Friday, October 9, 2015

Dear Mr. Postman...

Two commonly known facts about me:
  1. My full name is Sara Kathryn, but no one calls me either of those, not even my mom. During my bat mitzvah training, I once asked my rabbi to stop using my full name because it made me feel like I was in trouble with God.
  2. I've moved a lot of times. I counted recently, when I made the move up to Cleveland, but I've already forgotten the number. More than 10 times in 10 years, I know that - & I know that I am tired of moving.
The combination of these two facts has historically meant that I have to fill out multiple change-of-address forms every time I move (which, again, is a lot) - one for me as Kate, one for me as Sara, one for me as Kathryn, & sometimes still one for me at Katy, in case I'm getting mail from 1999. It is A) is a pain in the butt, & B) $1 per submission, if I fill out the change-of-address forms online instead of in person, as is my preference.

But when I moved back to D.C. in the fall of 2013, I realized something exciting: I could label change-of-address form as a "family move" instead of an "individual move," ensuring that any mail with my last name on it would forward to my new address. Hello, extra six minutes of my life & extra $3 in my pockets!

That's what I did when I moved from my mom's house to Cleveland in July, except I forgot one little thing: My mom & I have the same last name.

One day, I came home to find a fat stack of mail stuffed into my typically near-empty mailbox. I usually get, like, one piece of mail a day - & three out of six days, it's junk - so this was more than a little unusual. As I thumbed through the envelopes, I realized: These are all for my mom. What happe... Oh. Oh, shit.

That's right. In signing myself up for a "family move" so I could skip a few forms & keep a few bucks, I accidentally "moved" my mom, too. She's been at the same address in the suburbs for 28 years, & suddenly, all of her utilities & bills were rubber-banded in a rusty little mailbox in Cleveland, bright yellow forwarding stickers affixed to each envelope like a beacon.

For three weeks, I had to bring my mom a huge stack of mail every time I came home. Even after I stopped the forwarding service & switched her back to her "old" address, I kept getting her mail - & I continue to, because her electric company, which lists her correct address on the bill, now lists mine on the envelope. Damn you, "return service requested" feature.

Today, while visiting my mom, I retrieved her mail (because she's so forgetful about it that a neighbor once stopped over to make sure she was, like, alive). Her mailbox was once against bursting at its seams with mail that so rightfully belongs to her...

...& somehow, after all of that, at least five envelopes that belong to me.

Now, it seems, I get Sara's mail in Cleveland, & I get Kate's mail in Cuyahoga Falls, & thank God it's only a 40-minute drive & that I'm coming home every Thursday to watch Grey's Anatomy with my mom, I guess, because somehow, I am less efficient than the United States Postal Service. And that? Is one depressing sentence.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

So Long, Sweet Summer: 18 of the Best Things I Did Before the Official Return of Autumn

Truly, I can't remember a better summer - not since I was a kid, at least, when there was nothing to do but swim at the lake & ride bikes with my best friend, day after day for months. Now that it's October, I suppose I have to concede that summer is officially over, despite the fact that it's still, like, 80 degrees outside & I can't wear sweaters yet. With the turn of the calendar page, I thought I'd take a minute to pay tribute to this summer - the summer I became a Clevelander, the best summer in recent memory & maybe of my entire life.

This summer, I...
  1. Had a blast at the Cleveland Flea: My biggest summer regret is that we only made it to the Flea one measly (but great) time. I would go every weekend if it were an option! Described as "part urban treasure hunt, part culinary adventure, part maker center," the Flea is a roving weekend event full of all the CLE's coolest things, from food & booze to art & crafts to vintage goods & live music. I'm hoping to make it to the October Flea so I can get my final fix before they end for the year.  
  1. Consumed a ton of brunch: I've started plowing through my mental list of places to eat my favorite meal. So far, I've been to The Black Pig, Grumpy's, Lucky's... but I've gotten hung up on my new favorite, Prosperity Social Club, which I can't stop going back to. I guess I have a weak spot for any place that can rock perfect pierogis and delicious breakfast empanadas. 
  1. Toured Great Lakes Brewery: GLB is Cleveland's favorite brewery, & I was excited to finally see it behind the scenes. More than anything, I was impressed by the brand's commitment to environmental sustainability & bettering the local community - & by the taste of the four beer samples, obviously.  
  1. Celebrated a Browns win at a dive bar: We watched the first Browns game of the season at Booth's, a divey sports bar where the bartenders know my boyfriend by name. Whenever (if ever) they win, the owner jumps on the bar & pours Fireball into the mouths of fans who clamor around like baby birds... while the rest of the bar sings the name of former QB Brian Hoyer over & over to the tune of Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah."
  1. Explored the Ohio City Street Festival: In celebration of one of Cleveland's coolest neighborhoods, we made sure to grab lunch from the Cleveland Bagel Co., which doesn't have a brick & mortar shop (so we're always thrilled to find their booth at local events). I opted for a sesame seed bagel with bacon/date schmear, & I was nottt disappointed.
  1. Developed feelings for Cincinnati: My mom & I headed to the Queen City to celebrate the Fourth of July with family. I'd always considered Cincinnati to be basically Kentucky, but I was surprisingly impressed by the newly revamped waterfront area. I didn't make it back this summer as planned, but I'd love to head down again in the spring.
  1. Partied at the Cleveland Ale Fest: This event took place a few steps away from my apartment... a few days before I moved in. Damn! It was a great time regardless (we took an Uber home) & was a turning point in my adult life: I typically only like cheap, disreputable beer, but on this wondrous day, I discovered half a dozen beers I really liked. Also, I ate a hot dog topped with pretzels.
  1. Made my first trip to Browns Stadium: It wasn't for a Browns game, it was for... a One Direction concert. And it cost me a not-insignificant amount of money. And I am 31. But you know what? It was a great time & worth (almost) every penny. 
  1. Relaxed in California: Mike & I traveled to Redondo Beach for the wedding of one of my very best friends, & then we spent a couple nights in an AirBnB just enjoying the views, eating In-N-Out, & reading books in the sun. It was, in a word, glorious.
  1. Got stuck in a monsoon at a food truck festival: This was also the first time my boyfriend met my friends, so... great first impressions all around.The tacos, at least, were wonderful!
  1. Gorged ourselves at Night Market Cleveland: Described as "farmer's market meets flea market meets food festival meets concert," this fest was bursting with all kinds of Asian food - pho & grilled octopus & samosas & pad Thai & pork buns - plus music, parades, & kitschy booths. Unlike at other events, most of the food booths were very subtly labeled & thus didn't feel like advertisements for the restaurants behind them. It was just food, food, food - tons of it. We were already drunk when we arrived, so we were prepared to stuff our faces. 
  1. Went camping for the first time in ages: I had not been camping since I was 7 years old, & I am prone to anxiety attacks, which means that this was sort of terrifying. Ultimately, though, it was a pretty stellar time.  Spoiler alert: I did not die.
  1. Went on vacation with my mom: We traveled to Hilton Head, S.C., site of all my childhood vacations, & stayed in a beach house where I haven't been since I was about 12 years old. I didn't take the week of work, so there wasn't much beaching for me, but it was enough just to be there, spending time with my mom & relaxing.
  1. Enjoyed a townie carnival: My hometown hosted a strange little carnival in the parking lot of a local shopping plaza. I ate a corndog & danced to a lot of Taylor Swift & did not ride any rides because I don't have a death wish. It ended in fireworks, my favorite thing.
  1. Got classy at the MIX at CMA: On the first Friday of each month, the Cleveland Museum of Art hosts an event to celebrate art, each differently themed. The theme of the July event was "Fusion," headlined by Brooklyn band Red Baraat, which combines New Orleans-style jazz, Punjabi Bhangra music, go-go, & hip-hop. So... yeah, fusion. We got dressed up, drank some too-expensive beers, & people-watched on the patio of the art museum for a couple hours.
  1. Found some farmers markets: There's one right across the street from my apartment every Tuesday afternoon. So far, I'm obsessed with buying tiny tomatoes, peanut butter bread, & pineapple salsa from a man who goes by the name "Cowboy George."
  1. Watched the sun set from Lakewood Park: Mike's roommate is a but of a sunset junkie, so when he & his girlfriend invited us to join them to watch from one of the best views in the city, we took them up on it. It was gorgeous, romantic, & took way longer than we had budgeted for the evening.
  1. Fell in love: Need I say more? This summer was good to me.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Caffeinate Me, Cleveland!

I'm a longtime fan of Starbucks. I know, I know, a lot of folks have a lot of disdain for the corporate caffeine monster, but I've just never been one of them. I understand their complaints - expensive, overly corporate, not as high-quality as they claim to be, etc. etc. - but you can't help who you love.

Unfortunately, my new neighborhood is a Starbucks desert. (There are a couple nearby downtown, but parking is too big a burden to bother.) Many a hipster Clevelander has raised their nose to me & declared that the dearth of Starbucks in our fair city is because the 216 is above having a big-name coffee shop on every corner, "like in some cities." They remind me that local coffee shops abound, & that I would be a better citizen of the CLE if I would give my patronage to them instead of to The Man.

So I do, albeit somewhat grudgingly. As I said, I like Starbucks. It tastes the same in every state, & I'm a big fan of getting a free drink after every dozen. Without a good nearby location, though, I've begun exploring indie alternatives to my favorite caffeine source. Here are my local likes so far.

The Root

15118 Detroit Ave., Lakewood
The Root was my first Cleveland-area coffee love, & it's still my favorite. It's just down the street from my boyfriend's house, which is, alas, a bit of a schlep for me now, but it's worth the 15-minute drive to get to this sweet little cafe with hippie vibes & delicious vegetarian food. Their beet pizza - yes, beet pizza! - has my heart, & because I can stay there unobtrusively for hours and order lunch, it's an easy place to spend an entire day.


2366 W 11th St., Cleveland
This coffee shop next door - like, 20 steps away from my place - is perfect for a quick caffeine fix when I'm working from home, but it's unfortunately proven a less-than-ideal spot for camping out. The prices are low, but the service leaves a bit to be desired & it just doesn't seem like a place you're supposed to stay for very long. I once heard a crotchety barista lamenting that "All our generation knows how to do is stare at a computer!" - which was not exactly welcoming of a millennial staring at a computer 12 feet away.


2180 W 11th St., Cleveland
This place doubles as a record store & a ticket vendor for shows at the Grog Shop, & I like it a lot - but I just don't think I'm quite cool enough for it. Somehow, whenever I walk through the doors of this hipster haven, all I can think is, "Oh, God, have I ever been cool?" And then I feel convinced that the answer is no. It's the second-closest coffee shop to my house, though, & I'd rather feel uncool than unwelcome, so I usually choose Loop over Civilization when I need to hang out someplace for the longer-term.

Phoenix Coffee

3000 Bridge Ave., Cleveland
I've never tried the downtown location (again, parking) but the Ohio City location is a gem. It has a seriously trendy vibe but somehow also manages to be cozy & welcoming, which is probably due in large part to its uber-friendly baristas. It's great for people-watching and for dog-watching, since it allows canine companions to accompany their caffeine-seeking owners inside, & even though the space is small, the staff doesn't seem to mind - & in fact seems to welcome - laptop-toting millennials like me.

What does it take for you to count a coffee shop among your favorites? And if you're a Clevelander, I'd love to hear which local cafes (or accessible Starbucks locales!) get your vote.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Another Day, Another Corporate Complaint to a Store I Used to Like

 I've already told you that I make special requests at the grocery store & call businesses to tell them when their street signs are misspelled & that I aspire to dress like a crazy old person before I am crazy & old (or at least old, because this post may prove to you that I'm already slightly crazy).

It should come as no surprise, then, that when I get riled up about something, even something very minor, I am occasionally the type to contact corporate offices to lodge formal complaints. I try to be polite in doing so, but, well... I do so. I know most people don't - they take to social media to complain, or they whine to their friends, or their stew silently - but I figure that if I'm mad at a brand, I ought to tell 'em so.

That's how I ended up emailing Francesca's while on my vacation last week, a letter I am both proud & embarrassed to share with you here.

And look, I know: The story you're about to read tells of a total first-world problem, which is to say that it's not actually a problem at all. I know that. Please trust that I care about a great many actual issues & regularly write to my elected officials about them. But does that mean I can't also give a shit about sweater swindling? I think not.

Hi, Francesca's folks,

I purchased a wrap made of sweater material in-store at your Hilton Head Island, S.C., boutique on 9/15. The item, not available online, is described on its store tag as "Tribal Pattern Ruana." In store, it was displayed next to a sign that said "sweater wraps" were 30% off, with fine print saying the sale excluded ponchos, shawls, & a few other select styles.

When the Francesca's employee checked me out, my item did not ring up with a discount. When I asked why, she told me my item did not qualify as a "sweater wrap," but when I asked what would qualify - & asked her to specifically show me which products fit the bill - she was unable to do so. Her colleague was similarly unable to pinpoint was a "sweater wrap" was. It seems that nothing, then, counts as a sweater wrap at Francesca's - & therefore nothing is eligible for this sale price.

When I returned home, I noticed that the tag on my item said, "A MUST-HAVE WRAP!" It's made of sweater-material, it's self-described as a wrap... surely it should\ qualified for the sweater wrap sale, right? I went back the next day (9/16) to clarify. During this visit, another Francesca's employee told me that, despite my item *seeming* to be a sweater wrap - & saying "wrap" on the label - it did not qualify for said sale because it didn't have sleeves. Apparently sleeves are what makes an item a "sweater wrap" & not just a shawl, which is how she described my item (despite the label saying otherwise). She offered to return my item, if I was dissatisfied with the price; I chose to keep it because, well, I like it - I just can't, for the life of me, figure out why a sweater wrap doesn't qualify for a sweater wrap sale.

While I see on your site that all the items similar to the one I purchased do not qualify for this sale - because indeed, they don't have sleeves - I have to say: This sale seems to be dishonest bordering on scammy. Aside from the final employee, no one I spoke to seemed to have any idea what actually qualified as a "sweater wrap," a vague term seemingly invented by Francesca's for the sake of confusing customers into thinking their purchase is eligible for a discount... & then buying it anyway. The sale terms are much clearer on your website, which simply says that all sweaters are on sale, but this was not the case of the wording on the in-store signage.

Though I very much expect not to hear from your customer service team (just as my tweet to your corporate account went unanswered), I couldn't help but take the time to tell you how negatively this whole situation has impacted my view of the Francesca's brand. I kept my full-price sweater wrap because I like it, but frankly, if I can help myself shopping there in the future, I will certainly take my business elsewhere.

Thanks for your time,
I confess that halfway through writing this letter, I thought about how amused you guys might be to read it - because it is just such a ridiculous thing to write - & so I started to really play it up for the fine folks at Francesca's. The part about this experience souring me on them a bit, however, is not at all a dramatization.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some crocheting to do & some kids to shoo off my lawn.

Friday, September 11, 2015

How a Podcast Creator Inspired a Podcast-Hater to Recognize Her Inner Storyteller

"No pressure: Who listens to podcasts, anyway?!"

Those were the words of NPR's Sarah Koenig, whose name may ring familiar - & whose speaking voice certainly will - if you've ever listened to the podcast Serial. As the first podcast to go viral, Serial has been downloaded by more than 99 million people in every country around the word except for North Korea & Eritrea. Its success is even more incredible, considering its creators' doubtfulness that they'd ever reach the  300,000 listener mark.

As far as who listens to podcasts, well... not me, really. Try as I might, Serial is the first & only podcast I've ever liked. But 99 million people can't be wrong.

When a friend asked if I'd be interested in seeing Koenig & Serial co-creator Julie Snyder speak at Case Western Reserve University on Wednesday, I couldn't have been more excited. As an unabashed true crime fanatic, I was positively thrilled by the prospect of hearing all the behind-the-scenes, cutting-room-floor details about the Adnan Syed case.

Except that's not what it was about at all.

Sarah & Julie (can I call them that? I feel like we're friends now) discussed the case, of course, but their talk wasn't really about Adnan or Hae or Jay or the streaking Mr. S. No, their talk was, at its core, about authentic story-telling - finding the hook, teasing out the most interesting bits, bringing the audience in. It was about two radio nerds who sometimes have bad ideas like the rest of us (they told us about the failed podcast they tried to make happen prior to Serial) & who worked really hard to do something new & different with a project in which they saw serious potential.

They talked about the intense, grueling investigatory journalism that went into gathering all of the proper pieces of this one big story. They talked about how Sarah had to become a character herself in order for her to connect with the people she interviewed, & for listeners to connect with her. They talked about how they navigated the murky moral implications of turning a real-life murder into news entertainment. They talked about how it felt to be on the receiving end of both enthusiastic obsession & heated criticism.

And through it all, they were real. They were normal. They were me, just... you know, super-successful & working for NPR. They were humble & relatable & funny, & listening to them explain how they created Serial - & what it meant to them, personally - reminded me of why I wanted to be a journalist all those years ago.

Like every high school senior of the class of 2002, I wrote my college acceptance essay about September 11th. Specifically, I wrote about how I thought I'd wanted to major in journalism but wasn't sure until that night, when I watched as reporter Ashleigh Banfield, still shouting news reports into her microphone, ran down a narrow alley as a building adjacent to the Twin Towers fell into a pile of dust & smoke & rubble on live TV.

I went to journalism school, but today, I am not a journalist. I never was, really. I worked for my (award-winning!) college newspaper, the Daily Kent Stater, & I like to think I was pretty good at it - but I wasn't really made to be a reporter. As a junior, I had a stress-related breakdown & abruptly quit my position as administration reporter, the staffer who interviewed the university president & other such difficult characters. Reporting hard news gave me hella anxiety before I even knew that anxiety was even a real thing, & I knew I didn't want to do it professionally.

I still thought I'd become a journalist, though - a features reporter, maybe, or, on the days when I dreamed big, a magazine editor. Even if I wasn't cut out for breaking news, I was still made to write. It's the only thing I've ever been good at, & it's the only thing I truly, madly, deeply love. (Except for tacos. I truly, madly, deeply love tacos.)

Some days, I get down on myself about where I ended up - or, more specifically, where I didn't end up. I'm a social media manager at a nonprofit, & although I love my job, I am decidedly not a journalist. I am not what I was supposed to be, what I promised myself on September 11, 2001, that I was going to become. The only thing I've ever really wanted to be when I grow up, even now.

But these two wildly successful NPR personalities pointed out that they never really set out to become wildly successful NPR personalities. They set out to be storytellers, because they've always been storytellers, & they happened to tap into a medium & a method that worked out really, really well.

Maybe I'm never going to be Sarah Koenig or Ashleigh Banfield. Maybe I'm never going to be a journalist or even a "real" writer. But like them, I have always been, at the very least, a storyteller, & listening to Wednesday night's talk reminded me that there are a thousand ways to tell a story well, so long as you're committed to telling it at all. And I am.

So thank you - yes, you! - for being here, for reading my stories, for making me feel like a real writer even on the days when I am, in fact, "just" a storyteller with a navel-gazing blog instead of a front-page byline or my name on a masthead. Thank you for believing in the power of my words, even when they're not changing the world. And thank you, Sarah Koenig & Julie Snyder, for reminding me that maybe they still can.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Why I Got a Little Choked Up at a One Direction Concert, Despite the Fact That I'm Toooootally an Adult

The first concert I ever saw with friends was the Backstreet Boys, way back in sixth or seventh grade. Cleveland's outdoor music venue, Blossom, is in my hometown, & a friend's mom scored tickets for a group of us to sit in the pavilion area, which felt very cool & VIP; most people sit on the lawn at Blossom, but we had real seats. We painted a huge banner that read "JUST CALL US THE FRONTSTREET GIRLS," which is, now that I think of it, either very witty for 12-year-olds or totally nonsensical.

Way back in the fall of 2014 - I don't even think I lived back in Ohio yet - I made a Twitter deal with friends to attend a One Direction concert in Cleveland this summer. At the time, the concert date was so far away that it almost didn't feel real, & it just seemed like a funny thing to do. "Yeah, yeah, I'm totally gonna go see a boy band in the super-distant future when I'm 31, haha!"

And then the concert day arrived: totally going to see a boy band at age 31.

Sure, I was initially a little embarrassed - most attendees our age were escorting squealing, excitable tweens - but you know what? It was also damn fun. We got slightly drunk, sang at the top of our lungs, swooned for celebrity men far too young for us, used our iPhones as "lighters," & laughed at all the ridiculous but creative signage we spotted throughout the crowd. Here, a sampling of my favorites:
  • "Blow me a kiss"
  • "Just turned 21!"
  • "Bachelorette checklist: Take a shot with 1d"
  • "Can I touch your buns, Harry?"
  • "Please adopt me."
  • "Bless us, Father Harry"
  • "It's cool, I'm 25!"

For me, what made the concert unexpectedly special was not (just) the fact that Liam Payne has a really lovely face. No, what made it special for me was looking at the crowd, full of thousands of those squealing, excitable tweens, & knowing that, for many of them, it was their very first concert. It was the concert they would remember - in the way you vaguely but nostalgically recall things that happened when you were 11 - for the rest of their lives. It was the concert they would name 20 years down the road when asked which musical act they first saw live & in the flesh.

It reminded me of being 12, in that Blossom pavilion on a hot summer night, wearing a shirt with Brian Littrell's face on it in a totally unironic way, & screaming at the top of my 12-year-old lungs with my very best friends. It reminded me of being unabashedly obsessed before that kind of obsession became slightly embarrassing & moderately creepy. It reminded me what it felt like to be free & happy & young & excited about life & certain that if I dropped a letter off at the Sheraton where they were staying, my favorite boy band would almost certainly reach out to invite me onto the stage with them.

It reminded me that I might be an adult now, but I wasn't always - & we are never too old to enjoy feeling like we aren't.

Monday, September 7, 2015

How to Wash a Pee-Soaked Cat In Your Bathtub & Laugh Harder Than Ever Before

Like crazy people, Mike & I thought it would be fun - fun! - to take my cat, Helo, to my mom's house so that he could meet her dogs, Jed & Chyna. Actually, it was sort of fun, although Helo was mostly confined to the guest bedroom because Jed was dead set on eating him. I did take Chyna, the nicer of the two dogs, in to visit him a couple times, & they became fast friends - or at least OK acquaintances. Nothing is cuter than watching a cautious cat & an excitable dog play a nervous game of hide & seek.

Helo does pretty well in his carrier, & he doesn't seem to mind riding in the car. On the drive to my mom's house, in fact, we let him out so he could explore a bit, & he propped his paws on the back window so he could watch the world go by.

On the way back to Cleveland, though, Helo seemed uncharacteristically agitated. He was meowing at the top of his tiny cat lungs, trying to force the carrier open with his claws & his head, smashing his face against the clear plastic lid. We laughed it off, thinking he was just exerting some newfound confidence after having faced down a dog & survived.

Except then he went quiet, & I realized that he had been trying to get out of the carrier... because he had to pee. And when he couldn't get out, he peed in his carrier. And all over himself.

So, uh, how do you wash a pee-soaked cat???

After much laughing & a little bit of panicking, I decided to leave Helo in the carrier & just put the whole thing in the bathtub. My handheld showerhead, which is super-annoying when I'm trying to shower, served as my blessed weapon of choice in this war.

I turned on the water & directed the spray right into the cat carrier, & though I fully expected the cat inside to lose his mind, he didn't so much as meow. I think he wanted the shame washed off of himself just as badly as I wanted the smell of urine washed off of him.

After a minute or so of hosing him down, I opened the carrier to find the saddest sight I've seen in a long while: a sopping wet medium-haired cat, peering up at me with his eyes wide & his fur heavy against his body, looking demeaned & ashamed & sad as hell. I tried to catch him in a towel to dry him off, but he was too fast for me; he shot out of the bathtub like a bat out of hell, sloshing water all across my hardwood floors as he ran.

We caught up with him in the living room, where he stood dripping wet & more than a little undignified. When I caught him, his body seemed to sag against me, defeated, & he let me wrap him in a towel like a human child.

Did I mention that I had stripped down to my skivvies in order to try to give my cat a bath, lest he attempt to destroy everything around him upon making contact with the water? So just imagine the scene: Me, half-naked & laughing hysterically. My cat, sopping wet & totally pathetic. My apartment, covered in wet paw-prints. And my boyfriend, filming the whole thing.

Needless to say, I haven't laughed that hard in a long time.

Friday, September 4, 2015

My Hometown is Suddenly Full of Cool Outdoor Art Installations

I wouldn't necessarily call my hometown "full of culture." It's a nice place, & I love it, but as an example, every festival held on the downtown riverfront, from Italian Fest to Irish Fest to Oktoberfest, features a bevy of carnival foods from corndogs to funnel cakes, without much distinction between them.

I was surprised, then, when I was having lunch with my mom earlier this summer & noticed that a large-scale reproduction of a painting was being installed on the brick wall of the bar across the street. My mom mentioned that a large piece of art had gone up outside the local library, too, as part of Inside|Out, described as "a community-activated art project that brings high quality art reproductions from the Akron Art Museum's collection into your neighborhood."

Cool, right? It's like an art scavenger hunt all around town!And so I set about trying to find all of the 10 art installations around the city of Cuyahoga Falls.

There was, of course, the one we watched go up...

...& this sort-of-macabre one at the local library.

There was this industrial-looking one in the park across the street from my middle school...

...& this brightly colored one at the community center that hosted a lot of awkward dances for students of the three area middle schools when I was growing up.

There was this wintry one right downtown, on the wall of one of my favorite brunch spots...

...& this very serene one sandwiched between the police station & the gym where I worked in college.

There was this one, another pretty little winter scene, in a lovely little park I didn't even know existed...

...& this wacky, eyeball-filled one in another lovely park I didn't even know existed.

In all, I only had time to find eight of the 10 before by big move up to Cleveland, but it was such a fun way to explore my hometown before I left. I hope that other residents are enjoying it as much as I did, teaching their kids that you can eat a gyro at the Irish Fest but still hold a deep appreciation for the finer things in life.

Thanks, Akron Art Museum, for making my hometown a little bit artsier this summer!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

8 Terrible Things About My New Apartment

I've lived in my Cleveland apartment for just over a month now, & it hasn't been difficult to come up with a litany of things that I can't help but loathe about my new space. After reading the start of this ever-growing list, I'm sure you'll agree that life in the 'Land is simply terrible for me at this time. I deeply appreciate your sympathies.

Shall I list all these apartment atrocities? Let's go:
  1. I live just blocks away from the heart of one of Cleveland's best neighborhoods. I'm within walking distance of "downtown" Tremont, a great little area full of delicious restaurants (think Michael Symon!), quirky bars, charming boutiques, & a delicious ice cream shop. How am I supposed to save my pennies when there are so many excellent local businesses deserving of my patronage? 
  1. There's a huge park across the street. Lincoln Park has a playground, a small swimming pool, a gazebo, & tons of green space, which makes it a natural location for outdoor festivals like Taste of Tremont, Cleveland Scene's Ale Fest, & a weekly farmers' market. How will I maintain my indoor-kid street cred if I'm always tempted to go outside?
  1. I have two enormous bay windows. My apartment is flooded with natural light, such that I don't need to turn on any lights until the sun is almost all the way down. How am I supposed to help out my local electric company if I hardly ever need to use my electricity?
  1. My kitchen is massive. The size of this kitchen rivals the size of my entire D.C. apartment, with plenty of counter space & gorgeous glass cupboards that run all the way up to the ceiling. How am I supposed to continue to insist that "I don't cook" when this apartment makes me want to try to become a Top Chef? 
  1. I have my own parking spot. For reasons unknown, I am the only tenant in my building who has one of these; everyone else parks on the street, battling the crowd during events &, presumably, snowplows during the winter. How am I supposed to sustain my perpetual car-related anxiety when I have my own reliable, cozy little spot to keep it in?
  1. All my neighbors are really friendly - all the ones I've met, anyway, which is most of them. How am I supposed to cultivate my notoriously hermit-like ways when my very friendly neighbors are always stopping me to chat & to offer help as I unload things from my car or carry heavy things up the stairs?
  1. No one lives below me or next door to me. The apartment downstairs is a commercial space that is used very rarely, & there are no units on either side of me - just one to the back, with whom I share only a bathroom wall. How am I supposed to bother aforementioned friendly neighbors with my loud Taylor Swift tunes & top-volume Harry Potter viewings if there's no one around to bother?
  1. My landlord is lovely. You may recall that I once said she reminded me of "a hybrid of my mother & an older version of myself." So, uh, what's not to like?! But really, she's excellent. How am I supposed to amass ridiculous stories about apartment living when I'm stuck with a totally normal, nice landlord?
OK, OK, this is all obviously tongue in cheek. This apartment makes me really happy - particularly #3, the fact that it's sunny & bright at all times. For once, I actually love working from home, & I have this apartment to thank. Did I mention that there are two great local coffee shops within .2 miles? Be still, my iced coffee-loving heart.

Of course, it's not all sunshine (literally) & roses (figuratively, as I have no yard). There are, as with any apartment, plenty of things I actually don't love: Wood floors are a bitch to keep clean, I have a handheld showerhead that makes bathing a real chore, access to the bathroom is through my bedroom, my oven didn't get a proper cleaning before the last tenant moved out (gross), my neighbors to the back seem to throw a lot of parties, I don't have air conditioning, & my bedroom window faces a well-trafficked route to school for a bunch of very loud kids...

But all of those are manageable, especially when I think about the fact that I finally live here now. If I look to my right when I'm crossing the street on my 20-step walk to the closest coffee shop, I can see the small but beautiful Cleveland skyline right there, Terminal Tower framed on either side by my artsy little neighborhood. I swoon every time.

On January 1, 2015, I posted this Facebook status: "I only have one resolution for 2015: Become a Clevelander." I did it, & I love it, & I have no intentions of leaving any time soon. Home, I've finally found you.

Friday, August 28, 2015

I Finally Tried AirBnB & Now I'm Madly in Love

I'm the kind of person who loves the idea of something like AirBnB but is, in reality, more than a little bit wary of putting it into practice. Staying at someone else's house sounds so great! So adventurous! And such a likely scenario for being murdered or ripped off or just having a generally terrible experience!

Needless to say, I hadn't tried AirBnB yet. I'd browsed it a few times - I've had an account since 2013, when I considered listing my New Jersey apartment - but I'd never taken the plunge. I'll sleep in hotel beds & on friends' couches, thanks.

But when Mike & I booked tickets to California for a wedding in Redondo Beach, we didn't love the idea of staying in the wedding hotel all four nights of our stay. It seemed like the perfect time to get on board with the Internet's favorite rental site, if not absolutely late to the party. We found a private cottage two blocks from the Redondo Beach Pier, which played nicely into our plans not to rent a car.

When the time came to check out of our hotel - a very lovely Doubletree in Torrance, CA, within walking distance of an In-N-Out - I was skeptical about leaving it for any place that didn't have turn-down service. Our hotel bed was so damn comfortable, & the pool had waterfalls, for crying out loud! Whyyyy hadn't we just planned to stay put?

But as soon as we arrived at our AirBnB, a small, detached cottage in the backyard of a main home, all my worries disappeared. Our little studio cottage was essentially a freestanding hotel room, bathed in sunlight, outfitted with a fluffy king bed, & sporting sliding glass doors that led to a massive courtyard lined with lime trees. It was, in a word, perfect. These photos, taken on Mike's, uh, less-than-stellar phone, hardly convey its greatness.


The courtyard was huge & sunny, the perfect place for drinking beers & reading a good book. Mike actually started writing a book during the course of our vacation, & he got a bit of brainstorming time in out here while I napped in our cozy little cottage.

We had zero plans for the second half of our trip, which was pretty incredible & incredibly uncommon. We woke up every morning asking, "What should we do today?" & the answer was always, "Whatever the hell we want." Because we were located so close to the pier, we spent nearly all of our time there - reading on the beach, wandering the boardwalk, enjoying the sounds of the ocean, eating chilaquiles & drinking beer on a balcony, trying out stand-up paddle-boarding, consuming copious amounts of iced coffee & boardwalk churros, & just generally taking in the scenery & relaxing for a couple of days.

We couldn't have had the vacation we did if we'd decided to stay in a hotel the whole time, namely because there are no hotels near the Redondo Beach Pier - & there was no beach near our hotel in Torrance. Instead, choosing to hole up in an AirBnB allowed us to have a slightly more authentic experience, not beholden to all the standard touristy places (or their prices). We got to stay in a quiet cottage in a quiet neighborhood within walking distance of enough interesting places to keep us busy, but not so many that we felt we had to do something all the time.

We were only gone for five days, but they were five of the most glorious days I've had in a long, long time. I came home refreshed & relaxed & rejuvenated, exactly the way vacation is supposed to work. I also came home a believe in AirBnB, & I can't wait to try it again. Which city shall I visit next?!
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