I Went to Buffalo, NY

Last week on September 1st, this blog turned nine years old. When I originally started this blog on September 1st of 2002, I was preparing to set out on my first round-trip cross-country drive from Virginia to California.

Nine years later, on September 1st of 2011, I was in a car, traveling from Washington, DC to my boyfriend’s hometown of Buffalo, NY. We spent a long weekend there and I had a terrific time. I met all kinds of wonderful people and saw all kinds of cool places, like…

…the Connecticut Street Armory
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…Delaware Park at sunset…
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…and Niagara Falls at night.
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Additional photos can be found in my Buffalo photoset on Flickr.

I’m an Auntie Again

I’ve neglected to mention that my second nephew was born just over three weeks ago. This photo was taken when he was six days old.

My nephew

(Welcome to the world, Ryder.)

He belongs to my younger sister, Angela. I understand that he likes to be a cranky-pants sometimes, but she’s happy to have him around.

Scoliosis Surgery, 10 Years Later

In the early morning hours of July 26, 2001, I went to the University of Virgina Medical Center to undergo corrective surgery for scoliosis. Even though I started blogging a year later, it wasn’t until three years had passed that I decided to write a series of four posts to chronicle the experience as I remembered it. Today, on the 10th anniversary of my surgery, I’m linking to them again.

Part 1: My History, Pre-Surgery
Part 2: Surgery and the Hospital
Part 3: After the Surgery
Part 4: Three Years Later

I’m always happy to answer additional questions if anyone has them.

My 31st Birthday

I turned 31 last week, which — you can ask anyone if you want to verify this — is not nearly as exciting as turning 30. When you’re on the cusp of 30, everyone wants to know how you feeeeeeel about it. Are you bummed? Are you embracing the new decade with wide open arms? I described how I felt about it last year, but this year I’m “just 31.” Although the excitement of a new decade may be over, I like being this age. My life has gotten better since I turned 30.

Since my birthday fell during the week, I worked all day like I usually do. I kept saying it didn’t really seem like my birthday until I got out of work and met up with the BF for dinner. Then my day was complete.

However, I did throw myself a party last Saturday night. I had to leave some people off the invite list due to space limitations (I had about 20 people in my 1-bedroom apartment), but it ended up being a good number and I had a terrific time. It takes quite a bit of prep work to pull something like that off — and quite a bit of time to clean up — but I had help from friends which made the task a lot easier. (I even had a security guy come up from the lobby because a neighbor called in a noise complaint. As we all know, a party in an apartment building is not complete without a noise complaint.)

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Birthday Stats

Number of calls received: 2
Number of emails received: 2
Number of texts received: 3
Number of cards received: 5
Number of bouquets of flowers received: 2
Number of messages on my Facebook wall: 84 (clearly Facebook wins)

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This is what I look like at age 31.

My 31st birthday

Random Friday, Ver. 115

This photo was taken a few weeks ago — me with my younger sister, Angela, at her baby shower in Richmond. She’s having a boy in July.

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Although my boyfriend and I have been dating for over six months, it wasn’t until recently that I came to the following realization:

Before I was born and my parents decided to go with a different name, my mom referred to me as Rachel Lenore.

My boyfriend’s last two long-term relationships were with women named Rachael…and Leanor.

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I’ve had a bump on my lip for about five months. It never hurts or changes shape, but it’s also never gone away. I went to a dermatologist recently and he said it’s a blocked salivary gland. He also recommended leaving it as-is unless there’s a noticeable change or starts to hurt, which it currently does not — the other option would be to cut it out and stitch up my lip, which would be quite a bit more noticeable.

It actually looks worse in this close-up photo than it does in real life (I’m linking to it rather than posting it here because I don’t want a big ‘ol picture of my lips on the screen). I’ve never had anyone ask about it or point it out (other than my dentist during a routine cleaning a few months ago). I’m hoping it goes away on its own.

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This photo was taken in an elevator in Vienna, Austria. I found it while looking through some old photos recently — it was taken a year ago this month when I was on a two-week trip to Europe. I like to call it: “Zan is Wearing Sunglasses on an Elevator.”

In an Austrian elevator

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Last weekend, I was told by a male friend that my home decorating style reminds him of how a man would decorate. He meant it as a compliment to my minimalist tendencies and I took it that way.

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Two friends from Richmond came to visit me in DC last Saturday. I’ve known Chris for almost 13 years and Teresa just about as long. We drove a few places (and walked others), and they complimented me more than once on my awesome parallel parking skills. (I rarely had to parallel park when I lived in Richmond so I couldn’t give them any crap about their lack of talent in this area.)

This is Chris checking out mirrors at Eastern Market (he ended up buying three of them in different colors to put on a wall in his house).

Chris at Eastern Market (Washington, DC)

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This weekend: Attending a Nationals game tonight, going to a wedding tomorrow in Fredericksburg VA, and then a friend’s cookout on Sunday.

Discover Your Passion: Is It Really Possible to do What You Love?

Many articles are available to help people discover their passion. I seem to be drawn to this advice, wondering if this particular article will have a suggestion that’s different from anything else I’ve heard. One thing that comes up over and over again is: “Think back to what you loved to do as a child.”

When I was growing up, I loved to write. It’s what I did when I wasn’t playing with my two sisters or reading (and re-reading) as many books as I possibly could. (I was homeschooled and lived in a rural area, so options were limited.) I would color my coloring books as quickly as possible so I could make up my own stories to go along with the pictures. I would then read that story to my mom and sisters as they turned the pages at my direction. When I got older, I wrote longhand in notebooks; I pecked out stories on my dad’s typewriter, carefully covering any typing mistakes with a dab of Wite-Out correction fluid.

I was still writing stories when I reached my early teens. By that time, my favorite part of the process was setting up the cast of characters; I would typically only write 5-10 pages of the actual story before I got bored and moved on to a new story line. I always fashioned the main character — always female — into an idealized version of the person I wanted to be (beautiful, rich, talented, with an extensive wardrobe of clothes that weren’t available to me in real life) instead of the person I actually was at the time (average looking, not wealthy, not talented in any stand-out way).

I believe my short attention span when it came to writing stories was exactly why I embraced blogging ten years later. I don’t write fiction anymore. Blogging taught me it was okay to write a few paragraphs about whatever I wanted and move on to something completely new. Suddenly I found myself writing about me and my life; not the fictionalized character I thought I wanted to be when I was a child. At some point I realized that my life, my thoughts, and my reactions to things, were enough. I am enough.

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For most of my life, I never thought of myself as creative in the traditional sense. I thought creativity meant creating physical things. I had no talent for drawing, painting, knitting, or anything crafty in general — and no interest in learning. But now I understand that writing is creative. I’m creating something new whenever I write. Even if my sentiment echoes a topic which has already been written about extensively by other people, the way I string words together will always be different than how it has been said before.

Of all the full-time jobs I’ve had since I was 18 years old, I’ve never had one in which I felt creative. Out of necessity, most workplaces are made up of procedures and rules, standards of time-in and time-out, specific hours and breaks, dress codes, performance measures and goals.

I’m not doing what I loved to do as a child. I believe this is why I have never felt fulfilled at any of my full-time jobs.

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For three years, BlogHer.com paid me to write for them. It was a fair rate and I enjoyed doing it. I liked the satisfaction of hitting the Publish button and getting feedback (as I still do).

I stopped writing for BlogHer for a variety of reasons, but when I read that post again after almost a year, I realized I left something out: A big reason why I quit BlogHer was because I no longer wanted to work the extra hours it required. I already had a full-time, 40-45 hours per week (not counting commuting time) job, and the salary I was making from my day job was sufficient. I decided I didn’t need the extra money anymore. I wanted my free time back. So I quit.

In other words, I chose the safe, non-creative route that pays a crapload more money than writing does. A life of commuting, constant performance evaluations, office politics, and corporate goals and expectations that are not necessarily my own.

I chose the safe route even though I have never experienced a greater sense of pride than publishing a blog post and being told it has resonated with someone. I have never received a greater compliment than from someone who praised me for my writing.

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My blog topics change as I get older. My blog is almost 9 years old; I started it when I was 22 and I will turn 31 next month. When I was in my early-to-mid 20s, I wrote about my various traveling adventures (driving cross-country multiple times by myself, spending a college semester in Amsterdam), in addition to my quarter-life crisis. In my late 20s I started writing for BlogHer, focusing on living life as a happy single woman, dating, and engaging in various fitness escapades (attempting a variety of classes I’d never done before just to see what they were like).

I haven’t found my writing niche in my 30s. I don’t mean “niche” in that I can’t write about whatever I want (which is what I’ve always done), but “niche” in that, in the past, my posts have generally had a common thread. Although I know who I am and what I want to accomplish in this decade, my writing has remained virtually stagnant.

It’s not that I don’t have ideas for topics to write about. Ideas for blog posts come to me all the time. It’s impossible to spend 7-8 years treating everything you see, hear and do as potentially blog post-worthy and not remain in that mindset to a degree.

What has stopped me from taking the time to write those posts is being unsure if I’m ready to re-commit to regular blogging again. After all, if I’m not ready to write on a regular schedule, what’s the point in randomly putting up well-thought out posts that will probably take several hours to write? So instead of spending my time writing, I socialize, cook, watch a movie, take a walk, or read a book.

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When I was a kid, one of my mom’s good friends told me she was sure I would write a book one day, and when I did, she wanted me to dedicate it to her. I have a notoriously bad memory and that particular incident took place over 20 years ago…but I have never forgotten that conversation. If I write a book one day, I will dedicate it to Theresa.

Cars: A Convenience/Hate Relationship

I live in Washington, DC. I park on the street because it’s free. Sometimes it’s annoying when I arrive in the area late at night because it’s difficult to find parking close to my building, but most of the time I don’t have to park very far away.

There are trees lining the street I live on. I like those trees a lot…except when I park underneath one and limbs fall off and smash my hood!

Car Damage! Stupid tree limbs.

More car Damage! Stupid tree limbs.

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Reasons Why My Car is Convenient:

1. I drive to work. The building where I’m currently working is located 8 miles from my apartment and it’s not easily Metro-accessible. I’ve heard I can take Metro to the Pentagon and get on a bus from there, but by the time I walked to the Metro station near my apartment…took Metro into Virginia…waited for and rode the bus…it would take me way longer to commute than it does now.

However, I hope to cross this issue off my list one day. It would be awesome not to drive to work (either by telecommuting, or taking Metro, or walking/biking to my job location).

Although my drive only takes 15-20 minutes in the morning, traveling home at night is a crap-shoot. On good days, I can get home in 20-25 minutes. On bad days, it’s more like 45-60 minutes.

2. Grocery shopping. I like a grocery store in Virginia better than the one located a few blocks from my apartment, so I usually take my car there every week or two to stock up.

(Alternative: Go to the damn grocery store that’s closer to me.)

3. Slightly longer drives. For instance, trips to see people located in DC or in the greater metro area.

(Alternative: I could take Metro, but sometimes that requires switching lines — which increases travel time — and the people I visit don’t always live close to a Metro station.)

4. Much longer drives. I drive to Richmond to visit my family every 6 weeks or so. This trip is a little over 100 miles one-way.

(Alternative: I could take Amtrak, but sometimes the schedules are wonky and I’d have to rely on their timetables instead of my own.)

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Given the examples above, it makes sense for me to continue paying for the monthly insurance, gas, and general upkeep like oil changes, car washes, tires, etc. On the plus side, I haven’t had a car payment since 2003 and I’d like to keep it that way.

I admit, not having a car intrigues me. I like reading about people who don’t have cars — even people with kids — and how they make it work.

However, while I admire people who make a car-free lifestyle work, I also realize there are certain situations when a car is just more convenient than taking alternate transportation. In those situations, you can always rent a car: either by the day (through a typical car-rental agency), or if you live in a city like DC, you can subscribe to Zipcar (a service which allows you to rent a vehicle by the hour or by the day).

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Reasons Why I Dislike My Car:

1. Things go wrong. [See tree-smashing-hood issue above.] My car already has existing body damage (like scratches on the rear bumper, because I park on the street and that’s just what happens when you parallel park so often), but I realize that every dent and scratch affects the resale value.

2. Maintenance. I cannot stand having to take care of car-related matters, such as oil changes, inspections, and repairs. I am a patient person in general when it comes to almost anything else, but I tend to put off these appointments until I absolutely can’t put them off anymore.

3. Many, many other reasons. Other people have said it more eloquently than I can, so here are a few reads:

Zen Habits: Lessons From a Car-Free Life
Rowdy Kittens: A Moral Imperative to Drive Less
Becoming Minimalist: How to Go Car-Lite

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In all the reasons I gave for “Why My Car is Convenient,” the biggest deterrent to a car-free lifestyle is my commute to work. Although I may not work at this particular location for a long time, if I stay with this employer I could just as easily be sent to work at their Tysons Corner location. (For those who don’t live in this area: commuting to Tysons Corner would be Zan’s Version of Hell. As it is for many, many other people. A Metro expansion will take trains to that area one day, but not until 2013 at the earliest.)

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My vehicle history: I’ve had a car ever since I was 16, when my dad gave me his brown Chevrolet Chevette. When that car died a year later, I went through a few more older-model vehicles — a Mustang and a Geo Storm. When I was 19, I bought my first and only new car, a 2000 Honda Civic (silver EX coupe). I had that vehicle until 2007 when it was hit by a drunk illegal immigrant and the car was totaled (the driver was later apprehended and deported out of the country). I replaced it with the car I currently own, a 2002 Honda Civic (silver EX coupe). Yes, I bought the exact same car, just a few years newer. Both of them have been very dependable and get good gas mileage.

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Will I give up my car? Since it would involve changing my current lifestyle a bit, there are no immediate plans. But I like thinking about it.

If I Were Anonymous

(I wrote this post over a week ago, but I just decided to publish it. The fact is, I’d like to be able to speak more openly — at least when it comes to my thoughts about work. I almost decided not to post this at all if I couldn’t be more open about things, but…here goes.)

When I started this blog in September 2002, I slapped my name in the web address and it’s been there ever since. I don’t regret that, but sometimes there are topics I don’t write about in detail because my name is uncommon and you can easily find a photo to confirm who I am. When you don’t have an anonymous blog, the major things going on in your life are often the very things you don’t feel comfortable sharing with an unknown audience.

If I were anonymous, I would tell you about my recent performance review at work. Don’t get me wrong; it was not negative. There were “Suggestions for Improvement,” of course, but those are normal and expected. These days I’m supposed to have a performance review every four months, with the Big Annual Extravaganza Review taking place in April — a recap of the four previous reviews, a comprehensive self assessment, meetings with my coach, conversations about goals, and questions like “Will you be going for the such-and-such certification this year?” Although I realize they serve a purpose, I kind of hate performance reviews.

If I were anonymous, I would go into detail about why this post speaks to me. Instead, I’ll share a few quotes:

Do you want to follow the masses, affording yourself an even-keeled, average, run-of-the-mills life? Yes, you will most likely see your next paycheck, the one that comes every 2 weeks. But what you give in return is your life. [...]

What if your life ends sooner than when you’re ready for retirement? You cannot outline the course of your life, as much as you try. No amount of 1-year plans, 3-year plans, 5-year or 10-year plans will ever account for the sudden happenings of life as it was meant to occur.

Good grief, I know it’s cliché to say “I don’t want to be on my deathbed and regret not taking chances in life.” But fortheloveofgod…it’s true.

If I were anonymous, I would tell you about my boyfriend. I would tell you how, even after we decided to become an “official” couple, several months went by before I felt comfortable referring to him as my boyfriend in front of other people. Not because I felt any hesitation about us being together…I simply was not used to it. The spoken word felt strange on my tongue. I am almost 31 years old, and there has only been one other guy I referred to as my boyfriend. However, I am getting used to the term again. And honestly, I feel so lucky to be with this guy who is…totally unlike anyone I’ve ever dated before…encourages me…puts a goofy smile on my face…someone I don’t get tired of, no matter how many days in a row we see each other.

When I sit down and think about writing a post, those are the topics that come to mind. Work. (It’s a corporate job. Don’t screw it up, Zan.) My relationship. (While I talked extensively in the past about my online dating adventures, something longer-term deserves more privacy.) My future: Where I see myself in a few years, what I want to be doing.

It’s all there. I’m sorting it out.

Random Friday, Ver. 114

(I looked back at my archives today and realized my last Random Friday update was posted over a year ago. Wild.)

1. I’m going to Seattle for a few days next week as part of a Nintendo-sponsored event. I’ll write about it when I return (hint: it’s related to the release of the Nintendo 3DS).

2. Best movie I’ve seen in a long time: The King’s Speech. I went to the theater knowing I would like it (based on recommendations from others who had seen it), but I was more impressed than I thought I would be. I laughed, I cringed, I teared-up (I rarely cry at movies, so the tearing-up was significant).

3. I saw the movie at E Street Cinema in DC with my friend Chris Abraham. It turns out we chose the same random weekday as Morgan Spurlock, who was there to promote his new film The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, along with Ralph Nader. Totally unexpected. (Thanks to Chris for taking the photos.)

Me with Morgan Spurlock

Morgan Spurlock and Ralph Nader