My Winding and Perpetually Forked Path

I admire people who can manage to do all of the right things in the “correct” order in life:

1.  Graduate from high school

2.  Graduate from college

3.  Land a great job

4.  Marry the man/woman of your dreams

5.  Enjoy a year or two of married life sans children

6.  Own a home

7.  Have a child or two

You get the idea.

Simple, right?  Then, why is my life so different?  I completed steps 1 and 2, and to a certain extent 3.  And that’s where it really starts to get interesting.

I’ve had recent dreams that turn into nightmares when I am once again changing jobs/career paths.  I wake up wondering if this is a sign.  Am I ever going to be happy?  Why can’t I just settle down into one thing and be content?

I have a pretty strong faith.  I am not hugely into material things.  But yet I am a Pisces, a dreamer, thus somewhat “out there”.  What to do….

When I watched the movie Forces of Nature with Sandra Bullock on a somewhat awkward first date during college, I admired her character because while she was adrift and had a messed up life, she was interesting.  Little did I know then that I would someday feel just a little bit like her, sans child.

While I am very Type A, slightly OCD, etc. etc., I am also a very free spirit.  I hate stuffiness and the status quo.

But the point is I love being out of my comfort zone.  I bore easily.  I love challenges.  On the flip side, I hate monotony, worry that I may be perceived as flighty, and easily get annoyed with people.  As two friends recently reminded me, we often become more close minded when we try to be too open minded.

Back to the path:  The winding really began during college.  Freshman year I was too scared to challenge the straight and narrow path.  And then sophomore year happened.  I would never be the same.  Thank God.

I realized I could get a 3.3 GPA when partying a lot.  I learned that the good guys on paper are often terrible dates.  And I began to challenge expectations.  I took the LSAT and knew when walking out of that testing room that I likely wouldn’t be going to law school for at least a few years, if ever.  The results came back, I did well, and that was enough satisfaction.  I proved to myself I could do it if I wanted to.  One catch: the nagging voice saying others would be disappointed in me for not following through.

I was going to double major in political science and journalism, but I opted to minor in journalism.  You see, the political bug bit me.  I was off and running.  Campaign work was my life.  In between political stints I’d dabble in retail.  But I always returned to politics.  Once you get in, it’s nearly impossible to get out.

Until I moved to Houston.  Then I managed a Whataburger, taught preschool, and worked at American Eagle.  I loved the weather and all the big city had to offer, but when returning for my sister’s wedding in July 2006, I realized what the missing piece was:  my family.

So back to Iowa I came.  I worked at Victory Enterprises for three years, was learning the ins and outs of the company.  But it wasn’t where I wanted to stay permanently.  Then to Target HR.  Great company, but I still didn’t have that elusive work-life balance I’d been reaching for during the past year.

I took a part time church lady job and started working my SendOutCards business more actively.  Then Raye from Target Optical bought me Starbucks.  Yes, coffee sucks me in every time.  I told her I’d work 10-15 hours a week at optical.  Five months later, I’m full time.  One month after that, I get a nice new regional assignment.  I love it, but I want to resist it.  I was planning to work my own business full time!

Throughout all of this, I’ve had a few good dates, a few miserable ones.  I have parted with most guys on good terms.  A few of them have married their next girlfriend.

I have met many amazing people.  I have fabulous friends.  I adore my niece and nephew.  I am volunteering more and making time to babysit Gabriel and Lucy one day a week.

While my path is not straight or clear, I am doing my best to enjoy the journey and appreciate the people in my life.


Appreciating Home

“A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body.”  – Benjamin Franklin
While at cousin Tess’s 21st birthday festivities this weekend, the subject of home came up a few times.  Of course, small town Iowa and Minnesota were mentioned in the mix, but mostly as a launching ground more than a home.  Past, present, and future home cities Chicago, Davenport, Denver, Houston, Minneapolis, Seattle, and New York City were all mentioned.  (Now, I know Davenport isn’t even close to the size of the rest of those cities!)
When visiting another city or home, one can’t help but to compare it to his or her own home.  We realize we often take our own homes for granted, whether they offer solitude, city life, mountains, or great scenery.  Cost of living is another factor that inevitably makes its way into the discussion.
Last night, I realized that I am pretty comfy in my new Davenport home as I looked out the window at the Mississippi River and small city lights.  Each place I have lived has offered a different element of home for me.  Fredericksburg was the childhood home of familiarity.  Indianola was my college home.  Des Moines was my first adult home.  Houston was the out-of-my-comfort-zone and warm-weathered home.  And Durant was the transitional home to help me determine my next step. 
Not sure what the official role of my Davenport home will be.  I just know it was a welcome site on Sunday evening.

From Small Town Mouse to Small City Mouse

Things have been a bit crazy since I last posted.  ‘Tis the season for filing taxes, assembling the annual Scott County Republican Women‘s directory, assembling packets for Gloria Dei’s annual meeting, and taking on new things every day.  The latest new item is moving from Durant to Davenport.

I received a certified letter from my landlord on the last Tuesday in January, notifying me that my rent was increasing by about 30% a month, effective March 1.  My heart sank.  What timing.  I’m totally finding my groove with my semi-hippie lifestyle (sans hallucinogens), and that is when he decides to raise my rent for the first time in almost four years.  True, my rent was cheap to begin with.  But in exchange for that, I accept that my landlord does not do snow removal and also slowly responds to maintenance requests (even when it’s an urgent thing like not having water).  However, raising my rent and having to deal with those slum-lord-ish issues is not acceptable.

I allowed myself to be angry for about ten minutes before I went into action mode.  Anyone who has talked to me about housing during the past four years knows I have continually planned to move to the Quad Cities, only to put it off for another few months or another year.  Now I had my sign.  It was time to do it once and for all.

I’ve had my eye on The Davenport apartment building since doing some work for Landmark Properties as a Victory Enterprises consultant in late 2009.  I called them up, and they had two open apartments.  I looked and fell in love.  Then I crunched the numbers.  With the Durant rent increase, it would cost the same to live in either place.  Within two days of receiving the terrible rent increase letter, I had sealed the deal on a new place and literally opened a new door in my journey.

I am more city girl than country girl, but I’ve been living in a town without a stop light for nearly four years.  How does that happen?  Convenience and cheap rent.  It was easy to move my furniture in storage only four blocks down the road, especially after having hauled it across the country from Houston.  It was easy to commit to cheap rent and no lease.  And it was easy to be in close (lately too close) proximity to family after missing them for so long.

While Davenport is no Houston, it offers just enough city life to get me excited.  I will be within short walking distance of the Mississippi River, Rhythm City Casino, RME, Figge, and various restaurants.  And days after my decision was made, I found out RAGBRAI would be ending on Bix weekend, with everyone celebrating in adjoining streets to my new place.  I’ve found a place to belong!

Durant isn’t bad – it just isn’t me.  I have been able to live here only because I didn’t grow up in this small town.  No one really knows me, and I don’t socialize much here.  It’s my bedroom community.  Working at the church has introduced me to more people, but even that becomes suffocating when people comment on what they saw me doing outside of my car that morning, whether it was checking oil, scraping car windows, or looking ridiculous hauling too much in one trip between my car and apartment.

Moving is a great chance to reflect on a segment of life in one residence, while looking forward to a new start in a new place.  Whether it is moving across town, to a nearby town, or across the country, the act itself can be therapeutic.  I think back to where I was when I moved into this apartment in March 2007 and marvel at all that has happened in life since then.  I recall hosting a bachelorette party here and naming the various rooms “Powder Room”, “Ladies’ Lair”, and “Diva’s Den”.  I think about seeing this place trashed when I moved in and gradually transforming it into a cute place, with help from a little carpet shampooing, paint, and friends and family.

And now I have the opportunity to create new memories in a sixth floor downtown apartment.  I can’t wait to be a small city mouse and have new places to explore and people to meet.  I have splendid visions of my new artsy-fartsy decor, as well as not having to shovel myself out of my apartment in the foreseeable future.

snowed in

Stranded in Memphis on Christmas Eve

Watching the snow fall (and fall, and fall…..) this morning reminds me of Christmas 2004 – one that will live in infamy.

This was my first Christmas living far away from family and enjoying palm trees.  I had just moved to Houston shortly after Thanksgiving and loved it.  And I was excited to be one of the cross-country travelers over the holiday, probably because I’d never done this before and was naive enough to think it would actually be fun.

My original plans were to stay in Houston for the holiday and spend Christmas Day with the Moore family, but then, as the day grew closer, I ached to be with my own family.  So, I found a last-minute plane ticket to fly out of Houston on Christmas Eve morning, with a short layover in Memphis, and arrival by 5:30 p.m. in Moline.  Perfect.

I anticipated a little delay in my arrival, and since I was planning to go to candlelight church service in Durant that night, I dressed up in my church clothes.  I also packed all of my gifts in my carry on, because I’d rather have luggage tossed about than nice gifts ruined.

As I was waiting for my flight to depart from Houston on Christmas Eve morning, I couldn’t believe CNN was forecasting snow for Texas and Florida.  I must have brought the crazy Iowa weather south with me.  The Houston to Memphis leg of the flight was delayed about an hour, so when I got off the plane in Memphis, I had to run across the airport to make my connecting flight in time.

Or so I thought.  Sweaty and aching from running in heels while toting my gifts, I discovered the flight was delayed two hours.  I was slightly annoyed, but I could deal with it.  I still had plenty of time to get home in time for church.

Then came the gate changing, and more delays, and roaming the airport to find many others in the same predicament.  And those poor airport and airline employees.  I hope they had some strong liquor on their breaks – if they even had breaks that day and night.

I saw CNN coverage of snow flurries in Houston and lots of snow in Brownsville.  And I heard of the ice in Memphis.  All of this would be a minor setback in Iowa, but with no plows in Memphis, it was catastrophic.

By about 9:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve, I accepted the reality.  I was not going to be in Iowa, or anywhere in the Midwest on Christmas Eve.  I looked into switching flights yet that night, renting a vehicle, or hitching a ride, all to no avail.

I called Mom and told her of the unsuccessful surprise I had planned for her, cried, called Lexi, and cried some more.  I was an emotional wreck.  I had never been away from home on Christmas Eve.  True, I was 25 years old and a big girl, but on that night, I felt like I was a five-year-old again.

I tried to keep my spirits up as I watched people in the airport.  Entire families were stranded with little kids worrying about Santa finding them.  At least I just had to worry about me.

Then, some nice lady next to me told me to call the airline and beg for help.  So I did, and I cried some more – not to manipulate, but because I couldn’t help but cry.  The customer service rep and I compromised on a flight into Kansas City on Christmas morning.  Alleluia!  My best friend Jen lives in Kansas City and for the first time ever, just happened to be home during the holidays.

So, I called Jen to tell her of my huge ordeal.  It took me a bit to get through to her the severity of the situation because she was out partying it up with her family on the Plaza.  And then that made me cry again because I was being Debbie Downer during her fun Christmas Eve festivities.

Once Jen composed herself, she said that of course she could pick me up at the airport at 10:30 a.m.  I’d be there just in time for the Miller family Christmas feast, and her mom would be excited.

You see, Jen’s mom Sandy had suggested I fly to Kansas City for Christmas when she heard of my plans a week prior.  She said that way I could be with my best friend and her family and would have one short, direct flight.  So Sandy got her wish.

I located a nearby Memphis hotel and found a cab to take me there, checked in, and collapsed…….in my dress clothes, with no toiletries.  Nice.  But I could shower in KC tomorrow.

I woke up on Christmas Day with a knot in my stomach.  I was eager to get to the airport and checked in.  I went to the hotel lobby to find their free shuttle service to the airport not running, due to the icy roads.  The cab system was shut down for the day also.  No!!!!  This couldn’t be happening.

I thought about walking, but it was a good three miles, and in my high heeled boots, that wasn’t going to work.  So I camped out in the lobby, and at the suggestion of the hotel staff, waited for anyone who might be going that way with a vehicle.

A family of three (one child) came downstairs and started to load up their SUV.  I will never forget that SUV – a tan Jeep model with a Sooners decal on the back window.  I asked the couple if they were going to the airport, they said yes, and then I asked if I could get a ride with them.  I told them I could pay them too.  They said no!  And the reason: They didn’t have enough room.  Are you kidding me?!  They had one little boy, and hardly any cargo.

As I watched them pull away, I realized that every good Christmas story needs a Grinch or a Scrooge, so this was merely a means to an end.

Then down the stairs came a French family of seven, all boisterous and wonderful.  They were in the lobby less than two minutes when the mom came over and asked (in English) if I was waiting for someone.  I told her I needed a ride to the airport (not even expecting or asking for their help), and she said they’d be happy to give me a ride.

So, I crammed in with this huge family, who clearly didn’t have any extra room for an Iowa girl, but they made room for me.  It was all I could do not to cry during that 15 minute ride.

I checked in at the airport and had a celebratory Starbucks.  Merry Christmas to me!

Then, about halfway through my latte, they changed gates on me.  Careful not to spill my precious drink, I rushed across the airport with about 30 others.  Whew.  That was close.  We boarded the plane, and it was surreal.  I was finally back on a plane and headed to the Midwest!

Ha ha.  Not so fast.  I sat in that plane for nearly an hour while the crew de-iced it.  By the time we were in the air, I was worried the plane was doomed to crash.  It just seemed too much like the day Patsy Cline took off in a plane and it crashed in the movie Sweet Dreams.  OK, so this was a bigger plane and we had no mountains.  I was going to be fine.  This Christmas craziness was turning me into a drama queen.

Jen, bless her soul, was waiting for me at the KCI airport when I arrived over an hour late.  Again, I cried.

And then the search for my luggage proved unsuccessful.  I shouldn’t have been surprised.  But yet I felt robbed.  After all I had been through, I wanted my luggage.  That’s what I asked for by not taking a carry on with the necessities though.

Jen - Christmas 2004
My lifesaver and best friend Jen

Jen’s home was a sight for sore eyes.  I ate some fabulous Christmas food, after taking a long shower and borrowing some clothing from Rachel (Jen’s sister, who by the way, had no flight problems).

Addison & Nina
Addison modeling her boa, with Nina looking on

Jen’s family was already like a second family to me before that day, but I appreciated them even more after that Christmas.  Dan and Sandy took me back to Iowa with them on the day after Christmas.  They even claimed me as someone they knew when they swung by to see relatives in southern Iowa on the way home.  I was quite a site with my hodge podge of borrowed clothes and my high heeled, knee high black boots.

Miller Family Christmas 2010
Dan, Rachel & Brian playing Christmas Day games

While this Christmas story had a pretty happy ending, I still had moments on Christmas Day when I ached to be with my own family and doing the things we always did together on Christmas Day.  After all, that vision prompted me to buy the last-minute plane ticket.

I wanted to do what I always did, but sometimes we need to start new traditions.  And often those new traditions are not started by choice and we fight them.  Reflecting back on Christmas 2004, I now realize being away from my own family that year was a good thing.  I was forced to accept that we can celebrate in more than one way, with a variety of people.

My luggage arrived in Moline – three days after Christmas.

Finally reunited with my luggage!

During my 2005 travels back to Iowa, I shipped the presents ahead of time and had a carry on with all of the essentials.  I also wore sweatpants – just in case.  Of course everything went smoothly then.

Upon hearing this story, various people suggested I watch The Terminal with Tom Hanks.  After watching the movie a few months later, it definitely put my Christmas 2004 airport issues into perspective.

This year I am staying in the town of Durant during Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the day after Christmas.  I know cross country Christmas travels will be in my future, so I am savoring the low-key Christmas this year.  But then again, a lack of craziness doesn’t give us as much to talk about the next year.

Merry Christmas!

Things I Am Thankful For Every Single Day

Happy Turkey Day!  Hope everyone has a safe and fun day, filled with the joys and headaches of family.  I awoke between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. today and took time to think about all of my blessings.  Then I turned on the Today Show and started writing.

I am spending my entire Thanksgiving Day in Northeast Iowa – far Northeast Iowa.  I arrived at Dad and Jo’s house in rural Postville last night, ate some Mabe’s Pizza, and had great conversation.  At around Noon today, I will go to Uncle Irv’s house in Waukon for the Fosaaen family Thanksgiving feast.  And it will be a huge feast, always is.  Then I will conclude my day at Amy, Jason, and Jaxon’s house near New Hampton.

Spending an entire day with people I care about is what makes each holiday so great.  The food, activities, and everything else are added benefits.

In no particular order, the things I am thankful for on Turkey Day and every day:


1. Jag – My fat orange tabby cat, now 8 years old, likes to plop down on my lap and convince me to stay still for just a little bit longer.

2. Gabriel – My 17-month-old nephew shows me how to appreciate little things in life and is a constant inspiration to me.

3. Sarah – My one and only sister is my biggest cheerleader and a best friend.  The six year age difference seems to be less and less each year as we grow older.  And yes, she is the YOUNGER sister.  🙂

4. Jen – My best friend from Simpson College gets the raw, uncut version of Mel each day and loves me anyway.  She is also that friend who seems close enough to hug, even when we have lived across the country from one another.

5. Lexi – Having lived with Lexi for three and a half years, I know she is the real deal when it comes to friends.  We also discovered wine together, which is HUGE!

6. Amy – My best friend since high school days, Amy is my best email buddy right now.  She also keeps me in the loop on the Burg news and is my partner in crime on Black Friday.

7. Mom – Yes, she gave birth to me.  More importantly though, she didn’t kill me during my mouthy teenage years.  Thank you, Mom!

8. Stepdad – He dealt with me insisting that his marriage to my mom was “our” wedding, and has shown incredible patience with me every day since then.  He is also a straight shooter and demands respect.

9. Dad – So many of my traits come from my dad: red hair, the gift of gab, and self assurance are just a few.  Any time I do something a little or a lot crazy, my dad is there telling me to blow the doors off and blaze that new trail.

10. Jo – My stepmom takes care of my dad and has lived with him longer than anyone else.  She has incredible strength and patience.  Jo is one of the sweetest people I know.

11. Work – While my work places have varied throughout the year, they each have provided money in my checking account.  And, we all need a little bit of money.

12. Seasons – I crave change and newness to keep things fresh in my life, and seasons naturally provide that.  I hated winter before I moved to Houston for two years, but now I choose to live in Iowa so embrace the snow (most of the time).

13. New People – Everyone new I meet blesses me with new information and/or a new perspective.  That is priceless.

14. Health – Being healthy makes everything else work.

15. Jesus – While I’m not into preaching and I respect everyone’s religious views, my faith is a huge part of my life and is the root of everything I have to be thankful for.

Mitch and I cut down my Christmas tree at the Kelly Tree Farm each year. This is me, Mitch, and Irvin the Tree in 2009.

16. Mitch – My one and only brother listens to my rants, provides some of his own, and is a good confidant.  He also provides great random funny text messages (original – not forwards) and is my unofficial fix it man.

17. Jeremiah – I only wish my brother-in-law had an older brother for me to marry.  I love his family.  And Jeremiah is pretty cool too.  😉  He and I have some of the best conversations ever.

18. Kate – She is my surrogate sister in Houston.  And Miss Kate was the first hand witness to my sophomore year college transformation – kind of a Son In Law type of thing.

19. Shy – A bundle of joy and love, Shy is the model Christian in every way.  She and I taught preschool in Houston and have been good friends ever since.

20. Josh, Jo & Aaron – I group these three together, because they all brought me into the SendOutCards family and were great hosts during my San Diego vaca in August.  Josh and Aaron knew me when I had scary braces and ugly hair, but they still talk to me.

21. Busy-ness (the good kind) – Filling my days with quality things to do is what life is all about.

22. Potatoes – Yum!

23. Cheese

24. Coffee – If it weren’t for coffee, I wouldn’t be half as productive as I am.  It’s so amazing.

25. Wine – With all of the coffee I drink, it’s necessary to have something relaxing to sip on at the end of the day.

26. Beaches & Palm Trees – These are beautiful works of nature, and I will reunite with them more often someday, when I have a beach house.

27. Type A & Slight OCD – Like it or not, these traits make me effective at what I do.  I also try to leverage these things to help others organize and plan.

28. All Friends & Family – I do think it takes a village.

29. iPhone – This has literally revolutionized how I do things, and I haven’t downloaded many apps or much of anything yet.

30. Smurfette – Yes, the cartoon character is cool, but I’m referring to my trusty blue 2004 Chevy Cavalier.

31. Target – It’s one of my favorite stores, and also an employer.  I truly learned a lot and enjoyed my time as an HR exec there.  And now I work part time in Optical – so fun!

32. The Area Beyond My Comfort Zone – Often underestimated, this is where I find my strength and true self.

I’m sure I will think of many more things I am thankful for today.  How cool is that?  We just need to remember these things every single day – not just on Thanksgiving Day.