Tuesday, May 16, 2017

15 Inspiring Cheryl Strayed Quotes About Life and Living

I'm a sucker for a good quote. There's something about making connections between someone else's words and my own life that makes me pause and think. Whether that pause is to soak in inspiration, wisdom, humor, motivation, an aha moment, or a sense of belonging, I jot down those quotes that speak to me in a running list I've had for years.

I recently finished reading Cheryl Strayed's book, "Tiny Beautiful Things," which is a collection of her "Dear Sugar" advice columns. As soon as I closed the book after the last page, I knew I needed to read it again. This woman is filled with wisdom about everything from love and relationships to family and loss, offering perspective that could benefit anyone. A beautiful writer with a true ability to dish out advice in a blunt yet kind way, Cheryl Strayed has quickly become one of the most frequently quoted people in my personal collection of favorites.

In need of some perspective? Here are 15 inspiring Cheryl Strayed quotes about life and living:

1. "It’s up to you to make your life. Take what you have and stack it up like a tower of teetering blocks. Build your dream around that."

2. "Don’t surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn’t true anymore."

3. "Don’t do what you know on a gut level to be the wrong thing to do."

4. "Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you'll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you'll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room."

5. "I'll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don't choose. We'll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn't carry us. There's nothing to do but salute it from the shore." 

6. "This is how you get unstuck. You reach."

7. "Stop worrying about whether you’re fat. You’re not fat. Or rather, you’re sometimes a little bit fat, but who gives a shit?"

8. "Forgiveness doesn't sit there like a pretty boy in a bar. Forgiveness is the old fat guy you have to haul up a hill."

9. "You don't have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you're holding." 

10. "There are some things you can’t understand yet. Your life will be a great and continuous unfolding."

11. "At a certain point we get to decide who it is we allow to influence us."

12. "It is impossible for you to go on as you were before, so you must go on as you never have."

13. “There are stories you’ll learn if you’re strong enough to travel there. One of them might cure you.” 

14. "Trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true."

15. "Nobody's going to do your life for you. You have to do it yourself, whether you're rich or poor, out of money or raking it in, the beneficiary of ridiculous fortune or terrible injustice. And you have to do it no matter what is true. No matter what is hard. No matter what unjust, sad, sucky things befall you. Self-pity is a dead-end road. You make the choice to drive down it. It's up to you to decide to stay parked there or to turn around and drive out."

Monday, April 24, 2017

Lessons from a Road Trip

A couple of weeks ago, my kids were on Spring Break from school. I took the week off from work. The cat and dog were set to hang out at home with the pet sitter. Our bags were packed, and my parents were waiting with open arms on the other end. All we had to do was get ourselves from Virginia to Florida and our vacation could begin.

Anyone who has looked into flying to Florida during Spring Break months knows you practically have to win the lottery be able to afford four plane tickets. So my boyfriend and I decided to skip the airport and take the more adventurous route and hit the open road. We had already driven the 14-hour trip to my parents’ house twice before, experimenting with both driving straight through in one day and breaking it up with an overnight pit stop. But that was just the two of us when the kids were with their father.

It can’t be that much harder with a 9- and 13-year-old, right?

The kids weren’t immediately convinced, so I took to Facebook and asked my wonderfully experienced and creative mom friends for tips on road tripping with kiddos. Living up to my expectations, my friends filled my feed with so much advice I had to take notes so I wouldn’t forget it all as the trip got closer.

I had every intention of writing this blog post. I just knew the trip would be epic, that I would pull into my driveway a week after we drove off with the best road trip advice to pass along to other families. I would share the tips my friends passed along, as well as others we came up with along the way. Yes, our road would be epic!

Well, our road trip was epic alright. But definitely not in the way I was going for. 

On the way to Florida, we broke the trip into two days. The first day we drove six hours and spent the night in a hotel in South Carolina, where we met up with friends heading in the same direction. We were safe and sound in Florida the following day after another eight hours of driving. We all managed that pretty well so we decided to drive straight through on the return trip. It was the return trip that might be the reason I’ll never get my kids to road trip again.

So what about those expert tips I had teed up? Yeah, those went out the window along with the stench of vomit and rules about gadget usage. All those detailed plans that were supposed to earn me Mom of the Year status disintegrated as each hour of the 16-hour trip home passed and transformed into the following three lessons that are so basic, yet so necessary in their simplicity. I should have started here:

1. Handy essentials are essential.

My 9-year-old daughter has never been carsick. However, for my 13-year-old son, carsickness is a fact of life he’s dealt with on every road trip he’s ever been on. So I always have a steady supply of plastic bags that he knows to grab the second he gets that queasy feeling, and over the years, he’s perfected his aim. While it’s not ideal to sit in an enclosed space with a puking kid, we’ve never had to deal with chain reaction vomit.

That’s why it was so shocking when one minute my daughter said her tummy hurt and the next minute she was puking in a McDonald’s parking lot. Even more shocking when, an hour later, she suddenly grabbed one of those plastic bags in the backseat for round two.

Convinced she had nothing left in her stomach, I figured we were done. My son had taken Dramamine, which worked well for him on both the boat ride we went on in Florida and the first day of the drive there (but not on the second day because, as he learned, it doesn’t work if you don’t take it.)

But an hour later, I heard the rustling of a plastic bag. Apparently, my son was experiencing a delayed chain reaction.

And an hour after that, the kids were tied at two pukes each. 

Round four was the worst round because it came on so suddenly that my poor boy’s perfect aim was off, and he missed the bag. Then, after driving at least ten minutes before an exit finally appeared on the interstate, I had to dig through luggage to find clean clothes and shoes before scrubbing floor mats with baby wipes in a gas station parking lot.

The moral of that story? Have a list of road trip essentials, and keep those essentials handy at any given moment. My list now includes at least 20 plastic bags (for both vomit and vomit-covered items that need to be double bagged so the smell doesn’t set off another chain reaction), baby wipes, ginger ale, gum, a change of clothes for each kid and the Dramamine that will knock those kids out (rather than the “non-drowsy natural” crap I bought).

2. Seating arrangements matter.

I have fond memories of my childhood summer vacations, trips that always involved a road trip. Whether my father was driving us from New Jersey to Cape Cod or to Myrtle Beach, the seating arrangements never varied. My brother sat in the backseat behind my father, I sat behind my mother on the passenger side. Sometimes we all talked. Sometimes we entertained ourselves individually with a Walkman, toys, books or crafts. There was never talk of switching assigned seats.

Maybe those childhood memories are the reason I didn’t relinquish my seat in the front of the car, even though I knew my son’s bouts with carsickness would greatly decrease if he sat in the front. Or maybe it’s because I wanted so badly for my children to bond and use the forced proximity to figure out a way to pass more than 15 minutes at a time without fighting. Or maybe it’s because I’m not crazy about the backseat. After all, my boy inherited the carsickness gene from someone.

But after the last vomit stop I gave my son the front seat. He felt better the rest of the trip, his sister was happy to be in the back with someone who allowed her to stretch out beyond the barricade they had created to keep each other on their own sides, and once I popped a couple of Dramamine myself, I discovered cuddling in the backseat with my girl and a pile of pillows wasn’t so bad.

Moral of that story? Most carsick person gets the front seat.

3. Don’t try to be Mom of the Year.

I planned to have a fancy binder for each child that contained maps, destination information, coloring pages, Bingo and other games. I envisioned the four of us coming up with elaborate, hilarious stories where each person adds a sentence for maximum interactive word play. I had podcasts lined up that I had researched and approved for age-appropriateness and attention-holding subject matter. Seriously, Mom of the Year material!

Let’s just say those binders never came to fruition because the kids said they sounded boring. And let’s also say those elaborate “add a sentence” stories lasted maybe five minutes because every sentence the kids added included the words “poop” or “fart” or a synonym of “poop” and “fart,” and five minutes was about all the patience I had for that. And those podcasts? Thankfully, the daughter of the friends we met up with in South Carolina recommended one because all the others I researched and downloaded were deemed too boring to listen to.

So after all the vomit and the declarations of boredom and the “get off my side!” fights and the “can we get back on screens yet?” whines and the countless failed attempts to interact with my children, I remembered another road trip tip shared by a Facebook friend: “We do what we must to survive.”

I was not going to win Mom of the Year, and as I gave the kids permission to get back on their devices (again), I decided that I didn’t need to. We had an awesome Spring Break, spending time with each other and my parents, staying active and having fun. This 16-hour road trip was just one day out of our lives, and I had no energy left to try and implement mandatory fun. It just wasn’t worth spending time with an inner debate with my mommy guilt. As my wise friend wrote on my Facebook thread, “They will not die over this, right?”

Moral of that story? Buy the plane tickets.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Balance: My One-Word Resolution for 2017

I think it all started with a running injury. Then I noticed my hair was falling out. Later it was the tightening of my clothes. Sprinkled in there was the increase in debilitating headaches. Before I knew it, I was ending 2016 waiting for the results of my third cancer scare within six months and overwhelmed with stress.

Thankfully, none of those cancer scares resulted in a cancer diagnosis. But as I celebrated those medical results, I realized it was a wake-up call. The universe was telling me I needed to take better care of myself. And what better time for new goals than a new year, right?

I gave up on the idea of New Year’s Resolutions a long time ago. Those grand plans and bulleted lists I once wrote down and promised myself would come to fruition throughout the new year did nothing but leave me with a sense that those resolutions had set me up for failure. The specificity left me with an all-or-nothing mentality. The lack of wiggle room I unknowingly built into those resolutions ultimately led me to abandon the resolutions altogether.

That’s why the trend of one-word resolutions appeals to me. Instead of bulleted lists of precise resolutions, I could start with one general concept to trickle down and touch upon multiple areas of my life. All I needed to do was come up with one magical word to encompass how exactly I wanted to go about taking better care of myself.

Choosing one word is no easy task. In fact, a couple years ago I chose 50 words because I couldn’t settle on one. But when a word popped into my head clear as day at the end of a yoga session, I knew that word was the perfect theme for my 2017.

That word is...

Once the word found me, I immediately started working out a plan to apply it to as many areas of my life as possible.

So why am I writing about New Year’s resolutions in March? Because I’m pretty sure I’ve never made it this far with a New Year’s resolution. But more importantly, it's because my mindset has improved, I’ve created lifelong habits and I am healthier and happier in just a few short months because of that one little word.


So how has my word affected my life? I’ll break it down into 3 main categories: body, mind and space.


Unbalanced: I’m 40 years old. I am no longer at the point in my life when I can run nearly 30 miles a week with absolutely no cross training and expect to stay uninjured. My legs were overtrained and tired from doing all the work, while the rest of my body was undertrained and weak from doing none of the work. 

I also have multiple autoimmune disorders that I’ve been pushing to the periphery for years. I take my meds, but I can no longer pretend they don’t exist, that stress and poor food and drink choices don’t affect my health.

Balanced: Physical therapy for bursitis in my hip stopped producing results, so I switched to massage therapy. It was when massage started working and I resumed running that I implemented my balance plan, cutting my mileage in half and giving some love to other muscles. Thanks to my boyfriend’s old P90X DVDs, I alternate workouts and muscle groups, including yoga and kickboxing. I joined our local rec center and swim laps, sweat it up on the rowing machine and lift weights. I’m finally losing some of the weight I gained from my thyroid issues -- my first 2016 cancer scare -- and my upper body is getting stronger while I remain injury-free.

My massage therapist also suggested I rethink my office chair. I work from home. I work a lot. In a chair, in front of a computer. So I took her advice and ditched my office chair for a balance ball (see, there’s that balance word again!). It was life changing. My pain is gone, and it works my core and posture. I will never sit in an office chair again.

As far as those autoimmune disorders, well, they will always be with me. However, I have finally listened to my rheumatologist and other doctors I have to see on a regular basis. No more three cups of coffee a day. As doctors have warned me, my body doesn’t like that. I now have one cup of coffee first thing in the morning, and the other two cups have been replaced with tea. And you know what? I don’t miss that coffee one bit. In fact, I LOVE tea. 

You know what else I surprisingly love? Vegetables. Because balancing my body wouldn't be complete without the inclusion of a better balanced diet.


Unbalanced: Like most people I know, stress is a constant in my life. My most reliable stress relief has always been exercise. But when I got injured, I couldn’t rely on a long run to release the pressure valve. So the stress built up, and I found myself with headaches that rendered me nonfunctional, chronic fatigue and an inability to figure out how to relieve my stress in other ways.

Balanced: My body wasn’t cooperating, so I decided to let my mind take over. That’s when I discovered the joys of meditation.

I don’t claim to be a great meditator. In fact, I can’t sit still for more than about 15 minutes at a stretch, and I need the help of guided meditations. But my meditation practice has produced so many positive results with my stress management, both throughout the day and at night when I need to turn my brain off to sleep. I even set the alarm on my phone for various times throughout the day to remind myself to take a deep breath. Now, using breathing techniques, mantras and mindfulness, I have tools to not only relieve existing stress, but also to work toward stopping the stress where it starts to prevent snowballing.

My mind also needed something I had stopped making time for: books. I’m an avid reader, and for me, reading for fun is a mental break. So now, instead of spending too much time scrolling through Facebook, I use free time to read a book. Many afternoons when my work day is done, you can find me on my couch with calm music, a cup of tea and the latest on my Goodreads "Want To Read" shelf.


Unbalanced: Every area of my house I moved into last August was allocated for something or someone. Sure I had an entire room I could call my home office, but I never felt as if I had made it my own. I used it for work and storage. It screamed stress and clutter.

Balanced: As Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, “The key to creating a home meditation practice is to create a space where the busyness stops.” 

So I created a space.

I moved all the furniture in my home office to create my Meditation Station. In one corner of the room sits my “Thinking Chair,” and next to my meditation cushion stands a little table with candles, stones and a chime. It’s not a big space, but it's filled with positive energy. Although I can still see my work area, no stress or to-do lists are allowed in that corner. It's where the busyness stops.

I have a long way to go before I feel the balance I’m hoping to ultimately achieve, but I’m thankful for the strides I’ve made so far and I’m confident I’ve laid down some pretty strong stepping stones to continue on my path toward a healthier, more balanced lifestyle.

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