Books and grandfathers

In spite of our 59 year age difference, my grandfather and I had a fairly tight bond throughout my entire life. I’m forever thankful that we lived in Miami close to my dad’s family in my early childhood, because that helped to establish a solid foundation and friendship between my grandparents and me. Even after we moved, my grandfather and I started a pen-pal friendship, exchanging hand-written letters every few weeks. I have no memory of when or how this first started – I’ve been digging through my boxes trying to find all of our letters, and the oldest letter I have dates to my first year of college 11 years ago, though I’m fairly certain we started earlier than that.

These letters were mostly mundane, updating each other on the weather in our respective states (the man loved watching the Weather Channel), me telling him about my latest travels, and him sending me truly terrible print-out jokes from the internet (you know, the type old people get forwarded to them in an email chain?). I was always truly stumped by how my grandpa got those, since the man has neither a computer nor any access to the internet in his home.

Most of all, we shared what books we were reading, especially if we thought the other would like it. I have a secret shame that most of my book habits aren’t very grandpa-friendly – grandpas like serious, weighty tomes, not lightweight frills about fantasy worlds. Most of the time, I ignored his book recommendations for being too serious for me. Now, in his memory, I’m going to trove through my shoebox full of letters (thank god for past Kristen saving them) and start a series on Grandfather Books.

There’s a lot of good stuff to be said about the internet (and believe me, I bitched and moaned anytime I went to their house and had to be without WiFi), but today I am thankful that I have those letters. I will forever have his writing, his updates on how his backyard squirrels were doing, his terrible jokes, and over and over again the letter sign-off, “love you, gal.”

Birthday Memories, aka not about books

2009: The big one – 21. I’m fresh off the plane from the United States and spending the semester studying abroad in London. Even though I’ve only been in London for 11 days, I cleverly brought one of my best friends to study abroad at the same school, so between the two of us we are able to wrangle up a few new friends to help me ring in the year.

While I’ve been able to drink legally in this country already, the bartender couldn’t be more thrilled to help me celebrate my official U.S. legal-ness and promptly hands me a tequila shot. Not much more of the night can be said.


2011: I’m traveling for three weeks in Turkey on a short-term study abroad trip. Once again, I find myself celebrating my birthday with a group of people who really just started to get to know me in the last ten days and shouldn’t feel particularly obligated to make me the birthday princess. Luckily, I spent the last week intensely advertising my upcoming birthday and look forward to what they might have in store.

And that day was, well… kind of normal. Our educational activities that day in Konya were blah. We couldn’t even do anything fun that evening as we have an overnight train ride back to Istanbul.

I’m a little bummed as I sit in the train station, secretly wishing the day had been a bit more glamorous. As the train pulls in, the program director asks me to help with with his stuff and we fall to the back of the group. As I finally get on the train, I’m unable to find my friends and walk down the aisle calling out, “Guys?” Suddenly, the door of the train compartment next to me swings open and my twelve new friends start singing happy birthday as they hold a cake modified into a birthday cake (eventually covered with Nutella frosting) and candles purchased at the nearby gas station.

My birthday ends with a grumpy Turkish man yelling at my friends to stop singing, and all of us (including the program director and his TA) playing
games crammed into a train car.


2012: I’m back in Turkey on that same short-term study abroad program, this time as the TA. On my birthday we sent the kiddos off to a one-night homestay, and the program director and I celebrated being free by going out to a nice dinner. As I return to my hotel room, I’m surprised to see a beautiful birthday cake with sparklers and “HAPPY BIRTHDAY KRISTEN MCCARTHY” written across the top.



2014: I’m six months new to Boston and have just started to date someone new a week ago. Naturally, what every guy wants to hear on the first date is, “Oh yeah, my birthday is next week!” He did wonderfully under the pressure, taking me out to a lovely dinner and treating me to crepes and flowers. And joke’s on him, because we’re still dating.

2016: The night before my birthday, I’m in New York City for a business trip and wrangle up a few close friends from different parts of my life to come together in celebration of me. The next morning, alone in my hotel room, I wake up to a voice memo with one of my best friends creepily saying, “Happy birthday,” because I had mentioned to her I was bummed that I wouldn’t wake up next to someone saying that first thing. She rules.


2017: One of my best friends graciously decides to get married two days after my birthday, which works very well in my favor as that means all of my favorite people in the world – bridesmaids in her wedding – are also in town to celebrate my birthday. We have a low-key day of Top Golf, cocktails, and massage appointments (for me) but I keep the party going on the wedding night when the bride surprises me by having the bandleader officially announce me as “The birthday girl!”


One of the things I love most about my birthday is getting the chance to reflect on the year past, as well as the years past. What I’ve learned most from this reflection exercise is that I am lucky enough to have had some amazing travel opportunities and incredible people in my life dedicated to making my day special – things I want to keep in mind as I go through the last year of my 20s.


The BuffBoyfriend, Part 1

In other, non-reader, parts of my life, I tend to act like any other warm-blooded freedom-loving American and consume television to a large degree. In fact, as I write this, I’m watching The Great British Bake-Off! (Not very warm-blooded American of me to admit, I must say).

And one of the best shows ever on television and one of my all-time favorite shows? Why, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of course!

If you need a capstone project from me as to why Buffy is such a magnificent show, I’m free literally all the time. Just suffice to say for now that it’s an amazing piece of television and everyone should watch it.


After waiting anxiously for my lovely gentleman to finally trust me enough to recommend our next show, I convinced him to watch the series (only took two years of dating!). Alas, so far NOT so good. As any Buffy fan will admit, the first season is… rough. It’s SO 90s, and a lot of it is really silly. But he promised to stick it out to the end of Season 3, and honestly if he doesn’t like it after that point there’s just no reason for us to stay together.

As we are watching the series together, my clever plan is to secretly track his impressions, comments, and plop it here for everyone to see! Jury’s out if I will tell him about this beforehand or not.

And so… the BuffBoyfriend Season 1 Impressions Roundup!

HIM: *general sleepy expression*

HIM: *casually scrolling through Amazon when I’m not looking*

HIM: *snort-chuckle* I’m sorry, the story is really good, but this dramatic music is not.

HIM: Wait, how come she’s not a vampire if the Master bit her? ME: Because to become a vampire, they have to suck almost all of your blood and you have to drink almost all of their blood. HIM: …What? How would you even do that? ME: This is just so easy to understand. COME ON.

A few minutes later

HIM: So why didn’t the Master just make sure she was actually dead before he left? ME: Because he had to do the super villain thing and be overly confident that he killed the hero instead of taking two seconds to check. Plus, then we wouldn’t have six more seasons.



AAAND that about wraps it up for BuffBoyfriend, S1. He has been incredibly patient and open-minded so far, and I have all my fingers and toes crossed that I can bring him over to the side of Buff come S2.


2013: The Year of Being a Yes Girl

At one of my old jobs, whenever we sat around the conference table digging into a birthday cake, we needled the celebrant to declare what their previous year “title” had been and what they wanted the next year to be called. They would say things like The Year of Adventure, the Year of Moving On, even the Year of Nothing.

Because my birthday nicely aligns with the start of the New Year, I’ve always liked making resolutions for the New Year, both for the world and also for my new year of life.

In 2012, I turned 24 while in Cappadocia, Turkey.* I sat at a cafe perched on the top of a cliff overlooking the countryside, drinking salep while enjoying this view:

I wrote the following New Year resolution in my journal:

“Cleanse and lighten.”

*After reviewing my journal, I found out I was totally mistaken about where I was on the actual 12th of January, 2012. The story about me being in Cappadocia is much more romantic but I actually did my year-reflection there on the 11th, not the 12th. After looking at my notes, turned out this was happening on my actual anniversary of birth:

Yep. MASSIVE snowstorm in central Turkey as we are trying to drive 13 students from Cappadocia to Ankara, Turkey. As we’ve inching down the road we keep passing cars that have crashed in the ditch. Eventually the driver pulls into a random gas station and says it’s too unsafe for him to finish driving. All ended up well and I still got a birthday cake, so calm down.

After the near-brush with death (or at least being stranded in Random, Turkey), I wrote down my 2012/24 Resolutions. Let’s review and determine what actually happened.

  • Cleanse my body: drink more water, eat smartly, do yoga at least once a week and cardio twice a week. Run, even if it is literally just around the block. In retrospect: My bad. I try, I really do, but the whole moving-temporarily-to-another-country thing really threw me off.
  • Cleanse my soul: As hard as it is for me, try to worry less. Bake more. Work to see friends and call far-away friends more. In retrospect: Still a massive worrywart and I don’t bake nearly as much as I would like, but I like to think that I’ve done a fairly good job connecting with friends despite the miles. 
  • Cleanse my life: Seriously go through clothes and shows and donate a chunk. Go through food and buy strategically. Shed some of the furniture. Manage my debt, my loans, my savings, and my investments. Finally, success! Turns out moving back home with your parents really helps you cull out the crap.
  • Splurge sometimes! Does a trip to Southeast Asia count as a splurge?
So, in retrospect  I’m in pretty much the same place I was a year ago. Something I seriously want to do is establish myself somewhere to allow myself to start the cleansing of my body by establishing an exercise routine; have a normal and not-as-chaotic life that allows me to eat better; work on strengthening my friendships. 
But before I get to that, I have a declaration. I declare this to be the Year of Being a Yes Girl. A quick Google search shows me that the theme of a Yes Man or Yes Girl is fairly common (in addition to it being a Jim Carrey movie); turns out a lot of people want to shake up their lives that way. 
What it means for me? I’m saying Yes more often. Not to everything that comes my way because that’s ridiculous. But to some things. I’m pretty much known (lovingly, I hope) by my friends as being the girl that they don’t often invite out since I’ll say no anyway.
And so I’ve decided to change that – to become the girl who says yes to more things (within reason, Mom. Calm down.).
As we ring in 2013, I have 23 days left in the country, and I have a sneaking suspicion they – and the rest of this year – are going to be action-packed, adventurous, and downright kick-you-in-the-crotch-spit-on-your-neck fantastic.