Wednesday, May 18, 2016

No Longer Newlyweds : Happy Two Years!

I am so thankful I get to do life with this man, my husband, my best friend. Life isn't always easy, but the struggle is worth it with him by my side and any burden is lessened because he shoulders it with me. When I can't find my strength, optimism or joy, he brings it to me  and makes me believe again. 

These past two years have been filled with more stress than perhaps most newlyweds face, with three moves (San Diego to Florida to New Jersey, and soon, to Alameda), just as many job changes, and other personal health obstacles we weren't necessarily prepared for. But we've also had marvelous adventures in new places and met some wonderful people; all great memories. Yet it's truly those mundane moments — whether we're having meaningful conversation over dinner or we're drinking wine on the couch, being silly and belly-laughing to our core  those are some of the times I cherish most. In the good times as well as the bad, I'm reminded why I love my sweet hubby so much and why I'm lucky to call him mine: He's my anchor, my cheerleader and my soft place to land. Truly, my everything. 

Two years down, forever to go.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Time Keeps Marching On

15 years. Losing him seems like a lifetime ago. At least, half my life ago. And while time marches on, making those intense bouts of grief fewer and far between — time doesn’t heal, you just learn to live with your loss and manage the pain that absence brings — it is also time that has me scared. Fifteen years later and I feel so far away from him, from the memories we made. They’re in my heart, forever, of course, but sometimes it feels like a foggy recollection of a movie I once saw, or a book I read long ago. I can’t always quickly recall the plot details, instead scouring the corner of my mind to piece them back together. How I wish I could manifest Euripides’ words: “Come back. Even as a shadow, even as a dream.” Just to feel close to my brother once again. 

I’m thankful for days like these, sad as they may be, because they force me to slow down. Reflect. Life gets so busy and it’s easy to let a long stretch of days or weeks go by without thinking of Jeremy. And I’m sure that’s what he would want, for us to get on with it. But it feels strangely good — alive, even — to remember him, to truly feel how much I still miss him, shed my tears and then, as he would want, get on with it. Not to live in the shadows of what could have been but to live in the promise of what is still to come. I’ve always felt a responsibility to honor Jeremy, taken from this world too soon at 26, by living my life to the fullest. So as much as I’d like to see him in my dreams, what is more important is what I do with my time — that all-too-fleeting thing — while I’m awake. 

I love you big brother, I miss you even when I forget to miss you, and I so wish you were here — for me, for Patrick, for mom and dad, and for all those who loved you. Know this: They still do.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

NYC Bucket List

The military life is one that is always on the move, and since we won't be in the New York City area indefinitely, I put together another bucket list (with a few repeats from my summer and fall lists) to tackle this coming spring and summer. Of course, you could live in NYC for years and not experience all the city has to offer, but I'm determined to see and do as much as I can so that when we do leave, I'll know the time we did have was well spent and full of adventure.

Without further ado, here is my ambitious bucket list, in no particular order:

  • Go ice skating while it is still wintry out! Nice rinks in Bryant Park or Prospect Park
  • See a Broadway show (recommendations welcome!)
  • Wine tasting in the North Fork of Long Island (or Brooklyn)
  • Explore Brooklyn Bridge Park and take a spin on Jane’s Carousel
  • Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset
  • Finally eat a Shake Shack burger (I’ve been to the original Shack in Madison Square Park, but I didn’t eat a burger!)
  • Picnic in Central Park and say hello to the animals at Central Park Zoo
  • Shop the Brooklyn Flea Market, and explore the surrounding Williamsburg neighborhood
  • Check out the Statue of Liberty, up close or during a harbor cruise (or even from the Staten Island Ferry!)
  • Tour the National September 11 Museum (we've been to the memorial but didn't go inside the museum)
  • Walk through the breathtaking St. Patrick’s Cathedral
  • Play date at Coney Island
  • Stroll through a city garden: Brooklyn Botanic Garden or New York Botanical Garden
  • Take in the view from the Top of the Rock
  • Chow down on some great New York-style pizza (I heard Lombardi’s on Spring Street or John’s of Bleecker Street are excellent)
  • Shop and dine at Eataly
  • Explore the shops and restaurants along the charming cobblestone-streets in the West Village 
  • Visit more museums! Especially the MoMA, again, to see the Jackson Pollock exhibition, and the Whitney Museum of American Art
  • Spend a sunny day exploring Prospect Park
  • Journey to Roosevelt Island and/or Governor’s Island
  • Attend a performance of The New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center
  • Eat an authentic Italian meal in Little Italy
  • Check out the New York Public Library
  • People watch in Washington Square Park and take tons of photos of the stately marble arch (OTTO, a Mario Batali pizzeria is nearby for lunch)
  • Head to the Jersey Shore for a beach day? Better yet, head to the Hamptons!
  • For G: Go to a Yankees game and attend a basketball game at Madison Square Garden

So much to do, so little time! Would you add anything to this list? Recommendations and tips happily accepted. While I may not hit every item on this list, it's exciting to dream about and look forward to the possibility of all these fun adventures. 

New York art prints (1, 2

Monday, February 1, 2016

Book Report : Big Magic

One of my (many!) New Year's resolutions for 2016 is to read one book a month — which may not sound like a big goal or commitment to some but it is for this gal, who has had many unopened books languishing on her shelves, collecting dust, for years. 

For January, I just finished up the last 20 pages of "Big Magic" by Elizabeth Gilbert and it was an enjoyable and inspirational read to say the least. I dogeared dozens of pages to return to when I need a boost of motivation. The book is chockfull of wisdom, delivered in Gilbert's trademark humor, about the joys and travails of creative living. Reading the book felt like sitting down with a good friend who gets you, a friend who truly understands the difficulties you are facing and listens patiently, but then, knowing all the greatness you are capable of, gives you a swift kick in the ass. (Followed up by a warm hug.) 

"Big Magic" is all about getting past the fear of living creatively, of making things, whatever that may be, and putting them out there for the world to see — and, inevitably, judge. Throughout the 273 pages, Gilbert stresses that your creative expression is important, but not that important, and should be taken seriously, but not too seriously. We have to accept these paradoxes and make space in our creative hearts and minds for fun. She teaches that inspiration is all around us, just waiting to work within us if we let it. And if you fail, well, that's OK. But don't give up; just move on and get back to work. Why? Because we love it and creativity loves us. The work may not always be successful, but it will always feed our souls.

Here are some of my favorite quotes, taken from those dogeared pages:

"The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels — that's creative living. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place — that's what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one. The often surprising results of that hunt — that's what I call Big Magic." (p. 8)

"And you have treasures hidden within you — extraordinary treasures and so do I, and so does everyone around us. And bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small." (p. 27)

"Work with all your heart, because — I promise you — if you show up for your work day after day after day after day, you just might get lucky enough some random morning to burst right into bloom." (p. 63)

On cultivating a healthy sense of entitlement to live a creative life: 
"Because often what keeps you from creative living is your self-absorption (your self-doubt, your self-disgust, your self-judgment, your crushing sense of self-protection.) The arrogance of belonging pulls you out of the darkest depths of self-hatred— not by saying 'I am the greatest!' but merely by saying 'I am here!'" (p. 93)

"Whether you think you're brilliant or you think you're a loser, just make whatever you need to make and toss it out there. Let other people pigeonhole you however they need to. ... But never delude yourself into believing that you require someone else's blessing (or even their comprehension) in order to make your own creative work." (p. 120-121)

"... Learning how to endure your disappointment and frustration is part of the job of a creative person. If you want to be an artist of any sort, it seemed to me, then handling your frustration is a fundamental aspect of the work — perhaps the single most fundamental aspect of the work. Frustration is not an interruption of your process; frustration is the process." (p. 149)

On laziness and perfectionism: 
"If you want to live a contented creative life, you do not want to cultivate either one of those traits, trust me. What you want is to cultivate quite the opposite: You must learn how to become a deeply disciplined half-ass. It starts by forgetting about perfect. ... Perfectionism stops people from completing their work, yes  but even worse, it often stops people from beginning their work." (p. 166)

"It has taken me years to learn this, but it does seem to be the case that if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something (myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind)." (p. 171)

On shaking off failure and finding inspiration again: 
"Any motion whatsoever beats inertia, because inspiration will always be drawn to motion. So wave your arms around. Make something. Do something. Do anything. Call attention to yourself with some sort of creative action, and — most of all trust that if you make enough of a glorious commotion, eventually inspiration will find its way home to you again." (p. 254)

"Fierce trust asks you to stand strong within this truth: 'You are worthy, dear one, regardless of the outcome. You will keep making your work, regardless of the outcome. You will keep sharing your work, regardless of the outcome. You were born to create, regardless of the outcome. You will never lose trust in the creative process, even when you don't understand the outcome.'" (p. 258-259)

What books have you read lately? Any suggestions to add to my list for 2016? I have another inspirational read picked out for February: "When Breath Becomes Air," a powerful and undoubtedly emotional memoir by the late neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi. I purchased the book about two weeks ago while at a book reading led by Paul's wife Lucy (sister of Cup of Jo's Joanna Goddard) in Brooklyn, and so I already know I'll need to make sure tissues are within arm's reach while reading the #1 New York Times Bestseller.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Anthro Life : Working Creatively

One of the reasons that I stepped away from the blog this past fall was because life got busy. I took a part-time job working as a sales associate at Anthropologie in Hoboken, and the holiday shopping season was a bustling one! Fortunately, I have been able to stay on post-Christmas and yesterday marked three months with the company.

While I enjoy working as a sales associate  getting to know the product, helping create an inviting, beautiful store experience, and interacting with customers — what has truly been a joy and a surprise is getting to put my passion for calligraphy and hand-lettering to use. It all started with an early morning employee breakfast "party" for which I made pumpkin muffins and a matching sign. 

My managers and the regional visual manager were so impressed that they asked me to make holiday signage to help accent local store displays. I made those happily and eagerly, in many different versions. I'm not sure where they all ended up, but one was displayed in my store, in Hoboken — and it sure looked pretty surrounded by all of our gorgeous home wares!

I was then completely over the moon to later be asked to head to the Anthropologie on Fifth Avenue in New York City, to spend a morning lettering a large mirror with a cocktail menu for a vignette in the store's home section. My first time writing on a mirror, or glass for that matter, proved challenging, but it was worth all the time, energy and sore lower back (from hunching over and shifting around that heavy mirror!). It really was such a treat and an honor to have my work on display in a NYC store. And a few weeks later, while in the neighborhood, I was so proud to show G the mirror in person.

Last week, our Hoboken store hosted its very first shopping party and as soon as I found out I volunteered to create any necessary signage for the event. I was tasked with creating small, place card-size signs for the sips and snacks, as well as a larger sign to hang on the rack of "stylist picks." Luckily, I was able to work the party  for which I slipped on my new Anthropologie dress — and see my signs in action. If only I had a chance to taste that pear and ginger fizz refresher; it looked so good!

I'm looking forward to continuing to put my creative passions to work  literally!  and maybe even moving into a more creative role within the Anthroplogie family. Because work doesn't really feel like work when you are doing what you love.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

On the Horizon : The City by the Bay

San Francisco, here I come!
Right back where I started from

Well, that's almost the song and that's almost true.

About a week into the New Year, G received the news we had been waiting on pins and needles to hear: where we would be transferring to next. Yes, yes, we've only been in Jersey six months. But with G's promotion to first class gunner's mate last fall, we were 99 percent sure we'd be moving again come summer 2016. Currently, he is working a GM2 job even though he is now a GM1, so it just didn't make sense for the Coast Guard to keep him here. So we sat down months ago, talked about our options, made our dream sheet with eight picks and G submitted the list. 

Of our choices, only two jobs were on boats and both we put at the bottom of the list, due to their location and the fact that they would require G to go to school first. Our top four were all on the West Coast: San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. While G and I were really pulling for our No. 1 pick  the hubs has been homesick for SD ever since we arrived in Jersey  we were lucky to have G assigned to our No. 2. He will be supervising the armory at MSST San Francisco.

At G's promotion ceremony in November.

My husband is ecstatic to be moving back to California but honestly my initial reaction was less than enthused. I am a bit sad to be leaving the NYC area so soon; I feel like there is still so much to see and do and I wish we had more time to explore. (Though, I will be doing my best to make the most of our last five months here!) I am also not looking forward to the whole packing up and moving across the country thing again. Our last two experiences were less than smooth. 

And my nervous, hesitant reaction to the SF news was made only more so when we learned that we would have to live in military housing in Alameda. There goes the dream of having a yard for the dogs, something we told each other was non-negotiable on the house hunt this time, and now we have no choice whatsoever in where we live.

OK, time for some good news. Now that I've had a few weeks to process the idea, I am able to not only recognize but actually celebrate all the positives in moving to the Bay Area.

We will be back in our home state of California. While NorCal is very different from SoCal in many respects, we are more familiar with the area than we were when we moved to St. Pete or Union City. We both have visited and vacationed in San Francisco several times and G even lived in Alameda for a couple months. And, it goes without saying, the City by the Bay is an incredibly dynamic place to live. Plenty to see and do there as well!

The biggest pro to moving back to California though is that we will be much closer to our friends and family. It will be easier and less costly for them to visit us and for us to visit them. After living 2,500+ miles away from nearly everyone we know and love, it will be wonderful to be just a short flight or a 8-hour car ride away.

G will be working a land job again, which means he won't be getting underway (at least, not on any regular basis) and will be home most of the time.

And while I am still disappointed that we won't get to choose which neighborhood we live in or have an opportunity to rent a home with a yard, living in military housing comes with many benefits. It may not be glamorous or updated, but we will never worry about whether we have enough money to pay rent and utilities; it's covered! We will likely be living much closer to San Francisco than we would have been able to if we were given BAH (basic allowance for housing) to live on the economy.  And we will be living in a community of other Coast Guard families, so making friends, connecting with other Coastie wives and participating in base- and spouse club-hosted events will be easier.

So, there is a lot to look forward to, even if leaving is bittersweet. That's military life. You're never in one place for too long! Though, our tour in San Francisco is a four-year billet, so maybe — just maybe — we can actually get settled in for longer than a year.

All San Francisco photos by Victoria Smith 
Cherry blossoms via Refinery29. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Snow Day!

Winter Storm Jonas hit the northeast this past weekend, dumping two feet of snow on Jersey and NYC. I was scheduled to work Saturday and Sunday, but both shifts were cancelled due to the weather as well as a "travel ban" in Hoboken  and this California girl got to experience her first snow day! Truly, it was much like any other lazy Saturday: We stayed in, watched too much TV, cooked yummy food (G baked chocolate chip cookies!), I worked on my calligraphy, and we snuggled with the dogs. The hubs and I also got a lot of laughs watching our pups hobble around in their brightly colored booties, which they were not yet accustomed to, and explore the snow on our balcony. (Thank goodness for that balcony! We didn't have to venture outside while the blizzard was at its blustery peak.) The snowfall was mostly restricted to Saturday and, even though it is now Tuesday, there are still mounds of snow lining the streets and sidewalks as well as a pretty, white dusting on the neighborhood rooftops. Considering I've only been in falling snow twice before (during a college internship in Washington, D.C.), it was quite the sight to see. It was like a scene out of a movie, watching the snow slowly bury the cars on the street outside our apartment building and, the next day, watching neighbors dutifully shovel the sidewalk. We are most certainly not in California, anymore! The snow was coming down hard and fast and it was smart to stay inside, but a small part of me wishes we had ventured out into the storm, if only for a few minutes. But I'm sure we'll have another chance to play in the snow, make snow angels and build a snowman. Winter has only — finally — just arrived.

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