“Words That Changed Me”
_a record of the process_
Dear Velveeta, If all cats were like you, I’m sure everyone would be a cat lover. When I first met you, you were sitting tall in a corner because you were afraid of another cat who lived with you at your foster home in Northern Virginia....
Have you seen the Feminist Taylor Swift twitter account? A Taylor Swift fan (and Brown University student) edits her famous lyrics to have feminist messages like: I don’t know about you / but I’m feeling twenty-two / cents...
Why did I want to move to Tallahassee? Two reasons. 1. Bretski 2. Manatees I love manatees more than your average vegetarian hippie animal lover. I LOVE them. And I never miss a chance to see them in captivity, but my dreamiest dream has been...
At the beginning of November, I wrote about my NanoWrimo project where I planned to write an entire novel (50,000 words) in one month. I knew it was ambitious, but I knew I wanted to try. I started from scratch and aimed to write 2,000 words a day.
After a whole month, I made it halfway there:
You can see that I was right on par for the first few days, my work trip to Chicago threw off my progress, but I picked it up again for a week or two, and then gave up and flat-lined for a week before giving it a decent (pretty pathetic, actually) effort at the end of my Thanksgiving holiday.
What I’m saying is I really didn’t try THAT hard, and, still, I wrote half a novel!
Part of me wishes that I had pushed through, write 5,000 words/day on weekends, gone to write in coffee shop “write-ins” with other NanoWrimo-ers in Tallahassee, and made it to 50,000 words. That certainly would have felt victorious, but I am proud of the progress I made.
In one month, I composed nearly 50 single spaced typed pages – that’s huge! I’m really impressed with what I was able to accomplish and I haven’t stopped writing just because November is over. The biggest takeaway from this project is that little changes over time can make a BIG difference. I didn’t write for the first 8 days of December because I was feeling like the “big push” was over, but if I had written only 1,000 words a day, I would be up to 35,000 by now. I’ve made myself get up at 5:30 to squeeze in some writing time the past two mornings, and now I’m already up to 27,717 words.
I could easily hit 50,000 by the end of December if I average just over 1,000 words/day. I probably will not do this because I’ll be spending some holiday time with family, but I’ve set a personal goal to hit 50,000 by the end of January. This feels like an awesome way to kick off a new year! I really like the storyline that I’m working on, and if I have a complete draft by the beginning of January, I should absolutely have time to edit extensively and finally submit my first manuscript for publication in 2015.
I’ve learned that putting goals in writing is really helpful (and, in fact, the only way that works for me) so I’m writing it down:
And that gives me a whole month of wiggle room until I start my next novel. I know it’s ambitious, but I also think it’s very doable. I’m pretty excited about it.
Here’s to making 2015 the year of the novel.Read More
This was our last Thanksgiving in Tallahassee. Since we moved to Florida, we’ve still been able to celebrate Thanksgiving with family, but this year, it was just the two of us. When I think about Thanksgiving, I usually imagine lots of family and lots of food (not to mention the potentially miserable travel conditions). To be honest, when I first realized it was going to be “just us” this year, the whole idea of Thanksgiving-for-two had me feeling a little sad, but Bret comforted me by saying this would probably be one of our only Thanksgivings like this, and now that it’s all said and done, I can tell you we really enjoyed this special, simple holiday.
We watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade together in the morning. We were going to have a quick breakfast before it started – some fruit or cereal – but we were low on both. I was disappointed that Bret finished off the cereal while I was in the shower, but, not to worry, he just whipped up an avocado omelet for me.
Isn’t he the best?! It was delicious and so thoughtful and it made me feel happy and comfortably full so we weren’t in a rush to cook our big meal.
When choosing our Thanksgiving menu, Bret had one request: mashed potatoes. I wanted cranberry sauce and pie. Over the past couple of years we made turkey, tofurkey, quinoa stuffing, green bean casserole, butternut squash, and a bunch of different sides. This year, we wanted yummy food with minimal work. This is what we came up with…
I made cranberry sauce and apple pie – both from scratch.
Bret made mashed potatoes from scratch, and cornbread, too.
And then we baked the delicious (meatless!) holiday roast and microwaved some frozen Brussels sprouts.
Boom, Thanksgiving is served.
…with apple pie and vanilla ice cream for dessert:
The whole meal was sweet and simple and stress-free. We are happy to have lots of leftovers just for us.
After we ate, I convinced Bret to set up the camera so we could take a family Thanksgiving/Christmas photo. I just thought we needed one. Never mind the fact that I already ordered our Christmas cards last week … just consider this our Thanksgiving picture…with a Christmas tree in the back ground…
And then came my favorite part: reading all of the entries from our Grateful Jar. This is a new tradition I started last year. I put a jar out on November 1, cut out some pretty scrapbook pages to write on, and then we write down things we’re grateful for all month, keep the in the jar, and read them all on Thanksgiving Day.
I like to read them all at once, spread them out on the table, and look for trends. To sum up, this year I’m grateful for my sister, texting my sister, phone calls with my sister, and the fact that my sister is visiting me in Tallahassee soon. (Hi Mallory!)
I’m also grateful for:
Now, we’re watching Modern Family and relaxing and loving this holiday. I hope you all had a happy thanksgiving with your families and friends. Bret and I can not wait to see BOTH of our families next month!Read More
Warning: This is kind of a rant.
I read something a few months ago about how MOST developed countries hope that their children will grow up to be highly compassionate, kind individuals. Almost ALL countries value and desire these qualities of “kindness” and “compassion” above other standards including “success” …meaning parents would rather be able to share that they have kind, thoughtful, compassionate child than a successful one.
Want to guess which country prided themselves on having “successful” kids over kind and compassionate ones?!
Yep. Us. The United States of America.
I can’t find the original article, if I do I’ll update it here, but I definitely can not say I’m surprised. Parents boast all the time about how their kid is “so smart” and doing “so well” at school or in work. “He’s so successful.” “She’s a real go-getter.” You should be proud of those things, I think. A lot of people want their kid to be successful/talented/brilliant because that often equates to getting a job and being financially independent and that’s a big, important step into adulthood.
In my opinion, sometimes we define success in weird ways.
Liiiiiiiike, if you make a lot of money, you’re automatically successful. Whether you made that money by building a service that helps a lot of people overcome an addiction or by owning a corporation that sells blood diamonds makes a big difference to me, but, as long as you’re making the money, a lot of people aren’t too concerned about the mission of your workplace.
Sometimes you don’t have much of a choice, of course. I didn’t plan to work at an association serves used car dealers for two years, but I desperately needed a job. And I learned a lot about myself when I had to work in a culture that devalues women. I was regularly called, “honey” and “sweetie” by the dealers, and when asked about the line of work my husband was in, saying he was “graduate student” presented a lot of weird expressions and responses like, “Well you tell him when he finishes school and gets a job, it’s your turn to stay home, okay?” And you know what? I would much have much preferred to “stay home” rather than work in an environment like that one, but instead, I did my best to be find opportunities to be kind. I was kind on the phone, even if people were rude to me. I baked yummy treats for my fellow co-workers who were also mistreated. It’s all I could do.
Now that I’m fortunate enough to work around intelligent, thoughtful, motivated people who value education, gender equality, and define success by helping students from underprivileged backgrounds become doctors? My workplace is so much kinder. Life is so much better. Now, I can’t imagine working anywhere else, but I especially can’t imagine choosing to move to an organization that does harm, even if that meant being more “successful…”. I’m getting side-tracked, but, what I’m saying is, when you do have a choice, and you pick the opportunity that lets you make a difference over the mega high-earning for profit corporation that is out to make another million, I really admire that, personally.
Do you know what I hear when you say your kid is at “the top of their class” or “moving up the ladder at work”? I hear that you think your kid is better than others – like it’s a competition or something. And I’m happy for them and I’m happy for you, but I’d also love to hear about something really courageous/thoughtful/kind your child did last week. Because I believe that is what makes us human.
Hard work is admirable. Succeeding in a tough project is worth celebrating. Earning a position over someone else should be an exercise of humbleness, though, in my opinion. Not sure how to be humble? This quick guide sums it up well: accept your own limitations, appreciate the talents of others, practice gentleness.
Wouldn’t it be great if we cared as much about teaching people to be loving and compassionate individuals?
No matter what we learn as kids, we grow up to be adults. I think it’s really important to recognize, praise and encourage kind words, kind thoughts,and gentle spirits. I wonder how many, many things would change if we placed as much emphasis on teaching humbleness compassion over success.
For starters, I think there would be less assault and less hate.
I’m really angry about the rape culture that has been alive and well at so many universities for so many years. It’s not only at universities, of course, but allowing 18 year old boys to band together by assaulting another human is completely despicable and immoral. “Boys will be boys” perpetuates a culture that encourages men to be tough, unemotional, and violent. That’s not okay. I think I know how I’ll be able to teach my kids how to value women’s lives as much as male ones, but I know it will be a challenge. Ultimately, I believe it comes down to kindness and compassion, though. Treat others as you would like to be treated regardless of their sex, gender, or sexual orientation.
I’m also completely heartbroken over this Ferguson verdict. I know we have to trust that the jury did their job, but this is one of thousands of instances in a culture where black lives are valued less than pale, peachy ones. I see so many hateful responses posted on both sides. I couldn’t even look at my Facebook feed yesterday, but before I signed off, I said this: I try to be careful about when I share political and emotionally charged opinions most of the time because I know they can polarize us, but sometimes I worry that silence could be mistaken for “I don’t care” and I just want to say that I care – deeply – about all of the lives and families impacted. I live in such privileged skin that I can walk outside wearing a hoodie, I can jaywalk, I’m confident that I could get in a verbal altercation with a police officer without fearing for my life. It is not fair and it is not okay.
The way people are talking about the outcome of this verdict… it’s also not okay. It’s just not kind. I’m all for a healthy debate, but remember you are talking about people’s LIVES. Someone lost their child.
I really don’t care what you do, what you believe, or what you stand for if kindness isn’t a priority. Make kindness a priority. We’re all humans just trying to make sense of this world we live in. Stop being mean. Choose your words carefully. Do something kind today.Read More
Alright. Considering I’ve been to Chicago and back for another work trip since I started writing about this Dallas airport mishap, I think it’s time to finish.
After spending the night in a hotel, I woke up feeling happy and well-rested. I ate a complimentary breakfast, asked for late check out, and started teleworking from my hotel desk. The morning was going swell …until I found out that Tallahassee was experiencing a flash flood and Tornado Warning. Bret texted me to let me know he was home and taking care of the cats, in fact, he was trapped in our bathroom with both of them for the duration of the Tornado Warning. I missed him, and I wanted to get home, so I hoped the weather would pass soon.
I caught the free shuttle to the airport at noon. I had three hours before my flight so after I went through security, I was looking for a good place to eat. I couldn’t find anything with quality vegetarian options in my terminal, but by now I really had this non-alphabetical tram memorized (seriously – I’d explained it to newbies multiple times). When I realized my gate didn’t have any good veggie options, I remembered a Bennigan’s in D, so I hopped on the tram for the 724th time:
And ended up getting a really yummy salad:
I’d hoped everything would be smooth and normal while I waited for my flight.
Instead, things were weird and disorganized. Other flights were delayed. There were multiple gate changes. One pilot and flight attendant were confused about what plane they were getting on and where they were flying to. At some point there was a mechanical problem and a plane had to de-board. When they made it back to the waiting area, there was an annoucement about having to go to another terminal to board another flight and that they could board with their photo ID if they lost their boarding passes.
I struck up a conversation with other passengers who had been waiting to get home for 24 hours as well. Most of them were in good spirits. When I realized how many people were flying standby and waiting for a seat, I was glad I booked when I did. Everyone who waited on the flight last night couldn’t get a spot on this flight because it was already full. I was just so grateful to have a ticket with a seat number on it.
When it got close to time for me to board, I really thought my flight was going to get delayed. All the signs were there: an unstaffed gate, the crackle of the announcement speaker with no annoucement to follow, and then the flight disappeared from the flight board. I was preparing to be disappointed. There’s nothing you can do. Stay calm. You will be home eventually.
I was worried, though. So much so that I literally cut my hand open while trying to open a water bottle that I had bought for my flight. It would not open. I took it back to the store where I’d purchased it and said it was “defective” but the guy in line behind me was able to open it. Great. I still had a napkin wrapped over my bleeding hand.
Clearly, stress was getting the best of me. It worked out, though. Our plane arrived and we were allowed to board. It was a small plane and I felt spoiled rotten to have one of those seats on the “one” row — it doubled as a window AND aisle seat
When I sat on my seat, though, it leaned forward and the whole cushion came out. Something was wrong. I tried to fix it, but I noticed a little piece was missing, and then I noticed the other seats had little straps that mine did not have. I thought about saying something to a flight attendant, but I realized that this was the ONLY seat on the plane that wasn’t taken. It was my only way home. So, I said absolutely nothing.
See the bandaid? Don’t worry. That’s from my water bottle, not the seat.
And then, within only a few minutes, we were up in the air.
I loved being able to see the shadows on the ground from all these little puffy (storm-free) clouds:
I could not have been happier to see that Tallahassee “skyline” in the distance:
I made it I was so happy to home. And now I’m even happier because I don’t have any more trips planned in 2014. Let the most wonderful time of the year begin…Read More
Inspired my one of my best friends, Tiffany, I’m participating in NaNoWriMo.
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. …See?
Here’s how it works: You start a novel from scratch. You write. A lot. Every day for the month of November. It’s intense, but at the end of the month, you have a solid complete draft of an entire novel.
It’s probably not going to be a very good novel because, well, it’s a first draft written in 30 days. But it’s going to be a whole complete novel.
This will be a first for me. I try to write for an hour a day, but let’s be honest, it doesn’t happen every day. I’ve been working on the same novel and the same story line for well over five years now. And while this is not uncommon, and this piece may very well become a real masterpiece in time, (let’s hope…), it’s not there yet. Without a solid plan with goals and deadlines, this is how writing tends to go.
I was tempted to “cheat” and use this month to work on the same piece I’ve been working on forever… but I decided to follow the rules and start flat from scratch. I think that’s better.
So far it’s going pretty well.
I just started writing yesterday. I made up the name for three characters. Underneath each name, I wrote a list of 2-3 people I know who have basically nothing in common, and then I pulled personality traits and experiences out of each of them to build the skeleton for each of my three characters. Then I fluffed them out by adding a few key details that connect them to the same storyline.
And then I just started writing.
I slapped a title on because I had to – Surpassing Clevenger. For now, I’m calling this an “Adventure” genre, but it’s really a Young Adult Adventure. I’m writing on my own computer and not sharing my work with anyone (right now), but I love the community pages because if I want to go meet up at Panera and write with other Tallahassee writers, I can.
I enter my updated word count every day so I can see how close I am to reaching my goal of completing a novel by November 30th. You can keep track of my progress here: http://nanowrimo.org/participants/nicolejmu09/novels/surpassing-clevenger/stats
Today it says:
As you can see, I’ve written 3,709 words so far. It’s 10:30AM on the second day. I’m aiming for 2,000 words/day because I know there are going to be days when I can’t do that (like when I’m in Chicago for work for four days…) but I’m going to try my best to squeeze out a paragraph or two even on the busiest most inconvenient days. If I miss a day, so what, you just keep going.
I just love the concept of ticking away a little bit at a time and making small steps toward a large goal. Bret is doing it with his dissertation. Since there’s a lot of writing going on in this household already, I’m happy to jump on board with a project of my own.
I’m excited to see how it goes. Wish me luck!Read More
Before I continue writing about this crazy experience of being stranded in an airport, I do want to emphasize that I had such a fulfilling and awesome conference weekend. I got to present to high school and college students (in a giant, intimidating room…), talk with students, and learn from my super smart, fun, and witty co-workers. It was a positive, growing professional experience and I’d do it all over again even if that meant having to survive in an airport for 24 hours…
So yes, the conference was great, and by the end, as always, I was looking forward to coming home.
Truthfully, I wasn’t even a little concerned about my flights back home. Unlike my late night flight out to California, I had daytime returning flights and I wasn’t at risk of not getting a good night’s sleep. I arrived back at the airport with my co-workers early on Monday morning. They were all headed to DC so I wished them safe travels and told them I’d see them in a few weeks at our next meeting in Chicago. I made it through security, grabbed a coffee and a lemon poppyseed scone. I had plenty of time and the skies were clear.
My flight out of Sacramento was delayed. After we were all boarded and buckled, the crackling announcement speaker came on, and I thought the pilot was about to tell the flight attendants to prepare for take-off.
He told us that Dallas had awful weather earlier in the morning, and now flights are circling and averaging a 90 minute delay in landing. He said there was no reason for us to head over there just to circle for 90 minutes before we could land; instead we would wait. He told us that we would probably be here for about an hour. We were welcome to get off the plane, but we had to take our bags with us. Or we could sit tight and wait.
I’d like to tell you that I accepted this information with a healthy, “Might as well accept this hour as a gift and catch up on my book.”
Instead, I got grumpy. I realized this delay meant I would miss my connecting flight and this made me mad. I was not about to get off of this plane – I just had a feeling we may be leaving sooner rather than later and I did not want to get my suitcase down – so I used my phone to call the airline and see about changing my flight. The next flight out to Tallahassee was at 6:40PM that night, and I could either take one of the last seats on that flight, or take a gamble that my regularly scheduled 2PM flight would be delayed, since so many flights are delayed currently. I decided to take the gamble. I didn’t want to wait around in an airport for 4 hours if I didn’t have to. (This is comical because, spoiler alert, 4 hours became 24 hours).
I tried my best to calm down and enjoy this hour of nothingness. I texted. I read. And after about 40 minutes, I decided now was as good a time as any to use the restroom on the plane (I hate airplane bathrooms). When I returned to my seat, I struck up a conversation with my seatmate – a sweet woman in her 60s who was anxious to see her daughter. Her 26-year-old daughter (younger than me!) is currently fighting breast cancer, and she was trying to get to her before she had surgery.
This turned my perspective completely.
I barely gave another thought to my own flight. My focus shifted completely to hoping that she would be able to make hers. We talked for a bit and before long we were up in the air and on our way. I honestly didn’t even care about catching my flight at this point. I was so humbled by her story and so grateful for my own current state of health. We had a gentle, smooth, peaceful flight. When we got closer to Dallas, the flight attendant read off all of the connecting gate information in alphabetical order. My seatmate and I looked at the Dallas airport mapped and hoped for flights that were near the gate we were landing at. Her flight was in C – only one gate over.
He never said “Tallahassee.”
When he walked by, I told him I didn’t hear my connection, and he said that means he doesn’t have the information. I knew that meant – more than likely – that my flight was seriously delayed or even cancelled.
When we landed, my seatmate found out her plane had been delayed by 45 minutes. It was already boarding, but there was a slim, slim, slim chance she could make it. As soon as the seatbelt sign went off, I stood up into the isle and she took off running. She was the first one off our plane, and I had tears in my eyes just hoping she would be able to make her flight and get to her daughter.
I took my time getting off the plane because Bret had texted me that my flight had, in fact, been cancelled. CANCELLED. Ugh. I tried to reschedule over the phone, but the wait time to talk to a representative was 30min. I found my way to the customer service “Rebooking station” in the airport, where I stood in line for well over 30 minutes anyway.
All my feelings of peace and gratefulness for my health melted away with each passing minute. I was hungry. I texted my sister something like, “ALL I’VE HAD TO EAT TODAY IS A LEMON SCONE.” Yep. Waiting in lines make me grumpy. I bet that 6:40 flight is full. I bet there isn’t another direct flight out today. What if I have to sleep in this airport?! The person behind me was muttering about how they only had 2 people assisting this line while there were clearly 4 computers. This prompted me to rattle off something mindless like, “I’m having the worst luck with flights this weekend.” I was speaking to the air, and to no one in particular, but the white-haired guy in front of me turned around and said,
“It’s weather. What can we do about weather?” After a pause he added, “It’s better to be safe. I trust the pilots. We’ll all get home eventually.”
The way he spoke was gentle but stern. It was a statement. A fact not to be questioned. We’ll all get home eventually. His look and sterness reminded me so closely of that man who bought me coffee in a gas station that time, “You’ll never see me again, and you don’t owe me anything.”
I didn’t say anything for a few minutes, but I finally said, “Thank you. You’re right.” I thanked him for his perspective. I did want to get home, but I did not want to fly through a thunderstorm, and having a bad attitude is not helping a single thing.
I didn’t think to check the weather on my phone, but I’d later learn that this was more than ‘a thunderstorm’. This was a dangerous MONSTER storm that no one wanted to mess with.
About 30 minutes after that conversation, I finally made it to the front of the line, and they booked me on a 6:40pm flight.
Did I say booked? Oh, I mean that flight was absolutely completely full, so they gave me a standby ticket…and a partial hotel voucher in case I needed to stay the night. She also got me a real seat on the 2:00PM flight out the next day – just in case. It wasn’t ideal, but since there were so many delayed flights coming in, I thought I stood a good chance of getting a seat.
During the next few hours, I:
That’s right… the flight was delayed… 4 times! At this point, I was number 13 on the Stand By list, and everyone from the delayed flights had filtered in, so my chances of getting a seat were darn near impossible. After the 4th delay when it was scheduled to arrive in Tallahassee at 1:30AM, I decided to take the partial hotel voucher the airline offered me and spend the night in a hotel. This ended up being a VERY good move because the flight was eventually cancelled and that free shutttle I took stopped running at 11PM. All the people with the cancelled flight who waited? They ended up having to pay for a cab or sleep in the airport.
On the shuttle, I chatted with a guy who lives in Orlando. He loves Florida. His daughter is a nurse. We talked about Ebola precautions for nurses where she works.
When I checked in to my hotel, I noticed that my “Company” was listed as “Distressed Passenger” because of my airport voucher. I thought ain’t that the truth?!
The front desk person told me about the parking and “no pets policy” to which I replied,
“I miss my cat.”
“Oh how old is she?”
“About two.” (I must have been tired. Velveeta is 4).
“Oh, what a fun and exhausting age…” This is when it occurred to me that, she must have thought I said “I miss my kid.” I just went with it.
“Oh, yes. It is! Can’t wait to see her tomorrow, though!”
Can I tell you how grateful I was to know that I had a comfy bed, a free breakfast, and a guaranteed seat on a flight out the next day? I was very calm and at peace at this point. I talked to Bret, ate a granola bar from my stockpile, and went to bed. I promised myself I would have a better attitude tomorrow.
Check back soon for a post about Part 3! It was another long day in the airport, but the day I actually made it home!Read More