It’s odd the way human beings respond to death. We race to the hospital at the end of the day to catch one final glance, one last hand squeeze. We sit at home worrying, dreading that definitive phone call. We pray and ask countless others to do the same. We make soup, desiring some semblance of normalcy in a life so visibly shaken.

And, at the end of the day, most of these behaviors result from fear – of guilt, of pain, of living one day without someone that you’ve forgotten how or never knew how to live without.

The old Donneian mantra, “No man is an island”, was never truer than in those moments. Because, when you love someone, a part of your soul resides inside of his fragile human frame. Some people carry a fraction large enough to feel their absence after not speaking for 24 hours. Others hold a fingertip’s worth and rise to your consciousness in the stillness before sleep or in the reminder of some shared memory. When you lose someone you love, you don’t just forfeit future experience with that person, you mourn the loss of some small or significant fragment of yourself. A part of yourself that has loved the other person so deeply and fully that it has become part of their identity as well.

This morning, my husband’s family lost Grandpa Panza, Blake’s maternal great-grandfather who lived and loved in ways that one can only hope to speak of in their final goodbyes. I like to think that he was comprised of more love than actual human substance in the end – having his hands held and body hugged in between words that reminded him of this fact. He was a pillar in the community, a man who built a good deal of what you see today in West Haven, raised six children, held grandbabies in his arms, used up goodness knows how many bottles of Witch Hazel to keep his skin looking young, and placed pictures of hundreds of memories around the kitchen walls.

But perhaps the most telling thing about this man’s life was the woman who sat next to him after 72 years. And maybe it’s because I’m more sensitive to it in having just committed my life to someone 9 months ago, but I think the resilience and beauty in that kind of relationship goes beyond the realm of words. If you have someone beside you at the end of 94 years, you’ve got something special. Something really, inhumanly special. 

(Thanks for sharing this picture, MIL. It's so beautiful.)
I suppose we react oddly to death because we put so much value in life. A life well lived is difficult to let go of. A life well loved, even more so. 

I loved getting to know you, Sabino Panza. And for 9 months, I was proud to be your great-granddaughter. You take many fragments with you. 


Blake and I are renewing our vows!

Just kidding.

If you're anything like me, you loved planning your wedding - the colors, the flowers, the dresses, the registry. I love, love, loved it. I loved it so much that I found myself at Style Me Pretty every stinkin day, first for ideas and later to check and recheck those ideas. It was stupid. Really, I went a little insane.

BUT it drew me to the conclusion that every woman should have more than one wedding. To the same man, of course, but say... every five years. I've heard that five years into your marriage you usually have children, and they take precedence and blah, blah, blah. I say to heck with it. You have children so that they can be your ring-bearers and flower girls at the vow renewal. Duh.

Is that selfish? That's because I can be. I don't have any sticky fingers and dirty footprints to clean yet.

In any case, here's what our second wedding is going to look like...

 These dresses for the 'maids. 

These cream-puff things. It will be a dessert-only reception. But with so much dessert that you won't even notice the missing dinner. 

This location for the ceremony

This favor box in Tiffany blue. I will make some kind of cookie to go inside. In five years I will be an excellent baker, among other things.

I want a fresh bouquet of these flowers in my house every single day. 

This reception site. Does it not remind you of the Shire? I'd invite the hobbits. If they looked like Elijah Wood. 

This dress

This cake. I'm almost positive my mom could pull it off. 
Here's your five year heads up, Mom. 

Does it look like there's too much pink? Probably. But if there's one thing I've noticed about guys at a wedding, it's that they don't remember squat. Except maybe how good the Chinese food was. And how much they didn't want to get up and dance in front of every person they know. So go for it. Pink up the whole place. (Yes, that was a pun. How embarrassing.)

And I promise I'll get to the 30 Day Challenge. Soon.


30 Day Challenge

Starting this weekend, I'll be diverging from my typical blogging routine and taking on the "30 Day Challenge", which I've seen on other blogs and loved.

It's about to get personal. (As if it weren't already.)
You will especially enjoy Day 16 and Day 24. 

Day 01- A recent picture of you and 30 interesting facts about yourself
Day 02- The meaning behind your blog name
Day 03- A picture of you and your friends.
Day 04- A habit that you wish you didn’t have
Day 05- Your top stress-relievers.
Day 06- Your first love and first kiss.
Day 07- A picture of someone/something that has had a big impact on you
Day 08- Short term goals for this month and why
Day 09- Something you’re proud of in the past few days.
Day 10- Songs you listen to when you are happy, sad, bored, excited, mad
Day 11- Your favorite art piece.
Day 12- Your dream home/location.
Day 13- The most attractive characteristics in the opposite sex.
Day 14- A picture of you and your family.
Day 15- Put your iPod on shuffle: first 10 songs that play
Day 16- Describe a style that you had 10 years ago.
Day 17- Someone you would want to switch lives with for one day and why.
Day 18- Your thoughts about having children.
Day 19- Upcoming vacation destination(s).
Day 20- Bullet your whole day.
Day 21- A picture of something that makes you happy
Day 22- What makes you different from everyone else.
Day 23- Something you crave a lot.
Day 24- Your most embarrassing moment.
Day 25- What I would find in your bag
Day 26- Favorite shows.
Day 27- Someone who fascinates you and why.
Day 28- A picture of you last year and now, how have you changed since then?

Day 29- What you’d like to be doing in 10 years.
Day 30- What you’ve learned in the last month. 


The Job Search: Part 2

As I'm sure you know by now, it's not easy to get the jobs I want in New York City. A mentor reminded me the other day that I probably wouldn't want it if it did come easy. There's that glass-half-full perspective that I'm struggling for.

In any case, I'm doing all that I can to be prepared, to be informed, and to get a leg up.
Here's what that looks like so far.... 

20 job applications. 1 fellowship application. 1 internship application. Professional photos taken. Business cards ordered. VisualCV posted. Resume(s) edited and re-edited. Creative cover letter, complete. Meetings set up. Contacts contacted for PR contacts (say that 10 times fast). Books purchased. Books read. Cookies baked and bums kissed.

Just kidding about that last one. There will be no bum kissing from this girl - that's where I draw the line. Cookies might be a good idea, though.

In all seriousness, it's been tough. And those job applications? Those are just preliminary. I don't start seriously applying until March. But I want this, and I'm trusting God's direction on it. I've said it before - if I'd relied on my own strength I would be doing my student teaching right now. And hating it. Because I am not cut out to be a teacher. I'm just not nice enough. I know you think I'm kidding, but I'm a fairly intolerant person when it comes to people making stupid mistakes. And it's a kid's job to make stupid mistakes. It took a serious head-turn for me to realize the wrong reasons for my decision and the power in God's direction.

At the end of my college career, I can be sure of a few things that will work their way into my future: I married young and well, I love the God who leads me, I have a strong support system, and I am crazy-passionate about Public Relations. I'm excited about the challenge that the field offers and I know I can be successful in it. Public Relations demands creative thought every day - it demands all of the insight required of Advertising and Marketing, but it also requires persuasion and the ability to communicate at a higher level. I won't say any more than that, because we might end up with a book rather than a blog post, but I can rest assured that this path that is winding and steep is the right path.

Now to the good part: Rebekah's pictures. This friend and photographer took only 24 hours to get these lovelies to me. Here's just a sample...

You can also check out my updated VisualCV here: http://www.visualcv.com/p0ak144
If you have trouble opening the webpage, please let know!


Presidents Day Weekend

We got some teasingly warm weather this weekend, followed by freezing winds and now a dusting of snow as I'm on my way back to the gym, work and classes. But I'm hanging on, because the first day of spring is only a month away. Visions of Easter dresses and daffodils are dancing through my head.

A weekend update from the Walkers:

1. Rachel and I went out to lunch on Friday, then headed up to Gloucester to check out a potential reception site for her wedding. Note to those of you planning a wedding: Massachusetts has some incredibly beautiful wedding locations. Um, hello? The views? Don't even get me started. 

2. Tavern in the Square in Salem. Again. Free dessert because we had yet another slow waiter. See, kids? Patience does pay off. In CAKE. 
3. Hitting the town (as in, our lazy, crazy town) on Friday night with Melissa and Carissa. Having a glass of wine and enjoying the company of old friends. 
4. Blake got to stay home and watch the end of the UConn game in solitude. And loved it. Aside from the fact that they lost. Hey, maybe my presence IS good luck. 
5. Blake finally got that membership to the local gym. He used it and made some friends playing basketball. Adult friends. The Walkers are officially grown up. 
6. I jumped in on some Wall Street Exodus meetings on Saturday during the day, and I'm continually in awe of the support, growth and God's guidance in the project. I'll let you know when the website is fully developed, because it's worth checking out! 
7. My good friend Rebekah Frangipane took some professional head shots for me this weekend. She's amazingly talented, so I wasn't surprised that they came out so well. More on that later. Also, feel free to mock me getting professional head shots. I'm already numb to it because of all the mocking I got from my sister. 
8. We got lost (mentally) in a store closing sale at Borders. It was chaos. Wonderful, beautiful chaos amidst a sea of books at 20-40% off. I stood in line for at least 30 minutes to buy 3 books. Worth it. 
9. We had fondue again. No, really, it's that good. This time we shared the wealth with our friends Heather and Brian, and had the pleasure of partaking in "Heather's Signature Salad". It was so good, I think I'm going to keep the recipe a secret. Also, I can't remember what was in it. But take my word for it: delish. 

10. I made mango smoothies and pretended it was summer. They weren't that good, but the glass made me feel fancy. 

11. Blake and I like to play this game called, "How Fat Will Stevie Be When She's Pregnant". Don't worry, this is not a sign of things to come in the near future (unless God has other plans). But it's a super-fun game. Also, the stomach makes a nice book-rest. 

12. You know what happens when your husband comes from a family of five boys? Cereal fever. There are two of us. We do not need five boxes of cereal. 

 Happy Presidents Day! 
Maybe I'll tell you how much I love John Adams later, even though I know that this day is technically only commemorating the lives of Washington and Lincoln. Adams did some good stuff, too. Plus he's got one heck of a miniseries that is now on DVD for $40



As the sun begins to set behind me and a warm glow permeates our bedroom in heavenly orange light, I am at peace. I am at a rare, untainted peace that only comes when the dishes are put away, when there are stacks of unread magazines to be torn through on a lazy night, when the homework is near completion and when there is a satisfactory number of job applications under my belt. It's a peace derived from productivity.

But it's also a peace that exudes from the people around me - from my kindred spirits who help me shake things off and stay focused. From my girls who remind me, daily, that life is beautiful and crazy and unexpected. From my husband who knows and loves me through it all.

Today at lunch with a friend, we talked about our lives, our passions, our dreams. And as hearts poured over turkey paninis, I couldn't help but just stare at this girl that I love so dearly and take in that moment. I'm trying my darnedest to take in every single second of this year, because I don't have a clue where I'll be in three months (though I know where I want to be). I want to be able to hold on to it all - to call up these friends like I did today and make last minute plans for 10:30 at night. But, in all likelihood, we'll soon be in different states on different schedules, taking more steps toward those dreams that we'd talked about over tea and sugar cookies from a box. Eventually, we'll have babies that need us home and 10:30 outings will be more of a rarity than the norm. And it will be good. It will be beautiful in its own right.

Right now, though, I'm loving these moments of peace and silence that are unique to this time in my life. I will drink in 55 degree days of February and lose myself in Victorian literature. I'll escape to Boston for a day. I'll hug my husband enough to drive him crazy in that hour when my school day has ended and he has yet to finish his last emails of the work day. I will embrace this city of weirdness that we have come to call home. And you better believe I'll be there when my girls need an extra eye on wedding details.

We've had a good eight months, us Walkers. I've had a good 3 1/2 years. And in the next week when I'm spread thin and looking like it, I'll remember the peace. Because it's worth it.

Some past moments. 


Valentine's Day

We hope your Love Day was just as lovely!

Special Thanks To:
FIL: for my necklace. 
Blake: for my desk, flowers and going out to get more meat when we realized that the stuff we bought was still frozen.
Grandmum and Grandpa: for our sweet card.
Our Fondue Pot: for the best meal we've ever made. 


The Weekend Recap

It's that time again... time for The Weekend Recap!


1. Driving to the Gordon gym on a non-school day.
2. Shopping with Rachel Strasner.
3. Having Rachel Strasner convince me that I should buy the ring and belt that I'm only entertaining the thought of buying. That's what girlfriends are for.

4. Modeling bridesmaid dresses for (you guessed it) Rachel Strasner.
5. Homemade pizzas at Andrew's house. It's amazing how many people you can feed with 4 pizzas when the toppings are 4 inches thick.
6. Shrimp/onion/mozzarella/ricotta pizza? Ate half of it.
7. Listening to the laughter of friends. 

8. Waking up early and making oatmeal pancakes.
       S: "I made pancakes!"
       B: "Oh!"
       S: "They're oatmeal!"
       B: "Oh?"
       He's wary of trying new recipes. And married the queen of recipe experimentation.
9. Late afternoon coffee with Heather and Brian. We love them in the whole, let's-still-meet-for-coffee-when-we-have-grandchildren sort of way.

10. Getting my Valentine's Day gift 2 days early... It's a desk! And if you think Blake is hugely lame for buying me a desk for Valentine's Day, think again. I've been wanting that baby for FOREVER. Or really more like 6 months, which is also a long time.

11. Watching Blake put the desk together. He sticks his tongue out when he's concentrating, which is pretty cute. And he wouldn't let me help. Points for chivalry.
12. Waking up early to finish my art studying. Downside: the second-wind to my fatigue then made me fall asleep right before we should have left for church.
13. Huck Finn, the Disney movie. Pajamas. Eggs, easy-over.
14. Sales at Target. Blake's enthusiasm for these sales.

15. Pre-Valentine's Dinner at Joe's American Bar and Grill. Amazing Chicken Piccata. Downside: the world's worst waiter. Even if it was his first day, the guy was a sad, apathetic mess.

16. Oh, wait. That apathetic waiter gave me a rose. He said, and I quote: "I am required to give you this." For the sake of my own pride, I'm going to assume that he felt awkward giving a rose to some other guy's wife. Pretty rose, though.

17. UConn vs. Providence in Storrs, CT. If you were there and heard some lunatic screaming "SHABAZZ!" at the top of their lungs, it might have been me. If you saw some girl leaning over to ask the guy next to her 10 million ridiculous questions unrelated to basketball throughout the game, that might have been me, too. I get chatty when I'm excited.
18. Driving home on the dark, winding roads of northern CT while singing along to throwbacks on the radio. That was definitely me.

And what does every Monday need? A little bit of love. 
(more on that later)



"Perfectionist" - unlike a backhanded compliment - often strikes me as a backhanded (or fronthanded? Is that possible?) insult. Because when someone calls you a perfectionist there is a sense of pride that comes with it. A sense of, "Yeah, I strive for perfection. What's wrong with that? There are worse things."

A few years ago I read, The Pursuit of Perfect by Tal Ben-Shahar, which diagnoses perfectionism not as a motivational force, but as a limiting frame of mind that manifests itself most fully in continual dissatisfaction. There is a distinct difference between perfectionism and healthy drive, and that disparity has made a world of difference in this perpetually-offending perfectionist's life.

Gordon College has a skilled group of counselors whose services are free to students. And let me make this clear: though these counselors do deal with issues of life and death, they are more regularly employed as listeners - as third parties who approach your problems with no bias and are not adversely effected by your excess baggage. In the autumn of 2009, a series of events (internship, rigorous academic program, engagement, etc.) left me stressed and searching for some sphere of control. One afternoon I opened my closet to a mess of clothes that made me physically ill. So I signed up for a session with Reid.

Reid was great. Though I normally dislike the idea of sharing my feelings and problems with a total stranger, I appreciated his separation from these feelings and problems. I liked that he listened. I liked that he didn't want to medicate me. I liked that he didn't ask me to come again, leaving it up to my judgment and not blowing up the issue.

And I didn't go again. Because when I left, Reid said (among maybe 5 other words I let him get in edgewise) something to the effect of, "I don't medicate for this because you will become frustrated with your inability to function at the level you function at now."

I don't want to be apathetic. I don't want to make the mistake of substituting false joy for real and momentary pain. I don't want to rely more on a temporary solution than on a God who created me with all of my talents and imperfections. This is not to say that there are not disorders and diseases that should be medicated - there absolutely are. But perfectionism is not full-blown OCD, it is a disorder that is remedied with constant reminders that life is broken, and that you are part of that.

I still like things clean. I still like my water filtered. I still want my clothes folded, the dishes put away and the toothpaste to be in its place. I don't like lint on the rug and the bed looks better if it's made. But on days when these daily concerns become large enough to cloud my perspective, God usually reminds me of how imperfect I and my surroundings truly are. He shows us something in our path that is better and more fulfilling.

On those days I will hurriedly read the news from my phone during wall-sits at the gym. I will eat lunch at the conference table at work or save thirty minutes to meet with a friend. I will call in to the nurse, admitting that I have been defeated by my cold. I will eat one too many dark chocolates and leave the dishes in the sink. I will accept that, despite all of our idiosyncrasies and failures, life is far too beautiful to spend in the pursuit of "perfect".



WAAHHH! I grew something!

Well, Dan planted something and Blake and I shared watering duty. But it grew under my roof. With my help. And it's still alive.

The bad news: we waited for a month for the little guy to bloom, and when he did, it smelled like death. Like something was seriously rotting. I smelled it for the first time when I was lying on the bed doing some homework. I was pretty sure I'd showered that morning, so I went looking for the source. It was Plant. All that hard work, and this is how he repays us?


Super Bowl XLV Weekend

When I woke up this morning, there were birds singing outside our window. BIRDS. It sounded much like what I imagine the cheering in the Packers' locker room sounded like last night - a noise of ultimate triumph, the promise of a much-needed break. And with the beginning of what we can only hope is the snow's gentle farewell, visions of beach towels and long sunset walks are filling my daydreams. You tell 'em, Punxsutawney Phil.

Some Super Bowl weekend highlights...

1. Candles in the bathroom.
2. Valentine's Day shopping with my Mother-in-Law.
3. Changing a tire without completely losing our cool.
4. Shrimp Scampi Pizza.
5. Going to see "The King's Speech" with Jillian and Aaron.
6. Addressing cards for the holiday.
7. UConn's win against Seton Hall.
8. Watching the snow melt.
9. Making football brownies.

10. Grandaddy's birthday.
11. My mother's gift of Jet-Puffed Mallow Bites.
12. Watching our flowers bloom. (I made something grow! For real!)

13. Super Bowl at the Walker's, where the highlight was most certainly the nachos. 
14. Sleepy mornings.
15. Free laundry.
16. Making it home without any more car problems.



I believe that there's an essence (for lack of a better word) to this life that continuously hangs above our everyday awareness - an essence that is good, and satisfying, and more full of the understanding of God's grace and providence than what we experience in the pedestrian. And sometimes, when we need it most, we are lifted to that place to be reminded of how very small and yet how very loved we truly are. 

I'm in that place today. 

I grew up among people who loved each other so fully that the words often became trivial, lacking the power that those four letters, in a perfect world, should have. "Love" is what we say before bed, before hanging up the phone, before going away on a trip. Now I'm realizing that we know our place in the palm of God's hand when love moves past speech. At the end of the aisle, when my father gave me away, I told him that I love him - and I told him in a way that left my heart stamped by beautiful memory because it was so real. At the end of a week that could not seem to go right, I told my husband that I love him, because God's grace provided me with a man that I care for beyond all reason and don't deserve in the least. In the palm of God's hand, we are safe. In the palm of God's hand, we are loved. And in weeks that raise us up beyond the everyday, we can rest in the shadow of His staggeringly real promise.

With this in mind, I have a new appreciation - for the things I have and the things I don't have. For the people who love me and the people I love. For the God who will not let me go. For deep belly laughs and good long cries. For sleepy morning faces, hand holding and knowing looks. For watching little ones grow up and for being there in the moments of silence. For shoulders to lean on, kisses and back rubs. For the little ways we love each other, and the times when we realize what love really means. 


Etsy Wish List

I'll admit it: in the past, Valentine's Day hasn't been my favorite. And not in the cliched "I don't believe in Hallmark holidays" kind of way. I know that it's a real holiday commemorating a few Christian martyrs by the name of Valentine, and that the day is celebrated with agreeable undertones of love, affection, and all of the warm fuzzies that come with a relationship. It's an appropriate time to remind the ones you love that you do, in fact, love them. I have no reason to be jaded. It's a lovely day.

But, no matter the circumstance, Valentine's Day has always been a day much like any other. And this year, I've decided that this is capital "L" Lame. We're married. We love each other. 7 1/2 months ago we confessed this love in front of over 150 family and friends. And if I can find one more reason to get dressed up, decorate the house, send mail and eat sugar, (by George!) I think I will.

We have reservations for the night of February 14th. We've decorated, albeit conservatively. We made cookies and used our heart-shaped cookie cutters. We plan on creating and sending out letters in the spirit of the day. I have something in mind for Blake, and tonight I scoured Etsy for the best steals of the season. Guys, if you're looking for something to buy your girlfriend/fiance/wife and girls, if you're looking for something to add to your own wish list, here are some options...


Snow Day(s)

I woke this morning to a crisp whiteness peeking through our bedroom window - a sight not unfamiliar to New Englanders who have seen more snow this winter than we thought meteorologically possible. And I can't say that I was pleased because, despite my highest hopes, I did not receive the text message/email/voicemail combo from Gordon College Security that would assure me of snow's auspicious intentions in removing the obligation of school.

So I poured myself a cup of coffee, got myself dressed and kept my phone on full-volume, trusting that Gordon would come to its senses, look outside and take proper precautions for our safety. I even skipped the gym, not willing to risk the drive if school were to be cancelled anyway. Alas, at 10:30 there was still no cancellation, so I donned my hat, scarf and gloves (which all match, and though I love them, I'm a little embarrassed to be "that girl").

Now, let me tell you a little story about our car. If I speak to you daily you can skip this part, because I told this spiel yesterday...

One. On the way back from Florida, our gas gage started to flake out, telling us that we had no gas when we had just filled the tank. While annoying, it does return to normal functioning every once in a while, allowing a quick reminder of how close we are to empty.
Two. Last week after a Stop & Shop run, the trunk refused to latch. The car dutifully reminds us when we begin driving that the trunk is open. Also annoying, but, though we live in a city that has more potholes than actual pavement, the trunk hasn't blown open...yet.
Three. Two days ago we went out to our car and discovered that someone had taken out our side mirror - leaving wires exposed and the mirror in about 15 pieces, 12 feet away. No note. Nothing. Just a damaged car and a wounded pride as I sadly gathered all the pieces.

If you're not all feeling sorry for me yet, here's the worst part: I drove to school in a blizzard, with a car that makes merging onto the highway nearly impossible and roads that made even 15 mph questionable. Sad, sad little Stevie making her way to class with her matching hat, scarf and gloves, sending up prayers for safety and seriously considering how to escape the myriad of collisions running through her mind.

I made it to school, only to find that school had been cancelled for the next TWO DAYS.
Joy, yes joy - but also a little bit of frustration that I had been devoted enough to my studies to risk my life for them, only to have my self-sacrifice rebuffed by a last-minute change of plans.

Today's Discoveries:
1. I have the reflexes of a cat. No, really. I avoided many a head-on collision today. You know the stories about the mothers who lift houses off of their children because of a sudden rush of adrenaline? Today I was one of those mothers, protecting my poor, damaged car.
2. Mothers cure anxiety. My mom talked to me during my near-freak-out on the way home, and I lived to speak of it.
3. Why do we live here in the winter? BIRDS are smarter than we are, people. Let's all fly to Florida.

4. Betty Crocker makes a mean sugar cookie. And baking is a perfectly acceptable pastime for snowy afternoon. As is blogging.