The Dance

I was never a popular kid in school.  That includes elementary, definitely junior high, and worst of all – high school.  There were always friend groups, we were the islands of misfit toys that stuck together as outcasts.  But prom queen or captain of the cheerleading team just wasn’t in the cards for me.  So that first day of seventh grade, walking up to my locker only to find the most beautiful boy I had ever laid eyes on, putting his books in the locker right next to mine wasn’t exciting.  It was like a punch to the gut because I knew someone like him would never ever ever have time for someone like me.  In the junior high feudal system I was the serf and he was the king.  I was confined to worshiping him from a distance, and good lord did I worship.  His name was Jake (cue John Hughes movie-any of them) and he was your typical popular athlete who seemed to have all the things going for him.  He was tall and played basketball, he had an older brother who had already secured lasting popularity for all of his younger siblings, and he came from money.  He seemed to always be surrounded by friends and appeared to be living an uncomplicated and easy life.

Now let me paint you the picture of me.  Awkward, painfully uncomfortable in my skin, poor, with a deep longing to fit in that practically seeped out of my pores.  And I wore glasses.  Not cute, trendy ones, but rather over-sized, multicolored silly looking glasses.  My self-confidence was non-existent, and I spent most days at school just trying not to garner the attention of someone who felt like beating up a loser.
IMG_6761

The best part of my school days throughout junior high and on to high school was by far, Jake.  I would have a class with him here and there, and would steal glances at him every chance I got.  Looking back, I’m sure I seemed like a complete psycho but at the time I just assumed I was invisible.  To me, it was obvious that of course Jake never saw me looking at him, he never saw me in general.

Walking to class one day with a friend, I was going on and on about how cute Jake was – how I didn’t have any idea what I’d say or if I would even be able to formulate words should he ever talk to me.  Right about that time I happened to glance behind us.  Guess who was walking right there, in his black Nike jacket and smelling of CK Eternity, hearing every mortifying word come out of my mouth?  Jake, of course.  Such is life.

So in my sophomore year when I found out there was going to be something called an Armory dance in a town about 30 minutes away from mine, and my parents actually said I could go with some friends, I had no idea how my plain little existence was going to take a sharp turn upward with none other than Jake himself.  For some reason my normally overbearing parents who didn’t let me walk a few blocks home from marching band/color guard practice, let alone give me permission to go to a neighboring town with other teenagers for a dance, said I could go.  I honestly have no recollection of how it came to be that they agreed to this but I’m sure it had to do with an unreasonably early curfew and the threat of being grounded for life if I got home late.

The night of the dance finally came, and there I was in my best friend’s car with her and another girl.  We had the radio blaring, ecstatic that we were on our own in the world, being allowed to stretch our boundaries.  I had the earliest curfew on the planet but my friends understood and agreed that we would leave the dance pretty much right when it was getting started.  We arrived at the armory (seriously–what the hell is an armory and why do they have dances??) feeling empowered and excited.  There would be kids from both towns here – we were in the big leagues now.  As soon as we walked in, I went right up to the DJ booth and as only nerds do, requested my favorite song at that time – The Dance, by Garth Brooks.  We then proceeded to wander around the large space, drinking in the joy of being out on our own.

It didn’t take me long to spot that face and the curly brown hair – OHMYGOD Jake’s here!  I squealed to my friends (and probably to everyone around us – my infatuation with this kid made it hard to know when my assumed indoor voice was actually a booming shout).  Sure enough, there he was once again surrounded by people.  This time he was with several guys from our high school basketball team.

I started to fantasize about asking Jake to dance.  What if he said yes?  What if it made him realize how awesome I really was, and we started dating?  Hey-a girl can dream.  My teenaged heart was all aflutter.  I voiced this insane idea to my friends who of course, knowing it would never happen, told me I should totally ask him.  Were they crazy?  Just the thought of asking Jake to dance made my stomach flip.  He’d say no, I would be heartbroken, life would be over and I would never be able to show my face at school again.

As the night went on, a little ember began to grow in my mind.  Maybe I could ask him-if one of my friends also asked one of his friends.  That way when both boys said no to us, it would soften the blow because hey-at least she would’ve been turned down too.  Misery loves company, right?  I’m sure there’s a logical fallacy somewhere in that thought process but to me it seemed perfectly reasonable.  My friends and I were having a great time people watching and bantering back and forth about me asking Jake to dance, and before I knew it, it was already time to head home.  I kept dragging my heels, hoping to stay just a little bit longer but finally my friend said to me – We need to leave NOW.  If the next song is slow, you go ask him to dance.  If it’s not, WE ARE OUT OF HERE.

Ok, fine.

The song ended.  And as I heard the first chords of the next song start to play, my stomach did all the flips.  The Dance, by Garth Brooks.

It’s now or never Layla, let’s do this.  In some kind of daze, palms sweaty and heart racing, I walked up to Jake who stood in the very center of his tall friend group, looked him in the eye, and asked, Hey Jake, wanna dance?

As I was beginning to back away, expecting the impending HELL NO!  I heard him say ‘sure’.

Just like that, we were walking to the dance floor together.  Now, in my mind, I could swear to this day that the couples already dancing cleared a path for the two of us to walk right into the middle and into the spotlight but that’s probably just my 15-year old mind embellishing a bit.  Regardless of how it actually played out, the fact was that I was now slow dancing with Jake – my arms around his neck, his hands on my sides, very PG but also the most erotic experience in my life up to that point.  Each time he breathed out, I could smell his CK Eternity.  To this day that scent is a sweet piece of nostalgia for me.

My friends were in a bit of shock that I had actually done it-more so that Jake had agreed to dance with me.  My friend told me later that when she finally remembered her part of the deal and walked up to Jake’s friend to ask him to dance as well, she basically dragged him onto the dance floor without giving him a chance to object.

I never once looked at Jake during our little dance.  I was probably in shock.  It really felt like your standard coming of age movie where the girl pines away for the guy, never thinks she’s got a shot, and then somehow – some way – he notices her back.   It’s such a great dream for us geeky kids and in that 4 minutes, my little dream came true.  As the song ended, as they inevitably do, I don’t remember saying anything to Jake – I probably just walked away and I have no doubt he was confused by the strange girl who kept her head down the entire time he was dancing with her.

Back in the car with my friends, I think we screamed for a solid 10 minutes straight as we barreled down the highway, trying to make sure I got home on time.  And that was it – no, Jake and I never dated or spoke afterwards.  Our brief dance was the crescendo.  His motivations for accepting my request for a dance are completely unknown.  Unfortunately, Jake passed away at the age of 21, making the experience that much more important.  The lyrics to the song we danced to took on a deeper meaning.

And now, I’m glad I didn’t know

The way it all would end, the way it all would go

Our lives are better left to chance

I could’ve missed the pain, but I’d of had to miss the dance

To this day, every time I hear it I think of Jake.

The Dream

I dreamt about Jeff Buckley last night. The dream was so vivid; so compelling, that I had to email one of my oldest friends and tell him the entire story this morning during my commute to work. In the dream, several close friends and I had ventured back in time for the specific goal of seeing a live, intimate Jeff Buckley performance. We walked in the side door of a small and dimly lit bar. To the right was a miniscule stage, and there under a single blue spotlight stood Jeff himself, in all his subdued brilliance. It was just him – looking like I always imagined he would. Youthful, tortured, purposely exposed for us to see. He played his set and afterwards my friends and I gathered towards the front of the stage for a chance to meet him. He sat alone on a couch, smiling and motioning us over. I eagerly stepped forward and took the spot right next to him. We talked, I couldn’t even begin to explain the topics. The time went by slowly and instantly all at once. Suddenly I was overcome with a deep, aching sadness and I started to cry. I cupped his face in my hands and told him how I missed him so much, already, even though we were there in that moment, having a conversation. I couldn’t tell him why I was so sad; it would’ve made no sense to say I wasn’t from that time.
There was no way to warn him about the ending he would experience; regardless, I HAD to say something. All I could think of was to say, “Please – you have to take off your boots. You HAVE TO TAKE THEM OFF.”
In an inexplicable way, I sensed he knew I was trying to warn him.

And that was it – I woke up feeling that same hollow feeling I felt when I found out he had died.

I was not fortunate enough to ever see Jeff live in concert. He came to Denver in September of 1994 and right after that is when I started to hear him on the radio. His single, Last Goodbye, was being played on KBCO and my friends and I could not get enough. We bought his CD and subsequently played it on repeat for the next several months. I remember sleepovers with a friend where we would listen in awe to the entire CD, not believing how amazing Jeff’s voice was and how intense the whole experience of the collection of songs.
Another evening was spent with a different friend, the one I first told about my dream, analyzing and overanalyzing the lyrics to ‘Lover, You Should’ve Come Over’. Did they just break up? Did she die? Did she dump him? Did he dump her? We came to the conclusion (right or wrong – doesn’t really matter, does it? That’s the beauty of the subjectivity of music) that it’s just a really epic song conveying the agony of, ‘we broke up’.
A couple of years went by. I was now living in Alaska and serving in the Air Force. Every now and then, after particularly hard, long days, I would come home and spend the evening with Jeff. I’d turn all the lights off, light a couple of candles, pour myself a generous glass of wine, sit on the couch facing my stereo speakers, and blast Grace from beginning to end. It’s still my favorite way to listen to the album.

It was during this time in Alaska as I was preparing for my wedding that I first heard about Jeff’s untimely passing. My mother had flown up to help with the wedding and one day, I insisted she listen to my favorite singer – Jeff Buckley. She furrowed her brow and said, “Honey, I think I read an article about him drowning a couple weeks ago.”
After much back and forth, and me pressing her to be sure it was the same Jeff Buckley I listened to so often, reality set in. Gone too soon. So achingly unfair. Such a loss of unbridled, pure talent and potential.

I’m listening to Jeff full blast in my headphones as I write this – after 25 years of Grace, and God only knows how many times over the years I’ve heard these songs, I still get the chills at least once on each and every track. If that isn’t a legacy, someone should sit me down and explain to me what is. For someone’s music to affect people (me) the way Jeff’s did, and still continues to do, it highlights his lasting contribution to music and to something pure.

New Year, Get Fit! (Or don’t – it’s really your call)

download.jpg

For many people, the start of a new year brings resolutions and a clean slate.  A new chance to reinvent, to try something new, to make a life change.  In that spirit, I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences on one of the more popular New Year’s resolutions – losing weight and getting fit.

I mean, I want to be healthy and fit.  But I also want a hearty cheese board.  Or a bacon cheeseburger.  Or a cheese enchilada plate.  Never mind the fact that there’s a reasonably good chance I’m lactose intolerant.  I’ve been known to say things to my friends like, “If I can’t eat cheese, life no longer holds meaning for me.”  I wasn’t raised in an environment where working out regularly was a part of the daily regimen.  That’s not to say that my family was particularly unhealthy, we just didn’t follow any sort of prescribed fitness plan.  During high school I got my cardio through color guard and dance team, as well as with choir (you singers will know what I mean).  After high school, I joined the Air Force and went through six weeks of basic training.  It was hard but not impossible, seeing how I was 19 years old and had not yet experienced a significant slowing of my metabolism.

My weight fluctuated 20 or so pounds, up and down, throughout my twenties and thirties.  I semi-committed to calorie counting, over-the-counter weight loss pills, drinking my dinner instead of eating it, you know – the standard young single person’s diet.  I tried running but since there was nothing chasing me, I found it impossible to summon any real motivation.

Running.jpg

I’m not the kind of person who is good at cutting bad foods from my diet.  I eat what I want and I don’t regret doing it.  That being said, I naturally enjoy drinking a ton of water over all other beverages (except coffee and beer), and I really like vegetables so they don’t seem like ‘health food’ to me.  However, water and veggies were not enough to counter-balance everything else I was eating and the exercise I wasn’t getting.  As the pounds slowly added up, I told myself that hey – for the amount of food I was consuming I should already weigh MUCH more than I did. (Whatever it takes to rationalize, right?)

The catalyst for my lifestyle change came after a trip to the Bahamas in 2015.  A picture of me in a bikini showcased all the working out I hadn’t been doing, and it was enough to make me sit up and take notice.  Upon my return from the trip, I decided to finally get serious about adjusting my weight and my health.  I would be turning forty (yikes!) in just over a year from then and I wanted to be the best forty I could be.  Well, better than thirty-nine, at the very least.

There were a few truths I had to come to terms with as I mapped out the types of changes I was going to make.  First, I am not now, nor have I ever been, good at counting calories.  That method does nothing to curtail the sheer volume I actually consume in a day.  Second, I refuse to cut out anything that I enjoy from my diet.  That includes beer, red meat, starches, CHEESE, etc.  Those are the things I like to eat and I’m going to continue to eat them.  Can I try smaller portions?  Sure – let’s give it a go.  Third, I get bored quickly so the shorter the workout, the higher the chance for long-term success.

Enter the Jillian Michaels 30-day Shred workout video.  A friend of mine swore by its near otherworldly results.  Obviously, I had questions.  “How long are the work-outs?”  “Do I have to change my eating habits?”  “How quickly will I notice a change?”  Each workout is under thirty minutes, for best results eating habits should be modified, and a physical change is noticeable within a week.

A week???  Ok, sign me up.  The video was around $8 on Amazon so I ordered it and began to mentally prepare for this adjustment in my daily routine.  I purchased 3-pound & 5-pound hand weights and started the video on the day it arrived.  It includes three workouts, each containing strength/cardio/abs.  I pressed play on level 1 and a mere 30 minutes later, day one of my transformation was complete.  I felt a little bit like the incredible hulk and Jell-O at the same time, and I was sure that if I looked in the mirror, I would already be able to see a change.  (There was a change alright – my face was beet red and I was a sweat ball.  No visible muscles after that first day, sadly.)  I knew I would be sore the next day and sure enough, I was right.  But I did the workout again on day 2, and kept it up for 10 straight days.  I would say around day 5 I began to notice that I had a bit more stamina – I found the exercises just the slightest bit easier to accomplish.  I was still dying, but not quite as much as I had been those first few days.

0fb2dafcf9d992ba8a837fd7876f312f.jpg

My routine began to take shape.  I would come home from work, do my work-out, and then go about my evening.  On the 11th day, I made my move to level 2.  OUCH.  All those pains from day 1 came screaming back – this time from all new muscle groups I didn’t know I had.  The moves were more intense, and there were plenty of plank exercises to make me extra miserable.  Was I beginning to see a difference?  Absolutely!  My stamina was up, I could feel the beginnings of muscle tone in my arms and legs, and my stomach was getting flatter.  Before I knew it I had reached day 21; the start of level 3.  I will say, my first attempt at this, the most difficult level on the video, left me feeling nauseous by the end of the workout.  There’s one move in particular that I felt like I’d never master.  It involves plank and weights and serious muscle work.  It’s the only move on the video that caused sweat to drip off my face.  I think somewhere around the middle of my level 3 days was when even my husband commented on the change that the workouts were making to my body.  Yes!!  Someone else noticed besides me!

After the initial 30 days came to an end, I backed off of daily workouts and cut back to about 4 times a week, alternating between the 3 levels depending on my mood.  This went on for just under a year.  And then my 40th birthday rolled around.  I would be spending it on a beach with friends & family, and the Jillian Michaels 30-day Shred had made sure that I would look and feel a million times better than I had the year before.  I was toned, my stomach was flat, and most importantly – I felt GOOD!  (And could still eat cheese and drink beer with no guilt, thank you very much.)

I fell off the workout wagon after my birthday trip and gained a few pounds back.  However, now it’s a new year and another chance to recommit to getting fit and healthy.  I purchased another Jillian Michaels workout video (Ripped in 30) which came out several years after the 30-day Shred. This video incorporates user feedback and revisions to the moves and format of the workouts from the original video.  She’s tough, as ever, and I’m now in my 2nd full week of workouts.  It’s not easy but the key is to find a system that works for YOU.  Not for everyone else.  Mine is knowing that I’m not changing my eating habits so the best thing for me is to burn more calories.  In a 30-minute timeframe.  Right before I eat a cheeseburger and wash it down with a nice cold beer.

 

All My Children

IMG_3278

Those who know me are acutely aware of several things:
First, I like to talk. A LOT.
Second, when something piques my interest, I’m monomaniacal about the topic, until I’m not. There’s no middle ground.
Third, I am obsessed with my three fur babies. 2 cats, 1 dog, endless amusing anecdotes about the latest silly thing one of them has done.

All three of these nuggets of information tie perfectly together so that when I’m talking to you, there’s a good chance I’ll divert the conversation and make it about these animals. They’re my kids, so whenever you decide you’re going to show me a picture of your child playing baseball or covered in birthday cake, you can bet I’ll be matching you photo for photo with an adorable shot of Harold, my 27-pound polydactyl beefcake lying flat on his back and looking up at the camera.

IMG_2106

Harold (Harry/Hair Bear/Howard) is easily the weirdo in our family. He usually hides in the basement unless he knows for sure that no one upstairs is trying to murder him. He prefers this fortress of solitude, and does not warm to many other people besides my husband and I. And our friend Jimmy. Harry will lay on you if you’re laying on the couch, and he makes a great space heater. Watch out though, when he decides to jump off of you he uses your stomach as a spring board – it’s enough to knock the wind out of you if you aren’t expecting it. He also purrs like a girl.

You will also have the pleasure of seeing pictures of Harold’s sister, Hermione (yes, that’s pronounced Her-MY-oh-knee), also a polydactyl, sitting prettily atop my kitchen counter patiently waiting for cheese. Or her twice-daily pill.

IMG_2906

Hermione (Hermie/Kit-Kat/Kitty) is one year older than Harold, and they are brother and sister (from two different litters). She is my princess, and also my longest relationship. She’s 15 and I have had her since she was just 8 weeks old. Hermie likes to be held, but only by me or my husband. She’ll pull a knife on anyone not us who tries to pick her up. Or pet her. Or look at her. She inherited my singing ability, and frequently practices her scales in the most acoustically pleasing part of the house. Harold will do this too, but catching either of them in the act on video is as easy as trying to bathe them. NOPE.

Finally, you will undoubtedly be regaled with the latest tale (and numerous pictures) involving Louie the wonder-corgi. He’s bossy, he talks, he SHEDS, and he’s a pure-bred (Bread? Loaf? Yes, he is in fact a loaf) Pembroke Welsh Corgi, the very same that Queen Elizabeth II always has running amok around her feet. My husband will tell you Louie’s name came from a love of the comedian Louie CK. I will tell you that Louie is a kingly name, which is why one of his many nicknames is King Lou.

IMG_3134

Initially I had come up with – and I’m being modest here – the greatest corgi name ever, in the history of all dog names throughout the world.

I wanted to call him – wait for it – it’s so clever –

Lieutenant Dan. *Even typing that, I giggled*

images

Alas, my husband did not find the humor. (Well, I think he did but he’s pouting because HE didn’t come up with it.)

Countering your child’s pictures with my animal pics is not meant to take away from how cute you think your kid is. The act is simply me, participating in our conversation and relating to your babies with my babies.

And before you get all bent out of shape about the fact that I spent money on a pure-bred when there are countless animals in shelters all across the nation in desperate need of adoption, give me a minute to plead my case.

Throughout my life, I have cared for five other fur babies. They were either saved from a shelter, taken in from someone whose cat had recently given birth to kittens, brought into my life from the back door of my house during a particularly cold Alaska winter, etc. According to my mathematical calculations, that equates to 5 out of every 6 of my animals being adopted strays. Those are pretty good odds, in favor of those animals who need adopting most.

I also did not go to a puppy mill for Louie, nor did I settle on the first corgi breeder that popped up on Google. Rather, I researched corgi breeders extensively and found a legitimate business here in Colorado. I visited their ranch, met the owner, and made an informed decision to purchase a puppy from them. Randomly I have met other corgi owners whose fur babies came from that very same breeder. All were healthy, happy, well adjusted pups.

So you see? It was only fair that, this time around, I indulged myself a bit and brought home this little fur ball.

IMG_0469

IMG_0513

And now you’ve met the kids!

I Apologize (not really)

SNS

These days, I only say “I’m sorry” in situations where I am actually, truly, incontrovertibly, sorry.  It hasn’t always been this way, however.

Breaking my habit of apologizing for anything and everything took time.  I caught myself apologizing for silly things like walking through an open door that a stranger was nice enough to hold.  Or for passing someone in a tight hallway and feeling guilty that we briefly had to share the space.  For taking what I perceived as ‘too long’ to remove my jacket at a restaurant as the hostess waited to hand me my menu.  Why did I do it so often?  In my head I think I considered it a sure-fire way to avoid conflict.  I can’t know for sure how strangers will interact/react to situations, so I would preemptively remove even the slightest chance of such conflict by apologizing up front for any interaction we were about to have.

After a couple months of silently kicking myself every time I was apologizing for these types of interactions, I slowly began to replace “I’m sorry” with “Thank you”, “Pardon me”, and other more succinct forms of communication better suited to each situation.  That doesn’t mean I still don’t slip every now and then, spouting out an “I’m sorry” when someone else’s dog nearly trips me at the dog park, or when I’m offered a seat on the light rail and I gratefully accept (“I’m sorry, thank you”).

There are plenty of articles on this topic, directed at women, inviting them to ‘stop apologizing for everything’ and to realize that their overuse of “I’m sorry” made them look weak in the workplace.  Those articles and my own habit adjustment got me thinking – not so much about perceived weakness, but more about effective communication.  “I’m sorry” was my go-to but I knew there were better ways I could be expressing myself without apologizing for each and every one of my actions.  I wanted to explore how often my female friends apologized for actions that didn’t necessarily warrant an apology.  Did they think about how often they were saying “I’m sorry” when a “pardon me” or a “thank you for your patience” would have suited the situation just fine?  Did my friends see excessive apologizing as a bad habit to be broken?  A nicety to be used sparingly?  An unintended sign of weakness?  Why did they say it if they said it often?  Did they even care?

I conducted a super scientific, highly technical poll on social media, enlisting the help of my friends to let me know their thoughts and habits surrounding the use of “I’m sorry” in their every day lives.

The sheer volume of replies to my question was telling.  Everyone seemed to have a strong opinion on the subject.  The majority of the responses I received were similar to my own.  Many of my female friends admitted to apologizing far more often than they would like, and would end up being frustrated with themselves “for apologizing to complete strangers for doing absolutely nothing wrong”.  One friend didn’t even realize she was excessively apologizing until a business associate brought it to her attention.  Once she was cognizant of the habit, she made an effort to apologize less, saving it for when it was warranted.  I wondered—What did that associate think of her?  Did he regard her as weak, or strange for saying it so often?  Did her overuse of the apology make her seem insecure?

A couple of my male friends also chimed in, offering that they freely apologized in instances where a “pardon me” would have suited the situation just fine.  Why?  Some felt that manners and kindliness prompted the apology, along with a “put others first” mentality.

Maybe it’s the female condition guiding my opinion but to me, (Disclaimer: Yes, I’m a feminist) if a man apologizes, he may never question how others perceive him in doing so.  He may never second guess how he is perceived by those around him, or how his life could be affected, potentially adversely, by such a seemingly simple action.  My guess is that those types of self-analyzing thoughts are a cross women get the distinct pleasure of bearing.

I am conscientious of how I want others to perceive me.  That also applies to how I think I’m expressing myself and how I think others do actually perceive me.  Sometimes I do and say things with a very heavy filter, for the benefit of certain individuals around me who I feel might not necessarily appreciate who I am in all my honesty.  In other instances, my intent is more, “F*** it – let’s see what happens”.  However, with “I’m sorry”, I have made a strong effort to use it when it’s needed and replace it when a better type of communication could / should be used.  My thoughts on internal vs. external perceptions are, of course, hyper-subjective.

The conversation on social media was lively and very interactive.  Opinions ranged from apologizing way too often and kicking oneself to not saying it or other niceties nearly enough to people.  The fact that so many of my friends had such strong opinions on the subject tells me that it is one which deserves some attention, if only to raise awareness about effective communication and how we choose the words we use in every day situations.

The Samples – A True Story

IMG_2711
So I met Sean Kelly the other night.

If you’re reading this in Colorado, there’s a good chance that sentence might mean something to you. If this story is reaching you outside of our beautiful state, or you’re new to the area, the odds of comprehension may decrease slightly. Either way, it meant something to me; enough that I felt compelled to share a bit of my history.

I moved to Colorado in the spring of 1993, in the middle of my junior year of high school. My family took the spring break opportunity to pack us up and drive from Hermiston, Oregon to Littleton, Colorado. Once we had arrived and I showed up for my first day at Chatfield Sr. High, it became apparent that there were some things I needed to learn.

Where were my classes? (Scattered all over a sprawling campus)
Who would I end up becoming friends with? (An amazing group of people that I am still lucky enough to call friends to this very day)
Was math going to be as challenging for me here as it had been my entire life? (Of course it was – I’d always been, and still am, awful at math)
I was overwhelmed but tried to take it all in, mentally wading through the faces of new people and layout of the land and committing as much to memory as quickly as I could.

Seeing the unfamiliar faces of students passing me in the halls, I quickly noticed that many of them had the exact same strange look; a red face with white raccoon eyes. Huh?? I had absolutely no idea what was going on. What was wrong with these people? I would soon learn about a little thing called skiing in Colorado, and the joys of snow on the mountains until as late as July. Goggles. It was ski goggles that caused the funky raccoon eyes.

A girl in my math class asked me, among a barrage of well meaning but awkwardly personal questions, where my house was. Being new, my sense of direction (mountains are west) had not yet become engrained into my psyche. I knew that I lived up the road about ten minutes from the school but that was the extent of my geographical aptitude. I replied cautiously, “I’m not really sure but it’s a neighborhood about ten minutes from here.” Matter-of-factly she responded to my ignorance with, “You probably live in the valley.”

“Yeah,” I replied, oblivious but wanting to fit in and thankful for the offered suggestion, “that sounds right – I live in the valley.”
(As it turns out I did not actually live in the valley – Ken Caryl Valley, to be exact. Rather, I lived in a modest new neighborhood directly north of Chatfield named Westgold Meadows.)

Aside from this early snafu, I slowly began to navigate my way around the large school. I was making friends, and had a part time job at the Dreyer’s Ice Cream counter at a well-known hang-out called Fun*Plex. My junior year was now behind me and I had spent my summer vacation working and hanging out with a small group of new friends.
Early on in my senior year, I felt confident that I was beginning to get the hang of this Colorado life. That is, of course, until September rolled around. There was a buzz around the halls, in the classrooms, at lunchroom tables. Something was happening that upcoming weekend which had everyone excited.

“Are you going?”

“Yeah, I got my tickets the day they went on sale!”

“This is going to be awesome, do you want to ride together?”

“My mom said you could sleep over, I’m so excited!”

All I seemed to hear from every direction were plans being made in anticipation of the upcoming event. Curious to know what all the fuss was about, I asked a friend at lunch.

“Hey – so what’s going on this weekend? Some concert or something?”

“The Samples.” She replied, as if that cleared it all up. I cocked my head to one side and stared blankly back at her. “What’s a sample?” She giggled, rolled her eyes, and then proceeded to explain. “Oh my gosh Layla, you haven’t heard of them??” I shook my head no so she continued, “They’re a band from Boulder. They’re huge around here. I can’t believe you haven’t heard of them.”
“Are they any good? What do they sound like?”
“They’re really good!” She replied, “They’re playing at Red Rocks.”
I made a mental note to stop by the mall after school and pick up their latest CD. I ended up buying the 1989 self-titled debut album, The Samples. The following year I would purchase Autopilot, an album that was to become my favorite work by the band. Something in their music resonated with me on a profound level. It wasn’t really like anything I had heard before. For me it was a distinctly Colorado sound; just one of the many things I was growing to love about my new residence.

Before I moved to Colorado my ears were at the mercy of the songs (over)played on the local handful of radio stations available to me. New music was something I was always eager to get my hands on, having come from a place where both kinds of music – country AND western – were played on the radio ad nauseum.
Thanks to bands like The Samples and Colorado in the early nineties, that time in my life became synonymous with a joy rooted deep in my psyche that I have never quite been able to recapture.

I had moved away from a life in a small agricultural town in Oregon that was safe and familiar, to Littleton, Colorado. Suddenly as an awkward and self-conscious teenager whose only encounters with large groups of other teenagers included being teased and talked about, I was expected to make a new life in a town vastly larger and a school at least triple the size of my previous. I might as well have been asked to build a ladder to the moon. Anything—and I mean anything—seemed easier than the prospect of having to start fresh in a new high school. New kid, new school, new house, no friends or family with me other than my mom, step-dad, and two and a half year old little brother. What could possibly go wrong?

What I discovered over the months and years after our move to Colorado was that it was, and still is, one of the very best upheavals to ever have happened to me. The world was suddenly infinitely bigger and full of new adventures. My trepidation at fitting in was for naught. I made great friends, explored the state, enjoyed concerts and camping trips, and blossomed as a more confident and outgoing version of myself.

As always, I had my music. Lucky for me, I now had access to a much larger variety on which to draw from. There was KTCL, better known at that time as The Big Adventure. That station exposed me to the likes of the Violent Femmes, Pearl Jam, and Belly. KBCO opened my repertoire to the likes of Jeff Buckley and Rusted Root; Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Toad the Wet Sprocket. Music was the constant medium I could always count on to incite in me feelings of happiness, teenage angst, high school crushes, broken hearts, and empowerment. Songs could (and still do) make me feel like I wasn’t the only one who was unsure of virtually everything in my life.

In the summer of 1994, before everyone (well, almost everyone) headed off to college, my friends and I saw bands like The Smashing Pumpkins, the Beastie Boys, and George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars at Fiddler’s Green. We saw the Gin Blossoms, Spin Doctors, and Cracker at Red Rocks, as well as the Stone Temple Pilots and Meat Puppets (remember them?)—And let us not forget the Bon Jovi—Keep the Faith tour enjoyed at Red Rocks around that same time.
And always, I was listening to The Samples.

The stereo system in my 1984 Pontiac Fiero no longer worked, and I remember hauling my boom box around in the passenger seat so I could still listen to my CD’s. Fall was my favorite time to listen to The Samples, I think maybe because that was the time of year I had initially been turned on to them. Sadly, I never had the opportunity to see The Samples in concert during those years.

Life and the military took me away from Colorado but every time I was missing home, I’d play The Samples and instantly be transported back to those early years in Littleton. I introduced their music to friends from around the country who had never heard of them.

Which brings me to the premise of this story.  One night The Samples played at The Oriental Theater on 44th and Tennyson in Denver, along with The Nadas and my dear friends Mark Sundermeier and Chris Stake of The Trampolines.

Finally!

When the time came for The Samples to take the stage, I (and my accommodating husband) parked myself right up front, leaning on the stage and anxiously awaiting that first note to be played; that first snare to be hit; that first word to be sung. The show was amazing; all the players were on their game, and I was even the recipient of one of several jump drives tossed out to the audience from Mr. Kelly himself, packed full of Samples music for my listening pleasure.
However, the real treat came after the show when my good friend took me to meet the man Sean Kelly himself. We stepped outside the back door of the theater where Sean was chatting with a couple of people. My friend introduced me, told Sean what a huge fan I had been for many years, and we shook hands and took a picture. Simple, quick, some would probably say that the whole encounter could be classified as “somewhat anti-climactic”.

To those people I say, “You’re missing the point.”

Sure—Sean Kelly and I didn’t instantly become besties, exchanging numbers and embarking on a friendship to last through the ages. I didn’t express to him just how much his band and their music have affected me over the years, nor did I relay to him how his music greets and comforts me like that of an old friend every time I listen to it, without fail. He is currently unaware that their music propels me back to that 1984 Fiero, boom box in the passenger seat, falling yellow leaves on the trees lining the streets of Littleton in autumn, the familiar crisp chill in the air, the perfect Rocky Mountain backdrop I was (and still am) fortunate enough to have in my back yard.

IMG_2713
For me, the whole experience was the culmination of some of the best chapters in my life. To have had the opportunity to meet one of my musical idols and say to them, “thanks for what you do” – feels as if those chapters have somehow come full circle. I’m not that timid, shy teenager anymore, but I’ll always have The Samples and their music in my life to remind me of who I was then and who I wanted to be.

Hever Castle – Kent, England

Hever
We set out from London on an overcast September day.  Our destination: Hever Castle in Kent.  More widely known as the childhood home of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn.  From our hotel nestled in the heart of Trafalgar Square, we took the tube to the Victoria station and then boarded the train.  Being only mostly familiar with the tube and train lines and how they are designed, we surprisingly made only one small misstep and ended up having to take a tram to get back on track and headed in the right direction.

Upon arrival at the train station in Kent, we noticed that the top of the church in the general direction of Hever Castle was visible over the trees.  We decided to head in that direction.  On our way we met a fellow traveler who informed us that he had been to Hever Castle only the day before.  He pointed us to a footpath that led directly to the castle and cut our walk time in half.

The foot path took us over lush, green English countryside (right out of a Jane Austen novel) and put us in the quaint village of Hever.  We passed St. Peter’s church whose turret we had seen in the distance, and then suddenly we were on the Castle grounds.  We purchased our tickets and headed up a lovely path dotted with well-manicured topiaries and beautiful vegetation.

Being an avid lover of all things Tudors and more specifically, anything pertaining to Anne Boleyn, this experience was transcendent for me.  To be in the place where Anne had lived as a girl, and to which she had retreated several times during her romance with Henry VIII, made her life and legacy seem more real to me than it had ever been through the pages of the books I had read.  Walking the grounds she walked isn’t an experience to simply be read about in a book – there is a deeper sense of connection to the past when visiting places such as Hever Castle and my time there gave me a deeper connection to the time period and to Anne Boleyn herself.  Passing through her bedroom, seeing pieces of her furniture still intact, I had goosebumps the entire time.

There are many knowledgeable and obliging attendants throughout Hever Castle who are happy to answer questions and discuss the Castle and all its treasures.  In my case, one such conversation was a bit more of a friendly debate as to the nature of Anne Boleyn’s intentions towards Henry – were her affections sincere, or was she simply a pawn being used to gain royal favor for her father, Thomas Boleyn, and her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk?  Perhaps her intentions were more self-serving?  Regardless of the real answer, I found it exciting and refreshing to discuss the topic with others who shared my keen interest in Anne’s story.

As you wander through the lavishly decorated corridors and explore the castle’s history room by room, it is easy to lose your bearings in the maze of rooms and hallways.  The attendants are located in many locations so being able to ask for guidance is a plus.  A large portion of the castle is explorable, which I appreciated.  Some historical landmarks I have visited are extremely limited when it comes to what the general public is allowed to see.  Thankfully Hever Castle is the exception to that rule.  The Castle is immersive and vast, and one visit alone will not afford you the opportunity to discover everything.  At least that’s what I told my husband when he asked later if I had ‘seen everything I wanted to see’.

Anne Boleyn is, of course, well represented.  Henry VIII and his other five wives are given nod as well.  My initial reaction upon seeing paintings of Henry VIII’s other wives was confusion.  Why should these women be represented here?  Hever castle did not hold any particularly special meaning for them, nor did it play a role in any of their own stories relating to Henry VIII.  However, upon reflection, the displaying of paintings of Henry VIII and each of his wives depicted a more accurate representation of a larger historical drama and was ultimately a welcome reminder to me that Anne Boleyn was, in fact, an important piece of a larger, intricate puzzle surrounding the enigmatic King of England.

Unfortunately we were not able to spend an extended amount of time exploring the Castle gardens.  We wandered slowly through the castle and by the time we exited, we only had enough time to hit the gift shop and be on our way before the Castle closed for the evening.  We rounded out the day with dinner and a pint at the cozy King Henry VIII pub in Kent before begrudgingly heading to the train station and back to London.

Why am I here?

What could I possibly have to say that hasn’t already been said a million times already?  Does the world really need another blog from another person, pushing my views and opinions onto hapless readers in the hopes that what I say reaches someone on a personal level?  Probably not but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try!  For me, this blog will be about expressing myself through words, out in the open, with the hope of putting my writer self on a larger stage and seeing what happens.  It’s a risk that I have been apprehensive to take for far too long but what the hell-there’s no time like the present!

This blog will be about many things—history, life experiences, food, love, humor, travel, music, and anything else that makes me tick.

if you’ve read this far, thanks and I hope you get something positive out of this little experiment that is my life.