Springing Forward

Good morning, and happy Tuesday!

Last week wound up being faaaar busier than I expected (how does work do that? Like, do the work gods look down on us and say things like “Oh, she’s expecting a fairly tame week so she can go home and do some blogging. You know what would deep-six that plan? Taskers! Yeeeeessss, taskers! Muuuhahahahhaha!”? Come to think of it, I have a feeling this is exactly what happens.)

Anyways, it was also an eventful week in a fabulous way, since my mom was visiting — and as I think I’ve said here before, mom visits are the best. I even wound up with extra time to hang out with her, since we got a snow day (huzzah for useful snow!) on Thursday. I had already planned to take Friday off to spend the day with her, so the extra day of mom time — not to mention the extra long weekend — was most welcome. We went shopping and art museum hopping, both of which were fabulous; I got some lovely spring clothes at Marshalls, and we found some great decor items for my office at work (my office needs help, y’all).

In other news, we seem to have gone from the depths of winter misery straight into lovely spring weather. This is totally cool with me, you guys — as far as I’m concerned, it’s high time for springtime to kick Old Man Winter’s tuchus to the curb. I’ve had quite enough of winter; East Coast winters the last couple years have been God-awful cold and therefore superbly crappy. This, of course, is to say nothing of the total and utter insanity that people in New England have dealt with this year, for which I think they deserve a medal, or some chocolate, or some form of compensation/acknowledgement that their winter was beyond ridiculous. (Memo to the West Coast: I’d say that I hate you guys, but let’s be real here: I’m just insanely jealous. I’ve also developed a burning, consuming hatred of the Arctic and polar vortices. They can all go directly to hell.)

Grumpy Cat Polar Vortex

But seriously, as soon as I saw that the long-term forecast involved a string of days in the 50s and 60s (which means I’d finally get to jettison my thermal leggings and uber-insulating undergarments) I basically lost my mind. My eyes just about shot out of my head, and I shouted “PRAISE THE NEWBORN BABY JESUS AND OPRAH, IT’S GOING TO BE WARM OUT!” (And yes, I invoke Jesus and Oprah in the same sentence. I’m a heathen like that.)

Between the extra hour of sunlight in the evening and the fact that it was 61 degrees out (insert happy dance here), as soon as I got home last night I laced up my kicks and went running. It was glorious, people. The weather was perfect. The sunlight was gorgeous. My legs were slow to warm up, but it didn’t take a terribly long time before they joined the party and realized that this particular run was going to be awesome.

The only two downsides of spring are losing an hour of sleep and the rising pollen count. The losing an hour of sleep thing, I think, throws everyone off. Even though I adore the later sunsets, I don’t understand why the policy of daylight savings was created in the first place. I’ve heard explanations ranging from “it was created for the farmers” to “it was created for the schoolchildren so they don’t have to wait in the pitch dark for the bus in the mornings.” None of this has ever made even one iota of sense to me, so I was especially pleased to see that John Oliver covered it in this past Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight:

The Germans?! Whoda thunk it, right? And seriously, to further emphasize the title of the clip above, why is this still a thing?

As for the allergies, I spent most of last night sleeping fitfully due to a headache, stuffy nose, and junk from my stuffy nose running down the back of my throat. If I seem loopy, incoherent, or mildly senile in this post, you can thank allergies and sleep deprivation. Must needs more caffeine. And mas Claritin. Sweet fancy Moses.

Anyways, I hope everyone had a great week and that you all have a (choose whatever works for you — it’s like a choose your own adventure novel, but not!) tranquil/productive/brave/kick-butt/rejuvenating day.

The Trouble With Having an Even Vaguely Unusual Name

When I was growing up, I thought my name was fairly manageable and easy to pronounce. Lillian didn’t seem all that hard, and my last name, a good Irish surname, isn’t common — but it is phoenetic. It’s pretty straightforward, or so I thought. But, as it turns out, this assumption was completely untrue. Apparently my name is not unlike this train station in Wales!

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This has taken many hilarious forms over the years; when I was little, Lillian was a sufficiently old-school name that receptionists in doctor’s offices would routinely remark that they’d expected an old woman when they called the name Lillian, but look at me, I was just a child! (THE SHOCK.)

As I’ve gotten older, people have become less shocked by the fact that someone named Lillian could be younger than 90, and have instead been totally unable to wrap their minds around the name Lillian at all. I’ve been called Lorraine, Luann, Lauren…basically, if it involves an L at the beginning and an N somewhere near the end, people have thought it might just be my first name.

And, for some real fun, sometimes the L or the N don’t even make the cut. Behold the following examples:

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Sillion and Nalin. There’s broad consensus among my friends and family that Sillion is the most apropos mangling imaginable, since I have been known to be silly. (But this has only happened, like, maybe twice in my life. I’m otherwise extremely serious. I don’t even like smiling!) Nalin, though? I don’t know what to do with that.

And if you think that’s bad, things get particularly gnarly when my last name is involved. When I was in undergrad, I was looking for off-campus housing and calling around to leasing companies near campus. I’d leave my name and number, as requested — and when people called back, there was usually a long pause in there message before they sputtered out some bastardized version of my name. My favorite, though, was thus:

“Hi, I’m calling for…um…Luann McFireman?”

Yes, friends: Luann McFireman. Because obviously there’s a whole batch of last names that involve the title of first responders, preceded by a “Mc” prefix. Did you know that I’m a distant relative of the McParamedics? And I definitely shouldn’t marry into the McPolice family, because we’re third cousins twice removed. SMH.

More recently, when I had a birthday party a few years ago at a restaurant in DC, I called a week in advance to make the reservation, since I knew it was going to be a fairly sizable group. The restaurant called me a few days before to confirm that it was still on, and I called the night before to make sure everything was still good.

So you can imagine my shock when, in a cab on my way to the restaurant, one of my friends called and said “Dude, they don’t have your reservation.”

Um, no. This was patently false. I’d spoken to them three times about my reservation. There was no way they didn’t have it. Sure enough, when I got there I looked through their reservation book for my phone number. I found it, and when I looked at the name next to it, I had to try exceedingly hard to contain my laughter: Gloria Necternan.

I mean, I can totally imagine misunderstanding my last name, even though I’d spelled it out for them — background noise can make it hard to hear well over the phone. But Gloria? Where did they even get that?

Gloria Necternan has become my go-to nickname among my friends in DC; occasionally I’ll roll up to meet people for dinner and be greeted by a rousing “Gloria Necternan! Good to see you!” The worst part is, Brandon once decided to see if his phone’s voice command function would do anything with this — and it worked. “Call Gloria Necternan,” he said into his phone while grinning like the Cheshire cat…and moments later, my phone started ringing. Sigh.

Clearly this is just something I have to live with, since the name confusion won’t likely be clearing up anytime soon. I can, however, go back to my old tactic of using a pseudonym whenever I’m getting carry-out or hitting up Starbucks: nobody messes up when I say that my name is Elizabeth.

Cool Things Are *Happening,* People!

I have a long history of being easily amused. Okay, so it’s actually to a ridiculous degree – as in, I’ve been known to bound out of bed on a Monday morning because I have a new kind of coffee or tea to try out. (And, considering my general enmity towards Monday mornings, this is saying a lot.)

So, considering this particular quirk, last week involved two discoveries that made things pretty awesome.

First, I found out that Starbucks is now offering coconut milk as an option for the dairy-free crowd. I’m trying to avoid dairy when I can, and soy and I just don’t jive – so I’ve been hoping and praying for aaaaaaaages that Starbies would get on board and find another non-dairy, non-soy option.

(A quick disclaimer/caveat: I know chai lattes aren’t the healthiest things in the world, so they’re not on heavy rotation in my life. However, I like to try and get them on Fridays – it’s a “Yay, self, you made it through the week!” self-care thing. I’ve also been known to do this if I’m having an exceptionally crappy day, since a chai will keep me from merely slogging through until close of business while being tired and cranky. In these circumstances, I figure the less-than-super-healthy chai latte is absolutely worth it.)

Anyways, they started offering coconut milk on February 17th, but since we had Tuesday off work on account of the snow (yaaaaaaay!) I wasn’t able to take part in the coconut milk revolution until the end of the week. But when I did? Sweet fancy Moses. In case anyone is wondering, coconut milk chai lattes are fantastic.

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As for my second awesome discovery, I was perusing this month’s InStyle magazine – which is slightly ironic, in the sense that I love fashion but a) wear really basic clothes in real life, b) more or less live in yoga pants during the weekend, and c) pretty much refuse to shop anywhere other than Marshall’s and Target – when I saw that The Limited is offering a whole line of clothes based on Olivia Pope.

YOU GUYS.

As anyone who watches Scandal knows, Liv’s wardrobe is to die for. (Side note: is anyone else sick of the Liv-n-Fitz Eternal Angst and Drama motif? Sh*t or get off the pot, you two.)

Granted, I can’t afford these threads (like I said: Target and Marshall’s 4-EVAH) – but if any of you are in the market for some new clothes and spend as much time admiring Kerry Washington’s Scandal wardrobe as I do, this is like a goldmine of awesomeness. I mean, this dress?

Scandal Dress

If I were 30 pounds thinner and psychologically able to handle the idea of spending $170 on a dress, I’d buy two of this. Not even kidding.

So, all this is to say that between the snow day, coconut milk chai, and the mere existence of an Olivia Pope line at The Limited, it was a fairly exciting week. What’s happening in your world?

Finally, Useful Snow!

Upon moving back to DC a few years ago, I came up with a new way to describe snow. I’d love to say that it’s something lovely and heart-warming, like poetically describing the difference between light, fluffy snow and dense, heavy snow that creates amazing snow forts/people/balls.

But it’s not. Rather, I’ve come to classify snow as being either useful or useless.

And there is but one simple criterion for this: whether or not the snow causes a delay or cancellation of work. Useful snow enables sleeping in and lollygagging around the apartment, whereas useless snow is dead to me. I don’t even want to look at you, useless snow.

Now, I know this makes no sense, but allow me to explain: I’m from Colorado, where the snow is a source of fantastic outdoor, mountainous recreation — and where the extreme cold never lasts for long. Snowstorms and ski days interspersed between multi-day stretches of sunny 50 degree weather is a fantastic way to do winter. If you’re going to live in a place where it snows, this is the way to do things.

In DC, though, it’s flat. And miserably cold. So, if it’s going to snow, I want it to be enough to call off (or, at a minimum, delay) work. Instead, this winter has been a combination of my all-time least favorite weather patterns: bitter cold, powerful winds, and a total lack of useful snow. This means that we all venture out into the bone-chilling cold of the early morning commute, walking diagonally into the window-rattling wind, so we’re able to get to work on time; around 10:30 some start to contemplate a Starbucks run but quickly abandon the idea, because even non-cafeteria coffee isn’t enough to lure them into the elements for the 4-minute walk to Starbies; and then, in the evening, trudge home in the same cold and wind that cut you to the bone. Our struggle is real, you guys.

Milton cold

But! I started having hope last week when local meteorologists began talking about a possible Presidents’ Day snowstorm. I held my breath (metaphorically, obviously) and crossed my fingers: could it be legit? Might we wind up with a four-day weekend? To quote Talladega Nights, please, sweet 6 lb. 8 oz. newborn baby Jesus, let us get a snow day.

And lo, my prayers were answered! The snow started yesterday afternoon, and it started sticking right away. It was forecast to continue throughout the night, and as Brandon and I ate dinner last night, my phone was buzzing with notices about all the local school districts being closed today. I was obsessively looking at my phone, waiting for The Big One (aka: the federal government’s operating status) when finally it arrived: CLOSED ON TUESDAY! Happy dance!

So, I’m happy to say that I’ve spent my morning drinking tea while reading InStyle, and I’m about to hit up the gym for a long workout. Thank you, useful snow, for this glorious extra day off!

A New Look + Some Updates

This weekend was busier than I’d anticipated, so I didn’t get a chance to do much in the way of writing. I did, however, update the template for the site — it’s a bit cleaner than the old one, and it’s cheaper to boot. A win-win, in my book.

So! Since I spent more time managing the aesthetics of the blog than I did with a writing exercise or even just dumping my random thoughts into WordPress, here’s a compilation of things happening lately.

I made these amazing Thai sweet potato veggie burgers from Oh She Glows. They’re gluten-free when made with GF oat flour, and they’re incredible. I amended the recipe a bit, so they don’t hold together as well as hers — but that’s ok in my book, actually, because I wound up combining them with sauteed kale and mixing it all up into a bowl full of steaming deliciousness. Sweet fancy Moses, they’re amazing.  By way of further endorsement, every time I warmed them up for my lunch at work, random people would walk by my office and go “Ohhhhhh my God, that smells amazing. What is that?!” If you’re looking for something to keep you warm and full, I highly recommend them.

Also, this almost happened last week. I was thwarted by some logistics (namely that I can’t bring dogs past the security guards outside my building, and there was no enclosed park to play in), but for a brief, shining moment in time, I was crawling out of my skin with excitement over the mere idea of seeing a pack of puppies. Since it didn’t, I’m back to being a total creeper around other peoples’ dogs. This is how I look every time I’m in the elevator with a random person’s dog:

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Over the weekend we had one glorious day of warm weather and sunshine before winter came roaring back. It was 65 and sunny on Sunday, so I abandoned all my other plans in favor of a lumber in the great outdoors. You guys, I *so* want to be able to run outdoors all the time. Weather in DC isn’t conducive to it at all, since it’s God-awful hot in the summer, equally God-awful cold and rainy in the winter. Clearly I need to move to SoCal, or someplace where the weather is equally magical. Anyways, I loooooooved my 3 1/2 10-minute miles. (Side note: when I got back, Brandon noted that I had, in the words of Magic Johnson’s basketball commentary, “worked up a good lather.” Despite doing just over a 5K at a pace nowhere near race-worthy, I  still managed to schvitz like a wildebeest.)

I also just discovered a website that I already adore: Trying to be Good, which is hysterically funny, poignant, and an awesome dose of real talk. Anyone who feels feelings and appreciates humor should read it.

Anyways, that’s a brief update — I’ll be back later this week with real writing!

Tikkun Olam (Hopefully Without Feeling Like a Creeper)

In the lead-up to my birthday last week, I found myself thinking about what I want to achieve this year. This wasn’t like making new year’s resolutions, since I loathe those with the fire of a thousand suns, and for various reasons: my illustrious history of sacrificing my well-being in pursuit of a goal (please refer to exhibit A: high school and the college admissions process), the fact that most resolutions are things you could choose to do at any point in the year, the fact that the whole idea of new year’s resolutions is a weird, fabricated, and artificially-imposed social construct that people seem to do because they feel obligated to participate…well. Suffice it to say, new year’s resolutions — to quote Austin Powers — aren’t my bag, baby.

Given that my stance on new year’s resolutions falls somewhere between “how I feel about migraines” and “how I feel about Nazis,” it’s probably surprising that I was thinking about what I want to achieve during the next year — but, as it turns out, I do really like finding an over-arching goal or purpose for my next trip around the sun.

The more I thought about it, the more the answer became clear as that still, small voice in my head repeated: tikkun olam. To explain what this is, here’s what I posted to Facebook that day:

A Jewish philosophy translated as “repairing the world,” tikkun olam is a long-standing love of mine. Human history is littered with astonishing levels of cruelty and destruction, and although I believe we’re moving in the right direction, we have a long way to go.

So, my hope is this: that we can all work towards building empathy instead of judgment, compassion instead of intolerance, creativity and repair instead of destruction, and patience instead of anger. Let’s give more hugs. Let’s do more charitable work, whether through donations or volunteering. Let’s make each other laugh. Let’s cut each other some slack, because everyone, whether you know it or not, is fighting a hard battle.

Let’s contribute to repairing the world, in whatever way we can — because each contribution, each random act of kindness, and each moment of empathy is important.

As it turns out, my efforts  to do this are a bit more awkward than I’d hoped. (I’ll pause here and express my amusement about the fact that I’m continually surprised by my own awkwardness. This should’ve stopped being surprising to me a looooooooong time ago, but somehow it always pops up and leaves me going “Wait, WHAT? Awkward? Me? Well…yeah. That’s actually quite plausible. Ok, it’s highly likely. Upon further inspection, it’s basically inevitable.”)

On my birthday, I’d planned to use the free birthday drink loaded onto my Starbucks card to purchase a drink for a random stranger. But, as it turns out, the random stranger has to be there, in the flesh, and ordering their drink in order for you to use the free drink on someone else. This has potential to be spectacularly awkward and tremendously creepy. There was a dude behind me in line, and when I looked over in his direction to see if I could get away with doing this in a non-awkward, non-creepy way, the look of apprehension on his face quickly answered that question for me.

So I bought myself a marshmallow dream bar. (For those who may be wondering, they’re both gluten-free and delicious. It didn’t do anything to help repair the world, but it did make my taste buds happy.)

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Not my photo – via misterbelly.com

Then a few days ago, I was getting a cup of tea from a coffee vendor near my office. The two women in line behind me were having a long conversation; one had apparently just broken up with her live-in boyfriend, and she was understandably upset. Just as I was paying for my chai, the newly-single woman broke down into tears.

Y’all. I think most of us have been through wretched break-ups. I think most of us can agree that they’re abjectly miserable, and that having an acutely broken heart makes you feel like you may never breathe normally — let alone laugh — ever again.

Before I could think about whether or not this, like my Starbucks attempt, would make me look slightly insane, I turned around and offered to buy her a coffee. “I’ve been through bad breakups too,” I said, “and I know how much it sucks. Please let me buy you a coffee.” I told her that it’s awful now, but that it gets better — and then I felt like I was probably being weird, so I decided it was time to walk away.

As I walked back to my office, I started to reflect on the situation. At first, I worried that I might have come across as a hideously weird old lady. But then I realized: who cares if I did? I’d rather do something nice and look like an idiot than not do something nice at all. Random acts of kindness towards strangers are precisely that: interactions with people I’m probably never going to see again. If they think I’m weird for doing something nice, then so be it.

That also led me to wonder: what is it about modern culture that makes niceness so suspect? Why am I even in a position of feeling like people might think I’m creepy or mildly insane for offering to do something nice? It’s not like I’m standing there, wild-eyed and desperate for human interaction, while I offer to tell them about my latest surgery and 27 cats. If that were the case, apprehension would be totally understandable. But it’s not (to the best of my knowledge, at least) — and yet, I got really self-conscious about it.

So, I’ve decided not to worry about whether I look like a complete fool in my tikkun olam efforts, because the fact is, this is something that needs to be done.

So, tell me: have you ever been in a similar situation? Do you feel like strangers doing random nice things for others are greeted with suspicion or gratitude? Or is this just a DC thing?

Slow Running For the Win

I have been vindicated, you guys.

Ok, let me back up a bit, so as to explain that vindication: I’m a slow runner. Painfully — no, embarrassingly — slow. For years, I’ve been both appalled and slightly ashamed of the fact that I routinely average a 10:30 mile. I manage to do 11:00 if I’m tired. 9:30 if I’m feeling awesome. 8:30 if I’m in the best shape of my life and had a cup of coffee the size of a Winnebago.

After the Great Health Implosion of 2013 and the ensuing 14 months of bloat-inducing medication, my mile time slowed to such a plodding pace that I stopped referring to these forays into outdoor exercise as running and instead called them by a more appropriate name: lumbering.

As in, I’m going lumbering and will be back in 35 minutes or so. When I got tired, I’d start singing Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On” in my head — but I’d change the lyrics to say Lumber on/Now’s the time/The time is now…

Meanwhile, when I read about all these amazing runners who can roll out of bed and bust out multiple 8 minute miles, I feel like the athletic equivalent of a manatee.

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BUT NO LONGER!

This afternoon I saw a column in the Times health section which said that slow runners have greater longevity than either sedentary people or fast runners. To quote the article:

Plodding joggers tended to live longer than those who were faster. And in fact, the people who jogged the most frequently and at the fastest pace — who were, in effect, runners rather than joggers — did not enjoy much benefit in terms of mortality. In fact, their lifespans tended to be about the same as among people who did not exercise at all.

The results suggest that the “optimal dose of jogging is light, and strenuous joggers and sedentary non-joggers have similar mortality rates,” said Jacob Louis Marott, a researcher for the Copenhagen City Heart Study and co-author of the study.

YOU GUYS. Today, I am vindicated. Today, I stand before you a newly-proud slow runner.

The timing of the article was perfect, too: the weather here has been too cold and miserable to run outside, so I’ve been either bonding with the treadmill or the elliptical lately. Today, though, presented the one shining reprieve in our weather pattern.

All week I’ve been planning to take advantage of today’s nice weather, so I went for a lumber. I lumbered on for 3 ¼ miles, plodding along with my 10:30 pace – but when other people sped past (and even when one dude passed me twice), my competitive side, which gets obnoxiously vocal when I’m doing anything sports-related, was quickly silenced. Instead, it was replaced by me imagining myself standing on a park bench and yelling, like a super-creepy self-proclaimed prophet who tries to preach to the masses without being fully coherent, “Yes, you guys are all way faster than me – but I MIGHT NOT HAVE ANYTHING TO BE ASHAMED ABOUT AFTER ALL! BECAUSE SCIENCE! SLOW RUNNING 4 LIIIIIIIIIFEEEEE!”

So, to any other joggers who enjoy running but are totally cool with their non-competitive pace, I say this: slow runners unite!

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Solidarity, my fellow non-competitive slow runners. We shall inherit the earth, possibly, if the results of that study are legit.

Feels Like Home

This post got me thinking about the idea of home — and the idea that while I’ve lived a great many places, very few have felt like my own. We moved around a few times when I was growing up, so the concept of home became very (ok, incredibly) important to me. Home wasn’t just where I slept; it had to feel like home in addition to being a structure that I happened to live in.

One of the pitfalls of being a millennial who lives and works in an expensive city is that home ownership isn’t in the cards for me. Instead, I’m a serial renter: a few years here, a few years there. All told, I’ve lived in four different places in the DC area over the last ten years.

Apartments tend not to feel like home for most people, and generally speaking, that has been true for me too — with one huge exception. My apartment in Denver, which I rented while I was in grad school, was glorious.

When I moved back to Colorado (where I grew up) for school, I was basically on the brink of exploding with excitement. I was excited about my grad program, and I was doubly excited to be living in Denver. I began to look for apartments near campus, though, and my excitement started to wane a bit.

I didn’t need a big space; I wanted a studio apartment, but I couldn’t find anything smaller than a one-bedroom.

I wanted a controlled-access building, since this was going to be my first-ever solo apartment, but I couldn’t find one to save my life.

I didn’t need anything fancy, but every place within my price range had shag carpet that hadn’t been cleaned since the Nixon Administration.

My mom and I drove around for two days, finding nothing but places that didn’t fit my parameters. Just when I was thinking I might need to bite the bullet and compromise, I saw a Craigslist ad for a studio condo near my school. The price was right, so I decided to get more information.

An hour later, the landlord, Tony, gave me a tour of what would wind up being my home for the next two years: a gorgeous, newly renovated studio in a controlled-access building, replete with decorative finishes that I never would’ve thought were possible in a place I could afford on a grad school budget. I was sold. He even reduced the monthly rate if I was willing to sign a two-year lease. Done and done, my friends.

And oh, did I love that place. It had soft pink halogen lights spanning the ceiling and highlighting a brushed steel panel against one wall. The kitchen and bathroom fabulous. There were sliding glass doors that led to a wide, spacious balcony where I spent many hours doing yoga, working on presentations, or reading under the shade of the tree growing next to the building. It felt like my home from the moment I walked in.

The feeling of home wasn’t the only thing that made this apartment so awesome. It was there that, after living with other people for all of my 25 years, I finally had a place of my own. I lived there under my own rules, and I got to let my idiosyncracies run the show.

Did I want to watch Law & Order for 5 hours on a Saturday morning during spring break? Yes, I did. Did I turn up Madonna and Britney while cleaning or doing the dishes? Indeed. Did I want to cook random meals for no other reason than the fact that they sounded good? You betcha. Did I want to take a break from writing papers by either somersaulting across the room or having an impromptu dance party? Heck yeah. And I didn’t need to ask anyone for permission to do any of those things.

When I finished grad school two years later, I decided to move out to North Carolina to be with the guy I was dating while I waited for my job in DC to come through. (Side note: this turned out to be a disasterous decision.) I was verklempt while packing up my apartment, even though I knew it was time for me to go. The space was tiny, yes, but I had loved it dearly.

On the day I moved out, my parents arrived with a moving van to help gather up my stuff. As they drove up, dark and ominous clouds rolled in — and these were dark and ominous even by the standards of Colorado summer thunderstorms. We tried to beat the rain, but as soon as we walked towards the door with the first load of stuff to go into the truck, a flash of white light was immediately followed by a thunderclap so loud that it shook the building. And with that, the skies opened up into a a downpour so torrential we could barely see across the street.

I try not to read meaning into random events, but it absolutely felt like a sign. It was as if my ancestors, who were among Denver’s first inhabitants, were telling me not to go. “Stay here,” they seemed to say, “In this city you love and this apartment that feels like it was made for you.”

Two months later, I was back in Colorado (like I said, the North Carolina thing wound up being a complete disaster) and staying with my parents. I went to Denver every week or so to see friends, and every time I went, I’d go on autopilot and find myself parking in front of my old apartment building.

I once got as far as the building’s front door, perplexed by why my keys weren’t unlocking it, before I realized I didn’t live there anymore.

Even now, almost seven years after I moved out, I still think of that apartment, how much I loved it, and how lucky I was to have had it basically fall into my lap at exactly the right time.

Writing Exercise: Do You Rehearse Phone Calls Before Making Them?

Last week, The New York Times ran a Modern Love column that, as far as I can tell, garnered more attention than any previous Modern Love column has. In it, the author writes about how she and her now-fiance decided to test-drive a set of 36 questions designed to make people fall in love with each other. (As you may have deduced, it worked.)

The Times later provided that list of questions, and I thought some of them would also make nifty writing prompts. To be clear, I’m not out to make any of you fall in love with me – hence why I don’t plan to write answers to all the questions, nor do I plan to stare into anyone’s eyes for four minutes – but a handful of these made me think “Heeeyyy, that could be fun to write about!”

And that’s how I make decisions.

So, without further ado, the question: Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

Oh God, do I ever. I don’t do this for all my phone calls, but when it comes to the calls that make me nervous, I not only rehearse, but I write out a note card with talking points. I’m not even kidding.

I’d love to be one of those unflappable souls who remain calm and collected under pressure, but I’m not. One of my lesser qualities is that if I’m nervous, there’s an exceptionally good chance that I’ll get completely flustered, discombobulated, and forgetful. If I don’t have notes in front of me, I’m liable to lose my train of thought – or, worse, have full command of my train of thought but be unable to be even minimally coherent, thus leading to all the words coming out in a jumbled heap of nonsense.

When that happens, I get even more flustered, which makes my voice go up at least one octave. And when that happens, I start thinking of the scene from 40 Year-Old Virgin in which Steve Carrell says that his girlfriend’s daughter, who’s having a total meltdown and becoming increasingly hysterical, sounds like a tea kettle. And then I get even more flustered, if that’s possible.

So, to prevent this generally wretched scenario from happening, I sometimes bust out the note cards and rehearse their content.

I vividly remember the first time I did this, too. It was the summer before I started 9th grade, and I liked a boy who’d been in my English class the previous year. We’d gotten all googly-eyed after dancing together at the spring formal at the end of the year, so I was very much in like. And, because I was a Sassy, Independent Young Woman Who Didn’t Think Traditional Gender Roles Did Anyone Any Favors (note: I maintain this stance), I decided to call him and ask him out.

I was wringing my hands about what to say when I called, and that’s when my dad suggested writing out what I wanted to say on a note card and rehearsing it a few times before picking up the phone. This was a brilliant idea!

I did just that, and although my hands were shaking when I picked up the phone in my parents’ basement (this was in pre-cell phone 1995, and I needed privacy in order to make this very important phone call), I got through it without sounding like a concussed tea kettle. And, not only that, but he said yes!

We never wound up actually going out, because our vacation schedules didn’t mesh and then I wound up changing schools, but still: NOTE CARDS AND REHEARSAL FTW, YOU GUYS.

Writing Exercise: Three Things that Stopped Me in My Tracks

This exercise, which comes from Now Write! Nonfiction (edited by Sherry Ellis), asks that you describe three things – all of which happened in the fairly recent past – that stopped you in your tracks. This can be a literal or figurative stop, but should basically just be something that really grabbed your attention.

While we were on vacation in Texas earlier this month, I stumbled upon three things that – for me at least – were incredibly cool.

First: My parents just moved from Colorado to Houston last month, and it turns out that while my mom was packing up their house in Colorado, she dug up some awesome stuff that I’d completely forgotten about. One such no-longer-buried treasure is a Denver Broncos t-shirt that I bought when I was in Israel, and which my mom thankfully knew I’d definitely want to keep. In the interest of full disclosure, this t-shirt came from a shop that sold kitschy, awful junk and catered exclusively to American tourists looking for, well, kitsch. But you guys: it’s a piece of Broncos paraphernalia in both English and Hebrew. Is it kitschy? Probably. Was I beyond thrilled when I found it sitting on the desk in the room where Brandon and I stayed? You betcha.

Second: Also while visiting my parents, I walked by a table and was totally sidetracked by a book: A Yard Full of Sun, by Scott Calhoun, which documents his efforts to build a xeriscape garden at his home in Tucson, Arizona. Now, at first blush, I can totally understand why most of you might be perplexed by this book’s ability to sidetrack me so thoroughly that as soon as I saw it, sat down on the couch to check it out and didn’t get up for another hour. Well, my dears, let me explain.

To start, I miss the sunshine like you wouldn’t believe. I’m a sun-loving kind of gal – I’ve been known to force everyone outside when the sun comes out, regardless of things like work commitments or hungover roommates during college – and the sad, limpid East Coast sun just bums me out. There’s even a quote about this in the book: “Here in the West you can’t get away from the big sky and full light…differences in light make the West unique. As Larry McMurty says in his book Roads, ‘Eastern light is never as strong and full as Western light; a thousand McDonald’s will not make Boston feel like Tucson.’” So, the title book’s made a part of my brain jump up and scream “OMIGOD, I WANT THAT.”

Furthermore, I’ve always loved the idea of xeriscape gardens using desert plants. (At the risk of sounding weird, I love pretty much any plant native to the southwest desert. If I could have a saguaro cactus in my living room, I would.) Obviously that can’t happen here in DC, so reading about someone else’s extensive work using desert plants in their native territory really struck a chord with me. On a related note, some poor fools have tried to do desert-style xeriscaping here in DC, using, get this, cacti. DC is a swamp. Cacti aren’t native to swamps. At all. Here’s a glimpse of how beautifully this landscaping experiment has turned out:

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Cacti in DC really thrive, as you can tell from the fact that they’re waterlogged and wilting in sadness.

Third: Since Brandon’s and my parents are all living in Texas now, we also spent time in San Antonio visiting his family. His mom and I are big fans of thrift shopping (seriously, you can score some amazing threads and save so much money!), so we hit up one of the bigger thrift stores in SA. When we first got there, I found a tile trivet showing a traditional Shabbat scene with “Shabbat shalom” written in Hebrew. I have very few things left from my year in Jerusalem – I’d bought tons of spices and textiles, which have long since been used or been packed away – and I really miss some of my memorabilia. The tile didn’t remind me of Jerusalem itself, but it did remind me of the many Shabbat dinners I shared with my friends when I was there. I put it in our cart, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt like I not only didn’t need another trivet (I have plenty), but it wasn’t worth getting something I wasn’t going to use just because it vaguely reminds me of a place I lived almost a decade ago.

So, I went to put it back – and as I walked towards the shelf where I’d gotten it, a second tile caught my eye. The artwork on that tile looked exactly like the depictions of Jerusalem that most local artists use in their tile paintings. No, that’s not possible, I thought. There’s no way I would’ve missed a Jerusalem tile earlier! As I got closer, I thought I must be imagining things. But then I got to the shelf, and there it was: a tile depicting Jerusalem. My jaw must’ve hit the floor. Needless to say, I bought it without a second thought.

What are some things that have stopped you in your tracks lately? Let me know!