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Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Beginning of Us

B Daddy swears he met me my freshman year at the University of Georgia. I don't remember meeting him at all that year, but I certainly knew who he was that year from all the stories his girlfriend told me. B Daddy was high school senior in the year 2001 and his older, high school sweetheart and I were fast friends who had met through Bible study at the Wesley Foundation on campus. The entire year we gathered together on Tuesday nights for cell group and she would tell me their stories. About the Hawaiian shirt he insisted on wearing to their senior prom, about the time he made the hours-long round trip drive to campus to take her to dinner in the completely illogical manner of smitten 18 year olds worldwide.

B Daddy followed her to UGA the next year, which is when I remember meeting him for the first time. They came over to my apartment one afternoon to hang out and as she walked out the front steps I pulled her back to me for a squeeze and a grin that said, "Oh my gosh he really is super cute AND nice!" 

Later that year when I started dating a fellow Wesley-goer, we all got along easily. We went to the same parties and on occasion we double-dated. When their break-up happened my boyfriend grew closer to B Daddy while his ex-girlfriend and I drifted into different circles. It was ugly and hard, in the manner of most break-ups when formerly smitten 18 year olds are involved. I was sad for them. They had been the perfect couple to my outsider's eyes.

Another year went by and in the summer of '03 my Boyfriend invited me to a wedding in Chattanooga. Without warning me, he decided to turn the obligation into a more masculine endeavor by inviting a Third Wheel (you know him as B Daddy) along for some man-style adventures once the nuptials ended. Before dawn on a midsummer Saturday we drove up - my Boyfriend and I in one vehicle, the Third Wheel behind us towing several bikes, a few kayaks and a motley assortment of camping gear. 

We pulled up to a little stone church mid-morning and the weekend's events unfolded much like the paper map we used to find our way to Chattanooga. Once inside the church, my Boyfriend left us to go congratulate the groom, so the Third Wheel and I made awkward small talk in the last row of stiff wooden pews. Post-ceremony I positioned myself well and came up with the bride's bouquet after a minor tussle with a few bridesmaids.

When the cake and punch ran out the three of us went in search of some real sustenance. We stopped at the first Subway we came to and sometime between unfolding the crisp paper wrapping that held my sandwich and backing out of the parking lot, my Boyfriend and I decided we would be better off as friends. It really was that simple. I couldn't tell you exactly how it went down, but I remember looking past my unopened Baked Lays on the dashboard to the pasture beyond the cracked pavement thinking, well that was cordial

My new ex, B Daddy (still driving separately), and I left Subway and ended up at the Chattanooga Aquarium for the afternoon. Not quite knowing how to bring up the fact that we were now just friends and therefore the Third Wheel wasn't so much of a third wheel anymore, the three of us spent the afternoon wandering through exhibits without our usual comfortable banter.

Driving east along the rural route of US-64 later that day, we ended up searching in the dark for a place to eat near the Ocoee River. With B Daddy still none the wiser as to the recent change in our relationship status, we stopped in desperation at a country gas station and foraged for anything resembling a balanced meal.  Loaded down with Combos and Cool Ranch Doritos (with the promise of Honey Buns for breakfast) we arrived at the river and found a makeshift spot to pitch our tent late in the evening. While the ex and I struggled to thread the unwieldy aluminum tent poles through their nylon sheaths, I noticed B Daddy grab my hard-won bouquet from the truck and nestle it firmly between two rocks at the edge of the river.  He saw me watching and shrugged his shoulders as if embarrassed to be caught in the act, "you don't want them to die, right?"

Our little spot didn't allow campfires, so after laying out three sleeping bags and ribbing one another for a few minutes about our lack of planning skills, we were bored. It was too early to go to bed and too late to do much of anything else, but around ten o'clock we found ourselves driving to a rapid known as Hell Hole to watch B Daddy run it in his kayak. This was possible (though frowned upon) thanks to the presence of 24hr emergency lighting at a power station next to that section of river. According to American Whitewater, Hell Hole is, "perhaps the Ocoee's most famous rapid, as it was the site of the 1993 World Rodeo Championships." In hindsight, this was not the wisest choice of twilight entertainment, but being 21 does strange things to your judgment.

We returned to camp after half an hour, played out from the adrenaline brought on by illegal kayaking in the dark. I hunkered down in the tent, trading my wedding guest attire for sweatpants and an old t-shirt. As B Daddy crawled through the semi-circular tent opening, my Ex snaked his hand in, grabbed his sleeping bag and announced he was going to sleep under the stars. A bewildered B Daddy and I huddled down in our sleeping bags, as far away from one another as the small tent would allow. It was the first time we'd ever been alone together. 

The next morning we rose at first light and headed for the water. B Daddy was meeting his cousin to run the length of the river and my Ex and I traipsed along the first few sections visible from the road until boredom got the best of us. We decided to head into town to grab lunch while we waited for B Daddy to reemerge downstream.

We ended up at only vegan restaurant in a hundred mile radius, possibly in an attempt to cleanse the Combos and Honey Buns from our system. It was the kind of bumbling meal you'd imagine two kids who've just broken up would have. But I'll never forget the moment when my Ex turned to me and asked, "would you ever date B Daddy?"

"Gosh no!" was my instant (and clearly the only appropriate) response. Internally a different monologue played:  "Date that cute kayaking guy? The one who sat through the friend of a friend's wedding with me? The thoughtful one who found a spot in the stream to keep my flowers fresh? That would be totally weird and completely awkward. Date that guy who didn't break up with me in a parking lot and then make me share a tent with someone I barely knew out in the cold dark woods? Well huh. I've never really thought about that before."

We finished up lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon kayak-watching at the river and biking on old forest service roads. Towards early-evening it was time to head home. My Ex lived a good ways north of the river, and Atlanta was pretty much due south. Without prior discussion, he piped up, "Well I guess it makes the most sense if B Daddy drives you home." My slack-jawed face said it best: Seriously!? You already abandoned me to sleep in a tent alone with this guy and now you're forcing us together in the car for 3 hours?! Yes he's very attractive. But seriously! I hardly know him! What's wrong with you?

All I could manage to get out audibly was, "uh, okay,"

I pulled myself up into the cab of B Daddy's truck and braced for three hours of boredom and floundering conversation on the ride home. This guy may have been sweet, but I knew him well enough to know he wasn't much of a talker.

As the signs along I-75S started directing us toward Atlanta's city limits I realized we hadn't stopped talking or even hit an awkward pause yet.

This cute kayak guy was starting to look like a very interesting prospect...

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

How I'm Planning to Work Myself Out of a Job (aka How to Get your Kids to Help Out Around the House)

I read the following online last week: Sometimes we are moms who do too much because we have kids who do too little. Make it your goal to work yourself out of a job. 

To whoever had that brilliant thought and posted it on the grand inter web might I say to you....#challengeaccepted.

The combination of four little kids + homeschooling means that our home is ground zero for chaos and destruction every. single. day.

This little guy is the chief culprit. I could spend an entire day just following him around cleaning up the debris he leaves in his wake. One thing I am constantly preaching to anyone who will listen is that having lots of kids is a huge blessing because it finally overwhelms you into admitting you cannot do everything (though you never could) and that you need some help (though you always did)

Around here help looks like house cleaners that come 2x a month and these little munchkins taking some accountability for the wear and tear they inflict upon the household. For about a year now some form of a chore chart has been on the fridge and our current chart looks like this. 

Gosh Katie who did you get to illustrate this thing? I know it's pretty awesome. I am in fact for hire, just give me a call.  But hey, simple works. 3 chores, 3 kids. They rotate daily, so I just move their magnet up and down the line.

Feeding the dog - seriously, I have enough mouths to feed around here.

Sweeping the floor - the amount of crumbs that cover the floor after one meal is mind-boogling. I thought having to sweep might incentivize the kids to minimize their crumb-making, but so far no luck. Whatever kids, it's your life.

Emptying the dishwasher - I am great at filling it up and pushing the green button that makes it go. Emptying it out? Not so much. Kids to the rescue! Even Ben at age 3 is completely capable of stacking plates, bowls and cups on the counter below the cabinet they belong in. Anything in a lower cabinet they all know how to put away flawlessly. Even though this is the job that takes the longest, I can see in their eyes a real sense of pride when they finish. This isn't some fluff chore, this is REAL work. 

There is nothing sacred about these chores in particular, they were just ones I was finding myself annoyed by. I also chose activities that all take place in the kitchen and are somewhat related to meal-times, thinking they would be easy for me to enforce and supervise. We are all together at breakfast and dinner and that is the time when the dog needs to be fed, the floor needs to be swept and (typically) there are clean dishes awaiting a nice home in the cabinets.

We do pay the kids for these chores. Each kid gets 25 cents on Saturday if they did their chores throughout the week. 75 cents a week for never having to feed the dog, empty the dishwasher or sweep the floor seems fair enough to me. The kids are also required to do other things simply for the privilege of living here. These include brushing their teeth, making their beds, putting away their laundry and cleaning up the playroom and their bedroom (yes singular as in, the three big kids all share one bedroom) at the end of the day. 

So tell me, how do you handle the chore thing? What did your parents make you do as a kid? Are you interested in working  yourself out of a job?

P.S. Check out the new pictures on the FAMILY page at the top of the blog!!  If you're reading this in your email, click on over to the blog for some eye candy. So fun :)

Friday, November 6, 2015

My Favorite Blogs Right Now

You guys, I'm heading to Nashville today!! As you read this, I am traveling with 4 other girls and ZERO children in a car (ok a minivan) that is bound for Nashville and the (I hope) fabulousness of the Q Women conference. While we're off getting inspired I thought I'd share my current favorite blogs for your weekend reading pleasure and hope you'll share some of yours with me.

For Fashion: The Mom Edit
I love Shauna's off-beat style and the way she makes fashion completely un-intimdating. This blog has taken the mystery out of getting dressed for me and helps me wade through all the trends out there to find things that feel like me. Love her recent take on the new "it" jean - black high rise flares

For Books: Modern Mrs. Darcy
I got hooked on Anne's blog after finding her Summer Reading Guide a few years ago. This girl reads A TON. Each year she puts out a well-organized summer reading guide broken into genres, with reviews/summaries for each book she recommends. It's basically a year-long reading guide for me. She also has a great little page called Daily Kindle Deals which is updated daily (duh) with Kindle books she likes/recommends that are generally on sale for a few dollars. I actually need nothing more from the internet than that right there. 

For Mom Advice: Monica Swanson
Do not go read this blog/check out this lady's life unless you are very secure in who you are and the life you're living. She lives in Hawaii, she's married to a doctor, she has four cute sons that are surfers and she homeschools. Just a few days ago she was on Jamie Ivey's Happy Hour podcast, so you know she's good.  Recently she wrote a series on Parenting Teen and Pre-Teen Boys that is pure GOLD.  

For the Home: Nesting Place
Myquillyn started her blog out of a desire to show other renters that they could love the home they lived in and not be wishing for a different one. Her projects were laid-back DIYs that I loved. A few years ago she finally bought a house (an old farmhouse of course) and now her projects range from small and doable, to total kitchen gut-jobs. This one on painting the floor of her laundry room is a great example of what I love about her approach to her home.  I get to see her speak at Q Women and I cannot wait! 

For Food: Smitten Kitchen
Check it out for the pictures alone. I started following Deb's blog for some new cake recipes and have stuck around because this girl just LOVES food. She will test and tweak a dozen recipes in order to get granola bars just right. Last week she created a Twinkie bundt cake. Also, she's a Jewish New Yorker, and I love how outside of my norm her daily life is. 

For a Laugh: Jen Hatmaker 
If you don't read Jen's blog or know who this lady is, you're missing out. Get to it my friend. She cares about orphans and social justice and race-relations but also talks about Spanx and Gilmore Girls on the reg. Which makes me feel like we're actually friends and causes me to refer to her simply as "Jen" in actual conversations with actual people whom I actually know. #stalker

Play along in the comments - what are you currently reading in the blogosphere that I need to know about? 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

My Last Best Friend

Adult friendship is a hard thing. For me anyway. When we were kids it was different. You had a class together or your parents were friends or maybe they were the only other kid in your school who didn't go skiing over Christmas break. It was simple to make friends then. No children to compete with, no spouse whose opinion also needs to be taken into account. Maybe that's why I made my last Best Friend more than 15 years ago.

If you met us now you'd likely say we couldn't possibly live more different lives. She's a big shot doctor, she spent the last two years living abroad and vacationing in far-flung places like Fiji. She hasn't had any kids yet, let alone 4.

But a few weeks back, she finally got married. And when your last Best Friend ties the knot, you show up regardless of how far away it is and no matter the backbends you have to do to find childcare. B Daddy and I walked into the wedding and immediately saw faces I haven't seen since my freshman year of college. Suddenly it was August of the year 2000. W. was running for president, Napster was the new thing and it was move-in day for Mell Hall on the campus of the University of Georgia.

I remember the moment I turned into my small dorm room, the last one on the right, and saw a petite blond trying to cram a year's worth of clothing into an 18 inch wide closet cubby. She and I would share this little 10x12 domicile for the next 10 months. We spent that afternoon lofting our beds and trying to neatly arrange our CD collections on the flimsy wire shelves we'd put together from Bed, Bath and Beyond.

On and off throughout the afternoon we heard shuffling and mild arguing from a room across the hall. Upon inspection, there was a family: a mom, a dad and two sisters, struggling to assemble the fanciest computer desk I'd ever seen.  Atop the massive desk sat a sleek black flat screen monitor. It was the type of desk I imagined day traders and air traffic controllers had. Whoever this girl was, her dorm room was outfitted way nicer than my bedroom at home.

The owner of the sleek black monitor turned out to be Elizabeth. She had her own cell phone too, the kind that flipped open and had a tiny antennae you'd pull up at the start of a call. No one I knew had a cell phone like that in the year 2000. She was larger than life. With a swagger that radiated from her North Face jacket all the way down to her Birkenstocks, she'd crash down the hall at 1am singing Dave Matthews and intruding upon those of us careless enough to leave our doors unlocked.

She was a big fish from the kind of Southern city where everybody knows everybody, a Catholic who drank religiously. I was an unknown from Chicago, an evangelical who preferred Bible study to the bar scene.

Within a week, Elizabeth and I were inseparable.

She was a pre-med major hell-bent on becoming a plastic surgeon. She was outspoken about politics, a fiery Conservative who wrote a scathing indictment on the immorality of the estate tax for her freshman PoliSci class. I was a business major with little idea what I wanted from life other than to travel after graduation- and I had never heard of the estate tax.

We were both ambitious, smart and confident. We were both athletic, determined and outgoing. There was a spark to our friendship that I haven't experienced since. Together we auditioned for a reality TV show, argued against speeding tickets in traffic court, snuck into the Georgia Theatre and ran the length of Sanford Stadium at midnight. She encouraged me to go for it when my pragmatic side wanted to hang back and I like to think I helped ensure we never got arrested. She was fierce, opinionated and never (to her knowledge) wrong. I was much the same way, and our fights became the fodder of hall gossip all year long.

She joined my Bible study and challenged me to integrate my life and my faith. I joined her at the bars and taught her it was possible to dance sober. We weathered multiple college boyfriends together, always finding our way to each other again after the latest relationship ended.

After graduation I came to Atlanta and saved up to travel. To visit a boy who became The Boy. She headed off to medical school to pursue her dream of wielding a scalpel and making big bucks. And things changed. We changed. There were births and deaths and new relationships and a distance came between us. I watched her life unfold on Facebook like we all do now, but we never really talked save for a few phone calls scattered across a few years.

Then I saw she got engaged. And a few months later she reached out to ask for my address. Without a second thought we made plans to attend, but I wasn't entirely sure we'd be able to hold a conversation anymore.

But when I saw her for the first time in years, YEARS-wearing a veil and a strapless white dress- it took all my self-control not to shout her name and wave grinning like a fool as she walked down the aisle. Hey!!! It's Me. ME! Best Friend! Over here! HI! The instant it was socially acceptable I ran like a little girl in my grown-up dress to give her a huge hug. And we hugged and laughed and later we danced like the past 15 years hadn't pulled us apart.

C.S. Lewis writes that friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art. ...It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival. 

And I have to agree. I've survived just fine without Elizabeth all these years. But being together again reminded me that her presence sheds light into a corner of my soul that grows dim otherwise. And it was wonderful to be all lit up for the night.

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