December, 2012

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The chair

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

It was love at first sight, really.

I was wandering through a vintage store in Kansas City when it caught my eye. I made a beeline for it, and bought it the same day. It made no sense – because how would I ever get it back to Seattle?

It didn’t matter. I didn’t care. The chair was made for me.

That was the spring of 2004, and it wouldn’t be until the summer of 2005 that I would drive nearly 2,000 miles from Seattle to Kansas City in my Honda Accord just to fetch the chair from my parent’s basement where I had left it underneath a sheet. I drove back to the Northwest, and the first thing I did was head to my new apartment building in Wallingford. I muscled the chair up 3 flights of stairs, unlocked the door for the very first time, walked into the empty studio, and set the chair right by the window on the hardwood floor. It was the first and only piece of furniture I owned.

But slowly, my little home began to build around it.

The chair became the centerpiece of my décor, the first thing that people would notice when they walked in – then outwardly show their disappointment when I told them it was from the 50s, and that no, they could not find an equivalent. When I eventually decided to leave Seattle for Nashville, the chair was the only piece of furniture I moved with me. I stopped in Kansas City on the way, and carried it to the middle of a field where my sister-in-law snapped what would become somewhat of an icon in my life.

I built a new life in Tennessee, and as I moved around, started using the phrase “Home is where the chair is.” And it’s true: each humble place that my chair graced truly felt like home.

At the end of 2009, I loaded the chair for yet another move, this time to Denver. From Franklin to Hooker to now Alcott, the chair has traveled with me, and has remained my favorite piece of furniture. I’ve talked about how I want to keep it forever, picturing it in various reading nooks, or maybe a daughter’s room someday. This chair has been woven into the story of my life, and I have never run across another that could compare with how much I love it.

But this year, something tragic happened. Blame it on years of use, blame it on age, but the seat of the chair wore through and split open. The threadbare fabric finally gave way, and just disintegrated beyond repair. I tried to pull and stitch. I brainstormed how to reupholster it – but it was no use. This chair was done for.

I fought it for months, the raggedy chair keeping up residence in the living room, guests commenting on how the stuffing was coming out. I didn’t want to get rid of it, and tried to think of any way I could resurrect what had become such an important item to me. But I knew that the day would come.

And that day was today.

I bought a utility knife. I walked into the living room, turned the chair around, and took a blade to it – I felt like Fantine cutting off her hair. When I was through, I had removed the back panel of fabric, the only piece that was still in good condition. This memory, this scrap, is now lying in the living room.

My future brother-in-law Michael carried the half-naked and now-destroyed chair out to the alley and threw it in the dumpster. It’s over. It’s gone.

– – – – –

I have some dreams that have not come true. Like the fabric on the chair, no matter how I’ve tried to pull, the fiber of my life just won’t reach far enough. No matter how I’ve tried to stitch, the threads unravel. If it were up to me, my dreams would come together seamlessly, creating something good and unique and beautiful, something that others would comment on, something that I would love.

Just hours before I cut up my chair, I talked to Greta about the importance of letting certain dreams die, or at least transform. If the dream no longer holds together, if it dissolves despite our best efforts, then maybe it’s time to let it go. If forcing the pieces only tears them further, then maybe it’s time to be open to something new – and to be open to that something new being GOOD, even though it isn’t exactly what we’ve valued in the past.

As I look ahead to a new year, I don’t know what to dream. But I know that it needs to be new.

Tonight, I mourn the loss of my chair. I stare at the panel of fabric that I saved, and wonder what to do from here.

But whatever it is, I have to believe it could be good.

Favorite Christmas present, and Stuck giveaway winner

Friday, December 28th, 2012

I’ve been in Kansas City with my family all week. Everyone is here: parents, siblings, nephews, future brother-in-law, 3 dogs, and all of the cookies in the world. Tomorrow, I load into a Subaru Forester with Becca and Michael, Gabe and Toad, Becca’s wedding dress, their wedding decorations, and all of our Christmas loot, and drive west back across Kansas for 9 hours to Denver. Heaven help us.

This is my favorite Christmas present I received:

That, my friends, is the Gregory Sage 55. If you wake up one day and I’m gone, you’ll know it’s because I loaded it with everything I need to keep myself alive and just… walked away. Because someday, that is what I fully intend on using it for.

– – – – –

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Thank you to all who entered the Stuck giveaway! It’s an amazing study, and if you’re looking for a soul-filling challenge, Jennie Allen has good stuff. I’m excited to check out Chase and Anything, as well.

There could only be one winner, so I used my trusty pal RANDOM.ORG to pull a number. Multiple comments from the same person counted as one entry.

And the winner is:

8! Leah Van Hoozer!

Leah, I’ll send you an email to get your mailing address. Congratulations!

– – – – –

Maybe I’ll write a 2012 recap before 2013 – my Google Reader tells me that recap posts are all the rage this time of year. If I don’t, though, suffice it to say that 2012 stretched me in ways I didn’t know I needed to be stretched (and, to be honest, I still don’t WANT to be stretched). I have worked really, really hard in all sorts of ways. Someone recently asked me if I was happy, and I said no.

But you know me – I’d be miserable if I was happy. SMILEY FACE.

What I do know is that I love the people in my world, and while faith does not come easily for me, I’m hanging on for dear life. I hope that 2012 has seen you hanging in there, too.

Free

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Yesterday was a momentous occasion, a freaking scream-from-the-rooftops miracle: after working toward it for years, I made the final payment on my student loans, and became 100% debt-free.

I still don’t quite believe it myself.

My debt was made up of common damages: credit cards, a car loan, and everyone’s favorite, student loans. I was 17-years old when I decided to go to a private university, therefore sealing my fate as an indentured servant from graduation on. Borrowing money for school led me to feel justified in borrowing money for other things (“What’s another thousand? At this point, it’s just a drop in the bucket”).

Thus, my entire adult life has been spent owing.

Just about two years ago, my 21-year old Honda Accord rolled to a final stop on the side of the highway just outside of Kansas City. I had no money in savings, and could only laugh when the salvage lot paid me $251 for parts. I had a $2,000 credit card balance, $17,000 remaining on my student loans, and found myself borrowing $8,500 to buy a used car. All of a sudden, after 6+ years of paying the minimum monthly amount on my student loans, I was basically back to owing the original sum I did in the beginning. In other words, in 6+ years, I had made no progress.

Maybe it’s tacky to give dollar amounts. Maybe you read those numbers and think, “Wow, that is a TON of money” – or maybe you read them and think, “Come on, Annie – that isn’t so bad.” The point is that the sum was much more than I was comfortable with, more than I was able to fathom settling – and I had no idea how to get myself out of the mess I had gotten myself into.

Around that time, I started listening to the Dave Ramsey Show. I’m sure there are other financial gurus out there with valid get-out-of-debt plans, but Dave is my guy, and I think he gives solid, common sense advice. I loved when people would call in to the radio show to tell Dave they were finally debt-free, and was sometimes moved to tears as they shared their stories. Some of these folks had more debt and a smaller salary than me. Some of them were single women like me. I started to realize that actually, mathematically, I could do it: I could get myself out of debt.

However, when it came to following the Dave Ramsey plan, I had a bit of a slow start. I spent about a year trying to pump myself up, listening to his show and reading his books but only kind of following the steps. I moved in with my mom for 3 months, built up a $1,000 emergency fund, and started the debt snowball. But I continued to overspend each month, making it so I could never quite pay off the credit card – because I NEEDED to fly to Nashville, or I NEEDED to have that dress from Anthropologie, or I NEEEEEEEDED to have whatever I wanted when I wanted it. I could write an entire book on how this “neediness” is nothing short of a disease. It’s a contentment killer, a sabotager of joy, and a dream stealer – because as long as money is owed, certain dreams have to be put on hold.

And this past February, I had finally had enough.

I knew that I had to “stop the bleeding,” and there was only one way how: I drank two glasses of white wine and took scissors the plastic. And when I realized that I had no backup plan – no way to buy something unless I had dollars for it right then – I stopped buying shit that I didn’t need. Simple as that.

That’s when my debt snowball really took off, first paying off the credit card, then my car. When my student loans were the only thing left, I upped the payment from $200 to $300, and a few months later, I said “I’m over it” and bumped it all the way to $1,000. One thousand dollars every single month on a single girl’s not-gigantic salary. This was the most fun, because I watched the digit drop every month, $10,000, $9,000, $8,000, just like the New Years’ countdown.

Speaking of New Years’, my 2013 will contain zero debt.

Again, maybe you think it’s tasteless to talk about money – and who knows, maybe it is. But I’ve become very passionate about being debt free, so I’m throwing caution to the wind and writing about it – because I want other people to know that YOU CAN DO IT. If you are up to your eyeballs in debt, and feel like there’s no end in sight, and that you will spend your entire life paying for decisions of the past, I’ve been there – and I’m here to say that THERE IS HOPE.

And the feeling I have today is worth everything that it took.

“O Holy Night”

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Here is my friend Charlie Hardin Murphey of Commitment Bells singing “O Holy Night” better than anyone ever.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

– – – – –

Don’t forget to enter the Stuck giveaway – a winner will be chosen on Friday.

Stuck

Friday, December 21st, 2012

When I turned 30, I had the sinking realization that no one was going to fix me.

I had long harbored the belief – although perhaps not consciously – that someday, something was going to shift, and I would no longer be broken/sad/angry/afraid/lonely/insecure/what-have-you. Believing that someday things would change somehow made it easier to accept that today, I was still stuck.

I continued to allow myself to be stuck in the (shoddy) confidence that the elusive and undefined someday was coming.

But when the calendar turned to a new decade, I realized that I was struggling with the same things I struggled with at 14 and 19 and 23 and 28. I realized that in certain areas of my life, there was no movement. I realized that I was stuck – and that no one was going to dig me out, even if they tried.

Because oh, they have tried. Parents and friends and boyfriends and mentors – they have all meant well, and genuinely cared, and offered both words of truth and tangible acts to attempt to loosen me from the muck and mire. But I’ve been like a Chevy sunken to the axles: desperately, impossibly stuck.

A trusted person recently observed to me, “I see a war happening over your heart.” And I believe her. Feel free to disagree, but I believe that about all of our hearts – that there is good and there is evil, and they both want us desperately. Now, I believe that good wants us much, much more than evil ever could – but evil is insidious and conniving, and if the devil can’t have our souls, he’ll settle for our lives. He’ll do everything he can to keep us bound and gagged, to keep us from being a force for good – to keep us stuck.

Right around my 30th birthday, I got an email from Thomas Nelson Publishers asking if I would be willing to review a women’s bible study. Now, you guys. Confession time: I’m not big on bible studies. I just haven’t really done many (pastor’s kid failure). Thomas Nelson asking me to review a bible study was the equivalent of the MLB wanting my thoughts on the statistics of, I don’t know, BUNTING. (Although remember when I was so sporty and wrote this?)

But the name of the study caught my eye, and so I said yes. A few days later, Jennie Allen’s Stuck arrived on my doorstep.

This DVD-based study was so meaningful to me. It helped me pinpoint some of the areas I struggle with being stuck in: brokenness, anger, discontentment, fear, sadness. Jennie’s conversational teaching and storytelling made the 8 DVD sessions completely engaging (I want to know her in real life). And while I can’t say that I’m now completely “unstuck,” I know that addressing these topics head-on has given me language and tools to MOVE.

God wants our hearts, and is fighting for them. I truly believe this. And I’m happy to say that he is helping me get free, even in the smallest of ways.

– – – – –

Thomas Nelson gave me an extra study kit to give away to a reader, so if you’re interested, leave a comment saying you’d like to be entered for a chance to win. The curriculum includes an 8 session DVD, study guide, leader’s guide, and conversation cards for group discussion. While I believe that the lessons apply to both men and women, Jennie created the study for women – so all you burly men, feel free to enter, although you have been warned.

A winner will be chosen via good ol’ RANDOM.ORG on Friday, December 28th.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

I’m not an expert on F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’ve only read one of his books (The Great Gatsby, obviously), and from what little I do know about his personal life, he kind of seemed like an cad.

But I keep running across quotes of his, and there’s no denying that I like the way he strung words together. I like the way his brain worked, the way he spun thoughts. And because this blog is where I collect things that I love, if for no other reason than so I can revisit them while sipping cocktails like Daisy Buchanan, here are some of my favorite F. Scott Fitzgerald quotes.

“A great social success is a pretty girl who plays her cards as carefully as if she were plain.”

“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”

“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”

“Family quarrels are bitter things. They don’t go according to any rules. They’re not like aches or wounds, they’re more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material.”

“Writers aren’t people exactly. Or, if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person.”

“In the real dark night of the soul it is always three o’ clock in the morning, day after day.”

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”

Sandy Hook

Monday, December 17th, 2012

I spent the weekend like so many others did: glued to the news, refreshing the websites every hour, watching every interview, every commentary. Along with the rest of the nation, I am horrified at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and at a loss for how to process it.

I took a long walk on Saturday, and another on Sunday. I prayed for the families, and found myself taking deep breaths, thinking of those who must feel like they can barely breathe. I poured over the victims’ names, and recited them over and over in my head: Charlotte, Daniel, Rachel, Olivia, Josephine…  I thought of my friends who have buried their children in the past, and how we’ve wished that no one ever experience that pain again.

I listened as pundits along with everyday Joes spouted their opinions on gun control, mental health, and policy change. When I walked around the Cherry Creek Mall on Saturday, I felt nervous. I saw a security guard, and stopped him. “Thank you for being here,” I said. He smiled and patted my shoulder.

We need Christmas – not because of the happy feelings it evokes, or the distraction, or the sentimentality. We need Christmas because it’s the only hope that we have: a baby born into darkness, a Father giving up his Son so that when parents lose their own children, it isn’t the end of the story.

Until then, I’m heartbroken.

Joy to the World Wide Web

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Thanks to our office Christmas lunch yesterday afternoon, I had the chance to spring out of work early and take myself on my standard 9-mile walk.

Wearing my new Patagonia Nano Puff jacket (which is the perfect weight and warmth for winter in Denver), I booked it from Sunnyside down through LoHi, across the Highlands to Sloan’s Lake. I looped the lake just in time to look back and see this sunset.

Given that the only daylight I see anymore is on my drive to work in the morning, witnessing this was a rare gift.

As I turned toward home and the light faded from the sky, I had the thought that an amazing(ly horrible) holiday album would be “Jolly Old St. Nickelback.” And as is the case with ALL of my genius ideas (trust me, there are plenty), I posted that very thought on Facebook this morning.

Little did I know that my friends would take it to a whole new level.

With a little help from my friends, I present to you:

Holiday Albums That Should (Never) Happen
What Destiny’s Child Is This?
We Three Kings of Leon
Mary J. Blige, Did You Know?
Santa Babyface
O Come All Ye Faith Hill
The Friendly Beastie Boys
The First No-LMFAO
It Came Upon a Midnight Everclear
Deck the Hall and Oats
Little Drummer Boyz II Men
O Come O Come EmmanuElton John

Joy to the World Wide Web, y’all. And joy to your Wednesday.

Slow cooking

Monday, December 10th, 2012

My sister Becca is getting married next month (NEXT MONTH), so this weekend, my mom and sister Sarah came to town from Kansas City to help me throw her a bridal shower. The past three days were packed full of tasks and events and baking and set-up, and the house was packed full of friends and family, and my heart was packed full of the catch-22 that is this: I love people more than anything, and people exhaust me more than anything.

I’m afraid that this weekend, the exhaustion won.

After a weekend of non-stop action and interaction, I didn’t want to come home from work tonight and think about dinner. So before I left for work this morning, I pulled out the Crock-Pot, and threw in the makings for the easiest, most low-key, most delicious meal. I think I saw this on Pinterest at one point, although I have never had to go back and look at the recipe because it’s just that simple.

Throw the following into a slow cooker:
1 cup salsa
2 tbsp. fajita seasoning
2 tbsp. lime juice
3-4 chicken breasts, thawed and cut into 1” strips
3-4 bell peppers, cut into 1” strips
1 small onion, diced

Turn it on low for 7-8 hours. Do not worry about dinner all day long. Come home from work and find your house smelling like Mexican food heaven. Spoon the mixture into a bowl and sprinkle with some cheese. Eat. Let the dog lick the bowl when you’re finished.

There. No me gusta STRESS.

Have any favorite slow cooker recipes to share? I’m all about the Crock-Pot these days.

Irony, sarcasm, and vulnerability

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Perhaps you saw Christy Wampole’s New York Times article “How to Live Without Irony,” published in mid-November. While I believe Ms. Wampole makes a mistake in mass-labeling so-called hipsters as insincere narcissists (because I know plenty of people that fit the “hipster” bill who are both genuine and generous), I do think she’s accurately pinpointed a larger cultural norm.

From the outside looking in, I am the furthest thing from a hipster; I like my jeans flared and my house Pottery Barned. But I recognize my use of irony and sarcasm as shields against vulnerability – and I know that I’m not alone. I see it all around me, in people of all ages, in all sorts of clothing, with all sorts of hobbies, and all manner of facial hair. Irony is not reserved for the mustached.

In light of that article (which is worth the read), I hope you’ll watch this TED talk by Brené Brown about the importance of vulnerability. You may have seen it already (6 million have), but I revisit it often, particularly when I feel my armor start to go up. I could go on about all of the reasons I love this talk, but really, you should just take the 20 minutes to watch it.