Tuesday, December 1, 2015

On #GivingTuesday, Find Your Cause & Go Change the World

Today is #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving back. The day began in 2011 at New York City's 92nd Street Y & has since taken hold in the nonprofit world as a day to remind Americans to take a step back from rampant consumerism & instead, well, give back.

Because I work for a nonprofit, I've been mired in #GivingTuesday planning for a couple weeks now - but just yesterday, talking to friends who work in the corporate world, I learned that plenty of folks don't even know this day exists. I think it's catching on (it's all over social media today), but in case #GivingTuesday is new to you, I wanted to do my small part - give back, if you will - to bring attention to this day.

I also want to share with you a few of my favorite nonprofits, the places I'm most likely to donate my hard-earned pennies. I do my best to be charitable, but I could certainly be better about it - which is, in fact, one of my 2016 goals... starting today! My list could use a refresher, as these orgs mostly represent my old standbys. I'm curious: Which charities top your list?

The American Cancer Society 

After my dad died of lung cancer when I was 10, I wrote letters to all my friends & family asking them to donate to the American Cancer Society in his memory - to help ensure a future where other kids wouldn't have to lose their parents to cancer. Watching those checks roll in was the first time I understood the power of fundraising & of committing to a cause. Today, I continue to donate to the ACS & their work to fund cancer research, provide support to cancer patients, educate & inform the general public, & eradicate cancer once & for all. www.cancer.org/give  

Planned Parenthood

I've been a fan of Planned Parenthood for as long as I can remember, & in times of less-than-stellar health care coverage, I've relied on their services for my own basic reproductive health. I'm appalled by the recent spate of vitriol against Planned Parenthood, a vital organization committed to keeping women (& men!) healthy, educated, & informed - & yes, that includes performing abortions, a procedure that is both legal & moral. In light of the recent shooting in Colorado, I want to support PP more than ever. www.plannedparenthood.org/donate

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism  

I used to work here, & despite their evangelical-sounding name, the RAC does great work lobbying on Capitol Hill on behalf of the liberal Jewish community. They also bring hundreds of Jewish teens to Washington, D.C., each year to teach them about critical social justice issues & how to raise their voices in the halls of government. www.rac.org/donate


Run by my friend Tahir, ReThink aims to stop sexual assault before with starts. They're putting  organizers on the ground to spread the message of healthy masculinity, consent, & empathy to adolescent boys, aiming to raise a generation of boys who are partners & leaders in the fight against sexual violence. They're the only organization taking a face-to-face, mass-based approach to changing rape culture, doing real work to make the "1 in 5" rape statistic a thing of the past. www.we-rethink.org/giving-tuesday

The St. Baldrick's  Foundation

In the U.S., more kids die of cancer than of any other disease - but less than 4% of the National Cancer Institute's budget goes toward research related to childhood cancers. St. Baldrick's works with leading pediatric oncologists to prioritize research & funding to save kids' lives. They fund more grants than any organization aside from the U.S. government! www.stbaldricks.org/donate

charity: water

More than 660 million people worldwide live without access to clean water, & diseases found in dirty drinking water kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. charity: water is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing nations by funding freshwater wells, rainwater catchments, & sand filters more. With every water point they fund, they coordinate sanitation & hygiene training & establish a local Water Committee to help keep water flowing for years to come. www.charitywater.org/donate

To Write Love On Her Arms

TWLOHA is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope & finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, & suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, & invest directly in treatment & recovery. In the lead-up to my 30th birthday, I told a very scary, vulnerable story about my own experiences with depression & suicide; then, in celebration of my own survival, it was my honor to raise $1,500, with your help, to donate to this organization - & now I donate to them at least once a year. www.twloha.com/donate

But #GivingTuesday is about more than just money. It's also about giving time, resources, & helping raise awareness. Whether you volunteer with a local soup kitchen, serve as a big brother or big sister to a local child, write to Congress about issues that matter to you, donate your old clothing to a shelter, or hand a warm sandwich to the homeless guy on the street outside your office building, you're giving back - & while #GivingTuesday is only one day a year, I hope it serves as a reminder to give all year round, however & whenever you can.

So tell me: How are you giving back on #GivingTuesday?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Happy Ohio-versary to Me!

Today marks exactly 365 days since I loaded up a UHaul with a studio apartment's worth of belongings & headed back to the Buckeye State for good.

I always suspected I might end up back here, but at some point, in my seven years away, I began to wonder if it would ever really happen. When I visited home last October, I just felt it in my bones - that the time had come. I put in my 30 days' notice as soon as I got back, & in just over a month, I was living with my mom again.

I wasn't always sure it was the right decision. In the beginning, my mom & I did our fair share of arguing, & I couldn't help but second-guess my choice to move home. I knew it was a short-term stay, but it was tough to lose my space & my sense of independence after so many years of living alone. (I just wrote about this for xoJane, if you're interested.)

On top of all of that, I briefly questioned where I even liked Cleveland at all. What if I'd moved back for a city I hated?!

But from that very first day, 365 ago, I knew that coming back to Ohio itself was the right move. I missed my friends back on the East Coast, sure; I miss D.C. as a city, yes. But I don't miss living there. I don't miss the astronomical rent or the tiny apartment or the high cost of living or the unreliable buses or the sweltering summers. I loved living there, but I am a Midwesterner at heart.

As it turns out, this last year in Ohio has been one of the best of my life.

I grew closer to my mom. I got some quiet time in the suburbs. I reconnected with old friends. I started to get my finances in order. I met the love of my life (yep, I said it). I moved into an incredible apartment in Cleveland. I adopted the cutest cat in the world. I solidified my love for this city. I got a handle on my anxiety & became uncharacteristically zen & found more happiness than I have seen in a long, long time.

I loved being an East Coast girl, & I feel fortunate to have spent seven years growing, learning, experiencing all that D.C. & New Hampshire & New Jersey had to offer me. I wouldn't trade that time away for anything.

But my heart has always been in Ohio - & it's so damn good to be home.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

When Your Favorite Company Falls Out of Your Favor, Or Why I'm Done with the POPSUGAR MustHave Box

I've been singing the gospel of the POPSUGAR MustHave Box since 2012, when I discovered it on my friend Suki's blog & decided that it was, well, a must-have. Every month, they send me a box of goodies, from snacks to home decor to fashion to entertainment. I look forward to my monthly box of surprises, an ongoing treat to myself.

In fact, when I moved over the summer, I realized just how many of the items I own came from  MustHave boxes: my Spongelle loofah with the built-in soap, the Judy Blume book I was reading, my favorite coffee mug, my everyday wallet, my Too Faced eyebrow kit, a decent percentage of my scarf & stationery collections... POPSUGAR has turned me on to all kinds of products & brands that I've grown to love, & because of that, I've long been brand-loyal to the box itself.

It's been a fun ride, but I think that love & loyalty has come to an end.

As much as I hate to admit it, the company has been falling out of my good graces for awhile now. Though I still enjoy receiving a monthly box of surprises, I've started to dislike the actual company so much that it doesn't feel worth it anymore. Why?
  • Customer service: Their customer service - only available online - is notoriously slow & frustratingly robotic, the kind of responses that give you the impression that nobody is taking the time to read the words you send them. I've repeatedly had to resend my requests to note that they haven't actually answered my questions. To top it off, they are frequently short, snippy, & bordering on snarky. Not appreciated.
  • Spoilers: They recently started posting spoilers for upcoming boxes on social media - like, multiple spoilers. If you like them on Facebook or Instagram, there's no way to avoid these posts - & even after I unfollowed them, I'd get spoilers in the ads they targeted at me on both platforms! I don't want your effing spoilers. I order a box of surprises for a reason - to be surprised. They could easily make the spoilers opt-in click-throughs, yet they choose to ruin the experience for a large swath of their customers just for the sake of, I assume, good-looking online engagement numbers.
  • Content: Their products used to be the best, all kinds of stuff I'd never find on my own. But lately I feel like they just grab whatever overflow junk they can find & try to pass it off as worthwhile. Example? This month's box included a goddamn bingo set 
  • Price: When I first became a subscriber, this box cost $35 flat. My last box, after shipping & whatever else they've added on, was $43.1. To ship me, in part, a goddamn bingo set.
  • Issue resolution: Countless comments on social media show that items in other boxes have arrived damaged or haven't arrived at all, & the company responds online to encourage customers to contact them by email. That didn't prove helpful to me when, a few months ago, my box was missing one of the main items, a voucher for three months of a free online yoga program. When I contacted the company, they eventually apologized & told me they'd put a replacement in the mail. It never arrived.
And finally, my biggest issue: POPSUGAR MustHave recently changed their referrals program to that, in my view, borders on being hostile to their longtime loyal customers. Upon their site relaunch, they reset all past referrals to zero, nullifying my ongoing efforts to achieve the holy grail of referrals: a few months of free boxes. I was just a couple referrals away &, but now, all my existing referrals have been nullified - they don't count for anything, I get nothing for them, & it's like they never happened at all. What a nice thank-you for telling all my friends!

Their new referral program is whatever - one free box after three referrals (starting from zero, of course), followed by $10 off per next box for every referral thereafter. Yeah, not quite as compelling as multiple free boxes, but I would've been fine with it had they not made all my past referrals disappear.

Today, I cancelled my subscription & sent POPSUGAR an email telling them I'm done with them. I love the boxes themselves, & I know I'll miss receiving them, so maybe I'll be back eventually. For now, though, I need to acknowledge my ongoing frustration with this company & stop giving them my money, my loyalty, & my referrals.

That means I'm on the lookout for a fun new subscription box, preferably one managed by a company that gives a damn about its customers. Any recommendations?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Secret Service Escorted Me to the Bathroom & Then I Took a Selfie with the Veep

Titles are supposed to be a teaser of the content within, & I know, the title of this post really gives it all away. But come on, did it not catch your attention? Did you not read it & think, "God, Kate has all the weirdest stories"?

That's what I thought.

Let me back up. I have basically been too busy to breathe lately, & when I'm not busy, I'm relaxing as much as humanly possible, because I seem to be very all-or-nothing these days. I worked 18-hour days at my organization's major biennial convention (this was my fifth one with them!), & when I got home, I slept for 18 hours. That basically sums it all up.

But while in Orlando for that very-busy convention, I still had the opportunity to squeeze in a couple little adventures.

My job at this event, as is my job in everyday life, was to maintain our organizational social media presence - tweeting, posting to Facebook, blogging, etc. On-site social media is a lot of fun to do, & I love the fast pace of it. I confess that I also love sitting backstage at our big plenary sessions, watching what goes on behind the scenes & seeing all the VIPs walk by, practicing their speeches.

One of our plenary speakers with New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, an incredible advocate for global human rights, including women's rights & health issues. Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, he's renowned for writing that gets people to pay attention to & take action on global crises. 

I bought Kristof's book after the session & stood at the end of the autograph line. With no one behind me, I shamelessly asked him for a quick selfie. He was kind enough to oblige, & it was only mildly awkward.

I figured he'd be my only brush with celebrity during the week, as I rarely get to meet them while sitting backstage in the dark - but just being there, live-tweeting, is enough of a rush.

Our final speaker was a heavyweight keynote - Vice President Joe Biden! Late Sn Saturday night, I settled in for the long haul backstage with a trenta latte & a bottle of water.

But there was a problem. I have a pea-sized bladder, & I soon discovered that my reliable backstage bathroom was closed - because, you know, the veep rolls deep with a squad of Secret Service folks. Long before Biden's address even began, I found myself nearing uncomfortable liquid levels.

I contemplated my options: Run to the far-away hallway bathrooms, missing live-tweeting opportunities? Or... ask the nearby Secret Service dudes for help? I chose the latter, timidly approaching the three burly, suited men who guarded the room where the VP awaited his stage debut. 

"Hi, uhhhh," I started brilliantly. "I really have to use the bathroom, but just realized I can't get to the one backstage..." Nothing like rambling to make your point.

They looked at one another as if to say "NOT IT" until one guy somewhat begrudgingly asked the other, "Want me to take her?" And off I went with my very own Secret Service bathroom escort, through the heavily guarded back doors & into the behind-backstage area, which is a weird kitchen hallway...

...filled with massive, shiny, black presidential vehicles being hand-polished by more men in suits. Indoors. It was like some scene out of a movie.

I tried not to make eye contact with anyone, lest I get kicked out before I could empty myself out (sorry). My Secret Service pal made awkward small talk, finally posting up outside the bathroom door while I willed myself to be the world's fastest pee-er. I was so fast, in fact, that when I exited, he asked, "Did you even have time to wash your hands?!" (I did, I swear.)

The vice president's address began as soon as I got back to my seat - whew it! I settled in & took to social media to live-tweet his speech & interact with audience members who were doing the same.

As Biden spoke, my boss approached me in the dark. "Would you like to meet the vice president?" he whispered. I wanted to keep my cool & be a professional, but instead I just smiled like a dope & uttered, "Yes!"

When the VP exited the stage, he & his entourage made their way toward the backstage doors - but not before my boss diverted him toward where I stood with a few coworkers, watching expectantly. "Is this your staff?" Biden asked, walking toward us. He started with others, asking their names & hometowns, bantering about sports & kissing one of my coworkers on the head. He was in a hurry by the time he got to me, shaking my hand & starting to move along, when I basically sort of blacked out & acted on an idea.

"Mr. Vice President," I piped up, his staff & my coworkers all turning toward me in surprise, "I run our social media feeds. I wondered if I might get a selfie with you for the big screens?" 

That's when Joe Biden, vice president of the United States of America, gave me a good-natured laugh & flung his arm around me, smiling for a series of three dark, grainy selfies as a dozen expectant staffers looked on. And then he gave the rest of us a wave & swept away, headed off to be... you know, the vice president of the United States of America. 

And that, my friends, is the story of the time the Secret Service escorted me to the bathroom & then I took a selfie with the veep. Did the title blow the story? I hope not. Because it's one of my new favorites.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Byline Worth Humblebragging About

As always, I have plenty of things to say, but for once, I am too tired to put together any words. My big work conference ended on Sunday, & I slept for 18 hours when I got home - & counting! I'll be back soon with a pretty cool update (you might've already seen it on social media, but I want to write about it, too), but in the meantime, I wanted to share another cool little update.

If you're one of the folks who's been following along with this blog since way back when: A) thank you, & B) you might remember my semi-regular posts about "grandmaisms," documentation of some of the many ridiculous things my beloved grandmother said during our times together. When my grandma died in 2012, a few readers told me that they grieved for her because they felt like they'd come to know her through my blog posts.

Today, I'm honoring my grandma's memory & part of the legacy of gratitude that she passed down to me in an essay for Country Living magazine titled "Why I'll Never Let Emails and Texts Replace Thank You Notes."

I'd love for you to check it out - &, as always, thank you for your support & love & readership. (If you want that handwritten, I'm happy to oblige!)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Curmudgeons & Pigeons: My Friend is Making a 3D Animated Short Film!

I met Dmitry in 2011, when we were on the same trip to Israel through URJ Kesher & Birthright Israel, which organizes free trips for Jewish young adults. Honestly, it was not a trip I really wanted to go on - but it was free, & a friend was coming with me, & I had never been abroad before, so I agreed.

I was fortunate to find myself among a group of about 40 other Jewish young adults from all backgrounds - people I'm still in touch with, people who changed me, people who influenced my perspectives on life. One of them was Dmitry, a friendly, outgoing Russian-American film student with the kind of unexpected wisdom that sticks with you. On a hotel roof on our last night in Tel Aviv, Dmitry gave me a hug & whispered to me some quiet insight about loving myself & not letting myself be my own worst enemy; I haven't forgotten it.

The trip changed all of us in so many ways. For Dmitry, it was the inspiration behind Curpigeon, a 3D animated short film. Though I've never done an interview-style post on this blog before, I thought it would be a fun way to share a little bit about his project, which is running a support campaign, & for you to learn a little bit more about what goes into the making of the kind of quirky, adorable 3D shorts we all love. Bonus? This one has a socially conscious message designed to help kids cope with life's tough moments.

I present you: An interview with Dmitry Milkin, director of the upcoming Curpigeon!

Let's start with the basics: Tell us a little more about Curpigeon.
Curpigeon is a 3D animated short with some really unique and lovable characters. The story centers around a community of park pigeons & their old men pals, who help one of their own get through a great loss. It's really a film about community support. More specifically, it focuses on a window of grief that is one of the hardest to deal with - when everyone has moved on but you.

The goal is to really show kids a way to deal with a loss without falling into resentment or isolation, & instead reaching out to their community for help. I worked very hard to make sure that it is as hilarious as it is sweet & sincere. The short is packed with goofs & gags that will register with every age viewer - & really, that is the only way the message of the film will connect to the audience. I call it "hiding the peas in the mashed potatoes."

What inspired you to do a film about old men & pigeons, of all topics?
It's one of those relationships everyone is already familiar with. Everyone has seen old men feeding pigeons in the park. The image is iconic - not Superman-iconic, but iconic in a more intimate way.

For me this story was always a socially conscious mission. I'm horrified at how often & how randomly we've seen mass violence in the last few years. I can't get used to it, & no one should be used to it - doesn't matter what your politics are. After the shootings at Sandy Hook, I felt like it was impossible to shelter children from all of this, so I wanted to tell a children's story about dealing with death. It's a difficult task to even comprehend how to do, & I wanted to do it in a way that is much more natural & sentimental.

My girlfriend is a PhD candidate in clinical psychology, which came in very handy. I consulted with her & some of her colleagues & professors to make sure I was handling this subject matter responsibly & accurately. Each of the old men were designed to remind anyone of their grandpa. I think I spent way too much time coming up with different backstories & individual characteristics for these guys, who we never hear talk - but those are also the things that make them come to life. 

Curpigeon is basically the cutest name ever. How did you come up with that?
The title is a play on my favorite word, "curmudgeon," which means a cranky old man. I was so proud of myself when I came up with it. I mean, I'm doing a story about a cranky pigeon & old men, and it fit so perfectly! I patted myself on the back for that one - as my girlfriend rolled her eyes. I just like puns. It's a writer thing.

How did your - our! - trip to Israel impact your decision to make this film?
Oh, man, so much! I don't even know where to begin. Everyone loves their Birthright trip, so it may be a cliche to gush about mine (& clearly you're a bit biased, too, since you were on it) but ours may have been the best Kesher group of all time. Greg, one of our two group leaders, never led a group again because he felt nothing could top it!

Now, four years later, you're interviewing me, & another friend from the trip, Josh, brought it to his boss at Segars Media, which is now sponsoring the film. The sheer amount of support that I still receive from our 40-strong group is just incredible - so it's no wonder I came back from the trip & wrote a story about community support. That Israel trip made me feel connected to something bigger than myself, while instilling in me a deep sense of confidence & self-worth. That's really a priceless gift. I guess this film is my attempt at saying thank you.

What goes into the making of a 3D animated short film? What's the work process, how many people does it take, etc.? Walk us through it.
It takes not knowing what you are getting yourself into, even though everyone warned me that making a 3D animated short with 12 characters near 10 minutes long was an almost impossible task as an independent filmmaker. My background was in screenwriting, so I really had no idea what technical challenges I would face.

Now, I have so much respect for all the technical artists who are the behind-the-scenes wizards in all those large magnanimous feature fi;ms. It takes an army, & I encourage everyone to really watch the end credits to some of your favorite animated films from Dreamworks & such, just to really see how many people something like this takes. Last I counted, the Curpigeon team was 150+ strong - just the team of animators was 40 people over the course of a year and a half.

The support for this film has been really amazing from the start, & I think that's because people truly connect to the film's message. If I were to really explain everything that goes into the process, I would ramble on forever, but the main thing that has been essential is knowing why you're doing it, & holding on to that when big challenges get in the way. Putting four years of your life into a 10-minute experience is difficult to do. You need to know why it's worth it -& then never stop.

What's the next step for Curpigeon?
Festivals! Right now, we're raising money through our Rocket Hub Campaign, so we can do a final polish on the film & send Curpigeon to film/animation festivals around the world (including Israel). That way we can reach a global audience and promote Curpigeon as a brand of socially conscious storytelling. Then, who knows? Maybe Curpigeon the feature!

Friday, October 30, 2015

I'm Afraid to Grow Old, But I'm More Afraid to Die Young

A girl I graduated from high school with died yesterday.

I didn't know her at all, not really even a little bit. We were in homerooms together, & our lockers were next to one another because my last name starts with Bi & hers started with Ba, but that was about it. I don't think we ever even exchanged a single word, & I'm willing to bet that she probably never knew my name. She looked similar enough after all these years, though, that I recognized her the couple of times I saw her around town, including once this summer.

I didn't know her, so it's not fair to say that I'm grieving or mourning or experiencing any sort of pain related to my personal relationship with her, or anything like that. But still, I can't stop thinking about her.

We weren't even Facebook friends, so I don't know how she died, aside from what I've heard from mutual friends, but someone told me they think it might've been an aneurysm or something. It seems like it was sudden, the scary kind, the kind nobody sees coming.

And all I can think about is how afraid I am, sometimes, to grow old - but how much more afraid I am, I think, to consider that literally any day could be the last, for me & for anyone else I know.

There are so many days - more than I care to admit - when I panic about aging. I'm only 31, but I added the "only" on quite recently, to try to make myself feel better about the numbers. I remember when 31 sounded terribly old, when I'd read letters in Glamour magazine written by 31-year-olds - or, hell, from 25-year-olds - & think, "Hey, lady, shouldn't you be reading Redbook or something?"

Getting old seemed scary & sad & more than a little bit pathetic, which is the sort of privileged view of a youthful mind that believes age will never come to her.

In fact, I used to loathe the idea of aging so much that there was a time when I prayed to a God I didn't believe in that I would die before age 30. I didn't want to be old, didn't believe old age held anything worth sticking around to see. I literally prayed at night to be dead by 30.

But the older I got, the less old I felt. Today, truly, I'm enjoying my thirties - but when I think back on all the years that came before, they feel like so long ago, like someone else's life. The people I grew up with are parents now, homeowners now, successful business people now, milestones I've not yet reached & maybe don't even want to, but ones that make me take a good look around & realize all over again: We are adults now.

When did this happen? How did we get here? We knew better, perhaps, but we still believed it would never happen to us. We wouldn't be old.

I never wanted to have to grow up,but here I am, 31, too panicky to sleep at night because all I want to do is stay alive. But then, I think, still: What about getting old? Like, really old? Do I want that?

I think about my grandmother, who was the best kind of old. She was vivacious & active & traveled to Japan alone & then one day had a pain in her elbow that turned out to be a vicious, fast-spreading cancer. I made the 16-hour drive from New Hampshire to Ohio to visit her for what I knew would be our last time together, & despite her obviously deteriorating health, she was in so many ways the grandma I'd always known: talking about getting out, talking about buying an apartment, talking about what came next.

And then we went for a walk down the hallway of her care facility, & she started coughing & couldn't stop. As my then-boyfriend ran to get help, my grandmother looked up at me, angry & frustrated & weakened by illness, & said, "Look at me. Katy, I've become an old woman."

My heart has never broken the way it did at that moment, & it's a sentence that has long haunted me. For me, it was a reinforcement of what I'd always believed: that getting old is scary & awful.

My grandma would be horrified to hear that, though, because she wasn't the kind of person who believed in fear. She never cried. She didn't sit around freaking out, & she chastised me when I did. She did not have an ounce of anxiety, like I do. She just lived her damn life - painting, traveling, volunteering. And when she got old enough that most of her friends had died, she just made younger ones so that she could keep on living at the same level & speed she always had.

Even though I'm afraid of growing old, I want to live like my grandma lived - to be 82 years old & surrounded by my family, by love, by the knowledge that I have done as much as possible. 

But then, some girl from homeroom dies at 31 of a maybe-aneurysm & all I can think is, "There is no guarantee."

Old age may sound scary, but I think dying young is even scarier. There is no guarantee that you'll get to live out a full life & die at 82. There is no guarantee, even at 31, against aneurysms or cancer that starts as tennis elbow or being hit by a car or being one of those people whose freak death makes headlines for its sheer absurdity, despite the tragedy beneath it.

I have always been afraid of death, which is probably why I prayed to be dead by 30. It's why, prior to my current relationship, I've been an historically terrible girlfriend, disinclined to commit - because I don't want to be left behind, like my mom was, or to leave anyone behind, like my dad did. I know how death fucks up everyone in its wake, & I neither want to cause that pain nor suffer it. Both sides of death are terrible, aren't they?

But the only other option is to live - to just wake up every day & put on your pants & your game face & to do whatever you've been doing & hope you're doing a good enough job of it. You have to try to do it in such a way that if you die tomorrow, no one will feel regrets on your behalf, but that, if you live until you're 90, you won't look back on your many years with your own regrets.

You have to just do it & try not to think about whether you're next & what people will say at your funeral & how your death would affect the people who know you, even some random girl from high school whose name you never knew - all of which are the kind of macabre things that run through the mind of a person who is terrified of death.

You have to whisper the girl from homeroom's name under your breath & hope that she lived a life she loved.

And then you have to go do the same.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

I Got New Furniture from a Weird Magical Warehouse

My apartment is pretty old. I don't know exactly how old, but, like... probably kiiind of old. It's basically the size of a large house, but it contains four apartments & one commercial unit, a small law firm just below me.

Because it's an old building, the door to to the units are pretty small - small enough that I was concerned about whether I'd be able to fit any substantially sized furniture into my place. Unfortunately, I like very over-sized, overstuffed, old-timey-looking couches - but it seemed clear that such a purchase was not in my future, given my 31" doorway.

Afraid of ending up with an IKEA futon at age 31, I awkwardly emailed my neighbors to ask if they could measure their couches for me so I knew what kind of sizing to work with. Instead of just sending me measurements, they kindly invited me in to see their couch & loveseat. They also told me where they bought them: some weird furniture rental & sales warehouse in Akron.

I'd never heard of Northeast Furniture Rental & Sales, & it sounded a little sketchy, but when I learned how much my neighbors paid for their set, I was intrigued. Furniture is expensive, you guys, & I work for a nonprofit, so trying to have find nice digs that don't break the bank is hard as hell.

If I'm being honest, Northeast Furniture Rental & Sales is not a place I would've set foot inside had I not gotten a referral from someone I trust. The building, located just around the corner from Akron's notoriously sketchy Chapel Hill Mall, looks... well, sketchy. It's a warehouse in every sense of the word, & upon opening the front door, I whispered to my mom, "I'm nervous." She whispered back, "Me, too." Not a great start.

But I quickly changed my tune inside, as I took in the massive space stacked ceiling-high with new & used furniture.

Northeast Furniture rents out home furnishings on short-term leases, mostly to companies furnishing corporate apartments to traveling businessmen; one of their top customers, for example, is Goodyear. When the furniture is returned to them, Northeast Furniture cleans each piece & puts it up for sale at minimal cost - think $250 for a sofa & loveseat set, or $600 for a bed frame, dresser, & vanity, all lightly used & in near-perfect condition.

All this is great. But the kicker? They also sell brand new furniture. It's slightly more expensive than the used versions, but it's considerably cheaper than what you'd find at a standard furniture store.

The staff was friendly & accommodating, willing to help but not pressuring us or pestering us. Clearly they're not on commission, like standard furniture salesmen, which is a relief for someone with anxiety like mine. They even let us borrow a measuring tape while we shopped so that I could idetermine whether the couches I liked most were feasible given the limitations of my weirdly small apartment doors.

Ultimately, I decided on a tan & black tweed-looking sofa & loveseat, & though I won't reveal how much they cost, I will say that they came as a package deal for far less than $1,000. Shipping to Cleveland was an additional $55, & the company was very communicative & easy to work with. They called me in the morning to give me a timing estimate, & they showed up just 15 minutes after that time (which is saying a lot, if you've ever wasted an afternoon waiting for, say, the cable company to show up when they claim they will). It took three guys all of 15 minutes to move everything in - & yes, it all fit!

I don't usually write such localized reviews like this, but I can't say enough good things about Northeast Furniture Rental & Sales. I'm thrilled with my new digs, & I can't thank them enough for helping me furnish my apartment like a real adult... without going broke in the process. (OK, these were a birthday gift from my mom. God, I wish I didn't have to tell you that. But anyway, she didn't go broke in the process, either.)

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go put on sweatpants & watch TV from the living room for the rest of the day. Comfortably. Because I can.

Um, after work. But still.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Few Things I'm Obsessing Over Right Now

I feel like I've discovered all kinds of great stuff lately, & because I'm too brain-fried from prepping for a major work conference to blog about anything that requires serious levels of brainpower, I wanted to scribble down some thoughts about my current favorite things, from candy to jewelry to trashy TV shows, & everything in between. Maybe you'll find a new favorite in here, too!
  1. Caramel Apple Filled Twizzlers: Call these gross if you want, but the love we have together is pure & good & delicious. I'm not a big pumpkin fan, but caramel is my autumnal jam. These are possibly the best-tasting candy I have ever consumed, but I should never buy them again, given how quickly I consumed an entire bag.
  2. Floppy hats: I have been known, on occasion, to wear ostentatious hats. My old standbys have been a straw fedora in summer & a knit beanie in winter, but I've added floppy wool hats to the mix - one black from Poshmark & one tan from target. I could not feel like more of a pretentious asshole when I wear them... so, naturally, they're my new favorites.
  3. Sweet Earth Foods Curry Tiger Burrito: I'm trying to get better about eating at home, but that doesn't mean I always want to cook. I've been looking for healthy, not-too-high-in-sodium frozen meals that also don't taste like cardboard, & I've found a winner with this vegan burrito. Lentils, curried seitan, red peppers... oh my God, they are so good. Restaurant-level good, truly.
  4. SLATE Geometric Diamond Ring: I've bought quite a few pieces of jewelry through Rocksbox, a jewelry subscription I've been partnering with for a few months now. This ring is far & away my favorite, though. I wear it almost every day. (PS: Code heyescapistxoxo will get you a free month, if you're so inclined.)
  5. Brazilian Bombshell Snarky Bar: I'm not a huge fan of Facebook "parties" where people try to hawk their products to me, but I still fall for 'em - & this $9 bar of soap is one of the best party purchases I've ever made. It's made of shea butter & ground walnut shells, so it's the exfoliatingest. It's about to be discontinued, so I just stocked up on four bars & wish I could afford to snag a few dozen more.
  6. The City of Cleveland: Is this a dumb thing to include in the list? It seems like maybe it is, but it also seems vital. I just really love living in Cleveland. This city is splendid, truly, & I just...  feel so lucky that I finally made it here. I never want to leave, & I'm having a lot of fun documenting my Cleveland adventures on Instagram.
  7. POPSUGAR Must Have Box: Getting this box in the mail is consistently my favorite day of the month. Admittedly, I didn't love October's box, but I am still so jazzed about monthly boxes full of $100 worth of surprises that I can't even complain. Plus, this month's included Mindy Kaling's new book, which is apparently impossible to get from the library.
  8. My new air plant: I bought a little air plant for just $10 at the final Cleveland Flea of the season. It's small enough that I can keep it up high, where my cat can't eat it, & it's (hopefully) hardy enough that I can keep it alive, despite my utter inability to keep any of my past plants going for long than a couple months.
  9. Colorama Coloring Book: This cost me $12 at the local dollar store, which is probably more than anyone has ever paid for anything at a dollar store, ever (& it's much less on Amazon). But it was worth it, if only because there is something so blissfully zen about zoning out while I color inside the lines mid-Netflix binge.
  10. Quantico on ABC: I don't have TV, just Hulu, so I hadn't seen the apparently-offensively-sexist commercials that ran before the show premiered, & thus, I had no preconceived hatred toward it, like others seem to. Good thing, because now I eagerly await every new episode of this fantastically cheesy show.
  11. LancĂ´me Color Design Lipstick: My mom was going to throw away this cream lip color, which she got for free, because she said the color ("Curtain Call") was too dark. I rescued it just in the nick of time, & it's turned out to be one of the prettiest colors & most long-lasting formulas I've tried in awhile.
Tell me: What's currently atop your "OMG, best thing ever" list? I'm looking for recommendations for the next great whatever!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

My Spider Roommate

I've always wanted to be a person who goes all-out with outdoor holiday decor, but when your apartment is but one window in a massive complex, it's tough to share all that holiday love with the wider world.

Now, though, I live in a small building, just a couple units, & my apartment is right up front, with huge bay windows that overlook the street. I was thrilled to be able to finally bust out some cheapo Halloween decorations & tell all of Tremont that a holiday-lover lives here, so I made a trip to the local dollar store & decided upon a gangly paper skeleton surrounded by bat silhouettes. They look wonderfully spooky with the changing leaves out the window in front of them - the ultimate fall scene.

But the other day, I noticed an addition to my faux Halloween scene - an addition that was very much alive. It was, shall we say, a spider of curious size. Curiously massive size, that is.

Of all the things I fear, spiders are near the top of the list - right after, like, cancer & car crashes. I deeply, deeply loathe spiders. After I see one, I feel goosebumpy for the next half an hour, like they're crawling in my hair or stuck in my clothes. When I see one spider, I remember that the world is full of spiders, & then I basically just want to curl up in a ball under the covers - except there could be spiders there, too. No place is safe.

This spider has, like, settled in. It's spun a big ole web in the corner of the front window, & it spends much of its time just (literally) hanging around & being scary. When it's not resting peacefully/creepily in the center of its web, it's scurrying around & wiggling its stupid, scary little spider legs, reminding me that it is very fast-moving. A friend tells me this variety of spider is harmless, but it gives off distinct vibes of wanting to capture me in its web & eat me slowly, so I'm not really buying her science.

No, really. This spider is scary, you guys. I know I have a tendency to exaggerate, especially when it comes to arachnid size (my mom & go-to spider murderer is nodding along here), but I promise this is not one of those times. It's so big that you can actually see it in that photo above, hovering just a few inches over the top bat on the right-hand side. It's so big that if I saw it without a pane of glass to separate us, I would very likely pass out from fear. It's so big that in the closeup I took of it, below, you can see the tiny hairs on its many legs.

In an attempt to try to make myself less terrified of my new spider roommate, I named it. I call him Mr. Cunningham, although the same friend pointed out that it's actually probably a female spider, one who will lay an egg sack & then wander off to die. Although I like the idea of this spider being dead, I very much dislike the idea of it leaving a billion tiny spider spawn in my window well. In fact, I might've cried when my friend told me this.

The other day, Mr. Cunningham seemed to have disappeared; she was nowhere to be found. You might think I'd be happy to see her go, but in reality, I was in a panic. Where is she? She could be anywhere! Did she get into my apartment? Is she hanging out atop my car? Is she dangling from the trees over the driveway? Is she in my hair? It was like playing a very-much-not-fun game of Where's Waldo?

But the next night. Mr. Cunningham was back, legs splayed & taunting me with their utter terrifyingness. (Not a word; see what spiders do to me?!) Every morning when I wake up, I check on her. If she's still there, it means she's not inside my apartment, & that means her babies aren't, either.

The least this bitch could do is throw me some rent money, especially if she's moving her whole damn family in.

Please pray for me, or at least send along a blowtorch.
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