Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words

I love photographs. I am not always fantastic at remembering to get my camera out of my purse and capture photo-worthy moments, but I love them. I have some of my favorites framed and about three albums filled from 5th grade memories to now. Some of my favorite pictures are of my brother and me. . . So here's what this picture is worth, to me, in one thousand words. . .

This was the day after his junior prom. Black and white captures a sense of nostalgia for me. This smile is so totally Zack it’s alarming . . . typically when I say ‘Z, let’s take a picture. . . SMILE!’ this is the face I will get nine out of ten times. This is not my most favorite picture of us, but it’s up there . . . because it is so imperfect that it is perfect, much like our friendship/relationship/brother and sister being. Z is my hero, my go to guy, a tear wiper, giggle maker, and drinking partner. He’ll listen to music too loud with me, stop his fun time to come join me for mine, make me laugh when all I can fathom doing is cry, and he always has an opinion about everything I do.
Z wears a poker face like a champ and I wear my heart on my sleeve, but I know he loves me and would throw elbows to protect me. He is a good ‘ole country boy who is always up for a good time, but knows how to slow his roll and have a serious conversation, too. He doesn’t give his heart easily, but if you are lucky enough to have a piece of it, you better treat it with the utmost care. He dreams big and laughs bigger.
Z used to really bother me. . . I viewed him as a massive intrusion on my perfect, pink universe. I remember thinking his hands smelled oddly wrong, and his very being cramped my style. He liked to line up all his loudest tractors, trucks, and various toys the length of our living room and have a “parade.” This thoroughly pissed me off. He was also known to, on the spot, write original song lyrics on long, winding drives. . . they went like this: hung-a-da, hung-a-da, hung-a-da, hung-da-a, hung-da-a, hung-a-da, hung-aaaaaa (repeat x 1000). . . This, I was sure at the time, would be the reason why no one would ever, in the entire universe, think I was cool . . . because of the unparalleled lameness accomplished by my little brother.
Clearly this has all changed . . . although he has been known to break out that one hit wonder at the most inappropriate times (read: when I am PMSing to the max) and it still seems ultimately lame to me. But, as it turns out, he ended up way cooler than me, prettier than me, and funnier than me. . . but let’s all agree to claim I taught him everything he knows.
Z is everything I am not: calm, cool, collected, laid back, rolls with the punches, and fearless. He inspires me every day to grab the world by the balls and take on a challenge. He’s the guy that hates reading, but secretly reads my blog every night. He’s the guy who will show up out of nowhere on the dance floor and spin a girl around until she’s dizzy. . . ‘cause he’s just that awesome. He’s the perfect combination of my two gorgeous parents: he can fix anything with his hands like my papa and help heal a broken heart with his words like my mommy.
Z is unpredictable and so not a planner. He balances out my neurotic nature and strongly believes the problems of the world may very well be solved around a bon fire with an ice cold Bud Light in hand. He lets his six year old nature come out by wrestling on the floor with our dog, Moses, and becomes wise beyond his years when working on a truck, in a field, or in plumbing.
He is beautiful, and is told so all the time, but doesn’t necessarily buy into it. He’ll melt your pissy mood with a shit eating grin and knows just what to say and knows just when to say it. He’s my brudder and I’m his seester and I love when he calls me “Sneff.”
Our relationship is a “love to bug the shit outta you, can’t wait to tell you this story, let’s drive into Troy for Wendy’s on a Wednesday” kind of thing. I know I’m always welcome wherever he goes and he’ll always have a bear hug to wrap me up in every night. No girl will ever be “good enough” for my little brother, but I know one day I’ll have to suck it up and love her anyway, because if he is happy, I am happy because I’m the big sister and I’ll do what it takes to ensure just that.
Sometimes I act like a mother hen instead of a sibling, but it’s only because I am absolutely NUTS about this kid. . . I’d be lost without him and now I have incredible pictures to remind me of all the ways he shaped my world and still does.
For all the girls out there that don’t have brothers: I am deeply sorry for you. If you don’t have a brother, you have no idea what it’s like to have your very own solider ready and waiting at a moment’s notice to fight in your honor. If you don’t have a brother, you don’t know what it’s like to grow up with someone who holds all your secrets, all your memories, and shares all your laughter. If you don’t have a brother, you don’t know what it’s like to never actually grow up . . . because when the two of you are together, it’s as if you’ll forever be children running outside to play. If you don’t have a brother, you don’t know what it’s like to always have a date for a movie, a slumber party partner, a designated driver, a best friend.
For all the girls out there that do have a brother: I hope you have these same experiences with your brother . . . and if you don’t, make sure he knows it’s never too late to start.

I love photographs. I am not always fantastic at remembering to get my camera out of my purse and capture photo-worthy moments, but I love them. I have some of my favorites framed and about three albums filled from 5th grade memories to now. Some of my favorite pictures are of my brother and me. . . So here's what this picture is worth, to me, in two words. . .

My history.

Love you, Z.

So, go take a picture. . . What is it worth, to you, in one thousand, or two, words?

-Stephi D.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

There's a First Time for Everything

I remember before the events of 9/11 shook the foundation of our country my mom used to always say she would never forget where she was when she found out about Kennedy's assassination. After the events of 9/11, my generation can say we will never forget where we were when the Twin Towers were first hit. I was in 8th grade American History with Mr. Greher and I recall the rest of the day being a relative wash because in each classroom we were all gathered around the television screen watching the devestation play out.
I can remember feeling overwhelmingly sad about the events that were taking place and not really being sure why I felt that way, because these events seemingly had nothing to do with my life. . . Of course now I realize it made sense that I had such a strong reaction, because those events changed everyone's lives. That was the first time I realized that a day that didn't really seem to have purpose for my life will forever be a part of my memory chip.

And you know the saying. . . there's a first time for everything. . . So on to lighter scenarios:

The first time you learn (or in my case, try to learn) to ride a bike: I don't recall my exact age, but Nick took the training wheels off my perfectly pink and purple bike with hearts all over it and hot pink tassles streaming from the rubber wrapped handles. Our side walk is very small and very narrow which led to limited virgin bike riding experiences, but we tried  . . . and we failed. I got on that bike with all the gusto a scared, young girl can muster only to fall promptly off the perfect bike and blubber to Nick that he was to put the training wheels back on. . . NOW! Which he did (great guy, even then) and now here's the BIG secret, folks. . . I am 24. . . and I still do not know how to ride a bike.
So in the event of the bike riding expedition, there was a first time for no training wheels, which also coincided with my last time for no training wheels.

The first time you learn to tie your shoes. My mom, in my most humble, educated opinion, is the greatest mother ever to live and she went about the shoe tying experience by using the age old rabbit ear route. She taught it flawlessly and to this day I am an expert shoe tyer (tier?). Thank you, very much.

The first time you realize boys don't have cooties. I do not recall the exact age or grade. . . it was definitely elementary school for me and his name was Josh Anderson (laugh it up, fellow Miami "Easters") Josh was cute, and still is, and was a really great, kind guy, and he still is. This crush did not come to frutrition in any way and as a matter of fact, he was and still is, a very good friend of mine (and possibly a very distant relative.) So this elementary school crush does not have a fairy tale ending, but I quite possibly am divulging very serious harbored secrets here, people. So, you're welcome!

The first time you get kissed, for real. I was in sixth grade, it was after a rolling skating extravaganza at the local 36 Skate, on my basketball court in the backyard on a pretty blue-sky-ed, sunshine-y day, and his name was Brandon Sizemore. Of course, the world stopped moving as I was convinced that this kiss was the best kiss ever to be had on solid ground. (Admittedly it was a nice kiss, but we were young, inexperienced, and faking at being grown up, so . . . ya know . . .) Either way, it was my first kiss which makes it totally memorable, totally worth it, and totally anti-climatic compared to various other DNA swapping events.

The first time you "do the wild thing." I choose this particular phrasing because, as most of you know ( I would guess ) there is likely nothing "wild" about one's first time in the proverbial sack. I would imagine it is safe to say that every single female on the planet begins to imagine what her first time will be like around the time she gets into her first serious relationship and is conceivably in love with said partner in serious relationship.
As many of you know I have a flair for the dramatics so, naturally, my first time was going to be full on soap opera style: candlight, soft jazz music in the background, we would walk towards one another in a fevered desperation and RIP each other's clothes to shreds to allow full skin on skin contact. . . rolling in the sheets would be easily accomplished and, of course, our hands would be intertwined the entire time. . . ha-haha-ha-ha-ha. Looking back on those fantasies, I have this great desire to allow my joints go where no joints have gone before and  kick myself in my own ass, because honestly, who exactly did I think I was? Where exactly did I think I was living? Not on an overly directed, perfectly lit sound stage, that's for damn sure!
Because I am a lady and I do not "kiss" and tell, I will not go into the great details of my first time (apologies to any family members who maintained I was virginal, still), but let me say this: It was memorable, but during the day, and not in a car! Ta-daaaa!!

The first time you realize you will touch someone's life along the way, in some way. I have always wanted to write and, through my writing, have always wanted to change someone's world. As a college Senior who is beginning to see the eventful graduation day looming in the near future, I had begun to question whether this would ever be a possibility. . . and then I started this blog, I started opening my heart up, I starting being honest and not being concerned about consequences and guess what? You are all responding . . . with love. And it has blown me away. I am not paid to do this blog, but look forward to it every day. My hope is that one day I will get checks with my name (one day hyphenated, of course) on them to do just what I'm doing right now: making you tear up with my losses, helping  you see something through a story, creating laughter by making a mockery of myself.
Let me introduce myself: My name is Steph. I'm a story teller, a giggle ensue-er, a young woman still testing the waters. . .
I am a writer.
Like I said, there's a first time for everything.

-Stephi D.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Famous in a Small Town

It is with a heavy heart that I chose this blog subject today. Not 24 hours ago a young girl lost her life in a car accident. This young girl was a student a Miami East. . . a fellow Viking. Her young age, 15, was enough of a reason to feel devestated and heart broken, but the memories that it brought back, of the pain my family experienced in 2003 for the same reason, was enough to bring me to my knees. Let me begin this post by saying how truly sorry I am to those who knew this young woman and are feeling the devestation with every fiber of their bodies. What I hope this post will bring is a little peace and clarity.

As most of you know my family lost someone in 2003. He was 15 and it was a car accident. It was unbearable pain and still is devestating to this day, but there was one thing that helped my family get through such an incomparable experience; the community we live in.
I went to Miami East from Kindergarten to Senior class of 2006. My dad graduated from Miami East, as did his brother and all three of his sisters. My grandma was a Viking and my grandpy was a part of the first class to graduate as Miami East Vikings. It is safe to say our family is comprised of Viking alumni.

When you go to a school that is small like Miami East, you typically live in a community that is small, tight knit, and where everyone knows everyone, and if you don't know one person, you're sure to know their relation. Small towns like Miami East are all about football Fridays, county fairs, and supporting everyone around you.

When Nick and Zach passed away, I think what was almost as surprising as the fact that the world does not stop spinning when you lose someone you love, is that people you don't even really know, on a personal basis, come out of nowhere with plates of food, flowers to brighten your rooms, and hugs to warm your heart. In a community such as Miami East, the day after an accident will result in classroom time being spent talking about your favorite memories of those who you've lost, gymnasiums being turned into rooms for counsel, if you so choose, and hallways become a sort of dance floor in which students are embracing each other for long moments, friends are saying "I love you" as if it's their last words, and teachers become a part of the student body. Because in a small community like Miami East everyone is touched by a tragedy. . . whether the life lost was your best friend, your boyfriend/girlfriend, or just someone you smiled at occasionally. . . if you aren't in school when someone is taken, then you likely know their parents or grandparents, you may have baby sat them when they still needed help going potty, you could very well have screamed their name out loud at the last football game, but the bottom line is. . . each life within this small community is effected.

I didn't know the young woman who was taken too soon and I don't know the young man who is in the hospital right now, but I know what their friends are feelings, I know how their family gatherings will be altered, I know that school hallways will never look, feel, or smell the same ever again. But we are Vikings. We are strong and we have each other.

In a world when tomorrow has never been guaranteed, I hope that we can each take comfort in the fact that we come from a community that was built on strength, we come from a community that supports us in our endeavors, we come from a community that will stand together in a time of crisis, hold each other up in times of despair, and pull from one another the strength to make it through tonight, wake up tomorrow, and face the day.

January 24th will never be the same for me, just like November 27th will never be the same for the families and friends of Christen and Josh. But they will always be remembered, forever be loved, and eternally be Vikings.

In a community like Miami East, everyone is famous in this small town.

Tell the ones you love that you love them, hug your people every chance you get, and always. . . keep your face to the sunshine.

-Stephi D.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Days of Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving!!! Today is a day that, all over the country, people become remarkably thankful for their blessings. Why is it that on this day you see more posts on Facebook about what people are thankful for? In the month of November people, including myself, post everyday about what they are thankful for. . . why do we only exercise our thanks one month out of 12 and our especial thanks on one particular day out of 365?
As I spend time with my amazing family I reflect on all the ways in which I have reasons to be thankful, not just today, or in the month of November, but everyday and every month.

I have freedom. The freedom to vote, to voice my opinion, to become educated and then share that education to help those around me. I have the freedom to drive myself where I need to go, wear the clothes I wish to wear, show the world my hair and my face. Not everyone in the world, or this country, have these freedoms. I am thankful for the freedom to be raised as a strong, independent woman that has the option to someday have children and raise them as strong, independent beings.

I have a home. Every night when I get off work or off school I am able to get in my vehicle and drive to a warm, or cool, home that is filled with furniture and food and love. I am certain that a minimum of once a week I drive by, look at, or speak to someone that doesn't have a roof over their head at the end of a long day, blankets to cover their children up with on a winter night, or warm, hand prepared food to feast on. I am also certain that weekly I come in contact with someone who has not grown up knowing the unwavering support and love I have been given from day one, and probably take advantage of from time to time.

I have friends. I have been very fortunate that in my life, bullying was not a severe issue that plagued me. I have grown up with a small group of the same boys and girls that I am still fortunate enough to call friends. Some of my friends I've known since pre school, and in recent years have had the pleasure of being a part of their wedding day. How many people can say they've had a friend that long? I've been lucky to meet new friends along the way that love me as if they have known me since pre school and still love me all the same. There are children all over this country that fear going to school or riding a bus because ignorance is a concept that seems to be fed more than suffocated in our time. College students would prefer never to see the sunrise again than face the ramifications of a cruel "joke." I have never had to weigh my options on such a devestating level. I love and I am loved in return by wonderful friends and this is something that is invaluable. Friends are the family we get to pick and I've met all the right people to fill my second "family."

I have gifts. I have grown up in an environment in which my gifts and talents have been harvested with support and love, so they may grow versus remaining stagnant. In the last few months I have seen my life begin to point to certain directions and I realize that what I've always wanted to do is going to become not just a possibility,but a reality. None of this would be in process if it weren't for the design in which God created me and the love of the two people who made me.

I have life. Everyday that I wake up is a gift. People my age, and younger, and older, all over the country and world, are waking up today fighting for their lives, both figuratively and literally. People are being diagnosed with hateful diseases that attack their bodies, people are losing their lives at someone else's hands, people are taking their last breath to go meet their prize. But I am here; alive, awake, and hungry for what the day will bring me. God put me here for a reason and everyday that I rise is another chance to fulfill that purpose and destiny written within the fabric of my soul.

So not just today or this month, but everyday and every month, I vow to be aware of the people around me, realize the luxuries and rights I have, and understand that it can all be taken from me in an instant. I will make an exerted effort to list the reasons I am thankful and to bring joy to those around me so that they may be thankful, too, because Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift, that's why it's called the present.
So go give someone a gift, yell why you are thankful, and celebrate. . . 'cause life? It's too short to do anything else.

What are you thankful for?

-Stephi D.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Sounds of Loss

"... But you went away, how dare you? I miss  you. . .
     And they say I'll be okay, but I'm not going to ever get over you. . ."
           -Over You by Miranda Lambert

When I heard this song for the first time I ruined my make up.
It is always amazing to me when an artist/songwriter whom I have never met can create a piece of art that so completely encompasses how I feel about a particular situation in my life. . . and often I hear it at a very specific time, like when I need to hear it the most.
Loss is a scary, world changing concept. Sometimes it is in the shape of a misplacement, sometimes it is in the shape of a drawn out conversation that results in someone walking away, and sometimes it is in the shape of a bad accident, a lethal disease, a last breath. No matter what sort of loss it is, it is hard, painful, and it forever changes the contours of your life.

Likely, as you are reading this, you are thinking of a loss you have faced in your life, a loss that has changed the course of your life, a loss that has changed the rate at which you have grown up. There are two such losses in my life: when my 15 year old cousin lost his life in a car accident and when my grandpy lost his life in his sleep.
Everyday I think about these two men. They were colorful, funny, bright, and they lit up your life when they smiled at you. They were staples in our family and they died less than one year apart. It wasn't easy then and it isn't any easier now, but I learned a lot from them when I could see their faces and I learn a lot from them now when I have to remember their faces.

I've learned that laughter is the best medicine, hard work always reaps benefits, it is never too early, or too late, to have a good time, and when the weather is just right there will be a miniature rainbow barely visible in the sky; a sundog.
I've learned that hearing a song on the radio can make your heart stop and take you back to a wooden pew in that tiny church, that when Rocky Top plays at a wedding reception or festive party, you might feel the need to sit down and tell yourself to take a breath, and then another, and I've learned that none of it gets any easier; you don't go to family get togethers and stop noticing the quiet voids they used to fulfill, you don't hear "Unstoppable" and not get choked up at the irony of the whole song, you don't stop missing them every single day, and you don't stop wishing for just an hour with them everytime you think of their face.

I was 15 when Nick passed and it was the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with. Within seconds I became aware of the fragility of life, the importance of siblings, and why saying I love you, even when you may not feel like it, is imperative. Our family lost Nick 8 years ago, but I still remember the raspiness he had in his voice, the way he made me giggle, how he threatened some guy in high school not to hurt me, or else, and I remember the line of people out of the funeral home on a cold January day. Because Nick was that guy- he was contagious and beautiful and completely loved. And it is without a single doubt that he learned that from our grandpy- who always wore blue and white pin striped overalls with highlighters in the front pocket, who had a white beard that made kiddos think he was Santa Clause, who would slap his leg when he thought something was funny, and always tell us to "quit the damn passing and get to eating" at the dinner table.

Everyday I miss these men. Everyday I love them more. Everyday I realize just how much I grew up that year because when people like them leave. . . you can't help but change.
So I am altered, but forever a Duff. I am stronger, but forever missing them. I am happy, but continuously memorizing the sounds of loss: snow falling quietly over a corn field, the birds chirping on a perfect fall day, the guitar strums of "Free Bird," and the inescapable fact that everywhere I go, no matter what I do, I've got two country boys at my back. . . and that. . . well that is not a loss at all.

How does loss sound to you?

-Stephi D.

Monday, November 21, 2011

BatShit Crazy Love

Have you ever been in love? Chances are you have. Chances are you've experienced it and your life exploded. Exploded because your heart felt like it might beat out of your chest when that person was around, exploded because your butterflies fluttered so quickly you began to feel nauseas, exploded because when you're in love your life is different; colors change in vibrancy, sounds alter in volume, your whole outlook is just different.

Of course the downside to falling in love is the chance that one or both of you will fall out of it or something just lets loose and you lose your footing. It can be a sad, lonely place, but I maintain that it's totally worth the fall. . . even if there is a chance you land quick and hard.

But what is it that makes us so batshit crazy when it comes to love? It's this insanely large, unexplainable concept that we are all chasing after, often much earlier than we can ever try to understand it, but run after it is exactly what we do.
This concept. . . it sets lives on fire, creates hurdles worth jumping, and allows tears to almost be worth the salty after taste. And humans crave it so strongly, want it so desperately, need it so hastily that we chase after the idea, instead of letting the idea chase after us. Bat. Shit. Crazy. People.

If love is so incredible, so overwhelming, so intoxicating why do we only focus on the opposite sex to fulfill this desire?
What if you woke up everyday and decided that instead of chasing after your hypothetical beloved, you allow yourself to fall in love with something else. What if you allowed yourself to fall in love with you?  Am I making sense?

Today when I woke up and went to Braden's house he climbed up into my lap and laid his head right where my heart is and I fell in love. I am in love with a beautiful three year old who specifically asks me to "cuddle" after lunch time, who sits in my lap and makes sure he has a hold on my hand while we watch Phineaus and Ferb, who looks forward to seeing me every single week.

Every January 24th I make a trip to the cemetary where my grandpy and Nick were laid to rest. When I kneel before the cold stone that provides a brief, albeit completely insufficent, synopsis of their lives, I fall madly in love, all over again, with my family. My loud, crazy, obnoxious family who are so spread out there is a difference in time zones; my family, who grew up mostly apart, but will stand together before anyone that is not a Duff or some variation of, and is a threat; my family who laughs loud, dances big, and loves like a hurricane.

When I walk into one of the bathrooms in our house, there are two smells that infiltrate my senses: baby powder and gardenia. When I walk into one of the bathrooms in our house, I fall in love with my mom. The woman who brought me into this world, has been known to mildly threaten to take me out of it, and who looks at me as one of her two greatest accomplishments.

When I finish a book, most generally in an annoyingly quick amount of time, I fall in love with the written word. The written word that was bestowed unto me by my loved ones; the written word who fills stacks of journals from my angst ridden high school years; the written word that encompasses every card or letter I've ever received in my whole 24 years.

I am in love. With a three year old little boy, with my extraordinary family, with my beautiful mother, with words. I also have a strong infatuation with chocolate, photographs, William Shakespeare, safety pins, my friends, and my brother. . . to name a few. And tomorrow, when I wake up? I'll probably find something new to fall for. . . and one day. . . I'll wake up and I'll find someone to fall for.

Until then, I'll take the blue eyed babe who likes to cuddle, random text messages from my family all over the country, laughing with my mom over inside jokes, and becoming inspired by someone's words.

And every single day from here on out? I will wake up and discover another reason to love myself. It may not be easy, it's probably going to be very difficult, but everyday I will uncover a new piece of myself and . . . I will fall in love. Batshit crazy love, all over the universe.

What makes you fall in love?

-Stephi D.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Smile with Your Teeth!

When I was 12 I got braces. But I didn't just have braces, I had a mouth expander that put a gap between my two front teeth that was so large a pencil eraser could fit between it and oh
. . . I had a night brace. It was a long, painful experience, but I have relatively nice teeth now because of it. Some of you may not realize that, though, because I do not typically smile with my teeth.

I have some sort of aversion to this concept, although I cannot tell you what it is. For some reason if I do not know someone very well, I won't smile at them with my teeth showing. As a waitress I realize this can come off as somewhat unfriendly so I try to tell myself to show my teeth when greeting a table, only to find myself keeping my mouth closed when smiling.

One day I was working and a guy I'd never seen before came in. I went into the same routine as usual; asked how he was, what can I get him to drink, and said thank you and gave a close lipped smile. After he had his food and I went to check on another table, someone said something that made me laugh, with my teeth showing,  (GAH!! THE HORROR!!) and the gentleman I had never met before said to me, "You have a beautiful smile. . . you need to quit hiding it."
It blew me away. I was so flattered because this guy didn't know me, had never seen me  before and had just given me a very large compliment. My whole day changed after that.

It is always amazing to me what such little words can accomplish in someone's day. Telling someone their shirt is cute, telling someone you like their hair, telling someone to stop hiding their smile from the world. . . they really are just words, but the impact they can have on someone's day is invaluable.
So, why are people so quick to cut someone down versus lift them up? I am guilty of this on occasion, too, but why? If I could learn to give a compliment everytime I thought to say something negative, how much more positive would my soul be? How much happier would I feel? What could I do for someone else's day?

It was not long before starting this blog that I began to wonder if my writing ability had peaked and would not, in fact, change someone's life or help their day along. And then I did my first entry, then my second, and so on and all of you lit up my life! The response I have gotten has been both overwhelming and incredibly amazing.

Now here is my compliment to you: You are important. You matter to me. And in some way or another you have shaped me into who I am today, and if you haven't yet, you probably will.

 So next time you're out, give someone a compliment, bite your tongue if you want to say something negative, and smile. . . WITH YOUR TEETH!

-Stephi D.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Child-Like Innocence

When I used to play house or Barbies, I always wanted to be 19. That was always my age and I can't explain it or make sense of it, but 19 was the age for me. Nineteen was this incredible, shining beacon of adulthood that felt lightyears away, but in my bedroom with my Barbie dreamhouse, or in my grandma's upstairs with Nick and Jenna, I could be 19 and everything fabulous that came with it.
When I went through months and months of watching The Little Mermaid on repeat, I thought that if I could just break into the television, I could be "Under the Sea" with Ariel, I could be "A Part of His World" on that big boat floating on the waters' surface. If only I could find a safe, discreet way to break into the T.V.
When I would sing at the top of my lungs along to LeAnn Rimes playing on my neon yellow portable tape player, I just knew that, one day, I was going to drive to Hollywood, sing for strangers, and become rich beyond my wildest dreams. If only I could talk mom into taking me to Hollywood.
Now that I am past 19, and realized it wasn't just as glamorous as I had hoped, I have also realized that I cannot, in fact, break through a T.V. screen and meet Ariel, and I am also not LeAnn Rimes. . . so there are no impending roadtrips planned for Hollywood. But, no fear, I'm not disappointed. . . more amused than anything. Amused and incredibly amazed at the enduring spirit of children.
Every week I spend time with two 6 year olds and a 3 year old and on a daily basis I find myself delighted by the love and freedom they want to share with the world. I also get a lot of giggles hearing them play when they think no one else is listening. . .

Whenever I spend time with the kiddos I remember hearing in church that Jesus wants us to love Him with a "child-like innocence." I never got that until a couple years ago. Belle and Braden make me feel like the smartest, funniest, craziest girl in the world, because they love me just the way I am. Who wouldn't want to be loved like that?

When I was little I would go fishing with my daddy and I was positive he was the only boy I would ever love. When I was little I would play lion tamer in my living room with Jenna, Nick, and Zack and I was sure these three people would always be in my life and we would always have time to play and argue over who was going to be the lion tamer. When I was little I didn't like my brother and I knew that was never going to change.
But I'm not little any longer. My daddy turned out to be just one of the few boys I love. The lion tamer stopped being important; Jenna, Nick, Zack, and I got older and realized just how scary the world can be. And my brother? He's my first, my last, my constant. . . Who could've seen that coming?

So when you wake up tomorrow morning, before you get out of bed, try to recall a moment from your childhood. What age did you always want to be when you played house? Who did you argue with that you thought would be there until the end of your days? Why and how were you going to be famous?
 Think hard. Got it? Now, get up, get dressed, and go set the world on fire. Love like your six and you've got nothing to lose, laugh like nothing sad could ever happen to you, and LIVE. Live like this second, this minute, this hour, this day is all you've got left. Because when you're six, or seven, or eight, nothing else matters but who you play with on recess, what your snack will be when you get home from school, and who gets to hug you before the night lights go out.
Love with a child-like innocence. Laugh with a child-like innocence. Live with a child-life innocence.

Because it's never too late to be six, again.

-Stephi D.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Ex Factor

Okay, ladies (and gents) here is the deal: we all have exes. Some of them are good, some of them are bad, and some of them we pretend don't exist. But they all have one thing in common: they are exes and there are reasons they have that title!

My first serious boy friend was in the 6th grade.. I know.. how serious can one be in the 6th grade.. but to me, it was serious. He was my first love and I fell HARD. It was long, and more often than not, very painful. My self esteem was essentially shot, but I have found my way out of the hole I allowed him to put me in. At 24 I can see him out and know that I am smarter and funnier than he ever gave me credit for and he is the one who lost in the end.

When I was a freshman in high school I was heavily pursued by a junior very shortly after I broke up, for good, with my first "serious" boyfriend. He called me beautiful one of the first times we spoke and I remember thinking, he's GOT to be sweeter than the previous guy. And for a while, I was right. He treated me like a queen. But then it turned into a petty, childish, high school relationship and things got ugly, he got mean, and not to mention, most (read ALL) of my girlfriends detested him. At 24 I see him out and ask myself "WHY?" and know that although I thought I loved him, I was more afriad of being single than anything. This guy is the one I pretend doesn't exist, if I can help it.

My junior year of high school I dated a guy I've known since pre school and, if I recall correctly, had a large crush on me in junior high. Our first date was at 36 Skate, which I still have on record as one of the best first dates I've ever been taken on. He was fun, sweet, adorable, and made me laugh. He also was the guy I broke boundaries with. There was no major break up or break down; he called one day, said he was moving in with his dad to Brookeville, and then we didn't speak for a few years. At 24 I see him out, call him up, and we kick it because I love him and he's one of my best friends. This guy is my good ex.

My senior year in high school I dated a freshman. He was my longest relationship, my most serious relationship. I absolutely adored him and had my entire life planned with him. At 18 I was certain I had found the guy I was going to spend my life with. Again, there was no major conundrum that ended us and the reason we lasted as long as we did, in part, is because I had it in my head that, come hell or high water, I was going to prove my doubters wrong. But I woke up one day, realized I was having thoughts and feelings I shouldn't be having and I ended it. I then went into a deep place of sadness and regret. I am happy to say I am out of that place, and with the help of my family, my friends, and my God, I know I did the right thing. . . even if he is getting ready to have a baby with the girl he will probably one day call his wife. At 24 I see him out and find it hard to swallow, but know that on his best day, he would have never been able to give me everything I need in a partner.

At 24 I have days where I think the world is going to end because I am single (why, yes, I DO have a flair for the dramatic) and every one around me is coupling up, but those days are getting fewer and shorter the longer I am single. Slowly I am realizing that I am not living a sad life at all! I have the best family around, the funniest, loudest, craziest friends a girl could ask for, and on my lonely days, I realize that I am not bad company to keep! Each day I find myself looking over my shoulder to shrug off that painfully insecure girl who let a boy tell her how to think of herself, to say goodbye to the girl who "falls" for a guy just because he calls her beautiful, to better understand when  someone is more suitable as a friend than a great love, and to look, who I thought was my future, in the eye, and leave him in the past.

At 24, I can completely, well, almost completely, agree with my best girlfriends and momma when they tell me "You'll find someone when the time is right" because, you know what? They are right (see? I can admit when I am wrong) and they are the ones I should be listening to. . . they are the ones who know me the best and, through that, love me the deepest.

So here's the scoop, the 411, the situation. . . all those guys I dated, whether I want to remember them fondly or cast our relationship ashes to the wind, have shaped my heart, changed my mind, allowed me to see that everything they were not and could not be for me?  it's everything I want "him" to be.

My ex factor? Thank you, fellas. . . for being the wrong guy each and every time. . . Really, thank you.

-Stephi D.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What's in a name?

As many of you may know I am very in love with Shakespeare... it's a deep love.. an I will name my potential children after his characters, enjoy discussing his plays, look for classes in which his name is in the title, kind of love. He is a genius and anyone who enjoys reading or writing can thank him, as he is to be attributed with just about every story plot in existence :)
So on this day I am choosing to use a line from his work to spark my blog topic... What's in a name?

Another fact many of you may know about me is that, while I may be proud of many things in my life, there is nothing I am more proud of than being a Duff. I love my last name, and no, it is not because it goes quite nicely with my first name, but because of everything the name Duff means. I don't mean the literal meaning, but what it has come to symoblize for me.

My grandpy was the kindest, most generous and loving man I have ever known. There was nothing more important to him than his family and instilling ethics of hard work and integrity within all five of his kids and all 11 of his grandkids. He passed away in 2004, but the love, compassion, and fabulous sense of humor he spread like fire to everyone around him will long outlive his time on earth. To me, being a Duff means that I come from a large, loud, beautiful family. We are all spread out, but when we get together, it's always a party and even through all the miles, the friendships I have formed with my aunts, uncles, and cousins are solid and invaluable.
Being a Duff also means I am a hard worker, I am respectful, I know the difference between right and wrong, and try my best to do the right thing, always, and that everywhere I go, I am bound to be asked one of three questions: "Are you a Duff?" "Are you Chris Duff's daughter?" or, my favorite, "Is your grandpa Max Duff?"

Names have always been important to me. I can remember playing the game in junior high and high school where I would spend the night with girlfriends and we would name our future children. Mine always had important, special meanings behind them, but of course now at 24, the names of my hypothetical children have completely changed, and harbour even more meaning and love than I could have fathomed at 14 or 18.
I have long considered hyphenating my name when I get married (Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I think ahead.. far, far ahead) and it is because I am not quite ready to give up being a Duff, to stop signing Duff on checks and forms, to stop being a complete representation of who my grandpy was or will forever be.
While I have some time to change my mind, again, on the names of my future children or if there will be a hyphen in my name when I get married, there is one thing I know for sure today, that will never change; I love being me. I love being a Duff.

So, William Shakespeare asks, what's in a name? For me? A whole lotta love, pride, and accomplishment. (Thank you, Grandpy)

And for you, reader. . . What's in a name?

-Stephi D.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Just a Thought. . .

This is my first official post on this blog. I have been considering doing this for a while and finally bit the bullet and did it! Most of you who will read this already know me, so I don't think an introduction is necessary. I will be using this to post different poems/pieces of writing I enjoy by others and probably some of my own.. I will also use this as window to share opinions and thoughts!

I recently joined the American Cancer Society as a Public Relations Assistant. Cancer is something that I believe plagues every one, whether they have experienced it first hand or not because it is such a lethal, nasty disease. I have not experienced cancer firsthand with family members in my life time, but there are a few people I know that have dealt with this. My grandma Arlene died long before I was even a thought in my mom's head to ovarian cancer, my grandma Sara is a breast cancer survivor, but I don't remember her struggle, and a very dear friend of mine is experiencing it through her amazing mother. I have seen the effects of her fighting this disease and it has been painful and heartbreaking to watch. Cancer was always something I hoped would be cured, but now, more than ever, I hope to be a part of the process to put an end to this hienous disease. The ACS has given me an unforeseen opportunity to make the community around me more aware of ways they can step up and help end the destruction cancer causes. I hope that in my lifetime I will be able to say I was a part of the unscalable community that brought more birthday celebrations each year.

Having joined this non profit I have seen a change come over me. I desperately want to be involved in as many non profits as I can be! In the next running season I am hoping to become a coach for Girls on the Run and I am attempting to begin green ideas for starting my own non profit. All of this can be attributed to my good friend, Angela Lewis, who has been an enormous help in opening doors and giving me inspiration. A primary reason I am hoping to start my own non profit is to be able to reach kids on a level outside of the classroom. If I can make a difference in a child's life in the way that my mom, family members, teachers, bosses, close friends, and mentors have made an imprint on mine, then I will be living a full life.
As I get older, and hopefully wiser, I am hoping that, daily, I can make a difference, whether small or large, in someone's life/day/mood. I am hoping that through my actions I can inspire others to attempt this goal as well... Just a thought..

What would you do today, to brighten a life?

-Stephi D.