Friday, December 28, 2012

Crazy little thing called adulthood

I've had a lot of firsts this week. First snow in Dayton. First time driving on snow. First sledding adventure in Dayton. First time shoveling a sidewalk. First time getting my car stuck in snow. Whoo hoo. Some hooligans in a truck drove by my house when I pulled in the driveway from work and saw me picking my way carefully across my unshoveled sidewalk in heels. "Hey can we shovel your walk for you? Won't have to do that no more!" they shouted. I waved them off, wanting to shout "I'm a strong independent woman and I can shovel my own darn sidewalk, thank you very much." And I did.

Here's some pictures from the winter wonderland, before it turned into a dirty sludgerland. 


As I drove back from North Carolina on Christmas day, I realized it was my six month anniversary of starting work in Dayton. Six months seemed like a lifetime away when I first started. It was a date that stuck in my brain because after six months at my job, you’re considered a seasoned employee, which communicated to me, “No more silly mistakes allowed—you are now held to a higher standard.” I was so preoccupied with getting through the next week that I never imagined six months would come so fast.

Now I’m almost shocked to find that I feel relatively competent at this job after six months. But what still surprises me is seeing a paycheck pop up in my bank account every two weeks. I get this mindset like, “Oh, there’s my last paycheck, I’ll have to stretch that one out for a while. Good thing I already paid this month’s rent.” Even with as low as my salary is, it’s still more money than I’ve ever seen, and I’m mesmerized. I’m watching my bank account grow steadily, instead of watching great chunks disappear along with every semester’s tuition.

When I started this job I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to do it. I just knew that there had been a mistake somewhere along the line, and that after six months they’d see me for the impostor I really was. The boss would come to me with a disappointed look and ask to see me in his office.

As it turns out, I’m actually very good at my job. But my coworker still has to coach me into taking pride in my work, and rejoicing over crushing the competition, etc. For one reason or another though, around the beginning of December it started to get extra difficult for me to get out of bed on work days. I know it’s not depression, because I’ll fly out of bed on a weekend ready to bite life in the ear, even if it’s 8:45 a.m. and I agreed to help a friend move furniture.

Maybe it’s partly due to the fact that the holidays are a challenging time for a business reporter to find any stories, but I think it may be more that I’m starting to hit that wall of the first six months of being in the real world.

There’s some kind of disconnect in my brain when it comes to understanding the relationship between the paycheck and the work I do. Maybe it’s because in my opinion, whether I do a great job one week, or I really slack off on another, the paycheck still shows up. Being on salary is an amazing blessing, but it’s hard to get my head around. Maybe it’s because there’s also no immediately apparent correlation between how hard I work and the success of my company. Down the line I know it’s going to make a difference, but who knows if I’ll even still live in Dayton when it does. This whole corporate America thing has got me puzzled.

I think I’ve become a more selfish person since I was forced to become a responsible adult. In college I almost never said no – to a fault. I took on commitments like it was my job to save the world. But in Dayton, I’m afraid of commitment. I’ve been encouraged by many people to get involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and I even rappelled down a 27-story tower to raise awareness for them, but all I’ve done about it for about three months is think. I don’t know why I can’t bring myself to commit. I tell myself things like “I don’t have the time.” But I have more time on my hands now than ever before in my life. I freaking have TV shows that I keep up with. Granted, I have to watch them all on Hulu days after they come out. I play Frisbee, go to boxing, go to trivia, go out on the weekends, even do laundry somewhat regularly! Talk about too much time on my hands.

For me in the past, life wasn’t being lived to the fullest if I wasn’t forced to hyper-multi-task, i.e. read for pleasure while doing my laundry and sending some important emails, while texting with a friend to set up a time to hang out in between two other commitments the next day. But now that I’m away from that, I feel both a wonderful sense of freedom and a nagging sense of my ability to do so much more.

I’m naturally a thrifty person, but I’m trying to learn how to be generous, with my time and my money. It’s hard to combine those two personality traits. Maybe I can take some notes from Abbie’s coworker Ray.
Rabbit trail for the sake of a pretty funny story that’s slightly related to this topic.

My roommate Abbie’s coworker Ray, who is 54, has some quirks. She’s told me many stories about him. Or she’s told me the same story many times. I’m not sure, because I still laugh every time. Ray and his wife Eileen only buy things if they have a coupon or can get it really on sale, and they account for every penny daily.

On Monday nights, Ray buys a $5 Hot and Ready pizza from Little Caesars. He takes it home, and he and Eileen each have two pieces for dinner, and save two for Tuesday’s lunch. If Ray needs to contribute some cash to a coworker’s birthday present, or something, he calls home to Eileen to let her know that he will have to break the $20 in his pocket earlier than anticipated. Abbie and her friends ask, “Ray, don’t you ever get hungry and stop in at Taco Bell on your way home and not tell her?” He says, “Nope. Every penny is accounted for. She would know.” One time, Ray went to JCPenny to buy a shirt, but he came back empty handed. “You didn’t find anything good?” someone asked. “I did, but if I wait two more days it will go down from $8 to $6,” Ray said.

Abbie told me Ray was throwing a disco party for his coworkers and friends. I was intrigued by Ray and the fact that my perception of him from the stories didn’t look like a disco-party-throwing kind of guy. So I asked Abbie if I could come to the party. She asked Ray, and he happily extended the invitation to me. “Everything will be provided, Abbie, so you don’t need to bring anything,” Ray had said. Abbie and I wondered where they got coupons for beer, and where we could get some of those.

We showed up to the party practically doing the potty dance we were so curious to see what Ray’s house would look like. Would there be a box of two hundred air fresheners, bought for 99 cents stowed away in some corner of the basement, or 10-foot tall stacks of canned tomato soup because they were 90 percent off? As one of six kids, I understand the practicality of buying things when they’re on sale, especially if it’s Honey Nut Cheerios, which my family has been known to buy in quantities too big to fit into two carts if the sale was good enough.

A sign on the front door said “Come on in, the party’s in the basement!” We let ourselves in and were immediately surprised by the throbbing of the subwoofer pumping in the basement. Peering into the basement, I saw dark paint and a few tin posters. At the bottom of the stairs my jaw dropped. The whole basement was decked out in old fashioned posters celebrating beer, basements, beautiful women and saxophones. To the left was a bar with a sink and four or five bar stools, fully stocked with quality beers. But the biggest surprise was the hardwood dance floor the size of my room complete with disco ball, strobe lights, colored spotlights, and a speaker system the size of my car. Five or six 40 or 50-somethings were jamming to Michael Jackson.

Ray told Abbie the party had been waiting for us to arrive, and that he’d heard I was a good dancer. I don’t know about that, I thought, but I grabbed a beer and hit the dance floor. Later on, one of Ray’s friends complemented me on my dance skills. “You must have some African American in you!” she said. “Not that I know of,” I said. “A little Cherokee, but that’s it.” And a lack of inhibitions.

I found out that Ray is in an 80s cover band, and he showed us pictures of him with a permed mullet. He even treated us to some Christmas songs played on his sax.
Anyway, if Eileen’s extreme couponing has made it so they can splurge on turning their basement into a full-service bar and dance club, I think I need to sign up for her financial management class.


In the past my occupation has been student, and the only person who stood to gain or lose from the amount of effort I put in to my studies was me. Now I’m accountable not just to my boss, or my 19 co-workers, or our corporate headquarters, but to the whole business community of Dayton. Talk about pressure. Before, when in pretense I was a student, but in real life I was devoting my life to raising money for families in the hospital, I really felt like life had a purpose and I treasured every second, especially senior year. By warming a seat in a lecture hall while designing an advertisement on my computer, and maybe taking notes every three minutes, I was not slacking; rather I was as I saw it achieving the ultimate level of efficiency. I was getting a degree and saving the world at the same time!

Now I just make news. And do my laundry.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve found some very meaningful volunteer work in tutoring at-risk middle school guys with the Victory Project (, but I’m overwhelmed with a sense of inadequacy and always leave with a feeling of needing to do more. Much more. Also there’s this niggling little sense that I am perhaps missing my calling in life.

On some of my most unmotivated of days at work, I’ve asked God to show me how I can do my job according to Colossians 3:23. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” But the answer I’m not getting is, “Write a bajillion really important stories today,” which is the standard I tend to think I’m supposed to be living up to. In fact, I don’t think I’ve gotten any answer. So I’m still listening, and while waiting I slink off to the kitchen to see if someone has maybe left a banana or a half a muffin for me to eat because my pantry is probably empty. “And all the grocery stores were closed, is that it?” Joe will ask. I have plenty of money to buy groceries, or even to eat out for most of my meals, but the truth is I don’t actually know how to feed myself. I think a balanced meal is a peanut butter brown sugar sandwich with peanut butter crackers and chocolate chips on the side. That’s something I’d thought I would have learned in six months of adulthood. But instead I now have a reputation as the human trash can who will gladly dispose of all your leftovers, especially pizza.

But what’s the fun in life if you can figure it out in six short months? 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Real life > Virtual life

Today I came home to an alarming sight in my bedroom.

Clothes strewn about an unmade bed, my carry-on bag thrown open and a wad of clothes spewing out, closet vomiting shoes and random bags.

I thought, “What lunatic’s been rummaging through my room, and what were they looking for?”

Then I remembered – that lunatic was me this morning as I got ready for work at 6:30 a.m. for our early morning event, and I couldn’t find my favorite sweater.

Anyway, I’m bundled up in sweats after a day of feeling two steps behind at work no matter what I did, and I’m missing home. But that's not new. 

I’ve realized a couple things about myself in the last month, during which time I’ve gotten to go home twice and spend some delightful time with family and the closest friends I’ve ever made.
As soon as I got to the airport to fly back for homecoming, I realized I’d left my iPhone charger. Oh well, not that big a deal, everyone has an iPhone, I’ll just borrow one, I thought. So I listened to music, surfed Facebook obsessively, drew a lot of somethings and found out I’m pretty all around Drawsome, and generally tried to run down my battery as quickly as possible. Note: I have an iPhone 4 which has a remarkable battery life – if not used heavily it will easily go 48 hours.

I made it home and caught up with my family, then went to Chapel Hill to spend some time with friends on Franklin Street. Other than coordinating what time to meet at the bar, I don’t think I looked at my phone once. I had to turn it off overnight to preserve the battery, which meant Saturday morning I got to replay a familiar scene when Mom opened my door at 9 o’clock.

“Honey … didn’t you say you were heading to Chapel Hill around 9:15?”

“Aghhhh my alarm!!” I groaned, rolling out of bed immediately, remembering all the times Mom saved my butt when I forgot to set my alarm, or hit p.m. instead of a.m.

All day Saturday I was surrounded by friends I hadn’t seen in four or five months. It was so much wonderfulness it was almost too much to handle. I managed to charge my phone halfway while getting ready to go out, but it wasn’t really a priority because I had barely touched it all weekend.

I had a fabulous time at home, and it wasn’t til I was back in Dayton, staring at Facebook again, that I realized what social media is for me. I had no interest in stupid Facebook or Twitter or instashazam while I was home because everyone I would have wanted to update on my life, chat with or just plain stalk was right in front of me. I don’t know why this was so revolutionary to me. I wouldn’t say I waste an inordinate amount of time on Facebook, especially because I spend far less time on it now than I did last year while writing papers. I think what I’m getting at is this:

Facebook has no draw for me when there’s anything going on that actually catches my interest in the least, especially if it’s me physically doing something, whether it be cheering on a hopeless football game from the student section, babysitting a hilarious 8-year-old, interviewing a 70-something real estate guru, having a serious conversation with a good friend, playing any sport or enjoying the company of real live people.

I notice that I can look back on a day and judge how exciting, fulfilling and life-giving my activities were based on how few times I checked Facebook on my phone.

So while I still value Facebook for its mass communication value and for keeping tabs on my friends back home, and being able to see when people post new blog updates, I’m resolving to let it steal even less of my interest. No more exchanging a half hour that could have been spent reading a good book, going for a run, or developing a relationship with someone for a half hour of mindless news feed browsing on the soul-sucking wraith that can be social media.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


On Monday, I got fancy in the kitchen.

I moved my computer speakers from my bedroom to the counter, plugged in the new Mumford and Sons album, and dumped four of my favorite foods on the counter, determined to make culinary magic happen:


(More cheese).


(Mmm, cheesy rice. Sometimes I stop right there, but my friend Carolyn insists that I'm not reaching my highest nutritional potential.)



Note: I did not take this photo. This is not a picture of what I made. But I foolishly forgot to take a picture of my creation, so I'm hijacking this one, because it's pretty darn close, and what good is a food blog without a picture to make you hungry? That would be like the Food Network launching a radio station.

I opened a bottle of Blue Moon and sighed happily, actually excited about cooking for once. And inspired by My Drunk Kitchen.

Here's my recipe. It's awfully similar to ones you'll find online if you search 'cheese broccoli chicken rice', but it uses all real ingredients, no nasty Velveeta or onions or garlic powder or other ingredients that are expensive or hard to find in the grocery store, or stinky.

Serves: ~ 6 skinny white girls. I am not racist, I just cannot vouch for any other demographic.

2 cups cooked brown long-grain rice
1 normal sized can of Cream of Mushroom Soup
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, and 1/2 cup more for TOPCHEESE
2-3 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breast (just depends on how meaty you want it to be)
12 oz. frozen broccoli
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 350F.
Prepare the rice. Fully cook the broccoli according to package directions. Boil the chicken ~ 10 minutes until it is white all the way through, then cut into 1/2-inch pieces. In an ungreased 9x13in baking dish, combine all the ingredients, mix a lot, and sprinkle remaining cheese on top.
Bake for like 15 minutes until the TOPCHEESE is melty and delicious looking.


I served it with salad and toast, after consulting the emergency meal-planning hotline (aka my friend Carolyn) for advice.

Friday, October 19, 2012

It's just minutes & highways

It entertains me to try to measure my time in Dayton by things other than minutes and hours and days.

Like, tissues used at my desk.
As of today, one whole box worth.

or Legal Pads consumed:

Puzzle pieces connected (out of 6,000):

Pairs of cleats destroyed:
½ (granted, this pair is about 14 years old).

Miles put on my Corolla:

Frisbee Players with Names Starting with ‘T’ I Have Injured:

Times I’ve been asked “Why the heck did you move to Dayton?”

or “You’re from North Carolina? Where’s your accent?”

or “You’re cold now? You’re gonna freeze in winter.”

or “Well if you’d been here last year, we barely even had a winter.”

Not that I've been counting.

But for real, I've been here almost four months, and it's been hard. But I don't think I can blame any of that on Dayton. I think those first six months after graduation can be hard for anybody. But thankfully I think I've finally turned a corner and found a place where I'm content with where I'm at.

Some unexpected comments in the last week or two have helped me come to that.

I got to talk to my mom for a while last week, and it was great to check in with her. I'm so proud of her because she decided this year to become a leader in the children's program of Bible Study Fellowship. If you've never heard of it, look it up; it's a really great organization. Recognizing how much she had benefited from it, and how much we kids had benefited from the kids program, Mom committed to co-leading a children's class, which means many hours each week of preparation and dedication, and the whole experience is a bit outside of her comfort zone. None of that was a surprise to her going into it, but she felt strongly that she should do it this year, so she has stuck with it, even though it has been a real struggle at times.

As we were talking, Mom said she had come to a point where she was learning to be thankful.
"Wait, say that again, Mom?" I said, a tear running down my cheek as stab of conviction pierced me.
"God has put me in a place where he's stretching me, and I realize I need to be thankful for that, and just trust in Him to provide," she said.
"Ouch," I said.

Somehow, even though I've heard that a lot -- this idea that God takes us out of our comfort zones to teach us about who we are, who we're not, and who we wants us to be -- it hadn't hit home like it did with Mom last week. I don't know exactly why I'm here, but it's sure as crap not so I can be comfortable and stagnate in the sinful, naive, self-absorbed life of my 21-year-old, college-graduated self. 

I'm here to grow. And He never said it would be easy.  

And today I got an email that just made me grin from the inside out and reminded me I'm in a really good place in life. 

I had the privilege of getting lunch with a local bank president today, which I consider one of the top perks of my job, even above the candy jar at the front desk, Thirsty Thursdays and the aforementioned 6,000-piece puzzle.

The reason I got into journalism is not the reason I stayed. I tried it out on a whim because I liked writing. It captured my heart because of the people I got to meet. Even just writing for the City Desk at the Daily Tar Heel back in Chapel Thrill, I knew I'd found something amazing. A job where you get to meet and get to know people in every walk of life, including people you have no business sitting down and having lunch with and would never expect to give you the time of day, is special. I get to pick the brains of the people who run this town, but I also get to find out what makes them tick. 

So today while crammed into an awkward circular booth marked "Reserved for Couples" with a gray-haired bank president, I found out I had something deeply in common with my lunch date. He is the fourth in a family of seven kids, I the third in a family of six. We shared some stories from our childhood, even though the entirety of mine spans less than the length of his tenure as market president. I really enjoyed meeting with him, and followed up with him afterwards to thank him for such a pleasant lunch. He sent back this reply:

"Well we found out that both of us are the forgotten middle child in large families. I believe that helped us both because if we were to amount to anything then we knew that we had to do it ourselves."

I love my job. :-)


Last thoughts for the night. I just got back from seeing the movie Looper. It's good, but it's a time travel movie, so I know I'll be up half the night trying to figure out all the different implications and possibilities. 

A few years ago I picked up the habit of making a wish on 11:11. I've always been mesmerized with numbers and symmetry, so I guess that's part of it, but I also like the reminder to pray twice a day for the one thing I wish for most.

And I actually did this consistently last year every time I looked at the clock on 11:11. I asked for one thing, and I told no one about it. In retrospect, of all the things I could have been spending my wishes on it's kind of insignificant in the scheme of things, but I wanted the last hour of UNC Dance Marathon -- a 24-hour symbolic stand that completes a year of fundraising for N.C. Children's Hospital -- to go off without a single technological hitch, since as the publicity chair I was in charge of all the multimedia elements. My experience on the Publicity committee from the year before when almost everything that could go wrong did was so harrowing that I wanted to do everything I could to prevent a repeat performance, including dedicating all my 11:11 wishes for a year. 

Well, lo and behold the whole thing went off so technologically brilliantly that the hour or so of lag time we'd built into the whole 24-hour schedule (which has like 18 columns and is broken down into 288 five-minute increments) just to be safe, was completely unnecessary and we ended nearly 45 minutes early. Which normally in event planning isn't that big of a deal, but when you advertise to thousands of people that you're going to be standing on your feet for 24 hours and you end at 23 hours and 15 minutes, some people feel shortchanged. I'm not gonna lie, the vast majority feel overjoyed that they finally get to sit down. But we're still going down in the yearbooks as the most efficient Overall Committee in history.

And I had to laugh, because I realized my wish hadn't been specific enough. "Please let all the technology work perfectly at the end of the marathon" apparently didn't cut it, since I could never predict all the other contingencies.

So does that stop me from trying to guarantee some little aspect of the future with my little daily wish? No. I've got a new request, and I won't tell you what it is until it's happened, which might be never.

Anyway, this brings me back to Looper. Don't worry, this is not a spoiler. It just got me thinking. We're all so obsessed with time travel because we think if we just knew the future, it would make everything in the present so clear, or if we could just return to the past and change a decision, it could fix everything now. But every time you do that, you realize it's all a loop and you end up causing the bad things you were trying to prevent.

I guess it's just another reminder that we will not, do not and cannot know the future, nor can we do anything to change the past and we have to focus on the now. I have to ask, am I right before God right now? Are my immediate needs provided for right now? Yes? Good. Go to sleep and quit worrying. No? Please read Acts 16:30-31.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The letter N and the number 1

OK first things first, this is hilarious:

Too funny.

A lot of people have reached out to me after my last post and sent encouraging notes. Thanks to all of you for the support. J

In honor of Big Bird, who is now apparently an endangered species, this post is brought to you by the letter N and the number 1. One day at a time, and thank God for Needtobreathe. It’s weird to think that just one week ago I was waking up to a thick blanket of fog in a cabin at 4,000 feet elevation in the middle of the mountains of Franklin, N.C.

Headed down south to the land of the pines to see my froomies Abby and Carolyn.

Planning our hike on the Appalachian Trail. 

Staring wistfully into the distance, hipsterfied in flannel.

Fall colors waiting to burst. 

I've been all over the US and I think every region has its own kind of beauty, but the western North Carolina variety is so hard to beat. 

Enjoying the view from the fire tower after a .75 mile up-hill hike. Completely ignorant of the 7-mile descent ahead of us. 

This morning I woke up before the crack of dawn to take my car to the only trustworthy mechanic I know of in Dayton – a 45 minute drive north of here – to check my brakes and tires, which have been making an awful ruckus and leaving me terrified of impending winter and the dreaded ice.

In anticipation of seeing Needtobreathe in concert in Columbus Thursday, I declared my car Needtobreathe only zone, and listened to their last three albums on repeat all week.

Monday night I got an awesome surprise when my sister texted me this picture from Anchorage:

"We're engaged!" she said.
She’s getting married! And I can’t believe that 10 years later we’re all getting reunited with Ivo, who left us with so many great swimming memories, stories and nicknames. Come mid-January I will have five brothers, and I’m so excited and honored to be Callie’s maid of honor, if that's not too redundant.

Thursday morning came way too early because I had an event for work about 45 minutes south that started at 7:30 a.m. I got there fine, but as soon as I walked into the conference hall I realized I was in the right place, at the right time, but the completely wrong frame of mind. I’d thought this was an awards meeting for manufacturers, but instead it was a forum on regional development. Switching mental gears felt like changing directions when Coach Greg made us do the whirlpool at swim practice, but I eventually got my head in the game and made some excellent new contacts.

I got a new mix CD from my dear friend Carrie while at work on Thursday, which is the best afternoon pick-me-up I know.

How I feel about letters from home. :hint:

Thursday night finally came after a very slow week at work, and I changed at work into jeans and a t-shirt and a sweater, knowing full well that a Needtobreathe concert is like a breeding ground for hipsters and they’d be coming out of the woodwork. I picked up my friend Chris, who had contemplated the same thing and chosen his ‘most hipster’ shirt – a Cap’n Crunch T he’d patiently eaten four boxes of cereal and mailed off the tokens for, along with a check for $1.68. As he says, hipster clothes must either cost less than $5 or more than $100.

Well, true to our expectation, the hipsters were out in full force … but the line was so long we realized we were in fact in the company of twipsters – the tweenage brand who are both more hip and slutty than I’ll ever be, and don't have to work til 5 so they'd been able to get there early. We took stock of the situation and decided we’d rather sit on the balcony of the open-air bar and enjoy a drink than wait in line to fight to get within spitting distance of the band. The bartender may or may not have pressured us into ordering two ‘beer buckets’ as she called it, a 32-oz cup. Outside of He’s Not’s famed blue cups in Chapel Hill, I didn’t know they sold beer in such quantities, so I was pretty stoked.

We took bets on the tom rate of this particular hipster convention – that is, the amount of Toms shoes per capita, but that number was even less entertaining than the percentage of concert-goers sporting completely unnecessary vests, often fitted over a flannel shirt.
“Excuse me sir, your top half looks like it went to a wedding this evening and your bottom half is missing its skateboard.”

Eventually we went into the venue and wormed our way to a spot on the balcony with a decent view. Needtobreathe is touring their latest album, The Reckoning, and they know how to put on a good show. Unfortunately if you didn’t already know their music, it wasn’t the best introduction because it was hard to understand the lyrics, but I’m still so in love with the passion they put into their songs.

Friday gave me a couple more surprises. I left for work a few minutes early since we had an all-staff meeting at 9. I parked in the creepy garage and walked down First Street. 

As I crossed at the light for Main and First, I noticed a tiny woman wandering aimlessly on the sidewalk in front of my building. She was shoeless and was carrying a bed sheet in one hand and talking to herself. Since she was kind of blocking my path, I stepped to the side. Thinking she had asked me a question but not wanting to engage her, I said “Excuse me,” and kept walking, when out of the blue she turned and punched me in the shoulder with her free hand!
“What are you looking at, bitch?!!” She screamed with wild eyes.
Completely taken aback, I didn’t know what else to do but keep walking. I hurried into my building, where the door lady asked me if I’d seen the woman with no shoes.
“Yeah,” I said. “She just punched me!” I had to repeat the story about six times between the door lady, the news team and the rest of the office during the all-staff.
“Give her a break, she’s already been punched today,” Don said, when the publisher teased me about running into her at lunch the day before.
 “Where were your boxing instincts?” Joe asked.
“I don’t know…we haven’t learned how to punch people yet, only bags and mitts,” I said.
For the rest of the day I made sure to put my key between my fingers as I walked to and from my parking garage, but it was pretty uneventful.
“How’s my favorite Tar Heel settling into Dayton?” asked one of my favorite sources, when I called to follow up on a tip.
“Well I got attacked by a homeless lunatic this morning, if that counts for anything,” I said.
“You’re kidding?! Well, that’s Dayton for you,” he said.

I got the wonderful opportunity to attend an alumni fundraising event at Sinclair Community College, so Friday night I found myself experiencing some crazy déjà vu standing in the same banquet hall I’d been in four years ago for the awards ceremony of the National Cadet Competition for Civil Air Patrol. 

Sometimes I still can’t believe I ended up in Dayton. Chris met me at the event, which included 10 tasting tickets for wine and beer and some amazing gourmet appetizers and desserts. The wines were from South America, Italy, France and America, so naturally we had to try to close out every country. But while we expected one ticket to buy one sip, the wine kept flowing, and in fact one ticket bought one whole glass of wine. With 20 tickets between us, and then a bonus five from a generous couple that left early, things could have gone terribly wrong.
We prioritized.
“I want to try this one – the one with “enticing aromas of strawberry-rhubarb pie, raspberry preserves, and cranberry, with barrel notes of vanilla cream and baking spices” – what how do they even fit all of that into one wine bottle?!” I said.
“It’s less about what they put in the wine as what the people they put the wine in say,” Chris said.
Between the two of us we managed to try nine of the 12 available wines, and felt extremely cultured by the experience. The alumni jazz band pulled out some surprises with an adaptation of music from the cantina scene in Star Wars. We ended the evening with this most excellent series of photos:

We win.

On my lunch break at work one day this week I watched this TED talk: 

It’s kind of long so here’s the Cliff’s notes version. Your body language usually reflects your mood. So if you’re worried, intimidated or generally lacking confidence, your body will show it, and vice versa. People in powerful positions tend to assume powerful poses that take up more space and show how comfortable they are with their environment. Here’s the twist, if you assume either pose, regardless of the mood you start in, your mind will follow your body’s lead and quickly conform to the more confident or more defeated attitude that your body is modeling.

Bottom line: if you can fake confidence with your body, you can become confident. Some of the more confident postures looked like the Captain America stance, or anything that involved taking up more space than necessary.

So I spent most of the afternoon Tuesday finding subtle ways to work in power poses as I went about my work.

And I’m telling you, it works! If for no other reason than the amount of ridiculousness involved in puffing up your chest, spreading out your legs and planting a fist on your hips while filling up your water bottle in the kitchen instantly puts you in a better mood.

I still recommend watching the video, if you’re one of those people that loves to hear about human behavior experiments and the astonishing results.

I’m wondering if this “fake it ‘til you become it” mentality doesn’t have applications to faith. Not that you should ever fake your faith, because if you don’t believe something then I don’t believe God will be honored by your faking that you do. “The true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:23). But if I desire the end result of having faith, then why not try assuming the posture of someone who has faith now, even though I don’t. Stop worrying, talk to God about everything, even if I'm not sure He hears or how He responds, and just wait.

C.S. Lewis said in The Screwtape Letters, "The prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. ... Our cause [this is a devil speaking] is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's [God's] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys" (49).

I don’t know; it’s worth a try. Mumford sums it up pretty well:

I will wait. 


And here's a few photos from my recent adventures:

Getting ready to rappel down the Key Bank Tower!

My boss coming down after me.

We went to the rodeo in Waynesville! Nothing like amateur bull-riding on a chilly fall night.

One thing I like about Dayton is running along the river, especially on days like this one. 

There is a hilarious story behind this way-larger-than-life-or-reason statue of Jesus on the side of I-75 near Middletown. Read it here

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I'M (not) FINE!

I’m really hating on Ohio right now. I miss home so much. It’s such a long drive and there’s no good way to fly home because the airlines absolutely suck, are too expensive, and are just as likely to get me home 24 hours later than if I’d driven than to save me any time. I don't mean to sound petty or make light of anyone who is truly suffering physically in anyway, because I do realize how 'good' I have it, when it comes to my situation. But I want to be honest and transparent. Maybe there are other people out there going through a similar time. 

You know it’s bad when you get home from an hour long boxing class and still all you want to do is punch something.

For some reason I keep thinking back to a coach I had in high school when I was captain of a Civil Air Patrol cadet drill team training for the national competition. Part of the competition included volleyball, and that was a major weakness for our team. Our coach had a very unique style of training. A lot of it centered around developing me as a leader, which I’m thankful for now, but I hated him for it at the time, because his method meant breaking me down in front of the team in order to build me back up.

One of his favorite tactics was to play God as the volleyball ref and change the rules on us, especially when I was on the court. He would make B.S. calls, award the point to the other team when I aced a serve or repeatedly spike the ball in my face while heckling me about my inability to return a simple hit.

I usually handled it with the opposite of grace. Meltdowns in front of the team weren’t uncommon, and it was especially awkward since I was an emotionally unstable 17-year-old girl trying to lead 12 teenage boys.

One scene especially is burned in my brain, especially because I feel like I keep repeating it in life.

Coach was giving me a particularly hard time on the court, blaming me for the team’s inability to succeed, and punishing us when we did win a volley by giving the point to the other side. When a wayward spike beaned me in the face the next point, I dropped to my knees fuming. It hadn’t hurt so much as finally broken my resolve to stay calm and control my emotions. I started crying, and the guys all around me assumed I was physically hurt. They gathered around asking if I was OK, and I looked up and just screamed with rage, “I’M FINE!” The irony of the words I was saying versus what I was actually saying didn’t really sink in at the time. 

Coach told everybody to take five so I could recompose myself, which I did. And the next time he pulled a fast one on us with the rules or the reffing, I was tougher and calmer. But a little part of me hated him for the way he had played with my emotions, pushing me to my breaking point.

I feel like that’s what God’s doing right now. God only knows (literally … I have lost count) how many nights I have all but screamed from my bed asking God where He is and why I can’t feel His love. But my coach certainly didn’t love me the way I’m told God loves me. He liked me, and he saw a lot of promise in me to serve his ultimate purpose of leading the team to do well at nationals, so he did what he saw fit to groom me for that. So when I feel like God is pushing me to my breaking point – taking away the people, places and routines that I love – even if it’s to strengthen me or make me tougher under pressure, my response is resentment. Because I don’t want to be a tougher Christian. I want to experience His love, and from that be able to love Him more, and by His power love others more. I appreciated my coach's results, but I still resented his methods because they weren’t motivated by love; they were utilitarian.

If you’re worried about me, please pray for me. I'm not fine. But I'm OK, and I'm hanging on to a thread of hope that things may get better, or, to be honest, that the next 21 months will go by faster and I'll get to return home. In the meantime I am seeking help to sort out some of the devil’s lies that I know I’m believing, but it’s a constant struggle and I’m exhausted.

This is a verse that I want to make my own and recite with confidence. Maybe someday…

I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust. – Psalm 91:2.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Truth and a pack of lies fighting for my soul

There are times in life when you are slapped in the face with the alarming fact that your family … is not like other families.

Scene: Mammoth Cave National Park entrance.
Enter: Rangers doing routine driver license, registration and insurance checks; frazzled Olivia and Ruby the Corolla’s expired registration

“Ma’am, did you realize your registration expired more than a month ago?”
I crapped my pants. “No sir…” My mind is already racing to figure up the cost of getting my car towed back to Ohio and I put my forehead on my steering wheel.
The ranger looked at me gently. “Did you uh, take something today?”
I looked up. “Excuse me? Do you mean like drugs?”
“Like weed?”
“No...” I said, blindsided by the question.
“Have you ever been asked that question before?”
“Today? Or ever. Well anyway, no, never.”
“Are you meeting someone here, to get some weed?” he said it in a knowing way as if guilt was written across my forehead. Or maybe in my bloodshot eyes. Thing is, if my eyes are bloodshot that’s how you know I’m breathing. I live in a permanent state of eyestrain, and the tears of frustration I shed on my way to the park when I thought we wouldn’t be able to get a campsite added to the effect.
“OK. Do you mind if I just look around your car?” he seemed really chipper about this task, poking his flashlight around like a new med school student playing with his stethoscope.
“Yeah that’s fine,” I said, bewildered. “Do you want me to pop the trunk? You can look anywhere. Sorry it’s a mess.”

Another ranger asked me to step out of the car for a minute. I knew I was about to get busted.
“Can I ask you a couple questions?” the ranger asked, leading me away from my car as the other rangers searched it. I nodded.
“What brings you to Mammoth Cave this weekend?”

And that’s when I had that moment.

“It’s complicated,” I said.
“Is everything ok?”
“Are you sure?”
“Well not really, but maybe it will be,” I said, as tears of frustration started to choke up again. “See, I know this sounds strange. But my family is driving here from California—well, most recently from Little Rock—to meet me here for the weekend. I’m living in Dayton and I haven’t seen them in a while and they were on this road trip, see and—”
“Are they in a RV?”
“No they’re—“
“They got a big car? A hotel reservation?”
“No, see, they’re all five road tripping in a … Prius.”
He stared at me unbelieving.
“Do they at least have a tent?”
“Oh, yes sir. They’ve been doing this for the last three weeks – camping at national parks. But we kind of do vacations fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style, so we don’t have any camping reservations or tour reservations and that’s why I’m worried because I’m afraid it’s all booked up and we won’t be able to have our vacation.”
“I see. Sometimes that works, but on a holiday weekend…”
“I know.”
He consulted with his partner a few steps away from me while I waited anxiously, noting curiously that the rangers hadn’t bothered to search my trunk. A few agonizing seconds later, they told me they’d decided to give me a verbal warning since I’d cooperated so nicely. I thanked them profusely and promised to get it updated as soon as I got back to Dayton.

I love my family. I was still weak kneed from the fright of almost losing my car when they pulled up into the parking lot and we hugged around. Fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants is exactly how we do vacations, and they’re amazing. The memories from sharing a gallon of ice cream and a bag of chips for dinner because you were too exhausted to find other options are priceless. You can’t replace that with a dozen dinner reservations.

Fortunately for this trip, there will still tours and campsites available. We had a lovely weekend, despite torrential downpours as we headed into the cave for our second tour and then the morning we left. After successfully evacuating all sleeping bags and mats from our tents, we gave up and wadded up the muddy, soaked rain flies into trash bags and headed to Owensboro for food and family with a legendary appetite a decade old.

We’d been to Owensboro, where my dad grew up and some of his family still lives, once before about 10 years ago. And we had driven eight hours in one day to spend but a few hours in this little town, but it made a big impression. Specifically, the Moonlite made a big impression. All-you-can-eat pulled pork, barbecued chicken, mutton, fried chicken and who knows what else along with an endless supply of “vegetables.” You know a restaurant is good country cooking when Mac & Cheese is a vegetable.

The famed Moonlite Cafe Inn in Owensboro, KY.

We all skimped on breakfast in anticipation of the 10-pound food baby about to be conceived. As we hugged dad’s sister and brother-in-law, Uncle Mike could hear the rumblies from our tumblies from his porch.
“Enough talking, these kids want to get to the Moonlite,” he said as the ‘my how you’ve grown’ small talk started to plant roots in the front yard and turn into a full blown conversation.

We sat in the same tables we’d sat in 10 years ago. The deja vu was crazy.
“It must be hard to work here,” I commented to the waitress filling our waters.
“It IS!” she said, as she told about how the 30 pounds she had lost before starting work there had magically reappeared six months later.

There’s not much to tell from lunch because we spent most of it listening to the smacking of lips and debating how much room was left in the tank and could a skinny mini slice of pecan pie fit in that stomach maybe just off to the side if I took some deep breaths?

You’d think we hadn’t eaten in a week.

After visiting with Aunt Maria and Uncle Mike, we found a nice Comfort Suites in town and unloaded the cars. Since it had stopped raining, we proceeded to lay out the tents, hose off the rain flies, towel them dry, and repack them. And I’ve never had more fun with such a laborious and slow task. The joy of seeing my family was contagious. We explored the brand spankin’ new riverfront with awesome playground until the rain set in again, then we came back to the hotel pool.

I spent an hour giggling with my two remaining kid-brothers in the pool as we staged the gimpy-Olympics and competed in things like Chickenstroke, Butterstruggle, Ameoba, Egyptian Bath Tub and Torpedo races, bubble-ring blowing, and finally, a reenactment of floor exercise gymnastics, underwater style, complete with soft-spoken commentary.

“Now he just needs to stick this laaanding, THERE! Beautiful…”

Also, the caves at Mammoth Cave were really awesome. As were the running trails. But the memories I’ll keep from this trip are all moments like these, where the spontaneity and laid-back nature of my family keep us open to the simplest of unexpected joys.

I stopped in Louisville to hang out with Lucy, a friend who graduated  a year ahead of me and is now in grad school. We checked out a Pie & Ice Cream shop and got apple pies for the road.

Managed to snap a picture of Cincinnati's skyline from I-75 on the way back -- that was my first time driving through the 'Nasty.

In other news, I think I’m allergic to Ohio. Callie asked me what itched. I said everything – eyes, nose, scalp, back of the neck, and my heart is itching to go back to North Carolina. I don’t think Benadryl can do anything for that last one, but it’s getting a little better with some of the crazy things I’m getting involved in.

Last week a couple sources said things that made me laugh out loud, like this one:

“I think the Siri that I got has a learning disability.”

Another source made a tentative lunch date with me, pending the outcome of my upcoming adventure involving the 27-story tower and a rope.
“Hope you can join us--assuming all goes with rappelling off the building next week.

Yep, this is the one. 

I’m constantly finding new things I like about my job. This week it was sending an email that said “Thanks, Happy snooping,” to a source. I have minions doing my work. 

I’ve joined a boxing gym. It’s awesome. I’m also running. My plan is to get in shape so I can beat you up and then run away afterwards. But nothing makes you feel more empowered than slugging a 50-pound bag after a stressful day at work.

My boxing buddy and new-to-Dayton friend Courtney getting her hands wrapped. As she pointed out, the guy's face is priceless here. 

I’ve also started tutoring at the Victory Project. Check it out here: I have two seventh-graders, and I’m pretty overwhelmed. But it’s a great opportunity and I think it will give something for me to come up with creative ideas for.

Here are some other adventures I've had in pictures:

Dragons game with Courtney. Joey Votto was playing a rehab game, so the stadium was packed-out.

Getting lunch from a food truck downtown with Laura. Here she's updating the menu with "sold out" labels. 

Here's the first of hopefully many more lunch dates. 

Ashley hanging out with some creepy psycho convicts at the Land of Illusion haunted park in Middletown, which was quite an experience. 

Downtown Dayton Revival with Lauren and Ashley, getting excited about seeing Rusted Root, Mat Kearney and Train. 

Supporting Dayton's fledgling food trucks! 

Mat Kearney stoking the crowd. 

Mat Kearney breaking it down. 

I’m recognizing that a lot of my crazy drive to get involved with things is in response to my avoidance of alone time, and my fear of that solitude is because I depend heavily on relationships for my refuge. Without going into super heavy details, I’m in one of the darkest places I’ve ever been spiritually, but here are some thoughts I had the other day that I’ve been clinging to.

For background, I’ve been struggling with understanding everything that follows after salvation. I know I’m saved because I recognize my sin, my complete inability to overcome that sin, and Jesus’s sacrifice to pay for it all and pave the way for a relationship with God, and I’ve asked for that. But the whole idea of having a relationship with an invisible God is lost on me, even though I crave it so desperately. I’ve been reading The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, which I think all American Christians should read, especially if they’ve never thought about the concept of spiritual warfare.

I really relate to the Psalms in a lot of things, because it seems like the authors had some really low points in their faith. But when it’s talking about enemies attacking, I always felt like that was an exaggeration of my situation. Thankfully I’m not actually surrounded by haterz with swordz, or literally hiding in a cave because the king’s army is trying to kill me. But it occurred to me as reading The Screwtape Letters that I do have an enemy – Satan – and he is always attacking me. I need God more than ever, and even though I do not feel or sense His presence, I have to believe He is with me or else I am overwhelmed with fear of Satan’s attacks. Psalm 42 continues to resonate in this dry period, especially verse five:

“Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.”

That’s kind of where I am/want to be right now. The things I know are that God is God, and He is my salvation. I don’t know anything else for sure, but I hope that “farther along [I’ll] know all about it/ farther along [I’ll] understand why,” to quote Josh Garrels from the song below, and that when this dry spell is over I will again praise God.