A Memoir of Mother Goose

All I ever really needed to know, I learned long before kindergarten, from the adults who loved me.

Mother Goose was my first exposure to literature. I grew up with my dad reading it to me, and now I read it to my child. I’ve found that having a child is not like reliving my childhood, but enjoying, in a different way, the things I once did.

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My dad, when I was a little girl.

For more than twenty years, I didn’t swing on a swing (just in porch swings, like my grandparents) or jumped on a trampoline. While my daughter colors with crayons or plays with Play-Doh—smells that bring back memories of burnt sienna and purple meatballs—I am not brought back, but rather, the past is brought to me.

That rhyme about the old woman in the shoe, who had so many children she didn’t know what to do? I remember the mother kissing them all sweetly and sending them to bed, not “whipping them all soundly,” as I have since discovered was the original rhyme. The children were also going to bed hungry, with nothing but broth and no bread to soak it up.

I grew up on Disney and its sanitization of fairy tales.

In that way, I had a magical childhood, and that is what I strive to give to my daughter. There is time enough for her to learn the not-so-good things that exist in our fallen world.

Childhood is precious and fleeting, for when else do we get to be kids, to believe in Santa Claus and friendly animals and always-happy endings?

Whenever my dad read me “Little Boy Blue,” before he would get to the part about the boy crying (if awakened), I would beg him not to finish it. When you’re a kid, you never cry because you’re happy—that’s what laughter is for.

Now I can understand why “Little Boy Blue” would cry if someone woke him up, as I feel like crying when my alarm goes off in the morning.

Rub-a-dub-dub,
Three men in a tub,
And who do you think they be?
The butcher, the baker,
The candlestick maker,
They all jumped out of a rotten potato.
Turn ‘em out, knaves all three.

When I was a “sack of potatoes,” as my dad called me, my uncle Bill would run me through the rhyme above, just to hear me say, after the first line, “Three foul balls in a tub.”

I’m sure he taught me that.

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My uncle, as I knew him when I was a child.

This was the same guy, after all, who said there was a certain hair in your nose that was connected to your brain, which would kill you if you pulled it.

I think we do things for our parents because we want to please them, but in the case of my uncle, I think I liked the laughs.

Perhaps, even then, a funny seed was planted, and a funny bone was developed.

I just wouldn’t know it was there until many years later.

Hearts, like doors, will open with ease
To very, very little keys.
And don’t forget that two of these
Are “I thank you” and “if you please.”

Every summer, from ages nine to thirteen, I spent my summer vacations in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, with my grandma and grandpa.

My Grandma Booker, a mother of two boys, always told me roughhousing was for outside and to chew with your mouth closed. She showed me the only palatable way to eat peanut butter, which was drizzled (or, in my case, drenched) with Karo syrup. She taught me that a word was only a curse if God was in front of it, which I didn’t really understand, because my parents never used the Lord’s name in vain.

Grandma and Jacques

My grandma, as I knew her when I was a child, with their dog, Jacques.

Even though she also said drinking coffee would turn your feet black, and if you swallowed a watermelon seed, melons would grow out of your ears, she still possessed plenty of wisdom. Even though I wouldn’t understand everything I heard until adulthood, I did understand when she said the three most important phrases were “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome.”

It is from your elders that you learn your manners, which are the earliest form of soft skills.

When I was a nanny in Sidney, Montana, I was chastised for calling my boss “sir,” and he said something like, “I know in the South, you do all that sir and ma’am business, but we don’t do that around here.” That was the first time I had ever been criticized for my manners.

Since I was not comfortable calling him by his first name (even Alice called Mike and Carol Mr. and Mrs. Brady, and she was practically part of the family), I just didn’t call him anything.

Now, when someone calls me ma’am, like the math tutor who is technically young enough to be my son, it makes me feel old, but I don’t ask him not to call me that, because it is a sign of respect—just like holding the door open for people, regardless of gender, is having manners.

The two signs my daughter knows more than any other is “Thank you” and “Please.” (“You’re welcome” in American Sign Language is the same as “thank you.”) I still remind her to mind her manners.

A wise old owl sat in an oak,
The more he heard, the less he spoke;
The less he spoke, the more he heard.
Why aren’t we all like that wise old bird?

In high school, I was the Bashful Dwarf, but one of my fondest memories was during my sophomore year. I had a such huge crush on an Environmental Science teacher—a man who looked like a Ken doll (except heterosexual)—that I chose a zero over getting up in front of class. Public speaking always made me break out in hives.

That said, it was all worth it not to look like a fool in front of Mr. Bauer, for whom I would’ve learned to become a botanist.

High school graduation night at Mr. Manatee's

Me, May 1999, at my high school graduation celebratory dinner at Mr. Manatee’s restaurant, which is gone now.

Years later, I would learn it’s the smart people that listened more than they spoke. Maybe that was why the other kids always assumed I was the brilliant one.

Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater,
Had another, and didn’t love her;
Peter learned to read and spell,
And then he loved her very well.

When I graduated from high school nineteen years ago, I didn’t know it, but I was looking for a place to belong; I thought I’d found it in the Mormon Church.

The Mormons say that the glory of God is intelligence. I always thought it was love, but when you think about it, intelligence increases compassion. I think that was why Jesus was so compassionate; He could see into people’s souls.

He knew why they were broken.

It’s strange, but when I was a Mormon, and a college education was encouraged (whereas a career outside the home, for a woman, was not), I was more interested in finding a husband, for a woman’s worth was so tied into being a wife, and especially a mother. It wasn’t till years after I left the Church and had a husband and one-year-old daughter that I was ready for that college education and learned that a woman was no more selfish for having a career and a family than a man was.

Perfectionism is stressed to Latter-day Saints, and whereas men take it in stride, women take it to heart. The irony is that when I stopped trying to be perfect I was happier, made more progress, and even felt closer to the God they’d recreated in their image.

Hannah Bantry, in the pantry,
Gnawing at a mutton bone;
How she gnawed it,
How she clawed it,
When she found herself alone.

I was almost thirty-two when I had my first child. It took me three days to get used to the idea (I was three months along before I knew), for I’d grown up seeing women with young children looking harried and unkempt; I didn’t want to become that, but the first time I saw my Hannah Banana in the ultrasound, I was transfixed.

For me, teaching and nursing were callings, but motherhood was a sacred calling.
I couldn’t find my cell phone half the time, and every plant I had ever owned died (so much for a botany career), so I wasn’t sure about having to keep up with this little being all the time, but a mother’s instinct kicked in when I held her for the first time.

With Hannah, I got a little more than I was expecting, though I didn’t know she wasn’t perfect, for she was perfect to me.

She still is.

Pink bundle

Me, with baby Hannah, fresh from the hospital.

My daughter is a Tuesday child, “full of grace,” and Hannah literally means grace. Hannah Beth Richards is a quirky kid, or “on the spectrum,” as some would say; I say she is every color in it.

She was so curious and into everything—opening the dishwasher and standing on the door, crawling into closets to play, and getting into the pantry, chewing through the onions and potatoes. A refrain that could often be heard was, “Hannah, out of the pantry,” though she probably thought, “Dammit, Hannah!” was her name for a while.
Though we no longer have a pantry, we have cupboards, and now our refrain is “Hannah, out of the kitchen.”

Multiplication is vexation,
Division is as bad;
The rule of three perplexes me,
And practice drives me mad.

When Hannah was a year old, I decided to enroll at Pensacola State College as a Health Information Technology student. Though I was married (and still am), I knew I’d need to make more money—I had an extra responsibility now.

I’d let math scare me away from college—just because I wasn’t naturally good at it.
When I went back to school, I took all my other classes first, pushing the math till the end. It helped to have “the wind at my back,” as my dad would say, because it was that wind that pushed me forward.

In the spring of 2018, I took College Algebra and Elementary Statistics (which was anything but elementary), so I could still qualify as a work-study student. If there’s anything I hate more than math, it’s looking for a job.

So, I stressed out for sixteen weeks, spending eighty hours in the Math Lab, ending up with two B’s; I’d never been so proud of B’s in my life.

My uncle said his brother was the only one he ever knew who went to college to “get an education.” Apart from a little substitute teaching on the side and doing taxes during tax season, Dad never used his degree for money.

Had I gone to college for the same reason as my dad, I might not have sallied forth.

For Dad, education was its own reward.

For me, it was as much about the education as it was about the experience, and the most important lesson I learned was that I was smart enough for college after all.

A dillar, a dollar, a ten o’clock scholar!
What makes you come so soon?
You used to come at ten o’clock,
But now you come at noon.

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Me, December 2018, at my college graduation.

An abridged version of this piece was published in The Kilgore Review (2019), having placed first in the nonfiction category of Pensacola State College’s annual Walter F. Spara Writing Contest.

 

Fiction Friday: Novelines from the Book

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Mother and David were like eloping teenagers, and I, their unmarried, childless friend, who was forced to witness a choice that I knew would end in doom.   

A baby grand sat in the corner of the room; on top, sat a picture of Jesus.  For some reason, it made me think of a picture of a woman’s late husband. “I guess He’s the witness,” Caitlin whispered, and I held back a laugh.

The preacher’s daughter sat on the witness chair, telling Mother, “I hope I can have more than one husband, too, but not at the same time, of course—not like the Mormons.”

“David, when I think of you, I think of the guardian angel who came to us all those years before, bearing good tidings of great joy.”  I did not see Pastor Taylor’s right eyebrow almost fly off his forehead, nor the shock on Mrs. Taylor’s face, nor the curiosity on Carolyn’s.

My vow was simple.  “You’ve not only been my father but my educator, edifier, and friend.” I refrained from saying savior.

I had reached back inside myself, back to that girl I used to be, whose dream it had been to see the two people she loved most in the world married.  Through her eyes, I could see this as she would have—as an occasion for celebration. How happy I would have been a year ago, before I ever knew the Church, yet it was because of the Church that we were here at all.  

That night, David told Mother he would love her for eternity, but only I knew that he meant that his love for hernot their marriagewould abide forever.  I could not portend what had been in his heart at that exact moment, but I knew who David was at his core.  That was how I knew their marriage would last for time only, and a fleeting time at that. 

Pastor Taylor spoke a few words, Mrs. Taylor stone-faced, Carolyn starry-eyed, and I, pledging my allegiance to David Dalton under the banner of heaven.

Sweet Little Nothings

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She went to beauty school
to learn how to be beautiful—
but only learned how to be vain.
She went to charm school
to learn how to be charming—
but only learned how to be fake.
She went to fashion school
to learn how to design clothes—
only to learn that 1991 had called her,
asking for their fashion back.
She went to law school
to learn the law–
but only learned how to be sneaky
with it.
She went to medical school
to learn how to diagnose others—
but only learned how to misdiagnose herself.
She went to music school,
to learn how to be a musician—
only to learn that she was tone-deaf & off-key.
She went to art school
to learn how to be an artist—
only to paint herself into the dunce corner.
She went to acting school
to learn how to become an actress—
only to learn that she was a terrible liar.
She went to trade school
to learn how to work with her hands—
only to almost lose one.
But when she went to liberal arts school,
she learned how to be herself,
for all the others were expensive versions
of the School of Hard Knocks.
She learned how to be everything
by being the 1 thing she was good at–
a hacker with a flair for the poetic.

Do what you love because you love doing it

Letter from our EIC

There’s a lot to be said for making people laugh. Did you know that’s all some people have? – Joel McCrea (as John Sullivan in Sullivan’s Travels).

My dream profession is to be a humor columnist or bestselling novelist.  I’m so glad that what I’m doing now is all writing-related, even if it’s just helping others with their writing (i.e., editing); however, I still make time for my own writing.  Every.  Day.  Writing keeps you creative; editing keeps your writing clean.   

A columnist position will be much heavier on writing and not on answering telephones (the latter of which is hard for someone who relies heavily on closed-captioning when watching movies); it will also be light on face-to-face customer service and autopilot office duties (e.g. filing and shredding).  The plummiest part about life as a columnist will be that I will not have to rely on other people to get quotes (opening the door for me to be accused of misquoting them) or grant me interviews (opening the door for me to be accused of misrepresenting their organization or not portraying it the way they would have).  This freedom is what makes the creative writing side of journalism much more attractive.  

Newspapers (not news) is dying, but I don’t blame the Internet (entirely).  What’s happening in Washington should be covered by the reporters in D.C.  When I open the local newspaper, I want to read about what’s going on in my town; I want to read about the people in my town.  D.C. will get covered no matter what.  After all, it’s lucrative political theatre—a 3-ring circus with elephants, donkeys, and a slew of other political animals slinging mud and eating each other up (like the gingham dog and the calico cat in Eugene Field’s poem, The Duel).  

If you’re thinking of pursuing a career in communications, you must be patient.  You might have to write about things that do not interest you (e.g. zoning, sewers, school board and city council meetings, etc.), but that’s okay, because that’s just more writing experience.  Every writing assignment I’ve ever been given I’ve treated like it was the most important story I was writing.  

Even though I enjoy writing for newspapers, I prefer more time to polish my pieces, which is why having a weekly column would bridge my fiction and nonfiction writing worlds.  Furthermore, a columnist position will not be so emotionally draining that by the time I get home, my well is too dry to work on my own writing (e.g. blog, novel, etc.).

For now, I am happily pursuing my B.A. in English (with a concentration in Creative Writing), knowing that the real money (and job security) is in technical and business writing—not in creative writing (unless you become the next Stephen King or Mary Higgins Clark, who are the exceptions rather than the rule), so I may go for the Technical Writing certification, as I’ve already taken Professional and Technical Writing, which I highly recommend, as an elective.

We shall see.  

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry from the Book

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With my hair in a French roll,
Caitlin’s in a challah braid,
& Mother looking good enough to eat,
we could open a pastry shop—
with David as the butter
that made us all better.

The pastor’s house looked a mansion in God’s heaven—
this house of seven gables from which the seven fruits of the spirit
seemed to guard & fight against the seven devils
that sought to penetrate this fortress—
this home that looked even more imposing than it had in its spread  
in Southern Belles & Whistles magazine.  
The Taylors were the creamy pillars of the community,
spreading the Word of God like butter
on the white bread that fortified “Our Town.”

They had written their own vows,
going beyond what was necessary—
just like the Mormons with their
“for time and all eternity”
that one-upped what all other religions
offered in regards to marriage.

Though he had allowed himself
to walk into the waters of baptism,
he would never walk
through the doors of the temple. 
She could have him in this life,
if only I could have him in the next.

For David’s joy alone,
I gave them my blessing. 
For him,
I would do every good
& evil
under the sun
but never in the name of the Son.
 

13 Reasons Why I Love Working From Home

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I am loving the gig economy.  Maybe it’s a millennial thing (I was born in ’81), but I’ve done the whole 8-4 (and the even more ungodly 7-5) shift, four or five days a week, in rain or flood.  I have tried for years to be an early morning person, but it just wasn’t happening.  Maybe it’s because I am my most creative at night.  Maybe it’s because I grew up with a dad whose day never began before noon (unless he had a doctor’s appointment).  Maybe it’s because I like sweaters, not blazers (i.e., power suits).  Maybe it’s because I am a people person—just not for eight hours a day, which is why I still work as a Writing Lab tutor.  If you never work around people, you will lose those soft skills.  Don’t do that.

I have been working from home for at least three months now (I don’t really have a concept of time), and there are 13 things I love about it:  

  1. I save time.  Rather than my workday beginning at least a half hour early (meaning when I leave the house), I simply walk into the next room.  All I have to do is pull up my Merriam-Webster, Slack app, and my proofreading manuals on Google Docs, as well as my work window.  I can get up every half hour and stretch (because editing for long periods is intense) to refresh my brain.
  2. I save gas.  Thus, I am able to keep more of my own money.  I also don’t have to sit in traffic, which has been a nightmare ever since Hurricane Ivan blew through.
  3. I am valued as an individual (I avoid the collective word, “team”) for my technical and writing skills—not for who I know or who I don’t know.  
  4. I don’t have to have “leadership” qualities, and I won’t be judged for not desiring those qualities.  
  5. No staff meetings, which I dreaded more than getting a pap.  No more being put on the spot, trying to figure out what I did wrong last week that can be an “opportunity” (to improve) the next.
  6. No artificial light.  When I worked for a grant-funded program that helped low-income students, I had my own office where I never turned on the overhead light but had a window with the best view on campus.  
  7. No extreme temperatures.  Every office I’ve worked in has its hot or cold days, but mine is always comfortable.
  8. No confining feminine undergarments.  I still dress as I would for an office job but more comfortably.  
  9. I make my own schedule.  Almost nowhere can you do this.  This is especially great since I am still going to school.  
  10. I can work anywhere.  If I do need a change of scenery, I can enjoy a nice day under a shade tree or a quiet corner in a library while I work.
  11. I don’t have to plan.  I don’t have to think about what to bring for lunch or make sure I bring money to buy it.  Either is a hassle.
  12. There is no bad time to take a bathroom break.  For someone who drinks as much water as I do, this is important.
  13. And the best of all?  No ringing telephones!  With email, you have time to think about your answer; with a telephone call, you generally have to come up with an answer right away.  This is why my friends know not to call what they can text.   

I don’t know what my future will be after I graduate but I have to say that every day, I learn something new and useful.  Being a proofreader has proven to be the most intellectually challenging job I have ever had—just as being a professional writing tutor has been the most challenging when it’s come to communicating concepts to others in a way that makes sense to them. 

As a proofreader, you don’t have to worry about making the other person a better writer; you’re just making the document better.  I like to think of myself as cleaning up the world’s written litter—one character at a time.

2019: My Year in Review

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I feel like I’ve lived several lifetimes since last year.  I’m working nearly full-time from home as a proofreader/editor and am now in university, pursuing my B.A. in English with a concentration in Creative Writing; I’m also back at the Writing Lab as a tutor—a great gig.

Several months ago, however, things weren’t so rosy.

When I got discharged from my full-time position at my alma mater, my first thought was “How am I going to pay the bills?”  But that thought was almost instantly replaced with an overwhelming feeling of relief. 

Three days before graduating with my A.A. and A.S., I was offered a full-time position as an administrative assistant (i.e., secretary/receptionist) for my alma mater’s foundation.  One of my interviewers had said they were “so inspired by my passion for the college” that they actually upgraded the position for me (full benefits and everything).  I like to say that the red carpet was rolled out for me, only for the rug to be pulled out from under me. Being given the boot after all that should’ve been a blow to my pride, but I’ve learned (the hard way) over the last few years that pride is way overrated.    

The story I’m about to tell, I wasn’t sure I was going to tell at all (at least in writing).  A very good friend of mine thought it should be told, so rather than change the names to protect the not-so innocent, I simply won’t mention them (they’re really not that important).

Here it is:

Every year, the foundation puts on a holiday gala for the big donors.  The year before last, it was at another campus, showcasing the healthcare program.  I was the Editor-in-Chief of the college newspaper and wanted to cover it, and my successor was taking photographs.  I thought my boss would be pleased (though that wasn’t the reason why I wanted to do it) that it would be getting some attention.  Plus, I was curious.  

Fancy affairs like this one was are generally not my thing, but there was something so cool, so insanely awesome, that I just had to tell about it:  a robotic mannequin that gave birth.  I captured the whole process on my phone and posted on to our newspaper’s Facebook page.  I think robots in general are cool, but this was just . . . WOW!

When the print edition of my story came out after I returned from winter break, a shitstorm hit.  The dean from the campus where the gala had been held came into the foundation office and talked to my boss, who went into a panic, asking where all the newspapers had been distributed, asking me to take down the video, etc.

So what happened?

The new Editor-in-Chief (the photographer that night) had replaced one of the photos at the last minute (she didn’t have a name for the caption, which is sort of a cardinal sin in the newspaper business) with a photo of the robotic mannequin giving birth (I’m not even sure if the fake genitalia was in view).  My boss informed me that because I worked for the foundation, certain things would be expected of me.  She didn’t even give me the chance to tell her that I had handed the reins over to the new EIC at the end of last year and had had nothing to do with the photograph (I guess donors don’t look at our Facebook page).  

As my grandma used to say, I was all worked up into a tizzy (even though I knew she couldn’t fire me for something over this), I walked outside and called the Editor-in-Chief, whose calm made me realize that I had done nothing wrong.    

My boss was so afraid of losing donors, referencing some anti-Trump art by a teacher (which had caused the school to lose donors), that she couldn’t see the bigger picture:  Donors don’t control the news.

What was even more insane was that donors were there that night and saw the whole thing.  I thought, if someone sees childbirth and thinks it pornographic, then they are the ones with the problem.  

My boss treated me with condescension (but never in front of people) after that, and it got to the point where I didn’t feel like I could do anything right, even take a simple telephone message; she even hung up on me when I was couldn’t find the information she was looking for fast enough.  What’s more, she acted like it was a great thing that I was losing my job because I didn’t belong there anyway, while trying to convince me that newspaper writing wasn’t that different from fundraising.  It had already gotten to the point where I was sick to my stomach whenever she came in.    

Those weeks I was unemployed I was filled with angst.  I hate looking for a job with a passion—the boring ass job applications, the endless cover letters that have to be specifically tailored to the position you are applying for (just look at my freaking resume), the interviewing (ahem, auditioning) phase, etc.  I interview well, but I hate feeling like I have to be a put-on.  The whole process is a real drag and takes a toll on your morale.  When my husband finally blew up and said he was tired of me being stressed out all the time, I broke down, finally admitting I hated her.  I think I must have said I hated her fifty times, for it felt so good to get it off my chest.  And then the most amazing thing happened:  All the anger and angst was gone.  I had been so angry with myself for allowing her to make me feel like I was a complete incompetent; never will I allow someone to have that power over me again.  

And that’s the story I never thought I’d have the courage to tell, out of fear that I would burn my bridges for a second chance at full-time employment in another department.  I also feared being judged harshly for publishing this, but this is the most honest piece I’ve ever written.  This was definitely not something that should’ve been written right after it happened (it would’ve been more of a rant), but with a little dust comes perspective.  Out of fear of losing my job (why it sucks being the breadwinner sometimes), I didn’t stand up for myself like I should have.  I regret that greatly.  I just didn’t feel I was in a position to be the least bit confrontational, for you see, the person who has the greater socio-economic status tends to be the one who gets the benefit of the doubt.  I also did not wish to diminish my good reputation or good name at the college that really had given me so much.  

If only I had known I was going to lose the job anyway, how different I might have handled things.  I hate feeling like someone got one over on me, but I love Frank Sinatra’s quote:  The best revenge is massive success.

And now that I make significantly more than I did there, I feel that I have achieved that “revenge” to some degree.  I also know that I was in the wrong place; being there at the wrong time helped me see that.  I’m glad that article came out when it did—that I got to see the mask come off.  I’m glad that I’m home when my daughter gets off the bus, that I’m able to pursue my writing degree, which I couldn’t have if I was still working there, as the university doesn’t offer all the online classes that the college does.  Because I would have put my family first, I would’ve put my degree on hold to keep the money coming in until I found something better.  

I would’ve hated to give up the benefits (two weeks paid time off for winter break, one week paid time off for spring break, and at least a week of other paid days off, as well as paid sick leave and personal leave), however, I sort of got all that anyway.  I figured out that I save 45 minutes of driving time a day, which equals to approximately 21 hours a month that I can be home with my family or working on my writing.  

Though I am happy scholastically and occupationally, my life hasn’t magically become perfect (I still have rent and car payments), but it’s better and I am so much better off than I was at this time last year.  Because I am not stressed out over work or school (no more math or science), I am happier at home.  I know I will never be able to avoid stress completely, but I am learning how to avoid unnecessary stress and better handle the stress I do have.  

My focus this year will be on finishing all my unfinished writing projects (I have a few novels), cleaning up my blog (I’ve almost ditched all the stock photography and am working on my own graphics), working on pieces for publication (besides what I publish on my blog and on Medium Daily Digest), organizing my entire flash drive, and learning how to create my own book covers to self-publish a few shorter pieces that I don’t envision being published by a traditional publisher.  

I also have goals for my daughter (reading!) but these are mine.  A Facebook friend was asking what our word was for 2019, and I said “actualization.”  When she asked how did I expect it to impact my life, I said, “It already has,” for it was this year that I realized I needed to do what I was made for.

As for my big takeaway from 2019?  Tell your story.  You own it.  

Happy New Year!