obligatory new year’s post

I felt the need to post some sort of deep reflection, a look-back on 2012 and look-ahead to 2013. I mean, I have a blog, and you’re supposed to write shit like that on blogs, right? The truth is, I don’t have a ton of well-formed thoughts about the past year of my life or any concrete goals and dreams about the coming one. New Year’s has never actually been a huge thing for me. I mean, yeah, it’s cool to mark the start of another year of the earth and I respect people for forming resolutions and aiming to better themselves when the year begins, but…what’s so special about January 1st? Why can’t you aim for self improvement any day of the year? If you want to change something in your life, just do it. Does it have to be some sort of ritual, drenched in the frills of some lame New Year’s Eve party?

(Speaking of which, can we all just agree that New Year’s Eve always sucks? I remember watching a How I Met Your Mother episode about this, and it’s so true. We get these high hopes about a night filled with sparkly dresses, never-ending champagne, warm fuzzies with friends, and magical midnight kisses, but it never lives up to the hype. Every time I’ve made exciting plans for NYE, they’ve come crashing down in one way or another. This year, I’m hanging out at my parents’ house, snuggling my dogs, drinking wine, and — let’s face it — potentially even going to bed before the ball drops at midnight, and I couldn’t be happier at these prospects. Simple, relaxed, easy. The perfect way to ring in 2013.)

But all criticisms about New Year’s aside, I guess I will do a little bit of reflecting. Yesterday, I finally got to catch up with my best friend, who lives across the country, and whom I hadn’t really talked to in depth in several weeks. When the topic of New Year’s came up, she simply said (forgive the vulgarity, because this is a direct quote), “Yeah, 2012 can suck my dick.” I laughed, but in all honesty, I think I agreed with her. Sure, 2012 certainly wasn’t the worst year it could have been, but at best, it was a weird one. It had this strange mix of consistency and confusion for me. I finished out my first year at my first post-undergrad job, a job which I genuinely enjoy and feel good about. Then I worked at the same summer camp I’ve worked at for four years, but I got promoted to a higher position and had to learn a different perspective on a place I was so comfortable with. I came back to my job in the fall, and I had to learn how to approach it from a different angle, as an experienced staff member and without many of the people who had stood by me the year before. I started re-evaluating my life and re-learning how to balance work and personal growth. I invested more energy into exercising and playing music again. All year long, I struggled with balancing my personal relationships. I finally let go of the ones that were hurting me, and I cherished and built the ones that made me feel like the best version of myself.

I turn 24 in two weeks, and while I know there is no way 2013 will bring me more consistency than 2012 did, I hope that I can at least have the flexibility and strength to handle the punches it throws at me. I will give 2012 credit for the fact that I am certainly not the same person I was a year ago, and I have learned a lot over the past twelve months. But looking at the year ahead of me is still seriously daunting. This is the first year where I haven’t had a plan in front of me. When I move on from this job in the spring (something that I need to do but know I will struggle with), I have a completely blank slate. After May, my life is completely open and unmapped. To some extent, that’s great, and it gives me the freedom that I think I’ve been wanting ever since I graduated college…but it’s the scariest position I’ve ever been in. I could move anywhere, get a job doing practically anything. I love that and I hate it at the same time. I know there are people everywhere who would kill to have the kinds of endless possibilities I do, but that doesn’t make it less scary. Part of me wishes I was more settled down, more planned. But I know I will learn just as much from having to find a path this coming year as I have from following the one that was placed in front of me over this past one. Maybe 2013 will suck, maybe it won’t, but it’s going to happen either way.

all I want for Christmas is a self-cleaning bathroom: my REAL Christmas list

Every year, I make a Christmas list for my family. Being a twenty-something, the thing I usually need most is money, but our family gift exchange is one of our favorite traditions, so I try to come up with a variety of material goods that would actually be useful for me (a new phone charger, a gift certificate to my favorite health food store, a pass for yoga classes, a selection of TV series on DVD that I can spend my weekends watching endlessly, etc.) or the occasional frivolous item that I would never actually buy for myself (ridiculous expensive high-end makeup, perfume, etc.). These are all things my family is equipped to provide for me, so I don’t have a problem nudging them in the right direction. But here is my list of things I can’t ask them for. Things I want just as badly as the tangible items I will unwrap on Christmas, but know I can never get. My real Christmas list.

1. A boyfriend who looks and acts like Jim Halpert. I can play the “contentedly single” role as long as I want, and to some extent, I actually feel that way. But every girl’s gotta have her dream guy right? Jim Halpert is the man who taught me how to love. Okay, all dramatics aside though, he really is my perfect man. He’s also the reason men in “real life” don’t live up to my ridiculous expectations. So if someone could just get me a Jim Halpert for Christmas, all of that would be moot anyway. Done.

2. A dream job. I’m not saying I want to be hired into the position I’ve been dreaming of all my life, because I don’t actually have a position in mind. I just want an actual job to dream about. Like many people my age, I feel lost in a sea of maybe-I-could-do-thises and what-if-I-tried-thats. Remember being six years old and knowing exactly what you were going to be when you grew up? I want that feeling back in my life. I want a goal to work toward that’s bigger than coming home after a day of work and trying to beat my personal record of how many episodes of Felicity I can watch before passing out on my couch. I want a vision, sitting high on a tall metaphorical mountain, that I’m constantly climbing toward, and even if I never get to the top, well, at least I can say I tried to get there. All of that cheesy, reach for the stars bullshit that people talk about when you’re a kid — I want that back in my life.

3. People to stop overusing the word “epic.” Not everything is epic, okay? And if it is, come up with something more original, like “glorious” or “illustrious.” I would pee myself if I heard someone say “That. Was. Illustrious.” after a really awesome piano concerto or skateboard stunt. (I know people refer to a lot of other things as epic, but those were the first two things to pop into my head, don’t ask me why.)

4. A self-cleaning bathroom. Do I even need to explain this one? I can’t believe I still have any hair on my head, based on the amount that seems to collect in my shower drain and on the floor. I disgust myself.

5. A hypoallergenic kitten that stays a kitten forever. Science must be getting close to developing one of these, right?

6. Nicolas Cage to stop making movies. Sorry I’m not sorry about this one.

7. Unlimited access to any sheet music ever. I majored in music and this would just be useful, okay.

8. To be best friends with Mumford & Sons. Listen, I would be an excellent BFF while they’re on tour. I would knit them all hats and pour their drinks after the shows and run interference between them and the crazy superfans. (And yes, I realize that writing this probably makes me one of said crazy superfans, but whatever.) All I’m saying is that they play cool instruments and probably smell like Old Spice and I just want to be close to them, is that really too much to ask?

9. A phone that automatically deletes any drunk/stupid/emotional texts I write before I can send them. I thought my brand new iPhone 5 would have a feature that does this, but apparently “smart” phones aren’t actually that smart. Thanks for nothing, Apple.

10. For it to be autumn 11 months of the year. The twelfth month (December) should be snowy and white and perfect leading up to Christmas. Then the rest of the year should be filled with red and golden leaves, crisp air, pumpkin lattes, and beautiful sunsets.

So this Christmas wishlist is really just that — a list of wishes.  And I have accepted the fact that I can’t have these things. Even so, aren’t we taught by every Christmas movie ever that wishing and believing are the best part of the holiday season? So maybe one day I’ll have a hypoallergenic permanent kitten under my tree, you never know…

(This post was also featured on HelloGiggles.com!)

5 ways in which pinterest is ruining my life

Don’t get me wrong. I love Pinterest for all the wonderful ways it can be useful in my life. I pin door dec/bulletin board/program ideas for the kids in my building, I find easy and cheap ways to organize and clean things, and I occasionally try other random ideas that I find on there. But because Pinterest can (usually) become a black hole of procrastination and decreased productivity, I have decided it is actually ruining my life. Here are five reasons why:

1. My wardrobe suddenly seems completely inadequate. I don’t have a pair of pastel jeans in every color or a pair of boots to match every outfit. I have plenty of oversized sweaters, but none of them look as cute when I wear them as they do on the girls who pair them with leggings and chunky scarves, standing all nonchalantly on the steps of some ambiguous brick building like they just threw this outfit together for a quick trip to the grocery store and happened to get caught by a photographer on their way home. And then, when I click through the link of some dress I absolutely love and want to buy, I find out it’s $378. Can’t there be a Pinterest just for poor losers like me who shop the clearance racks at Target when they’re feeling like spending money? A “Thrift-erest” if you will. (Or something more clever.)

2. My hair is also inadequate. Or rather, my ability to style my own hair is lacking. I have tried many of the hair tutorials that have popped up on my homepage: “perfect ballerina bun in seconds,” “easy beach waves,” “five second up-do,” etc. I’ve twisted and pulled and curled until my scalp hurt but all I that ever comes out of the torture is a mediocre messy bun. Any hairstyle that can supposedly be reduced to 6 steps is a sham. That, or I suck at anything hair-related and I will therefore never be able to style my future daughter’s hair so I might as well have sons even though I didn’t grow up with brothers and won’t know how to raise boys and oh my god I’m going to be a terrible mother.

3. The recipes make me want to quit my job. Okay, not really, but I live and work in a dorm. I don’t have a kitchen of my own. I spend my pre-dinner desk shifts drooling over puff pastry tarts, roasted chickpeas, and broccoli fritters, and then I have to go eat whatever the cafeteria is serving that night. Are you kidding me, Pinterest? All I want to do is have the freedom to try all these amazing recipes I keep finding. For someone without a kitchen, I have far too many recipes, pinned onto MULTIPLE boards. I try to stop, but then I see a picture of an egg baked inside an avocado and I lose my shit all over again. Ugh.

4. I am planning for the future in all the wrong ways. Now, before you jump to conclusions, I am NOT one of those girls who has a wedding board but no marriage prospects. Screw that. I refuse to pin cute DIY wedding ideas (no matter how cute the mason jar centerpiece filled with daisies is!) when I have no wedding in the foreseeable future. Instead, I have begun pinning ideas for my future children. I know, I know. Probably even crazier than having a wedding board. It’s just…what if, 15 years from now when I have kids (if I don’t become a crazy cat lady, sad and alone) I can’t remember what the Perfect Playdough Recipe was?? I’ll obviously still be using Pinterest (because there’s no way that it will just be a fad that will die out in a couple years, duh), so I’ll just open it up, scroll through the millions of pins I’ve accumulated, and find that recipe I pinned back when I was 23 and planning for the happiness of my future spawn. I’M JUST THINKING AHEAD, OKAY?

5. It keeps me from getting other, more important things done. This is probably the most obvious one. How is it that I can spend an hour browsing various categories on Pinterest and it can feel like 15 minutes, but an hour of writing grade reports about my students feels like I have been stuck in an eternal vacuum of time that will never end? I’m not even accomplishing anything significant by pinning 18 outfits! It is a complete and utter waste of my time. Maybe that’s why I love it so much.

soli deo gloria, or, what I learned from being a non-believer at a Lutheran school

My religious identity was ever evolving when I was growing up. My family migrated from church to church. First we were Catholic. I don’t remember this because I was a baby, but my parents were married in the Catholic church and I was baptized there. Then we were Lutheran for awhile. (My dad was raised Lutheran.) All I really remember about that was going to Sunday school, coloring in pictures of God’s creatures, and the Christmas pageant, which I’m pretty sure I cried all the way through or something. I hated church. I was too shy for church.

Eventually we landed at the Unitarian Universalist church in our town. This seemed like the perfect fit for my oddball family: a pluralistic approach to the search for spiritual growth and truth within a community. My parents were all over that shit. And it was good…for awhile. Sunday school still sucked, though, and I didn’t fit in with the kids in the congregation. They were too loud. They all went to a different school than I did, and I always felt like a tagalong. My parents gave me the option of sitting in on the Sunday service, but I got bored. Even as a pre-teen, I was beginning to think that church just wasn’t for me.

We eventually stopped attending the UU church, at least on a regular basis. It wasn’t that we didn’t like it, but my family just wasn’t a church-going family. Christmas and Easter, those were our church holidays, and I liked those because it meant seeing my grandparents and aunts and uncles and sharing church (and dinner) as one big family like we did every year. Church on those holidays was a tradition, but every Sunday, it was not.

When I decided to attend a Lutheran college, I think my parents were understandably anxious. They knew it was a good school with the right kind of music program for me, but they worried I wouldn’t fit in with the average Lutheran students, the “Religious Kids,” who went to church every Sunday and knew all the hymns. But I kept telling them, “I’m not going for the church, I’m going for the music.” And it was true. All I wanted was a place where I could sing all day and be around other people who sang all day, too. A school with five massive choral ensembles was my dream.

So I went to college. I made friends with some of those Religious Kids, and most of them only went to church when they felt like it (because what college student likes waking up early on a Sunday morning?). Nobody cared that I didn’t have any religious beliefs whatsoever. I studied music, and I sang in choir, which is what I was there for. Every once in awhile, my choir would be asked to sing on Sunday or at a morning chapel service during the week. Strangely, it was not uncomfortable for me, a kid who had really only attended church two times a year for most of her adolescence. I took comfort in the camaraderie of singing with a group of other people who loved music as much as I did. It didn’t matter that the religious texts of our music didn’t hold a spiritual significance for me. I connected with the thick, textured harmonies, the rise and fall of the soprano line, the firm weight of the bass anchoring the entire piece together. I was continually awed by the sound of many unique voices blending together in one song. I felt the most at peace when I was singing, and the fact that I was in church didn’t change that. My peers around me may have been singing to glorify God, but for a few brief moments, we were all singing together and that was all that mattered.

I don’t think religion will ever be a significant part of my life. I have gone most of my life without it as an anchor, and I am completely fine with that. But what I do need, I think, is a musical anchor. I need the reminder that music can take you somewhere else or give you relief from the stress of your daily life. I’ve been missing that in my life recently, and I look back on all of those college rehearsals, concerts, and church services with longing. With all of the emphasis that is placed on the well-being of others within my job, I sometimes forget to do things for myself. Sure, I spend time with people I love, I go to yoga, and I sing alone when I get the chance — all of these things can be a release. But there is something extremely special about the sense of community that goes along with a choral experience. A challenging piece of music, when finally polished and performed, is nothing short of magical. The focus connects you. Those collective breaths and sustained notes, the simultaneous internal counting of the difficult rhythms your section has pounded out time and time again in extra rehearsals, that ringing moment when the last note has been sent out into the air, leaving behind the exhilaration and exalted faces of the people who gave it life. I’ve worked in groups of artists many times before, but this feeling, this sense of accomplishment and artistic release, is the most rewarding one I’ve ever found.

So even though I may not have taken away any big moments of religious discovery in my four years of undergrad, I certainly did grow in my appreciation for musical and artistic fellowship. I am continually thankful for all of the friends and colleagues I’ve met over the years merely through a mutual love of singing, and I hope I can one day find another sense of community like the one within the choirs I’ve been a part of. That’s all the religion I need.

an analysis of my grown-up self through the eyes of my 10 year-old self

me, as a wee one, jumper askew and looking confused on the beach. standard.

Sometimes I wonder what my younger self would think of my older self. At 23, have I accomplished all the things I wished for as a child? I remember thinking I would be fully grown up and mature by the time I was a twenty-something, and I now realize just how ridiculous my expectations were as a wide-eyed, freckle-faced, string bean with bangs back in the day. Even so, this is what I imagine my 10 year-old self would say to present-day me…

1. You’re telling me that at 23, you’re not a veterinarian yet? Hang on, you’re NEVER going to be a veterinarian? WHAT ABOUT ALL OF THE ANIMALS WHO NEED YOUR MEDICAL ATTENTION? What, that Halloween costume two years ago was for nothing, then? I wore a lab coat and a customized badge that said “Dr. Maddie, D.V.M.,” how much more official can you get? Okay, at least tell me you picked something just as cool as a vet, like a ninja or a figure skater. You didn’t? Oh great. Well then, tell me exactly when you lost sight of all your hopes and dreams in the past 13 years.

2. You’re not married and you don’t have a boyfriend? I thought all adults were married. You were going to marry one of the Hanson brothers, when did that plan fall through? Did you actually start taking Mom’s advice and realize you can be an independent woman without a man? Have you abandoned all hope of living happily ever after like the Little Mermaid?

3. You LIKE asparagus now? Yuck. What about that is okay? VEGETABLES ARE THE WORST.

4. WAIT, you were a vegetarian for 10 of the past 13 years? WHAT PART OF “VEGETABLES ARE THE WORST” DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND?!

5. You have your own computer and phone, so I guess that makes you pretty cool. Did you ever beat your high score on “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?” Because if you didn’t, you’re not actually that cool. Or smart.

6. What is this crap music you’re listening to? There is no way some guy called Bon Iver is better than ‘N Sync. Why did you abandon your roots? bRiTnEy SpEaRs 4 LyFe!!!!1

7. I guess drinking several cups of coffee a day makes you a grown-up. Ew. You’re practically Dad.

8. I can’t believe you don’t sleep on a bunk bed anymore. Bunk beds are the best kinds of beds. You know that.

9. You don’t drive a convertible? Remember when Mom and Dad wouldn’t let you have one of those life-sized Barbie cars that all your friends had and you swore you would drive a convertible when you were an adult? Get on that.

10. I hope you still play outside and dance around the living room to Paul Simon with Dad and get excited when Mom lets you have sugary cereal on Saturday mornings and have a best friend you tell everything to and spend time with your little sisters and wear leggings because they’re way more comfortable than jeans. And even if you still do at least one of these things, I’ll know that you’re holding on to the best parts of being a kid. Even though you’re a grown-up.