Okay - I am unveiling my website logo today. This painting was created by my good friend, RVa artist Keith Gills (www.keithgillsart.com). It's an amazing piece of work and he so managed to capture my very essence: trying dilligently to hold it together while I raise two teenagers, one with Type 1 Diabetes, work a full-time job, freelance when time allows, keep my home clean, the kids fed and raise two rescue dogs. Add to that, pursuing my Masters in Education...and trying to do it all with grace and style!
It's possible to manage everything - it really is. I do it every single day, taking life one day at a time. Even though I have my hands extremely full, a strong wind can't bring me down. Because I have strength, faith and a wonderful family and friends who help me carry the load.
So thank you Keith - for this incredible painting and the time you spent laboring over every last detail. I love it - it's incredible. And here is the logo. Make sure you check out Keith's site for a look at his other, amazing work.
I have a little statue in my office of a vase with flowers and the words “Your Life Is Now.” I look at it several times a day; but rarely do I “see” it. More often than not, the profound meaning of this saying escapes me. The fact is, life is moving whether I am living it or just merely coasting along for the ride.
Time is passing and I can either blink and it’s gone or I can live a rich and fulfilling life.
I choose the latter.
This week, I applied to graduate school to study for a Masters in Education. It will probably take me two to three years as I will only be going part-time due to time constraints. That means, I will have to add classes, studying, homework and cohort groups to my already jam-packed schedule. That means, I will get less sleep and have less money for shoes and purses because tuition bills come with going back to school. I’ll see my friends less and I’ll be less available to do many of the things I do now.
So why bother?
Because I want to prove to myself that I can accomplish something great - even after being out of college for many years. Because my kids don’t need me every second and I want to do something for myself. Because a Masters in Education opens doors and gives me tons of flexibility in my career. Finally, because two to three years are going to pass by anyway. And I’ll either still be me or I’ll be me with a M.S. in Ed.
I choose the latter.
Wish me luck :)
Dear Pittsburgh Guy Driving a Lexus:
Where are you going in such a hurry? My sister’s driving a station wagon, with a bumper sticker that reads “proud parent of an Eagle Scout.” It should be obvious that my sister is a mother. When you rode her tail for five miles and then vehemently flipped her off uncontrollably while speeding around her car, did you think, for one second, that she might have a child in the car? Did you honestly have to prove your point in such an ugly manner? And, by the way, what was your point? That you are important? That you have to attend to a matter of great urgency or the world will come to an end? That someone is waiting for you somewhere? As an aside, my heart goes out to whoever might be on the receiving end of your daily companionship.
I tried to give you the benefit of the doubt when my sister told me this story. I try to give that same benefit of the doubt when I see your kind all over the roads I travel. Maybe you just were fired. Maybe you were on your way to see a relative who is barely hanging on. Maybe you just received some other type of soul-crushing news.
But the fact of the matter is that you’re probably just a rude, pompous, volatile little man. You know how I know? Because here, on planet earth, people get bad news every day; and yet we refrain from exhibiting this type of belligerent behavior on (or off) the road. But in your world, you somehow learned that you alone are entitled to the road. You alone are allowed to berate anyone who doesn’t measure up to your standards. You alone are the only one who matters.
But here, in my world, people learn how to deal with bad news with grace. We may go faster than we should on the highway, but we refrain from displaying this type of flagrant barbarianism. We may experience fits of anger. But it’s a mere second, not a continual screaming, hand gesturing, red-faced, blood-pressure rising tirade. That’s the difference between someone who lives with grace and someone like you.
So instead of violently tailing and verbally abusing a soccer mom who simply had the misfortune of being in front of you, maybe you should slow down and perhaps go on a journey of self-discovery. Try to find this grace for yourself. Although I’m trying to learn not to judge other people, you desperately seem to need it.
I’ll end by saying it is grace alone that allows me to feel compassion for you with your unmitigated selfishness and conceit. It is that grace that allows me to hope you find peace. Because, Mr. Lexus, what goes around, truly does come around. And karma is going to be waiting for you, perhaps around that next bend. Unless it’s caught up with you already.
Today is September 12. Ten years and twenty-four hours have passed since one of the most horrific days in U.S. history.
Yesterday, memorial services bespoke of the brave heroes of that fateful day. Television programming featured the heroes who survived; panning to them during NFL football game breaks and featuring one family on Extreme Home Makeovers. Yesterday, flags waved, ribbons were worn and people remembered.
And today life goes one. As it should. If every day were a commemorative occasion, the meaning of September 11th would become standard, rote. But although we may not gather daily to recognize the bravery of the people and the camaraderie of the surviving citizens of the U.S., we can begin a new decade by resolving to challenge ourselves to become better citizens, to become better friends, to become better people, for those who cannot.
Today, and every day for the coming year, reach out to the neighbors like you did ten years ago on 9/12. Talk to them, offer to help, lend a hand, be a friend. Don’t wait to be asked. Be generous with your time at work; spare a buck for a homeless guy, not judging whether he’ll use it for booze. You know, he probably will, but give it anyway. It’s the giving that counts. Don’t gossip, don’t complain and if you do, keep it to yourself. Buy a cup of lemonade from a kid on the street or a box of Girl Scout cookies from a young neighbor who comes to your door.
Remember your resolve ten years ago. You know you had it. I know I did. I wanted to be a better person, a better mom, wife, daughter, sister, employee and friend. Earlier this year, when I began reminiscing on the past decade; I wondered if I became the person I wanted to be. At first I thought that not much had changed inside of me. Then I realized how much I accomplished - finding a career I love in public safety, raising my girls into good and beautiful teenagers, keeping my home, rescuing pets, publishing a blog that (hopefully) helps people, teaching Religious Education at my church for several years, volunteering at the food bank, the SPCA, the community kitchen and for the JDRF. I think I made a bit of a difference.
And I want that to continue into the next decade. I can’t change what happened and I can’t make the whole world a better place all by myself. But I can encourage people to be the best they can be. And I can try to do my best; one day at a time. As Mother Teresa said “be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” Do little things with great love. Make a difference all year long, not just on one day in September.
A colleague and I gave a lunchtime presentation in Emporia today. As I was driving north on I-95, I came to the outskirts of downtown Richmond. A wave of nostalgia hit as I viewed the panorama: tall buildings, the James River and the roof of the train station. The nostalgia was a longing for my old city - Pittsburgh - from where I moved in 1989. I would drive through the tunnels approaching downtown Pittsburgh and be hit with light shimmering on the water, sky-scrapers of every conceivable height and shape and I would know I was home.
But Pittsburgh hasn’t been my home for more than 20 years. Oddly enough, I’ve never felt quite at home here either. For me, it’s been a “fish out of water” syndrome. I’ve graduated from college here, had one of my daughters here, owned homes here, have a church family, a stellar career and the best group of friends a girl could ever dream of having.
But rounding that curve and meeting the skyline on I-95 today, I took in the beauty of Richmond, the history and the uniqueness and I love it. It’s just not home. Perhaps it was moving here from the north and never fully being able to capture that southern charm and the mannerisms that girls are brought up with in the south. Maybe I never really learned the culture. Maybe it is the fact that we left Richmond to live in Charlottesville at the end of the 1990s for a few years. Possibly it is something that one needs to be born with. Whatever the reasons, I still have a vague unease of “transition” about me. One that lingers, never fully lets go.
I admire people who can make a home anywhere. I have cousins who moved from Kentucky to the United Arab Emirates and now live in Qatar. They spend summers in the U.S. and seem to easily transition from one part of the world to another with barely a moment of jetlag. My friend Dan retired from his job and bought a one-way ticket to Thailand. He has lived all over Asia for months and then picked up and moved to Alaska. Oh, by the way, Dan’s not even 30! How cool that they can just bid adieu to what they know and take off for what they don’t…and be okay.
So as I navigated the highway today, I decided I should forget the past and where I came from and focus on the future and where I’m headed. A future where I can live in the city of my dreams - one that welcomes me with open arms every time I visit, one where I get so excited when I think of living there that my heart actually flutters. Ex-patriot Gertrude Stein said of the city she loved "America is my country, but Paris is my home." And one day, I am sure that I will make the city of my dreams my home as well. That city is New York. I doubt I will experience any unease as I was born to be a New Yorker. I knew it the moment I stepped off the plane to visit for the first time. I knew it the day I successfully navigated the subway. I knew it when my brother (a New Yorker himself) joked that I can’t find the bread machine in my kitchen but I could find a pair of shoes in Time Square at 8:00 on a Saturday night - blindfolded. I know that, in the next phase of my life, I am destined to live there. As the saying goes - there’s no place like home. I believe that. I just have to find mine.
It’s been an odd week for Central Virginia: a 5.9 earthquake earlier in the week, several significant aftershocks, swamp fires and now Hurricane Irene is bearing down on the East Coast. While it’s unlikely that my county will experience an actual hurricane, we are expected to be hit with tropical storm force winds and significant rain. Around here, that usually means no power for at least a day. During Hurricane Isabel, many were without power for days, many for weeks. Fortunately, the media talks about these looming crises non-stop so there was ample time to prepare. The last thing I want to do if disaster hits is panic because I’m unprepared especially as I have a Type 1 diabetic to look after.
Don’t Assume Anything
Yes, we all know the media can “over-exaggerate” and we may have become desensitized to threatening forecasts and pending disasters. However, earthquakes happen unexpectedly and hurricanes can turn on a dime. It’s difficult for weather people to predict actual outcomes. So assume the worst and pray for the best. Conspiracy theories that I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter claiming that the government and the media and (really??) even the retail establishments are blowing this out of proportion bore me. The last I heard, these institutions were made up of people and people are inherently good. I doubt they all collaborate to cause pandemonium just to sell a loaf of bread. The point is, if you see dire predictions over and over, believe them and get ready.
Although this seems like a no-brainer, you wouldn’t believe the stuff that people buy during a crisis. Alcohol, of course, seems to be a huge seller. Be smart. Don’t drink during a hurricane or any type of disaster. If a tree falls on your house, if your roof blows off, if windows break, you will need your wits about you. People buy frozen foods too! Why? If you lose power, guess what? Those tater tots are gonna go bad. Be smart. Buy stuff that is non-perishable: peanut butter, granola bars, instant coffee (yes, it will be cold unless you have a gas hot water heater but it will still be caffeine which you might need), cans of tuna. You get the drift.
Prepare for power outages by doing all your laundry while you still have electricity. Make a big pot of coffee, cook up some frozen food for breakfast. Do anything you can do to get prepared in advance. If nothing happens, you have some good food, clean clothes and ample caffeine for the day!
If you waited too long to get supplies, don’t bother going to places like home improvement stores or big retail discount stores. Go to your local pharmacy. People avoid those because the prices are higher but who cares if you pay twenty more cents for a battery when you really need one. I found a great LED book light on the Walgreens shelf for less than $10!
Keep one stocked. Add to it as time and money permit. I wonder about people who need to rush out to buy a flashlight during a storm. They cost a buck - go get one now. Have candles and hurricane glass containers to keep them in. Buy matches or a good lighter. Know where your tarp is in case you need to cover up a window. Have a tool kit with a hammer and some nails. I know that my attic floor is just several sheets of plywood - you bet if I need to board up a window, guess what is coming up?? Fill some pitchers up with water. If you have alcohol to drink, you might not think you need it; but if water is contaminated, you will. You are going to want to wash, flush your toilet, and have water on hand for your pets. Even fill up the tub - you’ll be glad you did.
The best app I ever got for my phone was a document scanner. It cost about $5.00 but you take a photo of your important papers and then the scanner turns it into a PDF which you can save or email to yourself for safe keeping. I scanned my insurance papers (both home and auto), phone numbers and my pet records. I also did a quick video of everything in my house for insurance purposes.
So you can’t control the weather, you can’t control the hype; you pretty much can’t control anything except the way you react to things. If you have most bases covered, you can still stay sane during a crisis so you can focus on taking care of yourself and your loved ones.
I’ll let you in on a secret that many of my friends already know. I love to shop. It’s one of my favorite ways to spend spare time. I travel to New York to shop, I try to plan vacations near outlets so I can shop and I took a four day vacation to celebrate Tax Free Shopping Weekend in Virginia. The problem is this: I’m a single parent of teenagers and they are expensive to raise. So how do I manage my shopping addiction with not much money to spare?
Use the Smart Phone
Well, I’ll tell you how. I leave the store without buying anything! Then how do I have such a great wardrobe? Here’s how. I often do a walk-through of a store to see what items I like and what fits and then I scan the barcode with Red Laser to see if I can find it cheaper. If I can find it on the web, I order it right there (and I usually can). Or I’ll go home and check eBay to see if I can find the same or a similar item for a better price. My daughter wanted a Vera Bradley Coin and Key for her birthday. Twenty-five dollars at Saxons only ended up costing me $14.95 on eBay. Free shipping too!
Never Pay Retail
I never, ever pay retail for anything! Never, ever! If an item isn’t on sale, I keep walking. I better have a handful of store coupons before I even walk into Delia’s or Aeropostale for clothes for my daughters and I won’t even walk into Macys without coupons for my own purchases. I get store credit cards if they afford extra discounts. I just have to be extra careful to pay them off at the end of the month to avoid those pesky interest charges. But having a store credit card means you can get advance information on sales and coupons for at least 20% off on most purchases. Some stores, like Victoria Secret, send coupon books with a special coupon for each month.
And my best kept secret is the Goodwill Store. Yep, I shop at thrift stores! And I love it! My latest finds included a beautiful beaded David Warren black cocktail dress for $6.99 (see photo below), a Kenneth Cole pink handbag for $4.00, a silk flowered purse for $4.00 (in photo with dress) and a grey, A-line skirt from Express for $2.50. It’s brand new! I’ve seen an original Bob Mackie suit (he was Cher’s designer) and an original Oleg Cassini (designer for Jackie O!) on the racks at Goodwill ON THE SAME DAY! No, I passed on both. The Mackie was five sizes too big and the Cassini was just not my style.
I am hawk-eyed in the Goodwill too. I make sure I check every seam and every single square inch of fabric. If it doesn’t fit exactly right, even if it is a buck, I walk. I’m not going to waste a dollar on something that will sit in the closet. If it has even a tiny spot, I pass unless I am sure I can get it out. It helps that I am very fashion savvy when I go into the store. I know which designers make good quality items and I stick to those. I also know which types of clothing fit my body the best and I stick with those as well. I am particular about what I purchase and won’t buy shoes at a thrift store and some other items as well. I usually stick to jackets (a black denim jean jacket today was a steal at $4.99), skirts, purses, belts and scarves.
During these uncertain economic times, many people are bemoaning the state of the economy, worried if they will have a job, particularly if they work for the government, afraid of losing social security or other government benefits and afraid of losing investments and even a home. During these times, it is difficult to say to someone “oh, don’t worry, everything’s gonna be alright." I work for a not-for-profit and my position is grant funded. Friends of mine work for the state and the federal government. My parents collect social security. People are unsure, worried, fearful and insecure
What I do know is that this isn’t the time to: bemoan, worry, and be fearful and insecure. Now is the time to bless the economy and be grateful for everything we have at this moment. Right now, I have a job (two if you count my freelance work, three if you count my web design work), my bills are paid and my children and I have what we need.
Dr. Susan Corso wrote in The Huffington Post, that the “basic principle of spiritual prosperity is the action of blessing.” She advises us to bless the fact that we are working and bless those who may be unemployed with employment. She states that spiritual practice works with everything or it works with nothing. Therefore, we must bless the things that we have if we want to receive more. We cannot doubt God and we cannot put negative energy into the universe. We must be grateful for whatever we have in our lives right now be it a little or be it a lot.
If you want to see the economy improve, bless it. Be grateful for the things that you do have and focus on the good today. In 365 Thank Yous, author John Kralik had lost pretty much everything. His law practice was on the verge of bankruptcy and he worried that he couldn’t pay his staff. His personal life was a disaster - he was twice divorced and estranged from his oldest sons. He lived in a rundown apartment with no central air. He was out of shape and at the end of his rope. He decided to embark on a thank you note project where he would write 365 thank you notes in a year. His attention to the good and his ability to find gratitude in a poor situation profoundly changed his life - for the better!
Bless the economy, the news, the government officials, and anything else that is causing fear to rise up in your life. Bless it and let it go. Believe that things will get better. And they will.
Contentment isn’t a one minute miracle. Getting there takes time; but reaching a contented state is a destination stop. You CAN arrive and it doesn’t have to be an ongoing process. Perhaps there are levels of contentedness that you can climb and further achieve; but finally getting to a place where you can look around with satisfaction at your achievements, goals and milestones that you reached and sigh - yes, contentedly, as you realize “I’m right where I’m supposed to be and everything around and in me and around me is good.”
The “in” as inner peace, the “around” is what you choose to surround yourself with in order to maintain that peace.
I cannot be content if even one area of my life is in disarray - that’s just who I am. My home must be in order - not perfect - but orderly with bills paid and pantry stocked. Work must be in order as well with me putting my best foot forward on every project, every day. This year, as I did that, I could spend a week at the beach without that gnawing feeling that something was left undone. I worked hard to get my house and my work projects in order and have a schedule to maintain them instead of always rushing to catch up.
I had to let go of an overwhelming amount of volunteer and extra-curricular activities, but once I did, I recognized that what I was feeling was peace. I had time on my hands to just sit in the garden or go on walks. I wasn’t rushing at a frenetic pace to get to a forgotten appointment. I wasn’t apologizing for missing appointments all together.
I’ve realized that I don’t always have to be on a quest for peace, for balance, for sanity. Sometimes I have it. I just have to recognize that I have achieved the feeling I have been searching for and be okay with it. Then I realize “I am content.”
Harold Camping’s rapture prediction has come and gone. We’re all still here…including Harold. I don’t know what was in his heart or his mind when he made his determinations. I think his ministry brought in a lot of money. I think that he’s probably a bit too old to care. But what I do know for sure is that’s between him and God.
The prediction caused a flurry of believers and non-believers alike to debate the end of times. Will some be touched and convert as a result? I hope so. Will some turn away from faith as a result believing they’ve been swindled and cheated and duped in the name of religion? Rest assured, some of the broke people will.
Personally, I would like to see some good come from this rapture debate. I certainly believe in God and I’d like to think that, when the rapture does occur, I’d not be one of the ones left in the field. Yet I am not so proud as to say I believe I would be taken and not left behind. Again, that’s up to God.
I do though plan to use this opportunity to plead my case for change: a change in our universal consciousness. A change in the bitterness, the division, the judgment and the hatred that’s become all too apparent in our homes, classrooms, neighborhoods, streets, cities, countries and even in our virtual space.
So my prayer is that the this earthly rapture prediction not leave people with broken spirits and dashed hopes. My prayer is that many begin to make conscious efforts to hold open a door, greet a neighbor, help find a lost dog, make peace with an estranged family member, give more at work, be open minded, stop using words like fag and retard, give a buck to a homeless man without judging what he’ll use it to purchase. And stop closing our hearts to religion stating that it is a ploy to get money or judge religious people as hypocrites. Go to church, a temple, a garden, the beach. Reach out - see what happens. Listen to the prayer of St. Francis and let peace begin with you. Or listen to the Beatles and realize all you need is love or Lady Gaga and rejoice and love yourself today…
Slow down, change perspective, yield, do a good deed and tell no one, give this rapture experience some meaning for the greater good. Start a revolution!