About That (Unplanned) Absence

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:

Life Lately

I miss you guys! How the hell are you?

First Wedding Anniversary

First Anniversary

First Anniversary

First Anniversary

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.)

First Anniversary

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.

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

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 65th birthday!

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.

One Dollar Fare

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!

Happy National Dog Day, Fitz!

Happy National Dog Day, Fitz!

Happy National Dog Day, Fitz!

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!

And On a More Uplifting Note (Literally)

mattress

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.”

Nine Years

Daddy

I.

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!”

II.

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.

III.

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.

IV.

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.

Here’s to New Adventures

New Job

Today is my last day at a job I’ve held for four and a half years. There have been (many) times throughout those years where I’ve thought about this day, times where I’ve wanted to up and quit out of frustration and depression and even a sense of entitlement to be paid to do something I love, something entirely fulfilling, something apparently common among my generation. I’m glad I held out, because I’m leaving today without any burnt bridges, professional or otherwise, and with a group of friends so wonderful I’ll never stop feeling grateful to this company for bringing into my life. (The only friends I invited to my wedding who weren’t in my bridal party were three people I’d met and fell madly in love with at this job.)

A few months ago, I complained about being at the end of my rope. Buoyed by your comments and years of therapy, I decided to adopt a Grow Where You’re Planted mentality around my stagnation. This company hired me all those years ago, and have kept me employed despite my best efforts to the contrary (Me, one year ago: “Hey, I’m going to Paris for two months, bye!” My godsend of a manager: “But you’re coming back here afterwards, right?”). I needed to start appreciating that I was employed at all in this still-recovering economy, and paid well to do something that sure, wasn’t what I went to school for, but was something I could leave at the office and never have to worry about after 5pm or on weekends. Jamal, who takes work calls at 11:30 at night and frequently works weekends and travels nonstop, got good and tired of my bitching about how I was unfulfilled and told me, gently, to suck it up and enjoy the paycheck. Grow where you’re planted! I am planted here, I will thrive here.

But I’ll still keep one eye on job postings, and never really give up on my dream of being paid to write while still having time to work on my novel.

And a week after I decided to make peace with this job, I got a new one.

I’m not saying I believe in “The Secret,” that hippy dippy new-age idea that whatever you put out into the universe, the universe will deliver back to you like a karmic boomerang. That would discredit my own hard work at finding my new job, or my skills at landing it. But I do think there is something to be said about hollering into the universe, “HELP ME, I’M DROWNING” and a week later being offered a paid writing position for a staple in the Philly food scene. It started as just 10 hours per week, working from home, writing copy for things like artisanal pickles, and nutella, and tea-based cocktail mixers. And at the end of June, they offered me a more permanent role, still mostly writing from home, but also a two day per week in-office food styling photography position. !!!

You guys. I had to take it. It’s not full-time, but I will have time to finish writing my novel now. You know, my novel. That thing I haven’t touched in months. My schedule will now allow me to write during the week, and I am taking this very seriously, already scheduling blocks of time for next week and delighting at the thought.

I start this new position on Friday, which means I only have one day off between jobs, which frankly I’m okay with. What I’m surprisingly not okay with is leaving all my friends here. My WBFF (that’s Work BFF, duh) Herbie gave me a card this morning that brought me to tears, and while I know there’s no way he’s getting rid of me just because we aren’t working in the same office anymore, it still feels bittersweet.

Here’s to new adventures!

Our Wedding, Eight Months Later

Wedding

Wedding

Wedding

Wedding

Wedding

Wedding

A few weeks ago, our wonderful wedding photographer, Inna, reached out to me asking if a local wedding website, Delancey & Penn, could feature our wedding. I said yes without hesitation, and sent her a little write up about the day, which was fun to revisit from the perspective of six+ months out. Their post went live this week, and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to share some more photos with you from the day that I hadn’t yet. You can read all about it, and see even more photos, here.

Thank you, Delancey & Penn, for featuring us, and thank you Inna, seriously, for being the best photographer we ever could’ve asked for.

Voluntary Orthodontia as An Adult (Alternate Title: I’m 28 with Braces)

Let’s talk about teeth! (Because I can’t only talk about Paris all the time, right?)

Invisalign

I had braces –the old, horrible metal kind– as a kid for about a year and a half. When they came off, my bottom teeth weren’t entirely straight. My orthodontist retired immediately after removing my braces (I think he was already halfway out the door as I was fumbling over the surprising sliminess of my naked teeth), and in the years since, I’ve been nursing the suspicion that he took them off specifically so he could retire, not because my teeth were ready. My bottom teeth have been crowding little by little over the last 16 years, so slowly it hadn’t bothered me, until about four years ago when one tooth went totally rogue, bidding “GIRL BYE” to its neighbors, and jumped the line. I found it quirky and kind of adorable, personally. My dentist disagreed, and kept urging me to get it fixed, but let’s be real: voluntary orthodontia as an adult was just not on my list of priorities, or my list of planned expenses. Do you know how many flights to Paris I could buy for the same price?

But at my last cleaning in February, the dentist said either I get my teeth straightened or he’d have no choice but to eventually extract that one, sassy tooth, and because of the crowding there wouldn’t be enough room to insert a bridge. Faced with the choice of shelling out several thousand dollars or having a gaping hole dead center at the bottom of my mouth, even the grumbling skinflint inside of me couldn’t argue. Merde.

And so began the process of finding an orthodontist and electing to inflict pain and embarrassment upon myself. (I’d made up my mind that I’d be going with Invisalign, clear, plastic, laser-cut molded trays you swap out every two weeks, because if I have to be 28 and in braces, they had better be goddamn invisible.)

Invisalign

The whole experience was very “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” The first orthodontist was all but mute, and sat in his chair staring at me (literally) without offering any information. The price was $5950. If you were going to flinch at that number, save it, because the second orthodontist I saw –which had plush white carpeting, Diptyque candles, complimentary champagne and truffles, Downton Abbey playing in the lobby– quoted me $8800. Where the first doctor was uselessly withholding of information, the second office was so communicative. They took photos of my teeth and blew them up on a flat screen in the exam room (which, while helpful, was an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone, because omfg gross), and the orthodontist explained every single detail of his treatment plan. Both doctors had said it would be about a 12-15 month experience. The second office might have said more, but I can’t be sure because I blacked out from shock at the sticker price. Nine grand!! Again: DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY FLIGHTS TO PARIS I COULD BUY FOR THAT PRICE??

And then there was the third orthodontist. When I went in for my consultation, they were playing New Kids on the Block (you guys know how I feel about NKOTB). I would have signed on the dotted line just based on their musical tastes alone, but it only got better. The staff is incredible, kind and down-to-earth (free bottled water and chapstick instead of champagne), the orthodontist is young and nice and volunteers at an organization that offers orthodontic work to low-income kids, and it truly was a “just right” feeling from the moment I walked in. They took x-rays and the orthodontist encouraged me to ask questions. The best part? It is the most affordable option by far, which I realize is all relative; the office manager started writing down the price, and when I saw it started with the number ‘4’ I all but threw my credit card at her. The BESTEST part? It will only take five or six months, not 15.

I had my digital impressions taken in late February –happily, new technology means I didn’t have to suffer those awful plaster molds– and received my first set of Invisalign trays mid-March. They took some getting used to, and while the dental assistants assured me I would be able to pop the trays in an out with ease soon enough, the first few days found me near tears with both hands in my mouth, trying to will the things off my teeth, saliva pooling everywhere. Attractive, I know. They were right, and it only takes me a few seconds now.

Invisalign

I’m on set 3 of 10, and now that I’m five weeks in I thought I’d share how things are going.

The Good:
• Mostly invisible! Almost all Invisalign treatments require tooth-colored enamel attachments on your actual teeth, matched to corresponding divots in the trays, to help move the teeth more effectively. The attachments don’t bother me even when the trays are out, though I did lose two or three off within a week of getting them, oy.
• I can take them out while eating!
• I haven’t had much pain! There’s some definite tooth sensitivity, which is actually comforting because it means it’s all working as it should, but I’ve only taken Motrin once or twice, usually the day after I switch trays and things are a bit tighter.
• I brush my teeth more frequently!
• I’ve stopped biting my nails!
• I can’t snack throughout the day! This has made me so much more aware of all the mindless face-stuffing I was doing, purely out of boredom, not hunger.
• My teeth will be straight!
• I love my orthodontist!

The Not-So-Good:
• Optimal wear” is 22 hours per day. When you factor in that you have to wait 30 minutes after each to brush your teeth (and you have to brush your teeth before putting them back in to prevent cavities), I pretty much only get three 10-minute meals per day. I’m nervous about our upcoming Italy trip, and I know I will be limited in the amount of gelato I’ll be able to inhale.
• You can only drink water while wearing the trays. I don’t drink coffee or soda, so this wasn’t a huge adjustment for me, but man do I miss tea.
• I’ll need a retainer at night for the rest of my life. Unless, that is, I want my teeth to shift back in another 16 years and to have to do this all over again. (Spoiler: I do not.)
• Brushing your teeth three times a day means I have to carry around a travel toothbrush and toothpaste. Upside: I found a cute pouch for them!

So there you go. I’m 28 with braces. That’s what’s been going on around these parts! My super expert advice is to listen to your dentist and also WEAR YOUR RETAINER. A big thank you to my darling friend Sabina for sharing her Invisalign experience with me and for answering all my (many, crazy) questions before I took the plunge. And a big thank you to everyone else who read 1000 words about my teeth.

A Little Pick-Me-Up

Roses Costes

What do you do when you’re feeling low? I’m asking for a friend, we’ll call her Merin. Merin has been feeling particularly down recently, really worn out and stifled creatively, ground down from the tedium of her day job, directionless and all around in a funk. Merin has tried all sorts of remedies which previously worked so well: visiting museums, buying fresh flowers, burying herself in books as a distraction, wandering Paris in Google Earth, chopping off all her hair, eating a 9×13 sheet pan of cake by herself, making lists of the most simple tasks so she can feel, just for a second, a satisfying sense of accomplishment. She would normally sit down and write it out, as writing has been Merin’s chief form of therapy since she was a kid, but thanks in large part to the brain-atrophying futility of her daily work, she can’t summon the creative power needed to do something that once came so easily, so joyfully to her. Words don’t come, everything she’s written to this point seems banal, awful, embarrassing, she should just delete all 185 pages. Merin is worried, truly concerned, because she can feel herself turning bitter, hears herself making snappy remarks to her doting, kind husband (we’ll call him Kamal), for things completely unrelated to him, things that are not his fault, nor really within his power to fix. Kamal only wants Merin to be happy, after all. Kamal is kind of a saint and also a major babe and Merin is really, really sorry she has been hounding him about the goddamn dripping kitchen sink, because who cares about the kitchen sink, it’s a sink, it drips, it isn’t Kamal’s fault and it isn’t even about the sink, honestly, it’s about Merin being the grumpiest of grumpy cats and she’s really, truly sorry, Kamal. She’s trying.

So my Merin’s question to you, kiddos, is this: what do you do when you need a not-so-little pick-me-up? What works for you? Short of jetting off to Paris to ameliorate this situation (which is happening in oh, 40 days anyway), do you have any advice?