Road Trippin’

S asked where I wanted to go on our next date. I told him anywhere. But then I told him I wanted him to take me to Graceland.

This was a test, of course; but he passed. I spent my break driving up to visit friends in Georgia, then up to his place in Alabama, and then we traveled to Memphis.

Graceland

Oh, how I love Elvis. Although he did not quite get my request or why I would not have rather been somewhere tropical on a beach, he humored me anyway. We spent the morning touring Graceland, then headed over to Beale Street for lunch.

BB King

It was actually rainy and cold but not crowded. I enjoyed it. We took our time, and then we went to Sun Studio that afternoon. I love Sun Studio! It is worth the trip in itself, there is such much history in those walls. The tour was fantastic, and it ends with guests getting to walk around and touch some of the actual equipment. Allegedly, this is the actual microphone Elvis would have used during his sessions.

Sun Studios

Million Dollar Quartet

That evening, we headed south across the Mississippi line to Tunica. We stayed at one of the casinos, an absolute first for me. I do not gamble, and am very tight with money, but I played around with his.  Almost immediately, I won $100 on a penny slot machine. I think that is a great omen for our future.

Our luck continued the next day. We drove back east through Tennessee to S’s hunting property. We took the back roads, and I was in heaven. I absolutely love that area of the country. It was unseasonably cold, and I was day dreaming the entire way of seeing snow. When we got to his property, which is breath-taking, I stepped out shivering and said, “I really feel like it’s gonna snow, it’s so cold. I think that would be amazing.” No sooner had he laughed off what I had said than small flurries started falling. I kid you not, I could not have scripted it better! He was just as tickled as I was, and I ran around like the crazy Floridian that I am just laughing and trying to catch the flurries with my tongue.

This is one of my favorite pictures, because we snapped it in that moment. Genuine happiness shows, and it exemplifies exactly what the year of yes journey means to me.

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A Country Concert

One of my friends had extra tickets to see Luke Bryan in Jacksonville recently and offered them to me. I was hesitant, because that is an extravagance that I do not indulge in often; however, it is the year of yes, so I took her up on the opportunity. My surrogate mom, Charlotte, gladly agreed to go with me, and we made it a night to remember.

Concert

After dinner, we headed to the tailgate party outside of the arena. We had a blast, dancing and people-watching. We even ran into several people that I went to high school with, and it was so great catching up. Charlotte and I made the Jacksonville paper and the local radio station’s website. We felt like stars.

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My Fellow Georgia Southern Alum

The concert was amazing. I have seen Luke Bryan many times, and he never disappoints. It was fun sitting by my friend and her fella, too.  The four of us had a blast singing and dancing the evening away.

Jayda

Afterwards, we took a huge detour around Jacksonville trying to get back north. Charlotte is worse with directions than I am, and even my car’s navigation had us cutting through the bad sides of town. But we finally made it, and it was wonderful settling in to my bed in the cozy room that Charlotte keeps for me. It’s filled with pictures of me, the kids, and my mom and makes me feel loved.

Before heading home the next day, I met up with a former student of mine who I had not seen since 2002. We have kept in touch via email and phone, and he is now a teacher. He treated me to lunch at The Florida House Inn, one of the oldest hotels in Florida, located on beautiful Amelia Island. We caught up, strolled the historic downtown, and then I stopped at one of my favorite spots on earth– Fantastic Fudge– for my go-to flavor of ice cream, rocky road.

I could not leave without spending time with my Mom at the beach in solitude. I read a book, napped, prayed, and listened to my Mom’s song, “Drink a Beer,” by Luke Bryan, of course.

 

 

Identity Crisis {The Year of Yes}

StudentsWhen I was a little girl, I did not play with baby dolls. I played with a chalk board, and I would force my brothers and the neighborhood kids to be my students. I would give them assignments, grade papers, and line them up and march them around the yard. I tutored the kid across the street, and his dear mom, Peggy, may she rest in peace, joked that the grades I gave Brian were the best he ever received. She would hang them on her refrigerator.

When I describe myself to people, “teacher” is the first word out of my mouth, right after “mom.” It is my natural gift, and education is my passion. Unfortunately, I was always told I could and should do more, whatever that means, so a relationship in my early twenties with a high-powered attorney inspired me to leave my beloved teaching career for law school.

I do not regret my legal education one bit, nor do I regret practicing. My favorite job was working for the law school immediately after graduation, because it combined a little of both worlds. My degree and experience have opened doors for me that I never dreamed possible growing up in a one red light town. However, the classroom is where I am my most comfortable, creative and inspired.

When I had my children, it seemed natural for me to return to teaching. There is no better schedule for a family, and I was able to work at one of the best schools in the state, which allowed my babies to eventually attend the best schools themselves. I was so excited to get back to my calling, and I did it with joy and enthusiasm. However, even with clear objectives, I was given grief by those I loved most. I was told I did not have a “real job” and questioned about how I could turn my back on money and prestige by simply being a teacher. As sad as it is to type these truths, it was even more devastating to live them.

After my divorce, I hung in as long as I could, until I could no longer financially justify my position. I was highly effective, successful and involved. I absolutely considered my students my own and have built life-long friendships that I will forever cherish; but the rumors about teacher pay are real.

More than anything, though, I was emotionally drained. After visiting my closest friends over the holidays, both T and K commented to me that they had finally figured out what was keeping me from completely healing. My storehouse was dry. I was “Mama B” to 200 kids a day, then had to come home to my own, and teaching at the level I was doing it was sucking up all of my extra energy. My brain was fried. Both friends encouraged me to pray about the situation and start looking for jobs.

To say I was terrified was an understatement. I was not sold on the fact that I needed a change. I did not think I could take the leap and give up my time at home with my children. I was not sure I was even marketable. But, then there was this #YearofYes promise I had made myself, and I decided to start applying. It is not an accident that Shonda Rhimes ended her book with one of my favorite quotes:

You must do the things you think you cannot do.  Eleanor Roosevelt

So, there you have it. Within a month of me applying for jobs, I had an offer I could not refuse, and I had to say good-bye to some of the most incredible people I have ever met. My students were so wonderful, and they showered me with gifts and cards of encouragement. It was amazing how much love I felt as I packed up my classroom and prepared to leave a place that was mine and my kids’ home away home for eight years. But it was time for me to graduate, and I think everyone knew it but me.

I was explaining to a colleague this week about my #YearofYes challenge and how powerful the book has been to me. When I told her it had inspired me to change careers, she was shocked, but it is true! As my bestie K said, “You’ve sacrificed enough of yourself. It is time for you to thrive.”

I am still a mom and a teacher, and I absolutely think teaching is the most important profession in our society. However, my focus has changed, and I think the move will make me a better mother in the end, because I will have balance for the first time in a long time.

Letter from Studt

letter from student

Southern Gothic

cemetary

Confederate Soldiers at Rest, Montgomery, Alabama

I have always loved cemeteries. Even as a young girl, with a nostalgic historian’s heart, I enjoyed walking through them, admiring the artwork, the names, the family groupings. To me, there is great beauty in them, and old Southern graveyards even enchant with their ancient trees and draping moss, harboring sassy mockingbirds who keep watch over the quiet stone inhabitants in respite from the busy modern world.

Since my Mom died, I have rarely been to a cemetery. I have always been good about visiting my family plots, regularly placing flowers and cleaning up their resting places, an obligation ingrained in me from childhood. Write thank you notes, Becky Jo, and visit your people, that’s what Southern Belles do. But my Mama, against all family tradition, chose to be cremated. Three months before she died, as we were leaving our swimming hole on the St. Marys River, she told me that when she died, she wanted to be cremated and her ashes spread. I fussed and fumed at her, because she was young and healthy, and I did not want to be talking about death on a hot summer afternoon. She insisted, however, and I was forced very soon to honor her wishes against the protest of many of our kin.

I never understood why she made this choice. I tried to and I even spread her ashes in a poetic manner, playing her favorite Beatles song, “Here Comes the Sun” at dawn while doing it. Now, I get it.

Yesterday, I was in Montgomery, Alabama, making my way through the lovely Oakwood Annex Cemetery, and an overwhelming wave of emotion hit me. I realized sort of stupidly for the first time that my Mama wanted to be cremated, because she was single and did not want to be buried alone. I knew it as if she was whispering the message on my heart, and I got teary-eyed, because I, too, now have that fear.

As the day went on, I thought about my  life and my relationships and got very, very morose at the thought of dying and not having a loved one to lay beside. Granted, I have my grandparents and other family members and I have my kids who will hopefully, God willing, be with me when that fateful time comes. But not having a husband, not being a Mrs. whomever, not belonging to another human being when passing, just breaks my heart and makes me cry.

Maybe this is part of some midlife crisis I am having. A quick search actually showed that the fear of dying alone is quite common. I am not scared of dying itself and have no sense of its impending call as I think my Mama must have had. Maybe this new sensitivity is a sign of my longing for deeper companionship. Maybe it means my heart is healing, that I am ready to be fully committed, hell if I know. Whatever it is, the flood of emotions that overcame me as I snapped pictures of magnolia trees and Confederate graves haunted me like a ghostly specter throughout the day, and the fear lingers with me, even now.

I do not want to die alone.

As women glide from their twenties to thirties, Shazzer argues, the balance of power subtly shifts. Even the most outrageous minxes lose their nerve, wrestling with the first twinges of existential angst: fears of dying alone and being found three weeks later half-eaten by an Alsatian.” ~Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones’s Diary {my favorite book}

Celebrating Eight

My son wanted a simple birthday at home this year. I was happy to comply, and my friends and family helped me get organized and entertain all of our guests.

He also asked that the boys sleep over. I honestly did not think any would take us up on this invite, but they did. My “adopted” daughter, Ashleigh, stayed over with me, thankfully, because I ended up with six boys piled up. It brought up so many memories of my childhood, and I loved every second of the chaos. There is nothing I enjoy more than a house full of kids.

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He wanted a Jacksonville Jaguars themed party. I am from Jacksonville, and it is so sweet that he loves my hometown team. Who cares that we are perennially one of the worst teams in the NFL? This little guy bleeds teal and adores Blake Bortles.

masons-bday1

I love this picture of his buddies singing “Happy Birthday” to M. The looks on their faces epitomize childhood innocence to me and makes my heart soar.

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The best part of the party was a complete surprise to all of us. A family friend brought over her boyfriend, Josh Peters, who plays football for the FSU Seminoles and was just off their Orange Bowl victory. He was amazing. He signed autographs for all the kids and took pictures with them. They were in awe by his size. It was surreal to have one of their heroes in our home. M was so proud. Go Noles!

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