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.]