Fear Sucks. Do It Anyway. | Lessons from the New York State Summer Writers Institute

Hello again!

I just returned home from two weeks at the New York State Summer Writers Institute at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York.  And what a time it was!  Imagine an alternate universe in which you are given a group of people who all share a common passion with you, and you can spend time with them all day long in a beautiful and calming environment.  And you also get to watch people who pursue your passion professionally do what they do best almost every day of the week.  Essentially, that’s what the Writers Institute was.  It was heaven for writers, complete with workshops, readings, Q & A’s, and more.  And I already miss it.

I learned so much from my time at Skidmore, and I’d love to share it with you!  So here are some of the lessons I learned at the Writers Institute:

1. Debating something means you care.

At Skidmore, I was in the Intermediate Fiction Workshop that met three times a week for two weeks.  During our workshop discussions, it could get pretty heated.  But the important thing to take away from an in-class argument is that if someone is willing to argue over your work (or vice versa), then the piece of writing is worth caring about, worth saving.  It’s actually a pretty awesome feeling when people care enough about your work to debate it.  And when the debate is over, you can put your differences aside, grab dinner with your class, and let the air clear on its own.

2. Listening makes you better at what you do.

Whether it’s in the classroom or in everyday life, listening will lead you to where you need to be.  I learned so much about my own writing strengths and weaknesses from listening to my classmates discuss my work.  And when it comes to inspiration, it’s everywhere if you keep your ears open to it.

3. Getting up early isn’t as terrible as you think it is.

I got up for the dining hall’s breakfast almost every day for the past two weeks, and it left me with so much more time to get done what I needed to.  Does getting up before 9 AM and going to bed before 1 AM make me an adult now?

4. Don’t ever put your wallet down in a store.

Because you will lose it.  And the ladies who work at the Celtic Treasures store will think you’re a moron.

5. Bring enthusiasm to everything you do.

I swear, my Intermediate Fiction class and I were straight-up high on life for two weeks.  We were constantly laughing, swapping stories, and being our strange selves, and I’ve never felt less stressed out.  When you enter a situation with a hopeful and enthusiastic attitude, then you can really make the most of it.

6. Passion can bring anyone together.

Our class was completely diverse, with writers from all over the country with different majors and interests.  But, as I learned at Wroxton last semester, you can find common ground with just about anyone.  And when you share a common passion, it’s even better.  I got to know people who I never would have met if it weren’t for our mutual love of writing.  It was so empowering to be surrounded by people who shared my passion and who were willing to support me in pursuing it.  Especially since we were almost all young adults, I noted how driven our generation really is.  Give young people a common purpose, and they’re ready to take over the world.

7. Give yourself some credit.

Nearly every writer wants validation; it just comes with the territory.  But I often forget to give myself credit for my talents and achievements.  I went into this workshop thinking that I was a mediocre writer and that I had lost my passion for writing.  But all it took was someone to remind me that I’m good at what I do and that I’m only going to get better for me to have the confidence to keep doing what I love to do.

8. Fear sucks.  Do it anyway.

I was so scared to go to Skidmore (What if no one likes me?  What if my writing is terrible?  What if I wasted all this time and money on an experience I’m going to hate?) that I was thisclose to emailing the heads of the Institute saying I couldn’t come anymore.  I dreaded the day when I would leave for New York because I was afraid I wasn’t good enough and that I would come out of the experience knowing that I didn’t want to be a writer anymore.  But surprise, surprise, I don’t suck at everything!  I got to know some of the most passionate and extraordinary people I’ve ever met, and I have a renewed love of writing that can only grow.  Where would I be if I had sent that email?  Probably miserable and watching Netflix all day.  Instead, I’m ready to make some magic.

Have you ever gone to a writing workshop?  What did you think of it?  What kind of communities are you a part of?  Let me know in the comments!

As always, thanks for reading.

 

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Cheers, England | Some Lessons from a Semester Abroad

Hi, there!

So it’s been a while, as usual, but I’ve found that I feel the most comfortable blogging when I feel like I have something pretty valuable to say.  And this time I think I do.

One week ago, I returned home after three and a half months studying abroad in England.  It was the experience of a lifetime, but there are no words to express how happy I am to be home with my family and friends.  But instead of talking about the places I saw or the things I did (You really just have to see for yourself), I want to share some things I learned.  After all, that is the whole point of this blog anyway.  So here are a few things I learned while studying abroad:

1. Flexibility and structure are not mutually exclusive.

When I first arrived at the college where I would be studying in England, I was really concerned by the lack of routine I would have there; class schedules varied week to week depending on student trips.  For the first couple weeks I wondered helplessly if I could handle that lack of structure.  I’ve always loved routine–thrived on it, really– and up until this point, it had been essential to getting all of my work done on time.  But the funny thing is, I didn’t have much control over the changing schedule, so once I learned to accept that, I was able to feel myself gain some flexibility.  I learned to feel comfortable with not knowing exactly what is happening and when.  It turns out, you can be flexible and organized at the same time, and it’s way less stressful to live that way.

2. If you go the wrong way, just turn around and try a different route.

It really is that simple.  Without access to data or wifi, there were a lot of confused moments in cities I’d never been to before when someone asked, “Wait, are we going the right direction?”  I used to be filled with panic when asking that question, but sometimes when you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll stumble upon a cool place you never planned to go.

3. Every place you go to has something different to offer.

I want to apply this to places near my hometown, too.  Even the smallest of places can have spectacular sights, whimsical shops, or striking landmarks.  A little research and wandering goes a long way.

4. With travel comes trial.

Despite the fancy Instagram photos that people post when they’re abroad, not everything is always sunshine and roses when you travel.  Anything can go wrong, from sickness to lost belongings to nasty encounters on the street.  Some days, you’re so tired and your body aches so much from walking that you just don’t know if you can get out of bed.  Sometimes places don’t live up to your expectations.  But these are all just part of the bargain that comes with travelling.  No matter where you go, something is bound to go wrong, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it to begin with.

5. You can find common ground with just about any person you meet.

I studied abroad with just over 50 other students from my university, many of whom I never would have met or spoken to if it weren’t for studying abroad.  Our group had such a wide variety of people– athletes, members of Greek organizations, artists, jokesters, you name it– and I feel as though I could have a decent conversation with every one of them.  I used to be really hesitant to talk to people who I perceived as very different from me, but I’ve realized that no matter who I’m talking to, we can find something in common or at least something to talk about.  Chances are, if you’re kind and throw in some humor, you’ll have a new friend, or at the very least, a pleasant conversation.

6. Gossip just really isn’t cool anymore.

I’m no saint, but this semester I really came to understand how hurtful gossip really is.  When you’re living and going to class in the same building with only fifty or so people every day, word travels fast.  The easiest and best way to go is to try to be kind to people’s faces and behind their backs.  And this is something I have to work on every day.  Because really, gossiping and spreading rumors doesn’t make anyone happy, and it only serves to ruin reputations–those of the people you talk about and your own.

7. Missing people is powerful.

This past semester, I missed people in a way I never had before.  I’ve missed relatives who have died, experiences I once had, friends who I wasn’t with but could visit if I wanted to.  I’ve never felt the ache of an ocean between me and the ones I love before.  I missed my friends and family so much this semester that sometimes I could feel the ache in my chest, my body heavy.  At the beginning, I was so homesick.  I felt like I could never adjust to living in a new country, and I missed the familiarity of the U.S. and of my loved ones.  But after a couple weeks, I started to really like it there, which made it just a little easier to cope with missing home.  But the real beauty of missing people is that you feel how much you love each other. Because when someone tells you they miss you when you are thousands of miles away from them, you know that they mean it.  Because you, too, feel how they feel.  It is so sad but also so beautiful to know that someone out there has a hole in their life that only you can fill and vice versa.  It’s hard to explain, but missing people this semester has made me cry as many tears of happiness as it has of sadness.

8. A sense of belonging is all you need to feel comfortable anywhere.

For the first time in a few years, I felt like I really belonged in a community.  I felt that if any person in our group, including myself, hadn’t been there, our experience studying abroad wouldn’t have been the same.  When you let your guard down and let people see you for who you are, all you can hope is that they accept you.  And when they do, it’s one of the greatest feelings in the world.  Feeling like I belonged made saying goodbye that much harder, but it also made my experience much more meaningful.  It meant that I had a new home, one that I’ll carry with me from now on.

Have you traveled abroad?  What did you learn from it?  Where do you want to go next?  Let me know in the comments!

As always, thanks for reading.

Time Is of the Essence and Nothing Makes Sense | The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

FullSizeRender (4)I recently finished reading the collection of essays and stories, The Opposite of Loneliness by the late Marina Keegan.  It was one of those books that just came into my life at the right time.  About a year ago, I picked it up in Barnes & Noble–just literally picked it up–and thought about buying it, but for some reason I didn’t.  Later, I read headlines of glowing reviews about it and felt like an idiot for not getting it.  But the first time wasn’t the right time for me to read it.  When I bought it a couple weeks ago, I felt as though I needed to read it this time.  And I was right.

The essays and stories in The Opposite of Loneliness were written by Keegan from the ages of about seventeen through twenty-two.  Five days after her graduation from Yale, she died in a car crash on the way to Cape Cod.  The book was published posthumously.

What matters, though, is not the traumatic circumstances but the perspective.  Because of Keegan’s sudden death, the book carries with it two perspectives: one of the vibrant, passionate, intellectual student, and one provided by the audience who knows that the author is no longer alive due to what seems to be a glitch in the flow of the universe.

The first half of the book is a collection of short stories.  After reading each one, I found myself angry.  But a good kind of angry.  Angry because I hadn’t written what she did, angry because at twenty-two, she could write better than I probably ever will.  Each story is so complex, so real.  They engage with the quiet struggles of dysfunctional families, the twisted emotions of romance, the panic and the aftermath of death.

The first story, “Cold Pastoral,” sucked me in like a vortex.  It focuses on the impact of the death of a college student, while following a girl who knew him, who was in the all-too-common romantic place of having a “thing” with him.  She wasn’t his girlfriend, yet feels like she’s expected to fill that role.  The ending left my mind stuttering, reeling.  Keegan made me think, which I think is the goal that all literary writers hope to achieve.  The rest of the stories followed suit, each with a unique twist at the end that ignited surprise and frustration fueled by my own egotism.

The second half of the book is a series of essays– stories and observations from Keegan’s own life.  The second essay, “Why We Care About Whales,” recounts the story of fifty pilot whales that became stranded on the beach next to her Cape Cod summer home.  She wonders why we spend so much money to save a whale, yet eat fish all the time.  She says, “I worry sometimes that humans are afraid of helping humans” (153).  She says that the reason the whales get stuck there and die is not through any fault of their own; rather, the culprit is the moon that pulls the tide in and out.

The day I read that essay I found out that I had lost a cousin, suddenly, without warning.  A relatively young person.  One who lived far away, but was nonetheless family.  To me, it made no sense.  It still doesn’t.  And it probably never will.

I couldn’t help but draw the connection to the book I was reading, one written by a girl who died in a car accident.  Two lives cut short.  Two women no longer physically present in our reality.  It all connects.

Over the next couple days, I finished reading Keegan’s essays.  I noticed how often death came up not only in her stories but in her essays as well.  Especially in the short “Putting the ‘Fun’ Back in Eschatology,” Keegan talks about the Big Death– the death of the human race.  She begins, “If you didn’t already know this, the sun is going to die” (169).  She mentions the same thing in her poem, “Bygones,” which I found on YouTube when I wanted to know what her voice sounded like.  She says in a way what Robert Frost says: “Nothing gold can stay.”  Yet she does so without demeaning the merit of the gold we create every day.

Her thoughts on life and ambition and gluten allergies and bug-killing humor are filled with a keen urgency.  Despite the fact that she had no way of knowing she was going to die at twenty-two, she knew the value of time.  And she did not intend to waste it.

And now there is a published book with her name on it.

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The Opposite of Loneliness opens with the title essay which was published in the graduation issue of the Yale Daily News.  In it, Keegan writes:

There’s this sentiment I sometimes sense, creeping in our collective conscious […] that it is somehow too late.  That others are somehow ahead […] That it’s too late now to BEGIN a beginning and we must settle for continuance, for commencement[…] What we have to remember is that we can still do anything[…] We’re so young.  We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have” (2-3).

What I learned from Marina Keegan is that time is of the essence.  Ambition is worthwhile.  Nothing is ever going to make sense, and I will never know everything there is to know about anything.  The sun is going to die one day, but we’re here now.  We’re here.  Now.

Let me know if you have any thoughts on The Opposite of Loneliness or this blog post in the comments, and as always, thanks for reading!

Resolutions and Positivity: Thoughts on Ringing in the New Year

It’s very easy to be clichéd around New Year’s.  It’s so easy to fall into the self-indulgent pitfalls of “This year was great, but next year will be better!” and “Time to change my life because 2015 is over!”  It’s easy to get caught up in resolutions planned and failed and in the idea of a monumental shift in character that’s supposed to occur right when the clock strikes midnight.

At first when I was thinking about what has happened in 2015, I thought, “This was one of the worst years ever.  Thank God for 2016.”  I got wrapped up in remembering the bad things that happened toward the end of the year: the deaths in my family, the emotional struggles, and dropping my phone in the toilet (I wish I could say I was kidding).

I couldn’t really remember a lot about what happened before the summer, so I went back through my pictures on my computer and wrote a list of all the good things that happened this year.

I was surprised to find how much longer the list of positive things was than the list of negative things.  I had some amazing new experiences: concerts, Broadway shows, museums, trips to lakes and the mountains.  I accomplished some major stuff: I got published in my college’s newspaper, spoke on my college’s radio station, got my driver’s license, registered to vote, and got a job.  I had some wonderful times with my friends and had a fantastic birthday with them.  There were some milestones in my family: my cousin got married, two of my cousins had babies (who I got to meet this Christmas!), and my cousin graduated from the 8th grade.

I watched a TED talk recently by Alison Ledgerwood about how our minds often get “stuck in the negative” so that it is much more difficult to let go of negative information than it is to let go of positive information; we often weigh the negatives as being more important than the positives.

So yes, it has been a year wrought with difficulty and unplanned change.  But I cannot forget the good and new experiences I had this year and the people who stood by my side through the difficulty.  Remembering how grateful I am for my family and my close friends helps me to breathe easier.

That being said, I have been making resolutions probably since I was ten or eleven years old.  I’d write them on a little slip of note paper and then forget about it for most of the year while it gathered dust in a desk drawer.  Still, every year I felt like I had to make resolutions, otherwise I would feel lazy and like I was lacking direction.

This year, though, I felt kind of lost trying to come up with New Year’s resolutions.  So I watched a video by mental health professional Kati Morton about why she chooses not to make resolutions.  She didn’t approach the subject as many other anti-resolution-ers do (“Why wait until the beginning of the year to start over?  Start over whenever you want!!”); rather she said that resolutions often set you up for failure because the goals are too lofty and unachievable.  Instead, she makes smaller goals weekly or biweekly to help her get to where she wants to be.

I’m going to give this approach a try, but I couldn’t help but come up with some overarching goals for 2016, which turned out to be more like goals for the rest of my life:

  1. Be kind and honest whenever possible (Hint: it’s almost always possible).
  2. Find peace somewhere, somehow.
  3. Face your fears (i.e., listen to that little voice in your head that tells you to push something to the back of your mind and then push it forward instead).
  4. Love, love, love.

I think these goals are still pretty lofty, but not necessarily fail-able.  Let’s all be chill and nice to each other in 2016, shall we?

Finally, I’d like to share a video from one of my favorite YouTube channels, SoulPancake.  This spoken word poem by Natalie Patterson really captures the idea of using resolutions to love ourselves and to make the most of the moment-to-moment, not just the year-to-year.

I truly do believe that 2016 will be better than 2015, which is a step in the right direction toward positivity.  I hope you do, too.

So here’s a New Year’s challenge: Make a list of all of the good things that happened to you in 2015.  Read that list.  Read it again.  And again.  Let the good things sink in.  And don’t forget them.

Let me know your thoughts and good things in the comments!

Wishing you all blessings, joy, and peace of mind in the new year.  Here’s to 2016!

Hi, I’m Grieving.

Hello, blog-iverse! Remember me? Yeah, it’s been a while. The second the first semester of my sophomore year in college began, my free time was shot to pieces. I wish I could have kept up with blogging because I really do enjoy it, and I hope that maybe next semester won’t be so rough.

When I first started this blog, I expressed my reasoning for the endeavor: for one thing, I wanted to get more comfortable with putting my writing voice into the universe. More importantly, though, I also wanted to share what I was learning as I tried to figure out life as an eighteen (now nineteen)-year-old person. And I still want to do that. Which is why I’m going to talk a little bit about grieving.

To be honest, this semester has been some of the hardest and most draining months of my life. It didn’t exactly start off on the right foot; my great aunt, who I considered a grandmother, died the day before move-in. I didn’t really have time to process such a great and untimely loss. (Her sister, my other great aunt, had passed away less than a year before.) I was carelessly thrown into the semester like a wet T-shirt into the dryer, and I entered a whirling mess that I can only hope will help me come out cleaner in the end.

When I returned to school after the funeral, I did what I always did when a loved one passed away: I tried to forget about it and immerse myself again into my daily life. That didn’t go so well.

Somehow, it seemed that everything began to go wrong. I felt exceedingly anxious about my schoolwork and complications with my suite mates. I finally felt at peace over fall break, but once I returned to school, I started to feel worse, unhappy, tired, and lost. I found some solace in talking to someone at the on-campus counseling about my struggles. She noted that my feelings of anxiety might be linked to my lack of a grieving process for my great aunt.

But just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, another of my great aunts died, the third to pass away within 13 months. What once was my family structure—my mom’s aunts and uncles—was rapidly reduced to just one aunt and one uncle. Just two remaining from a family of seven. My heart was heavy.

The same day as the funeral, I went to my old high school’s fall musical, and my heart ached all the more for another time. I began to feel an overwhelming sense that everyone leaves one way or another, that all things are temporary, that nothing would ever work out the way I wanted it to. (**I do not endorse this way of thinking. It kinda sucks. A lot.**) Somehow, I made it through the rest of the semester. I lost the positivity I once had, the confidence that things would always be just fine. I felt pretty darn hopeless.

And now, I’m here, at home. Preparing for a holiday that will be all the more difficult with my family’s numbers diminished. And I am realizing that I am grieving over more than just a couple of souls.

Grief is often described as sadness caused by someone’s death. But I see it as sadness caused by loss—any kind of loss. One definition I found is, “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret” (Dictionary.com). That’s what I’m feeling. I am grieving the loss of my aunts, especially the one who I considered a grandmother. She has been very present to me in recent weeks; I’ve inherited some objects from her and claimed some of her jewelry, which I wear to recognize her with me. I light candles and think of her. I’m trying to experience the grief instead of shoving it aside.

But I’m also grieving for the past. I might be into my second year of college, but I wish all the time to be back in high school. I miss the family-like atmosphere of high school theater, the comfortable bonding, the experiences I had in those places at that time. I want what I had then. And, unfortunately, I can never get it back. That is what loss is.

So, this is what I’m learning. Grief doesn’t begin at a death and end at a funeral. Loss isn’t exclusive to life and death. Grief is a state of being that occurs when something is gone or someone has left, and you aren’t capable of changing anything. It’s a sense of powerlessness that comes with an unpleasant or drastic change. You could grieve over a job that you quit a year ago. You could grieve over a person you never got to know. You could grieve over an heirloom or an old toy, lost at some time over the years. Anything that you lose or that ends can cause grief. And that grief is not a pill to be swallowed. It is a process, one with unexpected highs and lows, filled with feelings of both sentiment and distress. It is healthy, it is normal, it is inevitable. What’s hard about grieving is not only acknowledging it, but being open to learning from it.

So, here is my acknowledgement: Hi, I’m grieving.

And so, now, it is mid-December, and the end of the year curiously coincides with me starting again from square one. I am trying now to feel joy in doing the things I love: playing music, reading, and writing. I am going to spend more time with the people who I care about. I am going to try to be gentle with myself in this process and not look on myself with disdain because I don’t know what to do. I am grieving, and I am learning all the while.

Growth and Skills: Hank Green’s “How to Get Good at Everything” and the Struggle to Realize Potential

I’m a big fan of John and Hank Green, who co-run the YouTube channel, Vlogbrothers.  They have earned a great amount of skill in writing and music, respectively, and they’ve created a YouTube culture of Nerdfighters based on charity, learning, and being nerdy and proud.

In Hank’s most recent video, “How to Get Good at Everything,” he shares that he is writing his first novel.  This comes with many challenges: the fear that comes with working toward a major goal for the first time, the seemingly endless time it will take to complete it, and the fact that his brother happens to be the award-winning author of some of YA’s most prominent current novels (i.e. The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns, Looking for Alaska).

Hank expresses these fears and concerns but uses them as a springboard to discuss something that we all think about on a regular basis but rarely talk about straightforwardly: how to get good at things.

In the video, he explains what he learned from a TED Talk by Carol Dweck called “The power of believing that you can improve.”  In her talk, Dweck describes the difference between the “Fixed Mindset” and the “Growth Mindset.”  People who have a fixed mindset believe that skills are innate, that if you’re bad at something you’re destined to be so.  On the other hand, people with a growth mindset believe that skills are learned and that with hard work and dedication, any skill can be acquired.

For a lot of people, including me, it’s easy to slip into the fixed mindset.  It’s easy to look at a successful person– a musician, an artist, a businessperson, a mathematician, an inventor– and think, “They’re just good at what they do.  They’ve always been that way and they always will be.”  But in reality, no one is good at anything from the get-go.  As Hank said, we aren’t even born able to communicate verbally– our most basic skill.  Some people might be genetically predisposed to learning a certain skill quickly, but everybody has to start at the beginning.

The real trouble with the fixed mindset is that you never get good at anything because you’re afraid to try.  I think that everybody’s been there; I, for one, get easily caught up in the “I am bad at this therefore I will always be bad at this” mentality.  Sometimes I think that I’ll never be good at guitar when I pick it up again, that I’ll never be able to understand chemistry or physics, that I’ll never be able to run a marathon.

But then I have to remind myself of all of the skills that I’ve learned through practice.  What I thought of immediately while watching this video was the skills I’m learning at my new job.  I’ve never had a job before, and I’ve been thrown into a retail store environment, which is a completely different position than I’ve ever occupied before.  And at first I was completely overwhelmed (and sometimes still am).  But I was surprised at how quickly I picked up the skills of a cashier: talking and bagging at the same time, pressing a million buttons on the screen, smiling and saying “How are you today?” to a complete stranger.  All it took was hard work and repetition.

College has helped me get better at talking to new people, a skill I lacked almost completely just a few years ago.  I first picked up a ukulele a year and half ago, and after countless times of having raw fingers and hand cramps, I finally feel that I’m competent at it–and still working to get better!  For a long time, my writing stayed the same, but in my college classes I could really feel myself getting a hold on the craft and learning how to write.

And maybe I’ll never be good at some things just because they don’t interest me.  I’ve never played on a sports team in my life and always felt an aversion to them.  (I still do.)  For all of grade school, I was the kid hanging around in the outfield or running away from the soccer ball in gym class.  But by eighth grade, I finally started trying a little.  And I found out that I wasn’t as terrible as I thought I was.  I just had to give it a shot.

So when I think about how little fiction writing I’ve done this summer (revision or otherwise), I feel like the end goal is never going to happen, like it’s not even on the horizon.  So I don’t try.  But I need to try.  Because like Hank said, it is massive, and it is difficult, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.  I have to “do the thing.”  Because it’ll get easier and be worth it in the end.

What do you think are the benefits of a growth mindset?  What skills have you acquired by having that mentality?  What skills have you stuck in a fixed mindset?  Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!!

10 Things I Love About Cape May, NJ

This past Sunday through Tuesday I visited my great uncle at Cape May Point, New Jersey with my mom and my suite mates from college.  I’ve been going to Cape May at least once a summer for basically my entire life, and it’s definitely one of my favorite places that I’ve ever been to.  And here’s why:

1. Quiet beaches

One thing that Cape May has that other beach towns might lack is relatively quiet and uncrowded beaches.  Especially at this time of year, the beaches have plenty of space to relax and don’t generally have rowdy people around.  Cape May’s beaches (especially on the Point) are perfect places to spend some quiet time listening to the ocean’s waves, reading, and chatting with friends as the sun goes down.  Plus, there are plenty of dolphins to watch from the shore!

Sunset

2. Quaint neighborhoods

Along with the quietness of the beaches, the neighborhoods in Cape May are picture perfect: clean, calm, and lovely to look at.  They’re full of small and large homes alike with front gardens, adorable bed-and-breakfasts, and friendly neighbors gathering on front porches.

3. Victorian architecture

Maybe this is just my preference (My dream is to live in a house with a tower), but I adore the Victorian architecture in Cape May.  The vibrant houses brighten up the streets even on the rainiest days.  Each home is unique, with different detailing in the roofs, windows, and sweeping front porches.  And the little towers are the icing on the cake.

4. Antique shops (and all other kinds of shopping!)

West EndI liveCompass for antique shopping (Well, window shopping… Who has money for a decades-old armoire anyway?), and the shops at Cape May are to die for.  My favorite place to go is the West End Garage, which is a kind of indoor flea market, with everything from beach-themed crafts to sweaters made from alpaca wool, from pet accessories to old-fashioned cameras.

BellThis trip to Cape May, I also went to the Antiques Emporia for the first time, and it was full of all kinds of old-fashioned knick-knacks, baseball cards, comic books, doll furniture, and dishware.  I bought a beautiful bell made in England there to add to my bell collection (I’ll post about that another time!)

Cape May also has plenty of other stores; my favorites are Across the Way and the Cape Atlantic Book Company store in the Washington Street Mall.  There’s something there for everyone!

5. Sightseeing

Cape May is pretty small, but there are a few sights that you have to see if you go there.  The first is the Cape May Lighthouse.  It’s 199 steps up but totally worth it for the view.  From there, you can see dozens of houses, the shoreline, a beautiful lake, and a World War II bunker.

lighthouse

TowerThis past trip to Cape May I also climbed up the World War II Lookout Tower for the first time.  It’s not as tall as the lighthouse (only 102 steps up) and is filled with plenty of historical information.  As you climb up the steel stairs, there are plaques, memorials, and military uniforms to look at.  When my friends and I got to the top, a lovely older man told us all about what the soldiers did in the tower and about the German U-Boats.  It’s definitely a sight I would see again!

6. Ice cream

Cape May seems to have no shortage of places to stop for a frozen treat to cool you off.  My personal favorites are Scoops on Sunset (fantastic flavor choices for a quick stop or sit-down outside) and the Ben & Jerry’s at the Washington Street Mall (I’m always down for a “Milk & Cookies” cone!).  Perfect to finish off a night of mini-golfing and shopping!

7. Cape May Zoo

I didn’t get to go to the Cape May Zoo this time around, but I’ve been there before, and it’s wonderful!  It’s free (but you’re welcome to make a donation), and it features animals from a wide variety of areas–everything from farm animals like goats and cows, to birds like flamingos and peacocks.  It’s a nice, shady place to spend an afternoon and some quality time with family or friends.

8. Sunset Beach

Sunset Beach is a highlight of Cape May Point.  Every night from May to September, there is a flag ceremony at sunset where the flag is raised to patriotic music.  The beach also has a nice outdoor eatery called the Sunset Beach Grille, mini golf, and numerous shops.

9.  The Stars

I’ve spent many a night at Cape May sitting on my uncle’s deck just looking at the millions of stars that you can see on the Point.  Without all of the artificial lighting that there is at home, the sky is filled with stars, and I’ve seen shooting stars quite a few times there.  Cape May is the perfect place to escape the madness of everyday life and to just sit back and search for constellations.

10.  The People

I think it’s safe to say that almost every Cape May native is friendly.  It’s such a warm and welcoming community that’s grounded in kindness and hospitality.  From the shopkeepers to the volunteer fire fighters, Cape May is full of dedicated and loving people who will make your vacation feel just a little happier than it would anywhere else.Lifeguard

Have you been to Cape May?  What’s your favorite part about it?  Where else is a great vacation spot?  Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!!