HUMANS OF NEW YORK. I can’t get enough of these strangers’ stories. It’s incredible, the wisp of a snippet that can make people feel connected to each other.

MARPAC DOHM WHITE NOISE MACHINE. I only have one neighbor, but the walls separating our apartments are thin. Voices, thunderfoots, and dog yippings are constant. After reading the rave reviews of this unit on Amazon, I gulped at the price and purchased it — and have been glad every night since. It’s small and lightweight, and the steady whooshing sound is calming; I’d highly recommend it for light sleepers or nap-needing babies. {I happen to be both.}

RANCH BREAD. Nothing could be simpler or more delicious. Take a fresh loaf of French bread, split it in half, and butter both sides. {I’m going to insist on real butter here.} Sprinkle with packaged ranch dressing mix, top with shredded white cheddar, and broil on low until edges are crisply toasted and the cheese is bubbly. Slowly perfecting the seasoning-to-bread ratio will make our remaining mortal days so much tastier.

OH, ALBATROSS. I love Groleau’s description of her crafty finds and philosophy, especially this: ” The albatross was long believed to carry the souls of sailors lost at sea, which is an appropriate description of the goods in my shop: sailors and lost souls.”

SAVANNAH, GEORGIA. This city. OH. Wonder Bread and I made a day trip last weekend to hear Chris Thile, ultimate mandolin maestro, as part of the Savannah Music Festival. I had read a bit about the city before visiting {Design*Sponge was also my first internet introduction to Chattanooga!}, and so expected a fun adventure.

Instead, it was beyond my wildest hope-peppered imaginings. I think I was even more bowled over by Savannah than my first visit to Portland years ago — a feat I’d have previously declared impossible. And while I loved Chattanooga right away upon moving here, walking around Savannah was akin to unyielding emotional dynamite.

Friends, I’ve been hopelessly ZINGED.

All I could do was exclaim — over the enormous mossy trees canopying every street, lush pocket parks scattered in historic neighborhoods, and the porch-and-shuttered wonder of proud antebellum houses. We wandered into book shops, ate brunch under a red patio umbrella, and chatted with locals {including the owner of a coffee shop cleverly called The Sentient Bean}.

The city is friendly, walkable, artistic, and inexpensive, and all I can think about is how dizzying it is, having one’s heart cartwheeling nonstop for an entire day. As terrific as Thile’s performance was, it was secondary to everything else about the city. I’m already scrambling to figure out when I can visit next, except instead of only making a day trip…maybe hastily crafting a log cabin and NEVER LEAVING.

While browsing the magazine racks in a bookstore over the holidays, I paused at a RealSimple headline with the following declaration: NEVER WEAR THE WRONG THING AGAIN. Generally I like RealSimple, but something about this struck me as off, almost aggressive — as if readers are supposed to expend serious energy worrying that they {gasp!} might not be wearing what someone else deems good enough at some sparkling holiday soiree. Isn’t the “right” thing to wear what makes someone feel confident and comfortable? Can it not just be that simple?

Similarly irksome was the email from Express that appeared in my inbox soon after, commanding me to BE THE HOTTEST GIRL AT THE PARTY. Naturally there’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel attractive, but not only is this kind of ultimate attainment of hotness impossible, it shouldn’t even be a thing. If women’s magazines and advertising primarily encourage being the hottest woman, and men’s magazines overflow with advice for how to get her into bed, we all lose. Is this really supposed to be the focus of our lives? Our culture?

It’s like when a celebrity is described as being “pure sex.” Wouldn’t it be better to be “pure razzmatazz” or “pure kindness,” or — goodness, even “pure carbohydrates” is a worthier aspiration, I think. Now there’s a marketing gem: BE THE MOST CARBOHYDRATE-LADEN GIRL AT THE PARTY.

Here I raise my hand as the former ringleader of magazine addict parades, because the headlines that used to invite me in for fanatical page-flipping now just make me sad. The promises of perfection — the flawless body, wardrobe, relationship, and home — are exhausting, not alluring. It’s almost a shock when media voices attempt to connect to something besides our insecurities: tenderness, curiosity, and gratitude. These aren’t the things that sell, of course — but they’re the things that make a life.

I crave headlines about how to connect, how to forgive, and how to choose the right red bicycle. Please no more urging me to attain someone else’s version of perfection, physical or otherwise.

We’re all terribly misshapen pancakes, but golden, and it’s enough of a life just trying to shine without the vipers of competition or comparison. So how about this: you leave the perfect country estate to Martha, and I’ll pass on the sizzling designer wardrobe to someone with an actual hairstyle, and we’ll call it a blessed day over a plate of nachos.

ONE: Twenty-nine is going to be a delicious age {and “delicious” has to be murmured like a red-lipped vixen, with poutiness and flair}. My early twenties were hard — entire years were painfully hollow — but the nice thing about having blues and bruises in the twenties is that everything coming after feels slightly more manageable. Financial worries, career panics, relationship fractures? Been there. CHILD’S PLAY, I declare! Watch me charge this red bicycle into a thundercloud and not even drop my baguette! You can ride in the handlebar basket.

TWO: Before moving to Tennessee, I spent who-knows-how-long every year stalking strangers’ Flickr and Tumblr pages for photos of fall. Sighing over blazing leaves and country roads flanked by fleets of russet trees, it seemed impossible that I might die not having lived in a place with unabashed autumn.

Naturally I expected this enchanted land to be the much-pined-for Portland. But it’s time to admit there is no competing with fall in Chattanooga — not when there are warm biscuits and Vince Guaraldi Trio playing on winding Lookout Mountain drives. My heart is wearing much more plaid than I do in real life, because it’s just a plaid-banjo-pine cone kind of place. I absolutely love it. I didn’t think The Place would be the South, but it feels right to hang up the cardigan and build a treehouse here for now.

THREE: Dating an avid and hard-to-scare Halloween buff means bidding the comfort zone adieu and shuffling, head ducked in terror, through an elaborate haunted house. Here’s what I can say about Wonder Bread: he’s extremely patient and protective, and very little rattles him — and now this includes a shrieking, near-crying weenie twisting his arm at unnatural angles and marching on his shoe heels, prodding him to move faster because SERIOUSLY, WHY DID I THINK THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?

In the parking lot afterward, having survived the chilling ordeal, I bemoaned this lack of toughness. “I would be useless in a zombie apocalypse!” I wailed. “All I do is go to libraries!” A soul-crumpling realization, that.

I’m always intrigued by people who relish fear because that kind of tortured delight is so foreign. You know what’s scary? Eating the last morsel of a favorite cheese. Gas appliances. A classroom full of bored college students. I could fall off the mountain bluff at any moment! Daily life is edgy enough, my friend — albeit with fewer chainsaws.

I never wanted to be one of those people who, when asked how they are, always reply, “Busy.” It seems ridiculous for that to be a primary descriptor of life. Do you know those people? And don’t you want to sing them a gentle song about meadows and lambs, and about how they don’t HAVE to wear the panic of the Eternally Overloaded?

Well. Here we are.

A summer of occasional teaching and relaxed part-time work morphed into full-time teaching {including an extra class that needed adopting at the last minute}, weekend contract hours for the summer company, and a relationship that is now long-distance for a minimum of three years. I spend weekdays in offices and classrooms, and weekends in the car.

I’ve been eating a lot of rolls. And not sleeping a lot of nights.

But there are, as always, daily graces. While driving to campus before sunrise, I hack staunch German phrases into the quiet {because what would a full plate be without attempts at learning a foreign language?}. And while some of my new classes unavoidably include students who won’t talk and won’t engage, others offer some of the brightest and funniest brains I’ve ever met. Work, while heavy, feels meaningful. I’m thankful to be in a field I love, at the base of mountains from which I have yet to plunge to certain death.

And then there are the eggs.

Last night I stepped onto the balcony with a long-expired carton, ready to toss them over the mountain bluff. After aimlessly vaulting the first egg, it smacked into a tree branch and exploded — and you would not believe how weirdly unfettered I felt. I became a beaming lunatic hurling yolks into the forest, wishing for a hundred eggs. I could have bellowed, SOMEONE BRING ME ALL THE CHICKENS! had anyone been there to hear besides cicadas. Can you imagine the satisfying crack of shells against a tree? Why aren’t there poems written about this? Let’s sit Billy Collins down for a chat.

Naturally I look forward to the time {Christmas?} when “busy” stops being the truthful answer to how I am — because it’s certainly not who I want to be. But in the meantime, you know where to find me. And you know to bring an egg or two.

Is there a song that suits your every mood? That feels good to the soul no matter what?

Do you have any cool scars?

Is there a book that makes you cry?

Do any of your beautiful memories involve trees?

At what point do you consider toast burnt?

How do you typically react when angry? Do you yell, withdraw, pout, drink?

What was your favorite teacher or professor like?

If you could write only one postcard to one person, what would it say?

How do you feel about pigeons?

What is your favorite nickname?

{Imagine being cornered at a party with these kinds of questions, erupting from a wild-haired woman fighting a serious corn dog craving. My ideal life is too awkward for words.}

{Or at least, things that have made a difference to me when naps and tasty sandwiches weren’t quite cutting it.}

Scattering sunny words. It doesn’t matter so much when, where, or how; it’s a boost just putting positive energy into the world using such a powerful medium {though obviously cute kitten photos are never a bad idea, either}. On a recent whim at work, I took to the employee bathroom mirror with a dry erase marker and jotted YOU ARE EXTREMELY GOOD-LOOKING, and hid notes with cheerful declarations about co-workers. It was a blast, and everyone thought it was so weird. I highly recommend anonymous word bursts as a balm for the blues, the Mondays, or gout.

Learning to accept compliments and believe good and true things about yourself. This one is hard. For the longest time, when anyone paid me a compliment my automatic mental response was, “He/she is just being nice.” Or I would get embarrassed and gracelessly deflect the words. And while it is nice for people to express kind things, more than that, refusing to accept a heartfelt compliment is the equivalent of saying, “Your opinion of me is stupid. And so is your face.”

Isn’t it exhausting to invest in people who dissolve sincerity? So I have tried to accept compliments as an extension of someone’s genuine perception: “Tom Hanks likes that I am tall, therefore he is generously expressing this belief.” Others’ opinions are not something we can change, and it doesn’t serve anyone to reject positivity, right?

So what would happen if I let the {totally realistic} words of Tom Hanks put a daring glow in my rib cage instead? What would happen if I learned to own my height and declare myself a tall, hot cup of woman? If I expressed gratitude for such a positive perception from someone I admire? Most importantly, why would someone EVER disagree with Tom Hanks?

Imagining someone ridiculous cheering you on. During a recent stressful week, it was Mr. Bean. At my most desperate I pictured his thick eyebrows peaked in delight and an emphatic nod of commendation. It was perfectly insane and surprisingly helpful, like previous efforts to imagine someone making me angry as the bumbling Swedish Chef. It’s simply impossible not to feel cheered when Mr. Bean’s cavernous nostrils affirm, “I approve of your life choices; you’re doing the best you can. Carry on.”

“Remember the stories you told me about wandering in the woods when you were a little girl? It scared the crap out of you, but you went out there all alone, knee-high to a bunny rabbit, and picked berries and climbed trees and found bird nests and came home all bug-bitten and mossy. And you loved every minute of it. It made you our beautiful Arctic Bell, impervious to cold and feared by mosquitoes. Aren’t you glad you didn’t stay by grandma’s side, darning socks and baking gingerbread?”

“Who darns socks?”

“Girls nobody tells stories about.”

{from Alexis M. Smith’s Glaciers}

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