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Three (three!) years ago today, something fantastic happened.
Jamal made an honest woman outta me three years ago in Paris, in the gardens of the Musée Rodin in a light, early March rain. And despite all of those perfect details, I still found a way to inject a little (unintentional) levity to the scene:
He got down on one knee and I totally lost my shit. I doubled over laughing, shocked and surprised, and afterwards said I had to sit down because I felt like I was going to throw up.
Romance! I am the queen of it!
It was a magical day that kicked off a magical trip to Paris, and perhaps even more magical was that our engagement spawned the creation of the moniker “Jamal.” You see, when I announced our engagement on the blog, I was très jetlagged and had reached a stage of sleepiness that made me deliriously giddy. I realized as I was writing that my new fiancé’s initials, JML, were just one vowel away from being JAMAL, and, well, I couldn’t not call him that after discovering such magnificence, right? Bien sûr.
So really, two fantastic things happened three years ago, and both have made me fantastically happy. Sorry to get all sappy on you, kiddos, but needs must. Happy engagement-aversary, Jamal! Je t’aime!
Somebody had a birthday yesterday! Fitz, you wonderfully weird little ball of love, you turned five yesterday! FIVE! …Um, possibly. His birthday could also be the 9th, according to his adoption paperwork. There are three entries with his birthday, and two of them say 1/6/11, and the other says 1/9/11. Transposition error? We’ll never know. Like a stolen masterpiece, Fitz’s provenance is a mystery to us. Where did he come from? (Outer space.) Are there more like him? Who had him before us? We adopted him at eight months old, and he’d already been adopted from the shelter once and then returned. I’d love to meet the heartless monster who did that to my sweet boy, but it’s probably better that we never, ever cross paths. And besides, Fitz belonged with us all along. Whatever trauma and separation anxiety he internalized from spending the first six months of his life bouncing around shelters comes with the territory of adopting a dog, and I’ve never regretted it.
It’s been such a rewarding four and a half years being this little guy’s personal assistant (let’s be real) and Official Cuddle Provider. This last year was a big one for him: we stopped crating him during the day, giving him unfettered, unattended access to the entire house. Risky, given his track record (ahem), but he has more than lived up to the trust we placed in him when we disassembled his crate, and he now spends most of his day snoozing on the sofa, not shredding a single area rug, box of tissues, or the recycling. He’s matured so much in the last year, and while I did just catch him drinking from the filthy water in the christmas tree stand, he’s developed into a mellow old soul at this age. That doesn’t mean he won’t turn into a Mexican jumping bean when someone new walks in the door, and he still screams his head off at the slightest jingle of a dog’s leash somewhere in a three block radius on walks, but we’ll take any sort of progress we can get.
This was also the year we stopped giving him Prozac. You might recall that our vet prescribed it for him almost immediately upon adoption, and we diligently gave it to him every morning in a scoop of peanut butter in the hopes that it would help with his many (many) anxieties, but at his annual check-up in October the vet opted not to refill Fitz’s prescription. It wasn’t worth the side effects, and honestly, I don’t know if this is good or bad, we haven’t noticed a difference yet. Prozac Pup no more!
Fitz, I love you so much. Happy birthday!
And now, some throwback photos of my favorite boy, from 2011 to 2013! (When he was still technically “a puppy” and approximately 12lbs lighter)
January 7, 2016 / life / dog /
What a year. In years past, I’ve shared highlights, my top five favorite things that happened, and provided a general recap of notable events (you guessed it: lots and lots of Paris). This year was kind of a rollercoaster: in March I sent out an SOS at one of the lowest points in my life; in May we went to Italy and Paris, and spent two glorious weeks eating our weight in gelato and pasta; in July I left my job of five and a half years for a new opportunity; in September we celebrated one year of marriage; and at the end of November and beginning of December, I went back to Paris. And, oh yeah! There was that little novel I’d been working on in fits and spurts, that finally this year felt like it was coming together the way I wanted it to. I’d be hard pressed to complain about this year as a whole, and frankly, spending a combined three weeks in Europe precludes me from anything approaching discontent.
But if I’d written this post just two days ago, the tone would have been drastically different. On Monday night, I inadvertently got sucked into a marathon of Parks and Rec. It was the 7th season, and April, the show’s resident malcontent, all grown up in the three year time jump between seasons, was struggling with being 29 and having no idea what she wanted to do with her life.
April: I feel totally lost.
Donna: Saturn’s Return.
Donna: Saturn’s orbit around the sun takes roughly 29 years. And when it gets back to where it was when you were born…lots of turmoil, self discovery.
Eleven days ago, I turned 29. I didn’t feel any of the previous excitement that accompanied birthdays, because 29 is scary. The last year of my 20s? How!? I barely have my shit together, and still get the impulse to call my mother when I have to do anything vaguely adult-y, like roll over my 401k into an IRA, or even schedule my own doctor’s appointments. And the universe let me creep another year closer to 30?
Anyway, I watched that episode (and several after it) without giving that particular exchange too much thought. That was Monday. On Tuesday, I was let go from my job due to budget cuts, the job that swept in out of nowhere earlier this year and plucked me out of the depths of a depression so deep I thought I would never get out. But get out I did, and it was due in large part to getting to do something creative and using my brain at work for the first time in years. While I’m obviously upset and a little bruised (and more than a little concerned about, you know, not having an income), I am extremely grateful I got to have this experience for the last six months, because now I know not to settle for anything less.
So I’m entering 2016 on less stable footing than I anticipated (Saturn’s Return!), but part of me is just going to surrender to it, and see where it takes me. Maybe this is what I finally need to finish my novel after all? Maybe I need to get comfortable with my discomfort and panic to find out what I really want to do. I have no idea what 2016 will bring me (besides a trip to Paris in March and Spain in April) but I hope you’ll stick around for the ride. I’m so lucky to have you kiddos, and I promise to be more attentive around here!
Have a wonderful New Year.
December 31, 2015 / life / dog /
[Disclaimer: I am going to use the word ‘pregnant’ in this post. This in no way means I am pregnant, thinking about becoming pregnant, or wanting to become pregnant. Mom.]
You know that instinct that surges in pregnant women called ‘nesting’? Where they wake up one morning and decide to spruce everything up like little happy birds, clean out every nook and cranny, and make sure everything is just so for the impending arrival of new life? Is there an equivalent instinct in non-pregnant women? I suppose we could call it “purging” or “decluttering,” or, following the current trend sweeping across social media, the “KonMari Method,” from the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” Growing up, my mom simply called it, “throwing shit away,” and if you need a book to tell you how to do that, I feel bad for you son. I got 99 problems but clutter ain’t one.
Though, recently, I’ve noticed that it kind of is a problem. I woke up one morning with the (admittedly totally-batshit-insane) thought that, “If we had to move to Paris today, we would have too much shit to bring with us, we couldn’t do it, how would it all fit on a shipping crate?” I looked around, and felt smothered. My house suddenly felt like a mix of the Collyer Brothers brownstone and Grey Gardens. Who needs this many DVDs anymore? Why do we have three mostly-empty bottles of shaving cream under the sink next to cough syrup that expired in 2014? Where did all of this stuff come from? How do I get rid of it??
So the past week has found me decluttering and non-nesting like a fiend. On Monday night, I had the totally normal urge to pull the stove out from the wall and vacuum behind it, as well as wipe down the sides. I’ve boxed up a ton of kitchen stuff (tiny coffee maker we bought at Walgreens but have never used? Buh-bye!) to take to a donation center, threw away a handful of old kitchen utensils (gross spatula in the back of the drawer that had partially melted? See ya!), tossed a Vanity Fair from 2003 I’ve been holding on to (I love JFK Jr. and Carolyn as much as the next person, but saving a 12 year old magazine isn’t doing anybody any good) and took a stack of DVDs to sell at FYE. I made a paltry $8, but it isn’t even about the money. I just don’t want it in my house anymore. I took some old purses and nicer clothes to a consignment store, and have another round ready to go next week. All those tiny samples I’ve accumulated from Sephora and Macy’s that I’ve never used? Gone. All those comfortable old underwear we keep even though the elastic is stretched or they’re starting to rip? (Admit it, you have these, too) Trash. Books? Books are proving harder to part with than I expected, but I have a small stack to take to a used bookstore, and my fiend Jess took a few, too. Borrowing books from the library has been an enormous help, too.
Am I alone in this? Is this just spring cleaning a season early? I wonder if there’s not some larger cultural shift, where, because we’re so digital these days (does anyone print photographs anymore? Or are they all stored on your hard drive?), it’s spilling over into other parts of my life, too.
And now if you’ll excuse me, I have some more closets to go purge.
November 4, 2015 / life / dog /
Well, that was a week-long blog vacation I didn’t intend on taking, and the first absence I’ve had when I wasn’t swooning around on vacation. It’s funny, I never knew how much I needed this blog until I suddenly…didn’t. For four years, this blog was my creative outlet, a respite from the grinding unhappiness of a day job that left me unfulfilled. I needed it, because I needed a balance, and at the peak of my blogging I was posting five times a week (!! five! What on earth did I write about??). Then it went down to three. And in the three months since I left my job, I’m lucky if I can manage to crank out one measly post a week. Isn’t it strange that now that I have more time on my hands, I somehow have less time to blog? My days are filled with writing, and food-styling, and studying for my real estate license (and exercising my domesticity/ perfecting my housewife status). When I am happy in my day-to-day, I turn less and less to the internet, this blog, my Pinterest boards, and other aspirational escapes. I haven’t been tending to my blog because I haven’t needed it to stay afloat, to keep my head above water. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still owe this space (and you guys!) some attention, because of course I do. I just need to find a different balance than what I had for so long, and I promise I’ll do that without abandoning it for days at a time. Pinky promise, kiddos!
Here’s a little update of what’s been going on behind the scenes:
I miss you guys! How the hell are you?
October 5, 2015 / life / dog /
This past Sunday, Jamal and I celebrated one year of marriage. Besides not being able to truly believe an entire year had passed since September 13, 2014 (where did the time go? Can anyone remember what happened in March? Wasn’t it just June?) the day was a delight. We treated ourselves to a super indulgent brunch overlooking Rittenhouse Square, with a mimosa for me and a bloody mary for him, and way, way too much food, and then we went home and put on sweatpants and lazed about in a food coma for the rest of the afternoon. Marriage! The traditional first anniversary present is paper, so I got Jamal Rick Steves’ Spain 2016 guidebook, which he flipped through that day, every so often stopping to say, “Happy anniversary! I’m so full!” My mommom made a sweet point: going out to dinner is routine, but going out to breakfast is rare and special. (It’s even more special when there is a chocolate fountain involved.)
So, to reflect on these past 12 months: We went to Athens and Santorini for our honeymoon! We went to Italy and Paris this spring! I left my job of the last four and a half years for something that would finally make me happy. Jamal continued to travel like a maniac, darting and zig-zagging across the country nearly every week. It was a big first year, with the requisite ups and downs. I wouldn’t say that marriage is hard, or that our first year of marriage was hard, because really, when you’ve been dating for four years and living together for three, what else is there to adjust to once you put a ring on it? But it wasn’t always smooth going; Jamal and I each had a hard year (for reasons that were independent of each other), which caused some strain. We figured out late in the game that rather than turning on each other, we should turn towards each other for support. And nearly all of that strain was eliminated the day I changed jobs. I can’t tell you what a difference it’s made in my mental (and marital) health.
And now, to look forward: We have a trip to Spain scheduled for next April-May! I’m turning the big 3-0! Jamal has some big career wins in the foreseeable future (which, bien sûr, comes with more travel). Other than that, the 2nd year is our oyster. What’s not on the agenda? A baby. Seriously, guys, what is with people asking when you’re going to start having a kids? It’s like the moment our officiant pronounced us husband & wife, the badgering started. Jamal and I have always agreed that, if we’re going to have one at all, it is going to be just the one. Une. Uno. But right now, we don’t know if even une bébé is in the cards; it’s certainly not on the table in the next few years. A few months ago, apropos of nothing, Jamal said to me, “You know, if we didn’t have a kid, we would have so much more money and time to travel.” But when people ask us (and seriously, we get asked this all the time), “When will you have a baby??”, “Are you guys going to have a baby soon??” and we say, “Not anytime soon, and maybe not at all,” (or, as Jamal responded when his best friend asked a few weeks ago, “Nah, we’re going to go on vacation instead.” <3 <3 <3) it's invariably met with a smug, "Oh, you'll change your mind." Maybe we will, and maybe we won't. Frankly, Fitz is enough of a handful to deter us from voluntarily saddling ourselves with a human baby. We each have too many personal goals we want to achieve (I need to finish this novel!) and countries we want to visit (we’re already planning for 2017. Japan? Scandinavia? Scotland?) still. So our second year will be filled with many exciting things, but a baby ain’t one of ’em. (Apologies to our parents.)
Happy first anniversary, Jamal! I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Last week, my mom and I went to afternoon tea at the Sofitel. For $35 per person, you get a mimosa or bellini, a pot of loose leaf tea, finger sandwiches, scones, and an assortment of mini desserts. All the trappings of traditional afternoon tea, but with a slightly French flair (macarons!), as the hotel itself is French (everyone greets you with a delighted, “Bonjour!”). My mom had purchased one of those half-off deals, so we only paid $35 total, which I admit was still a splurge for a Wednesday afternoon but the perfect excuse for a little indulgence. I turned my mom onto Rooibos tea, and we downed a full pot each (and our bellinis) in record time. We had the perfect unspoken arrangement when it came to eating, too: she ate all the sandwiches, and I got all the desserts. Hooray for being an only child!
We have been playing with the idea for months now of taking a girl’s trip to Paris next March; next year marks 15 years (!!) since my first (and her only) trip to the City of Light, and also a milestone birthday for her (I won’t say how old she is, in deference to her vanity, but let’s just say she was 35 when she had me and I’ll be 30 next year, ahem. I’ve been stalking flights and itineraries for a while, and over tea we decided to just pull the trigger on a $900 ticket that had a layover in London, either on the way there or the way back, I can’t remember. It was going to be my birthday present to her (and a selfish present for myself. Paris! Again!) but more than I was entirely comfortable spending, given I’m only working part-time and will have just been to Paris in November and am going to Spain in April. But, Paris! Maman’s
I came home from tea and went to book the flight, only to find that somehow, for some reason, as if imbued by the magic of tea and macarons, fares had dropped substantially in the last day. I wouldn’t have to pay $900! There wouldn’t even be a layover! A roundtrip, direct flight from Philly to Paris next March cost me –are you ready for this?– a whopping $1. ONE. DOLLAR.
Sure, taxes and fees added another $640, but are you kidding me? I’ve never seen fares that low. I had to book flights. (In another post I’ll tell you all my tips and tricks to booking flights, if you’d like. Stalking airline and travel websites has become a part time job for me.)
We’re going to Paris! Again!
It seems as though yesterday was National Dog Day, and I missed it. Fitz, I’m so sorry! He has no idea, frankly, because he believes that every day is National Dog Day, and relegating it to just one day per year seems preposterous to him. He’s got a point, especially when I think of how big a personality he has in his flopsy, silly little body, and realize there’s no way you can contain celebrating him to a single day. Every day is a celebration when you have a dog, am I right?
This has been a big year for Fitzwater the Wonder Puppy, as we’ve finally gotten rid of his crate and have started leaving him free range in the house by himself when we leave. It sounds like we’re begging for disaster, I know, given his track record when we tried this a few years ago (we ended up at Penn Vet Hospital too many times to count, because he ate all the things, including two rugs and two week’s worth of aspirin and fish oil pills Jamal’s parents had, as well as the plastic pill containers they came in —that vet bill was bananas). But at four and a half years old (stop growing up!) he has matured to the point where he will happily sleep on the sofa and not touch anything even without supervision, and I think he’s really grateful for the freedom and the show of trust, and is trying not to screw it up. Oh, buddy. I love you so!
August 27, 2015 / life / dog /
To celebrate our upcoming one year wedding anniversary in early September (pause here: OMG HOW HAS IT ALMOST BEEN A YEAR ALREADY WE STILL HAVE THANK YOU CARDS TO SEND) Jamal and I bought a new mattress. We decided that being married for a year makes us Grown-Ups, and it was time to have a grown-up mattress, too (we do not have matching silverware, but that will probably come for anniversary #2). After our honeymoon, we splurged on buying pillows from the hotel we stayed at on our last night in Athens, ultra luxurious, plush feather down, that were over $100 a piece (!!) and a fancy, 300-thread count sheet set which cost less than one single pillow (thanks, Martha Stewart for Macy’s!). But our mattress situation still left something to be desired; it was one of those all spring coil, blue floral numbers, which was fine, but nothing special. So, off to Macy’s we went during one of their huge blowout sales two weeks ago, and out we walked with a new mattress (not literally, that thing is enormous and we had it delivered this past weekend). And thanks to the sale, we got it for less than half of what it retails for normally! The full specifications are: Sealy Beautyrest Recharge Vanderbilt Collection Allie Firm Pillowtop, but you can just refer to it as “HEAVEN OMG” because OMG it is HEAVEN. It is the most comfortable thing I’ve ever laid on, and while I was worried it might be too firm, the pillowtop makes it like sleeping on a plush, supportive cloud. Even Jamal (who was lukewarm about the whole idea, and who claimed he couldn’t tell the difference between any of the mattresses we tried because he sleeps in so many hotels and all beds end up feeling the same to him) crawled into it the first night and could barely articulate, “Oh, okay, this is amazing,” before immediately conking like he had been drugged.
I am in love with this mattress, and I think I finally understand why all of Charlie’s grandparents lived in one bed in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
August 11, 2015 / life / dog /
I had a dream a few days ago, where I was walking with a group of people I didn’t recognize, on a street that looked similar to the windy, cobbled street along the northern side of the Arno in Florence, when through the crowd I saw my dad approaching, only he looked different –shorter, with wider eyes and different glasses. He was wearing a navy blue peacoat with some sort of crest on the lapel. I pushed through the group and ran towards him yelling, “Daddy! Daddy!”
In the morning I felt, briefly –before the sadness came rushing in– that I had gotten to see him, and it felt so good after so long without him. This happens every so often, and always in the dream I think, “Oh, there you are! I’d wondered where you’d gone!”
My dad died nine years ago today, and it seems as impossible to have been this long as it did last year, and the year before, and every year before it, up to the day it happened. How can a literal half of your entire world disappear? I still don’t understand it, and while some days I’m fine and happy and functioning, and the realization that I lost him is in the background like a dull headache, there are more days than not where it feels like the grief is going to strangle the life out of me, that I’m just going through the motions because it would break his heart if I don’t.
He would tell me to stop being so dramatic, smooth out his mustache and place the palm of his hand at the top of my head. And then he’d probably offer to buy me a lip gloss to cheer me up.
I don’t know when Paris became synonymous with my dad for me, but I can’t untangle the two now. At some point, being in Paris, thinking about Paris, reading about Paris, writing about Paris, became a way of feeling close to him. The more obsessed I grew (grow) with that city, I somehow feel like I’m holding on more strongly to his memory. I don’t have any of the heartbreaking associations of him in Paris that I do here in Philadelphia; I can’t look up at his old apartment window when I walk back from Trader Joe’s without crying, and almost every corner in the city holds a “My dad and I…” connection. The museum, Fairmount Park, his many office buildings, seeing his old car, randomly meeting an old friend of his in French class last year. In Paris, I can picture him how he might have been if we’d gone together, how he’d looked when he went, sitting with his legs crossed at an outdoor café table, nursing an espresso with a sketchbook and a small paint set on the table next to him. There aren’t streets in Paris I avoid because it’s where a certain hospital is. The ease and rightness I feel there has a lot to do with how detached it is from the specific reality of my dad not being here anymore.
So I booked a flight to Paris this morning. I’ve been eyeing flights for weeks, watching the prices dip and attempting to justify the spoiled sense of entitlement at taking two trips to Paris in the same year. This morning I woke up, burst into tears, and sent a quick text to Jamal (who’s traveling on his second trip in three days) that read: “Can you live without me for a week?” And then I came upstairs, made myself a mug of Mariage Frères Paris Breakfast tea, put on my dad’s favorite classical music station, and booked it. I leave the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Did I use today (my dad, my sadness) as an excuse? Probably, but I don’t think my dad would’ve cared. I think he would just be happy I’m going back to Paris.
I miss you, daddy. More than I’ll ever be able to articulate. I miss you like a phantom limb. I can’t wait to tell you all about Paris in the winter.
August 6, 2015 / life / dog /