Saturday, June 14, 2014

A handful of years; a heart full of memories.

Just after midnight on June 14, 2009, we lost my dad. Five years ago today...a handful of years. Admittedly, I struggle to remember the exact date. In fact when my uncle asked me a couple of weeks ago when it was, I had to look it up. I have some very dear friends who remember it much better than I do and for that I am thankful. I know, I know. It's completely odd that my brain is absolutely full of useless information, yet a significant date in my life is always a bit ambiguous. June 2 is the date that actually sticks with me the most. That's the day that he went into the hospital. In my gut (or maybe it was just a gray cocktail of fear and pessimism), I knew he wasn't going to come home. When he miraculously survived a bout with pneumonia and sepsis two years earlier, his doctor told us that rarely do people recover from sepsis once. Never twice.

There are times when it seems as if he's been gone forever, yet in others, it still catches me off guard that he's actually not here. I chalk it up to the randomness of grief. Yes, I know there are steps and stages that everyone experiences, but I'm not convinced that it's a linear process for us all. When daddy first died, I was a master of keeping myself busy with all sorts of distractions. Worrying over my mom and brothers. Focusing on grad school. Traveling with my boyfriend. Taking care of my dog. Getting right back to work. Whatever I could find to fill the space. At first I didn't even realize I was doing it, but about 9 months after he died, things began to unravel a little bit. Things had returned to "normal" even though normal is never the same when loss is involved. The quiet eventually caught up with me and it was deafening. I can vividly remember one night driving back to Athens from class. [I'm so glad I moved to Athens for grad school only to complete many of my classes in Lawrenceville] It was late and I tried to call several people but alas, no one answered. My radio stopped working for the love of pete so I had no other choice but to drive in complete and total silence...until the sounds of my ugly cry filled the void. It hurt but it was cleansing.

It's not typical holidays as one might suspect when I miss my dad the most. I think when you're missing a loved one at the table over Thanksgiving or a dad on Father's Day, you can brace yourself in advance to make the day easier. It's during the ordinary when I miss him the most. Scrolling through the radio stations and catching the end of a Bob Segar song. Reaching mile 12 of a half marathon in San Antonio and seeing a daughter running alongside her dad encouraging him every step of the way. Seeing an umpire walking off the field at a youth softball game. On a flight back from Chicago and the man sitting next to you reminds you so much of your dad that you have to choke back tears and distract yourself with the SkyMall so he doesn't think he's seated beside a total weirdo. Last week my family's cat fell ill very suddenly and passed away. Confession: I didn't even like the wirey and persnickety thing. When mom told me though I cried and cried and then cried some more. You see, dad got that cat for my brothers and mom and that cat sure loved my dad. She would follow him everywhere around the house like a dog follows its master so when she died, it was another layer of losing him.

I wish that I could say that I've learned something profound about loss that would benefit the masses. But I haven't. If anything, I've learned that the journey of grief is as personal and unique as our fingerprints. That's why to this day I still find myself at a loss for words when a friend loses a parent even though I wish for nothing but to be able to just fix it and make it better for them.

When I think about the five years that have passed since losing dad, there have been so many milestones reached and new memories made. It goes without without saying that I wish he was here for them all. I am thankful that our brains do have the capacity to cherish old memories while we maintain the spirit and drive to move forward so that we continue to create new ones. I cannot help but to think of that part in Finding Nemo when the fish with Ellen's voice (right?) says to just keep swimming when life gets you down. We will all go at a different pace and some of us do it with more grace than others. That's ok. What matters most is that we "just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming."

Monday, August 26, 2013

Monday Musings: Miley & Modesty

You know how I know I'm old? In the wake of Miley's VMA performance last night I am more heartbroken for her than disgusted by her. Admittedly I didn't even see the whole thing. Not because I'm too righteous that I immediately turned the channel, but because I'm easily distracted so I'm sure I got wrapped up in a very important text to Allison about how my two crushes (JT and Bruno) were both performing, be still my heart. If you haven't seen it, please don't go back and watch it because the reality is, there's not one single positive thought that can result from it. Case in point: The part that I did see, I noted how jiggly her legs looked. Y'all. She's maybe a size 00 on a day that she's bloated and the first thing I noticed was how her legs shook when she danced. Keep your stones in your glass house, Heather.

If one thing is for certain, she sure does have people talking. Perhaps she accomplished her goal. I cannot for the life of me though believe that in the core of her soul, the chatter blowing up Facebook and trending on Yahoo is what she really wanted. Who really wants to be questioned or ridiculed or pitied? So why am I adding to the yammer? Maybe it's because I'm female. Maybe it's because every day since I have  been a "grown up", I have worked on college campuses full of 18-22 year old young women. Maybe it's because one day I'll raise a girl or two. Even though the easiest and initial response is to immediately begin some intense praying for boys only if I'm ever going to be a mama because raising a girl seems so hard. But the truth is, we were made to do hard things and we are required to do so during our lives. It could be something like sharing an opinion publicly when we typically don't or living a life of influence so that the little eyes who see and ears who hear, see and hear positive things. In short, we can't take the easy way out because we're smarter than that.

Sometimes taking the easy way out is dismissing the things that the celebreties do by chalking it up to them being "child stars" or "having more money than maturity" or the simply the intense pressure of "being in the public eye". Similar choices and behaviors extend far beyond Hollywood. It doesn't really matter if the audience is 1 or 1 million, the scars that result from the choices we make run deep in the heart that lives in us.

I think another easy response is to just say "well, she's an adult, she should've known better" and leave it at that. Without turning this into a church service, I am so thankful that God doesn't just shrug his shoulders and wash his hands of me every time I do something that I should know better than to do simply because I'm adult. Maybe what matters most is not how or why someone ended up in a bunny suit kissing the booty of a gigantic stuffed thong-wearing bunny [seriously, don't waste your time watching this, just trust me when I say it went down something like that because I could not make that up if I tried], but now that she is there, what does she need and what can we do to get her back into some below the finger tip length silk boxing shorts and a full-sized sports bra? [Katy Perry reference for those of you with a bedtime or without cable]

Um, I hope you're not expecting me to provide the answers. I'm the one asking the questions. But I will go out on a limb and say that it's got to start with us who are comfortable in our mid-30's+ skin so that it will filter down to the younger ladies.

If I ever have a daughter, I hope that I do not teach her that men are pigs but that women are powerful. Some of you may bristle when you read this but just hear me out, please. By no means am I about to go off on some "I am woman hear me roar" tangent. Nor am I totally giving men a pass but let's be honest, we ladies know that there are times when we can ahem...use what we've been given to get something we want. We all know that with great power comes responsibility. It's up to us to stop the abuse of power. If we want to be taken seriously by the male population in general, we have to make it impossible for them to treat us any other way. Because men are such visual beings, I'm primarily referring to our wardrobe choices. Look, I'm not saying go all Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little House on the Prairie when it comes to wardrobe. You can still be a sassy and trendy and classy dresser with your Loft colored jeans and v-neck ruffle shirts. BUT, modesty isn't dead.  

Speaking of, I think sometimes we have a hard time believing that being modest and being sexy do not have to be mutually exclusive of each other. The same woman can possess both traits. It's just that the sexy traits should be presented before a very exclusive audience. And by audience, I mean one. Within that context, I'll go so far as to say that it makes her even sexier.

Because I think in the most bizarre analogies possible, think about the last time you went to Sam's Club. Were they handing out samples of meatballs dunked in that oh so delicious grape jelly/worchestershire sauce potion or were they handing out prime cuts of wagyu beef? Which event would you remember more? The meatball sample during the monthly trip to Sam's or that one really awesome $700 dinner with the wagyu beef? In other words, when it comes to being remembered by men, do you want to be the Sam's Club meatball that's really not that unique and is lounging in the crockpot with all the others simply waiting to be taken? I hope not. And guess what? It's not just the fancy presentation on the plate but the actual substance that  makes one remember something long term. I believe that Ashton Kutcher's acceptance speech at the Teen Choice awards was spot on. I really hope he means it. Because I'm tired and therefore a bit lazy, please open a new window and search "Ashton Kutcher Teen Choice Awards Acceptance Speech". While you're watching things, please take a second to watch Jessica Rey's talk on The Evolution of the Swimsuit. Very interesting, if you like a scientific perspective.  

Also if I ever have a daughter, I hope that she knows she's beautiful. To know it, she has to be told it. I may be wrong but I believe it's absolutely ok and appropriate to tell a little girl that she's beautiful. As long as that's not the only thing she's ever told. Because she will be that and so much more. She also needs to be told why she's beautiful. Not because of her thick golden locks or her deep blue eyes but because of her kind heart and her generous spirit. Those traits are what sustains beauty. And instills confidence. I want her to be confident that it's ok to be a brainy beauty. I want the same for Miley too.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Spoon in My Purse

Earlier this morning when I was cleaning out my purse (aka, The Receipt Graveyard), I discovered a spoon. No officer, I have no idea how long it's been in there but I promise it's one from my own collection. Rest assured, you're not dealing with a klepto wreaking havoc on the flatware supply at local eateries. I might have also found a contact lens case, bottle of nail polish and tweezers. If ever I'm dropped onto the set of a reality survival show with only my purse, I'm confident that I would give the likes of Bear Grylis a run for their money.

After that little exercise in sanity restoration, as I was out running I came to the conclusion that the contents of my purse is actually a pretty accurate illustration of my summer: chaotic, unorganized, but full of some pretty good stuff. I'm thinking the same thing you are - "Is she really drawing parallels between her purse and a season? Where is she going with this?" Yes, I am, and your guess is as good as mine.

Work is always a little bit nutso during the summer. This summer was nutso times infinity. Yes, that measure is totally valid and reliable. In the grand scheme of things, my job is a great one. I'm hoping for no more summers like this one though. On the days I managed to escape for meetings or lunch, upon return I was often greeted in the parking lot by folks with questions. Which is awesome considering how sunny and rain free this summer was. My lunch served a dual-purpose as conditioning for my next career as a competitive eater. I've managed to take a full 20 seconds off of scarfing down a turkey sandwich. Actually I have no idea about that because who has time to time something? There have been many times though when I had to take a Zach Morris time out to keep things in perspective. My work is important and it matters and I cannot lose sight of that for my students, but at the same time, I am not a surgeon with a patient on a table bleeding out in front of me.

Speaking of perspective, I think more often than not, we tend to remember the stressors of life far more than we remember the sweet spots. I mean, for the love of pete, I just rambled on about my first-world problems ranging from the excessive junk in my purse all the way to having to hurry to eat my lunch so that I could get back to work because I have the ability to help folks with something pertaining to their college education.

Regarding the sweet spots, I am thankful that this summer served up many opportunities for times with precious friends and family. It's not the places we went or the meals we ate or the musicians we saw that I will remember most, but it will be the people I was with and the conversations and laughter shared when doing all of those fun things. By nature I'm a bit of a planner and I love my routine and my daily schedule as much as any good Type A, first-born, basically only-child does. As I look back on this summer though, some of the best times were the spontaneous ones. My mama said to me the other day "oh Heather, just roll with it." To which I promptly replied "I did not plan on spontaneity today." [Did I end up following her advice? Yes. What she right all along? Oh, probably.]

As a proponent of less is more, I realize that there's no time like the present to stop yammering on endlessly. Now that I'm at the end the whole thing seems a bit scattered and chaotic. But "you know, Neitzsche says 'out of chaos comes order'". Here's hoping Blazing Saddles (and Neitzsche) is right.  

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Back By Popular Demand

Let's be honest - I'm not really back by popular demand, but my dear pal Angel suggested via a Facebook post the other day that I update the old blog. So I thought "might as well" and here I am. One of the things I've always loved about Angel is her way of making suggestions through encouragement. Kind of like that time during our sophomore year of college when she threatened to lock my make up in her dorm room if I didn't get up and get ready for class. That tactic didn't really carry much weight though because 82% of the time that I actually went to that class, I went in my jammies. And why would I want to waste perfectly good Cover Girl foundation on a stunning flannel plaid get up? [We now know that the brain doesn't fully develop until the age of 25. I blame lack of brain development on my unwise fashion choices during the early college years.] Anywho, enough about 1999, let's focus on the hear and now.

Ironically enough, I found myself at work one morning last week without a dab of foundation on my face [I've upgraded to Mary Kay - thank you, Anna], spotty eyeliner and pieces of the previous day's outfit. Why am I admitting this via the Al Gore information highway? Because I'm 92% confident that not many of you will make it through this entire ramble because we've grown accustomed to life updates in 140 characters or less. No big shocker that I'm terrible at the Twitter. The previous day's night out with a couple of my favorites totally warranted the 20-something antics in my 30-something world though so when it comes to shame, I've got none.

Since my last post in February, I have been quite busy. Those episodes of Arrested Development and Downton Abbey aren't going to watch themselves. Nor are all of those races going to run themselves. All those college students aren't going to admit and register themselves either, it seems. 

Oh - I did go to Vegas. Again. I know. It's an addiction but I'm still up in my overall winnings so I'll keep going back until I'm not. Clarification: when I say "overall winnings" I'm referring to that trip about 5 years ago when I randomly put a $20 in a slot machine, turned it into 2K and immediately retired from the sport of professional gambling. I'm happy to report this recent trip included a Boyz II Men concert which only proves it's never too late for your pre-teen wishes to come true. 

It was also in Vegas when a great friend asked me the question "when did you abandon your faith?" to which I promptly replied that I hadn't and one could still have a relationship with God without regular church attendance. Which is true, but y'all - unbeknown to me at the time, that question kind of rocked my little world in the days and weeks that followed. Frankly, it was a valid question and one that needed to be asked. I'm thankful that I have people to ask me the tough questions even if they have no idea at the time that it's a tough question. Please allow me to clarify a bit before my grandma gets wind of the fact that I might have abandoned my faith. Here lately, if someone were to ask me if I believe in God I would say without a doubt absolutely, I do. However, if someone were to ask me if I believe God as in "do you believe the promises that he makes to his kiddos?", my response would not be said with such confidence. I know the "right" answer in terms of what I'm supposed to say. But hello, hypocrite if I just repeat the Sunday school answer and don't actually believe it.

A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with another pal and over lunch I admitted that I believed God could and would do amazing incredible things in the lives of other people and I see it happen all the time, but my confidence that he would do something similar in mine was pretty low. [Um, I never ever ever intended to jump into this post this deep but it's been what's going on in my world so here we are.] Why do I feel that way? Because I haven't seen it yet. Yet. Entire books could be written or speeches given on the phrase "not yet" when in fact the simple explanation is that "not yet" is not synonmous with "never". But in this instant gratification, fast-paced, twitterific world we live in, I forget that truth more often than I remember it.

As I was driving home from work on the day Angel recommended an update I was thinking about how I had celebrated and begun another trip around the sun since my last post. I also thought about how my life looks nothing like I ever thought it would at this age, but for the first time in a long time I was totally ok with that. I realized that in reality we should never get to the point of feeling like we've completely arrived or have totally accomplished everything we have planned on by a certain stage of life because once we get to that state, what's the point of tomorrow or the next day? Have I mentioned before that I'm a slow and stubborn learner? Because I am. Still. It adds to my charm.

Truth is, we never know when we're finally going to find ourselves at that Boyz II Men concert, but suddenly one day we just might end up there long after that dream was forgotten. We should always be ready and prepared because what a travesty it would be to find ourselves in the audience or have to miss it all together because we didn't have the proper outfit for such an event. And who knows, Boyz II Men may not ever happen but in the long run that's a-ok too once we arrive only to realize NKOTB has taken the stage.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Designer Imposter.

Last week I went to San Antonio to present at a conference. Before I left town I was telling Mu about my presentation topic and apparently she didn't  hear me correctly because the conversation that followed went down something like this...

Mu: "Iced tea? You're going to Texas to talk about iced tea?"
HP: "No Mu...IT. Like working with Information Technology in university Admissions Offices."
Mu: "Well what do you know about that?"

Great question, Mu. Truthfully I'm probably better qualified to give an hour long presentation on both iced tea and Ice T, as in the one who loves Coco. I didn't pick the topic. Honestly I didn't want to give the presentation at all. I will chalk it up to one of those "other duties as assigned" they always tell us about but somewhere in the back of our naive thick skulls, we never really think they are serious. Until they are. True to form I waited until the eleventh and a half hour before I even started thinking about it. My phantom co-presenter from Oklahoma materialized literally the week before show time after I had written her off as any help back in, oh July, after countless attempts to make contact with her.

I got to San Antonio on Sunday, paid a cab fare equal to my entire retirement fund, checked into the conference and quickly discovered that 1. my job title and name of school were both wrong, 2. my middle name was included in everything so suddenly I appeared like one of those women who decided to start going by a double name once it became trendy in the 2000s to name babies double names, and 3. my session description wasn't included in the conference agenda. Fantastic. A handful of hours contemplating the subject matter and 2 hours of actual work down the drain because who in their right mind was going to show up to a session in which the topic was a complete and total mystery? Let's not even mention the 3 hours I had spent shopping for the perfect presentation outfit.

Tuesday morning finally rolled around way too early and much to my surprise the room was full. I should have been nervous about this fact because hello, you mention java and I think of coffee and you speak of code and I think of either Morse or DaVinci. Had I learned 5 minutes into the presentation what I did 55 minutes into the presentation (that 3 staff members from UT Austin's IT department were in the audience) I would have been mortified and stumbled over every other word. Mortification actually set in approximately 5 minutes after the presentation was over when I checked a mirror and discovered part of a blueberry from breakfast holding on for dear life in my teeth.

As my "reward" for a job well done, I ventured over to the local Target at The Rim afterwards. Confession: I was looking for Big Mama. Sans blueberry tooth and with a fresh coat of lipstick and cute outfit, I set out on my way. Sure, this sounds absolutely stalkerish to the Nth degree. What would I have said had I actually spotted this woman simply going about her business of buying Method hand soap and Merona clothing? Probably something as brilliant and eloquent as Baby did when she mumbled "I carried a watermelon" upon coming face to face with Johnny at the staff party at Kellerman's.

I discovered the Big Mama blog around 2009ish when I started loosely calling myself a blogger. Her blog makes me laugh on a regular basis. I think the reason why she's so good at what she does is because she shares parts of her own story that her readers can identify with whether it be her role as a mother, wife, friend or combination of all three. When I read last year that she was writing a book, I determined that I had to have my own copy. When it became available for pre-order back in December, I hopped over to the book page for "Sparkly Green Earrings" and was admittedly a little deflated. What business did I have pre-ordering a book about motherhood when I haven't even managed to meet my babies' daddy yet? So instead I pre-ordered a copy for a dear sweet friend who is about to embark upon on her own adventure in mommyland.

Fast forward to my Tuesday outing. You see, Melanie lives in San Antonio. It wasn't that I just got in my mind that she might by some weird  twist of fate be strolling the aisles of a Target that I happened to be close to. I have no way of knowing if it's actually the Target that's an extra 7 stoplights away that she references in her blog on a regular basis but what do we have if we don't have hope? Besides I needed some cash and I refused to pay the extra fees at the hotel ATM so it wasn't like it was a completely wasted trip. I bought my very own copy of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking and got my $40 pesos in cash back. Let's just consider the chances of me actually saying something to Big Mama had I actually spotted her in Target given the book I was buying. Slim to none and slim left town. Then I realized I was close to a LifeWay bookstore so I meandered over to that part of the shopping center because while her book wasn't officially released until the 8th, I had read on her blog that it was out in some stores. Did I mention it was 76 degrees and sunny during this meandering? In February. At 11:45 a.m. I might have been pouring buckets of sweat by the time my walk finally ended at my lunch destination. So I walked into LifeWay, scouted the aisles and lo and behold, there it was:

I was too close now not to buy my own copy. Besides, it wasn't like the clerk was going to ask to see a photo of my children as evidence that I was qualified to make the purchase. I started reading it on the plane on my way back to Atlanta. Fortunately the  middle seat was empty in my row, but I knew that my row mate wouldn't be too judgmental if she looked over at any point to see me either laughing or my eyes welling up with tears. She was engaged in an intense Farmville-type activity on her iPad when I boarded the plane and she was reading "The Five Love Languages". Nothing screams loving person like a person who reads about the love languages and cares for the well-being of animated pigs in a virtual farm, right? I wouldn't know since I've never actually read the book nor fallen into the Farmville trap, but I was certain she would know to give me some words of affirmation had my tears become noticeable.

The truth is, there were times on that flight home when the stories she had written made me both laugh and cry. Through her book I was reminded that God uses different events in our lives to continuously shape us into the people he created us to be. Whether it be motherhood forever or moving back into your own mother's home for a stint. [Maybe my book will be about that.] Yes, she is a mother, and no, I am not. But we are both children of God. Her story speaks of grace and redemption of a loving God and sacrifice and surrender to a plan that is far greater than any plan we can fabricate even in our most vivid imaginations or wildest dreams. At this particular point in my own story I really needed to be reminded of this. I'm thankful that the God who loves me beyond measure speaks truth in a much louder voice than the Enemy who works so hard to convince me that I'm a designer imposter [Do y'all remember that line of perfume that was sold at KMart in the 80s?] who has no business giving presentations on things that are IT in nature when I don't have a degree in something brilliant or reading books about motherhood when I'm only responsible for making my own peanut butter and honey sandwich for lunch each day.

 Yesterday I had to take Micah to karate and I saw this on the mirror in the waiting area:
[Yes, I still love my fancy camera.] This is a verse from Nehemiah (6:3, actually). What a great response the next time the devil himself tries to convince me otherwise. While my current work may not be exactly - or anything - like I always imagined it to be, clearly it's a work that I've been created to do for now.
Time to make the donuts.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A little of this. A little of that. A lot of nothing.

Hello, and Happy New Year! I realize that wishing you three readers a happy new year this late in January is so yesterday's news, but it's been a sweet forever since I've blogged. It's been a busy month and let's be honest, I haven't had anything of worth and value to contribute to the blogosphere. In fact there's a 99.2%  chance you're going to find yourself at the conclusion of today's post and wonder to yourself what the point of all that rambling was. Spoiler Alert: There's not one. Unless you just chalk it up to my standard HP [high procrastination] behavior. You see, I'm presenting at a conference in Texas next week on a topic that I know absolutely nothing about. When my knowledge of "speaking IT as an admissions professional" is completely exhausted 90 seconds into the hour long session, I plan to start discussing Downton Abbey.

Look. I get it. I am 2.5 seasons late to the Downton Abbey lovefest, but I made it and that's what matters. I'm only 5 episodes into season 2 so for the love of Matthew Crawley, puh-lease stop lamenting via Facebook about how horrific this most recent episode was. And if he died or something, don't tell me. On a related note, the new season of Dallas premiered last night, and yes, I love it too. It's three parts hilarious and maybe one part horrifying that I associate Dallas with my childhood. My kids are going to think I'm the lamest mom ever when I don't let them watch primetime dramas. They can just go over to their grandma's house to see who shot JR, I suppose. Larry Hagman's eyebrows were there in all of their glory. Now that they've gone on to Glory, I'm a little interested in how he's going to be written out of it.

I promise I haven't been spending all my free time watching television. I've been busy getting full nights of sleep too. The week it rained and rained and then rained some more, I managed to sleep between 8 and 9 hours every night. That's a sleeping record for me. It was delightful. Clearly it was since I'm devoting precious bandwidth to the topic.

Perhaps it's the extra shut eye that enabled me to finally empty my work inbox last week. Not going to lie, it was one of my prouder moments. Now if I would ever take the time to do something  with the 1375 unread emails in my yahoo account, I would be in business. Maybe I'll just get a new personal email account. Seems easier.

In other news that really isn't news at all, I'm looking for a good 10k to run and live show to see in February. Anyone have any suggestions for either? I didn't make any resolutions for 2013, but I did set the goal to run at least one race and see at least one live show a month throughout the entire year. I did the Hot Chocolate 5k with pal Angie a couple of weeks ago [Have I mentioned that I am incredibly out of shape? Because I am. I'm sure it has nothing to do with Downton Abbey, holiday baking, or copious amounts of rain.] And tomorrow Mag and I are headed to Athens to see Willie. I'm so excited. I just can't hide it.

Oh did I mention what else I've been doing this month? Getting used to a new job. Sure, I've been technically doing this job full-time since November but in  January is when the consolidation became official and I shifted my focus on what I'm supposed to be doing here instead of the same stuff that I've been doing for the last few years.  I've been up to my eyeballs in Excel spreadsheets [which I love more than Dallas and Downton Abbey - this should come as no surprise coming from the girl who still wears her 6th grade academic bowl team t-shirt on occasion] I'm really excited about my job because it's a chance for something new in a place that's still familiar. I realized the other day when I was running that I've been connected to what is now University of North Georgia since 1997. I've learned more from this place than I ever imagined possible. Maybe I'll talk more about that another day but probably not.

If you've managed to make it all the way to the end of this, congratulations. Here is your reward. Watch it. It will make your soul happy. I can't get it to embed correctly so just follow the link from here:

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Best of 2012.

I always get a little nostalgic this time of year. While my memory is still ridiculous, the lines are getting a little blurrier and I find myself having those conversations with friends and family that I never understood as a child. You know, they go something like "Wasn't that back in '97 or was it '96? wait, I know it was in '97 because that's the year we blah, blah, blah, blah".

2012 has been a good year. Sure, there were some potholes along the way but the highlights far outweigh them. It's always been a challenge for me to define something as "the best" or "favorite" but for the sake of posterity I will do it today so a hundred years from now my great great grandchildren can see what their hip and cool ancestor did during the prehistoric times when personal autos had wheels instead of wings.

Best Song: "The Once and Future Carpenter" - The Avett Brothers. If you haven't seen them live please make it a point to do so in 2013. And buy a ticket for me while you're at it.

Best Quote: "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone."- Neale Donald Walsch. Challenge accepted.

Best Meal: Brunch at Bouchon in Vegas. I can pretty much eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch day after day, but there are times when I still think about this meal. It was that good. If you  haven't been there yet please make it a point to go in 2013. And buy a plane ticket for me while you're at it.

Best Breakfast Spot: Mama's Boy in Athens. Sure, it always wins that vote but I can think of 4 breakfasts that I had there this year in particular. The food is always good but those conversations are what I will remember most. I think we are forgetting the value in genuine conversation because our phones and computers and tablets make it so much easier for us to type words instead of speaking them.

Best Moment: How can I list one when an entire year is made up of 525,600 minutes? [Clarification: I have no idea if that's actually the number of minutes in a year, but you're welcome for getting that song from Rent stuck in your head too. The season of giving continues!] Easily, because not every moment looked like this:

Very rarely am I totally surprised. Clearly I had no idea this was happening. Sure a singing and tap-dancing chicken is oh, what's the word: AMAZING but it was all the faces that you don't see in this picture that I could see from my vantage point that made this moment the best. The fact that they took the time to orchestrate it for me is still totally humbling. Oh how I miss seeing those faces on a Monday through Friday basis.

Best Trip: Vegas. Duh. I have no idea why it's my happy place because I'm not much of a gambler, I prefer my alcohol to be poured and served in glasses between 8 and 16 oz in size instead of dispensed from a frozen slushy looking machine into a plastic Eiffel Tower almost as tall as the real thing, and well, then there's my stance on cigarettes. But the mountains that surround the city are gorgeous. There's always something new to see and do. I've loved it since I went there the first time 5 years ago. Because only my mama was gutsy enough to ask the question many of you are wondering: No, it wasn't tough for me to be back there. That was over 2.5 years ago. The only time I even made an association between the city and R was when I saw a random milk truck because the logo for the milk sold out there is a cow jumping over the moon and he would always buy me that kind of chocolate milk when I was in town. Weird, right?

Also weird: The life-sized version of this picture. What in the world, blogger?

Best Book: "Bossypants" by Tina Fey. I laughed out loud so many times when reading this book beach side this summer. I kind of wish that I could be friends with Tina Fey in real life. I also kind of wish that I could be beach side right now.

Best Accomplishment: Going to the dentist. Oh you laugh, but I have a completely irrational disdain [read: fear] of the dentist. Then I broke my tooth while flossing earlier this year and that required the assistance of a medical professional. What's that? Did I have any cavities? Nope. Not a single one, Thankyouverymuch.

Really? I'm ending this post by talking about my trip to the dentist? I've got to accomplish more in 2013. Good thing I'm outside my comfort zone.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The fat lady has sung.

Do you want to know a sign of a good vacation? Waking up and not having a clue as to what day of the week it is. It seems like just a few days ago I was rushing around in preparation for Christmas and now the 2012 edition of the most wonderful time of the year is just a distant memory. Who here thinks that Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year? Who here waits in eager anticipation for December 26th?

I do love Christmas, but I would be lying if I said that throughout my history of holiday seasons I have never had a less than stellar one. As weird as it may sound I tend to think that's a perk of having multiple trips around the sun. We easily and sometimes flippantly chalk it up to "that's just part of life" but once we've lived through some of those "just part of life" events that happens to everyone else, I think [and hope] we become more sensitive and compassionate to those around us who have more scrooge and less spunk in their steps this time of year.

Because none of you have the time, patience or desire to read about how I've spent every single riveting second of the last 2 weeks, this year's post will hit a few of the highlights as well as some of my favorite things in general about Christmas.

Free Time
By the time January 2 rolls around I will have had 18 days straight of PTO. Sure, I love my job but I love it more when we've had some time apart. Now that I think about it, I don't think I've worked a full week since the week before Thanksgiving. [Not because I'm lazy, dear state taxpayers, but because I have tons of leave time accumulated.] Anywho. I love, love, love staying up late and sleeping later. Am I the only one whose definition of sleeping late has gotten much earlier over the years? I've always been a nightowl but against my will I've turned into a morning person too.

Friends & Family
First there was Nashville with the family to see Justin and Sarah play the Opry at the Ryman. No, I will never get tired of telling that story because I will always be so proud of them.

And then the week before Christmas I spent time with a few of my very favorites. One-on-one time catching up on life was so good for my soul. Of course there's never enough time to see everyone I want to see, and we're always so busy talking that we never stop to take pictures but that's alright. We'll take pictures when we're 75 and look at them while wondering how we've managed to maintain such a youthful glow throughout the years. And then we'll inquire about a group discount for cataract removal.

Oh, and of course Christmas Eve at Mu and Pop's house with mom's side of the family. Selfishly I wish we could slow the years down and particularly those nights because until I have my very own little family one day, this is my chance to witness the excited chatter and the sound of a thunderous herd of kiddos running through the house because they have so much energy and excitement about Santa's imminent arrival that if they had to sit still they would probably just pop. And spending time with the rest of the crew is pretty ok too.

Starbucks Red Cups
Yes, I know it's a major marketing plot by the evil Starbucks elves, but I don't care. They aid in my Christmas cheer.

Christmas Movies
Christmas Vacation is my most favorite. I also love Elf and naturally the classics. I must confess I even enjoy those ridiculous Hallmark Christmas movies. Stop rolling your eyes. Of course they are hokey and cheesy. I generally roll my eyes are similar movies unless I've been drinking out of the red cups. I blame the evil Starbucks elves.

Christmas Cards
Love them. I love sending them. I love receiving them. I love blogging about them.

Absolutely it's better to give than to receive. There really is something so fantastic about seeing the people I love light up over receiving a gift that I picked out especially for them. Yes, I wait until the last minute to go out and do my shopping but I'm continously thinking about what  I'm going to get beginning around October. Yes, as a matter of fact I do love to coordinate gift wrap and spend time making the packages look pretty. I don't care that the paper is going to be ripped to shreds. No, I don't know how to tie real bows but I sure have fun trying.

It would be silly to say that I don't like receiving gifts at all. Of course I do. See that green box? Inside was a charm bead for my bracelet that has "sister" engraved on it. All those years of asking Santa and Jesus and whomever else would listen to me beg for a little brother or sister has paid off in countless ways. And to think I finally got that role when I had given up and resigned myself to the fact that I was destined to be an only.

Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe-Joe's
If loving them is wrong then I don't want to be right. I've been on a strict sugar diet and these little gems are a staple. Yes, they do pair nicely with hot chocolate or coffee as evidenced by the pantry positioning.

Christmas Songs
I have a "rule" about only listening to Christmas music between Thanksgiving and Christmas. My own rule was broken when I started listening the week before Thanksgiving this year. The Starbucks red cups made me do it. One exception to the rule: Dolly Parton's "Hard Candy Christmas". I have been known to spontaneously belt that one out in the middle of August. Don't judge me.

For those of you out there who have forsaken your first love of bound books in exchange for an eReader, here is a reminder of what actual books look like. [I'm a laggard but I suspect my near future includes a Kindle or Nook or something fancy and new-fangled because moving reminded me of just how heavy and space hogging books can be.]

I'm a super nerd when it comes to reading over the holidays. This is the 2012 Christmas Collection. I started with Night Circus but have peeked at the Stephen Colbert book because it's not a cover-to-cover read. It's hilarious and comes complete with 3-D glasses.

Meaning & Magic
This figurine has been in my mom's house since I was a little girl.

I think mom and dad got it as visual aid to help me remember the order of importance between Jesus and Santa. I'm so very thankful that they allowed me to get caught up in the excitement and experience of Santa and all that goes along with him. [Even though I was completely weirded out over the fact that we so willingly allowed some strange man in our house while we slept, I sure did appreciate the loot he left behind.] Kids at Christmas remind us to be carefree and full of excitement over the possibility of what's in store for us in the morning. Santa will always be welcomed in my home.

All of the hustle and bustle we get caught up in this season is made possible because of the greatest gift any of us has ever been given. Yes, even greater than those years I got the Swatch watch or two Cabbage Patch Kids or that silly leather bomber jacket that everyone in the 6th grade just had to have. In the Gospels, the Christmas story is told in both Matthew and Luke. A couple of years ago Andy Stanley did a series called "An Unexpected Christmas" using Matthew's account and I love it. I love it because it's real and a reminder that Jesus came for all of us, not just a select group of holy rollers. His lineage is pretty  interesting. This talk by Stanley is pretty timeless and maybe I'll watch it again. If not now, maybe in August or something. It's appropriate for more important and better reasons than Hard Candy Christmas during August karaoke. It is accessible right here, or through a simple search using "Andy Stanley An Unexpected Christmas".

Sure Christmas Day is one single solitary day on the calendar. It's a day that leaves us exhausted and full and left with the chores of cleaning up and putting away. But it leaves us with so much more if we let it. Full hearts. An eternal perspective. The promise of a highly anticipated tomorrow.

"This is love: not that we loved God but that he loves us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." -1 John 4:10-11


Monday, December 24, 2012

We're still here.

No one actually thought that the world was going to end on Friday just because once upon a time the Mayans said so, right? Sure - it was a great excuse to throw or attend a party because there's just not enough eating and drinking and being merry already happening this time of year. I am happy to report that I did discover a new favorite wine from Trader Joe's in celebration of/preparation for the Mayan Apocalypse. It's a red that pairs nicely with a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit sandwich from Mama's Boy the next morning.

Before I actually sit down to type a blog post, I come up with a rough draft of it in my head. [I might have used the same approach with my grad school applied project.] Earlier last week I was thinking about how I was going to blog about what we would do during this week if the world really was going to end on Friday. How would we live? Who would we see? Where would we go? And then that unimaginable Friday morning happened. The end of the world came far too early for some precious souls.

There's really nothing that I can write here that hasn't already been written in a more eloquent way. I didn't plan on writing about it but before I yammer on endlessly about this being the most wonderful time of the year and all the ways that I love Christmas, I just feel like it's appropriate to acknowledge those young lives and the ones who were lost trying to defend them. 

What happened in that elementary school or the events in that young man's life leading up to that morning will never make sense to our human minds. We may try to understand the why or the how, but there are some things that will never ever make sense. For me, this is one of those things. Instead of getting completely bogged down in the media coverage, I've spent a lot of this week praying for those moms and dads and thinking about what we can learn from those kiddos.

A couple of weeks ago I started reading John Eldredge's book "Waking the Dead". In it, he uses Saint Irenaeus's famous quote: "The glory of God is man fully alive." I've heard this many times before but it really struck a chord with me in the wake of Friday morning.

Even if we've never raised a 1st grader, we all have an idea of what 6 and 7 years old looks like. We've seen it in nephews or nieces or younger siblings. We've been it. The argument can be made that every age is the "best age" but at 6 and 7, there is such childhood innocence that hero worship is usually still reserved for immediate family. Older siblings are the best body guards and playmates available. They haven't realized that in just a few years they will be teenagers which means being an expert in life so there's a genuine and natural curiosity about the world. There's a recognition of differences between people but those differences are usually welcomed because 6 doesn't understand socioeconomic status or political platforms. Six isn't perfect because there's a knowledge of right and wrong. There's consequences. There's the ability to get angry and frustrated over circumstances. There's also the ability to forgive and forget in time for recess.

First graders are full of life. Each day they bring God glory without stopping to think about it. Maybe it's because they aren't focused on the doing, they are just focused on the living. Where is our focus? Are we so focused on the individual tasks that we forget the  bigger purpose and reason behind them? This quote is a great summation of a general theme of some stuff that I've been learning and coming to understand for the last several months. Maybe it's just me but I think there's a general tendency to think about God in terms of eternity so there's the knowledge that we'll be fully alive forever when we're with him in heaven. But this world is not just a really cool airport that we're in for a layover until then. We bring him glory when we approach each day with a bit of childlike innocence and energy. What if we met strangers with a sense of curiosity and respect, offered forgiveness as freely as a first-grader and willingly shared our possessions without considering the dollar value of them? What if we could read those questions without the cynicism and jadedness that we learn so well in adulthood creeping into our minds? I don't write this to make life sound so simplistic and idealistic that if we just follow these easy steps life will be a cakewalk. Because it will not be. I do think there is no harm in deciding to try to live more fully alive. We might surprise ourselves. We're still here. Let's get started. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

"your life looks like fun."

Today's subject line is inspired by a comment that a friend made on my current Facebook profile picture. When I read it my initial thought was something to the effect of "really? because your life looks like more fun."

The grass is always greener, right? How quickly we all too often fall into the comparison trap. Clearly Facebook was created to remind us of all we don't have but should have at a particular stage in the game of life. Ok, I'm just being a little dramatic with that last sentence but how sad that there's some truth in it. Or maybe it's just me that feels that way.

Her comment was good for me because it kind of snapped me out of my current funk. Admittedly this time of year, I get a little jealous of those ridiculous pictures of ridiculous elves doing ridiculous things around the house. [No offense to my elf on the shelf loving mama friends out there. We all know that my elf would be the most ridiculous and over the top one of all and the photo documentation would cause everyone to block me from their FB newsfeed because I would post pictures ad nauseam.]

My life doesn't just look like fun; it really is fun. It's nothing like I thought it would be or even hoped that it would be at the ripe old age of 33 but it's good. And it's fun. There's nothing that drives me crazier than a woe is me single gal lamenting over her current state of affairs or lack thereof. Honestly, I am hesitant to ever discuss or write about my own single state because I don't want to come across as one of those girls. Not to mention my feeling on how some parts of one's personal life should remain personal. More importantly than not appearing like I am one of those girls, I don't want to be one of those girls. I wasted a lot of time in my early 20's being one of those girls. I can't get that time back and I regret it. People always said "just wait, one day you'll get married and blah blah blah" and I got stuck in the quicksand of the "just wait" part.

Before I left Athens, I had dinner with a sweet friend who is in the same stage of life I was in about 7 years ago. She was in a thousand weddings in about a dozen days' time. Not in a single one of them did she wear the pretty white dress. I tried to be a source of encouragement by telling her what I wish someone with the benefit of age and hindsight had told me. I told her that I wish I knew when it was going to be her day or how much longer she was going to have to wait for it to be her turn. I also told her that it very well could be much farther into the future than she ever dreamt possible. BUT in the meantime I saw her doing a fantastic and amazing job at living her life. And she needed to keep doing that instead of getting discouraged and giving up because "all the good ones are gone". [News flash: They are still good ones out there, gals. Quit crying in your Ben & Jerry's and taking the easy way out by settling for the Target version of the high-end design. You too, guys.]  I told her that I was so proud of her because she was out and about. She was having fun. That made her attractive. And any dude worth his salt would see that quality in her and appreciate her and want her for that. I mean sure, that's what all the single gals say to make themselves feel better, right? No. Only the brilliant and amazing ones. :)

I've hoped for a husband. I've prayed for a husband. I've waited for a husband. I've quit talking to God for long periods of time because after doing all three of the aforementioned things, I never got a husband. And finally, it dawned on me that there's time and room for both. Sure, I'm probably never going to be married for 60 years but that's ok...less time to get fed up with his antics and sick of cooking his dinner and picking up his stinky socks. I keed, I keed. But just because I may never be married for 60 years that doesn't automatically equate to never being married. Why does it take us female types so long to make that obvious connection? Because our pre-frontel cortex isn't fully developed until we're 25, that's why.

This mentality doesn't end when the honeymoon begins. Next it's kids and jobs and houses and vacations and retirement plans and finally, one upping Frank and Ethel by picking out the best headstone at the cemetary. 

There's a line in U2's song "Beautiful Day" that I absolutely love. It's so simple, yet so true: "What you don't have you don't need it now." Can Bono get an amen? I am guilty of forgetting that at times, but I'm trying to do a better job of remembering.

Maybe this is one of those posts that I'm going to need to go back to and re-read when I find myself in the pit of despair - please get the movie reference, people. One day when the moon is in the 7th house and Jupiter is aligned with Mars and I'm married and busy putting the needs of someone else before my own, I want to ultimately be able to look back on this part of life and say "geez, I'm so glad that I got to have that fun before I started having this fun." Hopefully though this will serve as a good reminder for someone else who feels that they are stuck in a holding pattern that just won't let go. There are many things in life that we cannot control or change no matter how hard we try. But there are some things that we can do or control. Like getting out there and having fun with the current hand of cards we're holding. I need to stop craning my neck to see my neighbor's hand while wishing I could hold those cards. Because the truth is, we've all got a joker that no one really wants. A new hand will be dealt sooner or later and it's our job to play every single card wisely and well. [My apologies for using weak playing card analogies. It seems that I woke up in Vegas one too many mornings this week. More on that another day.]