Love Thyself

It seems very trendy lately to “love yourself.” I’ve noticed an influx of headlines, quotes and articles that tout the importance of putting yourself first, and loving who you are—seemingly above most other things. I’ve seen, “Love yourself first and everything else falls in line,” and “If you don’t love yourself, you’ll never be able to love anyone else.”

Yeah, I’m not really into this “movement” at all. First of all, as we’ve discussed, I think it would repulse our forefathers. Second of all, you—above all others—know what a jackass you can be. Even when you have the restraint to keep it to yourself, you still know you’re kind of a tool. You know the wretched things you think about people:

“Ever heard of a little thing called ‘exfoliating’? Let’s get on that.”
“Nice blinker, Turd-Waffle …” (as you speed up to see if they look as fill-in-the-blank as you expect) … “Yep, just what I thought.”
“Blech! Her breath smells like sewer and hot socks.”

Love yourself? I can barely tolerate my thoughts, much less my self sometimes. Do you understand what I’m saying here?

Why is no one saying it’s OK—actually quite normal—to hardly be able to stand yourself? Can’t you be quite selfish? Petty? Hateful? Snide? Shallow? I’ll answer for you—YES. So you’re not actually all that lovable sometimes.

You know it and I know it.

deserve

Deserve? I deserve to be slapped upside the head for the grace I don’t always extend and the hateful thoughts I sometimes have.

“Is that cat pee I’m smelling? I smell cat pee. Why do I smell cat pee? WHO IS ALLOWING CATS TO PEE ON THEM?!”

But as always, the most offensive part about this meme is the design itself. Appalling kerning, leading and spacing.

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It’s a project? Loving myself has been elevated to an actual project? Is it gonna take time away from loving someone else?

“Wow, I’m having so much fun—thank you for a perfect night.”
“Of course! I love spending time with you. Let’s go find dessert and coffee—maybe some bread pudding?”
“Gosh, I’d love to, but I have this project I need to work on. Rain check?”

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OK, maybe eventually. But we needn’t be too hasty in our forgiveness. Sometimes we need to let ourselves sit in the selfish mess we made, and take a hard look at our less-than-honorable motives.

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I’d much rather read an article titled, “50 Easy Ways To Get Rich That Involve Pizza.” But as it is, I did click into this piece—and promptly went on an eye-rolling marathon.

Side Note: I got online to order myself a 26.2 bumber sticker, set in the image of a rolling eye, but sadly, my search came up short.

One of the ways to supposedly love yourself more is to wear red lipstick and heels “just because.” I know I’m only 80% Girl, but that’s the best way to get me to break up with myself.

Another one was, “Put your fork down between bites.” I’m sorry, but are you trying to cause a divorce?

Another, “Buy yourself roses on Valentine’s Day.” Great, now I’m single, pathetic,  broke—and not into myself at all.

Also, “Give yourself a day off.” Well, that pretty much completes it—I was supposed to be loving myself, but have instead found myself fired and in need of couples’ counseling for all my bad choices.

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I’m sorry, what? What does this even mean?

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This meme lists seven ways to love yourself. This list also contains seven pieces of fiction.

1. Some negative thoughts should be accepted. More than likely, you really are a lazy sack—at least some of the time. It’s OK to accept this thought.
2. You should apologize for what you like from time to time. Case in point:

rawpasta
3. It’s a misnomer that you shouldn’t compare yourself to others. Comparison isn’t always the “thief of joy,” as they say. If done maturely, it can be a healthy motivator.

Monkey see; monkey do. Please.

Monkey see; monkey do. Please.

4. No; try to work on them. The shape of your eyes is uniquely you—but, being a guilt-tripping gremlin or a judgmental jerk is just you being a total turd.
5. OK yes, fine—but if you reject the media’s expertise in that arena, please also reject in it in all the other super-suspect ways, too.
6. Perfection is unattainable even with acceptance.
7. Some acceptance happens even quicker than overnight. It took me approximately 30 seconds to accept that I like food and fun more than dieting and deprivation.

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This is abjectly false. Sometimes bad thoughts about yourself come from your subconscious—because your subconscious knows what a petty, self-serving slime you can be.

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No. No I don’t. I think God thinks, “That a girl; way to recognize how deplorable that thought was.” I also know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God would never be so neglectful in His punctuation.

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Be proud of mistakes?? Accept your mistakes and learn from your mistakes—yes. But be proud of them? I’m barely proud of the actual good things I do. And now you think I should be proud of choosing my own comfort over someone else’s need? Or gossiping about someone being off her meds? Or getting into a battle of wits with an unarmed person? And what’s with the unnecessarily awkward slanty lines? I hope you’re not proud of your design skills.

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Eww. I’m beyond tired of this phrase anyway, but now I can’t even tolerate it.

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So now we need an acronym for loving ourselves? How about this one: GOYA (get over yourself already.)

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OK, sure. Right after I finish throwing up in my mouth. Do people do this? Do people halt—mid-thought or mid-task—to appreciate how awesome they are? If you’re sitting there nodding and thinking, “I do that,” then please make a quick mental note to stay far away from me.

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Michael Masser? Was that Whitney Houston’s pen name? Never mind—loving yourself isn’t the greatest or even second greatest love of all.

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I wish people who don’t care about punctuation would stop making memes. Regardless, is it really the hardest thing you’ve ever done? Have you ever put on your own bracelet? Refrained from replying to a Facebook post that ran counter to every belief you have? Gotten too cocky in a pepper eating contest?

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This isn’t even 1% true.

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How does one do that? I don’t know how I’m supposed to be a hero. The most heroic thing I do on any given day is bite my tongue to keep my uncensored thoughts from spilling into the world.

Side Note: I also feel pretty heroic when the coffee is over—and I don’t cry.

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Is now a good time to puke? Who thinks this thought and documents it in a meme? I’ve eaten by myself in public many times, but I can assure you it wasn’t a date—and I certainly didn’t stroll around a museum falling in love with myself. If anything, I was like, “I’m not sure about your taste.”

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That’s not true. I don’t always listen to myself. “Eat a salad.” Not listening! “Lock down that sarcastic remark.” Not listening! “Stop wishing you could write that co-worker out of your story.” Not listening!

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I am. That’s why I give me tacos. And beer. And permission to love the Biebs.

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An affair? So I’m a side piece? The other woman? Is guilt associated with this affair? Do I hide it? Do I text myself under a different name, like, “Dry Cleaner?”

“Well look at you! You sure are glowing these days! What’s the what, Lady?!”
“Oh nothing” (coy and coquettish)
“Oh come on! Tell me!”
“It’s just … well, I met someone and … oh Becky, it’s going really well!”
“What?! Oh my gosh! Who who who!”
“Me.”

Gross.

gag

happiness

That’s what happiness means? Hmm, I was unaware. So you’re saying that if I just walk around smitten with myself, I’ll be happy? That seems plausible. Just knowing that even though I screwed up at work—as long as I love myself—it’s all good. What a comfort. I wonder if everyone else knows? This type of sound logic seems like good info to have very early in life.

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Whoever found themselves at a beach—and opted to write this in the sand—is a top level clown. “Guys! Come on, let’s go! Let’s get down there while it’s sunny and beautiful! I want to get profound in the sand! Come on!”

I guess I’m just looking for some balance here. Let’s try to equalize loving ourselves with also being a little disgusted. That’s more realistic, right? Otherwise we’re living pretty inauthentic lives—because we’re all flawed, and sometimes unlovable. I’m not proposing a turn towards sef-loathing—or memes filled with woe-is-me negativity. Please no!

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Let’s start a movement to be this person. One part awful; one part awesome. 100% real.

Let’s link up on Facebook and Twitter!

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Dear Diary, I Get Around

Last week I had a conversation with a co-worker about why some people seem to have no self-awareness. We questioned why some people don’t pick up on social cues; why they can’t tell when they’ve intruded on a conversation; why they don’t read the faces of those who are negatively receiving the words they’re delivering. We puzzled over some people’s inability to read the unfavorable reactions of others.

But also not funny.

But also not funny.

We both confessed to hoping our self-awareness was on point and felt like—as a rule—it was. We ended the conversation feeling pretty darn good about our ability to read social cues and self-regulate.

My self-awareness confidence took a mighty blow later that night when—for reasons I can’t remember—I peeked into the first journal I ever owned and saw something wholly mortifying.

Unbeknownst to me, I was a first-rate floozy.

Let’s unpack these shameful years.

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This was my first diary, and it was given to me by my sister. Many months ago, we discussed a few of the entries in this journal, related to the rigorous crush I had on one of my middle school teachers, Coach McCahon.

That was but the tip of the iceberg.

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You’ll see that this is the first of many professions of love. Apparently, I had a lot of it to give as a kid. Also, please note—I am nine. This will be an important detail as we move along.

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I wonder what good things happened to me? Was it the fact that we had company? That my autograph was coming along? Time will tell.

I’m not sure what’s more shocking—that I felt Groundhog Day was worth two mentions or that I love a boy “very much” when I’m still drinking milk with my supper.

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Here we are. And because this simply cannot be said enough—I’M NINE. Okay, I kind of understand how I could think I love him; but it’s shocking to me that I’m eager to kiss him. It’s more shocking that I want it to be “for a long time.” It’s jaw-dropping that I’m going to take the bull by the horns, when I don’t even have enough years under my belt to spell lips correctly.

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Great. I’m ready for marriage. I’m simple-minded enough to think a definition of spring is warranted, yet I’m contemplating the rightness of nuptials and monogamy.

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Still hoping he pops the question. I wonder where I thought it would happen? I have vivid memories of playing inside the big tractor tires on our elementary playground with him—I bet that’s where I hoped he’d drop to one scabbed knee. Oh, and if the suspension is killing you, I did get Mrs. DeShields—so my appalling punctuation was her gift that year.

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WHAT?! What the hell is, “well, you know?!” No, I don’t know! WHERE ARE MY PARENTS?! So again, I think it’s worth pointing out—I’m ready to get serious, but I only manage to get the first and last letters right.

Side Note: I actually remember writing this. I was listening to the Top 9 at 9 on KQTY. I hate to tell you this, but it was when, back-to-back, they played Endless Love by Lionel Richie and Feels So Right by Alabama. This is not cute, y’all—it’s capital T Troubling.

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Still love Billy. Still can’t spell for shit.

Side Note: This kind of enduring love shouldn’t be plausible when I’m young enough to still enjoy puppet shows.

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Hmm, wonder when this happened—a new dude. You will see that this is the beginning of my downward spiral into tramp-ville. I’m 10 now—apparently approaching womanhood—and want some skating rink lip-locking.

Side Note: I remember this entry too, and he was there. We couple-skated to Hard To Say I’m Sorry by Chicago, and the song was especially meaningful to me because, while Brandon was a “hunk and a half,” I felt like I owed him an apology for coveting his speed skates.

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More love in the air. I love God and I love a new boy, Kevin. I found my watch a week later in a pair of shoes—so I’m sure I double-loved God that day, but just didn’t get it documented.

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Still love Kevin.

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I’m going with Daxton, but I’m not sensing much love. Maybe it’s because I’m in love with a man 18 years my senior. No big deal. Oh, and I’m still struggling with basic spelling.

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I guess Coach McCahon was a gateway drug to Paul McCartney. Let’s see, I was 11 and he was, what, 70? Seems natural that I would love him and write about him in my diary, along with my grades, my Christmas gifts and an unforgivable spelling of the complicated word, “for.”

Side Note: The super clever initials are, Anna Christie BFFs … I love Paul McCartney (because one mention wasn’t enough) … I love Daxton Patterson (guess I did love him after all) … I love Scott McCahon (so, two men whose combined age was approximately 100) … I love my family … and Heaven only knows what BMOA stands for. I shutter to think.

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And we’re back. Yes, these entries are in order.

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In case anyone forgot.

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Whoa. Daxton is out of the rotation.

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Enter: Donny Griffin. Sure doesn’t seem like I’m very judicious with my love. If I spent half as much time on learning to spell as I did on acknowledging my love for anyone with a Y chromosome, we’d be in good shape.

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There’s a lot going on here. Apparently I enjoyed learning about Anne Frank. I also worried a lot about our income tax return. I thought my TV debut—for something related to basketball and a telethon—would catapult me to stardom. I still loved Coach McCahon, and his body—despite his snotty behavior—but it wasn’t reciprocal. Spelling is still out of my wheelhouse.

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Spoiler alert: I still love Coach McCahon, and Christi and I did not remain best friends for all of eternity, as I predicted—but hey, my grades were on point and I spelled some words right.

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So much love to be had here. I’m still in love with a fully grown man, and Donnie (a new Donnie) is romantic. HOW? How is a 12-year old romantic? I have to know. Can someone remind me what pre-teens do to be romantic? Seems as if all that romance is fleeting, since I’m still with Donny G, but would also be down for some Donnie W, or Scott or Mike lovin’ on the side. Well, at least I also love my family and God—so some morsel of me remains honorable.

diary21

Sheesh, what’s with this income tax return? And why was I on TV again? I didn’t profess any love in this entry, but I can tell you that I wholeheartedly loved DQ. And it’s almost worrisome that I was so attached to my diary that I thought it could join me in prayer.

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A new player: Mike Hammonds. I see no mention of love, so I must be taking things slow this time around.

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Aww, poor Mike—I still don’t love him. I guess I’m just passing time until Coach McCahon and his “good body” get with the program.

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I loved IZODS. I wonder if that’s why I was so obsessed with our income tax return?

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I love God. I also love Coach McCahon, Mike Hammonds (although I question my sincerity on this one), God again, my family—and as a bonus, the w/w/w (whole wide world). That’s you—you’re welcome.

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No love here, but I include it to tell you that my friends and I tried out for the talent show by dancing a choreographed number to MJ’s Billie Jean. On the opening beat, our backs were to the judges—as we stood with our feet shoulder-width apart—and one by one, we spun around and pointed out across the auditorium dramatically. We wore white tennis shorts, IZODs and Gilligan hats. I can’t make this up—nor would I want to.

Side Note: We didn’t make it.

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I was single? How did I survive? Oh I know—on the “total” love I had for Scott Frederic.

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Really diggin’ this Scott fellow. Let’s not allow the misspelling of his name to negate the obvious depths of my love.

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But for now, Layne Moffitt will do.

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I’m now going with Steven Moore, but love Ricky Schroder. Where’d Layne go? That was fast. I can say with confidence that I was more devoted to The Ricker than Steven, as I had approximately 104 pictures of him wallpapering my bedroom.

diary33

My love for Brad (yes, this is a new guy) is making me question my feelings for Steven.

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Annnd I’m back with Daxton. Enough time has passed that we’re now making out at dances. The first time around, we probably just played in the sandbox.

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Oh hey, Travis. When did you get here? Have you met, Ricky?

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I think kids who call people and chomp ice as their prank are totally mature enough to juggle a dozen loves in a few years.

I hope my diary was a way for me to work out all this angst and longing in a safe place—and that away from this time of reflection each night, I was out having fun and not drooling nonstop over these dudes. I have exponentially more memories of friends and laughter, than yearning and solitude, so I guess it was just an outlet I enjoyed. I must have, because I have stacks of journals from most of my life.

You should look back at your old stuff. Hopefully you’ll get some good news about your past ways, and not be confronted by the surprise news that the journal of your youth was actually a little black book housing enough names to field a pee wee football team.

The bad news? I only shared a fraction of the journal—and professions of love. The good news? Spelling is no longer my undoing.

Please join me on Facebook and Twitter 🙂

Coziness Of The Soul

I crave small, cozy places and amber-lit spaces. I swoon over the soul-fulfilling ambience of food and drinks, laughter and joy—shared with mindfully-present people I love.

But I had no idea this deep-rooted affinity for authentic conversation—and coziness of the soul—had a name.

Hygge. (pronounced hue-gah)

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It’s Danish, and it’s the concept of being present … of creating a warm, comfortable atmosphere that makes us feel rooted and connected. It’s about our behavior towards one another, and the coziness and shelter found through reciprocal giving and receiving. It’s the art of creating intimacy, camaraderie and contentment all in one—and it often occurs around a candlelit table, while sharing good food, good drinks and good conversation.

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Hygge nourishes the soul, and is presumably the #1 reason Danes are considered the happiest people in the world. You heard me—the happiest people in the WORLD.

Before you turn into a 2nd grader and start making faces behind the Danes’ backs and whine-chanting, “Woo-hoo, I’m Danish and I’m the happiest person who ever freakin’ lived,” you need a few facts. Scandinavians experience some of the darkest winters in the world. They are accustomed to long, cold months, where the sun emerges for a few lonesome hours a day. Just reading that will lead half of the U.S. population to a Seasonal Affective Disorder diagnosis.

Yet, people have settled in Scandinavia for thousands of years—essentially choosing to “suffer” through darkness and cold. Why?

Hygge.

“Hygge is, at its essence, the feeling of warding off the dark and cold through the light and love of those around you,” says Philip Trampe.

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From hot tea, cocoa and wine … to candles, crackling fires and conversation, it’s the art of creating a place where people can lay the hustle aside, while adding another log to the fire, allowing the candle wax to run and absorbing tranquility—without distractions or the noise of the outside world.

And while no other language has a direct translation, words like coziness, security, comfort, fellowship, simpleness and living well are often used to describe the idea of hygge.

Side Note: Of the many attributes of hygge, there is one common—dominant, prominent—thread. Candles. Always candles. In windows, on tables, on stairs, with every meal (even breakfast). Danes feel that lit candles dispel the gloom and defy the long dark hours of winter. They believe there is no distinction between time worthy of candlelight or not. The warm, signature glow is at the core of hygge.

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In outlining the components of hygge, have you noticed the exclusion of smart phones, TV, drama, heated debates and hurried schedules? Yeah, Danish people don’t partake in the glorification of busy. #blessthem

Hygge is all about celebrating reality, being present and mindfully enjoying the moment with good people, in a warm setting.

But let’s not gloss over “celebrating reality.”

No, none of these.

No, no, no. NOT THESE.

I’ll tell you what that means to me—someone who is not Danish, not living in Denmark and not in the middle of a very dark winter.

It means being in a cozy space with people I love and people who love me; people who want the best from and see the best in each other; people who are too busy being happy for and proud of each other to feel competitive or threatened. It’s us celebrating life’s victories—getting raises, getting the baby to sleep all night, getting better at life—because through those wins, and our shared affection, we all feel lifted. It means being with people free of motives and full of a desire to share in daily joy, good news, successes and answered prayers; people who enjoy talking about pop culture, but also like talking about gratitude, the absolute hilarity of life, acting better, living longer and loving stronger.

It means laughing; because we know that a good, hearty, lose-your-mind-laugh-fest—that builds and spreads and ends in a blinding, breathless pounding on the table—adds a full 365 days to our lives. A mind lost in laughter finds stress healed, anxiety deadened and worry abated. Shared laughter pumps hope into our cells and creates wellness, memories and love.

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Federer and Nadal actually laughed like this for about 14 minutes straight.

My idea of hygge also means … a second helping and another round, as the candles burn down a little more. It’s not about focusing on rotten people, destructive conspiracy theories, unspeakable tragedies or overly partisan politics; it’s ensuring that after the deluge of negative news and Debbie Downers all week, we’ll take an evening and let the good stuff in. We’ll allow the intrigue of life to nourish our minds and hearts—not pretending everything is good and right, but making sure all the things that are good and right take center stage: a child’s good week at school, a nephew’s home run, a friend’s kid finally asking his crush out (and her saying yes), a project at work that turned out better than you hoped, a loved one’s answered prayer, a parent’s successful transition into retirement (and a fun conversation on why they deserve it), your friends who worked out the problems in their marriage and are stronger than ever, your friends who couldn’t work it out but have successfully put their children first. I want to talk about Heaven and grace and books and why babies are really just tiny drunk people.

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If you’re thinking this sounds great, but isn’t realistic, I have a theory. Your circle is too wide. If you’re having trouble imagining being surrounded by people you can do this with, your circle is too wide. The unworthy people you’ve let in are making it impossible for you to envision hygge. Your “friend” who instigates, your “friend” who sees the negative in everything (and if unable to find it, creates it), your “friend” who only wants the best for you as long as it’s not better than hers, your “friend” who may or may not take up for you when given a chance.

I learned a long time ago that I’m happy with quality over quantity—in all facets of life—but especially with my inner circle. I’m meticulous and unwavering in choosing the people I truly let in. That leaves me with a small, loyal, trustworthy and wonderfully fulfilling inner circle to whom I’m extremely devoted and who faithfully love me back.

We’re talking about inner circles here, not regular everyday friends and acquaintances; it’s not rocket science, so don’t panic. I’d just encourage you to be very judicious with whom you surround yourself, and get comfortable with the fact that you are not obligated to include anyone in your inner circle who doesn’t feel right to you.

Side Note: I have far too much to say on the topic of inner circles and eliminating toxic people from your life for a side note, so perhaps we’ll revisit this. But I will say that toxicity isn’t usually anything overtly evil; it’s typically very personal and subjective—meaning, a lot of times, it’s just you “knowing” someone isn’t healthy for you. If you’re confused and wondering if you have a toxic friend, then just know this much … if you have a friend who competes with you (in life, not in Trivia Crack) … that’s not a good sign. A competitive dynamic overrides a supportive friendship—and you’re never going to alter the actuality of that. So once you identify this issue, you need to know that it’s absolutely and unequivocally OK for you to shift gears and change lanes. I implore you to not give toxic people—or people on the periphery of your inner circle—access to your life. Again, we’re not talking about being cruel or never conversing—we’re talking about access to the inner workings and private, personal parts of your life. Those areas are for people who truly love and protect you.

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Imagining the comfort and security of hygge forces you to think about who, in your life, would fit into that environment. Knowing it’s a warm atmosphere and a time to enjoy the good things in life, with good people—who do you want with you? I hope you can name a few. My family and friends are at my table. All are eating, some are drinking, a few are talking and a few are listening, and most—thank goodness—are laughing.

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Not All Who Wander Are Lost

I have a passion for traveling—deep, abiding wanderlust and a consuming love for adventure.

I’ve been fortunate to visit 42 of the 50 states, and various places like Puerto Rico, The Bahamas, Mexico and Canada. Two years ago, though, I was finally able to take two full weeks off and travel overseas. Thankfully, I got to do the same thing about a month ago. During those combined four weeks, we visited Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Greece—with 75% of that time spent in Italy. Heavenly, dreamy, unmatched Italy.

Before my first true international trip, I was under the assumption the biggest challenge would be communicating with locals. I thought it might be frustrating trying to read signs and order pasta and wine. I believed we’d encounter many residents who really didn’t want us in their village, town or country. I had a lot of preconceived notions about what traveling abroad would entail. Boy, was I wrong. None of these concerns came to fruition—not one.

But there were real surprises for which I had not accounted.

1. Trusting strangers becomes normal and natural.

I don’t know why, but I found myself trusting people and situations I’d have never even considered back home. In fact, there were times I didn’t want to text anyone in my family about something, because I knew it would sound the alarm.

Case in point.

Jocelyn and I headed to the train station in Salzburg, Austria to board a train going to Venice, Italy. Because of a stretch of railway under construction, we were going to have to take a train part of the way, then transfer to a bus, then back to a train. The first train leg was amazing in every way—watching the Austrian countryside become the Italian countryside was a dream come true. We disembarked and made our way to the bus to ask about tickets. It was leaving soon, and although we try to never split up when traveling—and succeed at this about 98% of the time—time was of the essence, and I needed to wait with our bags while Jocelyn ran in to buy tickets.

Suddenly, after a few minutes of me frantically looking back and forth at the driver (who was clearly getting ready to hit the road), and the door (where I hoped she’d shoot out of, with tickets in hand), he waved at me in a way that said, “We’re leaving and you’re not going with us.”

I was a bit crestfallen because we had a room reserved in Venice and the next train wasn’t leaving for hours. I wheeled our bags into the ticket area, where I found Jocelyn … beaming.

Me: They left.
She: (all bright-eyed and awash in jubilation): There’s a lady who can take us to the train station in Latisano!
Me: (hard, slow blink … stare … trying to make sense of the words coming out of her mouth and reconcile them with the merriment in her eyes): I’m sorry; what’s that?
She: I met a lady. She’s like a mix between my mom and yours, totally normal and nice, and she heard me trying to get tickets and tapped me on the shoulder. She said she just dropped her college-aged daughter off and was driving back to Latisano and would be happy to give us a ride!
Me: You want to ride in a car … on the highway … with a stranger? Is this what you’re telling me?
She: She’s not a stranger! She’s Katherine! And she’s a mom! Oh, here she comes—what do you think?

I’ll cut to the chase. Katherine was indeed a mix of Katy and Meralyn—in both maternal demeanor and warm disposition. She had a nice mini-van and the three of us had quite the little adventure.

While en route, I sent a text to my mom and dad: “So, I can’t send a lot of texts, but I figured this would qualify as important. We’re speeding along the Autobahn at 90mph with a mom named Katherine who helped us out of a jam. Don’t worry! More details through email later!”

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It gets better. We had some time to kill before going to the train station and she asked if we’d like to visit the local winery and get some vino to take with us. Oh, why not.

We got there and ended up meeting some neat people and seeing part of the real-deal wine-making process. It was as Italian as it gets, and we were in hog Heaven. We just kept sneaking looks at each other like, “This is crazy. We’re crazy.”

Umberto Baccichetto Winery ... and Katherine translating.

Baccichetto Winery … and Katherine translating.

We bought red and white wine, and she asked if we’d like to see the villa she and her husband were building. Go to a remote location with a stranger in another country? What’s not solid about this plan?

But, it was beyond cool. Very “International House Hunters.”

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After the tour, she took us to the train station, and we felt like we were saying goodbye to a beloved aunt. We took our seats, and the train started moving. We just looked at each other, shook our heads and laughed.

I’m thankful we trusted our instincts and intuition, and said yes. It’s an experience we still talk and smile about today.

A similar’ish thing happened on our most recent trip to Italy. We were leaving a two-day Farm Stay at a working organic farm between Rome and Naples. Our cab driver picked us up at 6am, to take us to the bus station. From there, the bus was going to take us to the train station in Rome, for our ride to the Amalfi Coast.

He picked us up in supremely rural Italy, in the pre-dawn darkness, and took us to his full-time job—the restaurant he owned that overlooked incoming and outgoing buses. We got there a little early and he said, “Come in’a, come in’a, I make a’cappuccino!” We followed him as he raised up a garage door-like front. He turned the lights on, got the coffee machine going and we talked about his family. He presented us with a perfect espresso, and as we finished it, our bus arrived and he sent us off.

Sweet Maro and his Bar & Pizzeria.

Sweet Maro and his Bar & Pizzeria.

There wasn’t one thing truly scary about any of it, except the idea that we should be wary—but we just weren’t. It was another lovely experience.

2. Bathrooms.

Bathrooms are surprising, for so many reasons and in so many ways. Even if you aren’t one who discriminates between public restrooms and the ones in your home—a lot of the bathrooms overseas will test your resolve.

My first experience with this was at the winery Autobahn Katherine took us to. I was about to bust and asked the owner for a restroom (well, Katherine did; he didn’t speak a lick of English). I hustled back, only to come face to face with this:

The heck?

The heck?

I just stared—truly unsure of what I was seeing or what I was supposed to do with it. I buttoned back up and poked my head out and did a quick, “Psst!” in Jocelyn’s direction. I tossed my head like, “Come here! Trouble is afoot!” and she rushed over. I said, “What is this madness?” She laughed so hard. Even after her explanation, I kind of wanted to die— but I had to go too bad to waver much longer. That was my first, but not last, foray into in-ground toilets. Here is another one in Desenzano, Italy. Again, I’d waited far too long to discriminate; it was this or an even worse alternative.

So we meet again.

So we meet again.

Side Note: If/when you travel overseas for the first time, make a point to use a WC when you see one. They’re not as plentiful as they are in the states, and as a best practice, you should take advantage of the free ones when they appear. (Yes, exactly when you are at your most desperate, they’ll cost €1 to use.) Oh, WC stands for “water closet” … bathroom.

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Greece upped the ante with many, many WC’s displaying signs reminding users to not flush toilet paper. I’ll say it again … you’re not supposed to flush used toilet paper in the toilet. You’re supposed to put it in the trash. I don’t feel guilty telling you I rarely followed this order.

Most of the time, it was neither here nor there, but truly, the Santorini airport smelled like a giant port-o-potty—which was shocking, because the island itself is stunning beyond measure.

There is one particular highlight of all the restrooms though—the signs on the doors  indicating the gender. I wish I’d taken pictures of all of them from both trips, but I do have a few. Each and every WC has its own personality and it’s fun to see them all.

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3. The array of quality—and fun—transportation.

Another surprising thing about traveling overseas is how many forms of transportation you take—and often in the same day. It becomes second nature to hop on a train, a bus, a ferry, a quad, a funicular, a plane, a bike, a scooter, a kayak, a gondola. And it’s all so organized and seems to run like clockwork. The schedules for us, so far, have been largely accurate and seamless. It makes you realize how far behind most states in the U.S. are, when it comes to getting from Point A to Point B—without a car.

My absolute favorite—trains.

My absolute favorite—trains.

Quads, scooters, bikes.

Gondolas, planes, buses.

Ferries, chairlifts, funiculars.

Side Note: Jocelyn and her mom have this word they say that means one of several things. The word is “oofta” and it can mean something’s hot, something’s cold, something’s strenuous, something’s shocking, etc. A synonym might be “wowza” or “yikes” … from what I gather.

Anyway, we were on a train going to Cinque Terre … the region of Italy with the five famous villages that look like this:

Nothing compares to Cinque Terre, Italy.

For reasons still unclear, the train was jam-packed and we ended up having to ride in the area between the carts, where you typically just board and pass through. There was a pole in the middle that we were able to hold on to. Here:

If you don’t note a hint of impending hysteria on my face, then you’re not looking.

Standing—and holding on to the pole during a ride—normally wouldn’t be necessary, because that area isn’t often crowded. Most of the time, it’s only used by someone getting on, and then quickly off, at the next stop. But this time, more and more people kept boarding at each stop and we were completely smashed in there. In fact, upon subsequent stops, we became so tight and immobile that the next time we stopped, and the doors opened, we bellowed, “No room!” But guess what; 11 more people shoved their way in, and Jocelyn and I became separated (but when you’re in an 8×8 area, what’s the difference?) We had never experienced such an over-packed train—and the escalating situation would’ve been comical—if it weren’t for the HOUR remaining on our trek.

Then came the smells, y’all. The smells. With every boarding body came a new odor. It was a 95 degree morning and many people had their arms held high, grasping the pole, and others had opted to skip toothpaste. I started getting slightly panicked, not over anything clausterphobia-related—I’m not clausterphobic—but over the smells, and if I was going to survive them. We were so sandwiched in place, that I couldn’t even bring my hand up to cover my nose, so I was getting nasal-assaulted in a major way. Someone in particular was quite tart—like really super-rank—and I was talking myself off a ledge, when all of a sudden I heard a faint, “Oofta!” Suddenly, all was right in my world, because in the midst of that tense ride—even though I couldn’t see her—I realized Jocelyn detected the funk and registered its severity, and I began silent shake laughing to the point of tears.

4. Architectural character.

One of my absolute favorite surprises abroad is, not just their architecture, but how they build their homes, towns, villages, shops and cafes around the landscape … and into the landscape—not leveling it all and starting fresh. It’s exquisite. It’s swoon-worthy. It’s the definition of character—and it’s captivating. Getting away from cookie-cutter buildings, strip malls, houses and highways—and immersing yourself in the pure art of their landscape—is breathtaking.

Nothing sparks my creativity or sends me into a glorious daydreaming stupor more than being surrounded by such character and beauty.

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Although, along with this design style comes one very predominant thing. STEPS. Lots and lots and lots of steps.

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Regardless of ample transportation options, our #1 preferred mode is walking. It’s truly pleasurable to be able to get around by foot—something we simply can’t do back home. Our Fitbits got LOTS of playing time. The image below was just one particular day.

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5. Traveling changes how you think.

Traveling overseas—or really anywhere for me—makes my head spin in such a good way. When I’m in new places, seeing fresh sights—and away from my normal routine—it becomes so glaringly obvious to me that we (as people) just aren’t doing life right. That’s a strong statement, but I believe it. I work 48 weeks a year, so I can do what I actually want to do four weeks a year. I don’t know about you, but that math is a real downer.

Don’t get me wrong, I L-O-V-E those 48 weeks—namely the evenings and weekends—but I love them in a different way than I love traveling. They’re comfortable, safe and very fulfilling; but, they don’t ignite my imagination the way adventures do.

Inevitably, every time I travel, whether it’s abroad or two states over, more than one person asks on Facebook, “Do you ever work?!” It’s comical to me. Why, during the 48 weeks I work, doesn’t anyone ask, “Don’t you ever take time off?!”

We met many people on our trips who were in the middle of month-long vacations. Successful, well-balanced people.

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Traveling is a blessing. I’m so abundantly grateful every single time I get to climb out of the lather, rinse, repeat cycle of commuting to work—to see how others live and to enjoy their landscape and eat their food and hear their stories. I thank God every time I get the opportunity to experience more of His world. I don’t travel to escape my life—I’m in love with my life—I travel to show my eyes something new; to open my mind to life outside of my tiny, tiny world, and to revel in the heart-swelling splendor of it all.

6. I almost forgot.

The single most surprising thing about traveling 5,600 miles away is passing Guy Fieri on the chairlift—and somehow capturing a pretty clear selfie—on the Isle of Capri.

Yes, this happened.

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A Better Love

Happy New Year! I know, I know—it’s almost February, but it’s still a good time to talk about resolutions. My proposition doesn’t require a yoga mat or a Ninja Blender, but it does involve removing the focus from yourself for a bit.

(I just mentally saw some of you backing away. I won’t name names.)

Um, no thank you, please.

Um, no thank you, please.

This resolution is simple: Love (the people you love) better.

Don’t cringe—you love these people! I’m not even talking about co-workers or the table full of unreasonably loud chip-eaters next to you. I’m just suggesting you start with the people you truly love and value.

Side Note: If it’s actually your family eating chips too raucously, then that is something we’ll address another day.

By no means do I want this new resolution to take the place of your original resolution to post fewer selfies—please, PLEASE do us all (and yourself) a favor and stay.the.course.

Also, go ahead and organize your pantry and back up your photos to yet another external hard drive. Give coconut oil a try and see if cauliflower really can serve as passable pizza crust; but, in and around and between all those lofty Pinterest goals, I want to encourage you to just treat your people better. Make an intentional effort to be a better spouse, daughter, mom, sibling, son, uncle, grandparent, grandchild, aunt, dad and friend.

If your head is cocked in confusion, then you’re not using your imagination. The very best way to figure out how you can do better is to ask yourself what you would regret if that loved one was no longer in the world or in your life. It might sound slightly morbid, but that’s OK, because it’s eternally important.

Here goes. What would you regret if _______ was gone?

I have a feeling you’ll say things like:
Why did I fixate on the little things? Why didn’t I encourage her more? Why didn’t I thank him for the invaluable life lessons? Why didn’t I make sure she knew how much joy she brought me? Why didn’t I take a day off work and spend it with her? Why did I let our yesterday cloud our today? Why did I tell everyone but him how amazing he was? How could I have ever been too busy to hug her?

And on a smaller, but equally important note, you might ask yourself:
Why did I continue to leave clothes in the washer when I knew it drove her nuts? Why didn’t I rub his shoulders more often? Why didn’t I put my dirty clothes where she asked me to? Why didn’t I surprise her with more dates? Why did I stop leaving him love notes? Why did I play on my phone when I could have been reading to her? Why did I always let my car get below half a tank when I knew it was his pet peeve? Why did I try to temper her spontaneity? Why did I miss his games for meaningless work meetings? Why did we stop talking for hours and replace it with texts? Why didn’t I write him letters when he was serving our country overseas?

When your loved one is gone, the smallest thing is going to send you into a downward spiral of unspeakable sadness. Yes, things like moving a load of laundry into the dryer and remembering how happy that would make her. Yes, things like seeing The Pokey Little Puppy at Barnes & Noble and remembering how she’d curl into you and giggle when you read to her.

A loss is going to be devastating no matter what, but if you can lessen the number of unnecessary regrets AND make your loved one happy, isn’t it worth the effort now? The only thing that will make paralyzing sadness worse is to stack on top of it a profound remorse for which you are now helpless to fix.

I thought we might need a smile break.

I thought we might need a smile break.

So let’s crawl out now, while we can, and resolve to do better by our loved ones. Whether it’s your relationship with your spouse or your mother or your adult child—if you search your mind—you know where you can extend more grace, be more patient and give more effort.

Does your husband do something that gets on your nerves? Like, does he always want to know the plan? “Hey, what’s the plan when your family comes in town next week?” Do you reply with exasperation because it’s a week away and you haven’t even thought about it? Does it annoy you that he continues to ask?

Here’s a tip … he’s probably a hard-wired planner and not likely to change. The quicker you accept this, the better. Just meet him halfway and get some plans going. He’s not asking you to re-shingle the roof or move cross-country. He’s just asking for something that meets his predisposed needs. All relationships are give and take, so just think what you might gain by meeting him in the middle here—this could open up a whole new world of him asking for directions and clipping his toenails in private.

Do we all agree that the majority of arguments start over extremely stupid things—sometimes so little and ridiculous that you don’t even want to tell your friends why your morning is off to a bad start?

Me: How’s your day so far?
Friend: Sigh, just so-so. Brett and I left the house kinda “off” today.
Me: I’m sorry, is everything OK?
Friend: Yeah, it’s fine, it’s just got me off on the wrong foot. It’ll be fine as soon as we text or talk.
Me: OK good. Wanna talk about it?
Friend: Sure, if you’re up for learning how CEREAL can actually cause a fight.

Sometimes you have to sit back and acknowledge that life is short—and grasp that being upset over trivial things OR needlessly contributing to someone’s fury, is a waste of precious time.

You: Hey, what’s the deal? You and Kirk seem like you’re in a fight.
Friend: Ugh, we’re not in a fight, I’m just so mad at him I could spit.
You: Oh no, what happened?
Friend: Grrr. He won’t use exclamation points or smileys when he texts me.
You: *stifles a laugh* Is this something you two can get past?
Friend: Who knows?! I’ve told him a hundred times that I can’t read his tone without them, but he still refuses—it’s infuriating.

I can't live like this.

I can’t live like this.

To the one who feels slighted: Is it possible that you should just always assume his tone is normal and loving, unless there is reason to believe otherwise?
To the one who refuses to text properly: Could you tap the stubborn brake and do what you can to ensure your tone is reflective of how you’re feeling? Could you reply with more than one word, so she gets the reassurance she needs?

I’ll answer these questions for you both: YES, IT IS POSSIBLE and now is your chance to compromise. I can assure you that when he or she is gone, you’re going to wish you weren’t so unyielding.

Another way you can be better to people you love is to tell them how you feel.

I think it’s potentially a big mistake to assume that everyone you love knows you love them—and to what degree. Yes, perhaps your partner (perhaps) … but what about the rest of your family? “Oh sure! I say ‘I love you’ all the time!”

Not so fast. I’ve had instances where people told me something nice or extremely loving another family member said about me and I was stunned. Like, I knew we loved each other, but the details were such news to me. Good news. Life-enriching news.

So, consider that not everyone in your close circle really knows how you feel, and by all means, tell them! It can be a conversation, a letter, a card. Don’t recoil and say it’s too hard. Fighting in Iraq is hard; watching someone suffer with a disease is hard; seeing Odell Beckman, Jr. make that three-finger touchdown catch and realizing you could never do the same thing with 20 fingers is hard … but sitting down with a pen and paper and telling someone you love them—and why—is not hard.

Even if it’s slightly awkward, it takes about 20 seconds to say, “Hey, you know I love you, but I also want you to know that having you in my life means the world to me … and I didn’t want another day to go by without telling you that you’re wonderful and one of the best parts of my life.”

Again, all you have to do is imagine what you WISHED you’d said if you were no longer able to … and say it while you can.

When you’re in your final moments, which of these statements do you think will play through your mind and heart?

A. I wish I had more Facebook likes. B. I wish I had shown people how much I liked them.

A. I regret putting the care of my aging parents first. B. I regret putting the state of my bank account first.

A. I regret spending time with loved ones. B. I regret spending time being angry.

A. I wish I’d made more time for myself. B. I wish I’d made more time for them.

A. I wish I’d spent more time on my diet. B. I wish I’d spent more time enjoying a feast with her.

A. I wish I’d kept up with the Joneses. B. I wish I’d kept up with my old friends.

A. I wish I’d worked harder to get promoted to the corner office. B. I wish I’d made more reservations for us in a corner booth.

See, you didn’t even have to study and you aced it. In our bones, we all know these things. And we’re never going to be perfect. We’re never going to give every person everything they ever wanted—but we can do better. We can be more aware. We can try harder. We can be more selfless. We can and we should.

Let’s make this the one resolution we keep.

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Crazy For You

I can’t flip through channels and see the San Francisco 49ers without thinking of him. I can’t even see any of their memorabilia because the colors alone take me back. Starting in 7th grade, my entire existence revolved around Coach Scott McCahon and his red and khaki Ford Bronco.

Why his Bronco? Simple—where it was, he was. Why did I love this mustached man? Only the Good Lord knows. But if I had a nickel for every time I mentally slow danced to Madonna’s Crazy For You with him, I could own a small island in the Maldives. With a chef. And an island boy who fanned me and kept me hydrated with top shelf mojitos.

Who knows why young love is so fierce and undying? It’s also a little blind and nauseating—I now realize—as I flip through my journal and read page after mortifying page about each of our “encounters”. I use that term incredibly loosely, as a typical reaching-for-my-journal-interaction would include brief eye contact and a “Hello” or “Hi” of some sort. He was clearly not spending his days and nights lamenting the cards we were dealt and wishing we could be together. I bet he didn’t even test drive my name with his last name in his head.

That aside, I thought he was beautiful—or “SO FINE” my tween self declared. He was lanky and fit and taught history. I’m also sure he was brilliant. Of course he was—he was a football coach who taught history. Hello.

The best part of the crush, aside from occasionally getting to see him in jeans (Wranglers, no less), was that one of my best friends lived two houses away from him. Knowing I was getting to spend the night at Dusty Jordan’s was like looking forward to a trip to Disney World. I’d fixate on it for days on end, unable to concentrate on school in any way.

Looking back, it makes no sense that I’d get so excited about those sleep-overs. The absolute most that would happen is we’d see him driving up the hill in his Bronco—and get to wave. That’s it. My gosh, I was easy. We did attempt to pay him a visit or ten, but shockingly, he never answered the door. “He’s not home,” I’d turn and tell Dusty. “We just saw him pull in his driveway,” she’d reply. “Yeah. Well, he’s probably really caught up in working on next week’s lesson plans. He’s really devoted.”

The worst day I recall as a 7th grader was finding out he was moving to the high school to teach and coach. It was unfathomable that I could endure 8th grade without him. In all likelihood, you’re reading this and jovially thinking how cute that is. But no. When I say I was despondent, I mean, on the inside I was inconsolable. If I’d been able to speak of my love for him as it really felt—and not some truncated “he’s so cute!”—people would have suggested professional help. Ok, that just took an unnecessary dramatic turn. But at a minimum, they would have pointed me to the school counselor.

In fact, there were two particularly dramatic entries in my journal from that time. One is about the “horrindus” fight Dusty and I got in because she told me I was ridiculous about him. I don’t know if I’m more wounded over the memory of the fight or my poor spelling describing the gravity of the confrontation.

The second journal entry was about how Holly Holt was “probably my best friend” because we “really get each other” but that it might be time to reassess the situation, due to the fact that she “no longer loves him the way I do.” I actually wrote (and this is gross, so skip ahead if you have a weak love stomach), “I mean, all we ever do is make up fantasies about him! NOW WHAT WILL WE DO?!” I’m sure I flung myself face-first into my pillow after writing that last all-capped part.

You’ll be happy to know that I did survive my 8th grade year; but, not without the help of the few visits he paid the middle school each month to have lunch with his coaching buddies. I’d be in choir, barely carrying a tune, but feeling like Streisand, when I’d see from the corner of my eye, his red and khaki Bronco. I’d have to just start mouthing “w-a-t-e-r-m-e-l-o-n”—something we were taught to do if we forgot the words—because all my focus was gone, gone, gone. In my head was this very elaborate running commentary, “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh.”

Would I get to see him and catch up on all the latest goings on? Nope. But my glimpse of him from the choir room and an extremely fortunate, “Hi!” as I passed by him later and got to smell his Polo cologne was all it took to fill me back up.

Speaking of said cologne, the aforementioned journal from those years contained a special page. As shown, I glued his picture in the corner and added some declarations. I finished it off the only way I knew how—with a couple of spritzes of Polo cologne. To this day, it’s retained its scent. I don’t know if that’s incredible or terrifying.

Once I got to high school, my crush remained strong. I think I was more at ease with it because I was able to see him regularly and not spend an inordinate amount of time lamenting the dreadful moments in between sightings. I pretty much knew where I could see him or “incidentally” pass him most moments of the day. We had fairly little contact, although when we did, he was decently nice. He clearly did not share my intense feelings of love—or even seem aware of my allure—but he was usually pleasant.

It wasn’t until I started seeing the types of girls who did get more of his attention that my love for him gradually began to wane. The same few upperclassmen would hang around his classroom or outside his door with him as he monitored traffic between bells. These girls were not athletes or in theater or even choir. They were the ones I’d labeled “extracurricular whorebags”. I know that’s harsh, but when you’re a scrawny tomboy who thinks of two things—basketball and slow dancing with Coach McCahon—the big breasted partiers with their Texas Aquanet bangs, hanging on his every word, really hits below the belt.

I’d lay in bed listening to Hard Habit To Break by Chicago and wonder why he’d be interested in girls whose chief talent was looking sexy and fake laughing at every boy’s joke. Wouldn’t that get old? I couldn’t figure out why their big breasts mattered so much. All they did was sit there, looking like the buoys at Lake Meredith. Wouldn’t it be more fun to play with me in the gym or throw around the football?

Of course, looking back, it all makes perfect sense. And I highly doubt he was truly interested in them, other than enjoying their girly laughs and consistent attention. Who doesn’t appreciate a little adoration? Also, it was best that these girls helped me move beyond my adolescent crush. At the rate I was going, who knows where I would have stopped? Shoe polishing “Anna McCahon” on his Bronco?

I even wonder where he is today or if he has any clue how many of us crushed him so hard. I have a feeling it would come as quite a shock. He might even be mortified to see a picture of the page I dedicated to him in my journal. What he would not experience is the knockout punch of decades-old Polo wafting off the aged page. You’re welcome, Coach McCahon—you’re welcome.

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