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10 Things I Learned in College:

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”—Henry David Thoreau

His name is Jackson. He pulls my eyes from my lecture notes to the rolling white clouds out the window, where developing plotlines spin through my head.

I created Jackson in my second year of college, when I developed an interest in writing for young adults. Jackson became the character I dreamed of the most. I did not care about American Government, Economics, or Business Communication. I cared about classes where I could create life. Create a story. Or bring what already lives to words on a paper.

This was me in college. A dreamer. A person who was not always present when I needed to be. Not listening to how to create a 401k and only skimming through the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. I wrote my own college experience, and it was not one I would have predicted, but if I couldn’t graduate in just two years as a trained creative writer, then I could at least learn a few things, right? Just a few.

Here are 10 things that I learned in college.

There is no “cha-cha-slide” in college.

I tasted part of the world I had not experienced before my first college class ever began. Some young adults learn earlier, but I was raised differently.

On my 19th birthday, I drove five hours to a different state for my first year of college. In my first 36 hours, I experienced these things:

  • A senior, having just met me, looked at me and said, “Do not be alarmed that this is a Christian school.” She said we could still find ways to have fun there.
  • My teammates and I were invited to an 18-and-up club. My naïve Christian school-self thought I would get to rock out with the cha-cha-slide, limbo, and a conga line (I know, don’t judge me). I knew as soon as I walked in that my speculations were incorrect.
  • Two or three seniors offered to buy the freshman alcohol, even though police lined every edge of the building.
  • A creepy dude high on something offered me a little of the something he was high on. I politely declined. He leaned in too close and said to find him if I needed anything.
  • I wandered from my loner table to the “dance floor” once, and a different guy tried to grab me inappropriately. I slapped him. He backed away confused.

Some of these events shocked me because of my upbringing, but that was the first and last time I went to a club or party. After that, I lived for Saturday nights when the 90% of the school left the dorms and I got to make popcorn and enjoy Netflix in peace.

There is no cha-cha-slide in college. That was a disappointing lesson, but there is never anything wrong with staying in on a Saturday night.

8 a.m. classes will never be easy.

This goes out to all first semester students who think it will be easy coming out of high school. I am guilty of this. “Get them out of the way,” I said, but it really didn’t apply to me at first. In my first year of college when I played a college sport, I had to be awake and on the football field by 5:45 a.m. I was wide awake by my 8 a.m. class, so it simply did not matter.

The second year was different. It was like my first year all over again. New school. Same perspective as before. I scheduled eight o’clock classes three days a week, and my days in early morning conditioning the previous year did not help me. If you are fresh out of high school, it will not help you either. I promise.

(this excludes any individuals who find strange joy before the sun goes up)

College sports take a lot of sacrifice and commitment.

Before committing to a college sport, you might ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I willing to get up before sunrise five days a week?
  • Do I enjoy practices, running, and weights?
  • Do I care about winning?
  • Is all the sacrificed time and effort worth it?

I couldn’t be any less of a morning person. I never cared for organized practices. I could have lived my whole life without running outside of a game, and most of the time, I didn’t care about a loss. I cared about the laughs and smiles in the dugout and each strikeout I pitched.

I cared only about having fun, but most college sporting teams don’t prioritize this. When I rarely practiced outfield (because I always pitched), coaches yelled instead of encouraged after one mistake. When I scrunched my face against the sunlight, they asked what my attitude was. When the whole team laughed together after a drill, a coach said, “There’s no reason you guys should be smiling right now.” If the coaches would not allow their team to laugh in enjoyment, then I didn’t want to be a part of it.

Believe me when I say it is much more difficult than high school or any competitive team you play on. When you reach college, it’s only about success, about “getting that ring.” You aren’t treated as an individual person but only as a moving part that contributes to something bigger. Once you malfunction, you’re either disposed of or set into strict training until you start working right again. I truly hope that this doesn’t apply to every organization.

Be careful when committing to a college sport. Make sure you are ready for the sacrifice and commitment. Sometimes, simply enjoying the sport is not enough. 

Gen-Ed classes are almost pointless.

Chemistry, College Algebra, American History, Art Appreciation. The list goes on. Didn’t we take these in high school?

I can say firsthand that I did not learn anything new with general education classes in college. My family paid two extra years of expensive tuition just for me to be refreshed on information I learned in high school. But hey, it gives the university more money, right?

Gen Eds are great for the plenty of people who are unsure of what their futures hold, but what is the point in requiring the driven doctor-in-training take an art class? Or the artist to take a chemistry class? Somebody might tell me that a future surgeon could use an art class to practice a steady hand. The artist might somebody paint something involving a certain chemical reaction. These people can still choose to take these classes without General Education requirements. This doctor-to-be and artist went into college knowing what they want to do and can graduate in two years with all the training they need to move forward. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

If you want to help yourself out, do everything in your power to take as many AP classes in high school that your sanity will allow.

Your high school teachers weren’t always right about college.

“Your college professors will never allow this.” Have you ever heard this?

Did you ever hear from your high school teachers, when they gave you extra homework, that “this is just preparing you for college”? While some of their words may be true, they are not always right.

In four years, I took classes in almost every professor category, including the following:

  • A history professor who dressed in 1800s dresses.
  • A bored Earth Science professor who stated often that he preferred Astronomy, and that he wasn’t as interested in the subject we were learning.
  • A history professor who aggressively called on people and expected an on-the-spot thorough analysis of a specific Cold War subject.
  • An English professor who sang and jangled his keys everywhere he went and purposely mispronounced 30% of his words. Yes. An English professor. My personal favorite.

I’m not saying that you should not listen to your high school teachers. Simply keep in mind that everything is different for every student. Every college is different. Every teacher is different.

I went to a college prep high school, so my high school teachers were much stricter than most of my college professors. I learned quickly that my high school really did overprepare me for college, but no student can be prepared for everything they will face.

Be YOURSELF.

People really do not care what you look like, how you talk, or whether you think the same way as them. I found within my first month that college students are more likely to interact with more diverse people and people of different ages. It surprised me to see freshmen and seniors as friends and classmates in their 40s and up. People are also less likely to be judgmental. If you want to wear sweatpants to class, go for it. If you show up with no makeup and bedhead, nobody cares. Everyone understands. This was different than I was used to. I felt out of place at times in high school because everyone was different from me, and I felt like I needed to fit a standard.

For example, I’ve never been into most trends. I prefer to form my own style then to do something because the rest of the world does it. If somebody tells me to buy a pair of shoes because “everyone is wearing them nowadays,” I will almost always refuse to buy them. I also dislike the half-bun half-down hairstyle and phrases like “okay boomer.”

I learned even more in college that I don’t have to always fall into the “norm.”

Through these points I’ve made and more, just be yourself and don’t worry about other people. Chances are high that your friends didn’t notice the extra ten pounds you gained over the semester. So, have the extra scoop of ice cream. Forget to brush your hair sometimes. Be comfortable saying no. Take care of yourself first, then look after others. Be comfortable with not always being perfect.

I’m much more of an introvert than I used to be.

Family and friends could have called me a social butterfly from age one to sixteen. When I learned to talk, I never stopped. At five, I’d say “hi” to any stranger in the grocery store. At fifteen, I transferred to a new school and gained a large group of friends quickly. I went to birthday parties and dances. I wasn’t afraid to be in the middle of the crowd and the center of attention (unless it was dancing or singing). My friend group started to shrink a little at the end of high school, but I still had a great group of close friends.

I believe the shift came in my first year of college. I tried to make a few friends and at least talk to plenty of people, but my friend group shrank because there were simply little people that I connected with. Most of the people at my first college were very different from me.

I began to thrive alone, and I looked forward to Sundays when I’d take an afternoon drive on the highway away from the noisy dorm. One day, I drove to the Nebraska border, and a friend showed genuine concern that I drove it alone. I didn’t understand what was wrong about it.

I started my current job my second year of college, and suddenly my priorities shifted strictly between work and classes. I did not have time for the high demanding friend groups or campus events. The little free time I had, I needed to be relaxed and stress-free.  

To this day, there are very few people I can be with consistently and fewer that I’d choose to spend a day off with. Maybe it’s relatable to some. Maybe it is abnormal to others. Either way, I am content.

The whole roommate thing is not a big deal to everyone.

I never liked the idea of having roommates, not like many girls do going into their first year. I lived an only-child lifestyle for several years and never had to share a 20’ X 10’ personal space. Being an introvert did not help my case either as I can only live with certain types of people, and I can only be friends with certain types of people.

I had so many roommates in college that I can’t even count them on one hand. The only one I kept in touch with, I left behind when I switched schools.

This is a difficult part of college that not many people talk about. Tour guides and resident advisors only boast about the joys of dorm life. Resident advisors have told me that they think I will connect greatly with a specific roommate. They never seem to suspect that some college students are simply not suited to live with roommates and that some actually wish there was another realistic living option. I did the best I could in getting out of the dorms, but I could not afford an apartment by myself, and living alone was the whole point in leaving.

Don’t hurry through life, and let time do its thing.

Maybe I’ve always been different, but young adults, especially women, try too hard in trying to find the person they’ll eventually marry. They try to defy time and pick out the strangers that are the most attractive or outgoing. My university was the type of school that saw many relationships and eventual engagements among its small population of students. They call it the “ring by spring” attitude, and it is popular among many first-year students.

You can’t try so hard to find love or you’ll never find the right person for you. I don’t know many people who married the person that they desperately chased after and sought their attention. I hear more people explain that their love came at a time when they least expected it, and I can say the same thing. I was single for three years and found love with my best friend who started out as my co-worker. We got to know each other for a year a half. I still didn’t expect it, and I am glad I waited.

Not just this, but I feel like most people live their lives in fast forward and forget to stop sometimes to enjoy the fresh air. I felt myself speeding through each April because it is always the busiest month for schoolwork. April is my favorite month of the year, and I hated not being able to get outside and enjoy nature when it is the nicest. But sometimes, I was able to take an extra ten minutes to turn off everything and sit outside away from people and responsibility.

Don’t hurry through life. Don’t let your busy life get the best of you, and trust time. Be content and always know that something greater is coming.

Travel as much as possible.

I may have not had a social life in college, but I had many great opportunities to travel. Between May 2016 and May 2020, I went from only visiting eight states to visiting twenty-nine. I feel like this was my way of enjoying my youth while I could before I graduated.

Los Cabos, Mexico
Ontario, Canada
  • July 2016: A conference in Cleveland, Tennessee. I gained four states
  • November 2016: A conference in Atlanta, Georgia
  • May 2017: drove to Panama City, Florida. Gained three states
  • July 2017: Road trip to Hannibal, MO. Ended up in Minnesota. Gained three states
  • May 2018: road trip to Las Vegas. Gained Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, and New Mexico
  • June 2018: Waco, Texas
  • July 2018: Cabo, Mexico
  • May 2019: drove to Pensacola, Florida
  • July 2019: Drove to Niagara Falls, Ontario. Gained five states and a country
The Stratosphere, Las Vegas
Grand Canyon
Niagara Falls

These were my most rewarding experiences during my college years. I don’t think any day on a college campus could beat traveling across the country. I encourage anybody to travel as much as they can.

My college experience ended in a strange way, but unlike most graduates, it did not affect me. I did not care that my classes moved online, and I didn’t care that I did not get a graduation ceremony. To me, graduating was the completion of my classes and receiving my degree, and that is exactly what I did.

There is nothing more satisfying than throwing away all notes, assignments, and papers from the semester and knowing I will no longer have to fill my three-ring binder with anything but new characters and story ideas.

Jackson circles through my head often, and I’m glad I now have the time to learn more about him as I write more chapters of his life. I can only hope that someday other people will get to know him as well.  

Photo by amphotography

Remembering Boo and Luna

“Sometimes it happens that a black cat lets you pass in front of it.”—Unknown

Me and Salem– 2000

While unplanned, this quote proves to be true in my life. Since my toddler years, I’ve almost never been without a solid black cat in my household.

In my early years, my family owned Salem, a relaxed male that my father claims to be one of the best cats he’s ever owned. Then, a few years later, I got my own cat that I can now say the same thing about.

In this post, I will be highlighting these two special cats in my life that are no longer with me: Boo and Luna, two opposites with the same amount of love in my house.

BOO

I’ve always liked fluffy cats more, and I believe that’s why I liked Boo so much. When we got her in October 2004, she was around 8 weeks old and had so much fur on her that we barely saw her tiny blue eyes peeking out. As an all-black kitten, Boo got her name in honor of the Halloween season. She came home with us along with her sister, a tortie we named Pebbles. Between these two kittens and our black and white cat at the time, I claimed Boo as my cat from the beginning.

Poor Boo was born to endure a little girl as an owner. I got her soon after my seventh birthday and I dressed her in doll clothes, carried her by her neck, and sprayed her with perfume while she slept to see if it would wake her up. Boo learned to use her oxygen wisely when my cousin and I locked her in a small “house” (clear plastic tub) before my mother would catch us and let her out.

I also played with Boo by playing school. When I dressed her in doll clothes, I’d sit up her and all my stuffed animals at “desks” and pretend to be their teacher, scolding Boo if she ran from her desk.

Boo–Summer 2007

The stereotypical cat is independent, active, only wants attention when demanded, and naturally hunts for food. Boo fit none of these stereotypes. She was dependent, lazy, flexible, clingy, and afraid of everything. My parents did not want indoor pets, so even though Boo was born to be an indoor cat, she had to stay outside more than inside.

However, her laziness kept her from wandering far from the house. She never hunted, but when she did she’d find a large group of birds far away and instead of being sneaky, she’d crouch down where she stood, shake her butt back and forth, set her feet in place, and take off running. The birds flew away before she even got halfway there. We had to laugh every time she tried.

Her fear of everything fit her name perfectly. When I was around nine years old, I had a bubble set, and a curious Boo would watch from a distance while I waved my bubble wand and released bubbles of various sizes and shapes. She’d creep closer until she’d be close enough to sniff one, and it would pop in her face just before she’d bolt away and around the house.

Boo craved attention. It wasn’t often that we’d pet her or pick her up and she refused. Since I got her at a young age, I only held her like a baby, and she learned to be flexible and to lean her head back in my arms until she hung upside down. Sometimes, she’d nestle her head into my neck and stay there for a long time, unlike any cat I’ve ever owned.

Boo bending upside down–December 2013

Every cat has a little quirk about them, something that that they are obsessed with, and Boo’s was a sock obsession. I could give her any toy or any object, and she’s only play with socks. We’d hang the sock above her head and let her jump until she retrieved it, and she’d tuck the sock into her midsection and kick it with her feet. It was the easiest way to get her attention and for her to come to me whenever I wanted her.

We lost Boo right before Christmas, shortly after she turned ten. While she didn’t hunt or stray far from the house most of her life, she found the bravery to hunt toward the end of her life. In the week leading up to losing Boo, we saw an owl perched on our fence outside the front of our house. We found Boo on the morning of December 12th, 2014 as a victim of the owl.

We believe that Boo would have lived a very long life otherwise. She never had any health issues and was young at heart. It seemed as if she never aged. Because of this, her death shocked us, but we are thrilled with the long and good life she had with us. In the years after, we can’t help but reminisce and say that there is no cat in the world that is as good as Boo.

LUNA

The summer after we lost Boo, we got a new kitten for the first time in years, another black kitten we named Luna.

Luna lost her mother at a young age, so we got her at 5 weeks old and way before she was supposed to be weaned off her mother. We fed Luna formula we had to make ourselves, and she was eating solid foods sooner than she was supposed to. Because of these circumstances, we had to rush Luna to the vet within a week of getting her. One evening, her blood sugar dropped while eating, and she couldn’t keep food down to the point that it was catching in her throat and she couldn’t get it out either way. She began to lose oxygen and we took her to the vet, who told us that she could have easily died. She was given oxygen and nursed back to health, and we took her back home aware of every time she ate until she grew big enough to digest solid foods well.

While Boo obsessed over socks, my family quickly learned that Luna obsessed over feet. It must be a black cat thing. Even when Luna couldn’t walk and run strongly, she found a way to get under my feet as we walked. She’d hobble and bounce like a penguin until she got under me, and she rubbed her back over the top of my foot. Miraculously, she never got stepped on.  

We learned Luna’s personality quickly, and we learned that she expressed every characteristic the opposite of Boo. While she was more lovable as a kitten, she developed an attitude as she got older. She only liked being touched in certain moments, and those certain moments were decided by her and changed every day. When I petted her outside of her approved moments, she hissed and screamed and often swatted at me until I set her down.

Luna became a diva, and as we got three more cats after her, her personality grew more aggressive as she was meant to be more of an only cat. Strangly, I think this is why I favored her. She disliked other cats and preferred to be by herself. I gave her special attention in private areas away from other cats, and she always showed and accepted more love in private settings when she felt like the only cat in the room.

She clashed with our male cat, Romeo. Romeo is a cat my family rescued, and because of this he received a lot of special attention. He became spoiled, and he knew this, so he acted like the king of the house while Luna seemed to think of herself as the queen. She’d growl and snap at him anytime he passed near her, and while he avoided her at first, he began to antagonize her as time passed. My family and I often observed them as Romeo stood in one spot and stared at Luna with wide and curious eyes, and Luna hated it. Even though Romeo did nothing to her, she’d growl and spit at him before running away. Soon, Romeo did more to her by barely raising a paw or flinching toward her to get a rise out of her. My family concluded that he enjoyed her anger, and he became a bit of a troublemaker as he began to start fights every so often.

Luna was an angry kitty all the time. We worried that she wouldn’t have a long life because she’d someday give herself a heart attack. She was anxious every day, acted confident but actually feared everything, and hated being around other cats.

Luna– Christmas 2018

Luna had one more obsession that took her away from all anger. Water. As a baby, we could put her under the sink and she would love it. Anytime she saw any person in my family entering the bathroom, she’d follow close behind and jump into the tub begging us to turn on the water. We turned the faucet to a drip and she’d put her head under and lap the water. This is the only time she seemed to smile and love us, outside of some private moments with her.

We learned to love her hateful personality. Although we worried for her well-being, we couldn’t help laughing at her angry outbursts every day.

In the first week of November this year, Luna stopped eating and began to act lifeless. She didn’t eat, didn’t move around much, and didn’t get angry anymore when Romeo came near her. We knew something had to be wrong and took her to the vet, where they kept her for several days. Her blood pressure had dropped tremendously and they couldn’t get it to go back up.

After a few days and many failed attempts to help her, the vet broke the news that it was just not possible to bring her blood pressure back up. They diagnosed her with a rare disease that is difficult to recognize until it is in its later stages. It was too late for us to do anything to help Luna. On November 5th, we made the decision to keep Luna from any more pain, and we decorated her box and buried her outside of our house right next to Boo.

Boo and Luna were black kitties who couldn’t be more opposite, but both had unique personalities a special place in our hearts.  

Traveling with Family vs. Traveling with Friends

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” -Robyn Yong

            I don’t know exactly where my desire to travel came about. I believe it came the summer after I graduated high school when I rode to Tennessee for a church conference. Before this, I’d vacationed at the beach several times and nowhere else. Southeastern Tennessee showed me something new and different. The mountains. Not like the Rocky Mountains, but softer grassy cliffs rolling and intertwining with each other. Large enough to tower over my group as we whitewater rafted down the Ocoee River. The Smoky Mountains mesmerized me, and I wanted to see more of the world, even just the United States.

Ocoee River, Tennessee: July 2016

            Before this conference, I’d been to eight states. Now, three years later, I’ve been to twenty-nine. Most of these have been obtained by driving to destinations rather than flying, giving me the chance to see the in-between places, and these in-between places have been some of my favorites.

            Here are most of the places I’ve visited in the past decade:

  • Disney World (2009)
  • Daytona Beach and Cocoa Beach, Florida (2009)
  • Oahu and Maui, Hawaii (2014)
  • Cleveland, Tennessee (2016)
  • Atlanta, Georgia (2016)
  • Panama City Beach, Florida (2017)
  • Las Vegas, Nevada (2018)
  • Waco, Texas (2018)
  • San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico (2018)
  • Pensacola Beach, Florida (2019)
  • Niagara Falls, New York/Canada (2019)

            I’ve traveled mostly with family, but I’ve taken trips with friends as well. Some on school trips and one as a planned trip with a good friend. Each trip was drastically different from the other, not because of the different locations but the different people I experienced it with. These two groups of people could not be more opposite, and in this post, I will explain the difference between my experience in traveling with family and traveling with friends.

            So, how are they different?

Family:

Arizona/Nevada state line: May 2018

            Most of the in-between locations I’ve seen were with family. In May 2017, my grandparents, uncle, cousin, and I drove fifteen hours to the gulf coast. The following year, we drove twenty hours to Las Vegas, and this past summer we drove to Niagara Falls. No, we did not fly to these destinations, because when my grandparents realized that I wanted to visit all fifty states, they decided to drive to our destinations and check off the unseen in-between places on my bucket list.

            With my mother and father, we’ve always flown to our destinations, particularly in the four trips to Florida we took before I reached age twelve. Until recently I hadn’t been on a trip with my parents since the last time they took me to Disney World in 2009. So, two summers ago, my mother and I decided to spontaneously drive to Waco, Texas, the home of Chip and Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper. My mother does not enjoy car rides more than two or three hours long, and I drove us eight hours. Then, this past summer I drove us to Pensacola, Florida to save on expenses.

Magnolia Silos– Waco, Texas: June 2018

            Here is what I’ve learned from traveling with family:

The head of the group plans the trip and takes charge.

            With my family, the adults generally plan the trip and the activities, especially when the kids are young.

            We plan our trips months in advance, maybe a year. A couple summers ago, my grandparents, uncle, and I went on a trip to Las Vegas, and we began to talk about the idea one year before. It was in January that we pushed the plan into action.

            My grandpa drives and no one else. Even though he is 80 years old, his desire to stay young and invincible keeps him in the front seat. He is the head of the group, and it’s his job to drive. Even when he’s tired. Even when he does not feel well. Even when he cliff dives in Hawaii and injures his ribs and wrist (a story for another post). Even when two other people in the vehicle are more than qualified to step in his place and let him rest.

The Road to Hana– Maui, Hawaii: May 2014

He used to be a race car driver, and he drives like a race car driver. In Hawaii in 2014, on The Road to Hana, he sped around the curves of high cliffs with a speed limit of 15 mph. On the way to Las Vegas, he drove 90 mph straddling the interstate’s center line all the way through Utah. On the way to Niagara Falls in the summer of 2019, he cut off three people while switching lanes, nearly causing wrecks every time, and he rode the tail of each car in front of him knowing that if that driver barely tapped his or her brake, we could have driven right into them.

            I learn to pray a lot and keep my head down on these long trips, and when I hear my grandma yell to my grandpa, “Watch out!”, I keep my head down and accept that it might be the end for me.

            I also learn to tune out the arguments between my grandparents but keep one ear open for my grandpa to say something ridiculous that I can tease him about when he cools down.

            I had more responsibilities in the trips with my mother. This trip was almost like traveling with a friend. She made more of the decisions in the travel planning, but I pushed the plans into action by reserving hotels in my name, mapping travel routes, and paying for half of the trip expenses.    

            I drove the round trip of sixteen hours for Waco in 2018 and around thirty hours for Florida in 2019. Both within a week. I was told where to drive and I drove there. I didn’t mind as it gave me a sense of duty I never had on previous trips.

            When the kids are young, they have no responsibilities other than to follow along and enjoy the plans laid out for them. Parents will plan activities to meet the interests of the kids but also activities that the adults want to do, and the kids must follow along when they are too young to stay behind. When they get older, however, they have more freedom to plan alongside the head of the group.

It is difficult to meet everyone’s interests.

            There is usually a larger age span on family vacations, which can make planning more difficult. Between grandparents, parents, and children, the age span can be from infant to sixties or seventies.

            The generation gap shows on my trips with my grandparents. While I am an adult, daily lifestyle is still different between a couple in their sixties to eighties and a woman in her early twenties.

            As we drove to Las Vegas in 2018, the radio volume sat still on zero. No jam sessions. Not much talking either. Just cruising along and enjoying the view. If I wanted to listen to music, I put in my headphones and chose what I wanted to listen to.

            The past few years, I’ve had more choices in activities, but that might be because my interests are beginning to match those of normal adults.

At age five, my parents took my brother and I to Disney World for the first time. It’s a place I did not know existed until my parents made the plans. We loved it so much that we returned the following year and again in 2006 and 2009. These were some of the best weeks in my lifetime and they were ideas I did not create and plans I did not make.

Magic Kingdom: October 2002
Animal Kingdom: October 2002

At age seven, my whole family went to Daytona Beach, Florida. All I wanted to do that whole week was build sandcastles and occasionally play in the ocean waves, but my family had other ideas. While we did spend a lot of time on the beach, we also explored sights in town. We visited the Daytona International Speedway, climbed to the top of a lighthouse and went on a swamp ride to see and hold baby alligators.

These activities weren’t my idea of fun, initially, but once my family put me out there, I enjoyed them and wouldn’t have chosen differently. Now, looking back, I’m grateful to have experienced these things. I understand the importance of putting children out there to experience things that they did not know existed or never thought to do. I still enjoy the beach the most like I did as a child, but I now think of other activities in my travel planning. And just like I did not know Disney World existed, and that I could meet Tigger and Minnie Mouse, my kids will not know either until I introduce them to it, and I look forward to returning to Disney World as an adult and letting my kids feel the same magic I did.

Daytona Beach, Florida: October 2004
Daytona Beach, Florida: October 2004

Family rises before the rooster crows and settles before the sun sets.

            With my grandparents, we got up at five in the morning to begin our drive to Las Vegas. I understood why, because with a twenty-hour drive, we wanted to be well past the Rocky Mountains by dark. However, this past summer we stopped for a family reunion in Indiana before driving to Niagara Falls. We only had to drive six hours that day, and the reunion was held the following day. Because we had no reason to hurry, I expected not to leave until at least noon, but they insisted we leave at eight in the morning. Imagine my excitement, as a non-morning person, when my unnecessary six o’clock alarm woke me that morning.   

            During this road trip to Niagara Falls, we never drove past dark. We never drove even close to dark. By the time the sun began its journey downward into the afternoon, we began thinking of where we’d be at in six hours to stop for a hotel.

Niagara Falls, Ontario: July 2019
Fireworks over Niagara Falls

            My family seems to enjoy rising before the rooster crows and worrying if we begin our day any later. Then, they settle in by dinner time and spend the rest of day light watching TV in a hotel room rather than decreasing hours to the final destination.

            Even at the destination, they will call it quits early, even if the younger members want to continue the activity. To most people my age, the day has barely begun at sunset.

Life moves slower.

            The age span presents another difference on vacations. Life moves slower. When walking long distances, we have to stop and rest a lot because grandparents and sometimes parents don’t have the energy that kids and young adults do. We don’t move as quickly. Our Vegas trip turned into a lot of my grandpa chilling in the casinos—his happy place—while my uncle and I, or the rest of us, explored the strip.

Las Vegas Strip: May 2018

            When my mother and I went to Pensacola, we weren’t afraid to relax on the beach most of the day rather than moving a mile a minute. We enjoy moving slowly, thriving on peace rather than adventure.

            Even though I’m young, I understand the need to move slower, not because of the lack of energy, but because I believe we take in more when we and really look around us. I’m a writer, and I think that makes me a little more observant of the world. A little more inclined to stop and slow down sometimes to get a taste of a new place.

We stay under their watch, no matter how old.

            I think no matter how old we are, we are still kids to our parents, whether we are five, twenty-five, or fifty-five.

            I was nineteen when my grandparents took my uncle, cousin, and I to Panama City Beach. As I mentioned before, I love the beach and could stay on it all day, so often I spent time in a beach chair writing or people watching or sticking my feet in the cool water. A lot of this time on the beach was spent on my own, but I couldn’t complain. As an introvert, there is nothing better than relaxing on the beach and being alone to my own thoughts and observations.

            Anytime I decided to go down to the beach on my own, my family ordered me to stay within the parameters where I could be seen from our hotel balcony.

            I felt like I could take care of myself, but I had no choice but to let them look out for me. I don’t have the same understanding that they do. Watching a grandchild be born and raised in what seems like a short time. To them, I should still be a child, and they miss the days when I was still small enough to ride on their backs while they walked through deeper ocean water.

Friends:

            In July 2018, I went on my first vacation with a friend and experienced an entirely different dynamic from family, especially since we traveled to a different country.

            When I went to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, I am glad I went with a friend. It was our first time traveling alone (with just each other), and we took charge and spent the week out of the country without any trouble. Four total plane trips, delays, immigration, customs, and five days interacting with people in a different culture.

We do the planning/strictly about us.

            Rather than planning our Mexico trip months in advance, my friend and I planned it spontaneously, three weeks before our flight took off. Usually, I like to plan everything out well, but for some reason I didn’t care that this trip was planned so quickly and spontaneously. 

            It was my first time flying alone, or with just one other person my age. So, for the first time, I debated airports, airlines, flight times, and navigated an airport through security and delays. I went with the flow. Followed signs. Did what I remembered from my past vacations. It was easier than I remembered.

Baja Peninsula, Mexico

            Honestly, it did not set in that I was going on this vacation until the day we left. Then I started to get excited. I got into vacation mode and started dressing up, doing my hair and makeup, and taking a lot of pictures.

            It’s a planning partnership rather than a head of household being in charge. For the first time, I had equal responsibility, sometimes more if we separated. Only two people planned this vacation, our activities, and it felt like it was my vacation and not someone else’s. By only thinking about our needs and not the needs of several other people, I was able to really enjoy this vacation and think of it as one of my favorites.

Similar age creates similar interests.

            As a planning partnership, obviously there was still compromise between two friends, because nobody is exactly the same, but we agreed on most activities.

            The vacation was more carefree, an experience of sticking our foot in the door and trying new things, even when we were confused and did not know what to do.

            From the moment we stepped off our plane into Mexico, we lived that week like two young girls out on the town, for the most part. We weren’t afraid to fly alone, go through immigration and customs alone. Of course, we denied the three offers of tequila before we reached our ride to our resort. Then, we listened to our driver talk about cocaine and marijuana as he drove us there. My friend and I looked at each other in humored alarm like “what kind of world did we just step into?”

Downtown San Jose del Cabo: July 2018

            We weren’t afraid to adapt ourselves into a different culture for five days. Five days with almost no cell service connecting back home. We weren’t afraid to talk with strangers while we were there, using good judgement of course. We weren’t afraid to run across a busy highway when we found no other way to get to the bus stop other than walking under a sketchy overpass. No thanks. I wasn’t afraid to wear a large and tacky balloon hat on a bus filled with locals, and I wasn’t afraid to wave at the people who stared. I may have embarrassed my friend and brought attention to myself, but I didn’t care. We weren’t afraid to walk along the beach after dark.

            We heard so much music. Spanish music, but it was great music. Lively and energetic. My friend wanted to go out and dance, and I wanted to observe the Spanish performers one night on the resort. In the end, there was dancing when the crowd was invited onstage to do The Macarena, one of the greatest moments I’ve experienced on a vacation. An experience that will be included in a later post.

Friends get up later and settle in later.

            To me, the night is nowhere close to over at 7 p.m. We settled in later and woke up later. Especially me.

            I’m a night person. I enjoyed sitting on the deck after midnight and looking over the lights of the resort. I spent many nights in the pool after dark. It’s one thing I look forward to the most when I’m on vacations, when the sun is not blinding and hot and the pool lights up blue underneath. The evening serenity leaves me on my back and looking up at the dark sky and palm trees.

            I spent another evening lying on the beach with pizza and stargazing away from the resort lights where the stars came out of hiding.

            Even with my love of night-time activities, I did enjoy a couple sunrises while we were there. On my terms, of course.

Life moves quicker.

Art walk in downtown San Jose del Cabo

            We moved at a much quicker pace than we would with family members. It was like it didn’t seem right if we had no free time throughout the day.

            We shopped a lot, we visited the pool and beach, attended an art walk full of music and bustling people, ran after buses, and danced with young Mexican waiters at Senor Frogs.

            There was never a break longer than the chance to shower and sleep. If we stopped by the hotel room throughout the day, it was to change into or out of swimsuits.

            By the time we settled in of an evening, the exhaustion struck my body and I slept like a rock. Then, we woke up ready for another busy day.

We look after ourselves.

            This wouldn’t be as much the case if I was traveling with family. “Be safe.” “Stay in my sight.” At twenty years old, I was still a kid to my family. I get it. There were no serious talks with my grandpa in hearing the “Now listen here…” talk when he tells me every safety precaution I already knew. On this vacation, I was just putting it into practice.

            If anything, my trip to Mexico was less stressful in this category. With just two of us, we looked after ourselves and did not rely on someone else to look after us and the rest of the group. For the first time, I didn’t have to worry about staying in anyone’s sight but my own, and I was able to have some time to myself, which is important to me in keeping peace with surrounding people.

            I did not worry so much about what could go wrong in each moment, but I kept myself alert just enough to keep us safe, all while having fun at the same time and not taking life too seriously.

San Jose del Cabo, Mexico: July 2018

Conclusion:

            In my experience, these are the differences between traveling with family and traveling with friends. All of these differences center around one thing. The generation gap. The generation gap gives these differences that point to energy, the speed of life, personal interests, and seniority.

            I wouldn’t take back any of my vacations. Typically, people like me enjoy vacations with friends the most, but I don’t have a preference. Sometimes, it is fun to take risks and enjoy life in a way that older generations don’t have the energy for. However, I also enjoy taking life slowly and giving myself the chance to really observe the world.

Not a Typical 21-Year-Old

I’ve always been different from my peers, even from a young age.  

Honestly, I’ve always just been an odd person, but my innocence was protected well into high school, and that separated me from most kids in public school.

10 years old

I had a creative imagination. I believed in fairy tales, and I wanted to forever believe in fairy tales. I remember when I lost a tooth, trying to stay awake to catch the tooth fairy in action, but I’d fall asleep every time and wake up with a dollar bill tucked into my pillow. I remember arguing with a fellow first grader, trying to convince her that Santa was not in fact “dead.” It’s possible that I didn’t understand why other kids did not want to feel the same magic I did when I woke up on December 25th. I never had trouble sleeping, but I’d lay awake every Christmas Eve, the biggest night of the year, and anticipate the big man’s arrival hoping that he wouldn’t catch me awake. I felt butterflies in my stomach that lasted through the next morning. Butterflies that I miss today.

I wrote two fairy tale stories in fifth grade, one that won first place in the fifth-grade book contest. Then when I got into middle school, the magic that accompanied my childhood slowly left me, but I still kept my innocence. And that innocence carried me through public middle school.

When girls my age began their interest in romance, I kept my imagination and my growing interest in sports. 

I didn’t understand it when acquaintances and even family members told me, “You’re so weird,” when I didn’t know the difference between normal and abnormal. I didn’t know if I was supposed to change. I didn’t know how to change. I simply wanted to be myself and eventually learn to bear the comments of other people. And that’s what I did. I embrace it now.

In my first year of college, I attended one party after not thinking about the college definition of “party.” When I heard the words “18-and-up club,” my Christian school self geared up for the cha-cha-slide and chicken dance.

As you may guess, no cha-cha-slide occurred for me that night. Within five minutes of arriving, I understood that “18-and-up club” meant that drunkenness and inappropriate dancing still presented themselves. I tried to hide my surprise when teammates twenty-one and over were so quick to buy drinks for their under-aged teammates. I denied alcohol offers at least four or five times while police officers lined the building. I simply did not understand.

I spent the next couple hours sitting alone and observing the people. The type of people I neither knew how to interact with nor wanted to interact with. Not in that state of mind.

I had driven teammates to the club that evening, and I’d agreed to drive them home. After meeting them just that day, it did not feel right to leave them even with several options for rides. So, I sat. I sat and uncomfortably watched. Uncomfortably refused many offers to dance with guys obviously drunk. Uncomfortably slapped away hands that tried to pull me into dances. Not the cha-cha-slide dances. Not the chicken dances. But dancing that would ruin the reputation I’d spent my youth creating. Dancing that would go against my faith. Dancing that would give these new teammates and classmates the wrong idea about me as a person.

This was my first night of college, the day after my nineteenth birthday, and the last time I went to a club or attended a similar party. Every weekend after this, I spent my Friday and Saturday nights enjoying the empty dorm and indulging in Netflix and a self-made snack buffet.

I attended my first year of college out-of-state, nearly five hours from home. By my first day of college, I knew I would not fit in with my teammates or the stereotypical college student. So, I got involved with the small campus ministry and made good friends that shared similar views to myself.

Two years later, I had my 21st birthday and pretended to be “hyped” about being of age. But in reality, I had one Cherry Limeade at Cheddars and didn’t understand why I paid eight dollars for a drink when I could have paid two dollars for a Sprite that would have satisfied me the same.

My two work friends threw me a Spongebob party at a bowling alley, and we imagined people staring and wondering why I was not living it up like a typical 21-year-old on her birthday. But we didn’t care. With our mutual childhood interests in Spongebob, we had a good time.

I’m weird. I know.

I’ve always dated younger guys, not intentionally. While it’s not as normal for women to date younger men, a good friend once told me that my patience and fun-loving personality would make a relationship work with a younger guy who might not yet match my maturity level.

I’m dating a guy nearly 3 ½ years younger than me, and he is my best friend. I shake off any outside concerns of our age difference, because rather than focusing on a factor that does not matter now and will not matter even more as time goes on, I focus on our friendship and the connection we share that is so unlike any I’ve ever had. While I keep him in line, just like any girlfriend does, he keeps the child in me.

I am a big child still, even as I gain more independence every day, but I believe that a person can hold on to the magic of childhood and still function well as an adult.

I know what it is like to dance wildly and feel cooler in my head than how I look in a mirror. I know what it is like to break dance to high school musical and turn around to my high-school-aged brother videotaping me with the plan to send it to his friends.

I still break out into dance moves at random moments and pretend I look cool. I still run up the stairs in fear after turning out the light. I still feel the magic of Christmas as a grown adult. I still run and jump in my bed at night to avoid the monsters that Junie B. Jones warned me about.

I love board games, video games, card games, and will play them until I’m forced to quit. In high school, when the rules said something like “first player to ten cards wins,” I’d request instead to play until we didn’t feel like playing any more. “Why stop when we are having fun?” I’d ask. Even when people rolled their eyes, I pretended I didn’t notice and insisted on playing longer.

I look forward to having kids and sharing the childhood magic with them. I want to have family game nights. I want to dance around in pajamas with them. I want to read them books and give them great Christmases and birthdays. Maybe this is all unrealistic. But a young woman can dream, right?

Most importantly, I want to protect the innocence of my children. I will let them have wild imaginations. I will let them believe in fairy tales. Because that was one of the most magical parts of my childhood.

I am not a typical 21-year-old girl. I do not like shopping. I do not like drinking and partying. I don’t care for trends. If something is “in style,” I usually try to avoid it. Call me crazy, but I simply want to be myself. I enjoy choosing my style and opinions according to what I like, rather than letting myself be influenced by other people. I don’t care about fitting in with people my age. I’ve never fit in entirely, and I do not intend to try any time soon.

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May 22nd, 2011: A Day We Will Never Forget

            May 22nd, 2011 had been a beautiful day, a happy one. My parents and I drove through Northwestern Arkansas early that day from a softball tournament, and the sun shone warmly through partial clouds. We spent most of the afternoon shopping in Joplin, Missouri, a town just an hour from where we lived, and we decided to end our spree at Walmart.

            Very few customers took the Walmart employees seriously when they informed us of a tornado warning, including my parents and me.

            The Walmart worker appeared to be bored when she suggested we take shelter at the back of the store, so with just one item left on our shopping list, we planned to check out and beat the mild thunderstorm. Within two minutes of her warning, more employees approached us, one by one, each looking more serious than the last.

“Folks, this weather is severe and approaching quickly. You need to take shelter at the back of the store now,” the man repeated more seriously than the previous warnings. After he practically begged us, we wheeled our cart to the electronics. Over one hundred people stood around us buzzing with conversation, and the space grew more crowded with every step.

            At this point, I texted my friend from home, saying Apparently, there are tornado warnings north of us, so they are forcing us to stay at the back of the store. In Missouri, tornado warnings occur regularly, but they’ve never turned into anything serious. I joked around with my friend and said something along the lines of Wouldn’t it be funny if there was actually a tornado?

            Within ten minutes, the employees sent the customers farther back into the store. Some went into the back room in the auto center and restrooms, and we settled by the video games and televisions. Five minutes later, they claimed the “storms” were getting stronger, and ordered everyone to pack into the back room as tightly as we could. We stopped at the center of that room and stood as strangers piled in shoulder to shoulder. The buzzing slowed down. People began to twiddle their thumbs and pace within the two-foot space, and others tapped their feet impatiently and complained that an employee wouldn’t let them go home.

“Should we go in there?” I asked as I pointed to the restrooms.

            “We’ll stay here for now,” my dad said, but he looked uncertain. We stood there and waited, hoping for the weather to pass so we could go home.

            Suddenly, the lights flickered off, then on again. Silence filled the room and a nervous feeling rose in my chest. Then again, the lights flickered off and on. What is going on? I thought to myself. Moments later, the lights went out permanently. The safety lights gave enough light to see the fearful expressions on every stranger.

            One hundred and fifty people in that building listened silently. At first, the wind gently brushed the outside walls and thunder rumbled faintly. Then, the soft whistling of the wind gradually turned into a continuous howl, and through the safety lights, I saw the slight quivering of the ceiling tiles. Within seconds, the tiles bounced up and down rapidly.

“GET DOWN!” a man shouted from the crowd. One hundred and fifty people fell on to the hard ground as thunder struck and dreadfully shook the building. I laid on my stomach, one forearm resting on the cold floor and the other latched closely to my dad.

            The events following that seemed to be forever, though it was only a few minutes. The sounds of splintering wood, shrieking wind, and crashing walls filled my ears. People screamed, people prayed desperately, and children whimpered. I could feel the cool rush of the high wind but could not feel its power since I was sheltered under my parents. Occasionally, people cried out, “Is everybody okay?” and we answered back.

            “Pray, Jr.,” my mom said to my dad, and as he spit out curse words, “I don’t think God likes that word!” He apologized. I tried to pray; however, I didn’t know how or what to say. So, I kept my head down and waited for the noise to subside.

            “The worst is over,” my dad eventually said, giving me relief. Around that moment, I noticed a sharp pain in my right foot from something falling on it and crushing it into the hard ground. In just moments, the wind and thunder eased and eventually stopped.

I don’t know how long we stayed there until a couple men had gotten out and was able to lift the roof enough to bring light in. When the light came in, I finally looked around me and was shocked at everything I saw. Broken pieces of wall, splintered wood, items from the store, and a film of dirt covered the ground I laid on. The roof rested on our shoulders and my foot was still stuck under a large piece of wood. Wearing only flip flops, my foot was in pain and I was unable to wiggle it free. All I wanted was to get out, to go home and get out of the mess.

            My dad was finally able to crawl out through a small hole and I followed, pulling my foot hard from under the wood, then ducking my head and carefully weaving through a narrow tunnel of debris. The dull blinding light struck me as I crawled through the tiny space and into a whole different world. The light rain lightly brushed my forehead as I stood on my feet. I no longer saw the roof above me or walls surrounding me. I could not see the floor I stood on. Instead, the roof and walls laid at my feet, burying over a hundred people who still had yet to get out. Those desperate people, including my mother, already began to cry out for help.

The back wall of Walmart
15th St. and Rangeline Rd., Joplin, MO

            The section of the roof where we escaped nearly touched the ground. The other end angled upward on a pile of rubble toward the back-parking lot of Wal-Mart. More people began to crawl out as two men jumped up on the pile of rubble where the roof ended. They began to call out for the children to go first. Then a man held out a helping hand to me so I could climb up and over to the parking lot.

“No,” I declared, “I will stay here.” I couldn’t leave my family. I had to help at least until my mom got out. The man did not argue and turned to help another child. I did not know how much help a thirteen-year-old girl would be, but I did my best. Our goal was to locate any thing in that area that would help to prop up the roof in order to allow more room for people to get out.

            A man located a baby carrier and pushed it under the roof as I, my father, and a couple men lifted it up to help him out.

            People panicked, and understandably, they did not panic in a healthy way. As more people got out, the roof became heavier for those who were still stuck underneath. The men ordered people to climb over one at a time. However, those frightened people could not wait and began to climb over four to five at a time. The people underneath carried all of their weight on top of the heavy roof.

“Stop climbing on me!” my mother would yell. They didn’t listen. They kept climbing until they made it out. Finally, she was able to stick her head through a small hole, surrounded by broken metal. A small piece of hail landed in her hair as I saw lightning flash close by. That showed me that we were still unsafe, despite the fact that we survived. My mom made it out soon after and told me to go ahead and leave. I found the helping hand of a nice man and placed my foot on small light-colored wooden strips running across the roof.  I carefully walked on these strips, made it to the very top, and faced a section of wall angling downward to the parking lot. Hesitantly, I stepped on the slippery wall and slid down until my feet hit the wet pavement. 

            At that moment, I looked back at what I had just escaped. The building was gone. The only thing left standing was the front wall with everything else torn to pieces. I suddenly felt like I was in a war zone. The light rain fell from the solemn gray sky and gently hit my forehead, showing me that this was real. This was not a dream. I looked around at the hundreds of frightened people, praying, shivering, and looking for their families. I gazed calmly ahead as my family appeared over the slippery white wall, finally escaping the mess.

            “Let’s get out of here,” my dad said as they approached. We silently walked around the building, looking at everything there was to see. Trees had split in half. The earth was uneven. Cars no longer looked like cars. Some cars were wrapped around tree trunks and branches. The air felt musty and smelled like gasoline. As we neared the front parking lot, the main road of Joplin, Missouri appeared in our sight. My heart immediately dropped.

“Oh my God,” my mom exclaimed. Everything was gone. I looked to the left, to the right, and straight ahead. Nothing. Not one building stood in sight. How could this have happened? Why did it happen to us? Then all I could think was, “How did we survive this?”

            We searched the parking lot looking for our silver Nissan and hoped we wouldn’t find it wrapped around a tree. Luckily, we found it in the center of the parking lot on a pile of dirt with the front hood tore off, the windows blown out, every side banged up, and dirt piled inside the car. Also, a stick of wood, one inch in diameter had been plunged right into the car door. We were able to gather our weekend belongings from our car. Our arms were loaded, and we began to walk. My softball coach lived just a couple miles down the road, and our hopes were high that we’d eventually reach his house.

            “I am sorry folks. There are gas leaks along this road and it is not safe to go through.”

We asked for any sort of exception to get through that road. We had nowhere else to go. He apologized and said he could not possibly let us through in case of an explosion. We turned around, upset and alone. We had no cell service to contact family, and we felt like the last people on earth. We turned west toward the main road. Fallen powerlines strung along the road. My mom continually informed me to be careful and not step on them.

            A young woman pulled beside us in her dark (I think black) SUV and asked if we needed a ride. She was a Sam’s Club employee driving around to access the damage after checking on her family. We had no way to contact anyone, and most roads were closed off, so we let her take us to Sam’s on the other side of town, out of the path of the damage. We were grateful for just the intact building and the great hospitality by the employees for the next three hours. They let us change into dry—or drier—clothes and spend that time dialing at every chance we got in hopes for one call to go through. We could reach a cousin from home, and that’s it. We had to use him to reach my softball coach, who spent hours trying to navigate the closed roads to reach us. It wasn’t until sunset that he reached us, and just after my grandparents arrived from a casino across town. We packed ourselves tight into their car, and we made it home close to ten-thirty that evening, five hours after the tornado struck.

I never imagined that thirteen years may have been all the time I had to live. When an ordinary weekend on a softball field became life-threatening within an hour, I had to turn my innocence into strength for my family. 24 hours before, my teammates and I laid in the grass with noses pressed around an iPhone reading 5:59 pm, skeptically waiting for the world to “end” as it had been predicted for 6 o’clock on May 21st, 2011. We were just a group of ornery middle school girls laughing at the silly ways of the universe, never imagining anything bad to happen to us or our families. Just under 24 hours later, at 5:47 pm, is when the Walmart building and everything around it began to shake. Coincidence? I’ll probably never know.

            What I do know is that my innocence helped me that day. The idea that nothing bad would happen to me that young. It happened so quick that I think it took months for it to register that I could have lost my life or one of my parents. Now, the older I get, the memory is still strong and the more I take these storms seriously. I don’t think I could handle it with as much strength a second time.

            This is why I take storms seriously. When people laugh at tornado warnings and say “I ain’t scared of no naders,” I laugh a little, because I used to think the same thing. I still do when I have direct access to a basement. But no one will truly know until he or she has experienced one. Just because it’s never affected you or your town, it does not mean that it never will.

            161 people lost their lives on that day to an EF-5 tornado, the deadliest and costliest in five decades. I consider myself and my family very lucky, and our experience has changed our outlook on severe storms. I only hope that nobody else has to survive a deadly storm to take them seriously.

Photo by Alisha Moenning

Fifteen Years

I had doubts the moment I signed my letter of intent at age seventeen. Not strong enough for me to think twice about them, but enough to ask myself the question, “Will this really be worth it?”

Two years later, I answered that question. I played my last softball game on April 20th, 2017.

My parents put me into Little Coaches Pitch at age four, a year early. Not only was I too young, but I was small for my age. If my jersey wasn’t tucked in, it hung nearly to my knees. I imagine my dad thought I was going to grow up a girly-girl—I thought I was a princess—not that I would stick with the sport for another fifteen years. Over half of those years I played with my dad as my head coach.

Little Coaches Pitch: May 2002

I didn’t care about being the best player in the world or the best pitcher. I cared more about enjoying the game more than performing well, even through my years of playing competitively. Sure, I worked hard ten months out of the year because I wanted to perform well, but if I had to throw out the enjoyment of the game in order to be more successful, then it wasn’t worth it.

At the beginning of my sophomore year of high school, I received an email from the head coach of Kansas Wesleyan University. He discovered me at a college camp the previous summer and boldly stated his interest in my abilities. Within a few months, I toured the school and made a verbal commitment to attend the school and play for his team, and I left Kansas excited for my future. One year later, I signed my letter of intent.

But around this time, I observed the changes happening in the girls my age who still stuck with the sport. For the first time, other serious players entered a more competitive state of mind, a place I’d never reach. I observed my teammates’ greater desire for winning than fun, resulting in increased hostility toward teammates who did not perform well, sour expressions rather than smiles and laughter, and more bickering with parents.

Several times, I wanted to yell “Relax, it’s just a game!” when players threw their bats on the ground or gave an attitude to a teammate who struck out or missed a ground ball.

It was the first time that I thought I might not have enough competitive drive to play beyond a high school level, because if I struck out, I’d say “Oh well. I’ll fix it and hit it next time” and I’d sit down and continue to enjoy the day with my teammates.

Beyond high school ball, it is no longer light-hearted and fun, and I knew it wouldn’t be. But eight years of tournament costs, equipment, and hotel costs did not agree with the wallet. My parents weren’t rich, yet they scraped up thousands of dollars in over a decade looking toward the future I’d just signed up for. So, I continued my commitment to be a college player, hopeful that the environment would be better, because I felt like it’s what I needed to do.

Photo by photographer Alisha Moenning at amphotography
Senior 2016

I walked in my first semester of college in good spirits and hopeful, and I soon found out that the head coach who recruited me had retired. He had been the sole reason I committed to this school because he was almost like a father-figure, and it was coaches like that I loved playing for.

His graduate assistant from the previous year took his place, a woman who had played Division 1 and overseas in Europe. A woman who needed to coach for a division one but began with an NAIA school. The type of coach I wouldn’t have chosen and my grade, the new freshmen, was the group she did not know and did not recruit.  

Still, I kept a good attitude and looked forward to the season under a new coach and new teammates. We had 6 a.m. practices three days a week, lifting two days a week, and afternoon practices Mondays through Saturdays. They wouldn’t have been so bad if we didn’t spend more time in sprints than building our skills with drills. There is nothing wrong with running; in fact, it is important to building up the physical stamina for the game, but it should not take up most of the practice time. Eventually, it becomes too much and wears down a person’s body more than it helps.

I made friends with many of my teammates quickly, despite our differences in personality, but it didn’t take me more than a month to see that I did not fit in well with hardly anyone. I made one good friend that semester who shared similar views to me. We’d attend a weekly chapel and bible study together and hang out on the weekends while most of the dorm and all of my teammates were at clubs or house parties. Sometimes, they urged me to go to these parties, and maybe that’s what set me apart, but I simply did not understand how anybody found enjoyment out of it, so I stayed in on the weekends with an empty dorm room and a bowl of popcorn.  

When a couple teammates got in trouble one weekend for possessing alcohol, the innocent received the physical punishment while those who admitted to consuming alcohol that weekend sat on the side lines and watched. This was Labor Day Monday—we had no classes that morning—and she could keep us as long as she wished. I endured some of my worst physical pain that morning, and for doing the right thing by staying indoors the previous Saturday night. A similar physical punishment happened again a couple months after that— before sunrise in the thirty-degree November air.

Before college, I enjoyed going to practices most of the time. When my dad coached my competitive team in high school, we spent most of the time laughing, yet we still got stuff done. We had the experience to combine work and fun in practices and still perform well on the field. The same goes for my high school team. Most high school players are not looking to become professional athletes, and I enjoyed playing with girls who joined the team to have fun with their friends, and I enjoyed gaining new friends each year.

Friendships from these teams were more important, and on my college team I did not fit in with the girls. It wasn’t just this school, I didn’t and do not fit in with the “college athlete” stereotype. This isn’t a complaint against college sports, but this experience only confirmed that it wasn’t for me. Soon after I returned from Christmas Break. I made the final decision to make that season my last season.

But it was not over. Not only did I decide to quit a sport I’d played and committed to for most of my life, but I decided to leave the school I was sure I’d spend all four years at.

I began to shift my attention from English to writing, and I’d already taken every writing class offered at the small university in just two semesters. 

Before I knew it, I was on Southwest Baptist University’s website—the same school my brother attended—and I found that they offered a writing program. Within two days, I had the application on my screen with every blank filled in, but I left the application open on my computer. All I had to do was click “Submit.” But I had to wait, had to build up courage to tell someone other than my roommate. I had to tell someone who, other than me, would be impacted the most by my decision. My parents.

I can’t say that the decision was difficult, because it wasn’t. In fact, as big of a decision as it was, it couldn’t have been easier. The hardest part was telling my family and everyone else who had placed a foot into my success as an athlete. I only told my dad and waited for his approval. As for everyone else? I waited for them to find out because I knew someone would try to change my mind. At that time, I cared too much about what other people thought and I knew I would give in and continue playing against my will if someone tried hard enough to convince me.

February 2017
April 2017

I spent the spring semester enjoying as much of my last season as I could. It wasn’t easy, but it only confirmed that I was making the right decision. I didn’t care if I played for JV or Varsity. In fact, I preferred JV because it was less intense. Even then, while I did my best to have fun, the coaches and girls wore serious and/or sour expressions. I was yelled at for having my arms crossed in the outfield, faced sarcastic comments when I missed a ball that got lost in the sun, and my arm was overworked to the point where I almost visited a doctor.

A pitcher is not supposed to have more than three heavy workouts a week, five being okay if they are very light. That spring I was the only right-fielder in practice, and I’d spend all of practice consistently throwing balls over a hundred feet to home plate. Then I’d have a heavy pitching workout after practice. Five days a week, sometimes six. A month before the end of the season, my elbow began to ache consistently. I’d never had an injury before and I did not know how to prevent myself from tearing my arm.

By the end of three weeks, I couldn’t make it through three or four innings of a game, when I normally pitched seven or more. I iced it every day and it remained the same. On April 20th, our last double header of the season—and my career— I sat out of the first game for the first time all year. In the next hour, I drowned my elbow in Bio Freeze and prayed desperately for relief and only for that evening. When it came time to warm up for the last game of my career, I did spins for all of my pitches and threw very few half distance before stepping on the mound at game time.

That was a six-inning game, and the moment I stepped on the mound, the ache in my elbow diminished and I threw just as well or stronger than I had all season. My last inning was a three-up three-down, and I struck out the last batter of the game on a no-swing rise ball. A very rare occurrence for any pitcher, and the best way I could possibly end my career.

I had no idea the game was live streamed on the opposing team’s website until after the game when I pulled my phone out of my bag and saw a text from my dad back home. A message that said, “Great game girl.”

Kansas Wesleyan University: March 2017

Two years later, I know that I made the right decision. Of course, I miss it, but mostly the memories I made and the people I met through it. An athlete must step down at some point in his or her life, and no one but me could have understood my timing. It was my time to step down. My time to draw the line after my fifteenth year and begin to enjoy my life in ways I’d never been able to before.

I still have two gloves and a ball in my car, and I take them out whenever I feel like playing catch. Although I am a retired athlete, I have a lifetime ahead of me and kids to raise in the future, and I know I will never be fully retired from the game.

The Good Ol’ Days

“Let’s wander back into the past

And paint me a picture of long ago.”—

Grandpa by The Judds

            Have you ever wanted to step through a time machine and go to the past? Not within your own life necessarily, but maybe the lives of your parents, grandparents, or further beyond? I certainly have. Maybe not as a child, but when I began to attempt the trials of an adult.

            At age twenty-one, I already find myself observing kids a decade younger than me and thinking about how much better things were for me. The first ten years of my life, I did not have technology beyond a corded home phone (yes, a phone connected to a wall) and a box computer to alter an already creative imagination. I did not have to worry about much technology in school beyond middle school keyboarding. We read paper books, we learned from paper books, we were taught cursive handwriting. Now, I have friends barely two to three years younger than me who have never learned cursive. As a child, I did not have to worry about going through school practicing bomb or active shooter drills. I did not have to worry about locking doors in my small home town or offending people too easily.

            So, how old does a person need to be to begin using the phrase, “Today’s kids will never understand______.”?  Because at twenty-one, I look at the generation below me and say exactly that.

            Sure, every generation has its flaws, but it seems like once youth has passed, a person looks into the past and says, “Those were the good days.”

            A child of ten or eleven might think of a grandpa’s “story of the past” as a history lecture. The child daydreams through these stories because his or her mind is on the present and the future, not the past. Nothing before the child’s time. They haven’t lived long enough to gain enough wisdom to share and not long enough to really appreciate the wisdom given to them.

            Today is my grandpa’s birthday, and I won’t enclose his age because he claims to be frozen in time at age thirty-nine. The older I get, the more I appreciate his stories. By listening, I know what a troublesome boy he was by the time he entered school until this present day, between reciting omitted cuss words in a high school production to “shooting” his brother with blanks and making his mother think he was actually trying to harm his brother.  The more I hear these stories, the more I laugh along with them and wish I could have seen it myself.

Grandpa Blackwell’s race car

            By listening to his stories, I know that he was an incredible multi-sport athlete—qualified for the Olympics—a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserves, a race-car driver for ten years, owner of a t-shirt printing business—one of the first—and a big fan of 50s Rock N’ Roll. Through all of this, I learned, he met incredible people including Elvis Presley, President Lyndon Johnson, and Colonel Sanders. He sure has lived a full life, and I wouldn’t have known this without listening to his stories of “the good ol’ days.”

June 27th, 1957
Grandpa Blackwell shining his boot at boot camp at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin

            I’ve always wondered what my life would have been like growing up in the 50s with my grandparents or the 70s and 80s with my parents. Sometimes, when I hear of their lives, I wish I could step into a time machine and go back in time to live life alongside them, not as a granddaughter or daughter, but as a friend the same age. With family members prone to previous mischief and rebellion, I wouldn’t mind witnessing this and coming back to the present age with a little something to tease them about. Then, maybe, I would appreciate their stories of “the good ol’ days” a little more.

Spring Song

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant.”—Anne Bradstreet

            Do you prefer the winter or the spring? Do you enjoy the warmth beside a fireplace or the warmth of a spring sun ray? Do you prefer glistening snow in December or glistening dew on a crisp early-April morning? Do your eyes wander to the orange leaves falling from limbs or the first sign of growing green buds?

            Without a doubt, spring is my favorite time of year.

            The months between August and December 2018 flew so quickly that the weather change almost gave me culture shock, so the season’s gloom was more prevalent in me this year.   

            Sure, I do not mind snow. I do not even mind ice when it’s extensive enough that I get to stay home from work, and I also do not mind it when it gives me a nice picture. When the November 2018 snowstorm hit southwest Missouri and the leaves were still bright, I took my camera for some cool shots of orange leaves among the wet white powder.

            However, three months of cold and gloom is too long for this spring bug, and it is easy to complain when what is to come is better than what is now.

            I love watching growth in process, and I enjoy the beauty that comes from it. If someone asked me what my favorite flower is, I couldn’t give them an answer. There is not one flower without equal beauty to another. As a child, I ran around my backyard picking dandelions until I had a bouquet in my hand. Despite remarks of “That’s a weed, not a flower,” I stayed true to my belief that the yellow wonders in my grass-stained hands were flowers, especially when my mom marveled over them and displayed them in water. This growth does not apply only to trees, grass, and flowers, but people—children—as well. The spring of life shows growth and development, and it is beautiful to watch, especially for parents. Perhaps this is why many people wish to skip over winter.

            In the words of the first published colonial writer—Anne Bradstreet—the winter is a big reason for the satisfaction of spring. If we lived in spring and spring only, would we value it as much?

            My desire for the coming of spring transitioned into this poem recently written for my poetry class. For all of you other spring bugs out there, hope is on its way!

Spring Song

The biting cold will not leave,
but it knows that it must.
Gray clouds linger, stratus hang low
and smooth as they glide across crisp air,
across the past and leaving warmth.
soon a glimmering light peaks through,
and everything begins to grow.

A green stem pokes through soil
and wonders if it will be a weed, a flower,
or a new leaf on a dead limb;
The caterpillar transforms,
and after death of his old self,
he listens to the robin perched on a limb
sing a song of wonder, a song of growth,
a song of wisdom
for those who live in youth.
The youth never hear the song,
and few never grow toward the music.

When the season ends, though,
they sing it themselves.

Why Unanchored?

The title of my blog is “Unanchored.” I chose this title simply because I love the symbolism behind the anchor, and this symbolism resonates deep with my writing journey.

An anchor could symbolize these things:

Stability or strength, like holding a boat or ship in place.

Journey—a faith journey or a physical voyage.

Elements of these symbols will show in most of my posts, but for this blog, the anchor symbolizes a third category: insecurity, the anxiety and fear of allowing my writing to be read.

I imagine how an anchor sticks in the sand and weighs down a boat, and I compare that to my writing. My writings are stuck in the shadows of my notebook, safely away from critics. My mind is stuck in its comfort zone and allows anxiety and fear weigh down confidence.

I let my lack of confidence get in the way of taking a chance in putting my inspiration out for the world to read. So, here I am.

“Unanchored” is defined as “free or liberated.” It demonstrates the release of the anchor, releasing fear and anxiety and gaining the freedom to express my thoughts.