A Shot at Headshots

Jon was the first friend that I ever made at Iowa Western. It was the first day of class, my first day of college. I had some time before I needed to leave campus, so I wandered to the library and sat myself down at one of the few computers available. At some point in time, I had a question--I do not remember if it was about flash drives or printers or logging on, but I had a question--so I turned to the man next to me.

Jon and I remained in touch for the next five years, but we only saw each other a couple of times until this past Thanksgiving, when he approached me. "I've been thinking of getting some new headshots," he told me, "And I wondered if you would like to do them."

Another appointment, another opportunity.

He was pleased with the results, especially since his only requirement was "One good photo."

I hope that he is able to continue building upon his acting career, continue building upon his film experience. He's an extremely creative, versatile individual who never fails to make one laugh.

I recently created a Facebook page to showcase my photos. In addition to this blog, I use it as a way to build my portfolio. It also makes marketing a bit easier, and it draws in individuals who would otherwise go without reading my words here. If you wish to "like" my Facebook page, feel free. However, there is no obligation, and I will not push my readers toward it.

In other words, I am more than honored to hold you as company in one place or the other. Yes, my blog and my Facebook page are linked; I share the photos there, the stories here. This way, those who are visually active can choose to skip my language, while those who prefer words can visit this site.

In the end, I am happy to I share my experiences with two entirely different cultures. These words, these images and the stories that I associate with them are for you--you, the ones who read and comment. The photos? Those are to show members of my hometown that there are things they may overlook--simplistic, humble places that do not fit their image of "scenic beauty."

Hell, I can't even define "beauty." I can't define it because it's everywhere; it's in the sunlight that delicately creeps across the carpet in the early hours of morning, it's in the curve of Han's shoulder. It's in the fragile, interwoven hands of elderly couples, the cracked, peeling paint of forgotten buildings. It's in animals and people, rocks and trees, water and air, in words, in photos, in people, in imaginations and recollections and life.


Christmas this year is ... difficult.

It's always a stressful time a year, a time that we struggle over what to buy and who to buy it for, a time to panic over last minute gifts and DIY decorations. We both dread and look forward to holiday gatherings--family dinners that may or may not include tears from laughter ... or frustration.

I do enjoy my family, and I love Christmastime. This year, however, Christmas is a bit gloomy. The celebrations are marked by the absences of others; rather than gather around a table filled with Christmas delights, my mother and I will be in the living room, alone, watching T.V. and pretending that today is just another day, that our neighbors aren't hosting feasts, that we're not alone.

I'm also fearful. Monetarily, this year has been incredibly hard. My mother lost her job and, as a sufferer of multiple sclerosis, she has been unable to secure an available position. Because finances are so tight, we are "not" exchanging presents this year. I don't mind; it's not about the presents, or about the getting. It's not about the appearances of boxes. In fact, I think the purchasing of a gift solely for the reason that someone can "have something to open" is a ridiculous excuse to purchase a gift. It's not about sitting in a circle and making a show of opening a gift, one at a time, and fawning unnecessarily over an item that you, in fact, picked out.

To me, the art of gift giving is the abstract art of making others happy: of buying presents for the children of underprivileged families; of donating a dollar to a worthy charity; of baking cookies for your neighbor, of mailing ornaments to a stranger, of hugs and smiles and laughter and love and memories of being "there."

This is why I have bypassed the "not" giving a gift; I have decided to make for my mother a book--a book of memories and photos and words and thoughts. I want her to be happy, to read my thoughts and understand why I am so fearful.

To be straight, I accepted a job just last week. I had spent several months seeking employment. I was discouraged, desperate. I wanted publishing but settled for newspapers, an industry with which I am entirely too familiar. I start in just a few days, and it scares me. It scares me that I must be an adult, that I must transition from "house-girlfriend" to adult in a little over a week ... a week that includes two family Christmases.

I am scared of being alone. I have a few great fears, loneliness and abandonment being two of them. My heart is easily broken by the actions and words of others, and--no matter my location, Iowa or Indiana--I ache for people whom I am not with. When I first transferred to Purdue, my soul had been shattered by a long-term boyfriend who had ended our relationship just five days before Christmas. I was fresh, vulnerable, raw and empty. My mother helped me move into my dorm in early January, and she stayed with me for a few days. When I left her at the train station, I cried. I cried and cried and cried, watching the train sped up and curve north to Chicago, to Iowa.

I was alone.

I was alone at the University of Iowa, alone at the hotels at which my dad used to abandon me. I'm alone late at night, alone, save for my thoughts, which go unanswered and un-comforted. I hate being alone, and I dread the evenings when I will come home from work and open the door to my tiny-even-though-I-can-barely-afford-this-too efficiency and greet the darkness. No hugs from a loved one, no friendly words. No kisses, no laughter, no food, no welcoming bed. Good days or bad days, it doesn't matter ... there will be no one there to share my joy or sadness.

I am so utterly fearful; fearful of the benefits that I cannot buy into, fearful of the budget I cannot afford. Fearful that, like my mother, I will have to debate between purchasing food or gas ... or bills. Fearful that my relationships will deteriorate. Fearful that I will do what I always do when I am scared and alone--that I will curl, curl and crimp myself into the gray mold of depression that I've struggled with since high school.

I must be an adult soon. I must get up, put on clothes, put on a face--both a literal and figurative face--and drive to work. Drive and work, edit and design and talk and plan and think. In five days, I must be an adult. In four days, I must move to my efficiency, must swear at the mattress I take up the three-turn Victorian staircase. I must say goodbye to my family, goodbye to my uncle and brother and mother, to the ones who insist on helping, but dread abandoning. In three days, I must celebrate Christmas with my family, celebrate and smile and laugh. I must play cards with my uncles, trade swear words and smack as we banter our pegs up and down the cribbage board.

But today? Today I must wrap my "non-presents." I must wrap my homemade gifts, my homemade ornaments and photographs and books into boxes and brown paper. Simple, yes, but beautiful.

If only the same could be said for adulthood.

Goodbye Greenfield


Today, like every other day, the sun will awaken. Its gaze will peek through the blinds, the blinds that block the drafty sliding glass door. It will creep across the carpet, crawl up the couch. It will reflect off the wall, glowing with a yellow fire that makes me believe that today, yes, today, will be okay.

Today is the last day that I will wake up within your walls. Today is the last day that I will wake in the darkness of morning, the last day I will silently creep through the hallway and to the bathroom, the living room, the kitchen, the kitchen table at which I have my computer. It is the last morning I will argue with closet doors, complain that I have “no place of my own.”

True; I stayed beneath your roof—the one that rattles and shakes and shivers in the wind—for a number of nights. But those nights, when added together, are just a few months—a few months in which I watched the turn of leaves, the fall of snow.

Most of my time here was spent alone. With Hans at work, I spent many solitary hours delving into the online world, melting into social media and forcing conversations with individuals whom I had never met. I was lonely, depressed. I missed home, I missed school. I missed having fun. I missed being spontaneous. I missed having a bed to myself, a desk of my own.

It wasn’t ideal; I was without a dresser, without any sort of furniture. I had come to you as a refuge, a place to be when I abandoned an opportunity. I was not aware that, come Christmastime, I would have to leave your walls and pack my things once more. Pack my things and drive back, back to a state I thought I had momentarily left.

You were a cute little apartment, a functional living space with two bedrooms and a dishwasher (a novelty I have never had). You had a small deck, a space in which Hans and I sat a few times. Sat and watched cars, sunsets. Sat and ate dinner. Sat and watched the countless ducks waddle and quack across the parking lot, loudly flapping their way to a retention pond.

I cooked here. I experimented. I made meatballs and tomato soup. I made grilled cheese for the first time, concocted curry. I baked brownies and muffins, angrily threw away an entire batch of sugar cookie dough. I burned quesadillas, blackened toast. I made addictive white bean dip. I froze leftovers and created meals out of butter and rice, celery and ramen, bread crumbs and cheese.

I cried. I cried a lot. I cried about the accident. About the lack of a desk. About being lonely. About the placement of items. About not having a job. About not knowing when to do something that I didn’t know I had to do in the first place. Those lonely hours during the day were tormenting; the walls that kept me safe and warm were the same ones that constricted my heart.

I can’t say that I will miss you, apartment. I will not miss the lack of shelter for my poor car, the beaten-down and rusted-out Oldsmobile that miraculously carries me from one state to the next. I will not miss the smell of stale cigarettes in the hallway, the expensive coin laundry. I will not miss your lack of a full-length mirror. I will not miss the barking dog downstairs, or the baby next door, whose short, high-pitched cries led Hans to believe that it was a cat, not a child, who was screaming.

I will not miss you, not really.

However, you are located in a good town, a small city near a much larger one filled with opportunity. You did give Hans and me the chance to visit places and do things. You let us take a tour of a winery. You let us experience the childhood of James Whitcomb Riley. You let us explore local cuisine, and drew us to a small, but utterly delicious Chinese buffet. You let us watch movies from the library. You let us build a fort across your living space. You let us laugh and cry, argue and make up. You let us learn about each other, let us learn about our habits, our faults. You let us in, without judgment, and gave us the chance to cohabit, to live and love together.

I can’t say that I will miss you, but I can say that I will miss Hans.

This is his place, his apartment. That’s why there is a collection of specialty beers on the kitchen counter. That’s why there are turtles—plastic turtles, metal turtles, big turtles, small turtles—in each room. That’s why there is a statue—a bobblehead that evokes a teenage fascination with Austin Powers—next to last year’s Valentine’s Day gift. It’s our juxtaposition, really—the humor of one, the emotional fragileness of the other.

We are so very different, he and I. I’m sure you have noticed. You watch as I kiss him goodnight. It isn’t until three hours into his rejuvenating sleep that I join him in slumber. He, laid-back and easy-going; I, passionate and meticulous, a place and time for everything. He, forgiving and compromising; I, stubborn and temperamental. We are opposites. We are the sun and the moon, the hot and cold. How did we ever survive?

I will miss him, apartment. Miss the way he looks at me when he says goodbye in the morning. Miss the way he hugs me, holds me, each day when he returns from work. Miss the way he covers me when I am cold, comforts me when my cheeks are damp with sadness. I will miss expounding and formulating, planning and imagining. I will miss our swearing at the ducks, our ability to go out to eat because “it’s in the budget.” I will miss his ability to provide anything and everything—from solutions to simple problems, to the exact words that I may need to hear. I will miss the companionship, and I do not envy the long hours that he soon faces—the hours in which this apartment becomes too large, too empty for one person.

I must thank you again for letting me stay, apartment. Must thank you for letting us test ourselves. I regret that I must leave, regret that I must leave the one whom I call “my favorite.” Because, to tell the truth, he is my favorite. He’s my favorite caretaker when I am sick, my favorite counselor when I troubled. He is my favorite accountant, the banker I turn to when I need financial opinions. He is my favorite friend to whom I can tell secrets. He is a son, a brother, a nephew—and, because of his compassion and selflessness, he is my favorite family member. He is my favorite person; it does not matter if I am about to embark on my own journey to adulthood, for I will miss him.

I may soon have my own desk, may soon have a closet with which I don’t have to argue. I will have everything organized and alphabetized, shiny and dust-free. But my bed will be as empty as my apartment.

I can still cook, I can still experiment, I can still explore. … but it is no fun building a fort for one.

Octopus & Indianapolis

Hans and I were able to have a "date night" in Indianapolis last week--a date that included a trip to the most delicious Asian buffet. We began our evening at Teppenyaki, a restaurant with Japanese-style food. I cannot began to explain to you the variety of delicious food items, for there were at least a dozen stations filled with steaming shrimp, chicken and stuffed crab shells.

Hans and I wandered the aisles, staring at each offered dish with ravenous curiosity. Plate after plate, we filled our palettes with small samples. Our gluttonous appetites kept us going back for more and more--for more mushrooms, for more shrimp, for more sushi.

A salad bar was one of the first stations, but I found myself intrigued with only the baby octopi. With an texture obsession, I placed two of them atop my stuffed crab shell. My lips were eager to taste them, to try them. Spicy or not, I wanted to chew their meat, feel the suckers rubbing my taste buds.

"Look what I found!" I exclaimed to Hans, pointing at the octopi.

His eyes widened with hunger. "Where did you find those?" He asked eagerly.

I pointed to the salad bar. "Over there. They have seafood salad, too," I said seductively, knowing very well that he would serve himself a mound of the sliced and diced crab meat.

Back at the table, I stared at the glass dividers, the makeshift walls between booths. Green and pink and purple lights reflected through the glass, illuminating etched leaves and branches and birds. "This is so delicious," I gushed to Hans, my mouth full of flavored salmon. "Thank you so much for taking me there. This is wonderful. I wish we had come here earlier so would have been able to come back."

He nodded, his mouth full of octopus. "It's a bit spicy," he warned me.

"It's okay," I waved him off. "I really, really just want to feel this," I said, my eyes with determination. "It will be the most texturally interesting thing I ever eat."

"Says the girl who hates onions and celery because they're not soft enough."

"You be quiet," I said lazily, forking a cephalopod into my mouth. I sighed, chewing. It was slightly rubbery, yes, a bit spicy, too, but wonderful. Delicious and full of texture and grit and salt and seawater and sauce.

"This is so good," I said again, repeating our dining mantra.

Indeed, Teppenyaki was absolutely delicious. It didn't matter that it was a buffet; it didn't matter that you could find green beans and mashed potatoes nestled between General Tso chicken and "Triple Threat" seafood pasta. It didn't matter that there was tiramisu or Jell-O. It was colorful, visually and tastefully vivid. Watermelon triangles were stacked just opposite of steamed broccoli and beef. A man, quiet in his work, avidly rolled sushi in a back corner while appreciative customers tipped him a dollar, or two, or three.

"Thank you again," I said, as we paid and started to exit. We paused for a moment by the water wheel, the trees sparkling with multi-colored Christmas lights.

"The wheel is off-balance," Hans noted, pointing at it. "Watch it." His eyes followed it's movement, his voice narrating its pattern. "See?" he said, as the wheel momentarily slowed before speeding up, faster and faster before, suddenly, it slowed again. "Fast, fast, slowing, sloowwwwwwing, fastfastfast." The pattern continued despite the constant flow of water spewing from the mouth of a fish statue.

"Huh," I dumbly responded, knowing I could not match the mechanical comments of Hans. Instead, I snapped a bokeh photo of the lights, one that I would jokingly announce to be "just a picture of some Venn diagrams." After immaturely pointing at the palm trees and noting the unfortunate presence of "just two nuts," we left, holding hands and laughing.

"Ready to see the lights?" Hans asked me, as he opened the car door for me.

"Yes!" I exclaimed giddily. "I'm excited! I'm still kind of upset that I didn't get to go with you to the City Market on the 8th."

"Well, I hope you have fun."

"Of course I will. I like lights. ...and shiny things in general."

The rest of the drive into downtown Indy was uneventful, save for the moment where I exploded in laughter.

"You didn't see that sign, did you?" I asked, giggling, my thumb pointing back over my shoulder.

"No, I didn't."

"I didn't think so, as you're driving." I sighed. "I wish I had gotten a picture of that." I laughed a bit more. "There was a sign back there, a really large banner, really, on a restaurant. It had 'HAPPY 32th ANNIVERSARY' printed on it! ...how do you even pronounce that?" I laughed. "That is a copy editor's nightmare."

"You and words."

"Hey..." I said, looking at him with a smile on my face. Hans glanced at me, smirking, his eyebrows raised. "...that's all I got," I said, laughing again. We rounded a corner, turned onto a street and there it was, there was Monument Circle, aglow with Christmas lights and candy canes.

"It's so pretty," I whispered to myself as Hans struggled to find a place to park. We drove in squares, in rectangles, for blocks and blocks until we parked at an intersection a ways from the Circle. Outside of the car, the air was brisk, windy. We struggled to stand upright, fought against the air to keep our fingers and toes warm. When we finally reached the Circle by foot, I became enraptured by the lights. Mesmerized, I looked upward. Upward and out, around and around. I twirled on my own feet, distracted by blinking Christmas trees and bell ringers and sparkling lights.

We walked up the steps of the Monument, each taking in the lights. We pulled cameras out of pockets and off of shoulders, capturing what we saw. I, jealous of his pictures, he, jealous of mine. I looked up, up and up and up. The cables whipped in the wind, breathed like an open-air tent.

I danced around the cables, swirled around them and smiled at the Capitol Building. I watched Hans take his own photos, capture his own memories. I twirled and twisted, smiled and laughed, a ballet between myself and the decorations. I was happy; happy with how pretty things were, happy to be there, happy to be there with Hans. Even the ground was bedecked, the lights and drains reflecting the bulbs above my head. Over me and below me, it was a playground of electrical confetti.

Storefronts and buildings with curved architecture reflected the enormous “Christmas Tree,” altered and expanded and warped it into a vivid world of color.

We contemplated drinks, contemplated more walking, as we strolled around the Circle. Our eyes were drawn to different things—to the reindeer outside the entrance to the Symphony, to the colorful LED tree, to the beautifully cluttered tea store. “This is so beautiful,” I said, gazing at everything. I stared up at the Monument again, it’s creation years illuminated. Its steps were guarded by over-sized nutcrackers, an army of cartoonish characters.

“Yep, this is where I walked the other day, the day you couldn’t come,” Hans said to me, pointing at the nativity we were nearing. “I took a picture of that. Remember?” I nodded, glaring at the bell tower, which had been chiming for several minutes.

The walk back to the car was difficult, and we spent many a minute wandering, confused and lost. When we finally found the car, I insisted on going across the street to photograph the “blue cacti” I had seen. Tall and domineering, the lights turned the trees into regal saguaros, the cacti of Massachusetts Avenue.

Back in the car, huddled and shivering, I thanked Hans for the trip. “This was … fantastic,” I said. “Thank you so much for a wonderful evening. That food … wow. That food was amazing. And thank you so much for taking me to see the lights.”

“You’re very welcome, Sweetheart. You deserve it.”

Simply Having A Wonderful Christmastime

It's everywhere.

It's on the windows of a cafe in West Lafayette, the walls of stores in the Old Market.

It's in the windows of various shops and stores and buildings all around the country, from banks in downtown Indianapolis to antique dealers in Ames.

It's in churchyards and front yards, labeling the season and decorations as religious. It encourages us to remember the words of Linus van Pelt, the speech that proclaims "That's what Christmas is all about."

It's in the ornament swaps that you see, the ones in which strangers and friends take part, the ones in which decorations are mailed for hundreds, for thousands, of miles in hopes of being loved.

And, indeed, they are. They are loved and viewed and held and stroked and hung upon trees. They are photographed and shared, admired and cared for. They are taken respectfully, loved because they were made with care and thought and representation.

I must thank you, Mary, for the effort you put into mine. I must thank you for showcasing the first two felt ornaments I have ever made, the ornaments I so desperately wanted you to like. When I look at what I gave you, I feel guilty--feel as if I could have done more, could have made something spectacular, something bright and colorful and worthy. I feel guilty because you made me something worth savoring; you reminded me that there are wonderful people in the world, and that, when you least expect it, the network of blogs can introduce you to the kindness of strangers.

That same kindness, that same love, that same "thing" that seems to be everywhere, anywhere is at home. It is in the living room, the kitchen. It's in the air my mother spins, in the words she sings as she bakes and cooks and makes and creates.

It's in the streets, dangling from lamps and wires and making the night drives a little more merry, a little more bright. It's even in the parking lots of grocery stores and bedecked banks. It's in the most expected places, the least expected places. It brightens and enlightens, sparkles and dazzles and mesmerizes. It keeps our gaze, keeps it upward.

It's in the other ornaments I make, the ones I attempt and stitch and argue with as I accidentally stab myself with the needle. "There's joy somewhere in this," I remind myself as I suck my sore thumb.

It's in the finished ornaments I mail--the ones I mail to Michigan, Minnesota, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Virginia, Kentucky, Iowa, Indiana, Italy, Australia. It's everywhere, in every state, in every country. It's on trees and packages, dining room tables and boxes.

It's in the air, on Christmas trees and houses, in streets and store windows. It's in coats and pockets, gloves and shoes and smiles. It outlines gutters and door frames, brightens living rooms. It's in affection, in smiles and laughter and love. It's there, everywhere, inside and outside.

It's everywhere.
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