Sunday, May 14, 2017

To Charlotte's Mother...

After Adrienne and I had been dating for a while, and gotten to the point where marriage, kids, and future plans became approachable topics of conversation, we pretty much universally agreed: We both wanted three kids.  Two boys and a girl, or three girls, or one boy and two girls...It didn't really matter.  We just both knew we ultimately wanted to have a big family.

As time went on, and we naturally came back to the conversation, things slowly changed.  Three kids might be too many.  In fact...One kid might be too many.  We liked being able to go out any time we wanted.  We liked being able to book a hotel on Thursday, and leave on Friday for a weekend getaway.  We enjoyed the freedom, and weren't sure we wanted to restrain ourselves by the immense responsibility a child brings.  We weren't necessarily against having kids, but we certainly didn't have to be parents.

I say that because our conclusions tended to change from time to time.  We could be out for dinner, sitting next to a screaming infant, throwing food and shoving drink glasses and silverware off in the floor, while the father wrestled with another kid who wouldn't stop staring over the side of the booth and making funny faces at Adrienne, and the mother would be curled up in the fetal position in the corner of the booth mouthing "help me" to anyone who happened to be paying attention.  In the car on the way home, one of us would invariably say something like, "You know...I just don't think I want any kids," and the other would emphatically agree.

Then we might see pictures of someone's baby shower on Facebook, and our opinions would soften a bit.  "You know...I wouldn't mind having a kid, someday.  But definitely not anytime soon, and definitely only one."  The other would reply with, "I was just about to say the same thing...But, yeah, just one."

We'd see a birth announcement where someone surprisingly gave birth to triplets, and we'd look at each other and say, "Nope...A whole lot of nope."  Then we'd see family pictures of the triplets with Mom and Dad and say, "Well...I don't guess it would be all that bad."

And so it went for a few years.  No matter what "decision" we made at any given time, it would change within a few weeks.  I think, in the backs of our minds, we always knew what direction we'd ultimately go.

And I am so grateful we did.

Adrienne was born to be a mother.  When she undertakes any challenge, she pretty much universally excels.  Things just come easy for her.  But there is nothing she does more brilliantly than being a mom.  Nothing else really comes close.

I'd like to spend the rest of this entry telling you all about the amazing things she does for Charlotte, and I could speak in generalities about how she keeps our family together with her thoughtfulness and care.  I could talk about how, no matter the level of exhaustion she feels after a long day, she plays with Charlotte from the moment she gets home to the moment she goes to bed.  I could talk about how she always makes sure Charlotte eats supper, gets her bath, and reads her books for a few minutes before taking even five seconds for herself.  I could tell you how she takes time to set out clothes for the next day, do laundry, prepare meals for Charlotte, and cleans her dishes twice a day.  I could tell you how she does all that while also cleaning the mess I made in the kitchen, picking up my clothes that I mindlessly leave in virtually every room in the house, and generally taking care of all the things I don't want to do.  And I'd be telling the truth.

But, when I think about Adrienne and the amazing mother she is, none of those things really comes to mind.

What makes Adrienne such a wonderful mother are the things that happen when no one else is around.  The "conversations" they have while she's changing Charlotte's clothes in the bedroom before we leave the house.  The constant string of giggles and belly-laughs that emanate from the bathroom as they make faces in the mirror after bath-time.  The unmistakable tune of "You Are My Sunshine" being hummed from a darkened living room, only broken by the rhythmic pop of the old recliner as it rocks.  The crash of dozens of plastic pieces of food being dumped in the kitchen floor, followed by, "Oh boy, Charlotte, what are you going to make for Momma?"

One of my favorite things in the entire world is just being with Adrienne and Charlotte.  Lying in the living room floor, stacking blocks, flipping through books, playing the same song on her rocking horse over and over and over and over and over again.  Doing little else than spending time as a family.

But, the truth is, some of my favorite experiences don't even involve me.  They're just a collection of little moments where I get to soak up memories in my own way.  I can sit in a back bedroom alone, or watch through the cracks in the blinds.  I can linger in the hallway just a few seconds longer than I need to, so that I don't ruin that one perfect second for Adrienne and Charlotte.  I just love listening to Adrienne be a mother, when she doesn't know I'm there.  Sometimes, the best seat in the house is one without a view.

There's no such thing as the perfect parent.  But, Adrienne comes as close as humanly possible.  You don't have to see that to know it.  Happy Mother's Day, Adrienne.  Charlotte and I love you so much, we can't stand our lives!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

If It's in the Cart, It Better Be on the List

I'm a planner.  I like to make plans.  I not only enjoy the feeling of knowing where I'm going and how I'm going to get there, but I even enjoy the process of making plans.  I like making lists and slowly marking things off as I go.  I like prioritizing tasks and mapping out my day.  I like having the illusion I'm in control of a given situation because I've allotted amounts of time for specific projects.  When I don't have that feeling, I can almost be overcome with anxiety.

I understand the impact this can have on people around me.  I can easily become agitated when plans inevitably go off the rails.  I can be downright insufferable at times, to be honest.  I can be bossy.  I can whine.  I can complain.  I can even recognize all those things as they're happening, and yet am powerless to stop it.  I need a plan to alleviate my anxiety, and yet I am equally anxious when things don't go as planned (which is always the case).  I'm basically a walking catch-22.

My friends constantly give me a hard time about this aspect of my personality.  For the last couple of years, Adrienne and I, along with our friends Leah Kate and Luke, have gone on vacation to 30-A in Florida.  I will spend a week developing our meals for the week; I determine which nights we are going out for dinner, and which nights we'll eat in.  I'll make the grocery list for our meals, go shopping after we've arrived, and get genuinely upset when, on Tuesday (pasta night), Leah Kate and Luke decide to instead (on a whim, of course) go to McGuire's in Destin, forcing Adrienne and I to go out for dinner an extra night.  I mean...How dare they?

It's funny, though...That anxiety I feel about plans going awry really only applies to little things.  Changing the weekly meal schedule because we'd rather eat a cardboard box than baked fish and roasted carrots.  Deciding to swing by Old Navy on a rainy Saturday despite the fact I was fairly certain Kohl's, Ollie's Bargain Barn, and Chick-Fil-A were the only stops to be made.  Grocery store purchases without first putting them on the list.  Arriving in Louisville with no less than 3 hours set aside for dinner and drinks before a Chris Stapleton concert.  Things that literally have no bearing whatsoever on life in general.

Real things?  Major things?  Jobs...Money...House...Cars...Kids?  Eh...It'll all work out, even when it doesn't seem like it.

When Adrienne and I first got engaged, we made a pact.  We were both actively seeking employment as teachers, and were applying all over the state.  Every county or city school system (even ones with a common centralized location within realistic driving distance) that had openings for which we were both qualified, we applied.  We decided that the first one to get a job would determine where we would both go.  We could have gambled and waited around hoping we'd both get jobs around here, but we couldn't really afford to be picky.  It was an open-ended plan, but at least it was a plan.

When I got hired at Montgomery County in May 2012, we decided we were moving to Mount Sterling.  Adrienne also got hired there a few weeks later, so it appeared to be the perfect situation.  We told ourselves we were diving in head first: We were going to go to football games on Friday nights.  We were going to go to car shows and flea markets on Saturday afternoons.  We were going to make new friends and have dinner parties at our small apartment.  We were going to find the best local restaurants and watering holes, and get on a first-name basis with the wait staff.  We were going to immerse ourselves in Mount Sterling culture.  We were going to make it work.

That lasted for about three weeks.  Adrienne was so homesick by the end of August, the only part of that pact we actually kept was the one about watering holes: We'd be at a high-top table at Don Senor by 4:30 on most Friday afternoons, enjoying "a margarita the size of my face" (Adrienne's words, not mine).

So, that plan went to hell in a hand basket almost immediately.  And despite the fact it had an enormous impact on virtually every aspect of our lives, its enormous failure didn't bother me.  It was never easy, and sometimes I had no idea how in the world we were going to make it work.  I just knew we would.

Kind of like right now.  When Adrienne and I bought this house, we figured we'd be here at least 7 or 8 years, maybe longer.  It was in a great neighborhood, it was affordable, and there was room for our family to grow...It met all the needs we were looking for.  We had no reason to even consider leaving any time in the near future.

And when we least expected it, when our plans for moving couldn't have been further from our minds (we actually discussed adding on and renovating less than two months ago) a new house fell into our lap and we figured we couldn't pass it up.

Adrienne and I, along with a group of her coworkers, were in Nashville a few weeks ago and one of them was discussing and showing pictures of a house they were building to sell.  Adrienne commented, totally in passing, "Wow, that's going to be a beautiful place.  Zach and I would love to have a house like that someday."  A simple, totally meaningless observation.  It was never thought of, nor mentioned again after that brief moment.

A couple of days later, he asked Adrienne if she was really interested in the house.  She said, sure, depending on a few things.  He provided details.  Our ears perked.  We looked at the house.  Loved it.  Loved the location.  Talked about how it fit everything we wanted.  We discussed putting our house on the market.  Our house was on the market for all of six hours before we had a written offer.  We accepted the offer.  We put our house under contract to sell, and put the new house under contract to buy.  And now we're picking paint colors and flooring.  We're moving.

It is incredible how much things can change in a just a few weeks.

We didn't plan on this.  I didn't have "sell our house and buy a new house" on my honey-do list clipped on the fridge.  Two months ago, Adrienne and I were discussing new bathrooms and kitchen cabinets; we just assumed they'd be here, and not at a new house.

It's scary.  It's overwhelming.  It's exciting.  It's fun.  It's terrifying.  It's stressful.  I wonder how the hell we're going to make it work, how we're going to get everything done.  But I know we will.  I'm not sure how...We're just sort of going with the flow.  But it will all be just fine.

That is, until we move in and Adrienne tells me she doesn't want baked chicken and mashed potatoes for dinner.  It'll be planned, after all.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Lessons From a One Year Old

I wish I could say that I have lived my life without regrets.  I wish I could say that I've always tried my hardest to make sure that when I got older I wouldn't be able to look back and say, "I wish I had done that differently."  I wish I could say I always paid close attention to mundane details of everyday life, and I wish I could say that I know for certain what the roses smell like.  Truth is, I can't say any of those things.

It's so easy as an adult to look back on one's childhood and assuredly comment on how easy things were.  While I am almost certain my childhood was generally happy and worry-free, it's unfair for the 31-year-old version of me to sell my 9-year-old self so short.  Sure, a 9-year-old's struggles are mostly laughably minor to an adult, but when you're the kid living it, there are truly life-and-death scenarios faced on a daily basis.  Now that I'm grown, I don't recall many of those everyday struggles I faced as a child.  But I do remember always hoping and wishing to be older, so I could do whatever I wanted, so I wouldn't have to worry about those things anymore.  So that life would be so much easier.  The grass is greener, and all that.

If I could sit and talk to the kid version of me, I honestly can't think of all the things I'd tell myself.  But, despite the cliche nature of it, I'd implore myself to live life in the moment.  I'd plead with me to realize that life and time are so precious.  I'd exhort myself to stop wishing away the time.  All those amazing things we so earnestly look forward to almost invariably fail to meet expectations, and the ones that do are always worth the wait.

"Enjoy the wait!" I'd scream at the top of my lungs.  Don't kid yourself into thinking that when you get to "that point" (whatever "that point" may be) you'll slow down and appreciate things more, I'd tell me.  You won't.  You'll be there, realize it wasn't what you hoped it'd be, and you'll go right back to wishing you were some other place or some other time.  I'd preach to myself to enjoy the journey.  I'd beseech myself to soak up every minute detail of every day.  All the sorrow.  All the joy.  All the heartbreak.  All the laughter.  All the love.  All the misery.  All the boredom.  All the loneliness.  All the thrills.  All.  Of.  It.

If I were able to tell the kid me all those things, maybe I wouldn't be sitting here wondering where the hell the last year went.  Maybe I would have listened to me.  Maybe I would have recognized all that stuff long ago, so by the time I was here, with my baby girl turning one, I'd be far more experienced at paying attention to every single second of every single day.  Maybe it wouldn't have taken her being born for me to realize just how fleeting time is.

If Adrienne and I had a nickle for every time we've said, "Just look at her," during the last year, we'd be able to retire today and put her through college two or three times.  Admittedly, I failed to see the significance of everyday occurrences before Charlotte Claire was born.  I always felt like I had all the time in the world.  I took a lot of things for granted.  Without even trying, without even knowing she was doing it, Charlotte taught me that.  She taught me to stop.  She taught me to wrap my memory around every second of every day.  Every smell, every giggle, every belly-laugh, every stumbling step and fall, every squeal of joy, every cry, every indecipherable word, every smile, every happy hand clap, every 2:00 AM party, every wave bye-bye, every horsey ride and patty-cake, every hot dog dance and look in the mirror...All of it.  If I could sit and talk to the kid version of me, I'd already know to pay attention to where all the time goes.  Since I can't, it took Charlotte Claire to make me understand.

A year used to feel like a long time.  It doesn't anymore.  The past year has been a conundrum for me.  It's gone by in what seems like the blink of an eye, but has also felt like an entire lifetime in itself.  I obviously can remember my life before Charlotte came along, but I feel totally disconnected from it.  Instead of seeing memories, I feel like I'm watching a movie of my life, starring someone that looks like me.  It's all familiar and resembles the true story, but something is missing...Something's just not quite right.

If I could sit and talk to the kid version of me, I'd tell me to live life in the moment.  So that when Charlotte Claire came along, I'd be far better at paying attention and filing away the memories.  If I were able to talk to the younger me, maybe my biggest fear as I write this wouldn't be forgetting something that happened yesterday, or today, or last week...Some little thing that is the best thing in the world right now.  Maybe I'd be so versed in the Art of Now, I wouldn't have so many forgotten memories.  Maybe I wouldn't have so many regrets. 

Maybe I wouldn't have learned so much this year.

Happy Birthday, Charlotte Claire.  I love you more than I'll ever be able to tell you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Is There a Troubleshooting Guide for This?

Over the last few weeks, I've been asked when this blog post was coming.  One would think that an enormous life event like having a child would warrant any number of posts, and with relative ease.  However, to my own surprise, that hasn't necessarily been the case.  Choosing what to write has actually been rather difficult, and finding the time has been even harder.  So, I apologize for the delay.

Since the day I found out Adrienne was pregnant and we began sharing the news with our friends and family, people have been quick to offer advice.  We've been given tips on how we should feed the baby, when she needs to sleep and for how long, what doctor to visit, what brand of diapers to buy...And almost invariably, someone at some point would jokingly ask, "So, are you ready?" Then they'd follow that with a belly laugh, as if they were the only one that really got it.

I'd usually offer a wry grin, and a response along the lines of, "As ready as I'll ever be."

"May as well be, right?  No going back now!" They'd say, with another fit of hysterical laughter.

The truth is, those conversations were never as enjoyable for me as they undoubtedly were for the person I was talking to.  It wasn't the fact they were giving me unsolicited advice or offering up some totally predictable one-liner.  Much of the advice was appreciated (what the hell did I know about having a baby?), and unfunny comments became their own running joke.  It wasn't that.

What actually bothered me was the fact that every single time I got asked that question, I had to lie.  Because, truth be told, I was never ready.  I was scared to death.  In the days and months leading up to Charlotte's birth, I'd experience virtually every emotion one can encounter on an almost daily basis: unfathomable joy at the thought of being a father.  Crippling despair.  Sickening worry.  Back to happy.  A cold-sweat sort of anxiety.  Simple ease.  Gut-wrenching nervousness.  The roller coaster that I experienced was unbelievable, and would almost always arise at the most random of times.  And my mindset would return to normal just as quickly.

I thought about what Charlotte would look like.  I thought about what kind of personality she would have.  I imagined falling asleep on the couch, while she napped on my chest.  I imagined how I would feel the first moment I laid eyes on her.  And as wild and unrealistic as our imaginations can often be, nothing I imagined even remotely compared to what it was actually like.

I would guess for the average person, there are probably only 4 or 5 moments one can recognize as life-altering.  Like, as the event is occurring, you realize its significance without the benefit of hindsight.  One of those, my life will never be the same after this moment kind of things.  The moment I saw Charlotte is one of those.  I'm sure I'll make countless missteps and never really figure things out.  But, the moment I first laid eyes on Charlotte, was the moment I was finally ready.

The last six weeks have been an unbelievable whirlwind.  Watching her change and grow everyday has gone so far beyond any of my expectations that finding words to describe it is almost an impossible task.  I always expected to celebrate the big milestones, but I've come to cherish the subtle nuances of her that come on a daily basis.

I love how she clenches her fists up under her chin as she eats.  Sometimes she stretches her neck out as far as it will reach, tilts her head back and strains her eyes toward the ceiling.  We refer to it as "turtle face," because, when she does that, she resembles Cecil Turtle from those old Looney Tunes cartoons.  I love listening to little involuntary grunts and sighs she makes while she's sleeping.  In the last couple of weeks, she's become far more aware of her surroundings, and has started reacting to our voices.  She giggles softly from time to time, and it's just the best thing ever.  I love when she's bright-eyed and stares holes through me, or when she moves her mouth along with mine, attempting to mimic my movements in her own way.

I love listening to Adrienne talk to her when she's not really aware I'm listening.  I love watching the faces they make at one another the way only a mother and her newborn daughter can.  I love looking into her eyes, desperately trying to figure out what she's thinking.  Or wondering if she's thinking anything at all.  I wonder what it must be like to genuinely discover something new every single day.  Like a light bulb.  Or your own reflection.  Or how it feels to move your arms.  The feeling of Dad's beard brushing your cheek.  I wonder what it would be like to never take anything for granted.  Not because you're extraordinarily conscientious, but because you're incapable of it.  I am constantly in awe of that innocence.

All that being said, I'd be a liar if I said everything was wonderful and perfect.  It isn't.  Adrienne and I are discovering a level of pure physical exhaustion I'm not sure I knew existed.  The second we begin to fall into any semblance of routine (finally!), Charlotte decides she is bored with the status quo.  I've forgotten what it felt like to relax for longer than five minutes.  Even when Charlotte naps, Adrienne and I spend so much energy trying not to wake her that it makes it impossible to relax ourselves.  I've been peed on.  I've been puked on.  I've discovered smells that have absolutely no business coming from such a small human being.  And I know I've not even begun to scratch the surface of what's to come.  It is absolutely terrifying.

And, yet, I've never loved more, smiled more, laughed more, and anticipated more than I have the last six weeks.  Everyone told me I had no idea what being a parent would be like until I experienced it for myself, and they're most certainly right.  Truth be told, I still don't really know what it will be like.  I have no idea what I'm doing, and I have no idea how in the world I'm going to succeed at this.  But, for some reason, I'm ready.

May as well be, right?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Now That's One Tough Act to Follow

Thanksgiving week has always been one of my favorite times of year.  When I was in school or teaching, obviously the 5-day weekend was always nice.  I'm a huge college basketball fan, and "Feast Week," as it has been coined, has always provided a great jump start to the upcoming season.  There are great movies on TV all weekend long, and of course the chance to spend time with family while enjoying delicious food.  It's a great week all the way around.

My earliest memory of Thanksgiving came on November 23, 1989.  It was one of the rare occasions my sister Lensey's birthday happened to fall on Thanksgiving Day.  I remember getting up to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, like we did every year, and like I still do to this day.  I remember watching Lensey open her birthday gifts before we left to spend the day with the rest of our family.  She got some yellow toy van (I've spent the last half hour trying to locate a picture of it online, but can't remember what line of toys it belonged to) and, because I was still young enough to warrant gifts on my sister's birthday, I got a couple of Police Academy action figures.  I don't remember anything else about that particular Thanksgiving, but those minute details have stuck with me every since.

Although I know I should do it all the time, this time of year always leaves me reflecting upon things that I'm thankful for.  I'm thankful for my parents; I'm thankful for their unending support and guidance throughout my life.  I'm thankful for my beautiful wife, and the sure-to-be beautiful daughter she's preparing to bring into this world.  I'm thankful for my job and my health and my dogs.  I'm thankful for lots of things...Even if I don't always think about the fact I'm thankful for them.  It just sort of goes without saying. 

But, today, that isn't the case.  Today, it isn't going without saying.  Today, I'm thankful for one very special thing:

My sister.

Despite the countless hours we spent arguing and destroying each other's toys (I guess a Raphael in four pieces is a fair trade for a headless Ken doll), Lensey was my first friend.  When I was a baby, she spent nearly every waking moment by my side, providing me with a never-ending source of entertainment.  As I grew older, she would organize games of "house" or "school" and let me join in the fun, where I was almost always the kid she bossed into chores or homework.

She helped foster a deep love for great music, like New Kids on the Block.  I remember a TV special she taped where each member got to play out a dream sequence (I think Danny got to play one-on-one against Michael Jordan), and I got to watch it 15 million times from 1989-1991.  She would let me sit in her room and watch her play Super Mario Brothers or Tetris, and she even let me listen to her read books before I was able to.  You see, I didn't mind being bossed around for those first few years...I just liked being able to tag along.

Even as we grew up and butted heads from time to time, I continued to learn new things from her on an almost daily basis.  I learned when dealing with Mom and Dad, sometimes it's best to just shut your mouth (although that one was more in theory than practice, for me).  I learned what a hard-working, well-rounded individual did on a daily basis.  I saw what true, unadulterated kindness looked and sounded like.  I felt the influence of one of the greatest role models anyone could ever hope to have.

Lensey is one of the most genuinely nice people I've ever met in my entire life.  I've never seen her get into a knock-down, drag-out fight with anyone except me, and only because I know exactly how to push her buttons.  As many softball games as I saw her play, I never once witnessed her talk even a little bit of trash.  I could count on one hand the number of times I've heard her curse (three).  But I couldn't even begin to count the number of times I saw her be kind to someone else.  I couldn't begin to count the number of times I heard her say something complimentary to another person.  I couldn't begin to count the number of times I saw her laugh in the face of obstacles.  In a world that seems to pride itself on focusing on the negative characteristics of nearly everyone, it is a rarity to find someone that makes that practically impossible.  But, my sister does.

I've watched my sister succeed at virtually everything she's ever undertaken in her life.  She was voted class favorite in 1st grade.  She was a cheerleader, all-star softball player, varsity track letter-winner, field commander in the Marching Marshal band, and I'm not sure she ever spent a single day of her life grounded.  She had countless friends, sprinkled in from every conceivable walk of life.  She was a salutatorian in a graduating class of almost 300.  She won a partial scholarship at Murray State as a member of the rowing team.  She graduated with a degree in nursing in barely four years.  She's been incredibly successful in her professional career, given birth to two beautiful children, molded a house into a lovely home, and done it all with more grace and ease than most people can muster for just about anything.  Needless to say, she made life very difficult for a younger sibling trying desperately to follow her giant footsteps.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my wonderful sister for helping mold me into the man I am today.  And I can't wait to introduce her to my daughter, so she can have the same amazing influence that I did.  Happy birthday, Lensey!  I love you!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Don't Worry 'Bout It, Brah

I have to be honest...The first time I met Derek Reul, I couldn't stand the guy. 

He was loud and obnoxious and seemed to be the total opposite of myself in every conceivable way.  Or at least that's how it felt after that first three or four minute interaction.

But, as time passed, I came to be reintroduced to him on several different occasions, and my disdain slowly (and I stress slowly) began to melt down to slight dislike, to apathy, to tolerance.  And before I knew it, and without even knowing how it took place, I guess you could say I liked Derek Reul.

Hell...Derek Reul was my friend.

Derek was one of a kind.  I know that's the sort of thing you hear said about people all the time, and in most cases it holds no meaning.  It's just something nice people say about other people because they're expected to say it under these types of circumstances.  But that's simply not the case with Derek Reul.  He was one. Of. A. Kind.

Derek was such a unique individual that describing him to someone that didn't know him is practically impossible.  Derek's style was stereotypical of the average fraternity bro, but somehow he pieced it together in a way that made it totally Derek Reul.  He would wear the usual khaki shorts and polo to the golf course like everybody else, but play his 18 holes in penny loafers with no socks.  And despite an onslaught of laughter and ridicule from us, he'd own it.  The way only Derek Reul could.

Therein lies some of Derek's charm.  Almost without fail, any time a group of us got together, sooner or later, we'd all get a huge laugh at Derek's expense.  But he exuded a confidence that was cartoonish in its fervency: totally unrealistic, and yet, a characteristic that made me consistently envious of him.  No matter how many times he ended up as the butt of a joke, he always laughed and said, "Don't worry about it, brah," before sauntering away, as if he were the only person in the room that really "got it."

To demonstrate that point, on one occasion, me, Aaron Stanley, Derek Stitt, Matt Sexton, Jimmy Mullaney, and Derek were all sitting around in Stitt and Sexton's apartment watching the Masters on television.  I made some critical remark directed towards Tiger Woods or some other golfer, and Reul immediately called me out on it.

"Come on, Edwards!  Since you're better than Tiger I guess you can give him tips on how to play golf," he said, at his customary volume, which was almost always way too high for the circumstances.
"I never said I was better than Tiger Woods, Derek...But I'm sure better than you," I snapped back.
"Whatever, dude.  I could beat you, no problem," he said.  I'm not sure he actually believed it, but that's that Derek Reul confidence.
"Ok," I said.  "Let's do it, then.  I'll even give you a five stroke lead, just name the time and place.  Hell..I'll give you a 10-stroke lead, and I'll STILL beat you," I said defiantly.

And the wager was set.  I don't remember what stakes we actually put on the round, if any.  And anyone that ever saw Derek play golf knows that he was arguably the worst golfer that had ever swung a club.  But that didn't keep him from trying, anyway.

We went out to Connemara in Lexington a few weeks later, and as we made the turn to the 10th tee, Derek's 10-stroke lead had dissipated into a 12-stroke deficit.  I don't think we even finished the round.

It's that kind of story that encapsulates Derek Reul in my memory.  And one of many that still gets told and retold everytime me and any of those guys get together.  In fact, we spend an inordinate amount of time telling Derek Reul stories, even if he isn't with us.  And I think that may be the kind of legacy any one of us would want to have.

Derek Reul was loud.  He was obnoxious.  He was uncouth, and borderline inappropriate on occasion.  He could disappear for hours at a time, and when asked where he was, could tell a whopper of a lie, simply for the fun of getting a reaction out of us.  But he could do it with so much enthusiasm and detail that it left you thinking, maybe he is telling the truth, even though every fiber of your being told you there was no way.

But, despite his faults, Derek Reul was one of the most loyal people I have ever met in my entire life.  If you needed him for anything, and I do mean anything, he'd drop whatever he was doing and be there with bells on.  You always knew where he stood, and you never doubted for a second that he had your back.

He loved his friends.  He loved his family.  He loved his God and country.  He loved Ronald Reagan, Carl Weathers, and the Green Bay Packers.  He loved crappy 80s pop music, and singing karaoke while doing his patented "air keytar" dance move.  He loved life, and you knew it simply by watching him live it.

I wish I could say I kept in touch with him up until the end, but I can't.  Sometimes life tends to get in the way, and it's been almost five years since I last saw Derek.  We spoke on the phone or texted occasionally, and those conversations almost always revolved around some funny memory from our days in Lexington.  And, to some degree, I think I prefer it that way.

I wish I had gotten the opportunity to say goodbye, but I know life doesn't always work out the way we want it to.  And I also know Derek wouldn't want me, or anyone else, to sit around sadly wondering what might have been.  That's just not his style.

Derek would want us to laugh.  He'd want us to keep telling those same funny stories over and over.  He'd want us to remember the good times we had with him.  He'd want us to go to a karaoke bar, toast to 'Merica, take a shot of peppermint schnapps, and sing "Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car" at the top of our lungs.  And he'd want us to smile.  And that's exactly how I'll remember Derek Reul.

Rest in peace, brother.  You'll be missed more than you know.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Dog Girl of Dickey Hall

"Do not be afraid.  Our fate cannot be taken from us; it is a gift."  -Dante's Inferno

The idea of fate, that the unforeseen meanderings of our lives are predetermined from the womb, is not something that appeals to my nature.  For some folks, I guess, it is a comforting thought to know that every twist and turn we come across has an underlying purpose; we are meant to be wherever we happen to end up simply because that's the plan laid out for us.  No matter the route we take, where we end up is where we're supposed to be.

I would hate to live my life under that sort of constraint.  I realize there are some things in life that are simply beyond our influence; things sometimes just happen.  But I'd like to think I have far more control than unaffectedly floating on the breeze, going where life supposes I'll go.  I'd like to think the choices I've made along the way, and the choices I'll make as I move forward, will play a role in where I ultimately go in life.  And even so...Sometimes random coincidences seem almost too good to find our paths by nothing more than dumb luck.

That sort of thing happened to me in the fall of 2005 when I was a junior at the University of Kentucky.  I had finally declared my major, secondary education, and found myself under the direction of Liza Turner, who would be my academic adviser for the next year and a half.

The first time I met Liza, we went through the cursory introductions.  We examined the university course manual, my transcript, and my schedule to make sure I was taking all of the required courses to complete my degree on time.  Over the next couple of semesters, I'd drop by her office from time to time to ask about dropping a course and replacing it with something else, the MIC application process and where I stood with that, or to just simply see Lucy, whom Liza stealthily (and against the wishes of most of her building-mates) brought to keep her company in the closet she called an office.  It was the sort of intermittent working relationship where I wouldn't have been surprised in the least to know she didn't remember my name.

In the spring of 2008, Liza was the instructor for the last course in which I enrolled at UK.  To be sure, I had one foot out the door, so my attention span was nil.  I talked constantly.  I rarely laid eyes on our weekly readings, half-assed any written assignments...As an example, I turned in an essay over a book we were supposed to read, and only cited material from two chapters.  Liza noticed, too.  But, by that point I just wanted school to end.

I wouldn't have been shocked if I were one of Liza's least favorite students, so when she basically volunteered her younger sister to go on a blind date with me nearly 3 years later, I really couldn't believe it.

Since then, as my relationship with Adrienne has grown, I quickly realized I had become a part of a great family.  And as great and strong as the Turner girls have always been, Liza may just be the capstone keeping them all from crumbling.

There are few people on this earth as selfless and thoughtful as Liza Turner.  Each Christmas Eve, she reads an original poem before we sit down at the table to eat, conjuring up funny stories from the year that was, providing each of us with a memento to carry with us forever.  At Christmas or on birthdays, I often look forward to the gift Liza gets more than any other.  She is incredibly creative and able to put ideas to action, but even more so, she personalizes gifts better than anyone I've ever seen.  My favorites?  The Avett Brothers concert map coasters adorning our coffee table, and the picture chair sitting in corner of our living room, both handmade of course.

Liza truly, deeply, cares about her family farm and community, and it shows.  Drive by Turner Farm at any hour of the day, at any time of year, and you'll undoubtedly see her car parked out front, muddy footprints lining the driveway to and from the barn.  You'll login to Facebook and see countless posts outlining programs she's single-handedly planned and executed at the Cumberland County Public Library: programs to promote literacy or a love of local history; arts and crafts workshops, family movie nights.  Liza loves Cumberland County, and she goes out of her way to nurture that love within the hearts of other Cumberland Countians.

She would be the first to admit she was born in the wrong decade.  She's a throwback.  She's tough.  She's independent.  She'll wake up at 3:30 AM without an alarm, make coffee, and read because she doesn't have cable.  She'll make zucchini bread or eggplant parmesan and leave it on the counter for you to enjoy for dinner.  When you call to say "thank you," she'll answer on her regular cell phone.  And she wouldn't have it any other way.

If fate exists, one of the most important twists of fate in my life was walking into Liza's office in Dickey Hall that day in 2005.  Not only did it bring me the love of my life, and the daughter we have on the way, but it also set me on a crash course to being part of a beautiful family, and getting to know one of the coolest, funniest, kindest, most selfless people I've had the privilege of meeting.  I'm not sure it was fate...But it certainly was a gift.

Happy Birthday, Liza!