The Fabulous Familiar

Taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary...

Friday, February 19, 2010

How Can I Help You?

The title of this blog is a phrase that I repeat every day, all day. I am pretty much a chipper broken record. "Good morning, this is Ashton, how can I help you?" Fast forward to evening: "PrimeCare Medical Clinic, this is Ashton, how can I help you?"

I am convinced that the customer service industry is not my calling in life. Though it is a temporary fix to say...destitution and is not where I want to be for very much longer. I have decided that I am too sensitive to deal with rude people and it takes every fiber of my being not to retaliate with sarcastic comments; comments that are incredibly witty and appropriate if I do say so myself.

What would you say, for instance, to a beauty pageant mom whose daughter has lost her voice when she is slotted to sing in the talent competition the next day; a mom who insists that you beg the doctors to stay until 10:00 p.m. (when you close at 8) so that her dear sweet angel can finally attain a sash and crown?

"Mam, I suggest that you find an event that is of less importance, like a luncheon or tea, and bring her here then."

"Everything is of utmost importance at the Junior Miss USA pageant."

"Well, I'm sorry mam, but if we stayed open and made an exception for you, we would have to do that for everyone who wanted to come in later than our hours. That is what the ER is for. I am sorry."

"Oh, but she has worked all year for this moment. I just can't believe this is happening to my baby. Would YOU be willing to stay until 10 p.m.?"

This is where I fight the urge to go:

"A lost voice will be the least of your daughter's worries after I jab a steroid shot into her leg. Frankly, I don't even know if it goes in her leg."

"Oh, but you don't understand. The talent portion is 3/4 of the scoring."

"I figured that, mam. Especially considering the fact that a receptionist giving your daughter a shot and causing her to break out in a terrible reaction because of it does not seem to concern you. I suppose a severe body rash is the new trend in the swimsuit competition."

I finally got her to quit telling me about her "baby's" bad fortune by bidding her goodbye and wishing her daughter luck in the evening gown competition. I told her that perhaps her daughter could sing a Rod Stewart or Louis Armstrong number; perhaps the raspy voice could be disguised as imitation.

Once again, these are all things that are running through my head as I continue to be verbally abused by a woman who probably forces salad down her child's throat and wears sequins on a daily basis.

If nothing else, dealing with people has caused me to grow a little bit of a backbone; at least more of one than I had when I first started. That's progress, right?

Customer service has also improved my ability to hold my tongue, which has often carried over into my personal life as well. It has taught me to deal with difficult people, handle verbal abuse and not cry (as much) at the drop of a hat.

When I realize that these people need love and kindness just as much as those who make life easy, I realize that what I am doing is very important. People need to be given the benefit of the doubt when they are put in a stressful situation; they need someone who will not take their attitude at face value and look up at them and say, "How Can I Help You?"

...and actually mean it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Just Call Me Julia Child...

“I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.” -Julia Child

As most of you know, I am not--how shall I put this--domestically inclined.

A sandwich for lunch every day is about the extent of my culinary abilities. When I'm feeling really wild, I might add bacon and make it a club sandwich.

I feel like one of the keys to thoughtfulness is branching out of your comfort zone and attempting to try something new to show someone you care. That being said, I decided to make a three-layer, frosted German chocolate cake for my Valentine (see the post about Sir Lancelot for more information).

Because of work and other activities, I didn't get to start my quest until midnight. I guess I somehow assumed this wouldn't be a far cry from Betty Crocker and a box of cake mix. Add an explosion of flour and a gooey mess from separating egg yolks from egg whites, and you have my sudden realization that this was indeed a whole different ballgame. Had my mother not been there to stop me from routinely cracking the egg and putting the whole thing in the bowl, a very interesting result could have come about.

I have never made anything that had that many ingredients; even the frosting itself was something to be mastered.

"Whisk egg whites until they reach a stiff peak," I read.

"Mo-om," I call, "What in the world is a stiff peak?"

She laughed as I sleepily whisked the egg whites; getting fatigued, I kept saying, "Look at that peak. It looks stiff."

She would just shake her head; my cue to keep going.

Cooking is all in the details, and I feel like that is why it is just not my thing. I am perfectly happy to get close enough, but real cooks know that a tad too much of one thing can ruin a recipe and not enough of something can have destructive consequences. My mom's mantra of "Is that really a whole cup?" played in my head constantly. I would hang my head like a defeated athlete and start the scoop again.

Fast forward to 2:30 a.m. and the cake is finally complete. The three layers have all cooled and it's stacking time. In a daze, I attempt to lift one on top of the other. My grip not being what it should be on the second one almost causes a split down the middle, but I luckily regain my composure and save its life; if not, this cake would have quickly downgraded to a two-layer. I iced it up with delicious frosting and it was complete.

I felt like a mother looking down at her child. Even in my state of deliriousness, I felt this sense of pride and accomplishment. The kitchen definitely signaled the storm and stress of the evening, and I looked like I had been in a paintball gun fight with the ingredients as the ammunition.

I had been to battle, and I had won.

I know that, following this blog, I will probably start getting lists of cake orders like crazy. Though I would be much obliged, may I kindly refer you to your local neighborhood bakery or the bakery section at Wal-Mart.

Pictures of my creation will hopefully be up soon for your viewing pleasure; or actual proof, whichever purpose fits your fancy.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Life after Undergrad

This, too, is a re-post for those of you who may not have gotten to read it. Plus, I just wanted it in my blog archives for the future. I promise that new, recent posts will come soon! :-)

When walking across the graduation stage last May, I had hoped that the key to life (or at least the secret of life in paper form) would have been tucked away underneath my diploma. Even a handwritten plan of action passed to me upon the final handshake from Dr. Burks would have sufficed. Once the initial excitement wore off and the cap and gown had found its dust-collecting place in the back of my closet, reality began to set in. I had veered away from my pre-college game plan and was now wandering out into the unknown, the unfamiliar.

In all actuality, five years ago — when picturing my life as it would stand today — I would have given you the typical “I’m going to Harding” ambitions list. The MRS degree was not why I came to Harding, but I would be remiss to pretend like Prince Charming, the white picket fence and a dream job weren’t in the back of my mind when I read my acceptance letter. The white picket fence is presently an unpainted fence that only surrounds the backyard—a fence that houses a hole that’s big enough for the neighbor’s dog to peer in and bark its head off at me during the early morning hours. Two part-time jobs are helping me through grad school and Prince Charming, well, we still haven’t located him.

Hymns like “Just as I Am” and “There’s a Fountain Free” are supposed to be the tear-jerking, come-down-the-aisle go-to songs, but lately, a lesser known children’s song has seemed to work its power in me. When children, with their angelic little voices, sing “God’s Still Working on Me,” a lump gathers in my throat. Could it be that that my college graduation, the culmination of my game plan, was not necessarily God’s occasion to bring everything neatly gift-wrapped to my doorstep? If I had not gotten so caught up in the beautiful rendition of “Climb Every Mountain,” maybe I would have heard him gently whisper that he was not finished with me yet.

Had he given me everything I wanted when I wanted it, perhaps I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to learn from my mistakes, become independent, and above all, create memories I will carry with me always. I think every young woman, even if they eventually get married and have kids, will always remember that initial transition to life as a single adult trying to make their way in this world. Here, in no particular order of importance, are post-Harding lessons that I have gathered in the past several months:

1. Sit in the dark and purchase a Snuggie — I was notorious in the dorm for cranking the heat up and leaving lights on. My first electric bill in the new house was a wake-up call and alerted me that a lifestyle change was about to take place. Don’t forget to bring marshmallows when you visit; they are cheap and they make good treats when we are huddled by the space heater.

2. Beware of boys — Guys, believe it or not, are actually allowed within a 15-foot radius of your house when you graduate. This poses a problem when shortly upon moving to the outside world, you forget that you’re not in Sears anymore and you dance around your kitchen while doing the dishes. An unfamiliar male face in my window was enough to result in a James Bond drop to the ground and the fastest army crawl you’ve ever seen. A permanent scar from carpet burn is forever there to remind me that, in reality, men are allowed to come in the lobby before noon.

3. Goodbye easy-to-remember 4-digit numbers — When you are scared or locked out, call 5000. When your toilet breaks, call 4339. When you don’t know who to contact, call 4000. Post-graduation, when you have an outbreak of spiders and mice, it’s time to take matters into your own hands. Stop screaming, get down off the couch and put on your big girl pants. For future reference, opening the cabinet quickly and throwing a mousetrap in there is not the best method; the trap immediately sets itself off, it takes 45 minutes to set it up again and the mouse is still scurrying around your Lazy Susan like it is its own mouse condominium. Oh, and you can forget about that whole Harding lawn-mowing service thing they have going on. I had to make sure the neighborhood was vacant before I tried my hand at mowing the lawn for the first time.

4. You can be suave without Pantene — Yep, I was that girl. I bought shampoo because it was pretty, six-dollar deodorant because it had a picture of flowers on it and got a pedicure when I didn’t feel like (gasp) bending over to paint my own toenails. Those days are no more. Surprisingly, I have still been able to leave the house with clothes that are put together, hair that is clean and not the slightest trace of B.O. Though my new body wash may not have glitter in it and smell like a tropical island, I still feel blessed to have such luxuries at all. Plus, cheaper brands allow you to expand your wild side and try such scents as cherry blossom and bamboo. Richer, snobbier brands would scoff at such combinations.

It’s fun to laugh about these now, but when the experiences are happening, they are frightening and unpredictable. It’s easy for me to throw myself a pity party and wonder what God has in store for me. Will I, until the end of time, have to protect myself from mice and spiders and remember to take the trash out? Will I have to eat Campbell’s soup for lunch for the rest of my life? It’s then that I have to close my eyes and hear the sweet words of children — kids who have no idea what’s in store for them—and listen to the promise: “He’s still working on me to make me what I ought to be/It took him just a week to make the moon and stars/The Sun and the Earth and Jupiter and Mars/How loving and patient he must be/He’s still working on me.”

Though he may be prepping me to set a mousetrap, mow my lawn and exert some independence, I know even that does not encompass his path for my life. I just have to have faith, love much, and put my fence up. I know that one day I will look out my window and see that he has painted it white.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Tough Love & Dating Faux Pas

“Watching your daughter being collected by her date feels like handing over a million dollar Stradivarius to a gorilla.” - American writer Jim Bishop

I wrote this article last year for the college newspaper. I got a lot of feedback on it at the time so I thought I would recycle it and share it with all of you. Enjoy :-)

With the recent release of movies like “He’s Just Not That Into You” and TV shows like “Tough Love,” it has become apparent to me in recent months that dating is quickly becoming an art form. There are explicit and implicit rules that one must follow in order to avoid being placed into undesirable dating stereotypes.

In “Tough Love,” for example, matchmaker Steven Ward attempts to improve the dating lives of women — from “Miss Picky,” the woman who is too caught up in a list of impossible expectations to “Miss Wedding-Obsessed,” the girl that tells guys on their first date that she’s looking to be married within a year. Using a zapping contraption that resembles the electric fence that was invented for dogs, he “kindly” reminds the women of their negative tendencies.

Because of the show, my nightly coffee talks with girlfriends have quickly transformed into our own version of “Tough Love.” Once the doors of enlightenment are opened, there is no turning back. A mirror is placed in front of you and all of your habits and tendencies begin to stare you in the face.

“When you talk to a boy, your Southern drawl comes out big time,” one of my friends says to me. Following this (untrue) statement, all of the girls in the circle begin to ruthlessly imitate my most recent interaction with a guy. (I end up sounding like a cross between John Wayne and Dolly Parton). “Well, at least I don’t get all high-pitched and squeaky!” I respond. The statement sinks in and then laughter fills the room as we picture my roommate, a natural alto, excitedly letting out sounds only a dog can hear in the presence of her Casanova. My normally chatty roommate, not be left out, inquires, “What do I do?” We all think a moment and then come to the conclusion that she barely says a word — this once bubbly girl transforms into a machine capable of only nodding her head and smiling.

Though VH1 has yet to approach me about starring in my own TV show, I have compiled a list of dating faux pas. I am by no means a dating expert — I, unfortunately, have had to learn by trial and error. Here are a few helpful tips that might just save you some painful zaps from Steven Ward.

• When asked if you want a piggyback ride, don’t use this as an opportunity to practice for the Olympic high jump — After a sweet picnic in the park, I was jokingly asked if I wanted a piggyback ride back up to the truck. I adamantly declined, but after much persistence on his part, I consented. Never much of a track and field star, I somehow chose this opportunity to jump higher than I have ever jumped before in my life. It was like slow motion. I saw the expression on his face as he realized what was about to occur. Before I knew it, I had pancaked him to the ground. Humiliated, I was frozen for a moment. Quite the quick thinker, he kindly asked, “While we’re down here, do you want to look at the stars?”

• Don’t use dates as a time to research — “Seventeen” magazine is by no means one of the leading forces in fine-tuned research. As a high-schooler, though, it was a fountain of useful information. If a guy, while the two of you are at dinner, is telling you about his hard day at work or how his boss treats him, “Seventeen” said you should gently brush your foot against the guy’s leg. This — apparently to some demented writer trying to confuse the world’s teens — would let the guy know that you were really in tune to what he was saying. After careful experimentation, I found absolutely no response. I jokingly told the guy about the article and asked why he didn’t care about my efforts. His confused look told me all I needed to know; I looked under the table and found a large table leg right by his leg. We laughed about it, but he never confided to me without kiddingly looking under the table first.

• Trying to play it smooth usually results in the complete opposite — Whenever I over-think situations and how I appear to others, fate kindly reminds me to take a chill pill. Once, while in the student center line, I placed my wallet under my arm as I tried to carefully balance my tray and smile at a cute boy in front of me. Usually awkward, I was quite proud of myself for playing this situation out so smoothly. I went to take my wallet out from under my arm only to realize that it had wound itself into my sweater and was not going to budge. The guy’s eyebrows furrowed as he saw me tug and smile, tug and smile. “Let me help you with that!” he said as he bent down and attempted to free my wallet from under my armpit. I stood helpless, with my arm up in the air, as he meticulously worked to free the wallet. Similarly, while working out in the gym, a guy gave me a friendly smile. Attempting to finish my last sit-up, maintain brief eye contact and take a drink of water was too much multi-tasking for me to handle; I proceeded to douse myself in water.

While I sometimes wish that I wasn’t a magnet for embarrassing situations, I feel that ultimately they are a part of who I am. They allow me to let my guard down around people, show my vulnerable side and — at the end of the day — not take myself too seriously. Everyone, in some way or another, is nervous and unsure about what this whole dating thing is all about. It is time to put down the zappers and start being bold. Will there be awkward moments? Absolutely. Will we stutter and say the wrong things at times? Without a doubt. It will all be worth it someday, however, when we find that equally nervous, equally unsure person who warms our heart and makes the whole confusing process seem normal.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

DON'T Let it Snow...

"A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water." ~Carl Reiner

I have come to the conclusion that snow is the only weather that is absolutely forgiven no matter what it does.

If a tornado picks up your SUV, spins it around violently and throws it 200 feet away from you, you are not happy. You don't say, "Oh! That tornado was so neat! It was just miraculous!"

If a hurricane soaks your house with consistent rain and violent winds, you don't go, "Way to go, Rita. That wind almost knocked me off of my porch!"

Why, then, do we let snow and ice mess up our schedules, cause us to slide off the road and debilitate us from going to Wal-Mart for food?

My roommate, the Snow Queen, could literally do the splits in our driveway, rip her pants and then gleefully exclaim, "I looooooooove snow! I loooooooove winter!"

Like a four-year-old child, she begs me to go play in the snow each evening. I, resembling a grumpy mother, usually ignore her pleas and prefer to warm myself by McSteamy the Space Heater.

It's almost like if I go outside and laugh...I am letting it one-up me. It's like I am condoning its ability to run me off the road or freeze me to death in these winter months.

Not only that, I equate snow with cooking. How, you ask, are they even related? Well-- cooking is all fine and dandy until you realize that after everyone has scarfed your food down like hungry animals, there is a mound of dirty pots, pans, plates and silverware waiting for you to clean.

...Similarly, I can't seem to ignore the future when it comes to snow; I can't see past the freezing, soaked clothes and the inability to warm up once I get back inside. Even my Snuggie can't ward off the chill and my fingers are frozen into solid ice cubes.

When leaving work on Monday, I had to pull over on the side of the road because my tires could not make contact with the road. For an hour, I sat and waited to be picked up. A young man, who I thought was coming to see about my plight, instead chucked a huge snowball at my windshield. Thanks. He probably loves winter.

This morning, as I left my house, I lost my footing and was 3 inches short of the splits. I did the whole scan of the neighborhood to see if anyone saw and then carefully stomped my way to the car. Similarly, I almost busted my tailbone on the way to church last week and slid onto the main highway from our street. I will never forget the sound my brakes made as they screamed, "We ain't stoppin, girl! Hope you have made your life right with God and fellow man."

All this and people still sing winter's praises. I will admit it through gritted teeth: Snow is pretty. Winter is pretty. I like scarves.

But you know what? A pit bull will still bite you even if it has lipstick and a dress on.

Call me a pessimist. Call me a grouch. But I am here to be that needy, ex-girlfriend of summer. "Come baaaack! I miss you! I'm sorry that I did you wrong. I promise to go outside every day and bask in your goodness!"

I guess until Mr. Summer hears my pleas and wraps me in his sunshine, I will just have to look on the bright side of things. I get to catch up on some sleep, face adventure just by attempting to get to work and touch up my balancing abilities.

...I figure by the time summer rolls around, I will be Olympics balance beam material. That is, if winter decides to spare me from broken limbs and frostbite...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Invisible Glue and Poison Water

"Children make you want to start life over." ~Muhammad Ali

It's not every day that I get the chance to be around children. Since all the cousins in my family are roughly around the same age, we went through the "kid stage" at the same time and have all been out of it for a number of years. We sometimes reflect on the games we used to play and the crazy antics we used to pull-- but for the most part-- they are just distant memories; often times, memories that are formed after someone tells you that you in fact did such a thing.

Those of you who know me know that--though you may not call me this to my face--I am in fact a bit of a control freak. I like to know what's happening, why it's happening, how it's going to end up, etc. Uptight is my perpetual state of being and worry is its best friend.

Some people may take pills for this type of thing. Some people can afford weekly masseuse visits. Instead, I have been blessed to have my own little ray of sunshine in the form of my friend's 4-year-old daughter. I see her a few times a week and get the opportunity to babysit her occasionally. She is a reminder to me of who I used to be--and that, in the big scheme of things, how I do on my accounting homework does not define who I am.

I took a break from schoolwork yesterday and took her to a nearby park. We tried our hand at the teeter-totter (I got quite the thigh workout from having to maintain control and not send her on a first-class trip to the moon!)We went down the slide and played some tag.

My favorite game, though, was when she decided to glue my feet to the ground. She picked my feet up and spread the "invisible glue" all over the bottom of my shoe. She decided she was going to run around me; I, being stuck, was "forced" to save my breath and stand defenseless. I didn't have the heart to tell her that not having to run was totally OK with me so I instead acted like I was becoming immensely frustrated that I couldn't catch up with her.

She then informed me that the glue could not be undone without "poison water." She told me she was going to find some so she could undo the spell of the magic glue. Lucky for me, poison water was indeed found and placed on a rock. The rock was rubbed on the bottom of my shoe, freeing me from my invisible ties to the ground.

We left the park and got some ice cream; it was in the car that she said those sweet little words: "Ashton, you're my best friend." To me, this little phrase is right up there with a guy saying the "L" word for the first time.

I may have taken her to the park, to the McDonald's Playplace and to get ice cream, but she has taken me to a place far greater. She has taken me back to a time that I have long pushed in the back of my mind.

...the days when I was a cowgirl tied to the crib by my Indian brothers.
...the days when I was a traveler on the Oregon Trail, pushing my rocking horse up against the recliner (my wagon).
...the days when I was a princess getting served tea and Poptarts by my waiters/brothers.

I spent so much of my childhood trying to grow up. I would pretend to go to work; pretend to be a housewife; pretend to be pregnant (pillows, anyone?) Now, I can't help but want to go back. Since this is impossible, I can only offer my love for children and an appreciation for who they are. I want to be this person:

If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.
Rachel Carson

Here's to the world of rediscovery!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to. ~John Ed Pearce

My hometown of Paragould has been on my heart recently. With grad school consuming my thoughts and two part-time jobs ruling my weeks and weekends, it has been fairly easy to push the thoughts to the back of my mind and continue my day. It's funny how, after months and months of re-filing feelings in the back of your mind, they can still emerge in ways you never expected. You think you are fine and then out of nowhere comes this Mount Vesuvius eruption of utter ridiculousness; ridiculousness that could have been avoided had you just gradually acknowledged your weakness.

Today was one of those days.

Came in from work. Fixed my daily sandwich. Popped open an ice-cold Dr. Pepper.

Like any other day, I plopped myself on our Foof--an oversized bean bag-like creature that perfectly molds to your body shape--and decided to see what was on television.

I came across "Bride Wars," a romantic comedy starring Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson. I saw this once in the theater and forgot the underlying theme of childhood friendship and never forgetting where you came from. Had I remembered this part of the story, I may have avoided this viewing because of my recent homesickness.

...Instead, I inadvertently set myself up for a sob fest.

The two brides eventually come back together and put their stupid differences behind them; they are best friends, after all, who have been there for each other their whole lives. Their families have been together through terrible times, and many of their deepest joys overlap.

This immediately turned my thoughts to my childhood (and still) best friend, Bliss Rice (now's still hard for me to change it!) The credits rolled--and instead of their pictures being in my head, I began to have this slideshow of us as children.

...Riding in the back of her dad's truck listening to country music; road-tripping it to Memphis to see three *NSYNC concerts; creating our own home video called "How to Have Fun at Sleepovers." The list could go on for days.

The deep homesickness that I have been hiding for quite some time all seemed to come to the surface as the final song played and I became a sniffling, weeping mess. It soon occurred to me how deeply I miss my home. Though I felt as though I was finally over my parents moving to Searcy, it has become apparent that all the homesickness has not be eradicated.

The truth is-- I miss walking into 7th and Mueller Church of Christ and having people hug me and tell me how proud they are of me. I miss Coach Schatzley calling me "Ash" and cracking jokes about old times on the basketball court. I miss Floyd Landrum coming up and shaking my hand, laughing about the time I missed his hand and poked him in the stomach. I miss Sue Smith's smile and David Summitt's announcement about the church BBQ. I miss home church at the Garnett's and visiting with Anna, Morgan and the girls after. I miss sleepovers with Casey Schatz, Lori and Haven and Dairy Queen after Wednesday night church.

I miss Paragould-Tech games and must confess that I still hate the green and gold color combination when I see it. I miss Zack's funny phrases and Kenley's contagious laugh. I miss Kim's calming spirit and advice and Bliss's ability to make a great get-together happen. I miss Kelsey G's crazy antics and will never forget her single-handed conquer of a rose chandelier for our junior prom.

I could honestly name something that I love about each and every one of my Paragould family members; they have all inspired me and made me into the person I am today. It doesn't matter where I go from here; I will always look to them as the people who know the real Ashton.

I think that is why it is so hard to be away from where you grew up. No matter how many friends you make along the way, you still feel like they don't understand the underlying stories that make you you.

The reason I love quotes so much (as you have probably gathered from my blogs) is because they are able to capture exactly how I feel:

"Home is the one place in all this world where hearts are sure of each other. It is the place of confidence. It is the place where we tear off that mask of guarded and suspicious coldness which the world forces us to wear in self-defense, and where we pour out the unreserved communications of full and confiding hearts. It is the spot where expressions of tenderness gush out without any sensation of awkwardness and without any dread of ridicule." ~Frederick W. Robertson

The chances of me moving back to Paragould are very slim; no matter where I end up, though, I will always carry with me fond memories of that place.

...My front porch swing overlooking Court Street
...TP-ing people's houses and getting caught
...PHS band trips
...The adrenaline rush of running out at the Tech game.
.........The list is indefinite.

If any Paragouldians are reading this, I just want to thank you. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your support. Thank you for the unexplainable joy that you have brought to my 23 years of life. I miss you dearly.