Surroundings: Where We’ve Been

Will and I have a tradition about which I’m quite proud. Whenever we go someplace together, we purchase a commemorative piece of art from Etsy upon our return to grace our growing “Travel Wall”.

{Etsy Stores: SeattleMinneapolisSan DiegoPortland}

This way, we both have something by which to remember our trip and support Etsy, a site I completely love. We pick out the artwork together, so the process is collaborative and fun. Granted, some of the places we’ve been (Aberdeen, Maryland for a cousin’s wedding; Cambridge, Massachusetts for a baby shower) are too small to have Etsy-artists dedicated to their preservation, but the larger trips are represented.

The more we travel, the more this wall will grow. I have visions of our artwork taking up impressive vertical real estate some day.


It’s my Cat-a-versary!

Odie and his Cat-a-versary present. Yes, my cat gets Cat-a-versary presents (Thanks, Will!).

I rang in 2011 sitting on the bathroom floor. To my right, a flute of champagne resting on the cold, travertine tiles; in my lap, a large orange cat doing his best to minimize his fifteen-pound frame. A neighbor had decided to celebrate the New Year by setting off fireworks. The resultant booming had Odie running for the safety of the bathroom, his mama close behind. We spend a lot of time on the bathroom floor, Odie and I. All loud noises or violent storms send him scurrying to find me so I can comfort him in his chosen location. At times like these, I wish I could channel Dr. Doolittle to relay a message to my dear cat: I will never let anything bad happen to you.

Oh, that face!

Odie was a rescue cat; I rescued him from Tree House Humane Society, he rescued me from an Odie-less existence. A year ago today, he came into my life with six years of his already lived out in a manner mostly unknown. He has a few defects of mysterious origin – a wonky tail the vet presumes was once broken and a stiff-legged gait. In short, he’s perfect.

Odie’s overcome some obstacles since his arrival. At the shelter, I was alerted to his skin allergies, serial sneezing, and sporadic coughing fits. His face was covered with dark brown spots and he’d chewed off spots of fur as he tried to scratch his itches. After verifying that the brown spots weren’t a fungus (yes, a fungus – poor Odie), an allergy pill cleared up the skin irritations and sneezing. We are still working on the coughing. It may turn out to be asthma, and yes, I will get him an inhaler. How pumped Odie will be about using said inhaler remains to be seen.

In short, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for the comfort and happiness of my beloved Odie. I crush pills into his tuna every night. I’ve collected stool samples. I’ve done research on the ideal litter box. I may not technically be crazy, but I’m definitely crazy about this cat.

I’ll be there next to him on the bathroom floor for as long as he needs the company.

I Am: A Ginger


There’s this man I see almost every day on my walk to work. I smile in acknowledgement as he calls out “Good morning, Red!” It’s a brief interchange. About a year ago, though, he switched up his routine. He starting calling me “Blondie”. I stopped smiling in response.

I am a redhead. I was born with a full head of Ronald McDonald-esque plumage. Sure, it’s gotten lighter since then, but I still strongly identify as ginger, not blonde thankyouverymuch.

Part of my pride comes from a feeling that being a redhead sets me apart. As a child, there  were constant reminders that I was slightly more rare, slightly more precious. My childhood literary heroes – Anne of Green Gables, Pippi Longstocking – were redheads. The Little Orphan Annie was a redhead. With this coloring, surely I was destined for greatness.

I even feign annoyance at what I call The Redheaded Stigma – that being, in part, that I’m related to every other redhead who ever existed. In grade school there was this mysterious “Maggie” a few grades above me whom everyone assumed was my older sister.

In high school I briefly dated (ok, less than “briefly” – it was a two-week summer science camp program in Iowa but whatever) a ginger and people called us “The Kentucky Couple” – implying both that we were related and that people in Kentucky are more prone to date their relatives (sorry, KY, kids are cruel). I’ve even had someone at work protest emphatically when I informed her that the other redhead who sat on our floor was not, in fact, my sister.

Perhaps people are implying that I don’t come across as confident as to who definitively is and is not a member of my immediate family, but I digress.

I get asked with disproportionate frequency if I’m Irish – especially around the middle of March. When people find out my parents are brunettes there are jokes about the mailman’s hair color (or the milkman for people who are dating themselves while questioning my mother’s moral fabric). There are other mild annoyances – one involving tempers, the other involving “carpets” and “drapes” – that I suffer stoically.It’s not easy being Red.

… OK, but yeah. I don’t mind any of this at all. I love being a ginger. I love my orange eyebrows and translucent skin. It is one of my greatest dreams to one day birth wee ginger babies. I love being a member of our special Ginger tribe.

It’s entirely possibly I put too much stock in my hair color. I know I could always dye it if it were to fade further. I realize that we are talking about hair here. Triviality aside, being a Ginger is one of my favorite things about who I am.

The Care and Keeping of Love Letters

Last week, Will made me lunch. Brown bag and everything. He’d even written a note on the napkin. Despite having used the napkin to wipe up a small spill, I flattened it back out and placed it in a drawer for safekeeping. I keep all the notes Will gives me.

I’ve always been a “keeper”. Prior to meeting Will – yes, there were boys prior to Will, don’t worry, he knows – I kept all the little notes and tokens that relationships generate. I’d revisit them to read warm words when I when I needed a boost. The notes were tangible proof of love past.

Presently, as things move to Very Serious with Will, I find I have no need for these past reminders. During a recent cleaning spree, several notes were recycled. A digital clean-up followed, and several flirty emails were deleted. Will never indicated that I had to get rid of these things; the decision was all mine. I just didn’t want them anymore – they’d lost their sparkle.

While I now have no desire to keep these past treasures, I began to wonder if one needs to get rid of reminders of relationships past. I once read once of a woman who burned all her past love letters in the fireplace the night before her wedding. That could be romantic or dramatic, depending on your spin.

Either way, is it odd to keep past love letters if you are currently in a committed relationship? Is it a trust issue (i.e., if you trust me, you know these are just fun, frothy reminders of my youth and in no way impact “us”)? Does this rule – if it exists – apply to jewelry?

Do you keep tokens from boyfriends and girlfriends of yore? Would it bother you if your significant other did?

Do share.

Upcoming Projects

Lately, I’ve been fit to burst. Too much creative energy, not enough time to get it all out. That’s about to change. I have some around-the-house projects that I want to tackle in the upcoming months. Of course, if I had an unlimited budget (both time and money) there are a million things I’d do. The bathroom, for instance… needs help. For now, I’m tackling the small things I know I can handle solo (I don’t do plumbing).

Here they are (in order of difficulty – not necessarily in the order in which they will be completed):

  1. Paint the frame of the bulletin board above my desk. It’s currently plain “wood” – likely MDF. It needs pretty-fication.
  2. Stencil the front of my white desk. I have grey paint left over from painting the walls, and I want to add some pizzazz.
  3. Hang a shaving/mascara mirror in the bathroom. He uses it to shave, I use it to apply mascara. Win/win.
  4. New pillow covers for the couch throw pillows. I have the fabric I’ll be using, so this project is ready to go.
  5. Make a new lampshade for the lamp on my desk. The current one is off-white (and wobbly – it refuses to sit straight). Lampshade-creation is fairly straight-forward – especially since I will keep the frame from the existing lampshade and just swap out the fabric.
  6. Replace the towel rack in the bathroom. The one right by the sink (where you would hang a hand towel) is preposterously large. It will be removed (and repurposed in the closet!) and a smaller (sleeker) one will be hung. This project involves drywall patching, so it’s not as simple as it should be.
  7. Upholster a chair in the bedroom. Yes, that’s right. Currently, we have an ugly-ish black “leather” armchair in the bedroom. It needs a nicer cover. Some extra padding would help, too. This weekend I picked up the upholstery fabric and batting I’ll be using – I’m really excited to start.

The biggest struggle for me with decorating and design is maintaining patience. I can’t afford to throw all my current furnishings away and start over and, for the most part, I want to do it myself. Therefore, it will be a slow process. An evolution.

Notes from Personal Training

As of today, I’ve been working with a Personal Trainer at my gym for two weeks – twice a week, hour-long sessions.

I love it.

It’s hard, but I love it. It’s great to have someone there to structure your work-out and make sure you are doing things correctly, using a variety of muscle groups, and truly pushing yourself. My trainer and I chat as I exercise and I can give it my all knowing that he’s there to keep me from dropping a dumbbell on my face (a real worry for me). My workouts take it out of me, but they fly by and I leave feeling great about myself. Well, I also feel sore, but it’s a happy sore.

Oh, and you know what is really hard? Jumping rope. I don’t think I’d done it since Jump Rope for Heart in grade school and remember it being fun, but it really takes it out of you. I know you don’t believe me, but seriously, go get a rope and try. Good luck.

In only two weeks, I’ve noticed progress. I can hold plank pose for considerably longer. I think my arms look slightly more toned (I’m definitely flexing more to show them off).

The best part? I can take all this knowledge with me when my training period ends. I’m learning a lot of new ways to use the free weights and machines at the gym, so I no longer have an excuse to avoid weight training. I’ve also thought of ways to modify some of them so I can keep it up when I’m traveling (a necessity for work). I ask a million questions about form, breathing, and timing. The trainer and I also discuss healthy living in general, and I’m proud to report that I’ve had breakfast every day for the past two weeks.

I Am: A Reader

Throughout my childhood, books could get me out of all manner of unsavory things. Naps, for instance, could be avoided if I promised to read quietly in my room. 

I got my first library card on a Kindergarten field trip and that following Summer I enrolled myself in the California Raisins Summer Reading Program. We went to the library regularly and I could check out as many books as I wanted. While this often ended in tears as books were lost in the abyss under my bed, it fostered a deep love of reading.

I was always aces at reading competitions. Remember BookIt? My school also did “Read to the Moon” where every page read brought us a mile closer to our celestial goal. I was personally responsible for quite a bit of our travel. I crushed annual reading goals.*

Reading also provided an escape. The Summer I moved to New York I buried myself in Baby-Sitter’s Club books from the local library. Lost in the adventures of Kristy and her friends, I didn’t could ignore my anxiety about starting a new school.

Currently, I’m rarely found without a book in my purse. In fact, I’ve been known to select purses specifically because they are sized right for book-carrying. I’m avid, insatiable, always looking to start the next story. I swap books with friends and family and online via BookMooch. When people tell me they don’t have time to read, I smile and turn back to my book.

Reading is my favorite pass time. Books are slowly taking over my home but, as I tell Will, there are worse addictions.

I am a reader. Reading is a crucial part of who I am.

*Sadly, my early zeal for reading had a dark side. My first instance of plagiarism was forging my mother’s signature on a form attesting to how much I’d read that week. The give away? I’d yet to learn capital letters in cursive.

Body Image Boost

On Friday, my office held a Health and Fitness Fair. A team of nurses and clinicians set up in a conference room and – at prescheduled intervals – employees could go and get a Health Screening. I was a little nervous that this screening would focus on body fat percentage and leave me feeling bummed. Again.

I was wrong. I ROCKED the Health Screening.

Blood pressure? Low. Glucose level? Lowish (I’d just eaten). Cholesterol levels? In the “good” category (despite having just eaten!). Body fat percentage? In the healthy range. The nurses cooed that I must eat well and get a lot of cardio. I let this praise go straight to my head.

The standout Health Screening superstar? Bone density. I have pretty dense bones, turns out. I’ll be tucking this knowledge away for the next time numbers on the scale threaten to get me down as it’s now been scientifically proven that do inded have big bones. 

OK, it’s likely genetic. I have lactose issues so I’m hardly the ideal model for one of those chirpy “Got Milk?” ads. Whatever. I’m still celebrating my Viking Skeleton.

Plus, the Health Screening ended with a free massage.

I Am: These People’s Daughter

One Friday in the Fall of 1994 I was flitting around my bedroom preparing for a school dance. Yes, we had dances in the gym of our Junior High – a scenario straight out of a stereotype. In addition to all the awkwardness that the tween years bring, I was new to the area and completely unsure of myself. That evening’s anxiety was only increased by my inability to find my favorite pair of jeans. Without them, I was toying with the idea of skipping the whole event.

Mom offered to help me search. I assured her the jeans were not in my dresser, MOM!, but – you know what happens next – she walked over to the dresser, opened the second drawer, and there they were. Right on top.

I burst into tears.

“I don’t have a best friend!” I wailed, a sobbing non-sequitur.

“Helena, I’ll be your best friend,” my mother assured me. And she has been.


My father taught me to ride a bike. Granted, the whole no-training-wheels push started with a lie. We were months away from leaving Virginia and I was told that no kids in Texas had training-wheels on their bikes. Like every previous bit of wisdom my father bestowed upon me, I accepted it without question and headed to the parking lot at our nearby forest preserve to learn to bike like a big kid.

Dad taught me many key life skills: how to swim, how to drive, how to properly use silverware, that candy was dandy but liquor was quicker, how to properly swaddle a babydoll. He devoted entire summers to improving my math skills, reluctant though I was to participate in such enrichment. He proofread school papers. He never complained when we offered all our friends on the Track team rides home after practice. He was, and is, a model of patience and kindness.


Beyond all the obvious bringing-me-into-the-world and feeding-and-clothing-me business, the most lasting impression my parents have had on me is the strong relationship they have with one another. They are totally and completely in love. It’s inspiring to witness.

I Am: This Girl’s Sister

My sister is my role model.

Yep, she’s the little one in the picture. I’m the big one. As the big one, you’d think I’d be the one setting the standards, but I constantly have to challenge myself to be as friendly as Kerry.

Two years ago, Kerry and I welcomed 2009 at a party at the Drake Hotel. Fancy, I know. We were dressed up, coiffed, and ready to dance. Our pre-paid tickets covered the open bar, but tips were still being accepted by the hardworking bartenders staffing the event. I had a wallet full of dollar bills and made sure the bartenders saw me drop one in the designated jar each time I got a drink so they’d know I was a baller.

Kerry seemed surprisingly bad at this show of baller-tude. Her dollars always landed in the jar while the bartender was turned away.

“You’re doing it wrong!” I exclaimed, “you have to do it when they are looking so they know you tipped!”

Kerry told me that she prefered to tip “in private” as there was no need, on her part, for recognition from the bartender. She knew she tipped – no one else needed to. I was humbled by my sister’s quiet kindness.


We weren’t the only people ringing in the New Year at the Drake, and many ladies + open bars = much time spent in or waiting for bathrooms. It was in these crowded situations that Kerry glowed. She complimented other girls in line. She smiled at everyone we saw. She was, for a moment, everyone’s friend.

Most memorable was the way she interacted with the Drake housekeeping staff who were working non-stop to keep things clean and orderly. While everyone else – myself included – barely looked at these ladies, Kerry started up conversations asking them about their night. They all lit up with her attention; sunflowers to her sunshine.

We’ve had two New Year’s Eves since that night, but Kerry’s kindness that night lives in the front of my mind and is frequently called upon as a template for my own behavior. Now that she lives around the corner, I can spend time with her whenever I want. Perhaps some of her friendliness will rub off.

** For those of you wondering what the heck Kerry has on her feet, it looks like several pairs of ski socks layered over one another. I’m thinking the snowstorm caught my parents by surprise (we lived in Virginia at the time) and my sister didn’t have boots that fit.