Saturday, November 19, 2011

Happy You

It seems as though it's "that time of the year" again...when the holidays are upon us, as is all the pomp and circumstance that surrounds them. Ick. I really don't like this time of the year, for exactly that reason. However, I guess the one good thing about it all is the time off from work or school (I miss school?!) and the frequent excuse to travel.

Speaking of traveling, I've been doing a lot of that lately. While a long distance relationship is a year-round excuse for traveling, I've realized that my recent additional travels have made me a whole lot happier of a person. (Duhhh, Lauren! What rock has your brain been under?!) So travels, eH? Where have I been and what have I been up to? Keep reading to find out.

Family Weekend in Shreveport, LA (Oct. 23-24): My cousin, Ross, just started his freshman year of college and is playing baseball for LSU-Shreveport. His family planned to spend the weekend in Shreveport and wanted to host a gumbo for the team after practice on Saturday. I was thrilled when they invited me to join them for the weekend. As it turned out, my mom drove my grandparents up for the weekend, as well, and so I was able to see most of my family for the first time since July. I had a great time seeing everyone...sure makes me wish I were closer to home, though.

Carolina Roadtrip (Oct. 27-30): I flew to Charlotte, NC, spent the night in Boiling Springs, SC, and then drove back to NC for a weekend with Alex's parents. The whole trip involved 3 nights at three separate homes, great food, and fun times. Conveniently, the trip was planned before Alex's dad had emergency surgery and was in the hospital the week before, so we were able to go out and visit as he returned home to begin the recovery process. His mom seemed to really enjoy having us over for game night and then she showed us off (:-p) at church on Sunday morning. Then we rushed back to Charlotte for a Sunday afternoon flight, at an airport I wish I could avoid for all eternity. Overall, however, it was a good weekend.

ACA HOS Conference in Cadiz, KY (Nov. 1-3): I was sent to Lake Barkley State Park to represent Camp at the annual ACA regional conference. Thanks to the required attendance at their standards course, I had to leave Little Rock at 5 a.m. in order to make it in time. Some parts of the travel experience were a little hairy, but I conquered my fears and made it back in one piece. At times, the conference was a bit lonely knowing no one, but I did enjoy several of the sessions and I suppose I'll look forward to next year's conference in Nashville.

Celebration Weekend in Fayetteville, AR (Nov. 11-13): USC Upstate Men's Baksetball team played their season opener against the Arkansas Razorbacks. With Alex in Arkansas for a long weekend, I sped outta work after the volunteer meeting for Respite camp on Friday, hoping to make it in time for part of the game. Somehow, I managed to make it into my floor-level seat at the start of the second half, cheering for the Spartans as they worked to keep up with the Hogs. As expected, they lost by 20 points but it was a good effort. Saturday, Alex and I went Christmas shopping for our families, and that night, we celebrated his early birthday with dinner at Logan's Roadhouse. Sunday morning we had brunch at IHOP before I dropped him off at the airport (XNA is in the middle of nowhere!!) and drove the 3.5 hours back to Little Rock. A bit belated but, Happy 27th, Alex!!

This little travel bug has hit me in a great way. I'm so excited about going home for Thanksgiving next week, as it's the first time I get to be home for this holiday since 2007! Yay!! Traveling helps the days and weeks to go by much faster than whenever I'm sitting in the apartment watching DVR for weeks on end. The learning curve at work is still a little windy, but I feel much better about things as I near the 6-month mark. I can't believe I've already been working here for a half year! Crazy. Before I know it, I'll be hitting 1 year and summer will be upon us again.

I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised by the positive effect traveling has had on my lookout on life. Travel has always been in my blood, and it makes sense that I'm sad whenever I stay in one place for so long. Now, let's just hope I can keep this going somehow, because I know it's literally essential to my sanity. ...I only wish I had greater flexibility and more funds to support my habit. ;)

To all of you who are traveling near and far during this holiday season, I wish you the best. Please feel free to share any fun stories or weird experiences from your adventures! And with that request, I bid you...


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Smiles for a Sunny Day

I may have dropped the ball on providing a blog entry for September, but I'm here today itching to get (at least) one in for the month of October. Overall, things are going pretty well for me these days. No major news and no real complaints. Fall is officially here, according to the calendar, but I'm thrilled that the warm weather (mid to upper 80's) is sticking around. Lots of sunshine (my favorite "good mood vitamin"), and plenty of pleasant temperatures for enjoying the great outdoors.

A couple of weeks ago, I experienced my favorite week at work thus far (except, perhaps one of the weeks this summer at Camp). It was a busy week (which, I am learning, is way better than a slow one) filled with lots of variety. The details escape me now, but I remember hosting an orientation for four brand spankin' new weekend volunteers, attending a couple of interesting meetings, organizing a 30-girl group of Seniors from Mount St. Mary's Academy doing service for their annual Mercy Day, and we even kicked off the Fall season of weekend camps. The following week, we had a five-person group of young adults in the ACCESS Schools adult program (vocational education for individuals with special needs) who came out to rake leaves, and we continued on with our four straight weekends of Camp. It's busy but I really like it that way. When things are slow, I get bored and that's never fun when you're sitting at a desk for what feels like 8 million hours a day!

Alex came to visit Little Rock last weekend, so that was nice of course. I ended up with a long four day weekend, thanks to some flex time I earned while working a couple of weekends earlier in the month. We stayed busy and it was super fun to check several things of my list of places to explore in Little Rock. Though we visited a couple of museums, tried two new restaurants, and spent some time enjoying the beautiful weather, I have to say my favorite outing was hiking the Base Trail at Pinnacle Mountain State Park. This 1.25 mile trail (as listed online) turned into a 3.5 miler, but that's okay, we had a blast. Plus, the weather was absolutely perfect, and it seems as though I am developing a fondness for hiking outdoor trails. It was a great weekend, to say the least.

Off and on over the last few weeks, I've had some strange, unexplained fevers. The fevers were random and unaccompanied by any other symptoms. After a few days and nights of fever in the same week, I started to worry that there could be a legitimate problem with my health, so I decided to conquer my "magical thinking" and visit a doctor. Much to my surprise (and entertainment) technologies in doctors' offices have come a long way since my days as a child (and frequenter of physicians offices). - Who knew GP offices had slots in the walls of restrooms for transfer of urine specimens, and even further, that these offices could do urine analysis/cbc tests on site?!? News to me! In any case, all of my results came back normal and the doctor decided I had some type of "atypical" bacterial infection, putting me on a seven day round of antibiotics. I haven't had fever since the day I visited the doctor, and aside from those funky side effects (nausea, lack of appetite, etc.), my body feels a lot healthier than it has recently. ...Guess I've been carrying around some bacteria for longer than I realized. oops. Now let's just hope this has resolved itself, the fevers go away, and no need for more extensive testing.

Other than that, all is well. It's a great day for cheering on our #1 Tigers, a title they're looking to hold onto for yet another week (as they kill the Gators on this beautiful Saturday afternoon). Thanks for all the comments on my last entry - it's great to have your support and encouragement along the way. Wishing all of you a great Fall season and hoping to hear from you again soon!

Sending smiles for a sunny day!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Introducing Alex

I suppose this post is more than eight months overdue. No, I'm not writing about how I should have posted more frequently, or how I have a ton to share in an update. Instead, I want to tell you about a person I met in December (2010), who has become a daily part of my life.

Over the years, I've shared a few stories about friends or roommates of mine who have done great things in life. For a while now, I've wanted to start a blog series honoring some of these people and their accomplishments. While this isn't necessarily the start of said series, I do want to introduce you all (seeing as how I have a huge reader base - not!) to someone who is special to me.

As I said before, I met this person in December, as sort of a last minute social outing before heading home to Louisiana (from grad school in Raleigh, NC) for the Christmas holidays. The meeting was at a Krispy Kreme restaurant with one of my friends and her boyfriend. Sparing several details, the outing turned out to be a bust, and I went home feeling as though it was a sincere waste of time. However, almost nine months later, I look back and think about the irony that this person plays such a large role in my life today. For, on that awkward evening, I met the person who is now my boyfriend - Alex.

A month later, the day after I returned from the Christmas holidays, Alex offered to take me on a date. In fact, he drove over 8 hours (round-trip) to spend only half of that with me. At that point, I knew any guy who would go out of his way to spend this kind of time with boring 'ole me, haaaaaad to be special. And well, I was right. ;)

Anyway, for all you creepers out there, here's the dish!

Alex is 26, he lives in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and works as the Assistant Media Relations Director for the University of South Carolina - Upstate. Originally, Alex is from a small town southeast of Raleigh, which is where he met my friend's boyfriend while interning at Campbell University a few years ago. Currently, Alex is responsible for the stats and media releases for several sports at Upstate, which keeps him busy for at least nine months of the year. (If you're super interested in those details - look him up online, lol.)

Knowing me, and now knowing Alex's situation, by now you've probably figured out that we're doing this whole relationship thing via distance. Fortunately or unfortunately, Alex and I have been friends via distance from the very beginning. As long as I've known him, Alex has lived in South Carolina, and I've lived in Raleigh, Abbeville, or Little Rock...which translates to at least 4 hours of distance between us at all times. I'll be honest, it was tough to work through those decisions about finishing school, accepting jobs, moving, and being apart. However, neither of us really wanted to give up on something that seemed to be such a natural fit, so we've stuck with it.

It's very important to both of us that we maintain our sense of "self," so we try to hold onto friendships and encourage each other to do fun things with others. (This is much more challenging for me right now - having moved to a new area with little time and few friends.) In April, I met Alex's parents, and in July he met mine; family is a crucial piece to this puzzle and we're trying to piece it all together strategically. It's a process that takes time and special attention to detail, so we're working at it as we go.

We try to be creative in our communications and really cherish the time that we do have together. It can be fun to stretch our capacities for creativity, and like the Lady A song ("Just a Kiss") says, we hope it'll "make forever longer" when we are eventually able to move into the next season of our relationship. For now, we try to take it day by day, and I continuously remind myself that many people have be successful at this before, so it is indeed possible.

On a lighter note, I'm headed to Spartanburg next weekend, and I absolutely cannot wait!! By that point, it will have been 7.5 weeks since we've seen one another and just thinking about it almost seems surreal. With that, I'd like to ask that all of you keep us in your thoughts and prayers - we need all the patience, strength, and support that we can get. Thanks, in advance!

...And there he is!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Week in the Life of...


It's been about two months since I moved to Little Rock and started my first big girl jobby job. Seeing as how I have been out of touch with the interwebs for a while, I figured some of you might enjoy a "play-by-play" describing a typical week in my new life as the Volunteer Coordinator for Camp Aldersgate. First things first--what is Camp Aldersgate? See below for our mission statement:

Camp Aldersgate, Inc., a non-profit organization, enriches the lives of children and youth who have medical or physical conditions or developmental delays and their families, as well as senior adults, through educational and recreational opportunities in an out-of-doors camp environment.

Our vision is to set the standard for a camping environment that encourages normalcy, socialization, and inclusiveness to persons with diverse abilities and needs.

We offer camps for children and youth who have conditions such as cancer, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, epilepsy, kidney disorders, autism, Down syndrome, and mental retardation. Hundreds of campers come each year from across Arkansas and from surrounding states to enjoy an experience of a lifetime.


With that out of the way, just what does the Volunteer Coordinator for Camp Aldersgate do? Keep reading to find out!

Sunday: I arrive around 9:15 to prepare for the day's activities. Mornings include checking-in teen volunteers (10 a.m.)--gathering their health screening forms, providing their name tags (wristbands)/t-shirts, and informing teens of the cabins in which they will be working. We have an orientation meeting to go over policies and procedures, distribute break schedules, discuss any special information for the week, and describe opening-day assignments. After lunch (12:30 p.m.), I train volunteers for additional responsibilities such as health care assistant work, and manning the phones for registration. Sometimes, I try to sneak in a little record keeping or paperwork before camper registration starts at 2 o'clock. During registration, I take photos of all the campers under our big camp sign. (These photos are posted in the office for the duration of the week, to help our staff and visitors get to know our campers just a little it better.) Once registration ends around 5 or 5:30, I'm free to leave for the day.

Monday: As with all weekdays at camp, I arrive just a little earlier than required (8:15 ish), to grab (free) breakfast with the campers/staff. I check to see if there are any important messages or e-mails waiting for me, and then head out to morning activities in hopes of making myself visible (available) and spending some time with the campers, volunteers, and counselors. Usually, I spend Mondays with my favorite "archery girls," and I also try to check in with our fabbbulous "art lady." These activities are located closest to our office and I'm generally pretty slow moving on Mondays, ha.

At lunch each day, I distribute mail to campers, counselors, and volunteers. I try to check-in with many of the senior counselors to see if there are any challenges with volunteers that need my attention. In the afternoon, I check messages, return e-mails, and begin gathering the list of volunteers who are set to arrive the following week. On either Mondays or Tuesdays, I send out a reminder e-mail and Facebook invitation to all volunteers who are assigned to the following week of camp. I also follow up with any of those volunteers who are missing paperwork such as references, proof of TB skin test, or registration fees. Mondays, I am usually able to head out of camp around 5 p.m.

Tuesday: Oh Tuesdays, my long day. On Tuesdays, I try to make it out to our Adventure Challenge course (zipline and low-ropes elements). It's a bit of a trek out to this part of camp, so I try to get my tail in high gear to visit this activity on Tuesday, with the incentive of getting it out of the way earlier in the week. ;) If I hadn't gotten a chance to initiate contact with the coming week's volunteers, I make sure I do this on Tuesday afternoon. Often times, volunteers will begin to confirm their attendance for the following week and it is common for volunteers or their parents to contact me with questions regarding packing lists, break schedules, or paperwork. I also start to work on the cabin list, placing volunteers in cabins and figuring out ratios for certain activities.

In the late afternoon, I prepare for the Tuesday night volunteer meeting. This involves making a list of talking points (reminders for the volunteers), outlining in my head the night's activity and meeting process, as well as gathering snacks and drinks. I put a variety of drinks in a cooler with ice, and gather some snacks to be set out later that night. As much as possible, I try to leave camp right at 5 p.m., to have dinner and rest for a bit at my apartment before heading back around 9:30 for the 10 p.m. volunteer meeting.

In these meetings, I try to do a name game (Hey--I manage 25 teens each week, it takes work to learn 150+ names!) coupled with an activity that encourages teens to discuss a high and low point of the week so far. To be creative, I switch it up by calling it the rose/thorn, laffy/taffy, butter/honey, or sweet/sour moments. Hehe. Following these activities, I make a point of encouraging a specific "goal" for the rest of the week, which often relates to a common theme expressed by volunteers in their "low point" stories. We also talk about any issues counselors relayed regarding volunteers, such as reminders to put the campers first, keep a positive attitude, avoid PDA, or to respect others. Then, I encourage the teens to enjoy their snacks, while I pull each cabin group aside to talk about any cabin-specific questions or concerns. Volunteers often spend this time rambling about camper stories or how great (sometimes bad) their counselors are. I try to have everyone out of the meeting by 11 p.m., so they can get back to their cabins before curfew at 11:15. At this point, I have to turn out the lights in our Commons building, lock up all the doors, walk to my car and lock the camp gate in the dark, then drive back to my apartment around 11:30 p.m. Whewww.... what a long day and a creepy ending to the night.

Wednesday: By Wednesday, I'm usually pooped, especially with the late night on Tuesday. In the mornings, I welcome our corporate groups (volunteers) who come out to help with Fishing Derby on Wednesdays and Thursdays. For first-time groups, myself and our Director of Development or the Executive Director welcomes the group, gives them an overview of camp history and programs, and provides an opportunity to view our camp DVD. Then, I (and sometimes one of the other staff members, depending on the size of the group) use a golf cart to take the group down to the lake for fishing. If the group brings snacks (such as popsicles), I also help with getting those into a cooler with ice, and bring it down to the lake with us. Around lunchtime, I take the group back up to the front parking lot, thank them for their help, and send them on their way, sometimes to return again the following one for another day of fishing.

If I haven't heard from all of the following week's volunteers by Wednesday, then I start making phone calls and follow-up e-mails to seek their acknowledgement for arriving at camp the coming Sunday. By this point, I sometimes have to start looking for replacement volunteers, for those who have conflicts, or had to back out for whatever reason. I start this process by looking for volunteers who indicated their availability on the application, looking first for those on the waiting list, second for those who are at camp this week (easy access! haha.), and third for those who have already been out to camp and did a great job while they were here. It can take a bit of time and several calls before finding someone to fill an open spot, especially at such the last minute.

I also start to pull files for the volunteers who will be at camp the following week, since I set those out near my desk for the duration of their week of camp--just in case I need to grab quick information such as a phone number or health form. On Wednesdays, I usually jet out of camp as soon as I can, typically exhausted from the late night and half week of work already under my belt.

Thursday: Thursday is the day for do-or die. If there is a group coming for Fishing Derby, I transport them and spend the morning out at the lake as their camp "escort." If not, I try to make it out to the nature activity at some point, and maybe re-visit art or archery again.

Throughout the week, I follow-up with counselors and volunteers for any issues that arose, and if those issues aren't smoothed out by Thursday, then I prepare myself for dealing with poor volunteer evaluations (given by counselors). I review the evaluations that are turned in on Thursday mornings, and sometimes I go out to meet with volunteers who need a "come to Jesus meeting" (for lack of a better term). Using the counselors' evaluations and my own observations, an evaluation is completed on each teen volunteer, each week. These evaluations are distributed on Friday mornings (more about that soon).

On Thursday afternoon, I make edits to the following week's cabin list and then devise the volunteers' break schedule based on cabin ratios for counselors/volunteers and campers at specific times of the day. I also spend time making copies of volunteer health forms, to put in a binder that is updated weekly and kept in the Health Care Center, should a volunteer take medications or in the case that an emergency arises (yes, this has happened this summer). If volunteer issues or other situations occur throughout the week, these tasks may get pushed off until late Thursday afternoon, at which point, I may have to stay later in the day to make sure it is all done before the closing ceremony on Friday.

Friday: I print a certificate for the recipient of the Volunteer of the Week award, which is voted on by counselors at their Thursday night meeting. In the morning, I try to attend to last minute business, such as phone calls or e-mails, getting camper signatures on a thank-you card for our corporate volunteers, following up with last-minute volunteer issues, and checking on the status of the laundry in the Health Care Center (health care assistants' duties). This often translates to me running around camp looking rather frazzled as I rush to get it all done before the start of closing ceremonies.

At 10 a.m., I head over the the Commons building to set up the camp store and help our Grant Writer with camper check-up, as well as the distribution of free camper tickets to a camp fundraiser at our local water park. Closing ceremony starts at 10:30, and sometimes I finish up volunteer evaluations while counselors distribute camper awards. Toward the end of the ceremony, I take the floor to thank our corporate and teen volunteers, and present the award for Volunteer of the Week. Since I am new to the position, and counselors spend so much more time with the volunteers, I use a counselor-provided "nomination form" to explain why this person has received the award.

After the closing ceremony, I herd the teen volunteers into our "staff lounge" for a short meeting. There, I thank them for their hard work, and ask them to complete an evaluation describing their experiences for the week. At this time, I distribute their evaluations and ask them to look over the evaluation, ask any questions they have, and sign the sheet which will be kept in their file. I also talk about opportunities for volunteering at weekend camps, and hand out a flyer announcing an end-of-the summer picnic to be held on the last day of summer camp. On their way out of the meeting, I thank them again and explain the process for packing up their stuff when their parents pick them up.

Once the volunteers head out, I head back to the office to tie up any loose ends for the week, and make sure that everything is ready to start another week of camp on Sunday. On a good day, I can be out of camp by 1:30 on Friday afternoons. Then, I head to my apartment, grab a bite for a late lunch, and crash on the couch with my remote and the DVR. Can anyone say TGIF?! my one day off (aka: the day Lauren does absolutely nothing)...and then it's back to work on Sunday to do it all over again!

Sheesh. I didn't realize how much stuff I do in a typical week! Well, I guess now it makes sense as to why I'm so darn exhausted at the end of it all. In any case, the summer is nearly over now, but that doesn't mean my job is going to be any less interesting. Okay, maybe it will be (slightly), but I'll be sure to let you know what weekend camps look like, as well as fall recruiting, and later, the interview/application intake process. At this rate, I'll never be bored... right? :)

Until later.

P.S. I have to say, the perk of three free meals a day at camp, sure is a great one! I haven't grocery shopped since at least mid-June, and I'm quite okay with that!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Big Girl, Big Dreams

“Every great accomplishment starts with the decision to try.” I'm pretty sure Dawn and I found this quote way back in August of 2009, as we dared to decorate my brand new apartment in the “big city” of Raleigh, North Carolina. At that point, I had no idea how this quote would resonate with me time and time again, in the two years that spanned my graduate school experience.

On May 14th, my graduate school experience came to an end as I walked up the aisle and across the church (Our departmental graduation was held at Cary Church of Christ.) to receive my folder and say my regards. There in the audience was my immediate family, Dawn, and the “sisters in misery” who shared in my triumphs and sorrows for many long months. While I'd like to say that the day was a bittersweet one, it was really just sweet... Sweet to know that the big, daunting, uneasy decision to attend grad school at NCSU was one that might have cost me lots of tears and anger, but afforded me the greatest accomplishment of my life – an accomplishment I will never forget, and of which I will always be proud.

Okay – so I'm finally done with school. I know for a fact there are a few of you out there who are thinking, “Finally this girl is done with school,” and maybe even one or two who are a little bummed to know you can't tease me about homework and papers and projects anymore. But, now what?

Welp, I'm a big girl now, folks! ...or at least trying to be. After spending a few days at home in Louisiana, on May 21st, I loaded up the car again and headed north on I-49. Seven and a half hours later, I found myself in “The Natural State”...area code 501... zip code 72211...aka: Little Rock, Arkansas.

I moved into my very own apartment, a one-bedroom in West Little Rock, where I'm living...alone...for the first time in my life. As soon as I walked in the door, I thought, “Wow, I have an apartment and it's mine, all mine!” At this point, however, my sentiments are a little different considering I'm over a week into the experience still without furniture or any sort of connection with the outside world. (Hopefully, that will change soon, though.*crosses fingers*)

A week ago (May 23rd), I started working full-time at my “home away from home,” a place that is very special to me. (For sake of clarity and understanding, I'll go ahead and explain...I'm working as the Volunteer Coordinator at the camp for which I have spent the last three summers working.) I definitely have some big shoes to fill, but after a few days of training, I feel good about where things stand, and I am looking forward to a great summer. It sure helps to know that the camp family is a special one, and the supportive environment that exists here is perfect for a girl who is growing into her own.

I can't publish this entry without adding a caveat here. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine this opportunity would present itself. Working as the Volunteer Coordinator at an organization about which I feel passionate is something I hoped would happen, but didn't expect at all. I guess they're right when they say timing is everything and what is meant to be will be. “Que sera sera,” to quote Mrs. Johnson. ;) I am beyond honored for this opportunity and I hope that I will give it my all and make everyone proud in the process...

Now that school is over, and gone with it are the late nights writing or never-ending academic obligations, I'm hoping I'll be able to find more time for blogging. Then again, with the big move and new job is sure to come other supplements in the responsibility category. For now, though, I'm stuck without cable/internet (in addition to the whole furniture thing), so maybe I'll use this solitude to do some catch-up work on this blog of mine. Silence allots for reflective thinking, that's for sure...

In any case, thanks to all who provide support and understanding and I hope that this entry finds you alive and well. I can't wait to catch up with you again soon.

Love always,

**Note: This entry was written on May 30, 2011, and published at a later date.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Messy Break-up

Get excited, it's time for another update. Hold onto your socks, because this might be a good one! Per usual, however, I'll apologize for the blog delay (though it's only been 2 weeks), and talk a bit about current events.

Unless you live under a rock (hey - some people do!), you're well aware of last night's big announcement...Osama Bin Ladin, the man responsible for thousands of innocent deaths and years of heartache, has been killed. This blog isn't generally devoted to current events and the like, but I felt it necessary to mention today because I'd like to share some great resources with you. Benjamin posted a blog with his reflections on the news, and he included a few links to some really interesting posts (reactions from world leaders, expressive photos, etc). Check 'em out if you have a few minutes.

And while we're on the subject of current events, yes I woke up to watch the Royal Wedding on Friday morning. However, I only watched 5 minutes of it (Kate's walk from the car to the alter) before turning off the TV and going back to sleep. Honest to goodness - that was enough for me.

Now, onto the good stuff...


As you may have been wondering, it's about time for an update on that not-so-little thing called my thesis. I'm pretty sure the last time I wrote about "the feces" was way back in January(?!?!?), when graduation and defense day still seemed to be far off into the distance of the grad school tunnel. Well, February, March, and April came and went, and here I sit on May 2nd...11 days from graduation...composing a blog summarizing a season of my life which has surely shortened my total lifespan by at least 5 years.

Maybe you noticed that my blogging habit slacked off - er, became nonexistent - following my post on February 20th. (Then again, maybe you didn't. Shrug.) For those of you who have any regular contact with me, or perhaps possess extravagant stalking skills, you already as I knew it, changed on February 21. Again, I say that with a slight intention of dramatic effect, but at the absolute core of my being, I believe that statement is true. You'll see why in just a second.

On February 16, two weeks before defense day, I sent my thesis to committee for review. That weekend, I received a simple question via e-mail from one of my committee members, but was instructed to double check the answer with our Department Head before sending my response. On Monday, February 21, I went into our Dept. Chair's office, with the assumption that he'd quickly and simply validate my answer, when instead, his response caused my world to fall apart.

In that moment, I was told that every bit of data analysis I'd spent the last three months doing, was wrong. He said I hadn't used the right statistical tests for the type of data I collected or for the type of questions I wanted to answer. He said I had to do not one, but two, completely different tests, in order for my research to be accurate/worthy/effective/insert any other research descriptor term here.

What did that mean? It meant that I had to run two different statistical tests on all of the data I collected, redesign and reformat all 42 tables in my Chapter 4 (Findings), rewrite my entire text sections of Chapter 4, and revise all of Chapter 5 (Conclusions/Recommendations). Mind you, this all happened 10 days out from defense day...and I was asked to get it done by the end of the week. Excuse me?

Needless to say, I was a complete and utter wreck. For four straight days, I did nothing but recalculate, redesign, rewrite...and cry. I cried like I've never cried before. I didn't leave my apartment, and I'm pretty sure my friends thought I was dead (okay, not really). No e-mails were read, no Facebook comments were posted, no Tweets were chirped. Lauren went into work mode - and didn't come out for a long, long time. (In fact, more than 2 months later, I'm not entirely sure I've recovered yet.)

Seven days later, the work I'd spent three months finishing (December, January,and February) was completely redone. Three days after that, I delivered my public presentation and survived my private defense. It did not come without more challenges, however.

In the private defense, my committee realized that the newest version of Chapters 4 and 5 was no more correct/accurate/you-know-the-drill, than the first one. In fact, the first one was much closer to the "right" one than the version I created in the span of just one week. Say what now? You got it - all of the time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears that were put into the previous week's revisions - was wrong.

After much consultation among the committee members and several other faculty (including a statistician), they finally came to a consensus on what I'd be instructed to do...oh, about two weeks later. Yeah, you got that, it took two weeks AFTER my defense, for my committee to figure out what they wanted me to do with my data. Talk about a mess.

As it turned out, I was instructed to keep my data set from the original statistical tests, and add one more test to the mix. I ended up having to add a third test to expand some of my findings just a bit. In the end, I was pronounced Queen of Thesis Tables as my 42 tables became 48, and I officially became the author of the longest thesis in my cohort - with a grand total of a 145 pages to show for it all. Crazy? Well the "fun" wasn't over yet...

Sometime early in the week of March 28 (almost 4 weeks after my defense), I made my first submission to the graduate school. It was returned with notes regarding formatting errors a few days later, and therein began my uphill battle with the graduate school. Having enough of navigating all those boulders, I decided to take about two weeks off for National 4-H Conference prep, work, and recovery time, before getting back on the thesis bandwagon.

In true form regarding the depths of thesis hell, revisions I expected to take days, ended up taking weeks. What was supposed to be two submissions (1 trial, 1 error-error free) ended up totaling at least four. Nothing I did, no help I received, no matter how hard and how many times I tried, I just could not get it right. It was incredibly frustrating and downright sucked, especially after the firepit I'd already been through. Finally, I begged and pleaded with the thesis editor to work her magic on my pages. She agreed, and finally (after a few more formatting challenges), my error-free, official file was accepted on April 25!!!!

With the absolute, hands-down, no matter what, final deadline of April 29, it feels like I made it...almost by the skin of my teeth. I have tried hard not to let it all bother me, but how can I not? I scheduled my defense early in the season because I wanted to be done. I wanted the thesis to be completed and out of my life with time for me to enjoy the people and the places around me. I worked my @%% off for 10 dang (insert many explicatives here) months, and never once did I get a break. It still took every ounce of my being, every patient bone in my body (there weren't many to start with), and every bit of my energy to make it out on the other side.

They say graduate school is a different beast, and man are they right. That beast is one I hope to never again meet in my lifetime, and I can't say I'd ever wish it on anyone. However, a close friend reminded me that this experience ultimately taught me that I'm stronger than I think, and I really can accomplish whatever it is I attempt. Way back in the Fall of 2009, I hated Raleigh, and grad school, and NC State with all of my guts, but I stayed. I wanted to give up, but I didn't. And every day, when I laid down to rest, I read the quote hanging on my wall..."Every great accomplishment starts with the decision to try." Bar none - this is my greatest professional accomplishment, and it all started with a commitment to try.


On Saturday, we had a burn party... A bunch of us thesis rats gathered at Lendy's house to cleanse ourselves of the (literal) baggage we collected along the way. Our biggest supporters joined us as we took the very therapeutic step of burning our research. And by burning our research, we mean, burning our research. We burned. By stacks, and stacks, and stacksss, we burned. We burned our full theses, the graduate school guidelines, revision notes from professors, IRB approval letters, research instruments, letters of consent, data, actual questionnaires...the list goes on. We burned anything and everything related to our thesis - an act of true and necessary cleansing.

And because they deserved a part in the cleanse - our significant others ("sig-ofs" for L.O. - ha!) joined in on the honors. They burned with us and for us, and held our hands as we shed the layers of grad school dust that was so heavily built up on the ones that they love. For, every layer tossed into the fire pit, was one layer closer to rediscovering the people we really are. It was a moving, incredible, and necessary experience.

Today, I write this as a continuation of the cleanse. I feel as though it's important for me to write through the process and the emotions that have plagued my life for the past few months. I write such detail here, not to bore you to death, but to help you understand just a little bit better, the experience I had with my (pile of) "feces." Like the burn party, this blog is another step in the process of healing. For those of you who might be interested or haven't yet seen it, the actual manuscript is up for public access here. Finally, the end is near...I can almost touch it!

And now...Thesis, WE ARE BROKEN UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The end.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Swamp Survivors

I know, I know... so much for that commitment to writing two posts per month. Seriously though, my last post was written on February 20th, and on February 21st, life as I knew it became a thing of the past. While a tiny portion of that statement may have been intended for dramatic effect, there really have been lots of events and life changes since my last post. To date, I have about five blog titles waiting to be hashed out for all of you diligent readers out there (ha).

Given recent events, I do want to take a moment to let everyone know that I am, in fact, alive and well. That statement is all encompassing, but it is also specifically intended as a response to the major tornadoes that tore through Raleigh yesterday. I was actually at Lendy's in Wake Forest at the time, so we saw most of the storm as it drove through Raleigh, before losing power as it came closer to us. Everyone I know in the area (including us) spent some time huddled in a closet or bathroom hoping to be spared from the storm. We were without power for several hours yesterday, but for the brief time we were finally able to view video footage late last night, we were amazed at the devastation that surrounded us. I knew it must have been bad for me to receive texts and calls from friends all across the country, wondering if I was okay, but I had no idea how bad it was until this morning even. Let it be known that my friends are a-okay, but we're also keenly aware of how just close of a call this was for us.


And now onto the real story I've come to share today...

Following my thesis defense on March 2nd (more about that in an upcoming post), I flew home to Louisiana on March 3rd and stayed through the 13th. Despite close calls along the travel experience, I was armed with my "bff Jill" and lots of reasons to celebrate for a week in my beloved Cajunland. Below are the "nitty gritty" details of our trip. :)

March 3: Traveling on two separate itineraries, through two separate layover locations, Lendy and I set out for a memorable (in more ways than one) adventure in Louisiana. In Raleigh, we tried to merge our itineraries, but to no avail; it wasn't until I nearly had a heart attack after being informed that all planes into Louisiana (all cities) were overbooked, and as a result, I'd be stuck in Atlanta for the next three days. Thank Heavens there are good people out there, and some nice man gave up his seat for me (all the while risking a two-day delay for himself in the process). In the end, Lendy and I made it to Lafayette within an hour of each other, as planned. That night, we had dinner with my parents at the Riverfront restaurant in Abbeville, and later surprised my Nanna (she had no idea I was coming!) for her birthday.

March 4: Per Lendy's request, we spent Friday out in the marsh doing real-life Cajuny things. My daddy and his friend took us out in the boat to fish and crab. We had some funny mishaps and lots of enjoyable experiences as we set trout (catfish)lines and learned to "run" the crab cages. That night, we had a crab boil, and Lendy learned how to peel boiled crabs for the first time! It was a good day.

March 5: When storms dampered our plans to travel to New Orleans for a night of Mardi Gras parades, we decided to have a lazy day of watching The Nanny from the living on the living room couch. My Nanna made a huge spread of Cajun food and invited my family and my cousins over for dinner that night. It was a two-for-one birthday celebration, and just another opportunity for us to "wine and dine" Mrs. Johnson (with her Cajun boyfriend).

March 6: Sunday, the weather lightened up and we were finally able to make it out for an evening of Mardi Gras celebrations in the Big Easy. We were eternally grateful to my college roommate, Jen and her husband, Logan, for taking us in as houseguests and serving as tour guides for the adventure. And my, was it an adventure...Sparing the details, I'll say that my first (and perhaps) last experience at Mardi Gras in New Orleans was even crazier than I expected. The word intense doesn't do it justice. Either way, we caught lots of beads, and (I think) a good time was had by all. To celebrate surviving the chaos, we ended the night with delicious beignets and hot chocolate at a cafe in Metarie. YuM.

March 7: On our way back home, we made a side stop in Thibodaux so that I could show Lendy my beloved Nicholls and the town where I spent 3 (wonderful) years of my life. We had lunch at Cane's (the LA version of Zaxby's), explored Nicholls' campus for a bit. We even took a few minutes to play at Pullen Park. That night, my daddy brought home crawfish, and Lendy experienced another first - peeling boiled crawfish.

March 8: Mardi Gras! Lendy's last day in Louisiana culminated with a parade on Mardi Gras Day in Lafayette. We witnessed some authentic Cajun celebrations, and saw some crazy stuff while we were at it. In the end, I think Lendy had a great time (I know I did), but the fun had to come to an end, because there were people waiting patiently to have her home again.

March 9-13: Benjamin, Lindsey, and I hosted our second web training for the group of Collegiate Facilitators who were selected for this year's National 4-H Conference. I relaxed, did *some* schoolwork, and spent lots of time with my family. I also really enjoyed the opportunity to visit my godchild and his triplet sisters. On Saturday, my mom and I got pedicures together before having a nice dinner at Chili's with my parents and grandparents. I was so grateful for the opportunity to spend time at home for my birthday (two years in a row). Sunday morning, I was up and at 'em for an early morning flight back to North Carolina, where someone really special was waiting to retrieve me (more about that in an upcoming post, as well).

All in all, it was a fabulous Spring Break/Mardi Gras/Birthday, and I definitely wouldn't trade it for the world! I do apologize for the lenghty post, but I told you...there's lots of catching up to do. Hopefully, I'll be able to add another chapter to the saga someday soon. (Pestering the author is extremely encouraged!) For now though...


Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Letter in Support of [camp name]

*As part of an application for a grant to cover counselor salaries for [camp name]'s medcamp programs, I was asked to write a letter of support. Below is the letter that was submitted with this application packet. I am posting it here on the blog because I enjoy the process of reflective-creative writing, and it is a solid description of my feelings toward camp. Plus, summertime will be here before we know it, so I figured this would be a great way to put us all in the summer spirit!*

February 21, 2011

Dear Committee:

In 2007, I toured the facilities at [camp name] as part of the American Camp Association's annual Heart of the South Conference. From the moment I set foot on the grounds of [camp name], I knew it was a special place. At the time, I was a counselor at a camp in Louisiana for children with heart conditions. However, in that moment, I knew I had to be a part of the magic that is [camp name].

The following year (2008), I joined the [camp name] family as a counselor at summer camp. Myself and another counselor from heart camp were surprised by the “Welcome Home” sign that awaited our arrival at [camp name]. We wondered whether [camp name] could ever be home to us, after such wonderful experiences elsewhere. However, I am writing this today because I want to assure you, [camp name] is indeed “home” – not only for myself and my co-worker from heart camp, but for hundreds of other young people who have joined the [camp name] family over the years.

My experiences at camp solidified my interest in pursuing national certification as a Child Life Specialist. While [camp name] does not currently employ Child Life Specialists, I have learned so much about the importance of working with children and families to provide opportunities for holistic development and normalization. In the future, I hope to find permanent employment with a medical camp or similar organization whose mission is to serve youth with chronic illnesses.

In addition, my involvement with camp influenced the topic of my graduate research project. As part of the requirements for completion of my Master's degree program, I executed a nationwide study that addressed the current practices for serving youth with special health care needs in the camp setting. This project is just one way camp inspired me to do my part in changing the world, so that all children can experience the joys of summer camp.

Almost four years later, I am eagerly looking forward to spending another summer at “my home away from home.” Following two challenging years in graduate school, I cannot imagine another way I would prefer to spend my summer than surrounded by hundreds of giggling, smiling faces – all of us, eagerly awaiting the time of our lives.

In fact, when I reminisce about camp, I often share my philosophy regarding the experience of counselors at camp. Whereas camp staff are often praised for their service to campers, I must argue the opposite; we are the lucky ones. It is an honor to have worked with such vibrant, accepting, generous, and aspiring individuals. With that in mind, I ask you to consider supporting [camp name] – not just for the campers, but for the counselors, too. The impact this experience has made on mine and hundreds of others' lives is more far reaching than any of us could ever imagine.

Thanks for your consideration,

Lauren Mouton

Saturday, February 12, 2011

(My) Social Network

Those of you who know me well are fully aware of my stalking tendencies. Quite frankly, while many might be ashamed of this little tidbit, I'm pretty darn proud of my skills, lol. I have to say, though, that I think this is just another mark of my generation and not anything overly unique about me. Let's face it - we're Millennials; we knew AIM/Yahoo/MSN instant messaging before we knew about e-mail, and years before MySpace or LiveJournal, the precursor to today's Bloggers and WordPresses. Most of us even remember the days whenever StalkerBook (ha) was exclusively for college students, originally for the elitest of the elite.

Social media is such a hot topic these days. [In fact, I must take a minute to say that my mind was absolutely BLOWN by the Fb movie, more popularly known as "The Social Network."] With all this chatter about social networking, I have been inspired to do a little reflecting, which ties in quite nicely to a topic I've been wanting to post about.

At our departmental graduate seminar this week, we watched the recorded version of a keynote speaker from one of the professional conferences in our field. The speaker hit on several interesting points related to networking and relationship-building. I say this as a disclaimer for some of the points or quotes I plan to discuss here.

Anyway, in relationships (platonic, or otherwise) this idea of "reciprocity" is essential. As they might say in the business world, we want a return on our investments. In fact, it makes sense to recognize that people will treat you in such a way that is equal to or less than the way that you treat them. I'm not going to draw this out in a model, but you may want think of this as our conceptual framework...for those of us living in the depths of research hell, lol.

Further reflection leads me to thoughts regarding my own reciprocity in relationships. Years ago, I'd say I was pretty good at this practice. I was the person who sent out hand-written cards, and didn't care if anyone ever wrote back as long as I could rest assured that I'd made someone's day simply by thinking of them. More recently, though, I've gotten out of the habit of sending well wishes on birthdays and congratulatory messages, or even the "Smile-It's a happy day," texts. It may be that I am more conscious of this change than the actual recipients (or former recipients) of my efforts, but I do pride myself on these random acts of kindness, if you will...and these days I am slacking. This is definitely something I want to work on restoring after I ditch this time-sucker life that is graduate school.

But back to social networking...I am SO grateful to live in a time and a place where these tools are readily available to me. Many people complain about young people's lack of social skills as a direct result of the technology age, but I have to say that I don't completely agree with this argument. (I'll leave this rant for some other time, maybe.) Technology and social networking has allowed me to make and maintain friendships across the globe. For the last several years, I could have named one person I knew in (literally) almost every state in the U.S., and probably at least 5 other countries. Thanks to Skype, I can be in the same room with someone thousands of miles away, and feel like nothing - not even oceans - comes between us and our friendship with one another.

For practicality's sake, I'm going to come down from my cloud for a bit and tell you about a project I've been working on recently. Many of you are aware of my love for and involvement with the 4-H program. You may also recall that I have worked as a Collegiate Facilitator for the National 4-H Conference for the past four years. This year, myself and a very good friend of mine, are serving as coordinators for the Collegiate Facilitator group. I could write an entire post about our experiences with this conference and how our roles are unfolding as the days and weeks of "Conference Season" roll by. However, I'll direct you to Benjamin's blog for two entries that sum up our experiences thus far ("Teamwork" and "Glimpse into the Future"). Note: You should expect to read more about Conference in future posts.

My reason for mentioning (National 4-H) Conference in this post about social networking is that Conference was one of my first real "catalystic experiences" (is that even a real phrase??) that gave value to social media and networking in my life. One day, I'll write an entire post about the networks - better yet, lifelong friendships - I have formed as a result of my years as a Collegiate Facilitator at (National 4-H) Conference. For now, I'll simply point out that without these networks, I never would have fallen into the position of coordinating a group of collegiate students who are just as passionate about the 4-H organization as I am, as well as the opportunity to do this with a person who has been such a good friend to me over the years, despite our distance across states, time zones, and occasionally - oceans.

Referring back to the conference speaker, I fully agree with the statement, "Your network is your net worth." Your network cannot be taken away or repossessed, it is always with you, even when you'd rather live a life of anonymity. The fact of the matter is that we are at a point in our lives that someone is always watching us, whether we know it, or want it. On the flip side, though, we have to remember that concept of "reciprocity." What are we doing to serve others in ways that we hope will be reciprocated? In what ways can we build networks and provide for others' needs, so that they will want to reciprocate for us? ...Just something to think about...

In any case, technology, media, and social networking aren't going anywhere anytime soon. I think it's important for us to embrace this evolution and recognize the value in interconnectedness. Now, more than ever, "It's a small world;" how are you making the world smaller?

And in honor of 4-H, I'll leave you with this...

"Be Green. Grow everything you touch."

A few thoughts for later:
*Feelings are facts. - How do you make others feel?
*Goodwill is the original viral marketing. - How are you marketing yourself? Is it viral?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Job Fever

It's the last day of January, and we all know what that! Feeling a little drowsy today, but wanting to be productive nonetheless, I thought, "Hey, today would be a good day for a blog!" Only then did I realize it's the last day of the month, which means I need to get on it if I want to keep my commitment to blogging twice a month.

Thankfully, I had an idea of what to write in this entry (several, actually), so that part wasn't too hard. Interestingly, I have ideas for two more blogs brewing in this little brain of mine, so you may be plesantly surprised over the next few weeks. However, don't expect too much, as we all know how those things go.

As usual, first comes the thesis (or "feces") update. I'm having a tough time getting back into the swing of all things school related. The minimum is done, but while I was once ahead of the pack on thesising, I'm falling farther behind daily. I really should finalize revisions and get on that formatting stuff, but ughh, there are just so many more interesting things to do with my time. Only 4 weeks til D-Day (defense)! ahhh.

And because these days I can't blog without including one of those fun comics, here's this entry's addition:

This particular comic is appropriate because I spent the first week of school performing daily revisions on a paper that was submitted for a research conference in Idaho this May. No word yet on whether it'll be accepted, but honestly, I'm perfectly okay if it doesn't get in. I'd really prefer to keep my post-graduation calendar as open as possible, and attending a research conference the week after isn't exactly in my list of highlights.

And after all that, I can finally get onto the "main course," if you will. As I'm sure you could gather from the title, this entry is all about the mooolahhhhh. Well, sort of. What I mean is that job fever is working itself through our office like the plague.

I'm not sure where it started, and I may have mentioned that several job "leads" were out for my friends and classmates in previous entries, but goodness the jobs have exploded! In the last month, there have been at least 8 job interviews among four of us, collectively. Two of the J's have received jobs in Extension, one as a 4-H Agent and one as a Livestock/Row Crops Agent. While it may not have been a heavenly set-up for either of them, I think they will both find happiness in their new endeavors, both short and long term. ;-)

The third J (Yes, we're surrounded by J's in NC too...reminds me of the Idaho J boys, haha!) received wonderful news today; she was offered a position as teacher a biotechnology teacher at a middle school about 45 minutes from Raleigh! Slated to start her student teaching practicum sometime this week, this last minute news is great, since this offer will be a permanent position, instead. Everyone's dreams are falling together, and it's so sweet to think back to when we all started out just a year and a half ago... Congratulations, yay!

In the midst of all this job-ness, I started to feel left out. So, uh, I *gasp* decided to apply for a job, too. WHAT, you say? Yeah, I know. What happened to not wanting a job 'til August? Well, I don't, I said, I felt left out!

The dish, you want? In an effort to avoid thesising (story of my life, right?) I spent a Friday evening surfing the websites of hospitals in four states, scoping out openings for Child Life positions. In the process, I came across an opening in Greenville, South Carolina. After researching the program, and the hospital's website, I kept coming back to that program. So, on a whim, I threw together the application, without thinking too much, and before I could convince myself not to do it, I submitted the darn thing. This was around 8 p.m. on a Friday night, and by Monday morning (before 9 a.m.), I had an e-mail requesting a phone interview for the following afternoon. Whoaaa, talk about fast moving...especially for something I did on a whim! (Those of you who know me, realize this is sooo not a "Lauren thing" to do!)

In any case, the interview went okay. I feel like I represented myself fairly, and to the best that I could given my background and experiences. However, I think they may be hoping for someone with more experience, or just something other than what I have to offer. I've been watching the status of my application online, but I haven't seen anything of interest there yet. I'll be sure to share if I hear anything; either way, I'm content because for now I am still in school, and the future will take care of itself.

Needless to say, these next few months are sure to be interesting. We made a paper chain countdown to graduation in the office, and it's bittersweet to watch the links disappear daily. All in all, I'm really excited about the possibilities and I can't wait to see how everything unfolds.

As always, stay tuned.

PS: The title of this entry reminded me of this song. Enjoy. (And believe it or not, it's not country. Ha.)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Tribute to "The Land of the Sugarcane"

I believe it's been a while since I composed a full-out, poetic, belle of the bayou type entry. While I'm not sure these things can be planned exactly, by golly, today I hope to try. I am of the thought that those heart-wrenching, truly thought-provoking blogs really evolve out of inspiration rather than cognitive forethought, so we'll see what happens.

This morning I found myself on yet another plane—east, this time—heading back toward a place that is, though geographically only 1,000 miles away, a world apart in more ways than one. As I settled in for what has become a familiar ride, I cracked open a book in hopes of occupying my thoughts for the short trip. I'm no newcommer to flying, unlike many of the fellow guests who occupy the cramped space on this tiny regional get. I always crack a smile at the first-time fliers who have thousands of questions about this exciting, yet overwhelming, experience. It's always particularly interesting when traveling outbound from Lafayette, as so many of the locals rarely travel by plane...or by any mass transit, for that matter.

Today, this particular experience placed a bit of inspiration on my blogging heart. The book I happen to be reading is titled Poor Man's Provence: Finding Myself in Cajun Louisiana. While I'm not sure that “outsiders,” can truly understand the poetic stories featured in this work, I find myself engrossed in the fairytales that are so familiar to me. I think, it should be required reading for friends of our dear Cajuns, to study (formally or informally) the heritage and culture of the Acadian people. It sounds strange, but I just feel as though there's no way to truly understand who we are and what we do, without such knowledge.

But back to my story. For the last month, I have been blessed with the opportunity to spend time in the lovely place that I call home. Cajun Country, Acadiana, South Louisiana – however you choose to name it, it's still home to me. Even as I sit here, composing this entry after reading a very flowy and descriptive text, I find it challenging to provide readers with an accurate and complete picture of my homeland. Ask those who have visited – words just cannot do it justice.

The food, the people, their love for life and never-ending excuses for celebration. All of it. As I read about drive-through daiquiri shops, dirty politics (dirtier than our rice—I promise), stormy weather, ornately costumed drunkards in expected and acceptable brawls, as well as opposition to all things fancy and anti-cultural, I realized that the Cajun culture would forever be a part of me. While I have not yet signed up to spend the rest of my life within a 3 hour radius of “The Heart of Acadiana” (Lafayette), there is no mistaking that I will forever be Cajun—in heart, body, and soul.

To those of you who have visited, and even those who haven't, I want to extend a very special invitation. You are always welcome to come along for the ride, albeit a wild one, to “the end of the earth”--both literally and figuratively. Come, we'll drive to edge...where the road ends and water begins. We'll eat good food and drink merrily. We'll meet joyful, exuberant friends, and you'll leave with a sense of family. For those who come, never forget. And those who stay, will always be home.

I'll leave you with a philosophy for life, inspired by the people of Avery Island, Louisiana, home of world-famous Tobasco sauce: “When your sugar is wiped out by the enemy, do something creative with your salt. Protect the birds in your own back yard first. And, oh, yes, relish the unexpected.” - Rheta Grimsely Johnson (Poor Many's Provence: Finding Myself in Cajun Lousiana)

"Louisiana: It's not just a state, it's a state of mind." (LYJ)
- Lauren

**Last night, I dreamed I was eaten by an alligator. Now, if that ain't Cajun, I don't know what is!