Summer reading recommendation: “The Summer Set” by Aimee Agresti

thesummersetI picked up The Summer Set by Aimee Agresti (Graydon House Books, 2020) on a whim, not knowing a thing about the author. The gorgeous cover–all summer night and twinkle lights–and the copy on the back cover, promising a cast of unique characters at a summer Shakespeare theater in the Berkshires, led to the grab.

And I loved it. I needed it. It’s smart, funny, and full of heart. One of the book’s stars, 39 year-old former big-time Hollywood actress Charlie Savoy, leapt off the page: full of verve and authenticity, talking the way I always want my female characters to talk. She is wonderfully, blisteringly HERSELF … no apologies. 

My thanks to Agresti, for reminding this former theater kid (who let her insecurities take her from the stage far too soon) about the community, magic, and romp of the playhouse. About the earthy, unending delights of the Bard. And about the timeless, lovely kick you get when you believe in yourself.

Bookish friends, put The Summer Set on your summer reading lists!

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“But bears it out even to the edge of doom”: or, Happy 16th Anniversary to Us

Taken on our honeymoon in Costa Rica, 2004.

Taken on our honeymoon in Costa Rica, 2004.

The first half of the title of this post is from William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 116.” Feels apropro for these wild and woolly times … and for marriage in general.

Today is our 16th wedding anniversary.

16 years of marriage.
2 children.
2 dogs.
2 houses.
2 towns.
3 graduate degrees.
Too many jobs to count.
My 20s, his 30s.
My 30s, his 40s.
Our 40s and 50s.
Innumerable friendships.
3,521 hikes.
Camp High Rocks, Folly Beach, Clemson, Greenville, Charleston, Costa Rica, Brevard, Scotland, DC, Vermont.
Miles of road trip talks.
Damn good music.
Infinite laughter.
Every day arguing.
Every day dreaming.
Endless do-overs.
Always together.
I would do it again in a heartbeat.

P.S. The traditional present for the 16th wedding anniversary is wax. Who knew?

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Essay: Motherhood is an Act of Infinite Optimism

Happy Mother’s Day, y’all!

Here’s a gift from me to you: a link to the Mother’s Day newspaper column I wrote for Gannett in 2017. I hope it makes you laugh.

Motherhood is “an act of infinite optimism”

My eternal thanks and love to my mother, and to the mothers who have mothered me so well over many years.


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What I’m reading now: Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl

Hi, readerly folks.

I’m an Instagram convert, and occasionally I talk there about the books I’m reading. Usually it’s a lovefest, because I just can’t stand NOT to share the stories which change me. Margaret Renkl’s debut book of essays, Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss (Milkweed Editions, 2019) is just that kind of book.

Here’s my MBR (mini book review, because you have to be pithy on Insta), via my Instagram account:

LateMigrationsI always read several books at a time. Usually I’m all up in a novel (or two, depending on style or genre), a history or biography, a book of essays, and a book of poems … plus the articles I tend to consume daily. Earning two graduate degrees in books was hard, but the amount of reading required was catnip to me–even with babies and small children in the mix. Honestly, it may be my only superpower.

But this book: Margaret Renkl’s book of essays, Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss, made me put everything else away. This is a debut book from Renkl, who’s a native Alabaman and an opinion writer for The New York Times. It’s more than a modern Walden, more than a bit of a suburban Southern girl’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, more than a book of mothers and daughters, grief and constancy. And yet … different. None of these comparisons quite do it justice. Because, of course, it’s a book for everyone and anyone longing for the mystery, wonder, and salve that is the natural world. Missing it, perhaps, without knowing.

I only make comparisons to try to connect. But Late Migrations spoke to me on many levels, including being a writer. It’s the kind of book which makes me physically want to write–stirs me to move, to put pen to paper, to jot notes into my phone. (That’s not the norm, even for a word addict.)

I checked this book out of the library, but I’m also going to buy it–for myself, and for my loved ones. Late Migrations is that kind of book.

P.S. This book is a family thing. The chapter illustrations by Billy Renkl are just plain gorgeous.



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Happy Birthday, Will Shakespeare … whoever you are

WillSMy apologies, dear friends and readers, for being so absent. I was not the most frequent of communicators before Covid-19 sent all our lives into a tailspin, and now, well … we all know what now is.

My creative life has been stolen from me like a thief in the night. Snatched away like a tablecloth by a magician. Drowned under a sea of maternal and spousal and householdal (yep, made that one up) obligations.

Speaking of DRAMA, it’s William Shakespeare’s birthday. Or, at least, when historians and scholars think his birthday was. Or her birthday. Really, the theories about Shakespeare’s origins are endless. They are as fascinating and as full of infinite potential as Shakespeare’s unparalleled imagination. Frankly, when it comes to Shakespeare’s biology, I just don’t give a damn.

In honor of Will’s birthday, here are photos of some of my treasures: twoADBFA501-DA34-4219-9E92-B94886AA63C9 volumes of The Dramatic Works and Poems of William Shakespeare, edited by Samuel Weller Singer and Charles Symmons, published in 1839 by Harper & Brothers; and, The Complete Works of Shakespeare, 4th edition, edited by David Bevington and published in 1997 by Longman. The former I used through a career as an undergraduate English major at Clemson University, during pursuit of my MA in English at the College of Charleston and The Citadel, and whilst earning my MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts–a span of 17 years. My handwriting has changed quite a bit, my penchant for writing in books only exacerbated.

If you’re anything like me, books are part of what’s getting you through this time of physical distancing and quarantine. Every night and day my prayers contain a variety of different thanks, but always include these: for the health of family and friends, our mountain home, coffee, and books.

I hope you all are well, safe, and smart. If you want to keep in touch, the best place to find me is on Instagram, where I post almost daily (and not so wordily). Everything else has gone to the dogs. BD747450-8E65-4B43-8DC2-238E46AA637D 67457D1B-48F1-487F-AB06-EBC8E64C6192 4268D9AC-74C1-4635-86F3-41C16077FD70 94CBCC86-54A9-451B-B0BE-F68F89FA63DA 07CA2C27-61EF-4614-828F-888345A03536 2CC78A8D-1970-40A1-8F9E-433AC561ADD9


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Parenting in a Time of Coronavirus

Parenting in a Time of Coronavirus (1)When I opened my eyes this morning I immediately thought, “Here we go again.”

There are many Mondays when I wake up and think this, especially as a parent. Because Mondays mean a new school week, which means waking my tired 10 and 6 year-old daughters before they’re ready, for at least the next five straight days. It means schedules and school lunches and carpool lines and healthy dinners and homework and after-school activities and successful bedtimes and so much more. It means squeezing out a writing life (and exercise and household minutia) from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., navigating 10 year-old hormones and my kid’s sassy mouth (which moves faster than her brain), and my own worries about my family and how everybody’s doing at any given point in time. Mostly it means waking up early–earlier than any of us are ready, no matter what time we go to bed the night before.

Since the coronavirus, or Covid-19 outbreak, and since our public school system closed down schools to institute virtual school-from-home, I have awoken each morning in a succession of Groundhog Day-like befuddlement.

When this first started, I’d wake and wonder who, what, and where I was. After a few days, I began to open my eyes and immediately brace myself for the painful pause. The sort of empty, hollow wait, like when an actor steps up to the apron of the stage, stares out at the audience, and appears to forget her lines.

In the mornings I wake, and remember: Everything has changed. Everything is uncertain.

Yesterday, I watched on Instagram as a writer for New York City’s Broadway spoke emotionally about how hard it was to write alone. In those few Instagram-approved seconds I could see and feel his pain, how much he missed his collaborators, how he mourned the loss of this artistic process and was fearful for the future of his craft and livelihood. At the same time, I also thought about how as a writer who is also a mother, our mourning was both similar and different. I mourn for the solitude lost, because I’ve been tossed into the role of homeschool mom, and my writing life has been taken from me just as swiftly and inexplicably as a magician tossing his black cape over it and making it vanish.

This Monday morning I set my alarm very early, before the birds were up. I lunged for my phone and tapped off the sound in hopes I’d not wake my husband (also now working from home) or the two children down the short hall. I threw a sweater over my body and tip-toed through my nearly 75 year-old house, cringing at every creak from the hardwood floor. I passed my dog in her crate but did not meet her eyes. I started coffee, and sat at my desk–a desk covered in first and fifth grade virtual day schoolwork, assorted writing utensils and markers, and the day planner I’d bought in January and filled with color-coded details about our full and busy future lives.

I’m willing to bet y’all have those day planners, too. Last week, I started to cross off items in the days ahead: to mark through the soccer and swimming practices, the weekend games, the choir and chorus rehearsals, rock climbing classes, family reunions, and parties. Then I stopped. I don’t like the way those short, slanting lines look on the page–on this plan we’d had for our lives. They look like mean little cuts, and I don’t like them one bit.

I’m an optimist, but I’m no cock-eye. More than that, I’ve always just had this lucky, intrinsic belief that everything was going to be okay. Like my feet are firmly planted in the world no matter where I am. I haven’t lost it yet. But I do battle every morning with my unknowing–which is something akin to but very different from fear.

When I was younger, my closest friends used to joke that I was the most spontaneous person they knew, never planning past tomorrow. They assumed I was laid-back, up for anything at any moment. This wasn’t untrue, but I have always made plans. I’ve always looked at tomorrow like it was full of possible impossibility.

I can’t lie: I do not feel this way right now. Or, more truthfully, I’m not letting myself feel this way. Because I only have room for doing right now, not planning. I am trying, for the first time in a long time, not to look past tomorrow. Never has the phrase take it one day at a time meant more than it does now.

The novelty of being at home is beginning to wear off, and my children are starting to feel the change. They miss their school, their teachers, their friends. They talk of birthday parties and spring break trips to the beach as if they’re still going to happen, and I in my parenting cowardice do not speak to correct them, not yet.

This is a new kind of parenting for me, this parenting without a plan. Oh sure, I make daily school-from-home schedules, and we try to stick to them. I give them that at least, because all us parents know certainty brings everyone, especially kids, a good bit of comfort. But when I say parenting without a plan, I think what I really mean is parenting without the possibility of a plan. Without the what-if’s. Without the anything-is-possible. Because I just can’t seem to go there, not yet.

Of course children worry. We see it all the time, and anyone who thinks all kids only “live in today” does not, well, have kids. But children do have this infinite capacity for living hard, and big, and wide, in the hours of the day put before them. Like my 6 year-old, who for the past two days has met her across-the-street best buddy, age 7, at the edge of the driveway for a playdate.

They did this on their own. It started with them standing at the edges of their perspective yards, in defiance of passing cars, and just chatting. Next, they brought chalk and drew pictures on the road. Then, they pulled down camp chairs, sitting and swinging their feet like little women. Yesterday, after some planning which had nothing to do with grown-ups, they got out their umbrellas and performed “Mary Poppins” together and for each other, with the wide worn asphalt of our street between them.

It was both heartbreaking and beautiful, painful and wondrous, all at the same time. And this is where I am, right now. Because today, if I can imagine anything, it is that this is what I imagine our days ahead in the time of coronavirus–parenting and otherwise–will be like.





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National Reading Day with the Cosmopolitan Woman’s Club

Being introduced by Kathy Eichler of the Cosmo Club

Being introduced by Kathy Eichler of the Cosmo Club

I was lucky enough to spent National Reading Day 2020 with the lovely ladies of the Cosmopolitan Woman’s Club of Seneca, South Carolina. I am telling y’all, there is nothing more fun than ladies who lunch–in order to do good work in the world.

The Cosmo Club raises funds for the Collins Children’s Home, a residential home for “children between the ages of birth – 21 who have been abused, abandoned, neglected or are otherwise unable to live with their families.” Their goal is “the spiritual, intellectual, emotional, social and physical development of our children, and the eventual reunification with their natural families whenever possible.”

Lunch was served by the Blue Marble Deli & City Market, and y’all, it was DELICIOUS. If you’re anywhere near Seneca, get there and eat forthwith. Sandwiches, soups, salads, and more–all made in house.

I remain eternally grateful that readers continue to enjoy Keowee Valley. It was my love letter to a place and time in Keowee-Valley-screenhistory I adore more than any other: the wild and gorgeous Carolina backcountry, in the dangerous days leading up to the Revolutionary War. It feels like a gift, that others want to hear me talk about it.

On this National Reading Day, I hope you hunker down with a good book!

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The best in night in Brevard: Adult Spelling Bee to support Augustine Literacy Project on March 21st!

Highway to Spell

Highway to Spell

Adult spelling bees are the BEST.

Last year, the Augustine Literacy Project – Brevard held its first annual Adult Spelling Bee. Y’all, it was the most fun I’ve had in a LONG time. This year’s Bee is Saturday, March 21, 2020 at the Lumberyard in Brevard, North Carolina. It’s going to be so much stinking fun.

Let me lay it out for you:

- you get to hang out in our awesome mountain town of Brevard, N.C. Why not make it a weekend? We’re an outdoor mecca and a music-lover’s paradise with awesome restaurants, music venues, access to national and state parks, and more. Play during the day and stay for the BEE!

- if you compete, you get to form a team of fun friends, dress up like crazy people, and spell your tails off

- if you don’t compete, you get to bid at auction, enjoy food and libations, and check out all the awesome costumes. Mostly, you get to see how we roll in this incredible community.

- this is a fundraiser for a special organization which is truly changing lives. The Augustine Literacy Project – Brevard‘s mission is this: “To improve the reading, writing and spelling abilities of low-income children and teens who struggle with literacy skills. The project trains and supports volunteers who provide free, long-term, 1-1 instruction using the Orton-Gillingham and Wilson Reading System materials.”

I believe reading is necessary and good magic. That it gifts you all the days of your life. I have seen firsthand what these tutors can do. They are lovely, brilliant, compassionate volunteers who are energized with a love of reading and writing. It is no exaggeration to say that they change the lives of the students with whom they work.

If you can’t form a team this year, or attend the Bee, please consider sponsoring a team, or donating at the Augustine Literacy Project – Brevard website.

Last year, my team was HIGHWAY TO SPELL. It was epic. (See the photos.) At the Bee we were rockers. In real lifeIMG_2790 we’re businesswomen, teachers, writers, and more. But you don’t have to be a good speller to join! You just have to want to help, and be ready to have a really, really good time.

Seriously, though. There’s a lot of scary stuff happening in the world right now. But here’s what’s good: this Adult Spelling Bee, in this small town, where folks are doing their best to make sure kids whose lives aren’t the easiest are able to read and write, and to grow. I hope you’ll help!

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Going Facebook dark for Lent

Canva - Landscape Photography of ForestIf Lent is part of your religious tradition, you may have used those 40 days as a time to “give up” something over the years, be it a persnickety personal habit or a food in which you tend to overindulge. In the past, I’ve given up chocolate, fried food, and cheese. (Sense a pattern?)

Though I don’t keep the Facebook app on my iPhone, lately I’ve found myself logging into Facebook on my phone or computer and scrolling more than usual. I’m not sure why, but it has not done me or my creative life any favors. That being said, here’s what I’ve decided, and what I posted this morning on my personal Facebook page:

For Lent this year, I’m going dark on Facebook. I don’t say “giving up,” because I hesitate to imply I’m letting go of something which is serving me or others in a healthy way. Lately, I’ve felt a bit rootless: my sensitivity to the world–normally my superpower–has felt instead like a freefall. Like I lost my footing in a mountain scramble and I’m grabbing in the dirt for a handhold. Frankly, I’ve felt less capable of brushing off slights, of ignoring the crazy, and–most importantly–of extending empathy to people who may not be offering their best selves in the moment. I’m a nice person, so this makes me feel crappy, and I don’t like it. It’s a tough thing to navigate for someone who likes to be in control, and is usually very good at it. For me, Lent is a powerful reason to step back, to turn inward, to wait and hope and pray. My other Lenten decisions are my own.

Friends, you know how to contact me outside of Facebook, and I hope you will. I’d love nothing more than to take a walk, go on a hike, or share a cup of coffee or tea and a conversation with any of you. And I’m still available, always, via email and on Instagram, a medium with its own conundrums but one I’ve come to enjoy.

I’ll catch y’all on the flip-side! (Also known as Friday, April 10th.)

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For Valentine’s Day: 5 of the Things I Love

Happy Valentine’s Day 2020, all!

I’m an enthusiastic individual, often too much for people. That being admitted, I love LOTS of things, people, and places. Still, here are 5 things I’m loving this year on Valentine’s Day:

creamer1. My Califia Farms Dairy-free Almondmilk Vanilla Coffee Creamer. I am not getting paid to advertise this. I genuinely love it; over the holidays, I particularly enjoyed their mint cocoa version, too (photo at left). I used other full-dairy coffee creamers before 2017, and then my husband and I did a month-long Paleo diet; I decided afterwards I needed to find ways to substitute some dairy in my diet. Now, I’m not dairy-free, but I’m so used to this creamer–and I like it so much–that I can’t go back. My coffee is important to me, and this creamer makes me happy.

2. My The Highwomen CD. Yep, I still buy CDs. This one is chock-full of rollicking, swoony, belt-worthy tunes written so good and hard the soul pours out. I’ve loved Brandi Carlile for years, and she and her fellow singer-songwriters Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires take the roof off with this album. Straight off.

Listen to them sing the title song, “The Highwomen,” here.

3. The Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow. This is probably the second or third time I’ve reread the series, butstabenowbooks I’m doing so now because Stabenow’s newest “Kate book,” No Fixed Line, just came out. My aunt introduced me to Stabenow when I lived with her in Anchorage, Alaska, the summer after my freshman year of college. Lately, I’ve found myself mentioning the books to friends: truly the sign of a great story.

The series centers on Aleut detective Kate and her faithful half-wolf, Mutt, and tosses you into an Alaska so wild and wooly and gorgeous and dark, you never want to leave. Start from the beginning with A Cold Day for Murder, and you’ll have 22 smart, rollicking, sexy, super-cool novels to enjoy.


4. Going to bed early and reading late. I’m 100% better in the mornings than at night. My husband works in another state, and so I’m parentis numero uno (yep, I just made that up) Monday through Friday. After he gets home, and I tag out from putting the kids to bed, I’m done. Yes, it would be nicer if I stayed up with my husband. Sometimes I do. But many nights, I head straight from the kids’ room to ours, and I curl up for a book until my eyelids droop. I am the boss of me.

5. Embracing the laziness of winter weekends. It goes against my childhood training to laze around on Saturday mornings, and I often feel guilty when we do. But we are a typical, active American family with too many activities, and in winter our calendar thankfully slows. My husband took a job over a year and a half ago which requires him to commute 3 hours a day, and so our weekends have become sacrosanct. On Saturday mornings our kids watch too many cartoons, we make a big breakfast, and we hibernate a bit. This will all change when the weather warms, soccer season begins again, etc, etc. But for now, we’re taking it easy. Being full-stop lazy. And that’s okay.

Valentine’s Day is not my favorite: I cannot lie. Too much pink gives me hives. But it’s fun to think of and share the things in my life I’m loving, so thanks for reading! I’d love to hear 5 things you’re loving in the comments below.

P.S. To read about 5 places I loved in 2015, click here.

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