Tuesday, July 28, 2015

I Went Camping & Did Not Even Come Close to Dying


The first/last time I went camping, I was probably about 7 years old. My Uncle Jim & my dad took my younger cousin Emily & me to God-knows-where campground in bufu Ohio for a quick weekend in the woods. We probably stayed near a covered bridge, because my dad & my uncle used to explore them together. Neither of them is/was particularly outdoorsy, though (sorry, Uncle Jim), so I can't imagine we were very hardcore about any of it. I remember that a raccoon stole our food in the middle of the night & that we might've gone home early because of it.

As you can imagine, when my boyfriend Mike asked me if I wanted to go camping this month with him & his friends, I was both skeptical & enthusiastic.Mostly, I was very gung-ho about making my triumphant (ha) return to the activity of communing with nature.

Uh, did I mention that I am basically the opposite of outdoorsy?

I am so indoorsy, in fact, that Mike made fun of me when he arrived at my mom's house to pick me up. I had chosen to forgo my anxiety medicine in favor of being able to booze with the gang that night, so I was, shall we say, on high alert. I was all packed, with no idea whether I'd actually brought any of the right things, & no one was sure whether my parents' old tent, purchased circa 1992, still had all the right accoutrements to make it a passable outdoor dwelling. I had brought, like, four small bottles of Purell & was planning to subsist on PB&J sandwiches & small bags of goldfish crackers all weekend.

In other words, I was ready.

The campground where we were headed, Mohican Reservations in Loudonville, OH, is less than two hours away from my hometown, but the differences between them blew my mind. How is it possible that there's so much old-timey farmland just around the corner from my suburban oasis? On our drive south, we passed half a dozen Mennonite churches, three Amish buggies, two men standing in a field pushing a cow, & a man in overalls asleep on a riding mower in the middle of a field. Though we'd agreed to turn off our cell phones once we got in the car, I couldn't stick to it because everything was passed along the way was hilarious enough to deserve its own tweet. I felt like I'd time-traveled to the early 1900s.

When we arrived at the campground, I was surprised to find that it was nothing like I'd expected. I knew we'd be, like, on the ground in the woods, but I'd imagined it it to be much more "Fend for yourself" than "You can buy toilet paper & marshmallows at the general store at the center of camp." As it turns out, Mohican is basically a huge, open plot of land along a river (the Mohican River, incidentally), & there are literally hundreds of people camping there at any given time during the summer. This wasn't, like, stranded-in-the-woods camping. I was both relieved & disappointed.

We were camping with a group of about 30 (!!!), so we were relegated to a portion of the campground that was somewhat segregated from the rest of the guests. We could hear them, & certainly we could see them as we trekked the quarter of a mile to the outhouses in times of bodily need, but for the most part, we didn't have to interact with anyone else, which lent a more secluded vibe to the weekend.

And it went so well.

Our tent wasn't missing any pieces, even though we assembled it drunk. I slept on a sleeping bag set atop a yoga mat & somehow got a good night's sleep. I sweated so much that I had five bottles of water on Saturday morning & never had to pee. We tubed down the river, full of beer & covered in mud, & I somehow wasn't afraid of aquatic life. We cooked copious hotdogs over the grill & a very kind veteran camper let me make breakfast bacon on her grill (OK, she mostly did it for me). I did not eat a single PB&J sandwich, but I did consume a lot of PBR & exactly as many Goldfish crackers as predicted.

I don't know what I was expecting, but I didn't need that Xanax, after all. I sneezed more than usual, but not as much as expected (thanks, Zyrtec). I wore zero makeup but lots of extra-strength deodorant, & my organic bug spray miraculously shielded me from every single mosquito that might've bitten done me harm. I rinsed off in the campground's communal showers after floating down the river, & I felt like it got me cleaner than I'd ever been in my life. My back hurt from sleeping on the ground, but at the end of the weekend, my heart was so full that it didn't really matter.

Camping had me out of my element, to be sure, but it was also one of the most relaxing, enjoyable experiences I've had in a long time (not mention one of the sweatiest). I'm already hoping to do it again - but maybe I'll wait until autumn?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

11 Things I'm Going to Miss About Living with My Mom


As excited as I am to move to Cleveland & strike out on my own again, there are a lot of things I'm going to miss about living here in the 'burbs with my mom:
  1. Spending time with my mom: Truly, the best thing about living at home has been living with my mom, which is maybe a thing I'm not supposed to say at age 30. But really, after seven years of living hours away from her, it's been great to be able to watch the new episode of Grey's together or meet her for happy hour on a Friday after work or grab lunch in the middle of the work day.
  1. Eating homemade food: Speaking of meals, my mom is an excellent maker-of-things & a very kind soul who occasionally makes me: fruit smoothies, veggie juice, dirty chai lattes, turkey wraps, BBQ pulled chicken, & other such delicacies. I'm, uh, not awesome at fending for myself when it comes to nutrition, so I'll miss her occasional interventions in the form of healthy food.
  1. Cuddling with the puppies: When I first moved home, I wasn't a big fan of my mom's two chihuahua mixes, Chyna & Jed. In time, though, they've become my little buddies. I'll do just fine without their barking & shedding, but I'm definitely going to miss the times when they're my A+ adorable furry BFFs.
  1. Living in a whole house: Aside from living with my mom, I've only ever lived in apartments - & usually small ones, at that. While the apartment I'm moving into is way bigger than past pads, it's been nice living in a house with rooms! and stairs! and a basement! for a bit.
  1. Having a yard: If I'm being totally honest, I don't spend a lot of time in our yard. I'm not a gardener or a sunbather - I'm a little bit, how you say... indoorsy - but having lived in apartment complexes for the better part of the last decade, it's been a luxury just to know the yard is there. I love sitting on the patio on sunny weekends or listening to the rain fall from our porch on stormy nights - activities you can't enjoy sans backyard.
  1. Watching cable: I'm sure I won't spring for cable once I move because it's spendy & when you have Netflix & Hulu, why bother? But there's something comforting about settling in on the couch on a lazy day, scrolling through the channels & landing on something totally random. With Netflix & Hulu, I have to, like, decide what I want to watch. That can be, like, soooo stressful. [Dramatic sigh.]
  1. Working from "my" Starbucks: I have grown to love the Starbucks location that I work from at least three days a week. It's big & bright & comfortable, & the baristas are usually friendly. Some of them know me by name & occasionally do nice things, like give me a venti when I pay for a grande. There are other regulars here, too, people I've never spoken to but trust to keep an eye on my stuff if I need to use the restroom. It's the little things, man. 
  1. Hearing the train: Our house is just yards away from train tracks, & though passing trains always scare the bejeezus out of visitors, I've always found the sound comforting. It blares all day long, in mid-afternoon & in the middle of the night, & while it's usually loud as hell, it just  sounds like home. When I'm away, I fall asleep to a white noise app that includes train sounds, but nothing beats the real thing
  1. Not paying rent: OK, OK, I know, I'm an adult, & I know adults pay rent - or mortgages, or whatever. Adults have to pay to to live wherever they live. But it's been really nice to take a quick break from that - to save money, to pay off some of my loans, & yes, to indulge in some luxuries I couldn't otherwise afford (hello, subscription box obsession). Thanks, Mom, for letting me pay you in dinner dates instead of rent checks.
  1. Having a driveway: I technically have a parking spot at my new place, but it's one of those weird ones that's sort of on the sidewalk & will definitely be a pain in the butt in the winter. I'm glad to have parking at all, but I will certainly miss the reliable little driveway sidecar spot I've got at my mom's place.
  1. Being in familiar surroundings: I know Cuyahoga Falls. I feel comfortable in Cuyahoga Falls.And while I don't want to live in Cuyahoga Falls for the rest of my life, I have absolutely enjoyed being back here - much more than I expected to, actually. I used to think this place was so podunk, & maybe it is, but the older I get, the more I value home. Every small-town resident complains about running into high school classmates at the gym & ex-boyfriends' mothers at the grocery store, but I secretly love it. Yeah, I said it: I love Cuyahoga Falls.
But I'm gonna love this next step, too, I just know it. I get the keys to my new apartment on Friday, & then it becomes official: I'm about to become a Clevelander!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Time I Cheated On Cleveland with Another Ohio City



One of my New York coworkers confused Cincinnati & Cleveland the other day, & I scoffed, "Cincinnati is practically Kentucky." My boss chimed in, with one of those laughs that is not really meant to be funny, "And Cleveland is practically what? Western Pennsylvania?" Low blow, people who think Ohio is the sticks.

But I love Cleveland, & Cincinnati is, well, Cincinnati. It's nearly a four-hour drive from home &, like, what's even there? My aunt & uncle & cousins live in the suburbs, & I've always enjoyed visiting them - not least of all because they have a great swimming pool in their backyard - but as a city, Cincinnati has never held much allure for me.

When I visited the family over Fourth of July weekend, I changed my mind.

As it turns out, Cincinnati is kind of awesome. My family & I went downtown the day after the holiday to spend some time exploring the city's many recent developments, & I was so impressed by it that I even had a moment of wondering, "Should I move here instead of Cleveland?" I mean, my mind wasn't that changed. But I had such a good time that I'm already planning my next visit.

The city had long been readying itself for the 2015 All-Star Game, which meant everything was in tip-top shape & full of quirky details like... mustaches everywhere? I'm not sure why they chose mustaches, but there was one painted onto a tall building, & there were funny little statues of them all over the place (both seen below).


In the center of it is the Roebling Suspension Bridge, which connects Cincinnati to Covington, Kentucky, across the water. When the bridge opened in 1866, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, at 1,056 feet long. By now, it's fallen to 145th on the list of the world's longest suspension bridges (the Verrazano-Narrows is the longest in the U.S.), but I still think it's beautiful.


We spent most of our time at the newly renovated Smale Waterfront Park, set along the Ohio River  overlooking Kentucky. It's 40 acres large & one of the coolest parks I've ever visited, despite the fact that it's still unfinished in the midst of a $120 million renovation. When we visited, it was still under construction & awaiting elements like an esplanade & a farmers market, which I know because we made small talk with a chatty woman who's studying for the Cincinnati Parks Foundation's docent test.

There's so much to see in this park. It's full of creative playground elements, like interactive fountains, a rope bridge, some wacky-looking slides, & a big, metal pig with wings on a high-up pole, which kids can climb into for a quick "flight." It's designed to create opportunities for "inadvertent exercise" so that kids can get healthy while they have fun - & obviously it's also a site for lots of adorable scenes.

One of my favorite parts of the park were these massive, metal porch swings that overlook the river. They would be the perfect place to sit on a sunny day (which was not exactly the case on the overcast afternoon we visited) to eat lunch or go on a little picnic date. 

 

My other favorite part of the park was Carol Ann's Carousel, a gorgeous, brand new carousel housed in a large glass "box" that, of course, overlooks the river. It costs $2 to ride, & you get an adorable, old-timey token after you've paid. There are 44 animals to choose from, including standard horses & more uncommon characters like a ladybug, a bat, & a housefly. My mother opted for a large rabbit, & I, perhaps unsurprisingly, chose the cardinal - Ohio's state bird, duh. I also got really excited about the term #carouselfie, though I suppose that because someone else took this photo, that term doesn't actually apply here. Just go with it.



We weren't in downtown Cincinnati for long, & despite a very full afternoon, we actually didn't get very much sightseeing in, so I'm already thinking of making another visit that way in the near future. I'd like to check out the American Sign Museum & the Underground Railroad Museum & also maybe some things that aren't museums, like... I have no idea what, because I don't know what else is actually in Cincinnati - but I love the idea of  continuing to explore Ohio & falling further in love with all the mini adventures this state has in store for me.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Birthday Wishlist, If I Were a Dreamer (& I Am)

 
I turn 31 in a couple weeks, which is a pretty lackluster birthday age. I mean, I guess that's how it goes from here on out, right? The next time you hit a milestone, you're turning 40, so you're probably also weeping a little - & so it goes forever...

The world basically says that once you turn 30, you're not supposed to, like, do stuff for your birthday anymore. Just the other day, I read a Twitter conversation about how you can't have a party or expect presents once you're an adult, but I think that's sort of bunk. I mean, you shouldn't expect a party or presents, but you can definitely invite your friends to happy hour or ask your significant other to go to dinner at your favorite restaurant or whatever the hell you want to do. I firmly believe that birthdays still get to be fun. Forever.

But I do agree that you shouldn't expect presents anymore. What are we, 5? This is not a birthday party in a McDonald's Play Place, you guys. Everyone's got bills to pay & lives to live, & probably no one's sending you gifts anymore. I think, though, that when you hit an age like 31, you should buy yourself a gift - treat yo'self, as the kids say. And if you can't buy yourself a gift because you're putting all your money into a new apartment & the indulgence of monthly subscription boxes? Well, then you should just spend a little time formulating a mental list of future gifts to buy yourself.

Here's mine.
  1. A back massage: I have chronic back pain from that time I had two stainless steel rods inserted around my spine. Like everyone else on the planet, I also carry all my stress in my neck & shoulders, which makes for extra pain on top of chronic pain. I've been aching (literally) for a good back massage, the professional kind, & have thus been scouring Groupon for a good deal at a decent place. Deep tissue grind, I'm comin' for ya.
  1. The Harry Potter boxed set: Why do I need this? OK, I don't need this. But this is a wishlist! It's not about things I need. I own most of the Harry Potter books, but they're all mismatched - some paperback, some hardcover, some in good shape, some battered. I'd love a pretty, matching set that I can show off on the bookshelf in my new apartment. And while I'm on the topic of Harry Potter, I'm also desperate to own a large, framed print of this incredible Hogwarts art from Anne Lambelet Illustration.
  1. Car detailing: I'm not even sure if that's what this is called because I'm still not used to having a car again. Basically, I want someone else to vacuum my vehicle. I'm a relatively not-dirty person, & I've only had this car for seven months. Why is it already full of, like, crumbs & hair?! I found a spiderweb in the door frame the other day, which really made me feel like a trashball of a human. Who wants to do this for me? No one? Goddamnit, adulthood.
  1. Starbucks gift cards: I go to Starbucks every day, maybe you've heard? Granted, I probably won't go nearly as much once I move to Cleveland, because there are none close by & I'll be about two blocks from two independent coffee shops. But as someone who works from "home," I still hoard Starbucks gift cards so that I can score paid-for-by-someone-else drinks on days when I'm a little bit more broke than usual.
  1. An iPhone tripod: I feel like such a social media-loving millennial d-bag for even wanting this, but, like, sometimes a  blogger just wants to take a killer non-selfie-looking-selfie & doesn't want to have to prop her phone up on the back porch railing, you know? So sue me.
  1. A flight to Denver: OK, OK, so I'll buy this for myself eventually, but I've been keeping an eye out for low flight pricing so that I can visit my blogger friends Jess & Dominique in Colorado in November for a weekend-long sleepover vacation. This sounds like the best thing ever, especially because it's happening just a few days after a major work conference that will have me all burned out & in need of some relaxation & boozing with ladyfriends.
  1. The 31 Bits Tribal Verdana Necklace: I ordered a 31 Bits necklace a few weeks back & I luuuurve it, all the more so because it's handmade with recycled paper by women earning a living wage in Uganda. The Tribal Verdana necklace is exactly my style, big & bold & kind of weird, perfect against black (the only color I ever really wear), served with a side of social justice.
  1. A giant TV: In my dreams, I watch my Netflix marathons & Game of Thrones binges on one of those movie theater-style screens that you, like, mount against your wall, all flat & beautiful & chic. In real life, I have a 32" flat-screen that my ex gave me that works perfectly fine & absolutely does ot need to be upgraded (if only I could find the remote). A girl can dream though, right? Right. Especially on her birthday & as she plans a move to an adorable new apartment.
Is your birthday coming up? What do you want? Hell, even if your birthday's not coming up, tell me: What's on your personal wishlist at the moment? Let's dream together!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Confession: At Age 30, I'm Scared to Move Out of My Mom's House

Apartment-hunting is notably The Worst™. Everyone knows that. 

As an added deterrent, though, it can be extra  difficult to convince yourself to buck up & undertake the dreadful process of searching for a new place when you're currently residing with your mom, who you happen to like a lot, in a hometown where you feel comfortable & mostly happy.

By "you" & "yourself," in this case I obviously mean "me" & "myself," as this has been the exact story of my life for the past eight months. 

I have to admit: It's been so, so nice living at home since moving back to Ohio at the end of November. There were a rough few weeks there at the beginning, but once I settled in, well, it became a pretty sweet deal: friendly mom, cute dogs, big space, familiar town, &, oh, yeah, no rent. I wanted to find my own place, but I wasn't making active moves toward it. Maybe I should've felt a greater sense of urgency, but for most of the last eight months, I just haven't been in any big hurry to move out again.

But I'm going to turn 31 next month. I feel mostly fine about it; I certainly don't feel like I'm on the verge of some late-night emotional meltdown, as I did in the weeks before I turned 30. As my birthday started to loom nearer, though, I began to feel like I should be moving toward something - like maybe it was time to move out of my mom's house & into my own place in Cleveland, the thing I came home to do.

It's not that I'm embarrassed to be living with my mom. I'm mostly not. I'm not here because I'm down & out & falling apart; I have a full-time, well-paying job, & I made a fiscally smart decision to save money by living here for a bit. On top of that, being in such proximity to my mama, especially after so many years away, has been a dream ("59 out of every 60 minutes," as she likes to say). I told myself I'd stay here until I found something I liked, something that felt right, because it's pretty A-OK here, & I didn't want to rush this & end up in some crummy apartment that I wanted to move out of yet again in 12 months. 

For the last seven months, I felt comfortable with that decision, & I wasn't looking for apartments. Honestly, I wasn't even thinking about looking for apartments, despite the fact that I was still telling people I was "planning to move to Cleveland." Sometime during course of the last month, though, with 31 in the horizon, I started to realize why I wasn't making any forward motion, & it wasn't because I didn't want to. It was because of fear

I wasn't just being fiscally savvy or enjoying living with my mom. I was also inexplicably terrified to strike out on my own again, afraid of falling flat on my face. I was - am- afraid of paying rent again, of not being able to afford things I want, of having to act like a real adult, of the possible loneliness of living on my own, of living in a new city, of maybe not having any friends, of starting over yet again... One of my worst habits is that I am always so afraid of new beginnings, & despite what I thought were my best efforts, this time is no different.

When realized that I had begun to use my "I'm just being responsible!" explanation as an excuse, I also realized that it wasn't resonating with me anymore. During those months when I really meant it, I felt OK about it when I realized that I had begun to use it as a means of getting out of trying - & of possibly failing - I started to feel uneasy. I wanted to move. I was just too scared.

I've always been the kind of person who doesn't until I do. I don't feel compelled to take action until all of a sudden, it feels like time to take immediate action - & this process of finding an apartment was no different. All of a sudden, I decided it was time, & so the hunt began, quickly & with a vengeance.

If you follow me on Instagram or we're friends on Facebook, you probably already know part two of this story: I found an apartment in Cleveland! That is a story for another post, & it's one I plan to write soon. But for now, I'm trying not to panic as the countdown to moving day begins.

Oh, who am I kidding? I'm always panicking; that's sort of the point. But I'm also finally taking steps forward. I decided to do this - I came back to do this - & I'm finally about to do it. Fear or not, I will become a Clevelander - this month.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Fine, I'm Obsessed: A Look at My 4 Favorite Subscription Boxes

I've been accused, by more than one friend as of late, of being a liiiiittle bit obsessed with subscription boxes. At this time, I would like to go on record as saying that this is both totally true & patently false.

Wait, what?

OK, based on some of my recent Instagram posts, I can understand how it certainly looks as though I receive, like, every subscription box to ever exist. I do really love subscription boxes as a general concept (monthly surprises!), & I enjoy the ones I get. At this time, however, I only subscribe to four, not a million, as friends have assumed. I mean, "only" four, ridiculousness noted. But still.

I know there are, like, entire blogs dedicated to this stuff, & that every blogger who's ever blogged has blogged about the subscription boxes she loves. Normally, I wouldn't have thought to write about this, but because I've been accused asked a few times lately, I thought I'd share with you an overview of what I get & how I feel about it.

PopSugar Must Have Box

This is far & away my favorite box. Though at $40 a month, it's got a heftier price tag than the others, it almost always feels worth it. PopSugar curates a monthly box valued at more than $100, full of... whatever, basically. It claims to be "the best in fashion, beauty, home, fitness, food, & more," which means boxes include everything from home decor items (a la my favorite diffuser) to summer reading (hello, new Judy Blume book!) to quirky jewelry (like this pretty little gemstone pendant). I love that I never know what I'm going to get in this monthly box of gifts to myself, & even if individual items don't suit me, they always make for perfect gifts. You can get $5 off with my referral link & coupon REFER5.

Rocksbox

Wait, wait, maybe this box is my favorite box? It's been all over my Instagram, & I wrote about it once already: Rocksbox is a personal styling service for jewelry, & for $19 a month, their stylists send you three pieces of jewelry per box that are chosen especially for you based upon your style profile, specific requests, & past-box feedback. You can get more than one box a month depending on how quickly you send your items back, though you can, of course, also buy the pieces you like most (which I have done more times than my wallet cares to admit). You can get a free month (!!!) with referral code heyescapistxoxo.

Modest Box

In celebration of my return to Ohio, a three-month Modest Box subscription was my gift to myself this spring upon receiving my tax return (& the rest went into savings, because I'm responsible sometimes). It's an Ohio-themed box that curates products handmade in the Buckeye State, including paper goods, food (like this state-shaped cookie!), beauty products, & basically whatever else seems cool & Ohio-made. Importantly, Modest Box introduced me to Cast Soaps, which I newly love. No referral code here, & I likely won't renew because the expense doesn't quite match the product level, but it's been a fun box to get for a little while.

Birchbox

Ah, that old standby: the original subscription box! I got my first Birchbox a few years ago, when I won one from a fashion blog. I subscribed immediately & then, when I had accumulated way more trial-sized items than I could ever use, I cut ties. A few months ago, though, I reactivated my subscription... mostly because I was hooked by their recent social media marketing efforts. At just $10 a month, it's an easy way to try new products I'd never find on my own, though I rarely buy full-size products beyond the samples they send. If you've never gotten Birchbox (by now, I feel like everyone has), you can try it for $10 a month using my referral link.
    Over the years, I've also tried: Glossybox, which I canceled because it was too expensive for my tastes; Julep Maven, which I canceled because I don't even paint my nails; Ipsy, which I canceled because everything was tacky & low-budget; & Stitchfix, which I canceled because they seem unable to dress any bigger than a size 10. I'm sure there are other subscriptions I'd love, but I don't even want to know what they are* lest I drain my entire monthly budget on boxes of surprise goodies.

    OK, OK, so maybe I'm a little bit obsessed with subscription boxes after all. The truth is that I would subscribe to more of them if I could - so it's probably a good thing I can't. But tell me: *What subscription boxes have you tried?

    Monday, June 22, 2015

    I Am an Old Woman Who Lodges Complaints about Crackers at My Local Grocery Store

    I'm obsessed with a certain kind of crackers right now.

    Yes, crackers - & yes, obsessed is probably the right word. I buy four or five bags of them at a time so that I don't have to keep going back to the grocery store for them.

    They're Wild California's Fruit & Nut Crisps & their Apricot & Ginger Crisps. I love both flavors equally, so I'll buy whichever is on the shelves of my local Market District (the only place for miles that sells them). I've even looked on Amazon to see if I can buy them by the case, but no such luck.

    I eat these crackers at least once a day, for the most part, with a miniature wheel of Ile de France brie (those are only 70 calories apiece, so I promise they're not nearly as extreme as "a whole wheel of brie" otherwise sounds). This, along with a side of fruit, serves as a whole meal - usually a late breakfast - because I cannot cook & also am sort of lazy. But mostly, I just love these crisps.

    Recently, though, tragedy struck: My grocery store hasn't sold my crackers for the last four weeks. Four weeks! What's a gal to do when she no longer has access to her favorite meal snack?

    The answer? Lodge a complaint Make a request, of course.

    It was a friendly request, I promise, made in the most courteous of tones & sans ranting or raving. When went up to the customer service desk & asked how I could let someone know that I'd like for them to start carrying my crackers again, the polite but apathetic employee pulled out the standard form for such matters (which, of my God, exists because of people like me). In her bubbly handwriting, she took down my information & my complaint request with a promise to deliver it to the appropriate grocery store manager.

    I didn't leave feeling hopeful, but at least I'd tried, right? I couldn't give up those crackers without a very civil fight.

    Two days later, though, I got a call from a local number I didn't recognize. When I played the voicemail back, I was practically bubbling over with excitement about the World's Most Mundane Thing™:
    "Hello, Kate. This is Sue from the Market District, & we have your new item request for the Wild California Fruit & Nut Crisps. We have two cases on the shelf in the chip aisle & we put up a tag so it'll be a normal item that we carry. You can find them down aisle five. Thank you & let us know if there's anything else we can help you with. Have a great day"
    First, the obvious: I think the official term for this situation is "bomb-ass customer service." Like, all I had to do was make a formal complaint ask, & voilĂ , they made my favorite crackers a regular item? Gold star for you, Market District!

    Second of all, equally obvious: This is such a crotchety old person thing to do, & try as I might to rationalize it ("No harm in asking!" etc.),  there's just no other way around it: I am ridiculous & probably turning 75 years old at my next birthday instead of 31.

    But you know what? Now I'm back to eating crackers & brie every day damn, & my happiness level has increased exponentially, so maybe all those crotchety old people are onto something: There's no harm in complaining asking.

    Friday, June 19, 2015

    Remembering My Dad, 20 Years Later

    This morning, when I woke up, I went through the motions of preparing myself, physically, for a funeral: black pants, black blouse, black flats, gold jewelry, respectable hair & makeup. And as I stared at myself in the mirror, brushing my teeth, I remembered yet again what day today is for me, & how ironic it is (is that the right word here?) that I'm on my way to someone else's father's funeral, today of all days.

    Today marks the 20th anniversary of the first worst day of my life.

    There was one other just-as-bad day that would come after it, the day my high school boyfriend died, but this one... this one was the first. I was 10 years old, less than two months away from 11, & school had just let out for summer.

    It was the day after Father's Day.

    My dad had spent that day, like so many days before it, in the hospital, & I made him an ice cream sundae from the sundae bar the staff had so kindly set up for the holiday. I don't remember what I topped it with, but surely there was hot fudge involved. And then, with my grandmother's permission & without any sort of ceremonious goodbye, I left to go to the lake with my friends & to spend the night at my neighbor Julie's house.

    Julie's mom woke us up early the next day. "Katie needs to go home now," she said firmly, & we wondered what we'd done wrong, whether maybe Julie would be in trouble after left. I expected to walk the one block home, as I always did, but for some reason, this time, her mom insisted on driving me. As I walked the stairs onto the back porch of my home, I saw my whole family gathered there - my mom, my grandparents, & my aunt, my dad's sister, the one who doesn't even like us. She had driven down from Hiram before they even called me home to give me the news.

    I don't remember how they told me. I was sitting on someone's lap, but I don't know whose, & I as soon as the news was out, I ran upstairs to cry. I called my friend Catherine & my friend Christina, fellow not-quite-sixth-graders who had no idea what to say to console me. I shut myself up in my bedroom & refused any visitors who weren't my grandfather. My face swelled damn near shut.

    I don't remember the funeral, either. Did I wear black? I don't think I did. It was the dead heat of summer, the sun shining brightly in a starkly mismatch from the way we all felt, & I vaguely remember wearing some sort of flower print. My uncle's eulogy mentioned Sylvester Stallone movies; my mom's best friend's husband gave a eulogy about the strength of my dad's handshake, & what it conveyed about his personality.

    And I gave a eulogy, too, read a poem I wrote whose lines I have never been able to recall. I practically blacked out with nerves, & when I was done, I retreated to the side of my aunt, who was in a wheelchair; I felt less small next to her, somehow, less scared, less like this tiny child surrounding by looming, sobbing adults.

    I painted my toenails for that day & didn't take the polish off for months, letting it chip & fade in a sort of sign to remind me how long it had been since the day my father died.

    That was 20 years ago. A whole lifetime ago. I don't know if any of the fuzzy details I retain today are correct. But I don't paint my toenails anymore.

    When my friend's parents die now, now that we are adults, mourners sometimes say to me, "Well, you know what this is like." But the reality is that I don't, not really. I have a hard time relating to adult friends whose parents pass after a decade of life & relationships; I feel simultaneously bad for me & worse for them, because they have so many more memories to mourn.

    I was just a little kid when my dad died, not even in middle school yet. I didn't know anything more about my father than my 10-year-olds do about theirs - that he loved Oreos & NASCAR racing & Home Improvement & always made PB&J sandwiches that had too much jelly in them. He called me Boogaloo, & he took me to Swenson's drive-in on the way home from dance class.

    But I feel like I got ripped off. I don't admit it too often, because I never want to sound like a martyr, but of course I do. I am an adult now, & the only way I know my father - the only way I will ever really know my father - is through the eyes of a 10-year-old, stuck that way forever despite my growing older & arguably more mature.

    So today is the 20th anniversary of my dad's death, & I will spend half of it at a funeral for a family friend. And then, I will spend Father's Day with two of my dad's best friends, the brothers whose family has taken my mom & me in as their own. And a day or two after that, I will attend another funeral, this time for the father of one of my closest childhood friends, who died just yesterday of lung cancer.

    And all the while I will remember the father I never really got to know but who will always be, in my mind, as wonderful as he was when I was 10 years old. And come to think of it? Maybe that's some sort of blessing, after all.

    Friday, June 12, 2015

    A 15-Step Guide to Having an Adventure Weekend Instead of Staying Home & Being a Whiner

    There were two places I wanted to be last weekend: One was with family at a cabin in Pennsylvania that I've been going to since I was a kid, & the other was with friends at an unveiling ceremony in Chicago for our friend Elissa, who passed away in 2013. Neither of them panned out, though, & I was fully prepared to spend the weekend moping instead.

    Luckily, Cleveland had other plans for me.

    Early Thursday morning, I drove up to Lakewood to work from home for the day with my boyfriend (!), Mike, who works remotely twice a week. When the workday came to a close, though, we activated weekend mode in full force. It was one of the best weekends I've had in a long time, & there was absolutely no moping involved.

    And so, based on my four-day weekend in the CLE, here are my tried-&-true steps for having an Adventure Weekend in this great city (though I look forward to identifying additional adventures for future weekends):
    1. Eat dinner at Barrio, where you can create your own (fairly extreme) tacos. I knew I could probably only eat two, but I ordered three anyway, just so I could sample more. Unfortunately, the one with peanut butter & BBQ sauce didn't go over very well with my taste buds. But, uh, adventure!
      Disclaimer: These tacos are not from Barrio. I was too busy eating those tacos to photograph them.
    1. Cheer for the Cavs in Game 1 of the NBA Finals from a townie bar, preferably while drinking PBR from a can. This is the only way to do it, unless you're, like, actually at a game (in which case, congrats on having thousands of dollars to spare). Even though our team lost, it was exhilarating to be a part of that atmosphere, befriending strangers (including an openly Islamophobic former pastor who told us that Jesus had healed his limp...) who were all rooting for a hometown win.


    1. Try not to eat every single thing at West Side Market. I first consumed a cornbread waffle with piping-hot honey butter & real Ohio maple syrup at the attached West Side Market Cafe before wandering in & out of the many bustling stalls as WSM that sell everything from gourmet cheese to homemade pad Thai to colorful macarons to... an entire pig. Mike got a pourover coffee & ate half a bag of homemade cheese-&-beef jerky (which was surprisingly less gross than it sounds), but we otherwise left without buying anything because we didn't want to haul groceries around the city all day.
    1. Take the $5 brewery tour at Great Lakes Brewing Company. Truly, GLBC deserves its own post, & I fully intend to give it one at some point in the future, but for now, suffice it to say that I was wildly impressed with the tour & with the company in general. I've long been a fan of Great Lakes beer, especially now that I drink more than just, like, Miller Lite, but hearing the company's story - including their commitment to sustainability & bettering the local community - really sold me on them. The four beer samples didn't hurt, either.
    1. Take a bunch of cheesy pictures downtown. We spent a not-insignificant amount of time trying to locate the #ThisisCLE statue that I've seen featured in so many Clevelanders' Instagram photos. Alas, it was only after all our searching that we learned it's actually a mobile installation... & thus its location is totally unpredictable. We did, however, score a photo of the "ALL IN" Cavs logos spray-painted on the ground around the Q, which was an acceptable substitute... for now.
    1. Bask in the magic of East Fourth Street. I received my $50 credit - which can be used at any restaurant that uses OpenTable - right after I left D.C., which was a pretty big bummer because I had big plans for it in the District. Luckily, it turned out to be perfect for a more-expensive-than-we-could-normally-afford dinner date at Greenhouse Tavern, recent winner of the James Beard Award, where I inhaled lamb rigatoni & this Strawberry Smash cocktail. We sat on the patio that faces East Fourth, where all the coolest stuff downtown is, & basked in the Clevelandness of it all... including the part where some bricks fell out of a building & almost smashed the people sitting at tables below it.
    1. End the night at a hole-in-the-wall Motown bar. Suffering from a severe case of the JAMS ("just ate, must sleep"), we capped off our Friday night with a drink at the Ontario Street Cafe, which serves only one beer on tap - Gennessee Cream Ale, of all things - & takes only cash.
    1. Fall asleep watching HBO's Scientology documentary. OK, so this one doesn't have anything to do with Cleveland, but it was entertaining.
    1. Spend half a day at a quirky coffee shop. I slept in Saturday morning & spent the afternoon solo at The Root Cafe in Lakewood, an adorable vegan bakery & coffee shop that makes all their own syrups, etc. While there, I read my friend Jess's book & sipped on a vanilla iced coffee & pretty much just loved life.
    1. Chill at another strange bar that doesn't serve food or take credit cards. Is this a thing, Cleveland? Because I don't like it. What I do like anyway is The Barking Spider Tavern, a hidden gem of a music venue near Case Western Reserve University. It's not  restaurant, & their draught selection is pretty limited, & they only take cash, but they have live music every night, you can bring food in from the outside, & there were free cupcakes on the bar because it was someone in the band's birthday. It's the sort of place where everyone has a story - & much of it is scribbled on the bathroom walls.
    1. Eat dinner at the towniest chain restaurant in town. We'd been planning to go to a festival in Little Italy but spent so long listening to the band at Barking Spider that we missed it! Instead, I requested, with only slight embarrassment, that we eat dinner at The Winking Lizard, a popular (if cliche) Ohio wing joint whose sauces I've long loved. I took no photos because A) I was very busy inhaling boneless wings with Thai chili sauce, & B) Adventure Weekend was so much fun that I let my phone die. 
    1. Fulfill Mom's 15-year dream of eating arepas again. My mother has been dreaming of arepas since our Venezuelan exchange student, Ani, first made them for us in 2000. Imagine her excitement, then, when I revealed that there's an areperia in Cleveland! We met up at Barroco, a quirky little gem of a place in otherwise-weird Birdtown, for a Sunday brunch of arepas & plantains & BYO booze. Bonus: My mother was at peak happiness level, which meant it was the best possible time for Mike to meet her.
    1. Go to the beach. OK, so we weren't really beach-ready (I was wearing a denim vest, after all...), but we stopped at Edgewater Park, situated on Lake Erie, to do some people-watching & enjoy the finally-nice weather. This spot also has a damn nice view of the, uh, very impressive (ha) Cleveland skyline. Come see both of our buildings!
    1. Geocache! Mike had never been geocaching before, so I loaded up the app & we set off looking for Edgewater Park's three caches. We found two, much to Mike's excitement, & then spent awhile digging for an as-yet-undiscovered cache in a mayfly-filled patch of woods. It was the perfect (free!) activity for a sunny day in the city.
    1. Head home exhausted & happy... to watch the next Cavs game. After a weekend like this, I am definitely "all in" on Cleveland.

    Saturday, June 6, 2015

    In Which I Doubt Whether Cleveland Is Actually the Right City for Me

    There was a nasty little period of time upon my return to Ohio that I began to worry that I didn't actually like Cleveland at all. In fact, I secretly confessed to one friend, I had briefly become concerned that I hated it.

    I know, I know, this sounds crazy. Any longtime friend or reader of this blog knows that my Buckeye State pride is evident in, like, every other post & that I always expected I'd eventually flee to the Cleve. But when I got back to Northeast Ohio - living about 45 minutes away from Cleveland itself - I realized that I don't actually, well, know anything about this city I claimed to have come back for.

    "What do you like best about Cleveland?" people asked, & I couldn't answer in specifics beyond some vague sense of camaraderie & that Midwestern feel that I'd missed. "What part of the city do you want to live in?" they wanted to know, & I had no idea because I didn't know any parts of the city. The more questions I got, the fewer answers I had. An afternoon spent in the popular Ohio City neighborhood, which I was alarmed to find seemed more like the suburbs & less like the city, only deepened my sudden concerns. And then, when I started looking or apartments & found that my only options seemed to be suburban duplexes or $1,500-a-month studios (hello, more-than-my-D.C.-rent), I started to to panic: Did I even like Cleveland at all?

    Since then, I've started spending more time in Cleveland, something I hadn't actually done much of because I didn't have anything to do here (or anyone to do it with). It helps that I recently started dating someone who lives in Lakewood, a suburb (he doesn't like when I call it that) just a few minutes outside the city. Spending time with him has given me the opportunity to spend some low-key, no-pressure time in Cleveland, without spazzing about whether or not it's the perfect place for me - & increasingly, blessedly, I feel like it is.

    I'm starting to better understand that Midwestern cities (save maybe Chicago) are just not the same as East Coast cities, & as it turns out, I had accidentally become a bit of an East Coast snob. After seven years of living in D.C. & then just outside Boston & New York, my understanding of what cities "should" be like is based on concepts that are... just a little bit different than the reality here, what with all the driving & the lack of public transportation & the neighborhoods that feel, to me, like clusters of suburbs. It doesn't mean Midwestern cities are worse than East Coast cities, though I'm sure some other East Coast snobs will disagree - it just means that Cleveland is, in fact, a bit a mental adjustment for me. It's a different way of life, a different kind of city life.

    But it's going to be my city life, one of these days here soon, & I am relieved to have been able to spend some time here to alleviate my sudden panic. I am where I'm supposed to be. In CLE I trust.
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