What I Never Knew I Always Wanted

There they were, clear as day. Two pink lines.


There I sat – propped up on the bathroom vanity amidst all the makeup brushes and nail polish and bobby pins and my curling iron all strewn across the counter – staring at a little plastic stick that in that very moment sealed my fate, answered my deepest prayers, and forever changed my life.

Sweet Jesus, this was really happening.

We were officially going to be parents.

I can’t really describe that feeling in simple terms, because if I’m being completely transparent here, it was anything and everything but simple. It was a multitude of thoughts and emotions that came flooding in. First I felt complete and utter shock and couldn’t breathe– like when you free fall off that first big drop on a roller coaster and you swear that your stomach is going to wiggle its way right up your throat and lunge out of your mouth. Or when you suddenly wake up and realize you overslept thirty minutes past your alarm and blast off like a rocket out of bed without hardly letting your feet hit the ground.

Or when you discover that yes, indeed, you have been walking around for a solid fifteen minutes with the back of your dress tucked in to your leggings after using the restroom on your plan hour…until a 7th grader kindly points it out to you in front of the entire class.

Yeah, thanks for the letdown, LuLaRoe….

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Next came the “warm fuzzies.” The tingling in my chest. The tears in my eyes. The butterflies in my tummy. The warmth of God’s touch on my face, as this sudden fullness and contentment in my life was something I had long prayed for. The ridiculous sort-of-hipster-sort-of-disco happy dance I did right there in the bathroom before realizing I still had to break the news to Kurtis. The way I completely melted when I ran outside to the shop to tell him and saw that shocked yet  priceless look on his face when he realized he was going to be a daddy for the first time.

But it was also bittersweet too. For the first time in our nearly ten year relationship together, it was no longer going to be about us. Our life of being spontaneous and taking off for a random weekend trip cross-country or running to town for a late night Dairy Queen ice cream run would soon be changing to sleepless nights of diaper changes, warm bottles, and lullabies. I won’t lie, that scared me a little. How much was this going to change our married life? Would we still be us? Would I still be…. me? Would I still get to do the things I’ve always dreamed of doing – like skydiving and traveling the world? Would I miss out on some much needed girl’s nights with my best friends since I was now officially the only married momma in the group?

Would I seriously have to say goodbye to those favorite pair of maroon skinny jeans from Charlotte Russe? (I mean, I am basically a Kardashian in those suckers…and you’re talking about a girl who generally speaking has “pancakes” flapping around back there, no how many squats or wall sits or Pinterest Booty Blaster workouts she does…)

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Also came sorrow for wanting to share our exciting news with our loved ones, but knowing so many people in our life are struggling and desperately yearning for the blessing we were so graciously given without having to deal with infertility treatments or adoption complications or even loss of a child.

And when we did have a miscarriage scare at 5 weeks that to our surprise turned out to be okay, there came extreme relief yet slight guilt of being one of the lucky ones who God spared while so many other deserving couples on the sidelines were not so lucky and had to hear the heart shattering words “I’m so sorry for your loss” in the coldness and emptiness of a doctor’s office.

I definitely can’t leave out the feelings of fear and anger that overcame me nearly every time I turned the TV or radio on and learned of another protest, homicide, mass shooting, drug bust, inappropriate student/teacher contact, terrorist threat, and natural disaster that raged on all around the world, realizing I can’t protect this precious God-given gift from it all no matter how bad I want to.

And of course, eventually came the insatiable need to binge eat an entire sleeve of Oreos or a jar of Vlasic pickles in one sitting. Laughing hysterically at memes on Google images — and then literally sobbing two seconds later because I just realized the chinese place in Buffalo closed an hour ago and all I wanted out of life was some damn cashew chicken. Then the food aversions. Oh, the food aversions! I went from eating everything in sight to only eating saltine crackers and applesauce and, well basically being a vegetarian (and I am married to a beef farmer, mind you…) And we can’t forget the sudden talent of being able to sleep anywhere — literally, ANYWHERE — to the point I swear I’m metamorphasizing into a cat or soreness so intolerable that someone could literally bring me to my knees if they accidentally bumped me in the boobs even slightly. Oh yeah. There is definitely no “glow.” And can I just say that I never knew a human could PEE. SO. MUCH.

And as for clinging to the toilet like a starstruck tween girl on Nick Jonas to projectile vomit because I caught a whiff of the husband frying sausage and eggs for breakfast??

Well, I’ll just let you envision that one for yourselves…

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So, yeah. Quite the wild journey it has been so far for only ten weeks in! I would say that to my surprise I have had the GREATEST sleep of my life but I don’t currently have a piece of wood to knock on and I definitely don’t want to jinx myself, so I think I’ll just quit while I’m ahead…  

Because let’s be real. That perk is gonna go away realllllll fast when I swell up like a balloon in the Macy’s Day Parade and become an internal punching bag at 2 AM for this kid.

People ask me all the time if pregnancy is everything I imagined it would be, I never really know what to tell them because to be honest,  it’s something completely unimaginable until you experience it firsthand. I mean, sure. I always pictured what I would look like with a baby bump in the mirror and have most definitely designed the most immaculate dream preggo wardrobe board on Pinterest. I always dreamed of how many kids we would have running around in the front yard (yes, I’ll admit I’ve done the pencil test or M.A.S.H game from time to time back in my day…) and have even occasionally scribbled a cute baby name I heard while out and about on a napkin in my glovebox so I wouldn’t forget it later on. But now that it’s actually a reality, it’s a completely different shift. Like when I saw that flutter on the screen at my first ultrasound and heard that tiny heartbeat after two LONG days of bed rest waiting to either confirm or deny whether or not we lost our baby. When I realized that I will get to celebrate the next Mother’s Day for the very first time and see Christmas morning through different eyes in a couple years. Or how much fun it will be to pick out the most adorable teeny outfits and nursery paint colors and completely buy out Carter’s and Babies’R’Us just because I just can’t contain myself.  Or what it will feel like to see my husband – my very best friend of ten years who I have been through everything with – holding our baby for the very first time in his arms. To love him on a level unlike any other, not just as my husband but as a father to the greatest thing in our life. To see that look on his face when he stares into the eyes of something so perfect and little, vowing to love and protect him/her until his last breath. To feel the butterflies from within as this bump beneath my T-shirt grows more and more each day — even though I may have to sacrifice my bootylicious jeans and gain a few stretch marks in the process. To feel that first kick or hear that first cry after a long, painful labor I thought I’d never survive. To wonder if he or she will have my nose and daddy’s eyes and who they will grow up to be someday. To come home from the hospital with a newborn in the backseat — and literally have NO CLUE what to do next.

Also, I kind of can’t wait to watch Kurtis gag at his first dirty diaper change. That really gets my soul singing.

It truly is an experience like none other. From going from someone’s daughter, granddaughter, wife, aunt, sister, friend, and teacher to someone’s mom is a feeling that there are simply not enough words to blog about. And If I really want to open up here, I will confess that I am becoming a newer, stronger version of myself and slowly climbing up out of the ruts that years of struggling with depression had left engraved on my heart, because I am finally realizing that being a mother is what I never knew I always wanted and needed all along. Those scars and voids are being mended the more this bump grows because I know this blessing came just at the right time, when God knew I needed it most to make sense out of this crazy, beautiful life.

This is my purpose. This is my WHY. And it feels so good to finally know what that is.

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Oh, how different our little world is going to be here just in seven short months! Sure, there are lots of “unpleasant” truths about pregnancy I could complain about. I mean, I won’t lie. I have so many fears about this whole process ranging anywhere from being a good enough mom to taking someone else’s unwanted parenting “advice” calmly to how my body can possibly take all that stretching and trauma to accidentally defecating on the delivery table.

Yeah, buddy. I lose sleep over that one…

And I have since learned NOT to Google pregnancy/birthing stories because, well, that one never turns out pleasant.

But to be honest most days I can’t really focus on the negative because there are just too many things about it all to celebrate.

So I choose to focus on the celebrating part.

And also on thanking God daily for blessing me with exactly what I needed at this stage in my life.


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Closing Time

Because moving on is part of moving forward.

Today was quite the day, you guys.


It was my last official day as an agricultural education teacher and FFA advisor for Niangua R-V High School. {And before you say anything like “shouldn’t you already be off for the summer and toes-deep in the sand on some beach somewhere sippin’ a pina colada?” please note that ag teachers are on a 12 month contract from July to June, which basically means we are running on auto-pilot 24/7, 365 days a year. We also drink our coffee very very very very black, eat drive-thru’s on the daily, and have mastered the art of sleeping with our eyes open. True story. }

So June is already here and gone. This morning I took my last hour-long drive through all those hills, curves, and miles of countryside that I’ve come to know by heart – as they have carried me in their arms this entire year, pumping me up for my mornings and winding me down at the end of another long day. I threw away the last poster from my wall, peeled sticky tack off my bulletin boards, and cleaned the rest of my highlighters and sticky notes and bobby pins and scented Germ-X out of my desk. I loaded boxes and boxes of all my lesson plans, family pictures, Hobby Lobby decorations, plaques, and my old FFA jacket in the back of my car. I unplugged my coffee pot and emptied the mini fridge that hid my jug of sweet tea when I needed an afternoon caffeine boost and all my chocolate for when I needed that little sugar rush while staying late grading papers. I hugged some co-workers goodbye…and may have also left sappy notes in their mailboxes.

{ Yeah buddy, I’m THAT girl. }

I watered the greenhouse and swept my shop floor one final time. I turned in my keys for the new teacher coming along and took my name tag off my door. And I sat one more time in my squeaky chair and stared at all those empty desks that not too long ago were full of the students that became “my kids” this past year.

Right here in this little room that was home for so many of us who desperately needed it.

We did a lot of learning and growing in this tiny classroom. We lived, we loved, and we laughed.

Also, we killed LOTSSSS of spiders.

We had heart-to-hearts before the morning tardy bell sounded and deep life discussions before the last bell of the day rang. A lot of “your mom” jokes were fired {okay, so I’m not the most “politically correct” teacher there ever was…} and many General’s Orders for saying cuss words out loud were written. In this room I prayed in desperation, cursed in frustration, cried in defeat, smiled in proudness, and celebrated in triumph. In this room I sat in this very chair one year ago as a first year teacher – so fragile, like a paper airplane in a hurricane – thinking there was no way I’d survive it all.

But, here I am, still soaring.

Last year’s beginning is already today’s end…and I really can’t believe it.

And I won’t lie…I’m a little unsteady about what’s coming next for me as my identity will soon completely change from a high school ag teacher to a middle school math and science teacher.

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However, as this bittersweet conclusion to a beautiful journey I’ve experienced this past year has officially drawn to an end, I know it’s now the start of a new and exciting chapter in my life story. And for that, I am happy.

I am really, genuinely happy.

In a month I will hang different posters in my new classroom and decorate new bulletin boards. My pictures and plaques and little personal touches will be unboxed again, a million new nail holes will plaster the walls, and new students will soon come rushing through my door. My Pinterest Lesson Plan board will slowly evolve from “parts of a cow” and “welding tips” to all things osmosis, phases of the moon, solving inequalities, and the Pythagorean Theorem. I will exchange all those red staff polos and Cardinal’s T-Shirts in the back of my closet with purple and gold ones that say “Hermitage Hornets” on them. I will make new memories, befriend new co-workers, experience new challenges, and achieve new and greater heights.

And above all I will keep learning and growing and loving all those kiddos on my new class roster, even if I do roast them with a “your mom” joke from time to time.

{Don’t worry, I DO know when there’s a time and place for it…** insert eye roll here**}

I know good things are ahead for this girl, although some amazing memories and that old weathered “Welcome to Niangua” sign will soon be in my rear-view for good. 

It’s hard, but it’s time.

It’s time to roll the windows down, crank those speakers, and let my hair fly in the breeze as I press on down this new road, because after all; moving on is part of moving forward.

And what a coincidence that the song jamming on my playlist this very moment by one of my all-time favorite 90’s bands just happens to be the perfect summary for it all.

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So, what more is there really left to say?

Except…

On to the next adventure.

 

Oh yeah, and I also need gas…

 

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Fess Up, Get Up.


So it’s time I fess up.


I’ve not been {completely} honest with you all.

You read my blogs. You compliment my latest engagement or wedding session on my photography page. You see my pictures on Instagram and follow my life on Facebook nearly every day from the other side of the computer screen. You shake my hand at church every Sunday morning and sing along as I play the piano for the congregation. You laugh at all my stupid jokes when we go out for dinner and drinks on a girls night out. You hear me reply “I’m good” when I check out at your register at Wal-Mart and you ask me about my day. You see me smile back at you in the McDonald’s drive thru when I stop for my morning coffee. You heard my valedictorian speech when I graduated high school and watched me walk stage when I earned that four-year degree. You pass me the salt and pepper at family dinners from across the table and ask about my future plans – and you think I have it all figured out. You see the smiles, sunshine, accomplishments, and happiness that I choose to show the world. That’s how you see me because that’s all I’ve ever let you know about me.

But what you don’t know is there’s more…so much more.

What you don’t know is that this morning I was late to work because it was such a chore to get out of bed and face another hard day.

What you don’t know is on my days off I am really spending about 13-15 hours a day in bed in my dark room alone while my husband is out making a living for us and being The Responsible One…until finally I scramble to get a load of laundry folded, wash the dishes from last night’s dinner, and grab a quick shower before he comes home so he doesn’t have to see me this way yet again.

What you don’t know is that while to you I often look like a chicken running around with my head cut off doing anything for everyone and trying to keep up with my busy schedule, I like it that way because it distracts me from feeling worthless.

What you don’t know is I love teaching because it gives me purpose.

What you don’t know is I love photography for the sole reason that it lets me capture the very small things in life that are rare and beautiful and often unnoticed and forces me to reflect on these tidbits of joy when I am at my weakest.


What you don’t know is the reason I have to constantly have music blaring no matter what I’m doing is because it helps drown out the silence and loneliness I often feel. And I don’t really care that it annoys you when you’re around me, because sometimes it’s all I have to get me through.

What you don’t know is that every time you stop and ask me how long I’ve been married and inform me that it’s about time to start cranking out kids because my biological clock is ticking I cringe and want to cry…because this darkness I am struggling through is completely diminishing the beautiful and exciting and fun image I once had of motherhood.

What you don’t know is that before I sat down to write these words you’re reading right now I called my doctor to schedule another appointment and renew another prescription. I’m not sure if it’s going to work, but I did it anyways.

What you don’t know is several weeks ago I had to gather any ounce of hope and strength I had left to really talk myself into choosing to live when I was at the end of my rope and suddenly didn’t want to anymore. 

And I did this alone, because you didn’t know. Because I didn’t tell you.

I never told you that I struggle with this battle.

Every. Single. Day.

I’m guessing if you’ve made it this far it’s safe to say this is definitely not what you were expecting to read from the girl who always seems to have something positive to say or a story to laugh about. You came here for inspiration or a good chuckle, not a re-enactment of a Cymbalta commercial, right?

But…as uncomfortable as it may be to read these words…it’s the truth – my truth. And the truth isn’t always pretty or easy to confess, which is why you’ve never heard any of this until now. I just wasn’t ready. And quite honestly I didn’t think you cared, because afterall my problems probably don’t hold a candle to what some of you face daily.

But they say the first step to a better tomorrow is recognizing you have a problem and asking for help today.

So, here I am.

Besides. I figure it’s much better for you all to read this than my obituary, right?

I will say that I do have strong moments, which I try to share with you all any chance I get. There are good days where I manage to find joy in the little things and genuinely feel happy…for example, yesterday, when my parents came over with my sisters and I was babysitting my niece. Dad cooked dinner for us on the grill and we spent the entire evening riding around the farm on four-wheelers, watching the cows graze and swim in the pond, chasing lightning bugs beneath the June sunset, and just, well, being together.


Yesterday was such a good day…then today was hard again for no reason at all. It ebbs and flows, I guess. And I swear if one more person tells me that “happiness is a choice” and that I should “count my blessings”, I am going to smack them in the face with my journal and chuck my pills at them.

Because if they knew anything at all about depression they would understand that nothing about it is a choice. I don’t recall pulling a twenty out of my wallet and saying “Sure! I’ll take it!” when the Devil came knocking on my door soliciting this emptiness and darkness that has been overtaking me for several years now. 

I don’t get it. I can’t really tell you when it all began and how it got to this point so fast. I mean, sure I’ve had my fair share of heartbreaks. I’ve lost ones I loved so soon and so tragically. I’ve experienced family drama and have lived through the destruction of divorce. Twice. I’ve dealt with the aftermath of my biological father abandoning me at four years old. Some of my closest friends have come and gone forever. I’ve been rejected and told no from some amazing opportunities I thought I had in the bag. I’ve came in second place against some people who wrongfully took first. I’ve had to say goodbye to my comfort zone and jump head first into major life changes I wasn’t prepared for. I’ve watched horrible people get away with horrible, unspeakable things and have let all the wrong people push me around in all the wrong ways. Nothing I’ve went through is too traumatic compared to what others have to go through every day, but it still all adds up, ya know?

But on the other hand I have a lot of great people in my life. I am smart, talented, and successful. I have salvation…though I’ve not been the most stellar Christian lately and can’t tell you the last time I knelt in serious prayer. I have a job, even if it isn’t the one I necessarily had in mind. I love my husband and my husband loves me. We have fun together and have a beautiful life. I just can’t seem to fully enjoy it like I want to because the good times seem to only be temporary. I don’t understand this pain and can’t give you a textbook answer for why I have it. All I can tell you is that it’s just here – living in the inner depths of my soul and heart and mind – and I want it to pack its bags and get the heck out so I can enjoy my life again like I used to.


Yeah, I struggle.

But despite how crummy I felt this morning as my familiar friends Stress, Anxiety, Guilt, and Shame came barging in at 7 a.m. to ruin my day, the important lesson I’m taking from today is that eventually I did get up.

I took a shower. Got dressed.  Ate some breakfast – which I never do. I went to work. Texted a good friend to invite her over to see our new house and eat dinner – after she cuts these split-ends off that I’ve been neglecting for a good year and a half now. I made that appointment….and this time I promise I will go and won’t make another excuse or tell myself to suck it up or spend another day like this. I wrote this journal entry and shared it with you just in case you needed to know that you’re not alone and this girl you look at as Little Miss Sunshine has her fair share of cloudy days, too, just like anyone else.

It’s reassuring to know I’m not alone, like I sometimes feel. And if you’ve been where I am or are there now, I hope you realize that, too.

And I know it’s hard. It’s SO. HARD. Getting out of bed and going to work when you’re already physically, emotionally, and mentally drained is hard. Going to therapy is hard. Taking meds is hard. Telling someone you love that you’re struggling is hard. Admitting it to yourself that you have a problem when you know there are so many beautiful blessings surrounding you is hard. And trust me when I say that writing about it and exposing it to the rest of the world full of your friends, family, and complete strangers is even harder – especially when some of them just don’t get it because it’s not a war they’ve ever had to fight.

But, it’s also absolutely necessary if we want to be one of the Lucky Ones. You know, the Survivors. The reality of this horrible illness is not easy to take in. For every person who gets their life back after depression, there are many others on the sidelines who do not. This has to change…starting with me and you.

We’ll get there.

I know I’m nowhere close to where I want to be…but I am making baby steps in the right direction. 

Day by day, right? 


That’s what matters. Not where I came from or even necessarily where I’m at right now, but where I’m going. Just the fact that I am still here today writing this and for once finding beauty in the rain coming down outside is proof that there is still hope out there for me.

The happiness is temporary, but that also means that so is the pain. And today, I’m going to focus my attention on that…and maybe even dance in the rain because right now I feel strong enough to do so…and there’s a damn good John Mellencamp song playing on my iPod.

So if you’re reading this and can relate at all – whether miles apart, down the street,  or in the very next room – please know that although you and I have our separate battles and I don’t have much energy left to get myself through most days, we’re not alone in this. My heart holds your hands through your toughest days and darkest hours.

And I can’t thank you nearly enough for holding mine at such a fragile and vulnerable time in my life as I am striving to get back up from the heavy waves that have held me down long enough.


A Brown Renovation Story

So the Hubby and I recently decided to tackle our first DIY project together in our married life.

 

Don’t worry…we haven’t killed each other and no one has had to attend therapy yet. (Stay tuned, just in case…)

 
Long story short, after some BIG career switches, we are now living on his family farm that has been in the family for nearly 70 years. On this property stand two houses – the main farmhouse that we are going to completely overhaul in about a year after we get our life and finances in a little better order and this little bitty studio home that we have been fixing up and are currently living in for the time being.

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For about the past month we have been {attempting} channeling our inner Chip and Joanna Gaines by trying to flip this place into something we can call home temporarily while we remodel our dream house, so we don’t have to live in the middle of a disaster zone.

 
Because let’s be real…ain’t nobody got time for not being able to use the shower or toilet for a week, scraping popcorn ceilings all over their nice furniture, or wiping sheetrock dust off the kitchen counter just so they can make a flipping peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

 
Although I’m pretty sure we could star in an episode of “Tiny House, Big Living” this place has so far worked out amazing, considering all it really needed was some paint, new flooring and trim, a couple new windows, and some MAJOR cleaning.

 
It has been quite the learning experience thus far, from tearing out linoleum to hanging ceiling fans to trying to find any place at all to put the coffee pot and all the Tupperware. (Never underestimate a woman with decorative baskets and cabinet organizers from Bed Bath and Beyond!) But after several exhausting weeks, we are FINALLY moved in and it’s starting to feel like home sweet home!

 
Now, before I get too far into this, let me just clarify some things so we’re all on the same page here. If you came here for a professional design blog with very detailed DIY instructions of how to flip a shack into an immaculate HGTV worthy mansion by two highly skilled and reno-savvy people, you’re DEFINITELY in the wrong place (although we would feel pretty honored). However, if you came here to watch the hilarious but totally honest journey of two completely inexperienced homeowners with a tight budget who had their fair share of struggles, epic fails, and head scratching moments while taking on this crazy adventure, then welcome aboard the hot mess express! We’re your kind of people!

 
Se here it is, the Reality of Home Renovations, as told by The Browns.

 

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PART 1: The Overhaul, A.K.A Mission Impossible

Someone once told me I could make even a port-a-potty look cute, which I about died laughing because this place was definitely not much of a step above that when we first began. I remember when we first got the idea of fixing this little house to live in for the year until we could remodel the big house…and then basically crying when we walked through the front door.

 
This place sat vacant for years, after my husband’s great aunt passed away. Now please understand that NONE of her clothes, furniture, dishes, or even food in the cabinets had been cleaned out for all this time, not to mention the fact that several windows were busted, screens were torn, mice had defecated all over the kitchen countertops and carpet, and spiders and flies plastered about every square inch of the floors – some dead, some alive.

 
Why smell four years of abandonment when you can practically taste it?


It was rough, yo. I remember standing there thinking, we’re nuts! There’s no freaking way. It was 450 square feet of filth and pure horror. I mean, you practically needed a tetanus shot just to even turn the light switch on! I swore there wasn’t enough bleach, Febreze, Scentsy cubes, or pinesol in the world to fix this mess, let alone make it livable.

 
But my ever-so-calm and always reassuring husband convinced me that we really could do this, with a little bit of creativity and a whole lot of elbow grease.

 
And so, it began!

 
First task was to empty the place one Hefty trash bag and truck load at a time, then tear out the disgusting carpet and linoleum. That alone made the place smell A LOT better – and made for a hellacious bonfire!

Part 2: The Make-Over

Next all the trim and outlet/light switch covers were removed and the walls were scrubbed so we could begin painting! I knew from the get-go that this place was going to be a farmhouse-style cottage when I got done with it, so picking just the right colors for the walls and cabinets that would complement all my furniture and décor and not make this tiny space feel even more closterphobic was critical to the end result.

The cabinets were definitely the most exciting part of the entire project – not to mention WAYYYYY easier than I expected! And trust me when I say that I am definitely no Picasso and have absolutely ZERO experience when it comes to painting and distressing things. I just picked up the paintbrush and taught myself, and it was definitely do-able! I changed my mind a couple times once I actually began painting and didn’t like the color, but in the end decided to paint the bathroom vanity with Indigo chalk paint from Market 116 in Buffalo (really looks more like a charcoal gray, not blue – thank goodness because that’s what I was going for!) This paint is ahhh-mazing! It’s no sanding, no priming, and advertises as only needing one coat, but I did two to be safe! 😉 There are so many colors and they also have tons of cheap sample sizes you can try out before you commit to a full sized can, which costs $35 but is TOTALLY worth it and goes really far!


I let the paint COMPLETELY dry then I brought out the detail and grain with this alsphaltum antiquing gel (SUPER easy to apply and also available from Market 116 in sample and full-can sizes for around the same price as the paint!) Basically you brush it ALL over the paint then use cheese cloth or something that doesn’t shed fibers (like old T-shirt rags or those soft blue shop paper towels) and wipe off what you don’t want to keep to create a distressed look to your liking! The key I learned with distressing with the gel is to move WITH the grain and wipe as straight as possible. What I love is that it is very forgiving in that if you apply to much, you can easily wipe it off or if you want to add more you can easily brush more on until you get the desired results. And if you mess up? Who cares! Just paint over it, let it dry, and start again! 😉

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Originally I had picked out a creamy tan for all of my kitchen cabinets, but I ended up loving the dreamy charcoal look so much on my bathroom vanity that I decided to go two-tones with my kitchen cabinets, using the Indigo chalk paint on the bottom and the Gray Taupe for the uppers. I LOVED the end result and the two colors really matched my ugly laminate countertop and made it look so much better! After distressing everything and adding some new hardware, I had new kitchen cabinets and a bathroom vanity that looked like a million bucks – for less than $150 altogether!!! #BargainStatus

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So basically I am now addicted to chalk paint and have since also redone ALL of our dressers, the bed, and TV stand…and believe me when I say there’s plenty more where that came from!IMG_5202

For the walls, I ended up going with Valspar Blue Twilight for our bedroom and Stone Mason Gray for the rest of the house (From Lowes, which I’m pretty sure we kept in business during this entire adventure!) I was very pleased with the results against the white trim and new cabinets!


Next challenge was the flooring, which we also purchased from Lowes. We ended up going with these vinyl click together planks that look like real barnwood by Shaw – which any farmhouse-look addict can definitely appreciate! We loved that they are durable, waterproof, beautiful, and not to mention – affordable! We did the entire house for about $800. DISCLAIMER** we are definitely NOT pros, and my hubby had to tear it all out a couple times and restart, but he did such a fabulous job! And we are thoroughly convinced that God created knee pads just for this job and trim to hide all the imperfections of accidentally cutting the pieces too short! 😉


Now, let’s backtrack a little so we don’t lose the effect here….
Before……

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And after! What an AMAZING difference paint, floors, trim, and cleaning can make!

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Part 3: The Staging and Decorating

One of my FAVORITE things to do after moving in is finding the perfect places to put all of my flea market finds and Hobby Lobby treasures. It’s so amazing watching a room completely come to life with hanging a picture here, adding some greenery there, and throwing in a fun rug and some accent pillows. In this case, these finishing touches were exactly what we needed to make this tiny place cute, quaint, country, and cozy! **Side note, this is usually a matter of arranging and re-arranging about ten times and adding about a hundred new nail holes until I am completely satisfied!

Part 4: The Deleted Scenes and Bloopers

I saved the best part for last with this blog, lemme tell ya! As with about any catastrophe in life, I always try to find the humor or lesson learned in each situation to make the most of it – because after all there is no such thing as perfect, there’s only reality!! So as for the things HGTV doesn’t show you about the truths of renos….you’re welcome!

 
1- When patching holes that go COMPLETELY through the drywall and even expose to the world outside, duct taping the mesh patch on the wall without correctly puttying and sanding over it is NOT how you do it….

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2- When your husband is laying the floors, do NOT point out that he cut off too much and that even though it is in the back of the closet behind all the shoe racks and hampers and closed doors and no one will ever see it, you will still always know in your heart the flaw is there. Yeah, that one doesn’t end too well!

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3- When touching up paint after the new floors and trim are installed, you might want to check and make sure you are indeed using the correct shade of paint…or your wife will yell for having to redo it herself…and DON’T tell her just to cover it up with a dresser, because she will totally bring up the messed up floor in the closet…

 

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He’s been told he’s color blind, but he doesn’t seem to think he is…
4- Painter’s Tape – the biggest lie ever.

 

 

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NOTHING about this is straight….
5- Understand that clothes WILL get ruined forever and you’ll be scraping paint off your hands in the shower for weeks.

 


6- Cleaning up first requires making even bigger messes.

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7- Never underestimate the power of using a level when hanging things.

 

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Fail.
8- Believe it or not, cabinet and furniture hardware doesn’t always come in standard 3-inch sizes, so measure first.

 

 

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Well, crap….
9- Sometimes your weatherproof tarp sticks out from your siding and you’re too frustrated to fix it. Thus the Lord invented the X-acto knife.

 

 

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I don’t know what’s funnier…the fact that we did this or the fact that we tried to paint over it to hide it better.
10- When installing a stove in a place that is too small, be prepared that your husband will probably just cut the trim off {noticeably too short} to force it to fit…

 

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11- When revamping a dresser into an adorable TV stand with convenient DVD storage because your old entertainment center won’t fit in your new house, you might want to first double check that your TV isn’t too big and will just hang off the edges.

 

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Just flipping fabulous….looks like we’re buying a mount!
12- Measure twice, cut once. Enough said. 

 

 

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Why use a ruler when you can “eyeball” it….
13- What happens to the stuff that doesn’t fit in your tiny house? It gets crammed in your husband’s shop.

 

 

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Don’t worry, he’ll have this spotless in no time so his truck can fit in here!
14- If you are lazy like us and don’t wash the brushes and rollers out to re-use, you might want to get ahead of the game and buy plenty upfront.

 

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15- No matter how much you beg and bribe your husband to hang up the new ceiling fan, it will probably sit in the shop and collect dust for weeks because he has other “priorities.”

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16- Face it. It’s nearly IMPOSSIBLE {despite your valiant efforts} to cover all the eyesores in your house and land the perfect lighting to capture perfect shots of the finished project that you would feel confident enough submitting in a magazine. So, ya might as well embrace it!

See if you can spot all the eyesores in my little I Spy game here…

 

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For example, toilet paper rolls and toothbrushes…
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Freaking flies…
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Trash cans, air conditioners, outlets/cords, and dirty dishes…
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The unpacked amazon box I tried to hide from the photos, but made it in one anyways…
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Annnndddd of course, the hubby’s hat.
 

 

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So here we are, about two weeks in to living in our new home, which we’ve nicknamed as the Little House on the Prairie. (And our new motto is, as Alan Jackson would say, it’s alright to be little bitty!) While we have to take three minute showers because our hot water heater is small enough to be a footstool and we have to walk up to the main house to do laundry and eat off TV trays because we can’t fit our washer and dryer or kitchen table in here, this place is becoming home sweet home and we are LOVING it!

 
When I reflect back through all these photos it’s almost impossible to believe we can now confidently sleep at night, cut vegetables on the countertops, or even walk around barefoot in here. It’s been a wild ride, but through it all we have definitely changed out outlook on what it means to work hard as a team and have a vision for what could be.

 
Of course, pictures are never the same as the real deal so come on over sometime, have a cup of sweet tea, chat with us about our experience, and see it for yourself! Our door is always open to friends and family! {Except those crazy mother in-laws….kidding!}

 

Chances are I’ll be sitting right here with my feet kicked up watching competitive tennis on my too-big- TV  because we don’t have Dish and our X-Box isn’t hooked up yet to play movies and stream Netflix. It will probably be this way for a while because, you know, my hubby has “other priorities.” 😉

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Tough Decisions

“Dear Mr. Bransfield…”


There I sat, blankly staring at my computer screen in my classroom with sweaty palms, trembling hands, and a heavy heart that felt like it was going to beat itself right out of my chest no matter how hard I desperately tried to hold on and told myself to just breathe.

In a matter of minutes I would be printing that letter and sealing the envelope – no, my fate – to the profession I loved so dearly and worked so hard for since I graduated high school five years ago.

I was about to officially resign my position as the agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at Niangua High School for the next school year.

And the scarier thing? I didn’t have a clue what my next move was going to be.

For weeks my husband and I talked about this after he received an amazing and unexpected job opportunity for a new line engineering position in his company that would allow us to move back home to our family and the farm over an hour away, which we’ve always wanted from Day One. As new and exciting as we knew this journey would be, it required both of us giving up the current jobs we loved and excelled at to take a new path in a new place that was well out of our comfort zones. For me it was even harder, as no other ag teaching positions were open in the area we were moving to and I didn’t know what I was going to do for income the next year.

Now if you don’t know much about Cross Timbers, Missouri, I will simply tell you this. I absolutely love love love living in this little corner of the world. However, finding good job opportunities here is hard to come by and often times requires about a 45- 60 mile commute no matter which direction you go. Welcome to Small Town, USA! (And don’t even ask what happens when you run out of milk or toilet paper…)

So, yeah. To say I was a bit stressed out is the understatement of the year.

Do I quit? Do I tough it out and stay at Niangua and drive almost an hour and a half every day one-way? Live with my grandparents in the town next to where I worked or buy a small apartment to live in just for the week? Become self-employed and pick up my photography business again? Substitute teach? Go back for my Master’s Degree? Do we start a family and I just stay at home for a while? Can we even afford that right now?

Wait, wait, I’ve got it. I’m going to make my break and audition for The Voice. Problem solved.

Or at least it would be if I could sing.…

Dang. **Back to the drawing board**

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People would stop me out and about and ask me all the time what I was going to do when they heard the news about us leaving and starting this new journey. I would just fake a smile and tell them I wasn’t sure, but was trusting it would all work out. I replied kindly and tried to hold it together, but in all honesty I just wanted to curl up in a ball on the ground and cry…because as much as I knew people meant well by asking me all these daunting questions about my future, their words also felt like daggers ripping through my chest.

Because the truth was I was completely clueless.

For weeks it was endless days and nights of deliberating at the kitchen table over dinner. Weighing pros and cons in the car on our way to the grocery store. Thought-crunching in the shower. Praying and asking God for any ounce of enlightenment while updating my resume and desperately stalking the moteachingjobs website. Dancing around like fools in our living room as we were celebrating the fact that we were packing boxes for the LAST time to move into our forever home. Holding each other and crying together in bed wondering if we made the right decision when the reality of it all finally hit and we both said our goodbyes to the co-workers that became friends and students that became the kids that weren’t ours but we claimed as our own anyways.

Yeah, it was hard, I’ll be completely real with you. And I’m pretty sure we kept the Kleenex company in business during those long weeks as I boxed up my classroom and he cleaned out his work truck and we took this giant leap of faith into The Unknown.

I’m not even sure Siri could define the perfect word for how we were feeling about this situation without having some sort of technical/robotic/psychotic breakdown trying to sort out all our thoughts and feelings.

We were no doubt riding front seat on the emotional roller coaster of Adulting and Life. Hands in the air, screaming at the top of our lungs, full-speed through all the loops and drops and turns that lay outstretched before us.

Which is kind of ridiculous considering that leaving is definitely not out of the ordinary for us. I mean, we have packed up our life and moved for our jobs literally every year since we got married three years ago, so we’re basically experts. Seriously, I should have some sort of professional certificate in cleaning rent houses, painting walls, and patching drywall. (Ugh, WHYYYY do I even bother using a hammer and a nail when we are going to just leave again in nine months and I’ll have to take it all down again…)

And as for packing boxes onto trailers and using ratchet straps? Let’s just say U-Haul ain’t got nothing on this homegirl…

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This is nothing new. We’ll be fine. We’ve quit many jobs before and have moved a million times, and it’s always worked out, we kept telling ourselves. But somehow…it was different this time. We both felt an uneasiness about not knowing what would happen next for me and what that would mean for our upcoming finances with investing in a farm and renovating a new house. But, we tried to write it off as much as possible and just keep riding on faith and gas station energy drinks.

That’s when I got the message.

Remember when I listed off all those things I considered doing with my life this next year? How ironic it is that the one thing I never considered would be the next opportunity to come knocking on my door, or in this case, popping up in my inbox?

A good friend of mine who I’ve always loved and respected as a professional in the education field informed me of an opening at her school district for a middle school math and science position that still remained unfilled for the upcoming school year, which I was very apprehensive about at first. She explained how they needed someone passionate and energetic to step up to the plate and kindly encouraged me that she felt like I would be a great fit for the job, even though it wasn’t a content area I was used to teaching and would require quite a bit of a learning curve on my end.

“Would you have any interest in applying at all? I would love to talk with you about the options!”

I about fell out of my chair.

Options?

Here I was, feeling all bitter and defeated that I was giving up a job that I really enjoyed with students I really loved to just sit at home for a year until another agriculture teaching position came open close to home – whenever and IF ever that may be. Don’t get me wrong, I completely supported my husband and was thrilled for his new adventure, but couldn’t help but feel slightly envious deep down that I didn’t have an exciting opportunity lined up to help fill the void of missing my old job and no longer contributing substantially to our income. I had given up all hope and accepted the reality that I would just have to leave the profession of teaching for a while and make my living by some other means. Then suddenly I have…options??? Options that were only FIFTEEN minutes from my doorstep for that matter???

Could I really do that? Teach something….new? Different? Hmmm…

The next day I received a phone call from another school district with similar news, asking me to consider applying for another possible job opportunity as a high school special education co-teacher.

More options? Sweet Jesus, it’s like Christmas!

So once again, my husband and I found ourselves carefully weighing the pros and cons of each position, just like all those nights before when we deliberated about whether or not he should consider his new job offer. It seemed like yet another impossible decision, as both were such great and unexpected opportunities that each came with their own set of challenges. No matter which way I went, I knew was going to have to face change.

And change is, well, scary.

Needless to say, after two interviews, one LOOOONNNNNGGGGG weekend, many sleepless nights, several phone calls to friends and family, and a rather detailed pros and cons chart later (yeah, yeah…I’m a nerd, don’t laugh…) I decided to trust my gut feeling and accept the middle school science/math position.

Now, I tell you all this not to ramble on for over 2,000 words and waste five minutes of your life reading about two complete strangers and how they’re practically driving the struggle bus off the nearest cliff. (Yes, I’ve been told I’m a bit dramatic…)

I tell it because in the aftermath of it all – through all the tears, heartbreak, excitement, and fear of the great unknown –  there were lessons learned. Lessons worth sharing because my guess is like us, YOU too have experienced your fair share of tough decisions in your own life. And if you haven’t yet? Well saddle up and get ready, because your wild ride is sure to come around someday!

So, basically there are four morals to this story worth talking about. And I’m not the most eloquent or profound writer ever, so I’ll just borrow a few quotes from the pros to summarize my general thoughts.

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#1 ~ There will come a time when you think everything is finished. That will just be the beginning. – Louis L’Amour.

I won’t lie. It got pretty dark for me there for a while after I turned my letter of resignation in. I felt like I had just signed my death sentence. I knew it was all a blessing in disguise and we were making the best decision for our future by making this big change, but I thought it was all over for me because I didn’t have a job lined up at the end of my contract with Niangua. I was really going to miss my students, the community, and all my work friends. More importantly I was going to miss the sense of belonging I had by impacting students lives every day – so much that it broke my heart and I balled like a baby every day on my way to and from work. I felt like I somehow failed when I walked away from it all, even though I obviously couldn’t control the fact that there wasn’t another job opportunity waiting for me when we moved.

But you know what?

Opportunity found its own way to me in God’s perfect timing. And the end of that chapter is just the turning of a new page for what’s coming next in my story.

I can feel it.

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#2 ~ Be willing to be a beginner every single morning. – Meister Eckhart

When my husband and I decided to make the big switch with both of our careers, we realized how overwhelmed and under-qualified we probably were, but we didn’t let that stop us from taking the risk anyway. We knew were both about to become something that we weren’t, something that we never had experience in being, and something that we would both have to work our absolute hardest to become if we were going to do it right.

Now don’t get me wrong, we are both still VERY nervous, but somehow we both know it’s going to be okay. We are willing to learn from mistakes we make today so we can be better tomorrow.

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#3 ~ The weaker we feel, the harder we lean on others. The harder we lean on others, the more we grow. – JJ Packer

Stop it.

Stop thinking that your problems are yours to face alone.

Stop  thinking that you can’t ask for help, because it’s a sign of weakness.

Stop thinking that just because you’re an adult in the real world you have to make all the big decisions yourself, because after all it is YOUR life.

Stop feeling guilty about expressing your fears and worries to others because their problems are way more complicated than your own.

Just stop.

We would have never been able to reach a rational decision that we felt good about if it wasn’t for the outpouring love, support, advice, and prayers from our loved ones and co-workers. We thankfully didn’t have to do it alone – and neither do you!

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#4 ~ The only way to know you’re making the right decision is to trust that you are. (Okay, so I really did come up with that one on my own. Go me!)

The moments leading up to calling both schools to tell them my decision were stressful, I won’t lie. I had spent so much time carefully considering all my options to make the decision that I felt was the best for me. But when I did finally decide? Suddenly I had peace of mind. It was like the fog was lifted, the void in my heart filled, and I learned how to trust fate and be bold again. I made a decision – arguably one of the most difficult ones I’ve ever had to make – and actually felt extremely confident and excited about it afterwards.

Why?

Because deep down I trusted my heart, which is ultimately always the right call.

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So as for an update on our current situation, we are both learning to simply be content right where we are in our life. We are taking this new adventure by the horns, one day at a time. We are accepting the fact that every time God closes one door in our lives, He is showing us the way to a new one that will soon be open for us to walk through. We are both learning and growing in our new professions and are excited to see where they will lead us in all our future endeavors. We realize that more challenges are ahead and more even complicated decisions are inevitably going to come our way.

That’s just life.

But no matter what happens next, we know at the end of every day we are learning and growing – together. For that, we are blessed. For that, we are thankful. For that, we are leaving it all in the hands of the Man Upstairs, because after all He’s never done us wrong before.

And for that, we are sure to conquer all the tough decisions life will throw our way for years to come.

 

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“P.S – Don’t Forget to Have Fun.”

So tonight I held the bi-yearly ritual of going through my closet.

 

Cleaning house, as they call it. Getting rid of all those tops that I’ve only worn a handful of times. Old T-shirts with stains and tattered threads that even a Pinterest T-shirt quilt couldn’t breathe new life into. Skirts that no longer fit….and dresses that I no longer wear because it would require tanning, leg lifts and calf raises, and also frequent leg-shaving. Shoes that are wore plum through the soles. (Yeah, I’ve been told I’m an avid pacer….) That cute romper my friends talked me into buying from Forever 21 – that still has the tags on it and has been stashed in the deep abyss of my wardrobe and forgotten since the day I brought it home because I literally have no idea when or where I could possibly ever rock something like that. (Let’s be real…I don’t really “go out” anymore.)

And of course, let’s not forget all those things that almost didn’t make the cut the last time I went through my closet, because I felt like they were staring into my soul and begging for a second chance as I was bagging them up for the next yard sale so I quickly snatched them back, shoved them in my closet, and slammed the doors shut before I could change my mind about it. (Whew, that was a close one…)

Yeah, you guessed it. I STILL haven’t worn them… #Here’sToRoundTwo…OrMaybeFive

As all these things were being stripped off the hanger one by one and chucked left and right all across the bedroom floor, my clumsiness and utter lack of coordination caused me to pull the ENTIRE rod down, letting ALL my clothes tumble to the floor and make an even bigger mess – and also, naturally, whack me on top of the noggin.

Nice one, slick.

Now, please understand something. This is a crisis for the girl whose entire wardrobe is all-things color coordinated and arranged according to sleeve-length.

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Wasn’t kidding…

Which brings me to another valid tangent…why in the world do they call it OCD if the letters aren’t even in alphabetical order? STU-to-the-PID.

But I digress…

So in the midst of all this I stand up to take care of this newfound dilemma and lo and behold there it is, on the overhead shelf, concealed behind stacks of hoodies and blanket scarves – that I should probably also go through.

My high school keepsake box. (Dunnn dunn dunnnnnn….)

Thinking the mess could wait for a little detour trip through memory lane, I reach – no, more like excessively strain on my tippy toes because my 6’2” husband wasn’t home yet – to pull it down from the shelf.

Dust bunnies? Seriously? I mean, I haven’t been out THAT long……have I? How rude.

So I wipe the gray fuzz away with my sleeve and open up this box to find some long-forgotten artifacts of the life I lived before college tuition statements, electric bills, car loans, resumes, cover letters, and W-2 forms.

Amidst all all the hilarious letters my friends and I used to pass in class, yearbooks that conceal some pretty embarrassing junior high headshots, certificates for my nerdy-ness and dedication to FFA and dance team, leftover senior pictures, my valedictorian speech (**Face palm** sweet Jesus, did I really say all of that corny “Don’t forget about me and I won’t forget about you” crap in front of everyone???) and my fifteen-sizes-too-big cap and gown, there was one thing that made me freeze right in my tracks.

A graduation card – written by one of my favorite teachers ever – which was given along with a College Survival Guide that really did offer some comfort during all those late night study sessions, tears, and finals.

While I am undeniably grateful for everyone who watched me walk across that stage with pride to receive my diploma (without tripping, I might add!) and took the time to fill out hundreds of cards full of “Congratulations!” And “You’re going to do amazing things!” this was the one graduation card that I decided to keep out of all the others. It wasn’t the fact that it was Hallmark’s fanciest piece of work. In fact, it was fairly simple cardstock engraved with a plain Jane script.

It was what was hand-written on the inside that convinced me to tuck it away, with the premonition that I would one day need to read it again. And believe me when I say this – I needed to read it then just as much as I needed to read it tonight.

“P.S – Don’t forget to have fun.”

I know. Pretty deep, right?

So here I am, sitting in the middle of my bedroom floor, clothes still strewn out everywhere, with a complimentary goose egg on my head reading these words.

Is it possible to have a mid-life crisis at 23? A mid-mid-life crisis, perhaps?

Kidding…

But there was a slight epiphany or “lightbulb flicker”. And I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a concussion.

So…yeah. Confession  #4,576. Sometimes I forget to have fun. I get too absorbed in conquering my extensive to-do lists, bottomless schedules, endless bills, and even those stupid dust bunnies on top of my closet shelf that I forget to take in the moments that really do matter and make the most of all the blessings I’ve been given.

I am alive and healthy today. Check.

I have a job. Check.

I have faith. Check.

I have friends, family, and a great husband. Check.

I have a roof over my head and food in my refrigerator. Check.

I have coffee, sweatpants, and Netflix. Check, check, check.

Annnnnddddd I have Best Choice frozen peas to ice this bump on my head. We’ll put a special check mark next to that one.

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When I look back on the past five years of my life since I received that graduation card, there’s nothing that alarms me too much. I mean, I’ve never robbed a bank or anything and I’m pretty sure last time I checked there’s not a warrant out for my arrest, so I must have done at least that much right. There’s been a lot of good times in my life followed by some not-so-good times. I’m definitely no mathematician, but if I were to calculate it all up I would say my laughs to tears ratio is relatively normal for a young becoming-of-age woman.

However…

There have also been numerous times when my stress, fears, and overloaded schedule compromised what could have been some pretty awesome opportunities and memories. Some of which could have probably been added to that keepsake box…or even started a new one by now.

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Seriously. Don’t be Grumpy Cat. Don’t be that guy.

I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer here and dwell too much on the “Could’ve, would’ve, should’ves” of my past, but I will say that I would have said “yes” a little more. (Relax, I’m not talking about drugs or rides in sketchy vans here…)

I would’ve taken that chance when I was asked if I wanted to join Sigma Alpha in college. Ate out with those girls after late night Friday class instead of going home to an empty apartment because my roommates were already homebound for the weekend. Studied abroad one more time – but this time in Costa Rica. Ripped the tags off that romper for a fun night out with my best friends that I never hardly see anymore – but said I had housework and lesson plans to get caught up on instead. Visited my favorite sunday school teacher in the nursing home I drove past every day on my way to and from work just one more time before she passed away and was gone forever. Sang karaoke at the state fair when invited to the stage by a complete stranger, just because I secretly like to sing. (If you ask my shampoo bottle, I’m not half bad…)

Yeah, buddy. All this from a five year old graduation card in a forgotten, dusty box…

So take it from the girl who is 99.9% pretty sure the Energizer Bunny is her spirit animal. When life gets a little crazy? Slowwwww. Dowwwnnnnn. Learn to let it go and let it be. Make time, even when there’s not much left at the end of a long, hard day or week. Go out with your friends. Wear that romper. Try out for that part in that play. Get that edgy haircut. Jump out of that plane (with a fully-functioning parachute, of course…) Turn off the T.V and break out that Monopoly board with your family. Date your husband or wife. Let your hair down. Take a drive. Take a vacation. Do anything you gotta do to smell the roses, or whatever.

Oh, yeah. One more thing…have a little fun, will ya?

 

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13 Things Playing the Piano Has Taught Me About Life

Tonight I sat down at the piano and just…played.

Not for fame. Not for Facebook likes or YouTube views. Not for a Sunday School worship service or ladies quartet special at my church, which I’ve been playing for for about eight years now.

Not for anyone…but me.

Mind you, I do not get this luxury very often. Between juggling lesson plans, grades, FFA activities, parent teacher conferences, professional development days, an hour commute, dirty laundry, bills, and the dishes from last night’s dinner this doesn’t really leave me with much “play time” to my crazy days anymore.

But something amazing happened tonight. As I sat down at the bench, slid open the fallboard, and my fingertips started dancing on ivory and ebony, I was taken back. Back to the days of do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do. To the days of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” To the days of learning the power of hold and release of the sostenuto pedal and how to correctly place my hands. To the days of memorizing the treble clef scale by the acronyms “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge” and “F-A-C-E.” To the days where I first learned to play piano at twelve years old.

And it got me thinking about all the things I’ve learned from one childhood hobby that became one of the greatest blessings and saving graces in my entire life so far.

I’m sure if I thought about it even harder I could come up with way more than just thirteen, but this is what I scribbled down on a notebook so far…

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1 – Success takes time and effort.

Every now and then we get a guest speaker at church who leads a sermon if our regular pastor has to be gone. Usually, this person is one of our missionaries that only visits once a year with their beautiful wife and twelve children. (Kidding…but only about the twelve kids part, not the beautiful wife, just to clarify.) As if all the fancy brochures, PowerPoint presentations, and polaroids of their family camping on the beaches of Puerto Rico, feeding the malnourished children in Africa, or holding a baby kangaroo on an Australian safari isn’t enough icing on the cake, lo and behold, one of them just so happens to be a piano playing and singing prodigy. So, essentially what happens is I get a day off to sit back for a change and listen to someone else play – and it’s so show stopping and jaw dropping that I sink down in the pew utterly mortified in my own ability and solemnly swear I’ll never touch the keyboard again for as long as I live.

Because there’s no way on earth I’ll ever be that good.

Seriously. It’s like Keeping Up With the Modern-Day Beethovens and Mozarts. But then I have to stop and think of where they began and how they got to where they are today and remind myself that I have just as much potential, if I want it bad enough. I know it’s cliche, but whoever first said that practice makes perfect really knew what he or she was talking about. Because afterall, the only way to ever master anything in life is through trial and error, failure and triumph, and a dedication to keep on keepin’ on through it all.

Oh yeah, and also by not comparing yourself to others all the time.

2 – Never underestimate the power of “The Rest”.

This may sound redundant, as I have blogged on this before…but…there’s something to be said about pausing in life, if even for half a beat. We often fear the pause because it challenges us to give up all control and just be still in the moment we are in, but if we follow through it refreshes us just long enough to land that next note perfectly.

3 – Sometimes you’re the melody, sometimes you’re the harmony.

You will have Your Days. You know, where it’s your turn to be in the spotlight and carry the main tune that everyone recognizes. Like on your high school or college graduation. Your birthday. When you land that big promotion or win that award. Walking down the aisle on your wedding day. Announcing your pregnancy or gender reveal to family and friends with all things silly string, glitter, and colored balloons.

But sometimes, it’s your turn to be in the background while someone else takes the main lead. You will find yourself doing a lot of behind the scenes work or playing the accenting chords that are less noticed, but yet are still very necessary to the overall song.

Just remember your solo is coming some day.

4 – Be bold.

Until just about a year ago I utterly AVOIDED playing any songs in the hymnal that had two sharps, five flats, or several arpeggios. (For those of you are musically challenged and secretly trying to Google search this right now…this is code for songs and notes that are VERY. VERY. HARD.) I was afraid of failing and messing up in front of the people who loved me the most – which is ridiculous for the sole fact that they are the people who love me the most. So, I skipped them. Found easier songs. Stuck to the familiar.

But here’s the problem…for all those years I sure missed out on a lot of beautiful songs because I wasn’t willing to take that risk.

Never again.

5 – Just keep going.

Ugh, nothing cooks my grits or embarrasses me more than missing a chord or hitting the wrong key and it suspending loud through the sound system for all to hear.

Happens. All. The. Time. Take for example, last Sunday, when I completely skipped an ENTIRE line of “Victory in Jesus.”

Now, a younger twelve year old version of myself would have stopped immediately, apologized to the entire congregation, and made everyone restart the entire verse over again until I got it right. No, perfect.

But here’s what happened instead because I have since lived and learned.

I just laughed it off and kept playing.

And you know what? Nobody noticed, because everyone was focused on worshipping Him – as it should be – and not criticizing me. I think I could use a bit of this wisdom in other areas of my life as well.

6. Just listen…

Sometimes I play in the dark with the lights completely off. Or I close my eyes. This is partially because I get bored when I’m home alone and find funny piano challenges on the Internet, but it’s mainly because I can’t look at my hands to be sure I’m playing everything right. I can’t see the notes or read the words to sing. I can only listen…and feel…and then something amazing happens. The music just flows from my heart and guides me through the rest of the song.

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7. You’re never too old/too young to learn.

I read an article the other day about an 83 year old man who started taking piano lessons for the first time ever in his life after his wife passed away, with no former musical interests or experiences. I also read that Mozart began composing music when he was just three years old.

So…to answer your question about whether or not you should take a chance and do all the things you’ve always wanted to do because of your age – um, yeah. You should totally do them, regardless of what statistics show or society thinks. Life’s too short to sell yourself short.

8. Raise your voice.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good accompaniment without vocals every now and then, with nothing but instrumentals. But I am going to counteract my former statement from above in  Number 6 for a second just to say that when nothing makes sense, when you’re not sure where to go or what to do, when you stand for something you believe in with your entire being, when you are in the deepest dumps or are on the highest mountains – raise your voice. Not in chaos. Not in disrespect. Not in burning flags, vandalizing private property, or name calling.

But in song. In harmony. I think you’ll find that more people will hear you that way.

9. Use your talents for the greater good.

I’ll never forget the day my piano teacher came to me and said that she was moving away and getting married. I was not only scared of losing a great friend, but I was also terrified…because that meant that I was now the new pianist for our church. I was in junior high and was anything and everything short of an expert, especially compared to her. I had really only been playing for about four years and pretty much only knew how to play “Jesus Loves Me” and “Amazing Grace.”

But the opportunity to use a God-given talent for the purpose of honoring and glorifying Him in song by showing leadership in my church turned out to yield one of the greatest blessings in my life, and before I knew it I was learning new hymns left and right.

10. Rhythm counts.

I don’t think there’s anything more annoying than a metronome…and yes, I have watched Peppa Pig before…

Life ticks away, one beat at a time. You never slow it down, and you can’t exactly speed it up either. But what you can do is learn to pace yourself in order to get some flow…some rhythm. When things get crazy and every day blurs into the next, learn to slow yourself down so you don’t skip over any notes. If every day is a drag and you’re constantly bored, learn to pick up the pace so you don’t miss a beat and get left behind. (Also, we should probably do a Freaky Friday thing and swap lives so maybe I can get some of my sanity I had before I became a teacher…just kidding and I am ordering my metronome off Amazon right now as we speak…)

11. You can always find your way back to “The Middle C”.

Ah, the Middle C. I call it Home Key. The center key of the piano, where every beginner player learns to read notes and translate chords from. It’s the starting point for almost every song, and quite arguably the most recognizable key of them all. But sometimes we have to leave the Middle C….branch out a little and hit those really high or really low octaves if we want to really make some music and find our full potential.

This sort of translates into becoming of age. Leaving home. Finding your own place in this big old world. Sure, it’s always scary at first…but you know why they call it the Middle C??

Because no matter what, you can always find your way back to where you started – because it’s the center of everything.

12. Collaborate.

I love me a good piano solo. I’m talking Adele or some classic Stevie Wonder. Absolutely beautiful. But…

Have you ever heard a violin duet with a piano? An organ? A guitar? An entire choir  or orchestra?

That, my friends, is what you call music. Everyone – of different walks of life, of different experiences, of different styles – harmonizing together in one song.

13. Remember you’re not the only key on the keyboard.

88 keys.

52 white, 36 black, all different sounds.

1 instrument.

Infinite potential.

If I could rephrase this to say anything else worth saying at all, I would tell you this.

There are 7.4 billion people

With all different nationalities, races, beliefs, etc…

In this 1 world

And I believe that there is still hope for us, if we can figure out how to make it happen together.

**Insert mic drop.**

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