“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....
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January has been jam-packed full of crazy. Work has been more than a little overwhelming for me, and Bret has been traveling for interviews, plus teaching, dissertating, you know. It’s a temporary season, thankfully, but so far these 2015 days have been non-stop exhausting. I’ve been on an endless reel of work late, help Bret prep for his next interview/presentation/class, crash and wake up early in an attempt to work on my novel (…but I usually just started working on work). It’s not our preferred pace of life. That’s probably why I ended up with the flu.
I didn’t want this busy season to pass us by with nothing pleasant to remember it by. So. A few weeks ago, I realized Bret and I would both have MLK, Jr. day off of work, so I suggested spending this 3-day weekend in Disney World. (This is our last few months as Disney Annual Passholders, and I don’t want them to go to waste!) Originally, I thought this was going to be a good time for a trip. I thought that things would slow down a bit, but they didn’t. When the actual weekend arrived, I wasn’t sure how Bret was going to react to having this mini vacay sandwiched between so much travel and craziness.
Well, I should have known… he would be thrilled.
After Bret flew in at midnight on a Friday, we slept in until about 7:30 on Saturday, and then hit the road. Being able to hop on the road and drive to the happiest place on earth is one of our favorite Florida things. I just can’t describe it.
We arrived before check-in, so we left our things in the car at the hotel, and walked over to Epcot.
Yes, walked. I got a found discount staying for two nights at the Swan which is within walking distance of Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. A dream come true, I tell you.
I had everything planned out. We say we’re spontaneous with our Disney days, but truthfully, once we get there, we so often end up doing our same favorite things over and over. That’s fine – I think – but it kind of makes all of our day trips run together. This time, I wanted us to try new things and make new memories, so I’d made a list of a few attractions and dining options we hadn’t tried before, narrowed them down, organized them by park, and made a Fedule. (This is what my sister and I call a “fun” “schedule” — a fedule.”)
We had lunch somewhere we’ve been wanting to try for a while: the Spice Road Table! Most of the restaurant is open-air (or, at least the part we had seen before was), but we got to sit inside which was really pretty and really nice.
We considered each getting a “small plate.” They range in price from $7-$12 and include thing like mussels, omelets, greek salad, brie fondue, hummus and pita… Nicole food, basically. I was hoping to sample a few things, so I was really happy that Bret was interested in sharing a the Mediterranean Vegetable Platter which included:
It may not look like a lot, but it was surprisingly filling and not too expensive since we shared it. We were happy to spend the rest of the afternoon walking around the countries at Epcot. We realized we had never watched the Circle Vision movie in China, so we did. We wandered around the Japan store because Bret loves it. It was relaxing, fun, perfect. Then we went back to the hotel to check in, relax, and get ready for dinner.
For the most part, we kept our meals light (and cheap): sharing a Mickey pretzel and lemonade or eating a burrito out of a food truck at downtown Disney, but I picked one special dinner that we were really looking forward to: BOMA!
Boma – Flavors of Africa is a huge buffet at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
I wanted to go to Animal Kingdom, we didn’t really have time, but I did REALLY want to check out the Animal Kingdom Lodge and this was the perfect way to do it. We took a bus from our hotel to the Animal Kingdom park, and then from the Animal Kingdom park to the Animal Kingdom Lodge. The whole exterior is lush greenery and it just makes me feel happy and peaceful. Check out the Animal Kingdom Lodge lobby:
I’d read that there were tons of vegetarian options, which is always a big selling point for me, but I was especially eager to get to try and sample a bunch of new flavors without having to pay for an entire plate that I may not like. I love buffets. I was excited to graze on brand new flavors and… also… I wanted to go to the gift shop.
I love giraffe hugs.
Here’s a quick sampling of the menu:
And of course there were tons of delicious entrees. They had familiar stuff like: Pork Shoulder, Ribs, Roasted Chicken, Beef Striploin, and one of my favorites: almond-crusted roasted Salmon. I was intrigued to see a variety of stuff I’d never heard of: Mater Paneer, Fufu, and Pap and Chakalaka – a south African vegetable relish that I dipped everything in. It was so good!
I know that just looks like a heaping pile of food. That’s the thing with buffets, I just pile everything on. It was just so good! Except for the soup.
Here’s the thing, because there were so many choices, I encouraged Bret to only get one pour of a soup, to try it, and then go back and get more if he likes it. Did I take my own advice? No. Why? Some guy warned me about the soup as I was filling my bowl. He said it was terrible. I thought – I’m sure I’ll like this. Too bad you don’t have an appetite for things that are good for you like carrots and ginger.
It was horrible. I don’t even know why. It was just too ginger-y for me, and I love ginger. It was awful. I ate most of it, anyway, because I felt wasteful leaving it there. That was the ONLY non-delicious thing I tasted, though, and I washed it down with my delicious jamberry wine.
Of course, the unlimited desserts were also so yummy. We decided to share this whole plate…
And that was our whole night.
Bret realized the Magic Kingdom was open until 1AM, so I became SO EXCITED. I was SURE I was finally going to get to ride this 7 Dwarfs Mine Train ride I’d been trying to get a Fast Pass for for 3 months. Unfortunately, there was still a 110 minute wait. Two hours. At 11PM. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! It was not a joke.
I was a little bummed, but you could still find us frolicking around enjoying everything from the Flying Dumbo ride to a spontaneous dance party:
…Actually that dance party was at Epcot from the next night. I just thought the pictures went together so I put them next to each other and rewrote history.
The point of it all, we were happy:
And that was just the first day!
Next came my other favorite day, Magic Kingdom day. You see, Bret’s idea to go to the Magic Kingdom was not on the Fedule, so, we got to go TWICE! We ate some snacks in the room for breakfast, and then we caught a bus over to the Magic Kingdom.
We rode the People Mover and watched a happy little castle musical. And we rode The Little Mermaid.
For lunch, I’d read about this “hidden gem” – a sit down restaurant with counter service prices called The Plaza. What a dream! The thing is, you HAVE to have a reservation… so I made one make one the day before. It was completely, completely, completely worth it.
The 100th customer of the day got a free dessert. We were not the 100th customer, so we bought our own dessert. Banana Split!
It was so good. We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the park.
Then we walked over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios (we walked about 20,000 steps this day), used our Fast Passes to ride Toy Story, went back to the hotel and then…
…spent the night at Downtown Disney!
We basically never go to Downtown Disney and I’m so glad we did. I don’t have any pictures, but we enjoyed walking around and popping into all the shops. I got a free sample of chocolate …or two We found this little food truck area and ate some burritos while we listened to this awesome guitar player sing and take requests from the crowd. This little 3-year-old sitting next to me ran up and requested, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and I just about crid.
My favorite part of the night? Well, other than that kid’s song request? We went in the Christmas shop and bought our souvenir: a 2015 Disney Ornament to hang on our tree!!! I already packed it up for next year, but I love it. I can’t wait to see it hanging on our tree in our new home in our new city.
It’s been a week. We’re back home and things are still busy and uncertain and kind of crazy most of the time, but I’m so glad we got away for this special trip. I hope, next year this time, when I’m thinking back to January 2015, I’ll disregard the flu and the work stress and Bret’s job search uncertainty and, instead I’ll think of this epic Disney weekend.Read More
At the beginning of 2014, I remember feeling trapped. I lived in a wonderful city with the best partner, but I absolutely loathed my job.
I know a lot of people don’t love their jobs, but my job stressed me so much that I couldn’t “leave it at the door” when I got home. I felt worried and overworked and grumpy most of the time. I dreaded every morning. I dreaded a convention that was literally 10 months away. It wasn’t good.
Last January, during the first full moon of the new year, my yoga instructor encouraged my class to light a candle and welcome the unexpected changes this year with an open heart.
I didn’t do that.
At this point, I had given up on pep talks. Instead, I looked down at my 10 fingers and assigned each one a month. My 1st finger was “January” and my 10th finger represented October – my LAST convention before Bret would graduate and we’d get to move to a new city. I resolved to have a better attitude. I can do this, I thought. I just need to get to November 2014.
Even though it was a pretty effective coping mechanism – breaking the year into manageable chunks so I could track my progress – I’m here to tell you that approaching a new year as something that I had merely had to “get through” was a horrible strategy. I had a whole year of possibilities in front of me, but I’d already made up my mind that 2014 was just a big long countdown to get rid of. I wish I could have told myself that I’d be getting some exciting news in March, a new job in June, and that I’d never even have to go to another dreaded convention. I didn’t know.
I couldn’t have known, but I could have tried harder to change my attitude. Looking back, the whole year flew by. When I started to write my recap, I drew a blank. I had to turn to my Instagram account which faithfully tracks my year through pictures.
Now that I’m looking back, 2014, the year I wanted to be over, was actually a pretty neat year.
I’m not listing off all of these things to brag about my year. I hope it doesn’t seem that way. On a personal level, the year was a good one. I got to go on a cruise and a visit a bunch of cities on work trips that I’d never seen before and I’m so grateful for that. There were some unexpected challenges, too. And there was loss and heartbreak and frustration and so many moments of longing for peace and understanding.
This year was really just a good reminder that I have no idea what’s going to happen half the time. I didn’t think I’d find a way to leave my Florida job before 2015, but I did. I didn’t think I’d get to see my family so much, but I did. When I was grumping around and wishing the year would go by quickly, I could have been focusing on the things I had control over and feeling grateful for all the good things. So, thanks, 2014. Thanks for being good to me even though I had a terrible attitude about you.
Last January, I decided that 2014 was going to be a “get through” year, and I wish I hadn’t done that. I wish I had done something my yoga instructor had encouraged me to do on January 16:
light a candle and welcome the unexpected changes this year with an open heart
Good thing I have a whole new year to apply this philosophy. This year promises to have a lot of big changes including new city to call home and a new job for Bret. There are sure to be some challenges, but I’m ready for them.
I don’t have a concrete resolution this year, really, but I’m resolving to spend more time away from my phone and social media. I want to be present and intentional and available to live in the moments I’m given. I want to listen to more music and read more books. I want to finish my novel and submit it for publication, too.
Cheers to 2015! I’m ready to welcome the unexpected changes with an open heart.Read More
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
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