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Seat Hogs, Beware! (But if you threaten to stab me I will probably just let you remain a Seat Hog.)

Apr 28, 2011

Ever since the story about Metro seat hogs came out in the Washington Post last summer, I have made it my personal mission to *gently* correct Seat Hogs.  Think of me (as I think of myself) as Metro Girl, Bringing Civility to the Commute One Seat Hog at a Time.

Man Hands and Justice for All!

The Seat Hog (almost as bad as the Left Side Escalator Stander) takes up two seats during rush hour or events that cause Metro trains to be crowded.  This is super inconsiderate not just because 1) people like to sit down, but 2) it encourages people to crowd doorways, which prevents others from getting on the Metro, which can cause people to have to wait for another train. Also, 3) the people who are packed onto the train and standing sometimes fall on each other because of the jerky trains (due to manual operation because of recent malfunctions that resulted in accidents), and if you have a long commute, having to stand is stressful and can cause injuries (or coffee spilling on your jacket, which may prompt a fellow rider to wipe it off you (read: your boob) and that can be very embarrassing for all involved). 

Some examples of Seat Hoggery include:

1) Spreading your legs so no one can squeeze in next to you.  You're not in your office, you're on public transportation.  It's not supposed to be comfortable.  If you need that much room then you should just stand.
"I'm texting a very important message so I can ignore you."

2) Falling asleep across two seats.  I've fallen asleep on the Metro many times.  You really only need one seat, by the window, where you can lean your head and others can utilize the seat next to you with ease.

"Metro naps are the BEST!"

Kudos to this guy with the mad takin-up-four-seats skillz!

3)  Using one seat for you bag.  You know how in airplanes you have to put your bag on the floor?  Consider it the same for the Metro.

"My Goach" (that's a fake Coach) "requires its own seat, thankyouverymuch."

4) Sitting in the outer seat.  Common courtesy calls for you to scoot to the inner seat if it's available.  There's not enough room for someone to climb over you, and most people who sit in the outer seat avert eye contact with those who want to sit down.  But I'm getting off at the next stop and I don't want to make someone else get out to let me out, you may think, assuming you're being polite.  You're not being polite.  You're being a jerk.  Stand up if your stop is next and you don't want to sit in the inner seat.

(No photo for you but I will paint you a picture in the story below.)

You should know that in any of these cases I will hover over you and stare you down until you acknowledge me.  If you don't acknowledge me I will say, "May I sit down?"  This has embarrassed many a friend and coworker, but you know what?  My ankle has been jacked up since last summer's attempts at exercise, and if there's a seat available, I'm sitting in it, daggommit! 

So two days ago when I saw a woman committing TWO Seat Hog crimes (3 and 4), I walked right over to her and stared her down.  She did not acknowledge me.  So I said, "May I sit down?"  She did not acknowledge me.  So I combined staring her down and repeating "May I sit down?" until she did. 

She sloooooowly turned her head up and her eyes sloooooowly met mine.  In hindsight I'm surprised her head didn't go ahead and turn all the way around and lasers didn't shoot out of her eyes to make my head explode.  But at this point I was blissfully unaware that she wanted to kill me, so I happily sat down as she scooted to the inner seat.  A couple of people standing beside us (Wonder why they're standing? This is a perfectly good seat! I thought) chuckled and looked away when I looked up at them. 

Then the Seat Hog began grumbling.  At first I couldn't make it out, but then I heard, "Imma be in the f***in' headlines tomorrow. You gonna f*** with my family?  S***."  She repeated this statement and grunted several times.  I wondered, Is she talking to me? Surely not, I haven't f***ed with her family.  Why would she be in the headlines?  Who would dare f*** with this woman's family? She is scary! Sure glad she isn't mad at me!

But as we sat there and I did my little Sudoku on my lap in my little floral skirt and little silver flats with little flowers on the toe without a little care in the world, I began to change my mind.  And when I caught the two people standing next to us smiling at me like You are such an idiot, I knew she was talking to me. 

Suddenly she pushed me out of the seat.  "I'M GETTIN' OUT!" she announced to the entire train, as my hand slapped the lady in front of me in the back of the head while I scrambled to catch my balance in the crowded aisle.  The Seat Hog didn't care.  She barelled on through the crowd as if I wasn't even there.  "I'm SO sorry!  I'm SO sorry!" I pleaded with the woman whose head I'd accidentally attacked (she looked pretty ticked at me too).  The Seat Hog continued to bellow "I'M GETTIN' OUT!"  We were nowhere near a stopping point, so this went on for a while. 

As soon as the train did stop and she indeed got out, several people around me laughed.  The guy who'd been watching the whole thing said, "If you can't laugh at this then you're not alive."  A woman jokingly explained to other riders, "That girl is so mean!  She should not have sat down when that woman clearly owned the seats!"  Another rider sat down next to me (I had scooted to the inner seat, of course) and promised to be nice.

As the nearby passengers chuckled and talked about what a crazy hose beast that woman was, I envisioned what would have happened if we'd sat there longer.  Would she have, as she claimed, gotten herself in the headlines tomorrow?  And if so, how would she have accomplished that?  By stabbing me, perhaps?  It would have been a feasible outcome.  There are no metal detectors in the Metro and few police, so she could have easily taken out a knife and cut me up.  And I'm not so sure the Laughing Standing Man would have intervened. 

But I got out okay so there's really no need to imagine how else she could have gotten herself in the headlines.

I did, however, make a doctor's appointment the next day to get my ankle checked out.  Time to get this thing on the mend so I can freely stand on the Metro and focus my Metro Girl efforts on other issues, like Loud Talkers. (You know who you are.)

P.S. Thanks to Unsuck DC Metro for the photos!

You love me! You really love me!

Apr 26, 2011

Well this just totally made my day.

One of my readers, a college student in Washington (the state, not the District), is taking a class where students are required to blog.  Part of the assignment is to write about a blog they read.  And she chose mine. (Ahh!  *sqeal!*)

To preface what she wrote, I'd like to say that if you've been thinking about blogging, do it.  Just start it up and figure it out as you go along if you want to.  Maybe one day a student will write about you, and let me tell you, it makes all your time and effort totally worth it!  (The last line is my FAVORITE.)

Cupcakes and Shoes

When I first opened the page to my friend’s blog, my eyes were met by a tea rose pink background and a sketch of the author with her little white dog. Everything about the page screams girly. But that’s exactly what it is supposed to be. The blog Cupcakes and Shoes takes you “inside the head of a wistful city girl who loves cake and shoes she can’t afford.” The author goes by “Meppers” on her blog, but her real name is Mary El. She actually used to babysit me when we lived in Georgia and we recently reconnected when we both moved to Washington D.C. Currently, she does PR for the Army at the Pentagon. In her blog, she discusses her personal life, the places, the people and her everyday escapades of being a “hot child in the city”.

But what really makes a good blog? What keeps me and 73 other followers coming back to check her page for a new post? Is it that girly pink layout? According to renowned blogger Steffan Anotonas, effective bloggers should always write the way they speak. Mary El has mastered this art. The voice in her writing is so Mary El that it almost seems as if she were sitting with her readers in a coffee shop on U Street chatting. Peppered with OMG-YA’LL-s, her writing is a southern belle/city girl fusion. Its unique, transparent and authentic. That is one element that keeps us coming back for more.

The layout of her blog is well-balanced. It appeals to girls and there are virtually no ads on her website that would cause visual clutter. But what really hooks nosy readers like me in, is the content. She puts her life out there for everyone to know. Its all real life episodes that we can all relate to. Whether its about the awkward blind date she had last weekend, an embarrassing moment,  a new restaurant she tried, or her opinion on celebrity gossip, there’s something she writes about that many women can relate to. She does not flaunt her ego but invites the reader to laugh with her at her blunders. And that’s what makes her so likable. She’s vulnerable, charming and hilarious. Sometimes when she’s in a predicament, she engages her readers even more by asking them what she should do. Should she and K drive two hours to Richmond to stalk DJ Cutie Pants? Should she die her hair red? This has a great effect and keeps her followers commenting.

Some anonymous readers have criticized her as being rude, elitist and snobby. But she addresses them respectfully and even apologizes for coming across that way. In one of her latest posts, “Gammas Who Dine”, she dispels such snide rumors and scolds the mean girls in our society.

Since it first started, Cupcakes and Shoes has grown on me and its readers.  Perhaps it's her unique voice in her writing, or maybe it's the pretty pink layout.  But I think to most of us, it's the peek into the diary of a boy crazy girl, who writes about dreading turning 30, her not-so-secret obsessions like chocolate and Britney Spears, and the drama and parties.  For me, I think it's just nice to get a taste of the cupcakes and step into the shoes of a city girl that's got it all.


So you think you can cook?

Apr 19, 2011

I may be a culinary genius.

Or I may not.

This weekend I went grocery shopping for food for about eight people. 

The weather will be so pretty! I thought. I should do something summery.

Standing in the produce section, I had my first genius moment of the day: PASTA!

(The perfect warm weather meal. See? Culinary Genius.)

I made my way around the apples and berries islands and perused all the vegetables, unsure of where this would go.  I ended up with 2 bunches of asparagus, 1 package of baby bella mushrooms and two cartons of cherry tomatoes.  I continued my journey through the store and also picked up 2 cans of artichoke hearts, 1 jar of kalamata olives, 1 jar of green olives, 2 packages of whole wheat penne pasta, 2 bags of frozen shrimp, and 2 packages of sun-dried tomato feta cheese.

Then I realized I had no sauce.  Tomato sauce didn't seem right, and a white sauce would be too heavy.  I had made a circle and was near the produce section again, so I walked through to make sure I had everything I needed.  Then I saw it, the herb section.  BASIL! I thought, geniusly.  They were out of fresh, so I bought a tube of it.  I'll add lots of olive oil...and maybe some parmesan cheese! I thought as I put the tube in my cart giddily.

The next night, after I peeled the shrimp, roasted the asparagus, sauteed the mushrooms, and drained the artichoke hearts and olives, I poured Spanish olive oil all over everything, sprinkled on the parmesan, and squeezed a big glop of basil on top.  And that's when it hit me.

I invented pesto.  Congratulations idiot.

What-ev, everyone loved it and the word "gourmet" was used more than once to describe my amazing cooking skillz.

Obviously am also Photog Genius.

If you'd like to amaze your friends as well, here's my recipe for success (I don't suggest buying the portions listed above unless you want to feed 16 people or have leftover lunch for the next week.  It shouldn't surprise you that I'm a food hoarder, remember my Canned Food Challenge?)

You'll need:

1 package whole wheat penne (or pay the extra 50 cents and go organic, even more impressive!)
2 cans artichoke hearts, sliced (I just use scissors because it's way easier)
1 jar kalamata olives
1 jar green olives
1 bunch asparagus, cut up
1 package cherry tomatoes, sliced
1 package sun-dried tomato feta cheese
1 package baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1 bag of frozen shrimp
1 tube of basil/grated parmesan cheese/olive oil...or you could just get a carton of pesto ;)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Fill large bowl with hot water and add frozen shrimp; let thaw for about 10 minutes.
2. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.
3. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in pan and sautee mushrooms; put aside in large serving bowl.
4. Arrange asparagus on baking sheet; drizzle olive oil and sprinkle sea salt over asparagus then toss with tongs to coat each piece. Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Add to bowl when finished.
5. Heat 2 tbsp butter (the real stuff, we don't use margarine here) in pan and, after peeling shrimp, add to the pan.  Sautee for about 5 minutes, or until shrimp is pink.  Add to bowl when finished.
6. Cook pasta to your liking (I prefer al dente).  Drain and add to bowl when finished.
7. Add all other ingredients and toss.

Voila!  I served it with French bread and olive oil with balsamic vinegar and parmesan sprinkled on top.  

And I'll be eating it the rest of this week.

Baby's First Haircut

Apr 13, 2011

...and by "Baby" I mean my dog.  (Don't tell her I called her a dog, she'll get angry and poop on the floor.)

I'm referring to Noli, of course, my seven pounder maltipom who, up until now, has been solely groomed by moi.  Common reactions when people in my building see her after her spring haircut:

"She lost so much weight, is she okay?"

"I have a terrific groomer if you want his card."

"You butchered her!"

And the ever-popular, "It'll grow back." [fake smile]

I just couldn't see spending more on her haircut than mine.  Also I was perpetually broke.  But now that I'm 30 I have my finances under control, payin' my bills on time and being Miss Independent and all that (quite obviously, Ne-Yo thinks of me when he sings that song), so I splurged this season and made an appointment at PetSmart.  It was only $45, compared to $60 and upwards at boutique places in the city, so I figured I could handle it.

By the time I took Noli in, her hair was turning into show dog wannabe length, emphasis on the wannabe because, since I normally groom her, it looked kinda scraggly.  Plus it was all in her eyes and I was constantly struggling to push it down around her nose so she could see.

"Mommy, I can't see and I have alfalfa hair. Plus Cousin Dickens is trying to steal my spotlight.
Can you please deal with this?"

"Mommy, this is better.  I prefer to take up most of the frame.  But see how this hair is still sticking in my eye?  Seriously, fix the problem. And get me a tiara while you're at it.  Bacon flavored is best."

So I dropped her off first thing Saturday morning, all proud of my Baby Gurl for being so brave.  The other dogs were barking and jumping, and she started shaking in my arms.  It was so sad passing her off to the groomer.  So I lingered in the shopping center for a couple of hours (and bought some great stuff!  Going to attempt the romper this year.  The Roomie says I look like I'm trying to be 22.) then went to check on her, but they hadn't even started.  So I decided to go home, and it made me so sad to leave her.  (My kids are going to hate me, aren't they?)  The Roomie consoled me and predicted Noli would cower with shame when she got home, like I'd stripped her naked or something.

I called a couple of times to check in, and finally she was ready for pick-up.  (The groomers are going to hate me, aren't they?)  When I arrived they were finishing up her nails, which I guess they had forgotten to do.  I hid behind the cash register and watched her (i.e., took pictures, I am SUCH the annoying mom type). 

Noli hangin' out on the table, acting totally fine.

Noli wagging her tail and shaking her leg, obviously having a good time and not a care in the world.

Shoot, I've been spotted.  It's all over.  Crying and shaking commences.

When I paid for the grooming I noticed it was more than I'd expected, and then I saw the "handling fee." 

"What is this?" I asked the groomer.
"I had to have someone hold her, she was kinda crazy when we cut her face."

That's my girl, seven pounds of ferociousness when it comes to her most important feature.

Of course that evening she pooped on the floor, but she sure looked pretty doing it!  And no shame with this girl.  She pranced all over the place. 

"Profile shot, please. Plus I'm not talking to you right now."

Every time I took her out she ran to any person we passed and jumped around, trying to get their attention. Reactions included:

"She's soooooooo pretty!"

"Where did you take her? She looks so white!"

"Well somebody's been coiffed!"

"I'm so glad you finally took her to a professional."

So I guess this is a permanent thing now.  My own hair?  That's another story.  (I gave myself highlights a couple of days ago.  But they turned out okay!  I think...)

30th Birthday CRAZINESS! (er, not so much)

Apr 8, 2011

Well, I made it, and like many thirtysomethings (and beyond) so knowingly warned me, turning 30 wasn't all that big a deal.  The days leading up to it I had mini panic attacks and wrung my hands when the issue was brought up (I used passive voice there because I was the main person bringing it up, taking every opportunity I could to freak out publicly, soliciting sympathy and compliments of still looking quite young from anyone who would listen).  But then, a couple of hours before I headed toward the airport to board a plane to Austin to celebrate with my BFF, my new boss said to me, "I heard it's your birthday.  So what, you're turning 21?"

Har har, heard that a thousand times. I thought, smugly flipping my hair and smiling sweetly at him.  "Actually I'm turning 22, but you were close!"

"Oh okay," he said, deadpan.  Wait, is he joking? 

"I'm joking," I clarified.

"Really?  Are you turning 23?"

"No, I'm turning 30."

And there it was, that look of disbelief that you don't want to see from your new boss.  Because you're supposed to be mature, womanish, have your life together, command a room, maybe even be a manager of some sort by the time you're 30, right? 

"No way!" he said.

Dangit!  How am I supposed to move forward in my career if people still think I'm right out of college? Suddenly turning 30 sounded great.

That afternoon I arrived in Austin, my first time, to 92 degree weather (I left a low-50s and rainy DC far, far behind me).  Lauren texted me not to wait outside for her because she was stuck in traffic and it was too hot.  I promptly stepped out into the glorious heat and willed myself to sweat.  It. Was. Awesome.

That night we had sushi at Kinichi, and in hindsight we should have had barbecue, but it was still really good.  Afterwards Lauren went to the ATM to get cash to pay the valet.  As she punched in her pin a guy leaning against the building called out a 4-digit number, presumably her pin.  The aggressive Washingtonian came out in me -- I crossed my arms, leaned backward, pursed my lips, and stared him down.  When his eyes met mine I said, "Not cool, dude."

"What?!" he said defensively.  "I'm just tryin' to be friendly."

"No you weren't.  You know what you did, and it's not cool."  At that point there was nothing I could really do, but I wasn't about to let him get off scot free for being a jerk.

"Yeah?  Well you're mean," he retorted.  I thought back to the last time I picked a fight with a guy, outside Rumors in Dupont.  It was the bouncer.  He got in my face and chest bumped me backwards.  (Trust me, I had every right to be up in his face -- a rowdy guy had thrown a beer bottle in my direction, sending shards of glass all into my legs, and I looked like I had walked off the set of a slasher film.  All I wanted was a napkin, but the bouncer told me I was a biohazard and wouldn't help me.  I don't go to Rumors anymore.)  So this guy telling me I am mean was pretty comical.  I narrowed my eyes, gave him the "OK" sign with my right hand, and said, "Good one."

And then he lunged at me.  Whoops.

But Lauren stepped in: "HEY!  You don't talk to ladies like that!"

And the guy stepped back sheepishly.  "You're so right, I'm really sorry." 

WHAT?!  Okay, I have been out of the South too long.  I still can't believe THAT'S what calmed him down. 

The next day we did exactly what I had asked:

1) Eat delicious and fattening breakfast somewhere (crème Brule French toast, yum!)
2) Lay out by the pool (four hours of Vitamin D!)
3) Mani/pedis (I went with Tropical Punch)


4) Open birthday present (I specified what I wanted -- OPI Axxium in Pretty Pinks and Pales --, because it's my 30th birthday, and when else will I have an excuse to guilt my friends into buying me something expensive?  Do you see a ring on my finger?)
5) Eat a cupcake (care of Sprinkles).
6) Go somewhere yummy for dinner (we ended up eating too many snackies beforehand, but we ended up at Mellow Mushroom Pizza, and that, my friends, is yummy.)

Snackies (Aren't we adultish with our prosciutto and bubbly and cheese and such?)

Birthday salad.  Don't worry, there was plenty of pizza as well!

7) Go to a cool Austin bar.
8) Wear same dress as someone much skinnier than me.  Wait...no, that was not part of the plan. 

IMPOSTER!  Or trooper, whichever way you want to look at it. 
I did squeal across the bar at her and made her take a picture with me.

The night portion of my birthday only lasted about an hour and a half.  My friend Jacob, who I've known since his rat tail days in elementary school, happened to be in Austin, so we met up at Key Bar. 

Inside Jacob's Head: Maybe if I don't smile she will stop squealing at everything.

After 30 minutes he wanted to leave because he had a crush on a girl playing an open mic thing somewhere else (yet I haven't seen him in over a year -- boys are so dumb!) (still great seeing him though, and quite a treat on my 30th birthday), so Lauren and I went in search of food, and when I saw Mellow Mushroom I just knew, that would be my Birthday Dinner 2.0.  It was a great choice, and our server gave me free ice cream!  

Blue Bell is the beeeeeeeeest.

Artwork on the wall -- A-Town in A-Town!

 Lauren fell asleep in the booth before the pizza came, so afterwards we called it a night.  It was perfect. :)

The next day we had brunch at Tacos and Tequila, which was $17, and Lauren was very apologetic that it was so expensive.  I began thinking I might need to move to Austin.  (The cheapest brunch I've had in DC is $19, and that wasn't actually in DC but rather in Clarendon.)  Afterwards we shopped the boutiques of South Congress then went to a family friend's house to visit before the day was over.  Her kids had made me a birthday cookie!  Too cute!

LOVE the straw "zero."

The next morning I left for DC, and the weekend just felt way too short.  I did come home to 81 degrees though, so it wasn't such a shock when I stepped outside.

The weekend had no crazy adventures, but it really was the perfect way to ring in my 30s.  Much more dignified than you thought it would be, huh?  Told ya I was just freaking out the past few months.  No more acting like a 20 year old for me until I turn 31

Farewell to My 20s

Apr 1, 2011

About 10 years ago, give or take a few months, I was sitting in a restaurant in downtown Atlanta with a group of twenty-somethings.  I was the youngest one there, still a teenager and feeling quite privileged to be hanging out with this older crowd I'd become acquainted with through my work with my university's newspaper.  Vincent, a senior with a mass of dark brown curls -- the kind of hair I'd scoff at now -- was describing his encounter with "a woman" -- a real woman, none of this in between business that Britney Spears sang of.  In the middle of his story he stopped suddenly and gave me an apologetic look.

"Sorry Mary El," I remember him saying, so genuinely it made me smile.  "You're great, but you're not a woman.  You know what I mean."

I took no offense to it.  I didn't feel like a woman, and for heaven's sake, I was only 19!  But another guy at the table, Jacob, had a different opinion.  I don't remember what we talked about that night, but I do remember him handing me his linen napkin as we walked out the door after dinner.  On it he had written: "You are a woman."  (This behavior is also something I would scoff at now.  Defaming property and then stealing it?!)  I held onto that napkin for a long time, and it's probably still in a corner of my closet at my parents' house in Georgia.  I used to muse over it, wondering what being a woman truly meant.  At some point I stopped wondering and started becoming, and on my last day as a twenty-something I want to share with you, dear readers, my journey through my 20s.

When I turned 20 I was a sophomore at Georgia State University, still trying to figure out my major (English, Spanish, or Journalism?), working for the newspaper and radio station, and falling in love with the city.  I had recently broken up with my boyfriend, Stefan, who was completely lame, but since I was young I didn't know I deserved any better.  To celebrate the break-up and my entrance into a new decade I chopped off all my hair and decided to go an entire year without dating, thus beginning my realization that being single is tons more fun than being in a relationship. My mother almost croaked when I came home.  "You are the maid of honor in your sister's wedding! What were you thinking?!"  Somehow my hair was not a showstopper, and my sister was happily married off to the man she now has three kids with.  (Thanks for taking the pressure off me, Sissy!)

Gimme a break, it's the best photo I could find on short notice. 
And plasticwear was cool back then.  Remember the Spice Girls?

Check out those lashes!  Who needs Latisse when you've got glow in the dark stick ons?

By 21 I'd decided on Journalism as a major with a minor in Creative Writing.  I scrapped English because I kept getting Bs on papers when professors didn't like my ideas.  Total hogwash.  Me?  Make a B on a paper?  I didn't need that.  So I stuck with Journalism where I never made a B on a paper again.  Hooray!  I decided I was destined to be a famous magazine writer and live in a city, any city, but it must be a city.  I also panicked that I was running out of time to do something rebellious, so I got my belly-button pierced.  No tribal tattoos on my lower back, though, thank goodness.  (In fact, I made it through all those years without one tattoo, and no more piercings.)  Later that year I met Tim, my first big heartbreak.  Stefan hurt, but more because I neeeeeeeeeeeded his attention and he refused to give it to me.  Tim actually got me, took me out on nice, vegetarian dates (it was okay because I was open to trying new things, like black bean burgers) and introduced me to his nice, vegetarian friends.  We broke up because he was graduating and moving to Florida for a job, and in hindsight it was really for the best because I heart chocolate covered bacon.  A few months after the break up I went to a party with Lara and followed her into the hostess's bedroom so Lara could use the bathroom.  There I saw on the nightstand a photo of Tim with the hostess. I burst into tears, Lara grabbed the hostess, and the hostess explained that she met him right before he was graduating and he invited her to Florida over spring break to visit him.  That's when I decided I would never love again.

Another year passed, and soon it would be time for me to graduate college.  I'd landed my dream internship at Atlanta Magazine, and at the end of the summer I was moving to California for Bible College, something I'd wanted to do since I was 19.  The big downside was my first nephew had been born, and I would miss seeing him grow up.  But I figured I'd go to school for two more years, move back to Atlanta and get a job with Atlanta Magazine, be married by 25, buy a little cottage in Virginia Highlands, and have my own kids -- four -- between 26 and 30-32ish.  I really had no idea that life doesn't quite work according to our plans. 

During my internship I met Justin.  Tim paled in comparison to Justin.  He was not what one might consider my "type" at all -- short, pudgy, balding, with the most beautiful face I'd ever seen.  I wasn't just smitten, I was in love.  I have not been in love since and sometimes I wonder if that was the only shot I'll ever get.  But honestly, it was wonderful to love someone, and, having passed through the pain of breaking up with the person I was in love with, I can now say I wouldn't trade that experience.  In the midst of it I wanted to die of course, and when I found out years later (at 28) that he was marrying a friend of mine, I collapsed to the floor and rolled around screaming for who knows how long.  (Oh yes, I can be quite the drama queen.)  I've gotten all that out of my system, though, because now when I think of his wife, I don't want to rip out her hair.  I think that means I've made peace with it, right? 

Well anyway, Justin and I spent one amazing summer together that ended with him telling me he loved me and us crying in each other's arms the night before I drove my little Honda Civic to California, because I was sticking to my plan no matter what.  But then, the day I arrived, a tragic event happened to someone close to me.  And that was the moment that I had an enormous growth spurt, when my 20s ceased being full of wonder, dreams, and adventures, when life became real and we stopped being invincible. 

The year that followed is kind of a blur.  A lot of tears, a lot of anger, a lot of pain.  I didn't have the energy to try to make friends at school, and I spent a lot of my first semester crying alone in my room or in bathroom stalls.  Somehow I forged through, made it through a year and a half.  When I went back for my final semester, almost 25, I was at a better place, excited to graduate and happy to be where I was.  But I had this cough, leftover from a cold from winter break, that wouldn't go away.  I went to see the school nurse and she was quite concerned.  She ordered several tests and told me to stay in bed until further notice.  I stayed in bed for six weeks.  By then I'd begun sneaking into classes, and when I got caught I'd be reprimanded and sent back home.  Eventually the dean had a talk with me and suggested I go back to Atlanta for some R&R.  The timing was actually good because my second nephew was about to be born, two days after my 25th birthday.  Soon after that I had another talk with the dean, and he recommended I stay home and not graduate.  My doctors had found out I had hypothyroidism, which is easily treated but can wreak havoc on your body if not treated.  I'd been pushing through the warning signs for the past two years, and my body was essentially kaput.  My doctors said it would take five years to completely heal.

I spent the next year becoming addicted to the Young & the Restless and catching up on all the Beverly Hills, 90210 episodes I was never allowed to watch as a kid.  Eventually I felt well enough to work, but no one was hiring a magazine writer with no experience outside of college.  So I became a nanny.  Hey, it put gas in my car and allowed me to buy new clothes, which I needed because my birthing hips suddenly filled out.  After my 26th birthday I had it set in my mind that I had to get a little dog, and then I found Noli, short for Magnolia, named after the gorgeous blooming tree in my parents' neighborhood.  Not long after that I met a guy at my cousin's wedding who offered me a job up in Washington, DC.  A month later I had moved up here and met Margaret.

That first year was tough.  It was my first real job, and I had no idea was DC was like.  The company I was working for had low-balled me on my salary like you wouldn't believe. (It's really just too embarrassing to admit, so I'll let you guess.  Then subtract $10K and you might be in the ballpark.)  Not only that, but I still had my plan stuck in my head, except there was no guy to marry and therefore no babies.  So I developed what I referred to as the "glowing uterus" -- every time I heard a baby make a sound my uterus ached.  I imagined it was sending out a distress signal to the world, something like, "SOS! I'm being held hostage in a barren woman with no prospects in sight!"  Thanks a lot, Uterus, it's not like those giant hips are any help to solving the barren woman problem.  So I gave Match.com a shot.  It was through that experience that I shut down the baby factory and once again realized being single is tons more fun that being in a relationship.

In my 27th year I started this blog...and you pretty much know the rest.  I made some great, lifelong friends, found myself a career I love in public affairs, eventually moved into the District, giving me the city life I'd always dreamed of, and I never chopped my hair again, especially not over a guy.  No no, a guy will never have that kind of influence over my hair decisions, ever.  Oh, and my third nephew was born.  We're not sure my brother-in-law is capable of producing anything but rowdy boys.

So, on my last day as a twenty-something, I remember that linen napkin fondly.  Today there's no question in my mind: I am a woman.  It's not what I thought it would be, but it's sort of everything I wanted it to be.  I mean, there's no way I could manage living the city life with four kids on a magazine writer's salary, but that's not the sort of thing you think about when you're 20.  At 30 the dreams may have faded, but realizations of what life is all about have replaced them.  I enter into this new decade with eyes wide open, skin well toughened, and a heart filled with love of the amazing people in my life.  There will be grief along with joy, but if there's one thing my 20s taught me it's that when a broken heart heals, it's stronger than it was before, making the grief less grievous and the joy more joyful. 

Note: Don't think because I'm turning 30 that I'll stop loving Britney Spears.  That'll never change, even when I'm 40. 


For Megan