Foreword

foreword (n) – a short introductory essay preceding the text of a book / forward (adv) – movement onward so as to make progress

I am an expert at looking like an expert. (without really being one at all)

Can I get an ‘amen’ from all my fiercely motivated perfectionists out there? We work so hard to tie life up in a neat little bow when the reality sometimes looks more like the aftermath of a tornado. I cannot tell you the number of times I have set an unrealistic prediction for myself with full intention of accomplishing it, even though the likelihood of it going according to plan is nothing short of impossible. I’m sure my fellow idealists will agree that this go-getter mentality gets us places, but it comes at the expense of our personal well-being if we aren’t careful to keep it in check.

When the expectation I set for myself is perfection, the reality is that I will constantly be falling short, and as a result, always frustrated with myself. I want to enjoy the learning process that comes along with messing up, but truthfully I can’t seem to let myself catch a break. Be better, let it go, move on, I tell myself. But also, don’t let it happen in the first place.

Frankly, though, since when am I the authority on having it all together? Why can’t I find the grace to be kinder to myself? Letting go of things is painful, especially in this odd set of circumstances where I’m having trouble looking forward clearly. The people who know me deeply, who understand my competitive personality, my dry sense of humor and this unrelenting tendency to be tough on myself, are not people who share my physical space. I’m living now in this setting where I get to be independent, adventurous and constantly moving- my dream environment both personally and professionally. The chance to travel and meet new people every week is something I have to pinch myself about as a reminder that it’s real. It’s inspiring, motivating and never the same day twice, and it has fundamentally changed the way I look at the world.

However, I’m seeing more and more that without any sort of grounding, I’m left without a clear understanding of who I am and what I actually want. I, who tout my stubborn independence like a shiny badge of honor, need community more than ever. I am fraying at the seams without it. This year is humbling me in a profound way, teaching me to strike a balance between wanting to do it all and admitting my earnest need for people who know my heart.

Community brings us life in the most dynamic, enriching way. I am so, so grateful for it and ready to make it more of a priority. By the end of this year I hope to be in a new place entirely, which I know comes with a whole different set of challenges and a willingness to put myself out there and start fresh. Creating community is active. It requires vulnerability, an appreciation for loneliness and a desire to establish something brand new. It’s scary, but it’s also decidedly freeing. I love the idea of seeking out people who will make me better by loving me exactly where I am. This is my foreword, the beginning chapter of a story unfolding in greater ways than I could ever hope to plan. And you know what? That in itself is a grand exercise in letting go.

S

 

 

Constellation

One of the perks of having parents who live in the country (or as I so affectionately refer to it, the middle of nowhere) is that it provides an atmosphere of total quiet in the midst of life’s noise. Coming home for vacation is often a much-needed escape, especially for someone like me who tends to run full speed ahead without knowing how or when to stop and breathe. Not to mention, it has the most beautiful nighttime view of the stars I have ever seen. I tell people this all the time when I’m describing my childhood home to them, but I wish a photograph or short summary could do it justice. The total dark of the Tennessee wilderness on a clear night lends a view of the sky that is breathtaking, humbling and just absolutely remarkable.

My late drive home tonight had me thinking about how disjointed I am feeling these last several months. Life right now reminds me of a newly opened puzzle box, probably with about a million pieces that are supposed to fit together into some glorious grand finale, except that I haven’t a clue how to arrange them in that order. I am in the midst of one of life’s most unsettled, lonely and confusing seasons, and that is the honest truth, no matter how often photo evidence and cheery exchanges may favor the contrary. It’s challenging and worth every moment, and I am immensely grateful, but I’m also working hard to acknowledge that it’s okay to say, “Yep, this period of life is tough.” Closing the door on 2016 will truthfully feel like a breath of fresh air.

Back to the stars, though–I pulled into the drive tonight and was instantly struck by the vastness of the sky and the reminder of how small I am in the grand scheme of the world. Every single star is one spot in the midst of trillions, yet it holds complete ownership of its particular brightness and space. And stars, just like puzzle pieces, are each one tiny facet of a bigger picture, one that is impossible to see if we focus too much on every tiny detail. Just noticing one star would be nothing spectacular; it is seeing the entire sky that brings the magic into perspective.

I’m also sitting here thinking about how humans named constellations because they picked out a cohesive image or design from an otherwise random cluster of stars. We took groups of things with seemingly no particular correlation and deemed them united and awe-inspiring: the Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, Orion’s Belt. Doesn’t life often happen this way too? Our path toward progress looks less like the forward trajectory of an arrow and more like a splatter of stars strewn with no rhyme or reason across the sky. Taken piece by piece, it doesn’t make sense. Only when you step back and view the thing in its entirety does it create a continuing story.

What I’m working to remind myself is this: there is peace in mulling over the unfinished puzzle wondering if it will ever come together or not. There is also value in saying, “This is scary and uncomfortable and exhausting.” But it’s important not to get too hung up on the individual pieces without being able to see the bigger picture. It’s there, and it’s coming, and if it’s anything like what I know of the stars, I can certainly hope that it’s worth these little moments of chaos.

The Future Goes By ‘She’

This week has me feeling all kinds of feelings. The cries of frustration and fear and anger are so loud I feel a bit like I’m drowning in the midst of them. I’m confused, I’m overwhelmed, and I’m exhausted. And more than that, I feel powerless to help the people in my life who are suffering. That distinct and resounding feeling of helplessness might be the scariest notion of all.

My run this morning, like many mornings as of late, felt something like a prayer. I’m not religious, nor do I have any great faith in a higher power, but I do know for certain that the act of movement is a spiritual thing. Surrounded by noise that blocks out the ability to process or reason, sometimes it is all I can do to get outside, move my feet forward, and wonder what all this outcry means. For myself, my community, my country, my world. What gives here? How can we heal?

The reality is that this election was not an encouraging one for many women in this country. If you voted for Donald Trump, this is not intended to feel like an accusation. And I’m proud that you used your vote to speak up for issues more significant than a candidate’s gender. But for others of us, this outcome is painful. I will admit that I’m scared of the thought of having a president who dismisses assault as “locker room talk” and compares a woman’s ability to “satisfy her husband” to her political aptitude. I am lucky to live in a time when being female is so much easier than it used to be, and I can humbly acknowledge the privilege afforded to me by my sexuality, birthplace, education, and the color of my skin. I cannot claim to understand the perspectives of my minority and LGBTQ+ friends, nor should I try to relate. The best I can do is listen and love and pray and hurt with them. Yet what this week has shown me, what I can relate to distinctly and personally, is that women still have such a long way to go. 

In the midst of anger and uncertainty, however, opportunities arise. Trees grow and flowers bloom in the most unlikely of places. And if there is anything that makes me thankful in this time of confusion, it is seeing the fiery resolution in people to work for change. I hope there is a woman out there, one who has dreamed her whole life about shattering that glass ceiling, watching this week’s events. She’s inspired and she’s impassioned and she’s motivated. She’ll stop at nothing until she becomes the change she’s fighting for. And I, for one, cannot wait to be her cheerleader.

At the end of the day, I believe to the core of my being that love will always win and that people are stronger when we are united. I also know that our work for women’s equality is nowhere near finished. But I feel more confident than ever that the future has momentum. It looks like the working single mother who stays up late to study after her children go to sleep. It looks like the female CEO who has endured countless “she’s a bitch” allegations for her commitment to her job. It looks like the marathon runner who gets faster every day despite cat calls and threatening remarks made on the street corner. The future looks like progress, and I have this sneaking suspicion it goes by ‘she.’

November Travels & Traditions

Hold up- how is it November already? These last few weeks have been a whirlwind and I’m over here in Kentucky working hard to keep up. Fall is my favorite time of year and even though I haven’t gotten to enjoy any real sweater weather yet, I’m loving the beauty and new life that come along with the changing seasons. This past month I’ve gotten the chance to meet so many humans (I freaking LOVE humans, you guys) and what a privilege it is to get a glimpse into all these charming, intricate, and varied lives. It’s the coolest thing.

I’m coming atcha’ live this Sunday afternoon with some travel highlights, autumn traditions, and reasons to get pumped for the holidays. (But really, did you need another reason besides the glorious occasion that is Thanksgiving dinner? Enough said.)

I’m visiting our Gamma Xi Chapter at Murray State University this weekend, and I’m charmed by the sweet, Southern small town feel of this place. Everyone knows everyone and will go out of their way to make this suitcase-carrying stranger feel at home. Not to mention the women of Gamma Xi are SO much fun. I’ve gotten to go to a fall festival, hold three different puppies, and do quite a bit of exploring on campus. The chapter has their annual fall lip-sync battle, “Rockathon,” this Friday and I will be cheering them on from Kansas and probably trying to figure out a way to FaceTime in. Can I participate over the phone?

But before I get ahead of myself here, I WAS IN TENNESSEE LAST WEEK! This was my first real chunk of time back in Nashville since I moved away in June, and it was exactly what I needed after months of hotel beds and rental cars. Nashville may not be my home anymore but it will always hold a very large piece of my heart and some of the most special people I know. Plus I find something new to love about the city every single time I visit. Mary and Miranda (two of those people I couldn’t survive this crazy year without) took time out of their work week to grab dinner with me at Up Rooftop Lounge in the Gulch, a hidden gem on the roof of the Fairfield Inn & Suites (who would’ve guessed?) that provides a stunning view of the Nashville skyline. Safe to say my enthusiasm was at an all-time high.

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I could write a novel about how much I love these friends. Thank you for making hundreds of miles of distance feel like nothing!
Another perk of spending time at home was that I got to help my dad with one of my cherished childhood traditions–making homemade applesauce! We have been doing this every year in my house for as long as I can remember so you better believe it was the first thing I asked to do when I got to Clarksville. My father has been perfecting this recipe for decades and he might not love that I’m sharing secrets, but he’ll never know, right? (Except I’m pretty sure he reads this. Sorry, dad.)

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The first trick to the perfect fall applesauce is the ratio of green to red apples. We use half Granny Smith to keep the final product from being too sweet, and the other half can be your favorite type of red apples. We cut them all up, blend them (skins and all!) and add some other type of special ingredient each year to change up the flavor. This year’s choice: blueberries and pears. Once the mixture is blended, place it in a giant pot over medium heat until it starts to bubble. Then add spices to taste–we use cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves followed by a generous spoonful of honey. Turn the mixture down to low, let it cook for a couple of hours, and you have the most comforting autumn treat to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (Oops.) Did I mention it makes the house smell like cinnamon apple heaven? Let’s sign my dad up for Top Chef already.

Other things I’m loving this month:

  • This navy and red plaid shirtdress from Brooks Brothers. Most of my October visits were in the South with weather in the 80’s, so this dress is my sneaky way of dressing for fall without dying of heatstroke.
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  • The NYC marathon! It happened this morning and I was absolutely dying to be there. I have been slacking on my running lately and this has me motivated to start training for that 3:13 marathon qualifying time. Guys, I’ve got a long way to go. Yikes.
  • Speaking of New York, I’M GOING NEXT MONTH! Emily and I are taking a girls’ trip and I’m so full of ideas and excitement I may not even make it to Christmastime. 38 days…who’s counting?
  • Kid President. If you ever need a reminder that you can make it through this week, or even just this day, he’s got you covered. Go do something awesome.

All my love!

-S

Walking in Memphis, Tennessee

“God bless the boys from Memphis, blue suede shoes, and Elvis Presley.” -George Jones

Now, let me preface. My time in Memphis last week wasn’t my first trip to the area, but I loved every minute all the same. It’s fun to have the opportunity to explore cities close enough to home that they already feel familiar, but you undoubtedly find something new each time you take a look around. This trip was no exception.

When you travel alone you get used to doing things by yourself–whether it be exploring a new area, trying a local restaurant, or even taking an Uber to a neighborhood you’ve been wanting to see (struggles of being in fun cities without a car of your own). During my Leadership Development visit with our Gamma Zeta chapter at the University of Memphis, I decided to take an afternoon off to head over to the Cooper Young District–a thriving area home to young professionals, delicious food, and hipster coffee shops, AKA my personal version of heaven on earth. The day wouldn’t have been complete without a nod to Mr. Elvis Presley himself, so of course I wore my favorite blue suede heels from J.Crew (they no longer sell the color but I’ve linked the style for reference).

Here’s a little rundown of my afternoon stroll:

  1. Muddy’s Bake Shop: This place is so comfy and fun and was the perfect nook for me to catch up on email and get some work done with a matcha latte in hand. It used to be a residential home so it has its own fireplace, porch, and a distinctly local feel. They even have a cake studio where chefs create custom designs for weddings and parties!
  2. Burke’s Book Store: I’m fairly certain I could spend the rest of my life in this bookstore. It’s one of those rare gems where I could sit for hours looking through history books and dreaming I lived back in the 1920s (totally a reasonable thing to wish, right?). Another fun fact: this bookstore is the place where I bought my first copy of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden two years ago, which has since become my all-time favorite novel.
  3. Java Cabana: This place reminded me of JJ’s Marketplace in Nashville so naturally I loved it immediately. I got the iced chai with almond milk (second coffee shop drink of the day, no shame) and enjoyed the eclectic little atmosphere and fair trade coffee samples. There was a book club gathering happening in the corner and it was tempting for me to join in, but alas, I wasn’t prepared with the proper reading material.

For more details on Cooper-Young happenings, visit their website here. They have a whole series of events throughout the year and I wish I had longer to stay! This tiny neighborhood is just a taste of what Memphis has to offer and I already can’t wait for my next trip. (Hint: Graceland and Beale Street will definitely be on the agenda!)

-S

 

At a Glance: Liberty, Missouri

Today I walked around what I’m convinced is the real life set of Gilmore Girls. Liberty, Missouri is a suburb located about 20 minutes outside of Kansas City and home to William Jewell College, a private liberal arts college of around 1,000 students. I’m here this weekend visiting our Epsilon Epsilon chapter of Alpha Gamma Delta, and I am quickly learning why they call this place a hidden gem (because it’s a “Jewell,” get it?).

Liberty has the most authentic small town feel, which is amazing considering its proximity to downtown Kansas City. I’ve visited the KC area before because my dad grew up there, but this is my first time in Liberty and I have to say I’m falling in love. One of my favorite parts of this job is getting the chance to explore places I might never see otherwise, and this afternoon I got to do just that. Here are some highlights from my stroll through the campus and town square!

How beautiful is this place? If you ever get the chance to stop here while you’re in the area I highly recommend it. The historic downtown square has a collection of antique shops, boutiques, and a lovely coffee shop called Hammerhand where I holed up for several hours to do some writing. The fall colors are especially vibrant this time of year and I am in awe of how peaceful and secluded the town feels. I’m an urban girl at heart so the fact that this serene little suburb exists so close to the city is the best of both worlds.

One more pro tip: Try the frozen custard at Sheridan’s! The Alpha Gams are taking me there tonight and I have heard it’s a local favorite. Stay tuned to see if it lives up to the hype.

-S

Rose-Colored Glasses + New Chapters

Hey there, folks! It’s October, it’s a Monday, and it’s been awhile. Today I want to share something that’s been on my heart more often than not the past several weeks–along with the world’s most exciting update about Alpha Gam’s brand new chapter in Chattanooga, Tennessee! It’s been a busy few months and I couldn’t be more grateful (or tired). Life is happening so fast and it’s unbelievable how much can take place in the span of just weeks.

First I’m going to be vulnerable with you all for a second. As my post-grad friends are settling into their adult lives and establishing routines, this nomad lifestyle I’m currently living can feel a little out of place and strange. I am finding it far too easy to wonder what it would be like to have a home somewhere and a city to call mine. Frustration creeps up as I wonder how other people seem to have it all together while I can barely find the blazers hiding in the bottom of my suitcase. Or grab lunch just in time to cram into my middle seat on the airplane. “Glamorous jet-setter? Me?” I think. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

But let’s be honest–who doesn’t fall victim to this kind of self-talk?  How often have you pulled up your Instagram feed on a Sunday afternoon and scrolled through dozens of brightly colored photos of friends (many of whom you barely know) having what looks like the time of their lives in the most beautiful places? Comparison is a trap that pulls us in unsuspectingly and entangles us before we have a chance to run the other way. I think we often see other people’s lives through rose-colored glasses without taking a step back to remember that things are not always as they seem. We present these glossy exteriors to the world while hiding our mess right along with the coffee stains on our sweaters.

I guess my point here is that I’m working to shift this paradigm that tells me I should be meeting everyone else’s expectations. The truth is that we’re all just trying to make it in this world, in whatever random or hectic or #glam (not at all) way that we can. And if you’re ever sitting around wondering when in the world you’re going to measure up, know that you are certainly not the only one, and that timing has a tendency to work wonders if we surrender our need to control every little detail. Hang in there.

But now for my other news! This is what you actually wanted to hear, right? After a busy month of extension at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Alpha Gamma Delta has a brand new chapter of over 70 women who are already proving to be leaders on their campus and in the Fraternity. Extension can be a strange experience because you work diligently for weeks to create something that doesn’t exist at all yet. It’s easy to wonder how on earth the whole thing is ever going to come together and then panic and retreat to Starbucks because it all just seems too overwhelming. (Speaking from personal experience? Absolutely.) But the best feeling in the world is seeing women whom you and your coworkers have met on campus take the leap and join an organization that will change their lives. They’re getting to create something brand new that will be around for decades or even centuries. How mind-blowing is that?

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Today’s reminder: I appreciate you always (yes, YOU!) and am thankful to get to share experiences and stories with the people who matter the most. Happy October–have a wonderful few weeks and give yourself some space to be imperfect! Goodness knows the world needs more of that.

-S