Monday, January 19, 2015

What's a Blessed White Girl To Do?

I don't write controversial things. The endless cycle of news and social media offers more than enough to satiate people's need for argument. I prefer to consider this blog a place of light-hearted, genuine, sometimes comic and sometimes way-too-introspective, relief. This piece branches into an area that generates controversy, but it is particularly close to my heart, so I am trusting the same authenticity will be apparent.

The past four years, I have spent the majority of Thursdays with a group of high school girls, and this Martin Luther King Day, I am presenting two seniors with an award honoring their hard work and leadership. I admire the strength and vigor with which each lives. I respect the maturity that allows them to overcome adversity, love others, own their actions, and strive for better lives. Seeing them grow has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my life, and I write this for them, as well as other girls who have passed through the program.

The girls come from very different backgrounds than I. Some are blessed to have two loving parents, but others live in a home that has been broken by death, divorce or abandonment. Some have to take care of their younger brothers and sisters because their mom is working and the father is not present. Family members are consistently in and out of prison, and a lack of money forces some to bear burdens they should not have to bear. It is their reality, it is hard, and it hurts my heart.

Yes, these girls are black, but that is not why my heart hurts for them. It hurts because not all have a strong man in their lives showing them they are worth so much. Some are not emphatically warned of the consequences of getting pregnant at such a young age, while others do not have parents stressing the importance of education or helping them with financial aid to afford college. Practically speaking, not every family has the money to meet the girls' needs, and they certainly do not have the money to give them the kind of childhood I had. Dwelling on any of this, though, will not improve their lives.

Each week, we work to find relatable ground, putting our different backgrounds aside. Not much has changed since I was in high school. Girls are catty, guys are horny, and teachers are annoying - much like the adult world, too. We all have our hurts, insecurities, successes and failures. We all experience joy, anger and a sense of injustice. With those commonalities as our foundation, we grow closer. I love them, and one of the subsequent struggles has been how that love manifests itself. It would be easier to simply be a sounding board, absorbing their frustrations, and sometimes that is what they need. Sometimes, however, they need someone to actively push them.

A few years ago we began the highs and lows tradition, in which we go around the circle, telling the others what was most thrilling that week and what was most disappointing. We found it a non-invasive way to pull information from teenage girls who do not always enjoy sharing. We address frustrations with family, work and school. The girls commiserate with each other but also confront one another when one is doing something silly. They even call me out.

At times, we address more serious issues like pregnancy, failing classes or arguing with teachers. When digging into the causes, they are generally quite basic: sex caused pregnancy. Failing is the consequence of not turning in three assignments, and the teacher was annoying so yelling was the convenient reaction.

Not once have I responded, "We will blame your unfortunate upbringing." In fact, perpetuating that mentality would be the greatest disservice I could do. It would leave them knocked up, failing school and hanging out in the principal's office. Their future would be further inclined to be a sad cycle of broken jobs and relationships.

Instead, I tell them the advice I was fortunate enough to have received in high school: "Be with a guy who respects you enough to accept no. Do not have sex. Do your homework, and do it well. Even if it seems pointless. You will have to do a lot of pointless tasks in your life, but do them with pride. Do not yell at those in authority. They have been given that position based on a set of standards, and even if they are wrong, you need to approach the injustice differently than you might with a peer."

You cannot change your roots. I am a white woman from the upper-middle class. I did not earn that, but I am unapologetic, and I hold no guilt. My parents raised me to be grateful. They did not allow me to feel entitled, and I was expected to do the most with the opportunities given to me. They raised me to love others and treat them with respect. And they taught me personal accountability. So what can I, as a blessed individual do? First, I can hold myself accountable, controlling my actions, attitudes and responses. Second, I can share the lessons that have shaped me with those who were not fortunate enough to be raised on such a strong foundation and trust that God will use that to positively impact their future. I can give my time and money to causes that will further the growth within a community I hold dear.

As I reflect on our time together, besides them constantly telling me I am going to marry a black man, race has only been a pointed part of the discussion once. It was our first group meeting since school had resumed, and a member of the organization had stopped to observe and assist. The girls were a bit rambunctious, as teenage girls can be when reunited, and as the noise level elevated, the member intervened by stating, "The problem here is that we have loud, black girls and white leaders who cannot keep them under control.*" This was decidedly divisive, as it shifted the situation from an effort of different people working to communicate to a defined inability to communicate because of race. The latter is far more difficult to overcome.

There are a number of cultural norms I would like to change, but I realize my impact will be the greatest by building strong relationships with these girls and showing love through not only empathy, but also through holding them accountable for what they can control. I sincerely believe that each of us has a responsibility to determine what matters most to us and how we plan to pursue that. We are to be stewards of our time, our money, our actions.* The answers to those questions differ for everyone, and sometimes lead down strenuous, difficult paths. But that is the work worth doing. The work that makes a difference and causes change, no matter how slight it may seem.

* Though my parents taught abstinence, I also tell the girls to use a condom or birth control, just to cover the bases.
* The girls promptly made it known that they were extremely afraid of me.
* I certainly have not mastered this, but I strive toward the goal

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

An Annual Reflection and Anticipation

I randomly started walking on the heels of my shoes the other day. I remember doing that as a child, and when my mom told me I would ruin my heel, I still did it. I was such a BA child.* We will discuss my youth another time, though. For now... a brief musing.

Another year has come and gone. Ostensibly, I am no closer to conquering the world. My brother's readership far surpassed mine with one blog post. Between work, studying, and trying to fix my posture, my brain regularly hurts. That's right, folks, I have been meandering through the homo erectus world for twenty five years incorrectly, and it has just been brought to my attention. Now seems like as good a time as any to reflect upon the happenings of 2014, personal growth, accomplishments, etc. You may remember the goals I set for myself. Always one for accountability, I will revisit these goals and evaluate whether or not I met them.

Let's begin with some clear successes. I did not go to the dentist. I'm not worried at all, though, because my increased toothpick usage has decreased the length of time a crumb may fester within my teeth's crevaces. Obvious segue to my next success. I'll be honest, the toothpick did not make regular appearances at bars, but it definitely became an integral accoutrement to many road trips.

I did indeed make one full Epicurious meal - maple bourbon bread pudding and sausage apple pizza. Granted, these were the only recipes I made from Epicurious the entire year, but I found sites I like better. Namely, all of the paleo cooking blogs. I know what you're thinking - annoying side affect of Crossfit - the broad starts preaching paleo. However, the beauty of paleo is that recipes are super simple, and more applicable to the topic at hand, it meets my goal of separating the chaff. I removed not just the chaff, but the whole grain, far surpassing my goal.

While I did not technically invent something, I did begin marketing a product that someone invented, which has to count for something. Incidentally, that same job has a host of Spanish speaking workers, and I am no more awkward around them than I am the general population. Two birds with one stone.

Admittedly, I did not make she a prude, but I refuse to take full blame for that. You cannot reform someone if they do not desire reform, and I think she really enjoys the attention when she's dirty.

Which leaves the ampersand. Alas, the symbol still leaves much to be desired. While the ideal measurements of an ampersand are around a 2-0-3, mine is struggling at 2-1-2.*

Look at that. I just talked my way into accomplishing 6 of my 8 inane goals for 2014, proving that success is all a matter of perspective.

I would like to dedicate time to creating similar goals for 2015, such as to stop putting my clothes in the washer inside-out, saving myself ten minutes of frustration as I fold them, but I fear my time and mental energy are spread thin as of late.

For 2015, I will share but one goal, or more, an overarching aim. A few years ago while training for a marathon, one of my devotionals quoted 1 Corinthians 9:26: "I run with purpose in every step.*" Since then, it has been an aim to actively apply, but I find it especially relevant anticipating the coming year. 2015 holds uncertainty and new challenges, and thinking forward can be slightly overwhelming if I allow it to be.

So what can I do? I can curl up in a ball and hug my teddy bear. Or... I can run, not only with purpose, but with purpose in every step. The implications of this are intense, but Paul was an intense individual; he was a BA. He lived his life deliberately, and he ran with endurance. In doing so, God used him in a way that continues to influence millions. What an inspiring example.

* I abbreviated BA so I am not reprimanded for inappropriate speak on the Internet. :)
* I highly doubt that visualization resonates with anyone, but in my head, it makes sense.
* I went for a run immediately after, feeling particularly motivated, only to trip and fall on my face within two blocks. God's sense of irony was not lost on me.

Friday, December 19, 2014

12 Days of Adulthood

I got a Cuisinart for Christmas, and I am pumped because I can finally make my own tasty paleo balls*. Excited to pop its cherry, I assembled it last Saturday, only to find I could not turn it on. After some yelling and slapping, I returned the machine to the shelf for the safety of us both. Last night, a friend helped me position all pieces appropriately to engage the engine. I put the ingredients into the container, only to find the blade was too high and pulverized but a quarter of my cashews. Feeling helpless, I resorted to the Cuisinart DVD to instruct me. As I watched, I could not decide what saddened me more: that I prioritized a domestic machine over clothes and frivolous accessories for Christmas, that said machine came with an instructional DVD, or that I needed to watch the instructional DVD. I did know this: eighteen year old Anna did not predict this scenario.

Of course, being self sufficient and independent is rewarding in its own rite, but there are times, such as when I peruse my credit card statement or scan my mental list of errands, that I covet the days when the fridge was always full, the household heat did not depend on me and my parents handled gifting obligations.

In the spirit of Christmas and my current annoyance with adulthood, I offer the below summary of my time post-college graduation. Feel free to sing it to the tune of the jingle; I think it works.

12 oil changes. Bearable if they did not inevitably lead to a discovered issue that must be fixed immediately: worn brakes, worn tread, flat tire, a unicorn poking holes in my exhaust pipe.

11 coupled cousins.* I have twelve cousins. I could swap single stories with the sixteen year old, but I fear he actually has a girlfriend that has yet to make an appearance at holiday dinners.

10 wasted milk jugs.* More generally, pounds of wasted produce, meat and treats. Entering the grocery store with healthy intentions and decadent cravings is a dangerous combination. I purchase vegetables which shrivel from neglect, a box of cookies that eventually go stale because I ate one and then remembered my healthy intentions, and a carton of whole milk from which I drank only a cup.

9 weddings of friends. And associated costs. The gifts, travel, classy outfit in case the groomsmen are worth a second look.* I realize this is actually not an absurd number, and that is somewhat intentional. I like to skate the peripheral of intimate relationships so people do not feel obligated to invite me. Some may be offended if they are cut from the invitee list, but I consider it money in my pocket. Just kidding. Kind of.

8 bills a month. At a minimum. When did running water, Internet and heat become commodities?

7 cop encounters. This is not much different from pre-adulthood, though I no longer can use my father's legal prowess as a crutch.

6 travel mishaps. Whether it is losing a passport, missing a flight, or dealing with inclement weather, rarely does a vacation proceed without hiccups. I look around for someone to handle logistics but see only my twenty pounds of carry-on luggage I must now haul about the airport because I refuse to check bags.

5 full-time jobs. Or more appropriately, full time job transitions. Do the math. It can be tiring.

4 living quarters. With each move comes the necessary steps: purge your belongings only to buy new belongings, pack and transport, change your address, organize billing, tell yourself you are never moving again. Repeat.

3 purchased beds. In college, I used my hard earned waitressing money to buy a white oak bed and perfectly balanced mattress. They were left in Cleveland as it was a hassle to rent a UHaul. Bitter toward the lost investment, I bought a sorry excuse for a mattress assuming I would leave Charlottesville soon enough. Four years later, I was still here and desperate for a restful night's sleep. I am planning for the third mattress to last longer than the other two.

2 GMAT tests. Scheduled but not taken. Yes, that is money flushed, but it seems when I schedule the test, I immediately get a new job (see number 5) and do not have the time to focus on studying. I am currently studying but am not scheduling the test until a week prior.

1 Day until I see mom.

And just for funsies -

0 - times I have gone to the dentist.

Anna's sidenotes...

*Google them if you have not heard of them. Also, Blogger marks paleo as spelled incorrectly. It's time Blogger brushed up on its yuppie health trends.

*This is on my dad's side only for the sake of the song. I begin to get overwhelmed factoring in my mother's side.

*Approximation. The only approximation in the song.

*They aren't.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Stay Very Classy, CVS

Disclaimer: CVS is a fine establishment catering to many needs for many people. Sometimes, though, it is really easy to hate.

For the most part, I consider myself even-tempered. We all have sins which ail us most, but anger is not the worst of mine. I rarely become indignant over small issues*, and my disposition does not sway often from its laid back standard... And then I enter CVS.

The spurring factor is usually something along the lines of, I put my laundry into the machine only to realize the detergent is bone dry. After a five minute internal argument about whether or not water alone has the same effect, I decide to make the trip. Besides, there are a couple other items I could use. I walk past a wall of smoke and wait for the person exiting through the right door, because even though they have two doors, they only choose to unlock one. The lighting is sterile, and the music uninviting. I do not grab a basket, because frankly, I judge people carrying baskets in CVS. Who does more than a quick desperation run to CVS? I begin my trip by grabbing a sparkling water to reward myself for the harrowing journey I know will ensue.

As I go through the items on my mental list, half I should not actually need. I am replacing my sunglasses for the third time this year. I left my toothbrush at home and have been relying on my index finger and heavy amounts of mouthwash the past four days. My razor head broke and I am verging on neanderthal status. I lost all but one of the 100 bobby pins I bought three months ago. How did I lose 100 bobby pins in 90 days? I don't know, but thinking about it makes me more upset.

I need a razor. They lock their razors. What do they think they are selling? Cole Haan leather jackets? I am sure there is a valid reason for this, but I think that speaks further to the quality of their clientele. I spend five minutes searching for assistance, and they spend five minutes searching for their manager, because apparently the key to the razors is like the key to that broad's chastity belt in the Steve Martin classic, The Three Musketeers.

After a couple miscellaneous, impulsive grabs, I meander by the feminine care aisle, and Godiva's finest chocolates tempt me. I see what you are doing, CVS, and I do not approve. I am having a rough week which has just worsened upon entering your store. How dare you exploit my fragile state. I continue onward, savoring the small victory.

Entering the detergent aisle, I realize my hands are quite full and I must settle for the liquid detergent rather than those neat little gel caps as it is the only one that will fit into my tetrissed* tower of goods.

Goods acquired, it is now checkout time. Though I could pay at the pharmacy, they always glare when they realize I do not have to pick up a prescription, as if they are so much better than me on their two foot pedestal. So smug. I choose to check out at the front of the store, where the line has inevitably grown from 0 to 15 since I began my journey. Three consecutive patrons insist on finding perfect change. One individual argues because the Snickers' bag had a two for one sign underneath it, and I want to tell them this could be a sign they do not need the second bag of Snickers. Instead, I contemplate the over/under on the number of days before I "accidentally" eat all 100 gummy vitamins I am about to buy. I settle on 11, and pinch two bags of $1 gummy worms between my free fingers to keep the vitamins safe.

The manager finally decides it's appropriate to open the third register, and some sneakster attempts to bypass everyone and create a new line at said register. He feigns ignorance when I call him out. I am now losing feeling in my fingers.

As the individual in front of me takes fifty seconds locating their CVS card - as if they did not know they would be asked - I glance at the magazine covers. Taylor Swift Could Be a Victoria's Secret Model. Really? We get it, T Swift, you're not seventeen anymore. You have blossomed from a cute mouse to a hot mouse.

Doh! Look what this has come to. I am projecting my disgust at this situation on a perfectly hard-working artist. My snideness is not just. As I reprimand myself, it is my turn.

My cashier is friendly, although I have to inform her that the gummy vitamins were indeed two for one, because that is $20 I am not wasting. While she is double checking, I turn to those behind me and apologize. I feel their burning gazes. Upon paying, I receive a mile long receipt with coupons that expire within three days. Do you really think I want to make this trip within three days?

Though I had resolved beforehand to turn around after my purchase and use the coupons immediately, I find myself all but sprinting for the nearest exit. Ahhh fresh air! I open my sparkling water to quench my thirst, and as the shaken beverage sprays all over me, I remember I needed toothpaste.

*NCAA football's total lack of a logical playoff system is not a small thing.
*Yes, I just created and used tetris in its adjective form.

Monday, December 1, 2014

On Caring and Failing

It would be easier not to care. Or to simply blame the harsh elements, the exhausting week, the obnoxious grunting. Your calf is a bit tight, and you can't seem to shake the headache. Besides, the empty stands certainly would not hold a quick loss against you.

Sitting on the bench after game five changeover, you know one thing is certain: this will be a grind. It will come down to who wants it more. Those hours spent training laid the foundation for these defining matches, but now, it is a battle of will. After only thirty minutes of play, you know what the next 2 - 3 hours will entail.

You must capitalize when momentum shifts your way and minimize the damage when it favors your opponent. There is no teammate to redeem your mistakes, no ref to validate your call. You must play each point individually, forgetting about the prior, not thinking about the next, because that moment is the only one you can control. You must silence the voices screaming you are not strong enough, quick enough, smooth enough. Even then, you could lose.

And failure sucks. It sucks to lay everything on the line and to fall short. To look around and know that you were the only one who could swing the outcome, and you did not.

So you savor a sweet gulp of water, walk deliberately to the line, and you compete. Because failure sucks. But it is so much better than not caring.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Anna Inc., Since 2014

As you know, the current stage of my illustrious career involves a position at a tech start-up. I have learned a lot, and there are both aspects I really enjoy as well as challenges I would rather not encounter. Being so close to the founding of a company prompted me to consider what the focus of my hypothetical business would be. I recorded the results of my brainstorming, obviously trusting that if you hijack one of these gems, you will pay me royalties.

Restaurant, obviously. I hesitate to share them on a public forum, though, because every time I speak of filling holes in the Charlottesville food spectrum, they get filled. Sports bar on the downtown mall - Citizens*. Bakery serving beer with ESPN - Paradox Pastry. Mediterranean overpriced, medium plates style - Parallel 38. What's left? I have a couple ideas: Everything but Dinner, serving bread, appetizers and desserts, Anna's Abbey, because America needs more abbeys and it is alliteration, or All My Favorite Things, where I have baked goods, ice cream, chocolate, beer, wine, burgers, sports, pizza.

Pimp my religious head garb (originally pimp my yamaka)
I have to credit a Bar mitzvah I attended when I was fifteen for this idea. Indeed, the entrepreneurial wheels were turning at a young age. As I listened to the Rabbi* welcome the boy into manhood in a language I could not understand, I decided the ceremony needed a bit more flare, starting with the yamaka. There lies an untapped fashion market. There is obviously the solemn yamaka to be worn on the holiest of occasions, but then there are the athletic, extravagant, casual yamakas. Support your city's sports team with a logo on your yamaka. Show your chic sense of fashion with a houndstooth or burberry yamaka. Keep your head a little warmer with a flannel yamaka. It does not end there. I will also pimp turbans and berqas. Eventually, this will lead to peace in the Middle East because all will realize that while there are religious differences, everyone wants a banging headpiece. Then I win the Nobel piece prize. You're welcome world.

I have no foundation here; I just want to stop losing my socks to the laundry cycle. Someone solve this problem.

Because finding friends as an adult is hard. Arguably more difficult - and annoying - than finding a date.* And this is coming from a highly extroverted, involved person. You have to set expectations, avoid coming on too strong, contain your outrageous sense of humor until you know they can handle it. When do you exchange numbers? What is the natural follow up if you do hang out? Do you text them that you had a good time, plan for the next hang sesh, or play it cool? Though this would not answer all these questions, it would ease the pain of meeting like-minded people also seeking friendship.

The Ultimate Fantasy League
Why limit the fun to one season? Challenge your friends year round. Imagine it: Your roster could include Marshawn Lynch, Miguel Cabrera, Sidney Crosby and Lebron James*. It gets real in December when you have hockey, football and basketball in full force. Kiss productivity goodbye. Scoring system to be determined.

CEO strategy #37. Take someone's successful idea and copy it. 1800flowers. Why should females be the only people receiving mail-order gifts en masse? Further, what if the woman would prefer a six pack of IPAs and some tasty spiced almonds to flowers and chocolate? Enter... 1800brewski. The service that delivers everything from the ultimate microbrew package to the Nascar package containing Bud Light, PBR and Miller High Life. Send to your loved one for Father's Day, Valentine's Day, or just because you know they are in desperate need of hoppy comfort. Pair the beer with a fine cut of meat, savory nuts or indulgent chocolate - because some people still want the chocolate. I'm sure there are logistical differences between shipping alcohol and flowers, but if they can have a beer of the month club, this sort of service has to be feasible. Not a beer connoisseur? 1800wineluv* and 1800coktail are on the horizon.

Boom. Make it rain.

* I realize this was a no-brainer.
* This is different then apps like Friendster because it matches you with some cool mathematical formula.
* In my case, finding a date is harder.
* Of course my rosters going to include Lebron.
* I wanted to make 1800redwine, but I could not think of a seven letter phrasing for white wine. Ugh.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Dear Grandma, You Are a Great Namesake

Foreword: Like many in my family, my grandma is strong-willed and does not suffer from a lack of confidence. This may inflate her ego a bit, but I am willing to do that, because heck, it's the truth.

I have been grasping fruitlessly at inspiration lately. A lot of ideas are bopping around, but nothing has structural significance. Today, as I was reading old blog posts, indulging in my own wit and rhetoric, it struck. Years ago, I wrote a tribute to my grandfather and alluded to a future post portraying my grandmother. I have yet to write that. After all, how do I package twenty six years experiencing her greatness into one post and hope to do her any justice? As I reminisced about my Grandpa's death, though, I think I got some valuable material. So here goes.

I did not cry when Grandpa died. Maybe a tear or two, but nothing substantial. Of course I was sad, but I was young, and his death had been expected for some time. He was no longer in pain, and I was able to miss a couple days of school. Plus, besides the usual Thanksgiving feast that year, family friends baked some very yummy condolence treats. I vividly remember eating approximately half a Texas sheet cake, acknowledging that at the very least, Texas had made one valuable contribution to society.

The night of his calling hours, I dressed in black, stood in line, kissed him, and returned to my seat next to Lydia. Even then, the sadness seemed distant. Then Grandma said her last goodbye. She bent over the casket, shakily hugged him and wept as she kissed him one last time. Seeing her raw emotion evoked my own. She had just lost the person she loved most in the world, her teenage sweetheart. They had grown up together, experienced war, the birth of children and the loss of a child together. They had moved homes and jobs, built a strong family and laughed with them. Now he was gone. Even at the age of twelve, I had a small sense of the incredible pain and loneliness she must have felt, and I cried for her.

What most exemplifies Grandma's character, though, is the months following Grandpa's death. Nothing changed. We still had dinner every Sunday and the occasional grandchildren sleepover. She laughed, danced, and made absolutely ridiculous jokes at the expense of those who were not as witty as she*. She still gave the same feisty response to a politician she did not approve of or a ref who made a bad call. She still tightly embraced each of us when we left and told us to be safe and how much she loved us. I know she hurt, and once in a while, you could hear it in her fading voice or see it in a glimmering gaze, but that never affected how she selflessly cared for everyone around her. She was a rock.

And she still is. My aunts continue to call her multiple times a week, and my dad continues to visit her almost daily. She claims it is because he needs his afternoon nap, but I know it is because of his love and respect for her.

Gram's is always one of my first stops on a visit home. I'm sure to have a hungry stomach, because I know she will offer me some sort of goodie. We will talk about my job, and she will tell me I should move back home. I will defend myself by saying I am able to have so many different experiences and do good, but a part of me wants nothing more than to stay within the safety of her couch forever. She will tell me how my generation doesn't appreciate anything, doesn't know what it is like to come from nothing, to have to scrounge to support your family and find unity in destitution. I will staunchly defend my generation, saying that we are not all lazy, entitled souls who expect everything handed to us. Yet, I know she speaks some truth*.

They don't make them like you anymore, Grandma. My life and the lives of your four children, seventeen grandchildren, and eighteen* great grandchildren, would be so much less beautiful without you as their foundation. You have done the name Anna proud.

*Sometimes this was because they were merely children, but they were not exempt.
*Even in saying this, I will still staunchly defend my generation the next time I see her.
*Maybe, who knows? Is Annie pregnant again?