Goals For the Season

“By recording your dreams and goals on paper, you set in motion the process of becoming the person you most want to be. Put your future in good hands—your own.”

MARK VICTOR HANSEN

Four years ago today, I sat overlooking the Rocky Mountains on an afternoon trip to Estes, Colorado, with one of my best friends. We spent the day hiking around the lake, driving through Rocky Mountain National Park, touring the Stanley Hotel, and photographing our journey along the way. I held my mother’s film camera tightly—just like I had in London, Paris, and Italy, right before this trip to Colorado. I still didn’t understand aperture, f-stops, or what to set my lens speed to, but that didn’t stop me from snapping through a film roll. I had always wanted to understand the rawness that film captured, and at the time, I was learning to love the light leaks and imperfections my processed photos held.

Right before this trip, I had let go of my biggest goal of the season and focused on what would come of grad school and writing. Around this time, the idea for my first novel came to me in the parking lot of the Elementary school where the kids I nannied each day attended. That idea later manifested into my fascination with the love that hangs in the words of a handwritten letter and how that interest and prompt would then become the thesis for my master’s degree. When I spoke about grief this time in September four years ago, I had no idea that later I would experience my grief more than ever before.

At the time of this photo, I was in a brand new relationship with its issues. I struggled each day to see the longevity of that love. At the time, my trustfulness gave power to the process of just following what felt right. I knew little of my callowness, but I later would learn that I did know something—I was trying to navigate the same raw and imperfect emotions that I would one day learn to love. I did everything I could to make the view come into focus for photography, but I needed my personal view to focus on what I was experiencing.

What I needed to improve on in 2016 sometimes feels like the same thing that I need to improve on in 2020—allow myself to be imperfect. 

For the first half of 2020, I began setting goals and then painstakingly laid the foundation of who I want to be and where I want to see myself in 2021 and 2025, and 2030. These goals became my benchmarks for recognizing change within my life. This included goals like “make two new friends,” “get a job,” and “start paying down student loan debt.” I have kept track of these goals in my 2020 planner—something many believe was the worst purchase of 2020, but for me, it was one of the best investments because it set into motion the process of becoming the person I most wanted to be.

My planner allows space for me to track my goals and to feel productive with my time. I feel best when my day is full, where I am productive, and I am working towards who I want to be. I hold myself to this standard because I know how good I feel when I get up early and tackle the day. At the end of those days, I feel tired and sleep better than any other day. At the end of those days, I look back at all the little red checkmarks and believe I made something of myself.

But because of that, the biggest challenge I face is allowing myself the space to be imperfect and making room for error. I look at an empty week in August and wonder what happened? Where did the desire to be productive go? Why wasn’t I proactive for my future? 

My negative self-talk can be all-consuming. Sometimes, I get angry at the girl from 2016 who was learning to love raw and imperfect emotions. What happened? Where did your desire to be productive go? Why weren’t you more proactive? Why didn’t you think of me, our future, and how your impulsivity brought me heartache?

I knew I would curse that Hannah for years to come. How disappointed I was in her for just rolling over on one of our goals and forging through the warning signs that she ended up internalizing. But something I am learning to understand is just how important those decisions in 2016 were for a growing me.

What I was learning in September 2016 is the same goal I am setting for myself this autumn. The goals I have set for this season include focusing on how I spend my time and allowing myself the space to learn from the past and what I deem as “imperfect traits.” 

Journaling and tracking my days are just some ways where I feel like I can take control of what I want for my future. I have found that I lose track of time quickly—weather it is scrolling aimlessly, binging the next season of a Netflix series, or cleaning all day while I put off what I really should be doing. A goal is to spend shorter intervals of time on tasks and breaking them up into sprints instead of marathons. And with that goal comes the responsibility to allow room for rest days.

This trip to Estes feels like a lifetime ago, but it was one day that put my future into focus. When you overlook the world’s vast beauty, it changes the way you view how small the imperfections are in your life. At that moment, I didn’t think about what I should be doing to better myself for the future; I was thinking about how beautiful a moment could be. So here’s to finding the beauty in imperfections and setting ourselves up for futures we sit in awe of when we set out dreams in motion.

September Update

With the pandemic still looming like a black cloud over the United States, my life has stayed eerily the same since March. My phone alarm rings out at 7:00 am most days with me snoozing until the very last moment. Then at 8:00 am I open my laptop and begin my next day of work. Instead of in an office, I work from the couch, or from my new desk, or my green armchair pushed into the corner beneath the window overlooking Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Mornings for me are quiet. There’s no bubbling, drip coffee machine filling the room with the smell of roasted beans, or coworkers shuffling into their desks after a jam-packed morning commute. At home, I open the curtains, so light floods over me and my laptop screen. The only white noise comes from the tower fan in the corner blowing the air conditioner’s cold air in my direction. The only interruption to their motors’ sound is the patter of my fingers pressing hard against my keys while I type my early morning email replies. With all of this staying the same, I am still looking forward to change.

What a year whirlpool of eight months you’ve been, 2020. Spring lingered the same way an unsettling feeling of being watched stays with you when walking home alone. How that feeling never subsides until you’ve locked the door behind you—but we can’t just lockout time and the way 2020 has gone thus far no matter how much we would like to.

However, July & August blew past me like the last gust of wind from a powerful hurricane. I spent spring and June hunkered down, expecting this summer to be the gust that knocks me to the ground. I prayed that the walls would remain standing after the beating they took in spring. Surprisingly, they did. This summer faded away quickly like a storm not willing to hover long before moving on. There was destruction left in its shadows, there is no doubt about that, but I am hopeful for growth.

I don’t know what to expect for this autumn. If it is like the past decades of autumns that have come and gone, then 2020 will bring me some change to my life. 

With the pandemic still looming like a black cloud over the United States, my life has stayed eerily the same since March. My phone alarm rings out at 7:00 am most days with me snoozing until the very last moment. Then at 8:00 am I open my laptop and begin my next day of work. Instead of in an office, I work from the couch, or from my new desk, or my green armchair pushed into the corner beneath the window overlooking Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Mornings for me are quiet. There’s no bubbling, drip coffee machine filling the room with the smell of roasted beans, or coworkers shuffling into their desks after a jam-packed morning commute. At home, I open the curtains, so light floods over me and my laptop screen. The only white noise comes from the tower fan in the corner blowing the air conditioner’s cold air in my direction. The only interruption to their motors’ sound is the patter of my fingers pressing hard against my keys while I type my early morning email replies.

When the work is done for the day, I tie a surgical mask underneath my hair and lace up my pair of black Nikes whose soles are practically worn thru to my toes. I walk the same path to Central Park to meet my boyfriend after his day in the lab, passing by strangers cloaked in the same masks. When I am home, the evenings are filled with conversations, cooking a new dish for dinner, reading a new book, or binging the next Netflix series that caught my eye. Once midnight begins to creep closer, I tuck into bed and set both the 7:00 am & 7:15 am alarms, close my eyes, and start the loop over once more.

Sometimes I throw a wrench in my routine. I spend the day baking, exploring a new city in a rental car, or simply losing track of time reorganizing my bookshelves. I have started five new hobbies during quarantine: calligraphy, candle making, letter writing, graphic design, and gardening. At this point in time, I still think my calligraphy looks like a dolled-up version of my cursive, and I have practically gone through 10 pounds of wax. I gained seven new pen pals across the world and purchased an iPad to try my hand at Procreate fame. Lastly, I have killed all of my edible plants, but the remaining inedible ones are still *thriving*.

With all of that being said, it’s jarring to realize it’s already September.

Like many of you, I had so much planned for 2020. And as it continues to slips through the cracks, I wonder how and when I will catch my breath. I don’t know if I ever will have a chance to do just that this autumn, but I have dedicated this season to what matters in this ever-changing normalcy.

Ever since November 30, 2019, I have figuratively crossed off the days until I would be met by autumn’s change once more. And its finally here: the months that end in “-ber” have arrived and the last thing I want is for them to do is fall out of reach. 

This autumn, I am looking forward to debuting my writing and honing in on my craft. I have spent the summer diving into books, working on projects as a freelancer, and developing my publishing world experience. There are so many projects I would love to work on, places upstate that I have been itching to drive through, and just general self-building practices that I have put off during this quarantine. The one thing that I love about autumn is that no matter the change, both good or bad, it still sparks this light inside of me. For me, autumn is the physical embodiment of how the change is personified by the dusted firey-hues before winter comes to blanket the senses.

In opposition to popular demand, I am not ready for 2020 to be over. I think there is still so much we can do to help communities such as promote change systemically and within ourselves in the same way our seasons change. The way time can blur is the best reason for us to see that there are still four more months left in the year to do something. I hope all my readers, new and old, enjoy what I have prepared for this month.

I look forward to the change with myself and this platform, but also for whatever else may come from a new month. Plus, autumn would be a great time to arrest Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove.

New York, Unfocused

There’s a chill in the air. Everyone is bustling past, clenching their hoods tighter around their necks, or hunkering under scaffolding and billowing umbrellas. It’s wet outside. The rain pours down heavier and heavier until the fronts of your jeans are soaked, and droplets run down your jacket sleeves. Puddles are collecting on the street. Cars whip past spraying a wall of water onto unsuspecting pedestrians who focus more on looking down and getting home vs. what lies ahead. It’s dark outside. The streetlights shine out and illuminate the falling mist and low hanging fog. You can see who is home and what apartments are empty; you can see just how New York is getting by during the rainstorm.

While I stood, and when I walked, I watched the city come in and out of focus. I walked out of the house with just a raincoat and a pair of Docs (well and other clothes as well). My hair was platted into two separate dutch braids that follow my skull and curve down by either ear. I have my hood up, but no umbrella—part of me knew it was raining, but the other part didn’t know how much it was. For most of my walk from 80th street to Lincoln Center, it rained hard, but I had stepped out of the house wearing my glasses.

Why that last sentence is so important is because wearing glasses during a rainstorm is almost as bad as driving during one with no windshield wipers. The droplets form on the glass and streak down when they become too heavy. You could have big drops, little drops, and sized drops in between, but there is never anything to help wipe it all away. So when I leave the house with glasses on when it’s raining, they immediately go into my pocket—leaving me in this unfocused world that feels intimately alienating.

At this point, I love to be outside without my contacts on. There are no faces until they are right next to me. There are no signs, ads, or stores to distract me. There were just lights everywhere. The Apple Store on 67th and Broadway looked like a sun, the Hotel Empire sign glowed like a red halo over the skyscrapers.

I didn’t need any street signs, I knew where I was going. So I walked along and allowed the city that so famously catches everyone’s eye, fall to the background of everything else that lingered within in it. I paid more attention to the people around me because part of me wanted to see the face that was once a blur. I looked more at how the buildings reflected in the puddle like a mirror putting a scene into focus. I noticed the way the lights blurred when the cars drove past, and how the city seemed to calm down once you couldn’t see everything that was happening around you.

Black Rum Spiced Pumpkin Cake

I like to think this recipe is a good stepping stone between people who like to bake, but haven’t yet stepped out of their comfort zone and away from the box desserts.

Sometimes, you are just craving a warm brownie, or are responsible for making a birthday cake for a friend, so you turn down the baking aisle at the store and stare down all the options that are out there. Do you want a chocolate cake, a dark chocolate cake, a german chocolate cake, a devil’s food cake, or vanilla? Do you want cookies, muffins, cake, or bread?

With so many options, it’s hard not to cut corners and pick up a premade mix that typically just requires a few eggs, oil, and some water. Sometimes you can fix them up, make them fancy, and no one knows the difference. Other times, it tastes like a box cake.

I want to say that’s okay, but sometimes it’s nice impressing your friends, and not letting them know you didn’t spend hours whipping up the batter.

So, this is a recipe that adds a little flavor to your typical, boxed vanilla cake mix. And it’s perfect for this time of the year! As far as cakes go, this an easy, and fun way to disguise the fact that part of it came from a box, and spicing up those pumpkin spice, boxed cakes vibes.

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Recipe:

Cake:

1/2 cup chopped pecans

15 ounces can pumpkin

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup canola oil

4 large eggs

1/4 cup water

1 package yellow cake mix

2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

GLAZE:

1 cup of sugar

1/2 cup butter, cubed

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 cup rum

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Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a bundt pan; roughly 10 inches. Sprinkle pecans onto the bottom of the pan.
  2. In a large bowl, beat pumpkin, sugar, oil, eggs, and water until well blended. In another bowl, whisk cake mix and spices; gradually beat into pumpkin mixture until well combined. Transfer to the prepared pan.
  3. Bake for 55-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then remove the cake from the pan and onto a wire rack.
  4. In a small saucepan, combine sugar, butter, cinnamon, and cloves; cook and stir over medium heat until butter is melted. Remove from heat. Stir in rum; cook and stir 2-3 minutes longer or until sugar is dissolved.
  5. Gradually brush glaze onto warm cake, about 1/4 cup at a time, allowing the glaze to soak into the cake before adding more. Cool completely. This takes a long time, and there seems to be a lot, but it is worth it!
  6. Serve with some homemade vanilla icecream and enjoy.

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Final Month of Autumn

Autumn is my happy time—I thrive for the overcast days that mist the fresh air and amber leaves. It is the perfect time for warm sweaters, tea, and cuddles under a flannel blanket. Outside of my cozy time, Autumn inspires me the most. It is when I head out to the park and just take in my surroundings. When my journals overflow with ideas and I can’t help but be happy.

By now, Autumn has slowly crept into to New York City. I remained patient for the month of September, filled my October with jackets, boots, and Hocus Pocus every day, and I am prepping for my first Thanksgiving this month. This time last year, I was still settling into the fast-paced lifestyle I found myself in. I could not fully enjoy my first fall in The City, because I was incredibly sick and a negative headspace. I still had fall films on repeat, but I was limited on what I felt up for. I did, however, get out of the city for a weekend, and it was my best decision yet.

To ring in autumn, I boarded an early train to Poughkeepsie, New York, to explore Dubois Farm. I was excited to explore their Annual Harvest Festival, and as a Florida girl, I had never experienced apple picking. I came home with pounds of apples, pumpkins, and yummy apple cider donuts. The remainder of October I prepped my home with decorations and lit every fall candle I could find.

My partner picked our outfits this year, based on my affinity for scary makeup and dead costumes. I have a feeling I make him watch Harry Potter a bit too often, but everyone at the bars and parties enjoyed our couple costumes as Moaning Myrtle and Cedric Diggory. I was sad to see October go, but now it is time for my first November in New York. 

I started walking to work this month — the wind kisses my cheeks and turns them a rosy-hue, while I wake up during my morning commute. I know the winter will be cold, but for now, the colors in Central Park make my morning a lot brighter.

This time of year inspires me to give and be thankful so I have decided to host Thanksgiving at my house for my friends, and have volunteered myself to make multiple gâteaus for my work’s potluck. Hopefully, I will find some time to capture everything as I take on this new endeavor, but I am excited for the coming weeks! For now, I am enjoying the final month of Autumn.