A personal initiative to live more appreciatively

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

#292: First Responders

I am so thankful for all of the first responders who leave their own homes and families in times of crisis to care for the homes, families and lives of others. I’m not sure if there is anything more humane than that.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

#291: The Essentials

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, it’s easy to be thankful for life’s essentials: four sturdy walls and a roof over my head, heat, electricity, access to fresh food, water, the health and well-being of my family and friends. It’s ironic that all of this, which we should be the most thankful for, is oft what we take most for granted. An event as horrible as a natural disaster reminds us of that, and hopefully reminds us to be thankful for it all even on the calmest, sunniest of days. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

#290: Weather Reports

With the impending storm approaching, I am reminded how thankful we should all be to live in an age of advanced technology and mass communication. I cannot comprehend living in a world where a storm like Hurricane Sandy could bear down unannounced, cannot comprehend the extent of damage or loss of life that would result. I am thankful there have been people tracking this storm and keeping the public informed about it, so that we can all take the necessary precautions.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

#289: Brianna

If you’re going to have a party, you’d benefit from having one of my best friends on your guest list. Amidst my party planning and preparations, Brianna proved herself to be such an asset. She was one of the most enthusiastic of all of my guests for the event itself, offered and ultimately made multiple desserts, showed up the day of with a beautiful gift for us for hosting, and spent a good chunk of time during the party itself helping me with the dishes. No matter how many times I tried to insist she just be a “guest”, Brianna refuted that she wanted to help, and it was made so evidently clear that in Brianna’s mind the role of a guest is to be fully supportive and generous to the host. Brianna happily washing dishes for nearly an hour tonight is a testament to just how amazing of a person and good of a friend she is.

While Malorie was my freshman year roommate, and with that role we had connected prior to school even beginning, but Brianna was the first true friend I made at TCNJ. Nearly 30 it is now embarrassing to admit my instigating conversation with her, but bear in mind I was 17 at the time…and I needed to point out a good-looking guy I had been noticing all day. Scanning the crowd of my new floormates I picked out the most welcoming, friendly female face I could find, and in that moment Brianna became an ally. She agreed he was very good looking, did not judge me for being so shallow, and our friendship was solidified. I couldn’t tell you the name of that guy anymore, or even what he looked like, but I am so thankful that he caught my eye as often as he did…because 10 years later Brianna remains one of my best friends.

Brianna is one of the few people I think you can judge in mere minutes of meeting her. I might have been searching for the most welcoming, friendly face I could find...but Brianna truly is one of the most welcoming, friendly people around. She's physically beautiful, but more importantly she has a beautiful spirit. She's giving, kind, has a huge heart, gives great advice, and only wants the best for the people in her life. A girl's night out...specifically one that involves dancing to 80's music...is not complete without Brianna, and my life wouldn't be, either. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

#288: My Dinner Party

Since moving into our home four years ago, I have always wanted to throw a dinner party. I tend to be the kind of person who has big ideas but rarely executes them (I’ve been talking up a Harry Potter themed party for I don’t know…ten years, maybe?), but this past summer I resolved that I would throw a dinner party for my friends for one of my favorite holidays: Halloween. Kegan, recognizing my excitement for the event the day I conceptualized it, gave me his blessing, agreeing to handle the food preparation (because I’m not into cooking) and told me I could “go all out.” And “go all out” I did.

Throughout the dinner party preparation I took cues from my ‘muses’ Gretchen Rubin and Laura Vanderkam. From their philosophies I was reminded that money spent on experiences that one knows will bring oneself and others happiness is money well-spent, and that the time invested in the anticipation and build up to an event is often where the most happiness is cultivated. This allowed me to thoroughly enjoy the entire process; I loved shopping for decorations, creating my tablescape, ordering and addressing invitations, planning the menu…it was genuinely a wonderful time throughout. The day of was admittedly stressful for both Kegan and I: day of preparations somehow took nearly 10 hours, we had to delay our guests‘ arrival by 30 minutes and some of the small details slipped through the cracks. That being said, I was able to sit at the end of my dining room table and bask in the glow of candles and flickering orange and white lights, proud of myself for the party we were throwing and thrilled to be surrounded by 12 good friends.

At the end of the night I was unsure I would ever be able to pull off an event quite like that again…and to my surprise it was Kegan who encouraged me to consider it—maybe not next year, but again in the future. He pointed out just how happy the event made me, how successful it had been, and most importantly how it had gathered important people in our lives together under one roof for a fun and festive evening. It made me think how grateful I am for a husband who is truly a partner, supportive friends, the energy and means to pull off a party—one that the memories of will bring me happiness for a lifetime. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

#287: Martha Stewart & Tori Spelling

…for their party planning inspiration. It’s all in the details, people!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

#286: My Dad

Today is my dad's birthday. As I've written before I love birthdays- love a reason to celebrate someone's life- and my dad's life is one I celebrate most enthusiastically.

As anyone raised by loving parents would say, I owe so much of who I am and how I've been blessed to my dad. Growing up he was very involved in how I was raised-- he had high expectations for our academic performance, behavior, and character. Looking back on this as an adult, I see how much I benefitted from his guidance. He instilled in me a sense of discipline, a drive to be successful, my commitment to family...the qualities that I believe are at the cornerstone of my identity.

People who meet my dad immediately take to him. He's outgoing and effervescent, genuinely interested to get to know others and make them laugh. After meeting him most people say to me, later, "I love your dad." One of my favorite things to do is to sit back and watch my dad take over a room, watch him captivate an entire group with one of his anecdotes or ridiculous stories. It's a sense of pride I'm feeling, but mostly I'm just feeling unbelievably lucky to be the daughter of such a great man.

Within our family he is clearly the patriarch and leader. His grandchildren are completely enamored by him, adoring in his love and attention. I have clear memories of my nephew Sean, having just turned two, enthusiastically calling out "Pop!" as my dad walked me down the aisle at my wedding. My little nieces and nephews hang on his legs, light up when he smiles at them, love to play along with his giddiness. My older nieces and nephews revere him in a more mature way, learning how valuable his advice is, swelling with his acknowledgement of their achievements and beginning to sense his motivation for them to succeed. He's an amazing grandfather, and I cannot wait for my children to be blessed to have Pop in their lives.

My siblings and I likely cannot begin to characterize how much he's done for us. My sisters-in-law and Kegan do not view him as a father-in-law but truly as simply a father. My three brothers are all amazing men and wonderful dads themselves, and I know it's because they learned from the best. My sister and I both regularly rely on my father for advice-- he takes phone calls at any hour of the day to talk to us, and for years has been the shoulder we've leaned on. In light of losing our mother, my father has had to take on a more significant parenting role, and I know she's comforted knowing her babies are still under his care. I'm the baby of the family at 28, and my father is still my dad, as he is still to my siblings. He's still raising me, still taking care of me, still encouraging me to be the best version of myself.

As anyone raised by a loving father would say, one cannot truly elucidate the ways in which their father has influenced them, cannot truly capture the wholeness of their gratitude for who he is and how he's raised them. I've written it out, but this does not compare to how it feels. It's even difficult to find the way to close these sentiments, as I feel instead that I could go on and on about how grateful I am for my dad. Instead I'll say this: I am thankful, every minute of every day, to be his daughter...and there aren't enough minutes in the day for that.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

#285: Ellen Degeneres

As a kid I was a fan of the “Ellen” sitcom, and was heartbroken when it was cancelled. I’ve read the books she’s authored, spent hours cracking up with my college friends watching her standup, believed she was the true star of Finding Nemo, and celebrated when she became the host of her own talk show 10 years ago. There is so much to love about Ellen Degeneres—she’s hilarious, giving, kind, energetic and most importantly a true positive force in our society.

I’ve been watching this current season more regularly than I have in the past, and have been truly heart warmed by Ellen’s focus on acknowledging regular citizens for their heroic acts or deservedness. She opens her stage to celebrities, of course, but also to hikers who worked to save a dog they found stranded, a couple living happily and optimistically despite their need to rent an unfurnished apartment after a home foreclosure, the former Boy Scout advocating for equality within the scouting organization. She throws her support and friendship behind all of these people, making her show not just one of entertainment but as a venue to spread kindness, tolerance and encouragement. I’ve thought a lot this week after watching her show that the world is truly a better place because Ellen Degeneres is in it, and I am so thankful she is.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

#284: My Parents' Anniversary

I am thankful that, on this day in 1964, my parents married. Their marriage created a legacy of love & faith, building a life together and for our family. My mother described her wedding day as perfect, the quintessential ideal autumn weather that every bride deserves. When I married Kegan on a day of perfect weather, I truly believe that was a gift from my mother, who wanted me to have a wedding day like hers. As much as I think about the importance of love on my own anniversary I think of it on theirs, and I know this is a day my dad and my siblings spend thinking of our mother, missing her, and so grateful for the love she and my father shared. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

#283: Malorie & Jeff's Engagement

My pedicurist recently told me 2012, according to the Chinese calendar, is a lucky year, a year where many good things happen. That seems to be the case, because today I get to be thankful for yet another friend’s engagement. Malorie and her boyfriend Jeff got engaged while on vacation in Montanta this week, and I am so excited and happy for the both of them. Malorie is an absolutely amazing person and one of my best friends, someone who is deserving of every happiness, and I believe with Jeff she has found that.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

#282: Megan

Megan is my niece and goddaughter, my brother John’s youngest daughter. My sister-in-law Stacie recently uploaded some gorgeous photos of her that my sister-in-law Kate recently took, and I caught my breath at how precious she is, physically and otherwise.

When Megan was born I brought her a stuffed lion to the hospital, and John, Stacie and I have all joked that she does embody a lioness’ spirit, and has since her birth: she carries herself, even at her young age, with confidence, is protective of her older sister, and is full of life and vibrancy.

She is even tempered, and I’ve almost exclusively seen her in a good mood—happy to be visiting family, playing with her cousins, at a trip to the park. Maybe it’s too young to know this about someone, but Megan seems like the kind of person who embraces life and whatever it throws at you…at least she does when it comes to three-year old life!

Megan is a beautiful young girl, as evidenced by Kate’s photos, but mostly evidenced by her personality and character. Like all of my nieces and nephews, I cannot wait to see who she’s growing up to be.

My Little Lioness

Saturday, October 13, 2012

#281: Patrick

Today was my nephew Patrick’s confirmation. When my dad asked him what name he had chosen as his confirmation name, he responded immediately, “Peter…but I really wanted Wolfgang.”

Patrick, since he was very little, has always been the nephew that cracks us up. He’s quick witted, unique and hilarious. My dad prides himself on his “Patrick stories”, as I think we all do. Unlike most kids his age Patrick carries himself with confidence and self assurance. He’s game to try almost anything, and does, which I think is helping him turn into a well-rounded young man. When he tries a new sport or hobby he throws himself into it 100%, a sign of his willingness to push himself and always give his best. Once he settles and focuses, he excels, and Patrick is bound to be extremely successful because of that.

I’m so thankful for Patrick. He’s a true Collins in every sense of that identity, but he’s uniquely himself all at the same time. I love my time spent with him, my stories about him, and the knowledge that I'll always get to be front row to his antics and adventures.

Friday, October 12, 2012

#280: "I Will Wait"

Mumford & Sons new album Babel is amazing. I’ve already expressed my gratitude for them as a band, but I must do it again. “I Will Wait”, a song off Babel, feels quite poignant at my life right now, and I’m thankful that it captures an experience there are little words for.  

"I Will Wait"

Thursday, October 11, 2012

#279: Snickerdoodle

Cinnamon, sugar AND the name of Snickerdoodle? What's not to love?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

#278: Jackie

This afternoon I breezed into Jackie's classroom, and found her at her desk on her laptop.

"I joined Pinterest," she announced. I immediately froze, my love of pinterest well known by my friends (and thought to be bordering on addiction). I couldn't gauge from her voice whether she liked it or not...but as most people who end up on the site agree, Jackie's a fan. But then Jackie quickly revealed how she's not like most people.

"I'm going to have to make you garlic bread!" she said, smiling, referencing my most recent 'pin' of a garlic bread recipe. To her this was probably just an innocuous statement, but to me it typified Jackie and who she is. Always thinking of others, always willing to do things for and be there for her friends, Jackie is super thoughtful, generous and selfless. Pinterest can be a very self indulgent website, and the fact that she was thinking how she could use it to do things for others is quintessential Jackie. I laughed and agreed that that would be amazing (because who doesn't love garlic bread?!), but I was also so touched by what, to Jackie, was probably not a big deal at all. Jackie is a friend who carries herself with such grace that it's just part of her nature-- she doesn't think much of the hours she spends baking, or the  attention she'll immediately give if you want her advice, or the time she'll spend just being with her friends-- she's an absolutely amazing person and friend, and is made even more so because she gives of herself so completely and naturally. She's also one of the funniest people I know...which time spent with Jackie (best with a couple of sangria swirls) is bound to result in a lot of laughing.

I met Jackie because she co-taught with me my first year. I've always felt somewhat bad that she was partnered with me in what was my most novice year, a year during which I know I didn't give as much to our partnership as I have in the preceeding years with future partners. But I will always be so thankful that we were put in a classroom together...one year of working together has resulted in 7 years of friendship, a friendship I am extremely thankful for.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

#277: My Birthday

Today is my 28th birthday. I love celebrating birthdays, mine included. It's a day on which the sentiment of this project is a living reality, a day I spend humbled by the love and light of my life. I embrace each birthday and the turning of a new age with happiness for the present, appreciation of the past, and hope for the future.

"Do not regret growing older; it is a privilege denied to many." - unknown

Monday, October 8, 2012

#276: 27

Today is my last day being 27. It's been a truly amazing, blessed year...I think I have grown a lot, for a number of reasons, and I know I will always look back on my 27th year with fond, happy memories and of course, a very full and grateful heart.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

#275: Tim & Lauren's Wedding

Yesterday Kegan was a groomsmen in his good friend Tim's wedding. It was a truly wonderful day. As I've written before, it's so wonderful to attend weddings, and of course it's extra special to be a part of one. I know how important and grateful Kegan was to stand by Tim's side, and as his wife, that makes me thankful, as well. It was a lovely ceremony, a really fun reception, nice to spend time with Kegan's high school friends, and pretty awesome to dance with a Michael Jackson impersonator. You don't see that at every wedding! Tim and Lauren are wonderful people, we wish them the best, and we were both so honored to be a part of their big day.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

#274: "Wonderwall"

A song that's been a favorite of mine for years...


Friday, October 5, 2012

#273: Water

Today an activity in my class involved coloring. One student was being particularly whiny and was complaining about how 'stressful' it is to color. I couldn't help but respond with a typical adult response. "You know there are kids in the world your age, somewhere in the world right now, who are spending their day simply trying to find water. I'm pretty sure that's stressful. Coloring? Not so much." Like the typical 13 year old he shrugged his shoulders, and went on to justify that sure, it didn't compare, but it's so hard to hold crayons. You know?

While the sentiment was lost on him, it wasn't on me. I realized I needed to take a dose of my own medicine. It is so easy for me to get caught up in the everyday annoyances of modern, privileged life that I forget that these are privileges...things that, in the long run, don't matter. That honestly, at the end of the day. the reality that I have consistent and reliable access to clean water matters...but I don't give it much (if ever any) credence, and that the 'stresses' in my life pale in comparison to the reality that much of the world does not have that luxury.

It also made me think of the roles water has played in my life: the calming effect the ocean has on me, particularly when I can run besides it, days and nights of summer spent in my community and friends' pools, the relief of water stations during a race, the reassurance of waking an older sibling or a parent in the middle of the night for a glass of water...it's fundamental role in our lives makes it easy to ignore, or to become part of the background, but it's the fact that it does, in fact,  play a fundamental role in our lives that makes it something we should be thankful for.

"The cure for anything is salt water...sweat, tears, or the sea." - Isak Dinesen

Thursday, October 4, 2012

#272: Jeff Lewis

Flipping Out is one of the few reality tv shows that I watch, and I admittedly watch it mainly because of the show's lead, Jeff Lewis. Jeff is an interior designer and house "flipper", but he's I watch the show because he is ridiculously funny. He's crass, sarcastic, quick witted and mischievous...unbelievably entertaining. Jeff is the kind of 'celebrity' I like to think that, if I knew him personally, would be a good friend of mine. Since he's not and never will be, I'm glad I at least get to be entertained by him weekly on Flipping Out.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

#271: My Sisters-In-Law

I am blessed to have four sisters-in-law: Kate, Stacie and Gina, who are married to my brothers, and Desiree, who is Kegan’s sister. While they are all deserving and will inevitably receive their own reflections within this project, I find myself today thankful for them, collectively.

It was a rarity—but over the course of the past two days I actually spoke with all four of my sisters-in-law. I had a question I needed answered and so I reached out to each of them. They all gave me wonderful advice, and reminded me how lucky I am to be a part of such a large family, and the joy, support and love that one’s extended family brings into life.

I truly don’t remember life before Kate; since my brother Don and I have such an age gap between us, I am pretty sure they started dating when I was only 7 and were married when I was 9 and a half (to the day, I know, because it was my half birthday). Not being able to comprehend life without Kate is something I feel literally and also emotionally—she’s always been an older sister figure in my life, a mainstay, someone who I know I can always rely on, because she’s been there for me more or less for the entirety of my life.

Gina became my next sister-in-law when she married my brother Dennis. I still remember the day that I met Gina, when I went with them to play mini golf, and I had an instantaneous affinity for her. She exudes such compassion and understanding it’s always been natural for me to be extremely open with her, and through that we’ve become very close. She’s also been a spiritual role model for me, someone who lives with such grace and humility you can’t help but strive to cultivate that in your own life.

When my brother John married Stacie I felt like I had found something in my life I had always felt like I was missing: a family member to talk ad nauseum about books! A fellow English teacher, Stacie and I bonded over our shared love of literature. Her deep thoughtfulness when it comes to books is parcel of who she is: an extremely thoughtful person. I remember when I was going through a tough time in college, and she sent me this wonderful card of support and flip flop pajama pants…a sweet gesture I’ve never forgotten, one that typifies her generosity and care for her loved ones.

Desiree, Kegan’s sister, is one of the sweetest people I know. She’s soft spoken and reserved, in many ways the opposite of her younger brother—but it’s those exact differences that I most value. Desiree is a great listener, and is always one to check-in and see how things are going for you, an aspect of her personality I probably don’t thank her enough for. We’ve grown very close over the years that I’ve been with Kegan, and I’m appreciative of that closeness. She knows Kegan in a way that few people do, and I'm also so grateful for her relationship with him.

I am so thankful that the men in my life have brought some pretty amazing women into my life. They’ve opened their homes to me, mothered all of my wonderful nieces and nephews, cared for our family and for me, cried and laughed along with me, and most of all become four very close, dear friends. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

#270: "Let's Pretend This Never Happened"

One of the most ridiculous books I have read in a long time, Jenny Lawson’s memoir Let’s Pretend This Never Happened was hilarious.  I’m thankful this book was recommended to me, and grateful for the many laugh-out-loud moments of it. I was also impressed, despite the ridiculousness of her material, that she touched on a very poignant theme: that our lives are bound to be filled with chaos, and that we can define ourselves within those moments. Lawson insinuates she’ll write more, and I for one would be quite appreciative if she did.

"And this was the very reason  I decided to tell this story….to celebrate the strange, to give thanks for the bizarre…You are defined not by life’s imperfect moments but by our reaction to them. Because there is joy in embracing—rather than running screaming from—the utter absurdity of life." - Jenny Lawson  

Monday, October 1, 2012

#269: October

October might be my favorite month, besides the seasonality, it’s also the month during which I get to celebrate my birthday and Halloween. While I am thankful for every day of my life, I’m especially grateful for the days I live during this month of the year!