Given that a national holiday dedicated to gratitude is going on this week, you'd probably infer from my title that I'm going to talk about being overwhelmed with thankfulness for all my blessings... how numerous they are, how I don't deserve them, how I could never exhaust the list of all things good and wonderful in the life of Ashley McNeese.

Sorry to disappoint. (Sort of.)

I could certainly write a post like that (and should, I'm sure) but actually, I've been overwhelmed lately and not in a "holy chocolate chip cookie, Batman... I'm one lucky girl" kind of way. It's been more like, "holy acne, Batman... I'm way too stressed" kind of way. I've been quiet around here lately. I haven't posted much because, truthfully, who cares? "I am Ashley; hear me whine." I also really haven't had much to write about, which worries me. All the writing books say, "If you're a writer, you have to write. You can't help yourself. It's like breathing." What if you're a writer who's also a teacher and assistant pastor's wife and Christmas play director with an inability to function without sleep? And a fear of alienating your readers by bemoaning your pitifully small burdens?

During our midweek service last night, our youth pastor talked about giving thanks for all the good things in our lives (easy, expected) AND all the hard things (not so easy, a little unexpected.) And I nodded along and silently amened like a champ... but am I really doing that? I'd have to say, sheepishly...no.

So yeah... with a bleeding calendar (teachers only use red pens) and a never-ending to-do list, I've been feeling the craziness that is Christmas crunch time. And I really, really hate that, because the things that have me busy and stressed are all good things, but, as is so often the case with me and lots of other frazzled people, the work, attention to detail, and time that they entail are in danger of eclipsing the actual purpose for them. Let me transparent (which we all may regret) for a moment and say that I was ugly-crying last night from the sheer overwhelming fear that all I have to get done will not get done. And in the midst of all this madness, I'm angry at myself because I'm well aware that freaking out over events that are meant to celebrate the birth of Jesus are meant to be enjoyed... relished even. And during this week- the week of Thanksgiving, for crying out loud- shouldn't I be going through the alphabet naming things I'm thankful for instead of having a meltdown at the thought of the next two weeks of absolute madness?

Yes, I should. And I will. (I might cheat on the hard letters but I'll play.) In the meantime, I am determined to enjoy the next couple of days. I'm shopping, eating, watching movies, wrestling (with the munchkins), reading, and being thankful, even for the hard things. 

This big boy is already reducing my stress level quite a bit. 

This is not a cry for help, I promise. It's just my being honest, which, in the online world, is tempting to avoid as we post and filter the best versions of ourselves. I'm okay. I really am. But if you hear a shout of jubilant rejoicing on December 16 (that's when Christmas break starts and most of my craziness ends) don't be alarmed. Joy to the world, indeed.




I am not a blazer-wearer, mostly because my shoulders resemble Brett Favre's (in shoulder pads) and also because it's typically impossible for me to find any one that fits my broad shoulders (size Sasquatch) without being huge everywhere else. Other people look great in them, but I always feel really conspicuous and corporate and... you know. Not great.

SO, when my darling husband took me shopping on Veteran's Day and I came across this red blazer, I was immediately drawn to it (until my voice of reason piped up, "You don't look good in those, remember?") and before you could say, "unflattering" it was in my possession. Turns out, this one doesn't look terrible and I really love the color (and contrasting lining. I'm a sucker for striped lining.) Plus it was only twelve bucks!

Skirt: New York and Company (in need of replacement... where can I find a good one? Help me out!)
Top: Loft
Shoes: Target
Blazer: Sam's Club (of all places!)

I love monograms but typically they're a little cheesy-looking (like when the trend hit big-time around 2004.) But I snagged this one for less than four dollars so I can't complain.

And an Insta-collage, for posterity's sake...
...the best part of posting this outfit was that Merrick commented to tell me she was also wearing polka dots and leopard... so that was definitely validating. =)

So... my close-minded prejudice toward blazers (let's be honest... toward my own "pioneer" frame) has been temporarily set aside since I'm so delighted by this miraculous little exception. I feel like I'm growing as a person! (Okay, not really... I was definitely singing along with my Disney station this morning.) 


Linked up with Lindsey

No Fear...

No Fear...

I'm not ashamed to be afraid of most of what scares me. Zombies? Scary. People who aren't afraid of zombies? Even scarier. Horror movies? The worst. Animated villains? Let's fast-forward those scenes. But today, after narrowly avoiding a situation that scares me more than almost anything, I texted my sister in frustration, "What is wrong with me... after all these years, I can't face playing the piano without turning into a shaking lunatic?" (Her compassionate response was, "You're basically insane." Agree to agree.)

Last year, I wrote this post, outlining the worst of my nervous quirks. It got a lot of feedback (I'd like to think because it struck a chord with similarly handicapped people and not just because chortling at my misery makes for an entertaining read.) Anyway, one thing that I've heard from nearly everyone who's tried in some way to "counsel" me about my stage fright is this: "It gets easier." I have a response to that:

No. No, it does not. Nearly 18 months after that original post, and having actually performed more in that time than I would have planned on, I can say without any qualifiers that it really hasn't gotten easier. Also, I'm writing this after several instances in the past week in which I played the keyboard, or, as I like to call it, "Are you sure you're related to your sister?" I've been performing in different ways for a long time now wonder if it will ever get easier to get up in front of people, knowing all the while that I will be shaking like a leaf and feeling close to a mental and/or physical meltdown.

For example: this morning when I arrived at church, I was asked to play the hymn for the invitation. Now, honestly, that shouldn't be a big deal. But rather than swallow my terror fear and agree to it, I immediately called upon my friend Blake to do the job. Because Blake enjoys watching me suffer helping me grow as a person, he did not jump at the chance to minister through song but instead insisted that I play. I said no; he said yes. I began to feel sick, my whole body felt weak and tremble-y, and I barely heard a word of what I'm sure was a great Sunday school lesson from my husband. After talking myself in circles for the next 45 minutes ("You can do it; no you can't; yes, you can... NO, you can't!") I realized that I hadn't actually heard from Blake whether he'd play and having a Mexican standoff while people are laying their all on the altar seemed like a bad idea. Fortunately, he'd had his fun and assured me that he would play the invitation hymn. I nearly crumpled to the ground in relief and gratitude and went on to (finally) enjoy the service.

HOWEVER, I was dumbfounded by the fact that, after playing the piano for about 18 years now, why in the world the prospect of chording my way through a familiar hymn, quietly, while most people are distracted by getting out for lunch praying, should leave me paralyzed with fear. Because while it makes for a funny story, it's completely true. I wish I were making up the fact that this situation, and others like it, make me afraid. But I'm not, and they do. 

What am I so afraid of? Why does playing the piano terrify me? Why do I have a deathly fear of confrontation of any kind? Why would I rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy? After all (and I remind myself of this regularly), "God hath not given us the spirit of fear... but of power, and love, and of a sound mind." This morning, the only "sound" registering in my mind was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. And, what's worse, is that every time I "fail"- every time I have to say, "No, I can't do that because I don't have control of my nervous system" (literally and figuratively) I feel the confidence of those around me, and of myself, slipping. "Can't count on Ashley... she shakes. What a freak." Now I hope know that no one is actually thinking that, but I am. And I really don't like it. It starts the whole internal me-bashing:

"You're not using your talents for the Lord."

"Every time you say no, you're missing a future opportunity to say yes."

"Get over it."

"It's not that big of a deal."

"Seriously, get over it."

By the way, this is not a cry for compliments or flattery. One thing I've learned in all this is that I am truly not being overly humble when I say I can't or shouldn't do something. It's because it really will not go well, not just because I don't feel like remembering which sharps to play in the key of A. I've just grown weary of feeling like I'm disappointing myself, others, and the Lord, not to mention every piano teacher I've ever had.

SO... a couple things. First, I've made peace with the fact that, while playing music may be a "talent" (used loosely), I really don't think that God's going to be mad at me if I don't try to overcome this debilitating fear. Yes, God gave me that musical ability, but He's not the author of confusion or fear and I don't think He really wants me to beat myself up about not being okay with plunking out a song now and then. Maybe I'm like the guy who buried his talent in the ground instead of using it, but I think you have to have something to bury in order for that parable to really take root, you know? As I'm reading through Start, Jon Acuff has said a lot about realizing that some things are not "your awesome," or part of the major plan for awesomeness that lies ahead. I think, at 24, that I can safely assume that public speaking and performing (the piano) are not my awesome. If they are, I probably need to run for the hills. (Jon also talks about punching fear in the face, which I'm clearly doing a bang-up job of doing.)

On the flip side of that, I need to learn that these things that terrify me are actually not that terrible. (Way to contradict yourself, Ash.) What I mean is, there are things in this life worth being afraid of: sickness, losing someone I love, Scar from The Lion King. In the grand scheme of things... I know, I know. I shouldn't be afraid of anything, because my faith is in God, not me. (Thank goodness.) 

Mark Hall, an anointed songwriter if there ever was one, sings, "The voice of truth tells me a different story; the voice of truth says, 'Do not be afraid.'" When I am listening to the voice of truth, it tells me that I'm not a big fat loser who wasted years of my parents' money on piano lessons. It reminds me that I happen to have other interests and pursuits that I use for the Lord. It also reminds me that should I really need to do the unthinkable and face a fear, whether it's on the piano or otherwise, I can do it... with fear and trembling, but do it regardless. Because, too, the voice of truth "says this is for MY (God's) glory."

Don't feel sorry for me, really. This is not a desperate attempt for sympathy... just a glimpse of me, struggling through life. But next time I want to hurl myself off the balcony at the thought of doing something scary, I'll pause and listen to the voice of truth. 

By the way, did anyone ever watch The Swan Princess? Because all I can think about is the song in it, "No Fear," which should be the soundtrack of my life. Something scary? I'll just belt that out, different voices and all. Nothing says fearless like imitating cartoon animals from a low-budget animated musical. 


My Current Reading List...

My Current Reading List...

I was in a bit of a reading frenzy a month or so ago, but as my life swirls rapidly down the rabbit hole that is directing two Christmas programs simultaneously, I've sort of fallen off the cart. But when I took my sixth grade English class to the library on Wednesday, I couldn't resist (between running between the adult and juvenile sections looking for books on Francis Scott Key and the Boston Tea Party) finding a few new titles for myself. These, along with a few new (recent) downloads, have me set for the next few weeks at least. (Also, Janssen's post from earlier today kickstarted me into writing this so thanks, J.)

1. Start by Jon Acuff- I started following Jon on Twitter a few months ago after seeing lots of his (hilarious) tweets retweeted by friends. Since then I've become a huge fan of his blogs, Stuff Christians Like and Jon Acuff, and have been fascinated by his proactive approach to achieving your goals in life (among many other topics.) Anyway, I finally downloaded Start and I feel like I've highlighted half the book. There is so much good stuff and it really makes all my excuses about why I'm not doing more of what I love seem really lame. It's the kind of book you really have to internalize and apply in small bites just because there's so much good stuff that needs to sink in, but I'm loving it.

2. Hometown Legend by Jerry B. Jenkins- I grabbed this one in a hurry at the library this week. Jerry Jenkins and a sports book? That's all I really needed to know. I love anything by him, and of the myriad of topics he has covered in fiction, his passion for sports always shines through to me.

3. The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis- have you heard of this? I had, in some distant corner of my brain, but it wasn't until this past week in my tenth grade class (where we read a portion of it) that I was blown away by the substance of what he has to say. It's not easy reading (having been written around 1418) but it's really great stuff. I just recommend reading it in small portions and thinking them over (much the way I read C.S. Lewis.) This quote is one of my favorites so far: ""If you would understand Christ's words fully and taste them truly, you must strive to form your whole life after His pattern." Woah! Great stuff, and I'm sure I'll be posting more about these little nuggets as I come across them.

4. A Girl from Yamhill by Beverly Cleary- a memoir by the woman who is only my number one favorite children's author in the world? Sold. I can't wait to start this one!

5. Quitter by Jon Acuff- apparently I'm just a Jon Acuff groupie but the subtitle of this book really resonates with me- "Closing the gap between your day job and your dream job"- wow! I love that it's not a throw-caution-to-the-wind kind of chasing your dreams book but instead teaches how to go about it in a smart, deliberate way. I'm very excited about it, and, like Start, I know I'll be taking lots of notes and obnoxiously reading portions aloud to Jonathan. 

So, that's what's on my book list right now. I'm not very good at reading multiple books at the same time, and since several of these are a little heavier/thought-provoking I may break from them and switch to fiction just for a break, but overall I'm very pleased to be thinking and learning and even dreaming a little. =)

What are you reading right now?


Checking In...

Checking In...

I know, I know, I shouldn't treat a scant amount of time between posts as some kind of hiatus that had you all terribly worried, but when more than a few days goes by and I don't publish some kind of nonsense I get a little antsy. I try not to let the antsy feeling morph into guilt, because I know that I've been super busy and I don't need "Geez, Ash, get a blog post together for crying out loud" hanging over my head, but sometimes that happens regardless.

ANYWAY. Like I said, I have a whole lot going on these days. My plate is full and so is my salad dish and dessert bowl and maybe even a saucer or two. BUT I am making it, with the help of lots of caffeine (and prayer) along with my sweet husband and his ever-present willingness to ease my load.

In between all the craziness and moments of pure insanity have been some fun times that I will now share with you lest you think I've only been stressing out about Christmas play stuff for the last two weeks. Several of these pictures have been on Instagram (follow along at @dashofashblog!) but others are exclusively available right here. 

Call me mainstream (I'd be no good as a hipster) but I get just as giddy as the next girl over the holiday cups and drinks at Starbucks. Rarely do I see fit to spend four bucks on doctored-up coffee but I make an exception for the peppermint mocha frap. Bonus festive points if they throw some red sprinkles on top =)

According to Grace, I'm a "hat person" but clearly these were just for fun. Except the beanie... I'd totally wear that while my husband looked on in shame. (Time out- it's BEANIE. Not "toboggan." A toboggan is a sled, people.)

I've always loved this quote from Willy Wonka (For all you literary scholars... I'm aware it's actually a quote from Arthur O'Shaughnessy's poem "Ode" but let's be honest- I always think of the movie first.) I grabbed this canvas at TJ Maxx and it fits right in with my living room. 

Isn't Snoopy adorable? One of my favorite classroom purchases this year was a seasonal Snoopy set. And as hard as it is to believe, it's almost time to bring out Christmas Snoopy! Last week I went back and got his house (not knowing it was GIANT...seriously, it's like life-sized) so now he's got his little red house and I'm thinking about putting up real Christmas lights on it because I can.

One of the great tragedies of my life is that our Chickfila is completely out of the way and it will be a cold day before I get up at the crack of dawn to get breakfast before school... but on a rare and beautiful Saturday morning, we get over to the Chicken Heaven for some minis and it's delightful.

Our friends (and fellow Bama fans) Stephen and Lauren hosted a bonfire for the big game (against LSU, which we won by three touchdowns- booyah!) and we all camped out in their backyard with blankets to watch on the big screen. It was so fun! I made this soup (more about that soon!) and we had s'mores... pretty much a perfect evening. (Although this old lady with an old lady bedtime will not be sad if the next game doesn't start at 8 P.M. Yuck.)

One day I'll force him into something Alabama-related. 

Brandi and Stuart have become such good friends to us over the past year and we are so sad to see Stuart deploy today for seven months. Knowing a military couple/family really puts into perspective the sacrifices that those in uniform make to keep us free. We're praying for you, Stu! Stay safe!

So, that's what I've been up to lately, along with lots of other things that you don't want to hear me whine about aren't very interesting. And I do know that this type of "catch-up" post is not a money-maker and that the content I usually shoot for has been a little MIA lately, but I do promise it's coming back someday soon and in the meantime, thank you (really) for clicking back for the in-between stuff. I mean it... you guys are the best.