A few months ago, I came across Cassie Boorn and her Letter to My 20-Something Self idea. I loved it — I love the idea of looking back on who I was and seeing what I would have changed. And I love the idea that maybe, possibly, the advice I would give myself could help someone who’s currently that age.

Teal jeans with a color coordinated t-shirt from Northern Reflections, if I'm not mistaken. Probably safe to assume this is smack dab in the middle of the awkward phase.

But then it hit me — at 20, I had a lot of stuff figured out. I mean, sure, I overused my credit cards, which is something I’m still dealing with 11 years later, and I could have been more diligent about using sunscreen. But overall, I’m okay with 20-year-old Kristen. 20-year-old Kristen packed up her mom’s Grand Cherokee and drove from Michigan to Florida to start a new life. She made mistakes, but she’s okay in my book.

No, I didn’t need Future Kristen’s help at 20. I needed Future Kristen to step in years before that. God, did I need her to step in. (Not that I would’ve listened to her, because did I, as a teenager, think anybody knew better than I did? Oh hell no.)

I’ve become incredibly interested in this idea of figuring out when people would go back to their younger selves to offer advice. After asking around, I’ve gotten answers ranging from early childhood, 8 or 9, anywhere within the teen years, and into the 20s. And the reasons are equally varied — some wish they’d worn more sunscreen to avoid damage or cancer, some wish they could go back and spend more time with family or friends who are no longer with us, and many people wish they had realized that they should’ve had more confidence, stayed out of the drama, or just handled circumstances differently.

For me, I think the ideal time would’ve been at the start of my freshman year of high school. I’d had a number of really awkward years prior to that, but I love the idea of a fresh start (see: packing up and moving to Florida), and high school should’ve been that for me. So, below is my letter to 14-year-old Kristen. I’d love to hear from you in the comments, though, on at what age you’d like to give yourself advice and why!

***

First day of high school. That is one snazzy vest.

Dear Kristen,

It’s the morning of your first day of high school, and your nervous smile is winning the battle over the sparkle of excitement in your eyes. Yes, you’re going to be surrounded by hundreds of kids who are older than you are and who already know where their classes are. Yes, there are going to be cute boys (boys who are taller than you, even!) and there are going to be mean girls. But you don’t need to worry so much about them. Just focus on you for right now.

On Blending In and Fitting In

I know that, despite your carefully planned outfit of a knit vest over a tee and khaki shorts (very stylish in 1994), you’re hoping to blend in. Don’t. You’re not very good at blending in. You’ve got a big smile and a bigger personality. Do not waste your first two years of high school looking down and frowning, even though grunge is in and it seems like being pissed off at life is cool. Smile at people. Make eye contact. And when you walk down Junior Hall with all those boys who make your heart jump into your throat, don’t you dare try to avoid being noticed. Trust me when I say that confidence is pretty much the coolest trait you can possess right now.

Sure, not everyone gets all of your jokes, but you’re actually really, really funny, and if you’re making yourself laugh, someone else is going to join in. And you know what? If they find you funny, chances are great you’re going to enjoy their sense of humor as well. It really doesn’t matter if they’re on your basketball or volleyball team, or if they’re in drama or newspaper or band. When you let down your guard (and you will, believe me), you’ll find that you’re so much happier when you surround yourself with all kinds of people rather than limiting your friendships to people you have almost everything in common with. Even though those people you have loads in common with can be pretty amazing, too.

On Friends

Speaking of friends — don’t take them for granted. Some of these girls are going to be your best friends well into adulthood, so when you get a boyfriend (yes, I promise, you end up with a boyfriend or two), don’t stop making time for them. You’re not going to keep in touch with your exes (no matter how much you think you love them right now, they’re going to be exes, I guarantee it), but some of these girls will be in your wedding.

On Boys

And, speaking of those boyfriends — don’t settle. And don’t sit around and wait to be noticed. If you like a boy, muster up some nerve and say hello or flash him a smile. I promise it isn’t as horrific as it seems. Worst case scenario, he figures out you’re interested and doesn’t reciprocate. Best case, he figures out you’re interested and asks you on a date. And seriously, do you want to look back on your high school years and think about all the cute boys you never talked to? Trust me, the answer is no.

On Gossip

There are going to be times when you’re tempted to say nasty things about people, even about people you like. Don’t do it. Gossip sucks. It hurts people and it leaves you wondering, first, whether somebody knows what you said about them, and second, what everyone else is saying about you. It’s a waste of energy, and even if it makes you feel like you fit in for a moment, you’ll carry an icky feeling in your stomach for far longer than you carried that little spark of elation. When people start spewing lies and meanness, step away and chat with someone else.

When in doubt, be kind. Even if not in doubt, you know what? Be kind. I’m not saying you have to kiss anyone’s ass; far from it. If someone gives you a hard time, stand up for yourself, your friends, and what you believe in. Don’t waste your time trying to become best buddies with someone who you clearly do not get along with. But smile and say hello to the weird guy in the back of the class who looks like he’s having a really bad day,. If you see someone getting pushed around, step in to help. Lend an ear, a shoulder, or a hand when you can.

On Self Confidence

A couple of other things to keep in mind: You’re smart. This is an important part of your personality and is going to be sort of important as you get older with that whole “working for a living” thing. You don’t need to hide it in order to seem cooler or more interesting.

Seek out opportunities to excel in the things you love — this is the time to attend writing conferences and enter contests, because now, it’s free (or at least Mom and Dad will pay for it). Things get more complicated when you’re on your own for those things, believe me.

Other Important Stuff

Run, don’t walk from the tanning bed. I know your friends might do it, but it’s bad for you. You would never smoke (and good for you!), but this is equally dangerous, especially since it turns out that you’re at high risk for skin cancer. If you keep it up, you’re going to end up with some big, ugly scars, and let’s hope that’s as bad as it gets. Stick to the sunless tanning lotion, please.

Hug your your dog Lacey. She’s already old, and she’s a bigger part of your life than you realize. You don’t understand how much it’s going to hurt to lose her.

Sit and talk to Grandma. I know, I know, she’s repeating herself and tells the same stories over and over, but there will be a time when she can’t even remember those stories. Go through pictures and ask her questions about the people in them. Tell her about what’s going on in your life. It doesn’t have to be interesting; she just wants to be involved. And be sure to thank her for picking you up from school so you don’t have to ride the stupid bus. She doesn’t have to do that, you know.

Be a little nicer to Mom and Dad. Here’s a newsflash — everybody has parents. And everybody your age feels a little embarrassed about the fact that their folks have to drive them around. But you know what’s stupid? Being embarrassed that Dad’s dropping you off with the boat on the trailer behind the truck. Why would you be embarrassed that your family has a boat? Because it makes you different? Honey, you are different. In a lot of good ways. The sooner you embrace that, the sooner you’ll start having fun. And you really don’t need to worry about everyone knowing you as Earl’s Daughter. For one thing, it could be way worse. And besides, you’ll make a name for yourself in that small town soon enough. And then you’ll leave, and when you look back, you’ll feel only pride at how many people recognized and admired your folks.

I don’t think I need to tell you this, because, from where I’m sitting (here in the fuuuutuuuuurrrrre), you figured this out on your own, but it bears repeating — take advantage of opportunities as they arise. Follow signs — they’re real and they take you places. Good places.

Oh, and also? When the idea strikes you to become a brunette after years and years of highlights, get thee to a salon.

Love,

Future Kristen

We’ve lived in our current home for three years now, and we were really lucky that the majority of the living space — the entry, kitchen, living room, dining room, and master bedroom — was painted a nice, neutral beige before we moved in. And, of course, in the month or two following the move, we were all a-flutter hanging pictures and arranging furniture and putting up curtains so I could go back to my regular routine of shunning pants when not in polite company.

I was full of IDEAS for things we could do — so many projects! And then, they promptly fell to the wayside because, you know, life.

Finally, about a month ago, Jared and I were both home on a Friday, and I was a little ahead on my work, so I suggested we go to Home Depot and pick up some paint to do the hallway. This hallway.

Plain hallway

The before. Well, kind of before. Before we painted, but after we added the painter's tape. Obviously.

I wanted to go with a rich, deep red. Jared wanted to stay married to me, so he, too, wanted a rich, deep red. Good man, that Jared. So we picked out a color, got a, “Well, good luck with that,” from the paint guy at Home Depot (who neglected to tell us about Frog Tape until it we went back for white touch up paint to cover up all the spots where the RICH DEEP RED seeped past the carefully placed painter’s tape and adhered to the baseboards and crown molding. That was HELPFUL, paint guy.), and headed home with our treasured paint and primer in one.

There was a bit of cursing and perhaps a few Incidents involving paint where no paint should go (meaning on the ceiling … mostly), but by Saturday, we were done, even though we’d (at Jared’s suggestion, and because we had a lot of leftover paint, and because we hate to waste a good thing) added to the project and painted the half wall dividing the kitchen from the living room. And it was gorgeous. But it wasn’t actually done.

I had a vision, you see. I wanted a gallery of black and white photos, all in black frames with white matting, along the walls of the hallway. I selected and printed the shots I wanted to use (all of the pets), and bought a shit ton of frames, and got a bunch of those fancy magical 3M velcro picture hangers. You know, the ones that don’t put holes in the wall and are supposed to hold up to, I don’t know, several pounds?And can’t be applied until several days after you paint, as it turns out?

So we waited. And waited. And a couple of weeks later, we strategically measured and leveled and carefully followed directions and hung the pictures. And they looked amazing … for a few hours. Because that’s when they started crashing to the ground. So, um, yeah. I do not recommend the magic piece of crap 3M velcro shit. At. All.

Long story made every so slightly shorter, we opted for MonkeyHooks, which, overall, worked really well. And now, I swear, our house looks totally different to me. This single, little project has made me smile over and over and over, and while part of me is so glad it’s OVER, there’s another part of me that’s already planning what I’m going to do next.

(The office, in case you wondered. Or maybe a guest room. OR BOTH mwahahahahaha …)

Painted hallway

The finished product (with bonus Rudi)

A new hallway plus a chance to show off some of my favorite shots of the kids? Yes please!

PS – Yes, I know the two pictures of the finished product look like entirely different colors. I took them on different days and probably with different camera settings because I’m a doofus. But that’s part of what I like — it looks totally different from one hour to the next!

Now, what’s on your DIY home improvement list?

I was about to put together a whole post on how much I’ve enjoyed trying some new recipes and pointing you toward some of the sites that have been inspiring me, but that’s going to have to wait because right now, I’m trying to figure out how I went grocery shopping yesterday and have nothing to eat for lunch today. No, really. I can’t figure out ANYTHING to eat. I’m likely to sit here and starve to death.

I suppose it might have something to do with the fact that block cheese was on sale, so between that and the buy-one-get-one-free crackers, I felt like I had a full cart and plenty to eat, but I’m pretty sure I can’t (well, shouldn’t anyway) subsist on sharp cheddar and Ritz alone. (I also got bananas and avocado and Greek yogurt, for those concerned about whether or not I actually have nothing but cheese in the house.)

I think it’s also because we had a cookout last weekend where guests brought sides, leaving us with a fridge full of leftovers and jars of things we don’t ever actually buy or eat ourselves but I can’t bring myself to throw away. This means that I look in the fridge before shopping and think, hmmm, obviously we have plenty of food. I guess I just need chocolate milk and eggs today!

Okay, fine, it might just be that I’m lazy and don’t actually feel like making anything, but still, it’s infuriating to know that I had an entire STORE full of FOOD at my disposal yesterday, and didn’t manage to purchase anything that sounds appetizing right now. Please tell me I’m not the only one to have done this. And then, please bring me a panini.

The Friday of a short week always makes me feel a little like I cheated to get here. Like I didn’t quite earn my weekend, or something. But you know what? I’LL TAKE IT. And, as a matter of fact, I’ll share a couple of things that have been making me smile lately to kick it off!

Most likely you’ve already seen this (although probably not as many times as I have), but just in case you haven’t, it is my favorite thing EVER. A friend showed it to me when Jared and I were in Philly a few weeks ago and now, all I have to hear is “Yeah?” in that voice and I lose it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Overstuffed grocery bags. When I go to the grocery store, I generally bring more than enough reusable bags. I mean, I pretty much have a closet full of them, so why not, right? But invariably, the bagger acts like it’s a contest to see how few bags he can get away with using. And not only that — there’s always one bag that gets, like, every heavy item I purchased. Let me tell you, two milks, a few canned goods and a large yogurt = heavy. Why not just put a couple of those items in one of the 63 other bags I brought in that you haven’t used? WHY?

Josh Groban’s music. I … just don’t understand the appeal.

I-95 through New York City. Whose brilliant idea was this? I mean, most cities have the option to drive around. Sure, you can drive through Atlanta or Indianapolis, but if you’re hitting it during a busy time, no problem — just hop on 465 or 285 and whip around. This does not appear to be the case in New York, where I can’t imagine it’s EVER not stop and go.

Instagram. I know, you’re all going to hate me, but, as much as I love the fact that it gets more people to share pictures, I mostly don’t get why it’s suddenly so cool to make your photos look like they were taken in 1973 and sat in a photo album for the last few decades.

Clothes that are just straight unflattering. I guess if I were a size 2 and had perfect arms and legs, I wouldn’t be as concerned about whether or not a dress shows that I have a waist, but lately, it seems like there are so many clothes out there that are basically muumuus and, well, that only serves to make me look much, much bigger than I am. And most ladies I know prefer to have clothes that don’t make them look twice as big as they are, so, what’s the deal with this trend? (I’m talking to you, anthropologie. I shouldn’t have to add a belt to every. single. thing. I try on in your store, should I? This was not the case a year ago.)

What are things that you’re just not getting lately? It’s not just me, right?

The rumors you’ve heard are true. (Which probably isn’t a surprise, since I’m the one who started them.) I wear glasses now. It’s like being full-time fancy, I guess, except that I’m just wearing glasses all the time* instead of, I don’t know, whatever it is you might do if you’re full-time fancy. Eat bon bons? Drink wine you didn’t get on sale for $6.99? You tell me.

You like them, right? (And by them, I mean me, naturally.)

Anyway, this is kind of a big deal for me, and I’m talking about how it happened, what I think about it (and also which other glasses I think are super cute) over at BlogHer Style. You should probably read it. And then tell me you like my glasses, unless you want your glasses shoved in a very uncomfortable place. And I don’t mean the back of a Volkswagen.

(*Obviously, when I say “all the time,” I mean a good portion of the time, when it’s convenient and I remember and I haven’t misplaced them somewhere in the house. If I ever get to a point where I need to wear them for running or something, I’ll be looking into contacts, thankyouverymuch. I’m not a running in glasses kind of girl. Unless they’re sunglasses and, you know, it’s sunny out.)

End of the bike leg, hitting the horribly bumpy cobblestone. Not fair after 90 minutes in the saddle.

After four solid months of training, it’s over — I participated in the St. Anthony’s triathlon on Sunday, and I finished. Final, official time: 3:04:12. Take that, #50 on my Life List!

(I posted a full race report over at Fit Bottomed Girls and you should definitely go read that, but, well, this was kind of a big deal for me, so I thought it was worth sharing here as well.) Read the rest of this entry »

This is getting serious. My Big Race is in three days. THREE. And while I mostly feel excited rather than nervous, well, there are still some nerves (as evidenced by my super weird nightmare about getting lost on the bike leg and riding through gravel and then ending up in an office building, which appeared to be where Chrysler’s executive offices are, and while there, I ran into the Dyson guy who tried to sell me a vacuum and when I explained I was in the middle of a triathlon, he started showing me pictures of himself doing that exact race).

But, here’s the thing. At this point, I’m just going to have to rely on the training I’ve done over the last four months. There’s nothing I’m going to do in the next couple of days that will make me faster or stronger, other than eating and drinking properly and getting plenty of rest. At this point, I’m just trying to make sure I find a way to relax and enjoy the event I’ve worked really, really hard for.

Still, I have some goals, and while more often than not, I keep those to myself, I’ve been so open about other parts of the training for this that I feel like keeping my goals from you all would be a little unfair. So, here we go.

  1. I want to finish in under 3 hours. This is going to be a real challenge for me, I know, but I also know that, if everything goes right, I can totally do that. And yes, 2:59:59 is still totally under 3 hours.
  2. If I go over 3 hours, I want to still keep it close to that time — no giving up and walking* because it’s looking more like a 3:10 finish!
  3. I want to be one of the first people out of the water in my wave. If I’m being totally honest, what I really want is to be the first woman out, but I’m certainly not going to be brokenhearted if that’s not the case — because I’m competing in the novice division, it’s really hard to have an idea of what I’ll be up against.
  4. I want to finish strong. The run is probably where I’m weakest, and, as it turns out, I’ll be starting that 10k run around 11 a.m., which means I should finish right around noon. And it will be in the mid to high 80s at that point. But I’ve prepared for this. I’ve run in the midday sun, I have Gu, sodium tabs, and plans to drop ice down my pants to cool down (what?). I know I won’t run my fastest 10k ever, but I want that final mile to be just as fast as the first. Ideally, faster.
  5. I want to enjoy it. I know that sounds a bit crazy, because there’s no doubt in my mind that this is going to hurt like hell. But, you guys, this is such a big deal to me. I kind of can’t believe that I’ve trained this hard for so long and that I’m SO READY. Once upon a time, I interviewed Lucy Danziger, the editor for Self Magazine, and she gave me the best advice ever: Always remember when you’re out running (or biking, or whatever) that you’re doing this because you can. There are so many people who can’t, for whatever reason, and what an amazing privilege it is that I’m able to be a part of this. If you happen to be at the race and you see me going by and I have anything but a smile on my face, please remind me of that fact. I might throw something at you, but I won’t have anything heavy on you, so you’re safe.

Those of you who’ve done challenging races — what kind of goals did you have? Did I leave anything out? Well, other than get a cute picture, but I feel like that’s almost a given, right?

*The one caveat to the finishing strong — if I have a flat or something else that puts me way, way, waaaay behind my goal time, I’m just going to have fun with it. I hear that the homeowners come out during the run, and some of them offer beer. If I’m already going to be 30-45 minutes behind what I aimed for, you can expect me to be a bit tipsy by the time I cross the finish line. Hooray beer!

I’ve probably used this analogy here before, but sometimes I feel like blogging is a lot like keeping in touch with a friend who lives far away. When you make a point to talk on the phone frequently, it’s really easy to just dial her up and tell her about the latest, stupid little thing that’s happened. But, when you haven’t talked to her in a while, you can’t just call her up and be all, “Oh my god you would not believe the size of the ball of ear wax that just came out of my ear!” because first you have to catch up on all the big things that are going on and by the time you’ve heard about how she’s selling her house and they’ve adopted a Romanian orphan, the news of your ear wax ball, impressive though it surely is, seems to pale a little in comparison.

But! Since I get to talk first, you get to hear all about my metaphorical (and maybe literal) ear wax balls before you get to tell me about your new orphan. God I love blogging.

I quit my job. You know, the job writing and editing for Paw Nation (and also writing for other AOL properties) which I’ve done for the last few years and  LOVED. I don’t really want to go into details right here, right now — it just doesn’t seem cool — but let me just say that I’m a big believer in signs, and this time, the universe made it really clear that it was time for me to move on, and so I have. I’m still figuring out exactly what I’m going to do, but I’m planning to use the opportunity (yes, I’m totally considering it an opportunity) to follow my heart and get some exciting new experiences under my belt. It’s all good, I promise.

I did a (practice) tri. My big race, the Olympic length St. Anthony’s tri, is Sunday (as in, like, a few days away), but a little over a week ago I did a sprint distance tri (about half the length) in Jacksonville to warm up, along with my friend Jodi (who took first place in our age group — I took third). Overall, it left me feeling pretty excited for the race, and only somewhat nervous. Maybe a little more than somewhat, but I’m definitely not freaking out. Well, not much, anyway. Most of the time.

I threw a killer party. The animal rescue I volunteer with, Puppy Hill Farm, had its biggest fundraiser of the year on Friday night, and I sort of headed up the committee for the event. It was pretty major and incredibly stressful but, overall, I think it was a pretty big success, and I’m already brimming with ideas for next year. Because clearly I’m insane. (Although one of the main ideas is GET MORE HELP. I think that’ll make a huge difference.) Still, it’s a huge weight off my shoulders to have this over — I’ve been working on it in some way for the last five months, and when I woke up Saturday and knew there was nothing I needed to do, well, I almost wept with relief.

I had an emotional surprise. After the Puppy Hill gala, we had loads of flower centerpieces left over, and one of the women there suggested taking some to a nursing home. I was planning on doing a bike/run brick out in Trenton (you remember this trail, right?), which is where the nursing home where my grandma lived for several years is located. I figured since I’d be in the area, I’d stop in, drop flowers off, thank the nurses for all they did, and be on my way. Well, I got no further than saying, “My grandmother lived here for quite a while,” before the nurses all said, “Oh, you’re Sara’s granddaughter! We just loved her so much.” And then I sobbed. This was not at all expected. I mean, Grandma Sara died over a year ago, and I was pretty prepared for it even then. Why this hit me so hard, I couldn’t tell you, but I’m extremely touched that these nurses cared enough about Grandma to not only remember her, but even remember her granddaughter.

Okay, you’re all caught up on me, I think. (I’ll save the ear wax ball story for another time.) Now what’s new with you all? Anybody moving, having babies, getting a new hair cut?

It was a beautiful spring day. The sun was shining and temperatures were in the 70s. A light breeze rustled the newly green leaves. We had nowhere to be but the Nature Coast Trail, nothing to do but ride our bikes for the next 90 minutes. The ride coincided perfectly with my triathlon training plan, and I was ready to tackle it head on.

And, as it turned out, Mother Nature was ready for me.

Things started out just fine. We passed a turtle munching happily away on leaves. Well, happily until I stopped to take his picture. It was almost like he didn’t want a closeup or something. Turtle are weird.

Why so crabby, turtle? Sheesh.


But then, shit got real.

I believe I experienced the stupidest cycling injury ever to have occurred — a bee flew into the front of my shoe and stung the hell out of my ankle. No, I don’t know how it happened. Yes, it hurt a lot.

At this point, I was a little ahead of Jared, so he got to see the whole panicked affair of me getting my feet out of the toe cages and getting off my bike and trying to get the bee out of my shoe without dropping my precious damn bike. (In the future, I will set the bike down first because have you ever tried to get a bee out of your shoe while holding up a bike? Not easy, yo.)

Jared pulled up and basically asked, “What the hell?” to which I’m pretty sure I answered,”Bee! Hurt! Ow!!!!” Then he spit water on me (like, on the sting, to, I don’t know, disinfect it or something, which now seems like maybe not the best plan) and asked if I wanted to go back. Of course, I did not — I don’t have bee allergies or anything — so we continued on, and several miles (and one successfully eaten Gu) later, we reached the river.

I think this was the Suwannee river? Not entirely sure, but we were not allowed to fish from the bridge. Sorry Dad.

Not a bad stopping point, right?

I’d survived the killer bee and now ridden over a Big Scary Bridge (well, Big and Scary for me, since I have an intense fear of bridges), so then, it was time to head back. Only Mother Nature wasn’t done with me.

I nearly wiped out avoiding a suicidal lizard. I mean, what do you all do when you’re riding a bike and a small animal runs in front of you? Brake? Swerve? Pee a little?

On my last hard interval, I was attacked by a grasshopper the size of a tennis ball. No, I’m serious. He jumped at me and hit my front wheel — which I totally felt — and then got lodged in between my wheel and bike frame. Good thing Jared was there to poke it out with a stick, because I was too busy gagging at the mangled parts and the fact that the grasshopper’s buddy was standing nearby. Watching me. Waiting.

I got back to the car without further incident, and finished up with a 20 minute run without even so much as a bird pooping on me. But man, even though I always thought I was kind of a good country girl, I’m kind of thinking nature sucks.

Now, if one of those things had happened, it would be weird enough, but who has a bee fly into their shoe while cycling? Or a grasshopper get stuck in your bike and make an awful sound? (The sound being the grasshopper parts creating friction against the tire, not the grasshopper himself. I’m pretty sure he was quite dead.) I’m just going to assume I’m super lucky.