Monday, September 1, 2014

Checking In - August!

It was just about a week ago that I checked in here regarding progress on the 2014 January resolutions, so I'll be brief on those:

Zone Cleaning Challenge - well, I've got my morning and evening routines down, but adding in the weekly zones is still hit & miss for me.  Now that the semester has started and is finding a routine of its own, this comes back to the forefront.
5K Challenge - who would have thought that I'd find out I actually enjoy jobbling? I have my first "real" (as in timed) 5K race this coming Saturday. I'm nervous, since of course I want to do well, but it's an excited kind of nervous. I'll be doing something that I couldn't have done when I first set these challenges and that has to be viewed as progress of the good kind.
"Good Book" Challenge - Just under the wire, I managed to finish Faulkner's Light in August before I ran out of month. I really, really enjoyed this and I found myself wondering what Faulkner's reaction to the events in Ferguson, MO would be if he were still around to talk with us about Southern mythology, class, and race - always race.
"Good Film" Challenge - Saw several good films this month; none were on my list. Well, it doesn't make me a bad person.
Budgeting Challenge - Doing well enough on this that we enjoyed a weekend away for Labor Day. That probably blew the budget (or perhaps the car repairs will - like Moses, our loyal Bonnie Bonneville didn't make it up the mountain to the Promised Land, but unlike Moses, her damage may be fleeting), but it was a sorely-needed trip and I regret nothing!

I think I "over-goaled" here trying to do everything at once, so I cut myself several breaks as I focused on one good habit at a time instead of trying to overhaul so many aspects of my life at once. But now that a few habits have, in fact, become habits, FryDaddy and I agreed it was time to tackle the elephant.

Eating.

See, I like food. I like white-tablecloth restaurants and I like fried chicken eaten on a tailgate. My comfort food is Southern - pimento cheese, Barefoot's homemade mac 'n' cheese, sweet tea, Krispy Kreme, and so on. I've been known to say (to a good friend, not on a job interview), "You gonna finish that?" while gesturing with my fork. I grew up one of those people who was picky enough of an eater that it seemed I could eat whatever I wanted with no problem. Well, like eight-tracks, those days are gone. Yes, I'm a runner, but I'm a baby runner, and I simply don't burn enough calories to eat like that.

Add to that the fact that my job involves a lot of sitting and typing, and the problem begins to emerge.

Add to that the fact that I deal with stress by eating and the problem comes into focus. 

Add to that the fact that I also do a movie show for local cable, and prep work for that involves sitting and researching the films and sitting in a dark theater to watch the films, which for me as a kid, meant treats like buttered popcorn and candy (maybe a Slushie), and I don't need a nutritionist to tell me what's what.

Oh, I've tried all this before; I've even bought the books and the hype. The result is the same - I'll lose five pounds, then reward myself with a Blizzard. So I've roped in FryDaddy this time to help me. Really, it's not a matter of me not knowing what a portion size is or not realizing that fried is less good for me than broiled, it's a matter of putting theory into practice.

I'm trying to be sensible - no cabbage soup, no "only eat tomatoes for three days," or any of that nonsense - and I know that this will take time, but dammit, I don't want it to. Sigh. Patience may be a virtue, but it's not one of my virtues!

Today has been all about getting ready - I'm eating a few things that will shortly be on the "verboten for now" list (Mickey D's really does have the best fries, you know) and I've done a massive grocery run. No kidding, this one's going to be hard, but for the next month, my plan is to limit my refined carbs (no rice or pasta as a side dish with dinner and no stuffed baked potatoes as dinner), no sweets beyond a touch of good dark chocolate or something similar (au revoir, Fuzzy Peach!), and (gulp!) no movie treats. Let them catch me sneaking in grapes and baby carrots. Let's see where I am in a month. I won't lie - the scale has power over me, but so does my wardrobe, and I'm tired of putting something on and offering up a muttered prayer that the button will fasten.

Deep breath. Here goes - and yes, I'm gonna finish that.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Summer's Waning

August has been a strange month here at the Nest. It's a month that tends to be syrupy hot-and-humid, so it starts by slowly crawling by, then suddenly, everything goes into turbo speed and it's the end of the month and I'm left wondering what the heck just happened. It's been a good month so far - a few days at the beach (FryDaddy and I swear we're going to get a solid week in next year) served as a break from start-of-school madness. (But not totally.  Seriously, this semester has gotten off to a rocky, weird start punctuated with all manner of schedule changes and curve balls. It'll settle and a rhythm will be found; it always does, but it's been a wee bit odder than most.) So I'm off my routines, but still wanted to check in once before the very end of the month.

Oh, and that's the lesson I learned this month - the term "routine" has a different meaning than "straitjacket." The idea behind routines is that I do those things way more often than I don't do them, and it helps keep the house running more smoothly as a result, but you just can't do everything every day. Sometimes work needs you a little extra, sometimes you have houseguests, and sometimes you need ice cream more than you need a fruit smoothie (it's true) - half a hundred things can happen and that's all okay. You just get back on it as soon as you can and, if you've been basically keeping up, it's not a big deal to get caught up. So zone cleaning (and healthy eating choices) are both ongoing goals, but there's progress.

So let's see -

I've signed up for my next official 5K race - I had the Color Run back in April (click here for details!) and I've done two "virtual" 5K races over the summer (you run your own race and post your time and other people in other parts of the country do the same thing), but this next race is local, so I figured it was time to run against the clock and see how I do. Today FryDaddy and I drove over the course and wow! are there hills! I won't be especially fast and I'm pretty sure there will be some walking involved, but I'll finish and that's way more than I could've said in January.

I'm working my way through Faulkner's Light in August for the book challenge and quite liking it. I'd been tearing through it - the language is so compelling and it's a great story - but I put it down to read this month's book club book (We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler - fantastic read!) so I'm not done with Faulkner quite yet.

Speaking of which, Faulkner worked as a Hollywood screenwriter for a bit in the 40s and he co-wrote the script of Howard Hawks' To Have and Have Not which was (very loosely) adapted from Hemingway's novel of the same name. This month, FryDaddy and I started writing a twice-a-month column for the pop culture website BiffBamPop.com. My first contribution was on that very movie and Lauren Bacall, who made her stunning screen debut in it. Check out the column here! Not exactly part of my film challenge (I'd seen To Have and Have Not before; it gets better with subsequent viewings), but hey - that's where I am for now.

Budgeting is going pretty well, actually. We're both working on that and working off a single budget instead of two separate ones is much easier! Sure, we still have work to do (groceries are always more than we seem to think they will be), but again - progress.

So here I am, at the very end of summer - a season which beats you into submission with heat, humidity, and the siren call of hammocks and shade trees. I hope you'll understand if I remove myself from the Internet to go enjoy a few of those last golden hours. Just tell me, and I'll write a note for you to do the same!



Friday, August 1, 2014

Checking In - July!

OK - time to check in.  As regular readers know, at the start of this year, I set five goals for myself, with the intention of making 2014 a true "makeover year" and I post these "check ins" once a month (generally on the very last day of the month or the very first day of the month) to both show how things are going and to keep myself accountable for these goals I set.  And make no mistake, these were some LARGE goals. The road hasn't always been smooth, but looking back, I can see progress, often in some unexpected ways. So - the goals were:
  1. Believing that a sense of calm would come from a neater house, I wanted to get organized and stop doing "crisis cleaning" on the weekends. FlyLady had helped me get rid of (maybe literally) a ton of clutter, so I decided to take that system a little deeper and add "zone cleaning."
  2. Money's tight, but I wanted to stop using credit cards and live frugally, with the idea of whittling away at the household debt.
  3. I decided to watch 24 "good movies" that I really should have already seen, from a variety of genres, ranging from foreign classics to comedies.
  4. I wanted to read six "good books" that had slipped by me.
  5. I wanted to feel stronger, so I decided to train to participate in a 5K race this year. Thus, the "Dancing Sloth" was born.

Whew! Taken all at once, these goals were intimidating. But I've stuck to it (mostly) and can report the following as we head into the "dog days" of August:

July was interesting, since I was back in the classroom with my summer school classes. They're fun classes (at least I think so) and they went well, but boy howdy! do they take time. (I had two sections to teach, each of which met for three days a week for  just over three hours a session - yike!) Now that FryDaddy is home from graduate school for good, we're working through our "delayed honeymoon" period, which is an occasion for much YAY! but it also means we've been sorting through things that most couples would have sorted out at the beginning of the marriage. One thing I can thoroughly recommend for those in such situations (although I think this might be a good general rule) is to schedule "date time." We've been doing that, but we took it to a new level today and made all of today "date day" and it's been just lovely. We ran on our own schedules, ate out so no one had to cook or clean, saw a matinee (we chose Guardians of the Galaxy, which we loved, but pick whatever suits you), and took advantage of a rainy, unseasonably-cold day to lounge and snooze. It doesn't really matter what you do, it matters that you make time to do it together.
  1. As to the housework routines, we're nearly there. I have a few things I do every morning and a few things in the evening to get things ready for the next day, pretty much without fail. I'm working to add just 15 minutes to that on the weekdays, usually just after I get home. I spend those few minutes in the "zone room" for that week, using the FlyLady "daily mission" and zone checklist for that day as a starting point. Hey - the living room windows got cleaned this week, which has to count for something!
  2. We're back on the budget horse this month, making a strict budget using the Dave Ramsey system. (Yeah, he shoots his mouth off about the poor and makes some downright dumb statements, but his "debt snowball" system is sound. Take what works, leave the rest.) We'd used it before, but we were running off two budgets, since FryDaddy was at school and I was here. Now we're consolidated, which should make things easier. Fewer meals out, though - that's for sure!
  3. The movie challenge -  I marked one off my list in July; the amazing classic Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. If you haven't seen this one - even if you're not a fan of Westerns - you owe it to yourself to see it. Incredible performances from Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne and a story that'll just yank you in.
  4. The book challenge - well, I picked heavy books for that list and I sort of fell into a crevasse about it. I've been reading (I actually finished five books this month, all nonfiction, ranging from a short series of vignettes about women explorers to a fascinating examination of the origin on modern forensic science), and I'm determined to start Faulkner's Light in August since it's, well, August. Check back in a few weeks to see how I'm doing on that.
  5. As for the 5K challenge - I've had surgery to clear my airway (read about that in my previous post) and am back to running. A good thing, since I agreed with a friend - we'll call her "Bawlmer Hon" here at the Nest - to participate in next summer's Ramblin' Rose mini-triathlon. It'll be a hoot getting ready for that, let me tell you!
Huh. Looking back, I'd say it's been a good month. It hasn't always felt like that (surgery, school, chores, uncertainty), which is why these posts matter. There are days that are great, days that are good, and some days that are pretty much meh. The trick is to look at the overall pattern.

And hey - it's still summer!  Go enjoy it!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Not Even An Isthmus

In one of his most famous poems, John Donne claimed that "no man is an island" and he was right. No matter how independent you may think yourself to be - and independence is a good quality - we are social creatures and we need other people. I've had some time to reflect on this over the last few days and I am even more convinced now that this is so.

Earlier this week I had some minor surgery done. Doctors aren't entirely sure why I have scar tissue in my windpipe (probably some sort of reflux, but tests weren't conclusive), but there it is. Scar tissue can be cut away, but it always grows back and as it grows, my airway narrows and my breathing is affected. I also start to cough a lot to clear away junk that most of us don't think twice about - a healthy windpipe has teensy hair-like structures to help propel phlegm and crud up and out whereas scar tissue is smooth and those structures are absent. Exercise exertion seems to both help and serve as a canary in this coal mine, so we keep an eye on things through an uncomfortable scope procedure that I'm very grateful for, and every few years (it had been three years since the last time; six weeks since the most recent scoping), I have to get my trachea "rotor-rootered." It's not fun, but it's pretty routine and low-key. Still - general anesthesia is not a joke, although I try to yuk it up as they get me ready. I was first diagnosed at Baptist Hospital (now called Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, but it's still "Baptist" to most North Carolinians) and I continue to go there for treatment. Yeah, it's a little out of the way from where I live now, but it's a top-notch teaching hospital and I make my living talking and teaching other people how to talk, so I'll keep going there thankyouverymuch.

Recovery from this procedure isn't too bad - everything is done with lasers, not scalpels, so there's very little blood or discharge - but I'm tired, sore, and achy for a few days and can't really do too much for myself for the first day and a half. (Interesting facts to support this point - anesthesia can make you super-cold and shivery for the first several hours post-discharge, the compression thingies they put on your legs to prevent clots can make your calves sore to the point of making walking uncomfortable for the first two days and your innards are likely to be strangely out of whack for two to three days.) While you're not covered up in bandages and bruises and stitches, your body's gone through some trauma and you're not exactly Little Miss Marathon.

Enter other people. Oh, let me explain just how much NOT an island I've been the last few days, for there is nothing (emphasize that - nothing) like being sick to make you appreciate other people. I can't list all the kindnesses I've received over the last five days or so, but let me try to capture the flavor of compassion.

  1. My surgeon cuts on Thursdays, so I had to miss a day of my turbo-speed summer school class. Far from celebrating "woo-hoo, teacher's gone!" my summer class made me a "get well" card on the sly to give me before I left for surgery last week. Totally spontaneous and heartfelt and I made sure it was propped on the dresser top so I could see it from the bed. 
  2. My parents went full-out Florence Nightingale for me. Every food that I even thought might be tasty they had in full supply. I go whole-hog Southern for my comfort food, so I've been consuming pimento cheese by the tubful and sweet tea by the half-gallon.
  3. My parents live in a century-old farmhouse, obviously built before air conditioning. The rooms are gracious, airy, and peaceful. I loved sitting on the breakfast porch and just watching the antics at the bird feeder. Plus, one night a doe came up out of the woods to graze in the pasture. Best kind of reality TV.
  4. Ensley tore up the road between our home and my childhood home, tending to our sick kitty (she's on antibiotics and won't come out for just anybody) then coming up to make sure I wasn't pushing things too hard the first few days.
  5. Having a little in my iTunes account to treat myself to gemstones in "Midnight Castle," a found-object game I spent a lot of time playing over the last couple of days. (Anybody playing that - friend me!)
  6. My minister - who's brand-new herself in town - kept up with me through social media and made sure to relay support and kind words.
  7. Friends.  Oh, friends. Neighbors who offered to look after the critters, Facebook friends from close by and across borders and oceans - I had dozens and dozens of people checking in on me, wanting to know if I was okay, if there was anything I needed. It feels good to know that I'm connected like this, not just drifting on the air currents like a discarded grocery bag.
  8. Being well enough to drive home, but still not have to do anything. Yes, there will be work tomorrow and errands and all the things that come with modern First World life and I'll be better suited to face them following three solid days of rest.

It's true - I'm not an island. I'm not even an peninsula or an isthmus. And what a wonderful thing that is. Think of it this way - you know who's truly independent? The poor schmo you see leaving the hospital in a cab. He can't drive himself and there's no one to pick him up, take him home, and get him settled, much less check in on him to make sure he's comfortable post-surgery. That's not independent; that's just sad.

Thanks to all who made sure I knew I wasn't an island.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Checking In - June!

First off, let's review - at the start of this year, I set five goals for myself, with the intention of making 2014 a true "makeover year." What were those again?
  1. I wanted to keep a neater house, feeling that cleanliness was next to impossible. I reasoned that my life would be calmer if I wasn't frantically searching for "stuff" in the morning.  And I hated spending the weekend cleaning the house or feeling guilty for not cleaning the house.
  2. Money's tight, but I wanted to stop using credit cards and live frugally, with the idea of whittling away at the household debt.
  3. I decided to watch 24 "good movies" that I really should have already seen.
  4. I wanted to read six "good books" that had slipped by me.
  5. I wanted to feel stronger, so I decided to train to participate in a 5K race this year. Thus, the "Dancing Sloth" was born.
Well, it's good to have goals and I have no shortage of them. But a funny thing happened this month. I got way off my goals and I discovered something that might just border on the profound.  See what you think.

The goals are going okay, I suppose. My summer classes begin next week, which means that my days become far more structured than June has been - a month during which I didn't work a single full week - so in a strange way, it's a good time to re-evaluate and re-commit. This past month, Ensley and I took a brief "staycation" and there was the gorgeous Slayage conference out in California (read about that here), among other life-affirming jaunts.  I wouldn't trade this past month for a gold monkey, but it's time to get back on the horse, so to speak. So where am I?
  1. I still have my basic routines for taking care of the house and I want to work the "zone" idea back into my routines, which I've let slide.
  2. Budgeting is on the list of "things to do" for next week. We've been living free and easy, which has played a bit of havoc with the budget goal, although we've been very good about keeping our hands off credit cards. (Not perfect - Slayage, don't you know - but very good.)
  3. I'm doing well on the movie challenge.  This month, I marked off three - Hitchcock's Psycho, Ford's Stagecoach, and Kurosawa's Red Beard. (You can read my thoughts about those here.) Another musical, Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George, is waiting for me. I seemed to have turned a corner there - there had been a couple that I just didn't like and it soured me for a while.
  4. The "good books" challenge, on the other hand, has slipped into a crevasse. I read four books in June (and one, Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes should count, even if it's not on my list), but the heavy literature had to be put on hold while I dealt with a small brush fire of burnout. (Strangely enough, a really by-the-numbers romance novel helped a bit with that. Yeah, yeah - don't judge.)
  5. The 5K challenge - while the Dancing Sloth took some time off due to throat issues (being addressed mid-July) and burnout, she's back now! And a friend has me toying with a major challenge in that area. She's suggested we participate in next summer's Ramblin' Rose Triathlon. Now, it's not a hard-core Ironman sort of thing, but it is swimming, biking, and running - all on the same day. I don't own a bike and I haven't swum laps in years.  Still . . . and the fact I'm even thinking about this is amazing to me.
Now to the breakthrough. I'm not sure if this was the result of a long-simmering process the blossomed into a revelation or was more of a "burning bush" epiphany, but either way - it's a breakthrough.  Ready?  Here it is -

I'm not a sex kitten.

Sure, other people might have known that already, but it's new to me - and what a relief! Maybe it was that clothes-buying spree I wrote about in the last post, maybe it was hearing from so many people at Slayage that they enjoy reading my running posts, but all I know is that I have turned some sort of corner in my soul. Let me tell you, keeping up with the demands of the beauty industry is hard work at the best of times and our society never wants you to admit that you're not a coltish 22-year-old. I'm not, but that being fantastic is news to me. It's like this. I want to do these things - get strong by running and read good books and watch good movies and act like a grown-up with money and taking care of my house - for me. Not for my parents, not for my conference buddies or Facebook friends, not even for my incredibly loving husband, and certainly not for society at large, a sizable segment of which measures me simply on my "hotness" factor and has found me sorely lacking since I'm not that coltish 22-year-old (heck, I'm not even two 22-year-olds!). I wasn't even aware of how much I had been fighting that battle until this year but it's a relief to decide to stop. No, I have no intention of "letting myself go" and eating Nutella from the gallon jug for dinner. (Actually, that doesn't sound so bad . . .) But I'm not as beholden to the slick Photoshopped magazine covers and Internet clickbait that promise me I can lose those final 8 pounds by Tuesday (implying that I need to) and that they'll tell me what he really wants in bed (rather personal and how do you know my husband anyway?). I can't believe how much time I've wasted fretting over the size of my waist and my hips and how much power I've given a stupid number on a scale.

So, although this wasn't one of my original goals, I think it's important enough to report. I've got a new title now. I don't know what the IRS might think of seeing it on my taxes, but I'm a . . .

Sex Kitten - Retired.

I plan on having a great deal more fun on a regular basis, now that I have that knowledge. See, once you're living for you instead of what others think you ought to be, things get mighty interesting. I might put the fuchsia back into my hair. I might get henna tattoos. I might serve on the board of a nonprofit I'm interested in (already agreed to that, actually). I might demand crayons at my next faculty meeting. I don't entirely know how things might manifest, but I'm sure of this - Tasha Tudor was right.  Life is meant to be enjoyed; not saddled with. Eat well because you want to. Get a good night's sleep because you want to. Push yourself to jog to that next mailbox before you galumph back to a huffy, puffy walk because it feels good to push your body to do what it couldn't do two months ago. Insist on treating yourself well because you deserve it. And, for the love of all that's holy - make the world better because you deserve to make a difference. The size of your heart matters far more that the size of your hips.

Meow.








Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Checking In - May!

Yes, this post is a little bit late and I'll let my previous post (centering on my college reunion) serve as both my explanation and my apology. But here I am, ready to check in and report on my progress through the merry month of May.

Let's recap - the ambitious goals I set to work on throughout the year were:
  • Keeping a tidier, less cluttered house. I just can't stand the chaos of "where that thing?" as I'm trying to dash out of the house. But I work full-time, on top of several other large scale projects this year, so this goal involved finding a happy medium of “clean and tidy” versus “doable.”
  • Money is a sore point with me – as it would be with anyone who has spent years clutching the trifecta ticket of frozen salaries, disrespect, and rising prices – so we decided (this decision had to be a “we” decision, so FryDaddy is in this one as well) to keep a realistic budget to lower our household debt.
  • To strengthen my body, I decided to train to participate in a 5K race sometime this year.
  • To improve my mind, I decided to read six "good books" that had slipped past me.
  • Also to improve my mind, I decided to watch 24 "good movies" that had slipped past me.
      To be honest, May wasn't a very good month, goal-wise. Between FryDaddy's graduation (no, I'm not calling him "master," in spite of the fact that he's got the funny sleeves), exam week, some required travel, and a host of other activities, it was a full-out crazy month. Lots of fun stuff going on there, but it seemed that everything took precedence over the goal-keeping. So what's that mean?
     
     Well, after a bit of a breakdown - I have a nasty tendency to see things as "keeping score" instead of "this is going to make things easier, but there will be setbacks" - I think I can report some success, although it's been more in this most recent week rather than in May. Therefore, I'm not going to talk about my set goals as much as I'm interested in talking about setbacks and how to approach them. After all, this is something I know a fair amount about.  (Read as - I know A LOT about setbacks!)
    
      Read this until you believe it:  the bad days and weeks and months are going to come. They just will. Unexpected expenses will crop up and play merry hell with your delicate budget and you'll think you're a failure because - golly gee, you could've saved money by recycling dryer lint into creative Halloween costumes but no, you had to go off and buy something. Food that's not especially good for you is cheaper and requires less prep work and it's tempting when the busy times strike. There's no time to clean and you can't settle down enough to concentrate on a "good read" and you just want to be entertained instead of watching a movie from your list. Nothing is working, you've gained ten pounds and you wonder what happened.

      At the risk of sounding like I have things held together with peace and calm instead of duct tape and the use of Anglo-Saxon words as adjectives (look, it's been a few weeks of me yelling at the cats, okay?), when nothing you're doing is working, do nothing. Just stop. Look around. Reassess your goals (seriously - I've had three different people advise me to skip Thoreau's Walden which was my scheduled book. So I decided to read Beloved instead and still haven't started it, although I've read six other things in this period of indecision) and make course corrections as needed. Growth is not constant - that's why we have winter. It's a time in the natural year to recover from expending all the energy it takes to grow, blossom, and harvest to hunker down and consider the Next Step. If it works for carrots and bears, why shouldn't it work for people? (That made more sense before I typed it. I'm still going with it.)

      For example, I went on a shopping trip with my mother this weekend. I mean a SHOPPING TRIP, the kind where you wind up with new everything. Here's the kicker - I asked my mom when the last time was that we did a trip like that. She carefully considered the timeline and said, "Right after you finished law school and took that job in South Carolina." 

      That was in 1998.

      So the deal was that I had to go through my closet and ruthlessly get rid of clothes that no longer worked. I just did that and it was hard - I want to think I'll be that size again and/or that I'll be able to wear that style again and it's hard to be realistic about that sort of thing. (And there were a few things that are getting thrown away rather than being given away - I'd crossed the line from "frugal" into "cheap." Shame on me.)  But I'd rather wear clothes that actually fit me instead of clothes that fit me in 1998 (and yes, I had still had some of those). I'll drop them off at Goodwill in just a little bit - the clothes will work for someone else and I believe in karmic concepts enough to think that giving away creates room in my own life for more good stuff to roll in. I'll get back to drinking water instead of diet soda and my other good habits. Sometimes life demands to be noticed more than the dust bunnies.

      It's okay. Really, it is.

Monday, June 2, 2014

On Women Coming Home

Yes, I owe you an end of month check-in post, but indulge me.  It's been a tough few weeks to be a woman.  Kitty Pryde's story was stripped away from her and given to Wolverine in Days of Future Past, which had me angry and bewildered, then Isla Vista happened and I was violently reminded that it's dangerous for women, even in a developed society such as the United States.  (Other countries, other dangers, but home isn't necessarily safe, either.  #YesAllWomen.)

I am the product of four years of all-female undergraduate education and, this past weekend, Hollins called me home.  It was reunion, an annual event during which amazing women head to a leafy campus near Roanoke, Virginia to laugh and reminisce and reflect and so on.  This was a big one for me - I suppose all reunions are big, but some birthdays are bigger than others.  My class was forged in flood during our first semester as freshmen when the Roanoke Valley was inundated by floodwaters, leaving us quite literally stranded on campus (this was in pre-cellphone days).  Power lines were down in standing water, we were fed cold sandwiches via canoe, and our parents were panicked.  It was an adventure and, like all adventures, it had large chunks of awful scattered throughout.  We had no electricity or water while stranded, classes were cancelled for three-plus weeks while the campus was made livable and during the final three weeks of that semester, we did six weeks of work, with classes running from 8 am to 11 pm. (Remember, this was pre-online classes.  By the way, it took ten years for the library to recover from the losses.  People frantically flung rare books into canoes, but not everything - not by a long shot - could be saved from the water and subsequent mold.)  I remember trying to read de Tocqueville's Democracy in America in my hometown library for my history survey class while being distracted as all get-out.  It was my first time living away from home and I was struggling to find where I fit in at college and now I'd been sent home.  So many other girls at college seemed confident and self-assured and I was this skinny, unsure country mouse scurrying around all these brash butterflies who seemed to soar effortlessly.

How little we know.  Everyone's struggling.  Absolutely.  Everyone.  You just sometimes can't see it.

Since it was a "big reunion," our senior pictures had been printed on our name tags.  When I picked mine up, I gazed at the picture of that girl for a long moment.  I remember that picture - I hated it back then. My hair looked terrible that day and my face was round as a peasant's, and I could go on and on.  But when I looked at that picture on my name badge, what struck me was how gorgeous I was.  I look confident and happy and - seriously - gorgeous.  And it wasn't just me - I noticed that time and again looking at the name tags of friends who were also at reunion.  We're so hard on ourselves.  We focus on the pimple that sprung up on our nose, or the hair that won't curl the way we want it to, and we're sure that it's all anyone will see and we forget that's not us; it's just what we look like when the shutter clicked.

Hollins is the reason I look that way in that picture.  No, Hollins didn't make me who I am; I had a large part to play in that, as did some good friends, some good experiences, and (to be strictly honest) some bad ones.  In that picture, I'm not who I am now, but I'm starting to be her.  And let's be clear - I like her.

What did Hollins do for me?  Hmm - so much I could write to answer that, but let me tell just one story.  When I was at Hollins, I was a theatre major.  Coming from a high school that didn't have so much as a drama club, that still amazes me.  Since I graduated, the theatre has undergone major renovations, as has the program as a whole.  During some unstructured time over the weekend, I wandered into the building I spent the most time in during my years at college just wanting to once again be in the place that helped form me.  (Theatre people are notorious for skulking around places.  We're like mongooses - we "run and find out.")  As I slipped in, I was greeted by a man who turned out to be a theatre faculty member.  We chatted for a minute and he asked if I was on campus for reunion.  I replied that I was and that I had been a theatre major, so I was curious to see the building, if he didn't mind me nosing about.  He smiled broadly and said words that brought a sudden sting of tears to my eyes:

"Welcome home."

And this, Fair Readers, is what a college should do.  This man, who didn't know me from Adam's housecat and who had work of his own to do, dropped everything to give me a tour of my old stomping grounds, proudly showing off how the renovations had added to - probably doubled - that available space.  See, it's all well and good to talk about how a college is a community and is a family and is whatever other emblem and metaphor you want to use.  But the proof is in the action.

You want a world with strong, confident women who will work like rented mules to make the world a better, fairer place?  Hollins.  Seek it out.  Visit.  And yes, support it.  You could easily do worse - you're unlikely to do better.