to pin or not to pin?

I have to admit that when Pinterest came out, I didn’t quite “get it”. I’ve been using an internet based service to bookmark and tag things I found interesting for years, so I wasn’t quite sure what all the fuss was about with pinning.

Slowly but surely, as more people joined the platform, I got it. The same thing that I was doing with pictures I had ripped out of magazines and catalogs was now digital. I could create visual boards of inspiration from hundreds of different sources without much effort whatsoever.

nature inspired color palette pin: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/25966135326144178/

Pinterest still gets some mixed reviews, and some hilarious ones where people try to recreate what they’ve seen done on a pin and it turns out fabulously wrong. I’ve heard of people having “pin envy” or “pin depression” because they think that being a DIY goddess happens overnight and feel like failures for not being creative.  My strategy? I typically only pin things that I could feasibly do/cook/buy. This means reading the descriptions and checking out the recipes before I even bother pinning it. If something sounds too complicated for my skillset I typically just pass over adding it to a board. 

I think the only problem that I’ve encountered with Pinterest is that I get very hungry when looking at all the amazing recipes! On the plus side, I’ve found some awesome ones and short cuts that have saved me time and money.  And if I ever run out of things to cook among my recipe books, I’ll always have a place to turn to for some amazing alternatives.

grilled cheese heaven with avocado: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/25966135326119530/

So if you’re new to Pinterest, feel free to check out what I’ve pinned! What are you swooning over on there?

another year

Last Saturday, I turned 31.  It’s not a huge milestone, other than that I’m officially in my thirties. Even saying that seems odd to me, and I wonder where time has gone.

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The man surprised me by inviting a few friends out for a surprise dinner. Two of the friends were two of the dearest I have from college. As we ate bruschetta and had drinks, the story telling began. By the end of the night, the thing that shocked me most was that more than a decade has past since I entered college.

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a few months old

Last week at work we started interviewing candidates for a graduate program. As I listened to all the young twenty somethings talking about their dreams, desires, and the goals they’ve had since they were children, I began thinking of my own. I wondered where they had gone. Somewhere, way back when, I had wanted to be an English teacher like my mother had been. And somehow, I’m not even close to that dream.

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me & mom, just hanging out

I became depressed that night, and it stayed with me for nearly a week. Thinking about goals that have been pushed aside in favor of real life is never comforting. I can imagine where changes in my life could have taken me had I not lost my father, or had I applied to different colleges, or had I moved home after graduation.

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the first two men in my life: Dad & Ken

I dreaded my birthday this year, for the first time in a long time. I’m used to my birthday being shoved aside because it is so close to Christmas, but I’ve never truly dreaded it the way I did this year.  There was a pit in my stomach as the day approached.  There would be no party hats and birthday cake or singing.

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Mickey’s Fun Cottage birthday party

But somehow it all turned out to be amazing. The dinner with friends. A weekend with my mom and aunt. My coworkers surprising me by decorating my office and even baking me a black forest cake – my dads specialty.

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me & Aunt Susan at my Communion

And somehow, suddenly, 31 wasn’t so terrifying anymore. I may not have the perfect car, or the perfect job, or the perfect wardrobe.

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But I do have a lot of things. Married with a house and two cats. A job that pays the bills (most months). Dreams that are waiting to be fulfilled, not dead. That is enough.

Happy Birthday to me.

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vintage birthday cake by dad – 1984

listing

When we announced that we were getting married, the man and I began the process of registering for gifts. It felt odd to tell people exactly what we wanted.  Somehow I thought the excitement would be taken out of the whole process by compiling our wishes into neat lists of scanned barcodes from stores.

I have always loved presents, big or small.  Sometimes if the man brings home flowers or the can of coffee beans that I love, and it isn’t a birthday or holiday, I am elated. Simply because of the surprise in it all.  In conversations with my mom, we’ll often talk about something I saw for the house that is nice, or something she saw and wondered whether I would want.  If it is something practical that I’m putting off buying until I can find a deal or have some extra money, my mom will offer to get it for me. “Just put it on my credit card and say ‘thank you’ – that’s all I want” she’ll tell me. And at Christmas, I’ll tell her some things I’m thinking of for gifts, like a new wallet, to which she’ll reply “Tell me exactly what you want”.  I drive her insane because in both cases, I usually say “just surprise me with it.” There is a certain joy that comes from getting gifts that aren’t expected, aren’t prescribed by me.

When the man and I began compiling wedding registries, we tried to pick practical things like towels and glasses.  When it came to the fancier things like our china, crystal candlesticks, and vases – the pretty things that I cherish when it comes to entertaining and decorating – I felt guilty for scanning the barcodes, choosing things that were extravagant and asking people to indulge our whims. But together the man and I discussed what was practical, what we’d really use, and knew that if we didn’t get something, that was okay too.

As response cards began arriving, I found it odd when we would get a note with the reply card checked “regretfully decline”, apologizing that they couldn’t make it to the wedding and were sorry but they weren’t in a position to send a gift, but would later. We didn’t care who did or didn’t get us something. Invariably, we responded “just think of us on that day”.  I wonder if people thought it was a trite response, meant to make them feel better.  But the list of the people we invited wasn’t out of obligation, it was out of joy to share our own special moment with them. It was the list of people we had gone through college with, or served in the military with, or met by chance and formed an indelible bond with. And of course it was our family.

Since we moved into the house, we’ve been asked over and over what we want as a gift for a housewarming, the holidays or birthdays, or sometimes just because.  It feels just as odd as compiling a registry list. “Surprise me” wasn’t often well received, and there was insistence on naming an object. When I said a gallon of paint, I got laughed at until I offered to give them the paint color code. How can we ask for anything else? We have been spoiled by so many people’s generosity – our parents and family especially – that we received so many amazing gifts when we got married and when we bought the house. They were all unexpected and wonderful. All the things that a new couple starting out need to begin building a life, a home, a sanctuary. And it didn’t matter how big or small – it was the fact that people who we haven’t seen in years, like my best friend from high school, sent us something. We were reminded how much we were loved, how much we mattered to other people out there.

I still make lists of things that I’d like, that I dream for. When I get a new job, I’ll buy that pair of shoes.  When we get our tax return, maybe I’ll finally get the heat stripping gun. When I save some money, I’ll buy that special item for my mom, or the man, or my sister-in-law, or my friend in Arizona who I never get to see.  I keep lists of articles that I’ll use if I ever start my PhD, and lists of websites that have tips on how to remove tarnish from door hinges. I have lists of dream jobs, of nail polish colors I want, of eco-friendly cleaning products, of cat furniture… I list my life away.

There are so many things that I take for granted on a regular basis, no matter how much I try to focus on what we do have, and not what we can’t afford to do right now. And I take for granted that we are much luckier than a lot of people our age, struggling just to put dinner on the table. We have so much beauty around us that I think I’m just going to start listing the practical things again, what we can use, what we need. And maybe start listing everything that is going right, too. And if someone gives us that extra gallon of paint, or that fancy serving dish, or that book that I’ve been coveting, then it will just be the lovely surprise on top of everything else.

don’t open until 2004…

In some ways we were lucky that the previous owner decided to leave so many things in the house.  Among the dilapidated couches that we ended up throwing out and the pet stained carpets that had outworn their welcome, they also left an upright piano which I love and cherish.  And they also left some furniture in one of the bedrooms.  As we were moving the furniture outside to rehab it, one of our friends found a standard size envelope, addressed to one of the people who had lived in our house before us.

Inside was a letter, written by one of the girls who had lived there, from 2001, her freshman year in high school.  Seven pages long, written on notebook paper in green gel pen in bubbly print. It opens “Dear My Senior Self”. Whether it was a school assignment, a friendship pact to write the letters together, or a personal adventure, I’ll never know.   It was postmarked June 11, 2004.

She asks about certain people she went to school with – whether they’re still friends, whether she still keeps in touch with teachers, who she ended up dating and kissing or whether she ever “did it” with a certain person.  She wonders how the whole “eating disorder thing is going” and whether she ever made 120 pounds or wore a bikini and met hot guys at the shore. She even asks herself if she did anything during band camp.

She goes on to talk about classes she liked, teachers she hated, and lists the phone numbers of people she MUST keep in touch with. I wonder if she ever did. If she opened this letter in her senior year, or perhaps in college, and laughed at her childish spelling and handwriting, wondered why she was so curious about her sex-life-to-be. I wonder if she ever did make size 5 or 120 pounds, and if she did make out with the cute guy on the color guard team. But I’ll never know.

me, circa 2003What I do know, is I remember myself at that age. So innocent, so optimistic, a large group of friends that I thought would be around forever.  I still know their phone numbers, without having written a letter to myself, and despite the fact that I haven’t dialed some of them in 10 years or more. I thought that in high school my awkwardness would somehow dissolve, that I’d have my first kiss, and that I would be going to an ivy league school.

I wish I had written a letter like this to myself. Maybe it would have captured some of my own innocence and dreams that I had for my future. Sometimes it seems that when my father died my freshman year, I lost something of my youth. I lost some of those dreams, or they were just forgotten, never cataloged in a journal on a personal checklist of goals.

I wonder why the girl left the letter behind. Maybe she put it on top of the bureau and forgot about it, or maybe after reading it she didn’t have the heart to throw it out but didn’t want to remember it either. What I do know, is that I now write letters to friends that I haven’t spoken to since I was a teenager, and may never find or speak to again. I reminisce on what we did when we were teenagers, wonder what they’re doing, and tell them why I miss them.

And I fold them up, put them in envelopes, and store them away in a box. Maybe some day I’ll sit and read them.

from behind the desk

In an average year, I spend over 1,700 hours behind a desk. For the past six years, I have been driving 9 miles (which takes about 45 minutes) into the city to go to work.  I started as a temp, and was hired full time to be an Administrative Assistant II.  For two years, I did that job, and after I completed my Master’s, I switched to another position.  For the next 4 years, I had 6 different job titles. I had worked my way up, had outlasted the departments that I worked for, was trusted, was given jobs and responsibilities that I had to learn on the fly.  There were good days and bad days, but overall, I began to feel important. Necessary. I finally got an office! And then three days before my wedding, I lost my job.

Three months later, I was back at the same place in a part time job, with a different title. And six months after that, I was back again, full time. With another title. And back at the bottom.

Some of my titles were fancy, and others more to the point, but none of them describing exactly what I did for a living. When I started back full time, I again felt valued and wanted, even liked. It was a fabulous arrangement: coming in a little bit late was no problem, which meant I didn’t sit in commuter traffic. I could leave early and finish work at home if I had an appointment or wasn’t feeling well. I could wear jeans every day. I was writing content for internal documents and copy for the web. I loved it. The long hours, taking work home – not a problem. I was working far above my job title and I loved it. But like all good things, that changed. I need to know my place, I was told. It was like getting a new job title all over again.

So now, as I settle down and rethink how I work, agonize over my actions and make sure I’m acting only within the parameters that I “should” for my title, I have to realize that it is just a job. A job where I spend over 1,700 hours every year, but nonetheless, just an obligation. A contract. A way to pay the bills.

I still have dreams. I will find the perfect job one day. I will be a writer, valued for her talent and wit, sought after to teach lectures at universities.  I will publish a book. I will have an article in Real Simple Magazine about how I restored my house by hand, how I salvage architectural finds, how I even crochet amigurumi and run a successful blog and teach and…. The list goes on.

I am more than my job. I have a life. And I try now to keep work from invading, and keep my “life” separate, sacred these days. And when the time is right, I’ll get the dream list. I’ll get a job where I am happy and feel like I make a difference. I have a BA in English with minors in Gender Studies and Faith Justice. I am a trained Writing Fellow. I have presented at the National Conference of Peer Tutoring & Writing twice. I have a Master’s in Writing Studies with a focus on creative non-fiction. And I can’t get a job as an adjunct. And I can’t get writing internships because I’m overqualified (yes I’ve been told that). But some day, I will have the dream. I just have to keep hoping. And in the meantime, I have my house. I have this blog. I have friends and family who love and support me.

And I have 7,000 hours of freedom a year not behind a desk.