This Is Not Just A Sweater

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“If I close my eyes, I can see her sitting on the brown velour seventies couch in our living room wrapped in that ugly green sweater, relaxing with each passing minute as though cocooned in a blissful state of peace.” – Little Miss Wordy

My little tribute to my own mom is featured today at What The Flicka?

I hope you’ll check it out and remember a little something special about those who’s motherly

role in your own life made a difference.

Are You A Chinet Or A Dixie?

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The days are warming up as the sunshine begins to grace us with its presence, but it feels like we’ve just wrapped up the holidays chockfull of picture worthy dining rooms photographed as proof that we are capable of dressing up our tables as much as our bodies. As Easter approaches, we are presented with another occasion to pull out the fine china and gather round the beautifully set table with family and friends. Each place setting lovingly set with items that were pulled out of their resting places in dark corner cabinets, washed, and given a prominent place on the table.

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I love a magazine worthy table as much as the next person, but I’ve come to accept that we are living what I refer to as the Paper Plate Years. The truth is with active young children, dogs, work, workouts and only twenty four hours in a day, paper plates have been a life saver at our house on many an occasion. The benefits of a quick table setting, less dishes to wash, and guilt free recycling currently outweigh a pile of dishes in the sink battling for attention with nightly tooth brushing and tucking in services.

Place Setting, Holiday Table, Dinner Party

And, I’ve begun to use the term Paper Plate Years in other aspects of our lives too.

The lack of dishes in the sink, makes for quick clean up and more time for my husband and I to enjoy some evening quiet time, watch a show or catch up on our day as date nights during the Paper Plate Years often consist of evenings in rather than evenings out.

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The Paper Plate Years may also come in the form of carpets that are showing wear and tear and are in need of being replaced or a car that may have run its course but the money is more wisely spent elsewhere for now.

Dreams of fine china vacations may currently be replaced by staycations during the Paper Plate Years and laundry may not get the attention it needs in exchange for loads of family time instead.

Homework is a large part of the Paper Plate Years as school projects need supervision and little readers need encouragement.

The house may not be as pristine during these Paper Plate Years, but life is messy when you’re living it to the fullest.

Intimate moments may often feel impossible with toddlers in the house, but your creativity will surprise you (and your partner) during the Paper Plate Years.

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We’ve all experienced the Paper Plate Years at some stage in our lives. Some of us may still be living smack dab in the middle of them. Each phase of our lives brings with it a set of challenges but also a set of dreams. When the kids are young or money is tight it’s easy to lose ourselves in wishful forecasts of what awaits, but the Paper Plate Years are the memories we will look back on and cherish when we have plenty of time, money, and energy for date nights, vacations, new cars and clean homes.

The most important thing is to be fully present in the here and now as you pull up your chair to your family table and make it a fine dining experience filled with love, conversation, and of course, paper plates.

In what aspect of your life have you experienced the Paper Plate Years?

The Bully Within

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Bullies are all around us. They come in many forms, making us victim to unspeakable feelings, but the worse kind of bully is the bully within, the one that resides in your mind and heart.  Don’t give in to self-hate, doubt and regret. You deserve a little self-compassion.

“Anti-bullying starts by facing the bully within.”

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No name, no sex, no gender, no race

Anonymous lurking in every face

Out of dark, dusty corners evil shadow to defend

At your side push, push until you bend

Innocents dismiss its presence

doubts seep in become their essence

Sinking through layers of confidence it sets

the table for second guesses and regrets

Unwelcome dinner guest feeds without restraint

on self hate, past failures and pain

Cozy on up, pull up a chair, make yourself at home

Not in this heart continue to roam

No solicitors, don’t want what you’re selling

Your sales pitch is convincing but also telling

Of your own demons hiding within

inviting others to join in

Dinner party pity party the more the merrier

Guest list with no barriers

Come one come all

Clock ticks Last Call

Open your eyes, turn on the lights

See what’s right before your eyes

Turn the lock, flip the sign, closing time

Don’t give in…not this time.

This post was part of this month’s #1000speak movement where bloggers all over the world come together to flood the internet with compassion. This month’s topic is “Building From Bullying.”

Link your post here.



Will The Internet Catch You When You Fall?

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The internet is a funny thing. It can suck you into a time-consuming black hole of social media, leaving you informed on news you could have lived the rest of your life not knowing. Last year, I wrote “When 547 Facebook Friends + 832 Twitter Followers = A Negative Number.”  It was about a beautiful friendship between two men who started their journey as childhood friends, sharing treasured experiences throughout the years, only to have that journey end tragically with a cancer diagnosis. In that post, I touched upon the fact that I believe real life friendships, the kind that allow for eye contact, hugs that stay with you forever and the day-to-day that comes with it are unique and can’t be experienced in internet friendships. I don’t mean a real friendship can’t exist, but in my opinion it’s not the same. There’s something to be said about holding a complete conversation with your best friend without saying a word because you know each other so well that one look is all the communication you need or how one little squeeze of the hand can give you the strength to face your biggest fear.


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However, a movement called #sogladtheytoldme, by blogger Stephanie Sprenger of Mommy For Real has stirred something within me that wants to address this in a whole new light. Sprenger wrote a response post to  “They Should’ve Warned Me” about motherhood and the warnings or lack thereof that new moms are given by experienced moms in their lives. In her article, “I’m Glad They Warned Me” Sprenger spoke in detail about the fact that she respects experiences such as the one Jenny Studentroth Gerson had as a new mother where all went smoothly and she simply embraced motherhood like a natural and  felt they should have instead warned her of all the positives of motherhood.  More importantly, and the reason I believe Sprenger’s post went viral is her focus on making sure all readers, especially new mothers, understand it is okay to have a different experience.

Motherhood is a very personal journey and no one should feel pressured to have a storybook pregnancy or feel like a failure when the whole nurturing thing doesn’t come easily. Colicky babies, postpartum depression, raw nipples, and sleepless nights are a reality many mothers face.

#Sogladtheytoldme is allowing mothers everywhere to know they are not alone. And, if you’ve ever felt truly alone in your plight as a new mother then you understand the magnitude of Sprenger’s movement.

Lisa – She can’t keep her eyes open after weeks of sleepless nights with her newborn baby girl. She has finally gotten her down for a nap though has failed at getting her to sleep in her crib yet again. As she tries not to disturb the baby, asleep on her chest, she gently shifts her body on the couch and reaches for her phone. She knows she should sleep when the baby does, but she’s also desperate for some adult interaction even if it is online. Lisa scrolls her Twitter feed coming across the same hashtag time and time again. Mother after mother shares a story, a photo, a simple line, all conveying the same message, #sogladtheytoldme. And, with her newborn snuggled to her chest, Lisa no longer feeling alone, drifts off into a peaceful sleep…if only for twenty minutes.

Like Lisa, I can’t help but wonder how many other mothers are being touched, saved, by knowing they are not alone in wanting to run away some days or wondering if they just aren’t equipped to be a mother. Single mothers, working mothers, first time mothers and mothers of three can all relate to navigating the course of motherhood like a newbie at a Spartan race. I wonder what they feel like when they come across another mom online admitting they are so glad to have been told it’s okay to not be a perfect mom all the time or even half the time. It’s okay to cry because you feel like you are failing this precious gift you were given, yet maybe don’t truly deserve. You’re not the only one.

I still believe there’s nothing like having a friend that can show up on your doorstep when you need them most. I still believe there are certain experiences only to be shared in person, but I think I may have been wrong when I said, “The internet won’t catch you when you fall.” Stephanie Sprenger has proven just the opposite.

 

Some People Are Hard To Love

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Some people are hard to love. Some people’s choices differ from ours. Their actions don’t make sense to us. Their beliefs are foreign to us. Some people are hard to love.

It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to love them anyway. It doesn’t mean they don’t deserve our love, our time, our compassion.

When my daughter was one, we took her to see her first movie, Disney’s Finding Nemo. She was mesmerized by the giant screen which transformed before her eyes, when the lights dimmed and the movie started, into an aquarium larger than life . There’s a scene in the movie where the seagulls are all intent upon eating Nemo and his friend Dory, repeatedly claiming their prey with an incessant chant, “mine, mine, mine, mine.” To me, it is the funniest scene in the movie. My daughter is now twelve and I still laugh at that scene.

The thing is, I’m not sure if it’s the scene itself or the fact that it reminds me of our own human behavior. It seems to me we’ve perfected this seagull mentality in our own lives as we build walls around our yards and ultimately our lives, as we claim our prey in the form of a new car, a promotion, a cool friend before others do because how would that make us look after all. Many of us, blinders on, choose to ignore the signs when someone needs help, dismissing it with a “it’s not my problem” attitude.

If you’ve ever been around a toddler for any amount of time, you know it is much like this scene in Finding Nemo. Compassion begins at home. It is our job to teach them to be aware of other’s needs as well as instill in them compassion when it comes to those around us. I’m not going to get into a political debate here because that’s not what this post is about. As I stated above, we all have our own beliefs, etc. I believe if I worked for something, I earned it. I don’t expect some greater power to demand I share what’s mine with someone else. What I do expect is for me to help someone less fortunate in my way when I see a need. I am raising my children to do the same. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, compassion should always be present.

Life isn’t a fairytale or a Disney movie with a guaranteed happy ending. As I like to say, we each have our own once upon a time, our own unique upbringing, our own cultures, our own personal experiences that make us who we are today. However, we can all come together to write the next chapter. We can reach out and help someone close a hurtful chapter and begin a new, more promising one. In the simplest of ways, we can make a difference for someone by simply showing compassion whether in person, in writing, online, with a comment or even a smile.

Teach the children in your life to be aware of the needs around them, to be kind, to love those who are hard to love, and to show compassion in all they do. It has been said it takes a village to raise a child. Do your part to raise a compassionate child for that same child will grow up to have a role in the very same village some day.

1000 Speak, Compassion

This post was written as part of an initiative that is near and dear to my heart, 1000 Voices For Compassion.

I invite you to join 1000 bloggers on February 20, 2015 as we flood the internet with compassion in the form of blog posts, videos, photos, etc.

Write a post about compassion on your blog, join our Facebook Group, invite others to participate.

You don’t have to be a writer to submit a post to the website or simply post a comment on FB, share a post or tweet something compassionate with the hashtag #1000speak then sit back and see how one little blog post has become a movement.

The preparation of this event is already connecting people across the globe. It has taken on a life of its own which to me simply means a little compassion goes a LONG way!

Let Them Eat Cake! – Photo Friday

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The day each of my children was born was life-changing for me as it is for many parents. I believe in celebrating their birthday special every year as much for them as for myself. Through the years, after the kids go to bed, I have spent many a night creating a cake for the occasion. Amid yawns and stretches, I relive each moment of my pregnancy, each memory of their birth. As I bake, ice and decorate, I imagine the look of joy on their sweet faces when they lay their eyes on the finished product. It may not be Cake Wars worthy, but I know they will remember these cakes and the love I poured into each one for many birthdays to come.

Do you have a special birthday tradition for your children or loved ones?

For more Finish the Sentence Friday and diabolical ideas of what to do when the kids go to sleep, check out

Kristi (Finding Ninee)      Stephanie (Mommy For Real)    Kerri (Undiagnosed but Okay)

A Christmas Tradition

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“Lord, give me strength.” She pulled up to the house in the dark of night, cut off the engine, and leaned her head back against the seat. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. And so began her nightly ritual as she arrived home from her second job each night. She reached across the seat and grabbed the small bag containing toilet paper, toothpaste, a gallon of milk, and a loaf of bread before exiting the car. She prayed it was enough to hold them over until Friday when she would once again stretch her small paycheck like a magician pulling colored scarves out of a hat.

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She quietly entered the old house, treading lightly across the creaky old floorboards so as not to wake anyone. After placing the milk in the fridge, she willed her tired muscles to carry her up the stairs, knowing once she reached the top her exhaustion would be forgotten as she stopped in for a glimpse of her sleeping angels. Her life wasn’t always that of a single mother with three children, but life doesn’t always turn out the way we once dreamed. She was living proof of that. And yet, she wouldn’t trade it for all the money in the world if it meant erasing the three greatest blessings in her life. As usual, she found the twins cuddled up together in one twin bed as though reverting to the comforting days of the peace they experienced in the womb. She covered them with a second blanket, kissed their foreheads, and made her way down the hall. She passed Jacob’s room, knowing she would find her ten-year old son asleep in her bed once again. She no longer moved him back to his own bed, taking as much comfort from sleeping with him as he did with her.

As she did every night, no matter how late she arrived, she filled the tub and soaked for a bit. Surely, it made more sense to take a quick shower and jump in bed, but she needed these baths. It always felt like a cleansing of sorts as she imagined washing away all her troubles before laying her head on her pillow. Otherwise, she knew her worries would circle her mind and sleep would elude her when she needed it most. Thank goodness she still had her mother with her to stay at home with the kids while she worked. She wouldn’t know what to do without her help, but she also knew she was getting older and that wouldn’t always be the case.

This time of year was always the hardest and loneliest for her. It was when she seemed to feel the full brunt of being a single mother the most. She wanted a magical Christmas for her children, but she had stopped believing in magic long ago. How do you continue to help your children believe when the world has stripped you of your hope, your dreams, your faith? As she lay beside him, she watched her son sleep and realized the tranquil look he once possessed was beginning to fade even in his dreams. “Lord, please give me strength.”

She woke before the sun. Gathering the envelope labeled “Savings” in her nightstand before heading out once more. She hoped to make it back before the kids woke up. As she pulled into the Kmart parking lot, she ran the numbers in her head and knew she would have to choose only one item on the list for each of her children. She didn’t have enough for the rest of the items she had placed on Layaway, but Christmas was just days away and she had to have at least one gift under the old Charlie Brown tree in the living room.

She asked the Layaway attendant to please pull up her list so she could select the items she could afford. The list wasn’t long, although she had surprised herself that day by allowing herself to dream for a bit, imagining she actually had the means to give her children the items they asked for this year.

The young girl hit a few keys and said, “Paid in Full.”

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“There must be some mistake,” the woman said and repeated her name. The young girl gave her the biggest smile she had ever seen. “I was working the evening shift last night, when a couple came in with their two young children. I heard them explaining to their kids the meaning of putting something on layaway and how blessed they were to be in a position where they had never had to do that. They then asked me to pull up a layaway list that included children’s items and paid it in full. When I asked them if they wanted me to contact the person, they said no. Just tell them we said, Merry Christmas and God Bless.”

The young lady then proceeded to hand the items over to the woman who stood motionless, tears streaming down her face. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” The young lady handed over the final item and said, “Don’t thank me, that family gave me faith that magic still exists. Merry Christmas to you and your children.”

This is our yearly tradition with our children, and all of us have come to look forward to it more than any other aspect of our holiday season. The story above is just one of the versions I’ve imagined in my heart throughout the years.

How do you give back during the holidays?

Lessons From A Third Grade School Performance

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I watched you from my seat in the second row of the right side of the auditorium. Your eyes scanned the room, row by row panning left and right, left and right. Hands in your pockets, you stood tall and attentive, fully aware your third grade performance would begin at any moment. You had the notes, lyrics, moves memorized as you had been practicing for weeks in the comfort of your own home. Though, now you looked a bit nervous, standing on the stage, in the spotlight, anxiously searching the audience. You had told me to sit on the right side of the auditorium so I would have a good view of you. Today, on the drive over, we even reviewed left and right a few times to ensure I would be in the right seat.

 

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As you searched the eager faces in the room, I knew we had gotten our right and left mixed up. The more your big brown eyes sought mine, the tighter my heart squeezed. I tried to catch your attention even waving my hand in the air but you were focused on the other half of the room. I stood and waved once more and it was then your eyes locked with mine, and as your little body visibly relaxed you nodded your curly head ever so slightly in my direction.

I sat back and watched you shine on that stage much like you do in our living room every night and throughout your performance I thought of all the things I want you to know as the world becomes your stage.

1. I will always be here for you, even when you can no longer see me. You will never be alone.

2. When life’s spotlight shines too bright, blinding you from what’s really important, I will help you see it.

3. And, when that same light dims eventually leaving you in moments of darkness, I will be your guiding light.

4. There will be times when our signals will get crossed and lead to misunderstanding. Know that we will communicate and straighten things out and even through disagreements I will never stop loving you.

5. Enjoy your successes, the big and the small. Those that seem insignificant are often the ones that will fill your heart with joy when you look back on them.

6. When the spotlight is on you, remember that all eyes are on you too. Use that opportunity for good.

7. Never take life so seriously that you exit the stage completely. There’s always room for creativity, imagination, and those things that make you laugh.

8. I will always be your biggest fan –  in your brightest moments as well as your darkest.

9. Don’t ever pretend to be someone you aren’t simply to please others. Who you are behind the scenes is better than anyone you could ever pretend to be.

10. Live your life in such a way that you will exit the stage with dignity when the final curtain comes down.

A Message to My Children on Their First Day of School

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Some of you may have seen this post over in The Huffington Post this week. I thought I would share it on the blog for all of us who are gearing up for a new school year this week. I hope it’s a smooth transition for kids, parents, and teachers!

Dear Olivia and Evan,

As I opened my eyes this morning, the realization that you will be starting a new school year at a new school today held me hostage for a moment. Today, you embark on yet another new chapter in your young lives, and as we rode the elevator down from the 17th floor I thought of so many things I wanted to say to you. Things I’ve already covered in the many conversations we’ve had leading up to this day, but as a mom can’t help but feel the urge to repeat in case you didn’t hear me the first time.

Floor 16 – I wanted to tell you that I know what it’s like to be the new kid. I understand the butterflies in your stomach and wondering if you’ll make friends. Believe in yourself. I do.

Floor 15 – I wanted to tell you I understand worrying about finding your way both physically and socially. You’ll spend a lifetime finding your way. Never give up.

Floor 14  – I wanted to tell you that sometimes the new kid is at a disadvantage simply because you are new, but the very fact that you are the new kid is sometimes an advantage in and of itself. Embrace the adventure.

Floor 13 – I wanted to tell you that as the new kid other kids will be drawn to you. Some won’t accept you. That’s okay as it will be their loss.

Floor 12 – I wanted to tell you to embrace this new experience with a positive outlook because while it is all strange and a bit scary today, very soon it will all be routine and familiar. It’s the circle of life.

Floor 11 – I wanted to tell you to try not to look so nervous. Sometimes the simple act of smiling can be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. It is said a picture is worth a thousand words. I believe a smile is worth at least that much.

Floor 10 – I wanted to tell you if at any moment today you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, just breathe. You’ll be amazed how a couple of deep breaths can help you see things in a whole new light.

Floor 9 – I wanted to tell you to remember you only need one good friend. Quality trumps quantity.

Floor 8 – I wanted to tell you how my heart is torn between wanting to keep you home with me all day where I can love you and protect you and wanting you to go out there and have experiences I can’t provide for you. Don’t grow up too fast okay?

 

Cheerio!

 

 

Floor 7 – I wanted to tell you how I prayed last night that those you cross paths with today will see you as I do…smart, kind, caring, funny, creative. More importantly, I hope you always see yourself as I do.

Floor 6 – I wanted to tell you not everyone will have things in common with you. Embrace the differences. They may pleasantly surprise you.

Floor 5 – I wanted to tell you to be patient with yourself and others. Time has a way of charting our course from the trivial to the really big stuff.

Floor 4 – I wanted to tell you to not be afraid to try something new. That’s the beauty of a clean slate.

Floor 3 – I wanted to tell you to listen when the teacher speaks, when someone new talks about themselves, etc. Listening is one of those skills that will come in handy later in life.

Floor 2 – I wanted to tell you to follow instructions when necessary, but also to make sure you always express yourself. It’s okay to speak up.

Ground – As we exited the building for our short walk to school, I took each of your hands in mine and said, “Just be yourself, and remember how much I love you. I’ll be waiting to hear all about your experiences this afternoon.” I realized that’s really all you needed to hear. Love, Mom

What advice do you give your children on their first day of school?

I Slip It On Like A Well-Worn Pair Of Jeans

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They came to this country with only the clothes on their back and a light of hope in their hearts that the strongest gust of wind couldn’t extinguish. They walked away from all they knew for the promise of freedom. They left it all behind for visions of a better future for themselves, but more importantly for their children. Those brave souls made huge sacrifices for myself and my siblings, and I wouldn’t be who I am today if not for them…my parents. As with anything or anyone we leave behind, no longer accessible to us, we don’t fully bid farewell. We still carry with us a little something that will remind us of times we will never again experience.

Denim, Well-Worn Jeans, Favorite Jeans

My parents may have bid farewell to their homes, their families and friends, and the island they called home, but they held on to their language, clothing themselves in it like a well-worn pair of jeans, slipping into it and feeling the comfort of the fabric as it wrapped them in the many memories of their history and home. While my parents learned the English language of their new country, in our home, we were encouraged to speak our native language. Around the dinner table, we slipped into it easily without even realizing it. At family gatherings, children and grown ups alike easily conversed in the Spanish sounds of a faraway land.

I may not have understood my parents adamant rules on embracing our native language, but nowadays I see things clearly. Being fully bilingual has opened doors for me in many areas of my life from career opportunities to lifelong friendships. I can easily slip from English to Spanish and back again in the blink of an eye, often amazing those around me with the ease in which I do so and begging the question, “Do you think in the language you speak or do you think in one language and translate in your mind before speaking?” To answer the question, I think in Spanish when I speak in Spanish. I think in English when I speak in English. There’s no rhyme or reason to my language of choice. I prefer to read in English rather than Spanish. I more often dream in English than I do in Spanish. However, when I pray I find I slip easily into a Spanish conversation with God…possibly because I was taught to pray in Spanish. My conversations with my mom are conducted in Spanish more often than English.

Well-Worn Jeans, Favorite Jeans, ,Blue Denim

An article titled, How Speaking Two Languages Can Improve Your Brain, at About.com discusses this in further detail. According to a growing body of research, not only does speaking two languages not confuse people or slow their learning in other areas, it may actually improve your brain—carrying benefits that go far beyond communication. According to Ellen Bialystok, an internationally known psychologist and distinguished research professor at York University in Toronto, there is overwhelming evidence that being truly bilingual—speaking two languages and using them regularly—will improve your brain. For bilingual people, both languages are “always on,” always active in their brains, no matter which language they are speaking at the moment.

All scientific research aside, I am grateful my parents encouraged me to embrace our native language. I have personally witnessed those who believe everyone should speak English as it is the universal language, and frown upon those who don’t. I have personally experienced people being offended when they do not understand a conversation being conducted near them, in a language they do not understand. Thanks to my parents, when I am around someone speaking their native language, I keep in mind that those words may be the only familiar thing they still carry with them. It may be the only remnant of their homeland, helping them keep their history alive while they make a new home and create a new history in a foreign land. And, I remember what it feels like to slip into my favorite pair of well-worn jeans, the comfort they provide, each tear a memory that no amount of fading can completely erase.