Hello friends! I met you a few weeks ago when I had the honor of kicking off the release of Camp Joy (have you bought it yet?) with a little essay about being an indoor kid. I’m thrilled to be here as a contributor to Sunday posts, which are one of my favorite things to read!
This Sunday feels particularly special for me: I live in Sacramento, California, but I’m spending the week in Philadelphia at the Lambda Literary Writer’s Retreat For Emerging LGBTQ Voices and it begins today. As a writer, I’m so grateful for opportunities to be in community, focus on my work for a week, and spend time with other queer writers, but I am nervous, too — feels like the first day of school. Will I have people to eat lunch with? What if my clothes are all wrong? Do I have the right notebook? Please send me good vibes and your best recommendations for what I should eat (cheesesteaks) in Philadelphia, where I can buy more books I don’t need, and where I should explore when I’m not writing in queer utopia.
When I return home, believe it or not, I go back to my job teaching middle school. Summers feel shorter and shorter, and this one flew by! I love summer, but I also love the beginning of the school year. Even though I am 40, I use it as a time to buy new school supplies, to set new goals, and get my life together. I’m excited to meet the new 7th and 8th graders I’ll be spending the year with, to buy new notebooks and pens (I’ll share some faves down below!), and enjoy a fresh start. The beginnings of things are usually the most fun, right?
I hope that whether you’re still living it up mid-summer or getting ready for back-to-school craziness, these links help you feel ready to tackle the week!
• Speaking of beginnings, this four-ingredient peanut butter cookie recipe is the first recipe from Joy the Baker that I ever made! I remember thinking, “Wow, someone else made paper clip retainers? We could absolutely be friends!” and look at us now, deep into solid friendship. I’m glad that 2009 me made those cookies. Since then, I’ve expanded my ever-expanding list of favorite JTB recipes: Lemon Chess Pie, Cheeseburger Fried Rice (inspired by Red’s in NOLA, where Joy, my wife, and I shared a memorable meal during a visit), and this Plum Lemon Curd Cake. A life rule I strictly adhere to is that when I want to bake, I check JTB first because her recipes have never let me down. (Joy the Baker)
• I love handwriting (and, no brag but actually big brag: I have beautiful handwriting) and I loved this piece about how the digital age means we rarely get to see one another’s handwriting, and it’s like losing a window to their soul. I think a lot about what we’re losing when it comes to digitizing everything. (Instagram, The Atlantic)
• My top recommendations for school supplies: this Appointed Notebook (where I take notes, write morning pages, etc.) and this Muji pen (my #1 writing utensil love, though I will use an InkJoy almost as happily). I’ve never been much of a pencil person, but this summer, I’m using them for some big dreaming and planning, and I recommend Blackwing for BIG notebooks, great pencils, and the smoothest pencil sharpener of my dreams. I also bought myself a new lunchbox to hopefully make feeding myself at work fun, or at least bearable. I’m worth it. (Julia Cameron Live, Amazon, Target, Baggu)
• One of my favorite things to write is satire, and I’m really looking forward to teaching this Introduction to Satire Writing class for The Porch! It’s virtual! It’s for beginners or folks looking for a refresh on their humor writing skills. Come learn how to satirize the things that make you feel bonkers (I’ve written about the Trader Joe’s parking lot and mocked Ernest Hemingway) and write for humor websites like McSweeney’s and Slackjaw. (The PorchTN, McSweeneys)
• Even though I’m headed back to school soon, we still have quite a bit of heat ahead of us here in California, and these are my favorite summer essentials: these Birkenstocks, this packable sun hat, this float (the backrest is perfect for reading and the attachable drink holder is a game changer — a water, a fun beverage, and a phone pocket?! YES!!), and this water bottle. (Birkenstock, Baggu, Amazon, Owala)
• For summer dinners, I’m really into this peach panzanella salad because I don’t like tomatoes (can we still be friends?). I’ve also discovered a love of barbecuing over the past few summers, and am planning to attempt my first barbecued ribs before grill weather is gone. (Delish)
• I titled this playlist with just the sparkle emoji ?mostly because I’m bad at titles, but I tried to channel all of my sparkling summer teen feelings into this eclectic little list. If I had to recommend one song that captures the vibe of my summer, it’s Thunder Thighs. (Spotify)
• Being asked for and providing book recommendations is a love language for me. Some recent favorites: Old Enough (beautifully written book about growing up, queerness, and community), Pineapple Street (a book about rich people who are likeable, family, and finding who we are — this is the epitome of a perfect summer read to me), and my friend Lillian’s book, Everybody’s Favorite (a collection of essays about OCD, perfectionism, how funny nakedness is, and hilarious family stories — I laughed out loud so many times). If you like books that are deep and emotional, I also loved Where Reasons End, which is heartbreaking and profound, and will stick with me forever. You can see all my recs on my Goodreads profile or on Instagram where I do a monthly reading report and keep favorites on a Highlight. (Bookshop)
• In my opinion, summer is excellent for reading short stories (specifically, in the sun, drifting off to a nap or in between swims, popsicle or ice cream required). A few favorites: The Swimmer by John Cheever, Unknown by Bennett Sims, and The Hearts of Our Enemies by Dantiel Moniz (whose whole short story collection is incredible). (The New Yorker, Kenyon Review, Yale Review, Bookshop)
• Have you listened to Your Own Backyard? I loved this podcast — it’s a true crime podcast, but it’s so much more than that. It’s full of incredible storytelling and brimming with compassion for a family that’s been through hell. It’s been a truly meaningful listening experience, and I recommend it. (Vanity Fair)
• Find me in Scotland with all these doggies! This is my dream. (NYT)
• I love discussing methods of managing finances with friends (this is how you know I’m old, also shout-out to YNAB!) and I really enjoyed this piece about whether you should combine finances with a partner. While my official stance is much more complicated, here’s what I’ll say: I love combining for household needs and also having separate accounts for what I call Lady Secrets. After four years of marriage and six years of cohabitation, I’ve learned that some things should be kept separate, including duvets, toothpaste, and shopping habits. (You Need A Budget, Vox)
• As I get older, I find myself recalling my body when it was younger and leaner, especially as I watch it change due to age, making peace with food, and moving my body for joy. I loved this piece about not comparing your current body to your former one. I also hung this poster on my refrigerator because we don’t do negative body talk in my home. (Self, Nalgona Positivity Pride)
• What are your thoughts on Girl Dinner? I don’t know if it’s because I’m married to a woman, but we call this Snack Dinner, and it’s delicious and also not special or new. My personal favorite girl dinner items: salami, cheese, some dips from Trader Joe’s with cut veggies or crackers, berries, an apple with peanut butter, some chocolate or a little ice cream. I really enjoyed this piece about all the trends the girlies are into, and felt very seen by this line: “I’m not a clean girl or a hot girl, but I’m not a little swamp rat, either.” Can’t we just be girls? Or better yet, WOMEN? (NYT, Substack)
Wishing you a week of good snacks, summer joy, and anticipation of what’s to come!