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.

My Dad Would Have Been Prepared For “Snowmageddon”

My dad has always been an extremist when it comes to safety precautions—he’s as prepared as a human could be for any possible disaster. If there’s ever a huge national crisis, I’m headed straight for rural Metamora where I’ll hide out in my parents’ basement, eat canned food and snooze under homemade afghans. As excessive as his precautions sometimes seem, (think mass amounts of bungee cords, pounds of sand, multiple blankets, and endless snacks) I was and still am thankful for his attention to detail, even if I didn’t recently heed his lessons like I should have.

My first car, an 80-something black escort, was a prime example, as the trunk was equipped with a box of sand, candles with matches, warm socks, a variety of non perishable snacks, flares, jumper cables, a first aid kit and a heavy afghan. I only needed a handful of these goods throughout high school and college, but on necessary occasion I was eternally grateful for my dad’s wisdom and diligence in making sure that us kids were always safe and prepared for whatever mother nature may have in store for us.

Most of my adult life I’ve resided in warmer climates and have subsequently paid little attention to these sort of precautions. Yesterday I was stranded for 22 hours in the snow/ice gridlock of our city, which has already taken on the nickname of “Snowmageddon 2014.” The usually one hour trek from Sugar Hill to my house became nearly a day’s trip, and I realized a few things:

1. My dad is always right, and I really wish I still had my winterized trunk of goodies.
2. In the absence of specific supplies my dad would have suggested, I still carry a pretty stocked purse—wipes, flashlight, pocket knife, gum, protein bars, and good lip gloss.
3. Southerners really freak out when they see snow/ice and my dad should give them a quick intro to downshifting on hills.
4. There’s still so much goodness in the world; a 20-something in Alpharetta was passing out hot coffee, an older woman in Roswell passed out cookies, and an entire family had their Red-Ryder’s out on 285 W passing out water.
5. Patience might be the most valuable attribute I could ever possess—I’m still working on this one.

My car will very soon be stocked with details to my dad’s specifications, just in case I ever need to spend the night in my car again. As for me? I’ve marked my spot next to Nicholas on the couch with my pink laptop and Rainbow Bright Snuggie and have no intentions of leaving the house any time soon.

Snuggie

I hope “Becah for JECA” knows how much I love this snuggie. 🙂

Thanksgiving Sans Turkey

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IMG_3091[1]In spite of my serious tardiness here, I still wanted to write a little something about Turkey Day…

Ironically, we don’t do Turkey.  Tradition is overrated in our humble opinion, and we’ve only folded once in 10 years and attempted a turkey and the typical sides for our Thanksgiving meal.  (It was not good, by the way, and I remember craving pizza afterwards.)  We’ve traded in the age old goodies for an Italian feast complete with burrata, bruschetta, spaghetti done two ways—spicy red and truffle white sauce—topped with meatballs.  But we can’t shame Thanksgiving foods entirely, so we’ve kept our favorite golden oldies–Uncle Albert’s stuffing, cranberry salad, pecan pie, and peanut butter pie.

This has been our “tradition” for the last decade, but it’s interesting to note that my first sans Turkey festivity occurred many moons ago (1997?) when I first visited my best friend Denise in California for the holiday.  I’m still shocked that my parents allowed me skip our family gathering and fly across the country, but I’m certainly thankful that they relaxed the rules a tad.  I spent an incredible Thanksgiving with Denise and her family that year and was ecstatic to break out of the turkey and mashed potato mold in lieu of fettuccine alfredo and garlic bread; instead of pumpkin pie, Denise’s sister Heather made these ridiculous monster cookies.  I remember the jaunt to the grocery store equipped with our reindeer antler headbands and it was then that I realized it wasn’t going to be a traditional Thanksgiving–I readily welcomed the change.  I’ve always felt at home with Denise and her family and this particular Thanksgiving really solidified this for me—(and after being with her family again this past summer for her wedding, I’m happy to say I still feel the same as I did back then….”good bread,” as the Italian’s would say.) Thanksgiving with Denise is one of my favorite memories, and while the tradition to do Italian foods now is more a result of marrying an Italian than this particular meal in California, I love that our current tradition is something that I experienced first with a dear friend many years ago.

This year, my sister and her family drove down from Illinois to spend the holiday with us; we started cooking as soon as we woke up, starting eating around noon and the food a coma settled in around 3:00.  We essentially ate in courses, starting with bruschetta and burrata, complete with truffle seasoned Mascarpone cheese, basil pesto, roasted garlic, heirloom tomatoes and balsamic glaze.  We moved on to a strawberry vinaigrette salad as an attempt to have some greens and then chatted for about an hour before we served up the main course of red and white sauced spaghetti meatballs.  We postponed the pecan and peanut butter pie as dinner entrees…

It was a fabulous feast and I loved spending this time with some of my family; my nieces and nephews are a big piece of my heart and I loved spoiling them rotten with drawers of hidden candy, Pepsi before bedtime, and hours of Monopoly.  My sister and I had a couple of late night talks we were overdue on, and it felt good to have her and her hubby in our new place.  The time was fast and furious, but I loved every minute of it, and since my nephew declared it should be an every-other-year tradition, I think we’ll take them up on it.

Floor “Seats” At Nine Inch Nails

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The thing about falling in love with someone quite different in background and interests is that I often find myself in scenarios that I never dreamt I’d experience…and even enjoy.

I grew up listening to country music, as I had a small clock radio in my room I won from a band fundraiser, and I’d tune in to 104.9 or 97.3 and listen to country music at night before bed.  My dad would occasionally turn on the Grand Old Opry on Saturday nights and we’d listen downstairs for a little while together.  I realize this was my only exposure to music, and I might not have known what else I was missing, but I loved the passion in the lyrics and sounds of guitar, especially in the old stuff, like Kitty Wells, June Carter, and Johnny Cash.  One of my favorite summer memories is riding in an old pick up truck with my brother on our way to Tremont, blaring Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road” and singing with reckless abandon.  Country music spoke to me directly and I was just sure that some of those songs were written just for me.  I understood the gravel roads, the hard farm work, and family values that trumped everything else.  I found a piece of myself in every song I heard and found comfort in feeling understood.

I still listen to country music; in fact, at least half of my presets are local country stations, but I’ve also been influenced by Nicholas’ musical tastes.  Nicholas is pretty open minded about music, and grew up listening to a variety of tunes, but was particularly interested in industrial bands throughout middle and high school; he owned t-shirts and CDs for bands like Skinny Puppy, Nine Inch Nails, KMFDM, and VNV Nation.  His parents often played the likes of The Rat Pack while they prepared red sauce and pasta, and his sister brought the hippie music of the 60s to round out the family’s musical tastes.

We listen to a bit of everything these days–Cold Play, Eminem, Pink, Fun, The Band Called Perry…the list goes on, but we’re both still true to our roots.  When I’m home alone, I listen to my favorite Pandora blend of old school country, and he’ll have anything from Jack and Diane Radio to an industrial band playing when he rules the roost.  But this past week, we experienced a blast from his past–together.  We had floor tickets for Nine Inch Nails on Thursday night, and after ten years of marriage, I couldn’t wait to experience something from his childhood, as his first NIN concert was in 1993. 🙂 We pushed our way through until we were about 20 feet from the stage.  The show was incredible, as Trent Reznor still owns the stage after a 25-ish year career as the lead singer of NIN.  The first set was his older music, and much to the shock of many friends from my younger days, I knew a few of the songs and loved the music and the experience.  It was an energetic surge of bodies and voices singing along and reliving a piece of their past, and I loved feeling like the clock backed up and allowed me to know more of Nicholas 15 years ago.

I recognize that there is nothing more important than our present life together, but this life is so heavily influenced by the people that we were, and the pieces of our past that we choose to share with each other continually shape our relationship.  When we first talked about tickets, I asked him if he wanted to take a friend instead, as I thought he might have more fun with someone who knew all their music.  He said the friend he wanted to take was me.

 

The Decade of Love Begins Here…

February 8th, 2003...the night we got engaged. Three weeks after our first date. :)

February 8th, 2003…the night we got engaged. Three weeks after our first date. 🙂

My first desk as a teacher...clearly a disaster. It's nice to see that I'm still consistent. :)

My first desk as a teacher…clearly a disaster. It’s nice to see that I’m still consistent. 🙂

My mom, a customer, and I in front of Café Au Lait.

My mom, a customer, and I in front of Café Au Lait.

My Lawrenceville apartment...July 2003.

My Lawrenceville apartment…July 2002.

Oscar....my ferocious house cat and travel "companion."

Oscar….my ferocious house cat and travel “companion.”

In honor of our ten year anniversary, and at the risk of being cliché or sharing too much, I decided to chronicle a bit of our story…

I moved to Atlanta for my first teaching job in the summer of 2002, immediately after my graduation from Millikin University in Illinois.  I was eager to create my own life in a new place, but this was a huge decision and I didn’t know a soul south of the Mason-Dixon line.  I rented an apartment in Lawrenceville and signed a contract as a teacher and coach at Apalachee High School in Winder.  I wasn’t exactly adept at driving in more than two lanes of traffic and ended up totaling my car one rainy fall day in the chaos of Atlanta traffic.  My teacher salary wasn’t covering my bills as it was, and adding a car to the list meant a second job. A few days later I started working nights and weekends at Café Au Lait, a coffee shop across the street from my apartment complex, and consequently next door to the Lawrenceville Target store.  Little did I know that totaling that sea-foam green Toyota Tercel would be the best thing that ever happened to me.

I juggled my three preps at school, coached tennis and cheerleading and worked 6 days a week at the café that semester; I was ecstatic for Christmas break and couldn’t wait to road-trip it back to Illinois with my cat Oscar, my trusty travel companion.  I was alone at the counter one December night, working the closing shift and day dreaming about the holidays when Nicholas and his entourage came in for drinks before the midnight showing of Lord of the Rings.  His friend Leanne (and ironically former girlfriend) walked up first, got comfortable at the counter and immediately began playing 20 questions, essentially vetting me for Nicholas.  He soon followed, tall dark and handsome, ordered his Mint Bon-Bon Latte, and smoothly offered to “show me around” since Leanne told him I was new in town.  I remember giggling excessively and chiding myself for being nervous and acting childish.  I had met my share of crazies in the café, and was used to giving fake numbers and praying they wouldn’t come back in.  This time was different, of course, as I gave out my actual phone number to a complete stranger who I secretly hoped would call.

He did call–soon.  I told him I would be out of town for a few weeks for the holidays and we’d talk when I got home; as excited as I was, I couldn’t quite see past my reprieve at home, and it was too soon to even mention his name.  I drove 12 hours home with Oscar in tow, and I remember amidst the excessive food and strewn wrapping paper my family’s constant teasing about not dating anyone. I distinctly remember shutting down their comments by recounting my busy work schedule and specifically telling my sister in law Bonnie that I never planned to get married anyway…

The second week of January I drove back to Atlanta, Nicholas and I had our first date, and 3 weeks later I had a diamond ring on my finger.  Our three weeks of dating was fast and furious and my family and most of my friends didn’t even know I was dating someone…but that’s another story. There’s so much to tell.