Where Sea Foam Meets My Toes

This week we wrap up our Summer Reading blog series with Debbie Hampton, Blair’s director of design and production, and her plan for the perfect beach reading.



I dream all year about doing this—340 more days to go . . .

beachThere is undoubtedly no better place to read than where sea foam meets my toes–the place I always dream of being. For someone with little time to ever sit down, not to mention sit down and read, reading comes in spurts during the year until I go to that favorite place and I grab from the “I sooooo want to read this” pile while packing my bags. Before heading that way a few weeks ago, I took with me the three I have been whittling away at–two similar subjects, one completely different, and two others for which I had a plan.GandDBonhoefferBonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
Since reading Dietrich Bonheoffer’s Cost of Discipleship, I wanted to know more about this theologian and anti-Nazi activist, who thought it the duty of the Christian, and the privilege and honor, to suffer with those who suffered. He did exactly that, even when given an opportunity to escape, he died totally submissive to the will of God. Though only a third of the way into this 600 page masterpiece, I already feel so unworthy of any of God’s grace.

GERDAAll But My Life by Gerda Weissman Klein
Klein documents her ordeal as a six-year old victim of Nazi cruelty who miraculously survived and was freed by American troops in 1945. How terrifying from the very beginning–I can’t imagine being forced out of my home at any age, or living in fear every single day that another member of my family would be forced out never to be seen or heard from again. What a terrible thing for any child, or person, to experience.

Avas_ManAva’s Man by Rick Bragg.
Bragg is one of my all-time favorite writers. I took this along with me to be the main read-by-the-sea. Sometimes when I want a good laugh, I just grab this book and read the first chapter, which is brilliant: Ava bolts upright in the cotton field upon suddenly being told that black silk stockings were hanging on her clothesline. The upright bolt sent her straight to the source to take care of things, if you know what I mean.

If that’s not bait to get you to read the whole thing, well then I don’t know what is. And that sets the tone for the journey of discovering with Bragg what made the grandfather he never knew tick.


Reading Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse to my nieces Kenzie and Corinna on the beach – Photo by Kristin Turner

My Plan
Knowing there would be certain little family members on our upcoming beach trip, my daughter and I grabbed our all-time favorite children’s books to read to them seaside.

LillyLilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
Lilly, a mouse, is given a special gift by her grandmother of a purple plastic purse that plays a jaunty tune and is “complete with shiny quarters that were very jingly.” In her excitement, she decides to take it to school for sharing time. The purse, in all its glory, is a complete distraction and it is all Lilly can do to contain her eagerness and wait to share. Her excitement bursts prematurely and she is punished but learns her lesson. The recurring phrase, “and that’s about all she could say, ‘WOW,’ ” was repeated long and drawn-out by my nieces (with giggles) and is something I will always remember.

MissFannieMiss Fannie’s Hat by Jan Karon
Miss Fannie is a tiny 89 year-old woman who has a huge collection of colorful hats, each with a specific story. She is asked to give one up to go in an auction for her church and struggles to pick the right one. Counting hats and picking colors and favorites became a fun game when relaxing after a long day of fun and sun in our own beach hats. And I must say, “our” own beach hat was something we were quite proud of!

My daughter Allison helping Corinna and Kenzie find Miss Fannie’s hats

My daughter Allison helping Corinna and Kenzie find Miss Fannie’s hats

My niece, Corinna in her own straw hat at Ocean Isle Beach

My niece, Corinna in her own straw hat at Ocean Isle Beach – Photo by Kristin Turner


That concludes our Summer Reading blog series. Check back next week as we delve into more fun topics for the fall. Happy Reading!


Being Best Friends with Brine Shrimp

This week in our Summer Reading Series, Trisina, Blair’s publicist, talks about her summers in Utah and the memorable scene in a book that finally brought her to tears.


I imagine most teenagers spend the summer at the beach, frolicking in bathing suits, playing volleyball in the sand, and watching the sunset. My image of a typical teenage summer is very cliche.

summer gif photo: summer (animated gif) summer.gif

But not my summers. I grew up in Utah very pale and very . . .

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So the beach was off limits to me.

And I know what you’re thinking: I don’t know what she’s complaining about. Why didn’t she just swim in the Great Salt Lake? Right?

Uh, WRONG. I don’t know about you, but I think being intimate friends with brine shrimp is overrated. I’ll take the mountains over shrimp, seagulls, and salt water any day.

brine vs mtns

That meant I spent a lot of summers camping, hiking, and generally raising a ridge-line ruckus. It was great. But more than that, it was also a great place to catch up on some light summer reading, like Crime and Punishment.

51y0rkji55l-_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa300_sh20_ou01_I know, I know, I KNOW. If I had just read the stupid thing when I was supposed to, at the beginning of the summer, I could have spent the rest of the summer reading fun and whimsical things like Bridget Jones’s Diary. But I’m a procrastinator. I’ve accepted it. You should, too.

So. Crime and Punishment. Random House calls it the story of “an impoverished student living in a garret in the gloomy slums of St. Petersburg, [who] carries out his grotesque scheme [of murder] and plunges into a hell of persecution, madness and terror.” Not usually what you would think of as summer reading, but truth be told, I wasn’t that upset about it, even if I did procrastinate. That’s the glory of being a book nerd; you don’t really mind catching up on reading. 

Now, hand in hand with being a book nerd is crying. Book nerds love to talk about all the books that have made them cry, like somehow you really love books only if they make you sob.

And if you know me, you know that I’m a crier. A straight-up, soggy-eyed mess. The number of things that make me cry are endless: Sarah McLachlaninfused animal cruelty commercials, A River Runs Through It (obviously), marriage proposals, other people crying in front of me, King Kong (yes, the one with Jack Black), and hunger (so help you God if you stand between me and food).

Things that Make Me Cry

But here’s the thing. I don’t cry at books. I don’t know why. It’s not like I’m emotionally removed. I’m in it with the characters. I gasp and laugh in all the right places. But crying? Please. I’m an adult.

That said, here’s the caveat. I was 17 or 18, lounging about in a lawn chair, reading Crime and Punishment at our campsite when I got to Raskolnikov’s dream. In it, he’s a little boy walking through town with his father. When they pass the tavern, they see a skinny little mare hitched to a cart much too big for her. Raskolnikov and his father witness a crowd of drunks pile into the cart at the urging of the horse’s drunk owner. They all know that the horse won’t be able to pull the weight, but the owner is determined to make her carry them all at a gallop. He whips her despite all her trying, and several others join in. Raskolnikov is horrified and runs to the horse, trying to protect her. The whips catch him in the face, but he doesn’t feel it because he’s so upset. Eventually, the owner beats the horse to death with a crowbar, and Raskolnikov is powerless to stop it. “The poor boy, beside himself, made his way, screaming, through the crowd to the sorrel nag, put his arms round her bleeding dead head and kissed it, kissed the eyes and kissed the lips.”

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From “New Girl”

And that, my friends, is my most memorable summer reading experience. Bawling, while camping, about a horse that died in a dream I didn’t even have. Even now, I’m still a bit of a mess about it.

crying gif photo: crying how i met your mother crying.gif

From “How I Met Your Mother”


Check back next week for another post in our Summer Reading Series. Happy reading!

Beach people

Okay, we may be a little off topic today. But it’s the first official day of summer, and in the midst of our summer reading lists, we couldn’t help but share this story about–what else?–the beach. Author Ray McAllister has so generously written up a little something on North Carolina’s beaches, a subject he knows so well he’s written three books on it. Here he shares why some people–we’ll call them beach people–can’t get enough of the islands, which include the famed Outer Banks. I’m pretty sure you’ll be ready to drop everything and hit the sand after reading this.



Sunrise over the Jolly Roger Pier in Topsail Beach. Photo credit: Vicki McAllister

Jamie and Paul were married June 5 on the sands of Topsail Island. It all came off beautifully—flawlessly, really—which is remarkable when you think about it. As our son Ryan put it, “the degree of difficulty for a beach wedding is pretty high.”

Getting the tides right for your daughter’s big day is easy enough; there are tide charts. But try guaranteeing the weather. We sweated out hour-by-hour reports for days. All week long, forecasters offered up a rain chance of 30 or 40 percent. The cowards. Our anxiety hardly lessened when Topsail’s famed semi-annual sea turtle release, just three days before the wedding, was delayed hours by a ferocious series of thunderstorms.

But Nature smiled. Saturday evening was perfect. Just a few feet from the surf of the Atlantic Ocean, our daughter and her new husband exchanged vows, then poured sand together in a unity ceremony.

So why risk a wedding on a beach?

Are you kidding? Where else?

People who love North Carolina’s barrier islands know that. Special events are simply more special on a favorite island. But every sunrise, every sunset, every storm is more special. So is every swim, every leisurely walk, every hot dog, every book, every otherwise mundane moment.

It was only five years ago that we became regulars on North Carolina’s coast. Our oldest daughter, Lindsay, and her family visited Topsail Island. They in turn demanded we go. The love affair had begun. Soon a book resulted. Other books, on other islands, followed.

North Carolina’s barrier islands are intoxicating. Cares are bleached out in the sun, then washed away in the surf. The rhythms of life are different. Take this test: When you start vacation week on an island, aren’t all the cars driving too slow? It takes forever to get anywhere behind these clowns.

By the end of the week, aren’t they all driving too fast?

Invariably, we’re asked which is our favorite island. We finally bought a small home on Topsail this year, so that may be a hint. But it’s far from a definitive answer. Topsail, with fewer crowds, seems soothing in summer. But the same can be said of any of the Brunswick County islands, where time does virtually stand still. And there’s no more soul-stirring place than Hatteras Island, beautiful, remote, less crowded – and even a little wild.

My father swears by Bald Head Island. And the quaint village of Ocracoke, plopped down at sea, almost takes you back in time. Some of these places remind me of the Nags Head I visited in the early 1970s, before the hordes of tourists, McMansions and cheap T-shirt shops arrived. (Would Dante have had a special circle of hell for those who put Wings on the Outer Banks? It’s a good question for a philosophy class.)

While researching a Hatteras book, though, I stayed at a Nags Head motel in the dead of winter. Hardly a soul was about, and I found myself re-engaging with Nags Head. Likewise, Wrightsville Beach. It’s a small island, attracting hundreds of thousands in summer, and often you can’t find a parking place. In the off-season, the real Wrightsville re-emerges.

Barrier islands always belong to nature, in other words, and she makes that clear in winter. Take an island or leave it, but you’ll do so on her terms. Man is simply seasonal. Nature is in it for the long haul.

Jamie and Paul are on their honeymoon now. They are on a fabulous cruise of the Mediterranean, making stops at historic and romantic ports of call in Spain and Italy. It’s not Topsail, of course. But I’m sure it’s nice, too.


Ray McAllister is the author of three award-winning books: Topsail Island: Mayberry by the Sea; Wrightsville Beach: The Luminous Island, and Hatteras Island: Keeper of the Outer Banks. Ray, a former newspaper columnist, is also editor of Boomer magazine. He and his wife Vicki, the books’ photographer, live in Richmond, Va., and, when their beach home is not being rented, Surf City, N.C. Visit him at www.RayMcAllister.com.