Family time…

I had the wonderful opportunity to spend some time with my grandparents this month, exploring some more of Colorado. I’ve been discouraged by some of the turns in my grandfather’s health recently and have been feeling guilty that I haven’t been home in New York to support my family during this time. You see, to me, my grandfather has always been a super hero. the idea that he could be anything but is simply inconceivable.

I remember moments in my life where I’m absolutely sure he had super powers. He could climb the maple tree in the front yard of his home higher than it seemed that gravity would allow. He’d quickly transport himself from the ground to the very top, balancing precariously on the delicate, slender branches, and gaze down at me, laughing at my panic. He could perform amazing acrobatics in the living room as he tried to teach me how to place my hands to execute the perfect backward summer salt in hopes of helping me to raise my ever lowering grade in PE. (I never did master that skill.) Papa could also chop wood and heft his axe better than I imagine any storybook Paul Bunyon could. it never dawned on me that this man who never cried, who never complained, who never showed any fear or weakness could change. It had never crossed my mind that this man, whom I idolized, could ever weaken.

For me, Papa has always been more than just my grandfather, he stood in when my own father was absent. He was there the day my mother was helping me learn to ride my bike, running alongside until I got the hang of it, careening off the sidewalk and through their grassy yard. He taught me to play checkers ruthlessly, to build a campfire better than any boy scout and to use a hammer without smashing my fingers. He spent countless hours following us around the mall during one vacation as we shopped for the perfect prom dress and was there to see me off (and give my boyfriend stern looks) as I went off to that same prom. He’d sneak candy into church in his jacket pockets, eat the last of the vegetables off my plate when grandma wasn’t looking, and always be the first one to open the cookie jar when he thought we wouldn’t get caught. He’s been my partner in crime, my example of what it means to be a man, and my lifetime cheerleader. I spent half my childhood tagging along after him in the garage or yard, his constant companion.

This is the man who taught me about life, about what it means to be a part of a family, about how a person can treat love as a verb. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I heard him say the words ”I love you” to me, but I never once doubted that he did. Because Papa lived his love for us, he showed it in the everyday things he did. He’d remind us all to change our oil, take note if our tires looked low, never let us leave the house without trying one of grandma’s newly baked cookies…

Watching this illness slowly take away his ability to be independent is not only heartbreaking, but it may be the single most difficult thing I have ever faced. He’s a natural story-teller that now struggles to find the words he needs to explain what he is thinking. He’s ambitious and curious and funny, yet can’t communicate the joke he’s trying to tell. He likes to do things his own way and enjoys being able to complete tasks by himself, and yet he cannot remember how to perform the most mundane activities, like buckling his seat belt. He easily misunderstands everyday conversation and is quick to anger as his frustrations with his limitations get the best of him.

grandparents

I know that before long he is going to forget my name. I know that my family will face countless challenges as this illness takes its toll on the man that we love. And it’s ok that he forgets…. I just don’t want to.

I like my dog better than I like most people….

10 reasons why a dog is truly (wo)Man’s best friend:

dog best friend

Number 10:
Dogs are so stinking loyal! They never, ever cheat. No matter what other person entices them with bits of hot dog, or promises of bacon, at the end of the Day when I come home from work my dog will be waiting for me, little tail wagging. Dogs are way better than boyfriends.

Number 9:
Dogs don’t care when I put on a few pounds, and are more than willing to be my workout buddy while I run them off. Penny has never judged me based on what ridiculous outfit I’m wearing or told me that my jeans make me look fat. That’s love right there.

Number 8:
The later I am, the MORE excited my dog is to see me. I’ve never come home to a boyfriend who said “You were supposed to be home hours ago,
Gee, I’m so happy to see you!” Without fail, no matter if I’ve been gone for five hours or five minutes, the dog will be there by the door, dancing around on her hind legs, absolutely bursting with joy. I love that joy.

Number 7:
They feel guilty when they’ve done something wrong. You know the look. The one with the EYES.

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Number 6:
They are always happy when your friends come over. My boyfriends always got that look of terror in their eyes when I announced a few girlfriends would be coming over for the evening. But the dog? She’s all: “YAY! More laps to sit in, more hands to pet, more balls to be THROWN!”

Number 5:
They never complain about your cooking and you never have to worry about little spills in the kitchen. Penny is my best cooking partner, she taste tests everything and even helps clean up!

Happy little Penny

Number 4:
You can train a dog! Bet your dog has never left his shoes in the middle of the floor or left the seat up on the toilet!

Number 3:
Dogs have unconditional love for you. I mean really, put down a bowl of unidentifiable kibble and that tail starts to wag and your dog is all “Yesssss! You’re giving me prime rib for dinner! You love me! I love you! You love me! I love you!”

Number 2:
Stress reduction. Seriously, when I come home from a truly rotten day, she looks right at me, listens exclusively to what I have to say, and licks my face as if she totally knows how big a jerk my boss is.

Number 1:
You never have to be alone. I mean never. Not even for a moment. Not even when you have to pee.

penny outside3

Countdown Anxiety

I should be getting ready for work, but I still sit here in my pajamas lingering over my coffee and catching up on some blog reading. I have to leave this house in fifteen minutes, and it is clear to me that today is going to be a no make-up pony tail day….I didn’t sleep much last night.

I find myself waking up anxious, with my mind swirling in loop-de-loops like an insane person. I have so many things to do in the next few weeks and not enough time.

But this morning, Im making myself take a breather. I will be a moment late to work, and the school will not fall down. I will drive slowly and enjoy the sun rising and admire how it turns my mountains shades of pink and purple in the distance. And I will pray for grace to handle difficult situations, patience to last these remaining weeks, and strength to keep on keeping on, even if just for one more day.

 

Thanks-GIVING

I’ve been trying to figure out how to put into words my own thoughts on the Thanksgiving/Black Friday catastrophe that has turned my favorite holiday into a giant marketing mess…. and I’ve been struggling. Elizabeth over at Lark & Bloom says exactly what I’ve been thinking. So check her out, because she is awesome.

Thanks-GIVING.

Tips and Tricks for finding CHEAPER Wedding Invitations!

Hey Friends- In light of all my friends and family getting hitched recently, we have been bombarded with TONS of wedding information. I loved this article on what to look for in stationary! For more great ideas head on over to our website at http://www.pompeyhollowphoto.us

I wanted it all. I wanted the pocket invitations with the four enclosures and pearl shimmer paper. I wanted beautiful calligraphy on envelopes and wax seals. I wanted high grade paper and personalized RSVP cards…. They wanted $1200! WHAT!?!

Searching for invitations for a wedding of 150 guests was throwing me very far over my budget. It was one of those things I didn’t think about when I was allocating money for each category. How much can invitations be anyway?

The answer is incredibly expensive! Here’s my tips and tricks before you get started:

1.Figure out what you really need. You can go really overboard if you aren’t careful. Do you need an enclosure for accommodation information if you are putting all the same info on your wedding website? Do you need to send a separate RSVP card with an envelope or could you think about using an RSVP postcard or having guests RSVP online? What about that secondary inner envelope? If you aren’t having a very formal ceremony that inner envelope might not me necessary.

2. SHOP AROUND. I cannot stress this enough. Check out many, many, many places. Try out Esty.com where you might stumble across a budding graphic designer who will cut you an amazing deal on personalized invites. Look into places like local printing stores, Staples and Office Max, where there are printing centers.

3. Simple is cheaper. Know that anything that requires massive assembly, lots of pieces or intricate bows is going to be more expensive. Consider the possibility of ordering without the bow and adding the bow yourself… or handing that task off to your craftiest bridesmaid.

4. Be careful about postage! Know that any oddly shaped invitations are going to cost more to mail! Check with the post office to see what sized envelopes mail for the cost of a normal stamp, and how heavy they are allowed to be.

5. Combine products: Consider companies that offer things like “Seal-and-Send”, “All in one” or “3-in-1” type invites that allow you to compile a package deal that includes the invitations, reception card and response card. These are often less fancy than others but also include a much lower price tag.

6. Sign up for email notices! Most companies will send out regular sale information, promo coupons and other deals to their email list. Stay on top of this and you could wind up saving 40% or more. Places like Vistaprint.com send a 50% off coupon almost every week!

Me personally? I decided to go with Invitations by Dawn. (http://www.invitationsbydawn.com/index.jsp) This company offers awesome sales regularly and some really great values in the “3-in-1” style invites. Are they 100% exactly what I had in mind? No, but at the end of the day, I am still going to walk away married to the love of my life. And the truth is, no one is going to remember those invitations anyway.

Affordable Invitations

After Americorps

Wow, its been a long while since I managed to log in and post something wonderful. Its my new goal to be better about that. So many things have happened since I last posted, including the summation of my AmeriCorps experience.

The end of my AmeriCorps term was bitter sweet. I was ready to move on to new things, but the future is just as scary now as it was when I turned to AmeriCorps as a reprieve from life over a year ago. The difference is that now I feel like I have accomplished something. I feel like I have made a difference, I know that I have had an impact on the lives of others. More interestingly is the impact that the word AmeriCorps has on my resume. Every time I tell someone that I served, they respond with “Oh really? Wow! I knew someone who did that once! That takes super dedication!” People are impressed with me! This is awesome! Not only do I get warm fuzzy feelings when I think about how AmeriCorps changed my life, I get actual recognition for a job well done everywhere I go.

I love that I spent time serving others. I love how it makes me feel good about myself. More so, I love that I have that personal story, that little bit of experience in goodness, to carry with me wherever life takes me next.

americorps alumni

Now serving: Love

On a Monday in March we all filed into the Grant Avenue Street Reach Soup Kitchen along with a bunch of other volunteers and a long, long line of hungry mouths to feed.

I won’t lie, I had a bad attitude about this service project. I was tired and not at all in the mood to wrestle other volunteers out of the way so that I could bus a table. They handed us aprons, and although Kathleen, who was in charge of the kitchen, greeted us with a smile, we were left with very little instruction. There were people everywhere. No place to stand in which we weren’t in the way, and not enough jobs for everyone do to.

I knew I should be serving with a willing heart, but standing in that crowded room looking at the faces of all those strangers, I felt like I was wasting my time. There were so many other volunteers waiting for something to do. It was truly unnecessary for me to be there, especially when I had things I could be doing for my own host site.

Then, as though God were giving me a swift kick in the rear end, I had a conversation with John.  He was a disheveled, minute, older gentleman, with a red hat on his head that was far too big for him and shifted uneasily over his eyes.  He was missing a front tooth, and his hands were cut and calloused. He carried a large grocery bag filled with random odds and ends, and balanced his food tray precariously in one hand as he fumbled around in his pocket for a well-used handkerchief. Without thinking about it, I offered to take his tray for him and followed him to his seat.

Lunch that Monday was spaghetti and BBQ pork sandwiches, with an array of various mismatched side dishes. John had chosen fruit and salad to go with his meal, and as he sat down he began to carefully wrap his pork sandwich up in layers of newspaper.  “It’s for later.” He explained sheepishly, and I just nodded, as though I could possibly understand what it might be like to be him. “I’m John.” He said as he extended his worn and grubby hand to me. “Molly.” I said, taking it, and for the first time all day, I smiled.

 He told me that he used to be an electrician in Michigan when he was a young man, and that he served in the Air Force for several years.  He proudly showed me a tiny American Flag pin that was secured to his suspenders.   I retrieved a hot cup of coffee for him and he continued to tell me little pieces of his life story every time I walked by; he was so eager for someone to talk to. His wife had passed away over ten years ago, and she was the love of his life. Her name was Margaret and she worked as an elementary teacher. John quietly told me that she had the most beautiful green eyes he’d ever seen, and he had fallen in love with her on the dance floor at a friend’s Christmas party. He stared wistfully away for a while, remembering to himself, and I felt like I was intruding on a private moment. He said they had been married for 45 years, and owned a little ranch house with white rose bushes. He doesn’t know how he got to Denver, doesn’t even remember, just that one day he couldn’t be in that house without her any more so he left.

I spent most of the rest of the afternoon in the kitchen, doing dishes, making sandwiches, and organizing other volunteers that had never worked in a kitchen before. The head cook took me aside and thanked me for being so adept and not in the way. That moment should have made me feel acknowledged and useful, but honestly, I wanted to be back out in the dining room talking to those that were eating lunch.

As the afternoon drew to a close, and people started to clear out I noticed John was still sitting in the same place I had left him, nursing a cup of coffee. So I strolled over to see if I could get him anything else. He looked up at me startled, and as his eyes focused on my face he grinned, a lopsided, toothless smile. “I’m all finished,” he said, and he began to pack up his things and leave. But, at the last moment he grabbed my hand again, “Thank you for chatting with me today. Most people don’t want to talk to me…” He looked down, and when he looked at me again there was a tear rolling down his cheek. “And you young lady, your eyes, remind me a lot of my Maggie. Take care. God Bless you.” Then he ambled out of the basement.

Of course then I was crying.

It wasn’t the food that was important that day. Or the clean up, or making coffee. It was remembering that these people are human beings with hopes and histories and feelings. In that church basement, surrounded by strangers, I mattered for a moment to a man named John and that is really humbling.

 

Great Moments….

My greatest moments as a teacher (in my previous life) and now as a member of the College Summit Team have been those times when a kid has one of those “Ah-ha!” moments. You know the times, when suddenly something clicks for them, when they have absorbed all the information you have given them, and all of a sudden it makes sense. Those are the moments that we live for as educators. Sometimes it’s something tiny, like when the light bulb goes on as they realize they know the correct answer to an exam question, and sometimes it’s a bigger moment, like when they read a book they enjoy for the first time, or realize they’re capable of something they never thought possible.

I love how College Summit gives me so many opportunities to empower youth in this way. We regularly take kids out of the traditional classroom setting and present them with problems to solve, tasks to complete, and events that are meant to push them out of their comfort zones and into something spectacular.

This was particularly true this month at our annual College Summit reception. We brought twenty of our inspiring Peer Leaders with us to the J.W. Marriott in Cheery Creek and encouraged them to mingle, network and hang out with 200 of our community’s leaders. I cannot begin to explain how cool that was. It was a black tie affair, complete with passed hors d’oeuvres and sparkling champagne.

Our kids were totally amazing. They were able to not only hold up their end of a conversation with congressmen and company presidents, but they were able to explain their goals and aspirations, advocate for themselves regarding future internship possibilities, and really impress people with their maturity and their perseverance.

Several of our youth took to the podium in front of an entire room of people and shared the biggest obstacles that they have overcome on their path to college and academic success. Not only did this demonstrate incredible courage, but also truly allowed our kids to shine as they “Owned their Greatness”.

In addition to being amazing representatives of College Summit, our youth were also really enjoying themselves. The food was phenomenal and the kids were so impressed by the overall ambiance of the evening. They got to meet the mayor, shake hands with administrators of the colleges they plan on attending, and some of them even tried shrimp for the very first time. They walked confidently around the ballroom holding glasses of sparkling water, making eye contact and shaking hands.

I couldn’t be prouder of them and I am really excited to get to share in their journey. I can’t wait to see what remarkable things will happen next for these kids.

At the end of the night when one of my students walked up to me to thank me for a fantastic evening, she also left me with something that I’m still thinking about weeks later.
“Molly? Thanks for inviting me, this was incredible. I had no idea that so many important people cared about us.”
Well CiCi, they do. We do. I do—and I hope that one day she remembers that moment and finds a way to share her experience and talents with other kids.

Sunshine and Mountain Tops

There’s something about Colorado that just makes me feel so peaceful. I may have been born an East Coast girl, but the wild wild west pulls at my heart. I knew it when my family visited Arizona, that I was meant to head in this direction. I remember telling my mother I wanted to live there. I knew it as I overlooked the vast plains of South Dakota, and took deep breaths of big, big sky. Mostly though, I was certain the very first time I laid eyes on the Rocky Mountains: this was a place I was meant to call home.

No matter what stresses my day has brought me, when I step out of the office and catch a glimpse of the snow capped peaks in the distance my heart just lifts. I can be having the crummiest of days, but when I drive down the highway with the red rocks gleaming in the sunlight on either side of me, I instantly am overcome with a sense of awe and relief. The fact that the sun is always shining, I love my job, I have a fantastic nanny gig after school and that things have been really awesome lately also helps this overall sense of fulfillment and peace, I’m sure. But there is something about it out here that makes me really, genuinely content.
I have yet to look at the landscape here and fail to think to myself “God, this is so beautiful.” I think my friends are getting weary of hearing me say: Wow! We live in such a pretty place.

I’m excited to think about planning the rest of my life. For the first time in a long time, I’m not facing the future with a vague sense of dread or distrust. I’m eager to know what happens next, and I’m so happy about the paths I’ve chosen lately and the way life is twisting itself into the most beautiful of fairy tales.
I’m not a crazy person. I know that sometimes things will still be crummy and I don’t expect every day to be rainbows and roses. I’m aware that I still have no real plan and no future career prospects right now, but for the first time in a very long time I am not afraid of what the future may hold. And that feels very, very nice.