Friday, December 28, 2012

Friday Five - Recycle, Re-gift, Reflect

I know I haven't done a Friday Five in a while, but today's seemed like fun.

1. What is some "old news" for this year that you'd like to repeat: My "Season of Sabbath" over the last six months has been really good for me, even though it hasn't always been easy. Although some of the things I've started will continue, but I think I have reached a point where my own soul has been sufficiently replenished so that it no longer needs to be the focus of my attention.

2. What "new thing" have you started that you want to keep going in 2013: Academy for Spiritual Formation #34 has been an amazing experience that I am very excited about continuing! I know the active pursuit of growing our family isn't exactly "new" but the specifics that are required are new and will continue.

3. What event, experience, or gift would you just as soon "return to sender": Thankfully, this year hasn't been full of "real tragedy" the way previous years have, but I won't go so far as to say that there's nothing I would do differently. I guess if I had to pick something specific, it would be our cruise in October. It was fun, but I can think of many other things I would have rather done.

4. What was the brightest bit of joy that was a part of your year: Beginning the Academy for Spiritual Formation and the connection that I have made with so many wonderful people in this community has been a blessing beyond measure. The fact that this wonderful gift is 1/4 of the way through is both exciting and saddening at the same time.

5. Share a picture that says more than words:

It's amazing what you can see when you are willing to take a step back and change your perspective just a little bit! I took this during my last trip up to Camp Sumatanga. I love the colors of fall and the view from the chapel.

Bonus: Share a recipe!
My new favorite thing to make (I've loved to eat it for a while!) is quiche because it's so simple and can contain anything you want! I use a pre-made pilsbury pie crust, 6 eggs (or egg substitute), 1 cup of milk, and about 1/4 cup greek yogurt, plus whatever meat, veggies, and cheese seems fitting and baked at 350 for about 45 minutes. I'm currently fond of peppered bacon, caramelized onion, and cheddar cheese. It goes together really quickly, but can also be made the day before and kept refrigerated before baking. The leftovers also re-heat really well! A big slice of this and a cup of tomato soup makes for a fabulous lunch or dinner in my mind!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Initial Medical Update

I promised it, so here it is. I recognize that this may be too much information for some, and if that's true, that's totally fine. Just consider this your disclaimer. I promise to post about chocolate or sunshine or unicorns sometime soon.

So, the history: I know very little about my family history except that my mom had a hard time getting pregnant with us. She had one miscarriage, my twin was stillborn, and my brother was critically ill and they didn't think he was going to make it after he was born. Obviously he pulled through, but I know it weighed heavily on my parents, my mom especially who said the only thing she ever wanted to be in life was a mommy. I remember as a child asking her if she ever wanted more kids. Not in terms of "why don't I have a little sister" or anything like that, but just a curiosity question of what she wanted and why. She was very honest that, at one point she thought she did, but she had such a hard time and she thought that two was the perfect number because she only had two hands. Think that was a nice way of saying we were both a hand-full? Either way, knowing that is an important part of my story.

I started taking birth control while I was in college. Not because I was sexually active, but to regulate my periods and because I was having some issues we thought could be hormonal balance things like getting dizzy or passing out during my period. At one point I had one little cyst that apparently just went away on its own.

You may recall that I stopped taking birth control shortly after Jeff and I got married. At one point before we were trying (summer 2010) there was a period where I pretty much skipped a period and although the home pregnancy test was negative, we both kind of held our breaths until my period came. Not because we didn't want a child, but because I kept running through the "what ifs" in my mind. I realize now that I probably just didn't ovulate that month.

After that, we decided to keep an eye on things. I was relatively consistent in terms of cycles but didn't start officially charting things until about January of 2011. I didn't always run like clockwork, but was usually pretty consistent. I didn't go to the doctor at all between about January 2010 and October 2011, mostly because I didn't have insurance to pay for it! I knew starting a family was a priority so I didn't want to see just anybody, but wanted to begin establishing a relationship with a doctor who I wanted to care for me long-term. So at the point I saw him in October, I had been "officially trying" for 9-10 months. I appreciate that he took me seriously and went ahead and did some basic lab work to see if anything jumped out. He was very honest about what the diagnosis of infertility meant and that he hoped I'd show back up in his office in a couple of months pregnant. Unfortunately that didn't happen.

Instead, I headed off to summer camp. And while I was there, I started feeling some unusual cramping before the start of my period. Instead of in my uterus, which is what I was used to (and what you would intellectually expect) it was on my left side. I asked the camp nurse and when I showed him where it was hurting, he said it was an ovary or tube. At first it was just sort of twinges so I didn't think much about it. The second day I came into his office after lunch (as I generally did) but instead of sitting down to talk, I curled up in a ball and laid on the futon. Having known me for the better part of 15 years, he didn't ask how bad it hurt. Instead he took one look at me, got up and pulled out two aleve and told me to take them, go take a nap, and if I was still hurting in about 90 minutes to come find him. Thankfully the aleve and nap helped and at the end of the 90 minutes, I wasn't in pain anymore. Before bed I got two more aleve to take back to my room in case I needed them in the middle of the night, but I didn't. However, the next morning (about 10am) I was in severe pain, so I took my two aleve and soldiered through the day. By lunch around 12 noon, I was almost in tears I was still hurting so badly. He told me there really wasn't much else he could give me and I opted to go take a long nap where I was lucky enough to pass out for a while. When I woke up, I was still hurting, but not as badly and I went about my business. Thankfully this was the next to last day and there was enough going on to keep me somewhat distracted but not so busy I was miserable. Upon Nurse Buck's command, since I was still feeling some pain (although not nearly as much) after I returned home, I called my doctor's office the next week. Well, wouldn't you know it, he was on vacation, so I had to wait to get an appointment. When I finally was able to get in, the first thing they did was a transvaginal ultrasound, which to be perfectly honest wasn't the worst experience I've ever had! I get that it's not exactly fun, but it wasn't horrid either, but that is probably due in large part to the person who was doing it! The ultrasound revealed that everything was normal. The best guess of both nurse and doctor was that I'd had an ovarian cyst that ruptured, but my body had responded as it should and gotten rid of everything. There was no obvious reason for the lingering pain I felt, but it eventually went away completely. My next cycle was normal and there was no cause for alarm.

Not much else of consequence happened between then and my doctor's appointment in early November. At that appointment I was informed that I was in fact not pregnant (since I was late I was hoping) and my physical exam was normal. More bloodwork was ordered, and this showed that I hadn't ovulated the previous month, just as the doctor suspected and I probably wasn't ovulating regularly which is why things had been a bit off and slightly more unpredictable than in the past. I was told to get an ovulation predictor kit and use it. Then, when I got a positive test result, to #1 "do the baby dance" and #2 call the doctor so they can schedule more blood work to check hormone levels and see if that is where it's supposed to be. I can start using that kit next week and hopefully get some answers before the end of the month.

The doctor also told me to schedule an HSG or dye test to check my tubes, but that couldn't be scheduled until I got my period because it can only be done on certain cycle days. I was advised that I could schedule it right away or I could wait a few months and see what was going on with the ovulation thing. It's kind of a chicken and egg problem - if it's the ovulation, then the HSG won't show anything or be helpful until we get that fixed, but if I have a blocked tube I can ovulate all day long and it's never going to get me anywhere! I'm still not entirely sure what I want to do. At least some of the decision-making this cycle was handled by mother nature. The days of my cycle when they could do the test were Thanksgiving and the day after so I will have to wait at least another month. I should get my hormone results before I could schedule for next month, so that information should help me decide whether or not sooner is better than later.

So yeah, that's the current status of my reproductive system. You're welcome!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday Special!

Hey friends! Still searching for the perfect gift but don't want to get out of your PJs? I don't blame you. I used to work in that madness and I don't get out there any more than necessary. Still, you can get a fabulous deal. From now until Monday (11/26) you can get From Your Freezer To Your Family E-Cookbook for only $5.00! If you haven't gotten one for yourself this is the perfect opportunity!

Seriously, this weekend would be the PERFECT time to do a couple of hours of prep and then have a freezer full of tasty and healthy meals that require SO little effort to cook during the crazy month of December when life is busy and junk food is easy and tempting. All you have to do is toss them in a slow cooker and they are warm and tasty and waiting for you when you get home from whatever it is you are doing!

Personally, I love being able to read it on my iPad or Kindle in the kitchen. If someone special to you is getting an e-reader this year, wouldn't this make a great little "stocking stuffer" or supplement to that gift? Or what about a great little hostess gift? Know any college students or young adults just starting out? Why not get them a slow cooker and this book? Amazon has some good deals on slow cookers, so you don't even need to leave the house!

So yeah, use the link above to get a copy (or three) of this fabulous book. It'll be the best $5 you've spent all year!

Friday Five - Leftovers

Today's Friday Five, in the wake of Thanksgiving, is about leftovers. Just this week my brother and I were both lamenting the fact that, now that we don't spend the entire Thanksgiving weekend with our extended family, we no longer get the fabulous sandwiches made from leftover turkey. I'm glad I'm not the only one in my slightly kooky family who misses things like that!

1. What has surprised you in this season of Thanksgiving? - I have been surprised by how bored I have gotten with my down time this week. It's been nice to get to make my own schedule but the appeal of doing nothing wore off after about 2 days!

2. Share a recipe or favorite way to use up all the extra food from a big holiday meal? Honestly, we usually don't have a ton of extras, just enough for a couple of days of sandwiches.

 If we have leftover ham I typically make Ham & Potato Casserole : 1 bag frozen hashbrowns, 1 can cream of chicken soup, 2 c. shredded cheese, 1 small diced onion, 1 melted stick of butter, 1 c. sour cream, and diced leftover ham. I just mix it all together and bake it at 350 for about an hour.

3. We have a Sunday between Thanksgiving and Advent this year. Are you wrapping up Thanksgiving, preaching about Christ the King, or having "leftovers" with someone else doing pulpit supply? Since I'm no longer in a church, I'm doing none of the above. I'll be on-call at the Children's Hospital where I work on Saturday until 8am so whether I even make it to church it all will directly relate to the night I have!

4. Do you give the holidays their due? Or are you tempted to rush past the fall festivities for a love of Christmas? Normally I love doing fall stuff, but this year my fall decorations never even made it out of the attic. We got the last of our decorations up last week (since we weren't hosting anything fall-related) and I've been done with shopping for a little while, so I'm looking forward to really sinking into the enjoyment of Advent and Christmas that I haven't had in several years.

5. Is there some THING, some TASK, or some ONE who gets the leftovers of your attention? The honest answer to this one is probably ME! I tend to throw everything out there for everyone and every thing else, and only take care of myself with whatever is left. This is something I've been actively working on for a while now, but I know I don't always get it right!

Sadly, I don't have any pictures of everyone together yesterday. I got lots of individual pictures of everyone, but we didn't get a whole group. Oh well!

Monday, November 19, 2012

How You Can Best Care For Me

*Disclaimer - This post is not directed at anyone or in response to anything that has happened either in the real world or in blogger land. This is all about me. In an effort to be more authentic to myself, to care for my own soul, and to "help you help me" I'm throwing this all out there. Please do not take this as a sweeping prescription for all people you think have something in common with me. If you see something you believe will benefit someone else somewhere else, then by all means use it. I'm all for spreading love! But note that these are specific things I know that I need/want right now and the only way to even begin to get those needs met is to put them out there, so that is what I am doing. Thank you and have a nice day!

1. Support comes in lots of forms, not just words. - Just journeying with me, reading this stuff makes a world of difference to me. Even if you don't leave me a comment and I don't know exactly who you are, just knowing that there are people who are concerned or curious enough to join me on this journey is helpful in reminding me that I'm not alone. If you do believe that words are the best way that you can show me support, please remember that often times, less is more.

2. Please let me control the flow of information. - I'm moderating my comments so that if there is something that I don't think is particularly helpful to others who might read this or contains information I'm not ready to share, I'm not going to publish it. If I don't answer a question or respond to something specific, know that I'm doing what is best for me at whatever point on this journey you may find me. It's not always a straight line or a steady progression. Also remember there are probably things going on you don't know about. If you have something long or complicated to discuss, please feel free to e-mail me. If you ask a question I want to answer but not here, I will e-mail you a response.

3. No pity-parties please - Not for me or yourself or anyone else. Yes, there will be moments when I feel like I'm up to my armpits in a pile of poo, but I am really striving to keep the perspective that the most beautiful gardens require the incorporation of some manure to help them grow. I have a nice pile of my own, I don't need anyone else's and when I do fall face first into it, I don't need you rolling in it with me because that'll just mean it takes longer to clean up!

4. There are a few phrases that are banned here, not just from readers but also from me. If you see them, please draw my attention to it, but please try to do so kindly!
  •  "I know exactly how you feel" - this is not supportive, this is disrespectful. It tells me you don't care about knowing my journey because you assume it is the same as yours and you are focused on you and not me. If that is where you are right now then so be it, but don't put that on me.
  • "Should/Ought to/Supposed to/Normal" - these are phrases I'm actively working to remove from my vocabulary and hearing them from others is not going to help that process. If I use them in a declarative statement (particularly if it involves the phrase "I know") please call me on it! 
  • "If you just..." - I'm going to leave the prescribing to my doctor. That's why I'm paying him!
5. Please ask questions!  - I can't promise I will know the answers about technical stuff because I'm learning as I go and I can't promise I will always be willing/able to answer some of the more personal stuff (at least when it is first posed) but I can promise that I will do my best. And if I can't answer your question, I will do my best to refer you to someone who can!

6. Please please PLEASE remember that none of this is universal truth or statements about anyone but me and it is not written for anyone but me. I did not create this blog to be about my fertility journey. I don't want it to turn into that. This is just a real peek into my life and my family and a particular journey we are on at this point. There is a dear woman in my support group whom I respect and admire more than I can say who told me that she probably would have forgotten some of the worst/hardest parts of her own journey were it not for having blogged about it as it was happening. I have found this to be true of other parts of my own life as I have gone back and read old journals from various points in my life. This is simply the most convenient way for me to do this and because I appreciate how others have been willing to share their journeys I am willing to do the same. If it helps someone else that is great, but it's not the point. 

Thank you for caring enough about me to also care about how you relate to me right now!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Holy Holiday, Batman!

What happened? How did I blink and my holiday diva-tude simply evaporate? I feel like I am SO behind. I want to blame it on someone/something but the truth is this mess is all on me.

I'm sort of on top of things. I pretty well know what everyone is going to get this year, it's just a matter of actually getting it. I think there's only one more true store purchase and a couple of orders that need to be placed. Everything has officially taken up residence in "Sandy Claus Workshop" (my office) and as soon as I can find my wrapping paper, that process can start. Despite all this, I don't feel a huge push just yet. But catch me the day after Thanksgiving and see if I'm running around like a crazy person!

At least decorating is already done inside our house. We decided to not be the most obviously crazy and save the outside decor for the weekend after Thanksgiving, but rest assured, if we needed to have it up within about 2 hours, we probably could!

In the meantime, I'm working on putting together an awesome Christmas party for my department at the hospital and everyone's partners. It should be a lot of fun! Stay tuned for more on this after the fact!

Spending the holidays with family has probably been one of the biggest challenges of our marriage (really our whole relationship) up to this point. It's not that we don't like being with both sides of the family. If anything, the fact that we do like being with them all makes it harder to try and figure it all out. Our "process" has arrived rather organically in the sense that we pick one or two priorities for each holiday and work the other things around those. They aren't always based on preference, but more often on circumstance. However, this year we were clear pretty early on about the fact that we wanted to be at our house on Christmas Eve and not have to rush somewhere on Christmas morning and we wanted to go to Jeff's big family gathering on Christmas afternoon. Since pretty much all our family is relatively close now (and the far flung ones get close at holidays) we figured it would be easy to get everyone together in the surrounding days, and normally it is. We had a little bit of a "challenge" in that my side decided to get a cabin in the mountains for a few days. We were invited but because of other commitments couldn't be with them the entire time. Thankfully it simply took a little bit of creativity and a little bit of luck and we were able to make it all work. Hooray!

Overall, I'm very excited about this holiday season. Sure, there are parts that are hard, but I think that is true for everyone.  I'm looking forward to seeing what this holiday season will bring for me.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday Five - Thanksgiving

I know it's been a while since I did a Friday Five, but I actually thought about it today so I figured I'd take advantage of that fact!

There is a really cute poem on the original post that you should read if you haven't. It's a nice little reminder we all need from time to time.

1. What is your cure for "the mulleygrubs?" - Get out of the house or out of my regular routine. Even if that means going to the grocery store to wander for a while and pick up a few things or take us out for dinner on a Tuesday instead of waiting for the weekend. Yoga also helps lots. I'm learning that the days I least want to go are the days I most need it!

2. Where will you be for thanksgiving? - With my mom's family in Montgomery. That's probably our one holiday constant these days!

3. What foods will be served? Which are traditional for your family? - Turkey, Dressing, Sweet Potatoes, Mashed Potatoes, Roast Beef, Peas, Squash Casserole, Stuffed Celery, Deviled Eggs, and Cranberry Sauce. Not a super-huge spread, but as there's usually about a dozen of us, it's huge enough for us! It's all pretty traditional for us, there's rarely much deviation from the norm. The biggest thing to change regularly is the desserts, especially now that pinterest is around for inspiration. One thing that is different than most is that we save the ham for Christmas and have roast beef at thanksgiving.

4. How do you feel about Thanksgiving as a holiday - In theory it's a good idea, but in practice not so much. I like the idea to take time to gather with family before all the madness starts around Christmas time and I like the idea of being thankful for what we have, but I don't think it should be for just a single day or even a single month. I also don't think that a day of indulging in excess is the best way to do it!

5. In this season of Thanksgiving, what are you grateful for? - I'm especially grateful this year for the communities of Academy #34 and Hopeful Hearts, having my family nearby and friends we get to hang out with frequently. I'm also very grateful for all the chances I've had to grow and learn in the past year and the fruit of those journeys. I know good things are happening, even if I don't totally understand what they are!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Academy 34, Part 2

Once again I have returned from my retreat to and with the wonderful community of Academy 34 at Camp Sumatanga. This experience continues to change for me, with me, and around me. It's always wonderful, but each time in different ways.

The biggest difference for me in this second session was how comfortable things were from very early on. This truly is a wonderful community of people and while I doubt that a change of venue would change much it is always helpful for me to be back at that "place of rest and vision" and seems only appropriate that I have this experience in this place that has already been so formative for me.

I will be completely honest here - I know I was not as "fully present" throughout the whole week as I was last time. Some of it was the battle going on in my own soul over the fertility stuff that was unfolding while I was there (and let me tell you, hearing about expected babies and watching folks knit baby blankets and tiny leg warmers wasn't always helpful either!) but I also honestly don't believe I would have been able to make the peace that I have, and it's not much but it's some, without the love and support of that community. There is so much shame that goes with this, at least for me, that being open with people about this has been hard, but it has been worth it and I'm continuing to learn this as I daily feel myself wrapped in the love and prayers of this whole community.

The other "challenge" of the week is that I believe I was much more open to whatever was going to happen to and with me and whatever it was God had for me to receive early on. I didn't have to wade in slowly, easing myself down the steps of the pool. Instead, I flung off my shoes at a run, tossed my towel without caring where it landed, and took a flying leap off the diving board! The problem with flying leaps is that they often result in a painful and messy entry  into those deep waters, and that's pretty much what happened from me. I became very aware of some difficult truths early on and that made it hard to stay as open because I reached my threshold pretty quickly. I know I spent some time "distracting myself" (pinterest anyone?) as a matter of survival but I do feel a certain sense of guilt about that because I know those special times in that special place can never be recaptured.

Our faculty was amazing, as I have come to expect. I learned so much and was so incredibly blessed by the whole experience. It really does make a difference having them truly participate in the community rather than simply gracing us with their presence at lectures and being sequestered elsewhere for the other 22.5 hours a day! I'm glad there are smarter people than me who figured that out, but I guarantee it's a lesson I will never forget!

One new experience I had was walking the labyrinth. I know about labyrinths and I have played/worked with pictures and finger labyrinths before, but this was my first time actually walking one. My covenant group decided to do it together one day, and that was also a really special experience. As a whole, the experience of the labyrinth wasn't what I expected or what I wanted, but it was what I needed. I don't know that I would say I enjoyed it so much as I appreciated it, but I do look forward to the chance to do it again.

I also had my first "official" experience of working one-on-one with a spiritual director/ spiritual guide/ spiritual friend. My previous therapist did some measure of this and we had group spiritual direction as a part of my CPE residency (which I think planted the seed for this journey now) but I hadn't sought out that individualized experience until now. It was a very enriching experience and I think it is something I would like to add to my life a bit more permanently, but the process of finding the right someone for me may be difficult and I'm not sure it's something I want to do right this second.

I do have a new favorite saying - "Go, not in peace, but TO peace" which has found a special place deep in my heart. Because I think that is what this entire journey has been and continues to be about for me. Going to shalom, which is not only peace, but also wholeness.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

It's Official

I know I have written before about our unsuccessful attempts at growing our family but at that point 7 months ago, we were still very much at an in-between place. Since then some things have happened, but none of them have resulted in pregnancy. I'll do a more detailed "medical" update soon, but today I just want to talk about the emotions that have gone along with my infertility becoming "official."

In the 12-24 hours following my most recent doctor's visit, I went through all four of the major emotions several times - mad, sad, glad, and scared - without much rhyme or reason! The roller coaster ride through my mind was a bit crazy and trying to get back on that ride as I am writing this is making me a little nauseous just thinking about it, so consider yourself warned!

MAD - I was flat out angry at myself for being broken, at my body for not working the way I expected it to work, at my family because there is probably a genetic component to this, at my husband for choosing me, at myself again for being a bad wife, at God for this command to "be fruitful and multiply" and then for giving me a body that can't do it, and on and on. Still, this was probably the place where I spent the least amount of time!

SAD - I was terribly sad about the absence of concrete answers in that moment. I was sad about the hopes and dreams and plans I had stored in the back of my mind. I also found myself grieving the deaths of my parents in a new and powerful way because of their absence in all this and my inability to ask them about their struggles. There wasn't a lot of variance here in the topics, but there was definitely some dynamic change in how strongly I felt this emotion. I definitely spent time everywhere between "aw, shucks" to tears running down my face!

GLAD - I actually spent a great deal of time here, surprisingly enough. Because I finally had a name and plan for all this! I had professionals in my corner and I was reminded again about how good I feel about those I have chosen to journey with me along the way. I was glad to have an excuse to reach out to a new community in which I have found myself, and I was glad that I would soon have even more answers and even more concrete plans, even if they were a bit intimidating.

SCARED - I was probably most scared of the semi-unknown that was (and is) to come. I was scared of what the results of various tests would be. I was scared of the other tests and procedures that I knew were going to come. I was scared of possible treatments and side effects. I was scared of going through all of this and not having it work.

After I got the results of my tests back and it was confirmed that I'm "the problem" it was very hard. Even though I had a plan of action, the fact that it involved waiting an unknown period of time before I could even START doing anything was very frustrating and made me feel even more helpless. I have gotten a lot of great support from folks, no matter how much or how little I have shared, which has been a huge blessing.

I continue to experience all of these things to varying degrees. The fact that it's holiday time is also making it harder. The past couple of years, the thing that has really helped me is thinking "next year will be different because there will be three!" but this year I am simply lacking some of that hope. Last year, as a part of an ornament exchange, my "secret santa" who knew about my (then covert) attempts at growing our family got me a special heart ornament that says "Good Luck 2012" in both English and German, with the hope and prayer that 2012 would be our year to at least get pregnant. I'm really doubting that now. When we were decorating our tree (yes we've already done that) I hung it up, but it was definitely hard to do. Maybe I'll be surprised in the next month and next year we will have an extra stocking to hang by the chimney with care. But make no mistake about it, this journey is hard.

I don't know when we will have to take our next step, or really even what that step will be, but it is good to know I'm not alone in it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Vacation Re-Cap

 Yes, I'm still here. I went on vacation and came back. I simply haven't felt much like blogging lately. Part of it has been that I'm distracted by other projects. Stay tuned for more on those. But for now, the vacation re-cap.

I enjoyed getting away, but this vacation wasn't as spectacular as I'd hoped or thought it would be. I have said this before, but I really think I enjoy the planning of vacations as much (if not more) than actually taking them. But here's the play by play.

Friday - We left home around 3:15 am. Original plan was about six, but the more Jeff got to thinking about it, the more he wanted to get up and just go. So that's exactly what we did. There was only one point where I wanted to kill him and it was at least two and half hours in. The getting up and getting out was easy since we had loaded the car and put out the stuff for the dogs the night before so all we had to do was get up, get dressed, and get on the road. There was very little traffic the whole time and we got to our hotel about 3pm. We got checked in and promptly took a nap. Then we headed out to get some dinner and do a little exploring. It was definitely one of our better road trip experiences.

Saturday - Slept relatively late (for us!) and ate breakfast at the hotel, then caught the shuttle to the port. We were supposed to be on a slightly later shuttle, but we were up and ready, so we got on an earlier one. When we got to the port, it was easily the easiest check in experience we've ever had. We hardly had to stop from the moment we hit the door. We got straight through security, walked right up to a check-in counter, and breezed easily through everything else and walked right on the boat. Normally there's at least a little bit of waiting to get on the boat, but not this time. It was great. There was a wait to get into our room, but we still "slipped in" earlier than the official open time but it was fine. I was disappointed that we couldn't use the spa until after sail time, but I guess in the grand scheme of things that wasn't such an inconvenience. Overall, it was a nice day.

Sunday - Our first port day, we were in Nassau from 11 am until 5 pm. We got off the boat with Jeff's parents a little after noon and caught a taxi over to Atlantis to walk around. You really couldn't see much without buying a day pass and we weren't there long enough to make it worth that, so we lost a little money in the casino, looked around inside a bit, saw a little bit outside, then headed back to the ship. I'd be willing to go back and spend a week at Atlantis at some point.

Monday - our first sea day was spent largely hanging out. I took a yoga class which was ok, but not great. We went to brunch with Jeff's parents and it was nice. We saw his grandmother and great-uncle and aunt while we were there. We did spend some spa time and also did a little wandering. We went to dinner at the steak house with his parents and grandmother, which was a very nice evening.

Tuesday - Our second port day, we were in St. Thomas. This was probably my favorite port stop. We took the cable car up to Paradise Point and enjoyed a very nice view. We hung out up there and ate a very tasty lunch of grilled wings and frozen drinks. It was over-priced, but tasty. The rain was a welcome break from the heat and we got to see a nice rainbow and several wild iguanas hanging out in trees (which was a new one to me!) We wandered around a few shops near the ship on our way back. The sales people didn't seem to be as obnoxiously pushy either, so it was nice.

Wednesday - Our last port stop, we were in St. Maarten. We docked on the Dutch side and decided to just wander there rather than going over to the French side. We thought about taking a tour or going to Maho Beach to see the planes, but didn't. I was fine with it. It was so hot, it was hard to enjoy it, so I was ready to be back on the boat. We hopped on a golf cart going back and it was the best dollar I've ever spent. It was nice to avoid the lines and be dropped off right at the gangway.

Thursday - Another sea day. Not much to report. We wandered and played games and enjoyed some spa time, but it was a little boring.

Friday - Last sea day. The seas were really rough and I was getting stir crazy. It was time to get off the boat.

Saturday - Got up and off the boat. We would have been off even earlier but we were waiting on his family. Even though we didn't debark with them, we were taking things back for them (since they were flying and we were driving) so we were off only a little before them. We hopped the first shuttle back to the hotel (that dropped us off right at our car) and were on our way. I had convinced Jeff to go to Downtown Disney for a few hours so we headed across Orlando to the Downtown Disney Marketplace. We had a late breakfast at the Earl of Sandwich and it was quite tasty. I was definitely a fan. After several hours of wandering we decided to grab some lunch at the Rainforest Cafe before hitting the road. We were told there would be a 10-15 minute wait for a table or we could eat at the bar, so we opted for the bar. We sat down, were greeted promptly, and ordered our drinks which came immediately. After almost 15 minutes of waiting, there were plenty of people standing around near us but we couldn't get the attention of anyone to order lunch so we just paid for our drinks and left (although I really wanted to just walk out!) We ended up settling on ice cream treats until we got out of town a little ways and then stopping for lunch. We decided to stop for the night in Dothan.

Sunday - We headed towards home with a lunch time pit stop in Montgomery to spend some time with my family, which was great. We finally got home and it was great to be back!

One thing we agreed upon - we're done cruising for a while. It's time to take some land-based vacations. The next one we're planning? DISNEY WORLD!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday Five - Blogging

Today's Friday Five is kind of a new one for me - blogging about blogging! I am far from a professional and while there are moments when I would love to be like some of my bloggy friends who get cool free stuff and have these lovely and professional-looking blogs, that's really not who I am and would much rather my little corner of the internet be a reflection on my little corner of the world (although if anyone wants to send me free stuff, I'm happy to share about it!) So without further rambling, here is my friday five about blogging.

When did you start blogging? Who/What prompted you? I started my first blog in May 2003, right as I graduated from high school. I had lots of friends from high school and church camp who were either already at college or were heading that way and I knew I wouldn't be seeing most of them regularly anymore, so I figured this was a good way to keep up with them (since this was slightly pre-facebook) Because I've always been a little behind the times, most of them already had blogs, so I was finally getting caught up!

How often do you post? How often do you visit blogging friends/other blogs? I've gotten to where I'm doing good if I can post more than once a week. Recently, I just haven't been too inspired. I try to check in with the blogs I follow regularly every couple of days via my blogger feed, but I'm probably reading somebody's blog somewhere at least once a day thanks to pinterest!

Why do you keep on blogging? It's a good outlet for me and it's still a good way to keep connected with friends and be a part of a community in a way that (to me ate least) is more personal and honest than facebook.

What do you like to write about? I like to write about the things I love and that are going on in my life that I think would interest others - everything from parties to restaurants to recipes to craft ideas, and an occasional deep thought or two.

Have your blogging habits changed - or are they changing? Yes, my habits have changed. I no longer post every single day (nor do I feel the need to do so!) I also don't use my blog as an avenue for venting as frequently and I am more careful about what I say. I know that when kids come into the picture, things will change even more!

Bonus: Recommend a blog or two - Plain Chicken is a favorite for simple but tasty meals (and she is in Birmingham so I totally get all of her local references!) Kara's Party Ideas always inspire me. Betsy Neely is a dear friend and an amazingly talented photographer. Her website features some of her beautiful work. If you need a photographer in the Chicago area, she's your girl! I want a big print of this black and white lily to hang in my guest room!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday Five - Randomness

I haven't done a Friday Five in a long time. The most convenient reason is that I never think to take my computer to nanny with me, and while I have the time before my little buddy wakes up, I hate blogging from my phone/iPad and I don't think about it when I get home. Another reason is that I have kind of been avoiding my RevGal friends because I'm not entirely sure I still fit in because I don't necessarily think of myself as "one of them" anymore, even though I know in my head I am. This whole issue of identity and calling and work and how it all comes together is complicated, and I definitely see it getting worse before it gets better. Alas, I felt myself tugged back into this world and this circle so I'm playing along in the "safest" way I know how and thankfully today's questions feel very safe and exciting, so yay!

What is the best thing that happened to you this week? Definitely my yoga class last night! Not only was it great for me physically, but also mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially!

If you were in a Ms., Miss., Mr. Wherever Pageant, what would your talent be? Since I doubt comedic sarcasm would be acceptable, I'll go with classical piano. Or tuba. I bet nobody else would be playing the tuba, I'm I'm probably still pretty good!

You were just given a YACHT! What would you name it and why? The Miss Penny because when I was growing up my family would collect change on the ground and put it into what was known as "the yacht fund". Apparently this was something my grandfather started when my mom and her siblings were children (maybe even before, I'm not sure) and so whenever we find pennies (or other change) it's "yacht fund money"

If you were to perform in a circus, what would you do? I'm more of a behind the scenes girl, but if I had to perform I'd probably ride an elephant!

What do you have in your bag/wallet/backpack that best describes your personality? I have a zippered pouch with a picture of three cupcakes on the front that holds notebooks, sticky notes, pens, crayons, markers, & paperwork along with change, receipts, stickers, and whatever else gets tossed in it. I think it suits me because it's fun and cheerful but has an important purpose, can stand up to a lot, is much more flexible than it seems, and usually ends up catching junk it doesn't need but holds on to it anyway!

So there you have it, my randomness for today. Hope you enjoy!

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Best Meal I Ever Ate

I like to think of myself as a foodie. Never mind the fact that I'm pretty picky and not exceptionally adventurous. Most of my grown-up celebrity crushes aren't movie or music stars. There are a few writers, but most of them are chefs. I dream of eating at amazing places and rubbing elbows with these amazing culinary artists. This year, my sweet brother decided to get me a gift certificate to Highlands Bar & Grill for my birthday because I had mentioned it was a place I would like to try. I will admit that, while I did want to try it, there was a little piece of me that was very nervous because I can be so picky. Plus, I like to plan ahead for new dining experiences. Their menu changes every day! We had our reservation about a week and a half in advance so that gave me enough time to check in on the menus for a few days and see what kept reappearing. I was pretty confident that I would have a meal I enjoyed and was excited when the time finally came.

We settled into our little table up front and enjoyed people watching, both inside the restaurant and out the window. I ordered a cocktail and Jeff got tea. Our waiter, Brian, was very nice. He gave us fabulous descriptions of some of the best things on the menu (which was almost everything!) so all of our planning and preparing was pretty much shot to heck because by the time he got done I wanted one of everything. The one thing I had planned for was the baked grits, and they were amazing. I can see why they are one of the "100 dishes to eat in Alabama before you die." I'm not a mushroom person but I did try them and while they were ok, they didn't seem to add that much in my opinion so I left most of them. Jeff had previously decided he just wasn't going to get an appetizer, but after hearing the descriptions he got the fried okra. He said it was quite good, but he liked mine better.

While we were waiting and talking and people watching, Jeff looked at me and said "I assume that guy in the white jacket with the thermometer in his pocket is the chef" speaking about an individual standing behind me talking to the maitre' d. I managed to maintain my composure and kept from doing the geek-tastic flip around, figuring it was probably not THE Chef Frank Stitt. When I casually looked over my shoulder I was surprised to find out it was HIM! I think my eyes bugged out of my head a little but I kept it together. Later in the meal I glanced out the front window and saw him walking toward the front door and I think I giggled a little. While texting my brother about the experience later, he asked "Did you tell him you're from Cullman too?" and I replied that I did not talk to him, which was probably best for everyone. I get star-struck very easily and generally get a bad case of the stupids when I open my mouth around someone I admire. I still count this as a successful interaction since we were in the same room and I didn't embarrass myself!

Dinner was out of this world. I originally had planned to order the ribeye and Jeff was going to get the red snapper. We were both kind of playing it safe and I think, in the back of our minds, thinking that we didn't way to pay that much for a meal we might not enjoy. Once again it was Brian the waiter to the rescue because, after his descriptions I decided to step out of my comfort zone and order the lamb. I have eaten lamb before, but never like this. I tried a bite of some my brother had once, and then I had some once when I was in England. This was nothing like either of those experiences or any other experience I've ever had. It was absolutely mind blowing! It kind of killed me to even give up a single bite to Jeff! Jeff got the pork chop, and while it was quite tasty, it was nowhere near as amazing as my lamb. There wasn't much in the way of conversation over dinner because we were both too busy chewing.

We probably should have stopped there, but I couldn't help myself when the dessert menu was offered. We decided to share the sorbet because I was mostly curious about the muscadine sorbet. I was pretty darn disappointed when there was no muscadine sorbet! The blueberry was a little sour, but the raspberry was good and the blackberry was my favorite. Still, I probably wouldn't order that again.

Still, this definitely ranks as the best meal I've ever eaten. I'm very much looking forward to a return trip in the not-so-distant future!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

My Latest Visit to the Georgia Aquarium

I love aquariums and sea life as a whole. I can't point to anything in particular that fostered this in me but I have a feeling that, like most things in my life, it can be traced through a series of small, seemingly insignificant and unrelated events that got me here. Regardless of the reasons, I love watching marine life. I'm not interested as much in the biology of them except for the social, community, personality aspects of it. I've been to the Georgia Aquarium several times, so when we started planning a trip back to Atlanta, I knew that a return to the aquarium was in order!

I ordered our tickets ahead of time, including parking, so we were all set. We decided to go on Sunday on our way out of town so I got our tickets for first thing in the morning. We arrived right at 10am, so we got a great parking spot not far from the reserved member spaces. We took the covered walkway to the entrance and were able to hop through the "advance purchase" line and there was no waiting, even at security. We strolled right in and got down to business.

There seemed to be a lot more volunteers there today than there were the last time we were there. They were all very nice, but you could tell that a few had worked really hard to learn their little bit and darn it we were going to hear it whether we wanted to or not! The guy at the sea horses probably got on my nerves the most. He wasn't rude, but as soon as we walked up to the exhibit, he started telling us exactly where all the sea horses were located. To me, the game of hunting for the various creatures is half the fun so it kind of killed it when he had already told me where they were!

My all-time favorite exhibit has always been and probably always will be the Beluga Whales. I could sit and watch them for hours. The cool, darkened room with soft music and the beautiful glow coming from their tank is very comfortable to me, and the way they move so gracefully and yet playfully is simply mesmerizing to me. I caught Jeff laughing at me on more than one occasion because I had this look on my face like I was in a trance but I was so calm and peaceful and happy that I couldn't help myself! I also had a "first" when I got to see one of them blow a bubble ring several times. Apparently that is something they learned, but it was very cool. Going early to this exhibit was definitely a plus because it was easy to get a great view and enjoy the atmosphere. When we came back later it was much more noisy and crowded and hard to get a good spot to watch for long. One day I'd love to do the Beluga interaction program, but I don't see it happening anytime soon!

Another neat experience was going through the tunnel under the Ocean Voyager exhibit where they have the manta rays and whale sharks. I always see neat stuff, but this time was probably my favorite because at one point all four of the whale sharks were within view over our heads at the same time! I also saw a lot more of the manta rays than I normally do, including one doing flips (which I learned is how they eat!) The "big tank" is another place I could normally spend a lot of time, but this time there was a dive show happening. It was very cool to get to see all the divers, but the room was so crowded with people who wanted to see the show that we didn't stay long.

Something new for this trip was the Dolphin Tales show. Because this requires a separate timed ticket, I opted for the second show of the day. That way, just in case we got a slow start from the hotel that morning, we wouldn't miss it. I discovered that was a bad mistake on my part. We ended up being done with everything else and having to kill some time waiting for the show. We were told we had to arrive 30 minutes prior to show time to get in, and getting into the theater was an ordeal in itself. It was very disorganized without much structure to the lines to go up the escalator. Then, when you got up the stairs it was tight, hot, crowded, and confusing. I came very close to just leaving if I could have figured out how to get out of there! Finally we came to the actual entrance to the theater, which again was kind of chaotic and involved lots of line jumping, shoving, and rudeness. When we finally got to our seats we were relieved except that we had to wait another 20 minutes for the show to start. I saw the same commercials about different aquarium things I'd already seen several times and a few bits about the creation of the show but that got old very quickly.

The show itself was kind of disappointing. It definitely had more theatrics than most of the shows we'd seen at Sea World, but the "story" was beyond cheesy. There was an "audience participation" part which is not something I enjoy or appreciate simply because there's a reason we're not the ones on stage! Still, we got through that part of it. I am all about the animals doing tricks to music, but at the "climax" the dolphins were doing their thing while there was a lot of other action happening on "stage" and because there was more lighting on the people than the dolphins, the animals kind of got lost at that point. If I had wanted to see a play, I would have gone to the Fox! The "end" when all the dolphins really got to shine was really fabulous, I just wish the whole show had been like that! The trainers really did a wonderful job. There were a couple of points when one dolphin didn't want to do what the others were doing, but with a little encouragement and a treat the trainers didn't miss a beat and just went on to the next thing. The most disappointing moment to me was when about four dolphins and four trainers popped over the front edge of the pool for the perfect photo opportunity. Why was that a disappointment? Because no photography was allowed! I get no flash and I even get no video, but if you're going to say no photos, don't work in the perfect photo-op as a trick of the show!

I guess I'm glad I went to the show because I know what it is but I also know that I don't want to see it again unless it changes! Despite all that, we had a wonderful visit to the aquarium. I will definitely be back, especially to see Baby Beluga!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My First Trip to Ikea

I will admit, I never quite understood what all the fuss was about surrounding Ikea. I mean, I know it's supposed to be good inexpensive furniture and it's a big store. I have a friend who, when her son was three, he would rather spend a day there than the park or the zoo. I have looked at the website and while some of the stuff looks neat, most of it simply wasn't to my taste. Still, we have been on a home renovation kick lately and decided that since we'd be in the neighborhood it might be worth a little field trip.

I will admit that it probably wasn't the brightest decision to make our inaugural visit on a Saturday morning (along with everyone else in the world!) but it was what worked into our schedule. It was a bit overwhelming, especially since we weren't in search of something specific. I completely understand how people can spend all day there! I also understand why you would go when you don't need anything at all and how that can be insanely dangerous! Even though neither of us are really into "modern" design, we found tons of stuff we liked.

Once Jeff figured out "how it worked" he was in hog-heaven. He's all about DIY, speed, and efficiency when shopping, especially making larger purchases. It really did seem to be the best combination of lots of worlds to make both of us happy. Furniture (something we both enjoy), hardware and saving money(his things), with accessories and organization (my things) in one fabulously huge place with snacks. We will have to come back with a list, funding, and the big vehicle for sure! It was a serious blessing that we had none of those things this trip!

In spite of all that, we couldn't get out empty handed. I found a fabulous set of candle-holders I had seen at an altar design workshop and just had to have. I may need another set of them just to have more options. We also got two neat, low profile LED lights to be mounted on the top of our bookshelves in the den downstairs. Those were Jeff's "must have" and I agree they were perfect. I can't wait to get them installed. I found a mirror I really liked and a picture of Paris that both would have looked perfect in our guest room that we are in the process of renovating, but since we aren't to the "accessory" stage of the decorating I'll just have to wait a while longer and then make my case for going back!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Mimi's Cafe - Mall of Georgia

Recently Jeff and I decided to take a long weekend and head over to the Atlanta area to visit with some family, take care of some business, and do some sight-seeing. We booked a hotel room across the street from the Mall of Georgia, thinking we were a little closer to town than we were. In addition to some good-natured joking on both our parts, we got the unexpected bonus of discovering Mimi's Cafe around the outside of the mall. We generally try to avoid eating at places where we can eat at home when we travel, so this was a great discovery, especially given how close it was!

Our first visit was for a late dinner on Friday. We didn't get "lunch" until close to 4pm so we really weren't interested in dinner until almost 9. They weren't busy at all, which was great. The atmosphere was casual, but still really nice. It had a New Orleans vibe to it, but it was kind of elegant, not an over-the-top Mardi Gras feel. Our first challenge of the evening came when we were presented with THREE different menus! Two were sort of specials and one was the "regular" menu. Oh, the decisions to be made. Despite all my pickiness, I had no problem coming up with a TON of options that sounded very tasty. Even my not-at-all adventurous husband was considering things like crepes thanks to a few strategically placed photos!

First, we started with an order of the spinach dip. It was very tasty and a little different, although it was a little on the oily side (I assume from some of the cheeses used in it). Still, it was very good and we polished it off quickly. I was really excited about trying a cup of tomato-basil bisque and Jeff got a garden salad with ranch dressing. My soup was great, but SUPER hot. I couldn't even take a bite for a good five minutes! Once it finally cooled enough that I could try it, it was delicious. Jeff tried it and Mr. "I don't like tomato soup" kept trying to sneak "just one more taste" and took full advantage of the two or three tortilla chips we had left from our spinach dip! I thought it was especially tasty with the crusty roll in the bread basket. Jeff really enjoyed his salad as well as a piece of the carrot raisin loaf, also in the "standard" bread basket. There was a third element, a couple of sliced of lemon poppyseed bread. It wasn't too sweet, which was really nice.

For our entrees, we decided on the Chicken Cordon Blue and the Pot Roast with the understanding we would share. Both were served with "seasonal vegetables" (broccoli and carrots) and mashed potatoes with gravy, although the chicken cordon blue came with the gravy on the side while the pot roast came with gravy on top of the meat and potatoes. The mashed potatoes were just ok. They tasted packaged. They definitely needed the gravy, which doesn't impress me much. I can't say much about the broccoli and carrots. Jeff liked them enough to eat most of his, but they weren't especially impressive. The pot roast was super-tender. I didn't use my knife at all because it just fell apart. It was juicy, but didn't have much flavor on its own. Once again, the gravy was almost essential. Normally I'm not a huge fan of brown gravy, but I really liked this. The chicken cordon blue was probably my favorite item of the evening. It wasn't a "typical" cordon blue. Instead, it was two small crispy chicken breasts with ham and swiss sandwiched between them and topped with a fabulous dijon sauce. Super-duper tasty and well prepared. After all that we were quite full but still in the mood for something sweet. For me, the lemon poppyseed bread was perfect at that point in the meal.

The service on that first visit left something to be desired. I don't know what our waitress had against us but she seemed none to pleased to be serving us. I would chalk it up to the fact that it was late and near the end of her shift, but she didn't have the same bad attitude with the tables around us. We sat for a long time before she ever came to take our drink orders, she pretty much just dropped our plates when she brought us our food, and brought our check before we could even inquire about a dessert. I also heard her offer several other tables to-go drinks and didn't offer us one so I wasn't about to ask. Despite that, we couldn't wait to come back.

Our second visit came for lunch the next day. This time, we were joined by some of Jeff's extended family who live around there. Although they came to us and told us to pick where we'd like to eat, they were thrilled when we picked Mimi's because we were informed that was one of their favorite places. When they inquired if we'd ever eaten there before, we admitted that we'd been for dinner the night before but wanted to come back. We came for a late lunch at 1:30, but we figured that would work to our advantage and it did. We had plenty of time to visit and didn't feel rushed at all. We were there for a total of four hours (probably three inside and another just standing outside talking) and no kidding, our waitress went on a break after we were finished with our meal and we were still standing outside when she came back and she was so sweet joking with us that she'd save our table for us in the back so we could come back in for dinner in a little while longer! I do remember her name (Jojo) and she was wonderful!

I couldn't get the fabulous tomato soup out of my head, so that with a grilled cheese seemed like the perfect lunch. The fact that it was 102 degrees outside was totally irrelevant. My sandwich also came with a side choice, and I got the kettle chips. It wasn't quite as good as the fabulous grilled cheese I got from Merchant's in January, but it was still excellent. Jeff's aunt and uncle both got the balsamic spinach salad with soup (one the tomato, one the corn chowder) and his cousin got the chicken dijon, which looked absolutely divine, and a garden salad. Jeff had in his head that he wanted to try the chicken crepes but when it came time to order he wasn't really paying attention to what he was saying and ordered the chicken parmesan with a caesar salad. The salad was good, but he was definitely surprised when his entree arrived. Even though it wasn't what he thought he ordered, it looked and tasted amazing and he didn't leave anything!

So, sadly, Jeff still didn't get to taste his crepes. There are plenty of other things on the menu I'd like to try as well, like quiche or that chicken dijon. We did some necessary digging and found out that there is a Mimi's in Montgomery, which is the closest one to us. Now, that's still a little over an hour away, but much more do-able than Georgia! This was especially good news to Jeff's cousin who will be moving to Montgomery after she gets married in the spring. I forsee a trip south in our not-so-distant future!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

New Eyes

I've needed some sort of vision correction since the third grade. It wasn't really surprising to anyone. Both of my parents had bad eyesight.  I had a pretty dramatic shift somewhere between fifth and sixth grade. I usually got my eyes checked right before the start of school so I know everything was ok at the start of fifth grade. Somewhere around the end of school, I was coming to my mom in tears on more than one occasion begging her to take me back to the eye doctor because I couldn't see anymore. It took weeks to be able to get me an appointment (which still irritates me to no end, now that I think about it!) and apparently my prescription had doubled in the 8 or 9 months between the two appointments and it was recommended that I get contacts. It took some getting used to, but once I did I loved my contacts because they really did help me to see better than my glasses did. I especially loved it when I got a new kind around my senior year of high school and was told I could sleep in them! I could wake up and see! What a novel concept!

Fast forward to the summer after my first year of college. In my math class, I realized that sitting in the back of the room the board was a little fuzzy. I was used to seeing everything on projector screens (thank you technology) so having to focus on dry erase marker on white board was a shift. I knew I probably needed to go back to the eye doctor. I called to get an appointment but again it would have been weeks (like at least six!) and there were no appointments to be had that fit with my class schedule. I figured it wasn't that bad and I'd get around to it later.

Well, now that it's been probably 9 years, I finally got around to it. Yes, I have noticed my eyes getting even worse. Don't ask me how I managed to make my stash of disposable contacts last this long, but I know it involved my parents ordering me more from my doctor with my old prescription which was better than nothing, finding random contacts (both in their original packaging and in my contact cases) in old make up bags and purses, going almost a year without wearing them and relying on my old glasses, and at times only wearing one contact.

After far too long, I finally got around to getting my eyes checked. It was a little embarrassing and I did get "the look" at least once when he gave me new "sample" contacts to wear home since I wasn't even legal to drive with my old prescription (which I kind of figured, but oh well!) My eyes have gotten pretty dramatically worse to where my contacts are now deemed "medically necessary" and my glasses are so thick they HAVE to be special, thinner lenses to fit in the frames. There was definitely some frustration when, after a phone call to my insurance I (and the eye doctor) was told that they don't cover any extra, it'll still only cover part of my glasses OR 1/3 of my contacts. Grrr. Oh well. I've got to have them both! Thankfully, my benefit year starts over in a few more weeks so I'm technically getting the glasses in "this year" and my contacts in "next year." Still, I can see so much better now and I'm kind of excited about my new glasses because I think they'll be kind of cute.

In the midst of my appointment I asked and was told that I'm pretty much guaranteed not to be a candidate for LASIK, which I already knew but asked anyway. However, I did learn about something I never knew existed - implantable contacts! It's actually similar to cataract surgery and while it's a slightly bigger deal than LASIK, it's something I would actually consider. I'll have to wait at least 6 months to a year to see if I would qualify and make sure I've finally stabilized enough to make it worth doing, but it's definitely on my mind. The only down side is that insurance doesn't cover it. I don't even think they offer a discount (like they did on Jeff's LASIK) so it would be entirely out of pocket. Still, considering it'd last forever and how much I'm going to be paying for glasses and contacts otherwise, it seems like a wise investment! Stay tuned!

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Liebster Award

Mary Beth over at Life with the Alstons gave me a Liebster Award while I was at the Academy for Spiritual Formation. Since my internet was spotty at best and I really was trying to un-plug for the week, I didn't do anything with it right away. It kind of got lost in the shuffle of getting back, work, marriage, my birthday, and other parts of life. But I didn't forget about it, I swear! So I am finally sitting down to work on this!

Liebster is a German word and it means, sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing and welcome. The award is given to followers with less than 200 followers.

So first, 11 random facts about myself...
  • I participated in an HIV vaccine study to confront my fear of needles. 
  • I've completed 2 half marathons
  • I snore. Lots and loudly. My husband actually slept in the guest room for the first few months we were married until he got used to it!
  • I hope to visit all 50 states in my lifetime.
  • I don't like most vegetables
  • I have one brother who is 25 months younger than I am
  • I am a strong introvert who needs some time alone every day.
  • I would be a student for the rest of my life if I could!
  • I am OCD about stuff matching and have been pretty much all my life
  • I always need a pen and piece of paper close by
  • My favorite colors are pink, teal, and yellow

Now, for Mary Beth's questions...

What is your favorite TV show? Top Chef or Big Bang Theory
What is your favorite place to vacation? The spa deck of the Carnival Dream
If you had $1 million to give away, what would you do with it? Some would go to the Children's Hospital, a nice chunk would go to pay for scholarships at Vanderbilt Divinity School, some to the Crisis Center and Rape Response, and the rest to the United Methodist Children's Home.
What is the first concert you went to? I think it was maybe Third Day, I don't really remember.
What is your biggest pet peeve? People who curse excessively or who are simply mean and rude
What are you afraid of? Hurting the people I love or getting in a car accident
Is there something you could not live without? If so, what? My contacts or glasses - I'm blind as a bat without them!
If you could meet anyone, who would it be? I am honestly not sure. 
What is your dream car? To be perfectly honest, I'm very happy with my little Mazda3 5-door
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? England or Nashville 
What is your favorite olympic sport? Gymnastics or Diving

Now I get to nominate folks for this lovely award! Clearly, I need more bloggy friends! Still, I love the ones I've got.

Jacklynn at The Mama Mama

And last but not least, my questions!
  1. What is something you wish you got to do more often?
  2. What is your favorite color(s)?
  3. Do you have a cause or charity that is close to your heart? What and why?
  4. What would be your perfect meal - food, setting, company, etc.?
  5. What is something you loved doing once but never want to do again?
  6. Do you have any hidden talents?
  7. If you could be remembered for only one thing, what would you hope that thing would be?
  8. Are you ready for summer to be over?
  9. Do you have a favorite scent? If so, what?
  10. What is your favorite nickname and why?
  11. What is your favorite book or author?
Rules for the Liebster Award are as follows: 
(1) Post 11 things about yourself, (2) Answer the questions that your nominating blogger has set for you and then create 11 questions for your nominees, (3) choose up to 11 blogs to nominate and link them in your post, (4) go to their respective blogs and let them know, and (5) no tag backs!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Week 83 - A Premature End

It is after much thoughtful consideration that I have decided to end my 101 projects list early. Many of the items on my list got done. Some didn't. Some may still happen within the time frame I originally set. Some I could have done, some I couldn't have changed. If some things still happen that's fine and if they don't, that's ok too. The whole experience was an interesting one and it taught me a lot.

The biggest thing it taught me was that #1 you can't plan everything and #2 you can't will everything to happen your way and #3 life and priorities can change a lot in two years and that's ok if I am willing to change with them.

I honestly wasn't expecting existential life lessons to come from this challenge, but on some level the possibility of being open to those kinds of lessons is part of what I learned through this process, too. If not directly a result, it's a great example of how my life and I have changed over the past 101 weeks.

Don't get me wrong. I'm still a planner and scheduler and organizer. I still like to be in control and I like to be able to make things happen and cross things off a list. But I am learning to go with it when life changes. I am learning that I am not a failure as a human being when I am flexible and open to what the world might have to offer me rather than being so focused on what I can provide. In fact, I am able to live more fully and enjoy the beauty of life when I can truly embrace what it means to be in relationship rather than in isolation.

I have started some new projects and those are going to take priority for a while. I liked the idea of the list but I got to a point that I just plain didn't care about it anymore, and if I'm not doing it for myself, it's really not worth doing. I don't make any money from this blog (nor do I really expect to!) so I am not in a position to do stuff just to have material to write about. I may start another, smaller list next year, but for now I'm just going to live in the moment and enjoy all the things happening in, with, and through me!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Academy for Spiritual Formation #34

I attended my first session of the Academy for Spiritual Formation this past week and I have got to say that was probably the most powerful week of my life so far. I made some amazing new friends and I am incredibly blessed to have them for traveling companions for the next two years. I had my passion for learning rekindled thanks to our amazing faculty and I'm definitely grieving the fact that they will not be continuing on this journey with us but I am at the same time excited to see what else we will see and do and learn.

I think the most amazing and powerful experience was simply the schedule we followed, which was based on the benedictine model of life. We began each day in silence which was broken during our morning prayer service. After the service we had breakfast and then our first faculty presentation. That presentation was followed by another hour of silence for meditation and reflection. At the end of that hour we had a plenary session for asking questions and discussing some of our thoughts/experiences. After that we had some "community time" for various announcements and the occasional other presentation, and then lunch. After lunch we had some free time (during which I generally honored the Sumatanga tradition of "flat time" and took a nap!) After that we had another faculty presentation, another hour of silence, and another plenary session. Following that session we had an evening Eucharist service and then dinner. After dinner we usually had a little more free time (if we didn't get caught up in conversations at dinner!) and then would meet in our covenant groups. After covenant group time we would come back together as a whole community for evening prayers. At the end of evening prayers we would observe the "great silence" until the next morning.

In case you're keeping track, that was 12 hours a day of silence. A good portion of that time was spent sleeping, but it was literally half of our day. I loved it. I learned a lot during that time, not least of which was about myself!

So now I'm home with my bed and my husband and my dogs. It's great to be home, but it doesn't feel exactly "right". As I write this, it's closing in on 1 am and I'm wide awake. That could be due in part to the large amount of caffeinated soda I had tonight (which has been a much less prominent feature in my life during the last week!) or the sugar-filled milk shake I had for dessert. But a part of me feels that the thing I'm missing in being able to settle myself is the service of night prayers and the silence and solitude.

I wasn't completely isolated during this week. No, I didn't have cell phone signal but I did have internet access to check e-mail. I used my iPad every day to take notes and read books. I had technology accessible to me. But the change of pace was really nice. I'm sure after another day or two I'll settle back into life here and things will feel more "normal" here. But I kind of like this discomfort and what it may prod me to do.

Part of this was also the making of a personal covenant for disciplines we will practice. This is my covenant:
Exercise 3 times a week
Read scripture, pray/meditate, and journal every day
Observe 20-30 minutes of silence each day, apart from the previous task, to simply "be" rather than "do!"
Participate in worship (without a leadership role) at least twice a month
Fast from technology for 24 hours each week - computer, internet, e-mail, TV, and phone. This may not always be the same 24 hours depending on my work schedule, but I will do 24 hours a week!

I'm hoping that my readers will be able to help keep me accountable to this, but also know that I will probably do some of my journaling/processing on here and I can't promise it will always make sense, but if nothing else it may be somewhat comical!

I'm already so excited about this journey and the places where the road will lead next.

Monday, July 30, 2012

As my Season of Sabbath Continues

It's hard to believe that it has been eight weeks since my Season of Sabbath began. In some ways it seems like it has been much longer. In other ways it seems like it has only begun.

I have only visited a church once, but it was enjoyable for the most part. I observed worship at the hospital one day and led it another. I also went to church with other camp folks while there. It was a different experience that I honestly don't know how to describe. I have been to camp for two weeks and been reminded of what being in ministry really means.

In the midst of this, I have also waited and watched and then celebrated with the announcement of our new bishop! The North Alabama Conference is getting their first female bishop, which is exciting. What is even more exciting to me is that she has studied the things I want to study and has an appreciation for and value of the various forms that ministry and ordination can take in the United Methodist Church. This is a perspective that has been much less prevalent around here in recent time.

In the wake of this, I am now headed into a new adventure. Tomorrow, I will head back to Camp Sumatanga, but this time to participate in the Academy for Spiritual Formation. I'm both nervous and excited about this new adventure, but I know that no matter what this is going to be an amazing experience! I'll spend most of today finishing my packing and preparing and doing a little extra reading and allowing myself to absorb this new experience.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Why I Don't Do Boycotts

This whole thing with Chik-fil-a is a little out of control. I pretty much ignored it at first, but now it seems like it's become a social media war and it's all about picking sides. It makes me angry and sad.

Recently, a friend of mine shared this article - "In Defense of Eating at Chick-fil-a" and the thing that really caught my attention was the sentence over the picture. Make sure you look at it. It really got me thinking and the bottom line is that if I only agreed to purchase from businesses and people who thought exactly like I did I would be in trouble because I wouldn't have anything or any ways of acquiring anything! It's a fact of life - nobody is exactly alike. Nobody acts or thinks exactly the same way I do. It's what makes the world a rich and interesting place!

When I was at Vanderbilt I went on a trip to Arizona and Mexico to look at immigration and some of the issues that are tied up with that. It brought some things to my attention I never would have considered. While we were in Mexico we heard stories about the rotten policies and conditions in factories just south of the border. And the truth is, it was pretty rotten. And the response of all of us high-and-mighty Vanderbilt students who could afford advanced degrees and flying across the country and beyond for a "cultural experience" was that we should boycott these companies and products in support of the workers. But the former worker who was telling us about these horrible things even told us that a boycott wasn't the answer because it wasn't going to actually accomplish anything other than making us feel superior.

The same is true here. No matter what side you land on, the only thing that choosing a side accomplishes is making you feel superior and "othering" someone else. It doesn't facilitate dialogue. It doesn't promote peace or understanding. Rather than choosing sides, I'd rather focus on loving my friends and family - those that are gay, straight, conservative, liberal, Christian, non-Christian, and everything in between!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Week 81

Time to check in with my 101 things list.

22 - Vacation with my side - We're finally doing some planning. We won't get to go until next spring/summer but at least it looks like it is finally going to happen!
26 - Read 3 classic novels - Does Harry Potter count? I finally finished book 5 and am about halfway done with book 6. That's really the only reading I care about doing right now.
38 - No Fried Food - I've sort of done this because, as I previously stated, except for chips I didn't have any fried food while at camp and since I was there for two weeks, I can pretty much count this as done.
47 - New Sheets - I'll probably do this for my birthday in a few weeks. Exciting, I know.
49 - Bake a cake - COMPLETED - I made a chocolate pound cake and took it to camp to share with two of my all-time favorite nurses. They were nice enough to share a piece with me. It was a little under-done, but personally that's exactly how I like it.
61 - New Madame Alexander Doll - Another birthday option.

Not terribly exciting, but it's my life right now. Consider yourself updated!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Camp Sumatanga 2012

This summer, I got to go back to one of my favorite places in the world - Camp Sumatanga. I was an Assistant Director (AD) for Elementary 2 and Junior High 4. Our theme for this year was "Just Add Water" and it was awesome. I'm not going to lie - I like the comfort and convenience of staying in the lodge at Elementary camp. However, I love the worship/programs and food at Junior High. I met some amazing people and made some great new friends. I got to spend some great quality time with old friends, as well. I got a new, glittered, name tag. I learned some new songs and experienced communion in a new way.

The food was pretty terrible at elementary camp but it was much better at junior high. I got eaten up with bug bites at junior high, got my first ever rock-bite and a small patch of poison something-or-other. I also forgot some things and I'll have to make an unplanned trip back up there to get them if a friend can't grab them for me.

All things considered it's been a great summer and I'm already getting excited about next year!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Week 78

Remember my 101 things list? Yeah, sometimes I forget about it, too. Fortunately I've finally got some updating to do!

19. Prayer journal - I'm still working on this but it hasn't been as consistent as I had thought it might be. Still, I'm enjoying it.
20. Marker for Jeff's dad's grave - We're going over sometime in the next month or so to actually get the ball rolling on this. It'll be nice to go visit.
38. No fried food for two weeks - I still have very little motivation to do this, but the best chance for me is going to be at camp (because, except for chips, we really don't eat a ton of fried food) and I'm learning that eating a lot of fried food after coming home is not a good idea. We'll see what happens.
42. Jeff's surprise trip - COMPLETED - We had a blast in Vicksburg and I'm honestly still surprised I pulled it off!
47. Good sheets - I already got one set and I need one more. We got new a new comforter, shams, and bedskirt so I'll probably get the sheets soon!
49. Bake a cake - I'm going to do this before I go back to camp!
81. Be a counselor - COMPLETED - I had a great time at Elementary camp and can't wait to go back for Junior High!
89. Bake bread - this one will probably happen before going back to camp, too!
101. Make jam - I may do this to go with the bread!

So there you have it. It's not a ton, but it's something. At least I'm still attempting to pay attention sometimes!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

My New Favorite Travel Accessory

Recently I saw a giveaway on another blog for one of these fabulous travel pillows. I didn't win the giveaway, but I decided I really needed one. I'm generally a very cranky traveler and am always looking for ways to make myself more comfortable. I hate taking a big pillow because I'm not one of those folks that can only sleep on my own pillow and it's just one more thing to keep up with, but I like the idea of a travel pillow. Those squishy beads and those u-shaped things just don't cut it for me, so I thought this might be just the solution. After about two days of debate, I decided I wanted this one that said "Dream Big." It's flowery and has pink on it. Yup, it's perfect for me!

I was super-excited when it came, but of course my loving husband decided to tease me about it and how it looked kind of goofy. Yeah, the teasing lasted all of 24 hours when I came downstairs and found him napping in the recliner all curled up on my pillow! The worst part was that he wouldn't give it back! I'm going to have to get him his own! It really is very comfy. It's firm so it gives you some good support and will last, but it isn't like propping on a rock. I like that I can tuck my shoulder into the corner because I'm a side sleeper (especially on my right) so it feels very natural to me! I also like that the long part gives me something to hug on and a place to put my arms.

If you're planning any vacations in the near future (summer or otherwise) I would recommend you get one of these, especially if you will be driving! There are baby/kid sizes also for your littlest travelers. Most have a strap so it can be attached to your seatbelt. Mine didn't  have that, which suits me just fine because that means it's comfy for sleeping on either side. The pillowcase comes off so it can be tossed in the washer. The only thing I wish was different is that there's no "water resistant' covering to keep my inevitable spilled Dr. Pepper from seeping in, but I may go get some waterproofer that I can put on the pillow part. So far nothing has happened to it, but I know myself well enough to know it's only a matter of time!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Jeff's Post-Anniversary Surprise

When I made my 101 things list, one thing I added was taking Jeff on a surprise trip. I'm not great at surprises and secrets. I tried to do this for his birthday but my cover was blown. Thankfully, he didn't say anything until after the fact, but it did make it that much harder.

 For several months now, he has been talking about wanting to go visit Vicksburg, MS. He has been once when he was younger but said that family trip left a lot to be desired. I have never been. I knew we were probably going to do this at some point this year, but when I saw a great deal on Groupon, I couldn't pass it up. Originally I had planned to wait a little while longer, but since I'm not good with secrets and was out of good ideas for his anniversary gift, I figured I'd make this work.

The actual surprise part involved a fair amount of sneaking around on my part and putting some things off to the last minute, but I sucked it up and did it. The biggest challenge was getting him into the car! Originally I had planned to kidnap him from work at lunch time, but since he is no longer on overtime and had taken off work the past two Fridays, I decided not to push it. Instead, we agreed to grab an early dinner when he got home from work. As soon as he got home, I was already waiting for him with the suitcase hidden in my car and the dogs all squared away. After he changed clothes, we headed out and I decided not to say anything and see how long it took for him to ask questions.

We got about halfway to the interstate when he started to name all the places we WEREN'T going for dinner. Then he started guessing sort of ridiculous places (like the concession stand at the local water park) but finally I decided to tell him. Since I was still driving, I had him reach into the back seat and retrieve the bag I had stashed with some candy, a Mississippi map, and a book about Civil War road trips. I had a printout of our groupon tucked into the book at the page about Vicksburg. We stopped in Meridian for dinner and I let him drive the rest of the way. We got to the hotel and checked in. As soon as we got to our room, his first comment was "Let's hurry and catch the shuttle to the casino." We played a few slots and had a snack before heading back to the room.

Saturday, we headed out to the Military Park. We stopped for breakfast on the way out there and spent the better part of the day out at the park. When we got done, we headed out to cemetery in search of the marker for "Old Douglas," the Confederate Camel. We didn't find it, it started raining, and there were lots of people driving 90 miles an hour on lawn mowers right where we were, so we decided it wasn't worth continuing the hunt. After that, we drove around downtown and stopped at a little museum and soda fountain that was the home of the first Coca-Cola bottling operations. After that, we headed back to the hotel and watched a little bit of a movie that was on TV before we went over to the buffet at the casino for dinner. The buffet was generally disappointing, and if we'd had to pay full price for it, I would have been peeved. Even with our groupon credit it was kind of disappointing. I honestly prefer Golden Corral. Oh well, we'll know for next time! After dinner we lost the last of our casino credit on a slot machine, and then headed back to the room. We watched another movie, then went to bed.

We had thought about doing a little more sight-seeing but it was rainy and we decided to just take the long way out of town instead. We stopped outside Jackson for a late breakfast/early lunch at Cracker Barrel. I honestly can't remember the last time I went to a Cracker Barrel on a Sunday but it was really nice since we got there before the after church crowd started swarming. We got home around 3pm and enjoyed a lazy afternoon at home with the dogs.

It was a wonderful weekend and I can't wait to have another one! We saw most of his family last night and most of them knew about it or heard about it, and a few people said something to Jeff about "next time tell us when you're doing something like that!" and Jeff very honestly replied "I didn't know what we were doing until we were part of the way there!" That made me feel good and made me want to do more things like that in the future!