those who know me well know that i am a voracious reader. i have been for as long as i can remember. my love of reading is what drew me to writing in the first place–the ability to change hearts, minds, and souls with your words is a magical thing–and what inspires me, day after day, to put words on “paper” (be that here on this blog, on an instagram caption, or on a piece i’ve been commissioned to write). picking up a book is, by far, the cheapest and easiest way to escape. it’s a way to go back in time. to live a life that’s not your own. to get out of your own head. really, there’s nothing better.

i do most of my reading when i travel (i’ve been known to fly through 4 books on a 2-week vacation), when i’m commuting (hello, subway), or when i’m in bed or in the bath. i’m a member of two book clubs–one of which tends toward more feminist-y non-fiction (we love roxanne gay), and another that tends toward literary fiction with a few classics thrown in–both of which meet monthly. that means even when i’m not reading something i’ve selected on my own, i’ve always got a book or two on me.

a couple of years ago, i switched to a kindle (though i still buy hardcover/paperbacks from time to time when i can!), and it made a world of difference, especially when i was commuting via bus/subway twice a day (about a year and a half ago, i got a citibike membership, so i’m not on public transit nearly as much as i used to be). i don’t go anywhere without my kindle, and it’s saved me many a time whilst i wait for a delayed friend or a tinder date gone wrong.

i’ve long shared book recommendations with my friends and family, but i thought it might be fun to share them here as well. if you guys respond well to this feature, i’d love to do a monthly roundup of what i’m reading–but for now, we’ll start with the basics: what to read before summer ends (and after!). below are 7 books i read over the last two months, and one eternal favorite: middlesex by jeffrey eugenides, a book i will recommend over and over to anyone and everyone. it’s home to my favorite line of prose ever written, it’s a story that stole my heart, and it’s a book i’ve reread many a time. i’d recommend any and all of these as a summer read, but they’ll work just as well into fall, if you can’t manage to squeeze them in before september starts.

Late Summer Reading_Aug 2018

you think it, i’ll say it by curtis sittenfeld. i love sittenfeld’s writing, which sneaks up on you in the best of ways. her prose isn’t overly complicated, but her characters are always rich and fulfilling–you don’t just feel like you know them, you feel like you are them, even when their daily lives are oh so far removed from yours. her latest release is a collection of short stories, all of which are studies on the overarching theme of modern feminism. i loved this book, and wished it had gone on forever.

educated by tara westover. tara westover grew up in the mountains of idaho amongst troubled, survivalist parents who believed the government was the enemy, education was unnecessary, and family was all that mattered. at the age of 17, she taught herself enough math and science to take the ACT, and applied to college at BYU. she went on to earn degrees from harvard and cambridge, and wrote this memoir about her (insane) childhood. fans of the glass castle will love this book, which, although entirely mind-bogglingly true, reads like fiction. i recommended it to multiple people this summer, all of whom loved it as much as i did.

tell me lies by carola lovering. this book came up on my amazon recommendations, and honestly, i went for it because i liked the cover. boy am i glad i did! i flew through this on my plane ride to SF, and found it to be the perfect summer read: light, but substantial. it’s the story of a girl who loses herself in a college relationship, and ultimately, digs herself out of it (but not before traveling to some very dark places alongside her abusive partner). the prose wasn’t anything legendary, but the characters felt familiar–like taking a walk down memory lane to my college years.

florida by lauren groff. lauren groff’s fates and furies was one of my favorite books of 2015, and i’ve been eagerly awaiting her next book ever since i put that one down. florida is a collection of short stories, all centered around–you guessed it–the state of florida. the stories span centuries, towns, and characters, but florida–a place of muggy unpredictability–remains a constant, more a person than a place. groff has an incredible gift for running the gamut of human emotion in her work, and this collection shows that this talent isn’t limited to 400 page stories of a marriage gone wrong, but rather, can be contained in a mere 15 pages or so, and still leap off the page.

a million junes by emily henry. this book. oh, this book. i am a huge fan of YA literature (did you know most of the people that read it are not YAs at all, but mid 30-somethings like me?), and this book was no exception. it’s a story of two star-crossed lovers; a modern reimagining of romeo and juliet with a twist: the lovers are haunted by a century-old curse, and the ghosts that come with it. henry’s writing is achingly beautiful at times, and her characters feel like the real thing. i cried whilst reading the ending on the F train (how many times have i cried on a crowded subway train whilst reading? SO MANY). i hope they make this into a movie (i bet they will).

the female persuasion by meg wolitzer. people called this book “equal parts cotton candy and red meat, in the best way” and i was instantly sold. i’m a big fan of wolitzer’s work (one of my book clubs read the interestings a few years ago and i loved it), and while i liked her latest, i didn’t love it. on paper, it’s a story of a meek college freshman, greer, who meets a bold feminist icon, faith frank, and falls in love with her, in a sense: she sees in faith what she wants to be when she grows up. the book follows greer as she graduates, moves to new york (but of course), and gets a job at faith’s startup. it’s a musing on modern feminism, and while it champions women as mentors, friends, and role models, it didn’t touch me deep down in my soul like so many other books have.

middlesex by jeffrey eugenides. ask me what you should read literally any day of the week, any week of the year, any year ever, and i will tell you, middlesex, hands down. it is my most favorite book in the whole wide world, and a stunning example of what literature can and should be: a story that spans continents and decades, that takes us from 1920s greece to 1960s detroit, from a tiny boat where two cousins fall in love to a high school where callie stephanides, born a hermaphrodite, realizes she might not be a girl at all. eugenides’ first novel, the virgin suicides, was a beautiful homage to teenage desire, and in some ways, middlesex is no different. it’s much longer, and oh so much more complicated, but it’s a proper work of literary art. savor every line, and take the ride. i promise it’s worth it.

i’ll be gone in the dark by michelle mcnamara. michelle mcnamara passed away in her sleep before she could finish this searing, gut-wrenching true crime story about a serial killer who terrorized the state of california back in the 1970s. the book was finished, and published posthumously, by michelle’s husband, patton oswalt (yes, that patton oswalt) and her fellow true crime junkie and researcher friends, and it is a marvel. it reads like a novel, and while horrifying, i never found it so scary that i couldn’t sleep. if you liked gone girl, you will love this book. it stayed with me long after i finished it.

and there you have it, folks. 8 books i think you should read before summer ends (though i won’t blame you if a reading list this long carries you far into fall).

 

 

 

life is funny. the weekend before this one, i published a post about how my best friend bought a house (!). in it, i shared that joia (said house-buying bff) and i had, along with our other bff kim, been friends for 30 years. and now, as i write this post, i’m sitting in kim’s living room in san francisco (i’m here visiting her and her husband G for the long weekend). despite the three of us living across the country from one another (me in NY, joia in MA, kim in SF), we manage to find time and ways to see one another multiple times a year. the flight to SF is just long enough that it’s a bit of a pain for a long weekend, but i always find it to be worth it.

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kim, my moms, and me at the ferry building in SF

plus, my parents were here for the last two days, which made the trip extra special: i was able to spend friday with them before the three of us met up with kim and G for dinner, and they met kim and i for a post-soul cycle walk around the ferry building farmer’s market before going off on their own yesterday.

ANYWHO. back to regularly scheduled programming! we’re gathered here today so “walk through” the second floor of joia and T’s house, which is a 1940s cape house brimming with potential. if you need a refresher on overall thoughts on the house, check out this post. it contains all the details about the first floor, and paves the way for the living room design plan i’ll be sharing later this week.

below is the living room. i’m standing in the staircase that leads upstairs. this room is rather large, and leads up a cute little set up wooden steps with a circular window at the landing and a bigger window on the staircase itself.

Garner Cape_Living Room Wide Shot 2

here’s joia standing in the staircase. you can see a glimpse of the tiny little round window on the landing below, and this window is set towards the top of the staircase. it looks out onto the leafy green backyard, and lets in a lot of nice natural light.

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i actually quite like the style of the railing – it fits the house. the stairs are in great shape, and don’t need a runner–but i think one would look nice here, and would feel nicer underfoot.

at the top of the stairs, you’re given a few options: the master bedroom, which is a low-ceiling, attic-esque room with an odd layout but lots of space, and the second bedroom/”kid’s room” that has AMAZING original built-ins.

let’s start with the master. this is what you see when you stand in the doorway of the room. straight ahead is where the bed will go (on the right wall). the doorway at the right leads to a bathroom. the doorway straight ahead leads to a small (tiny) deck and side staircase. they’ll fix that spot eventually, but for now, we’ll probably just find a cute area rug to cover the linoleum area.

Garner Cape_Attic Master from Hallwaythis carpet is new, and can be found throughout the house. while it’s not necessarily what joia and T would have chosen, it’s nice underfoot, and they can add area rugs to make it look cuter. you can see that the roofline of the house is such that this room is almost like an attic space (they actually have insane storage to the left in the photo above–it extends all the way into the eaves of the house). i’m recommending they whitewash it all: walls, ceilings, trim. i think in a room like this, white and bright is the way to go. i have MANY ideas for this space, but that’s a post for another day.

Garner Cape_Attic Master_Fullabove is the room from another angle. can’t you picture it all white and bright? maybe with some white sheepskin rugs at either side of the bed? they’ll have to cut down their current bedframe to fit in this space, but they can make it work. as we were walking through the space, joia and i noticed there was an abundance of light switches and outlets (see the back wall above); she’s hoping T or an electrician can get rid of some of them/put the in spots that make a bit more sense.

Garner Cape_Attic Master_Front Wallhere’s the storage area i was referencing above (i’m now standing at the back wall, where the bed will go). behind this door is tons of open space – perfect for suitcases, extra boxes, out of season clothes, etc.

off to the right below (aka to the right of where joia is walking out of frame) is an open area that they’ll be able to use for storage (a dresser, probably), along with a large closet (you can see the door peeking out in the photo below).

Garner Cape_Attic Master into Hallway

we’re thinking of a dresser along the slanted wall below (again, picture this all a bright white). and then, setting this spot up for joia to do her yoga and meditation. with the big windows and some beautiful candles and crystals i think it’ll be positively lovely.

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here’s this side of the room from another angle. at left is the closest, straight ahead will be joia’s yoga area. the closet is quite deep, so once they really do it up in there (aka, add some more shelving/rods), it’ll be a great storage space.

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now on to the second bedroom. this is where it gets really good. sadly i didn’t take as many pictures of this space as i should have – i’ll have to get some more from joia. for now, this will be a second bedroom; in the future, it could easily be turned into a kid’s room. i think we’ll swap those sconces out, but how much do you love those built-ins?! they’re original to the house, and i love them so much.

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that window area is positively begging for a built-in window seat: bench with cushion, and maybe some storage below?! picture it filled with baskets, or brimming with children’s books. heart melt.

Garner Cape_Kids Bedroom Built Ins

the floors in here are particularly lovely, which gives me faith that the same floors are under the rugs in the rest of the house (especially in the bedroom), should joia and T want to tear up the rugs later on in life. my parents had wall to wall carpeting throughout our entire upstairs when i was little, and slowly, over the years, they tore all of it up for hardwood flooring. the room i now stay in when i come home is actually the only remaining carpeted room! it sounds crazy, but it’s definitely something you can do over time/later on, especially if you don’t have the budget to do it when you first purchase your home.

SO. that’s all for now. i’ll try and snap more pictures the next time i visit, and of course, will keep you updated, whether it’s here or on stories, on the progress. coming up this week: the living room design plan.

more on the garner cape house:

my best friend bought a house (part 1)!

 

 

as some of you may remember, when i was home in late june, i got to do something extra specially fun: i got to see my best friend joia’s new house! those who have been following me for a while may recall that two of my closest friends are also two of the oldest: i met them in preschool. yes, pre-school! there we are below over christmas break. joia is on the left, i’m in the middle, and kim is on the right.

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we’re all spread across the country now–me in new york, joia in our hometown (she bunked with me in new york for a year, but ultimately moved home to be with her now husband!), and kim in san francisco–but we see each other as often as we can. because we’ve been friends for so long, we’re more like sisters than anything. we’re what my high school psychology teacher liked to call “refrigerator friends”: the people who can walk into your kitchen and open the fridge and take what they like, the people for whom your home is theirs, and vice versa.

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L-R: our friends kara and sophie, then joia, and me.

so you can imagine that their sadness is my sadness, and their joy is my joy. which is why i was positively OVERJOYED when i heard that joia and her husband were house-hunting. sure, it’s fun to decorate an apartment in NYC but it’s even MORE FUN to decorate an ENTIRE HOUSE. joia and her husband, who i’ll call T, recently purchased an adorable little cape home on a street located (happily) about a 4 minute drive from my parents. the house has a big back yard (they’re planning on building a great deck and a garden!) and is across from a bubbling brook; if you listen carefully, you can hear the water from their front steps. it was recently “renovated” but in flipper style, which means that some (read: most) of the finishes aren’t exactly what joia would have liked them to be–but it has a lot of potential!

joia and T didn’t want to take on a full gut job (they both work full time and it would’ve been nearly impossible, not to mention a big financial strain), but they’re happy to work on their new home little by little to take those not so great builder finishes from drab to fab. T happens to be very handy, so they’ll be able to do a lot of the work themselves.

i know joia is a bit disappointed that the home wasn’t instantly all she ever dreamed of, but let’s be honest: few homes are. i think this is the case with a lot of first-time homeowners, especially those that don’t have endless budgets (which i think is MOST PEOPLE). you start house-hunting and you think of all the “must haves” (aka, things you’d like to have). and then you realize what your actual budget can get you, and you learn to compromise, and to live with the fact that dream homes don’t happen overnight.

the bottom line is this: even if your home starts in a yucky place (i mean hello, look at what mine used to look like!), you can get it to a happy one. and that, my friends, is where i come in! joia and t don’t have an endless budget (who does), so they’ll likely be decorating little by little, over time–but i’m going to be helping her think through her design choices as they happen, and i CANNOT WAIT. like i said, when do you ever get to help with a WHOLE HOUSE?!

so, let’s look at the before pictures, shall we?! i snapped these in early june, right before joia and T moved their furniture in. i’ve got a lot of big plans in my brain for the house, starting with the living room (which i’ll share here next week!), but let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start).

read on for an ONSLAUGHT of photos!

first up: the kitchen. when you enter the house through the back/side door (where you’ll pretty much always enter), you see the kitchen straight ahead, and behind it, a large eat-in dining area. the appliances were recently updated, and while joia isn’t in love with the cabinets, they’re solid maple, so the plan is to work with them for now. she found some nice inspiration images that show this style and shade of wood cabinets with a pretty, light sage green paint, and is contemplating going that route, as a full kitchen reno isn’t in their future anytime soon.

Garner Cape_Kitchen Island 2

the kitchen island–we’ll likely paint it, and remove that weird foot bar.

joia might kill me for the photo below, but it’s the only one i got of the (VERY SPACIOUS!) pantry. god bless non-city storage space, amiright?! here, you can also see a very weird inlay detail in the floors. joia HATES this, but short of ripping up or re-staining all the wood floors, there’s no way around it. this is why god invented area rugs. behind her is a downstairs bath (with soaking tub! odd choice but hey, a tub is a tub!) and off to the right, a small bedroom that T will use for his office (he works from home a few days a week).

Garner Cape_Kitchen Pantry

here’s a better shot of the kitchen. i for one am really excited to take this on as a design challenge, as i think this kitchen is PRETTY CLOSE to a lot of suburban kitchens out there: microwave over the stove, mid-range stainless steel appliances, oak (or maple) cabinets, odd  mediterranean-esque beige backsplash tile…there’s lots to not love, but also, lots of potential for not a lot of dough. more to come on the kitchen plan later, but my first recommendation here will be to rip out the backsplash and replace it with classic white subway tile. if i have my druthers, i’ll also have them redo the counters, but that’s likely a project that can’t be done right away.

Garner Cape_Maple Kitchen Cabinets

kitchen cabinets and appliances

here’s the kitchen as seen from the large dining area. we’re not in love with what’s going on with that weird ceiling treatment (the living room has it too; we think it hides the electrical for the recessed lighting), but like i said above, such is life with a first home. you can’t win ’em all!

Garner Cape_Kitchen Island

i’d like to help them select new schoolhouse-style pendants for over the kitchen island, and again, i’m going to advocate that they paint that baby (maybe a deeper green or a simple, clean white?). here you can see that the weird backsplash goes all the way around. but there’s LOTS of good here: new appliances, a sink that overlooks a window into the dreamy backyard, good light, loooots of storage, and plenty of counter space.

here’s the dining area. i’m picturing a nice round pedestal table here, maybe with white windsor chairs? and perhaps wiring in a chandelier to draw the eye up. obviously, the odd sconces will likely go.

Garner Cape_Kitchen into Dining Area

Garner Cape_Kitchen Hallway

more weird sconces. bye bye, sconces.

the above photo gives you a better sense of the layout (i’m standing in the dining area) in terms of front door/pantry/island, etc. it’s really quite spacious for a relatively small house (i think it’s around 1500-1700 square feet).

from here, you can also get a sneak peek into the tub in the downstairs bath–with soaking tub (more pictures if you scroll down!).

Garner Cape_Kitchen from LR

here’s the full view of the eating area. the placement of the front door will limit them a bit in terms of table size, but it’s larger than it looks. i’m also thinking that some nice built-in bench seating could work with a more oval table, but i need to get in there and measure out the space. i know T could build benches in a hot second, and then we’d just need to get some cushions made to cozy it up a bit. i can see it!

Garner Cape_Kitchen from Front Door

eating area, as seen from the kitchen. they’re getting a new front door.

Garner Cape_Kitchen Eating Area

see what i mean? plenty of space!

Garner Cape_Eat In Kitchen

insert cute dining nook here

okay, moving on. this is the downstairs bathroom, which, oddly, has both a stand up shower and a soaking tub. it’s a spacious room, and someday, when joia and T have budget, they can really make this space shine, but in the interim, it’ll likely be cosmetic fixes to make it work for them right now.

Garner Cape_Downstairs Bathroom

obviously, this space needs a mirror, and new lighting would be ideal.

here’s where it gets a bit strange. soaking tub: yay! weird beige tile + red wood: NAY. some odd choices were clearly made in this room, so for now, joia’s plan is to paint the wood strips below white, and just make the best of it. a soaking tub is a soaking tub, no matter what it looks like.

Garner Cape_Downstairs Bath_2opposite the entrance to the bathroom is a third bedroom that’s actually quite a nice size. it has two windows—one that overlooks the driveway/side of house, and one that looks out on the front yard. in the back of the room is this large closet, which joia and T are going to build out with lots of useful shelving. hooray for storage space! someday, they’ll get doors made, but for now, they may just find some cute curtains to hide what’s behind.

Garner Cape_Downstairs BR Closetbelow is the front of the room. that boob light has to go, but that’s an easy fix. this room has really nice hardwoods, great light, and will make the perfect office for T on his work from home days.

Garner Cape_Downstairs Bedroom Front Window

Garner Cape_Downstairs BR

here’s where T will put his ginormous L-shaped desk. this window looks out on the driveway.

okay, now for the fun part: the living room. the living room has the same odd ceiling situation as the dining area, which joia and T will replace someday, but not right away. so for now, it’s about drawing the eyes up via high-hung curtains, and making the space feel at once light and airy, and homey and cozy. i’ll be sharing a full design plan for the living room (at least, my dream design plan!) next week, but let’s talk about the basics.

the photo below was snapped in the living room, looking into the eating area. so, through that door is where i’d love to put the little L-shaped bench/table situation.

Garner Cape_LR_Front Right Cornerthe area below is getting the biggest facelift, because that, folks, is a faux fireplace. as of today, it’s already been torn out and covered up with drywall (more to come on that next week with the living room design plan), with room left in the middle for built-in shelving to store TV consoles, cable boxes and the like. above it, joia and T plan to mount the TV (T has to watch his sports, joia has to watch her friends reruns).

Garner Cape_LR_Fireplacehere’s the back right corner of the living room, otherwise known as sectional city. that’s right, there’s a giiiiiant sectional going right here. it’s unclear what the homeowners were thinking with the little round window, but we’ll chalk it up to 1940s charm.

Garner Cape_Living Room_Sectional Area

hey, it’s T!

Garner Cape_Living Room Wide Shot 2

the light in this room is truly lovely–and the space is BIG.

Garner Cape_Living Room from Stairs

here’s the (almost) full room snapped from the stairs. picture that fireplace gonzo and you can really see how the space will come together.

ok, friends, that’s all for now. i’m saving the upstairs for the next post, mostly because i’ve typed 2300 words and i can’t imagine any of you have even made it this far. i don’t want you keeling over at the keyboard. or myself, for that matter.

anywho, if you were one of the lucky/wonderful few to make it to the end, i’d love if you’d weigh in with any questions/comments/thoughts, and even better, if you’d tell me whether you’d be interested in hearing/seeing more about the design process as it unfolds!

this is a real life home, a real life, budget-friendly process, and i think it’ll be cool to chronicle how regular folk design their homes (without endless budget and endless time).  i’m so thrilled to be helping them pick stuff out (even if my design boards don’t come to fruition for years!), and i hope you’re thrilled to come along for the ride.

 

 

this morning, after a tough morning workout class, i treated myself to a latte at the coffee shop across from my apartment. it was a cloudy, quiet morning, and as i handed over my reusable mug to the owner, i surveyed the small shop.

“it’s quiet in here today,” i said.

“yeah,” he replied. “not a lot of tourists saying to themselves, ‘god, i really to check out the corner of east broadway and grand street!'”

as he prepped my drink, i snapped a photo of the empty space–the wooden tables and chairs, the painted tin ceilings; the floral wallpaper and the antique mirror.

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and i had a flashback to the first time i’d set foot in ost. it was the second time i went to see my future home (though i didn’t know it was my future home quite yet). the first time had been one night after work; the second was in daylight–a time when i could see that all the flaws i’d seen by darkness were not flaws, but potential. eric, my broker, toured me around the small space, pointing out where i could knock down walls and open things up, where i could rip out closets and create them anew.

afterwards, we walked over to ost and grabbed a drink, and i remember surveying the neighborhood–what would maybe become my neighborhood–in the sunshine and thinking, this would be my neighborhood. and this would be my neighborhood coffee shop. i knew ost, because for as long as i’d lived in the east village/gramercy area, they’d had an outpost on 12th street and avenue A. i’d had 2 very bad and one particularly spectacular first date there. i’d sipped red wine at a tiny marble topped table on their little piece of sidewalk, and eaten their muffins for breakfast.

i knew very little about the lower lower east side. the two bridges neighborhood, as some call it. i’d never walked down east broadway; in fact, i’m not even sure i knew that east broadway existed. but seeing ost–a spot i knew and loved–felt familiar. it felt like coming home.

after eric and i parted ways, i called my parents, and said i thought i wanted to put in an offer.

“it has a grocery store and a dry cleaner,” i said. “and it has an ost cafe.”

“a what?”

“a coffee shop i know,” i replied. “there’s one on 12th and A in the east village.”

“ah,” they said knowingly. “that’s good.”

~

recently, i did an AMA on my instagram account (@_thegrandapt for those unaware), and one person asked me, “how did you become so confident?” this question shook me to my core, because i simply don’t think of myself that way, at least, not most of the time. but answering the question–and really thinking about it before i did–made me realize that in some ways, i AM quite confident, and it’s my apartment renovation that made me that way.

there’s something about moving to a new neighborhood where you know not a soul, about dealing with contractors and architects and coop boards and city officials, about building a home from scratch that you know to be yours and yours alone that instills in you a sense of “i can do this.”

there was something about the moment that i walked into ost with eric, and ordered an iced chai at the coffee shop that would soon be “the one” that made me believe i was enough on my own, worthy of a big and great renovation adventure.

~

it’s been nearly two years since i moved into my apartment, and it’s almost 2 years to the day that i started demolition and construction on my little piece of the big apple. in some ways, it feels like a literal lifetime ago. like the sarah who came before this one was another person entirely (perhaps she was!). i recently had dinner at my favorite sushi spot in my old neighborhood, a place i used to frequent on a weekly basis, and i said to my friend maddie, i feel like i lived here a million years ago.

but it wasn’t a million years ago. of course it wasn’t. it was less than two. but in so many ways, my apartment and the neighborhood in which it sits feel so much more like home than anywhere else ever has. it’s funny how that happens, isn’t it? searching for an apartment in new york city (especially with a relatively small budget) means you have to be open to making a variety of different areas your home. in the scheme of things, my search wasn’t exactly extensive, but i looked at many a place in brooklyn before putting in an offer on the place i now live. and while i saw many a nice apartment, i never set foot in a single one that felt like home.

but somehow, this one did. even with its atrocious “before” state, i feel like i just kind of knew it was the one.

the same could be said of setting foot in ost. i didn’t know the neighborhood (my original goal was to find a place in alphabet city, but the inventory was limited, tiny, and dark). i didn’t know the F train, or how i’d get to work, or how i’d get anywhere, really. but somehow, when i set foot on the corner of east broadway and grand–that place no tourist ever deigns to go!–it felt like home.

and that, my friends, is a miraculous thing.

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the first time i went to london, it was 2006. i was 20 years old, a junior in college, there for four months thanks to a study abroad program in english literature at kings college. i’d never lived in a city before, and everything excited (and terrified) me.

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a blurry big ben, snapped on my digital camera in fall 2006

kings was in central london, right in the heart of it, but i’d stupidly (or perhaps rightly) picked a dorm 20 minutes by tube from the hustle and bustle. situated atop a grassy knoll of sorts, the hampstead dorm had looked quaint and entirely british. i was sold from the moment i saw photos.

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the hampstead campus at kings college london

2006 was nearly pre-social media. instagram had yet to exist, and facebook had barely activated the photos feature, so i captured my stories in pages upon pages of emails (many of which my parents kindly printed out and saved for posterity). i had no internet in my dorm room, so when i wanted to check or send email, i walked next door to the student center, a brightly lit, harry potter-esque building with chesterfield couches and large wooden tables. i’d find a spot at a table or, if all the tables were taken, on the floor against the wall, and cue up my skidmore.edu email client.

from there, i’d sit for hours, tapping away on my keyboard, capturing my life abroad in a blue and white message box. i wrote about how crowded the tube was, how the trains were simply too small for the number of people who had to ride on them, and how, thanks to a lack of air conditioning, i’d ended up with my head up against someone’s stinky armpit more than once. i wrote about my classes in literature, how i’d walked by the home of dickens on a seemingly average street, how i’d discovered a new drink called a snakebite (1/2 cider + 1/2 beer + a shot of blackberry liqueur).

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my hampstead dorm room, fall 2006

i wrote about my dorm room, which was large and sun-drenched and came stocked not just with a large armoire, but with a small sink, at which i could wash my face and brush my teeth in the privacy of my own space (showers were shared). i wrote about the view from my window, how i could see the red shingled rooftops of the rich and the possibly famous at morning, noon and night.

 

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enough stuff to give marie kondo a heart attack

my time in london was, in so many ways, my first true adult experience. sure, college had meant leaving home, but it was london that truly took me away from what i knew. at skidmore, i lived in a small, liberal arts bubble, surrounded by people much like myself, in a town much like the one i grew up in. london was the opposite of saratoga springs: it was loud. it was dirty. it was beautiful. it was filled with people speaking english in accents so thick i could barely understand them–and also with people speaking languages i’d never even heard before.

it sizzled with energy, it vibrated with life. the streets of london were old, older than anything i’d encountered anywhere i’d ever been in the states. the students who shared my classes barely paid attention in class, but somehow managed to ace their exams come reading week. every afternoon, they’d head to the university bar (yes, the bar run by the college. this blew my mind.) for a couple of beers before heading back home for the evening. the british were polite and austere, but come evening, they tumbled out of lively pubs, smelling slightly of fish and chips, their cheeks pinked by alcohol.

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golden hour in london, fall 2006

in london, my friends and i strolled along the thames with an open bottle of grocery store white wine. “drunk birds,” an old man shouted at us as we passed, “the birds are drunk!” (birds means women, over there). we ate cheap indian food along brick lane, consumed bowl upon bowl of edamame at wagamama. on saturdays, we took the tube to notting hill and perused the rows of antiques along portobello road. once, i purchased 2 faux fur coats for 10 pounds (a steal!). i still have them; they sit in my coat closet, untouched. i can’t bear to get rid of them.

 

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my friend martha and i , out at a bar, smooching random brits

on weekends, we’d drink too much and steal away in the night to the gardening club in covent garden, or walkabout, an australian club where i once let a british soldier stick his hand down my pants in the women’s bathroom until the security guard rapped on the door and ordered us out. i often took absurdly expensive black cabs back home to hampstead at 2am, or rode the double decker bus up finchley road all on my own.

london sarah was something college sarah hadn’t yet figured out how to be: free. free to skip class every so often, because everyone else was doing it, and go exploring. free to stay out too late and drink too much and still get up the next day and do it again. free to be alone–truly alone–in a way she’d never been before. free to board a plane at 3am to a destination unknown. free to hop into the car of two unknown men along with two friends in the bermuda triangle of vienna and hope she made it back to her hostel safely. free to walk las ramblas in barcelona at 11pm. free to sing karaoke in dublin along with a crazy old man. free to get her first ever fully body massage in prague following a particularly grueling day of exploration.

 

in oh so many ways, my time in london is what led me to new york. london taught me how to live abroad, sure, but more than that, it taught me how to live, period–both alone and with the humans around me. it taught me that it was okay to be scared, and even more okay to do it anyway. it taught me that i didn’t need to go to the supermarket with friends; i could go alone. it taught me that i didn’t always need to speak the language, i could go anyway. it taught me that seeing the world–the world outside my own, the one that is so very big where i am small–was a magical, beautiful, heart-wrenching thing, and that i was lucky to be able to do so.

that’s not to say i didn’t get homesick. that i didn’t miss the comforts of america, and my own bed, and my family and my friends. that’s not to say i didn’t wish things were easier, that i didn’t sometimes cry alone in my dorm room, wishing i’d never gone so far from home.

but god, was it worth it.

and so was going back, 12 years later. in so many ways, i am vastly different from the sarah who saw london for the first time. for one thing, i’m a grown woman, not a college kid trying to figure herself out. i’ve lived in new york for ten years, and have traveled extensively since leaving college a decade ago. but i’m still me, and good lord, did the same old me feel ALL THE THINGS walking the streets i walked all those years ago, this time with a smartphone that did oh so much more than send texts tapped out on a tiny keyboard.

TGA_London Arrival

in a cab from heathrow to hampstead | tuesday morning

i arrived in london on tuesday morning, may 22nd, and had approximately 3 days there before i took off for italy. i did my very best to make the most of it, spending time with family (my mom’s cousin lives in hampstead, and kindly offered to let me stay there during my visit), strolling as many streets as i possibly could, eating all of the good indian food (this was my fave), splurging on tea at sketch, going to platform 9 3/4 (obviously, had to), catching up with my old coworker, and more.

so, let’s have a look, shall we? there are a lot of photos here, so be warned. think of it as my visual diary.

 

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walking to the tube at finchley road, a walk i did every morning during my time abroad back in 2006

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black and white magic

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a tiny doorway on my walk to the tube

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beautiful hampstead

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this garden in hampstead took my breath away

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the guest room at my mom’s cousins’ home | where i spent my time in london

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a doorway adorned with flowers

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magical brick buildings of london

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matching my surrounding during golden hour | hampstead london

TGA_Yellow House Notting Hill London

an afternoon in notting hill

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adorned in ivy | notting hill

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bright red doors | notting hill

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a night at artist residence hotel | pimlico london

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cambridge street kitchen | artist residence hotel | pimlico london

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textile dreams | cambridge street kitchen | pimlico london

TGA_Pretty Red Restaurant Mayfair London

bright red in the sunshine | marylebone lane london

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sunset in pimlico

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paid $10 for this photo op and i’m not even the least bit ashamed

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the pink room | high tea at sketch | london

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decked out in florals |sketch london

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high tea tower of sweets (and some savory) | sketch london

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trippy bathroom selfies | sketch london

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crazy pod toilets | sketch london

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welcome to paradise | sketch london

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afternoon coffee | west hampstead london

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3 americans, 1 brit, 1 italian |dinner ahead of our weekend in italy| shoreditch london

at the tail end of my trip, following a long weekend in italy and nearly a week in nice, i boarded a plane back to london, and spent one last afternoon/evening in the city before flying back home to new york. the following photos are the ones i snapped during my last evening abroad, back at artist residence (but in a different room!) and exploring the pimlico neighborhood once more.

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tan, tired, and happy | exploring the streets of pimlico london

TGA_Pimlico London Floral Installation

decked in flowers | the streets of pimlico

TGA_Peggy Porschen Raspberry Cake

seeing what all the fuss is about | peggy porschen cakes

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i think i could live here | pimlico london

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dusk falls on pimlico

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why yes, i’m certain i could live here

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mews | pimlico london

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side by side | pimlico london

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lime green | pimlico london

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number 21 | pimlico london

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travel | kings cross st pancras london

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dickens | pimlico london

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what dreams are made of | artist residence hotel | pimlico london

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i ended my last night in europe here

 

 

 

i’m oh so thankful to have the means to travel–to go back to cities i loved in my twenties and see them through the lens of my thirties. london, you were a dream, and as always, i just can’t quit you.

 

 

TGA_Board Meeting Agenda

last night, i attended my first ever shareholders meeting. for those who don’t know, i live in a coop here in NYC, which means that technically, i own shares of my building, rather than truly owning a piece of property (like i would if i had purchased a condo). coop buildings come with coop boards, and every so often, those boards hold meetings where the shareholders (aka, everyone who lives in the building) can come and discuss proposed updates for the coming year.

having never been to one of these shindigs before, i figured it would be a relatively simple affair: people would sit in the community room, the board would give us some updates, and boom! we’d be done, and head back up to our respective apartments to cook late dinners (me) or tuck our kids into bed (other people).

BOY WAS I WRONG. you guys, the meeting was insanity. it wasn’t even a meeting, really, but rather, a multi-hour time block set aside for people to air their many grievances about the building. as it turns out, despite us living in a not really that fancy building, let’s be real, people feel strongly about us having certain things. like a fancy laundry room–one that doesn’t vent dryer air out into the courtyard. like fountains that only shoot to certain heights, lest they be interpreted as lewd (more to come on this. PUN INTENDED).

i walked into the meeting a little bit late, having just gotten home from work (and honestly, having forgotten the meeting was even happening). i sat in the back, careful not to crowd any families or couples or people who seemed to know other people. for the first ten minutes, i scrolled through my emails on my phone, pretending to be busy so that i didn’t have to acknowledge that i was there all by myself. having been in the grand apartment for a year and a half, i’ve mostly gotten past the whole “i’m here alone” thing, but every so often, the feelings of inadequacy and loneliness creep in, and let me tell you: there is NOTHING more lonely than sitting on a plastic folding chair in a busy common room where you’re talking to exactly NO ONE. being surrounded by groups–either neighbors who’d been in the building forever and knew all their floormates, or young families who huddled together, showcasing the latest ‘cute kid’ photos on their phone–was sobering. when i’m up in my apartment by myself, i could care less that i’m there alone. but being alone in a crowded room…WOOF.

but that, friends, is a story for a different day. you’ve heard me wax poetic about my loneliness before, and that’s not why we’re here today. today, we’re here to reenact the ridiculousness that was my first board meeting.

so, let’s set the scene, shall we?

picture about nine rows of plastic folding chairs. they’re white, but dingy, old. people are scattered amongst the rows, some on cell phones, others engaged in conversation. towards the front of the room sit about 5 older men (all men, always all men–the women who interviewed me when i applied to live in the building were nowhere to be found) at a series of folding tables. in front of the tables is a small podium.

7:15 comes and goes. 7:30 arrives. the board president, an elderly man with tufts of white hair and large glasses, makes his way to the podium and clears his throat. he informs us that we haven’t met quorum, but that we can go through the agenda items, and schedule the voting portion of the meeting for another time.

agenda items include very important things like new laundry machines, fountain enhancements, and self-inspections for leaky faucets (yes, that was an actual agenda item; see my photo above).

abe, the president (ha!), calls the meeting to order. he introduces the folks at the long tables, apologizes for/explains an incorrect abatement warning letter we all received from the city, and then launches into the good stuff: let’s talk about the fountain.

editor’s note: we have a fountain in our courtyard. when it’s nice out, the fountain runs, pumping water up and out into a small pool. it’s a lovely feature, one that drew me to the building when i first came to look at the grand apartment. apparently, it’s also one of great contention.

see, earlier this year, the fountain got a little refresh. the previously sad spurt of water was now high and mighty, and one night, i walked by to see it was lit. IN A RAINBOW OF COLORS. i texted our super immediately: what was this ugly, tacky ass shiz?! but beyond that, i didn’t think much of it. 

back to scene. abe tells us he knows that some of the shareholders have had “issues” with the fountain restoration, and assures us that they’re still working out the kinks. at this point, all hell breaks loose.

a woman stands up in the third row, and tells abe she’s got a little something to say on that front. as it turns out, she has more than a few issues with the fountain restoration. she finds the “ejaculatory nature” of the water levels to be lewd, she finds the bright rainbow lights offensive (especially in a building that should have landmark status!). at the words “ejaculatory nature” the crowd gasps. there’s silence, but just for a second.

undeterred, she soldiers on. she’s a designer, she tells us. she’s lived in this building for 15 years (15 years, people!) and she cannot imagine what the board was thinking. a kind soul passes her a microphone, all the better with which to broadcast her rant.

two rows in front of me, an older man straight out of the shtetl mutters to himself in a thick eastern european accent, but makes no attempt to reach for the microphone. the peanut gallery begins to converse. people agree–the rainbow lights are entirely too tacky for our lovely pre-war building.

abe tries to calm the crowd, and tells us that the rainbow lights are only temporary. even the empire state building is doing it! he says above the din. the empire state building is an art deco building! it’s fun! it’s modern! people like to take pictures of the fountain at night.

at this, the woman with the microphone explodes. THIS ISN’T ABOUT TAKING PHOTOS! THIS IS OUR HOME! i hear her hatred of the instagram generation simmering below the surface, and duck my head instinctively, lest she single me out.

HEAR HEAR! the crowd chants. shtetl man nods to himself in front of me. eez tacky, yes, i picture him saying.

next up on the agenda is the laundry room. we’re getting new machines (this is a good thing!). people fail to see past this; instead, they choose to focus on the fact that our ventilation system is busted–the smell of dryer sheets permeates the courtyard air. a man in the row next to me stands up, and requests the microphone. he tells us he lives above the laundry room, and while new machines are great, he’d rather spend our money where it counts: on venting the dryer air elsewhere. like, out onto grand street.

abe pushes back on this. this type of job would require a mechanical engineer, this type of job would cost tens of thousands of dollars.

he motions to issac, our building manager, a man who i’ve previously only spoken to on the phone and whom i’m overjoyed to learn is an adorable, diminutive, soft spoken soul in a kippah. he’s like every average jewish guy i went to summer camp with, but smaller! i want to put him in my pocket and carry him around to fight my battles in his lovely, soothing voice.

issac, abe asks. how many people do we have living in this building?

issac estimates the number to be around 240, not counting spouses.

almost 400then. abe says, loudly. he futzes with his sweater, and stares pointedly at the laundry complainer. and how many complaints have we had about the smell of dryer sheets in the courtyard?

issac stares at his shoes. about 4, maybe 5.

FOUR! abe roars. FOUR OR FIVE COMPLAINTS. IN A BUILDING THIS LARGE. 

shtetl man gets up from his seat. he’s had enough of this.

laundry man shakes his head. he’s frustrated. if the board would only consult a professional, he says. he’s an architect, and he’s seen these things done, even in old buildings like ours.

a voice emerges from the front row. a woman who’s also lived here for many, many years has a solution. she’d like to tell us about it. may she have the microphone?

the microphone is passed to the front.

the issue with the ventilation, she tells us, is the scent. dryer sheets are toxic, and people should knowmaybe, she thinks, the board could tell people to stop using dryer sheets. then we wouldn’t have this problem. 

my ears perk up. i love dryer sheets! i love how they make my clothes smell! i am clearly the enemy here. i wonder if i’ll ever come across this woman in the laundry room, and if she’ll scold me when i take out my bounce sheets and put them into the dryer.

abe shakes his head. we cannot possibly control who uses dryer sheets, he says. and if we were to speak ill of them, we could be sued by the companies.

the peanut gallery goes wild. who on earth would sue our dinky little lower east side coop?!

abe persists. we will not ban dryer sheets. when the new dryers are installed, he tells us, he’ll look into fixing the ventilation issue.

we’re now more than an hour into the meeting and only halfway through the agenda. my stomach is growling. it’s 8:45 and i haven’t yet eaten, and i look around me, wildly, for an escape route.

after a few more minutes of uninspired fighting about the laundry room–will prices be raised? will strangers still be able to walk in and use the machines?!–abe puts a moratorium on the conversation. issac, kind soul that he is, offers to schedule an appointment with laundry man to talk to him about his issues living above the dryers, and strategize about ways to fix it. laundry man is unsatisfied, but seems to understand he’s lost the battle for now.

sensing a lull in the meeting, i duck out into the aisle, busy myself with grabbing my packages (they store them at security whilst we’re at work), and head out the side door.

but not before i whisper to my favorite security guard, with the most exaggerated eye roll in the world, THIS. SHIT. WAS. INSANE.

he grins, and shrugs his shoulders. it’s just another day in the life, i suppose.

 

TGA_Homemade Granola Recipe

granola is one of those foods that seems like it might be complicated to make. all those nuts, all those seeds, nailing the flavor combo, getting the crunchiness just right. but guess what? the rumors ain’t true! it’s the opposite, really: granola is surprisingly simple to make. i’ve been making it for years now, ever since i realized just how much sugar was in the granola i was buying at the grocery store (seriously, check the nutritional details on the back of those packages and you may never go back).

i did a bunch of research here on the world wide web, and realized that while the recipes varied, the overall structure was the same: find your oils, find your sweeteners, find your key ingredients (for me it’s oats + seeds + almonds), et voila! homemade granola.

here’s how to do it.

what you’ll need:

3 cups rolled oats (not quick oats!)

1 cup raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1/2 cup sliced almonds

2 tbsp sesame seeds (optional)

2 tbsp chia seeds (optional; could also use flax)

1/2 cup coconut oil (could sub olive or a seed oil)

1/4 cup maple sugar (could also use brown sugar, or honey)

2 egg whites (save the yolks for ice cream making!)

2 tbsp shredded coconut (for topping)

2 tbsp turbinado sugar (for topping)

what you’ll do:

preheat your oven to 325.

mix your dry ingredients in a large bowl. that means all your oats/nuts/seeds/etc.

in a small saucepan, melt your coconut oil + sweetener. i like maple syrup because i love the taste, and it means i can use less (rather than a ton of brown sugar), but you could easily sub honey or agave (though i recently read that agave isn’t good for you!).

pour your sweetened oil mixture over the dry ingredients, and toss to coat. you want to make sure every last seed and oat is covered. sounds ridiculous, but your granola won’t cook evenly if it’s not.

whisk 2 egg whites. egg whites are a secret granola savior–they help you get those big clusters we all know and love from store bought granola.

pour your egg whites into the mixture, and toss to coat.

take out two cookie sheets. if you have silpats, use them. if you don’t, line your cookie sheet with parchment paper. in a pinch, just a regular old cookie sheet will do, but you should try and line it if you can.

spread your granola mixture evenly between the two sheets. press it down a bit so that it’s approximately 1/4″ thick. if you put it onto the cookie sheet too thickly, it won’t crisp.

bake at 325 for about 30-40 minutes–the timing will depend on your oven–you want to take it out when it’s just starting to turn a lovely caramel color.

let cool completely (like, for a few hours).

break it up into pieces, and store in an airtight container for up to a month. if you freeze it, it’ll likely last longer, but honestly, you’ll likely eat it too quickly to need to freeze it. i eat mine all spring/summer long, atop siggi’s vanilla yogurt with fresh berries. BLISS, i tell you.

got questions? leave ’em in the comments, or shoot me a DM on instagram!