When your Grandfather is More of Rebel than You

I lived in a dorm room for the first two years of college, and I had way too many things to actually fit inside said dorm room, but I was too stubborn to leave anything at home. So most of my childhood bedroom and all of my Pinterest DIY’s came with me. This led to an enormous organizational issue that I’m sure my freshman roommate judged me for, and even though we had to share a room, she was kind enough to pretend that I was not actually a borderline hoarder. All I had to contain my possessions was a desk with three drawers, a dresser also with three drawers, and a wardrobe with two shelves and a small hanging rack.


One evening, I had gone to my grandpa’s house for dinner and we had the following conversation about my predicament:

Grumpy: What do you have to do tonight?

Erika: Well, I gotta go do some homework tonight and clean my room a little bit more. It’s kind of a mess.

G: It’s not very big, don’t take too long.

E: No it shouldn’t, but I have to find places to put things. Because I don’t have a lot of places to put things.

G: Maybe you need some shelves.

E: Well I don’t know where I would put them. I can’t drill into the wall or anything.

G: I can.

E: No, you can’t.

G: Sure I can.

E: But I’d have to pay for that at the end of the year.

G: No, you won’t. Just tell them, “It was here when I come here.” Just tell them you don’t know where it came from.

Flash forward a few days later, and my grandpa arrives at my dorm to measure the wardrobe because he’s going to build me another shelf. He pulls out his measuring tape, takes a few notes, and then is gone almost as soon as he gets there.

A couple more days go by, and he calls me to tell me he’s finished my shelf and he’ll be stopping by to install it. The shelf fits perfectly, but the studs won’t fit into the pre-made holes inside the wardrobe, so my grandpa decides that he’ll just make them bigger. By drilling more holes into the sides of the wardrobe. With the electric drill he just happens to have in his truck. However, the cheap siding on the wardrobe splits immediately and chips off on the inside, exposing the inside of the wood. Undeterred, my grandpa continues drilling until the studs fit snugly inside, my new shelf perched safely inside my wardrobe. He steps back and admires his handiwork.

I, however, see a bill in my future for damages to my dorm room.

Later, I was very grateful for the new shelf, and I just painted over the damage with my art supplies and hoped that my RA would never find out.


Herb Garden


I have never been very good at taking care of plants. I’ve over-watered countless houseplants and flowers over the years and I consider myself to have a black thumb. I don’t even let myself wander into the clearance section of Home Depot’s garden department because those poor plants don’t deserve such a bad ending.

This year, however, things are going to be different.

A couple weeks ago, my friend Jenna and I went to Crabtree Farms‘ spring plant sale to browse through their rows and rows of herbs, vegetables, and flowers. This farm is an urban farm that encourages local involvement and offers CSA shares during their growing season.


We weren’t planning on purchasing any of their plants, but…


I have since bought even more herbs for my little patio garden, and they seem to be doing well! Some even need to be re-potted into bigger pots because they’ve already outgrown the space I gave them. And making sure they all get enough sunlight on the patio I have is a little tricky because I live on the second floor of an apartment complex, but I made a makeshift plant stand out of some bricks and wooden planks that seems to be working out well so far. (My cat Olive approves anyway.)

image1 (4)

Maybe I do have a green thumb after all.


Conversations with my Grandpa: Sunday School


My grandpa is one of the most important people in my life. He’s known as Grumpy in my family because he’s one grumpy old man. When you really know him though, you can see that he’s kind and loving and he values his family. When I went to college, I got to live in the same town as my grandpa, and I made regular visits to see him throughout the week. We’d go out for dinner, or I’d go to his house and bake him his favorite cookies, or sometimes he’d show up at my dorm room on the weekends at who-knows-what-time in the morning to show me the latest project he’d been working on. Since I graduated, I haven’t been able to see him as much I’d like (which is partly my own fault).

But I recorded a few of our conversations on my phone to save for later. So I could listen to that gravelly voice full of quiet laughter and years of hard labor and decades of stories, memories, and love.

. . .

We used to have a song when I was in Presbyterian Sunday school called something about “bringing in the sheaves, we will come rejoicing bringing in the sheaves.” I didn’t even know what a sheave was.

I don’t either.

Well it’s a bale of hay. I found out later. At the time I didn’t know what it was. I just knew it was a good idea to bring ‘em in. And then we’d sing “All the Christians” and I liked that one because you got to stomp your feet, march around. Went to the Bonna Bell Presbyterian Sunday school at a little ole wooden building – I don’t think that building was much bigger than this kitchen. Seemed like it was big ‘cause we was little. And it had a big old pot belly stove in there in the winter time, and it had an ole upright piano that was bad out of tune. The old preacher would get up there and he would say, “Ok, everybody turn to page 92 in the song book.”

Somebody would say, “We sang that last week!”

He’d say, “Well, how ‘bout page 94?”

“I don’t know that one!”

“Well how ‘bout page 21?”

Then the piano player would say, “I can’t play that!”

And then we’d argue on what we gonna sing.

Then we’d have Sunday school and everybody’d go out there and get in a fight.

I feel like that’s not what you’re supposed to do in Sunday school.

Well, that’s what we did in the Bonna Bell Presbyterian Sunday school.

Now if the preacher liked you good, they had a big ole bell in the belfry that had a rope coming down. And if he liked you, he’d let you ring the bell. And one day he decided it was my time to ring the bell. I went to ring it, and I couldn’t reach the rope. And I didn’t get to ring the bell. Never did get to ring it. Rope was too short.

We’d meet in the church building there, and we’d sing some songs, and he’d make a little bit of a sermon, and then we’d go outside, sit under the tree and we’d have a Sunday school lesson out there. Sitting under the tree. ‘Cept when it was raining, then we stayed inside.

Sometimes you’d only get told about sin. And you’d start talking about stuff and I figured, well that’s stuff I liked to do! [laughs] And then I was in a dilemma, I didn’t know what to do then.


Chattanooga Film Festival

I live in a really great city. I would say I’m a little biased, but I moved here last summer because I already knew it was great. But I am still constantly amazed at how wonderful it actually is. There’s a huge local scene here that values the importance of community and knows what being a neighbor means. I work at a local coffee shop, and I often see our regulars all around town. I walk down the street and pass by countless restaurants that incorporate local food sources in their fare. I pass by shops where the owners sit behind the counters and are always willing to start up conversations with you as you browse through their wares.

This community finds itself located on the Tennessee River, and they have done an amazing job at creating something that feels just like home. As my friend Jenna would say, “It’s the biggest small town I’ve ever lived in.” Most importantly, this town offers an endless supply of opportunities to be involved in, and that, I think, is what makes people stay.

Chattanooga’s annual film festival happened recently, and I was able to attend the Tennessee filmmakers block where the only stipulations were the film either had to be made by a Tennessean or it had to be about Tennessee in some way. I’m sure there were many entries, but in the end, only 10 films were shown. The directors ranged from amateur filmmakers with minimal equipment to old hats with Hollywood ties.

film fest

Each one was different from the one before, but they were all so well done. Some were dialogue based, some visual, and some let the actual plot guide the story.

There was one that had me completely captivated called Persimmon Ridge, directed by Paul Marchard. This one was 20-minute black and white film that followed a woman around her farm through the spring time. There was no speaking, but the sounds of the farm and the surrounding woods gave the film a soundtrack that brought back memories of visits to my own family’s Georgia farm. With its seemingly simple elements, it told a beautiful story of family, history, and hard work.

Another was a mockumentary about a band of two whose only instruments were pillows. And they only played covers. (Get it?) This one had great comedic timing and was a light-hearted addition to the collections of films. You could just tell this film was fun to make, and the director (Sylvia Zdunek) was praised by an audience member for her comedic talent during the Q & A.

A third stand-out called The Little Stage featured a forgotten building sitting on the edge of Bon Aqua, TN. Directed by Will Berry, it showcased some lost footage of Johnny Cash dating back to the 1970’s that showed the importance of this old building. The film follows the restoration of this structure from its decrepit state to its newly refurbished form as a small music hall and museum, paying homage to its former talented guests.

I consider myself lucky when I think about the things I have been able to do and see since I moved here.

Guys, Chattanooga is so great. The people. The mountains. The food. The coffee. Everything. I’m just so glad I get to live in a place like this.


5 Books for Your Spring Reading List



  • The Messenger – Markus Zusak
    • This is one my all time favorite books. Zusak is probably best known for The Book Thief  (which you should also read!), but this book deserves attention all its own. It follows a 19 year old cab driver named Ed who unwittingly stops a bank robbery and then begins to receive playing cards in the mail. Always aces, with clues written on them. He goes through a journey of self-discovery (blah blah), and he learns that the world is much bigger, more broken, and much more beautiful than he imagined. But what really kept me around was the writing. Zusak has this way with words that brings a poetic edge to everything he writes, and it paints the most beautiful pictures in my head.
    • “Sometimes people are beautiful. Not in looks. Not in what they say. Just in what they are.”
  • American Gods – Neil Gaiman
    • This one really caught me off guard. I am a huge fan of Gaiman as a writer and as a person. I follow him on different social media platforms, and he comes across as a very calm, genuine, and relatable person. And I’ve been meaning to pick up some of his books for a long time now, but you know how that goes. Anyway, I started with his novel Neverwhere, but I was a little unimpressed. Not that it was bad. I just had built up what I thought Gaiman was in my head. And believe me when I tell you that American Gods went above and beyond the image I created. This novel is about a man named Shadow, an ex-con and widower, recently released from jail, who is whisked away by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday on a road trip through the backroads of America to collect all of the old gods that have been pushed aside by the new (TV, Media). Exciting, thrilling, and dark, you will not be disappointed in this pick.
    • “People believe, thought Shadow. It’s what people do. They believe, and then they do not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjuration. People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe; and it is that rock solid belief, that makes things happen.”
  • The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
    • This one. It gives me chills thinking about how relevant this book has become in the past few years. I read this one for the first time about 3 years ago now, and it gave me so much to think about. The Handmaid’s Tale comes across as a cautionary tale about what it means to give up our rights as women and what can be taken away from us so easily. It’s set in the (not so distant?) future where women have become infertile and those who can bear children are forced to become vessels for the rich to procreate. It follows the story of one handmaid in particular and her daily struggle to remain alive and well in a world that is so decidedly anti-woman and anti-choice. I think it’s an important book for everyone to read, not just women.
    • “There is more than one kind of freedom,” said Aunt Lydia. “Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.”
    • “‘Ordinary,’ said Aunt Lydia, ‘is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary.'”
  • Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel
    • I am not generally one for post-apocalyptic novels. There have been and continue to be so many of them, they all start to blend together for me. However, I was drawn to Station Eleven because it placed its focus on something more than just a group of survivors. There are several story lines from different time lines that don’t seem very cohesive, but they form a tangled web that slowly make sense as the story progresses. And the point of the novel is something greater than survival because “survival is insufficient.” It’s about how humanity needs something to live for in order to truly be human, be it art, religion, or a simple belief.
    • “I’ve been thinking lately about immortality. What it means to be remembered, what I want to be remembered for, certain questions concerning memory and fame. I love watching old movies. I watch the faces of long-dead actors on the screen, and I think about how they’ll never truly die . . . First we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.”
  • The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
    • Donna Tartt has quickly become one of my favorite writers. I read one quote from this novel online once, and I was hooked. It’s a hefty read, but the world she creates is imaginative and dark and so gorgeous. The Goldfinch is the story of a boy whose life is torn apart by tragedy and misfortune and neglectful guardians, and he quickly  slips into the world of drugs, antiques, and art forgery. Her writing is beautiful, and her characters are terrifically complex. I highly recommend picking this book up from your local book store.
    • “You can look at a picture for a week and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it all your life”
    • “—if a painting really works down in your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don’t think, ‘oh, I love this picture because it’s universal.’ ‘I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind.’ That’s not the reason anyone loves a piece of art. It’s a secret whisper from an alleyway. Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you.”

Roses and Dust


‘Every one of us is losing something precious to us,’ he says after the phone stops ringing. ‘Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive. But inside our heads – at least that’s where I imagine it – there’s a little room where we store those memories. A room like the stacks in this library. And to understand the works of our own heart we have to keep on making new reference cards. We have to dust things off every once in a while, let in fresh air, change the water in the flower vases. In other words, you’ll live forever in your own private library.’

Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami

Memories are powerful. They help us cope with loss and tragedy. They give us new perspectives as we dwell on old ones. They bring us comfort when we’re at the lowest of our lows.  But they can also overwhelm us and drown us in emotions we aren’t prepared to feel yet.

Memories are beautiful. Memories are unkind. Memories are human.

I was 3 years old, playing on the sidewalk outside my sister’s pre-school. My mom was standing a few yards away talking to the other parents. And I was watching the roly-poly bugs curl and uncurl on the concrete as my fingers chased them around.

I was 6 years old, sitting quietly at my desk, observing the new girl looking nervous in her mom and dad’s shadow. The teacher ushered her over and offered her the seat next to mine because we were both wearing shirts of the same green hue.

I was 8 years old, visiting my grandparents for a week over the summer. My grandmother packed my sister and me into her old Cadillac and we drove into town, listening to the country music station, headed for the local pharmacy. She would always treat to a milkshake at the lunch counter there, and I thought I was so clever for mixing the peanut butter and fudge flavors into the most delicious combination.

I was 19 years old, sitting in the cab of my grandfather’s truck. His voice kind. His face unsure. His words telling me my dad was gone.

   .    .    . 


I am completely made of memories. I am stitched together from love, joy, regret, and hope. I am a quilt of the things I have done, the things I am doing, and the things I will do. Memories become shiny with sentiment and rosy with the passing of time. Memories are raw with emotions and dusty with neglect.

Each memory is a flower. And together, they make up a garden through which I can walk forever.




So I read this book called The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. You’ve probably heard of it (especially if you watched the Gilmore Girls revival), and boy, did it change how I looked at the things that I own.

The essential message of the book is: if it doesn’t bring you joy, let it go. If something has fulfilled its purpose for you, then you let it go.  I first read it a year ago now, and I gave away 6 trash bags bursting with clothes in a single day, and I’m a Taurus, which means I just really like things. Clothes. Books. Trinkets. Decorations. Everything. That, mixed with a splash of nostalgia, means I can’t get rid of anything.

I don’t know about you, but when I was little, I thought cleaning my room just meant putting things out of sight. I never learned how to purge the things I didn’t need or want anymore. I would dread cleaning day because it would take me hours and hours just to find a place to put every single toy or book or t-shirt. I literally broke the drawers on my dresser because I had too many clothes that I didn’t even wear. I just didn’t know how to give things away.

Needless to say, I am a terribly unorganized person. So much so, that when I was in 3rd grade, my teacher thought I would benefit from “PAC.” From what I can remember, this stood for “Personal Accountability Class,” and it was for the students who had trouble focusing or behaving: essentially, the bad kids. Shy, introverted Erika did not belong here, but she had no choice. I sat through several group-building activities that were supposed to test our focus but only tested my patience. Did this help my organization skills? Nope.

In 6th grade, I had a zip-up binder that I lovingly filled with dividers and pocket folders and an agenda I was determined to use. I had dreams about recording my assignments in the calendar with color-coordinated pens, keeping track of all my homework with the color-coded folders. I imagined myself thumbing through the dividers to the right spot on the first try. I had dreams, people. A few weeks into the school year, I couldn’t even fully unzip the thing because I had jammed it full of papers. The only way to access anything was to unzip the top, fumble around for a few minutes, and hope for the best.

Now, I have condensed my t-shirt drawer to 10 shirts, I have 3 pairs of jeans, and my closet is designated by clothing type. So when I tell you that it inspired me to get rid of most of wardrobe with very few regrets, you can believe me. (Although I’m still a little salty about getting letting go of my purple suede Puma knee-high boots.)

If it doesn’t bring you joy, let it go.



I am constantly stuck in limbo between remembering and forgetting. Forgiveness and regret.

The forgetting brings temporary peace. And the remembering brings the dull, lingering ache.

But I know that I can keep going because I have loved and been loved. I have had and lost. I have accepted and forgiven. And I have done the hardest thing of all: I took the pain and let it make me kinder.


Stop Apologizing

[This post was originally written on December 26, 2015.]

I’ve been trying to stop saying those two self-deprecating words, the ones that leave people shuffling their feet and averting their eyes because they don’t know how to respond. The ones that say, “I must be making you uncomfortable even though I didn’t actually do anything wrong.” Two little words: I’m sorry.

With two words, I take responsibility for something that’s often out of my control. I cast myself in undeserved negative light. I make myself an object of unnecessary, uncomfortable pity. I’m apologizing for being human, for having emotions, and it’s time to stop the madness. There is certainly a time and place for apologizing, but I’m talking about that time when I cried too much or went rambling on about my life or when I got too excited about something dorky or when I stumbled over my words.

I think we all apologize too much for being ourselves. It’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to look a certain way. It’s okay to mess up. Because that’s just human nature, and it’s a shame when we force people into feeling guilty about existing.

Since I’ve stopped saying sorry for these things, I’ve become a happier person. I don’t worry as much about what people think because I know it doesn’t matter in the big picture. And if something I do really bothers someone, they weren’t meant to be in my life anyway.

When I do something that hurts you, I will absolutely apologize because I am in the wrong. I will never go out of my way to offend you just for the sake of my own amusement. I won’t cause you pain just because I’m hurting, too. But I’m not going to say “I’m sorry” anymore for things that make me human. Instead I want to thank you for listening, for being patient, and for letting me be me.


Existential Crises and Other Joys of a College Senior

[This post was originally written on September 2, 2015.]

I spent this past summer considering my options for the next phase in my life. My college career is quickly coming to a close, and I have to think about where I’ll be living, with whom I’ll be living, how I’ll be saving money, whether or not I want to continue my schooling, what kind of job I want, etc. The list could go on forever, but I’m trying to keep my stress levels low, so I’ll end it there. It’s a real job in and of itself to just sit and think about these things. I’ve requested information from grad schools all across the country and even across the globe. I’ve been asking friends if they’ll need a roommate next year. I’ve been weighing my options, and I’ve come to the conclusion that life is exponentially more difficult and vastly more confusing than I thought it would be. I know everyone goes through it, but no one has managed to articulate just how stressful these kinds of decisions are. Who knew I could feel so helpless and so stressed out at the same time? It honestly feels a little like drowning. And after my first experience with a panic attack, I can confidently say that I want to avoid all unnecessary stressors.

I also spent a lot of time this summer rethinking my choice in major. And with graduation just around the corner, that’s kind of a terrifying thought to have. Do I go back and change my major now? Do I spend two or three more years in undergrad? Do I have the money or means for that? Do I graduate with this Anthropology degree and hope I can get into grad school with something entirely different in mind? How much more work will that be?

With all of these questions whirring around in my brain, it’s a wonder I’m still functioning as a semi-normal human being. (My only explanation is obscene amounts of coffee.)

But the one important question I keep coming back to is: What makes you happy?

I know, I know. Cheesy. But stick with me. This is important. What keeps you up at night out of sheer excitement? How do you like to spend your time? What do you find yourself talking about so often that your friends demand that you shut up already? Are you willing to sacrifice your happiness for a potentially more stable but potentially less satisfying career?

I think the crucial thing is to be aware of what your passions are and to not dismiss them because they’re not the traditional or easy paths to success. I’ve come to realize that the people who truly care about you, the ones who can clearly see what you love to do, never lie. They recognize your potential, and they tell you when what you’re doing is good and worthwhile.

So try not to get overwhelmed by that little voice in your head that whispers, “Hey, you’re going to fail big time. Don’t even bother.” Because you certainly have a say in the matter, and it’s often never as bad as you think. You’ve survived 100% of the tough days in your life so far.

And you will survive so many more.