Friends

How to Start a Book Club

What is your favorite book?

My all-time favorite is Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera, but it’s hard to pick a favorite from the hundreds I’ve read over the years.

I think just about everyone loves a good book, either on paper, an ebook, or an audio book. They take us away to stories of romance, adventure, history, and fantasy. Or, if you are a literature major like I was, you slogged through tomes about existential crises or boring philosophical treatises.

But any way you slice it, books are fabulous, and nothing beats the satisfaction of sharing good stories with others. One of my readers requested that I write about how to start a book club, and I don’t have to look any further than my sister Liz.

Liz is a dedicated, fabulous teacher who loves all things Jane Austen. One of her best friends, Cheryl, read The Jane Austen Book Club and got an idea to do something similar. So she convinced her sister, sister-in-law, Liz, friend Jamie, friend Erin, and Erin’s friend Tiffany to start a book club. It revolves around all things Austen.

Cheryl is the driving force behind the book club. She selects the seven titles to read each year. Every September, all the girls meet to set the dates, decide who will host which meeting, and Cheryl lets them know the book titles.

The meetings all follow the same format:

  • Each member hosts the club once a year. They are in charge of snacks—which of course include tea or lemonade, finger sandwiches, and desserts. They food is something similar to what Austen would have eaten, but of course they can put a 21st-century twist on the food.
  • The host is also responsible for discussion questions. Liz either finds them online, or she takes notes as she reads her book and makes up the questions that way. They debate major themes, plot points, and if they liked the book or not.
  • Then there is a craft or project that relates to the first two decades of the nineteenth century. The book club has made quill pens, teacup bookmarks, needlepoints, or silhouettes that were very popular back then. They have also learned how to play card games popular during the Georgian era.

Jane Austen only wrote six books, I can hear some of you thinking. So what do they read every year?

  • During the first year, the book club read the original Austen novels.
  • Year two, the girls read books all written from male characters’ perspectives.
  • Years three and four were fan-fiction novels, some of them bestsellers (such as The Jane Austen Book Club.)
  • In the fifth year, they revisited the original novels.
  • The club is in its sixth year, and they are reading spin-offs of the original novels.

I asked Liz if she ever gets tired of reading the same type of books, but she doesn’t. She loves the social time, hanging out with friends she doesn’t see often, and she has enjoyed almost all the books she has read.

Now while Liz’s book group is exclusively dedicated to Jane Austen, you can get creative. Maybe you are a fan of Harry Potter, Twilight, or The Hunger Games. Maybe you read novels set in Paris or Italy. Or you focus on a certain period of history.

Maybe you want to read books with a purpose. You get together with co-workers or other entrepreneurs to read business or self-development books. There are no limits to topics.

I hope this gives you an idea of how to start a book club and structure meetings. You don’t have to have a large group, and you don’t even have to meet every month. But you do have to have a love for books and want to share that with others!

What topics interest you if you could star a book club? Comment below!

Why You Need to Maintain Long-Distance Friendships

I am in the process of losing my best friend from elementary school.

Just writing that is a punch to the gut.

I’ve known this woman since 1985. Though we haven’t lived in the same town in fifteen years, we have seen each other through high school, college, job changes, moves, countless boyfriends, a husband (her), a kid (her again), a nasty divorce (still her), and medical problems. But we always maintained a strong friendship and have been there for one another.

That is, until her divorce was finalized. Then she vanished.

I know where she is, but between her work, her kid, and her new boyfriend, maintaining contact with me has been put at the bottom of her list.

The way bottom of the list, somewhere next to scheduling a root canal and doing her taxes.

I might sound like a whiner when I say it’s not fair. But it isn’t. I listened to her cry on the phone, vent, yell about her ex, and I invested my time to be there for her while she was in the process of getting a divorce. But when she found a new sweetie and the divorce was finally over, she ghosted on me. I call or text to see how she’s doing, I never hear from her. No Facebook, no Skype. Nothing.

I finally told her how I felt completely left out and that our friendship is dying. I don’t know what the next chapter of our friendship is—or even if there will be one—but I do know why it is critical to maintain relationships with your friends, even if they live in other states or countries.

Life is too short to dump someone you’ve been friends with for years. Unless the relationship is toxic/abusive or the “friend” is an emotional drain, why would you not cultivate your long-distance friendships? What good does it do to cut people you love out of your life?

Few people understand you like your best friend. Yeah, your significant other and/or family know a lot about you. A lot. But if you’re like me, your best friend knows the darkest side of you, and still loves and accepts you for who you are. That I something that is so rare and special, you owe it to yourself to maintain the friendship bonds.

You can’t pick your family, but you can pick your friends. There is something so unique about friendship. Of the 7 billion people on the planet, you picked this special someone to walk arm in arm with in this thing called life. Your close friends who live far away may not physically be there, but they are the special people who choose to love you and will do whatever it takes to be there for you.

A little communication goes a long way. It really doesn’t take much to tell someone you’re thinking of them. A Facebook message, a text, a phone call, even a card. Don’t be like my friend—invest five minutes of time into someone you haven’t talked to in months. You will reap rewards that pay off in years to come.

Friends come in handy when you travel. One of the greatest pleasures in life is traveling to visit friends in different cities. Not only can you score a free place to stay, but they will show you all the local great local sites not mentioned in the tour guides.

Life happens. This is the biggest thing. When the chips are down and you need a shoulder to cry on, a sympathetic ear, or you just need the comfort of knowing someone cares, that’s where friends play the biggest part. Think about the last time a friend offered support or helped you solve a problem.

Seriously, where would we be without friends?

Take some time to think if there is a friend you have been neglecting. What can you do today to let them know you are thinking of them? Pick up the phone and call or message them. I promise you won’t regret it!

Who is your best friend in the world, and why do you love them? Comment below!

The Joys Of Having a Best Friend

Who was your best friend growing up?

It’s probably not hard to think of your first childhood friend. Chances are she was someone in the neighborhood or who you met at school.

If your friends were anything like mine, you probably spent hours outside playing, riding bikes, swapping Barbies, having sleepovers, and dancing to your favorite cassettes. (Yes, I am old.)

You may have changed best friends in middle school, high school, and college. And that’s normal, because that’s a time in your life where hundreds of people drift in and out. And not everyone is going to be your bestie – that “kindred spirit” Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables spoke so highly of.

But chances are you had that one friend you could cry on the phone to at 1:00 in the morning after a break-up, who was your ride after your first car accident, or who got you your first job at the restaurant they worked at.

Yeah, having a BFF is great, but do you have one now? I want to talk about the importance of having a best friend in your life and how your life can be enriched by having one.

  1. She is willing to go to bat for you. She has seen you through job losses and bad break-ups. She is willing to slash someone’s tires or leave a negative review on someone’s LinkedIn profile because they said something cruel to you. OK, maybe she won’t shiv the tires or really leave a negative review. But she can provide ice cream and wine and help you rag on your enemies.
  1. She is a sister you never had. How many sisters do you have? One? None? I am lucky enough to have two great sisters. But even though we live in the same town, I rarely see them. My best friend knows me better than they do. We explore new restaurants, go out for happy hour, and even just Netflix and chill. Blood is definitely not thicker than water.
  1. She brings out the best in you. My best friend listens to all my wacky schemes, from my desire to write a book, supports my writing career, and quietly cheers me on in the background. In turn, I support her in her studies, I am there for her when she has a bad day, and will even be a nurse if she’s sick. But at the same time, she will call me out if I’m being a jerk or hurt her feelings. She makes me want to be a better person, and there are very few people I can say that about.
  1. She nurtures your inner goofball. I am always respectful when I’m invited to others’ houses. But when I get to her house, it’s ok if I walk right in, snuggle her cats, and command her to get wine with me. After which we laugh at awful reality TV shows and swear at bad movies. Yes, my BFF will let me be my weirdest, which is something I can’t even do all the time with my family.
  1. She pushes me to try new things. Whether it’s sampling hipster cocktails, cooking new recipes, going to an antique store I’ve never been to, or watching a new local band, my best friend will push me a little outside my comfort zone to enjoy all that our town has to offer. In turn, I drag her to vintage jewelry stores, make her watch foreign movies, and she is my willing henchwoman on day trips outside the state.

I can only hope your best friend brings out some of the best qualities in you as mine does. If you don’t have a best friend, who could you consider allowing into your life right now to share it with?

Tell me about your best friend! How does she make your life better? Comment below!

10 Ways to Grieve When You Have to Do It Alone

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Grief is the price we pay for love.—Queen Elizabeth II

You get a phone call or open an email and you finally get the news you’ve been dreading.

Someone you love has passed away.

There are few things in life that are as profoundly sad or difficult as losing a loved one, be it a friend or family member. Whether it was after a lengthy illness or completely unexpected, it can be enough to knock the wind out of you. You can literally feel your heart break. You wonder whether you’ll ever be happy again.

Facing grief is difficult even if you have people to lean on. But living alone, single women have a difficult time of it. Here are some things to remember when facing the death of a loved one. They won’t make the heartache go away, but they will help anchor your emotions and permit you to grieve at your own pace:

  1. Allow yourself to lean in to your emotions. You might be like me and cry at the drop of the hat. Or you may be stoic when you first hear the news. Whatever you are feeling, the most important thing to remember is that you are entitled to your emotions.
  1. Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel. Western culture has a warped, awkward view of death. We think people should “snap out of it” after a week or two and then carry on with a stiff upper lip. That is quite possibly the worst advice you can give anyone who’s mourning. Tune out all that noise.
  1. Be gentle with yourself. As I mentioned, I’ve been known to cry anywhere and everywhere. Bus stops, grocery shopping, at my desk, coffee shops—I can’t help it. That’s how I deal with it. And that’s OK. Anger, depression, tears…don’t apologize for how you feel and don’t beat yourself up for having those feelings. It shows you are vibrant, caring, and human because you can express what that person meant to you. Even if it means slobbery, messy tears and tons of wadded-up tissues.
  1. Remember grief has no timetable. Every person is irreplaceable and there will never be anyone like the one you lost. You may not feel your loss until days, weeks, or even months after the funeral. And that’s fine. There is no schedule to grieving, and that should never be forgotten.
  1. Reach out to your support network—even if they don’t know who passed away. People who truly love you will let you cry on the phone, over Skype, or in person. Be it your mom, your best friend, your counselor, or a pastor—let yourself be vulnerable and talk about your grief.
  1. Find solace in nature. I am about as far from an outdoorsy person as you can get. But going for walks or even sitting on the porch, watching a sunset help me center me and allow my thoughts to wander. I can pause and remember the beauty in the world, even if it’s just for a couple minutes.
  1. Be there for others who mourn the loss. I absolutely hate wakes and funerals. There, I said it. But I know it’s not all about me. I draw a lot of comfort in seeing friends and family at these services. It is also a sign of respect to the person’s family that you are enough to come. Don’t run away from wakes/funerals, even if you hate them as much as I do.
  1. Think about what your loved one wants for you. The timing of this is probably more after the funeral. But if you have a special connection with the deceased, you know they want you to be happy. Remember this when you reach for your eighth box of tissue or feel like you will never smile again. They would want you to smile. And eventually laugh. It may take time, but you know they want the very best for you.
  1. Do something to honor your loved one’s memory. Develop a good habit or ditch an old one. Do something you’ve always wanted to but never had the courage to. Just do something different to remember. And honor your loved one when you actually do it.
  1. Remember the ties that bind. I see lots of Facebook messages of “Praying for you…let us know if you need anything,” after someone passes away. Follow through when you say those words, and not just with a casserole or a card. If you are in a position to do so, call, visit, or email the family of the person who died. They will be in great need of comfort in the weeks, months, and years afterwards. Loneliness is a crippling emotion, and if you can do something to alleviate it, you are honoring the departed.

Death is never easy to talk about. But by allowing yourself the time and space to grieve, honoring your loved one’s memory, and by being there for others, you are giving yourself the tools you need to cope with your grief. And in your sadness and heartache, you will find comfort and strength in yourself and in others.

What has brought you the most comfort when you’ve grieved? Comment below!

What to Do When You Are Left Out of the Conversation: 11 Convo Changers

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OMG BABIESBABIESBABIES!!!

Picture it: You’re sitting at a family function, the lunch table at work, or an evening out with the girls. You’re the only childless woman at the table, and the conversation centers around kids: poopy diapers, soccer practice, potty training, trips to grandma’s house.

And these conversations last a long time. And you really don’t have anything to contribute (what do I know about potty training? Exactly nothing!). So before long someone asks the Captain Obvious question:

“Why are you so quiet?”

Instead of seething in silence, what can you do to change the topic? What can you discuss where you can actually add to the conversation? I have a list of conversation changers for you so that the parents don’t monopolize the whole conversation and you feel resentful.

I want to frame this list by saying please let people talk about their kids. Obviously kids are the most important thing in peoples’ lives, and they have the right to talk about what makes them happy. But when you are starting to feel completely excluded, you need to find a lull in when you can:

  1. The weather. Yes, this is the most unoriginal topic imaginable. But it is definitely something every person can relate to!
  1. Politics. Use with caution, especially if you know your opinion is in the minority. Or throw Donald Trump’s name into the convo and watch sparks fly
  1. Current events. This is where it pays to stay on top of what’s happening in the world. From local tax hikes to national news, chances are there’s a touchstone in there for the group!
  1. Sports.This one is a little trickier. I live in a state where we live and die by college football, and I am not a sports fan. At all. But I know just enough to chat about the previous weekend’s games or be conversant in the NCAA tournament.
  1. Food. Especially helpful around the lunch table. From asking what someone’s eating to swapping recipes, food bonds us together like few things do.
  1. Clothes. Complimenting what someone is wearing and/or asking where they got it is an excellent way to completely change topics.
  1. TV or movies. Now that I am in full post-Downton Abbey withdrawal, we’ve had some lively discussions at lunch about how to fill the void. I rarely see movies in theatres, so I like it when my co-workers review them for me.
  1. Celebrity gossip. Whether Miley Cyrus did something she’ll be embarrassed about when she’s older or Adam Sandler had another box office bomb, there never seems to be a shortage of topics here.
  1. Asking for advice. I have found that casually mentioning you have a problem and needing advice is something others love to help you with. From mechanic recommendations to discussing my cat’s health, I’ve found people are very willing to share their expertise.
  1. Books or magazines. I talk about this less, but sometimes I read a book or article that is so good, I can’t *not* share it.
  1. Social media. Did you see a great joke or meme on Facebook? A funny YouTube video? Those are always fun ways to steer the conversation.

You don’t have to be doomed to being left out of every conversation that goes on (and on and on) about kids. At an appropriate lull in the conversation, I have given you 11 topics to steer the conversation to more neutral ground. It may take some practice at first, but I promise you it is worth the try!

What do you do when the topic of conversation is something you can’t join in on? Comment below!