“Hon, can you get the mustard off my face via a spit bath fashion?” – A question that was not asked.

You really did have mustard on your face, but I also really wanted to embarrass you in front of all of these people.  TFMC

 

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Like a good Southern woman, I am very superstitious.  I always put my right shoe on before the left, I will always turn over downward facing pennies to leave good luck for the next pedestrian, I have a lucky pair of running socks and do not get me started on Chinese fortune cookies.  The table must break their cookies at the exact same time and the cookie must be consumed completely for optimal luck.

Eccentric quirks run in my family like plump noses, a fierce love of grilled corn on the cob and distrust of technology.  Or that could be just my father and I.  JJ collects conspiracy theories the way I collect superstitions.  My father believes very strongly in Unidentified Flying Objects, the curse of pirate heirlooms and that 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises was partly an elaborate plot concocted by Christopher Nolan to enter the subconsciousness of the American people to create an association between Bane, the evil mercenary villain man, and Bain Capital, which ultimately caused the downfall of the Romney presidential campaign.  It’s an impressive habit really.

 

Plenty of people have superstitions about flying.  I don’t suppose I can classify mine, shoveling in a cheeseburger and extra salty french fries before takeoff, as a superstition.  It’s another one of those good habits, really.  However, this delicate rationalization of gluttony, I’ll call a superstition, because I don’t need anything going wrong on this flight, nevertheless, the entire weekend.  We’re on a plane to Augusta for a wedding.  It’s a big family affair and I’ve got the butterflies.  They’re the good kind of butterflies, the I’ve been counting down to this event for months and I hope that I packed the right shoes and Hon, how does my hair look in the back and What was the name of your second cousin on your father’s side and I wonder how much trouble I would have gotten in with the TSA, if I had packed my economy-sized bottle of hairspray and Hon, how does my hair look in the back? butterfliesSpoiler alert: My hair in the back looked straight-ish.

 

The universe is telling us it’s going to be a wonderful day, Flynn.  It stopped raining, we ate pre-flight cheeseburgers and french fries and you’re wearing my favorite shirt.

 

-Flynn: Aww, you’re just saying that, because this is the shirt I was wearing when I first met you.

 

I believe at that time, you were wiping mustard off your own cheek.

 

(Drops mic and takes a tacky, unsolicited victory lap around Gate 39.)

 

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Not more than five minutes into this flight, his head is rocking back and forth.  Interim Governments: Institutional Bridges for Peace and Democracy lays in his lap, left index finger saving his place.  I swear he could fall asleep standing up, but this is nonsense coming from the girl who involuntarily hibernates every time we try to watch a movie.  Maybe that’s how I missed the Bane/Bain messaging.

Good Habits: Getting Back to the Way It Was.

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There’s a subtle snap as my teeth break the skin of a fresh white flesh peach.  Pulpy and sweet beneath my teeth, the taste is sharp and fleeting on my tongue.  It feels animalistic to be chomping down, pearly whites, into something so earthly and delicate.  I lick the juices from my lips.

 

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Over the past month I’ve eaten a lot of peaches.  And spinach.   And buttery popcorn.   I’m trying to get into better habits, which includes getting back to fruits and leafy green vegetables…  While still including space for bowls of salty, olive oily popped kernels.  And olive oil espresso brownies, sprinkled with pecan and pistachios.  Dark chocolate has antioxidants and nuts have good fats, so they’re not all bad right?

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To keep up with these good and, sometimes downright indulgent, dietary habits, I’ve started running.  Again.  These days, when I run, I run like a colt.  Overflowing with nervous energy, I start off too quickly and tire much earlier than anticipated.  Faster and faster, I pick my heels up to hide my shaky legs.  Even though, I know the speed isn’t sustainable, I like feeling how fast I can go and remembering what it felt like to run like this.  It feels like getting back to the way it was.

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Despite my poor exercise (non) regimen of 2016, I love running.  In high school, back in rural North Carolina, running was my life.  I ran to release the nervous restlessness of a lanky, uncoordinated girl who finally discovered that she wasn’t graceful enough to justify taking another year of ballet classes.  I ran because I finally wasn’t afraid of the dirt and to sweat.  I ran to keep up with the family of likeminded L.S.D. (long slow distance) junkies I had befriended and made my family.  I ran for the familiarly of the thinly wooded trails surrounding my high school.  I ran for the cross country records, still in my name.  I ran because that was when my mind was sunny and free.  I ran to feel stronger and happier than I ever felt in my life.  And I was. 

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For my venture back into running, the credit is Flynn’s.  This isn’t surprising.  He has this way about him that reminds me of the things I used to believe in before I forgot them…  He also has an established exercise routine.  That is helpful, I’ve found.

The first weekend after I moved up to my house here on the Hill, Flynn came to stay.  While unpacking his forest green LL Bean book bag, he pulls out lime and cerulean running shoes.

(Here at The Girl with the Lemon Dress, we love to troll the word ‘cerulean.’ Because we can and we do.)

Flynn tells me we’re going to go running on Sunday morning.

What.

Sunday mornings are for bowls of coffee and buttermilk biscuits.  But sure, I’ll bite.

We’ll run down by the monuments, he says.

Sounds moderately enticing.

That’s a great idea Flynn.  I’m glad you thought of it!

Gulp.

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Presenting: 9am Sunday morning

LOOK OUTSIDE!  THE SUN IS SHINNING, PEOPLE ARE WALKING THEIR DOGS, NONE OF THE CARS ON OUR BLOCK GOT TOWED LAST NIGHT.  HOW NICE???  THIS IS A BEAUTIFUL DAY. FLYNN, DO YOU SEE THIS?

… Do we really have to get out of bed?  Can’t we enjoy the Sunday morning views from here?

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Eventually, we got up, put on our excited pants (Well, at least one of us did.  The other one of us put on his Moderately Alright With the World pants.)  and ran out the door.  When we finally got to the Washington Monument, I was completely exhausted.  Like on a scale of one to dead, I was a doornail.  However, passing out on the lawn overlooking the Lincoln Memorial, felt pretty damn good.

One good day turns into two, which turns into three, which turns into a good habit.  Or something like that.

Now if y’all don’t mind, I’m going back to eating those olive oil espresso brownies in my bed.

I’ll see you when I see you next.

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You Must Call Me Caroline.

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Caroline reaches in the cabinet above the stainless steel refrigerator, pulls out two deep soufflé dishes.

Which one do you like? 

I must protest.

– You are so kind, however, this is unnecessary Mrs. Chapman. 

I’m not taking no for an answer and you must call me Caroline.

Knowing it would be rude to argue further, I choose the solid white porcelain decorated with raised vertical ridges along the outer wall.  Caroline sets the soufflé dish on the counter. With her free hand, she touches my elbow gently and says, How did I know you would choose that one, Jordan?  She is warm and welcoming like my favorite throw blanket on a fall night.  Smiling, she asks if I would like to help her with the chocolate chip cookies for tomorrow’s horse race.

We stand side by side.  From a large stainless steel bowl, Caroline and I gather a tablespoon’s worth of the chocolate chip laden dough to plop on oversized baking sheets.  Flynn loves this batter because the chocolate chip to cookie batter ratio is three to one!  Across the island, Flynn and his father flip through yellowing pictures in photo albums from 2003.  In Alaska, Flynn is just a boy in a baseball cap with missing teeth, scampering among the tall trees and snowscapes.  In the background, Austin is always standing and smiling in the direction of his son.  Alaska Austin wears binoculars and a camera around his neck.

Cookie dough covers my hands and I swat at the mischievous Maine Coon trying to make a run at the counter.  Jet black fur and eyes green as traffic lights, Nike is as silent an assassin, darting on and off of the shelves lining the bottom of the island.  Caroline is having none of that.  Before the little monster can wreck havoc, she places the baking sheets in the oven.  Globs of cookie dough spread out evenly like the Terracotta Army of the first Emperor of China.  Flynn and I have undergraduate degrees in history.  I wash my hands and scoop Nike up in my arms.  He tries to bite my windblown hair, but I kiss his furry little ears.

A couple of hours earlier, the wind was blowing through my hair as we stood on the edge of the mountains overlooking the tiny town.  Flynn’s arm is around my waist.  I am curious, but I have terrible balance.  Caroline can name every valley and peak, and she does.  Even then, I knew it would be near to impossible to remember them all.  Caroline walks us over to a ledge extending out over the impasse.  I can recall dangling my feet over the edge of this rock as a girl when we used to come up here for picnics and the Fourth of July.  When Flynn and I turn around, Caroline snaps a photo of us before she heads back to the car to wait with Austin.  His hand, never having left my waist, pulls me in and I can feel his breath on the back of my neck.  Goosebumps appear.  I don’t take a picture of what I see because I cannot turn away.

My mind snaps back.  I am back in Flynn’s parents’ kitchen.  It is warm from the oven and the many windows look out to the patio and the garden, lush and green.  Caroline tells me that there used to be a mother bear and her cubs who would come to eat out of the bird feeder.  She has the photos to prove it.  I look over to see that we’ve got a bandit of our own in the corner, this Bear is sneaking a spoonful of contraband cookie dough.  I stifle a laugh when Nike purrs at Flynn’s feet.

Exactly 12 minutes pass and the batter has yielded about 50 small to medium sized cookies, all the same shade of beige.  I bet it’s a high granulated sugar to brown sugar composition.  We are all children, snatching up a cookie apiece off the steaming sheets.  These are perfect Mrs. Chapman.  I mean, Caroline.  Thank you.  Caroline laughs and asks if I would now like to help with the lamb and vegetable stew.  She is effortless.

Even while dinner is simmering along, Austin and I sit on barstools and munch on those peanut butter-filled pretzel treats I used to love so much as a kid.  We’re still going through photo albums and we haven’t even cracked the surface of the Chapman family adventures.  There are rivers and roads, and old friends and family homes.  I feel rich and full, as if I walked all of those miles and was sunburned by that same sun.  Mr. and Mrs. Chapman took him to see all 50 states in 10 years.  Caroline puts her hand over Austin’s as they flip through more photos of toothy Flynn and adoring Austin.  

After dinner, Flynn retires downstairs.  Following him, I scoop up Nike again.  Though not evident at time, Nike is an unwilling and very unhappy feline.  He abruptly decides he must use my left arm as a platform and leaps to the floor, clawing my orange striped shirt and upper forearm on the way down.  Thin-skinned, I ran upstairs for some hydrogen peroxide and a bandaid.  Doctor Austin cleans up my scratches and scolds Nike, who’s lounging unabashed on a Turkish rug in the entryway.

Instead of heading straight downstairs, Austin and I take a little detour about the house.  I ask him to tell me about the art himself and Mrs. Chapman have collected.  Evidently, one of my favorites is also a favorite’s of Austin’s.  It’s a lovely field, not more than ten miles from the Chapman residence.  I saw the artist painting this from the side of the road.  It was the beginning of spring.  Don’t you see the little splotches of red, symbolizing the start of tomatoes?

As I’m padding around the hardwood and wiggling my toes in the different rugs, I see her in the light of the kitchen.  We meet in the doorway.  Caroline and I embrace in a hug that seems to last for two or three years.

Since January, since before you knew me.

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Your hand flew to my knee as the car in front of us broke abruptly.  I think I can tell what kind of man he is by the way he drives.   You drive with both hands on the wheel.  When there is a hint of danger, instinct takes over.  Over my knee, you put your hand.

 

 

 

We didn’t leave Bethesda until nearly 6:15.  You came to my office around 5 and we left together.  Two smiling fools on the metro, I think we were the only ones grinning through the delays.  At your apartment, you packed your bag and I made a pot of coffee.

 

Did you tell your mother we’re leaving?

– Yes.

Did you tell mine?

-Of course, Love.

 

The night descends around us as we are driving south.  You haven’t been home since January, since before you knew me.  Homemade, fruit-speckled biscuits in the backseat, I feel like one of those blueberries.  Bright-eyed and springy, I am ready to impress.  I packed not one, but three dresses for Saturday.  I couldn’t make up my mind.

 

Droplets of rain collect on the windows, but in a show of solidarity, I do not fall asleep.  We could talk for hours, usually we do, however, tonight the car is quiet.  All we ever hear is sound.  It is never quiet where we are, but out here, you can hear crickets sing to the stars.  I want to see where you used to roam and where you learned to read.  I want to see the things your eyes used to see.

 

The hours passed by like this.  Sometimes, I lean over and kiss your shoulder.  You are warm, Radiator Boyfriend.  You are warm in the month of May, four months since you first came to my apartment.  Five days trapped in the snow, we lived off cinnamon rolls.  I wore your sky blue toboggan around the living room and in the kitchen you brushed an eyelash off my rosy cheeks.  Holding my fallen lash between your thumbs, we made secret wishes like children.  I’ll never tell.

 

Twenty miles off the highway, I know I am mistaken. I thought we were almost there. Twists and turns down tree-lined roads, we’re not out of the woods yet, but I can tell you’re growing antsy.   I turn up the volume and banjos fill the atmosphere, like the soundtrack to a movie scene.  Maybe I just want to hear you sing.

 

It was 2:15am when I heard you say “That’s the old train depot where the dentist office is now.  The train doesn’t run through town anymore.  And that big stone building on the corner, that’s the church where I was raised.”  You make a right up the hill, and we drive above Main Street.  Down below, lampposts shine like fireflies in the night.

 

Up and up, we climb to the top of the mountain till we don’t anymore.  Your mother left the light on.  You parked the car and I opened my door.  In the dark, my feet find the street and I breathe deep.  You’re fumbling with your keys, as you turn the lock of your childhood home.  Countless times you’ve done it before, however none quite like this.  Your mother left another light on by the stairs.  Your mother is a good woman.

 

You show me to my room upstairs.  I can see you make your bed the same way your mother does, with the pillowcases facing inwards.  You tuck me in with a forehead kiss and we whisper “I love you” even though there is no one around to wake.  It was 3:13am until I could fall asleep, but even then, I’m not sure I wasn’t already waking among dreams.

Red Food Coloring: Bitterness is so 2008 Rom-Com Heroine Chic.

 

It is February 12th.  After three days, seven grocery stores / convenience stores, and two Father of the Bride meltdowns, I had given up.  I had very publicly given up.  I hung up a very aggravated and very loud phone call with my mother in the middle of the baking aisle in Harris Teeter and proceeded to stamp around the store in exasperation.  And in search of everything bagels.  The reasoning for this adult tantrum?  Red food coloring.

Let me explain.

 

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I have always detested Valentine’s Day.  I have always detested Valentine’s Day because I have always looked forward to Valentine’s Day and I have always looked forward to Valentine’s Day, because really I am a gooey chocolate chip cookie who loves Valentine’s Day.

The charades of Valentine’s Day start early.  In elementary school there are construction paper heart snippets littering the floor of the art rooms for the weeks’ proceeding, on-the-day holiday parties catered by the PTA President, with mounds of sugary-sweet baked goods, and rumors of classmates kissing on the swing set.  However, there never seems to be enough saturated paper Valentines to go around and that’s a shame because when you’re a kid, Valentine’s Day is supposed to be simple.

When you’re a kid, Valentine’s Day involves embarrassing love notes from your mom in your lunch box, trips to the Dollar Tree for mass-produced Valentines for your classmates and most importantly, Valentine’s Day is right next to Halloween for chocolate consumption. I suppose if I were a dental hygienist I would hate Valentine’s Day, but in this scenario I am not a dental hygienist.  I am a child eating store-bought sugar cookies with red icing and sparkly pink sprinkles, which vaguely leave the taste of Play Dough in my mouth, not that I ever tasted Play Dough as a child.  However, most importantly in this scenario, I am happy.

Valentine’s Day is more-or-less a happy day for children and it should be that simple for adults.  Just cut out some geometric shapes from vein-y hued construction paper, buy some God-forsaken chocolate that is not Russell Stover, because no one really likes eating unknown subpar fruit – nut – chocolate clusters anyway, and call it a day.  Nope.  Valentine’s Day in modern romance is a whole song and dance, especially so if you involve those singing telegram people.  And if you do involve those singing telegram people, Ferris Bueller called and he would like you to know you are thirty years late to your audition.

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So there I was last week on February 9th, singing and dancing my way through my own Valentine’s Day grocery list at Trader Joes.  This is the first Valentine’s Day in years where I felt ownership in Hallmark’s favorite holiday.  This year I had a Valentine and yes, I was finally giving into some of the cliches my hardened exterior rebuffed and ridiculed for years.  The biggest, non-negotiable cliche on my list, red velvet cupcakes with traditional cream cheese frosting.  Of course, this was only the start.

Two weeks prior, I told Flynn I hated Valentine’s Day.

If I see a Russell Stover box, I will launch it at your head.  

Like the intuitive and incredibly understanding human he is, Flynn chuckles awkwardly, then runs for the exit.  Just kidding.  That didn’t happen.  Rather, he laughs and promises Of course we will go eat burgers and fries for Valentine’s Day, if that’s what you want.  I did not deserve his patience then nor did I deserve the text he sent about a week later telling me that our plans had changed and that he had made new lunch plans for Valentine’s Day.  We can dress up a little bit if you want, smart casual.  

Panic.

Not that I wasn’t planning on celebrating Valentine’s Day with Flynn, but it sort of hit me. My adamant and intentional denouncement of Valentine’s Day around Flynn was 1. a desire to radiate Cool Girl-aloofness about grand romantic gestures, in efforts to chill any dead giveaways of my feverish and wildly emotional disposition and 2. thinly veiled bitterness.  In relation to the former, what?  Flynn has been around you for more than two hours.  He has seen The Feelings.  In relation to the latter, bitterness is so 2008 Rom-Com Heroine chic.  2016 ladies are better than lying about their crazy.  We own our “crazy,” to which I would argue to myself that “crazy” is a frequently-used gendered put-down of women, but in this argument with me, myself and I, we digress.

 

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New Obsession: Leon Bridges.

 

Back to moderate panic.

In the week leading up to Valentine’s Day, I scoured seven, yes seven, different grocery / convenience stores looking for red food coloring.  When it got to 8pm on Friday, February 12th, the Harris Teeter baking aisle was an embarrassingly volatile place.  Albeit it would have been more embarrassing for me had I been holding the shopping basket I collected ten minutes later with my consolatory purchases: red nail polish (at least one cliche down), one bunch of green onions, Burt’s Bees chapstick, tampons and everything bagels.

Heaven forbid, you could just buy a mix., Jeanice echoed from the other end of the line.

THERE AREN’T EVEN MIXES LEFT MOM.  THERE ARE OTHER FOOD COLORING OPTIONS.  WHY DOES RED HAVE TO BE A PRIMARY COLOR???!!! 

Needless to say once I was done with my self-indulgent tirade on primary colors, I walked myself through the self-checkout, because that shit in my basket was also embarrassing, and walked home.

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Through a strange turn of events, February 14th arrived.

Technically Valentine’s Day activities had been underway since Galentine’s Day celebrations on February 13th…  Major shout-out to my Galentines, who ate fried pickles and avocado toast and drank bottomless mimosas with me till we all had bad breath, were a little tipsy and cried during How to Be Single.  (Think sadder Trainwreck. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.)

Somehow by the time I got home from Galentine’s Day, I redid my makeup, lit the obligatory Romantic Dinner Candles, and reassured the lady at the front desk that Flynn was indeed an expected visitor, everything was okay.

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No, I never got red food coloring.  However, after a sobering walk home from the Harris Teeter the night before, I put on my Big Girl Apron™ and burrowed into the kitchen.  From 9pm till about midnight on the 12th I was up making fresh pesto for the basil – black pepper pasta I already purchased in one of the seven food stuff-eries I visited that week, and yes, a batch of cupcakes.  Can’t lie, I was pretty excited to present Flynn with a heaping bowl of pasta for our first Valentine’s Weekend meal on Saturday night. (I know, Valentine’s Weekend.  Barf.)  When dessert rolled around, I was actually really looking forward to the non-red velvet cupcakes I ended up making (Dark chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese frosting inspired by Ina’s chocolate cupcakes and Joy’s cream cheese frosting.) … and telling Flynn everything that I wanted to tell him that happened earlier in the week, but couldn’t as to not spoil any surprises/pass any additional aneurysms.

While I would not like to visit seven grocery stores in three days without avail anytime soon,  the Red Food Coloring Incident of Valentine’s Day 2016™ showed me that my stubbornness could be used for Valentine’s Day good not evil.  And that I should plan more in advance.

 

I hope that you and your Valentines/Galentines/Everything-a-tines had a wonderful Valentine’s Day.   May romantic, friendly, familial, spiritual and self-love greet and inspire you every single day of the year.

 

 

P.S. Flynn took me out for cheeseburgers, french fries and onion strings for Valentine’s Day.  The dress code was indeed smart casual, so I did not take a photo of my lunch, because that shit is embarrassing in a place like that.  Don’t do that.  Save that for coffee shops.

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Valentine’s Day Flannel.

 

See you when I see you next.

Sundays are like January 1st.

It’s the first Sunday night of 2016 and I don’t know what could be any more peaceful.  Sunday is already my favorite day of the week, it’s the day where I can sleep in, lounge around in the late morning while drinking multiple cups of coffee and writing up a grocery list, go for a walk or do whatever prep work that needs to be done for the week.  So for me, Sundays are basically like January 1st occurring once a week, 52 times a year.  While January gets a bad rep for being the cold and dreary month smack dab between the Christmas and holiday joy and the hate-to-love / love-to-hate situation of Valentine’s Day, I still look forward to the optimism ushered in on New Year’s Day.  The incentive to refocus and restructure one’s life is so strong in the first week of January and I find this mindset admirable, evident by my selective amnesia concerning the previous year’s New Year’s resolutions that inevitably dissipate come spring.

Regardless, you can see my point here with the first Sunday in January being somewhat of a sacred chapter in my book.  Speaking of New Year’s resolutions, I decided to make one and only one simple resolution: Make conscious and clear decisions.  Let’s back track a little…

My resolution for 2015 was inspired by a lady named Eleanor and Mrs. Roosevelt believed that a person should try to do one thing that scared them every day.  Though I was not able to find unique fears to confront daily, 2015 was very much a rebuilding year because I went into the previous year wanting to at the least engage with the personal, professional, intellectual, and emotional hurdles that I had constructed in my own path.

I found immense of joy in change and discovery, but I also found some old demons creeping back into new habits.  There were times when I equated the action of saying yes to a show of bravery, when in actuality, yes was the easy way out.  Humans are social creatures and saying yes can be a surefire way to becoming a people pleaser, which I have a tendency to fall back on.  However, people pleasing is not interchangeable with self-fulfillment.  That is an especially tough lesson to learn for someone who occasionally lies awake at night considering various opportunities not acted upon.

I am not telling you to say no to new adventures or experiences.  I am not telling you that saying no is more brave that saying yes.  I am telling you, however, that in whatever you do, be the one to make the choice to say yes or to say no.  It may not always be the right choice, but if you are honest with yourself in what you want and what you do not want, you’ll hopefully have far fewer restless nights wondering who is actually making the decisions in your own life.

 

Now that the self-empowerment spiel has concluded, some lighter notes from The Girl in the Lemon Dress:

  1. Fairy-tales for Grown Ups: Helen Oyeyemi’s What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours hits shelves March 8th and Jordan’s nightstand March 9th.
  2. New Cake Pans for Christmas means Beatty’s Chocolate Cake: Sarah Wunderlady Rudasill is visiting Friday on her way down from New Oxford, PA to the Dash for her second semester of her junior year and if this isn’t a call for cake, I don’t know what is.
  3. Pass the Popcorn: Pride and Prejudice on Netflix.  *Already watched it and live-texted the whole movie back to the lady who watched it with me the very first time, my childhood best friend Ellery.  Elle, I love you, most ardently… or something like that. *
  4. You’re Welcome for The Inevitable Instagram Caption Ideas: Poetry not to roll your eyes at coming up in 2016.
  5. Cold weather, hot friends: Round Two.

 

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Talk to you when I talk to you next,