12.31.2011

Wrapping up and looking ahead.

Being mighty in 2011.
In 2011, we got our finances organized. I ran two 10k races (not to mention over 260 miles!!!), and spoke publicly twice for work. I hereby declare the goals of 2011 COMPLETE!

This was a grand year of grandness. A trip to London and Paris. Turning 30. Adopting Ollie. Learning to run. Attending SXSW. Other people's weddings. Our own wedding. A honeymoon, Camp Mighty, trips to DC and Madison.

We're ending this year in Cape May, NJ. My family used to come here every summer when I was a kid and when Chris and I realized we needed to hole up and be thoughtful this weekend, it seemed like a good solution. So that's where we are. We are wandering and lunching and sleeping in. We're reading books and writing resolutions and talking about our values. Because the opportunities we will encounter in 2012 will challenge us... and we want to make sure we have things straight before another year of craziness ensues.

I started working on my 2012 goals and resolutions a few weeks ago. These things are tough for me to do in one sitting. I need time to mull, to cross things out, to boil things down. I need time to remember that this is not a list of EVERYTHING I must do in my life, but rather a few reach things. Here are my goals and resolutions for 2012:

Goals
1. Submit a short story to be published.
2. Surprise someone.
3. Learn to prepare 3 dinner recipes by heart.

Resolutions
1. Keep in touch with family.
2. Set small goals for myself at work so I can track how I'm doing.
3. Socialize outside of work.

Happy New Year's, everyone. May you be stretching and strengthening and preparing for another year of possibility.

12.28.2011

Les livres de 2011: round 6 (FINALE)

Reading with Dad in 1988. That's me with the bowl cut.
The other day someone asked me what I purely love. What do I love so much that it remains untainted by anything- responsibility, obligation, whatever.

That's a tough question. But after thinking about it for a few minutes, I said that I purely love reading. I don't feel an obligation to read anything I'm not in the mood for (and if I start reading something and am not into it, I'll drop it immediately). In this one area of my life, I go with the flow. I go with what I love.

Much more to say about this another time, but here are the final book reviews of the year. And if you scroll down a bit farther, you'll see the list of books I read in 2011. Happy reading, you rabbits!

(PS Here's last year's list, if you're interested.)

39. New York: the Novel by Edward Rutherfurd
I wrote a little about this novel last month. It's pretty epic. It traced the stories of families from the 1600s all the way up to present-day. I'm not going to say the writing was incredible because it wasn't. But you know how you read some things that aren't great in terms of craft, but in terms of story and learning? This was one of those books.

I'm dying to read his novels on London and Russia. I mean, seriously. What better way to learn the history of a city?

40. Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
Every once in a while, the New York Public Library emails me to say that a book that I had on hold came in. I put this book on hold back during the MEMORY semester (which is to say, a year ago). Way to be current, NYPL...

This book was really bizarre. It's the story of a woman who can only remember up to 24 hours; when she goes to sleep at night, she forgets everything and has to start all over again the next day. Given the trickiness of pulling off any sort of meaningful story with these restrictions, the author did a decent job. The ending was pretty scary - and surprising for me, but I'm pretty naive. I'd recommend!

41. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Again, I recently wrote about this one too. Audrey Niffenegger, dude. Hardest name in the world to pronounce, but totally someone I'd love to meet.

I remember when I was at the Iowa workshop last summer, someone mentioned that she'd been there a few years back, right in the middle of writing The Time Traveler's Wife. She was getting ripped apart in some of the classes and was feeling really down on herself, but I guess some classmates bucked her up. She was supposed to stay the whole summer, but ended up leaving partway through and writing full-time to finish the book. And we all know how great that turned out!
This little anecdote gives me hope for my book one day. Firstly, that I write it. Secondly, that I will have a network of people who believe in me. Cause I literally can't wait to see what she writes about next.

42. Other People We Married by Emma Straub
Recently, it was Small Business Saturday and Am-Ex was giving people a $25 credit on their statement if you spent $25 at a small biz. Hello, independent bookstore down the street!

I picked up this book of short stories because I was in the mood and it was a mixed bag. I don't remember many of the stories (something that always gives me pause...), but I was intrigued by the theme of the book. They were all stories about relationships that could have happened, but didn't for one reason or another. I liked it more towards the end.

43. Three Stages of Amazement by Carol Edgarian
OK! This is way out of order. I read this in June and just realized it never made it into a book review. That's a problem because this book was GOOD. I excerpted it while I was reading and bought it somewhere super-cheap recently to make sure it was part of my collection.

It's a modern-day story about a couple who has two young kids. They're having normal, modern-day issues. He works in venture capital. She works and cares for the kids. They don't have enough alone time. There are some weird lies that get told for good reasons. And it's the downfall of their marriage, as well as a rebuild.

Details are hazy because I read it so long ago, but I remember REALLY liking it. You might too.

44. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
We saw Jeffrey Eugenides at the New Yorker festival this year. He was on a writer's panel and man, was he likeable. Very straightforward but funny, honest and a little quiet. He joked that it's awkward for him when one of his books comes out because he goes to dinner parties soon after and everyone asks when the NEXT one is happening. "Don't they know it takes me 9 years between each book?!" he laughed.

Funny.

I think the biggest reason I like Middlesex is because it's about so many topics that I know nothing about. Detroit, Greece, immigration and, obviously, hermaphrodite-ism. I literally feel like I learn things by reading this book. And though I'm positive I didn't do this while reading for the first time, I had my iPhone handy to look things up as I encountered interesting stuff this time around.

The story is about a hermaphrodite who shares his story by reaching back into the past and tracing the funky things that happened with inter-marriage, all resulting in a tweaked gene. I like the idea of reading stories about several generations. I had the same feeling with Rutherford's New York. There's something to be said for puzzling out how characters are why they are based on who they came from.

I super-recommend. It's a great read.

And now! The full list of books I read in 2011. I've put stars next to the ones that were my favorites...

January
1. Great House by Nicole Krauss
2. Man Walks Into a Room by Nicole Krauss
3. Even Silence Has an End by Ingrid Betancourt
4. The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall
5. The Lovers by Vendala Vida
6. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall**
7. Pre by Tom Jordan

Februray
8. The Tiger by John Vaillant
9. The Age of Comfort by Joan Dejean
10. The Bitch in the House by Cathi Hanauer

March
11. The Discomfort Zone by Jonathan Franzen
12. The Boelyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory
13. A Rope and a Prayer by David Rohde and Kristen Mulvihill
14. The Long Run by Matt Long
15. Life After God by Douglas Coupland
16. Reading Jesus by Mary Gordon
17. The Girl who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow

April
18. Mary by Janis Cooke Newman
19. The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball
20. The Wheel of Life by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
21. The Weird Sisters by Elenor Brown**
22. On Life After Death by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

May
23. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain**
24. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
25. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
26. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

June
28. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
29. Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
30. Three Stages of Amazement by Carol Edgarian**

July
31. The Women of the House by Jean Zimmerman**
32. Inside the Apple by Michelle Nevius

August
33. Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert
34. The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig
35. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot**

September
36. How I Planned Your Wedding by Susan Wiggs and Elizabeth Wiggs Maas
37. The Greater Journey by David McCullough**
38. Bossypants by Tina Fey
39. Mrs. Astor Regrets by Meryl Gordon

November
40. New York: the Novel by Edward Rutherfurd**

December
41. Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson
42. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger**
43. Other People We Married by Emma Straub
44. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

12.26.2011

Priceless.

At Camp Mighty, we each had to name 5 things we wanted to complete from our life lists in the following year. One of Chris' was to buy my Mom a sack of gifts.

Let me back up a second.

My Mom is very generous. She travels a lot for work and takes a lot of time throughout the year finding little things she thinks we'd like, saving them in secret hiding places, and finally gifting them on Christmas morning. Chris first spent Christmas with my family in 2009; my Mom treated him as another one of us that year, gifting him generously.

At Camp Mighty, Chris said how touched he had been by her generosity. He wanted to find a way to make her feel special too. And thus, the "sack of gifts" idea was born. He asked our Camp Mighty team to help him with inspiration. We wrote out a little bio of who she is, what she likes, what she does in life. Our Mighty Team came through with lots of ideas... and some of them even sent gifts to contribute to the present.

Chris didn't find a sack, but he DID find a HILARIOUSLY GIANT stocking. My sibs and Chris and I filled it with gifts for her and we presented it Christmas morning. I won't say anything further... you should see it for yourselves:



More Flickr pix here... and need I say it? I totally married the best guy.

12.24.2011

Merry, merry.

Being RIDICULOUS with my sibs in 2010.
I had a hard time feeling Christmasy in Brooklyn. Originally we planned to come up to my parents' on Christmas Eve morning, but then I broke down on Thursday night. It's just not Christmas without my family around, without Mom's cookies and the Chex Mix we ceremoniously bake. It's not Christmas without wearing fleece jackets in the house because it's so cold. And it's not Christmas holiday music as a background.

So we came up to Yorktown last night.

I'm sure there will be a time when I will need to shift my definition of what Christmas is, or, more specifically, where Christmas must be. But for now, I am content to settle into this chilly house and count this tradition once more at home.

Merry Christmas to you and yours. Enjoy the day... and the hugs. All those Christmas hugs.

12.20.2011

"Here we are, as in olden days..."

Our tree this year.
The saddest version of "Have yourself a merry little Christmas" was sung by Bert in Christmas Eve on Sesame Street. We used to watch this every year and for some reason this song always made me super-sad. Maybe that's because Bert is kind of sad. You get the feeling he doesn't do so well socially. He's the Mitchell to Modern Family's Cam. A little uptight, a little nervous, but underneath, a hopeful little heart.

2007 was the year that I moved home from Paris and was very, very sad. I was still sad at Christmas and I remember driving around my home town alone one night, looking at Christmas lights and singing that song to myself as I drove. Hearing my little voice singing that song in the way Bert does... well, I drove around with tears rolling down my cheeks. I made MYSELF cry, it was that sad.

I remember the tough Christmas that winter and I'm so grateful I made it out ok. If you're having a tough Christmas yourself this year, hang in there. It's amazing how things can turn around.

12.19.2011

Stories about stories: Middlesex

It was 2005; February, I think. I'd left Clermont-Ferrand the previous May and was dying to see friends in France, so my mom and I planned a trip. We stayed in a friend's friend's apartment while he was on vacation. The apartment had a kitten, a billion bookshelves, and a tiny kitchen where we cooked dinner one night for Erica, Angelique and Jean-Yves.

I was pretty jet-lagged that trip. No biggie, though. I had a book I was obsessed with to keep me company into the wee hours of the morning. Middlesex was published in '02, but I didn't find it until '05. By that point, Jeffrey Eugenides had won the Pulitzer but hadn't yet been featured on Oprah's book club. I knew it was a big deal, but the truth is that all that meta info about a book-- the prizes, the quotes from other authors, the marketing of it-- fades away. Because at the end of the day? You either sink into a story or you don't.

I'm about 100 pages in and two things are evident:
1. I forget a lot of details about books I've read. Ok, not just details- plot lines too.
2. This book is DAAAAAMN good.

Rereading is the best thing ever. It's like hanging out with an old friend, like remembering how much funnier someone is in person or how thoughtful and likeable they are in conversation. You know these things about them, but every once in a while it's refreshing to be in the same place again, paving over old memories with new ones.

12.18.2011

Le Washington, DC.

Last night I finished a travel guide for Washington, DC. You can find it under "Travel Guide" in the top nav or you can click this little link right here. I'm hoping to do a bunch more of these in the new year. Once my friend Priya told me that she used mine for Seattle and Portland and it made my freaking day. Plus, who doesn't like a starting point when they explore a new place?

Speaking of Washington...


During our last trip to DC, we were finally able to see my brother's band play. They're Orchard Wall and they're pretty great... go to their page and listen to "Mother's Yard." It's a song Steve wrote about/for me and he burned it on a CD that we listened to on the honeymoon road trip and I bawled through the Redwoods.

At Camp Mighty we had to name 5 things we want to accomplish in the next year and one of mine is to sing a song with Steve's band. So... stay tuned for a star performance in the new year!

12.17.2011

Christmas, Dayquil and the like.

Ornament from 1984, broken by cats.
This morning I woke up with a sore throat. So sore, in fact, that I couldn't really talk above a whisper. This was... undesired. We had STUFF to do today. Three holiday parties tonight and a date with my parents to see the Rockefeller tree and get dinner. Alas, it is all canceled.

On top of that, I don't feel very Christmasy this year. Christmas is different when you're an adult. We won't have much time off and it's been such a big year for us with gifts (what with the wedding...), I don't even feel like I need things this year. Since I bought many of our gifts for family online, I haven't gotten the full dose of commercial Christmas. I baked dozens of cookies for the doormen this week, but it still didn't feel the same. I'm not quite sure how to fix it.

What do I really want for Christmas? Someone to sew the holes in the pockets of my coat so my keys don't keep dropping into the lining. Someone to put the last bookshelf in our living room together. Another week of vacation. Updates from friends I haven't heard from in a while. My blog ported from Blogspot to Wordpress.

An anti-sore throat.

That's really the truth. I don't need a ton of stuff.

*

There are two weeks left in 2011. Two weeks from tonight, we'll be getting ready for a new year, a new dawn. What are you dreaming about for next year? What have you already put in place? What's going to grow? What needs to be slashed and burned from your life?

In the quiet days that stand between now and then, I'm looking forward to slowing down. Even though we'll be working most of the next two weeks, the days will be a bit quieter, a bit lagged. I need to take some giant deep breaths during this time because 2012 is already gearing up to be an intense storm. I feel at half-tank just thinking about it and I'm trying to get creative about how to refuel. 

A re-cap on the themes of the past few years:
2008: Great in '08 (sorry, too lazy to find the link)

I'm circling in on my theme for 2012. I considered "More sleep in '12!" and "Summer in the south of France '12!" but I'll probably settle for something more practical. Like "Less proactive in '12!" I sure do get myself wrapped up in 1.7 million things per week and I'd like to step back and be a little more picky about the opportunities I pursue.

*

I have wedding pictures. (Statistics show that 47% of you just drooled on your keyboards.) I don't know how best to share them. Dumping them in a Flickr album seems... rude. And a bit too open-door. Dropping them all on Facebook seems... like a lot of required tagging. I haven't figured it out yet. But they're coming! 47% of you will be super-pumped because they are awesome and you are probably in some of them and even though I feel awkward in some of them, I am trying to get over it and watch a little more ANTM to embrace my inner model. 

Speaking of, I had a professional headshot done recently. I KNOW. Amber (of Brooklyn, of Camp Mighty, of the Internets) took it and I'm just waiting to get the finalized version. Then I'll stick that up there where the photo of me with no make-up currently sits. Little by little, peeps. We're going to clean this space up for next year. I have some BIG plans in the works... plans that more than 47% of you are going to super-drool over. 

12.14.2011

Naming a daily intention.

Brian, exec producer on Oprah, talks with Maggie Mason.
I've previously written about 5 goals. My friend Sima and I send each other 5 goals each morning that we aim to accomplish by the evening. These goals are small and achievable, and a mix of personal and professional tasks. We've been doing this for over a year and a half and it gives a lovely rhythm to my morning.

Here are some random examples:
1. Buy stamps for Xmas cards
2. Figure out details of designer offer
3. Respond to Mom's email
4. Spend at least an hour on Keynote presentation
5. Drink at least 3 glasses of water

Since Camp Mighty, I've added a new component to the 5 goals. I now list out an intention for each day. When an executive producer from the Oprah show spoke at Camp Mighty, he talked about the importance of intention. Each show they produced had a specific intention and I realized how helpful it can be for a day. So along with my 5 daily goals, I also write something I intend for the day, based on what I have on my calendar and what I anticipate encountering on each given day.

Here are some random intentions that I've used over the past month:
  • Keep door to personal life closed during work hours (email, twitter, etc)
  • Pay attention.
  • Be open to feedback.
  • Push for specific solutions for problems I encounter today.
  • Be a bright spot in the day of those I come into contact with.
  • Make small, but noticeable progress.

Need a structure for your day? Try it. It's great to have one overarching theme to the kind of day you plan on having. And it always makes me feel better, even on really overwhelming days. 

12.12.2011

Stories on stories: Her Fearful Symmetry

The first time I finished Her Fearful Symmetry, it was past midnight the night before Chris was leaving for a trip to Wisconsin. I stayed up really late to finish because I couldn't bear the thought of finishing a ghost story without him in the apartment and I couldn't bear the thought of NOT finishing the book until he returned.

The second time I finished Her Fearful Symmetry, it was also late at night, but this time we were in Wisconsin. We were laying on the airbed in Chris' Dad's basement and the still-lit Christmas tree cast a little light towards the dark corners near the stairs. I had to pee, but put it off for 30 pages because I was scared to walk to the bathroom alone. And when I finally finished the last page and went to the bathroom, I did it quick, like when you're a kid, like when you bolt back towards your bed, a surge of adrenaline and fear chomping at your heels the whole way.

What struck me most this time around was how this is not just a ghost story. Like The Time Traveler's Wife, this is a love story. It's the story of sister love, parent love and partner love. I lay there, unable to sleep, feeling uber-gushy towards Chris. I worried about who would die first. The love from that love story had just soaked right in and I was left as one is at the end of a truly good story: staggering and struggling at the beauty and complexity of life.

This is my first re-read for this semester and what I'm realizing is that these second encounters are as much about the circumstances surrounding the memory of reading, as they are about the book itself. I think I'll document the experience of the re-read with posts like this, typed out stories about the stories themselves.

12.08.2011

Oh. Hey.

Hello. How have you been? Me? Fine. Busy. Taking care of BIZ. You know, the work business. And the business of two cats and a husband.

I didn't mean to drop a "do-over" semester on you all and then disappear, but there was a soup cook-off and a photo shoot to get a professional head-shot done and a holiday party with friends. And a tree purchase and a steak dinner and a bowling party where I got my tarot cards read and it was SPOOKY. And two cats who broke ornaments and some long, long days at work.

I have so many pictures of all these events, but the cord to upload them seems very far away right about now and I'm already sleepy even though it's 9:37pm. SO. Another day.

But I just wanted to check in here and say, hey. Hey, hello and hi.

PS I started re-reading Her Fearful Symmetry and it's so much scarier than last time because I know what happens. Last time I tried to avoid reading it too quickly because I wanted to savor every page and this time I can only read 10 pages at a time because I want to avoid the dark ending. Yikes! The perils of a re-read.

PPS We are headed to Wisconsin tomorrow afternoon for a good old Kenosha Christmas. It's our annual tradition of a pre-Christmas with Chris' family and I'm looking forward to catching up with the Wisconsinites and high fiving about the Packers. Those Packers! So good again this year.

PPPS If you just read that about the Packers and thought "holy crap, I don't even know who writes this blog anymore, but Ms. Jennifer Dary/Epting/whatever her name is would never watch football," well, you're right. But when you marry someone from Wisconsin, you get a little into football, even if you wince and think of Malcolm Gladwell after every tackle. (I do.)

11.30.2011

Semester 5: The Value of "Again."

Confused about Project Learn? You can check it out here.

To every thing there is a season. Someone sang about that once. For the past four semesters of Project Learn, it's been a season of newness. New books, new experiences, new films, new encounters. But now it's time for semester 5, arriving just in time for the winter season.

I was thinking the other day about why the winter season feels so cozy. As the temperature drops, we pull out our sweaters and breathe annual life into holiday traditions and resolutions. It's a season of diving down deep into our beds, our heads and our routines.

And so! The fifth semester of Project Learn (December through February) is going to be about redoing. Rereading, rewatching, retracing. Because while there is much to learn from newness, there is also much to learn from traveling the same path for a second (or third! or fourth!) time. I'm interested in what sentences pop out when I revisit a book I loved upon first read. What can you learn about yourself or the world by doing the same thing every Monday morning? And what films are just as charming the second time around?

I hope you'll read along as I spend this winter investigating the value of "again."

Books (read 8 of 12)
Feast of Love by Charles Baxter
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffeneger
After Rain by William Trevor
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
Dubliners by James Joyce
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The Weird Sisters by Elenor Brown
The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Films/Shows
The Wonder Years
Before Sunrise
Before Sunset
I Heart Huckabees

Albums
For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver
Stunt by Barenaked Ladies
Boys and Girls by Ingrid Michaelson
Quelqu'un m'a dit by Carla Bruni
Hard to Be by David Bazan

Activities
Have a weekly tradition.
Visit a place I haven't been in a really long time.
Get better at something through repeat practice.

11.29.2011

Thinking about patience.

A few weeks ago, I read an interesting essay by Nick Crocker called The Art of the Trade-Off. In it, he argues that life is about trade-offs... and while you can do many, many things in your life, you can't do them all at the same time. He quotes David Sedaris, who identifies the four main burners in life (work, health, family, friends) and says that you can only have two of four burners lit at a given time to be really successful.

Lately, I feel as though I'm getting this message all over the place. And I've been resisting it since I read it, convinced that there was a way to trick the system or combine two burners at once or manage a gym with my family and friends (the only contrived solution I found to getting at all of them).

But this morning, I'd like to ask a question. If we accept this burner theory, why is it a good thing? Why is only having 24 hours in a day a good thing?

I think it can be summed up in one, super-meaningful word: patience.

Lots of people have thoughts about patience. The Bible loves patience. My associations with this word bring me back to nursery school where "be patient!" was commonly uttered.

Patience helps us slow down. Patience helps us be quiet, to make decisions in a still moment of clarity. Patience helps us take the long view instead of immediately reacting. Without patience, we would never taste slow-cooked pork or baked Alaska or ... cheese.

So even though much of myself still wants to resist the assertion that our time and attention is limited, I think I can step back and understand that bumping up against limits strengthens my patience. Strengthening patience brings much-needed peace to my life view, the belief that things will work themselves out just fine in the end.

11.28.2011

The socialization of places

Upper West Side, NYC.
There is an agreed-upon format to a biography. You start in the beginning. You start with someone's birth, or at least, their childhood. You tell the stories of who they were because often, those stories influence who they became. There are accomplishments, obstacles and relationships. Combined, these represent a life- be it that of a human, a disease, or a year.

Though it wasn't on my original list (and though it's not technically a biography), I've spent the last few weeks reading a novel called New York. The format of this book really impressed me; its author, Edward Rutherfurd, tells the history of New York since the 17th century, and then traces the generations forward to the 21st century. In this way, you can see how New York shifted, how it was influenced and purchased and built up and broken down.

In short, it's a fictional biography of the city.

Something struck me yesterday during a run. If cities have accomplishments and obstacles and relationships, then cities can be tracked just as human lives are. This CLICKED with me. I have a curious relationship to new places in that I hate visiting somewhere that I know nothing about. I like to do a little pre-reading, a little historical research if you will. And even after I know a city, I like continuing to learn about its government and why its streets are shaped the way they are (see: Haussmann in Paris).

As it turns out, I socialize with places in the same way that I socialize with people I meet.

To a new person:
Where are you from? Is that where you grew up? I have a sister too. What did you study at school? And what are you doing now? That's awesome that you got to live abroad. That's too bad about losing your job, but I guess it got you here. What neighborhood do you live in? Oh, and do you like living there?

The answers to these questions paint a quick sketch of a person's life: their choices and their responses to circumstances outside their control.

Imagine if you asked these questions to a place.

Who started you? Why did they need you to be exactly where you are? Who took over next? And then who came? That's wonderful that you drew such a crowd. That's too bad that the disease struck during that century. But why did that group move to you? And who lives in you today? Why are they there?

What am I getting at here? That just in the same way that you click with certain people, I believe you can click with certain places as well. Sometimes that click happens on a first meeting. Barcelona was like that for me. But sometimes that click takes a few times, takes a little small talk and a glass of wine for everyone to relax and stop being pretentious. Paris was like that for me.

Sometimes there's never a click, as hard as you both try. Morocco was like that for me.

At this point, New York and I are very good friends. I get New York. I know why she's pissy and why sometimes she acts tough, but I also get why she's an amazing place to bounce ideas off of. I appreciate what she's been through. And just as with any friendship, she's rubbed off on me. Sometimes the words coming out of my mouth aren't mine; they belong to her. And I'd like to think that I've given something of myself to her over these past four years as well.

I love this. If the biography semester results only in this realization, then I feel it was worth it. It makes sense now why I start getting cranky when I haven't visited Paris or Ireland or Clermont or Pennsylvania in a while. It's the same feeling I get when I crave a visit with my siblings or with Maddy or Katie or Skersh. I miss people and I miss places. It's as simple as that.

You can bet anything that I'm going to miss New York if we leave her one day. I'm going to need visits back, hours in which I stroll along her streets and reconnect with her. After all this time, I see that she's beautiful and complex. Just like I hope to be.

11.27.2011

Thanksgiving weekend

Thanksgiving is almost better than Christmas, isn't it? Four whole days of holiday; the extra day off pushes it over the edge to a mini-vacation.

We spent Thanksgiving day and the day after at my parents', where Kate and I went on a run, I made a pumpkin pie, Chris answered iPad questions and my Dad made us go around the dinner table and say what we're thankful for.

In case it isn't obvious, I am very thankful for this life of mine. I am thankful for a healthy body, a strong will and the belief that I can do lots of things. I'm also thankful for my wonderful family- both blood and married into!- and our family of friends, which has grown and grown and grown over the past year.

I met a baby on Friday, a baby who is 2 weeks old and has his whole life ahead of him. I'm thankful for friends who let me hold their little babies.

And then my family visited Brooklyn on Saturday night for dinner and left the sibs chez nous to crash for a night. It was the best.

How was your Thanksgiving?

PS I am thankful to YOU for reading this little blog. You readers, you!



My parents' cat Simon, who misses his brother Toby.


Hey favorite brother!


My pie (recipe via Erica)

Kate's pecan tarte

Jay and Laurie's new baby... Elliott!

Just talking. My fav.

Beautiful Thanksgiving Saturday on the deck.


Oscar believes he's a book.

Ollie snuggles Kate.

11.22.2011

The saddest little peanut of all.

Hiding in a tea towel at the vet.
Is there anything sadder than a little cat with a couple of teary pink eyes? Nope. No, there's not. That's what Ollie looked like last night when the vet diagnosed pink eye in both eyes, gave him a shot of antibiotics, and sent us home with some eye cream.

Is there anything more fun than putting eye cream in a little cat's eyes twice a day? YEP. YEP THERE IS. Pretty much anything else in the world is more fun than that.

I let him sleep in my closet all day today (a luxury he is normally not granted because of his habit of eating sweaters). But this morning I couldn't blame him. The poor guy looks so sick and uncomfortable.

Of course we're headed to my parents' tomorrow after work for Thanksgiving. Why do pets always get sick right before you go away?

11.21.2011

How to start (or restart) running.

So scared before my first 5k.
My 2011 running career lasted from January through June, during which I completed 5ks and 10ks. Amazing! I lost 15 pounds, I felt great for my wedding, I grew more comfortable in my clothes. But since June, I haven't exercised much at all.

Last week I got some blood work back and it said I have high triglycerides. This pissed me off. I eat YOGURT for lunch, people. I walk everywhere. And yet there it was, on the paper: high triglycerides. "Try exercising," it said. Blarg.

Coincidentally, I saw Kelley this week and she proclaimed her intention to run a half marathon in the spring. "Crap," I thought to myself. "That's on my life list AND my blood is bad. I guess I'm doing this."

So I made a running plan in a google doc based on a 10k schedule to get me back into the swing of the things. I hit the treadmill on Wednesday night for the first time since June and promptly got angry with myself. I am slow. Slooooow. Also, I can't run without walking. I need to take breaks. And I need a lower incline than I used to.

Do you know how annoying that is? To have put in 6 months of running this year, then taken a break, and now to find myself back at the starting point?

And yet this is the lesson of running. That it is HARD. That you should use whatever motivation you can scrounge up to make it out the door with your sneakers on. Leave the treadmill at 0% incline. Take walking breaks. Listen to music if it helps. Sometimes I think I'm not *really* running if I do those things. But that's bull.

Running humbles me. It's one of the toughest things I've ever tried in my life; it challenges my strength, my mental state and my belief in myself. I think this is why so many people have running goals on their Life Lists; because they sense it's going to break them... and then make them stronger.

Want to get started? Here's how:
1. Pick a goal
2. Make/find a running schedule
3. Go shopping for running clothes

Does that last one sound rude? Too bad. Because when you agree to haul your jiggling, cookie-filled self down the streets of Brooklyn at a given pace, you're facing discomfort. Not only does your body not feel like a runner, but you know your Converse don't make you look like a runner either. And so I say to you, if you are thinking about running, waltz into a sporting goods store and buy a pair of pants and some sneakers. There is something to be said for looking the part and if you've never been the athletic type, you're going to need a wardrobe shift to change the image you have of yourself.

As for the running schedule, I can highly recommend Couch to 5k as a beginner's program or the Hal Higdon 5k plan (he also has plans for other distances).

And as for the running goal? Well, I might have a suggestion for that. On Thursday afternoon, I accidentally organized a team of people to run the NYC half marathon in March 2012. Oops! We're calling it Runners for Reading - we'll be a team of technologists and readers who run the 13.1 miles to raise money to buy Kindles for a school in NYC. Because KIDS NEED TO READ!

Want to be part of our group? We would seriously love it. Check out our Twitter page for updates and we'll have a full site up and running soon. Start planning your trip to New York and let me know if you need somewhere to stay. Maybe I can help.

If you've been looking for an opportunity to run, then you should interpret this post as fate. And you should know one more thing:

You Can Do It. I seriously mean it.

11.20.2011

Our days of late.

Me and Tobers a few years ago.
I keep wanting to write a post about running (news alert!), but it doesn't happen because when I get a few minutes at a computer, all I can think about is death and love. I realize that sounds dramatic, but that's a little bit what it's been like in our world lately.

My great Aunt Jean died right after we arrived in Palm Springs last week and then on Friday, my Dad took Toby, our family's cat, to the vet to be put to sleep. I held it together on the phone with my Mom, but as soon as I hung up I burst into tears. Toby! Tobster, the little buddy who was born in our basement, who peed, puked and shit on every piece of furniture in my parents' house and still managed to be the favorite pet. He was 14 and not well and I completely agree with the decision to put him down. Still.

In the wake of his death, I've been snuggling O&O closer this weekend, watching videos from when they were younger, and giving them treats. Then yesterday, Ollie developed a watery left eye and has been sneezing non-stop. Obviously I assume he is on his deathbed and can't stop wiping his face with a Kleenex. He probably has a cold, but you can't convince me of that this weekend. We'll visit the vet tomorrow night to make sure all is well.

We went to the Space party as Venus and Apollo. (Get it?)
(Clearly we will need a live-in pediatrician one day.)

So, death. What's with the love then?

When I married Chris three months ago, I loved him. A lot! But after he accompanied me to Camp Mighty, successfully released the new version of Readability last week to nationwide acclaim and did the laundry yesterday, I DOUBLE love that dude. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that the guy I married would be as confident, charming and open as he was with the folks at Camp Mighty. He nailed it. Every so often I would look over at him opening his heart to a (mostly female) group of people and I would just swoon.

This morning I ran 3 miles (more on that soon, I promise) and as I made my way through Brooklyn Heights, I imagined an upcoming race I'm doing in the spring. I thought about what it will be like, the crowd cheering, knowing that Chris is somewhere up ahead. I teared up and kept running, grateful to have found and married such a supportive partner.

*

Speaking of love, here's some more. Here are the sites of some wonderful people we met at Camp Mighty. It's not exhaustive, but it's a good start to some fresh URLs in your feed... 

Rebecca (and Robbie- our new favorite Milwaukee couple)

11.18.2011

Brothers.

I was working on a big post and then I thought, "eff it. It's Friday. Let's have some cats."

As promised:


"The brothers" from Jen Epting on Vimeo.

11.15.2011

Written to a slow, steady song.

Headed home.
I am fascinated by nature vs. nurture. What made me me? If I grew up somewhere else, what of myself would be different? And what is just inherently, unabashedly me?

I have an image of someone rubbing their hands together with an impish grin, softly saying "Oh, this is getting GOOD." Translate that scene into a personality trait and I think you're pretty close to what I feel I am. I suppose it boils down to this:

I constantly feel like I'm on the precipice of something amazing.

Is that obnoxious? It feels a little obnoxious to write that out. But it's not like that. It's not "my life is so charmed! I have everything I want! Tra la!" Here's what it (genuinely) feels like:

A warm wind that hits your face at the start of a vacation. The first few chords of an upbeat album. Nodding your head along with someone seated next to you. Understanding pain. The truest sentence you ever read. A big, deep breath.

This is all to say that Camp Mighty was another event in a long line of life moments that felt true. From listening to speakers whose presentations were inspiring, to finally understanding why we were all there (life lists), to the humility of meeting writers who words have touched millions.

You must surround yourself with others who care. You must get out of the way of others who want to pull rank. You must get with the right people and away from the wrong people and I can't tell you what those definitions are, but I think you know them in your heart anyway. And the reason for this? Well, that's simple.

Because they will make you feel you're on the precipice of something amazing. And while I'm still waiting to see what giant, simple truth will come of my life, I can feel that it's out there, waiting for me to find my way to it. Camp Mighty, like a large, bright, neon sign, made me realize that I'm headed in the right direction.

11.13.2011

Staying Gold.

Camp Mighty necklace.
We're sitting in SFO waiting for our flight back to New York. A combination of lack of sleep and excess of food for thought results in a distracted fatigue. I really should be napping, but I can't stop looking at people's Life Lists and thinking through this weekend.

This isn't going to be The Post About Camp Mighty. I am much too close to it to do it justice. This is a simple post about one thing that Evany Thomas said on Friday morning during her talk.

She described where she was in her career several years ago. She had a decent job. She never took her work home; at 5pm every day, she was liberated to have a whole separate life. She wondered if that was it, if she had achieved the level of comfort that we often long for.

At that moment, she realized that she had a choice. Do you lean into the worst version of yourself, the one who longs for life to roll out wide and long ahead of you towards retirement? Or do you hold yourself to the highest standard?

"Stay gold," she told us.

Staying gold is so flipping exhausting. But gold is just that- it's gold. It's shiny, bright, valuable, strong and always worth its weight, whether you're talking about your career or the way you interact with new people.

We were the newlyweds this weekend. Arguably, we haven't even made it to a point where we have a long-term comfortable option for, well, anything. And yet. Hearing Evany speak on this point was a welcome sharp object, poking us in the underbellies and reminding us that those conundra are out there.

Deep breath. Long sleep coming. Long life coming. And hopefully, lots and lots of gold.

11.08.2011

Numbers 101 and 102.

My great-aunt is dying. She had cancer a few years ago, was treated, and was well enough to come to our wedding in August. Then somehow in the past 3 months, the cancer overtook her, spreading everywhere.

On Sunday, my siblings and I went to visit her. She's smaller than she ever was before, softer, quieter. I know she knows she's dying; she refused treatment this time around, preferring to be soon reunited with the husband she lost 20 years ago.

What do you talk about with someone who's dying? We erred on the side of asking about her life. "Who was your favorite president?" and "Did you like to go to dances?" and "What was our Dad like when he was young?"

These were my favorite answers. When you're dying, people's lives are boiled down to short words or phrases.

"A good boy." (for my Dad)
"She liked volleyball." (my aunt)
"Naughty." (relative)
"Busy." (relative)

I've spent the past 3 months reading biographies and I can say that these one-word biographies have been the most poetic of all.

*

You cannot read a biography without, on some level, calculating your life's trajectory. Biographies trace someone's history, explain how and why they were who they became, list accomplishments. Tomorrow, Chris and I leave on an early flight to Camp Mighty, where we will attempt to become mightier.

This is not about doing things so others believe I was once great. This is about reaching really far down and truly living the Gandhi quote: Be the change you wish to see in the world.

I posted my Life List last week and this morning I read through it again. So much on there is about me! So much on there is about things that I want to add to the resume of experience I have accumulated in this world. And that is not alright.

Grateful for this realization, I'm adding two more items. Two items that feel like true reaches, that feel as though they would make a REAL change I wish to see in the world:

101. Help change a struggling city into a thriving one.
102. Use my communication skills to help people understand something difficult. Could be national healthcare, the DMV, Green Card applications or something else that's known for being a black box.

These are the kinds of goals I want to think more about as I head out to Palm Springs and though I'm pretty anxious about the social experience of hanging out with the personalities at Camp Mighty, I'm aching for this to be a life-changing experience.

I will report back.

10.30.2011

O&O

We spent a lot of time inside this weekend, mainly because of snow. Here are a few shots of the cats, who loved having us around all weekend. These snugglepants make our house a home.






Honeymoon: 3 nights in Palm Springs


And finally we were in Palm Springs. We skirted LA because I was afraid of spending 89% of the trip in LA traffic and went straight on through. It was a longish ride from San Luis Obispo, but when we got to the Parker, we were MIGHTY glad to be there. We spent the next 24 hours jumping in and out of the pool, drinking pina coladas by the pool, and listening to Housewives of LA make irritating conversation in the pool. (e.g. "You simply MUST come with us to Hawaii for Christmas! It's decided! I'll book tickets on my iPhone right now!)

We moved to the Ace and told them they were our last Ace to hit. No one cared that much. I was disappointed! But I got over it and we went in the Ace's pool. We had a couples' massage, we ordered delivery pizza for lunch, we saw a famous actor and one night we took our book lights and read under the stars (thanks, Jess and Sean!). 

And that's where the honeymoon ended. After 12 amazing days, we boarded a plane to Milwaukee, where we had a second wedding party for Chris' family and friends. We were tan, smiley and tired of eating out. It was a good time to head back East.

Final pix on Flickr here.




10.29.2011

Honeymoon: 1 night in San Luis Obispo


When we last left our heroine, she was about to ride a horse for the first time. After we were outfitted at the stables, we noticed a giant gray horse. "I hope you get that stallion!" I said to Chris. And turns out, he did get that horse- except she was no stallion. Star was a lady horse.


I was given a speckled horse named Emma who was old and slow and a little bit moody. "Come on, Emma," I'd say, gently nudging her sides with my heels, and she's stay right where she was. It was funny! And endearing. Good old Emma, damning the man.

Obviously we met a French family and obviously we made friends with them and obviously they invited us to visit them in their large mansion in France. That part was good too.

Along the way, we had lunch at Nepenthe. The driving through Big Sur was my favorite of the CA portion of the trip. Cliffs and coasts and sea lions the whole way... 

Then we stopped at the Hearst Castle, where we did a tour (make sure you book ahead!), enjoyed super-blue skies and marveled at a man we knew nothing about prior to the trip. William Randolph Hearst was one rich dude and, may I say, a marvelous-sounding dinner party host. He screened new movies in his private movie theater and flew in choir seats from Italy to decorate his front room. 

As we were driving out of the castle's parking lot, we laughed at something the tour guide said. Hearst collected exotic animals and kept them in pens at the castle, though he had to sell them off one-by-one as he needed money towards the end of his life. The guide said we might still be able to see some zebra in the fields along the road. Well WE DID! Zebras and cows were hanging out in the same enclosure, all just standing about awkwardly.

Zebra sightings. Just another day on the Honeymoon 2011 tour.

More pix on Flickr here.


10.26.2011

But what are we really doing?

Bonsai tree in the DC arboretum.
I like getting to the bottom of things. I used to think that meant I had an obsession with truth. Every time the word "truth" was used in a book I was reading, I would underline it. I would pay close attention to how that word was being used.

I was not sure how this related to lying, but I suspected that I was less interested in the opposite of truth and more in the gushy "getting to the bottom" of a reality, of a relationship, of a desire.

This morning I was prepping for a meeting that was happening later this afternoon. The meeting was to write a mission statement for one of our projects here at Arc; we were asked to write a few statements on our own and bring them to the table at 4pm. And as I was working on this, I realized that I kept focusing tighter on the subject at hand, like a surgeon zooming in on the monitor as he cuts.

"But what are we really doing?" I thought to myself. And then I'd write the answer. Then I'd ask myself again. "But what are we really doing?"

And slowly, surely, I started to center in on the crux of it.

I'm not sure if this is searching for the "truth," but I know that I used this exercise when thinking about getting married. Here's how it worked:

Fact: We're having a wedding.
But what are we really doing?
Fact: I'm wearing a white dress and Chris is wearing a gray suit.
But what are we really doing?
Fact: We're having a party with our family and friends.
But what are we really doing?
Fact: We're having a ceremony that others are coming to witness.
But what are we really doing?
Fact: Chris and I are promising to spend our lives together, among other things.
But what are we really doing?
Fact: Chris and I are embarking on a project. This day kicks off that project and there are a number of promises we're making related to our commitment to the project. Others will witness those promises and help us honor them.

There. That feels about right. And in this light, concerning ourselves with wedding colors and gift bags in hotel rooms felt RIDICULOUS. Right? Like, totally out of scale. Getting to the bottom of the "truth" of the wedding event was really helpful when it came time to tell the florist we weren't spending $2,000 on flowers. And other insane things.

Here's another one:

Fact: At some point in the not-so-distant future, we would like to leave New York.
But what are we really doing?
Fact: We want to have more space.
But what are we really doing?
Fact: We want to start a family sometime before my eggs rot.
But what are we really doing?
Fact: We want to slow down the pace of our lives a bit and re-prioritize.
But what are we really doing?

Well. That's as far as we're at right now. And that's ok! Sometimes you don't know what the next step is along the way. Sometimes you really only know the first fact. For example:

Fact: I am not actively writing my book.
But what am I really doing?

I have a couple of guesses. I think I might really be avoiding it because I'm intimidated or because I'm not actually ready to do it or… possibly… because I'm not good enough to do it. Tricky, that.

The job is to figure out what the next fact is. And then the next one. And on down the line until I get to a point where I can act against the "truth" of it. That might take a while. But you know, I think that's ok. If we were able to get to the bottom of everything right away, we'd have a lot more on our to-do lists.

So if you don't know what you're really doing, I think the answer is clear. Ask yourself some questions. And if that doesn't work, just wait longer.