Up & Away

Nothing gains perspective like 36,000 feet. As I wrote this blog entry, the fluffiest, whitest cumulus clouds were billowing like grand, puffy marshmallows outside my window. In the distance, I could see thunderclouds forming hundreds of miles away. Ah! The earth, the sky, the sun, the clouds! I was in writer’s heaven!

While I knew I’d inevitably have to come back to earth, I decided to take advantage of my circumstances, “snuggled” as I was into a miniature seat on what resembled a toy plane operated by a major airline. Lucky me, of the three seats available across each isle, mine was the one set by itself and a window, so at least I was crammed in with myself and not a stranger.

Rest assured, I’ve had my fair share of experiences on planes and enough flight “companions” in my short career to write a book. Here are a few of the highlights: there was once a toothless man, drunk on Jack Daniels who exclaimed, “Well, look at that!” as I threw up into an air sickness bag upon takeout from Houston Hobby; then there was the one time when a slick businessman on a Southwest flight piped, “I paid the stewardess to get a pretty girl to sit by me and here you are!” about five times before I’d even taken my seat. (I tried to convince him he should ask for his money back. I also let him believe the gaudy flower ring I bought at Forever 21 for $1.99 was a vintage family heirloom); then, last fall, there was the cute med student who sat next to me on a flight back from L.A. Wait a second. I sat next to a cute med-school student on a flight?! How did I let that one get away?

Moving on…

When you’re preparing to fly, there are a lot of details you must take into consideration. Not least among them (you knew it was coming—didn’t you?) is deciding what kind of shoes are you going to wear. As we well know, TSA requires you to remove your shoes when navigating security, so you want to wear ones than can be removed and put back on easily. I once made the mistake of wearing knee-high boots while traveling in the middle of winter. Attempting to get them off and back on felt a bit, um, awkward? So, during last week’s travel, I opted for a pair of strappy, slip-on silver sandals. (I’m convinced that a little pair of silver shoes might be the most complimentary pair of shoes you can own, short of a basic pair of black pumps.)

There’s something to be said about getting up and away from life on earth as we know it. This week, as I traveled away from home and back for work, I could almost physically feel the stress of my life melt away a few minutes after take-off. For hours at a time, I couldn’t use my phone to BBM friends, check or send email, or constantly update Twitter. It was just me, my pen, a notepad, and my own thoughts.

In November of last year, I was sitting at an airport in Chicago on a layover when my dad called with some of the most difficult news we’d received as a family in years: he’d been forced to resign from his job. Not only had my smart, caring father been victim of small-town politics, but the past 13 years of our family’s entire lives had been stripped away in one swift move—as though the community had removed us like a Band-Aid.

I remember sitting there at that Chicago terminal, cross-legged in a chair, hunched over with my head in my hands, sobbing. There was no one there to console me. No one to put an arm around me and tell me it would be O.K. All around me, the world carried on as it normally would.

About an hour later, I was aboard my flight, sitting in another window seat, and resting my head against the back of the chair as I watched the earth move away from me. I felt weak, emotionally exhausted, and alone. So, I did the only thing I know to do when I feel that way: I got my journal out and grabbed a pen. In the hours between Chicago and Sacramento, I’d recorded everything I was experiencing on paper: anger, bitterness, hate, dread, and fear. When the plane landed, I found that all of those sentiments had been left behind, forever lost somewhere over the great expanse of the Rockies. And as I exited the plane, all I had left to stand on was the most important human emotion of all: love. Love for my family, love for my father, and love for everything they have been and ever will be to me as long as I live.

Indeed, nothing gains perspective like 36,000 feet. But, when you do have to come back to earth in your little silver shoes, kind of Dorothy-esque, it’s nice to come back feeling grounded.


Routine Shoes

The Lucky Shopping Manual by Kim France and Andrea Linett offers a broad range of fashion advice and tips on everything from skirts to shirts to purses to (you guessed it) shoes. In fact, they list just a few of the shoe varieties available to all of us “Shoe Lovers”: Strappy, Ankle Strap, Platform, Cut-Out, Stiletto, Thong, Flat, Two-Tone, Ankle Boot, Wedge, T-strap, Loafer, Clog, D’orsay, Mule, Metallic, Round Toe, Embellished, Kitten Heel, Flip Flop, Slide and Knee Boot.

When you factor in color, brand, heel height, the options are endless. But there’s always a pair of shoes that we default to as we go about the tasks of our everyday lives. I like to call these the “Routine Shoes.”

After years of working a desk job in an office, and when I’m in the midst of a wardrobe dilemma or running late (if you know me, you know this happens a lot, not a morning person) I’ve learned that you’ll always be safe in a pair of black pumps. And then of course, during warm weather months, nothing could be easier than slipping on a pair of flip flops before heading out to grocery shop, run to the bank, mail a letter, or peruse the local bookstore.

As time passes, I’m amazed at how life seems to blend together. I get so used to going through the motions that I miss the moments that comprise them. And sometimes, alarmingly, I feel as though I’m losing myself in the midst of it all.

I suppose the fact of the matter is this: we all want our lives to amount to more than punching in our Plus Card numbers at Kroger, cranking out a half hour at gym on the elliptical like hamsters, diligently paying our bills month after month. There’s nothing wrong with these activities. But they can’t be the only thing that defines us.

Five years ago, I sat in my parents’ living room as a college sophomore carefully packing for my upcoming study abroad trip to Spain. I knew the trip of a lifetime awaited me, and I was being ever-so-careful about what I packed. During one preparatory shopping trip, my mom and I found the most perfect pair of shoes: a green, floral strappy number that was just to die for (pictured). What’s more, they went perfectly with a skirt she’d been making for me for my trip. As I packed them away, I had no way of knowing that weeks later, I would be wearing these shoes as I sang and laughed with newfriends in the Plaza Mayor of Segovia at 3 in the morning, as patrons of local cafes sat sipping wine by candlelight. It was one of the happiest nights of my life.

Aside from being the experience of a lifetime, there was nothing routine about the time spent in Spain. Everyday was new—so there were no motions to go through, no already established routine. Even the classes we attended changed on a daily basis. Life was ours to create at every step (and sometimes at the guidance of our teachers). whether we were traveling to Salamanca, Toledo, Salabreña or Granada; attending a local festival; experiencing new food at a hole-in-the-wall diner; or singing new Spanish songs with new Spanish friends at our favorite local hang out (Tres Bs) everything blended to become one grand, beautiful experience.

Whenever I feel bogged down by routine, I sometimes grab my “Spain shoes” from their shelf, put them on, kick my feet up on the coffee table, sip a glass of red wine, and flip through all of my photos from the trip. While I understand I'm admitting publicly to the strange habit single girls can form when left alone for too long, the few moments of nostalgia provided by this temporary retreat is a much-needed reality check: a reminder that I have wonderful life ahead of me and even more memorable moments are left to be experienced. It's the kind of thing that motivates you to shrug off one measly little chore and do that thing you really love, whether it be running, painting, reading, writing, etc.

We can all continue to love our Routine Shoes for the comfort they give us and security they represent. But let’s make a point this week to put them aside for at least one night and pull on a pair of strappy heals, embellished flats, or trendy wedges—whatever you prefer—instead. It's not where we go in them that really matters, but rather the memories we make in them on our way.


"The fact is, sometimes it's hard to walk in a single woman's shoes. That's why we need really special ones now and then to make the walk a little more fun."


The Dance

If there's one thing I know well about myself, it's this: I love to love. And I love a lot of things. Dancing is one of them. And there are few things I find more intriguing than the grace of a ballroom dance.

Whenever I watch professional dancers together, I'm always amazed by the skill and the ease by which they execute each movement. (Not to mention the beautiful shoes the women manage to glide across the floor in.) I'm also struck by the level of trust they display: they dip on queue without fear of falling, they spin and twirl with the confidence a hand will be there to catch theirs and pull them back in.

Over the course of our lives, odds are we will experience the full gamut of the dancing spectrum. As little girls, we stand on our father's feet in frilly socks and Mary Jane's as he stoops to reach our tiny, outstretched hands. Later, we attend our first dance wearing a pair of awkward, clunky heels (possibly the very first heels we've ever worn) and experience the joy (and relief) when a boy chooses us to no longer stand along the wall. As we grow older, the rigid, three feet apart sway of that first dance dissolves: one day, the right person taps us on the shoulder, guides us to the dance floor. As the distance between us melts away, and we are carried away in the graceful dance of which we've always dreamed. In the end, we come full spectrum as taller, more elegant versions of ourselves wearing white dresses take our father's hand once more as he ultimately gives us away.

Deep down, I suppose this is the dance I dream of: the dance that is shared, the dance of building a life with someone. To be sure, I am blessed beyond measure, and no one loves a "dance party for one" more than I do. I throw them all the time in the comfort of my little Crescent Hill apartment. (This confession may make some readers shake their heads in embarrassment. But my closest friends will shake their heads, then nod and say, "Yeah, that sounds about right. She would.")

The reality is: there have been many dances in my life that did not end the way I thought-or rather hoped-they would. There have been times when there was no arm there to catch me, and other times still when no hand caught me from a violent spin. After you've fallen, so many times, it becomes increasingly harder to get back up, brush off your dress and stand there in those tall shoes with any confidence at all. There are days when it is a little devastating to feel sentenced to a life as a perpetual wallflower. Always waiting. "Will my turn ever come?"

Very recently, I shared a dance I will never forget: not because my dance partner was was ridiculously handsome (he was), not because he intrigued me in a way that I have not been intrigued in a long time (he did), but because of what he said to me before the dance began:

"Rule Number One: Keep your right foot planted between my feet at all times." (In ballroom dancing, they call this aiming.)

I followed his instructions, and he suddenly dipped backward toward the ground. He continued, "As long as that foot is there, you're grounded, and you'll be fine." As he lifted me up, he grinned a little. "There will also be no unnecessary toe-stomping."

"Rule Number Two: If I lift my arm, you're going to spin. And when you do, always keep your hand curved a little, like this. As long as you keep that hand just like that..." His arm went up, I spun, and I kept my hand the way he told me to, "...I can always catch you." I came to the end of the spin, and his hand closed around mine.

I do not know which moment I loved more: the one where my heart skipped a beat and I remembered the joy of possibility, reminded that perhaps, yes, my dance was yet to come. Or perhaps I just loved the fact that, somewhere in the midst of a hazy summer night, in the middle of a lamp-lit yard, he'd said the exact words I needed to hear.

Perhaps we get so caught up in the motion of the dance, or the anticipation thereof, that we forget the basic rules:

Keep one high-heel-clad little foot planted on the faith you've been taught, the love you've been given, and the goals you've built your life upon-even when it feels the world is falling apart around you.

Wait in anticipation, always ready, but still holding on to your identify and the vision of who you are going to be to the world-even when you think you might be spiraling out of reach.

And, finally, be ready for the catch, for the moment the right hand folds around your own, because inevitably, it will come.

"It's the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance. It is the dream afraid of waking that never takes the chance. It is the one who won't be taken who cannot seem to give. And the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live." -Better Midler


Going Barefoot

Yesterday evening I returned to Louisville from spending several days at home with my parents in the far Western reaches of the state. It is not often that I get to go home and spend several days at a time with them. Usually, the visit is crammed into the space of a single weekend: down on a Friday night right after work, there all day Saturday, and back in the car after church on Sunday. After three years of making the commute, I know the way well: I-65 South to the Western Kentucky Parkway—a miserable 140 miles of barren nothingness—to I-24 to the Purchase Parkway. I never mind the 250 mile trek because I always know that when I arrive there will be hugs (usually extended, squeezing ones from my mom), two happy dogs who can’t wait to jump into my lap and smother me with kisses, and a large, southern-style dinner waiting on the table. Sometimes, if I’m really lucky, family friends will be also there to join in on the Welcome Party. There’s something about Western Kentucky that helps me unwind—as though the moment you exit onto the Purchase Parkway, life slows and everything becomes simpler, easier.

After the initial welcome, when I am unpacking my bags in the guestroom, the usual flood of recollections enter my mind. Every aspect of this place is filled with the memories we’ve had ample time to create. The physical evidence is everywhere: in pictures of our childhood, our teenage years, high school graduations, proms and group pictures with friends and our extended family. Surrounded by the comfort of a happy past, I can feel the worry and the stress of my life begin to melt away. I slip my feet out of my shoes, symbolically beginning to let go.

There’s something to be said about going barefoot. (This in no way, shape or form reinforces the stereotype that Kentuckians don’t wear shoes. I can assure you, we do. That is not the point.) At some point in all of our lives, we must cast off our shoes and contend with ourselves in our natural form. No one curls onto the couch for a movie night wearing shoes, and we don’t sleep in shoes, for example. Whether we are enjoying the cool feel of green summer grass, the warm sensation of sand between our toes, or kicking and splashing our feet over the edge of a pool through blue, clear water—some of life’s most precious moments are lived out not in our tall heels or work loafers, but barefoot.

Parading about sans shoes can be incredibly wonderful. As a child, my younger brother and sister and I created all kinds of games and adventures in our yard and our house without them. On rainy spring afternoons, I love to curl up in a soft chair with a book and read—no shoes required. I remember standing in the middle of our yard one glorious summer evening when I was 17 in a summer dress, barefoot, and reaching up on tiptoe for my life’s most perfect kiss. And even now, when I sit across from my friends for heart-to-heart conversations that last for hours, it is the words we exchange that matter—not our shoes.

In a world where horns are honking, Blackberries are buzzing, deadlines are looming, reporters are calling, bills are arriving…a return to the simple, essential way of life is not only needed, it is necessary. When we are home, among the people whom we love the most and who love us unconditionally in return, we can ultimately shake off our shoes, let down our guard, relax and be ourselves. And these are the moments when I am convinced this is life in its most perfect form.

Inevitably, the relaxing, back-to-my-roots days must end, and I must return to the city. As I turn my car in the direction of the interstate, I do so with a sense of sadness—there is a pulling in my heart to turn back and let life be this way, always. Of course I know this is unrealistic. Life is waiting, and I must return to it.

Last night, as I set the cruise control and set my sight on the highway ahead, I glanced back in my rear view mirror to see a perfect sunset spread behind me. I had to smile as I slipped my feet out of my flip flops and allowed myself to be barefoot, just once more. We certainly can’t make these kinds of moments last forever, but—whenever we can—we should make them last just a little longer.


Introduction to the "Daily Shoe"

Every friendship must first begin with an introduction, so allow me to introduce “The Girl Behind The Daily Shoe.” I wear an average shoe (size 7) but I don’t suppose I’m necessarily average. I’m a bit quirky (ok, I’m really quirky) with a deep love of and appreciation for art, music, Spain, running, writing and of course, shoes. The daughter of a Southern Baptist Preacher and an elementary school teacher, my childhood played out in a sprawling back yard surrounded by corn and tobacco fields in Western Kentucky. Life was simple and good, filled with a lot of love and, naturally, Southern Comfort. While some might say that “all good things must come to an end” I will argue that “all good things eventually must change.” And so they did for me. While I enjoyed the country and the simplicity of the town where I spent my adolescence, my parents always knew I could never stay. I spent my college years plotting my escape. I needed a city. Not the largest city, but a city.

One sunny, autumn afternoon, I stood barefoot, and utterly bewildered, in the middle of an empty apartment in the heart of Louisville—the city I’d decided to make my new home. This apartment was a tremendous upgrade from my previous living arrangement, which consisted of a twin-sized air mattress at the foot of a friend’s bed and a handful of clothes and shoes shoved into one end of her closet. I had been sharing that tight space with my gracious friend while I waited to see if the career opportunity I was pursuing would become available to me. It did. And that is how I came to find myself, only a few months later, staring around at my new place and feeling a little overwhelmed by my circumstances: I was officially on my own; I was 250 miles from my family and the people I love the most; I was in a relationship that was holding us both back and hurting us both a little more every day; and I was alone and didn’t even own a fork to eat a Lean-Cuisine with, let alone a microwave with which to cook one. In light of this harsh reality, I did the only thing a girl such a predicament can do: I put on my shoes, grabbed my purse and my keys and went shopping.

Five different colors of paint, a new couch, borrowed television, various decorations and a cat later—I had established my “home.” But, deep down I knew there was a lot more work to be done.

Usually, at least once in a girl’s life, she’ll stumble across the most perfect shoe. The moment she sees it—from the color to the shape to the fit—she knows—this is “her shoe.” An outward expression of her perspectives, her style, her hopes and dreams, she wears this shoe proudly. And, just as the perfect shoe should, it lifts her up and helps her move ahead in the direction of her hopes and dreams for the future.

That fall, my journey to find “my shoe” was only beginning. In fact, I couldn’t decide where to even put my actual shoes for the longest time. The poor things spent close to a year and a half in chaos, crammed in my tiny closet, which, in a real sense, seems parallel to my life at the time. Those first two years were complete turmoil. I spent them searching for some steady ground on which to stand and trying on a lot of different pairs of “shoes” to see which ones I might fill: charity work, politics, boyfriends, etc.

I felt like a real-life Cinderella…except, there was no prince at my door bearing my missing shoe and in doing so, revealing my purpose and destiny. And there was no fancy ball at a palace, either. No, I had to scream and claw and fight for my “shoe” with every ounce of energy I could muster in what sometimes felt like a muggy swamp. It was a little like a treasure hunt where you search under every rock and in every cranny for your prize—led only to the next place by subtle hints and clues.

It took time. But eventually, “my shoe” began to take shape before my eyes. Let’s just say that the “Girl Behind the Daily Shoe” in 2010 doesn’t even recognize the “Girl Behind the Daily Shoe” from 2007. I suspect this is the natural progression of life: constantly moving, ever evolving, always molding us into—I believe—the people we were born to be.

“Sometimes it’s just one foot in front of the other. Throw your feet over the side of the bed. Strap on your pretty shoes and move in the direction of the woman you’ve always wanted to become.”–Angela Thomas, When Wallflowers Dance

Eventually, I found the rightful place for my shoes. Out of that dark, dank closet they came into the light of day. So, every morning when I crawl out of bed and round the corner into the hallway, they greet me: Dozens of pairs of pretty shoes lined in perfect rows on shelves that stretch along the entire wall. They are, in a very real sense, an expression of my life: the physical foundation on which I stand. A shoe will never replace my spiritual foundation, my family who loved and supported me through thick and thin, or my friends who listen and encourage me to pursue my calling in life. Rather, shoes are a small, physical reminder of these things. And my shoes—with their tall, slender heels and pointed toes—have supported and held me up through a lot over the years: A reminder of where I have been. A symbol of where I am going.