Monday, July 6, 2015

19/52 :: enough.

I have so much I want to write about: the quirky characters who frequent the shop every day; a fourth of July weekend spent in the presence of good friends; our Wednesday night Bible study which is slowly renewing my faith in the whole enterprise; the bats who flew through our chimney last week; the pre-cancerous mole I had sawed out of my upper thigh the same day as the bats' appearance, resulting in six inches' worth of stitches; and how the national news has me debating all kinds of issues in my own head (though rarely out-loud, for my own sanity and yours).

I want to write about how staffing a store is the hardest work I've ever done; how this summer is nothing like I thought it would be; and how community-building isn't going all that well, either. I want to write about loneliness and entrepreneurship, about home-making and faith-seeking and friend-making and The Bachelorette, but the truth is? I feel like I've written everything I know about those things. I've written about them until I just don't have any words, and I'm too busy, these days, living my life to write about it. 

Writing about it, of course, is how I cope. Even if I don't get the words out well, getting them out has always helped. Imagine, then, these past few months when it's all I can do to make it home in the evenings and get dinner on the table (and even that is rarely -- if ever -- happening like it should). I am tired, and I fear I'm consuming so much more than I am creating, but what else am I supposed to do? All of my creative energy is being pushed into the store, so when I'm home, I'm binging Netflix and reading books -- and any friend-making is virtually non-existent, because the energy simply isn't there. Instead, I'm relying on monthly Skype dates and weekly phone calls with long-distance friends,  plus visits and lunches and the occasional meet-up with an in-town acquaintance. I am trying, but it doesn't feel like enough. 

So here is my current plan: grace, grace, grace, and more grace. Grace upon grace, for others, but for me, too. I want to eat better, to live better, to write better, to be better, but sometimes? Good enough is all I can manage. This summer was meant to be lived more slowly than our other seasons, and for the most part, I think that's happening. So dinner doesn't always include a fresh vegetable, and we have yet to make a day trip to the beach. 

That's okay. 

You know what has happened? I've finished two seasons of Young and Hungry on Netflix. (Silly, but whatever. I wanted to binge watch a show this summer, and BOOM. Done.) I read nine books in June and am happily building my reading queue for July, starting with Kitchens of the Great Midwest. I Marie Kondo'd my closets, which was honestly all I could manage, and it's working for our home, so I'll count it a success. We've seen a couple of really great movies in the theatre, and we're walking around town when the humidity isn't too unbearable. We've made a list of home repairs we want to finish before the year's out, and I bought a new computer with earnings from the store. I'm slowly assembling a new Bookshelf staff, and -- lest I forget -- we took a pretty awesome trip to D.C. and spent some much-needed time with Jordan's family. We had some of our best friends over this past weekend for the holiday, and I slow-cooked ribs without burning down the kitchen. 

I haven't written this year like I wanted to, but I think when I look back, I'll realize I wrote enough: enough to get me through the hard months, and enough to remember the ups and downs I'll want to have on record when a new year rolls around. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

18/52 :: summer.

I've always had a love-hate relationship with summer. 

For one, I was a child who thrived on routine. School was my happy place. I loved home, too, don't get me wrong, but stick me at a desk for seven hours, hands clasped, learning from the books and teachers I adored? The definition of contentment. 

Summers can be rough. In the South, summers mean heat and humidity, air as thick as the sweet tea we drink. (And I don't like sweet tea, so you can see how I'd be at a disadvantage.) For a Florida girl, I'm also rather pale, hair bordering on a shade of red. Suntans aren't really a "thing" for me, and sunglasses pose a special difficulty for someone who's nearsighted. I was well into adulthood before I learned to just retire all denim for the entire season; jeans stick to sweaty legs, causing a unique sense of claustrophobia. Ask me to rank the seasons, and I would easily put summer at the bottom of the pack. 

But now I work retail. 

Autumn -- my favorite of all the seasons -- is now bustling, filled to the brim with activity. My own personal calendar virtually ends at October, when the store's calendar takes over. There is our town's One Book program, plus Black Friday and Small Business Saturday and Christmas shopping that starts after Halloween. I've had to kindly and gently explain to friends and family: If you love me, you will stop asking me to do anything from November 1 to December 31. My life no longer exists. 

So sure, fall has the cute clothes and the cooler temperatures, but it's a rough season for me personally. Perhaps this change has softened my heart to sweet summertime, because for the past two years? I have been all in. 

Give me all the shorts, tank tops, and baseball caps. Give me no make-up and put lemon juice in my hair. Take me to the coast; give me a large Coke in a styrofoam cup with crushed ice and a straw -- you know, the kind you can get for $.75 at a gas station. I want ice cream in all the flavors, and daylight until the sun's practically ready to come up again. Drive me somewhere with the windows rolled down and the radio blaring. (I'm oddly in the mood for country music.) Take me to a baseball game and dress me in red, white, and blue. Stick an American flag in my hand and feed me a hot dog. Sit on the front porch and shoot the breeze, even when there's no breeze to be found. 

In June, the store slows down, and people in Thomasville treat summer as if it's a verb, so Jordan and I practically have the city to ourselves. I kind of like it, and I think all of this makes it official: I love summer. 

Sure, when August rolls around I'll probably be in the middle of a heat stroke of some kind, but for now? I'm on board with this whole summertime thing. I get it now. 

Here, then, in the spirit of the new season is a little list of goals I've made for the next couple of months. A summer bucket list, of sorts. I'm keeping it simple, as the season requires: 

01. Take a day trip to the beach. 
02. Celebrate fourth of July with friends. 
03. Grill out. 
04. Sit on the swing with Jordan. 
05. Redo photo wall. 
06. Organize vacation photo albums
07. Complete a puzzle. 
08. Binge watch a new-to-us show. 
09. Save money for Taylor Swift tickets. 
10. Find a new, quick getaway spot. 

Happy summertime, friends. Let's make it a good one.

Friday, June 5, 2015

what's making me happy this week, 5.

Every so often, in addition to those 52 essays I'm supposed to be cranking out, I'm going to publish a small list of what's making me happy, a la one of my favorite podcasts, NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. Nothing major, just a new series to remind me to count my blessings. 

Here's what's making me happy this ridiculously long week: 

- Grace Helbig on YouTube. Am I too old to like Grace Helbig? I don't know. I did some Googling this week after finishing Mamrie Hart's You Deserve a Drink, and although I'd heard of Grace Helbig, I'd never watched one of her videos -- until Monday, when I spent the better part of my morning watching them at random (with some of Mamrie's and Hannah Hart's videos thrown in). I can't stop, and I'm not even sure why. They're oddly addicting? Someone explain to me the power of the YouTube video, stat. 

- New employees. No one teaches you how to be a boss, despite the number of mugs and tattoos I've purchased to the contrary. (There's literally a mug on my desk right now that says, "Girl, you are a boss." Some days, I need the reminder.) Saying goodbye to an employee -- especially a good employee -- feels a little bit like the worst, but you know? It's going to be okay. Maybe even better than okay, because this week, I've trained two new part-timers, and I think they're going to be just what our little store needs this summer. Training might be awkward and tedious, but I think it's going to be worth it. Hooray!

- Washington, D.C. memories. I have slight post-vacation depression, so basically I'm scrolling through pictures and wearing my Nationals' baseball cap everywhere it's socially acceptable. Apparently vacations make us happy when we spend time reminiscing, so... done.

- This video. I have nothing else to add, except this is why the Internet exists.

- Carrie Rollwagen. I think I was out of town the week this actually made me happy, but I never shared it here, and I want to. A few weeks ago, we hosted Carrie Rollwagen, author of The Localist, in our shop, and despite a smaller turnout than I would have liked, Carrie was lovely. (Her book, by the way, is equally parts delightful and convicting. Read it!) She was so fun to meet, and she had lots of encouraging and enlightening things to say about entrepreneurship and the book business; it's so helpful to realize I'm not doing this thing alone. Then, lo and behold, she went and wrote this incredibly kind review about our store. People can be the best.

- Sheona and snail mail. Speaking of people being the best, this week, I got a letter -- and actual, honest-to-goodness letter -- from a blog reader in Scotland. Can you believe it? Scotland! I never know who's reading this anymore -- blogs are going the way of the dinosaur, I think -- but Sheona from Scotland is, and I am so grateful for the letter she sent my way. Sheona, if you're reading this, thank you. You really, truly made my week. (And for the rest of you, consider this your weekly PSA to write someone you know letter. It is always worth the effort. Plus, Flannery O'Connor stamps debut today. Get on it.) 

And that's what's making me happy this week. June, let's be awesome, shall we?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

17/52 :: the kathleen kelly dream.

Pssst: Since I wrote this post a few days ago, I've entered The Bookshelf to win a $100,000 grant from Chase. If you're so inclined, would you consider voting for us? We need 250 votes to move on the next round, and you can vote here. Thank you for your continued support of me and my dream. 


I've wanted to be Kathleen Kelly since before it was cool -- since I was about 15 years old, as a matter of fact. I watched her on-screen in her cardigans and Keds, and I thought: Hey! That's an achievable goal. I can do that. 

And you know what? I can. I didn't really think it was going to happen, but here I am, almost 15 years later, running a bookstore and wearing the occasional cardigan. Dreams do come true. They're just harder than anyone tells you they'll be.  

We started doing birthday parties at the store. We've only hosted two so far, but they're fun and chaotic, and never do I feel more like Kathleen than when I'm turning on the store lights and prepping for story time with the You've Got Mail soundtrack playing in the background. I actually enjoy working Saturdays -- and the occasional birthday party -- because that's when this job most feels like the movies. Kids are running around; customers come in who I know by name; we're busy, busy, busy. It's dream-like, no doubt about it. 

Tuesdays through Fridays tell a slightly different tale. Those days include countless meetings, long hours checking email (so many emails), updating social media, running to the bank and to the post office. My weekdays never seem to end, until suddenly, they do, and I'm never quite sure what I accomplished until I look back at my daily to-do lists.

I think, sometimes, I forget this was a dream of mine. I forget how lucky I am, how incredibly fun this all is. I forget, because it's hard. But I guess I want to remember -- in case one day it all comes to an end -- how much I've enjoyed this adventure.

One day, I'll be able to tell me children I owned a bookstore. Maybe they'll get the chance to work there during the summers, to be a part of the business themselves. Or maybe we'll be long gone from Thomasville, and the bookstore we'll be a part of our past. It doesn't matter, really. I'll be able to tell them I lived my dream, and I'll have evidence. It will prove, I hope, that they can live out their dreams, too.

So yes, there are bills and employees to train, and long, hard, chaotic days. But there are also Saturdays, when the You've Got Mail soundtrack reminds me: This is all just incredibly cool.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

reading recap: may 2015.

I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley. If there is a book full of humorous short stories and essays, I’ve read it (or it’s on my TBR list somewhere). So when Sloane Crosley’s I Was Told There’d Be Cake kept making its way around my social media feeds, I was on board. The title alone was enough for me. Unfortunately, I didn’t love this book as much as I wanted to, but never fear: It could be right for you. Crosely is a sarcastic storyteller, and if you’re looking for a Seinfeld-esque escape from reality, go ahead and put it on your list. Each essay stands alone, so you could easily pick and choose your favorites. I’d start with “You on a Stick,” Crosley’s hilarious maid of honor-inspired tale.  

Dead Wake by Erik Larson. There are a few authors I wish were required reading in schools: David McCullough, Steven Levitt, Jon Krakauer, Laura Hillenbrand. These authors make nonfiction, historical stories come to life, and students deserve to know just how interesting history and “real life” can be. Erik Larson gets a spot at the top of my list. I loved Devil in the White City – as an educator, you could do so much with the content of that book – and In the Garden of Beasts remains a Bookshelf customer favorite. His new book, Dead Wake, is about the sinking of the Lusitania, and the story sucks you in from the very beginning. Like most historical nonfiction, this isn’t a book you fly through, but it is a page-turner; despite already knowing the outcome, readers will want to discover every detail and story they can, and Larson obliges. 

How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz. Let’s hear it for the intelligent beach read, shall we? I like the occasional bit of “chick lit” (despite the horrendous moniker), but what I really like is just well done, clever, female-centric fiction. How to Start a Fire fits the bill. Sure, Lisa Lutz’s new novel is your next beach bag book, but it’s also chock-full of witty dialog, realistic portrayals of friendship, and heartbreaking romance. Anna serves as the ringleader for Kate and George, but Kate’s story is the one I found most compelling. The book follows the friendship of these three women from college well into adulthood, and you’ll be more than happy to tag along for the ride. I already mailed my copy to my friends for our traveling book club; I think they’ll all love it as much as I did. 

Me, My Hair, and I edited by Elizabeth Benedict. This book was fascinating. It was also one of my advanced reader copies last month, so you won’t see this one on our shelves until September. Me, My Hair, and I features the essays of 27 different women, each writing about their hair. And although the premise might sound dull or even a little odd, the essays each tackle other subjects, too, like race and feminism and culture and religion. The book would be the perfect selection for a book club, guaranteed to elicit conversation and the divulging of your own personal hair stories. (The fact that it’s releasing as a paperback original only sweetens the deal.)

Lessons in Belonging by Erin S. Lane. I reviewed Rachel Held Evans’ book Searching for Sunday back in April, and Erin Lane’s Lessons in Belonging serves as the perfect accompaniment. Lane is a pastor’s wife, but she’s also a divinity school graduate herself, and her views on church are refreshing; she doesn’t advocate abandoning the cause, but instead encourages readers to find – and sometimes fight for – their place there. I found myself nodding along in agreement chapter after chapter, and I took notes for future reference. Millennial Christians will be thrilled to find a voice that does them justice, and older generations will appreciate Lane’s perspective as well. (I think I might make my parents read this one next.) 

Save the Date by Jen Doll. Remember what I said about humorous essays? I’m a sucker for them. Save the Date has an eye-catching cover, and I was headed to the beach for a few days, so I grabbed a copy off our shelves. It’s funny and honest, filled with story after story about the weddings author Jen Doll has attended: destination weddings, her best friend’s wedding, hometown weddings, elopements, and more. Brides, here’s an idea: Gift a copy to each member of your wedding party. They’ll thank you later. 

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. This was my book club’s pick for the month of May, and although it wasn’t the title I had originally voted for, I wound up loving it, and our group had a blast discussing it. The premise is unique, so bear with me: Ella Minnow Pea lives on the fictional island of Nollop, off the coast of South Carolina; the little island was named for Nevin Nollop, author of “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” (a sentence which incorporates every letter of the alphabet). But when letters start to fall off a memorial to Nollop, their usage is banned from the island, and the whole place runs amok. (Letters, too, begin to disappear from the novel itself, which is entirely entertaining and imaginative and lovely.) Ella Minnow Pea will have your book club debating religion and politics and free speech, but in the best possible ways. Read it, please. I think it’s important. 

This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison. Fans of Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, rejoice. Here’s a new book for you. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come out until September, but never fear: It will be worth the wait. This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! offers a rare literary look at life from an elderly woman’s perspective; our protagonist Harriet is still reeling a bit from the death of her husband, but she’s not ready to go anywhere herself just yet. She’s got a lot of life left to live, so she jumps on board a cruise ship, only to discover her life might not be what she thought it was after all. This book is funny and memorable and sad and quirky and a little reminiscent of Stranger Than Fiction, one of my favorite movies of all time. Basically, mark your calendars for September. I loved this one. 

You Deserve a Drink by Mamrie Hart. Warning: I almost peed my pants from laughing while reading this book, but it’s also rather… foul? I often read excerpts of books aloud to Jordan, and I frequently had to self-censor several of these stories, so you’ve been warned. Mamrie Hart is most known for her YouTube show, “You Deserve a Drink,” but I’m not into cocktails or YouTube, so this title made it onto my desk based on a sales rep’s recommendation. Mamrie starts each chapter with a cocktail recipe, then follows with a story along the cocktail’s theme. The set-up is fantastic, and foul language and TMI aside, it’s hilariously funny. It’s not going to be one I’ll recommend to all of our customers, but I could see it being a fun gift for a college girlfriend or roommate. 

The Vacationers by Emma Straub. I don’t know why I’d never read this book. The Vacationers has a beautiful cover, and it was popular when it debuted last summer, but I just never got around to reading it. While on our own vacation to D.C., I picked up a hardback copy off the sale rack at Politics and Prose, and I’m so glad I did. (The book released in paperback this month, so you’re in luck, too.) Emma Straub weaves a beautiful story about a family vacationing off the coast of Mallorca in Spain; each character is seriously and realistically flawed, but you’ll find yourself rooting for them over and over again. I’m most impressed with Straub’s ability to magically tell the stories from multiple perspectives without ever feeling forced or distracting. This is a wonderful book, perfect for summertime reading.