Plane, Train, Automobile, Pool Companion – Podcasts

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I’ve fallen in the podcast hole.

Scratch that, I’ve jumped in the podcast pool.

With a bit of a commute most days, podcasts have been my constant companion. So, if you have an upcoming trip this summer with a loaded Kindle in tow but reading in the car makes you queasy or you’ve watched every in flight movie, maybe a really great podcast will be a good option.

There has been a bit of a podcast resurgence in the past year with thousands and thousands of episodes offered up weekly. To help you wade through the pool, here are some of my favorites.

Couple of quick notes. I subscribe – new episodes automatically download to my phone – to only a handful of podcasts. I’m choosy with the rest. There are two lists below – subscribed and a check in list (Pop in to see if I’m interested in any of the new episodes). For the check in list, I’ve listed my favorite episodes.

The links provided will take you to the website for the podcast, but I find it easiest and best to search your favorite podcast app and scroll through the episodes.

Subscribed:

This American Life – The King. They have been telling stories for the longest and do it hella well. Most episodes are a little on the long side, but well worth it.

Embedded – Typically, NPR releases all radio produced content in podcast form. Embedded is one of a handful of podcast only shows from the station. It is newest edition and one of the most in depth.

The Big Boo Cast – Ladies, this one is a little more for you. These two hosts, Melanie Shankle and Sophie Hudson have been bloggers for years and each have a few books under their belts. They spit sports talk like they are on AM radio, but can also chat about the Nordstrom sale and the best brand of mascara. Bonus, they are hilarious. They don’t post often, but each one is well worth the time.

The Splendid Table – If I had to pick a favorite in this whole list, it would be the Splendid Table. This lands squarely in the foodie realm, but the host Lynn Rosetto Kasper is SO incredible good, you can’t help but wish she was your next door neighbor and best friend. If you can binge on Master Chef, Chef’s Table, Chopped and the like, you will love this.

The West Wing Weekly – My love for The West Wing is DEEP. Hrishikesh Hirway along with Joshua Molina, who played Will Bailey on the show, hosts this podcast which walks through one episode per week. With the show planted on Netflix, a whole new generation of people are discovering the brilliance of writer Aaron Sorkin. If you are a West Wing fan, you will love this podcast. Guests on the podcast includes former writers, consultants, and stars of the show.

Check in on these often:

Reply All – Miss Serial Season 1? This will tide you over. The podcast as a whole is about the internet, but four episodes are special. “On the Inside” follows blogger Paul Modrowski, in prison for a murder he claims he did not commit. The Reply All team tracks down Paul’s blog which is consistently updated despite his lack of internet access in prison. Gradually, the team uncovers Paul’s crime and conviction story. And it is incredible.

Favorite episodes: On the Inside Parts 1-4

Modern Love – I’ve cried a few tears over this one. These stories, submitted by NY Times readers, are heartbreaking, beautiful, brutal and joyful.
Favorite episodes: A Heart Outrun, A Faithful Leap

Fresh Air – Another NPR staple. This show airs every day so there are LOTS of episodes. The host Terry Gross can pull things out of her guests like no one else.
Favorite episodes: Nora Ephron’s Son Tells Her Story, Questlove Thompson Live On Stage, Black-ish Creator Kenya Burris

The Hidden Brain – Kind of science-y, kinda sociology, kinda psychology. The episodes are little 20 minute pops that are easy to understand.
Favorite episodes: Originals, Boredom, Stroke of Genius,

The NYPL Podcast –  If you’ve ever been to New York City, you have more than likely walked past the New York Public Library with it’s giant stone lions and big staircase. The Library frequently holds live conversations/interviews with authors. Don’t sleep on this one. If you just take a look at the favorites listed below, you know they aren’t playing around. Jay Z? Come on, that’s awesome.
Favorite episodes: Neil Gaiman on Fairy Tales, Jay Z, Damien Echols on Hope and Death Row, Sarah Lewis on Failure, Ann Patchett and Elizabeth Gilbert

Gravy – Short bursts of southern story telling. A lot about food.
Favorites episodes: Wanting the Bourbon You Can’t Have, Bill Smith Turns Up the Volume, A Charleston Feast for Reconciliation

TED Radio Hour – Quickly becoming a classic. This podcast takes the best parts of TED Talks on a particular subject, reinterviews the speaker, and goes a little deeper on the topic at hand. It’s a great way to get the best parts of TED Talks without burning through hours yourself.
Favorite episodes: Making Mistakes, What is Beauty, Unstoppable Learning, Framing the Story, Overcoming, Disruptive Leadership, Brand Over Brain

The Liturgist Podcast – I’ve only listened to one episode of this podcast and it was a doosey. The episode was challenging in a million ways. A million ways. I don’t agree with everything these guys talk through, but I can’t stop thinking about it.
Favorite episode: Black and White: Racism in American

Happy listening, friends! And if you love any of these episodes, let me know!

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Hustle Hard. Stay Sane.

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In high school I had one class with Japheth Light, Marine Science. Japheth took the class because he’d aced every other science class our school offered. I took the class because I barely understood any science class our school offered. Japheth and I had in school together for quite some time and it was widely known he was way smarter than the rest of us. Point proven in Marine Science.

I’m a read-every-word-in-the-textbook, take-every-note girl.
Japheth doodled.

I did pretty well in the class.
Japheth did much better.

Years after graduating – Japheth valedictorian, me the muddy middle – I know this to be true, some people are naturally bright, others of us have to work $%#@&^%$#@ing hard.


Undoubtedly, gifted people put in the hours; every virtuoso has to practice and study. But we know them. The talented people with all the capacity as world class thinkers and abnormally huge brains.

The answers magically pop in their heads.

Their lives move at brilliant speed.
Their feet are on the desk and chairs leaned back.
Every conversation is straight out of an Aaron Sorkin script.

They best us in wit and wiles.

If this describes you, respectfully, stop reading. I’m glad you are here. Please come back another time and teach me how to speak like C.J Cregg.

The rest of us remain. Those who are never the smartest in the room.

We’ve watched the midnight oil burn and the sun rise.

We’ve had dirty hair, unshaven legs (or faces) and skipped showers.
Every class attended.
No practice missed.
Nothing – nothing – has ever come naturally.

But nothing has ever been taken for granted.


College, as it often does for everyone who chooses to go that route, stretched me a million ways. In those years my wheels were spinning twice as hard as anyone else. I worked, worked, worked, and worked some more. Over time a hustle developed that pushed me to the edge and sadly over a few times. That hustle has been both benign and malignant. It has served me well and poorly.

After years of stress, anxiety, manic and frantic, I’ve learned this – hard workers do not have to drive themselves mad. It is possible to bust our tails and be decent, healthy people. We can hustle hard and stay sane.

I’ve crashed and burned more times that I can count, but each time little pieces of how to work smarter and be healthier became clear. These bits have helped along the way. Maybe they can help you too.

Nothing is wrong – Just because you have to work a little harder, study a little longer, put in a few extra hours, does not make you a misshapen human. You are not dumb. Your brain is not broken. Do not get down on yourself.

Do a motive checkWHY are you working hard? What is driving you? If we are not careful, motives can be tinged with pride and will perhaps lead us to some pretty shady places. Proving ourselves is a terrible reason to work hard. It’s the stuff of revenge movie plots, and will send a person around the bend quickly.  If we are building the house with a bunch of pride and selfishness, a good strong wind will level us. Check for foundation cracks often.

Know when to stop – Learn how you work and what is a good pace for you. Take the time to learn just how much you have to push yourself, then stop just short of your limit. Know when to declare you’ve done all you can do for the day. Turn off the lights, close the book/computer/phone. Be okay with stopping for a while.

Drink water, eat green things, move your body, go to bed – Man cannot live on Red Bull and Little Debbies. You want to be in this for a good long run of years, right? Take care of yourself. Live to work hard another day.

There are no Jones’– You are not keeping up with anyone. Resist the urge to compare yourself with others. If you are chasing down someone else, you are in the wrong race.

Intentionally rest – Take a break. Make up your mind NOT to work for a day or two. The world will not stop spinning if we take some time to rest. If you don’t take a day off, YOU will be the only thing that stops spinning. Go have fun. Take a nap. Eat some ice cream. Do anything but the work at hand.


These are the months of transition – graduation from high school or college, first jobs or internships – and these late-teen, early-adult experiences do a lot to usher us into how we approach work. This is the time marked by deep end job assignments, professors and bosses who require the world, needling, and trying and failing and succeeding. Work ethic ground zero.

For those of you just dipping your toes into this great adventure, develop a hustle, but nurture it too. If you have been busting it for a while, sanity is just a few brave choices away. Choose a life of faith, humility, determination, endurance, of someone living for something other than themselves.

So work on, my friends. Hustle hard to honor the work in front of you, your employers, future employers, God and all he has given you. But please take care. All the people who love you want you around for a really long time. We want you to live long enough to not only to see you do beautiful things, but to enjoy them too.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time – 2016 Summer Reading

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I’ve been wading through dead leaves and pumpkins to yell this.

HAPPY SUMMER!

Welcome swimming pools, lemonade (thank you Beyonce), fireflies, crickets, sunburn, swimsuits, chargrilled meat, flip flops, fresh cut grass.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Is it true we all want to read a little more in the summer? I think so. We have a little space to breath. We can give some hours to a good book.

There are TONS of summer reading guides floating around out there. In fact, here are a few of my favorites:

NY Times

Can I add to the conversation? Below are a few of my recent favorites and a few I haven’t read but are planning on tackling this summer.

Read and Recommended:

Americanah – It is hard not to fall in love with the characters in Americanah. The story is so engaging and the characters are so normal, but not at all. It’s a little bit of a longer read, but well worth it. The ending was a bit complicated and not what I wanted or expected, but this book is my favorite of the year so far.

Brown Girl Dreaming – Neck and neck with Americanah for the best book I’ve read in a while. Set in both Greenville, SC and New York City, this is a genre bending book in a million ways. It is a YA memoir written in free verse. Sounds crazy, I know. But please, please put this one on your list. It is really, really, really that good.

Jacqueline Woodson has a new book coming out this summer. I will for sure, for sure, be reading this one.

Eligible – This modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice is schmaltzy, predictable and candy sweet, but I could not put it down. It is the exact picture of a beach read.

When Breath Becomes Air – Don’t let the description of this book scare you. It’s not long and not sad. It is quite hopeful and extremely well written. The epilogue is possibly the most moving chapter I’ve read in a while.

A Moveable Feast – For those who want to tackle a classic this summer. This book was published after Hemingway’s death and can read a little pieced together. Still, it is a beautiful picture of his ex-pat life in Paris. He says so much with so little words. It’s a marvel, really.

On My List:

My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, The Story of the Lost Child – I’ve seen these books on so many lists! I really want to make it through this series over the summer.

The Lake House – Kate Morton is known for her plot twists. She always has something unexpected in each book. I’m not incredibly familiar with her work but I’m ready to get into this one in the next few months.

Essentialism – There are books we all NEED to read and this is one for me.

The Things They Carried – I’ve owned a copy of this book for a while. It has become a classic in a million ways. I’m a daughter of a Vietnam veteran and this book has been hard for me to pick up, but I want to take a deep breath, crack the book and go.

A quick note for friends with e-readers. Most local libraries have a program that allows you to check out books on your device. Instead of making a trip to the library, you can check out books through your computer straight to your Kindle or other device. LIFE CHANGING.

So, Happy Summer, my friends. Happy Reading!

Who Tells Your Story?

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Recently I watched a documentary about the late writer and director Nora Ephron called Everything is Copy, . Ephron is the genius behind the movies Sleepless in Seattle, Julia and Julia and a host of other essays and books. A good chunk of Everything is Copy explores the career Ephron made from taking material in her own life and making it fodder for her writing.

There is a line of dialogue in the movie I can’t quite shake it. Ephron refers back to her childhood and a phrase her mother would often invoke:

“You’d come home with something you thought was the tragedy of your life – someone wouldn’t ask you to dance, the hem fell out of your skirt – and she would say, ‘Everything is copy,’ What I now have come to believe my mother meant is this: If you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you. But when you tell someone you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your laugh.”

We are, as a whole these days, an oversharing, tad bit indulgent society. Should we chose to, we have ample outlets to speak whatever we wish – good, bad and ugly. Social media is the exact essence of “everything is copy.” We experience it and we share it. We flip the story and make it ours. Immediately.

The truth is I’ve tiptoed through life being terrified of slipping on a banana peel or admitting that I’ve done my fair share of falling. Often the most regrettable moments of my life have not been the terrible mistakes I’ve made, but rather the unwillingness to be honest with the folks around me. The facade, the mask, the game compounds the regret all the more. I often don’t feel bad for slipping, falling, failing. I simply regret not speaking up about it.

But why? Why in the world would we want to lay our stories bare? There are a million good reasons, too many to list here. But my favorite lately is this:

Like the rest of the world, I am currently obsessed with the musical Hamilton. My giant prayer these days? Impossible to-get-tickets to see the current cast on broadway. It’s a bit embarrassing how often I pray over these tickets, but in an essay on honesty this feels like an appropriate confession.

I can’t get enough of the backstory. Lin-Manuel Miranda, author and star of the musical, breezed through an airport bookstore looking for something to read on a flight. He found the 800 plus page, at times salacious, biography Alexander Hamilton. In addition to being the face on the $10 bill and the first Treasury Secretary, Hamilton was an island immigrant living in New York City. This part of Hamilton’s story proved to be a mirror. This immigrant sliver made Hamilton unexpectedly connected with so many others in our country with a similar sliver including Miranda, a Puerto Rican growing up in New York City.

In one honest story telling, another saw enough of themselves to get to work.

This can be true of us too. Maybe in opening up our lives, someone can take a slice, see themselves, and feel less alone or afraid. Maybe this sets off a deeper faith, a newfound courage, a squirreled away talent, a piece of art, whatever. Long creaky life wheels are set in motion. The next domino will fall and we will all keep moving.

In Everything Is Copy, Ephron goes on to say that telling her own story moved her from being a victim to be a hero. I’ve never wanted to be the story hero. This is not about glory or fame. I hope we are not honest about our lives so that we can flip the script and come out on top. It is about taking our lives and making sure what happens to us, because of us, in spite of us is not in vain. This is stewardship. Much like we manage our time and money, this is stewarding our resource of experience. It is saying, “This is me. I’m not perfect. Life has been good and life has been bad. Maybe you can identify too?” We simply cannot know what little parts of our life will compel, open up, inspire or break someone else. I am not the hero of my story, but I am also not the victim either. I am a narrator, letting all parts be told through me.

There are many experiences that need to shelved for a later, matured, distanced, telling. But in the right time and place, let’s open up our mouths or type with our fingers. Let’s be honest with a friend or even a stranger. Let’s be brave and open.

Hamilton ends with a song entitled Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story? It is a haunting piece that flies a bit in the face of how a lot of musical theater ends with big, bombastic numbers. But the question is great: who will tell your story? Maybe a kid, grandkid, biographer or stranger. There is a simpler answer, really.

If you are willing, you will.

I Won’t Stub My Toe

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We are turning the corner away from winter toward spring and I’m waiting for the first smell of honeysuckle and jasmine. It’s a southern springtime marker for me.

Spring pulls us out of our stuffy houses and coats and opens up a lot of life. We throw open our windows and sunroofs, toes and shoulders and watch all that was dead coming to life right before our eyes.

In watching a whole lot of life bloom we, by default, start with a lot of death.

(A lot of death! Happy Wednesday!)

On Wednesday, Saturday, Monday – whatever day – for someone somewhere, even in the midst of spring, there is a covering of wintery death. Death of a loved one, career, pet, relationship, pregnancy. The grief is strong and, for a period of time, it’s hard to know how the world honestly keeps spinning and people are still shopping at Target.

These “little” deaths – as strong as they are at the time – are so useful to the Lord. He takes these grand-picture smaller deaths and shows us how life grows in the midst, how beauty is made from ashes. Death brings life. Springtime to our winter. We can learn a lot by losing something or someone dear then watching the Lord go to resurrection work. It grows faith for the next loss. It helps us trust that nothing is really the end.

But this is hard. Really hard. Perhaps the hardest part of living, ironically.

I visited my counselor recently and he talked about this recent season of life. He referenced Psalm 23 and pointed straight to the “valley of the shadow of death,” the hard parts of life, these days when everything I touch seems to die in my hands. Dark, dark days.

“Don’t worry about pace. Go as slow as you need to. No one goes sprinting through the dark and expects not to stump their toe.”

I am checking my watch. Why the tears, still? Where are the answers? Where is the resolution? Shouldn’t the wound be set? Where’s the life? I’ve had enough of this death. Let’s move on.

I say this at winter’s end too. Where are the flowers? The longer days? The Reese’s eggs? I’m ready to run on.

Today I may shuffle if I need to, barely moving, feeling my way through what I can’t see. I may only have the strength to break off one phone call, or send a couple of emails. Or honestly, some days I may not have it in me to do any of it. But this is true, a shuffle is still moving forward, away from death and into life.

I won’t sprint through the dark. I won’t run hard away from the hard. New life blooms at the Lord’s choosing. The pace will be as slow as it needs to be to fully come alive.

Winter Reading

Summer reading is a thing. Why not winter reading? I’m not exactly sure what qualifies as a book one would read in the winter in the same we thing about beach reads, but either way, here is what I’ve been reading these past few months.

Warning: LOTS of non-fiction ahead. I can’t explain why. Maybe that’s winter reading. Currently taking recommendations on some over the top novels. I think I need one.

Here’s what I’ve read so far in January and February:

When Breath Becomes Air – Clear your reading list and put this at the top. Seriously. One of the most endearing, beautiful, haunting books I’ve ever read. Please do not let the book description make you sad and steer you away. It is hopeful and lovely. This will be one I recommend for a long, long time.

The Power of Habit – This book has been around a while, but I really wanted to read it at the start of the year. Don’t let the title fool you into thinking it is all scientific-y and hard to digest. It is surprisingly easy to read. This book really opened my eyes to how habits form unconsciously or not.

David & Goliath – What can I say? It is another great book by Gladwell. Again, it’s been around a while, but this one is pretty classic. I didn’t love it as much as some of his others, but it is still a worthy read.

Why Not Me? – I can say nothing other than, WRITTEN BY MINDY KALING!! Speaks for itself.

The Silver Chair – I am reading through the Chronicles of Narnia series and feel like I could spend years with these little books. Incredible, as they have been for years and years. They need no words from little ‘ole me, for sure.

Between the World and Me – Deep breath. First of all, let me say, this book is BEAUTIFULLY written. Take-your-breath-away beautiful. Think if Kendrick Lamar wrote a book. There is a cadence to his work, as if you were listening to a poet read it out loud. It is short – only around 150 pages – but rich. He tackles some tough issues surrounding race in this country and for that reason, it can be a punch in the gut. I am clearly a middle class white girl from the suburbs. I have no framework for some of the issues Coates presents in this book. In a way, this makes the book all the more important.

Currently reading. More to come:

Small Victories
The Comeback
Lit

On to Spring reading, if that is a thing. How about let’s make that a thing?

 

Dear Clemson Football

Dear Clemson Football,

Let me be clear from the start of this letter, I am a Gamecock fan through and through. No other school will ever hold my allegiance like the University of South Carolina. The very bricks of The Horseshoe are paved with my blood, sweat, tears, and tuition money. My years spent at USC are some of the most formative and best parts of my life. Forever to thee.

This makes this letter all the more interesting.

I want to dislike this adventure you are on. I want to dislike everything about Monday night. I want to be envious. I want to squint my eyes, purse my lips, and cross my arms and stubbornly scorn you for your perfect-thus-far season.

But I can’t do that.

Here’s proof the Lord has a sense of humor: I live almost exactly ten miles from your campus, a Gamecock swept up out of Columbia and dropped in the middle of Tiger-town. Stores are plastered with the color orange. The streets around my house are traffic-y and dense on game days. A favorite little coffee shop has to, of course, be on your campus. I nearly hugged a woman in Target the other day wearing a Carolina hoodie simply because there are so few of us and it seemed like the appropriate thing to do. Solidarity.

I spent the first couple of years living here bickering, staking ground, standing up for MY school, making a point. Then over the years, the point became less clear or important and I would rather live in peace than prove anything. So we’ve coexisted, you and I. You, the big, bad, enemy, and me in my garnet and black.

As always, there are good and bad years for every team. This year, the wins have racked up for you, and the Gamecocks bottomed out. There wasn’t much to say.

Then Dabo BYOG’ed us in the pouring rain. He threw a pizza party. He danced. If there is a way to not love a coach that dances, please let me know.

On Monday, I hope you do well. I still think Alabama, with all the might of the SEC, will put up a fight, but I hope you do well. This state needs something to celebrate. This past year was brutal. Our hearts still hurt from the careless bullets in Charleston. Our lives are still wrecked from October flood waters. Football is not the answer. In fact, the Championship game is small in comparison to the real hurt people in the state – in the nation – have experienced this year. But we need a chance to cheer again. Off you go into Monday night as carriers of that chance.

I hope we do cheer. I hope more than just half of the state – the half that openly claim orange and white – cheer you on. I hope that those of us who wear the USC college ring and our hearts on our sleeves can set aside the rivalry for just one night. I hope you bring the guts of all the South Carolinians with you. I hope you give Dabo a reason to dance.

And if you throw another pizza party, I’ll come. I’ll be wearing my garnet and black, but I’ll be there, celebrating all the way. Until next year.

Loss Prevention

When I was seventeen, just a few months shy of high school graduation, my parents approached me about getting a part-time job. They never wanted my brother or I to work while we were in  high school, but in their minds, seventeen was the ideal age to officially enter the world of W-4s, W-2s and W-9s.

While this seems easy enough, I was admittedly prideful and picky and wouldn’t take any job at the mall or a restaurant. The search was complicated all the more by a tricky post-graduation summer schedule where I would be gone more than I was in town. I took my unrealistic criteria and entered the job market optimistic nonetheless.

There were no takers.

One day, I was walking down the hall of my high school and an English teacher, Mrs. Rawl, stopped me. “My husband’s office is hiring administrative help. Would you be interested? And can you tell me right now if you will take the job.”

So I found myself in a land of cubicles and leather bound tax code books working for a lobbyist. When I answered the phone for the first time, it was the Governor’s Office. Deep end it was.

All through college, I never waited a table or restocked a retail store. I often wondered how the college experience would be different if I had. I knew office politics and Outlook. I knew copy machines and multi-line phones, but I think I missed some things too. What those things were, I wasn’t sure, but I knew the hybrid college/business professional life was a bit of an enigma. Still, I steadily worked that job and another through my twenties, high heels, hemmed slacks and all.

This year, a career ended unexpectedly and after taking a few months to heal and rest, I brushed off an incredibly dusty resume and began searching. The process was long and hard and more emotional than expected. I submitted hundreds of applications, went on dozens of interviews and spent hours on the phone. As the months inched on, emails came back that began with “We regret to inform you….” and ended with “Good luck in your endeavors….,” if I heard back at all. Exhausted and nearly out of options, I turned my attention to the retail work I’d avoided so many years ago.

One lone retailer called me back, explained I was their target demographic, and wanted me to come in to chat. I dug through my closet and pulled together an outfit that looked like it would sell in the store which was more anxiety inducing than I thought it would be. Even as I walked up to the store, I wanted to keep walking. I wanted pridefully to simply be a customer. I didn’t want to be on the other side of the register. I wanted a steady salary that allow me to simply be a customer. They hired me, and since nothing else was even remotely on the horizon, I got to work, a thirty-ish year old working retail for the first time in my life.

My feet and back ached for a few solid weeks. I ate meals at off times around my shifts, and learned how to carry on conversations while listening to chatter over a radio in my ear. But my co-workers and managers were extremely nice and, I can honestly say, so were the customers.

I imagined what it would be like the first time someone I knew came in the well-trafficked store. “Didn’t you used to work….?” “What are you doing here on a Wednesday morning?” Or worse, no one would speak and pretend they didn’t see me at all. My plan was to hide in the fitting rooms, or if I couldn’t make it in time  pull my hair over my radio and pretend I was shopping.

There is a term that floats around retail. Loss prevention is simply the measures a store takes to deter theft. Every place is a little different, but the goal is to net out in the positive with as little loss as possible, to be profitable with spotless records.

Profitable, spotless, netting out on the good side, are unspoken life goals. No one writes “come out on the good side of life” as a New Year resolution. It just IS. We default to beautiful and easy. No one chooses to take the bumpy way.

I wanted to prevent loss. I wanted to look like the story was bright and shiny like the wares in the store. I wanted perfectly curated and flawlessly styled. But then it gets messy and imperfect, and I want to run and save face in the fitting room.

A funny thing happened, though. It wasn’t hard to tell the story. I wasn’t hard to say, “This has been a tough season, this is where I am, and it’s beautiful, don’t you think? There are certainly worse places to be.” The imperfect, unfinished story is prettier. Loss prevention, saving face as it were, never made sense. The more compelling story, the most relatable story, is hard, long, and unexpected. I think we are all walking around in these imperfect lives just waiting for someone to come out of hiding and declare that it’s alright for us all to do the same.

I’m done preventing loss. If loss must come, it is because something needed to be taken away in order for more a more beautiful story to be written. May we all be less afraid of what may leave us. Full of faith and less afraid.

Pound Cake and Paper Scraps

Nanny had a little chihuahua named Pup and instead of kibble, Pup got a pan grilled hamburger for lunch. This happened more days than not. Stating the obvious, Pup was chubby.

One of my earliest memories is breakfast at Nanny’s house. Nanny is my mom’s mom and she, Granddaddy Bill, and Pup lived just a couple of blocks from my preschool. Every day, mom would get me ready for school and instead of pulling together breakfast, we would leave early and stop by Nanny’s house for eggs, bacon, toast, grits, and the like. I’m not sure Nanny ever had a box of Pop-Tarts or Lucky Charms in her house. For a women who fried hamburgs for her dog, this is not surprising.

After the breakfast plates were cleared and cleaned, we were off to school and work and by 10am, Nanny had dinner – or supper, or whatever you call the evening meal – was on the stove. Lunch was an afterthought baloney and mustard sandwich, but dinner took time. Green beans need a good couple of hours steeping in fatback to be nice and southern soggy. Tomatoes have to stew. Lima beans need to be shelled. This was a average Tuesday. Or Thursday. Or every day.

My grandparents lived in a modest house on the unassuming side of town, but they ate like kings. Every meal had a meat, usually pan or chicken fried this or that, and a smattering of “vegetables,” keeping in mind that a vegetable to Nanny could be mac and cheese or rice and gravy. She never used a recipe. She always measured ingredients in the palm of her hand, if she measured at all. She was a sit-at-the-table-until-your-plate-is-clean type of lady. Read: you don’t have to like it, but you have to eat it. When standing at the crossroads of staying at the table with a bunch of no-fun adults or playing outside in the Carolina sun, you learn to eat broccoli casserole.

Because of her, because of how she cooked and loved us with her hours in the kitchen, I think my family sees food differently. Feeding people is a way to love them and this one truth was so subtlety woven into our family that it was easy to take for granted. Nanny cooked breakfast every morning because it was a way to love my mom who was juggling a job, a five year old, and a baby. Cooking was her way of acknowledging the days were at once long and never long enough. She couldn’t take away the burdens of the day, but she could love us in a way she knew well.

I think a lot about Nanny this time of year. Our family’s Christmas dinner consist almost solely of Nanny’s recipes – sweet potato casserole with marshmallows (no pecans, thank you), stuffing, the aforementioned broccoli casserole, her homemade mac and cheese. But what I remember most about the holidays were her cakes. There was red velvet cake, moist and in the most beautiful color. Hummingbird cake filled with banana and nuts. And there was always, always, pound cake. Her pound cake is the stuff of legend in our family. That humble pound cake, simple as it was, held it’s own alongside the more stately companions.

When Nanny died, our family found dozens of scrap pieces of paper. In her own hand on whatever was nearby at the time, Nanny would write down bits of recipes. Church bulletins, receipts, Cool Whip lids, all scribbled with notes and measurements. The tiny scrap of paper with her pound cake recipe remains one thing my family would grab out of the house in case of fire.

I’ve sat with those tiny scraps a million times over my life, wishing I could make sense of them all but overwhelmingly grateful to have them. I’ve handed them to my mom and asked what she thinks Nanny was trying to make with mayo, dried breadcrumbs and paprika. Mom would look at the scraps and fill in the gaps. That apple cake scrap of paper? Add oil to that recipe. Nanny always used oil in her apple cake. Or the Italian Cream Cheese cake? Nanny’s had coconut. She didn’t write that down, but always add coconut. Maybe it’s because they are written in her own hand or maybe it’s a way to remember her, but I treasure those scribbles almost more than anything in my life.

A couple of years ago, I decided to make Nanny’s pound cake as Christmas gifts. I asked mom if I could use Nanny’s dented, old bundt pan. There have no doubt been hundreds of pound cakes baked in that pan. It is beat up, thin, seasoned, probably the cheapest in the store, nothing fancy, but it was hers. With that well-used pan and tiny scrap of paper, I spent hours creaming butter and sugar, cracking eggs. I hope the people who got those pound cakes enjoyed them, but more than anything, I hope they felt well loved. I hope they could feel love rolling down through the generations from one incredible lady through the legacy she leaves behind. Pound cake, paper scraps and all.

Because this post would not be complete without it, here is Nanny’s pound cake recipe. It’s laughably simple, but still completely beautiful. I’ll let the little scrap of paper speak for itself.
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Available

It’s pouring rain outside this coffee shop. Pouring. I wanted to leave and not write, but I’m stuck. Held hostage by a car too far away and no umbrella.

So I will type.

Over the weekend, I heard this from author and lover of people Bob Goff:
“I don’t think people follow vision. I think they follow availability.”

I love vision. We would all flounder without it. But I get this. I’ve learned the hard way.

Let’s dial back just a few months ago. I promise you would never see my face. A description of me would read something like, “A mess of long dark brown hair, hunched over a computer at all times. I’ve only ever seen the top of her head.” or “I’m not entirely sure. She looks like a whirlwind that just spun by.”

Busy. No, not busy. Crazy.

But we are all busy, right?

Can I just call for an end to this? Because I’m not busy and neither are you. We simply make time for what is most important. And for me, my to-do list was king. My Type-A personality was law and excuse. And I missed a lot of people along the way.

A dream job ended a little while ago and though the entire story is much too long and personal to tell here, the whole storm was a mix of pride, selfishness, doubt and hopelessness. It’s a story of being wound so tight and shut off that I might as well have been the last person earth because that is how I functioned anyway.

Friends had babies, started new relationships, physically moved or been moved by something so great and emotional in their lives it was way too heavy to bear. All the while, they stared at the top of my head.

This is my public confession.

When something breaks it is mostly because it needs to. I know there are flukes in life, but for every random fender bender, there are a million more engines that fail because we never change our oil. When it breaks, we wake up. Care must happen along the way. It is never all or nothing.

So I broke. A lot broke. And it needed to.

The narrative is long and tender and maybe not for this outlet, but these days I spend my time reading and writing and praying for what is next. I’m trusting deeply. Waiting patiently. And I see people. I see friends and people who I’ve always wanted to see. I’m holding babies and enduring potty training bootcamps with new moms. I’m sharing cups of coffee and telling stories that have been begging to be told for way too long.

Can you come over? Yes.
Can you change that diaper? Yes.
Can you pray for this? Yes.
Can you go for a walk? Yes.

Not out of obligation or fear, but because I can and want to. Simply because showing up is half of it. Being available is all of it.

My metaphorical and literal door is open. In life I respond to people who this is true of. Wouldn’t it stand to reason others would want this most from me? This is how we love. If you are here, I am here too.