This is 46

51751389_10156932627374929_3285370288874717184_n - Copy

Satchel Paige said it best, “Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” That Satchel knew what he was talking about. Unlike past birthdays, my sentimental recap of a year did not happen. I was not reminiscing about where I have been and what I was supposed to be. I think at 46, it is what is it and it will be what it will be.

We are half way finished with February and at least 3 people my age, who were very significant in my life at one time or another, have passed away. One from cancer, one from a drug overdose, and one from a heart attack. We were all around the same age.

You see…. it is what it is.

And it will be what it will be.

It took 46 years to accept that. I believe somewhere deep inside I used to think that if I worried enough about something and spent all of my energy & time trying to manipulate a situation, that of course, I somehow had control over it. I laugh thinking about that now.

It is what it is. It will be what it will be.

51187694_10156933414279929_38482627799285760_n (1) - Copy

This is 46.

I’m not sure what I expected, say, 20 years ago. 46 seemed so old. I look at that pic and I don’t see old, yet I don’t see young either. I see a woman, with a smile, and that is good enough for me.

That smile is genuine. That confidence is real. That woman is me.

This is 46.

51122997_10156936218559929_3812204721297424384_n - Copy

February has been super busy for the Kirkseys. We spent the first weekend traveling two hours South to Valdosta, Georgia – home of Valdosta State University. Our middle daughter, Alex, is 17 and a junior in high school and is exploring her options for the future.

51103790_10156936218804929_4597665149229203456_n - Copy

VSU was actually my second choice for a university. However, I ended up being accepted to my first choice. We had a very vivacious welcome from the recruiters: A stadium full of hopefuls, lots of cheering, lights flashing on and off, and motivational stories. There was a huge push with their athletics program and then we were off to explore the majors. The whole day was supposed to be from 10 am until 3pm, we left by noon. Alex had experienced enough. It was overwhelming and not a good fit for a studious-academic oriented kid. We didn’t care that they were national football champs in their division. We didn’t particularly like the main professor of biology telling us that if you are interested in Marine Biology that all you will ever do is teach at a university.

Eh.

So we went for Mexican food. And Valdosta got one thing right – El Toreo had the best salsa I think I have ever consumed.

So there is that.

51612696_10156943339154929_8656492901322194944_o - Copy

The next weekend we headed down to my alma mater – Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville, Georgia. Another 2 hours away, but this time, Northeast.

51612540_10156952525884929_3881403812736401408_n - Copy

Not saying my college is the right choice for Alex (eh hemm…) but it definitely portrayed a completely different vibe. Both schools had their pluses and both have their minuses. What GC&SU makes up for perks & academics, VSU makes up for in diversity and school spirit.

In walked kids  hailing from Buckhead, Roswell, Cumming, Savannah, Augusta, Macon, etc. Mostly private school kids. Valdosta had a different feel altogether. Most of the kids were from North Florida and had more of a relaxed feel.

Vibes and first impressions aside, one thing is for certain, academics were the main focus at Georgia College. According to US News & World Report, GC&SU ranked 28 in the 2019 edition of Best Colleges & Regional Universities in the South. They were also voted #10 in Best Public Universities. #5 in Best Undergraduate Teaching Programs worldwide, and it is the top nursing school in the state… among so many other distinctions.

51574557_10156952525724929_6021499623066042368_n - Copy

We toured the campus, the dorm rooms, and even checked out the downtown area. Alex seemed very pleased with the experience. It was more intimate, and luckily, I was there to affirm what the tour guide was sharing.

51499541_10156952526444929_2308739741316546560_n - Copy

There was no pressure to pick a major, but to actually explore her options (which is what a liberal arts education is all about.)

51760227_10156952525544929_5716261498544717824_n - Copy

As of now, GC is at the top of her list. *proud squeeee*

51297197_10156948821969929_4048650749775708160_n - Copy

The following week happened to be Valentine’s Day. And we knew we had the kids that night, so we opted for an early celebration – simple yummy food at The Fish House in downtown Americus. We sat outside (because it is Georgia and February – so we are warm. 😉 ) and enjoyed some shrimp and chicken tenders. Our hearts were heavy dealing with my dad’s prognosis. Tomorrow is his pre-op and we are sending prayers his way. We tried to celebrate and just enjoy being together. It was calm and it felt right.

51552733_10156962484149929_883625427355041792_n - Copy

The Kirkseys helped me celebrate my birthday the best way they knew how later that week: With tacos and cake. (You can’t go wrong!) It was a great night with family – lots of presents and laughter. (Exactly what I needed.)

51760239_10156962483819929_2570359586728968192_n - Copy

Cotton was a huge help. 😉 She insisted on helping me lick the icing off of my cake, as well as open all of my presents for me. lol Welcome to 3!

We also spent a lovely night at Plains United Methodist Church for their Sweet Heart Banquet, which is a fundraiser for the WOW women’s group (Women of Worship.) Steak & potatoes, a live auction, and lots of laughs.

52293337_10156971921184929_5851320533328592896_n

My actual birthday was such a treat! We left Plains around 6 pm on Friday and drove 2 hours and 45 minutes to Oxford, Georgia (South Atlanta area.) I went to spend it with one of my oldest friends (25 years now,) Mary Therese and her husband, Retired AF Colonel, Bob Griffin. MT and I worked in television news together.

She and her husband live in an amazing home with all of the bells & whistles and made sure I felt like a princess. As soon as we got there, we were given libations (me a glass of wine, Tim some bourbon,) and headed down to their movie theater to watch a hilarious comedy.

52365646_10156970115344929_19276959980716032_n

Yes, we said theater. Their basement if off-the-charts amazing. It would be rude to snap photos, but just trust me, this is just one of the many amenities they have.

We snuggled in for a relaxing night, woke up to an amazing breakfast and headed out to CANDYTOPIA. It’s a thing, look it up.

52366909_10156971907339929_5340039496039661568_n

This was such a fun way to celebrate 46! I embraced the 6-year-old in me! Like Willy Wonka? Like bright colors and everything girly? Yaaasssss, Queen. It was amazing.

52126782_10156970147309929_6641050828767494144_n

We went through psychedelic hallways and entered a land of bubblegum and pixie sticks!

52348567_10156970147039929_7582008086634692608_n

All of the art was made completely out of candy. Every single piece. Plus there were vats of free candy everywhere. I took full advantage of the sugary goodness and kept shoving handfuls into Tim’s jacket pockets. lol

Some of the art was really fantastic!

My favorite part was…

52642915_10156970103454929_6494297981016080384_n

When the pigs farted confetti all over me and it smelled like cotton candy.

I seriously cannot make this up!

All we needed was glitter and I would have been in girly/candy heaven.

52001219_10156970103384929_4729766712482725888_n

What a fun way to celebrate!

We left Candytopia (not without me purchasing a hot pink trucker hat, rock candy, cotton candy pop rocks, and Tabasco Dark Chocolate,) and headed over to Phipps Plaza for a few libations and snacks at the Tavern.

52527154_10156970113319929_3534294099291013120_n

Here we shared stories and laughed and took a little stroll down memory lane.

52403903_10156970113709929_2708135806802853888_n

After lunch, we headed to downtown Covington. Or was it?

52440797_10156970102884929_2070063868897394688_n

Are you a big Vampire Diaries fan? Well I am. So much so that I named my big orange cat, Salvatore, after the lead vampire brothers: Damon & Stephan Salvatore.

52071505_10156970102574929_3762891414338273280_n

I decided to be a good tourism director and stop by the Covington Visitor Center. Met some of the nicest people in there and discovered so much about this area. If you love shows like: My Cousin Vinny, Vampire Diaries, Dukes of Hazard, In the Heat of the Night, Footloose… and I could go on and on…. then you have to stop here. So much has been filmed in this area.

52523785_10156970103029929_8194344322804482048_n

I loved how all of my favorite characters were highlighted with a little stone in the pavement along the town square.

51968924_10156970101554929_3558835417866305536_n

It was such a treat! A little Southern Hollywood, if you will!

51940836_10156970103324929_4833970517528543232_n

I absolutely loved the town square. Everything that was significant for my little Vampire Diaries obsession was there! I love being a tourist in my little state!

52596505_10156970101994929_5507690323213549568_n

We stopped for coffee, chatted some more, and decided that this crew needed a nap. We headed back to Castle de Griffin and took a load off. After everyone was well rested we headed back downtown to have dinner at the Mystic Grill. This restaurant is the main “haunt” in the Vampire Diaries.

Well.. we thought we were going to eat there.

There was an 1 hour and 45 minute wait.

I mean… I am a fan girl.. but…

We ended up heading to the one restaurant everyone recommended:

The City Pharmacy.

51915543_10156970523079929_2750881408686751744_n - Copy

And it did not disappoint. I opted for the Kobe Beef Burgers and felt divine!

52466034_10156970523174929_3719718939949793280_n

After a lovely dinner, we headed back to the house to indulge ourselves in their jacuzzi tub outside (again… gotta love Georgia weather,) followed by a delicious night of sleep.

We left yesterday morning and headed out to the Dekalb Farmer’s Market.

OMG.

Just go. It is a spice, meat, cheese, veggie heaven. I don’t want to spoil it. Just GO and trust me.

So here I am, back at home, 46, tired… because, well.. I guess I am 46 and have been running nonstop, and it is time to get back to work.

Lots to do.. and still more adventures ahead this weekend.

It is what it is. It will be what it will be.

Interested in checking out the cool places we visited?

Here are the links:

Valdosta State University

El Toreo

Georgia College

Plains United Methodist Church

The Fish House

Downtown Covington

Mystic Grill

Bread & Butter Coffee

The City Pharmacy

The Tavern

Phipps Plaza

Candytopia

Dekalb Farmers Market

Aging Parents

A few nights ago, Tim and I were having a heart-to-heart about the fact that I never got to meet his father. Jerry Kirksey died almost a decade ago from Lymphoma. He was a well-loved man in his community (former mayor of Preston,) and apparently a jovial father. A super health nut that ended up losing a battle to his biggest foe – Cancer.

I told Tim that I felt like I would never truly know what I needed to know about him because I never met his father. He looked at me a little funny as I went on to explain that meeting a man’s father says a lot about the man he would one day become.

I have heard many stories about Mr. Kirksey- he was a scientist (plant pathologist,) a farmer, and an avid hiker. He made lots of silly jokes and had a very distinctive laugh. He was loved and respected by everyone.

I’ve never heard his laugh or his voice. I don’t know his mannerisms nor have I been the recipient of his sage advice. This is what happens when a father is gone too soon and the memories of him are shared with loved ones. These memories are all I have to piece together the type of man he was.

We chatted about the pain of losing a parent, something, thank goodness, I have not had to deal with. We also talked about what it is like to take care of a sick parent – something else I have not had to deal with.

Yet.

15672805_10154822426714929_2520222056370154751_n
My dad.

I called my niece last night to let her know that we would be driving through Gray on Saturday and we wanted to see her. Plus, we wanted to see my father, mainly because it will be his 73rd birthday. As she and I were chatting, my mom grabs the phone and leaves the room and begins to word vomit some not-so-great news. Dad’s PSA test came back bad. This is the 3rd one he has had recently and the numbers have tripled.

We are talking Prostate Cancer.

15978070_10154893547424929_8689661672725799744_n

Here is what we know: Some types of prostate cancer grow slowly. In some of these cases, monitoring is recommended. Other types are aggressive and require radiation, surgery, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, or other treatments. Looks like he is heading toward surgery. The doctor said it is best to tackle this quickly, considering his age, health status, etc.

45872145_10215149330317998_8744299345865605120_n

After his upcoming biopsy, we will know how far along and what we are dealing with.

I say we… I’m down here. He’s up there.

11904049_10153519957914929_7486110458770410675_n

I’m not sure what to think of all of this. I’m not sure I am ready to even consider what this could do. I know early detection is key.

If you happen to be a guy, make sure you get your prostate checked. If you love a guy, talk to him about screenings available to them and to know troubling symptoms. 

You can have no symptoms, but many people experience:

Pain areas: in the bones
Urinary: difficulty starting and maintaining a steady stream of urine, dribbling of urine, excessive urination at night, frequent urination, urge to urinate and leaking, urinary retention, or weak urinary stream

Here I am thinking…. what is causing all of this? Find the root and we can tackle the issue. According to the Mayo Clinic, unfortunately it is hard to determine what causes it. Doctors know that prostate cancer begins when some cells in your prostate become abnormal. Mutations in the abnormal cells’ DNA cause the cells to grow and divide more rapidly than normal cells do. The abnormal cells continue living, when other cells would die. The accumulating abnormal cells form a tumor that can grow to invade nearby tissue. Some abnormal cells can also break off and spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

There are certain factors that can increase your risk of prostate cancer include:

Age  – Your risk of prostate cancer increases as you age.
Race  – For reasons not yet determined, black men carry a greater risk of prostate cancer than do men of other races. In black men, prostate cancer is also more likely to be aggressive or advanced.
Family history – If men in your family have had prostate cancer, your risk may be increased. Also, if you have a family history of genes that increase the risk of breast cancer (BRCA1 or BRCA2) or a very strong family history of breast cancer, your risk of prostate cancer may be higher.
Obesity – Obese men diagnosed with prostate cancer may be more likely to have advanced disease that’s more difficult to treat.

So for my Dad,  what is worst case scenario? According to the Mayo Clinic:

Cancer that spreads (metastasizes) – Prostate cancer can spread to nearby organs, such as your bladder, or travel through your bloodstream or lymphatic system to your bones or other organs. Prostate cancer that spreads to the bones can cause pain and broken bones. Once prostate cancer has spread to other areas of the body, it may still respond to treatment and may be controlled, but it’s unlikely to be cured.
Incontinence – Both prostate cancer and its treatment can cause urinary incontinence. Treatment for incontinence depends on the type you have, how severe it is and the likelihood it will improve over time. Treatment options may include medications, catheters and surgery.
Erectile dysfunction – Erectile dysfunction can result from prostate cancer or its treatment, including surgery, radiation or hormone treatments. Medications, vacuum devices that assist in achieving erection and surgery are available to treat erectile dysfunction.

Where we are now is figuring out exactly what we are dealing with. When a biopsy confirms the presence of cancer, the next step is to determine the level of aggressiveness (grade) of the cancer cells. A laboratory pathologist examines a sample of the cancer to determine how much cancer cells differ from the healthy cells. A higher grade indicates a more aggressive cancer that is more likely to spread quickly.

The most common scale used to evaluate the grade of prostate cancer cells is called a Gleason score. Gleason scoring combines two numbers and can range from 2 (nonaggressive cancer) to 10 (very aggressive cancer).  In addition, genomic testing in increasingly being used to more accurately assess risk and detect aggressive prostate cancer.

We have the facts, now we need to know what level we are dealing with. Once we get past this part, we will deal with the rest.

Again, I said we. I am down here. He is up there.

This makes all of this even harder.

I’m a fixer, and I can’t fix this, nor is geography or time in my favor.

All I can do right now is ask for your prayers. Please place my father, Jack Thurston, on your prayer list. He’s my Dad. His birthday is Saturday and he will be 73. I want him to have the strength and courage to face what is to come.

Until next time…

11028016_10153518272699929_7530257350560670374_n

 

A Sense of Place

There has been a lot of talk lately about creating a “sense of place.” Maybe it is your community where people are coming together to install public art or create a business incubator. Maybe it is your church where the congregation is seeking to attract millennials with an in-house coffee shop and movie room or even your home, where you are trying to find a sacred spot in a corner to meditate. Whatever the case may be, the signals are clear – we are all in need of connection. We need to feel connected.

One of the many mindful practices I have incorporated in 2019 is devoting more time to connecting the dots for myself. I am attempting to treat my work space and my home space as a sacred spot to spark creativity and to energize. Even when it comes to groups I am choosing to devote my time to, I want to make sure that it resonates with my soul.

Sound corny? Probably.

But it is working.

50988166_10156926785169929_6828105570860400640_n

Just this past Tuesday I gathered together with 76 tourism stake holders in my community. My job was to create a retreat where we concentrated on team building and took time to network with leaders in our field. One of the speakers dealt specifically with Creative Placemaking. This workshop got participants thinking about ways to attract visitors and at the same time, create a sense of place for locals. Everything from installing public art or creative way-finding signs to re-purposing empty buildings and blighted neighborhoods.

At the end of the day… it got me thinking.

It made me think about my own life and how I could transform my personal space.

meditation-corner
Visit for more information: https://www.homeyou.com/why-poufs-are-awesome

It could be something as bohemian as a meditation corner. Or maybe even something like this:

f2acf0acbd38ca13cdd799d319b719e6
For more inspiration: https://www.hedonistit.com/pinspiration-cozy-decorated-reading-nooks-will-inspire-design-little-corner/

Or maybe a nice reading nook.

I think finding a space to decompress and recharge my battery is key. Afterall, I’m an ENFP. I may be an extroverted-intuitive-feeling-perceptive person, but I, too, need to find a place to leave that frantic energy and allow my brain to cultivate creative ideas to share.

I learned a few new ways to do just that at the retreat.

51502873_10156926786809929_3794116170177576960_n

We had a fantastic workshop on the DISC personality test. Here I am with my fellow extroverted people/people. We love to chat it up and are open to new ideas.

But then we answered a question that proves not all extroverts are alike. We were asked a simple question: If given a choice, would you rather finish a task or check in with people.

51121458_10156926786009929_59106506703896576_n

Our large group of extroverts suddenly divided. Across from me (you see in the photo above,) were our task-oriented outgoing folks. I am more of a “check-in” with people extrovert. Which means, if I like you – I will help you. If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. The folks across from me are not only single-focused, they are vocal about it. Which means we could butt heads even harder than with the people on the other side of the room – the introverted/Task oriented or the introverted/people-people. The Introverted-doers typically avoid my personality type (to the best of their ability.) And the relationship-driven introverts are the people my personality type would call, “Some of the nicest people we have ever met.”

FASCINATING stuff. I’m learning even more about what makes me tick and others around me. It’s like a huge self-awareness bulb just went off and I feel like I can function better.

Boy… it only took 45 years and 11 months. 😉

51078353_10156926785644929_2149281839137685504_n

Overall, the day went really, really well and I felt like I had accomplished a huge step in building my department.

51098877_10156934251339929_8524629141817917440_n

In the very same week we had a First Friday event in downtown Americus. Here you see our local organic/small market sharing a mini workshop on making your own bath salt. It was such a treat to go in and have this happening, plus a wine tasting right next to this table. Across from that a Georgia Grown cheese and jam tasting. Talk about a sacred space! I loved walking around and checking out the new products, learning about some of the local dairies, and sampling items. If you ever get to come to Americus, make sure to check out Center Stage Market.

51187694_10156933414279929_38482627799285760_n

And talk about the sacred – I got to address an old friend: the American Heart Association. Remember when I used to work for them in Birmingham? I traveled all around the Southeast spreading the importance of heart health. Well… Friday was National Wear Red Day and our staff decided to Go Red For Women. We had Phoebe Sumter (local hospital) provide blood pressure checks in our Visitor Center. Outside of the great community benefit, it was bitter-sweet for me, because it brought back those old feelings and my old life: living in Birmingham, married to someone else, a whole different set of friends and activities – it felt like a different Nicole. And each year I get to relive it…. even just for a day. It is not always comfortable…

51478177_10156933403044929_4779082063846309888_o

But the beauty is: it gets easier and easier. That whole life was 7 years ago, but feels like a lifetime. I’m assuming I’ll never really have positive closure, but the pain is not as extreme. Proof that time does heal all wonds.

51122997_10156936218559929_3812204721297424384_n

This weekend we got a glimpse into the future. Tim’s oldest, Alex, is a rising senior and is beginning to think about college. We started the first of what I assume will be many weekend trips to explore colleges and universities in Georgia. We started off 2 hours from Plains in Valdosta, Georgia at Valdosta State University.

The school put on quite a show! Their marketing efforts to attract students was very aggressive. Tim said they sent a text, just about every day, reminding us about the big Open House day coming up. This went on for several weeks. Even after the trip, they sent a survey with three options:

  1. Yes, your search is over.
  2. Maybe, VSU is in the running.
  3. No, VSU is not for us.

Poor Alex, she didn’t know what to think. We were afraid to respond, because we knew the hard-core text/sell would come after that. Not sure if it was a good method or a turn-off.

Needless to say, she enjoyed the visit. They put on a very exciting pep rally and allowed you to explore the different degree options.

In a way, this whole visit reminded me that Tim is about to enter a new phase in life and I need to help him create a sacred/safe space – An Empty Nest. I can feel his apprehension. I can feel his anxiety. However, the inevitable is coming. I need to make sure our nest is comfortable and designed with a new life in mind.

51265834_10156939153104929_830904549177819136_n

I think all of this pending change had Tim seeking something familiar. We headed out to the farm, and specifically the cabin. We took Cotton with us and I think I counted at least 4 times with him saying, “I sure do miss it here.” I felt like this was a sign and I realized I might need to step up my game as a supportive partner. Life is changing fast, and my introverted-task oriented guy is not a fan of change. Maybe… this is where I come in.

Maybe God puts us with people – in situations – in environments where we are the one that shines and where we might act as the anchor. Maybe my ability to travel the winding road with ease is just the security my big strong man needs in his life during this next phase.

As we sat in church on Sunday, I looked over at him and his youngest daughter and realized how precious this time we have left with his kids is. I also realized that life can turn on a dime. I know… I’ve lived enough and changed enough for 3 life times.

If the universe is constantly sending us signals and God is directing our paths, I think this past week was loaded with previews of what is to come. It is up to me to trust the path, create sacred space, and slow down just enough to savor what is now.

Until next time….