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.

Balance.

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

Body


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.

Mind


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.

Space


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.


Friday, February 24, 2017

To Whom It May Concern


Dear Meditation,

I thought I’d be better at practicing you by now. 

I’m about to finish the book Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation, which is a four week program to learn all about meditation. I all read about the benefits of meditation, and I’ve practiced breathing meditations, body scan meditations, letting go of thoughts meditations and lovingkindness meditations. I’m now on the final week, and instead of being able to ease through the recommended five to six meditation sessions a week, at least one of which is over 20 minutes long, I still find myself wiggly and itchy and fidgety and peeking at the timer to discover that only two minutes had passed since the initial chime.
My massage therapist encourages me to keep it up, that meditation is like exercise and I just need to keep practicing so those meditation muscles get stronger and can be used for longer stretches of time. So I’ll keep trying, finishing this week’s lovingkindness focus with the mantra, “May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease.” And I’ll make sure that, in addition to sending those vibes out to those I’m fond of and those I’m not-so-fond of, I’ll include myself in lovingkindness wishes.


Namaste,
An Improving Meditator 



Dear Commercial Airlines,

Thanks for making your flights ridiculously expensive during Spring Break. At first I was totally bummed that flying four people to sunny Florida would require me to auction off my internal organs, but as Facebook friends continued to offer fun suggestions for road tripping with kids, I’m kind of looking forward to being trapped in a car with my family for many, many hours. I think back very fondly to the family road trips my parents took me and my brother on when we were kids, and I know one day my little ones will appreciate the time spent together as well.

V/R,
A Mom Ready for the Family-Friendly Version of Spring Break



Dear Parents of Teenage Boys,

I have less than a week until my boy enters his teenage years. He is almost as tall as me, his voice is suddenly so deep I barely recognize it, and the other day he received his first love note from a young lady requesting to be his girlfriend. None of that really scares me though. That’s pretty typical. It’s all that other stuff that teenagers face these days that my generation didn’t have to deal with that really scares me. Snapchat. Cyberbullying. Internet porn. 

So parents, how do I get through these teenage years with my sanity intact? How do I get him through his teenage years with more wisdom than rebellion? How do I not screw it all up?!

Send some prayers,
A Parent About to Join the Club of Parents with Teenage Boys



Dear Lady in the Grocery Store Checkout Line,

I saw you out of the corner of my eye. I saw you look away when I looked at you. You and your husband were overdressed for Food Lion, likely picking up some essentials after church. You were an older couple, older than my parents, and I figured you averted your gaze because of my pink hair. And while pink hair isn’t as wild and crazy as it was once considered, I don’t think older generations get it. In fact, just minutes before, another older woman looked practically frightened when I passed her in the international foods aisle. So I thought I was about to get handed some harsh judgment when you tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, but I just have to know…”

Here it comes, I thought. She’s going to ask me why I would do such a horrible thing to my long blonde hair. I braced myself and prepared to brush her off.

“Which came first: the hair or the shirt?”

Huh? I looked down and realized I was wearing a pink shirt, a shade that almost exactly matched my hair.

“Because you’re perfectly color coordinated,” she continued with a smile.

I laughed, and she gave me a wink. “I just love the hair,” she said to me, then linked arms with her husband and said to him, “Don’t you just love her hair, honey?”

I waved to the couple as I left with my groceries, hit with the realization that not only had this couple NOT passed judgment on me or make assumptions about me based on my appearance, but I had done exactly that toward them. 

With everything going on in the world right now, it sure is easy to pass judgment on others and brace ourselves in a defensive stance. My brief encounter with this sweet woman in Food Lion was a great reminder to keep an open mind, avoid jumping to conclusions, and by all means, take the time to share a laugh with others, even strangers with pink hair in the grocery store.
With thanks and appreciation,
The Stranger with the Pink Hair in the Grocery Store


Thursday, February 16, 2017

What Motivates Me: Time To Go Back to the Beginning




I haven’t been writing.

And when I say I haven’t been writing, I mean it’s been months. Not just days or weeks. I’m talking months since I’ve written much more than a Facebook status update.

I tell myself the noodling around I did on my novel in November for NaNoWriMo counted as writing. But it didn’t. I spent so much time revising while getting reacquainted with the characters I had abandoned since the previous year’s NaNoWriMo attempt that the actual writing of new words wasn’t really happening. And then I abandoned it again.

I tell myself I don’t have the zen writing spot in the house I moved into six months ago or the house doesn’t seem to have the right juju. But I have a whole office to myself (with a door that closes!), and I smudged my house to evict bad juju (twice).

I tell myself that I’m blocked because the last piece I wrote, a piece that was quickly accepted and published by the Washington Post, left me dealing with horrible internet trolls whose comments I had to stop reading, whose tweets I had to ignore, whose snap judgements made me question why I bothered to open myself up like that.

I tell myself I don’t have time. But I could make it.

I tell myself I don’t have the energy. But I could find it.

I tell myself I don’t have anything to write about, but there’s ALWAYS something to write about.

I tell myself that my hair stylist is right, that I’m not writing because I’m happy. And while it’s true that my most prolific periods have been during challenging times in my life, I can’t rest on that as an excuse because I plan to be happy for a very long time.

So what the hell is wrong with me?! Where are the words?!

Well, it turns out I might have finally found them hidden within a deeper message in someone else’s words.

I recently finished reading the book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel H. Pink. It’s a research-based theory of motivation that explains how businesses attempt to motivate their employees in all the wrong ways. Most people assume that external motivation like money is the best motivator for hard work. But that’s not the case. In fact, studies show it often diminishes intrinsic motivation, decreases performance and kills creativity. So what does work? An approach that includes autonomy, mastery and purpose. Hmmm, I totally dig that.

I also liked the author’s explanation of the “Sawyer Effect.” Based on a fence whitewashing scene in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, this theory asserts that (1) rewards can turn play into work and (2) focusing on mastery can turn work into play.

As I read the book, I tried to apply this theory of motivation to various parts of my own life. First, I realized that’s probably why the promise of a weekly allowance no longer motivates my kids to exert much effort into their household chores. And then I realized it might be why I’m not writing.

One of the reasons this blog has collected so much dust is because I started writing for other outlets. At first I wrote for free, because let’s face it, everyone knows what the Huffington Post is and it’s a great addition to a writing resume when you’ve never gotten paid for freelancing gigs before. But then I branched out and started writing for cool websites that not only shared my work, but also --oh my gosh! -- gave me money too.

So I wrote more. And got paid more. It’s not that I needed the money from freelancing. I already have a full-time job that pays the bills. No, it was the rush I got thinking I had turned something that was once a hobby into something worth being paid for.

But that rush is gone. Because just as the Sawyer Effect states, those rewards turned my play into work. I had to research media outlets, figure out what kinds of angles they wanted, how much they paid, how to submit pitches, how to write a pitch, re-submit pieces with suggested revisions. I found myself using a voice or phrases that weren’t quite my own because I was writing for a certain audience, a certain editor. I found that editors were altering my work more than I wanted, moving things around that I had placed for very particular reasons, changing headlines to get more clicks. And now with so much politically charged material out there, it took another step for me to figure out if I want to be associated with certain outlets that have veered in a more political direction than I’m comfortable with.

I’m an editor myself so I get it. I understand that’s all part of the game. I just feel like maybe it’s time to bench myself from the game for a bit so I can find my voice again.

One day during a recent meditation session my mind wandered to my writing, and I decided to follow it. At the dead end of those thoughts, I saw a big sign: Go back to the beginning.  

So I took that sign, combined it with the Sawyer Effect and ended up back here. At my blog. That I started over seven years ago with no writing background, no audience, no voice that I knew of yet, no clue whatsoever. What I did have was a desire to direct my own path (autonomy), an urge to make progress and improve at something that mattered to me (mastery), and the yearning to do something in the service of something larger than myself (purpose).

Autonomy. Mastery. Purpose. 

Those three motivators were the reasons I wrote every single day. I didn’t earn a dime. For a long time, my only audience was my parents. I wrote quickly, yet from the heart, without the fear of editors chopping my words. I actually enjoyed writing, to the point that I craved it, that something felt missing if I went a day without writing something, whether it was published publicly or journaled privately.

I want that back.

So now that I’ve had my aha moment, that I realized rewards might have turned my play into work, it’s time for me to focus on turning that work back into play. I want to enjoy writing again. I want to find my voice again. I want to use that voice to work on different projects, namely, that novel I’ve had written in my head for years but only pay attention to every November. I want to get back on the roller coaster that started it all.

Here I am.
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