Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Face of Self-Control

Let it be known that yesterday was my own twentieth birthday [which is exceedingly weird...]. More than one person suggested/asked me to write a Top 10 List for myself.

I resisted temptation.

You guys!!! Praise me for my incredible maturity growth spurt!! Positive reinforcement, people -- I did not shamelessly propagate my own fabulousness ON MY BIRTHDAY, the one day of the year where I give the "But I'm Carly" excuse a break and instead scream to everyone who cares [and especially those who don't], "IT'S MY BIRTHDAY!!!! TODAY IS ALL ABOUT ME!!!!! LET'S TALK ABOUT/GIVE GIFTS TO/ SHOWER GENERAL ADORATION ON/CELEBRATE ME!!!!!!!"

*sigh* You clearly don't understand how big of a deal this is. Fine. Be that way. But just be warned: you may not be so lucky next year.....

Just kidding. I'm going to go take an exam. Blah.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Note to Self: Find Cowboy STAT.

So I have been sick for the past five days. Miserably sick. I feel rotten. On the plus side, I mean, I’ve just been in my bed for most of the time, so I have an extra chance to get stuff done. Of course, since I’m sick and attention-starved and my mommy isn’t here to take care of me and I feel pitifully bad for myself, I have been rather self-indulgent [AKA: I watch movies and read InStyle and lie in bed, staring languidly at the wall] instead of utilizing my time wisely.

And of course this is the week that I decided NOT to get on Facebook, just to see if I could do it and to avoid distraction and to squeal in giddy delight when I see the number of Notifications on my birthday [which is Monday, the 8th, but the way. This Monday. December 8. Just to put that out there.] But since I was feeling so pathetic, I may or may not have meandered on once or twice yesterday [Yes, Furrow, I cheated. Shut up. I was sick. And I’m not going to do it again, because I made my roommate change my password so THERE]. I felt guilty though, so I logged off.

You know, unless I want to check my email or do something for academic purposes [which I was avoiding, you see], I don’t have any specific destinations online [disregarding Facebook, obviously]. I frequent InStyle.com, but I had just meticulously read through two issues of the magazine, and felt self-conscious enough in my sweatpants and greasy glory, thank you very much. So what did I do in my time of need? I Stumbled.

Stumble is probably the coolest thing in the world. You fill out a little profile that lists your interests, then click the magic Stumble button and boom! Instantly transported to a million amazing websites. I find the COOLEST websites for stories and writing and words and stuff like that, amazing traveling things, and oddly, since I listed cooking [more generically food, I think] as an interest, delicious looking recipes, some of which look easy enough for me to try.

That’s how I found it. A ridiculously amazing looking recipe for Crash Hot Potatoes hooked me [of course it was the potatoes. Then I looked at a recipe for beef tenderloin {AKA: Heaven on a Fork} and, even in my sick misery, I think I salivated a little]. Intrigued with the writer’s witty commentary that ran alongside pictures of the cooking process, I started to wander around the website a little bit.

Consequently, I have a new best friend. Her name is Pioneer Woman.

Well, her REAL name is Ree. And she is the antithesis of what you think of when you see the title “Pioneer Woman” on a website. She’s quite young and beautiful and funny and I LOVE HER. Her website has everything; a blog about her life as the wife of a cattle rancher [don’t judge me], a whole section of AMAZING and easy looking recipes, a ton of really awesome pictures of her rancher husband and their four kids and a lot of cows, horses, and chaps. You’d think I’d be repulsed, but I’m not.

I think I love this partly because Pioneer Woman used to be anything but – she was a huge city girl, then fell in love with a cowboy, and was swept away to the middle of nowhere to brand calves and raise babies for the rest of her life. The thing is, SHE LOVES IT. You can tell.

And because of my compulsive, go big or go home mentality, I have spent a solid 6 hours on the website in the past two days, mainly reading the serialized version of her and her husband’s story, which is quite possibly the most perfect and romantic thing I have ever seen. I love it. In the creepiest, most ridiculous sense possible, I honestly feel like I know this woman. I kind of hate myself for that, but whatever. I’m sick. My mind is probably delusional.

Anyway, I guess the point is that peoples’ plans can change pretty drastically. God can take people in directions that they never dreamed possible and it turns out better than they ever imagined for themselves. So let me just get this part over right now, so that if it happens one day, you won’t laugh until you die of cardiac arrest: if my plans pull a 180, whether it be sooner or later, and I meet some perfect ranch owner with dark, perfect hair, and he sweeps me off my feet and I end up in the middle of Texas working cattle and cooking for the ranch hands and homeschooling my seven children because we live in a giant farmhouse in the middle of nowhere and cow manure is a part of my daily existence and InStyle becomes as obsolete in my life as top hats have in fashion…I can see myself being very okay with that.

But the Rancher had better be really freaking hot, that’s all I’m saying.

And Pioneer Woman had better be my neighbor. Because we have unwittingly forged a cosmic bond. Be jealous. And don’t tell her yet – I don’t know if she has noticed…

PS: Furrow, I forbid you to comment on my wall about my alleged Facebook cheating situation. That’s right: YOU ARE FORBIDDEN.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Finishline Looms

This is the point in the semester where I disappear, where I burrow into my books and count the hours until December 10 at 6pm and I am freed from this semester. "Finals" are not so terrible for an English major; I actually only have 1 final exam. What that means, however, is that the other classes make up for it in final papers and projects. So, to hold my place and to remind myself why in the world I do what I do, I have this.

When I was a senior in high school, I had the opportunity to dual enroll at Kalamazoo College. I took a Creative Non-Fiction class, consequently falling in love with the genre and cementing my goals and dreams for later life. Anyway, my professor always assigned a warm-up exercise like this one, which is modeled after an essay by Maya Angelou, I think. I've come back to the form on many occasions, and this is what it looks like now, two years later.

Why I Write
• I write because it’s a narcissist’s dream: channel your thoughts onto paper and nobody can interrupt, nobody can stop you – there is nothing to inhibit your monologue.

• I write because it hurts not to write. The metaphors and similes and descriptions crash around in my brain, pile-ups that are scores of words long, and undoing the mess after it happens is far less enjoyable than simply directing traffic as it comes.

• I write because I cannot paint. If I could paint, perhaps writing would be less urgent. If I could make pictures or art with something other than words, perhaps my life would be very different. But I cannot, and so a pen becomes my paintbrush and simple, lined paper morphs into a canvas.

• I write because it organizes thoughts, puts away words, makes everything a little bit more tidy. Paper is a safe place to hide thoughts – they cannot fly away into the abyss of the brain if they are neatly nailed down in black and white.

• I write to celebrate form. Style, though under scrutiny of critics, is my friend. I like to play with Her, change Her clothes like I used to redress my Barbies. Writing is my grownup version of a doll.

• I write because I have no choice…how else am I to respond to what is going on in my life? Do I run the stress away? Would it be better to bottle everything up and unload unto a therapist in future years? Been there, done that…I may as well document the experience.

• I write because I love stories. I love telling them, hearing them, watching them, reading them, knowing them, understanding them, creating them, being a part of them. Everyone has a story and I want to hear it, and then I want to write it, make it real to the world at large.

• I write because I am a closet actress. Writers make good actresses, I’ve decided. Both need to know characters, both need to know how a character works, how to get inside the head of a fictionalized person; they both need to have a mastery of the art of reaction. I wanted to be an actress when I was younger…the stage, the smell of a theater, the scripts – it was all heaven. Writing is to acting what online shopping is to the mall; it’s acting at home, with your fingers and your words instead of your body and your face. To choose between them is like trying to choose between two best friends, one of which lives next door and you get to see every day and you grow closer and closer and closer until it feels like you are the same person, and the other lives far away in some exotic place, but the very thought of seeing her makes the distance worth the pain, because you know that the moment you’re together again, you’ll pick up right where you left off. I need them both.

  • I write because I am a Writer, and that is what Writers do. I have next to no choice in the matter. It is what it is, and I love it. I write because I love it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Inspiration

My friends and I do this every night. Jackie texts me, and then I call Allison, and then Allison asks Jessie and before we know what happens, we are all “doing homework.” This term is surprisingly ambiguous. To most people, it seems straightforward: assignment, research, draft, redraft, quiz, exam, blah blah blah and most students favor the library or their room, or maybe a study room in Ontario or Kirkoff. Let me tell you that the living room in 10246 is rarely successful.

Invariably, half of us act insane while the other two have a random burst of productiveness. The two crazy ones annoy the other two, until the energy levels even out and then switch. If we can be serious and actually do homework for more than five minutes straight, it is a very, very good night. Otherwise, we are “watching” movies [though nobody else seems to have any appreciation or respect for the process], eating junk food, laughing at things that are only funny with the four of us, and lamenting the huge amount of work that we still have to do. By the time we all go home for the night, somebody has spoken in a random accent, somebody has antagonized the chinchilla, somebody has danced interpretively, and somebody is nearly in a coma from laughing too hard.

It doesn’t make sense that we are friends – we talked about it the other day. If the four of us had gone to the same high school, we probably would have hated each other. Jackie would have pulled a prank on somebody, Jessie would have cried about it, Allison would laugh at Jessie for crying, and I would probably be watching the clock to figure out how much longer I had to be there. I don’t know what it is about college that brings such different people together; maybe it is being away from home for the first time, maybe it’s the amount of work that we have to do, maybe it’s the sheer amount of hours that we spend together, but something has glued these girls into my heart.

Surprisingly, then, they are an integral part of my writing process. Tonight, for example, we were sitting in our assumed positions, and I was stuck for a topic. “What should I write about?” I asked them.

“Write about me!!” Jackie said, after she suggested writing about pooper-scoopers.

“Write about how you met me!” Allison said, only half-way kidding.

“She wrote me six cards for my birthday,” Jessie beamed from the floor. I just groaned; whenever I ask ANYONE what to write about, they invariably say themselves. It’s not that I care…I’m used to it by now. I should warn people, though, that the last time I wrote about the two people who asked to be written about [my little brother and sister], the short story morphed into a tale about a wealthy family going on a retro road trip with two children, a girl and her little brother. Before I knew what happened, the girl turned into some snobby, mean concoction, and the little brother became a cute, albeit slightly ridiculous eight year old. Just putting it out there.

Still, there is something about good friends that inspires me. These girls make me think, make me laugh, make me love. It’s not always easy for me to get work done around them, but it’s worth the late nights, the long hours, and the extra stress. And look – they proved to be the easiest two pages to write in my life. I guess you can check this off as another great night in 10246.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Bold Claim.

I cannot believe that this mayhem is starting already. As a single, [almost] twenty-year-old young woman, I cannot believe that my some of my girlfriends are already discussing and planning marriage. It’s to be expected from a small, Christian, conservative community, of course, but still – are we really at this point in our lives already??

I can handle the impending engagements. Yes, it’s crazy weird, and I cannot imagine taking that path for my own life, but I learned a long time ago that different people have different hopes and dreams for their lives. So my friends want to be wives and mothers first and foremost; just because it’s not what I want doesn’t make it wrong or bad.

And it’s not like I don’t want to be a wife and a mom one day – I do. I’m just not really in any huge rush to get there. I have things that I want to do with my life and places that I want to go… I’m not ready to be tied down to a person and risk that sense of individualism, independence. Don’t get me wrong, I cannot wait to be in a relationship and in love and engaged and married and all that jazz, but when one’s own mother looks at you and says, in the kindest, gentlest voice possible, “Carly, I think you should wait until you are in your thirties to have kids,” it kind of forces you to rethink the notion of settling down early in order to be a young mom.

So yes, I’m single, and yes, I’m basically okay with that. What I’m not okay with, however, is all of the mushy, sentimental Christian literature telling me that it’s all right to be single. Really? That’s okay with you? Gee, thanks. I love hearing about God’s love for His children, especially as a woman, but do I really need books and articles and retreats geared toward affirming that I am God’s princess and that, even though I don’t have a boyfriend or a fiancĂ©e or a husband, He still loves me? I feel like this sort of mentality makes God into some sort of consolation prize – I mean, a physical, earthly man doesn’t necessarily love me, but the Big Man Upstairs does, so TAKE THAT, all of you non-single friends!!

I understand the need for this sort of thing, I really do. I understand that I am atypical in many ways, this one especially. I understand the loneliness and the heartache that can come from waiting for the right man instead of settling for a good enough man. More than ever, I understand the immense value of true, Godly, incredible female friendships and the community that God created us to experience together. But I don’t want to read [and I definitely do not want to write] sappy, feel-better books about being single, and about our intrinsic worth to God despite this singleness. I want to read about God’s love for me regardless of my relationship status. I want to have meaningful conversations with intelligent, thoughtful women about something other than guys. I want to be encouraged to pursue God and my dreams and my friendships and not to be treated differently because I’m single. I want to celebrate this part of my life, as it is, and not waste it wishing for something different.

Is that really too much to ask?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

This Apple Catapulted Away From the Tree...

My dad is a wonderful, intelligent, generous, and incredibly loving man. He takes care of me in a way that makes me wonder if I will ever be with someone who can compare [I have had plenty of women tell me that it's going to be impossible for me to find a husband good enough after growing up with my dad as the standard]. I could not respect him any more than I do, and I could not be more proud of him for the way that he leads our family.

That being said, I certainly did not get my knack for literature and writing from him. Case in point -- please read the *precious* note that I got in the mail from him the other day:

Chicken Hawk,
I hope your having a great day. It is a little cold out there slinging gutters.
I write great notes.
I read an entire book in 2 days, it was not, "To Kill a Stupid Bird."
Love you Baby,
Good-bye, Good-bye, Good-bye
Daddy

I laughed out loud for about five minutes straight [because of both the grammatical errors and inside jokes that litter the letter], and showed all of my friends. I am going to keep this forever.

Love you, Daddy. Good-bye, Good-bye, Good-bye.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Moment of Truth

This is the reality. I can no longer avoid it, rename it, dodge away from the facts, or nervously giggle in its face. This is happening, and if I don’t accept it, I will live the rest of my life in denial and, let’s be honest, I’m not even quite twenty years old yet [though the days are dwindling], and that is just NO way to begin a happy, well-adjusted, adult life.

I have to take a deep breath before I say this.

I. Am. Turning. Into. My. Mother.

There, it’s out. It’s not so scary, right? RIGHT? I don’t have to be terrified of this impending situation, correct? Could somebody please hand me a paper bag??!

The transformation has been subtle, but steady. Daddy has looked at me in sheer wonder [because of the ridiculous things that I say, the silly demands that I make, the illogical ways in which I think, etc] and has shaken his head, saying, “You are JUST like your mother,” nearly every day since I was twelve. I should have seen this coming a long time ago.

Still, it was a terrifying, huge, magnificent realization to face in Meijer, of all places. This is when the gradual process turned a corner and began to full-out sprint. There I was, innocently buying groceries and snacks so that I could host a bunch of friends [exhibit A] to play games at my apartment [exhibit B] that night. With my conscious mind a million miles away, I was suddenly shoveling those sugary, bright gummi worms into a thin, plastic bag…if you have EVER been to my mother’s house for ANY reason, you know EXACTLY what I am talking about.

I stopped. I stared. I panicked a little bit. But in the end, I popped a gummi into my mouth, made my purchases, lit candles in my apartment [exhibit Y], and hosted one heck of a game night. Jewels would have been so proud.

That’s not it, though. Oh no. Through the semester, I have had people in my apartment nearly every weekend that I have been here. I have begun to COOK [batten down the hatches…it’s not been as bad as I thought] and I even revisited the idea BAKING.

I drink coffee. I discuss farm animals like I know what I’m talking about. I fret about politics here and there. I get annoyed when my bathroom isn’t clean. I watch Jon and Kate Plus 8 like it’s my job. It’s all getting out of hand, really.

The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back, however, delicately topped the list on Sunday night. With Thanksgiving Break glowing on the horizon like the sun after hurricane season, I buckled. I did something that I swore I would never do. I joined the ranks of hypocrites as I bent my head in shame and partook in an activity for which thoroughly enjoy chastising my mother.

That’s right. I began to listen to Christmas music. And I have enjoyed it everyday since then. What is a poor girl to do??!!

Really, there are worse things that could happen. I could be turning into, I don’t know, someone awful. I love Julie, so…I can do this, right? I can adopt characteristics of my mother without freaking out, right??

I don’t know about the not freaking out part, but as long as I’m not decorating my house with roosters and American flags and crying at 5k races, I think I’m still on the verge of sanity. When we cross that line, somebody let me know.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Please Let Me Be The First to Say....

I haven’t always been the best big sister in the world, especially where Taylor was concerned. Kelsey always laughed at us, telling me that one day he would be my best friend; I was always tempted to punch her in the face for this. I refused to believe her, because at fourteen I was, like, so mature. While never as bad as Shelby [who [to this day] antagonizes Taylor to the point where even a saint would be tempted to slap her, then simpers off to Daddy the second he finally reacts], I have heaped my fair share of abuse on my baby brother. I used to make him play dress-up with me, smearing makeup across his face until Daddy got home and turned a delicate shade of purple at the sight of his youngest son dolled up. I used to physically drag him out of my bedroom on a daily basis, screaming something about the foreign concept of privacy. Driven to extreme frustration one night, I actually gave him a bloody nose [which, in my defense, was not hard to do at the time…]. Needless to say, Taylor drove me crazy.

So what happened? I moved out. I left home last year, prepared to miss my sister with all of my heart, but to my surprise, it was Taylor for whom I ached. For the first time in my life, I wanted to hang out with my little brother. Since then, Taylor has become one of my best friends, favorite voices on the telephone, and choice movie date. I am very excited, then, to post [and in no particular order]:

Top 10 Reasons I Adore My Precious Baby Brother

1. I tell all of my friends that my little brother is the coolest person on the planet, and I am not joking. Taylor is seriously one of my absolute favorite people in my life, and I love that I get to share him with all of my friends [because the rule of thumb is, if you like me, you’ll like Taylor]. There is no way around it – he is just unequivocally cool, especially for his age group.

2. He understands me better than almost any guy ever. I can talk to him about anything from our parents to boy problems to style. I call him to ask what to wear on a date, vent about my roommates, laugh about something that happened in class, or talk about my boring day….Taylor and I get each other. He is genuine, he is a good communicator [most of the time] and he cares. He is the sweetest little brother in the world.

3. Which leads me to my next point: Taylor takes care of me. He has always had a servant’s heart, but as he grows older, he becomes more and more attentive. When I’m home and not feeling well, he sits me down, makes me take medicine, brings me cranberry juice and cough drops, and sits and talks with me. When he heard about my roommates’ apparent dislike of turning on the heat, he just shook his head and said, “Do you have a space heater? We’ll get you a space heater for your room.” Can you see why I love this kid?

4. Taylor not only takes care of me, he sees it as his personal job to protect me. Unfortunately, my older brother never really caught on to the “protective big brother” gig, but nobody had to tell Taylor twice. From the way that he screened my phone calls, to the times he sat in the basement “playing computer games” while I was with a boy, to the way that he sizes up any guy I may or may not like, I value Taylor’s opinion more than almost anyone else’s.

5. I admire anyone with even a fraction of Taylor’s passion and discipline. Whether it’s horses or running or something else, Taylor’s excitement and drive always inspire me. Very few people commit themselves so wholeheartedly to a hobby, but Taylor’s love of horses transcends the attachments of most adults I know, let alone teenagers. I love that he is so knowledgeable and dedicated.

6. When Taylor got funny, I have no idea, but it happened, and he is. It sneaks up on you, but he has this really intelligent sense of humor that always surprises me a little bit. Where is the little boy who stammered through stories, grinning ear to ear, until he finally conceded defeat with a frustrated, “I CANNOT TELL STORIES!!!” ? I mean, let’s be honest, there is still some room for improvement in his delivery and choice of details, but Taylor makes me laugh a lot [and he can laugh at himself], and I love that about him.

7. I don’t know many girls who are blessed enough to have a younger brother with whom they can [start] a Bible study. Taylor’s Godly character and integrity have been evident for years; his spiritual maturity astounds me. I love looking at him and simply knowing that God has huge plans for him, inherently knowing that Taylor’s life is going to be so much bigger than what we have dreamed [and we have big dreams]. I cannot wait to see where God is going to take him.

8. I can share my love of reading and writing with him. Despite the fact that I inadvertently bought him a semi-pornographic journal for Christmas last year [the wispy, naked people were sketched onto the wispy looking horses with equally wispy strokes – how was I supposed to see that??], he values words almost as much as I do. When I came home from college last year, he asked me for books to read, and I got to discuss real literature with him [sort of…]. I love that he reads my blog religiously and always has feedback, not only on the content, but on the writing. I trust his judgment, because, what can I say? I gave him good taste.

9. My little brother is generous to a fault. My sister and I have used this to our advantage on more than one occasion, but Taylor remains undeterred. He gives the most thoughtful, generous gifts to people; he would almost always give rather than receive. All I can say is that he is going to be the best boyfriend/husband in the WORLD one day: losers, skanks, users, life-suckers, fun-suckers, hoes, and general sucky, stupid girls need not apply, because I will cut you.

10. Taylor has the most ridiculous crush on our dog ever; it’s sick. He will mope around the kitchen all day, until he can decide exactly what he wants to eat [inevitably either something healthy or ice cream]. He auditioned for a play, but couldn’t stop his knees from shaking. He calls me his “baby sister” and “baby girl” even though I am, in fact, four years older than him. He loves hanging out with middle-aged women even more than I do. He steals Mom’s phone just to text me late at night. He cooked paella when he was seven years old [but never quite mastered the art of scones…]. He dreams of traveling to Europe. He is the most interesting, diverse, and dynamic person that I know. He will always be my best friend and confidant and I will always love him with everything inside of me.

Happy Birthday, Baby Brother. Your world is about to change more than you know…have fun.
I love you forever.
xoxo.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

For the Love of Literature

There are a lot of things that I love in life. Lists, for example. I love lists. Oh, and makeup, obviously…I loooooove makeup. I love words, too, and new notebooks and glossy magazines and cold days spent in Barnes and Noble [it’s the perfect front, really – you can make yourself believe that you will get some homework done within those hallowed walls, when in reality, you know that nothing of the sort is going to happen]. I adore my little brother and buying gifts for people and laughing and surprise phone calls from long-lost friends and fireplaces and front porches and What Not To Wear and Jon and Kate Plus 8. I love greeting cards and writing letters and introducing my friends to each other and to false eyelashes and I love telling stories. But do you know what I love, I mean, what I really love?

I love books. I love how intelligent I feel when I can reference classic authors and their works, ideas, and philosophies. I love how a book can change the way you see your life, how it can take you away from reality and instantly transport you to a far-off world. I love it when books become friends, and they begin to make you laugh and cry and feel the way that people can. I love the way that books feel in my hand and the sacred feeling that runs through my body when I open one. I love knowing that an entire world, an entire story exists in the pages that I am about to read, and anticipating the thrill that I am about to experience.

I love that the women in my family taught me to love to read. I love that Mimi and Aunt Debbie and Mom all fostered a passion for stories in my little heart when I was young; I love that they all bought me books and journals every chance they could. I love that I can still walk into a bookstore with Mimi and five minutes later we both have armfuls of books and she lets me choose three to get. I love that my mom read to me when I was little and that even now, if I were to hear her reading something out loud, I would stop in my tracks so that I could sit down and listen. I love that she always knew that I was going to be a writer, but she let me figure it out for myself.

I love sharing my books and stories with my friends and family. I love that Jessie comes into my bedroom and treats my bookshelf like a library, just like I do with Mimi. I love that I am influenced by authors or books [or bookstores, as I am today] and that when I write these random musings, in a way, I am sharing it with all of you.

Books have a place in my heart that nothing else can touch. It’s a different passion than the one I have for makeup, for example. Makeup is artistic and beautiful and otherworldly and thrilling. It is like the explosion of a firework, impressive and amazing all at once. Books, on the other hand, slowly grow and blossom and flourish, climaxing and ebbing like ivy on a wall. It’s a different kind of love, a different kind of appreciation. It makes me feel safe, yet adventurous, content, yet restless.

If I could move into a bookstore, I would. I can only imagine the logistical complications that would accompany that, however, so I content myself with turning my living space into a book haven in and of itself. If anyone is looking for birthday ideas, then [T-29 days] Barnes and Noble might be a really good place to start…

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Seasonal Falling

1. Today I walked to class and it was perfect.

Steely clouds rolled across the sky. Cold wind whipped through the buildings on campus. Fire colored leaves shook in the breeze, quivered, spiraled to the ground.

I clutched an apple, fingers cold. The sharp snaps of the crisp apple kept me company on my walk. Frigid juice filled my mouth with the flavors of fall.

2. This weekend I went home and it was perfect.

Brilliant trees, animals, corn mazes, pumpkins, Mama's food, fires, stars, and guitars. My wonderful friends met my wonderful family; my two worlds collided and exploded into something even more beautiful than I would have guessed.

The trip back to school was easier, because I had the best of both worlds all weekend, New Friends and Wonderful Family, a dual existence bridging the gap between my two lives.

3. I woke up this morning with a happy sadness, a hollow fullness; this part of my life is fleeting, yes. But it's beautiful. I miss my family and I adore my friends, but times when they are all together is rare. This chapter is like a fall day, on the edge of change, about to turn into something completely different, but today? Today it is what it is.

And it is perfect.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Home and Free

I find that the life of a college student is intrinsically centered on the concept of constant transition. Classes change every semester, roommates change every year, apartments are moved between, and friends regroup frequently; the very stage of life itself is an in-between phase, the lost years between a bygone childhood and an impending adulthood.

Because of this, the idea of "home" changes dramatically. When I am at school, home is wherever my mother is. I don't consider myself to be overly-dependent on my mom, but there are days when I just want to curl up in her bed and not talk about anything particular, just everything that comes out. My psychology class teaches me that this is a normal relational phase, but I don't want to demean my homesickness to science; I just really love my mom, for the most part. As soon as I get back to that wonderful, white farmhouse, though, a knot forms in my stomach, and I want to turn around and go right back to school, my apartment, my room, my own space...home. No, Mom and Taylor aren't there, but my friends are. My life is.

I hate the fluidity, the ambiguity of something that should be so solid. I hate wanting to exist in two different places, the two little globes connected by a thin strip of concrete known as US 131. I hate the idea of going back home too often as much as I hate the idea of leaving to go back to school -- the changes make me sick the way that a constant, little draft would. The worst part is, I'm at the point in my life where I feel like I don't belong in either orb.

I can't help but to think of a song my sister and I used to sing when we were little. Back in a simpler time, a better time, we would act out the scene of Belle in our living room as we sang along to "Home." There is a line in the song, the importance and depth of which was completely lost on little girl ears, but to hear it now is to know it. "Nothing lasts, nothing holds all of me." I can't get past the painful, beautiful truth that throbs through those lyrics. My childhood home, the haven of my past will always be a sort of home to me...but there is an odd sense of it not quite fitting anymore. In the same way, while I know that I belong exactly where I am here at school, there is the strange, innate knowledge that it is meant to be temporary. The whole thing is part of the most wonderfully awful phenomenon I have ever lived through.

Growing is never painless; good things always require work. This transitional phase of life is amazing, it's just that I can't help but to feel rather nomadic. Is this normal? Am I the only one trying to understand where I belong? Or is this just another aspect of the constant search for self-definition? When it's done, what will I look back and see? An exhausted girl with too much on her plate? Or something different...something deeper that I cannot recognize from such a close vantage point?

I guess that only time can tell.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Suprise!!

Woh, look. I'm not dead. Shocker, right?

I just need to throw something out there -- I have never used my brain this much in my life. Seriously, I thought about it today, and I was thinking and moving and in class and working and just DOING stuff for twelve hours straight today. My "breaks" consisted of me, rushing across campus to my next scheduled appointment, and tomorrow looks even more hectic. Everything has been moving at a nonstop pace since I got back to school, and please don't think that I'm complaining about it; I'm not. I'm busy and stressed and more than slightly overwhelmed sometimes, but I love it. I love being back here, and I love the environment. It's been wonderful.

The only sad part is that I have had loads of ideas for funny blogs floating about in my brain, just like a distant, happy memory. Remind me to tell you about the completion of my journey into becoming Julie. It's somewhat amusing. Also, you should definitely hear about my job. All that I can say is that as awful as this summer was, being a writing consultant is equally wonderful. The pains of being a Russian student, the fun of living in an apartment with all girls, the irony that come with being a college student -- I have so many stories for you and no time to tell them!! Truly, it's a travesty of epic proportions.

Naturally, I have a million hours of homework and other commitments in front of me this evening. But I missed this. And I rather miss all of you. Unfortunately, this year is the antithesis of my freshman year -- I now schedule my life by the hour. I'm not kidding; it's ridiculous. My point is this: hi. We'll talk soon. Don't worry.

:-)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

To My Devoted Following.

Dear Mrs. Geniac and Taylor,

I am sorry that I have been unable to entertain you with silly stories lately...writing for pleasure seems like a distant dream. I am currently cemented in the middle of my day, T-2 minutes until sociology starts and that much closer to another homework filled evening. Trust me when I say that I miss you, even more than I miss this blog...but I'll be back sooner or later. It's inevitable.

Oh look, we're starting. Love you both [and any other readers who stumble upon this sad, neglected forum]. Come visit soon!!

xoxo.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

This May Come As a Shock..

I'm going to stop sugarcoating things: I love men. Older men. They're my favorite.

Now, if you'll excuse my mother's heart attack in the corner due to my bluntness, I will explain. I'm talking about professors [see, Mom? That's not so bad now, is it?]. I don't really know why, but for some reason I have had the most absolutely endearing string of older, male professors, and I think that they are just completely cute. And not cute in the way that I think that the kid in my Honors class who looks like Elvis is cute -- he's cute, although his chin's resemblance to that of the King's is kind of silly. No, I think that my old man professors are cute like babies are cute...I think that's fitting. Some girls love babies, while I love adorable little old professors. Besides, I'm not very good with babies. They always cry when I hold them.

My Honors history prof from last year, for instance. He has to be in his sixties or seventies, and he teaches a year-long Honors course with his wife. It's the ultimate academic adventure, let me tell you. Professor Wife is a wickedly intelligent woman and a wonderful professor; she coerced me into Russian courses, so you know she's good at her job. She's loud and intimidating and scary until you get to know her, at which point she is one of the kindest people you will ever meet. By contrast, Professor Hubby is just a charming, quaint, absent-minded man who wandered about class and giggled when lecturing on the French Revolution. He once said that he wanted to write a book about France's history and title it The Dynastic Hangover. If I were to walk across campus and see Professor Hubby quite literally chasing butterflies, only to be distracted by a rare bird call, and then turn away due to some sort of mythical creature fleeting across the grounds, it honestly would not surprise me one bit. He has that much of a child-like innocence to him.

My Honors Sociology prof from this semester, however, has enough attitude for his entire department. While he has an obnoxiously clear-cut agenda to challenge his students ideology and change our thinking process, he is rude and sarcastic and hilarious and therefore, I love him already. An aged sort of hippie, from the looks of his casual, short-sleeved button downs and the wool socks beneath his sandals, he jumps around class with an energy that makes me question its source. Professor Hippie talks faster than Daddy on caffeine, and the topics fly by so fast that none of us can get a word in anywhere. Though I have an inclination that things are going to get very interesting very quickly [he consistently says, "So maybe you're from a conservative, middle-class family from West Michigan," with mirth and a touch of condescension], I cannot foresee being bored, if for nothing else than the fact that I'm kind of anticipating his grumpy old man days as being very entertaining.

Professor Hippie's counterpart is a sort of hybrid between Hippie and Hubby. This particular old man is very paternal, grandfatherly and sweet, but there is a certain sense of biting "stick it to the Man" vibe emitting from him. He's a slight man [especially in comparison to Professor Hippie's boisterous, lumbering persona] and he has a shock of full, white hair on his head that he runs his hands through when he's thinking....he almost resembles Dustin Hoffman, in a way. Yes, Dustin Hoffman with a beard. Professor Hoffman is seemingly just so sweet, but he has the same peculiar energy as Professor Hippie...it really makes you wonder...he gets quite excited about his topic as well, but as it is psychology, you can basically say nothing wrong in his class. "Oh, yes, of course, that is interesting," he would say to even the most oddball comment. "I have never thought about it that way -- please explain why you think that!" You see? Completely charming old man.

Even my English professor from last year was awesome. He was laid-back to a fault; when looking over the syllabus, he would say things like, "I mean, Milton is good, but Paradise Lost is so long and boring...do you guys want to read all of it? I don't really care...no? Okay. We'll just do sonnets." Brett was much younger than any of the other professors that I'm talking about [probably somewhere in his forties], and he looked like a combination of men from my family -- it was eerie to walk in the first day and stare straight into the face of a pseudo-Creamer. Sometimes he seemed bored about his topic, so he would regale us with any number of unrelated and semi-inappropriate stories...it was a great class, albeit almost unproductive...

I just love male professors. Obviously, some of my best and favorite professors have been women [Mrs. Jones, Gail, Professor Wife...], and it's not like there is any schoolgirl crush that has exploded into the Indiana Jones situation [you know, where the girls in his class wrote "I love you" on their eyelids and blinked veeeery slowly?], but still. I can't help it. I love men.

Oh, and if somebody could resuscitate my mother, I would appreciate it. I would, of course, but I have a class with Professor Hippie soon...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Forever and Ever.

I love how friendships grow and change and mature and morph over time. It's really an incredible thing -- when I think about the first time I met some of my closest friends, it amazes me to see how far we've come. My head nearly explodes sometimes at how God perfectly orchestrated everything for us. Take, for instance, Jessie. Who would have thought that the random girl I met in the lobby my second day of college would turn into one of the best friends that I have ever had?

The first time we met, I think that I scared Jess. Between my terrifying nighttime look [glasses, disheveled ponytail, sweatpants – it’s enough to make anyone cry], my abrupt question [“Do you get phone service anywhere in here??”], and instant bond twenty minutes after we met [“Do you want to be Best Friends??!”], she had to be at least a tiny bit overwhelmed. Something, however, clicked between us the very instant that we met, and ever since that moment, one year ago today, she has been a rock in my life.

Jessie is different than any of my other friends. I have a lot of “best” friends. There are six or seven girls in particular who form a sort of counsel for me, a soundboard of love and advice and encouragement and laughs. They all mean everything to me, in a different way. Jessie fits among them in a place all her own. I think that it’s because when I met Jess, it was the first time I instantly bonded with someone because of our common foundation in Christ. Ours was my first friendship that was forged out of a need for fellowship. From the very start, Jessie and I were sisters, and relationships between sisters are always different than relationships between even the best of friends.

There is just something about Jess’s passion and love for Jesus that is inspiring. Her drive to know Him better, to be His light into this world, to live every day for His glory is something that I had never seen in motion before. I think that when people look at us, they see me as a leader, because I’m loud and obnoxious and I like to be in front of people. Jessie is more timid, shy perhaps, but believe me when I say that she garners more confidence and strength from her faith than anyone I know. She and I faced some intense trials last year, and she was the strong one. She was faithful and loving and she helped carry me through the situations. I do not know where I would be right now if it weren’t for her friendship.

And it’s not like we sit around, quoting Scripture in a dark room for fun. We have the best time when we’re together. In merely a year, we have made the most incredible memories – adventures downtown, spontaneous concerts, spring break, late night roadtrips, and all nighters all over campus, just to touch on a couple. I’ve never been as instantly comfortable being exactly myself with anybody but Jess.

It completely and utterly blows my mind to think how perfectly God placed us together. Jessie and I compliment one another so well, that we balance each other out, highlight the strengths and help with the weaknesses. I could write an entire book about what an amazing friend she is, how caring and sensitive she is, how resilient and hopeful she is, how much fun we have together. I could keep going and write that she is purely beautiful, inside and out, and that she makes me think and laugh and love more. I could keep going and going and going, until the only person who was still reading at the end was Jessie herself, because everyone else finally decided that for a person to be that wonderful, she must be fictional.

A very wise person once looked at us and said, “You guys are like the best best friends.” That made Jessie and I smile at the time, but now looking back, it’s true. Jessie has helped define my college career so far, and our relationship has deepened and matured more in one year than I ever thought possible. I literally feel like I have known her forever, and even though that isn’t the case, I love knowing that we have the rest of our lives to keep being friends. I really can’t wait to see what else God has in store for us, because the future only looks brighter.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Keep Going Until The Pavement Ends

They say opposites attract. Katie and I are quite opposite...sometimes. Sort of. Okay, so we're really not at all -- we both love to laugh [I prefer mine snort-free, however] and have fun, we both love the non-food at Kleiner with an unhealthy abandon, we both love our friends and families more than anything else in this world, and we are both directionally and domestically challenged. It's true; as much as we may want to, Katie and I could never live together, because we would burn the house down with our "cooking," and then we'd get lost whenever we left on a desperately needed fast food run. I'm sure our mothers cringe at the very idea.

Regardless of the fact that I cannot read, give, or follow directions at all, there is one circumstance under which my inner compass resembles my father's instead of my mom's, and that is in a mall. I know, I know, it's pathetic, but it's true -- ask any of my friends or my sister, when there is shopping involved, I have the nose of a bloodhound. Even if I have never been INTO a certain mall, I instinctively know where to find the stores I want, I sense when I am going the wrong way, I can find whatever I am looking for. It is beyond strange.

Because of this, I had enough faith in my shopping-center savvy [and GoogleMaps, naturally] to think that even Katie and I could find Woodland Mall on Wednesday morning. The last time I went there was with my genius friend Alyssa, and it was easy to get to...of course, Alyssa uses words like, "north" and "east" in regular conversations, so maybe she and I are more opposite than Katie and I...but either way, the mall was one turn off the highway, and Katie and I were already IN the general area, so how hard could it be to find??

Though construction tried to thwart us, nothing gets between two twenty-year-old girls and the notion of spending the money that they should save for things like food and rent. We suffered minor delays and opposition, but when we pulled of the highway at the correct exit, we were one turn, 8.9 miles, and approximately 17 minutes from our destination. Sure, it confused us a little bit that we passed Rivertown, the shopping mega-center that so delighted us when we were younger. "I thought that they were on opposite sides of town..." we said to each other. We re-examined our directions, though, and according to them, we were right on track. So we kept going.

I don't know what our first clue was. Maybe it was the fact that we were looking for 28th street, and I noticed that we were crossing streets like 46th, 52nd, 78th, 83rd...but then again, maybe the street numbers start over after 100, so we kept going.

Maybe it was the fact that civilization slowly started to trickle behind us, a distant memory by the time we reached the first cornfield. Maybe it was around the time that the cornfields became so plentiful that they gave way to cabbage patches and darling little farms, complete with the red barns and the silos that Julie loves so much...maybe then we should have figured it out. But then again, maybe a burst of commercialism awaited after the next light and we were almost there, so we kept going.

Maybe by the time we passed the North Door County Store, we should have known that a mall was nowhere nearby. I mean, I'll bet the little shack still accepted credit from Ma Ingalls and bartered for fresh eggs. Something was definitely wrong, even though we had followed the directions PERFECTLY. In a last vain attempt to find the ever elusive mall, we kept going.

Finally, we lost hope. Choking on laughter at our ridiculous situation, we decided that at the next light, we would turn around and try to figure out where we were going. We didn't even get that opportunity, though, because there WAS no "next light." The pavement ended. We had driven until we ran out of road.

Obviously, we turned around, and by the time we pulled over at the North Door County Store, there were two people sitting on the front porch [see? a store with a front porch...because they've made on of THOSE in the past one hundred years...] and I rolled down the window. "You lost?" they asked, inherently knowing out situation.

"Um, yeah," I said. "We're trying to get to the Woodland Mall."

Their mouths dropped open, and they stared at us incredulously. The red-headed woman barked a laugh. "You're really lost," she said.

The nice hillbillies gave us directions to Woodland, but at that point, we didn't really want to risk it...so we ended up at Rivertown, safe, familiar Rivertown.

And so, our shopping adventure turned into quite another adventure, but hey -- we figured out where Woodland was NOT. And it was hilarious. And it merited a blog. And we still got to hang out and start this year right. And Katie and I have the rest of our lives to figure out directions. And learn how to cook. I think we're going to be all right.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The End.

The day has finally come. I never thought that it would happen. I have hoped and cried and dreamed and prayed for this very moment, and here it is. It is Monday afternoon, and I am in my apartment, in my fabulous little bedroom. Not a real estate office. Not a loud restaurant. Not driving between the two. I am at school. I am where I belong.

This summer...oh, this summer. Where to begin. I worked a lot and I learned a lot, and that is all a part of the process of growing up, I suppose. Was it fun? Not particularly. I had some fun times -- the Chicago trip, the cabin in South Haven, visiting friends, and family parties are all wonderful. But overall, it was kind of a place holder, a bookmark between the chapters of my life. The problem is, when I'm in the middle of a book that I like, I can't put it down -- bookmarks make me pause and catch my breath, and I don't like that. I've been dying to get to this part, this chapter, if you will, of my life for a long time, so to have a four month hiatus from what I love wears on me.

Well, that's all over now. I have been here for less than 24 hours, and I already know that I am about to start what is going to be the best year of my life so far. As much as I would love to pretend as if I never left this place, I don't want to forget the summer. I don't want to forget the things that I learned about work, ever-changing friendships, growing up, and myself. So while the Misadventures of My First Summer Home may be done, and thankfully so, I want to build upon the things that I took away from it.

Nevertheless, the name of this blog is now obsolete and needs to be changed. The URL will remain the same, but I'm trying to think of a new title. As any author will tell you, naming a piece is often harder than writing it, so this process may take a while...but I'll get it eventually.

I want to thank you for reading this. I can't really tell you how much it means to me without sounding insincere, but truly, I love and value your feedback and encouragement. I'm excited to write about the adventures and ridiculous situations in which I find myself at school, so hopefully you'll stick around for fall semester. It's looking quite promising. :-)


Monday, August 11, 2008

Attn: Replacement Slave

From the desk of C. Crookston, listing coordinator.

To Whom It May Concern:

It has recently come to my attention that you will be taking over my job. Assuming that I meet you [although, as my days dwindle to hours here, that possibility seems less and less likely], I promise to try and teach you what wisdom I have gleaned from this office over the past three and a half months. I have prepared multiple documents for you, detailing different bank procedures, stored mock folders for you, so that you can reference them whenever necessary, and organized the show log, for easy access. After I leave, you will be working in an office with at least two competent people who will be able to answer your questions....I can't really vouch for the rest.

Some things, however, cannot be divulged via Word document. Nuances of the office, if you will, such as the fact that the manager involuntarily coughs every time he walks in the back door, and that if Uncle Realtor says he'll be back in an hour, he really means three and a half. You need this information, and that's why I'm here. Attached is a [very] brief list of tips and secrets, which may or may not help you adjust to "work" in this office.
  • Your job can be completed fairly quickly, when efficiently done. Avoid such productivity at all costs, because otherwise, odd jobs that are not related to your work will be piled on your desk.
  • The patriarch of the business, Uncle Realtor's "pappy" is a creeper. Doddering and mostly harmless, true, but a lurker and a mumbler and a secret farter and obnoxious phlegm hacker nonetheless. You have been forewarned.
  • During Tuesday meetings, Uncle Realtor drums his misshapen fingers against the table with such force and intensity that one would think that he has percussion ambitions. I am sorry that I had to point it out, because now it's the only thing that you'll be able to hear...
  • Along the same lines, there is a certain agent who puckers her lips, chews her tongue, makes faces, random noises, sometimes whispers during conversations, and constantly uses strange voice inflection. I don't know why she does this, but it drives me insane. Hopefully you'll be able to handle the madness.
  • Wing Heaven makes Fridays worth getting out of bed. Don't let the North Side scare you -- everyone loves fried chicken and kool-aid.
  • Screen calls: If the name of the _______ tenant [enter adjective of your choice after meeting said tenant: insane? disgusting? terrifying?] next door flashes on the phone, DO NOT PICK UP. Chances are she'll come over in a stretched out, old, white sports bra, and let's be honest -- who wants to miss such a treat? *Note* If such a travesty occurs [again], do everything in your power to look away. It will be hard, but at least try...nobody wants to end up in therapy, really.
  • Try not to stare at One-Armed Jim's stub. It's hard to look away, especially when he's making lewd comments ["I never seen yo legs befo, girl -- they's pretty!"], but again, try. And when he gruffly rumbles and mumbles something in your direction, smile and nod, but keep your distance.
  • Don't make eye contact with Charlie. Or inhale within a ten foot radius of him. Just don't do it.
  • The words "Top Producer" are to become synonymous with "I don't care." It doesn't matter...everyone accepts this, except Uncle Realtor. He'll forget about it eventually...just give it time.
  • Brush up on your telepathy, because communication between workers is nearly impossible. You have entered a place where chaos reigns -- hopefully you are organized so that you don't lose your mind.

If I could, I would tell you to run...but that wouldn't be very good of me. Instead, I will simply warn you: if you try to internalize this job too much, it will destroy you. Of soul-crushing proportions, this office takes no prisoners.

I truly, deeply, sincerely wish you the very best of luck.

Yours

PS: Please disregard any sudden sounds of joyful laughter, maniacal cackling, relieved screaming, or breathless sobs of delight...that's just me, driving away.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

sputters of a dying brain

I'm sitting here.

Just sitting.

The clock turns slowly, grains of sand keeping me from freedom.

The phone rings and I answer. It rings again. I answer again. We are caught in this dance that only ends when I leave, run away, breathless in anticipation to get out.

There it goes again, ringing its brash little fist in my face. Awful dance partner, really, so evil and passive aggressive and demanding. It's always the same choreography: Good afternoon, just a moment, let me transfer you, may I put you on hold, I just need to look that information up for you.

Did the last woman to call really just identify herself as Rydolin? The irony is an overdose in itself. Then again, it may have been my brain knocking on the side of my skull, crashing into the walls of my head like that bird that just flew into the window a moment ago. Seriously. Oh how I empathize.

I just left a message for an agent and I actually said something about information and then I said reiteration a few words later. I inadvertently rhyme now? I need to be done with work for the summer...

Look at this, I can't even write prose. I can't string coherent thoughts together or formulate a style. I have approximately 49 hours and 57 minutes left of work here...not that I'm counting or anything.

What a summer. Fun? No. Long? Yes. Fast? Like light. Eventful? Sure. Is a repeat in order?

Never.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Saudade

I don't know how to explain it other than this: I left my heart in Brazil last summer. It sounds melodramatic and exaggerated, I know, but the truth is that I have never loved like I loved there. I generally wouldn't describe myself as overly kind or sensitive or tenderhearted, but when I walked on the dirt roads of Village Campestre [which literally translates poor village], everything inside of me melted. The people that I met in that beautiful place will be with me for the rest of my life -- truly, I have a family in Brazil, and I ache to go back.

I find that whenever God sends me somewhere to teach me something, I get an intense desire to return. It happened when I went to SEMP after my sophomore year, New Orleans after my junior year, and West Virginia after senior year, but I have never had such a burning passion and need within me like I have for Brazil. What was it about that country that is so special? How can I even begin to explain it?

When Phil and Rachel Stucky, the missionaries with whom my team stayed, moved to Maceio to plant a church, they prayed for God to send them people, adults, committed married couples. They found a handful, but it became very clear that their link to the community was going to be the kids that came to the church in droves. We spent nights in the church building [for lack of a better term -- in reality, the building was little more than slab of concrete with a roof over it and a security gate around the perimeter] with over forty of these beautiful children, and as Phil and Rachel told us their stories, I did everything I could not to let my jaw drop.

These kids came from broken home, alcoholic homes, abusive homes, destitute homes. The culture requires nothing from a father but whatever financial support he can give, and that is often absent, to say nothing of a loving, present figure in a child's life. The education system is set up so that it is extremely difficult to get even a basic education -- anything higher than eighth grade would be considered advanced and the chances of getting accepted into a college or university are slim to none. Of course, entering the work force is nearly as difficult; jobs are scarce and the average monthly salary can be made in mere hours by most Americans.

As I learned about the individual stories and the social forecast as a whole, my heart broke for the hopeless kids. When I looked around, though, I didn't see the bleak future. I saw joy. I saw the love and companionship that they found in that church and with each in other, a new family in Christ. I saw Godly mentors as the adults developed relationships with the kids, taught them how to live effectively in their world. I saw the life changing effect that the love of God had on these people; materially, they had nothing, but they welcomed me into their church, their homes, their schools, and their lives with open arms and enormous smiles.

I did more than see when I was in Brazil -- I became a part of it. I stood among them during worship and I was more moved by their passionate, genuine singing than I have ever been by any expensive, effect-laden presentation. I played games with them, met their families, laughed with them, laid brick to help build classrooms with them, and cried with them when it was time to leave. I so completely gave that village church my heart that I am positive I will never get it back completely, but I don't want it back -- I just want to go home to my family that doesn't speak the same language.

That's just it -- we didn't need words. Don't get me wrong, a common language would have been the biggest blessing in the world, but when we were stripped of our most basic form of communication, we were able to move to a far better form: love. What we couldn't say because of the language barrier, we said through our actions, our faces, our prayers for one another. I still pray for the church and the people that I fell in love with there almost daily, and now God has given me another opportunity to show them how much they have changed my life.

As I said earlier, the church building is woefully lacking. While the people would never complain, they are trying to save $3000 to put a roof on their future sanctuary. God has provided for them to build classrooms and God will provide for them to finish this sanctuary, but $3000 American dollars is an incredibly daunting amount when most make far less than $50 a month. I want to help. I want to help because I love them, yes, but also because that is what God calls the church to do -- isn't true religion taking care of the widows and orphans in their need? I promise you, there are plenty of those in Village, as well as abandoned, abused, and alone. I spent time there, and for the people in the community, it is so much more than just a church. It is an after school program, a place to hang out and not deal with gangs or alcohol, a refuge, and [literally for one family] a home. The money sent to Brazil will do more good than it could ever do in my wardrobe or apartment, that much is for certain.

I don't mean to use this blog as a soapbox off of which to preach, but having just received some emails from a few different people from Village, I couldn't help but to share what was on my heart. Will you help too? I'll be talking to the team who went last summer and my family, and I want to raise some support to send them a gift as an encouragement. As Phil said in an email, "It would be an answer to their prayers." If you, whoever you may be, have stumbled upon this blog and took the time to read my usually silly antics, and you would be willing to contribute to this offering of sorts, please talk to me. If not, please pray. Please pray for the church as the leadership is going to be turning over. Pray that God will continue to mold His people and that they will not grow discouraged, but that they will continue to grow and serve and love.

For your prayers and perhaps gifts, thank you. From the bottom of my heart and on behalf of my beautiful friends and family in Village Campestre, obrigada.


video

How Great Is Our God became extremely meaningful for both the Kalamazoo team and the Brazilian youth group, so some of the kids asked to learn it in English. This is them singing on the last night.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Further Proof That I Am Not Normal

Dear School,

Please hurry up. Please come quickly, with your excitement and adventures and lessons around each and every corner. Please don't forget that I'm just sitting here in this office, dreaming about you and praying that you weren't just a wonderful dream from last year. Please bring a beautiful fall with you, with vibrant colors and crisp air and autumn-y scents that make my wonderful campus even more gorgeous and collegiate and energetic. Please be even more fun than freshman year -- I'll even take it more seriously, I promise. Please just come as soon as you can.

Thank you.

Love,

Carly

Thursday, July 24, 2008

True Life: I'm a Stalker

Don't judge. I cannot help it that Old Navy Joe is a.) adorable, b.) funny, and c.) constantly working whenever I go in to shop. It's not like Shelby and I stop in just to see if he is there...often. And it's not like we scan the aisles once we walk inside, just to see if we need something off of the shelf that he is stocking...every time. Besides, it's common to recognize people who work in a store if you go in there often enough, right? I mean, I worked at a grocery store for two years, and I definitely knew our regulars by name, business or organization, and buying habits -- it doesn't make me creepy, it makes me OBSERVANT.

The key is to be subtle. Now, I know what you are thinking -- "Carly? Subtle? Right." Ah, but you underestimate me. Let's not forget, I am an actress. Can I pull the coy, "I think I know you from somewhere..." card? Of course. Do people like Old Navy Joe realize that I recognize them and, in fact, giggle about their cuteness with my sister as I walk out the door? Absolutely not.

Unless, of course, my mother is with me.

Although Julie has taught me many wonderful and valuable things ["Carly, you can change a man's clothes, but you can never change a man."], I must have learned the art of inconspicuousness on my own. Mom knows all about Old Navy Joe from Shelby and I, so when we were shopping a few weeks ago and he was the cashier, she rolled her eyes at my little smile. "He's not even cute," she said.

"Mother!" I gasped in horror.

"Well, I mean, I guess he's sort of cute in a not cute way?" she offered. I shook my head. Poor, sad woman, she can't even recognize completely adorable when it's standing right in front of her anymore.

Old Navy Joe looked bored at the register. There was quite a line building up, and he just sort of looked at us all like, "Really?" He had a Speedracer shirt on, a nametag that said "Amanda" [see? He has a great sense of humor!!], and his thick, dark hair was spiky and faux-hauky. My mom was crazy for not finding him cute. As we got to the front of the line, Jewels went first and put her stuff on the counter. Old Navy Joe gave her an upwards nod. "What's up." He said as way of greeting. Mom smiled and looked at his shirt.

"Do you really like Speedracer?" she asked him in an accusing tone. "Or are you just being trendy?"

"Uh, it's just kinda trendy," he said lazily. "You know, it's kind of my style." Mom laughed.

"Oh, okay, Amanda. Mandy. A-MAN-DUH!" She said. A normal daughter would be mortified by such actions, but really? I'm used to it. Old Navy Joe, however, was not.

"Why you gotta be makin' fun of my name?" he asked, grinning.

"Oh, I don't have a problem with the name Joe," she said. My heart stopped and I looked at her wildly. Old Navy Joe got a confused look on his face. He wasn't wearing his own nametag -- we weren't supposed to KNOW his real name!! I had to turn around and try to compose myself so that I didn't start to die laughing and look like an idiot, but Mom didn't get the hint. Oh no, she just kept right on going: "I really like the name, actually," she said. "If my fourth kid was a girl, I was going to name her Emme Joe...but I got a boy, and his name is Taylor instead."

"Did you know my name is Joe?" he asked with an extremely weirded out look on his face. Clearly not understanding the fact that it isn't normal for non-regular customers to just know a salesperson's name off the top of her head, Mom nodded.

"Uh-huh," she said.

"How...how did you know my name?" he asked. Mom finally began to see why I was hiding behind her, trying desperately to compose myself. She faltered.

"Oh, she's psychic!" I blurted out, before I could even think. Now Old Navy Joe looked at me strangely, but not for long.

"Yeah!" Mom agreed. "I have my own hotline and everything." At this point, I telepathically willed my mother to never speak again.

Through this whole episode, Old Navy Joe got more and more confused -- you could the his brain working overtime, trying to figure out how in the world we knew him. "I was gonna say..." he sort of stuttered, unsure of WHAT to say to the crazy, supposedly psychic woman in front of him. "That would be weird...."

Then it hit him. Thank God another employee had walked past the register a few minutes earlier, while Mom and I were still waiting in line. He had waved and said, "Have a good night, Joe!" as he left for the day. Light spilled across his face as he remembered this.

"Oooh -- you heard Kyle say my name! That's how you knew!" he said, triumphant and, I dare to say, relieved. Mom, of course, wasn't really paying attention and as she opened her mouth to say something, I cut it.

"That's it! That's right. That's how she knew!" *fake, nervous laugh* Mom closed her mouth and smiled and nodded, and I shooed her out of the way as quickly as possible so that I could make my purchases and we could leave.

Now, OF COURSE, this is the day when Old Navy Joe actually flirts with me. Since I protected him from my crazy [albeit endearing] mother, he probably felt like he owed me his life. Who can blame him, really? But since the offending party was standing mere feet away, watching the entire transaction with bemused sort of look on her face, it was very rushed and limited. He smiled at me sweetly as I walked out the door, at which point I burst out laughing and immediately called my sister to tell her how our mother had nearly blown our cover with our beloved Old Navy Joe.

Small point of interest: a few weeks after the whole escapade, I was hanging up the shirt that I bought that night, and a little tag along the neckline caught my eye. I held it closer to read what it said, and my mouth dropped open. Old Navy Maternity: Small.

SO, hopefully my future boyfriend didn't notice the fact that I inadvertantly bought a maternity shirt [it's the empire waist that is so popular right now! It was mingled in with everything else on a sales rack!! It's just a black top!!] and think that I'm pregnant with a baby psychic stalker and crazy mother to go with it. Somehow I just don't really think that such an image leads to a second date...or any date, now that I think of it.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Here I Go Again

I realized this morning how lenient I have become with getting to work on time; in May, I left the house no later than 7:45 [sometimes even earlier] so that I got to work ten to five minutes early. This was all good until I realized that I am not productive enough to merit such punctuality. I mean, seriously -- I spend half of my time Stumbling online anyway and since the office doesn't even open until 9, I am a completely unnecessary fixture at the front desk until then. Why Uncle Realtor told me to get here at 8 is beyond me, but it's an extra hour of pay, so I don't complain...I just show up late.

Now, it sounds like a very bad work ethic to leave the house at the time you're supposed to arrive at the office, I know. It's just so hard to drag yourself out of bed on a morning when all you have to look forward to is a blubbering boss and many hours of mindless interpretation of what he wants. Add to that the fact that this Monday morning was particularly daunting due to the terrifying amount of hours at the office/restaurant in front of me for the week, and I don't think that anyone can really blame me for showing up to the office ten minutes late.

Ah, but take heart, ye weary souled. God can lift us up and encourage us and He often uses the most ridiculous means. For example, ABBA.

That's right, ABBA, as in the Swedish group from the 60s or 70s or whatever. They just make my LIFE. I have always loved music from that general era -- I mean, I grew up singing "I Think I Love You" and "Billy, Don't Be a Hero" like it was my job. I blame my parents and Uncle Jimmy for never updating their musical tastes, so the soundtrack of my childhood summers were quintessential compilations of "Best Of...the 60s! the 70s!! the Beatles!! Van Morrisen!!" I'm quite impressive when it comes to these sorts of songs; I have a feeling that I am a budding karaoke superstar.

I don't remember my first taste of ABBA, but I know that the song that caught me was "Dancing Queen." Of course that one caught me...I was like, "This is me!!" Because of this love for all things retro, my mother bought me a Best of ABBA cd for Christmas a million years ago, but since I only knew one song on the entire album and I had the attention span of a chipmunk on speed [in addition to the fact that I had never actually seen pictures of Abba until that point, and the mesh unitards very much terrified me], I never listened to it.

Until now.

This weekend I dragged my poor, unsuspecting friend Eric to the movie theater with me to watch Mamma Mia! I just had to pick the friend who is a classically trained [incredible] vocalist and thereby has the right to hold lesser talents in disdain. He detests Hairspray [which greatly strains our friendship] and I think that he finds my giddy delight in gaudy musicals mildly aggravating. When I called him on Saturday night, he just groaned and said, "I have been waiting for this ALL DAY." He knows me so well.

Here's the thing about the movie: if you go into it without expecting too much critical integrity, you will love it. Also, please be forewarned: Pierce Brosnan really should not sing. It's quite hard to watch him and Meryl Streep do "SOS" because he has this pained look on his face as if he knows full well how embarrassed he is going to be at the premiere. Nevertheless, he pushed through and so did we and regardless of whether he tells you differently, Eric and I quite literally danced out of the theater.

Enter the ancient Best of ABBA cd. I have been listening to it basically non-stop for the past 48 hours, much to my family's chagrin. The best part is my air-conditioning doesn't work, so I drive around, windows down, blaring "Take a Chance on Me" and "Fernando." Seriously, yesterday this guy turned around and stared as I sang along, screeching, "Yes, I've been broken hearted...blue since the day we parted..." That's my favorite part of the song, by the way.

Anyway, it's fabulous and while it doesn't make work or getting up at unGodly hours of the morning any better, it certainly makes the commute more fun. So if you're driving around town and you hear some insanely loud ABBA somewhere, just smile and wave, because there I go again.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Golfing Von Trapps

Written 5 July 2008

I have said it before, but I am going to say it again: my life is My Big Fat Greek Wedding. My family is not Greek, and most of us aren’t that fat, but the point remains that that movie has always struck a chord close to my heart. Sometimes I look around me and think, “No other family spends this much time together,” or “Nobody else tells their aunts these kind of details about their love lives,” or “Do other people make this much food for no reason?” Once I asked my uncle[-in-law] what his first reaction to the Creamers was, and he laughed. “I was like, ‘What is wrong with these people? This is not normal – they like each other too much!’”

To further prove our abnormality, now we golf together. That’s right: we golf. For those of you who know me [even slightly], this may come as a shock. Don’t worry though, I’m not leading alternate lives, one in which I am Carly as you know her, while in the other I am simultaneously a super athlete, ultra-sweet and domesticated, shy and docile, yet laced with tomboyish tendencies. Rest assured that I am still the girl who can’t bake cookies, pacify a baby, hold my temper, and detests long, boring sports.

Still, this morning at 9:15 sharp I found myself holding a golf club for the first time in my life, surrounded by twenty-two family members “warming up.” Mind you, such an ambiguous term means different things for different people. For my golf pro Uncles Mark and Terry, it was an intense swinging/driving/putting frenzy. For my cousin Ginny, it was sitting on a bench with her book about an emotionally abused girl. What about me, you may ask? I was merely thanking God that my scramble team consisted of a.) my dad, the most patient and fun-loving man I have ever met, b.) my fabulous Aunt Nan, who manages to see the good in every situation, and c.) my cousin Dustin who actually has skill on a golf course. I was in good hands, but I figured I should probably join the crowd and swing a club or two.

But which club do I swing? Irons, woods, drivers, putters – these words mean nothing to me. Aunt Nan held one out to me, and I asked her what it was. “Uh...um…a metal one…” she said, searching for the word. “Oh, I know! An iron!” We laughed loudly until we received scandalized looks from those old men who didn’t come with us and actually wanted to golf. “Oh, they’re fine,” Aunt Nan said. “It’s not like they’re in a hurry. What do they want to do? Rush home to do chores? Get back to the office? You know they don’t want to go home to their wives. They’re probably happy that we’re slowing them up!” See? Ever the optimist.

At some point, Papa came around and dispersed the golf cart keys. Now this is what I had been looking forward to. Inwardly cursing myself for taking the desk job instead of the job as a beer girl on a golf course, I expertly navigated Aunt Nan and I into the queue to tee off. You see, this whole situation was a birthday celebration for Papa. He turned 76 last Tuesday, and this was his Second Annual Creamer Golf Scramble. Last year I had to work and was exempt. This time, I had no such excuse.

Let me just explain something – I don’t golf. The closest I have come to a golf course is Pirate’s Cove [or any other putt putt place for that matter] and even there my cousin Tyler beat me when he was four. I think I was thirteen at the time. A four year old beat me!! Ever since then, I have put golf in the same category as bowling and horseshoes…fun for five minutes, but after that I am only too aware of my own inadequacy, at which point I get frustrated because I want to win but I CAN’T, then I get annoyed and, in the end, very angry. Better to avoid the whole scene [although I’m cool with putt putt, since there are generally go-karts to placate me after the general slaughter.]

Needless to say, then, I felt very out of place lining up to drive the first ball, and rightly so. My swing was awkward, I probably lifted my head up, and as a result, the ball flew away from me, terrified of my club…but it died a few feet away. Seriously – I tried to drive the ball to the green, and it landed mere feet away from the tee. Luckily, Daddy and Aunt Nan and even Dustin were nice about, and since it was a scramble, we got to use Dustin’s perfect hit anyway. No harm, no foul, I guess.

At one point, Daddy explained the difference between the clubs to me. At this point, I probably would not be able to tell you much, except the fact that golf clubs are boy versions of make-up brushes. Scoff if you must, but I am right. My picture of golf began to come together.

By the fourth or fifth hole, I really felt like I had the hang of it, and I was ready to be good at the game. I saw my golfing future stretch out before me, full of fabulous little outfits, fun dates, and cocktails at the end. My team was quite impressed with my swing; apparently I am a natural, something in which Papa took great pride. I felt so adult, so mature swinging that club, twirling my hips and turning my toe, just like I have seen a hundred professionals do. I was awed by my own ability – how much inside of me remains untapped? I began to wonder. What other secret skills linger beneath my regular surface? Am I a secret martial artist? A painter? A chef? A car mechanic? The possibilities are quite endless, you know. All of these thoughts swirled through my head as I lined up for my practice shot. “Nice swing, Carly!” Daddy called enthusiastically, and I smiled to myself. I have a nice swing. Then I hit the ball, and I learned that my nice swing has little to do with anything, since I could barely move that dumb, little dimpled thing anywhere.

All I wanted was for it to pop up, arc gracefully, and soar to the green. It’s not like I asked for a hole in one or cheering crowds – just a mere bit of flight would satisfy me! But no, if my form was good, the ball hit the tip of the club, or I brought my head up, or my putt was too hard. There are a lot of little things to adjust and remember, and as soon as I did everything that I had learned until that point, there was another issue that needed to be addressed. I shanked drives, I sliced putts, and I overshot plenty, but I am shocked to say that I had a lot of fun, and was one of the nine recipients of the “Most Improved” award.

Still, after two sink-to-par putts on my part, I felt pretty decent as we came to the final hole. My team was the last one, and nine carts lined up ominously at the green, waiting for us. Our drive had left us in a difficult position – we needed to chip it up, over a sandtrap, and set it up to roll over the rough and into the green. According to the order, I was up first. Daddy handed me some club, and I walked up to my ball. I heard my aunts and uncles and cousins jeer teasing cries in my direction, and I suddenly felt every sports movie clichĂ© in my very soul: this was it. This was my championship, my big game, my knuckle puck time. I focused, kept my head down, swung the club, and prayed that God would at least laugh lovingly at my attempt and give me a decent shot.

That ball rolled to exactly where I wanted it, gracefully stopping on the green within easy putting range of the hole. The crowd sat in stunned silence, and then they cheered. “Carly!” they exclaimed, rightfully shocked. “Nice shot!” That was enough for me.

So there it is: I golf now. Not well or often, but I feel adequately equipped to start…next summer. Who knows? Maybe I’ll take that job on a golf course someday, tap the deep well of talent within me, and before you know it I’ll be on the LPGA or something. This is doubtful, of course, but still. I’d better start shopping for cute golf clothes just in case!!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fireworks

Written 4 July 2008

There is something special about being by yourself in the dark, existing in a room lit with only a single candle. You experience aloneness in a new way – you don’t see the rest of the room, you cannot make out forms or figures, and the silence is firm, real, tangible almost. My family lost power in the storm a couple of days ago, and I lie in bed at night, my room consumed in the darkness. All that I can claim is the teeny orb of light that my laptop and the candle on my nightstand emit. The flame flickers and pulses, like a honey-colored heart, and I relish the stillness, especially after a day like today.

The Fourth of July is quite epic in my family. Patriotic to a fault, my mother takes it upon herself to buy every piece of kitschy red, white, and blue paraphernalia that she can find and forces us to wear her treasures. Every year we go to the parade in the tiny village where she grew up, where we were raised, where the quaint white farm house that she lived in until the day she married my father is still called the Creamer house. My wonderful Aunt Carol hosts a delicious annual brunch for my entire family at her house, and then we walk to the main square in time to hear Mrs. Healy sing God Bless America. Mrs. Healy is a close family friend, possibly my mom’s godmother, and every single year her aging, lilting soprano fills the air with song. Her voice is nice in the fact that you know it was beautiful once – she played the lead opposite my Papa in some community production of Guys and Dolls a million years ago, and she continues to pepper our family events with hugs and songs.

This particular village loves the quintessential American holiday just as much as my mother does. Flags fly on every telephone pole beginning sometime in June, and a banner stretches across the main street that says, “Happy Fourth of July!” Hundreds of smiling people mill between the church, the community building, the park and the Village Sundries, and everyone wears some sort of red, white, and blue ensemble. Lemonade stands spring up in driveways, red wagons and strollers clog the sidewalks, and children hover near the edge of the street, simply waiting to dive in the way of the parade for candy. The same announcer narrates the parade every year, with intermittent comments from Mrs. Healy, and his commercial voice booms over the sounds of fire trucks and tinny bands. Young people wander down the walk in search of friends, as the old-timers stay firmly planted in their fold up chairs, waiting for others to come find them. Despite the fact that the parade never changes and is borderline painful to watch because it is so boring, the whole scene could not be more perfect. It’s like a time warp, and for that one hour of that one day, I live in Mayberry, Leave it to Beaver land, the tiny village that America was meant to be.

The day goes on in more Americana revelry. Farm chores, poolside lounging, grilling out with family – one can’t help but to be overwhelmed by patriotism, love, happiness. As the sun sets, the party moves to the lake, where everyone bundles up and sits on the dock to watch fireworks. Brilliant colors glitter in the sky, and surrounding areas compete for the best show. All along the horizon, magnificent displays light up the night and the stars and fireflies are nature’s contribution.

Today should have been the best day of my summer so far – the weather was truly perfect, I spent the entire time surrounded by the family that I adore, we laughed, we ate good food, we celebrated, and we relaxed. Honestly, I could not ask for more. And I don’t; I am blessed beyond reason, and I thank God for all that He has given me. Still, something was off. I felt heavy, and I do not think that it has anything to do with the copious amounts of Tootsie Rolls and grilled chicken and potato salad that I had for lunch.

The birthday of a former loved one, this Fourth of July marks a painful part of my life, a dark period of time where I was far from God. I went through today plagued with thoughts and memories that I had believed were behind me. Unfortunately, the past comes back to haunt you when you least expect it, and that was what happened tonight. As I sat on the dock with one of my favorite aunts, ghosts from months ago cuddled up next to me, drew my thoughts away from the present. I half watched the fireworks, half retreated into my mind, into the land of “what-ifs” and “what-nows.”

The fireworks continued to illuminate the night, and I realized something. When a firework explodes, it lights up everything around it, including the smoke from the sparklers before it. I found myself waiting for the light so that I could see the smoke, and then it hit me how dumb that was – there was an incredible, colorful explosion that everyone else oohed and aahed about, so why in the world would I want to see that measly smoke? Immediately I saw the parallel to my own life. My past is over. I cannot go back, I cannot change things or do anything differently. And you know what? That is okay, because God has forgiven me. He has given me grace and made me new, and He is trying to put on a spectacular fireworks show in my life, but as I sat on that dock tonight, I just wanted to watch the smoke of my past. I wanted to focus on the pain, the regret, the longing, and all along God just wants my attention long enough to see His beautiful masterpiece of life and love.

I love lying in bed in this inky darkness. After a day of sirens, loud laughs, and explosions, there is something deeply and profoundly spiritual about the stillness of silence, and I love it…but I don’t want to miss the fireworks. I don’t want to settle with my peaceful, simple little candlelit life when I could have an explosion of passion and color and brilliance – I don’t want to stay here in the dark, waiting to see some smoke, when I could be cheering and watching God splatter paint across the night sky. I want more than a half-existence, a life haunted by memories; I want so much more than that. So even though I am about to blow out this candle, overwhelm myself in darkness, close my eyes, and fight dreams from the past, I know that I have a future hand-painted by God Himself. I can only hope that there are a lot of fireworks involved, and next time I will not be watching any smoke.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Farm Mama

Okay. So clearly the beach is not a place of great inspiration for me. I tried to write last week, I really did...but I have found that the beach is a place of relaxation, a place to do nothing, a place to read and sleep and tan and drink Diet Coke. I promise you that I did all of those things in abundance over the past six days, but writing did not happen as much as I wanted it to. Mountains inspire me, cities drive me to create, foreign countries beg to be written about, but not Lake Michigan it seems. Apparently I have to be stuck in an office, bored and frustrated to the breaking point before I can do anything...or maybe I just need to be procrastinating from something else, like, I don't know, DOING MY JOB. Either way, I apologize for leading you on about the updates -- it was never my intent to lie.

I will post a couple of the blogs that I was trying to edit later, however today is different. Saturday was my mom's birthday, and being such, it's time for her special little birthday blog [regardless of the fact that she doesn't read this...]. Sooo...

Top 5 Reasons Why I Love My Crazy Farm Mama

1. She collects farm animals. Now, this is both adorable and aggrivating to me. Why? Why does she want chickens? Where is the thrill in a rooster's crow? How is this so fun for her? I don't get it at all, but it is still sort of endearing. When she gets borderline giddy about finding chicken eggs or how frustrated she is when she just wants to ride her horse [which I am convinced she bought just so she could pet], I cannot help but smile. It's funny, but it's cute, and plus it always gives me something to talk about. Still, to all of my friends who insist that is only a matter of time before I am married and hosting "Camp Carly" and raising a little hobby farm of my own, YOU ARE WRONG.

2. She is a Godly example of the woman I want to be. I deeply admire her marriage, her friendships, and her relationships with her family members. She can juggle a million different commitments and responsibilities with school, church, friends, and family, and she still has time to look amazing and have her Little House on the Prairie farm. It's both impressive and encouraging.

3. She is hilarious. Sure, she is borderline embarrassing at times, but then again, I probably am too. I have always had this well of pride within me because I have the "cool mom." She was the fun mom, the hot mom, the mom that all of my friends liked and wanted to talk to. She makes everyone laugh, and she has a great sense of humor -- I mean, seriously, what other mom drops her young teenage kids off at the mall and calls out the car window, "Be nice and SHARE YOUR CIGARETTES!!" She has thrown a good number of my friends for a loop with that one, or else there is always the classic line, "Okay, I'm going to go run some errands. You may have two beers and no more than a fifth of scotch....and I am serious this time!" She is obviously joking, and that is why I love her. Laughing with Jewels is one of my favorite things.

4. She taught me what a healthy appreciation of beauty is. My mother is beautiful. Much to my dismay, I often find myself in a position where co-workers and friends sing very rousing renditions of "Carly's Mom Has Got It Going On." That part is not fun. However, the fact that she doesn't need to get dolled up just to run some errands says a lot about her, I think. She focuses on health more than anything, but she still takes time to look good. She taught me that you can be smart and loving and a hardworker, but still love makeup and pedicures and facials. What's more is that [for the most part] she has really good taste and buys fun things, which I then "borrow." It works out really well to have a fabulous mom and equally fabulous sister with whom I can share things...:-)

5. She is my number one support system. True, I might think that she has a tendency to overreact and dramatize situations, but as a nearly twenty-year-old daughter, that is my job. Regardless of this, my mother is always there for me. Even during the worst of times, I never questioned that she loved me and wanted the best for me. When I need her, she is there. I am well aware of the fact that she is not perfect, but when I look at my friends' moms, I wouldn't want to trade with anyone. Complain as I may, I think that I have the best mom in the world, and if I have kids one day I can only hope that I am as loving and wonderful as she is.

Happy Birthday [a few days late], Mama. I love you!