Sunday, November 22, 2015

Megan Turns 25, Partay Insues

Ya'll, I just got back form a great weekend in Auburn. So my very dear friend, Megan (who I'm sure I've talked about in this blog before), had a birthday on Friday. I came into Auburn, along  with Stu and Sarah who also graduated from Rhodes and Big Fat Bob, to celebrate with her and it was the best weekend ever.

Stu, Megan, Sarah and (of course) Heidi

Bob, Stu and Sarah doing some rock sitting

For those of you who don't know Megan, let's take a brief walk down memory lane...

Summer before freshman year at Rhodes Megan and I ended up in the same orientation group. We actually barely talked the whole weekend. Flash forward to over a YEAR later and we happen to be living across the hall from each other. Maybe it was proximity, I like to think it was fate, she and I started visiting each other and things just kind of took off from there.

Here's the thing, Megan is great for a couple of reasons. First, she took care of me more times than I can count and in more ways than I have time to explain on this blog. Second, she's just a genuinely wonderful human being. She thinks I'm funny, which is good because I have a very weird sense of humor. She doesn't beat around the bush with me, which is also good because honesty is important. And she always gives me the benefit of the doubt. Even when I have made a completely ass out of myself, she doesn't hold it over my head (thank god).

Most importantly, while Megan is the best person to share her story, I think we can all take a page for her book. Our senior year of college she experienced a series of health issues that held her back a year in school. These same health issues also completely derailed all of her future plans. Working 60 hr weeks at a highly competitive accounting firm was just not going to be an option like she had originally thought. Now, I'm not saying this transition was easy, but this amazing woman completely reinvented herself after she graduated from Rhodes and I think she's one of the bravest people I know for doing it. 

Currently Megan is becoming (has already become? I don't quite know the timeline on this because I'm the worst ever) a yoga instructor. She teaches some classes at the yoga studio in Auburn and even has a private client. She is dating this really great guy, I mostly like him because he teaches me new things about fish and salamanders and nature anytime I visit (he's getting his masters in fisheries at Auburn right now), but also because they make each other very happy in a very real way. 

What a great family
Most importantly, she has the cutest dog in the whole wide world named Heidi. I pretty much flooded everyone's facebook feed with pictures of Heidi all weekend. Oops...

We spent a lot of time around a fire pit this weekend so, inevitably, there was a lot of talking about life. I feel so thankful not only for Megan, but for all the people that I spent time with this weekend. These are good people and I am so glad that we are all still making time for each other.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Diving In

I'm trying to get back into the whole, eat healthy and exercise thing. Living in New Orleans can be hell on your waist line and the humidity doesn't lend towards wanting to do anything outside. BUT this August I decided to take the plunge (this is going to punny in a minute, trust me) and join a gym with not one, but THREE swimming pools. It has seriously been the best decision I have made for my health in a long time. What can I say? The Prodigal's son has returned home. Here is why I say that..

 To say that I grew up in an aquatic family would be an understatement. Just to give you some background on my family and their connection to large bodies of chlorinated water check out this blog I wrote a while back  Here's the Nostalgia

To summarize for you who are too busy or too lazy to click through and check out that old blog, my mom was a highly trained competitive diver through college and my dad was a comfortably good B team swimmer through college. It only made sense to get me and my siblings in the pool as soon as possible. I'm pretty sure I could swim an IM by the time I was 8. Unfortunately I was never quite as dedicated to the sport as either of my parents were . By 7th I discovered the wonders of team sports and pretty much abandoned swimming by my freshman year of high school. But guess what, I'm back.

Yup, I'm back. I'm back and I'm better (and more dedicated) than ever. It's really nice to feel competent when exercising. To know that you're pushing yourself because you know what you're doing, not because you're horribly out of shape and all you can manage is to get one foot in front of the other. When I'm swimming I feel powerful. I know how to get my heart rate up. I know what drills to use to focus on certain muscles and I know how sore I'm going to be the next morning based on the workout I plan. I know how important timed sets are and I love the feeling of slicing through the water and hitting those times. I especially love it when some stupid meathead jumps in the pool and thinks it will be easy and tries to keep up with me. Because guess what, swimming is not easy. And no, you can't keep up with me. 

Right now my goal is to average 10,000 yrds/ wk. I've been doing 2500 yd/day for four days a week. When I first got back in the pool I wasn't really focusing on yards, more on just getting to the pool at least four days a week. Now I am definitely in the habit and have started building intervals into my sets. And I feel great. When I don't swim I wish I had. I finally understand why exercising can be great. I guess you just have to discover your niche. Or I guess, in my case, rediscover.

Also, if you're a swimmer and want to trade workouts let me know. I'm always up for mixing it up.

Baby Alex at the pool

Throwing it back to pool days with my dad

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Baby Brother Goes to Peru

About half a week ago my baby brother left for one of the most awesome, and most awesomely hard, years of his life. Through a series of events this past spring that had absolutely no control over (I swear!) Daniel decided to spend a year as a YAV in Peru. OK, so maybe I encouraged him to explore the YAV option, but I by no means forced him to do it!

Anyway, one of my best friends (Daniel, don't blush!), and one of the few people who pretty much has to love me, moved across the world 5 days ago. I am really excited for him, but I'm also kind of sad. I know, some of you who have known the Pappas children our whole lives are probably surprised to hear this, but it's true! For some reason or another Daniel is one of the few people that I actually trust with life things. Maybe he has just learned to pretend to care out of personal safety (what?! I was like 23 the last time I actually tried to punch him, that was almost a whole year ago), but I like to think he probably is fond of me as well. This is kind of a miracle. Here is why:

Things I Have Done/Do to Daniel on Purpose:

  • asked my parents to return to him to the hospital a week after he was born
  • play hide and seek and let him hide for about as long as possible
  • knock out his loose front tooth because he was too afraid to pull it (he didn't even see it coming, I just socked him right in the mouth)
  • put gum in his freshly cut hair because he was being annoying and we were trapped in a car for about an hour together
  • nicknamed all of his girlfriends. Every. Single. One. (which may be why he's done that to my past boyfriends)
  • beat him in BP multiple times
  • make fun of him for eating pizza with a fork
  • make fun of him for exercising
  • make fun of his choice in beverages
  • make fun of him for being 'so cool'
Things I have Done to Daniel on Accident:
  • flick salsa in his eye
  • inflict bodily harm
  • embarrass him in front of his friends (I swear, that was never on purpose)

I guess the accident list is much shorter than the on purpose list, but that's siblings for you. So yes, it is kind of a miracle that we are friends now. But we've also supported each other through all sorts of things. Break ups, break downs, forced bonding with extended family, all the things! I can't imagine anyone else in my life who can handle me the way Daniel can. That's family for ya.

Listen, he's really excited to be in Peru and I'm so happy for him, really I am, but I don't want him to get too comfortable! He has to come back to America because what is a sister to do without her baby brother?

Until then, I will follow his blog and you should too: Daniel's Really Awesome Blog 


Friday, July 3, 2015

A Time for Healing

I just got back from Mo Ranch. Last year I posted a blog about thin places and how Mo Ranch does that for me (Thin Places). This year I decided to think a little more about why this place is so important to me. And while I go into it some in that old blog I linked above, after taking some time to think it over I have come to realize that there's more to Mo Ranch for me. Ultimately, I believe that Mo Ranch has served as a place of healing for me. Or at least a place where I truly take the time to begin to heal.

In February of 2005, the summer before my last summer attending JHJ as a middle schooler, my family was in a really gnarly car accident. It's a bit to explain and I'll never fully know what happened because I was the one Pappas not in the car for the accident, but here goes nothing:
  • A woman trying to cross three lanes of traffic guns it as a semi pulls forward, however what she didn't realize was that the family mini van was sitting on the other side of the semi. She effectively t-boned my mom's car, sending it into a light pole.
  • Everyone in the car gets really banged up.
  • My dad (who was not wearing a seatbelt at the time) crushed one hip and broke the other. In addition, he broke a couple of ribs and he tore is aorta (a major artery for the heart). While the artery itself tears, there is a lining that surrounds it, which holds. This is one of the reasons why my dad is alive today, a complete tear causes a person to bleed out in seconds.
  • My sister (she's 5 at the time) decided to loosen up the middle seat belt in the far back seat of the car. Because of physics and not being properly belted her intestines are punctured and she breaks her back. She spend the next 3 months in a full body cast (it starts just above the knee and ends at the top of her chest, below her arms).
  • My mom, who is wearing her seatbelt, come out in one piece. She does sprain her right ankle, an injury common for drivers in a gnarly accident. Something about physics where basically she stomped on the break, so her mass was going against the mass of her car which was coming towards her (in my very simplistic terms, it makes sense I swear).
  • After a couple of scary CAT scans it turns out that my brother is actually fine (he is also wearing his seatbelt).
  •  I get to spend the next couple of weeks at a friend's house, going to the hospital when I can.
  • My dad spend a while in the hospital, then a while at a rehabilitation center where he learns how to get around in a wheel chair and gets linked up with a physical therapist who teaches him how to walk again.
  • Eventually the Pappas family is united under the same roof. But it takes a lot of time and patience.

So yeah, that happened to me when I was 14. So not only was I not processing this because I was 14, I was also not processing this because I was am great at compartmentalizing things in order to cope with situations that I have no control over. I don't think I had the opportunity to truly slow down and think about what happened to my family until I got to Mo Ranch. Obviously through out the preceding 4 months I had cried at some points, but mostly all I remember is being so busy that I didn't have too much time to worry. 

But then you get to this ranch where you spend every night at vespers enveloped in the quiet and stillness and you can't really compartmentalize anymore. I don't remember the exact details, but I do remember having a moment where there was a break and it was like I finally realized the load I had been carrying around. It was like "wait a minute, my body is heavy and I didn't even realize it. And I don't know how to not be tired but maybe just saying that I'm carrying an impossible burden is a good start". And it was. 

Coming back to Mo Ranch in 2010 was a similarly healing experience. All I will say is that while I was there I realized that just because on person doesn't care about you, doesn't mean that you are any less valuable. Going away to Mo gave me the space to take a step back and realize that 1) there were a lot of toxic things that happened my freshman year. And that 2) I actually don't have to feel cornered by those things and people. I may not have control over much, but I can seek out what truly makes me happy. If you want more than that you will have to go check out my blog about Mo Ranch from last year (the link is in the first paragraph of this post).

This year held a similar space for me. 2015-2016 has been a tumultuous year for me for a lot of reason. Between a break in, a break up, adjusting to being a full time adult and juggling two part time jobs I have been shouldering a lot. And I have been shouldering a lot more than I care to recognize. I have been in and out of New Orleans all year traveling for pleasure and for work (Houston x3, Austin x2, Dallas x4, Montreat x1, Mo Ranch x1, Tulsa x1, Auburn x1). When I am in New Orleans there's always one more thing to take care of. Whether it's dealing with a crappy housing situation,  things blowing up at work or friends leaving the city to pursue their careers, it's been a hard year. Also, as someone who loves plans an structure, the fact that I only have about 1 year planned out is stressful. What if I actually am totally terrible at my jobs? What if I am %100 not cut out for my chosen career? What am I doing in New Orleans anyway? What if Valentina's predictions are correct and I end up living alone for the rest of my life with my 10 dogs on a ranch in west TX and all I ever wear is flannel and mom jeans (obviously she is joking, but still! That's a lot of flannel...)? What if, when I decide to leave New Orleans, I can't find a job anywhere else? What if someone break into my house again? What if that happens tonight while I'm home alone (unlikely)? What if I don't want to go to seminary? What if I do? What if I am torturing myself for absolutely no good reason at all? 

Ya'll, I am not good at being a fun loving young adult. Just saying.

Yet again, being out at Mo Ranch helped me take a few deep breaths and center myself. Yes, I am carrying a heavy load. So are a lot of other people. I don't have to do this alone. And, if we are being honest, so many things I have listed are not important. I am 24. Instead of making graphs to determine the feasibility of my next life step, maybe I just need to enjoy things for what they are. 

I got to spend a week with these awesome middle schoolers, all of them unique and funny and all in all I just tried to enjoy each moment for what it was. While there were a few bumps (memo to self, never check work emails while you are out of the office, you're begging for a potential panic attack) I came out of my week feeling serene and focused. Sometimes you don't have to fight. Sometimes you just have to be. Mo Ranch has a way of bringing me back into 'being', which I am forever grateful for.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Raku for Me and Raku for You

So as I'm sure a lot of you dear readers are aware, I take classes at a ceramics studio in New Orleans. And I love it. And I have no doubt there are some easily drawn metaphors between ceramics and life.

For example, sometimes when you are making pieces on the wheel you have all these grand plans. And then your clay is like "oh no, no way, I'm not even going to get centered for you today". So you try to muscle it into behaving and all you get is a wobbly ash tray for your efforts.

Or sometimes you make the best piece ever. It's like you've made a mug that Jesus would drink coffee out of. It's perfectly balanced, the handle is just right. You have this vision for the finished product so you dip it in your glaze of choice. You drop it off on the "To be glaze fired" shelf. When you get it back a week later something is off in the kiln and your brilliant green piece turns out a horrible, disappointing brown. Because if the temperatures aren't just right, or if your piece doesn't have enough glaze it pretty much looks like poop.

See what I mean about easily drawn metaphors about clay and life?

What I'm really here to share about is this awesome firing technique called Raku. I don't know how it works, all I know is that the studio owner, Martin, has students over to his house on the north shore and we use some special clay and some special glaze and we fire in these special kilns that don't get to live in the studio. Here's the thing about raku, the pieces can turn out absolutely stunning BUT it's really a crap shoot on how it will all go. Ideally, lots of raku pieces look kind of like gasoline that is sitting on top of water. It's shiny and mercurial. The payoff is big, but the risk is high. High risk, high reward.

Today I got to attend my first raku session. And my pieces actually turned out pretty great! I went in with very low expectations, so when the pieces came out of their metal trash cans I was so happy! This time I'll go ahead and spell out that metaphor: Life tends to work best when you let go of your preconceived notions and expectations.

Kiln with neat pulley system. 

These are pieces that are still molten hot. To get the right coloring you put them in a metal garbage can with newspaper. Apparently this has to do with oxidation and reduction. I don't know what that means, but it makes them look cool!

Two of the three pieces I fired today. See what I mean about gasoline on water look?

The finished products. Like I said, it's kind of a crap shoot about what turns out how. Technically I used the turquoise glaze on my vase, but I wanted it to have more of a luster so we didn't give it too much time to oxidize. Or something.


Monday, April 13, 2015

When We Fail

Sometimes I get unexpected looks at the uglier side of New Orleans. I know, that sounds terrible, I have been singing New Orlean's praises since I moved here. But there have been a handful of times when I've been confronted with some of the deep seated problems that plague a city I hold so close to my heart.

I have to be honest, I don't work in an atmosphere where I am directly confronted by some of the harder realities of New Orleans. All in all I'm pretty isolated. Project Homecoming builds homes in some neighborhoods that people outside of New Orleans would consider dangerous. We are usually a welcome site when we set up shop. At PHI we've had some tools stolen, there once was some gunfire a few blocks away from a house some of our Americorp were at, but all in all we are pretty contained. I don't even do the construction, just stuff around the office. The most I have to worry about is making sure I don't leave my purse in my car.

It's easy to wane philosophical about our country's social failings. America is deeply flawed. So many aspects of what we do poorly feeds into other things that we also do badly. It's hard to extract a single thread and follow it. No one thing is the source of all problems. The ways in which teachers and students are held accountable in school is broken, our incarceration system is laughable, I have a relative with a serious mental illness who is a shining example of all the ways we as a society ignore/shun/castigate those like him. This country has failed him.The people that we elect to represent us in the government have failed all of us. Finally, we continue to fail each other in pretty horrible ways without even realizing it.

Thankfully, I just get to think about these things.

But sometimes I have the unpleasant experience of being confronted with the reality of these failing systems. Today, after school, a man opened fire on a bus stop full of students. I know this because my housemate works at the school those students attend. She was not as the shooting, but to quote her "My kids shouldn't have to go through this. They shouldn't be afraid to ride the bus home." And she's right, they shouldn't be afraid to ride the bus home. Or ride the bus anywhere for that matter. My housemate works in a high needs school. She frequently breaks up fights between students. A lot of afternoons she comes home burned out from working with students who don't understand how to manager their anger. I have no doubt that each and everyone of her kids needs to spend time with a counselor every week to even have a fighting chance at being something more. But that support, and the funds necessary, just don't exist. Not for those kind of kids, not at that kind of schools

I wish I could end this on a positive note, but I'm tired and sad and I don't have much more to say right now. Those kids deserve better and we all continue to fail them. Right now all I see is a long tunnel with no end in sight. Here's to hoping that tomorrow I can see a little more light, give myself a little more grace and find the strength to continue to offer this city my best me, whatever that may look like.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

PYCC (or my new awesome extended family)

As I started my job with PSL, we (as in me and my advisory board) began to throw around this idea of a youth council. First of all, let me preface this by saying that PSL only had a youth coordinator position for about a year before I was hired. So everything down here is new. Very new. Anyway, when I began my job in early August, the idea of a youth council was brought up. As I was exploring what this could look like for a presbytery that is smaller (about 50 churches) and very spread out (it takes about 4.5 hours to get from New Orleans to Lake Charles) one of the board members sent me information about the youth council in New Covenant Presbytery. Maybe it was purely luck, I like to think it was more than that, the name on the front of the packet was one I am very familiar with: Caressa Holloman.

Just a little bit of background, Caressa's aunt is the pastor at my home church in Dallas. Her uncle was the assistant director at Synod Youth Workshop the year I was on planning team. Her husband was my small group leader one year at SYW and her parents did all the behind the scenes planning for SYW while I was attending in high school. When the packet was presented to me I knew Caressa pretty well, maybe not as well as most of the rest of our family but to say that our paths crossed on occasion would be an understatement.

Naturally I sent Caressa an email just asking for a feel of how PYCC works. It's a youth council that has existed for a very long time and led a successful weekend retreat for all of the youth in New Covenant. Through out the conversations I was invited to attend the planning retreat for PYCC back in late August (or early September, I can't quite remember).

PYCC is the youth council in New Covenant Presbytery (so Houston area plus some). Every church is eligible to nominate 1-4 youth to be on the PYCC. Every spring the entire council nominates 2 youth co-moderators for the following school year. In addition to youth there is a whole score of adults who volunteer their time and talents, so there are also 2 adult co-moderators (or co-mods for short) as well as adults that help with the various teams. The youth are broken up into a bunch of different teams, with an adult and a youth serving as the team leaders. In turn, all of these wonderful people put on a retreat in late February called Conclaves. The youth not only lead music, come up with the theme, perform keynote skits, lead worship, come up with a mission idea, take care of all the a/v  and lead rec, they also all serve as small group leaders. Pretty neat in my opinion. All of the adults provide guidance, but in general try to be as hands off as possible. They basically serve as an awesome support system.

I went in August and had an amazing time. I picked their brains about what works, what doesn't work, what seems to be the key to PYCC (I'll get to that in a minute), how the teams are decided, how they come up with the theme, how many meetings they have every year etc. I had so much fun getting to know the youth and adults. Seriously, it was a great weekend. It was so great in fact that when Caressa invited me to come back for Conclaves (their all youth retreat in the spring), I couldn't say no. I had the opportunity to see all the plan, now was my chance to see them all in action.

Conclaves is all sorts of awesome. First of all Camp Cho-yeh is a well run retreat facility. I was so impressed by their staff, their buildings and by the activities they offered. Secondly, it was amazing to see so many youth in leadership positions. When I was told that high schoolers got to lead small groups with other high schoolers in that I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical. That was silly. The youth on PYCC did a great job in all aspects. I swear, I'm not exaggerating. They have tons of energy and are so excited. The theme was on point, the activities were engaging, all 250 people in the room were interested in what was going on.  Not only that, the adults were so generous with me. I had multiple people offer to come to New Orleans to help me get my own council together. Seriously, these people are already volunteering for PYCC and they want to help me get my own program off the ground in their free time. How amazing is that?

So, what makes PYCC so successful (in my humble opinion):

1. The youth are nominated by their home churches. As Caressa put it, these churches know the youth best. Also it creates a system of accountability for not only the youth, but also for the home churches. It's one things when a youth is picked from a stack of applications, it's another when session has to take the time to nominate a youth to represent their congregation. This model impresses an extra layer of responsibility on the youth while also involving the home congregation.

2. There is a core group of youth sponsors who are willing to give up a handful of weekends throughout the year to be on PYCC. In my experience you're more likely to have a stressful youth event because of adult sponsors, not youth (not all the time, but most of the time). Having a core group of adults that support and serve as the leadership and are truly dedicated make a world of difference is integral.

3. The youth maintain a lot of control. Don't get me wrong, the adults are clearly key assets to PYCC, but the youth did a lions share of the work. It was truly inspiring to see how much high schoolers can do if you just give them the space to do it. Seriously, instead of micromanaging, the youth were given the space to make the important decisions. I keep relearning that youth will surprise you in the most wonderful ways. 9 out of 10 times they will basically kick your ass with how awesome they are.

Speaking of youth kicking ass, the two youth co-mods, Danielle and Marco, gave the sermons at the Sunday worship service. They were both completely different in their presentation and they were both wonderful. They were insightful and personal, connecting with everyone in the room, (confession, I may have texted my dad saying: "I think my crisis of faith just got its ass kicked by an 18 year old").

Thank you PYCC for taking me in! I feel like I have an awesome extended family in New Covenant Presbytery. You all are awesome. I learned a lot and I hope that someday PSL's future youth council can work with ya'll. Wouldn't that be great?

This is my only picture from the weekend.
A selfie on the drive out to Houston. I swear I'm excited!