26 and talented

22 Aug DSC00396

I used to get anxious about the passage of time growing up, especially in the summer. My birthday is toward the end of July, so after the last gift was ripped open and the thank-you notes had been sent, summer was almost over. It meant exchanging my carefree days at the pool for homework-filled nights after school.

As an adult, I don’t feel that same anxiety because summer doesn’t really mean anything other than hotter temperatures on my way to and from work. But I’ve managed to find other ways to resent the passage of time. I mentioned before that I struggle with my weight, and in the last few years I have measured months and years by my weight gains or losses.

Annual doctors’ appointments stressed me out because I knew I’d gained weight since the last visit. I dreaded stepping on the scale and watching the nurse record a higher number on my file. Another year and no weight lost, I’d think, saddened that I let another year slip away from me. Not only had I not lost any weight, but I gained some. And I’d leave the doctor’s office heavy in both body and mind.

Disappointed in myself, I’d promise that next year would be different. It rarely was.

So by the time I had aged out of feeling the back-to-school dread on my birthday, I began feeling the I-still-haven’t-lost-any-weight dread each year. Don’t get me wrong—I am not Mopey McMoperson on my birthday. I love birthdays! Presents and spending time with friends and family are the best! But the weight thing was always just, well, weighing on my mind. (Sorry. Had to.)

And then something changed.

I joined Weight Watchers in May, and after a few months I realized that I was looking forward to the end of every week, every month, when the number on the scale would drop lower and lower. I recently turned 26, and I can honestly say that I felt no anxiety whatsoever about turning another year older. I’m getting healthy and things in my life are generally going in the right direction.

After nearly four months, I have lost a little more than 21 pounds. In the past when I’ve tried to lose weight, I would get to a milestone like 20 or 25 pounds and feel like I just had so much more to lose that I’d get overwhelmed and give up. But something about this time is different. I feel like I’m just getting started and I can’t wait to keep going. I can’t wait to see where I am in another month—or what the nurse will write in my file at my next annual appointment.

In high school, I did Weight Watchers with my mom. We supported each other, but one day she saw an episode of Oprah where a woman was telling mothers that they shouldn’t focus so much on their daughters’ weight or physical attributes, but rather on their strengths and talents as a person. So she took her advice (maybe a little too literally) and as I lost more weight, she began telling me how talented I’d become. It became a running joke with us, and one day she bought me this bowl.


Whenever I lose weight, I think of my mom saying, “You look so talented today!” Or, “that dress makes you look so talented!” The last few months I’ve become so talented that I’ve managed to drop a pant size.

Wandering into DIY territory

17 Jul DSC00341

Are you guys on Pinterest? If you’re planning a wedding, redecorating your room, or doing anything at all that might involve keeping track of visual ideas (a dress here, pretty wall color and rug combo there), get on Pinterest. It’s fabulous.

I’m not currently planning any particular event or project, but I log on every few days to scroll through ideas and fun DIY projects I could do around my apartment. The idea is to curate your own pin boards of any category you want, whether it’s home décor, shoes, wedding table settings or places you’d like to travel. You can make a board for anything, and you can follow anyone else’s boards if you find them inspiring.

I’ve got boards for decorating and cute accessories – and if I’m particularly bored (no pun intended), I’ve got a “daydreaming” board for wedding dresses. But I didn’t tell you that.

Wouldn't this little guy be so adorable in bright turquoise?

Since moving into my current apartment, I’ve been bitten by the DIY bug. (See also: the Etsy bug). I haven’t done a ton of projects, but I’ve started to see things in a new way, like, I could spray paint that turquoise and it would be EFFING ADORABLE. I haven’t bought any paint yet because I’m kind of scared, but I’m considering it. Any tips for spray-painting a metal lamp base?

After I moved in, my dad found an old seat-less chair in the attic that matched an antique desk I have, so he fashioned a seat for it and I brought it back from Charlotte. It just needed a cushion and some fabric. I googled fabric stores in Richmond and found an independent store a few blocks away called u-fab, where I found a nice, sturdy dusty brown/cream coral patterned fabric for $8/yard. There was only a yard and a half left, so the guy just gave me the rest for $8. Not bad.

Not really knowing what I was doing, I just went for it and re-cushioned the chair with the help of google and my friend Haley’s staple gun. I’m pretty proud of my first try, although I think it’s safe to say my cushion is a bit thick. I’ll re-do it if I get bored with the brown coral fabric, but I like it for now.

Do any of you follow any good DIY blogs? Here in Richmond, there’s a family that’s become quasi-famous (in the blogosphere, anyway) for their DIY home blog, Young House Love. They’re also on Pinterest. They usually have some pretty great ideas and tips for redecorating.

Another blog I found is Nesting Place (also on Pinterest) and from what I can tell, she’s based in Charlotte. Her blog is more inspiration to improve your home than directions to reupholster your couch, and I love it. Her motto is, “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.”

I’m not really interested in becoming a DIY blogger, but I am interested in making my home beautiful. I want to be happy where I live, and since I’m on a tight budget, finding quirky decorating ideas and doing projects myself is how I can best do that.

The joys of renting

15 Jul

At first I thought I wasn’t cleaning my sink well enough, or taking out the trash often enough. But when I woke up one night with a buzzing in my ear, I knew there was a bigger problem than my kitchen’s cleanliness.

Earlier this summer, my apartment became overrun with gnats, fruit flies, whatever you want to call them. Tiny little black bugs were everywhere. They flew around my kitchen and they dotted my shower curtain and bathtub. I swatted at them while I watched Parks & Recreation. Around this same time, my apartment was also starting to smell dank, damp and musty, like a basement. I didn’t put the two together though.

Living with so many bugs flying around was a nightmare and began to wear on my sanity. I googled tips for getting rid of gnats, which included vinegar traps (didn’t work) and soap traps (worked). I learned that gnats can’t resist a bowl of sudsy water. They get trapped in the suds and die. Sort of similar to the way spider webs trap bugs? You can start calling me Charlotte.

I began a nightly ritual for about a week or two of leaving out two to three bowls of soapy water in the sink. In the morning the suds had disappeared, but there were about a dozen or so dead gnats in the bottom of each bowl of water. I’d dump them out, and repeat. (If you’re good at math, you’ll know that meant I was getting rid of anywhere from 20-40 gnats each night. Yep. Gross.)

After doing my laundry one afternoon in my actual basement, which had also become noticeably smelly and musty, I realized there were significantly more gnats down there than had become my roommates upstairs. Clearly this was not just the result of an overflowing trashcan.

I called my maintenance guy, who came out the next day and fogged the basement. He said he thought the source might have been an old fridge down there, left long ago by someone else, and that the problem should get better. It did, slightly, over the weekend. Then it got worse.

A few days after the basement fog, I was inspecting things around my apartment and realized that around my floor vents were hundreds of black specks—dead gnats from the fog that came up through my vents when I ran the A/C. Disgusted, I vacuumed them up, combing my floors for more piles. Then started going after the still-living gnats flying around. “Gotcha, bitch!” I’d think each time I sucked one up. For a moment, I thought I was in the clear. But an hour later, it was worse than before.

I demanded an exterminator come out. He and maintenance guy quickly learned the fridge was not the source and said they needed to look for something “stagnant.” The search took them out of the basement, which is in the rear of the building, and instead into the crawl space that is in the front of the building—directly beneath my unit.

Maintenance guy alerted me that apparently, at some point in the past (months? years? Before my time, he said), faulty plumbing had created a sewage blockage in the pipes under my apartment. Keep in mind this was right around the time the weather began getting very hot. Just let that sink in.

“I don’t want to use the word cesspool,” he said, “… but it was pretty bad.”

It took about a week, but plumbers and exterminators fixed the pipes and cleaned up the cesspool. I still had plenty of dead gnats to vacuum up after I got back in my apartment, but the nightmare, the smell, the soap bowls and the paranoia of feeling like bugs were everywhere were all gone.

Ah, the joys of renting. I couldn’t have prevented—or even known about—the shitstorm I was living on top of, but at least I didn’t have to pay for its cleanup.

Channeling J. Hud

6 Jun DSC00367

I can’t remember a time when I was satisfied with my weight. I’ve been more or less overweight my entire adult life. My self-discipline comes and goes, but most of the time it goes. (Like how I just scarfed down a honking slice of peanut butter pie topped with fudge for dessert at lunch. Hey, it was a special occasion.)

But now, I’m determined—aside from the pie. Not really for any reason other than I’m tired of my clothes being too tight, yet again. Oh and also because of Jennifer Hudson. Weight Watchers really hit it big with her. What a thinspiration!

The night Obama announced that Bin Laden was dead (a weird event to associate with weight loss, I know), I was trolling the Internet before the press conference and happened upon a Jennifer Hudson WW ad. I’d been toying with the idea of joining again (I did the program in high school and lost about 20 pounds), and for some reason at that moment I was hit with a wave of inspiration and motivation.

She just looks so fabulous, you know? I want to look that fabulous! I want to feel pretty and have smaller boobs and a bony collarbone and arms that don’t belong on a lunch lady. Plus, I am really tired of being the fat bridesmaid.

Five weeks later, I’ve lost 9 pounds so far and it feels great. Seeing the number on the scale decrease week after week, it’s extremely satisfying. (Especially on my super cute new blue scale.) I’m doing the program completely online, which I think will help me stick with it. In high school, going to the weekly meetings became a chore. But with the online system, I can track my weight, activity and everything I eat without carrying a notebook around. For you doubters—I really can’t stress enough how much of a difference it makes to keep track of what you eat.

I’m getting better about making healthy food choices, but I’m still having trouble getting into an exercise regimen. So I have to ask, how do you stick to your routines? It’s excruciating for me to get up early, but the more weeks that go by without any significant exercise, the more I think I might have to commit to a morning workout.

Ugh. Wish me luck!

Guts

5 Jun

A quick follow-up to that last post: even when you have self-discipline and a voice to share, you can still lack inspiration or be plagued by uncertainty. But consider this:

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
Sylvia Plath

Mustering some self-discipline

5 Jun

I was lying in bed recently thinking about procrastination, self-discipline, and how I don’t blog regularly anymore. When I started this blog more than two years ago, I wrote 19 posts in the first month. I’ve barely written 19 since then.

So I had the idea to write a post about why I don’t blog much (“That’s so postmodern” –B), which is basically because I procrastinate and then ultimately stopped writing for myself. But lying in bed I thought, “eh, I’ll do it tomorrow.” Ugh, the irony.

Despite a headache that felt as if someone was scooping out the inside of my head with a spoon—the way you prepare a pumpkin for carving—I lumbered out of bed to write a few paragraphs. As writers know, it never, ever works to put off an idea. You won’t remember it. You tell yourself you’ll remember it. You never do. Get up and write the damn thing down.

Catherine: 1. Procrastination: 745,302,498.

I don’t really have a lot of self-discipline. It’s why I procrastinate, why I have to force myself out of bed every morning, why I haven’t exercised routinely in two years and—you see where I’m going with this—why I don’t blog much. It’s hard for me to get into a routine, for some reason. Sure, it sounds perfectly reasonable to say I’m going to get up at 6 every morning, go for a jog, get ready for work, go to work, come home, make dinner, relax, blog.

But that sounds boring.

When I do develop a routine, something goes awry and I lack the self-discipline to keep it up. Like when I started a weight loss program two years ago and lost 15 pounds, then I lost my job. (And some other shit happened.) So long, daily workouts. Hello, therapy ice cream. And queso dip. And fruit snacks. And pad Thai.

During my time of career exploration, I started this blog. I got into a routine of sorts: look for jobs, write, look for jobs, file for unemployment. But then I got a new job, and although I vowed to continue detailing my rural gallivanting, the blog became more and more neglected. Part of that was self-discipline. I’d become busy with a new job and new life and I didn’t make the time to write (or exercise, for that matter). But another part was something I wasn’t expecting: the conditions of my new job.

For almost two years, I covered politics. I developed a very strong love-hate relationship with this beat. Being a political writer helped me hone my reporting skills and presented me with enviable opportunities. I covered Sarah Palin and a rally with President Obama. I tracked money and promises made. Governors, senators and congressmen knew my name. It was some of the most exciting and fulfilling work I’ve ever done. But politics also made me face the real-world implications of what I wrote more than I ever had before.

In past jobs, I can confidently say that most of my stories were… pleasant. In politics, even if a story is generally pleasant, the reaction it garners is not. You’re either too easy on someone or you’re too hard on them. Readers love to tell you how to do your job, especially if they think you’re out to get—or help—someone. Suddenly, everything you say and do becomes subject for online fodder along with the people you cover.

I received hate mail in every form: snail mail, voice mails, emails, tweets and blog posts. On one guy’s blog, he complained about me so often that he created a tag just for my name. That’s when you know you’ve made it! Readers would analyze the wording in headlines and the grammar in stories (honestly), trying to wrap me into their conspiracy theories.

Having come from a town where I felt supported by my readers in my columns and features, the reaction to my political coverage was jarring. Slowly, I began to retreat. Not in my reporting, but in my personal presence online. I posted to facebook less, rarely tweeted on my personal account and this blog virtually dropped off my radar. I wanted to keep my online social life to a minimum, lest I gave the wannabe local pundits more fuel.

When I stopped writing for myself, my professional writing began to feel cold and mechanical. Some days I was a robot, plugging the facts into sentences, sentences into a story, story into the paper. Lather, rinse, repeat. I felt detached from my work, even though the intensity, excitement and stress were peaking. I was disappointed when I didn’t win any awards for my political coverage, but part of me knew why. After a certain point, my heart wasn’t in it anymore.

That’s when I started looking for a new job.

I love writing about other people, but I realized I had begun writing for other people. I was writing for my editor, or for the community to prove I wasn’t partisan, or for bigger papers in hopes of getting noticed. I was trying to write how I thought political reporters were supposed to write, but it wasn’t me. I’d stopped writing for myself. I’d lost my voice.

A few people will tell me that’s absurd. I received a lot of positive feedback from journalists whose opinions I respected. After I announced I was leaving, I received dozens of emails and notes from those whom I covered and worked with, praising my work in the community. I felt better about the energy, time and dedication I gave to that paper. But I still felt like I needed to find my voice.

Putting my thoughts down on the keyboard is a therapy of sorts for me. Writing for yourself is introspective; it forces you to be real and be true and be honest. That’s why it’s so hard—and why it’s so easy to quit. It takes inspiration and self-discipline (ugh), but I’m hoping to make this blog a regular part of my life again. It’s a part that I’ve been missing.

I’m taking a break from journalism (though not from writing professionally) at the moment, but I hope to return someday. Until then, I’m enjoying life in a fabulous city, with plenty of inspiration for future posts.

Makeover!

6 May dsc099003.jpg

In keeping with Tim Gunn’s life lessons (see tagline above), I decided it was time to make this blog as fabulous as possible. Which meant a long-overdue makeover. Not a Glamour Shots makeover, a classy makeover. If you’re wondering, the picture above is of a handful of objects on my mantle: an oversized iron key, some picture frames, a mercury glass candle votive and a yellow ceramic candle votive. I had a hard time choosing the perfect masthead image, so I may change it out if I find something better. But I like it for now.

If you’ve been to my apartment, you know I love color. Since I can’t paint the walls, I try to brighten things up in my decor with lots of bright greens, purples, yellows and blues. So I really wanted to try to incorporate that into my blog. I tried with this detail picture of some fantastic blue glass on my mantle and the aforementioned yellow ceramic votive, but it didn’t quite turn out.

I realized that when cropped so closely, you couldn’t tell what it was at all and it ended up looking like the generic masthead pictures you get when you start up a blog. Obviously I needed something better.

So, what do you think? Like the new look? Would the Gunn approve?

Spring 2011 Market Openings! | RVANews

6 May

I am VERY excited about this. Hooray for spring in Richmond!

Spring 2011 Market Openings! | RVANews.

One of my favorite things about living in smaller, more rural towns were their farmer’s markets. I felt like such a grown-up — waking up early on a Saturday and walking through town, a canvas bag in hand, ready to buy my week’s worth of fresh, local produce. I simply cannot get enough squash in the summer.

Going to the downtown market always made me feel like a part of the town, too. I’d see people I knew and think, “I know people here! And people know me!” It sounds silly, but when you’re a new resident somewhere, a friendly face can go a long way. And although I have my share of friends in Richmond, I’m eager to feel more like a part of the local community. Which is why I’m so excited that despite living in an urban part of the city, markets are plentiful.

On a balmy evening earlier this week I went for a walk in the Fan, armed with my new green sturdy canvas tote. It was around 7:30, so the cute shops in my neighborhood were closed, but the Strawberry Street Market stays open late and I bought a few apples and a falafel wrap for dinner. As I peered into darkened windows, I was most excited about returning to the area this Saturday morning when more shops would be open amid vendors at the annual Strawberry Street Festival. (In addition to markets, Richmonders LOVE their festivals.)

I just found out about this festival last week and although it’s hosted by the local elementary school (and geared toward families), I’m pumped.

(Have I mentioned I love this town?)

Question for RVA residents: which market is best? Leave it in the comments.

Watch out, RVA

11 Apr

A few months ago, I left Danville for the “big city” of Richmond, yet I recently found myself at Phil’s Continental Lounge, the most blue-collar bar in the west end. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I was back in Danville.

Let me back up a bit. On New Year’s Day, I moved to Richmond for a communications job at my alma mater. After three loyal years of newspaper service in Danville and Culpeper, I decided it was time to move on.

The seductive world of politics kept me in Danville—and in journalism—for a while, but even so I began to feel that familiar itch to do something new, something different. Working at newspapers brought me immeasurable professional and life experience, but I (and my editors) always knew those posts weren’t permanent for me.

I’d wanted to move back to Richmond ever since graduation. Something about this city calls to me, although I’m not sure what exactly—the history, the architecture, the je ne sais quoi, the culture. Also: the food! The baseball! People from smaller towns might scoff at Richmond for its hazards; others from bigger cities might scoff at it for its shortcomings. But I suppose that’s not specific to this city.

For three and a half years I longed to move here. To live and work here as an adult, on my own, enjoying the city. Of course it didn’t hurt that I had friends, family and a fabulous boyfriend here, too.

I don’t mean to imply I was unhappy before; Culpeper and Danville will forever occupy prime real estate in my heart. But they were always stops on my way back to Richmond.

And now I’m here.

It took me a few weeks of settling in before I believed that I actually lived here and wasn’t just spending a long weekend visiting B and friends. “I live here!” I’d think. No more long distance dating, no more going through two tanks of gas a week, no more anxiety because someone hated a story I’d written. Of course, that also meant no more getting access to [insert politician’s name here] at a moment’s notice, no more Daily Farmer’s Market—and—no more Erma’s.

Perhaps that’s why I found myself at Phil’s, a working man’s bar, which unfortunately will be no more. Even if I’m in a big(ger) city, I still seek out those places with character. (Of course, I was also at Phil’s because it’s a UR hub and the Spiders played that night in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in 23 years. We lost—but VCU kept Richmond humming with hoops fever through the Final Four.)

Places like Phil’s tucked into the high-end Grove and Libby neighborhood are what make Richmond stand out among other, bigger, cities. Richmond is able to (almost) seamlessly blend the new with the old—the hipster hangouts and upscale boutiques with the longstanding local institutions.

Sometimes it doesn’t work—like trying to throw in that statue of Arthur Ashe with the likes of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. But most of the time it does. And hopefully it’ll work with a twenty-something writer living in a 1940s row house* in the Fan.

Here’s to my life Richmond.

*I have absolutely no idea when this house was built.**

**Update: see comment below.

This is what brought me back to my blog

28 Jul

All right. I know I’ve been gone a while. I wonder if any of my readers are still left? I don’t blame you if you’ve moved on. BUT if any of you are still out there… then please enjoy what brought me back from the recesses of the Internet to post on my blog:

Take one part Weezy (whom my boyfriend loves dearly, and only partly ironically)

One part (500) Days of Summer soundtrack (verifiably one of my favorite movies and soundtracks)

and you get:

(500) Days of Weezy.

Not all the songs are from the soundtrack (at least not my version), but most are. And the mash ups create a pretty phenomenal experience. Hooray for people who are good at mashing things up! (Although the creator, @mysickuncle, says “This is not a mashup album, this is an album about Wayne.”)

You’re welcome.

(h/t Vulture)

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