Thursday, August 7, 2014

spoken in the shop, vol. 16.

On inappropriate affections
"The Holocaust was my favorite."
Pretty sure she was talking about the museum, but still...


On written sentiment
Customer: "You had the absolute perfect card for my sister."
Manager: "Oh good, I'm so glad!"
Customer: "Maybe now she'll start talking to me again."


On toys and breakfast food
Little boy: "Y'all used to have those things that looked like pancakes. Why don't you anymore?"
Me: "Pancakes? Was it a toy?"
Little boy: "Yes. It looked like a pancake and had a white string."
Me: "Hmmm. Wait, a yo-yo?"
Little boy: "Yes, that's it! Like a pancake!"


On becoming a one-stop shop
Customer: "Do you have any books about palm reading or fortune telling? Even dreams?"
Me, from behind the register: "I'm not sure; let me look. I sometimes carry a dream dictionary, but we may be sold out."
Customer: "I'm also in the market for one of those round, clear things. A crystal ball. Do you have one of those back there?"


On availability
Customer: "I have a question for you."
Me: "Sure, I can help you."
Customer: "You have every book except the one I need."


On popular film
Customer: "So you watch movies here?"
Me: "We do have a film society where we read the book first, then watch the movie. Our next one is True Grit on August 21."
Customer: "I would come except I think that's just about the silliest movie I've ever seen."


On education in the South
Customer: "You know what I tell them? You might be precious in His sight, but you're not in mine."
Me: "What grade do you teach?"
Customer: "Kindergarten."


On serving the hipster clientele
Me: "Can I help you find anything?"
Customer: "I really just wanted to see if you carried anything obscure."


On the definition of an autobiography
 Customer: "Who wrote The Diary of Anne Frank?"
Bookseller: "Um, Anne Frank wrote her own diary..." 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

the courthouse project.

When I was a little girl, my family used to take the most wonderful vacations. Not expensive, not lengthy, but wonderful nonetheless, due in large part to the adventuresome (but always practical) nature of my parents. Our vacations were full of educational detours, quirky pitstops, and historical landmarks. My love of national parks? That comes from my parents. My insistence on eating at local hole-in-the-wall establishments? That's my parents. 

It's funny, then, all these years later, to see myself following in my parents' footsteps. To realize that in spite of our differences from my parents as a couple, Jordan and I are eerily similar in the way we choose and plan our vacations. 

If you follow me on Instagram, you know our summer has already been filled with adventures. We've traveled up, down, and across the great state of Florida, witnessed fireworks along the Savannah riverwalk, and chased rabbit trails around south Georgia. What you may not know is just how many of our travels this summer -- and really, for the past three years -- have revolved around something I lovingly call The Courthouse Project. 

Since passing the bar exam back in 2010, Jordan has been healthily obsessed with visiting every county courthouse in Florida. It's an interest that comes, I think, partly from Jordan's career as an attorney, but also from his (and our) love of old things. Photographing each courthouse became something we did on weekends and on road trips, and soon, Jordan envisioned tackling all 67, compiling them into some sort of photo collage or another. Neither one of us is a photographer; a shame, since so many of Florida's courthouses are really, truly beautiful. But the photography, I don't think, was nearly as important as the adventure. 

The state we used to call home -- the state I have called home my whole life -- is diverse and vast; I don't know what other place in our country (perhaps other than California) can boast such a plethora of flora and fauna,  such a wide range of terrain. Because of The Courthouse Project, we've seen it all. We've driven across my beloved Panhandle, through tourist traps and into quiet, sleepy, dying towns; we've glimpsed the white sands of the Gulf and the crystal clear water of the Atlantic. We've rolled our windows down next to alligator-filled creeks and seen the shadows of orange groves at midnight. We've raised our eyebrows at the excess of Palm Beach and walked across the cobblestone streets of St. Augustine.

I doubt very many people have traveled the state -- any state! -- like we have; visiting each county seat takes a certain amount of stamina and patience. Not every city is beautiful; not every stop offers some hidden gem. We have, in so many ways, seen it all, and every time we'd arrive at some new location -- undoubtedly off the beaten path -- I'd think of my parents and the vacations I used to take with them as a child. 

Jordan and I have been married nearly six years; we've known each other for almost 10. In our time together, we've been to San Antonio and Venice, to Atlanta and San Francisco. We spent our honeymoon in Newport and our first anniversary in a windy, cold Chicago. We've hidden away in Tybee Island and taken day trips to Seaside and St. George. Our phones and our walls are full of pictures of Savannah and Florence and Boston and Nashville and New Orleans and Naples and Rome. Our trips, most often, are taken on the cheap; we are not expensive travelers; we can't afford to be. But our adventures together are incredibly special, and this weekend, as we traveled back down to Florida from a weekend with friends, we stopped for our very last courthouse. 

I can be a bit of a sentimental fool. I hide it well, I think, but there are boxes of love letters and a newspaper editorial I dedicated to Jordan's old car that all insist deep down, I am soft. I hold special places in my heart for the things and the people I love. It's bittersweet, then, to put the last courthouse pin on the map, sad to put away the coloring sheet Jordan's been keeping to highlight the counties we've been to and the ones we still need to visit. They're all filled in now, and the historic Nassau County Courthouse in downtown Fernandina Beach officially marked the end of an era for us.

We'll spend the next few weeks, maybe months, debating what to do with Jordan's courthouse pictures, how best to compile them all into albums or prints. He'll be the first to admit not all of the photographs he's taken are frame-worthy, but there's something about seeing them all together that's pretty spectacular. Sixty-seven counties, each one with a treasured history, an architecture and agriculture all its own. 

This courthouse project has been a part of our vacations and road trips for three years, guiding us, little by little, on where to go next. Now we've reached the end, and I wonder just what we'll tackle next. It's funny; this project is a little reminiscent of where we are in life right now; the end of one chapter, the beginning of another. Life can be silly and special like that, if we notice. 

Everyone's adventures are different. The routes we all take are unique and varied; no two of us really choose the same ways. But I'm glad I've found someone who will get off at the next interstate exit and explore a little bit of the unknown, someone who will travel to the places we often, as a hurried people, forget. I'm grateful my parents taught me to travel away from the usual path, and I'm happy Jordan and I know, even as one journey ends: the adventure's really just beginning. 

All 67 pictures of The Courthouse Project can be found on Facebook; Jordan would love if you took a minute to scroll through and vote for your favorite courthouse. (Mine is pictured above.)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

spoken in the shop, vol. 15.

On no such thing as stupid questions
"Do you carry paperbacks?"
Said while standing in front of an entire shelf full of paperbacks


On spell-check
Customer: "Would you be happy or distressed if I pointed out a spelling error on your sign?"
Me: "Well, since you brought it up, I guess I'd like to know."


On no such thing as stupid questions, part ii
"Can I just walk around?"


On achieving rock star status
Little girl, waving as she enters the store: "Miss Annie, Miss Annie!"
Me: "Hi, Lily!"
Little girl, loudly whispers to friend: "See? She knows me."


On geography
"Do you think you could find the title of this book? It was set out West, in North Carolina."
"Oh wait, that's not west, is it?"


On math
Me: "Your total is $17.07."
Customer: "So if I give you $22, I can get a $10 bill back, right?"
Me, hesitating: "No, I don't think so..."
Customer: "What about $23?"
Me: "I think that would be $6."
Customer: "What about $24?"


On finding a bargain
Customer: "All of these cards are $1?"
Me: "Yes, these are our sale cards; it's kind of a free-for-all, but they're all $1, or ten for $5."
Customer: "What about this card, with no envelope?"
Me: "I believe there should be an envelope that would work for that card, but if you can't find one to fit, I can sell it to you for $.50."
Customer, later: "I still can't find an envelope."
Me: "You can just have it."


On honest as the best policy
Customer: "Do y'all have any slow cooker cookbooks?"
Me: "Yes, actually. We made the meatballs out of this one for a store event a couple of weeks ago. They were delicious!"
Customer, after flipping through the book: "Yeah, no, this one doesn't really look appetizing."


On class
"Fountain pens write fancy."

Friday, June 20, 2014

hello there, podcast.


Hooray! The store podcast, From the Front Porch, is officially up and running. Thank you all for giving me the push I needed to give this whole crazy project a try; I'd love it if you'd take a listen and share what you think. We've got three episodes out online now, and I think we're getting better with each one.

I am not a podcast expert; in fact, I only really listen to one: This American Life, a podcast so well done it would be an injustice to compare it with what we're trying to do. So I need your help figuring out what's next. What topics would you like to hear covered? Our next episode, we're devoting entirely to beach reads (the shame and stigma with buying a beach book, plus a look at how beach reads vary from region-to-region), but after that? We're wide open. I know I've asked before, but now that you've heard a few episodes, what do you think? Where should we take this thing? What topics should we cover?

Thanks, friends. I'm trying to get back into the hang of blogging more regularly; time is hard to come by these days, but I've felt inspired lately, and I think that's a good sign. In the meantime, listen to the podcasts and report back. I'd love to know what you think.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

in praise of small town living.

"The whole struggle of life is to some extent a struggle about how slowly or how quickly to do each thing."

- Sten Nadolny


Last month, I read Arianna Huffington's book Thrive -- a book that inspired The Bookshelf's first-ever podcast --  and although I enjoyed the book, what really caught my attention were Huffington's references to another, similar book: In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honore. Honore's book came out several years ago, but it looked promising; I special ordered myself a copy, and this weekend, I got to reading. 

It was better than Thrive

Honore devotes each chapter to some portion of the Slow Movement: Slow Food, Slow Cities, Slow Medicine, Slow Work, etc., and I found something inspiring and enlightening about each one. I also began to recognize something familiar about the Slow Movement, similarities between the movement and the season Jordan and I are living right now.


A few years ago, I read Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, in which Miller discovers he's not leading a life worthy of a well-written story. His life, he thinks, would never make an interesting movie or book, and he decides to start making decisions he believes will lead to better narrative. 

Miller's books hold a lot of meaning for me, and sometimes, when I'm standing behind the counter at The Bookshelf, looking at the store with fresh eyes, I realize I owe him a thank you. I read his book so long ago, I've forgotten his story inspired my own. 

It's been a full year since I took over The Bookshelf. I'm still co-owning with the previous proprietors, still earning the business month-by-month, but I'm essentially the decision maker, the primary contact for all things Bookshelf. It's been a stressful transition year, a year I'm afraid I haven't always handled with grace. 

But lately, when I stand behind the counter, I'm seeing more beauty than before. I'm watching the store slowly transform -- it's beginning to look and feel a bit more like  "me," and I'm coming into my own as the shop's newest curator. The days are hard and long, and if I were to sit down and calculate, I'm sure I'd discover I'm working significantly longer hours while making significantly less money than I ever did before. 

Yet it's still a decision I'd make over and over again. 

Two years ago, I quit my corporate job to manage a bookstore in my hometown. A year after that, I said goodbye to The Bookshelf in Tallahassee, and I began working here, in Thomasville, Georgia, 45 minutes up the road, but a world away from what I've always known. 

The difficulties of this transition, this season, have often shadowed my vision. I've taken for granted an opportunity many would love to have. When a customer or an acquaintance mentions how much they'd love to own a bookstore, I have to fight my impulse to question their motives. "It's harder than it looks," I always want to say. 

And yes, it is harder than Kathleen Kelly made it seem. There are bills and rude customers and back pains. But while reading Honore's book this weekend, I realized I'm living the slow and simple life I've long wanted for us. It's not perfect, but we are, in so many respects, living the dream. 


In his chapter about Slow Cities, Honore writes, "A Slow City is more than just a fast city slowed down. The movement is about creating an environment where people can resist the pressure to live by the clock and do everything faster." He then quotes a young man who lives in a slow, Italian town:

In a Slow City, you have the license to relax, to think, to reflect on the big existential questions. Rather than get caught up in the storm and speed of the modern world, where all you do is get in the car, go to work, then hurry home, you take time to walk and meet people in the street. It's a little bit like living in a fairy tale.

That young Italian man -- a stranger five years ago I would have envied -- is living my life. It's true: Thomasville is no Tuscany, but I look back on our study abroad program in Italy, and I see similarities to the life I'm leading now. For a year, I've teased my friends -- all of whom moved from Tallahassee within about 12 months of each other -- about their grand adventures to Chicago, Boulder, Nashville, Kansas City, Jacksonville. I've teased them, and I've belittled my own experience. I live in a town with 20,000 people, no transit system, no beachfront property. There's no hipster enclave or burgeoning farmer's market. 

But I walk to work every day I can. I speak to my neighbors. I sit on my front porch. I attend community planning meetings with other entrepreneurs and civic leaders. I hit golf balls in the park just a 5-minute walk from my house. I listen to the children in the schoolyard right up the street. I don't get stressed over traffic or worry about being late to meetings. My days are long, but my schedule is, generally, my own. I hear church bells chime on the hour, and I smell freshly baked bread and newly ground coffee on a daily basis. I am walking distance from funky shops and yummy restaurants, and if I close my eyes, I can easily pretend I'm walking the streets of a larger city.

I am living the Slow Life.

Goal-setting is important to me. It's an important part of my daily life -- to do lists are my bread and butter -- and my marriage. 

Two years ago, I wanted a life with more meaning, a job I could be proud of in conversations with friends and family. I wanted a simpler, happier life, and you know what? I miraculously, amazingly got my wish.

And yes, reality is different from the life my dreams were made of. I didn't envision long hours or store bank accounts or staffing struggles. I didn't understand that living in a small town would mean a smaller pool of potential friends, didn't grasp the time and energy required when wanting to live simply. 

But reading Honore's book reminded me, page after page, that much of what the Slow Movement advocates, I am already doing or capable of doing. Managing a daily schedule, leaving work at work, walking in your neighborhood, shopping for local foods -- these are slow principles, and they're all entirely doable in our current situation. 


Jordan and I like to make summer-time goals and plans. It's a way to make the season fun and relaxing, even when both of us still have jobs to tend to. We've booked vacations and hosted house guests, but we've also spent time in the park and sat on our front porch swing. We've played ongoing games of Trivial Pursuit, and tonight, I cooked our very own farm-to-table dinner, thanks to homegrown vegetables from my dad. 

We are living the simple, slow life. It's not easy, and ask me on a different day, and I'm not sure if I'd love it as I do in this moment. (I am, as always, growing into contentment.) But friendships and church decisions and store budgets aside, we are really on an incredibly fun journey together.
Two years ago, I never, ever could have imagined myself here, in a small town in South Georgia, running my own small business. I set goals, dreamed dreams, but I know goals don't always pan out and dreams don't always come true. 

For some reason or another, this one did. And it looks a little different than I might have originally planned. 

But when I walk to work, or when I sit on my front porch, I'm reminded that we're doing just fine. 
Slow and small may just be right where we belong.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

the sisterhood of the traveling book club.

Today, after a busy Saturday at the shop, I arrived home to Glitter and Glue, the memoir by Kelly Corrigan I had mailed off to my friends for our first ever long-distance book club selection. 

We had decided, the four of us, that with three different time zones and four varying schedules, a book club via Skype just wasn't going to work. But with all of us adjusting to new towns and new friendships, something familiar and comfortable still seemed important. We had met in book club, and continuing those meetings -- in some form or fashion -- felt like the answer. 

Enter The Sisterhood of the Traveling Book Club, an idea so ludicrous and idealistic, I'm lucky my friends even put up with it. (I have Leslie Knope tendencies, as you now know.) 

I had read Corrigan's Glitter and Glue in just a few hours; flew through it as I do most memoirs, touched by her memories of her mother, in awe of the the way the mother-daughter relationship can seem so familiar across continents and generations. I had read the book and immediately thought of my friends, and I began to do what I have been doing for the past year: I figured I'd stick it in the mail and ship it off to one of them, to read at their convenience. 

But, in a fit of Knope-esque genius, it hit me: This could be a thing. A Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants-inspired thing.

The rules? (Because of course.)

- Read the book in four to six weeks' time, then promptly mail to the next party. 

- Record your thoughts in the front or back of the book; underline favorite passages; dogear pages; treat the book like it's your own. 

- Whoever starts the book first ends up with the book. 

- A new book should start its rotation when one book ends -- or whenever you find a book you just have to share. 

- Have fun! Reading among friends -- even long-distance -- is one of life's best gifts. 

Like every good, overachieving friend, I printed the rules on the front page of Corrigan's book, packed it in a box, and shipped it out to Colorado. A month later, my friend sent it to Missouri, then sent me back book to begin a rotation. My friend in Missouri kept the book for a month, then sent it on to Illinois. Other books began making their way, with little rhyme or reason, across the country.

And today, after four months of travel, the very first book found its way back to me, in wonderful shape, but filled with little notations and markings left by each one of my friends.

I sat on my front porch and sifted through them all, glancing to see what lines had made my friends laugh, or cry, or think, or shake their heads. I had no idea how touched I'd be by all their ideas, their unique handwriting mixed in among the pages. (No one hand writes anything anymore, and after turning the pages of our book club book, I can't help but wonder why? There is ever so much more meaning in the things we hand write than in the things we type.)

The book had become a treasure in its four month journey, and soon I'll nestle it tightly on one of my overflowing shelves, proof -- yet again -- that one can never really have too many books. 

I write a lot, these days, about friendship. My little diatribes can be found in 40-character tweets or on rambling Instagram captions. I'm boring my family, I'm sure, with my concerns over a lack of friendship in this new town; Jordan is growing weary, no doubt, of my angst and self-pity. It has been five months since moving here, and in the grand scheme, of course, that is really no time at all. Friendship will come, and it will come, as everything does, in its own time and way. It won't be forced by me, no matter how hard I try. 

So I've given up, a little. I'm trying to get back into the groove of a Bible study I neglected, and I still gather with my letter writing club at the store. I set up staff dinners and take walks with Jordan; I sit on my front porch and wave at the neighbors, trying -- probably a little too hard -- to look friendly and fun. 

But I'm settled, I think, to the fact that friendship will come in due time, and -- like so many things with me -- will arrive slowly and purposefully, at its very own pace. When it does, the work and the effort will have been worth it. My little traveling book club is proof.