My 6-week Spring Break

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It’s been 6 weeks since I left my job, and it feels like I blinked and it was mid-May. I had so many plans for my time between jobs: I was going to ramp up my photography business, write a book and flip a house, renovating it and selling it for a profit before the school year started. But I’ve barely had time to write six blog posts, much less an entire book!

That first day off work, I went to volunteer for Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day. It was a lot of fun, but it was also a lot of work! I also happened to be fasting for Easter, so I scooped hundreds of ice cream cones and didn’t eat any myself. That, my friends, took some serious self-control!

The very next day, Seth and I left for a week to go out to his family’s ranch to bulldoze, weed-kill and look after the cattle. It was a peaceful time of productivity. I’d planned to have some time to rest before starting the long-term substitute teaching job I’d lined up, but the teacher going on maternity leave ended up having her baby early, so Seth and I drove back from the ranch late that Sunday night, and I started subbing early on Monday morning.

The next three weeks were a blur of waking up early, teaching all day long, coming home and frantically trying to do chores around the house before dashing off to bible study or dinner with a girlfriend or biking with Seth. More to come on my substitute teaching experiences.

Week five was full of driving out to my new school to fill out paperwork, having my photo ID created, researching and touring apartments in the area (my current commute would be 45 minutes each way), and taking care of various financial details like rolling over my old 401k to a self-directed IRA; then investing those funds.

I’ve attended retirement parties, wedding showers and birthday parties; met up with friends visiting from out of town, babysat for couples from church, and planned an itinerary for a Virginia trip featuring a friend’s wedding in July. I’ve gotten lunch and brunch with all my stay-at-home mom friends who are excited to have a friendly new face who is available during the work day. And I’ve started leading not only a 5th grade girls’ bible study but also an adult women’s bible study on the Minor Prophets.

It’s been a FULL six weeks.

But it’s been so good. In the past few days, I’ve finally gotten to have the rest and relaxation I’d been envisioning and longing for. I’m baking more, running daily and trying to set aside hours at a time to meditate on and commune with God. I think sometimes Satan doesn’t need to tempt us with all-out sinfulness because it’s so easy to get sucked in to the busyness of life, but when we are distracted by activities, our lives are just as ineffective for the Gospel as if we’re living in blatant sin.

In the midst of this surprisingly busy season of transition, I don’t want to forget the Creator of life or the Purpose of life. Though our salvation is by the grace of God through faith in Jesus (Eph. 2:8-9), “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10).

Oh that I would walk in His ways and live out these good works He has uniquely prepared for me to do! To do so is joy and life abundant! That is my prayer for this season… and for you, dear reader.

Authentically Aurora

Cali – Part III

beach-wedding

Here at home, Seth and I have a routine of waking up early on Sunday mornings to volunteer with the children’s ministry at our local church. But during our California trip in mid-October, Seth and I found ourselves without a church home for Sunday morning.

Seth’s friends had planned their wedding for 4PM on Sunday afternoon, so Seth and I agreed we would spend Sunday morning reading the bible together in a coffee shop in lieu of going to some random church out in Cali. We had just nailed down a time of 8AM for driving to the coffee shop when Seth got a text from the groom.

The groom evidently wanted to go to breakfast with a bunch of people at 9AM the morning of his wedding day. No problem. Seth and I bumped our coffee date to 7AM. Then Seth’s friend Steve invited us to go biking along the beach at 11AM. We agreed to join him as well. So, as of Saturday night, our plans for Sunday were:

  • 7AM – Read the bible at a coffee shop
  • 9AM – Breakfast with the groom and friends
  • 11AM – Bike ride along the beach with Steve
  • 1PM – Head back to the hotel to shower and get ready for the wedding
  • 4PM – Wedding ceremony

And Sunday morning started perfectly. When the day dawned, Seth and I were already enjoying a quiet morning together reading one of the gospels. We asked questions of one another and dug into some bible commentaries to gain a deeper understanding of our selected reading passage. And Seth, who is not a coffee drinker, loved his coffee shop blueberry smoothie because – unlike the smoothie from Cali Day 1 – this one was chock full of sugar additives. We were both content and satisfied. For me, it was one of the best parts of the whole trip.

But then the rest of the world woke up for the day. Around 8:45AM when we prepared to leave the coffee shop, Seth got a text from the bridal party saying breakfast was pushed back to 10AM because the brothers of the bride were running late. So at 10AM, Seth and I rolled into IHOP only to discover that no one in the wedding party of fourteen people had bothered to make reservations for a Sunday morning breakfast at IHOP.

IHOP had an hour-long wait, so we all drove 15 minutes to another restaurant with only a 20 minute wait and finally got our “breakfast” around 11AM. I ended up being the only woman in the group (all the wives had been invited to a spa day), so I got stuck on the end next to the two brothers of the bride.

After two hours of entertaining the aspiring screenwriters, I escaped the man brunch, and Seth suggested a quick walk along the beach rather than trying to squeeze in a bike ride with Steve before the wedding. Then an hour before the ceremony, I found out the wedding was going to be on the beach itself and that footwear was discouraged. So I slipped out of my black heels and went barefoot in my cocktail dress. Oh yeah. I’m rocking this whole spontaneity thing. 

The wedding ceremony was fine – I knew no one; had never met the bride or groom prior to this day – and the reception started out pretty standard: drinks and appetizers while we waited for the bridal party to finish photos. Seth and I stood around making small talk for about an hour before the bridal party showed up and we were all seated for dinner.

Over dinner was more small talk (with strangers for me; college friends for Seth). Then the cake cutting and more small talk. Then the first dance; everyone dancing; more small talk.

Around 10PM I started to fade. My body was saying it was 12 midnight from my home time zone, I’d hiked for 6 hours the day prior, and I’d woken up at 6AM that morning to do a morning devotional with my beau. Besides that, my introverted self was emotionally exhausted from the six straight hours of making small talk with strangers. People I didn’t know. People I’d never see again. People with whom I did not share any common interests or even the same life stage.

I was so miserable by 10:30PM that I excused myself to go to the bathroom and just sat down in a stall in the women’s bathroom even though I didn’t need to go. I just needed some alone time – some time away from the loud music and crowded reception hall and clusters of strangers asking me the same surface-level questions over and over again.

When I re-emerged at 10:45PM, one of Seth’s more distasteful acquaintances (who’d shown me a photo of an erection an hour earlier) came up to me and said loudly, “Why are you so quiet?!” My automatic response was to crinkle my nose in distaste and ask sourly, “Why are you so loud?”

Seth immediately pulled me aside and asked what was wrong. “I’m fine,” I told him. And I would be fine. I could buck up and stick it out. We’d flown all the way to California for this wedding, and I didn’t want to be the reason we left the reception early.

“We can go if you want,” Seth told me, trying to be considerate. But I knew he didn’t want to leave, so I told him we could stay as long as he wanted.

“Are you tired?” he asked me, trying to understand. He’s a man and, sweet man that he is, he sensed a problem and just couldn’t stop himself from trying to fix it.

“I’m not physically tired,” I explained, “But I’m emotionally exhausted. It’s been seven straight hours of making small talk with strangers, and that is draining for me.”

Just then, someone came up to talk to Seth, so I snuck away to a corner to read articles on my phone. I was past the point of caring if I seemed anti-social.

Fifteen minutes later, the wedding planner announced that the bride and groom weren’t planning to do a formal exit, so we were free to leave at any time. Seth and I were out the door in minutes – I think mostly because he was conscious of my mental and emotional state. We didn’t speak before bed other than to agree to set our alarms for 4AM in order to catch our 7AM LA flight an hour’s drive away.

At the airport in the morning, Seth and I hashed out the tension from the prior evening. After getting through security and sitting at our gate, Seth commented, “You seemed really irritable last night, and I don’t understand why you behaved that way. Honestly, I’m pretty concerned by your behavior. You seemed miserable. I mean, are we even compatible?”

“Are you breaking up with me?” I asked candidly.

“No,” he said slowly; cautiously. “I just – well,  I want to be with someone who enjoys parties like I do; who values people like I do.”

“Seth. I was pleasant and sociable for the first five hours. I do enjoy parties, and I do value people. But I think it’s understandable that seven hours of making small talk with strangers is emotionally draining.”

“No. No, it’s not understandable. I had a great time last night until you started getting so grumpy.”

“I wasn’t grumpy. I was reserved,” I told him. He didn’t seem to understand, so I tried to give an example he – in all his extroversion – could relate to. “Remember yesterday morning when we were at the coffee shop reading together?”

“Yeah…”

“I could have done that all day,” I told him. “I LOVE that kind of thing. But how would you have felt around hour 7 of sitting at a quiet coffee shop?”

Seth’s eyes grew wide in horror. “I would have wanted to die.”

I nodded emphatically. “Yes! And that’s how the wedding reception felt for me after seven hours of small talk.”

Seth looked thoughtful. “So… Do we exhaust each other?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, the things I enjoy seem to drain you. And vice versa. Are we just not good for each other?” He looked sad.

I chose my words carefully. “I think introverts and extroverts make great couples. They are able to complement one another in ways that like pairs cannot. I like that you get me out of my shell, and hopefully you appreciate that I help you settle down and be still from time to time.”

“I don’t want us to break up,” he said quietly.

“I don’t want us to break up, either,” I echoed softly.

“I want to try to make it work,” he told me.

“I do, too,” I responded. “And I think we can,” I added encouragingly. “I mean, think about how much friction we used to have about planning versus flexibility. And I think we’ve done great with that this trip! We just had to find a way to compromise; a way of working that fit our relationship. And I think we can do that for our introversion/extroversion conflict, too.” I paused. “I’m willing to try if you are.”

“Yeah,” Seth finally smiled. “I want to make it work.”

He took my hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. Our flight had started boarding. It was time to go home.

Seth pulled me up, and we walked to our gate hand-in-hand. We had some work ahead of us – some compromise and conflict resolution – but we both recognized that the best things in life are worth fighting for.

Authentically Aurora

Paris – Day 3

atthebeginning

As a little girl, my favorite movie for years was “Anastasia”, the Fox animated film often mistaken for being a Disney movie. I loved Anastasia’s spunkiness and her effect on Dimitri, whose character development throughout their journey together is probably one of my favorite parts of the movie.

To my delight, our third day in Paris was an Anastasia-filled day. When I woke up, I watched the “Paris Hold the Key to Your Heart” clip from the movie while viewing the real Eiffel Tower in the background from the window of our Airbnb. On the way to breakfast, I heard “A bientot!” on the street – one of Anastasia’s last lines in the movie. Then we went to Palais Garnier where Anastasia and Dimitri attended the Russian Ballet in the film. It was a magical morning.

Before going to the opera house, Rachel and I had breakfast at Le Court D’Or. I ate un croissant au confiture (a croissant with jam) and also had my go-to of a cafe au lait (coffee with milk). The area boasted much of the Parisian haute couture, but Rachel and I just window shopped on our way to Palais Garnier.

IMG_5855.jpgNot only did Anastasia and Dimitri attend the ballet at this opera house, but more famously, it is the opera house of The Phantom of the Opera. Both the exterior and interior of Palais Garnier were absolutely gorgeous, with red velvet and gold and crystal chandeliers everywhere.

Not only was the architecture was stunning, but the history was fascinating. Apparently women used to sit in the perimeter boxes, and men sat in the orchestra seats because the wax from the candles on the grand chandelier would drip down onto the men’s hats, and the women wanted to protect their dresses and finery.

Separating myself from Rachel for a while (knowing she would be embarrassed of me), I meandered the ornate hallways singing “Think of Me”, and – on the balcony outside, overlooking the square – I quietly sang to myself “All I Ask of You” like Christine and Raoul do in the musical. I am a dreamer and a romantic, unashamed of occasionally being considered odd if it means I get to live out my daydreams. When I watch movies or read books, I live the stories with the characters and immerse myself in their adventures. If I were a bit braver and had planned more in advance, I might have even been tempted to cosplay like this fille:

Anastasia Cosplay

On the lower level of Palais Garnier were fashion sketches for the various ballets performed there. Since I have started doing more fashion illustration, I was thrilled to get to see some original Parisian fashion sketches. Overall, Palais Garnier was definitely one of my absolute favorite things we experienced in Paris.

IMG_5978.jpgAfter sampling Pierre Herme macaroons (recommended by Agathe but not as good as LeNotre), we stoped at Angelina for the reported world’s best cup of hot chocolate. It was basically like drinking liquid, melted Godiva chocolate – so rich that I (sweet tooth though I may have) could barely finish my small cup.

IMG_6001.jpgFilled to the brim with chocolaty goodness, Rachel and I walked to the Tuileries Garden and had just stopped to take some photos when I again heard an American accent. Glancing up the stairs behind us, I called out to three men in their late 30s, and we subsequently made more new friends. I am now connected with one of the men on LinkedIn and possibly have a lead on a new job as a result. Networking really can happen anywhere you go!

IMG_6057.jpgRachel and I continued on to the Louvre, which was honestly disappointing. Aggressive hawkers jangled miniature Eiffel Towers in our faces, insisting that we buy. “Only one Euro!” Tourists crowded seemingly every inch, both inside and outside of the museum. The Louvre maps were poorly done, and the bulk of the art was sculptures rather than paintings. Also unexpected was the light, airy interior. I’d expected dark, low ceilings and dirt floors – almost like catacombs filled with hidden treasures. Instead, it felt just like any other museum. But we wandered the Louvre’s highly-anticipated halls for about an hour, eventually finding both Michelangelo’s “Captive” and, of course, the Mona Lisa.

IMG_6099.jpgMoving on to Pont des Arts (the Love Lock Bridge), we were relieved to find it mostly deserted. The bulk of the famous “love locks” had been removed, but visitors had gotten creative in finding ways to declare their love with locks on railing and lanterns along the Seine. I played photographer for a young couple kissing in the rain on the bridge; then we got a couple of goat cheese salads at Le Terminus and called it a night, opting to get a good night’s sleep for the surely full day ahead.

Authentically Aurora

A Dying Whale

People are the worst.

Okay, I don’t really mean that. I love people. I really do. But some days (like today), it just really feels like people are the worst, everything hurts, and I’m dying.

everything hurts

I was just walking down the hallway at work (apparently looking dejected), and some young man (stranger danger!) called out to me in an overly perky voice: “Cheer up! Life ain’t so bad!”

April Ludgate bonding

Do I know you? No.

Was I talking to you? No.

Do you know anything that’s going on in my life? No.

Do you actually know that anything is wrong? Do you know that this isn’t just how my face looks?!?! The answer is still NO!

Grumpy Cat No

I just moaned at him. Like a dying person. Or a whale. Or a dying whale.

It was a beautiful sound. And although I didn’t win any Academy Awards for it, at least I didn’t make any new friendships.

April-ludgate

Authentically Aurora

If You Give a Mentor a Cookie…

If_you_give_a_mouse_a_cookieToday in the hallways of the office, I ran into my awesome friend Jason, who reminds me of a younger version of Bitter Ben – introverted, quick-witted, adorably awkward and absolutely hilarious (seriously, Ben, do you have a nephew named Jason? Because I swear you two are related…).

Anyway, Jason asked me how my day was going, and I showed him the stack of papers in my hand – my freshly scanned application to get certified for babysitting foster kids.

“Oh wow. You’re such a rock star,” Jason told me, clapping me on the arm. “Although you know you could come watch my kids anytime – no certification required!”

I laughed. Jason has two little boys – ages 6 and 3 – and from what I hear, they are a handful. “Ha. About six months ago, I tried to volunteer to be a Girl Scout Troop Leader, but nobody ever got back to me. So now the foster kids get me instead.” I winked at him with a grin.

“Oh, come on. You know the only reason you were doing Girl Scouts was for the free cookies.”

“Actually, it was specifically for the Thin Mints,” I joked back. “Although we probably need to get them to change the name. False advertising,” I went on as a bubbly blonde walked past us in the hallway, pausing to say hello.

“Hey,” I greeted her in return. “Jason and I were just talking about how the Girl Scouts need to change the name of their Thin Mint cookies to ‘Fat Mints’. One time I tried going on a diet of nothing but Thin Mints, but somehow, I didn’t get any thinner.”

While Jason chuckled, the blonde looked at me with a mixture of disdain and confusion. “Yeah, I don’t think that’s a thing…” she said as she walked away, size 2 hips swaying down the hallway.

This is why socially awkward people like Jason and I have to stick together. Socially adept, celery-stick-eating people don’t get our cool puns or weighty jokes.

Thin Mints Fat Mints

Authentically Aurora

“That Person”

I was just “that person.”

There are lots of versions of “that person”, like that person who picks their nose in rush hour traffic. And that person who takes the last chocolate chip cookie at a party. And that person who asks you why you’re not married (don’t be that person, especially the week of Valentine’s Day).

I was just “that person” who hears a playful comment from someone else and throws back a serious, depressing, I’m-offended response that makes the other person feel terrible about themselves.

Cruise ship…I wrote that intro last week as I was getting ready to go on my weekend cruise to the Bahamas. I didn’t have time to finish the post, what with last-minute packing of pink bikinis and whatnot, but here’s what happened.

In preparation for vacation, I tried to check in online, but I kept getting an error message from the cruise line’s website. I tried checking in on Sunday. And Monday. And Tuesday. Finally, on Wednesday, I conceded that I was going to have to call and talk to an actual human being. I hate talking to actual human beings.

When John the Cruise Concierge picked up the phone, I explained that I was going on 4-day cruise and was having difficulty with my booking. He talked me through all the usual online troubleshooting scripts, until we finally realized that Marina – the friend who’d booked the cruise for our group – had entered my birthday wrong (incorrect month, day AND year), so my passport number wasn’t being validated.

When John and I realized that my friend Marina had entered my birthday wrong, he joked over the phone, “She doesn’t know your birthday? Are you sure she’s really your friend?”

I knew he was kidding, but I was sensitive to his comment partially because I was stressed out about not being able to check in, partially because I was afraid he was going to think I was a fraud and wouldn’t help me, and partially because I already felt a bit odd about the cruise due to a lack of closeness between Marina and myself.

Marina was my fitness instructor about five years ago. We never really talked outside of quick small talk before and after the workout class. We did go out to dinner a couple of times in the past few years, but we don’t really know each other very well, so I was surprised when she asked me to celebrate her 32nd birthday with her by going on a cruise together.

I’m not sure how many people she asked, but only three of us were going on the cruise – Marina and some girl Verna who I’d never met before. Verna is a 40-something mother of three, and the reason Marina reached out to “the girls” to celebrate her birthday is that she’s getting ready to file for divorce from her husband of eight years. Not exactly the posse I imagine when I envision a Bahamas cruise with my girlfriends. 

Unfortunately for John the Cruise Concierge, I explained all of this to him in a very long run-on sentence. “I’m not surprised she doesn’t know my birthday – I mean, we don’t really know each other; we were just in a fitness class together, and she was trying to find girl friends to go on this cruise with her because it’s her thirty-second birthday, and she wants to celebrate her birthday but not with her husband because she’s about to file for divorce even though they’ve been married for eight years and have a two-year-old daughter, and I guess she doesn’t have a lot of girl friends since she’s been focused on trying to fix her marriage and raise her daughter, so she ended up asking me – a single twenty-something – and the other woman going is a mom in her forties, so it’s going to be an interesting group with me and two moms, and you’re right; I guess we’re not that great of friends after all.”

There was a long, uncomfortable silence before I heard John whisper meekly, “I am so sorry.”

Now poor John the Cruise Concierge feels terribly about himself and is going to go home and drink a lot of alcohol and need to go on a cruise himself to recover from the conversation I just thrust upon him with my anxiety, social awkwardness and blunt delivery. Sorry, John the Concierge. I was just “that person.” 

Authentically Aurora

Adultescence 

coloring bookMillennials are notorious for lingering in limbo between adulthood and a prolonged childhood. We catch a lot of flack for it, but I was surprised by what action of mine drew judgement from Baby Boomers this week.

With my younger brother deployed and my mother caring for my critically ill grandfather, I spent a lot of time alone this Christmas. So last night, I went to a local coffee shop to soak in the ambiance and color in an adult coloring book I got for Christmas. Sometimes I like to be alone in a crowd; to have quiet time without feeling isolated.

So I got my coconut latte, put in my ear buds and was coloring away when I suddenly felt a presence hovering over me. No, it wasn’t the Holy Spirit. It was an elderly woman looking with delight at my colorful pens.

“Are those gel pens?!” She clapped her hands together gleefully.

I took out my ear buds, paused my music and looked up at her. “Yes.”

“Oh my! I have two daughters in their twenties and, my goodness, those were all the rage when they were younger! I remember one year, my younger daughter got a big set for her sister and, oh, if it wasn’t the sweetest thing!”

I smiled politely. “Well I’m probably about your daughters’ ages.”

“So you remember that gel pen fad?”

“Yes,” I said simply.

To my horror, another woman walked up with a huge grin. “Are you coloring? How nice. That’s a far better use of time than that Facebook thing all the kids are doing these days.”

Before I could respond (perhaps letting her know that I’d just checked Facebook on my phone), the second woman continued, “And what are you listening to? A lecture or a podcast?”

“It’s music.”

Her face fell visibly. “Oh.”

The first woman spoke up again, patting her friend on the shoulder. “And here I was telling her it was probably a TED Talk or something.”

I smiled politely again, hoping I didn’t look too pained. “Nope. Just music.” I spared them the detail that it was of the melodic bass genre. They wouldn’t have been able to handle the shock and dismay of such a lovely young lady listening to what they’d perceive to be Satan’s music.

“Well, that’s okay.” Patting one another’s shoulders, they meandered away from my table, where I sighed deeply, put my ear buds back in, and resumed my coloring to devil music.

I was astonished that it was not only permissible but delightful to these two elderly women that a 28-year-old would be coloring in a coloring book, but what bothered them was the fact that I was listening to music instead of a TED Talk. What if it had been classical music? Or opera? Would they have deemed that okay?

Or what if I had been listening to a podcast, but it was vulgar or explicit? Are podcasts inherently more valuable and desirable than having “young people” listen to music? Or what if I had been surfing Facebook while listening to an educational lecture? Would that have been better or worse, in the minds of these two women, than coloring while listening to electronica music?

See? This is why I should never leave the safety of my apartment. I know better than to venture out into the public wearing anything other than a Grumpy Cat shirt. Otherwise, people inevitably try to talk to me. I just wanted to be alone without being alone. Is that too much to ask?

Authentically Aurora