Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Experience the miracle of Childbirth... and my life is forever changed...

It goes without saying that in order to cross this bucket list item off, I had to dedicate some time.  I needed 9 months of sobriety and commitment to grow a human, followed by 6 months of very one sided unconditional love and perseverance with roughly 4,320 hours of consistent care.  Then I have 18 years with a roommate who doesn't pay rent before I pay for them to move out.  Not only am I covering living expenses for 18 years but also college with the hopes they will be able to then afford to live on their own at some point, meet someone, have a child of their own and go through this same process themselves.  All so I can say, 'now you know how I feel.'  

Daddy's Girl from Day 1
All jokes aside, this has been the best bucket list challenge so far.  When I decided to create my list, it was because I was trying to figure out who I was.  Who do I want to be when I grow up?  How do I want to be remembered?  What the heck do I even enjoy doing in my free time?  But this was different.  This one had very little to do with me.  Sure, there is a lot of personal satisfaction, don't get me wrong.  I get to be a mom and all the beautiful experiences that come a long with that.  But this is bigger than me.  This is creating a family.  Not only did I get to become a mom, but the man who I love the most also gets to become a dad.  On top of that, there is a whole new person walking on this Earth.  That might not sound like a big deal to some, and I know families used to have 14 kids, but you have to start with one, right?

We have this tiny person that depends on us for everything.  It is up to us to help give her the tools and knowledge to be successful in her own way.  There are a lot of things about being a mom that I get to control.  I can decide what foods to give her, what activities to have her involved in, what school she will attend and what she is going to wear everyday.  (At least I can decide these things for now.)  But what I can't control is what her likes and dislikes are, what personality she is going to develop, what she enjoys doing.  There is a possibility that she doesn't have any of the same interests as me.  There is a very real possibility that no matter how much we try to protect her and teach her right from wrong that she is going to make some really big mistakes.  

I spent almost 9 months growing and protecting her.  We spent the first 6 months of her life giving around the clock care and attention.  I arranged my work schedule around breast feeding and pumping to make sure she had the very best nutrition possible.  I spent 3 months of interviewing nannies to make sure she had the best care possible.  I researched every school in the greater Carrollwood area to make sure she gets the best education possible.  And I will spend the rest of my life making sure that she knows how much she is loved.  

But even with doing all of that, it plays such a small role in her life's outcome.  The reason why they call it a miracle, and the reason why becoming a parent is such a unique and special experience is because of how little you can actually control.  It is out of our hands.  God created Zoe to be one-of-a-kind.  This bucket list item will be a life-long challenge of balance.  How can I protect her while letting her fall?  How can I support her while forcing her to do things on her own?  How can I show her my unconditional love when she disappoints me?  The childbirth item has been crossed off the list, but what comes next will take the rest of my lifetime to accomplish.  I can't wait to see where this one takes us and the woman God created her to be.  

I wrote all about my experience of pregnancy here: http://9monthhangover.blogspot.com/  Some people LOVE being pregnant.  I am not one of those people.  But I would do it all over again and again to have Zoe.  

I'm only 1 year into being a mom and have already had some pretty comical and memorable moments that I didn't want to forget.  I'm keeping an online diary of those moments here:  http://zoediaries.blogspot.com/ 

A Tradition Unlike Any Other

You pull up to your office for the week.  As you step out of the car you feel the cool damp air against your skin.  As you make the walk, you are greeted by dozens of smiles gracing the faces of people who will give you anything you need to make your day successful.  You move to a quite spot where you start your daily ritual.  Maybe it is a cup of coffee and some water-cooler chit chat.  Maybe it is a hot tea while you close your eyes and take a few deep breaths before letting the stress of the day wash over you.  It’s show time. 

Your co-worker shakes your hand as you approach the stage.  Your feet squish down on the spongy perfectly manicured turf that still has the sweet aroma of freshly cut grass.  You wipe the nervous sweat from your palms as you reach into your bag to grab your club to take a few practice swings.  By now instead of a few dozen faces, there is a thick crowd forming around you waiting to watch your every move.

 As you make your approach and slide the tee into the ground, you have the vision of gliding that prestigious green jacket over your shoulders.  That jacket that every one of your peers covets just as much as you do.  You select your driver and glance down the 400 yards of rolling green ahead of you.  Silence blended in the wind blowing through the trees and a faint woodpecker in the distance is all you hear beyond your own heavy exhale as your swing follows-through.  Followed by the static of polite applauds of the patrons.  This is it.  This is the start of history in the making. 

At least that is how I envision what Thursday morning looked like for Jordan Speith before taking home the title of the Champion of the 2015 Masters Golf Tournament.  The tournament where 21 year old Speith took home his first major victory, and I got to cross off another bucket list items as a patron of this tradition unlike any other. 

Augusta National is hard to describe.  It is one of those places you really have to see for yourself to understand it.  I’ve had the privilege of experiencing a lot of indescribable places.  The Florida Keys during sunset, the Cinque Terre coastline at sunrise, miles of fresh untouched powdery snow in the Rocky Mountains, and now the perfectly manicured landscape of Augusta.  HD TV doesn't do it justice.  It is a Southerner’s wonderland with its beautiful Azaleas and Magnolias among the 1,000’s of other flower species along the course.   The staff makes Disney's team seem like amateurs with the way they cater to your every need and keep the walkways spotless without even a pine-cone on the ground.  And one of the most surprising things to me, with knowing that the majority of the attendees are traveling to the event in a Bentley or on a private jet, is that they maintain the original prices (or close to it) on everything once you are inside.  What other sporting event sells beers for $3 and sandwiches for $1.50? 

I only attended the event for one day of the tournament, and while we tried to walk the length of the course and take in as much of the experience as we could, I know there is still a lot that we missed.  But even in just one day, I was able to make a memory that will last a lifetime.  Watching the Masters on TV will never be the same for us in the future.  While I can never fully appreciate what the experience must be for those who are actually on the course making new records, I feel like I experienced a part of history.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Growing older, but not up

Freaking out before turning 30 is nothing unique.  I know that this whole challenge I created was a product of the normal anxiety that many 20 somethings feel.  Looking back at the past couple of years since this project began, I can't help but find it a little silly that I started feeling melancholy about reaching this milestone years before it was happening. Now I realize that I wasn't freaking out about the age as much as I was about what that age represented.  It is time for me to grow up.  All the dumb things that you do in your 20's are viewed as cute or acceptable because you are young and naive.  That doesn't really fly in your 30's.  If you get too drunk at a party where you lose your shoes and get sick in the bathroom, people just roll their eyes. (Not that I've ever done that.)  If you do it in your 30's, people suggest you need to attend a special Thursday night meeting.  In your 20's, if you blow your entire paycheck on a pair of shoes you have to have, you can justify it because you have your whole life to save money.  In your 30's, this would mean that your mortgage payment isn't going to be made.  So there I was, having a quarter-life crisis, kicking and screaming saying, 'No!  Don't make me... I don't want to grow up!'  

As much as I prayed, rubbed lamps and wished on stars, I couldn't make time stop.  If time was going to continue on, that means I had to as well. So I embraced turning 30 with dignity, grace and enthusiasm.  And by dignity I mean petty PMS girl moments, grace I mean immaturity, and enthusiasm as crippling depression.  Okay, it wasn't that bad... but it was bad enough that I made a list of selfish accomplishments that I wanted to complete before the big day so if nothing else, I can say that I feel good about how much I was able to do in my 20's.

I can proudly share that I have done all the items off my list.  I crossed the last one off my list this month when I traveled to 'someplace fabulous to celebrate my 30th birthday.'  My friends and I hopped on a jet and flew down to the dirty south to ring in my dirty thirty.  We spent 3 nights hanging out in NOLA for the French Quarter music festival which crossed off another bucket list item for me at the same time.  The trip was filled with phenomenal local artists and incredible food.  I haven't laughed that hard in a really long time. 

Quick Fun Fact - the French Quarter Music Festival was celebrating their 30th anniversary and I was celebrating my 30th birthday.  I thought that was a fun coincidence.   

With the exception of one person, everyone in our group was in their 30's and showed me that even though we might be growing older, no one said we had to grow up.  Sure, I am going to have more responsibilities, but I don't have to stop enjoying the things that I love just because I'm now a 30 something.  I can still be silly and have moments of being immature... maybe there will just be a few less.

Logan and me at the river, listening to live jazz.
We heard many talented musicians while we roamed the streets.

I ate my weight in crawfish!

Some of the gang toasting to the weekend!

Seriously?  Only my sweet husband
would wear a shark costume for me.
I thought that my birthday celebration was over when we touched ground back in Tampa, and the vacation came to an end. However, my dear friends had a different idea.  My friends who couldn't join us in NOLA along with my loving husband were conspiring behind my back.  This past weekend I thought that I was going to listen to a friend's husband play a little afternoon jam session.  When I showed up to the venue, I was met with about 60 of my family members and friends all wearing shark hats and my husband in a shark suit.  Why sharks?  Because since I could not cross 'swim with great whites' off my bucket list, my husband wanted me to at least be able to 'swim with land sharks.'  It was the most thoughtful, creative thing that anyone has ever done for me.  I was so surprised and overwhelmed by how many people showed up to show their love for me.  

So now as I sit here, writing this blog post, a full 2 days into my 30's, I have gained a new perspective from the wisdom with my old age.  The personal dilemma I was feeling before was that I wasn't fulfilled.  What I have realized is that I needed to change my definition on what it means to have fulfillment in your life.  Fulfillment doesn't mean going on an adventure every weekend, and trying something new everyday.  Fulfillment is simply having an enriched life with purpose.  Logan reminded me of that with his beautiful gesture on Sunday.  I am surrounded by so many amazing people who selflessly love and care about me.  They are the ones who enrich my life and give me purpose.  Thank you to all of you who have supported me through this challenge and continue to support me on a daily basis.

Friday, April 19, 2013

All She Wants To Do Is Dance

Dancing has always been a passion of mine.  I've been doing it in some form since I was a little girl.  I was not blessed with an athletic physique or great hand-eye coordination, or even rhythm for that matter.  Regardless, I had to find some type of 'extracurricular' activity to get me out of the house and to keep me active.  Dancing ended up being that for me.  It never came naturally to me, but I loved it.  I would spend hours in my bedroom practicing the steps we learned that night so that the following week it would look like it was effortless for me.  The most thrilled part of it came when it was time for our live performances.  I got such a rush as I waited behind the curtain for our turn to take the stage and be a star for the next 3 minutes.  The heat from the spot lights, the dark sea of people, and my heart racing created a high that I looked for year after year. 

When I graduated high school and went to college, dance took a much different form.  My sorority sisters and I used the clubs in Ybor as our weekly gym sessions because I know the way we got down was just as good as doing 100 squats.  We would dance until the early morning on a weekly basis, which is what I give credit to preventing the dreaded 'freshman 15.'  Now, dance doesn't take any form in my life.  I still needed a way to keep the weight off since this girl loves to eat, so what was once hours on the dance floor turned into hours in the gym or outside running.  While there is a rush that I get from running a few miles outdoors and getting a new best time or leaving the gym dripping in sweat, I can't say it is nearly as fun.  So I became determined to change that, leading to this 30 before 30 challenge.

One thing that I LOVE about my husband is that he is willing to do activities with me that he has ZERO interest in.  Dance lessons were one of them.  My sweet cousin Jena has been very supportive of my personal challenge and has even participated in crossing some off the list.  For Christmas she gave me a gift card for the Fred Astaire Dance Studio.  So Logan joined me for a few Tuesday night lessons where we got an overview of salsa, swing, tango, cha cha, rumba, and waltz.  We did about six weeks of lessons which gave us a good overview and the basic steps for each.  We are not going to be entering any competitions in the near future, but I think we can hold our own on the dance floor at the next wedding.  What this did show me was how much I miss dancing.  I think the folks at Fred Astaire will be excited to learn that I want to continue taking dance lessons on a regular basis.  I've always been a hug fan of swing so I think I am going to continue learning the steps to not only keep me in shape but to also bring back this area that was once a big passion for me.  (Don't worry, Logan... I'm not going to be dragging you to this every week!)  Thank you again to Jena and Logan for helping me cross another item off my list.

Monday, April 15, 2013

For His Glory, and my daily reminder.

Of all the items to cross off my list, this was the most meaningful.  I've always known how important scripture memorization was, but it wasn't until I started working on this list item that I realized how much I needed it.  I chose verses that had special meaning to me for various reasons.  While memorizing them, there were many moments where these scriptures would pop in my head as a daily reminder to me.  I may be able to cross this off my list, but I will continue to try to memorize many more verses so that I can be filled with His words instead of just my own.  Here are the 10 that I chose with my reasons for why.

Philippians 4:6
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, submit your request to God.

I need this verse on a daily basis.  The biggest key to this verse, in my opinion, is with thanksgiving.  When we worry and stress, it is saying that we do not trust in God's plan, or it means that we are not asking for His help.  If we spent as much time praying about our problems as we did worrying about them, think about how much easier it would be to get through it.  I am Thankful for all the problems I deal with on a daily basis because I know that they are not too big for God.  

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.

When you can give up the driver's seat and let Jesus take the wheel, life becomes a lot simpler.  We constantly try to make decisions on what we know and what we think is right.  If you lift it up in prayer, He will always lead you the right way.

James 1:2
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.

This is the hardest verse for me.  (I'm sure I'm not alone here.)  The first reaction when something bad happens is to be disappointed, or discouraged, or angry.  Could you imagine what life would be like if your gut instinct... the very first feeling you felt was pure joy.  Not contentment, not passive, but absolute joy. That would make every Dr. visit, car accident, or unfriendly encounter with another person just as enjoyable as a beautiful afternoon relaxing on the beach or playing with a puppy.  I know I want to feel that kind of joy in my life.

Proverbs 31:25

She is clothed in strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear at the future.

This is such a beautiful verse.  I would love it if when I leave this world that people would think of me, the way this verse describes.  This is such a wonderful expression of what a Christian woman looks like.  Obviously, all the characteristics throughout Proverbs 31 as it describes the 'Proverbs Woman' are great attributes to strive for, but the confidence that this verse portrays in particular really spoke to me.

Romans 12:12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer.

When I was memorizing this verse, I really thought about each section of what is written.  

Be joyful in hope - sometimes we are in situations that feel very hard to be joyful in.  However, we can be joyful in hope of what is to come.  We can always strive to be optimistic for the future.  

Patient in affliction - we might not understand why we are going through the challenges in our life, but we can have patience knowing that the Lord is working through us with a purpose.  

Faithful in prayer - to me this is the glue that holds everything together.  No matter what you are going through, you must lift it up to God.  This ties right into the importance of the next verse that I chose.

Philippians 4:13
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

As I alluded to in the verse above, this is why prayer is so important.  I believe that God doesn't give us any challenges in our life that we can't handle with his help.  No matter what trial we face, we must face it with the comfort and knowledge that we have God by our side to get through it.  We might not ever understand the lesson to be learned or how He is using that situation with us, but we can have comfort in knowing that it is all part of His plan in our lives.

James 1:19-20
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry; for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

'Think before you speak.' 'God gave you two ears and one mouth.' These expressions have been said time and time again with good reason.  I know that I can really take note to really think before speaking to others to make sure that what I am saying comes out clearly and with love.  How many times have you said something and instantly wished you could take it back?

I love the next 3 verses because they are a great reminder of what true unconditional love looks like, and are the perfect verses to share with others about how easy it is to receive God's love. 

John 3:16
God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not parish, but have eternal life.

This is one of the most famously used verses, and for obvious reasons. While memorizing and reading up on this verse and the meaning behind it, I read the following note that I thought was amazing:  notice that the word gospel is literally spelled out in the verse:  "For God loved the world in this way:  He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not Perish but have Eternal Life."

John 14:6
Jesus said to him, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father, except through me.

It is that easy.  You can only get to our Father through Christ.  'Jesus is not one of many ways to approach God, nor is He the best of several ways.  He is the only way.' - AW Tozer

Romans 3:23-24
We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God; being justified by grace through the redemption of Christ Jesus.

There are no perfect people in this world.  It is a standard that none of us can live up to.  But the good news is, we don't have to.  Even people who make mistakes time and time again have the opportunity to enjoy the eternal life in Heaven that waits for us.  That is such an amazing truth.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Organizing My Life

When I created my list of 30 before 30, I knew that some of the items on the list would be harder than others.  However, some have really surprised me.  For example, I thought paddle boarding would take a great deal of grace and balance (both of which I lack.)  I learned that it was much easier than I anticipated and was pleased with the results.  On the other hand, I thought, 'doing something with all my photos' would be a piece of cake.  I would need an afternoon free to put together some photo albums.  Wrong!  This was, by far, the most time consuming challenge of all.  I blame my OCD I inherited from my mother on this one.  Thanks, Mom!

I started this project by taking down the boxes of photos hidden in the back of my closet.  This is a collection of beat-up shoe boxes that have survived every move I've done since 18.  The contained random photos from when I was a baby up through mid college, when I stopped using disposable cameras and everything went digital.  Throw in a collection from Logan to make things extra complicated and my task grew.  So I started organizing.  I am a chronological girl when it comes to photos.  I started creating piles for each age range as best as I could tell.  Unfortunately, I have a hard concept when it comes to ages of children, even when the child is me.  A kid could be 4 or 12 for all I know.  Just creating these piles, not even touching a book took me about 3 evenings.

Next I started organizing my digital catalog.  iPhoto is one of the many reasons why I LOVE my MacBook.  It is so easy to organize your photos.  First I lumped all my photos into albums by year.

Then I divided out all of the photos into events within that year.

Then I created a few folders of 'collections' since Logan and I are creatures of habits and enjoy the same events year after year.

Again, I have not even touched a photo album yet and am now a week into the project!  After all the photos were organized it was time to get started.  I went with the physical photos first.  I created photo albums, while trying to keep as close to the chronological order as possible.  I devoted a few albums just to vacations.  I also created a book to keep all the photos, bibs and medals from the various races that Logan and I have participated in.  This process took roughly 2 more evenings.  (Each evening session lasted about 3 hours.)

Isn't it beautiful?
Now for the fun part.  Obviously, this would not have been put on my bucket list if it wasn't something I would enjoy doing.  I went onto one of my favorite websites, Shutterfly, and began to play.  It took about one full day of having Shutterfly on in the background while I created photo albums on their website for each year.  I wanted to create a photo-book for each year that I had digital photos of.  Once the images were uploaded I created a book, one year at a time.  Each year took me roughly 3 days to create, spending about 2 hours a day on it.  After all my books were created, I waited to see if there were any good deals to come through from Shutterfly.  (One of the reasons they are a favorite website is because they have awesome coupons.)  Take an additional 20% off all photo-books plus free shipping, SCORE!  Now comes the waiting...  waiting patiently for my bright orange package
to arrive.

I really do get like a kid in the candy store when these orange packages arrive at my door.  Finally, this project is complete.  After weeks of working, I can finally cross this item off.  After a total of roughly 50 hours of organizing over a period of about 2 months, I have 33 albums capturing all the important moments of my life to date. 

Of those 33 albums, I have 10 photo-books that I created using Shutterfly.  Something that I decided to do in each of the photo-books was a 'Top 10 Moments' list for the year.  It was really fun to reflect back on what all we enjoyed doing that year.   This might not have been an adventurous item to cross off, but it sure was the most rewarding.  I feel a big sense of accomplishment.  Now, let's see if I can keep up with my books in the future, so I am only making one book each year, instead of 33!  

This is my favorite book:
It is a collection of photos of our sweet puppy, Mallory.

This is it.  After all my hard work, my life can fit into two
shelves on the bottom of my bookcase.  

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Not So Easy Rider

Well, I might have been a 'Girl on a Motorcycle' but I was not 'Born to Ride.'  Today my dad helped me check off another bucket list item in a not so graceful way.  Before today I had a very Hollywood image of what my motorcycle experience would be.  Dad would show me really quick the basics of how to operate the bike, I would take it around the block a few times until I got the hang of it then we would ride off into the sunset in James Dean fashion.  The reality was not nearly as glamorous.

I started my day the way any poser would do, dressing myself in the most 'bad ass chick' attire I could find.  I went with all black, boots and obviously a bandanna.  I would have polished off the look with a leather jacket, but let's face it, I live in Florida and that isn't really appropriate for our 80 degree weather.  If I am dressed the part, I'll catch on even quicker right?

Don't mess with me.

Well, it turned out that my riding skills were as bad as my wardrobe choice.  After taking me around the neighborhood and showing me how to control the clutch and throttle, we got to an open area far away from other cars, children, or anything else that I could possible run into.  We ran through all the steps several times and it seemed like I had the hang of it.  Time to hop on.  I put my left hand tightly around the clutch and was ready to slowly release while gently accelerating but instead I decided to let go of the clutch quickly, freak out and fall onto the curb.  Before today, the Harley had never been laid on its side.  I guess I wanted to change that.  

We went through all the steps again and I mustered up the courage to try it again.  This time I started off much better.  I transitioned into first gear very smoothly and got going without stalling out.  I made a few turns, no problem and was on my way back.  Good job Casey, next time maybe you will even be ready to switch into second gear.  You are really getting the hang of this, I said to myself.  That was until I got close to my dad where all I had to do was simply break.  Crap, how do you break?  Well I can tell you what not to do.  Do not squeeze the clutch and break at the same time followed by releasing the clutch quickly, freaking out and turning to your side until the bike is almost on top of you and is now doing donuts on its side.  Awesome job!  I have officially knocked off a headlight cover, scratched up the side of the body, created an oil leak and ruined the paint job on my dad's perfect condition Harley in less than an hour.  If there could be an award on who could do the most damage in the shortest period of time, I could have easily earned it.

So the day of fun came to an end... I was not going to get back in the driver seat even if I was given permission, and I think my dad was done watching me try to kill myself.  So I checked myself over, made sure I didn't have any physical wounds to go with my emotional ones.  I hopped on the back where I belong, and cruised around the neighborhood while I made uncomfortable jokes before we put the motorcycle back where it belongs... safely in the garage far away from me.  Lesson learned:  Stick to the vespa and mountain bikes and leave the hogs for the pros.  
A little taste of the damage I caused

I didn't take any photos on the bike, I thought a photo of it safely in the garage was more appropriate