Still alive. Still very alive.

I was sitting in the kitchen last night when my mom asked “Ashley, did you post on your blog today?”

After answering with a “No,” I got the cringing response; “You know it’s been a month, right?”

Oye, nothing like your mom calling you out for being distracted.

Something about being a graduate student in November and December? It’s busy. And not in all of the typical expected ways.

Of course there are the “finals,” which in my case were all final projects. Final packages to film and edit, papers to write and scripts to finish. I had to turn in some final research (eek, which I still need to do). There were students from my TA class with a lot of questions and there were some very busy end-of-semester projects for my graduate assistantship.

That’s all expected and a good excuse, right?

The other intangible part was that there were holidays to prepare for; a month-long trip home to pack and anticipate––and a lot of graduating that called for celebrations.

I remember so vividly early September. Not only did December seem far away, it still seemed imminent. There was an intimidating “older” girl in one of my classes who was set to graduate at the end of the semester. We always ended up sitting next to each other in our class. She seemed nice; but like she knew what she was doing. And since she had already been in Boston a year, I figured she already had friends and she wouldn’t take too much notice of me.

In some ways that made me grateful because she wouldn’t be looking over my shoulder at my mess of an edit job.

Somehow one day I decided to tell her about November Project though. She looked like she appreciated being active and working out. And that’s all it took.

She wanted to come! And it turned out that we had a lot to talk about. Enough so that she invited me to meet her at a birthday party that weekend.

Hmm. Even though Jeanna was 23 (younger than me!); she was getting ready to graduate. And in a REALLY weird way I felt like I was back in high school and an older girl was inviting me to a party––and oh, I felt special.

But I didn’t know anyone.

The kids in my program year hadn’t really hit it off yet. I wasn’t comfortable enough to really force one of them to be a tag-along.

That Saturday night as I had text back and forth with Jeanna, who was asking where I was at, I was skeptical.

I told my roommates, “They’re going to graduate in December. What’s the point? Why make the effort to be friends?”

My roommate Brian made a plausible case, “You never know what kind of connections they could be afterwards! If nothing else, go for that.”

I said if I could find a sidekick I would go. Luckily for me, Erika said she’d meet me there in 15 minutes.

Four months later as I got a little teary writing Jeanna’s graduation card among a stack of others, I thought “Wow. What if I hadn’t gone to that party?”

Maybe things would have turned out quite similar and the next weekend she would have convinced me to come.

Maybe?

Maybe inevitably my friend Alex would’ve gotten to me and forced me to hang out like he’s apt to do.

All I know is that after that night I fairly forced the graduating class to adopt me as a surrogate graduate. I spent all of my weekends with them. I went to all of their celebrations for the end of the semester. And I went through some waves of sadness in the last month realizing that the next two semesters will be very different without them.

Every time my mom would call it seemed that I was on my way to a party. “Are you sure you’re doing school work?!”

I was. But I had to make sure I squeezed in all of my time and congratulations in the midst of that school. Boston has been for graduate school, yes—but turns out that it’s also been for a lot more.

Not to mention, that birthday party? Well it turned out to be Andy’s birthday party. Yeah, that turned out kind of special too.

My life in Boston would only have been a shadow of as awesome if it hadn’t been for those people graduating.

Beautiful Christmas Sweater photo creds to Jeanna.

So, that is why I am so delayed. I’ve been living it up the last month and soaking in every last second before going back to North Carolina.

You know, as the plane landed and I’m walking through the Charlotte terminal, I couldn’t help but feel like it had only been a week that I was gone. A week of a surreal, yet very detailed dream.

It’s just nice to know that it wasn’t. And while for a few weeks that may feel like a parallel life—I’ll try to connect it to North Carolina as best as I can over the holidays.

Man, there’s one heck of a New Year’s post brewing. I can feel it!

More on turkeys, Thanksgiving, the Macy’s Parade and all this love I’m feeling for life soon. But at least now you’re decently on the news.

xxxx.

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Currently:

Reading: Barbara Walter’s autobiography “Audition.” It’s a long read, but I’m trying to steam through and finish. Need to cross it off to give room for “Run Like a Girl” from Ms. SincerelyLily.

Look at Barbara being fierce.

Watching: “Rules of Engagement” I have no shame. It’s such a non-committal watch. No attention and you still get some laughs. (And I’m even an anti-David Spade fan.)

Obsessing: Homegirl has chiggers. Don’t google it. But just know that the past few days have been a tad itchy. It totally takes me back to days as a kid wandering around in the woods. Or the weeks I spent in college hiking the Appalachian Trail with Wilderness Trail. You usually brought home some remnants of these annoying little bugs. Clear polish is out in full force.

Wanting: To be able to work out on a full schedule. I’m having to rest up again because of some exertion I already know is coming this weekend. Sigh! But every day without pain is a step forward. Full into week 8 of 20 for recovery! 12 left : )

Eating: Breakfast for dinner. Faaaavorite. A hint to my exertion this upcoming weekend? I’m having to eat through my fridge. That means, eggs? Milk? Turkey bacon? Frozen biscuits? Hmmm, how can I get rid of these tonight? Lumme some breakfast for any meal of the day.

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Fearing: Logistics for the next six weeks. News is upcoming, but suffice to say in the meantime I’m saying prayers that pieces come together the way that they’re supposed to! (Or rather, the way that causes me the least stress : ) )

Pleeease don't let a variation of this happen.

Pleeease don’t let a variation of this happen.

Missing: My bestie Michelle. I seriously typically see this best friend once every other month or so. It’s been since MARCH. And I’m in a panic I may not see her again soon. Fingers crossed for a somehow arrange reunion.

Hoping: To donate a LOT of under-used books, clothes and homewares this week. I’ve done a massive clean and assessment and this girl has really culled back her belongings. Quality over quantity, right!?

Accepting: That what I thought is true: People who want to be in your life? They’ll be there. People who don’t care will fade away. So happy and thankful for the wonderful friends and family I’m so blessed with. Dag, I’m a lucky girl. And the rest, can help me simplify the other parts of my life : ) Acceptance embraced.

A lot of chapters in transition!

A lot of chapters in transition!

College Orientation. And a Love Letter.

Today was little brother’s first day of college orientation. This would be weird for me. But before I could even get nostalgic and sap about him growing up I realized that my own “first day of college graduation” was seven years ago.

And in my quickly adding-up 24 years, seven is now a lot. And somehow, it honestly feels so recent! Wasn’t it like five years ago? Right!? RIGHT!?

So, ever since I had this realization I have been happy for my brother and fixated on how fast time has gone by.

That day seven years ago, I remember my mom and I packing up my little green Nissan and hitting the winding, foggy, dark roads that carved the Appalachian mountains from home to Boone, N.C.

As I drove and Mom navigated, I excitedly thought about how I would eventually get comfortable with the turns and exits. I would probably get so familiar with this drive that it would be memorized.

I had no idea.

And as I write this I can see the entire 2 hours and 28 minutes mile marker by mile marker.

Lucky for me, I registered the same time as my good friend, soon to be roommate, starting to be sister, Brooke did. Our moms got to be buddies and so did we. There was an exciting registration and the first looks of a real dorm room. There were so many new faces and exciting food. (What is this oreo delight in the cafeteria!?) There was complaining about walking up Stadium Drive and there was exclamation about how anyone could ever learn their way around campus. Seriously. There is no way that I’ll become familiar with all of these buildings that look so similar. Besides that, when will I ever be in half of them? (I had no clue.)

And that naivety is the best part of college orientation. You are getting your FIRST taste of what life is about to be like. You are full of expectation and guessing. And you have just enough of a preview to have a hint. But, it’s just the beginning.

And that final bit of naivety? It’s the last little bit. You’re bridging the path of no return. In a few short months you will be on the other side and there will be a gap that develops between you and younger kids. You’re growing up. You’re on your own.

That day seven years ago was my first day in Boone, N.C. It was my first day fledging out into the sheltered unknown with Brooke. It was the first day of picking a direction. And it was the first day I met Shanice and Kaitlin.

As Brooke and I went to our first group meeting, we met several people who would likely be living in our building.

Shanice had great hair and was glowing with Appalachian State pride. You could tell this was a girl that Brooke and I could get excited about football games with. (And this was our priority, duh.)

Kaitlin, also had great hair, but she not only didn’t like sports—she liked horses.

Hm. We would have to see about her.

(Side note, she thought Brooke and I were stuck up. Probably because we were whispering about the horses.)

(Additional side note, we went on to enjoy every single football game together. For the most part. Until I became a sports reporter. But that’s a story for another day.)

Fast-forward two months, we kept in touch. First impressions aside, we were going to be neighbors. And then we were going to be roommates. And then it had been four years of living together and the four of us were bawling our eyes out as I was the first one to move out. (Dumb smart-kid decision to graduate a semester early. Another story for another day.)

The girls I first met that first day of college orientation are who were there for me when I graduated. Who have known every single one of my secrets. Who I fought with like sisters. Who I took for granted and who I cherished above some of my blood family. Who I supported with my every bit; who I sometimes was too honest with. Who challenged me. Who accepted me. And who had heavy influence on who I am today.

Me. Brooke. Shanice. Kaitlin.

We were (and are) a family.

Those girls were as important to my age 17 through 21 as the actual courses that I took. They taught me about what it means to be a friend. And they have in turn given me seven years of the most incredible love. They’re the first I tell every piece of news.

I sent my brother a good luck text message today. I wanted him to be excited about the fall. I wanted him to embrace and make some memories. But mostly, I didn’t want him to be afraid to talk to the kid who sits down next to him that he doesn’t know yet.

You’ll never know who they’ll be to you in seven years.

First there were two girls. Me + Brooke.

And then there were four. 2007: Shanice, Me, Brooke & Kaitlin

2006: Shanice, Kaitlin, Brooke, Me, Josette, Crystal

2007: Allison, Kaitlin, Me, Brooke & Shanice

2007: Me + Kaitlin

2007: Me & Brooke

2007: Kait & Brooke

2007: Me, Brooke & Shanice

2008: Me & Brooke (National Championship, baby!)

2009: Me & Kaitlin

2009: Shanice & Me

2009: Brooke & Me ❤ ❤

2010: Shanice & Me

2010: Me & Kaitlin

2011: Kaitlin, Me & Brooke

2012: Me, Brooke, Shanice & Kaitlin

2012: Kaitlin + Me ❤ ❤

2012: Me & Shanice

2012: Brooke + Me.

2012: Me, Shanice + Kaitlin

2012: Kaitlin & Me.

2012: Sha, Kait, Brooke & Me.

2013: Me, Shanice, Kaitlin & Brooke

I have to say, how can you miss a man so much when you have three people as awesome as this in your life. The Sex & the City friends as soul mates line is kind of cheesy; but as I pulled together all of these photos I know it’s true.

2013: Me & Kaitlin

2013: Me + Brooke.

2013: Sha & Me ❤ ❤