Leaping into Memphis

I took a big leap last night. Actually we're gonna go ahead and say it was more like an Olympic sized dive. I thought I was so sure about this choice too. I thought, I prepared for this, I planned for this, I know I want this. Then it came down to it and kept getting so nervous, and second-guessy.

But I did it.

And before we get to what I did, let me just say, I think this was so much like the plunge I took when I decided to compete one more time for Miss Vermont. I didn't realize it until this morning, when my decision started to settle in me, and I realized, whatever, I'll make it work. 

That is the thing I always stick to when it comes to decisions like this: I will make it work. Because if it wasn't worth it, and I wasn't supposed to do it, it wouldn't be stuck on my heart like it has been.

See what I did was register for a conference - which is sounds so small, and silly, and very who cares, Rylee? Which I get, because you aren't me. And you don't have my very same big goals and big dreams, so that's totally fine.

Anyways, I'm saved my seat for the Creative at Heart conference in Memphis. Again, if you don't have the same lofty goals as me, or a heart that beats for purposeful, love-filled, detail-heavy, weddings - then this probably is no big deal. But in some big I've-made-a-big-scary-choice-like-that-before way, you get it, right?

But backing up a bit - I just have to keep telling myself that I'll make it work. And I will, I know I will. It'll be after Miss America. It will be in a month with no weddings on the books. It'll be the perfect time to take three days to take a deep breath. Yes, truthfully, I'm (obviously) making less money now than when I actually worked full time. And yes, it's a good thing my parent's are always happy to feed me. And yes, maybe this will make my savings a little smaller.

I'll make it work though, because it is worth it. Because the idea of cultivating ideas, plans, advice, and knowledge for myself as a creative professional has been too big on my heart to just let this go.

Even though it kinda scares the crap out of me to think I'll be surrounded by women who's work I totally admire, and here I am in the tee-ball version of what I'm dreaming of. It is the good kind though - the good kind of having the crap scared out of you. Like, it is the kind of scared that says, you're scared because this is a big purposeful move, not because it is the wrong move. 

And I think that's good.

Anyways, if you're thinking about taking some big leaps. If you're feeling a big choice sitting on your heart. Or maybe you've just been waiting to take the plunge and it will never be the perfect time. Well, I think you should do it. Take the big leap, make the choice, choose now or never. I don't know about your big dreams and big plans, but I know they're worth it.

Weeks Eight, Nine & Ten

You might be thinking, wow Rylee really let those weekly updates drop off quick. And you'd be right, because I'm wildly busy. But here I am, coming at ya with a big ol' update. Settle in.

Where did we leave off? Oh yes, Miss America Orientation.

After rolling back into Burlington, doing something like 8 loads of laundry, scrubbing my apartment down, and entertaining the idea of sleeping I was so lucky to head to the Vermont Lake Monsters throw out a first pitch. (Well, technically it was the 3rd of 8, because that's how the Lake Monsters roll. But still.) It also happened to be Princess & Superheroes Night at the Ballpark, and you guys know I love a good princess bash.

The next day, I made it to Lyndonville for another parade - in the middle of July? Yes. It was great having an "off season" parade is always fun because people love to come out for a tradition like this that most towns don't celebrate.

Then it was Miss America lottery night - and that means very little now. But, I will use this as my opportunity to say please go here: http://missamerica.org/vote/ and vote for me. Because being the first Miss Vermont to be in the top 15 would literally be a dream come true. 

Up next was a long trip down to Manchester, Vermont (a first for me,) for the Komen Race for the Cure 5k/10k. Not only was this such a generously welcoming group of volunteers and participants, we broke records for the event (fundraising and participation!) and I got to run another 5k. Bonus points if you ask Tam about this event - seriously, because I've sat through that story something like 45 times

The very following day was a double header - judging the talent show for Lamoille County Field Days, and the send-off party for my sweet teen. At both events I got lots of amazing hugs. And and and I got a surprise visit from our Miracle Kid, Eleanor! 

And to round out a clearly full weekend, I spent the next day at the CMNH Golf Classic (conveniently in my backyard, thankfully.) The weather was not superb, but I have to say a huge thanks to Sara for driving me around all day as we gathered donations. 

After a crazy week of work, sponsor meetings, and teaching Pure Barre. I made the trip down to Greenwich, Connecticut to buff up on some new Pure Barre moves...and enjoy my first experience with food poisoning. It was awful. And it is my entire reasoning that my second first pitch with the Vermont Lake Monsters did not go as planned. (It was fine, but not great. And being that I had one hour of sleep under my belt, it could have been so much worse.) The best part though? I got to see Miss Margaret - a wonderful, generous, insanely kind Miss Vermont volunteer!

And just a few days later? I was skipping down to Orlando the hang with my Miss America sisters, spend a whole 13 hours in the Magic Kingdom, and of course, support Alex at Miss America's Outstanding Teen!

Also, just this, dream come true

And yes, as soon as we got back from Orlando, we hit the ground running, again. More on that next Tuesday, promise. A 3 week update is much easier than a 6 week update.

Try Back Later

Remember when I said we would talk more about why I chose my platform and what that life is like? Right. About that. Well, like I've noticed before, and like I imagine I'll continue to notice - it is so much harder to talk about the hard parts, when you're in the hard parts.

I think I've said that before, that the time to talk about what it means to struggle with good mental health isn't when it's hard - it's when it's not.

Well, sometimes you gotta do both.

I'm one of those walking examples of everything looks awesome, but some days are very hard. And sometimes you just cry at that dumb Dan & Shay song, and really you only want to eat chips and guac, and you have to be very very nice to yourself because occasionally your brain is unkind. Lots of no Rylee, you're not fat, going on in these parts over the last few days. Hashtag true life. 

Lucky me though, because I'm also a walking example of you can live through this. 

You know what I mean, right? It's like I could sit here and probably write for three hours on how things have been so much harder in the last two weeks. But I'm just as able to talk about how I know there is another side to this. I know what life looks like when it's not this shade of difficult.

I don't have a lot to say right now, because I don't want to sit here for three hours and detail the crappy feelings and kinda how the loneliness that has been hanging out in my back pocket is the size of Harambe. Also mostly because I don't want to sit around and talk about it right now.

Later, when it's easier again.

But here's the point: we talk about it anyways.  

Because it happens, it is real, and it is not my whole identity. We talk about it because it matters. We talk about it because someone else is listening. We talk about it to remind ourselves that there are better days. We talk about it, and we move through it. And we keep pushing for another tomorrow.

...When there may or may not be an actual weekly update. Who knows. 

Just, Thanks

I'm not super good at asking for help.

By which I mean, I'm always willing to struggle while I stubbornly attempt to do things myself. And if help is offered I usually deflect/sarcastically reject/or act like I've got it covered.

However, I've never done this before. This Miss Vermont thing.

I've never been stretched this thin. I haven't ever been this busy, this constantly. I haven't ever worked this little, and needed so much. I have never done this before.

And that means I need help.

I need people who help me decide the most appropriate dress to wear. I need people to buy my groceries. I need people to help me schedule events. I need people to help me prepare for Miss America. I need people to help me pack, shop, learn, drive, workout, cook, pay for things, travel, work, and live.

I need help, all the time. And that has been so hard.

It has been so hard for me to ask for that help. Maybe even harder for me to accept that help when people are freely giving it.

It's not that I don't want help. I so do. It is just that I also know how quickly all those things pile up. I know how easily that becomes way too much. I know that those things are expensive, tiring, and they take time and effort. I know that living this crazy life was my choice. 

Maybe that's the biggest part - I chose this for myself. I never asked that anyone else fit this in their life. It brings me heaps of guilt to put all that work, effort, cost, and exhaustion, potentially on someone else.

But I need the help.

That's been the newest challenge. I say new, but it's been two months. Accepting help. Asking for help. Knowing when people genuinely want to help, and don't want you to feel bad about accepting their pure generosity.

I'm hoping I get through this weird place of not wanting to trouble people with my life pretty soon.

Because the help? It is lifesaving.

I so mean that. If you have bought me food, driven with me, given me clothes, responded to my texts, gone anywhere with me, hugged me, or otherwise done something that was truly for my benefit - thank you. From the deepest, sappiest, most sincere place in my heart, thank you.

If though, I've said: no thank you, I got it, don't worry about it, it's fine, or any variation of me attempting to make your helping me easier on you, I'm sorry. I'm working on it.

By no means am I some martyr, who thinks she can do this all on her own. I'm not. I'm so not. I'm just not used to this new part of my life - of this needing so much. And well, it kicks your anxiety in to high gear. The help helps. Every time I accept more help, and every time I ask for more help, I hope that it gets a little easier to do it again.

Because y'all are making such a difference in my life.

This One is For Her

I don't remember a time where someone said to me, no, you can't do that job. But I have clear memories of thinking that some things were just for boys, or that if I did this, or tried that, I'd have to be the first. While there is plenty to be said about being the first, let's be honest, it's never easy.

So this is big. Tonight is big.

Because tonight, for the first time in United States history, a woman has been nominated by a major political party to run for the highest office in the country. For the first time in history, literal generations of women are validated in their idea that yes, you can be anything you want to be. Tonight, women who have fought tooth and nail for decades of their lives just to see this moment come to fruition can sit and watch in amazement.

Even women like me, 24 years-old, can sit and watch history being made.

This one isn't about me though.

See, I've got my goals, my dreams, and my career path. I grew up hearing you can be whatever you want to be. I spent years in school knowing that I had the right to work towards any job in this country. I could get my driver's license. I could register to vote. I could go to college. I could buy a house. And frankly, I never once felt like there were limitations on me - in those areas - because I also happen to be female.

So this isn't about me.

This is about her. This is about the little girl that I get to raise. This is about the girl that I'm dropping off at kindergarten. The little girl that I'm teaching to make cookies. The girl for which I'll proofread essays on Hemingway. The girl that I will tell, you can be anything you want to be. The girl that gets to  grow up in a world knowing her whole life that there is not a single limit for how high she can go.

She gets to know, from day one, that a woman can be a Presidential candidate in the United States.

Just like I knew that I could go to law school. I could vote at 18. I wasn't going to need to fight my way out of an arranged marriage. My education was never going to be a battle. And...well, we're still working on equal pay. We'll get there, girl. 

This is about all the daughters that come after this. This isn't about the 20 somethings that get to say, I was part of that history being made. This is about all the little girls that don't have to day-dream the image of a woman in the highest office of this country.

See, that's the thing. I knew I could be anything I wanted. It's a millennial thing, right? You know you can. But when you've never seen it before, when there is no one to show that it can be done, it becomes inherently much harder to envision. It isn't a simple reality - you can drive, you can vote, you can go to college. It is a distant reality. It's an idea, touted around like jet packs and flying cars.

There was a story recently (I think it was on Fresh Air, but it was NPR nonetheless) and a principal was explaining how when he - as a grown black man in a suit, who had been speaking to a room of adults - came as such a surprise to group of young students, that they were convinced he must have been President Obama. They thought, in a split second that a man, commanding attention, respect, and emanating power, was the President.

You see what that is, right? That there are so few strong black role models - in this case - in political positions that these kids only knew to think of President Obama.

This is what that was 8 years ago. The start of a new era.

Where little girls have someone to point to and say, she did it. Where it no longer is the figment of someone's imagination to be on the direct path to the Presidency of the United States. Where it actually is possible to be anything you want to be. Where after all this time finally as the "greatest country in the world," we may finally be on par with so many others.

Tonight is big. This is big.

Because one day some 17-year-old is going to be sitting in APUSH and she's going to be so unimpressed that we were so thrilled to see a woman nominated to become the President of the United States. Because why couldn't a woman be elected President, right?

Side note: Seriously, who you vote for is your right, and your business, but for the love of all that is good and holy, please vote. Please use this privilege that has - in many cases, 'cause I assume a lot of y'all are women - was bitterly fought for. For you. Don't. Not. Vote.

Greenville to the Hill: Miss America Orientation

Okay, unless you've been casually hibernating in the last week and half, you've probably seen that I've been busy with big things. I mean, Miss America big.

Right, so last weekly update, I mentioned that I was headed to South Carolina, and then bouncing over to D.C. for Miss America Orientation. Well that's exactly what I did - but it was so much more than I could have ever anticipated.

Let's start with going to Greenville. You guys. What a dream, I'm not kidding, I probably said three dozen times how much I loved it, how I wanted to move there, and on and on.

Southern hospitality is alive and well, and Greenville will be the first to show you. Every where we went, everyone we talked to was so incredibly kind, complimentary, and genuinely interested in why we were visiting Greenville, and how we liked it, and where we were from. (I say we, because I had a stellar traveling companion who genuinely made this trip 45,000 times better.)

The food...oh, the food. First of all, shouts to Katie for her perfectly on point recommendations. From BBQ, to brunch, to the best cake I've ever had in my life - she helped us find all sorts of places we might have otherwise missed. Hi Katie, do you read this? Probably not, that's cool. But huge thanks. 

The weather...if you've been to South Carolina, you know about the weather. I have been before, many times. In fact my first plane ride, at six weeks old, was to Myrtle Beach. I continued trips down there, sometimes twice a year, for the next 14 years - so I'm good with the unreal heat and humidity. And y'all, it filled my soul. I'm not kidding, it was 100° out with, I don't know, maybe 80% humidity, and I could not have been happier. Even walking out of Belk (which, wait, Belk guys, has a huge Lilly section and I nearly cried when I saw it) out of the blasting A.C. and into July in the South, I was absolutely live.ing. 

Finally, why were we really there? To work with Gregory Ellenburg. The Gregory Ellenburg, and his beyond sweet assistant Rachel, and team of amazing seamstresses. See, some years ago Greg met Miss Vermont 2009 and generously offered to sponsor her evening gown for Miss America. And by the grace of God, and a man with a big heart, he has continued this honorable sponsorship ever since.

If you haven't met Greg, but you know someone who has, all they can say is how amazing he is. How kind he is. How wonderful it is to work with him. How he truly makes you feel like you are Miss America.

It's true. It's all true.

And when I left South Carolina last Sunday, I left with a full heart, thanks to Greg, Rachel, and everyone at Gregory Ellenburg. I left prepared not only to take on orientation with confidence and gusto, but to continue on this journey to Miss America with as much vigor as I had when I went into Miss Vermont week this year.

Well, then it was off to D.C.! Now, this is a place I have been only in terms of flight layovers, which, not ideal. I'm also all about historical landmarks, memorials, museums, and tours. I eat that stuff up. To say then that I was excited to finally get to spend quality time in our nation's capital might have been an understatement.

Even better? I was about to do it with 51 new Miss America sisters.

Also...fun fact about me I pretty much wear every emotion right on my face. Not really new information. But I was feeling frustrated the morning of flying to D.C. - for dumb reasons that mostly end with I was overreacting. Let me tell you though, so many people sent me wonderfully encouraging and kind texts, and snaps, and various messages, that by the time we landed I was downright pumped to hit the ground running.

Which we did.

Quick breakdown via pictures because these few days were legitimately so packed that I can only keep track of them when I look at the pictures in order.

Night One: Dinner at L'Hommage, delirious and excited.

Day Two: Arlington National Cemetery, smiling oddly largely following a massively humbling and emotional ceremony at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Day Two, Afternoon: National Harbor, warmly welcomed with this sign, followed by a slightly terrifying ride on the Capital Wheel. Then, lunch at Rosa Mexicana - hands down the best guac...and amazing enchiladas...and aggressively delicious churros. 

Day Two, Late Afternoon: Post-brand-new-barre-style-class, which had us all saying, I'm sweating off my makeup! Which is legitimately only a concern when you have five minutes to get camera ready. 

Day Two, Evening: Dinner at RPM - the new restaurant by Giuliana and Bill Rancic. And I don't want to be weird, but guys, she lol'd at my tweet. So basically I'll be on the red carpet this year for the Oscars with G. This evening, dinner was followed by an experience that is really like no other. Together we went to the Lincoln Memorial, and on the steps, in the clear night, we read the Gettysburg Address.

Day Three, Morning: White. House. The White House. I died, went to Heaven, came back, fainted, and then went on a tour of The White House. Where I met the first dogs. And went behind the ropes.

Day Three, Lunch: Fig & Olive was exactly as cute and delicious as it sounds. And I have nothing more to say except that I'll never eat another piece of fish so amazing in my life. 

Day Three, Afternoon: I'm sorry, but have you ever asked yourself what it would be like to get a private tour of the United States Capital building by an intern who works for the Speaker of the House, after you step out on to said Speaker's personal balcony and take a breath of freedom and unity? Because I did. Just before all that happened, and yeah, it is as bizarrely amazing as you would think. 

Day Three, Later Afternoon: A brief moment of peace while I waited for Representative Peter Welch to cast his vote on the House floor, charge my phone, rest my tired toes...oh, and officially take part in my first active shooter lockdown while in a federal building. And then...listen to Senator John McCain speak to our class, and die laughing, because you guys? He's so funny.

Day Three, Evening: Dinner was eaten in flat shoes, with big laughs, at Carmine's. Which everyone told us was so good. (They were right.) 

Day Four, Actually Orientation: We had the privilege to hear from Miss America, Betty Cantrell; Executive Chairman and CEO, Sam Haskell; Chairwoman of the Board, Lynn Weidner; VP of Field Operations, Marc Angeli; Producers, Tony and Lauren Eaton; COO, Josh Randle; and Board Member, Dan Meyers. We also had the privilege of being freezing cold, but that's kind of our fault for wearing dresses in a hotel conference room.

Day Four, Lunch: The much-anticipated Joseph Ribkoff lunch, where we receive our special Parade of States, opening number dresses. And say our goodbyes, well, until Orlando in two weeks. 

Day Four, Evening: I took a deep breath, packed my things, and went for a run around the city. I needed that time to be just Rylee after being exclusively Miss Vermont for almost nine days. And it was perfect. I saw things that we had seen as a class, and things we hadn't. I visited memorials on my own, stopped and took pictures without rushing to stay in line. And I just...ran.

I could not have asked for a better first experience with this class of new sisters. D.C. was exactly where we should have been - and I honestly cannot wait to hear what next year's class thinks of it. That's how much I loved it. 

I'm still recouping on lost sleep. I'm still responding to emails I missed. I think I could stand to do one more load of laundry. But dang if that wasn't an amazing two trips. This job, y'all. It is so good.

The Benefits Outweigh The Bagels

One of the things that has been most constant while being Miss Vermont is the questions. People ask me questions every where I go. I love answering them, and telling them more about who I am, and why I'm there, and what I'm all about. But if we're being super honest, I get about the same 10-15 questions everywhere I go. Which, is totally fine. The one I get most?

Why did you want to be Miss Vermont?

Really, I think this stems from the fact that a lot of people still don't get why girls my age are involved in pageants. There is still a really dated idea that we are somehow putting ourselves in a bad situation, something that we might later resent or regret, by doing pageants. Often the implication is more, 'why would you do that to yourself?'

Oh, let me list the ways.

1. It is hard, challenging, rewarding work for you.

I actually first decided to compete when I was an overweight, unhappy, bored sophomore in college. I did it as a challenge to myself. I knew I wasn't pushing myself in any department. I wasn't lifting anything other than bagels from The Rot. I wasn't practicing anything other than my ability to sleep way more than necessary. And I certainly wasn't finding ways to make myself better.

I needed the Miss Vermont Organization more than I knew. And within two Development Days (that year I was a preliminary titleholder, Miss Washington County,) I was hooked. I was so scared that I wasn't measuring up to everyone I was meeting - and simultaneously so inspired by each of the women that were involved in the program. It forced me in to a state of growth without my even realizing it. It forced me to work harder, and smarter, to make the person I wanted to be.

2. There really is a network of women that become your people.

I'm the older sister to one brother. I never had sisters before I became part of the Miss America Organization. I now have three classes of Miss Vermont sisters, one class of Miss New Hampshire sisters, and a whole class of Miss America sisters. Is that not the wildest thing ever?

These are women that have goals like mine, they have passions like mine, they have big dreams, and ideas. They are women who want to change their communities. They are women with loud independent voices that know what they want to say. They are my kind of sisters.

Beyond all of that - these are the women that know your life, they know your struggles, they know your successes, and they have been there for your failures.

And they are some of the most understanding, generous, and downright kind women you will ever meet.

3. You win even without a crown.

The beauty of this program is compounded by one simple word: scholarships. You get scholarship dollars, every time you place. And no one is going to tell you that that is some big horrible thing that you'll regret.

But beyond that, you get out of this program 10 fold what you put into it. Even if you never place, even if you never win, you will be a better person for being involved with a Miss America Organization affiliate (local or state, contestant or volunteer.) This program fosters growth, regardless of where you land.

Of course, I could talk for days about the good things these programs have given me. But the proof is in the pudding, y'all. I truly attribute my success as a human in large part to the skills and opportunities I have had because of my involvement with the Miss America Organization.

I know, without a doubt, that I am where I am today, because I took a leap and said, "You know, I think I'm going to compete for Miss Vermont this summer."