This post is totally creeping me out right now, you guys.  Day 21 of the March Challenge asks what my biggest fear is, and I have to tell you that before I started writing, I shivered a little knowing my subject matter.  Then I did a tiny itty bitty bit of research so that I could show you a picture and tell my story accurately, and I learned something tonight that has forever scarred me.

Ugh.

I don't know if I can continue.

Really.

I have to keep taking my fingers off the keyboard and fling my hands back and forth to rid my body of pent up creepiness.  This is not good.

I may as well plunge in and get it over with.  Hopefully, I'll be able to sleep tonight.

....

Oh, I can't do it!

....

Okay, I'm afraid of crickets.

There, I said it.  Had to stop and shake my hands.

You see, when I was in high school, my bedroom was in the basement.  The basement was finished, but when it rained, the carpet got damp.  The basement had crickets.  Not lots of them, but some.  Enough.  Too many!

They scared me because if I tried to step on them while wearing my school uniform, they would jump and there was always the potential that they might jump inside my skirt and be trapped closer to me.  That thought freaked me out.  Then there was the fact that crickets jump really, really high when they're scared.  Did you know that?  There is no way to predict the trajectory or height of their leap, and so there is no way to protect yourself when you don't know where they're headed next.

I used to beg my brother not to stomp at crickets when I was in the same room.

He never listened.

One Saturday

Sorry, had to stop and shake my hands.

One Saturday morning, I was sleeping peacefully on my pillow, when an unusually harsh chirping very close by nudged me out of deep sleep.  I wasn't all the way awake, but I wasn't all the way asleep anymore either.  My brain registered some strange movements on my face, and that combined with the different-than-normal chirp right at my ear drum brought me fully awake.

Oh, you guys, I can't do this!

It was terrible.  That realization that there was a cricket and possibly even TWO crickets ON MY FACE terrified me.  I couldn't even scream because they were right by my mouth.  I couldn't see them clearly, only a black blur from the slits I had allowed my eyes to open to.  I felt a strange zinging sensation in my upper lip about two centimeters to the left of center.  To this day, I cannot exactly describe it.  It was almost like a cold burning. 

I sat straight up in bed as soon as this processed in my brain.  One cricket fell or jumped away immediately, but the other stayed dangling from my lip, its four legs kicking wildly like it was stuck and couldn't get away.  Something physically snapped inside my brain.  I could feel it happen -- all that pressure building inside my head.  I started slapping crazily sideways at the cricket trying hard not to smash it into my mouth.  It just kept dangling and scrambling, swinging when I connected with it.
Cricket drawing by R.E. Snodgrass from Wikimedia in the public domain

Then along with the four distinct cold legs moving on my lips, I also felt a movement beneath the skin of my upper lip, as strange burning/numbing/tingling sensation spread in a small circle, and the cricket fell away and casually (I promise you!) casually walk-hopped off my bed.  I watched carefully as it departed, and I realized that long stick protruding from the back of its body must have been what I felt inserted into the skin on my lip.

With my mouth closed and still sitting straight up in bed, I screamed and screamed and screamed.  MMMMMM!!!!!   MMMMMMM!!!!!  MMMMMMM!!!!!!  I kicked my blankets violently off, stood on my bed and shook the pillow, the blankets, bent over and stripped the sheet off all while standing on my bed and screaming with my mouth closed.  My head pounded from the stress.  I kept checking the walls and the ceiling above and behind me for crickets trying to ambush me.  I watched the floor in case one wanted to jump back up on my bed, but my two bedmates had completely disappeared during my fit.

Finally, I jumped from the bed and ran with long leaping steps in order to minimize my contact with the floor out of the room and up the stairs to the kitchen where my family were all in the process of making or waiting for breakfast.  My lip still felt strange.  It didn't exactly sting, and it wasn't exactly numb.  It was a combination of those things plus something else I couldn't identify.  I was afraid to open my mouth, but when I finally did to tell my mom and brother what had happened, my words were all jumbled and my voice wouldn't stay in a regular pitch.

Of course, they thought I had just dreamed it all, but I had not.  I promise you every single little bit of this story is NOT a dream.  NOT made up.  NOT exaggerated.  Nothing!  It is the 100% truth, and I hate every bit of it.

I pointed to the spot on my lip that felt strange, and they examined it closely.  Nate and my mom thought maybe there might be a tiny hole, but they couldn't really tell.  My face was all red.  Well, yeah!  I checked the bathroom mirror and could not see anything unusual about my lip, but it definitely felt strange.  Unidentifiably so.

When I finally calmed down enough to tell the story completely, they still seemed unmoved.  Well, not exactly unmoved, my mom's lips kept twitching in smothered amusement and my brother started teasing me.  I was not in the mood.

And speaking of in the mood, I firmly believed that male cricket had been having sex with my lip.  Up until tonight for the past twenty years, I have believed that.  But tonight, I did a tiny bit of research like I mentioned in the beginning.  It turns out that long stick protruding from the back of that cricket is only located on a girl.  And it is called an OVIPOSITOR.

Now, I am not a student of bugs.  Nor am I a scholar of Latin or Greek or whatever language bugs' body parts are named in.  However, I recognize roots of words and prefixes and suffixes when I see them, so the designation ovipositor bothered me quite a bit.  I didn't really want to know, but I checked anyway.  I was right.

That mama cricket was inserting her baby eggs into my lip.

I'm not joking.

I wish I was.

Oh, I hate this story!

I hope Jeremy will massage all the stress out of my muscles when I go to bed tonight, or I'm going to be incredibly stiff in the morning.

And now you know my biggest fear.
Illustration by
Harrison Fisher
Day 20 of the March Challenge (I'm speeding right through these, now, huh?) asks me if I collect anything.  Well, the short answer is yes, I collect old books.  I have specific criteria, but it's too random and "you have to be here" for me to describe to you.

The more entertaining answer is this post from January 2007.
Since I'm behind in the March Challenge, I'm going to combine days 18 and 19 into one post.  Mainly because I don't have a whole lot to say about them.

Day 18's writing prompt is "Where are you the happiest?"  And my answer is very simple.  In the WARM SUNSHINE.

That is why some day I will live on the equator after Jeremy passes on to his eternal home.  (He wants to live in Antarctica if I pass first.)

Day 19's writing prompt is "Five blogs I read on a regular basis."  Well, regular might be pushing it a bit, but a few of the blogs I read when I have time are  *drum roll please*

Vitafamiliae by a lady I've never met but feel like I know

Femininely Conservative by one of my real life closest friends

Enjoying My Family by another real life great friend

Big Mama by the funniest girl on earth

Beth's By Grace by someone I have never met, but we know a lot of the same people (plus, we kind of ARE the same people, if you know what I mean)
Why do I blog?  That's a very good question. I'm glad Tiffany asked for day 17 of the March Challenge.  (Yes, I know it's the 24th.  Cut me some slack, okay?)  In 2006, two very big events changed our family forever.  Jeremy and I became the guardians of a 15 year old girl named Kimmie, and we became the parents of a newborn girl named Liberty.  Suddenly, relatives wanted to keep in touch with us.  Family and friends called every day to see how our two girls were doing and what new happenings had happened.  In addition to that, our days stopped consisting of The Usual:  get up, go to work, come home, figure out what enjoyable/worthy event to spend time on that weekend.  Instead, new, silly, dramatic, tragic, hilarious happenings were happening to us every day. 

Kimmie and Liberty in 2007
I'm a story-teller at heart.  I always have been, and so these new happenings gave me great joy.  I loved telling and retelling them at every phone call.  But after telling the same story fifty times, it started to lose it's zip.  I felt so bad for the person who happened to be my fifty-first caller that week, because they got some lame version of "Kimmie got an A on her test, and Liberty rolled over for the first time."  Rather than the first fifty callers who found out all about how hard Kimmie had studied and the laughs and tears we'd shared over her studies and the exuberant joy when she found out her grade, and about the gas that was released from Liberty's tummy in the middle of the quiet library when she rolled over and our stifled, slightly embarrassed giggles when we heard it.

Possibly the first fifty callers would have appreciated that shortened version?

My friend Rachel advised me to start a blog.  A blog?  I'd never heard of that before, so I resisted for most of the year.  But Rachel blogged and loved it, and she insisted that I would love it as well.  She wouldn't let it rest.  "You'd be so good at blogging!" she told me.  "I can't wait to read your stories," she told me.  "You would brighten my day," she told me.

But a blog?  That means that anybody could read my stories.  It feels kind of creepy.

"No!  Not creepy!  Wonderful!  You'll make so many new friends!" she told me.

Eventually, I caved to peer pressure and started this blog.  My first few posts were pretty lame.  I didn't know what to say, but after a while I found my "voice."

And Rachel was right.  Blogging did help me make wonderful new friends!  But that's a post for another day.
Last night, I had the most vivid dream, and lucky you, you get to read all about it. 

Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

I was sitting on the floor of the Capitol Building late one evening surrounded by hundreds of senators and congressmen and women listening to President Obama give a speech.  One row behind me and a few chairs down on my right, sat two members of the President's cabinet.  Their slight fidgeting had caught my attention a few minutes earlier and with only a slight turn of my head, I could see the two of them clearly in my peripheral vision.  Their faces were twisted into a grimace of disgust, presumably at something the President had just said.  Then one man turned to the other and said, "That's enough.  We have to bump him off."

I couldn't believe my ears.  It seemed like they were discussing assassinating the president of the United States!  The rustling of the people around me and the ongoing speech of the President faded into oblivion as I strained to hear the conversation.  Bits and pieces that I caught only confirmed my guess that someone's life was in danger, but I couldn't determine whose.

After some cryptic sentences back and forth, the second man asked, "Okay, how?"

The first man responded, "Call O'Sullivan's.  They'll take care of it."

Man Two nodded once and left the meeting.

I sat, thinking over everything I had just heard and feeling like Mordecai.  What should I do with this information?  Somebody certainly was going to die if I said nothing, but what could I say?  I didn't know who was going to be killed, or how or when or where.  I knew nothing.  I didn't even know the names of the two men who had been plotting. 

I couldn't sit there any longer.  I had to do something.  I stood as casually as possible and climbed from the center of the row over legs and laps to the aisle.  I willed myself not to turn my head or make eye contact with Man One still sitting in the row behind me even though I wanted desperately to know if he was taking note of my departure.  I tried to look like I was simply heading to the restroom.  Question:  how does a sophisticated person look when they need to leave an important presidential speech to go to the bathroom?  Answer: they try to look like they do NOT need to pee terribly badly.  So, I tried to look like a person who had to pee but who was trying to hide it, but I didn't want to hide it so well and give the impression that I might be leaving for any other purpose besides relieving myself.  Tell me that's not a tricky act to put on.

The huge wooden doors closed soundlessly behind me shutting out the President's words and the general movement of the crowd.  I looked up and down the corridor and found Man Two about thirty paces ahead on my right.  I turned and followed him, trying to keep my high-heeled shoes from clicking on the richly tiled floor, and thinking frantically all the way.  I needed to get to where ever he was going before he got there, but I didn't know where he was going.  I needed to stop a murder, but I didn't know whose.  "God!" I began praying, "Help me!  Show me what to do!"

O'Sullivan's

The name echoed in my brain as I hurried to keep up with Man Two.

Who is O'Sullivan?  Correction: O'Sullivan's.  That makes it sound like a business of some sort.  Maybe a restaurant?  My brain quickly conjured an image of O'Reilly's from Return to Me, and Dean Martin music began playing in my head. 

At this point, the corridor took a sharp turn and office doorways opened up on either side.  Is O'Sullivan in one of these offices?  Is he or she someone employed in the Capitol Building?  Glimpses of rich mahogany desks, black telephones, and the backs of computer screens greeted my eyes as I glanced in every open door that I passed.  That's when a thick phone book resting on top of a desk caught my attention.  My steps stumbled, and I checked Man Two ahead.  He continued at his fast/casual pace, not noticing that anyone followed.  I turned into the office, grabbed the book from the desk, and returned to pursue.

The wall on my right changed to clear glass, and I saw that several flights of stairs reached down to the bottom floor.  Maybe I could get ahead of Man Two somehow by using the stairs.  I still didn't have any idea where he was heading, but taking the stairs seemed like a good thing to do for some reason.  I rushed to the glass door and entered the stairwell, running down the first flight.  That's when I realized that the glass walls surrounding the stairs did nothing to protect me from Man Two's sight if he noticed movement and looked my way.  What could I do?

Well, the only logical thing of course, would be to run in slow motion down those eight flights of stairs.  That way if Man Two did happen to look over, he would see someone who appeared to be moving very slowly, not in a hurry at all as someone intent on stopping a murder would be.  Yes, that made sense.  So I began running down the stairs in slow motion, wearing high-heels, while flipping quickly through the phone book looking for O'Sullivan's.  Talent, my friends, sheer talent.

At about the third floor mark, I found a listing for O'Sullivan's in the yellow pages.  It was a furniture store.  The address across town was too far to risk taking a cab and showing up in person.  Man Two might easily beat me there with DC traffic the way it would be at this hour.  I decided to call them.

But what would I say?  What if there is some secret code that not repeating would alert the person on the other end of the line?  What if I accidentally got the wrong person killed?

"God!  Guide my words!  Show me what to say!"

At the bottom of the stairs, a pay phone stood.  I rummaged in my skirt pocket for spare change, plunged it into the slot, and dialed the number listed in the book.

"Hello, O'Sullivan's.  How may I help you?" a pleasant-voiced young woman answered.

I cleared my throat and tried to sound confident.  "I'd like to place an order for the White House."

"Certainly," she replied.  "Lenny handles all of our White House orders.  I will connect you."

Lenny also sounded pleasant when he answered.  "Hello, this is Lenny.  How may I help you?"

"I need to place an order for the White House," I repeated, having no idea what I would say next.

"Okay.  Who do you want me to kill and with what furniture?" he asked brusquely.

I blinked.  I hadn't expected it to be this easy.  This meant that Lenny was one of the bad guys.  I finally had some solid information.  I knew that a man named Lenny who worked at O'Sullivan's could be turned in to the police. 

Then newspaper headlines from recent years began flashing in my memory.  Headlines describing accidental deaths of political figures like:  "John McCain was killed early this morning when his recently purchased grandfather clock fell on him."  So this furniture hit-man operation had been going on for some time now, I realized.  Well, there wasn't time to investigate all that.  I needed to stop this next murder from happening, but I still didn't know who the target was.

"Lenny, someone is on to us," I told him.  "We're not sure who, yet, but when we find out, they will be dealt with."  I tried to make my voice sound menacing and mad.  "All I can tell you is that you are about to receive a furniture delivery request, but don't believe it.  It is a trap!  However, I need you to play along and get all the information so we can track them down.  Once you have all the information, call me back so I can do more work from my end."

He obviously bought my whole story.  "Okay," he agreed, "what number do you want me to call you back on?"

Oops.  I hadn't thought of that.  I couldn't give him my cell number.  Up until now I had remained completely anonymous and that's the way I wanted to remain.  If I gave my cell number, I would easily be traced.  I also could not give him my email or facebook info for the same reasons.  I thought about giving him this pay phone number, but I wasn't sure I wanted to stand around waiting for a phone call since I didn't know when the hit request would come through to him.  I searched my mind frantically for a good idea.

And that's when Jeremy's alarm clock went off.
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The blogging prompt for day 16 of the March challenge (and yes, I do know it is now March 19th, but if I stop to play catch up, I'll never really catch up) asks me to tell you about my greatest accomplishment.  Well, in the thirty-three years that I have been alive, I have accomplished only two items that I consider great.

I should probably be sadder about that fact.

My first great accomplishment happened in high school.  Academics have always come easily for me, unlike sports, and I've never had to try very hard to memorize facts or to learn how things work.  I always received high grades in school without studying, to the chagrin of some of my friends.  These traits, as well as the fact that I am not in general a driven person have resulted in the sorry truth that I have rarely pushed myself to excellence.  I've rarely tried hard to do something hard for me.  I suppose that is why this particular accomplishment is one that I treasure.

Somewhere between 8th and 10th grade, I decided (quite contrary to my normal comfort-zone-oriented personality) to sign up for a state-wide school competition in the area of Dramatic Interpretation of Poetry.  My school participated in the state-wide competition every year with students competing in many different academic and artistic categories.  My friends had won awards in areas like Original Photography (Kristin, I'm remembering your mighty oak tree with it's unique perspective), and Amazing Artwork (I totally made that category up, but Drew's pointillism pictures totally WERE amazing, and he earned first prize year after year to prove it).  Anyway, most of the kids in my school had their own niches that they competed in each year, but I never did.  Of course, I participated in the choir competition, which we either took first place or placed highly in every year, but that wasn't something I had to work hard for or something that *I* myself earned. 

(On that note [haha], I do remember one year when I competed in a solo competition.  That was early on when I was naïve and optimistic -- must have been 7th or 8th grade.  When I performed my song in front of a live audience consisting mainly of concerned parents before we went to competition, I forgot the words, and ended up humming the entire second verse until the words to the chorus finally popped back into my mind.  And I distinctly remember realizing while in the middle of singing to the judges during the real competition that everyone in the room, including me, was wondering WHEN THIS SONG WOULD EVER END.  I never entered another solo competition.)

After a year or two of watching from the sidelines while my school-mates performed, I decided I needed to find something to compete in.  There must be something I might be good at.  Right?  Anything?  I examined every category possible, and realized they all would demand hard work from me.  That held no appeal.  But somewhere along the line, I got motivated to DO SOMETHING.  (It was a miracle.)

I don't remember how I picked the category of Dramatic Interpretation of Poetry, most likely some adult recommended that I try it, and my love of all things dramatic took over.  I remember pouring over photocopied poem after photocopied poem, rejecting them all because they were either too long to memorize or too complicated to read aloud or did not have a good storyline.  I'm all about the storyline -- always have been -- so that's why most poems got rejected.  Finally, the deadline arrived, and I had to choose one.  I don't even remember who was supplying me with photocopied poems to choose from.  Was it Mr. H, or Mr. S, or Mrs. B, or Mrs. F?  They were all teachers of mine at the time.  They must have been frustrated at my constant rejection of their suggestions.  On that last day when I was feeling the pressure of HAVING TO CHOOSE SOMETHING, one of the photocopied poems "Home Burial" by Robert Frost finally told a heart-wrenching enough story to delight my teenaged soul.  Although the length of it frightened me, I signed up to dramatically interpret it from memory at the statewide competition in a few months.

(If you follow the link above to read the poem itself, you will find that Mr. Frost wrote all about a husband and wife who were struggling to reconnect after their child died.  Definitely something a 14 year old could relate to.  [Sarcasm dripping.]  But, hey, it met the dramatic storyline qualification, which was my number one priority.)

In the beginning, I worked at memorizing, but without anyone to push me along, my motivation quickly plummeted, and my memorization stopped somewhere after the tenth line of the 120-line poem.  That's when Mrs. DeGeneste stepped in.  She had been my Sunday School teacher in sixth and seventh grade, but now that I was a few years past her class, she had appointed herself as sort of a mentor/friend/companion to me, and that I desperately needed. 

Seriously, Mrs. Stephanie DeGeneste needs to have a post all her own because she has made such an impact on my life, but that is a subject for another day.

I don't remember how Mrs. D. came to know about my poem, most likely I told her about it during one of our frequent talks, but somehow she decided to be my speaking coach.  She met with me about once a week and expected me to arrive with a certain number of lines memorized, and so I worked hard during the weeks so that I could meet or exceed her expectations.  Her opinion was very important to me.  When I finally had the poem fluently memorized, she drilled me hard on tone of voice, facial expressions, expressing different characters through body language, communicating with hand movements, etc.

The day of the competition arrived, and I looked at the list of students from all over the state who were scheduled to dramatically interpret.  The entire day was filled from 8:00 am to 3:15 pm in 15 minute time blocks!  That shocked me.  I assumed Dramatic Interpretation of Poetry would be one of those little-known categories with only five competitors signed up.  At least that way I'd be assured of a fifth-place finish.  I set such lofty goals for myself, you know.

My name filled the 2:15 time slot, and by lunchtime I felt so sick that I couldn't enjoy the nachos and cheese or the cheesy tator tots that all my friends flocked around at the concession stand.  My voice cracked during the choir competition due to my dry throat, and I ended up lip synching most of the last two stanzas of the song we were singing.  In the crowded hallway outside the Dramatic Interpretation competition room, I stood with my rear end against the cold concrete block wall, put my head between my knees, and begged God to let me pass out so I wouldn't have to walk into the room.  Mrs. DeGeneste, who had been unable to take time off work to travel to the competition, had assured me that she would be praying for me at this moment, and I knew she was asking God to calm my nerves and allow all my hard work to bear fruit. 

I just asked Him to keep me from vomiting in front of everyone when I stood up there.

The dark-haired boy who performed before me had a booming speaking voice and commanding arm gestures.  He was cute too, and I remember being slightly sad that I was too distracted to drool over him properly.  When he finished his poem, I couldn't stop myself from applauding whole-heartedly along with the rest of the standing-room-only crowd, and I felt like a traitor to myself.  But he truly had been so good!

The judges took their time marking their sheets and writing comments, but finally my name was called and I knew I had only five seconds to be on stage and introducing myself ahead of the interpretation.  My knees shook as I stumbled to the front of the room and turned to face the crowd.

I smiled at the judges and made eye contact with each one, just as friendly as can be like Mrs. DeGeneste had taught me, and I felt my spine strengthen and energy overflow in my bones.  "Hello!  My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die."

(Not really.  I didn't really say that.  I just couldn't resist typing it.)

What I really said was, "Hello!  My name is Melissa (last name).  I represent (my school) located in (my city), and I will be performing 'Home Burial' by Robert Frost."

I took one infinitesimal step backwards to give me more room to move into the poem later on and dramatically dropped my head, arms at my sides, counted to five and then peered intently up at a 45 degree angle towards something ahead and above me.  "He saw her from the bottom of the stairs before she saw him. She was starting down, looking back over her shoulder at some fear..."

I remember holding back real tears when Amy cried, "Don't, don't, don't, don't!" and when she described, "Making the gravel leap and leap in air, leap up, like that, like that, and land so lightly..."  The whole scene unfolded in front of my eyes, and I was really there.  Really and truly THERE, in anguish with these two people who wanted to love, who wanted comfort, but couldn't get past their own interpretation of how the other should be grieving.

When the poem finally finished, my head sunk down towards my chest, my body relaxed back from the husband's tense forward-leaning posture, and my right leg returned from the threatening step outward it had automatically made and rejoined my left leg directly underneath me.  My arms dropped to my sides while I inhaled a simple, calming, five-count breath before I raised my head and made sedate eye-contact with the judges again. 

I waited, not quite realizing I was standing in a hot, crowded classroom filled with classmates, parents, and teens from schools around the state all staring at me.  I heard the applause dimly as my surroundings slowly came back to me and I watched carefully for body-language from the oh-so-stern-looking judges.  The sternest-looking one lowered her bi-focals and smiled at me in approval, but the other two remained with heads bowed over the judging sheets their pencils flying.  I knew I was to stand there until dismissed, and suddenly I felt a line of sweat trickle slowly down my backbone and into the elastic band on my underwear.

Finally, the small, gray-haired man in the center rumbled, "Thank you."

That was it? 

I hesitated just a tad before dipping my head in a nod at him and the others and confidently walking all the long way towards the very back of the large rectangular room pressing against hot bodies the whole way there.  My school group was somewhere in the center of the room, but I couldn't get my feet to stop walking.  I hit the back wall and turned left, walking along that wall until I reached the corner, then I turned left again now heading back towards the front of the room.  Finally, I came to a door on my right leading out into the corridor, and I slowly opened it being careful not to disturb the next performer as she squeaked out her introduction.  By that time, my brain had whirred to a halt enough that I knew I wanted to hear how my competition performed, but my body's autopilot had kicked in, and I just needed to get. out. of. that. room.

The air in the hallway felt fresher and cooler even though bodies lined the walls waiting for their turn to get into the competition room.  I pushed my way into a spot against the cold concrete blocks and leaned back letting the sweaty rivulets run freely where they might.  I'm sure the people on either side must have wished they could plug their noses.  I waited out there for the next ten minutes until the girl inside finished her poem and my school group could push their way out of the room while other groups tried to push their way into it.  Some adult handed me a water bottle and congratulated me on an excellent performance.  Other people came around and said nice things, too, but I just wanted to get to a restroom where I could strip down and towel off.  I smiled and said thank you over and over until we finally began moving down the hall towards our next designated spot to compete.

Later that afternoon, all the schools gathered in the gigantic auditorium for the awards ceremony.  My nervousness had completely subsided, and my stomach growled about the lunch and snacks I had foregone during the day.  Even though the rules clearly stated no food or drinks in the auditorium, someone in my group secretly passed out those packets of crackers and spreadable cheese dip that are attached to each other and come with a red plastic stick for spreading.  Rule-follower that I was, I dared to sneakily accept a packet and even open it and try to eat it surreptitiously while the speaker droned on and on before giving out first through fifth place awards in lo, those many categories.

I hadn't really thought about my chances of winning anything up until that time.  My goal had always been to-remember-all-the-words-and-to-not-throw-up-in-front-of-anyone, so when an hour or so later the time came to hand out awards in the Dramatic Interpretation of Poetry category, I simply watched as the fifth and fourth place people walked way up onto the high stage to accept their ribbons and the papers with the judges comments.  I wished with all my heart that I could have been in the room to hear their speeches and to see what they had done so wonderfully in order to get awarded.  I was very curious, but not at all jealous.  Third place was called, and he accepted his award. 

Then the announcer paused.  It was the small, gray-haired man who had been the center judge in the competition room, and he looked up from his notes.  "We have had a most unusual turn of events this year.  For the first time ever, our three judges could not agree on a clear winner.  After all the performances had been heard and evaluated, we had two students who clearly stood far above all the rest, but the three of us had a hard time choosing between the two.  I would like to call the following two people to the stage, please."  He called a boy's name first, and I watched as that same dark-haired boy who I had not been able to fully appreciate earlier step-step-stepped up the long stairs to the stage and stood by the man.  This time, I could fully appreciate the boy's gorgeousness, and I took time to melt into a little puddle in my heart.

Then I heard my name called.

I looked around, not quite sure why my name had come over the speaker system, and a few of my classmates nudged me to get up and go.  Ever the people-pleaser, I slowly lifted my bottom from the chair, still not sure why they wanted me to get up.  The judge called my name again, and I looked up at him startled.

Oh!  He wants me to go up there.

Oh.  OH!  That means...

No way.  That's not possible.

I stood and walked as quickly as I could to keep the auditorium full of people from waiting for me for so long, but I was careful to walk not so quickly that I looked ridiculous, and I climbed the stairs to the stage.  Then I had to stand next to that gorgeous boy.  He grinned at me in greeting before staring straight ahead into the crowd again, and I hope I smiled back.  I really have no idea.

The judge was speaking again.  "...finally decided.  Only a tenth of a point separated the two from first and second place.  And now I present the second place ribbon, which may as well have been the first place ribbon to...Melissa (last name)."

Well.

I smiled and stepped towards him to accept my ribbon and judges comment sheets, and I truly was grateful and humbled and amazed that I had won anything.  But seriously, why didn't they just skip the second place ribbon and give us both first place ribbons? I thought.  My usually dormant competitive side awoke as I picked my way down the stairs hoping not to fall flat on my face in front of everyone in the state and returned to my seat.

Back with my school, people leaned forward to pat my shoulders and congratulate me in whispers while the categories changed and announcers switched at the podium.  I leafed through the judges papers, wondering what they thought of my poem.  All three papers had a one-to-five scale in different categories on the first sheet, and then the following stapled sheets gave space to write comments about each of the categories.  All three judges rated fives for me in every category and proceeded to write things like "excellent," "amazing," "wonderful," in the comments sections.  Only one judge on one paper had written, "Could use more side to side movement when switching between characters."

What does that mean?  When I returned home, and met up with Mrs. DeGeneste, I asked her that question.  It means that when I was the man, I should have turned my body slightly towards the left, and when I was the woman, I should have turned by body slightly towards the right to differentiate between the characters.  I thought about that carefully, but then I realized my poem took place on a set of stairs.  Instead of turning right and left for my characters, I had tilted my head and my body up or down depending on who was speaking and where they were standing at the time.  I had even imitated taking a step up or down and raising or lowering my head level slightly at times.  I felt unfairly commented against, let me tell you.

But the truth is, it felt really good to know that I had earned second place in the entire state, and that I had worked HARD to do it.  (For maybe the first time in my academic career.)

(And it felt really bad to know that I had missed first place by a tenth of a point, when the judges couldn't even agree on that tenth.)

It also felt really good to earn my place beside that gorgeous boy who my brain is trying to name Tim for some reason.  I wonder if that was his name and I really am remembering that accurately?  If so, that should gain me a tenth of a point right there, because I guarantee you he wouldn't be able to accurately remember my name today if you asked him!

I hung that second place ribbon proudly in my room and vowed to earn first place next year.  I started flipping through poetry books at the local library in search of my next heart-wrenching tale.  But I never got another chance to compete against His Gorgeousness because the following year this happened.  Suddenly, first and second place ribbons didn't seem so important to me anymore, and I think my school may have even stopped attending those state competitions?  I don't remember ever going to one after that. 

However, the lesson I learned about how good it feels to work hard at something and be rewarded for it stuck with me enough so that when I am faced with a blog prompt asking about my greatest accomplishment, my brain instantly goes back to a time when I accidentally won second place for reciting a poem.
Today's challenge for the 15th day of March wants me to tell you ten reasons why I am AWESOME!  But everybody already knows how amazingly awesome I am, and I don't see how I could possibly add to my awesomeness by describing it for you. 

I'm indescribable, really.

So, I thought I'd link back to a post my husband wrote about me in early 2009.  We had been going through a difficult time in our marriage, and he had been out of work for a few months.  Discouragement abounded.  Yet he took some time to sit at my computer and be silly, and I loved him more for it. 

Without further ado, here is Jeremy's post.
What's on my iPod?  Ha!  I laugh in the face of this question for day 14 of the March Challenge.  I laugh because ...

Uh, just a second.

I interrupt today's regularly scheduled March Challenge post to tell you about something quite fun and wonderful that has been happening around our house the past four days.  On the evening of March 10th, I sat in my favorite ugly upholstered rocking chair reading random blog posts while the girls played happily together on the living room floor and daddy dozed on the couch.  I clicked a link here and a link there, and somehow I ended up reading this post on a blog I'd never visited before.

Now, you should know that we enjoy silly fun and lots of mischief at our house, and only a few short hours before stumbling onto Michele's blog, I had googled phrases like St. Patrick's Day fun for preschoolers.  I was looking specifically for stories about leprechauns that I could read to them, but did you know that most leprechaun stories on the internet are not interesting enough for kids or are not at the preschool/kindergarten age level?  I learned that.  I especially learned, do not go to YouTube and type in the word leprechaun.  At least, don't do it when your children are looking over your shoulder.

So, I sat in my favorite ugly upholstered rocking chair reading this post, and my six-year-old, Liberty Grace, happened to walk past my chair.  She glanced at the pictures on the computer screen, and she exclaimed, "MOMMY!  WHAT IS THAT ABOUT?  WILL YOU READ IT TO ME?!"  "Sure," I complied, and four-year-old Mercy Jane jumped up from the floor to join us at the computer.  I scrolled back to the beginning and read the post to them.  They laughed and giggled the entire way through, then they asked me to read it again.  I backed up and read it again.  And again.  And again.  After the fourth time, I told them no more.  It was time for them to go back to playing. 

They happily jumped down from the arms of the rocking chair where they had been perched and immediately began gathering leprechaun-catching supplies:  a plastic fork, a few bowls, some legos, assorted lengths of yarn, bait, etc.  I listened in amusement while they brainstormed the best ways to set up a leprechaun trap, and I silently acknowledged my own approval of the influence Michele's blog post had had on their creativity and logic.

Here is what they came up with.

 
The notes say, "Use the rope to pull yourselves to the bowls," and "Use this rope.  There is a surprise inside the bowls for you."  (Or something like that.) 



The first bowl contained a few fun objects for the leprechauns to enjoy, then a tight rope led the leprechauns to a second bowl where a Dove milk chocolate piece enticed them.  The chocolate had been a reward for some good work Liberty had done earlier that day, but she wanted to put it in the bowl as bait.



It was all fun and games until time for bed.  That's when Liberty informed Mercy of what would happen in the morning.  "The traps will catch the leprechauns, and they will leave a present behind so they can escape," she whispered in her sister's ear so the leprechauns would not hear that there were traps about. 

Uh-oh!  I thought to myself.  I don't have ANYTHING that can be used as a leprechaun treat!

The next morning, both girls woke up early and ran to the trap.  Nothing had changed.  What had gone wrong?  I told them maybe the leprechauns weren't here yet, or maybe they hadn't noticed the traps.  But Liberty knew that could not be possible.  She searched the house looking for leprechaun mischief.  And she found it: a small pile of paper scraps left on the kitchen counter that had not been there the night before.  It must be the work of those tricky leprechauns!

Then she and Mercy discussed in whispers how they could possibly trick the leprechauns into falling for their trap.  They decided to add a third sticky note with a smiley face on it from Mercy.  That should show that there was nothing nefarious about these innocent-looking legos, strings, and bowls!

Liberty then begged me to read leprechaun stories to them from the computer, so I turned to trusty old Google and searched.  This time I found a couple suitable stories.  The girls enjoyed them, but Liberty insisted, "No, Mommy!  Read the one about the kids and the traps!  Please, read the one about the kids and the traps!  You know, the REAL story!"  So I headed back to Michele's blog post and read it to them again.  This time, I discovered that Michele had written three ebooks designed for the iPad about the adventures their family has had with their leprechaun encounters.

Any of you who know me will realize that I never - no, not ever - pay one single cent for ebooks or apps on my PC or iPhone.  There are so many to be had for free.  But this was different.  These stories were special, both to me and to my children.  What can I say?  I'm a sucker for a good mischief story.  Besides, I loved how engaged my children had become in building traps and looking for mischief.  I headed straight for iTunes on my computer and downloaded those three ebooks.  After all, they were only $0.99 each.  It was $3.00 well spent I decided.

Liberty and Mercy hovered expectantly over the computer while the books downloaded.  "Is it almost finished, Mom?"  I had trouble updating my account information because it had been a long time since I'd used iTunes, and we'd changed our computer operating system in the meantime.  I even had to call Apple's helpdesk to figure out how to make some of the necessary adjustments.  Mercy lost interest in the process, but Liberty couldn't take her eyes off the screen.  "Now, Mommy?  Are the leprechaun stories almost ready now?" 

"Pretty soon, honey."

Then I realized I had to update my entire computer system in order to for iTunes to process my order.  Three hours, the computer told me it would take.  So I nudged Liberty off my lap, and we started working on other tasks around the house while the computer updated.  Later that afternoon, we met back at the screen to read the stories.  That is when I realized, the ebooks had only been designed for the iPad.  Not for my computer.  Not even for my iPhone.  And we don't own an iPad.  My heart sank as I turned to Liberty's eager face and tried to explain to her that the stories weren't working. 

In the meantime, Michele had sent me an email reply to one of the complimentary comments I had left on her blog.  I had told her how her stories had so engaged Liberty and Mercy, and that I had decided to purchase them.  (The stories, that is, I had not decided to purchase my daughters.)  Michele had written back to thank me for my purchase.  When I read her emailed response, I decided to take a long shot, and I told her what had happened to us.  It was totally my fault.  I had read the part that said the ebooks were for the iPad, but I hadn't believed they would really be only for the iPad.  I wondered if maybe she had another format that she could email me?  Or a link that I could download for my computer or iPhone? 

This wonderful mom wrote back to me that she couldn't stand to hear of a disappointed child, and so she would snail mail me hard copies of the stories.  Really?  I couldn't believe it!  I sent her my address and thanked her, but later I wondered would she really do it?  How much would it cost her to mail those books?  I started feeling badly, wondering if I ought to offer to pay shipping costs.

During my lunch break on Monday, I made a quick stop at the Dollar Store to pick up leprechaun gifts, and I hid the bag of fun under the driver's seat when I picked the girls up from school.  The two of them were so excited, they talked of nothing but leprechauns all the way home, and that afternoon, I had to stop them from building fifty more traps around the house.  I hadn't bought THAT many gifts!

Tuesday morning, the girls raced to the trap to see what had been caught.  The legos had been used; the ropes had been pulled; the bait items had disappeared from the bowls, and two shamrock beaded necklaces sat in their place!  Oh the squealing!  Oh the delight!  Liberty and Mercy hugged each other and jumped up and down.  The leprechauns had really come!!!

I had to stop them from starting new traps right away, and I promised them they could work on them after school that day.  Wednesday morning's traps caught a green, squishy, light-up, bunny rabbit type thing.  The girls thought those might be leprechaun pets, and they proudly took them to school to show their classmates.  Thursday morning, Liberty and Mercy discovered crazily-shaped, green-glittery sunglasses in the new traps they had built on Wednesday.



But Thursday afternoon brought the best surprise of all.  Around six p.m., our doorbell rang.  Our neighbor from down the street handed me a package and told me that it had my address on it, but it had been delivered to her mailbox by mistake.  I took the package in puzzlement and checked the return address.

Oh!!!

OH!!!

"GIRLS!"  I shouted, "IT'S HERE!!!"  Jeremy and the girls came running.  "What's here?"  They wanted to know.

"IT'S HERE!  OUR BOOKS ARE HERE!!!!"

I still could not believe the generosity of this lady I have never met.  And she must have paid extra to have it shipped so quickly.

Of course, I had not told the girls about the possibility of any books being sent to us.  I didn't want to disappoint them if it never happened.  And let me tell you, if *I* had been the one responsible for sending something in the mail...well, we all know my mailing reputation.  (Which reminds me, I still need to mail our Christmas letters out.  Oops.)

I ripped the package open and showed them the cover of one of the books. 



Both girls squealed as they recognized their new friends, Isabella and Luca.  Jeremy stood there puzzled.  Then the four of us cuddled together on the couch to read our new favorite stories.

Michele, if you are reading this post (and I think you are because I plan to send you a link when I'm finished typing it), THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart!  You made two little girls extremely happy today, and I know these books will get read at our house over and over and over and over.  I hope this post causes everybody to purchase your wonderful stories and start new St. Patrick's Day traditions like we have.

And everybody else, if you are even the slightest bit intrigued AND you have an iPad, please go to iTunes and search for the author name Aucello to find the three ebooks and all the fun stories.  If you do that, I'd love to hear what your kids thought of the leprechauns and the traps.

But a word of advice: go to the Dollar Store BEFORE you read these books to your children!

(And, Michele, did I mention thank you?  Because seriously, THANK YOU!)
Three, one three, one three.  March 13, 2013.  It seems like it should be significant somehow.  I know tomorrow is Pi Day, so there's that, but 3/13/13 should be important too.  Too bad we don't have 13 months in the year.  But then everyone would want to get married on 13/13/13, and I don't know if a date like that would bode well for a marriage, or a birth, or anything of significance.  Yikes! 

Anyway, I'm rambling.  The blogging prompt for today, day 13 of the March Challenge, is do you have regret, and I hear people all the time very politically correctly saying, "I have no regret ever, because every decision I've ever made -- good or bad -- has led me to exactly where I am in life right now."  That seems like a wonderful sentiment to have, and you'd think a "Cockeyed Optimist" like me would share it, but I don't.

There have been too many times in my life where I have purposely made the wrong choices.  I've treated people badly.  I've been consumed with selfishness and pride.  I've lied.  I've been lazy.  Too many times.  And I regret those times.  Sure, who I am today and where I am today is a direct result of all those decisions, and I'm happy with and thankful for who and where I am today.  But the truth is, who I am and where I am could be amazingly better if I'd been making good choices all along. 

So, yes, I have regret.  I don't beat myself up and dwell on the regret, but I do have it, nonetheless. 

A few years ago, I bought a sign that now hangs in my bathroom.  (Well, it is propped up between the wall and the top edge of my garden tub because I have yet to decide precisely where I want it hung.)  The sign says, "NO REGRETS," and it is propped in a spot where it faces me every morning while I go potty.  (You needed to know this.)  The sign is not to encourage me not to regret my past actions and choices, but to remind me to live my day in such a way that I will not have regrets at the end of it.  That sign also stares me in the face when I go potty at the end of the day (you needed to know that, too), and it helps remind me to review my actions from the day.  If I made any choices or acted in any way that will eventually cause me regret, then I try very hard to contact the people affected and apologize right away or correct whatever actions I did so that I do not have regrets in the future.  The sign has been very helpful to me.

So, if I'm ever sitting on the toilet at the end of the day for an extended period of time, watch out!  I probably did a number on someone that day, and I'm constipated concentrated on how to correct it.
Day 12 of the March Challenge is all about something I miss.  Well, I miss a lot of things.  I miss friends and family who I no longer live near.  I miss sunshine and warmth from the summer time.  I miss just about anything that I throw something at.

However, I have to say that what I miss the very, very most out of everything in the world is SLEEP.

And now, if you'll excuse me...I'm off to bed!  Good night!
For the 11th day of the March challenge, Tiffany wants to know all about the last book I read.  Before I tell you about it, you need to know that I adore reading books.  Getting lost in another world full of new friends is the very best feeling ever, and I do it frequently. 
 
That reminds me, I have 17 overdue library books sitting in the other room.  *sigh*  My wallet is going to feel this one.
 
Anyway, with my extreme pregnancy-related exhaustion, I haven't been able to read as much.  My brain won't focus, and my eyes won't stay open.  So, when I read the blogging prompt for today, I had to stop and think.  What was the last book I read?  Was it a library book?  Or an old favorite from my bookshelves downstairs?  Maybe it was a Kindle book?  I flipped through my Kindle library to see if any of the titles jogged my memory.
 
Side note:  I highly recommend a website called BookBub.  You plug in your email address and your genre preferences, and they email you a list of Kindle books every few days that are either free for a short time or drastically cheap.  I don't remember ever seeing one in my inbox priced over $3.00.  I signed up to receive the following genres:  mysteries, religious and inspirational, literary fiction, historical fiction, biographies and memoirs, and bestsellers.  I've only chosen to download ones that are free, and this subscription has brought lots of books to my attention that I ordinarily wouldn't have known about.  Just thought you'd like to know!
 
credit to: amazon.com
So, I flipped through my Kindle and suddenly remembered the last book I read was Letters From A Skeptic (brought to my attention by BookBub).  While I thought about what I wanted to tell you about this book (which I loved), I realized that I had already blogged about it in February.  So, since there's no sense in re-blogging it, I will simply link you to my previous post.
 
However, the post about the book is a post in the middle of a series that I wrote, so it won't make sense for you to begin reading in the middle of the series; you will be hopelessly lost.  So instead, I will link you to the first post in the series, and you can use the "To Be Continued" links at the bottoms of each post to get to the next one in the series until you come to the one that talks about LFAS.  (Did you like how I made up my own acronym for the book title there?)
 
Here is the first post of the series.
I just noticed that I have a smudge on my computer screen in the shape of a cat.  It's pretty cool.

Oh!  Hello.  You're here for day 10 of the March challenge?

Hmm, my daily routine usually starts with an alarm going off.  Again.  And again.  And again.  And again.  My husband has a love/hate relationship with the snooze button, and so he lovingly sets it the night before, and then smacks it repeatedly every morning from about six AM until about seven fifteen or so when he finally leaves the house.

I, on the other hand, have only a hate relationship with his snooze button.

Have I mentioned that Jeremy is the love of my life?  Because now would be a good time to let you know that.

While Jeremy is showering with his phone sitting in arm's reach on the back of the toilet (I am so waiting for it to fall in some day) so he can smack it while he's in the shower (I am NOT kidding), my alarm goes off.  Get up, it tells me.

In your dreams, I respond.

No, seriously, get up, it answers.

Ugh.

GET.  UP.

Okay, okay.  I'm up.

One leg out from under the covers does not constitute getting up.

It qualifies for me.

About this time, a little blonde girl and her favored stuffed animal of the day stumble into my room and snuggle as closely as possible into my body.  If she could crawl back inside me, she would. 

See? I tell my alarm clock. Getting up is highly over-rated.

About three minutes pass before Liberty Grace mumbles, "I'm hungry, Mommy," and her six-year-old body starts wiggling with anticipation of the day.

"Okay," I mumble back to her while my mind attempts to remember what I had planned for breakfast that morning.

Another couple minutes pass.

"Mommy, I'm really hungry."

We hear the water shut off in the shower as Jeremy's alarm goes off for the 400th time.  "Okay, Gracie-girl, let's get going," I say as I gently nudge her out of bed and follow her to the kitchen.  "Go get dressed while I make breakfast."
I'm not usually a re-poster or a meme-sharer or an email-forwarder, but my friend shared this on her Facebook page, and it touched my heart enough that I wanted it to forever be part of my blog.

The shared post on Facebook stated that the author was unknown.

We are sitting at lunch one day when my daughter casually mentions that she and her husband are thinking of "starting a family." "We're taking a survey," she says half-joking. "Do you think I should have a baby?"

"I
t will change your life," I say, carefully keeping my tone neutral.

"I know," she says, "no more sleeping in on weekends, no more spontaneous vacations."

But that is not what I meant at all. I look at my daughter, trying to decide what to tell her. I want her to know what she will never learn in childbirth classes.

I want to tell her that the physical wounds of child bearing will heal, but becoming a mother will leave her with an emotional wound so raw that she will forever be vulnerable.

I consider warning her that she will never again read a newspaper without asking, "What if that had been MY child?" That every plane crash, every house fire will haunt her.

That when she sees pictures of starving children, she will wonder if anything could be worse than watching your child die.

I look at her carefully manicured nails and stylish suit and think that no matter how sophisticated she is, becoming a mother will reduce her to the primitive level of a bear protecting her cub. That an urgent call of "Mom!" will cause her to drop a soufflé or her best crystal without a moments hesitation.

I feel that I should warn her that no matter how many years she has invested in her career, she will be professionally derailed by motherhood. She might arrange for childcare, but one day she will be going into an important business meeting and she will think of her baby's sweet smell. She will have to use every ounce of discipline to keep from running home, just to make sure her baby is all right.

I want my daughter to know that every day decisions will no longer be routine. That a five year old boy's desire to go to the men's room rather than the women's at McDonald's will become a major dilemma. That right there, in the midst of clattering trays and screaming children, issues of independence and gender identity will be weighed against the prospect that a child molester may be lurking in that restroom.

However decisive she may be at the office, she will second-guess herself constantly as a mother.

Looking at my attractive daughter, I want to assure her that eventually she will shed the pounds of pregnancy, but she will never feel the same about herself.

That her life, now so important, will be of less value to her once she has a child. That she would give herself up in a moment to save her offspring, but will also begin to hope for more years, not to accomplish her own dreams, but to watch her child accomplish theirs.

I want her to know that a cesarean scar or shiny stretch marks will become badges of honor.

My daughter's relationship with her husband will change, but not in the way she thinks.

I wish she could understand how much more you can love a man who is careful to powder the baby or who never hesitates to play with his child.

I think she should know that she will fall in love with him again for reasons she would now find very unromantic.

I wish my daughter could sense the bond she will feel with women throughout history who have tried to stop war, prejudice and drunk driving.

I want to describe to my daughter the exhilaration of seeing your child learn to ride a bike.

I want to capture for her the belly laugh of a baby who is touching the soft fur of a dog or cat for the first time.

I want her to taste the joy that is so real it actually hurts.

My daughter's quizzical look makes me realize that tears have formed in my eyes. "You'll never regret it," I finally say. Then I reached across the table, squeezed my daughter's hand and offered a silent prayer for her, and for me, and for all the mere mortal women who stumble their way into this most wonderful of callings. 
"What's on your life list / bucket list?" Tiffany asked me today in day 9 of her March challenge.  And right now, my answer is not very interesting.  The number one item on my life list currently is HAVE THIS BABY.  Get her out of my tummy NOW.

Can you tell today hasn't been a great day vomit-wise?

I truly am sorry if I sound like I'm complaining, because I'm not.  I'm just ready to move on.  Actually, I'm just ready to be able to move again.  (But I love you, Baby Girl!  I really do!)

[Deep brea...]  Never mind.  [Shallow breath]  ...  And another one...



Okay, I'm ready to write my post now, but it's going to be short tonight.  I'm so tired.

I have always, always, always wanted to visit all 50 states, and when I met Jeremy we decided to buy an RV when we retire and go cruising slowly around the country taking our time to explore every state.  I especially want to camp in the Grand Canyon, go swimming at a non-touristy spot in Hawaii, and take a helicopter ride from a cruise ship to a glacier in Alaska. 

And there you have it.  Short and sweet.  Wish me sweet dreams, everybody!
Huh.  Pet peeves: something inconsequential that someone else does that annoys me like crazy.  I've put off writing this day 8 post for the March challenge because the subject matter does not appeal to me.  I feel like if I solidify my annoyances into writing, it will magnify future occurrences in my mind to the point where I will no longer be able to tolerate them.

But, here goes.

Hearing poor grammar spoken bothers me.  Not all of it bothers me; only some of it does, like using the wrong verb conjugation.  For example:  "I seen this already," instead of "I saw this already."  That bugs me.

Fakeness bothers me.  I like to surround myself with people who I can count on to speak the truth even if it is unpleasant, rather than people who will say whatever will make me and/or them feel good in a given situation regardless of if it is truthful or not.  There is a difference between politeness (choosing to get along with someone you dislike or disagree with) and fakeness (which usually becomes out-right lying), but that difference doesn't seem to be well-defined to society in general anymore.

Profanity laced into daily conversation bothers me.  This somewhat goes along with the poor grammar trouble from earlier.  I enjoy words and their meanings very much, and as a result, I construct my sentences very carefully (well, most of the time, anyway).  It annoys me when someone is attempting to hold a conversation and almost every other word is unnecessary or out of context.  Someone once told me while attempting to compliment the lunch I had brought to work, "Your lunch looks so great.  My lunch is shit."  I broke out laughing at him because I could just picture the distasteful look on his face when he opened his lunch box to find a nice, brown, steaming pile of poo on a plate.  Yes, I exaggerate for affect, too, and frequently use slang or colloquialisms in communication, but seriously, when you're cursing, think about the true meaning of whatever word you happen to be using, and I dare you not to laugh at yourself!

I guess, the key word in my made up definition of "pet peeves" is inconsequential, and that's why I'm not so fond of today's blogging prompt.  Sure these are things that bug me, but they are not really a big deal.  If someone says "I seen that movie yesterday," I might cringe inside, but it won't set my teeth on edge.  If someone is fake with me on a consistent basis, I'll probably avoid spending a lot of time with them, but it won't rock my world.  If someone regularly inserts profanity into their stories, I'll spend most of my time trying to hold back the smile caused by the literal language part of my brain (or erasing the nasty picture created), but it won't push me over the deep end.  My life's happy default setting is "Cockeyed Optimist," and focusing on pet peeves moves me out of that setting.  There are plenty of consequential things in life that I legitimately need to be upset about and doing something about, and there are plenty of consequential things in life that I cannot do anything about but still should be outraged over.  I don't want to spend my time worried about all the little things others do that bother me.

So, hakuna matata, everybody!  :-)
Day seven of the March challenge asks "What's Your Dream Job?"

Well, I have two.  Three, I suppose, if you want to get nit-picky, and out of those three I have gotten to fully experience two and partly experience the other.  Not many people can say that about their dream jobs!

My first dream job has always been to be a stay-at-home-mom like my mom was with me and my siblings.  When my oldest daughter, Liberty, was born, we could not financially afford that dream job.  I continued working although I dropped down from about 50 hours a week to about 32 hours each week - the minimum I could do and still have enough in our budget to barely make ends meet.  When my second daughter, Mercy, was born, that dream flew even further from my reach.

Thankfully, I had already had the chance to experience a job that I had never dreamed of, but found that it had been made specifically for me.  That 50 hours a week job that I mentioned, was a Human Resources Recruiter.  I got to meet with supervisors in need of an employee and find out what qualities they were looking for.  I posted applicant searches online on careerbuilder and monster and a few other sites, and then I enjoyed reading resumes as they came in.  Putting on my detective hat to determine from a resume alone which person might best meet the qualifications outlined during my initial meeting with the supervisors, became a wonderful mental challenge to me.  (Besides, I just enjoy the humorous grammar and spelling mistakes that inevitably show up when screening dozens of resumes.)  After resume screening and setting up interviews, came the interviews themselves.  This was the part I liked best. 

credit to jobmarket.nytimes.com
Getting to know someone else has always been pleasurable to me, and I tried hard in my interviews not simply to ask the normal questions, but to find out what the person sitting across from me was really like.  Anyone can give appropriate answers.  (Well, not anyone.  You'd be surprised at some of the answers I received.)  But I wanted to know: Would he or she actually enjoy the job they were currently interviewing for?  Would they like working under the personality of the supervisor associated with that job?  Were they a "good fit" for the company as a whole?  Would this position benefit this person, and if not, could this person be a GREAT fit for another position that might open up in the future?  I kept a list of people that I turned down for one position who I would love to call back if and when a different position opened up for them down the road.  It felt really good when I could call someone out of the blue and offer an interview for a job for which they had never applied, and it felt even better when they were hired for that job and when 30 days later they and their supervisor reported back that they were both very well pleased with the new situation.

Another wonderful part of being a recruiter were the job fairs and traveling I got to do.  Although carrying PVC pipes, large pieces of fabric, and vinyl, Velcro-backed posters around in suitcases were not the dreamiest, once my booth was set up to my satisfaction and all the brochures and giveaways were strategically placed, my dream job resumed.  Spur of the moment interaction with strangers in need of work always made me feel like a super-hero.  I have been on the other side of the job fair myself.  I have been the one desperately searching for an open position somewhere.  ANYWHERE.  I have been the one trying to put a husband through college and paying the rent and purchasing groceries, and every job fair brought back that same feeling.  People, everywhere, who NEED work.  Trying to find out in a five-minute-or-less conversation what someone is looking for in a job and deciding if my company could meet their needs felt like I was making a difference.  No, I couldn't hire every person at the job fair, but I could change the lives of a few people there for the better.  I always made a point to walk the other booths myself and talk to every employer there to see who they were looking for.  If a person at my booth didn't qualify for the positions I had available, I would recommend that they visit booth number 12 or 17 or 53 because I knew the companies at those booths might be a better fit for this person.  "Of some have compassion, making a difference."  (Jude 1:22)

The company that I worked for also used me as an HR Specialist when I wasn't recruiting.  This part of the job involved solving problems for our current employees, like correcting paycheck mistakes or helping to set up insurance benefits.  Another enjoyable aspect of my job was retaining happy employees.  Every so often, I'd walk the factory lines just to talk with whoever was working that day.  Making new friends and handing out M&M packets with a label stuck onto them reading, "We're glad you work here!" made my day.

So that was the dream job that I had never dreamed of before I experienced it.  When I gave it up for a position with fewer hours so that I could spend more time with my family, I promised myself that when circumstances were right, I would do everything in my power to return to a position like that.

Three years later, circumstances were finally right for my original dream job to begin!  Jeremy found a new job in Indiana that allowed me to stay home full time with my then three-year-old Liberty and one-year-old Mercy!  This has been my all-time favorite job.  My father-in-law once asked me after I had been staying home for a while how my new gig compared to my old gig.  I had to stop and think about my answer, because each "job" challenged and fulfilled me in different ways. 

Staying at home was easier in some ways and harder in others, and the same could be said for working full-time outside the home.
  • When I stayed home, I didn't have to worry about getting to work on time or wearing the right clothes...or even clean, matching clothes.  However, if I made a mistake at my new job, life and death were on the line rather than a paycheck that could be corrected later. 

  • My old job provided adult interaction with stimulating conversation about politics and humor; my new job provided lots of hugs and cuddles with little people who thought I was the next best thing to God and challenging conversations that usually started with "Why, Mommy?"  The challenge came with the realization that my answer to that question had the potential to shape lives. 

  • My old job taught me how to have a candid discussion with someone who may or may not like what I had to say, but who would at least outwardly try to cooperate.  My new job taught me how to be a mind-reader for people who could not yet talk.  I needed to be able to accurately predict how my children would react in any given situation and be a couple steps ahead of them for their own protection.  If that's not mentally challenging, then I don't know what is! 

  • But the rewards, oh the rewards!  Making a difference in other people's lives has always been a high priority to me, and this new job had no comparison in that department to any other job I've ever had.  Plus, have you ever had a little kid smile up at you and wrap their little arms around your neck?  Seriously.  Best.  Feeling.  Ever.

My third dream job is one I have been dreaming of since high school.  I want to become a published author.  I've written several different adult and children's fiction stories, and even made a weak attempt at finding a publisher for the children's series, but I've never really tried hard to find a publisher or agent.  Something has always come up to distract me, and I'm not sure if what I've written is worth being published.  Nothing bugs me more than reading a book that in my opinion is a waste of the paper it's written on.  (Well, other things do bug me more than that, things that actually matter, but you get my meaning.)  This is the job that I claimed to have partly experienced in my opening paragraph.  I claimed this because I have become a published author in recent years, just not the way I dreamed.  I began writing for a website and was paid for the articles I wrote.  Unfortunately, I was paid per click, and not enough people clicked to make it worth my time.  However, that does mean that I am a real, published and paid author, so yay for me!  I'm still dreaming about the book(s) though.

Currently, my two daughters are in school, and I work part time in the Human Resources department of a very flexible company where I can set my own schedule.  I totally enjoy being back in the work-force again and especially enjoy being in HR again, but as you can imagine since it is only part time and very flexible, I'm not working on anything majorly challenging to my brain.  Since this baby is due June 5th, and my daughters will be out of school for the summer, I am looking forward to getting back to my full-time stay-at-home-mom position.  Which really is the dream job to end all dream jobs.  And someday, when my kids are grown, I'd like to work on being an author of book(s) and/or an HR Recruiter again. 

We'll see what happens...
Day six of the March challenge asks me to describe my last random act of kindness.  Since my last random act of kindness involved dragging my exhausted, baby-swollen body out of bed this morning and cheerfully feeding my children their breakfast when I really felt like pulling the covers over my head and snoring louder, I figured I would tell you about the last few random acts of kindness that have been given to me instead.  They're a lot more fun to talk about. 

I am currently six and a half months pregnant -- only 91 days to go until our baby girl is born!  Is that count down clock on the right side of my blog still keeping accurate time?  And if you've been reading my blog for any short length of time, you will know that this pregnancy has been absolutely physically horrible on me.  People keep telling me the third baby is the hardest, and I believe them!  Since I've been struggling so much to stand upright and remain that way throughout the day, friends from my church have been going waaaay out of their way to help me out.

My Sunday School class has been bringing us hot meals so that Jeremy and I won't have to cook every day of the week.  Jeremy's been doing all of the meal prep around here (besides breakfast since he's already at work by the time we're ready to start eating) for the past six months, but he also travels for work.  He's usually gone one or two weeks out of every month.  During those weeks, our Sunday School class has brought the girls and me a meal every night.  Talk about kindness!

On top of that, two of my friends, Shalona and Sarah, came over to my house last week while Jeremy was traveling and I was away at work, and they cleaned my entire house from top to bottom -- including my kitchen counters full of dirty dishes.  Then, with my permission, they picked up my children from school so that I could enjoy an afternoon nap when I got home from work, AND Sarah made some incredible enchiladas for supper that night. 

Those enchiladas were not quite as good when they came back up later in the evening, but I'm still very grateful.  I'm sorry, was that TMI?

Can you imagine how wonderful it felt to walk into my beautifully clean house after work that day and not be faced with three million things that needed to be done but that I didn't have the energy or the ability to accomplish?  It felt amazing!  And then to get a nap on top of that?

Wow.

But my friends and Sunday School class aren't the only ones going above and beyond.  Jeremy and our two girls have picked up the slack wherever I've been dropping it.  Liberty, my six-year-old, has been cheerfully stepping in to help with sandwich making and lunch preparations.  Mercy, my four-year-old, loves to bring me cups full of water and barf buckets whenever she senses a funny look on my face.  Sometimes barf buckets get shoved under my face if she thinks I've had my head bent down too long!  And Jeremy.  Oh, Jeremy.  He has taken over every duty that I used to claim as mine.  We've always shared housework pretty equally and always done each other's jobs when necessary, but now, he does it all while encouraging me to take a nap or sit down.  He reminds the girls that mommy needs more help, and how important it is for them to look for ways to help out around the house.  I really can't say enough about how wonderful these three people are being to me every day.

So, that's my random acts of kindness story.  Please heap tons of praise on my friends and family if you ever see them in real life because I will never ever be able to thank them enough for what they are doing!