Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Shine: Doing What Makes You Sparkle

I am so ready to sparkle, y'all!

And by that I don't mean I'm ready to put on my shiniest party dress and dance all night, although that might help me accomplish my true aim.

No, what I mean when I say that is that I'm ready to really and truly be me and do the things I love and to do even the things I don't love in such a way that I can feel good about the effort I made. I want to live in such a way that other people feel better when they're around me. I want to be enthusiastic and joyful. I want to sparkle. One of the greatest compliments I ever received was from a man at my high school reunion. He said that he had "always admired my zest for life." That's what I want people to see: an enthusiastic embrace and gratefulness for all that life gives me and a constant desire for more. More. Of. All. Of. It.

I have felt as if I were in limbo for the last month and a half. Hell. Let's be honest. I've felt like I was in limbo since January when my husband high-tailed it for Chattanooga and his new job and got started living what is supposed to be our new life. Meanwhile, I was back in Atlanta elbow-deep in the drudgery of packing, purging, and selling our home while keeping the kids and the dog and the cat alive, getting the young humans through the school year, then figuring out what the hell we were going to do for the two months between closings. And did I mention the emotions? Oh – not mine – but my 13-year old's. Sweet Mother of Mercy! This child has been beside himself. For the first month, all I heard was a litany of how much he hates Chattanooga, how his new school is the WORST(!), his life is ruined, and IT'S ALL MOM'S FAULT!!!

After a month of travels that have included the beach, Atlanta, Houston, New Orleans,  back to Atlanta (hometown with our homies), and now, Birmingham, Alabama, I think he's too tired to fight. Or I'd like to think that. The Angry Teenager does rear his head every now and then, but mostly he's back to being my sweet kid who, like me and his younger brother, just wants to be home. You know, home? That place where the heart is and all that jazz. That place you get to stay in for more than a week at a time? We're almost there. This is the home stretch. One week and two days until we close and can move in.

So, naturally, after keeping it together all summer during what I thought would be the hard part, it's time for me to lose my ish. I've been obsessively reading Marie Kondo's book, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. I've been obsessively comparing prices and styles of area rugs and sofas. Reading Consumer Reports articles about washers and dryers and vacuum cleaners and floor sweepers. Scouring Bed, Bath, and Beyond and HomeGoods for the perfect bedding for my bed, our guest room, and the kids' rooms. New mattresses for two beds. A new bed for one kid. All of it has consumed every free moment for the last two weeks, I think. And to what end?

I mean, part of it is legitimate. I purged a lot. Hence my son needing a new bed and a new mattress. I took Kondo's advice about getting rid of the things that don't bring you joy and I'm willing to replace the items that need replacing with things that make my heart sing. And I am truly committed to running a cleaner, calmer, more organized household in our new home.

But some of this obsessively comparing products or styles or colors until I am locked in some sort of analysis paralysis is just me being mental and avoiding the things I'm really worried about. I feel like there is little of importance that is truly within my control right now. I am consumed by "what ifs." What if after living apart for seven months, my husband realizes he hates me? What if he hates our new house? What if my kids aren't accepted in their new school? What if I don't find a writing job?What if no one likes me and I can't make new friends? What if none of this works out? What if...

Somehow, my lizard brain seems to believe that if I can just find the perfect rug, perfect sofa, perfect EVERYTHING that screams "She's made it!" or maybe it's more like, "Wow! Check out this super-together, creative chick," I will win the hearts and minds of Chattanoogans at large and God-so-help-me, I'll never be lonely again – or some other Scarlett O'Hara bullshit.

So, yeah...That. I'm browsing design sites and analyzing every review of every product I'm considering as if my life depended on it so I can more or less hide from my real fears – loneliness and rejection. Don't judge.

Now that I've recognized what's going on, I'm trying to focus on solving the real problems. I've been running and am trying to commit to a regular schedule. Yesterday I made a list of ways I can meet people in Chattanooga and by posting that on Instagram, I actually did connect with someone there. Baby steps. But moving, ever forward with my eye on all the shiny things that will help me sparkle.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Like a Rolling Stone: Untethered and Embracing It (or Trying to)

It has been nearly two full weeks since we closed on the sale of our home in Atlanta.

It feels like a lifetime ago.

Since that day, my boys, dog Josie, and I have been untethered and blowing in the wind. My friends and husband joke that we are homeless. Technically, that may be true. But I can't say it because it scares me. The new home to which we are moving in Chattanooga won't be finished until July. So, for a few weeks we are drifters. Hubs is busy working at his (not-so new anymore) job in an awesome company he seems to love and making connections in our new city. We haven't lived under the same roof for six months. I'm happy for him but so totally jealous at the same time.

I feel stuck in limbo and let's be honest: parenting solo, especially a newly minted teenager, is tough and tiring. As is packing and doing all the stuff involved with moving. Not that being the primary earner isn't tough and mentally exhausting. It's just another side of the coin. And frankly, I could use a little time alone.

I feel like, in addition to the job I was getting paid to do up until I quit a week before the moving truck arrived, I was full-time parenting alone; packing, cleaning, and dealing with all the emotions associated with leaving the home where we built our family; and the end of the school year. Let's just say I may have lost my cool a few times.

Now, between homes, the kids and (the dog) and I are trying to enjoy this freedom by traveling. As I type, I am sitting on a porch swing in a pretty little spot called Magnolia Springs, Alabama which is near Gulf Shores, a beach town. It's exciting and fun but also kind of scary and exhausting.

At least to me it's scary, and I'm sure it is to our kids on some level. They need structure and stability and how can you have that when you don't even have the same four walls around you at any time? There's no guide book for living out of your car for six to eight weeks. And while I could have found temporary housing for that period, it was expensive and this seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime chance to have an adventure.

I forgot that adventure is not my middle name.

So, two weeks in and I'm feeling a little uncertain. Calling on my angels for protection and guidance and looking forward to getting settled. We'll be back in Atlanta next week to attend VBS at our church and I'm hoping that calms me so I can calm them. For now, I just want to focus on having some fun and helping my boys to do the same. Yesterday we hit the beach, got rained on while we played in the waves which was a unique experience, ate seafood (or I did - they stuck to cheeseburgers), played minigolf, and ate bad ice cream.

We're about to head back to the beach and see what other fun our day holds. I am hoping for some laughter, beautiful new memories, and the lesson that whatever life throws at you can be taken in stride and with a smile on your face.

Here's to getting out of that comfort zone and growing.

What tips do you have for facing new challenges or for traveling with teens and tweens? Would love to hear your thoughts on all this! Please leave a comment.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Step You Can't Take Back

Last Wednesday, my kids, husband, and I said goodbye to the home we lived in for nearly 16 years. It was not easy.

Aside from the grueling physical and material aspects of moving – countless trips up and down stairs and ladders to the attic and basement, lifting boxes, making endless lists and calling dozens of businesses related to the move, and, of course the costs – the emotional side weighed heavy on my heart. So much happened in this house.... Two sons were born and grew into sweetly funny and loving young boys, one nearly a man at thirteen. A baby girl was lost before the idea of her could fully bloom. New friends came into our lives, some staying for the long haul, and others moving on before I was ready for them to go. I treasure those who stayed and still feel grateful for having known those who outgrew me (or was it the other way around?).

We loved and lost pets and brought new ones into the family because there is just so much love to share. Romance peaked and waned and peaked again as long loves do, but always, always, always, there was a lasting love and a story to be written together.

I have focused much on the joys experienced in our Georgia home. Because that's what we do...right?

But I once called our home cursed and brought out the Holy Water and sage to try and cast out the sorrow I felt hanging about us during an especially challenging time. It wasn't the only time I felt that way living in that house.

Still, we look at the totality of our experiences and if nothing else, my faith and ability to love (deeply and unconditionally) grew by leaps and bounds in this home. It is where I learned what it really means to be a wife and where I became a mother. I evolved from timid and insecure to confident and experienced. I encountered the teachings of Abraham-Hicks which reinforced my Catholic beliefs about God's love for us and I learned that we choose joy and that doing so isn't always easy, but it's definitely worth the effort. I also learned how to take care of my physical and mental health with diet, exercise, and supplements. And I learned to choose me.

Now as I stand at the edge of my future, I realize that I'm really not leaving anything behind. Just a building, where a new family will grow and live their lives. I take the rest with me, but really only the good. Because ultimately, the negative experiences I had led me to the changes I needed to make to become the woman, the wife, the friend, the mother, that I want to be, that I am, that I am still becoming.  And in leading me to where I needed to be the chaff was transformed into gold.

I know our life in Chattanooga will be amazing because I believe in amazing. In the meantime, my kids and I will be spending the next six or seven weeks as vagabonds until our new home is complete. I hope to share some of our experiences. You can watch as I totally step out of my security-craving comfort zone and grow.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter, or here. And, in the meantime, I'd love to hear your stories about getting out of your comfort zone, or what happened when you took a step you couldn't take back. Please share your story in the comments. Namaste.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Write Like No One is Watching

I have debated deleting and killing this blog so many times it's not funny. But I could never quite let go. I loved writing it and there is rarely a day that goes by when I don't think "I really should start writing my blog again." Of course, those thoughts come with a dose of self-conscious discomfort, fear and questions about why I'm doing it.

Am I trying to capture life in words to hold onto it? Simply processing my emotions? Trying to use my words about my experience to help someone else going through the same thing? Dreaming of the influence and fortune of superbloggers like Glennon Doyle? Sure. All of that.

It all comes with my constant nagging fear of being mocked and judged, a holdover from childhood that no amount of positive feedback has eroded. Still, I can't ignore the drumbeat pestering in my heart urging me to write again. This morning, I reached out to fellow blogger and author Sarah Fader from OldSchool/NewSchoolMom for some advice on how to get going again. Sarah's advice? "Write like no one is watching."

Wow. I know...simple, been said before...But seriously, this was exactly what I needed to hear right now.... Now, as I stand on the precipice again, frightened and excited by what comes next, both in life and on this blog, I know it is definitely time to start writing again.

Welcome back, me.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Joy to the World: Winning the Fight Against PMDD

I've never held back on my blog from talking about my struggles with depression. Recently I learned that what I've had the last few or maybe several years since having my second child isn't exactly clinical depression, but rather its hormonally-induced cousin, PMDD. 

Over the course of the last year, since I changed my diet, really committed to physical fitness, and started enhancing my health by using Young Living Essential Oils, I've come close to conquering this beast. Sometimes she rears her ugly head and I have to regroup and think about which aspect of my holistic treatment is lacking, but I've mostly managed to keep this PMDD in check. Now that I've put this protocol into practice for over a year, I feel confident in sharing it with any other women fighting this battle.

I really want you to learn about the particular "protocol" I'm using now because it has really changed my life and continues to help me every day. Plus, I'm treating myself without the worries of the dangerous side-effects associated with antidepressants

It's actually pretty simple. The first thing I did was change my diet. Last January, I began a low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein diet, also known as a ketogenic diet. This concept runs contrary to popular medical wisdom which advocates a diet high in "complex" carbohydrates, with very low fat and moderate protein levels. A diet that fails most people miserably, leaving them hungry and grouchy. There is a lot of new research that shows there is no link between saturated fat and heart-disease.  Don't forget that the brain requires fat and cholesterol to function properly. If you're already cloudy from the effects of PMDD on the brain, you need to be eating a diet that provides the nutrition you need to function properly. The benefits of giving up sugar have surpassed what I hoped for and I was surprised by how quickly the cravings for it passed. I can't say I never look at a milkshake and think, "Gee that looks delicious!". It's just that I'm able to resist it now, even in all my PMS/PMDD glory. Cutting out sugar really was the first step in eliminating the need to "comfort eat" my way through one week out of every month.

Now, hand-in-hand with diet goes exercise. I have become a big advocate of strength training for women. First and foremost, it provides a terrific outlet for stress release. Take your anxiety and irrational anger and all your frustrations, leave them on the gym floor in a pool of sweat, and don't look back. I can wake up thinking I can't work out because I feel so miserable and sad and tired and life sucks, but every single time I make myself go to the gym and do a workout, I walk out feeling like I have slain a dragon. You don't have to start lifting heavy weights. Shoot, you don't have to lift weights. Go for a walk. Go for a run. Just get moving in some way that burns up the stress and anger you're feeling. I know you feel overwhelmed and don't think you have time, but you have two choices. I know from PMDD. I know you can't concentrate on your to-do list anyway. So you might as well take 30 minutes or an hour and throw down a little yoga or lift a few weights or walk the dog while you're outside soaking up the sunshine. Physical activity helps reduce tension and stress and can dissipate Cortisol levels which affect the body's ability to regulate the balance of Progesterone and Estrogen. 

In addition to using exercise to help battle stress and tension, both in general and related to PMDD, I have also begun taking a Young Living Supplement called Women's Cortistop which is formulated to help reduce Cortisol levels.
It really is hard to pinpoint what the most important aspect of my PMDD Protocol has been because every aspect has had a distinct and important impact on my health and well-being. However, I think the use of two specific Young Living Essential Oils has made a dramatic difference for me...the kind of difference I can feel if I stop using either oil for more than a day or two.

The first of these oils, Progessence Plus, has the most direct relationship to female hormone production and health. It is a natural bioidentical progesterone oil that helps restore a woman's natural hormonal balance without many of the dangerous side effects of synthetic hormonal treatments. It is vital, however, that you only use a pure therapeutic grade oil when using a progesterone, or any other type of aromatherapy or essential oil. The difference in my premenstrual emotional state before and after starting on Progessence Plus is, for lack of a less clich├ęd descriptor, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Before I began using Progessence Plus, I experienced horrible mood swings, intense anger, uncontrollable crying jags, exhaustion, and deep anxiety that left me unable to think or concentrate on anything important. These intense mood swings showed up exactly one week before my period and would vanish as quickly the day Aunt Flo came to town. Then I'd enjoy a week with some physical discomfort as I tried to pick up the pieces scattered during the emotional thunderstorms that blew through the previous week, followed by two weeks of feeling awesome! 

The second oil really has been almost as much of a life changer as Progessence Plus. It is actually a blend of several oils called Joy. The name says it all. I wear Joy daily. It has replaced my perfume, which I loved, but which was made with synthetic fragrance and other harsh chemicals. No wonder so many people get headaches from perfumes! Joy has such a delightful, uplifting aroma. I wear it daily over my heart and sometimes on my wrists or neck. Any that is left on my hands after I apply gets brushed through my hair. Each time I smell it, I get a little rush of happiness. And I've noticed that it seems to make those around me who smell it happy, too. Plus, I get a ton of compliments whenever I wear it. If I have a day when I notice I'm starting to feel a little down, I just pull out the Joy and take a whiff or apply a drop over my heart. It really is joy in a bottle and my secret weapon against depression.

If you're fighting the good fight against PMDD or even just PMS and want more information about any of the Young Living products or have questions about my diet and exercise routines, please feel free to e-mail me or leave a comment. I would love to chat with you and introduce you to healthy, all natural alternatives to prescripton and over-the-counter drugs that can help you win this war.

In health and prosperity!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

(Wo)Man in the Mirror: On Self-Esteem and Positive Change

One of the hardest things to do when you grow up hating your body is to learn to look at it without cringing, crying, thinking horrible things about yourself, or just turning away in shame.

Today, for the first time in my life of 45 years, I let myself take a long – and for once – loving look at myself in the mirror during a yoga class. I almost couldn't help it, ending up on the front row in a classroom with a mirrored wall.

When we began the class, doing pranayama, or yogic breathing exercises, I caught a few glimpses of myself and my first thought was "Oh my goodness! Am I really that big? Are my shoulders that broad? My boobs that large? My thighs that thick? Really? I want to die."

But then, I told myself that a yoga class was the worst place to indulge in such negative thinking. If you can't let go of stinkin' thinkin' in a yoga class, where can you free yourself from such useless ideas?

So, as we began moving through our flow I started using the mirror to correct my alignment and form and I realized that maybe I was wrong. I mean, yes, I am bigger than the ideal I hold in my head. But suddenly, I realized the girl, the woman, I was looking at wasn't fat. She wasn't grotesque or someone I needed to shield my eyes from. She was actually kind of beautiful, kind of strong looking. As I moved into cobra, I noticed the strong and defined muscles in her shoulders and the smooth tanned skin.

Moving into pigeon pose, I was aware of how seamlessly I transitioned from downward dog with an extended leg right into pigeon, my favorite pose. I love the way it stretches and opens my hips. Then, the teacher said we could do pigeon with arms extended overhead if we felt strong enough. Asking if I'm strong enough to do something is a challenge I can never resist. I don't know why, but when I hear that phrase I am compelled to try. I often fail, but so what? So, sitting in pigeon I straightened my spine and slowly and carefully raised both arms over my head and balanced myself. I looked straight in the mirror and smiled. I was doing it! And it was easy! Well, sort of. It wasn't easy, but it felt amazing. And I looked strong as fuck doing it and I was also the first one in class to try it! Yay me! And yay for the other women who tried it when we switched to the other leg.

In another pose, balanced on one knee and one hand with the opposite leg and arm extended, I did catch sight of my abdomen curving underneath me and for a split second my heart sank and I felt myself falling into the rabbit hole of despair and self-hatred. Suddenly, though, there was another voice calling to me to pull me up and out of that hole. She said, look how strong you are, look at that balance! And look, when you contract your muscles like you're supposed to that belly vanishes. And it's way smaller than it was a few weeks ago.

This inner dialogue continued off and on throughout the class. While I know the goal with yoga is to push the thoughts away completely, I simply tried to replace bad thoughts with good ones, a feat for me. At one point, toward the end of our vinyasa flow, standing in mountain pose with arms reaching up toward Heaven – embracing the Universe as our teacher called it – I looked at that woman in the mirror and in that moment I felt strong and beautiful and confident, perfectly imperfect with strong legs to carry me, a heart strong enough to keep on loving, a mind capable of change, and arms ready to take in and love all the world including myself.

It's a journey. I didn't get here overnight or without working to become the woman I want to be. I work out 3-5 times a week, eat healthy, and try to surround myself with positive influences. More importantly on this journey to self-esteem, I stopped comparing myself to others and I've stopped listening when others want to compare me or put me down.

And you should to... Are you trying to learn to love yourself? Then remember this: tune out the negative voices, whether they're your own, your partner's, your mean sister, your mom or your dad, or the queen bee who thinks her shit smells like rose petals. Every time one of those negative voices tries to get inside your head, just take your thoughts somewhere else. Find one positive thought or idea to hold onto. Look in the mirror and find one thing you love about yourself. Your friendly smile. Your gorgeous grey eyes (or brown or blue, you get the idea). Your shiny hair. Your strong arms. Your fast legs. And every day, look yourself in the eye and remind yourself that you are awesome and lovely and perfect in all your imperfections right now. If you want to change, that's great and I will cheer you on and support you in your efforts. Just be sure you're doing it for you and not those ugly voices.

Now...go love yourself. Do great things for yourself and others. Be mighty. Be you!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Closer Walk with Thee: Yoga, Essential Oils, and Lenten Meditation

Thankfully, we don't arrive here on this big, beautiful amazing Earth, fully formed, and knowing it all. And, yes, I'm surprised as anyone that I would be thankful for that. I am often the one frustrated by the journey, with its stops and starts, its glorious imperfection. I want to reach the finish line and win. I want to be done – with it all – basking in full-bellied contentment, like a blissed-out dog lounging in the sun.

Lately, I've been learning to enjoy the process and appreciate its value. And as I become more accepting of myself, my beliefs, and become more comfortable in my own skin, that need to "get it done," i.e. achieve some sort of perfection, seems less important. As I've applied those same principles to others, acceptance of all that is expands even more.

Like with anything worthwhile, though, I know even learning to enjoy the process is a process. For me, it's a process that begins with faith and practice. As a Catholic, and a converted one to boot, my faith entails a bit more than merely showing up to church on Sunday mornings. I am called to action that serves others, called to prayer and study and ritual that draw me closer to Christ. As a convert who came into the church feeling like those around me had a lifetime's advantage of observing and practicing their faith, there were times when I felt like at outsider (a theme in my life) and would never get it, would never feel as close to Christ as those around me because somehow they had secret insider information you only get by being born in the Church.

What I've learned some 13 years into the process is that there is no secret and everyone's path winds in a slightly different direction. For me, it has meant integrating my faith into other things I love. Making sure my family says grace at dinner. Remembering to enjoy and express my gratitude for beauty in nature. Remembering to be present and enjoy ordinary moments with those I love. Using my yoga practice as a means of self-sacrifice and a reminder of all that Jesus endured for me.

I don't always remember to do these things...when I am scattered and consumed by this worry or that fear my faith and focus are fragile. However, when I am mindful and present, my faith grows hearty and heavy with blooming promise. This is how it has felt lately when I let my feet sink into the mat, planted, rooted, grounded in the Earth and part of all that is, was, or will ever be. As I feel my muscles resist the stretch, I silently invite the Holy Spirit in with my breath, and as I feel the burning sensation in my hamstrings, my arms, my rib cage, and I imagine, by contrast, the pain Jesus endured on the cross, my mantra becomes "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner."

Of course, because I'm human and one who battles Adult ADD, staying present even at my most mindful challenges me. So, since I've been learning more about essential oils I've started to incorporate them into my yoga ritual and practice to offset the distractions. I'm using Young Living's Joy and Valor oils right now because a) I love the scent and b) the energies they manipulate are the very ones I need to address right now to help increase my faith and to help me overcome any tendency toward anger or bitterness.

As I bend, twist, and then hold a pose on the mat, mantra battling for space against the encroaching worries in my head, I breathe in deeply, inhaling the aroma of the oils and with each breath I am recommitted to the moment. And as I pray, I do feel joy. I do feel stronger, both physically and in my resolve to finish the workout, to deepen my faith, to be a better human being, to love myself and others as God intended, but most of all, to truly accept that all of this is a process. And in that moment, brought present by sensation, I feel, in the words of St. Patrick, "Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit, Christ when I stand," and for that moment, all is right with the world.

What rituals and practices help make you more mindful? I'd love for you to share them with me in the comments.