Musings on Gaining a Shoe — and Losing Disclaimers

Maybe it’s my new shoes—the new orthopedics that aren’t terribly hideous, but not exactly my first choice if I were attempting to be trendy–or maybe it’s just the fact that I have one on each foot today, for the first time in 6 months. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s the first week of our fiscal year at work, so life feels shiny and new. Or maybe it’s the slight chill in the air, finally, the sudden turn of the leaves and the changing of the seasons–the beginning of a new holiday season that sets my soul into a different motion. Regardless, today turned into a bit of a goal setting day, and while it should have been all business, it feels more personal than anything.

Today is the end of the disclaimers.

I was sitting in a meeting today on the anatomy of performance and development goals and I realized how much I consistently undermine myself.  When people congratulate me on recent performance or any success in the last year, I always say things like, “Well… I just got lucky,” or “I’m really dumber than a box of rocks. I’m just a country kid from the farm with absolutely no pop culture awareness.”  I’ve actually come to believe this, because I knew nothing about sales or food when I signed on to do street sales for a food company; but I figured the one thing I know how to do is work really hard. So I figure if I just work really hard, and just outwork everyone else, then I will be successful. I’ve come to place where I don’t give myself credit for anything except for working hard–and I even undermine myself on working hard some days.

Today someone posed the question about whether or not working hard was enough to be recognized. The leader of our group quickly jumped in to say, “No, none of us think that–we all know it takes more than that to be recognized.”  And yet in my head I’m thinking, “yeah that’s kind of been my entire motto for the last year and a half.” I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t have enough product knowledge, and I have no sales experience; and a lot of that’s because I keep undermining myself so I start to believe it, but because I don’t know what I think I need to know, I just work really hard and I feel like I’ve convinced myself that as long as I work harder than everyone else I’ll be successful.  The problem is that getting up at 4am to meet trucks and coding until 9pm might be working harder, but it’s certainly not working smarter. I’ve always felt like I wasn’t smart enough to work smarter, so I’d just work harder and that would be enough.  And while I think that to some degree it’s working, I don’t want to work this hard; it’s not sustainable and it doesn’t make sense.  I know that if I just had the confidence to learn what I need to learn and feel empowered to stop cutting myself down, I could actually still be successful and find a work life balance in the meantime. I make jokes about that fact that I move to the guest room at 3am so that the early calls won’t wake Nicholas up, and constantly say, “I’m so glad he hasn’t left me this last year!” I know it’s not funny–it’s ridiculous, and I’m lucky to have a man who supports me through a position that has taken away from our comfortable norm of “Sunday Funday,” dinners without cell phones, and normal wake up routines together.

I don’t want to feel like I have to give disclaimers anymore. I want to be able to just say, “thank you, I did work really hard, but I’m trying to work smarter.” When someone asks me what I want to do with the company, I want to be able to give an answer, without filling my response with disclaimers about how I don’t know enough yet. I may not have enough knowledge and confidence yet, but I can at least begin with cutting the disclaimers, because “I’m not sure yet” or even silence is better and more productive that my consistent disclaimers.

The truth is that every day scares me and I’m outside my comfort zone in almost everything that I’m doing. But I also know that nothing good comes from self doubt and pushing myself to be more and do more is at the core of how I was raised. So this is the end of the disclaimers—and while the right kind of confidence doesn’t come over night, I can at least begin with taking an extra breath before a disclaimer, biting my tongue, and if I can’t think of anything else to say, I’ll keep quiet.  Now there’s a goal for the record books. 🙂 shoes-blog-pic



He Still Calls Me “Cookie”

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Disclaimer– this post is a bit self absorbed with a smattering of dramatics.

I’ve always preferred nicknames, as my dad called me “Julie-belle” or “Jeweler,” my grandfather referred to me as “Jewles” with any variety of endings, and any close friends or family just followed suit. When I met Nicholas, he called me “Shug” for years (short for sugar, but looks better with an h) and sometime in the last few years started calling me “cookie.” Typically, I was only called my first name when I was in trouble or just being a huge pain in the arse, which is frequent in my world, but to this day, Nicholas has never called me “Julie.”  He should have this summer….

See, life has become divided now into two massive chapters: “before I broke my foot” and “after.” This is where I know I’m being dramatic, but most people think of a broken bone and assume you’ll be casted and up and running in 6 weeks or so. Four broken bones in my right foot, however, meant 3 1/2 months of no weight on my foot, which obviously means no driving.  Since we conveniently reside in a 3-story town house, this created quite the interesting summer—“The Summer of Servitude” as Nicholas likes to so gently put it.

After a week of crutches and being propped up on the patio all day on the main level of our best friends’ home, we came back to our townhouse at the tail end of our kitchen remodel.  Every floor was covered in a thick layer of dust and insulation, and all of our kitchen and closet belongings were still in stacks in the living room. It was complete chaos, and I was on a knee scooter, leaving tracks on the hardwood floor through the layers of dirt and grime. Nicholas had to carry my scooter up to the third floor every  night, and I followed slowly behind on my hands and knees to get up to bed–he’d leave my scooter by the bed so that I didn’t have to crawl to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  I never thought I was needy until I realized how much I needed help to do the most basic things. I’d get up to bed and need a drink from the main level. I forgot to bring my computer up and needed to finish some coding. The battery is almost dead–can you get my charger downstairs? While you’re at it, can you just bring me my contacts case and a face towelettes? Actually, I’m feeling really old tonight–would you mind finding my anti aging cream in the bin under the sink? My glasses are across the room in the dresser drawer–can you bring me those, too? And if you don’t mind, I’d really sleep better if you’d fill the diffuser with water and some lavender oil.  Seriously?? I had become a nightmare.

I won a trip to Charleston  for the third week of June (2 weeks after said incident on the trampoline) and I knew that saying I wanted to go would mean definite work for Nicholas. Can you carry all the luggage? And push me in a wheelchair around town on uneven cobblestone streets? He insisted that we go–I’ve never so much as won a jelly bean contest, so I was ecstatic that he was up for it, but don’t take the effort for granted for a moment. It wasn’t a weekend get away for him; instead it was caregiving in another city, helping me up stairs in old restaurants with no elevator, and carting around a wheel chair and crutches so that I could experience my first “Winner’s Circle.”

I used to cook a lot–but now our kitchen was still only partially functional, and the filth was too bad to even attempt. But the thought of going down 2 1/2 flights of stairs on my rear to get out the front door on crutches and hobble across the street to Vickery’s was so exhausting, I was tired and sweating just thinking about it.  Can we just order in? Or do you want to just bring me a bowl of cereal? Or just a vodka water is fine and I’ll go to bed.

And start over tomorrow…. scoot to the bathroom, crawl into the shower, sit on a stool because I couldn’t stand on one leg with fear of falling (and that happened a few times too) attempt to get partially ready before he had to leave for work so that he could carry my scooter back down the stairs to the couch where I’d set up shop for the day.  He’d bring me everything I might need in the next few hours, and then thank his lucky stars he didn’t have to work from home and could catch a break from my requests.

But then he’d come home….my days were busy with phone calls and computer work, but I didn’t have any of the “good stuff” from work, like positive human interaction and changes of scenery, so I slowly became even more needy, if that’s possible.

I attempted to “pull my weight” by begging friends to come over and help clean and put our remodel back together, and then resorted to hiring people to do everything from grocery shopping to moving furniture, and loading the cabinets with china.  I slowly went out of my mind with cabin fever, and was impossible to please, because after declaring I wanted to get out for the night, I’d start getting ready… and the effort to shower again, dry my hair and put on make up would create another sweating fit (I never realized how much extra sweat pain creates) and I’d decide I just wanted to stay home after all. Pain in the arse…that’s what I’ve been for months, in spite of my best efforts to try do be otherwise.

Every Uber ride to the Ortho, I’d be ecstatic to get some kind of “release,” but every appointment was “5 more weeks, no weight bearing, no driving. See you then.” Weeks turned into months, and Nicholas would still call “Babaloo! I’m home ‘Cookie’!” as he’d come up the stairs, reserving the angst of his day to see how I was.

He did the laundry…put it away, ran every errand, cooked or coordinated every meal, and provided me sanity when I thought I was about to cliff jump.

We’re creeping up on 13 years of marriage, and I realize it’s no small thing to have been married this long and say this has been the hardest summer we’ve had. I know we’re blessed. We have an amazing life that we’ve created together, and there are powers much bigger than me that have allowed us to thrive and grow together in ways we never could have imagined when we got engaged after a few weeks of dating.

I finally started walking 2 weeks ago with my grandfather’s mallard cane (it’s on the counter in the picture), and started driving last week; while I think about what a long summer it’s been for me, I realize that it’s been even longer for him. He jokes about his “Summer of Servitude” but that’s exactly what it’s been.

In two weeks, we’ll be cruising the Western Caribbean together to celebrate our anniversary, and while this damn boot will be an eyesore in pictures and continue to be the reason that only my left heels are getting worn and I feel a little less girly, it’s perfect timing to celebrate us and the end of a hard summer.

And he still calls me “Cookie,” and for that I’m grateful.


Trampolines, Perspective, and Selling Green Beans

One of my dearest friends called the other day– to check in on me,  give me a little business advice, and insist that I start blogging again. I stopped blogging over a year ago, and my excuse was that I felt like I was suffering from a lack of distinct focus.  One blog was about bath salts I made, another about a great chicken salad, and more often than not, I found myself tapping out nostalgic stories from the farm or recounting a recent visit or phone call with my grandmother. Most people have blogs on one particular topic, and I felt silly just sharing whatever was on my mind at the moment. The truth is, however, that writing has always brought a sense of peace to my hyper-anxious soul, and so in spite of my absence and continued lack of focus–, here we go again. Though I have to admit, I don’t feel like much of a writer or English major anymore–I’ve long since stopped correcting people’s texts and emails in my head and have found myself hitting “send” on many a terrible-worded message because I’m in a hurry. I’ve even diminished myself to being that person who voice texts without correcting– eek!

So here’s to a blog without any focus–hence the title.

Today was my first day  back on my route again–I broke my foot in early June on a trampoline, because I mistakenly thought I was still young enough to turn multiple flips without injury. The joke and bad pun is on me, as it’s taken me the entire summer to bounce back. I didn’t walk for 3 months, and after nearly 4, was cleared to drive short distances yesterday. I’m in sales, and I’ve been blessed enough to have customers who have continued to buy from me, in spite of the fact that I’m not visiting, bringing samples, recipe ideas, or really any value at all. I certainly don’t take this for granted, but I have had some days this summer where the cabin fever made me dangerously close to declaring insanity, and I felt less than lucky or blessed.

I’ve certainly gained some perspective, however, as I had no idea what it would feel like to crawl up the 3 flights of wooden stairs in our townhouse in order to get to bed every night; I found a new appreciation for my husband, who hauled my knee scooter up and down the stairs so that I wouldn’t have to crawl on hands and knees to whatever destination per floor I needed. I thought of all the people who have life-long disabilities and felt guilty every time I started to get frustrated with my situation. I had to ask for help, though, a lot.  I wore out favors with family and friends and finally started paying people to do the tasks I used to be able to do, and learned humility for the first time in awhile.

Yesterday, I was at the ortho waiting for my last X-ray and driving clearance, and the waiting room was filled with people missing limbs and in wheel chairs–permanent situations. I was punching orders and coding on my computer and rudely taking phone calls when a young woman was wheeled in by a medic; her right leg was amputated and wrapped haphazardly, and yet she was laughing, joking with the medic, and offering him the free coffee in the corner of the doctor’s office. I got off the phone, closed my computer, and disconnected for a moment from the late deliveries, orders that were waiting on my phone, and customers calling for better pricing. I knew I had lost perspective again, and I waited for my name to be called while imagining the long term life of the people in my current space. As I looked around, I knew I was the luckiest one–the only one who would probably get some kind of “freedom release,” and while I was giddy inside at the thought of getting back out to the streets and normal life, I felt incredibly guilty to be getting a pass while the rest of the room had a different kind of sentence.

I got my release—and I literally got out of Uber yesterday and right into my pollen-crusted Ford focus, worried that it may not start after months of being idle in the driveway. I drove to a couple of accounts, eager to get back going again, and then to Swifty to get the weariness of the summer rinsed clean. I couldn’t believe how fast my foot wore out, and I was back home sooner than I expected, still thinking about that room full of folks who weren’t able to even have an hour of independence like I’d just had.

So back to (one of) my point(s)–today was my first full day on my route. I said I would take it easy and just visit a few accounts, but I couldn’t stop, and found myself still out, punching my last order at 5:57 in a parking lot for a 6:00 cut off.  My foot had a few heartbeats of it’s own and the drive home was seriously painful, but the day was worth it. After a summer of just doing the mundane–like punching orders, tracking trucks, listening to the criticism and putting out the relentless fires, today I got to hug customers, talk about their kids, suggest new recipes for fall, and meet their new staff.

The only reason I have this job is because Nicholas’ dad (Poppi) told me right before he passed that Gordon was coming to Atlanta and I should go work for them. I dismissed his words, as he was literally dying, and I couldn’t see past our grief of losing him, much less listen to career advice; but when the Gordon recruiter called 2 days later, I couldn’t help but pay a bit of attention and feel like there was something at work much bigger than me. After a few more signs and relentless calls from the recruiter, I went to interview, and the rest, as they say, is history.  The stars aligned, as cliché as that is, and I’m thankful for a plan I could have never schemed myself.

Today, Poppi was with me all day. I felt him in every customer visit, every quiet moment in the car and as odd as it sounds, my favorite thing about being in the food industry is that it makes me feel closer to him, even though he’s gone and I can’t pick his brain and ask his advice like I’d want to. This job is a quick path to him and when I stop long enough to be as grateful as I ought to be, he’s one I’m most grateful for.

So while I’m still limping along in a hideous, and now nearly worn out walking boot, and my “green-bean sales job” is less than glamorous, I’m grateful for a summer that taught me to slow down, taught me humility and perspective, and has given me a fresh shot this fall. I don’t know when I’ll be able to wear my 50+ pairs of cute heels again, and I’m certainly behind the 8 ball on new customers, but I have much to be thankful for, and I know it.

And for the record–I don’t plan to pull any more shenanigans on trampolines any time soon—though I would like to walk/run on the beach in time for our anniversary cruise in October and have a pipe dream of learning to surf on our Mexico trip in February…


PS–So, Lauren, there you have it. It’s a crappy first blog back and I know it, but I’m rusty at a lot of things right now, so forgive the lack of photos and disaster of a coherent story, but I’m back at it, and it’ll only go up from here. That’s the amazing thing about being rock bottom in your writing. 🙂

Reading Lessons and A Note About Gratitude

The last couple of months have been a whirlwind of activity–beginning with a serious career adjustment. I “hit the streets” in Midtown as a sales rep for a food distribution company, and the learning curve has been massive.  Serious highs, and serious lows.  I joined our local pool board just in time for the chaos of summer and started a boxing class at the gym around the corner.  I signed up to teach “Julie’s Can and Jam” classes at a local co-op, where I’ll teach 21 and up classes on making homemade jam and the canning process.  At the same co-op, I’m re-launching some new branding for my detergent line and attempting to improve my image and marketing.  Last, but certainly not the least, I began teaching reading classes for the elderly, two nights a week.

I get overwhelmed sometimes, and then anxious about daily to-do lists left undone and the tasks of the week that I’m not sure I’m completing with the attention they deserve.  I dream about sending an order of groceries to the wrong food truck, and I’ll wake up in the middle of the night thinking about whether or not I sent the correct allergen-free pan spray to a particular account.  I stress about not knowing enough, not working hard enough or long enough, and not knowing how to ask the questions that make sense in my head.  And then I met a few people with amazing attitudes and a seriously challenging situation in life.

My “students” for evening reading classes are incredible, resilient people, who at the ages of 70-85 are looking to better themselves, and learn to read.  Their reading levels vary from Kindergarten to 2nd grade, and are quick to set goals about their future.  “Ella” told me that she throws away all her mail because she can’t read it anyway, so what’s the point? Tomorrow we’ll begin reading her mail together and making sense of it. “Wallace” told me that he’s never been read to before, and can only drive within a mile radius because he’s memorized all the street signs…beyond that mile, he wouldn’t be able to read the signs and get back home.  “Nellie” cried tonight when I read her a Bible story, because the only time she’s been read to is over the pulpit at church, and when I told her that she’d be able to write a thank you note by the end of summer, she wept openly and told me she never imagined she’d be able to master such a task.  Talk about a reality check–and a serious dose of gratitude.  I’m a month in, and they do their homework, get excited about evening class, and thank me profusely at the end, in spite of the fact that they have harder lives than I’ve ever even read about.

I know that I’m a blend of blessed and fortunate, and as stretched as I feel these days, I’m super thankful for my new batch of students who have already taught me much more about life than I’ll ever teach them about reading.  I also love that my role of teacher will never really be over.

Grandma Rocke, A Self Help Book

In a portion of my recent interview with my dad’s mom, I was shocked and humbled by some of her responses. I asked her for a fond memory of her parents…and she launched into the details of her dad’s premature death, and the fact that she then became her mother’s right hand. While these were details that I did want to know, it didn’t answer my question, so I redirected her to “fun” family nights, vacations, weekend getaways, etc.

Silence. Vacation? “No, honey. The first time I took a trip was with your grandfather for our honeymoon.”

My mind flashed to the camping trips my parents took me and my four siblings on every summer of my youth. We camped in every state except for Hawaii and Alaska, and while we were always on a budget, we did incredibly fun outdoors activities, like white water rafting in Oregon, camping next to the California Red Woods, and hiking down into Crater Lake. One year we even splurged big time and went to Orlando for Christmas.

My grandmother, however, had not been privy to these childhood luxuries. She helped raise her siblings, cooked, canned, and gardened at a young age; she dropped out of high school her sophomore year when she joined the church. After committing her life to the Lord, the expectation was that she was grown enough to quit school and get a job; her situation was taking up a job as a nanny with a local family, making $2 a week in turn for caring for two children.

She didn’t attend school dances, participate in local activities, sports, or otherwise usual childhood experiences. She helped her mother, raised her siblings, and served the Lord.

Nicholas and I recently booked a cruise to the Eastern Caribbean, and it’s literally the only thing we talk about at night…we read cruise reviews until we fall asleep, and check our “cruise countdown” app every morning.

I recognize the stark difference in my current life and that of my grandmother, and I listened in awe of her as she spoke so matter-of-factly about her life. Her voice didn’t resound with an invitation of pity or empathy for the childhood she experienced, the challenges of being married to a beekeeper who often didn’t make enough money to get through the Midwestern winter, or her current situation as a patient/guest at the nursing home; she speaks of her past with the same tone of voice she does about the Chinese food she had on Monday for her 98th birthday celebration. She sees the world through a lense of thankfulness. She’d never dream of being ungrateful of her experiences or wishing for more.

Every time I call her, and ask her about her care, she raves about the nursing home: the food? “Amazing. I couldn’t dream of more. Do you know they have unlimited ice cream? And for my birthday, they were willing to go to any local restaurant and get me anything I wanted. Of course, I asked for Chinese food.”

She’s incredibly resilient, and has so much to teach me.

I keep ordering and reading books about leadership, inspiration, and otherwise “self help” type books for my new career. The reality is, all I really need to do is keep interviewing my grandmother, and replay the audio when I need to refocus. Her life stories, experience, and wisdom is more powerful than any book I could order from Amazon—and I get the bonus of hearing her sweet, raspy voice with each replay on my audio. What a gift she is to me.



Long Distance Calls and A Pending Interview

Phone chats with my grandmother are some of my happiest minutes, especially when the minutes turn into hours.

As I child, I loved time with my mom’s parents, as they were easy to love, patient beyond what I deem normal, and had pretty wild imaginations. From “Honky Tonk’s Pizza Parlor” (see an early post dedicated to this) to the jaunts to a local lake in the summer, and basement billiard lessons, they really were a bag of surprises.

As close as I felt to them growing up, I would have never imagined that as a 30-something, I’d be lucky enough to still have regular, lengthy, important, and grounded conversations with my now 93 year old grandmother.

Tonight on my trek home from Kentucky, I chatted with her for more than an hour, and as usual, we covered recent news in about ten minutes, and then launched into the good stuff—old stories from a time I can only stretch my mind to imagine as I hear the age in her voice, her childlike laughter over old valentines she found from 1915, and the jagged cracks of emotion when she retold something about grandpa.

I sometimes feel guilty for moving away, because I only visit a couple of times a year, and there’s never enough time in a dinner or evening with her. But the truth is, it was the moving away that instigated the phone chats, and I imagine we talk a lot more than we would if she was right under my nose. It’s easy to say I’d visit all the time, and maybe I would, but I wouldn’t trade anything for those long distance calls.

I made a laundry list of questions that I want to know about her younger years, her marriage to grandpa, her perspective of the egg business, etc. and asked her tonight if we could “schedule” some interview time. It’s selfish, really…I want to capture as much of her spirit as I can; I lost this chance already with grandpa and don’t want to squander the present with her. So her interview begins this weekend (especially if she’s snowed in–I’ll have a captive audience!) 🙂

At work last week, the trainees were asked to think about our motivation–why we want to be successful, and what our goals are. When thinking about what motivates and inspires me, I saw her face in my mind and remembered her voice on the phone a couple years ago when I was telling her about my master’s degree. She told me she was proud of me for working so hard–and that’s a moment I’ll never forget.

I can’t wait to start her interview, as I know it’s more time I get to hear the great stories of our family; more importantly, it’ll be a document that can outwit time.





Love Actually and DIY Sugar Scrubs

Tonight, I had a date with two vital elements of life, Love Actually and a DIY Christmas craft, as I haven’t given up on my “homemade Christmas.” Unfortunately, I can never seem to work our seven different TV remotes when Nicholas is out of town, and so I settled for the Love Actually soundtrack on my iPad instead.

I wanted to make sugar scrubs, but didn’t want to have to run back out to the store, so I used a hodge-podge of household goods: sugar, salt, rosemary from the sidewalk, essential oils, limes, mandarins, olive oil and baby oil. The recipe is simple, and in the absence of one scent or ingredient, I just substituted what I had. (This way, I can convince myself that I made these for “free”).

Recipe: these are all approximations…you really can’t mess it up. 🙂
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
10-ish drops of Essential oil
Rosemary, lime zest, or something for color/texture.

Mix the ingredients together, and it’s enough for two jelly jars.

-I used olive oil until we got dangerously low and wanted to save some for Sunday gravy; then I subbed in baby oil. When I ran out of baby oil, I used mineral oil (we usually use it for hydrating our cutting boards, but ironically, it was the best sub. It keeps your mixture pure white, and doesn’t have the strong smell of olive oil or baby oil, and thus requires less essential oil. In the future, I’ll just buy and use regular mineral oil.)
-I wanted a citrus scent, but didn’t have lemons, so I used limes for zest and juiced it into the mixture. When I ran out of limes, I used clementines. (Good thing I stopped there…I think pineapple, the only other fruit in the house, would have been really funky.)

In spite of my jumbled ingredients, I ended up with an awesome product that was super easy, cheap, and as an added bonus, my hands are soft and smell all rosemary and citrusy, just from cleaning the excess off the jars.

I’m sure the folks on my Christmas list are hoping for fancy gift cards, but I’m giving a little “scrub-scrub” instead. 🙂

Happy holidays, y’all.