Inner Critic to Champion

“Anyone privy to that inner critic would have me packing my bags and out the door in moments. And that, it seems, is a trend that is all too familiar to those I know.”

Advertisements

I actually toyed with naming this “Hiding From The Proverbial 2×4”, since I am usually slow on seeing the signs around me, but I am working on that!  Ever a work in progress!!

Originally published here at “Inner Critic To Champion” at Weeds and Wildflowers, I talk about my struggle with my inner critic and how the past couple of weeks I have been inundated with signs to speak out about my journey.  Hoping my journey can help you on yours ❤

Kids These Days…

Can teach us a lot about hope, determination, and community spirit.

Didn’t you just cringe when you heard adults throw that phrase around when you were younger?  As you read the headline, I bet you imagined the sneer and the derision in their voice as your eyes passed over the words.  But I am here to tell you a completely different story, one of deep pride and overwhelming good emotion as I whisper those words in awe…

ThisIMG_20170304_131959770 past weekend I attended the South High Marathon Dance, held at the South Glens Falls High School in South Glens Falls, NY.  This was an entirely new experience this year, instead of being only a dancer’s parent (of which this year I had 2 dancers ~ a freshman and a senior), we had also nominated our neighbor as a recipient.  And out of many applicants, he had been chosen as one of the 40 recipients for the dance’s 40th Anniversary.

ThereIMG_20170304_120229223 are so many things that make this event unique.  The dance is a student run event, with faculty advisers, and has been for the full 40 years.  And true to its roots, the student body elects chair people, there were 11 this year, who then work to plan the overall theme, choose the costume parade themes, and most importantly work to choose the recipients.  The dance itself had 850 high schoolers who had collected donations to meet the entrance fee, many had gone far above and beyond.

IMG_20170304_113945061_TOP

The pride that the student body, from the elementary school (who collectively raised over $36,000 to donate to the total), middle school (who raised over $33,000 to donate), and the entire community is palpable and starts building months prior to the dance.  Area businesses post signs of support for the Marathon Dance in early January.  Restaurants and businesses hold events where a percentage of the profit go to a donation to the dance.  A golf tournament was held in September, with all proceeds going toward the dance.  The support is amazing, the way it brings together a community.

AndIMG_20170228_193148580 that is nothing compared to how the kids describe how the month leading up to the dance transforms the school.  Once the recipients are known, this year there were 29 individuals and 11 organizations, they become family to those students (just as every past recipient that they have danced for has).  Divisions between cliques soften, as there is a more important purpose at hand.  Cooperation increases, instigation decreases.  They have a common purpose – to create a once in a lifetime memory for these recipients, to support them, to give them hope.

Every year every gym class learns a choreographed dance to a song that matches the chosen theme.  Students do this dance twice, once at opening ceremonies and again to close the dance.  This year was the 40th Anniversary, the theme was Throwback… the dance was a mashup of 40 years of music, plus a song for this year.  That made for a dance that was about 15 minutes long!  The closing dance included extras and a special guest, so it was a bit longer.  If you would like to watch it and feel the energy and love, after 26 hours of dancing (after a full day of school on Friday), of 850 dedicated kids click here!

SoIMG_20170303_173250310, how do you keep 850 kids busy for 28 hours?  Well, a lot of dancing!  As well as eating.  My mother and I volunteer each year to help prep the Friday night meal.  Local businesses donate produce and foods, and some food is catered in to ensure that the dancers do not go hungry.  There is a wide variety of foods for the dancers and chaperones, security and alumni to choose from.  They have games to energize the kids to keep from monotony setting in.  A major overnight event is Neon Power Hour.  And there are the Costume Parades, in which the kids compete for pins – a source of endless Marathon pride. And the dancers are given a 2 hour rest break to sleep or watch a movie. Here is a highlight video of this year’s  dance, if you would like to see some of the activities.

This year’s dance was also dedicated to NYS Trooper Timothy Pratt, a South High graduate and former dancer himself, who tragically lost his life in an accident in October 2016.  As a proud Marathon Dance Alumni, he was an integral part of the dance each year and a huge part of the community.   His presence was, and will forever be, greatly missed.

To see 850 kids dancing for the 40 recipients, and this year to be sitting in the stands next to one of them, was one of the most overwhelming emotional experiences I have had since having my newborn children placed in my arms.  To feel the outpouring of love and support for the recipients from, not just the students and faculty, but the entire community was so intensely beautiful.  And to know that ALL of this was being continued because of the children in this community – because they are given the chance and the voice to express their love and compassion for others – made me wonder, as it has every year since my daughter first danced, WHY is this not encouraged more in our youth? Perhaps it is time for us to start focusing on the positives that our youth can do so that will bloom.  Look what has happened from one teacher believing in the idea of a few kids 40 years ago.  Like a butterfly can start a hurricane, those kids changed the world starting in South Glens Falls.  And in 2017, these 850 dancers have started their own butterfly effect, raising $823,614.91 to change the lives of these 40 recipients, affecting their families and their friends and spreading out from there.

The dancers at the South High Marathon Dance give so much more to the recipients they choose than a dollar amount at the end of the dance.  Their dedication gives them Hope.  They restore Faith, faith in themselves and faith in a world that has oftentimes seemed completely sterile if not hostile because of their circumstance.  They provide a connection to bring them back into the fold of a community at a time when many feel like they are battling alone.  As one of the recipients said in his closing speech, he came in a stranger and felt like he was leaving with 850 new friends.

And that is what we, as adults, could learn from these darn kids!

Blessings to you all!!  And may you continue to grow and learn every day 🙂

 

 

I’ve Made Friends With My Skeletons

“…I have in the last year emerged on the other side with a small army of loyal skeletons ready to bask in the light.”

closet-skeletons
Sourced from Pinterest

I’m starting this year with that whole “clean slate” deal for the first time here in 2017.  And I’m able to do so with a little (OK, maybe a lot) of help from my friends.

I have spent a lot of my youth and adult life living a duality.  Working to mirror on the outside what I thought was expected, that which would keep questions from being asked: I was happy, smiling, smart, shy, responsible.  I kept my temper in check.  I was a good example.

All the while, inside I roiled in pain, anger, fear, and darkness.  I was constantly worried the truth would come out, that when it did I would prove to be unlovable.  I lived my life in near panic.  I considered suicide as a teen, became a cutter to deal with the emotions I couldn’t deal with or express.

The idea, and then the reality, of becoming a mom was my saving grace.  Sounds cliche, I know, but it’s true.  It was the one thing I was sure I would do well.  It IS my skill set.  My Trinity makes all that I have been through a lesson for their benefit, something to spare them from.  My silver linings.

As I have slogged through some truly awful, dark, and dangerous times, I have in the last skeleton-familyyear emerged on the other side with a small army of loyal skeletons ready to bask in the light.   They are facts and facets of my life, but they no longer chain me down.  (They do, however, make some people really, really uncomfortable).  The more the light bleaches the rot from them, the more I realize that I would not be who I am without having survived them.  There can be a certain peace found in seeing beauty in that tragedy.

The first to emerge was the the admission that the “perfect couple” that the outside world saw did not, in fact, exist.  I suffered from financial, emotional, and mental subjugation.  I had lost myself in a quest to protect my littles, given up my sense of self and self respect to keep them safe behind closed doors.  Eggshells and fear were the constant companions. Let’s call him Uno.

the-truth-will-set-you-freeSkelly made his way out when I refused to deny being sexually assaulted as a teacher.   I suffer from PTSD from that experience, and it brought back to the forefront issues from past abuses.  I regained a sense of power through counseling and from introducing Skelly to the world.  I was (am) a sexual assault survivor, and I am damn proud of what I have managed to live through.

I think the most frightening one to come through the closet door, the one who had needed the most coaxing, has been Lily.  She has suffered the longest in silence, the one that was the most afraid to come out to the light.  From the moment she listened to “want to see what my mom did last night?” (made cookies? a new hairdo?  danced?) at 8 and then realized that she was mired into a 3 year reign of sexual molestation, followed by 6 more years of daily bullying and torture with “if you don’t do X, I will make sure (your mom, dad, neighbor you idolize, friends) knows what dirty scum you are.  Then who will love you?” It wasn’t until this summer that I was able, with the innocent comment of my youngest to coax me, to bring Lily out, to introduce her to my parents and tell the story.

I can’t express to you the freedom I have felt after flinging that closet door open fully.  And I don’t want to make it sound like it was some easy process, and that you should find it so.  It was agonizing, to be truthful. It has taken years.  And I had the help of counselors, family, and wonderful friends to see me through the  process.  To hold my hand and assure me at each step that I was, indeed, still worthy.  Still loved.  Each hidden truth that escaped, big and small ~ each thing that cracked the facade of who I had built up as that image I thought I had to be, has been terrifying; gut wrenching.  But as I have torn down that outer layer, bit by bit, the person I have discovered, that core of Me, is someone I am proud to be.

Through Lily, Uno, Skelly, and others that now dance in the sunlight, I became the person I am.  Though I would never wish these experiences on others, I learned strength, resiliency, faith, and compassion.  I recognize pain in others and aim to help soothe their suffering.   I have been able to give my pain purpose and can look back and see how it has served to help others already.  And that makes their sunlit romps and dancing all the more enjoyable!

To anyone on a similar journey, May God Be With You, and please know that you are not alone…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Magical Dust

I’ve been doing a great deal of soul searching and something caught me off guard the last few days.

As I sat in a field, watching fawns play, I started thinking about those little moments that impact us in big and little ways. Those moments of calm that hit while on a hike, the sense of protection and peace being held as I drift off to sleep, or just a moment looking around a full table of people feeling blessed.

As I’ve contemplated these moments, I got thinking about something. In our room inside our heads that hold our memories, good and bad, I think there’s a little dust in there.

Our big memories are captured in large images for instant recognition and replay. But what about those little memories? Those peaceful moments spent watching the sun rise or set?

The peaceful, calm memories create tiny little particles into what brings us joy. I envision my own as dust. Dust particles that float on the air, stir up when you start moving around.

Those same particles that look gray and lifeless, until you open the window and they sparkle and shine in the sunlight. Those same particles that move around and cover old memories, like photographs hanging on the wall.

Sourced from Pinterest

They aren’t picky about where they land. Good memories are dulled a little but they are still vivid. Bad memories on the other hand get a protective dust coating, that will sparkle in the sunlight.

Those little moments, equivalent to pennies, still add up. They create piles and piles of dust. Our bad memories, like dollars, aren’t worth much until they get old. As they age, they cover in the proverbial dust. We never brush or clean those memories off. They end up obscured by that film of dust memories.

Our good memories are like a hundred dollar bill. Those ones you keep banked for rough days. Every so often, we pull them out, dust them off and put them back. All that kicked off dust, heading to land on other memories.

As I sit and enjoy the peaceful solitude today, I’m building more dust motes. I’m storing them up inside my vault of memories. Only the peaceful, calm and blissful moments create these little particles that sparkle in the sun.

The power is yours to build that dust. To take note and take stock of those fragments of moments that make you catch your breath or set you at ease.

Sourced from Pinterest

Throw open those windows and kick up that dust! Pull out a few great memories and let that dust settle on the bad. Eventually, they will be nothing but glittering dust. Something beautifully covered to the trained eye that will look past the fracture moment to the particles of love, peace and bliss. 

Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen. ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Love’s Little Conundrum

I grew up on Disney movies.  I am a sucker for the good triumphing over evil, the underdog pulling through in the end, true love’s first kiss, and that whole Happily Ever After bit. Now that appeals to me, quite a bit.  Throw in a pretty gown and a sparkling tiara and I’m sold on the fairy tale.

9e4c1fabf98043856d2c8aacc52445d1
Sourced from Pinterest

Shockingly, with Disney-esque expectations, love has proved to be quite a conundrum as the reality of the day AFTER Happily Ever After kicks in.

I suppose, to be fair Mr. Disney did have Cinderella work her butt off, Sleeping Beauty did have to battle a jealous fairy, Snow White was dealing with her own issues on jealousy.   Ariel made some pretty ill advised decisions and Jasmine showed quite a temper.  So I probably could have been more prepared if I’d been looking for the cues.

Trouble is, we expect the hard part to be the finding of and falling into love.  That once you have it within your grasp, the easy part begins.

And that really is love’s biggest conundrum; as easy as it is to love someone’s heart and soul, the everyday reality of dealing with them is really, really hard!

99b7d9e922b863907a2e077dd8ea179a
Sourced from Pinterest

Nothing could have ever really prepared you for that moment when those walls finally fell and let someone truly into your heart, how vulnerable and complete you would feel.   There was no guideline to prepare for the sense of camaraderie when the two of you shared your plans, fears, and desires or the the heartbreak of that first real argument, when that information was used against you in the heat of the moment as cannon fodder.  Not an inkling of what it would be like to watch your partner get sick, or the immense relief of knowing that they would be ok and you played a role in their recovery.   And what about the things that even love can’t fix?

I’ve learned that life, and love, is far more complicated than I ever imagined.  But it’s intricacies offer breathtaking moments, harsh lessons, and above all, joy.  In a world where so many focus on filters, Photoshop, and staged photo ops is it any wonder that we have such unrealistic expectations of something as romanticized as love?  And yet, by placing such grandiose requirements we miss out on the joy of the real connection that we are desperately seeking.

Conundrum

It Started With A Dance…

He said “dancing is like life, sometimes we overthink it. You just need to slow yourself down and catch on to the rhythm of things”

Picture this if you will: The radio is on, I was dancing around the kitchen, singing to Chassis (my pup), working on my third batch of cookies for the holidays. Chassis is sitting near the foot of the table, head cocked, looking at me like his human has lost her marbles, when it hits me.

I AM happy.

Come to think of it, I have been on a happy streak lately.

Now, I analyze things. A lot. Probably too much. And in this moment I am dumbfounded at the realization. The timing of this revelation is pretty crazy, in fact. Holidays are typically really difficult for me. And I’ve been dealing with some issues. And yet, here I am, giggling and twirling, singing into my spoon as Chris Stapleton and I perform an ah-mazing (just ask Chassis) duet together. So, how did I get here?

It started with a dance…

7775983be19f4bf532065b34987330bb
Sourced from Pinterest

Ever had one of those days when you just need to toss reality in the closet for few hours and go have fun? These are so few and far between for me, but I was visiting my sister and the Trinity was with their dad. A splurge seemed necessary. I heard of a concert that night, at a place I used to go to that had a great house band and a super dance floor.

I hadn’t planned on actually dancing, just listening and people watching. Its been a long time since I had been out dancing. No need to get run over on the dance floor, but I also couldn’t quite manage to sit still as I watched with my sister, either. Eventually, a very kind (and very patient) gentleman asked if I would like to do the Texas Two Step. Four steps, its easy, he said. Easy? Poor guy! My over analyzing took “slooow, slooow, quick, quick” and performed some sort of calculus before it made it to my feet. God bless him, he smiled and pulled me aside. He said “dancing is like life, sometimes we overthink it. You just need to slow yourself down and catch on to the rhythm of things”. After some (more) lessons and a bit more philosophy discussion we started to make progress. A second song and around the floor we went, smoother this time.

From the Two Step to West Coast Swing (my favorite), the ChaCha and even a line dance or two, every twirl around the floor, each measured step brought a smile. That little bit of cheerleading count OCD was fulfilling some happy part of my brain. And then I was pulled back out on the dance floor one more time to “just dance”. No counts, just go with the music. Umm, was that even possible partner dancing?? Time to shush the OCD overthinker and go with the flow.

fb0ef6de58897f5d7786b410d45a16bf
Sourced from Pinterest

You know those scenes in movies where you see two people dance and they just mesh together? Well, not sure it looked like that from the outside, but when your partner is an actual instructor, it makes you feel pretty much like you are living that. Bucket list moment fulfilled ~ I lived a movie dance scene. We twirled and shimmied, I was dipped and spun. Oh my goodness, how I laughed! And the joy that I felt as I let go of the need for counts and perfection, just enjoying the moment, radiated from the core of my soul. I may have sparkled just as much as the disco ball above by the time the song ended! I had tapped into those moments that had brought me joy in the past and pulled them forward into my Now.

The best part? That dance is still in my Now! I find it in the car going to pick up the kids from school and when I am singing in the shower. I find it when I am walking Chassis and randomly add in a dance step. It shows up when my son goes in to hug me and we end up spinning around in the kitchen, or my youngest and I start dancing together and when my oldest and I are belting out hairbrush duets. And, lucky for Chassis, it shows up when I twirl around while baking cookies…

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.”

southern-adventure-pa
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

southern-adventure-wv
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

va-cootie
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…

tn-ripleys
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???

mud-island
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

aj-mud-island
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

corinth-ms
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

maggie-valley
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

ky-and-richard-petty
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.

mama-in-clt
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

roush
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.

jbm
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

mari-and-stone-bridge
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

1916188_447079165350_5249537_n
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.

14389735_10154361874545351_2053687809_n
Sourced via Pinterest

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

14384122_10154361869555351_1349200209_n
Sourced via Pinterest

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!”

14389977_10154361877755351_288864504_n
Sourced via Pinterest

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! 🙂

 

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.

14284904_10154334137830351_1768092849_o
Sourced from Pinterest
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.

14315893_10154334137750351_1830619819_o
Sourced from Pinterest
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

14273398_10154334153660351_2098716244_o
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.

11745533_10153383930020351_1467053805871470806_n
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

13076665_10153996326325351_8104272062187235488_n
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!! 😉