IMPORTANT: If you’re subscribed to my blog…

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 presetThis blog will self-destruct in 3…2..1..

I kid. Well, kind of.

The thing is, I think we all know that this little blog of mine needs an extreme makeover. Can I be painfully honest for a moment? The way that this space looks makes me want to walk outside and scream forever. I loathe, despise and abominate it.  A designer, I am not—as evidenced by the unfortunate state of my house. Y’all, my blog looks like I made it in my spare time…because, well, I did.

For years, I’ve been longing for a space that feels just a little bit more like me. And so, Little Black Desk is finally getting a makeover! This is my last post on WordPress.com, so if you’re a subscriber, unfortunately you will be UNSUBSCRIBED by tomorrow morning. If you’d like to continue receiving my rants confessions stories in your inbox, please wander back to my site, http://ashleypdickens.com on Friday, and re-subscribe to my new feed. Note: the web address isn’t changing, but it is getting some bright red lipstick and a tight pair of Spanx. [Men, if  you don’t know what Spanx are, that’s a pretty charmed life you’re living. Carry on—nothing to see, here.]

There may be some down time on Thursday, but never fear! I’ll be back on Friday with a doozie. :) Thanks for your patience, friends. Let’s all bid a disdainful farewell to my junky old blog—I can’t wait to see you on the other side!

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The Influence Conference Meet and Greet.

Profile pictureHi there, Influence! I’m Ashley P. Dickens.

The world feels surprisingly small to me. Though I currently live in upstate New York, I’ve spent more of my life living outside of America than in it. I’ve found home everywhere from frozen Eastern Europe with her spiraling cathedrals and cobblestoned streets, to the thick, sweltering heat of sandy West Africa.  My heart beats wildly when I walk down the jet way to board an airplane—as though I’m doing the very thing that I was created to do. I’ve lived in some hard places where hope wanes and poverty crushes, places where Mamas have babies that will live and die hungry. Their faces and stories have arrested and engaged my attention in a way that nothing short of Jesus Himself ever has.

You don’t have to look far to see that the world has been badly broken by sin, and I ardently believe that Jesus wants to use us to restore it. That’s why I work for HOPE International. I spend my days helping people to invest in the dreams of those trapped in poverty, and if you want to see me get really excited? Ask me to tell you some stories.

I spend my nights experimenting with a winning recipe for white chocolate baguettes, and scribbling away on this blog. I write because it helps me feel. It helps me remember. It helps me avoid doing the laundry, and something about that just feels right.

Part of the conference I am most excited about:

You! I’ve been following Influence for years, and I’m so thrilled to get to meet you. Let’s you and I grab a cup of coffee together—I would love to hear your story!

One thing I wouldn’t leave home without:

My wedding band. SWEET FANCY MOSES, that’s one mistake I don’t intend to make twice! [I’m still sorry, Kellan.] Very nearly as important: a venti caramel latte. [I said I love flying—I never said I love early mornings…]

I can’t wait to see you next week! Until then, feel free to find me on Instagram and Twitter.

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The Day I Became a Woman.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetIt sat on the counter taunting me for days.

An auspicious looking manila envelope housed an offer for a free, two month trial membership at BJ’s—our local jumbo store. Now, I should tell you that in my mind, I am the sort of girl that shops at five different grocery stores in an effort to save 17 cents on mozzarella cheese and score a BOGO deal on the cardboard sugar cereal that Kellan insists on eating for breakfast. [This, despite my ominous weekly warnings that it will one day kill him dead.] Of course, in my MIND, I am the sort of girl that cheerfully rolls out of bed at five AM to run, but alas, the very best I can muster in the wee small hours of the morning is a sad sort of drunken stumble towards my beloved coffee pot.

I digress. The POINT, friends, is that I am decidedly not that girl. Call me lazy, but in spite of my very best intentions, I never make it to more than one grocery store. Mo stores, mo problems.

Since our fateful move to Albany, Kellan has made a habit of occasionally mentioning that maybe, we should purchase a BJ’s membership. Now, this feels precisely like the sort of adult thing that a twenty seven year old woman might do, right under flossing and mopping the floor. Delightfully, I have made it twenty seven years managing to avoid all three. Only the sweet baby Jesus knows where on earth my husband came up with this idea, because it certainly didn’t come from me–the very idea of PAYING to shop at an extra store makes me want to drop kick a golden retriever. I’d managed to successfully dissuade him for a year and a half…until the aforementioned envelope arrived.

Now. Even I couldn’t argue with a FREE TRIAL, though I was still rather baffled as to what two childless people might do with a five year supply of EVERYTHING. Alas, I am a sucker for anything that doesn’t cost me money, [most notably the toothpicked samples of kung pao chicken gratuitously handed out at the mall], and so on a Sunday afternoon I girded my loins and drove to our local BJ’s.

I walked into the cavernous, windowless warehouse and immediately started menopause. I was, conservatively, not a day less than 20 years everybody’s junior. The dimly-lit exit was guarded by a foreboding looking, blue-vested woman  that in a former life, might have served as the middle-aged athletic director at a small women’s college in Vermont. She looked like she was fresh out of prison—or possibly, just about to go back in. The pungent stench of cheap hot dogs hung thick in the stale air as an ever-growing mass of humanity milled about the aisles, carts precariously overflowing. A kindly Indian woman working at the customer service desk did her utmost to lock me into a fourteen month membership. I gulped weakly, and stubbornly held my ground– That’s very sweet of you, but if I make it out of here without getting shanked I am never coming back.

This was my shot, my piece de resistance, my trump card for the next seventy years should Kellan ever choose to bring up a BJ’s membership again. [I already did that. Wa-BAM!] I was determined to make the most of it. Thus, I decided to go big.

The strategy was simple: walk down every aisle, and follow my heart. Jumbo bag of chocolate chips? Come to Mama. Sixteen tubs of Lysol wipes? IN YOUR FACE SALMONELLA. Twenty pounds of flour? Let’s make like the Amish and bake our own bread! Ten pounds of walnuts? DON’T THINK YOU’LL FIGURE IT OUT LATER.

Y’all, I did work. That store didn’t know what hit it! I left significantly poorer, but with enough toilet paper to last us a month of Sundays. [And really, who can put a price on that kind of peace of mind?]

Am I alone, here? Do you stop at multiple stores? And hypothetically, what might one do with enough Crest mouthwash to fill a bathtub? Help a sister out, because after my Sunday-haul, Kellan thinks that this is the best idea ever.

…not that we’ll need to go again for a good five years or so.

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Filed under First World Problems, Marriage, Then I found $5.00

How to Impress Your In-Laws.

Well, hi there! You haven’t changed one bit. I apologize for the unannounced summer hiatus– but now that fall is here, let’s get back to our normally scheduled programming, shall we?

We’ll pick up right where we left off: when my in-laws came to visit. Now, when I was in college, my Daddy would periodically sit me down, look me hard in the eyes and remind me that you marry the family. It was his mantra—honey, you’re going to be spending a lot of time with your husband’s family. Make sure you like them. I am deliriously thankful that I genuinely adore the family that became mine when Kellan and I said “I do”—in no small part because the thought of pretending to enjoy people for the rest of my life is positively exhausting.

Russ and Gina arrived in Albany on a Friday night. Now, let’s you and I get one thing straight: there are only two men on the planet that I will make a Key Lime pie for, Russ and my Dad. Frankly, I have neither the time nor the inclination for dessert that isn’t chocolate, but for the fathers in my life I gladly make an exception. Thus, 10:00 PM the night before the Dickens arrived found me baking a homemade key lime pie with a mind-numbingly divine graham cracker walnut crust that made the whole house smell of heaven by way of Amish country. Unfortunately, one clandestine bite of the startlingly bitter filling had me promptly scraping the entire thing out of my cheery red pie plate and straight into the trash. I started all over again at 11:30 because PETERSONS DON’T MESS AROUND WITH THEIR PIES.

Russ and Gina landed, and proceeded to ooh and ahh over our [SPARKLINGLY CLEAN] new house. Gina graciously overlooked my wine box tv stand and barren white walls, gushing instead about the natural light pouring through our oversized windows. The next morning, I sleepily waltzed downstairs looking like something on sale at a consignment store, and discovered my amused Father-in-law with a wide grin on his face. Ash, I was just wondering…do you have any milk that isn’t rancid?

APPARENTLY, prior to their arrival I had been too busy scrubbing the baseboards with a toothbrush to check the date on our milk. As the color drained from my panicked face into my pedicured toes, I had an overwhelming urge to channel the old couple in Titanic, slink back to bed, and pretend it wasn’t happening.

We sorted out the milk [I DIE], and he then casually asked me where my toaster was.

The thing about toasters is ours caught on fire two weeks into our marriage, and I promptly threw it down the garbage chute and never bought another one because CHEAP. [Also, effort.]  Thus, every time you want toast at my house, you have to channel your inner Laura Ingalls Wilder, set the oven to 375 and wait seven minutes. The whole thing is very Little House on the Prairie, with fewer Indian raids and less cholera. Russ’ baffled eyes widened as I relayed this information, unable to wrap his modern mind around the wholesome, pioneer lifestyle that Kellan and I had unwittingly embraced. You’re getting a toaster for Christmas.

Well. Something to look forward to.

On Saturday afternoon, Kellan and Russ ventured off for some father-son bonding time while Gina and I shopped and drank outrageously overpriced iced coffees. Arriving back at the house, we collapsed on the couch where I proceeded to turn on “My 600 Pound Life” because I like to heckle the enablers that keep traipsing in the front door with oblivious smiles and sixteen Happy Meals in tow. Gina, however, was so horrified at the whole thing that she had to escape upstairs to take a nap. Meanwhile, I practiced looking penitent in case I had to explain to Kellan why I watched trash tv with his Mama.

On Saturday night, I decided to make Greek food—because if a gyro doesn’t make you happy, I can do nothing for you. Unfortunately, I became overly excited whilst chopping cucumbers, and ever so daintily sent an economy-sized container of feta cheese unceremoniously tumbling to the floor, causing the whole house to smell distinctly like a pack filthy hobbits with severe bowel troubles were squatting in the kitchen.

All in all, the weekend was a rousing success. :) We laughed until our stomachs hurt, and I took a thousand mental snapshots, bottling up memories to tuck away and savor for the rest of my life. There isn’t anything more dear to me in the world than spending time with my family.

…and not just because I’ll be the proud owner of a toaster come Christmastime. ;)

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Filed under Family, My ghetto-fab life, Then I found $5.00

Life Around Our Table.

DSC_0146My family owns an old wooden table that once belonged to my great-Grandparents, and has been carefully passed down over the generations. Through the ingenious magic of extra leaves, it expands and contracts like an accordion, making room for up to fifteen smiling faces to gather around it. Twenty, if you don’t mind your elbows bumping.

Years ago, the old wooden table followed my family across an ocean to Kiev, Ukraine, into our first tiny apartment where my Mama could stand in the middle of the doll-sized kitchen and touch all four walls with her hands. I remember the very first dinner that we ate sitting around our table in that apartment—I was six years old, and Stephen and I were famished after refusing to eat anything but white dinner rolls on our trans-Atlantic flight. Armed with fifteen basic Russian phrases and an iron will, our Mother had hitch-hiked to the local market. She wandered wide-eyed amongst stalls where animal carcasses hung dripping above dirty meat counters, looking for all the world as though someone had mercilessly slaughtered half of Noah’s ark. The hard-won meal that she presented on the table that night was beef in some sort of unidentifiable gray sauce, and sleepy, hungry faces beamed and gushed how wonderful each bite tasted. Years later, Mom told us that was the moment she decided that she could live in Ukraine.

Our table has seen three different countries and more different houses, but wherever it was, we were home. It’s seen Christmas morning cinnamon rolls, Cookie Monster birthday cakes and two grinning little boys with curly blonde hair and spaghetti sauce all over their faces. It’s where we learned to pass food to the right, and to wait until Mama started eating to pick up our forks. It’s the table around which eyes scrunched tightly shut as we thanked Jesus for [most of] our food, and where we tattled on the other kids for opening their eyes during prayer. It’s where Ian gleefully discovered that he could burp the ABC’s, and while I’m sure my parents wanted to chastise him it was all so bizarrely impressive that they couldn’t help but egg him on. It’s the table that Kellan broke on the cool October night that he leaned across it to kiss me, and though Daddy laughed out loud and fixed it right up, Kellan never quite lived that down.

Our old wooden table is where we’ve told our stories, where we’ve learned who the people sitting beside and across from us are. It’s where we have celebrated wildly and loved fiercely, debated passionately and doubled over with belly-laughter. That table has been the heartbeat of our home for as long as I can remember, hosting grand Thanksgiving dinner parties and quiet peanut butter and jelly afternoons. My most savored memories are the ones we spent relaxing around empty plates for long, unhurried hours after the meal had ended, red wine still swirling in long-stemmed glasses and contented conversation echoing off the walls.

Part of the raw ache of grief is that you can never go back. There could be nothing more precious to me in the world than just one more night spent laughing around the old wooden table with my whole family, but Ian is gone. And nowhere do we miss him more than when we sit down to dinner and realize that we’ve forgotten again, and set six places instead of five.

The ache of missing Ian has created in me a homesick longing for soul-exhale of heaven. And somehow, I suspect that heaven will look just a little bit like what has happened around our old table for so many years.

Happy 23rd birthday tomorrow, baby brother. We miss you every single day.

While in college, Ian was interviewed about the a cappella group that he sang in. It’s unnerving just how often over the course of two minutes, he was distracted by a girl walking by…

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Filed under Family, Grief, Home, Ian

What Y2K and my Mother in Law Have in Common.

JCP_3574 bwNew Year’s Eve 1999 found me wide-eyed with unabashed glee at the prospect of the impending doom about to descend upon civilization as I knew it.  An uncertain world was curiously teetering on the brink of Y2K, and in a startling flight from rationality my parents had decided that we stood a better chance against the looters back in the Land of the Free than in our little apartment in the Soviet Block. Thus, my family had flown across the ocean from Kiev, Ukraine, to my Grandparent’s house in Suburbia, Michigan. Locks had been tested, toilet paper had been stock piled, and in a sadistic twist on Trick-or-treat gone terribly wrong, Grandpa had loaded the riot gun and was ready to greet any of the aforementioned looters. Mama had filled every bathtub in the house with cold water, and stacked ominously in the basement were enough flashlights, batteries and cans of low-fat New England clam chowder to launch our own rather unappetizing, well-lit cult.

Pondering that experience as an adult, I am now quite convinced that I would much prefer to die in some sort of apocalyptic event than be forced to eat room-temperature clam chowder glopped unceremoniously from a can.

The Petersons were nothing if not prepared, and my brothers and I were positively heartsick when Y2K held all of the excitement of a dirty Kleenex. The electricity didn’t so much as flicker, and Grandpa didn’t get to fire the riot gun even once. Thus, dreams and bathtub water swirled straight down the drain, flashlights were tucked away and I can only imagine that a local homeless shelter was the unlucky beneficiary of the aforementioned chowder. In summation: everyone suffered.

Fourteen years have passed since that underwhelming New Year’s Eve with the batteries and the bathtubs filled clear to the brim, and strangely, I find myself once again preparing for an event of apocalyptic proportions. Except, instead of Y2K, my MOTHER IN LAW is coming to visit this weekend.

Now, let’s you and I get one thing straight right off the bat: my Mother in Law is the sweetest, most selfless human being on the planet. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, I will tell you that my OWN Mother has decided that she is the kindest person that we know. Gina Dickens began treating me like I was her daughter long before there was a ring on my finger, and I wholeheartedly adore her.

Unfortunately, perfection has its pitfalls, chief of which is raising offspring who thinks it’s normal. In her entire life, Gina hasn’t so much as pretended to be mediocre at something, effectively creating wildly unrealistic expectations for her son that can’t FOR THE LIFE of him figure out why I don’t carry around an plastic bag full of alphabetized coupons. [Um, HELLO, I lost our scissors in the move.] Kellan grew up in a perfectly immaculate house where organization was paramount [I’m pretty sure the folders had folders], and the kitchen was always startlingly sparkling. I’m quite serious about this. I’ve spent three consecutive Thanksgivings in Gina’s kitchen, and have yet to see so much as a flour splatter. [AT THANKSGIVING. THE COOKINGEST DAY OF THE YEAR. She’s like a kitchen unicorn.] My kitchen, however, consistently looks like a bomb went off and the Red Cross failed to respond. And that’s just after breakfast.

I married Gina’s first-born son under the unspoken expectation that I would do my utmost to keep him alive. It was one thing when she came to visit last fall and popped into our tiny little apartment just long enough for lunch before she and Russ whisked us away for a weekend at the cutest little B&B around. [I told you. BEST.] It’s another thing entirely now that she’s coming to STAY AT MY HOUSE for a whole weekend. MY HOUSE, in which a TV is currently precariously perched atop a tower consisting of two Tupperware containers and one old wine box, because CLASSY. I sheepishly confessed that to her a couple of months ago, and she looked at me like I was a starving paralytic in dire need of some sort of fundraiser.

I’ve decided that the whole thing is very much like getting ready for Y2K. I find myself desperate to prove that I am a responsible, prepared adult, instead of someone who still pays for her coffee in quarters and dimes. I vacillate wildly from feeling immeasurably mature as I stockpile spare light bulbs and stamps, to being utterly convinced that she will take one look at the guest bathroom and very quietly put a protective layer of toilet paper over the seat. Kellan began to notice that something was amiss when I walked up to him last night with crazy eyes and very calmly informed him that if he left his mildewed towel on the floor one more time, I WOULD STAB HIM.

I spend every spare minute coming up with contingency plans, quite certain that I will accidentally blow the electricity, the freezer will melt and we shall be forced to eat damp cheese sandwiches by candlelight for dinner. And because she is perfect, Gina will smile graciously and make some sort of charming remark about how lovely the light looks flickering off of the walls while I internally panic because SWEET FANCY MOSES I AM GOING TO MUDDY THE GENE POOL. I’ll grin weakly as I desperately attempt to look like the sort of girl that wears sensible shoes and reads instruction manuals, instead of a girl that doesn’t own a mop.

Clearly, this is dire. Say your rosaries, friends–because we are T-4 days. If you need me, I’ll be dusting my wine-box TV stand and stacking cans of clam chowder in the basement.

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Filed under Family, Marriage, My favorite people, Then I found $5.00

Skirting the Edge of Scandal.

JCP_2338 bwMy Mama turned 52 yesterday.

Now, ordinarily I wouldn’t share that little nugget of information, given that women normally adhere to a very strict “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to obnoxious numbers like age and weight. However, it just so happens that Facebook announced her age to the watching world on account of the fact that she has yet to master the internets, and so I’m afraid that at this point the proverbial cat is quite out of the bag.

And really, I don’t think she minds all that much.

When I was in middle school, I desperately wanted to get my bellybutton pierced. Desperately. Unfortunately, those were the years that I fondly refer to as the dark ages, during which my Mama had an inexplicable affinity for startlingly big 80’s hair and dowdy jean jumpers. Never mind that it was 1997 and both had long since gone out of vogue. The potential coolness of a silver butterfly dangling from my naval was utterly lost on her.

My Dad was even worse. He simply furrowed his brow, rolled his eyes, and told me in no uncertain terms that nobody ought to be seeing my bellybutton anyways, so I certainly didn’t need any shrapnel in it. No amount of wheedling and cajoling and but-they’re-cute-ing could persuade my conservative, nothing-good-happens-after-eight-o’clock parents otherwise. Thus, it was firmly pronounced that the day I turned 18 I was free to desecrate my body however I saw fit, but there would be no vaguely whorish piercings a second sooner than that.  My best friend Melissa and I made solemn, little girl pinkie-promises to go get our bellybuttons pierced together on my 18th birthday, and settled in for what promised to be an impossibly long wait.

In a devastating turn of events, several years later at the end of 7th grade, my parents announced that we were moving from our little apartment on Ivana Kudri street in Kiev, Ukraine, to a yellow house in Budapest, Hungary. I remember crocodile tears filling my panic-stricken eyes as I looked at my Mother in utter disbelief and indignantly shrieked the only pertinent question: NOW WHO WILL I GO GET MY BELLYBUTTON PIERCED WITH?!

In a fit of dementia and good intentions, my Mama calmly looked me dead in the eyes, and told me to listen up. Honey, if you don’t have someone to go get your bellybutton pierced with when you turn 18, I promise that I’ll do it with you.

Like astonishingly dainty elephants, Peterson women never forget. And so April 19th of my senior year of high school found Cindy Peterson and I sitting in a rather suspect Raleigh tattoo parlor called Warlocks. And let me tell you, if anything in this world will force you to reevaluate the trajectory of your life, it’s sitting in a plastic folding chair at Warlocks staring at rows and rows of barbed wire tattoos.

My wise Father had long since given up trying to talk us out of the whole idea, having begrudgingly resigned himself to the sad reality that the trollops living under his roof could not be stopped from skirting the edges of scandalous. He had, however, made me swear on my college fund to get pierced first, confident that if I watched a blonde with an aggressively pierced face and rather menacing black gloves shove a giant needle into my Mother’s belly, I’d never crawl up on the table after her.

The next day I proudly marched into homeroom and showed off my VERY CLASSY silver butterfly bellybutton ring. [Sorry, Dad!] I’ll never forget my friend’s eyes widening as she gleefully gasped, Oh, Ash. Does your Mom know?

It was one of the great delights of my life to smirk back at her. Please. My Mama is my best friend, and she did it with me.

That’s my Mom. She’s a daring woman who drinks life to the lees, as Tennyson would say. She is a truth-teller, a problem-solver, a fighter and a chocolate-cake-baker. She taught me to love wildly, to lead with tender ferocity of spirit, and to always keep a secret can of fudge icing hidden in the back of the fridge for just-in-case purposes. She taught me to anchor my heart to the truth that God only gives good gifts.  And in a sensible world full of pressed khaki pants and 401K’s, she taught me that there was beauty and value in letting my imperfect flag fly.

So here’s to you, Mama. All 52, pierced years of you.

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Filed under Family, My ghetto-fab life, Then I found $5.00, Uncategorized