3 kids, 18 days, 3000 Miles, & A Brand New Outlook

“I felt I had to offer [my kids] something better to look back on than what we had just survived…perhaps a good old fashioned road trip would work.”

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Entering PA

When I was young, we used to take a week long family vacation every summer to visit my Aunt and Uncle in Ohio.  It was a 9 hour trek, that my brother and I, and sometimes my older sister, would make in the back of a pickup truck.  Crazy visual there, huh?  Wind whipping through our hair… Umm, no.  Pretty posh for us littles at the time ~  A cover for the bed of the truck, a twin mattress with the zoo themed sheet so we could determine territories.  A cooler filled with snacks and a cassette player with The Oak Ridge Boys playing Elvira on repeat

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WV Welcome Center

until my mother thought she would go insane.  And then a week of swimming, cornfields, ice cream, and cousins.  I hold very happy memories of those weeks away from home.

Life had dealt me some pretty big blows and I really wanted, to be honest I really NEEDED, to get away and create happy memories with my children.  I felt I had to offer them something better to look back on than what we had just survived. Without a lot of money, it couldn’t be a big Disney-esque treat. But

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Giant Cootie, VA

perhaps that good old fashioned road trip would work.

When it came time to plan a family vacation with my three, times had changed.  No more rolling around in the back of the truck playing with stuffed animals and matchbox cars, wrestling and snuggling up to fall asleep on your own bed to travel.  It was uncomfortable booster seats, seat belts and a pretty optimistic plan for a first trip.  From the Southern Adirondacks to Memphis to visit my best friend from elementary school, then home via Charlotte to see my sister and “brother”, Hershey park if the kids were good on the way home.  18 days…

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Ripley’s Aquarium, TN

OK, a little background here.  At this point I was separated, just beginning to gain back my footing and starting to recognize bits and pieces of myself in the mirror.  My self image, self worth, and self confidence had been pretty battered and bruised.  As I started to plan the logistics I started to panic.  Could I really do this?  What if something happened along the way?  To me, to the car, to the kids… I knew I needed to do this, but I also knew I needed support.  Who better to call in for help than Grandma???

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Mud Island, TN

Almost 3 weeks unfettered access to her grandbabies??  And I promised no Elvira??  She was in!  And so began our “Southern Adventure” in late June of 2010.  We planned to drive no more that 6 hours a day, stopping each day to find something to break up the monotony of the drive.  Every 2 hours to stretch little legs and fill little bellies to prevent meltdowns. Day 1 was the last day of school, we headed to Grandma’s to add her suitcase to the pile and get a good night’s rest before stealing her from

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Mud Island, TN

Grampa.  A big celebratory send off of ice cream that night set the tone.

Day 2 was probably the most stressful for me, and it was those first few hours.  As we came closer to the NY/PA border every self doubt and fear came to the forefront ~ what if I really couldn’t do this?  My ex had told me he didn’t have the time to come rescue me when it all went to hell in a handbasket.  Did having Mom

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Corinth, MS

along counter that?  Would it be enough?  Was I enough to keep my kids safe?  My heart raced, my chest constricted, my grip on the wheel tightened. Ethel, the GPS we bought specifically for the trip (and the kids felt needed a name), showed that state line creeping ominously closer… and suddenly we were in Pennsylvania.

Wait, what?  We just rolled right on through the line?  No tire blow

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Maggie Valley, NC

out?  No engine blowing up?  Miles ticked off and the kids still chattered and sang in the back.  We continued to roll.  I laughed out loud.  My little world had just literally opened its borders!  We had Ethel, Rand McNally, and AAA TripTiks to work from.  We knew we had construction coming up so we stopped for a potty break and a snack.  To this day, crazy as it seems, one of the most memorable things on that trip was the crazy timed relay

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Concord, NC

races we ran that second day at that rest area, and the fact that I ran with them.

My son picked up a coupon book for hotels, and suddenly our accommodation worries (the only worry my mother carried across the border) vanished.  Visitor centers at each state line provided us with inspiration for adventures.  Amazing caverns, a float museum, a giant Cootie, and an aquarium helped entertain us on our way to Memphis.  There we walked a scale replica of the Mighty Mississippi at Mud Island and visited the Memphis Zoo with one of my best friends.

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Concord, NC

Our goal was to put feet in as many states as possible, so our trip to North Carolina brought us through Corinth, MS (picked because we lived near Corinth, NY), Alabama, and Georgia before heading to Maggie Valley (for obvious reasons!) and then the Charlotte, NC area. We happened upon an amazing Civil War Interpretive Center, playgrounds, a gorgeous rest area with a little nature walk, and tried buttermilk pie on our way.  While visiting my sister, my son celebrated his birthday and we were schooled on NASCAR and

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Mooresville, NC

the rodeo, big hits with us all!

Keeping Hershey Park as an “If You Are Good” reward worked beautifully – as we rounded out our 3000 mile trip with stops at Luray Caverns and Natural Bridge to explore the history and beauty of the area, the kids had learned enough to ask wonderful questions of the guides.  And our trip to Hershey was a few days surrounded by chocolate nirvana as we rested up to trek home.

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Concord, NC

Another night at Grandma’s to return her to Grampa and fill his ears with all our adventures, and then three tired lil’ monkeys headed back to the Southern Adirondacks filled with memories that 6 year later still pop up randomly in conversation.

For me, this trip was cathartic.  Something inside me broke free the more miles I put between myself and that NY border.  With every turn of the wheel, I was proving that I was capable of

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Natural Bridge, VA

planning and implementing a safe trip.  That I was able to provide for my littles, keep them safe and sound, but most importantly I was giving them some wonderful memories that, no matter what came next, no one could steal.  WE would always have this adventure.

This trip did more than give the 5 of us great memories, it forged a bond between us through these shared experiences.  We have inside jokes that we have explained to others, but no one really “gets” exactly, like we do.  We problem solved together, the 5 of us working to formulate a plan for the day, to pick out a landing zone for the evening, deciding if the pool or free breakfast was

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Hershey, PA

more important that night as we searched.  We supported each other as a team, even if we were tired, hungry, and cranky.  We made it, all 18 days, all 3000 miles, together!

Since that trip I have happily added states and adventures to my list.  I am at 275,000+ miles now as the kids and I continue our adventures, keeping traditions that began on our “Southern Adventure”.  This one trip changed my whole outlook on who I was and what I was capable of.  It was truly a blessing!

Every day can bring us a new adventure, an opportunity to reframe how we look at ourselves, our circumstance, our world.  I wish for you many happy memories on your journeys!! 🙂

Hot Cocoa Therapy

When a cup of hot cocoa and a random act of kindness work together to warm your heart…

I have mentioned in previous posts that depression an I have a rocky relationship, its like a sneaky shadow ninja that lurks around the periphery of my little world.  Once it can find some small crack to bleed through, it latches on to dim not just the sun, but the moon and stars too.  I’ve gotten better at sensing the infiltration, repairing the cracks, and lighting candles to combat the darkness.  Just like all of us, I’m a work in progress.

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Holidays can be particularly difficult.  Last Christmas season I had to talk to my children about how it was going to be a pretty lean time, and that under the tree wouldn’t look all that impressive.  My kids are wonderful, it didn’t matter to them, they were just excited that we would be able to wake up together and have a special breakfast.  Their total acceptance and support of me was both one of my proudest parenting moments and heart shattering.  And I felt the crack.  And it was a big one.  Damn ninja didn’t even have to sneak in this time.

The kids left for their biweekly long weekend with their dad, leaving me with great big hugs and kisses and I shut down for 4 of the next 5 days.  I became a virtual recluse, except for taking out Chassis for his daily walks, I isolated myself.  Shades closed, curtains drawn. Only went off the property to get groceries.  I just couldn’t handle the “Christmas Spirit” with its bows, pretty papers, and songs feeling like I was failing at it all.

By Sunday I knew I had to readjust, had to  mine for that silver lining.  I wasn’t really sure

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of the plan, but I knew I needed to get out of my house and out of my head for a bit.  So I decided I would head down to Saratoga Springs and walk the shops, if nothing else Broadway is a beautiful walk and I could treat myself to a hot cocoa with the $20 I had in my pocket.

It felt good to be outside in the fresh air.  It actually felt good to be surrounded by people and the entire vibe was happy, and I drank it in.  As I walked I noticed a young man leaning against the kitchen exhaust fan of one of the popular restaurants.  I smiled at him, thinking as the wind blew, what a brilliant place to stand to warm up.  I continued my meandering and window shopping, every step chasing that nasty little ninja from the recesses of my mind.  I stopped to warm up with a hot cocoa after finding a perfect little ornament for my mom.  I had found that acceptance of the situation, I had a plan, I found my center again.  I thought that was my silver lining.  But the Universe presented me with a far greater gift…

As I made my way back to the car, I noticed the same young man standing in the same spot.  Now, my mama bear hackles were raised.  Why was this kid still there?  It was cold, windy.  And he had to be cold, which made me cold.  As I crossed the street, I made a beeline for him.  When I started to speak, he looked up in alarm, until he heard the question.  “Hey there, you look pretty cold out here.  How about we go find a spot to go get a hot cocoa and warm up?”  I think it took him a full 30 seconds to reply, he kind of looked at me like I had 3 heads.  When I offered up the place I had just been, he actually asked if it was OK to go somewhere closer.  His eyes sparkled like my kids do when they beg for a stop at Krispy Kreme on our travels as he described how this place had these flavor shots you could add that make the absolute best tasting drink.  “If its OK, could I please get that? Its OK if you say no, they are just so good”.

The sparkle and smile transformed his face, that scruffy, slightly dirty, sad man returned to the boy he really was, probably 19 or 20.  So excited about a simple treat!  This young man had no idea what a gift he’d just given me, that genuine joy not only beat that nasty little ninja but sealed the crack!  Now to enjoy this. I smiled, weaved my arm into his as we crossed the street and said “Order anything you want, I have it covered!”

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The looks we got as we entered the cafe arm in arm were priceless.  My new friend offered to pull away, but I held steady.  His head dropped as we went to place our order and everyone stared.  The first question was “Eat in or To Go?” and I answered eat in *collective gasp* His head pops up, he looks me in the eye and smiles.  The cashier gives me a smile.  Then the cashier asked for the order.  “My friend is cold and thirsty, but he just loves your cocoa here.  Go ahead and tell them EXACTLY how you want it sweets.  And make sure you grab him a pastry, too (my new friend starts to protest) If he won’t choose one himself, pick the most expensive.”

“This is too much” my new friend whispers.  “Wish I could do more” I whisper back.  He picks out a pastry, gets his cocoa just like he wanted.  Watching him take that first sip was beautiful, he was in bliss.  I get him to a table, give him a hug and whisper God Bless.

I have looked for him on return visits.  Have not seen him around, but have heard that he is doing ok still.  I spent less that $5 on his snack, but what he gave me back that day is more than he will ever know.  The opportunity to offer compassion, dignity, recognition made ME feel whole and fulfilled, and all I really did for him was fill his belly and give him a legitimate reason to be inside and get warm.  His bliss over that hot cocoa is one of the candles I keep lit to combat the darkness, and I am forever grateful he allowed me to buy him a cup!

I think sometimes we forget that in helping others, we help ourselves.  We are a species meant to be connected, and today as you take the time to finish reading this, know that I am sending you a healing thought, a big smile, and a hug!  Blessings to you all, friends! 🙂

 

Being Different

We are all born with our little quirks, some are learned. Doesn’t matter how we got them, it’s the total sum of them all that makes us all unique.

I’ve heard so many times in my life that I dance to the beat of my own drum. Until later in life, I could never understand what that really meant.

There aren’t many other woman out there like me, and none are exactly the same.

I’m a farm girl. Stubborn, determined, take no shit from anyone kind of girl. That’s the bare bones of how I am. I’ll bet you all just got a mental image of who you think I am and how I dress. You’d be very wrong.

I’m a dedicated and life long dirt track racing fan. Tough, full of grit and not afraid to get greasy. That’s the second part of who I am. Did your mental picture of who I am just change?

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I’ll throw a few more kinks in there. 

I’m a marketing professional. Data and analytics driven. Computer savvy and a research queen. A geek for numbers, data and demographics. A geek for design software and new artistic design of logos and websites.

I’m a photographer that loves to capture moments of peace and tiny creatures like butterflies. I love capturing those tiny moments of awe and wonder.

Now what kind of image you have?

Most days you’ll find me in stained up blue jeans and t-shirts working around the farm but I can also pull off the power suit and super high heels that will rock any straight male in their shoes.

It’s all parts I’ve played to be completely and total me. I’ve met the homeless man on the street. I’ve flyfished in hip waders and a dress. I’ve sat in meetings with powerful figures and I’m at home with it all.

What makes me unique is my adaptability. I never forgot that we are all each individual people, no matter how much money or lack there of. We all want the same thing. It’s called RESPECT.

I have other things that make me unique too. A mind that spins a million miles a minute that helps with problem solving and building marketing campaigns. A sense of humor that’s as good as most comedians and I’m sure not afraid to make fun of myself either.

We all have those quirks about what we do and how we do it. What makes us fully unique is embracing all of them as a whole and just being who we are meant to be.

If we were all the same, life would be so boring! Celebrate the difference. Even if it’s only with yourself, within yourself. Dance to the music of your own drum like no one is watching!

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Journeys 

All the pieces of my life do build into the complex puzzle of who I am today.

For me, my life has been a cycle of many different journeys. Basically, I can snap my life pictures into three bundles.

When I was young until around the time I turned 18, I lived my life in fear and resentment. Abused on several different levels, most of that time was spent as a shy person who didn’t seek to make new friends and just went by day to day. Wondering which day would hopefully be my last.

In 1995, a bad car accident landed me in the hospital with 18 hours worth of reconstructive surgery on my face. I had smashed my face against the steering wheel and dash. I had fallen asleep at the wheel, gone into the ditch and flipped over a driveway.

After feeling alone most of my young life, I began to realize the impact I had on those around me. As my room started filling with flowers, plants, balloons and cards, I began to see that maybe my family wasn’t the rude assholes standing in corners whispering how I was ruined and disfigured now.

Those 10 days in the hospital changed my life dramatically. The following days and weeks did too. As my family left me alone in a wheelchair, unable to get down the hall to use the bathroom or reach the top of my stove to cook myself a meal, I changed. I became determined to ask for help when I needed it. A new and foreign concept to me at the time.

Later in life, at 32 years old, my life took another turn. Now faced with the loss of a major chunk of my family (their choosing) and wondering where I went wrong, I started counseling for the first time. This is where I learned so much and I’m so grateful for the guidance I was given.

Thinking I was somehow flawed, I learned about narcissistic tendencies. I learned about mental, verbal and emotional abuse. I learned that I didn’t even know my own likes and dislikes.

My life has been filled with trying new things. I had focused most of my life trying to find the place I fit in, always with someone else rule book. I always liked my jobs but I never really had that excitement to get out of bed every morning.

I’ve worked all over the place in many different career paths. I’ve been a retail associate, a housekeeper at a hotel, a front desk clerk, a fly fishing instructor, newsprint advertising, a marketing rep, a car salesman, a used car buyer, a painter and I was still lost!

My counselor convinced me to go buy a little $30 point and shoot camera. I armed myself with a 3.1mp Kodak EasyShare camera. My mission was simple. I was to photograph anything and everything that interested me.

After the first couple of days, I found myself seeking out things that sparked my interest. I discovered my love of the countryside panaromas, barns, fields of flowers, sunrises and sunsets, and livestock. As time went on, I started feeling the pull of all this “stuff”.




As this progressed, I learned I loved calves and cows. The photos were plentiful. I would go visit people with dairy cows and horses. I would visit beef farms. Until one fateful day, I had the chance to try something very new.

I was given a calf. A calf all my own to raise. I had an area I could house and raise it. I got out of bed with excitement. I bottle fed, brushed and halter trained that little guy. I feel in LOVE!

 

My life is a culmination of trying new things. A new counselor led me to a camera and now I have a side career as an agricultural photographer. My love of motor sports has translated into photographing truck and tractor pulls, and sometimes you’ll find me at a race track photographing race cars.



My love of cattle and farms has lead me to building a farm from the ground up. From those fateful days of one lone steer to 42 head of cattle, a small poultry flock and now pigs.

That fateful counselor led me into a journey of self discovery. The discovery that I am and always will be a FARM GIRL.


All of those experiences from my past still play into what I do today. I market my farm and my photography work. I know how to retail my work. I know how to pleasantly answer phones and book farm visitors. I know what paints and stains are good for farm projects. I know how to shop for used goods from feeders to pickups.

Every new experience has given me new friends. I’ve gained so much knowledge and experience. It’s created a career in passionate about.

Don’t ever be afraid to step into the unknown, you never know what key it may hold to unlock another experience!

The Scent of a Memory

Have you ever noticed that certain smells have that way of evoking a memory so powerfully that you feel as if you have transported right back into that moment?

I love the smell of coffee.

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It conjures up images of me standing on a chair “helping” my mom set up, fill, and percolate the coffee on the stove.  Not sure if you remember, but that was pretty technical (and it was glass!) for a little one to be helping with, so it was kind of a big deal  😉  Watching as the water bubbled up that tube inside and erupted over the grounds to turn from colorless and clear to that dark, rich brown was fascinating.  And as the color turned darker, the coffee smell grew stronger.  Probably where that love of science had its start.  It was exciting to be a help in the morning, a sign that I was growing up, and I held great pride in that.

Too bad I can’t stand the taste of it.

Not that my Gramma Rose didn’t try to remedy that situation.  We would visit Rosie every day “for coffee”.  Mom and Rosie would sit at the kitchen table and us kids would do our best to drive them nuts running in and out of the house between bike riding, playing on the swings, and trampling up the stairs to make a mess of the playroom.  When I got old enough to sit still, Rosie invited me to join them at the table and have my own cup of coffee: warm milk, tablespoons of sugar, and just enough coffee to make it turn color.  Because it was for Rose, and it meant that I got to spend more time with her, I would drink my “Rose Coffee” while snacking on saltines, talking about my day, and learning to play Rummy.

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Every time we walk into a coffee shop or a bakery, that first big intake of breath brings me back to those moments, just for an instant.  They help fuel my Happy.

Have you ever noticed that certain smells have that way of evoking an emotional response or a memory so powerfully that you feel as if you have transported right back into that moment?  Like getting that heady feel from putting on your boyfriend’s sweatshirt and being not just swallowed up in the warmth of it, but in the smell of him?  Well, its not just a phenomenon experienced by you.  Turns out that through some pretty interesting biology, we are actually wired for this emotional response. “Incoming smells are first processed by the olfactory bulb, which starts inside the nose and runs along the bottom of the brain. The olfactory bulb has direct connections to two brain areas that are strongly implicated in emotion and memory:  the amygdala and hippocampus. Interestingly, visual, auditory (sound), and tactile (touch) information do not pass through these brain areas. This may be why olfaction, more than any other sense, is so successful at triggering emotions and memories.” (Jordan Gaines Lewis, PhD)  There are smells that are pretty universal in revolting us or causing a flight response, such as the smell of rotting food or smoke.  One can see how they would be useful in keeping us out of danger.

Where we luck out in this quirk of biology is that it can help us link back to some of those

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Garlic Scape, Colgan Farm
powerful, happy moments.  The smell of garlic and motor oil reminds me of my Grampa because he ate it every day and was constantly tinkering on engines; my Gramma Mary had a powder she used that I swear I smell out of the blue and suddenly I am sitting with her at the piano singing “On Top of Spaghetti” as we giggle away; I bring a blanket when I visit my parents just so I can bring it back to snuggle in the smell of home.  The kids and I have gone out on candle sniffing missions to find the one that reminds us most of my sister’s home, because we miss being close to her.

Scent has even been incorporated into various treatments. Probably most well known for treating stress and anxiety, aromatherapy has also been shown to help supplement treatment of depression and insomnia, control pain and help with nausea among other things.    I have used a bit of aromatherapy in dealing with my anxiety issues. Lavender is a favorite, I also like rose and cedar too, just to name a few.

Because there is such a deep connection between our sense of smell and our emotions, smell becomes another way that we can help create that atmosphere that makes our Happy feel at home.

May your memories, old and new, smell amazing! 🙂

“Averaging” Your Happy

I started paying attention a whole lot more closely to those I interacted with, realizing that I had allowed a lot of people to come into my little world and really bring down my “Happy Average”

I read once that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”  Can that really be true?   That was was a pretty sobering idea at the time; I was in a particularly stressful job situation (though many of my coworkers were lovely), I was mired knee deep, and still sinking, in a custody battle, and other than my beautiful babies, the truth was that those who would filled the other two slots in my average were not really happy, nor positive, folks.

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Maggie’s Trinity Selfie
My three kids are my world, they bring me so much peace and joy among their chaos and I know that they look to me to steer their own internal moods.  So that five people average really scared me.  I started paying attention a whole lot more closely to those I interacted with, realizing that I had allowed a lot of people to come into my little world and really bring down my “Happy Average”, but I really hadn’t quite figured out what to do with that knowledge yet.  But, the first step is admitting there is an issue, right?  So, I was on my way to figuring this out… and then my little world blew apart.  An incident at work left me without the ability to continue in that capacity, leaving me as a shell of my former self.   I gathered my children, my sister, and my one friend close and closed down.  For a quite a while.

I began counseling and was diagnosed with PTSD, not only for that current incident but it turns out that I had lived with it from the issues in my past.  One of the things that my counselor and I discussed was this whole idea of the average.  My fear at that point (I was really good at coming up with a list of them, but this was weighing heavy on my mind) was that was that I would allow my current fears and angers to sully my children’s chance for happiness.  He reminded me that I had a choice in who I allowed into my inner circle, that 5 was not a magic number, but a rule of thumb, and that being happy is a chosen response. This gave me back a piece of hope; I could make changes and rise again like a Phoenix as I regained myself.   I’d found my silver lining.

As I have progressed in my healing (an ongoing process, to be sure), I have realized that the “average” can be in flux daily, weekly, monthly.  I have learned to keep track of how I react to different personalities, those that I feel comfortable with and those that, for one reason or another, grate on me.   I may like someone, but if I need to limit time with them, I do.  Protect your happy.  When you do find those people, places, experiences that bring

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Beach combing for a silver lining

you joy, be sure to average them in, increase that happy for yourself.

I am learning to build those healthy boundaries now, and my experiences have provided lessons for my children.  Together we have reframed our outlook to search for the silver linings, seek the adventure in adversity, and ferret out the joy in each experience.  As I have extended out my circle to bring in new perspectives and new joys, so have my children.  In a quest to create the list of my best 5, I ended up creating a more whole, well rounded version of myself.

So, in honor of school staring here tomorrow, welcome back to math class … Happy Averaging!! 😉

Warm and Fuzzy

Isn’t that something we all want to feel all the time? As an emotion, warm and fuzzy means we are happy and content.

Why do we use those expressions for those emotions? I think it leans toward our obsession with comfort. 

Our topic in the 30 days of Happiness event is “What piece of clothing makes you happy?”

I have a young lady by the name of Autumn that can give me the fastest answer in this one! For years and years, she has adored her grandmothers carigan sweater. It’s old, with wear in the pockets and bits unraveling. It’s been worn for many, many years. Today, Autumn wears it with pride. She envelopes herself inside of it and curls it around her body like a gentle hug.

I never thought too much prior to her getting the sweater about that one piece of clothing we admire or wish we had. Is it sentimentality or something deeper?

It got me thinking about my own grans blankets that she had crocheted or the quilts she painstakingly hand stitched. I get all those fascinations and the desires to feel the love as I wrap up inside one.

But clothing? 

As I sat thinking about this topic, in prepping for the event, I started thinking about memories that certain articles brought back to me. Shorts shopping with my son at a thrift store, shoe shopping and meeting with a dear friend, and that sweatshirt I stole from a long lost love that I can’t bear to get rid of.

As I stood before my closet of clothes, I began to realize a connection. Not a connection of looking good in one piece over another but the memories held within each.

That light green dress worn to a Christmas party and the antics that ensued. That turtleneck that’s now thread bare and funky shaped with arms half again longer than they should be that’s been there to keep me warm through chores, snowmobiles rides, nights power went out and sledding with my kids. That super soft cashmere sweater that I bought as a treat for myself because it made me feel feminine and the gentle caress on the sleeve by my five year old son that used to say it was like petting a soft bunny.

Maybe for others it’s a commemorative shirt, full of signatures from a special event.

And here you thought those old favorite clothes were hanging out in that closet or drawer because they were comfortable! Go look again, I know there’s one piece in there full of memories that when you really look, you realize the calm hidden happiness.

What is it? Is it just one or many pieces?

Accepted Into The Herd

“…to have an animal that you never have given more than a second thought to, to actually look at you and see YOU with a total acceptance.”

It’s those big soulful eyes that draw you in.

Big puddles of chocolate framed in long fringed lashes, they seem to look directly into your soul.

To acknowledge you.

Funny how it takes you aback, to have an animal that you never have given more than a second thought to, to actually look at you and see YOU with a total acceptance.

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Henry and I, Spring 2016

Until I met Doreen, I would not have thought that cattle could be so calming.  To sit and watch the calves play, to see them interact with their mamas, to hear them bellow to each other over the hills brings a sense of peace, like the worries of the world sort of melt away.

And then I met Henry.  I came to the farm in a tither, my world tilted on its axis.  Henry is a calf from this spring, growing quickly.   As we wandered out to meet the day’s two newest additions, Henry wandered up to snuggle up to my hip.  He was insistent on having his forehead and horns scratched, and if I stopped he would rub his head and horns along my hip until I would scratch his head and neck again.

Henry stayed until I was giggling, forgetting my terrible day and what had brought my blood pressure so high.   As Henry accepted me, soon the other cattle began to come investigate the newcomer.  Mamas and babies came over to see who Henry had accepted into the herd.  Noses poked in, scratches delivered, and worries dissolved.

Henry isn’t my first experience with finding my center with the help of an animal.  In fact,

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Chassis

As I write this my dog, Chassis, is snuggled tight against my hip.  Chas is a rescue dog, although to be honest, I am not sure who rescued who. He is our “little man”, baby number four in the house.  He is a goofball,  loves tug of war,any toy with a squeaker, bones, running with the kids, and is a blanket hog. He has an innate ability to sense an oncoming panic attack and will climb into my lap and lick my left wrist, insisting on being loved up.  It doesn’t always stop them, but the distraction early on can help it from becoming what I call an “Episode”, the kind that take days to recover from.  While they still happen, having this curious, silly, totally devoted snuggle buddy has reduced the frequency and intensity if he is close by.

There are therapy animals that visit hospitals and nursing homes.  Time spent petting an animal has been shown to lower blood pressure.  Some courts are now even allowing therapy dogs to sit with children as they testify.  There are various programs where horses are used for therapy, and a whole array of training for service animals to increase quality of life.

The best part is that these connections can be found everywhere, in fleeting moments, even if you don’t own an animal. Its the squirrel who stops it’s scurrying to look you in the eye, the crow in the field that seems insistent on telling you it’s story, the elephant at the zoo who reaches through to ruffle your hair, the ducks on the pond who swim your way to investigate, the whale in the aquarium that decides you are the playmate of choice.

I think the draw to these connections is that our animal companions see us as we really are, behind the mask.  They can see the parts we try to hide, the nervous, needy, sometimes angry parts and they accept us as is.  That total acceptance is a balm to the soul and brings us a sense of peace and happiness.

Musical Therapy

Over the years, I’ve always been fascinated with the power of music. As a little girl, I would hide my shy self behind others and whisper the words to the song “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands”

I can still feel how uplifting that song was for me. There were others too, specifically around holidays. Songs like Peter Cottontail and Jingle Bells were always favorite, happy songs.

Today, I use music to communicate, not just with others but myself. I have playlists for moods. Bad moods are more heavy metal. I even use music to concentrate with classical music.

I have a broad spectrum of music that makes me just want to get up and dance to the beat. Music that lifts me up and makes me sing at the top of my lunges or beat the crap out of my steering wheel.

A modern day twist on if you’re happy and you know it is:

There are so many songs out there with a snappy beat that make you want to dance around your living room! I have a couple now that I like to sing out loud (which is bad because I’m a horrible singer).

This one is one of those songs! It makes me happy because it’s all about digging out of that rut and letting nothing hold you down!

Music is such a powerful motivator. If you are anything like me, you might not listen to the radio but seek those songs important to you. Some of my besties are still listening to 50’s and 60’s songs, others classic rock and 90’s hairbands. Doesn’t matter as long as you connect and it makes you feel happy!

I like to focus on meaningful songs, so I’d love to hear which ones make you happy. Through this process, how awesome would it be if we could create a playlist via Spotify of all the songs that make us happy? 

It’s started here: The Happiness Songs of 2016

Comment, post, tweet or whatever else to add to the list! We will add all those songs and share an updated list after a couple days. If you tweet it up… Use the hashtag #inspiredhappiness16

Rock On Happy People, Rock On!

Harvesting From Your Happy

That whole “Reap what you sow” works both ways, so planting good things allows you to harvest them in times of need.

There are some days, some weeks at times, when holding onto your Happiness can be a struggle.  Let’s face it, no matter how idyllic we would like to create the world we live in, there are times when reality just barges through that door, plants itself in the chair and kicks back with its mucky boots on your table.  It’s not that you are frenemies or even enemies, but to steal a line from Mickey Rourke in Barfly you “…seem to feel better when they’re not around.” Not the friendliest of house guests, once settled in and running roughshod over your Happy, Reality refuses all polite attempts to shoo it back out the door.

I have had my ups and downs with that clash between my little world and reality, that fight between what “should be” and what actually “is”.  Some have led me pretty far into received_10154495778800742the darkness, but with the help of counselors, friends, and family I have overcome and learned some valuable lessons that have helped me place breadcrumbs and candles along the path, should I travel there again.

Just like planning for winter or lean times, you can plan ahead for those times when it’s a struggle.  That whole “Reap what you sow” works both ways, so planting good things allows you to harvest them in times of need.    A few things I have learned along the way, things that help me plan for Reality’s visits and create a more hospitable atmosphere for us both are:

  1. We Create Our Own Happiness

I know this sounds cliché, but let that settle in for a minute.  Each and every one of us is responsible for our own happiness!  That is an incredibly powerful thing!!  It means that not only do you have the ability to change your general outlook, BUT THAT NO ONE CAN TAKE IT AWAY!!!  That’s right, think about it.   If you take responsibility for creating your own mood, finding the joy in your day, searching for a silver lining in each shitty situation… YOU OWN YOUR HAPPY.

  1. YOU Get To Choose Your Perspective

It’s a funny thing, when good things happen to you oftentimes you will find that there are the little annoying birds that fly around picking at the big beautiful harvest, trying to steal pieces of your joy in that moment.  I’m sure you have heard something like “don’t jinx it” or “this is great, but…”  And just watch the vultures circle if it isn’t a positive thing.  Remember how I just said YOU own that Happy?  Well, YOU own how you choose to look atreceived_10154514663160742 a situation, too.  Good or bad, YOU control how you react and what you can gain from it.  I spent a long time in abusive relationships where I gave my power away, allowing someone else to control my perception of my accomplishments and stumbling blocks.  When I made a conscious decision to regain that power, I realized I could choose to continue to look through their lens or start to examine MY life thorough my own.  I started to make a concerted effort to find the silver linings in each situation, basically harvesting the seeds of each experience for my Happy garden.  If you can find some tiny positive, even if its “I made it through today and will do so tomorrow”, you are taking power and regaining ownership of the situation.

  1. Stay In The Moment

As a society we tend to live our lives anytime but in the here and now.  Yet the only thing we actually have any control of is NOW.  How we choose to react, to focus on in this very moment, and whether to put that positive spin on it are all within our power. I will admit, this one is probably one of the hardest for me.  Yet the work I have put into changing my focus has helped me deal with my panic attacks more effectively.  Definitely one of the things I harvest frequently.

  1. Celebrate Your Happy

I have filled my walls with pictures of my kids and I, documenting memories of trips and mini adventures where we captured our joy on camera as a reminder of good times.  We have made lake and ocean water jars to bring a piece of our home state to our relocated one.  We have small and silly traditions, both at home and when we travel to keep us in touch with particularly happy memories.  If something made you joyful, celebrate it, joyfully, publicly, and often!  You will find that its infectious when you do!

While this list may not be instantly life changing, these concepts were incredibly helpful once I moved from the nice pasted smile and polite head nod to really examining their worth for my life.  No one will ever have all the answers, but hopefully something here sparked an idea that will help you pursue your own garden to have in times of need.

Happy Planting!