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The Mornings, They Are Mine

My name is Stephanie Van Sandt, and I am a morning person.

Morning

Well, as much of a morning person as one is capable of being when one regularly finds herself working until 1am. In fact, my inconsistent and oddball work schedule often forces me to be an unwilling night owl, working until late into the night and sleeping well into the next day. But give me a couple of days off, and I’ll revert right back to my early morning tendencies, going to bed around midnight and waking up at 7 or 8am.

(I realize that for many, waking at those hours means that you got to sleep in, but trust me, in our house, that waking hour makes me the early bird. Reason #485 why we’re not having kids.)

 

 

This is Kyle Van Sandt, and he is a hardcore night owl.

Night

Kyle doesn’t really hit his mental stride until about 10pm, which is also the time he preferred to start papers in college and the time at which he likes to start projects like rearranging our furniture (argh) now. Given his druthers, he’ll go completely feral, staying up until 3 or 4am and sleeping until well into the afternoon.

As you can see, Kyle and I are geared completely differently. I can stay up (for me) super late and he can get up (for him) freakishly early, and given a reason, we often do. But it’s not our natural states, and it’s not how we prefer to frame our days.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, used to drive me absolutely batshit crazy. Up the fucking wall. I would get up at 7 or 8am on a day off and enjoy a leisurely coffee and breakfast, accompanied by either the newspaper or morning tv. I’d stretch this out until 9 or 10am, at which point I was ready to start my day. And this is where things started to go south. Sometimes I’d shower and just go about my day while Kyle remained blissfully unconscious until afternoon, when he’d join me for lunch. And those days were fine.

But those days were also rare. More often, I wanted to start my day with an activity that inherently included Kyle, like going to the gym or grocery shopping. So I couldn’t really start my day until Kyle woke up and got moving. And sure, I could go wake him, but that was a tricky business that often backfired. See, Kyle is a master of the snooze. He can not only hold an entire conversation without becoming fully conscious, but he can instantly fall back asleep as soon as the conversation ends. So if I went into the bedroom and gently tried to wake him with sweet words and kisses, he would temporarily appear to respond, only to fall back asleep as soon as I left the room and have no later memory of the exchange. Which meant that I could gently wake him five or six times and accomplish nothing, except giving me ample time to stew in my resentment towards him for metaphorically keeping me a prisoner at home with his sloth. (Aided by my unfortunate flair for the overdramatic.)

Finally, sometime around noon, my resentment would reach the necessary strength to turn me into a level 10 bitch, and I’d storm into the bedroom and start screeching. This would jar Kyle awake, who (having no memory of any of my previous tender attempts to wake him) would be bewildered as to why I was being such a mega-bitch when all he’d been doing was sleeping. He’d get up and shower, we’d eat lunch, and sometime around 2pm we’d start our day, already pissed at each other.

This happened pretty much every time we had a day off, and it wasn’t fun. I felt resentful and he felt attacked, and all because we couldn’t comprehend or respect each other’s inherent internal clock.

But since we moved from our shit shack apartment to our lovely new house, we haven’t had the morning fight once. And as much as I’m kind-of ashamed to admit it, I think most of the change was mine. At first I let him sleep late simply because we were working a metric ass-ton and I knew he was exhausted, but even with plenty of rest behind him, I just haven’t felt compelled to rouse him. I still get up early, still enjoy my breakfast and the paper, but now I’m able to go about my day on my own, without worrying whether or not Kyle’s involved.

(And in the spirit of fairness, Kyle has also made some welcome changes. On the occasions that we do make plans for the day, he’s made some amazing strides towards actually getting up at a reasonable time.  Sure, he has to drag himself up, and he’s not going to be anything resembling chipper until he’s had at least two cups of coffee. We’re probably also not going anywhere before about 10am. But he’s trying, and that means a lot to me.)

Since abandoning my quest to re-mold Kyle into an early bird, I’ve come to enjoy and cherish those mornings as time for myself. In our old apartment, which was dingy and felt closed in and dark, there wasn’t much to do within those walls besides watch tv, dink around on the internet, and cook, so once I’d exhausted those options I felt trapped. But our new house isn’t any of those things. It’s clean and bright and open, and I love my mornings sitting in the living room, quietly enjoying the sunshine and my breakfast. After breakfast but before Kyle wakes up, that’s my time for me, time to do whatever I want. I can indulge my compulsion to clean, I can blog, I can bake, I can paint my nails, I can work on a project at my workbench, or I can simply lounge on the couch and do crossword puzzles–anything that makes me happy. That time is just for me, and I know that Kyle treasures the night for the same reason. There’s no obligation, no worrying about what the other person is up to; just each of us doing our own thing.

And when we’re ready, our days Daycrossover and we enjoy our time together all the more because we have time to ourselves.

 

The nights are Kyle’s and the days are ours, but the mornings, they are mine.

 

 

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When I was young, maybe 3rd or 4th grade, I announced to my parents that I had decided that I was going to be a fan of the Colorado Avalanche. This was not a decision that I had arrived at without thought. I was born in Denver, and my family there was (still are) fans of the Aves. My family watched hockey with some regularity, and I was learning the names of some of the players. Oh, and I liked that their colors were purple and silver. Seemed like a compelling enough reason to me.  The next time a game was on, I casually mentioned this new affiliation to my parents.

“That’s a great thought, sweetheart, but that’s not going to work,” I was told by…one of my parents, I don’t remember who. “How would you like it if someone came into your dance studio and went on and on about how great [competing dance studio] was? You wouldn’t like it, would you? So you’re going to need to start cheering for the Wings, okay?”

And that was that. From then on, I’ve been a die-hard Detroit Red Wings fan. My family and I watched every game on tv. In jr high, my friends and I wrote Wings fan fiction. And when Kyle and I started dating, I informed him that any loyalty he felt for the Blues was adorable, but he was a Red Wings fan now. No matter where I lived in the country, I have carried my love of my team with me.

And yet, I’d never The Drivebeen to a game at the Joe. I worshiped at the alter of the wheel, but I’d never been to mecca. So when Kyle got me tickets to a game at the Joe for my 30th birthday, I went bonkers. (He really is the best husband ever, isn’t he? Don’t tell him I said that.)

And that’s how Kyle and I found ourselves driving across New York, through Canada, and into Michigan.

But before we could go to Detroit, there was one stop we had to make first.

I had to go home.

I hadn’t been back to my hometown, Jackson, Michigan, in eight years. This was not a purposeful choice, exactly; my dad was laid off during my senior year of college, and he and my mom were forced to move away in order to follow his new job.  The last time I was home, I’d just graduated from college, was newly engaged, and was desperately trying to get my shit together before I moved to Oklahoma City and started a new job. I had so many more things to think about than whether I’d ever see that house or that town again. So for that reason, I felt like I needed to go home.

My childhood homeWe weren’t in Jackson long, just an afternoon, but it was long enough to see everything I needed to see. We stopped by my childhood home. I was happy to see that they’d painted the exterior from the “Pumpkin Spice” color my dad always loved. (Sorry, Dad.) I was a little bummed to see that they’d cut down the crab apple tree whose bowed branches my brother and I played under for hours as kids. But I was happy to see that despite the aggressive landscaping, the wild columbines that grew by the woods still thrived, covering the ground in a blue-purple splendor.

 

After that,  we stopped by my old high school,NWHS where I was shocked and thrilled to see that not only were they building a new wing, but adding a theatre. (Whaaaaat?!) When I attended Northwest High School, it was a dilapidated mess, with pipes bursting in the winter and leaky ceiling tiles every time it rained, so I was happy to see the place getting fixed up. (A little irked that it didn’t happen earlier when I could take advantage of it, but happy for them nonetheless.)

 

 

And finally, we made ourThe Parlor most eagerly anticipated stop on the pilgrimage: a trip to my favorite ice cream parlor, aptly named the Parlor. With its hard ice cream that’s almost chewy and sundaes overflowing with hot fudge made in-house, the Parlor is something really special. I was completely un-surprised and pleased to see that its old-timey decor and nostalgic charm were entirely unchanged. And their ice cream has ensured that I will never have to cajole Kyle into visiting my hometown.

(What can I say? The man loves his hard ice cream.)Kyle at the Parlor

 

 

Driving through Jackson, I was happy to see that the town hadn’t been totally devastated by the recession. There were certainly signs that it had been hit hard, but I was also seeing new construction and longtime business still open, so I knew Jackson had survived.  I enjoyed the trip through the streets and my memories, pointing out funny or interesting things to Kyle as we went. And yet, I didn’t feel like I was home. I felt like I was revisiting a dream I had once. It was familiar, and yet, I felt like an outsider looking in. Jackson will always be my hometown, but it was very clear to me that it’s no longer my home.

Juice in a BagThat night, we stayed in Ann Arbor, where the only thing interesting thing that happened is that we went to a hipster restaurant where I drank juice out of a bag. And by that, I mean Kyle got a kick out of watching me try to figure out how to drink juice out of a bag without looking like a complete and total douche. (As you can see by the picture, I failed miserably.)

 

 

 

The next morning, we were off to Detroit. Which, before you fucking make any River Walkjokes about us getting mugged or stabbed, was actually quite lovely. (Sorry if I sound defensive, but they stopped being funny about the 43rd time I heard them. I get it, we’ve had some economic hardship, glad you find that hilarious.) I mean, the part of downtown right by the arena where we stayed was lovely; it’s pretty obvious even from the interstate that the neighborhoods surrounding the city still haven’t fully recovered. But downtown itself was really nice.

 

And our room was bonkers View From Our Roomnice, featuring Netflix built into the tv and a crazy amazing view of both the Detroit River and Canada (eh?). Even with the shitty weather, I could have stayed there all day and taken in the fabulous view. (And Kyle and I both agreed that the giant window above the city kinda made us want to stand in front of it butt-ass naked. [We totally didn’t.]) But nice as it was, we weren’t there to hang out in our room and watch Archer all day.

 

 

We were in Detroit for the hockey.

Before I knew it, we were walking upThe Joe to the Joe. It was exhilarating to walk into the fray of excitement and energy. Everywhere I looked, red and white. Old jerseys, new jerseys, jerseys covered in signatures. A woman who wore what looked like a homemade appliqued sweater featuring the logo in sequins on the front, and the number of all the current players rhinestoned on the back. These were a people who love their team with unwavering ferocity, and they wore their pride and excitement like a cape. Outside those walls, Detroit is a national punchline, a joke that represents poverty and crime and desperation. But inside the Joe, Detroit means the Red Wings, with a history that is rich and deep and represents strength and victory. Inside, we are proud to be Detroit.

The game itself was thrilling and visceral and wild and I loved every minute. I liked getting to see the entirety of the ice, not just the small bit surrounding the puck like you see on tv. (And the fact that Kyle got us killer seats right behind the camera stand? Motherfucking sprinkles on the motherfucking cupcake.) My favorite part though was being an atom, a cell, a speck in the heaving, writhing crowd. There couldn’t have been more than 100 Philly fans in the place, so while the crowd wasn’t disrespectful to the away team, it was purely Detroit. PlayWhen the Wings scored, the place roared with unadulterated ecstasy, and when Athanasiou sank a short-hand goal, I thought the walls were going to crumble around us for the mayhem. As the final horn announced the end of the game and the Wings the victors, I was practically delirious with pride, elation, and the pellucid intensity of the moment.

In that moment, we were all Detroit.

Score!
As I walked around the arena, I felt like I was home in a way that I hadn’t inGordie Jackson. These were my people, and I was one of them. We share a lineage and a history that is long and deep, and we are vehemently proud of it. Every person in that arena knows who the Captain is, and still hurts for Konstantinov. We remember Fight Night at the Joe and share a savage hatred for the Avalanche that’s nearly as strong as our ardor for our own team. (Sorry, Denver cousins. Love you, hate your team.) And we all know when to sing along when they play “Don’t Stop Believing” and why there will inevitably be an octopus (or three) thrown onto the ice.  Walking around The Joe, I could feel the history in my blood. These were my people. These are my roots. This is where I come from and who I am. The city of Detroit may never be a geographical place I long for, but the Red Wings, they are my home.

Kyle and I had an absolute blast at the game, and we’re already making plans to go to another game next year.

I can’t wait to go home again.

Us

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I love vintage housewares. The aesthetic, the design, the craftsmanship, the sketchy wiring. Love it.

But not in the, “Oooo, original shiplap made of reclaimed wood from a barn in Kentucky hand-planed by a pregnant Amish woman!” way that HGTV wants me to be into vintage. I’ve never had the desire to restore anything I found at a yard sale, antique shops make me sad, and the only phrase that makes me want to  punt a baby more than “reclaimed wood” is “midcentury-modern.” (I’m looking at you, Jo Ann Gaines of HGTV’s Fixer Upper. Go on, say “French countryside” one more goddamn time, I dare you.) No, it’s a very narrow category of vintage housewares that find a place in my heart.

The vintage I love are items that came from my grandparents’ homes. And I don’t mean heirlooms, either. Heirlooms are precious and beautiful, but heirlooms are for preserving and passing on, not everyday use. Heirlooms get pulled out once in a while for special occasions or admiration, and then get packed neatly and safely back into storage.

No, the things I love are the everyday.

Take this clock.

Grandma Dietrich's Clock

 

This clock hung in my Grandma Dietrich’s dining room since…well, long before I was born. Before my dad was even physically capable of procreating. She bought it with grocery store trading stamps back in 1961, by her best memory. As far back as my dad can remember and as far back as I can remember, it’s hung above her table as our family sat down for dinners together. Several years ago, she asked for a large digital wall clock, as she was having trouble reading the small face on hers. Kyle and I bought her one that she was thrilled to receive, and immediately set my father to taking down the old one so her new one could hang in its place. I commented that I was sad to see it go, as that old clock figured so strongly into my memories of her house. “Well, do you want it?” my Grandma asked. “I was just going to stick it in the attic.”

Of course, I was thrilled to take it. Not only do I think it’s a beautiful sunburst clock, but every time I look at it, I think of my Grandma and all those Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter dinners with her and my family. And that’s what I love about taking in my family’s unwanted treasures. I love that not only are they beautiful things that can find new life and use in our home, but they let me hold warm memories of the former owner closer to me. Our house is sprinkled with all kinds of gems…


The owl lamp from Grandma and Grandpa Bower’s house, outfitted with new wiring and a new lamp shade.

Grandma & Grandpa Bower's Owl Lamp


 

The coo-coo clock from Germany that Kyle’s parents bought for Grandma and Grandpa Van Sandt.

Grandma & Grandpa Bower's Cuckoo Clock


The decorative drink tray from Grandma Dietrich’s kitchen that I now use on my vanity.

Grandma Dietrich's Drink Tray


The lovebird salt and pepper shakers from Kyle mom’s house that he’s pretty sure, before his mother, belonged to his grandmother.

Grandma Van Sandt's Lovebird Salt and Pepper Shakers


 

Not that we take in every item proffered to us. We could fill multiple houses with all the beautiful things that family has offered to give us. And we appreciate every one of them, but we also want our house to look like it belongs to us. Besides, like I said, it’s not about acquiring nice things that people will give us for free. That part of our life is over, (along with that period during which we believed that empty liquor bottles constituted interior decor.) It’s about beautiful things that we love because they’re beautiful things, and love doubly so because they’re brimming with beautiful memories of people that we love.

Buying our house and decorating it over the last few months has been very much focused on the future. Who was are, how we anticipate growing, what we think our future needs will look like, and who we want to be. But it’s also warm and wonderful to have little pockets of our home filled with memories of people who love us and helped us become who we are.

Pocket of Memories

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I learned to bake when I was little, probably no more than three or four. At thatPumpkin Pie age, my mom would measure out each ingredient before letting me “help” by dumping it into the bowl. Later, after my brother came into existence, we would fight over who got to dump the chocolate chips at the end, because somehow that was the best part. Well, second to licking the beaters, of course. Luckily, my mom’s stand mixer was of the dual-beater variety, so there was no fighting between my brother and I. (At least where beater distribution was concerned.)

It was helping my mom bake at that young age that I learned about the power of baked goods. I learned that I could make my dad’s favorite Oatmeal Scotchies cookies and be rewarded with a giant grin and hugs. I learned that no one is ever not excited to see brownies, especially when they’re homemade. I learned that what I viewed as their imperfections–their inconsistent sizes, their uneven bake, some lumps–only garnered more praise, because people saw those flaws as love that doesn’t come with packaged treats. And I learned that something as simple as a dessert could be a way of expressing love, care, gratitude.

Since those young days of dumping in the flour for Mommy, baking has Apple Crispalways played a part of my life. In junior high Home Ec., it set me apart when I realized that few of my classmates had ever used an oven before. In high school was when my dad first taught me how to bake a proper cheesecake, fueling a lifelong bond between the two of us over our passion for the dessert. (We’re still on the hunt for that elusive Caramel Apple Cheesecake recipe that my dad swears he had once, the one with the caramel and apples baked in the cake, not just spread on top.) Even in college, with its distinctively kitchen-free living, I learned quickly that any of my friends living in apartments could be bribed to let me use their kitchen if I promised to make an extra one of whatever I was baking for them, leading to wonderful memories of hanging out with friends while I baked. And of course, those first days that Kyle and I dated brought me my biggest fan and most enthusiastic supporter of my baking hobby. (He still swears there’s no indiscretion big enough for him to leave me as long as there’s Grandma Dietrich’s Peach Cobbler in the house.)

Baking to this day remains one of my favorite hobbies. I still love the joy it Biscuitsbrings people, the look on Kyle’s face when he realizes that I made Banana Bread. (It’s not dissimilar to a kid coming to the realization that school has been canceled due to snow.)  But I’ve grown to love baking more so for what it does for me. It’s familiar; there’s comfort in measuring out flour using the exact same technique my mom taught me when I was little. There’s reassurance in baking a batch of cookies and knowing that they’ll come out exactly like they did last time when I made them to take to the track, exactly like they did when I made them in college for my friend’s birthday, exactly like they did when I made them for my dad as a kid. If I’m having a shit day baking makes everything okay, because maybe I can’t keep people from being dickheads and maybe I can’t emotionally deal with the disaster that is our laundry pile, but I can sure as fuck make some goddamn brownies that I know will be fucking delicious.

But just as much as the calming predictability of baking, I also love the inherent White Chocolate Cheesecakeuncertainty. Baking is an alchemy of sorts. You take a bunch of shit that by itself is at best, nothing special, but at worst, kinda gross. You work your magic on it, and you’re left with a paste, a glop, a blob. And then you have to throw it in the oven and trust that you did it right. That’s the part I love the most. When you cook something savory, you can keep tasting it and tweaking right up to the moment it hits a plate, but with baking, there’s the requirement of sheer blind faith. The incertitude, that’s what makes it all the more gratifying when I pull my creation out of the oven. Knowing that an hour ago, this super delicious treat was a bunch of gross shit before I worked my magic on it, and now I will have to hold Kyle back at knife-point so that it can cool properly.

Life is complicated. And hard. People don’t always act the way I want them to and plans I make don’t always pan out the way I hoped. Sometimes, I will have a shitty day for absolutely no reason. There’s so much of life that I can’t control. But there’s comfort in knowing that as long as I have my KitchenAid and a bag of chocolate chips, there’s always a way to bring a little bit of light to my corner of the world.

German Chocolate Cake

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