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.



Atlanta “Love-List”

About a week ago, I found myself aggressively defending what I now claim as “my city,” or when Nicholas and I are talking, “our city.”  I was on a “work with” for my new job with Gordon Food Service, and was ecstatic to be riding with a 10+ year employee, a Florida transplant as of this past summer.  I didn’t realize how fascinated I am by Atlanta and how proud I am to live here, until I found myself defending nearly everything about my “town.”

Yes, you have to lock your doors, even when you’re in the car…I even buckle in my purse, just in case.

I know that the traffic is obscene…but I’ve learned to plan my day around traffic and actually don’t mind my “windshield time,” as I can catch up with distance friends, enjoy NPR or sing along (badly) to classic country on my commute.  Plus, doesn’t the excess of people and congestion just prove that this is the place to be? 🙂

We have seasons, (unlike my colleague’s preference for summer year round) and while the seasonal temps are a bit bi-polar at times, the cooler air allows for a wardrobe change and an extra skip in my step as the crispness feels fresh and new.  And, cold weather is cuddle-weather, fireplaces, and hot chocolate.  Even better.  Our seasons are perfect, because it never gets too cold for too long, like it does where my family is in the Midwest—it’s never so cold that your nose hairs freeze or your skin cracks.  Now that’s a win.

Yes, we have rain. Glorious rain.  And the rainy days are my favorite.  I don’t mind limp hair and puddles in my drainage-challenged driveway.  It hydrates my soul and the pitter-patter is soothing.  There is no better sleep than windows open with chilly air and the sound of a downpour.

I admit we have many “transitional” areas—there’s a rich history here, and neighborhoods that haven’t quite won the battles of the past. The graffiti/art covers the walls of many buildings and tunnels, and some call it “garbage,” but I think it’s fantastic.

The niches of my city are full of eclectic characters—it’s not the all white suburbia of some folks’ choice, but a multi-cultural collection of interesting people, perfect to sit and google-eye from a park bench.  There’s nothing like a trek to East Atlanta, just a mile up the street, to make me feel comfortable in my own skin. No one gawks or judges (except maybe me still gawking from the park bench), because there’s no single appropriate style, mode of transportation, or acceptable hair color.  You’ll see a businessman on a bike, a 50-something on her Vespa, and the punk hair stylist on his skateboard. It’s anything goes, and that is a beautiful thing.

I love that it’s hard to find a chain restaurant (besides fast food, if you call that a restaurant) within driving distance, and that the boutiques are making a comeback in our need to “shop local” and continue to give Wal-mart and Target a run for their money. (Pun intended.)

While I know that my Floridian colleague is just merely adjusting to a new locale, I’m pretty sure I made his ears bleed with the laundry list of reasons to love Atlanta.  I don’t plan on convincing him, but as my Atlanta “love-list” mentally expanded on the way home, I found myself so grateful to feel this way about a place that not only holds a good piece of our past already, but a fully vested present and an inevitable future.















September Resolutions

I know it’s a little early for New Years resolutions, but my cousin, Jolynn Hodel, posted a new blog tonight; it was her final post about their journey to a new home this past year, and I got to thinking about all the changes you never imagine will happen, and the hindsight that allows you to realize it’s all in a perfect plan.

I lost two great men in my life this year, my grandfather in March and my dad “Poppi” in July. My husband left a 14 year career without a new job secured, and my parents sold the only childhood home I ever lived in. I ended the only “career” I’ve ever known and have two degrees in a file folder that are, at the moment, irrelevant. And if that wasn’t enough change, an age old friendship ended abruptly this summer without explanation.

I’ve written before about change and transition, and at the risk of sounding redundant, I wanted to wrap up the changes like a Christmas present, and take this time to be thankful, press forward, and make some resolutions.

I resolve to have faith, in spite of the the need I have for control.
I resolve to spend time with the people closest to me because tomorrow is never promised.
I resolve to not be complacent in a job just because it’s easy.
I resolve to only maintain the relationships in my life that are positive and good for me.
I resolve to always remember where I came from, and keep calling my grandmothers every week.
I resolve to continue “Sunday gravy,” Italian style, even though very batch of red sauce stings a little.
I resolve to worry less about money, but keep shopping at Aldis.

And I resolve to eat a few more greens and drink less wine. 🙂

I know it’s just September, but a cooler night reminds me again that the seasons start over, and so should we. So here’s to a new season, a few resolutions, and a reminder that the only constant in life is change.

Taking Stock and Building A Vision Board

Nicholas and I were talking extensively about creating a vision board last night; his mom made one last year and has encouraged us to do the same, as there’s nothing like the power of visuals and positive thinking to keep you on track. I used to have one in my classroom in San Antonio, but we’ve never made one together.

It’s a perfect time to refocus, especially as we’ve recently marked a year of us beginning our life back in Atlanta. It’s a good time to slow down, let our souls catch up with our bodies, and quietly review the transitions of the last year. After 14 years of working for Target, yesterday was Nicholas’ last day–perfect timing since we’re rounding the troops and spending as much time with Poppi as possible now that he’s on hospice care. Nothing like closing down both of our careers in the same year and learning that time with our dad is seriously limited –it all begs a moment to step back and take stock of our life.

The vision board seems easy at first–it’s simple to make a list of things that more money or time would get us, but we tried to focus on things less dependent on both, as how can you ever measure when you have enough of either? Instead, we focused on things that already do or would bring us more happiness or contentment.

Time together topped our list– spending time with family trumps all else–gathering together to hear Poppi’s stories, glean another cooking lesson or tip, and share laughter and memories over great food.

We want to continue building our friendships here, join an adult sport league like kickball or softball, bike the Atlanta belt line, and continue to entertain in our house.

Nicholas wants to hone his homebrews and I want more time in my “studio” to craft and dabble in homemade goods.

We have our sights set on weekend getaways to Savannah or Charleston, and of course can’t keep cruising off the board.

We haven’t lost hope of our supper club, built around concepts of napoletana pizza and homebrew, and I’m still scheming about a job in writing or nonprofit.

What I’m realizing, though, in brainstorming our continued vision for the future, is that I already have more than I ever imagined, or deserve, and I’m so thankful.

It’s not all perfect, of course–Transitions are tough and we have plenty of them, personally and professionally. But we’re loved beyond measure, surrounded in healthy and fulfilling relationships. I remind myself that this is more important than anything else this life could offer.

So as we continue to create a vision board, we’re dreaming hard, but are also taking the time to step back and recognize that it’s already a good life.


The Girls With The Dragonfly Tattoos

When I was 21, my best friend and I made a permanent decision: we tattooed a dragonfly on our right foot; it’s relatively small, but big enough to make a statement for us.

We had an explanation that only could have been created and understood by us. The “cool” tattoo at the time was a butterfly, and we scorned the cliché ideas we felt surrounded this “insect of beauty” and found it completely unoriginal to follow suit. Instead, we wanted to be like the often over looked dragonfly, who isn’t perhaps as ornately beautiful as the butterfly, but in fact is more interesting, complicated, and delicately beautiful in an obscure and undefined way. Thus, we decided we were like the dragonflies of the world, not the butterflies and decided to don them on our feet forever.

I know it seems silly, but I’m proud of my dragonfly, the bond that it signifies with my best friend, and the reminder of the insecure girl I was then, just trying to find my way and make decisions beyond my years. I love the permanent reminder of who I was then, and the older I get the more I’m proud that I haven’t changed too terribly much, in spite of how badly I wanted to break free and be different back then.

Denise and I continue to blaze our own trails in life and keep each other close, in spite of the entire continent between us. I was in her wedding two years ago, and one of my favorite pictures was the shot of our dragonflied-feet. Few things in life are permanent, but our tattoos and friendship might be as close as it gets.

My dragonfly and Denise continue to remind me to be different, take risks, and find beauty in the unconventional.