Sunday, August 28, 2011

I Heart Music City.

I am a Music City Girl through and through. I can’t carry a tune (harmonizing and singing off key sound the same to me). I have limited music knowledge of anything before 1999 (The BeeGees sang what song???). And I rarely understand the actual words of songs (Macy Gray says “My world crumbles when you are not here” not “I blow bubbles when you are not here”. Who knew?) Nevertheless, I am a big fan of Christian and country music - especially when concerts and cowboy boots are involved. Music tells stories that I can’t tell. Songs open up doors to my heart that nothing / noone else can open. They trigger memories of parties and funerals and summers and proms. They open a floodgate of emotions of uncontrollable laughter and a broken heartedness and sorrow and summers (I’ve always thought “summer” should be an emotion, too). Part of why I love Nashville is that there is always a concert to go to and lots of great music on the radio and street corners.  This past week I went to two concerts – both incredible.

Grand Ole Opry
On Tuesday night I went to the Grand Ole Opry with my friend Mackenzie. We were backstage, so we got to see all of the dressing rooms and the singers prepping to go on stage. During the show, we stood on the stage and watched from the back. It was neat to see the difference between how everyone acts behind stage vs. on stage. They check their zippers. They make awkward conversation. They kiss their baby’s foreheads for good luck. They let out huge exhales when their performance is over. They are so real. We saw Larry Gatlin, Heidi Newfield, Little Jimmy Dickens, Trace Adkins, and Rascal Flatts.  All of them were great!  

Heidi Newfield with Larry Gatlin

 Trace Adkins

 Rascal Flatts

Rascal Flatts

Mackenzie, My Concert Buddy 

Standing Center Stage on the Original Circle

I don’t get star-struck very easily, but of course I was still very excited to see everyone.  My lack of being star-struck? That comes from embarrassing myself a few times.  When I was a teenager, I spent four summers in the Hamptons working as a summer nanny. Of course the Hamptons are just crawling with celebs. Of course I don’t easily recognize most of them. One time I was sent to the grocery store to pick up “2 hard cheeses, 2 soft cheeses, and a French baguette” for appetizers that evening. Growing up, the only differences that I ever knew about cheeses were “sliced” or “shredded”. So there I was in the grocery store (which conveniently offered valet parking), surrounded by all sorts of fancy cheeses.  I had already discerned that a brie and goat cheese should be considered “soft” but I was stuck on the hard cheeses. I remember picking up a huge chunk of cheese, turning to the blonde beside me, and saying “I’m so confused. Is this cheese hard or soft?” As the words are coming out, I realize that I am talking to none other than Pamela Anderson. About cheese. Asking her if the chunk of gouda in my hand is considered a hard cheese. Oh. My. Gosh. I explained to her what I was sent to get and she just looked at me, giggled a bit, asked to see what I had already picked, swapped out my selections for better options, and then sent me on my way. Another time I was chasing my kids on the beach using my best “scary beach monster” voice and acting somewhat ridiculous. I had noticed a woman talking to my boss. Her child ran up to join in on the fun, so I started chasing him, too.  The adults just watched and laughed. I mean, I was being pretty loud and crazy which is not the norm for me. My boss conveniently told me after the woman and her son left that I was making a fool of myself in front of Julianne Moore. Oh. My. Gosh. That broke me in pretty quickly. 

Natalie Grant
On Wednesday night I went to a women’s event at my friend’s church. Natalie Grant came and sang / gave her testimony to us. I knew as soon as I was invited that I just had to go. You see, Natalie Grant changed my life a few years ago. When I was having a hard time, one of my dearest friends introduced me to her song “In Better Hands”. For about 4 months, I literally listened to that song on repeat, along with “In Christ Alone”, in the car, on my ipod, on my alarm clock… constantly.  Those two songs pulled me out of darkness and gave me hope again.  I remember one distinct moment of exercising on a nature trail when Natalie’s song hit me in a way that it had never touched my heart before. In that moment, I was struck with the faithfulness of God and the thrill of hope. I was so overwhelmed that I could do nothing but to stop running (okay… walking) and just sit in the middle of the pavement and cry. Sometimes God puts songs in our lives that meet us right where we are and tells us exactly what we need to hear.  Of course Natalie sang that song on Wednesday night. It was gorgeous and emotional and I choked back the tears the entire time. And then, in a moment of “God is creating this moment right now just for me”, she sang In Christ Alone. As far as I know, she has never recorded this song. But she sang it for me, I am convinced. Someone must have told her I was attending.

Natalie talked about how in Jesus our passion meets our purpose. I know that I am destined to have a big purpose. I know that I am meant for something huge. I am grateful for every day that God prepares my heart and my mind for the things that he wants to do with me. I’m available. He knows that.

Let’s Be Real Here…
In the spirit of full disclosure, I am not always travelling and going to concerts. Sometimes I look absolutely ridiculous and do things like paint ceilings. I’m embarrassed, but I’m real. This is what I look like sometimes on the weekend. Yikes.

However, it was worth it. I have never seen porch ceilings or window frames shine so bright. That’s what I keep telling myself.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Bull: 2 Emily: 0

I promised pictures of my white water rafting trip. Voila!

At the end of my Yellowstone adventure we decided to do a half-day white water rafting trip down the Yellowstone River. This was my first rafting adventure and I must admit that I was nervous. I just knew that after our rattlesnake, grizzly bear, and buffalo experiences I would not make it out of the river unscathed. Fortunately, I was wrong! We had a blast! I must admit that I was little surprised to see a smile on my face throughout all of the pictures. I didn't realize at that time that I was smiling - I expected to look worried in at least a few of them! 

 I am on the second row on the left-hand side of the boat... the one with the hat but no glasses. 

The water was freezing! Yes, I did fall in. But not because of the rapids. While we were navigating the river I surprisingly never felt like I would fall in. I was only in the water when I was either 1) pushed in by our guide ("Hey! You guys sit on the edge of the raft while I check the air pressure of the seats..." Splash!) or 2) when I was suckered into riding the bull. Oh, the bull. In a raft, "riding the bull" means that you sit on the front edge of the boat and let your legs hang over into the water. You are supposed to grab the rope (that goes around the perimeter of the raft) with one hand and wave your other arm around in the air. The guide said over and over "It is the safest seat in the raft. When we go through the rapids the front of the boat will pop up and if you fall, you will fall back into the boat." First of all, this is the same guide that just had us sit on the edge of the raft to "check the air pressure" while he pushed us into the water. Second, "when we go through the rapids"? What?!? We are going to be on there through the rapids? Oh gosh. I make a mental not to not volunteer for the bull.  Don't make a sound, Emily. Sit quietly. Stare at your shoes. Act like you aren't listening. Please. Oh, please. Don't let anyone look at me. And then it begins. The chanting. "Emily. Emily. Emily." I zone out to the moment in seventh grade when I decided to hop on a fake bull at a friend's house. It was basically a barrell tied up in the air with a rope attached to four posts. I bravely hopped up on to a plastic patio chair and attempted to stradle the bull. I throw one leg over the barrell. I glance up at my friends, not sure if my body is shaking because of the wobbly chair or my nerves - but I am proud to be the one who goes first. I begin to throw my other leg over, silently celebrating that I have never been quite so brave. I'm not even sure if I made it all the way up, because the next thing I know the patio chair is broken and I am laying on the ground with the inside of my leg sliced open from a jagged plastic edge on the chair. One ride on the back of the lawnmower back to civilization (I, sitting on a pile of grass and leaves in a make-shift wagon, trust my life to a fellow 11 year old to drive the lawn mower down the street and up the long, country drive way. I remember there being a discussion of both how to turn it on and which pedal was gas or brake.), a 3 hour waiting room visit, 11 stitches, and a 4-inch scar (still visible, by the way) later, I decided fake bulls and I were finished. The memory blurs as I realize that I am still in fact on the raft in the middle of a river being taunted by my friends who are now grabbing my paddle and pushing me to the front of the raft. I once again find myself attempting to stradle a bull. I throw one leg over the edge - thinking that this seems eerily familiar. I glance up at the rapids, not sure if my body is shaking because of the waves or my nerves - but I am somewhat proud to be the one who goes first.  I begin to throw my other leg over, silently celebrating that I have officially never made it this far with a bull before. I'm not even sure if ever even sat on the bull, because the next thing I know I am in the icy water staring at the rapids in front of me.  Before I can blink, Marina's dad reaches down, grabs the back of my life jacket, and pulls me straight back up into the boat. I refuse to not look as defeated as I feel.  I should have waved my white flag. But no. I take the advice from the little red guy sitting on my left shoulder and I try again. This time, in an attempt to not slide down into the water, I drape my legs over the edge and lean backwards. That dosn't work. I rode for the next few mintutes with my rear end on the floor of the raft and my feet straight up in the air... through the rapids. I liken it to sticking your face up to the exhaust pipe when a semi starts it engine. Or perhaps getting out of a hottub and immediately jumping straight into artic waters. It was neither fun, nor brave, nor impressive. I was doused with water uncontrollably. I was pounded by the river for what felt like hours. I couldn't open my eyes, couldn't breathe, couldn't move. I didn't let go of the rope, though. And Marina's dad never let go of me. Finally, we made it through the rapids and I took the crawl of shame back to my place on the raft and watched every other person successfuly ride the bull with grace and ease.  



One embarrassing ride on the floor of the raft, two rope burns on either hand, four large gulps of river water, one impressed guide (apparently he has never seen anyone but me actually fall out of the front of the raft before... or ride on the floor), and 5 laughing friends later I have once again decided that fake bulls and I are finished.  May we never meet again, Bull. May we pretty pretty please with a cherry on top never meet again.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

One, Two, Three.

When I was travelling through Yellowstone, I snapped pictures like a mad woman. I wanted to be able to remember it all exactly how it was. Although I might be able to put my photos together and create a flipbook of my entire trip, the photos somehow just couldn't capture it all. I finally put my camera in my lap and just soaked it all in, out from behind a digital screen. And even now when I show my photographs, I always explain "These pictures are pretty, but in real life it is just absolutely gorgeous."  That's the thing with photos. You get the picture, but not the full moment. You miss the crisp fall air blowing through the pumpkin patch, the sounds of the adults in the background doing anything to get the kids to smile, the smell of hot cider on Christmas morning (or wassail as my mother calls it). And while photos may not capture it all (like my sister with her eyes actually open) the beauty of photographs is that they remind us of what we love. When I miss my friends from college, I scroll through albums of my iphoto library - back when my life was viewed in terms of semesters instead of quarters and when the word "summer" was used synonymously with "break". When I miss my grandparents, I sit in the floor at my parent's house and carefully turn the pages of old, browning photo albums giggling at the hairstyles and outfits that were supposedly cool (err... groovy) back in the day. My mom laughed at me the first time she came to my condo becuase I have a picture of her right beside the kitchen sink. She said "Great... now you can think of me every time you do the dishes." It's true. When I wash dishes I always look at mom's picture and really, really wish she were with me. But when the photos fade (or the hard drive crashes) the memories behind the photos are what really stick. So in addition to my goal to take more photographs, I have made it my goal to take more Moments. It may be in the middle of the ordinary, the expected, or the beautiful but sometimes I just take in a deep breath and blink my eyes slowly hoping that the shutter in my mind can somehow capture the moment and that the memories will hang permanently on the walls of my heart.

Because what you see in a photograph reminds us of the stories beneath them:

Having my birthday dinner with my family - Of course my sweet mom put a candle in a bowl of fruit since I am the complicated one that does't like desserts...

Getting lots of mail - For once it is all actually addressed to me...

Winning my Fantasy Bashelorette pool - I knew it was J.P. all along...

Reading books with my nephews one last night before they move to a different state - Using my scariest gorilla voice... 

Thinking I'm going to get a kiss from my sweet nephew - But getting tackled instead...

Getting a long over-due visit from a best friend - And still knowing what each other is thinking at all times...

Hanging out in my hometown with old friends - and feeling just like we are in high school again (with the addition of a few spouses and babies)...

Dancing my heart out at a Keith Urban concert - and knowing that my best friends are doing the exact same thing right beside me....

Take a moment to breathe it in. No flashes. No batteries. No cheese. No double chins. 

Just Moments - Beautiful Moments...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Emily’s Top Five: Montana / Yellowstone Highlights

I just got back from spending 8 days with two of my favorite people

in the most beautiful places that I have ever been. 


I met Marina my freshman year of college at OC. We sat next to each other in a communications class for an entire semester, but didn’t talk to each other until April of that year when we were assigned to be in the same group for a project! We walked back to our dorms from the library one night and have been best friends ever since.  Our favorite show is Gilmore Girls.  She eats crunchy fries. I like soggy ones.  People think we look like sisters. We are the perfect pair.

Marina and her husband Brady were living in Montana for a while this summer for an internship, so I went up to see her! We spent the first half of the week in Montana at her dad’s house and the second half in Yellowstone.

Here are the Top Five Highlights from my trip:

1.  Montana Life
The first half of my trip I was in Colstrip, MT - a small town in southeast Montana. I don’t know how Montana did it, but somehow they negotiated and got a bigger sky than any other state. It was wider, taller, and bluer than I could have ever imagined.  And I love that their hills look like little mountains. I am used to the rolling hills of Tennessee, not the rocky terrain of the wild, wild west. 

Coal Mine
Colstrip thrives off of the local coal mine.  Marina’s husband and dad are both engineers there, so they took me on a tour.  The reclaimed land is gorgeous.

I was very interested in the coal mining process. They use drag lines since the coal is close to the surface (they don’t have to send people underground to get it).

Gun Range
We went to the gun range a lot. I shot trap one night… and even hit some!

One night when we were walking out to set up a target, the dog with us halted and cried. We realized that we were all standing very close to a long black snake! The snake coiled up quickly and then started making a tick, tick, tick sound. A RATTLE SNAKE! AH!  Marina’s dad shot it twice with a 9 mil and then it slithered into a hole and died. For the rest of the trip my Montana Name was "Rattle Snake Emmy Lou”.

Around Town
We had a blast just playing tennis in town

Swimming at Castle Rock Lake

And having bonfires at night. Oh yeah, my other favorite thing about Montana. The weather. It was mid-80s during the day with no humidity at all.

2. Beartooth Pass
We drove into the park through the Rocky Mountains via Beartooth pass. If you ever go to Yellowstone, you have to drive over these mountains. 

The views were incredible.

The hillsides were dotted with navy blue lakes.

And there was still snow!

3.  The Wildlife
I am notoriously not an animal person. I don’t like to smell them, take care of them, or touch them. But look at them? Sure! I saw some awesome animals…. before we even got to the park! This was my room at Marina’s dad’s house.

 Deer over Bed, Giant Fish Pillow

Antelope over Desk

 Buffalo Hide in Closet

Coyote on Wall


Grizzly Bear
Driving over Mount Washburn we drove past a bunch of cars parked on the side of the road. They were all looking up the mountain at the same spot… a GRIZZLY BEAR! It looked big from 100 yards away, so I think it was big.

We also found out one morning that a grizzly had been chased out of our campsite the night before. Oh goodness. At least we had the bear spray with us.

When you enter the park you get a bright yellow flyer telling you to beware of the buffalo.

They gore more than 100 people each year. That is one person every 3-4 days. We were there for 4 days. Deal. I will stay far away! I was amazed at the number of buffalo roaming the park. For the most part, they stayed in large herds.

All of the animals in the park are wild, and there are no fences. They have no qualms with crossing the road right in front of your car.

At the Mud Volcanoes, Marina, her dad, stepmom, and I were walking down the wooden path to each geyser.  The path makes a triangle shape at the beginning and then a path stems off of the top.  We went to the first geyser on the right, then the second, and then reached the top of the triangle. We started to go up the path off of the top, and as we rounded the corner we were standing within 10 yards of a buffalo. There was a family right in front of us with two adults and four kids getting really close to the animal and making it agitated. We saw him shaking his head back and forth, so we immediately turned around and started walking the other way. As soon as we did he started charging straight towards us. I took off sprinting for my life down the trail that I had just come. Keep in mind that on either side of the path are geysers with the same acidity level as battery acid. In front of me, a dad whipped up his child and started running too. He pulled him up so fast that his shoes came off. The whole time I was sprinting, I was watching this child reach out his arms to me yelling "My shoes! My shoes!" while the dad yelled "Those are just shoes! This is your life!".  Meanwhile, I was running so fast that I could't even turn around or I'd wipe out.  I kept hearing screaming and crying. I imagined this buffalo running straight down the path behind me, running so fast that he was kicking up planks and dust behind him like a cartoon. I thought, "Should I keep running down the path and take my chances with the buffalo, or bail off of the path and take my chances with the acid?".  Right around that point I turned around and realized that the buffalo had stopped and we were no longer being chased, but I had no idea what had happened behind me. The other three people I was with were nowhere to be found. Finally, they yelled and waved to me from across the exhibit. Turns out, when the buffalo charged, they turned and ran down a different path, while I just went straight.  They thought, "A big buffalo is less likely to turn than to go straight".  Well, Emily is too. And they were right. The buffalo did go straight, but then - as an answer to every last minute prayer - he stepped off of the path into the grass. No one was hurt. Just scared, panicked, and chaotic. My heart. It is still beating fast.

Antelope in Montana are just as popular as deer. We saw tons of these in Yellowstone, but also in Montana at the mine. Here is an antelope roaming around the mine property:

In northern Yellowstone there is a town called Mammoth right beside the Mammoth Hot Springs. 

Elk seem to own this place. They hang out in the streets, at the post office, beside the gas station… They are awesome.

4. Camping / Hiking
I actually really liked camping!

We ate salmon that Marina’s dad had just caught in Alaska...

and I popped popcorn over the fire for a first time…

We froze at night! It got down in the low thirties each night – but by the end of our trip I figured out that 3 pairs of pants, 2 shirts, and 2 sweatshirts really do the trick.

We camped near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It was so gorgeous. I loved the canyons…

and the canyon waterfalls…

 We took a hike down to the top of the falls. Straight down and straight back up! That warmed us up early in the morning!

In the park, there were lots of great waterfalls...

A gorgeous lake...

Beautiful rivers...

And incredible mountain views...

5. Geysers
There used to be a volcano in the park that imploded which left all sorts of hot magma under the ground. This has resulted in hot springs and steam pots all over the park. I have never seen such rich, vibrant, beautiful colors than at the geysers in Yellowstone.

The Middle Geyser Basin was my favorite. Gorgeous.

Old faithful erupted right on schedule (well, only a few minutes late).

And the Norris Geyser Basin felt like the moon!

 I'm ready to go back.

We also went white water rafting down the Yellowstone River, but I don’t have the pictures yet. Not to worry. It will get its own post.