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.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Fabulous Life - An Unsolicited Review of FabKids

When my boys were infants, they were always dressed in style. From the elegant, handcrafted outfits my mother-in-law created with love and talent for them, to the adorably smocked john-johns and bubble suits bought at specialty boutiques or consignment sales or handed down from friends and relatives, my boys exuded Southern charm and taste.

As they entered pre-school and elementary school, style gave way to practical concerns such as how fast my boys were growing and how messy they could be, given the fact they were boys. Dirty, messy, active boys guaranteed to spill, smudge, tear or otherwise ruin any outfit in 30 minutes or less, especially if it was special.

So, I bid adieu to the fancy boutiques and even department stores like Macy's or Kohl's and resigned myself to Target, which, for the money, can't be beat in terms of both style and affordability, especially when one of your boys constantly wears a hole in the knee of every pair of jeans he puts on - and it's always the left knee. 

I just couldn't justify the cost of shopping anywhere else, especially since the age gap between my kids and their totally disparate builds and personal styles mean that hand-me-downs aren't really happening for us. Yet, that said, I was beginning to grow tired of the Cherokee, Levi's, Champion, and Shaun White offerings and wished I could find an affordable alternative that would give my kids well-made, affordable kiddie style.

Enter FabKids

One day a week or so ago an ad popped up on Facebook offering a free outfit valued at $29.95 for signing up  for a membership with this kids' clothing site. After browsing the selections, I fell in love with a crazy outfit that was right up Beckett's alley! 

This kid has a style that is all his own. He loves to pair a purple shirt with red pants and a top hat. He's a fan of sweater vests, tie-dye, brightly colored pants, and crazy t-shirts. His style is what I call "crazy artiste" because he is definitely that. Since he was 4 he has declared that he will be an artist when he grows up and so far he's on the path.

So the outfit I loved can best be described as "Banana Pants with Andy Warhol tee." 

Adorable! Right? Don't get me wrong. I detest those preppy pants with whales and anchors and preppy shit emblazoned on them. But bananas? That's, well...Bananas! Who wouldn't love that? 

So, I signed up for the membership, which essentially means that I filled out a questionnaire about what my kid's style is or what style I was looking for, his age, his sizes, etc. Then, I was presented with several outfits - all priced at $29.95 for the two pieces (shirt and pants). The introductory offer let me choose one outfit for free and only pay shipping and handling, so I got the above outfit for just $4.95!

Each month I'll be sent a link to a selection of that month's outfits based on Beckett's style profile to choose from. I can choose as many as I want and they will each be priced at $29.95 for 2 pieces. I will have until the 10th of the month to either choose my outfits or skip the month. If I skip, I won't be charged at all. If I buy, obviously I will be charged for what I do purchase. However, if I forget to skip, I'll be charged 29.95 anyway with nothing to show for it. 

Now, I do have a girlfriend who told me she hated FabKids. She felt like it was a bait and switch. The first month or two she loved the outfits and their quality, but felt that they declined in both style and quality over time. With her warning in mind, I was eager to receive my first order so I could compare notes.

It arrived yesterday and I am really impressed! Both I and my son loved the outfit. Older brother was totally jealous I didn't order the pants for him, which was a complete shock because he hates flashy (as he puts it) clothes! 

I was impressed with both how quickly the order came and their packaging. Both items were neatly folded with tissue inside separate inner plastic bags that came inside this cute package: 

That sounds like a lot of packaging, but I was pleased to note that all the plastic wrap was recyclable and the package included a reminder imprinted upon it to do so. 

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words and I think these pictures sum up nicely how we feel about our first experience with FabKids:

My little monkey in his banana pants and Andy Warhol tee. 

Monkey boy in motion - doing a happy dance over his new outfit. 

So, if you're looking for options for kids clothes and you like the convenience of online ordering, check FabKids out and let me know what you think!

Oh yeah...The disclaimer! This post was not solicited, sponsored, paid for, or otherwise endorsed by FabKids, their agent, or anyone at all associated with the company. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Build Me Up, Buttercup

I was a little surprised by how much the essay by New York Times writer Pamela Druckerman resonated with my friends. Not that what she says isn't essentially true, but rather because it seemed to really strike them as revelatory, where as to me it was covering old ground. That said, while I've known these things, I've only recently reached the point where I was ready to start living some of these truths, including being ready to accept that some people just will not like me and that's okay.

I've worried before that if I admitted to certain likes or dislikes or pursued specific interests there would be some who would mock me or think less of me. But guess what, I've learned...if they're willing to judge me and would mock me for my beliefs, I probably don't agree with their values and shouldn't be friends with them anyway.

So, all of that is to say, some of you may read the rest of this post and think, "God, that woman is a total flake!" Some of you may read it and think I'm overly judgmental or clueless or that I "just don't get it." And that's okay. You can disagree with me. Just respect my right to believe what I believe and I'll do the same for you.

Alright... So with that out of the way, I really wanted to share some information that I feel is making me and my family happier and healthier.

Recently, I was introduced to Young Living Essential Oils by my cousin, Heather. Technically, she's my husband's cousin, but to me she's family and I love her as if she were my own blood. Heather has been using essential oils to help treat her children's asthma for a while and after seeing the success she had, I was intrigued.

Our family experienced some health issues as the result of side effects from a medicine one of us was treated with...side effects never mentioned by the doctor or the pharmacist or listed on any materials associated with the drug. It was very scary and added to my growing distrust in modern medicine. Between doctors getting paid by pharmaceutical companies to prescribe their drugs, the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria like MRSA, and the fact that medical mistakes are the third leading cause of death in America (behind #1 heart-disease and #2 cancer), I prefer to have options.

I'm never going to be someone who stops seeing the doctor or doesn't vaccinate her kids. That's just not who I am. I do however believe that there are old home remedies and natural remedies that are just as powerful and far safer than prescription drugs and modern interventions. I've often wished I had my grandmother's recipe for a headache tonic. I remember her using it on me when I began having migraines as a kid and now when I get a migraine, I crave the cool, soothing cloth and smell of camphor that always eased me into a pain-free sleep.

So, for me, essential oils make sense. I was willing to give it a shot and I must say, I'm quite glad I have. I have discovered that I can knock out a sinus infection in under 24 hours without the use of antibiotics and all their nasty side effects. I've also found something I can use to alleviate some of the anxiety and stress my son feels without having to resort to using dangerous drugs with God-only-knows what kinds of long-term effects.

It may or may not be for you, but if you're curious and would like to learn more, I'm happy to share what I've learned or direct you to folks who know even more than me.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Move On

"Such a waste to look behind you.... Should be lookin' straight ahead..."

And so, that's what I'm doing. I'm looking ahead after a year and a half that has had ups and downs, blessings and busts. My family has had health crises, job changes, added a new puppy (now dog) to the mix, and I've often bitten off more than I can chew. Yet, here I am, still...moving on...and as always, hoping praying
for the best outcome for my family.

One of the biggest revelations for me over the last several months was just how bitter and angry I had become. There were many reasons. Some of them, I've even talked about on this blog. I've carried a lot of pain, a lot of anger, and a lot of hate around in my heart for some time. I've been thinking a lot about how I need to let it all go, but sometimes, we've held on to things so tightly – not because they benefit us or keep us afloat. No, rather like a person who is drowning and flailing hopelessly in the water, we latch on frantically to whatever or whoever comes near us, even if they can't pull us ashore and we cling desperately until we are both pulled under.

I've done that with my hurt feelings about never quite fitting in to my neighborhood, about the queen bee whom I blame for taking up so much space and ruling the social scene with such an iron thumb that I never got my footing or found my place even after living here 10+ years. I've done it with my anger at God for my son's dyspraxia. I've done it with disappointments in my marriage and home life. I've done it with my anger toward my mother (dead now 13 years) for never telling me who my father is.

I've clung to my anger because I had no idea what it meant to let it go. The idea of letting my anger go made me feel like a victim all over again...a helpless child wanting to be understood and loved. Letting go of my anger meant taking down the one thing I had to protect myself with. It meant that the "bad guys" won. And until now that mattered.

Lately, I've felt a slight shift in my heart. I've realized that my anger isn't hurting the people I want to hurt. It's just hurting me. And my kids. And my husband. It keeps me insulated and isolated and ever more fearful and incapable of living peacefully and joyfully as I was intended.

So, yeah...I'm moving on as the song goes. Moving on with the grace and support of God and some dear friends who love me and accept me where I am. Moving on with excitement about the new health and fitness challenges I've accepted for myself (who knew running could be fun?!). And moving on with a plan to once again engage in the things I love, to separate the signal from the noise, and engage with the people and things that make my heart sing as all the rest – including all that hate and anger that was weighing me down – slowly recedes behind me.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Heart of the Matter

I don't love clichés, but they really can get right to the heart of the matter sometimes. Sometimes there simply aren't words – the right words, enough words – to give comfort or to explain a situation. And in those situations, sometimes clichés, the tired but comfortably worn words and phrases we've known all our lives, are all that we have left.

Today, I've been extremely frustrated and upset over what I perceive as a situation at my son's school. It's ridiculous, really, that I should feel this so deeply. That I should find myself furious over it. I mean, punch-the-wall-angry. And not merely angry over the situation, which I will explain in a moment, but angry because I feel so lonely and isolated and like very few other parents feel what I'm feeling. And there's nothing worse than feeling alone.

Oh! But how is all that related to clichés, you ask? Well, remember the one that says "To become a mother is to forever have your heart go walking around outside your body?" And that is precisely how I've felt all day. I mean, it's not that I don't usually feel it, but today I felt it acutely because I feel like my son and other kids at his school are being treated unfairly. Just writing that, I can feel the anger boiling up inside me.

Every semester his school has an Honors Day ceremony at which children are awarded certificates for academic achievement, any special awards from activities like spelling bees or events like the stock market competitions, and citizenship awards.

At the ceremony, certain children are chosen to lead the Pledge of Allegiance, welcome the parents, and give what is referred to as an "inspiration." Almost to a one, the only students selected to do this are from our school's magnet class. The magnet class is chosen by lottery but they are the favored students in our school, getting French 4 times per week, mostly white kids from two-parent homes, with a high level of support from the parents. In the four years I've been attending these events, I can think of only a handful of non-magnet kids or boys from any class who have had the honor of speaking role. Worse yet, one little girl has spoken at every single Honors Day since first grade. I hate her. (Okay. Not really. But she is super annoying and when the vice principal called her out today after she spoke by saying "Isn't she precious, everyone? I just looooove her!", I wanted to hurl.

So, I should just say "life's not fair" and move on. Except I can't because it affects that part of me walking around outside my body...that quickly growing son whom I love beyond measure.

I want my son to know how to stand up in a room full of people and speak with confidence. Unfortunately, with such limited opportunities and the few that do exist being given to the same kids over and over again, he may never get the chance while he's young enough to enjoy it without being overly insecure and analytical about his performance.

The thing is, every child deserves a chance. Not just mine. I remember being a goody-goody, straight A student who was also very shy. But I always knew the right answer and would always raise my hand in class. Being smart was the only thing I was good at as a child and I wanted that recognition of being called upon and getting the right answer. However, all of my teachers made a point of calling on the kids who rarely raised their hands or even choosing one who hadn't raised a hand to keep things equitable and to get everyone involved.

It was suggested to me by another parent when I pointed out this inequity that I'm nuts. Another parent suggested that perhaps the kids who get chosen volunteer.  And while I may be nuts, I know unfairness when I see it. And this ain't fair folks, even if the kids do volunteer.

I would say that it's incumbent upon the teachers to keep track of who did it last time (this could be a list on the chalkboard) and pick names out of a hat so that everyone has a fair shot at getting to do it. It's not that hard to be equitable. And to ensure that students from classes other than the magnet class get a chance, one child from each classroom should be chosen. Again, not that hard...four slots to fill, four classes. Go figure.

Of course, I thought writing about it would make me feel better and so far it hasn't. I feel slightly less angry. I also sent a polite note to my son's teacher asking her to explain the selection process. Again, while it was taking action, I'm not sure it will make a difference.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts. How are things like this handled at your kids' schools? What was it like when you were a kid? Should I let this go or speak up?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

When I took a look at Facebook today, I was overwhelmed with the number of posts asking what I was going to do with "this once in a lifetime day, 12/12/12". So much pressure.

 So, while I'd love to say I had something really amazing planned, you know, like base jumping or getting married (to my husband again), or having a baby (like my husband's beautiful cousin is doing today!). I'm not. Today is just another day with laundry that awaits folding, a body longing to be stretched and moved through yoga, a husband recovering from surgery, Christmas gifts left to buy, kids who need help with their homework, and dinner waiting to be cooked. But, just like "any other day," the Belle of the Blog, even though she's been silent for many a month, ("Has it been that long?" you say. Indeed, it has, I tell you!) still has an opinion and a few ideas about where you should be buying any Christmas, Kwanza, Hannukah, or Festivus gifts left on your list. So, that end, I've created a list and while I'm not profiting in any way (other than through karmic good) by sharing this with you, I'm hoping some of my many creative, talented, entrepreneurial friends and contacts will. I hope you'll check out some of these gift ideas. If you're so inclined, please share a link to this post on your blog or Facebook page and consider it your good deed on this "once in a lifetime" day. 

Alrighty...Well, where to begin?

Let's start with books....


My fellow Agnes Scott College alumna and English major, Jennifer Garlen, has three great books available right now.

Classic movie novices looking to expand their forays into such deep terrain, will welcome never having to waste two hours on a terrible movie again once you give them Beyond Casablanca: 100 Movies Worth Watching. 

If you have Muppet fans on the list, they might enjoy one of the two following books.

First, Kermit Culture, through a series of academic essays, explores both the cultural influences on Jim Henson that affected his work and the impact those beloved fuzzy creatures had on popular culture. 

Those who want to look at Henson's impact through some of his other works beyond The Muppets will enjoy The Wider Worlds of Jim Henson: Essays on His Work and Legacy Beyond The Muppets and Sesame Street, which looks at his other projects including Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, The Jim Henson Hour, Farscape, and many more of his works. 

If you have a short story reader or Southern literature fan to shop for, check out "The Ballad of Shirley T and Other Short Stories" by my fellow ASC alumna Perrin Conrad. Like any great Southern writer, Perrin has a flair for creating uniquely captivating characters. 

Now, on to our next category...

Personalized Gifts

If you're looking for something truly unique, customized especially for your dear loved one, check out my friend Monica's Etsy story, Monogram Perfect. Monica actually had a brick and mortar store for years at the Opry Mills Mall in Nashville, Tennessee until it was destroyed in Nashville's 100-Year Flood a few years back. Now, she creates her lovely one-of-a-kind treasures from her home and sells them via Etsy or another web site. Personally, I love this cute grandparents' plaque that you can have tailored with your parents' g-name. One order of MeMe and Lolli for delivery, please...  Seriously, though, do check out her store. She has some precious items for the babies, kids, ladies, and monogram lovers in your life. 

Girly Gifts

If you're looking for a sophisticated, sexy, and tasteful fragrance gift for yourself or someone special, check out Poisoned Apple Potions. This clever store sells hand-blended body scrubs, lotions, butters, and perfumed oils. The brain child of another Agnes Scott graduate, Poisoned Apple Potions will appeal to more sophisticated tastes. The store even features a special Agnes Scott themed line whose sale benefits the College's annual fund. 

Alright, well, that's a start my dears! I'll have a few more ideas in the days to come, but I hope these ideas help at least someone out of a gift-giving predicament today.

Be sweet, y'all! And remember to share a link with a friend. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Back in the Saddle, Again: The Belle is Back

Holy cow, y'all! It has been a while. Well, welcome back.

I've been focused on my freelance business. It has been a busy year. And exciting! As I was taking on several new freelance clients, taking care of my boys, starting a great yoga regimen, and just livin' life, my mister started traveling for work. It has made for a very busy year. So busy, that it has been almost a full year since I've blogged, I think.

I've missed it. And you!

Now that fall, um, the BEST SEASON OF THE YEAR, has arrived, my creative juices are flowing again. I have a fair amount going on, but I want to re-commit (again!) to blogging my wee little heart out.

I have a couple of new recipe posts to add in the next day or two. Plus some other stuff I'm working on or have on my mind. So, look for my posts.

And have a beautiful day!