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On Turning 23

This is a weird age for me. I can remember being 12 years old and marveling at how grown-up 23 looked. My summer camp counselors, my small group leaders, my brother. They were all in their 20’s and had jobs and/or families. They were wise. They were mature. They were adults.

And now here I am.

And I’ve never felt more unsure about my life.

I guess I thought that my 20’s were going to be this miraculous time of careers and surefootedness. I was supposed to have a “real” job. I was supposed to have met my college sweetheart and be on my way to the white picket fence with 2.5 kids. I was supposed to be wise and worldly and well-traveled.

I thought a lot of things when I was 12.

Lately, I’ve been eating a lot of pb&js and watching a lot of Netflix.

Isn’t the naivety of being a child beautiful? If you’re lucky, you get to live in a world that is so comfy and soft, and you don’t have to face the harsh realities of life because they’re filtered through your parents. You get to have sleepovers with your friends and watch Saturday morning cartoons with a big bowl of sugary cereal perched precariously on your lap.

Now, I get to wake up 30 minutes earlier than I have to just so I can make some breakfast and drink coffee to get my brain functioning normally. And I have to spend my money on things like dish soap and light bulbs. I also spend a disproportionate amount of time considering the fact that I’ll be off my mom’s health insurance on my 26th birthday.

Can I have my quarter-life-crisis 2 years early?

Honestly though, I’ve very grateful to be where I am, and I know I’m doing okay. I have a job (I just got a promotion recently, too). I have a beautiful family. I have the best friends a girl could ask for. I’m dating the most perfect guy. I have a savings account. I have the means and the ability to pursue my hobbies. . . I can only hope I would make my younger self proud.

And I know I have a lot of great things in the works for this next year.

Here’s to 23 and another year full of the people and the things I love.

erika

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Conversations with my Grandpa: Accidental Injuries

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How’s your arm?

Oh, still a little sore. I feel a little better. I lit myself on fire. I didn’t know I was on fire for a minute. Saw the flames, but I didn’t know it was on my damn shirt. And I had my suspenders were over my shirt, and I couldn’t get my shirt off. About burned me up.

I do stuff like that all the time. There was a time I about chopped my fingers off. See the black marks there? I was out in the driveway working on the steam cleaner one day. Weren’t nobody home, and then the thing slipped and come right down on my fingers and about chopped my fingers off. And then I was covered in dirt and everything else. About to pass out, and this old rusty piece of metal about cut me. Thought I’d get lock jaw or something. Went in the house and I got me a dish pan. And I dumped everything I could find in the kitchen sink. I stuck my hand in it, and it about burned me up. I figured it’d kill all the germs. And then I passed out on the floor. And your mom came home, and I was laying there, and there was blood all over the place. And she thought I was dead. She panicked, [laughs] and called the ambulance, but I was okay.

Down in Key West that time, I was digging that ole tree stump out. And then a big limb broke off, and it was real hot outside. Man, I was really sweating and everything, limb broke off and smacked me right in the head. Busted a big ole place across my head, and run into the house and said, “Go run and get your mom, and run me to the hospital.” I was bleeding all over the place. Your mom standing there and said, “That looks like Kool-Aid!” [Laughs]

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Spectator Sports

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My family took a trip to New York at the end of last summer to visit some of our cousins at West Point, but we did get to spend a day in the city. I have recently decided that I could not thrive in any kind of major city, and a visit was overwhelming to say the least, but we were able to hit a few places we’d been planning on seeing, as well as see a friend who had moved there several months ago now.

We took the train from New Jersey into Pennsylvania Station and then decided that it would be an excellent idea to walk all the way to the 9/11 Memorial. After we had all begun to suffer from hanger, we figured we better eat some lunch before we started to turn on each other.

Our next stop of the day was the Museum of Modern Art (we took the subway this time), where we met up with our friend Sarah. Now, I’m a pretty big art nerd, and while I may not know all the artists’ names or the titles of their work, I just love being able to stand underneath their art and bask in the glow of their creations.

But there was something strange about this museum visit. Being in New York, the MoMA is designed to host probably hundreds if not thousands of visitors, and that day had been no exception. People from all over the world had arrived to enjoy the great works of modern artsits from Van Gogh to Picasso to Warhol.

The strange part, for me, was the presence of all of the cameras and iPhones I saw hovering in front of the eyes of the spectators. I saw people looking through their screens as they wandered from room to room, snapping pictures of the paintings. There was one man handling a full-sized iPad who was so oblivious of where he was walking that he nearly tripped over a sculpture sitting on the floor behind him as he tried to get a better shot at the one in front. I thought the security guard was going to have a conniption.

I turned a corner to find a huge crowd gathered in front of Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. I honestly did not know this painting was in this collection and let out a very audible gasp when my eyes finally found it. Everyone there was trying to shove their way to the front, fighting to get a better view – to take the best picture of it.

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I, of course, was doing many of these things, too. It became very important to me to record all of the things I was looking at. You know, so I could look at it later…

But thinking back, I wish I had just been there. Enjoyed the art work hanging there in front of me. I saw some people having very visceral reactions to particular pieces, and I did, too, I suppose. (I shed a few tears when I walked by the Klimt paintings and into the Monet collection.)

I guess it’s best to find a balance there. I don’t think recording your trips with the camera on your phone is a bad thing. But seeing SO many people wandering through this beautiful museum just looking through their phone screens and not really seeing struck a chord with me.

Next time I’m in a place like this, I’m going to do my best be there. And enjoy the moment for what it is.

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Givers and Takers

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[This post was originally written on October 1, 2016.]

If you know me at all, you know that I am very observant and I like to think. A lot. It’s one of my favorite pastimes.  You may also know that I’m not really a people person, but I take great pleasure in observing people from afar.  I can confidently say I have never met a truly boring person because I believe we all have those little quirks and tendencies that make us each uniquely us.

It may also come as no surprise to you that I’ve created my own theories, and expounded upon old ones, about the people I observe.  The concept I’m going to discuss in this post is surely nothing new, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about lately, and I’ve shared it with a few of my friends and family.  So I thought I’d try to hash it out some more here.

I think that most of humanity broadly falls into one of two categories: the takers and the givers.  Of course, there will be some variation, and there is certainly a spectrum, but I think that we all will identify more strongly with one of these categories.  Obviously, I don’t think that one of these types is better than the other because they will both have strengths the other does not and vice versa.  My goal here is to help each of these types understand the other and to show them how to create more successful and fulfilling relationships with other people.

The Takers.  These are the people who go into a relationship (romantic, platonic, business, etc.) aiming to get something out of it, be it advice, love, affirmation, acknowledgement, whatever they are seeking.  This doesn’t include the people searching for physical or material fulfillment, although the emotional and material needs often go hand in hand.  I would also call them the “emotional dumpers” or “over-sharers.”  They could spend a whole relationship sharing their feelings, their pains, their triumphs, their heartbreaks with the other person without offering anything in return.  Takers also have the capability of being sympathetic but often on a surface level.  They will create a sense of sameness and relatability in order to fulfill a need.

The Givers. These are the people who go into a relationship looking to fulfill a need.  They do this willingly, and they often create their self-worth around listening and devoting time to their friends, partners, and coworkers.  Just like the takers, they do not intend to solely fill the material needs here. I would hesitate to label all givers “helpers.”  Helpers deal directly with material or financial needs, and they can be givers or takers.  Givers are looking to be the listening ear and will dish out advice when someone asks.  They can often discern whether the person asking is looking for advice or affirmation and will act accordingly.  Givers are most often incredibly empathetic because they strive to understand others complexly and deeply.

I think that the discussion of introverts and extroverts is also important here, but only to say that these personality characteristics do not necessarily have any correlation with being givers or takers.  Introversion has passive or submissive connotations that might lead one to believe that they tend to be the givers, but I have met many introverts who would identify more as takers.  And I have also met many extroverts who are givers.  This works the other way around, too.

At this point, you might be thinking that the takers sound selfish and the givers sound like brown-nosers.  But I would argue that the world is in great need of both personality types.  Takers can be very sure-footed about what they need and are not afraid to ask for it.  And givers are able to look at the world from a less biased and more understanding point of view that allows them to make rational decisions.

Seeing these types of people interact with each other can be both exhausting and fascinating and satisfying all at once.

Takers and Takers.  This is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult relationships to maintain.  Both sides are trying to get something out of the relationship, and this creates a negative space in the middle because after a while, there may be nothing left to take from anymore. There must be an incredible amount of compromise here, and each side must learn how to give back or the relationship will fail.

Givers and Takers.  This can also be a challenging relationship because it can be very one-sided.  If the taker takes all the time, then the giver might feel constantly drained.  These relationships make sense though because they are two sides of the same coin and they ideologically fit together.  One is looking to fulfill a need where the other is looking to fill it.  However if the imbalance is left unattended for too long, resentment can grow, and the relationship will fail.  Compromise is needed here, too.

Givers and Givers.  This is a relationship full of empathy and understanding.  Each side strives to really know how the other is feeling and thinking all of the time.  Each is trying to fulfill the others needs.  However, they can become unsatisfied when the other is unwilling to share their own emotions.  Givers might put up a defensive wall because they are unused to sharing, and there must be a lot of communication in order for this type of relationship to work.

Of course, there are many variations, and all people will play the role of giver and taker in their lives.  But I hope you’ve found this as interesting as I have, and hopefully it’ll help you better understand why certain people might think and act a certain way!

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Maman Araignée

I first came across Louise Bourgeois in the form of her famous Maman sculpture, an enormous spider with long spindly legs that towers above all of her spectators. Its image has been stuck in my brain for nearly 5 years now, and I don’t think I ever want it to go away. I read that Bourgeois based this upon her own mother.

The friend (the spider – why the spider?) because my best friend was my mother and she was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat, and as useful as a spider. She could also defend herself, and me, by refusing to answer ‘stupid’, inquisitive, embarrassing, personal questions.

I shall never tire of representing her.

Something about the way it’s designed to hover, or rather cast a shadow, over the audience drew me in. It can be a little unsettling for anyone who feels less than friendly towards spiders, but I think it’s so beautiful.

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Bourgeois said that she never made art for the sake of beauty but rather to release the emotions of her past. She made art for herself. And I admire that.

Isn’t it funny how something can stay with you for such a long time after seeing it just once? And when you can’t stop going back to it, you know it’s something important.

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Washington D.C.

I just recently got back from a quick weekend trip to Washington D.C. to see the boyfriend. He’s been working up there since August, and since he’s been back to visit me so many times, I’ve been determined to see him up there, if only for another chance to visit D.C. again. (Just kidding, babe.) I haven’t been to the city since I was in high school, and before that, since I was 11.

Each time has been so different, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been better able to appreciate just how much information is available in the Smithsonian’s, and how important it is to stand in awe at and understand all the history our country’s capital has to offer.

I also have really just missed the boyfriend. (Long distance relationships are hard. Really really hard. But so worth it when you find the right person to stick it out with you.)

We spent the first day wandering around IKEA because it rained all day, and holy cow! I didn’t know I needed that place in my life. I contained my usual impulse shopping to a minimum and managed to only walk out with 4 cereal bowls and 2 dish towels.


Next, we sipped on some coffee at the boyfriend’s local coffee haunt, Vigilante Coffee. We also walked into a local printmaking shop where I was able to purchase a beautiful piece of art to add to my ever-growing collection. Because the rain never relented, we enjoyed the rest of the evening watching movies and consuming copious amounts of popcorn.

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We spent all day Sunday in downtown D.C. walking around. After stopping for our first cup of coffee of the day, we walked to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where we were greeted by Alexander Calder’s mobiles suspended beneath an enormous glass ceiling.


Some of my favorite pieces I saw were the Georgia O’Keefe paintings on the first floor, Louise Bourgeois’ Germinal sculpture, Klimt’s Baby (Cradle), and Leon Berkowitz’s Coronation. There was also a Frédéric Bazille exhibit on the bottom floor that took my breath away. I wasn’t allowed to take a picture of one of my favorites (Young Woman with Lowered Eyes) in that collection, so here’s the link.

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Our next stop of the day was the National Museum of the American Indian. I wish we had been able to spend more time in this one because it had a very thoughtfully designed exhibit that attempted to touch on all the regions in which Native Americans live. (An an Anthropology major, I found this fascinating.) Each of these exhibits expressed the same truth: the survival of culture depends on the passsage of traditions from one generation to the next.

Native spiritual values live in stories. Passed verbally from generation to generation, the stories preserve Native culture, languages, and ways of explaining the universe.

-Emil Her Many Horses

There was also an exhibit on British imperialism in the Americas during the time of colonization. It juxtaposed the Native American viewpoint with the British viewpoint in a way that made for one powerful presentation.

After a lunch break at Union Station, and a long walk through the Botanical Gardens, we decided to head back into Maryland. However, the metro turned out to be a fiasco that evening (I’ll save that story for another time), so we wound up eating dinner at this neat place called Busboys and Poets that serves organic food in recipes from all over the world. There was also a book store right in the restaurant that offers a really interesting collection of books to encourage political and social conversations. I, of course, couldn’t leave without buying something.

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Being away on vacation seems to wear me out more than just a regular week at home. I’m not sure why that is. But I’m so glad I got to spend this weekend with my favorite person, so I won’t complain.

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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.

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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.

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Herb Garden

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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.

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

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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.)

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Maybe I do have a green thumb after all.

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Conversations with my Grandpa: Sunday School

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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.