31 Lessons: 5. There is Bounty to Behold

Behold.

From the Old English, “bi,” (thoroughly) and “halden” (to hold).

Not just to see with your eyes, but to hold with intention and attention.

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There is so much beauty, so much bounty, to behold.

As the thick air of summer flees in the first cool hours of an autumn morning, may my heart be refreshed and my eyes be awakened by all the good that’s been placed within my embrace. By grace, the bountiful blessings that I can take hold of and know in my head and heart.

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May you, too, hold each moment thoroughly.

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With gratefulness.

With wonder.

With certainty.

With peace.

-pp

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31 Lessons: 4. For Your Academic Life (College Edition)

In the ancient days before I became a mama, I was an academic guidance counselor for a season. For several years before that, I was a high school English teacher. For six blindly blissful years before that, I was a college and graduate student (“College! No parents!”).

Ah, the trials and joys of young adult life. Bless your little know-it-all hearts (young Prissy: that’s you).

So, drawn from my own experience and from situations I’ve had the privilege of coaching others through, I have compiled five academic lessons I wish I’d known before I went to college. Because the challenge of trying to coordinate your roomie’s bedding with yours before move-in day is just the tip of the iceberg.

1. Find your library.  I don’t mean locating the library on the campus map. I mean finding your library, the place that’s your home away from home, the place where you will actually do the thing your parents are paying for: L E A R N. Especially your first year, if you think you’ll go back to your dorm to do your work, we all know what will happen. There’s absolutely no way your Chemistry textbook can compete with the flag football game taking place in your hallway or the Real Housewives marathon going on in your suite. Or, if you’re like me, it’s way too tempting to take a nap after you’ve read that paragraph for the fourth time and it still makes absolutely zero sense. So find your library.

My favorite library was actually the science and engineering library (where I would check out hubs from afar!), but I chose it because it had long, pretty tables with lamps and a bookish vibe. Imagine that, in a library of all places! Basically, it looked like Hogwarts, and I liked it there. Armed with a snack and my favorite Pandora station, I started to go there in between classes to knock out my reading or do my homework rather than go back home. I may not have always loved it and I may not have always gotten everything done, but I can guarantee I always got more done there than I would have snuggled in my room watching You’ve Got Mail for the four-hundredth timePlus, I don’t wanna blow your mind or anything, but there are other cute and cool people at the library. It’s SOCIAL. You got in a chapter of reading in and topped it off with at least 15 minutes of people watching? Bonus. You win at college for the day.

In all seriousness, there was one year where a good friend and I both had kinda terrible living situations. We had a standing library night almost every weeknight because we just didn’t want to be at home. A lot of nights we were there until it closed at 2 a.m. Think it’s dorky to close down the library in your yoga pants and sweatshirt instead of the bar most nights? Well, maybe we were dorks. But we had a lot of laughs, no regrets, and the best grades of our college careers to show for it.

So find your library and show it some love.

***(A college life lesson: Don’t give your mothers premature heart attacks by walking home late at night from the library by yourself.  Does your college have a safe ride system? USE IT. Can you walk with a buddy? MAKE IT A DATE. I know you think you’re invincible and that nothing bad will ever happen on your college campus. Do it for the sake of your sweet mama who birthed you from the corners of her very being.)***

2. Get to know your professors. Remember when you were in high school and not only did your teacher know you, but he or she knew your parents, too? Yeah, these are not those days. They don’t know your life! Especially if you find yourself in a giant survey class or one of those huge introductory seminars that most freshmen have to take, your professor has no idea who you are and has no pangs of guilt about flunking your quiz because you’re such a nice student and you really try hard. If you’re struggling, who better to talk to about what you’re not understanding than the teacher? If you’re excelling, who better to connect you with other people who might help you land internships or job opportunities?

Further, as a former educator, I’m just going to guess that your teacher would love to get to know you. Sure, some professors are kind of jerks, but the vast majority are awesome folks who love what they teach and love who they teach (that’s you). They’re real people who have amassed years of experience and resources to help you when you’re facing big challenges or navigating major life decisions, and I guarantee you’ll need help with both of those things during your college years.

My husband tells a story about a professor he had who offered a standing invitation to his students to go to lunch. One day he took the professor up on his offer. You know what happened? That professor picked him up in his convertible and took him to lunch at a swanky golf club off campus. And then he connected him with the best advisor in the department.

Don’t let those argyle socks and elbow patches fool you: professors are a cool bunch.

3. Take classes that make you a whole person. If you have room in your course load, try to take at least one class a year that pushes you to try or learn something different. While I had plenty of classes to take to fulfill my degree requirements, I had the fortunate experience (and fortunate requirement at a liberal arts university) of also taking classes outside my majors just because they were interesting to me, like anthropology, music, art history, religion, and yoga. Did I end up using those classes in my career? Nope. But here’s the thing: I’m not yet thirty and already my career path has changed. You don’t always know what awaits you in life, so while you have the opportunity, take advantage of the chance to learn about the world around you. Like to listen to classical music when you study but have no idea what a symphony is? Take an introduction to music class. Fascinated by the stars in the sky at night? See if you can fit astronomy into your schedule one semester. Your whole college path does not have to lead straight to your career, and your career does not make up your whole life.

4. Your summer is not your time off. One thing I wish I had started earlier was preparing myself for the career world by taking advantage of short-term experiences like internships to help me learn what I liked and didn’t like in particular fields. I didn’t start doing internships until my third year, and by then, I felt like I was way behind my peers both in terms of connections in my potential career field and in terms of self-knowledge of what I wanted to do when I “grew up.” Internships are great, low-risk opportunities to get your foot in the door of a particular industry (and sometimes at really big institutions!) without committing years of your life to doing something that wasn’t really your thing in the end. One of the most influential internships I had was at a major magazine in New York. Prior to that mini-internship, I had dreamed of writing for a magazine; the life seemed shiny and glossy and glamorous from the outside. Just one week in the city taught me that my heart wasn’t in it, and I left that experience grateful to have learned that when I still had the opportunity to change course.

The one disadvantage of many internships is that they are unpaid, and maybe you can’t run all over the world during your break because you’re a student who has to have a paying job during the summer (hey you! a word? you’re doing it right). Does this advice still apply to you? Absolutely. Try to find a job that allows you to work (or at least give you experience with the skills you’ll need) in your desired field. Think you want to be a teacher? Try to get a job at a summer camp or a kids program at a local museum. Are your sights set on a vet school? What better experience than to work at a local animal hospital or even a grooming shop. Hopefully, in addition to a paycheck in your pocket, you’ll come away with experience that will help you apply the lessons from your college classes or, just as helpful, the knowledge that that particular career field isn’t for you.

5. Your whole life does not depend on your job after college. Despite what I just said about the importance of landing good internships and all that jazz, I want you to know that finding your *perfect* career path after college is not the ultimate end of your college experience. (Parents, don’t hate me just yet!)

Are you about to enter your last year of college? About to graduate? I want to take you back to another, similar turning point in your life. Remember when you were a senior in high school and everyone kept asking you what you wanted to major in and your most honest response would probably have been “err…uhh…I mean…[shrug]…??” Yeah. That’s probably how you feel right now. Maybe you’re one of the lucky few who has had the stars align in your courses and internships and you have a job connection lined up after graduation in a career field that you absolutely love. YAY! YOU ROCK! (Seriously!) But some of your classmates also hate you just a tiny bit. Why? Because making career decisions and landing your first job is hard stuff. Like, “you’re a real girl/boy!” adult stuff. Stressful. DIFFICULT.

As for me, during my last year of undergrad I worked myself  into such a frenzy about my future career plans that I ended up in the emergency room with what I thought was a heart attack. Turns out all the stress and anxiety of hinging all my worth and success on this one big decision was, like, the dumbest of all my ideas, EVER, and my body let me know it by waging a giant temper tantrum known as a panic attack. As a type-A control freak with a pretty perfect report card, it was a blow that led to a hard season for me, but it was a hard season that taught me so much. You’re not going to be able to plan everything perfectly, and even when you do, sometimes things aren’t going to go as planned. This is how life goes. We humans can only do so much. 

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: You’re probably twenty-two, twenty-three years old. Your pre-frontal cortex (the part of your brain that makes helps you make reasoned decisions) isn’t all that mature yet. You probably don’t have too much life experience. Despite all your big-time collegiate learning, you don’t know all about you yet. You want to know something? That’s ok. YOU’RE OK. All you can do is work your tail off and make the best decision you possibly can. Give yourself margin to make the wrong decision. If you find that you’ve made the right one, be grateful and excited and milk the experience for all it has to teach you. If you find that you’ve made the wrong one, be grateful and hopeful and milk the experience for all it has to teach you. Either way, you’ve done it: you’ve made the brave, hard choice, and you’ve learned from it. Take the lessons and keep going, whether down the same path or on a different one.

One last note, perhaps for any of my former students who might be reading this: If you’re a believer in college, I hope you’ll recognize your career decision as a beautiful opportunity to lean on the strength of the Lord as you approach your first big thing in your adult life, and that despite your fear and your anxiety, that you’ll let His peace wash over your heart. Because it’s Him–not your job, or your first salary, or your first apartment–it’s the Lord who will provide the security you’re longing for. And if you’re in the doubting, questioning, unbelieving stage of your faith, much like I was in college, I pray you’ll have someone in your life who will speak this truth into your life, and that it will keep washing over your heart like the ocean tides until your doubt is stripped away.

 

-pp

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31 Lessons: 3. Patience and the Perfect Cookie

I’ve been a cookie baker since I was young. Whether it’s the baking itself that feels therapeutic or the homey comfort of having a pretty plate of cookies on my counter to share with family and friends, the art of cookie making ranks pretty high on my list of domestic accomplishments.

(and now, typing that, I’m asking myself…do I have other domestic accomplishments? Somebody please teach this girl how to fold a fitted sheet. Can I get an amen on that?)

I have learned a lesson or two about baking over the years, however, and while I’m not hating on the store-bought mixes or the break-and-bake variety (but please, please, please, y’all–don’t eat the raw dough!), I want to let you know that if you have a hankering for a super good cookie and a few extra minutes, you can make your own at home–from scratch!–pretty easily.

And in the case of this particular recipe? The hardest thing will be waiting 24 hours to bake and eat them.

The recipe I’m listing below comes from I Am Baker, which I believe she adapted from this New York Times “best” chocolate chip cookie.


 

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons cake flour *I have used the King Arthur brand with success

1 2/3 cups bread flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened

1 1/4 cups light brown sugar

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/4 pounds chocolate chips *I don’t measure the chips by the pound, but I’m just going to bet that I put in at least this much, if not more. 

  1. Cream softened butter. Gradually add in sugars and beat until fluffy (a few minutes, depending on your type of mixer). Add in eggs one at a time. Add vanilla at low speed.
  2. Sift together dry ingredients and add gradually to the creamed mixture, mixing until just combined.
  3. Fold in your desired amount of chocolate chips.
  4. Refrigerate dough for 24-36 hours.
  5. Bake at 350 for 13-15 minutes, depending on how you like your cookies and the calibration of your particular oven (*I definitely bake mine for 16 minutes+).

 

Whether it’s the mix of cake and bread flours (bread flour has more gluten while cake flour is much finer) or waiting for the batter to set up for 24-48 hours before baking that makes this particular cookie so special, I don’t know, but I do know this is the most heavenly chocolate chip cookie I’ve ever tasted.

A few things I’ve learned that really help to make this cookie rock, in my opinion:

  • Use a cookie scoop! The best $5 I’ve spent on a kitchen tool. It makes it so much easier than using a spoon and it keeps your fingers out of the dough, which makes germaphobes like me happy. That little guy is handy for muffins, too.
  • Before chilling, scoop your cookies out onto wax paper (a tip from Averie Cooks) and layer in casserole dishes to save room in the fridge. I love those pre-cut half sheets that you can buy at Sam’s Club. They pop out of the box like tissues, and I find that I use them for a lot of other purposes (they’re great for covering your cutting board when you’re chopping something messy or smelly, like tomatoes or onions, or to wrap up sandwiches, for example).
  • Though it’s tempting, your cookies really will taste better if you refrigerate the dough overnight. Also, the chilled dough will help your cookies not to spread too quickly. In other words, you maximize all that chewy chocolate goodness.
  • Allow your cookies to cool a few minutes on the cookie sheet, but then place them on a rack to cool completely. This not only helps them not to stick, it helps them not to get too crispy. Plus, you’ll look all baker-goddess with the sea of cookies overtaking your countertops.

Keep calm and nom nom!

(and now I really want cookies)…

-pp

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31 Lessons: 2. A Good Marriage

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Dear Self on Your Wedding Day,

You think today is the beginning of your fairy tale life only rivaled by The Notebook, and in a way, it is. Just probably not the fairy tale you’re imagining.

You think today will be the most significant moment in your marriage.

You think you’ll enjoy the beaches of Mexico on your honeymoon during the most perfect, blissful week of your pretty, young life.

You think today marks the beginning of countless married dates that surprise you and make your heart leap with their spur-of-the-moment thoughtfulness and romance.

You think you’ll transform your first house into the Pottery Barn catalog that you registered for.

You think you’ll discover one morning with delight that you’ve married the person that (finally) makes your world perfect and complete.

Nah, sweetheart. Not one of the things you’re imagining is gonna come true.

That perfect wedding day will be perfect, but at the end of it, you’ll still be a little sad because the seasons are changing and all that planning and preparing? It’s done.

That honeymoon will boast bigger fights and vaster loneliness than when you were dating.

That first house will be a creative challenge full of hand-me-down furniture for years to come.

That first year will have more nights spent with work spread across the kitchen counter than candlelit dinners.

That man standing in front of your eyes–your husband–will puzzle and infuriate and disappoint you some days.

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But look a little closer.

Here’s what you don’t know, where The Notebook hasn’t the very first clue.

That honeymoon? The bright sun of tropical beaches will pale in comparison to the sweet times you’ll spend together drinking hot chocolate on the sofa on a weeknight, talking and planning on Saturday mornings during the three-mile loop in your neighborhood, exchanging honest apologies and tears after fights in the kitchen, finding rest in each other through doubts and fears and shortcomings.

That first house? You’ll bring a sweet baby boy into its walls, and it will hold you and steady you, and its floors will bear you up on nights full of pacing and light on sleep. Despite all its challenges, because of all its challenges, you’ll realize what it means to be content in this world, in your own walls, in your own skin. You’ll remember what a home is really all about.

That man standing before your eyes?

He’ll bring you flowers after a long week, despite the fact that you’ve probably made it seem even longer to him.

He’ll care for you when you’re sick. He’ll really, really try.

He’ll put out the fire in the kitchen when you whisper that the toaster oven *might be* ablaze at 6:30 in the morning.

He’ll hold your hand during take-off and landing and make you feel like you belong.

He’ll answer your questions about God with patience and encouragement.

He’ll make you the very best eggs, just the way you like them.

He’ll put up with your bull to a point, but not forever. Eventually, he’ll call you out on it. Eventually, you’ll thank him for it.

He’ll take his role as provider and protector very seriously, and you’ll be humbled by his selflessness.

He’ll hold your giant, bed-ridden, pregnant body and tell you that you’ve never looked more beautiful. And you’ll look into his honest eyes and know that he means it.

He’ll continue to surprise you with his intelligence. That man is really smart. And you’ll never stop liking that about him.

He’ll put up with you when you’re hormonal and sleep-deprived. And tell you to go to Target for a while.

He’ll hold your precious son in his hands and show you so that you can trust it in your marrow what it’s like to be unconditionally loved by an earthly father.

He’ll do little things like bring you Starbucks cards when you’re at the start of a new challenge, just so you know he’s got you. He gets you.

He’ll grow to be the person who pushes you every single day to bring the big guns, to be the best of yourself–the self that God made you to be. And while that journey will require you to see the worst of yourself, he will love all of you.

That man standing in front of you? He himself will grow and change to become more real and more precious to you with every passing day and week and year.

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So, dear self on your wedding day, don’t worry now that you have no idea what a good marriage is.

You will soon.

-pp

“if it’s a very fragile rope placed in the eye of a needle like a thread, if it’s out in the middle of a storm somewhere dangling off a ledge, if it yells sometimes in the kitchen then takes back every word it said, then it’s a good marriage”

this post was inspired by lori mckenna’s “good marriage”, from her recent album numbered doors

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31 Lessons: 1. Your Somewhere is Good Enough

Y’all have no idea how many things I’ve done in between writing that title and putting words on this page.

Procrastination is the most productive form of dysfunction, really.

Tonight I find myself avoiding what I know I must do. Inspired by The Nester, I have joined those writing for 31 days in this beautiful, glorious month of October. I’m equal parts jumping up and down (commitment to creativity! self-care!) and shaking in my boots (…crickets…).  I can call it mommyhood or the busyness of life or my desire to curl up and take a nap, but really I know the disease that plagues me.

It’s called perfectionism-fueled procrastination.

Also known as avoiding hard things.

FEAR.

So as I’ve decided to focus on 31 days of lessons learned, it’s only appropriate that we get this first one out of the way.

(drumroll, please)

LESSON 1: YOUR SOMEWHERE IS GOOD ENOUGH.

Have you ever not done something because you thought you weren’t in the right place or in the right season or in the right shape to do it? Like you knew you couldn’t do it well (yet), so why even try?

Yeah. I think that’s the worst lie I tell myself.

Let’s take this new series as an example. I’ve known I was going to do this no shorter than twelve long days ago and yet the day to begin is here, and all I can come up with are reasons why I shouldn’t take on this challenge. Things like, I haven’t mapped out my plan in the slightest, I’ve never done one of these “linky” things, my blog is a just a wee baby blog, I’ve almost never written on consecutive days, where will I find the time, what if what I write is boring, blah blah blah blah blah.

RUBBISH.

Lots of people think that it’s endings that are the trickiest: slugging through the last few miles of the marathon (not that I’d know), finishing the book you started, completing the last few stages of a big project, shedding the final five pounds.

But I’m here to say that–at least for some of us–it’s the beginnings that take the cake. The fear of setting out and not finishing, or not excelling, or not being accepted, stops us in our tracks.

The pile of clean laundry is already a mountain on my sofa, so let’s just put one more load on top.

I don’t want to go to the gym because what if my jiggles don’t fit in? Fat chance. 

I’ll never be able to pass that class, so what’s the point of doing this homework?

I’m fifteen minutes late to the party and besides, no one will talk to me anyway, so whatever, I’m not going.

I’m not climbing that mountain because what if I get up there and it’s so high and I can’t get down?

I have no idea what meaningful thing to say to my grieving friend, so I’ll just smile and try to make small talk.

I don’t have time to clean out that entire drawer, so what does it matter if I just shove in one.more.thing?

I’ll probably never fit into my pre-baby clothes, so I think I’ll just keep eating these M&Ms. [raises hand]

I just can’t figure out God or why bad things happen to good people or the how and why in the vastness of this universe or the close embrace of a personal savior and so I just…I won’t today.

Y’ALL. As I write this and as you read this, I hope you see it: this kind of crap gets ridiculous because it’s just. not. truth. And I’ve lived every single one of those not-truths.

What I want to proclaim tonight to you and to me and to your grandmama is this: Everybody’s gotta start somewhere, and your somewhere is good enough.

YOUR SOMEWHERE IS GOOD ENOUGH.

Don’t ever let the fear of what might be keep you from becoming what you might be.

Because that what–that you–might be better or bigger or more beautiful than what your fear can dream.

Your somewhere is good enough.

Now start.

somewhere

-pp

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