How I Learned to Live After My Father Died

Monday, May 30, 2016

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"How's your dad doing?" my friend Julie asked, with combination of nervousness and hopefulness in her voice. I was spending the night at her house because my mom and grandparents would be at the hospital late into the evening as they sat by my father's bedside. He'd been fighting lung cancer for two years, his body weak and thin and his spirit faltering despite his ever-present sense of humor.

And yet, I told my friend with confidence, "He's doing really well. He'll probably be able to come home soon." I honestly believed these words as I spoke them, but I can't remember whether it was because an adult told they were was true or simply because I so desperately wanted them to be.
My father died that night, just a few hours past Father's Day. It was 1995, and I was just 10 years old.

At that time, I was the only person I knew with a dead parent. I didn't even know anyone whose parents were divorced, much less deceased. Losing my father, especially in such a heartbreaking and drawn-out way, set me apart from my classmates – and when you're about to start middle school, the last thing you want is to stand out.

Read the rest of my essay in Dr. Oz The Good Life, a Hearst magazine.

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"My Nailbeds [Don't] Suck": 14 Things I Like About My Body

Thursday, May 26, 2016

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Increasingly, I'm reaching the "I used to" phase of life as it relates to my body: "I used to have softer hair," "I used to have whiter teeth," "I used to have fuller eyebrows," "I used to be able to lose weight more easily." I'll be 32 in a few months, which only feels old when I think about it. For the most part I still feel pretty young - & I mostly look it, too, or at least I don't look any older than I am.

Still, the older I get, the more my body changes, & it's dawning on me that I'm never going back to the way I used to be. My hair has grown coarse from years of dyeing & from a substantial amount of greys. My teeth are yellowed from the coffee addiction I picked up when I began working from home half a decade ago. My eyebrows are thin now, one of them sliced in half by a scar, & I haven't received a compliment on their shape in years. And whether I ever lost weight easily is up for serious debate, but it seems even more difficult these days - & it's probably only going to get worse.

There's other stuff, too, like, where'd my lipline go? And is my nose getting bigger? And since when are my feet so creepily veiny, my butt so dimpled? I never used to have cellulite, even at my heaviest!

But I want to be at peace with my body.

In some ways, I feel better now than I ever have before, even with this straw-like hair & these not-sparkly-white teeth & these penciled-in eyebrows & this probably-always-gonna-have-a-few-extra-pounds figure & all the rest of it. But I still get stuck, sometimes, thinking of what used to be, what will never be again, & what else I'll lose with time. It's scary, really, a punch in the face to a woman's vanity, to realize that, yes, you, too, will grow old, & it will indeed affect your youthful good looks.

So today, I'm focusing on a few things I like about my body. Let me admit that it was damn hard to make this list without caveats, I realized, because in almost every case, I wanted to say, "Except when..." or "But..." For the most part, though, I tried to cut out those caveats & am presenting this list in the spirit of full body positivity.
  1. When its at its maximum waviness, I have mermaid hair.
  2. I really like my dark brown eyes (& weirdly, I'm the only one in my family who has them).
  3. In fact, I actually like the scar that slices through my left eyebrow. It gives my face a little bit of extra character, like I'm a cartoon villain!
  4. I'm surprisingly strong, especially for someone whose muscles have all but atrophied. Need me to lift something heavy? I can probably do that. I've got good hard-labor hustle, when needed.
  5. At 5'4", I'm a pretty good height. When I was young I dreamed of being taller, & when I got older, I wanted to be more petite. These days, though, I think 5'4" is ideal - still "tall" in flats, & not too tall in heels (as though I wear heels!).
  6. My teeth are very straight despite the fact that I never had braces.
  7. I have an elegant neck & collarbone. My mom always told me this when I was younger, & I thought it was such a weird compliment, but the older I get, the more I appreciate the truth in it. They're just nice.
  8. I'm built proportionally. Even when I'm not happy with my weight, I'm appreciative of my curves & the proportionality that allows me to carry extra weight without necessarily looking like I am.
  9. I have pretty good skin these days - even tone & rare breakouts, & it's super pale but healthy & unwrinkly because I prioritize wearing SPF & also basically never go outside.
  10. I'm not particularly hairy. I don't have to wax a mustache or tweeze my eyebrows much, & my leg hair grows in lightly. All of this is a time-saver, a money-saver, & an embarrassment-saver.
  11. I've got a quirky, crooked mouth & sort-of-cartoony (in a good way) apple cheeks, which I think makes for a nice, friendly smile.
  12. I have a really expressive face. Though this sometimes makes for terrible candid photos, I like that I wear my feelings openly & obviously, & my rubber features make for funny storytelling.
  13. I have very thin wrists & not-chubby fingers. My fingers are thick, for sure, from years of cracking my knuckles, but overall, I think my hands are nice.
  14. I have really good posture. And sure, that's from having back surgery, but it doesn't make it any less true, right?
So there you have it: At least 14 things I like about this body I call home. Should I confess that this post took me, like, two weeks to write? Man. I'm curious: Have you ever tried an exercise like this? Was it difficult, or does body love come easily for you? 

*Please tell me you guys get the title reference...?

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How I'm Consigning My Unwanted Clothes... Using an App!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

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I went through a period of time when I, uh, bought a lot of clothes. Like, a lot-a lot. It was mostly when I lived in New Hampshire & New Jersey, where I didn't know many people (read: any people) & got bored a lot. I had extra disposable income & zero hobbies, & so I just... went shopping.

These days, I like to think I'm more discriminating about my purchases. I'm more careful with my money, & I'm more comfortable in my very specific style, so I don't just buy stuff to see what sticks.

But what to do with all the many articles of clothing I bought back in the day that aren't my jam? I had a bit of an ego-crushing experience in consigning awhile back, which turned me off to trying again. But instead of just giving all my clothes over to Goodwill, I tried something else: consigning online.

Enter Poshmark, a consignment app. They never use the word "consignment" in the description - they just call it "shopping other people's closets" - but that's what it is, really. I first found out about it through fellow blogger Kate, who works for the company (& is, unsurprisingly, so well dressed).

Here's how it works: You list your clothing, accessories, shoes, purses, or whatever in your personal Poshmark shop. You set your own prices, & you can upload photos & sizes & all of that right there in the app, & then voilà - your listing is live. There's no charge to list items, like on Etsy, & there's no timeframe for taking listings down, like on eBay. The only catch is that Poshmark takes 20% of each sale. Yes, that's a lot, but for items I would otherwise donate, any profit is a welcome profit.

Once you make a sale, Poshmark sends you a shipping label (buyers pay a flat shipping fee), which you simply print out & affix to the package before dropping it in the mail. When USPS scans it in, you & the buyer will both receive tracking, & when the package reaches its destination, the buyer uses the app to either accept the delivery or to contest the sale. (That happens if there's some issue with the item, like a hole or a stain. If Poshmark decides their complaint has merit, the buyer ships the items back to you & no money changes hands.) Once the buyer accepts the item, money is deposited into your Poshmark account, & you can either use it for in-app shopping or have it direct deposited into your bank account at any time.

I've been using Poshmark for about four years now, & while it's not, like, some steady stream of massive second income, it's a nice little side gig, like an ongoing garage sale. A year ago, I made enough to fund a trip to Nashville for a friend's bachelorette party, & I'm currently saving up for... well, I don't know what for, but something indulgent, probably (like more clothes...) My stock of leftover clothes will eventually run out, but in the meantime, it's been a great way to make a bit of easy cash.

Oh, & I've bought stuff, too! I mostly use Poshmark to find items I love but need to replace, like the Target sandals I wore out or the Lauren Conrad blazer I wanted two of. And when I was in search of a navy blue bridesmaid dress, I bought four options on Poshmark - & just re-sold the ones that didn't work for me.

And no, I don't get anything for writing this post. I'm not in cahoots with Poshmark. I've just really enjoyed using this app, & it's brought me a nice little wad of side cash - so I figured you might want in on the secret! Isn't that the joy of blogging?

If you want to try Poshmark, sign up with code HMUGD for a $5 credit. You can also follow my closet at @heysuburban (they won't let me change my old username, ugh). Hope you love it as much as I do.
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CLE Adventure #9: Mabel's BBQ

Sunday, May 22, 2016

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If the name Michael Symon doesn't ring a bell, you probably don't watch food-centric TV shows, & you're definitely not from Cleveland. This TV chef personality, who is one of the co-host of The Chew, might seem like the New York type, but he's actually a good old Midwestern boy from the CLE, with four successful restaurants to his name here in his hometown.

Last month, Symon finally opened Mabel's BBQ, filling the last piece of empty real estate in downtown Cleveland's East 4th Street corridor. And this weekend, I finally tried it out.

I'm still a bit picky when it comes to what meat I will & won't eat. I don't eat meat on bones, fat squicks me out, & I won't eat "weird" parts like livers or brains or whatever. I don't think I could ever go vegetarian, but I'm still feeling out my relationship with eating things that were formerly living. For that reason, I wasn't totally hyped on Mabel's, but I still wanted to at least try it out.

My friend Rebecca was visiting from NYC, & I thought she'd be the perfect person for this dinner adventure. We met Mike just after work on a Friday, & although their policy is only to seat full parties, the hostess was kind enough to seat us despite the fact that Mike was running a few minutes late. "We're filling up quickly," she told us, "so as long as he's nearby, let's go ahead & get you a table!" She led us to a table upstairs, next to a balcony that overlooks the entirety of the restaurant, with a great view of the urban industrial space.

First, I ordered a $9 French Toast Manhattan (Ezra Brooks bourbon, maple, hazelnut liqueur, & walnut bitters), & it was love at first sip, truly. But what about the food?

Everything at Mabel's is a la carte, so while the meat is served with pickle slices, Cleveland kraut, & a slice of white bread, it doesn't come with sides. There are lots to choose from, though none of them is mac & cheese, the side I most typically associate with BBQ. A week ago, when I mentioned my no-mac sadness in an Instagram convo with a couple other locals, a Mabel's bartenders chimed in:
"He's trying To create 'Cleveland bbq' not bbq you can get everywhere else. Since Cleveland has so much eastern European influence, he's using that in a lot of things at Mabels. I don't think Mac and cheese really fits any of that."
Is it just me, or does that feel snarky? I responded with, "I like mac & cheese with my BBQ, what can I say? Maybe I'm not highbrow enough for European influenced BBQ," complete with a winking emoji. Foodies, amirite? But even without a mac & cheese option, I loved the sides I chose: one of baked beans with chopped brisket & jalapeños & another of spaetzle & spicy cabbage, which was the winner in my book (& stomach).
Indeed, Symon says he's inventing a new kind of BBQ, aptly named "Cleveland-style." Everything is applewood smoked because Ohio has so many apple orchards, & he says he'd never serve tomato-based BBQ sauce because most ketchup is made in Pittsburgh. More on that in a second...

Mabel's standalone meat option are brisket, pork belly, turkey breast, kielbasa, & ribs (pork, lamb, or beef). Like I said, I don't do bones or fat, so the ribs & pork belly were out, which led me to the brisket, served fatty or lean (guess which I chose). The meat arrived dry & perfectly smoked, with both BBQ sauce & habanero sauce on the table to use at will. Forgive the dark photo; I swear this food looked delectable:

The sauce at Mabel's is mustard-based, using the Cleveland-made brand Bertman's. I actually loathe mustard, & I'd never had BBQ sauce that wasn't sweet & thick, so Mabel's unique sauce was a bit of a shock to the system: thin, liquidy, & yellow, with a heavy vinegar taste. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed it - so much that I slathered my brisket in it & inhaled the whole damn thing (after cutting off the fat). It was like no BBQ sauce I've ever tried.

Unfortunately, my sometimes-sensitive stomach didn't love it as much as my taste buds did, & I spent much of Friday night & all day Saturday battling severe stomach issues. I have some serious acid erosion issues in this here gut, which means that eating anything highly acidic can throw me off for days - & boy, did Mabel's mess me up. I'm disappointed because, frankly, I hadn't expected to like Mabel's as much as I did - & I really did. I'd be happy to go back, but I'd have to take it reeeeeal easy on the sauce. For that reason alone, I wish they had a tomato-based option - though I'm sure that Instagram bartender would chide me for saying so. *winking emoji*

In short: Mabel's was tasty, but I probably won't head back of my own volition. If someone wanted to try it out, I'd join them, though, or maybe I'll just stop by for a happy hour treat of a French Toast Manhattan with a side of spaetzle... Regardless, I'm glad to see Mabel's up & running downtown. Hometown boy Michael Symon is one of the top chefs in the CLE, & I'm thrilled that his newest project is bringing something a little bit different to the table - literally!

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I'm Probably Never Going to Be Famous - & That's Probably OK

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

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I used to want to be famous. Actually, retract that. I used to know I would be famous. I had this feeling, deep in my bones, that some day mine was gonna be a name people knew. I wasn't going to be an actress or a singer or anything like, that, but maybe an author, or a journalist, someone who did something that caught the attention of someone & then of everyone. The Internet didn't exist yet, but I just knew that someday, somehow, I'd go viral.

And then I hit a wall of depression, one that swallowed me up for a great many years &, even when I was at my very lowest, told me that I would still be famous but for all the wrong reasons, that maybe I would die in some extravagant & newsworthy way, like in a blazing car wreck or under the weight of a falling toilet seat a la Dead Like Me. Yeah, I know, I was dark there for a little while.

I never became famous. Maybe you've realized that by now? You know me, after all. I am here. I have been here, blogging in this space, for nine years & 1,000+ blog posts. For years now, I have been talking about writing a book or getting my masters degree or looking for a magazine editing job or... or, or, or. Or something, anything. Something big, even if it's small. Something I can hold up as proof of my hard work. Something I can be proud of.

I look at women I've met, women I know, & I am blown away by the things they do. These are women I know in real life, like my college friend Jackie, who's a published author & successful journalist, or my other college friend, Tara, who's launched, like, three business & a subscription box of her own, or my ex-boyfriend's sister in law, Anne, who's an incredible illustrator picking up gigs all over the damn place. And then there are women I've met through blogging, like Carley & Akirah & Yetti & Moorea & Ashlee & Nicole & Jess & Almie & Simone & Tyece & the list goes on & on forever because I know some incredible women, seriously. (Check them out.)

When I look at them, I think, "Girl, you're doing amazing things," but then, next, I think, "I have not done enough. I am not doing enough. And I will never be enough." Because maybe that's just not the kind of person I am.

I am scared all the fucking time. I am scared of change, scared of growth, scared of hard truths & next steps. I have worked for the same organization for nearly nine years. At the end of each workday, I watch Game of Thrones or browse Facebook or spend an hour petting my cat. I don't wake up early to do yoga or to write "morning pages" or even to shower, which usually happens midday thanks to my work-from-home schedule. I don't really volunteer anymore, & I am more cynical than I am inspirational. I am a normal-looking, slightly overweight, thirtysomething woman who reads eight books a month & eats cheese & crackers for dinner & doesn't pitch her writing to websites because it seems like too damn much work.

I recently read #GIRLBOSS, written by NastyGal Founder & CEO Sophia Amoruso (more on this book later). My takeaway? I'm just not a girl-boss, & I'm probably not ever gonna be one. I just don't think that's my style. I'm not saying I'll never be the boss of anything - I think I'd be a great manager, actually - just that I'm not destined for entrepreneurship or ladder-climbing or mega-schmoozing or fame-having. It sounds exhausting.

And me? I am perfectly average, yes, but I've also never been so happy with my life.  I finally stopped working so hard, stopped holding myself to such high expectations, stopped being disappointed when I couldn't meet them. I stopped fighting battles with my personality, trying to be someone I'm not, trying to change myself. I accepted that I am a person who needs nine hours of sleep a night & who buckles under too much pressure & who would rather use my spare time to binge-watch Criminal Minds than start my own business or even freelance. I am quiet & small & unassuming. I have a boyfriend & a cat & an apartment that I love, in a city I love, near a mom who I love, & life is pretty damn good.

I don't say any of this - the "I'm so average" stuff to throw a pity party or get down on myself. My point, really, is that being average feels, well, better than average. I never thought I could be so happy being so damn normal. I thought I needed more. I thought I needed big. I thought I needed to do something in order to be someone. But the truth is that I'm still me even if I never write a book or get published in Glamour or become well-known by the Internet. I'm still me even if no one knows my name.

Some days, I still think I am destined for some sort of fame, even if it's the low-grade Internet kind. I still hope I might be discovered by a publisher or benefactor who sees my writing online someplace & decides to take a chance on me. I still hold out hope that I am special, that I am something, that the little voice inside me from when I was a child still rings true.

But I look at my life - my peaceful, calm, lovely, lovable life - & I think, "Maybe not." And finally, I think that maybe that's OK.
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Things I Love Right Now (Pt. IV)

Friday, May 13, 2016

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I haven't done one of these for awhile, so it seemed like high time to tell you what I've been loving lately. Yes, almost everything on this list is beauty-related, so fellas, you may want to move along, except to read about my new cracker obsession. Without further ado, here's what's tickling me pink (I hate the color pink) these days:
  1. Perfectly Posh Moisturize 911 Caffeinated Face Cream
    I've written about my obsession with this brand before, & this is my new favorite product from them. I wear a BB cream in the mornings, but at night, I slather this all over my face & neck for a quick moisturizing refresher. I love the way it makes me skin tingle! 
  2. Fat and the Moon Deodorant Cream
    After a few allergic reactions to drugstore deodorant, I did some research on organic brands & ended up buying this homemade concoction sold on Etsy. It's like a paste, made of coconut oil, aluminum-free baking soda, arrowroot starch, beeswax, & various essential oils. Sounds super-hippie, but it smells great & works well! 
  3. Criminal Minds
    As a longtime fan, I've seen every episode of this show... but recently, out of nowhere, I decided to rewatch all of them. That means I don't have to pay close attention, which makes it great for work-from home background noise. I keep it on during the day & am breezing through the entire splendid series. So damn creepy. 
  4. Natural Sole Grandeur Huarache Flat
    I bought these amazing huaraches (a type of Mexican sandal) from Marshall's, of all places, on serious sale. They were only $15! It hasn't been warm enough yet to wear them with any regularity, but I look forward to getting plenty of wear out of them this summer. They're comfy and make me look cooler than I am, both of which get two thumbs up from me.
  5. Blue Diamond Almond Nut-Thins Cracker
    I'm obsessed with these gluten-free crisps, which taste like nothing & therefore go with everything: cheese trays, dips, hummus, straight out of the box... They're way healthier than most crackers, which means far less guilt for me.
  6. Robyn Rhodes Jenny Necklace
    This long, bohemian piece is one that I kept from my last Rocksbox set, despite the fact that it cost more than I wanted to spend. I was dead-set on sending it back but just couldn't part with it! Use code heyescapistxoxo for a free month of Rocksbox, a jewelry subscription service.
  7. Revlon Ultra HD Lipstick in Gladiolus
    This lipstick came in a subscription box of some sort - can't remember which one - & I didn't initially think much of it because it's a drugstore brand & the color looks super bright. Now? It's my favorite go-to color, a little quirky but still appropriate for everyday life. 
  8.  Overdrive
    At the beginning of the year, I committed not to spending money on books. Though I've slipped a few times, I've mostly been checking out books from my local library or using Overdrive, a site/app to download library media. The functionality itself needs some work, but once I find what I need & get it onto my Kindle app, I'm a happy camper.
  9. Lulu Organics Hair Powder
    I've tried a lot of kinds of dry shampoo, & this one, while expensive, is easily the best of the bunch so far. A little bit goes a long way, & I like that it feels more like clay than like... some gross gunk coating my scalp on days of unwash.
  10. The 52 Lists Project by Moorea Seal
    If you haven't heard of Moorea & her fantastic, Seattle-based shop, what are you waiting for? She's a blogger turned entrepreneur, turning her Etsy shop into a successful brick & mortar shop & morphing her popular list-based blog posts into this journal. I'm not one for inspirational quotes, but I look forward to these entries each week.
  11. Carol's Daughter Sacred Tiare Shampoo & Conditioner
    This hair strengthening duo is technically made for curly-haired ladies, which I am not. But there aren't a lot of good shampoos out there, I've found, for gals with wavy hair, & this one fits the bill. When I'm using this on my hair, I can go up to three days without washing it, & it looks damn good the entire time.
  12. Brie
    What a ridiculous thing to include on this list, right? Everyone likes Brie - but lately, my obsession has been revitalized. I've been eating it atop paper-thin wafer crackers (or Nut Thins!) with a smear of fig jam & half a piece of lite salami. What do you mean, that doesn't as lunch? Yes, it does. 
Tell me: What are you obsessed with these days?
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Let's Talk Tattoos

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

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I have three small tattoos, & by this point, each of them looks like they were done in prison. I got them all before I turned 23, before I moved to D.C., before my life even began, practically. It's weird to think of myself, more than a decade ago, deciding what ink I would still love when I turned 30 & feeling so sure that I'd gotten it right. I didn't.

I got my first tattoo when I was 18, though I can't remember exactly when. It was the summer between my freshman & sophomore years of college, maybe, & my school friends had come to visit me in my hometown. My three best friends & I got small, matching four-leaf clover tattoos, mine on my left hip. It felt like bee stings. We stopped being friends that same year.

My second tattoo came shortly after my ex-boyfriend's suicide; I think I got it done with his best friend. Red stars, his on his bicep & mine on the inside of my left wrist, the same tattoo Dave had. I cried. A few months later, on what would've been Dave's 21st birthday, I went back to the tattoo artist alone to have "10:47" added next to the star, Dave's lucky time of day. "I'm glad I didn't have to do more to you than this," the tattooer told me, "because you're a huge baby." But I wasn't crying because it hurt.

I got my third tattoo alone, on a whim, shortly before I moved to D.C. It's a question mark within a heart, the cover of an album that's important to me, & it means "Are you brave enough to love?" The tattoo artist didn't get it quite right, though, so it's thinner than it ought to be, a little bit squished. Seven years later, the week before I moved back to Ohio from D.C., the musician who made that album shattered the illusion when he tried (unsuccessfully) to sleep with me when I went to a small show of his on U Street.

Today, my tattoos are faded & warped. The star on my wrist is pink now, no longer a vibrant red, & the number next to it have blurred together so that they're hardly readable. I had an allergic reaction to the ink on my foot, which bubbled up & left behind jagged lines & a splotch where no splotch ought to be. The shamrock on my hip has fared best, but I've also gained enough weight in that particular area that I can't really see it unless I'm looking in a mirror.

I don't know what happened. Did I get them done by subpar artists, or is something wrong with my skin? I've seen elderly people with tattoos in better shape than mine, so I don't think it's just the passage of time.

But still, I want another.

When I was young, I only got small tattoos, inconspicuous ones in places I could cover up with a watch, a boot, even a Band-Aid. I knew that, at that age, I couldn't be relied on to choose a large piece I was sure to want later in life, so I got small spots of ink to tide me over until the time came.

Now, I am almost 32, & I think maybe it's come?

I thought the time had come a few years ago, in New Hampshire, when I paid a $50 deposit to a surly tattoo artist in downtown Portsmouth. But I didn't love the design he came up with & found him hard to work with, grumbly & cranky. I knew that if I came back on ink day, I would say, "Yes, sure, that works," to whatever he drew up, out of a desire not to engage with him, & then I'd end up with some tattoo I never wanted to begin with. And that's probably not how this should work.

There are more options now, though, lots of respected tattoo artists in the Cleveland area. I went to elementary school with one of them. I could find someone who's easier to work with, someone who's an artist, someone who will answer my questions & not just snatch the bill out of my hands.

I ordered a large temporary tattoo from an Etsy shop, an old-timey-looking ship, & I plastered it to my inner arm to see if I like the way it looks - not this design, necessarily, but the idea of a large, inky image on my skin. I felt silly applying a temporary tattoo, reminiscent of childhood days & temporary tats of rainbows & cartoon characters that came inside those little plastic eggs from quarter machines at the grocery store. But I like the way it looks, big & imposing like this, yet somehow still delicate & artistic. I do.

Would I, though? Forever? I've been thinking about one particular design - & the meaning behind it - for more than six years now. This is the tattoo I want, not some spur-of-the-moment hipster whim. But I look at my other tattoos, tiny & warped & a little white-trashy, & I wonder: Will I want this in five years? Ten years? Thirty? Will it eventually blur together & fade the way the others have, only on a larger & more embarrassing scale this time?

I don't know, but as with anything, if I worry about it forever, I'll always remain too afraid to move forward. And so I think I may go ahead with it anyway...
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Whoa! I Just Hit a Huge Blogging Milestone

Friday, May 6, 2016

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Something exciting happened last week: I posted my one thousandth blog post on this here blog! Can you believe that? ONE THOUSAND BLOG POSTS. (And yes, I purposefully made sure it was this post about my one-year anniversary with Mike.) To be fair, I've been blogging here for nearly nine years (holy shit), but churning out a thousand of anything seems pretty phenomenal, so it seemed like an occasion worth noting.

I started this blog in 2007 as Suburban Sweetheart, a name I came up with on a whim one weeknight in my bedroom in a condo in Maryland. Did you even know that I lived in Maryland? Usually I forget; I only lived there for three months before moving into D.C. proper. I had a killer commute to & from Silver Spring, more than an hour each way when all was said & done, & right off the bat, I had more than a few ridiculous experiences. I wanted a way to tell all my big-city stories to my friends & family back home, & because I'm not great at keeping in touch on a personal level, voilà! My blog was born.

Those were the days before Twitter was A Thing™, so a lot of my "blog posts" in the first year or so - & even the first three years, really - are the kind I wouldn't dream of posting here now. They're short, sometimes just a line & a photo. In other words, they're tweets that, at the time, had no place to live but on a blog. I wouldn't count them as blog posts now, but they factor into my 1,000 because... well, because they're there, & because they show me how much blogging - both my blogging & blogging in general - has evolved with time.

I changed my name in late 2013 to a more androgynous moniker that more accurately represents my "personal brand" (which has never been particularly sweethearty). My posts are longer now, more personal, sometimes more like listicles than like blog posts & other times more like novels. Over time, I've told you almost everything about myself, frankly. In the words of one of my favorite musicians, "There's a lot in here." Truly.

And yet, I never became the kind of "popular" blogger who commands the attention of big-name brands or even of smaller ones, the kind of blogger who receives local news coverage & media profiles. I don't do giveaways & I rarely get invited to events; I don't have thousands of followers or hundreds of comments. I don't have a niche or a gimmick or beautiful photos or even a particularly catchy blog name; I'm just here to write. And so, for the duration of these 1,000 blog posts, I have gone largely unnoticed by the "big" part of the Internet, the part that so many bloggers seem desperate to tap into.

Does that bum me out? Yeah, sometimes. But I've always said that I'm not a blogger, I'm a writer - that I'm not here for the perks, I'm here for the words. And while the perks are nice, that's still true: The words are number one around here. The only thing that's changed? I finally see value in calling myself a blogger, even a small-time one.

Blogging has opened up so many doors for me, introduced me to a world that I could not have known without it, & to shun the "blogger" label is to ignore all the many things blogging has brought into my life.

Blogging has brought me friends. It's introduced me to a community, a space on the Internet to connect with like-minded people & with people who aren't like-minded at all - people I might never have interacted with otherwise, who are completely different from me, whose views challenge me & whose lives fascinate me. Blogging has expanded my bubble.

Blogging has brought me strife. Just as it's brought friendships, blogging has also brought drama & pain & the end of friendships. It's made me feel alienated, not cool enough, not worthy enough, not talented enough. It has given me ample opportunity to compare myself to others & to come out doubtful & disappointed. Blogging has broken my heart & taught me invaluable lessons.

Blogging has brought me opportunities. It took me to Las Vegas for a vacation with 60-something other bloggers from across the world, people I'd never met but many of whom I felt I already knew quite intimately. It's occasionally introduced me to brands & companies & experiences that I might not have otherwise found, & it's allowed me access to, yes, a few great perks I never could've scored without it. Blogging has been a privilege & a surprise.

Blogging has brought me a voice. To be fair, I've always had one, but this space is mine & mine alone, a safe place to say what I want to say, unrestrained & unapologetic. I know people are out there reading, but when I press "publish," it's just me, alone, waiting to see how the world receives my words. Blogging has provided me a platform.

Blogging has brought me confidence. I've been a writer my whole life, but starting a blog allowed me to feel like one, to call myself a writer even if the only place my words get published is right here on my own site. But blogging has also pushed me to go further, to submit my writing to outlets like the Washington Post & Cosmopolitan & whatever comes next. Blogging has been an exercise in skill & a dream come true.

And blogging has brought me so much happiness. I can't tell you how thrilled I am every time I hear, "I read your blog sometimes..." - from friends & family & total strangers & people I'd never even dream are out there reading what I have to say (hello, out there!). I know you think it's creepy to tell me that you're listening to me, but it's not. That's why I do this. Because blogging has been a goddamn joy.

So here I am, publishing post 1,005 & looking toward the future. This kind of sounds like a goodbye letter, I know, but it's so, so far from that: It's a thank-you letter to the Internet, to the people on it, to you - & it's a commitment to continuing to share my stories in this space & beyond.

Thank you for all you have done for me, for allowing me to cultivate an online voice in a way I never dreamed possible. Thank you for reading my blog. Thank you for giving a damn about this blog & about me & about whatever it is that compels you to keep reading. Thank you.

Here's to 1,000 more, right? L'chaim.

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Rocky Raccoon Checked Into MY Room

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

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We have a raccoon. Did you hear me? We have a goddamn raccoon.

OK, OK, maybe I'm exaggerating. It's not like there's a raccoon inside our house - completely, anyway.

Wait, let me back up.

Last month, Mike & I invited a few friends over to hang out on our new deck (which is glorious, by the way) when I spotted a smallish raccoon skittering across our neighbor's roof. The raccoon was about the size of my cat (who weighs 15 lbs., so maybe my cat is actually the size of a raccoon?), & it was just, like, wandering around. In daylight.

The other day, Mike spotted the raccoon again - on our deck. While he was out there. They stared each other down, & the raccoon backed off, scooting away to some unknown critter den.

Except what if the den is inside our walls?

On Saturday morning, we were awakened by a very loud scrabbling noise. At first, I thought it was the cat being a jerk, as he is sometimes want to do, until I realized that he was staring at me, terrified & mesmerized by the noise. Then I thought it was coming from the deck, until I realized the deck doesn't connect to our bedroom wall. And then I thought it was on the roof, until I realized there's an attic above us. That means this thing, whatever it was, was not on the deck or the roof but, yes, inside the walls. (I am quite sure of this, though Mike is less confident; then again, he kept snoozing through most of it.)

And then, the kicker. On Monday, nervous that a raccoon is lurking in the walls behind my headboard, I wandered the deck looking for any sign of how it might've gotten in - a hole, a loose shingle? I don't know how houses work, man. I didn't find anything like that, but I did find five piles of raccoon scat (that's shit, for all you non-outdoorsy people) neatly crapped upon the roof that borders our deck. I took a picture of it, but you're welcome for my not including it here.

So, yeah, I emailed our landlord yesterday. Obviously. And I think I was very calm & professional about it, considering the fact that I am now convinced that Meeko or Bandito or Bright Heart or whatever this little dude goes by is about to bust through my bedroom wall, Kool-Aid Man-style, yelling "Oh, yeahhh" & eating all my snacks & strangling my cat with his creepy, bare raccoon hands.

You guys. Who finds a freaking raccoon in their apartment complex? What's next, a deer on the deck? A bear in the basement? Damn, Cleveland. This is not the city life I was promised.

P.S.: That photo isn't our raccoon. That's Pumpkin, beloved Instagram star & Internet icon. Pumpkin can come to my apartment any day, creepy hands & all.
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What I Read in April

Sunday, May 1, 2016

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I sure did plow through 'em last month! I finished a whopping nine books in April, nearly all of them very good & worth the read. Lately, I find that I'm doing less writing in order to make room for more reading, which is surely a phase, but one I'm not mad about. Reading is a slightly more passive, less stressful way to become one with words, falling into someone else's thoughts instead of churning out my own. I'm sure I'll come back to writing eventually - I always do - but for now, I'm really enjoying all this damn reading.

The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel

This is exactly the kind of mystery novel I love: unpredictable, interesting, & imaginative. It tells the story of police detective Louise Rick, who's investigating the case of an indigent, mentally disabled woman found dead in a local woods. The woman, she learns, was a patient at a nearby asylum... & was declared dead more than 30 years ago. As I read, I started to put together the bits & pieces of the mystery on my own, but the reality of it the ending was richer & more detailed than I could've imagined on my own, which I appreciate - not too easy to guess, but not totally unguessable. ★★★★★

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

I'd long been looking forward to this book & still can't decide if it met expectations, exceeded them, or fell below them. What a strange novel! Mia leaves the bar with a handsome stranger who proceeds to kidnap her. Their dynamic is fascinating, & so is the parallel dynamic occurring within Mia's family. Her high-powered father doesn't much care that she's gone, but her guilt-ridden mother conducts a desperate search for her, aided by a committed detective. The book is told from their perspectives & that of the kidnapper; interestingly, we don't hear from Mia herself until the very end. This book was well-written, but the pacing was soooo slow & level that even the big twists & reveals at the end were, while surprising, still totally even-keeled. ★★★★☆

Year of Yes by Shonda Rimes

I'd heard mixed things about this book, but I loved it from the get-go. Shonda Rimes speaks in a voice that is familiar to me, comfortable to me, reminiscent of my own. She is a mix of brash & confident & nervous & humble & unsure & badass. She is funny but thoughtful. She is both Meredith Grey & Olivia Pope. And reading her own words about her own life - specifically, how her sister's accusation "You never say yes to anything" inspired her to change her ways - was like seeing how the sausage is made, but in a good way (which is, I know, totally not how that phrase is supposed to work). ★★★★☆

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

I've had this one on my shelf for months & should've gotten to it sooner. What a gem! The book is narrated by the elderly Addie Baum, who's telling her life story to her granddaughter, Ava, in response to the question, "How did you become the woman you are today?" Addie, a first-generation American Jew, has lead quite a life: poverty, suicide, sexual assault, family issues... & yet, she remains insightful, wise, & optimistic. This is a poignant, & well-written novel about life in a time period that most of us can't quite imagine. It was a pleasure & an honor to learn of this fictional character's very real life & to live it through her memories. ★★★★★

Deliver Her by Patricia Perry Donovan

I received this book for free as my April Kindle First selection. A lot of Goodreads reviewers call it predictable & unrealistic, & I agree that it is - but I still found it imminently readable & compelling. It's about a family that's falling apart - parents divorcing, a teenage daughter whose best friend has just died. The mother, Meg, sends her daughter, Alex, to a boarding school to shape up, but the transport goes wrong & Alex goes missing in the middle of a New England snowstorm. This is a solid debut novel if you don't need your books to be super deep or intellectual - just entertaining. ★★★☆☆

Call Me Princess by Sara Blaedel 

As terrible as the title of this book is, I'm pretty into this author right now; she's Denmark's bestselling novelist, apparently, though as far as I can tell, she's basically a Danish Mary Higgins Clark. Confusingly, this book is the second title in the series I couldn't start from the beginning, because the first book hasn't yet been published in English. It was entertaining enough, & it kept me guessing, though, as with the other Blaedel book I read in April, the conclusion felt a bit rushed & slightly less climactic than I'd hoped it would be. Still, I'm looking forward to more from her. ★★★☆☆

Food Rules: An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan

Aside from memoirs, I don't usually read nonfiction, so this is pretty far out of my comfort zone - but at less than 100 pages, this book is so short that it seemed worth a try. Pollan, a journalist, takes a simple but fascinating look at diet in America, including how it compares with the rest of the world: what we eat, why we eat it, &, above all, how we can do better. I know that some of Pollan's 64 "food rules" will stick with me long beyond my half hour reading of this short book. ★★★★★

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

I don't know why, but I thought this book was a memoir. It's not. Oops. It's actually a YA novel about a teen girl named Lara Jean who writes love letters to the boys she has crushes on as a way of helping herself move on.. & is mortified to find out that someone has not only discovered her letters but has sent them to the people they're about.Other reviewers found Lara Jean grating, unlikable, & too young-sounding, but I thought she was charming, quirky, & completely age-appropriate. This was an easy & enjoyable read that had me relieved I'm long past the unrequited-high-school-crush phase of life. ★★★★☆

BONUS: The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

I'm not sure this counts as a book, but hey, it's published independently, & I read it... This short story, originally written for Game of Thrones mastermind George R. R. Martin, is about a phony psychic who takes on a seriously distressed client with a potentially haunted house & a disturbed stepson - maybe. The psychological twists keep coming, even in 64 short pages, as one would expect from the author of Gone Girl. It won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. ★★★★★

Follow me on Goodreads & see what I've read in months past.

Please note that my "What I Read in..." posts include Amazon affiliate links to the titles I discuss. If you buy a book using one of these links, I will receive a small percentage of commission. Please don't feel any obligation to use these links, but please also don't judge me for including them. 
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