging and rearranging themselves, moving in and out of focus, and I just let them stay there, knowing that they would let me know when they were ready.

I was making my way into work last week when the story began writing itself. I got to my office, threw my coat over a chair and fell on my computer. I called up my blog and opened a new post. My fingers started flying over the keyboard, the words gushing out of my head and pouring themselves onto the screen.

As I wrote, a wave of emotion rose up inside me and my eyes blurred with tears born of feelings I hadn't yet let myself feel, anxiety I had pushed aside and doubt that I had stubbornly refused to address.

I had been stoically soldiering on, putting one foot in front of the other, focusing my eyes straight ahead, for fear that a slight deviation from the path I was on would cause a fissure into which those feelings could creep. I was afraid it would knock me off course, and that I would never again be able to find my way.

The ground I had been walking was uneven, riddled with potholes and boulders seemingly too heavy to move, I was sluggish with exhaustion, and my shoulders were sagging under the weight of the load that was mine to carry.

My fingers raced faster and the story took shape. I thought that the sentences were probably terrible, the grammar a mess, but I kept on writing. For the first time, I didn't obsess over the words I was using or how they all fit together. I didn't go back and read over paragraphs once they were finished or sensor myself for fear of what others might think.

This time, I wrote for me. To help myself find some order. To gain some perspective. With each word I wrote I felt stronger. I felt a light fill the dark space inside of me that the words had occupied, and the anxiety that had been my constant companion began to slowly ease.

When the last word was written, through my astonishment I found myself smiling radiantly, filled with the glory of finally owning this story. This piece of my journey that I did not choose, but that I embrace nonetheless.

I saved the essay without making a single change. For a second I thought about pressing "publish" but I didn't. Instead I closed it and tucked it away, not quite ready to share this part of me. This story that is mine, for better or for worse.

This story that I won't - that I can't - ever stop writing.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The HerStories Project: Launch Day

I am a published author. 

Wait, let me say that again. Let me yell it from the rooftops. I am a published author. 

As I mentioned at the beginning of November, a piece I wrote on my blog, of which I am incredibly proud, was chosen as one of the essays to be published in an anthology of essays on female friendship called The HerStories Project: Women Explore The Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendships. This book is filled with works on female friendship in its many forms, how it shapes us, changes us, and enriches our lives beyond measure.

Stephanie and Jessica, the editors of the book, have chosen these works with love and care. Every reader will recognize herself in the pages and will find herself, as I did, nodding in agreement, shaking with laughter, and crying tears both happy and sad. I am so honored to have my essay published alongside some truly wonderful writers, and quite literally jumped up and down with glee when my advance copy arrived in the mail two weeks ago.

And today. Today this amazing book is available for sale on Amazon, so you too can read all the beautiful tales of friendship from the heartwarming to the heartbreaking. Click on the Amazon affiliate link below to order your very own copy, and then slip on some comfy clothes, grab a cup of tea, dive right in, and give a moment of thanks for all of the women in your life. I know I will.

This is one of the best things I have ever had the very great privilege to be a part of. To see my name in writing in the pages of a book is indescribable, and to have the connection to the other 49 women whose very moving essays were also included is something I will cherish always.

That's Me!