whitney booth’s day off

Yesterday, two of my co-workers left town on separate vacations to destinations of varying degrees of exoticness. Most of the kids with whom we work are also on fall break from school, so this is an easy time to use vacation time without much risk of falling severely behind or missing lots of super fun meetings. Due to my latest stint (can I call it a stint if it’s eternal in both directions?) of big living and what I lovingly refer to as “hemorrhaging money” on #FOMO in any of its charming forms, I opted for the fall break stay-cation. It wasn’t an opting as much as a stumbling into a weekend at home while everyone is away. Why take vacation days when I can very easily go to work? I’d much rather save those up for times when I literally can’t bide my time in the office making playlists or searching for standard poodles who are waiting on me, their perfect forever human mom, to bring them home. Today would be easy. There’s not that much to do because we don’t have any programs this weekend. I could look ahead and do some planning, but I can also just proceed as I normally do: creating a schedule so loose that I don’t even feel comfortable sharing it with anyone, lest someone hold me to it, and then going week-to-week because who has time to plan?  No need for that. Gotta leave room for the Spirit, am I right? 

Lots of need—turns out—for hours of talking and drinking coffee with my friend on her birthday, employing the autumnal two-hand-mug-grip as the morning light moved through my living room in a way I hadn’t witnessed in quite a while. Lots of need to spend one of my two hours in the office today downstairs celebrating a ridiculous excuse for cake known as Boss’s Day. I interrupted another co-worker who was actually doing things to talk about what’s new. That was important and good. I really need a new door because my basement door broke last week and is not secure and I really needed to take care of that because it is a safety issue and because I am an adult and when things are broken, I am obligated to pay a lot of money so that they can be fixed by someone who knows how to fix things. I couldn’t actually pay for the slab of wood that will eventually replace the broken door because I really needed to leave Home Depot in order to get to my movie that was starting at 4:20. Upon my timely arrival, I needed to get some popcorn and a beer because all I’d eaten that day was a handful of Wheat Thins for breakfast and that slice of Patriarchy Awareness Day carrot cake. And I think it’s really important that I sit here at one of my favorite restaurants sipping another beer and observing the pedestrian traffic passing right beyond my laptop screen while I tap on the keys and remember another time when I sat in this exact spot and wept as I wrote true words that may or may not have been an appropriate response to the assignment. I see myself in the reflection of the window and my hair is wild and I love my new earrings and I found that tube of lip gloss that I thought had been swallowed up by a crevice in my car and I am beautiful and glad to be here– glad to be out in the world and doing things that are grand, and glad that I won’t be reprimanded for seizing a day off from all the things I was being paid to do today.* Really, really glad. 

*Okay, so I’ll probably mark it down as a half day.

it happened.

I remember quite vividly my first excursion to the Limited Too with my mom to buy a back to school outfit for my first day of fifth grade. The goal, of course, was to look as much like Cher Horowitz as possible while still abiding by the Jefferson Elementary School dress code. As I tried on several combinations of bright. bold plaids with stripes that decidedly matched, my mom regaled me with her astonishment that this style that she had worn as a teenager had been resurrected. She, of course, didn’t keep any of her clothes from high school– plus, I’m pretty sure the Limited Too tag in my velour shirt was just as valuable as the look itself. But I remember being so astonished that fashion behaved this way — that clothes could remain unchanged, but morph from radical, to the thing everyone has to have, to so-last-season, to Goodwill piles, and then somehow return to the spotlight decades later. Who calls the shots? Who decides this? And if we know the cycles exist, then why do we ever throw anything away? I racked my brain to imagine which trends I attributed to my own generation would ever make a comeback. I couldn’t even decide which styles were ours — everything seemed recycled all of a sudden. I didn’t mind this, of course, because I had a new royal blue plaid mini skirt and a velour green and blue and black striped shirt and lime green knee socks to wear with my clunky pilgrim-esque Steve Madden shoes and I was on top of the damn world. As if.

My current wardrobe, while expansive due to a mild problem with online flash sales, is not terribly trendy. I lean toward more classic pieces– lots of basics. I do practice a halfhearted routine of getting rid of things I don’t want or the semi-trendy items that have cycled out. I’m not intentionally holding onto iconic 2010s couture  (ha, like I even know what that is) to pass on to my hypothetical child. I do not anticipate the resurrection of anything from my closet.

But it happened. And after a quick google search to confirm what I already suspected due the time at work that I spend with high school girls (and these are high school girls who simply don’t experience the physical awkwardness that I understood to be mandatorily linked to this age), it’s true. Birkenstocks are back. Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 10.17.24 AM

These bad boys are actually my second pair of this exact style of Birks. I burned through one pair of the Jesus sandals in high school and replaced them, but didn’t wear them much after the first pair wore out. I think I probably moved onto the trendier Rainbow flip flop (currently on pair #3 of those too). Because they were fairly new though, and because shoes are not often part of the purge, I kept them. So this morning, I went to my closet, spotted these long-neglected, patient friends, and slid my feet into them. And I could be totally off about this, and I might look like Joan Baez, but I am gonna rock the hell out of these cork and leather creations today because sometimes things fade out of view and come back around and we’re ready for them and this is one of those times. IMG_6234

the best day

On this day a year ago I was in Cinque Terre, Italia — ten days deep on my seventeen-day solo European adventure. I woke up that morning in Siena, in a room of my own in a hostel that was more like a poorly managed and sparsely populated boarding house. In other words, save the lack of toilet paper in any of the bathrooms on any of the floors at 2 am, it was absolutely delightful. I had been sick the couple of days before arriving in Siena and had struggled through the two previous nights in Florence, much to the dismay of my three German male roommates who listened to  my coughs and discussed in their native tongue (I’m certain) about how crazy I must be to come all the way to Florence and spend so much time sweating in a bunk bed (and how I should have gotten my own room since I was sick). Needless to say, arriving in Siena and remembering that I had reserved a single room made for an amazing and early night of coughing as loud as I wanted to in my own space.

When I awoke the next day, I hurried back through the city and down a very mysterious and, now, confusing series of roughly ten escalators to get back to the train station (which is, it seems at the other end of a very steep hill from the city center). I boarded a train that would take me from Siena to Empoli, and then to La Spezia (the main station for the Cinque Terre area). I don’t remember how long this trip was, but I spent the morning thinking and worrying and writing and chilling and listening to music that fed me the perfect balance of comfort and caffeine.

…I still don’t know what I really want to know because it’s not yet knowable. So, shit.

The same lesson is being taught to me when I don’t understand why my train isn’t listed as going where I’m going or when people won’t get out of my damn way when I’m in a hurry to leave the campo. It’s feeling so tired and being a little sad about feeling lonely. I’m in Europe, for God’s sake– this is what I wanted. To be here on my own and do what I want to do and have an adventure. To connect with myself. And all I can think about is how many nights I have until I can lay down in my own bed and see my friends who can mostly understand the things I say. And if I’m going to have a revelation, bring it on. Let’s do this. I’m tired and I want to feel full of life and energy– and I can’t help it. And I just have to rest and wait for some of that to come back.

I am, and always have been moving too fast, fearing and moving the loss of good times, feeling unsettled in the stillness, looking behind the curtain for affirmation beyond living and believing in the present moment. I have always found this to be a fairly admirable trait– to be moving and never bored or stagnant. To always be looking ahead to what will be next…

And maybe somewhere deep inside, I fear that if and when I slow down and live in one place for more than 1 1/2 years and do the same job and don’t spend all day, every day running around town between multiple jobs, I won’t be happy. I have no way of knowing what that would be like because I literally can’t think of a time when it was like that…. and if I am to slow down and start living my days differently, I will grieve the loss of that part of me. I think she is always going to be there though. A tendency to try and do it all will not likely disappear completely. Surely I can slow down a bit to enjoy my daily experience, not be so tired, spend very genuine good time with the people I love (even if amazing good times and ridiculous stories don’t result from those talks), sit with myself and pay attention to my heart and to what God tells me and shows me. And, in slowing down the daily rush to do more than is humanly possible (usually with success!) I can still say yes to the amazing adventures as I see fit and want to say yes to them. … I am tired of surviving in the chaos and, while I’m certain that the chaos as I have come to know it on a more expansive universal scale is never going to cease– I certainly have a beautiful sense of hope that I can thrive in it. It’s been a long time. Maybe that’s one of those subversive goals I had for myself in my twenties– to be a hot mess and just struggle my way to feeling fabulous — thirty and flirty and thriving. (All of this starts AFTER I just dropped my last Italian throat lozenge on the train seat divider and put it in my mouth anyway, btw.)

And I have to admit, for most of this time, probably since I moved back to Nashville in 2009, it has felt really good to survive. I’ve had a lot of fun, seen a LOT of things and places, done a lot of stupid things and laughed about most of them. I’ve loved deeply and I’ve grown out of the pain of loss. I’ve somehow made it work– all of it. And I’ve done it in a way that produces a hilarious series of stores — being a nomad all summer in 2013 to save rent money while housesitting — good God. And I loved it. And I got really weary of feeling unsettled and I cried a little bit and peered ahead and squinted to see light at the end of the tunnel. And I made it. I survived. And all of that has made a lot of who I am, so I suppose the thought of embracing a simpler, more stable lifestyle will feel like I’m losing a little bit of her. Maybe I will be. But maybe I’ll love the new parts that will grow in those places even more than I love the sweet, hilarious, yes-to-almost-everything (within reason; “no” always wins if I am ever tired or hangry and this is likely never to change), adventurous, efficiently creative and creatively efficient, teller of autobiography, outdoor urinator, frequent forgetter of deodorant, night owl with an early wakeup call, hoarder of leftovers, doer for the story (a lot of the time), cynic of the outwardly ebullient, lover of the long way home. I don’t know which of those things is going and which will stay– maybe I can move some of them with me to a thriving place. Actually, I don’t think I have to let go of any of the things that I love about myself–I can stop to savor those things and choose the sweeter, more hilarious, more peaceful moments and see what things I do and love about myself there. I have yet to disappoint.

And maybe I’ll find that a little settledness doesn’t feel so bad after all. And maybe I’ll find that I have absolutely no choice but to keep growing and changing and that “settled” is actually a myth. Whatever the case may turn out to be, I can find ways to move from trudging to dancing through it all. It has seemed so insane and stressful and survivalist for so long and the little steps I’ve made to help clear things out haven’t had a chance to come alive yet, but God, I pray that this direction will take me dancing. And maybe it takes a very tough and distant and lonely and tired place of running out of steam before we can begin again and move toward the fullness of life.

This is a really beautiful leg of the trip, in more ways than one. Despite the fact that something near my seat smells like someone peed on an old smelly sock that had been wiped on an armpit (I’m not being hyperbolic– I thought about that description for quite a while), it may be my favorite ride so far. Outside the window, I can see Italy morphing into a totally new place. She is littered with more houses on hillsides, more palm trees, more color, more clotheslines. All signs point us to the coast, where we can all wash ourselves clean..

I arrived in La Spezia and waited on the platform for the local train to take me to Riomaggiore, the closest of the five “terre”s. My earbuds were overstaying their welcome, but I had already been so stirred by the music and lyrics that continue to speak to me time and again–it was absolutely worth the soreness to listen to Abbey Road for the rest of the morning’s travels. I danced on the platform at La Spezia Centrale to the strange songs of side 1 — I swayed around to “Something” and mimed lots of “bang bangs” for Maxwell and his Silver Hammer. I snagged a window seat on the train and others crammed on as the doors closed. The oppressive weight of the endless guitar riff in “I Want You” accompanied a few long moments of darkness as our train moved through a natural tunnel. The silence of the song gap struck me as it ended, startling me back into awareness, when the tunnel opened and all my fellow passengers joined me in audibly gasping at the striking sight of the most beautiful blue water I have ever seen.

Here comes the sun.

My eyes filled with the sweetest tears I’ve ever wept. And my face has never made a smile so true and so beautifully joyful in my entire life as it did in that moment.

little darlin’, the smile’s returning to their faces
little darlin’, it seems like years since it’s been here.
here comes the sun.
here comes the sun,
and i say,
it’s alright.

When I hopped off the train in Corniglia, it was 1:38 pm. The rest of my day consisted of climbing 385 of the steepest zig-zag steps in Europe (with all my belongings on my back), chugging two large beers at the top (cheaper than water), eating the better part of a cheese pizza (just for me! felt like Kevin McAllister) and checking into my hostel. I went for a hike that Rick Steves called “moderate” which kicked my ass but balanced out my lunch. I fell down (like, all the way down. my face was on the Italian dirt.) on my hike and broke open a scab on my knee from a previous far-less-interesting, far-more-embarassing fall in the lobby of my hostel in Salzburg when I literally tripped over myself. I hiked on, blood running down my leg, until I stopped to take a photo and realized that my camera (which was actually Claire’s camera) had fallen out when I fell. I hustled back for about ten minutes, miming a point-and-click situation to every person I met, until I found a family who had picked it up. I jumped up and down and made tiny claps with my hands to express gratitude (that seems universal), and continued ahead to Vernazza. I accepted a BandAid from a woman who is from Australia, put my feet in the water, ate some gelato, took some photos, and boarded a short train back to Corniglia, for which I never paid. I showered and walked down the street to eat (ahem, drink) dinner. I met a lovely young American named Dusty from Arizona who was traveling on his own as well. We shared stories from neighboring tables, wandered around, ate more gelato (basil with local olive oil drizzled on top), and sat on the cathedral steps while we listened to an outdoor jazz concert. I went back to the hostel, climbed into my twin bed, and knew that the next day wouldn’t be quite like this one. I’m still not sure any ever will be.IMG_4075

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.