Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Reading List

So, here's the thing. I grew up reading. In fact, I was once scolded in elementary school for reading instead of doing other work. My dad read me the hobbit when I was about the size of a hobbit (which for me was about age 7). Books are an integral part of my life. I have a kindle, and I read a lot of books on that, however I still believe in the magic of hard copy books. Here is a run down of the books that currently live with me in New Orleans:


American Gods & Anasazi Boys- Neil Gaiman (it's a double feature fancy hard back)
Gone Girl- Gillian Flynn
Help, Thanks, Wow - Anne Lamotte
Traveling Mercies- Anne Lamotte
Bossy Pants- Tina Fey
Dallas Noir- Assorted Authors (short stories)
Year of Plenty- Craig Goodwin
A Dance with Dragons- George R.R. Martin
Orange is the New Black- Piper Kerman
Dreamcare: A Theology of Youth, Spirit and Vocation- David F. White
The Best American Essays 2013- Assorted Authors
Assholes: A Theory- Aaron James
Joyland- Stephen King
Tiny Beautiful Things- Cheryl Strayed
New Stories from the South (2010 edition) - Amy Hempel and assorted authors
The Roald Dahl Omnibus
Cities of the Plain- Cormac McCarthy
Dorwn- Junot Diaz
This is How You Lose Her- Junot Diaz
Voices from the Peace Corps- Jack and Angene Wilson
The Discipleship Study Bible
Eat to Live- Joel Fuhrman, M.D.
Sustainable Youth Ministry- Mark Devries (actually this one is on the way right now)


I have to be honest, I haven't read all of these all the way through. I took This is How You Lose Her on a youth trip I was chaperoning and realized very quickly that I would be in big trouble if any nosey 6th grader decided to read over my shoulder. Some of these I have read more times than I can count (American Gods, I'm lookin' at you). And others of these I've read pieces of (The Roald Dahl Omnibus is about as big as you would imagine, amazing short stories, amazing large compilation).

Got any questions? Want to recommend something? Better yet, know of a good audiobook I can listen to on my 8 hour drive to Dallas for Thanksgiving, let me know please! Comment here. Email me. Text me. Send smoke signals. They are all totally viable options.

Happy reading!
Alex

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Love Note to YAV 2013-2014 (and some other things)

Hi friends! So, life has been crazier than normal. Here's a quick run down on my life in the month of September.

Just a few dates on the calendar...

September 12-14th, PSL Fall Youth Retreat

September 17, I am now 24 years old. Also known as mid-twenties. Weird.

September 18-21, ATX for Becca's Engagement

September 24, I have my first real (bad) adult experience. My house is broke into. Sometimes people suck.

September 25-28, YAV re-entry retreat at Ghost Ranch.

September 29- October 1st, REFOCUS conference at Austin Seminary with fellow youth workers

October 4-5, I sleep for ~ 48 hours straight.

October 14-17, Alexander comes to visit

October 16, Alexander officially gets a job. Celebrations ensue.

My last blog entry was right after Becca's engagement. So I will get started with September 24. Yes, my house was broken into.  And yes, it was pretty terrible. Not only did we (me and my housemates) get cleaned out, it was a serious violation of my space. I was also the one who came home to the burglary. Thankfully I have an amazing host mom through the YAV program who dropped everything and came to the house to be with me while I did the walk through with the cops, called the land lord etc. While I was a firm believer in the mentor program pre-burgulary, I am now a fierce believer. Amy was very helpful throughout the whole process, in the immediate aftermath and continuing through the weeks after. Also, the Kates hedgehog sat for me, which was not in the original plan, but I was not about to leave Penelope in the house while I was gone.

Ghost Ranch (aka YAV Re-entry Retreat)

Now, onto more pleasant things. After you serve a year as a YAV you are invited to attend a re-entry retreat at Ghost Ranch. It is a really great opportunity to process your year through small groups, group therapy (if you want to), individual therapy (again, if you want to), trail hikes, worship and free time with fellow volunteers.  I think about 2/3 of my YAV class came back for re-entry. It's not mandatory, but it is strongly encouraged and you get to go to Ghost Ranch in New Mexico for free. I don't have many pictures from the trip, but here are the few I took!








But really, re-entry was awesome. About a million times better than orientation. Seriously. Activities included (but not limited to), using toys to show an intense 'something' that happened during our year (which turned out to be a shockingly insightful activity and yes, Patrick, you can quote me on that). Worshipping together. Dancing together. Late night visits in Casita #9. Late night visits in that random cabin with a weird beam support system. Long conversations fire-side. A half hike to Chimney Rock (what?! I did half of it! That's more than none of it...). Coyotes. Seeing a billion stars every night. Making friends with some of the local transportation (the horses were very kind, but not very photogenic with their fly masks on). Hearing stories from the Philippines, Peru, Miami, North Ireland (to name a few) and sharing my own stories from New Orleans. 

There were 5 women, including myself in my small group. Our small group leader, Patrick, is attending Columbia seminary right now. Abby served in the Philippines, Sarah was in Northern Ireland, Michelle served in Miami and Mary Kate (a fellow Grace Presbytery volunteer) lived in Peru. Patrick was a YAV a few years back in Northern Ireland. Once a YAV always a YAV, I suppose.  Here are their blogs if you want to see what they were up to all year...



Update! Just got these amazing pictures from Michelle. She gets full credit for having her GoPro and using it and taking these adorable pictures of the small group we were in at Ghost Ranch...




This is what I know to be true, we all had extremely different experiences. We all grew, granted we all grew in very different ways, but I don't think any of us finished out the year saying "Hm, well I'm pretty much the same as I was when I started". Some of the growing was painful, some of it was challenging, some of it was freeing. I can also tell you this, despite our vastly different experiences with the culture, our work placement, our faith, even our personalities we could all relate to one another. I think that's why re-entry was so meaningful to me. You're surrounded by people who just get it. I know, I know, that sounds kind of crazy. Or pretentious. Or both. But it's true! It like we all have matching tattoos... on our hearts (ok, that was too much, I just had to try it out and see, but let's just pretend I didn't write that sentence...). I am actually very serious when I say that we are all connected. There was a lot of commiserating and "Oh yeah, I know what you mean" happening in our conversations. And what better place to commiserate than in one of the most beautiful places ever in infinity (on a completely separate note, I could definitely live in New Mexico and do ceramics for the rest of my life)? I almost didn't go to re-entry. As you can see from the beginning of this post, my September was packed full. I'm really glad I did. I walked away filled and energized and, despite some grumpy mumbling the last day of our retreat, excited about what is happening in the world and in the church (but let me be clear, if I ever hear the "oh she's just a YAV" as a reason not to take me seriously, I will not so gently comment about your character to your face).

Also, I got to know the wonderfully awesome Emily Warren. We may be soul mates in a past life, or maybe just soul mates in this life. Here is her vlog about the retreat... 

One final note about Ghost Ranch. We spent a lot of the retreat exploring ways to express ourselves and share our experiences. Big surprise, writing was one for me. I've been journaling since I was in 6th grade. Legit. Also, ceramics. Best life sustaining practice I've (re)picked up since I moved to New Orleans. That being said, I have slacked miserably on the whole creative writing thing. I just invested in microsoft word ($$$-- ughhhh) solely because I am serious about getting back into the writing game. Encourage me? Ask me to write you something? It takes a village, people! 

REFOCUS

I got home from Ghost Ranch at midnight and flew out to Houston at 7 AM to get a ride to the REFOCUS conference at Austin Seminary the next day. Because when the going gets tough the tough keep going, which is not really the saying, but I like to think of myself as tough on occasion. The conference was great. I got to visit with a group of about 16 youth workers. All of them were from Texas, and most of them have years of experience. There was a lot of comparing notes, talking about our own experiences, sharing what works and what doesn't. We also spent some time exploring the idea of helping youth find a vocation. It was a great experience, I am so glad I had the opportunity to attend. I felt like I was in a youth workers think tank for a few days. I could say more but I feel like I used up most of verbosity for the Ghost Ranch bit. If you want to learn more about REFOCUS, let me know! Oh, and I got to see my cousin Matt for dinner. I had pho, it was amazing. I don't have any pictures from the trip, but here are a couple gems of Matt because, why not:

Matt as an adult.

And this adorable #tbt, Matt is on the left.


Alexander comes to New Orleans (and gets a job)


Coincidence? I think not. Alexander, Valentina and I all went to the Fly and had some celebratory champagne. Also, we got to play with this random puppy that came over to visit.

Valentina loves puppehs...

... and puppehs love her.

I spent 10 whole dollars on the champagne,
because this needed to be properly celebrated.


Even the dog got in on the celebration!


We continued the celebration at 12 Mile Limit, where Alexander
read aloud passage from the 2001 Guinness Book of World Records.
And that gets us well into October. Thanks for bearing with me, this was a bit longer than I had initially planned. Until then, give the Alabama Shakes a listen. Blast "On Your Way" while you're speeding down a highway. Feel good.

-Alex

Monday, September 22, 2014

I and Love and You

So, even though this blog was supposed to last the duration of my YAV year, I got a stern lecture form my father about how I haven't been writing enough. I know that he doesn't really consider blogging writing (at least not the kind he wants me to do), but I like it. So I'm gonna keep doing it.

Yes, the title is also the title of an Avett Brothers song. And yes, it was on purpose. I had the privilege of going down to ATX to help surprise my dear friend Becca for her engagement this past weekend. Because, apparently, we are now getting old enough to be engaged.

For those of you who don't know, and even for those of you that do, Katie, Caroline, Becca and I have been running around together since 7th grade. Katie was my guide when I came to visit Parish, she kicked Connor in the shins and almost got a detention from Ms. Jenkins. Caroline and Katie have been very good friends, where ever Katie went, Caroline was sure to be there as well. 

Becca was my buddy for my first year at Parish. I'm pretty sure her job was not only to be my friend, but also to try and help me stay out of trouble. While the first worked out pretty well, I don't know if she really held up her end of the second part of that. There has always been plenty of trouble to go around between the four of us. 

When my family was in a very serious car accident, all four of them in the hospital in some capacity, Katie and her family took me. For a little over a week Katie, her brothers and her parents gave me the stability and comfort I needed to get through one of the scariest times of my life. Don't get me wrong, there were a million people who came in and helped, but the McBees kept me for a bit helping at least some part of my life stay normal.

During volleyball season, when we would get back from games at 11 or 12 at night, Miss Stockdale had the guest bed ready for me. They lived about 10 minutes from school, as opposed to my 30 minutes, so I would crash there for the night and get a little more sleep than if I had to drive all the way home and back to school early the next morning. There's a reason Miss Stockdale is still in my phone as Momma Stockdale. 

As for Caroline, she notices everything. Seriously, nothing gets past her. I love to people watch and I've never met someone who loves it even more then me. I like to think that Caroline has been the glue for the four of us. Freshman year of high school Caroline transferred to Ursuline Academy, but she somehow managed to get invited to every major dance, went to all of the footballs, and basically might as well have been at Parish for high school. In the beginning, in middle school, I knew her as Katie's friend, but when you spend 12 years with someone, they are bound to become a lot more than that. She has definitely been the most patient with all of us, I would consider her the steadying force.

As Becca put it, we all balance each other out. We all bring something to the table that helps keep things level. 

I could go on and on, telling the best stories  with the four of us, however I think these pictures will tell you plenty. Here's what I will say, I hope that everyone gets to have a least a couple friends as great as these women. Also, if you ever have the chance, go sit on the Stockdales' roof and wait for the sun to rise. It's pretty amazing, especially with good company.


First, here are the pictures from the actual engagement. The four of us haven't all been in the same place since new years eve my junior year of college. 

What a beautiful rainbow maker. Amiright?

Thank to Katie, I was made official photographer. Which
basically meant that I sat in the bushes, which got in front of the lens so
I didn't really get any good pictures of the actual proposal.

From left to right: Maggie, one of Becca's sorority sisters, Abbey, one of Becca's other sorority sisters. Both equally awesome. Caroline, Ashley, Becca's cousin, Katie and myself.

Reunited, and with a view no less!

This panoramic, featuring Caroline. Katie shoved her at just the right time…




And now, for a nice trip down memory lane. I have known Katie, Caroline and Becca for half of my life.
Senior Prom

Senior Prom
 
Senior year Becca and I made t-shirts for every home game. Every single one. 

Here's another one

So this picture has me, katie, Emily Weaver and Caroline in it. Becca was on the trip, but she had to leave before we all decided it would be a great idea to climb in a  fountain for a group picture. 

Becca and Katie, homecoming our senior year.

Senior year graduation


Graduation w/ Katie

Graduation w/ Becca
Finally, the most photogenic we have ever been in.


Becca, thank you for getting married and giving us all excuses to miss work and be together again. Er… I mean, congratulations on your engagement! But seriously, Ross has always been a good guy, but I knew he was an especially amazing guy when he thought to include us 3 in his plans. I am so excited for you and I can't wait for all of the fun this year has in store.

Love,
Alex


P.S. Becca's not the only person who left the weekend with some new jewelry…Thank you for enabling me, Katie and Caroline...

Sunday, August 31, 2014

So, what's does it all mean anyway?

Well ya'll, I'm about a month out of my YAV year and I'm still trying to figure it out.

I think being a YAV is a lot of different things. It's about taking advantage of the opportunity to experience a new city. It's about learning to live with 7 strangers. It's about seriously thinking about your relationship with God. It's about not only doing, but being. It's about growing. It's about being uncomfortable. It's about taking the time to understand the history of where you are. It's about meeting new people and trying new things. It's about learning from others.

One of our first group pictures of our year together

So that's a good start, but what what does it mean to me? To me, being a YAV is eating po-boys at Parkway. It is family dinner with fresh vegetables from Jess's gardens. It is learning about the prison system and gun violence and seeing how that effects the city I live in. It is hearing stories about Hurricane Katrina. It is about early morning runs in uptown, or afternoon strolls down St. Charles. It is about taking advantage of as many happy hours as possible. It is about croissant dates with Valentine. It is about taking the plunge and joining a ceramics class. It is about seeing God is all of these little moments, like when you're driving over the bayou, or sitting in a hammock on the north shore. It is about being thankful for all the ways God continues to touch your life. And honestly, that doesn't even really scratch the surface of it. I am thankful for my year as a YAV. I now have a better way of communicating with others. I have grown to love this amazing city. I was gifted with an amazing opportunity to pursue a career that I am excited about. I continue to nuture friendships, as well as sprout new ones.

Scavenger hunt circa August 2013

One of my first adventures around the YAV house
was to Plum St. snowballs with Jess and Hannah.

While many parts of my life are the same, many parts are very different.

I have downsized my number of roommates to two. I would not have met these two goobs if we hadn't all ended up being YAVs together. There are a lot less dishes in the sink, and there is more space. I don't mind it.

These two, to be exact.
I have a bedroom that is mine. It is nice to have a room that is all my own. Well I say that, I really just traded one roommate, Kayln, for another, Penelope.

This quilt is made of different shirts from church functions I attended
 in junior high and high school. I'm glad I finally figured out a way to properly show it off.

I have an adult desk, complete with monthly calendar.
Because I am all grown up or something.

Cpt. Penelope 'Nelly' Darcy

Even though she can't talk, she is pretty entertaining.

Kalyn, she can never replace you, but she is pretty stinkin' adorable...

 My jobs are a little different. I now work part time for the Presbytery of South Louisiana as the youth coordinator. We have a retreat coming up September 12th. Keep me in your prayers, because it's going to be an adventure. I am continuing to work at Project Homecoming. This time around I'm doing more volunteer recruitment. Also, this time around, I'm getting paid hourly. That's a nice addition. I will continue to help with the gala at the end of January.

I am eternally grateful for a year that helped mold me and introduce me to this awesome city. I am so happy I get to continue figuring out New Orleans and where I fit into all of it. And don't you worry, I plan on taking ya'll along for the ride. Year One at Zimple Manor was great, I can't wait to see what Year Two at Cortez Estates has in store.



-Alex




Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rooted and Reaching: Montreat Youth Conference 2014


This time last week I was in the middle of attending my first ever Montreat Youth Conference.

Just so everyone knows my background (and maybe some bias…) I attended Syond Youth Workshop as a youth. It was an integral part of my growing up in the church. I have made some life long friends through SYW. Synod was what helped my faith grow while I was being a surly teenager.

All of that is to say that I did not have the privilege of going to Montreat Youth Conference until I was an adult sponsor. The Presbytery of South Louisiana took 17 youth, from 6 different churches, to Montreat, NC for a week. Along with the youth were 5 adults, me, Layne (my site coordinator for YAV), Barrett Milner (pastor at Lakeview Presbyterian Church), Mike Watson (Associate Pastor at UPC Baton Rogue) and Vic Robertson (yoga goddess and chef extraordinaire, who also worships at UPC Baton Rogue). I could not have asked for a better group to attend this conference with. First off, if there is any hesitation or shyness happening with your youth, just stick them in a car together. Bake… er drive, for 12 hours, and some how even the most shy will come out of their shell.

It was pretty obvious to me that the holy spirit was moving among the group. We had a hodge podge of kids from the New Orleans and Baton Rogue area and somehow not only did the tolerate each other, the actually liked each other! Montreat is a large conference, and the small groups should really be called medium groups, so I personally saw the strength of the conference in how home groups were able to bond through out the week. I have never laughed so much while still being in charge (or at least pretending to be in charge). I can't wait to work with these awesome young people in the fall.

Here is a run down of the highlights for the week:

1. There are two youth from UPC Baton Rogue who were in my small groups at Junior High Jubilee at Mo Ranch. It took me a few hours to connect the dots, but seeing Claire and Elizabeth and knowing they have survived junior high and are growing into beautiful, strong, awesome young women makes me very happy. The presbyterian world is small and that makes me happy most days.

2. Climbing up to Look Out Point (or whatever it's called). Good news! None of the youth had to worry about being the last to finish the hike. I took care of that one. In fact, if there was a prize for almost dying on a mountain trail because you are so out of shape, I would have won it. I still maintain the thin air didn't help.

3. Meeting some amazing youth in small group. Seriously, there are some cool teenagers out in the world and some how I keep bumping into them.

4. Going to visit this awesome member of Lakeview who has a house she summers in. The view is amazing.

5. Thrift store finds for Kathryn's performance in the talent show. Check out the pics to better understand this.

6. Spending a week with Layne and Barrett and Mike and Vic. Not only were our youth great, the sponsors were also all wonderful. This is a direct quote from one of our youth, Kevyn, " I have NEVER met adults that are crazy like you guys." I take this as a compliment.

7. Kathryn singing All by Myself in the talent show (yes, she definitely did this as a joke, just incase there was any confusion). One of our seniors got up and performed this emotional number dressed in a mumu found at the local thrift shop. It was one of the only funny acts in the talent show and man did she own it. Seriously, one of the craziest things I have ever seen. The entire worship service leading up to the talent show I would break out in giggles thinking about her performance.
Lake Susan sans démon swans

Candlelight ceremony for the graduating seniors

Occupants of bus #1

Occupants of bus #2

Bus ride with my lovely host sister, Maggie

Barrett takes himself very seriously, all the time, especially when trying yoga

Vic, yoga goddess. Mike, baby yoga.

Look at that view!

That view tho...

Well worth wanting to die on the way up.

We are the cutest, seriously.

Some pamphlet things and stuff.

Kevyn and Neil were obviously our more serious and obedient youth all week. Kind of...

Porch sitting was a favorite pass time for me, Claire and Phoenix.

Dixit, Barrett's favorite game.

Can you blame me for enjoying the porch sitting when this is the view?

The stage at the conference.

Mike, looking so fresh and so clean.

SAY YES TO THE DRESS

Another awesome view

Here is all I have to say, don't me 'cause you ain't me.

Right?!

I do love the mountains

Layne prepping Kathryn for the talent show. What a great vocal coach.

Barrett's thrift shop find.

Kathryn re-enacting her stellar performance.

Also, here is a picture of what could be my new pet hedgehog. If it's not this little guy it will be one of his siblings. I can't wait to carry on Lester's legacy through one of these little prickly guys.


-Alex