Tuesday, February 11, 2014

the fault in our stars: a review

For the past few weeks, I have been reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. When I love a book I do this thing where I avoid the end of it by putting it down for days so it won't be over, and this book was certainly no exception. I didn't even read the last page half way through, which I also do (weird, I know), because I didn't want anything to be given away.

I started reading this novel because one of my favorite book lovers, Erica, kept raving about it. Then I became the girl tweeting quotes non-stop, telling everyone about Augustus and Hazel Grace, and kind of obsessing about these two characters. Yes, I am aware this is not a real, but when I am thinking about a story while laying in bed, well, that is the sign of a stellar read.

The book is centered on two main teenage characters, Augustus and Hazel Grace. They meet through a cancer support group as they both have had or are being treated for cancer. As you read, their story together unfolds, and you are forced to face the brutality of cancer and the depth of love. At times, I felt like I was intruding in on a moment between two people that I didn't have to the right to see. The strength of John Green's writing is capturing that window and creating a place for the reader in that space. Some pages I fought to get through and others I lingered on a little longer.

The Fault in Our Stars is not an overly romantic, unattainable love story that will give you false expectations. Augustus and Hazel are different people. They don't agree on most things. And yet, there is an acceptance and admiration for who the other person is. Not obsessive or lustful, just honest. It is a story about how I think we all deserve to be seen and loved, for who we are in our most stripped down versions.

Reading this, you'll find you want more time with the characters and you'll want to thank John Green for the privilege.

Monday, February 3, 2014

girls night: slumber party style

To celebrate the birthday of one of my best girls, Jennifer, I decided to throw her a slumber party. Being that we have a shared love of Dirty Dancing, the theme choice was obvious.

If you are wondering what a slumber party in your thirties looks like, let me assure you that it is even better than as a teenage girl. We all had the best time being together! We chatted the night away, laughing, and telling stories. There were games and lots of food. Obviously, no slumber party would be complete without a bit of dancing so we were sure to have some ultimate playlists going, especially the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. A sign of old age would be falling asleep during the flick, which we did, but resumed it in the morning over breakfast. The final dance is stellar no matter what time of day it is on.

Fun Fact: Did you know that Patrick Swayze filmed the final scene with a leg injury? Learned that in our trivia game!

Our party essentials, Jen's favorite things, are below:

{Food Table} Spinach Salad Station, Quiche, Veggies, Mozzarella Sticks 

{Drinks} Lots of Wine, Iced Tea, and, of course, Pink Champagne

{Candy & Desserts} Reese's Pieces, Twizzlers, M&M's, Sour Patch Kids, Brownies

{Games} Dirty Dancing: The Game (A MUST!) & Slumber Party Box of Questions

{Breakfast} Pancakes, Strawberries, Bacon, OJ, Coffee 

{Party Favors} Pretty Notebook, EOS Lip Balm, Face Mask

While this celebration was in honor of a birthday, there is no excuse needed to gather up a few friends and enjoy some quality time together.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

go for it, i dare you

Grits & Gravy started in 2010 as this fun little project for me. In my heart, I just knew that I wanted to write. I wanted to write about the things that I invest in: women, reflection, education, relationships, celebrating the simple treasures in life, nesting in a home, adventure, and a hunger to experience life in all of its beautiful, imperfect forms. I didn't know if I would be any good at writing about these things or if it would be something anyone cared to read, but I decided to write anyway.

At times, I have struggled.  How much is too much? What if it seems ego driven? What if I misspelled a word or did not use proper punctuation? What if I write something hurtful to someone else? Whatever my fears were/are, I find that the more I have written authentically or the scarier a post is to publish, the greater the opportunity is to connect with you. 

This little blog has taught me a great deal, mostly, to just go for what it is in your heart to do. People may love it, hate it, or feel uncertain about it. Heck, you may even have all of those feelings. Do it anyway. You might totally fail, a lot of times. You might excel beyond even what you hoped for.

One of my recent posts tripled my average hits in less than 12 hours. At first, I was so excited I could pull a Tom Cruise (circa 2005) and jump on my couch. Then I thought, holy crap, that many people read that post. 3 years of writing, 142 posts, and then that 1 post that changed a lot of things. 

I went for it and you have supported me every post along the way. What I really should say is, thank you. It is so meaningful to me when I receive tweets, messages, likes, comments, or emails from you expressing the way that you connected with something I wrote. So many of you have graciously shared your own stories with me, which has, honestly, been the greatest gift of this experience.

You can't get the job you don't apply for, the adventure you don't take, the relationship you desire, or the life you seek without all the risk. So whatever that thing in your heart is, go for it! I dare you!


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Sympathy vs. Contributions

I'm 31 and my Daddy still calls me baby. Yes, I am a grown woman still calling my father Daddy. And yes, it probably sounds like a country song, but it is a part of us. When I am 51, he will still be calling me baby, or sister, because that is my other name. I know, getting more country by the second.

The word you don't want to hear is that dreaded C word we got 2 1/2 months ago. He did though. Now that is a part of us too.

Before I send everyone into a panic, he should be okay. It began with a wicked case of pneumonia that led to his first prostate exam in 9 years (reminder to get your checkup). Soon after that we found out that he had cancer. Over Christmas, he healed from surgery and we hoped that we were through the worst.

Nothing happens just like we want it though. A few days after the holiday, we learned that he would need to overcome a bit more because they discovered more cancer. There has been more testing, scanning, and visits to the doctor. Today we will find out what the results of that will be and identify next steps.

Surprisingly, the cancer does not seem like the hardest part, it is all the things that are a result of it. The treatment is logical to me. There is a plan and steps to achieving it. That works for me. Daddy is strong but I can hear and feel the fear and worry radiating from him. The things you must do, like update your will, about sent us all over the edge. And I know that his mind is swirling, we are thinkers. The fears of where will they find it next or will we all be together next Christmas are what you are not quite prepared for.

At first, I barely told anyone. Sympathy may be the most dreaded emotion to me. Sounds awful, I know, but I am a helping professional. I knew I would feel the need to support them in their reaction to my emotions; that seemed too much.

My pastor posed a question recently, what if instead of expressing sympathy when we see brokenness; we asked what we could do so that we may contribute to wholeness. If on the receiving end, we must create space for people to love us. And if able, we could actually do something that makes a difference.

So I having been asking myself this question. And I was reminded of one of my struggles, allowing other people to be with me in my vulnerability. I think helpers dislike admitting when we need help. We don't all have to blog about it or shout our difficulties from the rooftop (thanks, Brene Brown for this insight), but we can let in trusted people to support us, help us, contribute to our wholeness.

The more that my family has allowed people to support us, the less turbulent the waters have felt. During Christmas, the Lassiters came by to sing carols, my parents friends stayed at the hospital all day, people have asked what they can do, and people we don't even know are praying for him. And my sweet friends, colleagues, and students, gosh, they remind me that I have a pretty great posse to be grateful for.

In the midst of this really hard thing, we are surrounded by the greatest gift, love. Not always strong but full of faith. Whatever today’s results are, I hope that we continue to be open to receiving this gift. And when the time comes that we can contribute, I hope that we give the same generosity others have shown us.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

for the girls

A friend of mine asked some of her female friends to assist in preparing her daughter for the transitions her body would soon go through as she entered her teenage years. I put off my letter for weeks as I thought about what I wanted to communicate to this brilliant, young girl about her body.

Many of my friends have little girls that I have great bonds with. I'm sure that there will be many more days that await me full of conversations similar to the letter I wrote. To my friend's daughter and the little ones coming after her, I hope I can articulate this over time:

Dear Kiddo,

Welcome to the beginning of many changes your body will go through in the upcoming years. Just about the time you think you have figured it all out, it will shift, and you'll have new things to discover about yourself. There will be days you feel cramping, hot, uncomfortable, swollen, and embarrassed. You'll probably even ruin that favorite pair of underwear that you paid too much money for. Gross, I know. It happens. And you'll never understand why your face has to break out every time you get your period. Oh, and the emotions from hormones, they are evil. All of the awfuls are pieces of a beautiful process.

As you grow older, the females in your life will become the keys to unlocking vaults of information about being a woman. There will be times of awkwardness as your body grows into its intended shape. You will even survive intimate conversations with your future partner. Inevitably, you will compare notes with the girls on your experiences, and learn that you are not alone.

You may even experience things with the females in your life that you feel unprepared for. You will see the pain of a miscarriage or the knowledge she cannot have children. And there will be days that you support her as she waits for test results and all that those will mean. These may even become your own experiences.

I hope that the days that you love your body will far outweigh the days you feel like it is alien to you. Whatever you do, love your body like you love your best friend. Love what you see in the mirror and all of the things that are unseen. I hope you feel just as much like a rockstar naked as you do in your favorite outfit. Embrace what others see as imperfections as pieces that are unique to you. Own it and become comfortable in it. Cherish your body because it can do incredible things.

Always loving you,
Aunt Jessica/Jess/Morgee/JMo/J

Friday, January 3, 2014


I chose not to set any specific goals last year. My usual list making self needed a little space to explore, assess where I was, and chart a new course.

My twenties were largely filled with my professional ambitions. The next job, the next move, the next degree, the next thing on my to do list. At thirty (one), I achieved so many of the things I had wanted to do. What would be my new goals?

Last year, I felt restless. I could not identify what would be the next thing for me. Somehow the things I thought I wanted, like that PhD, did not entice me (yet). I panicked a little. Who am I if I am not busy working towards achieving some big goal? The goal, of course, usually being a new job or location.

It turns out that the next thing I've been hunting for is being right here. Moving to Tampa was a rare opportunity. I could do work I loved. And, more importantly, I could be home. I had never made a decision that was driven by my personal life with work/school second. Never. It was definitely a turning point, but one that I haven't quite settled into yet.

This year, I am choosing to commit to creating more of a life in Tampa and investing deeper in my community. I think it is time to do things a little differently, dream a little bigger.

In 2014, I will:

Relocate to a new area of Tampa. I chose my current location out of ease for work (shocking) but my life is spent in another part of town that is closer to my parents, my friends, and the things I love doing. Lease is up in May so let the moving begin.

Buy a bicycle. This one has secretly been on my list for sometime. I enjoy the idea of biking to brunch or around a beautiful part of Tampa. I feel confident that this will be an excellent thirty second birthday gift to myself.

Grow in my profession. Student Affairs can be a tough profession to maintain. I let myself be a little static this past year while I wrestled with what was next. I want to identify new areas of growth and new opportunities while maintaining my current position rather than seeking out a new job.

Run a half marathon. The fees have been paid and the training has begun. It is good to have a new fitness goal to challenge and motivate you. And, let's be honest, I really want that car magnet.

Satisfy my wanderlust. Travel is my constant hunger. I need a new place to explore. In the que is Florence, Aruba, and, hopefully, the northeast when Kathryn and Bill are home from India.

Commit to writing. Writing makes me completely nervous and in love with it all at the same time. Yes, those personal posts you read, I feel nervous every single time. I have been overwhelmed, in a good way, with the response some of my posts have received lately. I appreciate the messages I get about how a post resonated with someone. Those are my favorite days. So I am committing more time to exploring this passion.

Engage in my church. I found a new church community this summer that I just love. There are opportunities to volunteer and attend a community group that I am looking forward to being a part of.

Be more present with my family. When I get busy, it seems like my family gets slivers of time compared to everyone else. Bless my parents because they have put up with my hectic schedule for as long as I can remember; never complaining about how often I am home or with them. I'd like to create space for more family time.

Discover. Experience. Learn. These are my words for this year.

"Adventure is out there!"

Happy 2014!

Monday, December 30, 2013

adventures in dating: breaking up

For over a year, I kept bumping into this guy that I had met through a mutual friend. When our paths crossed for the third time, he asked me out. I felt unsure. Actually, I was sure that we would hang out, figure out we didn't like each other, and go on about our business. I'm pretty certain that I even looked like a hot mess on our first date, that I made us call a non-date. Embarrassing. 

Of course, you know how it goes with the one that you don't see coming. Around the fourth date, I definitely wanted to date the guy I didn't want to date. For a time, we we made a great team and really cared about one another. I guess what happens in a lot of relationships happened to us, everything is great until it isn't. Even if you weren't anticipating it, there it is.

It had been a while since I had a relationship I cared to have an official break up over, but I've learned some things through my years of dating:

You can't compete with old relationships they are not ready to move on from or things they have not wrestled with yet. We all want to be that one that finally helps them forget about that ex or move on from a certain issue but the reality is that you cannot control this. It has to be their choice. Relationships are worth fighting for, but if you are always fighting for it, it might not be as good as you think. Muster up the courage to move on when you need to. 

Social media will not be your friend at first. Hide, block, remove, or whatever you need to do to stop yourself from the endless amount of torture that you could cause yourself. Do you really want to watch them courting someone else? And don't post things to purposely torture them.

Appreciate the positive things the relationship brought into your life but don't get stuck there. Sure you shared interests and experiences. They may be the only person you've dated or will date that enjoyed watching your favorite movie or did your favorite activity with you but don't stop yourself from moving on because you feel nostalgic. If there are stellar qualities about them that you came to learn you need/want from a relationship or in a partner, identify and seek them in your next relationship.

Stop being an option. Your breakup or separation might be just what the two of you needed in order to create a healthy relationship. In that instance, go for it! There are the times though that you become an option they are keeping versus the one that they are choosing. I admit, I failed here, for a long while. It feels good to have the person you care about calling, texting, or wanting to see you. They may even still care for you, but if he/she isn't choosing you, stop choosing them. 

Some days you will just miss them. There will be all the little things you miss about them. The heartbreakers are the ones you almost did not even notice until they were not there anymore. Then there will be the big stuff, like getting a new opportunity at work or finding out a family member has cancer, and you'll wish they were there. I distinctly remember the moment I was crying in the bathroom at work over a family member being sick, and then crying more remembering the person I really wanted to call had a new girlfriend. Take deep breaths on these days. You will get through them. 

Express your feelings but stay away from the words you will regret. There was a moment I wanted to fire off a message that said, "must be nice to....", but I resisted the temptation. How you handle your communication will reflect more about you than them. Be the person you will feel proud of and not the one who took a jab and is regretting it. Communicate the things you need to say to them. Vent to a trusted friend. 

Give yourself time to heal. Whether it was your choice, theirs, or a mutual decision, it takes time to move through your feelings about a relationship you have been in. It may mean you have to make some tough choices to create space for yourself, such as stopping communicating with them or admitting that you aren't as ok as you want to be. The two of you might eventually even be the best of friends. Give yourself the time and space you need. Do what you need to do. 

Maybe you'll realize this person is the great love of your life and you'll figure it all out. Don't stop your life holding out for that. It is more likely that you will learn from this relationship and apply that knowledge with your next partner. Either way, have courage to do it all over again!