Wednesday, December 29, 2010

- The Best Laid Plans

I posted my first entry for this blog on May 4th.  One day before I ended a 3.5 year relationship that had been limping along for way too long.  I knew that it was the right thing to do.  That I was finally ready to do it.  I didn't cry.  I was excited about the summer, and my freedom, and wanted to be comfortable and confident in who I was because I knew I'd be moving soon.  Moving alone.  And that I needed to be able to stand on my own two feet.  I went out that night and took tequila shots, and texted someone new...

Somewhere in my summer of fun that someone new became a familiar face who then unexpectedly became someone important.  Things between us just clicked into place and for the most part everything was easy.  Simple.  I did what I wanted to do because it felt right.  I was smitten.  I fell in love.  I had the best relationship I've ever had.

And now it's gone.  For the most part I have what I wanted in May.  I'm moving and confronting a big life change.  I'm confident in who I am, my intelligence, and my ability to be independent.  Yet, everything feels wrong - because my plans from May didn't make it through that summer.  They were replaced with new plans.  Plans I liked better than my plans from May.  But now those plans don't fit either.

I am not only grieving the loss of a boyfriend, but a best friend who in a matter of days feels like a stranger to me.  I lost a potential future that I saw with someone - because I made plans when I felt secure, even when I knew I shouldn't have.  Because despite how great the relationship was, I always knew what we were up against.  Since this happened I have been brutally honest with myself about how I feel.  I have never denied that this is what it is.  I haven't tried to bargain my way out of it.  Sometimes my mind just can't give up on reminding me of how ill-used and wronged I feel and I want to be mad.  I want to yell and curse and throw things and sometimes I do get that way.  Sometimes I say harsh things that I don't mean because it makes me feel better for a second or two.  Sometimes I feel like I regret everything and that this would all be easier if I had let my head dominate my heart.  Sometimes the unanswered questions and raging insecurities about my ability to keep a  successful relationship for any significant amount of time feel like they will drive me crazy.  Mostly, I am terrified that I will never feel the way that I felt this summer again.  And I am more sad than I would like to admit about what I have lost.

But, I have had these fears and felt this way before.  I have always been able to patch myself back together and become a better version of myself.  So even though the future I envisioned isn't going to happen, some version of the future will come to pass.  I accept that.

I considered deleting some posts that I've written since May because they almost hurt to much to remember, let alone re-read.  But I made myself confront them.  I considered not talking about anything that might be related to how I am dealing with this, or that I am even dealing with this.  So much of me wants to only show my tough facade and not the cracks.  But, this is my life, and it's not always gift wrapped with a bow.  I will always be humbled and appreciative of how fortunate I am, but I will also stumble and flounder through moments, friendships and relationships.  I will feel joy, love, and hurt - and I will write about it here when I am able to wrap my mind around those feelings, just like I've always done.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

- A Bittersweet Symphony

I maintain that one of the greatest songs ever is Bittersweet Symphony by The Verve.  It was perfect when I was all angsty in high school, but it's remained one of those songs that I've loved for years and years.  The first two lines are resonating heavily with me these days:
'Cause it's a bittersweet symphony this life, trying to make ends meet, you're a slave to money then you die.
Christmas has been pretty bittersweet this year, as it's the last time that I will be gathering with my family for a while.  Two weeks from tonight I'll be spending my first night in my new apartment in Minneapolis.  Now, I think Minneapolis is great - and I really enjoyed the time that I've spent there.  I'm excited to start my career there for one of the best food companies around - and I'm extremely grateful that I obtained my job relatively easily, especially in "this economy".  However, if I'm being perfectly honest with myself - I'm terrified about the hit that my social life is going to take, and the fact that my family and "home" won't be a 2 hour drive down the road anymore.  I've always been able to escape and head home when needed so that I can regroup.  In 2 weeks, I'll lose that sense of comfort.

My bff Kelsey is going to make to the trip up there with me.  But, as far as road trips go, this is a relatively short one.  We'll leave Friday morning and by Sunday night she'll be on a plane back to Raleigh.  And I will be alone. 

Now don't get me wrong, I have friends in the area.  In fact, this job is located where I know the most people/friends/colleagues/alumni.  And I fully intend to get together with as many of them as much as I can and as soon as possible.  However, my job doesn't start until the 24th of January, and logically speaking, there are going to be days and nights that I spend alone.  Days where I unpack, maybe run an errand or two, and then eat dinner, watch TV, play Wii, read, and go to bed...alone.

The physical part of being alone doesn't bother me.  I mean I'm alone a few nights a week usually and  have spent the last few months so consumed by my dissertation that I have been isolated.  But I'm afraid about how loneliness can seep into your soul and effect who you are and how you feel about everything else.  How it can make you feel negative, and make simple facts of your life seem worse, which can lead to a downward spiral.  I'm not trying to say that this will happen, or that it will necessarily be bad from the get go...but I don't want to be naive and expect this to be easy and then be caught off guard when I'm not doing so well.

For the most part I am trying to remain positive.  Once I start work time is going to fly by and I will be settled in and have new friends and being alone won't bother me.  Plus there will be a nice paycheck providing an emotional buffer.  BUT, there is no changing the fact that my family won't be there and I won't be here with them.  Sometimes geography just works against you, and time is the only thing that can help you adjust.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

- The Christmas Spirit

Lately my Christmas spirit has been akin to someone taking Santa out back and shooting him execution style.  As in, not only I do not have any, but I'm pretty sure I have a negative amount.

This Ph.D. was not easy emotionally or physically to complete, and it's been hard to bounce back and re-start living my life the way I want to, since now it's not being dictated by crazy deadlines.  But what really hurts is not having my stuff.  I know that sounds terrible, because this season is not supposed to be about materialism.  But for me, my Christmas spirit is directly related to how many surfaces I've been able to decorate with frasier firs, clear lights and sparkly ornaments.  This year that's been -2, resulting in my "negative" Christmas spirit.

This past week I've been able to visit Jaclyn and Matt's twice, which is one of the closest things I have to home right now.  Even though she only put up one of her two planned Christmas trees, the house is beautiful with sparkly, iridescent ornaments everywhere.  Christmas tree garlands with twinkling lights and candles make everything glow and feel warm and inviting.  Add in the fire, homemade cookies and some much needed quality conversations and I was starting to feel the season again.

Today I capitalized on that by doing some Christmas shopping and decided that I really wanted to try to get presents to the girls I babysit before Christmas.  For the last 6 years, I have always given them presents after the actual holiday so I can see what they got and make sure I don't duplicate anything.  With my time running out in Raleigh, I didn't know if that would be possible, plus I was really excited about their gifts.  So I decided to stop by and see if they were in.

Again there was a beautiful tree, two roaring fires, and a family that feels like my own.  I think of these girls as my little sisters and they were so excited to see me and spend time opening gifts.  And yes I gave them stuff - but what they will remember from this is how we sat together and laughed and hugged and treasured some of the last time that we have together.  Their family and home has been one of the only constants in my life throughout the last 6 years, and I especially love it this time of year.

It's taken me longer than ever before to get here.  But now I'm home.  Seeing my family and my Emma bears has brought me full circle.  Spending the past and the next few days surrounded by people who I love dearly has filled me with what I've been missing.  And it feels all warm and sparkly and stuff.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

- Weekly Specials

Since I moved out of my apartment in August and have been "drifting" from couch to couch I couldn't tell you what I've been eating.  I've been to the grocery store more times for wine than food and I can't remember cooking more than once a week.  In fact the last time I "cooked" was for a baby shower I hosted...last Sunday.

But, there was a time when I planned my meals for a two week period around grocery store specials, and I signed up to be an eVic member at Harris Teeter so that they would send me emails with the weekly specials.  They always summarize what things you buy a lot of that are on sale, and you can tell how much my shopping habits have deteriorated over the past few months by looking at "my specials" for the week:

Green Beans - bought for Emma to have with her dinner, haven't had Emma since October.
Celery - I have no idea when I purchased this last.
Asparagus - Probably not since October.
Baby carrots - Treats for Emma/veggie tray for baby shower
La brea bread - ?
Ritz crackers - Usually I use these a lot around the holiday season, but haven't at all this year.
Cream cheese - Purchased 8 packages for the baby shower
Oscar Meyer lunch meat - To wrap Emma's pill in
Jimmy dean sausage - Sausage balls for the a Christmas lunch and the baby shower
Mushrooms - The only recent thing I bought for myself outside of an event.  About 3 weeks ago I was feeling like I hadn't eaten anything unprocessed so I went to the grocery store and bought stuff to make a gigantic yummy salad.

I have NO idea how I have survived this long. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

- Erasing

After a break up, it is absolutely ridiculous how every single little thing you see, hear, smell, or taste will remind you of the one thing that you can't bear to think about.  Most of the time I can't remember where I put my car keys, or my cell phone, or my watch, or my sunglasses, but I'll be damned if I can walk past a bench in Cameron Village and not be confronted with a deluge of mental photographs of a Sunday afternoon brunch that, at the time, I never wanted to forget.  That one memory is like the first drop that slips through a hole in a dam.  And no matter what you try to put in that hole - your finger, gum, a waterproof epoxy resin - it's only going to get bigger and allow more and more memories to flow through so that eventually you're getting blasted with a waterfall of mental images of happier times that will literally make your heart ache.

This is all well and good and expected, to a certain extent.  But then you hit a point where you would do ANYTHING to be numb and not feel anything anymore, because it starts to all feel so pathetic.  I mean, I'll be out doing something, trying to stay busy and keep my mind occupied and then all of the sudden "Look at those people eating.  OMG we used to eat together." And my breath will catch.  "We used to cook together.  Seared tuna.  Pasta salad.  Sausage gravy." At this point I know I have to get out of public because I'm too far gone to stop what's going to happen.  Within about 30 seconds I've been reduced from a seemingly normal person to one who has no semblance of sanity and is sobbing uncontrollably in their car.  I mean who cries in their car?  It really is pathetic, and throughout these experiences, even I'm judging myself and wondering why my emotions must be so dramatic.  Being emotional blows.

Since I can't stop the irrational way my mind is working right now, I am doing the best I can by "erasing" physical reminders.  Ticket stubs from Chicago and San Francisco, pictures, notes, receipts, acknowledgements, playlists: anything and everything, all unceremoniously thrown into a trash can.  Even though it feels wrong and unnatural, I know that I have to let them go to move forward from this.  I can't carry these things with me any more because I am not strong enough to bear the emotional weight, right now.  I'm picking up the pieces of my life, and figuring out where they go now that they've all changed shape.  I am reconstructing my identity to include the things I've learned from a relationship that ended, and working to accept that I cannot change the way things happened - that I fell in love and it didn't work out.  Someone I deeply care about will no longer be an important person in my life.

So, I take a deep breath to steady myself and open the car door.  I put one foot in front of the other and walk back in to finish my errand.  Because I have responsibilities, things to do, and life goes on.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

- The Doctor Is In

Yesterday my research advisory committee voted to unconditionally pass me after I defended my dissertation.

Translation: I have now met all of the requirements for graduation and I am officially a DOCTOR.

As in, it is now okay for you to refer to me as Dr. Laurie, Dr. Steed, Dr. Laurie Steed, Laurie Steed, Ph.D., Doctor, Doc or anything else along those lines.

Also I will never get tired of the following compliment: "But you look way too young to have your Ph.D."

I will promise not to be too obnoxious about it after this week, but I will probably feel the need to use the following phrases copiously this month:

"Trust me, I'm a Doctor"

"I can do whatever I want, I'm a Doctor"

"That rule doesn't apply to Doctors, like myself"

"You should listen to me, Doctor's orders"

All joking aside, this accomplishment never would have been possible without all of the important people in my life.  I dedicated my dissertation "to those who believed I was capable of great things, before I could even conceive of them."  

And since most normal people will never read my dissertation - I mean it's completely boring unless you find sweetpotato cubes and industrial scale microwave systems interesting - I wanted to put the acknowledgements that I wrote here:

For my committee
Dr. Truong – For me, no degree would have been possible without your never-ending professional and personal support - your devotion your students is unmatched.  I am grateful for the many opportunities that working for you has provided and that you have always called me “Dr. Laurie”, for that is what first made me consider a Ph.D.
Dr. Sandeep, Dr. Simunovic, & Dr. Swartzel – All graduate students should be so lucky as I am to have committee members that are excited and willing to be thoroughly involved in the research process.  You have kept me challenged and motivated to be a better candidate, and I am so thankful that you’ve chosen to be a part of this 5.5 year journey with me.
Dr. Jaykus – I have deeply respected you since I took your undergrad food micro class and you taught me how to apply knowledge, rather than just memorize facts.  I believe that one of the most beneficial aspects of my Ph.D. program was getting to work closely with you and experience an area of food science outside of my comfort zone. 

For my department
I am so proud to be a graduate from the Food Science Department at NC State, and I can only hope that the feeling is mutual.  I would not be the student I am today if it were not for the guidance and mentorship of Dr. Farkas who I have considered a supporter and friend for the last 7 years.  Dr. Daubert and Dr. Klaenhammer have offered kind words and research advice over the past 3 years and were also two of the best seminar graders I could ask for.  Knowing that there were faculty members like you to learn from made it impossible to consider other programs. 

For the USDA-ARS lab group
Thank you all so much for your professional and technical support throughout the last 5.5 years. 
Dr. McFeeters – I cannot say that I have enjoyed every lab meeting, but under your leadership I have enjoyed the sense of community that it fosters within our lab.  I appreciate all of the times that Dr. Truong has come to you with financial requests and you have taken care of me.
Seth Fornea  - Your ability to always remain positive inspires me to realize that things are never as bad as they seem - you squirrel friend you.
Sandy Parker – You have been a constant source of support and I have loved every minute we have spent talking together, no matter the subject.  I’ve enjoyed watching you grow as a mother to your beautiful twins, and will dearly miss being a part of your family. 

For my friends
To those that have come, conquered, and moved on: Jessica Childs, Josh Evans, Drew Watson, Megan Whitson, Maegan Olsen, Nick Kuhlman, Craig Koskiniemi, Christine Yen, & Iris Liaw – There is not a day that goes by that I do not miss having each and every one of you as a fixture in my everyday life.
To those that I leave behind:
Audrey Kreske – Your advice through all of this has been the most valuable of all.  I honestly can’t thank you enough for all of the ways that you’ve been there and helped out, whether it was running up for a chit-chat session or staying late to help with my experiments.  You are a remarkable woman and I admire you immensely.
Kelsey Ryan – Our friendship is new, and yet has been so dear to me as I finish this process.  The summer of 2010 will never be forgotten for so many reasons and you are a part of all of them.  I’m so glad that we finally got to be roommates, even if it did involve an air mattress, and love that we will be fellow Minnesotans!
Pat and Nin Leksrisompong – My fellow “lifers” in the department, this will be you guys soon and you’ll continue to make it all look effortless because you are both so beautiful and intelligent. 
To those that have known me the longest:
Kate Fox – Our friendship is constant and stable and dependable and I love that it’s been a fixture in my life for over 10 years.  You are the picture of class and grace and I am so excited for all that life holds for you in Dallas.
Jaclyn and Matt Efird – Your friendship has moved past being a luxury to being a necessity and I am most nervous about not having you in close proximity, because who else knows me like you?  I have so enjoyed seeing you grow into your first and second houses, your marriage, and now into your about-to-be family of 3.  I cannot wait to see you as parents and to meet the little Monkey Man who will be lucky enough to know the endless love that you are both capable of giving. 

For my family
You never told me who I should be, or what I should do, but instead taught me how to figure it out for myself, all while providing unconditional love and support.  Wherever you are is “home” and that is where my heart will always lie.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

- Imperfection

This year for my birthday I bought myself a pair of boots.  They weren't a major splurge in the grand scheme of things, but as far as broke grad students go, it was kind of a big deal.  Since I got them in February and I live in North Carolina, I didn't get to wear them that much before it was too warm.  Which was kind of cool because they still felt "new" when I busted them out this fall.

On their maiden voyage, I took them out to eat.  While sitting at an outdoor table ranch dressing spilled by the previous customer fell through the cracks of the table onto my boots, on the perfectly visible part on the top of my right foot.  Much to my chagrin, this of course left a horrendous blob of a stain.  When I googled removal methods, the outlook was bleak.  So I took my beautiful cognac colored boots to a professional cobbler who said there wasn't much hope for removing "this kind of stain" from "that color of leather" and ultimately he would feel bad taking my money.

This was a huge blow.  I had spent MONTHS looking for this pair of boots.  They had the perfect toe shape, the perfect heel hight, the perfect slouchy shaft, they were the perfect height and they didn't break the bank (too much).  And now they were already gone/ruined?  There were so many outfits I had planned around them but not gotten to wear yet.  But, as I was talking to the shoe guy, I realized something.  The gigantic blob of a stain had morphed, into a nearly perfect heart shape.  I usually shy away from heart-shaped anything.  It all just seems so tacky and wrong and gross.  But for some reason, this heart shaped stain on my boot - was actually kind of charming.

3 months ago I bought my first fall dress of the season.  One of the reason I loved it so much was because it goes perfectly with those boots.  But then the stain happened and here it is December and that dress was hanging in my closet with the tags still on it.  But today, of all days, I need a reminder of life's little imperfections.  So I wore the dress, and the perfectly stained boots.  As I was walking into school I looked down and caught site of that greasy perfectly shaped heart, and it made me smile.  

Tomorrow is my defense.  It won't be perfect.  My dissertation isn't perfect and neither is my presentation.  I will not answer every question perfectly and in fact, I'm not sure there is anything I will do perfectly tomorrow.  Or that I have ever done anything perfectly or will ever do anything perfectly.  But at about noon tomorrow it will be over, and that is "perfect" enough for me.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

- So thankful for...

my family and how going home can heal my soul.

little scottish terriers who never forget me.

certain blonde haired guys who know exactly how to make me smile when I need it most.

friends who pop into my office to say hello, stay late to help with my experiments, yahoo chat with me all day, and won't let me be alone on Thanksgiving - or any other day of the year for that matter.

the end of this hellacious month.  I feel like it has tried to kill me and emotionally it nearly succeeded.  But the light at the end of the tunnel is finally getting closer.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

- All Hallow's Eve

When I was growing up I never wore a store bought costume for Halloween.  Mom always made ours and I remember going to Piece Goods and looking through the pattern books to pick out what I wanted to be.  When I was really young she made a simple pink princess dress that had a birthday hat covered in foil with pink netting out of the top that she sewed silver sequin stars to. My Cleopatra costume won a contest and landed me on the local morning show.  It was made out of gold stretchy material and had a white felt collar that we glued  jewels to and decorated with puffy paint designs.  I was a die one year (the singular for dice) and even when I was too old to go trick or treating I would dress up at home to hand out candy as a 50's girl in a poodle skirt.

So I have always bristled at the idea of picking up a store bought costume for Halloween or any other event.  Anyone can do that.  If I don't like wearing my regular clothes the same way as everyone else, I certainly wouldn't enjoy it for my costume.  Which is why in the past few years I haven't done much for Halloween.  Without an original costume idea that I can create I opt to just stay in and watch movies/hand out candy.  On top of all that - Halloween seems to be an excuse for women to dress ridiculously sexy in public - and every costume is the "sexified version".  I like to keep a little bit of class and dignity for good measure.

This year I decided to break the pattern and dress up twice.  On Friday our department had a lunch and I revived my 50's housewife look that I first wore 4 years ago.  I figured no one was still around that would remember it.  PLUS, this dress is one of the few things I've ever paid full price for at a designer boutique.  It was one of those completely unintelligent credit card purchases from my undergrad days and based on my calculations I have worn it 5 times, which means that I have come no where close to getting my money's worth yet. 

This picture is from my phone because I'm not smart enough to remember to take pictures with my awesome camera.  Also the bathroom light is usually not so yellow/orangy.
I think the hair really makes it.  I've spent a lot of money on hair products and styling devices - but the $15 I spent on a teasing comb was undoubtedly one of my best purchases.  It takes like 5 minutes, 3 bobby pins and a bunch of hairspray to get this all in place.  Other important accessories include a big fake engagement/wedding ring.  Otherwise you're single and that would be shameful if it actually was the 50's.  Another bonus of this costume was that the necklace I wore in Jaclyn's wedding matched really well, so I got to wear that again.  

My second costume was Miss Peacock from Clue.  For this one I also got to use a dress I already had in my closet, and I wore it with teal tights and bronze shoes to bring in more of the colors from the feathers - which were my only expense for this costume.  Sidenote: I don't know if it's because it was Halloween, or because peacock feathers are "in" right now, but I had a heck of a time hunting down the feathers I got.  As in I spent about 4 hours searching and drove ~40 miles around Raleigh and Cary.  So when I did find them, a chorus of angels sang from above and I said a prayer thanking the peacocks for the generous donation.  Feather fun fact: I used 12 peacock eyes and 10 peacock sword feathers which cost $16 at Michael's.
 
This next shot shows the veil a little bit better (it had a metallic gold sheen) - unfortunately I also look like a gigantic goober in it.  I decided to make a veil because in the original Clue the characters all had a bit of the 40's vibe going on.  Also, I thought it would be fun to attach the feathers to.  I looked at several online tutorials, none of which said it might take you 4 hours to get the shape of the tulle right so that when you stitch it, it looks good on your head.  So I stayed up until 3 am working on that thing, but since it was ultimately awesome, I guess it was well worth it.  Ultimately I would have preferred a different color for the veil that didn't match my hair color so closely...but Joanne's had a limited color selection and this one at least matched my shoes.
 
You can also see that I had a "Conservatory" card that I carried around, along with a vial of "poison" which was hidden for dramatic effect.  FYI - either last year or the year before was the 25th anniversary of Clue and they re-released the game with new rooms and new weapons.  Poison is one of the new ones, and while I would have preferred a traditional weapon, you just can't buy a fake gun or knife these days like you could when I was a kid.  Meaning now all guns are bright orange so there's no confusion and I didn't even see a fake knife anywhere I looked.  

I really liked the way this costume turned out, but in order to repeat it I would have to purchase more feathers.  The ones that I wore on my dress and shoes did not survive the crazy night, and neither did my left butt cheek which was mysteriously insanely sore the day after.  It could be from dancing, but I think a much more accurate guess would be from a "flounder" due to my lack of grace or ability to walk in heels.

Monday, October 18, 2010

- Misuse of the Transitive Property

If a = b: Last week in the throes of writing 10 pages in one day for my dissertation I decided that I didn't have a good enough reference and that I needed this book from the library.  Sometimes this happens while writing.  You have a stack of 100 papers but none of them says just what you need it to say, so you start looking for something better.  And in my search I found a book that seemed really promising.  This book was recommended as an awesome source - it had a whole chapter on the subject I was looking into and a "million" references at the end to help me further.  So I went to the library to get said book.

And that book let me down.  That "chapter" was 8 pages.  Those "million" references were actually only 40.  But you better believe I cited it anyway, because I went to the library for that book, and I don't go to the library for just any book.  I mean, I walked there.  I went up to the 9th floor to find it.  I looked at it, I checked it out and then I carried that massively heavy (1108 pages ya'll) thing home.

Anyways, while I was there I pulled some other books and then went to find a desk to sort through everything.  Who knew that the 9th floor of the library was such an awesome place to be at 2pm?  There was only one free desk available and as I sat down I looked up and saw this:
Let me just say that being disappointed by a book on Food Enzymology did NOT make me truly happy.  Writing this message probably didn't make the author "truly happy" either.  What would make me truly happy?

And b=c: Yesterday I was babysitting and we decided to play some Mariokart on the Wii.  After successfully beating my 13 year old opponent, she went off to ripstick around the pool table and I decided to finally try out Mario World Galaxy, which they have but never play.

Let's just say that it was everything I thought it would be and then more.  I am totally in that new stage of video game smitten-ness.  That place where you randomly remember the level you were on and you can't wait to play again and see what the next level is like - I was THIS close to getting that 3rd star!  That place where you're spending a lot of time thinking about that game and how fun it is...and how much I want the Wii that Target is currently running "the lowest price of the season" on.

Then a=c: It would make me "truly happy" to have a Wii right now.

Friday, October 15, 2010

- Music to My Ears

On Wednesday I got my hair cut.  It's not one of those hair cuts anyone notices because it basically looks the same.  But I notice because I feel that my hair is much more amazing now.  She took about 2 inches off the length, cut a bunch of layers in and thinned it out A TON.  I mean seriously there was hair flying everywhere.  The best part - it dries faster, curls better, and I haven't had a rats nest since she did it.

Anyways, that's all really boring stuff.

What I really want to talk about is how funny women are about their hairdressers.  I myself have had two that I ever cared about and kept around for any length of time.

The first was Cindy McGarrah at Bangz salon (oh the irony since that used to be my highschool nickname based on a bad bangs hairstyling choice that I made before Cindy was ever in the picture).  Cindy was the one that got me to embrace my curls (my hair didn't go curly until 8th grade) and really taught me how to style them - and how best to cut my hair for them.  I learned a lot from Cindy and she did my hair through my Senior year of Undergrad.  Which means, every time I needed a haircut I drove home to Wilmington and had it done.  After 4 years of that I felt it might be time to find someone local, especially since it was clear that Raleigh had become my home.  Poor Cindy never got a phone call explaining "it's not you it's me - we had some great times together" - I just never booked another appointment.

The reason I could let Cindy go so easily was because I already had someone else lined up.  Jaclyn had amazing hair, and Matt's cousin Jodie did it so I decided that I trusted her enough based on what I'd seen of her work.  I made that first appointment and have never looked back.  I remember loving Cindy, but when I look back at some of my pictures from that time I don't always like what I see.  But with Jodie, if everything else in the picture is wrong - I'll still like my hair.  She just gets me, and my hair.  I carry her business cards in my wallet and tell anyone who needs a hair cut - call her, you won't regret it.  And they don't - I've seriously sent her like 10-15 referrals and they all go back to her unless they've moved away.

This past Wednesday was no exception, I love my hair.  But lately I've started to wonder about the person who will come after Jodie.  Moving to Minneapolis doesn't make it very practical to come home when I need a haircut - but I'm not ready to let her go.  Then I realized since I just got my hair done, I'll be ready around January for another so I can see her before I go.  Then I was saying "well I'll be back in March and May" and Jodie said something magical "Let me know when you're coming and we'll schedule whatever time we need to get your hair done".  People, she's a keeper.

With a move to a big city coming up fast and so many unknowns lurking in the future, it gives me great piece of mind to at least know that I don't have to worry about my hair.

Now I just need to find a place to live, which means I have to figure out what neighborhood I like and how long I want my commute to be, find a vet and groomer for Emma, find my favorite bar/restaurant/brunch place, figure out what kind of car I want to get, meet awesome people and make new friends, especially one that likes to dog sit, find my way to all of the best shopping, and kick ass at my new job...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

- Time is a Fickle Friend

SATURDAY
2AM (Friday night): 2 whole days left.  That's what I thought when I went to bed. Two whole days in and around Davis together.

9AM: I guess we have to get up.  Man I'm tired.  The sun streams in the windows.

10AM: Okay I have to get ready.  A 12 year old kid in the neighborhood is playing the piano - it is seriously beautiful.

11AM: We unpack the car.  I am ridiculously hungry.

12:30PM: We head downtown and end up at Village Pizza and order something amazing with creme fraiche, proscuitto and potatoes.  We have all weekend left together.

1:30PM: Walking around downtown Davis remembering places and watching Kirk take it all in.

2PM: On campus.  At RMI walking around the gardens.  I've been in the building before but it's locked so we can't go in - this is where Kirk will go to school for at least the next two years.

3PM: We're back at the house about to go to Ikea because everyone should go there when they move somewhere new.  He tells me he wishes I were happier because it's obvious that I'm a little in my head about saying goodbye.  It's hard to feel happy when there's a gigantic black cloud over what's happening.  This whole adventure will be over soon.

4PM: We lay on a really comfy bed at Ikea and look up at a pendant light that I immediately put on my wish list.  I have flashbacks to 500 days of Summer.  That movie is a sucker punch.

5:30PM Saturday: I put Kirk's family pictures into the frames that he bought at Ikea and hand them to him to put on his dresser.  I am clearly missing from this "picture" and he says so.  I still have over 24 hours left with him.

7PM: JJ's friends start arriving.  We stop unpacking and meet everyone with white wine.  I change into a dress.  I pretend that I am not worried about anything.

8PM: We are at Sophia's ordering curry.  I'm drinking sangria.  This is our last night together.  

10PM: I am tipsy as we walk to Little Prague and make an unsavory joke about Asians.  We sit in a group and talk.  I start to yawn.  I want to just spend time with him and yet I don't want to be un-social.

SUNDAY
12AM: This is the last time I will sleep in the nook.

8:30AM: The tables have turned - Kirk wakes up and is immediately hit with the fact that this is our last day.  We sleep on and off for a little longer.  This is our last day together.

12PM: After showers and lounging we eat leftover thai on the patio.  The weather is gorgeous.  I want to stay right here forever.

2PM: We head back to campus and spend two hours walking around everywhere.  We look for "free" bikes.  I find a lime on the ground and realize that there are lime trees in planters by the entrance to a building.  I still have 8 hours left with him.

4PM: We eat frozen yogurt at a place near the farmer's market.  It is amazing.  We head back to campus and find our way back to where we parked.

5PM: He unpacks and hangs stuff on the wall.  I start to pack my bag.  We still have 5 hours together.

6PM: We head to dinner.  We don't realize how fast it will be and at the end have too much time to kill before I need to be at the airport.  We decide to go to Sacramento and drive around and explore.

8PM: We walk around the capital building.  We find orange trees and Kirk cuts his finger trying to climb one.  I have a band-aid in my bag.  It's windy and we are cold and ready to get back in the car.  Gloria, the navigation lady, tells us how to get to the airport.  2 hours is still a lot of time.

9:30PM: We are at the airport and I can't get out of the car.  I leave tear stains on his tee shirt.  Then we walk in.  I check my bag.  We stare at the escalator up to security.  A million times today I have thought about changing my flight, but here I am.  Leaving.

And so ended my trip across the country.  It was not a happy ending because saying goodbye is painful when the future is so uncertain.  At the beginning of our trip I couldn't believe how much time we would spend together - 9 days seemed like an eternity.  We had never spent that long together uninterrupted.  But before I knew it, it was halfway over.  Days were ticking away.  Then hours.  I have recalled that last night several times - when I looked back from the top of the escalator and waved one last time. When I looked back from the security checkpoint and saw him as he walked out the door.  That was the last time I saw him in person.  When I put my sunglasses on, at night, inside an airport, to try and hide some of the tears that were falling.

I landed in Raleigh 4 times this summer.  September was the only time that I was completely unhappy to be "home".

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

- A Month Later

A month ago yesterday we were here: 
In Grand Teton National Park.  Spotting our 4th rainbow as we drove out.
In Jackson, Wyoming.  Spotting our first elk horn arch.  Where I was pulled for going 66 in a 55 but only got a warning. Then we were outside of Afton, Wyoming witnessing the "running of the sheep".
We were here for about 15 minutes:
Then back here: 
Then we went here for a little bit:
But then back here:
And finally we stayed here:
I knew we were finally there for good because it looked different.  It's funny how every state is pretty distinctive in appearance.  There's a reason the license plate has red rocks on it.  
We stopped in Salt Lake City and had a really yummy lunch and a beer sampler that was mostly not great, save the stout and krystalweizen - which made for a laughy elevator ride back to our car. We saw the Salt Lake.
The sun set on us in Nevada.
By the time we hit traffic in Reno we just wanted to be in Davis.  We went through a USDA checkpoint where they ask if you're bringing in any foreign plants or animals. We weren't.  I slept through the drive down the mountain from Tahoe which was one of the most fun drives according to Kirk. Then we were outside of Sacramento.  And driving by campus.  In Davis.  On his street.  "Home".

A month ago yesterday I walked into a house fully aware that this was where Kirk was going to live.  All the way across the country from where I lived.  Once we were there, it was all I could do to watch the last little bit of time we had together slip away...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

- Yellowstone

To put it mildly, the day that Kirk and I spent in Yellowstone was one of the best days of my life.  I mean before you go somewhere like Yellowstone, you know it's going to be epic.  But that never prepares you for how you're going to feel during the experience - the raw sense of wonder that places like that exist, and that you're lucky enough to see them.

But when I woke up that morning I wasn't as filled with wonder as I was pure and utter exhaustion.  Having got in so late the night before, Kirk and I couldn't think of dragging ourselves out of bed until 9:30, and I felt like a zombie for a good hour.  But when a place like Yellowstone is on the agenda you find that no matter how much your instinct is to get back in bed, you pull on clothes and fix your bangs and eat a bagel with cream cheese.

Somewhere in all the madness of the citation and road closures of the night before, Kirk had mentioned that he would really very much appreciate it if he didn't have to drive at all while we were at Yellowstone.  So I drove us out of Colter Bay and up the road to Yellowstone where we decided our first stop would be Old Faithful.

And here's where our luck bounced back from the night before.  We parked at the Old Faithful visitor center and as we were walking up there were all of these people gathered outside and I had two predominant thoughts: 1. "I did not wear nearly enough clothes to be warm" because it was literally freezing up there and 2. "That's not Old Faithful right there is it?" And Kirk says "Oh WOW there it is" and I say "No way that's not it, it's not big enough" and he's like "It has to be it" and then it spouted off much higher and I realized that all of these people wouldn't be standing around to watch some minor little baby geyser go so I was like "You're right, that's totally it".
If there was any remaining doubt, there's a sign.
Hitting Old Faithful at just the right time started our day off on exactly the right foot.  We checked out the Visitor Center which was really helpful in figuring out exactly what stops we wanted to make for the rest of the day and picked up some post cards in the gift shop...which reminds me: Where are those post cards?  I should probably find them...

Shortly past Old Faithful we stopped to see Grand Prismatic Spring.  This is something I was way excited about because it is supposed to be gorgeous...like this kind of gorgeous complete with a rainbow of colors.  But right about then was when the rain moved in and with the temps in the high 30's what we saw looked mostly like this:
Sadness.  But we did manage to see the turquoise pool which was one or all of the next three hot springs (I can't remember and we didn't take a picture with the sign in it)
The point is, the color is kind of amazing.  I'm pretty sure it was at this point that Kirk did something you are not supposed to do and touched the hot springs.  I believe his comment was "Oh wow, that's hot".  So have no fear, as respectable food scientists we have confirmed that the temperature of hot springs in Yellowstone, is indeed hot.  Now after walking around and seeing all of these hot springs I realized something:  I was freezing and wet.  So while Kirk drove us to the Painted Pots (the one time I let him drive) I had a wardrobe change into 2 pairs of my beloved leggings and cranked up the seat warmers.  Seriously, those are one of my favorite inventions and a necessity in my next car.

Things had been kind of tame in the lower part of Yellowstone, but as we headed north to Mammoth Hot Springs that all started to change.  We spotted our first wildlife for the day: a bison (or buffalo?), our first rainbow, and the blue sky finally started to peek out...
Mammoth was awesome, but because the hot spring activity changes throughout the year all of the terraces were dry, except one.
Then we stopped at the Petrified Tree and were headed to Tower Falls when we found this little pull off that we decided to stop at because it looked like there would be a pretty good view.
I'd say that view was "okay".  We finally felt like that was pretty enough to take a picture in front of, so this is the first picture of us in Yellowstone.  Notice that I had also started wearing Kirk's winter jacket and toboggan because ya'll, it was seriously chilly!  Thank goodness we had so many clothes in the car at our disposal.
When we were headed back to the car a chimpunk ran underneath and we had to chase him out.  Kirk tried to take pictures of him, but he was wily and we missed him. At this point we realized that we were ahead of the weather by just a little bit.  Every time we would stop somewhere it would start out with partly cloudy skies and then by the end it would have gotten cloudy and started sprinkling.  This time the sun was still shining as it started to rain and while we were getting into the car I said, somewhere there's a rainbow.  And there was.  One of the best kinds where you can see ALL of it.
Next up we stopped at Tower falls which was really pretty because I mean who doesn't love a good waterfall?  Since we were trying to fit everything in before dark we sped off to the Canyon, where we were utterly blown away by the views of the lower falls.
Thrilled that we still had some daylight left we raced to our last stop, but slowed down to look at an elk grazing near the side of the road and an entire herd of buffalo in a dried out riverbed.  When we got to the Mud Volcano area even though it was nearly dark we decided to walk the 2/3 mile trail and see the last little bit we could see.  This was one of my favorite moments of the day, not because of the trail - which wasn't that exciting, save for this hot spring called Dragon's mouth that actually sounded like it was roaring and the Mud Volcano - but because there we were in this famous place that had been packed with tourists and yet at this point it was just the two of us.

After that we had about an hour and a half to drive back to Colter Bay and the whole time that we were in Yellowstone it snowed on us, so we really felt like we had seen it all that day.  By the time we got back we had come full circle and were both completely exhausted again.

One last day of driving separated us from California - we felt like we were so close but had no idea it would take so long to get out of Wyoming.

A detailed map of Yellowstone.
 

Monday, September 27, 2010

- The Beginning of the End

There were times when this journey lasted forever.  But now that I'm at the end it doesn't seem like it took that long.

Today I officially accepted a job offer to be an R&D Scientist II at General Mills.  I mailed in the paperwork last week.  It's kind of crazy to think that the job I've been after for the last year and a half is mine.  I'm seriously moving to Minneapolis - and I'm nervous and a little worried about the cold, but mostly I'm ridiculously excited.  I am finally going to be a grown up and join the working forces!

Last week I applied for graduation.  All that really means is that I filled out a form online and pressed submit.  But you have to fill out that form to graduate.  Graduation is December 18th.  I'm throwing a party afterward - everyone is invited.

Now I have to write a dissertation.  Defend it.  Wrap up some research.  I'm minimizing how much there actually is left to do, but what actually IS minimal is the amount of time I have left in Raleigh.  In North Carolina.  Right now is the beginning of the end of my time here at NC State.  Nine years ago my parents were dropping me off at the dorm I had NO idea then that I'd be here for this long.  That I would leave as a Doctor.  

It's moments like this when I am overcome with the sense of awe at the way that things work out - how your life falls into place and ends up being exactly what you wanted it to be, even if you didn't always know that's what you wanted.

Friday, September 24, 2010

- Wherein The Road Became Un-fun

You know how they always say that the second part of a trilogy is never the best part?  Like with Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers is an awesome movie but no one ever says it's their favorite.  I mean by definition it's stuck in the middle - it doesn't start anything because that's what the first movie does, and it can't finish anything because then we wouldn't need a third installment.  Well, our second day of driving is a lot like that movie, in that it was probably our least favorite.  It had some epic awesome moments, but also some epic fail moments.  

We woke up in Salina, Kansas.  Well Kirk woke up.  I openly admit that I am not a morning person, and on this particular morning I was about as much of an un-morning person as you can be.  I was mad that it was morning - and had I had the energy, I would have shook my fist at the light of day and cursed whatever God was responsible for it being 7AM so soon after I closed my eyes.  My eye lids felt like they had 5-lb weights attached to them and I greatly regretted not bringing my cream that helps keep the size of your under eye bags in check.  I seriously could have packed my belongings in those bags instead of my luggage.

At breakfast we realized that Salina was pronounced to rhyme with saliva, and not like Selena, which is the way we'd been saying it.  We packed the car and found the interstate, eager to put Kansas behind us.  See, we didn't think there was much to Kansas, and there isn't.  I mean that place is flat and boring.  BUT, there was one cool thing about Kansas - windmills.  
They were huge.  They were everywhere.  And it was kind of serene (dare I say - pretty) to see their large turbines slowly turning in the gentle breeze/wind that rocked the car.  Oh and now is probably a good time to mention that this is right about when we starting playing "the cow game".  It works like this: See those cows in the picture.  They are my cows because they are on my side of the road.  I have like 15 cows in this picture.  Kirk collects the cows that are on his side of the road.  Person with most cows wins.  Feel free to utilize any and all distraction techniques that will prevent the other player from seeing the herds of cows that are on their side of the road. 

Sounds simple enough, but twist!  You can kill each others cows.  This is where it gets exciting.  If I spot a body of water on Kirk's side of the road, I can drown his cows.  Technically it's supposed to be a lake or river, but you best believe that if I found so much as a 5 gallon bucket left outside I would at least try to drown one cow in the rain that had collected there.  And if you find a cemetery on their side of the road you can kill all the cows!

I had no idea this game would be as fun as it was - but it really was.  Especially since we got pretty creative with it.  "Oh no, you can't drown my cows in that because they are too smart.  And if you do my cows will probably come back as zombies and then they will be even more of a force to reckon with."  Things like that.  I mean I wasn't losing cows unless I thought I legitimately should.  

Cows and state troopers that were parked on the side of the road but never had anyone pulled.  That's what we saw in Kansas.  And a whole lotta flat-ness: 
 
So we were glad to get to Colorado.  Ready to see the Rockies.  
"Colorful Colorado" looks like a lot like Kansas, so it was a bit anticlimactic to get there.  Our plan was to stop in Denver for lunch and luckily we had a friend who had just been and could recommend a great brewpub.  We figured that since we'd had a beer sampler the day before at lunch, we should continue that tradition.  But before lunch we had to stop at an awesome local electronics store - I don't know if you've heard of it before - Best Buy.  See when I packed I was really smart and assumed that the battery charger for my camera was in the bag.  It wasn't.  I had realized this the night before and figured that we'd be able to find one outside of Denver.

Sidenote: An Ode to my Blackberry.  It was at this moment in our road trip that I realized how deeply I love my Blackberry.  Denver was already pulled up on Google maps.  I clicked on the link Adam sent me for where we eating lunch.  Then I searched the map for a nearby Best Buy - zoomed in, clicked to call and was talking to a customer service rep in like SECONDS.  The best part was we were able to hit up Best Buy before lunch so that we could charge the battery while we ate, which ensured that the camera would make it the rest of the day.  Love you Blackberry, don't ever leave me.

We ate at CB&Potts and they had the best beer out of any of the places we stopped for lunch.  Everything in the sampler was delicious.  And I also liked the cheese fries and the ridiculous cheeseburger I ordered that came with ham, bacon, an egg and fried onions on top.  It should have been nap time after that meal, but instead it was time to get back on the road.

Our original plan was to go north from Denver on I-25 and hit I-80 in Cheyenne.  So when we left lunch that's where we were headed.  But after looking at the maps we realized that this route was going to keep us next to the Rockies without actually getting to drive through them.  So we turned around - went back to Denver and found "the road less traveled".  

Right about then is when I got a phone call, and a job offer to General Mills!  This was definitely a high point of the day, and I was stoked.  Then we started to drive through the mountains and it started to rain and that was kind of a bummer because the views would have been amazing had they not been obscured by rain and fog.  But blue sky did start to peek through:
Then we found this beautiful spot: 
There was a place to pull off right by this, but in order to walk to the best view, we had to walk on the road and jump the guard rail really quickly when there was a car headed our direction.  But all of that was worth it because the 300th picture we took on our road trip was one of my favorites:
This was taken by balancing my awesome camera on said guard rail and hoping for the best.  A risk worth taking.  I feel it is also important to mention that I drowned ALL of Kirk's cows in that lake.  
Colorado was beautiful, and we were glad that we chose to go the scenic route despite the time that it added.  I also managed to again kill all of Kirk's cows by spotting a small town cemetery with the help of Gloria.  We drove into Wyoming just before the sun set.  
And pretty much once it got dark, it wasn't so fun anymore.  About an hour from Colter Bay Village Kirk got pulled for speeding.  And he got a citation.  And the time it took for that cop to do all that was just enough so that when we reached the spot where they closed the road every night at 11 pm - it was 11:15.  The only time they let traffic flow through was at 1 am, so we had to park on the side of the road and wait.  That was where we hit our low point.  We were exhausted.  Disappointed and mad about the citation.  So ready to be out of the car, and yet stuck in it because it was about 40 degrees outside.  We did the best thing we could do: gave each other a kiss and pulled out the pillows and blankets to take a nap.  I remember saying something about not knowing if I could sleep and then promptly passing out.  At about 12:45 they came around and knocked on everyone's windows as a "wake up call".  

Kirk asked me to drive and so I went through the what felt like 50 mile construction zone, but that was only because it was an unpaved road for most of the way so you could only go like 25 mph.  When we finally got to Grand Teton National Park we of course got lost trying to find where my friend, a park ranger, lives.  Luckily we ran into another park ranger on patrol who helped us out.  It was nearly 3am when we crawled into bed and we were both too tired to really even be glad that we finally got there.  We were just ready for a new day.  Fortunately, Yellowstone more than made up for all the trouble we went through to get there...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

- Knoxville to Salina

A little over a month ago it was time to move out of my apartment.  Kirk came over to help but we had barely packed up my books when we spotted my road atlas.  I had just accepted his invitation to drive out to Davis with him, so we sat down on the floor and poured over the maps talking about where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see - discussed where we had friends that we could possibly stay with, and how many days it would take.  As we flipped back and forth between states and traced interstates across the country, a loose plan took shape.  Kirk wanted to see the Gateway Arch, I wanted to drive through Denver and we both wanted to spend a day in Yellowstone.  To take a day off would call for some insane driving on the other days so we decided to leave on Monday night and make the quick trip to Knoxville to get things moving.  Plus, my best friend Katie lives there, so we'd have a place to stay.

I love Katie.  I always have.  Ever since we laid in the great room of the Chi Omega house as pledges and talked in the dark about how our other choice was ADPi.  She's just one of those girls that's always there when you need her, when you don't need her, and when you don't think you need her.  But she's also a little crazy - in a completely endearing way.  So when we showed up to her beautiful loft in downtown Knoxville and then promptly asked her to take us grocery shopping - she got excited because she would have people to help her carry groceries.  We stayed up a little too late hanging out and enjoying her comfortable couch, then called it a night.  In the morning I crawled into bed with her to eat cereal and she told me that I couldn't break up with Kirk because we were too cute together and I was so happy.

I put on one of Kirk's tee shirts, we packed up the car, and plugged in our first destination - Salina, Kansas - into the navigation on Kirk's phone.  Gloria's voice (the navigation woman) came on to direct us back to the highway and we were off!
We stopped in Kentucky at the visitor's center and picked up a state map.  Kirk sat in a rocking chair and I told him about the world champion Tennessee walking horses whose portraits were framed on the wall.  On the road Kirk saw someone fly fishing and said that it "made his day".  Then we were in Illinois.  It's funny how often I look at maps, and it was at that moment that I realized that St. Louis is on the Missouri/Illinois border.  That Missouri borders Illinois. 
We pulled into St. Louis around 2pm and followed signs for the Gateway Arch so that we could get a closer look.
Mission accomplished.  Then we parked and walked around the riverfront downtown area to find a place to eat lunch. We picked a brewery and sat outside.  It was a nice day, but kind of smelly from the river.  The pretzels were way too salty but the pasta and beer were good.  We got back in the car and had an uneventful drive across Missouri, the "Show me" state.  As we drove through Kansas City, the sun was starting to set. 
And there was this awesome cloud that looked like Pegasus.
We were barely able to see any of Topeka from the road because it was getting dark and by that point we were ready to be in Salina and in bed.  Our first day was full of driving and we were in the middle of nowhere, but we were excited by the prospect that in a mere 24 hours we would be in Wyoming - if only Wyoming had been as happy about that as we were...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

- The L word

After he left there were times when I missed him so much it literally hurt. Until that point we had spent almost every day together and shared everything. Then he was gone. Going to bed every night meant that I was one day closer to seeing him again. His second cousin drove me three hours from Raleigh to his house. I hugged his mom and couldn't keep my eyes off him because I couldn't believe he was actually there, for me to see. He made lunch and we ate fried okra and drank sweet tea. His brother and sister-and-law came over that night and we had steaks and played Tripoley. When we crawled into bed that night he said "I think I might love you".

The next morning we had pancakes and bacon and went to church. I didn't sing the hymns because I am uncomfortable forcing a melody that I do not know. I took communion. We took a nap with the sunlight streaming through the trees into the window. We started packing his car and jammed the trunk full. That night we went to his family's fish fry at the pond. We lost in spades because his brother is amazing and if I ever manage to beat him it will be a personal victory. I met his mom's whole side of the family. We both wore flannel plaid shirts. I cuddled with puppies and talked to people and sat by the fire to stay warm. We drove back that night and I watched the stars out the window. As I snuggled up into the nook he said "I love you" and I said "I love you too".

He said that he's known he loved me since we spent a weekend at our friends house on the river. For some reason I couldn't remember when I first knew, only that I'd been waiting for what felt like forever for him to say it. But, as someone who remembers everything it really bugged me that I couldn't pinpoint when I knew. After replaying 1000 moments from this summer over again in my head - I remembered. It was the same weekend as him. We were driving to Harker's Island and he got a phone call from his dad saying that Pawpaw was going into surgery and things were uncertain. I knew as soon as he said "oh no" that it was not a good phone call. The look on his face after he hung up killed me. As I held his hand I realized that if there was another call with bad news it would break my heart to see him broken. It took my breath away to realize how deeply I cared for him right then, at that moment. My skin felt electric, I was shaky, and the tears were welling up. And that's when I knew that I had left "liking him" behind and moved on to loving him.

Since then there have been too many times to count that I've almost said it. That it's been right there on the tip of my tongue and forefront of my mind how much I love him. Sometimes I felt like it would just burst forth whether I wanted it to or not - and yet it was important to me to wait until he said it first. Not because I was unsure as to how he felt - the way he treats me left little question - but because I wanted the moment to come when he was completely ready for it.

The next morning we went back to the pond for a breakfast of epic proportions. He made me hot chocolate. While standing by the fire his dad told me how good I'd been for Kirk and we discussed how well he would do at UC Davis. Later, we had meatloaf sandwiches for lunch. Then I packed up my stuff and he and his dad packed his car from the floor to the ceiling. His mom made rice krispie treats and assembled snacks for us. And just like that, it was time. Goodbyes were said, hugs were given, tears were shed, and we started our journey across the country.