love people. take pictures. write things down.

photos and words by Caroline

Category: words.

golden hour

I often refer to my childhood home as my “home home” and it reminds me of the way we would talk about our romantic affections in middle school by saying “I like him…but I don’t like like him.” I love going home home, and not only because with mom and dad money, luxuries such as paying someone else to wash my car or paint my nails are suddenly a beautiful possibility.

I was home home recently, visiting my parents and siblings. The first day home home is like a dream. I wake up at six, excited like a kid on Christmas morning. I scour the house for old articles from the New York Times and make a full pot of coffee because — for once — I am not brewing for one. By seven thirty I have already learned that marriage is a modern indicator of adulthood, why children are drawn to stories about animals who act like humans, and that a new breed of “upscale hostels” are sweeping Europe. By eight o’clock I am driving my sister to school in the Toyota Highlander, honking at a girl who I used to babysit who is now seventeen and beautiful. Abby is wearing her Calvin College sweatshirt for “wear paraphernalia from the school you will be attending in the Fall” day and I feel elated that my younger sister thinks well enough of me to attend my alma mater.

The morning is spent on the kitchen stools, backs slouched over a sunlit wooden table where my mother and I read the paper, drink several cups of coffee, and discuss breakfast options, not deciding until almost 10:00 am, when we eat something that we have agreed is a worthy combination of healthy and delicious.

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I need to have a home home because I’ve moved every year for the past four years.  A year ago I had already relocated most of my possessions to my private apartment located adjacent to the beautiful yellow home of a family of three, whom I babysit for in exchange for a no-rent, all utilities paid apartment. I tip-toed around the place for the first few weeks, waiting until a game of father-son basketball was over before I went out to my car to drive back to the neighborhood where all my friends lived. I slept through alarms without friends to wake me up. It’s been hard living fifteen minutes away from everyone, but I can’t complain — because that’s what everyone who moved fifteen hours away is doing: lamenting the fact that their Grand Rapids life is over, trying to find a way back or a way to stay with these people. We try out other cities — for years even — to return to what we love. And when we are here we talk about leaving.

Even though I had moved my bed and furniture into my apartment when my parents attended my graduation last May, I slept in the house I shared with my girlfriends right up until June 1, when we were legally obligated to abandon the premises. We spend the night of May 31, 2012 on the floor of the living room, surrounded by blank walls and empty pizza boxes. There were also an assortment of kitchen gadgets, a piece of paper with an arrow pointing toward them lay next to the assortment, where someone had written “TAKE ME!” in angry Sharpie. I had no need for 7 spatulas in my new apartment, so I took them and everything else abandoned to the salvation army, a home for the shared items we individually no longer needed.

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I’m now getting ready to move to Easttown, the area of Grand Rapids populated by hipsters, dive bars, coffee shops, and basically everyone I’ve ever met who hasn’t moved out of Michigan. This isn’t even a real move, since I will only be there for two months  before departing on my “grand European adventure”, which I also like to call my “crazy hair-brained scheme that will probably sabotage everything I have going for me in my life.” (But what if it doesn’t?) I went over to see my home of two months last week. The porch is amazing, and the location is prime. The rent is $195 a month, which would make my friends in New York drop dead probably — or move here. I surprised myself when I internally reacted negatively upon hearing that I would be sharing a bedroom. Picturing it, something inside of me recoiled. I thought of my little apartment with space just for me and how I have become accustomed to watching Netflix and eating cheese in bed without fear of judgment and hitting snooze ten times in the morning before I wake up. What have I become?

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Tonight, I am writing alone on the porch of this beautiful yellow home with my apartment attached. Something wonderful about Grand Rapids is that it is on the western edge of Eastern Standard Time and so it does not get fully dark here until 10:30 pm during the summer. Something not so wonderful about Grand Rapids right now is that it rained for almost the entire month of April and all the water caused some sort of mosquito baby boomer generation and they are attacking me and my Sangria. However, I refuse to sit inside because the light is perfect, and light is something I care about. There’s a certain slant, you know? All of this to say: I do love it here. I’m moving again, and like the golden hour, everything is the most beautiful right before it leaves you.

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why i wake early

Lately, I have been preoccupied with the idea of happiness and what our sources of joy in this limited life can and should be. Questions that infinitely fascinate me include:

  • Is happiness a byproduct or a goal?
  • Can happiness become an idol?
  • Is happiness a feeling or is joy a choice?
  • Is it foolish to chose happiness over success? How are these related?
  • Is it selfish to seek one’s own happiness or is my happiness leading to others happiness?
  • What does the Bible teach us about choosing joy?
  • Does choosing joy mean ignoring reality? Does being cynical make one appear more educated?

I am a verbal processor, and these questions have been the subject of many of my recent conversations with friends and family. I could rant forever about these ideas — probably without coming to any real conclusions. I was going to gather information and write ONE AMAZING BLOG POST about happiness but have found that these questions are too large for one blog post. They may even be too expansive for one book, or perhaps too large for this mysterious life.

However, as Dr. Suess reminds us, “sometimes the questions are complicated, and the answers are simple.”

I recently read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and was very inspired by her resolve to change her life in simple ways in order to produce more joy. While this book has been criticized as a  self-serving list of “common sense” principles, I found it inspirational. Maybe I just need to be reminded about common sense rules of life more than other people. I found her book inspiring because while her changes were primarily about her, they lead to a more harmonious atmosphere for her family and furthered her community.

So, for today, I will focus on one simple change in my life that I am hoping will lead to greater happiness (or joy, or vitality, or productivity, or fulfillment, or whatever.)

I have been trying to embrace and enjoy the mornings.

I am resolving to wake up earlier. Not crazy early, though. When searching online for famous early risers, I found out that a bunch of CEOs of various important companies wake up at 4:30 am to talk to business associates in Asia and get a jump on the days news so that by the time they get in to work they know more than anyone else. That isn’t really my goal. (Actually, another goal I am working on is not being someone I’m not. I’m not a business-oriented person and I can’t make myself one. See my complete list of personal rules below) I do believe I can wake early and that mindful time in the morning is unique and important.

Rising early regularly is difficult for me, because on a work day I am already out of my door by 7:45. I honestly love the idea of waking at 6, and having a whole 90 minutes to myself. Of course, this would mean going to bed at ten every night, which would cause me to miss out on many of my beloved social weeknight traditions (I’m not only referring to weeknight drink specials — even my humble book club doesn’t meet until 8pm) Right now, I am simply working on making a change from waking up at 7:30 to waking up at 6:45. Instead of bolting out the door in clothes pulled randomly from my closet, make-up half done and full mug of coffee spilling onto my hands — I will take time to look out the window while my coffee brews, locate my glasses and what I want to read during my lunch break, read my daily devotion while I eat breakfast, and check the weather before getting dressed.

On Wednesday evenings, I babysit a delightful ten-year-old. He is an introverted, only child who prefers to watch shows such as How It’s Made and Myth Busters and is a devout vegetarian. He also goes to bed every night at 8:00 pm, without argument. He is allowed to read or draw for a half an hour until “lights out” (the two words most children dread) at 8:30. I never need to remind him that it is time to turn off our third episode of Bones for the evening and head upstairs. Once, I asked him if he enjoyed sleeping in on the weekends. “Sometimes I will sleep in until 7.” he answered. I refrained from teasing him and simply responded. “That’s not very late.”

“I usually wake up at 5am on school days,” he explained, “Then I get to have two hours to myself before my parents wake up. I like having time where no one is asking me any questions.”

I have always operated as someone who does not require very much “Caroline time.” In fact, too much Caroline time freaks me out, and when I find myself faced with several empty hours I literally have to schedule my life down in one-hour segments so I don’t go on major Facebook and Pinterest binges. It is not in my nature to want to wake early, but it is somewhat in my nature to be a morning person. I enjoy writing in the morning. I am a “once I’m up, I’m up” person. I can hit snooze numerous times from the bed, but once I’ve washed my face and turned on the electric kettle, I am ready to face the day.

I have found that time to myself in the morning is very different than time to myself in the afternoon and evening. Something about the mind being clear, or the sun rising, or the idea of God meeting you in the morning stillness, perhaps.

Waking early is a sign of embracing the gift of life. I am grateful for today. If I am healthy and have slept well for the past six to eight hours, I will be awake—living simply and receiving new mercies.

wakeup

If you are interested in other small rules that I have created in order to pursue  joy (and–hopefully–bring joy to others) here is my  complete list (inspired by Rubin’s 12 Commandments):

  1. be caroline
  2. act how i want to feel
  3. love like jesus (to love is to give)
  4. do it now
  5. embrace and enjoy the morning
  6. go outside
  7. throw it out / let it go
  8. remain calm
  9. pray (out loud) for others
  10.  write it down
  11.  ask God for the energy/strength
  12. complete this sentence regularly: I am grateful for _______

 

sleeping.

Ah, I am writing this after having just awoken from one of those lovely Sunday afternoon naps—the kind where you don’t exactly plan on napping but simply start to drift off while reading for pleasure or watching a rerun of a show you’ve seen a million times. You’re doing something not very important because it’s Sunday and for some amazing that means you don’t feel as bad about not working out or watching a Gilmore Girls marathon on Soap net or eating nachos for dinner. I tried to nap earlier today but it was only three hours after consuming major amounts of coffee while out for brunch and I found myself lying awake and thinking, “this is what people who can’t sleep must feel like.”

I have never really had trouble sleeping. I’m great at it. I am almost as good at sleeping as I am at making a delicious guacamole. I know this is a blessing and millions of people have trouble sleeping at night, but I have rarely lied awake in bed for longer than five minutes. I will often sleep until noon when I don’t set an alarm. (I don’t recommend this as it is usually followed by intense feelings of having wasted your life.) I have fallen asleep while talking on the phone but neither do I recommend this as it is never appreciated by the person you are talking to even if it is 3 in the morning. (Can’t believe I did that so often–sorry.) I never even have trouble sleeping on the floor, or in close proximity to another person. (There was a certain spring break trip that involved ten people splitting the cost of renting a one bedroom condo. Yes, one of us did sleep in the kitchen.)

Of course, being able to sleep on command is not necessarily a good thing. Feeling sleepy and irritable during the day when you are unable to nap is bothersome, if not destructive to your career performance or personal relationships. Excessive sleepiness can be countered by maintaining a steady sleep schedule, eating right, and exercising—the three most important things to staying healthy! Or, your sleepy-ness could be out of your control and need to be diagnosed or medicated. Sleep disorders are very common, and I have been suffering from one for the past year and half or so.

I was taking a beloved afternoon nap when I awoke in my bed to find that I could not move. I couldn’t lift my arms, move my legs, or fully open my eyes. I could see the room, and was very aware of where my body was and also saw my roommate Emily enter the room, when I began shouting for her to wake me up. This lasted for about thirty terrible second before I was able to jerk my head enough to wake myself up. Emily was not home.

Feeling frightened, I did what anyone else would do. I googled, “I wake up and I can’t move.” Try it. You will find hundreds of links leading you to information about sleep paralysis. You will also learn that many of the webpages about this disorder not only mention demons but have pictures of creepy ghosts and ghouls on them. Very reassuring.

Despite the creepy 18th century paintings of demon-possesion, I dug a little deeper and found out this phenomenon is relatively common (although I have not met a real person who I know who has experienced it) and not dangerous. Your body becomes paralyzed while you sleep in order that you don’t act out your dreams. Smart thinking, really–but sleep paralysis is when there is a miscommunication. Basically your brain is saying “I’m awake now!” and your body is saying “Noooo, you’re not!!”

The creepy part about all of this is that I almost always hallucinate. I have only experienced sleep paralysis while napping (this is typical, because your body is unaccustomed to the unusual time of day and/or length of a nap) but I either see someone who can help me, or hear an intruder in a distant room. The last time I had SP, there was someone in the kitchen banging around. Other times, my boyfriend has entered the room and I have called to him for help. I have also seen my mother. No, I have never seen dead people. It isn’t like a dream. When I wake up fully and can move again, my hands and feet and body are right where they were when I was hallucinating. The only thing not there is the person I could see and hear so vividly. A description that is almost identical to mine is on an episode of This American Life called “Fear of Sleep.” Skip to two minutes in and listen to Denise’s quick story. Or listen to the whole episode, because it rocks.

Now that you think I’m crazy, I should say that this has only happened to me about a dozen times. It’s enough to write about, but not enough to disrupt my daily life. If I do experience sleep paralysis, I am usually able to calm myself down and remind my crazy brain that no one has walked into the room. Although I refuse to believe I am being possessed, I have actually found that talking to God while it was happening was very effective in waking my body up.

I haven’t given up  on naps completely, but they are rare. I now try to nap in moderation—only when I am very sleepy or didn’t get at least six hours of sleep the night before. It’s amazing how thankful I have become for a peaceful nap, and the whole experience has been a reminder of how much we don’t fully understand about the human brain and body. I could write forever about how freaking weird dreams are, but I will refrain and simply leave you with my story and hope that it has provided some comfort for those who struggle to find peace and rest. When it comes to sleep, we’re all a little crazy.

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eating.

Inspired by my love of other health and foodie blogs (such as ohshineon.com and eatliverun.com) I have decided to write a three-part blog series on health and the three things everyone MUST do to stay healthy: Eat, Sleep, and Move.

To begin, my personal favorite: Eating.

Eating right is very difficult, probably because there is SO much information out there. One week you read that eggs are a great way to start your morning with protein and then you read that the cholesterol in eggs clog your arteries as much as smoking does (this can’t be true—but I have heard this.) A grapefruit for breakfast sounds great until you are starving an hour later. To find out what foods are right for you takes research, failed cooking experiments, and plenty of encouragement. These are just some things that I have learned that I hope will be helpful to others.

1. Eat SOME junk food. I used to believe that never buying any junk food for myself would help me not eat it. This was a great theory until I begun repeatedly finding myself in someone else’s home and inhaling their Doritos like my life depended on it (also known as babysitting.) If you indulge your craving in at least semi-healthy ways (I keep lightly buttered popcorn and low-fat frozen yogurt in the house) you will be less likely to be at the Taco Bell at midnight ordering 6 crunch-wraps because all you have at home is quinoa and frozen spinach. Keep a box of whole wheat mac & cheese or a microwavable bean and cheese burrito at home for nights like these. When you moderate yourself instead on deprive yourself, you will find a greater sense of control and greater motivation to stay on track. Trust me, it won’t do you any good to be the girl at the party whose mouth is so full of Cheetos that you can hardly utter the words “but I NEVER eat junk food!!!”

2. STOP putting tons of milk/sugar/creamer in coffee. Seriously, just get over it. There is no need for this. If you don’t like how coffee tastes, stop drinking it. It’s probably healthier not too but all of America is addicted. So measure out what you put in. I measure a tablespoon of half&half every morning for a fairly big mug of coffee. Simply pouring in Coffeemate until you think you should stop is costing you calories and money. This rule also applies for tea. I used to DUMP honey and sugar into tea. Now I add a tiny bit of honey–if anything! Tazo Sweet Cinnamon Spice tea is the most perfect tea on earth and needs nothing added to it. Go buy it. They have it at Target.

3. DON’T skip breakfast. I didn’t learn this until I was in college, thanks to my raised-on-a-farm best friend who counted on me to meet her at her dorm at 7:20 every day before class to go to breakfast. If you aren’t hungry when you wake up, wait an hour and then eat something—preferably with protein. I love cereal but I find most brands aren’t very filling, so I eat GoLean Crunch with almond milk.

4. Keep track of what you eat. I’m not saying you have to count calories. This leads to things like googling how many calories are in two bites of your friends donut and may also lead to insanity. Just try keeping a record. There are plenty of smartphone apps to help you do this. Also, write down how much water you drink! I rarely drink as much as I should, but I drink much more when I am keeping track of it.

5. Make amazing food! Miracle foods are not those over-priced Special K breakfast sandwiches that are only 240 calories. (unless you absolutely must have a breakfast sandwich in the morning and are too lazy to make a much cheaper one for yourself.) I have found that a lot of the amazing foods that help me stay on track aren’t pre-packaged meals or “diet foods” but simply real, healthy options. If you want a low calorie snack, don’t reach for a 100-calorie package of dry, thin brownies–reach for a banana or a cup of greek yogurt, which has low or zero fat and around 15 grams of protein (depending on the brand.) Don’t force yourself to eat salads if you hate lettuce and have to drown it in fatty dressing to make it edible. Make a sandwich of whole wheat bread, spicy brown mustard (5 calories in a tablespoon), thinly sliced cheese (40 calories in a slice of Sargento ultra-thin colby jack), and a couple of slices of sliced turkey. Vegetarians can substitute a hard-boiled egg, and either can add sliced tomato and spinach. Yum! My point is, create your own meals. For dinner: less Lean Cuisines, more recipes. Try some of these.

7. Food Karma. My mama wrote “food is love” in the cookbook she gave me last year. Don’t be the girl who people are afraid to give christmas cookies to because you’ll never eat them. Be the girl who cooks way too much food for your friends and sends everyone home with leftovers. When you cook for people, it is a different kind of currency. What goes around, comes around. A free meal is in your future, and some delicious love and company is in your present. Having a healthy relationship with food is so important, and an important way of developing this is by bringing people together over a meal.

Happy eating!Image

self-taught time management and a line from a book I lost.

This week, I rearranged my room and moved my bed next to the window.  My desk was next to the window before, but I realized that I never sit at my desk. I’m not sure I have ever sat at my desk. I’m not sure why I even own a desk. I sit on my bed to read, to write, to watch Netflix—even to eat, which happens more often than I’d like to admit. That’t the thing about living alone— there is no one to walk upstairs and see you eating Frosted Flakes at 2:00 in the afternoon and ask in surprise/disgust, “Are you eating breakfast?!” Yes, this has happened before. There is also the sad realization that no one will know you rearranged your room or got up at a decent hour to make yourself a brunch of lemon crepes and caramel coffee unless you post it on Instagram.

I’ve had a lot of time on my hands lately, because I had two days off this week. Being a nanny means that sometimes you get two days off because you simply “aren’t needed,” regardless of the fact that you want/need the money for those two days. Because all of my friends work “real” full-time jobs, I found myself doing things like getting my hair cut and changing lightbulbs. And moving furniture. All by myself (!) I also took my car in to get a new battery and an oil change, because my last week had been full of the drama that anyone with an old car battery feels during Michigan January. This drama includes walking out of the grocery store and looking around wondering “Who here would I ask to jump my car for me?” This is followed immediately by a quick prayer at the wheel and (hopefully) the relief of an engine roaring to life.  Except for when it doesn’t start, and you call someone to come and help you, because you don’t want to talk to strangers.

I eventually did take my car in to the shop, and laughed when I asked the mechanic if I could pay with a debit card, and he responded by telling me they take “anything but your first born child.” Later, I remembered the car seat in the back of my car (I’m a nanny to a three-year-old) and realized the man thought I actually had a child to sacrifice, if need be. I decided not to correct him in hopes that maybe he would give me a discount for being a single mother. (I was once dating someone who called a car repair shop for me and somehow got my quote lower by saying he was my fiancé.)

It’s been four days, and my rearranged room still feels amazing. I’m not sure why. It could be the bed by the window, or it could just be the change. It makes me feel like I am in a new environment, and sleeping in a new place has been a life-long love of mine. Hence my love of sleepovers and hotels. Isn’t that what is so wonderful about traveling? I know that seeing famous buildings and museums, and eating new foods is very exciting, but what about the thrill of waking up to a smell you don’t recognize, and having to look out the window to remember what is there? I am not a fan of change in the way some people are. I don’t dye my hair blue or dream of having a life where I am in a new country every month. However, I do need a new running route, a new band to follow, a new coffee flavor, a new set of sheets, a new project, even a new friend every so often. My mother always said she could never live anywhere without four seasons, and I completely agree. Nothing makes my heart lighter than the change that comes with those first few warm days of spring, especially after a Michigan winter of frozen car batteries.  I can’t wait to feel the first warm freeze from my bed by the window.

It’s a new year, and maybe that is why I am thinking about change. I think that new years divide people into two categories: resolvers and reminiscers. I am not a resolver. I made one of those photo-a-day albums for 2012 and spent hours making sure the photos were captioned and in the correct order. My only resolution is to be more thankful for the here and now, which is the resolution of a reminiscer. I often find myself having conversations such as this:

me: Man, I miss our badminton class!

friend: No you don’t, you hated that class.

me: I did hate it…

In order to stop missing days gone by/worrying myself sick about the future (another hobby of mine), I should probably rearrange my life a little bit. Unfortunately, rearranging my time and my days is not as easy as rearranging my bedroom furniture. If only I could say, “This week I am going to go to church on Thursday and Founders on Saturday!” or “Today I am going to have fried chicken for breakfast and oatmeal for dinner” and it had the same effect as a night away in a hotel. (Wait–can’t you have fried chicken for breakfast at Chic-Fil-A?)

I once had a book on writing by Annie Dillard. I left it in a hotel. This was unfortunate, because I had a lot of it underlined, and it also because it belonged to my Dad (sorry, Dad.) Regardless, it’s gone now and I only remember one sentence:

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

What a zinger, right?

When I reminisce about 2013, I don’t want to think of a life of naps or Netflix or even a life of running. Don’t we want our days to combine to form a life of laughter, a life of learning, a life of nature, a life of love? This is not to say anyone should eliminate pleasures such as television and Facebook and sleeping in on Saturdays. My T.V. shows bring me laughter and my social media connects me with the people I love. I just need to do some rearranging. It might be hard to shove a love of sleeping in out of the way to make room for early morning coffee with a friend, but experience tells me I will feel absolutely feel refreshed afterwards, and not missing my bed or 2:00 pm Frosted Flakes at all.

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mom jeans and running shoes.

note: you’ve probably already read this. originally wrote and posted this on 10/18/2012 on noonecanfathom.tumblr.com. i wanted it here too 🙂

Even though I am only a nanny, I often think I understand motherhood when I feel crazy love coupled with complete frustration for three-year-old Wyatt, my charge for 6-8 hours every weekday. I can scoop up the little perfectly-bred Arian beauty and all I want to do lay on the couch all day with him. His little sweatpants are soft and he can sit on my stomach without crushing me and sometimes he even holds my hand and plays with my hair, trying to make a ponytail. This extended snuggling may require watching four consecutive hours of Dora the Exlplorer, but who cares? I have a perfect fun-size cuddle buddy! Then, just as our hands meet in the bowl of shared cheese popcorn, he will tell me that he hates my sweatshirt. He doesn’t like purple, and I should wear orange tomorrow. He also wants chocolate milk NOW even though I just made him waterered-down white grape juice, which I know is his favorite. So I turn off the TV and make him practice learning the days of the week, so that next time he insults me he will actually know that tomorrow is Wednesday. He kicks me with his adorable little crocs on and yells, “You’re mean” and “Mommy said no!” which are the meanest things he knows to say.

I take Wyatt to the library and I wonder who perceives me to be a mother of a three-year old. Wyatt doesn’t let go of me the whole time we are there, but its not like he is accidentally calling me, “Mommy.” On the days when I know Wyatt and I will be going out in public, I actually plan to wear a baggier pair of jeans, instead of my beloved leggings as pants.

I am not too thin to be a mother. Everyone around here is thin, because everyone is a runner. I used to hate the monotonous activity, but now I feel as though if I don’t run, I am not paying my dues to the jogging god of Grand Rapids, and that all of the young women in spandex at D&W will know I skipped a run. If you aren’t at church on a Sunday morning around here, you sure as hell better be jogging. About a year ago, my best friend Rachel ran a marathon. She ran through my church service and my three cup of coffee. She ran for four hours, became a saint of Grand Rapids with an aluminum foil blanket, and spent the next three days limping up and down the stairs. It looked like torture, but she was admired by all, including myself. She loved the photos I took of her, frozen mid-sprint, smiling—-head-to-toe in Nike.

I mostly run as an attempt to teach myself some self disciple, but I also run with Wyatt, around the house playing Power Rangers and around the local park—-the only place where a mother with a child of her own once asked me, “Is he yours?”

“I’m the nanny.” I replied, which in retrospect sounds cinematic, as though every child has a working mother and a nanny, and this was the Upper East side of Manhattan. I could have said, “I am his nanny,” or even, “I am hisbabysitter.” But then again I am no longer the fourteen-year-old who tucks a couple of little kids into bed and then spends the majority of her work time in front of the WB watching shows about teenagers having sex and playing basketball so that she has something to talk about with her friends at school. Any young teenager will tell you that it is always best to get a babysitting job on a night when one of those beautiful and forbidden shows is on. You’ll suddenly understand what all the girls are talking about in front of their lockers in the morning.

Now, given glorious grown-up freedom, I come home from a day of running around and can watch anything I please! So I watch sit in bed alone watching reruns of Sex and the City, and text my mother about it the next morning.

are we there yet?

When Wyatt’s mother got home from work the other day and relieved me of my nannying duties, I overheard her offer to make her son some pasta. Although Wyatt was excited to see his mother again after eight hours apart, her question caused his posture to drop, face to crumple, and little voice to whine, “Is it gonna take a long tiiiime?”

“This is his new thing,” I commented.

Earlier that day, I had mentioned to the three-year-old that I could cook a pizza in the oven for us to have for lunch, and he opted instead for a microwavable corn-dog, even though pizza is his absolute favorite—the reason being that he has figured out that cooking something in the oven takes considerably longer than cooking something in the microwave. Even as I was placing the con dog on a plate, he was quick to instruct me, “DON’T put it in the oven!!”

Whenever we get in the car drive anywhere (which is a process in and of itself now that coats and hats and gloves are invovled), I can always expect to hear from the backseat, “Is home far awayyyy?”

The farthest from home I take him is to library for story time–which is a whole twelve (!) minutes away. The only way that he doesn’t complain about it being “far awayyy” and it taking “a long tiiime” to get there is if we listen to his favorite country song…on repeat. Right now it is “Hard to Love” by Lee Brice, which I actually (thankfully) enjoy. All summer it was “Pontoon” by Little Big Town and I think it is safe to say that I will never listen to that song again, despite how catchy I thought it was in June. Even though we drive to the library every Wednesday, his brother Will’s school frequently, and the bakery every morning that he wants a doughnut and I want more coffee, Wyatt asks if said location is “far awayyyy” everytime I strap him into his carseat.

It is as though Wyatt has just now become aware of the concept of waiting. He never complained about waiting for things before, but now he seems to be in the inevitable “are we there yet?” stage. When he had a lunch date planned with his grandfather, he said to me, “I want Grandpa to be here” every ten minutes from when I arrived at 8:00am until his grandfather finally arrived at noon. He looks at me as if I am the one who makes things happen. When he tells me he wants to go outside, we go outside to play. So when he tells me he wants Grandpa to be here, Grandpa should be here, right?

I often find myself acting in the same way. I eat dinner when I want to, go to bed when I want to, and get annoyed when people aren’t available to hang out when I feel like being social (which is most of the time.) I am terribly impatient. I don’t have a nanny to whine to, so I tell God, “I want this to happen.” I should probably be working on some applications for grad school, but I can’t seem to get started because I know it’s going to take a long tiiiime. Also, I would rather be out drinking wine or running or porch-sitting at Rachel’s than be home with my computer.

Speaking of which, where is home anyway? Is it the place where I wake up every morning and keep my favorite books and journals?—or is it where I grew up: a split-level with a yellow lab, a giant TV, home-cooked meals and a loving father’s echoing laugh? Is home far awayyy?

Most people figure out the “home” question eventually. When you marry, move out for good, build a family of your own, find a real job, or life throws you some other game-changer in terms of supporting yourself, you have a new place that is home. There is no more in-between stage where you can say “I just got home from work” and “I’ll be home for Christmas” and mean two entirely different places.

Mastering the art of patience is in itself a long-term process. Maybe it’s a combination of the American dream meets “the grass is always greener”, but so many young people I talk with want to be more and do more, but aren’t sure where to begin—or end, for that matter. We are patient until we get what we think we want, only to find ourselves asking again, “Am I there yet?” An artistic friend of mine who works at a photo studio longs for the life of a construction worker, who works all day with rough hands and tired legs. Another creative friend of mine works all day washing windows, and is currently looking to work at the front desk of a quiet dry-cleaners, so that he can sit and read books through the cold winter months. My friend who works as a project manager wants a job where she is not stuck behind a desk all day, and I envy her because she gets to wear heels and pencil skirts to work and contributes to a totally hip local business.

In terms of career and productivity, I think an overwhelming amount of people feel stuck. That must be why there are so many self-help books about being productive and doing more with your life. Because in the 21st century we aren’t patient. We want to get things done, and move forward, as long as it doesn’t take a long time. We could use some patience, and a whole lot of faith, but we continue to chose the microwave. Give me money, happiness and a feeling of self-worth, but DON’T put it in the oven.

blackouts.

A couple of hours ago I received the text from my Mom I had been waiting for all week: “We have power!”

“Yahooo!!!” I responded, because my family in the suburbs of NYC had been without electricity for 144 hours. (I was also without power earlier this week, but this was only because I blew a fuse while trying to simultaneously use a space heater and boil water for tea in my electric kettle. )

As a kid, a power outage is one of the most exciting things that can happen. Hotels may be more exciting, but only if they have a pool and/or hot tub and your parents let you watch the TV from your bed. While my enthusiasm for hot tubs and TV in bed had not decreased, my longing for the adventure of walking to bed with a candelabra like Belle in Beauty and the Beast no longer remains. Even in my brief hour with no electricity, I was annoyed that I couldn’t plug in my soon-to-be-dead computer. Which seems completely ridiculous considering that my family went without power for six whole days.

I think that everyone, maybe even the kids, will think of power outages differently post Hurricane Sandy world. Halloween was cancelled, and no kid wants to miss out on the one night a year they get candy simply for being four feet tall. A nine-year-old I mentor through Kids Hope USA thought Hurricane Sandy was a literally hurricane of sand, and that conditions weren’t as bad by the time it got to Michigan because there simply wasn’t as much sand here. She was so genuinely concerned about the people that it did effect that I didn’t have the heart to correct her, although I probably should have.

Even if you are still a die-hard blackout fan, you have to admit that the anticipation is the best part. Hearing the thunder, watching the lights flicker, helping Dad put batteries in all the flashlights, and wondering if you will get to stay up later because no one knows what time it is are all more memorable than a simple night or two without power. Unless a tree falls on your house or you spend the day making a huge snow-fort, people stay inside, read, play Monopoly, and cheer when the lights turn back on, which they always do.

In 2003, something amazing happened. The power went out, but it wasn’t because of a storm that threatened people’s lives and properties. It was the unexplained northeast power-outage. I was thirteen, my brother Andrew and his best friend Ryan were eleven, and my sister Abby has just turned eight.  It was a time before thirteen year olds (or eleven year olds, or even eight year olds for that matter) had cell phones. It was a time when I owned a bright purple boom box with an antenna that I played my favorite CDs on, which were The Beatles 1 and the soundtrack to 13 Going On 30. It was August, so my siblings and I sat outside on the front lawn, gathered around my boom box, and listened for updates on the mysterious occurrence. The power had been out in the New York metro-area all day, and no one knew why. Maybe it was the mystery that made it all so exciting. Maybe it is the nostalgia of all of my siblings being together, sitting outside in the hot summer, talking to neighbors as they passed, watching the evening slip in to darkness.

It must have been Maureen, Ryan’s mother, who suggested we go for a walk to the park. I say this because it was also Maureen who suggested we ride our bikes to the end of the pier on September 11th, 2001. From there, we could see smoke rising from the south. At eleven, I was old enough to go but still not old enough to understand.

We walked on the boardwalk and through the park. We weren’t afraid, but it was very quiet and very dark. We could see the stars. I later discovered that srat-gazers in New York City could see the Milky Way for the first time in decades. We looked out to where we could normally see the lights on Long Island, and the water might as well have been the Atlantic. We ran in to an old woman who had a telescope pointing towards the sky. This is the part when my memory gets rusty. Was it an old woman with a creepy grin or a friendly grandmother out with her grandson? Was it a magnificent telescope set up on a tripod, or was it small and accordion-like, such as a ship captains’?  I do know that the woman showed us the stars. We even saw a planet—Venus, maybe—and we were amazed. We thanked her and I knew that I was experiencing something magical, that I had seen another world just by going for an aimless walk in the dark.

Parts of the boardwalk we walked on that night are now drifting into the Long Island Sound, torn up by the high winds. A few days ago, Abby described my hometown as a “disaster zone,” with hour long waits  at the gas station and “so many power lines down. It’s insane.” The adults want a warm shower and to get back to work and kids want their Halloween candy. The teenagers want school for the socialization (and probably some Halloween candy as well), but are enjoying being allowed to have co-ed sleepovers at the houses that have heat.

The strangest part of being in Michigan during this craziness is not that it makes me nostalgic for power outage stories, but that it makes me wish I was in New York City, because I still think of New York as my city. I want to stick with my family and my hometown through this hard time.

Instead, I’m just watching.

Here’s what I’m looking at: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/11/01/us/sandy-POD-index.html

new start.

One of the phrases I hear myself repeating often is “I don’t know what I want to do with the rest of my life.” I have said this to my employers, my parents, my boyfriend’s parents, my friends—all in the same exasperated tone—as though I am exhausted from exploring options and ready to just choose a career out of a hat and go with it.

I have been lying. It took me nine months of being a college graduate to realize that I know what I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to love people, take pictures, and write things down. Yes, I would like to get married, have a couple of kids, maybe some dogs, go to church on Sundays, and save up to afford a lake cottage. I also want to read a lot of books but never think I’m too cool to watch hours of re-runs of my favorite shows on TV. I want to see more of the world but not be one of those people who thinks traveling to Europe makes you a better person, because while it may change your life it also may simply indicate that you are rich and lonely. I want to exercise and take care of my body and cook great meals for my friends and family and tuck my kids into bed knowing I have taught them how to pray and how to dream.

The problem is, I don’t know HOW to make these things happen. I know how to write only because I have been doing it my whole life but I am horrible with spelling and grammar. (You’ve probably already noticed.) My professors and parents tell me to “send out” my poetry but I don’t know where or how to do so. I know how to take photographs but I don’t know how to start my own small business or how to aquire more photography jobs. I have absolutely no idea how to be married or raise children. I don’t even know how to train a puppy. There is a puppy sitting on my lap as I type this (I’m babysitting, of course) and she “goes” in a litter box…like a cat. I want to take her home with me and train her how to pee on a fire-hydrant and show her what a leash is.

I am slowly learning how to take care of my own body. I run all the time, but lately my back has been hurting, and I realized I should probably throw in a couple of sit-ups in the mix if I want any kind of core strength and want to avoid my spine snapping in half. I have tried to learn how to cook. I made gluten-free vegan cookie-dough bites so I can do anything, right?! Except cook any form of meat

Albert Einstein famously said, “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.” But lately I have been feeling like I have learned nothing since I left college. So, I made a list. I learned this skill when I was seven.

What I Have Learned Since Graduating College (December 2011)
1. That college does not last forever, no matter how badly you want it to.

2. How to operate an iphone

3. $7.99 a month for a Netflix account is worth it (so is that scented candle at Target that you know you want.)

4. That the beautiful and inspirational author Anne Lamott exists. currently reading everything I can get my hands on.

5. That my college ID doesn’t have a year on it, which means Jcrew discounts until I’m 30.

6. That eating meat is horrible for you and the world. (Jonathan Safran Foer convinced me, but I still do it sometimes. Also, don’t make quinoa burgers for your boyfriend.)

7. How to cook a butternut squash

8. A million little things about other people’s kids (Will doesn’t like chicken nuggets, the pink baseball is the easiest for Wyatt to hit, Brighton sleeps with the radio on 105.7 etc. etc. etc.)

9. How to juice vegetables

10. That living alone is lonelier than you think (and you will want a puppy more than anything.)

11. How to take a bubble bath

12. How to take wedding photos

13. That I really do need glasses

14. That the poem “A Primer” by Bob Hickok exists.

15. How to get a library card

16. That VSCO exists

17. That Provin Trails Park exists

18. How to get my car registered in a new state (I did this yesterday.)

There is a serious problem with this method of measuring my post-college progress. Because what my list doesn’t contain is the people I’ve met, and the stories I’ve heard which have changed me. Since graduating I have met Josh and his wonderful family, as well as become closer to people I met while in college. I have reconnected with a friend through a regular e-mail correspondence and had the opportunity to show six of my friends around New York City and my parents around Chicago.

This is why I want to grow up to be someone who loves people, take pictures, and writes things down. I  know what I want to do. I also know I have a lot more to learn. Some money would be nice, but what I want and need is more people and more stories. More than a puppy of my own and another scented candle, I need more friends and family and tales of tragedy and triumph. Gimme, gimme. I just want to love you, take your picture, hear your story, and write it down.