Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Readin', Ritin', and Rithmetic

I don't have very many vivid memories of my life when I was a kindergartner.  I remember a handful of friends' birthday parties.  And I remember a set of inflatable red monsters that my teacher, Mrs. Sue, hung above the board and used to teach us the alphabet, but I don't actually remember learning the alphabet.  I couldn't even tell you where in the building (which was demolished when I was in 2nd grade) my first classroom was located. 

I vividly remember a time when I told Mrs. Sue that I was a car-rider one particular day because Dad was taking me fishing.  I normally rode the bus home (good old #50), but I told her Dad was picking me up that day.  Mrs. Sue sat with me on the steps outside the classroom as, one-by-one, all the kids left.  "Are you sure you weren't supposed to ride the bus?" She asked, multiple times.  "No...Dad is coming to get me.  He's probably getting the tackle box ready," I insisted.  Eventually, the bus driver was called, and she came and took me home on an empty bus, which is where I was supposed to be the entire time.  I don't recall if Dad and I went fishing that afternoon or not.

It doesn't really feel like it was all that long ago, but it definitely sounds like it.  Twenty-three years.  But when you do the math, it doesn't really sound all that daunting.  Roughly 18,000 hours.  About 770 days.  A little over 2 years.  That's how much time (estimated, of course) I've spent in a school of one kind or another as a student.  Growing up, it feels like we spend more time at school than we do anywhere else, but if you were to create a pie chart of my life divided by hours, I've actually only spent about 8% of my time on earth in school.

This week marks the end of my standard education.  I'll take my Praxis exam next week and will have my Rank-I certification in Special Education.  It makes me sound really important.  It makes me seem extremely learned (pronounced learn-ed, like in 18th century England).  The truth is, I've probably forgotten more than I care to admit, and just because I have a couple of degrees framed on my wall, I don't feel like I should have a particular label or status applied to me.  It really just means I've spent entirely too much of my parents' money.

School was never all that difficult for me.  I don't say that to brag...It's really just a fact.  Truth be told, no matter what grade I was in, I never really pushed myself all that much.  I always did all my homework, and I was well-behaved for the most part.  But I coasted.  I did enough to get by with good enough grades that my parents stayed off my back.  They got plenty upset when I got as low as a B, but if I had really put forth effort, I could have easily finished with straight A's from 1st grade all the way til now.  Lensey was always a better student than I was, but she will tell you she had to work a lot harder than I did to be successful.  And she reminds me of that frequently.

That sentiment reminds me of something Liza told me a couple of years ago.  When I was in graduate school at UK, Dr. Kathy Swan, the director of the MIC program in which I was enrolled, never really liked me.  And it was obvious.  She called me out constantly for not shaving everyday, told me I needed to dress more professionally (for class, mind you), and was much harder on my written assignments than some of my classmates.  Don't get me wrong, I was a bit of a cut-up in class at times, but when it came time to be serious, I was.  I just tried to lighten the mood sometimes, and I guess she didn't care for that.  I returned from my first interview, and when she asked how it went, I said "It went well.  The principal said I was the best-dressed interviewee they had."  It was just my subtle way of flipping her the bird, which I'm fairly certain she understood.

But anyway, Liza was my academic adviser at the time, and worked closely with Dr. Swan.  So, when Adrienne and I started dating, I asked Liza if Dr. Swan didn't like me.  She absolutely confirmed its truth, and when I asked why, she said "Dr. Swan just thought things came too easily for you."  Perhaps it was my own fault for not carrying myself a certain way all the time, but regardless...A very silly reason to dislike one of your students.  It never really bothered me that Dr. Swan didn't like me, though.  It was plenty clear she had her favorites, and quite frankly, I'm glad I didn't belong to that group.  But, hearing that from Liza sums up my education pretty well.  I was always successful, but I could have done a lot more.

Do I have regrets in that regard?  Not exactly...I have way too many great memories of times with friends or doing things that I enjoyed to sit around and worry about an exam I took 5 years ago.  Sure, I look back and know I could have studied harder and made a better grade here or there, but as I sit here now, I'm totally convinced it would have had little impact on the way my life has turned out.  And I wouldn't trade the memories I made for anything...So, no...I don't regret it.

To me, education was always more than just learning facts, or training for a career...It was training for life.  It was learning about myself.  How I deal with adversity.  How I interact with other people.  How I prioritize my life.  How I set goals and prepare to meet those goals.  As much as I'm sure I learned in a classroom, I feel like the experience of an education taught me even more.

I will miss certain aspects of being a student, even though my most recent experience at the University of the Cumberlands has been totally different than anything else I've ever been involved in.  But, even though my official education is over, it has instilled a love of learning in me that I can always continue to feed as I go through life.  Education is on-going and something we should all take seriously.  I might not have always taken my "schooling" as serious as I could or should have, I definitely took my education seriously.  While the degrees hanging on the wall tell me I'm specifically trained to be a teacher, I don't always have to teach.  I might.  I might not.  That isn't the point.  The point is, I have been extremely fortunate to be able to get a good education, and having that experience has taught me more than any textbook or lecture ever could.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

I am fully aware that it has been nearly two months since my last post, and I am equally aware that a lot has happened between then and now that could have warranted any number of possible writing prompts.  But, nonetheless, I have neglected my personal goal of committing to writing more and for that I apologize.

One thing that has inspired me a bit has been the recent Facebook trend of posting status updates each day about things people are thankful for.  For the last month, my Newsfeed has been chock full of them from dozens of my Facebook friends.  Granted, some were a bit sappy and over the top.  Some were obvious things to be thankful for ("I'm thankful for oxygen, water, and food so I can survive").  And others were so perfect and eloquently written that it really made you sit back for a second and contemplate everything that is important to you in life.

I didn't get into all that, though.  I'm eternally thankful for so many things that assigning a Facebook status to any of them (regardless of the depth) seemed trivial to me.  That's not a shot at anyone that did that...To each his own.  But, it's just not really my style I guess.  I hope I do a good enough job of expressing my thanks for the things I love that I don't have to resort to public declarations that 99.9% of the people reading them couldn't care less about.

I know I may be a few days late, and most people have fully transitioned into Christmas mode.  But if there's one thing the Peanuts gang taught me, it is we should be thankful all year long, not just on Thanksgiving.  So, with that sentiment in mind, I want to express my thanks for the little things in life...The ones that often get taken for granted, and never really get mentioned around a table on Thanksgiving.

In no particular order:

1. I am thankful for college basketball games on TV.  After Christmas, winter drags on and the cold, dreary weather can wear on a person.  Basketball seems to make January and February more bearable.

2. I am thankful for exact change.  I don't carry cash nearly as often as I should, and on those rare occasions when I not only have bills, but coins too and can pay the exact amount owed, it just makes me smile.

3. I am thankful for unexpected days off.  Whether it is a snow day so there's no school, or just a time where some dreaded obligation gets cancelled, it's a great feeling.

4. I'm thankful for photographs.  I often make fun of my mom for taking 5 or 6 pictures of the same exact thing, or for having the video camera out for mundane things like opening a birthday card, but I have to admit I'm really glad I have those memories to look back on.  I don't take enough pictures (unless I'm at an Avett Brothers concert), so I'm glad someone else does. (Note: Pictures of homemade desserts, plants, and bottles of wine do not count, Liza).

5. I'm thankful for sunburns.  Now, I don't mean those severe ones that make even the most mundane movements feel like pure misery.  But that first slight sting of summer (how's that for alliteration?) you feel after spending that first warm afternoon in the sun is glorious.

6. I'm thankful for Kentucky bourbon.

7. I'm thankful for the smell after someone mows.  I can't really describe what it smells like, but you know what I'm talking about.  And the smell of outside early in the morning in the spring.  That one too.

8. I am thankful for Boston and AC/DC.  There are other musical acts that I might like more, but I simply cannot listen to "Something About You" or "If You Want Blood, You Got It" without immediately being in a good mood.  Seriously...Try it.

9. I am thankful for the cool side of the pillow.  When are they going to invent a pillow that stays that temperature all the time?

10. I am thankful I don't look like Cody Zeller.

Hardly an exhaustive list, but I encourage you to take the time to really think about the things you are thankful for.  Sometimes we don't realize how much we truly take for granted.

Monday, October 8, 2012

I Gotta Good Feeling

Up until the time Adrienne and I got engaged, I never really thought about my wedding or what I wanted it to be like.  That's not a really something guys sit around and talk about.  There were certain aspects of weddings I'd go to or see in a movie that I liked, but as to where I wanted my own wedding to take place, or what kind of food I wanted...I never really gave it much thought.

But when Adrienne and I began planning our wedding, that changed a bit.  As more time progressed, I began to give serious thought as to what I wanted in our wedding.  I left color choices, flowers, cake, and things like that up to Adrienne, because let's be honest...She has much better taste than I, and none of that stuff really mattered all that much to me.  It was her day, and I wanted it to be perfect for her.

What I wanted was to have a wedding and reception that I would want to go to if I were a guest.  I wanted the wedding itself to be classic and elegant, but approachable and enjoyable for the people in attendance.  I wanted it to be large enough for all of our friends and family to attend, but I wanted it to be intimate and seem exclusive at the same time.  I wanted the reception to be a huge party...We were there to celebrate, not sit around and eat cake.  It could have been all those things, I guess, no matter where we had it, but the First Christian Church in Burkesville and Dale Hollow State Park turned out to be absolutely perfect in every conceivable way.

It felt, to me, like a destination wedding, despite the fact it was right in Adrienne's own backyard.  Virtually all of my guests had at least a three-hour drive, and most came in a day or two early so we all got to hang out at the hotel the night before.  It was almost like an extension of my bachelor party, only much more reserved and more about just hanging out than anything.  Thursday night, Clay and I laid around and watched TV...Just like we did countless nights back in our dorm at UK.  Friday, a group of us all played golf before the rehearsal dinner, and Friday night the late-arrivals joined us on the patio of the second floor where we all sat around telling stories (almost all at my own expense) until early Saturday morning.

I told myself leading up to the weekend that I was going to slow down and make a conscious effort to soak it all in.  It would have been very easy to look forward to the wedding itself all weekend, and let so many other great moments pass me by.  And, in all reality, I did a good job of that.  I remember thinking to myself early Friday afternoon just before teeing off on the 14th hole that it had felt like the weekend should almost be over, but it hadn't even really begun.  And that was a wonderful feeling.

I wish that I could remember the ceremony as vividly as I do so many other things about that weekend.  Truthfully, the ceremony itself was so nerve-wracking that I really only feel like I have a handful of mental images.  I don't really remember much that was said by Brother Seth.  I don't really remember seeing many familiar faces in the crowd.  It was just one big blur...A church full of faceless bodies, the teacher from Peanuts squawking in the background, and the occasional private little moment between Adrienne and I as we stood at the alter.  And I guess part of me likes it that way...The clearest memory I have of that day is Adrienne standing in front of me, her hands in mine, looking more stunningly beautiful than I could have ever imagined she'd look.

I'm so glad we were able to convince Jackie to have the reception at Dale Hollow.  They all did a masterful job of decorating the reception hall, and it was exactly what I would have wanted it to be.  I remember walking in early Friday morning and thinking it looked great already, and as Adrienne and I walked in with the room totally done and packed with our loved ones, I was blown away.  It really looked like something out of a magazine.  During the meal, I leaned over to my best man and said "This is exactly what I wanted from day one."  He smiled, patted me on the back, and simply said, "I'm glad."

But it wasn't just the way it looked.  It was the feel the room had all night.  I looked around so many different times and saw my mom smiling and laughing, or doing the Wobble.  I saw Jackie with an ear-to-ear grin, wine glass in hand, having the time of her life.  All the work had been done and it was time to celebrate.  And because we were there with that great staff catering to our every need, they were able to do just that.  Like Liza said...I hope it was worth every penny.

Adrienne and I had the best time of our lives that entire weekend, and we were sitting on the couch last night on the verge of depression because it was over.  We wanted to do it all again.  From the golf game, to the rehearsal dinner, to the ceremony and reception...I literally could not have imagined it being any better, and I am so grateful to all the people that helped make it happen.

To my groomsmen and friends...You guys took time out of your own busy schedules to travel, rent tuxes, get a hotel room, play golf...Your collective presence made me forget about the nerves and provided me with memories I will cherish forever.  It was awesome.

To Jackie and my Mom...You are both amazing women in your own right.  Jackie, you spear-headed the planning of the entire thing when Adrienne and I were having to focus on other things, you took the responsibility of making sure the weekend went smoothly and executed it beautifully.  We are both eternally thankful for that.  Mom...You helped me in so many different ways, I can't really begin to describe them.  You were instrumental in ensuring that so many of our loved ones were there, and you deflected any stress I might have been feeling.  Thank you for being you.

To Liza...You introduced me to Adrienne.  This weekend would have never happened had you not thought me worthy to date your sister.  I look back on the version of myself that you knew and wonder how that was possible, but I am so glad it was.  Seriously...From the bottom of my heart, thank you for that.

To Leigh...You ran around like a crazy person all day Saturday taking pictures and changing clothes and taking care of an energetic 3-year-old, and you did it all incredibly effectively.  Thank you so much...Adrienne and I cannot wait to see all the pictures.

To the rest of my family and friends that made the long trip to attend...I can't explain how much it meant to have you all there to share in the day with me and Adrienne.  I mean, I really can't.  It was incredible, and I love you all.

I know Adrienne and I will always look back on it as the best weekend of our lives, because I honestly don't know how it could be topped.  It was simply perfect in every way.  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

I Meant What I Said When I Said I Would Rearrange My Plans and Change For You: Marrying a Turner Girl

Lately I've found myself wondering what the 2006 or 2007 version of myself would have thought if I told him he'd be married in 5 years.  He probably would have laughed in my face and told me I was crazy...He isn't going to get married for a while, he'd say.  He wants to travel and be able to just worry about himself for a while before he settles down, he'd say.  Besides, 30 is the new 20, he'd arrogantly point out.  I'd just smile, nod, and say well, we'll see, I guess.  Then he'd chuckle, unconvinced, shrug his shoulders and sarcastically agree with me.  

I never planned for this.  For virtually my entire adult life I knew I would probably take a different path than the rest of my family.  I was going to be a late bloomer, in a sense.  I was going to wait to marry, not really because I was afraid or avoiding it, but because I just wanted to put off that responsibility for a while.  I wanted to be able to live my life at a moment's notice.  I wanted to be able to do what I wanted, when I wanted, and get all of that out of my system before jobs, kids, and raising a family took over.  

Then I met Adrienne, and all that stuff I had planned for seemed increasingly foolish and trivial.  The only plan I had after that was to be with her.

It just doesn't make sense that my wedding is a mere week away.  I've been looking forward to it since the day I proposed to Adrienne, but in a "It's going to be so great when the day comes" kind of way.  It's strange how things we anticipate like that always seem to feel so far away, and even if we count down the days, are still able to sneak up on us like an old friend surprisingly grabbing our arm on a crowded street. 

I've gone over every possible scenario in my mind, played it out from start to finish over and over, although I know any preconceptions I have about it won't do it justice.  I can't really imagine what it's going to feel like standing at the alter, watching the love of my life walk towards me in her beautiful gown, the music playing, and a few hundred sets of eyes fixed directly on her.  I almost feel jealous, like all those eyes don't deserve it...That moment should be just for me...For us.  But, I also know how ridiculous that is, because she will be sharing that moment, that day, with her mother and sisters.  When I remember that, the silly jealousy fades away and turns to excitement because I'm glad her family and mine will all be there sharing in our joy with us.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.

You see, I knew exactly what I was signing up for when I decided I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Adrienne Ross Turner. 

The Turner Girls are a unique breed, and it takes very little time to realize that.  They all exude a quiet confidence that, when pushed to do so, boils over the surface like a pot on the stove that's been filled just a bit too much...Slowly, but suddenly.  

They all have a contagious and addicting sense of humor, and an uncanny ability to laugh at their own faults.  Poking fun of one another is both acceptable and expected, but God have mercy on the poor soul that crosses that line from the outside.  

They all look at life and the daily challenges that accompany it with a sense of joy and exuberance that almost seems fake, but is laced with more sincerity than most people can apply to anything.

They all tell stories about the husband, father, teacher, and friend that left such an indelible mark on so many lives with such vividness and love that the listener might as well be standing in the room at the moment the recollection happened.  I love watching their faces brighten when they speak of him.

They all love the little piece of land off Highway 90 in Waterview, that no matter where they go, will always be home.  Not that I blame them...Pulling up the driveway makes me feel like I've been sucked into a Ken Holland painting.  And I always feel like I'm home when I go there.

I've witnessed a stronger bond between the Turner Girls and some horses and dogs on that farm than most people ever find with another person.

None of them are perfect, and each would be the first to tell you that.  Sure, they're confident in themselves, but they fail to cross the fine line between confidence and arrogance.  Despite their noticeable confidence, Turner women are built humble.

And stubborn.  That innate stubbornness leads to disagreements and the occasional heated argument, just like in any family.  I would prefer to stay out of them, but if push comes to shove, Adrienne will always be right (sorry, Jackie, Liza, and Leigh).  But no matter the topic of disagreement, or the severity, there is always forgiveness on both sides.

They each have their own preferences, interests, and styles, but influences from all the others can be easily seen.  I've never seen a group of people so different and so similar at the same time.

And above all else...The bond that has been forged in them by blood and experience is absolutely unbreakable.  There will never be anything more important to them than family, and that has been abundantly clear since the very beginning.

So what does it mean to be marrying a Turner Girl?  Well...

It means I have a new-found responsibility, not only to Adrienne and our future family, but to her family too.  It means I have a new family that has welcomed me with open arms, and, despite all my faults and short-comings, has somehow come to grips with the fact Adrienne chose me.

It means I know my kids will grow up with an amazing support system from both sides.  They'll see great examples of the love, devotion, determination, and hard work from my family AND Adrienne's.  It means the stereotype of "dreaded in-laws" doesn't exist for me.

It means if I ever screw up and hurt Adrienne in any way, I not only have to answer to her and her family, but also about 6,000 Cumberland County residents.

It means the woman I get to spend the rest of my life with is a strong, confident, smart, and loving woman built upon a foundation as strong as the one I grew up with.  Adrienne and I talked about how similar our families were very early on, and is one of the things I like the most about mine and Adrienne's relationship.

It means I get to spend the rest of my life with the woman of my dreams.  It means I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the rest of the Turner Girls for helping mold Adrienne into the unbelievably incredible woman she is today, and to Liza for introducing us in the first place.  Without the Turner Girls, I'd have nothing.

I guess above all else, it means I got really damn lucky.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Chip Off the Old Block

My dad has always been pretty talented when it comes to wood-working.  For a guy with little to no formal training, and with nothing more to go on than his own creative intuition, he's actually really good.  Take a short walk around my parents' house, and you'll see several examples of his simple, yet elegantly useful work.  There's a window on the back wall of my childhood bedroom corralled on either side by shelves and a desk he constructed to provide me with storage and a workspace I spent hours at as a kid.  At Christmas, there is a collection of wooden reindeer, each with a name hand-painted on the bottom, sitting atop the entertainment center in the living room.  While at first it was just Mom, Dad, Lensey, and I, when Lensey and Josh got married, Dad made a new one for him.  And I'm sure Adrienne's will appear up there this Christmas.  Behind the house, at the edge of the yard where the grass slowly fades into the leafy carpet of the woods, Dad built a storage shed a few years ago.  And hanging on the outside wall, are five decorative wooden plates: one with "Edwards" carved into it, and each of our four names dangling beneath.  The plates hung against the brick on the front porch for years, and despite the need for a sanding and fresh coat of stain, Mom decided to recycle the decoration for the shed.

Perhaps his most impressive project, though, is the set of corner shelves he built for the living room.  Over the years they have held dozens of mine and Lensey's sports trophies, a collection of Encyclopedias, old yearbooks, examples of Dad's NASCAR models, random family photos, and other knick-knacks families feel the need to keep at an easy reach, despite barely remembering they're there.  Those shelves have been integral to the feng shui of the living room, and I spent countless hours as a child looking at memories I made on the sports field, or learning about Mom and Dad's high school antics (Dad's lucky he had enough brain cells left to read once he got to college).  Since Lensey and I have both moved out, the trophies have mostly made their way to the basement, and Dad's book collection has slowly grown to take up most of the space.

One glance at the books gives you a pretty good idea of my dad's primary interests: virtually all of them are historical in nature, and a large number deal with local history in some way.  One of his favorite pastimes is just driving around forgotten back roads, looking at historical landmarks, or exploring old homeplaces, where little remains other than a crumbling foundation, or vine-covered planks forming the faint skeleton of an old house or barn.  When I was a kid, we used to take hikes into the woods in the LBL, where we'd stumble upon a long-forgotten plot of land with an old family cemetery, almost unreachable because of fallen tree limbs and overgrowth.  To this day, anytime we pass an empty lot with two big shade trees conspicuously placed, Dad will comment "I bet there was an old homeplace there."

Over the years, as much as I've likely made fun of Dad for being so "nerdy," it has become unmistakably clear that I am my father's son.  I've slowly grown into the same kind of person.  Last spring, I was walking Liza's dogs one afternoon and spent almost an hour exploring the exterior of the old Marrowbone School.  I climbed up the staircase at the entrance and looked in, the floor sunken in, chalkboards still on the wall in the old classrooms.  I walked around to the side of the building and looked into the old gym, now a storage space for the mill that calls the old building home.  The rims and bleachers were still in place, scoreboards still mounted on the walls, and I found myself picturing the place packed to the gills with spectators, watching the Cardinals take another win.

Adrienne and I spent Sunday afternoon at Natural Bridge in the Red River Gorge, and I was overcome with a feeling of solemnity for those that came before us.  I found myself picturing what it must have been like for early pioneers, in a totally foreign place, trying to hack out survival in an unforgiving landscape.  I sat in awe at the sight of the towering rock formations, cut out of the land slowly by millennia of Nature doing Her work.  I stood on top of the bridge, looking out over the gorge below me, and truly lost myself for a moment.  In some strange, intangible way, it made me miss home.

I never gave Dad credit for opening my eyes to the incredible and interesting history that lies so close to home.  I liken it to the way history used to be passed down from generation to generation.  Stories collected from ancestors over the course of centuries were handed down orally, likely losing a bit of fact to the more interesting exaggerations that human nature is so prone to use...Like a game of Telephone on a massive scale, taking decades to complete.  It might not have been the exact same technique; Dad's way of exposing me to history was a bit modernized, and more tangible, but effective all the same.

I was watching a documentary on KET last week (something I witnessed my dad do dozens of times throughout my childhood) discussing the massive wave of death brought on by the Civil War.  What we hear about from textbooks and lectures are the numbers, and it's easy to say "Damn, that's a lot of people."  But what we don't hear is how people dealt with it.  How it affected the friends and families of those lost, many left to rot on sun-baked fields or hastily tossed in mass graves.  We don't think about the fact that Gettysburg, a town of roughly 2,000 people, was left to deal with the aftermath of some 8,000 deaths.  I found myself totally enthralled...Not because I'm a nerd for Civil War history (I am)...But because those stories were unknown to me.  They were human...They were reality.  

There's something about exploring old relics of our history that brings those days back to the present, even if our imaginations might be totally inaccurate, and even if we don't have any direct connection to it.  But, I don't really think that matters.  What really matters is that we do those things; what matters is that we try to remember.  So many stories and histories get lost to the turning pages of time...Stories that deserve to be heard, deserve to be told. 

I owe my dad a debt of gratitude for instilling in me a sense of respect for those that came before me.  Perhaps it was his influence that led me to pursue a study of history when I was in college.  I think it was.  But, even if that weren't the case, I'm very fortunate to have a father that knows how important it is to remember the past...If for no other reason than to ensure we don't make the same mistakes twice.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bears, Beets, and Battlestar Galactica

Up until just a few years ago, I was never a huge "fan" of any television show.  I mean, don't get me wrong, I had my favorites growing up...Home Improvement, Boy Meets World, Family Matters, The Wonder Years, and more recently Family Guy and Justified, which I watch religiously.  But, I never got involved with a series.  I never connected to the characters in a way that made me truly feel like I was a part of the story.

I mean, I'll watch reruns of Friends occasionally when I'm bored, but I couldn't have cared less about what happened between Ross and Rachel, and I wasn't one of the millions of people tuned in to watch the series finale.

I didn't really understand all of the hullabaloo about how The Sopranos series finale ended in mid-sentence.  In all honesty, I've never seen a full episode of the show (HBO is expensive).

But, this spring when NBC finally pulls the plug on The Office, I will be watching.  Just as I've done every other Thursday night for the past 6 years.  I can honestly say, without question, I will have watched that entire series from beginning to end (yes, I was a couple of seasons behind, but I watched the first two seasons in three days in preparation for the third season premiere).  And despite the hours of syndicated reruns you can find every week on TBS and Fox, I will still be genuinely saddened when the show goes off the air. 

There is something inherently joyful about watching The Office, even when the storyline in a particular episode is a sad one.  I always feel like I'm watching my own life (in some strange, not really at all similar way) unfold from episode to episode.  I see quirky little similarities between Jim and Pam and Adrienne and I.  I know what it's like to work for a boss that is a complete and utter moron.  And I know how it feels to go to work everyday, genuinely despising every second you're there.  That connection with the characters on the show, mixed with the hilarious scenarios that play out, always leaves me smiling even if I've seen the episode a dozen times.

I think the main reason I fell in love with the show was the way the characters developed, especially early on in the series.  Dwight Schrute went from being an eccentric, almost alien-like freak, to an eccentric and very strange human that cared about other people, even if he had an odd way of showing it.  As popular as Jim Halpert is on the show (everybody likes him, except for Dwight), if I worked with a guy like that, I would want to hate him so badly, but would end up being friends with him.  In the early seasons, Jim was a lazy, wise-cracking douche bag that got credit for essentially doing nothing, but he was so cool and laid back and friendly that it was easy to overlook the other stuff.  I began rooting for him and Pam by the second episode of the show.

And then there's Michael Scott...The bumbling, uncouth, painfully awkward idiot of a boss that you just cannot help but love/despise/feel incredibly sorry for.  I really don't think there's ever been a character in a television show that inspired so many conflicting emotions as Michael Scott did throughout his run on the show.  Despite the attention the Pam and Jim storyline received (for good reason), Michael Scott was always (and even now that he's gone, still is) the star of the show.  There have been instances where you wanted to crawl into the scene and give him a hug, times you wanted to punch him in the face for being so offensive and stupid, and times where you genuinely had trouble watching (despite knowing it is fiction) because something was so painfully awkward.  Just as one example...From literally hundreds to choose from...

When Michael Scott left the show in the 7th season, it definitely lost it's luster.  Michael Scott had been a constant since the pilot episode, and was the driving force behind every storyline the writers chose to pursue.  The humor, awkwardness and the real, human elements that made the show so fun to watch for so long was embodied by Michael Scott.  And while the show still remains entertaining to a degree, when Michael Scott left Dunder-Mifflin to move to Colorado, the show should have quit too.

Despite the lackluster storylines that have followed the gut-wrenching departure of Michael (I literally almost cried watching that episode), I'm still looking forward to the 9th and final season that premieres tomorrow night.  Although Kelly and Toby will no longer be on the show, I'm interested to see how they tie up all the loose ends.  Will Angela and Dwight finally end up together once she comes to grips with the fact her husband the senator is gay?  Will David Wallace buy Dunder-Mifflin and put Sabre (and Robert California) totally out of business?  How long will Andy and Erin last?  Are Pam and Jim going to move onto greener pastures?  And...For the love of God...Are they going to bring back Michael Scott for the finale?  I guess I'm just really hoping for a good ending.

My Top 5 Office Episodes:

5. "Dunder-Mifflin Infinity"--Dunder-Mifflin launches a new website making it easier for customers to buy paper.  Michael believes in good, old-fashioned, personable service and goes to great lengths (hand delivering baskets of food) to win back old clients.

4. "Niagara"--Jim and Pam's long and tumultuous courtship finally culminates in their destination wedding at Niagara Falls.  Michael spills the beans about Pam's pregnancy in front of her grandmother at the rehearsal dinner, Andy has to get stitches after injuring his...um...private area, and Dwight seduces a bridesmaid.

3. "Weight Loss"--Probably the most anticipated episode I remember.  The Season 5 opener let us finally witness Jim pop the question to Pam in a rain-soaked gas station parking lot.  Meanwhile, Dunder-Mifflin participates in a company-wide weight loss initiative, and Kelly uses a diet of water, lemon juice, and maple syrup to try and lose the most weight.

2. "The Job"--In the Season 3 finale, Michael assumes he will be hired for a job that opens at corporate, and holds a Survivor-like contest at Lake Scranton to find his replacement for manager of the Scranton branch.  Jim and Karen (who are dating at the time) also interview for the job.  After Jim's interview, he drives back to Scranton (leaving Karen in New York) and asks newly-single Pam on a date.

1. "The Dinner Party"--Arguably the greatest episode of any TV show in the history of mankind...Michael, after dozens of failed attempts, finally tricks Jim and Pam into coming over to his house for a dinner party.  The rocky relationship between he and Jan comes to a boiling point at the party...Jan thinks Pam has a thing for Michael, Michael tries to get Andy and Jim to invest in Jan's scented-candle company, and Jan and Michael explode in an argument culminating in the police being called.  The painful awkardness that makes the show so fantastic is on full, genius display throughout this classic episode.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Time Doesn't Wait For Me...It Keeps on Rollin

It's often a strange feeling when an event you have trumped up and looked forward to for months finally arrives.  It's as if a huge weight is lifted, and only because the excitement and build up as you approach it dominates your thoughts and concerns so heavily.  You talk about it all the time, think about it all the time, find excuses to plan for it, although all the planning has already been done and you simply want to think about it and analyze it and talk about it even more than you already have.  Then, the day finally arrives...It doesn't even come close to meeting the outlandish expectations you had for it (how could it?), and then it passes...Like a shooting star burning up the night sky: You only realize you saw it after it's already disappeared.

Then you're left wondering...What the hell do I do now?

That's how I felt Sunday afternoon as I rode shotgun in Stan's Trailblazer, on our way back from my bachelor party weekend at Lake Cumberland.  My friends and I had spent the last three months talking about the bachelor weekend that was to be the cap to our summer...Despite the new members of the crew (Tim, Adam, Clay, and Thomas), it was going to be an old-school reunion: a dip into the Fountain of Youth.  We kept saying how wild it was going to be, how much we were going to laugh (which we did a lot...My jaw still hurts).  We watched the lineup of attendees morph and change more times than I care to count.  We looked at photos of the cabin rental enough times to memorize the pattern in the carpet.  And we discussed how much food would cover 12 people...Then bought enough for twice that.  We drove every point into the ground, spent so much time thinking and planning, only to watch the weekend come and go in what seemed like the blink of an eye.  I have to admit...It was a bit depressing.

I'm not sure exactly why that was the case.  There were a lot of contributing factors, I suppose.  Maybe it was the fact that our weekend at the lake (the one we had spent so much time anticipating and was so much fun) was over; it was time to go back to the real world Monday morning.  Maybe it was the fact I desperately missed my fiance.  Maybe it was simply the lingering effects of two days worth of binge drinking...They all definitely played a role.  But I think the main reason I was depressed come Sunday, was the realization that all the new memories we created and all the old ones we reminisced upon for those two short days were just that...Memories.

I'll take you back to a funny conversation Clay, DJ, and I had early Saturday afternoon.  The three of us were standing on top of our double-decker pontoon rental, enjoying the fact that our lingering hangovers from the night before were beginning to fade.  I don't exactly remember how the conversation got started; all I know is DJ and Clay were discussing something along the lines of insurance premiums or tax-deductible donations...Whatever the case, it was something that should never be a topic of discussion under the circumstances we were in.

I simply turned and looked at them and said, "You know...We all got really old, and weren't even aware it was happening."

They both laughed, nodded in agreement, and we joked about how, at some point in the last 4 or 5 years, our on-the-lake conversations had somehow moved from how many beers we could drink, or where all the women were, to how much our employers match on 401k contributions, or if we're getting a good deal on our monthly rent.  And, while it was meant to be a joke, I feel like it was something we all thought about a lot as the rest of the weekend unfolded.  I definitely did.

Things have changed.  The old days we tried so hard to emulate this past weekend have almost totally passed us by, and what little remnants that do remain are swiftly fading away.  As we led up to the weekend, we openly compared it to some of the weekends of yore...Acting as if this weekend would be like those, just because it was "supposed" to be.  I think we all knew that wasn't going to be the case.  And thank God it wasn't.

Don't get me wrong...This weekend was incredibly fun, from start to finish, despite the underlying level of exhaustion that undoubtedly impacted our ability to throw a marathon party.  But, it wasn't exactly what I expected it was going to be...In fact, if you had asked the 22-year-old me, I would have flat out thought it was lame.  I would have thought everyone went to bed too early, and everyone acted like a bunch of whiny babies.  Frankly, we just can't do it like we used to.

I was sitting on the deck under a crystal clear, starlit sky at around 2:00 AM Sunday morning when I began to think about that fact.  And, for the first time all weekend, I began to realize that I was perfectly okay with that.  I'm honestly not sure why any of us ever expected this weekend to be what we remember those weekends from our college days to be like.  We've all out-grown that, and I thought I had come to grips with that long ago.  Perhaps, for me at least, it was the heaviness of the fact that it was my bachelor party, or, that thought coupled with a day's worth of alcohol.  Regardless, I began to realize I was on the verge of a life-changing event.  And no matter how exciting that is (and believe me, it is) there is something inherently sad about leaving that old life behind.  It's like graduating from college or high school...No matter how exciting the next step is, there will always be things about the last one you will miss.

My friend Matt flew in from Portland, Oregon, and it was the first time I had seen him in 4 years.   And despite the fact we have always been very different people (capable of arguing about virtually anything), and despite the fact we had gone that long without seeing one another, it was like nothing at all had changed.  Although there were a few new faces in the crowd, it was like I had been whisked away to a July Saturday in 2005, sitting around a campfire, listening to classic rock, living life without a care in the world.

Those are the things I will miss.  I know that the nine of us that had the time of our lives this weekend could do that every summer for the next twenty years, and it would always be an absolute blast.  But, I also know it would be different.  And that's why I was a slight bit depressed as we traveled back from Jamestown on Sunday.  No matter how incredible the future may end up to be, it will never be the same.  There's a tinge of sadness to that.

I know I sound incredibly cynical, like a Bruce Springsteen song...Like the best days of my life are behind me.  But, in all actuality, that really couldn't be further from the truth; I know that the future is going to be amazing.  I really can't wait to see what it has in store for Adrienne and I.  I can't wait to marry her, and I can't wait to take that exciting next step.  In fact, I'm almost giddy to the point I can't stand it.  But, no matter how happy I am in my life, whether it's a month from now or 10 years down the road...Anytime I hear Tom Scholz's guitar wailing that first note of "Foreplay/Long Time," in my mind I'll be sitting around with my buddies, drinking a cold beer, and staring up at the stars with a smile on my face.

A few thoughts: I want to give a special thanks to the guys that made this weekend so awesome...Eric, Clay, Matt, Stan, Thomas, Tim, Adam...You guys are hilarious in so many different, unique ways, and it made the weekend as great a bachelor party as I could have asked for.

DJ...I don't even really have to say anything about you.  Thanks for putting it all together, thanks for being my best friend for life, and thanks for spooning with me at the end of th...I mean...Yeah, bro.  You rule.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

*Insert Inspirational Quote About Taking Chances

Moving is a bitch.  Pardon my French, but I don't really know how else to put it.  There are lots of obligations in life I could do without, but there is no doubt moving is near the top of the list.  It's one of the most mundane, inconvenient, and inappropriately expensive endeavors one will come across.  I've done it so much in the last 9 years, that I'm essentially a pro at it, and if not for the sheer hatred I have for moving, I could probably make a fairly decent living having people pay me to move their stuff.  Since my first move to Blanding I at UK in 2003, I've moved an additional eight times.  Only twice have I stayed in one place for longer than a year, and at one point I moved into a house, only to move again two months later.  It's mind-numbing to think about.

That being said, there are few (very, very select few) things I like about moving.  There's always the excitement of being in a new environment, even if it's just across town.  Sure, the means of getting there is always miserable, but the end is new and exciting, at least for a while.  Plus, there's the inevitable purge of meaningless trinkets, documents, and long-expired food items that have accumulated over the course of several months, or even years.  With every item I pick up to pack away, I might as well be plucking the petals from a wildflower, asking "To keep, or not to keep?"  I could furnish a small apartment with all of the things I've thrown out or donated to Goodwill over the years.

And sometimes, you come across long-forgotten items that you aren't exactly sure why you held onto to begin with, but when you discover them, you're so glad you did.  It could be an old collection of photographs you stuffed in the bottom of a drawer, reminding you of some bygone night out with the boys...Maybe a faded deck of cards you thought you'd thrown away, or that favorite, paper-thin t-shirt you had been unsuccessfully looking for for months, totally convinced it had gotten lost in the previous move.  No matter what it is, with every move I always find something I had forgotten I owned, and it always makes me smile.

As much of an inconvenience as it was moving, this most recent move has brought more excitement and change than any other, save for that first move to college back in '03.  Like that one to my first college dorm, this one marks the beginning of a new stage in life...A major step into the unknown.  I remember the feeling I had in those last few weeks before I left home for the first time.  I was so ready to start my college experience, that I hardly took the time to soak in those last few days of being at home.  I knew things were going to be different...I would no longer have Mom and Dad there all the time to keep me on point.  I wouldn't have them there to make sure I was up on time in the morning, and I wouldn't have them there to feed me three square meals a day.  I knew I wouldn't be able to see my best friends everyday, and I knew there were things I'd miss out on.  But the excitement of taking the next step, starting that new journey, totally overshadowed any fear, doubt, or sadness I had about leaving.  This time around, it's been very similar.

Adrienne and I will be starting new jobs in just a couple of weeks, and then our wedding is just over two months away.  While getting prepared for all of that has been stressful, and even a bit overwhelming, the excitement of all the changes taking place underscores everything.  We've had to decorate our first home together, we've had to adjust to living under the same roof for the first time, and we've had to get mentally (and physically) prepared for a demanding, time-consuming career as teachers.  But, the newness and the excitement is unbelievable.  Sure, it's been difficult at times getting adjusted to all the change, but I think it has gone about as smoothly as either of us could have hoped for.  

I know things are probably a bit different for Adrienne, because she's never really done this before.  She did live in the dorms at WKU for a couple of years, but home was always close by.  Being away from my family is not something I enjoy, but I've done it for so long now, that I've grown accustomed to it.  And I think Adrienne is enjoying the change so far, although I'm sure there will be times where homesickness sets in and dominates everything.  Lord knows I've been blindsided by it from time to time.  But, as she's been told many times, home is only a short drive away.  One that I'm sure we will make dozens of times over the next several months, both to her home and mine.

As smothering and taxing as a deluge of change can initially be, even when highlighted by unremitting excitement, we both know the change is for the best.  Making the move to Mount Sterling brings so many refreshing opportunities that it makes dealing with the stress a much simpler task.  Adrienne gets to start her teaching career, and I get a chance to take my teaching career in a totally new direction.  As tough as it may be, we get the chance to grow together away from our families, essentially forcing us to forge our own support system which will only strengthen us going forward as we start our lives in marriage.  On the surface, the situation couldn't have worked out much better, from the schools we will be working in, to the community we will become a part of.  It seems to be the perfect fit for both of us.  Only time will tell, obviously, but we're adjusting surprisingly well and surprisingly quickly.

Hopefully, the next time we have to pack up and move, it will be as homeowners.  Because I sure don't want to have to make this a habit. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I'm More Clark Griswold, Less Cory Matthews

I'm not very good at making plans.  As I've gotten older, I guess I've improved somewhat in that regard, but most of my life I've definitely done things off the cuff.  So many times, my mom would call me on a Friday evening and ask what my friends and I were going to do, and my answer would almost always be "Ah, not really sure yet."  And I guess we liked it that way.  It's easy for things to live up to expectations, and exceed them, when you don't have any to begin with.  Some of my fondest memories with my friends started with a couple of us just hanging out, and ended with whatever direction the wind took us.

But, when I was growing up, my Friday nights were pretty much set in stone.  I'd be in front of the TV to watch Family Matters and Boy Meets World on TGIF, and there was rarely a week that I missed them.  To be honest, I don't know what pre-adolescent kids do nowadays...Without Cory Matthews and Shawn Hunter to teach them how to deal with everyday hardships, how do middle-schoolers even survive?  Why doesn't every inner-city high school have a P.E. teacher like Mr. Cooper?

When I was entering those formative years, I always imagined high school and college would be like a Boy Meets World episode.  I figured I'd have some kind of drama going on seemingly daily.  I expected I'd probably live in a downtown apartment in the city where I attended college.  I wanted so badly to make flannel shirts seem cool, and I just knew I'd find my Topanga sometime before my 15th birthday.

Obviously, none of those things really came to fruition.  For the most part, my high school years were drama-free...Or as drama free as a high school student's life can be.  My housing in college was nice (for the most part), but they were very typical living quarters for the average college student.  I quit wearing flannel in 5th grade, and I didn't meet my Topanga until I was on the north side of 25. In short, the life I envisioned as a 12-year old was a lot different than the one I ultimately led.  And thank God for that.

That really hasn't changed much.  I think back to me as a 20-year-old, and I honestly can't remember what expectations I had at that point.  I was probably more focused on getting through college and having fun with my friends than anything.  But, I'm sure there were times when I worried about what was to come.

There is no question that happens now...On the verge of marriage, I stress about jobs and living arrangements on a near daily basis.  I wonder how Adrienne and I are going to make it in a world that seems to be hell-bent on making that impossible.  I wonder what it's going to be like to be a father (way, WAY down the line), and how I'm going to handle that immense responsibility.  Quite frankly, those thoughts scare the hell out of me.  Not in a dreading kind of way, but just in a "all of this is so new and different" kind of way.  It's overwhelmingly exciting and terrifying at the same time.

Some people may say they'd do things totally differently if they had known what the future held.  I don't agree with that sentiment...I wouldn't want to change the way things are, because I love my life.  And honestly, I don't want to know what the future holds. The question I would ask anyone that would want that is this, "What if you don't like what you see?"  You could argue that if you knew the future, you could make choices along the way to change it.  But, if that were the case, then you wouldn't really be seeing the future at all.  You'd be seeing a possible outcome. You wouldn't be able to change anything...You'd just have to wait out the inevitable.

It'd be like waking on Christmas morning with a bunch of unwrapped presents laying on the living room floor.  You miss out on the joy of ripping the paper off a box, and being genuinely surprised when you see what Santa brought you.

I think this quote by John Steinbeck explains my stance better than just about anything I could come up with:

"A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us."

Life is a roller-coaster of twists and turns, tall climbs to the top, free-falling drops to the bottom, and sometimes a blind curve into a tunnel.  You lose sight of where you are, and before you know it, you come out on the other side screaming your head off, posing for a camera.  If you know what's coming, that thrill-ride simply becomes a way to kill a couple of minutes.

The best part of life, and what makes it worth living, is just that...Living.  Knowing the future would take that out of the equation.  If you knew the destination, then what's the point of the journey?  Getting there is half the fun.

If the show had been called Boy Knows World, my Friday nights would have been a bit more open.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

I'd Rather Be Camping

Summer is my favorite time of year...Always has been, always will be.  I love being able to come home from work and fire up the grill.  I love being able to stand on the deck and listen to bugs and frogs make racket from a spot merely feet away, and yet, remain totally invisible.  I love smelling the meat cooking over the coals, drinking a cold beer, and eating outside.  Even after slow-cooking a meal on the grill and enjoying it on the deck, there's still a few more hours of daylight to enjoy.  That's probably my favorite part.

But another reason I love summer so much is because I love going to the lake, and I have so many great memories tied to my experiences there.  Even though it's only March, the weather lately has been so unseasonably warm that it has felt like summer has come early.  And just about this time of year, I find myself reminiscing on memories from summers gone by. 

Sink or swim...I didn't really have much of a choice growing up.  For as long as I can remember, my parents have had a boat.  And for as long as I can remember, we've spent countless summer days out on the lake.  My dad likes to tell a story about me as a toddler.  Our boat was beached.  Dad was throwing horse shoes with some friends, and mom was laying in a lounge chair, soaking up rays.  I was doing what toddlers do...Toddling.  Exploring.  Testing out the incredible new skill of walking I had recently acquired.  My parents weren't mindless by any means...They always paid close attention to my sister and I when we were little.  But even the best of parents can lose focus at times.  They were all preoccupied for what was likely less than 30 seconds, but that's all it took for me to discover the vast water stretching out before me.  And so I walked.  And kept walking.  The next thing dad knew, the only part of me that was visible were my tiny lips and nose poking up out of the water, desperately trying to breathe.  He said he ran toward me and grabbed me up, fully expecting me to cry, but all I did was blink a few times, cough, and stare at him with a look of bewilderment.  My love of water was spawned that day.

 I don't know who invented the striped shortbread cookie, but they knew what they were doing.

It wasn't just being on the water that I loved.  Camping at the lake was (and still is) one of my favorite things to do.  When I was little, we camped at Big Bear most of the time, but we started going to Hillman Ferry later on.  The only thing I remember about Big Bear was sitting in the camper during the 4th of July fireworks display, loving the colors, but scared to death of the sounds.  I had to watch through the window.

Hillman Ferry is a different story altogether.  Virtually every rite of passage that a boy experiences en route to manhood happened for me at Hillman Ferry.  In high school, my parents spurned taking a summer vacation for leasing a campsite at Hillman Ferry for the entire summer three years in a row.  Those were some of the best times I had as a teenager.

You see, there were several other families with kids our age that did the same thing.  So, it goes without saying, many of us became very close friends.  Chance became one of my closest friends while there...We were the same age, and oddly enough, had met at the campground several years prior to our first go-round as leasers.  We were enemies at first...Grown out of battles on the basketball court.  But, once we actually took the time to get to know one another, we became fast friends.

Derek was often the third member of our little crew.  There were plenty others that would come and go with holiday weekends, but the three of us were regulars.  Lots of times Derek would come up on Friday nights by himself, and Chance and I would sleep in his camper.  We'd stay up till 4 AM drinking Kool-Aid (seriously...Just Kool-Aid) and watching American Pie.  We'd take joyrides on Derek's red moped, or we'd cruise up and down the main road in his Jeep...He'd pump the clutch, and I'd shift from the passenger's seat.  Here's a group of us, minus Derek (I'm behind the chubby guy somewhere), goofing around on our campsite.

It wasn't just us, though...There was a group of 5-10 of us that were regulars at the campground, depending on the particular weekend, and we took it as our territory.  "Tourists" that came in were welcomed with open arms, but there were always boundaries.  The picnic table at the basketball court belonged to us, plain and simple.  On Saturday nights, the campground always hosted mediocre country bands to play at the pavilion.  We'd set up shop on our picnic table, playing the occasional basketball game, or flirting with girls.  We'd all go down to the beach and lay there looking up at the stars, talking about life.  There was no curfew.  Our parents always knew we'd come in eventually.  And, even if we didn't, they knew we weren't far away.

Some nights we'd sleep in Derek's parents' boat, usually parked right next to his camper.  I'm not really sure why we preferred to sleep out in the heat and mosquitoes as opposed to the air-conditioned campers we had literally just feet away, but we liked it. 

We even had fun when it rained.  One summer night, a storm blew in and knocked the power out throughout the entire campground.  There was high wind, torrential rain, thunder, lightning...Didn't matter.  A big group of us hung out at the pavilion and waited it out.  We didn't even care that there wasn't any TV or iPods...We just sat around and talked.  Told jokes.  Laughed.  And we did those things all the time, and loved it.

I drank my first beer there.  And I drank my first malt beverage, which my parents caught me doing, there as well.  I was 16 and really stupid.  I was drinking with a group of guys from Indiana that were there occasionally, tucked away in the back of a parking lot set off from the pavilion and basketball court.  I decided to get rebellious, thinking I would finish my drink on the walk to the basketball court, dump the bottle in a trash can, and no one would be the wiser.  But, for some reason, my parents decided to take a leisurely stroll to the basketball court at the exact same time.  The odds were almost like getting struck by lightning...I mean they NEVER did that, especially so late at night.  They recognized me from far off, and I tried to hide the bottle by a tree as I walked, but they obviously saw it.  I was as conspicuous as a tall man in China.

"What was that?" My dad asked.
"What are you talking about?" I said, playing dumb and standing awkwardly far away trying to ensure he didn't smell my breath.
"You just put a bottle down over there.  What was it?"
"Oh, it was just some lemonade," I said. 

Now, I know what you're thinking, and it does sound ridiculous.  But it was the first thing that popped in my head, and it wasn't a complete lie...I just happened to leave out the "Mike's" and "Hard" from the name of the beverage.

"Lemonade, huh?" He said.  "Why don't I just walk over here and see."  Before he even started moving, I just hung my head and followed them back to the campsite.  My night, and seemingly life, was over.

I survived.  Oddly enough, they didn't really say much about it until several weeks later.  And even then, it was a mild lecture that seemed almost like it was happening because it was expected.  It was as if they chose to write it off as boys being boys.  Lensey would have been drawn and quartered for doing something like that, but they always seemed to take it easy on me.

My love for camping continued as I got older, though.  We stopped leasing the summer after my senior year, but my friends and I went camping often.  DJ, Eric, Matt, and I went tent camping just about every weekend for a while.  We were never very well prepared...We usually decided to go at about 4:00 in the afternoon, so we'd rush to the grocery and get a couple bags of chips, hot dogs, buns, and that was about it.  Then we'd drive to Paducah and try to find someone to buy us beer, because, well...We had to have beer.  We never came out and said it, but I know my parents were wise to us.  The last thing my mom always said before we left the house was, "Now, y'all behave yourselves."  She totally knew.

We never did anything too wild.  We camped at a few different places: Hillman's once or twice, Birmingham Ferry, King Creek...But we usually ended up at Smith Bay.  It was a tiny little campground way off the beaten path, with no running water.  And we never had to pay...Not because we weren't supposed to, but because payments were made by the honor system in a little drop box that we knew wouldn't be checked until the following Monday.  We'd barely be there 15 hours, so we just figured it didn't make a difference.

But Smith Bay had two sites with one of the best views of the lake available, and we always seemed to get one of the two.  We'd set up the tent as it got dark, and settle in next to the fire with a beer.  We'd listen to Outlaw Hours on the radio and just talk.  Once or twice we got a little too rowdy and the Forestry Service may or may not have been called, but that's neither here nor there. 

In hindsight, those nights were always a blast (even when we did it every single weekend) and one of the things I miss most about not having responsibility.  We all knew we were on the verge of going our separate ways, even though we didn't talk about it that much.  But I'm sure that fact was something we all thought about as we sat around those fires.

Whenever we all get together now, conversation always seems to turn back to our times at the lake.  We still tell the same stories and talk about the same events.  And we still go to the lake and we still make memories, even if the personnel changes occasionally.  Like last summer...Adrienne, Stan, a couple of his friends from school, and I all rented a cabin and pontoon at Dale Hollow.  Stan's friend Emily had brought her jet ski with her and decided to take a little joy ride.  After a couple of hours, we started calling every law enforcement agency in the land because she had officially gone missing.  She was gone for 8 hours before she rolled up in the back seat of a Ford Taurus at our cabin.  The rest of the trip was fantastic, but needless to say that day was miserable.

Even as great as the new memories are, they're different.  Not different in a bad way, just different.  As in, the old memories are from a different time of life...A time that none of us can go back to.  And that's okay.  Life is about phases and moving from one point to the next.  It's about making memories.  Mom and Dad sold the camper a couple of summers ago, and even though we hadn't used it as a family in almost a decade, it was really painful to see it go.  So many memories tied to it.  As much as I miss those days, I don't want to go back to that.  I love my life now.  I love what's in store for me in the future, despite the fear that coincides with the unknown.  But I still miss the times at the lake growing up, and always look back on them with a smile.  And I hope, someday, Adrienne and our kids can say the same thing.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

He's Just a Local Idiot

In the summer of 1995, I should've been outside a lot more.  I should've been out in the woods, climbing trees, playing in the creek, getting muddy.  I should've been riding my bike down a hill and jumping it over the side of an embankment, or getting into trouble like boys do.  I mean, don't get me wrong, I did all of those things at some point that summer, I'm sure.  But I spent a good portion of those long, summer days watching Forrest Gump.  I watched it everyday for about a month straight, and sometimes I'd get to the end of the film, rewind it, and watch again.

I miss the days of the sticker on the outside of the rental that said "Be Kind, Please Rewind."  And when you first popped the movie into the VCR, there was that two to three minutes of intense anticipation as you had to fast-forward through the previews, hardly able to stand the wait.  Now, there's not even the need to go to the video store (which are quickly disappearing from the landscape), much less to rewind.  But I digress.

I've never actually met anyone over the age of 15 that hasn't seen it.  And I'm not surprised.  It comes on TNT almost monthly, and usually at least twice back-to-back.  But, it's immensely popular even 18 years after it's initial release.  It really travels a roller-coaster of emotion: there are hilarious, quotable moments throughout, there are deeply sorrowful moments, and even a few that make you angry.  It has something for everyone.

And then there's Forrest Gump, the protagonist in the story.  His ignorance can be infuriating at times.  Like how he continuously lets Jenny back into his life, despite the little respect she shows for someone who is always there for her.  But the unflappable devotion he shows to her, Lieutenant Dan, his mother, and Bubba (even in death) is impossible not to envy.  The way he traverses through the most tumultuous time in American history, totally oblivious and innocent to the events taking place around him, makes Forrest Gump incredibly endearing.  Sure, he faces adversity and sadness like everyone else, but he finds happiness and fulfillment in the simplest of things (running cause he "felt like runnin'" or mowing the local Greenbow High football field).  I guess ignorance really is bliss.

The point is, you really can't judge a book by it's cover.  On the surface, he's just a stupid, overly-talkative weirdo in old shoes.  But, if you listen to him speak, you hear an incredible story of hardship, success, hate, and love.

I wish I were more like that.  Adrienne and I often catch ourselves making fun of people we see at the mall or a restaurant based solely on the way they look.  It may be an atrocious get-up they have on, or wild hair, or bad parenting on display for the world to see ("Just hang on until I get my margarita!").  But, we do it without knowing a single thing about those total strangers.  Everyone has their own story.  Everyone has their own quirks.  Everyone has their own faults, and everyone has their own strengths.

Just like everyone else, I have my own odd, quirky, and even weird guilty pleasures that I would never admit to a stranger.  But, today, I am going to expose a bit of my dark side to the four people that may actually read this.  Keep in mind, this is far from comprehensive list:

-I dance a lot.  Even if people are watching.  And while I actually do have rhythm, I go out of my way to dance extremely "white."
-I may not always act like it, but I'm fairly easily embarrassed.  One of my defense mechanisms is to try to make people laugh, especially if it's at my own expense.  It deflects the attention away from whatever embarrassed me in the first place.
-I like to run errands on my days off.  Not all the time, because that'd be silly, but about once a month when I get a random weekday off, I like going to Wal-Mart, the bank, getting a haircut, or stopping by the car wash.  It makes me feel productive, even if I wasted an entire day off by doing a bunch of things when I could've just relaxed.
-I still watch reruns of Full House when I catch it on TV.  Don't lie...If you grew up in the 90s, you watched Full House.  And you liked it.
-I constantly outline objects with my eyes.  Sometimes I'll catch myself actually drawing it in the air with my finger.  It might be the outline of the TV, a design on the side of a building, or the frame of every pair of glasses I ever see.  And the key is to try to outline the object without ever breaking the line or retracing any part of the line.
-I look up all sorts of weird things on Wikipedia.  I can't even offer examples, because there's literally no rhyme or reason to it.
-I take sports ENTIRELY too seriously, especially Kentucky Basketball and Cardinals Baseball.  It is probably taking years off my life.
-I rinse and repeat at least three times.  Every time.
-Before the days of the internet, I would sit next to my stereo and listen to a song and write down the lyrics as I went through.  Sometimes it'd take an hour or more because I'd have to stop.  Rewind.  Play again.  Stop.  Write down a few words.  Rewind.  Play again to double-check.  Fix mistakes.  Rewind.  Play again.  Then, I'd listen to the song ten or fifteen times until I memorized the lyrics.  I did this a lot.
-I will drive 10 miles out of my way to avoid stop lights.
-I have the same voice for babies, dogs, cats, or any other cute and cuddly object.  And not only do I pretend to talk AS those things, I will have on-going conversations as them.  What's worse, when I'm at home alone with Kirby, I will talk to him and respond back to me as Kirby.  It's borderline schizophrenic.

So...Hardly a comprehensive list, I know.  I realize I didn't offer too many outrageous revelations, and if there's some I most certainly left out, I'm sure I can count on you to remind me of them.  I encourage you to comment with your own quirky behaviors that not everyone may know about, as well.  And try to remember, things are not always what they seem.  And to practice what you preach.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I'm Starting With the Man in the Mirror

I've never claimed to be creative.  I've never claimed to be artistic.  In fact, if you go back and look at a few of my older posts, you will see in black and white that I have described myself in exactly the opposite fashion.  Lately I've been wanting to write about something, but have been unable to come up with ANY good ideas.  I've even started writing a few entries, only to get a few paragraphs in, realize what a load of crap it is, and delete every last word in complete disgust.

That's probably my biggest problem.  In my first post on this blog, I made the comment that sometimes I begin writing without any real purpose...I discover a piece of writing while simultaneously creating it.  It can be both exciting and frustrating writing in that way, because there are times (like now) where I just cannot come up with anything worth writing.

In writing, as in life, one of the best ways to improve is to reflect upon one's performance.  If you critique your own work, it's easier to spot faults and make improvements upon them.  So, since I can't come up with any other ideas, I'm going to take this time to reflect.

I read over some of my older posts, and from what I can discern, my biggest problem is sort of contradictory: I don't have any real focus, and my scope of topics is fairly narrow.  I seem to write about the same things over and over...I tell stories involving friends and family, and, with few exceptions, rarely deviate from that formula.  I guess "problem" is the wrong word to describe that, because it's not a "problem."  Every writer draws inspiration from somewhere.  I guess the difference with my writing and that of someone else is that my inspiration is glaringly obvious in every piece I write, and I would rather it be a bit more subtle.

I rarely change from the first-person.  Again, not much of a shock considering virtually all of my stories are about events involving my friends, family, and I.  I wish I had the creativity and ability to use my inspiration from personal experience in a fiction story.  I've always wanted to write a short story, but, again, my lack of creativity hinders me from doing so.  I literally have no original ideas.  That's why I always write about real life.

Reflection isn't all about negativity, though, and there are things I like about my writing.  For one, I think the conversational style is easy to read without being overly simplistic.  I write in a different tone than I talk, but I don't go out of my way to make the vocabulary seem ostentatious.  Is using the word "ostentatious" ostentatious in and of itself?  Nah... 

Also, one characteristic I've noticed in hindsight is that I tend to write two narratives in one.  For example, I wrote a piece a few months ago of which the primary focus was the musical style of the Avett Brothers.  However, almost half the entry was about my father and his love for music.  When I began writing that piece, my full intention was to write about the Avett Brothers, and somehow, there was a seamless connection between that part of the entry and the part about my dad.  The same thing was in the entry about the fiasco with the police officer and Jackie...I talked about Wayne's World at the beginning and it actually worked.  I never intended for that to be the case, but as I read, I like that about my writing.

Again, I have really struggled with ideas, and a lot of times my ideas come from things Liza suggests on her blog, anyway.  I guess I felt as though a self-assessment would help me come up with something.  So, that being said, if you have any words of encouragement, topic ideas, criticism, or anything else, they are welcomed. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Yes, Officer, Is Something Wrong?

Wayne's World is one of my all-time favorite movies.  I'm sure most "real" movie critics would likely laugh at that notion, but Rotten Tomatoes gives it an 85% Fresh rating, so I guess I'm not alone in my affinity for it.  There's something endearing about the characters, even the unlikable ones, and the film almost seems to poke fun at it's own silliness. It's chock full of satire, and despite the fact I've seen it hundreds of times, I still laugh everytime.

Today, Adrienne, Jackie, and I took a nice Sunday drive to visit my hometown and eat dinner at Patti's in Grand Rivers.  It was a great day...Got to show Jackie the town I grew up in, she visited my parents' house for the first time, and we got to spend time with Baby Lydia, which, by itself, makes it worth the six hours of driving.

By this point, you're probably asking yourself, "What the hell does Wayne's World have to do with going home to visit family?"  Well, you'll see in a moment.  In the meantime, watch this scene from that cinematic classic:

On the drive back, we got on I-65 at Bowling Green.  I was driving, and as we came around the exit ramp to get on the interstate, we passed a state trooper sitting on the side of the road.  None of us really thought anything of it, because there was a downed street light, so we just assumed he was taking care of that.

We continued on, and I saw in the rear-view mirror that the cop had pulled back onto the highway, but, again, didn't think anything of it.  About three minutes later, he pulled behind me and flashed his blue lights.  Inside the car, we were clueless.

"Why are you getting pulled over?" Adrienne said.
"I honestly have no idea...I'm not speeding or anything," I replied.  And I wasn't speeding.
"He's probably been following us for a long time," Jackie said.
"No, we passed him just a second ago...He was parked on the side of the road."
"Well, everybody just stay calm...Oh, I don't have my seat belt on," Jackie commented from the backseat.  It was one of those comments made out loud that's not really intended for any particular listener.  But she buckled up anyway.

So I pulled over, growing increasingly nervous, because I honestly had no idea why I had been pulled over.  The cop approached the passenger side, and I rolled down the window.

Before I could even ask what the problem was, he chimed in.  "I clocked you at 74 in a 55 MPH zone."
I was blindsided, and my candor most definitely illustrated that point.
"REALLY?!  WHERE?!" I exclaimed.
"You were speeding in a work zone."
"I didn't see any signs!"
"There were four."
"Well, I must say, I didn't see any signs either," Jackie said from the back.

He asked for my license, and I handed it over.  He then asked if I had proof of insurance.
"I don't know, it's her car," I said as I pointed at Jackie.  Adrienne shot me a glare from the passenger side.

Jackie instructed Adrienne to find the insurance card in the glove compartment.  Of course, the only card in there was expired, so Jackie turned on the dome light to search through her purse for the current one.

The officer was met with a great aerial view of McDonald's bags, empty cups, a beautiful Looney Tunes pillow, a blanket or two, and Jackie, frantically pulling card after card from her wallet.

"Let's see...2011...2011, nope....Oh, here it is.  And here's my registration sticker," she said as she handed to goodies to Adrienne.

 "Thank you," the officer said as he shined his Maglight on the card.  "Uh, ma'am, do you have a current proof of insurance?"
"OH, hahaha, I'm sorry.  Hang on just a second!" She said going back to the wallet with old receipts and gift cards poking out of every crevice.  "2011.......Nope, 2011..."
Adrienne glanced at the officer and slightly shook her head, as if to say "what can you do?"  He just stood there...Freezing, and growing increasingly impatient.

"Do you even have insurance?" He finally asked.
"Hahaha...Yes I do...Farm Bureau!"  Despite the uneasy situation, it was almost impossible not to laugh.
"Well, I'm going to take your word for it.  Just pay more attention, slow down, and make sure you put this registration tag on your plates when you get home," he said, obviously a bit annoyed by the entire ordeal.
"Hahaha, oh I definitely will, officer.  Thank you so much."  Jackie never stopped laughing the entire time.

As we continued on, we laughed for days about the entire situation.  The fact Jackie couldn't find her insurance card was one thing...The fact she gave the cop her current registration tags unsolicited was hilarious.  Then, to top it off, he literally could've cited us for three violations, and let us go.  All because of Jackie's hilarious antics in the back seat.

There's no question I would've gotten a ticket had she and Adrienne not been in the car, and for that I'm grateful.  But, even if I had gotten a ticket, the whole situation would still be hilarious, and one worth retelling over and over.  Which, I'm sure we will.  What a great day.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

I Needed That Yesterday

I've never really understood the concept of New Year's Resolutions.  I'm not sure that should be a proper noun, but given how much emphasis people seem to put on them, I guess it's important enough to warrant capitalization.  I've always made resolutions when the calendar rolls over from December to January, but not because I see the point.  Mostly because everyone else does, and I really want to fit in.  I guess the whole concept is flawed, because New Year's Resolutions are typically things people should do all year long, without an excuse like a new year to get them going.  Easier said than done, I know, but that's beside the point.  And most people make the mistake of making resolutions that are unrealistic, or in the very least, lofty goals.

Some real examples I've seen at one time or another:
I resolve to lose 30 pounds by summer.
I resolve to stop cursing.
I resolve to read 10 books this year.
I resolve to stop eating chocolate.

Now, on the surface, those don't appear to be too difficult.  If someone worked out vigorously and watched their diet, they could lose 30 pounds in 5 months.  They could fairly easily stop cursing.  They could read 10 books in a year...I mean, that's less than 1 per month.  And they could stop eating chocolate, without much of a problem.  The problem with resolutions like these, in most cases, the people making them usually don't have any real expectation of keeping them past Martin Luther King Day or, if they're working really hard, Valentine's Day.  Furthermore, people tend to make resolutions that reflect almost the exact opposite of how they've lived for years.  The one wanting to lose 30 pounds in 5 months hasn't stepped foot in a gym in years, and loves McDonald's too much.  The curser?  They use language that would make a sailor blush.  The reader?  Has been two chapters into A Time to Kill since two weeks after they saw the movie in theaters.  And as for eighty-sixing chocolate?  They have a Snickers and M&M's within arm's reach at all times.

I realize why people make resolutions...They see flaws in themselves that they want to improve upon.  And I'm all for that...I'm the same exact way.  But more people would be able to keep their resolutions, and morph those resolutions into new habits, if they just made them more attainable.  The one wanting to lose 30 pounds by summer?  Why not resolve to lose 10 pounds without a timetable.  Once you reach that goal, resolve to lose another 10 pounds.  Before you know it, you've lost 30 pounds and you've set up yourself to continue a healthy lifestyle.  Sure, it might be August instead of May, but you've still looked better in a bathing suit all summer long, which was the whole point in your resolution to begin with.  As for the others?  Wean yourself off of cursing gradually...Eliminate them one at a time.  The non-reader?  Resolve to finish A Time to Kill...Then start a new book and resolve to finish it.  Before you know it, you're setting aside time each night to read and you'll reach your goal quicker than you realize.  The chocoholic should just resolve to only eat chocolate on special occasions...They're few and far between.

So what makes me such an expert?  Well, experience really...I've made irrational New Year's Resolutions more than once, and like so many others, failed miserably.  So, despite my disdain for New Year's Resolutions, I've made some myself.  And this year, I am determined to keep them.  So, instead of outrageous goals I know good and well I won't be able to keep, I'm keeping them simple.  2012 is for winning.

1. Drink 1 or fewer soft drinks every week.  I've really been doing well with this one.
2. Lose 20 pounds.  Not started yet, but I swear I'm going to.
3. Stop complaining so much...This should be one for everybody.
4. Finish reading A People's History of the United States.
5. Get a teaching job...Might be difficult, but I will not rest until I have one.
6. Marry Adrienne...Might be the easiest one I've ever had.

So, there you have it.  Easy enough.  2012 is shaping up to be a great year, and I'm going to stick with my resolutions.  I hope you do too, and best wishes in the coming year.