Tag Archives: new year

2012: Baseball, Home Decor, Solitude

These year-in-review posts might just be the most consistent thing I’ve ever done on this blog, or any of my blogs, for that matter. This will be my third one!

There are certain parts of my life that are starting to seem a little broken recordy, especially when it comes to the impressive number of ex-boyfriends I’m collecting, as if they’re vintage vinyls (cue wah-wah sound). However, it’s less fun to focus on my hardships, and since I beat myself up about those all the time in private anyway, I’d rather use public settings to focus on the positive parts of my life and personal achievements. Oh, and guess what? This edition – for the first time ever – has pictures!

So, even though 2012 included some pretty icky stuff, these are, in chronological order, the ten things I want to remember about last year:

1) Brad Paisley Concert
In January last year, I went with a friend to my first Brad Paisley concert. Brad Paisley is probably in my top five favorite country music artists. His songs are either really touching or really hilarious. He’s a fantastic songwriter, and his guitar skills are legendary, and I’ve heard he’s an even more quality guy. So Toni and I went down to Kansas City’s Sprint Center (which I always accidentally call the Ford Center first, which is Oklahoma City’s event hall) and saw him perform live. The show was everything I would’ve expected and more from BP. It was truly incredible watching him play guitar, and I don’t even know the half of it, I’m sure, not being a guitarist myself. The other reason this makes the list is that live music isn’t really my thing, unless I’m very familiar with the artist. So the mere fact that I express interest in going to live shows is memorable in and of itself, even if I never actually make it to the show. But I did make it to this show, and it was great.

2) Lady Antebellum Concert
So, of course it follows that my next fond memory is another country music show. Lady Antebellum is not just in my top five favorite country artists. They are the favorite. They came to Kansas City in the summer of 2010, and I hinted strongly to the boyfriend I had at the time that I’d love to be surprised with tickets to their show, but he didn’t pick up on that. (Never mind that I went all the way to Nebraska with him to see Dave Matthews – whom I hate. I guess that just proves who was the better partner in that relationship! Okay, kidding. Kinda.) Anyway, this time I decided that I would just go see Lady A myself, boyfriend or no boyfriend. And that’s what I did. Another of my favorites, Thompson Square, opened for them, although they are still pretty new to stage performing, and they didn’t do that great a job. But Lady Antebellum did not disappoint in the least. I opened 2012 with a whirlwind of live shows (yes, all two of them) and then didn’t go to any others all year long!

3) Individual Counseling
In May last year, I started going to some individual counseling sessions at the recommendation of a trusted friend. The whole endeavor made things tighter-than-tight for my budget, but I managed to fund it all the way into October, and when I told my counselor I needed to quit, she said I had achieved all the goals I set at the beginning anyway, so she felt comfortable releasing me. This was the first time I had ever gone to counseling as an individual (I have had some limited experience with couples’ counseling), and I was not prepared for how helpful and insightful it would turn out to be. I learned quite a lot about myself in those sessions with Vanessa, and if I could afford to keep up the weekly meetings, I definitely would still be going. I hope that sometime in the future my finances will allow me to start going again.

For the last 2+ years now, I’ve been a huge proponent of couples’ counseling for everyone, whether married, engaged, or seriously dating, but especially for married couples. I think it’s a mistake for couples to go to premarital counseling for eight weeks before the wedding and then quit, like that fixes everything. I think couples who find their first year of marriage difficult would discover it to be much, much easier if they went to counseling together. However, let me trade that soapbox for a different one: individual counseling. I am now a huge advocate of individual counseling in addition to couples’ counseling. I’m so glad the stigma around therapy and counseling has dissolved. There is absolutely nothing wrong with making every effort you possibly can to grow and become the best person you can be. You will discover things about yourself, your emotions, and your worldview that you had no idea were in there, and it will be so worth it. I promise.

4) Road Trip to Mississippi
Over Memorial Day weekend, I drove down to Oxford, Mississippi, famed literary town, to visit a friend and see all the literary sights. This was the longest I had ever been in a car by myself, and I thought I was going to be so bored on the drives to and from. But what I discovered was that I quite like my own company! I also discovered I quite like Oxford, and it was fun seeing my old college friend Amy again after several years. There were a couple of things that put a damper on the trip itself, the main one being my severe lack of knowledge about the copious number of authors who make or have made their homes there, William Faulkner, of course, being the most notable. I did listen to a collection of John Grisham stories on the drive down to prepare myself for the mood and southern culture. Amy was sure to take me to all the good places, including the Square (which holds the famed Square Books), Rowan Oak (Faulkner’s home), The University of Mississippi, and Faulkner’s grave, where we paid midnight homage to the author via the reading of a pericope from Absalom, Absalom! and the pouring of some Jack Daniels on his grave (to pacify the known alcoholic for intruding upon his peace at such a late hour, I guess; who knows). If only the moon had been full. It would’ve been so gothic and creepy.

See the liquor? That wasn't what we brought; they were there already.

See the liquor? That wasn’t what we brought; those were there already.

5) ROYALS BASEBALL
The only reason this one is all the way down at number 5 is that I made myself order the list chronologically. Otherwise it would be #1. It would also be #2-10 if I weren’t constrained by my other rule, which is: List different things. Seriously, though. Most of you know I got super into baseball last year for the first time ever, and since I live in Kansas City, the team I became a super fan of was the Royals. My transition to baseball obsession happened almost overnight and surprised pretty much everyone I know, including myself. But I went with it and spent the months from April to October attending somewhere between 20 and 22 games (I can’t seem to get an accurate count from my calendar) and learning more about the sport itself than I’ve ever learned from six months of consecutive study of grammar. But of course, that’s because I was born knowing everything I know about grammar. But, sudden or not, everyone I know accepts me as a baseball fan now, and I’m counting down the days until the season starts again (literally: 4 days until Royals FanFest; 27 days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training; 30 days until the full squad reports to spring training; 76 days until the first game of the season; 83 days until the home opener at Kauffman Stadium). How excited am I? THIS excited:

That's right. I'm Jeff-Francoeur's-crazy-eyes amounts of excited.

That’s right. I’m Jeff-Francoeur’s-crazy-eyes level of excited.

6) Custom Fireplace Bookcase
The number of DIY home projects I did when I bought and moved into my house in 2010 was exactly: 1. I painted my white fireplace a very bright orange. And I was quite proud of it too, and content for it to be the only thing I did to improve – or at least personalize – my living space. But, if I weren’t already calling 2012 The Year of Baseball Infatuation, I would probably call it The Year of Homeowner’s Projects – starting with the custom bookcase I made in July. I don’t really remember how or why the idea came to me to craft these shelves, but I had some wood scraps lying around, and I enlisted my friend Adrianne’s power tools along with my friend Kevin’s carpentry expertise, and what followed was approximately six hours’ worth of man (and woman) hours constructing these two shelves that now fit inside my fireplace. (Don’t worry, the fireplace itself is nonfunctional, so there will be no accidental Fahrenheit 451 reenactments occurring in there.)

The only problem with having such a bookcase was that I didn’t own enough books to fill it. Given that my 28th birthday was coming up a couple of weeks after I finished the project, I decided to throw a party and request that the guests bring books to help fill the shelves. The only stipulation was that the books had to have something to do with fire. The result turned out to be more successful than I anticipated, and the two shelves are now occupied by no fewer than 18 books that feature fire either in their contents, cover designs, or titles (and only three are copies of F451!). There is such a variety too: memoir, fiction, self-help, children’s, trashy romance, religious, family, classic. I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to reading them all (so far I’ve only read one: Stephen King’s Firestarter, though I have previously read Fahrenheit 451 twice, even if not from one of those copies), but I love how the project turned out nonetheless. Below are a few pictures of the construction process, finished product, and final display.

001 014 015 021 026

7) #SoloVacation
In October, I took five days off work – the first vacation I had taken all year from my job – and spent six days on a mini-vacation, visiting a series of small towns just north and west of Kansas City. I went all by myself and Tweeted about some of my experiences using the above hashtag. I was sure I took my camera, but either I didn’t actually take any pictures, or the ghosts erased them all. It’s anybody’s guess.

I spent two days in Atchison, Kansas, which touts itself as the most haunted town in Kansas (and it’s totally true, thus the ghost reference). I took a haunted bus tour, bought and read a book about all the haunted buildings and stories associated with them, visited a couple of haunted houses/museums, and scared the living daylights out of myself spending an hour in a pitch-black park said to be haunted by the ghost of Molly, a girl who committed suicide there. I was there after the moon came out (because that’s the only time Molly screams), and there were no streetlamps or anything. I never did hear Molly scream, but a couple of feral cats walked up behind me and meowed in the dark, causing me to jump nearly out of my skin. (Oh yeah, did I mention I was there alone?) Other noted stops in Atchison included an afternoon visit to the lovely International Forest of Friendship, where I sat on a bench and read for two hours; a tour of the monks’ abbey at Benedictine College; a lunch at the locally famous Jerry’s cafe; a tour of Amelia Earhart’s childhood home; and a riverwalk stroll along the Lewis & Clark Trail that featured historical markers and placards about the explorers.

I left Atchison after two days (which was more than enough time to see everything, trust me) and went east a short way to Weston, Missouri, which was one of Missouri’s first settled towns along the river, and has a quaint little downtown area that has been restored to look pretty much like it did when the town first sprang up. I only spent a few hours in Weston, touring the downtown, eating lunch in their locally famous brewery, and perusing a small graveyard. Then it was off to a remote Catholic retreat center outside Leavenworth, Kansas, to spend four days in wooded Thoreauian fashion.

I stayed in a cabin the entire size of which was smaller than my bedroom at home and which had no air conditioning, no plumbing, no cell service, and no internet access. Since it was October, the weather was actually perfect, and there was no need for AC or heat. The lack of plumbing and running water was an interesting complication. I had a bucket for a bathroom and a gallon-size jug to fill twice a day with water I got from a pump a quarter-mile’s walk away. If ever you want to simplify, unplug, and retreat from the whole world, this is the place to do it. I spent four whole days doing nothing but sleeping, taking walks in the woods, sitting by a pond, and reading, reading, reading. This ended up being the perfect way to spend the week leading up to my half marathon, and as it happened, it also served to remind me (because I’d forgotten since my Mississippi trip) that I genuinely enjoy spending time by myself. (One of my favorite memories from the driving on this trip was making a joke out loud – to myself, of course – that made me laugh really hard.)

8) Running My Fourth Half Marathon
I know I say this every time, but: I can’t believe it myself, but it’s true. I have now earned four medals from running and finishing half marathons. This 13.1 stuff is getting to be no big deal. (Okay, not really. It’s a big deal every time!) Finding a place to put all my medals became part of another of my home-decor projects, and I ended up getting some adhesive hooks from Home Depot and hanging them from my fireplace mantel (much in the manner of Christmas stockings). (As long as we’re discussing home maintenance, this decor decision happened on the same night that I self-caulked my tub and replaced my furnace filter, which was a much bigger deal than it sounds…only because the filter I replaced was going on 2 1/2 years in the furnace, and apparently that’s a no-no.) Anyway, back to the half marathon. I convinced my good friend J.R. to run this one with me, and it was his first ever, so that was a fun achievement of his to be a part of. I also broke a PR for myself, finishing a minute or two ahead of my previous best time, so that was exciting too.

Kansas City Half 4 Kansas City Half 5

9) Becoming an Aunt
As with baseball, the only reason this one isn’t higher on the list is that it didn’t happen until December. But on the 11th of that now sacred month, my brother and his wife welcomed the family’s first grandchild into the world. Her name is Avery, and she was a delicate 4(!!) pounds, 10 ounces, at first weigh-in. I can’t even begin to describe how I felt the first time I met and held her, when she was a mere four hours new. It was a pretty magical day for our whole family, and she totally changed the dynamic of our Christmas celebration this year. Talk about bringing new meaning to the words anticipation and arrival on earth. Avery is nearly perfect, and I can’t wait to watch her grow up. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of her on my computer, since none have been taken with my own camera, but she’s plastered all over Facebook if you care to go digging into tagged pictures of me (she’s also featured prominently in my profile picture).

10) Painting My House
This was definitely the magnum opus of the homeowner’s projects for the year (although it bears mentioning that this was a week-long job that alternated with my final homeowner’s task of the year, which was winterizing 21 of my 27 or so windows; see what I mean about it being the year of projects?). I call it the magnum opus because it’s the only project (except for hanging the medals, which is pretty weak) that I did entirely by myself, with no help from anyone. For Christmas, I got some money to buy paint and supplies, and then my remaining vacation days combined with the way our holiday schedule was set up allowed me two full weeks off from Christmas until the end of the year, so I vigorously attacked the vision I had for my paint. In the end, I added three new colors to various rooms of my house, and I’m extremely pleased with how it turned out. The colors are called Cranberry Whip, Garden Glow, and Amazon Stone, and they appear respectively in the bedroom, the living room, and the room I have started calling the library, although it doubles as the front room.

025 043 061

That’s it for me on 2012. I haven’t made any specific resolutions for 2013, but I’m gonna follow in Ross’s footsteps, go out on a limb, and say, “No breakups in 2013!” So far I’ve made it 15 days. I’m off to a good start.

Oh, and bonus picture showing the orange fireplace, the new gray paint, and the half-marathon medals on the mantel. (Just ignore the dog kennel, if you can; Soren and I had an extended-stay house guest during that time):

063

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under bloggy, goals, sentimental

A GAME OF THRONES, by George R.R. Martin

Normally, if someone handed me a book and told me before I read it that some of its key components included gratuitous sex, adult language, a fantasy/mythical world, more characters than I’d care to count, a narrative that employs not one, not two, but actually eight alternating points of view, an excess of violence, gross misogynistic treatment of women, and a plot the main thread of which follows a bunch of testosterone-filled Arthurian wannabes fighting for control of a kingdom… Well, I’d probably throw that book back in the person’s face and walk away muttering about how said person does not know me at all.

So you might be surprised to hear that, at the end of a whirlwind seven-day reading period, during which I averaged the consumption of approximately one hundred pages per day to finish this monstrous book, the following words are some of the descriptors I choose to sum up A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire:

Suspenseful. Edgy. Thrilling. Complex. Realistically fantastical. Gripping. Moving. Heartbreaking. Page-turning. Hilarious. Surprising. A classic waiting to be crowned.

The main reason I can provide these unqualified descriptions is that A Game of Thrones, as a book of mechanics, would appear to have a lot of obstacles to overcome. Everything I list in the first paragraph is true, so the fact that Martin manages to yank me into the story anyway, beginning with chapter one (which is not the very beginning, since the book begins with yet another unnecessary prologue), is a feat unto itself.

This is the kind of book that separates the men from the boys when it comes to authorial talent. I have edited some truly awful books that included everything listed in the first paragraph, all of which subsequently became targets for editorial revision suggestions. But Martin proves that these techniques can be utilized well, when done with the ink of a good writer’s pen. Martin crafts a tale so pregnant with the third-paragraph traits that the issues in the first paragraph either become non-issues altogether or actually become strengths of the narrative.

Our world does not want for fantasy literature, but it is lacking in quality fantasy writing and stories, perhaps because of the nature of the limitations of the genre itself. It’s weird to think that a genre called fantasy – which, by definition, should be the opposite of limited – would have restraints, and yet it does. There are only so many mythical creatures one can dream up, only so many magical qualities a world can have before it’s overkill, or before the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief is unwillingly suspended.

That’s why we see so many of the same types of creatures over and over again in fantasy: dragons, goblins, trolls, wizards, giants, birds that carry mail, and – of course – a “normal-world” creature that becomes otherworldly and mythical simply due to its monstrous size. In Lord of the Rings, we see this with spiders; in Harry Potter, with spiders, snakes, and dogs; we even see it in the parody fantasy story The Princess Bride, with rodents. George R.R. Martin’s rendition of the oversized normal animal is a wolf, called – in his book, to differentiate it from the regular wolf – the direwolf.

So what, exactly, does Martin’s writing possess that makes it so devourable, even when the bare components are stripped down and it appears to be a fairly run-of-the-mill fantasy story, if a little (or maybe a whole lot) on the adult side? Honestly, the element that kept me turning pages was the characters. The diversity and complexity of each character simply astounded me. I mentioned that the story is told in alternating fashion from eight different characters’ points of view. But these are not the only eight characters we come to know intimately, nor can these eight characters all necessarily be called the heroes or, to oversimplify it, the good guys. There are also the minor characters, as well as the villains – none of whom, so far, have been given POV rights – to get to know, and the narrative weaves in their motivations and characteristics and personalities seamlessly alongside the principal characters whose POVs we are actually treated to.

The strength of the alternating POV tactic (which is also a huge risk, if an author doesn’t know how to do it right) is the third-person-limited perspective. With each character, the reader is privy only to information which that particular character would have access to. The advantage of being the omniscient reader, of course, is that we get to see how all the limited perspectives work together to create the bigger picture of the unfolding story, but of course the kicker is that we do not have the power to change the course of events, or warn any of the characters of what’s coming. (This is probably as close as any of us will ever get to understanding what it’s like to be God, with the exception that the God I believe in does have the power to change the course of events; he just rarely does it in ways we would see fit; but, of course, that goes back to the big picture and limited perspective issue.) On the whole, these characters feel alive and real, and so do their actions and the consequences of their actions. Martin employs no deus ex machina here. The characters reap the consequences of their decisions; bad things happen to good people; ordinary people make terrible decisions; and nobody is safe or exempt from the forces and obstacles of the natural world, which makes this genuinely fantastical world feel eerily like the world we know and live in ourselves.

The unexpected plot twists are probably the aspects of this book that left me the most frustrated as a reader. I got so settled into the everyday features of the world itself that I had trouble acclimating to the twists and turns the characters have to follow. In remedial writing classes, one of the very first things students learn is that the basic arc of a story involves a character pursuing a specific goal and encountering obstacles that must be overcome on the way to that goal. I hope even the most under-qualified writing instructor would tell students that characters must experience conflict; otherwise, there’s no story. What do TV shows do when their ratings drop? Introduce new and dramatic conflicts. The idea is, nobody is allowed to live happy, peaceful lives if you want your story to be consumed and enjoyed.

The reason I had a problem with this basic rule in GoT was that I liked the characters and the details of the world itself so much that all I wanted to do was follow the Stark family around their castle and the woods and be a fly on the wall in their everyday lives. That’s how well these characters and this world are written. Every time there is a hope of one or more of the characters going back to settle at the family’s castle, I got excited and hopeful that life would resume as it began at the start of the book, and every time a plot twist thwarts this goal, I got disappointed and frustrated. My frustration lasted only momentarily, though, because each diversion and plot tangent is more interesting and exciting than the last, all leading up to a wrenching and emotional climax that I wouldn’t have seen coming if it had not been spoiled for me beforehand. (That didn’t make the event any less emotional for me, though; only less surprising.)

A Game of Thrones was first published in 1996, so you might be wondering why it is just now on my radar. There are a few reasons, the most obvious (and most wrong) being that HBO has started serializing the books in television form. The advent of the HBO series did remind me that the books were on my to-read list, but they were on my to-read list long before HBO took it over. I have a solid group of (mostly) trusted reading friends in Oklahoma who have all torn through the series and pledge loyalty to George R.R. Martin until the end of time, so it has been on my radar since about 2008.

I guess the only reason I decided to pick it up now, allowing it to usurp the numerous other books in line and patiently waiting, is the same reason I picked up The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo last January: It’s a new year, and I wanted to give my reading life a jump start with something I wouldn’t be able to put down, so why not start with a series people can’t seem to stop talking about? Obviously I didn’t know for sure that I would like either book at all, but luckily both times I did, and luckily – just like last year – it will lead me into a series and a world that will occupy me for the next few weeks, at least.

As with GWTDT, I likely won’t post follow-up reviews about the subsequent books in the series, but you should take my word for it that at least A Game of Thrones is worth reading, and then you can decide from there whether you want to continue. As for me, I will most certainly be moving on to the second book, A Clash of Kings.

As I continue, I hope to find that some of the characters I intensely dislike in the first book will be redeemed later on; I hope that some of the most despicable characters will meet poetic justice, whether in death or torture or slavery or exile; and, lastly, I hope that some of my favorite and most heroic characters will be rewarded with peace and happiness, or, at the very least, fewer tragedies.

As for Martin’s misogynistic characterizations, he’s not off the hook, and I do find it offensive and appalling that the women are so far either one of two extremes: weak or completely evil, with almost nothing in between, but for now, I’m letting him get away with the excuse that the world he’s created is an ancient one, and everyone knows that the ancient worlds did not appreciate or revere women as they should have.

Overall, though, I am pleased with this book, and if you have recently found yourself in need of something to occupy your reading hours, I suggest trying this one, if all the adult aspects of it won’t bother you. It may not be for everyone, and I’m certainly no fantasy expert, but of the fantasies I have read, GoT is certainly the cream of the crop.

5 Comments

Filed under books, reviews

Token Year-End Recap: 2011

Last year I wrote a list of 10 things I wanted to remember about 2010, which fit nicely because of the whole parallelism thing. So this year I was going to do 11 things I want to remember about 2011, but I don’t know how many years I’m planning to do this annual post, and it seemed like I could easily get myself into a pickle once we got up to the year 2050 (and possibly before that). So I think I’m going to stick with 10 because 10 is a nice, round number.

And so, I give you: 10 Things I Want to Remember about 2011 (in chronological order):

1) Getting my First Housemate
Before January 2011, the only time I lived with someone outside my parents’ house was in college, when I had the same roommate for four years. That relationship had its complications and faults, as any roommate situation will, but overall, the fact that we were able to live together for four years, especially in the midst of some of our friends changing roommates every semester, indicated that we had figured out something pretty good. When she decided to have a husband instead of a roommate, I decided to live alone, and I did so from May 2006 until January 2011 – almost five full years – in four different places (two apartments and two houses, the last [and current] house being the one I bought). After about eight months of solo home ownership, some different factors combined to make me wonder whether a co-habitation situation might be more cost efficient and might do a service to someone needing a place to live. Acting on these inklings, I set out to find someone to share my living space and pay me rent, and through the connection of a mutual friend, I was introduced by email to Jordan, who now occupies the master bedroom in my house.

The first time I met Jordan in person was the afternoon he pulled up to my curb with his Jeep and an attached trailer full of all his stuff that I helped him move in. I didn’t know yet how things would pan out, and a wiser person than I would probably have been apprehensive about the fact that all I had was an email exchange agreeing on the rent rate to serve as the guidelines that would govern our living situation. But, without a lease or contract, without setting any rules, and without really discussing our habits with each other, we embarked on the adventure of co-ed, non-domestic-partnership occupation of a two-bedroom house, and I have to say, I don’t know if it could have worked out better if I’d handpicked someone myself (say, my old college roommate, for instance). Perhaps I got lucky, or perhaps the mutual friend who suggested the arrangement knew us better than we thought, or perhaps God has blessed the situation. Whatever it is, Jordan and I are just a few days away from one full year of living in the same house, and I couldn’t be more pleased with how it has turned out. I don’t know when he plans to move out, and I have no plans to ask him to move out, so I think things are still going well.

2) Cross-Country Road Trip with Grandpa
Hands down, this is probably my favorite memory from 2011. The last time I went on a vacation with my grandpa, I was 10 years old, and my grandma was with us too. So a two-week road trip without my grandma and as an adult was, to say the least, a recipe for a memorable adventure. We spent 14 days driving as far north as Madison, Wisconsin, and as far east as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and then back home to Kansas City. We did and saw a lot and had only a few hiccups along the way. I would for sure do something like this again, but I think I will urge Grandpa to get his car’s air conditioning double checked before we leave next time. It broke halfway through the trip, and we spent the next seven days without cool air. It wasn’t pleasant, but it wasn’t horrible until the day we drove from West Virginia to Indianapolis. That day was long, hot, and sticky. The air conditioning debacle was the only major thing that went wrong. We had a good time and got some great pictures, and I kept the Twitter world up to date as we went, tweeting such gems as these along the way:

Road trip rule #1: driver controls radio. We`re listening to jazz across iowa.

Unscheduled stop #1: National Farm Toy Museum in Dyersville, IA.
I was wrong. Driver does NOT control radio. In grandpa`s car, grandpa controls radio. Gospel choir across ohio.
Me: goodnight, see you in the morning! Gpa: Thanks for the warning!
A 2 1/2-mile hike with a swim in the middle fork river in the middle. All at Audra State Park. Now that`s a good day!
Eating at “the most visited restaurant” in this town. They fail to mention that`s bc it`s the ONLY one.
My alarm went off at 5 this am. Gpa wasn’t awake yet. His groggy response: “You play music in the middle of the night?”

3) Running my 2nd Half Marathon
I think we all remember how excited and proud I was when I ran my first half marathon. In April 2011 I surprised myself again by completing my second one. My time was slower, and my training hadn’t been as rigorous, and I was admittedly less ecstatic about this one (due to other extenuating factors surrounding and leading up to the event itself), but in the end, I had another medal and another proud notch on the bedpost of my athletic accomplishments. And a hankering to train again for another…

4) Celebrating a Friendship’s 10-Year Anniversary
That college roommate I mentioned in #1 plays a key role in the significance of this one. We met in the summer of 2001, a year and a half before we would live together for four consecutive years (excluding one semester that she spent in Russia). Since then, we have been through a lot, both together and separately. The friendship itself even went through a tough period that required an emotional reconciliation, which happened, coincidentally, last summer – just in time to acknowledge the fact that we had been friends for 10 years. We have had a few rough patches, but we’ve mostly had laughter and joy, and we’ve racked up an impressive list of inside jokes (half of which one of us can’t even remember). There are people in my life I’ve known longer than Adrianne, and there are people I’ve known the same amount of time. But there is no one else unrelated by blood whom I’ve kept in such consistent contact with for 10 full years. Here’s to another ten years of inside jokes we can’t properly explain. 

5) Becoming a Church Board Member
I have been part of my church in Kansas City now for just over two years, which I don’t consider a long time. So it surprised me when my pastor informed me last June that I had been nominated to serve on our church board, and it was with humble hesitation that I eventually accepted the nomination. I had no idea what it would be like, but after six months of service, I have learned to see the church (local and global) in a whole new light. Serving on the church board has helped me see how the body of Christ really does need to be a body, with many different parts. I have truly found a family in my church, and my service on the board, though occasionally time consuming and sometimes even inconvenient, has been rewarding beyond expectation. I have seen fellow members of my church family in new ways and have learned to feel compassion and empathy in ways I didn’t know were possible. And, above all, I have been reminded, time and again, that nothing in this life is about us.

6) Riding my First Motorcycle
Everyone who gets to have this experience considers it a memorable one, right? Well, if they don’t, they’re a lump of lard. However, I have extra reasons not to forget my first motorcycle experience because it coincides with my first large-scale, full-blown tick infestation. Last summer I made a new friend, and he owns a motorcycle and offered to give me a ride when he found out I’d never been on one. Obviously, I took him up on the offer, and one beautiful Saturday morning in August, he came and picked me up, and we rode all over Kansas City. We rode on interstates, on surface roads, on two-lane roads, on gravel roads, and on country highways. We went everywhere.

At one point, we stopped for an intermission and tromped through some very high grass on an exploration mission of some kind. Unfortunately, that high grass was where I apparently picked up a small colony of ticks. I felt kind of itchy several minutes after we left the wooded and high-grass area, and later, when I got home and peeled off my pants, shoes, and socks, I discovered that my legs, ankles, and feet were completely covered in ticks (and therefore tick bites). I scraped them all off, did a thorough inspection of the rest of my body (having horrible flashbacks of the scrubbings I used to get after coming home from romps in my grandparents’ wooded farm property), and took a scalding-hot shower just to be safe. And then I spent the next three weeks with red, splotchy legs and feet and dark surface scars I was sure would never disappear. Six months later, there is no trace of the markings, and I don’t have Lyme disease, thank goodness. But, even though we have no pictures from the legendary three-hour motorcycle ride, I don’t think I will ever forget it, thanks to the nice insects that decided to host their family reunion on my body.

7) My 27th Birthday
I have had a lot of memorable birthdays in my life (mainly because birthdays are very important to me, and my friends and family know that and do a good job of making them memorable), and 27 was no exception. My wonderful friends J.R. and Jenny Caines (who also happen to be the parents of two of my favorite boys in the whole world, Jack and Cason) hospitably opened their home to me (even though Jenny was 8 months pregnant and it was the hottest week of the year) on the momentous occasion of August 5, 2011, and I threw a party and celebrated turning 27 with 20 of my closest friends in Kansas City. We talked, laughed, ate, drank (cream soda only, no alochol, I promise – even though there are some pictures up on Facebook that make it look like I’m drinking alcohol), played games, and generally just celebrated me. Which, coincidentally, is pretty much my favorite thing to do on my birthday. And then, the next day, LF came back in town, and I got to celebrate all over again with him. We had been dating all of two weeks by then, but we had a blast having a book-burning party on my porch. And so 27 became a birthday milestone I hope I don’t forget.

8) Running my 3rd Half Marathon
Would you believe it, I ran yet another half marathon. That makes three overall. It was quite a year for me athletically. Not to mention the 5, 10, and 15k races I did in June, August, and September leading up to the half. I still sometimes have trouble believing that I have done three half marathons. It’s just such an absurd thought. But the third one was the Kansas City Half, and my dear friend Reese came up from Oklahoma City to run it with me. Half marathons are so much more enjoyable (even if, like me, you hate running) when you run them with friends, and so far I have been lucky enough to run all three of mine with very good friends. This half was my favorite. The course was delightful, and (as I discovered at the half I did in April), I very much enjoy running through my own city. Of course, I haven’t put on my running attire since October, but oh well. I trust I’ll get back to it soon enough.

9) Learning to Love Scrabble
One of the biggest things I am ashamed of in my life is how bad I am at word games, Scrabble especially. As an editor, a writer, a wordsmith, and a general lover of language, linguistics, and all things word related, people assume I am an expert at word games. It has been a point of embarrassment when people have chosen me to be on their teams for word game challenges and then been disappointed to find that I am actually their least valuable player. They say, “But how can you not be good at word games?” and all I can do is shrug my shameful shoulders. Because of this, my attempts at Scrabble have been limited, and I have mostly avoided the game. It depresses me to play it because of how horrible I am at it.

For my birthday this year, some wonderful friends (who weren’t aware of my hate-hate relationship with this game) gave me Scrabble, thinking (sensibly) that I would love it. I smiled and said thank you, knowing I should love it and understanding the reasoning behind their thinking. But I went home and put the game away and did not expect to play it, except maybe once, just to be able to tell them I had. But then LF found out that I had received it, and he urged me to play with him. To humor him (because the relationship was still quite new at that point), I relented, and we played. On our first game, I lost by a humiliating margin. I didn’t really enjoy myself, and I didn’t want to play again. But LF kept asking me to play periodically, again and again, and I began to notice that my technique was improving and that the difference in our scores at the end wasn’t nearly as vast.

I realized that Scrabble is not all about being really good with words. It’s also about strategizing your tile placement for maximum point scoring. Besides that, LF took pity on me in my despair and has been an encouraging, kind, helpful, and – most importantly – lenient Scrabble opponent. He has helped me learn to enjoy Scrabble, and he has even been open to rule modifications so that, twice now, we have played Themed Scrabble, where we only put down words that fit an established theme. And now, I am usually the one who suggests a game of Scrabble, and except for that first game, I cannot think of a time that I have not enjoyed playing.

10) Officially Deciding to Pursue a Master’s Degree
This is arguably the most significant event that occurred in 2011, at least with regard to my future, even though technically a decision isn’t really an event. It felt big for me, though. After I finished undergrad, I declared that graduate school was not in the cards for me. I claimed I was sick of school and was ready to experience a part of life that didn’t center around studying, writing papers, and sitting in classrooms. And I was, and I think that was fair. I had spent my whole life in school. But lately I have been missing the classroom. I have been itching to be challenged and pushed and evaluated.

I haven’t thought a lot about the degree I would pursue because I thought I didn’t have much of a choice. I’m not interested in a literature degree, but English is the only thing I can do, so the only other option seemed to be writing. Having a master’s degree in writing sounds impressive, I thought. And besides that, it certainly wouldn’t hurt my editorial career. And then one day, as I thought about how much I love language – the study of all languages, not just English – I realized that linguistics might be a wiser choice for a degree.

I have been stewing about all of this for a year now, and for a year I’ve been waffling and dragging my feet about committing. But near the end of 2011, I made a firm decision, and I am now enrolled in back-to-back GRE prep courses for the duration of the spring semester, after which I hope to take the general GRE and then enroll in a graduate program. I still don’t have all the details worked out, but these are my goals.

***

I don’t have a lot of complaints about 2011. It was a good year. There are things I am happy to leave behind, though – emotions I’m relieved to have finally shed and unhealthy mindsets I’ve made a conscious effort to change. Just like everyone else, I don’t know what 2012 will hold, but I am looking forward to finding out.

10 Comments

Filed under bloggy, goals, sentimental

Memories from 2010

Since I haven’t exactly figured out what I’m going to be doing here on a regular basis, I thought a good way to kick things off would be to recap 2010. I’m usually pretty bored by these posts, so I promise I won’t hold it against you if you find this too mundane to read all the way through. It’s more for my personal record and introspection than for your entertainment anyway.

It would be melodramatic (a word that always makes me think of my friend Reese) to say that 2010 was a difficult year. I also think it would be a prematurely selfish statement to make. The truth is, 2010 was really just another year. It brought some emotional struggles, some professional struggles, some relational struggles, some spiritual struggles, some financial struggles, and some family struggles. And there were days that I cried pretty hard in 2010. But, as they say, time heals all wounds, and when I look back at the previous year, even though I’m glad to have it under my belt and have welcomed 2011 with open arms, I can also honestly say that it was a good year filled with good memories.

And thus, I give you:

10 Things I Want to Remember about 2010:

1) Joining a book club.
For a couple months at the end of 2009 and something like the first half of 2010, I was part of a book club at the library near the house I was renting. It met once a month and was a mystery book club, which meant that we read a lot of books I never would’ve picked up otherwise. I didn’t enjoy all of the books, but I always enjoyed the discussion sessions. I was the youngest participant there; it was otherwise full of retired old ladies, and they were a hoot. I had never been part of a book club before, and I was proud of myself for getting out and doing something new after just moving to the area. I stopped going when I moved across town and didn’t want to drive 20 minutes to get there, and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a comparable gathering at any of the libraries that are close to me now. But Georgia, Hazel, Dorothy, and all the others are people I’ll never forget.

2) Buying my own home.
If this isn’t an accomplishment, then I gotta tell ya – I don’t know what is. On March 26 of last year, I was handed the keys to a house, along with the words, “Congratulations. You are now a homeowner.” There are no words to describe how I felt as I drove away from the bank that day, knowing I had not only found my dream house but had actually purchased it. And you know what? I was swindled out of $40 the first night I spent in my new house (I let some guy convince me to pay him to pick up some sticks in my yard), and even that is a fond memory. (Especially since I’ve heard the retelling multiple times from my coworkers, who have probably ranked that story in their top 5 of ridiculously amusing things that have happened to me over the past year.) And no, the house isn’t perfect or without frustrations and flaws, but the simple fact that it belongs to me is enough to make me forgive (most of) its other shortcomings.

3) Painting my fireplace orange.
It’s no secret that I love the color orange. And the first thing I did as far as putting my mark on my new home was to paint the fireplace orange. And not just any orange but a very intense orange that is sometimes a little much, even for me. (Why don’t paint colors ever come out the way they look on the samples?) Not everybody likes the shade of orange I chose for my fireplace or even the fact that it is orange at all, but it’s one characteristic of my house that, when people see it, they say, “Yep. That’s Audra, all right.” And I love that.

4) Watching my brother walk down the aisle.
I didn’t think this would be an emotional event for me. After all, it seemed like just a formality for my brother to marry the girl he’d been dating for ten years. But on the day of the wedding, when I realized that I finally had the sister I’d been wishing for my entire life, I felt an unexpected swell of joy. My brother and I had a running joke about which of us could avoid marriage the longest, and I told him that he forfeited, but I don’t think he was too disappointed about it. My mom made the comment recently, “I think Cary was surprised by how much he enjoyed his own wedding day,” and I was surprised by the amount of beauty, profundity, and insight into my brother’s personality and character that simple statement gave me. My brother and his wife (my sister-in-law!) have maybe been in a relationship for more than ten years now, but he has grown up a lot since they first started dating, and I’m so proud of him, and I have so much respect for him.

5) Visiting my relatives Uncle Phil and Aunt June in Ohio.
When life hands you lemons, make lemonade, so they say. Well, this summer, I got handed the professional lemon of spending nine days in SmallTown, Ohio, my task being to represent my company and sell its products at a youth event. Sitting in a booth and being surrounded by rowdy teenagers was not my idea of a fun summer vacation. But as it turned out, my grandmother’s sister June and her husband, Phil, live in the same town where I was exiled this summer, and not only did they express an interest in wanting to spend some time with me while I was there – they opened their home to me and let me stay with them for the full nine days, which was an extraordinary act of hospitality that saved me from having to sleep in a college dorm (ick). They gave me my own bedroom and bathroom; they cooked for me; they took me out for dinner; they pointed me to an idyllic running path that I spent my early mornings on; they played games with me; and they served me dessert every single night. That week in Ohio ended up being the best week of my summer. In the wake of my grandma’s death in November of 2009, spending time in the presence of her sister – who looks like my grandma, talks like my grandma, and, in many ways, acts just like my grandma – was a salve to a part of my soul I hadn’t realized still needed healing. I ended that trip not wanting to leave Ohio, not wanting to leave Phil and June, and wondering when I would have the privilege of seeing them again. I still hope it’s soon.

6) Visiting Cedar Point, the roller coaster capital of the world.
I don’t even know how long Cedar Point had been #1 on my list of amusement parks I must visit. At least ten years. At least. I finally got to go this summer, and it was everything I had hoped it would be. My only regret was that the sheer number of roller coasters at the park prevented me from ride-repeating, but that day may just have been the highlight of my year. Screaming and flying across the tracks, standing in line with my cousins and aunt and uncle, laughing all day long, and getting soaking wet on the most ridiculous water ride ever invented – these are memories I will cherish for a long time.

7) Flying to Connecticut to meet and support Estevan Vega at his book release party.
Estevan was a dream author for me as an editor at Tate Publishing. Not only was he a joy to work with; his book was a fantastic read and so much fun to edit. Getting to attend his release party and see the fruits of all his intense labor – a very small portion of it having been my effort too – gave me a job-satisfaction high the likes of which I had never experienced. Besides that, it was worth it just to hear him call me out from onstage and publicly thank me for coming all the way from Kansas City to support him.

8) Running a half marathon.
I still can’t entirely believe that I actually did this. Nor can I entirely believe that I’ve signed up and am training for another one! Me. Audra Claire Marvin. I ran a half marathon. The reality of it is so absurd that I often have to look back through the pictures just to remind myself that I really did do it. This is perhaps my proudest accomplishment of the year. I tackled a feat I did not think I could do, and then I dominated it, shattering the goal I had set for myself to finish in 3 hours by finishing in 2 hours and 40 minutes. I think I’m going to be bragging about this accomplishment for a long time to come.

9) Writing a novel.
Okay, so I didn’t finish the novel in 2010, but I wrote 30,000 words of it, and if anything could compete with the half marathon for proudest accomplishment of the year, this would be it. Writing is my passion, and to tackle that passion with the fervor of creating two characters that have emerged with such depth as to make me feel like they are real – well, suffice it to say that it has been a lot of fun. I didn’t know I had it in me, and I’m proud of myself for having discovered it.

10) Adding Puppy Fagan to my furry family.
Acquiring a second dog (and a puppy, nonetheless) was not on my to-do list in 2010. But he swiftly melted my heart, and I’m glad I was incapable of saying no to little Fagan. He has brought such joy into my life, my parents’ lives, and all the lives of everyone who has so far had the privilege of meeting him. I’ve only had him 2 weeks so far, but already I can’t imagine life without him.

As you can see, 2010 was actually a pretty good year, and as I look back through these 10 descriptions, one word jumps out at me more often than any other: joy. It is clear that I have absolutely nothing to complain about. I’m convinced 2011 will be even better.

Happy new year.

1 Comment

Filed under bloggy, sentimental