Cultivate Catch Up: V-Day Edition


So I know that I was supposed to finish this writing challenge several weeks ago, but between the start of the semester + traveling to a destination wedding, I got to a place where I was so far behind that it was impossible to catch up. But as with many things with life, I am going to start off by making this a teachable moment in that I can’t beat myself up over it, and to move forward doing the best that I possibly can.

Which brings us to today, which is Valentine’s Day. Much to folks’ surprise, I am not with Derek today. To be perfectly honest, I never really bought into Valentine’s Day as holiday, and thankfully, neither does he. However, I do buy into the power of love, and so in my own homage to the day dedicated to letting folks know how you love them, I will do so via this post.

There are two #cultivate16 prompts that I think would fit very nicely in terms of leading my writing, the first one being this:

Are you making the right choices that lead you to your spirit?

The theme deals with maps, and other than having the Maroon 5 song stuck in my head the entire time I write this, I do think about Derek. Let me tell you why.

For those of you who are not familiar with our love story, I met Derek back in 2011 when I joined Ballroom at Maryland. From there it didn’t take very long for us to be close friends. As I am sure many folks will confirm, Derek is a very special human being. He is a faithful, loyal, and giving friend who is smart, successful, and affectionate. It was because of these many reasons that I knew that I could always turn to him, and  he quickly became one of my most favorite people that I knew would be a part of my life for a long time.

However, I can honestly say…little did I know *how much* he’d become a part of my life several years later. Because you see, when I met Derek back in 2011 I was actually with someone else, someone that I eventually had gotten engaged to, and someone I had broken off said engagement with the summer before I moved to Richmond to start my job at VCU. It was hard, and Derek was actually one of the friends that helped me through that difficult and confusing time.

Fast forward to several months later, and we realized that maybe we should try pursuing more than just friendship. As Big relays on our wedding website, this is how it all eventually played out:

In November of 2013, Derek accompanied Rowena to a banquet in New Jersey in honor of her parents. Friends and family asked her mom if he was her new boyfriend to which her mom replied, “I don’t know!” When Rowena relayed this to Derek as a funny story, he found himself strangely intrigued by the idea.

She often stayed at his house when coming up to MD to visit friends. After an awkward weekend of flirting and confusion, they finally talked and discovered that they both wanted to try something beyond friendship. They shared their first kiss that night and spent the night in each others’ arms.

Over a year later we got engaged at Wintergreen Ski Resort, and another year later we are finalizing details for our Broadway-themed wedding. 🙂

Ok, but how does this once again, lead to the prompt of making the right choices to lead to my spirit?

I have always been a firm believer in things happening for a reason, that your life goes a certain way, or certain things happen because you were meant to be at that place, or with that person, for a reason that may not make itself known to you until much later. When it comes to Derek, I truly believe in my heart that this was the case.

As I tell my single girlfriends all of the time:
“Find a guy, be his best friend, date him, and then marry him!”

Easier said than done, right? In all seriousness though, I think this is why Derek is such a good partner for me: we had a fantastic foundation to start with, he’s seen me through my highs and lows (and still wants to marry me regardless! heh) and he knows me probably the best out of anyone. It’s funny to read back on a past cultivate post about why I adore Big and many of those same reasons still apply:

  • “…he always fulfilled his role as my BAM Big by helping me improve in my dancing.” – Still very true.
  • “He pushes me to be better, but he never does it in a way that makes me feel inferior or inadequate.” – This was originally in reference to dancing, but I feel like he’s done this for me in many areas of my life since then.
  • “Outside of the ballroom, Derek has grown to be one of my top confidants and advice givers.” – #letsbehonest, this is even more so now!
  • “He has this way of helping me think things through, and offers different perspectives (I’m going to chalk it up to his very analytical, computer science mode of thinking).” – Haha, this is even more apparent now that I know even more about his field of expertise, but I very much appreciate and love his nerdiness.
  • “What’s funny is that every time I call Derek on the phone, even to share something dumb and stupid, we end up going into these deep, philosophical, intellectual conversations about life.” – Yes, still very true. I actually cite Big frequently in my classes…I very much appreciate that he’s super “woke” on many things. 😉
  • ” I love the fact that I can act silly with him one minute and then talk about the meaning of life in the next. It’s like having the best of both worlds in one person!” – At premarital counseling this summer we were asked what we liked most about each other, and Derek looked and me and said that he’s never laughed so much in his life. I wholeheartedly agree, and keep pitching to him that we should host a YouTube channel of our absurdities but Big argues that no one else would think we’re funny. 😛

In addition, here are two more things that I love about Derek:

  • He allows me to feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable. As relayed in a previous post, for much of my life I felt that I had to parade around as this amazing perfectionist, but not with him – he allows me to let my guard down and talk openly about my biggest fears, which can be scary but also helps me feel safe.
  • With that said, he is ok with my imperfections, and goes the extra mile to help me work on them with more self-awareness and introspection. I spoke at a event yesterday in RVA focused on self-love and healthy relationships in terms of what constitutes a truly loving relationship. I can honestly say that I feel very fortunate to have found that with Derek.

And speaking of self-love, this moves me to Part II of this post, which again aligns with the V-Day theme based on the prompt I picked:

How can you love yourself better?

Here’s the low-down on the situation: instead of eating an expensive dinner or exchanging gifts with my boo, I stayed in Richmond this weekend to do a lot of reflection and a bit of self-care. I realized that I need to prioritize the things that make me feel alive and happy, such as dancing (speaking of which, I plan to head to Argentine Tango tonight after publishing this post!), singing, and writing. On the other hand, if work is making this too difficult, I need to be ok with it, not crucify myself, and find the strength/energy/motivation to get back out there when I get over said crazy period at work. As I told Derek and my advisor recently, I really am my own worst enemy. I think too hard, I get social anxiety, and I am very sensitive to how others view my performance, which can be so difficult in academia. Although that will indeed take some time and more patience and confidence within myself to face these demons, I am hopeful that this year I will be kinder to myself, that I will take care of myself, and that I will treat myself the way I treat Derek, my friends, my family, my colleagues, and my students. Because as Jonathan Larson’s Rent taught us:


So I’m going to do my best to love myself more this year, whether it is through the various activities that make me happy, through cultivating the relationships that lift me up, or through accepting my imperfections that help keep me grounded. Because in my opinion, being true to yourself is one of many ways to strive toward true #selflove, which in turn leads to stronger love toward others.

Cultivate Catch Up: Healing


No reflection on the past year is worth having without thinking about the bad as well as the good. In my opinion (as this prompt indicates), it is through some of the bad, tough, and challenging stuff that we can emerge more insightful and stronger than ever.

I am fortunate to say that I’ve mostly lived a happy and privileged life with few tragedies and epic downfalls (not to be confused for mistakes, because there’s definitely been plenty of those!). One of those few tragedies, however, touches so many of us but is still insanely difficult, painful, and personal: the loss of a parent.

It’s been over two years now since my dad lost his battle to cancer, and the fact that it’s already been so long is pretty crazy to comprehend in and of itself. And although it has gotten easier (which was a great fear of mine in the past as relayed in this previous post), there are still those moments where I cry thinking about him. But as friends have told me, those episodes have gotten less and less frequent, and I’m happy with what has more frequently taken its place:

  • A song comes on the radio that he loved singing in our basement karaoke setup, or that he’d “practice” at Planet Rose in Atlantic City hours before people showed up, and I would smile.
  • Some random thing would happen during the day and I’d literally laugh out loud because it would make me think of something my dad used to do, or something he would have liked to see.
  • Something would remind me  about the crazy shit my dad said and did when he was alive,  and I would tell these funny stories to my fiance Derek and to my friends – how everyone just laughed and shook their heads because that’s the kind of guy my dad was and how he would always get away with it because he was loved by so many people.

Loved by many. That was my dad. I tell folks about how the funeral home was out the door, jam-packed with people the day of his wake because he was such a special person. And I will admit, it makes me think hard about whether I am as capable of touching as many lives as he did when he was still here with us.

Which bring us to today. And I assure you that I am trying my damned hardest to live the type of life my father would have been proud of.

So how has my dad’s death made me stronger?

It’s made me stronger by giving me more perspective. I’ve realized that our time here on earth is futile, it is finite, and it goes by fast. The only thing that lives beyond our bodies is our legacies, and in my opinion the only way that survives is through your relationships with people.

Which is why I’ve decided to start building my legacy. Not through material goods, publications, and other worldly possessions, but through helping those I love, touching as many lives as possible, and treating folks with the decency and respect we all deserve. For me this is so vitally important. For me this is what keeps me going even when things seem hopeless or difficult – because I know for a fact that without the support network I’ve built around me I would most likely be in a much sadder (and dark) place.

My friend Debbie shared this article with me written by her friend Chris on “The Wisdom of Wounds” and it so profoundly affected me. I’ll start wrapping up this post with an excerpt here:

There is power in your pain. There is wisdom in your wounds. There is love in your loss. Allow these opaque truths to slowly reveal themselves to you. It is a gift to yourself and others.

And if the sorrow is too deep, your condition too demanding and intense for any semblance of hope, do what you can to get through the day and as soon as possible, surround yourself with people who get it, who’ve been there, and who know how to lean in when they listen.

I have the beautiful luxury of having people in my corner who “get it” – and after seeing my father grow ill for months and pass away, I will try everything in my power not to ever take those folks for granted ever again.

Oh, one last thing…

When I went to the grocery store earlier this week to prepare for the snowstorm, I decided to get some flowers to spruce up my kitchen. I came across a bouquet where one of the flowers was unhealthy and torn up:


The girl at the check out counter apologized profusely, and even offered to get me another bouquet, to which I replied:

No that’s ok – imperfections are beautiful.

She dug it, and apparently so did I as I took the bouquet home that very night to display in my kitchen.

The next day, I was happy to see that another flower has blossomed next to my less-than-perfect friend:


Which then made me think of my own relationships, of my friends who “blossomed” next to me just in time before I withered away in my own sadness, doubt, and depression. Without those people in my life who knows where I would have ended up – y’all are definitely a part of my salvation, just as I saved this flower here, and I am eternally grateful to my beautiful flower friends. ❤

PS – I’m sorry if this is a little too hippie-weird for your taste, but the sunshine of those flowers are what keep me going – both in the snowstorm raging outside as well as the future snowstorms that creep into my life and into my heart every once in a while so deal with it. 😉

Cultivate Catch Up: Letting Go


Yikes. I am *so* behind on these posts – it’s been over 10 days since I’ve responded to a prompt. But as this prompt states (from Day 6, I’ve decided to be selective instead of trying to go crazy trying to catch up!) I just need to LET IT GO.

And let it go, I will try.

It’s not like I’ve been sitting around doing nothing for the past 10 days. My spring semester at VCU started this past Tuesday, which brought with it a new crop of students, stressors and responsibilities. Additionally, I was also greeted with some unexpected changes that shifted my focus away from what I needed to get accomplished this week, making things a bit more challenging. With that said, I will the first to admit that I came home earlier this week exhausted and a bit overwhelmed. But through deep breathing and a positive attitude, I am trying my hardest to just take things a day at a time and stay accountable to myself in terms of what I swore I’d do in 2016.

Now that I’m back in RVA I’ve been cooking my Blue Apron meals again, which to my surprise (and delight) is now something that calms me down and is actually fun (the fact that the food is so delicious doesn’t hurt as well!). We already had our first snow day on Friday, which allowed me to organize and clean my house, catch up on some work, and get into a routine of doing yoga before getting ready for bed. Once again, I am trying *really* hard to get into an active, healthy schedule before things get too crazy, in hopes that it might actually stick. We shall see what happens.

Lastly, I did a bit of singing this week to keep me happy and grounded, including my own rendition of “Let It Go” – I’ll just leave this here for y’all to enjoy. 😛

Cultivate Day 2: Time



What would you like to do in your spare time to enjoy it more?

Ah, time. My arch nemesis and best friend. My flirty lover that is either right by my side or running away from me. My inconsistent consistency that in one moment seems to drags on forever and the next moment is suddenly and permanently gone.

When I was a grad student, folks would comment on my seemingly impeccable time management. I would get questions like “How do you do it all?” “Do you even sleep?” “You just get so much done!” etc. etc. I chalked it up to religiously using Toodledo and always being motivated enough to work in large chunks of time in a fast and efficient way.

Fast forward to last spring. And this fall.

And I would argue that I was NOT being impeccable with my time management.

In fact, quite the opposite – I was worn out and stretched *way* too thin (more details are relayed in another post here) and I felt myself “doing constant flips underwater without knowing which way is the surface” as one of my co-workers and good friends so eloquently put it.

Suddenly I felt as if I didn’t have enough time to do anything (including eating some meals, much to my fiance’s concern) and it started impacting my health by way of kidney stones (wouldn’t recommend), anxiety (also not fun), and depression (definitely #nobueno).

Fortunately, I have an amazing support network and a really understanding therapist, and together we worked together to tackle my newfound issues with time.

Among the many tips and suggestions, here are a few that I plan to implement in 2016:

  • Setting aside specific time(s) every day to respond to emails. I’m sick and tired of being an email whore. No more.
  • Tracking how much time tasks actually take to use as documentation if needed. Meaning, if I get asked to do something I can easily show a spreadsheet and say “Sorry, can’t right now, I have enough on my plate.”
  • Accounting for prep time to tasks in addition to the actual task (for example, preparing for meetings with students as well as the meeting itself).
  • Abiding by strict meeting times (for example, I can’t be chatting with students for hours – as much as I love playing catch up and hearing their stories, there’s still work that needs to get done).
  • Adding cushioning to my scheduling (even if it’s just 10-15 minutes!) so I’m not running all around campus. As much as I need the exercise, it’s a bit much.
  • And finally: seeing time spent on activities outside of work such as stretching, meditating, dancing, etc. as necessary and needed.

So in addition to these tips to more efficiently manage my work time, I’m going to better maximize my personal time by doing more fun things that make me happy and feed my soul, spending quality time with friends and family, and oh yeah, planning my upcoming summer wedding. 😉

Cultivate Day 1: Achieve

As mentioned on my Former Blogs page, every year I participate in a blogging challenge to get me thinking about what’s next and in store for me for the new year. I am excited to be participating in Cultivate for another year, which was started by Meredith Shadwill. You can read more about the motivation behind Cultivate on Meredith’s blog here.

And so it begins – I am hoping that I can find at least a little time in the next three weeks to keep up with the prompts. But I digress, and just need to take each day at a time, right? In any case, here is the prompt for Day 1:


My response and mantra for 2016 is this – #gowiththeflow. This mantra/goal can manifest itself in a variety of different ways, but here is how I plan to move forward with it in 2016:

  • I will be ok with making mistakes and letting go of perfectionism;
  • I will remind myself that I can’t please everyone, as long as I remain kind and respectful of others;
  • I will be better about managing uncertainty, especially when it comes to my relationships with others;
  • I will be kinder to myself by setting boundaries in terms of time/energy when it comes to doing tasks for myself and others;
  • I will believe in the best of people, especially those who care about me the most, even if it means being more vulnerable;
  • I will live each day with intentionality while remaining flexible to change; and
  • I will punctuate the good by striving to live with an attitude of gratitude.

Easier said than done, but we will see what happens. Overall I just want to be less anxious and stressed, and to just be healthier and happier. 🙂