NaBloPoMo – If you had to switch your first name, what name would you choose and why?

(Disclaimer for my Dad: **Spoiler Alert** Dad, when you read this, just know that sometimes I go for comic effect, but I really like my name. It’s grown on me. HAHAHA I’m so funny. But really. It fits me perfectly. Also I’m glad you spelled it right.)

Growing up, I always wanted my name to be Elizabeth. Princess Elizabeth sounds SO much better than Princess Rachel.

Rachel is not a princess name. It doesn’t even rhyme with anything. The only thing it’s good for is winning the alphabet name game. It’s so ORDINARY.

There are so many of me! The worst was when one of the Rachels in half my classes in high school also had blonde curly hair. Now there was no way for people to tell us apart.

I know you Sarahs and Emilys can understand me on this. But at least your names mean Princess and Hard Working. I would take either of those.

Rachel means Ewe. As in, Ew look at that bug.

Ewe. Like the sheep.

What.

My older sister’s name is Heather. That’s a perfectly princess name. Princess Heather rolls right off that red thing in your mouth. It has the added benefit of being a type of flower. Who doesn’t love flowers? Even if you’re allergic, you have to admit you like looking at them.

Then there’s Savannah the Younger. Vast desert wastelands aren’t your thing? They weren’t my dad’s either. He only agreed to use the name after one of his favorite football players used it first. That’s such a cool reason for a name.

I approached my dear dad one day, demanding the reasons behind my terribly boring name. It was his call, after my mom named my older sister, and he had full responsibility for this atrocity.

“Well,” said Dad, “I always liked the story of Jacob and Rachel from the Bible. Jacob loved Rachel from the moment he met her, and he was devoted to her her entire life, and long after she died he remembered the love he had for her.”

If you ignore the Leah person in the tale (and how Rachel treated her in a very selfish jerk manner, and how Jacob was very ungracious with the situation, and how her dad Laban forced her into a lifelong lesson of learning that a man’s love does not complete you (which is a great lesson, but the situation was pretty awful)) it’s a heartwarming love story.

Cool! I’m back on the Princess track!

One day, a gallant gentleman is going to spot me from across a room or mountain trail or beach or whatever, be completely smitten, take me out for a seafood broil or a nice salmon steak as he falls in love with me based on my ability to read a menu, propose under a waterfall as a cello plays in the background, and whisk me away for a Grecian honeymoon. Because, you know, he got really rich off of his uncle and has sheep money to spare.

Greece was totally in the undertones of the Biblical story. They were close-ish.

Well.

Well then..

Not only did Boyfriend not completely fall for me after our first conversation – which I don’t know why not, I’m sure I was ravishing – but his name is not Jacob, he did not work for 14 years to earn me (the nerve!), he couldn’t hack it on a farm, and he most definitely will not add me on as his second wife after he makes a drunken mistake.

He wouldn’t be opposed to 12 kids, but we are not only not having that many, we are doing it the old-fashioned way which is not the same as the Old Testament way of using your handmaiden as an alternate wife in the bedroom.

When you get down to the nitty gritty, I’m pretty glad I haven’t taken after my namesake too much.

Although the jury is still out on that life-long devotion part. And the wealthy part. I like both. Both favorites!

OK one is clearly more favorite than the other, but I had to throw in some Brian Regan for when Boyfriend reads this.

The point of this post, I think, is that I’m going to more than likely name one of my daughters Elizabeth.

She’ll probably hate it. And when she comes to me demanding why I laid this atrocity on her, I will patiently explain that I am trying to live vicariously through her and when she is old enough to get a job she can pay to change it.

As for the rest of my life as a plain old Rachel, you know what? I don’t have to have a rhyme-able name to be happy. I don’t have to have a name that is only .01% of the population to feel unique. I define my name, my name doesn’t define me.

Yeah, that’s definitely just a bunch of hooey balooey I’m saying to make myself feel better.

Whatever. I’ll totally dominate you at the alphabet name game. My middle name has four letters.

BRING IT.

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Answers to: “11 Questions Every Twentysomething Should Ask”

Inspired by this article that kept popping up on my news feed.

1. Do the people I’m surrounded by bring me life?

Yes.

On a similar angle, I am reminded of the questions What careers do the people who you spend the most time with have? and On average, what do the five people you spend the most time with make?

My friends’ careers are: teacher, TA for an autistic school, counselor at RTF, nurse, IT, engineer sales, executive assistant, JD/MBA candidate, Navy JAG…the only possible pattern is helping people, with a side of law and technology.

As far as salary, that also covers a wide range. But, I will also say, there is not a strong love of money among my closest friends. We value life, love, people, joy, giving, breaking bread together, laughing till our sides hurt, and celebrating life’s milestones.

“Your life will resemble the lives of your closest friends—does that fact excite you or freak you out?”

Excites me. My friends are strong. Generous. Forgiving. Understanding. Fierce. All things I value and aspire to. And they all make enough to pay rent and mortgages, put food on the tables, and start families. Or, they find ways to make it work.

Creative. Persevering. Hopeful. Hard working.

2. Who inspires me the most?

I have never known how to answer this question. Is it bad that I’m not inspired?

It’s not that I’m not inspired. It’s that I can’t think of just one person who inspires me in every way. My parents are entrepreneurial. My mother is self-sacrificial, my father honest and hard-working.

I don’t know. Ghandi was peaceful. Mother Theresa was giving. Corrie ten Boom was courageous. All of those traits are equally inspiring.

3. What are my favorite stories?

The Ordinary Princess. Ella Enchanted (book, not movie). Cinderella (mostly the  Book of Virtues version).

“Is there a common thread that runs through each story?”

A young girl who has or appears to have a major weakness, but she is strong of character and fights for and pursues the life she wants, valuing what she will and not what people tell her is important. Well, Cinderella doesn’t really fight. And the Disney version annoys me the more I think about it. But when she is not being terribly wimpy, she is very selfless and patient.

4. Would I want to live with me?

Yes.

5. Do I love from my insecurities or do I love from my strengths?

Both. Constantly trying and learning how to love more from my strengths. To give instead of ask.

6. Where am I ripe with talent and where do I quickly deflate?

“Then focus on the things you’re good at.”

Hmmm. I’m talented at:

Talking/public speaking – Getting really excited about ideas and encouraging people to pursue them – Baking – Trying new things – Saying ridiculous things without meaning to – Learning; I pick up things quickly – Waxing philosophical – Writing – Dancing

I’m not so talented at:

Photography – Singing – Running – Keeping in touch with people – Being on time – Getting out of parking tickets – Remembering things (so I write them down)

7. What are my favorite hobbies/things I do for fun, and are they something I can leverage into a career or product?

I love story telling; I always made up bedtime stories for my little siblings growing up, and maintained I would be a storyteller when I grew up.

I’m not great at telling stories in person. I’m bad a jokes too–I never keep the right amount of suspense for the punch line. In fact, I usually forget the punch line! But I’m OK at writing them. More importantly, I love writing them.

Baking. I am starting to make that a side income.

Dancing. You never know. One of my friends/employers has fashioned a career from dancing, so there’s always that. I would love that, actually. Dancing is storytelling, really.

8. What’s the main thing holding me back?

For writing? The last time I sat down to try to write a book was when I was roughly 11 years old. Something about castles and evil uncles and a female heroine being very self-sufficient and strong. I just wrote the first chapter. Her name was Elizabeth and she was being chased through the woods on a horse. It was probably raining. I can’t remember where she was going.

I have never tried to write anything since then. I think I’m afraid it won’t be ‘good enough.’ Chances are it won’t be. Even most good writers have decades of oblivion before writing something that makes money or gets any sort of attention.

For Baking, just the startup costs and things. But Pittsburgh is awesome and I’m going to just start in the Strip, or at farmer’s markets and things.

For Dancing, well, I definitely haven’t invested the time to even be close to make a career of any sort out of it!

9. What are my negotiables and non-negotiables?

Non-negotiables: I want to have a life outside of work. I like my family and my friends. I like seeing people outside of my computer screen and phone. Now, if my work is field-based or something where I am running around like crazy and people are everywhere, that I could do for 80 hours a week.

Negotiables: I like new places. I would move to one.

10. What breaks my heart?

Human trafficking. Women and girls who don’t know their worth. Women and girls who provide a negative role model for other women and girls, encouraging them to downgrade their worth.

11. At 29 years and 364 days, if I have accomplished just one thing, what do I want it to be?

Oh gosh. I’m so bad at these questions. My 20s have a lot in them already!

I’ve moved to two new cities: one of them completely on the other side of the world, and one of them without job prospects. I’ve taken some pretty big risks, and had moments of doubt. I’ve traveled solo, made best friends for a day, learned how to be comfortable with myself and accepting of others, and felt 100% at peace and happy. I’ve loved and lost and loved again. I’ve made bad decisions and learned from them. I’ve learned so much from my financial decisions–what the value of money is, and the difference between not needing money to be happy and needing money to pay rent. I examined and heavily questioned everything I grew up believing and made it my own. I even jumped out of a plane!

Those are all big things!

The first thing that came to mind? Making my parents grandparents. Sounds lame. Especially with all the feminist-centered reading I do. But that would be really, really great.

The second thing: complete a triathlon. Not sure on that, on account of hating running. We’ll see.

Professionally? Maybe I should start working on a book. I had some crazy dreams in Korea, and finally had the sense to write one of them down before they stopped. Definitely has potential.

I will say this: this is a great example of my main ‘problem.’ I don’t know what I want to do, so I am doing nothing. There is so much pressure on doing amazing things, and being that person everyone envies, and accomplishing so much everyone wants to shake your hand, that I am left feeling pathetic at doing only good things.

Good should be enough.

I will think less, and do more. I so dearly love to think and contemplate it gets in the way of accomplishing and taking action.

Back to the question. What is my ONE GOAL for my twenties?

Ahahah, I just had the urge to say, “I need more time to think about it.” Gah! It’s just so much pressure! And limiting!

OK….design a fashion line, write a book, have a farmer’s market bakery, be in a dance troupe/on a dance team, build a piece of furniture for my house, go on a live-aboard, have a kid (!!), get a pet, meet Stephen Colbert..

AH! That’s it! If I can accomplish one thing in my twenties, I want to hang out with Stephen Colbert.

Mourning the Loss of a Loved One

(*this was written a month ago, just for reference.)

I can’t remember when I found out Aunt W had cancer. It was several years in; she did not want to worry anyone.

She fought for 12 years.  She tried everything. From chemo to herbs, from FDA approved treatments to those sworn by naturopaths, and everything in between. The last several years she traveled to a nationally renown cancer center in Philly. Every few weeks, my mother would drive to Aunt W’s house and jump on the train with her. They once sat next to some famous woman who worked on Clinton’s staff, or something. Great story, I know.

Everyone at the cancer hospital loved her. Fellow patients looked to her to encourage them. She gave people hope.

How unfair, then, that in her passing we need her to comfort us the most.

I could go on about how beautiful she was in spirit and body. I have memories of the dresses she made for us, the games she played, her old dolls she let us play with in her apartment, and my friends who got just as excited as me when she was coming to visit.

But this post is about how to cope when I am left only with the memories. She will not be Aunt W to my own children. She won’t make any more Easter dresses–I really can’t write anymore or I will cry too much to be able to leave for work.

I want to share how I mourned these past few weeks. I want to share because part of it surprised me.

First, I am very grateful for my co-worker from Korea, Rae. Rae came to visit the States a few months ago, and I MegaBussed to D.C. for a day to spend time with her (minor aside: MegaBus is awesome). While there, Rae’s boyfriend generously drove us to my Grandma’s house, and we spent part of the afternoon with Grandma and Aunt W. It was so happy and fun, and the last time I saw her healthy. I didn’t know we had so little time left. Cancer is like that.

About a month later, I learned she had been hospiced. I dealt a lot with denial. The next few weekends I was “busy,” and didn’t cancel things to go see her because she wasn’t going to die. Even Aunt W herself kept saying phrases like, “When I get better,” and “Well next year I’ll…” She always had hope.

Finally, thankfully, Boyfriend and I traveled south to visit. I feel guilty, because I was shocked at how she looked. She look gaunt. She looked like she was dying.

We could only visit for a few hours, before she became too tired to entertain anymore. That was the weekend we visited Boyfriend’s new baby niece (only a few hours added to our drive, and why not take the opportunity, as I had now learned). The irony of watching one life ending and another life beginning in the same day did not escape me.

I talked regularly with my mom for updates, who would drive up every week for Friday and Saturday. I sent her pictures to show Aunt W, and we had speakerphone conversations.

The week of Thanksgiving was very stressful, as W’s condition began deteriorating faster. We had lost another much-loved and well-remembered Aunt (and mother and sister and daughter) on Thanksgiving day, from the same cancer, a decade and a half ago.

That Saturday, I sent a picture of my Christmas tree to Mom to share with Aunt W. She enjoyed the picture.

Saturday night, I broke down. I forget what led up to it. I just remember sobbing into a pillow for however long it was. I didn’t want to lose another person I loved. Especially W, who always lived close and the only person more involved in our lives was our own mother. I mourned the loss to myself and to a future without her in it.

On Tuesday at 3:36pm I texted Mom, “How is today?”

At 3:43pm she responded, “It will be very very soon.”

At 4:45pm my dad texted me, “W just passed away.”

Then I got angry.

My current job involves a lot of coordination of a lot of different things–most of it over the phone. From 12:30pm until 9pm. I received this news in the middle of my work day. I didn’t want to have to be pleasant and helpful for all these people who needed me. I needed my aunt, and I didn’t have her. It wasn’t fair.

I actually yelled at a co-worker before I realized how heightened my emotions were. I took a break, walked to the water fountains, leaned against the wall facing the atrium, and let the tears come for a minute.

I vocally told myself, “I am angry right now. I’m just angry. And that’s OK. I am allowed to grieve.”

I am angry because why do some people beat cancer and other people lose the battle? Why do some families get to keep their loved ones, but mine keeps losing theirs? Why us? Why me? Why? I know it’s selfish, and W definitely wasn’t, and I’m trying to be better at this, but we will all miss her for the rest of our lives.

At her funeral, my dad choked up a bit as he gave the sermon–how else could he say goodbye to the woman who loved his children as much as she did, and who loved his wife as much as a sister could?

Aunt W chose “I Will Rise” and “What a Day That Will Be” as her songs, along with Psalm 23 as her Scripture. Hopeful, faithful, and loving until the end, she even ordered a catered meal for her family after the service, so we would be taken care of for our long trips home. I still cannot fathom how or why she thought of doing that. One of many reasons we miss her.

My two brothers, her two brothers/my uncles, and two of my cousins were the pallbearers. I sobbed the most when they lifted the coffin into the hearse; and then again at the grave site when they, one by one, placed their boutonnieres on top. I think it was the finality of it. My sister, who dislikes showing emotion, leaned into me and I held her as we missed W together.

My mother cried when she saw the unending line of cars in the funeral home parking lot pulling into place to accompany us to the grave site. So many people loved her so much, because she cared for them so evidently.

She chose a plot fitting to her: away from the busy roads, near the forest line where she liked to go hiking. To the last, she was so thoughtful. Everything she did had her heart in it. She even started a crost-stitch for a very-soon-to-be-expected grand-niece (who is now healthy and beautiful, and will hear stories of her Great-Aunt W). Aunt W was unable to finish it, but her niece, the new mother, will. We all want to remember her in as many ways as possible, and cherish every act of love she offered us.

There is one part to this story I cannot share now.  But I hope to soon.

In closing, there was a moment during the graveside service I stopped my tears. With one arm around my sister, I looked down at the woods Aunt W laid near. I resolved to put more energy in to loving people like she did. I focused on how she is now free of pain and full of joy. I resolved I would see her again one day.

She is gone from us, but she is reunited with her father and sisters–just as we, one day, will be reunited with her.

There’s a peace I’ve come to know
Though my heart and flesh may fail
There’s an anchor for my soul
I can say “It is well”

Jesus has overcome
And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won
He is risen from the dead

And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God, fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise

“I Will Rise” by Chris Tomlin

That time I spontaneously ran a half-marathon

Imagine the scene: you’re lounging on the couch, like all good Americans do, watching an awful movie and wasting away a Sunday afternoon.

In walks Boyfriend’s roommate, asking, “So does anyone want free tickets to run the half marathon next Sunday?”

You had just finished telling Boyfriend you had resolved to do one awesome thing every month.

He thinks “tortuous” is synonymous with “awesome.”

I called my own ran-a-marathon-last-year-roommate for moral support.

“Do you want to run a half-marath–“

“Nope.”

“But–but I need moral support!”

“Oh, it’s with you? That’s fine then. As long as we can be ridiculous with it.”

We had six days to get in half-marathon shape. Boy Wonder over there ran miles and miles, along with his normal weekly two soccer games and three hours of basketball.  Insane?  Mhm.

I did a few miles of jog/walk/sprint on Wednesday, which turned out to be a gloriously bad idea.

Let me break down for you my current state of physical fitness by comparing it to workout DVDs. A year ago, Level 3 of Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred was no big thang. Today, I can’t handle the -push-ups on Level 1. Poor me.

No surprise then, Sunday I was still sore. Roommate and I decided that since our tickets were registered as walkers, we had to speed-walk it, but that we were allowed to dance at all the live-music spots along the way.  Dance/walking is serious stuff.

To add to the madness, if you didn’t make it to the Birmingham Bridge by the 3 hour mark, you would get collected by THE SWEEPER. And if you fought back from getting peeled off the road you had likely collapsed on, they’d drive you the rest of the way downtown in a personal police escort.

We toyed with the idea of causing a ruckus with the marathon cops and getting on the news .  But we wanted to finish more than we wanted to be infamous.  We therefore spent most of the race looking behind us to make sure we weren’t about to get swept.

Rules of marathoning and how we broke them

1) Train.

Whoops.

2) Don’t run in anything on race-day you didn’t train in.

See #1.

“Let’s wear skirts!” “OK!”  Skirts are perfect for dancing, and there were different live bands all along the route.  We got lots of cheers for the “Skirt Girls,” and our favorite was a teenage girl with a bullhorn shouting, “Oh, yeah I see you!  I like your skirts.  You run that marathon!  I see you run that marathon!”

Moustache! And what you can see of our awesome outfits.

3) Don’t eat or drink anything before or during the race you didn’t train with.

Again, no training = eat whatever you want!  Someone handed out 5-hour energies. We drank those (bad idea).  We ate some power bars for breakfast (bad idea), drank the Gatorade they handed out during the race (good idea), and I even snagged a pretzel towards the end (bad idea).

Don’t do this before a half-marathon ^

4) Get plenty of sleep.

We did not sleep.  Not that Friday night, nor that Saturday night.  I think we got about 5 hours the night before the race?  Which is why we drank those 5-hour-energies, duh!

5) Stay hydrated the week before the race.

Um. Boy Wonder and I thought we were being smart, and declined a beer with dinner on Saturday.  But followed up dinner with ice cream.  And then thought about it.  Oops.

Roommate had a few Woodchucks.  Meh, I’m sure they have electrolytes in them..or something.

6) Eat a good breakfast

We ate a power bar.  The ones they give you in your little bag-o’-goodies along with your “hey look everyone I ran a half-marathon” t-shirt.

7) Protect your legs from chafing.

Roommate was smart, and wore biker shorts under her skirt.  I did not think that far ahead.  Luckily, just when I started to realize the next 8 miles were going to be miserable for my inner thighs, we passed a station of people handing out vaseline-on-a-stick.

I love those people.

8) Warm-up/stretch before the race.

We had about an hour and a half to kill.  I was cold, so decided to keep my self warm by, well, basically doing lots of glute squeezes and bouncing up and down on my feet.

For an hour.

Everything hurt before we even walked the half-mile to cross the official start-line.

So I was sore when it started, sore halfway through, sore towards the end, and I couldn’t walk properly until Wednesday.

The dancing parts were hard, but so much fun I forgot how much I hurt. We’d dance our hearts out, then when the music faded realize dancing really takes a lot of physical fitness to keep up for 13.1 miles. Then we’d walk it out to the next band.

My only real regret is I didn’t take pictures of the beautiful city.  The weather was absolutely perfect.

And then we crossed the finish line.

And got a medal.

And ate a bagel and a banana, and grabbed a few more bagels and bags of chips for the road.

Boyfriend finished in a totally respectable time, and now has dreams of actually training and dominating future half- and full-marathons.

Roommate and I finished 16th and 750th in our classes, respectively.

We were registered as a 69-year-old woman and her 40-year-old daughter.

I’ll train for the next one.

Promise.

(re)Culture shock so far

I feel weird when I hand things, such as money, with my left hand.

I just ordered a coffee and touched my left hand to my elbow as I accepted my change.  I feel rude if I don’t.

I understand conversations around me perfectly.

There’s a group discussing business practices and how the rules of the game change, and a couple theorizing about how people can’t make their own decisions.

Oh hey! That’s me!

I stepped in front of a woman in the grocery store and reflexively dipped my head in a mock bow when I mumbled an “I’m sorry.”

Still working on my ability to make eye contact with people staring at me.

It’s weird to me how, after how far I’ve come and all the life and adventures I’ve packed into the last handful of years, confidence remains a day-to-day battle.

You’d think…I don’t know.  What would you think?

You know how sometimes after crazy trips you need a vacation to recover from your vacation?

Pittsburgh has lots of old, elegantly pretty houses.  I want them.

It also has lots of rundown and abandoned buildings and warehouses.  One day, I’ll make them beautiful again.  I’ll turn them into dance studios and rehabilitative art program studios and places for kids to go after school and houses for single moms and safe-houses for women trying to build lives for themselves and their children.

I like (re)building things.