Apparently It's Almost 2018

These days, the holidays always seem to sneak up on me. 

In elementary school teachers spent weeks building anticipation for the holidays. In art class we'd make thumbprint trees and paint ornaments. In music class we sang carols. Even math gave a shout out to the season, with Santa and his reindeer watching encouragingly from the corners of the math-minute worksheet. 

In middle school (okay fine and some of high school) I would start watching Christmas movies in October, with almost weekly screenings of Elf as I sat on the couch sewing sequins onto a handmade Christmas stocking I'd been working on for months. While other kids were stealing vodka from their parents' liquor cabinet and holding hands with boys I was surrounded by red and green embroidery thread and seed beads, racing against the clock to finish my latest set of ornaments before the holidays.

When I wasn't crafting new Christmas decor or at ballet rehearsal I was likely in the kitchen whipping up some kind of holiday treat for the neighbors - peppermint bark or spice cake with cream cheese frosting - like the sweet old lady who lives a few doors down and collects the mail for you when you're out of town.

In college there was no shortage of ugly Christmas sweater parties or white elephant gift exchanges. In the weeks leading up to Christmas break my friends and I would find time to look at the Christmas lights in the neighborhoods near our campus. We'd hop in the back of a couple of pick up trucks (because Texas) and gawk at the excessive Christmas light displays on the homes of the 1% before swinging by Starbucks for an overpriced, upsettingly sweet holiday beverage.

But now the holiday season just shows up, seemingly out of the blue. Like that party in Brooklyn you said "yes" to weeks ago but forgot about until just hours before. And now you're scrambling to find something to bring but you only have $7 in your bank account so it's PBR for everyone, I guess. Just sneak it quickly into the fridge upon arrival so no one notices that it's from you. It's the thought that counts, right?

One day you're in shorts and sandals and hovering around the AC unit and then all of a sudden there are Christmas tree stands on the sidewalks and wreaths in every store window. The temperatures drop and the airfares increase and before you know it you're sitting at Christmas dinner, hoping that you remembered to get a gift for everyone on your list.

Maybe the reason I feel ambushed by the holidays is because time flies when you're having fun, and being an adult with responsibilities and bills and text conversations with friends about which credit card has the best interest rate is just so much fun.

But, more likely, it's because I'm so focused on what's next - whether that be a meeting later in the week, or a carefully crafted five year plan - that I rarely stop to fully enjoy the present.

It's been quite a year. News headlines and our country's changing identity aside, I've had many of my own ups and downs. I graduated from my masters program, got engaged, started a new job, found an apartment with actual closets and kitchen drawers (not to be taken for granted in New York). I've also lost an incredibly important person to cancer, another to a stroke, and watched people close to me suffer in ways I can't even understand.

And it's with all of these significant events from the past several months that I came into this holiday season with an even greater appreciation for living in the moment. Appreciating the beauty of the first snowfall in the city. Enjoying the cozy aroma of Trader Joe's $4 Balsam candle (of course I didn't buy 6 of them, what are you talking about).

This year I've done my best to take a page out of my middle school Christmas countdown book and allowed myself to give into the nostalgia of the holiday season. I bought my first real Christmas tree, hosted several solo screenings of Elf, listened exclusively to Christmas music playlists, and spent my weekends making winter soups and peppermint bark. I haven't quite gotten around to the homemade embroidered stockings or sequin ornaments - those may just have to wait until next year.

A Most Unpleasant Season

The first few weeks of fall in New York City seemed like they were the hottest, sunniest days of the year. With highs hovering in the mid-80s, and the sun aggressively beaming into my apartment, heating up my moderately-sized uptown bedroom like an oven set just hot enough to keep your food from browning, it felt as though I was the only one desperately counting down the days until I could open my apartment windows and feel a slight chill in the air.

Apparently - according to co-workers and Insta-famous bloggers in swan-shaped pool floats and #sponsored swimwear - everyone loves summer. The city parks in late September looked like a college brochure - a couple of guys playing frisbee in the distance; rows of girls tanning, their t-shirts draped over their faces in an attempt to delay the all-too-inevitable fine lines and wrinkles; an introvert pretending to read but getting distracted by the fly that keeps hovering and landing on the edge of his book.

Everyone seemed to be soaking up the last few hours of summer, holding on as long as they could to the little joys of climate change before the sandals were pushed to the back of the closet in favor of thick, cozy socks and rain boots.

But, I wonder, what is there to enjoy, really? For those lucky few who have nothing but time from May through September, I understand the excitement of summer. They can rent a car and go berry picking upstate or to the beaches at Rockaway. They can relax on shaded patios and chat with their friends over a glass (or six) of rose. They can spend their day in a tank top, reading under a tree as they sip on a cold brew coffee, the condensation from their BPA-free to-go cup leaving drops of water on the pages of a literary magazine they just bought at Strand.

But for the rest of us, summer in New York becomes merely a montage of sticky subway rides and freezing office buildings, accompanied by a myriad of unidentifiable - or all-too-identifiable - city smells. While everyone on Instagram is baking blueberry pies and lounging poolside, you're sweating on the subway platform, 20 minutes late to work.

As beads of sweat form along your sternum and your brow your only respite from the stagnant, platform air is an express train passing through the station, bringing with it a conversation-halting clang of metal on metal, and an oddly refreshing subterranean breeze. You let the stale air wash over you, forgetting for a moment that it likely hasn't seen the light of day since 1974. But vintage is in, these days, you tell yourself as you hold back a cough, for you're no longer sweating. 

You close your eyes, imagining for a second that you're standing on the edge of the shore, the ocean waves crashing onto the sand, almost reaching the tips of your toes before receding back into the big blue. The warm sea breeze brushes against your skin and whips your hair into tangles and knots. In the distance you hear the faint sounds of Jimmy Buffet, not your music of choice, that's for sure, but here, you don't mind. You look down and realize you're holding a margarita (on the rocks, of course), and when you take a sip the cool, refreshing sting of the tequila in the back of your throat washes away your worries.

The waves get louder and louder, echoing as if in a chamber until the sound of screeching brakes yanks you off of the beach and back onto the platform. A man brushes past, his briefcase hitting your bag as he hurriedly makes his way to the first car of the train that just pulled into the station, "Cheeseburger in Paradise" emanating from a pair of $5 earbuds he doesn't realize are so revealing.

You step onto the train and the operator announces the next stop, her voice crackling through broken speakers. And as the doors close and the train pulls out of the station, the light overhead flickering like a department store dressing room that hasn't been updated in over a decade, you impatiently await the changing of the seasons. Summer in the city is the worst.

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It was a crisp 42 degrees this morning as I stepped out of my apartment. With Halloween in the rear-view mirror and Thanksgiving only a few weeks away, stores are beginning to sneak strands of lights and winter garland into their display windows. It won’t be long before Spotify features their holiday playlists, showcasing the cheerful classics of Andy Williams and Bing Crosby. Pumpkin will be replaced with peppermint and radiators all over the city will come to life, making their presence known with unwelcome, but familiar, melodies of pops, hisses, and bangs.

With this shift in the weather patterns I gladly bid adieu to my least favorite time of the year. 'Tis the season for baking and eating and wearing sweaters and staying inside and lighting candles that make the apartment smell like the inside of a Christmas cookie. Summer is over. It's finally fall.