Sunday, December 24, 2017

“Here's to those who inspire you and don't even know it.” - Unknown

Every now and then, a person will come into your life at just the right moment. It might be a friend or it might be a complete stranger. But sometimes God knows exactly who to send to us and when. I recently had two experiences like this. One friend I was led to through a slightly uncomfortable mutual issue. We started out problem solving our mutual issue and ended up talking about my childhood. The friend, bless her, started talking to me about the Bible, telling me very relevant Bible stories that I had either 1) never heard of before, or 2) had never considered how influential they could be on issues I had been through – issues that didn't even touch the odd situation that had brought us together.

We'll call this friend Sandy. Throughout our conversation, Sandy and I both kept coming back to the theory of “Everything happens for a reason.” I can't imagine the horrible mutual issue that brought us together at that moment had happened for that reason – to bring us together. But maybe it did, because she said something to me that no one in my life (even I) had ever realized.

Without going into so much detail... When I was a kid, I found myself in intense situations where I had to stand up to some crazy things to protect members of my family, even when I was the youngest one in the family. I sometimes found myself in situations that no child should ever find themselves in, but I had to put on my big girl pants and do what needed to be done.

Now as an adult, and in talking to Sandy about the odd situation we found ourselves in, I told her I had an intense desire and determination to protect her and her family's best interests. I simply told her that I was always like that. I felt that way about any of my friends. I would walk through fire for them. (And I literally meant it.) She simply looked at me with so much wisdom and said “You feel this way because you had to protect your family when you were a kid.” My jaw dropped. As crazy as it sounds, I (nor any of my friends or family that knew and lived my history alongside me) had ever made that connection. I was floored, and I started to lose it. Being the shelled, protected person I am, I immediately stopped myself and was barely successful in keeping myself together. This friend, who I had never had this kind of conversation with, had quickly developed a theory that was totally accurate. I had talked to many other friends and family members in way more depth about my past trying to figure things out and find peace, and this one friend, because of this one situation, found herself in a position to tell me something I had needed to hear for years. It was amazing, and I will forever be grateful to her for her kindness and guidance. I hope I have the opportunity to help her in the future.

To top it off, I had a friend come to me the very next day. (We will call him Sam.) We were working on a mutual project and had to talk over some things. Once business is out of the way, Sam and I usually get off on a tangent or deep talk about people, life, and the divine – all very interesting conversations.

Now before I tell you where our conversation went, I'll give you a little back story. I've been having a bit of a rough time in my life lately. Personal issues that have made me feel very depressed and alone. All in all, the situation is not as bad as it could be, but its still one of those situations that has left me not knowing where to turn and what direction I should go with my life. I can be hopeful one minute and depressed as heck the next. One day will be going great, and then BAM! I'm hit with terrible news that leaves me completely empty and broken.

This friend, bless him, knew nothing about my situation. I, lightheartedly and briefly, filled him in on some things, and we continued with the conversation as though my situation was no big deal and I had everything under control. Little did he know... But apparently he didn't have to know anything specific because our conversation led to him opening me up to great thoughts.

The night before, after I had talked to Sandy, I went home somewhat hopeful but ultimately feeling the same thing I had fought for so long – that I needed to not worry about my own feelings and just be someone who cared for those around her selflessly – kind of like a living guardian angel. (And I feel selfish even typing this because I don't ever want anyone to think I do anything for credit. I would be more than happy to do good deeds from afar and no one ever know I was involved. So... if you're reading this and think I'm doing a good deed for you sometime... just ignore that thought.) Anyway... I had gone home and continued my thought of “I just need to take care of other people and not worry about myself.” (Typing that... I realize how stupid that sounds. You can't take care of others if you don't take care of yourself. Another “ah-ha” moment...) I had become so upset and so depressed that solving my own life seemed too complicated and helping other people seemed so easy and purposeful. “If I could just forget my own human needs and block them out, I could just be this being that lived alone in the shadows and helped other people – a kind of depressed guardian angel,” I thought. Weird, I know.

But then my friend, Sam, in us talking about divine knowledge, how people operate, etc., etc., told me about something he had read – that people sometimes get consumed by their emotions. I agreed. “You know it's true,” I told him. “People often worry too much about defining and holding on to their emotions that they don't realize the knowledge and experience they can gain from a situation.” Then, I realized... I was doing that exact thing. I was getting too hung up on feeling bad that I wasn't concentrating on learning from the situation I had found myself in, learning about my own personal development, which might, in turn, help with my situation overall.

Conversations with Sam always tend to make me feel like everything is going to be okay. The conversation ended, and he left. I watched him walk outside and get in his truck. Little did he know that the simple things he said in our conversation made a deeper impact than he thought.

Between Sandy and Sam, these two friends were put with me at just the right time to provide the advice and knowledge I needed on a day I needed it the most. Before those conversations, I had woken up one morning feeling completely hopeless and fell asleep that same night praying that God would just take away my emotions. The combination of advice from these two friends have given me hope and helped me continue through this time in my life – a time that is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. A time when I feel so lost.

The moral of the story? There are two. 1) Sometimes just when you think hope is lost and you have no idea where to turn, God (or the universe, the divine, whatever you believe) will bring people to you that will guide you. You just have to be open to it. And 2) Never think what you have to say is small. You never know when YOU may be the one God is sending. You never know when what you have to say or your past experiences will make a difference in someone's current situation. You may just give someone the hope, knowledge, or advice they need to make it through the day, and, if your lucky, you may have the opportunity to change someone's life. These two friends have no idea how much they inspired me. And the coolest thing? They didn't even mean to at all. They were just being themselves.

Friday, July 7, 2017

“If you obey all the rules, you'll miss all the fun.” - Katherine Hepburn

That was my mindset for about the first 10 years of my adult life. Why should I follow the rules of: Go to college, find a job, and then work it until your dead like everyone else does? So instead of doing what everyone else was doing, I was determined to dream big, cultivate a life and profession I was in love with, and the rest would be history. HA! It was pretty hard to build a thriving dance studio in a rural, agricultural community with a local school population of less than 200 kids K through 12. As it were (and still is), there are barely enough kids to populate all the different activities we currently have going on in our county. (However, we do have some awesome things going on for kids in Highland County!)

Some of my Sundance kiddos taking a break for a fun pic
So needless to say, while the studio happened and I love it, its self-sustaining and that's pretty much it. Definitely not a huge source of income. But I'm fine with that because it's one of the loves of my life as is my clogging family that calls Sundance Studio home!

Furthermore, for that portion of my life I was trying to make the studio and a dance career work in a small, rural community, I was also broke as a joke, too!! Having a normal job and regular paycheck is a heck of a lot better than living gig to gig. However, now I am finding the normal job is not enough. Don't get me wrong – my full-time job is awesome and I enjoy the work, but it just still doesn't seem to be my calling. It's a pretty puzzle, but the pieces just aren't fitting.

I worry that Katherine is right – am I trying to play by society's rules and, therefore, missing all the fun? Or is it true that life is simply eat, work, sleep, repeat?

A couple Disney princesses come to mind... Ariel dreamed of a world that was different from hers, and she made the impossible possible through her unwavering desire and determination to know she could have more than everyone else believed. Then, there's Belle who sang an anthem to living more than just the provincial life. Of course, these are just Walt's creations, but why shouldn't we be that believing in our own lives and our own selves?

I returned from vacation recently pumped full of inspiration to live a better life, a slower life, a less stressful life, and a more productive life. Lately, I just feel like a hamster on a wheel – running and running and getting no where. I'm accomplishing things, but its not completely fulfilling. It's almost like Voldemort was described in Harry Potter – I feel like I'm living a half-life.

Currently, I have plenty of work, but I feel like I have so much work in several different places that I can't give 100% to just one. And with one of my jobs in particular, it is so busy within itself that I couldn't give 100% if it was the only thing on my plate. The problem is – I like all of the work I do. But maybe the time has come to give up one of my loves? Or maybe the real solution is just figuring out how to manage them better?

The other problem I'm currently having is I'm sitting all the time, which means I'm not as active as I used to be, which means I'm gaining weight. Not cool for me. Not judging big women! There are plenty of beautiful, big women in the world, but weight on me just doesn't look right and it's not what I want my body to be. I'll be honest... when I was dancing more, I weighed 135. Now.... Ugh.... I weigh 160 pounds! And you want to know the odd thing? I go to sleep most every night thinking I'm going to get up and go work out in the morning! But what do I do? Wake up in the morning and think Well, I should really go get some office work done, so I can try to make more money. So somewhere my life has molded into trying to get ahead in work and gain more money rather than taking full care of my body and my mind...

Now, I know some people are probably reading this post and thinking Really? You're complaining that you have work to do?? I know there are people out there that don't have jobs and that would probably be very thankful to have some of my work, and those people are probably not too happy with me for "complaining" about it. And then I'm sure there are others that may think: Nobody wants to work anymore. Nobody knows how to work hard anymore. This girl is just lazy! But you know what? That doesn't matter. All I know is that my life is too complicated and some things need to be done about it, and I'm not going to let society or anyone else decide if I should or shouldn't be happy in the situation I'm in.

Like I said earlier, it's a beautiful puzzle, but all the pieces don't fit. In fact, I think the real problem is someone shoved several extra pieces in my box! THAT makes more sense!

I love my life, but some tweaks need to be made. In an earlier post, I listed a few things I wanted to change about my life. Let's revisit, shall we?

  • Living a more sustainable, off-the-grid life
  • Being able to breath in the middle of the day and not have heart palpitations thinking about my “To Do” list
  • Have time and/or the opportunity to marvel
  • Explore unknowns about myself and the world around me
  • Be thankful for and appreciate the things in life that really matter
  • Reduce my material desires
So, I'm holding myself accountable. What have I done since I got home from vacation and developed this new drive?
  • My Garden - Tomatoes, Onions, Green Beans, Corn... YUM!
    Living a more sustainable life – Of course, I started earlier this spring by planting a garden like I do every year. I'm also working on an idea with a friend to have a (or a couple) joint garden projects to help us grow and preserve more food. Exciting!
  • Being able to breath – So important.... I have REALLY tried not to work myself into a frenzy about things since I have been home. I've tried to come to the realization that there are simply not enough hours in a day and whatever I get done in a day will have to be good enough for me as well as everyone around me. And if it is not good enough for the people around me, then that is not my fault because I am working as hard as I can in the most healthy way I can.
  • Have time to marvel – Haven't really done that as much as I should. When I try to take the time to do that, I end up thinking about something else I should be doing. I need to work on this one...
  • Explore unknowns – Another work in progress...
  • Be thankful – Yup, I am definitely getting a good dose of that. I am thankful. Even though things are a bit crazy, I am very thankful for all the simple, yet amazing, opportunities I am given every day – getting to hang out with family, living in a beautiful place, being far away from violence, having the ability to grow my own food, having the resources and skills I do that will hopefully allow me to live a more sustainable life... Take this picture for example: I traded services for the whole wheat bread, am currently trading services for the hamburger, and grew the onions myself. A completely sustainable supper!
  • Reduce my material desires – This one has been tough... Since I got back, I've seen so many things I want whether its on a Facebook Swap & Sell site or at a sale at a shop in town. It's taken a lot of self control to remind myself that I don't need everything I think is pretty or cute – that I can admire without owning. It's slowly becoming a new way of life, and I am excited about it.

So there it is – my goals. What are yours?

I would have never imagined that people would actually read this blog. I just started doing it for fun and to get thoughts out of my head. Now, I see there are people in Russia, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and all over the world reading this. (Hi!!) Who woulda thunk it? More importantly, I recently found out my writing gives some people that are pretty special to me some encouragement, and that is definitely a good reason to continue writing and blogging.

So to all you out there who have decided to stop in and read today: Thank you! But if what I'm talking about is something that is ringing clear in your life at the moment, then why not take the steps to “tweak” your life, too? Actually.... we could even do it together. Make a list about the things you would tweak in your life. What are they? Why do you want to tweak them? How are you going to tweak them? Then, keep that list in front of you every day and make all your decisions based on that list. The list doesn't need to be long or complex. It doesn't need to be something that is overwhelming and non-realistic. Just look at my list above - things you desire for your life. 

A friend of mine used to work as a buyer for a home d├ęcor company. She would go to trade shows and find new products; however she had a small list of things the company was interested in carrying. My friend, who is just always full of good ideas, would go to these trade shows and find all of these great products and get ideas for marketing them and think of how much she loved the items and how she would buy them and put them in her own home. But alas, when she looked at the company's merchandise list, some of the items she found just did not fit into the company's merchandising intentions. So she bid the cute items farewell and went on her way.

Our life lists are very much the same. It's like I said about material possessions earlier. It's okay to realize something is cute, cool, or neat, but that doesn't mean we HAVE to have it in our lives. It's the same with projects (and this really applies for me!): If you have an idea you think would be so much fun and something you just HAVE to do in your lifetime, look at your list. Does it really fit? If so, go for it. If it doesn't, you have to have the strength to realize you can't do everything, let yourself off the hook, and value your life without that project in it. 

So I'm asking now: What's on your list? What are YOUR rules? If you would like, I'd love to see comments below!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Travel Tales: Hunt Club Farm Petting Zoo in Virginia Beach

Note: I do a little bit of traveling, and I love writing about my adventures and the things I see (especially when it means advertising a small business), so I decided to create a new portion of my blog! "Travel Tales" will talk about interesting little places or things I experience while traveling. And since a lot of inspiration for my regular posts happen while I'm traveling, why not put two great things into one? Enjoy!

On the last day of our Virginia Beach vacation, Robby and I decided to visit Hunt Club Farm. When we arrived at Virginia Beach, I found an ad for this little attraction in my handy dandy Virginia Beach travel guide. “1 bird stick free!” the ad read. What the heck is a bird stick??, I thought.

Hunt Club Farm, Virginia Beach's only petting farm, looked like a fun, little place to visit. Robby wasn't as intrigued.... I could hear the thoughts going through his head “We currently live on a farm. Why would you want to pay money to go pick up chickens, when you could pick up chickens at home for free??” His alleged thoughts had a point.

Well, actually, it was almost (kind of) a research visit for another project I am working on. (More to come on that later.... It's too much in the early stages to give much info away!)

So anyway, I wanted to go and Robby played along. “Oh, don't act like you're not interested in playing with farm animals,” I thought to myself when Robby continued to give me his “Are you kidding me?” sideways glance.

We hopped into the car, and punched the address into our GPS: 2388 London Bridge Road. It was only about 10 minutes from the oceanfront and a pretty, little drive, which took us over Rudee Inlet. The farm was easy to spot. The barn closest to the road had a giant pumpkin on top of it. As we pulled into the parking lot, I looked to my right to see bunches of beautiful flowers and vegetables for sale at their gift shop. We strolled past the flowers, and I noticed there were some strawberry plants on sale at 50% off. Hmmmm....

Around the gift shop we meandered, and with a sharp left turn, we found the Petting Farm. I was expecting a barn or two with a couple little pins that housed a couple little goats and chickens and maybe a rabbit or two with a parakeet thrown into the mix for whatever this bird stick was that they were talking about. (And that would've suited me just fine!) But what I found was SO much more!

Upon paying our $6 per person entry fee (Just $6!!!), we stopped first at the goat pin. (We decided to forego the $5 cup of feed since we could feed chickens, horses, cattle, and bunnies anytime we wanted at our own farm.) I had never really had any dealings with goats, and from the anti-sheep mentality my dad ingrained in me while growing up, I figured they were too close to sheep to really get attached to. That was the second thing I was wrong about that day. They were so cute!!! And so well-behaved, too! Of course, as soon as we came up to the fence, they jumped up wanting grain. But they weren't rude to the stupid people who didn't bring them any treats. They didn't bite or nibble, and they were happy to just have a nice petting if you didn't have any grain.

As I'm petting the goats and thinking “I could get used to this animal!” I realize I am missing Robby. I turn around to see where he went, and I find him walking towards me with a cup of feed. He didn't say anything. He just had a smile on his face. “I knew you couldn't resist,” I told him with a smile. (To me, he is as cute as my newly-found, goat buddies.)

My new friend, "Bo." (Pronounced with a Spanish accent.)
Next was the chicken house, which ended up being more than double the size I had envisioned and contained not only chickens but huge turkeys as well! And did I mention you could go in the pins with some of the animals? Chickens and goats included! I was fine around chickens, but I wondered how most “non-farm folk” would feel about just coming into an enclosed cage with these sometimes spastic and intimidating birds. I watched a mother and her two children. She didn't bat an eyelash when she opened that gate and led her kiddos into the chicken pin. In fact, she showed one of them how to pick the chicken up. If I were a mother, that's exactly what I would have done, but I grew up on a farm. Maybe she did, too? Or maybe that just goes to show how very important agritourism opportunities like this are to growing and developing children. I smiled.

Walking a bit further, we saw the bunny cages. There were only a few bunnies to be seen and you were not allowed to touch them. Probably a good idea... If they get excited, they could rip your arms up pretty good. But simply viewing them was perfectly okay. They had short-haired and long-haired bunnies; however when we visited, they were in the middle of their nap time, so we didn't bother them too much.

There was a smaller, probably 7x5 foot building next to the bunny cage. As I walked up to it, I could hear small little chirps coming from the structure. I peeked in to find little baby chicks. As I looked at the display outside of their cage, I found that these chicks were hatched at a variety of local schools. What a cool thing!!! Not only are these folks providing a learning opportunity for people who come to their farm, but they're reaching out to take the farm and learning opportunities to kids! Some of the local schools included Hickory Middle School, Grace Preschool, and Prince of Peace Preschool.

Strolling a little farther, we came upon a HUGE, enclosed cage. As we walked up a mother and daughter were sitting inside this beautiful enclosure that contained a relaxing waterfall that fell into about a nine-foot-wide pond. There were more beautiful flowers all the way around the pond and trees shooting up everywhere. It was a little oasis. A little BIRD oasis. I looked at the mother and daughter again. The little girl had her arm extended and a little parakeet was sitting on the end. The little girl looked nervous as the mom lovingly whispered “It's okay... Look at the pretty bird.” I could tell the little girl wanted to love the birdie but just had no idea what to do with this thing on the end of her arm. Do they just land on the end of your arm? I thought. Are they that tame?? And then I saw it. In the little girl's hand....

“So that's what a bird stick is!” I reacted. It was simply a Popsicle stick covered in bird seed used to attract the birds to you. I smiled. I not only solved my mystery of the bird stick, but I was also able to see its majestic powers in action.

As we walked in the bird house, we were greeted by blue, green yellow, and white parakeets. Dozens of them!!! They were very friendly, but you also learned very quickly they were not afraid to fly right past your head. They, of course, knew what they were doing, but a few times, I definitely thought I was going to get a bird to the noggin! We walked around admiring the beautiful birds. Man, I wish I had gotten a bird stick... And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a hand holding a bird stick with a little bird sitting contently on the hand munching away at the bird seed. As I followed the arm attached to that hand, I found Robby.

“Where did you get that bird stick?!” I piped. He just smiled. (He's a man of few words.)

After leaving the bird cage, we walked past pot-bellied pigs, alpacas, sheep, larger goats, chickens, ducks, peacocks, and even a zebra. The pins these animals were in were well-maintained and very comfortable for the animals. The animal lots contained little houses and shelters and were under tall trees that provided a generous amount of shade from the hot sun. Their enclosures looked so comfortable and nice that I thought “Shoot... I could take a nap on some hay in there!” It was truly a little farm oasis. In addition, the grounds also contained a children's playground, some funny photo backgrounds and props for memory capturing, a little stage or platform that was hooked to an old antique John Deere tractor, and to top it off, there was a network of catwalks (or goatwalks, rather) stretching throughout the trees above the goat pins. I looked up and found two little goats looking down at me waiting for me to send grain up a make-shift food trolley.

Top: A little goat looks down at me from the "goat-walk."
Bottom: The system of pulleys to send treats up to goats on the "goat-walk."

I took a deep relaxing breath. I've always known farm life was for me, and even though I had my own farm to go home to, I was definitely happy to hand over the $6 admission fee to be a guest on someone else's farm. Furthermore, I knew how much that $6 entry fee meant to this farm operaton, and I was happy to support this awesome place. In addition to daily admission tickets, they also sell season passes for anyone that lives in or close to Virginia Beach. If I lived there, I would definitely be the owner of one of those season passes.

As we walked out of the Hunt Club Farm Petting Zoo, I looked at the brochure I had picked up before we entered. In addition to walking through the farm, kids could also enjoy pony rides during their visit and there were other event opportunities throughout the year that included a summer farm camp, school field trips, a farmer's market, a Renaissance Faire, a Harvest Fair, a Halloween Festival, and a Country Christmas! Not to mention, you could book the farm for birthday parties or group events. This farm had it going on!

We turned the corner to head to the parking lot, but before we made it to the car, I had another stop I needed to make. I wondered into the gift store and through the plants to find those little ever producing strawberry plants I had eyed earlier. I picked up three of them and said “You all are coming home with me.” Robby gave me his sideways glance and said “What are you going to do with those?”

“Go home, plant them, and grow strawberries,” I said with an excited smile on my face. He lovingly rolled his eyes. As I handed my three dollars over to the lady at the register, who referred to the farm staff and owners as her “farm family,” I thought to myself about Robby's eye-roll: “That's okay... Roll your eyes now, but later I'll turn around to find you standing there enjoying a handful of strawberries with a smile on your face.”

We hopped in the car with our new strawberry plants and headed home. Our vacation was over. But thanks to Hunt Club Farm, I was excited to get back home to my farm babies.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

“There is only one success – to be able to spend your life in your own way.” - Christopher Morley

I would like to know how our culture became such a “never enough” culture. Why is it that our society makes us think that constantly popping anxiety pills and working at least 12 hours day is normal and anything less is unacceptable? Is it just me? Certainly it isn't. How have we come to believe that defining our own success means to out-do the person next to us? “If my 'To Do' list is just as long or longer than her's, then I am doing enough. Otherwise, I will be counted as lazy.” And how have we come to believe that working until completely exhausted means our self-worth is at an acceptable level?

Is there anything wrong with figuring out a lifestyle that allows you to sit down and enjoy calmness? A lifestyle that doesn't mean accomplishing as much as you possibly can because that's what society tells you is acceptable? A lifestyle where you aren't in the middle of one task and thinking how to accomplish the next? A lifestyle that only means accomplishing what is important to YOU and nothing more? NO!

But here's the question: What IS that lifestyle?

William S. Burroughs said “Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer.” The other part of that quote, I believe, is “and choose to accept the answer.”

I've been experiencing that lately. For the last couple of years, I have been worrying so much about accomplishing as much as I can – that if I didn't accomplish all I could and work myself to unhealthy levels (like I've seen others do) then my self-worth would decline. My “To Do” list always seemed way bigger than I could handle. I hadn't been planning realistically. I would construct my “To Do” list for the week, which would list the tasks I needed to accomplish daily (Sunday - Saturday) to stay on track. Most of the time, I would end up packing each day too full of things I knew I couldn't realistically accomplish, but I would think “If I just hammer down and work really hard, I can probably accomplish all of this.” True.... But I was trying to live every day like that and accomplish 16 hours of work in a 12 hour time span without planning for any additional factors, such as, oh, eating lunch, going to the bathroom, or dealing with those daily random emergencies that will always arise when you have a tight schedule planned. Can you say “burnout?” Can you say “stupid?” Can you say “Why the crap would anyone set themselves up to live like that?”

Now.... some people do live like that. And that's where the guilt comes in... “If other people are working this hard, then I should be, too. Right? If not, I'm lazy. Right?” Wrong. This is where our personal choice comes to play, and personal choice is something that is okay to have. (Even though we all, including myself, struggle with it.) Just because your buddy next door gets up at 4 am to go to the gym, works out, and makes it home in time to shower, fix a healthy breakfast, and “suit up” all before she makes it into work by 8 am, doesn't mean you sleeping in until 8:30 is lazy. It just means that's you're choice. Your buddy may want to live a lifestyle that requires her to get up and run like a bat out of hell until her head hits the pillow again. If that's her choice and she's happy, then good for her. However, if you find yourself sitting back, watching, and thinking “Are you friggin kidding me?!” then, chances are, that lifestyle is most certainly not for you. Moreover, the next time you have a conversation with said buddy and they start complaining about never having enough time on their hands to enjoy the small joys of life, then you can feel even more validated that you are living a lifestyle that is best for you regardless of whether society deems you successful or hard-working or whatever other label they believe they are worthy enough to give you. In short, screw 'em! As Elea Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” And as my sister, Crysta, says: “They ain't noooooo body...” True and rewarding happiness trumps the negative, judgmental nay-sayers any day of the week. Besides, how do you really want to live your life? Do you want to stay so busy that it all flies by and your six feet under with nothing but your name and “She worked hard” on your tombstone?? I don't think so.... Of course, I want to be remembered for working hard, but I want to be remembered for so much more than that.

Granted, we all have to work, but as Shannon Panzo says “Work smart, not hard.” I know some people hate that phrase, but I have no reason but to love it. It's true. In my mind, it simply means to work more efficiently, which also means to work in a way that fits your lifestyle and your desires for a happy and meaningful existence.

A big part of my happy and meaningful existence - building my life on my land

I also believe the saying “You can't have it all.” I think no matter what I have in my life I will unfortunately always want something else, (Yes, I unfortunately have the grass-is-greener syndrome.) But I understand that is just part of my personality. What else I do know about myself is that if I can look up from what I'm doing at any given moment in my life and find a reason to smile and love the life God has given me – simple or not – then I will be fine. I am perfectly content to revel in ordinary greatness... most of the time. And for the times that ordinary greatness isn't enough, I have my bigger projects, like watching my dance students, that lays evidence right in front of me that my life and my purpose is bigger than I probably give myself credit for. Performing in front of an awesome crowd doesn't hurt either!

Back to the original point I am trying to make: In the past several months, I have learned that I need to slow myself down. That I need to work smart, not hard, and that I need to quit trying to do EVERYTHING! Not only can you not HAVE everything, but you can't DO everything either, and that is a hard, ugly fact I have to come to terms with. It's a bittersweet realization.

I'm currently on vacation sitting in my king bed in an oceanfront hotel room overlooking the ocean and marveling at the wonder of life and happiness. I am vowing to myself to make a change. I have many ideas to make my life smarter, more efficient, less busy, and more enjoyable. In sitting in this moment, I am hopeful that I will be able to make these changes and I won't allow myself to be swept up in “That's just the way life is” when I get back home. I'm thinking I should even use this blog as a method to be held accountable – a regular journal of how I'm getting closer to MY ultimate lifestyle and not society's definition of what my life should be. It will be a “full” life. Not a life “full” of hassle, stress, anxiety, and packed calendars, but a life “full” of daily self-worth, creative living, marvels, exploration, and amazement in the opportunities and possibilities of life. MY life. The life I want for myself that my heart defines and not a life influenced by the desires of society.

That sounds like a plan... And maybe, if you haven't already, you can find your “full life” with me?

Here's my short list of things I want to accomplish:
  • Living a more sustainable, off-the-grid life
  • Being able to breath in the middle of the day and not have heart palpitations thinking about my “To Do” list
  • Have time and/or the opportunity to marvel
  • Explore unknowns about myself and the world around me
  • Be thankful for and appreciate the things in life that really matter
  • Reduce my material desires

I'm determined. Who's with me?

Sunday, February 5, 2017

“A great soul serves everyone all the time. A great soul never dies. It brings us together again and again.” – Maya Angelou

My Uncle Frank - A Favorite Photo of Him
My family just lost a great soul. A soul that was wrapped in a man who was strong both emotionally and physically, a man who could be as soft and warm as the biggest teddy bear or as fierce as a great grizzly. From my experiences and of the stories I’ve heard of my Uncle Frank Stephenson, that fierceness only appeared when he felt he was threatened or (worse) when his family and friends, those closest to him, felt threatened, whether by enemy-like individuals or life’s perils.

My Uncle Frank was a very strong man. I’ve heard many people tell stories of his Goliath strength. Some say he was one of the strongest men in the county. I don’t doubt that a bit. I watched him farm, ride horses, chop wood, and throw and roll hay bales like he was flicking a feather and with an ease that would put any Schwarzenegger-like physique to shame. But coupled with that solid exterior, there was a deep, profound, loving heart inside. He was a gentle giant… in every sense of the term.

His massive hands could provide the gentlest touch or hug. His voice, which could boom, would weave words of encouragement and love. His smile… ugh…it would absolutely light up the darkest of rooms. And his eyes… they sparkled so. Was it happiness? Love? Enchantment? It could have been any of the above, but his eyes were a gateway into the soul that you knew offered unconditional love and support to those he watched over.

Uncle Frank and David - Look at Those Eyes and That Smile
Although my Uncle Frank recently left us and ran to Jesus, we know he is watching over us now more than ever – the shepherd of his flock. It was a big hit for our family, but as Maya Angelou says: A good soul brings us together again and again. And Uncle Frank did and continues to do so. Most of the time it may have been indirectly or unintentionally, but he is one of the big reasons my cousins, (Uncle Frank’s children) Erica and David, grew up to be the amazing, loving, kind, tender, and supportive people they are. His love, generosity, and kindness flowed into them and still lives there. As a result, the bond with my cousins is unbreakable. Whether it was intentional or not (and it was probably a little of both), Uncle Frank planted a seed inside of his children as well as myself and other members of my family to hold tight to each other, to love hard and long, and to be compassionate and openly loving. He will live on forever in the bond I have with my cousins, all of my cousins, and the bond we have with each other.

Erica, David, and I - Two Very Special People in my Life
Now I am not saying my Uncle Frank was like a father to me. He wasn’t. He truly was my uncle, and
a good one at that. I never had any real deep conversations with him, but I was blessed to get his advice every once in a while. Advice I knew came from rough and tough personal experience. I was and am blessed to be one of his flock. He has watched out for me many times, probably whether I knew it or not. I wouldn’t say I was extremely close with my Uncle Frank, but I didn’t need to be. I didn’t need to have deep conversations with him to know how much he loved me. It showed in SO many actions. And I didn’t need to know him well to know how much Erica and David meant to him either. It was evident in his eyes – those beautiful eyes.

My heart aches because I know he is gone from us for a while, but I rejoice knowing he is watching us and waiting on us because one day, it will be our time, too. No one wants to think of death, but I, honestly, find it a bit more bearable to think about knowing I will have those kind arms to run into when it is my time to pass through the pearly gates. I also know Uncle Frank is in heaven now preparing the heaven-version of our family farm for us. And I find comfort in knowing that as our Stephenson clan passes on to the next world, Uncle Frank will welcome us to that family farm in heaven where peace will reign and where tension, heartache, anger, frustration, and sadness are banned with a heavy, strong fist. It will be a place where we will relive our childhood. We will sit in the back yard telling stories and laughing. We will explore the creeks and mountains again, and we will all gather in love’s light on a happy, mild summer day. Oh, what a heaven it will be.

My Uncle Frank’s great soul will never die. It is watching over us, guiding us, and continues to comfort us more so than he ever has before. His soul continues to serve us and it will, in fact, continue to bring us together… again and again. Until next we meet, Uncle Frank… *kisses from earth*
A Little Piece of Our Heaven on Earth - The Stephenson Farm

Thursday, September 22, 2016

“You have to slow down because before you know it, time is gone, and you can’t get time back.” - My Grandma

Almost every Wednesday, I take my grandmother out to eat. She can’t drive anymore, she’s slowly losing her eyesight due to macular degeneration, and she recently fell and chipped her hip socket, so she’s confined to a wheelchair until she heals. Going to the restaurant in town is her social time and her outings throughout the day. However, going to the restaurant with her grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and daughter-in-law every Wednesday is one of the biggest highlights of her week especially when she gets to tell everyone in the restaurant “My family takes me out to eat EVERY Wednesday!”

Now, I’ll admit, some Wednesdays I get off work and all I want to do is go home and kick back. But, of course, I know it is the highlight of my grandmother’s week and I treasure my grandmother, so I give her a call, tell her I’m on my way, and then hit it down the road to her house all the while thinking about everything I need to do at home – was the dishes, do laundry, tidy up the living room, catch up on office work, on and on and on. Then, I pull into her driveway and almost instantly after I turn the car off, open my door and step out, I feel like weights have been lifted off of my shoulders. Something about being at Grandma’s house transports me back to the days of being a child. I see the yard where I played with my cousins. I walk into a living room where I used to watch Hee-Haw and play with toys when I was a child. I see my grandmother who used to fix me pancakes for dinner when I came over. I walk back to her bedroom where I used to lay on her bed and watch Ghostbusters, or nostalgically stroll into the hallway where I see the little tea set I used to play with when I was a kid. Life slows down. Stress melts away. I'm reminded of what life is really all about.

2014 - My sweet Grandma and a good chunk of her kids at Grandma's House

Then, we go out to dinner. We go to the same little restaurant every Wednesday and usually order one of our usual dishes – Bacon Cheeseburger with Curly Fries, Wing Dings, Grilled Chicken Wrap, Country Fried Steak. (Not too great for eating healthy, but definitely yummy and a good cheat night!) Then, we eat and talk. She asks me about my cousin (her grandson) that lives in North Carolina… “Is he coming home soon?” she asks. I ask her what she did today. “Oh, nothing really. I just sat around like I do most days.” I feel bad…. I want more free time to enjoy life but time seems to fly by so quickly, and I’m never able to do the things I really want to do. My grandmother has all the time in the world and days drag by for her, yet she is losing her sight, is confined to a wheelchair, can’t drive, and her family is rushing so much that they have to schedule time to spend with her. She has extra time to do anything, but she physically can’t do it. And what’s my excuse??? I’m working??? In the words of my father: “That’s a piss-poor excuse.”

One project I have been working on is trying to record some of the stories and things she tells me. So after dinner, I get her back in her wheelchair, wheel her through the restaurant, and she says good-bye to her friends for the evening. We wave at the waiter who always jokingly tells her to “Come back, but leave that boyfriend of yours at home!” (He’s referring to my step-grandfather, who usually brings Grandma in to eat.) We get outside to the car, I load her in, and drive back to her house where we sit and talk.

By the time we get into the house, she encourages me to leave her, go home, and “Get some rest. You look tired.” I, of course, don’t want to leave her by herself. (Wednesday nights is bowling nights for my step-grandfather.) So I say “No, I’m going to stay with you for a little while, and we’ll chit-chat.” So, we do. We talk about everything – life’s little problems, what’s wrong with the world, what’s right with the world, solve the world’s problems, make big plans to do things, etc., etc., etc.

On this particular September night, however, we started talking about things we had planned to do earlier that summer. Last year, my grandmother told me she wanted to take me and my cousins to the family home place, so she could tell us history and show us where part of our family came from and where she and her brothers and sisters grew up. It didn’t happen last year. Things got too busy. Such a bad excuse. Earlier this summer, I vowed: “It’s GOING to happen this summer!!” After all, my grandmother was 89-years-old. Every day was precious, a blessing. And now what? It was mid-September and summer had gotten away from me again. Because why? Because I was too busy.

What was my problem??? Was I not learning my lesson?? This precious gem of a woman is 89-years-old, and I’m worried about my dirty dishes sitting at home on the counter or trying to figure out how to push my business forward so I could earn more money?? What is wrong with me?!

I told her: “That’s it. I’m getting things off my plate. There are so many things I say I want to do, but because I am trying to work so hard to accomplish things or because I have so many other commitments, I am missing all of the little things in life, all of the important things.” And to myself I was thinking: “I will NOT let my Grandma leave this world before I figure this out! I will not be the one to say ‘I should have taken her on that ride to learn more about our family history.’ I will not be a shoulda, coulda, woulda person!”

This sweet, sweet, innocent woman looked at me and said: “Honey, you work too hard. Grandma is very proud of how much you have done and the things you have accomplished, but you have got to slow down. So many people are running so fast and so hard to get so many things done. You have to slow down because before you know it, time is gone, and you can’t get time back.”

I almost lost it.

What am I going to do when this woman isn’t here one day? Am I going to look back and say “I wish I would’ve spent more time with her,” or “I should’ve taken that trip to the family farm with her.” No! No, “woulda’s” or “coulda’s.” This was too special. I took a snapshot of that moment. My wonderful, sweet, gem of a grandmother sitting in her wheelchair, a woman who used to stand on her own two feet, strong, and who used to play with her grandchildren. A woman who taught me and my cousins about rolling down hills and laughing all the way down. And there she was in front of me – aged, in a wheelchair, and her face wrinkled from years and years of smiling and laughing (and from years and years of stress, hurt, and worry.) She was older. Her best days were behind her. And ten years from now, or five years from now, or five DAYS from now she could be gone, only a memory.

The Stephenson Grandkids reliving our childhood by rolling down the hill at Grandma's House. You can see the next generation learning the tradition!

I told her: "We’re going to the farm this Sunday. You call whoever you need to call to arrange that trip, and we will go." And this Sunday, no matter what, we’re driving down there. And we’re going to take pictures. And she’s going to tell me things. And I’m going to do my best to remember everything. Because that time will be time I will never get back. Once that time is over, it will never happen again, and any time I spend with her from now on is time I will never have with her again.

She’s right – we can’t get time back. So why am I trying so hard to accomplish so many things? Partly because I want to accomplish these things before I, myself, go, but what else am I missing out on? Plenty. Spending time with my family is one of the biggest things. Writing. I don’t do enough writing. Traveling. Even if its little trips. Experiencing life. Just flat out, 100% soaking life up and taking it all in.

Of course, anything you do means you’re not doing something else. While I’m clogging at a competition, there is a family reunion happening at home. While I am on a trip visiting my family, there is a softball tournament going on at home. I can’t travel without earning extra money, so I work so much more, but while I am taking hours on the weekend working on projects, I could be out on the lake kayaking with my cousins. Is the trade-off worth it? That’s for each individual to decide.

I feel like our society today worries most about how much we have and how much of it we have. I have a nice car, but I want that 1978 Trans Am I’ve always had my eye on. I have a good house, but I want a better one. I want the best of everything and nothing will be good enough until it is the best. And I must have the best because if not, I am a failure. And I must work hard all the time because if I don’t, I am lazy. It’s wrong to sit down and read a book because you’re wasting your time, you’re not doing something productive. For whatever reason, that’s what the voices in my head tell me. Work, work, work. And when you’ve worked, work harder because if you don’t, you’re lazy.

I’m finding I’m having to retrain myself on a lot of this thinking… I’ve never thought that money buys happiness, but here lately, I find myself desiring to make more money. Why? Travel more, build a house, and trying to line up more money for the future because everyone knows social security for my generation is a joke and my job doesn’t offer a 401(k).

But everyday, the muscles in my neck grow tighter and the lines on my forehead get deeper and my patience gets less and I become more tired… My priorities are wrong.

Now granted, money can solve a lot of problems – you can travel, you can buy whatever you want, you don’t have to worry about bills… but again, what’s the trade-off? What would I rather them put on my headstone? “Here lies Dorothy. She worked hard?” Or “Here lies Dorothy. She made the most of every moment?” Definitely the second one.

I’ve been to Europe once. Do I want to go back again? Absolutely! Do I think I could? Probably… if I work extra and make extra money. Is it worth it? Maybe. But when I sit back and think… Seeing the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona versus kayaking on the lake with my cousins… That’s a tie. Winning a Grand Championship trophy versus hearing my grandmother tell stories from her childhood? No brainer… Grandma wins every time. Taking a short, inexpensive road trip with my friends versus trading hours of my free time stressing about a project that COULD pay for a fun trip if other bills don’t get in the way first?? No contest – road trip with friends. And finally, laying out underneath a dark night sky looking for shooting stars with a best friend or brainstorming about new marketing techniques? I’ll take the shooting stars with best friends any day.

I guess for some people money and material things are more important. For me, I have to keep reminding myself that I am not that kind of person. Money is great if you’re able to use it for good, selfless reasons or for experiencing awe-striking, once-in-a-lifetime moments that turn to memories. Not to buy the best car or the best clothes or the best house. You can’t take it with you when you go, right?

What IS important is doing whatever you have to at whatever time in your life you need to in order to feel happy, healthy, full of life, relaxed, (insert your adjective here.) And it doesn’t have to happen around big, impressive places or things. “Big” and “Impressive” are what you make them, not what society defines them as and not what your peers may define them as. YOU decide. What’s important to YOU? Are your priorities straight? Are you making the most of your time?

UPDATE: We DID go to the family farm that Sunday, and we had the most magical ride. She took me to her house and where her grandmother and grandfather lived. She said she had so much fun when she was at Grandma's house. "Those were good times," she said. I can totally relate....

Grandma and Grandpa Colaw's House - My Grandma's, Grandma's House - The place where my Grandma's stress melts away

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

"Dolce far niente" - Luca Spaghetti (Eat, Pray, Love)

For some reason, I woke up today with the intense desire to write a blog post. I am ashamed to say I have neglected my blog once more… I love writing, and writing these particular blog posts are one of my favorite things to do. Unfortunately, you all know how life is – you do the things you HAVE to do first, and neglect the things you WANT to do. I guess that isn’t how life should be.

I often think about the movie Eat, Pray, Love. The part where they are in Italy and Julia Roberts is sitting with her friends in the barber shop. Julia (or rather her character, Liz) is complaining about…. something… and her soon-to-be-new-friend, Luca Spaghetti speaks up: “You, Americans! You work hard all week until you’re burnt out! Then, you come home and spend all weekend in your pajamas in front of the TV. But you don’t know pleasure… You have to be told you’ve earned it… You see a commercial that says: ‘It’s Miller Time!,’ and you think: ‘That’s right! I’ve earned it!’ And you get it, and you go home and drink the whole thing. Then, you wake up the next morning, and you feel terrible! …But an Italian doesn’t need to be told. He walks by a sign that says ‘You deserve a break today,’ and he says ‘Yeah… I know. That’s why I’m going to go home at lunchtime and sleep… with your wife!”

Then, they proceed to teach Liz (or Julie) an Italian saying: “Dolce far niente,” which means “pleasant idleness."

Enjoying "dolce far niente" with my husband, Robby - a walk
on the land we purchased a year ago.

Now… 1) I don’t advocate taking a lunch break to sleep with your friend’s wife, and 2) I know that all Americans don’t go home and spend all weekend in their pajamas. (Lord knows, I don’t!) But I do know, especially in my community and among my close friends, that we (and many other people around the world) do tend to work themselves too hard.

Do Italians really think that way? I’ve been to Italy. I relaxed and marveled while I was there. I’d like to think Italians have a grasp on the divine secret to the balance of life and work, but I’m sure they’re like the rest of the world – trying to get as much done in 24 hours as possible. (If there is an Italian reading this post, I’d really like your take on this!)

Where is that balance? And if you can’t find that balance, then doing things you love end up being work as well.

I seem to start out every day with a mission. “These four things are my goals today, and I MUST accomplish them otherwise a huge hole will open up in the middle of the world and swallow up all of mankind.” Ok, that’s a little extreme, but that’s the severity that goes along with my (and many other people’s) daily “To Do” list. The world will not burst into flames if you don’t accomplish everything today. Flipside, don’t stack your plate so high that you can’t handle it either.

If you died a month from now, how would you live your last month? Maybe the way you’re living now, or maybe not. Are the things you’re rushing around for worth it? Maybe they are, maybe they’re not.

If the things you’re running for are, in fact, worth it, then great! But maybe you need a little help? It’s okay to ask for that “H” word, you know. I had a little trouble asking for that a while back, but then I realized: What’s better than accomplishing something cool? Accomplishing something cool with other people who think its cool, too!

Something I "run" for, but still enjoy and couldn't live without - Clogging!!
P.S. This is where I asked for the "H" word. And look how many cool people I have with me!
And there's more where that came from!

So if you don’t have time to sit down and read a book, crochet, go on a walk, work on your bug collection, or whatever it is that you do, that you’re passionate about… maybe it is truly time to rethink your priorities. Otherwise, you’re not living the ONE LIFE you’re privileged to live properly. ONE LIFE… that’s it. Are you living the way you want to? Are you living the way you’re supposed to?

(Sidenote: Writing that blog post only took me about 45 minutes. Certainly you’ve got 45 minutes to spare to do something for yourself today? Right??)

Monday, May 25, 2015

"Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart." - Winnie the Pooh

After a recent event that has taken place in my community, I was moved to write some of my thoughts down. I live in Highland County, Virginia, a little area in the Virginia mountains that doesn’t have a Walmart, multi-lane traffic, air pollution, and is an hour and four mountains away from the nearest stoplight. (Unless, of course, you consider our blinking traffic “yield” light in the middle of town - the light that has been blinking for as long as anyone in my generation can remember, and the light that makes everyone wonder why it’s really there.) Some would consider it a podunk, country town with simple country folk whose lives aren’t that complicated. (Kind of like those dumb commercials convey…) Well… let me tell ya… Highland County is a perfect, shining example of why you don’t judge a book by its cover. People here, just like in every other location in the world, do have complicated lives. They work hard, have 50 bazillion things going on at the same time, and (just like so many others) each one of us, whether they want to admit it or not, have our demons. Some are easier to see, and some hide their demons deep inside.

Our community is currently in mourning over the loss of a young man who brought happiness and joy to so many people. I watched this kid grow up as did everyone in our close, tight-knit community. And there are some that watched him grown up that don’t live here anymore but are still part of our family. I didn’t know this young man as an adult. I honestly never really had any conversations with him other than telling him “good job” after he played his heart out in a high school basketball game or maybe yelled for him after he full-pulled his truck in the local truck and tractor pull. Other than knowing he was a fellow community member, I really didn’t know HIM at all. I just know that he was a neighbor, and in Highland County, that’s all you really need to know to care about someone else’s well-being. I won’t get into any other details other than saying this young man decided, for whatever his reasons were, it was time for him to leave this world. His family, friends, neighbors, and community members will miss him greatly.

Of course, times like these, as horrible as they are, remind everyone of things they need to do on a regular basis:

#1 (and most importantly) Be Kind to Each Other – People aren’t going to get along with everyone they come across. I know I don’t. Now, I get along with most everyone, but, to be honest, there are a few people in my community that make me grit my teeth. (You’d be lying if you denied it.) There are those people who think they’re all-knowing and have all the answers, that just grate my nerves, and there are those popular girls from high school that (as much as I would like to) still can’t quite figure out. I can, however, truly say that if any of these people needed me, I truly do think (and hope) that I would make the decision to be there for them. I know I would because in the end… do negative emotions really matter?? No. If it came down to it, I would be there for the person I disliked most in the world. I might want to shove that person’s face in a cow pie during some moments, but I would help them nonetheless. We have to be kind to each other no matter how different we are. Troublemaker or square. Christian or Atheist. Farmer or city slicker. We’re all human, and none of us really know what is going through the mind or through the emotions of the person standing next to us. All we can do is help make each other’s day just a little more positive with a friendly “hello,” a sincere and honest “How is your day going?” or a positive-toned and sincere “Hope you’re having a good day!” Don’t just go through the motions – mean it when you say it.

#2 Make Sure Your Loved Ones Know They’re Loved – This one doesn’t get any simpler. I’m not always an outwardly emotional person. I used to be more so than I am now. I’ll support any of my friends who need me, but I’m not necessarily a mushy person. I used to be to some, but that part of me has kind of expired. Don’t get me wrong – I’m very happy, just not so mushy. But even for the non-mushy people out there, people in our lives need to know that they’re loved, whether it’s easy for us to show them or not. Nine times out of 10, it’s not easy for someone just to walk up to another person and spill their guts to tell them how special they are. Ok – maybe it’s easier than 9 times out of 10, but this is me I’m talking about here. I can write it on a greeting card, but it’s a little harder for it to come out of my mouth. Anyway, you don’t always have to tell people you love them. Most people show their loved ones they care everyday through small acts of kindness. If you happen to be on the receiving end of these small act, for the love of Pete, recognize them. When your mother stops by your office to bring you a drink because she knew you forgot yours and you were too busy to leave the office to get one, thank her and recognize that’s her telling you “I love you and you mean the world to me.” Yes, that happened to me last week. Bless my mother’s heart. I said “thank you,” of course, but I didn’t recognized the symbolism of it until just this moment. Recognize the little things. Night after night, when your wife fixes you dinner, makes your plate, and lovingly brings it to you while you sit on the sofa watching your favorite TV show, PLEASE recognize she does that for love. She may just need to know that you recognize it, too. Why else would she do it? You’ve got two legs. You can walk. It’s because she loves you. (Or visa versa??)

#3 Witness the Everyday Majestic – Happiness, beauty, humanity, good health, clothes, food, a home, family, friends…. Don’t take these things for granted. I know you’re probably thinking “Oh, I don’t.” But really? Do you take a moment everyday to marvel at just how good you’ve got it? Do you walk down the street on your lunch break and thank God that you have two legs to walk with, two eyes to see? Even the most unluckiest person in the world who thinks they have no friends or family to care about them or no job or no talent or no whatever STILL has a gift and something to be happy about. What was the active word in that sentence? THINKS! If you have a working mind, then YOU have control over your life. If you don’t like something, then YOU have the power to change it. And chances are, if you ask for help, someone will give it to you.

It’s sometimes so easy to concentrate on the negative and not the positive. Most people do. Wouldn’t it be nice if our human nature told us the glass was always half full instead of half empty? But I guess the best thing we can do to remind each other that the glass truly is half full is revert back to #1 – Be Kind to Each Other. In the end, I guess that’s really what it’s all about, right? And sometimes (as terrible as it sounds) that’s the hardest thing to do. But is it really THAT hard to do? Is it? I’m not claiming to know everything about the world and how to exist in it. (I always feel like I come across that way when I write a post like this, but I surely don’t mean to. It’s just a way to be creative and honestly figure out more about myself.)

Maybe the next time I see that popular girl from high school, I’ll make a little more effort. After all, we can be different and still get along and co-exist, right? I would hope so. And just maybe if we co-exist a little better, we’ll find out we have more in common than what we think… Or maybe not. But either way, the world will be a little more pleasant, and it will remind each of us that no matter if we see eye to eye on everything or not, there’s still someone out there who does care about your general well-being and happiness. Have a good day, everyone! (And I mean that very sincerely!)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"Take time to stop and smell the roses. - Unknown AND "No matter how busy you are, always make time for those people you would be afraid to lose." - Unknown

It’s funny how wrapped up in life you can get. Sometimes responsibilities just take control, and tunnel vision takes over. All you can think about is accomplishing whatever happens to be on your “to do” list at the time. “I don’t have time for that” or “I’m too tired” is your response to most things that are “luxury” – a leisurely phone call with a friend, attending a birthday party, fill-in-the-blank.

The funny thing is – when I’m in the middle of a big project, all I can think about is how I can’t wait until its over, how much less stressed I’ll be when it’s over. I don’t even really take time to enjoy the moment or the project I’m working on. It’s just one more thing to be flicked off my piled-full plate. I realized that about myself just about a month ago – during the busiest time of my year. To top it off, in the midst of a packed scheduled of fall performances, competitions and practices, and getting ready for my studio’s annual Showcase, I got the hair-brained idea to take my three teams, Little Switzerland, Sundance Express, and Rhythmic Alliance, to a joint audition for America’s Got Talent in Richmond, Virginia.

It was hectic. The audition was announced two weeks prior to the audition date. As it turned out, there was only one day within that two week time span that I could get all of my teams together to figure out exactly what our minute-and-thirty-second audition would entail. Just one three-hour practice was all we had to prepare for this possible once-in-a-lifetime audition. I reminded myself not to stress. “You have awesome dancers,” I told myself. “They’ll get it no problem.” And they did, of course. I just reminded myself to enjoy their talent and their determination as they worked hard to make sure all their moves, turns, and steps were as sharp as they could be. A friend and fellow dancer on one of my teams texted me the night before the audition and told me not to be nervous. “I’m not,” I stresslessly replied with a smilie face. “I have great dancers.”

Not being stressed while waiting for our AGT audition
The day of the audition was hectic, too. Here I was leading 25 dancers around Richmond, trying to find dancers amidst the crazy traffic and crowds. Again, I didn’t need to worry. Everyone was right where they should’ve been. Not only that, but everyone had all their audition paperwork ready to go. Even right up until the last holding room that led us into our audition, I wasn’t nervous. I guess I should’ve been, but I wasn’t. “Whatever will be, will be,” I thought. “If they like us, they like us. If they don’t, they don’t. All I know and need to know is my dancers are awesome.” I enjoyed the practices we had in the holding rooms. I enjoyed taking goofy pre-audition pictures, and I definitely enjoyed the funny antics that ensued at our post-audition/celebratory Olive Garden meal. Forget about the America’s Got Talent audition! All three of my clogging families just performed together. THAT was the coolest part. It was the first time they performed a routine together, and I sure hope it wasn’t the last. Who knows? Maybe America’s Got Talent liked what they saw? We shall see, I suppose.

This blog post is kind of two-fold. The other downfall to being so busy is forgetting those you love. Not just family, but those friends that you don’t see on a regular basis. Or the friends you used to see and talk to on a regular basis but don’t anymore because you’re so wrapped up in your own life. It’s hard – trying to fulfill all the responsibilities you’re supposed to doesn’t always leave enough time for a social life. That’s something I realized I greatly missed whenever my performance season ended just this past weekend with my studio’s Showcase.

The biggest (and last!) performance of the year was over. I finally had time to breathe and realize things I’d missed. Other than thinking “I just want to collapse on the couch for a week,” I thought “I miss my friends.” I need to catch up with that writer friend of mine that lives in New York. I miss visiting with my best friend over a cup of her delicious hot chocolate or listening to her play guitar. I miss leisurely watching movies with another friend of having stupid religious or political debates. I wanted to set in stone that girl’s night out my girlfriends and I had been trying to plan for months. I started looking forward to the annual Christmas shopping trip I took with my sister – the Christmas shopping trip that would make up for the Birthday shopping trip in August that I was too busy to go on…. I even accepted an invite from a friend to an acquaintance’s baby shower. Yeah, me… the socially awkward girl who’s scared of babies. It seems my social side wants to get out a little bit. Most importantly, I just desired to reconnect with my friends and family. Maybe it’s the holiday season coming up. I love Christmas and the joyful spirit it brings, so that may be it. Or maybe my unsocial butterfly personality is finally getting over itself. Either way, I have a feeling I’m going to be doing a lot more hanging out with friends and family during this off-season.

So back to my original point: I think its just crazy that we (or at least, I) can’t remember or have time to be a caring human during my most hectic season, which runs from March to November. So am I telling myself that I have to be a non-communicating, stressed ball of nerves for nine out of twelve months of the year? That’s just ridiculous! Nothing is THAT important! It seems as though I need to re-examine my priorities… Starting now!!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

"Be a First-Rate Version of Yourself, Not a Second-Rate Version of Someone Else." - Judy Garland

One thing I’ve always been insecure about is… my body. What woman isn’t, right? And I’m sure guys have similar insecurities as well. I don’t know why I’m insecure about my body. My parents never made me feel inadequate. I wasn’t very popular at school, but I was never picked on about my physical appearance. I was a bean pole. The only thing I fell below the bar on, or at least other girls thought so, was my fashion. *shrugs shoulders* Maybe that had something to do with it. Who knows?

Anyhoot, I am insecure about my body. Mostly the dreaded mid-section – the love handles and the back fat. Most people who know me would probably be saying “What fat?! You dance! How can you be out of shape?!” My response… “I know… I know… I should be perfectly happy with my body and quit needling the small things."

But then that leads to other insecurities. “What does my hair look like? What does my make-up look like? Am I dressed cute and trendy?” And really – what does it matter?! If we spent as much time fully experiencing life as we do worrying about our appearance, we just might be actually LIVING life.

I write this as I’m on vacation. Last night, I tried to dress up to achieve that “cute and trendy” look. Apparently I succeeded because I went to a celebrity look-alike show where “Madonna” complimented me on being so tall and looking like a model. “Dang…,” I thought. “What am I worried about?”

After the show, the hubby and I went walking around at a nearby park. I was feeling pretty stylish with my high heels on, but I was quickly reminded not to take myself too seriously when one of those high heels decided to give way. That’s right – my sole fell right off my shoe right there in front of everyone. I gracefully tried to cover it up, seamlessly bending down and pick up the rouge sole; however my gracefulness didn’t last long… There went the other shoe. The exact same thing. Sole gone. “What in the world?!” I think to myself while my husband tries to hide his chuckles. Initially, my pride was, of course, hurt. But why should it be? I just started laughing with my husband. (I might as well, right? Laughing is more fun than hurt pride, after all.) My hubby helped me back out to the car (both of us chuckling the whole way), and I found another pair of shoes – flats that definitely suited me better, much more my personality and a lot less painful. I actually felt like myself again, which lead me to my thoughts…

Why do we continually try to impress other people and worry about what other people think? Why do we stray from “ourselves?” Why not just do things to make ourselves feel good instead of trying to make ourselves look good in the eyes of others especially strangers.

Someone once asked me (maybe a preacher giving a sermon?): Why do we always try to impress other people? Moreover, why do we always try to impress strangers? They don’t know us. Sometimes we care more about what strangers think instead of those we know and love. (Guilty…) How stupid is that, right? Instead, we should be trying to impress the ones we know and love and not by physical looks but by ethics and morals. Even more important is impressing ourselves. Not with how well our hair looks today or how much our eyeliner allows our eyes to pop, but simply by being ourselves, being happy, and sticking to whatever our beliefs and ethics are. You can be the most beautiful, stunning, drop-dead model in the world, but you’re nothing unless you have a backbone, a smart mind, and the heart to be yourself and stand up for what you believe in.

If dressing up makes YOU feel good, dress to the nines! But if you’d rather wear a comfortable pair of shorts and a slinky tank, go for it. It all rests with how you feel about yourself and living in YOUR skin the way it was designed for YOU. Not conforming to the image that society (or anyone else, for that matter) designs.

I’m still on vacation, and I’m using the rest of it to live and be how I want to be - comfortable in my own skin, doing things my way, and dressing and looking the way I see fit. I’ve only been doing it just this morning, but I already feel better and MUCH more comfortable. Now to enjoy some beach time… MY WAY!! And who cares if I don’t have the perfect beach body. I’m here to soak up rays, read a book, and relax with my hubby. (And he seems to think my body looks just fine. Why am I worried about impressing anyone else?)

Chin up, Buttercups! Fling the door to the world wide open and strut your stuff. Have a great self-loving day, ya’ll!!
Don't Change So People Will Like You.
Be Yourself and the Right People Will
Love the Real You!