Friday, December 18, 2009

fireworks and fanfare.

Lately, I've been REALLY WORDY.
I know this shocks you if you've been reading for a while.
But seriously, my past few weeks of posts have spotlighted some long, drawn out opinions, stories, emotions, and details that go on and on and on.
Today at lunch, I logged into google analytics, as I usually do on my break, and noticed a large spike in new visitors. (HELLO there, new visitors!) Interesting....
Of course I went on the search to find where they were all coming from and thanks to the "traffic sources report" on Google analytics, I learned that all these first time visiting friends were being sent my way via Kath, who shared the package I recently sent her. [Thanks Kath ;) ]
The same thing happened when Caitlin mentioned my writing on twitter.
Long, wordy posts for the new visitors.
While I love writing (obviously) and I love sharing stories and parts of my life (obviously) I can't help but wish that there was something EXTRA SPECIAL AND SPECTACULAR for those visitors sent by the all-star bloggers (and maybe something sparkly).
It's not that I don't want to share into the depths with the new visitors- I do. But it's kind of like a dinner party;
If i were to send an invitation to a friend, asking them to bring a guest to my house for dinner, I would want to do everything in my power to make the guest feel welcome, comfortable and truly enjoy their experience. And I may use nice dishes and spend extra time whipping cream myself rather than using the spray can- because everyone deserves to feel extra special- both my friend and the guest. Extra touches, and sometimes sparkle, make the little things, the big things.

So- dear readers; old and new alike- Thank you for visiting.

And that I want to treat you that way, every day.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Belief: Part 1

Recently I received an email filled with interview-type-questions about something very exciting happening in 2010. A woman I respect on so many levels invited me to be a part of something and needed some back story on me, my beliefs, and my life thus far. So we discussed a few things, and a few weeks ago I spent an entire day writing pages of pages of stories, secrets, and understanding to help her get a better perspective of where I was coming from in lieu of this project.

I wrote way more than she ever could have wanted, I am sure. [we are talking many, many pages of text. It felt kind of like a sophomore year term paper] And although the purpose of all those pages was to help her gain perspective, what it really did was help me gain some perspective. Perspective on why I should never be ashamed of who I am, or what has happened to me. Perspective on why there is no reason to be sad about a broken engagement or a lonely holiday season. Perspective on why I believe what I believe and on a rekindling of my heart and spirit.

My parents raised me to be a gentle, kind, and honest person. When I was younger, I went to church every week- but for me it had very little to do with God, all those years. My mom was always very active in the church as I was growing up, especially when I was a teenager, which lead me to be a volunteer Sunday school teacher when I was in high school- but I don't remember us ever talking about God outside of church much. It wasn't like we had nightly Bible readings or prayed together or discussed the gospel at home. Although, I'm not sure it didn't happen and I just wasn't aware of it. My sister always seemed to have a "close relationship" with Jesus from a young age. She participated in summer ministries and really seemed to identify with the word "Christian"- and for a long time I had never understood that.

At the time, if you asked me, I probably would have said I was a Christian, because that's all I knew, but in hindsight, I have NO IDEA what I actually BELIEVED back then. I was ignorant to it. Growing up I was a "good girl" (for the most part). I did what I was asked, I was active in about 283284 things in high school, and I genuinely just loved people- all people. Though I’m not sure it was always for the right reasons - I was insecure and wanted to be liked by everyone, known by everyone, appreciated by everyone – and so I made it my personal mission to be friends with just about everyone I could. I would like to say it was because I had a heart of gold, but I am quite certain, at least in the high school days, it was a tad bit more about my wanting an image of gold.

When I graduated, I went to college in Madison, WI. (about 30 minutes away from where I went to high school) Edgewood College is "a Catholic college in the Dominican tradition" but back then- the only way you would know it was if you really paid attention; very close attention. Sure, there was a chapel on campus (attached to my dorm, actually.) and some of our teachers were "Sister" or "Father"- but campus ministry was as prevalent on Edgewood's campus as it would be at any state school I would have visited. It was available, but not forced, and rarely even heard about. Basically, the way I saw it, Edgewood was given money by the Catholic church and that is why it was called a Catholic school.

For awhile, I remember actually being curious about faith in college, and having discussions with some close friends and hall mates. I found myself admitting I did not believe. That the Bible was a work of literature and that Jesus must have been a good man, but I just don't know about God. I’m not sure if this is what I really believed, or this is what I wanted to believe. I’m not sure if I was saying what I thought would make me appear smart, or relatable, or sure of myself. I really don’t remember much about how I felt back then, but I do remember a few of the things I said during these conversations- and a lot of my discussion had to do with logic, and reason, and science.

Nearing the end of my sophomore year, my dad got a new job in Texas. My parents asked me if I wanted to move or stay in Wisconsin. It was a HARD decision. A few of my very best friends from high school attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison- and they were literally a few blocks away from me at Edgewood- and some might say I had an unhealthy dependency on a few of these friends. I had a hard time thinking about going on with my day-to-day life without them and trying to imagine my life in different state, so far away, was hard. Until I had a revelation that one day, they would go on and find husbands/wives and get married and start families. And I realized that I could not live in the basement of their houses. And I needed to go and stand on my own and take a little journey of self discovery. A journey to see who I was on my own, with out the comfort of everyone I knew for so long just a few blocks away. I needed to see who I was when they weren’t in earshot. What I would say if I wasn’t influenced by their opinions every five minutes, how I would choose to spend my time if I so got to do so, and if I could survive.

So I decided to leave Madison and head south. Apparently this came as a shock to many people- even to this day I hear from friends and classmates who swear they never thought I would leave – and I understand that. I LOVE the city of Madison. It will probably remain my favorite city in America for a long time- when I go home to visit, I always make sure to spend one day alone- walking down my favorite streets, reading in my favorite parks, just drinking in the warmth as my heart fills with pure contentment. I love Madison still, and I loved Madison then- but I knew I had to move on. It was time.

I started looking at schools with in four hours of my parents- I figured I needed a little cushion since I would be moving somewhere in which I didn’t know a soul. One of my favorite things about Edgewood was the school size. When I was there, it was just a couple thousand students- so classes were nice and small. We were offered so much individual attention from our professors and I am so thankful that I was able to learn in that environment. When I started looking for schools, I looked for a small school within four hours of my parents.

And I found LC; Louisiana College. [And I had no idea what I was in for.]

Louisiana College is a Baptist University. Having been at Edgewood and forming the above mentioned opinion, I assumed this meant that the Baptist Church gave the school money and perhaps a chapel building would be somewhere on campus. I thought I would go about my day to day life at LC, much like I did at Edgewood. I thought it would be another college, in another town- filled with stories of drunken debauchery, rallies and protests, tailgating and parties at the off-campus houses.

And then I moved to the Bible belt.

I quickly learned upon arriving, that just about everyone at LC chose LC because they wanted to further their "relationship with Christ" while attending college. Not at all what I was expecting. NOT AT ALL. And NOTHING like my time at Edgewood; No drinking, no boys in the girls dorm or girls in the boys dorm, no smoking, no parties, attend chapel service every week, many bible studies going on around campus, and an optional, yet majorly attended Monday Night Worship hosted by the Baptist College Ministry, which was all over campus.

I spent the first few weeks arguing with the freshmen girls that lived in my section of the dorm. (since I was a transfer student, I was living on the floor with all the freshmen.) The arguments would all end like this:

Roommate/Suitemate/Hallmate: But the Bible Says....
Me: But if I don't take the Bible literally... If I think its a work of literature.…
Roommate/Suitemate/Hallmate: But the Bible Says....

It was a never-ending cycle. And I was frustrated.

After a few days of classes, however, I started to meet more people my age, and realized that not everyone at LC believed in Christ because they had "always believed" and that some of them had opinions of their own. I must say to their credit- not many more days after, the girls who argued with me as above, started to understand this a bit too- and soon a soul search of their own was born; "why do i believe this", “is there more than just because I’ve always known this”, “how do I share my faith more clearly” etc. – these are some of the most exceptionally smart and genuine girls I know, and I am so grateful for the learning experience we had together, especially those first few weeks.

I was invited to church by several people. [Clearly they were doing their part at "finding lost souls" ;)] I'm pretty sure during the first month of school, I visited four churches. One church really stuck out for me; a place called Donahue Family Church. The people there were kind and REAL- there wasn't a fake hug to be had- all of the hugs were REAL. When people asked how school was going, they REALLY wanted to know. And the worship leader/assistant Pastor, smiled when he talked about God. He smiled when he sang on stage. He smiled when he was praying and giving thanks. And all the time, all the smiles, they were REAL.

Donahue had a decently popular college ministry, and not too long after my first visit, I became a regular attendee of both the church and the college group, Fusion. Even when I didn't know what I believed, they accepted me. Even when I argued with every word they said, they took time to listen to my concerns, my objects, and my distrust. They still invited me to go out for ice cream, and play volleyball, and watch movies. Sometimes we discussed Christ, but not always. It seemed like every week I had more questions.

These people I met were SMART. We could hold intelligent conversations about any number of things, and yet they still had FAITH, such strong faith. A lot of my preconceived ideas about believing in God had to do with God vs.. Science- and I guess at some point in the previous two years at Edgewood, I had started to believe that Faith in God means you are shallow minded. (yes - I am ashamed to admit that. I am ashamed that I thought that. I wish I had been open minded and understanding when I thought I was.) But these people were definitely not shallow minded. They were brilliant. And they believed and believed with every part of their being, even the parts that doubted. Their doubts made their faith stronger- I am still trying to find the correct words to accurately describe that, but it remains indescribable.

So i continued to go to church with them. Twice a week. And i continued to go to small group with them, and let them pray for me, and ask them questions, and I bought a Bible- because I wanted to see what all this was about. Not because of everyone was doing it, as much as because everyone seemed to have something I was lacking- something deep down to the core of their being, yet I couldn’t explain what it was. It was appealing. It was attractive. And it deserved respect. I wanted to know more.

Yet I continued to fight it, for what seemed like a long time. I was prideful and stubborn to say "ok, yes, I guess I do believe" in the beginning. I was so scared. To be wrong? To believe? To submit? I don't know. But I was terrified. And I don't actually remember the moment I decided. I didn't pray "a sinner's prayer" or "ask Jesus into my heart" or anything like that. I never had a moment where BOOM! suddenly I believed. I have no idea when it happened, or where it was, but I can say that my life has been better because of Christ. It happened much more slowly than a bolt of lightening. It was gradual, and a bit like a conquest, and I have no idea WHAT caused me to go from unbeliever to believer; but I do know some things that happened that aided me in the decision, that perhaps when they were all added up together, there was no other choice for me but to believe;

-watching other people truly worship. hands raised, hearts open. when i first started attending church, i didn't sing along. I more or less watched the congregation. And i was often moved to tears. I didn't know why, but just watching these people whom I had come to love being so connected to something they couldn't SEE but just believed, it stirred me. They didn’t know, but they still knew. They didn’t know because they saw Jesus face to face- they knew because they saw Jesus in the faces of others. They didn’t know because they heard God on a mountain top- they knew because they heard a mountains worth of personal experiences.

- I became really close with a clever girl with a beautiful soul, Mary. We would study outside on the lawn when it was sunny out. and we would end up having extremely long conversations about the questions I had. And every night, I would go to her room, and we would sit in her bed and pray. I would pray that if God was real, and he was tangible, that He would open my heart so that I could understand and accept Him and not be closed off to Him. Soon- my prayers became less about "help me believe" and more "thank you for belief"

-another very good friend, Andrew, poured a lot of time into me. He would make time to explain things, and listen, and make sure I wasn't homesick. He was one of the leaders of Fusion, and he would spend time explaining every tiny little question I had. but he did so in a way that was so honest. And he used resources other than just his own base of knowledge. And it was good. One day, Mary and I went joined Andrew and his roommates to watch a DVD from Passion One Day. (Passion is a college movement started my Louie Giglio. It's pretty popular among Christians all over the country/world) One of the segments was of a pastor from Minnesota, John Piper, speaking on "Boasting Only in the Cross". It moved me. He was standing on a stage, outdoors, on a very windy day, talking to THOUSANDS of college-aged students, and to hear his words, and his plea to them, and even more so to see their reaction what he was sharing- these moments left impressions on my heart. (it remains on of my favorite communications to this day.)

-there are a countless number of individuals from my time at LC who spoke to my heart, to the core of my very being. they helped me to grow and to open my mind to things other than myself. they taught me about true, honest love, and how to help people win. and how to be genuine every day.

-i just felt different. that sounds silly. but i can't explain it. it is an experience. nothing spooky or overly charismatic or anything, but just different. like I honestly started to "feel God" in my life. it sounds kooky, but its not. And its another thing that can not be explained. I didn’t physically touch, see, hear, smell or taste God; but I did feel him with other senses.

And so somewhere along the way, I just believed. No smoke or mirrors, no final number, no crying at the alter, no end all be all; I just believed.

And so i studied. and i read my Bible. and i attended Bible Studies and Small Groups. And I felt like I should be doing ministry. Because Jesus died for me. But more importantly, because there were people out there who didn't know they were loved; loved enough that they were died for. Because there were people out there who didn't have someone in their life, cheering for them. Because there were sad, lonely people out there that needed love, and compassion. It was never about religion. It was never about what you "shouldn't do". It was never about rules and laws and strictness. Not for Jesus, and not for me. It was about love. And it still is. For Jesus, and for me.

and i left school.
i left school to go to work.
i don't regret it.
but i think about it often.

i say i want to go back to school about once a day, and i have been saying that since 2004 when i left school.

but i don't regret it.

because what came next was learning experiences from inside the ministry that i could have never learned by getting any kind of degree... [to be continued- edit: part 2]

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Top Ten Tuesday: Witty & Brillant

Top Ten Snippets From Emails I’ve Received This Year
Because my friends are witty and brilliant and I think you may enjoy them
(also because I am feeling like crud and it’s much easier to copy and paste than to write anything witty or brilliant myself. All credit due to my friends, who are witty and brilliant.)

10. from a MOH who had yet to order her dress:
I promise i will not be wearing sweatpants at your wedding.

9. Would make me want to “hit them, baby, one more time”:
There is dance team practice outside my room right now. It is making me laugh. A lot. Britney has been on repeat for 45 minutes now.

8. Advice on how to handle the labor day weekend:
As for your “non-wedding Sunday” I vote you watch a HIMYM marathon. Or you can send me texts all day. Or you can make a voodoo doll of one of your favorite recent fiancés. Personally I vote you just eat some jello flavored with vodka constantly all day, even when at church :)

7. Ha:
There is ONE club in Mankato and EVERYONE makes fun of it-it's called the Haze. I went for the first time on Friday. . . . and met a guy. .. who is older... and very attractive…and enjoyable to talk to.

And I was thinking, "What are you doing here?!?!? This is NOT the place I am supposed to meet a guy." Obviously, he's an axe murderer (I mean, besides being a construction worker) Or maybe he believes that Napoleon Dynamite is the best movie ever made (I put both of those on equal levels of horribleness)

Anyway, we've been texting, and we may meet tomorrow. I expect to tell you all about this afterwards. I can't really tell anyone here, because they would say “do not go meet him. You met him at the Haze.” But then I'm like, well, I was at the haze. . . . I went to watch my Bosnian friend dance! (her name is Goga). So, maybe he was accidently there too?

6. Take a minute to picture yourself dressed all “western”:
remember how great homecoming week and all the spirit days were as a student? not so much as a teacher...

5. I just need a big hat and long fur coat:
I have a (somewhat) dorky favor to ask you- I am getting an online dating profile (yes, I know)...and I need your help with my "About Me" section. I draw blanks!! go ahead, pimp me out.

4. In response to my story about needing to have my gallbladder removed:
You really know how to not throw the twist ending everyone knows is coming into the story. I mean seriously, I was super excited to hear you say at the end, "and they were all wrong. I actually felt like crap because I have swine flu". And obviously it would be awesome 1) because you were clearly ok - you decided to write me an 8 page email and 2) I know someone who has swine flu. But alas, my hopes and dreams are ruined.

3. The cookie challenge has extra challenge:
While procrastinating yesterday, i came across an article about finding your happy weight. I went to self magazine's happy weight calculator to find mine. Let me tell you it was not a happy weight for me. It was unrealistically low for me for several reasons. One, it was less than i weighed for sophomore year, so as an adult, not likely to happen. Two, i really like cookies. Three, it is less than i weighed at my wedding (by almost 10 pounds) and i have set my wedding weight as a pretty good goal weight that does not involve me starving myself of working out three hours a day (as much fun as that would be). Four, i really, really like cookies.

2. Adventures will be had:
I was trying to find things to put in your package and I heard "I want to go see heather"
I looked around my empty room. It was coming from the area of scarves.

"I want to go see heather" The voice is muffled. I dig a little. A beautiful tanish, peachish, ummm, I don't know what color it is. it is a color that does not look that good on me, but would look really good on you.
"I want to go see heather"
well, yeah. don't we all?
I pull out the scarf. It is from England. It is used, but beautiful.
"Can I go? I'd really like to go be worn by heather!"
"Are you sure you want to leave all your friends?"
"I'm bored here! And you never wear me. I'd like to go to New York and keep heathers Neck warm during winter. I'm sure I would match her outfits. You never wear me. Besides, I'm ready for an adventure."

And off the little scarf went, jumping into the box. From my scarf collection to yours.

1. From the best email I received about the whole broken engagement thing:
That being said, I fully believe that you will (and already are) coming back stronger than ever. I'm keeping you in my thoughts and hoping for the best (and knowing it'll come). You've put too much love into the universe for it to not reward you back. He is your Aidan, I guess. Cute and nice and seemed like just right, but there's a Big of your own out there, just waiting. (Besides, your last name is just too cool to give up just yet.)

About that last one:

Sometimes I’ve been super silly and questioned if I will “be alone forever”. Sometimes the drama just takes over and I can’t help but feel like a character in some terribly sad melodrama destined to be single forever. Sometimes I feel that any time I meet a nice boy, he will find out that I had been engaged before and run away because I am “damaged”.

Now, before you all go telling me what a catch I am and that I would make “any guy really happy” let me just say this- I am aware that one day I will be in a relationship again. I am aware that the right guy will not only not run away when he hears that I was engaged, but stand right by me, helping me to get through the hard parts of healing and trusting and going forward in the beginning of a new relationship. And I am aware that “you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince” and I know that “God blessed the broken road that led me straight to….my future husband” and I know that one day I will walk down the aisle, and say I do, and share the first dance as husband and wife. But sometimes, I forget for a minute- and I feel sad, and sorry for myself, and angry, and heartbroken, and not enough.

Those times, I remember this email. Sometimes I reread it. Sometimes I just ponder on it. Sometimes I giggle at how much Shugarman trumps my almost-last name (it really is fabulous). Sometimes I watch episodes of SATC season four and realize that Aidan was great, but he wasn’t the one- and my former fiancé was great, but he wasn’t the one. And I am thankful. Because sometimes friends just KNOW what to say- the words “there’s a Big of your own out there, just waiting” mean so much more to me than any cliché about my worth and my future happily ever after ever will. And the words “your last name is just too cool to give up just yet” remind me to celebrate my singleness, my individual uniqueness, and this blessed time I have to continue to be the best me I can be.

And I am so grateful for people in my life who care enough, who understand me enough to not just spit out what they are suppose to say, but instead share what I need to hear- and what I need to rest in, even for months after it’s said. That goes beyond the author of that email, or any of the emails I shared pieces of today. That goes beyond people I grew up with, or have known for years. And that goes beyond people I have met in person. Sometimes the people that show the most care are people who leave comments on blog posts, and take part in twitter conversations, and support you even when they've never seen your face, or heard your voice, or hugged your neck. Sometimes the people that know and understand you the most are people that haven't spent anytime in a room with you. And for that, I am thankful, too. Thank you, friends. [i cherish you all; new and old]

Monday, December 14, 2009

For the Reader

I have a thing for bookstores. And not just because You've Got Mail has been on my "top five favorite movies" list since 1999. (although I'm sure that helps)

I've spent my fair share of time in bookstores, too.

Monday night "Bible Study" with a group of four high school girls I mentored. (We had every intention of deep discussion of the Bible, but without doubt each week turned into deep discussion and encouragement of the trials each girl was facing. It was the best support group I've ever belonged too- Me and four high school juniors.)

Meeting with friends who barely knew each other to question Jesus and belief and undertanding and the Bible. To drink coffee and share cookies and disect the word promise. To debate and agree and feel like we were getting somewhere and to disagree. To open our eyes to each others' up bringings, to each others' stories, to each others' beliefs.

Double-Date nights to the childrens section to play "I Spy" and "Where's Waldo" and pick out books for future children. To share our favorite childhood stories, and find solace in Todd Parr's The Peace Book.

Quality roommate time with stacks of magazines we were much too poor to purchase, and much to interested to ignore. Chosing our dream living rooms in Elle Decor, pouring over Real Simple and Martha Stewart Living recipes and tips, and, of course, being fully invested in the pages of People.

Many lonely evenings when I didn't know a soul in town, and instead of trying to seek friendship in community, would hide out in the stacks, reading entire books in an evening- complete series' in a months-time. Leaving work each night to go search the shelves for my next choice, and staying until close.

Preparing for a week full of postings at a table facing a window- indulging in a piece of carrot cake and a warm, soul healing tea as I tried desperately to forget that I was once again in a town where I knew no one, and once again feeling so alone.

I love a big bookstore, even if it makes me a Fox. (F-O-X) I love the big cozy arm chairs where I can sit cross legged and flip through art books gathering ideas and suggestions for what I'll make next. I love the journals section with a giant selection of words yet to be written - the promise of new creation, new stories, new documentation. I love being able to inspect the bargin area for the next addition to my neverending collection of books I will read someday, which seems to be taking over a few shelves in my kitchen.

I love small independant book stores. They all have fabulous names you could have never thought of yourself. With lots of detailed staff recommendations. And toys and gifts to go along with it all. You can only take your time in a store as such. The doors, the walls, the shelves are captivating- inviting you in and never allowing you to want to leave. I want to stay forever, reading the back cover of every single book displayed- because you know they were handpicked. Someone in this store asked specificly for 3 copies of this book, and not because it was on the best sellers list, or it is by a famous author, but because it means something. Like Nancy Drew, I am determined to seek until I find what exactly it means, to him, to her, and on most days as I make my way to the register, to me.

I love the smell of old, used bookstores. Paul's on State Street in Madison was always a favorite while I was in town. Running my hands through the stacks, over each cover until I found something that peaked my interest. Judging books by their covers- but not by their photo or title, but by how much love the old canvas covers had enjoyed by their previous owners. Allowing myself to drift off and imagine - how many times did a mother read a Mother Goose's fairytale to her child from this pale blue, ratty covered collection of fables. How much laughter was shared as each page was turned. How many gasps of surprise. How many lessons learned.

I love a bookstore this time of year. With twinkly lights and garland lining the register, carols playing throughout, and a simple "happy holidays" from the clerk as you make your purchase. Peppermint Brownies and Eggnog Latte's at the cafe, as neighbors share stories of what Santa will bring this year. The Polar Express and Holidays on Ice on display, near a display of "Christmas Toys for every girl and boy".

I do a lot of my Christmas shopping at book stores. I'm sure my family is not surprised by this, as their gift requirements in my eyes are "not bulky and fabulous". Year after year they've received DVDs and CDs and Books- all which can easily fit in my carryon suitcase. All of which I can purchase at one bookstore or another. And as I am preparing to finish my Christmas shopping this week, I thought I would give some insight for a few of you who may not have spent as much time in bookstores as I have. A few of my all time favorite books that would make some FABULOUS holiday gifts- for anyone you cherish (including yourself!)
Jen Lancaster's latest release, Pretty in Plaid DOES NOT DISAPPOINT. So much so, that I'm reading it for the 2nd time. I am all about giving gifts that compliment each other and I can't stop thinking about how wonderfully this book would looked wrapped up in a plaid bag with some nice argyle socks to match the cover. If you haven't read Jen Lancaster's other books (here, here, and here) you should definetely get on it. She is hilarious, and I am super excited to see what she comes up with next.

No books have every made me question my thinking the way Shane Claiborne and Robb Bell have with their books Irresistable Revolution and Velvet Elvis. These are two books I should reread every single year to make sure I am living life the way I should - pouring love out of me onto those who deserve it (EVERYONE (even and especially the people I foolishly wish didn't deserve it)) and living with purpose. I can't recommend them enough.

My friend Marcus recommended this book months ago, and I listened to it on CD over the summer- it was FABULOUS. Neal Gabler's biography of Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination is a fabulous recollection of the man and the wonderful world of Disney we all know now. I absolutely LOVED learning about "all things Mr. Disney" and I plan on rereading/listening to it before my next trip to Walt Disney World (an idea I grabbed from my wonderful friend, Marcus.) If one of your loved ones are planning a trip or are as obsessed with Disney as can be (cough, mother, cough) this would be a perfect gift for them!

This is another book I listened to on CD over the summer- and it had my heart MELTING. No matter your political stances, I Love You, Ronnie Nancy Reagan's sharing of the love letters between her and President Reagan will make you believe in true love all over again. If there is one book I could suggest purchasing the audio book for- it would be this one. Hearing the letters read in a male and female voice, as written, take you deep into the complexity and intensity of their relationship. This book would be perfect given to your special someone, or to a couple celebrating their first Christmas together. Pure Bliss to my heart!

If you have a high school senior on your "to shop for" list, buy them Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower. If you've read it, you know why. (it's a must read). If you haven't, then you should - even if you are far out of high school. Chbosky also wrote the screen play for the movie version of the musical Rent - another of my favorites. I would love to tie the two together in a bundle- and if I was Oprah, you'd all be getting one for the Holidays. Another great gift to tie to this book would be a DVD copy of The Rocky Horror Picture Show- as its mentioned several times in the book. (and now I want to do the Time Warp)

Easily my favorite movie, The Family Stone would make a perfect Holiday gift for ANYONE. (i may or may not have two copies). Make it a bundle gift by adding a couple of other Christmas-Themed fabulous movies- The Holiday & Love Actually, for example - and you've got yourself a winning gift.

I'm usually a non-fiction, memoir kind of girl, but Marisa de los Santos' novel Loved Walked In and the follow up Belong to Me are EASILY my two favorite reads of the last year. She really knocked it out of the park with these. Wonderful character development, terrific story line, and relationships that go WAY BEYOND the often-read-love interest- these two novels should be on everyone's "must read" list. Buy the set for your best girlfriend or as a gift to yourself. Everyone deserves to have Love walk in on them- and reading these books will make you believe it has through the words on each page.
What's the best book you've read this year? Any suggestions for what I should be reading next?

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