A Little Monday Randomness


After a busy few days of summer fun – a day at the beach with good friends, a visit with old work pals, a wedding, and a some time paddle-boating around the lake in Wisconsin, Monday has once again reared its ugly head. Fortunately, Monday means another Listicles with Stasha at The Good Life.  This week she had the fabulously creative idea of setting out a list of random questions for us. Here goes…

1. Grab the book nearest to you, turn to page 23, and find line 4. What is it?

“…several years what that would exactly mean. We only knew that, somewhat..” From Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

Cover of "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Y...

Cover via Amazon

2. How many times a day do you say Hi?

About 10-20.

3. Have you ever worn a uniform?

Nope, though I did wear a hairnet when I worked on the bottling line at my dad’s company.

4. What do you think about the most?

The obvious top choice is my family, but a close or distant second (depending on the day) is my to-do list and upcoming plans. It’s an illness, I know. I’m not proud.

5. How many keys are on your keyring?

6

6. What was the last thing you bought?

A new iPhone cover.

7. Are you growing anything these days?

Green beans, snap peas, and a couple tomatoes. I am still amazed that my tiny garden is producing food.

8. What is under your bed?

Sometimes a sleeping dog or two, but nothing else.

9. What is most important in life?

Positive and meaningful relationships with family and friends. Calm quiet confidence. Inner peace and acceptance. Making a difference – however small – on the people and world around you.

10. What is the strangest word you used this week?

Laches.

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Shared Earphones


Photo Credit: Angie McMonigal Photography

They sat in the back of the law school library, in the chairs closest to the expansive windows looking out over Bascom Hill and its steep grassy incline that was now peppered with crimson, ginger, and flaxen-colored fallen leaves.

They were supposed to be studying for their civil procedure midterm, just a few days away. They pretended to be analyzing amorphous legal concepts like laches, affirmative defenses, and compulsory joinder. Instead, they talked and listened, consumed with learning more about the other.

They shared his set of headphones, one ear free to listen to the words of the other, as if making up for the lost time before they had met. They chattered on about possible summer plans, job aspirations, friends, families, what they had done the previous weekend. They gossiped about the annoying girl in class – the one who always seemed to be the first one to shoot her arm in the arm to answer the professor’s Socratic line of questioning.

Occasionally, they would tell themselves that they really needed to study. They would stare at their notes and words like “venue” and “mitigation” jumped off the page with little meaning. They were lost in their own thoughts – she regretting the slipshod ponytail, he wondering what to say next.

Did they have any idea that their flirtatious friendship would eventually turn into a love affair – one that would result in marriage four years later, a son seven years later, and another son three years after that?

Probably not.

But they both new that something about this person was…different. Maybe, just maybe, this was “The One.”

So they shared their one set of earphones and chattered on.

Yes, my husband and I met in law school. Yes, our relationship was sparked by a conversation at the back of the law school library. Yes, my hair was probably in a ponytail or under a gray flannel hat. We didn’t share a set of headphones, but he did buy me a blueberry muffin.

This post is part of the weekly Photo Inspiration Challenge.  Special thanks to Angie McMonigal Photography for her fabulous photos.  Make sure to visit her website or facebook page.

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A Liebster! What the heck is a Liebster?!?


This blogging thing is a strange world, you know. I have only been writing here for the past four months and it has been an amazing roller coaster ride of ups and downs. I will admit, prior to starting this blog, I read few (if any) blogs at all so I was unaware of what the blogging community was like. I certainly didn’t expect it to be a thriving community filled with informative resources, skillful writing mentors, and a supportive network of connections. But that is just what I have found.

And I have learned a lot along the way, as well. I have learned that feedback – whether in the comments section of the blog or a separate individual email – can lift my spirits like I never imagined. I have learned that writing communities – like Yeah Write, Write on Edge and Studio 30 – exist to help writers and bloggers find their voice, hone their skills, and share their words with others. I have learned that there are amazing people, who despite our relatively new relationships, have provided me with invaluable advice on the blogging and publishing world. I have learned that a kind word, a Facebook like, a retweet, and basically any recognition at all can all validate the vulnerable personal risks that I am taking by publicly sharing myself.

Which is why I am so honored to be the recipient of the Liebster Award from Steph at The Healthy Mom. You might be wondering, what the heck is a Liebster award? Well, it’s a virtual award given to relatively new blogs with fewer than 200 followers. It is intended to recognize bloggers for their efforts and promote undiscovered blogs so that they can gain exposure and attract new followers. Being nominated for a Liebster comes with a few guidelines, of course, including the following:

1. You must thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog, with a link back to their blog.

2. You must include the blog award, along with its purpose and guidelines, on your own blog.

3. You must pass the Liebster Blog Award on to 5 blogs (with fewer than 200 followers) you think deserve some recognition, and let them know of your nomination via comment on their blog, twitter, Facebook post, etc.


So, thank you, thank you, thank you to Steph at The Healthy Mom. Your recognition, along with your frequent comments, is uplifting and motivating. I am honored and humbled to be named in such good company.

Like I said, I am new to the blogging world – both as a writer and as a reader – but there are several blogs that I consistently look forward to reading so I am passing the Liebster Award on to the following blogs:

1. This Will Be On the Parenting Test. Lisa at This Will Be On the Parenting Test provides a refreshing take on parenting and life in general. Not only is she a parenting mentor of mine, but she is a spiritual mentor and good friend, as well. I wish you all would have a chance to know Lisa, for she is truly an amazing person, but since you might not be able to know her in “real life,” I highly recommend that you get to know her in the virtual world.

2. Dad of the Decade. Not only does Ben write about the harrowing first year of his daughter’s life during which she faced several life-threatening medical problems, but he writes about being a single dad and he seeks to “reject outdated and harmful stereotypes of gender roles in families.” Ben’s writing is poignant, emotional, and inspiring, and he has been an invaluable resource of information and a supportive blog follower, as well.

3. People Do Things with Their Lives. Stephanie engages her readers in socially aware topics by drawing them into her story and sharing additional information. I learn something new and fascinating every time I read one of her posts. She is also a genuinely supportive and encouraging blog follower, who takes the time to share meaningful comments and feedback.

4. Angie McMonigal Photography. Angie is a good friend and frequent photo contributor to my weekly Photo Inspiration Challenge. Her photos never cease to provide me with unending inspiration and I look forward to the Photo Inspiration Challenge each week as I often end of writing on something completely unexpected.

5. The Chili Pot. A new blogger, Eric provides a witty take on pop culture and life in general. Eric is also a faithful and supportive friend – truly one of the good guys.

Thanks again to Steph at The Healthy Mom. Thanks to the nominated blogs for your helpful guidance and encouraging motivation. And thanks to you all for reading. It truly means the world to me.

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Awash In Twilight


Photo Credit: Angie McMonigal Photography

“Come outside and sit with me for a minute,” he says. “The sun is just going down. The sky looks awesome.”

“I’ll be right there,” she replies. “I just want to put this food in the fridge and clean up the kitchen.”

The momentum of the day carries her through one chore, then another, and then another. She hustles to pack up the leftovers, rinse the dishes, and wipe the counter. She mentally assigns additional chores to her to-do list: return an email that she neglected during the day, call the pediatrician and make an appointment for her son, shift the clothes from the washer to the dryer before they become a foul morass of sodden garments to be rewashed.

“Are you coming? I’ll help you in a few minutes.” he calls from outside, pleading with her to put the housework temporarily.

“Just about,” she responds as she nudges the refrigerator door shut with her foot and tosses a damp washcloth into the sink.

She grabs her cup of coffee (potential insomnia be damned) and her iPhone to send one quick email as makes her way through the patio doors.

“You made it just in time,” he says as she steps over the threshold. There is a twang of disparagement in his voice, one that wordlessly questions, “Did you really need to do all of that? Couldn’t the chores have waited?”

She notices the annoyance, knowing that he is right, of course. The kitchen clean-up and emails could have waited. Again, the momentum of the day won out. The self-imposed list of chores deprived her of a few moments of twilight serenity – that spectacle of the season when the brilliant glow of a summer day refuses to yield to the shadows of dusk and, for a brief time, daylight and darkness share a dance together before the one triumphs over the other.

But as she eases herself into the deck chair, lamenting the fact that she squandered the all-too-brief twilight tranquility, she realizes that she isn’t too late. He was right, she made it just in time. She has arrived at twilight’s climax, when the sky is ablaze in fuschias, auburns, and indigos and a sliver of the moon is just beginning to show his face.

She exhales a long, slow, grateful sigh, knowing that this is where she should be. Right here, right now. She admires the magnificent sight before her – the trees quickly morphing from emerald greens into smoky silhouettes, the sky’s cobalt hue surrendering to its charcoal shade, the half-moon taking on its role as nature’s nightlight.

She turns to her left, looks at him, and she is awe-struck. She is captivated by the calmness in his eyes. She is amazed by his increasing handsomeness and youthful appeal, in contrast to her once taut face that is now showing its age with laugh lines, sags, and crevices. She is overwhelmed by the spectacular good fortune and divine blessing bestowed on her when he chose herher! – to shares life’s bright days, dark nights, and calm in-betweens. And she resolves that she will never again let the momentum of the day triumph over the peaceful serenity of a few twilight moments spent with him.

This post is part of the weekly Photo Inspiration Challenge.  Special thanks to Angie McMonigal Photography for her fabulous photos.  Make sure to visit her website or facebook page.

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Reasons Dads Rock


Photo Credit: Gilzpics via Flickr

Author’s Note: The following is as slightly revised version of my Father’s Day post. It has been updated to include a few more memories for this week’s Monday Listicles, which had the topic of “10 Happy Memories of Dad, Husband, Etc.,” which was provided by Kim at The G Is Silent.

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It’s Father’s Day, y’all, so as a big shout out to all the stellar dads out there, here is a list of just a few of the reasons why they rock.

1. They seem to effortlessly strike the perfect balance between a lot of love and a little bit of fear. As a child, all it took was my dad picking up the salt shaker and firmly slamming it placing it on the table for my siblings and me to remember our table manners. Words need not be exchanged. Similarly, all it took (and still takes) is a gentle look from my dad, when he gets a tiny twinkle in his eye, for me to know how much he loves me and is proud of me. Again, words need not be exchanged.

2. They don’t fall into no-win traps of the comparison game. Unlike the mommy wars, which tend to flare up periodically, I have never, ever heard a stay-at-home dad criticize a working dad for his decision to do so, nor vice versa.

3. They add a little silliness to the family. Nothing is more contagiously funny than seeing my husband and my boys playing a rousing game of “tickle monster.”

4. They show children the value of pursuing a dream. As the owner of his own business, my dad was constantly filled with stress and anxiety, but I never once questioned that he absolutely loved his job and that he was pursuing his life’s passion.

5. They remind us of what is really important.  My husband is constantly reminding me that it matters less whether my son knows how to tie his shoes and more whether he is growing up to be a kind person. A clean house matters less than a happy family.

My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard.  Mother would come out and say, ‘You’re tearing up the grass.’  ‘We’re not raising grass,’ Dad would reply.  ‘We’re raising boys.’  ~Harmon Killebrew

6. They teach us that love and respect are actions, not just emotions. When recently asked, “What does Dad do to show you he loves you?” My son responded with “He always finds my blankie for me and he gives me lots of hugs and kisses.” Sometimes nothing says “I love you” more than finding a lost blankie.

7. They teach us the importance of having fun. Boat rides, card and dice games, playing the accordion, and bowling were all hobbies of my two grandpas, which they shared with the rest of their family.

Grandpa (Marvin) holding his great-grandson (Theodore Marvin)

8. Their strength is complemented by their tenderness. I will never forget the image of my strapping grandpa holding his tiny newborn great-grandson (whose middle name was given for him).

9. They show us that men can show emotion – sadness, joy, fear, and gentleness – without the fear of seeming any less “manly.” My other grandpa wore his heart on his sleeve and shared the full range of human emotions with those around him. He was one of the most sentimental, affectionate, peaceful men I have ever known.

10. They love us unconditionally. I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by loving men, who are (or were in the case of my deceased grandfathers) extraordinary husbands as well.

A special thanks this Father’s Day to my husband for being a fabulous dad to our two boys and for making my job as their mom so much fun…To my dad for teaching me the importance of confidence, strength, and fortitude…And to my father-in-law for helping my husband learn how to be such a great dad.

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Even Better Than Cash Prizes


I am speechless.  I am utterly speechless. For a writer that typically presents a whole host of problems, but in this case, I am humbly rendered speechless – in the best of ways.

This morning, upon checking the emails and Facebook updates on my iPhone, I learned that I had won an award. Yes, me! I had won an award!

Was I showered with cash prizes? Nope. Did I win a free trip to Europe? No again. Would I be launched into a world of fame and notoriety? Hardly.

I was, however, the lucky and proud recipient of the Inspiring Blog Award. Me? Inspiring? Like I said, I am speechless. In fact, I’ve read through the awarding post several times already just to make sure that she did, in fact, name me.

The award and its origins are somewhat ambiguous, but the guidelines for the award are clear: (1) thank the one who gave it to you, with a link back to his or her blog; (2) list some things about yourself that people wouldn’t know from reading your blog; and (3) nominate another blog (or more).

While the first guideline seems pretty straightforward, a simple “thank you” does not seem to do justice to what Lisa, who gave me the award, has done for me. As the tongue-in-cheek name of her blog – This Will Be On the Parenting Test – suggests, she blogs about parenting. As the mom of two teenage boys, she is a constant source of inspiration and guidance on what it takes to raise two boys who you hope will become responsible, authentic, mindful, and happy men. But she also writes about universally applicable topics like confidence, fear, making peace with the past, and moving forward. Not only has Lisa been a parenting mentor for me, but she has also been a religious/spiritual mentor to me since we met more than five years ago. She exemplifies what it means to live a life filled with authentic hospitality. Through the year, she has been a patient teacher, fervent cheerleader, thoughtful mentor, astute editor, and supportive friend. So, while the words don’t do the emotion justice, thank you, Lisa. From the bottom of my heart.

The second criteria (list some things you don’t know about me from reading my blog) is a bit trickier since there is little that I shy away from writing on my blog, but here are a few tidbits: I twirl my hair incessantly; my college friends call me Sassypants; and I have a bifurcated uvula (that’s a fancy way of saying, I have two of those things that hang at the back of your throat).

And, finally, I pass the award on to Stephanie at People Do Things with Their Lives. I have only known Stephanie for a few months and we have never met in person, but she is a constant source of inspiration to me. She writes about socially aware topics by drawing the reader into her story and sending forth a positive message. She has also been a strong supporter of my own writing, frequently commenting in a personal and meaningful way. She truly understands the importance of support and community, especially for a new blogger. Thank you, Steph. The torch is passed to you.

Posted in Happiness, Inspiration, Relationships, Self-esteem, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Add Some Color to Your Day


Photo Credit: ex.libris via Flickr

There’s no mistaking it – color and mood go hand in hand.  Colors are influential on a social, cultural, and personal level, and my recent post in Urban Times talks about the impact that the “Color Jam” exhibit in downtown Chicago might have on passersby and workers in the Loop.

Photo Credit: ChicagoGeek via Flickr

“Perhaps a person will look out his or her window this summer during a mid-afternoon slump and be energized by the vivacious crimson reflected off the adjacent building. Perhaps someone else, while scurrying back to the office after a stressful meeting, will be calmed by the soothing turquoise sidewalk. Or perhaps an aggressive driver will be eased by the serene green outside the car window. By splashing color throughout the typically drab concrete jungle, Ms. Stockholder has transformed a business epicenter into an unexpected playground for the eyes, heart, and mind.”

Please check out the full article here – it includes the work of some skilled Chicago photographers.

Even if you don’t have the opportunity to see the “Color Jam” exhibit, there are a number of ways that you can add a little color to your day. Why not place a small vase of flowers on your desk or tie a bright balloon to your refrigerator door?

Photo Credit: Lauren Brown via Flickr

Could you step out of your comfort zone and wear brightly colored accessories or a bold tie?

Find the most colorful photo to use as your computer screensaver or frame a large colorful print to hang on the wall.

Eat off of colorful plates.

Take a moment to notice the colors in full bloom this time of year.

And my personal favorite, buy a box of fresh Crayolas and put your five-year-old artistic skills to work.

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The Façade.


Photo Credit: Angie McMonigal Photography

Close the door.  And keep it closed.

Close the door to the storms with their blustery winds, pounding rains, and flashing lightening.

Close the door and put up a façade, a bold scarlet portico so that others cannot see the messiness that lies within.

Close the door to your mind, and keep out those pesky, scary, conflicting opinions and viewpoints that do nothing but muddle and distract our feeble minds.

Close the door to your heart, and shelter the splendor of your complexities, strengths and weaknesses, for certainly others will abuse your strengths and prey upon your vulnerability.

Close the door to the dark corners of your soul, for they will only make you cower in shame.

Close the door to others, and protect yourself from the pain that accompanies surrender and attachment.

Close the door to compassion, to empathy, to forgiveness, and to contrition, for they are signs of fragility that create the potential for misuse.

And, yes, by all means, close to the door to truly knowing yourself and others, for you will only be disappointed by our human shortcomings.

Close the door and keep it shut so that you don’t let in the hurt, sadness, anger, frustration, and confusion and you don’t let others see the intricacies of what lurks behind the pretty façade.

Or…maybe…

Just maybe…

You could open the door.

Maybe you could open the door to the bright sunshine and the soft cool breezes.

Maybe you could open the door to your mind, finding that your delicate psyche doesn’t collapse under the pressure of multi-faceted issues and divergent opinions, but is expanded and bolstered.

Maybe you could open the door to your heart, letting others witness your vulnerabilities, admire your courage and revel in the vastness of your complex character.

Maybe you could open the door to the hidden corners, discovering that, under the cobwebs and dust, there are marvelous hidden gems of hope, bravery, and resiliency.

Maybe you could open the door to the spirit of others, feeling the power that lies in surrendering to love.

Maybe you could open the door to compassion, to empathy, to forgiveness, and to contrition, using them as tools for building bridges and connecting with others.

Maybe you could open the door to truly knowing yourself and others, allowing yourself to be swept away by the amazing power of human understanding and bond.

Maybe you could open the door – and keep it open – letting in the joy, sadness, pleasure, pain, excitement, pride, peacefulness, chaos, awareness, and knowledge that come with a living a truly authentic life.  And you would find that what lurks behind the thick heavy doors is even more beautiful than the pretty façade you had kept closed.

This post is part of the weekly Photo Inspiration Challenge.  Special thanks to Angie McMonigal Photography for her fabulous photos.  Make sure to visit her website or facebook page.

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Sweet Abundance: Post at Urban Times with 10 Tips for Navigating the Farmer’s Market


Photo Credit: Tim Brauhn via Flickr

Summer has arrived in full fashion.   There are so many wonderful things about summer, and just one of them is all of the healthy, fresh food options that are literally sprouting up all around us.  Farmer’s markets are in full swing across the country, making it all the easier to stock up on healthful fare. But with all of the variety it offers, the farmer’s market can also be a bit intimidating and overwhelming.  I have a post at Urban Times today with 10 tips for navigating the farmer’s market.  The following is an excerpt, but you can read the full post here:

A rainbow of sights, sounds, and smells titillate the senses, inspire the tastebuds, and sometimes overwhelm the mind. A farmer’s market can be a veritable treasure trove of fresh, organic fare, but it can also be an overwhelming morass of tempting, and perhaps unfamiliar, food assortments. Making the sheer volume of options all the more noticeable is the fact that our pocketbooks often lack the abundance that the farmer’s market proudly displays.

But there is a way to conquer the farmer’s market and take advantage of its copious healthful options. By following 10 simple steps, you too can master the farmer’s market. With a little patience, education, and experimentation, you can rest confidently in the knowledge that you are supporting your communityimproving your healthreducing your carbon footprint, and enjoying the best the season has to offer. And nothing tastes sweeter than that.”

Not only do farmer’s markets provide a wonderful opportunity to eat healthy, but they also give us a chance to expand our culinary skills and gastronomic repertoire.  Some of my favorite farmers market finds are sugar snap peas, blackberries, and green tomatoes.  You can find a local farmer’s market near you by following this link.

If you happen to ever find yourself in the Madison, Wisconsin area, make sure to check out my favorite farmer’s market – the Dane Country Farmer’s Market which lines the streets around the Wisconsin State Capitol. And don’t leave without picking up some Hot & Spicy Cheese Bread from Stella’s Bakery.  After stocking up on all the healthy fruits and vegetables, you deserve it. It is simply divine.

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Immobilized


Photo Credit: Angie McMonigal Photography

The thoughts come to you slowly at first. But soon enough the ideas are bouncing around like tiny white pellets in a pinball machine. The excitement brews, bubbling with anticipation and eagerness. You stare ahead, eyes wide, transfixed by your own novel thoughts and the sheer potential of what might be.

You ardently jump into the task at hand, allowing the words to stumble forth with all their messiness and zealous enthusiasm. You write. You think. You dream. You fantasize. You imagine.

And then you pause, to catch your breath, and in that moment of repose, fear creeps in. Slowly and quietly at first, easily dismissed. But then you face a setback – rejection, criticism, embarrassment, disapproval – and the fear builds. Fear evolves into self-doubt. Self-doubt morphs into anxiety. Anxiety brings frustration, disappointment, weariness, and tedium.

Soon you are frozen. You are immobilized. You are restrained. You are petrified into inaction. The once innovative thoughts slow from a rapid boil to a weak simmer. The once bouncing ideas deflate and fall.

You still sit wide-eyed, but now you stare ahead in terror and apprehension, hands drawn to your head in a last ditch attempt to hold onto your might-be brilliant ideas and the hope of your could-be-achieved triumph.

You complete your manuscript, but can’t bring yourself to click “send” and submit it for fear of rejection. You try to manage the fears by quieting your dreams. But the worries and insecurities linger, and now regret is even starting to show its face.

And then you realize that all you need is a daring and brief moment of courage – “twenty seconds of brave,” as Matt Damon’s character says in the movie “We Bought a Zoo”.  Twenty seconds of brave to push the “send” button and submit the manuscript proposal.  Twenty seconds of brave to chase your dream. Twenty seconds of brave to take a risk. Twenty seconds of brave to stare the fear of rejection, denial, and embarrassment in the face and say “you don’t own me.”

And, miraculously, just like that, you are unfrozen. You are mobilized. You are freed. You are reassured into action. And just like that thoughts are bubbling and the ideas are bouncing once again.

I write this post as much as a pep talk to myself as anything, but what fears, doubts, insecurities immobilize you? How do you overcome them so that you can recapture the excitement and momentum of chasing a dream?

This post is part of the weekly Photo Inspiration Challenge. Special thanks to Angie McMonigal Photography for her fabulous photos. Make sure to visit her website or facebook page.

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