Don’t leave me, summertime: A forced ode to September

Back in May, my friend Emma and I sat on her front porch and did something very important: We wrote out our summer bucket lists.

That, apparently, was more than three months ago. I am unsure how that happened.

Sept. 1 typically leaves me feeling a little melancholy. I love summer, and not just the obvious things that everyone loves about it. Yes, swimming is delightful, as are a post-9 p.m. sunset, boats, and cooking wiener-shaped meats over a fire. But even that oppressive heat that makes you feel faint–I love it. That rush of thick air that hits you when you slide into a car that has been parked in the sun for eight hours–I love it.

So yeah. I’m bummed today.

Ever the optimist, I’m reminding myself why I shouldn’t be bummed. Here are things I have to look forward to over the coming month:

  • September fashion issues! Those impossibly thick magazines are my favorite of the year.
  • So many wonderful to-dos this month. Seriously, September is going to be the month of No Rest: Next weekend, my husband and I are doing a mini weekend getaway in Michigan.
  • The following weekend, a dear friend I haven’t seen in 3 1/2 years is coming to visit.
  • The next weekend, my parents are visiting for my dad’s 60th birthday.
  • Then October will bring with it an extra long weekend family vacation to DC with my in-laws, another visit with a darling friend, and a murder mystery dinner.

I won’t get much sleep, sure. But it should be a good month and a half for making this soul feel loved.

I’ll conclude with my favoritest end-of-summer song.

The summer’s over. This town is closing. They’re waving people out of the ocean. We have the feeling like we were floating. We never noticed where time was going.

The joy of saying ‘no’

Last week, the fabulous Liz Gilbert posted a little something about saying “no” on her Facebook page. She wrote about how difficult it was to say “no” to people, that she feared her group of friends would grow smaller as people became upset “because they were angry and hurt that they were no longer getting everything they wanted from (her).”

Turns out, her circle did grow smaller, but those who stayed became her most trusted, dearest friends.

I shared the post because it spoke to me, as so much of what she writes does. Because while I may get a little nag in my guts when I tell someone “no,” I will do it anyway if that’s what I want. I am a happier person when I am doing the tasks that I want to do. And when I am over-worked and -stressed with too much on my plate? I am a less happy person–and I do a crappier job on my commitments.

Seems like a no-brainer to keep my to-do list full of items I actually want to do.

This, apparently, is not a common belief.

Many of the comments on the post I shared were about how women–never men, in this instance–all but had to train themselves to say “no”:

  • It didn’t come naturally to a cousin, but she worked at it.
  • An acquaintance received coaching about how to make ridiculous requests to hear people say “no”–and, surprisingly, 80 percent of her “unreasonable” requests were granted anyway.
  • A friend shared that as she entered her 40s, it became easier. With age, wisdom, I suppose.
  • A college friend went a little further, explaining that it’s more than saying “no,” but getting used to not explaining one’s answer. “Every time I feel guilty about saying no,” she wrote, “I remind myself of this literary lesson: ‘The giving tree died – and you are not a tree. Trees are forever rooted in one place … and you have places to go.'” Brilliant.

For me, developing the will–ability? desire? cajones?–to say “no” came out of my high school and early college years. I was always and forever the “nice” friend. I was a fantastic listener who would do anything for anyone, a trait that often results in getting walked on. I’d go along with the crowd, happily doing whatever everyone else wanted to do.

Things changed the second semester of my senior year of college. I had very few credits to take, as I’d packed my early years with gobs of classes. I found myself ready to graduate and leave this faux adulthood that life thrusts upon those 18-year-olds who opt for a four-year, on-campus university experience, and I realized: I wanted to do everything exactly as I wanted to do it for those final months.

So I went out, virtually every night. Not to get shit-faced or stay out until 4 a.m.–I was never much of a partier–but to spend time with these friends I knew I’d never see again. I went out because I knew what my dorm looked like all too well (yes, dorm–I lived on campus all four years of college). I went out because I was recently out of a relationship so serious that, had I hung on a little longer, he would have given me the ring he’d bought (ACK). I went out because I had some college’ing to catch up on.

During that time, I lost one of my closest friends because I was being “selfish,” “naive,” and “full of myself,” opting to enjoy my final months in the city I would soon leave forever instead of staying in every night. I wasn’t sorry then, and I’m even less sorry now.

Over the decade or so since, no one would ever make the mistake of calling me “too nice.” I’m much too blunt for that. I can sugar coat like a champ, but I operate under a simple assumption: We are all adults, and I owe you nothing. Unless “you” are my husband, my parents or brother, or on the short list of my bffs.

Life is entirely too short to fill my days with things I don’t want to do, and I am much more fulfilled when my life is peppered with things that bring me joy: people I love, writing projects, jewelry, The Walking Dead, and more, and more, and more. With this worldview comes a beautiful confidence; I saw a HONY comment yesterday that put it perfectly: “I used to walk into a room and wonder, ‘Will they like me?’ Now I walk in and wonder, ‘Will I like them?'”

Today, saying “no” looks very different than it did in my college years. It’s less “I’m not going to stay home because I want to go out and DO ALL THE THINGS” and more “Go ahead without me. I’ll stay home in my pj’s with ‘A Storm of Swords’ and two fingers of whiskey.” It’s less friends calling me names behind my back because I go out too much and more understanding who are the ones who actually seem to want to spend time with me. It’s looking at the people who have brought me grief in my life and feeling at peace with letting them go, and it’s looking at those who are toxic in their guts and refusing to debase myself similarly.

To paraphrase Ms. Gilbert, go ahead and practice using the word “no.” Understand how to say it, and don’t give a shit. Know what’s up. Be powerful, and be free.

Myrtle, who knows what’s up. (Click on pic to visit Gilbert’s post.)

30 things to do before my next birthday. Which is in two months.

I’m taking another prompt from Journaling Sage over on Instagram:

List 30 things you want to do before your next birthday.

My next birthday is less than two months away. It definitely puts some parameters on my list of 30 things to do, making them perhaps a little more fun, a little less serious, than they might be if I had a year to cover everything.

Without further ado:

    1. Finish the book I’m reading. I started “A Storm of Swords” Saturday, and it’s 1,177 pages.
    2. Get another 10,000 words finished in my manuscript.
    3. Go to yoga at least three times a week, each week.
    4. My awesome friends like to send me photos of Donald when they see him (thanks, Christy!) Look at him, arms wide open, calling to me!

      My awesome friends like to send me photos of Donald when they see him (thanks, Christy!) Look at him, arms wide open, calling to me!

    5. GO TO THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER. (I’ll be in Orlando for my bday. All together now: AHHH!)
    6. Meet Donald Duck.
    7. Pick a weekend day and spend 24 hours in my pajamas.
    8. Watch both Kill Bill movies, back to back.
    9. Make something for dinner that I’ve never made before.
    10. Make something ELSE for dinner that I’ve never made before. (That’s two new dinners.)
    11. Dye my hair black.
    12. Take my laptop to Florida and spend a day writing on the balcony of our hotel. (OK, this might happen a few days after my birthday, but whatever–close enough.)
    13. Jump in the Atlantic. (See parenthetical above.)
    14. Subscribe to “The New Yorker.”
    15. Mail the few Christmas gifts I still haven’t yet sent to my friends. (Whoops.)
    16. Purchase nothing for myself online. Nothing. (Unless they’re tickets to things in Orlando.)
    17. Post at least six new listings in Jac & Elsie.
    18. Rearrange my living room to fit the new TV.
    19. Print out eight favorite photos for wall collage behind the new TV.
    20. Throw out half of my makeup. Offer the makeup I no longer want to friends, and then throw out the rest. (I have A LOT of crap I never use.)
    21. Clean up the spare room so it’s a spare room again and not my giant closet.
    22. Spend a week without my phone. (This may be tough, but I really want to leave my phone at home when I go to Orlando.)
    23. Find a new favorite blog or two to add to my roster. (Taking suggestions! I like slice-of-life blogs best.)
    24. Get my tax stuff together. (This isn’t so much a “want” to do as a “must” do.)
    25. Go to a solo matinee.
    26. See some form of live entertainment.
    27. Send a donation to Easter Seals Arc. (You should, too.)
    28. Have a writers’ retreat.
    29. Finish two personal essays currently in the first draft stage.
    30. Properly sift through Netflix, which we just started subscribing to.
    31. Start a travel journal. (I really like Journaling Sage’s idea of using it more of a spot for ticket collection, though I would like to go backward and at least list the dates and locations of previous travels.)

Why whiskey is better

At some point as a girl, I started to develop my idea of what being a woman meant. If I were to make an idea board of all the ideals I associated with femininity, front and center would be a photo of my cousin Tressa and her mom, my aunt Annie.

In the photo, taken at (I think?) a cousin’s wedding I was unable to attend, Tressa is front and center with a big stogie in her mouth. Her head is cocked to the side, and her mom has the kind of expression on her face that scolds, “Tressa!!” My aunt is caught mid-laugh, making the joy on the two women’s faces completely unposed and perfect.

Without my realizing it then, that photo planted a tiny mustard seed in my brain, assuring I would work to become the kind of woman who enjoyed cigars and all their accouterments–buttery soft brown leather chairs in old libraries, cozy Granddad sweaters, whiskey.

On a recent Friday night, my husband visited his fam and I opted for a quiet evening in. At one point in the night, I texted him a peak into my evening: fashion mag, the beautiful "The Last American Man" by Liz Gilbert, and Laphroaig.

On a recent Friday, my husband visited his fam and I opted to stay home. At one point, I texted him a peak into my evening: fashion mag, the beautiful “The Last American Man” by Liz Gilbert, and Laphroaig. Just looking at this pic makes me cozy.

Fast forward about a decade. I am at a whiskey tasting at a local liquor store with my not-yet-husband, double dating with his oldest friends. At the time, I found whiskey strong and disgusting, a taste to cover with the sweetness of Coca-Cola. I am happy to be in attendance because, I’m curious: Does “the good stuff” (read: the bottles that cost more than $20 a pop) really taste better? Does whiskey that has been barrel-aged for 12 years taste that much different from the crappy Jack I’m familiar with?

The short answer: Holy mother of God, they’re not even the same drinks.

During the tasting, I learned the difference between whiskey, scotch, and bourbon (there are more distinctions*, but the basic one is geography: Scotch is from Scotland, and bourbon is from Kentucky). I also learned that I am by and large a scotch fan. I learned that what makes scotch taste so much better than the other two liquors in its family is the fact that Scotland is an island, and the barrels that are aged in the country are whipped by the surrounding geographical elements.

Take Laphroaig, my scotch of choice (which I discovered at the aforementioned tasting). The distinctive taste in Laphroaig (say luh-FROYG) is that of peat. In laymen terms, it tastes like a bonfire smells: smokey and woodsy, as a result of the peat moss on Islay, the Scottish island where Laphroaig is made. Everything from the wind to the salt water in the air affects the taste.

This week, I’ve puffed my chest out a little more for being a whiskey-drinking woman, thanks to some stories floating around the web: Elite Daily’s 10 Reasons Why You Should Always Go For The Girl Who Drinks Whiskey and HuffPo’s (albeit, completely corny) For The Girls Who Drink Whiskey.

I’m not sure how much my choice of alcohol makes me a woman who

“(K)nows that none of us fit in these neat little boxes. She’d never pigeonhole other women–or men, for that matter. She knows that each of us are infinitely full of gorgeous nooks and crannies waiting to be explored, and that the people who are willing to brave our fire in order to enjoy our warmth are the ones worth keeping in our lives(,)”

(Seriously, that HuffPo piece is covered in cheese) … But my preference does say certain things about me, some of which are pointed to in the above articles:

  • You don’t discover a drink like Laphroaig–or a good enough liquor that would make you bitchslap anyone who tried to taint it with soda–without being excited to new things.
  • You dig being the “the only chick” in certain situations. For whatever reason, whiskey is undeniably a masculine drink. That makes me feel especially badass to be sipping two fingers of it from my cut crystal lowball glass.
  • I prefer a lowkey Friday night to one filled with people. Good whiskey is meant to be sipped in front of a fire with a book or a boy, not chugged with your college buddies.

Not to get too J.K. Rowling on you, but I fully believe we can form ourselves into the person we want to be. Certain traits are inherent and unavoidable (do what you will with me, but I will always want to give $50 to any homeless person I see, even though my brain will try to logic me out of it). But it’s our choices that ultimately make us us.

And I want to be the kind of gal who appreciates a good cigar and and a better whiskey.

* Want a little more in-depth info about the difference among scotch, whiskey, and bourbon? Mental Floss has a great overview.

Three ways to nourish my soul tonight

Last night, I slept for crap. I watched #SNL40 until 11:30 p.m. (Fallon and Sanz, love) and went to bed. Around 12:45 a.m., I migrated to the couch because, sometimes, a change of scenery helps me sleep.

But not last night.

At 1:30 a.m., I went back to bed and fell asleep around 2 or so. I woke up two or three times throughout the night.

I have no idea why I wasn’t tired. My eyes didn’t burn, my body didn’t sing that blessed song of slumber it usually does when I wiggle between the sheets. Sleep was instead a blasted toddler running away from me in a department store and hiding in the middle of a circular rack of clothing. (Or was that just toddler Jac?)

As a result of my shitty night’s sleep, a prompt from Journaling Sage on Instagram especially spoke to my gritty eyeballs this morning:

List 3 things you can do this evening to nourish your soul.

I’ve been thinking of those three things in the back of my mind all day. I can:

  1. Go to yoga after work. I tried it out about a month ago and seem to still be going. I look forward to it, which is unusual for me and physical activity. I like that my brain can shut off, and I like the peace I feel. The only concern on my mind becomes, “Don’t fall down … Don’t force this stretch and throw out your back … Am I doing this right?”
  2. Go to bed early. Let’s be real: I’m going to watch Better Call Saul at 10 p.m., so it can’t be that early. But maybe I can unwind a bit beforehand with …
  3. … a book. If I can be all showered and washed up by 9, I can spend an hour with “Life After God” and my Snuggie before Saul.

What three soul nourishing things can you do tonight? Based on the responses to the Instagram post, I see lots of reading, some writing, some meditation about the good things of the day–and at least one cup of tea.

It’s been a month: I officially keep a gratitude journal

One of my favorite Christmas gifts I received was from a new friend. She’s something of a paper/pen/journal nut, and she made me a gratitude journal. It is essentially 12 grocery-list sized pieces of nice card stock held together with an o-ring. Each page is headed with a month and numbered.

It’s a gratitude journal, she told me. Each day, no matter how shitty the day, I write something I’m grateful for.

Oh look, another weekend note (see list below)

Oh look, another weekend note (see list below)

I thought the fact that I’m allotted such a small amount of space would irritate me, that I’d be inclined to detail the good things I choose to note each day. Instead, I find I like that I don’t feel compelled to actually journal each night. This is a glorified list, but one with a lot more meaning than “milk, avocados, whiskey.”

I filled out every day in January except the 4th, when I plumb forgot. I gave it a looksie, curious if a common theme emerged, and I found a number of commonalities. Here are the most frequent topics:

  • Friends/family (8): new friends, my ridiculously supportive husband
  • Reading/writing (6): My Atlantic subscription, writers’ retreat, finishing a good book
  • Me (4): My creative side, healthy hair
  • Weekends (4): five-day weekends, Fridays after work

They’re not all deep and meaningful, but that doesn’t make them any less important for a happy life.

There are reasons to be grateful all around. I don’t often have bad days, but when I do, it’s nice to have a little bound list of all the reasons I have to feel loved.

Every woman should buy herself diamonds*

*Or her diamond equivalent

I bought myself a diamond necklace earlier this month. And on the whole drive home, I smiled like a loon.

After considering that the 2014 holiday was my best holiday yet with Jac & Elsie, and after considering that my Jac & Elsie funds–the ones that don’t go back into the shop–go straight into savings, I decided I wanted to treat myself. The last time a friend visited, she wore a necklace I immediately decided I needed in my life: It was a white gold diamond solitaire in a bezel setting.

Now, when I think “diamonds,” my brain doesn’t go to “engagement ring.” It goes to “independent woman.” Diamonds are my birthstone, and they represent independence to me.

And this is why: When I was in grade school–young, we’re talking first or second grade–all my friends started getting birthstone rings. Tiny ruby, aquamarine, or emerald chips set into a tiny gold band on their tiny fingers. I got the jewelry bug early and immediately asked for a birthstone ring for my birthday.

What am I doing? Going straight for the pearls.

The original Jac & Elsie (my nani). What am I doing? Going straight for the pearls.

“Honey,” Mom told me, “mommies and daddies don’t by diamonds for you. You get a diamond when you get married. Your husband will buy one for you.”

My 8-year-old brain did an 8-year-old version of, “Oh, fuck that shit.” I decided on-the-spot that I would not be waiting for some guy to buy me a birthstone ring.

Fast forward 14 years: I am now a 22-year-old college graduate. I have received my bachelor’s degree after four years, and I will start my career two weeks after graduation. Those Raise Your Right Hand ring campaigns are in full swing, and I love them.

It was time, I decided, buy myself that diamond.

De Beers really nailed it with this campaign. Brilliant.

De Beers really nailed it with this campaign. Brilliant.

I looked for nearly a year and a half, determined to find what I wanted within my budget. I eventually found a twisty white gold ring with a series of diamond baguettes and chips set amidst the swirls. Two weeks later, I took it back on Black Friday and rebought it to save $50. I ended up spending about $250 on that ring, and it meant everything to me.

I don’t wear it often now, but it is still important to me. It represents a lot–the idea that I can achieve what I want, and I don’t need anyone else to get there. That if I want something now, I don’t have to wait for another person to help–I just have to wait for myself to get there. That I can love pretty things and still be strong.

A photo from my short-lived What I Wore jewelry edition off my previous blog. That's the ring off to the right.

A photo from my short-lived What I Wore jewelry edition off my previous blog. That’s the ring off to the right.

That last one is strangely important to me. I like jewelry (obvs). I like makeup. I like pretty dresses and things that sparkle. That does not make me less-than, though I suspect there are plenty of people out there who would look down their noses at someone who would get joy out of such frivolity, that it somehow makes me less smart or less worthy of being taken seriously.

Now, nearly 10 years after the ring, the circumstances were right: It was time to treat myself again.

I had a Monday off earlier in the month, and I made big plans to take myself to breakfast, wander the mall for a bit, and spend the afternoon writing.

At the mall, I stopped in Helzberg Diamonds to get my engagement ring cleaned and look at their necklaces. I told the woman that I was not looking to buy just yet, but I wanted to see what was available.

She showed me some beautiful necklaces, but I didn’t see anything with a bezel setting (where the diamond is wrapped with metal–I find the design looks more modern that way). I also didn’t see anything that would fit in my budget. While I didn’t want an Elizabeth Taylor-sized rock, I was hoping for more than a 1/4 carat. Something large enough to see without being gaudy.

Things didn’t look good, and I figured I could always resort to a department store, as I did with my right-hand ring.

I peeked at the clearance jewelry jewelry before I left, and she told me it was the last day for an additional 15 percent off clearance.

As I browsed the sparkling rings, earrings, and necklaces, a necklace caught my eye: white gold. Diamond solitaire. Stone about perfectly sized. Bezel set. Gorgeous chain. In clearance. Plus 15 percent off.

“Can I see that?” I asked.

“I didn’t even know that was in there,” she told me, getting the necklace out. “Well isn’t that perfect?”

She was right–it was. Upon closer inspection, I realized the stone wasn’t a true solitaire–it was one of those mosaic type pieces, made of a center piece surrounded by nine smaller diamonds. Unless I was right up on it, I didn’t notice that at all. In fact, all the extra facets seemed to make the pendant sparkle even more.

I tried on the necklace, but no. I couldn’t. I’d just started looking.

So I went home.

After three hours, I was kicking myself, so I went back.

And now this is mine.

When I got home, Mom asked me to send a picture (left). The next day, I sent her one of it on (right).

As I was talking myself into and out of buying it, I called Jeff at work. He knew I was looking, but I’m not one to make a big purchase so quickly. I sit on it (remember–it took a year and a half to buy the ring) and look for better deals and change my mind and can’t make a decision. I didn’t want to do this here, and Jeff said the magic words, “Treat yourself.”

If you’re not a fan of diamonds, find some other way to treat yourself. I don’t mean to advocate irresponsibility with your money, but if you have the funds, do it: Buy yourself something that most people don’t ever receive unless it’s a gift. It’ll mean more to you than if someone else buys it, I swear.