Monday, March 31, 2014

30 in 30: Nick Scully

This is my twenty-third article in y 30 in 30 challenge, where I write 30 things I'm thankful for in the 30 days leading up to my thirtieth birthday.

I learned very early on that friendship should not be hinged on the age of a person. If age factored into to friendship, this post would fail to exist. I met Nick Scully when I was 10 years old. Nick was the neighbor of my sister Jennifer, and while I don't know all of the details (I was just a young pup at the time), I am so grateful for how their friendship developed, because Nick just became apart of the family and one of our closed friends.

Theresa and I were going to go to the swim club with our sister Kathy, but when the rain foiled our plans, she asked us if we were up for an adventure.

Little I know that this adventure would continue, even today.
High school graduation, 2002
We got to Jennifer's house and instead of going into her apartment, we walked into Nick's home and saw Nick, just sitting there in his dining room watching the cars zoom up the highway. Kathy introduced us to Nick and he offered us a seat around the table.

The table was as comfortable as a bed because there had to have been approximately 3,425 vinyl table clothes stapled to the table. The theory behind this was that the table cloth kept the table new looking, but also when you get tired of one, you just throw a new one on there. Ingenious.

Kathy grabbed a few coloring books and we just sat, colored and talked with Nick. It seemed so simple.

That one meeting turned into several, which turned into dinner, which turned into weekly visits with our buddy, Nick. By the time Theresa and I were old enough to drive, we found ourselves driving down to see Nick on our own. Not only did he have an endless supply of root beer, star burst and caramel creams a girl could ask for, but the stories he would share from his military days were priceless.

More than anything though, being with Nick was peaceful. There could be visits where only a few words were spoken and the rest of the time we would just sit there, in the dining room listening to the police scanner or classical music. This is one of the most valuable lessons I learned in my life: just being present. All I had to do was show up. That's it. That's all we needed from each other, was for us to be together. We didn't have to impress one another with words, we just had to be present. When I catch myself talking through the silence, I just stop and shut up and I let the heart do the talking.

Nick was a grumpy old man. Who could blame him? he suffered from ridiculous migraines and to put it his terms, he would pop percocets like jelly beans and it would do absolutely nothing for his headaches. Even with the chronic headaches, Nick still approached every day with a smile, and a sarcastic quip. This taught me to push through. Life gives us cruddy days and we just have to push through.

Nick was a tremendous human being and one of my greatest and dearest friends. It's hard to believe he will be gone three years in July. He lived a very long and fulfilled life, but that doesn't make my miss him any less. I sometimes sit in complete silence and I just listen for his voice to rush through me with his classic one-liners like, "Give her a go, Yank." or "Catch you on the flip-flop." I smile when I pass the cheese whiz in the grocery store, and remember the warning he gave EVERY TIME that there would be dried nasty cheese in the tube and to just put it on a napkin. Pink Starburst and caramel creams just don't taste the same without him around.

His influence continues to live on in me through my humor and also in the love I give to my family and friends. And if I feel like I am failing in life, all I have to remember is to just show up, have a seat around the table and say hello. Everything else beyond that will fall into place.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

30 in 30: Therapy

This is my twenty-second article in my 30 in 30 challenge, where I write 30 things I am thankful for in the 30 days leading up to my thirtieth birthday.

Therapy is important. There, I said it.

I could not function without therapy.

I never used to think that I "needed" a therapist and that therapy was reserved for people who were way more crazy than I could every dream of being. I didn't think I was ever going to be what Bill Murray was in What About Bob? So I felt like I would just power through.

What a silly girl I was.

At 28, I was exhausted. Years of anxiety was catching up to me and I found myself more aware of my irritability. I knew it was time to do something about it when my husband looked at me and said, "I just want my Annie back. I just want you happy."

All my family wanted was for me to be happy. I was so lost, that I forgot what happy was and I was simply operating on auto pilot. Doug saw through the bullshit and he was my biggest supporter when I finally took a step to find help.

I sat down in that chair across from my therapist and I told her I was so scared that I didn't know if I was fixable.

She laughed her butt off.

Almost two years later, I can tell you that I am very fixable and I am kicking myself for not going sooner.

It was like I was talking with a friend, that just so happened to be a licensed social worker. ;)

The things I have learned through therapy is nothing earth-shattering, rather very simple tools I can use for the everyday. Generalized anxiety is a bitch because anything, absolutely anything can set a person off into a tailspin of worry and it is really hard to express what you are feeling in that moment.

The coping mechanisms I have gained by seeing my therapist has allowed me to live an almost completely normal life-I will ALWAYS be Anne, so life will never be totally normal ;)

I am a better mother, wife, friend, colleague and person because of therapy. It's easier to express what I am needing to Doug so that he can be an active participant in helping me cope instead of having to helplessly watch me suffer through it.

I recognize that I am also very lucky that I was able to find a therapist that jives well with me-she has been such an important instrument in my life. The best thing she ever said to me was, "The goal here is for me to not see you." We've reached that goal and I only see her for monthly check-ins.

I have learned that I am not weak for seeing a therapist, but instead, I am strong. I am strong for knowing when it was time for help!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

30 in 30: Lynn

This is my twenty-first article in my 30 in 30 challenge, where I write 30 things I am thankful for in the 30 days leading up to my thirtieth birthday.

I was on my Senior Christian Awakening Retreat when it dawned on my that God puts people in your life for a reason. I guess I knew this all along, but what better way to be on an awakening retreat, than to be awakened to revelations that have been ignored most of my young life?

On one of the days, we all had the ability to go receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It was one of the most beautiful and redeeming moments in my life! As I was shuffling back into the main room and curled up next to a friend of mine and said, "I just cried me a river."

Everyone giggled and agreed that it was a very tear-filled moment for the majority of us and we moved on. Later that night, I was busy reading my retreat letters and when I got down to the last of the letters, I picked up a folded piece of yellow paper. It was a letter from my English teacher. I had always admired her for her ability to connect with us and help us discover our potential, so to get a letter from her was an honor! I flipped open the letter and what I read has not left my heart since.

In the letter she said she heard me joke about crying a river, and like any amazing English teacher would, she used that to help me take a peek inside a part of my life I was scared to share.

"This will probably be the reality of your life. Rivers are deep, every-changing, mysterious, profound and capable of many floods worth of tears. I hope you can believe this weekend that you are truly blessed with such depth...It is your grace, your gift, your unique soul."

I have always been a hopeless wanderer in my mind and always was on the search to find deeper meaning in the everyday. This can be a very scary thing to share about yourself, especially when you are teenager. Teenagers are supposed to be worried about weekend plans, not the greater good of life.

For the first time in my life, I felt like someone finally "got it" and she was able to see the real me. I am thankful for that day because Lynn reminded me that I am a gift and that my depth is a gift.

Blessed doesn't begin to describe what I feel about that letter, as well as the friendship that she and I have forged together. In the past 12 years, I have received so many life lessons from that woman. She reminds me to live a life of simplicity, charity, service, compassion, to never give up on my creativity and to love generously. We get lost in conversations and I often leave our outings exhausted because every conversation we have is stitched together with purpose and care.

Friendship is about lifting the other person up and helping them shine from the inside out, as well as accepting who they are as a person. Lynn is that for me and I can only pray that I am half of the friend she is to me.

Friday, March 28, 2014

30 in 30: My first camera

This is the twentieth article in my 30 in 30 challenge, where I write 30 things I'm thankful for in the 30 days leading up to my thirtieth birthday.

I believe it was my 12th birthday when I received one of the most epic birthday presents ever. My brother and sister-in-law gave Theresa and me our very own camera. It wasn't a crud camera either! It was a slate grey Fujifilm camera with a flash that I could set all by myself. I was in heaven. One of the first times I used the camera was at the Cincinnati Zoo and I remember taking pictures of the Gibbons and just for a brief moment I felt like I was a Photographer for National Geographic.

That birthday gift revealed a talent and passion I never knew I had. I instantly fell in love with photography and that I was able to capture emotion and tell a story through my own photos. It was then I also promised myself that photography would ALWAYS be apart of my life.

I was fortunate enough to work for a local studio as a photo assistant and I was responsible for managing the "shot list", loading the camera backs with film (yes, film) and running lenses to the photographer. It was at this job that I learned more of the technical side of photography and after a few weddings I could already guess what lens the photographer would need for the next set of shots! It was a grueling job, but it was a fun job! Not only was I learning the trade, but I was also allowed to be such a very small part in a couple's very big day! I learned in the job that each photographer has their own style and way of setting up a shot and there is way more to capturing an image than just pointing and shooting. I am grateful to all of the photographers I worked with and all the little tips and tricks they shared with me because it only deepened my passion for it!

Photography was such a serious part of my life that I enrolled into the photojournalism program at Western Kentucky University. I was thrilled to be studying in one of the top PJ programs in the country and I was excited to learn the skills needed to be a successful photographer! However, a little point-and-shoot camera wasn't going to cut it, I was going to have to commit to a larger camera. The camera I purchased was a used Nikon FM2 and it came with four fixed lenses. It was an all manual camera, so there was no auto focus and I had to correctly expose all of my shots instead of relying on auto mode.

When the teacher walked around to look at everyone's camera, he took one look at mine and said, "This is some beautiful glass, but you are going to be very busy!"

Of course, I was going to be busy...kicking ass!

And that I did.

It is tradition for first year PJ students to photograph an egg on their first assignment. I remember gathering up my new found friends and went gallivanting all over the campus trying to find unique spots to photograph an egg.

Once I developed my film I ventured into the darkroom to print my selected photo.

*tangent* I feel very sad for photographers who got their start with digital camera because they will never know the magic that happens inside the dark room.

I ran my photo under the chemicals, rinsed it and brought it to a lab tech to see what adjustments I needed to make. One of the tech's said, "I wouldn't do a damn thing." So I mounted the print, crossed my fingers and headed to class.

After each assignment, every student would put their work on the front board and the teacher would choose three people to pick their favorite photo. Then, they would talk about why they chose it. My egg photo wasn't chosen and I was devastated. My classmates talked about the three they chose and the teacher talked about whether he agreed or disagreed with them. He then grabbed my photo and said that he would have picked it.

I was shocked.

It was one of the first times in my life where my work was noticed and it gave me a great sense of pride knowing that my passion for photography could be more than just a hobby, but a career. I knew I had a lot more to learn, but it was that day that gave me the confidence in my art and that moment is something I cling to when I get down on myself.

While my Photojournalism career aspirations were put aside when I transferred home, the lessons I learned my first year and with my camera will stay with me forever.

The gift of telling stories through pictures is one I do not take lightly, and it is a blessing to be able to capture memories for my family and friends. I may never use my first camera again, but I will also never part with it because it serves a constant reminder of what I have learned and how far I have come. Plus I hold onto hope that just like the bad 80s fashion is back in style now, that film photography will be in style again in the next 20 years ;)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

30 in 30: Toastmasters

This is the nineteenth post in my 30 in 30 challenge, where I write 30 things I’m thankful for in the 30 days leading up to my thirtieth birthday.

This topic never even crossed my mind as something I’d write for my 30 in 30 challenge until yesterday. I am a member of Toastmasters International, specifically with the Northern Kentucky chapter. I joined the club last year as an attempt to brush up on my public speaking skills and I have been a part of the club ever since.

What I am most thankful for is that our group is made up of diverse speakers and we are all together in one room. One member has had the opportunity to speak across the United States as well as abroad and we also have members who have paralyzing stage fright.

It hit me yesterday how proud I am to be a part of the group when a member stated so eloquently that we are in a safe place. As a public speaker, you are putting yourself in a vulnerable spot and you open yourself up to some nasty criticism. This is likely the reason why people avoid it all together. At Toastmasters, we come together to support and encourage. There is never any harshness or embarrassment. It really is a beautiful and uplifting place to be.
It’s awesome to see your fellow Toastmasters conquer something they've been striving for and knowing that you have a support system that’s sole purpose is to help you improve your craft. I didn’t expect to learn anything new when joining the group, but after a year, the amount of experience and knowledge gained is invaluable.

Toastmasters International has helped me unlock my passion for public speaking, and as a result, I am beginning to reach farther and dig deeper into my passion so I can improve even more. Being able to speak beyond work presentations and other small events is no longer a dream; it’s a goal I know I can someday achieve!


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

30 in 30: The Wolking Family

This is the eighteenth article in my 30 in 30 challenge, where I write about 30 things I’m thankful for in the 30 days leading up to my thirtieth birthday.

I have never been able to understand the negative connotation of “in-law” because it just doesn’t exist for me. As a matter of fact, that even extends past Doug’s immediate family, too!
Maybe this was the result of good planning on and Doug’s and my part. When we began dating, we realized that we were a package deal and we knew that when we were going to be married, that it would go beyond “husband and wife.”

It’s hard for me to imagine not having a strong relationship with Doug’s family and I have never once felt like I didn’t belong. They could have treated me as an “in-law,” but instead I am just as important of part of their family as those who are connected by their lineage.

My mother-in-law is one of the kindest people on Earth and I look forward to spending time with her. My favorite memory was the time we got snowed in at her house. We drank wine, cooked meals together and watched a heck of a lot of TV. Never once was there awkwardness – we just did what families do, we enjoyed the togetherness! When I seek advice there are two people I call first, my mom and my mother-in-law. I know that isn’t the norm, so I count my blessings that I have such a strong bond and close relationship with my mother-in-law.

I have also developed a special connection between each of Doug’s siblings and their spouses and in my heart they are my siblings with no descriptor attached. We share sarcasm, advice, humor, tears, playful banter, as well as meaningful conversations! I cherish each one of them for what they bring to the family and I so grateful that they have accepted me as their own!

Doug’s nieces and nephews are also a big part of my life too. I have watched the oldest grow into a beautiful young adult who can light up a room with her smile and turn anyone’s bad day around with her wonderful laugh. I have seen her brother, my nephew; become a confident and strong boy, who has a soft and tender heart, especially for his momma. He’ll never admit that, but it gives me hope that when my boys become his age they’ll still snuggle up one me the way he does with her! My youngest niece, who happens to be my Goddaughter is only a few months older than Cohen, so watching them grow and develop together has been so incredibly special. I am so proud to be her Godmother!

If that wasn’t enough, Doug’s extended family is also MY family, too! I cherish all of my “cousin-friends”, especially the girls nights J. Every family gathering I have to go down a buffet line of family members to hug, that will make a girl feel really special!

The biggest lesson I have learned is that family is not about who you are related to, but the connections you have with people. I may not have been born into that family, but I am very much a part of it. They give of themselves to lift me up and I give of myself right back to them. They are such an important facet in my life and I am so thankful for their love and friendship!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

30 in 30: My sweet boys

This is the seventeenth article in my 30 in 30 challenge, where I write 30 things I’m thankful for in the 30 days leading up to my thirtieth birthday.

One of the greatest moments in my life was when I became a mother.
Doug and I agreed that we wanted to wait a few years before having kids. The biggest reason was that I wanted to finish school and begin my career before bringing babies into the world. We also wanted to be out of our apartment and into a home.

God had different plans (As he ALWAYS does).

Doug and I had only been married for two months when the two lines on the First Response test sealed our fate. Ready or not, we were parents. So needless to say, the day I found out I was pregnant with Deacon, we sorted through a bag of mixed emotions. I think we both were just wondering if we were really ready to be parents.

At 10 weeks, we had an ultrasound and any fear and doubt we both had about raising a child vanished. Looking at the monitor and seeing that tiny life swirling around inside my body was unlike anything I have ever felt before. The emotion I experienced I never knew existed. Doug locked eyes with me and we both knew we were going to be just fine.

I felt so confident, strong and beautiful when I was pregnant with both my boys, I am convinced it was because it was their beauty shining through.

The day I became a mother was the greatest day in my life. I was lucky enough to experience that type of love twice. With both of my deliveries, the love that filled the room was undeniable and everlasting. The sheer intensity of the love I have for my children could really knock me off my feet.

Deacon and Cohen are the reasons why I am a mother and I am so grateful to them for that. I am blessed that God chose those two boys to have my heart forever. I am so honored that I get to parent with Doug. When I announced my second pregnancy, people actually asked me if I was hoping for a girl. When I told them I was having a boy, some people, I’m sure, wanted to send me sympathy cards. Their next question was, “So, do you think you’ll ever try for a girl.” My response was, “No, we only try for babies.” There is a reason why I have two boys and if Doug and I decide to have a third, I will be just as excited for the pregnancy regardless of the sex of the baby.

It’s hard to feel disappointed in what you are having, when you just see a baby for what it is, life-- a cherished, special, beautiful human that needs to be loved unconditionally.

I am thankful to my children because it is through them that I am learning that not only do my kids need me, but I need them just as much. I may be their mother: a boo-boo kiser, a hugger, a singer, a peek-a-boo-I-see-youer, a personal chef, a let’s build blocks and knock them down doer, and sometimes a tough love giver, but what I receive in return is so much more. They have made me a better person. Their belly laughs melt away the sometimes harsh realities of life. When they snuggle up with me, it’s a reminder I am needed. The notes Deacon leaves on the kitchen table show me that I am valued. The way Cohen twirls my hair around his finger before bedtime shows me that I provide comfort and security. The way they say prayers reminds me that God really is the reason for our existence. The kindness they share to others is proof that Doug and I are doing the best we can.

Deacon is a sensitive and compassionate soul. He has taught me give more and love harder. He has also taught me to love who you are and to be confident in that. He also reminds me through his actions to stand up for what is right. An example of this is when a mother told her son that the dance area at the local play center was for girls only, Deacon turned and said, "It can be for boys too!" He has also taught me to get lost in imagination. Whether it's playing legos or building a castle out of blankets, or pretending he is a knight his imagination is infectious.

Cohen is a young soul. He has taught me to find the humor in all of life's situations and to not take life too seriously. His laugh will take your breath away! He has taught me that even if you go-go-go-go all day long, it's still important to slow down and snuggle. He has shown me that I can love all my children the same--your heart expands to fit the love of all your children! He also teaches me to see the wonder in everything. He is a discoverer. It could be a rock he picks up on the side of the road, and to him it is the most amazing thing he has ever seen! 

I am thankful that I was given an unstoppable love for my kids. There really is nothing they can do that will take my love away from them and that’s a love I will protect with all my heart.

To my sweet boys: I know we joke around and play the “I love you more” game, I want to let you in on a little secret: I will always win. I know you won’t understand that now, but you will, someday. The love I have for you both is a love that hurts so good, the thought of how God knew our family was meant to be a family causes me to tear up. I lose sleep, I cry at the hard decisions, I feel weightless with joy when I see you thrive and feel heartache when you suffer. It’s pure and raw love and I do hope that you feel that love from your dad and me every day. I hope I can pass this love on so that you may always carry it in your heart and let it weave into your soul so that you may give that love to others. I thank you for allowing me to experience this love and to be your mother—it’s the greatest gift I have ever received.