World’s Cheesiest Holiday

On the radio this morning I was reminded that National Grilled Cheese Day is coming up next Wednesday (April 12th). Not that we don’t have enough holidays to celebrate as it is, but glorifying the best food item known to man seems legit.

A few years ago when I took a “Hair-styling for Makeup Artists” course in Dallas, TX, I spent a few weeks prior scouring the internet for things to do there while I wasn’t occupied with studies. One of the reasons I chose Dallas was because I’d never been. Also, a comparable class wasn’t offered anywhere near me, so I saw this as an opportunity to combine education with vacation.

I booked a “Foodie Tour,” which I discovered was a great way to stuff yourself with amazing food while getting exercise and meeting a few folks along the way. The tour guide had each person wear a name tag bearing the name of a famous Dallas celebrity. I was Morgan Fairchild (of course I was). It was at least 105 degrees the day of the walk and we sampled everything from tacos to barbecue to crawfish to decadent desserts. It’s possible that I gained 10 pounds that day. What I didn’t sweat off is still with me.

The day I arrived in Dallas, I secured a rental car and made my way to a restaurant that specialized in grilled cheese sandwiches. At the time, these were rare. Now the concept seems to have spread like wildfire as dozens more seem to have popped up overnight. I remember how lucky I thought I was to have found the ONE grilled cheese restaurant on the planet. Ha! How the times have changed. Now there seems to be one on every corner. Places like Gooey’s and Tom & Chee are becoming the new chains of choice for grilled cheese aficionados across the nation. We even have a food truck devoted specifically to the science of crafting grilled cheese deliciousness.

Hungry yet?

I’m seriously considering hosting a “Grilled Cheese Day” party just for grins. (And because I haven’t had a decent grilled cheese in a month of Sundays) After all, I’ve spent years perfecting my recipe. I might as well share it.

I’m not exactly sure when my love of grilled cheese began, but I do remember summers when my parents would rent the Neese’s timeshare at Atlantic Beach. It was the second week of August every year, like clockwork. In my quest to be popular, one day when it rained I invited the entire crew of teens up to our place for lunch. Mom and Dad were good sports, but I think the only things we had in any large quantity were cheese, bread and butter.

That was the moment I learned to craft the basic-white-bread-2-Kraft-single Grilled Cheese. It was also the moment that I became a short order cook for about an hour.

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In my quest for information about this holiday, I stumbled upon a comprehensive list of every odd, nonsensical, cult-following, or “just because” holiday. If you need a reason to celebrate something on any particular day of the year, here it is:

Comprehensive list of all holidays (at least one per day all year).

Holiday

Officer Squirrel-Killer

Who’s ready for a good laugh?

I’m the newest member of the Citizen’s Police Academy!

Yes, I realize I’m not what you’d typically imagine when you picture a class of students in a “police academy” setting, but when I saw the write-up, something told me I needed to go ahead and do it. WHY NOT?

I’ve spent so many years letting the squirrels win.
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I made myself so unnecessarily busy doing all the wrong things for so long that I had almost forgotten what the right things were. This made me say NO a lot. Now, I’m saying a lot more YES, but my NOs have much more power and meaning.

I remember a time not so long ago when I worked for a modeling school. I’d been laid off from WorldCom (now Verizon Business) and it was the first viable job option that opened up for me. My parents wanted me to “hold out” for another job in the tech industry, but I knew my severance package wouldn’t last forever and felt guilty collecting unemployment. Even though I enjoyed the work, the environment was stressful. The owners knew all about business, but little about the industry. As soon as the “stage parents” learned I was there, I’d spend entire Saturdays sequestered in my office with a line of parents out the door.

When I started the position, I was engaged. Both my fiance and my parents encouraged me to quit straightaway and look for something else. They thought the job was beneath me. Even with the constant backlash, I stayed my course and threw myself into my work. My relationship dissolved. It became too difficult to come home every night to someone who didn’t believe in you.

One of the last events I attended for the modeling school was the Southern Women’s Show. This event happens every year and fills the convention center with women of all ages. It was my job (along with the new receptionist Joey) to gather leads for new students. Joey was flamboyantly gay and a LOT of fun, so between times of “doing our job” we would sample the food, participate in every demo that seemed fun (or ridiculous), and just walk around everywhere being silly and looking fabulous.

That particular year there was a hypnotist on the main stage giving a demonstration. Since Joey and I stuck out like two of the sorest thumbs ever, the hypnotist selected us to come onstage (along with 20 others). I listened to every word… or at least I thought I was listening. But the squirrels were way too strong to silence. I just couldn’t relax, not even for 10 minutes. I remember being so disappointed in myself as I left the stage.

The hypnotist said, “It’s okay. Some people just can’t be hypnotized.” I would have liked to believe that was true, but I knew deep down it probably wasn’t. It took that defining moment to make me take a step back and see exactly how bad it had gotten. The squirrels had taken over. I was panicked and nervous. I felt at times like the walls were closing in. It was hard to breathe. I couldn’t relax.

That Monday when I returned to the office, I did something I never thought I’d do. I quit my job without a backup plan, giving 2 weeks notice.

Later that same day, my friend Renee called and offered me a position managing the Smirnoff promotion at the amphitheater. She told me I’d need to hire on a few more girls for the Summer concerts, but if I wanted it, the job was mine.

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So I did.

Limitless (and the Pitfalls of Private School)

It’s natural to have doubts. We don’t start out that way. In fact, we start out trusting everyone. We talk to strangers, reach for the hot burner, don’t look both ways before crossing the street, attempt to stick our fingers in the light socket… (okay well perhaps not all of us, but we get the warnings regardless) We are born fearless and without prejudice. We know no strangers. We have no issues of weight or body image. We don’t doubt ourselves. Why should we? The world is a great big mystery to be solved and it’s all out there for us! And then… we’re thrust out into the real world.

I remember my first bitter taste of reality. My parents sent me off to Junior Kindergarten at a private school that required all students to wear uniforms. We couldn’t even wear our winter coats on the playground at recess because our school emblems needed to be visible at all times. That first day Mom also sent me off with a few toy cars in my pocket. As soon as I pulled them out at recess, they were quickly stolen by a girl named Mary Alice Askew. I asked for them back, she refused. I asked again to no avail. Recess ended and we were ushered back inside.

Class started, but I was still distraught over the injustice that had just occurred. I whispered to Mary Alice while the teacher’s back was turned, “Give me back my cars!” She snickered. Overhearing this, the teacher called me to the front of the class and asked what was going on. “Mary Alice stole my cars!” I said. The teacher then promptly collected the cars from Mary Alice, put them in her desk drawer and gave me a spanking in front of the entire class! I returned to my seat, car-less and mortified. This was the exact moment I learned that life was not fair.

I spent 10 years at that odd little school with its strange rules and stringent dress code. My Mother was under the impression that if I attended a private school, I would meet people of a higher social standing than those in public schools. What she didn’t realize was that many of the students at this school were sent there because they were kicked out of everywhere else. She also didn’t realize how badly I was being treated by my peers. I was never taught to stick up for myself, so I was bullied and talked down to probably more often than I even noticed.

Mom used to arrange after-school play-dates with girls in my grade who she assumed I was friends with. I wasn’t, and I was usually surprised when they told me they were supposed to come home with me. They were nice to me one-on-one, but when we got back to school nothing changed. Mom kept arranging these hangouts and I kept wanting real friends. I may have been young, but at least I knew the difference.

My teen years were painfully awkward. I was too ugly, too skinny, I’d never kissed a boy and I didn’t know what all the sex slang terms meant. If I wanted a guy to pay attention to me, I had to grab the new transfer student before he started hanging out with the cool kids and making fun of me as well. I wasn’t cool by any stretch of the imagination, so I just did my best to get through.

I found an escape through the world of musical theater and collected a handful of quirky theater nerd friends along the way. There was a great theater camp during the summer and I had started getting a few lead roles here and there. (All the while, my parents were hoping I’d switch gears and tell them I secretly wanted to become a Doctor or Rocket Scientist) One year, right before school started, I landed the role of Baby Louise in Gypsy, which required me to dye my hair a deep, dark brown color. The bullies at school didn’t miss a beat on that one. The prank calls about my hair looking like “excrement” started a few weeks before the show opened. Luckily that was about the extent of it.

But all of that never broke me. Sure, I had plenty of teenage “sequester yourself in your room-listen to loud music and cry” moments, but doesn’t everyone? And I finally found my voice. It took me a long time to learn how I needed to stick up for myself, but I finally have. My friend JD used to say that I had a habit of going from zero to bitch in 60 seconds. This was because I wouldn’t say anything until I was past my breaking point. I put up with all sorts of things that I should have nixed from the start. This comes from a history of self-doubt. When you experience so much unpleasantness, you start to question yourself and wonder if you’ve done something to deserve it. Then in later life, it takes a while to realize that it was never you at all. It takes a skilled eye to see through people.

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So I’ll leave you with this…

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They Walk Among Us

Have you ever had a friend you thought was so terrific you often wondered why they were still single? Or perhaps YOU are that friend. Evidently, I am that friend. I both relish and fear this thought for a few good reasons:
Sure, it’s very flattering to be thought of as such a hot commodity. HOWEVER, I always fear that things will not go well and I will forever be known as “that bitch who broke my friend.”

Flash forward to last night…

Recently, a friend has taken an interest in making sure that neither Lee Ann nor myself don’t remain single on her watch. Although, both attempts failed and each rendered its share of awkwardness, mine may have won the prize.

It started out innocently enough. A post-work drink at a bar near my house. The location was strategic in case I needed to make a quick getaway, but I didn’t think it would be necessary. What I didn’t know was that he was 3 beers in when I arrived. It’s possible that everyone on the premises knew but me.

He made a point to let me know that he liked my looks… A LOT and then went on to tell me how much he worked out, how great he was at sex (because evidently I needed to know right away?), how much he liked my swimsuit photos on Facebook, how much he loves golf and has a trip to Myrtle Beach planned for which he’s set a countdown timer on his phone (which he needed to show me of course), how he used to work for Microsoft (and after that could get his pick of jobs like he was some sort of wunderkind), and how he now works for Lenovo. Then he told me about how he travels all the time since he’s divorced and his kid is 18. He also made a point of giving me the exact figure he paid his wife in the divorce and probably expected me to flinch more, but I was too busy processing all of the nonstop braggadocio.

I almost did a spit take when he asked, “and can I talk about myself for a minute?” It made me wonder what it was we were doing before. Was I talking about myself? Nope. I told one story about one person we knew in common. Other than that, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. He told me his work was sending him to Germany on Saturday. Then he asked me if I was seeing anyone else. Before I could even answer him he told me he was seeing a few different women. A FEW? Then he expressed a huge amount of disdain quite loudly that they all wanted him to take care of them. That was what he thought all the girls he dated had in common. Not that they were all pretty… or all blondes… or all tall… NO. He thought they all wanted him to look after them. This is probably news to those women.

After this loud declaration (which was probably the middle of beer 7ish?), he took my hand and told me he was taking me to Germany with him. He went on to say that I was buying my own plane ticket, but that we’d have steak every night and even though we’d be staying in the same hotel room I didn’t have to do anything with him. Good Lord, he didn’t even bother to ask if I was vegan! (which I’m not, but still… I don’t think it would matter much) And then he told me that he would need to work during the day, but I could go shopping. Gee… Like I need more stuff in my life. And to be held captive by this loon in a foreign country eating steak and wandering around by myself while he worked? Sounds like the premise for a horror movie.

When he excused himself and went to the bathroom, the two women seated beside me at the bar, the bartender, and the promotions guy from a Brewery in Fuquay who had watched him pre-game while he waited for me to arrive decided that they had heard enough. ALL OF THEM told me to run just as fast as I could to get away from this loser. They couldn’t believe the crap that was coming out of his mouth. They were appalled that he put a price tag on his marriage and told me he would probably put one on me as well. His repeated insistence even after my repeated refusal about the Germany trip, which was only 3 days away they found odd and pushy. They figured that he saw women as possessions, just as he saw everything else. He was big and important and owned everything. He saw no reason he couldn’t own me as well.

As soon as he returned, I glanced at my watch and remarked about how late it had suddenly become. I started putting on my jacket, an act which he tried to dissuade. I got up and started for the door. The 2 ladies beside me nodded and told me not to worry about the tab, they had my back. To be honest, I was really happy to see how women I didn’t even know would look out for me.

He was hammered. I let him walk me to my car, then watched him stumble away. I figured he probably walked back to the bar (which was the only reason I didn’t pop my head back in to thank the women and pay my tab myself). My friend informed me later that he called an Uber. She also informed me that he wouldn’t have been able to start his car because he had an ignition interlock device installed in his car. This would have been useful information to have known going in. Ugh, the Achilles Heel of all that bravado. Ridiculous.

Not Today Satan

Today is the day I find out if my house is slowly sinking into the abyss. I have an appointment with someone who is going to crawl under my house to inspect my foundation and supporting beams. A few years ago someone noticed an indention near the guest tub where the floor had caved in. A few years before that, the tell-tale cracks above a few entrance-ways began to form. Since all of my home repair knowledge came from my father, I believed him when he told me, “It’s just the foundation settling. It happens. I just need to put a jack under the house and jack it up.” To this day, that hasn’t happened. And due to my recent DIY and organization streak, the moment of reckoning is upon me.

I bought my house a year after my graduation from college to avoid “throwing money away on rent.” Because I was young and cared more about socializing, buying cute clothes and learning the newest makeup techniques… that’s where the majority of my time, effort and disposable income were spent. To be honest, I had no business becoming a homeowner. Then again, I’m grateful that I purchased my little pillbox house when I did because it’s about a 15-minute drive to just about anything I need. I’m literally in the middle of everything. Nowadays, people pay a small fortune for a luxury like that.

Some people go through life with a checklist. Car, College, Marriage, Dog, House, Kid(s)… My mother told me that I’d meet my husband in college. That never happened. After I graduated, I looked back, thinking I must have done something wrong. I hadn’t.

My parents had a few very rigid ideas about how I was to go about the business of my life. When I was younger, they never allowed me to have any pets except for the occasional hermit crab, fish or gerbil. I was allergic to cats, but dogs were out of the question. Although I was doing musical theater since age 7, art, writing poetry and music… my parents insisted that I get a degree in “business” so that I would have “marketable skills.” They didn’t want me to be a “starving artist” living under a bridge in a cardboard box, which was how they saw anyone who sought a career in art of any kind.

I’m on my second dog now. The first was a gorgeous Pekingese puppy I picked up at a pet store with an old boyfriend. I told him, “When we tell my parents, you gave me this puppy as a gift, right?” My parents eventually warmed up to the little fur ball. They even shed a few tears when he passed away after 16 years of being their precious GrandDog. Now I have a big fuzzy Australian Shepherd rescue. I think rescue dogs appreciate you more because they’ve been through stuff. Adopting that little fur face was the best thing I’d done in a long time. I’d almost forgotten what it was like to be loved unconditionally. This little guy taught me how to love and be loved all over again.

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And as far as that “starving artist” stuff goes… I’ve been doing my best to make Mom & Dad eat those words. I still have my “responsible steady day job” that pays the bills, but I’ve been enjoying growing my side hustle. I signed up for this monthly box designed for female entrepreneurs and found out today that the curator lives in the Charlotte/Rock Hill area… only a stone’s throw away! I’ve been messaging with her since I’d been stumbling upon motivational content of my own. She just started her box business in December and it’s already one of the most sought-after on Cratejoy.

Nowadays people are finding (and fueling) their passions in so many unconventional ways. It’s possible to make a living doing things that the generations before us would scoff at. You just have to get out there and find out what really sets your heart ablaze. And be you, no matter what anyone else tells you, even Mom & Dad.

And Love Yourself.

Love Yourself

New Year’s Resolution #5839 – Stop putting other people first.

I’m not sure why this hasn’t been the mantra recited in my head daily. I think it’s because I’ve been a people-pleaser since birth. But when you take a step back and think about it, it’s stupid to sacrifice your own feelings only to spare those of someone else. Most people can see through you when you aren’t being authentic… at least that’s the basic assumption.

All of this finally sunk in at the end of last year. I put it into practice. I was miserable, so I got out of my miserable relationship. I said NO to IT and YES to ME. I was scared to death of hurting him, but I finally convinced myself that my happiness was simply more important… not more important than him or his happiness. That’s not it at all. It’s just that for the duration of the relationship, I had been so concerned about him that I never really thought about myself. And for a change, I needed to think about what would make me happy.

I took a day and thought and cried and kept to myself. Before I knew it, I had an answer. I needed to get out of the relationship. So I put on my big girl panties and did it.

“Deciding is freedom. Indecision is torture”
– Jen Sincero
You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life

I felt awkward and weird for a little while. Some days I even wondered if I’d made a mistake. Then one day the happy set in. I realized that I could do whatever I wanted again. I didn’t have anyone making demands on my time or watching every move I made via social media. The tightness in my chest released. My smile came back. I started making plans with friends I hadn’t spent quality time with in what seemed like ages. The smile became bigger. I started setting goals, creating budgets, making to-do lists, researching things I’d only dreamed of doing.

“It’s all happening.”
Penny Lane
Almost Famous

Now every morning I get up and look forward to my days. Even though most of them have been packed with the sort of homeowner minutia that makes most people groan with disdain. I’ve been kicking ass at work. (I even got an email from a recruiter about a job I would have given my eyeteeth to do a few years ago and even today considered shooting him a resume just for fun) I have a great side hustle and get to meet famous people constantly. The workmen destroyed my mailbox post? Meh, I got another. And the company was super-sweet in their correspondence with me, which made the entire process feel less daunting. Even the bad stuff seems good now.

This weekend I’m going to visit my friend Allison. We’re celebrating our friend Renee’s birthday with our friend Tracy. These are 3 of the strongest, bravest, most awesome women I know and I’m grateful to have them in my circle. Renee’s celebration also happened to fall the day before the K. Flay concert at my favorite venue in the same city. When I saw the concert announced, I’d lamented first because it was on a Monday and second because it was at my favorite intimate venue. It seemed impossible for me to be able to make that happen.

Then one day Allison sent me a text asking if I would come celebrate Renee the night before the concert. I immediately told her about K. Flay and asked if we could figure the concert into our plans. Before I knew it, I was asking for time off and purchasing concert tickets.

You only get one life. Live it the way YOU want.

Define Perfect

You may not know it if you’ve been to my house lately, but I’m a perfectionist. I will correct your grammar, tuck in your visible clothing tags and offer to groom your crazy eyebrows. I’m fine with change, but I like knowing that if something has my mark on it, I’ve done my best. This is one reason my storage closets are where old beauty products and tools go to die. If something works better than what I’m currently using, I have to have it. This usually comes at the cost of the cluttered graveyard of all products that have gone before.

Yesterday I had my interim review. For the past few years I’ve been immersing myself in MS access and VBA while being given all of the broken databases to fix. I was never trained. I just jumped in and learned. Now people are asking me their Access questions. It’s a goal of mine to learn as many programming languages as I can, so I indicated that and my Manager agreed. My next project is in C#.

I’ll be honest. I was a Technical Writer for so long that I got caught in a loop. I had no idea how to grow from there. My boss at the time took notice when I was finding so many bugs in the applications I documented that he suggested I try writing code. Who would have thought I’d enjoy it?

It really changes your outlook on the world when you’re given an opportunity for growth like that… knowing that every day you come to work, you’ll be challenged and learn something new. I used to struggle to get out of bed in the morning. I was unchallenged and growing complacent. Most of my energy was spent on my side hustle(s). I managed and fronted a band for almost 4 years and I’ve been a freelance makeup artist since 1999.

I put myself through Esthetician School when I felt it was time to take a hiatus from playing music live. I was exhausted. All of the marketing, website, newsletter, booking, calendar, music distribution (MP3 and sheet music), rehearsal space… pretty much everything was being handled solely by me. I spent late nights drafting newsletters, downloading MP3s and searching for sheet music. I got up early send out invites, draft Facebook posts and update our website. By the end my health was suffering. Having school as an excuse to put the band on hiatus was exactly what I needed.

Even in Esthetician School, I worked full-time and was a full-time student. But it also re-ignited that perfectionist fire in me. I graduated with straight A’s at the top of my class. I even got to wear an honor cord on my robe. To me, this brought out a lot of things that had been lying dormant. I was excited to graduate. I was excited to pass the exam and hold a license. I became excited about everything.

My enthusiasm must have been detected by my Manager, as his comments on my review were so good I told him that when I read them I wanted to hug his neck, but I’d spare him. He laughed and told me that I’d been doing very well and that he was looking for ways to get me promoted. This, of course, only contributes to my growing enthusiasm. As I sit here waiting for the IT guy to load my new software, I can’t help but think how far I’ve come.

But having perfectionist tendencies doesn’t always serve one well. It’s nice to have the lofty daydream of what you’d like your life to be like, but at some point it needs to intersect with reality. As little girls we all dream of finding the perfect person, having a perfect wedding with all of our friends as attendants, living in the perfect house… By comparison reality seems like a cruel joke. It’s up to us whether we dwell, laugh it off, or bridge the gap between what we want and what we choose to accept.

Never settle.