Friday, September 8, 2017

Summer Reading: Part 2

Last summer, I was working on my master's, so I think I only read one book for pleasure. This summer, I was bound and determined to make up for that drought. Here are a few of my favorites:

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan

One day on (the only reliable celebrity news source, by the way), I saw this book listed as one of Reese Witherspoon's "must-reads," so I figured if it's good enough for Reese, it's good enough for me. This book has a lot of characters, who are all somehow related, and a lot of story lines, which all connect, so it was a lot like reading an Asian soap opera. Thankfully, a family tree is provided in the front of the book to make the relationships a little less confusing.

The main story line revolves around the imminent passing of the Shang-Young family matriarch, Su Yi. Her family has returned to Singapore to say their goodbyes . . . and each family member tries to put in one final push to be the recipient of the family estate. As you can imagine, this brings surprises and all sorts of scandal. Secrets are revealed, and a few skeletons fall out of their proverbial closets.

This was an entertaining read. The story takes place in myriad locations, from Singapore to Shanghi to Hong Kong. I learned a lot about Asian society and culture, thanks to the footnotes that define Asian words, people, places, and cuisine. By the end of the novel, I had added a few locations to my "Places to Visit Before I Die" list, and my craving for egg rolls, dumplings, and wontons was a little out of control.

As it turns out, this book is actually the third in a trilogy, but it was easy to follow even without having read the first two. Kevin Kwan is in the midst of adapting the books into a film, and I can definitely see this played out on the big screen, what with the fabulous locations and extravagant fashion described in the book. In an interview I read, he confessed to loving Dallas, Falcon Crest, and Dynasty, so if you grew up on those shows like I did, I feel sure you'll enjoy this novel as well.

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

I have to admit, this book was different from what I expected. For some reason, I thought it was set in New England. It isn't. Then, I thought it was going to be closely tied to the Salem witch trials. It isn't. So, needless to say, it took me a few chapters to get into the story.

Once I got to about Chapter 4, though, I was hooked. While this book wasn't quite as page-turning as Girl on the Train (I read that in a day because I couldn't put it down!), it was an intriguing mystery that held my interest. The book is told from multiple perspectives, helping the reader see just how many secrets the people in the town are carrying.

Hawkins does a good job of making each character seem both reliable and unreliable at some point throughout the novel, which kept me on my toes. The New York Times compared it to Gone Girl, and while I don't think it quite measures up to that, it does offer a few twists that warn the reader of the dangers of jumping to conclusions.

Bet Me by Jennifer Cruise

So, sometimes when I see people ask for book suggestions on Facebook, I stalk the post so I can get some suggestions for myself. Creepy, right? In this instance, my stalking paid off big time.

A friend from Furman posted this was one of her favorites, and I see why. If How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days were based off of a book, this would be the book. The main characters, Min and Cal, have the same "I love you; no, I hate you" chemistry Andie Anderson and Benjamin Barry share in the movie. Add in loyal friends, crazy exes, overbearing parents, and a neurotic cat, and you have the recipe for a delightful read and lots of laughs.

Speaking of recipes, this book left me searching for the perfect chicken piccata recipe. Min, Cal, and their friends eat the dish so much, by the end of the book, it was all I could think about. It wasn't just the recipe that sounded good, it was the camaraderie and fellowship that went along with it that was most appealing. I wanted to be in their group of friends.

Overall, I loved reading about a strong, sassy, independent character. It was easy to relate to Min, and I found myself cheering her on as she worked to overcome her insecurities and let her true self shine. Hands down, this was my favorite fiction of the summer.

The House on Tradd Street by Karen White

This is another book that often pops up as a suggested summer read on Facebook. It's been on my own list for several summers because it sounded like it had everything I look for in a good summer read: a fixer-upper, a Low Country backdrop, a family secret, and a tension-filled romance. The part I couldn't quite wrap my head around is that it is also part ghost story. That seemed pretty hokey.

But when I really started to think about it, ghosts inhabiting houses along the Battery make total sense. I mean, Charleston is known for its paranormal beings, which can be seen on guided tours almost every night of the year.  In the end, I decided to take the advice of my 11th grade English teacher, Mrs. Joanne Gaskins, and suspend my disbelief and enjoy the story.

I should have known, my Facebook would never steer me wrong. This book was the perfect beach read. I loved the banter between Melanie and Jack, and their chemistry was palpable. Most surprisingly, I found myself loving the ghost story too, and I really wanted Melanie to be able to help the ghosts find peace.

One word of caution . . . this is part of a series, so don't expect to have every loose end tied up at the end of the book. I was in distress for several days waiting for book two to become available at the library, and I don't want you to experience that same angst.

Confessions of a Domestic Failure by Bunmi Laditan

Okay, let me just go ahead and say this isn't necessarily the most well-written book; however, what it lacks in style and technique, it makes up for in authenticity. I kept having to remind myself that I was reading a work of fiction and not a real-life Ashley Keller's autobiography.

This book, which reads like a blog, is spot on describing the struggles of the first year or two of motherhood, and there is at least one scenario every new mom can relate to. My favorite part is when Ashley puts her daughter in the free child care at the gym and then goes to relax in her car in the parking lot. Please believe I've thought about doing that at MUV Fitness once or twice myself.

As hilarious as the book is, it has its touching moments as well and reminds us that as moms, we all need to support each other. Nobody's life is as good as it looks on social media. Motherhood is messy and memorable, frustrating and fun, and the sooner we realize we're all in the chaos together, the better off we'll be.

The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst

Do you ever feel like you have too many balls in the air? Like you're good at a lot of things but not really great at anything? Like you can't enjoy the moment you're in because your mind has already moved on to the next thing on your list? If so, then this book is for you.

There have been periods in my life when I tend to over-volunteer. I can remember sitting in a Tri Delt meeting in college and raising my hand to volunteer for something I didn't really have time to do (because, you know, school), and one of my dear friends kindly turned to me and said if I raised my arm to volunteer for one more thing, she was going to rip off said arm and beat me with it. That warning, like this book, was the wake-up call I needed to reassess my commitments.

As it turns out, the best yes is often a "no" or a "not right now." And that's okay. We shouldn't feel guilty for thoughtfully planning how we spend our time and how we share our talents.

Church of the Small Things by Melanie Shankle

I read Melanie Shankle's first book, Sparkly Green Earrings, when I was on maternity leave with Jackson, and I have been a fan ever since. I have loved all of her books, and I read her blog on a regular basis . . . although I do have to be careful not to read it at school because it will usually make me laugh so hard I snort or make me ugly cry, both of which are kinda awkward to do in front of teenagers.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic to be selected as a member of the launch team for Church of the Small Things, which earned me an advance copy of the book.  While reading, I laughed, I cried, and I thought a lot about what makes a life good. Sometimes it's the smallest things that make the biggest difference.

In the book, Melanie writes, "It's not about doing the glamorous thing. It's about doing the faithful thing." As a mom, as a teacher, sometimes it's easy to wonder if all of my hard work is even making a difference because I don't always get to see the return on my investment. This book reminded me that I have to have faith and just keep on keepin' on, knowing that the small things like a smile and a high five truly can have an impact.

Don't think this book is all serious and tender though. There are plenty of laugh out loud moments too, like when Melanie recounts the time her husband, Perry, shot himself in the head while leaning out of a helicopter to shoot wild hogs. Who even knew that was a thing?

Now that you're dying to read the book, I have to break the bad news . . . it doesn't come out until October 3. However, there is hope! You can pre-order the book here and here and receive all kinds of fun free goodies. Or, pre-order directly from the website Church of the Small Things.

This book will also have a companion Bible study video series. It comes out October 17, but you can pre-order it here. I've watched the first installment, and seeing Melanie talk about the first chapter in person brought her message to life. This would be the perfect choice for a small-group study.

I know that's a lot of sales talk, but I promise, I would recommend this book and the Bible study even if I weren't on the launch team . . .  mainly because I want to be Melanie Shankle when I grow up.

In the end, I learned a few things about myself during my summer reading. First, I clearly need to pay more attention to whether or not the book I'm getting ready to read is part of a series. Second, good books make me hungry, both for knowledge and for food. Third, I cry . . . a lot. Five out of these 7 books made me cry at least once- I'll let you guess which ones they were. And finally, my only news sources seem to be and Facebook, so I may need to find at least one that's a little more academic.

I have a few books on deck for the fall, including Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, but if you have other suggestions, I'd love to hear them . . . it'll save me from having to stalk you on Facebook.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

My Baby's Not a Baby Anymore

Dear Reeves,

Last week you turned three. All you wanted was an elephant cake and Chic-Fil-A, no big deal. This week you moved up to the 3's room at school, and that's a huge deal because it's in a whole different building, the big kids' building, away from the infants and the toddlers. And I have to admit, all this growing up, it's starting to get to me. Why can't time slow down?

It seems like just yesterday I was taking Jackson to the 2's room with you, just a few weeks old, sleeping in your carrier. Mrs. Karen came running out of the infant room, so excited to meet you, saying, "Ooh, is that my baby?" All I could think was, "No way, lady, this is my baby, so keep your hands to yourself." I wasn't ready to let you go.

But, oh, how blessed we were that you had Mrs. Karen and Mrs. Ophelia, Mrs. Brenda and Mrs. Marsha, Ms. Marjina and Ms. Tomika to love you and teach you and even baby you on occasion. They have been wonderful teachers for you, helping you learn your colors, the alphabet, and some crazy song about peanut butter jelly and a baseball bat.

As I think about all you've learned over the past three years, I can't help but realize all the things you've taught me along the way. Since you're three, and I love a list, let me share the top three things you've taught me.

LESSON 1: You can't judge a book by its cover.

If I had a dollar for every time somebody told me you are going to be a linebacker or a tackle in the NFL, I'd own the Panthers by now. People see you and your 99th percentile height and weight and immediately assume your future involves knocking people around for a living.

But that's only you on the outside. I see a different side of you, one that is tender and caring. Sure, you love to wrestle and are pretty rough and tumble, but you're also the first one in the house to say, "Bless you!" when Daddy sneezes, "You okay, Jackson?" when he falls down, and "You need a Diet Coke, Mommy?" when it looks like I've had a rough day.

Nurturing comes naturally to you, as evidenced this summer when I was in bed with a cold and you snuggled up with me to feed me Cheetos one by one until I felt better.

That's not the side of you people always see. Sometimes you'd rather stomp around like a dinosaur or scowl and growl like a bear, but I know deep down, you're more teddy than grizzly, always ready to give a hug or a high five. And I'm positive you'll be the one taking care of me in the nursing home one day.

LESSON 2: Laughter really is the best medicine.

I laugh at inappropriate times . . . funerals, faculty meetings, injuries . . . and before you were born, I thought those were the worst times to laugh. Turns out, there's an even worse time to laugh . . . in the middle of trying to reprimand a strong-willed child!

Without fail, at least once a week, when I'm trying to scold you or correct you, I find myself having to turn away so you don't see me laugh. You definitely know how to play an audience and how to diffuse a tense situation with humor, and I have a sinking suspicion this talent of yours is going to garner me a few calls from teachers in the future

Your creativity adds to your humor, and we really never know what you're going to say. I especially love our conversations in the car. They seem to bring out your best, including the story you told us last weekend about the boo-boo on your knee. You said you got it using a sword to save a tortoise that had mistakenly climbed on a panther's back when you were at the park, and I have to agree, that was much more exciting than simply falling down at the zoo.

Between your crazy antics, dancing, and singing, sometimes all Jackson, Daddy, and I can do is look at each other, shake our heads, and ask, "What is he doing?" Your deep belly laugh is contagious, and even though you often use it to crack my composure, our family is lighter and brighter because of your laughter.

LESSON 3:  There's always room for love.

Okay, I'm going to be honest . . . when I was pregnant with you, I wasn't really sure how I was going to be able to love you as much as I loved Jackson. I know, I know, Mom of the Year right here, but hear me out. I'm an only child, remember, so I didn't have first-hand experience watching a parent love more than one child at a time. I just didn't get it.

Plenty of older, wiser moms assured me loving two wouldn't be a problem, and boy, were they right. From the minute the labor and delivery nurse put you on my chest, I was smitten. Daddy says I was like the Grinch, and my heart grew three sizes the day you were born.

I wasn't the only one unsure about your arrival--Jackson pretty much took one look at you and asked if we could send you back. But you easily won him over too.

"Where's Jackson?" is the first question you ask when you wake up, and you can't go to bed without giving him a hug (although that may just be a stall tactic!). You are so protective of him, often telling me, "You not talk to Jackson like that, Mommy," when I try to scold him. I know you'll eventually try to use your bond to overthrow me, but until then, I love watching your affection for each other grow.

As you get ready to learn with Mrs. Emily and Mrs. Rae this year, know that even though I get a little emotional wondering what happened to my Baby Reeves, I am excited to see how you're going to grow.

Of course, like most moms, sometimes I worry about your learning--Is it on track? Will you need to be held back because of your late birthday? And sometimes, I even unfairly compare you to Jackson. But the truth is, you're happy being you, and you've already mastered some of the most important lessons in life.

I don't know what you'll be when you grow up--maybe you'll write the next Harry Potter, complete with mythical animals and sword fights. Or maybe you'll be a doctor like Patch Adams, healing with laughter as well as medicine.  Or who knows, maybe you really will be a left tackle, throwing blocks to protect the quarterback whose jersey has the same name as yours. I just don't know.

But I am confident that God has good things in store for you. May you always be in the 99th percentile for laughter and love. Happy birthday, Doodle!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Stop Saying, "Summer's Over"

Look, I get it . . . there is a definite period of transition this time of year.

Gone are the laid back mornings of summer, when my only alarm clock was the sweet sound of my two year old singing "I'm Still Standing . . . Yeah, Yeah, Yeah" from his crib.

Gone are the days of just throwing my hair in a ponytail and wearing yoga pants all day, whether I actually made it to the gym or not.

Gone are the days of counting a dip in the pool as a bath for the boys . . . and maybe even for myself.

I get that a change is coming, but here's my problem- when my brain hears "Summer's over," my heart hears "Fun's over," and it is really starting to freak me out!

Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm the only one who starts to panic, trying to cram in as many activities as possible that last week before school starts. Maybe I'm the only one who begins to worry that if I didn't get it done during the summer, now it's a lost cause. Maybe I'm the only one who wants that phrase erased from her vocabulary.

All I know is that every time I've heard those two words lately, I have been overcome with mom guilt that I never found time to take the boys to the bowling alley and now it's too late . . . you know, because the bowling alley isn't open all year long. Yes . . . I know . . . I have issues.

As a teacher, it's also hard to hear people saying "summer's over," but for a different reason.  Instead of feeling guilty, I feel frustrated because it's usually said in a ho-hum tone that channels Eeyore, the woe-is-me donkey in Winnie the Pooh. Kind of like, "Oh, you poor kid, summer's over and you have to go back to that dreadful place." Seriously, is it really that bad? Probably not. What kind of message does it send our kids if we equate going back to school with getting a root canal without Novocaine?

I always loved going back to school, the excitement that came with finding out who was in my classes and sporting my new pair of pure white, never-been-stepped-on Keds. And whether you were partial to the Trapper Keeper or Lisa Frank folders, getting new school supplies was absolutely thrilling. (My obsession with school supplies may or may not have single-handedly led me down the road to becoming an educator!)

True, school may not be fun in terms of lying around in pajamas, eating Froot Loops, and watching cartoons all day, but it's not exactly a forced labor camp in Siberia either.

The school year and fun aren't mutually exclusive. We usually have a pajama day at some point during the year. And a lot of schools have fun cereal. I know a certain five year old who eats the wholesome breakfast his mother lovingly fixes him at home, only to stand in the breakfast line when he gets to school to get his daily bowl of Lucky Charms. School definitely has its perks.

Now, not everybody says "Summer's over" from somewhere down in the dumps. Nah, some people are cheering that summer's over, singing, "Hallelujah! Get these kids up outta my house!" I've lived that life too, and I totally get it. No joke, there were a few days this summer when I went to the gym twice a day just so I could use childcare to get a little break from the Jackson Inquisition that started around 6:30 every morning and didn't end until one of us went to sleep.

If I'm honest with myself, I'm actually really lucky to be struggling with this "summer's over" mentality. Plenty of my friends, and probably the majority of the population, work all year long without the luxury of a summer break. They still find time to relax, have fun, and try new things, so I don't really know why I let myself get all worked up in a tizzy. September 22, the true end of summer, doesn't mean fun family outings or lazy Saturday mornings are over. True, it may mean they need to be a little more scheduled, but who am I kidding- I crave a schedule and I find comfort in consistency.

One of my favorite school posters says, "If you fail to plan, plan to fail." As we head back to the hustle and bustle of the school year, I'm going to plan some easy ways to keep the fun coming. I'm talking simple things, like strolling through Soda City on a Saturday morning or eating at Moctezumas Taqueria, two other things I meant to do this summer. And I'm going to remind myself that there isn't a time limit or a cut-off date for doing things I enjoy with people I love.

The great thing about summer being over is that it's time for fall and all of the unique activities that make it special, like football games and the Greek Festival. I think I'll go ahead and get a head start on my Fall Fun List. Now if I could just find my Trapper Keeper for some paper . . . .

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Just Do It!

About three weeks ago, on July 26, Alex and I celebrated the ninth anniversary of our first date. It's pretty amazing that I remember that date because about two weeks ago, I told one of my friends that we got married in November 2007. When she congratulated me on approaching the 10 year mark, I got really confused because we just celebrated our 7th anniversary. After some quick calculations, I realized we actually got married in 2009. Good thing I had the date engraved on Alex's wedding band!

My mom never gave me much relationship advice when I was growing up, but after I turned 25, it seemed to increase significantly . . . probably because she wanted me to get married so I would have somebody else to call when I accidentally over-drafted my bank account. Her number one piece of dating advice was this: You're not going to date the pizza delivery man.

At first, I got all defensive for the poor pizza guy. I mean, she didn't know my pizza man. He could have been a teacher who had a second job during the year so he could take cool vacations during the summer. Or, he could have been an industrious guy trying to put himself through med school. Who was she to judge the pizza man?

When I settled down, I realized all my mom meant was that in order to find the right guy, I actually had to leave the house. I had to do something, take some action. I couldn't just wait for Mr. Right to get delivered to my doorstep. When you think about it, that's actually pretty good life advice too.

I think we've gotten too used to things coming easy. From the microwave to Amazon Prime to Siri, we expect things to happen in the blink of an eye or the click of a button. Earlier this week, I was in Belk buying makeup, and I had to wait in line behind two other women. The only thing I thought about while I waited was that I should have just ordered it from Belk's website so I didn't have to stand in line- you know, the one that lasted all of five minutes. Ultimately, I didn't want to have to do the work. Much like a ordering a pizza, I just wanted to sit on my couch and wait for the makeup to be delivered.

But here's the thing about work- it's not all bad. It can bring people together. A year after my first date with Alex, he volunteered to help me pack up my classroom in order to move to Mid-Carolina's new building. What he didn't realize was that my classroom came with two extra rooms, one with floor to ceiling shelves of yearbooks that dated back to the 1960s. And did I mention my room didn't have air? And that we ran out of boxes? Yep, it was as much fun as it sounds, but you know what- in the middle of that sweltering room, surrounded by a bunch of musty old books, I fell in love with Alex that day. Not only was he selfless enough to come move a bunch of unbelievably heavy boxes on his day off, he didn't seem to be completely turned off by my bossiness. I knew then he was a keeper.

Some of my favorite memories revolve around hard work- moving beds and building camp fires at Cherokee, repairing roofs and floors at Salkehatchie, and decorating the Cantey Building for Holiday Market. Don't get me wrong, hard work can be frustrating, stressful, and downright exhausting. But it also brings with it a sense of accomplishment, stronger relationships, and usually a whole lot of laughs.

Jackson will often ask how a particular athlete got so good at his or her sport. Alex and I both make an conscious effort to tell him that professional athletes work really hard and practice every day. Granted, I'm sure they have a little talent too, but that isn't the part they can control, so it's not the part I emphasize.

I have always believed in the power of a good t-shirt slogan. One year, one of the sports teams at school had a shirt that said, "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard." That saying has always stuck with me. It reminds me of Michael Jordan's high school basketball career, of how he got cut from the JV team as a freshman. The coaches may have doubted Jordan's talent, but nobody can deny his ability to work hard. Getting cut served as his motivation to spend even more time in the gym, and in the end, all of the work was worth it.

Last week, Alex commented I seemed "mopey" about starting back to school. I think it was mainly because I am teaching three new classes, and when I started thinking about all the work that will involve, I got scared and overwhelmed.

That's when I decided to change my focus. Instead of thinking about the work I have to put in, I'm going to think about the joy I will get out. Will every day be full of accomplishments and laughs- heck no! But I have a feeling there will be enough in the long run to make the work worth it. It's kinda like when I ran the Governor's Cup Half Marathon. If I had thought about every mile I was going to have to run, especially that hill on Gervais Street, man, I never would have started. I had to stay focused on completing the race, on seeing Alex and Jackson cheering for me at the finish line, on showing off my cool new t-shirt.

Life isn't easy. Everything that is important requires work. Earning a degree, getting a job, maintaining friendships, building a marriage, raising kids . . . none of these things are just delivered to our doorstep. There are plenty of nights when I'd like to say, "Alexa, put my kids to bed," but then I realize that while relaxing on the couch sounds nice, I'd miss out on a lot of snuggles and giggles.

In the end, you just have to ask yourself if the sweaty, tiring, challenging task is worth the reward. When you find the answer is yes, you know it's time to get up off the couch and get to work.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Movies Are the New Books

In the movie Bad Teacher, Cameron Diaz tells her principal that movies are the new books. While that statement made me die a little inside, I can appreciate her love of a good movie.

Since I have more time in the summer to watch movies- and I can actually stay up past 9:00 to finish one!- Alex and I have gone on quite the marathon lately. Here are a few of our favorites:

After watching the trailer, we thought about watching Lion several weekends in a row, but every time Alex suggested it, I said I wasn't emotionally ready.  And then, one Saturday night, I decided I could handle it . . . or so I thought!  When I tell you this movie requires an entire box of Klenex, I'm really not kidding, but it is so worth it.

Lion tells the story of a little boy, Saroo, who gets separated from his family in India and is forced to survive on his own for some time before getting adopted by Nicole Kidman and her husband in Australia.  After the movie, I told Alex we really needed to toughen our boys up because if we lost them, they'd never be able to survive the streets of Columbia, much less Calcutta.

Dev Patel, my crush since Slumdog Millionaire, gives a moving performance as adult Saroo, struggling with the decision of whether or not he should return to India to find his biological family at the risk of hurting his adoptive parents.

Obviously, this movie emphasizes the importance of family, both the one we are born to and the one we choose along the way.  But what really fascinated me was how everything that happened in Saroo's life seemed to be preparing him for what was coming next.  I know I get so caught up in the here and now that I rarely stop to look back and see how all of the pieces were fitting together along the way.

The Edge of Seventeen
AppleTV compares this movie to Sixteen Candles, and while I feel that might be overstepping just a tad- I mean, can anything really compete with a John Hughes film- it is a funny and heartwarming coming-of-age story for sure.

Nadine is an awkward high school student who lives in the shadow of her older brother. Things get really rough for her when her brother starts dating her best friend. Sometimes I really felt for Nadine with all of her teenage angst, but other times I wanted to bop her in the head and tell her to get it together. So basically, she reminded me of some of my favorite students.

One of the best aspects of this movie is that Nadine's history teacher is played by Woody Harrelson.  Now, I'll admit, I haven't always been a fan of his- he was too goofy for me in Cheers and too crazy in Natural Born Killers, but once he became Haymitch Abernathy, I fell in love.  I really think he's found his niche as a sarcastic, yet caring, mentor.  He has a few lines in this one that are sure to make you laugh out loud.

McFarland, USA
I love a Disney movie about a struggling sports team with an inspirational coach and a catchy team chant.  If you read that sentence and immediately thought, "Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme! Get on up, it's bobsled time!" then this one's for you.

Like Cool Runnings, McFarland, USA is based on a true story.  Kevin Costner is the new P.E. teacher at a mainly Latino high school in McFarland, CA.  When he realizes that several of his students are strong distance runners, he starts a cross country team, much to the disbelief of pretty much everybody in the town.

The kids in McFarland had to overcome more than just the literal hills they were running. They woke up before sunrise to help their parents in the fields before heading to school, then practice, and then back to the fields. Their work ethic and dedication to their families and to cross country made me get up off the couch to cheer them on. Now when I'm on the treadmill, huffing and puffing and wanting to quit, I just picture my man Danny Diaz charging up those hills of almonds at practice, and I know I can keep going.

Hidden Figures
Kevin Costner has really made some good movies lately. I was worried he'd never bounce back after Waterworld, but ever since Draft Day (another great movie, especially if you like football), he has really redeemed himself.

I feel like Hidden Figures should be required viewing for every American. I learned so much new information about NASA, the Space Race, and segregation, it makes me wonder how I passed the AP U.S. History exam in high school.

The most amazing thing was to think about what it must have been like for John Glenn to get that first glimpse of earth from space. The movie made it look breathtaking, so I can only imagine what it was like for Glenn in real life. It was inspiring to watch all of these different groups of people- women, African Americans, astronauts- bravely break down barriers and take enormous risks to explore a new frontier.

One thing I loved about watching this movie was seeing all of the great dresses women wore in the 1960s. From work to church to a trip to the library, the women were always impeccably dressed. And the men were killin' it too, with sharp suits and snazzy hats. It makes me sad to think about how movies filmed 50 years from now will portray today's fashion. Will it be all yoga pants and graphic tees? Who's going to win an Oscar for costume design then?

Guardians of the Galaxy
This is one movie I never wanted to see.  I was quite sure it would be 121 minutes of my life I'd never get back.  But strong relationships require compromise, so I gave in and told Alex I'd watch it . . . secretly knowing I was getting ready to enjoy 121 minutes of nap time.

Low and behold, I was hooked within the first 10 minutes.  I'm sure this had little to do with the fact that Chris Pratt is pretty nice to look at! This was an entertaining superhero movie, and surprisingly, I really do want to see the sequel.

This movie did leave me with several questions, however.  First, how much did Vin Disel get paid to simply grunt and repeat the same sentence over and over again. That's good work, if you can get it. And second, if you're going to pay Bradley Cooper big bucks to star in your movie, why are you only going to make him the voice of a scraggly raccoon?  I mean, I'm just not sure his voice is his best feature.

The Fate of the Furious
Okay, let me go ahead and answer everybody's number one question: Can this franchise survive without Paul Walker? I had my doubts too, but I was pleasantly surprised. Don't get me wrong, there was a hole in my heart without Brian O'Connor, but the movie still lived up to it's legacy of fast cars and family unity.

While the first six, seven, eight, (How many of these movies are there?) films fell into the action genre, I felt like this one could easily be a comedy. Between Tyrese Gibson's witty banter with Ludacris and Jason Statham's mad babysitting skills, I was laughing the whole time.

Now, before you go judging my love of unrealistic stunt driving and deem this below your movie standards, you should know this one includes two Oscar winners in Charlize Theron and Dame Helen Mirren. I'm pretty sure that means the Queen of England saw it and loved it as much as I did.

The Last Word
Have you ever thought about writing your own obituary before you die? Truthfully, I don't think it's that weird. That is the premise of The Last Word, a movie about controlling and stubborn Harriet (Shirley MacLaine), who hires young, quirky journalist  Anne (Amanda Seyfried) to write her obituary pre-mortem. The only problem is, there's not too much good stuff to write because Harriet has burned all of  her bridges and left a lot of hurt feelings along the way.

If you liked Shirley MacLaine as cantankerous Ouiser Boudreaux, you'll love her as Harriet. One of the best parts of the movie is the friendship she forms with a young girl she is attempting to mentor.

Alex described this movie as "sneaky." It starts off a little slow, but as you get to know the characters, you realize you love them and you probably know a few just like them.  We all leave a legacy, whether we are remembered by a few special loved ones or an entire community. This movie reminds us to do what we can to make sure that our legacy is a positive one.

A Dog's Purpose
I thought cats were the ones with nine lives, but evidently, dogs have them too. This movie follows a dog's spirit as it gets reincarnated over and over in different dogs. Yeah, I know, I thought it sounded weird too.  I also thought it sounded like the dog version of Look Who's Talking, which it sort of was, but is that really a bad thing?

This is the perfect family movie because it has something for everyone- love, adventure, suspense, and humor. However, there are several things you need to be prepared for before you watch this movie. First, you need to be prepared to ugly cry, so chose your viewing audience wisely.

Secondly, you need to be prepared to buy a dog, especially if you have young sons.  After watching this movie, you may think the only way their lives will be complete is if they grow up with a dog. And then you may be overcome with guilt, seeing as how you gave away the dog your children loved because that sweet, angelic creature was just too much for you to handle. And then you may want to track down the family you gave said dog to and see if they wouldn't mind returning him. But maybe that's just me.

I hope you will enjoy these movies as much as we did.  If you have any suggestions of what we should watch next, let me know in the comments!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Help! There's a giraffe at prom!

A few years ago, I made a bucket list.  It's not long, but it is rather unique, and it even includes riding a mechanical bull.  At the top of my list is being a contestant on Jeopardy! I figure since I can be a regular contestant or a participant in the Teacher's Tournament, I have a really upped my odds of getting on the show.  Plus, I already have one of my interesting anecdote's ready and waiting- I have been to the prom 16 times.  Amazing, right? I feel sure Alex Trebek is dying to chat with me about that little tidbit.

I love everything about the prom . . . the dresses, the decorations, the awesome DJs that play four solid hours of music that makes me want to shake my groove thing.

This year, I worked the ticket table.  That really was the best job because I got to see all the kids dressed up and even looking a little nervous, which was so cute.  The theme this year was Mardi Gras. Oddly enough, that was the theme back in 1995 when my love affair with prom began.

Mardi Gras was also the theme of Prom 2012.  Now, I know I said earlier I have been to 16 proms, but that's not exactly true. Technically, I have only been to 15 because I didn't quite make it to Prom 2012. Instead of going to prom, I spent the evening in the hospital snuggling my sweet new baby boy.

The Friday morning of prom, I woke up bright and early, knowing that Jackson had not listened to my explicit instructions not to arrive before Saturday night. The entire way to the hospital, I kept firing off texts to my co-sponsor Brea, detailing everything that needed to get done. Finally, Brea had had enough (It was 5 a.m. after all) and sent me a text that basically said, "I got this. Stop texting me and go have a baby." Well, okay then.

Deep down, I knew Brea had it under control. She loves prom (and Jeopardy!) as much as I do, and she had a wonderful team of teachers and students backing her up. Pictures from the night proved that it was, indeed, a magical masquerade. 

My problem that morning was I didn't want to have to ask for help. There I was in the middle of a contraction, too proud to admit I needed somebody else to take over. If I hadn't been about to have his baby, I think Alex would have tossed me out of the car for such nonsense.  

This wasn't the first time I had received a stern talking to about letting people help me. Picture it, Columbia, 2003.  It was a warm spring day and my mom and I had run into Earth Fare to grab a few things.  When we got back to the car, I searched my pocketbook for my keys, only to realize they were locked inside my super cool Geo Prism.  What in the world were we going to do?

Enter college crush.

This sweet guy offered all sorts of help, but I just rebuffed him, telling him thank you but we had already called AAA. As soon as he walked away, my mom turned on me and said, "Katherine, you're never going to get a date if you don't let guys help you."  I'm sorry, what?  I'm not some damsel in distress trapped in a tower waiting to be rescued.  I tried to tell her we didn't need help because a locksmith was on the way, but she just rolled her eyes, sighing at my hopelessness.

If you read my Mother's Day post, you know throughout my life I have been surrounded by a group of strong, independent women, women who seemed to be in charge of a lot without needing much outside help.  That's why my mom's directive took me by such surprise and confused the heck out of me. The idea of letting people help me was news to me.

Why are we so afraid to ask for help?  Is it that we don't want to appear weak? Is it that we are afraid of rejection when the person we're asking says no? Is it that we are afraid to release control- what if the person helping doesn't do it the same way we would have? What if she does it better?

I feel like this is a modern problem.  I mean, pioneers didn't have trouble asking each other for help when they needed a barn raised. No way, everybody pitched in and then celebrated with a picnic while Pa played the fiddle and Mary, Laura, and Carrie danced around the fire.

Life is much different these days. Being independent is valued as a strength, while needing help is seen as a weakness. Society praises the "self-made man." Charles Lindbergh will always be remembered for making the first SOLO flight across the Atlantic . . . an accomplishment that wouldn't have been possible without a crew on the ground checking his plane and calculating his coordinates.

I think the rest of the animal kingdom has it figured out. If you know my boys, you know giraffes are a big deal in our house.  Over the years, I've learned a lot about these animals, along with all the other animals that roam the African grasslands (Fingers crossed African Animals will be a Jeopardy! category!). One thing sticks out about these animals- the majority of them live in herds, and the herds work together.  Take elephants, for example. While some members of the herd go out to find food, others stay behind to protect the young. Giraffes, especially, benefit from the herd. A giraffe is most vulnerable when it bends down to drink water, so while several giraffes drink, the other giraffes stay on the lookout for lions and other predators.

In both cases, the animals survive because they help each other.

We should try to be more like giraffes (Long legs? Yes, please!) And maybe we kinda are. What I have come to realize is that all those strong, independent women I knew growing up could be leaders at home, at work, and in the community because they helped each other.  They pitched in to drive carpools, deliver meals, and host overnight guests. Most importantly, they were there to listen and circle around each other in times of need.

It's taken almost 39 years, but I've finally figured out that-SHOCKER-I can't do it all by myself.  And thankfully, I don't have to. Now, instead of being too prideful/embarrassed/ashamed to ask for help, I count my blessings that I have family and friends to ask. How sad would it be if I didn't have a village of supporters willing to have my back when times get tough? 

It can be both scary and humbling to ask for help, but we can't go it alone. John Donne wrote, "No man is an island," and it's so true. We need each other to plan proms, to survive the hard times, and to live life to its fullest.

Jackson feeding the giraffes in 2013. This was the
beginning of his obsession.

Alex and Reeves helping a giraffe enjoy
a morning snack in  2015.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Motivation from a Drunk Octopus

One Friday night a few weeks ago, Jackson begged me to sleep in his bed.  So I did what every good mom would do . . . waited for him to fall asleep, snuck out of his room to get a good night's sleep in my own bed, and then set my alarm for 6:00 a.m. so I could climb back in his bed before he missed me. Look, I love my son, but in the words of my friend Tim, sleeping with him is like sleeping with a drunk octopus looking for its car keys.

And do you know what my sacrificial devotion to my son got me the next morning?  This comment: "Hey, Mommy, do you have a baby in your tummy? Ha, ha, no, you just don't exercise."

Anybody want a free five year old?

As much as that comment stung, when I stopped to think about it, I realized Jackson did kinda have a point.  I really had let my running shoes get a little dusty lately.

I think one of the biggest reasons for this is that taking time for the gym often comes with a side of guilt.  During the school year, if I go to the gym after school, I feel like I'm neglecting the boys for one more hour.  And if I take them with me, then I feel guilty that they're inside watching TV in the kids' room instead of doing something more educational and creative outside.

I know the antidote for my guilt is grace, but grace can be a slippery slope that gets me into some trouble.  Sometimes if I give myself the grace to take a day off, that day turns into a week, and then a month, and then before I know it, I'm getting roasted by a five year old.

Balance is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days.  Everybody is searching for that work-life balance or that home-school balance.  A balance between guilt and grace is what I've been striving for this summer, and I'll admit it's been a challenge, especially since I have a tendency to be an all-or-nothing kind of girl.

One thing that helps me find my balance is zeroing in on my why for doing something.  If my why for working out is only losing weight, I know I'm doomed because once that scale slows down or stops moving altogether, I want to quit and go home and eat Ruffles potato chips with Dean's sour cream and onion dip for dinner and watch TV all night long.

Over the past few weeks, I've been trying to find better whys for making time for exercise.  Here's what I've come up with so far:

My number one why is building relationships.  If going to the gym includes friends, it's easy to get there.  Walking on the treadmill beside a buddy while catching up on life at the same time is win-win. Having somebody beside me in a boot camp class to encourage me, challenge me, and sing '90s rap with me makes the time fly by.  I have to keep reminding myself that getting in shape doesn't happen over night, so having friends cheering me on keeps me motivated.

Another why is feeling like a bad ass (Can I even write that on here?).  But seriously, on a day when I run faster than I think I can or I push through more burpees than ever before, I leave the gym feeling like I can take on the world.  And now that I've seen Wonder Woman, I pretty much envision myself training with a bunch of Amazons every time I work out.  Who wouldn't want to feel that empowered?

Some days, my why is all about taking time for myself.  On these days, I'm less Amazonian warrior and more Forrest Gump, just running and running, turning off the questions and demands of the world to clear my head so I come back to my family with more energy and a better attitude.  Over the years, I have solved a lot of problems, said a lot of prayers, and written a lot of  blog posts while clocking up mile after mile.  

My final why is setting a good example for my family.  On Father's Day weekend, I took Jackson with me to a class at Burn Boot Camp Columbia.  It was awesome to have him there cheering me on and giving me high fives.  His energy was contagious, and I was reminded that when I find the right kind of exercise with the right people, it truly can be a lot of fun, something I actually look forward to.  I want Jackson and Reeves to know that feeling too, and I hope they can find their own whys for making exercise a part of their lives.

Even with my new list of whys, finding balance doesn't always come naturally to me.  Last Saturday, Alex and I went out to dinner, and we decided to split the banana pudding for dessert.  Normally, I would have felt guilty for having dessert after an already indulgent meal, but last Saturday was different.  I gave myself the grace to enjoy the treat, knowing I had gone to the gym earlier in the day.  And you know, once I accepted that grace and stopped beating myself up over the kind of dinner that happens once a month, it was much easier to regain my balance on Sunday.

Eating right all the time and exercising every day isn't easy, and a lot of times, it's not even realistic.  I have to remind myself  that getting back in shape and taking care of myself isn't an all-or-nothing process.  It's a daily give and take, making good decisions when I can, and forgiving myself when I don't.  It's focusing on what I gain from healthy living rather than what I lose.

Above all, it's learning to find balance, one day at a time.

My favorite workout buddy!