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RIP Oprah.

My goat Oprah died unexpectedly last night. I’m heartbroken over it, more than some people might think one should be over a goat. But here’s the thing, I waited almost 13 years for this goat and she was sweet, though timid, and a wonderful mother to some very cute babies. She was my first goat, someone I dreamed about from the time I was about 14 years old. I don’t really have much else to say, but I’m going to miss her, so I’m going to use this day to share a couple of photos and a post I wrote shortly after I got Oprah for Christmas in 2014. ​

 


Welcome to the family, Oprah (Jan. 7, 2015)

I was squatting in a corner of the goat pen, hand outstretched with a carrot resting on the end of my fingertips, softly trying to negotiate with the goats. “It’s okay girls. You can trust me. I have carrots for you.” It turns out that’s not enough to convince adult goats that a complete stranger is safe.  Those that know me best would tell you patience is not my strong suit, but it’s going to take a lot of patience for me to get to know my new goat… and for some reason that feels okay.

Twelve years ago I started asking for a goat as a negotiation tactic. My parents told me we were moving from our perfect, happy, SERIOUSLY WHY WOULD WE EVER LEAVE HERE suburban life near Raleigh, North Carolina down to a farm in the middle of nowhere in South Carolina. My brothers weren’t going. They were both old enough to live on their own. I was the only one still in school. For reasons best explained by teenage angst and inability to see the big picture, I thought this whole thing was terrible. I decided moving by myself to South Carolina was, at the very least, a strong enough negotiator for getting a pet goat. So I started asking. I pushed hard for a while. I was a 14 year old girl with her dad wrapped around her finger (why deny it?). It didn’t take long to get a yes to the goat… but then she never actually arrived.

—–

I bit into one of the carrots to break it into smaller pieces. I can’t be certain, but I think one of the girls gave me the side-eye as I put my teeth around the end of the carrot.

I looked down at my dusty boots and laughed quietly at myself; I waited twelve years to squat near some goats, for what seemed like forever, while trying to patiently coax them into sharing a carrot or two.

—–

I named my goat Oprah — partly because I used to love watching Oprah after school with my mom… but mostly because I think it’s a hilarious name for a goat. Oprah can’t live with me right now. She lives at my mom and dad’s farm because I don’t think goats love apartment style living and my dog is going to murder me in my sleep if I bring another animal into her life.

Twelve years ago when I asked for a goat it was because I was a goofy 14 year old who appreciated the novelty of owning an animal none of my suburban friends had seen outside of the state fairgrounds. It’s probably best not to get a living, breathing pet for a reason that ridiculous. This year, when I renewed my request for a goat it was because this farm thing is real. I’m in this. I love the lifestyle. I love living off of and learning from the land. I don’t get to live it every day, but I benefit from it most days of the week. I cook meals made from vegetables grown in my parents’ backyard. I bake, scramble, and boil eggs from their chickens.

When I need a place to just get away and breathe fresh air, the camping spot down by the creek is the best spot I know.

—–

I know… as I corner Oprah and her sister and get just close enough to rub their backs, while they watch me with suspicion… that this is all going to take a while. I know, as I drive down the gravel driveway and turn out onto the road that carries the address I used to call home… that the farm is not my reality right now. I know that in 35 minutes I’ll be pulling up to my apartment two towns away from my family’s land, and that is where I live right now. That is where my bills arrive. That is where my dog sleeps. That is where I get ready for work each day. I know I still live in an apartment in another county, but the family farm’s influence is real and it’s shaping me.

Oprah is my best way to really take some ownership in the farm right now. She’s my ticket to spending more time enjoying what this land… our land… has to offer,  if I can ever get her to trust me enough to share these carrots I’ve already bitten.

 

 

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15 years

We left North Carolina 15 years ago today in a U-Haul.

I was 14 years and 8 months old and should’ve been doing my 9th grade summer reading on the way down, but I couldn’t stop thinking about everything I was leaving behind.

I hated moving.

I typically love disgusting southern summer heat, but it was unacceptable that day. The truck rattled on the highway and nothing on the radio sounded right. We got Chick-fil-A somewhere just before the state line and it didn’t even taste good.

Chick-fil-A always tastes good.

It’s the first time in my life I don’t remember being excited to see the Gaffney peach.

We used to come down to Liberty, SC fairly often. We’d visit my grandparents farm, swim in their pool, fish in their pond, spend time with my sisters and nephews.

It was a fine, no, great place to visit.

But it was no place to move a teenager who was used to the comfort of the suburbs in a progressive southern city, of that I was sure.

—–

My opinion of this place changed. I became comfortable over time. High school in rural South Carolina was far better than I expected it to be, and most likely a better experience than I would’ve had in a huge suburban Wake County high school. I made friends I will never lose.

I stuck around South Carolina for college. Though that decision was largely influenced by in-state scholarship money, I’m glad I made it.

I left right after school to try a new place, because I thought I needed to get away.  It only took me 19 months to hurry back from Mississippi.

I eventually fell from feeling stuck in South Carolina, to being in love with it. My sisters are here. My parents are here. A huge part of our family history is here. I fell in love with South Carolina.

And I fell in love in South Carolina.

I met a guy from New Hampshire who’d come down for a job and through the course of all of the things dating, falling in love and getting married can bring, I sort of accidentally roped him into sticking around the Palmetto State.

So we’re settling in this place I never wanted to move to, but it’s not settling in the sense that I’d rather be elsewhere.

I wouldn’t.

We love our city. This city is ours and that’s important to us. We’ve watched it grow and change in the past five years and will continue to do so long into the future.

But I still miss North Carolina.

I still think of North Carolina as my home.

Not in a sad, pathetic way, or at least that’s what I tell myself, but in the way that a person loves the place that shaped them.

North Carolina is where I was made. It’s where I learned to walk, run, swim and ride a bike. It’s where I made my first friends and some of my very best friends. It’s where most of my team allegiances lie and where my mom’s whole side of the family hails from. We didn’t travel a lot when I was young, instead we spent most of our time off and many weekends visiting my grandparents’ home near the NC Coast.

It’s also the only place I grew up with my brothers. They were both out of high school when we moved. A transition to being the only child left at home might feel natural for any other youngest child, for me, it coincided with a life change that amplified an altered family dynamic.

—–

15 years ago today my mom, dad and I moved into the first house I ever lived in that wasn’t ours from its beginning. It was a rental house, actually a former parsonage for my grandparents’ Methodist church which sat just behind the backyard. The living room had green carpet and the kitchen had the oldest appliances and cabinets I’d ever seen.

I’m sure someone loved the home at one point, but it wasn’t me.

We lived in that house for two years while my parents built a big white home on a hill outside of town. Someone bought the parsonage after we left and renovated every inch.

I don’t disconnect well. It took me years to figure it out, but it’s probably my biggest weakness. I don’t easily grasp the idea of losing friends to time, distance or even conflict. I’m still, even as we go through the process of buying our first home here in Greenville, appalled at the idea that people live in a structure for years, build memories there and then just leave, destined to only ever see it again from the outside as they slow roll down the street wondering how the new residents have redecorated.

That was the only home I’ve never cared about since we left.

On the rare occasions when I drive by that house, all I can think of is grumpy 14-year-old me on a hot, sticky July day, insisting on putting two unopened packets of Chick-fil-A’s Polynesian sauce in the ugly old fridge as soon I arrived – you know, in case I needed them in my uncertain future in South Carolina.

 

 

 

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The lost art of disliking something quietly

I could mourn the loss of a lot of things at the hands of the internet.

Privacy

My free time

The ability to remember mundane facts instead of googling them

But, perhaps, the thing I miss most is the lost art of disliking something quietly.

Nobody needs my opinion on goat cheese or ‘The Princess Bride’, but what we’ve built in this internet saturated age is an endless platform for just that – opinions on flippin’ goat cheese.

I, like many of you, remember hearing “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” ad nauseam when I was a child.

There was a general principle that the need to comment on things we disagree with was not as important as the need to respect other people’s opinions.

If my brothers wanted to watch a movie I didn’t want to watch, I was redirected toward an activity that I would enjoy or I watched that movie and earned the right to make the movie decision the next time around.

If someone offered me a food I didn’t like, I politely turned it down or sucked it up and ate a small portion.

If, as is the way in the internet world of 2017, I’d shouted in the offeree’s face (CAPS LOCK, MUCH?) about how disgusting that food is, I would’ve spent some quality time with a chair in the corner or some other reasonable punishment.

We used to be blissfully unaware of how everyone we’d ever met felt about every trending topic of the day.

The internet took that away.

Faster than any of us could’ve expected, we’ve become powerless in the face of a blank space waiting to be filled with our own righteous opinions on every little thing.

Gluten sucks!

The president is stupid! The president is a genius and everyone else is stupid!

Women shouldn’t wear leggings as pants!

Libtard!

Racist!

Bigot!

Idiot!

Moron!

I swear, I didn’t see this coming.

Maybe I should have, but I didn’t. Is this really where we wanted to land – in a place where our first assumption is the worst assumption – a place where we’d rather blast the things we don’t like than celebrate the things we do?

I can’t help but think we might all be better off if we took a few minutes to sit in the corner and share our opinions on goat cheese with a wall.

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We went to Maine

This past weekend we flew up to New England to surprise my father-in-law for his 60th birthday. It was a blast and a half. My in-laws, who are always willing to show me new places up North took us up to Maine.

While in Kennebunkport we saw the wildly underwhelming Bush compound – I just feel like they could’ve picked a better color scheme, took a bunch of squinty and ill-framed selfies before realizing sunglasses would help and I ate lobster for the first time. Life hack: If you’re going to try lobster for the first time, do it in Maine. It’s delicious and light and as fresh as it gets up there.

I am a southern girl to the core. My family on both sides is from the Carolinas and I’ve been known to be obnoxiously proud of where I’m from, but MAN, it is SO cool to have a reason to visit another region of the country on as regular a basis as we can afford.

If we made a lot more money, we’d be up there even more often.

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When you have to talk about tragedy with a teenager

A gray Tuesday with dark clouds hanging heavily in the sky is exactly what you’d expect out of a day spent talking about death with someone too young to have to figure out how to understand it.

I’d kept my crumpled rain jacket in the passenger seat all day, in case the exact moment I stepped out of the car was when the clouds released.

I’ve never been great at talking about death – most especially with a teenager – someone who, one can only hope, had never experienced this kind of loss before.

We lost classmates when I was in school, classmates – with an s. We attended more memorial services for people our age than any kid should have to. It was usually the result of a car accident on a rural road.

Temporary memorials were placed at the site of their deaths. We cried. We hugged. We left notes in places we’d decided belonged to them – lockers, intersections, their parking spaces in the school lot. Their desks remained empty. In the back of the yearbook, we knew what to expect – a black and white photo taken on a picture day before any of us knew what was ahead. Underneath it the year they were born, a dash and the year they died.

We mourned and counselors were brought in to try to help us process it. I imagine this is how it goes at most schools when a life is lost. A community of adults tries to help kids understand and move forward.

I found myself back near the intersection of death and youth on that gray Tuesday. A dozen tables filled the lobby of a local high school, each covered with rolls of paper filled to the edges with notes to a track & field coach who’d died in a fiery wreck on his way to school. He’d coached his track teams to state championships, but the trophies took up far less space than the notes from students, parents, athletes and colleagues thanking him for the love and kindness he showed.

I’d seen all I needed to see. My small notebook was filled with details like the color of the paper, the number of times he was named coach of the year and how many pairs of track spikes were left hanging on the fence by the stadium where his team practiced.

I wasn’t there to pressure kids to talk to me. There were adults with whom these kids are comfortable with who could do that. A story isn’t more important than respect for someone’s grief.

I was nearly to the door when a teacher stopped me. She called a girl’s name and I watched as a blonde with a stoic expression turned toward us. The woman asked the girl to speak with me – to share her story.

I’m not sure who was more uncomfortable in that moment. I watched the girl’s face morph from stoic to sad as she considered it. The woman urged her – saying she knew she had something important to say.

I gave her an out.

I told her I was going to take care of something and would be back in a couple of minutes.

“If you’re sitting on there when I get back, we can talk,” I said, motioning to a bench by the school’s front door.

I gave her an out, but as I approached the front door of the school again a few minutes later, I could see her legs sticking out from the bench.

I could tell she was nervous. She’d brought a friend along for moral support. The three of us walked together into the first open room I could find – an auditorium. The large space was void of people, but full of chairs. We grabbed a couple in the corner.

As we began to talk, her voice was steady. She knew what she wanted to say about a man she’d known since she was just a seventh grader. She told me how much she’d grown and could see him in herself as she approached her upcoming graduation. A couple of times during our conversation her friend spoke up encouraging her to “tell her what you told me earlier”.

I listened as the girl’s eyes welled up while she talked about this man she’d loved. She’d run for him for six years. He’d known her through some of the most important moments of her life so far. She’d known big achievements and tough disappointments under his direction and recognized in him the ability to keep a positive attitude about each. She recognized the way that attitude had rubbed off on her.

I teared up with her. We talked about the track & field team I coach. More than a few times I saw her take a deep breath to steady her voice and imagined a few of the athletes I’ve become close to over the past couple of years. I thought of my high school coaches and how I would’ve ached to lose them.

I took notes as she explained how the track wouldn’t feel the same without her coach. We talked about the younger kids she’d be leaving behind after graduation – those who are even less equipped to understand sudden, tragic death.

She poignantly and carefully described a man who could make any kid feel like a champion.

Sometime soon she’ll find herself in a room with a few hundred or so people who felt his life in their own way. It’ll become more clear that he’s gone and she didn’t get a proper goodbye. She’ll learn that life somehow still continues without him.

I won’t be there for any of that. This young woman taught me how to talk about tragedy with a teenager. But the reality is I only knew her for a few minutes in a couple of brown chairs in an empty high school auditorium.

 

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To the normal mom

ElizabethRusselWED188

My mom used to go all out for our birthdays. I don’t mean she spent a lot of money. At that time, I don’t think my parents had a lot of extra money to spend. So she got creative. One year my brother had a pirate party and everyone was given handmade maps to their own treasure buried in the woods across from our house.

 

When I think back on my childhood, it’s full of little normal moments when my mom went beyond where she had to.

She was the mom who picked me up when I fell, put a band-aid on and then lovingly told me to keep playing, because that would make it feel better.

She was the mom who made three meals a day and let us help plan a month’s menu so we could feel like we were a part of the process.

She was the mom who let me traipse around her garden in tiny sandals, probably stepping on plants along the way, so I would one day appreciate what it’s like to grow my own food and flowers.

She was the mom who, when our home was intact following a major hurricane, packed us all into the car and drove us to North Raleigh so we could help members of our church clean up from their own devastation.

She’s the mom who knew she was terrified of storms, so she made sure to spend time with us watching lightning and counting until the thunder clapped, so we wouldn’t have the same fear.

She drove me from school to dance to swim practice to whatever rec. league sport was in season at the time and always talked to me about my day on the way there – in a way that made me want to share my life with her.

She let me borrow her sewing machine when I was a middle schooler with a penchant for creating purses, pajama pants, pillows and more.

My mom always wanted to help me learn how to cook and I was stubborn for too long and didn’t give her the attention that I probably should have, but she often forgivingly invites me into her kitchen as an adult to make up for lost time.

She’s the mom who will still talk to me over the phone later at night until I reach my destination, just to make sure I make it there.

She’s still one of the very first people I’d call if I ever needed help or to share good news.

When I was very young, I wanted my birthday party to be a “teddy bear tea”. My friends wore their finest dress-up clothes and brought their teddy bears along. My mom made the usual snacks and drinks for the kids, but also took the time to set a table for the visiting bears and even made them tiny marmalade sandwiches, because that’s what Paddington ate.

I’m convinced moms are made in these little moments – in the hours spent drawing treasure maps on normal paper and burning the edges to make them look old and in the spreading of marmalade on tiny, delicate pieces of bread so a group of 5 year olds can pretend.

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Inspiration in color and white space 


I haven’t been writing a lot lately, at least not here. Not writing goes against everything I believe I should be doing if I want to get better at it. Creativity takes practice, above all else, and I’ve been lazy and disconnected.

Or, if I’m interested in not being so hard on myself, I’ve been busy. Life has been busy.

Those aren’t good reasons to not do something that reminds me I’m alive.

I went looking for inspiration at the Hobby Lobby store in town I hate.

Somewhere in the back aisles I found a new, vet amateur hobby – a way to jog my creativity. I bought a relatively cheap set of watercolors and a book of paper and I started painting. 

The first night I painted trees and mountains and flowers before settling on just making colored lines and shapes and learning to read the way the amount of water dictated the depth of color. 

I didn’t make anything special. I didn’t even want to show the people I love most- it was nothing – because I’m not a painter. I don’t claim to be a painter. I don’t care to be a painter. 

I used to laugh because my best friend’s favorite artist paints giant single color squares and rectangles. Mark Rothko got famous doing something I thought I could recreate for about $7. She’d always explain it wasn’t Rothko’s shapes, but the way he painted them – the lines and textures inside each one.

I never saw it.

I started spending more and more of my alone time studying the shapes different strokes made on the pages of watercolor pad and the way a light touch could draw a cleaner line. 

I see it now.

I’m still not a painter, I don’t pretend to be or even to know much more about Rothko or anyone else of his caliber. But I’ve found what I needed. 

Sometimes the inspiration comes from what is added to the page with the artist’s diligent intention. 

And sometimes it comes from what was already there, in the white space That remains between strokes of color. 

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Stranger things

My dad taught me, perhaps accidentally and almost entirely by example, that I can find a connection to anyone if I’m bold enough to strike up a conversation.

We used to laugh about how he could know a cashier’s name, age and where he grew up before he finished ringing him up in the express lane.

Russ laughs at me for the same thing now. Part of it is a natural curiosity that I’ve always had. I love to know someone’s story. Part of it is an aversion to awkward silence. Most of it is a need to find the common humanity in the people who share my space.

When we travel anywhere I look for connections – to my home, hobbies, anything.

On our honeymoon we talked for half an hour to a family from Hendersonville, just 45 minutes up the road from where we live in Greenville. I believe in that particular instance, I noticed a Clemson hat and had to comment.

Last year while hiking a trail we’d never seen we ran into a friend of a friend I remembered from a birthday party I went to in 2009.

A few months ago, while out on a story, I met a guy who’s lived in Greenville for years and somehow within a couple of minutes found out that his dad went to high school with my mom in Wilmington, NC.

One recent morning, while waiting for a bagel at the coffee shop up the street, a man stopped me to ask about a ring I wear every day. It’s a tree of life, but from where he was sitting he thought it was designed to represent the gates of Charleston. This one was easy. A mention of Charleston always winds its way into a conversation about how much I love “the holy city” and enjoyed my time living there. He left while I continued to wait for my bagel, but I recognized how he changed my mood. Not that I was sad or grumpy, but I was standing there surrounded by the cafe’s dreamy white tile, marble and glass decor, zoning out.

His comment raised me from my feelings of indifferent and made me happy. I was suddenly more aware of my surroundings.

I smiled all the way to the office.

Strangers talking to each other is an endangered phenomenon and one of my favorite things that happen on this Earth.

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Remember Myspace?

I haven’t done one of these is a long time. It’s a boring Friday night and I have some time on my hands, so I’m going to relive the days of Myspace surveys for a moment.

Name your favorite:

  1. Place – Wrightsville Beach
  2. Person – Russ
  3. Color – carolina blue
  4. Food – crunchy peanut butter (Skippy)
  5. Smell – cinnamon
  6. Book – the catcher in the rye, the poisonwood bible
  7. Movie – ace ventura: pet detective (i know this warrants no respect from anyone, except possibly Jim Carrey)
  8. Music artist – Paul Simon
  9. Genre of music – bluegrass or americana
  10. Genre of literature – nonfiction
  11. Magazine – garden & gun
  12. Texture – buzzcut hair
  13. Time of day – pre-dawn
  14. Day of the week – friday
  15. blog – don’t really have one
  16. Thing to do when bored – read or run
  17. Celebrity – justin timberlake
  18. Class in school – history
  19. Website – bittersoutherner.com
  20. Drink – water with lime or a good sour beer
  21. Precious stone – what? really?
  22. Animal – dolphin or giraffe
  23. Flower – snap dragon
  24. Time in history – 1960s
  25. Font – calibri light
  26. Video game – none. i wish they didn’t exist beyond mario kart and original nintendo
  27. TV show – friends
  28. Play – phanton
  29. Sound – any clicking noise that can be made repeatedly or classical piano music
  30. Fruit – strawberries
  31. Vegetable – broccoli cooked or bell pepper raw
  32. Store/shop – target
  33. Article of clothing you own – plan gray v-neck tee that fits exactly how i like it
  34. Fashion/style – jeans and tees and a good pair of nikes
  35. Quote – “Nobody gets what they want all the time, but if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” – conan o’brien, i believe
  36. Historical figure – harriet tubman
  37. Boy’s name – charlie
  38. Girl’s name – blake
  39. Potato chip flavor – bbq
  40. Meal of the day – lunch
  41. Ice cream flavor – half baked ben & jerry’s
  42. Soda – cheerwine
  43. Popcorn flavor – plain with a little salt
  44. Season – fall
  45. Month of the year – november
  46. Word – y’all
  47. Disney princess – belle
  48. Insult – knucklehead
  49. Cussword – dammit
  50. Letter – e
  51. Eye color – blue
  52. Memory – riding with papaw on any small errand just so i could spend more time with him
  53. Dessert – banana pudding
  54. Candy – hot tamales
  55. Restaurant – irashai sushi
  56. Language – i only really know one, but french is beautiful
  57. Thing to learn about – the underground railroad or state capitals
  58. Thing about yourself – i try to be a nice person on a pretty consistent basis. everybody fails at this, but i know that i’m relatively conscious of it.

Thanks for making it to the end of this giant waste of time!

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“Traveling around the world relying entirely on the kindness of strangers”

Leon Logothetis is a British author and television host. I don’t know anything about him, except he’s the latest stranger to remind me of the thing I believe most: that kindness returns kindness.

Logothetis is the subject of a docuseries called ‘Kindness Diaries’. It popped up on my Netflix recommendations Friday night, because, well, Netflix knows me awfully well these days.

The series follows Logothetis as he goes, in his own words, “traveling around the world relying entirely on the kindness of strangers”. What does that mean? It means I’m only one episode in and I’ve already cried.

Yeah, it’s that good. I mean, I’m a crybaby. I know it. I own it. I’m a sap and I don’t think I could change it even if I wanted to, but trust me when I say that this series is good.

Logothetis doesn’t bring much along with him outside of a moped (motorcycle?) that he admits is nearly as old as him (1978). He calls it ‘Kindness One’.

Along the way he faces vehicle troubles, awkward conversations with strangers in which he asks if he can stay in their homes, and refuses offers of money, saying “I can’t except money, only kindness”. And he makes sure to return the favors in his own kindnesses.

The concept is nothing, if not bold, though I wish it wasn’t.

The idea of somebody, in these wild times, trusting in the kindness of strangers so much that he will venture around the world with an open mind and open arms for anyone who might be willing to do the same for him is beautiful, but shouldn’t have to be surprising.

Logothetis, in one 19 minute episode, has reminded me to live the thing I believe most There’s enough good in this world to balance what isn’t.

There always will be.

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How we learned to appreciate a budget

 

This is a little different from what I usually post here, but it’s that time of year when people are thinking about resolutions and I want to share something that went well for us in the last year.

Russ and I are saving for a house. We knew in late 2015 that we wanted to buy a house in 2017. Thanks to some careful planning, we’re going to be able to do that. Full disclosure, we also received some generous monetary gifts when we got married in April, but I want to look beyond those for the purpose of this post.

While neither of us is big on resolutions, around this time last year we decided to really focus on a budget in 2016. That was thanks, in part, to our pre-marital counseling sessions with my pastor.

Russ and I have combined incomes, but we’re not rich. We make a lot less money than some people we know and a little more than others. In the interest of passing lessons along to someone else who might be wondering how to make this happen, here’s what we did…

We got a credit card – I know right now you’re probably thinking “Whoa, whoa, whoa, this is about to be some terrible advice…”, but trust me for a moment. We shopped around for a credit card we could use as an all-purpose payment plan, while making a strict policy that we would pay it off completely at the end of every month. The goal was to get one with airline points (because Russ’s family lives a 16-hour drive away and we do like being able to see them). We settled on a Chase Visa with Southwest points that gave us 50,000 bonus points for signing up. We use this card for everything, with the exception of rent (i’ll explain this in a moment) and Target purchases (because we have a Target Red (debit) Card that gets discounts on every purchase).

We don’t use it for rent because our property management company charges a $27 (!!!) fee for each individual online payment. That’s $324 extra dollars in a year that can be put to savings, so we opt for the ol’ paper check.

We get points for every purchase. They’re typically dollar-for-dollar, but sometimes double. Those points, with the help of the signing bonus (momentarily pretending I’m an NBA star), gave us five (!!!) free flights this year.

Paid off all credit card debt – There it is. Both of us came into this relationship with some credit card debt. We weren’t in way over our heads or struggling with bad credit, but we had some monthly payments that were simply unnecessary. We made getting rid of all credit card debt our priority for the early part of the year. It wasn’t fun, and for a while there, it meant really tightening our belts, but we made it happen. To do this, we stopped all use of the cards we had (except for the new Southwest card) and paid extra at every turn. We ate out less, we went to fewer concerts (our favorite activity) and we became experts in finding free entertainment around town. Sometimes paying extra looked like larger than normal monthly payments and other times it meant just throwing $20 at a card in the middle of the month because we had it. We were working with small minimum monthly payments, but we paid at least double every month. We’re not debt-free, because we’ll probably be paying student loans until the end of time and we do both have a car payment, but we have fewer bills each month and it’s helped us refocus on what we are able to save.

Documenting every dollar spent – This is the most tedious part of the whole process and admittedly my least favorite part. I wouldn’t blame a single one of you for wanting to back out at this point. I am very, very bad at remembering to do this, but I’m lucky to have a detail-oriented partner-in-crime who jots my purchases down when I forget — and I honestly can’t overstate how much it’s helped us along the way. We started documenting in January with no budget set. We wrote down literally every penny spent so we could get an idea of what we needed to spend versus what we wanted to spend. By February we were able to build a realistic budget, but we didn’t stop documenting.

You obviously can do this any way you choose, but we found that a google document works best for us. It’s a shared document that can be accessed by computer or mobile, so we can update purchases on the fly.

Ours is organized like this:

  • Monthly expenses – things we know we will absolutely have to pay. It includes everything from rent + utilities to netflix and slingTV. We change each bill to bold once it is paid
  • Savings – more on this in a minute
  • Spending – This is everything else. At the top we have the amount of money leftover after bills and savings, followed by an itemized list of what we bought and how much it cost.

Transfer – Our transfer system is a big key to our success. Early in the process, we were getting confused about how much money we had left because it was all just sitting in our checking account since we were using a credit card. To fix this, we started transferring the amount of every purchase to savings where it could sit until we made the one big monthly payment to our credit card. That way it became out of sight and out of mind.

On to saving

Automatic $25 at the start of each month – This one is simple. We have our bank account set to transfer $25 from checking to savings on the first of every month. It requires zero effort from us. I often forget it’s even happening.

Weekly chunk – That’s the nickname I just affectionately crafted for the big chunk of paycheck that goes straight to savings each week. We’re lucky enough to have staggered paychecks, so we can contribute to savings on a weekly basis. We save $1425 per month, minimum. That’s the only dollar amount I plan to share from our personal finances. $25 of it is automatically saved at the beginning of the month, then it is followed by $350 each week. How did we get to $1425? That’s the amount leftover from our monthly income after we take out our bills and the number we determined was a reasonable amount to spend on groceries, gas and fun (yes, we still go out – plenty).

Round up every dollar – I wish we’d found a way to track this little trick, because I’d love to know how much extra we’ve saved without even thinking about it. This piece of the puzzle works because of the way we use our credit card. When we transfer purchases to savings, we always round the amount up to the next dollar. Sometimes it’s just 3 extra cents, sometimes it’s 99. When we make the credit card payment for our purchases, that extra money stays in savings. I’m sure it’s no earth-shattering amount of cash, but I guarantee we’d be happy to see how much it actually is, if we’d had the foresight to find a way to document it.

The system isn’t perfect, but it’s working. We’ve seen benefits beyond being on track to buy a house next year:

  • Unexpected expenses, like 8 new tires in one month, didn’t throw us for a loop.
  • Christmas time didn’t feel like we were holding down a giant panic button. We knew we could handle the extra gift expense because we’d been saving all year.
  • I do a lot less spontaneous shopping, which is really unnecessary and just leads to more clutter
  • Our credit scores, which were already in decent shape, went way up
  • We actually get excited about watching our savings grow
  • Fewer bills and more high fives

I can’t emphasize enough that Russ and I didn’t do this with big paychecks and I promise it wasn’t entirely easy (Sometimes I miss pointless shopping), but these new habits have honestly made our life easier and happier.

Cheers to whatever you’re doing to make life a little easier in 2017!

P.S. rolling all of those coins you collected is totally worth it. We found more than $50 in a jar of change we’d forgotten we had!

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What I don’t have

Perhaps I’ve written these words before – a long time ago, someone at my first job told me I don’t have the stomach for news.

It was in response to jokes she was making about a public figure who’d hanged himself. I didn’t find the jokes funny.

I was told I would either harden my heart and brain in this job or I’d get out.

A lot of people cope with hardening. I completely understand that. It’s easier for most of us to separate ourselves from the darkness – to make it not feel real.

That’s not me. When that comment was made several years ago, I didn’t take it lightly. I was upset for a bit, but mostly at the prospect that I wasn’t cut out for the one thing I’d studied to do. It was a straight shot to my ego to think I might be made for something else and I’d just wasted four years of my life making this something happen.

I’ve thought about it again and again over the years, as I left the newsroom on the day the Sandy Hook shooting occurred so I could take a few moments to myself in a bathroom. I thought about it on the day a man walked into a church in Charleston, a city I love so dearly, and killed 9 people during a bible study. I thought about it the day I walked the streets of Greenville’s Nicholtown neighborhood asking people what they knew about teenager accused of gunning down a Greenville police officer before turning the gun on himself.

And I thought about it again this morning as I stood with neighbors of a home on Greenville’s westside and watched forensics teams pull a body out on a gurney and load it into a medical examiner’s van.

I don’t often report on breaking news. It’s not my “beat”. I am typically only drawn in if someone is on vacation, busy or the story is big enough that we need several people working on it.

Every experience I’ve had with violent death has been on the job. It’s foreign to my personal life and yet it’s something I take personally.

I realized something on a dead end street, in Greenville County, lined with old mill houses and a small mobile home park – I don’t have the stomach for news. I don’t even want the stomach for news, if it means I ever leave a scene like that and don’t think about what was lost.

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How to survive Thanksgiving

I keep seeing these posts about how to survive Thanksgiving with relatives who have different political views from yours. I’ve seen tweets and Facebook posts echoing the same concern. And I want to ask ARE YOU KIDDING?

Is this an honest concern people are having? I’m seriously asking this question, because I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around it.

This election was monumental. It changed the course of politics. Many voters on both sides were left wondering ‘how could ANYONE vote for ______?’

It’s that very refusal to try to understand the other side that got us into this divisive mess in the first place. But we’ve been here before. We’re America. We had a civil war, for goodness sake.

How am I going to survive Thanksgiving with relatives whose opinions are different from mine?

I’ll tell you how – like I have every. other. year.

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Last November, a dozen or so of my uncles and cousins came together to help us start building a barn from the ground up, to be used for our wedding reception. For several months after, they popped up to Pickens County on weekends or holidays and sometimes in the middle of the week to help us build walls, a loft, a roof, etc. It was one of the best displays of community I’ve ever witnessed. Russ and I learned new building skills side-by-side and watched as all of these men and women who, at times, couldn’t be more different put a building together piece by piece. A year later, I’m still trying to find words strong enough to suit my gratitude.

I find myself in the middle on many issues. I like to try to understand all sides, because it’s my job and because I’ve just always been that way.

Still, I have an uncle whose political opinions are often very different from mine, which honestly seems pretty standard in any family of more than… I don’t know… two people.

He’s the same uncle who was the first person to see me when I arrived home on the morning my papaw (his father) died. He had to break the news to me when I wondered aloud why he was visiting on a random Saturday in April “Are we having a party?”

He’s the same uncle who was driving me home when we found my dog dead on the road. He helped my dad scoop her off of the asphalt, in the dark, and bury her in our backyard.

Am I supposed to block out these memories in favor of fighting about which Presidential candidate was worse while we pass the turkey?

Get yourselves together, people. You’re about to share a meal with people who held you as an infant. They’ve cleaned off scrapes after you fell while running on the concrete at your grandparents’ house and they’ve celebrated your achievements through the years.

Stop asking yourself how you’re going to survive Thanksgiving with people who think differently from you.

We all *should* know someone’s 2 minute decision on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November didn’t make transform them into anyone other than the person you already know them to be.

Challenge yourself to disengage from conversations that make you forget that.

Or, better yet, have the conversations and challenge yourself to remember why that person’s opinion matters to you in the first place.

Oh, and enjoy the pie.

 

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A few days shy of twenty years ago I turned nine. I got a puppy for my birthday and named her Addy.

I had everything I could’ve possibly needed and more than I could want, but if you’d asked me what was most important it would’ve been that puppy (Addy) and my Walkman.

I had a decent collection of cassette tapes for a 9 year old and my dad had an endless supply from which I could’ve borrowed, but I only ever listened to two things – The Lion King soundtrack and a tape that had the macarena on each side. I could (and would) flip it over when the song finished so I could listen to the same thing again.

I’d walk Addy up and down the sidewalks on our street in the cookie-cutter new construction neighborhood we lived in, with my headphones on, bobbing my head to a beat no one else could hear.

Twenty years ago I wore my ponytails very tight. I had a thing about bumps in my hair. The top had to be smooth, for no reason other than it bothered me to feel my ponytail flopping around loosely against my head. A headband slipping off of my head while I run gives me the same pseudo-anxiety now.

When I was nine I was always reading multiple books at any given time and it drove my teachers crazy. I spent hours in the school library researching Harriet Tubman and when I ran out of resources there, I had my mom take me to the county libraries.

I asked the school librarian questions like “Why do some Dr. Seuss books say they’re by Theodore S. Geisel?”

I wore circle glasses like those Harry Potter wears, but the frames weren’t nearly as thick.

I was too young to understand how my friend who wore halter tops to school was the reason they created a dress code.

And too naive to realize that the songs I made up while laying in the grass in our front yard wouldn’t ever actually make me famous.

I took dance classes and piano lessons. I sang in a choir at church and swam on a swim team all summer long. I started playing softball and basketball and raced the mile faster than any other girl in my grade.

Twenty years ago I didn’t know if I was taller than other people around me and wouldn’t have cared if I did.

On my ninth birthday, I stood in the foyer of our home in a black turtleneck and black jeans holding a three pound puppy and posed for a photo as she squirmed up from my arms toward my shoulders.

I wish I could find that photo.

 

 

 

 

Best Of

I don’t care who you’re voting for

I’ve watched news stories that are not even remotely about politics turn into political fistfights on television station and newspaper Facebook pages. I’ve seen comments on a blog post about coupons become a laundry list of what’s wrong with Hillary Clinton.

I’ve felt my blood boiling as I saw my own words twisted into a politically charged skirmish and I’ve bitten my tongue.

I’ve leaned back, taken a few deep breaths and reminded myself that people see what they want to see.

This is the world we live in. Things entirely unrelated to politics still become jabs at Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. The great majority of us are assuming everyone’s heads are in the political game. We’re three weeks ahead of the most heated presidential election of our lives – how could we be thinking or talking about anything else?

But we can and we are.

I’m thinking about the people I love. I’m thinking about how I’ll spend my next weekend and when I might see my friends who live far away again. I’m thinking about what I’ll cook for dinner and where I’ll get my next story idea. I’m thinking about what I can do on a small scale to help make Greenville a better community. I’m wishing I was at the beach and dreaming of a nice, long hike through fall colors.

To think that I’d reserve valuable space in mind for petty politics where I could fit poems or books or song lyrics to terrible early-2000s pop songs is ridiculous.

I’ve never wanted to change anyone’s mind when it comes to politics. If I ever ask(ed) you questions about your preferred presidential candidate, it’s because you were open with me and I wanted to learn more. It’s because I know you’ve given your decision serious thought and I believe there’s value in the opinions of someone I respect.

But I don’t actually care which box you’ll check on the ballot.

I care that you’re kind. I care that you’re happy and healthy. I care that you have all of the things you need and some of the things that you want.

None of these things is changed by which name you choose on Nov. 8.