Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What the hell day is it?

Hmmm....the day after I was supposed to write my post. Well, I'm an author, I'm used to missing deadlines.

The reason I blanked on the day is that I'm a teacher (elementary library and computers). So I have two months off every year and I kind of lose track of the days during July. Used to be one month off, but thanks to being published, I can now dedicate summers to writing, and can guiltlessly not sign up to teach summer school.

I've taught for sixteen years, kindergarten, ESL, fourth grade, and now I'm the librarian. And it galls me to say it, but I love my job. Granted, it's not ever try to get a bunch of five year olds to use a damn computers?

"Get it out of your mouth!"

I come from a family of educators. My father, mother, wife, aunt, cousin, and sister-in-law are all veterans of the public school system. My father, incidentally, is not only a retired school superintendent, but was expelled from high school at fifteen. He was only one of two kids in his neighborhood to actually go to high school, if only for two weeks.

So while my dreams of being a 'real' writer with no other responsibilities have not yet come to pass, teaching is a close second.

Yes, I know this post was supposed to be about my teenage summers, but no one wants to read about me stealing street signs and working as a mall survey taker.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have four classrooms to set up.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Summer with student artists (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

Summer jobs figure largely in the memories of my fellow YAOTLers this month, and my teen-job experience was similar, but I’ve already written about that. So I decided to revisit the best summer of my teen years, which I haven’t blogged about in a few years.

My first encounter with an artistic community occurred the summer I was fifteen. I went through a five-week program called the Center for Creative Youth, which still exists. (If you are, or have, an artistic teen of high school age, check it out!) Although I haven’t kept up much with my fellow students, I know that one of them became an influential TV producer (trivia: if you watched the finale of the American version of The Office, you would’ve seen her playing the PBS panel moderator). One of my best friends from that summer, Carrie Rouillard, became an artist and mask-maker, even though she and I were originally in the creative-writing track together at CCY. (See her studio’s page here, and her Facebook page here, for samples of her stunning work.)  
At CCY, high-school students lived in university dorms. Every morning, we took a class in our major subject (writing, dance, music, theater, etc.). Every afternoon, we took an "interdisciplinary" class, where we learned more about the other art forms. (This is where I was first introduced to gamelan.) We had guest artists, and we put on our own performances too. Some students worked at the university radio station. Our writing class produced a literary magazine, and some friends and I started (but alas, never finished) making a film. In the evenings, we went to performances or hung out with one another.

It was the most supportive peer community I'd ever found. While we had our own groups of friends, I don't remember any cliques forming to exclude or bully others. Admittedly, I didn't do much writing that summer. Interacting with other artists for the first time in my life was a powerful experience, and I had more fun watching my artist friends draw, choosing Beatles tunes from the box of cassettes that a friend carried everywhere with him (he always said he could play any Beatles tune you wanted, on the spot), exploring the cemeteries that are part of Wesleyan's campus, or listening to an actress friend practice one of Juliet's speeches. But when I got home, my writing blossomed. Not only did I work on my fundamental writing education (challenging myself to write both Petrarchan and Elizabethan sonnets, for example), but the contemporary fiction I loved to write had a new simplicity and directness. Within a year, I had written the short story that became my first published work.

It may be no accident that the years when I was "on my own" artistically were my least productive. When I began to attend writers' conferences, when I joined SCBWI and started interacting more closely with other writers, my writing blossomed again.  Community isn't just about the technical interchange that occurs with critique, or the nourishment from reading colleagues' books.  There's a synergy that occurs when writers bond. Maybe it's just the validation we give one another that this work is important and difficult and rewarding.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

a new ebook for your summer reading - Alisa M. Libby

I'm thrilled to announce the official release of the ebook of my first book, The Blood Confession. It's on sale for $2.99 with a snazzy new cover. Hooray!

To read more about my writing about the bloody Countess Bathory, check out this previous post where I shared my musical inspiration:

Happy summer to all!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Summers on Ice (Kristin Rae)

Hi!! *waves* 

I'm new to YA Outside the Lines so I'll do a quick introduction. My name is Kristin Rae, I live in Houston with my husband and our two boxers (yes, I'm one of those people that mentions my dogs in my bio because I currently have no human children), I'm backing away from my portrait photography business with my hands up in surrender, and I occasionally lament over the two inches of my height that never came. My YA contemporary debut IF ONLY YOU WERE ITALIAN comes out May 2014 from Bloomsbury and I am SO EXCITED! I'm also extremely thrilled to be HERE with all of these lovely authors! I can't wait to get to know everyone!

Houston summers can be miserable when temperatures reach the triple digits and the air gets so thick with humidity that it's work to breathe. Swimming pools are only a relief until about mid June when they become giant bathtubs. As a teen, I needed something colder, so I spent most of my time at the ice skating rink. I started skating just before I turned thirteen, and when I was old enough (and my mom felt comfortable with me driving the forty-five minutes by myself) I got a job as a rink party hostess in exchange for minimum wage and free ice time. And as soon as I hit eighteen, I ditched the birthday parties and began coaching figure skating classes. 

Here I am at 13 when I started learning to skate backwards.

Summers were crowded at the rink, but it was my favorite place to be. The giddy freedom of gliding across the ice on newly sharpened blades with the chilled air whipping through your hair and across your face. The dizzy rush from spinning too fast or finally landing that jump you've been working on for weeks. Racing your friends or competing to see who could do the most loop jumps in a row or hold their spirals the longest. (Of course, there were some drawbacks to spending all day with your feet bound in tight boots and your body in layers and gloves, then stripping it all off to walk out to your car in the blazing heat = numb fingers and toes that seem to be on fire as they readjust, and some seriously wicked headaches.) 

I haven't been on the ice in years, but sometimes I still dream I'm out there, working on my moves. In my dreams, I jump in slow motion, feeling every turn, landing perfectly every time. I feel the mechanics of each move so precisely, when I wake up I'm confident I can go out there and do it! Too bad that's not the case! 

I miss my summers on ice, but I'm thankful for the memories of them.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Summer Lovin' (Patty Blount)

As Kid Rock sings, we didn’t have no internet, and we didn’t have cell phones when I was a teenager. Summer was all about hanging out. In real life. I had circles of friends. Friends from the neighborhood, friends from school, friends that were my boyfriend’s age (he’s three years old and now my husband).

I grew up in Queens, New York, where trees were a relative scarcity and days felt endless. We didn’t have air conditioning. If it was unbearably hot, we took a bus to the beach or we walked to the movie theater and saw anything that was playing.

We walked everywhere we could. I had my license at sixteen, but that didn’t mean I had a car. To fill those long, lazy hours, we often rode bikes to a park, ate sandwiches packed into the basket on my bicycle, watched hot guys tossing around a ball or a Frisbee, and went home.

I used to babysit frequently. Some days, I’d take my little charges to the playground and we’d run through the sprinkler.On days it rained, we played hours of board or card games, sometimes making up our own rules. 

Some of the best days we had were the ones we coordinated like a black op. Trips to the beach were all-day affairs. One friend had a large car. Another had extra sand chairs. Boom box – can’t forget the music. Food. Is it me or does cold chicken eaten right out of a cooler on a beach just taste better than anywhere else?

Fourth of July was The Big Event every year. My grandparents always had a big event because it was their anniversary. They’d had a boat docked at the College Point Yacht Club for many years and we’d head out on the water, anchor to a group of other boats in some cove, spend the day climbing from boat to boat to sample food, waiting for the damn sun to set already so the real show could start. We’d sit on the deck - didn’t matter where because every seat was the best. As the boats drifted around their anchors, we could see fireworks lighting up the sky for miles around.

Being with friends was cool but sometimes, I just wanted to be alone in the shade with a really good book so I could escape from my hugely annoying sister or my parents, always arguing (who would divorce when I was twenty). I read the VC Andrews books in the shade cast between two garden apartment buildings, sitting on a wall that led to the garages under one of them. I read Judy Blume at the bus stop on Francis Lewis Boulevard, a tiny triangle of concrete lined with trees to shade me from the hot sun and a constant breeze from the traffic whizzing by. Not that I noticed.

My first date, my first boyfriend, my first kiss all happened in July. When we were kids, we hated when July ended because August meant it was time to think about school. Funny, I can't remember any of us ever complaining we were bored or hot. 

We knew July would be over soon. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Worst summer job ever (Lauren Bjorkman)

A few months after my 16th birthday, my dad gave me a choice: Find a full-time job or work all summer as his slave. The next week, I filled out applications at dozens of places, and got hired as a stock clerk at a women’s clothing store.

The first days on the job were boring and horrible. I put ugly clothes on hangers and steamed away wrinkles. Blouses and pleated skirts invaded my dreams. Whenever the owner’s son leaned over my shoulder to tell me how to handle the hideous “merchandise,” his bad breath would curl my hair. The radios in the workrooms were tuned to ONE station, KGO News Talk radio. On my first shift, I became an expert on the Air Traffic Controller’s strike. By the third shift, I would’ve chewed off my right arm to bring the strike to an end. One of the salesladies snagged all the commissions, leaving the other two in tears at the end of each day. I ate lunch alone.

Luckily things got better. I got permission to change the radio in the clothes-steamer room to a rock and roll station. Though I foolishly got into an argument with the owner’s son over politics, he didn’t fire me (a mixed blessing, but still). 

The best part of the job was meeting an elderly Japanese woman that altered clothes for the customers. The first day I worked near her station, she kept glaring at me. When I finally asked her what was wrong, she just wanted to show me how to hang shirts without unbuttoning them, a trick I still use.

After that, I started eating lunch with Toshi, and my days got less lonely. Then she was fired (No kidding. This workplace sucked). On her last day, she invited me to a shamisen performance. Seeing her smiling among her friends and playing so beautifully choked me up. Though she’d just experienced a setback (and probably an injustice), she could still be happy doing what she loved.

Without meaning to, she taught me something important. Or maybe she meant to all along.

Friday, July 19, 2013

My Most Prized Possession--and My Favorite Teen Summer Memory by Jamie Manning

I would bet all I have that every writer started out as a voracious reader. I was no exception. Books were (and have always been) an escape for me, a way to disappear into a world where I could be the hero, the villain, the survivor, or even the victim. From R.L. Stine to Stephen King and everything in between, I've loved books almost as far back as I can remember.

But one book in particular stands above the rest. Not because it has the prettiest cover. And not because I enjoyed it the most. Not even because it's the most well-written. No. The reason it sits on a shelf all alone (actually it's shrink-wrapped and protected in a secret location. Yes, I'm that weird.) is because of the sentimental value attached to it. Now, I'm sure you're thinking, "Ooh, the author of said book must've written something really special and heartwarming and personal in there" for it to mean so much to him. Alas, no. The author never signed my copy of this book. In fact, I've never met him. Probably never even been in the same city at the same time as this writer. But there is an inscription inside. And yes, it's really special and heartwarming and personal. Even just thinking about it now for the purpose of this blog post is stirring emotions inside that are both painful and comforting.

The book is Sidney Sheldon's WINDMILLS OF THE GODS. Ever heard of it? It was a big deal back in the day, when Mr. Sheldon was at the height of his career. It was even a TV movie in the late 80s, just after its release. And I loved reading it. I loved reading all of Sidney Sheldon's novels, actually. When it comes to international intrigue and romance, none come close to his caliber. But this book is special to me because it was the first book ever given to me. Sure, I'd bought plenty of books myself (or rather, my mom bought books for me; I was just a kid, mind you.), and I cherished each and every one--still do. But being given a book is its own kind of special, you know? Especially when it comes from someone who knows how much you love to read. Getting a book from a loved one who took the time to actually pick it out for you holds so much meaning. It's that person's way of saying, "Hey, I see you." I can't explain how important it is for a child--or anyone, really--to know that someone out there sees them.

This book was given to me by my grandmother, who died almost twenty years ago, when I was still a teenager. To this day, the most precious memories I have are of the summers I spent with her. We would waste away our days going to yard sales and flea markets and little hole-in-the-wall curio shops (she loved that sort of thing, finding hidden gems in the oddest of places) and our nights watching TV or talking about what our tomorrow would hold. I can remember so vividly how excited I would get knowing that school was almost out for the year, and I was only days away from getting to spend infinite one-on-one time with the best grandmother ever. When she bought me that book (yep, you guessed it: from a yard sale), I was shocked and thrilled and spent the next few hours holed up under the gazebo in her back yard overlooking a lake, reading like there was no tomorrow. The pages of that book were filled with characters and places I'd never seen or heard of before (it was my first "adult" novel), and I was in pure heaven. But the page that I remember, word for word, was penned not by the author, but by a woman who showed me how much she loved me, who showed me that she saw me, that I mattered. It was the blank page at the very front, just after you open the cover. A page completely overlooked by everyone, myself included. But not this one. Not in this book. This page means the world to me. And as far as teen summer memories go, this one is by far my most cherished--and the one I'm so very lucky to have.

I'm not sharing the inscription here today, because those words are for me only. I will say this, however: If ever you are given the opportunity to change the life of someone you love simply by taking a moment to see them, do it. We all know that books have power. But we sometimes forget that we have power, too. The power to change lives, just as books do. The power to let someone else know that they matter in this world, that they are just as important as everyone else.

I love you, Grandma, and miss you oh so much. Thank you for that book. And thank you for filling my mind and heart with so many memories, I'll never tire of visiting them.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


From the summer before high school until the summer in-between my first and second years of grad school, I was in—well—school.  Summer school.  I did it in high school so that I could quickly plow through classes I hated (gym—uuugh).  And in college, I did it so that I could get through my undergraduate work in four years and grad school in two years…or bust.  (Long story short, it involved my funds for tuition.  It was imperative to get out in that time period.)  

I’d been at summer school so long that I didn’t think anything of it the summer after my junior year in college, when I went whole hog and took ten hours of coursework. That’s one class shy of a full load during a regular semester.  One lit class, one ed class, bio, and—well—gym.  Again.  Aerobics, actually—yep, it was the ‘90s.  

And while that sounds like a lot of work—and it was—I also remember having some fantastic and very “summery” times throughout all those years, even though I was also in school.  I remember starting up a conversation with a fellow classmate, only to have that conversation turn into my first long-term relationship.  I remember many quiet evenings on the front porch of a house a friend of mine rented near the campus.  Going to hear a new band play at a club downtown and meeting the bassist, who is still a friend to this day.  

The workaholic who has no time for a personal life is, I think, an unfair cliché.  I love a challenge.  I always say there’s actually something kind of thrilling about getting through an inordinate amount of work in a short period of time.  I can’t stand to be unproductive…I think I’m actually at my best with a full plate, because I’m more satisfied.  I’m happier with myself.  So—yes, I work a lot.  But I’m pretty darn good at making sure I connect with the people who are important in my life, too.  I sometimes think that this balance is actually the greatest lesson I ever learned in all those years of summer school…

This summer, I’m juggling my own writing, doing some early promo work for a forthcoming release, helping my brother with his own antiques business, making time for Skype with long-distance friends, and still carving out time to sit outside and watch a sunset or two…

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Summer Memories by Wendy Delsol

I grew up in the Detroit area, so it’s only fitting that cars and cruising first come to mind. Convertibles. Gratiot Avenue. Woodward Avenue. Chinese fire drills. And a drive-through cemetery. Yes, cemetery. Very disrespectful, I know, but we were young, bored, and (quite frankly) clueless.
Metropolitan Beach on Lake St. Clair was always a hit. As well as Stony Creek for picnics. And we used to hang out at the various ethnic festivals. My friend Kathy even married a guy we met at the German Festival (or was it Greek?) on her 16th birthday.
You can’t grow up in Michigan and not love lakes. I will always associate summer with swimming and boating on beautiful lakes. I was lucky enough to have cousins who lived on the Canadian side of Lake St. Clair and a friend whose family had a cottage (again on the Canadian side) of Lake Huron.
Trumping all of the above for teen fun were concerts at Pine Knob (which via a little internet sleuthing I see is now named DTE Energy Music Theatre). Back then, what were ski slopes in the winter became an outdoor amphitheater for music in the summer. The cheap seats were on the hill, which was fine with us. I was a regular back in the late 70s and early 80s when acts such as The Doobie Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, The Beach Boys, James Taylor, Neil Diamond, Chicago, and Neil Young and Crazy Horse were headliners. We were always a group of a dozen or so, and the concerts went on rain or shine. And mudslides down the hillside were part of the show on those few rainy occasions. Crazily enough, purchasing tickets was half the fun. We’d line up overnight, camping on the pavement. And, yes, as a mother of two teens, I marvel at my own mother’s lenience. Different times…
To pay for my social life, there was the odd summer job. Or two. I stocked shelves at a drugstore and waited tables at Buddy’s Pizza. And, for the record, Buddy’s Pizza is still my favorite pizza even though I haven’t lived in Michigan for almost thirty years.

Happy summer, everyone. Hope you’re making your own memories.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Summer I Was Invisible by Jody Casella

When I was fourteen my best friend--I'll call her Annie--was everything I longed to be. Beautiful. Confident. Funny. She had a wide smile that showed all her teeth, a real smile that conveyed her happiness and feelings about herself and her life.

Contrast that with how I saw myself: Gawky. Plain. Awkward. Insecure. I didn't know how to smile like Annie did. Most of the time, I didn't bother.

I actually had some good reasons for not smiling, but not many people around me (including Annie) knew that. And I tried not to think about those things too specifically. My life was the way it was, and I was acutely aware that I could not change it.

Something I began noticing the summer I was fourteen was how other people began noticing Annie.

We'd be out walking or riding our bikes or browsing in the mall or swimming at the local pool, and boys would stare, older teens would whistle. Sometimes grown men would call out Hey baby!  

Annie would blush and smile that smile, and we'd continue walking or biking or browsing or swimming.

It bothered me, for a variety of reasons--those whistles and hoots. I was a budding feminist and it seemed wrong to me that boys--men!--felt entitled to express that kind of admiration so blatantly.

But when I expressed these concerns with Annie, she smiled. She didn't mind guys ogling her. She kinda liked the attention, liked knowing people thought she was attractive.

It was impossible for me to understand. Annie probably didn't understand me either.

I was so uncomfortable with myself back then. Walking in a pretty girl's shadow confirmed what I felt about myself: I was not worth looking at. I was invisible.

At the end of the summer Annie came along on a camping vacation with my family. Oh, the boy in the camper next door was soooo cute. Annie and I watched him through the window of our pup tent and plotted different ways of introducing ourselves. We roped my little brother into paving the way for a meeting. The boy (let's call him Peter) turned out to be cool and eager to hang around with us.

The first night we got together, I watched Peter stare at Annie. I watched Annie joke and smile back. After a few hours of fun flirty banter, Peter asked us if we wanted to go for a walk.

Annie jumped right up, then she looked over at me. "You're coming too, right, Jody?" she asked.

"No," I said, without even thinking about it. It was clear the Peter and Annie liked each other, that they really didn't want me tagging along. Yeah. Whatever. I sighed, as I watched them walk off together.

They were inseparable the rest of the week.

When school started in the fall, even though Peter lived several towns away, he and Annie fell into a serious romance that lasted for most of high school. I ended up being pretty good friends with Peter, and years later when he and Annie broke up, he swung by my house once to say hi.

I don't know what made me ask him. It just blurted out, this thing I'd always wondered: "What did you think of us--of me and Annie--that first time we all met at the campground?"

Peter shrugged. He laughed. He scratched his chin.

"You know what?" he said finally. "When I first saw you two, that first night, I couldn't tell you apart. Isn't that funny?"

There is more to this story and a million ways I could tell it. But I will stop at this part--the part where I learned that how I viewed myself was not necessarily how other people viewed me.

And if I was invisible, it was only because I had chosen to believe it.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Summer Concerts (Stephanie Kuehnert)

My favorite teenage summer memories revolve around music and concerts. My favorite teenage memories period revolve around music and concerts actually. I went to a LOT. Like I can't even count how many. I have a bunch of ticket stubs in my scrapbook, but that probably accounts for less than half of the concerts I actually attended since I spent a lot of time at the Fireside Bowl, a bowling alley that hosted punk shows (which appears in both of my books!), and they didn't sell tickets. But summer meant big outdoor concerts and festivals.

My best festival memory of them all was Lollapalooza 1995. This was back when Lollapalooza was still a traveling show and it was ALSO back when you could not get tickets on the internet. For big concerts like Lolla, my friends and I would get up at the asscrack of dawn to sit outside our local Ticketmaster branch at the Carson Pirie Scott department store at the North Riverside Mall (yes, where Kara and Cass from Ballads of Suburbia met while shoplifting... and where I met my BFF while shoplifting). They would do a lottery system to discourage the whole getting-there-before-sunrise-to-wait-for-tickets thing, but we always got there early just in case they would decide to be nice and let the people who got there first have the first crack at tickets (because that was actually FAIR).

Lollapalooza 1995 had an INSANE line-up, including Pavement, Beck, The Jesus Lizard, Sinead O'Connor (who canceled the Chicago date, but Elastic played instead which almost made up for it), headliners, Sonic Youth, and the band who totally saved my teenage life, Hole. I was dying to see it all and to see Courtney Love especially as close up as I could. So I got there to the North Riverside Mall at like 6 am with my BFF and we stood outside until 9:30 when they came out to draw lottery numbers and for the first and only time luck was on my side and I DREW FIRST PLACE. As a result we got FRONT ROW TICKETS!!!!!

I was practically THIS CLOSE for Courtney!

Picture I cut out of the paper from the review of the show
I made a booklet of my poetry and tried to throw it onstage to her. (I doubt she ever got it.) I had the best time I ever had at a festival. Another group of my friends had lawn tickets, so we would go out to them and pass off the front row ticket, sometimes subbing out depending on who liked what band. Then we figured out that one person with a front row ticket could go out to the lawn with another person's front row ticket and bring a lawn person back. By the time Sonic Youth was on (who was ALL adored), like all 12 of our friends were squeezed into our five or six seat space and we TOTALLY GOT AWAY WITH IT!.

So yeah, that was my most epic summer concert experience.

I am actually having one today, too, because it is my birthday and I've just moved to Seattle where Sub Pop also happens to be celebrating their birthday (or their silver jubilee as they put it!) with a free concert. Mudhoney is probably the band I am most excited to see and I saw them in the summer of 1995, too (but inside, not at Lollapalooza). I think it's gonna be one of the best summer concerts/birthdays ever!

What about you? What was your favorite summer concert? Have you seen any yet or do you have any cool ones lined up?

Friday, July 12, 2013

How NOT To Make The Most of a Summer in the South of France (Jennifer Castle)

Not long ago, I was flipping through a magazine and randomly saw this photo, which caused me to have a Nostalgia'splosion:

I have walked through this picture. The July after my sophomore year in high school, I spent three weeks here with a French family hosting me as a summer exchange student. Their daughter, Alex, was my age, and wherever we went, she referred to me as “ma couresse Americaine.” She didn’t like me very much. But I was a girl from Westchester County spending her vacation on the Riviera instead of the town pool. I drank Gini lemon sodas and wore mini-dresses so short they barely covered the curve of my butt cheeks. I grew fluent in the language and developed a deep, unapologetic tan that made the whites of my eyes pop like bleach stains. Two days into my stay, I traded my one-piece Speedo swimsuit for a bright turquoise string bikini decorated with tiny pearls.

In the mornings, breakfast with fruit and croissants and hot chocolate in small bowls at a long table on the balcony draped in a red and white checked tablecloth. Then, the beach until lunch, the pool all afternoon. At night, we’d hook up with a dozen or so other teens from all over Europe and make our way to a club in town.

That day with the magazine, these memories overtook me, having not thought about St. Tropez in years. I had to catch my breath. How awesome that I had this experience! At home, later, I looked for and miraculously found the thin brown steno notebook I used as a journal that summer. On the front was my name -- spelled "Jennie" with an IE like I did back then -- in tiny script handwriting that’s half the size I use now. And I started to read.

I read about being on the plane and feeling nervous and excited and sweetly hopeful about my summer. I read about meeting the family and settling in to my room, and the strangeness of putting ketchup on rice and how couples actually danced together at Alexandra’s end-of-school party. Ah, memories. So far so good.

But then I was reading about how one day Alex is friendly, the next she’s cold and snotty and thinks I take too many showers. I’m coaching myself about being more relaxed and outgoing, and to ask for things that I want even if I can’t find the right French vocabulary words. I buy a copy of Saul Bellow’s “Seize the Day” because it’s one of the few English language books in the nearby bookstore, and make it my new “motto” so that these European teens will like me and maybe, just maybe, I’ll kiss a boy before summer’s over. SEIZE THE DAY!, I write in big block letters across the top of one page.

Worst of it all, yet so tenderly familiar, is how I can’t stop talking about how "fat" I am. I’m using words like “thunder thighs” and “cellulite” and trying to diet -- DIET! -- during my month in France. Every second or third day, I berate myself for losing my willpower and swear to start again in the morning. I’m looking in the mirror nightly and searching for where the pretty might be. All the other girls go topless on the beach because it's normal here, but I just can't do it, too ashamed of what I don't have.

By the time I was done, when the journal had taken me through St. Tropez and up to Paris for a week with my mother and then ended abruptly, I was overcome with ironic regret, and my heart…my heart ached with a type of sadness you can only feel many years after the fact of something.

Because you know, I have always looked at photos of myself from that summer and thought it was the most attractive I’ve ever been. The thinnest, the fittest, the most poised on the edge of a fabulous young adulthood I have ever been.

Now when I think of St. Tropez, the memory is spiced bittersweet and forces me to look at the insecurities I had then, and the ones I have now, and whether any of them have really changed. I still have that damn hot turquoise bikini. It's so tiny, I could gluestick it onto a scrapbook page. I'll never get rid of it because it's connected to everything that summer was, and continues to be. It wasn't exactly the stuff of juicy romantic YA novels, but it was all mine for better or worse, and that alone makes me want to hug this girl:

I posted a version of this story on my own blog about two years ago, but I'm telling it again, here, because the irony of it haunts me still. SEIZE THE DAY indeed. I hope you can revel in the good moments of this summer, learn from the bad ones, and embrace all of them as part of who you are.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Summer at the Pool--Jan Blazanin

From elementary school through my early teens, summer meant hanging out at the Adel swimming pool. Although our town was small, we had our own public pool, which, in my mind, put us a step above the surrounding towns. The pool was more than 25 years old and not in top condition, but my summer fun revolved around it. 

My family lived in the country, and my mom and dad both worked, so Grandma Eva-who lived in town--had the thankless job of putting up with us until we left for the pool. Sadly for her, it didn’t open until 2:00 to insure the required two hours to digest our lunch. Without that cushion of time, all the swimmers would sink like rocks and litter the pool bottom with their lifeless bodies.

Every day around 1:30, Dan and I started walking so we could arrive at the pool the second it opened. Dressed in our swimsuits with our towels slung around our necks, we plodded on the steaming asphalt to the park. Rubber flip-flops, my summer footwear, didn’t do much to protect my feet from the hot tar. And my moaning and complaining didn't make the walk any faster or more pleasant.

We invariably arrived early and were waiting when the pool door opened. After showing our season tickets, we collected our locker keys, which were attached to ugly pins that left holes in our swimsuits. I quickly learned to pin the key to my beach towel.

The women’s locker room was bare bones with damp concrete floors, wooden benches, metal lockers, and curtained shower stalls. Everyone was supposed to shower before entering the pool, but I skipped that step. Suppose I got my hair wet! There was no avoiding the dank “foot bath” we had to wade through to reach the pool area. I don't want to imagine what was growing in that stagnant water.

Inside the fenced area I looked for my friends where we hung out near the deep end. We spread our beach towels on the burning cement, gossiped, and worked on our tans. There wasn’t much actual swimming, just occasional dips in the water to cool off. Our “sunscreen” of baby oil and iodine speeded the tanning process, or, in my case, the burn that always preceded the tan. My skin was saved from complete destruction because Mom swung by at 3:30 to take us home.

When I turned fourteen, summer jobs began cutting into my pool time. My first job was detasseling corn: hot, sticky, stinky, sweaty, dirty work. 

After that I “helped” in my mom’s office at the county courthouse. (My "help" mostly increased her stress.) 

For two summers I sorted eggs at a chicken farm. At the time I didn't think about how inhumane it was. Now the conditions those poor birds lived in gag me.

One memorable summer in college I worked at a mall shoe store under--literally, if he'd had his way--a lecherous manager who ended up in jail. But that’s a story for another post. (I looked for a dirty old man photo, but none of them did him justice.)

This month Adel shut down the crumbling old pool and opened a new aquatic center.

It's doubtful anyone will miss the "character" of the old pool, but it left me with some great memories.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Summer Memories (Jenny O'Connell)

What I loved:
  • waking up to the smell of fresh cut grass on Fridays (when the lawn guys came every week)
  • eating dinner in the screened in porch with my family (grilled chicken, corn on the cob and my mom's tuna and pasta salad)
  • going out for Carvel with my family after dinner (large chocolate cone with rainbow sprinkles)
  • sleeping with my bedroom windows open (or with the AC blaring on really hot humid nights)
  • reading books, lots of them (Norma Klein was my favorite author)
  • babysitting kids at our country club while the moms played tennis (the moms paid me to play with their kids in the pool and feed them ice cream - and they each paid me by the hour and I could watch at least six kids at a time!)
  • the sound of frogs ribbit-ing in the pond beside our house (even though I do not like frogs)
  • the sound of crickets at night (not a big fan of crickets either)
  • the smell of skunk (which is why I started my novel LOCAL GIRLS with this exact memory)
  • getting a paycheck (when I started having summer jobs)
  • spending my paycheck (mostly on clothes)
  • keg parties on the beach (and running away when we saw the flashing lights of a police car coming our way)
  • looking forward to school (around August, when the thought of a new school year was still exciting)
There are more specifics associated with each summer growing up (like spending a few weeks with my friend Carrie in the Hamptons and how we snuck out of our bedroom window every night and met a bunch of kids on the beach and stayed out until just before dawn). But when I think about my summers as a whole, it's the sounds and smells and feeling of contentment that were always consistent no matter how old I was. Now I look at that list and, except for the babysitting, keg parties and school, I still try to do all of those things every summer (well, I need a paycheck all year round now, but you get the idea).

Monday, July 8, 2013

Me and Denny: My Teen Memories of Summer by Kimberly Sabatini

In case you're wondering--Denny was never my boyfriend. We had a completely different kind of relationship and it wasn't always pretty. I can even prove it. If you look closely you'll see the "very attractive" outfits I was wearing during my teenage summers and spring breaks. * shudders *

Every summer I read books and dreamt about sleep-away camps, new best friends and the perfect summer romance. I wanted the chance to reinvent myself. But instead I wore a hideous, green, polyester uniform and waited on ALOT of obnoxious families pit-stopping on their drive to their vacation destination. But I'm an optimist and I'm here to tell you that several really great things came out of my time serving Grand Slams...

*I went to college on the "Denny's Scholarship Fund." Due in part, to my amazing ability to charm more than one senior citizen and hustle like waitressing was an Olympic event, I got through four years of college with only one small school loan.

*I also learned not to take my college education for granted because I knew exactly what I had to do to earn it.

*With the help of a lovely, fellow waitress named Pat, I now know why you NEVER heat up hard boiled eggs in the microwave. That table of ladies, who hit the ground like a land mine was going off, probably still tells that story too.

*I learned that, no matter how hard you try to do everything right, you will find a dead fly in Al Roker's kid's chocolate milk after you've served it. (I'm just waiting for one of my books to hit it big time so I can go on TV and laugh about this story with him.)

*I also learned that Karma has your back. There were two rude ladies with several obnoxious kids who made the BIGGEST mess I've ever seen under a table. A mess so gigantic I needed a shovel to clean it up, but since I didn't have one, I was down on my hands and knees. It was when I was down on the floor underneath table three, fuming because they didn't leave a tip, that I realized they'd dropped a $20.  Any other time I would have run it out to the people as they were still getting into the car. This time I just smiled and waved.

*I learned a lot about the power of earworms (An earworm is a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person's mind after it is no longer playing.) I started off almost every Saturday morning by sneaking up on Bonnie and singing the Hanes Underwear commercial to see if she'd still be singing it at the end of our shift. * grin * She always was.

*I discovered that the best and most respected managers know how to do everything their staff is supposed to do. They pitch in when needed. They are respectful and fair. Anything less than this caused huge problems.

*I was pleased to learn, more often than not, happiness is contagious. If you proof a senior citizen for a 65+ meal they will find you charming. And if you ask someone to "walk this way" and proceed to the table waddling like a duck--there is always one cool person who will waddle after you.

*I'm not sure why this learning curve was so hard for some people---BE NICE TO THE COOKS!!!!! They will bury your checks, screw up your orders and do mean things to your own breakfast if you get on their bad side. And yes, they did have bets about who would be the first waitress to cry every day. Seriously--life lesson--do not bite the hand that feeds you.

*You do not want to deep clean a juice dispenser or a hot fudge pump. Avoid that job any chance you get.

*Murphy's Law--the less money you made that day, the more side work (cleaning) had to be done.

*I really love crispy hash browns.

*The more miserable a job, the better the stories and memories become. Life is cool like that.

Tell my your best Denny's story--I know you have one.

Sunday, July 7, 2013


The summer between senior year and college, I took a job as a ‘marketing assistant/intern' with a woman who had started her own scarves and accessories business. Full disclosure: she was the older sister of a woman whose kids I’d babysat during high school. Fuller disclosure: The McDonald’s job that I had thought would be ‘fun in an ironic sort of way’ had lost its luster after like, um, 3 weeks. This seemed like just the thing.

Here is how M (my employer) described the job to me: “I can only pay you minimum wage, but you will learn everything about starting your own business. You will help me with marketing and packaging and you will make calls on the stores with me, and I will even teach you about fashion and design.”

Well, who wouldn’t take that summer job, right? Goodbye Mickey D’s! I’m a marketing intern, suckas! Plus Northwestern started later than all the state schools so I could keep working into early September! This was a DREAM COME TRUE!

Uh uh.

Here’s what I actually did that summer: For 8 hours a day, I worked in the loft M had rented for her new business, called something like Accessories by M (it wasn’t exactly that and it used her whole name). What did I do? Well, I will let this film clip speak first:

 Get the idea? Only you really DON’T. Because now what you need to do is substitute in 6 middle-aged women who spoke ONLY POLISH. They cut material and sewed scarves and some of these scarves were sort of double sided because THAT WAS M’s TRADEMARK THING. So the Polish ladies would sew them inside out and then hand them to ME. And I would take this wooden stick and poke it through a tiny hole and turn them right side out. After which I would iron and fold them. And the regular scarves? I would fold those, too. And package them into boxes.

8 hours a day. While listening to the 6 women speak Polish. Which I suppose I could have learned, but instead I watched soap operas and talk shows on the tiny TV that M provided. The Polish ladies loved All My Children. Also General Hospital. And pretty much every other soap.

Erica Kane and folding scarves.
That was my summer before college.

You would think that this made me an ambitious, highly motivated student who knew the black hole of minimum wage employment. You would think.

What was your worst minimum wage job? I would love to hear your stories!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Teen memories of the real New Jersey shore

Summer always begins and ends for me at the New Jersey shore. The real one.
Come Memorial Day, that line from the song “Jersey Girl,” written by Tom Waits and released as a b-side by Bruce Springsteen in 1984, inevitably pops into my head. “`cause down the shore everything's all right…”

As a teen, I couldn’t wait for that first trip “down the shore,” which is how I grew up describing a visit to my state’s wonderful beaches. Once I crossed the bay bridge to the barrier islands, I remember feeling like I could finally breathe. 

Each summer, my family rented a beach house in one of New Jersey’s small coastal towns. Ortley Beach, Lavalette, Ocean Beach, Seaside Park. These are the towns directly north and sound of the one-mile strip of boardwalk in Seaside Heights made popular and distorted by Snooki and her intoxicated entourage. I never watched the show, but my memories of my teen years spent at the New Jersey shore are no doubt very different from what people think they know.
Here’s what I remember most.

Mini-golf and the arcade at Barnacle Bill’s.
Breakfast at the Sunny Hunny pancake house.

Hoping to get stuck at the top of the Ferris wheel with a cute boy.

Fourth of July fireworks on the beach.
An outdoor shower after a long day in the sun. The smell of shampoo mixing with sea air.

Soft ice cream at Charlie’s.
Sunsets on Barnegat Bay.

Bike rides on the boardwalk.
Teen night at the Surf Club.

Shopping at B&B Department Store.
Buying a Boogie boards and just about anything else you could think of—from sunscreen to refrigerator magnets—at the Ben Franklin five and ten.

Riding the Himalaya to the sounds of 80s metal.
Meeting at the “Bon Jovi stage,” where the band filmed the video for “In and Out of Love” on the Seaside Heights boardwalk.

Reading Seventeen magazine on the beach and dreading the arrival of the back-to-school issue.

Sadly, these memories have been made even more poignant in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The rides pictured here became iconic images of the aftermath of the storm. When this post goes live, I’ll be “down the shore,” a different one from the place where I spent my teen years. But even in recovery mode, it’s still the place where everything feels all right.