Summer Favorites

Summer's not quite over, but since I haven't done monthly recaps in awhile, I thought I'd smush them all together with some highlights from the season so far.

We headed to Chicago (my first time there!) in early June for the wedding of my dear childhood friend, and had a great time. Our host, my friend Allison, is a Chi-town native, and it was great to go exploring with her in both the city and the suburbs. We hit up the Lincoln Park Zoo, stood on the shores of Lake Michigan, chowed down on delicious Italian beef sandwiches and chocolate shakes at Portillo's, and explored historic Oak Park/River Forest outside the city. The wedding festivities took us to Hyde Park, the Garfield Park Conservatory (where the ceremony and reception took place--gorgeous!), and a delicious brunch at the Promonotory. We capped off the trip with a visit with Sean's cousins, which included a beautiful skyline architecture tour on Lake Michigan, sailing on the Tall Ship Windy from Navy Pier, the Rolling Stones exhibit "Exhibitionism," and deep dish pizza. Plus, of course, we had to go see The Bean. 

We have a niece! So excited to be elevated to aunt and uncle status and to watch her grow up in the months and years to come.

On Thursdays at work recently, we staffers get giddy: it's Potluck Day, Potluck Day is here! The best thing is that they show up weekly during the summer, we learn how talented our co-workers are in the kitchen, and we end up trying all sorts of delicious dishes, from Indian to Italian, and good old-fashioned sandwiches and salads. Not to mention the time for fellowship!

We've had a number of opportunities to spend time with family this summer--an extended reunion with my dad's side, and several cousin visits from Sean's side to meet the aforementioned new niece. Such a gift to catch up, laugh, reminisce, and greet new chapters with those most important to us.

Speaking of important people, one of my dearest high school teachers and her family are moving out West (watch out for Melissa King Rogers, California poetry scene!). She's taught at our school for 18 years, so a few of us collaborated on a farewell party (thank goodness for social media in this respect) and ultimately folks from the classes of 2002 through 2016 showed up to offer love and thanks. The best moments came when we circled up and introduced ourselves, and were able to express what Dr. KR has meant to us, not only in our high school days but in our whole lives. It was such a meaningful evening and I'm grateful we got to show her how much she's given us. 

I have some sweet new head shots up on the site, and that's all thanks to my friend Kristen. We had a great time traipsing around one Sunday afternoon with the camera, and I didn't feel too crazy awkward pretending to be a model. It's pretty fun every now and then!

Our women's small group at church has gotten together several times this summer for apps, drinks, and conversation that ranges from serious to tears of laughter. Grateful to share life with these strong and fun-loving ladies.

This has been a rain-filled season, and living in Georgia where drought is common, I've savored every pour and storm that has swept through our skies and drenched our city.

July took me to the Writing for Your Life conference at Belmont University in Nashville, which I touched on last week--it really did help reset my writing habits and introduced me to some great people, both speakers and fellow attendees. 

Ending on a superficial but oh-so-guilty-pleasure note: Guys, Game of Thrones is back!! We only had to wait 460something days. Don't get me wrong, I push my glasses FAR down my nose to blur pretty much any time Cersei's in a room with one of her enemies (not to mention the battle scenes), but we have become so connected to these characters (er, the ones that are still alive), and I can't wait to see how it goes down. Also, as a pop culture fanatic, I love reading all of the episode recaps and watching reaction videos. Have y'all checked out Game of Thrones at the Burlington Bar or the Twitter recaps on fan site Watchers on the Wall? SO GOOD.

Jeez. It's August already, and I'd love to know: What's sweetened your summer season?

P.S. I also bit the bullet and launched my professional writer Facebook page. Not gonna lie, a little intimidating, but I'm also excited about it. Thumbs up?

The Four R's.

Last week, I attended a writing conference in Nashville. It was the refresh I needed, the different setting, the pretty gazebos (at Belmont University), the bagel place, the reminder that I can drive 500 miles by myself (even loopy mountain ups and downs) and sing along to CDs (yes I still have those) whose lyrics I have on autopilot (Newsies, anyone?).

It was the re-connection I wanted with friends from college, the mesmerizing surreality that I've known them all for 11 years and now they are stalwart and settled and successful, and some have not-so-little ones running around, and yet in more ways than one they are the same people whose hands I first shook more than a decade ago. Their voices hearken me back to those college days that were fast and fizzy in the moment, but now I just look back on them as languid and easily full. Their voices have carried me through the intervening years, and so we come back together on different planes, and yet, still the same. 

It was the reminder I needed, that I am a writer, no matter how much I doubt myself, that I have a story to tell and the gift of words to tell it. The reminder that it does take hard work, and devoted time, and it's not going to get done (draft 1, 2, 3, 4 and on and on) by itself. I need to show up, butt in chair, shitty first draft, we can all quote Anne Lamott in our sleep, but I needed that reminder. If I put in the work and stay present, and write my way out of any slumps that knock me sideways, then I can one day (one day!) wind up with the ripe passel of words that has been stirring inside me to tell the world. It's so funny that sometimes you can see that passel as a vision, an idea, a concept in your head more than you can easily put it down on paper. (Why is the action the hardest thing?) Sometimes I feel like I can see the outline of a circle but I can't get close enough to what's inside. But ultimately, I'm reminded, there is no other way. You're not going to write the book in a day, they reminded me. But by doing the work every day, you will slowly write the book.

And finally, it was the reaffirmation I hoped for, to meet and connect with others who do this hard work too--who feel they have no choice but this calling. To share my hopes and plans with them, and to hear their stories and inspirations in return, and realize that we're all in the same boat. The same excitement, search for discipline, the same worries and devotion. It was a pleasure to be in such company, and of all ages, too. In this instance, it was also a gathering of fellow writers whose wide variety of experiences fall under the umbrella of faith in a man called Jesus, a storyteller who described his love for the world in small, rich details he hoped we'd understand (I'm always so grateful to Rachel Held Evans for first pointing that out to me).

Because the small, rich details build up the full, wide picture that reminds us of all that we share as human beings (news flash: it's a lot).

And I felt all of that as I looped and sang my way back down the mountain towards my love and daily life--refreshed, reconnected, reminded, reaffirmed.

Giving Up

For years, I refused to give up chocolate for Lent like my dad does every year. (The closest I came was giving up Pillsbury break n' bake chocolate chip cookies in 10th grade--a weekly occurrence that then became nonexistent, probably a good thing overall.) I knew I wouldn't be doing it for a really spiritual reason, but a health-related one, and that was a good excuse to not do it at all (how clever!). But junior year of college, with the temptation of regular dining hall desserts in full reach, I decided to dive in and give up chocolate. I'm not sure what sparked it, exactly; maybe I was more sure of myself after spending a semester abroad, maybe I knew what I was capable of in terms of... discipline? Big picture time and perspective? Who knows. Anyway, I didn't tell anyone for the first few days after Ash Wednesday, just in case I decided to back out. But I followed through, until midnight on Easter Sunday, when Dad made a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

This year, I decided to give up all desserts and sweets for the first time. I knew that at this point in life I can't go full Whole 30 or paleo--don't want to, really, plus I didn't want to hold myself to something that I logistically and practically cannot achieve right now. But even though sugar is in everything these days, I knew that could at least control my sweets intake. My work environment is full of folks who I affectionately refer to as "food pushers," and sweets pushers in particular. We are big on potlucks, birthday cake, and frequent leftovers from catered meetings or events. It's fantastic, don't get me wrong, but I felt like I needed a reset. So after lunch on February 28, I bought myself a massive chocolate cupcake (pictured above), polished it off, and said farewell not only to chocolate, but to any and all dessert.

So what have I learned?

Even though I went into this "giving up" mode without as much of a spiritual bent (primarily health-driven), I feel like I have been enriched spiritually and otherwise by simply realizing that I can say no. That I have control. I can attend a birthday party at work without eating cake. I can go to a meeting without grabbing a cookie, I can sit across from someone savoring a sumptuous restaurant dessert. And though sometimes friends have tried to make me feel "better" by not eating sweets in front of me, I've felt a lot less bothered or irked than I thought I might, and always encourage them to enjoy what they're eating. Does it look good? Yes. Do I want it? Kind of. Do I have to have it? No. 

If that paragraph sounds super angelic and perfect, of course I've still had sugar in my diet--bread, condiments, what have you. One night in lieu of dessert (when everyone else was ordering it), I went for cornbread and lemon butter, which definitely involved le sucre. I've found myself looking at nutrition labels more frequently, picking salad dressings with very limited sugar, getting hooked on Triscuits (0 grams of sugar), treating an orange or blackberries as dessert, being more aware of how many veggies I eat. And I've noticed how much I love (and rely on?) cheese and other savory items that can also be bad in excess. So maybe that's a goal for another Lent. But, in the meantime:

I can say no. I can hold back and be aware of what I need or don't need in that moment. It's possible, I've proven it to myself more than I ever have before, and that feels good.

Now: What the heck do I do come Easter Sunday?

Part of me wants to keep going. I'm on such a good streak! I know it can be problematic to put "good" and "bad" labels on eating, but I really do feel good about achieving this and knowing that I'm probably healthier for doing so. Plus, I'm mostly used to it now--why go back?

And yet, I chose Lent as my time to lessen my sugar intake partly because it's a set period of time. Forty-seven days (I count the Sundays). I didn't want to attempt it on January 1 because then there's no sense of when it might end and it's harder to say no when you're in charge of when it ends. I don't want to live a life completely without the dessert menu. But I'm also afraid--if I can use that word very, very lightly here--that once I take one bite of whatever sweetness next crosses my path, I'm going to backslide. Hard.

Maybe that's the in-between of Lent and Easter, temptation and giving in, despair and hope, dust and sky, death and life. Bitter and sweet? Finding that balance. Sometimes it tips one way for a bit. But I think the most important lesson I've learned is that I can be proactive in tipping it back towards even-keel.