Monthly Archives: June 2011

That Summer Place

Summer has arrived. YAY YAY YAY. (If you haven’t picked up on this by now, I’m a major warm-weather girl.) But this year, I’m a student in the big city. I need your help getting to those special summer places we’ve all been before… The ones that give you chills of excitement during the winter, the ones for which we wait all year, the ones that come with dripping slices of watermelon and pink toenail polish — BBQs outside, humidity-heavy breezes, and road trips out of the city, the ones that are about to arrive because TODAY is the very first day of my favorite season… It’s sweet, sweet SUMMER TIME!!

View of Adirondack chair and pool at my parents' place upstate. Dutchess County, NY.

Last year I spent my summer in the perpetual spring of Quito, Ecuador. I was over 9,000 ft up in the stunning Andes mountains, but couldn’t stop dreaming about sea level. This year, I will fill my summer with as many weekends in Dutchess County by the pool as I can. Man, I love summer weekends.

No matter where future summers take me, the summers of my childhood can never be replaced. Back then, life was as simple as the crinkly grass under my feet. All I was looking for in my life was blue sea glass or an extra pretty shell. I spent each summer at a beach house on the North Shore of Greenport, LI called Rocky Bluff. My parents began renting the house with another couple before they even got married. We continued to spend our summers in Greenport until there were just too many Tavels to squeeze in the old cottage. Not to mention, rents skyrocketed as the nearby Hamptons became, well, THE Hamptons, but Greenport always remained a slice of Heaven; it had the happiness and peace of a still-undiscovered perfect place, far away from the swankiness of the it-town.

Summers revolved around life in the backyard eating corn on the cob with our neighbors, and playing imaginary games of shipwrecks with my then three siblings using the washed up driftwood, seaweed and garbage that covered the shore. Our backyard smelled constantly of ocean and honeysuckle, fruit was as ripe and fresh as I’ve ever tasted it, and we’d eat only vegetables from our overly successful garden, which we tended to daily with the help of my once organic-farmer dad and our neighbor Byron, who looked like Elvis Presley. Oh, and the fresh fruit pies from Briermere Farms – the best, freshest pies in the world. How could I ever forget the pies?!

This summer, I’m obviously doing the whole student-thing (and they weren’t kidding: it’s hard work!). I’m also writing, and working on a book dream. But no complaints! Things are off to a wonderful start. I’ve got some really good new people in the picture and great old ones, too. I’m doing my best to balance everything (school, writing, pressures of academia, friends, special friends…) with summer’s sweet charm, but  things are inevitably going to spin off-balance here and there, and that’s ok. I just hope I can get some “summer” out of this summer, while working my butt off.

Wave. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

As we all know, I’m staying put for a bit. (Read: a “bit” — this is deliberately vague, as we never really know where life will take us next. Can I please still believe in that a little?) I’ve begun wanderlust-ing for Thailand pretty hardcore. Not to mention the constant yearning to stroll beside the Alhambra with the sweet citrus scent of orange trees and ham in Southern Spain, or even the simple and constant desire to be by the sea, near wild blueberries, somewhere far away from the city…

But summer as a student in the city is different. And mine needs your help.

Because I cannot travel right now, I would like everyone to contribute — as a comment — a few sentences about their favorite summer place (how does it feel, smell, sound, and taste? where is it? why there?).  What is your ideal summer setting? Let’s all sip a sangria (or iced coffee, depending on time of day people!) while we read, and let real life and it’s imperfectly busy moments wash away with our footprints in the sand, at least for a few shared moments on TwT…

Take us to your summer place, wherever it may be, and feel free to recommend exact hotels, beaches, B&Bs, or whatever…

Now, about that sangria… I’ve gotta make some. And soon.

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Filed under Contributor, Life Stuff, School, Travel, Uncategorized

Back to School (at 27)

I wandered through Staples looking for pencils for the first time in six years, with some combination of a smile and a frown both on my face and in my soul. Standing there, surrounded by Post-It’s and highlighters, felt strangely familiar yet vaguely foreign. I was cautiously excited.

There I was, at 27, hitting up my local Staples for back-to-school supplies about two weeks before most students were going to graduate (if they hadn’t already – and let’s be honest: most people my age already have… two or three times by now). The pens I got all throughout college apparently no longer exist. I stood for a good fifteen minutes trying to decide whether to get the one-subject Five Star notebook or the two-subject, the .5 mm pens or the .7 mm pens, and there was nobody there to help me make these decision. I decided on the one-subject Five Star and the .5 mm pens, and then picked up a few highlighters on my way to check-out. But really, I was just about to check back in.

Handicap sign in the floor. Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

A lot of people have been asking me how it feels to be a student again. I’m about two weeks into my first course at NYU (Developmental Psychology — I’m learning all about babies and infants and how children under ten years old function and develop, mentally — actually super interesting to me!). On the first day, I got to class not five but twenty minutes early. (I was not surprised – perhaps a little too eager though?) So, I waited outside the classroom with my new notebook and pen, wondering what was going to happen to me when I entered that room. (Don’t forget to turn off your Blackberry, Rachel!)

Luckily, it was a small class. Unlike my upcoming bio, chem and physics lectures (600 people a piece), this class consisted of about 25 kids – mostly Asian NYU undergrad females, if you want to know specifics. The first thing the professor asked was for each of us to go around the room, say our name, what year we are (he…hehe…) and why we are taking this summer course. I was appropriately last. Developmental Psych is an upper-division psych class with Psych 101 as a pre-requisite. The only reason I’m allowed in is because I took Psych 101 already…the first semester of my freshman year at Bowdoin (if you need help with the math, that would be ten years ago). I knew I was in for a challenge because I am expected to remember Psych 101, and (I’m sorry Professor L from Bowdoin!), well, I don’t. Or at least it’s in some files in the back that I’m going to have to ask the monkeys in my brain to retrieve immediately.

I am in a class full of psych majors. Most are juniors or seniors retaking the course for a better grade or rushing through pre-reqs to  graduate early or on time. They know their shit and I, clearly, do not. But I have had a lot of fun since college! Ok, not totally helpful.

When it was my turn to say my name, etc., I broke it down: “Hey everyone! My name is Rachel, I actually graduated from Bowdoin College in 2005 as  Spanish major with a minor in Archaeology… I’ve been a travel writer and editor for six years and now I’m a career-changer doing a post-bac pre-med program at NYU so that I can become a Doctor of Physical Therapy. I took Psych 101… ten years ago… so I might need your help!” I smiled. They laughed. (Hopefully not at me, the pathetic grandma in the class who they were easily going to trample with their informed psych knowledge.) Whew. That wasn’t so bad. Hey, I sound pretty cool.

Bench at Fort of San Cristobal. San Juan, Puerto Rico.

I’m not gonna lie: that first class kicked my ass. There was so much material (a semester course condensed into six weeks = 2.5 lectures per class – FAST-pace), so many terms thrown around (dependent variables, independent variables, classical conditioning, Pavlov, Skinner, bah!!) that I could kind of remember learning about but needed to work doubly hard just to catch up to the discussion. It was a bit of a shock to my system when I walked out of class and realized I had spent the entire hour and a half just trying to keep my head above water, but it was only day one: this was to be expected.

Day two was not much better. I was still on a treadmill that was set to a slightly too-high speed, but I hadn’t fallen off yet. By day three, something finally clicked. I was participating in the discussions and (I think) sounding at least mildly informed about what we were talking about — progress. By day four, I had become one of them. Well, at least in the classroom.

I am still way behind these kids in terms of my psych background, but I’m realizing I do have something they don’t have: life experience. I’ve found two other girls in the class who I’ve become friends with; a 28-yr-old pre-Physician Assistant girl from Houstan, TX and a 25-yr-old pre-Nursing girl who is currently planning her wedding on Cape Cod this summer. The three of us quickly commiserated over the class material and being slightly older than the (very) young undergraduates, who honestly seem really young to me right now…. But everyone is quite friendly and it’s a really nice group. We don’t say “like” as much as the other kids in class, and we take notes using pens and notebooks rather than iPads or laptops, which are constantly tapped at during class. Our iPhones and Blackberries don’t start ringing mid-lecture and we don’t sit cross-legged in our chairs because, well honestly, I’m just not that flexible anymore. Ha.

It’s different to be a student right now, but there is also some part of it that falls right back in place for me. Just like I knew all along, this is not going to be easy and it’s not going to be any walk in the park, but every day after class, the other two oldies (ok, we’re not that old) in the class and I reflect on the material and our classmates while walking through Washington Square Park. This campus in the middle of NYC that has been here my whole life is, for the first time, slowly becoming my campus. I’ve got my first paper due tomorrow, I’ve finally moved into my apartment and bought things like olive oil and pears — I no longer have just milk and coffee. And to top it off, I’m trying to write a book. OMG, I’m trying to write a freakin’ BOOK! More on that another time 😀

It’s not easy now and it’s not going to get easier, but all this is exciting. It’s like I’ve begun a brand new life in my old hometown. When I start panicking about the financial burdens I have, the fact that I don’t just want to do well in these classes, I NEED to do well, and the overwhelming mountain of work ahead of me, I suck it up, buy myself a beer with a few friends (because I can… ha – those little undergrads can’t do that! Booyah) and I savor the challenge of it all.

Strolling with sass through a muggy San Juan day. Puerto Rico.

I’m just trying to make a couple dreams come true. No biggie. If it were easy then what would be the fun in that? Or, more importantly, what the heck would I write about? That’d be one lame book. While my fellow Developmental Psychology classmates may be more prepared for our first test on Monday (yep, that happened fast), I like to think that, when I’ve been tested by life these past six years since college, I’ve done pretty well. And isn’t that what really matters? Hmph.

Now time to write this paper…

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Filed under Life Stuff, New York City, School