Tag Archives: #AtoZChallenge

Letter N #AtoZChallenge

Continuing the memoir encyclopedia theme with Letter N…

Napster

Remember Napster? I certainly do. Back in the late 90’s, Napster was my gateway to free music. This was a time before I realized the ramifications of copyright infringement. I’ve since grown up and now pay for music I listen to, but back then, I was blissfully ignorant.

At the time, we had one computer in our house, a slow desktop PC located in my parents’ bedroom that could be used sparingly. I’d sit down and dial up the internet to get started. That familiar deeee-dooooo-deeeee screech that kids nowadays will never know signaled that I was on my way to connecting to the interwebs. Using Napster, I’d search for the songs I wanted, and then download them. A few hours later, I’d be able to listen to the fruits of my labor. Sadly, most of the time the song was either poor quality or not the full length song, which meant I had to do it all over. Again, another frustration this generation will never understand.

Once I had all the songs I wanted, I’d burn a CD of my favorites, much like I used to make mixed tapes. Then, with careful penmanship, I’d label the CD with a title such as “Chill Music” or “Party Jams” and play them in my Mustang as I cruised around town with the windows down. Ahhhh, the good ole days!

Nicknames

Nicknames are a big thing in my life, which is surprising since I didn’t have a nickname as a kid. Well, that’s not true. I guess I sorta had a nickname when I was little. My mom told me that when I was 3 or 4, I used to introduce myself as NuNu Kesler whenever anyone asked me my name. My mom would correct me, slightly embarrassed that I told a stranger that was my name, but I was adamant that my name was NuNu. I have no idea where I got NuNu from Jennifer, but I was a weird kid, so there’s no telling.

Growing up as Jennifer, a common and very popular name, I’d often get called Jenny by people who didn’t know me. They quickly figured out that I despised being called Jenny, and it didn’t happen anymore. As an adult, it’s happened a few times, but I just ignore it and they get the idea that I hate it. I’m just not a Jenny. Often people will call me Jenn. While it isn’t my favorite, it doesn’t bother me. The only thing I ask is that it’s spelled with two n’s. I know…I told you, I’m weird.

Back in seventh grade, I had the pleasure of meeting the quirky, energetic, and fun-loving Lisa Day. Lisa was the queen of nicknames and anyone who knew her had at least one out-of-the-ordinary name. Her nickname for herself was Liter D. Her mom was Mutey and her brother was Feeney. I was named Fer-fer when she cleverly decided to use the second part of my name, but later she shortened it to Ferf. I enjoyed it and gladly answered to my new name.

Beginning sometime in high school, people started calling me Kesler, my last name. I have no idea how it happens, but in many different circumstances and circles of people, someone will start calling me Kesler and it then becomes a thing. I’ve always introduced myself as Jennifer, but somehow it usually morphs into Kesler or some variation of my last name, such as Kes-Kes, JKes, Kes, or just JK. I love my last name, so it’s a nickname I don’t mind.

Shaggers has given me a very unusual nickname, opting to only use the middle of my name. To her, Jeezy, and baby Marlowe I am Ennif (pronounced en-ee-f). I’m not sure when this nickname started, but it’s stuck for a while. I’m pretty sure only Shags could get away with calling me this.

I’ve also had a few other nicknames throughout my life bestowed upon me. At Sonic, I was called Goatalo, a name given to me by my boss Brice for some unknown reason. He even printed a name tag with it, something that was difficult to explain to customers when I delivered their food. At iD Tech camp, where we all go by nicknames, I was Sweet T, on account of the fact that I was from Texas (the T) and I love sweet tea. That was a pretty sweet nickname. Once I became a principal in China and became my friends’ boss, they’d tease me by calling me Bosslady, a name that drove me crazy! I don’t know why I let it bug me, but I used to get so mad at them for calling me that. At some point, it stopped bothering me, and I accepted it. As a parting gift, I got the coolest present from Donna, a pair of knee-high socks with BOSS on one and LADY on the other. They were perfect!

I also love giving people nicknames, and have bestowed many a nickname to my friends. I recently wrote about Linner and how I gave her the nickname. She hated it when I first started calling her Linner, but I wore her down eventually. Haha 😂 My dear friend Michelle is mostly called Michelle, but when I want to irritate or tease her, she’s Shelly. She won’t acknowledge it, but I know she hears me. My mom has an unusual first name, and when combined with her middle name, it’s so distinct and country-sounding. Her name is Telva Lou. Recently, Michelle and I were jamming out to my 90’s playlist when Mambo No. 5 came on. As you know, the singer of this catchy tune is none other than one-hit-wonder Lou Bega. In a stroke of genius, I decided to call my mom Telva Lou Bega (you have to say it really fast to get the full effect). Laughing hysterically at my new nickname for her, I called my mom to tell her, and you know what? She ignored me! It’s like she didn’t hear me. But, no, she heard me alright. I repeatedly called her that at least five times in that conversation, but she didn’t acknowledge it at all. She’s been ignoring my ridiculousness my whole life, so I guess she has plenty of practice. Anyway, it’s my new nickname for her, and I throw it into a text or conversation every once in a while. I’ll wear her down like all the others…just give it time.

My long-time friend named Jennifer was quickly given a nickname, mainly to differentiate us. Having a friend with the same name can get confusing, you know. She’s Beeners, based on her last name (well, her maiden name) Beene. Beeners is such a cool cat. She’s into unicorns and fairies and loves cats. Her positive outlook on life is refreshing and she’s soooo passionate about the things and people she loves. We’ve drifted apart some with the distance between us, but when we do catch up, it’s like nothing’s changed. She’s one of my people, and I love her.

Nicole

I can’t think of my adolescence without thinking of Nicole. Nicole and I were best friends from the fifth grade, when I met her mom at Heritage Park, the sidewalk park in my neighborhood just opposite Nicole’s house. Her mom said, “I bet you and my daughter would get along. You should meet her.” Well, she was absolutely right! Nicole and I were inseparable and spent nearly every day together in some way, either at one another’s houses or chatting on the phone for hours. Dude, we are a combo when it comes to talking…neither one of us can shut up! haha

We had so many sleepovers (mainly at her house) that we became intertwined in each other’s families. Her mom and dad would discipline me just like they would her when I stepped out of line, and vice versa with my parents. To look at us, Nicole and I were opposites. She was slender, with dark hair and blue eyes, while I was more curvy with blonde hair and green eyes. I remember wishing we wore the same size because a) I wanted to be thinner and b) she had the cutest clothes!

Growing up with Nicole through my formative years was the best! We relied on one another when we had friend troubles (girls can be really mean in middle and high school!) or boy troubles (one of us was always talking about a crush we had on someone and discussing the best way to get him to like us back). Being able to trust someone completely and know they have your back is rare, but we had that. This isn’t to say we never fought…we were teenage girls after all, but we never stayed mad at one another very long. She was like the sister I never had, and I loved her…still do, in fact.

After high school, we drifted apart, our lives going in different directions, but we’ve always loved one another. We used to catch up every once in a while when I happened to be in town and ran into her or her sister, but over the past few years, we’ve kept in regular contact and hang out any time I’m back in town and talk on the phone or text when I’m away. It’s interesting how it worked out and life brought us back into one another’s lives. I’m glad it happened. Nicole is my family.

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Nicole and me this past summer…I wish I had a picture of us when we were younger, but they’re all in albums at my parents’ house in Texas.

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Letter M #AtoZChallenge

Half-way through with the A to Z Challenge…memoir encyclopedia entries for Letter M on the menu for today.

Mamaw

Mamaw and Gradaddy

My first best friend and the best secret-keeper around,
she loved me more than anyone ever could.
Her contagious laugh and loving smile
caused everyone to turn their heads
whenever she entered a room.
Raised in the country, she knew just how to
sew and quilt, cook from scratch, tend to a garden,
milk a cow, drive a tractor, and build a fort.
I can remember attending the annual Chili Day with her
eating chili and crackers, sweet tea, and chocolate sheet cake,
bidding on the auction items with her by my side,
caught up in the excitement of the auctioneer’s fast-paced voice.
Mamaw was the best cook in the whole wide world–
everyone said so.
She could make a ‘nanner puddin’
better than anything you ever tasted!
Andrew and I, the official taste testers,
eagerly awaited that first bite,
warm from the oven.
It was always just right.
With a listening ear and a heart of gold,
Mamaw made everything ok.

Meme

meme

Meme, my grandma on my dad’s side, used to live two houses down from us, in the house my dad grew up. She and Papa would see us all the time, and I remember spending a lot of time in their wood-paneled living room. Sometime when I was in elementary school, Meme moved to Dallas to open up a shop called Socko. Papa still lived in Bryan, where he ran a lab that did blood work, and they would visit one another on weekends.

I remember going to visit Meme in Dallas and staying in her apartment. I loved going to Socko, a huge big box store with loads of random stuff, because she always let me pick out a toy to take home. Meme, like me, loved Dr. Pepper, and her fridge was always stocked with ice-cold cans. I think she had Big Red, too, or maybe that was Papa that loved Big Red? Anyhow, Meme was not your typical grandma in the sense that she didn’t spend all day cooking and tending to the house. She was more metropolitan and worked really hard. I appreciated that about her.

When Meme got older and especially after she got sick, she took up painting. She was really talented, and created some beautiful pieces during that time. Many of her paintings are hanging in my parents’ house, a constant reminder of her. I was 21 when she died, and I remember being so shocked and sad. I still miss her, but I’m glad she is no longer suffering and that she’s with Papa.

Mel B

You may have read Mel B and thought I was talking about the former Spice Girl turned AGT judge, but I’m not. The Mel B I’m referring to is much cooler! Melissa, or Mel B, and I met in Shanghai. She began working at RBIS a year or so after I began, and while we didn’t become friends right away, somehow it happened. Isn’t it weird that I can’t remember exactly when our friendship turned from a mere acquaintance into a bonafide friendship? I guess it just evolved.

Anyway, I love lots of things about her. For one, she and I are similar in many ways. Some might describe us as bossy (I prefer leaders), we are both really good cooks, and we love to travel. Mel B and I have taken some pretty epic trips together.

Our first trip was to Egypt was a once-in-a-lifetime trip that I will never forget. My favorite pictures were the one in front of the pyramids and the one where the camel photo-bombed us.

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My first time in Myanmar was with Mel, and boy, what an adventure that was! First off, we didn’t realize we needed to apply for visas ahead of time and then didn’t think we’d get them in time. As luck would have it, they arrived 24 hours before we left. Due to the visa fiasco, that trip was unplanned, and we flew by the seat of our pants. This was really fun in many ways, and stressful in others. Mel got super sick on the 12-hour bus ride from Inle Lake to Bagan, and despised me for being a “princess” and sleeping on the bus while she was having to stop the bus to throw up several times, while also having a Burmese man sleep on her shoulder (the whole hilarious story is here). Then, I made a pretty big mistake and misremembered the time of our flight back to China, making us miss our bus back to Yangon and have to buy a last-minute plane ticket. She was super excited about that one.

Would you believe, she still traveled with me again! We ended up taking a trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand during our last year in China. She’s since moved to Senegal, and I’ve even visited her there. Mel B is one cool chick, a fantastic momma, and a true friend. Love you, Mel!

Michelle

Michelle and I met in Shanghai in 2010, on a hot, sticky day in August, when we both moved there to teach at RBIS. I remember thinking, This girl and I are going to be good friends. There was just something about her that made me know she and I were meant to be friends. It took her a lot longer to figure it out than me, but she finally came around and we became incredibly close. Going through some serious struggles together will do that to people.

We’ve laughed, cried, traveled, ranted, collaborated, created, and supported each other over the past several years, and I can’t imagine not having one another as friends. Michelle’s no-nonsense and will tell it like it is. While I usually love this about her, it has led to some miscommunication and fights between us. I have played my fair share in the arguments, too, as my tendency to be passive-aggressive drives her crazy. But, we love one another and no matter what, we apologize and move forward. I appreciate her straight-forwardness, thoughtfulness, and sense of adventure. She’s one of those people in my tribe that’s always gonna be there. Love you, Shelly! (She hates when I call her that. 😉 )

Middle School

Middle school was a mostly a series of awkward experiences where I doubted myself nearly all the time, struggled with my changing body and emotions, and suffered through a shitload of teasing from classmates. It wasn’t all bad, mainly because I had Nicole, but I can say I definitely don’t look back fondly on those years. I guess it’s a necessary right of passage into teenage years though, right? All I can say is, I’m glad it’s over.

Mom

My mom is my biggest supporter and cheerleader. I can always count on her when I need her. She’s a great host, and I know I get my entertaining chops from her. My mom’s a hard worker, and I can’t believe all that she can do! I recently wrote a Slice of Life about her here and how I am going to miss her when she’s gone. I plan on cherishing the time I get to spend with her, and I’m already looking forward to this summer! Love you, mom!

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How cute is my mom!?! Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes, my birthday cake says “#1 Pin Up” on it…haha 🙂

Moving

Being that I’m now an expat, I’m no stranger to moving, which is in stark contrast to my childhood, where I lived in the same house from birth until I graduated from college. Since finishing college and moving out of the house for the first time, I have moved a total of 11 times. Most of the time I’ve lived in apartments (Check out Letter A for more details on all of the apartments I’ve lived in), however I’ve also lived with Uncle Mike and Aunt Kathy for a semester, in a house in Sydney with a family I nannied for, and in my own home for a few years in Houston.

I both love and hate moving. I love the excitement of setting up a new space and making it my own, but I loathe packing and actually moving all my stuff. Every time I move, I end up purging and getting rid of extra stuff, but somehow, I end up accumulating more and have to do it all over again when I pick up and move again. Sometimes it’s just easier to get new stuff rather than schlep everything across the world. For my next move in a couple of months, I’m planning on shipping a small container and bringing a few suitcases. Hopefully this will be a good idea and help me not have to re-buy everything. Only time will tell.

Music

I love listening to music. It helps calm and center me when I need it and gives me energy and makes me happy. I love finding new songs I love and sharing them with others. My musical tastes range from indy chill-out music to popular pop and hip hop to classical to a bit of country. I’m also a huge fan of 90’s music, which is either hit or miss at my parties. Lip syncing is one of my favorite things to do when I’m in a silly mood, but karaoke isn’t my jam. I used to be in choir when I was younger, and I had a great singing voice. I’m not sure what happened though because I’m not a good singer anymore. Maybe puberty changed my voice…who knows. Regardless of the fact that I’m no longer able to carry a tune, I still sing along with the radio every time I’m home and driving around. For a selection of some of my favorite songs, click here.

Myanmar

Have you been to Myanmar? No? Do you know where Myanmar is? Formerly called Burma, Myanmar is located in Asia and borders Thailand, China, India, Bangladesh, and Laos. It’s one of those places that isn’t on many people’s radars, so it’s a bit of a hidden gem, although that’s changing rapidly as more and more people hear about this incredible country. I have been twice and am already dreaming about going back. I highly recommend adding it to your list and going sooner rather than later.

I’ve posted a few times about Myanmar (here and here and here), so I won’t go into a ton of depth in this post, but there is just something magical about that place. The people, natural beauty, history, food, and charm make it an ideal place to explore. I’ve only visited four cities in the country, so I’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg. In my opinion, Inle Lake and Bagan are the best places to visit. Mandalay is nice, too, but if I were you I wouldn’t bother with Yangon (formerly Rangoon). Yangon, to me, was just a big, dirty Asian city and it doesn’t hold the same charm as the other places I’ve visited.

Inle Lake is one of my top two places in the entire world, the other being Sydney. I can’t really explain why I love it so much, but when I’m there, my heart is happy. Inle Lake is a beautiful lake surrounded by five small towns with a total of about 70,000 inhabitants. There’s a daily market that rotates between each of the five towns, most of which can only be reached by long boat. I’m happiest when riding a bike down the dirt roads through and around the main town or out on the lake in a long boat at sunset. Watching the fishermen balance on the edge of the boat while they row with the other leg is something you really have to see in person. And the sunsets on the lake are some of the best in the world, but don’t take my word for it.

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They’re beautiful, aren’t they? I told ya! Are you looking into ticket prices yet?!?

Bagan, my other favorite place in Myanmar, is an ancient city with over 2,000 temples. Seriously…temples as far as the eye can see. In the couple of times I’ve been there, I’ve only seen a small number of them. Wandering around the temples, climbing up to the top to watch a sunrise, and watching (or riding) the hot air balloons is truly awe-inspiring. I can’t wait to go back!

There’s one last thing I must tell you. As a foodie, you know I’m not gonna steer you wrong with food. You must try the Burmese Tea Leaf Salad when you go. I was hesitant at first, but once I tried a bite, I had to have at least one per day! It’s a salad of fermented tea leaves, cabbage, tomatoes, dried beans, peanuts, sesame seeds, chilis, garlic, lime, and a yummy dressing. Sounds weird, I know…but trust me on this one! (It’s the one on the white plate below.)

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Letter L #AtoZChallenge

Loving this challenge…Letter L memoir encyclopedia entries for your reading pleasure…

Linner

One my best friends in the whole world is Linner. Her full name is Linner, Linner, Chicken Dinner. Kidding…she hates when I call her that. Her real name is Linnea, but due to an unfortunate typo on her school email, where they typed Linner instead of Linnea, she was stuck with the nickname. I bet she wishes she hadn’t complained to me about that. At first, she used to get sooooo mad when I called her Linner. But I’m not a quitter! I kept calling her that until she finally relented and accepted her fate. The Linner, Linner, Chicken Dinner part came about because it rhymes and it’s hilarious…especially because she’s a vegetarian! hahaha

Anyway, I don’t know what I’d do without Linner in my life. She and I have been through a lot together and have supported one another through some of the toughest things in life. She accepts me for me, and I do the same for her. She can frequently be heard saying, “Oh, Jennifer…” in regards to one of my crazy stories or quirks that present themselves. Examples include when I get into yet another accident, when I make her take 27 selfies on the Bund with random strangers, or when I have to go to a specific restaurant for a specific food, even when it’s out of the way.

Linner and I met when I moved to China. We moved at the same time, and became fast friends. She and I have traveled together a fair bit, having been to KL and KK, Malaysia, Seoul, South Korea, and Bangkok and Ao Nang, Thailand. We’ve also spent an inordinate amount of time together when I lived in Shangers. Now that I’m moving back to Asia for a while, I’m sure more Linner time will happen…it better!

I love Linner and firmly believe she is one the best people on this earth. 🙂

Lip Syncing

I absolutely love lip syncing! Maybe it’s because I hate watching people cringe during karaoke when my singing voice is subpar. Maybe it’s because I can act completely silly and over the top. Maybe it’s that I secretly wanted to be a performer. Whatever it is, I can’t get enough of it! If my favorite song comes on while I’m shopping with a friend, I’ll bust out a full-on performance right then and there, inevitably making them laugh while they look around to see who’s watching. Why other people get embarrassed when I’m the one lip syncing, I’ll never know.

When Jimmy Fallon came out with his lip sync battles, I couldn’t contain my excitement! I’ve watched them all at least once, but I’ve viewed most of them a number of times. My favorites are Joseph Gordon Levitt, John Krasinski, Stephen Merchant, Emma Stone, Ellen DeGeneres, and Melissa McCarthy. Of course, Jimmy kills it every time, too.

My love affair with lip sync seeped into my work at RBIS/HQIS in China. I got in the habit of showing short videos as an introduction to our staff meetings, and while most were educational or inspirational, I would occasionally throw in a funny one. One day I put on Jimmy’s lip sync battle with Joseph Gordon Levitt and Stephen Merchant. It brought down the house! The teachers had tears in their eyes from laughing so hard. From there, an idea was born. I issued a lip sync challenge for the staff Christmas party, where individuals or groups of people could volunteer to perform live or show a video of a pre-recorded lip sync. That staff party was the most fun we had had in a long while! People you wouldn’t imagine having the guts to get up there did. The songs ranged from uber popular pop ballads to obscure songs you’d rarely heard of before.

My song of choice was the then-current viral hit, What the Fox Say? I had to do it. Everyone knew I was obsessed with that song, plus it annoyed everyone, so it was a perfect song choice. Modesty aside, I killed it. Like, for real…it was a pretty epic performance. What made it so awesome was when two of the shyest teachers at the school ran up to the stage right after the song began and became my impromptu back-up dancers. The coolest thing is that neither one knew the other was going to do it (I didn’t either for that matter), and they hadn’t even practiced before, but accounts from the audience said that they were completely in sync with one another and their movements enhanced the song. Like I said, it was epic. I wish I had a video to show you…scratch that, I don’t know that I could handle watching it.

We continued the lip sync thing for a while at school, with teams of people making funny videos to show at staff meetings and live lip sync performances becoming a staple at staff parties. When we went through a particularly tough time at school with our campus moving to a new location, the leadership team made a hilarious video to lift our staff’s spirits. We enjoyed hamming it up, and the staff loved it as well.

Logan Cole

Logan Cole, my nephew, is a never-ending ball of energy! Where he gets the energy to run and play and wrestle without stopping, I’ll never know. I guess all kids are like that though…hard to keep up with. Logan, or Bubby as he’s called, is stunningly adorable. He makes the cutest faces and is extremely photogenic. He makes me laugh incessantly with his crazy antics (see picture below for an example). How could you not laugh at that?

As much of an energetic goofball he is, he also has a sweet, gentle side. He and his sister, Randi, have such a loving relationship. He adores and looks up to her. They can frequently be caught giving each other hugs and encouraging one another. This isn’t to say they never fight…they’re kids…but it’s a rare occasion when they do.

I hate being so far away from him. I miss out on the little things that happen every day. Seeing him only twice a year means he’s growing up way too quickly. But, I try to make the most of my time I do have with him. When he turned three, I started taking him out on dates, just like I do with his sister. Last time, he chose to go to Chucky Cheese (Tucky Teese as he says…soooo cute!), play with the train set at Barnes & Noble, and eat lunch. I wonder what he’ll want to do this summer. I love you Logan Cole! ❤

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Love

Love is sharing your last bite of pie, when you really wanted to eat it yourself. Love is truly listening to one another without distractions. Love is laughing at the stories he tells over and over even when they are no longer funny. Love is bringing dinner to a sick friend. Love is telling her she’s beautiful when she doesn’t see it herself. Love is a home-cooked meal. Love is giving that perfect gift that will make their face light up. Love is a hug and a kiss on the forehead. Love is being patient when he’s cranky. Love is butterflies in your stomach, a mix of excitement and nerves. Love is showing up when you say you will. Love is a goodnight text. Love is contentment in the silence. Love is a baby’s snuggles. Love is an ache in your chest. Love is sunshine on your face. Love is the feeling you get when you can’t imagine your life without this person in it. Love is color and light. Love is seeing goodness in someone else. Love is forgiving. Love is free.

Luxuries

I enjoy luxuries in life, as I’m sure most people do. Some of my favorite luxuries to indulge in include massages, mani/pedis, rich, chocolatey desserts, a maid who cleans my house, traveling to the far corners of the earth, English breakfast tea and a book on a lazy Saturday morning, facials, a day all to myself, and a gourmet meal. I’m very fortunate to lead a life where I can enjoy these luxuries and more on a regular basis.

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Letter K #AtoZChallenge

Memoir encyclopedia entries for Letter K coming right up!

Katy May

Katy May, my cousin and first best friend, is a pretty amazing person. My mom and Aunt Alva were pregnant at the same time, and while I was supposed to come first, I was late and she was early. We are three days apart, something that she used against me when were younger and I now use against her. 😉 As kids, we didn’t look a thing alike. She was taller with stick-straight light brown hair and I had a mess of blonde hair that did it’s own thing. That didn’t stop our Meme from buying us matching outfits though, since we were practically cousin twins. That’s a thing right? Despite our differences, we were pretty cute though.

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Katy

Katy and I grew up in cities about three hours apart, but our families got together often, so we were able to see one another. We loved playing house, and I loved going to her house for tea parties. As best cousins, we had some really great times, but we fought, too. I was pretty mean to her a few times, which I now regret. I know she forgives me, but it stinks to think I was such a turd to someone I love.

Katy 2

As we’ve grown into adulthood, our lives have changed. She’s a wife and mother of three, homeschooling her kids and keeping up with the day-to-day stuff you have to do as a mom. I now live halfway across the world, single, no kids. We make time together whenever I come back to Texas, and I treasure the time we get to spend together. I’m proud of the woman she’s become, and I love her so much!

Kesler

I love my last name. Kesler. It’s a solid German last name, it rolls off the tongue, and it’s a much cooler name than my generic first name, Jennifer. For some reason, I’ve been known as Kesler for as long as I can remember. Some people who meet me through mutual friends think my actual name is Kesler. What’s weird is that I never introduce myself as Kesler, but somehow it just starts. Maybe it’s because the world has far too many Jennifers. Maybe it’s just that cool. Who knows? Regardless, I’m more apt to answer to it than Jennifer.

Kids

I love kids! I don’t have any of my own, but I have the most adorable niece and nephew and my cousins’ and friends’ kids are really cute and fun to be around. Plus, I have the best job ever! I get to work with kids of all ages, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. More power to ya if you can work in an office all day with adults, but I would lose my mind! Being around kids means you never have a routine day. Each day is new, exciting, and fun. Kids can make you laugh just by being themselves. I’m not sure if I’ll ever have any kids of my own, but I am 100% sure that I’ll always be surrounded by them.

Kisses

First kisses fill your tummy with butterflies, excitement and nerves kicking in simultaneously. Technically, my first kiss was the summer after fifth grade on the last day of summer camp. It was the fastest kiss known to mankind, and I never spoke to him again. You can read about all the awkwardness here. My first real kiss didn’t happen until much later.

It was my junior year of high school, and I was just shy of 17 years old. We were sitting in his car in the Sonic parking lot after work one day. I really liked him, but I had been really nervous about him kissing me. I remember sharing my constant worry with my best friend, asking for advice. I’m sure she obliged, but it didn’t really help. My nerves persisted.

So there we were, sitting in his red sports car, chatting, when there was a lull in the conversation. Uh oh! This is it. I’m not ready. I watch his head tilt and slowly move toward mine. Just inches away from making contact, I put up my hand and stopped him. Ever the over-achiever, I didn’t want to do it wrong. What would he think? He’d think I was a horrible kisser, that’s what. I couldn’t bear to be labeled a bad kisser my first time outta the gate. He gave me a weird look, unsure of what to say. I blurted out, “I don’t know how to kiss. I’ve never done it before.”

Smiling a reassuring smile, he tells me it’s okay, he’ll help me. He went in for the kiss again, only this time, he coached me with tips to help me improve my technique. Thinking about it now, I’m sure I should have been embarrassed to have admitted I had never kissed anyone before, but I wasn’t. I let my vulnerability show and he was accepting. It was a great first kiss.

A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]

Letter J #AtoZChallenge

Letter J entries coming up! And, no, one is not Jennifer. 🙂

Jason

The one constant throughout my elementary school years was this one kid who was in my class each year from first to fifth grade. Jason Hensel, a scrawny boy who sported a blonde flat-top, was super smart and we competed for grades all the time. My number one goal in life was to be better than him. It was a bit of a crazy obsession. I had to be the best, and he was the only thing standing in my way.

As an adult, I was embarrassed to find a book of poetry I’d written in the third grade. The About the Author page was a fill in the blank worksheet, and nearly every statement had something to do with beating Jason Hensel in some way. “I wish I could swim as fast as Jason.” Did I even know how fast he could swim? “One thing I can’t do is spell as good as Jason.” I actually was a pretty good speller, but apparently I wasn’t Jason-level good. “I want to run as fast as Jason.” Wow, I was insufferable.

In second grade, our GT class, consisting of me, Jason, and some other guy I can’t remember, had to research a country and present a report to the group, along with bringing in a food from the country. I chose to present on China (coincidentally…who knew I’d end up moving there 20 some odd years later?), much to my mom’s dismay. Remember this is before the invention of the Internet…it was difficult to find information. I chose China because I could bring in fortune cookies. Imagine my shock when I moved to China and realized they aren’t even Chinese. Mind blown! Anyhow, Jason researched and presented on Australia. While I wouldn’t come to realize it until years later after much reflection, that was when my obsession with all things Aussie was born. I can distinctly remember proclaiming from the age of 7 that I would one day become a teacher and live in Australia. Spoiler alert: I did it. 🙂

Looking back, I realize I must have had the biggest crush on him that my younger self didn’t realize. Whether it was a crush or something else, I was definitely unnaturally obsessed with him and being better than him. I’m so glad I’ve grown out of that phase of my life.

After elementary school, Jason’s family moved to a neighboring town and we never saw each other again. It wasn’t until college, when I was at a friend’s party and introduced to a guy named Jason, that I saw him again. I didn’t make the connection that it was him right away though. I remember thinking, This guy looks really familiar, but couldn’t place him. After seeing him a few more times at various functions, I heard someone call him Hensel. Lightbulbs went off! I know him! We laughed about the good ole days and became friends for a bit. We lost contact when I moved abroad, so I’m not sure what he’s up to, but I hope he’s doing well. I’m glad I no longer feel the need to compete with him. I now compete with myself, as it should be.

Jobs

Over the past 20 years, I have worked continuously in a variety of jobs, not counting my babysitting gigs when I was younger. During high school and university, I had at least one job at all times. My first job was a skating carhop at Sonic, one of my favorite jobs ever. I still reminisce about that job and secretly want to do it again for a summer. The only job I was ever fired from was Schlotzsky’s, where I manned the registers. I was fired for attending a Garth Brooks concert instead of going to work. My dad got me and Andrew front-row tickets at the last minute, and while I protested that I had to work, he made me call in and go to the concert. I cried and cried when I was fired, sure that my life was over and I’ve never work again. I was so dramatic!

After being sacked, I got a job at Cinemark, where I worked in the concession stand, as an usher, in the gameroom, and in the projection booth. I’ve sold Cutco knives door-to-door…maybe not the best choice as a young girl, but I was pretty good at it. If you haven’t heard of Cutco, they are really awesome knives. I still have a bunch of them and use them all the time. I also worked as a carhop again, helping train newbies at a brand-new Sonic. I was meant to just work there a month, but ended up staying about a year. I also held jobs at two different HEB grocery stores, worked at my church’s Mother’s Day Out and Nursery programs a few days a week, and babysat for the Foster family in the afternoons.

My first full-time, grown-up job was when I was worked in a call center doing tech support for a free ISP. Just so you know, I had no technical knowledge, but somehow I got the job. They trained me, and I did okay. Most of the time, all people had to do was restart their computer and the problem was fixed. I even had a few callers who couldn’t get their computers to connect to the Internet, only to find out they hadn’t turned their computers on yet. Face palm! The hours at that job were pretty crazy, especially with my school schedule. I was 18 and a freshman in college at the time. I would attend school Monday to Friday 7:45-11:30 am, then rush to work Sunday-Thursday 12:00-9:00pm. Seriously, what was I thinking?!?

Right after graduation, I moved to Sydney where I was a nanny for a family of three kids. I also worked part-time in a bottle shop (wine and liquor store) in order to pay taxes so I didn’t get kicked out of Oz. I returned to Texas after 6 months, where I began working as a fourth grade teacher at Hall and Bay Elementary Schools for the next 6 years. During that time, I had part-time jobs off and on to make ends meet. How sad is it that teachers need to supplement their incomes?? Anyhow, I worked at Bath & Body Works and Coach in the mall near my house. As I mentioned in Letter I, I was a camp director for iD Tech for three summers as well.

Since moving abroad in 2010, I’ve worked as a teacher, literacy coach, principal, and head of primary/PYP coordinator at three schools in Shanghai, Tirana, and Bangkok. I’m fortunate that I no longer have to have part-time jobs to make ends meet. I now fill up my time off by traveling and going back home to visit family.

Whew…writing it all out makes me realize I’ve worked a lot and in a variety of settings!

A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]

Letter I #AtoZChallenge

This challenge has been fun! Enjoy my memoir encyclopedia entries for Letter I.

iD Tech Camps

In 2009, I was seeking adventure. I felt the pull to travel and just go, but due to a long-term relationship I was in, I wasn’t ready to move abroad yet. In the spirit of desiring newness and adventure, I applied for a position at iD Tech Camps. iD Tech is a really cool technology camp for kids aged 7-17, where they can learn how to program, mod and create video games, create apps and videos, and much more! I was into technology, but definitely couldn’t teach any of these courses, so I applied for the director position and got it. I was really excited about camp, but more excited that I’d be living in Denver, CO for the summer.

In preparation for working at iD Tech, I attended a weekend training session in Philly, where I met another soon-to-be director, Anela. She and I became fast friends, and the fact that she lived in Houston, where I was currently living, was the icing on the cake. She and I remain friends to this day. Training was a crash course in the craziness of camp life…and while I didn’t understand it all, I sorta loved it! I left pumped about the impending camp season.

Spending the summer in Denver was a dream! I traded the hot, humid, sticky summer of Texas with the cool, breezy, sunny summer of Colorado, and boy did it make me consider moving to CO full-time. My staff that summer was really great, and we were a team. We laughed more than I thought possible. We faced lots of trials together, which were scary and nerve-wracking in the moment, but humorous later. From being cursed at by an angry parent on my first day to an evacuation due to a gas leak in the lab to riding in an ambulance with a young camper who had a seizure in the light rail station while we were on a field trip to an instructor dislocating his shoulder while playing capture-the-flag, we went through it all. It wasn’t all crazy though. We had really fun times, too, where we hosted poker nights, dressed up in crazy outfits, and played pranks on one another and the campers. Camp has a way to bond you for life.

tacky thursday group shot

I’m especially grateful that I met many friends that summer that I remain in contact with still. Jen (AKA Trixie) and I developed a really close friendship, and have visited one another several times. She and her family are very dear to me. I am proud of the woman and mom she has become. Then there’s Emma (AKA Lemmanade), her wife Andrea, and her brother Juan. They are just good people. They’re also hilarious and a night with them leaves me with a sore stomach from laughing so much. Ian (AKA Sketchy or Sketch-a-licious) kept me sane that summer as my right-hand man. He’s pretty hilarious and uber-talented.

Following that first summer in Denver, I worked at iD Tech for two more summers, only those were in Austin, TX. I greatly missed my Denver crew, and right now I can’t actually remember why I chose to work in Austin, but perhaps it was to be closer to home. I had lots of fun at camp in ATX, but it wasn’t the same as Denver. I would love to continue to work at camp, but my summer schedule as an international school educator doesn’t match up with the US summer schedule. My last summer at iD Tech was the summer after my first year in China, and it was hectic, to say the least. Camp began a week before I was finished with school, so they hired a sub director to set up camp and work the first week. I flew in from China (16 hour flight and 12 hour time difference), and 12 hours later began working. I didn’t have time for jet lag, so I just powered through and lived on sweet tea (coincidentally, Sweet T was my camp nickname, too) to keep my energy up. It was super crazy, but also a memorable summer.

Injuries

I’m no stranger to injuries. Being super clumsy doesn’t help, but I also have some crazy bad luck sometimes. Rather than regale all my injuries, which would take all day, I’ll just give you the highlights.

In first grade, I broke the same finger twice. The first time, I was at my Mamaw’s house, and my parents were painting the upstairs rooms. I pushed my baby stroller into the room to seek attention from my mom and dad, but they only told me to get out, knowing my curiosity would result in me covered in paint. As I backed out of the room, a gust of wind from an open door swung the door hard and it closed on my right middle finger. I was in a splint for a while in order for it to heal. A couple of weeks after the splint came off, Andrew and I were playing in my playhouse, pretending that it was McDonald’s, using the sliding window as the drive-thru window. As you can probably predict, he slammed the window shut before I could pull my hand out of the way. As luck would have it, my finger was re-broken.

Fast forward to eighth grade. One afternoon in April, I was playing at the church playground near our house. Being the daredevil that I was, I decided to show off by walking on top of the monkey bars. I’d done it before with no problems, but this time someone rode by on their bike and shouted out my name, causing me to look and lose my footing. I fell, hitting my right wrist on the bar on the way down and landing on my left arm. Crying and in a lot of pain, I walked the block home and told my mom what had happened. She inspected me and ascertained that my arms weren’t broken, on account of there being no swelling. I’m a whiner when I’m hurt, so she was unfazed by my tears. Slapping my left arm in a sling, she informed me we had plans with friends.

I pathetically ate my chicken wings and fries at dinner, whimpering from the pain. Following dinner, we drove out to Navasota, a neighboring town, to watch the drag races. The cool April night air made my bones hurt. Still crying, my mom reassured me I was okay, and sat me in the concession stand to keep warm while she went back to watch the races. After a few hours, I was still in pain. I begged my mom to take me to the hospital. She reluctantly agreed, and we left.

On the way home, she changed her mind and decided to take me home and give me some codiene for the pain, figuring that would knock me out. When I was still awake and in pain an hour later, we went to the ER. After visiting with the doctor and taking x-rays, it was confirmed that I had indeed broken my left arm. In fact, I had fractured both bones in my forearm in the fall. I remember complaining to the doctor that my right wrist was hurting. He ordered an x-ray, and sure enough, I’d broken the other arm, too. Having two broken arms in middle school means that you are relentlessly teased. I earned the unfortunate nickname Monkey Girl, something that luckily didn’t follow me into high school.

A few months into my first year in China, I was playing sloshball in the Shanghai zoo with a bunch of my colleagues. For those of you who don’t know, sloshball is basically drunken kickball. I wasn’t actually drunk while playing though, because you didn’t drink unless you made it to second base, which I rarely did. Anyhow, I was playing defense and was in the infield when a pop fly came right to me. It should’ve been an easy catch, but somehow the ball hit my left ring finger at just the right (or wrong) angle to jam it.

Man, it really hurt! Trying to be tough and not cry in front of my colleagues, I continued to play through the pain. Pretty soon, I was in a lot of pain and could no longer use my left hand. Unable to catch the ball, I moved to the outfield where I’d bat the ball towards the infield with my good hand. Eventually, in too much pain, I left early. At home, I iced my hand with the only frozen thing I had, a bag of peas.

When I woke up in the morning, my finger had swollen to twice its normal size and had turned purple. Okay, maybe I should go to the doctor. It ended up being broken in the lower joint, and I was given painkillers and a splint. It was supposed to be healed in six weeks, just in time for Christmas. Christmas came and went, and it was still not healed. Long story short, it ended up taking an abnormal time to heal, and when it finally was healed, my finger was permanently curved, and I was unable to straighten it. After visiting a series of doctors, the answer was surgery to make it straighten out again.

Surgery and all the surrounding issues is a very long story, but the short of it is that the doctor didn’t numb me correctly and I felt the entire thing. Upon the first cut, I asked, “Should I feel you cutting my hand open?” To which he replied, “No. You feel that?” “Yes, and it really hurts,” I said through tears. “Well, I can’t numb you anymore once I’ve cut you. Sorry.” Earnestly, I tried to cry without moving my body, while I felt every cut and stitch. As far as surgeries go, this one was pretty traumatizing. After that, I found out that they never got approval from the insurance company, despite telling me they had. They wanted me to pay an insane amount of money, which I never did. I can’t ever go back to Parkway Health in China. In the end, my finger went right back to its permanently curved state, despite 8 weeks of twice weekly physiotherapy. Now they say the only way to fix it is to re-break my finger. No, thank you. I’ll just stick with my crooky finger.

finger surgery

My most recent injury was when I got into a motorbike accident in Bangkok five and a half weeks ago. You can click here to read all about the accident and the emergency room visit. Update on my progress: I’m still in my little green boot, but I’m now able to limp around without crutches. My wound is almost healed, but I still have a small open wound on my ankle, which is totally cramping my holiday plans. I mean, I was at the beach in Thailand and I’m now in Bali, and I can’t get in the water. It’s so not fun! I’m hoping to be back to normal soon.

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iPhones

When I got my first iPhone, it was an ordeal. After my cheap pink Nokia phone was stolen, I decided to upgrade to an iPhone 4, my first smart phone. I was living in Shanghai at the time, and was very new to the language, so I didn’t know more than a few words. I went to the nearest Carrefour and proceeded to spend a few hours trying to purchase the phone with the correct specs and package. Since Mr. Lee, the man helping me out, didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Mandarin, we relied on Google Translate to communicate with one another. This added step took more time and definitely caused confusion on both parts, but in the end, we had it all sorted. When it came time to pay, there was an issue with my card. Since this was the largest purchase I had ever made in China (6000RMB or ~ $1,000), my Chinese bank card didn’t work. I tried to take out money from the ATM, but I was unable to take out that much on one day (apparently there was a limit on my card). I decided to try and pay with my overseas credit card, only to realize that it, too, had a limit.

Frustrated beyond belief that I was unable to purchase the phone after spending hours trying to work it out, I was about to give up and go home. That’s when Mr. Lee came to my rescue. Understanding that I couldn’t get the money to pay for the phone that day, he told me he’d pay for it and I could pay him back the next day. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This guy, who didn’t know me from Adam, was willing to loan me more than he probably makes in two months just so I could have an iPhone. I was shocked, but graciously accepted his offer, promising to come repay him the very next day. I don’t know that I would have done the same for a stranger, but I guess I have a trustworthy face. I gave him half of the money (all I had been able to withdraw), and promised to return the next afternoon.

After telling the story to Shaggers and Jeezy, they teased me to no end, telling me Mr. Lee only did it since he had a crush on me. Jeezy kept making vulgar jokes…completely embarrassing and grossing me out. They both went to Carrefour with me the next day to repay him, and Jeezy tried to set us up. I was beyond embarrassed and paid him quickly and got the heck outta there.

I’ve had not one, but two, men pickpocket me and steal my iPhone, and I am proud to say, I confronted them both and got my phones back! Take that thieves! The first incident happened in Shanghai on a cold January night. You can read the whole dramatic story here. The second time was a couple of years later while walking down a crowded sidewalk in Tirana, Albania. Sally and I had just had dinner and were walking back home along the main drag, weaving in and out of people. I felt something that seemed like someone was unzipping the small pocket of my backpack. Knowing that the only thing in there of any value was my iPhone, I turned around and saw a man standing there. I told him to give me back and my phone, and when he gave me a quizzical look, I grabbed his arm. Sure enough, my phone was right there in his hand. I snatched it back while scolding him for stealing. He just looked at me like I was the crazy one. Surprisingly, so did the onlookers. Why is it that I’m the bad guy in this situation? He’s the thief!

A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]

Letter H #AtoZChallenge

Post 8 in the A to Z Challenge. Here are the Letter H entries in my memoir encyclopedia.

Hair

I have a strange relationship with my hair. I like it sometimes, and other times it frustrates me. The best description is that it’s naturally wavy, but in reality, there are pieces that, when allowed to air dry, dry straight, while others dry curly or wavy. This results in a mess of hair with an identity crisis. Somedays, I can tell my hair just wants to be curly. On those days, I add a bit of product (usually sea salt spray) and let it be its curly self. Other days it wants to be more straight, so I blow dry it. I end up with straight hair in the front and wavy in the back, which drives me crazy, but I just try not to think about the back.

I have naturally blonde hair, and I’ve yet to color it. I’ve definitely considered it as I’ve gotten older and it’s gotten darker, but I can’t bring myself to do it (also, I have yet to find a hair dresser who will do it…they all say the won’t touch it). Despite never coloring it, almost everyone assumes I do because the sun gives it natural highlights akin to something you’d get at the salon. For the most part, I like my hair color, but I do wish it was lighter. If it ever turns brown, I’m pretty sure I’ll color it. I identify as a blondie, and can’t imagine being a brunette.

I like my hair best when I get a blow out at the salon. My hair ends up being straight, but with a bit of body, and it looks blonder and feels silky smooth. I always want my hair to look this good, but I can’t be bothered to mess with it everyday, so I settle for the occasional really good hair day and try to be okay with it the rest of the time.

Henry

My most vivid memory with my Uncle Henry was when I was about 8 or 9 and Andrew was 4 or 5. At the time, I think Uncle Henry was living with my grandparents, but he could have just been visiting. Anyhow, we were all in the living room, Mamaw in her rocking chair, Granddaddy in his recliner, and Uncle Henry, Andrew, and I on the floor. The TV was on, presumably tuned to Wheel of Fortune, and we had just finished our supper. Henry, being the goofball uncle that he is, was on the floor on all fours. I was on top of him, riding him like a horse, and my brother was on top of me. Uncle Henry bucked us around the room, trying to knock us off while we held on for dear life. We couldn’t stop laughing and never wanted this game to end. Mamaw and Granddaddy were also splitting at the sides.

Somewhere in one of my photo albums back home is this picture. Every time I see it, I’m taken back to that place and time, where all that mattered was that moment. There were no worries. Life was good. Nothing mattered except the love we had for one another and the fun we had together. I have many good memories like this of Uncle Henry from my youth. I wish he hadn’t moved away for so long. I’m sure I missed out on lots more fun times.

Heritage Park

Our neighborhood park, about two blocks from my house, was Heritage Park, but we just called it ‘The Sidewalk Park’ on account of the maze of sidewalks throughout it. Heritage Park had a beautiful gazebo in the center, and occasionally you’d see a small wedding there. The park was filled with loads of trees that gave off plenty of shade, and there were a smattering of benches underneath some of the trees. A spiderweb of sidewalks coming off the gazebo in all directions zigzagged across the park and ran along the perimeter. There wasn’t any green space to run about, although you’d find grassy patches in between the sidewalks that were just perfect for stretching out on for a quick snooze or to gaze up at the clouds.

Andrew, Nicole and her siblings, and I would ride our bikes and rollerblades around the park for hours, twisting and turning, racing one another. When I went through my running phase in middle school, I’d run on the sidewalks while listening to my portable CD player. The crappy thing is that if I ran too fast, my CDs would skip, so I had to slow down in order to listen to Mmm Bop and Bone Thugs and Harmony’s Crossroads (I had diverse tastes even then.). Since it was serene and quiet most of the time, I’d sit on a bench to read or write in my notebook. I loved that park.

A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]

Letter G #AtoZChallenge

Continuing my theme of a memoir encyclopedia, I present my Letter G entries.

Games

When I say I’m a game player, what comes to mind? Maybe you think I’m a gamer, a video game junkie sitting in front of my TV screen for hours, battling imaginary foes and collecting points. Or perhaps you think I play games with the heart, you know, those people who play the dating game so well that they have swarms of people falling for them. You might even think I relish in the thrill of a competitive athletic game, a sporting match where I’m a member of a team seeking the next goal to win the game.

Well…hate to burst your bubble, but I’m none of these. I’m a board game player, and I enjoy a good game night more than your average person. My go-to board game is Settlers of Catan, and unless I’m playing against someone who’s really good, I usually win. I’m not trying to brag, but it’s true. I also enjoy a raucous game of Cranium or Quelf, but for those, you need a large group of people who want to play it. Half-assed Cranium is worse than no Cranium. Dice games are great, too, and don’t require a lot of prep work. At the moment, Quixx and Liar’s Dice are my faves- Quixx is better for small groups and Liar’s Dice for large ones.

The ultimate party game is Cards Against Humanity, and it’s a definite crowd pleaser. Someone’s bound to ask to play it at one of my parties, and then the fun really begins. Other than the sixth expansion that recently came out, I have the original Black Box and all the expansion sets, plus some hand-written doozies that I’ve gathered over the years…mostly inside jokes, but when you’re on the inside, they’re pretty side-splitting. If you’re not okay with being offended, Cards probably isn’t for you. You’re better off playing it’s milder cousin Apples to Apples, which is fun, too, but definitely doesn’t get the people going like Cards does. A relatively new game that I absolutely love is Codenames, which I love so much that I’ve bought three versions of the game. Codenames is a game in which two opposing teams are trying to guess words based on one-word clues given by the clue giver. I love this game because it requires you to be creative with your word choices and because every game is a new challenge. However, I find it’s better when you play with people you know, because they just get you and are more likely to guess based on your clues. Playing with new people can be fun, too, but it’s more tricky.

I’m always on the lookout for new games to try…any suggestions?

Good Grades

I was the kid who always got good grades. For me, a B on a report card might as well have been an F, because earning one was like I had failed at life. I’m pretty sure my obsession with getting good grades came from my parents’ high expectations of me. They knew I was capable and wouldn’t accept anything less than the best. Their pressure was sometimes overt, but mostly it was this unspoken expectation that I needed to always do my best, and my best was an A.

School was my thing, and more than anything else, it was how I identified myself. Other people identify as soccer players or piano players, but My identity was rooted in the fact that I was good in school. I enjoy learning for learning’s sake, but in school, it was more about getting the A. I knew how to play the game. I knew how to do just enough to earn the A. I have a photographic memory, so I would cram the night before and ace the test the next day, relying on my memory and deduction skills to get me through. A couple of weeks or months down the road, I didn’t really retain the information, unless it was something in which I was actually interested. In a way, I wish school hadn’t come as easily for me, because had I had to work at it more, I would be smarter and more knowledgeable now.

I carried this pressure to earn top marks with me into university, and while no longer pressured by my parents to earn good grades, I found myself stressed as I put more and more pressure on myself. I struggled a little bit, something that was brand new to me. High school was a cake walk, so when thrown into university classes where I was 1 in 100, where the professor didn’t know my name and couldn’t care less whether I came to class and succeeded, and where I actually had to study, I was out of my depth. Never having to struggle in high school meant that I was ill-equipped for the steep change in content and expectations. I faltered at first, earning my first D in a government class, which nearly killed me. Luckily, I was able to adapt to my new environment, and this early setback was just that, a setback. This bad grade made me work harder, and I ended up graduating Magna Cum Laude. Believe it or not, I am glad the D happened when it did. It put me in check knocked me down a peg or two, and was the lesson I needed in order to change.

Grad School

I began grad school more out of boredom than anything else. I had been teaching for four years in the same grade, and I needed a challenge. I’m not one of those people who is content doing the same thing forever. I like change, and I thrive on challenge. It seemed like a logical step that I’d go back to school. At first, I enrolled in the Curriculum & Instruction Master’s program, with the intention of becoming a Curriculum Coordinator in my school district. Shortly into my program, I had a conversation with Ann Smith, a trusted colleague and friend, who had recently been promoted to the Science Curriculum Coordinator position. Her recommendation was that I change my major to Educational Leadership, since it was a higher degree, and most likely one I’d need to have anyway for that position. But, I don’t want to be a principal. She assured me that I could still be a curriculum coordinator with that degree. Based on her recommendation, I enrolled in the Educational Leadership program.

Going back to school was enjoyable. I approached grad school with a more learning for learning’s sake perspective, and while it was tough, I excelled. Most classes were relatively easy for me, especially because I was actually interested in the content. I earned good grades, and which only fueled my desire for more A’s. One semester, near the end, I was under a lot of stress. I was working full time and taking a full course load. One of my classes was School Budgets, and it was kicking my ass. It was, by far, the hardest course yet. I can remember spiraling out with anxiety over an assignment one night. I was stressed to the max and I wanted to quit. I called my mom, and while pacing in the driveway with tears streaming down my face, I told her I was going to just drop out of grad school. This class was too hard, and there was no way I was going to get an A, and not getting an A would mess up my perfect 4.0 I had so far. She told me that it was okay if I didn’t get an A. She told me she was proud of me. And she told me that there’s no way I was going to quit; I was nearly done, and it cost way too much money. I finally calmed down, my mom having put things into perspective for me. I ended up finishing the assignment, and I actually did well. I made the A, and kept my 4.0.

Granddaddy

Granddaddy

Granddaddy and I had a special relationship. I was his baby girl, and he would have done anything for me. He and I were as much alike as we were different. Neither one of us ever met a stranger, and were known to strike up a conversation with literally anyone who’d listen. He was a country man at heart, and while I enjoyed it as a child, I’m more of a city girl.

I can remember riding in Granddaddy’s beat up old pick-up truck, sitting in the middle seat next to him. His favorite thing to do was to grab my knee, and using his thumb and pinky fingers (the only fingers he had left on that hand), he’d push as hard as he could, tickling me to no end. I’d laugh and squirm and beg him to stop. And he would. Until he did it again when I least expected it.

Grandaddy had a major sweet tooth and the table next to his recliner was always stocked with Tootsie Rolls, a box of Nilla Wafers, square caramels, M&M’s, and fun-size Snickers, 3 Musketeers, and Baby Ruth candy bars. Mamaw would get on his case constantly about it, but he’d just laugh and pop another Tootsie Roll in his mouth. Andrew and I only had to ask and he’d share with us in a heartbeat.

Growing up in the Great Depression, he was thrifty. He would reuse anything he could out on the farm in order for him not to have to buy it new. He’d wear his clothes until they were threadbare. It didn’t matter that my mom was always buying him new clothes- he wouldn’t wear them until the old ones were wore out. I remember being embarrassed of this quality as a pre-teen and teenager, when brand names and newness were so important to me. One day, my Granddaddy saw a pair of shoes that had been thrown out, and deeming them good enough to wear, he picked them up out of the trash heap and wore them. It didn’t matter that they were two sizes too big.

There wasn’t anything my Granddaddy couldn’t do. He was a great carpenter, and could build or fix anything. After their house burned down after an ex-employee set it on fire (in the middle of the night with me in it), he built their next house almost all by himself. My most favorite gift he ever gave me was a playhouse he’d built for me, complete with a door, siding, a window, and a real roof. It was very special, and I have many sweet memories in that place.

A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]

Letter F #AtoZChallenge

Letter F memoir encyclopedia entries on deck…

Family

Family is important to me. And I don’t just mean my immediate family, but my extended family and friends who become your family, too. I love our family reunions every year, where all the brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, grandmas, and grandpas come together to catch up on life, share some good food (I have some really amazing cooks in my family), and spend a weekend playing and laughing together. They’re something I look forward to each and every summer.

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Farm

Nowadays I’m a city girl, but growing up, I was a country girl at heart. My grandparents’ farm, where I spent countless days, was one of my favorite places. Their huge garden yielded enough corn, peas, watermelons, cantaloupes, strawberries, dewberries, okra, cucumbers, tomatoes, and more to last the year. We would help Granddaddy and Mamaw harvest the crops, and although we probably just got in their way, they humored us and let us be their helpers. One of my strongest memories on the farm was sitting on the front porch swing at dusk, swapping stories while we shelled peas and watched the sunset. We would work at it for hours and only make a dent in the pile.

My mamaw would can vegetables and fruit, make pickles and jam, and freeze corn so that they could have food year-round. I can still remember the Ball jelly jars lined up all along the kitchen counters, waiting for the hot, fresh-made jelly to be poured in. My favorite jam that she made was dewberry, but I loved strawberry, too.

One of mine and Andrew’s jobs was to fetch the eggs in the chicken coop out back. We loved to gather the eggs, counting them to see if there were more today than yesterday. The smells in the chicken coop bothered me much more than they bothered him.

Grandaddy had cows, too, and they wandered around the 300-acre property in search of grass and hay to munch. I don’t really remember feeding them with him (maybe that was Andrew’s domain), but I do remember piling into that old beat up blue Ford pick-up to go search the back half for a lost calf or cow who hadn’t come back in a while. We’d bump along the uneven dirt track, stopping only to run out and open and shut the gates. We’d wind past the fishing pond, the trash hole (a huge gaping hole in the earth where Grandaddy would throw out any trash that couldn’t be composted or burned), and the camp house. I knew every twist and turn in that road back then. Now, I’m sad to say, it’s a bit foggy.

Fishing

My dad was a fishing kinda guy and would frequently enter (and even win) bass fishing tournaments across the state. I never went with him on his tournaments, but he would take us out in his bass boat to fish on Lake Somerville or Gibbon’s Creek. Fishing was something we really enjoyed as a family.

I remember all the things we’d have to do to get ready. We’d pack a cooler full of food…turkey and cheese sandwiches, chips and dip, Nutter Butter peanut patties, cold drinks, and fresh fruit. The boat was always washed and sparkly before we went out, something I never understood because it’s just gonna get wet. We’d load up the tackle boxes, get the rods and reels ready with fresh taut line, and make sure the life vests and towels were packed.

Once we were out on the lake, my favorite thing wasn’t the fishing (I usually got bored after an hour of sitting and waiting on a fish to bite my line). The thing I loved the most was when my dad would cruise around the lake in his lightning-fast boat, going so fast the nose would shoot up in the air, the skin on our faces would flap, and we would fear for our lives. When he knew he’d scared us properly, typically when my mom would yell, “Shit!” (and she didn’t curse), he’d slow down and crack up as my mom told her how he shouldn’t drive that fast and my brother and I begged him to do it again.

As we got older, our family fishing trips petered out, but every so often, I can persuade my dad to dust off the boat and take me out again. I always love packing our snacks for the trip, and I never, ever forget the Nutter Butter peanut patties. That would just be sacrilegious.

Foodie

I identify as a foodie. This wasn’t always the case though. Growing up in small town America, I wasn’t exposed to many different types of cuisine. Other than Tex-Mex, Italian, and Chinese, I had only really ever had American food until I moved abroad. At first, I was timid about trying anything that didn’t resemble something I had seen or tasted before, but as time went on and I became more adventurous, I found the fun and excitement in trying new foods. Now some of my favorite foods were things I never thought I’d even try.

I like experimenting with new flavors when I’m cooking, and I relish in introducing my friends to new flavor combinations. With a more sophisticated pallet, I can sometimes decipher various flavors in the food I’m eating. A drawback of a more sophisticated pallet means I’m no longer satisfied with mediocre food. I want every meal to be deliciously pleasing. As a foodie, I’ve become that girl who photographs her food and puts it on Instagram. I know, I know, you’re rolling your eyes, but I’m not ashamed. Beautiful, delicious food should be shared.

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

In fourth grade, my teacher, Mrs. Decell, read aloud what would become one of my favorite books of all time, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s the tale of Claudia and Jamie, siblings from Connecticut who, due to the injustices of their world, run away to NYC and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Throughout the story, you find out how the survived (and where they slept, ate, and showered) without getting caught. Along the way, they work to solve a mystery that takes them on an epic adventure.

I remember wishing I was Claudia, on this grand adventure. I didn’t want to run away, but the idea of living in a museum sounded like a lot of fun! I also enjoyed their resourcefulness; without much money, they managed to figure out how to stretch it to the fullest.

I read this book aloud each year to my classes (grades 3 and 4), and shared the magic with them. Some of my students loved it as much as I did, others didn’t, but they could see how special this book is to me. When my mom and I took a trip to NYC in 2014, I took her to the Met, and I was transported back to that fourth grade class and the excitement of that first reading as I took my mom to all of the places Claudia and Jamie visited, slept, ate, and showered in the book. It was perfect.

A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]

Letter E #AtoZChallenge

Letter E memoir encyclopedia entries…go!

Eggs

I like my eggs scrambled. Basic, I know, but that’s just how I like ’em. My scrambled eggs are tasty, but my mom’s are way better! Hers are always fluffy, while mine can be a little tough. She says I over-mix them. What can I say? I’m impatient.

My granddaddy taught me the way to eat scrambled eggs, and to this day, it’s still my favorite. Two pieces of wheat bread, toasted til they’re toasty brown, but definitely not burnt. Spread on a thin layer of butter, followed by a layer of jam. I prefer strawberry or blueberry. Next put scrambled eggs on top of the toast and enjoy. Mmm, mmm, good!

Ennis St.

I lived my first 22 years at 606 S. Ennis St. in a one-story red brick house. I knew every inch of our stretch of Ennis St. and the surrounding neighborhood streets. I whizzed my bike around, flying up and down sidewalks and driveways, without a care in the world.

I played in the front yard beneath the shade of our ancient pecan tree, whose branches stretched out halfway across the yard and taller than the house. It was a perfect tree for climbing. It had a “v” shape low enough to act as a foothold, and a long branch overhead low and strong enough to grab onto when you were swinging up into the tree. Andrew and I spent hours up there. Every year, we’d collect what fallen pecans we could find, but the squirrels always beat us to them.

Growing up on Ennis St. is something I wouldn’t want to change about my childhood. I was two blocks from both my elementary and middle schools, so we biked or walked to school. For a while, my Meme and Papa lived two doors down, in the house my dad grew up in, and later my Aunt Kathy lived there, too. My best friend, Nicole, lived a couple blocks away and we could be at each others’ houses in a moment’s notice. We had a killer park perfectly built for bike riding. Goldie Ruth, our neighbor whose backyard we shared a fence with, was the nicest, funniest, old lady with some really amazing stories. Every Easter, our family, along with about 10 other families, gathered at Goldie Ruth’s house for the largest Easter feast known to man. Our Easter egg hunts were pretty epic, too!

I still sometimes drive down Ennis St., past my old house, just to see if it’s changed. There have been slight alterations, but for the most part, it’s as I remember it.

Entertaining

Entertaining is my jam. I know how to throw a mean party, and everyone has a good time. The trick is to have the right mix of good food (I’m sorta known for this bit), drinks, music, and party games (Cards Against Humanity is a crowd favorite).

I’m not sure what it is that draws me to entertaining, but it’s this pull that just comes naturally. It’s a helluva lot of work to do, I always get stressed out the day of as I try to get everything ready before guests arrive, and there’s a crapload of clean-up after the fact. But the energy, the smiles, and the fun with my friends makes it all worth it.

Typical soirees I tend to throw each year are back-to-school parties, Friendsgiving, Ugly Sweater Party around Christmas time, birthday party (last year’s was an epic Prom Pub Crawl), and end-of-year parties. I’ll also throw in the occasional cheese tasting or just-for-the-heck-of-it-since-everyone’s-stressed-out party.

You should totally come to my next party…you’re sure to like it!

Expat

Becoming an expat was the single-most life-changing decision I have ever made. Following my heart and taking the leap of faith to move to China and begin a life as an international educator is something that, at the time, seemed like a short-term decision, but now is a lifestyle I wouldn’t trade for anything.

I’m finishing up my seventh year as an expat, and during that time I have lived in Shanghai, China; Tirana, Albania; and Bangkok, Thailand. Soon I’ll begin a new adventure in Indonesia, and I’m really thrilled about this new chapter in my life!

Being an expat has opened my eyes to the world and shown me that there’s so much more out there than I could have ever imagined. This experience has made me a more open-minded, tolerant, patient, and understanding person. I am much more of a risk-taker, and I’ve done more and tried more than I ever thought possible. I’ve also met some truly amazing people during my time abroad that I would not have met otherwise. I couldn’t imagine doing this thing called life without them in it.

I have come to realize that I prefer living in places where it isn’t as easy. What I mean is that I would much rather live in a culturally diverse place that isn’t similar to the US. I like the challenge of it. It’s a real struggle sometimes, and I have been known to cry, but those moments only make me stronger. Experiencing new cultures has opened my eyes to the fact that there is more than one right way to do things.

A big perk to expat life is all of the travel opportunities you’re afforded. As an international educator, our school schedule is pretty sweet, and there are many weeks of holiday sprinkled throughout the year. Being in Asia or Europe, where the countries are all relatively close to one another and flights are inexpensive, means that you can frequently travel to new and exciting places. So far, I’ve been to 35 countries, and I’m not stopping anytime soon!

As with everything, there are drawbacks to expat life. The most obvious is that you are far away from your family and friends back home. You miss the everyday moments, the birthdays, the weddings, etc. You can also get homesick and miss the comforts of home, be it food, modern conveniences, or being able to speak the same language. Life is more difficult living abroad. The biggest difference is usually the language, but beyond that, things like paying bills, running errands, finding items you need, and going to the bank become huge ordeals that require much patience and an open mind.

Despite the drawbacks, I am in love with this life I’ve created, and the thought of moving back to the US, at least at this point in my life, seems so far outside of my realm of understanding that I can’t picture it. I tell anyone who’s considering moving abroad to go for it. It’s definitely not for everyone, and you may miss home and decide to come back, but you will be a better human for doing it. More likely a scenario is that you will fall in love with it, too, and decide to stay a while.

A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]