“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. The other cat kept sticking their paw under the door, but you walked over to me cautiously, and then promptly rolled over on your back, purring audibly. You let me scratch your head and rub stomach. You didn’t bite me, and that right there made you the sweetest cat I’d ever met. I knew right away that I wanted to adopt you and be your “forever” guardian. On my way to pick you up, I got into my first car accident [very minor – I was fine]. That didn’t stop me from adopting you later that week, though. Your Aunt Mallory drove up from Richmond to help – and boy am I glad she did because you meowed the whole. way. home. I’ll admit I was a little afraid of you at first. Your eyes looked like different colors depending on the time of the day and how much they were dilated, and you ran around REALLY fast at night. It only took me a few days for me to realize this was normal cat behavior. When I lived in D.C., you were my one and only roommate. In fact, I’m not sure I would have made it...
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 underpaid per dollar It’s a love story / Baby just say yes / because consent should always be freely and enthusiastically given You pull my chair out and help me in / & You don’t know how nice that is / But it also reinforces the idea that women are inherently fragile The stakes are high / The water’s rough / But these reproductive choices are ours Now, I’m not sure Taylor Swift is a fan of those tweets. She’s been quoted saying she doesn’t consider herself a feminist because she doesn’t view life as “guys vs. girls”. I’m not here to tell Taylor that she should call herself a feminist, but that statement made me wonder how she defines “feminist”. The word “feminist” can stir negative emotions. We hear it associated with unattractive traits. You know what I mean: bra-burning, male-hating, cold-hearted… Even today I think a lot of people imagine most “feminists” to be middle-aged women’s studies professors… in a pants suits… who are probably divorced and childless. Am I right? There are so many different kinds of people who believe in the feminism cause. I’m one of them. When I titled this post “Proud Feminist,” I wasn’t referring to myself, though. Or Taylor Swift. I...
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 to visit them in the wild. As soon as I heard that you could get a glimpse of one of these babies down here near the gulf, I have been researching boat cruises like it’s my job. In all my searching, I found the most perfect little piece of real life jungle cruise heaven: Wakula Springs. I love everything about this place beginning with the name, including the old time ice cream soda refreshment shoppe, and ending with this little token of hope: So we signed up for this boat tour and I tried NOT to get my I’m-going-to-see-a-Manatee-today hopes up. I was content with the little turtles and gators and serene wildlife as pictured below: But then. It happened. Manatee!…and…baby manatee! Of all places, they were snuggled up next to my side of the boat and these perfect uninjured babies living safely and happily ever after in this majestic state park brought tears to my eyes. Literally. Dream come true. Share...
I’m learning that in addition to bluegrass music and local breweries, Boone is known for it’s gorgeous hiking trails.
I’m not much of an outdoorsy person [yet]. I’m one of those people who likes camping and hiking in theory, but not so much in practice. I love fresh air. I love the gentle, soothing sounds of nature. I love food prepared over a campfire. I do not love bugs, snakes, or dirt.
I can’t live here and not at least try to embrace the outdoorsy-ness, though, right? So this weekend, Bret and I went on our first Boone hike.
It started off simple enough:
And then it got a little treacherous (for me):
I would do the whole hike sometime, I think, if I had a backpack with snacks. I was carrying my cell phone and water bottle and I dropped both multiple times.
I know there are various levels of hiking trails – some are much more challenging than others. This one was full of small children who were comfortable running, jumping, and sliding down rocks so I don’t think it was considered challenging but it was challenging enough for me.
My favorite part of the hike was the crisp, fall air. It is already feeling like fall here. I like it, but I doubt I’ll love when the weather transitions into winter temperatures as early as OCTOBER. I’m hoping for a mild winter, but I have a feeling I’m going to be marathon training in layers and layers of clothes.
When someone asks me where I’m from, I usually answer like this,
“Well, I just moved here from Tallahassee, FL; but I’m originally from Richmond, VA; and I work in Washington DC, so I go up there a lot, too.”
I’ve learned this kind of answer is very normal in academia. In fact, I met someone last week who met me word for word. She responded with, “Oh, I love Tallahassee! I grew up in Jacksonville, FL. And I went to college in DC. And, yep, I lived in Richmond for a bit before I was in Texas.” And, by the way, she just moved here (to Boone, NC) from Cleveland.
I try to keep it simple, but it occurred to me this weekend, that my little spiel is missing the place that feels most like home to me: Harrisonburg, VA. Specifically, the James Madison University community.
I’ve said it before, but going to college at JMU changed me in the best ways. It taught me how to approach unfamiliarity with an open-mind and an open-heart. It taught me how to think critically about things I’d previously accepted as true or right or wrong. It made empathize deeply with people and situations that I’d never really been exposed to.
Because of my time at JMU, I developed a love for student affairs and interpersonal communication. I learned about the world through the lens of my anthropology classes and feminist rhetoric classes. I joined the fencing club and took a self-defense class. I developed professional skills and people skills that ultimately led me to my career. I took on seemingly impossible challenges working in residence life, I learned about the non-academic inter-workings of the university while working in conference services, and I got my first taste of a professional role working on a publication for the orientation office. This university and the people invested in it shaped me into a stronger, more inquisitive, and more compassionate person. I’m immensely grateful, and I want to give back to JMU in every way I can. That’s why I always say YES to an opportunity to donate, to speak, or to join an alumni committee.
My JMU friends keep doing impressive things: moving across the country, taking on awesome careers, and starting their own businesses. Some of my favorite alums, though, have migrated back to Harrisonburg for work or grad school to live and work and thrive in that place that made us. I love the idea of returning “home” to JMU after living in other places. On Saturday, Bret and I drove up to see some friends who are hoping to do just that.
While the boys played frisbee on Saturday morning, I was planning to grab coffee with one of my friends – Adrienne – who moved back to Harrisonburg about a year ago. You can imagine my surprise when instead of my friend, I walked into the coffee shop and saw two of the most wonderful former supervisors/mentors/amazing people there waiting for me. You see, Adrienne was sick. Instead of calling me to cancel, she arranged for these amazing individuals to meet me there instead. Who thinks to do that? Amazing JMU people, that’s who. I love the friends I made at JMU, but I owe everything to the mentors who influenced me there. Getting to catch up with them was wonderful. It made me want to come back for another visit soon.
After coffee, I went to Earth and Tea cafe with one of my best friends and JMU alums. I love her. It was magical and, gosh, my cup was so full after our catch up date. Then we visited the kittens that are up for adoption at Cat’s Cradle. I couldn’t adopt a kitten, but I made a donation. Then we frolicked downtown. Then we went wine tasting at the vineyard where I got married. Then we had ice cream at Klein’s. And then we walked around campus at night.
I pointed out all the magical JMU secret things that not everyone knows about.
Naturally I had to take a selfie with my favorite statue.
In the morning we went for a run (I am training for a half-marathon after all) and I was just in awe of how much my little town is growing up.
The park connects to the apartment complex where my friends used to live. I was just running along the path and I didn’t know where we were going to end up. It was a weird feeling being back there without them. Knowing four or five cycles of students have probably moved in and out since then felt extra weird. But, what can you do? Time moves us forward.
That’s all for now, I guess. I just love Harrisonburg so much, and I promise not to leave you out of my “where are you from?” reply anymore. I lived in Harrisonburg for 6 years… 6 hugely developmental years. I always brag about living alone in DC, but I actually lived alone in Harrisonburg first. It was only for about 3 months, but those were some influential 3 months.
I love you, JMU. You will always a huge part of me.Read More
This past weekend was wonderful.
Once a year, three of my best friends from high school get together for a girls weekend. We always go somewhere new and spend a few days catching up and talking about life. And we always pose for a picture like this on a balcony, or, in this case, balcony looking object.
It’s one of my favorite traditions.
These ladies are some of the kindest, most genuinely good people I know, and I’m really fortunate to have them in my life. We’ve been there through so much life together already (we’ve been friends for over 10 years) and I know their friendship is just going to mean more and more to me as time passes.
I don’t really know how to write this post without taking a quick trip down memory lane…
And then there was this year: The best weekend yet:
We call this weekend “Balcony Fest” because we always take a picture in the same order standing on a balcony. And it’s great. And I hope it never ends.
Our hotel offered beachside early morning yoga and I was DELIGHTED. It’s kind of been a dream/goal of mine to incorporate beach yoga into our of our trips. It was great.
We had yummy on-site dining options. We rented some beach chairs in the morning, walked over for lunch, and walked right back to our beach spot for the afternoon. Perfection.
We explored downtown Wilmington and the adorable Riverwalk.
We had a fancy complimentary breakfast every morning at our hotel. And we split dessert four ways because we always share things perfectly.
We had delicious drinks and bought friendship rings.
We went wine tasting because every year we buy a bottle of wine for the NEXT Girls Weekend.
And if there’s one thing you take away from this post, it’s that you need to purchase a bottle of the pumpkin pie port. It’s really, really, really, really, really, really worth the $25 + $10 shipping. Perfection in a bottle.
It’s hard for me to put into words how important this trip is for my soul. I’ve had “friendships” that are actually quite horrible. Friends can be competitive and judgmental, and well, we’ve all seen the movie Mean Girls, right? I’ve seen friendships like that continue right through adulthood.
These women. This friendship. Sometimes I say things I don’t mean and I don’t even realize how hurtful I was until days (weeks?) later. Any of these people forgive me. Sometimes one of us falls out of touch for a couple months, and we forgive her. I would do anything for any of them. I trust them. I depend on them. I feel like my truest self when I’m with them.
I think it’s really important to maintain friendships with people who have known you the longest. I’ve seen my grandparents do this, and my parents do this, and they always seem “at home” with these friends that have known them since they were kids. So far, we’ve maintained our friendship through different relationships and break-ups, through good family times and tough times, and through a lot of long-distance living (Stephanie has been in Boston; I’ve been in Florida), but now we’re all living within 5 hours of each other: two of us in North Carolina, and two of us in Virginia and it’s so comforting to me. I want us to still be friends when we have our own kids, when we have grandkids. Forever.
I won’t be able to say this as eloquently, so I’m going to quote my friend Tiffany here:
If you have those people in your life who you can be totally yourself around, who get you without you having to explain, who know what you’re really saying when you say something else and who ask you the hard questions nobody else will… don’t ever let those people go. You will never regret making the effort to connect or reconnect. But you’ll regret letting people slip away. — Tiffany Heidenthal
It’s so true. I’m just so grateful to have these people in my life. I really don’t know what I would do without them.Read More
I did it. I wrote a novel.
It’s a sloppy first draft that needs a lot of revision. There are sections that need to be totally rewritten. It’s not ready to submit for publication yet. It needs a lot of love. But… I wrote it.
Right now, it’s just shy of 54,000 words.
100 single spaced typed pages.
There are developed characters. There is a consistent storyline. It feels amazing, honestly. I’m quite proud of myself today.
It’s a dream of mine that I’ve had for a long time and I really FEEL like I’ve accomplished something. Even though this is only Phase One on the long path to publication, I believe this is the hardest part: writing the first draft.
When I force myself to write a lot, I get a lot of text on the page but it’s not necessarily coherent or fluid. But this is… enough. It’s enough. And now I enter my favorite phase: revision.
I’m going to spend the next couple of months reading, reading, and re-reading what I’ve started here, and writing, writing, and re-writing.
And then, when it’s ready, I’m going to submit it for publication. If I never get published, I’m still going to be so proud that I WROTE something. And I can try again. Or write a new novel and try to publish that one. The way I see it, it’s okay to fail, but you have to try.
It’s currently saved in three places because I don’t even want to imagine what I would feel if I lost it.
When Bret first applied for a job in Boone, he sold me on the fact that it was only about an hour away from Asheville, NC.
We’d been to Asheville once before with friends in grad school, and it was a blast. I remembered a champagne bookstore, a chocolate lounge with all of the chocolate you could ever want, and just a generally fun and pleasant atmosphere.
Here’s a picture from our first trip to Asheville in 2011:
It’s a fun, young, hippie town with an active downtown life and tons of local stores and restaurants. I don’t know what is so captivating about it exactly, but I love it, and since we moved to Boone (no less than TWO months ago), we’ve had three different friends contact us to let us know they were going to Asheville and that we should meet up. Asheville is like a magnet pulling our Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina friends in our direction. I love that.
Bret and I decided to take a little “staycation” a few weeks ago to get to know the area, and we spent a night in Asheville. I loved it just as much as I remembered, and the weather was a lot nicer than our first visit.
We went to the champagne bookstore and to a Tapas (appetizer) bar and sampled lots of good food and drinks. My favorite was the house cocktail with cucumber vodka and watermelon lemonade.
We saw this little cart that you pedal down the street while drinking beer. And we went back to the Chocolate lounge and got some yummy chocolate milkshakes! Mine had coffee in it.
We went to the aSHEville Museum. Loved it. Bought a present.
Boone has it’s charms, but being near Asheville really makes me love it so much more. And there’s plenty I haven’t done yet, but I like having something to look forward to. I really want to go back and tour the Biltmore Estate when it’s decorated for Christmas!Read More
This has been the longest spring of my life. In Tallahassee, spring began at the end of February with the first sign of budding flowers and pollen. Pollen completely took over our screened porch by March, and then different flowers continued to bud and flourish through April. Of course, flowers bloom year round in Florida. I remember these beautiful red flowers that came up each December. But there was definitely an early spring season. When we moved to North Carolina at the end of May, it was still cool here (58 degrees our first morning!) and our landlord told us that these beautiful pink flowers would bloom “soon” on our back porch. I had my doubts. By the first week of June I thought surely they had already bloomed and disappeared by now, but, sure enough, come mid-June mountain laurel type flowers began opening up on all of the bushes around our house and bright orange flowers sprouted by our mailbox (clearly, I need to learn the names of flowers). Spring continued in my world 6 months after it began. It still feels like spring here.
Every spring in Tallahassee, I looked forward to April when these purple and white flowers bloomed outside of our apartment. They are buds with tiny petals that seem to multiply magically. My sister would always visit in April or May and I’d point them out – it’s like they bloomed to welcome her. I don’t even know what they’re called, but these beauties were EVERYWHERE in Tallahassee.
During my last April in Tally, I was sad when I noticed these flowers popping up everywhere BUT our front door. I thought maybe they had accidentally gotten uprooted during our roof repair, and I was sad to think about them not being around anymore. But then, during my last month of Tallahassee – in MAY – I saw a bud.
I was so happy. And I decided to document it’s growth so I could always remember this beautiful process.
Every day when I walked outside, or each evening when I returned from yoga and the lighting was perfect, I snapped a picture.
I loved watching the first clusters expand and open.
I got all sappy thinking about how this flower would reach full bloom right around the time we moved out. I was giddy – honestly – about documenting this process.
And then, it snapped.
I don’t know what caused it to happen, but when this stem broke, my heart basically split in two, too.
I just couldn’t believe it. I remember when I stepped outside – I don’t even remember where we were going – but let out a half laugh half yell, “NO!” and then yelled at Bret to go get me some tape. I found a stick.
I made a splint.
I thought, maybe, that would fix things. Maybe I had saved this little flower. I hoped that if the stem was upright it would still be able to do it’s job and pump nutrients to this flower from the earth. Please stay alive I thought.
I kept taking pictures. And I was hopeful, but I noticed some of the younger blooms were doing better and this one was kind of wilting. It was a really sad, miserable feeling – watching this flower die slowly. Bret suggested I start photographing another one, but of course, I couldn’t.
This story does not have a happy ending. The flower died. One day I finally cut the tape off, tossed the stick away, and just let it go. It’s time in Tallahassee was shorter than anticipated. And by the time I moved out, it was gone.
I guess it just proves you can’t predict everything. Or control everything. Or fix everything.
I do miss these Florida flowers, though. And I wish I had a million pictures of them. I hope I can figure out what they are and maybe I can try plant them here next spring.
Otherwise, I’ll have to remember them by this short-lived documentary.Read More