Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Happy and You Know It

I like to think that I'm a happy person these days.

Why shouldn't I be?  I have a good job, a wonderful husband, a sweet stepkid, a house of my own, still-married parents, and an amazing circle of friends.  I have money in the bank and all my basic needs are met.  Sure, I go through my sometimes-monthly moodiness and have moments of melancholy (and always adore alliteration), not to mention recent wedding-and-house-buying stress, but for the most part I would say that I'm definitely happy.  At the very least I'm content, and I think that's pretty awesome as well.

It's not that I expect to be happy all the time.  That would actually be boring, not to mention unrealistic.  And obviously, even though I have every reason to be thrilled with life, I'm not always.  It happens.

But I do very much enjoy my happiness.

And, quite frankly, I think I could improve on it.

Mainly, I struggle with the fact that I often let myself get overly upset by the little things.  More specifically, I let myself get overly upset by the little things that I can't control: by the guy who doesn't have his turn signal on but turns anyway, by the client who misses a question that I asked, or by someone not acting exactly how I think they should act.

Coincidentally (or not), I recently read The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin, a stunt book (do something slightly crazy for a year and then write about it in a very clever manner) in which Gretchen spends a year trying every means possible to be happier and more invested in her own (already very pleasant) life.

I recognize that this kind of book is not for everyone.  But I find that I'm actually a sucker for the stunt genre.  I adored The Year of Living Biblically, The Know-It-All, and (of course) Julie and Julia, the book/movie that forever changed my attitude about cooking.  I'm unashamed of my love for the year-long-commitment genre of books.  Maybe it's because I do my own yearly commitment to reading at least 50 books.  Maybe it's because I've always subscribed to the mantra of "you can do anything for a year."  Maybe I just like the fact that I'm not the only person who writes excessively about their daily life, and the fact that some people actually become famous by doing so.

Whatever the case, I completely loved The Happiness Project.  Gretchen dealt with a lot of the same issues I have (or have had).  She's a bit of a control freak.  She's messy.  She's a slight hoarder.  She judges herself for the things she enjoys, and struggles with an innate sense of "I can totally make do without this necessary item."

In her book, Gretchen works her way through 12 months of happiness improvement, focusing each month on a different aspect of her life (kids, friends, husband, work, creativity, money, etc).

While I certainly don't intend to undertake a similar project right now, I do feel like I can improve my own happiness in baby steps, mostly by chilling the fuck out and recognizing that I do not have to (and, quite frankly, should not be allowed to) run the whole world.

So far, it's (kindof) working.

I'm trying very hard not to immediately rant when someone doesn't answer my entire e-mail.  I'm trying not to swan dive into automatic road rage (curse words and middle fingers blazing) when other drivers fail to follow common sense road rules.  I'm trying not to think that I know best about what other people should be doing.  Just because I'm multi-tasking doesn't mean everyone else needs to be.

I'm trying, ultimately, to cut other people some slack.

Is venting fun?  Is feeling superior to the idiotic drivers on the road enjoyable?  Hell yes.  Why else would we do it?  But what I'm wondering is if it is actually worthwhile.  I'm starting to think that, instead of innocently blowing off steam, I'm more likely blowing things out of proportion and giving myself a reason to be upset.  Negativity breeds more negativity, at least for me.  Once I start looking for the bad, I can always find more.  And more.

I'd rather focus on the good.  I'd rather focus on and remember Kaylee's joy of waking up and looking for Easter eggs and of opening her Easter basket rather than fixating on her stubbornness the night before.

Life isn't always going to be good.  There are going to be times when I'm going to be sad, or anxious, or sick, or heart-broken, or any number of negative emotions.  I'm going to be criticized, or be frustrated, or furious.  But while I'm happy, and while I can be happy, I don't see the point in blatantly spoiling it for myself for no good reason.

Definitely a happy day.

I can't tell you I'm going to stop being snarky and sarcastic.  Because I'm not.  And if you consider that to be a character flaw or negative trait, then so be it.  But I consider it to be an inherent part of my personality, and I actually do find happiness in a perfectly-crafted snarky comment, particularly when it makes other people laugh.  My favorite relationships (both fictional and my own) are based on the snarky, witty repartee of two people generally giving each other a hard time.

So, I'm not going to turn into Little Miss Sunshine, but I am going to try to stop bitching quite so much about things that don't really matter in the grand scheme.

And I don't care what Yoda says, because "try" is truly the operative word here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

What's in a Name?

The great debate has been raging: whatever will Ashley do about her last name?

People have asked.  People have told me that they changed my last name in their phones without asking.  People even made out wedding checks to Mark and Ashley Wood, which added an extra step when we deposited them in the bank.  My mom thought I forgot to write "Wood" when I signed the church register this past weekend.  Even my e-mails from Michaels have, over the past few months, gone from "Ashley Jones" to "Ashley Wood" to "Mark Wood" to "Mark Jones" out of either sheer flailing and confused desperation or some strange way of letting me temporarily try out all my available options.

The fact is that I haven't changed it yet.  I couldn't even do so until after we closed on the house (which happened Monday morning, making us officially, terrifyingly, homeowners).

And honestly?  I'm torn.

I changed my name without question the last time around (I don't think my ex would have allowed me to keep my maiden name anyway), and very much regretted it when we eventually divorced and I had to go through the entire process of changing it back to my maiden name (with his "permission," because apparently we still all live in the dark ages of chauvinism where even an ex-husband can continue to dictate a woman's choices).  I changed my driver's license, I changed the name on the car title, I changed my passport, and I changed nearly every single damn thing that had my name on it.  Bank account, apartment lease, e-mails, Facebook account, etc, etc, etc.

It's definitely not that I forsee having to change it back a second time, but the fact remains that I essentially fought to get my maiden name back two years ago when it would have just been easier to keep my married name (as much as I hated it).  Changing it to my new married name feels, strangely, like a betrayal of all that work.  Plus, I like being a Jones.  It took me years to appreciate my incredibly common name, and now I find I'm rather attached to it (and not just literally).

On the other hand, I very much want the acknowledgement that I married the love of my life.  I want to share that extra bit of life that comes from sharing a name.  I want to be a Wood.  It would make most things much easier to simply change my name.  I wouldn't have to be annoyed with the people who assumed I changed my name and address things to "Ashley Wood."  We wouldn't have to explain that yes, we are married even though my last name is different.  Signing cards, etc, would be that much quicker.

But... I still don't want to get rid of Jones.

This would probably be easier if I didn't hate the concept of hyphenated names (for me personally; I don't care what other people choose to do with their names).  Then I could have my name and change it too.

I also wish it didn't matter.  I wish that I didn't feel like keeping my name or changing my name were both somehow a political and/or social statement, in spite of the decision being neither of those things for me.  I wish neither were the "expected" option.  I don't know if that would make my current decision easier, but I might feel less guilty about whatever choice I make.

This also might be the very definition of a first-world problem.

In slightly related news, being referred to as Mark's "wife" remains an incredibly jarring experience.  As does calling him my husband.  It was hard enough getting used to "boyfriend/girlfriend," then "fiance'," but "wife"?  So weird.  It makes me feel instantly old (says the girl who spends most of her free time knitting and crocheting and goes to bed around 9) and very formal.

Names are so strange.  They are deeply personal.  They define, they separate, and they group together.  We attach so much meaning to titles and names and change both according to life changes, how we want to be perceived, and, sometimes, at whim.  I don't know why "wife" sounds so strange to me now, almost ten years after I became a wife for the first time, but it does.  Honestly, it's probably related to the feeling that changing my maiden name again would be a weird betrayal of the work I did to stop being a wife.

In spite of these strange hangups, I love being married.  I love looking at pictures from our wedding day.  I love seeing a ring on Mark's finger, and looking at my own ring.

It's just the words, and the names, that I have a problem with.

It's not even a problem in a bad way.  It's more a problem in that I have to figure out what the words, what the name, means.

What's in a name?  Everything, and nothing, all at once.  In the grand scheme of things, does it matter if I change my name or keep it?  No.  But right now it seems like a bigger decision than buying a house.  In a way, I worked harder for my name and "title" than I did for a house.

What does your name mean to you?  What about your title?

Is the hangup just with me?  This is entirely possible.  But as someone who worked hard to become who I am and to define myself (as well as someone who continually turns over the meaning and intent of words), the threat of any change gives me pause.

The reality is that changing my name, or being a wife, do not change who I essentially am as a person.  They don't change my past.  They don't change my personality.  They don't make me any less of an introvert, or any more of a morning person.  If anything, they add to who I am, never subtracting.  I'm a wife.  I'm a stepmother.  I'm a homeowner.  I'm a project manager.  I'm The Pretty Vintage Girl.  I'm either Jones or Wood or whatever I choose to be.

I'm still me.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Pretty Vintage Wedding

Well, it happened.

We got married!

It was not an elaborate April Fool's prank.  It was not a joke.  It was 100% real and 110% stressful and even, just maybe, 100% worth it.

It's been a long time coming and a very short time planned for.  Even though we got engaged back in July, we really didn't plan any of the actual wedding until the last three months.  While moving.  And buying a house.

No sweat, right?

But it came off beautifully.

The weather (which I had stressed about for weeks) was perfect.  The decorations were set.  The cupcakes (and slightly crooked cake) were made.  My bouquet (which I crocheted myself, because why not?) was finally finished and arranged rearranged to my perfectionist likings.  I had delegated away all the tasks I couldn't handle myself and scheduled my friends to arrive early to keep me calm.

I lost track of how many times I'd said or wished that we'd just eloped.

And yet, at just about 11:00 on Saturday morning, I stood (in full hair, makeup, and wedding dress) holding hands with Mark, and we walked down the "aisle" in my parents' front yard to "Have You Met Miss Jones?".

Now, I can't quite say that the ceremony went off without a hitch.  Because as soon as we got up to the podium and Terry started the ceremony, I had a terrible realization.

... I had forgotten the rings inside.

But, after a brief pause where Mark ran off to fetch the rings and everyone enjoyed a good laugh, we got back underway and the rest proceeded exactly as planned, up to and including us walking out to the Imperial March.

Really, in a wedding where I had put in the extra effort to be sure it was personalized just for us (the crochet bouquet, my custom "Happily Ever After" book pin, the music, and the readings (Pablo Neruda, Neil Gaiman, and a quote from "Serenity"), the fact that I forgot something so important was actually entirely fitting.  I am horrendously forgetful (usually at all the worst times), so I'm far from shocked that in such a carefully planned-out event I forgot something as important as wedding rings.

And now we're married.

And I'm so very happy.

It's not that anything is different.  Our lives haven't suddenly changed.  We're not different (even though we both find it very strange to use the words "husband" and "wife."  We're still the same people, just a bit more legally bound than before.

But I finally had a wedding that I enjoyed, a wedding that I truly wanted to a man who I truly love and who truly loves me.

And that is very nice indeed.  It even makes all the stress and worry and work worth it.

Because I never, ever have to do this again.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Final Countdown

There's only two more full days until I get married.

Two days.

I don't even know how that happened or how it's possible that time has gone this quickly.  I swear we just got engaged the other week.

Two days.

One of my friends asked me the other day how many meltdowns I've had.

And honestly?  Not as many as I might have expected, none at all since almost two weeks ago when Mark and I both admitted to each other that we were freaked out that the other person didn't want to get married.

Quite frankly, we don't want to get married.  We don't.  But we do want to be married.  Those of you who have gone through weddings can surely relate, at least in part, and know that there is most definitely a difference between the two.  Getting married is, simply, a pain in the ass, even when you do truly want to be with your future spouse for the rest of your life and all that nonsense.

But the problem is the process.  The problem is that weddings have gotten out of control.  The problem is  that everything costs way too much money for one little portion of one little day.  The problem is that everyone has an opinion about what you should or should do and who should or shouldn't be invited.

(The problem may also be that I'm a ridiculous perfectionist and therefore made my own bouquet and cupcakes, but that's totally besides the point.)

The problem is not with me or Mark, and that is the one thing keeping me going.  Right now I would give almost anything for it to be 11:00 on Saturday and for it all to be almost over, to be on the very brink of being married to the love of my life.

Part of me wondered, during my momentary crisis a couple weeks ago, if I was sure about all this.

I've been down this road before, after all.  It wasn't great.  It was, actually, one of the worst experiences of my life.  And here I was, ten years later, about to do it all over again?  Was I sure, was I really sure, that this was a good idea?  What if I was making the same mistake again?

But I thought about it.  And wasn't scared of being married.  I know, as much as I can know anything, that I want to be with this guy for all of the foreseeable future.  There's never really been anyone else, in spite of all efforts to the contrary.

No, what I was scared of was that Mark didn't want to be with me, that he would change his mind, realize he'd made a huge mistake.  Because, really, I wouldn't blame him.  I'm damaged goods.  I've been divorced.  I still have significant emotional damage and a tendency to stress-meltdowns.  The fact that I don't drink as much means that I cry a lot more instead.  I post selfies every day and have a ridiculous amount of clothes.  And pins.  And books.  And shoes.

Really, I wouldn't blame him if he decided I wasn't the best idea ever.

But that would be awful.

So do I wish we didn't have to go through this whole wedding thing?  Yes.  Do I wish we would have eloped back on Halloween?  Yes.

And do I want to marry him and risk everything all over again, ten years later?

Oh, yes.  Hell yes.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Long Haul

For this blog, I would just like you to picture me flailing around.

Actually, no.  Don't.  Because I'm getting pretty bored with blogging about my stress levels and the many and various things I have to be stressed about.  Which should seem contradictory, but really?  It's getting dull quickly.

Instead, can we talk about the fact that I'm now officially a "commuter"?  I haven't had to actually commute in nearly ten years, and even that was only for a few short months before I moved to St. Louis with my ex.  After that, I had a 15 minute drive on bad days.  Then it became a 10 minute drive.  Then it became a 6 minute drive, and I thought I had officially won at life.

Now?  It's a half hour each way if the rush hour traffic isn't too bad, if I cut into the bridge traffic as late as possible, if the weather is good, and if no one got in an accident.

Honestly?  As much as I don't want to move back to my old apartment, I do very much miss my six minute drive.

The question is: why do you people do this every day?  How do you do this every day?  I'm barely a month into my new commuting life and I'm kindof tired of it.  Or at least tired of how much gas it takes up.  And how late I get home.  And brake lights.

On the other hand, I'm burning through audiobooks at a much higher speed (an hour a workday, minimum), so I'm looking forward to seeing the boost that gives to my yearly book count.  So it's not all bad.

Really, it's actually not the worst thing ever.  People tend to act like Illinois is a foreign country when it comes to commuting.  Without rush hour traffic, I can make it from St Louis to home in twenty minutes.  I couldn't get to the airport in that time.  Honestly, people, I'm driving over the river, not canoeing.  My commute could be much worse.  It could be an hour each way.  It could involve a canoe.

But instead, I get to listen to books.  Or to music.  Or to nothing.  I get at least a half hour of downtime where I literally can't do anything but drive (or sit in traffic, as the case may be).

The worst part, as in much of life, is the other people.  The other drivers, to be accurate.

It's possible I'm biased from years of torture experience, but St. Louis and Illinois drivers are honestly some of the worst in existence.  Whether it's the inability to understand the simple concept of a turn signal, or that fact that merging is nothing more than a glorified game of chicken, or that traffic will be quite literally backed up for miles merely because someone got pulled over for speeding, or the fact that stop signs often seem to be all but invisible to most people... driving in the St Louis metro area can be challenging at best, and a sometimes-full-contact sport at worst.

But, it's home.  I'd rather live here than anywhere else, and if having our own house means I have to live on the Illinois side of the river and drive a little farther to go to work, then so be it.  Overall, it's worth the tradeoff.  (Or, at least, it will be once the place is actually ours.)

If nothing else, this experience has at least more adequately prepared me for an inevitable Mad-Max-style post-apocalyptic existence.  Lord knows I'd never make it if I stuck with my six-minutes-through-side-roads commute that I had for the past seven years.

Until then, I will ride eternal, shiny and chrome.  (Or, perhaps, shiny and ginger.)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

With Friends Like These

I talked only last week about how awesome my friends are.

Well, this past weekend, they one-upped themselves.

The bitches.

This past weekend was my bachelorette party.  Unlike my previous bachelorette party, this one did not take place the night before I got married, and thank God for that!  Admittedly, I drank a lot less at this party, but I'm also ten years older and now get hangovers after a few glasses of champagne, so the recovery time was greatly appreciated.

I'm pretty sure that some of my friends have been planning my bachelorette party since before I was actually engaged.  I know the planning began in earnest as Mark actually asked me, and once we picked a date, so did they.

It was not your typical bachelorette party.  I didn't wear a tiara or a necklace covered in tiny penises.  I didn't wear a blinking "Bride-to-Be" pin or go bar-hopping til the wee hours of the morning.  Instead, I had a lovely day of adventures and new experiences, specifically catered to what they knew I would enjoy.

And I personally had no idea what to expect.  The entire day was a surprise, with the exception of knowing that the final stop would be a co-ed party with a literary theme (everyone was supposed to dress like a book character).  All I was told was to dress like I normally do for the daytime events and to show up at my chauffeur's house at 10:15 am.  Outside of that, I had absolutely no clue what was going to happen!

Our first stop was afternoon tea at the London Tea Room, where the six of us spent quite a while drinking as many different teas as possible and trying (unsuccessfully) to eat all the amazing sandwiches, scones, and tea cakes.

Then they gave me the clue to the next stop.

I read it, read it again, looked up, and asked, "Are we going to Cabaret?!"

And we were.

They had gotten us amazing seats (apparently bought practically as soon as tickets went on sale), and it was an incredible show with an excellent Emcee.

After the show, I was allowed some "introvert time" before the night-time party, which was just as great as the rest of the day!  And I dressed like Pippi Longstocking.

Everyone was wearing literary costumes, there was champagne and a nacho bar, and my favorite Jack Sparrow impersonator (who turned out to be nerdy as hell) had been hired!

I was maybe a little excited about that.  Maybe.  And I possibly stole his hat for a little bit.  

All in all, I have some really nerdy friends, guys.  And I'm entirely alright with that.

Photos by Carrie Meyer of Insomniac Studios! You can see all the photos that Carrie took here.

Once again, I find myself telling you how incredible my friends are (like you don't already believe me).  I'm not sure how I ever came to deserve a group of girls who takes it upon themselves to give me a perfect day of low-key adventures, but I'm endlessly glad that they consider me to be worth the effort.

In spite of my introvert anxiety over not knowing what to expect or how much I would need to socialize (and in spite of all the rest of the wedding/house stress I'm dealing with), they made it easy for me to have a good time, eat more than enough, forget about some of my stress, and enjoy myself.  I even stayed at the party til 12:30, which is an incredibly rare event indeed.

As much as I enjoyed myself, I don't intend to do this whole bachelorette party thing a third time.  (Mark is stuck with me, for better and for worse.)  But if I had to do it twice, this was definitely the way to go.

Even the hangover the next day was pretty worth it, if only because I got to lay in bed for a few hours instead of go get married.  I guess you figure these things out a little better the second time around.

Still not going to aim for number three, though.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Squad Goals

So.  It's under a month until we get married.

The countdown is on.  The stress is mounting.  Invitations still haven't gone out.  I have literally no idea where the rings are right now.

What else could possibly go wrong?

Don't ask.

(Also don't ask me how unpacking is going.  Unless you want either a 10-minute rant or spontaneous tears with no guarantees of which it will be.)

Basically, Mark is stuck with me because I am never ever ever going to get married again.

My last wedding was almost exactly 10 years ago (though in August instead of April).  I don't know if I was better at wedding planning back then or what, but this has been hell.  I mean, it doesn't help that we're both working full-time, buying a house, and living mostly out of boxes while digging through other boxes for what we need in the new house.  It also doesn't help that the moving timeline was suddenly thrust upon us two months before the wedding, effectively postponing all wedding planning until what is essentially the last minute.

None of this helps.

What does help is my support system.  Obviously, there is Mark (literally the only person I would go through this for).  He keeps me sane.  He doesn't judge me when I cry or meltdown (that I know of).  He designed our invitations.  Most of all, he's always there for me.

And there are my friends, who have been ever-present with suggestions, ideas, and offers of help.  You've heard the phrase, "It takes a village to raise a child"?  Well, this is going to be the village that planned a wedding.

The importance of International Women's Day is not lost on me at all, particularly this month.  I'm well aware that I wouldn't be the person I am today without all the incredible women in my life, and I love that there is an opportunity to celebrate them more specifically than I already try to do.

I wouldn't be as strong or as self-confident without these friends, and I wouldn't have all the amazing role models that are available to me in the various and overlapping forms of mothers and partners and businesswomen and just general badass ladies.  These are women who know who they are, what they want, and are always striving for their goals (and succeeding, or failing, or both).  They step up to the plate and they admit defeat, they rock bad hair days and they look effortlessly glamorous.  Most importantly, they own their lives.  (Most often they are owning their lives while also being mothers and partners and businesswomen and general badass ladies.)

I like to think that they have influenced me in becoming more and more myself and less of the person I thought I needed to be.  I like to think that I'm a little more badass than I might have been had I never gone to that first burlesque show, or never gotten the nerve to go to my first pole dance class.  I know for a fact that I wouldn't have had so many offers of love and support when I got divorced.  I wouldn't have gone to Mexico, or to House on the Rock.  I wouldn't have had a tornado of women come and pack up my entire kitchen when I moved.  I wouldn't have an entire day of surprise bachelorette party antics coming up this weekend.

Basically, I wouldn't have nearly as many friends to help me out when I so desperately need it.

I deeply love and am eternally grateful for the many wonderful women in my life, both today and every single other day.  You help make my life worthwhile and, without you, I'm not sure that I would be marrying the love of my life in under a month.

So thank you, my loves, for everything.