13 December 2010

None of that stuff matters

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  The second most important commandment is this: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  There is no other commandment more important than these two.
Mark 12:30-31 

At first glance, there are just two simple commandments 1. Love God. 2. Love your neighbor.

Look again, folks.  There is, what I like to call, "Commandment 2.5," and here it is: Love yourself.  There's an inherent assumption that you already love yourself in the rather obvious way Mark quotes Jesus as saying, "love your neighbor as you love yourself."  Would anyone who practices real self-love please stand up? << Please stand up. Please stand up.  (now bob your head like the real slim shady) >>

This can be tricky with our culture constantly bombarding us with messages that we aren’t skinny enough, strong enough, popular enough, pretty enough.  Or that we don't have enough.

It's tough when everything in the inbox bears the subject line: you *need* this in order to be whole and happy.  

And I would be remiss not to mention the fact that no one but you can hear your inner self-talk, your internal dialog.  Actually, this makes it pretty darn easy to *not* love yourself, especially if you're a good southerner, well-versed in hiding your feelings and wearing a pretty mask.


Hey you.  Sit up straight.  Shoulders back.  Listen up.  

None of that stuff matters.  

Now love.  Love matters. Seeing, feeling, and believing in the furious and passionate love that God has for you << Here's your disclaimer: I am a follower of Christ- totally stuck on Jesus (not the church as an institution, but Jesus as a dude who turned everything upside down in the name of love). You need to know that I appreciate and respect all the ways that God manifests God-self for each and every human being past and present on this planet.  I live comfortably in the gray area.  I mean it when I say that we don't have to believe alike to love alike. >>. Let me repeat... what's included in that, "Stuff That Matters," list?  Seeing, feeling, and believing in the furious and passionate love that God has for you... knowing- in the deepest way of knowing- that there's nothing you could do to make God love you any more or any less.  You love yourself as a perfectly whole child of God with your numerous imperfections.  Then, you turn right around and love others.  

So in the end... like really in the end << let's be honest, folks: there's a 100% death rate- none of us are getting out of this alive >> relationship – it’s what counts in the end.  When I think about the big, BIG picture, it's not how much cool stuff I have, or the incredible accomplishments I’ve achieved or might still go on to achieve.  What matters, like in a real, authentic, big deal kind of way, is whether or not I showed kindness, lived lovingly, and actually chose to give a shit.  << please excuse the profanity.  I tend to drop S-bombs on an as-needed basis only when deemed appropriate.  For real, I don't intend to be offensive. >>

I like what Don Miller has to say about the importance of loving others.  In his book Blue Like Jazz (pages 145-146), Miller asks a friend if marriage is all that it’s cracked up to be.  His friend responds like this:
“No, it is so much more than I ever thought it would be. One of the ways God shows me He loves me is through Danielle, and one of the ways God shows Danielle He loves her is through me. And because she loves me, and teaches me that I am lovable, I can better interact with God.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that to be in a relationship with God is to be loved purely and furiously. And a person who thinks himself unlovable cannot be in a relationship with God because he can’t accept who God is; a Being that is love. We learn that we are lovable or unlovable from other people,” Paul says. “That is why God tells us so many times to love each other.”

This whole "love thing" starts at home, folks.  LOVE your family.  LOVE your parents.  LOVE your siblings.  LOVE your spouse.  << Psst.  Here's another secret: DISAGREEMENT and LOVE can, in fact, co-exist. Conflict is healthy, people.  Dealing with conflict won't untie us. Coming through a conflict will actually unite us. >>  And for the love of God, LOVE your kids.  Don't ever let your kids doubt your love for them.  The moment they do- especially for you dads out there- you're undercutting their capacity to understand God's love as the love of a FATHER.  Many faith traditions refer to the love of God as the love of the Father.  Frankly, for all the dads in all the world, that's a really high bar.  Step up to the plate and love your kids.

I don't have a clever conclusion for this post.  So I'll offer a Don Miller repeat.  Here we go.

"... We learn that we are lovable or unlovable from other people,” Paul says. “That is why God tells us so many times to love each other.”

And here are just a few pics of *some* of the people in my life who show me that I'm lovable by loving me.
The hubs and his dad, love me like I've been theirs all along.

Not much compares to the unconditional love of a puppy.

Some of my faves.

Feelin' the love from the fam (not from the 4 identical Ramses II statues)

Dad and S- bottomless sources of love for me.

Sisters are a great gift.

Love love love these 2.

Love love love these 2, and Ale too.
My sister the ninja.

A-- a stable force in my life for a long, long time.

07 December 2010

Don't read this. You won't laugh.

My friend Mike has a sense of humor that is yet to be rivaled.  He comes up with stuff that I swear is original. As in, he has fresh thoughts that literally, metaphorically, and emphatically have *never* been thought before.  His FB status updates generally make me stop and scratch my head.  I could never hide him on my newsfeed.  

Over the last couple of weeks, more and more people with a Facebook account switched their profile pic to a favorite, beloved cartoon character as a way to raise awareness of child abuse or attempt to stem child abuse (or something like that).  

While this sounds nice in theory, I think that volunteering at your local family homeless shelter, spending time with victims of domestic violence, serving in your child's classroom, or mentoring as a big brother/ sister to a little brother/sister are all practical ways to accomplish what "changing your profile pic to a cartoon" attempts to do.

That's my mini-soapbox, directly and clearly communicated.  Here's how my friend Mike communicated his opinions on the matter, from a giant Tide box with a megaphone that danced circles around all of us.

**Warning: Contains Profanity**

Sunday at 6:30 p.m.

Hey! Childhood Obesity is really a problem for our culture! Show your support and change your FB profile picture to a vegetable from your childhood. The goal? To not see a human face on FB until December 12th. Join the fight against fat kids!!- copy & paste to your status and invite your friends to do the same.

Sunday at 6:35 p.m.

Hey! Senior Abuse is really a problem for our culture! Show your support and change your FB profile picture to a favorite elderly person from your childhood. The goal? To not see a wrinkle-free human face on FB until December the 33rd, Two Thousand and Sand...Also, Alzhiemer's is also crappy also!! Hey! invite your friends and pets and lamps to do the same! Declaration of Independence!!!

Sunday at 6:43 p.m.

Hey! Rodent Homophobia is really a problem for our culture! Show your support of our fluffy gay friends and change your FB profile picture to a favorite small homosexual mammal from your childhood. The goal? To not see an un-whiskered cute little gay face on FB until December 58th, 500 B.C.!
What are numbers? I don't know!!

                   Comment at 6:43 p.m. I'm a small male chipmunk that likes other small male chipmunks in a sexual and romantic fashion!! Declaration of Independence!!

Sunday at 6:53 p.m.

Hey! Illiteracy is really a problem for our culture! Show your support of words and stuff and change your FB profile picture to a favorite word or sentence that you just can't understand! The goal? To not see a comprehensible written thought on FB until December the 101st, Two Thousand and Pie! How the hell am i typing this?!?! What am i typing? i can't read!!! Incleration fo Depeneneanence!

Sunday at 6:56 p.m.

Okay, sorry- i just had to get that out of my system. carry on. :)

                   Comment at 6:43 p.m. My therapist says this is healthy. i'm not sure. i'm a little scared my digital self is going to get tarred and feathered and run out of FB city. oh well...the gay chipmunk made me giggle.

Sunday at 7:18 p.m.

Hey! Random Causes That Seem To Crop Up Out Of Freaking Nowhere are really a problem for our social networking culture! Show your support of support and support by changing your FB profile picture to a picture of your FB profile picture...picture! The goal? I have no freaking idea, but let's do it anyway!!! I'll see you all on December ∞, 2ThousandAndœ∑´®†¥¨ˆƒ∆∫˚!!!!

                   Comment at 6:43 p.m. My Brain is melted!! Declaration! Independence! What?! Support!!!!!

Sunday at 7:20 p.m.

Okay, NOW i'm done. man... why can't i just change my pic to Darkwing Duck and call it a day? No one is marching in your parade, underdown... shut the hell up and play farmville...

Darkwing Duck

02 December 2010

The anatomy of a bad day.

There are days- believe it or not- when I have my own little pity party. Sometimes it even lasts all day.  

One of those days was recent, so I started thinking- perhaps sharing some insight and shedding some light would be healthy and appropriate for us all.  So here goes.

Rejection.  It was the theme of the morning.  Here's the thing we don't always realize: in every interaction and in each context, we give clues that convey either rejection or acceptance to the person we're interacting with.

This particular day started with the dog. << Mind you, it was a rainy day and the dog never likes to go outside when the sky is spitting anything. >>  I get up, shower, get ready for work, make coffee-- all the while calling the dog with statements like "come, ready, let's go outside"-- all of which are cue words that he's been trained with from the beginning.  

And all to no avail.

So I tried some different, unconventional statements like "get up lazy butt, wake up, c'mon-you can't hold it all day, you don't eat 'til you pee."

Grouchy Me
Finally, I wound up tricking him into thinking there was a squirrel in the yard he needed to chase. Worked like a charm. But then << remember, it was a pity party kind of day >> it dawned on me that the dog would come out of his winter cave for a squirrel but not for his human.  I thought dog was (wo)man's best friend. Check that box yes, I unconsciously opted to take it personally.

I take care of the dog and eventually get to the office.  All Hands On Deck. The staff is working on a letter to be mailed to everyone and their mom whose contact info has found its way onto our machines.  I offer to help.  I pause to read the letter.  Shock.  I'm shocked.  << Mind you, I'm often painfully aware of my obsession with grammar. >> There are run-ons, extraneous commas, and ellipses with spaces in between << like this: . . .  when it should be like this: ... >>.  There's a splattering of bold font being used throughout, and there are confusing bullet points.  And random exclamation points (!!!) just flat annoy me when they appear printed on letterhead.  There's a P.S., yet the inscription we're writing on each page is a recycled repeat of the P.S.  Gah!

Don't get me wrong. I don't claim to be perfect when it comes to writing << when I hand-write anything, I have flash terrors of the whole page being underlined with those squiggly red lines indicating misspellings galore >>.  I always revel in the chance to give anything that goes out to people in our community- especially with our name on it- a good once-over.

So I'm at the office, stuffing envelopes, taking it personally that my opinion wasn't solicited.  In my head, it was all about me.  But in fact, it shouldn't have been about me at all << which is almost always the case >>.  However, mentally, I decided a couple of both unfair and untrue things.  #1. My co-workers didn't value my opinion. #2. This letter would reflect poorly on me/us. (remember, it's all about me)

Eventually after a little time passes, I manage to pull myself out of my own head and realize a couple more things.

This is why #1 was false.  The day and a half when the letter was going around the office for staff input was a day and a half that I was in and out of meetings the whole time.  There were only hard copy versions passed around, and since I was never in the office long enough to see it, I missed that train.  The draft letter and I were like passing ships in the night.

This is why #2 was false. Most normal people don't scrutinize publications the way that I do.  Most normal people don't notice the extra comma or apostrophe. And I think I'm in the minority in terms of the sick sense of pleasure I have when I see a mistake an editor missed in a published book.  It's not the soapbox that makes me most proud.

Later that day- after the dog and the letter- I went to visit my "little" who happens to be a first-grade boy at an elementary school in town.  His classmate has a "big" who visits him at the same time as we do, and she bought both boys ice cream.  Well my "little" was all about that push-pop. After lunch when I told him that I wanted to spend time with just him after lunch, he kept saying, "We can invite them to come with us."  My internal dialog and response went something like this. "I guess I'm pretty boring to hang out with.  I don't know how to talk to 6 year-old boys. Maybe I should call it quits since the kid doesn't like me anyway." Then once we were actually alone (we did a word search and then went to play computer games), he didn't talk much with me.

Here's why that line of thinking was wrong.  This was the second time I was asking him to hang out with just me (prior to that the 4 of us always hung out). Kids react differently to change. Of course he's going to ask questions in order to try and maintain things the way that he's used to them. And even when he goes along with that change, he's bound to act a little different- he's unsure of himself with all of this one-on-one attention.

So there you have it.  There are days where absolutely everything that happens happens to me... oh woe is me! I get stuck inside my head, and the whole worlds spends a few hours revolving around me.  Those days are not filled with my finest moments.  Part of the point of having this blog is to be honest- embarrassingly so at times. And authentic.  << I hope you never come on here and sniff any BS. >>

The anatomy of my bad days tend to involve taking everything personally; believing that everything is about me; and making lots and lots of assumptions.

If I stop there I've only identified the problem << which is me, in a non-self-absorbed kind of way >>.  The anatomy of turning around a bad day requires back to back to back admissions that << wait for it, hold on tight, here we go >> I'm wrong.  I shouldn't always take things personally.  The world does not, in fact, revolve around me. Additionally, asking clarifying questions << and not just assuming what I thought someone said is actually what they meant >> is an essential coping skill that eases my ability to navigate through life.

Another thin that helps me shift from a bad day to a better day is to think about other people more and think about myself less.  Here are a few of my favorite mind-occupiers  << this row of photos is in no particular order and should not considered all-inclusive >>.

19 November 2010

Bake to Pray

Fresh Baked Goodness

I love baking.  Like, deeply and passionately.  There is no room for Atkins in my life.  Whoever says that carbohydrates are bad for you is wrong << and should be promptly re-educated >>

Anything in excess is bad for you.  Everything in moderation is A.O.K. in my book.   If we’re honest, we’d probably all agree that fresh baked bread is both delicious and comforting << and what combination is better than this? >>.

Wonderful things go on around the act of baking.  Lives can change through the sharing of baked goods.  << I’m serious. >>  

Pumpkin goodness
Fresh loaves of bread both warm the kitchen and fill the space around it with delicious seasonal smells-- pumpkin and spices through the fall and winter; banana and apple in the spring and summer; French, sourdough, and even beer batter cheese bread smells come and go all year long in our house. 

The act of baking bread is both stimulating and engaging for all of our senses-- taste, smell, sight, sound, and touch  << Spiritually speaking, I’m most tuned in when all of my senses are engaged and stimulated >>.

Breaking bread together at a common table can bridge language and cultural gaps, as well as political, economic, and social barriers.  I’ve also learned after our recent adventure in Egypt that no culture’s baking skills should be underestimated << some new mothers say the sound of a baby crying causes their boobies to fill with milk… for me, the words “Middle Eastern desserts” causes me to drool >>.

Henri Nouwen says, "When we invite friends for a meal, we do much more than offer them food for their bodies.  We offer friendship, fellowship, good conversation, intimacy, and closeness.  When we say:  ‘Help yourself…take some more…don’t be shy…have another glass,’ we offer our guests not only our food and our drink but also ourselves.  A spiritual bond grows, and we become food and drink for one another."

We become food and drink for one another when we share a meal together.

A permanent supportive housing development for people emerging from chronic homelessness recently opened in our << church  and work >> neighborhood.  As a community, in a couple of weeks a group of us will spend an evening baking loaves of fresh bread together.  The following day we will deliver the loaves, with notes of welcome, to our new neighbors.  These are people who have lived roughshod lives of survival on the streets experiencing unimaginable pain, brokenness, and loss.  With hard work and community support, they have emerged from that life, overcoming obstacles in order to achieve stability and housing. 

As their neighbors, instead of fearing them we’re choosing to love them, and the first iteration of expressing that love is through prayer, clothed in the form of baking. 

Then we’ll present them with a baked offering and a warm word of welcome.
Opportunities like this inspire my passion for baking. 

My prayer is that in a couple of weeks we will build relationship with one another and get to know each other as we discover our “new normal” with this new housing development as it integrates into the fabric of our neighborhood.

Here’s a recipe for the good of the cause << it’s a staple in our house, year round >>:

Beer Batter Cheese Bread
8 oz cheese (4 oz shredded and 4 oz cubed)
3 C all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons of sugar
4 teaspoons of baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1/2 teaspoon of pepper
1 (12 oz) light-bodied beer
1 - 2 tablespoons of melted butter

Oven at 375 degrees. Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan.

Combine ingredients from cheese to pepper (on list) << for the cheese I like to use a combination of Habanero Cheddar and regular Cheddar; Gruyere is also really good, but that’s not one we keep around the house regularly >>, then mix together with beer << I like to use a light to medium beer- Blue Moon and Yuengling have both made yummy, hoppy breads >>. Spread into loaf pan so batter is even; then drizzle evenly with melted butter.

Bake for 45 - 50 mins << the loaf should come out craggy and delicious... see below >>

Beer Batter Cheese Bread
If you’re bold and daring and like to experiment, here's an option that might just make you pee your pants: use smoked Gouda for the cheese, and mix in 8 slices of crispy, crumbled, cooked BACON.

17 November 2010

And God was like, "Jess. Relax. I've got this."

Selective Service.  Men between the ages of 18 and 26 have to register with the Selective Service.  In case our country is forced to re-institute the draft during a time of war, the gov't needs to know how many able-bodied men are available.

Did you know that non-citizens have to register?

I sure didn't.  And neither did my Bolivian husband when he arrived to the US on a fiancée visa 11 months before his 26th birthday.  

We were meticulous.  We used a fine-toothed comb, over and over again as we went through the laborious and costly process of getting married and adjusting the status of my new husband to Permanent Resident.  The hubs is from South America << of the Bolivian persuasion  >> .  I'm from North  America << of the US persuasion  >>.  
Wedding Day Bliss
In order to mate and build a nest together up north, we had to fill out approximately one truckload of forms, have fingerprints taken, give hair and saliva samples, show proof of our love and marriage << -picture Al and Peggy- Love and Marriage, Love and Marriage, Go Together Like a Horse and Carriage... >>, jump through hoops, sing television sitcom theme songs, and perform a perfect 10 square dance together.  You might think I'm joking.

House. First time home-buyers no less.
So a few years pass.  We're still happily married.  We've got a house and a dog.  And the hubs loves politics.  So much so that he said before the last election, "I wish I could vote."  Voting is a both a right and a privilege.  I exercise mine << do you exercise yours? >>.  I decided to check.  Not on you and whether or not you vote.  I decided to check on what it would take for the hubs to become a US citizen.  

Come to find out, there would be another truckload of paperwork- along with a trunk full of money- required to start the process, but the process we did start, in order to have my "alien" husband become a US Citizen.

Once we forked over both the truckload and the trunk full, we offered more fingerprints, gave more hair and saliva samples, jumped through more hoops while catching Frisbee's in the air, and we eventually landed in Memphis  << grateful for the opportunity to drive approximately 14 hours in less than 24 >>.  

Interview time... dunh dunh dunhhhhhhhhhhhhh.  I thought I'd get to go back with the hubs for his interview, civics/history test,  and whatever else they planned to require of him for this 2nd of 3 steps in the citizenship process.  

I. Got. Denied.  And it went something like this:

Officer: Mr. Boke... Mr. Bock... 
Me: Honey, that's you.  Let's go.
Officer: David? << nods...   then to me >> Who are you?
Me: Oh, << back off mutha effa >> I'm his wife.

Officer: You can't go back with him.
Me: Oh... Really? Are you sure?
Officer: ... << Glares >> ...
Me: Thanks. I think I'll just wait over here with the nice Polish couple.

15 minutes later the hubs comes out in a huff, mumbling something about needing to go and register for the Selective Service.  

Huh-what?!?  You can't register after age 26.  We studied that question on the drive over.  And the SS office is in Illinois, which is a long way away from Memphis.  Gah!

We eventually hit the road home, opting to take this setback as a great opportunity to deal with more paperwork, hoops, hair and saliva, and probably more money.

Fast forwarding here so as not to bore you with all the details of the process, we were fairly hopeless that the hubs would get sworn in anytime soon.  And then we read this one little eensy weensy teenie tiny paragraph on the form we filled out for his permanent residence.

And there was a << very dim >> spark. We waited. And waited and waited and waited.  Deadlines were approaching, and we were getting antsy, nervous, and anxious. << when both of us are worked up like that, it ain't pretty folks >>

This past Sunday night we were in a mad dash to clean the house because folks were coming over for Bible study the next night.

I'm in the office, and the hubs is in the kitchen.  He comes into the room, and holding a postcard he says to me, "Honey, is this what I think it is?" << there was a trace of hope in his voice >>.  I looked at this postcard-- dated the Monday before... return address Illinois... something about Selective Service(!)... registration number(!)... since 2006(!)


That eensy weensy teenie tiny paragraph on the form we filled out for his permanent residence is what did the trick.  Whew!  What a relief!

Here's how the rest of the conversation went:
Hubs: How long do you think we've had it?
Me: Gosh, I have no idea.  It's dated the 8th, probably arrived on the 10th, today's the 14th... there's no telling.
Hubs: Can you believe they sent this on a POSTCARD?
Me: No... they alway send our official stuff in the exact same kind of envelope. I never would have thought they'd send a postcard.
Hubs: Ahhhh!
Me: Ahhh!
<< literal high fives all around while jumping up and down >>
Hubs: You know where it was?
Me: Where?
Hubs: On the kitchen table... right on top of your Generosity devotional.
Me: Really?


So fast forward to that window of time right before bed when we're talking, de-briefing the day.  I have this AHA moment.  God was totally using this to show me something, giving me answers to the questions we'd been wrestling with around the subject of the hubs and his citizenship.

AHA Part 1: God was in control the whole time.  From the very beginning of our relationship, God has been right smack-dab center of it.  God has been orchestrating the whole thing from before the hubs and I ever met.  We've danced this dance, me and God, for the past 7 years << that's about how long I've been both listening and actively participating >> where God leads, I follow, and when God says LEAP, I LEAP << faith and fear cannot co-exist >>. Among a multitude of other areas, God has the hubs and his citizenship process under control, too.

AHA Part 2: God needed us to slow down.  As a result of the paperwork snafoo and subsequent delay, the hubs' relatives who are coming for the holidays will probably be in town for his swearing in.


And God was like, "Jess.  Relax.  I've got this...... No really.  I've got this."

01 November 2010

Lovable Laffy Taffy

Halloween.  It's come and gone.  Pumpkins are carved.  Costumes are worn in << or out? >> and retired.  Doors have been knocked.  Lights have gone out.
It's a dachshund.
Can't you see the resemblance?

Weenie dog in a hot dog costume in front of the Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobile.

It's November 1st.  That means only one thing for most Americans.  


Kids beg for it.  Adults try to resist it.  Everyone's pockets and backpacks are full of it.  And there are- of course- the inevitable sugar crashes.  Moody people walking around in a saccharine coma.  Furry teeth.  Achey gums.  Brightly colored tongues, lips, and sometimes even teeth.  

And wrappers in trash cans.  Lots of wrinkled, crinkley, gloriously EMPTY candy wrappers.

At our house this morning we had some leftover Laffy Taffy.  It was purchased strictly for the trick or treaters. <<  They were not bought because I love Laffy Taffy or because I spent the entirety of my childhood at the skating rink purchasing  Laffy Taffy and then reading the jokes and laughing with my friends 'til my sides hurt >>

Where do 2 bunnies go after they get married?

Why did the orange use sunscreen?
Because he started to peel!

What do you call a bird with sunglasses?
A bird watcher.

What do you call a lazy kangaroo?
A pouch potato.

What did one casket say to the other casket?
Is that you coffin?

Glorious.  Hilarious.  Side-stitch inducing.  Funny.  That's what lives on the outside of the Laffy Taffy.  Who would have thunk it?

27 October 2010

Playtime in a Palette

My sister celebrated her 30th birthday recently.  While party planning, she determined her wish to pass this particular milestone in her favorite place- the mountains- doing << one of >> her favorite thing << s >> - playing outside.  In the form of backpacking.

I won't lie.  I haven't been backpacking in over 2 years.  After the last trip, I dealt with the worst case of poison ivy in my personal history with the plant from Hades.  << Poison ivy and mosquitoes should be banished back to hell >> I digress.

Prior to that trip, it had been 8 years since I'd gone backpacking.  

In approaching The Big Pack, I deliberately looked for a <<good>> excuse not to go.  Sadly, none of my preggo friends were set to go into labor that weekend.  I hadn't been asked to be a matron of honor in anyone's wedding. No one needed me to attend an all-day workshop on Saturday.  Not a soul in the world was in dire need of my goods or services.  My skills were unsolicited.

So I gathered my gear, gave myself a pep talk, and we were off.

Jules was thrilled I was there.  And I was, in fact, thrilled to be there.  We only turned a few shades of green coming down the Dragon.  Then we were on our way up to Gregory's Bald.  And the colors... oh my... the colors were all shades of stunning.
East Tennessee - Fall Colors

It just so happens that the hubs and I had the exciting opportunity to drive all the way to Memphis and back in the span of 24 hours the week before.  Trees from west to middle Tennessee had about 3 shades of brown, with some grays sprinkled in for good measure.  D-R-A-B. 

Middle to east Tennessee was greenish/ brownish, with not a lot of pizazz.  << no JAZZ HANDS here >> 

Now east Tennessee, that's my girl! Er, um... That's my man! Hmm... not that either?  Well, you get my drift.  You're picking up what I'm throwin' down.  You're sniffin' what I'm steppin' in.  

<< High Five >>

Back to the Pack.  Beautiful colors.  All around.  I won't bore you with the internal dialogue I had going with the trail << that was 7 miles straight up >> or with my body << where my heart rate stayed at 170 >> or with my sister << why oh why are you such a punisher?!?  7 miles straight up?!? gah!!!  >>or with her exceedingly tall boyfriend << why and how do you make it look so easy, you energetic, long-legged youngin?!? >> Remember that pep talk?  It was still in effect.

I'll share the sunnier side of the hike.  Amidst all the brilliant foliage, I was feeling nostalgic for high school art class.  I thought it was a fine opportunity to produce my mental color wheel and systematically check off each color that I could see around me.  Not one color from the wheel was left un-checked.  Purple on the trail was a bit of a hold-out, but I sought her out.  I didn't give up, and sure enough she was hiding in there too.

How CUTE is the birthday girl?!?
Being so small << read: short >> next to the Tall Tall Trees << yes, think Alan Jackson- go on, go there >> in the woods, I had this idea that we were swimming through an over-sized painter's palette.  Think French artist, curly cue mustache, red beret, and a long nose.  Easel to the left.  He's, of course, holding a palette with paint in one hand, a paintbrush in the other, and a cigarette << the long, skinny kind >> hanging out of the side of his mouth.

Or if you prefer, think of God.  The artist.

So there we were.  In the middle of it all.  Buried deep in the artist's paint palette, painfully << c'mon, my legs were jacked up on lactic acid >> aware of the beauty that we were braiding our path through. We were like kids racing towards the next huge pile of leaves to leap into.

Eventually we arrived to the top of the bald.  And we leaped with joy!
Thanks, Gregory, for being so Bald.
My sister has never looked younger or more radiant.  This was by far, hands down, slap your momma, the best birthday I've ever celebrated with her.