marjorie ellen

I look like my grammy.

I have heard that countless times in my life, and as I grow older, I hear it more frequently. I have her eyes especially, of which I am inordinately proud.

I like to think though, that alongside her physical contribution to my makeup, she also passed along a few of her spiritual and moral strengths. That her donation to my person was more than DNA and in the 18 short years I knew her, her emotional legacy also helped to form and shape me.

Her grace.
Her strength & stead-fastedness in the face of adversity.
Her fierce independence streak.
Her absolute style, leopard print and all.
Her will to keep moving forward and learning, exploring, becoming.
Her appreciation for beauty in the small and unexpected thing.
How she knew how to love someone in the exact way they needed it.

Sometimes my grief feels fresh and new; I feel bowed by my sorrow at her passing. Especially as I grow older and begin to establish myself as a woman, I often find myself wishing I could just talk to her about…everything. Ask her for advice or a story on how she did it, how she stood strong as a pillar and didn’t crumble when things felt overwhelming and impossible. i feel like she should be just a phone call away. The unfairness of it can be debilitating at times: why was this woman taken, this woman who was such a strong guide and could have helped so much? She stands in my mind’s eye as timeless, an unchanging example of strength and ability.

And aside from wanting her help, I wish that now I could know her as a fellow woman. There is so much I didn’t understand about her when I was a teenager, so many things I didn’t even know enough to ask her. Even now my mother will mention something wonderful and unexpected about her, something I want nothing more than to talk to her about. I wish she could tell me stories from her youth and beyond, wish she could laugh at my mishaps and meet my boyfriend. There are jokes I didn’t understand before, heartaches we can’t share, concepts I couldn’t even begin to fathom. I wish I could talk to her about those Kahlil Gibran books she gave me, or introduce her to Pablo Neruda, or discuss Joseph Campbell. I want to pick her brain about color theory and which is the best hardware store and what California was like and maybe take a trip with her there. i wish I had more pictures with her, but then again, that was before the age of the smartphone with it’s built-in camera.

I remember the last birthday dinner I had with her. We were eating at my favorite German restaurant, next to the fireplace, very intimate , and she ordered a glass of wine to go with her meal. Then she asked if I was old enough to drink yet. Only seventeen, I remember yearning for the day I could join her in a glass of wine over dinner. I was so excited by the prospect. I like to think that if she were still alive, we would go out to dinner together just because, order a bottle (or two) of wine and sit and talk, or go see the newest exhibit at the city museum. Maybe we’d make sure to see the symphony’s next concert. I feel she would like me as a person, and she would be my friend. I don’t know, and that’s as sad as anything.

The anniversary of her passing is still a month away, almost 8 years since she surprised us. Of course who knows who I might have become if she had lived another decade, so no one can say definitively what would have been. I only know I’ve changed and grown so much since then, and even though she wasn’t here for it, I credit so much of who I’ve become to her influence and her example. I feel like I’ve left behind some of the silliness of my youth. Not the good kind that keeps you laughing, the absurd kind that makes you cry. I’ve cast aside quite a bit of the desperation that defined so much of my adolescence. I have accomplished things I didn’t think I could. I try to move through life with her same grace and elegance, and I like to think I keep an open mind in regards to other perspectives. The biggest part of her legacy I carry with me was her strength: strength of character, of principle, of belief, and a complete accommodation and resiliency to whatever came her way. I hope to emulate that. I hope to live in that and pass that to other women in my own time: we are not weak and we can follow whatever dreams we want, because we are able.

I’m not saying she was perfect. I’m sure the passage of time has blunted some of the more frustrating bits, like the time I wanted to quit the family business because she was “being unfair”. And I’m willing to bet there are things she did I would absolutely not agree with, behaviors I wouldn’t condone. I try to remember that she was human, that she had her faults, just like the rest of us. I bet she got mad, I bet she said things she regretted, and I bet there’s a lot more she wanted to accomplish before she left. But I still mourn that there was such a woman as she, a strong, brave, courageous, accomplished, thoughtful, mighty lion of a woman and that she has left our midst. So whenever someone mentions our similarities, I can only smile and say thank you, because there’s no higher compliment to me.

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An Overflowing Cup

There is so much I want to write about. So much to catch up on from the last few weeks of silence: completing the purchase of my first home (!!), navigating the first five weeks of intense New Girl training, a knee injury I was sure would be my downfall, and finally, surviving the first round of cuts in derby.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude, so incredibly thankful for the things that have happened in my life (Also, a bit stressed). I have worked, planned, saved, stretched, skated and sacrificed, all in the pursuit of two very different dreams. And when they BOTH became possibilities literally on the SAME DAY, I knew I was living under a blessed (rhymes with stressed) star.

As I’m not being too subtle about it, let’s just address the stress and have done with it. Since I have tried hard to maintain a chronicle of the different stages of both dreams, I don’t expect it is much of a surprise to hear that these past five or six weeks weren’t all rosebuds and rainbows. I don’t really want to relive the stress in detail, because then the journey becomes more negative than positive, but I do think it’s important to acknowledge its existence. I’m still trying to recover from the very real physical consequences of that much cortisol flooding my system for so long, and I’m trying hard to reestablish my workout and eating routines. I do not like chaos, and that seems to describe most aptly the last few weeks. I am a creature of order and routine: I have always been a person adverse to change.

BUT. I have been amazed, astounded really, at how a little hard work in your life can yield such fruitful results. I don’t know how or why I lived my whole life in such a state of laziness, because this whole “accomplishing things” kick I’m on is pretty damn awesome. While positivity can sometimes be impossible (especially in the face of a title company or a bench of evaluators), making sure I always did what needed to do was the key to surviving and mastering these challenges.

Because that’s what dreams are: challenges. They aren’t easy or for the faint of heart. There were so many hurdles, every day, that needed to be faced head on. Making the best eating choices. Choosing Pilates over thrifting. Getting together the W-2s and tax returns from the last 3 years. Facilitating a monetary gift. Making your dreams come true is something you have to do EVERY DAY. It wasn’t the one moment I signed my name (or rather, the eighty times I signed my name), and it wasn’t Monday night’s evaluation. It was every time I laced up my skates or did a squat pyramid. It was saying “no” to shopping sprees and “yes” to more money in the savings account. Our daily choices are what get us there. One step on a very long road is still progress.

This last weekend was very very full and while I felt overwhelmed at times, there was still a layer of gratitude blanketing it. Sure, packing up and moving is no one’s idea of fun, but I had so many people there to help me, people who love me and were only excited and proud of me. It didn’t take me nearly as long as I thought it would to get out of that tiny space, and the house I thought was smaller than I remembered turned out to be enormous compared to my tiny, apartment-sized furniture.

Leaving the apartment was a surreal moment. As everything finally went out the door, I turned around and felt like surely two whole years couldn’t have passed since I first walked into that place. I was not sad to leave it behind (who could be, moving to this fantastic house?) but I had lived a very good life in that apartment. My time there was sweet and full of nothing but good memories; memories I will carry with me for a long, long time. So saying goodbye was bittersweet.

Finally buying a house that satisfies so much of my wish list is only half the magic that is my life these days. Of course, what has dominated my blog since October? I don’t think i need to tell you how much derby has come to mean to me. It represents a side of myself I didn’t know was there: a bookworm who could become an athlete. I have worked hard and learned discipline and accomplished things

More than a few people have said “I remember when you saw the first bout, and now look at you!”. It makes me smile and I get a little mooshy inside when I think about how excited and inspired I was, seeing these amazing women. Now, I get to skate alongside them (practice only, really). And while I am not yet a league member, I am so much further than I ever thought I could be in such a short time.

We had our first round of cuts this past week, and I wasn’t really nervous about them until I was on my way to the warehouse. I think most of that was due to the fact that I had just spent the entire weekend moving, and my heart and mind were playing in my new house still. But once there, the nerves came back quick and fast. The first portion was identical to the tryout, and I didn’t do NEARLY as well as i would have wanted to.

i injured my knee two weeks ago, and don’t ask me how it happened–I woke up one morning and it was inflamed and painful. There was the constant feeling of needing to pop it. My chiropractor confirmed that the kneecap was out of place and was due to an over-developed quad muscle. Yes, my muscles are so hardcore that now they are PULLING MY BONES OUT OF PLACE. Well, let’s not be dramatic about it. (Even though that’s what’s happening). I had kinda slacked off on keeping all my other leg muscles strong as I kept skating, and it cost me quite a few points during my evaluation. I couldn’t do the falls right (or rather, the recoveries) because my knee didn’t want to hold my weight when I needed it to, so I looked like a girl who just fell down a lot. But luckily, I did well enough on the second part to survive the first round of eliminations. I know I didn’t look like a rockstar or anything, but I take comfort in the fact that my eval scores aren’t really indicative of my abilities–just an injured knee.

My friend Theresa and I began our Level 1 classes together last October, and I remember some of our conversations riding home about what we wanted derby to be in our lives, and what kind of timeline we were working with. She was ok with taking a year or so to really learn it, but I was determined to get in at my first tryout. Well, I wanted it badly, and was afraid it would just end up being another disappointment. It is incredible to me that eight months later, this crazy ride is still going and the thing I had hoped for most is the thing that is happening to me.

My tagline, “She turned her can’ts into “cans” and her dreams into plans” has never felt more appropriate in MY LIFE. A month or so ago I mentioned that I was overcome with happiness and satisfaction with myself because I had managed to accomplish something. Today that has never felt more true. Today i am bowed over with gratitude and pride and humbleness and determination and love; love for the life that is unfolding before me. Thank you for coming this far with me. I am so excited for what’s next.

Tips From A First-Time Homebuyer

DO

-Hire an agent you can talk to. Make sure you’re not afraid to communicate HONESTLY with them about your feelings about a house. It isn’t their house so their feelings won’t get hurt if you voice a complaint or concern. You are under no obligation to like a house just because they show it to you. After all, you’re the one paying the mortgage for 30 years, not them.

-Trust your gut. Your first instincts are usually the best. Research has shown (read Jonah Lehrer) how much our subconscious picks up on things before we’re ever aware—and you shouldn’t discount your first impressions. If you feel like you just couldn’t work with that layout, trust that eventually it’ll drive you nuts.

-Take your time through a house. Even after searching for 7 or 8 months, I would still forget major details of a house only a few hours later. Eventually I learned that it’s a great idea to walk through the house for first impressions, but then go back over and start paying attention to things that would affect my overall enjoyment of living there: Where were the entrances to the house? How tall were the ceilings? Were they popcorn ceilings? Was there a linen closet? A hall closet? Did all-tile floors really bother me that much (yes!) Were there windows in every room? Because you only get two chances to look at the house before you move in: the initial showing, then inspection. There are so many things I wanted to remember about the house that I couldn’t. This is where PICTURE-TAKING is so important. I wish I had done more of that.

-Drive around the neighborhood a bit to get a feeling for where you’ll be living. Are there lots of big dogs? How many cars does each house have? Are there lots of big security gates? How close to major roads is this house–will there traffic noise? I used Google Earth/Google maps a lot to “explore” each neighborhood before I’d go look at a place. It helped give me a feel for somewhere before I’d even get in the car.

-Understand what things are the most important to you—what will you ACTUALLY have a need for? For me, I knew I had to have a yard big enough for a garden and chickens, as I want to begin my journey into sustainable living options. I looked at several great houses with backyards that simply wouldn’t work. There is nothing like living in 400 square feet for two years to give you an idea of what it is you NEED versus what you WANT. For example: A large dining room would be nice, but the reality is that I don’t have too many people over, and rarely eat at the table. However, I DO like to leave my sewing machine out as I work on a project, but my cats love to play in the fabric, so a sewing room/second bedroom was a must. It is super important to understand & to be honest with yourself about what’s necessary and what isn’t.

-COMPLETELY understand the requirements of any loan you use. I made the mistake of skimming over the basics, and offered to pay closing costs because I thought they were covered in my bond program. Turns out they weren’t, and it almost became a deal-breaker. If I had understood exactly how I was going to finance this rodeo, I may have been a bit more cautious and willing to negotiate. Explore all your options with your lender, and don’t be afraid to ask him to work for you. Believe me, they’re getting paid for it.

-Be open to a house you didn’t expect. My house is only 1000 square feet, something I wouldn’t have considered looking at when I first started my house search, and yet it turned out to be the best decision: I don’t have to buy a ton of furniture for it, and it still feels enormous! Sometimes the homes that are the best fit are the ones we didn’t imagine. Don’t let a lack of granite countertops or a garden tub be a deal-breaker–instead, look at the overall structure: open plan vs several walls, galley kitchen vs open, exposed brick or smooth walls.

-Understand that there WILL be bumps in the road. Even on the day of closing, I still heard “There’s a problem.” It was a problem resolved easily enough (patience), but it was still stressful and frustrating. The key to managing this stress is to take it one day at a time. When I first put an offer on the house, I knew there would be several weeks of stress ahead, and I felt overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork and obligation coming my way. By dealing with TODAY, and that day ONLY, I ended up saving my sanity, and getting the house, even when both felt impossible.

DON’T

-Try to talk yourself into liking a house. If you get bad juju from the house, it’s not going to go away. I backed out of several offers because I felt I should like the house, not that I actually did. This goes back to understanding what you want vs. what you need.

-Assume everyone else knows what is going on. Everyone is working for YOU; YOU are the ringleader. It is super important that you ask questions and keep on top of things. Don’t be afraid to check up on your lender—is he getting your stuff turned in on time? What does he need from you? What might cause problems down the road? Even if you think your realtor and lender are talking, it’s better to CC: them on everything. Who cares if they hear it twice? It keeps everyone in the loop and things are cleared up quicker.

-Accept the first thing you find. This means looking at more than one house, calling more than one insurance broker, getting pre-qualified letters from more than one lender. The likelihood of you finding the best deal with your first phone call is small, so don’t be afraid to say “No thank you”.

-Hold back on an offer. I put six or seven offers out there before I finally lucked out. I offer this advice with a caveat, because the market here in Austin underwent transition while I was looking. At first it was a buyer’s market: several good homes available, not too many buyers. Then with the new year it flipped and suddenly there were more buyers than homes. Each home I wanted to look at was usually under contract within a day or so of being posted, sometimes sooner. So if I liked something, I had to submit an offer right away.

-Be afraid to voice your concerns. If you feel something’s not right, you don’t trust someone, or there’s a nagging feeling that you can’t quite overcome, TRUST IT. Say something to someone, call out the BS. This is YOUR party, and YOU are paying for it, so make sure it’s everything YOU want.

The Last Sunday

I close on my house the day after tomorrow. The DAY. after. TOMORROW.

That seems so unreal, so impossible. How can this actually be happening?

Since Thursday evening I have been living in a (very stressful) state of high alert. There was an unexpected issue with my financing that, while resolvable, was enough to send me into “panic mode”. I spent Friday & Saturday taking care of it, and this entire weekend praying it is all worked out by closing time Tuesday.

But this is Sunday, and today, I can’t do anything about it. It is completely out of my hands and it is all up to the underwriter now. Besides, I don’t know if there are any potential homeowners out there who aren’t nervous a few days before closing (aside from the paid-with-cash weirdos). I can’t imagine anyone who enjoys this anticipation. I’m trying to remember that while simultaneously trying to forget all about this. Or maybe I’m just having difficulty finding the excitement under the anxiety.

So, I am trying to relax as much as possible on this last Sunday before I move–the last Sunday to not have any house projects to do, the last Sunday of a place that’s too-small to do anything. Sure, there are plenty of things to be packed, but then again, there are plenty of evenings this upcoming week to not only pack, but move. Today is about slowing down, icing my knee plenty, and enjoying this afternoon of pajamas, leftover Indian food, Adventure Time, and naps. I ate an entire pint of Bluebell Ice Cream and regret nothing.