What a year so far!

About this time last year, I wrote a post about getting engaged, which is crazy to me now. In a little over a year, Chad and I got engaged, married and pregnant. Evidently, when we decide to do something, we jump right in.

We moved from Virginia to Florida. I quit my job, because who wants to hire a pregnant military spouse? No one, that's who. But thankfully, writing opportunities have continued to come my way, and when people ask me what I do, I can honestly say now that I'm a freelance writer. 

Pregnancy, meanwhile, has been ... interesting. I have wanted to be a mother ever since I can remember, and I'm so overjoyed that I'm able to fulfill that dream. Which is why I feel so guilty when I say that I haven't really enjoyed pregnancy like I thought I would. 

I haven't had a traumatic experience. In fact, things have gone pretty well, when you consider how uncomfortable it is to grow another human inside you. Just this week though, I think I hit the pregnancy wall. I was a little anxious about giving birth, because of course I read the NPR/Propublica report about maternal death rates in America, and immediately assumed the worst. However, I'm totally over that now and just would like this baby to be born sooner rather than later. 

All in all, I feel justified in saying it's been a whirlwind year. Even though I just complained about being pregnant, I wouldn't trade these last uncomfortable weeks for anything. I've been truly blessed this year, and I'm so grateful for it. 

On Dying Young

Death is never welcome; but when an older person, like a grandparent, passes away, it isn't always unexpected.

A few weeks ago, I went to the funeral of a childhood friend. 

Brandon Peterson was thirty-one years old. People aren't supposed to die at thirty-one. He was supposed to watch his daughter grow up and get married. He was supposed to retire from his job. He was supposed to live out his old age with his wife by his side. 

And yet, Brandon passed away without warning in the prime of his life. 

I noticed something at the family visitation that was reiterated at the funeral. While Brandon's family and friends mourn the fact that their time with him was cut so short, their tears were not for Brandon himself. 

That's because the boy I knew, who with his twin brother, teased me mercilessly in grade school, grew up to become a man of strong character and even stronger faith. 

Only last week, Brandon had been ordained as a deacon in his church. He freely shared his faith through his job as a North Carolina state trooper. As evidenced by the huge number of people who came out to pay their respects, it did not go unnoticed. 

On the drive up from Florida to North Carolina for the funeral, I had a lot of time to reflect about life, death, and the lasting impact that we make during our brief time on Earth. Unlike Brandon, I often struggle with sharing my faith. I worry that people won't understand, or that I'll be judged negatively for being a Christian.  Cowardly, I know. But I've always reasoned that I go to church regularly, pray often, and try to be a good person. That's enough, right?

It's not. The Lord wants us to bold and unapologetic for our faith. I've always known this, and resisted anyway. 

Brandon passed away just a couple of days before Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is celebrated as the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem, knowing the suffering he would endure.  I can't think of a better way to honor Brandon's memory, and to try to live my faith more boldly than to share the story of Easter, the resurrection, and salvation. 

While we can't possibly understand why Brandon's life was cut short, I know that several people came to know Christ today at his funeral, and hundreds of others heard the message of salvation, maybe for the first time. While in our human frailty we'd infinitely rather have Brandon here on Earth for a while longer, who knows how many people will receive salvation because of the life he lived while he was here?

I was saved as a child, but Brandon's death reminded me that we truly do not know whether or not we will be here tomorrow. Whether I live another day, another month, or another fifty years, when I die, my family will have immeasurable comfort in the assurance that I'm resting in the peace of my Savior.

I know, without a doubt, that the whole Peterson family can say the same. 




Remember Me?

Yikes! I did not realize I had neglected to post for four months! In my defense, I've been sort of busy. 

Quick Recap:

Shortly after I wrote my last post, we found out we were expecting baby Martin! You can read all about how I dealt with early pregnancy here

We made it through the holidays, even though husband had to work on Christmas Day - thanks Navy. I spent the day lounging around the house, took advantage of the cold but sunny day for a walk and a movie. Aside from missing loved ones, not a bad way to spend the holiday. 

Finally, we moved! We moved to sunny Jacksonville Beach, Florida, which has been great so far. I am a beach baby, and so you know I love being able to walk down to the ocean any time I want. I plan on taking advantage of it now, before I am so pregnant I don't want to waddle to the bathroom much less two blocks away. 

I'm working on boosting my writing resume, and I've kept pretty busy with work so far. Even though I really loved my day job in Virginia, I'm excited to try and grow my business, and I love being able to work from home, or the coffee shop down the street, or the beach - my office is ever changing!

Anyway, sorry it's been so long. I promise I'll do better! 


Showers of Blessings

There's an old hymn that I love, called Showers of Blessings. It's the most fitting song that I can think of right now, as Thanksgiving approaches. I'm missing Thanksgiving with my family this year, and we're missing Christmas as well, and so are lots of other military families. I'm just thankful Chad is here, and not deployed somewhere for the holidays (which he very nearly was). 

Even though we're missing out again, I still have so much for which to be thankful. Like I said, we are staying in Norfolk because of Chad's work, but we're hosting some family (both relatives and Navy) for the holiday, and I'm so happy to be able to share that. Although, I'm not brave enough to cook a turkey. So, I'm also thankful for Honeybaked Ham this year. 

As you know, I am a bit of a Chicken Little, and worry about the sky falling at every turn. This year, I am taking Thanksgiving as an opportunity to truly appreciate the blessings around me each day, and sometimes go unnoticed.  Instead of waiting for the sky to fall, I am going to look up, open my mouth, and taste the blessings that are falling around me.  

Definitely Missing Out (and Missing Home)

You know FOMO, right? Fear of Missing Out? Right now, I have DMO, or Definitely Missing Out.  This past weekend was Decoration Day where my grandfather is buried. Historically, Decoration Day started after the Civil War as a way to honor the dead, and is now what we traditionally know as Memorial Day. 

In the Southern Appalachians, Decoration Day is the same concept, except the dates vary, and are no longer limited to honoring the veteran dead. In the summer, in rural pockets of Appalachia and beyond, families gather to remember their ancestors at the family cemetery. 

This has long been one of my favorite family traditions, which you might think is (really) weird. Gathering in a graveyard to sing songs and eat food is kind of a bizarre tradition. I love it because you get to see all your family in one place, and often its a time when stories are told that you might never have heard before. 

For my family, we gather to especially remember my Pappaw Charles Hughes, a firecracker of a man, who, with his wife Atlas (her namesake may have been a man, but there's no name more fitting), raised seven children, and lived to see fourteen grandchildren born. 

This was the first year I've missed a Decoration.  Sometimes its just too hard to make a 7+ hour drive in 48 hours. I definitely missed out this year, and it was bittersweet. My extended family is extremely close. I hate not being able to be there for family events, but I've chosen to marry into the military, and we can't always be there for big events. This was just the first of many Decorations, Easters, Christmases and Birthdays that we'll miss. 

I'm so grateful for all the Decorations I have been able to attend. This past Sunday, I was especially homesick, but thankfully have wonderful memories to tide me over. I don't know where we'll be next year, but I have high hopes that on the the second Sunday in August, I'll be standing in a little mountain cemetery surrounded by family and remembering our loved ones who have gone on to glory.


Since Chad and I got engaged, I've been offered many congratulations and heartfelt good wishes. I've also been told, always in a jokey, elbow-you-in-the-ribs sort of way, that there is still time for me to make a break for it. The first time this happened, it took me completely aback - the person who said it meant it as a lighthearted joke, I am sure. But to me, it was a rude shock. 

As you may have noticed by now, I am afraid of a lot of things. I'm scared of snakes, those terrifying death-trap swings at carnivals, and the dark to name a few. For a long, long time, I was scared of being alone. I slept with my brothers in the same room until I was a teenager because I didn't like sleeping by myself. I've never actually lived alone. Even now, I don't sleep well (or at all really) if Chad's not home. 

 As I grew older though, and boys became part of the picture, I was less scared of being alone and more frightened at the thought that I might actually end up with someone. So I kept boys that liked me at arm's length, or chose to safely pine away for ones I knew with certainty would never give me the time of day. If, by some chance, I actually ended up so far as dating someone, it didn't last long. I was too terrified to try to my hand at an actual relationship that I'd just end it first. 

But when I met Chad, something inside me said, maybe this time. It is possible it was the beer talking. Ok, that first night we met, it was definitely the beer. But stone sober in the morning, he persevered. Past all my attempts at deflection, my excuses and last minute cancellations. And the second time we met, I knew that I was going to let this one in. 

That's why, when people make jokes about being a runaway bride, I'm not having it. I have never been more sure of anything in my entire life, and for once, our marriage is something that I look forward to without one ounce of trepidation or fear. 


On the Road...Again

After a brief hiatus from blogging, I'm back! It feels like since we got engaged, we have been travelling nonstop. We went to Salem, Massachusetts this past weekend for the wedding of dear friends (and now I want to steal all their cute wedding ideas for ours). Next weekend is our niece's high school graduation in Charlotte, and the weekend after that is Father's Day which means a trip home to the mountains. Following that is a quick visit to Chapel Hill for wedding stuff and just like that, June is over. Welcome to July. Our pet sitter is making a fortune this month! 

Even though its tiring, all this travel is still nice. We're seeing family and friends we don't get to see often, and when I am feeling a little overwhelmed by everything we have going on, I remind myself that this may be the closest we live to our loved ones for a long time, and that I had better enjoy the time I have with them now. 

In other news, I have been offered a blogging position at NextGenMilSpouse.com and I could not be more thrilled! I'm now a regular contributor to not one, but TWO blogs (the other is Blinq Bytes). Writing is something I've always loved and enjoyed and secretly wished I could have as a job, and while its definitely not going to make me rich, I can actually say that I get paid to write.

There are a ton of other things I have been jotting down to write about here, but of course now I have no idea where that list is, and my brain is functioning at about 40%. I do not recommend anyone give up coffee unless medically forced to do so. This green tea I'm sipping just isn't cutting it this morning. 

Until next time, folks - I'll be just like Willie Nelson in Honeysuckle Rose...On the Road Again. 


We're Getting Married!

Roughly five days, nineteen hours and two minutes ago, Chad proposed under the Davie Poplar, the site of more than a few Carolina proposals, and with good reason. The Davie Poplar stands just behind the Old Well, and is an iconic spot on campus as well. It's legend that if the tree ever falls, so will the University. Every freshman also learns on their campus tour that if a couple kisses on the old stone bench underneath the Davie Poplar, then they will also get married. 

It is also Carolina lore that the three hundred year old Tulip Poplar was chosen as the site around which to build the University because a more beautiful spot could not be found - while this story is inaccurate, the sentiment is true. That historic part of campus was always my favorite place, and secretly I hoped I'd meet a boy in college, we'd fall in love and he'd propose under that tree. 

Of course, that didn't happen to me in college, and I'm so glad it didn't. I met Chad through a series of random and fortunate events that transpired to bring us both together on a balmy night in June. And here we are, two years later, planning our wedding. 

I know without a doubt that Chad is my Lobster. We're celebrating one week of engagement (there's really no need to celebrate, but you know, any excuse for champagne). Tonight we'll toast to our love, and to each other, and to our marriage - may it, like the Davie Poplar live forever. 

In Defense of the Romance Novel

Last week, my beloved Outlander came back to television. If you don't yet know about the Outlander book series and the subsequent television series, now in its second season, well....you are missing out. Big time. As much as I love the television show, I love the books more. In fact, I just reread the first book in the series, which led me to today's post. 

I love to read. I need books like I need air, water and food. I can devour a good book like its the last bag of Cheetos. Books are better though, because they don't get cheese powder all over my fingers. I am also an indiscriminate reader; Young Adult, Westerns, Mysteries, High-Brow Literature - I love it all. But my favorite genre is Romance, which gets a bad rap most of the time. 

I personally don't know why - ok, I do know why. Fifty Shades of Grey was bad. Like really bad. But it still didn't stop me from going back and reading the dirty parts twice (so basically the whole book).  But still, in this day and age, where people would rather wait for the movie, mini-series or television show to come out, I'm just happy when someone chooses to read a book. Far be it from me to criticize their choice.

 The first Romance novel I ever read was the Thorn Birds; while tame by today's standards, it still remains the sexiest thing I've ever read. That book has it all - forbidden love (he's a priest!), an exotic location (the Australian Outback!) and a sweeping plot that spans generations. I was hooked. 

I gobbled up Romance anywhere I could find it. I discovered that Romance novels and Literature do not have to be mutually exclusive when my cousin gave me well-loved copies of Pride and Prejudice and Jane EyreJane Eyre continues to be my favorite book ever, of all time, ever. I reread it three or four times a year and find something new to love every time I read it. 

Romance novels are an easy target - you immediately imagine some old lady greedily reading a Harlequin Romance novel during commercials breaks of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman reruns (which, hello Sully). And while I do know plenty of older women who enjoy a good romance, I know lots of ladies of all ages (and men) who do too. 

But Romance novels, like any genre work, provide an escape from reality. And unlike Scandinavian murder mysteries or say, anything written by George R. R. Martin, they usually have a happy ending. I don't mean happy as in everything ends in sunshine and rainbows; In Jane Eyre, for example, Jane and Rochester lose everything but each other - their ending is ultimately a happy one, but the path that led them there was fraught with misunderstanding, sadness, and bitter tragedy. In a Romance novel, characters don't always end up living happily ever after (Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara, anyone?). They don't have to include a ton of graphic sexcapades (although bonus points if they do). 

Most often, I choose to bury myself in a Romance novel because they're sort of like a big bowl of cookie dough ice cream. Empty calories, maybe, but sometimes so much more satisfying than than crazy menu item you can't even pronounce.


Talking 'Bout My Best Friend(s)

Today Carolina will play for the NCAA Men's Basketball Title, and I can't help but reminisce about my own time at UNC during the fervor that is a run for a National Championship. Almost twelve years ago, I was a college freshman. I knew two people on campus, and let me tell you, two acquaintances on a campus of 30,000 is not a lot of people. That's almost twice as many people on one college campus as lived in Mitchell County. To say I was overwhelmed is an understatement. 

Now, my parents will tell you that I didn't come home once my first semester. They thought I was living it up, having the time of my life away from mom and dad. And it's true, I didn't come home a lot that first year, but not for the reasons they thought. I was incredibly homesick and lonely, but going home for the weekend felt like giving up. I didn't want to seem like a failure - I had wanted to go to Carolina my whole life, and damn it, I was going to succeed there. 

I realize now that probably 90% of any freshman class feels this way the first semester of college, but no one told me that. But eventually, I did make friends. Some have become just facebook acquaintances and a few are still as close as the day we became friends. But that's life. Whatever has happened to bring us closer together or farther apart in our adult lives, these wonderful people remain hugely important to me. 

In 2005, my (newish) group of friends and I gathered in my dorm, where I believe there was a cake and 99 Bananas, and shenanigans ensued, and I ended up keeping an orange road cone for the next four years to commemorate the event. 

Those eighteen year old kids who shared crossword puzzles at lunch and stole road cones during a National Championship are now approaching thirty. We are husbands and wives and parents and friends and have lives far richer than what we could have dreamed in college.  These wonderful people are some  are some of the dearest friends I've ever been blessed with knowing. 

For me, that National Championship was about more than basketball - it was when I knew that the group of people crowded in my dorm room were really my best friends, and that college wasn't going to be so hard knowing they'd be there with me. 

So tonight, we'll all watch the game, and cheer on our beloved Heels together in spirit, and then maybe go outside and light something on fire in remembrance of our glory days. 

Man Crush Monday

Normally I don't participate in #ManCrushMonday. My instagram is already full of nauseatingly adorable pictures of me and my boo on a regular basis, and while my followers might wish I would, I don't limit myself to just one day of the week to share. However, you may have noticed its been a while since I've posted one of those sticky sweet pics.

In fact, Chad has been gone for two (long) months. He's wrapping up his time on the Stennis, and fingers crossed, he will be home in a few weeks. Now, in terms of deployments, it could be way worse. We could be just two months in to a nine month rotation, which thankfully we are not. We could have children at home, which again, thankfully we do not. Hats off to those women and men who can manage all that while their spouse is away, because I can't imagine how hard that is. It's hard enough now, and it's just me and Gussy (who truth be told, is just fine without Chad) waiting at home.

People will say all the time, "Oh I bet you miss him, don't you?" or "Well, he'll be home before you know it." They mean well, but the fact is, that whether it is two weeks, three months or a year, Chad still isn't here; it's not like he's on a business trip and he'll be home after the weekend. Now, he's not doing anything terribly dangerous, so I don't want to seem overly dramatic. We're lucky for that. But still, my #ManCrushMonday, my sweet boy, is half way around the world in the middle of the ocean, and its not easy.

 Those people are right, of course. I do miss him - but that doesn't come close to capturing how I actually feel. I miss him deep in my gut, where the most honest, true parts of myself are kept. I miss a million things that never mattered before, but now in his absence are bittersweet breadcrumbs that keep tears at bay. 

A dear friend posted something on her blog a long time ago about wishing time away. She wrote about it much more eloquently than I ever could, and I've taken her words to heart. To say this has been hard is an understatement; I am impatient for Chad to be home, but I am trying very hard not to wish this time away. We're given a finite amount of time; whatever you believe in, that fact is inescapable. And I would hate to be so focused on selfishly wishing that Chad was home that I miss out on experiences and opportunities that could be had if I just taken a moment to see them.

So, instead of focusing on all the time we still have left to go before he comes home, I'm trying to focus on how much time has already passed, and how much more we both appreciate each other now that we've had this time apart. 

Be prepared though; when Cheddar Bae returns, my social media, including this blog will turn into absurdly saccharine love fest. Man Crush Monday will Man Crush Everyday, and to quote my favorite hashtag, I'm #SorryNotSorry. 

You've been warned!



Arnold Ziffel

There are several things you learn early when you grow up on a farm, the most important of which is NEVER, and I do mean NEVER, name the animals. To name an animal implies a relationship. Naming a living creature gives that creature an identity, and a certain understanding you'll care for it.

On a farm, it seems unfair to name an animal know that the animal you so lovingly just named is probably going to end up on your plate, or meet an otherwise unsavory end, like the time all of my brother's chickens were massacred Jeffrey Dahmer-style in their coop. He came out in tears, holding his favorite, Henrietta, with her head lolling back and forth, in his arms.

We warned him not to name her.

This story, however, is about an animal we did name. Arnold Ziffel, so named for the pig on Green Acres, was a pot belly pig my mother brought home from school one day as an adorable little piglet. Seriously, have you ever seen Hamlet the Mini Pig? That's what Arnold was like when we first got him. Unlike Hamlet, Arnold didn't stay mini forever. 

He got big. 

Really, really big.

He didn't have a ring in his nose, which is to prevent rooting, but we didn't think it was a big deal, because he was so sweet and ate grass in the yard occasionally but mostly just laid in the shade. 

Then the trouble started.

Arnold, as he grew into an adolescent pig, developed a bad habit of wandering down our long gravel road during the day when no one was home. It would have been fine if all he did was take a midday stroll...but no. Arnold Ziffle was a very, um, virile potbelly pig, and his favorite activity on these little jaunts was to sodomize our neighbors igloo cooler that sat in their yard during the summer.

As you can imagine this did not sit well with the neighbors. 

After a couple of complaints, poor Arnold had to be penned in the barn during the day. This lasted about as long as it took him to root a hole large enough to fit through at the corner of the barn. The barn, I might add, is over a hundred years old, built by my great grandparents. It took Arnold about a week to root the foundation out, causing extensive damage. 

The neighbors moved their cooler, but it didn't stop Arnold. He went a little farther and hit the holy grail - plastic deer set up as yard art. Let me tell you - he went TO TOWN. I would say he was as happy as a pig in mud, but it seems much more appropriate to say he was as happy as a pig humping the living daylights out of a plastic deer could ever hope to be. 

Again, though, the owner of the deer objected - and as we had no where else to safely keep Arnold from attempting to procreate, we gave him away, to a loving family with three boys. 

I thought about Arnold every now and again, because you don't see that many pot belly pigs, and he was a good pig (all humping aside). As it happens, Mom ran into his new owner at the grocery store a while after they took him. 

She asked how Arnold was doing, to which the woman replied, "Oh, we ate him."

Just like that. Like he was just any old pig bound to be breakfast bacon. Arnold Ziffle wasn't any old pig, and THEY ATE HIM.

We knew better but we did it anyway - never name a farm animal. 



I got my Medical Degree from WebMD

There is a long running joke in my family about my Granny's Reader's Digest Medical Glossary that she keeps on the table beside the couch within arm's reach. She is the original Queen of Self-Diagnosis. Before Google was even a thing, she would whip out that encyclopedia and give her official medical opinion of your condition. Always the worst possible scenario. We make fun of it, her love of going to the doctor; but Granny didn't develop her various vague illnesses until after my grandfather died. I think it's how she coped with his death.

So I come by my hypochondria honestly, although it took a while to manifest itself. I didn't always used to be this way, I swear.

I'm annoyingly outgoing. I talk a lot. I make friends easily. So it might surprise some people, even those who've known me longest, to know that I've had a long struggle with what I now know is anxiety. When I was a kid and young adult, I had panic attacks when I'd get what I like to call 'overstimulated.' Most often this happened at a birthday party, or large group gathering. It's in my nature to be ON all the time, and it's really exhausting. So, I'd usually have a meltdown towards the end of a party, where I didn't know if I was going to laugh or cry and all I did know was that I needed to take a breather right that second or my head was going to pop off like one of those jet.com commercials. 

After years of this, I've gotten good at recognizing when I'm on the verge of a meltdown. I remove myself as soon as I am able from whatever is the trigger is. As an adult, though, the triggers have increased and I find myself feeling anxious often.

Last year, I was in a terribly stressful situation - and while I didn't realize what was happening for while, my body did, and anxiety took over. I was having anxiety attacks once or twice a week. Just getting in my car to go to work could trigger it. My body reacted violently - unbearable muscle tension, tmj, migraines - you name it, I had it. I was pretty sure I was dying. I went to the doctor several times, only to be told to take some ibuprofen and I'd feel better. 

I didn't feel better and my hypochondria bloomed like a poisonous rose.

While my granny's medical book wasn't available for consultation, Almighty Google was, and I spent countless anxiety-fueled hours researching my symptoms, still not realizing that stress and anxiety was the root problem.  My health consumed all of my free time. Every ache and pain was an ominous sign of what I was sure was something much worse. I came to believe that if I could just figure out what was wrong with me, then I'd start to feel better about everything else.

It wasn't until I went to physical therapy last year, that someone listened to me for five minutes and told me that stress was fueling my health crisis. I could have kissed that physical therapist on the mouth, just because she was sympathetic as I bawled in her office while we were stretching. 

So, I removed the stressors. I quit my job. I moved. And slowly, I started to feel better. 

It's still a struggle to manage this anxiety that manifests itself in an ugly cycle of hypochrondria. But I count tiny baby steps as success. When I get a headache, I no longer immediately assume BRAIN TUMOR and start planning my funeral. 

Ok, sometimes I do that, but I do it much less often. Baby steps, remember?




This Will Always Be Your Home

I haven't visited the fam since Christmas, which is probably the longest I've ever gone without seeing my parents, siblings and nephew. So I spent a total of fourteen (out of forty-eight) hours in the car with the dog who miraculously didn't vomit on the whole trip to spend the weekend at home in North Carolina.  

Now, my dad is a man of relatively few words. When I call, we exchange a few words about the weather and Carolina basketball before he inevitably says, "Let me get your mother."  When I went away to college, though, he wrote me a letter; tucked it into one of my boxes so I didn't find it for a few days. When I did, it was the most poignant, heartbreaking thing I still have ever read.  In the end of that letter, he told me that whatever happened, I could always come home - that no matter what, the mountains would always take me back.  

I think my dad knew that I wouldn't live at home again. I always had Big Plans. I was going to study French and live in Paris. Then, I was going study journalism and roam the globe telling stories. And on and on. My dreams involved leaving. It wasn't until I went to college, that I realized how much I had let slip through my fingers by wanting to leave so badly. I came home and wanted to soak up as much mountain living as I could - stories, recipes, songs and all the other things that make up the Appalachian Culture I tried so hard to leave behind. 

You see, home for a mountain girl is very specific. You know I'm from the North Carolina Blue Ridge, but home is so much more than that. For me, home is on Griffith Branch, at the end of a narrow holler on the land where my great-grandparents raised my grandfather and his siblings. There are still so many places, like the old apple tree long ago split by blizzard snow, or the can house at the edge of our yard, where you can still see and feel their presence. I am as much shaped by that piece of land as the hands that raised me. 

I know we'll move a lot because of Chad's career- and that's exciting. I like the thrill of knowing we'll always be going somewhere new and discovering places I never thought I'd visit. Most of my Big Plans didn't pan out, but I've still retained a major case of Wanderlust. Eventually, I am sure we'll settle someplace for good, probably back in North Carolina.  But even if we settle in a little town with lovely people for forty years, it just won't ever be home, because for me that will only ever be one place.

I've come to realize that Home is the ultimately the feeling and memories you carry with you in your heart when you are far away.   Home is so much more than just a place. It takes just a moment, and I can recall the stickysweet smell of burley tobacco that burns your throat, the way fresh molasses taste straight out of the boiler, the lonesome whistle of a train as it rolls past the river a couple of miles away, the imaginary weight of a hoe in your hand as you move the earth. 

I know that I'm romanticizing and waxing nostalgic, and a lot of people won't agree with me. I know not everyone grew up on an end-of-the-road farm, sheltered in many ways. For so many people, this place is repressive, and I can certainly understand why. The local economy sucks, drugs are becoming a bigger problem every day, and a few close-minded people can ruin all the good a place has to offer. But even with all that, my dad's right. The mountains will always be my home. But they don't need to take me back, because I never truly left. I carry them with me always.

Why I (don't) Hate Duke

I went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And if you know one thing about that school, you know that our biggest rival, Duke University, is only eight miles down the road. And if you know two things about Carolina, its that we hate Duke with the same kind of irrational fervor that Kim Jong-un hates, well, everyone.

Now, I'm sure you think the title of this post is the most blasphemous thing you've ever heard coming from a Tar Heel. Like run-and-take-cover-because-the-lightning-bolts-are-coming type sacrilege. Especially after that soul-crushing loss yesterday. Why, Roy? Why didn't you call a time out? 

But I digress; I don't care that Coach K probably a nice guy and his Sports Center commercials are kind of funny. I still want to punch him in his smarmy rat face every time he's on my television screen.   The sight of Cameron Crazies invariably makes me want to spew Carolina blue puke all over their stupid painted faces. If I could, I'd have that infamous line from Ian Williams' 1990 Editorial printed on our Christmas cards. 

And yet.

I just can't give a hundred and ten percent to hating Duke. 

You see, my grandfather was a Duke fan. Like, the biggest. When he was sick and unable to really get out much, college basketball became his passion; he collected news clippings and stats reports and pasted them in notebooks that he stashed in the living room desk.

Now, I don't know if it was teenage rebellion or what, but my dad was always a Carolina guy. When I was born, my first article of clothing were little sky blue booties. But my grandfather, my pappaw, the first man who ever broke my heart because he died before I ever really got to know him, was a Duke fan. I don't know why he loved that darker shade of blue so much; I never asked.  What I do know is that I can't ever truly hate something that he loved so much.

Not even Duke. 

And so, as Carolina played and lost to their biggest rival last night, of course I cheered my Heels on and launched some very unladylike language at my television screen.  I still think Grayson Allen is a big turd, just like Laettner, Wojciechowski, and Reddick before him. I still think Coach K looks like Master Splinter. I still really, really, really, really, REALLY dislike Duke. In fact, I just about hate them. 

But not quite.

Dolly Parton, You're My Hero

I love Dolly Parton. Most of you already know this, but just in case you didn't... I love Dolly. Once, one of my best friends worked at the Opryland hotel during summer break, and met Dolly in a dressing room tour during her training. I was so upset that she met my idol, and clearly did not fully appreciate the life-changing magnitude of what had just happened to her, that I threw the phone and didn't speak to her for like three days. Extreme? Maybe. But that is my deep Dolly love.

Like my spirit animal Dolly Parton, I'm a little bit of a glamourpuss, except in college when I went through a bit of a crunchy phase. I still care about the issues I cared about then - but I realized there's nothing that says I can't save the Earth in Revlon Red lipstick and pumps. I love animal print, although that's more Elizabeth Taylor's influence. I spend too much money on my hair and nails and am only allowed to go into Ulta like once a week.

Since I turned thirty, I have become overly aware of all the tiny lines on my face that are going to eventually deepen and become wrinkles. I am aware that my boobs used to sit a little higher than they currently do (ok, a lot higher). I am VERY aware of the single grey hair that is sprouting out of my scalp at this very moment. And I don't like any of it. It's not that I mind the actual process of aging. As I said in my birthday post, I would not willingly go back to being 22. I don't care what Taylor Swift says, my twenties were hard, and I am a much happier woman at thirty than I ever was during what were the supposed best years of my life. But I do mind looking older. Now, when I get carded, I know they're just doing it because its their job, not because I really look like I might be twenty. I know there's nothing you can do about it, blah blah blah, but it doesn't mean I have to like it. 

 I've heard a lot of criticism that Dolly promotes some kind of anti-feminist body image agenda because she gets plastic surgery and wears crazy wigs and too much make-up and her boobs are probably worth more than the Heart of the Ocean (and definitely a lot more buoyant). But to me, there's nothing wrong with that. As I have never met Dolly Parton, I can't say this for certain, but I am fairly confident Dolly looks the way she does for herself and no one else. I love Dolly Parton not just because she's a brilliant talent, but also because she is the original embodiment of #sorrynotsorry. She doesn't care if you don't like her hair, her boobs, or her songs - she's happy with who she is. 

Now, I am not a famous grammy-winning, Oscar-nominated (for 9 to 5) mult-platinum recording artist with her own theme park, but I am taking a page out of Dolly's book, and saying #sorrynotsorry. In one of her many quotable soundbites, Dolly told someone, "I dress comfortable for me, and you shouldn't be blamed because you want to look pretty." 

So thank you, Dolly. For giving me the confidence to look however I want. For inspiring women (and men) to be who they are and don't waste time on people who don't like it. If I want to cover up this single grey hair that is inevitably going to turn into a whole head full, I'm going to do it. If I live to be a hundred years old and want to wear head to toe leopard print pajamas and fire engine red lipstick everyday at my posh nursing home, I'm going to do it. Not because I feel like I have to live up to someone else's standard of what beauty is, but because I do it for myself and no one else. 


Shameless Self-Promotion

As y'all may remember, I just started a new job at ACCESS College Foundation as an Office Administrator.  I can't say enough good things about the work this nonprofit does.  For twenty-five years, they've made it their mission to make sure that Virginia students have the resources to  apply and pay for college.  

What you may not know is that I received a life-changing scholarship from the University of North Carolina that really made it possible for me to go to my dream school when I otherwise might not have been able to go simply because it was too expensive.  Now, my scholarship was not from a nonprofit organization - it was a combination of financial aid packages from different organizations put together by the University for the groundbreaking inaugural class of Carolina Covenant scholars. 

ACCESS is a little different - but no less important.  I was so excited to come on board and work for an organization that does good in the community, state and nationally as it helps send students all over the country for higher education.  One of our biggest fundraising events is the Shamrock Run over St. Patrick's weekend in Virginia Beach. 

Please consider supporting ACCESS' mission and goals by making a donation here. It doesn't have to be a lot, and you don't have to sign up for anything. But I have a goal of raising $500.00 before the Shamrock Run in March, and I can't do it without your help.

Ok, that wasn't so bad, was it? This moment of shameless self-promotion (for a VERY good cause) is now over. I feel good, you'll feel good about yourself when you donate (it's science!)

Everyone - especially Virginia students - wins!



Too Close for Missiles, I'm Switching to Guns

Before I met Chad, everything I knew about the Navy, I learned from Top Gun. It's my favorite movie. I love it so much I can probably recite the whole thing from memory and constantly find ways to work Top Gun quotes into daily conversation, because hello, who doesn't?  For example, when my parking deck was full and I couldn't find a space, I said, "Negative, Ghostrider, the pattern is full." I'm not even a little bit embarrassed that I was by myself, and so impressed with my joke that I cracked myself up for like ten minutes. 

However, I was pretty disappointed to discover I was about thirty years too late to the party - Top Gun, isn't very realistic as to the overall Navy experience. For one thing, it's a LOT less rowdy these days. Second, not everyone you meet is an Ace fighter pilot with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. Third, there are no shirts optional/jeans required pick up volleyball games (at least not that I'm aware of).

Now, obviously,  I am not in the Navy, just dating someone who is. If this were Top Gun, I guess I'd be the Kelly McGillis character, although I'd much rather be Debra Winger in An Officer and A Gentleman if we're comparing eighties movie Navy girlfriends. But whatever. In real life, I am just a girlfriend, and as a result, it feels like I know less than one percent of everything I should know. It's the first day of swimming lessons all over again, except this time I got thrown in the deep end without my floaties on.

Since I'm not a spouse, just a significant other, I don't yet have access to those support organizations that are supposed to help make the transition a little bit easier and give you helpful information. However, I've been on the Google, and found that there are so many great blogs and online resources geared towards our situation. And it's nice to read things written by someone who's been exactly where I am. I also joined a Meetup group for Navy Plus Ones, and that has been great as well, just to meet other women who are also navigating this lifestyle. 

In a couple years, I'm sure I'll be a pro at this, and in the meantime I'm going to keep looking for those volleyball games.

I Can Tell That We are Gonna be Friends

Remember when I said that making friends as an adult was hard? It's like dating, but without the promise of free dinner. So why on earth would you try to make friends as an adult? I've always had a large group of friends through school and work, so I never had to worry about my social circle.  

Now, however, I find myself in the unusual (for me) predicament of literally not knowing a single soul.  Ok, that's not true. I know my coworkers, and my building manager and my mail lady.  They only partially count, because I know them from nine to five, Monday through Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, its just me, and my dog...who also doesn't count because he can't talk and he's sort of a jerk.  

So, I'm putting myself out there, just like George Costanza (is that reference too old? Does anyone still watch Seinfeld reruns on TBS?). I downloaded Meetup, and joined a group for Navy Plus Ones. This is something I never would have done before. I sort of felt the stigma that used to be attached to online dating...like there must be something wrong with me if I can't go out and make a friend on my own without the internet's help. But that is just simply not true. It's hard to make friends. Not because you don't want to, but because a lot of the time grown up responsibilities get in the way.

Plus, I feel like adults are just more suspicious. You ask someone to hang out with you these days and they immediately become wary. Why? Why do you want to hang out with me? Are you secretly inviting me to a Pampered Chef party? Are you stalking me? Are you going to murder me in the alley of this bar? No, I just want you to be my friend!

The group of women I met at the meetup were great - it was nice to be with a group of people who understand exactly what I feel right now. They know how hard it is to not only move to a new place, but to be totally on your own as you do it.  It's been especially hard because I moved here, and like a month later Chad deployed. I was so focused on spending time with him before he left, that I didn't take time to think about what I would do when he was gone.  

People have been so supportive though. Friends of friends offer introductions to people they know in the area, and I've welcomed those with open arms. I've also embraced doing things on my own - I don't want to miss out just because I'm alone. Plus, you never know who you're going to meet while you're out and about. You just have to be open to being awkward and inserting yourself into someone else's social situation. Just kidding! No, I'm really not. 

In closing: I'm out there, Jerry, and I'm loving it!