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Just Show Up

May 5, 2015

Last night, I came unraveled.  I learned of another friend facing a battle with cancer.  No matter how much time passes, news like this always brings me to my knees.  It’s like opening an old wound that you’ve done your best not to pick at despite its itchy presence.  I’m immediately taken back to a place filled with uncertainty, fear and all too familiar dread.

Yet, it also reminds me of how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown.  It reminds me of hope and faith and the importance of showing up.  So many people showed up whenever I felt darkness creeping in.  Long time friends, new friends, neighbors, cousins, family members, and even complete strangers stood firm and spoke encouragement back into my soul.  They reminded me to be brave.  There was no one magical thing that made it all perfect.  Instead, it was a tapestry of human love, affirmation, and kindness that wove its way into my heart and provided me a support net.

So here I sit, wondering what purpose God could have in my life to position me right here, right now, as a survivor trying to figure out how best to support a friend.  Before my diagnosis, I never knew what to say and was always afraid I’d say the wrong thing.  However, here’s what I have learned about the trials of life:  You do not have to be perfect or do/say the perfect thing.  You just need to follow the nudge you feel in your heart.  You only need to remember that doing something is better than doing nothing.

It doesn’t take much to give much.  Maybe you are in a position to offer financial assistance but maybe you’re not.  You do not have to make BIG contributions to help.  I learned there are so many little ways you can make an impact:

  • you can give of your time–sitting with a friend during their appointments, chemo, or just on the couch.  Facing medical appointments alone can be overwhelming so having a buddy is very helpful.
  • you can send cards, texts and notes just so the person struggling knows they are never alone.  Uplifting words can be the enriching balm at exactly the right moment.  A simple “I’m thinking of you.  You are strong.” message can go a long way in building reassurance.
  • organize a group of friends to bring meals.  Oh, how I love a community that rallies around a friend.
  • if they have kids, offer to help watch them.  This was a BIG help to me when I had to fit my radiation appointments into a busy “mom” day.

Whatever the struggle–cancer, addiction, depression, illness, loss, or divorce, we all just want to know we are not alone.  So often we are afraid to ask how things are going for fear we’ll upset our friend in need.  I can tell you unequivocally that I appreciated knowing others were concerned about me.  The moments of avoiding the elephant in the room were far more hurtful to my spirit.  Walking with someone through a difficult time can make such a huge difference on how he or she deal with their challenges.  Trust that your presence is enough. So just be there and listen.   You do not even have to say the right thing.  Just be still and say “I’m here.”  Just show up.

Most importantly, keep showing up.  Sometimes, we need to know we have an army with us for the long haul.  Call, text, send cards, and pray.  Be a blessing and spread light like a beacon in the storm.  We can do so much to brighten the world.  Us. You and me–everyday, normal people.  We can do amazing things.

Just show up.

more alike

When We Matter

April 16, 2015

Fitting in has always baffled me.

From the time I was little, I always felt pressure to blend.  Whether it was begging my mom to dye my blonde locks brown so I could look like my friends or buying my clothes at the “right” store, I was always searching for acceptance.  Some times it felt like I would never find “my people”.

What has taken me a lifetime to learn is that fitting in is really more about feeling like you matter.  We want others to notice, like and understand us.  We yearn for connection.  We want to know that if something happened to us, someone in this big world would care.

In my quest to lead a happy life, I have learned that acceptance starts from within.  I have to like me.  Yet, this is sometimes a challenge.  There are so many messages being whispered to my soul that I am not enough.  When I was younger, I had to work harder at school, participate and win at sports, and look a certain way to be considered “pretty”.  All these messages–I don’t know how real they were–made me feel small and inadequate.  What I heard and took to heart was that I had to change to earn acceptance.  Certainly me, as was, was not enough.  What if people found out how weird I really am?

Now I see the world through adult eyes.  I have weathered life storms that have given me new perspective.  I’ve learned that many people go through life trying to fit in.  I’ve learned we’re all sort of doing our best and we all want to matter.  More than that, we’re all a little weird.  Maybe we’ll never fully blend but we don’t have to–we can create a new story.  WE can celebrate rather than judge our differences.  WE can help others know that they matter.

Over the last month, I’ve been searching my soul to figure out my purpose.  I try to make sense of my journey–the blessings, the heartache, all of it.  I’ve been listening to a new whisper.  The message is clear that I need to be brave.  I need to encourage others to see the good.  Because if I can do it with all my baggage, so can you.  No matter what hand you’ve been dealt, you can overcome and find blessings.  You can seek gratitude.

You need to be brave.  I believe we were put on this earth to lift one another up.  Every day, we make a choice.  We can contribute to a community with love, acceptance, and tolerance.  Or, we can get all judgy, mean-spirited, and hateful.  Our words have power.  WE can choose powerful love messages.

One of my favorite bloggers, Glennon Melton from Momastery, wisely coined the phrase “love wins”.  I’m on board with that and I’m going to bravely speak love every day.

Today, will you choose just one person to lift up?  Find a way to encourage a friend, a neighbor, a family member, or complete stranger.  Today, let love win.  Let someone know they matter.  You matter.  I matter.  WE can create a community where we all matter and fit in.  : )

Leprechaun Lumps

March 13, 2015

Here’s a simple and  fun activity to help kick off the St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans.

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LEPRECHAUN LUMPS

Never heard of them?  Why should blarney stones have all the fun?  Leprechaun Lumps are easy to make and kids love busting them open to find their hidden “treasures”.  Here’s what you need:

  • 1 cup of used coffee grounds
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1/2 cup of salt
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • gold coins or any other small trinket

I usually just throw my grounds into a little container over the course of a week.   I then stick them in the freezer to keep from getting moldy and take them out the morning I plan to make the lumps.

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In a bowl, mix together coffee grounds, flour, salt and water to form a dough.

Then hand the “dough” over to your kids and let them hide treasures in the middle of the lumps.  I use any little fun trinkets I can find including quarters, plastic gold coins, and shamrock necklaces.  You could probably stick little lego people inside as well.  They bake at a low temperature and so far nothing has melted!  ; )

If you have kids that are highly tactile and enjoy getting their hands a little dirty, this is the activity for you!

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Next, pop them on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven on 150-200 degrees for about 20 minutes.

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Once baked, they turn to a cool shade of gray.

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I love that if you take them outdoors, they blend well with stones and rocks.

Our tradition has been to hide them around the yard and let the boys hunt for them.  You know, the Irish version of Easter egg hunts!  ; )

The part kids like best is breaking them open to get their treasures.

So mix up a batch of Leprechaun Lumps and enjoy the hunt with your kids!  You’ll have fun and that’s no blarney!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Happy Planters for St. Patrick’s Day

March 3, 2015

st pat planter

It’s March but it doesn’t look or feel like March.  I’ve been itching to change out my front porch pots from winter pine boughs to something more spring like.  These winter planters have brightened my porch for several months but it’s time for a change.

The problem with March is that its too soon to plant anything living.  So what’s a seasonal porch decorator/addict to do?  How can I add interest, texture and color without plants?   An extensive search on Pinterest turned up few options.  Clearly, others are puzzled as well about what do to during this transitional period between winter and early spring.

I found this urn posted on Pinterest a few years ago and was inspired by its whimsy.

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Image found on: highlandhousegiftsdecor.wordpress.com

Although I liked this festive blueprint, I wanted to use more natural looking elements and items that could be reused when spring actually arrives.

In my mind, curly willows branches and birch logs are good transitional pieces.  I found these lovely planter arrangements and felt I could borrow some of their elements.

pretty spring urn

image found on Pinterest

sticks with pansies

image found at: http://www.mulhalls.com

It’s still too early in this region to plant pansies and other spring blooming flowers.  I’m also not a fan of fake flowers.

So I went with moss.  Moss says spring, right?

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I added some curly willow branches, a few logs (although I need at least 3 more birch logs each to beef it up some), and a few gold and shimmery, green twirly stems for flair.  You could probably raid your Christmas decorations and find some gold and green accents that will work in a pinch.

I was off to a good start but it still didn’t read “St. Patrick’s Day” so I added some LUCKY signs and shamrock stems.  I made the shamrock stems a few years ago using shamrocks found at the Dollar Tree which I hot glued to bamboo sticks.

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The pots still didn’t have enough pop so I spray painted a few tree branches metallic gold just to add a little more pizzazz.  Trust me, it’s a dreary backdrop all around right now so any little bit of sparkle helps!

It’s hard to capture the shimmer on a drizzly and gray day like today.  But these pots sure brighten an otherwise barren looking landscape.

st pat planter

In a month and as the weather starts to warm, I will add forsythia branches, tulips, pansies and other cheery flowers.   Until then, these transitional planters will get me through the month and chase away the winter blues.

Bring on that Sunshine

February 20, 2015

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We are going on the fourth day of no school.  We are in desperate need of a change.  Our moods are foul and we are “bored”.  Just about the time those winter blues grasp a hold of our hearts, a little dose of sunshine gives us an extra boost.

A lovely group of friends gave me a “Be Happy” jar when I moved and then filled it with heartfelt messages and notes of encouragement.

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I love this jar and everything it represents.

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It’s that little extra oomph when the days seem long.  It’s like a hug for my soul.  Whenever I feel lonely, I simply pull out a note and my day instantly improves.  It’s that “yes, you matter” message at exactly the right moment.

I decided this jar of joy is too good of an idea to keep a secret.  Why not spread some love?  Why not bust out our supplies and create a love ripple?

So we gathered:

  • jars (recycled spaghetti and sauerkraut jars, thank you!)

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  • fun scrapbook paper to write messages (but any bit of paper will do)
  • playful imaginations and creative juices
  • a book of quotes (or use your computer to google some hopeful phrases about friendship, love, and happiness)
  • markers or crayons or any writing implements

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We scribbled down fun memories shared with friends, encouraging quotes, funny stories, and anything we thought might make someone smile.  The boys drew pictures.  We just let our imaginations take over…

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If you are feeling grumpy, these little babies will turn your mood around.

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You can’t be grouchy when you are thinking of someone special or how meaningful that relationship is to you.  I find that anytime I feel the funk coming, it’s best to think of someone else.  It ALWAYS, ALWAYS brightens my day.

Is there someone you know who could use a lift?  Tell him or her.  Tell her why she’s awesome and how she inspires you.  Share with him how he positively influences you.

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Maybe YOU need a mood enhancer and some self-love messages.

Go ahead, get yourself a jar of sunshine and spread that good stuff around!!

How I Overhauled the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue

February 11, 2015

I’m a big fan of sports. I’m an even bigger fan of girls and women’s sports. I love the values girls learn through sports.  See, sports = good.

Here’s what I loathe.

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THIS magazine as my greeting at the mailbox yesterday and posing under the guise of “sports”.

Once a year, Sports Illustrated reminds me how completely sexist our world still is and how slow we are to make progress.

I’M SO OVER IT.

I have heard every guy’s lame excuse as to why this annual issue is acceptable. I’ve even heard fellow women say it’s no big deal and how empowering it is to celebrate the beautiful female body. Nonsense!  Objectifying a woman’s body is not empowerment, it’s enslavement!

I think there are far better ways to celebrate a women’s body. You want to see strong and sexy? Show us a woman firefighter, female soldier, or policewoman.  These images reflect capable bodies and fierce bravery.

Show us the “sexy” brain of a woman engineer or scientist.  You know, where women are reflected as intelligent beings who bring the qualities of teamwork, innovation, and ambition to the table.

Guys, these Sports Illustrated photos and the half-naked women (and in some cases completely naked women) should concern you. These females are not objects for your sexual pleasure.  These women are someone’s daughter, sister, granddaughter, wife, and future mother. Here’s how I want you to see these women and then tell me if it’s sexy:

As viewed through the eyes of an angry 40 something mom who hopes to break the cycle with her own two sons.

Well looky here. Here’s a fabulous example of how women are objectified.

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Yes, let’s pay attention to the photo-shopped body proportions that will send the message to teenage girls that their bodies should be teensy, weensy, perfect hourglasses. Then let’s inundate them with another 220 pages of women posed in ridiculously contorted positions and tell them it’s sexy.

Let’s make certain that we expose our “power” through our breasts. Yes, everyone knows this is how to get a guys’ attention. Take off your tops, ladies. Isn’t it liberating? Wait, what? Why wouldn’t men take me seriously in a boardroom? Why can’t you envision me as a mathematician?

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Hey fellas, any of you dads yet? I wonder what her dad thinks of this.

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I wonder if her dad remembers how he told her how pretty she was and how she learned that pretty is power. I wonder if they talked about books and her brain. Go ahead, guys, keep pumping your little princess with compliments about her looks. I bet her dad did too.

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Wait, you don’t have kids yet? As your eyes gaze over these women, I wonder if you notice the effect it has on your girlfriend or wife.

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I wonder if your wife, sister, mom, or girlfriend feels good about her body since so many images are telling her she is not enough as is.  The message conveyed is that she must be curvier, more voluptuous, and/ or skinnier.   I wonder if you see her face and notice the look of self-disgust she has when she sees her own fat rolls and child-bearing thighs in the mirror.   How come no one celebrates those bodies?   I wonder how many more images she’ll have to bear that will continue planting seeds of an “ideal body” in her brain.

I wonder when our male counterparts will voice their concerns and stand in solidarity with their women.  What if our real message of empowerment meant we value women’s contribution in education, science, business, and so forth.

I wonder when little girls will break free from these chains and when little boys will be taught smart is better than sexy.

You see, I’m rewriting the script for my boys.

Girls, you matter.  You matter because of your brilliant minds, compassionate souls, and ambitious hearts.  You matter because of who you are and not how you look.   You are a leader, innovator, and contributor.  You are strong!

strong-women-strong-girls she knows website

image from http://swsg.org

Channeling Color Amid Gray Days

February 10, 2015

Come about mid-February, I yearn for the golden days of summer.  My eyes beg for the promise of growth that lies under a blanket of snow.  This year, however, we haven’t even had much snow.   Rather, we have plenty of cold days and brown grass.

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The other day the temps rose to the 50’s and I felt the urge to cut back all the dead branches and decaying plant life.  But, I reminded myself it was February.  It’s too soon for spring.  So I did the next best thing.

I went on a spring break and summer vacation.  In my head.  I browsed through my photos and took in the eye candy of perennials, trees, shrubs, and annuals that make my heart flutter.

The first to arrive to the spring party are these beauties:

Cue the majestic trees:

Then a few more flamboyant blooms join the scene.

And the symphony of colors and textures continues.  Blooming shrubs join the parade of color.

When the threat of frost has passed, I get giddy about adding spring flowers to my pots.  Pansies, tulips, crocuses, and hyacinths officially announce the dismissal of winter.

As the spring blooms begin to fade, the early summer annuals and perennials trumpet their arrival with dazzling shades of the rainbow.

By mid-summer, the bounty of blooms adds such zest to the landscape that each day brings continuous wonder.

Warm days invite happiness to take root.  The bees dutifully buzz about and work their pollinating magic.

The yard is alive and the birds just seem to chirp happier little tunes.  The carpet of green grass, the scent of the flowers, the orchestra of color–EVERYTHING AMAZING!

Isn’t that the beauty of life?  The promise of warm days ahead despite the cold winters.

So, today I’ll soak in the color of the birds against the gray backdrop instead of the flowers.

I will marvel at the breathtaking sunrises and sunsets instead of the blooming tree buds.

Soon enough I will be digging into the warm soil and tending the next wave of color.  Today, I will gratefully accept the gift of winter.

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