German Guests

Yesterday I bought a hyacinth at Trader Joe's. It was a purchase-on-a-whim, but I needed it. I've been feeling a little down lately and I'm looking forward to spring. My grandpa died last Tuesday and the funeral was on Friday. Work has been tough lately. Writing is stalled.

I love (lovelovelove) the smell of hyacinths. They remind me of Easter and warmer days; whenever I encounter one at a bodega or in a store, I have to bend over and smell deeply. They just smell so damn good.

The bright spot of the past few days were our German guests. I lived with Susanne in Clermont-Ferrand for the 2003-04 school year. I taught English and she went to the university and we became great friends. In fact, we have the same exact birthday (to the year!) and she recently met the love of her life. His name? Obviously, Christoph.

A few pix from our touristy weekend, and then the rest here.


Music and life and death and the weekend.

I keep trying to write a post about the concert we saw on Saturday night. I can't figure out how to start it, how to paint the scene, how to get to what I want to get to.

So here's the elephant in the room: Sunday overshadowed much of Saturday night. For the second time in a few months, we made a trip down to Pennsylvania to say goodbye to a dying relative. This time it was for my Pop-pop, my last living grandparent. My parents drove south, my siblings drove north and we met them at his house around noon.

When I'm near someone who is close to dying, I want to ask so many questions. It's the rarest interview you can get. Unfortunately being close to death usually also means that you're not in the frame of mind (or physically even able) to discuss the journey you're about to take, so whether or not I can muster the will to ask what I want is often a moot point. That's how it felt yesterday. I know he was happy we had come to visit, but he wasn't in a state to talk about life stuff.

Instead we visited with him for a few minutes, held his hand and asked him if he wanted tea. We traded off, the rest of us gathering in the living room with my aunt and cousins and Pop-pop's wife. We told stories about Katy Perry and asked how the house used to be when my Dad and Aunt Betty were kids. My Dad led some prayers, as he often does when our family is together. There were a few tears but there were equally a bunch of laughs and if I had been Pop-pop, it would have calmed me enormously to hear a roomful of my descendants giggling and sharing stories in the next room.

Maybe this is how I get to the concert. There were three opening bands before the headliners on Saturday night and (surprisingly!) one was better than the next. While Lucius was playing, I looked around the room and saw all kinds of people. Kids who didn't even look 21. A girl there by herself. A couple of young, crazy dancers in the front. Some older groups of friends and then, along the wall, even a grandma there to support her grandkid's show.

Suddenly I got so happy. Because I was there with Chris and the love songs on stage were hitting us all differently. The single people were inspired (or possibly lonely) and the coupled people were warm and content (or possibly anxious) and the older people were just calm. I kind of wanted to jump on stage and say "we're all the same!" in that way music inspires you to think so. 

I knew that I'd be okay, no matter what happens in my life. Because there's a range of emotions we feel as humans and I've been through a bunch already in my 31 years. So if I can keep my head above water, the rest is muscle memory. Happy or sad or lonely or inspired, I've handled much of it before.

It was a good little moment and maybe it sounds a bit ego-maniacal writing it out here, but I suppose that's a choice people reading this will have to make. And maybe you feel the same? You've been through a bunch too. It doesn't mean you won't have any more adventures; it might just mean that you're already equipped to handle the ones that come next. 

And sometimes it feels really good to remember that.


Early Wednesday

I've been dreaming a lot lately. This, in itself, is not so much a surprise... I dream every night and usually remember at least a fragment of it the next morning. But lately I've been waking up exhausted from a night filled of running around, navigating social situations and (boringly) going to work. Each morning I remember more than fragments - whole storylines seem to extend back to the moment my head hit the pillow.

A whole bunch of these dreams lately have been about me wearing the wrong thing. I was going on a trip and I packed the most impractical shoes ever (Mac shoes, made of computers, if you're curious). I found myself on vacation with a popular blogger and I'd forgotten a swimsuit. Each time I'm embarrassed, worried about the impression I'm making, and wake up remembering and thinking about those feelings for the rest of the day.

I can't trace them back to anything just yet. Often a tweak in real life resolves these emotionally-draining nights for me... but first I have to figure out what's going on underneath it all.


I haven't been on this blog too often lately. I'm not worried; blogs go through seasons just like the rest of us. But if there's one thing I want to remember about the past month or so, it's that an earlier schedule has revealed amazing amounts of time. Weekends seem to last 72 hours. A super-early start to a weekday has us seeing a different NYC... I often get a seat on the subway. I get to work early enough to quietly catch up with early-bird colleagues before the mess of meetings start. Equally, I can leave earlier - which means that I'm often able to go on a walk before dinner.

Yes we are tired earlier and yes that's affected who I want to be around in the evenings. But schedules have seasons just like blogs do... and I'm enjoying living through this one for a while.


Les livres de 2012: round 1

We woke up this morning to snow. Finally. A New York winter full of temperatures in the 50s and 60s is alarming at best. Since we've been getting up so early lately, sleeping in is kind of hilarious.

"We slept til 7!"

It was too early for bagels, so I got a banana from the kitchen and returned to bed to watch the snow and polish off the rest of the Steve Martin book I'd found at the library earlier this week.

Reading while it snows is up there on the list of most charming things ever.

Here we go:

1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Chris reads a lot of sci-fi. Every once in a while he suggests a book and I'd like to think that I listen very carefully, but I guess I don't. Because when I started reading The Hunger Games on his Kindle at his insistence, he said "I TOLD YOU YOU WOULD LOVE THEM WHEN I READ THESE LAST YEAR."


Technically this is Young Adult, but so was Harry Potter and that series was GOOD. So is this one. It was crazy because I started reading the first book in this series and suddenly they were everywhere; at least four people I know started (and finished) them the same week as me, there was a movie trailer to watch, and people would hear me talking to Chris about Peeta in the elevator and barge into our conversations head-first.

The gist: future society hosts games every year in which young adults fight each other to the death. (I know, but you get over that part). These books are addictive and I totally recommend them when you need something to completely distract you from life. You might even want to take a few days off of work - they're that hard to put down.

2. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
To me, this was the one that I liked least of the three. The plot line takes a turn back towards the beginning and I thought "oh great, we're just going to see the same thing over again?" It's compelling and interesting despite the chance of repeat plot... and the best part is the ending, which leads you to...

3. Mocking Jay by Suzanne Collins
Without giving away spoilers, the scene where Peeta is reunited with Katniss is unbelievable. I had just had a networking coffee with someone and immediately texted her to say "WHAT IS GOING ON WITH PEETA?!" You might text strangers while reading this one.

A note about reading these on the Kindle: I'd read a book on the iPad last year, but this was my first time reading on a Kindle touch. I hated the touch part (Ollie's tail changed the page so many times that we almost had an amputation), but I didn't mind the Kindle so much. I haven't read anything on it since this series, but my mind is open towards the medium.

4. The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter
This was a re-read and I wrote about it a bit last month. Chloe's chapter at the end is still my favorite part of the book. "I get the curtain speech," she says. I love her.

Chris has always dreamed of going to Japan, so we're going to try to make it happen this year. He's attracted to the crazy technology, the vending machines, and the sushi. I don't like fish, hate miso soup, and literally know nothing about Japan. 

The way I get excited about visiting a place I know nothing about is by reading. I did some searching around to find some Japanese novels and memoirs written by Americans who have lived over there. Now there's a whole shelf of Japanese lit on our shelves at home and I'm making my way through it. I'm already jazzed about seeing the country in person!

This book was so simple. It was entirely opposite of the kinds of literature I've been reading lately, American stuff with emotional story lines. There was emotion in this story, but it was very quiet and the plot was barely a plot. This the story of a housekeeper who is assigned to clean and cook for a math professor. As the result of an accident, the professor can only remember 80 minutes at a time; then he loops and starts all over again. 

The math detail in this book made me long for homework. Remember when you were in high school math class and you just felt as though there were REAL answers? Factually correct ones that you had to nail right on the head... though I love literature, the solidity beneath math class is something that I do miss.

6. Learning to Bow by Bruce Feiler
One of my other instincts when traveling somewhere unknown is to reach out to others who have traveled or lived there. I emailed a friend from college who did the JET program after Muhlenberg to ask her what books she liked and she recommended this one. 

Think "A Year in Provence," but replace all the farmers with strict schoolteachers. This book was hilarious! I admit that some of the humor came from my incredulity at the cultural differences between the U.S. and Japan, but what a read! I learned so much.

The writing could have been better and the organization of the chapters was a little odd, but you are going to NAIL any cocktail party you attend after reading this. Look for the story about the principal using black marker on the students' heads. INSANE!

7. An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin

I just love Steve Martin as an actor. I can't help laughing whenever he's on screen because he is so obvious about what's going on between his character's ears. Think Father of the Bride or It's Complicated. (I've clearly just placed myself in the middle-aged female group of film-goers. Ah well! Are we surprised?!)

Anyhoo. This book has been popular in the subway for the past few years, but I'd all but forgotten about it. Steve Martin as an author? Come on. 

Then I found it at the library this week and grabbed it... it was completely different than what I thought it would be. All I'm going to say is that guy must have researched the art world for YEARS to write this book. It's not the best book I've ever read, but it did make me want to go to a museum or gallery. Not bad, Steve Martin! Not bad at all.


Perspective on a Tuesday evening.

And then every so often, something completely takes your breath away.

Tonight I stumbled onto a Facebook profile of a woman who was a few years ahead of me at Muhlenberg. I think she might have been an R.A.; regardless, I recognized her and remembered her as a leader. Her most recent status update was a photo of herself in a hospital bed, holding a fighter's stance with her fists. And the caption? "Come here, lymphoma. I'm going to knock you out!"

Fast forward 30 minutes and now I've just read through the past 6 months of her life. She's married with a little boy. Late last year they thought she might have ovarian cancer. After tests and blood work, surgery and the like, they discovered that it's lymphoma.

Sad, right? Obviously. But here's the thing. When she posted what the diagnosis was, she started out the message with "Finally! A diagnosis!!" And almost every one of her updates is insanely positive, exclamation points galore, the brightest outlook I've literally ever read.

When I encounter someone like this, I have no patience for people making excuses in their lives. Our time here is short. It's time to live the exact life you want.


Modern Life

1. Pull up a website or app I haven't used in over a week.
2. Get prompted for a username or password.
3. Try 5 different combinations.
4. Get locked out.
5. Curse and be VERY mad.
6. Call the bank.
7. Get put on hold.
8. Still on hold.
9. Still there.
10. Call dropped.
11. Curse and be VERY mad.
12. Still have the problem a week later.
13. Hate everything.