Archive | October, 2010

Scaredy Cat

30 Oct

Halloween is the day when parents encourage little boys to dress like little girls and little girls to dress like whores and go door-to-door brow-beating hard working Americans into giving them free food. – Coach Sue, Glee

To be honest, I think Halloween is a super creepy holiday. As someone who jumps at the slightest noise and only enjoys the darkness when I’m sleeping, I find myself scared of everything as Halloween approaches. I’ve been to one haunted house in my life (it was my freshmen year of college – I’m a late bloomer), and that was one too many.  I’ve never liked scary movies, so I’m certainly not a fan of a holiday that celebrates their very existence. And I’m happy to eat candy any day of the year – I don’t need Halloween to convince me to indulge my sweet tooth.

The holiday’s history is also super creepy, supporting my somewhat-dramatic opinion. It is linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain (or Samuin), which celebrates the end of the “lighter half” of the year (seasonally, it means the end of summer) and the beginning of the “darker half” (in Halloween terms, it means ghosts and ghouls and goblins, oh my!).  Ancient Celts believed that the border between our own world and the other world became thin during this festival, allowing spirits (both nice and evil) to move back and forth. In order to ward off the harmful ones, people began wearing costumes and masks, disguising themselves as someone evil in order to avoid harm. And thus, our modern day celebration of Halloween (derived from “all hallows evening”) was born.

Begrudgingly setting aside the scary factor, I will argue that Halloween has one particular perk: you can be anyone or anything – you don’t have to know who you are or even have a sense of who you want to be. When you’re little, you can dress up as your favorite movie character (Dorothy Parker, complete with a little brother playing Toto) or your favorite animal (in the case of my sixth-grade self, a cow, complete with a pink bow and bell around my neck).

As you grow up, Halloween is an excuse to dress outside the box and push social boundaries a bit more. As Mean Girls taught us so many years ago (before LiLo’s first meltdown…and her second and third), it’s the one day each year when “a girl can dress like a total slut, and no other girls can say anything about it.” If you’re dating someone, you may choose to go the route of couple costumes. Or if your boyfriend has any say in the decision, you may very well forego that option.  Either way, the holiday is more about tricking than treating: pumpkin ale and parties, haunted houses and horror flicks.

In fact, my roommate and I are throwing a Halloween party tonight. I woke up this morning with spider webs creeping down the banister and a witch flying into our backdoor (which means one less scary creature roaming around). We’ve been so focused on party planning that our homemade costumes have yet to be completed. Plenty of time left, right?

Regardless of your age (and again setting aside that scary factor), the holiday is about embracing the beginning of fall (the “darker half” of the year), exploring the pumpkin patch before carving the perfect jack-o-lantern, and eating candy until your belly aches. Happy Halloween!

the plastics do halloween oh-so-well - Mean Girls (2004)

can you guess what we're going to be tonight?

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Puppy Pleasures

27 Oct

Whoever said you can’t buy happiness, forgot little puppies. – Gene Hill

From the time that I returned home from the hospital, I had a dog. During naptimes, Cousteau would look over my crib. He never warmed up to other kids, but for whatever reason, it was okay that I interrupted his world. Except for one unfortunate incident (when I crawled into his territory underneath my parent’s bed), he never growled or snapped at me, always being my protector.

good dog, cousteau!

After Cousteau moved on to dog heaven, another furry creature came into my life: our yellow Labrador Retriever, Travis.  When my brother was 18 months old, my parents decided it was time to get another dog. Being the older sibling, I had the honor of accompanying my dad to pick up our newest addition.  On our drive home, I accidentally dropped the six-week-old squirming puppy, and he spent the rest of the trip trapped under the seat. So much for making a good first impression.

From the start, my brother and Travis were the best of friends. Colin was quite a rambunctious and adventurous child, often climbing on our dog’s back or crawling into his crate with him. Thankfully, he was an extremely patient dog and understood that his boy pulled on his ears and tail with unshakeable love. Despite their unbreakable bond, Travis was very much a family dog. Whenever I was having a bad day, I wanted nothing more than to sit on our dock with Travis by my side.

Like most Labs, Travis had a passion for the water – something that he shared with the rest of my family, my dad in particular.  He went for his first swim at only four months old, falling into the lake while playing too close to the edge of the dock. From then on, it was hard to tear him away from the water. He could swim for hours, retrieving dummy after dummy and diving deep for sunken tennis balls. Even after arthritis claimed his limberness, he would still amble down the boat ramp next to our house and go for his morning dip.

Ironically, we got a second dog on Travis’s fourteenth birthday. Lucy came into our lives by surprise, but she was always meant to be with us. Lucy’s personality reflects her being a rescued dog: she focuses entirely on pleasing you, never wanting to disappoint or upset you and always excited to be with you. She is quite attached to my mother, often hiding under her desk while Mom is doing work. Perhaps she knows that it’s her responsibility to fill that empty nest that my brother and I left behind.

For a few months, Lucy helped to revive Travis, giving a very old dog a bit more spark in his last weeks. She always knew that he was the alpha and respected that we were his family first and foremost. After he passed away, she spent days aimlessly wandering around our backyard and looking for her missing friend. Little did she know that, soon enough, a very rowdy puppy would be bounding into her peaceful world.

lucy & travis - happy campers at the beach

It should come as no surprise, then, that three months into my tenure in the real world, I got my own dog. Milly changed my whole life – completely for the better. That’s not to say it was always easy. I picked Milly up in Manila, Indiana a mere 10 days before I packed up and moved into a new apartment in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. Surviving that brutal winter with a yet-to-be-housebroken puppy certainly tested my limits, but together, we managed just fine.

Milly has taught me patience (something I’m still learning) – it’s pretty hard to argue with a stubborn puppy. She has taught me greater fiscal accountability – from her purchase price (equivalent to that pink pair of Louboutins that I’ve been lusting after) to all of her accessories, I have to budget. She has taught me responsibility – she relies on me for everything from bathroom breaks and dinnertime to long walks and playtime. And in return for treats and toys, she gives me unconditional love and countless smiles. Pretty great exchange if you ask me.

my sweet baby girl - 10 weeks old

Storytime

26 Oct

I do not claim that I can tell a story as it ought to be told. I only claim to know how a story ought to be told. – Mark Twain

Spending a majority of my time with toddlers, I’ve been reminded of the simple pleasures of storytelling.  Storytime can be anytime – and it’s always my favorite time with little ones. On Sunday mornings in the church nursery, I’ll often read book after book to giggly little boys and girls, each waiting patiently for their turn to pick out the story and sit on my lap. If that doesn’t make you feel pretty special, I don’t know what will.

Yesterday, a three-year-old told me that her books were for “bed times,” so no, we could not read them in the middle of a Monday afternoon. For many children, stories and sleep are one and the same. And maybe they’re on to something – it is a calming way to slow down and finish a busy day. When my brother and I were younger, we always read stories before going to sleep.  Perhaps, that is why I still read myself to sleep, often falling asleep with my book laid open on my belly.

To me, the quintessential children’s book is Goodnight Moon. During this past summer, I must have read it at least 100 times. I never get tired of the simple rhymes describing a bunny’s bedtime ritual of saying good night to the objects in his room. In fact, this story inspired one particularly adorable two-year-old to give good night kisses to the paintings, books and pillows in his New York City apartment. I believe that every child should have a copy of Goodnight Moon on his or her nightstand, ending each day by saying good night to two little kittens and a pair of mittens.

written by Margaret Wise Brown and published in 1947, Goodnight Moon remains popular today.

As an adult, I love hearing stories told by my parents and grandparents. Not only is it a link to their past, but it’s a link to my family’s legacy, a link to where we’ve been. Of all my relatives, Grandpa Baker loves to tell stories the most.  Not a phone call, family reunion or Christmas Eve goes by without one of his memories revealed. My favorite story that he tells is about meeting my grandmother in a haystack when they were children. Maybe true love is easier than finding a needle in a haystack.

For me, writing is a way to tell my story. Even if it never makes it beyond the pages of my journal and no one is listening or reading, it’s still being told. When I sit down to write, all the ideas bouncing around in my head become a bit more still, allowing life to make a bit more sense, even if only for a moment. Whether it be told pen to page or out loud, in many ways, storytelling helps to make yourself more understood, more connected to your world.

i've always loved a story before bedtime!

Faking It

25 Oct

Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink the wild air. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

My friends give me a hard time when I “claim” to like the outdoors, but really, I do. I may be a girly girl, but with a father and brother like mine, I often traded in my baby dolls and fashion magazines for baseballs and fishing poles (the proof is in the picture).

quite proud of myself

Having lived in the same house since I was three years old, I’ve been spoiled by the luxury of having a lake in my backyard. It not only means a permanently beautiful view (particularly during this time of year) but also hot summer days spent out on the boat. Water skiing, tubing, kneeboarding, wakeboarding – you name it, I’ve done it, though not always successfully.

When my brother and I were younger, we, along with my cousin, used to spend a week in Kentucky with our paternal grandparents. The highlight of this week was always the night or two that we spent camping at Levi Jackson State Park.  It was on this camping trip that I first peed without using toilet paper (a milestone in this girl’s life) and that my brother learned that “real” bacon is quite different from the turkey bacon in our freezer at home.

When my parents weren’t shipping us off to Camp Grandparents, they took us on amazing family vacations, but expensive hotels and spa weekends were not on the itinerary. Instead, we spent two weeks driving through British Columbia, Canada, hiking up glaciers (yes, even in the summertime) and watching a brown bear out our hotel window.  Or, after a 45-minute ride on a very small plane (just enough room for the pilot and my family of four), we spent a week living in a one-bedroom apartment in Cat Cay, Bahamas while my daddy served as the island’s doctor for the duration of our stay. Each winter, we bundled up and hauled our snow ski gear out west, spending a week or so on the slopes in Utah or Colorado.

My favorite trip was one that we took every summer throughout my middle school and high school years: we spent a week at a dude ranch in Encampment, Wyoming. The A Bar A is a place so remote that the driveway is twenty miles long, cell phone service is non-existent and the Internet is limited to one very slow dial-up connection.  We stayed in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom cabin, complete with the occasionally pet bat (much to the dismay of my mother).  We spent our days horseback riding, fly fishing and hiking. We spent our nights dining at a five-star restaurant (the one “plush” factor of the trip), singing around a campfire and just enjoying each other’s company.

going for a morning ride at the ranch

Having spent the past two years enjoying the big city life, my outdoorsiness had nearly been put to rest.  However, it was recently put to the test when I visited my certain someone in Colorado. Dating someone who inarguably loves all things outdoors means that, more often than not, I have to throw on my baseball cap and put my best sneaker forward.  Hiking a two-mile trail and gaining 2,000 feet in altitude may not have been my most graceful moment or the most relaxing part of my five-day visit, but the view was certainly worthwhile.

So, as I’ve done for the past 24 years and in spite of protests from my friends, I’ll continue to embrace my inner outdoors(wo)men, give or take a few complaints and post-hike pedicures.

well worth the complaining (for ross too, i hope)

Like Mother, Like Daughter

20 Oct

A daughter is a mother’s gender partner, her closest ally in the family confederacy, an extension of her self.  And mothers are their daughters’ role model, their biological and emotional road map, the arbiter of all their relationships. – Victoria Secunda

I have always admired my mother for numerous reasons, one of those being her sense of fashion. She knows what works for her body type, sticks to colors that highlight her complexion, and always dresses first and foremost for herself. And because I look just like her (no, really – exactly like her), I learned at an early age to have great self-awareness when presenting myself to the world.

mama's mini me

Beyond her wide wardrobe selection, my mother has a fabulous closet to fill. Boxes of shoes stacked neatly on the shelves, belts draped purposefully over hooks, clothes organized according to type, color and season – it’s any little (or big) girl’s dream world. Already being an organized individual, her closet showed me how to extend my need for order into my love for fashion. For instance, despite my propensity to move at least once a year and to my father’s disbelief, I have somehow managed to keep nearly all of my shoeboxes. A girl’s got to have priorities, right?

Making the process of getting ready exceptionally easy, her closet is connected to the bathroom that my parents share.  She makes the most of her personal space: elegant perfume bottles, gold accents, a soft pink stool with rose detailing along the legs. It is the ideal spot for any woman to start her day.  I recently experienced déjà vu as I sat at her vanity and applied my make-up, only this time I was a grown woman going through my usual morning routine as opposed to a daughter testing adult waters with her mother’s make-up collection.

Over the years, my mom has bestowed upon me enough life lessons to last, well, a lifetime. She taught me that true style means that your outer appearance is a reflection of your inner self.  A girl must appreciate the basics and not fall victim to fleeting trends. When it comes to make-up, I tend to recreate a natural look – after all, blush and mascara and lip gloss is meant to accent your already beautiful features, not cover-up who you are. Beyond preparing to present myself to the world, she has shown me to face each day with confidence and a smile, to turn to God in good and troubled times, and to always, always remember that she is just a phone call away.

In return, I believe that I have taught her a few things as well.  Focusing on fashion, I have shown her the worth of buying one nice “forever” item, momentarily disregarding the expensive cost, rather than ten similar pieces that may or may not fulfill one’s quest for the perfect black pumps or season-friendly cashmere cardigan. Ultimately, the money spent adds up to nearly the same total, but your return on investment is quite improved if the investment is worth it. Plus, if you remember the all-important equation of cost per wear, that hard-to-ignore price tag will be more than reasonable before you know it.

I see bits and pieces of this shared wisdom shine through our relationship more and more each day. Last winter, during one of our many daily phone calls, my mom expressed genuine excitement over a new handbag she ordered for me as a Christmas present. Not to say she would not have discovered the wonders of Lauren Merkin (and Tory Burch and Michael Kors…) without my help, but it’s nice to know that I have enriched her life in a way similar to how she has enriched mine – at least when it comes to the world of fashion.

Mom and I found another commonality in our shared love for this handbag - Ava clutch by Lauren Merkin.

Skinned Knees and Broken Hearts

19 Oct

If you want the rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain. – Dolly Parton

It seems like our injuries get more painful and harder to manage with age.  From a skinned knee to a broken heart, how does a girl cope with all that hurt? Practice certainly doesn’t make perfect; in fact, when it comes to love lost, it may make things that much trickier.  If only there were a big enough band-aid, preferably Hello Kitty-themed and accompanied by kisses.

I’ve had a million skinned knees and one broken heart in my life – and I’ve got the scars to prove it. The scar on my left knee is a forever reminder of my childhood pet, a yellow Labrador retriever named Travis. An adamant fetcher, he ran right through me, throwing me up in the air before I tumbled down my backyard’s slope. He was in dogged pursuit of a recently-thrown tennis ball, and I was an easily surmountable obstacle.

Now, the wounds on my right knee are solely the fault of my brother; I accept no responsibility. Three years younger and over a foot taller than me, he has tested my limits since we were little kids.  He once dared me to roller blade down the boat ramp next my house.  As should be expected, I lost my balance by the end of that steep hill, skidded through the gravel and crashed right into the water. As tears streamed down my face, my patient father dug the gravel out of my knee, but the remaining marks have proven more difficult to erase.

The scars of a broken heart are a little bit harder to assess.  In the beginning, I remember waking up every morning and hoping that I loved him a little less by the end of the day, that I would feel a little less broken when fell asleep that night. Eventually, I picked up all the pieces, but then I spent months struggling with how to put them back together.  For a long time, I thought that I would never be unbroken again. Although I’ll never forget those feelings of heartache – after all, they affected my life for quite some time and changed who I am – I’m whole again, healed and happy. Even in love.

Healing, from whatever ailment, requires baby steps and deep breaths. We learn from our mistakes and never forget because of our scars. It’s easier to let fear hold us back, but we must focus on moving forward – on lacing up those roller blades again or opening ourselves up to a new relationship. Because of those skinned knees and broken hearts, the successful attempts down that hill and the falling in love feel fulfilling, worthwhile, that much better than the previous pain.

me and travis, the first man to sweep me off my feet

iPad? iWon’t.

18 Oct

The human heart has hidden treasures, In secret kept, in silence sealed; The thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures, whose charms were broken if revealed. – Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

Call me sentimental, but I love the feel, the smell, the very idea of a book. Granted, my family includes a long list of librarians and teachers, so perhaps this love has been instilled in me since I was a small child. Not a Christmas has passed without at least one book being gifted. Not a room has been lived in without at least one bookshelf filled to the brim with literary treasures of past and present.

In addition to my love for books, I also love to write. As a little girl, I incessantly wrote stories, carefully stapling two pieces of matching construction paper together to protect the outpouring of my innocent imagination. Even as a child, I paid attention to the different facets of a book – the title page, the dedication page, the author’s biography. I understood the importance of which font to use (and often changed my handwriting in an effort to capture this detail) and the effect of the cover picture (we’re taught not to judge a book by its cover, but more often than not, first impressions rely entirely on appearances). Would this sort of appreciation have been fostered in my younger years had books been so easily replaced by technology?

One of my most prized possessions is my mother’s copy of Jane Eyre, which she first read in college.  Being one of my favorite books (along with The Great Gatsby), I’ve reread this story more times than I can count. As much as I adore the characters and the complications that they encounter and gracefully overcome, the faded green cover, the somewhat-broken binding and the worn-in pages unequivocally entrance me as well.  An iPad can capture the words and the wonderfulness enclosed in a book, but it simply cannot reproduce the book itself.

a few of my favorites

Having recently taken a long weekend trip (the best of my life, thanks to a certain someone, and also the reason for my blog-writing absence), I am even more intrigued by this “magical and revolutionary product” (Apple’s words, not mine). So, being the inquisitive girl that I am (just ask my boyfriend – I pose more questions that he ever thought possible), I started asking strangers in the airport about their choice to purchase an iPad. What makes it so great?

To my relief, here’s what I found: Reading wasn’t the number one reason for using an iPad. Yes, I talked to plenty of people who loved to read and initially bought the device for this purpose. But an iPad also allows you to sync your calendars and easily keep track of your busy life, play an episode of Olivia for your screaming child and manage a much-needed packing list before a vacation – all with the simple touch of a screen. While a laptop can do all these things as well, an iPad is more compact and comes equipped with Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi + 3G, making it both very transportable and accessible.

All and all, an iPad is more of an entertainment device than a stand-in for books, magazines and newspapers. Still, it just doesn’t sit right with me. What if, because of advancements in this sort of technology, books, magazines and newspapers someday become obsolete? Hoping to be a published author myself, (my parents always taught me to dream big), I would hate to think that my stories would never sit on bookshelves, never be shared among friends, never be flipped through with anticipation about what lies on the next page.

Recently, as I watched a friend quickly fill her suitcase and hastily head to the airport, I experienced a moment’s worth of jealously as she topped off her carry-on with an iPad. No need to cram magazines into an already over-stuffed bag. No need to question whether three novels are enough to sustain a week’s worth of time in the sun. No need to debate bringing along your laptop. An iPad is easier, smaller, smarter, quicker to pack. But it just isn’t the same.

the innovative ipad