the power of the snow day

I started writing this yesterday and couldn’t wrap it up without feeling like an insensitive jerk. Snow days are not luxurious for everyone and I absolutely realize that and I hope everyone gets to and from where they need to go safely and warmly. That being said…

The last day and a half (and let’s face it, we’re probably not done) have been an introvert’s dream. Sure, I typically set aside a fair amount of my time for myself. If you call me in the evening to go do something and I don’t already have plans, I’ll be tempted to say yes, but will probably still tell you I’m busy because I have already committed myself to stay home and do nothing. And by “do nothing” I mean watch TV (a healthy and balanced rotation of Netflix, Hulu, and the recently re-acquired HBOgo), write, dance, drink chardonnay, take a bath, listen to “The Stranger” by Billy Joel, and eat a substantial amount of popcorn. I’m not a total homebody – I spend the majority of my time outside of my house with friends and strangers in Nashville and all over the world, which means that each decision to stay in follows a fierce internal debate between my love for solitude and my fear of missing out #FOMO. But this is different from that designated introvert time in which I regularly indulge. A snow day is MANDATED BY NATURE.

Believe me, I wholeheartedly realize that this weather event is not as impressive as others around the world. I’m not insisting or even suggesting that Nashville’s #icepocalypse2015 is severe enough to warrant this type of shutdown. I’m used to the overhyped predictions and the underprepared Dept. of Public Works. As much fun as it is to complain about things that no single human can control, the lack of “real snow” experience in my childhood and current life stage has never disappointed me because I know where to set my expectations. I’m used to being mocked by my friends who live in snowier climates while we hunker down with our milk and bread to wait out a fruitless threat of a wintry mix. But I’m quite content with my rare delivery on winter weather.

When the bands and blobs of pink radar float across middle Tennessee and precipitation does occur, it’s all the more lovely. Not lovely in a “oh, what fun it is to slide down a hill that looks like it could spit you right out into the street” kind of way. Not lovely in a “it sure is pretty but I’m glad we don’t have to shovel it every day for one-third of the year” kind of way. But lovely in a “sorry, i can’t. i’m trapped inside my home and my pro/con list is all pros” kind of way. Unlike anticipating a snow day in high school, I’m not frantically praying for enough ice to delay my physics test a day or two – just casually hoping for some everyday, totally do-able deprivations. Can’t go for a run — too slick! Can’t run errands — no reason to put myself and others in danger! Can’t go to work — office is closed!

It’s a sick day, but you feel fine. It’s a called-in-sick day, but you didn’t have to lie! Sure, I have the luxury of being able to work remotely and I just may take advantage of that luxury at some point today (maybe tomorrow… definitely by Thursday). In anticipation of this storm, I toyed with the idea of “accidentally” leaving my laptop at work, but thankfully decided against that. And I do remember, without much fondness, the days when being kept from working my hours somewhere felt like the complete opposite of a free vacation.

I’m also grateful to have not yet lost power in my house. I do not take for granted my warmth, my freezer full of food, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, my dear love Stevie the TV (© Joey Tribbiani, I know). My body, certainly, and my mind, almost as certainly, will be just fine to continue this unplanned hiatus for a couple more days if necessary. If I can’t get out of my driveway tomorrow afternoon, I’ll be shuffling on foot to M.L. Rose for a beer with a side of some 3-dimensional interaction — and a few of you may be targeted for a long overdue catch-up phone call. But for the most part, I’ll take what I can get and relish every moment of this rare and beautiful gift of a completely unplanned, uncontrolled, uninterruptible day (or three) to myself.

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In the middle of writing this, I came across Linda Holmes’s blog post about grown-up snow days that is really great and, like most things she writes, I wish I had written it myself. 

For a captivating bird’s eye view of Whitney’s expected decline from the joys of solitude to the maddening boredom of cabin fever, follow her tweets at @boothiooo. 46 hours and counting…

beginning of yes

In the last year, I’ve become a part of an incredible community called tenx9 nashville, which gathers monthly to hear nine people share true stories (in ten minutes or less) on a given theme. In January, I told my second story with tenx9. The theme was “Beginnings.” Here it is. 

People always say that the beginning of a relationship is the best part — lots of firsts, each with enough nervous excitement and anticipation to forget that we’ve felt this way before, but with someone who is now a distant memory— or so we pretend. It’s that time when everything still seems perfect. Not yet complicated. You’re enamored. It’s great. The naiveté is allowed and encouraged. “Just enjoy it,” people say. The beginning is the best part.

For any of us who have made it past this stage, or hope to, this trite or sentimental outlook on love and relationships may seem shallow and sad. We might say that true love reaches far beyond the excitement of the first weeks and months. So yes, I’m sure the best is always yet to come or something, but you can’t deny the beauty of the good ol’ days… you know: before you realized that your partner snores like an erratic freight train or all those nights before you laid awake wondering how he still has a damn molar in his mouth with all that grinding. It may not be as rosy to start uncovering dark and unsettling insecurities— it’s much nicer to stick to discovering similarities and family trees and favorite albums. I’d be lying if I told you I hadn’t looked longingly over my shoulder at the carefree levity of a relationship’s earliest stages.  It’s easy to romanticize my memories of the beginning of one in particular, because the beginning is all that it ever was.

Last December, my friend married her love in a tiny Episcopal church in Spring Hill, TN. My fingers were crossed for an invitation — I knew it would be a small wedding and I didn’t know if work-friends would make the cut. We were at lunch one day when she was telling me how excited her sister was to be the Maid of Honor.  Her sister has some developmental disabilities and it was important that my friend be able to give her this gift without creating more wedding-day anxiety for herself, so she was hoping to find a Maid of Honor “coach” for the weekend— someone to be at her sister’s beckon call, help her get dressed, remind her where to stand, when to move, how to kneel for communion in a long dress— that kind of thing. She told me, “I know it will all be okay and my sister will be fine but I’d feel so much better if I knew someone was there for her and with her on that day… and I just keep coming back to you.” I jumped all over it — not only because it would definitely lock down that wedding invite I was coveting, but because I felt somehow deeply connected to this celebration.

I was excited to be a fly on the wall during this wedding— kinda in the wedding party, but not really connected or tied down. I arrived just in time for the rehearsal. My long hair flowed behind me as I raced through the church, reporting for duty. I rounded a corner and there he was, tall and bearded and starting to smile back at me: the nephew of the groom.

I collected myself and went into the sanctuary for the rehearsal. At that point, Steve was standing in the sanctuary and people were milling around so we introduced ourselves – I learned that he was finishing up an M.Div at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and shared that I had just done the same at Vanderbilt Divinity School. We exchanged some other pertinent details, like what I was doing at the wedding, but to be honest, it’s all a blur. I do remember the minister asking if we were ready to begin, and realizing that everyone else was in the right place and waiting on us to be finished with our conversation in the middle of the aisle.

We spoke more at the rehearsal dinner, played the “do you know” game, which I’ve come to find is a favorite Presbyterian pastime, second only to doing energizers at bars and bemoaning the confusion between the PCA and the PC(USA). We also discovered we had each spent a year in the same volunteer program, where he served in Belfast and I, in Seattle. His mother suggested that he get my phone number in case he had any questions about Vanderbilt during his visit to campus the next day to learn about PhD programs. It’s always good to lock down that mom vote.

I heard from him a little that night and some the next day in the midst of wedding prep with the Maid of Honor. We did hair, nails, put on Spanx, makeup — all the works. At one point in the afternoon, I was racing around and called a friend to ask for a favor and tell her that I might marry this guy. It sounded crazy and it was totally crazy, but I had that weird feeling that you get when you meet someone who is going to be important in your life.

The wedding was beautiful – The Maid of Honor was so relieved to have made it through the ceremony and, oh, so happy for her sister and her new brother-in-law. I quickly accepted the invitation to sit with Steve and his cousins and the rest of the wedding party at the reception— I mean, I was practically IN the wedding. No more of this fly-on-the-wall, safe-distance nonsense. At one point, we were standing around, he had his hand on my lower back (which I’m certain is some knee-weakening pressure-point) and I knew I was in trouble.

This never happens to me — that I would meet someone and have a connection so strong and have it immediately validated. I’m more accustomed to the dance of trying to pretend like we haven’t noticed each other, finding ourselves in a casual setting that could maybe be called a date, but isn’t, and then eventually stumbling into a serious long-term relationship. This was different.

I hung with the family all night, even going back to the house where everyone was staying for the after-party. They all insisted I stay the night so I wouldn’t have to worry about driving back so late. So we all hung out, toasted the bride and groom, watched SNL, and basked in the glow of a great day. I felt like I belonged there. At one point, Steve and I went out to the back porch to get a bottle of water because that’s a two-person job – and by the time we made it back inside, everyone had gone to bed. We stayed up all night, talking, kissing, repeating. We were in a fog of mutual admiration: lots of eye-gazing, face-touching, memory-preserving. It was like a movie scene that you watch, then scoff about how that never happens in real life— a magical, swirly dream. We didn’t know what the hell we were doing and we knew it was crazy to entertain the idea of being together beyond this night— he lived in Texas, I lived here, we had known each other for 24 hours. None of it made any sense. But my excitement insisted I throw caution to the wind and let myself feel all of it enough to enjoy it.

By the morning, we had plans. He was coming to visit for Valentine’s Day and I knew I would certainly implode by then. He bought a plane ticket the next day and we spoke on the phone for hours each night. We were both considering summer trips to Europe and started talking about making plans to meet up and do some traveling together while we were over there. I told this crazy story to everyone — I couldn’t help it. It felt like a dream and I just couldn’t get over the fact that any of it was actually happening.

The haze wore off a little bit, which was actually reassuring. It felt good to get a foot on the ground, but I was definitely still wearing the new-relationship goggles. I did notice that he wasn’t without his quirks: he did this weird thing where he leaned into kiss the camera when we were Facetiming. He was terrible at texting. He was a little obsessive about working out. He really liked the band Owl City. I was nervous. Not about the poor texting conduct or Owl City, but — I couldn’t stop worrying that it all seemed too good to be true, that we had been too rash, that I was too invested for my own good. Over and over, I talked myself down, and decided it was worth it to see what was there.

Until it wasn’t. About two weeks in, he called one night while I was in the drive-thru at Taco Bell with some friends after a night out. He asked me to call him back when I got home, so I stewed silently in the backseat, got back to my friends’ house, ate my Doritos Locos Taco, and excused myself to go home and make a phone call. I sat in my driveway while he told me he thought we should end things. He said he got caught up in everything and he wanted to be my friend but nothing more. I said “okay”. We never spoke again. I have enough friends.

I was devastated for about 24 hours. There’s that nonsensical equation about how long it takes to get over a person, based on how long you were together. I don’t know how this fits into that, but after a few days, and making sure that everyone I had told about him knew that it was over, the whole thing was just gone. Over about as quickly as it started.

I felt foolish for letting myself go rogue. This wasn’t my style, and I gave in, and it fell apart. Before Steve, it had been a long time since I had really made space for someone else. I called it an extended recovery period from a previous breakup, but as more time passed, it felt harder to take the leap and, frankly, it never felt worth it. My dear friend Ben, who is nothing if not immediately and unwaveringly loyal at times like this, reminded me that, while this sucked royally and that he would heretofore be replacing his name with “douchebag” — that it might be refreshing to see that I could feel that way about someone again.

The feeling of being so swept up that I had no choice but to say yes. this came out of nowhere and surprised me and was exactly what I needed to begin a new chapter— one in which I’m not quite as scared to be vulnerable with someone, a time to stop overthinking every little move out of fear, to do the things I want to do when I’m ready to do them. I hadn’t realized just how much I’d put on hold, for some excuse or another. In terms of love, I was and still am deliberate in waiting for something that feels worth it — but in the meantime, I realized I was passing on so much that has very little to do with my relationship status. While I was waiting on a love that moved me like that, I was waiting on life to happen to me. Going to that wedding and meeting Steve and falling in … whatever that was… was the beginning of saying yes. It was the beginning of listening to my active, energetic spirit and letting her call the shots. It was a reminder that I can trust myself – a reminder that I’m all I need to be me right now. I started taking some risks. I went on that trip to Europe by myself last summer and it was amazing. I started saying yes to things that, sure, one day, will be great to do with the love of my life, but for now, that person is me – and we are having a damn ball.

my sober january

I’m weary of explaining why in god’s name I willingly chose to give up alcohol for a whole month. After 31 days, I’m not even sure if it was still true, but I suppose it’s the same reason that anyone does anything — to try and change something, see what happens, or make a difference. I don’t know about any of that, but I survived and now I feel the need to reflect on how I’ve been changed, or not so much, by this harrowing experience.

The month had it’s low points, but overall, it was absolutely do-able. It feels good to know I can do this and it feels even better to know that I don’t “have to” do it anymore. While my lifestyle didn’t undergo drastic changes during the month of sobriety, I kept myself pretty busy and got some things done that I may or may not have gotten around to with a drink in my hand. Sure, enjoying a cold, hoppy beer doesn’t necessarily get in the way of personal productivity. A glass or two of boxed chardonnay isn’t the glue that holds me to the couch. But I must admit that I noticed a bump in my level of motivation to cross some things off my beloved to-do list during that month. (I should also note that I’m not normally at home quite this much, but the combination of my “I’ll just have a water, thanks” and a dip in social activity that January tends to bring as a recovery from the over-stimulation of forced holiday cheer, I leaned into my introvert side and spent more nights than usual in my warm and cozy house.) So here’s what I did in January while I wasn’t drinking:

1. i organized my bathroom cabinet. that’s all i’ve got to say about that. it’s pretty great now, if i do say so myself.

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2. tea. allow me to be more specific: HOT TEA. it’s amazing. it’s freezing outside and there’s nothing like a nice cup of hot sleepytime tea to round off your night. okay, so there are a lot of things better than hot tea to round off your night, but it’s fairly pleasant! the ritual of brewing the water in my beautiful mustard-colored kettle, picking a nice mug…it’s no glass of chard, but it was cozy and delicious and i liked it. (and i’ve even opted for tea a few times in february!)

3. jewelry tree. most of my earrings are crammed in my handbag until they eventually fall apart. in january, i found the time to locate all the fragmented and dislocated pieces of jewelry and arrange them nicely on this tree. it’s been a big month.

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4. la croix. i feel like a total ass attempting to pronounce it, but it’s pretty good. it’s mostly water, which confuses me a great deal. and you can drink it out of a wine glass at girls’ night and feel like slightly less of a complete loser.

5. friends is on netflix now. YES, i have 10 seasons of DVDs, but this is sooo much more convenient. i ask for your accolades, not judgment, in response to the news that i am nearing the end of season 6 (and yes, Netflix released it on Jan 1). it is even more wonderful and hilarious than i recalled from my previous binges and i’m grateful for the wireless technology that now allows me, in theory, to experience a full ten-year range of emotion without ever having to dig myself out of the memory foam.

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guess whooooooo?

 

6. tenx9. tenx9 nashville is a fantastic storytelling group that gathers monthly to hear nine people tell a story in ten minutes or less. i’m grateful to have found this group and for the two opportunities to share my stories in this context. i told a story in january (the theme was “beginnings”) and i’m going to post it soon. learn more here – they are great folks.

7. tennis. after years of making excuses, i finally made the drastic leap to send an email expressing interest in a local tennis league. it’s pretty sad and i’m pretty excited.

8. cork wreath. sure, it’s no longer christmas and i’m not even sure this thing will fit between my door and my storm door, BUT taking away my beer and giving me a glue gun means there’s gonna be some crafting. i think it looks pretty good and it only took me 3 “gilmore girls” to make it!IMG_4898

9. cooking. for christmas this year, santa brought me a dutch oven and some crazy sharp knives, so watch out spaghetti squash! did i mention i was also doing #whole30? terrible life choice, but i made some delicious dishes, including a homemade tom kha and a tasty pad thai. (note: the onset of february has employed the microwave a bit more and everyone is still doing quite fine.)

10. flannery o’connor. i’m auditing a class at VDS (a sure sign of my continued recovery from my theological education) called “the incarnational art of flannery o’connor”. she is so amazing and brilliant that i feel i should never attempt to write words ever again. (this post is not a great source out of which to build a counter-argument.) if you haven’t read any of her work, i recommend the short story “good country people”.

#TGIFebruary.

the leftovers sandwich

this is not a rant about a misappropriated seasonal or holiday celebration.
this is a love letter to the people and sandwiches that sustain me.

Last week, I perused and refreshed as my Instagram feed filled up with beautiful tablescapes of savory dishes– mostly earth tones with a  bright sprinkling of cranberry salad.  I know it gets a lot of heat, but I’m no hater to the food photography fad. I saw a great piece on CBS Sunday Morning that encouraged us to be more engaged with the breathing beings around the table than with the lighting and angle (don’t forget the filter!) to best capture the essence of the food that covers it. Of course, I’ll buy that argument too. I am rarely one to insist that my table-mates pause to pose for a picture at dinner. I count on another friend to call us to finish our bites and smile at the iPhone. My role entails grumbling sufficiently before asking that friend to share it immediately so that I can also have a copy. I come by it very honestly: my family is not great at capturing the moment on camera. Our latest addition to the family came in with cameras a-blazin’ and her energetic attitude gave us a few years of our family history that’s chronicled on film, but after twelve years or so, but we’ve all but beaten it out of her too. Sure, we want the photos, but no one wants to actually sit for one to be taken. We all “look awful right now.” If we can’t have the candid smiles and chewing poses (or God-forbid, a group photo in front of the mantle), the next best option is to remember the thing we ate while we were giving thanks and enjoying ourselves and our loved ones around the table.

These days, our family convenes at (my parents’) home for Thanksgiving. We pour in on Wednesday night and enjoy a (hopefully) annual dinner of grilled oysters, seafood soup, and ample chardonnay to kick off the festivities. Everyone is excited to see one another, often for the first time in months. It’s delicious and rowdy and wonderful. We begin Thursday morning with the Macy’s parade, interrupted only for an epic spread of biscuits-and-gravy, eggs-to-order, bacon, and all the works. We don’t eat the big meal  until 4:30 or so, which means the rest of the day is filled with watching the dog show (and doing some subsequent ill-advised browsing on petfinder.com), shooting skeet in the front pasture, worrying about the guns, napping in front of a football game, and, of course, cooking. This year, I volunteered to make the mashed potatoes before realizing that my mother does not own a vegetable peeler. The potatoes were all the the more delicious because of the love from both my heart and my now-mangled arthritic claw of a right hand. Spoiler alert: Mom, I know what you’re getting for Christmas this year.

Bring on the pitchforks, but I don’t love Thanksgiving dinner. There are so many options — all delicious, but a little overwhelming. I like it a lot, but it’s not my favorite holiday meal (New Year’s Day, obvi) and I’m glad it’s only once a year. We’ve all anticipated it so much. We’ve all walked by and assessed the probable moistness of the turkey based on its beautiful Norman Rockwell-esque color and stature. By the time we’re ready to eat, everyone is starving (snacking is verboten), so I’m certain each person has walked by to encourage Papa in his carving endeavors and sampled a small sliver, confirming the suspected moistness. We pray, we give thanks, we gorge ourselves in record time before retiring back to the den to watch more football.  The overachievers crawl back to the dessert table for “orange pie” (not as gross as it sounds– it’s just “pumpkin pie” spoken in the lingering precious vernacular of “Baby Quark”. Clark is now 8 and knows what it’s called.) but most of us are useless until it’s time to hug goodbye, thank the cooks for the annual gut-buster, have another glass of wine, and go to bed to dream of the best (in my  humble opinion) meal of the holiday that is just around the corner:  the leftovers.

I’m positive that the size of our turkey is chosen with deliberate excess in mind. I can assert this with complete certainty because I know who buys the turkey and it is her beautiful love of food (this meal, in particular) that has nurtured my own obsession with food and it’s connection to our living and our remembering.  Sure, we know we’ll have around 15 people for dinner, but it’s important that we get one big enough to feed 25. Because here’s the thing: if we’re not going to have enough leftovers for a turkey sandwich, we may as well just call off the whole damn thing.

My benefactress has her own recipe for the perfect leftover turkey sandwich. Multigrain bread, crisp lettuce, mayo. Side of sweet tomato pickles and sea salt kettle chips. It’s

leftovers sandwich- wb 2014
leftovers sandwich- wb 2014

simple and wonderful and she loves it. Mine is a little more complicated and expressive of my novice status: toast the bread, just enough mayo to keep the lettuce in its place, thin layer of cranberry salad, and throw a few of the kettle chips on the turkey for the crunch factor. It’s amazing. (Sometimes I add a little mashed-up layer of dressing, drizzled with gravy, but it’s usually a little too leftover-aggressive. Live and learn.)

We are not a Black Friday family. For us, the day after Thanksgiving means things get a little bit calmer, fewer pots of coffee, less and less food prep-time. It usually means a dishwasher that cries out in a panicked plea for help. The leftovers come out and you warm up your own plate in the microwave (or make your own sandwich, of course). The dear ones we embraced over Wednesday’s oysters are fewer and fewer with each round of leftovers. I hope to express this genuinely enough to not offend, but I think all the wonderful folks in my family know that as much as I love everyone being together, I love even more the times I spend at home with just my mom and dad. We sit. We make few plans. We read. We play sudoku. We occasionally crowd around a game of Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit. It’s still. It’s quiet. It’s all I want after a fun-filled, loud, exciting time with a house full of extended family.

This year, as I reflect on the most recent holiday gathering and spurn the advances of the next, I am grateful for all of it. The leftover sandwich is delicious because of the Thursday meal. The Thursday meal gives us an excuse to come together for the merriment of Wednesday night. And after the last taillights turn left out of the driveway and disappear for a month, the absence of the beloved chaos — the chaos that marks the joy of being together — makes that sandwich on Friday all the more peaceful and delicious.

Thanks to all and for all.

shut up about pumpkins and listen to my thing about fall

It’s no longer cool to bemoan the over-commercialization of Christmas. Charlie Brown beat us to it long ago and we’re still hammering it into the ground, some methods more effectively implemented than others (for instance, those who actually participate in alternative giving rather than complaining about all the materialism and then dropping a few Gs at the mall). I’ve enjoyed offering my share of complaints about a number of capitalism-fueled versions of special and often liturgical holidays. It’s all white noise, though. Everybody wants to talk about the true meaning of Christmas or remind us that Thanksgiving is more than football, turkey, and “The One Where Ross Got High” (arguably the best Friends Thanksgiving episode, toward which we can direct our due thanks for Rachel’s traditional English trifle, Phoebe’s dreams about Jacques Cousteau, and a cyclonic unearthing of Gellar family secrets). But this is the first year that I’ve felt some support around my favorite rant on seasonal behavior– and it all can be summed up in three little letters: PSL.

Sure, the Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks is delicious. But you are fooling yourself if you think the world cared half as much about pumpkins and all this “OMG fall is right around the corner! #leggings #pumpkins #scarves #ilovefall #xoxoflannel” malarky before Starbucks dropped this bomb on us 10 years ago. Let’s just back up a minute. A pumpkin… is just a weird gourd that people buy to ruin and let rot on their front stoops in October. That’s always been the deal. All of a sudden, they’re the coolest things in the world and everybody can’t shut up about them. I’ve spent much of the last 5 autumns complaining about the trendiness of pumpkins and I’m here to admit that this trend may not pass. I’ve also been told by many a close friend that, for example, his mom has been making pumpkin mini-muffins his entire life. Good on you, though, Starbucks — hope you’re getting thank-you notes from all the other pumpkin-adjacent industries that are benefitting from this surge of enthusiasm about “fall things”. We should really be doing a lot of nutmeg-praising while we’re at it… sort of a horse and carriage situation.  And finally, the Internet joins me in making fun of the mania surrounding this season and all its autumnal byproducts. Here are a few of my favorites:

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I’ve even seen some Facebook posts about the ridiculously early opening dates of pumpkin patches — What? Your pumpkin will be totally rotten before Halloween EVEN gets here. Then you’ll have to go buy another one, I guess. You win again, capitalism. And you win too, Internet! Thanks for joining me here on the cranky train. The Holiday Police is a tough line of work, but it’s worth it if you have no need to feel vindicated or heard.

People love seasons and, obviously, fall is my favorite time of year too because it’s amazing (to no credit of the pumpkin or any of its subsidiaries). Having grown up in the South, I always yearn for that first cool morning when I can throw on my very worn-out Vanderbilt hoodie for the first time (did it this morning- BOOM) and go out of my way to step on a crunchy leaf. And I’m no Scrooge.  I’ve got a ton of favorite things about the fall — the Avett Brothers’ album “I and Love and You”, the aforementioned Vandy sweatshirt, high school football (okay, college football, too = TAILGATES), hearing the echo of a drumline (preferably off in the distance, rendering me too far away to be participating in the surrounding rehearsal or performance), the first time it’s chilly enough to turn on the heated seats, but still keep the windows or sunroof open. It’s a lovely, sentimental time of year.  And who am I to judge? Maybe pumpkin products are here to stay because they are particularly meaningful and personally significant to each individual who can’t shut up about them. But I’m pretty convinced it’s all because of Starbucks and that, my friends, is why I’ll only be drinking one (maybe two) tall, nonfat, with whip (YUP), PSLs this season.  Not unlike Lucy’s preference of January snow, I’ll be saving my pennies for a Peppermint Mocha (but heavens– NOT until after Thanksgiving).

whitney_present.yes

cs dreamthe work i do these days is not very emotionally challenging. it involves a lot of data and naming conventions and organization of files for books. title group IDs. eISBNs. no-crop PDFs. pixels. FTP sites. it’s quite easy to disengage at 5:30, take my brain back out of my desk drawer, and get on with my moving, thinking, loving, being-life.

so it’s not often that the contents of my desk-life find their way into my being-life. there isn’t a ton of overlap between my heart and book digital marketing and metadata delivery. this morning, when i woke up wondering which assets of my title group ID were present there, in that place, and which elements had yet to be identified, re-named, and delivered, i was a little surprised by the hazy clarity of my existential question. which parts of me are here? which parts have i not yet figured out? which parts of me have i forgotten to turn in, leaving gaps that might go unnoticed for at least a little while?

during my pre-alarm assessment this morning, it took me seconds to confirm that my title group (title group ID: whitney), is all here. there’s nothing missing. i don’t have to worry about whether or not i’ve been careful to include both eISBNs or ensure the latest currency conversions for sale in Canada. i’m enough for right here and right now.

naturally, as i’ve thought more about this strange waking moment further into the day, i’ve talked myself down from this knee-jerk feeling of wholeness. it’s easier to assume that of course there are pieces that are missing — and, sure, i’ll find them along the way because i’m not finished becoming myself yet. and unlike most long-awaited items on my checklist, i don’t have a countdown for that. all i can be is what i am in this time and space. any book assets in my title group ID that may be missing are not really missing. i am whitney and i am present and that is just enough. so here i am: ready to read and be read.

no such thing

whether or not we choose to acknowledge and claim it, we are all living on the edge. some of us are better planners. some of us buy travel insurance. some of us decorate our skin with tattoos that express the person we know we will always be. some of us can hardly commit to a nice sleeping bag (and certainly not without a thorough spoken analysis in which pros and cons are weighed before a captive audience), let alone purchase real estate or decide on a paint color (i had my new year’s eve guests tally their votes on paint samples taped to the wall). it’s not really the struggle of indecisiveness that’s at play here, but the basing of actions on a staunch commitment to permanence as we know it. i witness friends making choices with an air of confidence and self awareness that, at first glance, leaves me envious. i wonder if it’s calming to make smaller moves when they are part of a 10-year plan, but i’ll certainly never know what that’s like.  as i dig beyond the initial envy of what i identify as “having it together”, i realize that this has very little to do with confidence and a lot more to do with convincing ourselves that we aren’t afraid that things might not go according to plan.

i find myself to be more and more of a risk taker these days– not in an invigorating, adrenaline-rushing way. it’s closer to an acceptance that being a person is scary and, regardless of the posture we assume, there is no such thing as a sure thing. mystery will always be at work in our lives, no matter how feverishly we prepare for and expect the known. the only thing we can really plan for is for our plans to be turned upside-down.

maybe it is a matter of simply speaking aloud what it is that we want or where we feel led to go. we can say it out loud it and give our desires some breath. maybe someone will hear us and hold us to it. and hopefully that person will also sit with us when things change and it’s time to say some new things out loud. so yes, i can make some declarations to mark an alleged commitment to go out and get what i want. it doesn’t mean i’m married to the plan. it doesn’t even mean any of it will come to life, but there’s something helpful about saying the words, claiming it, all the while expecting to trail off in some other direction.

you’re blindfolded and dizzy, wielding a broomstick, and however ineffective, it’s nice when the person grabs your shoulders and attempts to point you in the general direction of the piñata. and you just start swinging and try not to hit any of your friends.

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how i met your welcome dose of reality

Amid the overwhelmingly negative response to the finale of How I Met Your Mother, I feel compelled to offer some thoughts of redemption. Spoilers, dead ahead. (ha.)

My personal reaction to the finale was shock, born of denial. Sure, the dead mom clues had been dropped and I was prepared for that, however cold-hearted I felt to truthfully admit that this move didn’t bother me too much. We didn’t know this character, really. We didn’t even know her name until the last 10 minutes of the series… so, while it does make me sad for Ted that the love of his life does not outlive him, I can’t say I feel gypped by that twist. The shock, though, while I should have seen it coming a mile away, was the Robin piece. After a few hard pinches, I came to terms with the twist and started on the road to acceptance for this, the fate of my favorite gang in the booth at MacLaren’s.

Because we spent the entire final season in a 72-hour span, then rushed through decades of birth, marriage, divorce, estrangement, death, and all the very important unmentioned pieces that happen in between those things, in a span of about 43 network TV minutes — it’s all confusing. While it’s tempting to put ourselves on that couch, as if we’re sitting there with Penny and Luke hearing the end of this story for the very first time, that is not the case. If given the opportunity to craft the timing of the final season with the show’s writers, I might have suggested a less rushed finale; but, sadly, TV execs and creators have yet to consult me pre-production. While it might seem like the kids just threw some dirt on their mom’s casket and shoved Ted out the door to go hit on Aunt Robin, we should remember that there were years in between and God knows these kids have the full story (more than they wanted to know) of how Ted feels at this point, after all this pain and heartache –and not just from the passing of his kids’ mother.

No, the show wasn’t about the mother, but anyone who thought it would magically become that in the last season was asking to be disappointed. Yes, it was cheap that the mother of Barney’s child doesn’t even get a name. No, we STILL never found out where that pineapple came from…

And sure, this wasn’t a perfect ending. We followed a hopeless romantic through nine years of hopeful first dates, attempts at long distance relationships, not waiting the three days to call, spending every halloween in the same outdated “hanging chad” costume so the slutty pumpkin from years before would recognize him, holding out for the love of his life that he knew was out there somewhere. Everyone was rooting for Ted Mosby to find the girl with the yellow umbrella, marry her, have those two poor kids, eventually morph into Bob Saget, and live happily ever after. And a bunch of those things happened. (The unresolved Bob Saget frustration is up there with the pineapple.)

Ted wanted the one. He was a big believer in her. He found her. They weren’t ready for each other. Then he found another one. They were ready and they went for it. Life happened and he lost her. At the risk of completely oversimplifying a very complicated notion, how appropriate that Ted Mosby in all his emotional endurance, would be dealt a hand that continuously turned his expectation on its head. Maybe there’s not a “one”.  Ted has a “two” (unless Robin kicks the bucket and the kids start nudging him to hop on a plane to Germany to get Victoria back) — and who better to experience love in a manner beyond what he could conceive to be true than Ted. It doesn’t cheapen his marriage or understanding of love; in fact, I think it widens it. That Ted is given two great loves in his life is a gift. This piece of the twist gives me more hope than despair — that we, the Ted Mosbys (and Marshall Eriksons, Lily Aldrins, Barney Stinsons, and Robin Scherbatskys) of the world cannot plan for or anticipate the wonder and mystery of what life brings.

Why couldn’t Ted and the mother just have met, had the kids, and lived a long and happy life together? Well, they could have and they did – but not long enough to get to the “front porch” of old age.  I appreciate Bays and Thomas for this dose of reality, even if a nine-year series finale may not have been the best place to introduce realism to this storyline (and hammer it home). Sometimes things don’t work out in the perfect way we want and may feel like we deserve, especially after enduring so much other heartache and confusion on the journey. The road goes on, the scene continues to be painted, the sun rises and sets — and we keep going, hopefully with care and support of good friends who love us enough to slap us in the face when we need it (figuratively, with honesty and respect. come on, guys…) hard enough to leave a handprint. And that is what this show was about — the folks who stand around you in the whirlwind that is figuring out who you are, where you’re going, and how the hell you’re going to get there. We might get lost, we might get sidetracked, we might decide to go to the mall…. today. We might find love and we might lose it.

Kids, it’s not going to be perfect and it’s not going to be predictable…and it’s probably not always going to be legen(wait for it)dary, but it’s going to be okay.

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happy holiday: a 20-year-old seasonal tale on laundry, pets, and recycling

when i was 7 years old, my mom and i went to the humane society on valentine’s day and came home with a little black and gray kitten. my creative genius was already in full throttle at this young age, so i dug deep and decided to name her Valentine. she was very cute and almost certainly hated me. i am not and have never been the type of human into which cats can seem to avoid digging their claws and teeth. sure, these mini-attacks are quickly followed by some licks as if to say “i’m just playing, calm down.” despite the pink scratch marks that covered my little hands, valentine and i were doing just fine during our first month together.

for the first twenty-or-so christmases of my life, i got a new wall calendar. it was always an exciting mystery as to which characters or theme would decorate the pages of each month — not as exciting as my new year’s eve tradition of using my colorful pens to copy birthdays into the new calendar (i think it’s safe to say that NYE has gone way downhill since childhood).  1994 was ushered in with a Berenstain Bears calendar that sported an environmental agenda. it was dont-polluteawesome – and i assume its production was affirmed after the publisher watched the classic “The Berenstain Bears Don’t Pollute (Anymore)” fly off the bookshelves. it was filled with tips about turning off the water while brushing your teeth, taking shorter showers, recycling soda cans, and organizing carpools to get to school. (this also should have been my first indicator that mom was doing santa’s dirty work.) of course, major holidays were printed on the appropriate days as they are in all calendars. the Berenstain enterprise chose to keep with the theme and make a bigger deal than most about arbor day, earth day, phases of the moon, and the like.

on march 20, 1994, we were having some people over for burgers and my mom was picking up around the house. she had moved the load of towels from the washer to the dryer and walked back into the kitchen, when only minutes later, she heard a rhythmic thump coming from the laundry room. after mentally eliminating a pair of tennis shoes as a possibility, she darted to the dryer to find poor Valentine, a freshly fluffed and very dizzy kitty. dad rushed her to the vet, holding her in the car while she responded physically the way you might imagine after spending a few minutes in a running dryer. Valentine made it out alive that day — the vet told us it was good that the dryer was so full of towels so she had some cushion for her little spin.

i was naturally relieved yet very upset by the traumatizing near-death of my tiny cat. i sat in my dad’s lap, thankful that Valentine was going to be okay* and sobbing a snotty wet spot onto his shirt. our guests had arrived in the middle of this episode, fortunate enough to experience this atypical apple valley catastrophe. (i couldn’t resist.)  i lifted my little face and rested my chin on his shoulder, pleading to god and all the empathetic adults in the room, “how could such a horrible thing happen on a holiday!?” everyone looked around at each other, utterly perplexed about what holiday i could possibly be talking about. my mom took the bait, “what holiday is it today?”

“IT’S THE VERNAL EQUINOX!”

after the scarring faded from both my hands and my soul, we started telling this story with some regularity. and nearly every person i know has heard me tell it, probably around this time of year. and every year for as long as i can remember, my dad wishes me a “happy holiday” on march 20th or 21st, however the calendar falls (although, obviously, none of my calendars since 1994 have had quite the same impact).
the beginning of spring is a wondrously hopeful occasion — a day on which you might find yourself so in awe of the new life blossoming around you that you may not notice a little ball of fur hopping in the dryer. it’s a day that brings the renewing sunshine (even if it’s overcast) whose promise has kept us trudging along, bitter and pudgy, through the winter months. it is a day whose official, fully deserved holiday status might pass by unrecognized without a helpful tip from those environmental (probably) Jewish cartoon bears… just not if you’re a Booth.

from my family to yours, have a very happy holiday!

*Valentine recovered fully from this incident, but ran away two years later for totally unrelated personal reasons.

new year, new day, every day

new year’s day, like the other major holidays after decades of repeated celebrations, is something of an acceptable cliché. perhaps it’s the refreshing change of tone that we crave after what has become a two-month holiday season that sets celebrating the coming year in a different key from the other holidays. we’re ready for it and we know how this works. real life is just around the corner again. back to work, back to routine, back to normalcy.

unlike thanksgiving and christmas, the expanding timelines of which stir up an annual exponential increase in my personal scroogeness, there’s not really an agenda with new year’s day. sure, there’s the fitness thing, but that’s often necessarywe don’t get up in arms about preserving the reason for the season on 12/31. there’s no “war on new year’s day” trending on twitter — it’s just a song and dance we do to romanticize into one day a celebration of a something that we have every day. that thing is grace.

today is really not that different from yesterday. i did wake up with a slight headache that i might not have had, had we not declared yesterday the occasion for epic merriment via champagne punch. BUT other than the fact that we have chosen to cram in one more party for december and, you know, the calendar, the new year celebration feels a little irrelevant.

a fresh start feels great. it’s liberating. it reminds us that we’re never out of time to work on being more disciplined (not necessarily better) versions of ourselves– and what better time for this annual reminder? it works. it makes sense.

but what it is that we’re celebrating in this annual empowered press of the re-set button is the gentle nudge that wakes us up every morning. it whispers to us, “hello. let’s go.” and we wake up and we keep moving. we say yes and we dance in the grace of a new day (yes, even before that first cup of coffee). every. single. day.

so make your resolutions, set goals, get right to work on them–all the while knowing and celebrating that the new year’s gift of a clean slate that we love to embrace is unfathomably grander and more beautiful than this january 1 interpretation.

all that being said, the end of one year stirs in me tremendous gratitude for the last 365 days and i’m filled with excitement and ever-growing hope (read: “freaking pumped”)  for 2014. let’s do this, y’all.

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