Monday, November 28, 2011

What I did this Thanksgiving

In the spirit of my last post, I enthusiastically said, "yes" when my mom asked me if I would be willing to answer phones at the Families Helping Families charity phone bank on Thanksgiving Day. My family celebrates Thanksgiving on Friday (to accommodate my unpredictable work schedule and my sister-in-law's family dinner), so giving back felt like the perfect way to spend the holiday.

While the rest of the country was loafing around their houses watching football and enjoying their turkey coma, this is what I was doing:

Amazing, right?

I work in television and have been on television enough times for this to not be that big of a deal for me, yet something about being sandwiched in between my parents answering phones on local TV completely tickled me and I could not keep it together.

I blame my dad, who screwed up the name of the charity every time he answered the phones, "Family Helping Families? Helloooooo?" Or when he asked me, "Do you think we look fat on TV?" right before the reporter went on air.

Regardless, when people ask me how I spent the Thanksgiving holidays, instead of just saying, "I ate too much," I can say, "I ate too much and I was on the local news answering phones and helping people!"

Hope you all had a great holiday! If you are in the Columbia area and would like to adopt a family, you can do so here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Gratitude. Just Do It.

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” – Meister Eckhart

When I was growing up, anytime my brother or I whined to our parents that we didn't want to do something, they usually responded with some variation of, "Do it anyway."

"I don't wannnnnna clean my room." I don't care. Clean it anyway.

"I don't wannnnnna do my homework." I know. Do it anyway.

"I don't wannnnnna take a shower." That's gross, Stephanie. Take one anyway.

It's not that they didn't care about what my brother and I wanted, or weren't sympathetic to our desires. They just hated whining. In life, there are plenty of unpleasant things that we're not going to want to do -- work, pay taxes, go to the DMV; whether or not we want to do them is inconsequential because we have to. This unfortunate reality was one my mom and dad wanted us to learn about at a young age.

Do (insert undesirable activity) anyway. Because you have to. Because we said so.

Thanks to them, expressing gratitude for the many blessings in my life has come very naturally for me. Thanking the military for their service and making a list of the things I am most thankful for were just two of the gratitude-related activities I participated in on my journey to turning 30; neither was all that hard. Seeing the good all around me and feeling thankful for it was easy. Life was easy.

That's what Thanksgiving is all about; gathering with family and friends and saying "thank you" for all of the year's blessings. But lately life hasn't felt so easy; this year has presented challenges that have left me feeling lost, uncertain, and at times, very sad. For the first time in my life, feeling thankful feels like a really difficult thing to do. As embarrassing as it sounds, I want to channel my inner 8-year old, and scream, "I don't wannnnnna give thanks. I just don’t feel like it!”

I haven't discussed these feelings with them, but I'll bet if I did, my parents would probably turn on the same voice they did when I was a child and say to me, "I'm sorry you feel that way. Be thankful anyway. You have to."

Because despite the challenges I've faced this year, I do have many blessings to be thankful for. A supportive family, loyal (and hilarious) friends, a challenging job, the greatest pair of jeans that I've ever owned. Life IS good, even though sometimes (right now especially) it feels really bad.

Earlier this year, I began reading a food blog by a New York based food writer named Jennie. She's witty, smart and cooks beautiful food that I long to eat and could only hope to recreate.

In August, Jennie's husband Mikey died unexpectedly, leaving her a young widow and a solo parent to two young daughters. In a recent post, she wrote about how she was feeling leading up to her first Thanksgiving without her beloved:

As we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, instead of focusing on what we have lost, I will remind the girls of everything that enriches our lives. I will remind them to be thankful for the new warm blankets we just bought, for the apartment we now call home, for the love of friends and family.

Jennie's ability to mourn her husband while also recognizing how blessed she and her daughters are for the time they spent with Mikey reminds me that feeling sad and feeling hopeful are not mutually exclusive. I may feel like crying this Thanksgiving, but I know I'll probably laugh a lot too, and for that I am extremely thankful.

If Jennie can find a way to be grateful for things this Thanksgiving, then so can I. Even though lately I haven't really felt like it.

So here I go, starting small.

Thank you, homeless man in the Target parking lot who whistled at me when I was wearing no makeup and yoga pants. You clearly saw beauty where most people see none, and I appreciate it.

Thank you, co-worker who said I was so funny I should be on Saturday Night Live. Honestly, best compliment ever.

Thank you, Bravo, for recognizing the genius of Andy Cohen and extending his show, Watch What Happens Live, to five days instead of just two. I suspect my productivity might plummet, but I will be highly entertained, so I really don't care.

Indeed, there is much joy in my life; finding it has just been a bit more challenging this year.

I would love to hear what you're thankful for this year, no matter how big or small.

Have a very blessed and Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wardrobe Crisis

My roots are with the Gamecocks . . .

My degree is from Georgia (and I'm a proud Bulldog through and through) . . .

But my wardrobe, as much I hate to say it, is Auburn. All the way.

This insane springtime ensemble that I sported yesterday got a lot of attention (and not necessarily the good kind). It wasn't for lack of trying -- I pride myself on being able to dress myself pretty well most of the time. But thanks to the abnormally warm weather in Atlanta and the uncomfortably warm temperatures in my office, I'm finding it more and more difficult to get dressed. My legs and arms are pale and no one should be subjected to seeing that. Still, it's 78 degrees outside and 85 degrees at my desk.

Suggestions welcome.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Funeral Set Ups

A few weeks ago, I went home to South Carolina for a funeral for an old family friend. Randy was the first boy I ever liked and the first boy I ever kissed (in a hotel room while our parents partied in the room next door). His death, at age 33, was a shock; thinking of the grief his family was suffering was devastating for my family and me.

"Death is just so final," my mom said on the phone. "One minute he was here, the next minute he's gone."

I made plans to attend, but I dreaded the funeral, knowing how terribly sad it would be to see so many other young people all grieving for Randy's untimely death. All funerals are sad, but even more so, I find, when the person dies so unexpectedly and so early in their life. My heart ached for those closest to him, especially his mom and sister.

The morning of the funeral, I woke up in my bed at my parents’ house with a lump in my throat. I showered and went downstairs with wet hair to retrieve something from my mother.

"How are you going to wear your hair?," she asked me as I turned to leave.

I chuckled, and paused, looking at her inquisitively. Our house had been abnormally melancholy that morning; her question came completely out of left field.

"Well I don't know. I hadn't really thought about it*."

(*it = how I'm going to wear my hair to this super sad, horribly unexpected FUNERAL.)

"Straight, I guess,” I said, while shrugging my shoulders. “It takes me less time."

She looked at me with disappointment in her eyes, and then cocked her head to the side.

"I really think you should wear it curly. It looks so much better curly."

Perhaps I was distracted by the HORRIBLY SAD FUNERAL that we were about to attend, or maybe I knew what she was saying was right, and that my hair does look better curly; regardless, I didn't protest. I had no energy to fight with her. As I walked back to my own room to do exactly what she wanted me to, I mumbled under my breath, "I don't know why it matters, but alright."

Not until I had completed curling half of my hair to my mother's liking did it occur to me why she'd strongly advised me to wear it this way. The unfortunate thing about a young person's funeral (and I have attended far too many in my life), is that they are full of other young (and possibly single!) people. And seemingly in my mother's eyes, this was reason to wear my hair curly.

When I was ready and returned downstairs, I joked with my dad, "Hey, did you hear mom tell me to curl my hair? I think she's hoping I'll meet someone at this funeral."

My dad laughed, but when my mom learned about my theory, she was not amused.

She'll tell you, like she did that day, that this was not the reason for the hair comment at all, and that I am, in fact, projecting my own ideas onto her.

"It makes a good story when you tell it the way YOU tell it," she said, accusing me of exaggerating for the sake of the blog (Who, me?).

But need I remind you that this is the woman who, of all the new things I did during my 30th year, got the most bent out of shape over me not wearing makeup to work? I'll rest my case.

Maybe her intention wasn't to set me up someone, but she always wants me to look my best, and my best, in her opinion, is with curly hair.

No, much to my surprise, and chagrin, it turns out it was my dad who actually attempted to pair me off. At a funeral.

My parents helped host a reception following the service at a neighbor's home so that friends could visit with Randy's family. My brother and I followed our parents there and stayed for a while, before leaving to return to our respective cities.

On my way back to Atlanta, I checked in with my mom and dad to find out how the rest of the day went. I spoke to my dad first, then my mom. In the middle of my conversation with my mother, I could hear my dad speaking loudly in the background.

"Let me have the phone back before you hang up," he said to my mom who was still trying to talk to me. "I need to ask her if she knows . . ."

When my mom, clearly annoyed at this point, handed my father his phone back, my dad sounded almost excited as he said, "Steph. Do you know Mike Morris**?"

(**Name has been changed to protect the very blindsided, very innocent person in this scenario)

The name sounded familiar, but I couldn't remember ever meeting him.

"No, I don't think I know Mike Morris. Who is he?"

"Well," he sounded almost excited at his point. All of his sentences were coming on top of each other and he barely paused for a breath.

"He is a very nice young man. He knew Randy in college. Now he works and lives in Atlanta. He does a job similar to yours. Likes music. Listens to Phish. Says he likes Atlanta but is looking for a change. I showed him your picture but he didn't recognize you."

I almost ran off the road. I had been amused that my dad struck up a conversation with this 30-something year old guy at a funeral reception and had liked him enough to mention me. But a picture? Is he serious?

"You showed him my picture? Are you serious? What picture?" (I know, does it matter what picture? Yes, in fact, it does. The whole thing is humiliating regardless, but the picture DOES matter.)

The picture was one my dad had taken that morning on his new cell phone. At least my hair was curly!

I was mildly annoyed at what he'd done, but in the context of the day, the whole thing seemed pretty insignificant and silly. I knew I'd be sharing this story to anyone who would listen. I thanked my dad for again supplying me with fabulous blog material, but before we hung up the phone, I strongly advised against him ever doing this again.

As I continued driving, I tried to picture how the whole scene played out.

What was this poor guy supposed to say to my over-eager dad goofily smiling, proudly holding his little girl's picture on his phone in hopes of making a love connection?

"Dude, your daughter's smoking hot and I'd totally like to hook up with her. Can you give me her number?"

"Your daughter is hideous and disgusting and not at all my type. No thanks, bro."

Poor Mike Morris -- he had to have felt trapped and in a no-win situation. I hope he found a quick exit and that this conversation gave him the levity we all needed on an emotional day.

Randy's untimely death has made me think about a lot of things -- life, death, and thanks to my parents, the importance of always looking my best.

Because you really never know when or where you'll meet people, or in my case, when your dad is going to whip out his cell phone and show your picture to random unsuspecting strangers grieving the loss of their friend.