Category Archives: family

My conservative mom raised a liberal

Of all the things I thought I would write about contemporaneously, a fight about white supremacy was never on my radar. White supremacy is the stuff of college research papers, not presidential press conferences. This subject was also a frequent topic of conversation when I was growing up.

My mom was born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina. She always told stories of seeing chain gangs — usually all black men — working around town. As an adult, she told her parents they were not welcome to visit us if they continued to use the n-word. When mom was a girl, her family was a poor, working class family, and my mom’s first store-bought doll was dark-skinned. She still has that doll, Paula May.

I have always believed that my parents were telling me to check myself for thoughts and attitudes about being better than anyone. I feel like they were raising me to know that some people are less blessed than us, some people have a different — sometime a lot tougher — road. In my mind, I should follow my mother’s example of how to treat people around me. Here’s one: I was having breakfast with my parents one day, and she spotted a guy leaving the restaurant who doesn’t get around much on his own because of some physical or mental deficiencies. I don’t know his story, just that she said, “Oh, Duder McGee is here!” and she hopped up to say hello, and as my eyes followed her I saw that he had help with him and that he was not a typical grown man. My shy, introverted mom jumped up during breakfast to run after someone to say, “Hey, good to see you!” because she was genuinely happy to see him.

While I’m not comparing apples to oranges when it comes to human beings, I’m trying to explain why I don’t get pissy that someone feels like they need to say “black lives matter!” Or why saying that only white, able-bodied men and their white, fertile wives wanting to “take back” America is just wrong. My mom had me reading the Bible since she knew I could read. (Believe me, I started reading very early. Very early. Earlier than any of you, believe me. Fake news is still trying to learn to read. Sad.) Of course my personal and religious beliefs have defined my view of the world. Likewise, I take the Declaration of Independence at face value when it lists the truths we hold to be self evident. I believe all these lessons are there to help me, and all of us, to be better.

It’s nice to be nice. It’s so much more pleasant than being a jackass. Since when did this simple, every day logic get lost on these hate-filled, un-American, un-Christian white supremacists and their emboldened supporters?! I’d much rather be the lone voice of liberalism in my family than associated in any way with a neo-Nazi or anyone on the alt-right. My mama raised me to be better than that.

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Homemade Christmas ornaments

I was determined to make a Christmas tree ornament of our dog Emmett’s paw print this year. I never did capture a paw print of my late Peanut, and that’s one thing I wish I had in some form.

Our ornaments growing up were all handmade salt dough — little works of art my mother crafted and hand painted that we hung with glee for many, many years. The dough mix is quick and simple, roughly as follows:

  • One part salt
  • Two parts flour
  • One part water (but start slow)

The dough rolls easily, is not sticky, and is easily transferred to a cookie sheet for baking. Emmie was so good with making her paw impression that I decided to use my leftover dough to try my hand at a raised ornament, too.

For the impression, I simply cut a circle in the flattened dough, bribed the dog with treats, and had her stand on the counter for a minute.

For the raised ornament, I simply used the spare circle of dough, rolled the rest by hand to make some spheres, and placed them on the background circle with drops of water.

After baking the ornaments in the convection oven, I used acrylic paint as a base layer and let them dry for 24 hours. When baking them, don’t worry about burning them or achieving an even color because you’ll paint them. Instead, bake them enough so there is no more moisture in the dough. Extreme over-baking will cause the dough to crumble, but as all things in life, moderation is key. Bake 10 minutes at a time until the ornament is hard.

Please stand by for photos of the finished ornaments!

 

December 11

My father’s father passed away today. He was my last grandparent. He was 98 years old.

Grief is so weird. My granddad is the fourth of my four grandparents to pass, so this isn’t a new experience, but I keep cycling between relief that his ailments are over, and a very deep sadness. I had such a strong affection for him. I remember telling him when I was pretty young that he was my favorite grandfather, and my mother’s mother was my favorite grandmother. (AWKWARD.)

More proof that I’ve never had and never will have a filter.

‘Tis the season for celebrating, and despite our loss my family has been blessed with so much. I’m incredibly grateful.

And puppy makes three

I haven’t published much this year because my Very Important Deep Thoughts on Life* are mostly about being a newlywed and involve another person. That person — obviously, my husband — may or may not care to have his personal business posted on my blog for the seven or so people who read it.

We have a new member in our little family. Team AJ is now tEam AJ with the addition of R.E.B. “Emmie” Baylor, a rescue from Dallas Animal Services. Before I get into how this addition came to be, let me introduce The Emmie Dog!

When I met my husband, we had the talk about pets. I’m such an animal lover that I couldn’t wrap my mind around someone’s proclaimed indifference to pets, but I saw how he treated other pets with affection. He told me about how the loss of his own pets hurt him, and I understood. My Peanut was my best friend and most reliable companion for 15 years, and losing her was devastating. Taking a plunge into an emotional relationship that is guaranteed to be relatively short-lived is a tough commitment, and this time I needed to be sure enough for the both of us.

I didn’t take adopting a dog lightly and was happy to commit to all the responsibility and care of the right one. I knew that once I got out and about and started actively looking, the right pup would come along. I went to the shelter in Petsmart on the advice of a friend. I saw lots of dogs, but on the advice of a worker, gave extra consideration to a sweetheart they called Missy. I knew this dog was The One because she was so responsive, affectionate, sweet, and clearly sharp. Any fissure of doubt I had about adopting this dog evaporated when the staff asked us to pose for the 37,000th adoption picture, and Emmitt gave me a huge kiss as the shutter clicked.

Emmie has worked hard to win over my husband, and I’m touched to say the affection is mutual. Today one of his sisters said on Facebook that he would make a great father, and I have seen proof with my own eyes. I’m so blessed by my family! Emmie is a wonderful addition to our family. I love to hear her snores when she sleeps and happy yips every time Jeff comes home. I love to hear Jeff sing to Emmie. I’m so blessed, and I couldn’t be happier.

*These Seriously Important thoughts include such vital topics as why the quadruple roll of Charmin is so much nicer than the triple roll of Cotonelle, why TCU fans seem to be total douche weasels about football yet offer nary a mention of any other Big 12 sport, wondering what dogs and babies dream about, and pondering why my sleeping habits are pretty crappy. Also, Covet.

WHAT UP 2015!?!?

I’m doing it: 2014 retrospective! Sorry so sappy, but my blog is nothing but trying to reinforce lessons I’ve learned, process life, and sort my thoughts. Meanwhile, a bit of a show I’m re- re- re- re- re-watching on Netflix struck me as a great theme for the thoughts of last year and aspirations for next! From an episode of Gilmore Girls:

Lorelai: Wait, wait. Look around for a second. Notice?
Rory: Notice what?
Lorelai: It’s not so scary anymore.
Rory: No, it’s not.

Pretty much everything I’ve ever been anxious about worth being anxious about includes that moment of realization that “this isn’t so scary anymore.”

In chronological order of things to be scared of this year:

  • I left a great job for another great job. A few months later, I was laid off.
  • I got engaged!
  • I planned a wedding! Although it wasn’t perfect, it was a blast. I have family and friends who made everything happen, and I love those folks overwhelmingly.
  • I got married!
  • I have an exciting career opportunity!

I wrote a little bit about my wedding, but that was a combination of trying to edit my disappointment while emphasizing the most positive parts. Meanwhile, our experiences and memories were a little different.

I met some fantastic people this year. People who I’ve known and loved had gone above and beyond for me. My husband is a rock star, in more ways than one. 2014 was good for us, but I am convinced 2015 will be much better!

Unconventional newlyweds

A few weeks before my wedding, my mom asked me if Bible verses I memorized when I was young came back to me when I needed them. My answer is resoundingly, yes. Specifically, “But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Bible verses come to my mind all the time, and more when I need them. As my wedding day neared, that verse has stuck with me, and it has also come to mind during many times of major life changes.

I don’t know which came first — my need to treasure and ponder, or the Biblical justification that such a need exists. Either way, I tend to treasure and ponder. I haven’t been able to articulate how that tendency parlays into another ability I have, and I wish I could. I’ve been interviewing for new professional opportunities, and a side effect of all this professional soul searching is a renewed discovery in my innate skill to appreciate the big picture without losing my commitment to the smallest detail. Somehow, this ability and personal penchant are two sides of the same strength in my mind.

I got married almost two weeks ago. Wedding planning was another great way to blend my professional penchant for the process of executing a big picture. I love the big picture, but I love making it all happen. As time ticked down, I surrendered my responsibility to execute every little detail, and I’m so happy with the results. I did commit to the details that were crucial to me, and I had those experiences. Those are the important moments that I treasure and will forever ponder.

One moment I really wanted was with my dad and my sister. When Jeff and I got engaged I remember specific snapshots of my heart. I have those precious memories mentally frozen that made the event special. The first snapshot of my heart on my wedding day is first when my dad saw me in my dress. He’s a charmer! But just before my sister queued up to walk down the aisle, she tossed a look to me and dad over her shoulder and gave us a wink and a smile. That’s EXACTLY why I wanted my sister to be with me and Dad until we took our turn down the aisle.

I should probably verbalize to my sister how important she is to me, huh? I’ve heard of “Daddy’s girl” (yes, I am), and “Mama’s girl” (and I’m that, too), but I’m also a “sister’s girl.” My sister’s a bad ass.

For the record, I have sisters by another mother. They are bad ass, too. Getting married rocked my world way beyond the husband part. I love my husband, but I’m joyously overwhelmed by the other sister elements.

I have small, tiny regrets about our wedding day that I forgot or discarded for the sake of prioritization on the day. We forgot things that we never even missed, but the instances when a well paid vendor failed to deliver have plagued me. Those miscommunications have eaten away at me more than I anticipated. Some other troubles that I anticipated came to pass, and I wasn’t able to adequately articulate a solution during the day, and unfortunately that stressed other people who I didn’t want to stress.

Those minor regrets, which I take full responsibility for, have plagued me in the last few days. They began to outweigh the many precious moments from my wedding that I treasure and ponder. I’ve had dreams since the wedding in which I both did and didn’t confront the vendors. I’ve had dreams since the wedding in which guests confront me about these minor regrets. Because my husband left town for work two days after our wedding, I’ve had “Phantom Jeff” dreams that he was home and moving around or talking to me. Although my dreams are crazy with a side of nuts, I miss my mister more than I thought possible.

Acknowledging all that, my husband is home and my wedding was FABULOUS! Jeff woke up a few minutes ago and asked me how I was awake. I said goodnight, and that I’m awake because I’m writing. Once more for the record, my sister and brother-in-law are the best there are.

Year of Life Changes: He popped the question edition

I have a fiancé! His name is Jeff, and a few weeks ago he said to me, “I just want to be a hero for you.” And he is. He’s the hero I never knew I needed, but still everything I’ve been praying for.

He was concerned about ruining the romance and element of surprise, but I could only handle so much unknown stuff to worry about, so he did confirm that a proposal was forthcoming early this year. I’ve been alluding to it, but I didn’t know any details. I even told a coworker on Friday that I was convinced that he didn’t have a ring yet. He had reservations for dinner last night at Mercy Wine Bar, one of my favorite places and where we had our first date almost two years ago. At dinner, I could tell he was nervous, and I was, too. If the huge pile of leftovers in the fridge are an indication, we hardly ate.

He proposed with a rose

He proposed with a rose

I have snapshots in my mind of Jeff walking toward the table after dinner with a long-stemmed rose in hand and a huge grin on his face. Aww! right? Oh wait, why is that rose sparkling?! He got to the table and said, “I love you!” and I said, “I love you, too!” And then he was down on one knee in front of me and I saw the ring and I was vaguely aware of a dull roar around us as people realized that there was a proposal in their midst. I wish I could remember what he said exactly, but it was something about how happy he is with me and would I marry him. I said yes, but I was shaking and oddly scared to let him put the ring on. I was afraid it wouldn’t fit — what an odd thing to fixate on in that moment.

We took some time to sit together and just bask in the moment, assisted by the champagne our server brought out to us, but that didn’t last too long. We walked to the nearby Whole Foods for some champagne and dessert, went back to my place and sat out on my balcony to talk about the experience because it was a gorgeous night after a beautiful warm spring day. (Today, however, it’s freezing and ice is falling from the sky. Welcome to Texas, y’all!) It was too late to call my parents, but Jeff couldn’t wait, and I couldn’t either, so we started sharing the news.

Aquamarine engagement ring

Aquamarine engagement ring

About the ring: Very early 2013, Jeff took me to a jewelry store under the guise of wanting to walk around the mall for awhile. He would have moved heaven and earth that day to get me any ring in the store that I said I wanted, I have no doubt. Why do I believe that? Because he did move heaven and earth to get me the ring that I eventually wanted, and he did it in a timeframe that was comfortable to me and best for us.

I’m one of those tree-hugging, people-loving, think-global-act-local, put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is anomalies in Texas. As part of that, I did not want a diamond. I have a conviction about the diamond industry, and I want no part of it. I have a whole rant about diamonds; I won’t get into it because I already know it, but I hated the idea of Jeff spending his hard-earned money on some belief that “diamonds are forever” because of a heinously funded marketing campaign that started in the 1920s to convince people that a man should spend X times his income on a particular rock or metal. (OK, I worked most of the rant into that. Whoops.)

I wanted something different! Jeff and I are special snowflakes, and no one else’s relationship is like ours, right? After a lot of deep reflection and discussion — I made the joke more than once that if a sapphire is good enough for Princess Diana, it’s good enough for me! — we started looking at everything, everywhere. I’m obsessed with Art Deco, sapphires, and making sure my relationship with Jeff is perfectly us. Our first date was on my birthday, so I thought it would be so sweet to have aquamarine, my birthstone, in our ring. I was adamant that Jeff not take on any debt for a ring. Basically, I set some tough limitations on the poor guy’s options, because it’s easier to go to a big box ring store, get credit, and buy a diamond. To me, that just reinforces what’s wrong with that industry, but nobody asked me. Luckily, Jeff cared about all of my concerns and wishes.

So much of the unique stuff we found and loved was expensive, and that was disheartening. I had a chat with my college roommate about what I loved and the realities of the ring industry, and I realized that I really wanted a specific look. After that, I researched like the crazed researcher that I am and found a jeweler in Boston that offers highly customizable pieces with certified jewels.

Jeff got me exactly what I wanted: A bezel set aquamarine with a white sapphire halo in white metal. Dreaming about a ring is a superficial thing, I know. I always believed that pining for the perfect ring is kind of a mean measure of “did he listen to me?” As much as I loathe these tests, I love that my fiancé went beyond my wildest dream! Perhaps I’m a hypocrite in that story because I didn’t want bling, but I wanted bling. I wanted something with sentimental value. And I so got it. When I stare at the ring for too long, I start to cry. Jeff, my hero, understood my sentiment without judgement and made my dream a reality.

I know I’ll have so much to write about the actual wedding stuff, but we’ve decided to wait a bit to get started with that. We can’t wait to celebrate our life together and our families and friends, but we are enjoying the glow of the recently engaged! I have a finacé!

This week in my Year of Life Changes

This week, I left a great job with people I really loved. I really meant to be cool, but I got emotional saying goodbye. People I really respect and admire made effort to compliment me or wish me well, and that overwhelmed me a little bit.

Then I started a new job! I’m so jazzed about this job, I literally can’t sleep for the buzz in my brain about it. I’d been having anxiety dreams about showing up to the new gig and them not knowing who I am. Luckily, I showed up and they said, “Hi, Ashley! We’re so happy you’re here!” I work with several very nice people, and I’m thrilled to be there. I am excited — out of my head excited — for this opportunity.

Packing for a move

Packing for a move

To round out my Year of Life Changes, I started packing today for my move in early March. My boyfriend took me to Sam’s Club so he could get gas and I could order new tires for my  car (even more changes!). He didn’t get gas, and we ended up not ordering tires from the store, but he ordered the  tires on his iPhone app. Not to waste a trip, I managed to find several things I couldn’t live without. I found moving boxes to get me started. Then I found a bunch of other stuff that I couldn’t live without. And a sweater.

Parenthetically, Sam’s Club offers a Soda Stream starter kit for $60 with two 2-liter containers. The same kit goes for $113 at Macy’s, which was on sale last weekend for $99. Should future Ashley still be in the market for a Soda Stream, go to Sam’s!

Packing. Ugh, I don’t love it. I’ve been covered in dust for hours, but I have cleared a good chunk of my bookshelves. I have a ton of breakables that I question moving or giving away. I have a ton of clothes and DVDs that need the same examination.

My mom offered to help pack, which would be awesome, but she isn’t supposed to lift more than five pounds or bend over. I worry about her pushing her boundaries if she’s packing my stuff all alone. Although, I have a lot of breakables, and if I had constructed boxes and packing material, perhaps she could wrap up the breakables. I could keep at the boxes and clothes, and maybe Mom could do the delicates!

Just today’s thoughts.

photo credit: Betsssssy via photopin cc

The sweet side of life

Let’s dig dirt: I had a bad relationship. It destroyed me. I don’t like to talk about it. But I learned a ton about myself (and narcissists).

After that, I had an anthem, which I haven’t listened to for some time until tonight. It’s an awesome anthem for anyone, but I like it for myself tonight because of all my recent life events.

I’m about to rock an awesome job at an incredible company, I’m about to move away from a crazy landlord, I’ve been reaffirmed for at least the 100th time that my Mr. and I will get engaged soon. Very soon. This is relevant because loving someone who loves you back is incredible.

I wish love would come to you, if it hasn’t yet.

Change, cancer, and other things that don’t define us

Today I made contact with a very lovely gentlemen who found me through this blog. That’s pretty shocking considering how intentionally little I market or publicize my personal blog. Specifically, he found my previous blog post about tackling change.

This gentlemen reached out to me about his story as a loved one of a cancer survivor. He didn’t know I was also a loved one of a cancer survivor. Nor did he know how deeply I’ve been affected by my friends’ mom’s struggle with cancer, or my friends’ daughter battle throughout her teens.

I share his family’s story to share hope with anyone — especially myself — facing challenging times. Theirs is a story of sacrifice, determination, and hope, which conquers fear and doubt.

I write about this family’s story to remind myself of the power of change. I write about this family’s story to validate their experience and amazing, hopeful message. I write to share their story with anyone who may read this.

Cameron Von St. James (I originally called him Collin. Doh!) is the gentleman who reached out to me today. I am so blessed to have contact with this family, and I hope to get to know them more. Colin’s wife, Heather, has a rock star web site. I beg you to check it out because it’s awesome AND therapeutic! I think I should develop such an awesome site for my mom to raise awareness of her type of cancer! Heather’s site is fun. That seems odd considering the subject matter, but it’s true.

Check out Heather Von St. James website.

They have a specific day for “Lung Leavin’ Day,” so stay tuned for more about it.