Words That Changed Me

_a record of the process_

Balcony Fest 2014

Posted by on Sep 15, 2014 | 0 comments

I had the best weekend.

…about 4 weeks ago.

When I learned the sad news that my grandma’s health had taken a turn for the worst, I was actually sitting in the Charlottesville airport about to come home from a fun weekend with some of my favorite friends. It was quite the jolt into a sad reality. It’s so strange to me to think about how HAPPY and carefree I was and how suddenly that shifted into concern and helplessness. For this post, though, I’m going to focus on the happy weekend.

As you may remember from this post, I have a few friends from high school who mean a lot to me:

BALCONY

2004

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2009

Even though we live in different places, we try to stay in touch through a weekly-ish Skype date. There’s nothing like three full days together, though. It’s so much better. So a few weekends ago, we ventured to Charlotte, NC and enjoyed eating food, talking by the pool, and drinking wine. Of course, the main purpose of the trip was to re-create our balcony photo since it’s been about 5 years:

balcony pic

2014

We picked Charlotte because it’s one of the few places I could get a direct flight to from Tallahassee. I appreciated all of them making the drive down and, truthfully, I wish I could have been in that car, too. We stayed in a cute hotel downtown so we could walk around to all of the nearby restaurants and such. Occasionally we’d ask someone to take a photo for us. This request was almost met with a cautionary, “you girls be careful” which convinced me people thought we looked about ten years younger than we actually are. It was funny – I didn’t mind.

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I realized I hadn’t seen all of them together since my wedding about a year and a half ago and I didn’t really get to hang out like I would have wanted to because I was busy getting married and all. Before that, I think the last time we were all together was in 2012 when we visited Stephanie in Boston.

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We tried to organize a “friends weekend” in Savannah, GA last summer, but it kind of fell through. I couldn’t make the trip up to Virginia, but the three of them still got together for an afternoon. They actually purchased a bottle of wine that we ended up drinking on this trip a year later. We bought another bottle in Charlotte!

Wine

So we decided to really try to make this an annual thing. It was so comforting and normal-feeling to be together. We had fun exploring Charlotte and talking by our hotel pool, but mostly I was just glad to be together. I’ve learned that it’s really valuable to keep people around who knew you at different stages of life. It reminds you who you are and where you’ve been. I really appreciate how we all still make this priority and I hope it’s a tradition that sticks around forever like these guys.

Stephanie and I have no idea where we’ll be living next year this time, and Kristen was literally in the process of moving, so we decided that Tiffany – the homeowner – would be in charge of keeping the wine safe until then. I can’t wait!

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Give Hugs, Take Pictures

Posted by on Sep 9, 2014 | 0 comments

A couple weeks ago, my grandmother passed away. To be honest, I still can’t really believe she’s gone. It feels like a piece of my heart has slipped away, but at the same time, being back in Florida and back in my usual routine feels pretty normal. Living so far away from “home” for the past few years, I’ve gotten used to only seeing my grandparents in person once a year when I’m home for Christmas. It’s a sad truth about living far from home – you realistically just don’t get to SEE your family as often as you’d like.

When I was a kid, though, once a week, she and my grandpa would stop by the house and visit for an hour or two. My grandpa did most of the talking, but I always got to talk with her for a few minutes about school or our dog or, you know, whatever was on TV. She was always interested, always willing to listen, and she always told me that she loved me. Those moments were so simple, and so comforting.

It’s been a while since those visits were a normal part of my routine, sadly. Even before the big move to Florida, there was D.C. And before D.C., I was living 2 hours away from home for grad school and college. Before I moved away for my freshman year of college, though, I saw this sweet, smart, incredibly kind and thoughtful lady weekly. And I’m so grateful for all of those visits now.

I miss her.

I’m so grateful for all of pictures we have of us together. Most are from when I was a little girl or when family was visiting from out of state. When I went home, my sister and I looked through some old pictures. There are so many. When there’s a little kid in the room, there’s always a reason to take pictures. When we grow up, though, we tend to take less pictures of the normal routine things. I guess we think those constants will always be there and so they aren’t picture-worthy. When’s the last time you snapped a photo with a family member just because you stopped by for a visit?

I can tell you the last time I did this with my grandma. It was just about two years ago.

me and grandma

This is probably my favorite picture we have together. I love it because I know my grandpa is ducking down behind the chair so my grandma could get a picture with “just the girls”. She was 91 when we took this picture in 2012, and she lived to be 93.

I only knew her as my grandma, but I know she lived so, so much life before I was even born. I miss her, and I love her, and I’m so glad that she was able to be such a big part of my life for as long as she was. And I’ll remind myself: next time I have a chance to take a simple routine picture with someone I love, take it.

Give hugs, take pictures. You’ll always be glad you did.

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Pre-School for Adults

Posted by on Aug 13, 2014 | 0 comments

Something wonderful happened to me.

A few weeks ago, I decided to try a new yoga class – Flow & Meditation – and it was the best medicine.

I arrived at my regular yoga studio a few minutes early and the instructor asked me if I had ever taken this particular class before. I said no, and he told me the class consists of:

  • 45 minutes of vigorous vinyasa yoga exercises
  • 20 minutes of  guided meditation
  • 10 minute reflective writing activity

My first thought was wait, really?! There’s a writing prompt?  And my second thought was, this is great. This is going to feel like pre-school for adults: Recess/yoga, naptime/meditation, craft/writing time.

I went into the room where several students were already stretching. I rolled out my mat, fluffed my towel, and positioned my water bottle so it would be both out of the way and within reach. I did a few warm up poses and then rested on my back, listened to the music, and waited for the class to begin.

45 minutes of Yoga

The yoga was perfect. I was worried that the pace would be too vigorous, but it wasn’t, and our instructor always encouraged us to listen to our own bodies and take a break anytime that we wanted to. We did some strength, flexibility, and balance exercises. It was challenging enough and just the right amount of time for me to feel like I had a good workout without over-exerting myself.

20 minutes of guided meditation
We were encouraged to sit or lie down and feel comfortable and still on our mats. I’ve tried to meditate a few times before. The first time was during a developmental exercise as a Resident Advisor – and I got to meditate while  eating a piece of chocolate! I also attended a couple guided meditation classes at the gym while I was a student at JMU. Lay on the floor and listen to a story instead of run on the track? So relaxing. I enjoyed those experiences, but I wasn’t sure I was actually meditating in those classes.

In this case, our instructor dimmed the lights and then he read a piece which encouraged us to relax each part of our bodies: the tops of our feet, the bottom of our feet, our ankles, calves, knees, thighs, hips, core, …all the way up to our eyebrows. Then, when I felt completely relaxed and still – almost asleep but still awake – he read a guided meditation where I imagined I was floating on a boat, to a perfect island, where everything was gentle and happy. There was a point where we each received a message. We imagined what the message was on our own and for me, it was something I really needed to hear, I think.

Then we just got to lay on the mat in silence for about 5 minutes. Some people fell asleep. Our instructor reminded us to, “be still” and somehow, Learn to Be Still by the Eagles popped into my head and I couldn’t get it out. I’m a new mediator I guess.

Overall, it was glorious.

I know there are a lot of health benefits to meditation: it lowers blood pressure, reduces anxiety, and ultimately can help you develop compassion and forgiveness. Sometimes it’s hard to turn my thoughts “off,” but those thoughts tend to be racing and task-based: Did I remember to end that email at work? Should I call a friend I’m worried about? Did I remember to run the dishwasher? After meditating, it seemed more natural to slowly work through my thoughts, and I did generally feel less worried and more at peace. I thought having a guided meditation right after an intense yoga class would be the perfect combination.

It was.

Writing Activity

After feeling all relaxed and at ease, there was a writing PROMPT. Our instructor invited us to think about ways that maybe we are too proud of ourselves and our accomplishments, and to consider ways to be more modest, basically. I’ve been holding my head pretty high about my new job, so this was a very good experience for me.

For me, it was heaven. I’ve gone almost every Wednesday for the last few weeks, and I’m planning to make part of my weekly routine. So far, we’ve also had writing prompts about what things we’d love to do that maybe we’ve put off before because of money, fear, etc. We also wrote about how fulfilling it is to live in a community and watch it grow and did we want to live where we were living forever? If not, what kind of place would we like to live? This was a great thing to consider as Bret and I are going to be packing up and moving somewhere new in just about 9 months now.

Basically, this class is the best thing that’s happened to me in a while. It makes me focus on my own strength and health and also helps me organize my thoughts. I still think it’s kind of like pre-school for adults only in that we’d hope a pre-school helps kids get their energy out and then teaches them to be patient and compassionate, right?

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Cooking 101

Posted by on Aug 11, 2014 | 0 comments

For the most part, I don’t cook.

The typical meals I eat require minimum preparation. For breakfast, for example, I usually make oatmeal with a few mix-ins (peanut butter, honey, cinnamon, flax seed) or a piece of fruit smothered with similar toppings…. peanut butter, honey, and cinnamon:

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For lunch, I’ll almost always heat up a can of soup. This is my favorite:

And then, if I’m responsible for cooking my own dinner, I’ll do something super simple like saute a frozen “chikn” veggie patty (Gardein is the best), and throw it on some bagged salad. (Eat Smart Sweet Kale is delish and it comes with dressing and pumpkin seeds and crasins right in the bag!), and ta-da, dinner is served:

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Heating up something that’s pre-made and frozen is not really cooking by anyone’s standards, but it works for me. It’s not fancy, but it’s DELICIOUS.

Truth be told, I never had a real interest in cooking, and I’ve missed more than one opportunity to learn…

Missed Cooking Opportunity Round 1

As a kid, my mom – who is a phenomenal cook – invited me into the kitchen every night while she made dinner and tried to teach me the basics of how to make lots of amazing dishes, but in general, I resisted. Maybe that’s because the chances of getting me to handle raw meat were slim to none. Or maybe it’s because my mom is just so good there was no reason to try to compare. :)

Whatever the reason, despite my lack of personal cooking skills, I was one of those lucky kids who  got wholesome meals, homemade lunches, and a salad with dinner ever night.

Missed Cooking Opportunity Round 2

When I became a teenager, I slowly started eliminating meat from my diet. First it was red meat, and then pork, and finally, chicken. You’d think someone who liked vegetables would be interested in learning to cook her own vegetarian meals. No, not really. I’d just microwave some frozen meat substitute and eat that whenever the rest of my family enjoyed chicken, steak, pork chops, or meatloaf. I’m not sure I’d ever heard of tofu at this point. And I wouldn’t discover tempeh or seitan for years yet. So a frozen boca burger was as good as it got.

Missed Cooking Opportunity Round 3

Some people learn to cook when they’re off on their own, right? Well, I was also incredibly fortunate to attend a college with amazing dining options. I had a meal plan which was basically pre-paid access to whatever I wanted to eat on campus. Some kids filled up on grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza, french fries and soda (hi, husband!).

Not me. I was enthralled with the unlimited combinations offered by the salad bar. In fact, that salad bar in addition to those homemade vegetarian dishes made to order noon and night is what finally nudged me to give up eating meat completely. It was EASY to find healthy, filling, nutrient-dense meatless meals. It probably would have been a good time to learn how to recreate those dishes for myself, but why would I fight for kitchen time in a teeny tiny dorm room kitchen when I had those options?

Missed Cooking Opportunity Round 4

So what happened when that college meal plan went away? When I moved into an apartment without roommates and without a meal plan in D.C.? Then, I would definitely have to learn how to cook, right? Nope. Almost every day I ate:

  • A granola bar for breakfast (usually while running to the bus stop),
  • a peanut butter banana sandwich for lunch (or I went out), and
  • spaghetti for dinner. …I didn’t even heat up the sauce. I just poured it out of the jar. I’m serious.

Missed Cooking Opportunity Round 5

Marriage. Most people who are old enough to get married are old enough to make dinner, right? Lucky me, I married someone who can cook!

These days, I feel pretty spoiled because more often than not, Bret cooks dinner and “help” — which basically means I stir some things. I talk to Bret and entertain the cats while he does the real work.

We fell into this routine because, well, Bret is the better cook. Bret has some cooking experience from working in a diner in college (which makes him remind me of Luke from Gilmore Girls), and that’s more experience than I have, so he wins the cooking prize of being Head Chef.

We’ve prepared two Thanksgiving meals together, but usually, he takes the main dish. I tend to make pasta, pasta salad, salads, and simple side dishes that require minimal effort. Something like this:

Chickpea Tomato Green Onion Salad with Cilantro Dressing

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I’ve tried to cook real main courses on my own, but I fail because:

  1. I’m impatient,
  2. I don’t like to follow recipes, and
  3. Bret takes over.

Bret is patient. He’s cooked some pretty impressive dishes because he took the time to purchase all the ingredients and follow a recipe. When I do cook, I end up throwing in substitutions, skipping the parts that sound hard, and making something awful (unless Bret stops me in time and takes over, which is what usually happens).

I feel really lucky that Bret enjoys cooking and is willing to cook for us, but lately, I’ve been wanting to be Head Chef, too. Truthfully, there’s no reason I can’t cook. With resources like allrecipes.com, I have every recipe at my fingertips – literally. Plus, cooking for someone else is fun. When Bret cooks for me, it makes me feel happy and loved, and I want to be able to return the favor sometimes, too.

Next semester, Bret is going to be teaching late afternoon & night classes… so I may get my chance!

I’m making a commitment to try to plan out meals in advance, buy the necessary ingredients, and actually cook full meals. I’m planning to follow recipes and make my own tweaks and publish my progress here.

Here’s a preview of one yummy dish I’ve come up with so far…

 Tempeh Quesadillas!

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That’s tempeh (although you could use shredded chicken or another protein) mixed in with salsa. I just sprinkled cheese on a tortilla, added the tempeh/salsa, sprinkled some more cheese, added another tortilla and heated it up over the stove. It was good! Bret liked it, too.

For now, I’m following recipes, but I’m planning to make some tweaks and pretty soon, I’m hoping to have some of my own recipes to share.

Wish me luck!

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Goodbye, Cruise: Day 7…and 8

Posted by on Jul 29, 2014 | 2 comments

It’s been two months since we were sailing on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas, so I think it’s finally time to wrap up these cruise posts with a re-cap of our last day(s).

Day 7 was an “At Sea” day, and it was the day I recognized that our wonderful vacation was really coming to an end. Day 8 was a wait for your number to be called to exit the ship morning following by drive home day. The saddest day, for sure. So let’s start with Day 7!

In the morning, instead of a leisurely breakfast in the dining room or even platters of free room service, we elected to eat granola bars in our room. Why? Because we wanted to take Bret’s camera for a photo tour of the ship before everyone else was awake! My sister recommended doing this one morning while the whole ship was clean, free of crowds, and virtually untouched. What a great idea.

I’m so glad we got these pictures…

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Check out the swim-up pool bar under the bridge!

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This wine bar was great. I don’t know why it wasn’t more popular, but Bret and I were the only ones in there when we went one night for the wine tasting.

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Can you spot Shrek and his friends? Look UP!

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These light changed colors constantly. I may have stood on the bridge and made Bret wait until they turned purple to take the picture. Purple and gold! Go Dukes!

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Unlimited free coffee, tea, and bakery items available 24/7. I want to take a cruise with my sister because I feel like we would stay up talking here until, well, forever.

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This is the karaoke spot :)

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Art.

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That’s the staircase where we got our professional photo taken after dinner.

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This perspective is a little dizzy-ing… but it wasn’t in person.

After we’d snapped enough photos to feel satisfied, we claimed some chairs by the pool where we read and relaxed for a few hours. It was a sweet, simple way to savor some of our last vacation hours. I love that there were quiet, adults only pool sections; bright and sunny poolside sections; and cool, shade-covered comfy chair sections to choose from. Some people claimed chairs with pool towels early, but if they weren’t using those chairs after an hour or so, the cruise staff would politely remove their things and bring them over to the Lost and Found to make room for  others. There was definitely a spot for everyone., and it was nice to be able to read tucked away from the super fun (but super loud) H20 zone:

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Then it was time for our last lunch on-board. On our way to lunch, we took a snacks and pizza detour all through the promenade. I mean, why not? And then we went up to the windjammer buffet for lunch. I had my usual salad bar, but I was sure to include a cheesey entree and dessert.

After our 7th and LAST lunch on-board, we were feeling sentimental, so we moseyed over to the photo studio, looked at our professional pictures, and decided to buy three of them:

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We dropped the pictures off in the room, and then went back to the promenade for an event aptly named, FreedomFest! I watched a towel folding demonstration and picked up a a packet of instructions so I can learn how to be a towel-folding expert for my Florida guests. There was food everywhere (we were full, though) and mixed drinks for sale. It was buzzing just like the 70s party from the night before that I think I forgot to blog about… ah, well. Oh, and there was an ice sculpture for FreedomFest.

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We sat in lounge chairs on level 4 and just watched the ocean. I remember thinking, I will certainly miss this.

We needed to break a $100 bill so we could tip our servers and room keeper, so, naturally, we went to the casino! I put in a $100, I won $5, and we cashed out at $105. Just like that! We got our $100 back in $20s, $10s, and $5s, …and then gambled the free $5 away. I couldn’t resist!

With gambling on the brain, we thought about trying to win a free cruise vacation via bingo, but left when we realized the bingo cards started at $22 a piece – what?! I didn’t win that much money! So we went back up to the pool deck and watched the volleyball tournament instead. It was a crew vs. guests game! Any guest could sign up to be on one of the 6 teams. The crew won all 6 rounds but then EVERYONE from those 6 teams got in the pool for an ultimate game and the guests won one final game.

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We went to the pool bar and ordered a couple drinks. We walked around and snapped a few pictures of the pool. We had no agenda. I just kept thinking… we are really, really going to miss this place!

We had our last dinner in the dining room. I had vegetarian “chickn” and rice (bleh – veggie meals were not the ship’s specialty) and Bret had seafood and mash. I had key lime pie for desert which was delish!

After dinner, we watched the 7:00pm Farewell Show which was impressive. There were acrobats! And comedy – a good mix to counteract the sad goodbye which was the farewell from all of the staff members. They talked about what perfect weather we’d had all week – which was true. Ah, I feel sad just thinking about it!

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On our way back to our room we grabbed a cupcake to go, and came back to our room to finish packing and fill out our travel paperwork, which I proceeded to spill chocolate icing on. It was fine.

Oh, speaking of paperwork, obviously, Bret picked up the materials to join the frequent cruising club loyalty program.

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We’re members.

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Then, for some reason I’ll never think of pleasantly, we decided to go to Johnny Rockets for a slice of apple pie.

Remember how you pay one flat rate of $6 no matter what you order? Well our server insisted that we needed more than a slice of apple pie. This guy brought us French fries, onion rings, a tuna melt (me) a burger (Bret), TWO milkshakes and then yes finally a slice of apple pie…with ice cream. I was so incredibly full that I didn’t even want the apple pie so I asked if we could get it “to go” instead. He said that he had already prepared the apple pie on the plate, but he would also make us one to go. I said no, but it was too late. After we struggled to eat most of that apple pie, our server brought us a huge to go back with more apple pie… and more ice cream to go, and my leftover tuna melt, fries and onion rings, too… it was way too much!

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I may be smiling, but I felt sick from over-eating.

Gross.

We walked around the promenade after a short recovery in the room. I was planning to grab a nightcap drink from the Champagne Bar, but I felt way too awful from Johnny Rockets. Next time, then.

The weirdest thing was before we went to bed was standing out on our balcony and seeing the coast. Miami, FL to be exact. After a week of seeing endless ocean, we were almost home, and we did not like it.

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The night before we left our suitcases out in the hall to be picked up.

When we woke up, we were pulled back up next to that Disney Dream where we started our vacation 7 days ago. It was too sad.

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In the morning, they served breakfast, which was great. We went to the windjammer and then picked up our little carry-on bags from the room and headed over to our waiting area to wait for our number to be organized. Leaving was well-organized.

Goodbye, room.

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Goodbye, weird little bathroom.

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The interactive touch screen board that usually listed all the fun activities just had everyone’s departure time. It was so sad.

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Really, really sad.

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Looking back, my favorite memories are the simple ones: lounging on Deck 4 and listening to the waves, eating lunch and dinner overlooking the water, and sitting out on our balcony together. My most exciting memories are swimming with the stingrays, making salsa in Cozumel, watching the Love and Marriage game show on the ship, and watching the Ice Show on the ship. All of the shows we saw were great.

If I cruise here again, I will definitely climb the rock wall or the wave rider or something like that. One of the new ships, Oasis of the Seas, has a skydiving simulator! I loved the pool. I loved being able to walk off the ship and be in a brand new place even though I felt most comfortable in Labadee and Grand Cayman. I loved being able to walk back to our room whenever I needed a break. I loved the Champagne Bar and the coffee & pastries being available 24/7. I loved not having access to my phone even though I was obviously having withdrawls because I dreamt about blogging and emailing.

The funny thing is, when planning this vacation, we weren’t even thinking about a cruise initially. It just ended up being so much more economical than paying for transportation, hotel, activities, and food anywhere else. Even though it’s been 2 months since the cruise, not a day goes by where Bret doesn’t talk about how much he misses it. Hopefully we’ll be planning another one in the near-ish future.

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The Perfect Saturday

Posted by on Jul 26, 2014 | 0 comments

This morning when I woke up, I immediately felt this sense of urgency to go out and enjoy the day. I wanted to go grab my lap top and start reworking a chapter of my (slooooowly but surely growing) novel. I wanted to go for a walk before the humidity sets in. I wanted to make pancakes. I wanted to go to the Farmer’s Market. I wanted to soak in every minute of this humid, quiet Tallahassee summer. I felt so much joy toward the open, unplanned-ness of the day.

It’s the same feeling I felt on Saturday mornings when I was a kid. I remember – so clearly – waking up on my own during that horrid year of kindergarten and realizing that it wasn’t a school day. I remember bouncing into Mallory’s room where she was – without a doubt – already awake and playing Barbies. I can picture her smiley 4-year-old face so clearly. We could play for hours: building blanket forts, doing “gymnastics” (i.e. toppling backwards off our bed)s, and playing barbies until my parents came in and brought some structure to our day.

  • Eat Breakfast
  • Get Dressed
  • Make a List of tasks we’re going to accomplish today, you know.

If it was summer, those “tasks” probably included an afternoon at the pool, running through a sprinkler in the backyard, or maybe even playing water balloons. Speaking of water balloons… this dad’s brilliant idea will be making an appearance in my life one day I’m sure. Being a kid on a Saturday in the middle of summer? Those were perfect Saturdays.

When I was six, I didn’t know that while I was having a perfect Saturday, there were kids in my kindergarten class who were not. They didn’t have any parents around to add some structure to their day. They didn’t have any breakfast to eat or anyone at all to play with. I did not know this. I was safe and protected in my happy little world, and it was the perfect Saturday. For me.

This morning I wrapped my initial thoughts of writing and breakfast into one and ended up here, at The Sweet Shop, with Bret.

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That’s a banana nutella croissant. It’s perfect. After this we probably will go to that Farmer’s Market. Then we might play a video game. I’m not really a video game kind of person, but he introduced me to a game that I like. It’s basically like watching an animated movie about high school kids in Japan and answering “choose your own adventure” questions to move the story along. That’s the best way I can describe it. It’s fun. Tonight, we may go see this play with a few friends. It’s pretty perfect.

Last Saturday, we were at Epcot in Disney World. Just for a day trip. That was a perfect Saturday, too.

I’m grateful for our Saturdays. Sometimes I feel guilty, though. I feel outrageously guilty for being able to enjoy this Saturday while people just like me are living on the other side of the world filled with complete terror, grief, and disbelief that their whole world has been turned upside down. It’s a balance – I think – of expressing gratitude for what you have and knowing that everything could be completely changed in a single second.

I always wonder if I’m doing life right. When I graduated from JMU, I pledged to be an educated and enlightened citizen who leads a productive and meaningful life. I do not take this lightly. Sometimes I don’t know how much attention I should be devoting to things I can’t do anything about. And then I wonder if actually I can help, and I wonder if I’m doing enough. And I think about my friend who have no time because they are always traveling for work or cleaning up after kids and I realize that I have so much time.

And I realize that even if I donated 50% of my income and dedicated all my weekends to volunteer service, I’ll still be living in a pretty safe bubble. And I’ll be able to elect to have a perfect Saturday whenever I need one.

Well.

Even though this post isn’t turning out exactly the way I wanted it to, I’m going to publish it, because my blogging habits haven’t been up to par this month and that Sweet Shop picture is a great snapshot for this time in my life of carefree Saturdays. I’m so grateful for this Saturday. I’m so grateful for this time in our lives. I’m so grateful for Bret. I feel so lucky to be where I am. I’m so motivated by the fact that I have the tools and resources I need to learn more and try more and keep building myself into a more compassionate human being who leaves a real thumbprint on this world. This Saturday, I’m counting my blessings and looking forward to doing more.

Until next time, Happy Saturday!

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