Emotions

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Twirl

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

I used to be a dancer. I can hardly believe it myself, as these days any dancing is generally an alcohol-fueled error of judgment — but it’s true. All the way through high school, I was a (thick-limbed) ballerina.

One of the fundamentals in ballet is spotting, a technique used to execute turns without losing balance. By holding the head in place and focusing the eyes on a set mark, spotting allows for steady rotation of the body while delaying movement of the head until the last minute. When the turn reaches the point at which the dancer can’t physically keep the focus forward anymore, the head quickly spins and the eyes immediately reorient on the spot on which they’d been fixed before.

Like this:

Life can toss us around like a tumbleweed, can’t it? I recently told a friend, “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been!” and by the end of our conversation I found myself saying, “Actually, I think I’m the saddest I’ve ever been.” And both were true, at the same time, in the same set of circumstances. Maybe this means I’m like Anne of Green Gables, vacillating between “the wings of enchantment” and “the depths of despair.” Maybe it means I need more meds.

Or maybe it just means that being human can be a very disorienting experience. There are highs and there are lows, and there are winds that knock us off our feet and whip us around for a bit, and it can be difficult to remember which end is up.*

These days, I’m spinning like a trailer park in a tornado. Junk is flying around, and sometimes it feels scary — because this is dangerous, man. Someone could get hurt. I could get hurt.

But as I reel, I remember that the only way to keep from falling is to keep a steady gaze on what is true and will not change.

“You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you.”
–Isaiah 26:3

Stay steady. Stay true. Whatever you’re going through, whatever tempest has swept you up in its path, keep your eyes straight ahead. It’s the only thing that can turn a whirl into a twirl.

*I once heard that if you’re ever caught in an avalanche and get buried by the snow, you might not know which way to dig in order to reach the surface. Here’s what you do: spit. Gravity will drag that dribble toward the ground, and then you know to claw like hell in the opposite direction. Good luck and you’re welcome.

Doxology in darkness

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

By nature, I’m a worrier, a worst-case-scenario projector, a catastrophizer. I have an extra hard time trusting that everything (or anything) is going to be okay. Last night I tossed and turned with about ten million anxieties on my brain, and woke up feeling like my life is a disaster (I suppose I’m a wee bit dramatic, too).

Then Foxy came and nudged my hand, telling me to get up. We went on a walk before work, like we always do, and I prayed the prayer of the sad and the weary and the meek and the small: “Help.” I came home and had a cup of coffee and an egg on toast, and put the miracle that is smoothing creme on my flyaway hairs, and dragged myself into the day.

Then I read this quote:
“To be grateful for an unanswered prayer, to give thanks in a state of interior desolation, to trust in the love of God in the face of the marvels, cruel circumstances, obscenities, and commonplaces of life is to whisper a doxology in darkness.”
―Brennan Manning

A doxology in darkness. Holy shit, that is beautiful. Strength enough for today, hope enough for tomorrow.

The last days

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

When I think of my last days in Colorado, I will think of the temperature – days in the high 90s, the brutal sun beating down on the Mile High City, and me, applying SPF 100 like my life depended on it (which it kind of did). The air conditioner in my Subaru struggled, no longer strong enough to stand up to the heat. On the lucky days in which I made it to the mountains, I experienced Colorado’s iconic summer smell: pine needles in dry dirt.

And then I will think of the rain – the afternoon thunderstorms that you can set the clock by, raging storms that swelled the rivers and flooded my normal walking paths. Of course, this didn’t stop me from walking, although June was a Fitbit feast or famine (35K steps at the highest, 3K at the lowest – a day in which I brought shame to my family).

I will remember moving out of my house, everything in cardboard boxes and plastic bins, stuffed into the largest truck I’ve ever driven – and then the solo cross-country trip in which I got 6 miles to the gallon and took 16 hours to make it 900 miles. I unloaded everything into a storage unit, and flew back to Denver – because I wasn’t finished with Colorado yet.

I will think of Starbucks breakfasts and Chipotle lunches, just because I didn’t have a kitchen anymore.

I will remember my nephew’s faces when we all stayed up way too late playing games that made them laugh uncontrollably. And I will remember rubbing lotion into the 4-year old’s skinny, espresso-colored calves, and him telling me for the tenth time, “I saw a antelope! Outside! I saw it!”

I will think of my final appointment with my beloved and trusted counselor who, when discussing all of the changes I’m going through, reminded me, “Don’t put too much stock in anything you’re thinking or feeling right now,” which made me laugh, because doesn’t she know who I am?! But it secretly felt like permission granted. And when I said, “When I move to Minnesota, no matter what, I just can’t stop hoping,” she shook her finger at me and said in a hushed, urgent voice, “Don’t you dare.”

I will remember the entire year before these last days, a year in which life felt like it was closing in, like I was trapped and constrained, like toothpaste in a tube. And the day I decided to say yes to this opportunity placed in front of me, the day I decided to move to Minnesota, it was like the cap fell off and life squeezed loose.

Today I drive to Minneapolis, for real and for good this time. I’ve sold my house in Denver, and am in the process of buying a new one – but until everything is final, Foxy is staying with my dad in Colorado. Even though it’s temporary, leaving my dog is the hardest thing for me. I anticipate crying all the way to Nebraska.

The days to come are sure to be filled with newness, novelty, and fresh perspective. I am excited, and ready for the change. But as exciting as the first days are, I never want to forget the last days either. Because they’ve been pretty damn rich.

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North

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

If you know my sister Becca, you know she’s all about dogs. She always has been; her first word was “woof-woof.” In addition to running a dog rescue (whence came Foxy!), she has three dogs of her own – and they’re like her kids. So when she and my brother-in-law decided to go to Seattle, they called in only the best.

Annie the Dog Nanny.

Foxy and I moved into Becca and Michael’s house on Saturday night, and it’s been the Wild West ever since. I’m playing defense against a collective 200 pounds of canine. Things I will need to replace before they get home: Bulleit and a lot of chocolate chips.

In the midst of it all, I am wrapping up my job, selling my house, and looking for a new place to live – because I forgot to tell you:

I’m moving to Minnesota.

Two weeks ago, I gave my notice at work. I am leaving what has been a gift of a job for what is sure to be a challenging, soulful adventure of a next chapter: I’m moving to Minneapolis to work for my favorite public radio show, On Being with Krista Tippett.

For over eight years, this has been a blog mostly about my feelings – so don’t think I’m going to stop now.

What can I say about my 5 ½ years in Denver? They have been the toughest years of my life, minus 6th grade when all of the girls turned mean. Cancer brought me here, divorce made me stay. I watched my family disintegrate, and a few relationships of my own. I’ve said such horrible things to God, it’s a wonder he still loves me. I’ve lost hope, battled depression, and numbed the pain with all sorts of soul novocain.

Denver made me write this song. (And as always, forgive the guitar.)

[UPDATE: Song has been taken down. Maybe you’ll hear it again someday.]

But it’s not lost on me that the hardest years were spent in the most beautiful place. It’s like someone knew I would need the beauty.

I’ve walked thousands and thousands of miles. I’ve climbed mountains – I’m up to 35 14ers, with 19 to go. I spent 11 days on a solo backpacking trip, digging deeper than I knew I could dig. I’ve learned to own my finances, my career, a dog, and a house. If Seattle is where I became Annie and Nashville is where I became a woman (gross, sorry for saying that), Denver is where I became an adult – a reluctant transition, but true nonetheless. I’ve made a handful of incredible girlfriends, the kind that make it hard to leave. I’ve been to counseling – gracious, have I been to counseling. I’ve stopped blaming my parents for everything that’s wrong in my life.

As it turns out, I am sad to leave Denver – but not as excited as I am for a new adventure.

I will miss my perfect tiny house and my friends and the weather and the mountains. But I know that there’s something for me in Minnesota – lakes and forests and people and meaningful work. And mosquitos. And snow. But I’m choosing to believe that richness awaits. I can’t wait to tell you about it. I can’t wait to learn it for myself. I might even start going to church again.

Until then, I am frantically wrapping up my time with LÄRABAR/General Mills. Yesterday I wrote a “manual” for how to do my job. So far it’s 17 pages long. I’m getting my ducks in a row to sell my house, and looking for another in Minneapolis (tell me, is 40% of my income too much to spend on a mortgage?).

And I’m dog-sitting for my sister. Maybe these dogs will come visit me in Minnesota.

My roots are up, and I’m headed north. There is so much to be nervous about, and so much to be grateful for. Thanks for sticking with me, no matter the gap between posts, no matter the city in which I live.

See you soon, Minneapolis!

Minneapolis

“Nothing can be necessary that he withholds”

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

Last Friday, I listened to Taylor Swift’s 1989 for the entire 9-hour drive from Denver to Kansas City. Collectively my favorite record I’ve heard in ages, it just might have the power to pull me out of athletic retirement and train for another half marathon. Running would probably be good for me, seeing as how these days I’m wound as tight as a guitar string one pluck away from snapping up and whipping you in the eyeball.

In the past month, I’ve been in a lot of airports – Denver, Minneapolis, Austin, Atlanta, Kansas City, Chicago, Rochester, and Baltimore, to be exact. Between work and my far-flung family and friends, I travel more than the average person – and I’ve found that the only way I can survive the aggravation of airline travel is to wear earplugs at all times. Not ear buds – I don’t want music. No, I want to drown out everyone and everything, even at the risk of appearing rude to my fellow passengers. Oh, you just introduced yourself? UNACKNOWLEDGED. You’ll get over it one day.

But despite the irritation, airplanes get me where I want to go – which, this weekend, was upstate New York for 24 hours. While I’ve been a bridesmaid more times than I have fingers, “godparent” is a new role for me – and there was no way I was going to miss Colin’s baptism. He is 6 months of chubby, flirtatious perfection, and I’m honored beyond words that his parents would choose me.

Colin1

When the service was over and the reception was in full swing, I stole away to the edge of Will and Miranda’s dock on Seneca Lake. Their property is beautiful – it’s been in Will’s family for generations – and I needed to be by the water. At the risk of sounding all woo-woo, water affects me spiritually. It cracks my hard heart wide open. It’s a shame that Denver is so landlocked.

There on the dock, I thought about the stories that the majority of my friends are living, and how different mine is turning out to be. I tried to tell myself that it’s okay, I’m okay, that not having a family of my own is actually far less complicated and I should be happy for the simplicity of my little life. After all, as some well-meaning friends have told me, it’s dangerous to love someone so deeply – because then you have so much to lose.

Well. I’ve never been divorced. But I’ve never been married. I have never lost a child. But I’ve never had a baby. Hope unrealized brings with it its own invisible grief, one that doesn’t fit into an obvious category, the kind that solicits cards and casseroles. Could it be that things that haven’t happened can hurt as badly as things that could?

Because it’s one thing for all of your friends to get married. It’s another when they start having kids. It’s entirely another when they decide to be finished having kids… and you’re not sure if you’ll even start.

I know, cue the sob fest and the weeping ovaries. Except.

Here’s what I’m discovering: joy is found in connection, and connection comes in all sorts of forms. I might not be a wife, but I’m a friend who can and will hop on a plane at a moment’s notice to fly across the country. I might not be a mom, but I’m an auntie, and a dog lover, and now a godmother. I’m a daughter and a sister. I’m a hard worker who cares about the well-being of the people I work with. I’m a writer and a wanderer and a hoper and a dreamer, and damn it, I want to be one who celebrates the things worth celebrating, even if they’re not happening to me.

And until those celebrations are my own, I’m clinging to John Newton’s words: “Everything is necessary that [God] sends; nothing can be necessary that he withholds.”

Given that, I’m really thankful that God has sent Foxy Brains and Colin Warder and Southwest Airlines and red wine and Taylor Swift.

More

Monday, September 29th, 2014

“Do you find the tension between seeking contentment and desiring more, difficult? I do, certainly.”

Those were the closing lines of an email I received last week from a woman who has lived more life than I – and just like that, she so concisely distilled my entire life’s dilemma. Perhaps you relate?

Contentment in its truest form is a beautiful thing, and worth cultivating. But personally, I can easily confuse contentment with complacency – an artificial version of “satisfaction,” keeping my dreams and desires in the OFF position.

Contentment should never be at the risk of betraying one’s heart.

I used to feel a little sheepish that I (still) love the song “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid – but not anymore. Why shouldn’t I love it? The lyricist, Howard Ashman*, perfectly articulates the honest acknowledgement of restless desire, regardless of how much one has – which is actually quite profound.

I want more.

When’s it my turn?

Contentment and wanting more seem to be in direct opposition of each other – and like my friend Joey recently said, “I think that for some people, it’s honestly just harder to be happy.” And if it hadn’t been 10 in the morning, we would have clinked whiskey glasses.

The trouble with wanting more is that we’re never satisfied. The beauty of wanting more is that it cracks our lives wide open – for better and for worse, but ultimately for better. It’s like when you love someone. Loving makes you vulnerable to pain. Loving means there’s a lot to lose.

Loving can make you afraid. But being loved means you don’t have to be.

I don’t know that any of this makes much sense, and I don’t know if I even mean for it to. All I know is that I want MORE – and I’m not talking about the material things (although I’d definitely take another pair of Frye boots if you’re offering), but just… more. Life. Depth. Beauty. Freedom. I don’t want to play it safe – because this is what Mary Oliver calls my “one wild and precious life.”

What if there’s more for me? What if there’s more for you?

IMG_2720

(Once on a trip to Texas, I forgot pajamas. I raided the Target sale rack, and obviously chose this.)

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*From what I’ve learned about Howard Ashman (and trust me, I’ve obsessed over the man), I so wish I could have met him. His work on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin is some of the best musical storytelling there’s ever been. Watch this short clip, and try not to fall in love with him. And then watch this longer clip and witness Jodi Benson sing like a laser beam.

Grace and potatoes

Monday, September 8th, 2014

In the last month or so, I’ve been having a quiet mental breakdown.

I say “quiet” because it’s not like I’m falling apart. I’m waking up and exercising and getting my work done. I painted a wall in my living room the other day. I’m meal planning and taking Foxy on walks and meeting friends for drinks and boarding airplanes and generally just taking care of business.

But every night, I climb into bed and stare at the brick wall across the room, the one that sold me on the house – because hello, charm. But in these nighttime moments, it’s felt like a metaphor for something going on in my soul, something that I struggle to name but have been feeling on a daily basis.

I’m up against it.

I’ve just really been up against it these days, you guys – that desperate feeling that sneaks up for no real reason and with no real warning and tells me that the hard things are never going to get better, and that the things I desire aren’t worth hoping for. I wonder if my days have any purpose. All it takes is one quick trip down the rabbit hole that is Instagram to look at dozens of other people’s worlds that appear more lovely than mine, for a dozen different reasons that really aren’t worth listing, and I’m hit with that same old question: does my life matter at all?

I don’t mean to be dramatic. This isn’t a cry for help or a plea for people to validate me (that would make me embarrassed). But I just wonder if I’m not the only one who sometimes feels this way – futile and insignificant, like I should do more or have more or be more.

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Recently, I stood with my friend Becca over her garden in Minnesota, and she confessed that this year she and her husband had neglected the potatoes that they planted, not doing any of the things that they “should” have done to guarantee a good crop. But even so, their garden has produced dozens of pounds of beautiful, perfect potatoes.

“I look at my garden and I see grace,” she said. “We didn’t do anything to deserve potatoes. But we got them anyway.”

And then she picked some fresh strawberries and gave them to me to eat.

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I’m in the weeds these days. Some are there by my own negligence, some despite my best efforts – either way, they’re messing with my perfect little plot. Because when the things you hope for just aren’t happening and the things you despise just won’t go away, at some point you just want to throw up your hands.

But could it be that there is something good growing underneath?

I think that’s what grace is: the generosity of good things, whether or not we’ve earned them, whether or not we choose to acknowledge that they might be developing.

Let it go

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

This weekend, something that I wanted to work out didn’t work out, leaving me sad and disappointed. Then my bike seat broke. Then I tried to fix my bathtub drain, but realized I don’t have the right tools. Then several people told me, in various ways, that a dream that I’ve been working toward is a bad idea. Then, after dealing with shoddy, unreliable internet service for over a week, I came home yesterday afternoon to find that my actual electricity was gone.

Must be the wind, I thought, as I dialed Xcel to report the outage. I followed the prompts on the automated service, and then took Foxy on her lunchtime walk.

When I arrived back at the house, I got a phone call from someone in the Xcel customer support department. He asked me some questions about the meter (“It should be on the south side of the house”), so I found myself prowling through bushes, being poked in the eye by branches, and reading the unit number to the man on the phone – only for him to tell me that that’s the gas meter, and we need the electric meter.

That’s when I remembered I was on the north side of the house, and also, a moron.

So I headed around SOUTH into the backyard, crawled on a ledge, and had to touch dirty, rusty things, relaying meter readings to the man on the line, just to have him tell me that none of that helped him, so he would send a technician out – except, wait a second. What’s this?

He put me on hold while he took a look at my account, and eventually a new voice – a woman, probably Bad News Special Forces or something – came back on the line. Apparently, a neighbor had not paid her electric bill in quite some time, so they had disconnected her service – at least, what they thought was her service. Turns out they turned off mine instead.

Whoops.

Oh, and they wouldn’t be able to send someone to turn it back on until tomorrow.

And all of a sudden, it was just too much. Something snapped. This is when, to use a technical term, I lost my shit.

I have worked in customer service before, and still do, to a certain extent – which is why I couldn’t believe I was finding myself uttering words like “infuriating” and “unacceptable” and “immediately” and “you people” and “enraged” and “now – NOW.” My chest was tight but my tongue was loose. I was on an absolute rampage.

I spent the night at Becca and Mike’s, where Foxy whined non-stop in the darkness because that big yellow dog Grizz is RIGHT THROUGH THAT WALL. RIGHT THERE. HE’S THERE. I got a grand total of 2 hours sleep, and spent all day today feeling downright witless.

So now I’m home and the power is back on and I’m typing all of this out, and laughing because it’s so ridiculous. I’ve been sulking about things really not worth sulking about – especially since furrowing my eyebrows is the last thing I need to do more of, seeing as how that look is basically already my natural resting face.

The older I get, the more I realize my strong need for justice – which is unfortunate, since it’s also the more I realize that life just isn’t fair. Sometimes your neighbor doesn’t pay her bills, and you are the one inconvenienced. Sometimes you take good care of your things, and they break anyway. Sometimes someone else makes a decision, and your heart winds up paying a price.

We can try to legislate fairness into our lives, but it just isn’t going to happen.

I could be a sulker. I could resent people and situations and reality itself. I could shake my fist at heaven and tell everything to go to hell.

But to borrow an idea from Proverbs, I’d rather be clothed in strength and dignity, and laugh at the days to come – or you know, Frozen, and let it go.

Weight weight… don’t tell me

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Several years ago, I threw out my scale. The contraption had come to rule my life, with every weigh-in feeling like spinning a wheel in a game show – What did she win, Bob? – except the needle never landed on the jackpot. Tossing my scale into the dumpster was equal parts terrifying and liberating, and for years, I had no idea what I weighed.

But this past year, my mind started to play tricks on me. The mirror has never been dependable for me, as the image I see rarely matches reality. The old paranoia started to creep in; I was convinced I was gaining weight, even though my clothes still fit and my diet hadn’t changed. And while I kept a good poker face about it and didn’t mention this insecurity to almost anyone, inside, I was falling apart.

So in January, I decided to once again embrace the scale. In the midst of the mind-games that were yanking me around, I needed an objective number to ground me in reality. And no one is more surprised than me, but these days, I have to admit that knowing my weight is almost a comfort – an unbiased, unemotional truth in a manic world.

On Saturday morning at the gym, I stepped on the scale – the mechanical kind they have at the doctor’s office where the little weights are moved to the right or left until everything is balanced. I automatically set everything to the number I had been last week, but then was horrified to have to keep moving it up, up, up – over 10 pounds higher than it had been a week before.

Panic started to rise in my throat, threatening to strangle me. THIS CANNOT BE, I despaired. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?? NOOOOOOOO!

And then I heard a snicker behind me.

I whipped around to find a man much too old for pranks standing behind me with his foot on the corner of the scale, pressing down, laughing at his own trick. “I got you!” he crowed.

Fine, it’s kind of funny to retell it now – but in the moment? I was not amused. I was not a good sport. After calling him a dipshit in my mind and a terrorist to his face, I said, “That’s one of the meanest things you could do to a woman.” A sudden fury was rising, as were my eyebrows. He must have sensed my intensity, because he took a step back. I turned to face him square on. “Are you going to leave and let me weigh myself? I’LL WAIT.”

He slunk away, I stepped back on the scale and got the number I was expecting, and then spent the rest of the day thinking about body image, weight, beauty, and how they’ve all become so inextricably fused.

I recently saw an interview with Mindy Kaling. When asked, “What’s the biggest compliment someone could pay you?” without skipping a beat she replied, “That I’m beautiful.” No apology. No pretending that her answer was “wise” or “generous” or “compassionate” in the name of respectability. She wanted to be known as beautiful.

And it was so refreshing.

Because ladies, isn’t that it? Maybe I’m alone in this, but I’ll go ahead and own it: I want beauty to be the truest thing about me. Granted, the definition of beauty has been twisted by our culture to the point where it’s difficult to even be able to define it – but we know the real thing when we see it. We want to be associated with it. We were designed to want to be noticed, seen, and enjoyed.

Beauty is beyond the physical, of course – if you say differently, I’ll fight you. But because we live in this very physical world, it includes our bodies, our features, our faces. This is why we make attempts to foster our beauty – not to manufacture it, not to attain it, but to release what is already there. We want our outsides to match our insides, respecting and cherishing the bodies we’ve been given.

Of course, that’s the ideal world. Reality is much more warped.

I manage the Instagram account for my work, and a recent hashtag search accidentally led me to the accounts of young girls struggling with eating disorders. One of them had posted a picture of our product, a 200-calorie snack bar made of nothing but dates, peanuts and sea salt, with the caption, “I feel so guilty about eating this. I don’t deserve food.”

It broke my heart. And while I’ve never struggled with a full-blown eating disorder, I know guilt. I know deprivation. I know workouts as punishment, ubiquitous insecurity, and self-hatred – yes, hatred.

If I were a “tie a bow on it” type of Christian, this would be the time to say that God thinks we’re beautiful (even if the world doesn’t), that our hearts are all that matter (so stop being so vain), and just wait until that glorious day when there will be no more insecurity (the struggles of this life don’t mean a thing). But I’m not that kind of Christian.

I believe that “Thy kingdom come… on earth as it is in heaven” means that the physical here-and-now matters. I believe that our desires are important, because they point us toward something True. I believe that we come into this world packed to the core with beauty, and that part of the work of this life is to let some of that loveliness out, restoring us to what we were originally imagined to be. I believe that we get to play a part in making this sad place beautiful again.

And that’s something worth putting my weight on.

I got new jeans

Friday, July 19th, 2013

I used to be a lot more flamboyant. Case in point:

That was just before my 25th birthday. I was young and free (and possibly tipsy) and saw absolutely no issue with striking a pose for a booty shot, because I’m sorry, those jeans got the job DONE.

I’m about to be 31, and while there’s no way you’d ever catch me posing for a picture like that anymore (because these days I’m practically a librarian), I wore those exact same jeans yesterday. It’s been more than 6 years, and I’m still wearing them. Granted, they’ve blessedly stretched with me, as my derriere extraordinaire isn’t exactly what it once was – because while the good news is you don’t stay 25 forever, the bad news is neither does your butt.

But they still fit – and this, my friends, is a victory.

However, they’re threadbare, and I’m one panicked lunge away from disaster. So last night, in a fit of low self-esteem, I booked a haircut, shopped for makeup at Sephora, and bought a new pair of jeans at Nordstrom.

Don’t tell me a new pair of Hot Jeans won’t make me feel better about life.

My old pair have been demoted to “Second Favorite Jeans,” and I’ll reserve them for special occasions – like when I do karaoke in small towns. But for everything else, you’ll see me wearing my new jeans.

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I have a lot swirling around in my mind and my heart these days. It’s been a rough couple of weeks, and I’m processing through a lot of tough stuff. Some days, I feel like the very worst version of myself – and while I like you a whole lot, the internet probably isn’t the place to talk about these things.

So please accept a post about my jeans for today, and have a great weekend. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, like pose for booty shots. Unless you’re 25. Then go for it. You’ll want that picture later.