Something That Makes Me Feel Better

Music. I did a whole post on how much I love music.

One of my older cousins used to have an amazing CD collection. I aspired to have as much music as she did, when I was younger. I used to go to her house and sit for hours just listening to her records. Hearing "Sumthin' Wicked This Way Comes" by TLC made me fall in love with music. I can't tell you what it was, but I distinctly remember that moment, on my cousin's couch, reading the liner notes and lyrics (ya'll remember when artists gave a sh*t and put lyrics in their liner notes?). SWTWC was the last song on the album, but by the end of Andre 3000's verse, I was in love. Without fail, music makes me feel better every time. I don't care if it's a song that is slow or fast. I don't care about the genre (for the most part). Music does it to me every. time.

Sometimes music says something for me in a way I'd been trying to, but couldn't. Sometimes I hear song lyrics that perfectly describe my feelings and I had no idea I was feeling that way. I love it when a song reminds me of a good moment in time and even the songs that remind me of less than stellar times are good to me. I love how I can be in one place and hear a song that acts like a time machine and takes me to another place.

On Day 1 I mentioned how J and I used to use music to communicate with each other. I have CDs upon CDs upon CDs that I made for him or he made for me. Sometimes it gets hard for me to put into words what I'm feeling, good or bad, and it's always nice to be able to send someone a song and say "here. listen to this."

I'm always amused when I peep someone else doing it. I've definitely been in the car on multiple occasions with many couples who had entire conversations using the radio in the car!

I love using music as markers in my life. Destiny Child's first album (which is self-titled) reminds me of the move my mom and I made when I was 14 because I would bring that CD with me and sit in what was to be my new room while she did work on the house. When I hear "No More Rain in This Cloud" by Angie Stone, I think of my first year at a new school. Hearing just about anything by Helen Baylor or Michael Bolton from the early 90s makes me think of trips to AL to see family.

I love making my own ringtones out of what I'm listening to and assigning them to friends based on what makes me think of them. Sometimes it's ironic, other times it's on point.

Music isn't far from me at any given moment and I rely on it to get me through most days. Some folks use drugs or alcohol; they ride a bike or swim; they write (which I do as well) or sing; I listen to music to get away from what's happening right now and to feel better.


Something That Upsets Me

I hate being taken advantage of.

The only thing I hate more than that is someone I care about taking advantage of me.

It's unfortunate that I hate that so much because it happens all the time.

It upsets me so much because of how giving I am of myself and my time. It's so important to me that those around me -- the ones I care about -- know that if I have it, they have it. Unfortunately, people see that and they think it's a free for all. My generosity isn't going anywhere but some people act like if they don't take it all right now they won't get any, and they keep taking and taking and...

But you know what, I keep giving and giving. I got so fed up with the cycle that I wrote an open letter to my friends a few months ago.

Some things changed, but not enough. I have a tendency to put all that back on myself. I see how I put myself in a position to be used and I critique my own decisions and I come to the conclusion that hey -- if I want things to be different, I need to make different decisions. I'm sure a lot of you agree with that.

But you know what? That's bullshit. It's true, but it's some unfortunate bullshit all the same. Why do I have to be careful? Huh? Why can't these people around me pause for a second and say...hey...wait a minute... Ashley is ALWAYS giving and on point and there for me so why can't I press pause and be appreciative instead of expectant? Thankful instead of needy? I begin to feel like that's the only way I can be in some folks life -- if I'm doing something for them. Oh, I know the right answer: if they only want me around because I can do things for them, then I need to keep on moving. Uh-huh. Yeah. I got it, but it's how I feel all the same.

I guess just like it is me to be giving, it is some people to be selfish.

In any case, that's what upsets me. Being taken advantaged of. Knowing that a person is only interacting with me because they need something and, going a little bit further, almost being unable to stop myself from giving them exactly what they want. And let me be clear -- sometimes folks can feel that I'm getting frustrated so they pull back. Ashley's getting mad, so I won't ask her to do this -- that's not it. It's the lack of appreciation shown and the expectation that just because you asked me to do something I will.

I have finals coming up and any free time I can find, I need -- but I will use that spare time to do anything a friend needs me to and do so gladly when that friend is appreciative and I know that if the tables were turned, they'd do the same for me.

Taking advantage of someone or something has a lot of moving parts and I'm painfully aware of them all because that upsets me.


Another Moment

I stress over the topics like this. I want to give you guys good pieces into who I am by giving you good moments in my life that I think are integral to who I am in this time of my life. I have so many moments that it's hard to pick just one. However I think I've settled on a good one...

When I was a teen, church, specifically my youth group, was a big part of my life. I loved going to church and spending time with my friends in the youth group. We were really like family. Our youth pastor, his wife and the other adults that worked with us purposefully had us participate in activities that were intended to force us to grow as a unit. One body. I learned SO MUCH about myself in those 6 years; lessons I use to this day and I'm eternally grateful for that time.

However, I suffered from the same conflicted feelings in that group that I did in many of my friend groups at that time in my life (and sometimes do even now). I felt outside of everything. like I toed the line of being on the outside looking in all the time. It was like I was just window shopping or a voyeur in my own life and in my own relationships. It's an odd feeling, for sure. These feelings ran right up against knowing that my youth group liked me. I was always included in outings outside of church activities and a few of them even called me frequently for advice or just to talk (I told someone recently, I've been a counselor all my life...).

Every year our youth group spent a week at camp. Camp was always intense, lots of bible study but lots of team building activities. We were with each other 24 hours a day from midday Monday to midday Saturday and all of our weeks culminated with a night spent sharing what the week had meant to us. Each year the how of sharing differed. The 4th year we went to camp, I was a junior in high school and most of the folks in the group that I'd grown up with were seniors and preparing to graduate. The year had also been a hard one for me -- I was beginning to feel especially outside of everything -- all that teen angst was really hitting its peak and I'd even begun to have conflict with some of the adults working with our youth group -- this was a major thing because I was the only teen the adults included in on some private meetings/information.

Bracelets were a big deal in our group. At one point I think I had 3-4 bracelets all signifying various ways I was dedicated to the youth group. The way they decided we would express what camp had meant to us that year would be to give each other beads for our bracelet. We were given 7 beads and we had to give one bead to the 7 people who helped us through camp the most. There being 30+ teens on the trip, and with the sorts of all-hands-on-deck activities we participated in, it was absolutely numbing to think I'd have to only peg 7 people who helped me the most. In the back of my mind, I was also anticipating how many beads I might get -- I felt like if I got 5, I'd be happy.

As we all walked around a small room giving each other beads, I took beads from friends and shoved them in my pocket. I was amazed at the things people told me I did that helped them that week. Little things that I didn't remember doing or felt like anyone would have done really spoke to people. Some people were more broad and commented on how I'd helped them the entire time they'd been in the group while other people could specify the very moment. I was absolutely shocked at how many people noticed me.

At the end of the night, I pulled the beads out of my pocket and counted 17. Over half of the group felt like I was one of 7 people who helped them significantly in some way. I really was touched and so thankful. That moment did a lot for me on a personal level and really made me want to go out and a)continue to do those little things that I think most people never notice I do and b)be more cognizant of those who do those little things for me.

I've had moments similar to then, since. Many moments, in fact. But that was my first time and it really changed a lot for me in terms of my expectations of others and of myself. I love for knowing that I've been a positive impact on someone -- even when they don't say it to me directly, it does something to know that my existence made someone else's existence better. However, I also get a real kick out of doing things for people that they never notice. I really just love knowing the people I care about are being cared for. Ya dig? ;)

This Month

This month has been crazy. I can't even remember it. I can't believe today is even Thanksgiving. I've had papers out the wazoo this month, the election was in the early part of this month and I've been doing a lot of prepping for next semester, it's just been a whirlwind!

I can't even adequately recount this month, that's how fast it seems to have gone by. I have so much on my plate and no time to get it done. I'm confused about my feelings for someone (oh boy, did I say that out loud? Uhh...ok... ) and I'm going to die if I don't get a break from life soon. I'm scared about what my practicum will bring next semester, but scared in a good way.

Too, in this month, I've grown closer to some new friends, feel like I've strengthened bonds with other friends (and further in limbo with yet other friends). I'm closer to that Master's than I was this time last month, I'm even more sure that counseling is the perfect field for me and as stressed as I am, I'm loving the experience I'm gaining.

That's this month. 5 more days until it's over and then it's my birthday month!


Something I Regret

I saw someone on twitter talking about how they didn't regret anything they had done. I mean this is just like the "if you could go back and change anything, what would it be..."

The right answer, of course, is "nothing, my mistakes make me who I am..." and that's a great answer. It's true, we learn from our mistakes and they got us to where we are, but does no one ever stop and wonder where else they might be? Not that where you are is bad, or that you could be anywhere better, but just... different? No one?

Just because you regret a decision doesn't mean you made a mistake and sometimes because you made a mistake doesn't mean you regret doing it.

There are 3 things I regret almost equally, and they all revolve around the same lesson (I really believe life gives you the test before the lesson and continues to test you until you pass it -- a developmental theory I'm now familiar with suggests that you experience the same things repeatedly, just a higher and higher levels of understanding...): telling people how you feel before it's too late.

In 2008 an uncle died. I hadn't seen him in years upon years, but he lived in the same city as my mom. While I was in college, he was found in his house unconscious. He'd fallen into a diabetic coma and they believed he'd been that way for 3 days, at least. He regained consciousness, but had some brain damage (the brain was swollen for 3 days and pushing against the skull resulted in damage). He didn't know who anyone was and he didn't know what had happened to him. A few weeks after he regained consciousness my mom, her brothers and his kids decided to put him in a nursing home until he got well enough to go back home. While I was home for Spring Break that year, my mom asked if I wanted to go to the nursing home to visit him. I hate nursing homes. Hate. So I asked my mom how he was doing -- she assured me he was fine and getting better every day. I decided not to go.

The next week, my uncle died. Did I have anything to tell him? No -- but it would've been nice to see him one last time.

In 2009, J committed suicide. As I mentioned in some of the posts I did after his death, there were things I really wanted to say to him and never got the chance. There have been, continue to be and I anticipate will be days where I think that had he known the things I wanted to tell him he might still be here. I know it's not my fault, I don't ever think that, but I can't help but wonder what if -- what might be different right now if I'd gotten over myself and expressed my feelings...

In 2010, the uncle that I talked about on my blog got sick and died. My mom used to hassle me everytime I was home about going downstairs to spend time with him. He worked all the time and so when I would be up, he'd be at work and when he got home I usually would be out. That's not to say I had no opportunities to see him -- I did and I didn't take them. There were lots of things I would've loved to have heard him tell me about, like how he started his business and what it was like to be a business owner. I did, however, see him when he first went into the hospital when he was still doing ok, before the surgery. It was eerie seeing him in the casket at his funeral because he'd lost a lot of weight after his surgery.

It's easy to hear the lesson of recognizing that life is precious in these -- and that is an important lesson; however what I keep being reminded of is how important it is to let those around me know how I feel about them. To take advantage of time I have with people I care about. Ironically I sometimes get so focused on making those brief moments be everything they can that I miss out on the moment! I'm trying to work on that too. Being fully present for everything I experience isn't as easy as it sounds, but I am trying.

I regret plenty of things, but I learn from those regrets and ideally I wouldn't repeat those mistakes. I don't think it's a bad thing to have regrets. It means you're looking for those life lessons and learning from them. I love self-aware people, they are the best! It's not easy being self-aware; it requires un-fun conversations with yourself and sometimes people you really care about but personal growth is everything!


My Favorite Birthday

My birthday is December 30th. 5 days after Christmas, the day before New Year's Eve. Many people forget it. Folks always remember it's after Christmas and before New Year's, but that's about it. Over the years, I've learned to just be happy that someone remembered to reach out to me in that 5 day period, but I'm always tickled pink when someone makes it a point to remember me on that day.

Because I'm so close to the holidays, birthday parties have been few and far between. The other thing is I've always had a mixed bag of friends and always worried how a large party where they were all there would work. I always felt like I'd be so stressed trying to make sure everyone else had a good time that I wouldn't have a good time.

I have a lot of birthday memories. As far as parties go, the only one I remember is the one I had when I was 9. Mom rented out a skating rink, invited family and friends and I had a blast, even though my skating skills were questionable at best. ;)

The year I turned 16, I got my license on my birthday, that was cool. The next year, I missed curfew on my birthday and got in some serious trouble. J and I got back together on my 19th birthday; that was memorable...

But my favorite birthday??

Probably my 18th birthday. One of my closest friends from high school threw me a party at her lake house. Old friends from high school and new friends from college showed up. It was maybe the most dramatic party ever. Everyone there was underage, but we managed to score some alcohol (the skills you learn in college are amazing) and I spent the whole night finding the "swirly zone" as I labeled it. By the time I did that, I heard some arguing going on in the upstairs bedroom. All my other friends were downstairs playing pool, so I went up to investigate. Two of my friends who were dating at the time were in a fight and as I walked in, the girl bum rushed the guy into a wall and began hitting him. I immediately squeezed myself in between them (I wasn't sober, give me a break) and bodied her onto the bed. I literally had to lay on her to make sure she didn't get back up. Meanwhile, homeboy was livid and he came for her too. I got her out of the room and took her downstairs.

When I got downstairs and the other guys found out that he almost hit her, they went crazy.

By then my buzz had been blown so I did 3 triple shots of vodka and went to bed. I paid dearly for that.

So how's this my favorite birthday? Well I was surrounded by some really good friends. I mean some of my friends that were there drove a good ways to be at my party. Before the fighting, we'd all been having a great time and really enjoying each other's companies. The entire spectrum of the mixed bag that is my friends wasn't represented that night but there was a good mix and they all had a great time together. I really think it's a big idea for someone to want to spend part of their day and their time with you helping you celebrate an event they weren't even present for! I'd take a friend just wanting to chill with me on my birthday over presents any day.


My Favorite Memory

I have no idea what my favorite memory is. I have many that I draw on when I need a pick me up. Like my trip to Belize in 06, graduating from college in 08, random moments in my life where I had a good time with friends, memories of pushing myself beyond what I thought I could do, etc...

To have to pick just one memory as my absolute favorite isn't fair. I don't know that I can do it. What I can do is pick a favorite memory, though.

My mother loves her mother. I think in order, my mom loves God, her mother and then me. That doesn't bother me, I think it's a fair lineup. My grandmother had 14 kids, dealt with an abusive husband, worked a farm, raised her kids... she was fly. I didn't get a chance to know my grandmother like some of my older cousins did. Some of my oldest cousins were raised by my grandparents, alongside my mom. Others of them spent summers with my grandparents or were raised nearby. They all have many specific memories. However, my grandmother died when I was 4, so my memories of her are fewer.

As I began writing about this, I was inclined to share a story from during the time my grandmother lived with me and my mom. I realized that in some respects, there are aspects of my memory that are enhanced by pictures I have of me with her. One memory that I know isn't tainted by pictures is of the time I slammed my thumb in the car door.

My mom owned a black, 2-door 1986 GMC Jimmy when I was born. On a trip down to visit my grandparents, I got out of the backseat on my own and shut the door myself. My mom was distracted by a relative and so she didn't realize I'd gotten out of the car. I accidentally shut my thumb in the door.

I didn't break it, but obviously it hurt very much. I began screaming and my mother ran over and freed my thumb. She checked it out and saw it wasn't broken and told me, "Ashley, I'm sorry it hurts, but if it's not broken, there's nothing I can do about it." Of course at this point, I'm bawling as little kids are apt to do when in pain and it surely didn't help to hear my mom say there wasn't anything she could do. Your mother is supposed to make every pain go away, right?

My grandmother rushed to my aid once my screams were within earshot. My memory is of her setting me in her lap, wetting a paper towel with hydrogen peroxide and wrapping my thumb up in it. We all know that peroxide didn't do anything for the pain, but in my memory, the pain instantly went away. Just the fact that my grandmother tried was all I needed. I think that's what grandmothers are for -- to do the magical things mothers can't.

This is definitely a favorite memory.

On a slightly different note, I like responding to prompts like these. I'm a fan of random pieces of information about people because I feel like they're always a good window into that person's world. Often when I give people opportunities to ask me anything their heart desires, they ask personal and intimate questions. That's fine, I'll answer those, too -- I understand that we're often seeking the hidden parts of people -- but questions about my favorite memory, or what I wanted to be when I was younger or what my dreams and goals are will tell you more about me than anything about my personal self. When you know what a person values, you know everything you need to.


My First Kiss


Ya'll tryna get up in my business, aren't you?

I've always been a little ahead of the pack. My first kiss was in kindergarten. His name was Edward and he was my boyfriend. Not too long ago I unearthed some pictures of my graduation from kindergarten and there he was. My first kiss and boyfriend (he was cute!).

I can recall playing dumb games of spin the bottle that didn't amount to much more than puckered lips and pressing faces together. I actually can't remember the first time I "french" kissed (that's bad, right), but I can remember my friends and I talking about what it might be like. I laugh now to think of 12 year olds imagining their first "grown up kiss."

I'm not big on PDA... I hate it, actually. I've had to come to terms with the fact that there are others who don't share my feelings on that subject (for someone who hates PDA I stay having friends who LOVE it...) but one specific kiss came to mind as I was writing this:

One spring break I went to Belize with J and his family. It was our first time on a trip like that together and his parents were clearly using the trip as some alone time for them, so J and I had a lot of alone time ourselves (not as much as he would've liked, but that's a whole other story). One night, J got into a huge fight with his mom and brother and after dinner I found him at the bar drinking himself silly.

J had made a bet with bartender that he could finish a bottle of liquor without passing out. If he did, the bartender would take all his other drinks off the tab, if not, he had to pay for however much he did drink. When I found out about his stupid bet, I started pouring his drink out when the bartender's back was turned. Eventually he got up to go to the bathroom and by the time he returned, I'd been able to pour most of the liquor out. He wasn't especially happy about it and so I started kissing him, to jokingly make him feel better. Maybe it was because we had both been drinking but playful kisses quickly turned into some serious tongue wrestling. It was a small bar (we were at a small resort) and there were maybe 2 or 3 other people standing there talking when our impromptu make out session began...

At some point I remembered where we were and pushed him away, but by then the bar had seen all they needed to see. J thought it was absolutely hilarious.

Needless to say we went back to my room...

Oh but Edward -- wonder if I could find him on facebook. :)


My Dreams

Remember the post I did before on dreams?

I talked about how I was tired of dreaming and ready to do. I didn't want to sit around talking about what I would be doing one day with my friends, I wanted to be doing all the great things my friends I dreamed up.

I still feel that way sometimes. I think my friends and I, and even some associates could do great things together if we teamed up; however, I know how important dreams are. A long while ago, I wrote some thoughts on the differences between dreams and goals I came to the ultimate conclusion that goals are the means to a dream. You have a dream (or dreams), and you set goals to get you there.

One dream I just recently voiced to a couple of friends is to start a boarding school. I don't know that I want to reinvent the wheel, but I've seen/read about an interesting organization that starts boarding schools in inner-city neighborhoods. The idea is to remove the students from environments that are anti-learning, without taking them completely out of their comfort zone.

I dream about smaller things... homeownership, driving a 18-wheeler (seriously), bungee jumping, sky diving, meeting the man I can't live without ;)

I dream about making a huge impact on the world and my first goal is to start within my own community. I'd say my first goal towards that dream is to get my M.Ed in school counseling. One semester is almost down and I'm definitely closer to that goal today than I was yesterday. Another goal is getting an organization idea I've been kicking around with some friends up and off the ground.

Dreaming is exciting -- it's fun to think about what can be and realize how much control you have over making that a reality. One more dream I have is being in a position to share that fact with people who don't know it.


What I Wore Today

Day 14: What You Wore Today

I've had a lot of stuff going on with school lately. That's meant I've been up late at night only to turn around and get up early in the morning. Today's wardrobe choices were simple. Jeans, t-shirt, sweatshirt. I was definitely looking like a tired and overworked college student.

At least I wore school paraphernalia, right?


This Week

We'll focus on the week 11/7 - 11/13

In hindsight, the week was a blur, much like all my other weeks as of late.  I finished up a project at work and realized just how busy I'm about to be through the end of the semester at work.

Monday and Tuesday were focused on a presentation I had on Wednesday.  I worked hurriedly at work and spent a lot of time on campus doing my portion of the project.

Wednesday the presentation went fairly well.  My portion was short, but I heard later that people appreciated it.

Thursday I had a paper due, so of course that meant I was up Wednesday night working on it, which went into Thursday.  I took Veterans' Day off to do that.

My highlight was definitely Friday night when my cohort got together for a Thanksgiving potluck.  Our professors even came.  I made my favorite corn casserole, and everyone said they really liked it (even though I realized this morning I forgot the eggs, but that didn't seem to effect things. I really, REALLY like my cohort (so much so that my fb status is "I love my cohort...").  They're a good group of people and as always I have to stop and think about the chances of having ever met them otherwise.  I know it won't be long after we graduate that I'll really appreciate knowing them.

I felt like I was a day late and a dollar short all week.  I was working on everything at the last minute and when I would try to stop and figure out how I got to that point, I'd come up with nothing.  Time is speeding up; this is literally my only answer.

Trying some new tactics this week to get back on course.  I'm actually trying to unearth some more time in a day already crammed full of things, so that's going to require scheduling and sticking very assuredly to that schedule.  I think I can do it.


What's In My Bag

Not too long ago, my mom bought me a large wide bag big enough to fit my laptop into. When I first got to grad school, I was using it faithfully -- and then I started needing to carry far more than a laptop and small notebook. I'm really not big on carrying two bags (I mean, why carry 2 when you can just carry one...) so I've switched back to my trusty backpack...

These days, my backpack contains, at all times, my laptop (and it's various cords), books, a notebook, folders, my water bottle, and an umbrella.  I have a super cute Nicole Miller handbag that everyone loves, but I don't get to carry it very often, thanks to how much other stuff I'm forced to lug around.

I have to be honest: as much as I love handbags, I hate carrying them.  Contradictory, huh?  I just hate having extra accoutrement for no reason. :)  If I can get away with sticking my ID, my debit card and some cash in a pocket and going about my day, 9 times out of 10, I will.  Don't get me wrong, I know when a handbag is more appropriate, but like I said, when I can get away with it, I prefer not to have something hanging off me.

Back to the backpack -- I got this for undergrad.  It's an LL Bean backpack, and I got put on to LL Bean backpacks when I first began my new school in 8th grade.  During a half-day I spent following a current student around, I noticed that everyone (and I do mean everyone) had an LL Bean backpack (I understand that these days, the kids at that school carry NorthFace backpacks).  I just had to have one -- but they were super expensive and my mom couldn't afford to buy me one.  2 nights before school started, we stopped by one of her friend's houses, and out they came with the backpack I wanted, complete with my initials!  I wore that backpack out -- by my senior year, the bottom was held together with duct tape.  I didn't want a new one, though; I liked that one.  It was cobalt blue and by the time I finally had to let it go, it was covered in white out from me writing quotes on it.  I made it uniquely mine (because I quickly learned that the downside to going with the crowd on this one was finding your backpack in a sea of backpacks after chapel!)

I couldn't begin undergrad with a torn backpack, so I bought the one you see above.  I actually ended up using a NorthFace backpack and another messenger bag I bought more frequently than this backpack, so it didn't quite get the level of use as my original LL Bean backpack.  This one is coming in quite handy now, though. :)


My Siblings

I'm my mother's only child, but my father has 8 other children besides me (I think a couple of them are step children). I had no idea he had other children (though I was aware he had gotten married...) until I was 14 and my cousin hipped me (accidentally she says, on purpose my mom says) to game.

Both of my parents are from a really small town in Alabama and a good portion of my family still lives there. My mom and I go back for Thanksgiving and 4th of July every year (almost every year, anyway) to spend time with family. One year, I spent an inordinate amount of time with two of my cousins (mother/daughter). My first cousin (the mother) is about 15 years older than me and her daughter is 2 years younger than me. As the day progressed, my older cousin kept saying "later on, we're going to go to Danielle's house..." I didn't think much of that because her sister's name is Danielle and she had just moved.

That night, we pulled up into the driveway of a home I'd never been to and where there clearly were a lot of people. As my cousin pulled her seat forward so I could get out, she suddenly said, "Oh, Ashley! I didn't even think to ask you, are you ok with us being here?" I looked at her funny and nodded my head. She paused again and said, "Wait, you do know who Danielle is, right?" I gave her another funny look and her eyes got wide as she said, "oh no! Danielle is your sister! You didn't know that?"

I was a little scared as we walked into the house and downstairs. When I came into the room, a woman who kinda looked like me shouted my name and smiled broadly. Another woman sitting next to her smiled as well. Turns out they were both my half-sisters. Both about 15 years older than me. They also knew everything about me. Knew what grade I was in, what kind of grades I was making, knew that I was fairly smart and they both immediately started talking to me about what I should pledge when I got to college ;) (<--- story for another day, but let's just say my junior year in college I got a STERN talking to about my failure to do what I was told...)

One of them had just had a baby girl a few days prior. She was so precious and hearing "Aunt Ashley" was very wierd.

When my cousin brought me back to my uncle's house where my mom and I were staying, later that night, she admonished me not to say anything to my mother about it. Clearly, however, I had to know why she'd never told me. These girls (and, it turns out, most of my father's other kids) had long been born when I came around. She had to know about them. My mother never explained it more than to say she just didn't want me to know. She focused more on being upset that my cousin had told me without her permission.

I kept in touch with those 2 for a few months. These days, I only speak to one of them, and that's pretty infrequently. Mostly just on her birthday because it's 2 days before mine.

What was most interesting was how I'd always wanted older sisters. My older cousins (one, especially) were ok stand-ins. Actually, they were excellent stand-ins, but for the first few months after I met them, it was really cool to say I actually had older sisters. These days, I rarely talk about them, unless someone specifically asks if I have siblings (and even then, I'm most likely to just say no -- not everyone needs to know, right?)

One last interesting fact: one of my half-sisters' mom's married a distant cousin of my mother's. As a result, she is not only my half-sister, but also a half- step-cousin... SMH... gotta love small towns.


What I Wore Today

Some disjointed pictures of what I'm wearing...

I talked a little bit about my own "personal style" during the Things You Should Never Apologize For series. Pretty simple -- nothing to write home about or get excited over.
In any case, I have a style that's my own. A style that I'm comfortable with and a style that I think, for the most part, fits me. From time to time I've been known to branch out for the shock factor, but for the most part, I'm completely predictable and that's fine by me. I realized a long time ago that it made no sense to me to spend my time worried about what others thought of my clothing choices when none of them were paying to keep my closet stocked with the latest styles.
The red and gray striped sweater is new -- just bought that last weekend, as I did the red shirt. The jeans and boots are old -- I can't wait to go boot shopping. I LOVE boots. Aside from allowing me to wear trendy shoes (I have a weird thing going on with my feet) they're just awesome. I need a good pair of cowboy boots to round out my selection.

So that's it. What I'm wearing!


My Beliefs

I believe that what you believe is just as important as what you do not believe.

I believe that there is a God -- I believe he sent his Son to die for us and I believe there are consequences to not believing that.

I believe in love, but I do not believe that it conquers all or that it's all that matters.

I do not believe everything happens for a reason. I believe we tell ourselves that because sometimes the things that we see happen around us really need an explanation (check out Leon Festinger's theory on Cognitive Dissonance sometime -- it really explains a lot if you buy it) and so we tell ourselves it happened for a reason. I think that sometimes really effed up things happen for no reason at all, however, sometimes we can turn those negatives into positives and find meaning in the positivity.

I believe that the greatest thing we will ever do in this life is create and maintain good and healthy relationships. I also believe that task is incredibly difficult.

I think raising children is a 2-person job and I give major props to those who've gone it alone. In that same vein, I'm also beginning to believe we need to require licensure for parenting.

I believe in the Golden Rule. Unfortunately, I also believe I'm one of the few.

I believe in working hard for what you want.

I believe in honesty and integrity.

I believe in showing people how you feel about them so that they don't forget.

I believe in remembering the little things: like which friend hates mayo and which friend hates mustard and not mixing them up when they both ask me to bring a burger back for them.

I believe in being supportive of those we love.

I believe in trust and I believe no relationship will survive once the trust is gone.

I believe race still matters a whole lot in this country. I believe until everyone believes that, it will always matter too much.

I believe in trying more than you whine (think about it...)

I believe that it's important to have safe spaces. Places you can go and release all of yourself without fear of judgment or retribution. I believe you have to have more than one safe space, and at least one safe space has to be a person.

Along with safe spaces, I believe in good strong holding environments. People/places (but mostly people) who challenge you, support you, encourage you and help you grow.

I believe in the importance of an education.


A Moment

I sat here, thinking of a moment. Lots of my life's moments flashed through my mind. I wanted to choose a moment that would mean something, give you a glimpse into who I am. I shroud myself in a lot of mystery and when I'm given a free shot to pull some of that back, I try to take advantage.

So I need to share a moment...

Sitting on top of Avalanche Peak in the Rocky Mountains.

My high school offers what's called the Jim Pierce Leadership trip, which at the time was intended to reward and highlight students who were leaders in the school, but may have gone unnoticed. It was a big deal to be chosen for this trip, as you were nominated by faculty and fellow students and then chosen by a faculty panel. It was an even bigger honor to be chosen as a sophomore (as I was). The trip is a 10-day stint in Colorado, including a final summit 14,000+ feet in the air to Avalanche Peak. Aware of this, I was wary of going. When I got my letter letting me know I'd been chosen, I all but decided I wasn't going to go.

The next day, I was trying to decide how to tell all the faculty I knew would be disappointed that I didn't want to go when I ran into the then-BFF (she and I weren't close at the time, in fact it was the trip that brought us closer) who had also been notified that she'd been selected. She implored me to go. I had to go because she didn't want to be alone.

It was a hard trip from almost day 1. I'd camped before and done a little hiking, but never hiked in mountains of this level with a pack on my back with all the things you need to camp for 10 days. I was in ok shape, but I was absolutely unprepared for the combination of extreme physical exertion and high altitudes. Every day was a struggle to get through, but I found myself enjoying the beautiful sights and getting to know some classmates. Even so, I was dreading that final hike to the top of Avalanche Peak. We'd been warned that it would be super difficult and a long hike.

We were to awaken before sunrise in an attempt to make it to the top in time to see the sun come up. I barely slept that night, between the entire camp being restless and my own nerves. As I had through most of the trip, I hung at the back of the group. My mindset volleyed between being sure I'd never make it to the top and being determined to do it. The last hundred or so feet were the worst. We were past the tree line, it was all rocks and my already injured ankles and knees were on fire. Right when I thought to myself, "my body is about to quit," I looked up and saw the summit, and most of my fellow trippers, ahead. When I sat down and wrapped myself in a sleeping bag all I could do was smile. I don't know if you've ever pushed your body beyond it's limits and been surprised at what it did, but that was my moment: sitting at the top of Avalanche Peak, watching the sunrise and being very proud of myself.


My Best Friend

I've had a lot of best friends in my life. Well, not a lot -- but I've been through a few. I've had people call themselves my best friend when they actually weren't. J really wanted me to give him the label of best friend. I never could, even when things were good. Our relationship was always different. To me, a best friend is someone you can talk to about absolutely anything. That's what J wanted between us, and we needed it, but I couldn't talk to him about everything. He knew a lot about me, but the stuff that was really messing with me always involved him and that was the stuff I couldn't talk to him about.

The first best friend I ever had was Megan. Even though I had 3 other girls I remember being very close to in preschool and elementary school, Megan was my best friend. In the 1st grade, I was moved up to the 2nd mid-year and those other 3 girls were all a year ahead of me and when I moved to the 2nd grade I was in their class and got to see them all the time. Megan and I went from looking forward to seeing each other in the hall, to not even noticing each other in passing.

One summer during college I worked for a local amusement park. On the whole, it was possibly the worst 3 weeks of my life. I worked 10-12 hour days Thursday - Sunday for next to nothing. I was on my feet and had to deal with kids all day, and had a manager who I could've run circles around. However, one of the last days I worked there, I was running the last few customers on a ride when I heard someone behind me say my name. I turned around and I knew who it was immediately: Megan's mom. She told me Megan worked at the same amusement park, in a different area and happened to hear that a new girl named Ashley had been hired. She realized it was me, but never got a chance to find me. As soon as I could, I went to her station and we chatted. We exchanged numbers, but neither of us ever reached out to the other.

In middle school, I had a couple of girls who considered themselves my BFF -- one even wrote her name alongside B.F.F.L. on one of my binders. I still have it. However I considered my best friend to be Katrina. I referenced her in this post under the pseudonym "Jackie" (which is actually her younger sister's name). She was one of the 3 girls I was tight with in pre school and elementary school. I think we were friends more because we just always had been than because we liked the same stuff. I went to private school in the 8th grade and that ended our contact and therefore our friendship.

My senior year in high school, my then-BFF and I ran into a Wal-greens to kill some time. We were checking out the makeup when I heard a familiar voice call me from behind. I turned around and instantly knew who it was: Katrina. We hugged, she remarked that she knew it had to be me because my voice was unmistakable. No pretenses of us maintaining contact, though I kinda wish we had. Later, I heard through the grapevine that she'd had a couple of kids.

In high school, I went through a few folks I considered BFF. One thing I can say is that at every step along the way, I learned something about what a real friend looks like. In 8th grade, my BFF was Leigh. She and I had a very similar sense of humor and it was invaluable to me to have someone who got me on that level. She wasn't offended by my sarcasm or dry wit. We finished each other's sentences which was something I had never experienced before. Later, another girl, Sarah finished out our trio (being a part of a trio is yet another motif in my life). I still maintain contact with Sarah and Leigh and I try to catch up whenever I'm home.

Unfortunately, it's hard being a black kid at a predominantly white prep school. By sophomore year, I still considered Leigh and Sarah good friends but I was spending more and more time with an individual I've previously referred to as "then-BFF" and who I will continue to refer to as such. A 3rd girl named Lindsey finished out our trio and we became known as the 3 Musketeers around school. People would always stop us when we were alone inquiring where the others were. Lindz and I are still really close but I still have no idea why after graduation the then-BFF completely quit talking to me. I have my theories, but I guess it will remain one of my life's great mysteries.

In college I met Joey (not to be confused with my ex, J). He seems to be a combination of a lot of the great things about all my BFFs growing up. He finishes my sentences, he challenges me, he listens to me, he makes me laugh He sounds like he'd be a great boyfriend, right? I won't do anything with that except to say he's my BFF and I like that. I miss him a lot now that we're hundreds of miles a part. I ran into some old emails I'd sent and received from a mentor and almost every email during my junior year involves Joey somehow. We were together all the time, and so the last 2 years have been a little difficult.

I have a number of close friends. Sometimes I think I forget how great they are. Sometimes I focus too much on what I'm not getting instead of what I am getting. Or rather maybe I focus too much on trying to make people give me what they can't instead of accepting what they can and moving on if it's not working for me. I'm just not good at boundary setting. I've always wanted, maybe even needed, those around me to trust me and know that no matter what I was there. That's a great attitude, but there has to be some lines -- places where you say, "ok. hold on." I guess I wish others would draw those lines for me -- Joey often does. He draws them in our relationship as well as in my relationships with others. I've long been jealous of his ability to stop dead in the tracks of a relationship and re-chart his course. If it's not working for him, he chucks the deuce. He's tried to do it for me, but I always stop him. Maybe I care too much.

Joey is definitely a once in a lifetime find.


My Day

Many will recall that one of my uncles died earlier this year (I SERIOUSLY can't believe it's been almost 6 months since he died... like seriously where did the time go?). All of his personal effects that his kids or ex girlfriend didn't make off with have been moved up into what used to be my room now that all of my furniture is in my apartment. However, my mom left the bed down there and I got the bright idea that instead of sleeping on the couch, maybe I oughta sleep down there.

My day began around 10:00 when my alarm went off. I had a hair appointment at 12 and I knew I'd need a little extra time to get moving. My blackberry started buzzing early, as well, with friends who saw me signed into gchat wanting to chat.

I went to the salon and got my hair done:

Then a good friend of mine went to see "For Colored Girls." I really enjoyed that movie. I saw a DVD of the play a few months ago. This movie is not the play and I think if you go truly understanding that -- that this is an interpretation, an adaptation -- you can enjoy it. This movie started out behind the 8-ball with a lot of people just because it's a Tyler Perry film and that's not fair. The actresses were all absolutely outstanding. I'd love to go see it again.

My friend and I went to dinner after and even though I intended to go to Target after dinner (my friend was headed to see her new boo piece) it was far too cold so I came on home.

Pretty uneventful day in my life, I'd say. Couple of friends found out I'm in town and tried (well, one is still trying) to convince me to come out but like I said, it's freezing and I look forward to evenings spent doing nothing, since my brain runs 3,000 miles a minute almost every other day.

So that's it. Hair, movie, food... which, in some ways, might actually be able to sum up parts of my life. :)

The OTHER People in Your Relationship

This is an EXCELLENT series on the people in your relationships... I loved it. READ IT.

The OTHER people in your relationship Part 1: The Friendly Temptation

The OTHER people in your relationship. Part II: The Inner Circle

The OTHER people in your relationship. Part III: The Contenders


My Definition of Love

Oh yes. The love question.

There's love and there's being in love. Too often the latter is confused for any number of other things and too frequently the former is thrown around.

I think someone tells me they love me once a day -- most of the time it's a joke. Not that they don't love me, but it's not really said to express their love either. I've done that, too, but I like to think that even in jesting situations, I'm pretty good about only saying "I love you" when I mean it.

J and I had a conversation one time where he told me that despite everything, he loved me. I told him, "No. That's not possible. People who love someone don't treat me the way you did." I went on to tell him that maybe he wanted to love me; maybe he thought he did, but actions speak louder than words every time. In fact, I'm not sure I remember the first time he and I said it to each other...

I'm of the opinion that love is unmistakable. I may take that feeling too far: sometimes, people want to hear it and I just want to show it. I go out of my way for people that I love. Doing things that inconvenience me, or require a little extra effort and it's my way of saying I love you. Taking my mom's car to get the oil changed, for example. Bringing my Godmother lunch unexpectedly. Remembering to ask my cousin how her job interview went and celebrating with her when she says she got the job (in fact, remember little tidbits is a PERFECT example of how I show love, instead of say it). But some folks need you to just look them in the face and say "I love you..."

When I think about the folks I love, I think about how I miss them when I'm not around them (not like that aching you feel when you're away from someone you're in love with, more like knowing they're not there and also knowing how things might be different if they were), how when I'm with them I want to spend all my time being fully present. I also think about an appreciation I have for them, who they are and what they bring to my life (sometimes juxtaposed against what life would be like without them...).

What is love? A feeling that is surely different to/for and varies from person to person -- but one thing that's consistent is that if you feel it, you should express it.


What I Ate Today

I had leftover fried rice from P.F. Chang's for breakfast, a ham and swiss cafe (read: bougie) sandwich for lunch and the rest of the fried rice for dinner.

I actually think I do pretty good with food choices -- not a whole whole lot of fattening stuff, but on occasion I indulge a little too much and I'm trying to get that under control. I've upped my water intake considerably (yay me) and I'm going to get an exercise program going ASAP. I've got weight I want to lose and I'm getting more and more serious about that.

Speaking of food: I went to the grocery store today after class. I needed toilet paper in the worst way (somehow 5 women went through 3 rolls of toilet paper in 5 days... and 2 of those women weren't even in my apt 24 hours) so I finally made a list and went to Wally World (walmart). Boy do I HATE going shopping at walmart. I mean LOATHE. Folks have absolutely no concept of paying attention, personal space or controlling their children.

There I was, walking around the store decked out in my university's para when a woman stops me and asks me if I know where the little boys' school clothes are located. Did she stop me because I looked like I worked there? I don't know -- I quickly quipped, "I don't know. Haven't seen them and I don't work here" and I walked off. She said, to my back, "I mean, I knew you didn't work here." So - if she knew I didn't work there, did I look like I'd be shopping for my little boy's school clothes? Hm.

I'm often stopped in stores for questions like this. In fact, I'm often stopped for questions, period. Sometimes I really think I have "Ask Me!" stamped on my forehead and it's invisible to me. I can't tell you how many times a person has stopped me in the train station to ask which way to go, despite my attempts to look straight ahead and the fact that I had my iPod blaring in my ear. I'm also often told that there's something about me that makes it easy for people to talk to me. My dyad partner (we practice our counseling techniques on each other in "dyad partnerships" and record them -- the videos are critiqued by our professors) actually mentioned this as a strength in our meeting with our professor today. It's a helpful ability, until you just want to get out of the train station, or finish up your shopping or have a regular conversation with someone that doesn't involve them bearing their soul.

I'll take the good with the bad, though. ;)


My Family

I'll start with my father, because this will be easy:

My father is... umm... you know, I actually think that aside from the whole abandoning me thing, my father is a good guy. Really. I have a hard time imagining that my mom would've fallen all in love with him if he didn't have somebody's positive characteristics. And there are things about myself that I don't see in my mom and I just know I had to get from him -- and I think those things are good.

However, unfortunately the script he's written in my life is one of subpar activity. He's been non-present, non-active, non-supportive. He's, unfortunately, been the stereotypical black father. I guess, though, it's hard to be present for every child when you have 9 by different women (yes, that was a low blow... I get to take a few cheap shots).

There are days I'm so angry at him, days where I don't care and days where I want to reach out to him. I don't know what the future holds, but right now, today, he's going to have to make that first move.

As I grow older, my appreciation and love for my mother only grows. When I was younger she used to talk about her late mother with such awe. I used to love to hear her reminisce just to hear her talk that way -- but I'm getting to a point where I completely understand that. My mother is awesome. Strong, smart, beautiful... everything I pray God will allow me to grow up to be one day.

She was a single parent. Ya'll gathered that. It's not easy being a single parent. Ya'll knew that.

When I was a freshman in high school, my mom quit her job and went back to school. Everyone told her she was crazy. She had a child, in private school no less, to support. But she did it anyway and she now has a degree in nutrition and massage therapy. This story has been a jumping off point for many essays I've had to write about myself and my background. I didn't get it at the time, but the more I come to understand exactly what it took to go back to school at 45 the more I understand that "strength" isn't the word for it.

I am who I am because of God and because of my mother. Whatever you could want to know about the type of woman she is, you can see it in me.


My First Love

About as much as I like to tell a story to make a point, I like to use a song. In fact, my first love and I used music all the time to make a point or express ourselves. I have CDs and CDs of songs that I made for him and he made for me. Sometimes, the music says it better than you ever could.

One song that I remember being SO on point for a specific time in our lives is "Body and Soul" by Anita Baker.

I've written a lot about the last few years of my relationship with J on this blog, but not as much on the first few years. We broke up right as I went to college and then spent the ensuing year unsure of what that meant for our future. By my sophomore year we both knew we wanted to be together but a lot had transpired over the previous year that made us both scared. One night I was lying in bed letting my iTunes play when "Body and Soul" came on. I don't know if I'd never paid much attention to the lyrics before or if it was just where my mind was that night, but that song really spoke to everything I was feeling. I got up and immediately sent the lyrics to him. He told me they were right on time because he was concerned about making the wrong decision.

My birthday is 5 days after Christmas. On that day, in 2005, he was driving back home and would go through my city. He stopped and spent a few hours with me. When I took him back to his car and gave him a hug, I did not want to let him go. I was completely shocked at myself: I'd never felt that way before. I had butterflies, I was... oh gosh... I was in love. We were official not too long after.

Our demise is well documented throughout this blog. A little over a year ago, J committed suicide. We hadn't been in regular contact, at that time, in over a year but it hit me hard. Sometimes, it still hits me: all the things I wanted to say to him, all the things I still felt for him. But I know that, given the outcome, the way things happened was best. I couldn't see it then, but I know now that it was right.

The getting over him and us process has not been easy. There have been times where I'm sure that I'm done and I'm good and over it, but then I have experiences and moments where I know I've got just a little further to go.

My first love took me through every emotion imaginable. There were times where I couldn't imagine life without him and others where I had no idea how I could continue with him. But I wouldn't trade anything we went through together for the world. If I had to go through it, I'm glad it was with him.


Introducing Me!

I'm Ashley, aka A.Smith. I got that nickname (can you call it a nickname?) in college. My sophomore year I spent a lot (really, all of...) of my free time with a group of 3 other girls and all of our names started with A.

I'm currently seeking a professional degree in a helping profession: counseling. A few days ago a friend of mine unearthed some things I'd written at 16 years old. I was a typical angsty teen. I hated life, people, the world. In my teen mind, the world was surely ending. It just couldn't get any worse. Essay after essay, poem after poem, she read aloud the mind of me at 16 and I wanted to reach back in time and choke myself for being absolutely ridiculous. At one point she read a line where I'd written something like, "I just really want those around me to be happy." "Ahhh," she said, "so Ashley's a people pleaser..." Those words struck me for some reason. I'm not a people pleaser. I could care less if people like me; but of those who do seem to like me and of those, the ones I call friend and like in return, I do want them to be happy. That matters to me. My biggest fear for self is that while I'm called to a helping profession, I don't want to give so much of myself. My friends are always telling me to take time for myself and focus on me -- ironic since they are often the reason I don't. Not really their fault or problem, but they are the catalyst all the same.

I really love the color purple. It's one of the first things people seem to learn about me. I love the book, the play and the movie -- but most of all, the color. My car is purple, my mom painted a wall in my room (which, since I was in college when she bought it and about to graduate wasn't REALLY my room) purple and I'll purchase almost anything that's purple (that part is a real problem).

I like to explain myself by telling stories. I'm definitely all about a good parable. Tell a story AND make a point? Share myself AND be profound? Why yes, yes I will.

I have a short term memory problem. If I don't get it done right then, I will forget about it. However, I have an AMAZING ability to remember things long-term. I can remember the most mundane things about events gone past. Not sure at what point the short-term becomes the long-term, but this is my life.

This is me. Not all of me, by far, but a lot. The rest of me oughta be apparent in the next 30 days. Yay!!