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You know that old saying, “The other side of the tracks?”  If not, it’s kind of like saying “The grass is always greener on the other side.”  It’s pretty much along those same lines.

Anyways, I saw first-hand in my backyard that it’s literally true:  sometimes depending on what side of the tracks you live on can make a world of difference.

Right now, a portion of Interstate 40 running through Knoxville (conveniently located next to the exit I take to go home) is going through Hell and back, otherwise known as “Smart Fix 40.” (Might I add that someone changed the name a bit… it’s a tad vulgar to put on here, but it’s a play on another word beginning with “f.” Let your imaginations run wild with that one.)  The locals, i.e. myself, absolutely love construction around here… especially when you take the wrong exit and end up in the ghetto side of town.

I’ve done this twice.  I hate road construction, traffic, and basically any obstruction that lies in my path.  I’m a fast driver, I speed, and I like to get places as efficiently as possible.  In other words (but some might disagree) I’m a smart driver.  My brother once told me that there’s a difference between being a smart driver and a careful driver.  This, I’ve witnessed, has truth to it.  Hesitation kills, people.

So, when I took the wrong exit my mistake put me in a sketchy, shady, ghetto part of town.  At first, I was a bit scared—I’m a young white female driving alone in her probably-not-so-hard-to-break-into car—but after realizing that most of the people living there wouldn’t harm me, I didn’t feel so scared anymore.  Instead, I felt sadness rush over me.

There are so many homeless people right across the tracks from me, and I do nothing to help them.  Instead, I complain that I don’t have enough money for all the luxuries I want to afford, but I’m fine.  I have parents that help me out, friends to confide in, food to keep me more than satisfied, stylish clothes to wear, shelter over my head and a car to get me places I need to go.

They have nothing.  If they have anything at all, it’s perseverance.  I’ve never had the opportunity to test mine—I mean really, really to truly test my perseverance.  Quite honestly, I have high respects for them because I know they’re stronger people than I could ever be.

My whole life I’ve been pampered.  Everything has been provided for me on a silver platter.  It’s all been so easy so far in my life, but I know a time will come when I won’t have my parents or friends to help me out… and I’ll be on my own.  Then, my perserverance and strength will be tested.

Sometimes the not-so-green grass on the other side of the tracks can teach us something about life; it can make us realize what the most important things in life truly are.

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I had an epiphany looking at a dead rose today.

For Valentine’s Day, my sweetheart bought me a dozen roses. Almost a month later, I’m finally discarding of most of them, but I was thinking about saving a rose or two, so I began to compare each of them, looking for the best-looking one to keep.

I decided to keep three of them, and then I proceeded to take the petals off the blooms I decided not to keep. As I was peeling away one dried petal at a time, I noticed they kept getting smoother, sweeter smelling and brighter.

It reminded me of that phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Although it looked dead on the outside, the dead petals were preserving the ones not yet harmed by the outside world; they were protecting its inner soul, keeping it as pristine as the day it blossomed.

However, not all of them turned out that pristine on the inside. One in particular looked more attractive on the outside, but on the inside it was brown and dead.

Once again, don’t judge a book by its cover.

Considering that, a comparison could be made between the dead roses and people. For instance, some individuals have a better outward appearance than an inner one. Some guys, for example, have the face of an angel but the heart of a demon.
On a better note, the opposite is true, too. When someone lacks in looks, usually their personality makes up for it.

The roses taught me that, or rather, reminded me of that conclusion I made a long time ago.

Another way of looking at it is that sometimes life and beauty can come from hard times, like dealing with death. Even the seed must die to grow into a redwood.

Sometimes before accomplishing our greatest triumphs we have to hit rock bottom to appreciate them more, to appreciate the struggle and hard work to get there.

That’s life for ya.

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Over the last month, my world has been turned upside-down and every which way imaginable.  Granted, it was I who put it all in motion, but I’m rather glad it’s all happened.

Learning isn’t always easy, especially when emotions are involved.  I’ve learned from seeing people around me, two in particular, that letting go is the hardest part of growing up.

But, if we dont’ let go, we never mature.  If we don’t let go, we never learn to walk on our own.  If we don’t let go, we never grow up, and we’ll continuously rely on others to make our lives easier.

Some people just never understand that concept until you ignore them completely.  No matter how much you try to explain it to them, they won’t let go.  That’s when all connections must be cut and let them learn the hard way.  That’s tough love.

Experience is the greatest teacher, and don’t let anyone tell you different.

Writers become immortal because they write.  Musicians become legends because they sing.  Artists become famous because they’re inspired.  Dancers become prima ballerinas because they practice.
All of the above require experience.  Experience requires making mistakes.  Mistakes give way to knowledge.

You can’t gain experience when you can’t let go…

I’ve had to make adjustments this holiday season.  Working an hour from home resulted staying in Knoxville three days out of the week and driving back and forth to spend time with my family just so it can feel somewhat like Christmas.  My roommates went back home in Middle Tennessee, leaving me all alone.

One thing I’ve learned from coming home to an empty apartment at the end of the day is that I need people; I thrive off of people.  Growing up in a family of five made me used to having people around, and being the youngest, I’ve seen my family of five transition to a family of three then to an empty nest.  It wasn’t easy, but I got used to being the only one around.

Now I have to get used to, if only for a short time, being the only one left in a “family” of four.

Perhaps this will prepare me for when I move to NYC and live alone until I meet the man of my dreams … I’ll look at it that way.  Maybe I’ll submerge myself so deep in my career I won’t have time to think about it when I’m climbing my way to the top to be editor-in-cheif of Vogue (granted, the magazine still exists in 10 years. Epiphany: I need to take web design classes).

Either way, being alone is something we all have to cope with at some point in our lives.  But, being alone gives you time to discover something about yourself you’ve never known before.  I’ve learned that being alone inspires me to write blogs like this one.  It gives me time to think, to consider events in my life and to reflect on them.  I have time to finish reading a book or get caught up on The Office.  Even so, I thought I’d be perfectly happy alone.  Instead, I’ve discovered that it sucks.  It sucks big ones.

It’s not easy, but it’s part of growing up.

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Part of me is losing faith in humanity one person at a time. Another part wants to believe good remains in the heart of each individual.

Why there is terrorism is beyond me. Why people to stupid things is also beyond me. Unfortunately, as hard as it may be, I still have to love them and forgive them… and forgive myself.

I’ve been reading Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller recently, and it’s made me think more and more about Christian spirituality — not Christianity.

One chapter I read today was titled Confession. In this chapter, he and his fellow Christian friends set up a confession booth on Reed College campus in the midst of a celebration where a majority of students get high, wasted and run naked. The idea was for this small group of people to come out of the closet and openly admit they’re Christians. They set up this confession booth not so that students would confess to them, but they would confess to the students, apologizing for the Crusades, televangelists and any other event or person giving Christians a bad name.

I like this idea. So many people I know have an issue with Christianity, with church, with religion in general. Some have been hurt by it and refuse to ever step foot in a church again. Others feel isolated when they go, so they stop going.

There’s something wrong here. Christianity isn’t meant to push people away; it’s meant to draw people into a loving, warm, real relationship with God.

Jesus had no intentions of “Christians” killing innocent people, judging others, turning people away, in His name.

Instead of shunning prostitutes and pimps, let them come in as they are. Instead of telling the drug addicts they’re going to Hell, tell them God still loves them. Instead of fighting over what style of music to have in the worship service or the carpet color in the sanctuary, agree that the main focus should be to reach out to the lost, the hungry, the homeless. Instead of telling people how wrong they are for their past behaviors and browbeating them with the Bible, show them the truth with love, compassion and a listening ear.

My brother made the comment this weekend at a church dinner that putting that much food out in front of people and expecting them not to glutton is like taking men to a strip joint and expecting them not to lust.

Point: None of us are perfect.

I’m not perfect. I’ve screwed up a lot in my life… but what matters is that I’ve realized that and I’m learning from my mistakes. I can’t let one thing rule my life, I can’t let one person control me and my emotions; I have to rise above that. I have to take matters to God and leave them in His hands, in His control. Everything happens for a reason, and I have to let Him show me that.

I have to let Him guide me.

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So, I wouldn’t be a college kid if I didn’t procrastinate.

Tonight’s procrastination actually proved productive. This time, instead of facebooking, I made a “pot” of coffee (hazelnut from Golden Roast) in my French press, sat down in a big round chair bundled in a blanket with my favorite mug, a pad of paper and a pencil.

While jazz music played over and over in my head (and from iTunes), here’s what I came up with:

Cold, chilly weather
I am warm inside, bundled in sweaters
The lights are low, the room aglow
I sit, cuddled on the couch with you

Laughter from the room next door,
Hearts ablaze, and I pine for you
Your love, smile
Stay, for just a little while
Before lofty dreams I wander

Feels like home,
Wherever love roams.
From side to side,
Friendship abides
Letting life’s journeys take us.

Most of you that know me know that I love coffee. Well, I wrote a love poem for it… haha…

Coffee.
How your spell binds me
tortures me.
I am a creature of habit —
Aren’t we all?
Addict? I wouldn’t have it!
So relaxing are you, bittersweet to taste
Sipping you on a night such as this—
cold, dark and cozy.
Pair you with jazz and I could stay all night
I’m a fool for you, you know.
Lead me to a good coffee shop, and I may find love
Food may be the way to a man’s heart,
but love, coffee and music are the ways to mine.
Lead me to intellectuals, musicians and philosophers,
Peace-makers and artists.
I thirst for culture, diversity,
Open minds and free spirits…
…a home-y warm feeling…
Lead me home.

Yay poetry. It’s a nice change.

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The night may be over, but the future has just begun to unfurl.

Barack Obama defeated John McCain for presidency, making history in the progress. Obama succeeded in becoming the first bi-racial president. Some say he’s a socialist; others say he’s hope.

Either way, this country will face a much-needed change. Whether that be for the better or worse, well, that’s a matter of opinion.

I believe it’s safe to say, at least, America is ready for something different. Hopefully, we can all agree on that.

The next few years will undoubtedly be rough; it’s not easy to fix a crappy economy, nor will it be easy to pull out of Iraq… eventually. Both matters are very complicated, complex ideas I know very little about (besides the fact both are not where they should be).

It is my sincerest hope that the new President Obama (I seriously have to get used to that.. wow) will make decisions based on the Constitution and decisions that will be good for America. I hope his education will make up for his lack of experience, and I hope that no harm will come his way. I hope that, if he chooses to take America in a new direction, we the people will be able to put our trust in him, while maintaining our own personal virtues and standards of living.

Not only will America as a whole have some kind of change in the upcoming year(s), but on a more local scale, University of Tennessee football will, too.

On Monday, the legendary Phil Fulmer stepped down from his position as head coach of the UT football program. Fulmer, who had been the coach for 17 years (I was two when he accepted the position) led the team to several bowl games, won two Southeastern Conference championships and led the 1998 team to a national title.

Oh yes, UT football also spawned Peyton Manning, who was also under Fulmer’s wing at UT and is now quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts.

This season, though, UT football has only claimed a handful of wins and may not be eligible for a bowl game, which requires at least six wins in the season.

If all the above is gibberish for you or like German is to me, let me translate: The Vols haven’t had a decent season in a while, so the coach is gone and now the powers that be are looking for a new one.

The end of an era arrived, causing mixed feelings among students. Some are glad he’s gone, allowing for someone with fresh ideas to step in, and others are sad to see such a talented coach leave. For some students, like myself, he’s the only coach we’ve ever known, and the unknown is scary.

Let’s juxtapose these two situations, seeing how it’s coincidental to me that they both happened in such a close time proximity to each other.

Some students are glad Fulmer is leaving, allowing for someone new with fresh ideas and game plans to step into his shoes. Some Americans are happy Bush is no longer in power (well, not officially until January when Obama is sworn in, but work with me), allowing someone new to step in… and in Obama’s case… with fresh ideas for the country.

Some students mourn Fulmer’s resignation, sad to see him leaving us with the future of UT football unknown. Some Americans are sad to see McCain lose to Obama, with the future of America somewhat unknown and potentially frightening (some would say. I want to remain as unbiased as possible).

Either way, “The times, they are a changin’,” and we’re left here to deal with it in our own ways. We have some decisions to make. We could… cry like babies that McCain lost and whine the next four years about it, or take it like mature adults and roll with the punches, or celebrate someone new coming into office that may not be as bad as some anticipated he would be.

We should all try to have good attitudes about it, hold our heads high, and accept whatever comes our way with the patriotism our forefathers would’ve wanted (and, for UT students and fans everywhere, look forward to some better seasons in the future). Like I’ve said before, change and time are in cahoots with each other. You can’t have one without the other, no matter how bad it gets.

Let’s move forward together, hand-in-hand, and face what awaits us united.

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Driving home this Sunday afternoon out of sheer spontaneity (well, close to it) made my heart race and sing out to a clear blue sky and trees adorned with bright red, orange and yellow leaves.  It’s autumn time in Tennessee.

I come from a place where everyone knows everybody else, much like Andy Griffith’s town of Mayberry.  There’s a total of maybe 4 red lights (one of which shouldn’t be operating, but that’s just my opinion) and a “downtown” consisting of a courthouse, post office and the corner ice cream/antique shop with a quaint barbershop next door complete with a barber pole on the side.  Imagine all that, plus three schools, a Hardee’s, Sonic and gas stations nestled inside rolling mountaintops guarded by a regional prison where my dad has worked for some 20 years now.  That’s where I come from:  Wartburg, Tennessee, a population that can fit inside Neyland Stadium with room for the rest of the county to spare.

The drive home Sunday showed me views I missed since moving to Knoxville.  Farms with old barns, junked-up cars (even an old camper, you know the ones, with a big “W” on the side) and the occasional sight of horses or cows made for perfect scenery.  With the car window rolled down driving on highway 62, I could smell the leaves blowing past my Ford Focus as I negotiated turns that weren’t made for the speed I was going at (It’s OK Mom, I do it all the time — I just wanted to get home to that homemade sourdough bread of yours).

Why I decided to go home Sunday only to drive an hour back to Knoxville I have no idea.  I suppose the simplicity of rural living called me back – in only a way homes can – to enjoy the changing of the seasons down by the river with friends, sharing warm kisses between sips of hot cocoa with Lance and watch the boys throw football under a canopy of gilded leaves.  Little treasures like that remind me that goodness does exist in a world of murders, theives and chaos.

I always enjoy stepping back into my warm childhood home after the brisk autumn air chills my skin.  There’s usually a warm, home-y aroma mixed with bread and cookies fresh from the oven and the promise of hot cider and wassail waiting to be enjoyed.  After reuniting with Fido and Nala after being months apart, Mom greets me with a warm hug and we make our way to the living room where the fireplace is warm, or the back porch where we can enjoy the weather, and simply catch up on our lives.

There’s a song that conveniently played on my iPod yesterday in the car, and I found it to be fitting.  It’s from a local band I’ve mentioned before, Christabel and the Jons.  It’s called, “Thankful.”  I’d say it was my theme yesterday…

“This is where I feel the most at home,
Rythym of the water, so nice and slow…”

“I’m thankful, so thankful, for my life..”

I drove past where my grandparents used to live before they passed away about ten years ago.  It hit me like a ton of bricks how much I missed them… my fondest memories of them are from this time of year and Christmas, when my grandma started cooking for an army of countless children, grand children and great grand children… Grandpa would always “test” the food… she would always get on to him for it… “Harold, get your finger outta that!” she’d say..  I remember she’d always sit in her rocking chair crocheting a doll or blanket for someone and watch The Price is Right (back when Bob Barker was the host.  It’s just not the same with Drew), Wheel of Fortune or during the day, Matlock.

You could always feel the love in their home.  It was small, but full of warmth – especially on those deep, cold winter nights.  My fondest memory I believe was when I was a small girl.  It was Christmas, and Wartburg’s Christmas parade was still something spectacular at my age.  That night was especially chilly, and I sat in Grandma and Grandpa’s old grey Ford to stay warm with Grandpa.  After the parade, we all went to their house (literally just across the woods from our house) for sweets and hot chocolate.  I don’t remember much except for what I told you just then, but I do remember everyone was happy.  I remember Grandpa laughing or at least smiling that big gummy grin of his (he had dentures but decided against wearing them — ever).  Grandma, of course, had a kitchen full of cookies, chocolate and treats I wouldn’t dare eat in one sitting today.  Everyone was there, and it was the perfect definition of family.

It was a tradition for a while with my immediate family after Grandma and Grandpa passed away to stay in an old, rustic cabin for a few days at Thanksgiving in the mountains somewhere.  Brandon and Steph were in school at Gardner-Webb University seeking their Masters of Divinity (they got it, by the way), so we always chose somewhere in Western North Carolina.  The first cabin we stayed in was tucked away somewhere in Black Mountain, North Carolina (I think) nearby Chimney Rock (again, I think it was Chimney Rock.  It was wherever they filmed Last of the Mohicans, I know that).  Unfortunately for me, I had tonselitis that year and didn’t get to enjoy it as much as I would’ve liked to… except for the fact that I thought I puked up my tonsils… but that’s another story.
Anyways, all six of us piled around a small kitchenette complete with a picnic-esque dining room table (I told you, this cabin was old and rustic) and shared Thanksgiving dinner that year.  The next morning, we awoke to snow flurries.  It was perfect.  There was just enough snow for a light 3/4 of an inch dusting, but not too much to worry about driving conditions.  We all took a walk through the woods among mountain laurel and a babbling brook that ran beside the cabin.

It was beautiful.

I hope to one day have the same kind of love and warmth that my family has had over the years.  It would only be right to carry on the family tradition.  It seems that not many families share that same love anymore, and that’s sad.  What the world needs now more than anything is love, sweet love.

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