Day 1: Funemployment

Today is Day 1. I am a kite, cut free of its string to soar and drift as I please before falling slowly back to Earth. And by Earth, I mean work. My parents forbid retirement at age 25. 

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I awake to a clear and sunny morning, the sun’s rays illuminating the rooftops of Hoboken’s yawning buildings. The dawn feels unlike other Monday mornings and from my position near the window, the bricks and facade seem to stretch in greeting the new day. Boyfriend Billy, however, is less overjoyed to hear the alarm clock buzz for the 2nd snooze and hurriedly rushes around the bedroom in the routinely frantic search for glasses and keys. I roll over and go back to sleep. Funemployment waits for no woman.

The sidewalks at 9:30am are all but deserted. The line at Starbucks contains a mere two or three caffeine-deprived yet relaxed individuals who patiently wait their turn without so much as a grumble or check of the watch. The world is completely devoid of morning commuters and I can’t remember the last time I’ve loved New York City so much.

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My biggest problems now consist of when to eat lunch, if I should exercise and just what exactly constitutes the maximum number of daily naps. My body’s significant decrease in stress restores harmony to my muscles and bones. In my silent apartment, words tumble from my thoughts and through my fingers; a stillness broken only by the street noise and gentle hum of the refrigerator. Without meetings to schedule and phone calls to take, time is made whole again. 

Why did I need to quit a job in order to reassess what matters in my life and focus on the people and activities that make me happy?  While I’m not gearing up for another backpacking trip through Europe, my time off feels almost as special. I finally have those magical minutes in a day to be a tourist in a city I barely know and reach out to people I love yet neglected for far too long.

So let that be a lesson to you, self. Stop using work as an excuse for failing to complete those little things you’ve wanted to do. 

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July in New York City

Summer, if anyone is wondering, has arrived in New York City. The humidity crouches outside every store, office building and Duane Reade waiting to accost each human being who leaves the comfort of air-conditioned heaven. Every afternoon, there is a Mister Softee truck selling ice cream cones on Wall St. for the hot and sweaty traders. Back at home, I spend countless evenings on top of my covers while the window fan blows thick, wet air around my room in vain. Yes, summer has definitely arrived.  

IMG_3157This past weekend was July 4th and despite my excitement for fireworks and beaches, I learned the hard way that no self-respecting New Yorker stays in the city. No one. These forward-thinking individuals make plans for the Hamptons, New Jersey shores and literally anywhere else in traveling distance in order to avoid the swarming locusts affectionately known as TOURISTS. But despite the mass exodus, our little apartment on 41st St. gathered the last remaining souls of a Friday BBQ and a perfect start to the long weekend. We played games, drank beer and generally lounged. More than one neighbor slowed down while walking past and I’d like to think they approved of our kick-off weekend activities.  

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The summer I interned in Washington, D.C., I spent the entire afternoon lying on a blanket and staking my claim for a prime grassy spot near the Washington monument. As my friends arrived and the sun set, we listened to a big brass band and clapped for the best firework show I’d ever seen. And while there were crowds and noise, I felt like I was at the heart of America celebrating with the forefathers’ newest generations. This perfect memory of our nation’s capital was in no way related to another very American showing five years later (July 4, 2015) on Coney Island: Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating ContestIMG_3185

The ride to Coney Island itself is an epic journey, almost 1.5 hours from Queens through Manhattan and out to the southern rim of Brooklyn. Thousands of families, couples, young kids and enthusiasts sporting live snakes and colorful outfits showed up for the event. The smell of hot dogs, cotton candy, small children and sweat mixed and floated through the crowd. Above the din, I could just make out the screaming voices coming from the various theme park attractions and roller coasters near the beach. 

IMG_3177There is something simultaneously inspiring, revolting and ultimately patriotic about watching grown adults try to stuff as many Nathan’s hot dogs into their mouths as possible. In only 10 minutes with the aid of water and jumping (to assist gravity), Matt Stonie ate 62 hot dogs to beat out the reigning champion, Joey Chestnut. The crowd went wild in the remaining seconds and I couldn’t help but feel like all of America was cheering for something grander than the simple consumption of wieners. 

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Daina (2 hotdogs) came nowhere near the female record of 38 hot dogs set by Miki Sudo
Boyfriend Billy with his flag-inspired socks
Boyfriend Billy with his flag-inspired socks

As the event ended and our little party neared the beach, it began to rain. The drizzle was enough for us to roll up our damp towels and hop back on the N,Q bound for Brooklyn. While the original plan was to watch a movie in A/C (decidedly American), we stumbled upon Patsy’s Pizzera and immediately fell in love. The pizza was glorious and we had the back patio all to ourselves. The service was only second to the personalized visits from the owner, naturally named Tony, who gave us sangria and shots of Grappa on the house. Full of delicious food and a slight buzz, we made our way to the grocery store to purchase necessary snacks for the evening firework stake out.
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I want to tell you about the visit to my friend’s apartment in Park Slope and the angry taxi driver who navigated the streets of Brooklyn to bring us toward the East River but there just isn’t time. Sufficient to say, we found a beautiful location between the Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge where we laid our towels and waited for the rest of our party to arrive. By 9:30pm, our group of 11 looked south with eager anticipation as the first firework lit up the sky. 

The confusion and disbelief last approximately 15 seconds before the majority of the crowd realized the fireworks were being shot off directly behind their line of sight. The very sturdy and thick foundation of the Manhattan Bridge completely blocked our view from all but the edges of the largest explosions. Immediately, the masses made their decision. The crowd split into those who began running south for a better view and those who simply laid back down and cracked open a beer. Our little group did a combination of the two and I was able to capture the finale from my prime location behind a small tree. 

A small wish to you, dear readers:

“May your humidity be low, your spirits high, and your stomachs full in all the days following our country’s birthday until July 4th returns one year later bringing new Old Navy flag shirts and iffy promises of sunny skies.”

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Meow Parlor

In March, the three roommates (myself included) headed to their first cafe. 

Cat Cafe, that is. 

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Animal cafes are places where people pay money to eat small cookies, drink coffee and play with animals. These cafes are conveniently organized by species: dog, cat, rabbit, goat etc. They’ve become wildly popular in Japan and the growing fad has brought this phenomenon across the ocean and straight to the Big Apple. 

Roommate Megan found out about the Meow Parlor opening on the Lower East Side and immediately signed us up. There was a one month waiting list. ONE MONTH. So with baited (and not so baited breath) we awaited our chance to get our paws on this exciting trend. IMG_2685

For a mere $4, cat lovers can play for a half hour with the cuddly felines. In the entryway, guests are instructed to remove their coats and shoes before entering the kitty space. Coffee, teas and an assortment of cookies are for sale past the main desk. The air inside was surprisingly warm and dense. Not in a bad or unpleasant way, more like the air in a warm slightly dusty living room housing many…well, cats. 

All the cats in the Meow Parlor are up for adoption. There is a book on the table with a name, picture and de-tail-ed description of each potential adoptee. On the floor and along the back bookshelf, boxes and small cat beds are displayed for the cats to roam around and sleep freely. Megan found an adorable little tabby and gently stroked its head. 

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Megan (left) with cat (right)

We stayed, we played and watched the cats. They slept, mostly, unless agitated into playing with the feather on a string or darting past newcomers legs as they walked past. For people who cannot have cats or any animals in their small New York apartments, I saw the appeal of this cat haven. Hopefully each of the fuzzy kitties would be taken to kind and safe homes before the end of their nine lives. Toward the end of the evening, Roommate Daina realized that in fact she was slightly allergic to cats and the three of us had to vacate the premise. 

“I’d love to stay,” Daina said. “But we have to go. Right meow.”

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Note the square cat beds, pensive real cat, and pensive cat picture (bottom right)

When your life feels small

[Blogging while watching the Rangers vs. Caps in an attempt to bond with my male co-workers tomorrow morning. Overtime.]

Sometimes the world just feels so big. Last week, I left my office building at lunchtime and walked to the East River to watch the helicopters take off the pier. Traffic whizzed behind me. Couples and tourists alike walked along the boardwalk in the beautiful afternoon sun. But suddenly, my entire life felt so small. 

What was I doing in New York? Did I like my job? Was I with the right guy? Should I leave everything and book a one-way ticket anywhere but here? Did any of it matter?

While on my European adventure, I distinctly remember moments when I felt the strong desire to stop moving. Stay in one place. Breathe. I didn’t want to see anything, talk to anyone or navigate one more new city. At those moments, I would pick a town with a single bedroom and a washer machine where I could clean my clothes and sleep in peace. 

The first time I gave over to my weary feet and found a respite from the road was in Lake Garda, a large beautiful lake in northern Italy. I washed my clothes and hung them in the sunshine before walking to the beach. I proceeded to rent a beach chair and lay on the beach for the vast majority of the day. No churches to see. No strangers to meet. Just me and the sand. 

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I find myself in the same position again, aching and sore from my personal journey to find a new “normal” in New York City. I came home from work yesterday and slept 11 hours, as if I’ve never slept before. My body still feels fatigued, possibly fighting a cold, but I can’t help wondering if it’s just a sign my body has been through too much. On the road, it was so easy to take a day off and relax in the Italian sun. I’m still learning how to take a Lake Garda day while the daily chores of life threaten to pull me back into the grind. 

I suppose, my life is small. Maybe none of what I do matters very much in the grand scheme of things. But if this is true–if we are all just little people running around in our own little lives– then there is all the more reason to find the best, kindest people and most beautiful views. Our lives should include many Lake Garda days where we stretch our legs and bask in the light of our small successes and closest loved ones. This life is all we have after all. Shouldn’t we be enjoying it? 

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P.S. My birthday was a HUGE success. Terrified I wouldn’t be able to fill a room, almost 50 people came to celebrate with me on my golden birthday. People from Massachusetts, Vermont and my hometown in New York. People I first met in Denmark and a coworker who I’d just met three months before. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I wish I could bottle up and send each of you the joy you gave me by just showing up and saying hi. It meant the world. You keep my little life feeling BIG every day.

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Boyfriend Billy presents a cake. (Credit to Zach for sneaky cake purchase)
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Some lovely DG sisters

And I’m back.

For the 2+ months I haven’t blogged. Not once. And there is no excuse as the pictures piled up on my iPhone and words ran through my head. So what was going on all that time?

  • I got a cold and went to bed at 9pm for a week.  
  • Boyfriend Billy and I had a delicious sushi dinner on the Upper West Side. 
  • My mom and I decorated the bunny cake for Easter. 
  • I traveled back to Northampton, Mass to visit my former home. 
  • The weather got warm.
  • I planned my 25th birthday party.
  • The weather got cold. 
  • I made friends with my co-workers. 
  • I finished reading No Country for Old Men.
  • Some Bucknell ladies and I booked plane tickets for New Orleans. 
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Easter bunny cake

New York finally had its first 75F degree day. The sun comes streaming through my bedroom window earlier each morning, eliciting movement and disgruntled groaning. The restaurants on 30th Avenue in Astoria are beginning to put out tables and chairs for outdoor seating. Spring feels so close I could hold it. 

And with the coming season, I’m still learning the same lesson I’ve learned countless times before:

Things take time. 

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Financial District

Accomplishing an item on my To-Do list–consolidating bank accounts, building a gym routine and planning weekly lunches–feel like mini accomplishments. I’m realizing that building a life here in New York is more challenging than traveling alone or moving to Massachusetts. What does it mean to own a New Yorker status? I’ll have to learn the subway lines without looking at a map and stretch my budget to include infinite happy hours and monthly rent. I’ll need to stop fumbling at work among experienced sales professionals and stop gazing in awe at the skyscrapers downtown. It’s been almost five months (FIVE MONTHS?!) and my daily life still feels delicate and new. 

Boyfriend Bill & Me
Boyfriend Bill & Me

But my people are here and that had made all the difference. With help from the darling roommates, I rented a private room for my 25th birthday party (on Saturday!) and the overwhelming list of RSVP yes’s made my heart swell. Friends from college and high school are scattered throughout the boroughs and the boyfriend makes plenty of time for me despite the one hour commuting difference from Queens to Hoboken. New York has the only thing my European adventure lacked, a core group of individuals with whom I can share my highest highs and lowest lows. This place and these people had captured my heart despite the frigid winter and gnawing reality of an unknown future. 

There are cherry blossoms in Newark, New Jersey.

Anything is possible. 

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Cherry Blossoms in Newark, NJ

Juno: the #blizzardof2015 or #Snowmageddon2015

“It’s here! Winter Storm Juno’s First Heavy Snowfall Arrives.” -The Weather Channel 

The blizzard is here. From Boston to New York, wind whips along carless streets as last minute shoppers trudge home with the most necessary kitchen staples. Eggs. Bread. Milk. Beer. Schools and universities have closed for tomorrow. Travel bans are in place and public transportation has shut down.The snow, which started as light flurries in the morning, increased steadily and by early afternoon most offices in NYC had sent their employees home. Since I was never put on the company wide e-mail chain, I missed the important memo and went home an hour later than necessary. But that’s just the kind of dedicated employee I am. From the office to the streets and back at home, it seemed everyone was talking about the #blizzardof2015.

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View from the office

And now? Peeking outside of my little Astoria apartment window, I see

…not much. 

Apparently the worst is yet to come. My roommates are in bed asleep, hoping a winter wonderland will await them in the morning. Nothing better than a “work from home” kind of Tuesday. Daina, my dear roommate, faced the crowds of the local grocery store and we now have days worth of delicious chicken tortellini soup. Our stash of red wine, while depleting rapidly should last another couple of days. And tonight our little group of four (Daina, Megan, Sam and I) sat around the coffee table playing Jenga and watching The Bachelor on TV like any normal group of people preparing for the worst storm of their lives. 

All of this–the shopping, the wine, the food, the great company–reminded me of the evenings spent in Northampton around our wood stove. I remember Nemo and Hurricane Sandy, holed up in 38 Henry St. with good friends and a cozy home. The Nor’easter of November 2012? I blogged about cookies and Election Cake. This year, I bravely attempted smitten kitchen recipe for Salted Carmel Brownies:

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Did I use a plastic spoon to stir my homemade caramel sauce, successfully melting white plastic into my browning sugar? Maybe, maybe not. But my multiple attempts at melting sugar and 9pm dash to the grocery story for parchment paper seemed like small prices to pay for the delicious dessert that eventually came out of the oven. My stomach is full, my head is sleepy and my heart is full knowing I have a snow day for the first time in a long while. 

During the 11:00pm news, a politician warned people to stay inside since people who fall down on the sidewalks may be invisible to emergency crews. Invisible. Refinery29 has some tips for ladies needing a list of things to do during their snow day including lounging in pjs, catching up on reruns and fitting in a squat workout. Swimsuit season is coming.And me? I’ll wake up in the morning, open my window shades and hope to be dazzled by the early morning brilliance of snow on a January day. I’ll try to clean the house and answer those pesky e-mails but hating tying myself down to “productivity.” Plus there is online shopping to do since the bf’s birthday is coming up way too fast so tonight I’m just thankful for newsworthy blizzards…and Amazon Prime. 

Stay warm. 

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On Finding Permanence

I know life is too hectic when returning a friend’s phone call or e-mail feels like a chore. After work it seems there is always something to do or someone new to see. Most nights, I return home with just enough energy to flop on the couch before dragging myself to bed and planning out the next 24 hours. What am I going to eat for lunch? My weekends too are filled with movies and parties and new bars to try. I’m spending money left and right, quite the opposite of my traveling days.

IMG_2423Today, my boss informed me that they extended my contract for another month. The full 90 days. And that feels like a step in the right direction. A step toward permanence. And here in this city–when the R train switches to express or doesn’t run at all, when the cloudless sky turns instantly to snow or rain, and when finding time to do your laundry is the hardest task of the month–permanence isn’t all that easy to come by. IMG_2419

Not that I’ve always been a fan of permanence. Traveling abroad felt quite the opposite. Every day it seemed like I was staying in a different hostel, eating meals with different people, and learning to say hello in different tongues. As travelers, my new friends and I would laugh in the face in permanence and in those sad souls who had to go to the same job and sit in the same room with the same people each day. How did they survive with such a steady routine? Their lives seemed so small, devoid of color and true adventure that we proudly displayed as badges on our backpacks and in our journaled words. But in the month and a half since I’ve moved to New York, I’ve begun to understand what I scoffed at on the road. I realize how much I’ve craved some kind of rhythm and familiarity. A place to hang my clothes. A neighborhood I can navigate alone. I cling to my friends and can’t imagine my transition would have been possible without them. Small moments have become so important–dinner with my boyfriend once a week, hugs from my roommates after a particularly long day, the stranger who picked up my glove as I got on the subway– all bringing life’s blurriness back into focus. Small moments and a library cardIMG_2407

During my first week in Astoria, I walked to the Queens Library to get a set of books and dive headfirst into reading again. It felt like the right place to start. I had a grocery store, a pharmacy and now, a library. But when I arrived, the kind grandmother-ly woman at the front desk informed me that I needed to have verification of my name and address. No such luck. I left dejected and empty handed. Since then, I’ve been reading books that the former roommate had left and honestly don’t know if I can handle another young love romance novel. Sorry Nick Sparks. 

But this evening weeks later, I returned to the library with my paycheck stub in hand and barely containable excitement. I handed my paperwork over with a flourish and I signed my name on the dotted line. Holding my prized possession tightly, I walked up and down the shelves and smiled as if I was greeting long lost friends. Here were the stories I’d been waiting to read. Here was the knowledge, in plays and travel books, that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on. And here, in this small piece of plastic, was another small sign that I was finally proving my residence in a place that still feels so very new. IMG_2426

Another step toward permanence. Not forever perhaps. But at least for a couple weeks. Then I can always renew. 

“Christmas snuck up on me this year…”

Rockefeller Center!
Rockefeller Center!

I heard this as a child countless times during the final weeks of the year. School break began in cheers and goodbye hugs, evenings went from cold to colder and Christmas Eve was suddenly upon us. I heard my parents and my friends’ parents commiserating with each another as they frantically shopped at the grocery store and the mall. How could this be? I remember being incredibly confused by the lackluster sentiment. How could something so amazing–Christmas tree, lights, presents, cookies!!–possible sneak up on adult people…given this holiday occurred at the same time, on the same day, each year?

For me, Christmas was always about tradition and anxious anticipation. I salivated over the press cookies (dough that was never quite the right temperature) and waited until we unpacked the decorations so I could spin around the living room with the little nutcracker, imagining I was Clara, just minutes before the Rat King appeared. I balanced my time between wishing for a white Christmas and adding last minute items to my present list. My dad and I had a yearly date to trek out into the snow until we found the perfect tree or our toes froze, whichever came first. I distinctly remember one evening in December when the newspaper published a free pamphlet full of music and lyrics for holiday cheer-spreading carolers. I sang every one from my spot at the kitchen table while my mom prepared candied orange rinds in thin, brightly colored stripes of sticky heaven. 

Those Christmases, before I had money to buy presents or fully understood that Santa wasn’t real, still live somewhere within me. I can still close my eyes and transport myself back to a stomach full of hot chocolate, listen to Mom read holiday books on the couch and smell the freshly cut tree. But now, I finally understand the phrase that I found so perplexing as a child:

“Christmas snuck up on me this year.”

Bryant Park
Bryant Park

I have regrettably become the girl who both started and finished Christmas shopping on December 21st in a rushed bag-flying whirlwind, weaving between 14th and 23rd Street amongst other New York procrastinators. And let me tell you, I was not alone. Jobs. Responsibilities and daily dinner preparation. Junk mail, attempted dusting and laundry. Any and all of these things now fill the space I had a child, space I used to fill by pestering my mom to bake just ONE more type of cookie or asking my dad what he bought me for Christmas as he tried to watch the football game. I’ve made the switch from counting down the minutes to wishing the calendar pages could turn just a little bit slower. 

So tonight, I decided (before packing for home) that I needed to bake banana bread, blast some holiday tunes and remember why I love this season so much. I don’t want to be the grownup who worries more about the gifts still unwrapped and the holiday cookie calories already consumed than the time they spent in the warm company of family and friends. I think the winter season, regardless of the specific holiday, should be as much about giving thanks as giving presents or who gets to light the figgy pudding on fire. 

Macy's Window
Macy’s Window
The roomies
The roomies

Snow in the Big Apple

New Yorkers saw their first snowfall of the season on Wednesday and like true New Yorkers, they put up their black umbrellas and trudged on. It was my lunch break and, desperately in need of soup, I ventured out into the world of wintry wind and overcast skies. The afternoon bustle was no different that the mornings or late weekend nights and people moved along the sidewalk, hurrying on their way.

I found soup at a cafe just a couple blocks from the World Trade Tower and my City Hall subway stop. The hot, spicy broth warmed my stomach and when I left the cafe, the air was filled with fine, white flakes. I put up my bright red polka dotted umbrella and headed back to the office. My office in New York City.IMG_2206

How quickly life can change. For the first time in months, routine has reentered my life. Monday through Friday, I take the subway and read my Kindle through countless R stops from Queens to downtown Manhattan. Like millions of others, I have joined the ranks of employed commuters. In my neighborhood, the Astoria community plays holiday music from large speakers hung from tree branches over the sidewalk and in the evenings, lights gleam in green, red and gold over the busy streets. It’s a working holiday wonderland here in the Big Apple.

I’m still the girl who looks up at the skyscrapers in open-mouthed awe. I have not yet adjusted to starless skies, constellations hidden from view amidst the flashing advertisements and glowing signs. This city, filled with sky high promise of glamour and power, buzzes with an energy I’ve never known before. Despite the warning signs of my body (coughing, stuffy nose), I move on to the next holiday party and early morning shuffle. I’m the first to admit that I’ve been caught up in the constant flurry of movement and activity that is simultaneously intoxicating and nerve-racking.

Where has my mindfulness gone? With this season’s holiday spirit and growing list of un-purchased presents, maybe we all need to remind ourselves of our own “presence of mind”. This week I wish all of you some time to reflect, homemade candy cake brownies and an early bedtime.

A Pauper in Queens

Pack. Drive. Starbucks. Drive. Reststop. Drive. Arrive. Park. Unpack. Assemble. Arrange. Rearrange. Hug. Kiss. Goodbye. IMG_2156

My parents (bless their maternal/parental hearts) woke up early this morning and loaded up a borrowed truck with all of my belongings despite the upstate New York cold. My stuff, hidden away in storage for months, was dusted off and organized into crates, bags, larger bags and boxes. I pictured our boot tracks, imprinted in snow on the living room carpet and kitchen floor, melting into clear puddles as we drove away. Destination: Queens. 

IMG_2159I always forget the “first night in a new apartment” feeling until after the sun has set and dinner is nothing but empty plates and an unopened bottle of wine. Directly after opening the front door, I have a preprogrammed need to unpack quickly, to move my belongings from their cramped, dusty boxes and into my new nest. Kitchen supplies find new cabinets. Clothes find their rightful drawers. The bed is arranged and rearranged to find the “best” feng shui position. Move the bed away from the wall to encourage love. Never sleep facing the door. Avoid mirrors and electronics. Eventually, the packing slows and I inevitably find myself standing in a strange apartment with the pieces of my life scattered across the new hardwood floors. IMG_2160

This night, I did what any self-respecting individual would do. I opened a bottle of Champagne, cut a slice of pumpkin pie and watched Sleepless in Seattle. From my position on the couch, I could see into my bedroom but wasn’t ready to tackle the remaining bit of organizing that needed to be accomplished.  After the hotel/hostel lifestyle, the idea of sleeping in the same room for longer than five days feels confusing and excessive. Then again, the idea of having a job also seemed like a long forgotten concept and in just four days I will be rolling up to my new office in downtown Manhattan. Life changes pretty quickly. Oh look, my glass is empty… IMG_2157

Do you remember the end of Sleepless in Seattle? Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks) meets Annie (Meg Ryan) at the top of the Empire State Building in a parallel of the 1957’s movie An Affair to Remember starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. It’s evening in New York City and foreshadowing You’ve Got Mail, Tom and Meg look at one another and fall in love. It’s magical.

I have a romantic vision of myself as a well-spoken, weller-dressed New York wonder woman. This fantasy individual has a packed social calendar but still has time to reverse climate change and get eight hours of sleep. She has an excellent shoe collection and remembers to dust under her bed more than once a year. Maybe one day, I will take the elevator to the observation deck of the Empire State building and like Tom Hanks, find my crazy New York adventure was exactly what I needed it to be. In the meantime, I’m just an uprooted sapling hoping there is enough soil in Queens to find nutrients and put down new roots. 

New keys. New door. Same me. 

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[Like the pictures? Thanks new iPhone 6. I have rejoined the current generation.]