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The Prince of Pinecones

February 17, 2013

One year ago, the world became a brighter and more adorable place…


To say I was obsessed with puppies is a gross understatement. I was ravenous. I had a craving for the smell of kibble in my kitchen, for the sweet sound of yips and barks, and, most of all, for disgusting, slobbery puppy kisses. When the stars finally aligned (i.e., enough money accumulated in my bank account) I spotted him on Petfinder. Black and white and adorable all over. The little eight-pounder was ours a week later.

We named him Cosmo (as in Cosmo Kramer). The first morning we had him, I carried him outside and set him down in the wet grass to pee – and he cried. So I picked him up and wrapped him in my jacket, and in that tender moment, I fell madly and irreversibly in love.

Cosmo quickly established himself as the prince of our household. He sleeps in our bed, snuggled right in between us, sometimes with his head on the pillow. When he’s in the mood to chew on his Nylabone, I have to hold it for him – but only because he likes to have a paw on my hand while he chews.

‘Mo only weighs about 30 pounds now, but he has the jaw strength of a saber tooth tiger. In the 9 months he’s been with us, he has consumed the following items:

  • one $5 bill
  • Johnny’s wallet
  • a deer antler (which the Petsmart associate claimed would last months, if not forever)
  • several tennis balls
  • his own bed
  • the lower branches of our Christmas tree
  • an unidentifiable plastic purple object
  • 2 sq. feet of carpet
  • countless plush toys

But his favorite thing to eat? Pinecones. I swear he thinks pinecones were put on this earth exclusively for his use. As soon as we get outside, he lunges for the first cone he sees and looks at me with his “chase me!” expression. When we’re done, he carries the pinecone back up to our apartment and drops it outside the front door – saving it for later, of course.

Happy Birthday Cosmo, you good good boy.


How to have an epiphany

May 6, 2012

umbrella in the rain
An epiphany isn’t something that just happens. It’s not a privilege exclusive to starving artists, so don’t expect a lightening bolt of inspiration to suddenly jolt you out of a slump. Sure, sometimes your idle mind might luck out with a freebie, maybe when you’re in the shower or driving home from work. Most of the time, it’s not something that finds you.

An epiphany is something you hunt.

I’m sure other, wiser creatives could give far better advice on how to hunt down an epiphany. But I have a method that works for me, so maybe it will work for you too.

Go on a walk.

That’s all. Just walk. You don’t have to think about anything in particular. Listen to your iPod, or listen to the birds sing. Or listen to nothing. It doesn’t matter. Don’t try to make yourself “appreciate nature” or “focus on your breathing” ­– unless, of course, that’s what you want to do. Just take a walk and see what happens.

In case that’s not enough, I’ll provide some further (very loose, and okay to ignore) instruction.

How to walk your way to an epiphany:

1)     Pick a destination. Wandering aimlessly won’t get you in the right mindset. The purpose of this exercise is to experience an epiphany at the end of your walk. So give yourself a time limit, too, and choose a destination that will give you about a 25 minute walk. A Starbucks happens to be the perfect walking distance from my apartment.

2)     Bring a pen and paper. By the end of your walk, you WILL have something to jot down. It might be a brilliant idea. It might be a To Do list. Get it in ink while it’s fresh.

3)     Pack a snack. Your walk might make you hungry, and it’s hard to have an epiphany when you’ve got the shakes.

Exercise is scientifically proven to improve brain function. (I don’t know all the details, but it has something to do with the release of endorphins.) It puts you in a sunny mindset, and a happy mind is a brilliant mind. If you don’t like walking, maybe try going for a swim or pumping some iron. It’s just a hunch, but I’m guessing the more you enjoy the exercise, the more likely you are to uncover that big idea you’ve been searching for.

As for me, I think I’ll stick to walking. The path I walk is quiet and smells like honeysuckles. I leave my headphones behind and let my mind wander. I say hello to the occasional dog walker. And before I even get to Starbucks, I’ve found my first epiphany.

Why I miss 7th grade

January 16, 2012

No, this happy girl isn't me. But I can totally relate.

There are certain moments at work (usually during the lunch shift) when it becomes way too loud and way too crowded, and everyone turns into one big monstrous swarm, and my eyes start to glaze over because it’s all just way too much for my Acuvue 2s to handle. It is in these moments of chaos that I find myself feeling nostalgic for ­– of all things – 7th grade.

No, not for the awkward growth spurt that made me taller than all the boys, or the lack of hair-styling skills, or the embarrassment of having my secret crush revealed to the entire class. No, the thing that I sometimes find myself yearning for was a much more pleasant aspect of middle school. It was a rare occurrence, something that happened only when a substitute teacher was on duty, or when the entire class finished the spelling test early and there was time to kill. When it did happen, it was probably the best part of my day. I’m tellin’ you, it was better than recess.


“Class, it’s time for silent reading.”


I LOVED silent reading. It was the most incredible escape from learning about stupid, useless things like “cell membranes” and “obtuse triangles.” As soon as those words were out of the teacher’s mouth, and while most of the other kids were reluctantly pulling out books forced upon them by their English teachers, I was already deep into my story, far away in an imaginary place where nothing as boring as Math class was allowed to exist.

There’s something so cozy about reading a good book. No matter where you are – the doctor’s office, the airport – as soon as you dive into a book, it’s like it automatically becomes 7 p.m. and you’re sinking into a comfy loveseat in front of a warm, crackling fire. Mmm.

Life is chaos, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But there are those days when the customers just seem bent on making your life difficult. And the line starts backing up. And it starts getting louder, and the roar of the milk steamer is about to drive you crazy. And at those times, the one thing I wish for is to be a 12-year-old girl in a boring classroom, sitting quietly with her nose in a book.

Fortunately, I get a lunch break at work. And the coffee is free, and there’s a quiet corner upstairs. It’s a great place to sneak in a little silent reading.

“Smelly cat, smelly cat, what are they feeding you?”

January 1, 2012

If I were a moth, then every groovy-grungy-hipster coffee shop would be my hypnotic flame.


Smelly Cat Coffeehouse is a cozy little caffeine arsenal in NoDa. Pros: artsy vibe, comfy furniture and a damn good frapp. Cons: Clemson-inspired floor tiles.


Bottom line: Definitely worth a visit – just don’t look down.

The most wonderful To Do list of the year

December 11, 2011

(The following items must be completed by December 25, 2011.)


  • Bake my famous, not-so-secret recipe for chocolate chip peanut butter cookies. Distribute to friends.
  • Light a pine-scented candle and pretend my tiny plastic Christmas tree is actually a six-foot Douglas-fir.
  • Deck the halls. (Or maybe just one wall.)
  • Try eggnog. Then add some bourbon, and try it again.
  • Watch the following movies (‘tis the season to be lazy):
    • A Christmas Story – Holiday nostalgia on steroids.
    • The Preacher’s Wife – My favorite Rutkowski family tradition. But each year it gets tougher to pretend that we don’t know every line and that Whitney isn’t a recovering crack-addict.
    • Elf – What can I say? The man knows how to wear yellow tights.
    • Christmas Vacation – “What are you looking at Clark?” “Oh, the silent majesty of a winter’s morn…the clean, cool chill of the holiday air…an asshole in his bathrobe emptying a chemical toilet into my sewer.”
    • Love Actually – British. Sappy as hell. And set in a lovely alternate universe where Hugh Grant is Prime Minister.
    • A Very Sunny Christmas – Christmas on crack.
  • Listen to Otis Redding sing “White Christmas” over and over and over.
  • Have at least one in-depth conversation with a small child regarding his/her expectations of Mr. Claus’s upcoming annual performance.
  • Knit. By the fireside.
  • Watch Seinfeld episode #166, “The Strike,” on December 23, the traditional day of Festivus – the holiday for the rest-of-us.



The day I met Stephen King

October 2, 2011

stephen kingIt was a dreary day in Fairfax, Virginia. The kind of day where the sun never makes an appearance (except to provide enough heat to boil up a nice thick humidity) and the sky bides its time, waiting until you step out of your car to release a downpour of rain. My hair was hopeless; twelve desperate bobby pins were clinging to my strands for dear life.

It was the perfect setting for an evening with Stephen King.

My first thought when he burst onto the stage was this: It’s him! He’s real! He’s right there! That’s right, I was starstruck. At the sight of a 64-year-old man from Maine.

But you have to understand – this was the guy who wrote ‘Salem’s Lot and It, the books that left me terrified of bare windows and storm drains. This was the man who’d had the gall to write Pet Sematary, the courage to pursue The Dark Tower, and the capacity to create The Stand. From writing on his lunch breaks while working at an industrial laundry, to becoming the 19th highest selling author of all time, Stephen King has created some of the most fascinating stories I’ve ever read.

Yet here he was, speaking in a small auditorium at a university in Fairfax, Virginia, and calling us his friends. He was wearing jeans, motorcycle boots, and a plain red t-shirt. And as he filled the hour with stories and small talk (and the occasional F-bomb) my perception of him began to change.

He expressed his gratitude. He was humble, yet he spoke frankly about his success. He cracked jokes about his fame, sharing one particularly embarrassing story about being recognized in public (it involved a bathroom stall with an absent door.) Even though he said it’s an author’s least favorite question, he shared how he came up with the ideas for Cujo, The Stand and The Body. He didn’t boast; he happily satiated our curiosity. He told us about the new novel he’s working on, a story about what happened to Danny after The Shining. And then he read an excerpt to us. For ten minutes.

(Sorry the video cuts off! My iPhone wasn’t cooperating. Click here to view a full-length recording by the pro’s at GMU!)

Stephen King used to be a name on a book. Those books entertained me and inspired me to write my own stories about the paranormal. Then, after reading On Writing, I became inspired by the author himself, and his “rags to riches” quest to become a full-time writer. But when I finally saw him right in front of me, talking to us with a smile on his face, I finally had the opportunity to see him as something else (maybe even the way he wants to be perceived). Stephen King is a good guy. Contrary to his dark and often grim subject matter (and despite those troubled years that are now in the past), Steve is probably one of the happiest, kindest, and most pleasant guys on earth. And that’s really the best thing I took away from that evening. Because now, when I read one of his stories, I feel like I’m listening to an old friend.


Oh yeah, and we got a book signed.


DANA RUTKOWSKI (my mom): Hi, how are you?

STEPHEN KING: Better now that you guys are here.

(She hands over our battered copy of The Stand. He turns to the title page and begins carefully signing his name.)

DR: Thank you for signing our book.

SAMMY RUTKOWSKI: Thank you for writing books.

SK: You’re welcome.

DR: I bought that book at a time when I really couldn’t afford it.

(SK hands back our book.)

SK: I know ‘bout that!


A fresh start

September 26, 2011

Charlotte, NC skyline

The season of change.

Spring is the season typically associated with new beginnings, rebirths and the like. But for me, that time of year has always felt like more of a final stretch.

For me, it’s at that first sense that Fall has arrived – at the point where my mind has finally grown restless of its long and idle summer vacation – that my fresh starts always seem to occur. I’m sure all of this stems from sixteen years of abiding by the school calendar – starting strong in the fall, forging ahead through winter, and then, when spring at last comes, cramming for exams and tying up all the loose ends.

The interesting (and scary) thing about this “school calendar” theory is that, at some point, you’re no longer in school. Suddenly, your fresh starts aren’t being scheduled by your parents or the public education system. What then?

Since graduating college, I’ve thought a lot about how my future is now a blank slate. Nothing is predetermined anymore. My life’s outcome could be anything – I could live a life full of purpose and adventure just as easily as I could live an empty going-through-the-motions sort of life.

These thoughts came to me more and more as I realized that – after a very exciting four years of college and one year of apprenticing – I was in


a slump.

Suddenly, I had found myself at a standstill. I was working a job unrelated to my field of study, located 95 miles away from the city where my career (and a certain handsome someone) was waiting for me. Nine months of inconclusive job interviews had left me discouraged, disappointed and distraught at the idea of life passing me by.


And then September came.

Maybe it really was the arrival of fall (or, perhaps, the approaching one year anniversary of the last day of my apprenticeship) that was the slap in the face I needed. Whatever the mysterious motivation, one day I simply decided enough was enough. It was time to zap some excitement into my increasingly dull daily routine. So I sat down in Barnes and Noble and – instead of reading smut magazines and drowning my sorrows in a tall nonfat latte – I whipped out my laptop and applied for about fifteen restaurant jobs. Two weeks later, I was offered a job as a barista in a cool, upscale café. And I finally, finally, made the announcement that I was moving to Charlotte, North Carolina!

It’s Day 23 of my fresh start, and already my life has become more exciting. For starters, I have begun volunteering with the marketing team of a local nonprofit. And, when my managers at the restaurant learned about my prior experience, they offered me the task of launching the brand’s social media presence. And I’ve already met about 50 interesting people. Suddenly, opportunity is everywhere. Things are moving forward again.


“Be proactive.”

I’ve received a lot of great advice over the years, most of it from my mother (who is, by the way, the ultimate optimist and Queen of Proactivity.) She has always taught me to solve my problems – to do something about it – (and, also, that whiners are wieners).

So, in the spirit of grabbing life by the horns, I’ve created this personal mantra: When life gets dull, shake things up. Sometimes, that might just mean a little shake – spending a Saturday in the mountains, for instance. But sometimes, life is going to need a big shake, and that’s when it’s time for another fresh start.


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