Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Day 463 - All Good Things Must Come to An End

Today is the last day of National Novel Writing Month.  For me, it's the end of round two of the challenge to write 50,000 words in the thirty days of November.

Last year, I tore through the challenge like it was nothing.  Granted, I had and still have a number of unfinished creative writing projects, and Suite101 was in the midst of a thirty articles in thirty days challenge that I was also taking part in.  Including creative projects, work, and "The Years Spent PC," I had plenty of words to clear the 50K mark and print out my snazzy certificate, get my purple 2009 button for my National Novel Writing Month writer profile, and collect all of my goodies and bragging rights.

This year, my sorority little sister and I both decided to participate.  After all, I had "won" last year with three days left in the month, so this year should be cake since I had already done the challenge once.  Right?

Well, it's 6:50 P.M. EST, and I am exactly 8,000 words short of the golden 50K.

Yup, that's right, I don't think I'm going to slay this beast, folks.

I thought about ways I could win.  I thought about going through my Twitter feed and copying all of my tweets for the month - after all, I had written every one of those words.  I thought about all of the emails I had sent, the GRE essays I had written, and all of the extraneous words that I had penned throughout the past thirty days simply doing what I do every day.  I even thought about calling off from the Job from Hell today to see if I could pull what was a total of 11,500 out of my butt before 11:59 tonight, but I realized that I would more than likely sleep in and lounge on the couch watching TLC all morning, eat lunch, and then find something else to occupy my time all afternoon until I realized the real reason I needed the day to myself.

Needless to say, I went to work today.

But then again, I've looked at everything I have done throughout the month and realized that, even though I won't get the cool little certificate to hang on my wall next to the one from last year, I have completed a challenge.  I have written over 42,000 words (the word counter always adds words for some reason) on top of working 40 hours a week, studying for the biggest test of my life, and taking the GRE on top of it all.  In addition, I've been writing for Suite101 and finishing up graduate school applications.

In my book, that's an accomplishment.

So, even though I won't be posting my little winner graphic on my blog this year and I won't have a certificate to hang up, I think that I have risen above quite a challenge during this round of National Novel Writing Month.  Next year, though, all of those words had better watch out.

Even though I know I didn't reach the goal, here's to hoping that my little comes up with 16,000 words by midnight.  If anyone can, she can.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Day 460 - Gettin' A Little Crazy

I'm just going to preface this by saying that Black Friday is a tradition in my family.  My mom, my sisters and I go out every year, do a little shopping in the early morning hours, eat lunch, and come home and crash.

But this year, my sister Erin and I did something completely silly, just for $hits and giggles.

Midnight Madness, anyone?

You see, the local outlet mall holds Midnight Madness every Thanksgiving / Black Friday, where all of the stores and the food court all open at midnight.  They offer all kinds of deals and make a big fuss over it because everybody - well, until this year, except us - goes to the Aurora outlets for Midnight Madness.  This year, since the economy has been bad and people around here don't have any money, stores were practically giving things away this year, with some stores opening at ten or eleven instead of waiting until the magic hour to unlock their doors.

So, out of curiosity, Erin and I went to Midnight Madness.  However, we decided, or rather Erin decided and I agreed, that if we were going to do this, we were going to do it up right.  We decided that we were going to be the first in line at the COACH outlet when they opened at eleven.  Why?  Because out of all of the stores in the three outlet sub-malls, COACH was by far our favorite and the store that everyone and their brother and sister were going to be waiting at.

We left our house at seven on Thursday evening.  Yes, I said seven in the evening.

Erin and I got to the outlet mall around 7:30 and found a prime parking spot.  In reality, any parking spot at the Farms sub-outlet is prime parking because, well, there aren't many parking spots to begin with.  To our dismay, there were already about twenty people in line already!  Did these people bring Thanksgiving dinner in a crock pot or did they just leave the dirty dishes on the table and run?

Disappointed, Erin and I got in line, pulled out our Blackberries, and prepared to stand in line for the next three and a half hours. 

We weren't even sure if we were going to buy anything.  Heck, we were both broke.  But we had heard friends, coworkers, and sorority sisters go on about Midnight Madness for years, and if Erin and I spent summers of our tween years standing in line for hours in the blistering summer sun waiting to get the newest Beanie Babies on the day they were released, we could handle three and a half hours of standing under an awning and watching the ran pour down on the poor souls who didn't leave the house until after eight.  Piece of cake!

Midnight Madness was fun, but it was more for our bonding time than to actually go shopping.  We stood behind a pilgrim woman at COACH for three and a half hours, watched as an Asian international student tried to cut in line and then proceeded to pick a fight with the woman in line behind us, set foot in the Osh Kosh Bgosh store to say hi to a friend and then ran away, and laughed as Erin blindly jumped into a massive puddle as we were running through the rain back to my car at one in the morning.  I wish I would have gotten a picture of the pilgrim woman, whose family traditionally dresses up as pilgrims and Native Americans for their Thanksgiving get together.  She also said that she had gone to the movies in the outfit before arriving at the store.  Strange!

After Erin and I drove around Ravenna looking for some place that was serving food (and couldn't find any, ) we got home around two.  I started to panic because I couldn't find my cell phone, ransacked my car and found my phone under the passenger's seat, and went to bed.  We were pooped.

Then we got up at six and went out shopping again.  By the time lunch came around, I was so hungry and had such low blood sugar that I couldn't text anyone because my hands were shaking so bad.  Hey, the last time I had eaten anything substantial was for Thanksgiving dinner!

All in all, I had fun.  I didn't spend too much (thankfully, because another round of student loan payments are coming up) and I got to spend time with my family, which almost always makes me feel better.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Day 457 - Thanksgiving Eve

The pies are made, Theodore the Thanksgiving Turkey is thawing in the sink, and both of my sisters are starting Thanksgiving break today.

A lot of things have happened since last Thanksgiving.  Heck, a lot of things have happened this year in general that I am thankful for.  Some are little things, some are big things, but being thankful for a certain aspect of our lives doesn't mean that it has to be a certain size or shape or color or phase of matter.  After all, most of the things I'm thankful for are things that aren't meant to be materialized, but it's important to remember that they are given life by the people, events, and lessons around me.

Life.  I know, it may seem kind of silly to be thankful to be alive, but there have been a couple of times this year where being alive wasn't necessarily a given.  Getting in a car accident was a big one, and every time I drive by that place I still hear everyone who told me that I honestly could have - and if I would have been going any faster probably would have - died that morning, I hold my breath.

It really hits home when I think about the brushes with death that have happened this month in the lives of my friends.  One of my sorority sisters had an emergency liver transplant earlier this month, and thankfully she got the needed transplant (named Pedro) just in time as all of my sisters and I, regardless of where we were at the time, cried because we were so happy that everything came through.

Then, on Veterans Day, one of my classmates from college was killed in a car accident.  He was 24, completely sober, and simply driving home from work when he went left of center and lost control of his car.

Without life, there would be no reason to be thankful for anything else because, well, it's not like I'd be able to be thankful for anything.

Family.  No matter how much my dad annoys me with his attempts at trying to find me "real jobs," and no matter how much my sisters argue, and no matter how many times my mom forces me to be slightly more realistic, my family has been there with me through thick and thin.  Without them, I'd probably be committed to a mental institution somewhere.

My family doesn't just include my biological family, though.  Some of the most important people in my life, my sorority sisters and my closest friends, are included in my family.  They may not be related by blood or by legal documents, but they are some of the most beautiful people I have ever been graced to know.  They have become my shoulders to cry on, my cheerleaders, my reality checks when I'm thinking like a crazy, and a part of my family that I simply cannot put a price on.

All of the random material things. Even though stuff is stupid and most of my stuff is still in disarray from not cleaning my room since registering for the GRE, I can be thankful that I have warm clothes in the winter and breezy clothes in the summer, that I have a bed to sleep in at night, and shoes to wear on my feet.  I have a car that's a little worse for wear (and possibly may need new brake pads) but it's better than nothing at all, and for that I am grateful.

Love.  Love - the ultimate thing I am thankful for.  I've done a lot of things that could push people away.  I suck at answering or returning phone calls.  I don't go out that much.  I've spent too much time working my short life away and sometimes have neglected the people I love.  Through all of my young stupidity, though, my family, friends, and boyfriend have stayed by my side and loved me all the way, even when I screw up and finally cry out that I need help.

It's love that makes me feel snuggly warm when I'm at home with my family.  It's love that binds me to my friends and my sisters.  It's love that still brings butterflys to my stomach when I even think of my boyfriend and it's the same love that makes me want to spend my life with him.  Love may hurt, love may make me scream in frustration, but love ultimately is the reason as to why we're here, and for some, it's love that keeps us perfectly balanced in our current state.  Even the Bible says, "Love goes on forever."

I have a lot to be thankful for this year.  It may not seem like I've had it easy, and I know that I've had my rough spots, but I've learned a lot about myself this year and I've grown in ways that would not have been possible had I been forced to live paycheck to paycheck, had I hit a deer with my car, or had I been forced to reevaluate where I want to go in life.

So tomorrow, as I sit down with my family to chow down on Theodore the Thanksgiving Turkey, I know that I have been truly blessed this year.  Hopefully, I'll continue to be blessed for many more years to come - and that is something to be thankful for.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Day 456 - Suck It Up, Farm Girl!

I've heard that saying for years when I start musing about how I've screwed up on something or something hasn't gone my way.  Honestly, I don't know where it even came from - I think my sister Erin may or may not have made it one of her witty quips that she spits out once in a while - but it works.

It works for me getting over my disappointment in myself in regards to my GRE scores.  I really need to get over the "woe is me" attitude, get back to work on those applications, and show the admissions committees at my potential schools that I am awesome, even if I may not have the best test scores.

So that's what I am going to do.  After I came home from taking my test on Friday, I went straight to my Princeton Review book and looked at the percentiles for my scores which, of course, were both odd numbers.  The book only lists the percentiles for even numbered scores, which did not make my anxiety any better because I had to do more math on top of having it painfully pulled out of my brain for forty-five minutes.  I then proceeded to cry, hyperventilate, and do all other kinds of Ashley-is-having-her-version-of-a-panic-attack kinds of things without any rational reason behind it other than I thought that I had failed a test that no one can possibly fail.

I spent the whole weekend and all day yesterday trying to objectively tell people how I did on the test.  Every time I recounted that I got this score on this section and that score on that section and how I thought that I could have done a whole lot better (at least on the verbal section, maybe not the math,) my mom would chime in.  "Ashley," she would say, "you don't know that those are bad scores.  That book is old.  It's outdated.  For all you know, the testing pool could have changed and you could be in a completely different place on the scale."

Score one again for Mom.  She's right.

The truth that I clearly need to accept is that my test scores don't define me as a student or as a writer.  My scores are only a fraction of who I am academically, and while my academic abilities may not be accurately reflected in a set of standardized test scores, I can show them more in the rest of my application.  I am determined.  I am driven.  I am engaging.  I am curious and willing to learn, willing to pick apart everything and anything to find the how and why it works.

To top it off, I think I'm a very good writer - decent, at the very least.  I was going to word that in a slightly stronger tone, but I decided not to.  Sounded out of character.

I guess all that's left is to rock the rest of my application and hope for the best.  After all, all I can do is my best and the best is all I can do.

Why?  Because I am NOT taking the GRE again.  Ever.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Day 453 - Boo On You!

I took the GRE yesterday.  Boy oh boy, am I glad that it's over.

AND I'm glad that the schools I am applying to do not require a minimum score on either section for admission.  According to the programs' websites, I just have to take the test - and I did just that.

I'm slightly frustrated with my results, though, frustrated enough that I'm not posting my scores online for the world to see.  I can only handle so much public humiliation in one go, and coming home and literally breaking down into near hysterics yesterday afternoon was more than enough for now. 

I will, however, share a few things about my GRE experience:

1.  My math score was higher than my verbal score by a lot.  By "a lot," I mean by over fifty points difference.  While I can't do calculus, I still remember everything they taught me in algebra back in eighth grade.
2.  I still stink at taking tests.  Can't I just write a paper instead?
3.  I am beginning to think that I don't know how to study.  After being an A student all through elementary, junior high, high school, and college, I finally met a foe that kicked my smarty pants @$$.  I made flashcards.  I took practice tests.  I did the practice problems in my study book.  I still (in my overanalyzer and overachiever opinion) bombed the test.  Maybe this smart cookie doesn't know how to study properly?
4.  Don't waste money on test prep materials.  My GRE-prep book caused me more grief than I probably should have had.  I'm contemplating burning it in our fire pit.

Maybe what that $160 test is trying to tell me is that I'm not supposed to go to grad school, but instead be doomed to a life of barely-above minimum wage jobs that make me perfectly miserable in a position that I am over qualified for.  Or maybe I'm just beating myself up over nothing, because after all, test scores are only a part of what admissions committees look at in a student.

Just a very large part.

I guess I just have to cross my fingers, make everything else in my applications rock, and hope for the best.  I really need this.  I keep saying that, but I have yet to find a way to express just how much I need out of my job from hell and into a place where I feel I can be me - complete nerd and all.