The Trap that is Your ~*college*~ Facebook Album

Picture 4Amid the medals, measurements, and minutes that are counted during the Olympics, I got lost in a numerical sea of my own today. I’ve spent the last week in Wisconsin (a trip my mom referred to as “a little spring break”) before I start full-time employment next week. Though the site seeing in Appleton, WI is endless, I’ve found myself with quite a bit of down time while my boyfriend is off at work contributing to society or whatever. So I’ve been organizing taste tests and focus groups for myself and for Pinot Noir.

Somewhere between a Menage a Trois blended red and a 2 p.m. screening of Bruce Almighty, I found myself perusing the FB. Enough hits on the right arrow, and I was transported back to freshman year. The first question: who let me three-barrel my hair that often? The second: WHY ALL THE PHOTOS?! 2009, it seemed, was the year we greeted guys not with a “hey” “hi” or even a wave, but rather, “Can you take a picture of us pleeeeease?” It was the new hello and the flash was the perfect goodbye.

After a Friday night out, there were 198 photos, 27 friend requests, and a dozen new contacts saved in our flip phones. (#blessed that Twitter wasn’t a thing when we were college freshmen.) Were we just that excited to be meeting new people? Yes. Did we really feel the need to bond because we were the only two in the girls’ bathroom at that fraternity at that particular moment wearing the same Forever 21 top? Absolutely yes. Maybe we just didn’t want to miss a minute of our college experience, or maybe we were just looking forward to editing all the new photos on Picnik while we listened to “Party in the USA.”

However, a few things I picked up on while meandering through pixels of a life pre post-grad:

1. I would’ve spent an exorbitant amount of less time working on house party costumes.

2. I would’ve spent even less time worrying who my date was because, really, did it ever work out?

3. Captions do more harm than good.

4. Helser Hall really, really builds character.

5. We all really took “I throw my hands up in the air sometimes” to heart.

I’ll be the first to say that many a great friendship started via “oh em gee are you in a house?” and also that I’m glad to have all of these awkwardly posed pictures, sans skinny arm or sorority squat, showcasing now non-existent clothing trends and guys who we wasted too much time talking about. So in answer to our parents’ asking what good is social media — it gives us something to screenshot and still be able to laugh at with our friends, years later. Long live the college memories and the pictures that encapsulate what a horrible, hilarious mix our lives were. I became enveloped in a vat of memories that reminded me how easy it was to get wrapped up in Greek life. It reminded me how much I loved Ke$ha and how okay I was with wearing flare jeans and chunky headbands. It reminded how lucky I was to be immersed in a group of people that were just as excited and unprepared as I was.

All I Want for Christmas is to Hang Out with My Parents

Screen shot 2014-01-29 at 1.16.23 PMI never had the cool parents. I was the 12-year-old  who had to stay home when my friends went to see a PG-13 movie. I thought my world came to a crashing halt when my parents refused to let me watch “Bring It On” at a friend’s birthday. My mom got annoyed when I wanted to listen to Radio Disney in the car, even though I was determined to belt every word to “This Is What Dreams Are Made Of” by Hilary Duff (or Lizzie McGuire. Or Isabella. Not sure where we ever landed on that one.) I was discouraged to call friends’ parents by their first names, even though that’s what all my friends were doing.

Even through high school I wasn’t granted much more autonomy. It wasn’t irregular for my dad to call the parents of a friend who was having a party, to make sure it would be supervised. My midnight curfew was set in stone, as I was reminded at 12:02 a.m. that “late is late.” I blamed my sisters and my middle child status for much of my misfortune. One was perfect with straight A’s and zero wrongdoings. One was the youngest, a quirky but promising student. And I felt glazed over, like a rack of barbecue ribs, slowly turning on a less-than-perfect spit.

The truth of the situation is that I was over-dramatic, ornery, and self-centered in my adolescence. I threw blame at my parents every chance I could, and I lashed out when I knew they had me mentally cornered. Fake crying about the monotony of my tragic life seemed more logical than addressing a problem at its core and talking through it, so proved my friends Kristin and LC. (Actually it was mostly Jess-ka. Screw Jess-ka.)

Things changed once I got to college. I felt “free” — and rightly so — as every college freshman should. I ate Zebra Cakes for breakfast BECAUSE I COULD, and I came home at 3 a.m. BECAUSE GREEKLAND WAS A MAZE. But by the end of first semester, I started to realize how often I called my parents (not just for money, but thankz Daddy*) but for real stuff too — like asking why business calculus was a mandatory course, why guys still thought bodily functions were funny, and also to tell them about the amazing people I met. As the semesters passed, I found myself wanting to go home not to see high school friends or go to a tax-free mall, but to see the duo that had made my “previous” life so unbearable.

My parents are now the first two people I always choose to hang out with. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up a little. Maybe it’s because they still buy my meal when we go out to eat. Maybe it’s because they were very much “parents” when I was growing up. If you think about it, being friends with your mom when you’re 14 is really an odd concept. I’m not saying parents don’t care about what’s going on in your life when you’re that age, but you can only connect on so many levels. When general interests and conversation levels veer more to that of an adult, you appreciate more of the same things. Like wine. Hosting my parents at my favorite Ames bar during graduation weekend last spring was one of my most favorite memories from college. There were my friends, elated at our recent accomplishments; my dad, basking in the miracle of college-town cocktail tabs; my mom, shaking her head in both pride and terror at the bridge that connected my life with hers. And now as I pack up and get ready to head north for Christmas, I can’t help but think how freaking crazy you have to be, to want to be a parent. It’s a tumultuous, life-long commitment. But maybe they go through the dark days (a.k.a. when their spawn is between nine and 19-years-old) because they know the good stuff is coming: intelligent and meaningful conversations, successes that throw us forward, a genuine appreciation for all they’ve done.

Merry Christmas and keep the wine coming. Our parents (and us maybe if we’re somewhat employed or doing good things with our lives) deserve it.

*never have I ever referred to my dad as “daddy.” Nor should anyone. Besides babies maybe.

Why It’s Okay If Running Isn’t Your Thang

nike running shoes in fall leavesEvery day on my way home from work, I see runners. They trot by on a crosswalk they invented, giving me the passively friendly wave — the Midwestern middle finger. I’m just thinking “Yep, go ahead. After you. I have nowhere to be. No pins to pin. No cats to pet. No denials to deny.”

But now running has been on my mind. And for the last month, I’ve been doing an okay job about running around a few times a week. But does that make me a runner? I feel like I don’t fit in. I mean, I obviously can’t wear a visor because I lack the spiky hair necessary to wear said visor.

Wanting to look the part, I went home to the heartland last month and paid a trip to MOA — the favorite place of anyone who doesn’t live in Minnesota. I had debated for three previous stores whether or not I would go into Lululemon. OH WHAT I WOULD GIVE TO HAVE THAT UPSIDE DOWN MINIATURE “U” WITH WINGS ON THE SIDE OF MY ASS. I’ll tell you what I would give — $80. Flat. Minnesota, hollaatcha no clothing tax.

I immediately sensed I was in a hostile environment. With 16-year-olds aplenty in their spandex and sweatbands (clearly at the MOA on a break from the best vball tourney eva), I couldn’t help but think: really? You’re going to pay a crisp bill for a pair of super stretched out yoga pants? I grinned, thinking I had the upper hand. Hah. I am an adult, with a paycheck and goals. Lost in my daydream of scooping Subway’s tunafish mix onto adolescents’ flawless shiny hair, the Lululemon worker caught me off guard.

“Hi! Do you need a dressing room?”

Little did she know I lived in a sorority for two years and actually preferred to strip down in the hallways. With a hazy remembrance of social norms, I decided to take her up on her gracious offer.

“Uhm……yeah?” Confident. Nice.

“Okay!” She bounced around, her blonde curls bouncing behind her. “What’s your name?” She smiled at me, pen-poised and ready to write my name on the dressing room door.

Hope you studied your consonants, girl.

Past this spelling-of-my-name hurdle that I come across all too often, I thought I was safe to retreat into my 3×7 box. I thought wrong. “Okay, Merritt!” So energetic. “What’s your favorite way to work out?!” Emphasis on the favorite, as if I had multiple activities to choose from.

Is this a trick question? I’m picturing wearing these with no shoes while I move from chair to couch in my apartment. I knew I couldn’t fake yoga. She’d probably make me say my favorite position. And while Happy Baby is one of the best stretches in the world, it wasn’t one I was about to pull out in front of all the Eden Prairie MILFs. Hmm could I go with an organized sport? Softball? I remember being good at that. #glorydays. Ugh no, then my new retail friend would want to set me up with a “really motivated girlfriend” of hers.

“I like to run.”

Lie.

She wrote it on the board, underneath her best attempt at my name.

I’ve tried running countless times. But you wanna know the problem with running? It’s not fun. Blah blah, “It feels so good when you’re done though!” Ever topped off a bottle of wine with your best friends? Talk about endorphins.

I tried on pairs of leggings in my personal box. You’d think that for 80 bucks they could’ve made my butt look way better. Discouraged, I peeled off the jet black layer of new skin and tossed them on the ground (and immediately picked them up. Hello they’re Lululemon.) But as I’m no longer a student, I couldn’t justify buying this pair of leggings. I’m not a runner, and I can’t wear them to work like I could’ve worn them to class. So I left the store, bagless.

When I decided that I wanted to pursue writing as more than just a hobby, I found solace in a book (for writers) by Monica Wood. She said it doesn’t matter if you’re published. It doesn’t matter if you write short stories, novels, feature stories or poems. If you write anything, anything at all, you are a writer. So don’t feel bad if you don’t “hit the pavement” every night; every night that you are out there and running is a night you are a runner.

During my run tonight, I saw a woman wearing a t-shirt that said, “To be your best, you have to forget the rest.” Normally, I’d throw up at that sort of cheesy phrase. But she smiled at me as we passed, and it made sense. Running isn’t for everyone else ever. If you’re doing it, it’s gotta be for you – just like anything that requires motivation. If going for a run makes you feel better, then you gotta do that. If doing 20 jumping jacks makes you feel better, then you gotta do that. If making an egg sandwich mixed with that sweet & sour sauce from Fong’s Pizza that’s been in our fridge for a week makes you feel good, you gotta eat that. As our Pawnee friends say, “Treat yo’self.” Whether that means to a run or to something else is up to you.

Saturdaze: Des Moines Farmers Market

DSM Farmers MarketWelcome to the first of many Saturdaze posts! I don’t know if it was the perfect chilly morning, all the little babies bundled up, or the police officer who actually had coffee and a donut in hand that made today feel like a scene out of a movie. Court Avenue in Des Moines took on an entirely different persona than the one I’ve grown accustomed to on Friday and Saturday nights (not to say that’s a bad thing.) Homemade apple cider took the place of apple pie shots. Fresh cream-filled Danishes took the place of 1:30 a.m. cheese balls. And pink-cheeked children took the place of, for lack of a better term, drunk betches.

Des Moines is ranked the #2 best Farmers Market in the country. On top of Midwestern food favorites, there is a ton of live music, kids activities, handmade jewelry, and fresh flowers. To be honest, I haven’t always been interested in these types of events. I cringed at the words “fair” or “market.” I would’ve much rather been at a Starbucks or the mall. Maybe I’m intrigued by Farmers Markets now because it’s such a stereotypical blogger thing to do, like there’s some weird mold a blogger needs to fit into — someone who swears by organic food or really likes to eat kale; someone who finds time for yoga and running every day in between a full-time job; and someone whose gorgeous hair takes no effort at all; and someone who makes regular appearances at a downtown Farmers Market.

I’m happy to say none of these stereotypes need to be true, nor is a Farmers Market meant to be for a particular type of audience. My bf and I saw everything from Iowa State/Iowa fanatics to Lululemon lovers to kids to adults to dogs. No rules. Just awesomeness.

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Though it was aesthetically pleasing to see all the pumpkins and gourds, I couldn’t keep myself from having horrific Halloween costume flashbacks – Princess Jasmine (complete with wig, circa 1997), Josie from Josie & the Pussycats (complete with purple fuzzy leopard print heels, circa 2000,) and a pair of Halloween pajama pants with a t-shirt that said “This is My Costume” (complete with zero creativity, circa 2006.)

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Then we found the breakfast. GOOD GOD.  With slices bigger than Jeff’s, how could we say no? It’s atypical for either of us to turn down bacon, but as soon as we saw how fresh and bright the vegetables looked, we could not resist. Although it lacked my favorite pizza ingredient (red pizza SAWCE), everything came together perfectly with a simple garlic butter sauce. Tomatoes, spinach, eggs, and banana peppers topped it all off. (Literally. They were the toppings.) RIley and I may have picked off the mushrooms and olives. What can I say? We’re children.

photo (18)The best find of the day? A tent filled with dahlias that were grown right in Ames. It looked like a garden out of Whoville. (I had to take one home.) As we meandered through the tents, I reveled in the hard work of all the vendors. I was just here, slightly hung over and enjoying my first time at the Farmers Market. But they were here every Saturday, pre-sunrise to post-lunch. They sold items that they put hours of work into. They greeted every person with a friendly face and kind word. Looks like Minnesota nice has traveled south!

Why People are More Attractive in the Fall

photoWith October officially upon us (#thanksObama), we’ve settled into routines and maybe some relationships. Thinking back to my old college days, it seemed that relationships came out of nowhere after just a few weeks of school. All of these new couples were so wrapped up in each other, literally and figuratively, and I had to push in between hand-holding to get to Caribo…ahem, class, on time. I thought things might be different once out of school, but I’m finding the truth about this season remains the same: people are more attractive in the fall.

There’s a feel-good feeling about fall that’s more irresistible than guys who wear their sleeves rolled up. It’s more than the rush guys get once they see girls tweeting that it’s yoga pants season. It’s more than a debate of: are scarves getting bigger or are women’s heads getting smaller? Checking people out is a habit for both men and women, but the “fantasies” seem to change in these cooler months. Thoughts shift from, “He/she makes me want to BOMO at a house party,” to “He/she makes me want to go on a date to Noodles,” to “He/she makes me want to cook dinner and drink wine by a fireplace, while curled up next to kittens and listening to John Mayer.”

What causes this shift in romantic-thinking?

1. People are inherently in better moods during the fall. If you’re not into football than you’re at least into tailgating, which makes everyone happy. The weight of mid-terms hasn’t hit you yet. And if you’re a post-grad, it still hasn’t dawned on you that working lasts the rest of your life. (Sorry for the spoiler alert.) Everyone’s looking forward to the good things, and that’s enough to grab anyone’s attention.

2. There’s something about a fall wardrobe. While low-cut crop tops definitely show off your personality, there’s something about layers that make you want to get to know someone. We get invitingly lost in a sea of flannel, cardigans, scarves and boots, wondering what kind of person hones that type of style. People look cleaner, fresher, more put together; they look like they’re going somewhere with a purpose.

3. Fall is the most beautiful time of the year. Yeah, yeah, every season has its perks. But is there anything better than walking past someone whose hair is blowing in the breeze, vibrant leaves flying everywhere, while a gust of wind puts their sexy scent straight to your face? No. And while every interaction might not channel that much Pocahontas, it’s way more enjoyable than walking past sweaty bodies in the summer or seeing the red nose/dry skin combo in the winter. The summer tan is just fading away, giving everyone an autumnal glow that’s impossible to ignore.

Maybe, if you’re just starting college, being in a relationship is what you feel like you should/need to do. Maybe, if you’re out of college, it’s still what you feel like you should/need to do. Or maybe it’s because we can all admit that we just don’t want to drink our pumpkin spice lattes alone during the best part of the year.

Moving to Somewhere That’s Not Your College Town

31747493-mjs_great_river_road_in_wisconsin-_view_from_maiden_rock_blAs predicted, I figured most of us wouldn’t let this whole “graduation” thing set into until we were absolutely forced to do so. August is in full swing, so now we’re seeing all of these statuses and tweets pop up about moving back to respective college campuses. A little (cough big cough cough) part of me dies – I mean that in the least dramatic way. But there’s nothing that gets nostalgia going quite like reminiscing about what “back to school” means in the college sense. It means we’re that much closer to living with our best friends again, that much closer to tailgating season, and that much closer to feeling at home. Maybe that’s why this summer has flown by. This is the first time that a lot of us haven’t been thinking about heading back to school. Time always goes more slowly when you’re counting down the days to something. But now what are we counting down? I can’t be the only one against an iPhone app telling me the only countdown I have to look forward to is when the State Fair starts. (Okay but really… I might have a countdown for that.)

Now to get away from this seemingly bummed out postponed post, I think a move – a literal move – is in order for every college graduate at some point, especially if your college was in a small(er) town. Upon entering college, I had the plan of graduating in four years and then moving back to the Twin Cities and never leaving. About halfway through college, I was doing everything to extend those four years, but the thought of moving back to my hometown was still ingrained in my mind. I had a one-track mind when it came to where I’d end up post-grad, and I wasn’t about to veer off course. Then all of a sudden, as an actual post-grad, I was forced to think about things I never considered in college: I always knew that money would factor into a job I would take, but I didn’t realize how much. I started to look at jobs for their long-term gain, as opposed to the types of hours I’d be working. I talked and networked with people who worked at those companies to get an inside view, instead of just trusting Google (albeit is the holy grail). And I pro-conned more in a week about moving than I did in an entire four years of sorority chapter meetings about philanthropy tees.

It’s no question that there’s a sense of familiarity when moving back to college, and it feels normal wanting to move back. But think about it: there’s a good chance you didn’t know anything about the college you were heading to when you were an 18-year-old baby. You were looking up or down, trying to get an idea of the scenes around you. By the end of it, you could make any walk to any place without even thinking. Every place, no matter how young or old you are and no matter where it is, is going to feel new at some point. And it’s going to feel scary at some point – even if it has a familiar name or if you know a few people in the area. We all get crazy comfortable in college with who we are and what we know. And moving away challenges all of that. But I think we can all agree that no one wants to be the graduate who’s still the first and last one to leave the college bars; the one who shows up to every Greek event even though, “SHE DOESN’T EVEN GO HERE”; or the one who’s stuck and can’t get going. We’ll hit hardships – that’s a given. But how lucky for us that we made such great friends in college that they’re around to help us through it all, and together.