Monday, November 26, 2012

Settle down, it will all be clear.

I definitely had thoughts of jumping on the bandwagon of the "x amount of days of giving thanks" that was all the rage on the Book of Faces this month. Rest assured, I'm thankful for all the normal things: health, happiness, family, friends, education, etc. etc. I think each day in my head I give thanks to at least one of these things and maybe I should have maid them public.

Consider this one big "x amount of days of giving thanks" blog entry. And yes, to my tens of readers, I'm baaack.

This year, I took the opportunity to do an extended Thanksgiving vacation back in the Midwest. I had the days to take and it has been a rough semester. So I figured "why not?" The extended vacation, combined with rolling straight to the AFA Annual Meeting equals two suitcases and 15 days away from Richmond.

I am happy to report that I proved the phrase "you can't go home again" wrong. From the minute I arrived in the Midwest last Saturday, I was home. (Down to my parents not getting to the right pick up lane at the airport. I was happy for the consistency!) Being home for an extended time allowed me to travel and see people on my own schedule, inlcuding trips to Mid-Missouri (my home for nearly eight years) and seeing family friends who I haven't visited with in many moons. So, in giving "thanks" -

...thanks to my Mom and Dad - from letting me steal their vehicles when I needed one, to not really letting me open my wallet while I was here, you're the best. Love you!

...thanks to William Woods University - I love visiting my first job and seeing my former coworkers. I truly view William Woods as the place that made me the professional, and the adult, I am today. I definitely matured while I was there. Thanks for taking a chance on a 22 year old fresh out of college! (And special thanks to the friends who allowed me to stroll down memory lane while visiting Mizzou in the same trip!)

...thanks to my friends (college and high school!) for making this trip memorable. I enjoyed visiting with everyone. Of course, I did not get to spend as much time as I would have liked with everyone, but it was good to see. Please know the welcome mat is always out in Richmond.

...thanks to our family friends. The phrase "you can pick your friends and not your family" certainly rang true on this trip. Thanks for taking care of Mom and Dad since I'm in Richmond and thanks for opening your homes and hearts to me when I'm home. You truly make every visit home special. And it is probably about start time we just call you "family" instead of "family friends."

I can honestly say I do not question my decision to live halfway across the country from where I grew up. Because of the love and support of my parents, family and friends (and airplanes - gotta love them!) it makes keeping in touch easy. I think I value my relationships with people in the Midwest more because I see you less. The time we get to spend together is that much better because it does not happen very often.

I feel truly blessed from this Thanksgiving visit and will take this warm fuzzy feeling with me into the Christmas season. I feel almost back to center (normal) after this vacation - and I am bound and determined to bring this feeling to my "new" (2.5 years later, not so new anymore really) home when I return in about a week.

So, tens of readers, I hope you take a few minutes to remember what you are thankful for!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Reporting for Duty

On May 19, 2012, I had the honor and pleasure to serve as a bridesman in one of my best friend's from college wedding, Sarah.

(Sarah and I, graduation from the University of Missouri, 2006. Facebook doesn't have pictures of us back in 2003).

Sarah and I unofficially met in Spanish class in Spring 2003. We officially met at the Kappa Delta, Lambda Chi Alpha and Alpha Gamma Rho's Greek Week Marriage Party when I remember her yelling "hey, you're in my Spanish class!" And magic was made. The short of it, Sarah and I managed to take every Spanish class there after together (except for one - what a sad semester) in order to obtain our minors in Spanish. (I'm still not 100% if I filed the paperwork correctly, oh well.) But before taking almost every Spanish class together, our friendship was born.

To blog about nearly 10 years of friendship would be impossible. Heck, even covering the highlights would take days. But here is a brief list that will always come to mind when I think of Sarah Barfield Graff:
- annytime I'm more than two tequila shots in and start speaking Spanish.
- attempting to use American Sign Language (the second language we "mastered" together.)
- our internship in Washington, D.C.
- any type of beauty pageant (I was there when she was crowned Miss Morgan County 2003.)
- Kappa Delta

This is just a short, short list of someone who has been one of my best friend's since 2003. And of course, our friendship has had it's trials and tribulations (I mean, we're close to perfect...). But who wants to hear about those? Let's just say the friendship survived petty drama and two moves across the country. That's the short of it.

I'll be totally honest in sharing I always kind of wondered what, if any, role I would play in Sarah's wedding. It was easy to talk about when she wasn't dating someone and for her to say "you will totally be in my wedding." I completely understood my role as one of her male best friends... easy to say now, but what will the future husband say? Apparently, not much at all. Jody understood mine and Sarah's relationship perfectly and to my knowledge, never really felt threatened. (Of course, I did move to Virginia soon after they got together so I guess if there was any thoughts of threat, it was quickly squelched. Ha ha.)

Sarah asked me to be her bridesman in January, and from the beginning, I was included in everything. The other (awesome) bridesmaids took it in stride as well. We had a blast at the male best friend friendly bachelorette party and had a blast at the wedding. The guys on Jody's side took it very well as well, even when bridesmaids' escorting had to be shared because I created an uneven number.

(me and two of my fellow bridespeople.)

As someone who did most of their graduate work studying men's gender development, being a bridesman put an interesting twist on my knowledge. It was awesome to see everyone from the church lady coordinating the wedding to the photographer to the minister using appropriate language. After only one stutter each (generally along the lines of: "OK, we need all the brides.........people for pictures/stand over here/start walking when...") Once they got through that one stutter, bridespeople rolled off everyone's tongue.

Leading up to the wedding, it was really neat to explain my involvement. Yes, Sarah is a woman. Yes, I'm in the wedding. Yes, I'm standing on her side. Yes, I'm wearing a tux. (My tux matched all the other guys.) Nearing the wedding, Sarah was still not 100% how I was getting down the aisle. The options included walking her mom down and then taking my position, coming out with the guys and then moving sides, or walking down like the other 'maids. In the end, Sarah chose option three. I walked down the aisle myself like the other bridesmaids... I even had position three - smack in the middle of her attendants. Sarah decided not to make me the typical male.

So Sarah, thank you for letting me take part in your special day. Thank you also for letting me take part in my own gender study as well!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Backlogged blogging

I'm glad that I did not set a goal on how many times I would update my blog because I'm sure I would have let myself down by now. My goal was to blog when the mood struck... well, the mood has struck but I haven't had the chance to sit down and write. I'm home all weekend and I will catch up on blog posts I have saved in my head.

Purely by accident, I got to front load my "summer" travel this year containing most airline travel to May. (Fingers crossed, I may not be on a plane again until August or even November! I know the friendly skies will miss me.) My first trip of the summer included heading to St. Louis for my friend Erika's wedding.

This is obviously not a picture of us at her wedding, but lo and behold, my friend Kate is the only one who has a picture of me and the bride on her camera. But Erika is also a fellow two-time Mizzou alum (same graduate program!) and this is us at one of our favorite holidays: Homecoming!

Erika and I have known each other since my junior year, her senior year at Mizzou. I am pretty sure we were introduced while she was wearing a pink toga for Greek Week Royalty 2005 (I then followed in her footsteps and was on Greek Week Royalty 2006). At that first official meeting (we probably crossed paths before that), we decided we were awesome and should be friends. While we met in college, Erika and I stayed friends through graduate school (she was a few semesters ahead of me) but I feel our friendship really took hold when she joined the staff at Pi Beta Phi Headquarters while I was working at William Woods University. That was yet another connection we shared (a passion for fraternities and sororities) and a beautiful professional friendship was born. Erika has since changed jobs but is still in higher ed, but is still an excellent life coach for me!

An added bonus of her wedding weekend was getting to travel with our friend Kate (you're welcome for introducing you both!) and to show Kate my hometown of Waterloo, IL.

It is always fun showing my friends where I grew up and my parents served as excellent hosts and tour guides. Lunch at a local tavern that has been in Waterloo for years, an afternoon at the winery and then dinner at a bar and grill where I used to work. And let's not forget the pitstop by urgent care on the way to the wedding for my spider bite. Awesome. (In and out in 45 minutes with a creme and meds. All good!)

Erika's wedding was an awesome affair in Tower Grove Park in the city. While it was hotter than the hinges on the gates of hell in St. Louis that weekend, we did not let it spoil our fun. We had a table full of Mizzou people/connections and of course we danced the night away. Obviously, I decided to capitialize on the seeing friends I hadn't seen in awhile and continue the fun after the wedding. Kate made the responsible decision to go back to the hotel and sleep for a few hours before our 7 a.m. flight the next morning, but of course, I roll in at 3 a.m. Excellent choices. Fortunately, we were able to hop an earlier flight from ATL-RIC (I swear the Delta Assist lady took pity on us) but this was only after I asked Kate to drag me through the airport with my good arm.

Backlogged blogging continues soon with "Always a Bridesman..." and "The Best Job Ever" soon to come!

Monday, May 7, 2012

The truth about Neil and dogs

While I've never seen the movie "The Truth about Cats and Dogs" with Uma Thurman (in fact, I just had to Google who was even in the movie), I felt the need to share my most recent experiences with one of my new found four-legged friends.

But a little backstory first. I always have to put the disclaimer out there that I am neutral towards all types of animals. It's not that I don't like them... the best way to sum it up is that I don't need them. Usually the four-legged creatures and I have a mutal understanding: you have four legs, I have two; you have fur, I do not. And then we go about our business.

I am a unique blend of my parents when it comes to animals. If it were up to my dad, he would have a zoo in the house - he always had dogs and cats (inside) growing up. My mom, on the other hand, was raised on a farm where animals served their purpose. The barn cats ate the mice and the dogs herded cattle - none of them were inside animals. I fall somewhere in the middle. My dad can be a dog whisperer and animals always try to win my mom over, never with any success. I fall in the middle that they usually ignore me after they realize I won't give them any attention.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I WILLINGLY offered to dogsit for Brooke and Zach's one year old labradoodle named Beuaregard.

Beau and I have had a unique relationship sincce I met him last August. I tend to forget he's a dog and he tends to forget I'm a human who is neutral toward animals. Our first adventure included me dogsitting for a few hours last December when his humans had a work event in Charlottesville. We survived the day (at my apartment no less) and even went on a three-mile run. We paced well together. After that, Brooke would bribe me with dinner every now and again if I would come run with Beau to tire him out. I knew I was headed for disaster when I would always agree (I think it was more for the food!)

I had Beau from a Friday evening - Thursday morning. I decided to stay at Brooke and Zach's as to not disrup his routine (apparently I liked the little creature.) While he obviously knew something was amiss when it was me who always returned for the week and not his humans. However, he really didn't seem to mind. We talked (well, I did more of the talking), we laughed, we chased things. We played with his new friend Georgia and went for a run. We watched GCB. He even slept in his crate three of the nights I was there after sleeping in the same room as me was not really successful.

After the adventure that was last week, my stance on dogs (well-behaved ones anyway that I think are more human than dog) has been altered somewhat. Right now, I feel the same way about human-like dogs as I do children: they are fine to borrow but then need to go back to their humans. Am I ready to get a dog anytime soon? No. (Just like I'm not ready for the small, two-legged creatures as well.) Does this maybe think there could be a dog in my future? The jury is still out. Having a dog is a major life-decision and life-changing. It was fun for a week but not something I am ready to commit to for longer than that. I'm happy to give his humans a break when they need one, or to take him running when he needs to be tired.

And one other self-disclaimer - I have his picture on my desk. When people comment on the dog, I politely explain that he belongs to my friends but I happily serve as his uncle.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

I'll carry you home tonight.

As I get older, I continually realize how blessed I am to have the people I that I have in my life. I know that I always have my family standing behind me and cheering me on 100%. I know I can turn to them for anything I need. But I also know that I have another group of people behind me 100% - my friends.

From Sunday - Thursday of this past week, I had the pleasure of entertaining two of my best friends from high school in Richmond (we definitely missed you Annie!) For reasons still unbeknownst to all of us, Matt, Julie and Annie decided to adopt me freshman year of high school and we have all been friends ever since.

Our friendships have survived them going off to college, then me going off to college, family deaths, weddings, births and my move halfway across the country. Some times we do better than others on staying in touch and keeping each other updated, but I know we are always not far from each others' thoughts. It was awesome being able to show them my life in Richmond... my friends, where I work and the general sights that make Richmond pretty spectacular. And hats off to my Richmond friends for welcoming them with open arms - good people are drawn to good people.

During Matt and Julie's stay and afterwards, I really found myself thinking about all the different friendships I have made and just how lucky I am to have the people in my life that I do. I realize that I am surrounded by some really awesome people.

It is also interesting how friendships grow and change. I have friends in my life that if I don't hear from them on a somewhat regular basis, I'm ready to send out a search party. Then there are other friends that I can go months (if not years) and one text message later, we are getting together like no time has passed at all. Moments like those make me realize how truly blessed I am to have these people in my life.

I distinctly remember at the beginning of our senior year of college, my friend Jill and I discussing how we were pretty much done making friends - we had met some pretty awesome people while at Mizzou and were ready to take senior year by storm. I think I need to count my lucky stars that this statement was far from true... because even senior year, I met friends that are still apart of my life today. Combined with friends I met after graduation, in my profession or as I settled in Richmond, I'm really glad that statement was not true.

Obviously, you are never finished making friends. New friendships will develop when you least expect it, and still when you least expect it, those friendships may become your most valued. As I continue to make friends and figure out what roles they play, I am working on not putting friends in nice little boxes. We may have become friends for one reason, but that reason does not have to be the only reason we are friends.

I know each friend I have in life is to play a certain role... but that does not have to be their only role. I love knowing that I have my wine drinking friends, my going out friends and the friend who I know can solve all of my problems. But they can serve other roles as well - just something I am learning as I go.

So friends, rest assured - I'll carry you home tonight.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sometimes I just love my job.

Because we get to send emails like these:

Dr. Notes,

How do I share my calendar so my co-worker can see it? Right now it shows times blocked but not what it is! Please help!

Brooke & Neil

The email would even be funnier if Brooke and I knew who was on the receiving end of the Dr. Notes email. I'm sure he will think who let those two yahoos in Fraternity and Sorority Life have email access anyway.

Weeks like the last few weeks it's the little things like this that just make us giggle.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Here, there and everywhere

Right after the debut of my esteemed blog, my spring "travel season" started. (My previous blog entry highlighted Neil vs. the Airport.)

As someone who works on a college campus with students, I'm not sure where these chunks of travel come in. And since my packing skills usually leave much to be desired, it's a wonder I make it out of the house in one piece. My travel schedule is not really a typical one as I am not always traveling for work. I have the pleasure of mixing business and personal travel- and adventures always ensue.

In my last blog entry, I was off to meet my parents in Tunica, MS via Memphis, TN. When I arrived in Chicago for  my connection, I volunteered to take a bump for a travel voucher (always have to be ready for that next trip!) and then my new flight was delayed. Mom and Dad, being on vacation, were totally flexible and killed time in Memphis waiting for my arrival. We arrived in Tunica, the Las Vegas of the South, for our weekend of gambling, food and family bonding. Live blogging this trip would have been run giant entry but they don't allow phones at the table. It was hard enough to get funny tweets out in between bathroom breaks and shuffling. The weekend was successful in catching up with Mom and Dad as I did not come home a millionaire.

A week later, I was back on the road heading to Camp Oak Hill in North Carolina (and drove through a town named Virgilina - you guessed it, it straddled the boarder between Virginia and North Carolina. Creative.) to work with the IFC community of North Carolina State University. I was excited to work with just a group of men through a leadership development program about their fraternal experience. My observations include:
  • Fraternity and Sorority Advisors will have jobs for a long time to come. We can address issues with one group of men only to start over again in a few years. (I often say we work in the move Groundhog's Day.)
  • Fraternity men in large groups are dumb. And this does not change when you are an alumni. My IQ dropped as well
  • Boys smell.
  • All the male facilitators slept in one large cabin - I don't think I could have survived cold air sleeping quarters. (I'll take the military style showers at Lambda Chi Alpha over giving up my own room any day).
After survivng the NC State fraternity community (and hopefully touching a few lives along the way), it was back home to cram a weekend's worth of activities and life like things into a few hours. I did manage to get most things accomplished, including dinner and drinks with friends, with a few tasks rolling into tonight.

I'm looking forward to the next round of travel which includes three weddings and a bachelorette party all between now and May 19. That, combined with dog sitting for the Beauregard and wrapping up another semester, I'm sure many more life lessons will come!