Sunday, July 30, 2017

Shades of Summer Lovin’

This month’s theme of summer lovin’ got me thinking about all the many reasons I love summer. Now, I could reiterate all of the things others have said so far about the many joys unique to the summer season, but for me at least, it’s more than that. Summer is special to me for a few more
personal reasons.
I met my husband on a late summer day in September, the 12th to be exact, and we were married on that same day six years later. One of our sons was born in the summer on July 3rd. The cutest thing about that is, for the longest time, he thought the fireworks on the 4th were all for him and his birthday.
My other son was born on September 23rd, just after summer ends, but since we always celebrate it earlier before school goes back, his birthday has always felt like a summer one too.
And another big reason I love the summer would have to be our annual pilgrimage to the Outerbanks of North Carolina. The tradition began back in 1992 with our old college friends. The eight of us, four couples, had all gone to school in Pittsburgh – five of us to Carnegie Mellon, two of us to Duquesne, and one to University of Pittsburgh. Whenever I think of the eight of us, it reminds me of that line from St. Elmo’s Fire – “I can’t remember who met who first, or who fell in love with who first. All I can remember is the eight of us always together.” In the movie, they said seven, but who cares? Close enough, right?


For two years in a row, we had gone back to Pittsburgh for alumni weekend at CMU for a get together, since that’s where we all met and met our spouses. But the last time we were there we decided we’d had enough of trying to relive our college years. Everyone seemed so young, and we were all now working professionals, so it just wasn’t our scene anymore. And that’s when Tom, one of our friends, made the best suggestion ever – why don’t we all go on a beach vacation instead of meeting back at school? The idea was brilliant.
So the next year, the four couples, the eight of us, went to the Isle of Palms in South Carolina. Now, I know what you’re thinking. I said the tradition was to go the Outerbanks. And it is. Because on the third year of beach vacation we decided South Carolina was a bit too far for all of us to travel and we would go slightly North to the Outerbanks. And we’ve been going ever since.
In the end, all four couples got married and now there’s seventeen of us – eight adults and nine children. Yes, God help us, the children now outnumber us. Our little group just keeps growing and expanding, and we all consider each other to be closer than family. The best part about our OBX vacation is that when the eight of us are back together, it’s like we never left each other’s side. We’re as close today as we were twenty-five years ago. And now, so are our kids. It’s something we hope we’ll never stop doing, though we’ve talked about the need for renting a second house once the kids start having kids. Thank goodness we have at least a few years before we have to think about that.

We have so many fond memories of our many beach vacations at OBX that it would take me a book to tell you all about them (something I plan to do one of these days), but here are a few highlights – morning jumps into the freezing pool, drinking something red and something blue, eating wings so hot they turned Tom’s face purple, surviving Hurricane Dennis only to be chased home by Hurricane Floyd, temporarily losing various children only to find them not too far from where we left them (one was hiding in a wardrobe and another had wandered out a gate), falling down broken beach stairs which led to the miraculous throw and catch of baby Danny, taking a tumble down the house stairs which resulted in a blown up ankle, wearing tin foil hats (don’t ask), whale watching, crab hunting, and drinking for lightning.
Anyone else have a summer vacation that has become a tradition?


Saturday, July 29, 2017

Summer On the Road With My Father (Brian Katcher)


Every year, my father and I like to take a road trip together. This is a tradition we started when I was in high school, when we drove down to Florida to visit my grandmother. We've been to all sort of places, including Key West, Denver, and San Francisco. In a couple of days we leave for Arkansas.

One of the most memorable, er, memories happened when I was fifteen. We were in Florida, and Dad had booked us a hotel room. In those days, you'd physically run a credit card through a machine and get a receipt on carbon paper. If you weren't careful, your actual credit card number could end up in the wrong hands.

That's exactly what happened. A couple of weeks after we returned, my grim-faced parents called my dorky teenage self into the living room. It seems someone had charged about $200 of phone sex calls to my father's credit card.

"Is there something you'd like to tell us, Brian?"

Now this clearly wasn't me, though I was the prime suspect. I plead innocence and intelligence. My parents believed me, as I wasn't dumb enough to pull a stunt like that.

But I'm not entirely sure they 100% believed me. I think there's always been a bit of doubt.

I'll have to ask Dad when we're on the road.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Loving the simple side of summer (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

The phrase “Summer Loving” makes me think of the kind of bouncy, beachy scene out of a soft-drink commercial where gorgeous people are playing volleyball, water-skiing, and having short but passionate romances scented with sunscreen and bonfire smoke. Those were the kinds of summers I never had myself, though I loved summer for a different reason.

Summer was for sleeping late, reading, writing, for playing outside. I cringe when I hear people promote year-round school. Supposedly many students backslide academically during the summer, but I would submit that there’s more to learning than what happens in a classroom, and chaining students to desks year-round is not the only path to education.

I always read far more outside the classroom than in it, and I got more exercise in the summer. Summers gave me a break from the bullying of my middle-school years. I can’t even imagine having to stay in that situation year-round, of having no escape from it.

But most of all, summer taught me how to use my own time, how to plan my days, how to combat boredom. When I left home in my late teens, when I went off to college, my sudden new freedom didn’t send me off the rails. I knew how to plan my time, how to manage responsibilities.

My family couldn’t afford lots of big fancy vacations, but we did take a couple of memorable trips (to Boston and to Washington, DC), and summer enabled me to spend more time with my grandparents, and there was also one creative-writing camp experience that changed my life. We never had time for such things during the school year.

If you forget the Pythagorean theorem or the definition of iambic pentameter over the summer, you can learn it again. But if you’re shut inside a schoolroom for four seasons a year, you miss the chance to practice the independence you’ll need later. Apart from that, there’s also value in time for rest, for daydreaming. It’s important not to schedule every minute of kids’ lives for them.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What Really Goes on at Church Camp (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)



What Really Goes On at Church Camp
In one of the last episodes of Friends, Monica and Chandler meet the teenage birthmother of their twins. They ask her what kind of plans she has for the summer, and she tells them she's heading to church camp, which kind of baffles them, since...she's the teenage birthmother of their twins. But I always thought that that episode had surely been written by someone who knew all about church camp.

Lest you get any ideas related to the Westboro Baptist Church or that documentary I can't remember the name of about that super nutso evangelical camp or the "pray the gay away" type of thing, let me allay your assumptions and fears by telling you that I grew up Methodist, and we wouldn't be caught dead drawing the kind of attention to ourselves that might attract a news or documentary crew.

More specifically, I grew up in the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, and in the SCC of the UMC, there are (or were in the late 90s), two summer week-long events for youth: Youth Annual Conference (YAC) and Leadership Week.

These events took place on the campuses of either Columbia College in Columbia or Wofford College in Spartanburg. Hundreds of teenagers in college dorms for a week.

I hope you see where this is headed.

The main—and for many people, I suspect, the only—reason for attending either YAC or Leadership Week (which was smaller and more, ahem, intimate) was to meet and hook up with people who didn't go to your school or even live in your part of the state. It was a whole new market! The possibilities were endless! (I use the term "hook up" to apply to a wide range of activities—from snuggling on one of the many couches—so many couches—never before or since have I seen so many couches—to this guy named Tyler, who I'm pretty sure slept with half the girls in the SCC before he was out of high school.)

YAC and Leadership Week were both in July, so ideally you wanted to meet a boy at YAC so your endless love could continue at least through Leadership Week, though if you could sing you could try out for Conference Choir, which toured the state together in June, so if you snagged a man at Conference Choir you were golden for at least two months. There was this guy named Jeff, and it was almost obligatory that if you were a girl in the SCC, you had to have a crush on Jeff at some point. 

One of my lifetime claims to fame is that I never had a crush on Jeff. We really were just friends, and he even wrote me a hilarious parody of "No Scrubs" to cheer me up when I got dumped one time. In a book that would have led us straight to coupledom, but in real life I still didn't have a crush on Jeff.

In August, there was a youth weekend at Lake Junaluska, which was smaller and more heavily chaperoned than events earlier in the summer, so it was hard to start something there, but you could possibly continue a relationship begun in Conference Choir, YAC, or Leadership Week. Once I hung out with the aforementioned Tyler at Lake Junaluska because we rather oddly ended up being the only people there who already knew each other. He later sent me an email saying he would have slept with me if I had been up for it. (Uh, thanks? He never said a word about it at the time—in fact, we spent that entire weekend without a whiff of romance between us. In retrospect, I think Tyler's reputation may have been built entirely by Tyler.)

All of these events had dances on the last night, which seems kind of counterintuitive. If, as a chaperone, you spent your entire week trying to keep these kids off each other, why would you plan a dance of all things? A dance where you had to keep prying them apart to leave room for the Holy Spirit, who according to the UMY Book of Discipline, apparently requires at least six inches?

The great advantage of UMY events, for me, was that these boys didn't know me. They didn't necessarily know I was an introvert who pretended not to be one. They didn't know I talked too much and had no ability to shut up when shutting up might have made me more popular. (Not that I didn't care about being popular, I was just really bad at all the things you had to do to be that way. Still am.) Sometimes boys liked me there! Boys never liked me in real life!

Away from my usual routine, I got to reinvent myself, and I think that's one of the main advantages of summer love. Summer, especially for kids and teachers, is a liminal time and space. It sets us free from the constraints of who we are during the school year and gives us a chance to try new things and be new people.

(P.S. I would love to have had pictures with this post, but I've been in a liminal space of my own for the past few weeks during a cross-country move, and I have no idea where the pictures are. Though there are many, I assure you.)






Tuesday, July 25, 2017

My Love Affair With Summer -- Jen Doktorski


“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Summer is my soul mate. If summer were a person, I would marry it. I love everything about those glorious weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
The fireflies that light up my yard. The smell of honeysuckle, freshly cut grass, pool chlorine, and the ocean. Outside showers after a day at the beach. Suntanned feet. Ice pops and amusement park rides. Nights too hot for sleeping. Singing crickets and cicadas. Laughing seagulls. Kids shouting “Marco” and “Polo” at the town pool.

So if I love summer so much, how did I end up in New Jersey instead of a warmer locale? Someplace like San Diego or Naples, Florida, where it’s summer-like all year round? Because that’s just it. It’s only “like” summer all year round. Summer is more than weather, it’s a state of mind. A Brigadoon-like existence that only lasts about nine weeks each year.

Here’s a glimpse of what I’m lovin’ about summer thus far.
                                                                    Concerts.
 
Kite Night.
 
 
The new Ferris Wheel on the ride pier.
 
 
The view from the top.
 

 
Egrets fishing at dusk.
 
 
Sunsets.
 
 
 
 


 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Summer Love by Sonya Weiss

Blogging about summer love for some reason makes me think of that song from Grease. Now I have that running through my head.

I love summer. I love when the air is so hot that it hurts to draw in a breath. I love the feel of the sunshine soaking through to my bones. I love the bright blue sky and the white fluffy clouds. I love the fresh fruit of the season. Especially watermelons.



Summer is a time just ripe for adventure.

Family road trips. Days at the beach. Tubing down the river or fishing on the lake. It’s grilling hamburgers and sticky Popsicle hugs from little children.

Yet it’s also a time of pain for me. My late father was king of the summer adventurers and an infinite dreamer. He had a can do attitude and was a fascinating storyteller. He was sick a few years before his death with a host of health problems and he had COPD.

Because of low oxygen to the brain, COPD can affect the memory as well as other cognitive functioning. Those who have it will exhibit signs of dementia. They’ll lose track of time. They’ll call you in the middle of the night thinking it’s morning. They become incapable of managing their finances, their self-care and of protecting themselves from those who would prey on the elderly. They can be prone to verbal or physical outbursts toward others.

For his own safety, my father had to go into a nursing home. By then, he wasn’t always lucid. I will never forget that summer day that I called him to check on him and he said in a bewildered, broken voice that makes me weep as I type it, “They put me in a home.”

That was gut wrenching. But the next time that I spoke to him, he didn’t know me. Then he died one summer day and though it was expected, no one really prepares for something like that.

I think about him in the summer when I look up at that bright blue sky.



Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Golden Age of Reading by Christine Gunderson


Our topic this month is summer love. And what’s not to love about summer, especially if you’re a kid? No job, no school, no homework. Just the pool and friends and fun for nine or ten sun-kissed weeks.
And if you’re a certain kind of kid, the type who would rather be with Harry Potter than with real people, then summer is a feast of words.
In a column several years ago, a Washington Post book critic gave a name to this fantastic time in a person’s life. You’re too young to have a job, but old enough to read really good books. He called it the Golden Age of Reading.
If you love books, you probably remember your own Golden Age of Reading. Maybe it was the summer you discovered Theresa May Alcott and devoured all the Little Women books. Or found A Wrinkle in Time. Or The Hobbit.
My Golden Age of Reading started the summer between fourth and fifth grade with Gone with the Wind. Yes, I know. This is totally inappropriate reading material for a ten year old and today’s parents, teachers and librarians would not approve.
Today children are tested to determine something called their Accelerated Reading Level. They’re strongly encouraged to read books that match this number. If I’d had an AR number as a child, Gone with the Wind would not have been on the list of approved reading material.
But I was kid back in the 70’s, so no one was really paying much attention.
We ate Twinkies and hotdogs filled with nitrates while watching Land of the Lost with our legs splayed out at our sides (not crisscross apple sauce) with our eyes inches from the television screen while drinking high fructose corn syrup from plastic cups riddled with BPA.
Our mothers were too busy chain smoking, drinking Tab and watching soap operas to pay much attention to what we were watching or reading. It was a glorious time to be a kid.
Some of my friends starting reading Flowers in the Attic in fifth and sixth grade. Flowers in the Attic is the literary gateway drug that leads to romance novels.
By fifteen they were hopelessly addicted to Barbara Cartland and Victoria Holt. They were hooked on reading and couldn’t kick the habit. And of course, as you might have predicted, some of these girls came to a very bad end.
They became writers.
I try to practice the same form of benign literary neglect with my kids. Every Friday during the summer we go to Barnes and Noble and pick out a new book. I tell them to pick out anything that looks interesting to them, regardless of the AR level or genre. A good book is a good book.
For my nine year old, great literature means a series of wonderful National Geographic books filled with ridiculous facts. He reads them out loud to the rest of us in the car. And it is interesting to learn that ninety percent of all parents steal their children’s Halloween candy. Or that John Adams once had a pet alligator. Who knew, right?
 No can see inside someone else’s imagination. What intrigues me might not intrigue them. What they read isn’t important. It’s the act of reading that matters. My son is learning this as he enters his own Golden Age of Reading.
And there is nothing more satisfying than laying under a tree on a beautiful summer day as a playful breeze ruffles your hair, but you don’t feel it because you’re a thousand miles away, lost in the world a complete stranger created for you using nothing but the words inside his or her head. That’s magic. And having an unlimited amount of time to experience this magic?
That’s heaven.

That’s summer.
###

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Summer of Romance by Chris and Patty Blount

I was trying to think if a topic to fit our Summer Love theme and Chris Blount, my youngest son, said, "Mom, what about writing your characters' first summers together?"

Ding! We have a winner.

What fun. We literally just had this conversation fifteen minutes ago over a bowl of raisin bran. He demanded his name in the by-line so.... there you go.

SEND

Dan Ellison grew up on the Jersey Shore as Kenny Mele. After he and his family fled their home to avoid a murderous dad bent on revenge, they settled on Long Island under new names. Dan loves Long Island beaches. It makes him miss home just a little bit less. His first summer on Long Island, however, follows the heartbreak of the novel. Julie and he are not together. He's depressed. Lonely. Haunted by his past and his delusional alter-ego, "Kenny".

But Dan made some friends during his final year of high school. Lisa and Paul, his team-mates during a debate. And Brandon, the boy who Dan prevented from becoming a perpetrator of school violence. And even Jeff, the guy who tried his best to hurt Dan -- but in the end, did the right thing.

They know what Dan's been through. But they also know Dan needs to find a way to pull himself out of this hell. So one summer morning, Paul picked him up in his Jeep, swung by to snag Brandon, and drove to Cupsogue Beach. Paul took the Jeep to the east side of Moriches Inlet and the three boys dropped some poles in the water, saying little. Every once in a while, Paul woud stick his hand in a cooler and come out with something icy for Dan to drink and the whole time, Kenny's voice in Dan's mind is crying for Julie until eventually, even he notices how peaceful it is, just listening to gulls cry, and waves roll over the rocks.

Brandon stripped down to his trunks and sank under the surface of that cool dark water a few times. So did Paul. Eventually, Dan had to admit it did look... fun? No, not that. Necessary, he decided. So he took off his shirt. Paul had already seen his scars. Nobody said anything. Nobody judged. Waves washed over him.

I like this. Feels like home. Kenny said in his mind. Dan had to agree.

It was much later when Paul asked, "Anybody hungry?"

Weird. Dan hadn't noticed he was hungry until Paul mentioned it. In fact, he was starving. To his shock, Paul went back to the Jeep, unloaded a portable charcoal grill and got it fired up. In that bottomless cooler, he pullsed some hot dogs and tossed them over the hot coals. The boys had themselves a feast.

They spent all day on that small beach. Other four-wheel drives joined them, stayed for no more than an hour or two, but they remained until sunset. They never caught any fish, but there was something soothing in that act -- cast, reel in, cast again. One of the vehicles parked near them was a family's -- mom, dad, toddler. The child's delighted shriek when her toes got wet caught Dan's attention. She reminded him of the baby he'd saved that day from being hit by a car at the Italian Ices shop.

He looked at Paul and Brandon. "Want Italian Ices? I'm buying."

They looked at him for a minute and then at each other. Brandon slung an arm over Dan's shoulder. "Sure, pal. That sounds great."

It took them a little while to pack the Jeep back up, clean all trace of their presence from the beach. But once they were rolling, Dan felt clear. "Guys? Thanks," he said when they'd hit paved roads again.

Paul said nothing. Just reached across the center console and punched Dan's arm. "No problem, man."

Dude. We have friends again, Kenny said.

They're a lot more than that, Dan thought. He made a vow, right there in the passenger seat of Paul's Jeep, that he'd be the kind of friend these guys were to him. Do anything, go anywhere, be whatever they needed from him.

Just as they'd done for him.



SOME BOYS

Summer for Grace is a mixed blessing. On one hand, there's no school, which means there's nobody whispering about her behind their hands, keying up her car, and generally making her life miserable. On the other hand, it's way too hot for kick-ass studded leather boots and black clothes. When Ian suggested a day at the beach, she almost said no.

Bikini? Hell, no!

Not to mention her make-up. It would melt down her face. She actually hit up Google trying to learn how to avoid that. When she realized she'd wasted two hours on that search, she laughed at herself and called Dr. P. for advice.

Dr. Phillips reminded her that the black makeup, the edgy clothes -- they were armor, not courage. All Grace had to do was find a way to feel fierce without them.

Uh huh. Sure. No problem.

So early the following morning, she met Ian at the door wearing a long maxi dress and hat. The only thing black on her were her sunglasses. He gave her a long slow look and grinned. "Am I gonna see what's under there?"

To her complete shock, she felt a blush burn its way up her face. Even more shocking? She really wanted to let him see.

They headed east to Smith Point Park, one of the Fire Island beaches, Ian holding her hand while he drove. "Grace, would you feel more comfortable around people or would you rather have privacy?"

She thought it over and decided, "Privacy."

"Done."

He parked his dad's Camry as close to the entrance as he could and then started lugging stuff from the trunk. There was a long slender case he slung to one shoulder, a soft-sided cooler he handed her, and a tote bag. He stuffed the keys into a pocket of that tote and they started walking -- past the memorial for the crashed airliner, the concession stand, the people on blankets and sand chairs, and the life guard stands. They walked for ages and finally, Ian stopped, took a look around and said, "How's this?"

Grace looked around, too, and nodded. It was like their own private beach. She watched him drop the tote, kick off his sneakers, and unzip that long slender case. Inside was one of those instant tent things. In seconds, he had it upright and staked into the sand. Under the tent, he spread out a blanket he took from the tote and stretched out on it, sighing loudly.

After a second or two of deliberation, she joined him.

From her own bag, she took out a hair tie, coiled her long hair back and up, then readjusted her hat. She kicked off her own shoes -- flip flops today -- and -- after a few seconds' deliberation -- peeled her dress off, revealing a one-piece swimsuit. Black, of course.

She settled next to Ian, her heart beating out a synth  rhythm. Ian turned to watch her.

"What?" She demanded when he said nothing.

He shrugged. "Nothing. Just like looking at you."

"Yeah?" Her body warmed.

"Yeah," he confirmed. "Grace, I want to do more than look."

She immediately sat up and scooted away from him.

"When you're ready," he added, hands up surrender style. "If you want to kiss me, you can. If you want to do more, you can. You need to drive, Grace. I'm just giving you permission."

Permission. Oh, boy. Frowning, she looked over the ocean and tried to sort out her feelings. She did want to kiss him. And do more. But she was scared -- terrified really -- of not being able to. What if she froze? What if, right in the middle of it, she had a panic attack? What if she never would be able to-- and Ian left her?

"Grace, stop."

She turned, met his gaze, her eyebrows raised.

"I can almost hear you thinking. Don't worry. Don't think. Just do whatever you want, okay? That's all I'm saying. Whatever you want. There's nobody here to judge you, okay?"

Maybe this was a mistake. Maybe they should walk back to where the crowds were. Or maybe, maybe she could find her ferocity without the props. She wanted normal. She wanted normal so badly, she could practically taste it. And normal, she decided when she grabbed Ian's face in both hands and tugged him toward her, meant making out with your boyfriend when the opportunity presented itself.

She kissed him the way she'd always wanted to kiss him. He hesitated for about half a second and then kissed her back with the same enthusiasm. It went on and on, lasting for a good five minutes -- maybe longer. When they finally broke apart, staring into each other's eyes and grinning from ear to ear, Grace realized for those five minutes, she hadn't been scared or anxious.

She'd been...happy. And Ian? The big dope was almost wagging his tail like a puppy.

"Let's go in the water. Or we could build a huge sandcastle! Are you hungry? I can go get us some burgers or something."

"It's ten thirty in the morning, Ian."

"Oh. Okay, maybe ice cream? Anything, Grace. Anything you want."

Oh, God. It hit her then, how much his happiness depended on hers. So she made a promise --to herself and to him -- that she would do whatever it took to heal.

"Let's go sit by the water, put our toes in."

"Just our toes?" He teased.

"For now." She held out her hand and when he took it, she walked beside him in the hot sand, dodging shells and bits of seaweed. At the water's edge, she waited for a wave to cover her feet up to the ankles, shut her eyes and sighed.

Everything's better at the beach.








Friday, July 21, 2017

GROWING (HOLLY SCHINDLER)



Yesterday, I found a bunch of baby watermelons in the garden. 
This one's about the size of a large grape.

This one's more the size of a tennis ball.


Funny—I hadn’t noticed that tennis-ball-sized watermelon at all. I’d kind of forgotten, in the midst of picking about nine billion ripening tomatoes, that we’d bought a watermelon plant, actually. And suddenly, there it was.

But I guess that’s how it works, isn’t it? Things grow while you’re not looking. 

Growth always has a way of sneaking up on us. If we didn’t have some sort of marker for it, we might never know it had happened at all. We need our chalk on the wall, marking the difference between how tall we are now and how tall we were last summer. Only these days, my “chalk on the wall” might take the form of cracking open my first published work, reading and marveling at who I was back then, measuring it against who I am now.  It might take the form of looking at the schedule and shape of my days right now—which don’t look like the shape of my days ten, fifteen, twenty years ago.

These days, it seems that looking back is, essentially, my chalk on the wall. It’s how I think we all wind up measuring how far we’ve come. 

In a year or two, I’ll look back on this summer, and I’ll see how I’m different. And I’ll know, even during the summer of the surprise watermelon, when I had my head down writing basically from the early morning hours until well into the night—I was soaking up the sun and the rain and growing every single day.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Summer Love That Stuck Around (Alissa Grosso)

I met my boyfriend on a summer day. Not just any summer day, mind you, but the hottest, most humid New Jersey summer day that ever existed. It was the kind of day, where if you moved just a fraction of an inch sweat would suddenly start pouring out of your body. I dressed in a cotton t-shirt and a loose linen skirt that I thought would help me to survive the sweltering day, but I was still a sweaty mess. Nerves might have had something to do with it.

This was not a "cute meet" as they say in the movies or any other sort of accidental meeting. This was an arranged meeting following a connection via an internet dating site and a series of emails. I was the one that suggested we meet up at a public park. At the time I was thinking about safety. I figured that if he did turn out to be some psychotic killer, which was, in my mind, statistically likely I should be safe in a public park with lots of other people around. It was a park kind-of, sort-of between where we both lived at the time, and my memory from the one other time I was there was that it was a nice place.

Of course, the one other time I was there it was a cooler fall day. I had never been there in the height of summer. I realized my mistake almost the moment I pulled into the parking lot. I had no trouble finding a spot, because the place was practically deserted. Where were all the strangers that were going to keep me safe from this potential psycho killer? "Abort! Abort!" the voice of reason screamed in my head. I was already sweating, profusely, but now I was sweating more profusely, which hadn't even seemed possible.

The parking lot was practically deserted, but not entirely deserted. There was another car there and there was someone in it with her bare feet hanging casually out her open window. So, that seemed pretty weird to me, and possibly it was some sort of omen.

I had arrived a few minutes early, and after a quick scan of the parking lot didn't think Ron (if that was even his real name!) was there yet. We had never exchanged information about the vehicles we drove, believe me, if he had asked that my psycho killer radar would have been pinging like crazy, so that's probably a good thing. Still, it meant we were left to guess at what each other would be driving. I knew that he owned an auto body shop (or so he claimed!) and so expected he might be driving something a bit flashy.

I should probably note here that based on past experiences with men, I had come to the conclusion that lies flowed from their lips in the same way that sweat was flowing out my pores as I got out of my car and began to scope out my surroundings and plot my escape route. A few minutes later a very, extremely nondescript pick-up truck pulled into the lot. I paid it no mind, though I was thankful that at least this park was becoming a little slightly less deserted.

While unbeknownst to me the guy I had been corresponding with online, was trying to figure out the best way to approach the bare feet hanging out the window, which he assumed must be mine. Thankfully, he decided instead to walk around and scope things out, and I caught a glimpse of him and recognized him from his profile picture. So, at least he hadn't used a fake picture.

After some initial hellos we decided to take a walk around the park. We talked about stuff, I think. Honestly, I don't remember. Because at this point there were a lot of screaming thoughts racing around my head. Stuff like "Why is no one at this park?" and "Is everything he said a lie? Is he lying right now?" and, of course, "Good thing I wore flats. Iit will help when he pulls out a gun and I need to make a run for it." I am told that I was able to hold a pretty normal conversation and didn't come across as a complete and total weirdo. So, that's good.



What's also good is that Ron (his actual name!) turned out to not be a psycho killer or a liar and was actually a really nice guy, though it would take me a few more dates before I let my guard down enough to realize that. He even looked past my extreme sweatiness on that first day, and to this day claims he didn't even notice it. So, okay, maybe he tells the occasional fib.

There were more than a few more dates. In fact, there's been 7 years and counting worth of dates including six more return trips to the park where we met on the anniversary of our first meeting, which, I would like to point out, has never been anywhere near as deserted at it was on that first date. The last time we were there for our anniversary there was an entire children's birthday party taking place at the park.

So, if you are a man who is meeting up with a woman you met via the internet, and you are wondering what she's thinking, she is more than likely thinking that you are a murderer and is mentally planning escape strategies. If you're a woman about to meet up with a man you met online he might be a murder and he might not, there's really no way to tell. What I can guarantee you is that no matter how safe and secure and public of a place you pick for a meeting spot as soon as you arrive it will immediately look like the setting of a horror movie, but rest assured that if you survive the date and there are many more to follow, you'll soon find the place to be charming and welcoming.

Alissa Grosso is the author of the books Shallow Pond, Ferocity Summer and Popular. She and Ron recently celebrated their seventh anniversary and released their first music single.  You can find out more about her at alissagrosso.com.