Finder’s Keepers

People constantly ask me what my favorite part of living in DC is. They expect me to say something about living so close to the National Mall – the fact that I can wander into any Smithsonian museum or that I can run effortlessly down the Mall to the Lincoln Memorial. Maybe it’s the fact that I can sit and stare at the majestic nature of the US Capitol, hoping to catch my favorite senator (looking at you Cory Booker) walking down the sidewalk or spend a rainy afternoon reading in the Library of Congress. It could be the fact that I can wander aimlessly up and down Eastern Market, chat with the vendors and grab a delicious pastry and tea from one of the many coffee shops. Now don’t get me wrong – these are all things I love about this city, but the thing I love the most is finding other people’s junk treasures on the sidewalk.

Anyone who knows me knows I have a deep obsession for decorating my home. I firmly believe this is genetic – because if you also know my mother – she’s a bit of a fanatic when it comes to decorating our beautiful limestone home in rural Kansas. There’s no doubt that the countless hours watching Christopher Lowell on the television or Trading Spaces when I was no older than 10, influenced my intrinsic need to be able to design and decorate every apartment and house I’ve ever lived in. In a world that seems to be more in love with Chip and Joanna Gaines than any other celebrity couple, I can’t help but be excited for my friends who have finally started to become obsessed with the art of interior design.

There are many things I could classify myself as – plant based eater, history nerd, current events junkie, a wanderluster – but I’m also incredibly thrifty and willing to put work into making things better than when I find them randomly on the street. Almost my entire room is filled with objects I found for free or paid less than $20 throughout several of the neighborhoods I walk through on a daily basis. Perhaps my favorite piece is my amazing bookcase I found down my street up in Mt Pleasant. Now – I have to admit I also have a talent of making myself look slightly ridiculous while hauling pieces of furniture down the street by myself. With no car and my own two hands, I attempted the feat of carrying the 8ft bookcase down six blocks. With only a few stares from bystanders and the help of one man who laughed at me while he walked by and then generously came back to help me carry it home, I finally managed to get it up the stairs in my room. And I mean come on – how great does it look?!

Another piece I randomly found walking near my house near Lincoln Park, was a Tiffany style lamp. It was as if it was beckoning to me to pick it up – to carry it back home to be placed on my window’s ledge – and I did! I mean let’s ignore the fact that the lamp doesn’t actually work, but I just wanted it for the pop of color in my room anyways!

And then you have my blue glass lamp (which I actually have two of) that I got from one of the abandoned warehouses in Westbottoms in Kansas City, back when it was an actual affordable place to buy furniture and not the atrocity it is now. I’m fairly certain I got the pair of lamps for $30 and they just add so much to the rooms because of their cool shape!

Mellow Tree Designs

Above the blue lamp is a weaving made by my sister. And while she has it up on her Etsy store (www.etsy.com/mellowtreedesigns) – I’ve promised to foster it in the meantime. (Little does she know I’m never giving it back!)

The triangle shelf is a piece I literally threw together in the weeks after returning from Morocco in my parent’s garage. There’s nothing quite like finding random pieces of wood on our property, sanding, and staining it to make your own piece for free! Plus I got to spend valuable time with my super talented Dad! Our next project, (whenever I get home next) is transforming tons of live edged pieces of wood we have into tables with hairpin legs! I’ve been begging my parents to ship me one so I can have a coffee table – but apparently it’s expensive and unrealistic to ship huge slabs of wood 1000 miles.

My dresser is another great find by my Mom. I may have begged her to bring it for me when her and my Dad graciously drove 18 hours to bring me my things. It was originally a storage system for her craft items, but doesn’t it look better in my room as an actual dresser?! Nothing like putting some paint and stain on an old piece of furniture to liven up a room!

My latest find is the little plant stand in the corner that I just found today in Eastern Market. Now while it’s completely different than what I had envisioned for a plant stand, I can’t wait to transform it into something that goes a little bit better with the rest of my room.

I love the random finds that make my room special, but the two things that make it shine are the amount of natural light and the ridiculous amount of plants residing in my room with me. I never go without eucalyptus in my large copper vases (which I got for $10 at Joann’s) or a few succulents I found for $5.99 at Trader Joe’s. This past week I even found a great deal at Home Depot on the Snake plant and the hanging plant you see in the photos. Scattered throughout my house are also amazing pieces of pottery that I found in Rabat, Morocco that give it its unique vibe.

So the moral of the story is – you don’t need a ton of money to make your home look amazing. You might need a little patience and a little bit of luck involved in running across the perfect item on the street, but with an open mind – you can turn your place into something that truly feels like home without ruining your budget.

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Becoming Washingtonian

It hard to believe it’s been nearly nine months since I posted on this blog. While I thoroughly enjoyed expressing my thoughts and experiences through this medium, I feared that I would lose my audience and my purpose for writing after leaving Morocco. When I came back to the United States in January, I consequently lost part of my identity. The amount of pride I felt using the title “Peace Corps Volunteer” was undoubtedly more immense than I ever realized until I stripped myself of the label. I lost my place in this exclusive group that I had always longed to be a part of. In a sense, after getting to know my Staj for 4 months, it felt like I had quite literally lost my spot in this incredible family I had only just gained. I can’t speak for all who have joined Peace Corps and have failed to complete their service, but I’d imagine most of us after returning home felt a sense of embarrassment, of reverse culture shock, and of a loss of purpose. Of course, at some point you eventually must force yourself to stop worrying about the judgement of others and forgive yourself for not fulfilling your service, and positively move forward with your life.

And that’s what I did – I once again created a life worth enjoying. One where I didn’t have to feel the shame of my failures or confines of my own thoughts and solitude. I packed my bags and moved far from the comforts of my rural Kansan home and decided to create a new life for myself on the East coast. It’s honestly not that I didn’t try to find a job in Kansas, but truthfully, I’ve known in my heart for a long time that I could never reach my true potential or thrive back in my home state. I love Kansas with all my heart, but I’ve always felt like I would be settling if I didn’t go out and explore the rest of this beautiful world while I was young and single. And even more truthfully, for the past few years I’ve felt a certain disconnect with quite literally my closest friends who have all gotten married and started having children. It’s no fault of anyone’s of course, but it’s an exclusive part of adulthood that I have yet to experience – and I can’t help but feel a little left out sometimes. It’s no surprise that hanging out with each other becomes harder and harder to plan once you have a family of your own and while I would never fault anyone for finding love or having a baby, I also know that priorities change and that I’m not usually a part of those plans anymore.

So why not go to a city whose reputation is that it’s okay to put off getting married and it’s widely acceptable to focus on your career instead? Now – I’ll be the first person to tell you I struggle on a weekly basis on whether I’m okay with being single or not. It’s not like I haven’t put in the effort of finding a suitable man to spend my free time with, like seriously, look at all the dating apps on my phone. If dating were a class – I’d be getting an A+. But on the same token, it’s a relief that I feel no pressure in this city or amongst my friend groups the pressure to be anything but 27 and living life for myself. I’m also aware that “Winter is Coming” and the desire for someone to appear in my life will suffocate me daily when I’m freezing cold, alone in my room, but that’s also the beauty of this city – I can constantly find a concert, a free art gallery, a workout class in a park, or go on a date to get through the bouts of loneliness I’ll inherently feel on occasion.

I guess in a sense, the last few years of my life have been a never-ending cycle of feeling like I’m not part of something. Whether it’s because of falling out of a long-term relationship, not being a part of that exclusive marriage group that all my friends are a member of, or losing my place in the Peace Corps family, I’ve consistently found myself longing to have that connection and bond with others like myself. Which is why moving to Washington DC has seemingly become the best decision I’ve ever made to become the best and happiest version of myself. Since moving here, I’ve managed to become a member of LadiesDC, the premier young women’s professional networking group in DC, a member of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Washington DC, a teammate on a sand volleyball team, a part of the DC running community, and a coworker at a great longstanding conservative nonprofit organization in DC (I know – I can’t believe I work at a conservative leaning organization either guys). At the end of September, I even plan on learning more about the Junior League here in DC, which not only will help commit myself to do more volunteering during my free time, but it’s a valuable group that can help me perform better at my own job. (For those of you who don’t know – I run a summer institute on Philanthropy and Voluntary Services for college students.) Not to mention, Washington DC is full of those who live and breathe to talk about politics, international relations, and policy – three topics that just get me in trouble when I talk about my liberal viewpoints when I’m back home in the Midwest. This city is full of those who are quite literally striving to be the next Senator, the next executive director at a national nonprofit, or the next President of the United States. How can you not love being amongst those who have this level of commitment, enthusiasm, and ambition with their careers? Never in my life have I wanted to become more a part of this kind of motivated community.

My whole life I’ve always been a part of as many organizations, clubs, and sports teams as possible. It’s not a surprise that I find agency and a sense of identity in being a part of an exclusive group. And I think I’ve finally found the most exciting group yet – being able to call myself a Washingtonian.