A Healthy Balance of Work and Family…

My grandparents raised me for some of my childhood. I remember my grandmother picking us up from school each day. I remember my grandfather coming home from work by 5pm and my grandmother having a hot meal on the table by 6pm. There we discussed all that happened throughout our day. Most nights we even had dessert. After cleaning the kitchen, we all gathered together for some sort of evening activity such as playing cards, fishing, putting a puzzle together, etc. followed by watching Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, and the 8:00pm show for the night before going to bed.

Those were the good old days so to speak. What the heck happened? Somewhere along the past few decades that modest yet loving lifestyle has gotten lost in translation. It has been overridden by the desire for more. The fulfillment of family time has been traded for the demands of the workplace and the need to stay busy. The respect and admiration once given to a homemaker/stay-at-home-mom, has gone to the one who can seemingly juggle the most. The excitement of the child standing at the door waiting to greet their parent after work, is replaced with a kiss on the cheek during their night’s sleep. While the love, time, energy and devotion once given to a marriage is exchanged for idle time on social media, shopping and glasses of wine to fulfill a missing void only a spouse can satisfy.

The problem with this is we have sacrificed the sanctity of our family. We tell our children and our spouse each day where they rank in our lives based on where they fall on our priority list.  We convince ourselves that our family comes first, yet they understand full well that they are among the last. Most of our world revolves around the demands of our jobs and our household gets what is left over. Perhaps we only work 8-10 hours a day, but we drive an hour each way. Once we arrive home, we have our phones and laptops attached to our hip like a doctor on call. And we devote an entire room for our at-home office in order to accommodate the after hour requests.

Now that everyone in the house has a place of obligation, each morning is filled with the family’s individual race to their day’s destination. Peace is maintained as long as neither party oversteps their lane into the other’s. There is time for work, school, and perhaps an athletic activity to occupy each day’s agenda, off to bed and then repeat…

I believe most parents and spouses have good intentions. You will hear the frequent reflection, “I just want to give my family the life I never had.” I appreciate that effort. However, what was so bad about living in a 3-bedroom 1-bathroom house? What was so bad about homecooked meals? What was so bad about hand-me-downs and DIY projects for the family? If it means more time with YOU? I know the comforts of life cost money. I understand raising kids is a huge expense, and the price of living requires us to work for sure. But judging by the value of our cars, size of our houses, brands of our clothing, updates on our gadgets, I’d say it’s looking a bit more like selfish ambition vs. the desire to provide.

I hope everyone fulfills their desires. I hope we advance in our careers, pursue higher level degrees, start businesses, all that. But I pray it is not at the expense of our families. It was not easy on my ego to step away from a teaching career I loved dearly. I worked so hard to earn that master’s degree and was doing very well in my journey. But when the demands of the career interfered with the increasing requirements of my family, I had to shut it down. Sure, it has been a MAJOR sacrifice. Especially financially. But I realized I had to prioritize my assignment as a wife and mother. It had to come first. Here I am 5 years later, it has been one of the best decisions of my life.

After almost 20 years of marriage and raising 2 children, I would say there were two main decisions we made early on that helped preserve the balance of home and work life:

  1. We built our budget and livelihood on one salary. Though every force in our world told us to borrow and spend the max, we only used my husband’s salary as a base for our purchases.  This decision gave us the wiggle room to make financial adjustments for our family when necessary. It protected us during times of recession when companies decided to make major cuts in salaries, raises and health care. It made it much easier to step away from my teaching job when the demands of our family increased. Though it meant a smaller house than what we could have gotten, we didn’t miss a beat and it proved to be a MAJOR benefit for us all.
  2. Protect “peak time.” Most kids are in school for about 7 hours each day. From the time they get home from school until they go to bed is peak time. Weekends are included in this. As for us, we make sure we are present during their peak time. I put away my phone and give them my undivided love and attention. I show them they are my priority. Similarly to the time I found so sacred with my grandparents, we eat together each night, we discuss the events of our day, and we spend quality time engaging in activities we all can enjoy. It has proven to help maintain the sanctity of our union and helps us all keep things in perspective.

Whether we choose to work full-time or part-time; whether we are a stay-at-home parent, or even a single parent, we have to maintain the preeminence of our family.  They have to know they come FIRST in our lives. We communicate this each day by the decisions we make to secure their seat in our agenda. I love all the women’s empowerment movements. I celebrate the advancements in career and education. I even understand the idea of providing the best life we can for our children. However, we have to acknowledge that the “best life” for our children and spouse is a balanced life. One where they are safe and secure. One where they can learn and grow and feel loved and celebrated. One where honor and respect abound, and priorities are intact. When our families are healthy and whole, the need for gadgets, high-ticket items, approval from others diminish. They are secure in the love that is cultivated in the home and will go out and do amazing things in their journey. I pray you cultivate a healthy balance between work and home and that you are intentional about making the necessary adjustments to not only saying your family comes first but showing them that they do. Blessings to you. 😊

SEASONS CHANGE…

By now, we are all ready for Spring to hurry up and grace us with her presence. We’ve enjoyed our dose of snow and cool boots and sweet scarves. It is time for some sun shining, birds chirping and buds blooming. Interestingly, we all forget how we embraced the idea of November and December and Christmas and snow and holidays and family gatherings and all the great things that make winter a beautiful wonderland of sorts. We are now filled with the hopes of what a new season will bring. Nevertheless, by the time summer rolls around, temperatures rise to 90+ degrees, we will once again find ourselves crying the blues and looking ahead to what’s next.

How often do we have these same reflections in our daily lives? While single, we can’t WAIT for God to bless us with the perfect partner to share our lives with. We are thrilled about the new promotion we just got. We celebrate the monumental experience of buying our first home. And can’t even contain the joy of our first child. However, as the days go on, the tasks pile up, or even boredom sets in, we find ourselves looking forward to what’s next.

I certainly understand and subscribe to the idea of moving forward.  The future forecast always seems to bring about hope and growth and newness. However, where do these hopes of promise leave us in our current season? How do we not grow stale? Bored? Frustrated with the “right now”? How can we maintain our contentment and appreciation while we wait on the next season?

I remember when I was pregnant with my first child. I was SOOOO happy at the thought of carrying a life inside me. How miraculous!!! As time went on, I got bigger, well let’s say, HUGER and HUGER and tired and grumpy and when I tell you I couldn’t WAIT to deliver the baby… I COULDN’T WAIT!!! Speed along to his arrival, I was ELATED!!!! OMG!!! Happiest days of my life, right? OF COURSE. Then the real work began. The real commitment. I soon looked forward to toddler time… at least then he could walk and talk and do things on his own, right? UUUUGGGGHHH. That season brought about a whole new slew of challenges. Speed this along 17 years… As I sit here and consider that this same child is now a senior in high school, that he will be graduating in a few short months, and moving onto college to start a life of independence… What I wouldn’t give to see him walking around with drool running from his mouth, hobbling in his overalls with a saggy diaper…

Moral of the story is that as we look to brighter days and new seasons, whatever season of life we are in, good or bad, we have to know that the season WILL change, that things get better, that tough times don’t last always, that people grow, that increase will come, and spring is indeed on the way! We must know that every single day and every moment of our journey, good or bad is one to embrace, learn, and grow from, but most importantly, to enjoy.

This may be tough because some of us reading this right now are in the hardest of winters. Perhaps you are enduring a season of illness, a tough marriage, a financial hardship, a job you don’t like. I get it. However, you have to dig deep, and for some of us REAL DEEP, to see the lesson, the beauty, the growth and opportunities that lie in the moments of this part of our journey. How can we get better here? What tools will I gather for my next season? What can I do to enjoy this season right where I am?

As we look on with great expectation to the next chapter, it is so important that we not just endure this undesirable time in our life. We can’t fill our mind with thoughts of stress, depression, doubt, boredom, and gloom. Life is about seasons. While every day won’t be one on the mountain top, we can do our best to maintain a mountaintop outlook. We can see the beauty in the moment and focus on the good times we have. We can learn and grow during these seasons, so we can carry our new insight into our next season and share with others. If we are too busy focusing on the spring, we can miss out on the beauty of winter we were so excited about in the beginning. If you are single and desperately waiting to get married, ENJOY your freedom and not having to cater to or be responsible for another human. If you are a stay at home mom looking forward to getting back to work, though it is a challenging right now, ENJOY not having to get up every day and report to an office. If you are living in a tiny apartment and can’t wait to get your first home, ENJOY not cutting grass or having to heat such a large area. Or a new graduate, eager to start your first job, ENJOY not having to pay student loans and living with your parents during this last stretch of time…

As I look forward to my son graduating from high school, I realize these days won’t be here for long. I can only imagine how much I would miss if I wasn’t intentional about making every moment of this season count. While I am driving him to yet another senior obligation, early morning SAT exam, academic banquet, athletic event, I am careful to embrace the beauty of our time together. As you go about your season, I pray you can squeeze out moments that make you smile. Times to help you grow. Lessons you can take into your next season. That while you look forward to the what’s to come, you enjoy every drip drop of the portion of the journey you are on right now. This season will not last forever. Enjoy it while it’s here! Spring is on the way… 😊 🙂 🙂

OUR VEGAN(ish) LIFE: The How’s, Why’s and What’s of Our Decision to Live a Vegan Lifestyle…

So, if you know me, you know that for a few years now, my family and I have committed to a vegan-ish lifestyle. I say “vegan-ish” because, we are not ALL the way vegan. As a matter of fact, I don’t even like the label itself as it is very specified and leaves little room for variation. Nonetheless, we often lean on this title as it is the closest to describing our eating habits. Interestingly enough, I find more and more when I explain to people that we are a vegan, it elicits a host of questions and even frustrations that ultimately lead to confusion. And for this reason, I am writing about our journey as veganists. 😊

What: What is your practice? Overall, my husband, two teenagers and I eat as clean, natural and healthy as possible. That means we see food as medicine, or nutrition our body needs to perform the many tasks we all do. Though we love our food to taste good, (and we see to it that it does 😊) we try to view food as source of fuel vs. a substance of pleasure. Therefore, the things we eat are generally fresh, whole (unprocessed/unrefined), natural, locally grown (when possible) and mostly plant based.

Why: Why have you chosen a vegan(ish) lifestyle? Though there are many diets and eating trends people currently follow, our decision was not based on a fad, weight-loss goal, or even illness. Since the beginning of our marriage, my husband and I have been healthy eaters and have always benefited from that way of life. However, over time, we noticed the increasing level of negative news regarding the unnatural processing of the animals we generally consumed, their poor treatment and the affects it was having on our country. After extensive prayer and research, we further investigated our concerns and concluded that our family could live without the consumption of animal products. We discussed it together and decided to move forward with our decision to eat what we call, a whole food, plant-based diet.

How: How have you maintained this lifestyle? As a homemaker one of my major responsibilities has been preparing meals that nourish our family as well as teaching our children how to make healthy choices. This decision required a ton of research. We have all come to lean on the nutrients provided in meat and dairy, such as protein, iron, zinc and magnesium. It was important that I included substitutions and even additions for some of the vitamins and minerals they would not consume while eating a plant-based diet.  I have been careful in the planning of meals and snacks to ensure we are not just checking off a box that says we don’t eat meat, but that we are intentional about providing sources of true nutrition to sustain overall health and wellness. We create a menu each week and grocery shop to prepare those specific meals accordingly.

What don’t you eat? We generally don’t consume foods made by animals, including meat, eggs, or dairy products. We don’t eat fast or highly processed foods. We don’t use the microwave or eat pre-cooked foods or dairy/meat substitutes. As a rule of thumb, we try to assess the origin of the food and determine if it came from the ground or if it was made in a factory. Can we recognize or even pronounce the main ingredients? If not, we generally do not eat it. Though this seems to be strict criteria, we have found that it works for US. Our decision comes with no judgement or sanctimony, only a measuring tool for maintaining our goals.

What do you eat? Many people assume vegans eat celery and lettuce for breakfast and run around all day feeling weak and depleted. On the contrary, like most people, we eat 3 meals per day and snacks throughout.

A typical breakfast in our house could be steel-cut oatmeal, stone-ground grits, avocado/cinnamon/garlic toast, fruit/veggie smoothies, buckwheat pancakes, fried potatoes and even an all-natural cereal with almond milk.

Lunch for my husband is generally leftovers from the prior night’s dinner, but for my kids, they pack a lunch that consists of an entrée, fruit, vegetable, starchy snack and desert item. Which generally means a pb&j sandwich, peanuts/almonds, carrots, raisins, avocados, apples, oranges, grapes, chips/pretzels, granola bars, cookies, dark chocolate, popcorn etc.

Dinner changes all the time. Vegetables are the main staple and we generally form each entrée around a large variety of them including veggie soup, chili, sushi, burritos, pizza, tacos, pastas etc. We eat from a large selection of beans as well and use them as a great source of protein, iron and fiber. Many times, we have beans and rice coupled with collard greens or some other main vegetable. We also enjoy various salads and sometimes a simple loaded baked potato.

Why do you say vegan “ish” instead of vegan? Most true vegans do not use animal products at all. They don’t even wear leather. That is not us. The greatest part of the “ish” in my description comes from the fact that we do include a small amount of fish in our diet a couple times a month. We try to buy local or at least wild-caught fish when possible, but this decision allows for a bit of balance for us all. However, we are strongly opposed to the harmful/unethical treatment of animals and do not support any form of it.

Do you eat out? Of course. At least once a week, we either get take-out or dine at a restaurant. You would be surprised how many establishments cater to vegan/vegetarian diets. We especially enjoy Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Mexican, even Indian and Vietnamese restaurants. They tend to provide vegetable rich options and use herbs and spices as a means to add flavor. However, I can generally find acceptable meal selections at typical mainstream establishments like Chipotle, Cheesecake Factory, and the like.

Effects: How has a vegan(ish) lifestyle impacted your life? First of all, though it wasn’t the goal, I personally lost 25+lbs immediately, while my husband and children maintain a healthy weight overall. We have not missed a day of work or school due to sickness. We have energy and stamina to maintain a very active lifestyle. Both my kids are in year-round sports, while my husband and I are avid hikers and enjoy outdoor activities on a regular basis. I have experienced a major balance in my hormones and have overcome challenges with acne, thinning hair, migraine headaches and other nutritional/hormonal imbalance related issues. Overall, I feel full of energy and my body and mind are strong and alive.

I am fully aware of the various diets and trends many follow today. For some, veganism is just that. I am careful never to push our beliefs on anyone or look down on people for the choices they make for themselves or their family. I fully believe we have to be led and must do what works BEST for us individually. However, it is so important that we do our diligence when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Many of the methods of production of the products we consume are unclean and unethical.  It is up to us to make informed and sometimes uncomfortable choices that will benefit us for the long haul. God has called us all to do amazing things in this life. I am prayerful that though many of the producers continue to create harmful food options, that other ethical farmers and producers will continue to create ways to grow and sell foods that give life and wellness so that we may enjoy a long, healthy, happy, amazing journey… 0000000





Cover photo cred: greenermums

A Different Take on Giving This Christmas…

Ok. Before I get started, let me tell you what this is NOT. This is not some amazing philanthropic endeavor, or way to feed 10,000 families in a starving land. Honestly, I wish I was sharing that kind of news, but this is a much simpler idea I’d like to share to help spread the art of giving right in the four walls of your own home.

If your family is like mine, Christmas goes a little something like this: Mom pays careful attention to amazing details of her children. She has listened and taken stock of the desires of her family’s heart for the last 2-6 months. By the time the holidays roll around, she has an amazing list of all the great things she plans to buy. She then tells the hubby, who nods in appreciation and acceptance of these great ideas and after her thoughtful hunt and purchase, she then finds great wrapping paper, stockings and gift bags to present these lovely trinkets on Christmas day. Meanwhile, the kids are ESTATIC with anticipation for yet another joyful season of GETTING!!!! Christmas Day rolls around and Mom sits back and watches her successful gathering session pay off with excitement and happiness for a day where each member of the family feels like someone took the time to consider EXACTLY what THEY wanted, and made those wishes come true. Some amazing moms even yield the credit to a big man in a red suit as the benefactor of this great extravaganza… 🎅🏼🎅🏼🎅🏼

WELL… after watching that scene for the last 17 years, our family has agreed to switch things up a bit. First of all, I have really been into the idea of enjoying experiences vs. THINGS. As I get older, I have come to realize how short-lived the happiness of obtaining items can really be. It is a plight that sends many into debt and even depression after realizing once you get “IT”, there is always a desire for MORE… “IT” is never enough…  and “IT” never gives the lasting high created by memories or experiences that leave a lasting impression, a lifelong memory or moments for reflection and growth. Over the years, I have come to replace high ticket items, technology, and great trinkets, with opportunities of adventure and togetherness.

While our family will take another trip this holiday season, we will still attempt to give them the “gift under the tree” experience, but this year it will be with a bit of a twist. This year we have set a spending budget of $400. Each member of our family will pull a name from our family of four. They will keep that name a secret. For the next several days THEY will conduct research on their person. They will study them. Listen to them. Consider the desires of their heart. On December 15th, we will wake up early and venture out to the mall. Each family member will get $100 in cash. They will then be responsible for searching for great gifts for their selected family member. As the mom, I will be on hand for advice or guidance if necessary, but it is up to them to make this a memorable experience for their person to enjoy on Christmas day.

I love this idea because it does several things:

  1. It allows EVERY member of the family to appreciate the art of GIVING as well as receiving. I SOOOO love to give. Though our family is a family of givers, I hope our children will see how great the entire giving experience is and make it a part of everyday life.
  2. It helps everyone appreciate and understand the importance of a budget. Though we would LOVE to give a lot more, we must spend according to what we have. Apple can’t determine that amount, we must. There is no joy in giving when you have to pay for it for the next several months. I love that we can share this experience together. Look for deals! Find the sales… Make that money stretch!
  3. It requires everyone to consider another’s desires over their own. They will have to conduct the necessary research in order to be successful in their experience. Too many times we are so wrapped up in our own wishes, we fail to consider anyone else’s.
  4. It takes the weight off one person producing for everyone. Though I thoroughly enjoy the Christmas hunt, purchase, wrap and presentation session, it is a joy I would like my family to practice as well. Especially as my kids are getting older, it will be imperative for them to learn the art of giving for their current and future relationships.
  5. It is a reminder that we all get things throughout the year… All the time!!! We can’t possibly buy EVERYthing for EVERYbody in one month… (Whoever came up with such an idea??? 🤔🤔🤔 lol!)
  6. It helps highlight the idea that the family trip is our true Christmas present. Our undivided time together and the adventures we will share will supersede any thing we could wrap and place under a tree.

As a country, the secularization of Christmas has created a “get” mentality in many of us. A lot of our giving is out of obligation vs. the genuine desire to share. Many of us go into debt to meet unrealistic expectations and fail to see the true beauty in what this amazing time of year is all about. While we will still decorate the tree and enjoy the lights and holiday music, I am hopeful to help create experiences that spread love, joy, peace and the true beauty of cheerful giving, (within a budget of course) that will help produce memories that last a lifetime. Happy Holidays to you and your family. Here’s to all the wonderful ways you choose to celebrate God’s love this holiday season! 😊😊😊😊😘😘😘

Photo: Bplans

OFF THE WALL…

When I was in 6th grade, I remember our middle school having a big dance. Though it was held in our gymnasium, and the teachers were our chaperones, somehow, to us, it was considered a MAJOR event. I knew most of the kids in my grade and even the upper classmen. We had been going to school together since elementary. I was actually considered decently popular (if there is such a thing in 6th grade… 😊) And though the DJ was BLASTING some of that year’s greatest JAMS, it did not stop my tremendous fear of getting on the dance floor. I literally sat there the entire time watching all the kids dance wishing I had the guts to get out there and jam right along with them. Instead, I played it safe, and stayed my butt on the wall the entire night overcome with great envy and fear. I was so disappointed in myself. Over time I matured. I gained a bit of confidence and by the time I was in the 8th grade, I was not only helping to organize the dances, but I had choreographed routines to Bobby Brown and Janet Jackson’s greatest hits in order to show off my dance skills with my friends!!! Lol!

Speed this up to 2018, 30+ years later, recently, I have been listening to Michael Jackson’s awesome hit song, “Off the Wall.” If you get a chance you should check it out. But the lyrics made me remember that 6th grade experience. I wonder how many of us get stuck in that same “wall” rut. We get caught up in our mundane routines of life. At one time they may have seemed thrilling, but as we get up, go to work, take the kids to school, come home, eat, sleep, and then repeat… we find ourselves slipping into a bit of boredom and even despair. We are frustrated with the monotony, but don’t really know any other way. The kids HAVE to go to practice. We HAVE to work, do laundry, cook, clean, etc… and it becomes too easy to lean up against that wall and watch everyone else enjoying themselves. Because, for us, the thrill is gone…Yep. I get it.

HOWEVER. There is SO much more to life than a job. Than taking kids back and forth to practice. Than sitting in traffic. Than living that predictable, controlled, mundane life. Life is supposed to be ENJOYED!!! Full of adventure and love and zest and FUN!!!!!! It can seem a bit intimidating to step outside our comfort zones and try new ideas, travel new terrain, explore unfamiliar scenes. I mean, who has time or energy or even money for all that???? But getting off the wall doesn’t mean we have to go do a solo dance routine. Doesn’t mean we have to purchase a tuxedo and meet with a dance instructor or to audition for Julliard…

It could mean getting up and watching the sunrise. Committing to a new hiking destination once a month. Making a dish inspired by various countries all over the world. Road tripping twice a year. Getting that new pixie cut you’ve been too scared to try, renting a convertible for the weekend, buying silver boots to wear to the concert of your favorite band, learning a new language online, saving up to see a new country each year. Renting a pontoon for the family vacay. Taking dance lessons. You get the idea. Whatever the case, YOU GOT TO GET OFF THAT WALL!!!! The safe route is a road that leads to stagnation. Boredom. And Despair. Yes, you have a job. You have to be a responsible adult, spouse, parent, employee, homeowner etc… But we MUST commit to doing things on a REGULAR basis that, though may be uncomfortable, or cost a little money, or require a little planning, force us to get off the wall and enjoy this life.

As it stands right now, I have two teenagers, a husband and a dog. All of them require my time, energy, love and commitment. I am FULLY devoted to them. However, I understand that in order to live a balanced life, in order to be 100% for them, I HAVE TO do things that stimulate my joy, stir up my excitement, put thrill back on the scene. Some of the things I do/have done in the past have been simple, free, inexpensive, or sometimes not so much, but I am committed to doing something carefree and fun at least once a week and if possible once a day!

It is so cliché’ to say life is short, but it is so true. When we leave this beautiful place, we can’t take our jobs, our cars, our houses or clothing with us. It won’t matter what items or titles we’ve acquired. What will matter, are the experiences we enjoyed and how much LIFE we lived and the amazing memories and lessons we gained along the way. We must be intentional about squeezing every drip drop of this awesome journey.

I pray that you don’t get on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc… and look at everyone else on the dance floor. That you don’t scroll through their pictures of trips to the ocean, but that right where you are, you make those moments for yourself.  Get so good at living off the wall, you have choreographed dance numbers for every song that is played. You are jammin’ so hard, you inspire others to jam as well… And in the words of the great Michael Jackson, you will be sure to find, “Life ain’t so bad at all… if you live it off the wall!!!!” 😊

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DIY: How to Decorate a Teen Girl’s Room: A Space of Inspiration

Every child wants a place where they have ownership. A place of belonging. A place that has their distinct signature that says “ME.” It should be a place of freedom, where they can let go of their inhibitions. It should stimulate creativity and inspiration. A place where they can always feel welcomed and celebrated.

As parents, we may not be able to provide this kind of space in their classrooms, on the bus, in the locker room or even at church, but we CAN give them that space in a little corner of their world… their bedroom.

I have 2 teenagers. I recently redecorated their rooms to fit a more age appropriate palate. As they develop and evolve into the awesome young man and woman they will become, I want their décor to reflect some of the attributes I mentioned earlier; to create a place to help make their journey memorable and special for them. I was able to accomplish all of this by applying one simple rule:

CELEBRATE THEM!!! Use colors, materials, signage, posters, fabrics, bedding, rugs, pictures, initials, lights, art, trophies, medals, furniture, and ANYTHING else you can find to honor and inspire THEM!!!! THAT’S IT!!!!! I will share with you just how I did that for my daughter and also my son.

It challenged every level of my creativity to capture the complexities of my teenage daughter’s personality in one setting. (She’s an athlete, yet slightly girly, she’s an old soul, yet slightly trendy, she loves the bible, yet finds inspiration through literature and other figures she admires, etc.) However, it was fun to see it all come together.

For the first time, I didn’t paint the walls. Instead, I went with a Denim and Rustic Meets Pink and Classic theme… WHICH IS SO HER!!!!

I made a garland window treatment out of various pairs of blue jeans, lace, burlap and ribbon as a cool focal point. I did this by simply cutting the fabric and tying it to a hanging twine.

I hung my staple signage over the window to reveal a message specific to her. “BE YOU” seemed applicable so I chose metal and wood letters to drill into an old slab of barn wood.

When I couldn’t find the perfect center piece for the window, I decided to simply hang an old pair of her favorite Converse. Strange perhaps, but SO HER!!!! Under the window, I added a bench from Overstock.com for additional storage and seating and found a couple fun pillows at Ross/TJ Maxx to compliment the space.

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Though there are great teenage chairs out there, I replaced her old polka-dotted bean bag with a classic denim chair I found on sale at the Pottery Barn Outlet, and then I handmade a chunky yarn blanket as an accent to add texture.  I imagined this space being a special spot she could read or enjoy quiet time, so I hung a full-length inspirational canvas tapestry of a quote from Maya Angelou.

To compliment the proportion of her full-size bunk bed, she and I found large letters from Michaels, to spell her name. We bought sample size paint pots of various denim colors and painted and distressed each letter a different shade and added flowers around it for a nice touch.  For her bedding, I chose a simple pink cotton coverlet with lace to allow the pillows and other elements of the room to pop more.

Of course, every teenage gal needs a full-length mirror to create amazing outfits. But of course, I couldn’t let it be just any old space. In a world that constantly tells them they are not good enough, I wanted this space to be special. To add sparkle and shine, I simply used Christmas garland and décor to give this space the pizazz it needed.

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Finally, over her dresser, instead of a TV, I added a large corkboard where she could add pictures, ribbons, awards, reminders or anything of importance to her. Next to the corkboard are shelves to serve a similar purpose. This is HER space. Over time, she can add artifacts that are meaningful to her to showcase her heart. Above the corkboard are paintings from one of our favorite artists, Kelly Rae Roberts. Each piece is a portrait of a beautiful girl with beautiful colors and expressions that coincide with colors and themes I used throughout her room.

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Overall, I was thrilled to see this room come together. Teenagers are very complex. It can be challenging to capture all the beauty of their heart and mind. However, I took my time, and worked hand in hand with her to create depth and breadth that represented the essence of her spirit. When I see her in her special space, it makes my heart happy that we could create a place for her to feel free and comfortable and celebrated and respected and loved. Ideally all this energy will transfer to her heart. It will follow her into the corners of her world and every place she dwells. And she will have a bit more confidence to share that beautiful heart, mind, and spirit with the rest of her world…

Whatever the age, or gender of your child, may you capitalize on their strengths and interests and showcase all the elements that celebrate them. You don’t need a huge budget, just a way to fill their room with everything that makes them sparkle and shine!!! 🙂

DIY: How to Decorate a Teen Boy’s Bedroom: A Space of Inspiration

Every child wants a place where they have ownership. A place of belonging. A place that has their distinct signature that says “ME.” It should be a place of freedom, where they can let go of their inhibitions. It should stimulate creativity and inspiration. A place where they can always feel welcomed and celebrated.

As parents, we may not be able to provide this kind of space in their classrooms, on the bus, in the locker room or even at church, but we CAN give them that space in a little corner of their world… their bedroom.

I have 2 teenagers. I recently redecorated their rooms to fit a more age appropriate palate. As they develop and evolve into the awesome young man and woman they will become, I want their décor to reflect some of the attributes I mentioned earlier; to create a place to help make their journey memorable and special for them. I was able to accomplish all of this by applying one simple rule:

CELEBRATE THEM!!! Use colors, materials, signage, posters, fabrics, bedding, rugs, pictures, initials, lights, art, trophies, medals, furniture, and ANYTHING else you can find to honor and inspire THEM!!!! THAT’S IT!!!!! I will share with you just how I did that for my daughter and my son.

Creating the perfect setting for my son was quite easy. Since he was little, we knew he loved all things logic. Including math, science, chess, robotics, technology, information, etc… The challenge was bringing this all together in a digestible and functional way, that would keep him interested, yet not distracted. This is a place where he not only does his homework, but he designs robots, plays games of chess, reads books, but also sleeps!!!

I found prints of the patents of the chess game and board right on eBay. I framed them with a rustic wood frame I got from Hobby Lobby. This served as a perfect focus point for his room above his bed. I used it as the anchor of my designs and built everything else around it.

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I think a display of their name is a staple piece to add signature to one’s room. Shoot, the average adult likes to see their name on their office door, desk etc… Kids aren’t much different. I found extra-large size wooden letters on Etsy and created a neat arrangement next to his bed.

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Above the window, I added my signature sign to reveal a message specific to him. though I “borrowed” the idea from The North Face, I find it to be super fitting for my son. 😊 I nailed the words “Never Stop Exploring” into a slab of old barn wood that I painted black, with hopes that he would be reminded of this very important message each day.

On each side of his window, I added a couple basic pieces I found in various stores. One is a simple arrow that points up, while the other is a picture of the planets in order of their arrangement. Both pictures light up. I find that most kids like the same ambient lighting we adults enjoy, just in a more age appropriate form.

Though the highlight of every room to me is the headboard or the bed itself, the owner of the room will spend a large portion of their time lying in the bed. Their focus will be on the space adjacent to the bed. So, this space is very important. Here I added a hanging solar system I found on Amazon. The planets spin in orbit similarly to the way they do in space. It is such a neat focal point and my son seems to love it. I also added a world map and a mirror and cleared an area for a spinning chair to create a place for him to read, do homework, relax, or even stargaze through the telescope that sits in front of his window. To fill the large wall across from his bed, I added a huge blackboard tapestry filled with physics and other scientific formulas. Though this language is COMPLETELY foreign to me, my son LOVES it and it gives him a little something to configure when he feels up to the challenge.

On the side wall between the door and his closet, I added a bench for extra seating and storage. I also hung a metal bin for his awards, certificates, and college letters. I love to see that he is filling this space quickly. The display of his success is a great reminder of his accomplishments. Finally, above the end table of his bed, I added a small reading lamp. Above it is a shelf for additional storage and a print of the periodic table.

Overall, I was thrilled to see this room come together. Teenagers are very complex. It can be challenging to capture all the beauty of their heart and mind. However, I took my time, and worked hand in hand with him to create depth and breadth that represented the essence of his spirit. When I see my son in his special space, it makes my heart happy that we could create a place for him to feel free and comfortable and celebrated and respected and loved. Ideally all this energy will transfer to his heart. It will follow him into the corners of his world and every place he dwells. And he will have a bit more confidence to share that beautiful heart, mind, and spirit with the rest of his world…

Whatever the age, or gender of your child, may you capitalize on their strengths and interests and showcase all the elements that celebrate them. You don’t need a huge budget, just a way to fill their room with everything that makes them sparkle and shine!!!

“I DON’T NEED TO BE FAMOUS…”

I was boutique shopping with a beautiful friend of mine the other day. She just so happens to be an awesome singer and a super favorite around our small town. The gal working the register, an obvious fan, noted “When are you gonna go on TV???!!! You are SOOOO good!!!!”

My friend responded with great modesty, true to her character, “I don’t need to be famous, I’m happy just playing my music here at home, with my people.”

I was so blessed by her response. I could TOTALLY relate. However, I could also understand how foreign her response was to the clerk. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be famous, right? Who wouldn’t want to be seen and adored by thousands, if not millions, right? Why not share your talent with as many people as you can, right?????

As a society, we’ve gotten to the place where more is better. Where all we do is measured by the number of likes, customers, product sold, people in the audience, etc. We crave acknowledgement, a certificate, pin, title, award, or some sort of notoriety for everything we do. We secretly want our content, our YouTube, blog post, picture, or even rant to go viral. We want to be discovered. We crave validation. Acceptance. And ultimately, love.

The problem with this is, in our plight to be noticed by the masses, we forfeit the journey of growing, learning and allowing God the chance to promote us in His timing. We spin our wheels and max out our resources to produce results, often times based on standards of another person’s success. We are so busy climbing ladders, grinding, and chasing a name, we miss out on the little opportunities to cultivate relationships that produce the lasting love that matters.

Within the last couple years, my singing friend retired from an awesome career in education to be at home full time with her family. Nope, she didn’t pack her bags and move to Hollywood, instead, she volunteers at the school, she helps her husband with his business, coaches her son’s basketball league and tends to her parents and elderly grandparents. When she gets a chance, she sings and plays guitar at local venues, festivals and weddings around town. But SHE is super ok with that. Currently, she doesn’t have a triple platinum album, she doesn’t have a Grammy on her wall, she won’t get Administrator of the Year this year, but in the meantime, her daughter has a friend she knows is always there when she needs her. She has a solid marriage of 17 years. She hasn’t missed a ballgame and is able to take her mom to her weekly check-ups at the doctor.

Perhaps if we get back to some of these things that really matter in this life, we will grow our character. We will develop the characteristics necessary to sustaining greater levels of success. We will have a true support system of people who love us and look out for our best interest along the way. We will have made major impact on individuals and created memories throughout.

I’m not saying give up the pursuit of greater or abort taking your talent and visions to their highest level possible. Go get your Grammy!!!! Just don’t let it be at the expense of the things that truly matter. Don’t let it be an attempted replica of someone else’s journey. Many of the people we all admire, follow on Instagram, and see adorned by millions, go to bed lonely with no one they can truly trust. When their career ends, they have no one by their side. No trusted companions or skills to help them sustain or recover their achievement.

As you pursue your purpose, trust in God’s ability to customize the experience for YOU. Put your best foot forward in everything you do because it will ALWAYS lead to greater. Be sure to enjoy the growth that happens during the journey and develop and cherish relationships with the people in your life right now. You will find, their love is better than the superficial love that comes from the masses. The mountaintop is so much better when you get their whole, with great people on your team, with true love in your heart, and with God leading the way. Until then, sing your heart out and enjoy each time you perform in your hometown, post your best blogs if only for an audience of 100, and rock out that business from the ground up … You’ll get your Grammy soon enough… While you’re at it… enjoy the journey!!!

Proverbs 16:9

Catalogue Your Journey… Capturing the Moments that Count.

Ok. So when we hear the word “souvenir” we all think of the 3 for $10 trinkets we buy when on vacation to let people know we were thinking of them, or perhaps an artifact to remind ourselves of the time we enjoyed while there. Unfortunately, most times, those items are bought without real thought and they ultimately collect dust for a few weeks before winding up in the garbage. I mean, how can we keep up with all that “junk” over the years anyway? Great point. However, I started looking at this souvenir thing in a different way. I had a desire to capture a bit of the joy, peace and memories that were happening throughout this awesome journey. And even though I carry them in my heart and mind all the time, there is something about the nostalgia of bringing your mind right back to that space in time which you held so dear.

Maybe because I have very few pictures or artifacts from when I was a child, but mostly because I am amazed with how the time is flying and how many miracles happen every single day, I just have the desire to catalogue my journey. I found that it is simply a way to bottle up that moment, that feeling, that memory, so that it can be relived in some small way. You can do this in so many ways. Perhaps by journaling, taking pictures and videos of the “highlights”, making playlists, marking your child’s growth progress on a wall, stamping their hands and feet, saving medals and trophies, making 1st day of school signs and pics for every year, collecting a pen for every hotel you visit, etc. Whatever the case, one of the greatest ways to keep gratitude in your heart is to recount the many blessings you experience on a day to day basis. A great way to slow down the time is to catalogue and take stock. Be intentional about it and customize it to make it meaningful to you.

One of the ways my family and I catalogue is by collecting a Starbucks coffee mug on every place we travel. Over the last 5 years or so, we have been successful. It was pretty cool when my husband and I added our collection to a space on our wall a couple weeks back. What a super conversation piece. What a great motivation to travel more. What a super way to enjoy and capture the journey and even share with others. I hope you find a way to capture the awesome moments during your adventures. And that you intentionally discover meaningful ways to recount the joy you experienced while there…

Christmas Family Road Trip : 1400 Miles to the Mile-High City… Experience is the Greatest Gift…

I just had another birthday a few weeks back. Traditionally, I use this time to capitalize on a super travel experience with my husband, at which he and I whisk away to a fun destination and enjoy a few kid-less days of rest, rejuvenation, and reflection in preparation for another awesome year. We set a budget and GO!!!! Though I generally enjoy this time IMMENSELY, this year, I kinda didn’t want to be away from the kids!!! WHAAAATTTTT????!!!! Turn down a once a year getaway??!!!!!… I KNOW… I KNOW!!! They are getting older so fast… and I kinda just wanted to be with them. SO, I forfeited my 2 person trip, and turned it into a 4 person trip. HOWEVER, I STILL had to stick with the same budget. YIKES!! This made things kind of tricky. I had to stretch this budget, yet still come up with an AWESOME vacation plan.

After careful consideration and research, I decided DENVER would be the PERFECT spot. Neither of us had ever been there, and we’ve seen and heard amazing things about it. The only problem was, the flight from Atlanta to Denver x 4 consumed 90% of the budget. So, I had to again get creative… And that’s when the family road trip idea was born.

The trip would be 1400 miles which would take about approximately 21 hours by car one way!!! WHAAATTT!!!???!! That’s a total of 40+ hours on the road (not even including the driving once we got there)!!!! YIKES!!! We’ve done a 4-6 hour trip before and even broken up a 10 hour trip over 2 days… but 21 HOURS!!! OMG!!! I talked it over with my husband and then carefully presented it to the kids. They were BEYOND thrilled to not only be considered for the trip, but SO up for the ride!!!!! YAAAY!!! It was settled.

Over the next several days, we calculated gas, time, places to stop (on the way there and on the way back), and of course our anchor spot in Denver. We decided to drive our own car vs. renting one, which created so much wiggle room in the budget and gave us tons of financial flexibility. We stayed in great hotels, ate super food, shopped at great malls and boutiques, explored new terrain and enjoyed awesome adventures. We bonded. Talked. Read. Thought. Slept. And sometimes just sat in silence. Overall, we had the time of our lives. Here are some pics and details of our 10-day cross country family road trip from Georgia to Denver and all the great stops in between.

Day 1: Friday December 22, 2017: Today was the kids’ last day of school and my daughter had a basketball game that evening, so we planned to leave at night and make the most of the trip while everyone was sleeping. After the game, we shut down and secured the house, loaded up the truck, said our family prayer, and FINALLY, at nearly 11:00pm, we took off for the first 12 hours of driving.

Day 2: Saturday December 23, 2017: After 10 hours of driving, we made it to our first stop: St. Louis, Missouri. The kids woke up, we all stretched our legs and ate a nice breakfast before our 4 hour drive to Kansas City, where we stayed for the night.

Day 3: Sunday December 24, 2017: We woke up the next morning and enjoyed a nice (free) breakfast at the hotel, and a quick family walk. We then picked up some snacks, filled up the tank, and grabbed a souvenir Starbucks mug to add to my collection before starting our next 9 hours on the road. The drive was beautiful. We talked, laughed, listened to music, and reflected on the birth of Christ on our Christmas Eve drive. The kids read their books and even watched a couple Redbox movies to help the time fly by. We stopped at a Chinese Buffet to stretch our legs and fill our bellies before all the restaurants shut down for the holiday. We FINALLY made it to Denver that evening. WE WERE THRILLED the room and the area was as beautiful as it was online when we booked it. ANOTHER SCORE!!!

Day 4: Monday December 25, 2017… CHRISTMAS DAY!!!!! What a great day it was. Of course we began the day with reflection on the birth of Christ. We then enjoyed another great free breakfast and relaxing time around the hotel.

Day 5: Tuesday December 26, 2017: Today was our first real day out in Colorado. After recommendations from some of the locals, we decided to make the 30 minute trip to Boulder. We had an AWESOME time.

Day 6: Wednesday December 27, 2017… MY 41st BIRTHDAY!!!! Today, we decided to paint the town RED!!! We didn’t have a set agenda (which sometimes is the best) but we knew we were going to take the 1 1/2 ride to Breckenridge. What a super day!

Day 7: Thursday December 28, 2017: This was our last full day in Colorado and probably my FAVORITE day of the entire trip. We ventured back to Boulder to hike the Flatirons, which is are huge rock formations just east of the Rocky Mountains. The trails have the most BEAUTIFUL views of the city and are surrounded by mountains.

Day 8: Friday December 29, 2017: We packed up the truck and began the 12 hour drive to Branson, Missouri. Though it may have been a little tough to leave this awesome place, I was full from the rich experiences we had while here and happy that though we were departing, we still had a few goodies left on our journey.

Day 9: Saturday December 30, 2017: Today is officially our last day of fun off the road. We ate a super breakfast, let the kids swim a bit, and even went on a small hike while checking out the sites in Branson. It was a lite day, in preparation for an amazing night…

Day 10: Sunday December 31, 2017: It was the last day of the year and the last day on the road. We woke up early the next morning and headed back for Atlanta. I know this was a super long post, but I can’t reflect enough on the amazing time we had together. Over the years we have done the theme parks, visited beaches, lakes and mountains, voyaged on cruises, and other super destinations, however, I have to say this may just be my absolute favorite trip of them all. We bonded. We loved. We adventured. Many people that knew of our trip asked if we had family in Denver? Was there a reason for such extensive travel? The answer is no. We had a desire to see new terrain, a plan and a budget. We were fueled by the excitement of the unknown and we have memories to last a lifetime. My kids are getting older. I want to take every opportunity possible to make these moments count. While I love the idea of giving gifts and buying presents, I will cherish this amazing experience, it was my greatest gift of all…

HOW TO TEMPER YOUR TURKEY TIME… Tips to Reduce Holiday Indulgence :-)

Ok. We are just a couple days away from the incredible holiday season!!!!! Awesome days filled with joy, peace, laughter, rest, and fun. Great memories are made with all our FAVORITE things to enjoy; football, family, friends; time off work, and the best of all… SHOPPING AND EATING of course!!!! I tell you, I am an AVID Black Friday shopper!!! I will be out there with the BEST of them searching for a super steal (yeah right… do they really exist???? But I WILL be out there nonetheless!!!) and of course will enjoy a wonderful FEAST on Thanksgiving and Christmas day!!! However, I have learned over the years the good old adage “a moment on the lips, equals a lifetime on the hips” to be SOOOO appropriate during this season. We can actually apply it to not only food, but spending as well. Here are a couple ideas to consider when making choices about eating and shopping during the holidays.

For the sake of establishing my point, let’s look up the definition of 2 words. 1st indulge. Indulge simply means “to take unrestrained pleasure in.” 2nd temper. Temper means to “restrain. To serve as a neutralizing or counterbalancing force to something.” Ok. So, the teacher in me is coming out. Lol.

Here’s the deal. Holidays are a time for great indulgence. We will all be tempted and most likely give in to eating without restraint and sometimes spending without restraint. We will be welcomed REGULARLY with treats, candy, cupcakes, muffins, lattes and other goodies each day. I mean, sugar is lurking on EVERY corner! At work, church, friends’ houses, school celebrations, holiday parties, etc… The Thanksgiving Day dinner alone will be loaded with DELICIOUS appetizers, meats, sides, desserts and drinks!!! HALLELUJAH!!! And we will commence to filling our bellies until we look like the stuffed turkey lying on the platter!!! We are quick to tell ourselves… “Oh, it’s the holidays… go ahead and indulge!!” FOR SURE!!! I get it!!! IT IS THE HOLIDAYS!!!!!

We do the same thing with spending. We have Secret Santa gifts to buy, Amazon is having super sales, phones have no more memory, everyone in the family needs a SUPER-DUPER gift, and shoot, while you were out looking for your mom’s present, they had a buy one get one 20% off sale, so you had to get one for yourself as well!!!! I KNOOOOWWWWW!!!! AND… It’s the break and the kids need something to do, so why not Disney, or at least the movies, dinner, a theatre production, and ALLLLLLLLL those great goodies. Everyone is coming over to your house, so you must UPGRADE your otherwise ANCIENT Christmas décor… I KNOOOOOOOWWW!!!

This has all become the beauty of the celebration. At this point, it wouldn’t be the same without it. However, we have to get real with ourselves. We run wild during this time only to spend the next few months cleaning up the mess we made, or even worse, ignoring it. Our credit cards are smashed full and our waist takes an unrepairable hit! I can admit, I have come back from many a holiday break weighing more than 5-8lbs more than when I started!!! We drudge through to New Year’s with yet another promise to get it all back in order… uuuggghhh.

Perhaps there is a better way. Simple temperance during this time can save us a ton of headache in the months to come. How can we do this? Here are some simple ideas to help temper your spending and eating during the holidays.

Temper your eating:

  1. Treat yourself, but limit yourself to one plate only. (No 2nd’s/No doggy bags!!!)
  2. Load your plate with double the amount of veggies, salad, soups over everything else.
  3. Commit to an extra workout regime during the month of December.
  4. Don’t arrive starved. Have a healthy snack or drink 2 big glasses of water before going to any holiday party (it’s tough to overeat when you are already full!!!)
  5. Bring your own favorite healthy option to the party… EAT THAT!!! 😊

Temper your spending:

  1. Make a holiday budget based on cash vs. credit.
  2. Get creative with your gifts, décor, and recreation (cook/bake/DIY-type gifts/board games/light viewing etc.)
  3. Don’t be afraid to say NO to commitments beyond your budget.
  4. Condense gift buying (Everyone pull a name. This is the person you will buy for this year.)
  5. BUY USED (You can always give gently used video games, books, toys etc. instead of the brand-new version)

I KNOW. I KNOW. This all seems to take the fun out of the experience, BUT ultimately, you have to get your mind, will and emotions in check. Let them know who’s in charge!!! If you make it a practice to operate in discipline during the most DIFFICULT of situations, there is no temptation you can’t completely obliterate!!! You can DO THIS!!! Trust me, your waistline and bank account will be much better off because you used wisdom and restraint. In the meantime, remember what this season is all about. Though you have a heart to give the most and best, though you want to enjoy great memories and times with loved ones, it will be much more enjoyable today and tomorrow when it is done with love and self-control.  HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO YOU AND YOUR CREW!!! 🙂

 

Photo cred: Pinterest

CHOOSE JOY: How to Overcome a Season of The Blues… (My Journey Through The Valley)

Ok, so it has been a couple months since I posted. I wish I could tell you it was because I was out enjoying my journey to the fullest. But if I can be honest with you, it was actually just the opposite. I was in the dumps, overcoming the blues… my peace was under attack and I have to tell you, it was a major struggle. Though it took just about 2 months, now that I have come to see the light, so to speak, now that I am back, I want to share what I have learned from my experience. Because let’s face it, we all have our rough patches, walk through valleys, experience pain and drama and let downs. And though I consider myself one tough cookie, and a pretty happy person, sometimes, these occurrences/circumstances/ordeals/setbacks/rough patches can indeed try to steal our joy. Sometimes these situations are devastating and a mere “suck it up buttercup” just won’t do.

For an example, surely you can have a bad day at work, or a heated exchange with your spouse, or leave your favorite scarf at the restaurant, or your kid gets a bad grade on his report card and this can be super frustrating. However, you can make a few adjustments, take a few deep breaths and bounce back soon after. But what about the more devastating experiences???? The big blows that throw you off your rocker, that shake your entire world. Like a death of a loved one, a CONTINUAL exchange with your spouse, a child who is perpetually in trouble, a job loss, a bad medical report, etc… How can we overcome the devastation that comes with these situations, especially when there is minimal evidence the circumstance will change?

Well without going into the details of my ordeal, I will confide some of the ways I was able to get my joy back and how I plan to maintain it. First of all, I realized quickly that my mind was completely filled with sadness, frustration, and even anger. Once that happened, there was no room for me to see anything with the right perspective. EVERYTHING seemed wrong. Everyone was bad. My efforts were worthless. Nothing had value to me. There was a fog clouding my mind and because of it, my vision was blurred. My perspective was off. Regardless of the fact that I otherwise had a pretty great existence, I literally could not see that. I was consumed by my grief. Overwhelmed by my doubt. Immersed with fear and frustration. I WAS going to church, I WAS reading the bible, I was doing all that blah, blah, blah. But my situation was there every day looking at me in the face like a huge dark cloud of reality and all I could do was roll around in it with self-pity assuming it would never get better.

So, let’s start there. Let’s assume that your situation doesn’t get better. Maybe that child won’t come to his senses for 5 more years, the bankruptcy has left you with bad credit for 7 years, your spouse won’t get the job he’s been believing for for another 5 months… how can you keep your spirits up? I submit that though those situations can bring devastation to you and your need for control, your peace and joy cannot be contingent upon them getting better. Once I came to that realization, operation Get My Joy Back, was in full swing!!! Here are the four steps I took to help me stop, drop and roll out of my gloom.

  1. Eliminate the waste/Take out the trash: In order to get rid of my stinkin’ thinkin’ I had to get rid of the negative influences that were clouding my vision.  It wasn’t deep. I mean, I don’t hang around or have regular exposure to negative people, but I had to eliminate the subtle contact. Like the images on social media, some of the TV shows, the songs, news, and even the conversations with people who were regularly complaining about their own drama. It was too much. Some of those songs will have you ready to jump off the mountain you are supposed to be moving!!!! They will subliminally fill your head with images and ideas that are not related to you. For example, some of the regular commercials on TV will make you think EVERYONE is depressed, EVERYONE has cancer, EVERYONE’S man cheats on them!!!! SOOOOO NOT TRUE!!!! TURN IT ALL OFFFFFF!!!!! TUNE IT ALLLLL OUT!!!! Those images will only hinder your path to mental clarity and set you back miles on your journey.
  2. On the contrary, immerse your mind with positive: Pretend your mind is a cup. As much as you possibly can, overload that cup with positive images, messages, thoughts, words, ideas and people. During my time in the valley, I ordered 4 new books, read great magazines, followed several sites that uploaded positive quotes and images, watched a series of faith-based movies, listened to Joel Osteen every time I got in the car, listened to uplifting music and conversed with positive people.  It is SOOO easy to want to call your best buddy and unload your issue on them. Often times they will even help you sit in your stew. But I connected with a friend of mine who challenged me. Who encouraged me. She helped me lift my spirits and help me get my eyes on what was important. Surround yourself with positivity. Great sources that will help center your focus upward.
  3. Minister to yourself: I know this is so cliché, but I was on a plane recently and the flight attendant went through the whole spiel about “securing your oxygen mask FIRST before trying to take care of others’…” That really spoke to me. It is SOOOOO important that we minister to ourselves, not only during the tough times, but REGULARLY. I dare say, EVERY DAY!!!! During my frustration, I went to the movies, went on long walks, had some quiet book reading in the coffee shop, took long hot baths, went window shopping, baked, and even went on a weekend getaway with just myself. Whatever you enjoy doing, which more than likely, you have somehow forfeited… DO IT!!!! It is therapeutic. It is necessary. These are the things that help you ENJOY life and should not take a back seat to busyness. Furthermore, intentionally doing some of these things on a regular basis, is a great way to stay out of the rough patch.
  4. SEEK THE LORD: Jesus is the ultimate supplier of joy! Seek Him first thing every single day! I personally don’t answer a text, a call, open social media, exchange with humans at all until AFTER I pray and read the Word/devotional each morning. If you don’t have a daily regimen or don’t know where to start, Pray in the shower. Download the Bible App on your phone. Read a chapter of the bible a day. Find a devotional that ministers to you. Get a good bible based book. Whatever the case, I have found that no person, no thing, no idea, no quote, no method can renew my strength, feed my spirit, restore my joy like Jesus. No house, no spouse, no clothing, no weight loss, no achievement, no surgery, no drug, no degree, or pursuit can provide the lasting joy like a relationship with Christ. Once I surrendered my worry, doubt, frustration, fear, anger and sadness over to Him. Once I took my hands off the wheel and released the need for control, I was able to allow His peace, hope, joy, faith, and love to fill my heart completely. And the best part is, He was right there all along. When He has preeminence in your life, it is difficult for outside forces to get in…

Now. Does that mean that we will never experience a rough patch ever again? Of course not. But I am confident that as I used these steps to recover my joy, if I make them a regular practice, I can use them to maintain my joy, regardless what the circumstances are around me. No doubt life can be tough. We have a TON going on and so many things coming at us each day. However, joy is a choice. It is contingent upon nothing other than our decision to activate it… Here’s to getting back out there and making the decision to ENJOY EVERY DAY OF YOUR JOURNEY!!!! As for me… I CHOOSE JOY.

 

Photo cred: Stephanie Archer

The Most “Unloveable” People Need Love the Most…

I was watering my bushes a few days ago. I noticed that after a year and a half of planting and watering just about every day, some of the bushes were beginning to grow and the buds were actually blossoming! I was THRILLED at the SIGHT of life, because up until now, though I was diligent with their care, my flowers seemed pretty unresponsive. The new blooms motivated me to water more. I even watered the couple with the biggest blossoms a bit longer because they had become my prize. I then looked over to the four that were not blooming and I grew frustrated. I didn’t even want to waste my time watering them. Something must be wrong with them if they couldn’t produce the same results after the same care! THE NERVE!!!! I mean, they have given no evidence of even THINKING of blooming!!! I even considered uprooting them and planting something more “suitable” for success.

At that moment, the Lord showed me the correlation between my frustration about the non-budding bushes with how often times we as a society can become toward others that behave in a similar manner. Think about it. How easy is it to write a person off, to become offended, to hold a grudge or withhold mercy on a person who acts in an unbecoming manner that may be different from otherwise attractive behaviors. How often are we repelled by a co-worker, a neighbor, a child, even a spouse who seems to have missed the mark on seemingly obvious objectives. ESPECIALLY when you have gone out of your way to extend an extra amount of mercy toward them… THE NERVE!!!!!

I remember my last year teaching, I had a student in 1st period named “John.” Since I actually loved teaching and even more so, LOVED the students, I never had many discipline problems. My students could see my sincere care and determination for their success, it created a mutual relationship of love and respect. However, “John” was one of the toughest in all my career. He showed up late just about every day, he sat in the front row and attempted to sleep regularly; when he WAS awake, he sat there, unprepared and unmotivated to do ANYTHING, and often times became a MAJOR distraction. Though I had to continually redirect him, something in me could not give up on “John.” This kid challenged me to my CORE, but I knew he was capable of fulfilling the tasks put before him. It was his senior year, he had made it this far, and I was NOT about to let him FAIL. He required EVERY drip drop of my patience, but I wouldn’t accept less than his best and I encouraged him to get through.

I realize extending this kind of grace takes an enormous amount of tolerance, perseverance, and strength. People can be super- extra difficult at times! It is SO easy to just throw our hands up and quit. I mean, even if “John” MAKES it out of high school, even if those plants do get a little stronger, it is so much easier to devote the energy to a person/plant that appreciates the love, or at least shows PROMISE of success.

I remember my students asking me that same question… “Mrs. Harper, why do you keep working with “John,” you know he’s not even going to graduate! He doesn’t even care!” What they didn’t know, and what I didn’t even know until later, was that John’s dad walked out on their family the year prior. It had a devastating impact on them emotionally and financially. His mother had a to carry a weight that was too much for her. They lost their home, and were forced into some very unbearable living conditions. This certainly took its toll on “John” and he began to act out, lose interest in school and everything else.

From somewhere deep inside, without knowing this prior, I was devoted to seeing “John” win. I remember explaining to the class that if we all treated John the way he deserved to be treated based on his behavior, he would see frustration and annoyance from his teachers, his mother, his classmates, his family and everyone in his life. How would that make him feel? How could he POSSIBLY blossom in that case? But what if we treated him like we hoped he would be. What we wanted him to become? What if we loved on him. What if when he acted out, we didn’t retaliate with anger, but redirected him with compassion? Considering how challenging his behavior was, this seemed a near impossible task. But I was up for the mission and was sure to model it in front of my students.

I know this is not easy. I know. But what I have come to appreciate is the one who is the most challenging, the one who is the most unloveable, the one with the threat of failure, is the very one that needs love the most. We simply cannot give up on people who don’t have it all together, who present a challenge, even those who act out. That is the expected response. That is what they are used to. That won’t help promote a change or motivate them to rise higher. We must reach deep into our hearts… DEEP (lol) and find that compassion. Extend that mercy. Overlook that offense. I am convinced that love never fails. I am settled that if we rise to a higher place, we can win over the hardest of hearts.  We can inspire that tough individual to overcome.

I will never forget graduation 2014. I sat on the field during the commencement as a proud teacher of the graduates. We were to sit with them, help supervise, and escort them off the field after the ceremony. One of the proudest moments of my teaching career happened at the end as the graduates engaged in a procession off the field. “John” came up to me with tears streaming down his face, beaming with pride and gratitude. He looked me in my eyes, and with all sincerity told me, there was no way he would have made it to this moment without me. He apologized for being so difficult to handle and concluded his message with, “thanks for never giving up on me!!!” It was the last class of my career, but that lesson was one of the greatest of them all.

Though you may put forth great effort, though you may not always understand, though that difficult spirit may push you to your limit, somehow go to that place deep down in your heart and activate that compassion, extend that mercy, muster up that hope, water those plants and love the seemingly unloveable. It may just be the very ingredient necessary for them not to fail…

 

 

Photo: picturequotes

TIME DOES NOT HAVE TO FLY… A Back to School Reflection.

Ok, so both my kids are in high school!!!!! 😲😲😔 WHAATTT???!!! This blew me away!!! I mean, it seems like YESTERDAY I was nursing them and teaching them how to use the bathroom!!!! I remember waking up in the middle of the night to feed them, or getting them bundled in alllll their layers of clothing in order to weather the cold, and carrying them in their car seat and wondering “how in the world was I going to get through this????” I mean, it seemed SOOOOO hard and because they were only 19 months apart, it seemed there was no relief. Something as simple as getting ready for bed meant individual baths, and getting them dressed and keeping one entertained while the other was being attended to… it was literally EXHAUSTING!!!!

I remember some of the elders, (ie. WISE, BRILLIANT people we tend to ignore because they just don’t understand our specific situation) used to tell me, “enjoy these moments because they fly right by…” I remember WISHING they would… 😂😂lolol!!! Now that those beautiful babies have grown into amazing 14/16-year old’s right before my eyes, I’ve learned that time does indeed FLY by and I have come to appreciate allllll those tough times as fond moments in this AMAZING journey. Because I have come to value each phase of parenthood, I have also learned how to seize the moments and literally slow down the time.

How in the world can you slow down time, you say? It is actually quite simple: Make each moment count. BE PRESENT. Adjust your perspective and see the joy in that perfect place of the journey. Especially you new moms, or moms of toddlers, or moms of those goofy pre-teens, and OMG… MOMS OF TEENAGERS!!!! YIKES!!! Know that each phase brings about a new terrain. It can be tough, especially when you haven’t tread that path before. It completely sucks when they learn the word “no”, or when they THINK about talking back, driving, dating, or wanting to go on field trips, or getting a new cell phone, or starting HIGH SCHOOL!!!! OMG!!!! IT’S A LOT I KNOW!!!! Each phase brings new challenges indeed, but they are times you will never get back. Ask any empty-nester what they wouldn’t give to put that perfect part in their daughter’s hair with pigtails for the first day of school. How they wish they could sit through just ONE more basketball game. How they wish they could watch one more Disney movie together…

I remember my daughter being rushed to the hospital because her appendix ruptured. We had no idea, but it actually ruptured days before she was admitted, which put her in a critical position. Infection had spread through her body and we were in the hospital for several days. I was still working during that time. I remember actually wrestling with the idea that I had 150 final exams to grade and report cards to post while my daughter had a tube sticking out the middle of her stomach!!! 😦😦😦 It dawned on me then, that my job was taking WAAAAY too much of my attention. That it hindered me from fully focusing on the monumental moments of my children’s lives. I considered how much of my attention COULDN’T be on them, because I was trying to be excellent at my career. That was my last year of teaching. We downsized our lives, I retired from my job and am at home to fully serve my family. Now, I am by NO means suggesting anyone quit their job. For me, I HAD to, and it has made all the difference. But there is surely a way you can slow down the time in your life right now. Whatever way God leads you specifically to enjoy your journey, be sure to adhere. Realize that though we have our entire lives to indulge, chase after dreams, seek promotion, gain advanced education, get overtime hours, one thing we can’t get back is the time that passes and the events that happen throughout. Figure out how YOU can be present for your kids and get to it ASAP.

It doesn’t even have to be super deep. Being present in the moment looks like this: Attuning fully when they show you their 7,456th completed page from their coloring book, listening like you are at a concert when they ask you to hear that song they learned on the flute in band class today, sitting with them while they struggle through that English project, putting your phone down and talking to them in the car on the way to EVERY WHERE, turning off the TV and listening to them during dinner, helping them make that sign for their student council election and the like.

Parents have a tough job. We seem to constantly need relief from the weight it bears. However, if we adjust our perspective a bit and see each phase as a once in a lifetime moment on an amazing journey, we are sure to savor the time. When we purpose to enjoy each day of their childhood, we will never have to answer that horrible question, “Where did the time go?” Because we were right there in the middle of each one of those precious moments with them. Today is tomorrow’s “good old days…” so get out there and Carpe Diem!!!!

DIY #9: HOW WE MADE OUR OWN WALKWAY…

Well here we go! If you’ve been following my blog, (which you SHOULD of course!!! 🙂 ) you know that my family and I had a home built in the North Georgia mountains about 2 years ago. We had an awesome builder, however, he did not include a walkway that led from our driveway to the front door. For a while that had been fine, however, after a very rainy season, and the grass not quite growing in yet, the water began to wash the dirt from the mountain onto our “rock” walkway. Of course, this meant that my kids, my dog and everyone else that came over were dragging mud or dirt ALL over the house!!! Uuuggghhh!!! We immediately contacted our builder who gave us a price ($3000-$3500) to complete the task. Though this seemed to be a bit steep, we set up a budget, a date and were excited to get underway.  Unfortunately, we waited, and waited and waited to no avail. DOUBLE UUUGGGGHHH!!!! Sooooo, I sat with a couple girlfriends one afternoon, and during our “girl talk” (if you could ever imagine) we discussed the idea and the “ease” of using pavers to create a beautiful walkway. “THAT’S IT!!!!!” I thought!!! I could go to Home Depot and price out some super pavers and as always… DO IT MYSELF!!!!

Though Home Depot offered an amazing variety of paver options, I counted up the cost, and it was waaaaaaaay too high. So, after searching on Amazon, I found the Quikrete Brick Walk Maker!!! It was PERFECT!!! Now this was something I could do! Use the molding to create a pathway!!! I ordered the mold for $24.99 and while waiting the couple days it took to get here, I looked on YouTube and studied the materials I needed and created a configuration that would work best for us. Simple right????? UUUMMMM…. NOT QUITE!!! Considering the area we had to cover, this was quite an adventure, and after 3 months, our walkway is finally complete. While we are certainly LOVING the results, I decided to put this blog together to help guide you through our personal process to help avoid the bumps along the way. Here are the 3 steps we took:

  1. The first step was to use the mold to create the bricks. We used a 60lb bag of quikrete. I bought an $8 mixing tub for mixing and an $8 trowel to level the mix and of course kept my hose very close to make the necessary consistency. It would seem you should over fill the mold with mix in order to create a thick/strong brick. That is not true. Fill the mold, but don’t over-stuff it. This will make the top of the brick uneven. Some people rent a concrete mixer for this part. Though that would come in SUPER handy, we did it the old-fashioned way, with a shovel. Let each mixture set for 5-10 minutes and carefully remove the mold. We proceeded to mix the next bag of concrete while the current one was setting. That helped keep the pace going smoothly. Repeat this process for each brick. Be sure to line the mold next to the prior brick in order to accomplish a patterned walk. Don’t be afraid to add curves as long as the distance isn’t too far from the adjoining brick.

2.  Once you have designed your configured path or patio, you can prepare to prime and stain your bricks. I love this part of the project, because there is a super selection of colors and shades you can select from. Go to the paint/stain section of your local Home Depot to choose the color that works best for your space. Many people add dye to the bricks while mixing the concrete. I like staining afterwards because it is MUCH more cost effective and gives you a greater selection. The prime and stain manufacturers advise you to wait 30 days until your concrete has cured before starting this process. We didn’t quite wait the full 30 days, but perhaps at least 15 worked for us. We primed first and stained it a charcoal color one day later. The prime goes on easy. I used a paint brush, but you can use a roller as well. You really can’t mess this part up, so enjoy this opportunity to be creative.

3.  Finally, once the stain is the shade/tint you like, you can add the SAKRETE PermaSand for a “grout” effect. We found this item at Home Depot as well, however, it was quite costly at $20 per container. Because we had so many bricks to fill, I could have easily used 8-10 of these. However, I decided to buy Quikrete sand topping mix for the bottom portion as a filler. I poured the sand in the grooves of the bricks to about half way. And THEN added the Permasand as a sealer on the top portion. I then swept it into the cracks. The directions will tell you to use a leaf blower to remove all excess sand from the surface. We did that and lightly watered the sand and watched it harden. This was a great part of the process because you can see the contrast of the grout and the color of the bricks. It is a great signal that the project is almost complete.

Once the grout has dried, you can enjoy your paver patio/walkway etc… Contrary to my initial plan, this is not an overnight project. It is indeed labor intensive, but I admit that most of the job was done by me and my 14 year old daughter in 90 degree temperatures. If we can do it, surely you can. The key is making sure you take your time. Do not rush this process. Loading the quikrete concrete itself has to be done in stages (depending what car/truck you have) because you don’t want to ruin your struts. Mixing that mix is tough and doing too much in one day, can put undo strain on your back. TAKE IT SLOW. When done well, it will be a super cool project you can enjoy and reflect on for years to come!!!!