Renew

This post is part of The Peony Project‘s January prompt linkup.

January is the time for fresh starts and new beginnings. The new year brings with it positive energy and a chance to create new habits to better ourselves. However, we all know that those ambitious resolutions and the excitement that comes with starting them wears off all too soon; often before January even comes to a close.

I’ve often pondered why exactly we humans can’t seem to stick to our goals. I mean, these are goals that we’ve picked for ourselves after all. It isn’t like we just plucked a random resolution out of the sky and decided to try it out. We make resolutions based on the things that we want to accomplish in our lives, so how come we so often end up dooming ourselves before we start? There are several reasons why this is, but one answer stands out so clear to me.

Our resolutions are not deep enough.

According to USA.gov, the most popular New Year’s resolutions include losing weight, getting fit, drink less alcohol, saving money. While these are admirable goals, I can think of something (or someone) who will provide a much bigger return on my investment.

This year, I’m working on growing even closer to the Lord. What better source of renewal could there be?

How I’m choosing to do this is first by intentionally reading the Bible this year. Initially, I had planned on doing this through my Daily Bible, but then She Reads Truth announced their Bible in a Year reading plan. So far, I’ve been spending sometime before I go to bed each night with my Jesus Calling devotional, following by the day’s Bible readings on the SRT app. As I read the day’s readings on the app, I have a notebook that I’ve dedicated to my Bible journey and I jot down key points, verses that stand out, and any questions or takeaways that I have.

I will also be joining a small group at church in the next few weeks and although I’m a little worried about how that will be balanced with both work and grad school, I recognize that I need to find a community of people to connect with and study the Bible with.

How will you be seeking renewal this year?

Happy Birthday

Dear Aunt Sandy,

Today is your 61st birthday. Yes, you went up to Heaven just six days after your 60th birthday, but there’s not going to be a point when we stop acknowledging and celebrating the day of your birth so happy 61st!

my beautiful Aunt Sandy, December 19, 1953-December 25 ,2013

A lot has happened since your last birthday, but I’m sure you already know that.

There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t think of you and miss you terribly, especially being in the thick of the Christmas season. I know Halloween was your favorite holiday, but I’m fairly positive that Christmas was tied for that honor, or at least a close second.

So many of my favorite Christmas memories and our family traditions have your spirit woven within them. Making red and green Rice Krispie treats and cookies for Santa at the Trenton Street house just hours before you gave me a glimpse of “Santa” for the first time. Anxiously awaiting the package from the mailman that held your Christmas gifts and the inevitable See’s Candies box(es) and saving them especially for opening on Christmas Eve while everything else had to wait for Christmas Day. And of course hanging the beautiful stockings each year that you made for Sarah and I.

Some of my favorite memories, though, aren’t necessarily Christmas related, however. Some of the most precious memories I have with you are pretty recent. I was able to spend a lot of time with you on my last visit with you in July 2013 while Sarah and Auntie Margaret took care of Uncle Louie.

I made you tea with lemonade and fixed you tostadas but all I really wanted to do was to magically whip up a cure for the cancer that had invaded your (and Uncle Louie’s) body.

I can’t help but smile when I see Long Island Medium marathons and when we fix tostadas. You’re still with us in so many ways.

Aunt Sandy, you have no idea how much we miss you. Our family is not the same but I stand by the words I wrote to you in the birthday card I had Dad read to you last year.

I wish you a lifetime of pain-free birthdays.

I love you. I miss you,

Ashley

Note: I’ve lost my Grandpa, Aunt, and Uncle to three different types of cancer and one of my cousins is currently battling a fourth kind. My dad has lost his father, older brother, and younger sister. Cancer is a terrible disease and it seems fitting to recognize and donate to the American Cancer Society, who is the “official sponsor of birthdays”. I donated in memory of my Aunt Sandy, Uncle Louie, and Grandpa Luis, please consider donating to this great cause as well. Visit cancer.org for more information.

A Sweet Reunion

On August 20, 2014 my cousin Matthew returned to the United States after a 13 month stay in Bolivia. He did some amazing work with the youth population in La Paz during his time there and I can’t even begin to tell you how proud I am of him. Matthew and I have always had a connection because we have the same birthday and it was actually a little strange not having him around for our birthday on Mother’s Day weekend! 🙂

Last weekend, on Labor Day, my mom, my sister and I met up with Matthew and a few other family members at Cracker Barrel in Mebane. I honestly half expected him to be a completely different person but he is still the same sweet, country cousin I know and love but it’s clear to see that his time in South America changed him. Maybe he can help me with my Spanish now! 😉

Bienvenido a casa, Matthew!

Weekend in Los Angeles

I absolutely love to travel and I was super fortunate to spend last weekend in one of my favorite cities, Los Angeles. The main purpose for the trip was to cover the press junket for The Giver (out August 15th!), but I managed to squeeze in some sightseeing and family time.

My trip was Friday-Monday and on Friday evening, I had the opportunity to screen the film at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. I admit, I was a little hesitant about this film at first, but I really enjoyed it! I’ll have a full review coming on Shelf to Screen next week so stay tuned for that.

Saturday was spent at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills where I interviewed Brenton Thwaites, Cameron Monaghan, Odeya Rush, and the woman herself…acclaimed author Lois Lowry. She is such a fascinating woman.

Brenton Thwaites

Lois Lowry

Odeya Rush

Cameron Monaghan

After wrapping up at the Four Seasons, I headed a few miles down the road to In n Out Burger because I mean, come on…how could I not?! After my delicious lunch, I headed to the Getty for a little culture and some sightseeing. I’ve always been told that the Getty Center is a must-see but I never really had an open chunk of time to visit before. The art that is on display is gorgeous and the architecture of the Getty is amazing. I wish that the sky had been clearer but wishing for a Los Angeles day without smog is like wishing for the sky not to be blue. It’s just not going to happen. Later that evening, I met up with my friend Angie for dinner.

On Sunday I drove out to the Inland Empire (the Ontario/San Bernardino/Riverside region), which is where my Dad grew up. I had the day completely free and I had contacted my cousins and my great-aunt to let them know I would be in the area for the day. It was the first time that I had been in the area since my Aunt and Uncle passed away so I wasn’t completely sure how it would affect me.

I stopped by my great-aunt’s house first where I had quite the welcome! My Auntie Bola was there, along with two of her brothers (and my late grandpa’s brothers), my Uncle Ben and Uncle Arnold, as well as my second-cousin Laurie. My other second-cousin Annie would arrive later with her family. My Auntie Bola is such a special woman and just recently went through a battle with breast cancer. She’s pretty fiesty, that one. And hilarious. I think I get some of my sense of humor from her.

After leaving my Auntie Bola’s house, I stopped by Vallarta’s Bakery in Rialto to pick up some Mexican pastries. California is different from North Carolina in MANY ways but one thing that California has that NC does not, is a variety of good and authentic Mexican bakeries/restaurants. Mexican restaurants here in the South get a little Americanized. From there, I drove out to Riverside National Cemetery to visit my Grandpa and my Uncle Louie. I’ve written about what my family has endured over the last year here, so I won’t get into that much but it was definitely an emotional visit. My Grandpa and my Uncle are buried just two rows apart from each other. From there, I headed over to have lunch with my cousins Krissy and Diane and their children.

When I made it back to Los Angeles, I met up with my dear friend Erin for dinner. She is one of my biggest inspirations and I adore her so much.

All in all, it was a fantastic trip and come Monday, I really found myself reluctant to get on the plane to head home. No one knows what the future holds for them but if my career aspirations work out the way I hope, Los Angeles may just be my new home one day, so this trip was a nice little peek at what life like that might be like.

One Year Later

One year.

It might seem like a long time for some, but for me, one year ago still seems to feel like it was yesterday.

I’ve written about what my family has endured during the last year for a friend’s campaign page here, so I’ll share the abbreviated version here now.

In April 2013, my dad’s older brother, Louie, was told by doctors that his liver cancer had spread and that he had six more months to live. In June 2013, my dad’s younger sister, Sandy, and caregiver for my Uncle Louie, wasn’t feeling well and went to the ER where she was told she had Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer. They both fought hard. On December 25, 2013 my Aunt Sandy passed away and ten days later on January 3, 2014, my Uncle Louie passed away as well.

One year ago this week, my sister and I traveled to California, which ended up being the last time that I would see either of them. It feels just like yesterday. I still think back to that short trip and remember those days fondly, rather than view them in sadness. While we were there, my sister and Auntie Margaret were busy taking care of my Uncle Louie, who ended up being admitted to the hospital during the trip. Because the rental car was in my sister’s name and with me being under 25 years old, I wasn’t able to drive anywhere due to insurance related things. So my days were spent at my Aunt’s house helping to make her breakfast, bring her her medicines, fix lunch, make her tea, sit with her while she watched Long Island Medium, and anything else she needed. Maybe that sounds boring to some, but those are some precious memories that I will always carry with me for the rest of my life.

To this day, when we make tostadas here, I am whisked back to my Aunt’s kitchen where I made her tostadas for lunch during our stay.

Christmas 1997 in California

My Uncle Louie was a one of a kind person. Most often, he was a loose cannon and we were never quite sure what would come out of his mouth next. He and my Dad didn’t have the best relationship growing up, but it was truly overwhelming to watch them reconnect during the last eight months of his life and to see them as brothers. My uncle was truly a caring person, who bravely served in Vietnam twice during the Vietnam War. Though the majority of my visit was spent with my Aunt at her house, I don’t think I could ever forget the last moments I spent with my Uncle.

He had been admitted to the VA because of his elevated ammonia levels, related to his liver, and mentally he was confused and a little disoriented. I remember getting a call from my mom and stepping out into the hallway and suddenly becoming overwhelmed by my surroundings and the reality of everything going on around me. But what sticks out to me, is the moment just before we walked out of the room to leave and I told my Uncle not to run off on us (he had wandered out into the hallway, confused, not long after we arrived) and although he was in pain, my uncle cracked a smile.

My mom has always told me that since I was a child, if there was ever a serious moment going on, I was always the one to crack a joke or do something silly to lighten the mood. I love to laugh and especially to make others laugh so I love that this was my last vision/memory of my Uncle.

It doesn’t even seem right that it’s been a whole year since I’ve seen them, but I’m surrounded constantly by their presence and our memories. I carry them with me every day.

“I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart)
I am never without it (anywhere I go you go, my dear)”

– e.e cummings

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