The definitive list of concert-goer personalities

Last week, Cory and I took in a Dwight Yoakam concert at the downtown performing arts theatre. Yes, I know Mr. Yoakam hasn’t been exactly a superstar lately, and I think I could name two songs he has sung. But Cory and I had to go because Dwight Yoakam is partially responsible for why we’re together today.

It was in that light-hearted, feel-good film Slingblade that Yoakam played a lovable and easygoing surrogate father. (If you haven’t seen that movie, you should know right away that the preceding sentence is a joke.) When I first met Cory, I thought he favored Billy Bob Thornton, the star of the film, and when he referenced Slingblade at the end of our first date, I knew we had something in common. On that day (and nearly every day since), he and I have repeated Yoakam’s final line in the movie: “Karl?”

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At 60 years old, he still wears the tight pants and still dances.

Anyway, that was a side note. I’m actually here – for the first time in weeks – to talk about the concert. Cory and I have been to so many concerts that we are able to identify the cast of characters that regularly appears at these events. I’ll list them below. *I should note that Cory and I typically only see performers who haven’t had a hit in at least 30 years and are probably on heart medication, so these types of people may not be seen at all concerts.*

  1. The middle-aged/nearly senior adult female who is out for a night on the town and is dressed like all the young gals dress these days, with the shoulders and/or the sides cut out of her dress.
  2. The grizzled old man who saw the performer(s) on their 1981 tour and is wearing the holey T-shirt to prove it.
  3. The group of ladies making a girls’ night out of this thing and bought brand new snakeskin cowboy boots to wear that they obviously haven’t broken in yet.
  4. The teenage kid who likes this music and is just hoping none of his/her friends from school find out about this.
  5. The fortyish-year-old guy whose perceived friendship with the bass guitarist becomes more real to him with every beer.
  6. The couple who got these tickets free from a friend and have no idea who’s performing tonight.
  7. The elderly couple who are only here because they’re season ticket holders.
  8. The person sitting either directly in front, beside or behind you who knows every word to every song and wants to sing loudly enough that the performer can hear him/her from the stage.
  9. The couple or pair of friends who only clap occasionally and just want to sit and take it all in.
  10. The girl who just absolutely cannot hold her liquor and constantly “paints the sky,” dances provocatively, paws at her boyfriend, hugs her friend and holds up her third/fourth/fifth/ninth beer after every song.

There you have it, folks. I’ve been MIA for a few weeks with all this wedding and house stuff going on in my life, but I wanted to pop in for a quick blog post. If you know of other characters you’ve seen at concerts, tell me about them in the comments. I like to people watch even in my mind.

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Wedding Planning: The registry

As someone who can’t always take compliments well and shies away from attention she didn’t deliberately bring on herself in the moment, the most awkward time of wedding planning has come: making the registry.

Or, as my brain calls it: asking people to give me stuff.

Cory and I feel the same way about this, but we realize it’s nothing to be ashamed of. People want to celebrate with us and express their congratulations in a variety of ways, and one of those ways is giving us something they know we’ll use and appreciate as a newlywed couple. So we’re going to push through and try to avoid thinking of it as us being selfish, greedy tyrants demanding dishes and bath towels from our loyal subjects.

Which brings me to the point of my post today. Last Friday, Cory and I visited Bed, Bath & Beyond to start our registry. Allow me to pause here to emphasize that there are two kinds of grooms: those who have 7,631 questions and want to be super involved with picking everything out, and those who have a hard time deciding if making a wedding registry or stapling their toes together is a more a painful way to spend an evening. Cory falls into the latter category.

In his defense, the saleswoman who helped us set up the registry is probably used to dealing primarily with what the brides want, so she talked solely to me most of the time, and only addressed Cory when she needed his information in the computer system. She handed me the scanner and turned us loose in the store. We began in the kitchen section – my  favorite – and I stopped to carefully survey every shelf.

It didn’t take more than seven minutes for Cory to comment, “Gah-lee! I could have had this whole store scanned by now!”

(Side note: Cory reads these posts and usually rolls his eyes when he sees that he’s made it into my blog once again. I’m sorry, sweetheart, but I just love writing about you xoxoxo.)

He chatted with the saleswoman for a few minutes to pass the time, and I overheard him mention, in not so many words, how absolutely stone-cold bored he was while I examined plastic food storage containers and ice cream scoops.

“Well, what sorts of things are you interested in?” the woman asked. “Do you like to cook?”

Guys, I couldn’t stop myself. Laughter burst forth from me like a volcanic eruption, rumbling through the kitchen section and probably into the cleaning and home decor sections. Cory and the saleswoman whipped their heads around to stare at me, Cory glaring (in jest, I think), and the woman expressionless (probably because she thought she was about to witness a domestic dispute right in the middle of the store).

My man is loving, funny, sweet, handy and a multitude of other wonderful qualities, but a chef he is not. Any time I’ve seen him “make dinner” for himself, it’s been either sprinkling salt inside two cans of tuna or something as complex as slapping a hunk of meat on the skillet and eating it a la carte. Still, perhaps my reaction was over-the-top.

Anyway, Cory asked the saleswoman if he could have his own scanner, and I didn’t see him for about 40 minutes. I think most women know that, much like with a dog or a toddler, when your male significant other grows silent in the other room or disappears, some crazy stuff could be happening without your knowledge. However, I remained optimistic and meandered my way through picture frames and bed sheets.

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This was the second picture we took. The first one he snapped when I had just raised up from looking at something on a lower shelf and had my glasses on. This one is better.

When we finally met back up, Cory was all too eager to show me some of the things he had scanned. I felt a comical sense of dread when we passed the trademarked Squatty Potty and he said over his shoulder, without stopping, “I put one of those on there.”

A Squatty Potty. On our wedding registry.

*sigh*

Moving on.

Honestly, everything else he showed me was cool. Monogrammed hand towels, Kentucky coasters, wall decor with Bowling Green’s longitude and latitude, even a cute little old-school white cow creamer. We’ve both already got a lot of stuff from living alone, so it was good that he found some unconventional things that gift-givers can choose from, in addition to the more traditional items I found.

All in all, I’d say it was a good balance. That’s not to say it’s not incredibly obvious who registered for what. When I opened up our registry online and saw the vinyl albums of Journey and Bruce Springsteen and one duffel bag, well…I can tell you that wasn’t me.

I’m certainly not embarking on a dull life with this guy.

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‘But the greatest of these is love.’

I’ve never been fully pro- or fully anti-Valentine’s Day. Some people have strong opinions either way, but I’ve simply used the day as an excuse to enjoy myself with friends or a significant other. The core purpose, for me, is that love be exchanged. I don’t beg for a $200 dinner, two dozen roses or a diamond necklace so heavy I can’t lift my head. All I want on Valentine’s Day is to show someone – or someones – my love, and (I hope) receive a gesture of that person’s love as well.

This year marks the third Valentine’s Day Cory and I have shared, and the last we’ll share before becoming husband and wife. But I actually prefer saying that we will “become one,” not two completely separate entities. Yes, we will still be individuals with different opinions, likes, dislikes, wants, needs, etc., but because Cory and I are Christians, we believe that God designed marriage for a man and woman to be joined together as one as a symbol of Jesus Christ and the church, but also joined with God as a symbol of the Trinity (God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit).

I’m going somewhere with this, I promise.

Many of you may be familiar with the oft-quoted Bible verses at weddings, 1 Corinthians 13. You know, the whole “Love is patient, love is kind” stuff. Confession time to you from this Christian gal: I don’t want that Scripture read at our wedding. It’s been used so much that home decor has latched onto it as simply another inspirational saying, and hardly anyone knows the context and what Paul was writing about. He wasn’t talking about marriage (though the principles can certainly apply). He was trying to get the church in Corinth, and thus the rest of us down through the ages, to turn away from divisive behavior among ourselves and love one another.

And that’s what I choose to highlight on Valentine’s Day: love for everyone. Grand or simple gesture. My goodness, even just a Valentine in the mail yesterday from a good friend of mine totally lifted my spirits. (Thanks, Melissa!) I’m not her husband, but she still showed me love.

If I speak in the tongues of men or angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

I can write *thought-provoking* blog posts all day long, but if I’m a jerk to you in person, what difference does a blog make?

…and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I go to church every time the doors are open but I’m not willing to pick up some ice cream for Cory when I know he’s had a bad day, what have I accomplished?

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Who cares if I consistently tithe just so I can feel good about myself and like I’m “doing Christianity” better than someone in the pew next to me?

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

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Cory and I just bought a house. That’s a big chunk taken from both our bank accounts. We’ve both been a little stressed, mainly because all this home ownership business is new to us. And I’ll be honest, I’ve snapped at Cory over little things lately. I really didn’t mean to, and after it happened a few times (to him and to my mom), I realized I had to get a hold of myself and start showing some love.

For the past two years, Cory has gotten me jewelry for Valentine’s Day. About a month and a half ago, as we neared the closing date for the house, I suggested we just do dinner at home together for Valentine’s Day. I recognized that Cory has probably had more stress than I have because he’s actually living in the house by himself until I join him in June. He’s had to move, and without my stuff there, the house is half-finished, and I know he feels out-of-sorts.

So, to make Valentine’s Day relaxing and private, I’m making hamburgers, one of Cory’s main food groups. Nothing fancy, pretty simple, but it’s how I want to show him love.

Please don’t take this as me tooting my own horn and directing a spotlight onto my ~humility.~ I just know there can be a lot of pressure surrounding Valentine’s Day – to make it perfect, to make sure that special someone knows how much you care, to prove that money is no object when it comes to love – but there doesn’t need to be.

I don’t care if it’s your husband, your girlfriend, your best friend, your coworker, or the Burger King cashier. Just show someone some love today.

Love never fails.

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She’s still got it, and so do you

Believe it or not, a 63-year-old woman is filling some pages in the new Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, set to come out Feb. 15.

Okay, yes, it’s Christie Brinkley – a woman who has long been considered gorgeous – but still, she’s literally a senior citizen, and she gets to be in SI again, 38 years after her first appearance.

I’ve got to take a moment and hand it to SI. They’ve been busy the past two years breaking some societal barriers, such as using plus-sized model (I know that term is becoming a bit trite and negative, but I can’t think of another term at the moment) Ashley Graham on the cover last year. Although Brinkley is a tried-and-true swimsuit model, her age is a big factor here.

She’ll appear with her daughters, Alexa – with ex-husband Billy Joel – and Sailor – with ex-husband Peter Cook. Here’s the photo:

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Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

When you look at Brinkley, you might think it’s no big deal that she’s posing in a bathing suit. I mean, she is Christie-freaking-Brinkley, after all. She has graced college boys’ dorm room walls and been the forbidden fruit to Clark Griswold. She’s Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl, for crying out loud. Even if she’s over 60, what insecurity could she possibly have about her body?

According to this article, Brinkley was immediately insecure about her age. In fact, she figured swimsuit modeling after 30 was pretty much out of the question. But, by golly, she jumped in there and did it. Why? I’ll let her tell you:

“In a country that’s very ageist, people love to put you in little boxes… Women feel very limited by their numbers. On a personal level, I thought, if I can pull this off, I think it will help redefine those numbers and remove some of the fear of aging.”

You hear that? Christie Brinkley, a woman whose looks tell us, by society’s standards, she doesn’t have a care in the world, feels the very real pressure of aging and supposed fading beauty. And she’s using her status to quell other women’s fears.

This isn’t the first time Brinkley has combated unrealistic standards. Although I can’t remember what show I saw it on, several years ago, Brinkley gave an interview in which she discussed how difficult it was, particularly early in her modeling career, to look the way agencies and publications wanted her to look. I specifically remember her saying she sometimes got rejected for being too “athletic-looking.” In other words, not a stick figure. She also talked about how she reacted when she asked the French models how they stayed so thin.

“It’s sex. I just have lots of sex all the time! Just sex every day.”

To which Brinkley replied, “Well… Guess it’s back to the gym for me!”

Even though Brinkley’s career has been based entirely on her outer beauty, I commend her for continuing to put herself out there, even when some people might say she shouldn’t, and I commend SI for letting her do it.

 

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Sweets for the (not always) sweet

Everyone told me the day would come. That day when, for the first time, my beloved would push me over the edge.

“Did he burn down your apartment?” you ask. No.

“Did he gamble away all your savings?” you ask. No.

“Did he kick your dog?” you ask. No (not that I currently own one, but I hope to, which is another blog post for another time).

“Did he murder your entire family and make it look like an accident and flee to South America to rendezvous with his secret mistress?” you ask. No.

But it’s worse, friends. Much worse.

Friday afternoon, I got off work early and went home to eat a late lunch. Because I typically treat myself on Fridays, I decided to partake in a candy bar that had sat patiently atop the microwave waiting for me to devour it all week: a Hershey’s Caramel Cookie Layer Crunch bar.

This particular Hershey’s Caramel Cookie Layer Crunch bar had an interesting past, enriched with love. My cousin Jason, who often gets samples of companies’ merchandise through his work, heard I was visiting my parents the weekend before the forthcoming atrocity I’m about to reveal to you. Upon my arrival, he gifted me with two Hershey’s Caramel Cookie Layer Crunch bars, specifying one as being for me, the other for Cory. We had a good laugh at his insistence that I share, because why would I ever eat something that was designated for Cory? I shared this news with Cory when I returned to Bowling Green and giggled at his exaggerated look of shock when I told him only one was for him. He scarfed it down soon thereafter.

Back to Friday afternoon. I tossed the garbage from my lunch into the trash can and prepared to lift my eyes to the top of the microwave and see the Hershey’s Caramel Cookie Layer Crunch bar greeting me.

Instead, a crinkling wrapper disturbed by my lunch refuge beckoned to me from the trash can. I looked in. And I saw it.

An empty wrapper, brown in color. Its missing contents included chocolate, bits of cookie and, yes, caramel.

Only one person had been in my apartment the day before. My betrothed, my intended, light of my life: Cory.

The man to whom I am preparing to pledge my life had done the unthinkable. He had stolen my chocolate and blatantly left the evidence for me to discover.

My thumbs flew in a rage across my cell phone, typing words that I hoped conveyed my feelings of betrayal.

Did you eat my Hershey’s Caramel Cookie Layer Crunch bar?!

That was MINE. Jason gave me one and you one. You already ate yours!

I am not happy.

You’re buying me another one. Tonight.

And thus my insanity reared itself.

I settled on gorging myself on chocolate covered pomegranates until Cory arrived at my apartment so we could go switch the utilities over for our new house (another post, another time, I promise). When he got there, without a word, he brandished a plastic bag upside down over me where I sat on the couch and showered me with not one, not two, not three, not four, but FIVE Hershey’s Caramel Cookie Layer Crunch bars.

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The precious…

In the interest of full disclosure and not wishing to be an unreliable narrator, I’ll tell on myself. I was still so miffed about Cory eating my candy the day before without my knowledge that I declared, “I’m not sharing ANY of these!”

I thank God that He sent me a man who will laugh at me when I don’t have sense enough to laugh at myself, because that’s exactly what Cory did after my mini-tantrum.

After I’d calmed down, I asked him what could have possessed him to take something that belonged to me. (Like it usually is with us ladies, fellas, an argument or our anger is never about what it seems to be about; it’s about the principle of the thing.)

“Did he say he didn’t think you’d notice?” you ask. No.

“Did he say you need to lose a few pounds anyway?” you ask. No – he’s still alive, isn’t he?

“Did he say he had temporary amnesia and thought he was in a place where any and all chocolate was communal?” you ask. No.

He said, “I thought they were both for me.”

Ladies and gentlemen, the accused may not be innocent of the crime, but he is simply forgetful. Cory may be a lot of things, but malicious is not one of them.

So what’s the moral of this story? There could be several. Such as, “Hide your valuables better,” or, “Don’t pitch a fit when you’re 26 years old.” But I think the moral I like the most is, “Don’t get so worked up over the small stuff that your partner eventually thinks you’re crying wolf every time you get upset.” It hit me afterward that flying off the handle over relatively insignificant matters – or matters to which I don’t yet know the whole story – does me no favors as my relationship with Cory continues.

As my mom and other married folks have warned me, there will be times when I am truly upset, just beside myself, and not in the tongue-in-cheek, hyperbolic way in which I’ve crafted this post. There will be times when I’ll need Cory to understand how upset I am and why, and if I’ve wasted my energy for years on stuff like missing candy bars, what reason would he have to believe me? That’s not saying anything against him. That’s on me.

I’m not a perfect person, and neither is he, but there are things I know I can work on about myself – effort I can put into this relationship and soon-to-be marriage – that will strengthen us.

Oh, and I did offer to share the Hershey’s Caramel Cookie Layer Crunch bars after all.

 

*Disclaimer: The Hershey Company has neither offered nor given the writer any form of compensation for extensive use of its name and product, and any appearance of such action is purely coincidental; though the writer would enjoy being paid in chocolate at such time the Hershey Company sees fit to do so.

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Wedding Planning: Overall stress

I originally had something else planned for this post, but I decided to nix it because I thought I might hurt some people’s feelings (and oddly enough, the post dealt with potentially hurting people’s feelings during the wedding planning process). So instead, I’m just going to quote the late Ricky Nelson:

But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well.

You see, you can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.

I’m beginning to realize that no matter what, someone is going to feel disappointed, underwhelmed, slighted, ignored, etc. as a direct result of my and Cory’s wedding and the choices we have made regarding it. As a bride, it terrifies me that a day of such joy could be the catalyst for potentially years of turmoil, hurt feelings or silent grudges. But you know what? Not a thing I can do.

That’s a hard thing for me to grasp. That there’s nothing I can do. That I can’t control certain outcomes. That I can’t ensure everyone’s happiness.

I know what you’re thinking: But, Monica! It’s your day. It’s about you. Only your happiness matters! You’re not wrong, you’re certainly not. I offer no argument against the fact that anyone’s satisfaction and happiness but mine and Cory’s is irrelevant on that day. It’s the repercussions from other dissatisfied or unhappy people that frighten me.

As I mentioned earlier, this is stemming from another, more specific post I had typed out, but I didn’t want anyone to feel like I was calling them out, so you can assume for yourselves what might be causing me the most stress at the moment. And really, it could be anything. Even if you think back to weddings you’ve been to (even if you’re already married and remember the stress you were under during the planning stages) and recall something you didn’t like, you may be surprised at yourself. But I can guarantee you that the bride and groom (or, more likely, the bride and her mother) did everything they could to make that day nice and enjoyable, all within a budget.

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Wedding planning got me like…

I’m just going to be honest: this is hard. All the Pinterest boards and inspirational bridal magazines in the world can’t describe for anyone – sometimes not even other brides – what a single bride feels or what battles she wages within herself. As the date draws nearer, if other brides are like me, they constantly second-guess their decisions and themselves. Poring over their plans, guest list, food, cake, music selection, ceremony itinerary can leave them riddled with guilt.

This is not a post meant to have an uplifting ending that other brides can read and say, “Oh! It’ll all seem easy in the end!” This is not a post that contains a list of dos and don’ts for guests or friends of the couple.

This is just a post of me venting for a minute and confessing the stresses that maybe brides don’t want to admit for fear that we’ll seem weak or others will laugh off our frustrations or – sometimes worse – shrug off our frustrations like we should just discard them like we will that bouquet in a few months.

It’s just not that easy, folks. Not for me.

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No better time than now

You know what we don’t necessarily need? New Year resolutions.

Lots of people still make New Year resolutions, and I have absolutely zero concern about that, because that’s their life and none of my business. And I can understand why people still do it. It’s a new calendar year, so any sort of change can easily be traced back to Jan.1 to evaluate progress; or, along the same lines as rearranging the furniture or getting a new haircut, a mark of a new year puts folks in the mood for more change.

To lose weight. To exercise. To eat healthier. To read more. To spend more time with family. To save more money. To be a better person.

But why do those things have to come with the new year? Why, in 2017, do people still ask if we’ve made any New Year resolutions? Haven’t we figured out by now that every time the moon goes back to bed and the sun comes up is an opportunity for a fresh start, a resolution, if you will? That every time the minute hand on the clock lands on a new number, we have a chance to start over? That in the time it took you to read that sentence was an opening for you to change something about yourself?

I’ve teased my mom over the years because she’s often uttered the phrase, “My diet starts on Monday.” It’s become like a joke between us now because I’ll always ask, “Why Monday? Is something happening on Monday that I don’t know about? Should I be planning something major for Monday?”

We have fun with it, yeah, but the point remains: a designated “beginning” on a calendar doesn’t have to serve as the only time we can have a beginning.

It’s been my experience that the more buildup I place on a new task or change for myself, the more I set myself up for failure, which means more disappointment because I convinced myself beforehand that THIS time was going to be different.

When I finally decided I was going to start blogging more regularly, I think it was a Wednesday. I banged out a piece on Halloween, and posted it up the next day. I had fallen off the writing wagon for a few months, and I wanted to keep myself in practice, and I figured there was no better time than right then. When I decided I needed to stop my excessive eating habits and sedentary lifestyle, I don’t even remember what day of the week it was on, because that wasn’t important. I just knew I needed to change and decided there was no better time than right then.

In the moment, obviously, it was present tense: there’s no better time than right now.

Didn’t psych myself up. Didn’t count the worries or fears. Didn’t bemoan how long it would take to get the results I wanted. I just had to start. I had to go. I had to do it.

*Disclaimer: I don’t recommend this attitude for things, like, starting a business, having a child, joining the military, etc. Sure, there are cases when someone just knows when a big decision is right, but that’s why they’re called “big decisions.” A little prep time is usually good. Anyway…

Maybe my method won’t work for you, and you’re more of a logical-calendar-date planner. That’s cool. Diff’rnt strokes.

Happy New Year, everybody! Prepare yourselves for future wedding posts, as we are now in the Year of Matrimony ❤

Also, check out this hat I won from a Twitter contest from Planet Fitness.

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End of Christmas shopping means…more shopping

Elvis Presley asked us in 1957 why can’t every day be like Christmas. In some respects, it appears that consumers do try to extend Christmas. Did you know that Dec. 26 – the day after the traditionally gift-giving/receiving holiday of Christmas – is the fifth busiest shopping day of the entire year? That’s weird, right?

According to this October article from Business Insider, Monday, Dec. 26 is projected to be one of the busiest days of the year for retail stores. Black Friday came in at No. 2 on that list. The article doesn’t predict sales for the day after Christmas, but Forbes, drawing from a survey, observed that 66 percent of people plan to shop that day – compared to 47 percent on Cyber Monday and 45 percent on Black Friday – and spend an average of $186.

The Forbes article outlined possible reasons for this activity as customers using gift cards they received for Christmas or taking advantage of sales to buy things for themselves. Either way, the stuff bought is probably going to the purchaser, who may have received a few hundred dollars in gifts less than 24 hours earlier.

Before I go further, allow me to acknowledge that I see nothing wrong with shopping. I’m pretty frugal, so I don’t often buy things for myself, but I have nothing against people who do. What I find a bit odd in this case is people hitting the stores to buy stuff when they just got stuff. (Obviously I’m ruling out people who are getting a head start on next year’s Christmas by getting the gifts cheaper on Dec. 26, people who got gift cards for the sole purpose of getting the stuff they wanted at better prices, and people who are contributing to the traffic in stores, but not necessarily buying anything, just so they can hang out with family.)

I’ll admit that I’ve shopped (and bought) on the day after Christmas, and those few times have left me feeling selfish and unsatisfied. Maybe I’m too hard on myself, but I felt like a spoiled kid who couldn’t be pacified with the gobs of merchandise with which she was showered the day before. I promise that’s not the case, but that’s the image I felt I had claimed. In reality, it was because my mom wanted to take me to some stores because she thought it would be a fun day for us to spend time together before I had to go back to Bowling Green. (Mom, I know you read my blog posts, so please don’t take this as me saying I don’t want to go shopping with you anymore. You know I have fun with you.)

I think what has made me feel uncomfortable in the past is knowing that there are people who truly embody that selfishness I was afraid I projected. I know those people exist because I’ve met them. I’ve literally heard college acquaintances say, “Well, my parents got me a new coat and five new pairs of pants and eight sweaters and an iPad, but I made them take me to Old Navy the day after Christmas to get that coat in two or three more colors. One wasn’t enough.”

These are all just observations on my part, and I don’t know what’s in anyone’s heart, but I know that sometimes it doesn’t seem that we’re exhibiting thankfulness and gratefulness. So I’m going to make that my goal this Christmas and in the upcoming year. I have a lot for which to be appreciative, and then every day really can feel like Christmas.

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After JonBenet

It’s been nearly 20 years since I first learned about true evil.

Christmas 1996. While my family and I went back for seconds of turkey, biscuits and pie – my mom helping me with my plate because of my 6-year-old clumsy hands – a family 15 hours away was about to live a nightmare.

Dec. 26, 1996. If memory serves me correctly, NBC Nightly News ran the story. Tom Brokaw gave us the latest. A little blond-haired, blue-eyed girl, a pageant princess, was missing in Boulder, Col. Her name was JonBenet Ramsey, and she was 6 years old. Just like me.

I remember the shots of the home, people in police jackets going in and out of the house, walking around outside. I remember the home video clips of JonBenet in heavy makeup and sequined outfits strutting around a stage, flashing a sweetheart smile.

That’s about all I remember seeing on TV. What I remember more is how I felt.

For the rest of the evening, thoughts of JonBenet consumed me. Where was she? When will they find her? How did she learn to dance and sing like that? Was she hiding? Why would she hide and scare her mommy and daddy? Did all that makeup make her sneeze? Did someone take her? Why would someone take a little girl my age?

Having only ever seen happy endings to any distressing tale on screen, I went to bed that night fully expecting to see a news report the next day with a dainty JonBenet wrapped in her parents’ arms.

My expectation wasn’t completely wrong. JonBenet found herself wrapped in her parents’ arms once again, just a few hours after the news report; but it was with nylon cord around her neck and wrists and duct tape over her mouth.

A girl born not quite two months before I was born was dead. The same name engraved into pageant trophies and printed in a child’s lettering on kindergarten assignments and drawings was scrawled across a folder inside a filing cabinet full of other open, unsolved homicides.

And there it remains.

Some people say her father John killed her in a rage. Some people say her mother Patsy, a pageant queen herself (formerly Miss West Virginia), killed her out of jealousy or stress. Others say her brother Burke, 9 years old at the time, accidentally killed her with the cord that was found around her lifeless neck. Still others say a stranger killed her.

Whomever it was, we may never know for sure. But that hasn’t stopped a nationwide fascination with the case. Just this week, in fact, a tabloid ran a composite sketch of a “suspect.” In my own life, I’ve never forgotten it.

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Photo by Randall Simons/Polaris.

This wasn’t the first time the grown-up fear of what bad things can happen to children had hit me, but it was the first time I witnessed the conclusion of some of those bad things. Many of those same questions I had the night after I saw the news continue to haunt me, not just when I think of JonBenet, but any time I hear of a missing or murdered child.

Just one county over from me in Allen County last year, little Gabbi Doolin was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and swiftly killed in the same night. When I heard the news, I thought of JonBenet. Every vile, unspeakable tragedy that happens to a child takes my mind back to December 1996.

Maybe it’s because she was my age. Maybe it’s because 6-year-old Monica envied her talent. Maybe it’s because it was Christmastime. Whatever the reason, JonBenet Ramsey stuck in my brain, and as I’ve gotten older, my worldview darkened by witnessing the consequences of other evil acts, I’ve seen her more and more as the catalyst for the caution I’ve exhibited throughout my life.

After JonBenet, I began to grasp that my life is not permanent.

After JonBenet, I understood why we had so many lessons at school about staying away from strangers.

After JonBenet, I realized why my parents always wanted me within sight or to know where I was going and with whom I was going.

After JonBenet, I learned that there are dark, scary people in the world with motives more sinister than those of goofy cartoon villains.

After JonBenet, I started to learn to pay attention to my surroundings.

After JonBenet, I became more protective of my friends and scolded them for what I saw as unsafe actions.

After JonBenet, I perceived that the “natural order” of death can be disrupted, that there is no depth to the sorrow a family feels at losing a child and that that was something I would – I hope – never understand.

There may have been parents in 1996 (and probably more parents in 2016) who balked at the thought of my parents allowing me to see such horrors on the television when I was still wearing light-up shoes and struggling to color inside the lines. But I’ve never been sorry for seeing what I saw.

In a way, JonBenet molded me into who I am today, 26-year-old Monica. It’s not just about obtaining a realistic view of mankind or learning to be cautious. No. It’s about refusing to let demons who roam this earth sneak up on me. It’s about shunning atrocities and seeking justice for the victims of those atrocities. It’s about striving to spread goodness every day when malevolence lurks and prepares to strike at any time. It’s about longing to be light amid darkness.

Twenty years. For 20 years I have practiced these lessons and keep practicing every day, hoping they stick. For that, I just have to say, “Thank you, JonBenet. You made a difference in this little girl’s life.”

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I wasn’t in pageants like JonBenet, but I paraded our dog in a dog show once. I’m probably 4 or 5 years old in this picture.

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On perfection

Anyone else have those things as a kid you assumed you’d grow out of when you became an adult, but found out as an adult that you don’t grow out of something unless you actively work on growing?

Maybe that’s confusing. I’ll give some examples.

Two o’clock in the afternoon: I’m not afraid of the dark. That’s silly! I was afraid of the dark when I was a kid, but I grew out of that.

Ten o’clock at night: I’m sweating under these covers, but I probably shouldn’t poke my foot out in case someone or something reaches from under the bed and grabs me.

Or…

Lunch time: Yes, I enjoy this salad because, as an adult, I’m conscious of the importance of taking care of my body. And just think how when I was a kid I thought I’d get to eat cake and ice cream every day once I became a grown up! Ha!

Dinner time: *shovels in cake and ice cream while watching Netflix*

Not that either of those examples is anecdotal. *cough cough*

Well, I recently had the realization that one of my childhood tendencies hasn’t died.

Confession here: I’m a bit of a control freak. As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster I subconsciously wanted to be perfect, and I got frustrated when things didn’t come easy to me. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the Goodfellas reference.)

In school, I had to have straight A’s. And I did, for the most part. I loved English, reading, social studies, history, art, PE, because they all came easy to me. I hated math and science because I struggled to attain an A in those classes. I had chicken pox one year and was worried I had fallen behind in my math class. My teacher assured my mom that I was “doing fine.” I got a B, my first B. I bawled.

I played soccer from the time I was 5 until I was 18, but I started hating soccer in middle school when my teammates grew and developed and became slimmer than me, taller than me, faster than me. Some of them already had college ball aspirations, so they were better than me. I spent most practices and games angry, ashamed and watching the clock because that type of athleticism didn’t come easy to me.

Other than during soccer, I seldom wore shorts in hot weather because my thighs, butt and stomach were bigger than those of most girls my age. No amount of running seemed to help, and I got winded quickly, and I couldn’t seem to turn down sweets altogether. Weight loss didn’t come easy to me, and I spent a lot of time sad.

But I knew I could do something about those things. Part of my frustration lay in the knowledge that I could control the things I considered myself to be a failure in, but I couldn’t quite get “there.” One thing that depressed me more than frustrated me was my looks. I didn’t think I was all that pretty, so I was failing in the dating department. Everyone else managed to get a significant other, even if just for a month. Finding someone to hold hands with didn’t come easy to me.

In college, I continued to get mostly A’s, I got a boyfriend and I discovered ways to exercise that I enjoyed and that helped me keep my weight down. From freshman year to Dec. 4, 2016, I believed that my silly childhood insecurities and drive to be perfect had faded.

Wrong.

In the past week, I have been down on myself for not controlling the clutter in my apartment, not figuring out how to get my faulty Fitbit to hold a charge, and the size of my forehead. I didn’t realize I had expressed numerous concerns plaguing my mind until Cory texted me Sunday morning and said, “You don’t need to worry about clutter or Fitbits or foreheads. Life is too short to complain all the time.”

It took me a second to grasp that he wasn’t complaining about me complaining, but rather assuring me that those things aren’t a big deal. Thanks to his perspective, I saw what the problem was: I still wanted to be perfect and for everything to come easy to me.

For at least the past three and a half years, I’ve lived with the assumption that because I no longer had tests to take or projects to turn in or sports to compete in, I didn’t worry about perfection anymore. But this whole time, that worry has been lurking and raring its head on occasion.

When I burn a pan of cookies, I’m on the verge of tears.

When I can’t answer the question of someone in my office and have to ask for help, I feel embarrassed and stupid.

When I straighten my hair and can’t get the right side to look like the left side, I get flustered.

Why did I not see all this before?

I needed to be reminded that just because I may not be getting straight A’s in life doesn’t mean I’m failing.

I then remembered that I’m in good company. I remembered Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, warning them not to put all their confidence in their abilities as humans. If anyone had a reason to be over-confident, Paul told them, it was him. He had been born with all the “right stuff” in the Jewish community. The man seemed to have it all together, like he had everything he needed to be perfect.

But he said that wasn’t the case. Essentially being a high-born Jew in a time and place when that was exactly what anybody wanted to be was not what made him perfect.

Paul said he considered all those accolades and privileges and opportunities “garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:8b-9).

As I’ve acknowledge before when I start to discuss religious matters on this blog, I know not everyone agrees with my Christian faith. But in my life, this passage brings me comfort, knowing that being a straight-A student, valedictorian, name on the Dean’s List and President’s List, or being thin or toned will not bring me to perfection. And let me tell ya, I am so glad they won’t. Because if achieving perfection was up to me alone, I would fail every. single. time.

So I’m glad – nay, ecstatic – that any righteousness that is in me is because of Jesus and what He did for me and for the rest of the world. Not because of a clean house, technological genius or movie-star-perfect forehead.

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