The Fabulous Familiar

Taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary...

Friday, January 29, 2010

Snow Day!~!

It is 10:15 a.m. and I am still in my sweats with not a touch of make-up on. This usually only means one of two things:

I am dying of the flu.


The town of Searcy is shut down due to ice!

Though I am usually very perturbed when I wake up to a text message, the one from my roommate today telling me to stay in bed was definitely one that I didn't mind. :-)

I was just talking yesterday about how I need a vacation; how weekends aren't even relaxing anymore. I am so thankful that I got to stay in today and just take it easy. It was much-needed!

I need to catch up on some homework but even that--it's killing me to type this out--is a blessing. I feel like I am always behind so it will be good to get a few things done.

I hope you have a blessed day, snow day or not-- and that you occasionally get to find that breath of fresh air that keeps you going along your way.

"Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop." ~Ovid

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My New Best Friend

If I told you there was one particular, twenty-dollar item that is going to help me survive graduate school, many things probably pop into your mind. APA instruction book that lays out how to write exactly like business professors want you to?

...5 boxes of buttery popcorn for lonely, study-filled nights?
........Ok, maybe I should say TWO items involved in the survival kit....

The real answer, despite your many guesses, is....

a space heater from Lowe's!

With goals of low electric bills comes the realization that winter can be kind of miserable for 3 graduate students trying to make ends meet. After a ridiculously high (and unexplainable) electric bill last month, it was decided to turn the heat off as much as possible.

It seems that the only difference this has made to my warm-natured roommate is the application of one more long-sleeved shirt. For me, lounging on my couch now involves chattering teeth and a desperate search for my pink Snuggie.

To fight off the winter chill, my mom bought me a small space heater from Lowe's to put in my room. I questioned this little guy's power and ability to ward off frostbite. I am ashamed that I ever questioned its faithfulness. In fact, it consumes my thoughts during the day.

....I honestly find myself daydreaming about curling up next to my space heater when I get home. Right after I get into my comfortable clothes, I fire that little guy up and usually end up falling asleep after a few minutes by its warmth; it's like a humidifier to my chilled soul.

Being a raised-in-the-pew Christian, I would be remiss to leave this blog as a ridiculous ode to a space heater and not tie in some far-stretched application.

Love this quote: "Like the light of a bright candle and the warmth of a fire's glow, we brighten every corner when we let God's love show."

When you look at my new best friend, he doesn't look like much. He's a small, black box. "This thing can't possibly create enough heat to keep me warm," you may think upon first glance.

....But you're wrong.

Likewise, we are called to--every day--find small ways to bring warmth and love to those around us. People may underestimate us and say, "What good can one person do to make this situation better?"

I think God has called us to be a lot of things, but I also think he called us to be space heaters. He wants us to light up whatever room we are brought into and fill the people in it with warmth and love. I know that wherever I bring my little furnace friend, I find contentment and hope that I am not going to freeze to death this winter.

I want to be that for other people. I want them to know that they can come home at the end of the day and depend on me for a steady reassurance of God's faithfulness.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Chivalry is Not Dead

I have questioned recently whether or not good, old-fashioned chivalry is now extinct. When I carry large, 50-pound boxes through the student center and guys watch me pry the door open with my heel and maneuver my way through the opening, I just shake my head in disbelief and wish Cary Grant or Gregory Peck were around.

When I get all dressed up and curl my hair, only to find out I am being taken to Ryan's buffet, I force a smile and slop more mashed potatoes and jello on my plate.

When I suggest cool ideas and places to try and am met with a disgruntled grunt for a reply, I grit my teeth and try to enjoy the rest of the football game on TV.

...You get the idea. Ashton has not been on many brain-stimulating dates lately. Unnnnntil....last night!

To protect his identity (although it doesn't necessarily need to be protected), we will refer to him as " Sir Lancelot."

Other than the monsoon that swept into Searcy, AR last night and deflated my hair, the night went really well. We met up, and favorite flowers, mind you...were waiting for me: a beautiful, friendly arrangement of daisies and tulips. Whereas red roses scare me because of their fiery passion and implications, these flowers were just right.

We went to a nice restaurant. Branching out from Chili's--the nicest restaurant I had previously been to (haha)--was a little scary and at times I felt like a country bumpkin playing dress-up at a nice restaurant. No matter what questions I posed (like: Do I stick this whole sushi thing in my mouth at once?) he would just smile and patiently tell me how to do it properly. He taught me about food and sauces and how they can team up to make something delicious.

After a three-course meal, Lancelot and I moved on to a coffee shop to continue the conversation that was flowing nicely. There, we talked for a few more hours and even ran into my Mimi and Pawpaw (gotta love small towns!) It was good though-- because I feel like he kind of got a feel for who I am and what family is all about for me.

It was so refreshing just to be with someone who took the time to find out what I like, what makes me tick. He had Frank Sinatra and Michael Buble playing in the car. See? It's all in the details. It is taking the time to show someone else that they are important. No matter what comes of it, it was such a blessing. And so refreshing. And I thank God for that reminder that courtesy is still alive and well-- and that there truly are men out there who seek you out for the right reasons.

In recent years, I have been told, "You're hot," "I like your bod," etc. Though some girls find this immensely flattering--and I thought I did-- I have come to find that the highest compliment is found in someone treasuring you for what they see in you. He told me at the end of the night that he could tell that I had a good heart and a heart for the Lord. That, to me, far surpasses any compliment of outer beauty.

...Ok, the 7th grade diary entry is now over. I questioned whether or not to even go through with this, but figured those who have been rooting for my dating life (or lack thereof) for years would appreciate an update.

"Nothing is ever lost by courtesy. It is the cheapest of the pleasures; costs nothing and conveys much. It pleases him who gives and; him who receives, and thus, like mercy, it is twice blessed.
Erastus Wiman

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Fish out of Water

Instruct me to write a descriptive essay. No biggie. Make me write an article about a mission trip to Africa, and I can make you cry. Give me a deadline, an interview slot and lots of coffee-- and that column will be on your desk by 11 p.m.

Tell me I have to prepare an income statement for the current year for the Aloha Travel Service Company, and I will break into hives all over my body.

Ok, well maybe not literally. But reading an accounting book to me is right up there with getting a titanium implant in my tooth. I have done both, so I can adequately use that comparison.

Sometimes I question my decision to get my MBA. I honestly feel like I am a little girl who put on her mom's Sunday dress and heels that are 5 sizes too big and decided to play "business elite."

I am in these classrooms with people who are already in the business world; people who are already managers but are here to brush up on their managerial skills. I am a writer whose only other managerial experience involves corralling middle schoolers at church camp every summer. The only books I've ever kept were the books for the old men's softball leagues at the community center. After seeing too much of the catcher's backside for a whole summer, I readily decided to "say no to crack" and abandon Paul's Plumbers.

The other day I was asked to elaborate on how the accounting cycle at my business works; um, if deciding to buy the $5 laundry detergent instead of the $8 laundry detergent with the added Febreeze scent counts as a financial decision, count me in.

I study hard and know that--somehow--I will survive this. Sometimes I just wonder why I chose to put myself in a position that causes me to go into survival mode.

I want to write. I want to run a church camp for children. I want to love what I do and be happy in my own skin. I don't want to feel like a fish out of water; I want to dive in and thrive in my surroundings.

I suppose this is the cycle of life and is a must for every person leaving the college fishbowl.

...Sometimes you have to just land on the shore and flop around for a while before you figure things out.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Cart of Doom

"Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." -Murphy's Law

If a dolly cart could be possessed by demons, I am more than convinced that the one my office owns fits that bill.

Among my assignments today was to load a bunch of tubular priority packages onto this cart and haul it through the parking lot and into the post office, facing a maze of small doors and ramps.

Loading such odd-shaped boxes (if you can even call them boxes; they are a disgrace to their box family) was quite a challenge. 'If I was one of the ancient Egyptians building a pyramid, how would I do it?' I asked myself. I placed them on there finally and attempted to use a rope to keep them on there. I felt like a cowboy-- except instead of roping a calf, I was roping inanimate objects.

Once I had the rope pulled taut and the handle to the cart in my other hand I slowly began the journey across campus. It soon occurs to me that wearing stiletto heels today was probably not a good decision. I opened the first door which is quickly followed by a ramp. I tried to jerk the cart as quickly as I could so that it would make it through the small door before it closed. It made it just in time, but I had decided to stop and it didn't.


It rammed into the back of my calf muscle hard. I stared it down, letting it know this was NOT a good start and it was not going to get the best of me. Other than the hit to the leg, the first trip to the post office was pretty successful. There was no student traffic which aided in the smooth trip.

On trip 2 of 4, I was not so fortunate. While there had been someone previously at the trickiest door to get through, this time there was no one around. I decided it was time to enact what I like to call the "angry cat" technique, in which you hold one door with your rear, arch your back and lean over to hold open the other door. You inwardly award your creative genius until you realize that you have both doors open but no way of getting the cart to miraculously pull itself into the student center. It is then that you give the back of the cart a forceful kick and it slowly bumps into the side of the door, causing all the tubular boxes to slide off onto the floor.

Cue the bell to ring.

Hundreds of college students begin to flood the hallways and beads of sweat begin to form on my forehead as I realize that this is a perfect example of Murphy's Law of Dolly-Pulling which states: "If no one is in the hallway, you will have a smooth ride. If the halls are full, a dog pile of boxes will inevitably ensue."

I try to stack the boxes again, but to no avail. I decide that it would be easier for me to take trips there and back then to solve this puzzle of shapes. I have never been good at 3-D puzzles or puzzles of any kind for that matter. Even the little kids' toy in which you place the shapes in the correctly shaped hole was a challenge.

It is then that I grab about 5 or 6 at a time, bear-hug style and clickety-clack my way up the ramp to the post office. I can't really see in front of me, but can only hope that those around me are defensive walkers.

After unloading all the boxes and delighting the mail people with my presence (which alerts them that they will have a hard day ahead of them), I gleefully pull the empty cart back to the office. On one of the turns, I take for granted that the now empty cart is lighter and run into curb where it decides to just stay. After I get it going, I fail to notice the car that has just decided to fly by. As I am mumbling under my breath that he should watch where he is going, the window rolls down and it is my friend Brett. The smile on his face makes me feel bad that I previously thought the driver was an idiot, and he wishes me good luck with the demon cart.

I get back to the office, sweating like a pig (do pigs actually sweat...I've always wondered this...). The secretary looks up at me and inquires about the trip.

"Oh, it was fine," I reply as I sit back at my desk and discreetly take off my heels.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Letter to Me: The Introduction

I started back to TC Magazine on Monday, following a long Christmas break from the office. Today, however, was our brainstorming day-- in which we attempt to jump into the teenage mind and talk about what to put in the upcoming issue.

At 23, I realize that I am still a young whipper-snapper in the eyes of most, but I feel like I am so out of touch with the teenage world. I feel like I am a cool parent that is trying to stay hip at these meetings:

"What about that Hilary Duff girl? Oh wait, she's not in Lizzie McGuire anymore. That was like 6 years ago."

"He's on the Disney Channel, right? Young girls think he's cute. I mean, he's got a baby face and looks like he could be my younger brother..."

Though I had some brief, shining moments during that awkward adolescent stage, I have probably tried to block out a lot of those memories-- thus the writer's block when I try to transport myself back to junior high and high school.

Maybe it's because instead of telling them "The Top 5 Ways To Do Your Hair for Prom," I want to just gather them up in one big, enormous group and just embrace them in a big bear hug. I want to laugh with them and cry with them and tell them that it's all going to be OK.

I want to assure them that, contrary to popular belief, high school is not the highlight of your life. In fact, it doesn't even come close.

I know that my mom tried to explain this concept to me on numerous occasions as a teenager, but I was convinced that she just didn't understand me. Every event that happened within the walls of Paragould Junior High School were going to make or break the rest of my life.

Many of you have probably heard the Brad Paisley song, "Letter to Me." I get teary almost every time I hear it because he is so right. He is basically writing a letter to himself at 17, and sharing with the younger version of Brad that things are going to be fine:

"You've got so much up ahead/You'll make new friends/You should see your kids and wife/And I'd end up saying have no fear/These are nowhere near the best years of your life."

Today got me thinking: If I could write a letter to the younger Ashton, what would I say? Stay tuned for the answer...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Not So Fast, and Not So Furious

When browsing the MSN homepage, I came across this article:

Australia's Daily Telegraph claims the mop-topped offspring of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes is putting pedal to the metal in a nearly $30,000 "custom-made miniature replica of an Indy race car," which was supposedly presented to her by her "Days of Thunder"-reliving dad.

"Suri has been mesmerized by auto racing on TV, so he thought it would be fun for her to have her own little car to ride in," alleges a source. "If Suri truly takes to the sport, Tom plans on having a little race track installed at his L.A. property."

Though there is speculation on the accuracy of this report, it still got me thinking about the 'ol Reely van of yesteryear. It was lovingly called many things: the Shaggin' Wagon (Dad dubbed it this, but it has recently started to mean other things so I tried to stray him away from this term of endearment), a Death Hazard on Wheels, Woody (it had this disgraceful, chipping wood-side panel on each side).

Rumors being true, little Suri--a toddler--is driving a better set of wheels than I drove for the first few years of my life on the road. Parents are constantly buying books on how to raise their kids and instill good character in them. I still haven't found the book that my parents used, but I am convinced there was a chapter that read: "Give your Child a Piece-of-Junk car to build character." They quickly complied, and handed me the keys to the Death Hazard on Wheels. Dear "Woody" taught me many things:

1. Sometimes you just have to close your eyes and listen to your heart-- otherwise you don't know what gear you are in. I would close my eyes, pull the lever down and listen intently for 4 distinct clicks. My daily mantra was "Park, reverse, neutral, drive" as I prayed that I made the right decision before putting on the gas. If you looked at the indicator, it always told you the wrong gear; thus, intuition and trust were instilled in me at age 16.

2. The grass is always greener on the other side-- or maybe this is because I had no other choice but to enter the van from the passenger side door. Backpack and all, I was forced to enter the passenger side door, do gymnastics moves my body was not made for and crawl over to take my place as the proud driver of this spectacle. If people asked for a ride home, they always looked at me strange when I cut in front of them to enter the vehicle.

3. Whenever one door closes, another one opens-- it just happened to be when I turned left at a speed that exceeded 5 m.p.h. Without fail, the driver's side door would fly open, and I was forced to lean out the door to grab it and keep my car going straight simultaneously. I soon gave up my milk or OJ on the way to school because balancing 3 circus acts before 8 a.m. is not ideal.

4. Stay Positive; You Will Always Bounce Back from Adversity-- or maybe that was just my door after my dad decided to attach a bungee chord to help with the problem outlined in number 3. Most kids listened to 101.9 Kiss FM on the way to school. I listened to music with an already built-in bass: (left-turn) WAH-BAM; (left-turn) WAH-BAM; (left-turn) WAH-BAM!

5. Join as many extracurricular activities as possible-- Basketball team. Volleyball team. Marching band. Concert band, National Honor Society. Key Club. Rams Against Illegal Drugs. Underwater basket weaving. People think these displayed my driven demeanor and passion for making the world a better place. Really, I just wanted to be the last person driving out of the parking lot each day.

I was completely mortified of my van as a teenager, and often envied the Mustangs and Firebirds that parked beside me. Looking back, though, I feel like it made me a better person. I didn't earn the right to drive a fancy car-- especially since my parents weren't even able to drive one after years of working diligently at their jobs.

Despite my hatred of it, I didn't put a dent in that old thing. If given the car of my dreams, I may have seen my share of fender benders and accidents from zipping here and there like a movie star. Instead, I drove every minute like my life depended on every acute sense I had...

probably because it did!

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Great Mouse Detectives

"WHAT is that smell?" my new roommate Allison asked.

Having just moved in, I assumed she was questioning my ability to keep a clean kitchen (which would not only be smart, but completely logical). I initially chalked it up to the nearby trash can, but she soon began to move the refrigerator out from the wall.

Curious, I walked over. The fan in the back of the fridge seemed to waft the smell in my direction as if to say, "See, I told ya!"

With our recent mice problem solved (or so we think), it only makes sense to assume that these tricky, sacrificial mice did what all mice tend to do. Because they can't heroically burn at the stake for their little mouse causes, they choose to go out with a bang in other ways.

One of the first things they probably learn in mouse theological school is to, after taking rat poison, crawl into the tiniest, most obscure crevice of a human home and die...and rot...and smell. They may not be able to outdo the humans forever, but they can sure have the last word...or smell, rather.

After unscrewing the back of the fridge and cleaning the debris, I took up flashlight duties while Allison searched for the deceased creature. After a half-terrified, half-excited declaration that she spotted a tail, we found our little culprit.

I felt like I was helping during an intrinsic surgery.

"Plastic fork."

Passed it.

"Another plastic fork."


"Paper plate to put him on."

Gag. Done.

She meticulously picked up the little guy, using the two forks like chopsticks to pick up Mr. Stinky. We put him in two plastic bags, knotted it tight and threw it outside in the trash can immediately. After this traumatic event, I did what I always do in situations such as these. I sprayed everything in sight with Febreeze.

It has never been proven that Febreeze really does anything, but it makes you feel like your house is no longer as nasty as it is in reality. If life had a perfume, it would choose Febreeze.

This whole rodent journey over the past few months has been hysterical. Seeing a bunch of girls take on scurrying terrors is a memory that will forever be etched in my mind. It's gotten to the point where my roommate can just give me the "mouse face," in which she knocks on my door, bites her lip, her eyes get really wide and she just points.

There are no words involved; I just know that I should slowly make my way to the kitchen and prepare to don my mouse detective duties.

If cats didn't creep me out more, and I didn't wake up with this uncontainable fear that my face was going to get clawed off, I would get one to help out with the problem. I think I'll just take my chances...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Squirmin' in the Pew

“The world is a dangerous place. Not because of the people who are evil; but because of the people who don't do anything about it.” - Albert Einstein

Your whole body suddenly becomes hot. It starts in your toes and slowly makes its way up to your face. You feel like the whole room can see the heat hidden beneath your cheeks and the heartbeat that must be thudding for everyone to hear.

This, though it sounds like a scene from a nightmare, is actually the case when I am in a good Bible class. Maybe you re-read that last sentence. Ashton, you ask, how can your palms be sweaty and your heart be thudding in a pleasant situation? That sounds more like Ashton pre-rollercoaster ride or Ashton before a big performance.

It is because the Bible classes I hate the most are the ones I actually hold dear. When a teacher pushes me to the edge — when I feel like they are looking right through me, and I need to run out of the room and go to the bathroom to splash water on my face — that is when I know that God has placed me in that room and locked the door.

Today was one of those days.

To be perfectly honest, I didn't really want to go to Bible class today. I have to work in a few minutes, and I felt like coming home after worship and relaxing. Something in me, though, led me to my mother's ladies' class again. When the teacher, a sweet lady who chokes up when she talks about something near to her heart, began her lesson, I immediately looked for the door. She posed the question, "Where did Eve first go wrong?" I breathed a sigh of relief. 'Oh, we're just going to talk about Creation today. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.' I relaxed a little and prepared to discuss the story I had learned about since felt boards and sweet Mrs. Faye.

Then, she said: "When it comes to Satan and evil, dialogue is participating."

She went on to talk about how when we continue to converse with Satan and flirt with evil, we often feel like we are "struggling" and we are doing the right thing. After all, we have said no a thousand times. And we feel bad about it. And guilty. She cut me even deeper: "Satan doesn't really care what decision you make. The fact that you are sitting around dialoguing with him means he has already won." When you say no, you should turn your back on him and not continue the conversation further.

She related it to a girl — a hypothetical girl who I happen to see every day when I look in the mirror — who goes out with this guy on a date. He pressures her to do things she shouldn't and isn't uplifting spiritually in the least. The girl makes it clear that she will not do those things; she is a Christian girl after all and will only go so far. He lets the issue rest for a moment and then asks, "Do you want to go out with me tomorrow night?"

"Yes!" she gleefully replies.

This cycle continues endlessly and this dialogue eventually breaks her down.

That is how we are with Satan. We continually "go out" with him. We tell him no; we know what we should be doing, yet we can't seem to break all ties with his manipulation.

Without going into great detail, let me just say that this has been me lately. My constant "struggling" is me not fleeing from my chains. God has given me plenty of times to escape, but I still keep my temptation at an arm's length. It's like I can't let it go, but I find solace in the fact that I am struggling desperately to do the right thing. I make excuses for myself. Today's class made me realize that "I am lonely" and all my other excuses just aren't going to cut it anymore.

I am not exactly proud of some of the decisions I have made or the constant pity party I have been in over the past few months; I do need prayers for strength.

Dialogue is usually a good thing, and in most instances, it strengthens our relationships with people. I am done, however, with conversations with Satan and negotiations with God. I need to stop plea bargaining for what I want and justifying the wrong things I am tempted to do.

The conversation is over.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Music Man

"Originality is... a by-product of sincerity." ~Marianne Moore

I ventured out into the cold today with Mom, Loramy (my roommate), and Chelsea (Ryan's fiance). We ate at Brickoven Pizza and then decided to go downtown and look around at some of the shops.

Downtown districts have so much character. I love them. We went into Stott's Drugstore, which is pretty much like walking back in time. They even have glass Coke bottles, which remind me of my great-grandma Huddleston before she passed away. I remember, as a child, always opening her fridge and having an ice-cold bottle waiting for me!

We also went into this quaint music store on the corner. Selling everything from guitars to string basses taller than me, it's a neat place. It's one of those places where I could see a now-famous musician pointing to as the place where he first fell in love with music: "I remember walking by that window as a kid and seeing that guitar in the window. I saved up all my pennies and bought it one day. I've been playing ever since..."

As we're looking around, this old man with no teeth approaches me. He begins to sing "Pretty Woman" and every other song he can recall that involves beautiful ladies. He shows me the new lime green, sparkly strap he has just purchased that will draw attention when he plays "at the clubs." I listen intently as he talks about the days of George Jones and Merle Haggard, and talks as if they are old friends.

The owner of the store, standing behind the man, smiles at me and shrugs his shoulders as if to say, "I'm sorry. I can't help you." The younger, cuter employee also sends a smile my way. Somehow those smiles are always sent to me out of pity instead of a come-on line.

What they don't know is that they don't have to pity me. I LOVE meeting people like this. Whether he is a washed-up old rocker or a man who doesn't even own an instrument but buys all the supplies is irrelevant. HE feels like a rock star. HE thinks he is second to George Jones. HE looks like a handsome musician with his new lime green guitar strap. And that is what I love. He is an original. I want to know his story.

In a world where no one is true to themselves, it is refreshing to see a guy who knows what he wants to be; he knows what his passion is. He isn't afraid to walk up to a girl 50 years his junior and act like he's still "with the band." I'm going to call him...Earl Laggard...

Rock on, Earl. Play on, Earl. All my love, Ashton


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

You've Got Mail

“I turn on my computer. I wait patiently as it connects. I go online. My breath catches in my chest until I hear 3 little words, "You've got mail." I hear nothing, not a sound on the streets of New York. Just the beat of my own heart. I have mail...from you.” -Kathleen Kelly (played by Meg Ryan)

The movie "You've Got Mail" has been on television at least once a week over the Christmas break. And yes, I have watched it... at least once a week over the Christmas break. I can quote almost the whole movie by heart, and my dad fails to understand why I would consistently watch a movie if I know what they are going to say before they even say it.

I think it's because I love their dialogue. I love the way they share the miniscule details of their lives with each other, but it brings each of them such joy. This is probably a sure sign that I need to get out my "nerd" flag and wave it proudly, but statements like this cause me to fall in love with Joe Fox (aka Tom Hanks):

"The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don't know what the [heck] they're doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino."

That, you say, is not romantic. That, you say, is meaningless. That, to me, ladies and gentleman, is pure poetry. It is everyday philosophy. It makes me laugh and causes a warm feeling in my heart. A man who can humor me about common life far surpasses Brad Pitt with six-pack abs.

I am not afraid to admit that I have had a recent experience with online dating. After much nudging from friends, we all signed on together to see what it had to offer. Though Tom Hanks was in the back of my mind, I knew that nowhere in that chat room would I find Joe Fox. I soon found that my heart would begin to race if they properly placed their commas and *gasp* used a semicolon every now and then.

Like in the real world of dating, you have to make your way through some — how do I put this — interesting experiences in order to find something that halfway resembles what you want. I had a Casanova ask me if I had any kids that I didn't know about (something tells me I would remember labor pains...); another, after like two sentences back and forth, started pondering moving to Arkansas.

Stir in a guy who wrote me a message in which he played the part of him and answered with what he proposed I should say; a 45-year-old who had my GRANDPA as a professor, and you have my "You've Got Mail" experience. I have met some really nice guys, some who have become friends, and I feel like it wasn't a total loss; who knows — God could have fun things in store for me. Ha!

Perhaps my favorite line of the whole movie is when Kathleen Kelly has just broken up with her boyfriend, and they are talking at a cafe. He asks, "What about you, is there someone else?"

When you've watched the movie as many times as I have, you eventually catch her facial expression along with what she says. She just looks at him with this hope; with this longing, and she says, " there's the dream of someone else."

I don't foresee that any of my internet chatting will lead me to a beautiful flower garden in New York City where I will meet up with this eloquent, educated man with a Golden Retriever named, "Brinkley." First of all, a large, slobbery dog is not part of my romantic picture; but ultimately, I realize that this is not reality.

I do, however, like Kathleen, keep the dream! :-) All my love, Ashton

Monday, January 4, 2010

Lost in the Lunchroom

"The real act of marriage takes place in the heart, not in the ballroom or church or synagogue. It's a choice you make - not just on your wedding day, but over and over again -- and that choice is reflected in the way you treat your husband or wife." — BARBARA DE ANGELIS

My friend Allie and I packed our bags this past weekend and headed to Nashville, TN to see our friends Brooks and Katie get married. Because I had to work on Friday, we had to leave on Saturday morning and try to make it in time for the wedding at 5:00. A stop for pantyhose at Wal-Mart and a number of other detours had us rolling into the church at 4:48 with no gas in our tank and a disheveled we-got-ready-at-a-rest stop look. We were relieved to make it though and witness the ceremony of two people very much in love.

Though I poorly try to profess skepticism about weddings and pretend to loathe going to them, I have to admit that — deep down — I am a hopeless romantic that inwardly gets great joy out of them. I watch "Say Yes to the Dress" marathons and cause my brothers to puzzle over how I can watch a show that consists only of watching brides-to-be try on dresses.

Weddings, like people, are all different and usually reflect the personalities of the bride and groom. I think that's why I love them — because the music, the table settings, the food; everything gives you a glimpse into what brings them joy.

If you were one of the "cool kids" in junior high, disregard this analogy; everyone else: Do you remember that feeling in the lunchroom when you had your tray full of food and you were walking aimlessly around the lunchroom, looking for a place to plop down? On a bad day, you would sit down only to hear those dreaded words: "These seats are saved."

Fast forward to January 2nd, 2010 and Allie and I faced the same fate. Considering most wedding receptions I have attended have been in the annex of the church and involved party mints and mixed nuts, I was not adequately prepared when I walked into a hotel dining room and saw beautifully decorated tables and a 3-course meal with servers. Allie and I grasped our fine china like a lunch tray and wandered around to find our place in this big scheme of things. First stop: Reserved. We picked our plates back up and weaved in and out of more tables, only to rest in the middle of the room.

I had just completed a demolition of two blocks of cheese and was starting on my fruit dip-smothered grapes when Allie made an interesting observation: "Ashton, look how nice this centerpiece is! It must have been a fortune!" We begin to look around and our hearts begin to race when we realize that all the other tables have smaller, less extravagant floral arrangements. Yes, friends. We had sat down at the family table; the table above all other tables. If this had been the lunchroom, we sat down with the basketball team and the cheerleaders.

We luckily found our mistake and moved before the family filtered in after the "Let's welcome Mr. and Mrs. Parker" announcement. I can only thank the Lord for having mercy on my lack of wedding etiquette and providing us with enlightenment before we had to shuffle from the table, our shoulders hunched over with shame; all eyes on us as we scurried to another table and searched for which fork to use.

Any girl that has watched wedding shows or attended numerous ceremonies knows that the hustle and bustle can be overwhelming. The etiquette or expectations can vary, and it is often difficult to transition from one to the other. I think that it's important, however, to never lose sight of what marriage is all about. I may admire the table settings or love her bridesmaid dress choices, but they never overshadow my awe of the groom's face when those double doors open for the first time and he sees her standing there.

For many, it stops there. Not for me. Most people just picture him seeing her beautifully made-up face; the curve her body makes in her strapless dress; the way she can't stop smiling. I think he's seeing the future; that same girl in sweats, with her hair in a ponytail holding a newborn baby. I see her with that smile on her face when he's coming in from a hard day at work.

What if we spent as much time planning and working on our marriages as we did planning and working on the wedding ceremony? What if we looked at our husbands and wives and remembered how we felt when those doors opened for the first time? What if we, as their support system, admired and complimented a strong marriage as much as we complimented the bouquets?

The girly-girl side of me may get a superficial joy from the wedding madness, but the realistic part of me knows that I want more than a pretty dress and a string quartet. I want someone to look at me fifty years down the road the same way he looked at me on that day. I want him to never forget the girl he married on that day, but for him to grow to appreciate the woman she has become.

I have heard it said that, "A happy marriage is a long conversation that always seems too short." That's what I want, and I know when I find it, I will know it. I may long for the pretty dress, the bridal luncheon and all the "extras," but I know that what I really crave is true love. There will come a day when I will know what table to sit at, and all eyes will be on me for different reasons. I will probably compliment the pretty flowers, but I will know in my heart that they were placed there just for me.

All my love, Ashton

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Make-Up Palette of Life

"For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone." -Audrey Hepburn

I got a lot of wonderful gifts for Christmas; my family and friends definitely outdid themselves this year, and I feel beyond blessed. One of my gifts really stood out — probably because I didn't ask for it, but when I opened the package, I was overwhelmed with excitement, reminiscent of that childhood surprise talked about in the previous post.

I have never been very good at dolling myself up like other girls around me. I wouldn't call myself a complete Tomboy or anything, but stick a make-up utensil and 3 eyeshadows in front of me and I am instantly paralyzed with fear. The eyelid is a fairly small part of our anatomy, but it becomes this huge canvas when I look in the mirror, and I am completely unaware of where to put what color. When asking some friends how I should do my make-up before a big event, they enthusiastically reply, "Oh, girl! You need to do a smoky eye with a neutral lip color! That will make your eyes pop and really look good with that dress!" Some girls are born with this ability to mix colors and shades and come out with a smoky eye. I, for years, have ended up looking like I came out on the losing end of a girl fight.

My mother, knowing this about me, found this eye shadow palette that — get this — comes with an instructional manual. All the colors are numbered and the book literally gives you step-by-step directions like you are a first-grader opening up your mother's make-up bag for the first time: "If you want a smoky eye, place color 2 on the whole lid and up to the brow bone. Take color 4 and smudge it in the crease. Line your eye with color 7." The only thing that would make this thing better is if a make-up artist came to life every morning and got me ready.

As we all know, it is now 2010. I hope that you and yours had a great New Years, filled with joy and hope for the coming year. I know that I sure enjoyed playing games and laughing with my family. As I was getting ready today, I looked at my make-up palette and wondered, "Wouldn't it be great if I had a palette for how to handle 2010?" I can honestly say that 2009 was such a confusing year, filled with many changes and unexpected detours. I can only hope that 2010 brings some clarity with it.

I have searched the make-up palette up and down, but nowhere in this book does it say, "Don't date Boy 2. That would be settling and your life will go downhill. Add Job 4 to your life and smudge in a touch of Hobby 8 and your year will be great. If you want true love, go to place 14 and sit down at table 5." It just doesn't work like that. Sometimes you search and search for the "smoky eye" you so long for and you come out looking battered, tired and worn. But you know what-- you never give up. Not once did I give up wearing make-up completely because I never achieved the look I was going for. Not once did I skip a party because I didn't have eyes that glittered like Hollywood. It's a process.

In Philippians 1:6, Paul says: "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus."

In other words, no year is going to miraculously come in which everything falls into place perfectly. We are constantly being molded and changed based on the choices we make without the palette. There will come a day, however, when those good works will be completely perfected — and we will stand before our Maker, the writer of the ultimate instructional manual, and look into his glorious face. And, who knows, I may finally stare up at him with the most beautiful smoky eye you've ever seen. All my love, Ashton